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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fixing a few things, including a possessed VHF remote

The past couple of days have provided some time to check over the boat after our 48hr run north which included a little bit of banging around in the waves.  Most everything seemed to fare well with all our gear and supplies staying in place, no surprise leaks, or other disasters.  Probably the biggest issue was the forward thruster which started acting up as we were pulling away from the dock at Dana Point.  On arrival in Sausalito, forward port trust proved to be completely inoperative.  Fortunately starboard thrust is what's mostly needed for docking, so we got tied up with minimal fuss.

I called in the problem to ABT and they had someone on the boat the next morning.  The problem turned out to be a relay board, and unfortunately was the same relay board that had been replaced during commissioning due to the stern thruster not working on one direction.  ABT sets the Gold Standard in the industry for standing behind their products, and agreed to provide a spare board for me to carry on-board in case of another problem.  Maybe it's just a coincidence, but whatever is wrong I'm sure they will get to the bottom of it.

The other really odd problem that I discovered when the sun went down the first night of our trip was that the dimmer was acting oddly on the hydraulic control panel.  It's just a row of buttons to enable the two pumps, and to turn on the anchor wash, crash pump, etc.  The buttons light up to show they are on, and there is a dimmer knob to dim them down at night.  When I dimmed them, the button that was lit dimmed down as expected.  But as it dimmed, the inactive buttons started to brighten back up again.  We dug into it and found two wiring errors, both the result of some miss-communications.  But now that's all squared away and button dimming sanity has been restored.

But let me tell you about the really strange problem we fixed (hopefully).  I have a VHF remote mic that is bat-shit crazy.  While in Dana Point just after taking delivery, the VHFs started beeping madly.  I checked it out and saw an incoming DSC Distress Call.  Great, I thought, confirmation that it works.  But then I looked closely at the MMSI (Ship's Identification Number) and realized the Distress Call was coming from us!  A frantic run around the boat revealed the Remote Mic on the fly bridge appeared to be displaying crazy stuff so I unplugged it.  By now the Sheriff's boat had arrived to see what was going on, and the Coast Guard was trying to call us.  We got everyone settled back down and added that little excitement to the list of things to fix.

After talking to ICOM, who by the way are very helpful, we checked a few things, all of which appeared to be OK, then swapped the two remote mics so if it happened again we could see if it followed the mic or stayed with the VHF.  I have two VHFs, and one has a remote in the Salon and the other has a remote on the fly bridge.  Before turning the radios on again, I called the coast guard to give them a heads up.  They remembered me from the day before.

Well, on our way up the coast somewhere around Santa Barbara it went off again.  The good news is that this time it was the Salon, so the problem clearly followed the remote, not the VHF.  Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles now knows me pretty well.  The possessed Remote has been quarantined and a replacement arrived today and is installed and (hopefully) working.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

We have a boat and are moving north

The day finally arrived last Friday, Sept 19th, when we took delivery of Tanglewood in international waters off the coast of California.  That concluded about 11 weeks of commissioning, which is about average I think.  On return, the race was on to get ready and start moving north.  We had a few lingering issues that got taken care of, and I started madly stowing and securing supplies and gear while Laurie went on a provisioning frenzy.

One thing we debated back and forth and finally decided to do was to hire someone to accompany us for some of the trip north.  We have a fare amount of cruising experience, but we though that the combination of a new and unproven boat, a boat that is all new to us, and a coast that is all new to us was a lot of risk.  Any one by itself would have been fine - perhaps even two - but all three seemed like it was asking for trouble.

On-board time was set for Monday at 7:00AM, and around 7:30 we were pulling away from the dock.  That's when the first problem occurred.  The bow thruster was intermittent thrusting to port from the wing station.  I tested it at the main helm and it seemed to work reliably, so we kept going.  One thing for the list.

The first half day was smooth, but things started to pick up through the Santa Barbara channel and around Pt Conception.  But all-in-all it wasn't too bad.  The second day was very calm all 24 hrs and made for easy shifts.  But bad weather was on the horizon.   A big system off shore to the north was whipping up some big seas north of San Francisco, so we decided to put in for a few days.

