The Misadventures of Mounting a Masthead Meter

Excited to get our new Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument mounted atop the mast and feeding info back to our chartplotter, I started Sunday afternoon by removing the mainsail and rigging the MastMate. I had four items on my checklist, run a new halyard, mount the new wind instrument, drop the NMEA 2000 cable down the mast, and change the bulb in my steaming light.

It should have been a straight-forward project … emphasis on should have.

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For my first run up the mast, I packed a stubby phillips-head screwdriver, a stubby flathead screwdriver, a tiny phillips-head screwdriver, and a pair of pliers.

The steaming light, which I’d never serviced before, had phillips-head screws. Unfortunately, one of my screwdrivers was too large. The other was too small. No worries, I’d get it on the second trip.

I climbed upwards to the masthead.

I needed to unscrew the anchor light that I’d just installed a few months ago to then remove the top plate of the mast. This time my screwdriver was the correct size, but because I’d brought the stubby one, the handle wouldn’t let me get the tip on the head of the screw.

On my old boat I had many extra halyards, so it was easy to hang a bag on one and run tools up and down. We don’t have that luxury on Gimme Shelter, which is why I was planning to run a new halyard.

I climbed back down and reshuffled my selection of tools. Then I made my second climb.

This time I opened the steaming light and pulled the bulb, although it didn’t look burned out.

I got back up to the top, removed the anchor light, and opened the top of the mast.

As I moved the new sheave into place at the front of the mast, I realized that the new halyard would have to be run inside the mast, but I had no holes for it to run back out of the mast. No worries, I’d move that job to the end of the list, and if I had time I’d go grab a padeye and drill a new hole for it.

I came back down the mast and set to work drilling and mounting the Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument.

Within a few minutes I had the wind instrument mounted and found a replacement light bulb for the steaming light.

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The day was getting better.

I made my third climb up the mast with wind instrument in my backpack and the NMEA cable tied to my belt. I started running the cable down the mast and then sent Mary to go pull it out the bottom.

We ran into a small problem — there were no openings in the bottom of the mast.

I just assumed that since there were other cables running out of the foot of the mast that we’d be able to fish the new cable out as well. I assumed wrong. I came down from the mast and drilled a new hole.

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That’s when I ran into an even bigger problem — our mast was full of foam. And it wasn’t just a little bit of foam, it was 6′ of foam all the way from the foot of the mast to the cabin top. There was no way to poke a cable through.

I climbed up the mast for the fourth time and pulled all of the cable back out of the mast, then dropped it back down the side of the mast to Mary. I screwed the mast light back on and secured everything at the masthead and made my way back down to the steaming light.

This trip I’d packed a multimeter, so I checked the fixture only to find I was getting plenty of current. I then jiggled the bulb and found that if it was in the fixture cockeyed, it would come on, but when it was properly seated, it didn’t work at all.

I spent a few minutes cleaning it with a wire brush but got not improvement, so I left the steaming light as an unsolved mystery and climbed back down.

At this point my legs were toast, I had a new hole in the mast, but not in the place where I needed it, and the steaming light still didn’t work. However, the wind instrument is now mounted.

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Next weekend we start again securing the NMEA cable to the outside of the mast and take another shot at getting the steaming light working again.

Lessons learned

I wish I’d connected the anchor light with a waterproof plug instead of splicing the wires together. If I had used a plug I could just leave the light fixture connected when I remove the top of the mast. It would have made this project much easier.

I should have done more research on my mast. I should have checked to see if it was open at the bottom for the wiring, although I don’t know how I could have known it was full of foam. I also assumed I could run the new halyard externally, but that proved impossible without a spinnaker crane.

The easiest way to climb the mast ( … so far)

Last weekend I installed my NMEA 2000 backbone, so this weekend I really wanted to get my new wind instrument mounted at the top of the mast. After trying several methods over the past five years, this is the easiest mast-climbing method I’ve found if your mast didn’t come equipped with steps. (Well, not as easy as just sitting in the bosun chair and getting cranked up by someone else, but when you have to climb alone or don’t have someone strong enough to crank you up, that’s not an option.)

