Involuntary boat repairs are the worst

I really enjoy boat projects — when it’s a nice update or upgrade that I chose to undertake. I just don’t have the same enthusiasm for the inconvenient, unplanned projects that seem to be popping up on a weekly basis.

Batteries

Last Saturday we arrived to find a flooded bilge thanks to a dead float switch. We also discovered that there is an air leak in the manual bilge pump line, so we had to resort to the old cup-to-bucket-to-overboard method of emptying the bilge. I spliced in a new switch. Not especially fun, but an easy fix.The manual bilge pump is still on the to-do list.

This weekend we arrived and kicked on the air-conditioning to get nothing but a small trickle of water coming out of the through-hull. It was running, but just barely.

I went to work checking the strainer and cleaning the raw water system. As I checked each connection I noticed a drip of water coming from the connector on the bottom of the pump. The plastic hose barb that screws onto the pump had split. I removed it and sent Mary to the store to match it while I continued to clean the system. Unfortunately, no place open late Saturday evening had a match. Mary returned with a Frankenstein of adapters from Home Depot. Thankfully there was just enough clearance to get the longer adapter on, and it held pressure. However, I could not get the system to prime.

I made one last ditch attempt to get it running by sticking the shop vac on the through-hull to suck the water up through the system. It actually worked! After sweating completely through our clothes for two hours, we were back in business with a nice, strong water flow and the vents blowing cold air.

Sunday I finally tackled our house battery situation. I’m not sure if we have a bad cell or if our batteries have just gotten old and unhealthy, but while they will power everything for a 4 – 6 hour day sail around the bay, they can’t keep the refrigerator and anchor light on overnight. A while back our friend Rene donated two NAPA Commercial Heavy Duty batteries to us, but I just haven’t been in any hurry to pull 60 pounds batteries in and out of the engine bay.

With the Harvest Moon Regatta approaching, I finally decided to make the battery swap. If the free batteries get us up to 24-hours of sailing time on the house bank, we’ll attempt it this year. If not, we’re going to have to pass for budget reasons.

I was dreading the actual physical battery swap which would require lying on my back and lifting out the old batteries, then lowering in the new batteries. While it wasn’t pleasant, that ended up being the easiest part of the project.

The new batteries were larger, so the old #2 cables to connect them to each other were not long enough. Then I had three cables made for batteries with posts instead of screw terminals. Then none of my old wires with screw terminal connection rings were large enough to fit over the new, beefier screw terminal posts. I spent quite a long time re-sorting cables and replacing the ends of them.

We made a run to West Marine for some #2 cable and terminal rings. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask anyone how I was supposed to crimp on the new terminals. All the tools on the boat proved woefully inadequate.

Mary made a trip to Home Depot while I worked on other things and came back with the heaviest duty crimpers they had, which were still far too small. We then made another trip to return them and tried O’Reillys. They had pre-made #4 battery cables in various lengths, but no crimper. We called our diesel mechanic friend, who showed up with clamp on post terminals. He just shook his head when he saw what we really needed crimped. He referred us to Blackburns, which unfortunately was closed.

In a last ditch effort, Mary called West Marine again, where we’d already been twice that day, to see if they had crimpers. They said they didn’t have one for sale, but they had one we could use, so we packed all the cables and connections into a bag, and made our third stop there.

The guy at the customer service desk led us to aisle 1 where there was a huge crimper bolted to a table. He said the staff was not allowed to crimp cables for us due to liability reasons, but we were welcome to crimp away.

Five minutes later we were headed back to the boat, and 15 minutes later I finally had everything reconnected and running.

I won’t know until next weekend whether or not our battery situation is really resolved, but I’m crossing my fingers we won’t have any more surprise projects this year.

 

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!

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.