Coming into San Francisco was fun.  Our initial approach was in the dark with first light just as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge.  A cruise ship, a couple of tankers, and a cargo ship all converged, more or less, plus a research vessel, a tug, a few pilot boats, and a dozen or so fishing boats.  Busy, but still not as busy as NYC.

Entering San Francisco at first light

We are now tied up in Sausalito to wait out the weather until we can continue north.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Catalina Island shake-down cruise

A couple of weeks ago we did an over night shake down trip out to Catalina Island and back.  There were a number of goals for the trip, including:

- Going through a long check list of "how the boat works" stuff with our salesman and signing off on that.

- Running the boat more extensively

- Testing the anchor gear

- Testing wide open throttle engine RPMs for both the main and wing engine

- Testing the engine room cooling

Tanglewood under way

Off into the sunset

The "how the boat works" list was pretty quick and easy to get through.  At this point I know the boat really well, but it was a good reminder to check a few other things, and we actually turned up a few minor problems.  Testing the emergency tiller was one project.  It's not hard, but it's not easy either.  The tiller is secured to the ceiling in the laz, and it's a very awkward, angled, two piece contraption that needs to be maneuvered up into the cockpit.  The angles and two part design are to allow it to com up from the rudder post through a hatch in the deck, angle forward to come through another hatch in the seat of the settee, Continue up above the settee table, then angle again to create a level tiller handle.  The two parts are because you can't snake it all into place a one piece.  It sounds complicated because it is, and the yard did a great job creating it.

The anchor testing consisted of paying out all the chain, checking the length, checking the calibration on the chain counters, verifying the painted markings every 50', and verifying accessibility of the safety rope securing the end of the chain to the boat.  One of the chain counters was calibrated correctly, but the other still needed to be set.  And neither had the correct chain length programed in.  These were all simple fixed, and it's good to know they can now be counted on (pun intended).  We also found that the entire last 100' feet are painted red.  I was expecting just the last 20 feet or no.  It's no problem, just something that's good to know in advance.

Our wide open throttle tests were to confirm whether or not the props were pitched correctly.  The pitch on a prop is like the gears on a bike or a car.  If the gearing is just right you make maximum use of the power available.  And on a boat it's really important no to over-prop the engine.  As part of commissioning, all engine manufacturers require that the engine be able to EXCEED max rated RPM to ensure it's not over loaded.  On the main engine we were very close, but not where it needed to be.  Even though it was only off by about 50 RPM, Deere wouldn't accept it, so the main prop had to be tweaked a bit.  The wing engine, on the other hand was off by quite a bit - almost 200 RPM.  It turns out that somewhere along the line the wrong size Gori prop made it on the boat with a pitch that was a full 2" more than it should have been.  Because it's a folding prop, all Gori had to do was supply a set of new blades.

We also ran a bunch of tests to check the engine room temp relative to Deere's specs.  On earlier sea trials it seems much hotter than expected, so the boat had been rigged with gauges and we were tasked with producing a lab report.  Sure enough, the temps were too hot and drew Jeff Leishman down to the dock on our return who in about 5 minutes spotted the problem.  The wrong fan had been used when the boat was built.  Once corrected, things looked much better.

A few days after our return a diver came to remove the two props.  Although I'm sure it requires a lot of practice and skill, the process is remarkably simple.  A whole bunch of 5 gal gas cans (clean of course) are flooded, taken down, and tied to the prop.  Then air is blown into them until they off set the weight of the prop.  The prop is unbolted, worked off the shaft, then lifted up onto the dock with the boat's davit.  Sounds simple, but don't try this at home.

Jugs used to float the prop

Jugs and prop lifted onto dock with davit

Prop going off to Santa's Workshop

After the Gori was reassembled with 24x17 blades instead of 24x19, and an inch was trimmed off the main prop, both engines reach full RPM as they should.  Looking good!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Installing solar panels

Solar panels have been on the project list since early in the boat build process.  Here's the original debate that I had with myself on the subject.  Despite lingering questions I decided to go ahead and install them right from the start.  One big reason was the simple convenience of doing it now rather than later when the boat is in some unknown location with unknown services available.  And solar panels are large and awkward and need to be shipped by truck, and if you have ever taken delivery of a truck shipment at anything other than a commercial location with a shipping dock, you will know that it is a royal pain in the rear end.