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First off, I have no affiliation with MastMate. I actually bought mine second hand from a guy in the Clear Lake Racing Association. It’s basically just a long piece of heavy duty nylon with triangles of nylon sewed onto each side and cars for the mast track sewn on one edge of it. It’s coils up nice and flat for storage.

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To use it I have to remove the sail cars from the mast track. Then I release the topping lift and lower the end of the boom to the deck.

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We only have two halyards, the main and the jib. The jib halyard is always in service holding up the roller furling, so I use the main halyard to raise the MastMate, and I use the topping lift as a safety line tied to my harness.

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The main halyard attaches to the grommets at the top of the MastMate, and you feed the cars into the track as you raise it. If the wind is blowing hard one way or the other, you might have to tuck the steps on that side under, so they don’t get stuck in the lazy jacks or standing rigging as you pull it up. Once you get it to the top of the track, you just cleat it off.

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With only about 10 minutes of work, you’ve got your own stairway to heaven.

Going up and down is all leg work as you keep your arms around the mast and just move from step to step as if you were climbing a ladder.

It’s still advantageous to tie off at the top, both for safety, and because you can sit down in your harness to work instead of having to stand and balance the entire time.

What’s your preferred way to climb the mast?

Primary winch replacement on an Oday 34

Gimme Shelter arrived with the original winches from 1982, shiny stainless Barlow 25s. They glimmered with the reflection of the ocean as the waves rolled by.

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Unfortunately their shininess couldn’t make up for a few shortcomings.

  • Mary does not have much upper-body strength, so trimming in the 140 Genoa in anything more than the lightest wind proved impossible for her. I knew we needed bigger winches.
  • Barlow has been out of business for decades, and as I learned with my last boat, you’re always better off going with something that is still being made (or at least with a company still in business).
  • I was going to have to remove the Barlow winches anyway, whether I replaced them or not because Oday did not use any kind of backing plate when they were mounted, and the fiberglass under the starboard winch was cracking and needed to repaired.
  • The set screws that held the Barlows together were frozen, and I was most likely going to have to drill them out to get them off.

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I did quite a bit of research regarding how I could possibly get the winches off undamaged, but after two weekends of waiting on penetrating oil and trying different things, I ended up breaking the head off one set screw. At that point I just decided to dremel grooves into the bottom of the bolts on the other winch, so that I could hold each mounting screw still with a flathead screwdriver from below while I used an end wrench to unscrew the nuts.

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I ended up with one winch that I couldn’t put back together and one winch that I couldn’t take apart — at least until I finally drill out the center set screws in both and re-thread the holes.

During my struggle with the Barlows I ran across these gorgeous Lewmar 44 self-tailing winches at the local Boater’s Resale Shop, and on an impulse decided to upgrade. I mean, combined they were less than the price of one new Lewmar 44, how could I pass that up?

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I’ll admit I should have done more research before pulling the trigger on the bargain. The six allen screws in the top mean these are “spring jaw” Lewmar 44STs, which are also no longer made and no longer have parts available. I kicked myself for replacing one obsolete part with another obsolete part. However, I kept reminding myself that good winches can last 40 or 50 years, so surely they still had plenty of life in them before I’d end up hunting for some discontinued gear or pawl.

I thought they would work just like all other Lewmar winches and come apart after I removed the allen screws in the top. I was wrong. I took out the screws and nothing budged. I was delayed again as I searched for a way to disassemble Lewmar 44ST Spring Jaw Winches without them ending up in the same condition as the Barlows.

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Thankfully, the kind people at Lewmar were extremely responsive and in less than 24 hours of sending my inquiry, they sent me back a PDF of the original Lewmar 44ST Spring Jaw Self Tailing winch instructions, which I am sharing here for anyone else wondering how in the world to take these apart: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B-eqti4pjMLTRGw5cE9FMHFoOU1OczFKcURaX3dIdGdfeFFn&authuser=0

The key is to use a rubber mallet to tap the tailing arm in a counter clockwise direction until the entire top of the winch knocks loose. Then remove the six allen screws. Then the interior ring just screws off. It’s very easy once you know how to do it.

