Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Maretron monitoring

I've had a couple of inquiries wanting to know more about the Maretron monitoring that I have set up, so here goes.

First of all, it's still a work in progress.  Phase one was focued on getting the basics and/or easy things monitored, and phase 2 (and maybe 3, 4.....) will be addition of more sensors, better alarming, and general tuning and adjusting based on experience as I actually use it more.

You can read all about their product line at Maretron, so I'll just do a brief overview.  They have a full line of sensors and display products for the marine industry, all using NMEA 2000 (aka N2K) as the interconnect.  Once you have an N2K bus running through your boat, it becomes real easy to add sensors for all sorts of things.  Their display products range from 4" square panel displays to very flexible software that can run on a Mac or Windows.  The stuff isn't cheap, but by marine standards it's not real expensive either.  I'd say the bang for the buck is quite high.

I had a few sensors on my Grand Banks along with two of their smallish displays (about 4"x7"), one at each helm.  That's how I became familiar with the product line.

On the Nordhavn, I've added a number of additional sensors, and do all the monitoring using their software product (N2KView) running on a Mac 24x7x365.

N2KView is really very nice, and costs about the same as one of Maretron's mid-sized dedicated display.  It comes out of the box with about 6 different screens geared towards typical use.  I borrowed from a few of them, but have ended up creating my own screens.  It takes time, but the results are worth it.

One thing I don't like is having to flip through different screens looking for info.  I much prefer to have all the pertinent info visible at the same time so anything can be checked with a glance.  Being able to set up my own screens allows for that which I really like.

Since it's not possible to get absolutely everything on one screen at a time and still be able to read it, I instead created a few screens geared towards a particular activity.  In this case, they are:

1) Underway
2) Anchored
3) Tankage

Then I have another one called Instruments (not the best name, but that's what I called it) mostly for test purposes.

The idea is that there are different sets of info that need to be monitored when underway vs at anchor.  By creating a screen for each, I can fit all the important stuff and get rid of extraneous, distracting info.  Note that the Tankage screen doesn't really fit this model.  It's one of the first screens that I made before becoming clearer on how I want to organize things.  It might become "Docked", or it might go away completely with elements merged into other screens.  I just don't know at this point.  What I do know is that it's the only reason we need to change screens while underway or at anchor.

At this stage, here's the list of sensors, etc that we have in use:
  • Monitoring via N2KView running on a Mac
  • Mac interface to N2K through ethernet via an IPG100
  • TMP100 temp monitor with probes for:
    •  Main engine exhaust temp.  This is a good way to watch for engine overloading
    •  Wing engine exhaust temp.
    •  Forward equipment space temp
    •  ER temp
    •  Lazarette temp
  • 2 TLM200s for black and gray water tanks.  These tanks come with level sensors, but they are very course, basically telling you that it's empty, it's somewhere less than half full, it's somewhere more than half full, and OMG don't flush the toiler.  I want a little more warning before the OMG event.
  • 5 TLA100s for fuel tanks and water tank.
  • J2K100 to bring main engine data onto N2K bus.  With this, anything that's on the engine gauges can also be on the Mac screen
  • RIM100 run indicator.  This detects when various circuits are active, and is currently connected to:
    •   Bilge pump
    •   High water bilge pump
    •   Fresh water pump
    •   Ships 240VAC power present
    •   Ships 120VAC power present
    •   24VDC low voltage
  • WSO100 solid state weather station

That’s the monitoring stuff, but I can also display any of the following other N2K device data:
  • Position, SOG, COG from Sat compass
  • Heading from Sat compass
  • Position, SOG, COG from secondary GPS
  • Heading from secondary rate compass
  • Pitch
  • Roll- Depth/temp from sounder
  • Depth/temp from fish finder
  • Rudder position from either of two rudder indicators

Stuff I still plan to add is:
  • Pressure sensors
    •   Hydraulic pressure
    •   Heating system pressure
    •   Steering system pressure
    •   Hydraulic fluid level
    •   House water pressure
    •   Main fuel filter vacuum
    •   Fuel transfer filter vacuum
    •   Generator fuel filter vacuum
    •   Fuel supply tank level
    •   Wing fuel tank supply level

I might also add some more run indicator sense points, and I need to add a second J2K100 to get main gear data on N2K.  For an obscure reason, it doesn't come over with the engine data and requires a separate converter.