The chosen location for these buggers is up on the fly bridge hardtop.  It's a great location with excellent exposure, little to no shadowing, and a solid and secure mounting structure.  I used a roof mounting system that is popular on land consisting of two rails that run the width of the hardtop and bolt to the decking with 3 feet on each rail.  The panels then lie on top of the rails, and there are clamps that attach them to the rails.  It's a very solid system with wind rating up to 150 mph.

Below is a picture of the three panels up on the roof.  Each is 250 watts for a total of 750 watts.  The panels come with a junction box and pig-tail wires with special water proof connectors commonly used in the solar industry.  Wiring them up is simple a matter of connecting the panels up in a daisy chain.  The result are panels wired in series such that the voltages of each add up giving an operating voltage of around 100VDC.

Panels installed on fly bridge hardtop

 Shadowing is a major concern with solar panels since a small shadow can disproportionately reduce power output.  Other than the sea gull crap visible in the picture above, the biggest issue is the 6 foot open array radar which you can see in the pictures above and below.  If the antenna isn't parked athwart-ships (side to side) it casts a pretty good shadow on the panels.  Fortunately, the Simrad radar has a feature where you can set the part angle.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work.  There are two problems, one of which Simrad was already aware of, and another they were not.  The first is that the programmed park angle does not have any fixed orientation, so setting it to 90 deg  actually corresponds to some random angle.  Also, the array doesn't park with any kind of precision.  It just comes somewhere kinda near the random angle location that you program.  But through experimentation by increasing the angle a bit at a time, you can figure out what angle corresponds to the desired location.  On mine, -100 deg is kind of athwart-ships, and most of the time it parks clear of the panels.  Then comes the other problem.  When you turn off the breaker to the radar, it forgets the programmed park angle.  I sure hope they get it fixed sooner rather than later.  As a side note, I don't think any of the other big marine electronics vendors support a park angle at all, let along one that works, but it's still frustrating to have advertised features that don't work.


Radar casting a shadow over panels

The daisy-chained wires then get fed through cable glands into the hardtop cavity where the wires then run down to the pilot house.  That dangling wire is a green wire safety ground that isn't yet hooked up.

Power and ground cables feed through the hardtop

Down in the pilot house is the charge controller, tucked away in the electrical closet.  This was the best location from the perspective of wiring, but it leaves the control panel somewhat difficult to access.  In time I'll solve that by running a Cat5 cable from the charge controller back to the other Outback inverter gear and tie it into that system.  Then the charger will be accessible from the control panel on the fly bridge console.

It's a little hard to see in the picture, but the controller is taking in 6.9A at 86V and putting out 20A at 26.1V, harvesting 540W from the panel's theoretical max of 750W.  This is actually a bit less than I expected, but I won't really get a chance to check it out closely until we spend some time at anchor.

Charge controller doing its thing

Monday, September 15, 2014

Electronics - Navigation systems

The basic navigation systems are all installed and working as expected, or least almost so.  Here's the line-up of gear:

