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.
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?
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