N2KView is pretty good, and starting about a year ago they significantly improved their licensing so it’s more affordable.  I’m still running V4.x and they are up to 5.x now.  I tried 5.x, but it broke a hand full of things so I backed it out.  The trouble with 4.x is that alarming pretty much doesn’t work.  Or more accurately, sending email when alerts are raised/lowered doesn’t work.  I’ll recheck it once I get to V5, then work the issues from there.  Since I'm running an old version, I haven't even asked.

Here are the various screens:

"Underway" screen

"Tankage" screen

"Instruments" screen
I don't have a picture of the Anchored screen, but it shows the boat's location inside the allowed swing circle, plus all the same weather info that's on the Underway screen.

Again, all this is a work in progress and highly subject to change.

Hope this helps answer some of the questions.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What makes an Experiment an Experiment?

Some degree of failure is expected!  That's what makes an experiment an experiment.  But you also expect to gain significant improvements, making the failures worth while.

My electronics system has been an experiment, exhibiting both failures and significant improvements.  We continue to work through some open issues, but I though it was a good time to reflect on the success or failure of this experiment, and lessons learned.

Most boats of this class are outfitted with Furuno-everything.  My Grand Banks is done that way.  But my experience has been that it's a bit of a dinosaur, has a lot of "quirks", and in my opinion  could be a lot better.  Doing it better has been the goal of the N60 electronics project.

It's also important to side track a moment to reiterate that my view on products is unlikely to represent the mainstream.  After a career developing electronics products, I admittedly look at them with a very critical eye.  The curse of a products guy is that you are always looking for things that could be better, and to most people it comes across as complaining and nit-picking, but that's how products get better, and what makes great products great.  So please feel free to dismiss all my views as a combination of complaining and nit-picking.

Back to the electronics system.  You can go back and read about it's evolution, but in summary I looked at a lot of different approaches, and different vendor's equipment.  I played with a lot of products at trade shows, and experimented as much as I could short of having equipment installed in a boat and being out on the water.  I even bought a bunch of equipment to bench test at home as part of making the final decisions.

The other critical part was selecting an installer to work with.  Performance Marine (Stuart Miller and co) was, and continues to be a great partner.  They are highly knowledgeable and capable, able to manage installation work done at the yard in Asia, and have done excellent work to complete the installation.   And most important, they totally stand behind their work and do whatever it takes to fix any issues.  Plus, in my case, I needed something else.  I needed an outfit that was willing and able to take the somewhat different approach that I desired, and was willing and able to work through the issues that can be expected with such a project.  I needed someone who was willing and able to participate in the experiment.  They have been nothing but as asset during the whole process.   The "failures" we have encountered have been largely due to my equipment choices, and the solutions to those failures have been largely provided by Performance Marine.  I highly recommend them for any electronics project.

Tanglewood's helm displays

Although we continue to work through a handful of issues I think it's useful to reflect on some of the elements of the "experiment" to see what worked and what didn't.

At the top of the heap were two architectural goals:

1) Use NMEA 2000 (N2K) to connect everything wherever possible, preferably everywhere.  The old way of wiring everything up is using NMEA 0183 which is a point-to-point wiring system.  Each set of wires has only one device that can "Talk", and everything else connected to it "Listens".  So for every device that talks, you need an additional set of wires.  And every device that listens needs a dedicated port for each device that it needs to listen to.  In small systems this isn't a huge deal, but as a system gets larger there is a geometric growth in the number of wires and the number of ports required on devices.  It becomes further complicated when you want to have redundant "talkers", like two GPSs.  Physical switches are required to allow devices to select which GPS they want to listen to.  It gets very ugly very fast.

N2K is a single set of wires that everyone shares, devices take turns talking, and anyone can listen.  It enormously simplifies wiring, and leaves a system that is understandable by anyone looking at it, unlike the wiring of an 0183 system.  It furthermore simplifies the use of redundant devices by allowing any device to be told who to listen to, and to switch to a secondary either automatically or by some command or algorithm.  There are no switches.

Reflecting on N2K, I would do the same thing over again.  But I have also found that N2K still needs some work to get where it needs to be.  The basics work great, but when you start to add redundant components, it's not as mature as I'd like it to be.  Some vendors take conflicting approaches to how you select which device you want to listen to.  I have been able to work around most of these, but vendors keep wanting to point figures at the other guy and put me in the middle between them rather than simply call each other on the phone and figure it out.  I saw the same thing during the evolution of Ethernet and the companies that became today's giants were the ones that realized the winner would be whoever worked with the most other products, regardless of who was "right".  Customers buy products that work, not products that are technically "right".  Anyway, it will be nice to see this part of the industry mature a little more.