  • Simrad NSO EVO black-box chart plotter.  This is essentially two independent chart plotters in one.  It supports two screens, and each can be controlled as though it is stand alone.  It even appears on the N2K bus as two distinct chart plotters.  Although the EVO supports touch-screens, I'm not using them.  perhaps I'll try them some day, but in my experience it's hard enough to operate push buttons in rough conditions, and I really can't see how a touch screen is going to make that easier.  I find that I need to have my hand braced against something in order to control a button or mouse when the boat is really moving.  I don't see how you can brace and touch.  Touch seems great in the comfort of a show room or in the ICW or other placid waterway, but otherwise?  I'd love to hear from anyone who is finding it works.  I'm controlling my with an OP40 keypad designed for the purpose.
  • Simrad HS70 satellite compass.  These are great devices, though perhaps a bit finicky.  It's 3 GPS received in a triangle and if I understand it correctly it creates it's own differential GPS station for greater accuracy.  It also can determine a very accurate heading at all times, even when the boat is not moving by looking at the relative positions of the three receivers.  A normal GPS can only give a heading when the boat is moving, and even then it's not very accurate.  The HS70 also reports rate of turn, roll, pitch, and heave which is handy.
  • Simrad GS15 GPS.  This is a more conventional GPS with all the usual modern features.  I use it as a backup device in case the HS70 craps out.
  • Simrad RC42 rate compass.  This is a more traditional flux gate compass that also includes turn rate.  It too is a backup in case the HS70 craps out.
  • Maretron WSO-100 Weather stations:  This is a solid state weather station that connects directly to N2K.  It has no moving parts, yet accurately reports wind speed, direction, temp, humidity, barometric pressure, etc.  I had something similar on the Grand Banks and really liked it.
  • Simrad NAIS400:  This is a class B AIS transceiver that links to N2K.  There is a lot of debate over the incremental value of Class A over Class B.  My feeling is that Class A doesn't provide enough incremental value to be worth the 2x to 3x cost.  Class A reports more info about the ship and its voyage, like destination port and ETA.  That's nice, but it is information that has to be entered by an operator, and in my experience 80% of the time the info reported by passing ships is incorrect, so what use is it?  Class A also transmits at a higher power.  I think it's 12W vs 2W.  The extra power is nice, but almost always the limiting factor for AIS, VHF, and Radar range is the height of the antenna, not the power output.  Class A transmits more frequently.  This means more frequent position updates.  This is also good, but I don't think really makes much of a difference unless you are moving at 30 kts.  First off, both classes have varying transmission rates based on how fast the boat is moving.  When stationary transmissions are less frequent, and when moving they are more frequent.  The faster the boat is moving, the faster the updates.  The key, though, it that AIS is always reporting a position behind the vessels actual position.  This is readily evident when also tracking a target on Radar.  The radar target which is always current and accurate, will show the boat ahead of the AIS target.  Then the AIS target will catchup for a second when an update is received, then fall behind again.  So although I love AIS, it's not really suited for accurate tracking of another boat's position.  That's what Radar is for.
  • Simrad XM Weather:  I had this on the Grand Banks and frankly was not impressed.  It just doesn't give a long enough forecast to be helpful, and if I want to know the current weather I can look outside.  But I got the device anyway, partly because it was not very expensive.  But I'm not sure if I will ever subscribe to the service.
  • Simrad BSM Fishfinder.  This is just a fancy depth and water temp sensor, but also shows the bottom contour and of course, fish.
  • Airmar N2K depth/temp sounder.  This is a secondary sensor.  It doesn't provide the fancy imaging that the BSM does, but it gives depth and water temp.
All this went together pretty easily and everything works except for some issues with the HS70.  It appears to have at least on blatant bug whereby it acts on all N2K instance number changes regardless of which device on the network the change is for.  It basically think they are all meant for it.  Once everything is configured it's not a big deal, but it's a real pain when you are setting things up, changing configurations, testing, etc.  It's pretty amazing that such a gross bug made it out the door, and it's another example of companies messing up Instancing.  It seems pretty clear that very few people are building redundant N2K networks, or more people would be screaming about this.  On Simrad's pro web site they list a FW update which we have tried to apply using three different computers with 2 different versions of Windows and have had no luck.  And we don't even know if this issue has been fixed in the update.  Unfortunately, talking to Simrad support is like talking to a stump.

Simrad NSO chart plotter screen


The other issue we are having, and the HS70 appears to be party to it, is a steady trickle of reported Fast Packet Errors on the N2K bus.  I've been reading up on it to figure out what these error are, and N2K is limited to 8 byte messages.  It also utilizes a Fast Packet Protocol to spit out a series of little messages which can then be reassembled by the receiver.  That's about all I know, and presumably this error count is saying that those message groups aren't making it through properly.

