Our mission -- Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enter .. OOPS, sorry, I got carried away. Let me start again.

Our mission -- Warm Waters and Great Weather: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Motor Vessel Traveling Soul. Its five-year mission: to explore strange warm waters, to seek out new forms of recreation and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Brown, Applegate or Higgins has gone before.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Boatyard

I know, I now, you didn’t expect another blog entry so soon after the last one. Well, we are kind of stuck in a VERY LOUD boatyard watching the paint dry on the boat next to ours and watching workmen spend our hard-earned money. There are two reasons why we are here. The first one relates to the battery problem we have been having for several months now.  I hope to be able to resolve that forever – you will have to read on before you know how. There was another problem, however – a problem with our generator – which turned out to be the much bigger and much more EXPEN$IVE problem, costing  more boat units than I can count. For a discussion of our NEW generator, you will have to read on or skip forward.

Batteries, Batteries and More Batteries

You will remember that I have been complaining about my batteries ever since we left the States. Four years ago when I was having similar problems, I decided that I would spend whatever it took to solve the problem. I was told that Lifeline batteries were the top of the line, that they had a five year warranty and that they usually lasted much longer than that. I bought two of them for my inverter bank and a year later bought two for my house bank. Fast forward three-and-a-half years. Our inverter batteries are now producing at about 60% of the capacity they produced when they were new. I have to crank up and run the generator twice a day for about 2-3 hours in order to keep our food cold, our phones charged and our computers on-line.  I contacted Lifeline to ask them what I should do. Their tech rep told me that it appeared I had a “minor sulfation issue” – that’s right he considered a drop in 40% of the batteries’ capacity a “minor sulfation issue.” Isn’t that like telling someone whose boat is sinking due to a huge hole in the hull that he has a “minor fiberglass issue?” or a guy who has been decapitated that he has a “minor neck wound?”   Or a guy who has suffered a massive coronary that he has a “minor cardiac issue?” “Minor sulfation issue” my patootie! Needless to say I was not particularly impressed with Lifeline batteries or with the technical support offered by the company.

So, I contacted several friends who are especially knowledgeable about these things and have boats similar to ours. I asked them three questions: (1) How many amp-hours they had in their battery banks, (2) How many battery banks they had on their boats and (3) What kind of batteries they used, golf cart or big 8-D batteries. (NOTE: An ampere hour (abbreviated Ah, or sometimes amp hour) is the amount of energy charge in a battery that will allow one ampere of current to flow for one hour. An ampere is a unit of measure of the rate of electron flow or current in an electrical conductor. Our refrigerator, for example, requires about 10 amps per hour, or 240 in a 20-hour day.) This first thing I learned is that the measly 1100 amp-hours I had in my two banks was clearly not enough. We have a pretty big boat, but people with smaller boats than ours have more A-H that we did. Moreover, we use Alternating Current (AC) extensively. We have a household-size GE refrigerator on our boat, for goodness sake. Other people have made different choices; some don’t have electric refrigerators or freezers, some have smaller ones, some have propane appliances, some have special marine 12 volt – 120 volt refrigerators, etc. We like having the luxury of a big household refrigerator. That means we have to have enough battery power to run it for a reasonable period of time. 1100 amp hours wasn’t going to cut it.

Second, we learned that several (though certainly not all) of our friends have combined what I call their “inverter” banks and their “house” banks into one. There are advantages and disadvantages to that approach. On the one hand, for example, it is much easier to keep track of what is happening to your batteries when you have only one bank. In addition, you can use the juice from all your batteries equally. On the other hand, if you have a big bank you may have issues charging all your batteries in a reasonable amount of time. So, to me, it doesn’t seem to be a slam-dunk one way or the other.

Third, I learned that many (though not all) of my friends were using golf cart batteries on their boats. I knew, of course, that many people on power boats used golf carts, but I was a bit surprised at the number of my friends that did. The most important reason they cited was that the Golf carts are smaller and easier for one man to handle. While that is true, because most golf carts are usually 6-volt (requiring two batteries wired in series to produce the required 12 volts) larger banks will require two to four times as many connections as regular batteries. Connections, of course, lead to inefficiencies and the potential for problems.