The other thing I have found is that there are places where you just can't get away from 0183, or perhaps more accurately, where N2K just isn't ready for prime time.  AIS Class A, for example, appears to be all implemented with 0183.  There are a few devices that have N2K on them, but I'm finding that is only for transmitting AIS reports to other display devices, and that it doesn't work for connecting up a heading sensor, for example.  So you still need 0183.  I also ran into a variety of issues with multiple AIS devices on N2K.  There doesn't appear to be a consistent way (or any way) to select which one to listen to,  And it doesn't appear to be clear who/where your own AIS position reports are supposed to get filtered out so displays don't think you are about to collide with yourself.   Single AIS works fine, but add a second, like a VHF that also has an integrated AIS receiver, and these subtle issues start to emerge.

I guess the overall lesson is that architectural purity. i.e. all N2K and no 0183, is not practical for this type of boat.

2) Favor integrated systems over independent components.  The idea was to not have a dozen or more little control panels that operate one device, but rather have everything controlled through a smaller number of main screens/devices.  Some people talk about "black box" devices in this context, and sometimes people refer to it as a Glass Bridge.  I did two things to accomplish this.  First is to use N2K which allows for the central control and display of lots of data.  Not all data, but a very large portion of it.  That consolidated the individual displays for GPS, Weather, Engine gauges, alarms, etc, etc.  The other thing I did was to favor a single vendor for chart plotter, radar, fish finder, and the other core navigation equipment.  This brings a bunch of advantages;

- Control and display of radar, including overlay on charts so you can see the radar returns in context like which blips are buoys and which are boats.

- Control and display of the sounder

- Presumably more reliable inter operation of components since they are from the same vendor.

Integrated, single vendor equipment is great when it all works, and when every piece is also best-of-breed.  Vendors love it because it drives you to buy more of their equipment.  They also love it because once you install it, it becomes very "sticky",  meaning you are unlikely to move away from their brand because it will lose the integrated features and/or you will have to replace everything.  The problem for consumers is when something important doesn't work properly, or when some key element is inferior to other brands, it's hard/painful to switch because of the "stickiness".

Right now we are struggling with this with our Radar.  Hopefully Simrad will sort out what's going on.  The alternative is to forgo integration and focus more on selecting best-of-breed components.  One lesson learned so far is that best-of-breed components is more important than integration.  I'll take integration anywhere I can get it, and will pick integrated components where all else is equal.  But I won't compromise best-of-breed to get integration.

Looking at other parts of the system, here's how things have shaken out.

- Radar:  The jury is still out on this experiment.  Simrad radar performance as I'm seeing it now is not acceptable, but we need to get to the bottom of whether this performance is the way it's designed or if we have a problem.  Simrad are working on this as we speak.  I'm also signed up for a week long radar operators certification course to be sure I'm not part of the problem.

- Monitors:  This experiment has been a total success.  The 24" widescreen monitors are really nice for fitting lots of info and a single screen, and the easy-to-find-in-the-dark dimmer knobs are way more convenient that fumbling through on-screen menus using buttons that you can't see.  Plus the full dim-to-dark avoids the need for screen filters.  And I find the full 1000 Nit daylight visible brightness to be critical, even in a pilot house.  All you need to appreciate this is to be running into a low sun, trying to see the on-screen info and what's ahead at the same time.  Although they are pricey compared to desktop monitors, they are about 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of name-brand marine monitors.  In this case, the risk really paid off.

- VHFs:  The experiment failed, but we recovered and have a very nice solution.  I asked for Simrad VHFs, and it was a bad pick.  The problems we encountered were 100% Simrad.  We have switched back to Icom VHFs and they work great.  I also wanted the VHFs on N2K and to be equipped with AIS receivers as backup to the AIS transceiver.  This exposed some real immaturity in vendors' implementation of N2K,  especially with respect to AIS.  We ended up with non-AIS VHFs.

Switching from Simrad to Icom VHFs

- HS70 Sat Compass:  The experiment has been a tentative success, pending the latest software update.  This is a good unit, but has a hand full of nuisance issues.  The good news is that the issues are all fixed in a new sw update.  The bad news is that I can't get the update process to work so have sent it back to be updated by Simrad.  I fully expect this will solve the outstanding issues.