The AIS also appears to be party to these error.  If either the AIS or the HS70 is turned off, the errors stop.  And both of these devices send messages that are larger than 8 bytes, so use the Fast Packet Protocol.  Functionally everything seems to be working, but I don't like seeing errors where there should be none.  It's indicative of a problem, and such problems usually surface at a most unwelcome time.

Going back to all the redundant devices, this is where Instancing is vital to making everything work.  Simrad a nice extra feature called Simrad Groups.  You can set up their devices to be part of a Simrad Group for each type of data that it might use.  So, for example, a depth display could get it's depth data from either the fish finder or the depth sounder.  You can manually select one or the other by specifying it's instance number, or you can say you want it to use whichever source the Simrad Group is using.  This makes it really easy to change sources across the board.  From the chart plotter, you can change the depth source from the fish finder to the sounder, and all members of the Simrad Group will change accordingly.  Without this you would have to go around to each device and change it's source.  I got a chance to test this out when we went to Catalina.  At one point the HS70 went completely dead, I think because of the failing VHF (I hope),  I was able to change the GPS source to the GS15, and change the Heading source to the RC42, and we were back in business for all systems.

I think that covers it.  In summary pretty much everything is working, save a few nuisance problems.

Three helm screens

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Electronics summary

The electronics outfitting of Tanglewood is reaching its conclusion, and I'd say most of it has gone well and is working as expected.  Not everything, but most of it.  Apparently all these systems have problems, and that has certainly been my experience with my past two boats.  I asked Chris if in retrospect we were running into more problems, fewer problems, or about the same number of issues as other systems he has done.  With little hesitation, he said fewer problems.  I guess that's reassuring.

Our electronics break down into a number of different systems, and I think it makes sense to go through them one at a time, and do so in a post dedicated to each.  That will make the posts more bite-sized, and make it easier for people to skip over anything they are not interested in.

So here's the break down:

- Basic navigation systems.  This includes GPSs, heading sensors, AIS, and chart plotter

- Radar

- PC navigation system

- Auto pilot

- Ships monitoring

- Communications systems

Stay tuned.....

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Toggle guards

A boat's electrical panel looks like the control board for a nuclear reactor, or at least it looks like the one on the Simpson's.  For some of the breakers, it's important that they not accidentally be switched on or switched off.  Enter the toggle guard.  These vary, but all are essentially the same providing a protective cover over the switch that has to be opened in order to change the switch's position.  You know all those movies where someone flips open the cover over the missile launch button?  That's it.

Blue Sea makes a nice, effective, and inexpensive toggle guard for the branch circuit breakers.  The picture below shows a handful of them scattered across the breaker panel.  Some are to keep the breaker from being turned off accidentally, and other are to keep the breaker from being turned on accidentally.

Toggle guards scattered around the breaker panel
The toggle guards work great on branch circuit breakers, but the mounting screw spacing is different for larger main breakers, and there is no guard available for tandem breakers like on a 230VAC circuit.  The main breaker is just as important, as discovered by a veteran Nordhavn owner.  He was underway and his engine suddenly went stone dead.  It turned out someone had brushed up against the main breaker and tripped it off.  It was a simple fix, but generated way more panic than anyone wants.

Enter Mark, the local master of all things acrylic.  He has CAD drawing of these breakers and can laser cut a cover plate as seen in the picture below.  I rummaged around the local hardware store and found the plastic standoffs and screws, and presto, a really nice toggle guard.  The cover keeps errant fingers and butts away from the breaker and requires a conscience reach behind to switch it on or off.  And there is ample clearance for the breaker to trip on it's own as breakers are designed to do.  I put one on the 24VDC main breaker and on the 12VDC subpanel main breaker.

Drop me a note if anyone wants Mark's contact info, as I'm sure he can supply these to others.

Acrylic cover over tandem breaker

Acrylic cover over single main breaker


Friday, September 12, 2014

VHFs, simple, right?

I wish.  I always seem to get the really weird-ass problems, probably because I try different things - and pay the price....