After that input, I initially decided to increase our battery bank by at least 50%, to put all batteries in one bank and to convert to golf cart batteries. Then, I talked to the boatyard (Whiticar, in Stuart Florida) that would have to do much of the work. They had a couple of observations and suggestions. First, they understood completely my desire to increase the size of our bank. Second, they wanted to make sure I understood that while they were perfectly willing to put in all golf carts, it would be a lot more costly as they would have to find and/or make space for the new batteries (even though we would be taking out the old batteries, it was not a 1:1 exchange) and they would have to reconfigure and re-wire the banks that I had. They suggested that I think about making a one-for-one exchange with my existing 8-D batteries, then find room for two more. They thought, and I eventually agreed, that it would be a lot less work (read a lot less expensive). Moreover, let’s face it, while some of my friends are agile enough and handy enough to move and re-connect their batteries in the coming years, I am not going to. I can reconnect batteries regardless of their weight, but if I really need to move them, I will whip out the two most important items in my tool bag – my checkbook and my cell phone – and find someone who can do it for me. So, the fact that that golf carts can be handled by one man (they are still about 70 pounds each!) is not that much of a selling point.

So, here is what I ended up with: 6 x 8-D batteries with 330 amp-hours each for a total of 1980 Amp-hours. Now, most 8D batteries have around 250 amp-hours, but I figured in for a penny, in for a pound.  I know what most of you are thinking, “Brown, what the hell did you do? Increasing your AH capability by 50% is one thing, increasing it by a factor two is another!” You may be right, but I decided to go big or go home. Here is my thought process: (1) I am tired of worrying about how many AH are left in the banks and when we are going to have to turn on the generator. (2) We all know that the less the depth of discharge (DoD) of a battery the longer it will last. In the case of these particular batteries, the manufacturer indicates that when they are normally discharged to 80%, the service life (measured in cycles) is likely to be 2.5 times higher than if they were discharged to 60%. When my previous inverter bank was new, I would frequently discharge it to 60% (never below 50%, of course). Now, because I will have twice as many AH available I should not be discharging it to less than ~80%. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll last longer.

My original intention was to keep all these batteries in one bank – but, since I have so many AH there may be a problem. I have two very good, modern battery chargers, one part of the inverter-charger combination and a separate 80 amp battery charger made by Charles, one of the best on the business. I am not going to go into the workings of modern three and four phase chargers, but suffice it to say that using two chargers will not cut the charging time in half. In fact, the only way to tell how much the second charger will contribute (if at all) seems to be to test the various configurations. So, what I had the technicians do was to give me a switch so that I can either combine all the batteries into one bank or separate them into a 4-battery inverter bank and a 2-battery house bank. Before we leave the Yard I will test the two bank solution versus the one bank solution to see how long it takes my two chargers to charge the batteries. Based on that observation, I will normally carry them in one configuration or the other. I will keep you posted.

The Generator

OK, even though the batteries cost upwards of $500 each and even though there was quite a bit of labor involved in moving out four 200 pound batteries, and moving in six two hundred pound batteries, the eventual cost of the battery challenge will be insignificant in comparison to the cost of the generator challenge.

We have always had problems with our generator. Initially it was the solenoids. After we fixed those it was the fuel system. When we had the fuel system repaired the cooling system began acting up. This year we had problems with the radiator cap and the heat exchanger. Well, we have finally hit the point where the heat exchanger failed catastrophically – failed to the point where the damage it caused to the rest of the system cannot be fixed.