While I was fighting with the winches I was also mixing up thickened epoxy and filling in the old winch holes as well as injecting epoxy into the cracks.

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By the way, the Barlow winches actually had six holes, but Oday only bothered to put in five screws. I’m at a loss when it comes to the decisions boat builders make.

I also made new backing boards out of 1″ oak planks. In the past I’ve used star board, but I already had the oak left over from another project, so I went with that. I also bought all new stainless hardware to make sure I had six bolts for each side that were long enough to fit through the backing boards.

I drilled the six new holes two bit sizes larger than required, then filled those holes with thickened epoxy. I then re-drilled through the epoxy with the correct bit size, so that if my bedding of 5200 under the winches ever leaked, I wouldn’t end up with any water penetration at the holes.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo with the six holes drilled, filled and re-drilled because at that point of the project I was either covered in epoxy or just trying to get it finished.

The port backing plate, which is located in the lazarette, went on with no issues, but I had to cut the starboard backing plate in half to make it fit through the small access hole in the ceiling of the aft berth.

I won’t go into the details of how we installed the new winches with Mary working the screwdriver from the cockpit while I held up the backing plates and worked a ratchet in a contorted position from the bowels of the ship, but eventually the winches were mounted, and our marriage has survived.

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We now have the largest self-tailing winches compatible with our line size. After using them sailing to Port Bolivar last weekend Mary’s review was, “This is a lot easier.”

Worth every penny — even if they are discontinued.

Flashback: Installing a Flagship Marine Air-Conditioning Unit

As summer approaches and more people consider installing air-conditioning in their vessels, I thought it might be time to re-post this write-up from our old blog that didn’t get migrated to the new site. The unit has indeed been a great investment and worked flawlessly for the past year.
It took four weekends, but Gimme Shelter now has marine heat and air-conditioning.
We went with a Flagship Marine 12000 BTU unit as we liked both the fact that the units are made in the USA and they use a modular off-the-shelf construction, so should anything go wrong, it’s easy to find parts. We ordered both the unit and the deluxe installation kit, so it came with the appropriate through-hulls, ducting, hoses, vents, pump and strainer.
We weren’t completely thrilled to be giving up the closet, but getting rid of the space heater and the roll-around air-conditioner that were taking up space in the cabin made it a worthwhile tradeoff. It was also the easiest place to duct. We simply had to run one duct through the bulkhead into the main cabin and one out through the bottom of the closet and back up into the bukhead of the v-berth.
We installed the programmable thermostat in the nav station.
Of course, to run the air-conditioner we had to install a new 20 amp breaker. Unfortunately the O’day panel only had three breakers: outlets, charger, and water heater.
We took a trip to West Marine only to find out breaker panels are REALLY expensive. We decided go browse through the Kemah Boaters Resale Shop. Jackpot!

Yes, we had to install it sideways. And yes, we still had to spend $65 to replace two of the breakers, which ended up different colors. However, the panel was only $8.99, and we didn’t have to cut up the bulkhead.

It turned out to be a good thing we pulled the old panel out. The cable going to the outlets was in really bad shape.
The plastic casing of the 30 amp breaker on the panel also shattered when I attempted to unscrew the shore power leads. I guess it’s good to inspect your electric lines every 32 years.
After three weekends of drilling holes, running cables, and re-wiring breakers, we came to the one thing we couldn’t do ourselves — drilling the through-hull.
We fired up Gimme Shelter and puttered around the corner to South Texas Yacht Services to have them drill a hole in the bottom of our boat.
I had one friend who swore to me that we could drill a hole in the water as long as we had a bunch of rags to shove in the hole while we fished the through-hull through the bottom with a string. I decided it was worth it to pay for a haul out.
Quick hauls generally last one hour, but when they install a through hull they want to give it a little time for the sealant to cure, so you basically get charged for two quick hauls. All in all, our “extended quick haul,” pressure wash, zinc change and through-hull installation cost us $650. It added a lot to the cost of our air-conditioner installation, but not sinking at the dock was worth it.
We were back in our slip with the professionally installed through-hull and a clean bottom by 10:30 a.m., so I went to work installing the strainer and pump.
The heavy duty blue silicone hose was a nightmare to get onto the flanges. I finally boiled a pot of water and stuck the ends of the hoses in the water for about 15 minutes to get them flexible enough to install. They are so tight, I’m pretty sure the clamps aren’t even necessary.
The pump had plastic flanges and was much easier to install.
I opened the through-hull, kicked the thermostat over to “Cool”, and checked our water flow.