In keeping with my Simrad theme, I decided a long time back to use their new RS35 VHFs with remote hand sets.  They are native N2K so no clumsy adapters, and include an AIS reciever which I figured made for a nice backup in case the main AIS crapped out.  And how hard can it be to make the basic VHF functions work, right?

Well, what a train wreck it turned out to be.  As might be expected with a new product, by the time we got on the boat Simrad had release a software update for the RS35.  Usually this would be no big deal, but this particular update required that the radios be returned to the factory to have the update applied.  We had time, so shipped them back for updating.  What was supposed to be a week turned into two, then into three, but eventually we got them back and reinstalled them.

For anyone who has used N2K, you have probably heard about Instancing.  This is simply assigning an Instance number to any devices on the network that can produce the same data, and provides a way to distinguish who's talking.  Think of two people in a room talking at the same time.  If you couldn't distinguish their voices, you would have a heck of a time following either conversation.  On the other hand if you can distinguish their voices, you can pick which to listen to and ignore the other.  A device's Instance Number gives it a unique voice so you can decide who to listen to.

Because the RS35 is also an AIS receiver, it would be the second one and needs to be given a unique instance number.  Plus, I have tow RS35s, so they need to be further distinguished from each other.  That's where the problems began.  First, the NSO chart plotter which has the ability to assign instance numbers to any device, reported that the VHF rejected the change.  But when you would then look at the VHF on the network, it had correctly taken on the new Instance Number.  That's a pretty embarrassing bug when both products are from the same company.

But then things got really weird.  Listing all the devices on the network, the VHFs were showing up twice, and a bunch of the information about them was scrambled.  But they seemed to work, and running Maretron's Instancing Test which checks for different devices talking on the network with the same instance number, wasn't reporting any errors.

And then things got really, really weird.  While I was trying the radios, one of them went dark like it had been turned off.  I checked the on/off knob. checked the breaker, and checked for power at the terminals and all seemed fine.  But this VHF was dead as a stone.  I chalked it up to a freak issue and left the other radio on over night.  The next morning when I can in, Chris told me the second radio was dead when he got there.

At this point I had lost all confidence in these VHFs and suggested we dump them and switch to tried and true ICOM VHFs, even thought they would require extra adapters, etc.  That was the plan, but I later got convinced to try them one more time since the first replacement was already on it's way.  I agreed with the provision any other issues would be the third strike.  Well, on our Catalina trip guess what happened?  A third radio went dark and became completely dead.  So Simrad VHFs are now dead to me, quite literally.  If anyone is considering one of these VHFs, don't walk away, run.

I now have an ICOM M506 as an experiment to see how it works.  It has similar functionality with N2K connectivity and an AIS receiver.  It hasn't gone dead on me, so that's the good news, but I'm not convinced it's going to work acceptably.  Once again, vendors haven't done Instancing properly.  In the case of the ICOM, you can't change the Instance number at all.  And you can't tell it to not broadcast it's AIS info on the N2K network.  I'm pretty sure it's going to cause problems with my chart plotter and nav software when they try to display indistinguishable AIS info from three different receivers, two of which use the same Instance Number.  If I doesn't work, I'll probably just fall back to the same model radio without the AIS option (they offer it both ways).  I'd be giving up the backup AIS receiver, but all these vendors seem too retarded to build anything that meets the specs and works in anything other than a rudimentary network.  NMEA makes a lot of noise about how you should only buy Certified products.  Well, these are all certified products and the most basic functions are not implemented properly.  It's no wonder N2K has a bad reputation in some circles.

Or maybe I just don't understand how this stuff is supposed to work?  If only the spec weren't super double top secret and didn't cost $3000 to get a copy, I could actually find out.  Maybe if it's correct operation were well known instead of a secret it would work better.  I'm glad it's Friday, 'cause I've kinda had it....

Heating system

One significant system on our boat is the diesel heating system.  For a variety of reasons, I'm kinda the general contractor for the heating system.  The good side of that is that I got the heating system I wanted even though there is nobody in Southern California who knows these systems (the expertise is all in Seattle where people actually need heat on their boats).  The down side is that commissioning the system is somewhat my problem.


