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Power Post

Power Post part 1 of... who knows.

I couldn't talk to you about the nuts and bolts of a boats electrical system even if you asked.

What I've learned over the last year is enough to be dangerous. Actually dangerous. Maybe not so dangerous to myself, or a persons body, but certainly dangerous and debilitating to plans that were planned.

When we decided to make more than cosmetic changes to Faith, we decided it would be best to sail for awhile first so we could have a better idea of what changes we thought were most prudent. Our first season, from March to June of this year, we learned much about what we wanted and didn't want in our cruising life. There were many functional upgrades desired, but none rose to extreme priority like MORE ELECTRICITY did.

We needed more power for our current usage, and way more power for our desired usage. Add in that our system included very limited battery storage on aged and ailing batteries, and it was evident the time was right for a power system overhaul. Batteries, solar charge controller, inverter, solar panels, wiring and monitoring were all put on the list.

After months of self taught learning I felt comfortable taking on the project myself. This meant I was planning on designing a system upgrade, determining the new parts and pieces needed, purchasing from differing vendors, installing and testing everything while troubleshooting problems that popped up along the way. The problem with this became clear, exactly when I passed the point of no return. That point was at installation. I read through the manuals for each item. Didn't understand most of it, and read them again. Then researched more and read more and asked anyone who could spell electricity what I should do. Most gave me the same answer: hire it out. So, after getting everything on Faith and opening all the boxes, I called a pro.

I was informed that they normally don't handle little projects like mine, but they had some spare technicians because the super yacht they were working on had some delays. So they came out to determine the size of the job. One hour driving to the marina where Faith was, 15 minutes to look at it and say yes, they could start the job the next day, and an hour driving back to office.

Bam! $680 bill.

They charge $170 an hour, including drive time, both ways, with a two hour on site minimum.

My last attorney was just like this. Ugh.

Gladly, they started the next day. Finished in four hours, and gave me a tutorial of how to service and use it. I found problems that same night, determined the solution by calling tech support from that parts manufacturer, and called the marine electrical pro for them to be corrected. They happily came out the next day and made the wiring adjustments in about 30 minutes.

Now we were at a total of less than five hours of work, and a invoice of over $2,000. Grrrrrrrr. It was subsequently resolved for substantially less when I pointed out that two trips were not at my request, as well as the work on the last trip was to correct their error.

All's well that ends... well, not quite.

Testing the performance of an off grid power system, while you are still tied to the grid, is a questionable tactic. But hey, what do I know. I moseyed through the next four months watching my system perform adequately enough to take a few short trips sailing to Miami and Abaco and not leave Faith and crew totally without power. That was not the original plan for a robust system, but it seemed to be working.

Then, after one more month at our Hollywood, Florida marina, we set out for the Bahamas again. This time expecting to be living at anchor for the next 6-8 months and depending solely on my new power system upgrade.

After exactly one day we had a total system failure.

Total. All outlets dead. All usage stopped. Nothing.

So I fired up the generator and set about trouble shooting. Here's where my decisions start getting kinky. The next day we planned to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. We had been waiting for this weather window for two weeks, and another may not come for a month. Therefore, under the pressure of timing, I decided that there was no way my system could have really had catastrophic failure and it was mostly likely just a glitch I could correct along the way as we sailed.

We sailed to West End, Bahamas, the next morning. Upon arrival, I announced to my crew that I had tried everything I knew how to do to find the glitch, and I couldn't. It was most likely catastrophic failure of the system, as well as my decision making process. We then sailed to Freeport to find out how bad it really was.

Upon arriving in Freeport, I called manufacturer of the most likely culprit, our batteries, and was instructed to just take them to AutoZone to have them tested.

Oh geez.

Each battery is 147lbs, and there are six of them. They reside in the aft section of each hull, three per side, under the guest beds. Not exactly easy to access and certainly not easy to move. However, that didn't matter. There is no AutoZone in the Bahamas.

But there is a Carquest, and after a little sweet talking they agreed to come to Faith to test all batteries onboard. Whew. That was nice. Each battery, one at a time, on my bicycle would have been a pain. Renogy, the battery manufacturer, agreed that they would stand by the results from the Carquest test. And they did.

Five of the six batteries were dead. Each battery was purchased, on sale, for $400. So this was a relief. Conversely, Renogy informed me that they do not ship international. My options were to pay an exorbitant amount in shipping and duty, or sail back to Florida to make the exchange.

To their credit, Renogy has compromised and shipped them as far as they can while not requiring the old ones to be returned. Very helpful. Other arrangements have been made to get the five replacements to Abaco and we eagerly await their arrival.

A few things that are not presently being used unless we have the generator on:

  • Ice maker

  • Induction cook top

  • Vitamix

  • Kangen water machine

  • Salad Master cookware

  • Rainman watermaker

  • Jig saw

Things that are used in very limited way:

  • Phone charges

  • iPad chargers

  • Bluetooth speaker chargers

  • Camera chargers

  • Drone charger

  • Laptop charger

  • Dyson vacuum

  • Essential oil diffuser

Stuff we gotta use, but sometimes dies during use:

  • Lights

  • Fans

  • Nav equipment

  • Fridge

  • Freezer

  • Radios

I understand that if you wondered about all this on Faith you may have found this post interesting. I'm happy about that. But, if I am being honest, I wrote this as a form of catharsis for my weary mind, obsessed with what to do to for a final solution to our most pressing problem. Keep in mind that in no way is this a complaint. I'm happy to be tinkering around on a boat while anchored in paradise.

All our best

Faith Crew

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