Voila! We have air-conditioning.

No more lifting window units on and off the deck and leaving them on the dock. No more crappy roll-around units dumping condensation all over the floor and having to be lashed up against the wall when we go sailing, No more space heaters in the walkway causing us to worry about starting a fire.
Will it be worth the investment? I sure hope so, but I guess we’ll find out this summer. YES, It was totally worth the investment!

Winch replacement progress and roadblocks

Well, after sitting in the rain all weekend waiting for a chance to work on the boat, I finally made some progress on the winch replacement this morning. A star-headed screwdriver and vice grips finally gave me enough torque to break the set screw.

I wish I meant break it loose. Unfortunately I mean I broke the head off of it.

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Once the head of the bolt snapped, the Barlow 25 came apart quite easily. Mary worked the deck side of the screws while I went below with a ratchet, and we had it removed pretty quickly.

Instead of fighting the set screw in the port winch I decided to try removing the nuts from the bottom first. Magically, I was able to get all five off, so the port winch is still intact, but not serviceable. I think I’m going to have to spend a couple hours this week drilling out the set screws and re-threading the center of both winches, so we can sell them.

Meanwhile, I began filling the old winch holes in the deck and patching some of the cracks with thickened epoxy.

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I thought I’d actually finish this project today, but then I ran into the next big hurdle. Our replacement winches are vintage Lewmar 44st spring jaw winches with six allen bolts on top. I just assumed that when I removed the six allen bolts, the winch would come apart. Wrong.

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I’m stumped. I searched the internet for a diagram or service manual with no luck. I also posted on cruiserforum.com looking for help, and nobody has responded yet. Until I can figure out how to take these winches apart to drill new holes and bolt them to the deck, I’m stuck.

Anybody have an idea?

Update: Lewmar sent me the answer, and it involves a rubber mallet. I will post the instructions soon.

Winch woes

Our O’day 34 came with Barlow 25 winches. Barlow, like O’day, has been out of business for decades.

As I complete various spring-cleaning and maintenance tasks, I decided it would be a good time to service and lube the winches. However, while all previous winches I owned had some sort of snap ring holding them together, the Barlows had me stumped.

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No snap ring, no holes for a deck wrench — definitely no handy “tool free” servicing like you find in modern winches.

Also note the stress cracks in the fiberglass around the winch. O’day didn’t bother to use any sort of backing plate at all when they installed these.

To service the winch, you have to unscrew the reverse-threaded allen bolt in the center of the winch. However, being two speed winches, the winch rotates in both directions. Although I spent at least an hour trying to break the bolt loose, I was never able to budge it. I did, however, manage to strip out the head of the bolt in the port winch.

After much searching, I came across this on the Internet:

Barient/Barlow Winch Disassembly TOOL: Bar 395-Tool:
Special Tool for Assembly and Disassembly of various Barient and Barlow Winches. Tool has Winch Handle stud with a hole in the top to hold drive socket while using an allen wrench to loosen the socket screw.

Oh yeah, a tool like that would have been super helpful — too bad they don’t make them anymore.

So now I’ve got two Barlow 25 winches that, if nothing else, need to be unbolted, so that a proper backing plates can be put inside the boat.