Heating system in the Laz


The original plan was to hire an expert from Seattle to come down for a week or so to check everything out, test for and fix leaks, test the electrical control side of things, complete the exhaust hookup from the boiler to the hull fitting, fire the boiler and test the system, then go home.  It should come as no surprise that the estimate for this work was about 2x what it would be if I had the work done in Seattle.  We need to fly someone down and back, put them up in a hotel, rent them a car, and pay a lot of overnight freight charges for equipment, tools, parts, etc.  And then there are all the unexpected delays, which are to be expected.  If you have ever done a project like this, you know it's an endless series of little road blocks.  For example, you figure out how you want to route the exhaust, then you need to order the fittings - and wait.  Normally you would go work on something else until the parts arrive, then resume the project.  That works fine if you are local, but not so well if you have flown in for just this project.  I had visions of lots of idle down-time while the clock is running and I'm paying for overnight shipments a couple of times a day.  It started to look like commissioning was going to cost 50% again the cost of the whole heating system, and perhaps more.  Oh, and I'm planning to go to Seattle after taking delivery of the boat.

All this led to a change of plans, and now in hind sight I'm really glad it did.  I realized that most of the system could be tested and fixed "dry", and that almost everything else could be tested (and fixed) without firing the boiler.  If I could do all that myself, I could verify and fix all the installation work that the yard did, get PAEs help fixing any install problems, then finish the boiler install and testing once I get to Seattle.  There would be no flying people around, no idle time waiting for parts, and giant Fed Ex bills.  Sounds much better.

As a brief aside, the other option was to leave the whole project until we got the Seattle and have the work done there.  The risk is that any issue related to the build would be PAEs responsibility, which would require separately tracking time and materials for those parts of the work, billing it back to PAE, getting warranty work approval, etc.  That just sounded complicated to me, and I felt much better with an approach where I was confident that the yard's work was correct before taking delivery of the boat. Some problems are minor, but others could have required significant work, and it's better to flush those out early rather than later.

So, Captain Electric (that's me, according to Laurie) changed uniforms and became Pete the Plumber.  Here was the general game plan:

  1. Pressure test the system with air to find and fix any and all leaks.  It's way easier to fill and drain a plumbing system with air vs water, and leaks are much easier to clean up.
  2. Test all the zone controls, fan controls, and heater ducting to be sure the controls work and control air flow in the right places.
  3. Fill the system with water, and test it with engine heat.  One feature of the system is a heat exchanger that takes waste engine heat and uses it to heat the water in the heating system, just like it heats the domestic hot water.  This lets you have heat while underway without having to run the boiler.  It's truly "free" heat since all that engine heat is otherwise dumped into the ocean.
With these three steps, I could test and verify everything except the actual boiler unit itself, leaving only one isolated part of the system to test and commission, and it is a part that the yard did nothing with other than bolt it to the deck.  And that remaining part is the one that requires some expertise as opposed to everything else that even Pete the Plumber can handle.

Part 1 - Pressure Testing:  All the disconnected hoses were a good starting point.  For some reason the yard had not connected the main supply hose from the boiler and had not installed the pressure relief valve.  It was probably due to missing parts, but I'll never know.  Long story short I got all the parts and got the supply hose connected and the relief valve installed.


Unconnected pipe fittings

The first attempt at pumping it up with air held for about 5 seconds.  A quick run around the boat  revealed that all the bleeder valves were loose.  I also discovered two heater units where the bleeder valves were never installed.  Add that to the problem list.  I tightened up all but one.  There is a nice corner under the galley counter where one of the AC units lives along with one of the heaters.  The trouble is that it's completely inaccessible.  The only way in is to remove the dishwasher.  This took us off on a tangent exploring whether a removable panel should be cut into the cabinet to make the area accessible.  After much back and forth, we concluded that the better plan was to get good at removing the dishwasher.  So out came the dishwasher followed by a couple of plumbing modification to make it easier to get it in and out without having to disconnect anything.