In our generator, as in most marine generators, a fresh water-antifreeze mixture circulates through the system to keep the generator cool. As this mixture circulates, it cools the generator, of course, but at the same time the mixture becomes hotter and hotter. Eventually, the fresh water-antifreeze mixture runs through the “heat exchanger.” The heat exchanger takes the cool salt water that the generator has sucked up, runs it past the mixture to cool it down, then dumps the now-hot saltwater overboard. In our generator, somewhere along the line, the heat exchanger broke and allowed salt water in to the fresh water cooling system.  You know how corrosive salt water can be. Unbeknownst to us, the salt started corroding the insides of the fresh water system and punched holes in it until just about the whole generator was compromised and feeling the effects of the salt water. When the tech looked at our generator he said he would have to replace this, replace that and replace something else, just to see if the generator could be flushed and repaired. He didn’t know how much that would cost, but it wouldn’t be cheap, OR we could get a new generator. To paraphrase a famous song, “We closed eyes, we held our nose … we paid the money.” We are now the proud owners of a brand new 17kW Onan-Cummins generator. 

This generator is so quiet … c’mon, c’mon, you are supposed to say in unison, “how quiet is it?” Anyway, it is so quiet that we (mainly Ann) decided to take up the carpeting in the galley. (Nobody wants carpeting in their kitchen. We kept it there because it attenuated the sound from the previous generator). When we started picking up the carpeting we found parquet flooring, as is the case in the rest of the boat. Ann spent some time repairing the floor, filling the holes from carpet nails, etc. and now we have a beautiful hardwood floor in our galley. Yes, it has a few scars and a few gouges, but hey, who among us does not?

Side Trips
While the boatyard boys were working on the boat, we took two side trips, one to downtown Stuart and one to Saint Augustine. We kind of had to. In the first place we were going nuts just sitting there; in the second place they had to turn off the water and electric while they put in the batteries. Moreover, they had to build scaffolding for the generator to pull it out of the generator room, then maneuver it through the saloon (living room). For our trip to Stuart, we rented a car, visited West Marine, Publix (the Florida grocery monopoly) and a few other places. The most interesting was downtown Stuart where they were holding their weekly Farmer’s Market. The vendors didn’t really have anything that we needed, but it was nice to see folks peddling their wares on a nice sunny Florida afternoon.

St. Augustine was … well, it was St. Augustine. It is probably my favorite city along the ICW and has more history and tourist attractions than you can shake a stick at. For example, did you know that, English propaganda notwithstanding, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States? Did you know that Ripley’s first “odd-itorium” is in St. Augustine? Anyway, we spent three days at a motel in St. Augustine and had a really good time. When we got back to the boat, we found that they had put in the batteries, had removed the old generator and put in the new one – though the new one hadn’t been connected yet.

Finally, on Wednesday we left Stuart and headed to Ft. Pierce to fill up with fuel and head into the wild, blue yonder. But you’ll have to wait until next time to learn about those adventures.
ANN’S NOTES:  OK readers….TEST in ten minutes…Subject 1.. size of batteries and the number of Ah that corresponds with them? Subject  2..How many batteries and battery banks does Traveling Soul  currently have ? No cheating..ok..open book test.

What Michael did not tell you was that Me, Myself and I gave up valuable storage space in the galley to put in those big ass batteries. I figured since it is the fridge that sucks up so much power, that is was only fair that I sacrifice some space under the bench sitting area.

The new generator is very pretty and quiet. The big red salt encrusted one is in a scrap metal heap and the pretty new one is earning its keep. Heaven knows we paid a small fortune to adopt it and give it a new home.

St. Augustine was great, I found a nice motel just outside of town that takes pets. Traveling with Spot puts a whole new twist in finding accommodations.  If you ever need a nice place to stay , it is called the Southern Oaks Inn. Clean room, comfortable beads, mini fridge, mini microwave, coffee pot, very good  breakfast, pool , wifi, and free parking. Surcharge $15 per day to bring a pet.
I know Michael wants to send this out so I am going to close out.

We are heading back to the condo. It is going to be a busy summer full of family, friends, trips, and the normal medical and dental appointments.