We wandered by the Kemah Boater’s Resale shop looking for grill covers since we refuse to pay $50 for a grill cover at West Marine. (FYI, they have a million kettle-style grill covers, but no rectangular grill covers.) While we were there I spent some time looking at winches. There was only one Barlow winch in the entire store with the same type set-up as mine, and the allen bolt in the center had been replaced with a big flat-head screw. Obviously I was not the only one who had a problem with these things.

The shop actually had a set of Barlow 25 self-tailing winches for sale, but they had the much more user friendly set up with two holes in the center cap, so it could be screwed out with a deck-plate wrench. I thought about purchasing them since they were the same size and had the same bolt pattern, but then I asked myself, if I’m going to spend money to replace winches, don’t I want something that will have replacement parts if it breaks? Also, if I’m going to spend the money to change them out, don’t I want to upsize them, so Mary has an easier time trimming in the jib sheets?

Then I saw these guys sitting on the shelf for just a few dollars more.

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An executive decision was made.

No, we won’t be replacing the radar this year. No, we won’t be purchasing a dinghy this spring. Yes, we will be sailing with self tailing winches … as soon as I figure out how to get the old ones off.

Anchor lights and other things at the top of the mast

When we purchased Gimme Shelter, she did not have an anchor light. The previous owner had been hanging a small light off the backstay. After a few close calls with some not-so-smart boaters while anchored out to watch fireworks last summer, I decided the backstay light was not hacking it. (Yes, I said last summer. You can’t rush these projects when there’s important things to do like sailing, drinking and playing music.)

Many months ago our friend Rene had donated this Seasense LED anchor light he had left over after a project on his Morgan. Many thanks, Rene!

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This weekend it was finally warm enough to tackle the job. However, first I had to do some investigation and answer some important questions like, where did the anchor light switch and wiring go? I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to run all new wire or not.

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Gimme Shelter came with a “solar charger.” Basically there was a huge 15 watt panel in the aft berth with a 12v DC plug. If you carried the giant, outdated panel outside and plugged it into the 12v socket in the binnacle, then flipped that “solar charger” switch, the panel would ever-so-slightly feed the batteries. I decided the “solar charger” switch was probably a good place to start looking for anchor light clues.

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Yep, under the solar charger label was the anchor light switch. However, it obviously was no longer wired to the anchor light, so the investigation had to move behind the panel.

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What a mess?! However, almost all the wires still had their tiny factory label ring on them. I found two red wires that were no longer hooked to anything. One was labeled “G” and one was labeled “5”. The wire going to the steaming light was labeled “4”, so I took a gamble and hooked wire “5” to the anchor light switch and flipped it on. Suddenly I had 12 volts  running to the wiring plug at the base of the mast! (I still don’t know where the “G” wire leads.)

The anchor light wires were still attached to the plug and running up the mast, but we had no idea if they still made it all the way to the top, and there was only one way to find out. It was time to put on the harness and head up the beanstalk.

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Since Mary doesn’t have the strength to crank me up the mast, and she doesn’t care for heights, we invested in a MastMate. It’s a nylon ladder that connects to the main halyard and runs up the sail track. I still wear a harness and connect the topping lift to my harness just in case, but it makes going up and down much easier. Mary just takes up or lets out slack and ties me off instead of having to crank me up.

I was greeted at the top with a disturbing sight.

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A lizard was literally impaled on the end of the windex. How does that even happen?

I’d taken up a bag of tools, so I went to work unscrewing the cap to the top of the mast. However, once unscrewed the top wouldn’t budge. I had to retreat down the mast to find a pry bar.

Once back up the mast with the biggest screwdriver in the box, I did manage to pop the top and found this.

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Can anyone enlighten me as to why there are two sheaves in the middle of the mast? If they had been the same size as the sheaves in front I would have switched them out, so I could run a second jib halyard, but they weren’t quite the same size. I lifted them out and began searching for the anchor light wires.

Hallelujah, the wires were still there. After spending what felt like an eternity balanced on one foot reaching down the mast with a long pair of needlenose pliers I finally grabbed them and was able to slide them back up to the top. I then clamped a set of vice grips on them, so they wouldn’t fall back down the mast. After trimming and stripping the ends, the multimeter verified that I had 12 volts at the top of the mast. (I was astounded because boat projects never go this way.)