OK, now back to whatever we were working on..oh yes, the heating system.  With the dishwasher out I was able to close off the bleeder valve and continue on.  PAE installed the missing bleeder valves and fitting and after working out a couple of leaks everything looked tight except for a slow overnight leak.  Isolating the different zones narrowed it down to the PH loop which also includes the expansion tank at the high point in the system up in the fly bridge brow.  I chased that one for a long time and finally discovered that the cap in the expansion tank was leaking ever so slightly past the cap and into the overflow bottle.  By replacing the cap with a pressure tester I was finally able to verify that the system was tight.  I can't imagine what mess and pain it would have been to sort all that out with water rather than air.

Part 2 - Zone controls and ducting:  There turned out to be a handful of issues with this, but most were easy to fix.  There is an LED pilot light on the main control switch and it was wired in backwards so didn't light.  There also was an error in my wiring diagram that also messed up the pilot light.  All the ground connections for the fans are switched by a thermostat attached to the heater manifold.  The switch only closes after the water has reached 120F and locks out the fans until then to prevent them from blowing cold air.  I had the pilot light tied to the same switched ground so it would only come on if the water was hot.  Oops.  For testing, I just hot wired the thermostat.  I also discovered that the fan lock-out thermostat  had been mixed up with another thermostat that tells the boiler that the domestic hot water needs to be heated.  One of the switches turns on when the water gets hot, and the other turns on when the water gets cold.  Swapping them really confused the whole system.

Control Panel

With that sorted out and the thermostats hot wired, I was able to test each zone to see if the fans worked, whether they blow air out of the right ducts, and whether all the fan speed controls work.  The good news is that all of them worked correctly.  With help from PAE we got the correct thermostats installed in the right places and everything buttoned up.

The last part of the control system that needed to be tested was the boiler lock out.  When running the heating system off of the main engine heat, the diesel boiler is disabled, but everything else works including the circulation pump.  I set out to test that part and nothing seemed to work right.  The boiler always seemed to be enabled, and the circulation pump wouldn't come on.  After a lot of digging I discovered that Sure Marine (the suppliers of the heating system) had changed the boiler control to a newer version and hadn't let us know about it.  This newer boiler control required completely different lockout and circulator wiring, and required another control box that we didn't have.  Sure Marine got me the missing control box, and after a day of installing the box and rewiring, it finally all worked.

Part 3 - Filling with water and testing with engine heat:  With the controls working and the system leak-free, I filled it up with water.  I used the same water meter that I used when calibrating the holding tanks so I'd later know how much antifreeze to put in to get a 50% mixture.  24 gal later, it was full.  On our sea trial to Catalina after the engine was all warmed up, I turned on the engine heat which started the circulator.  I checked the pipes and manifold and could feel things warming up nicely.  After a little warm up it was show time.  I turned on the heat in the pilot house and voila, heat came out the duct.  Checked a few other zones and sure enough, they work!  I love it.

Now all that's left is to get the boiler exhaust finished and fire it up, but I'll wait for Seattle to get that done by an expert.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Yes, we are still alive

And yes, the boat commissioning is going well.  I've received a number of inquiries wondering what's up.  The truth of the matter is that I'm just plain exhausted and haven't had the energy to pull together any posts.  It's been about 2 months now since we left Gloucester in our caravan of Stuff, and it has literally been non-stop since then.  All waking hours, 7 days a week, for the past 60 days.

We are up around 5:00 each day, get to the boat around 7:00, work all day, leave sometime between 4:00 and 6:00, then spend the evening going through lists checking off what got done and adding new things.  My inspection checklist - the list I've assembled of things to test and verify before accepting the boat - is a spreadsheet that's 486 lines long!  In addition to that is the "bug list" of open problems (I know, my software background is creeping through). By the time the lists are updated each day, I've pretty much been reduced to a vegetable.

But enough of my excuses.  Last night I outlined 5 new posts that I'll be completing over the next week or so covering the major aspects of our commissioning.  They are:
  • Installing solar panels
  • Electronics
  • Heating system
  • Interior carpets and shades
  • Catalina Island overnight shakedown
Stay tuned....