- Auto Pilot:  This experiment has been a partial success.  The autopilot works well, but even though Simrad told me in writing that dual auto pilot computers could be set up on the same N2K bus, switching between them via menu commands, that part doesn't work. And now they tell me - guess what - it doesn't work.  Yup, figured that out.  So we have the second computer pre-wired and ready to plug in if needed.  And we added a switch to select between the two helm pumps.  The redundant rudder indicators work fine, and you can select which one to use via the menus which is nice.

- Simrad NSO vs Furuno NN3D vs Furuno TZ vs Garmin:  This experiment has been a success looking at it in isolation, but it's ultimate fate is linked to the success or failure of the radar.  I still like the NSO, and for every issue the NSO has I think there are 10 in the NN3D, and probably as many in the TZ.    I used a TZ on a guy’s boat in Seattle and was reminded how much I dislike MaxSea which is at the heart of all the Furuno plotters.  I continue to hear nothing but satisfaction from Garmin customers.  But given my experience with Simrad radar so far, I would want to check very carefully how the Garmin radar compares relative to Furuno.  And I still can't get past having Garmin as the sole source of charts when the plan is world wide cruising.  It's that best-of-breed thing again.

- Maretron monitoring:  This experiment has been a success.  This is mostly working very well, but there are a few glitches.  I'm in the middle of a little dispute between Maretron and Simrad about allowable ways to handle multiple rudder indicators.  But I think we are getting closer to solving that one.  Aside from that the benefits are outstanding.  I've been able to set up a few different screens, each tailored to what the boat is doing.  So, for example, there is an Underway screen and an Anchored screen.

"Underway" systems monitoring screen

The Underway screen shows everything you need while you are underway, and it's all on one screen so there is no switching or scrolling around.  It includes all the engine vitals, hydraulics, fuel status, equipment room temperatures, weather conditions, and vessel performance like speed, roll, pitch, etc, and a bunch of alarms.  And all gauges are red/yellow/green color coded so anyone can tell at a glance if things are within range without having to know, for example, what the hydraulic fluid temp range should be.

The Anchored screen has a graphical anchor alarm that shows the boat and the allowed swing circle, and it alarms if you go outside the circle.  It also shows weather info so you can see the wind speed and direction, etc.  Plus, if the stabilization at rest is running, the hydraulics status is shown.  Another hand screen I have just called "Instruments" and it shows the data coming from various instruments, mostly those where there are two of them.  So I can see, side by side, the status and output from both the sat compass and the stand-alone GPS, the Sat compass and the rate compass, the two rudder indicators, the two depth sounders, etc.  It's a real handy way to confirm that everything is working, especially the backup devices which are otherwise invisible until needed, and to confirm that redundant devices agree with each other.

- Coastal Explorer:  This has been a total success.  I think CE has been the most trouble free device on my boat(s) for the past couple of years.  I love it.

- Mac Minis:  These too have been a total success.  One runs the Maretron monitoring, video camera monitoring, and is the boat's media server, all running natively under MacOS.  The other runs MacOS too, but also VMWare Fusion +Windows 7 in order to run Coastal Explorer.  It also hosts a hand full of utilities that I use from time to time that only run under Windows.  But in general, it does only one thing and that's run CE.  The minis are nice and compact as their name implies, have lots of USB ports and dual video ports, and consume very little power.  The 12V conversion works really well too.   These run for months at a time without even the slightest hiccup.

I think that's most of it.  At some later time I can talk about the entertainment system, on-board video library, ships' network, and the security system, but we'll save that for another day.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


We departed Sausalito Thursday at around 7AM for the 5 day run up to Seattle.  It's about 3-1/2 days to Cape Flattery which is the western most tip of the continental US, and marks the entrance to the Juan De Fuca Straight.   At departure it looked like we had a good 2 days of descent weather, then a questionable day.  But in the end we were able to run straight through to Flattery, then make two day hops down the straight and Puget Sound to Seattle.

Departing San Francisco Bay

The trip went well and we got the hang of running 24x7 pretty quickly.  We did 6 hr shifts which I thought would be bad, but actually turned out to work quite well.  Laurie gets credit for that one.  It's obviously a longer shift and is hard the first 24 hrs, but then being able to sleep for 5-6 hrs is really nice.  I think everyone finds what works for them.  I never would have thought 6hrs would work, but I kinda like it with 2 people, mostly because you get enough time to actually get some sleep.  With 3 people on our first leg up we did 4 hrs shifts which was great and gave plenty of time for sleep and other things.  I’m still looking for that magical crew who will cook, wash the boat, do a shift, and live in the pilot house drawer.  I’m sure he/she is out there somewhere…..