At this point I needed to take another break, so I left the vice grips holding the wires and climbed back down with the mast cap. I decided the easiest plan of action was to mount the light to the cap on the ground, then take it all back up as one piece for installation.

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In the perfect world I would have cleaned and repainted the cap, but even though this project was going surprisingly well, I was still running out of daylight, and I needed to get everything back together before heading home.

For the third time I climbed the mast. I crimped the wires together, taped it all up, released the vice grips and screwed the top back into place.

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And just as I leaned back to bask in the glory of my flawless victory, I broke off the windex!

I wasn’t too upset. I mean, there was a dead lizard stuck on it anyway.

I ended the day with only one injury. Somehow I gave myself a blood blister on my pinkie – no idea how.

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It felt so good to finally scratch the anchor light off our work list (even though I had to pencil in “replace windex” at the bottom). I was amazed that we never even had to make a trip to West Marine! I don’t know if that means we’re getting better at projects or that we got really lucky this time.

As we took one last walk with the dogs before sunset, I could see our new anchor light shining proudly across the marina. (Our mast is the tiny one right in the middle of the photo. And by shining proudly, I mean, I could barely see it because it was still daylight, but it was definitely on, so that counts.)

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We finally have all of our lights functioning. Hopefully we will spend many nights anchored out this year.

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Putting LEDs to the test: Dr. LED vs HQRP-USA

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After giving in a buying a $35 Dr. LED replacement bulb at West Marine a few weeks ago, I was on the lookout for a more affordable LED option. Enter eBay seller HQRP-USA: http://stores.ebay.com/hqrpusa

HQRP was offering very similar LED bulbs, but at $9 a piece, or 4 for $35. While still not as affordable as incandescent bulbs, I found that price much more appealing, so I placed an order for one.

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Pictured above is the Dr. LED bulb, left, with the equivalent HQRP bulb. Dr. LED has 4 rows of 3 LEDs and 1 LED on the end. HQRP has 6 rows of 3 LEDs and 6 LEDs on the end. If you’re not a fan of math, that’s 11 more LEDs packed onto each bulb.

The Dr. LED bulb is 2 watt with a .18 amp draw. The HQRP bulb is 2.5 watt with a .3 amp draw.

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Like the Dr. LED bulb, the HQRP bulb showed good quality control and soldering, and all of the LEDs lit up when it was plugged in. And just like the Dr. LED bulb, the HQRP bulb put off plenty of light. Could I tell if those extra 11 LEDs made it any brighter than the Dr. LED bulb? Nope.

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Having put the HQRP bulb into the head’s dome light for the comparison test, I now had the Dr. LED light in my hand and the freedom to go change another light in the boat. That’s where I ran into some trouble.

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My light fixtures in the salon are slightly different than the one in the head, and the big ring at the base of the Dr. LED bulb did not have enough clearance. It would go into the socket, but there was a noticeable amount of tension on the bulb where it was pressing against the fixture. I was actually worried it would break the bulb if I left it in there. The Dr. LED bulb had clearance issues on all three of my salon dome lights.

Meanwhile, as I was distracted with taking apart every light in the cabin, this guy was suddenly on the table and sneaking towards the last piece of baclava.

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After reassuring Tex that while I was enthralled with the light fixtures, I was not unaware of his activities, he went back to sleeping in the blankets, and I put the Dr. LED bulb back in the head and moved the HQRP bulb into the salon.

While the diameter of the two bulbs was the same, the HQRP bulb fit better, but it had some minor clearance issues as well.

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Maybe there’s just not a way to manufacture a taper into shape of these replacement bulbs, but if I was designing them, I would lengthen the plug portion of the bulb by 2 or 3 millimeters to fix the clearance issues.

I think we’re going to order another half dozen bulbs from HQRP-USA to finish switching all of our lights to LEDs, but if you know of another good supplier that’s even cheaper, please write us and let us know.