Hope to see all of you soon, come visit!!!
Traveling Soul…OUT

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Coming Home

Ok, so I guess the real news is … we’re ba-ack. Yes, friends and family, we took advantage of that Sunday weather window and returned to the United States. The seas were as we predicted, i.e. not particularly good. Ann has made Spot a place on the sofa, though, covered with blankets and other stuff to make her feel safe – kind of like the forts we built as kids.  But before I get to the details of how/when/why we returned, let me discuss our travels before Palm Beach.
Ann and Mike with their friends Russ and Lori eating lunch at Xuma, on
Highbourne Cay

After escaping the wind at Hawksbill and making one last visit to the Exuma Land and Sea Park we started meandering home. If we were “going” home, we would have taken the shortest route and just waited for weather windows between the various stops. Since we were “meandering” we wanted to head in the general direction of home, but made sure that we stopped and smelled some of the roses along the way. Our first stop was Highbourne Cay. Every year we look for an excuse for going to Highbourne. We go there for one reason and one reason only: it is the home to what is probably the best Bahamian restaurant south of Nassau, Xuma. Located on a cliff just above a wonderful little beach with some beautiful views, more importantly, the restaurant serves some of the best food we have had in months (with the obvious exception of Ann’s). Ann and I shared both a lobster salad (scrumptious) and a fish sandwich which was cooked to perfection.

Normally when we leave Highbourne, it is off to Nassau where we spend a couple of days, dodging thieves and enjoying the sights, then we go to Chub Cay where we anchor one more time, then on to Bimini and eventually home. But since we were “meandering,” this year, we decided that we wanted to do something different and to include the Berry Islands in this year’s itinerary. In fact, we decided that we would go from Highbourne to Alder Cay in the Berries in one day – that is over 80 miles, about half of it over some serious ocean. We don’t usually go that far that fast, but were encouraged by our friends Russ and Lori who had similar intentions. The only thing that concerned me was that their power catamaran is generally faster than Traveling Soul. You will be glad to hear, though, that we made it. In fact, we left Highbourne about 0630, just at sunrise, and arrived at Alder at about 1530 – about 9 hours later.

We anchored at Alder for one night. We had initially planned to go a little further and anchor behind Bonds Cay, because we were concerned about the swell behind Alder. You can just look at Alder and know that with any southerly seas there is going to be significant swell in the anchorage. Lucky for us, however, there was virtually no southerly component to the seas and thus virtually no swell, so we decided we would spend the night there with two other boats that had beat us to the anchorage. The next morning headed out for Great Harbour Cay Marina, a more manageable distance of 60 miles away. I kind of wish we would had anchored a few more times in the Berries, but the island group is very shallow and, since many (most?) of the islands are privately owned, you can’t get much further ashore than the beach.

Some strange patterns in the sand near Great harbor Marina.
Shortly after we set out towards Great Harbour, I could see, in the very great distance, a structure that looked like a small city in the middle of the ocean. I double checked the charts to make sure there wasn’t an island that I had somehow missed. I then decided that it looked more like an oil rig, but again I didn’t  see any reference on the charts and hadn’t heard of any oil strike offshore in the Bahamas. I watched it for an hour or more and finally asked Ann to take a look through her fancy-shmancy stabilized binoculars. She told me it was a ship. “C’mon,” I told her, “even I can tell the difference between a ship and an oil rig in the middle of the ocean!” In reality, of course, it was a ship. Actually, it was two ships. It turns out that the Norwegian and the Caribbean Cruise Lines each own an island in the Berries so their passengers can get off the ship and play for a day. One owns Little Stirrup Cay and other owns Big Stirrup Cay. I swear they aren’t more than a couple of miles from one another. Exactly why they like to “cuddle” like that I will never know. Anyway, these ships are HUGE and from s distance look like cities themselves.