Conditions for the most part were quite good, though it picked up for about 12 hrs on the day that was forecast to be questionable.  But mostly we had 2-4 ft wind waves on the nose from 15 kt wind, and slow 6' or more swell from the west.  The swell is quite tolerable given it's direction, and the chop is short enough duration that we mostly plowed right through it.  But occasionally the two conspired to toss us around. 

Iconic Washington Coast

We made it safely to Neah Bay at the end of Cape Flattery and found it completely empty.  No boats, no crab traps, nothing.  One other sail boat came in about a hour after we settled in.  It sure is nice to have a boat that’s not moving.  From there we rode the current down to Port Angeles, then on to Salmon Bay on Tuesday.  Through Nordhavn we were able to get longer term space at Elliot Bay, so after we get the heating system work done we will move the boat over there.  I think we will keep it there through the holidays and until we return, but we aren’t sure yet when that will be. 

Cape Flattery
The boat mostly worked great.  Issues were:

- one of the auto pilot pumps appears to be having a problem and causes rudder control alarms.  We have switched to the other pump and are continuing on.

- the MARPA does not work well and nearly resulted in a collision off Cape Disappointment.  MARPA stands for Mini Automated RADAR plotting aid, and is a way for radar to "lock onto" a target and after monitoring it for a while to show you its course and speed.  It's incredibly helpful to be able to see the direction and speed of other boats to figure out if you are on a collision course or not.  At night and in fog, it's nearly essential.  As we were crossing the mouth of the Columbia River and threading between incoming and outgoing boats, we had a MARPA target pretty close by, but it showed us totally clear.  I was looking for the boat but could only see bright sodium lights that I though were way off in the distance.  Normally you would see a white steaming light and some combination of red and green lights that will tell you the relative direction of the other boat.   Well it turned out to be a big fishing trawler with all his deck lights on running on a perfect collision course with us.  The sodium lights drowned out his nav lights and I didn't realize it was the boat and not something 3 miles away on land until he was nearly on top of us.  I scrambled to turn on all our deck lights to light us up like a christmas tree, and about two seconds later he called us by name on the radio to let us know he saw us.  To know our name he must have seen us on AIS (AIS is a gadget that continually transmits our position, course, and speed along with the boat name, radio call sign, boat length, etc.)  But he wasn't transmitting the equivalent info or I would have had him on our screen from 20 miles away.  I have to say it really rattled me.  Not just because it was a close call, but because I badly misread the situation.

Getting back to MARPA, we have a clear problem with ours not showing the correct course and speed of targets.  It's very erratic, and even when stable it shows a course that's off by between 10-20 degrees.  That's easily the difference between a safe pass and a collision.   I did a test with a tug and tow to compare with AIS.  The tug had AIS, and I locked the radar onto the barge. The two are obviously going in the same direction and at the same speed.  The AIS was correct, and MARPA also leaves a cookie crumb trail showed the historic positions of the barge following the tug.  The AIS course and the cookie crumb trail both showed the same course, but the MARPA course predictor arrow differed by 10-20 degrees.  I get the same results with both radars, and the same using either of two different heading sensors.  I think the black box chart plotter is miscalculating since it seems to be the common component.  Its a real problem and makes operating in fog, like we were in for two says all the way up the sound, a bit unnerving.

The screen shot below shows the problem.  You can see the target about 3.5 miles away with the cookie crumb trail and the AIS direction and speed line running in the same direction.  But the line pointing off to the side is the MARPA course and speed line for the same target.  As you can see the lines point in very different directions

Messed up MARPA on Radar

- we have a slow but measurable hydraulic leak that I have been unable to track down.

- my sat compass has now gone complete dead twice.  Both times we had the wind up our tails and the compass is just above and forward of the exhaust.  My current theory is that the exhaust is causing it to overheat when it is getting blown forward towards the device.

So there you have it.  It's a boat.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Underway heading north

We departed Sausalito Thursday AM and so far have had good conditions. Even though the seas are pretty gentle, there is still a fare amount of boat movement since we are head into the swells, so there isn't much we can do other than keep watch and sleep. But that's not a bad combination.

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....

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Calibrating black and gray water tank gauges

I've spent the past three days struggling to calibrate the gauges on our black and gray water tanks.  The boats come with tank monitoring "gauges" as standard equipment, but they leave a lot to be desired.  We have similar gauges on our Grand Banks, and the problem is that there isn't enough granularity to the readings to know where things really stand.  The issue is that there are just 4 lights to tell you tank status.

Green - the tank is empty.  This is a very happy light to see
Yellow - Yellow comes on just above empty
Orange - Orange comes on at about the half full point.
Red - Red is the unhappy light and means you are in deep dodo.  On some systems, the toilets automatically disable when the red comes on.

Because Green only means the tank is completely empty, and Red only means the tank is completely full, in practice there really are only two useful indicators;  Yellow means you are somewhere below half full, and orange means you are somewhere above half full.  It would really be nice to know with a little more accuracy where things really are.  On the Grand Banks, I lift a hatch and back-light the translucent tank with a flashlight and you can see where the level is.  But this is what we have gauges for - at least we should.

Sooooo, when building the boat we installed ultrasonic level sensors in the black and gray tanks.  That seems simple enough, but when I hooked them up, I was getting erratic readings.  It would go up and go down all over the place, basically reading everything except the correct level.  Reverting to the installation manual, there are a number of cautionary notes warning against the use of silicon sealant or cork gaskets.  It says to only use the supplied gasket.  Now I can't for the life of me understand why the type of gasket would impact the sender, but for kicks I removed one and sure enough, it was gooped up with some sort of magic goo.  After scraping and peeling it all away, guess what?  The sender worked perfectly.  Wow, I'm dying to know why this is and have asked the manufacturer.  Stay tuned for the answer.  Or maybe one of our readers knows?

With the sender finally working, the process of calibration begins.  The process involves pumping the tank all the way down, then filling it in measured increments until full, and taking depth measurements at each increment.  These depth/fill quantities are then given to the sender which is then smart enough to report back the level in gallons or liters rather than the physical level.  This is really important with irregular shaped tanks, which mine are.  One side of each follows the curve of the hull, so 6" of water at the bottom of the tank where it is very narrow represents much less water than 6" at the top of the tank where it is very wide.  With these smart senders you just give them a bunch of measurement points (the more the better) and it translates every inch of level into gallons of whatever.

Now somewhere along the way here you must be wondering how unpleasant a job this must be, right?  Gray water sounds pretty gross, right?  And black water is down right disgusting.  Nope.  That's the beauty of a new boat.  There is nothing but water in any of these tanks and I can freely fill them and pump is back overboard without any problem.  Even my measuring stick comes out clean.  But you can see that there is a lot of incentive to do this now and be sure that I have it right, 'cause I sure don't want to have to do it again.

OK, with that out of the way, let's get on with calibrating.  In the picture below you can see the tank top.  The round black thing to the left partly under the black cable is the sender.  To the right you can see the blue water hose and the water meter with it's outlet aimed down a larger black opening.  The key here is the water meter.  It cost $80, but is a calibrated, commercial quality meter.  Starting with an empty tank, I filled it in 20 gal increments as measured by the meter.  After each 20 gal I used two conjoined yard sticks to measure the water level, carefully recording everything.  Then just keep adding another 20 gal until the tank is full.

Tank top, black sender on the left under black cable, water meter attached to blue hose.

What's full, you might ask?  Good question.  The tank is specified as 120 gal.  But the red panic light comes on when the fluid level is about 4" below the tank top.  Well, these tanks hold a lot more than 120 gal.  It took 170 gal to light the red light.   Another consideration is that the sounder has a 6" "deadband", which means that it is blind closer than 6".  So it will consider everything closer than 6" to the top as Full.  At the end of the day, I decided to calibrate for the rated 120 gal, which is about a foot below the tank top.  That will minimize how much sloshing hits the sender and hopefully limit fouling.  It also gives a significant margin in case I ever need to add a little more to the tank before pumping out.

After filling the tank, noting all the dip stick measurements, and finally feeding the calibration info into the sender, I tested it by running the pump-out to empty the tank and watch the level drop as reported by the sender.  Everything worked correctly.

Between trying to get the sender to work, including one complete tank fill end empty cycle that was wasted because the sender was not working, and the final successful calibration, it took two full days to get the gray water tank done.  The black water then only took a half day, including chasing out one of the screw holes which was galling a bit.  If you have used stainless nuts and bolts much, I'm sure you have experience galling which is the spontaneous self-welding of threaded stainless parts.  If you have burs or other binding of threads, watch out.  One of the sender screws nearly seized coming out, so I had to get a tap and clear the threads in the tank top, and get a new screw before putting the sender back in.  Nothing that can't be solved by the 5,352nd trip to the hardware store.

That's two tanks down and 5 more to go (4 fuel and 1 water).