The reason we had come to the Berries in the first place was to go to Great Harbour Cay Marina. We had heard that the marina and its population were very social and that management organized events for almost every day of the week. While it is true that everyone was friendly, there were a few people who were social enough to organize events and it was these folks that made the week for us. So, we want to offer special thanks to Chris and Barbara on their boat Hallelujah, a 48’ Hatteras, and Arch, a single-handler, on KaJen, a Marine Trader. We met them at the Beach Club, a cute, clean little bar/restaurant just off Sugar Beach. They invited us to go with them to Carriearl, a boutique restaurant and hotel, for Sunday brunch. They knew the owners from previous visits to the marina and we had a blast. The owners are truly characters in the most positive sense of the word. If you go to the marina on Great Harbour Cay and do not go to Carriearl, you will have missed the opportunity of a lifetime … and they serve pretty good food as well!

Great Harbour is an in interesting island with a fascinating history. In the late-sixties, it was the place to be. People like Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Brigitte Bardot (ooh la la!), Telly Savalas, Jack Nicklaus and F. Lee Bailey vacationed here and development of the island was going strong. In fact, there was a world-class golf course (that had three professional tournaments), together with a mammoth golf club. Many of the island’s houses still stand (others have deteriorated significantly) and the golf course is, I suppose, technically playable, but Great Harbour Cay is a shadow of its former self. In my opinion it just goes to show what a corrupt, incompetent government can do to an economy – as is the case here and on so many other islands in the Bahamas. You can still sense, however, what it once was and what it might have been.

We stayed in Great Harbour for six days, then saw a weather window that would allow us to get to the Ocean Reef Club in Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island.  We had heard of the Club through some friends who told us that it was inexpensive ($1/foot!) and a lot of fun. Our original intention was to spend a week at the Club, then wait for a weather window to head back to Palm Beach. After the first day or two at Ocean Reef, however, the forecast window closed shut. It looked like there might be an opportunity to leave on Sunday (which would have been out fourth day there), but if we did not leave on Sunday, none of our weather sources showed a good travel day for another 10 days. So, we decided to leave early.

We did swim in the very, very nice Ocean Reef pool, and we had dinner and lunch at their pretty mediocre restaurant. We did not participate in the afternoon Bingo games, but we did enjoy the live music on Saturday afternoon. Overall, we were so focused on leaving that we did not give Ocean Reef a chance. With that said … I have to point out something. On “D” dock, which was for larger boats, there were ten, count ‘em ten Canadian boats, five US boats and one French boat. That is empirical proof that the Canadians are in the process of invading the Bahamas. Again, none of them invited us aboard their vessels so we cannot verify how much arms and ammunition they are doubtless carrying down below. Since many of you don’t believe me, I may have to write a whole blog entry on this nefarious scheme in the near future.

YOu can see the restaurant, the swim-up bar and the swimming pool.
We really had a great slip!

Anyway, we are now sitting in North Palm Beach for a few days before we take off for the Whiticar Boat Yard in Stuart where we hope to fix the generator and the battery problem FOREVER. When we get it done I will tell you what we did. Lord, I hope this works.

ANN’S NOTES:  I am Happy to report that Spot is sound asleep, curled up in her cat bed next to me, as I enter my blog comments. She is not in some strange sail canvas cover on another boat.

We did have a yummy lunch at Highbourne Cay which was made that much better by sharing the meal with our friends Russ and Lori. We have had a fun time exploring and eating our way through the Bahamas with them.
I think next time we go to the Ocean Reef resort, we will actually leave the property. We were so fixed on watching the weather that we did not even go to the local straw market. Our slip was very nice, and we were directly in front of the pool. No long walks, no lugging towels and stuff back and forth, we just stepped off the boat onto the dock, and claimed our chair pool side under a little cabana. NICE!!!!

So it is time to wrap up this year’s adventure in the Bahamas. All-in-all it was a good one. We did not have to hide from any strong west winds like last year. We did have some wind from the north and east, but really not bad. We saw some new islands, meet some new friends, and enjoyed the company of old friends. Spot had her own adventure and caused us a few heart palpitations. Traveling Soul, considering her age did well, she produced water and her generator held out and produced electricity as long as it could and most important, she kept us safe.

Remember to save your pennies and plan to visit us on our next adventure.
Thanks for reading.

Traveling Soul…OUT