Repairing a cabin dome light with LEDs

I think we can all agree that the easiest way to convert your boat lights to LED is to just stick one of these adapter bulbs in the socket.

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However, not long after a recent “conversion” one of my dome lights quit again. I pulled out the multi-meter to see if I was getting power to the socket, and I found this.

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One of the contacts was missing. After 33 years the spring-loaded plastic bottom of the socket had become too brittle and finally snapped. While my dome lights aren’t particularly pretty, they at least all match. I was faced with either repairing this one or replacing it with a new style light that wouldn’t look like the others and would require me to drill new mounting holes.

Instead of replacing the socket I decided to just wire an array of LEDs to the switch. Since I wanted it done that afternoon, my only option was West Marine.

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The Dr. LED dome light conversion kit came with two sets of pigtails, one with bare wires on the ends and the other with a double bayonet connector. That seemed a bit unnecessary because anyone attempting this who didn’t need the bayonet could have just clipped it off and used the wires, but I guess they have to justify charging $30 for LEDs somehow.

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I turned off the 12-volt power, removed the light fixture from the ceiling, clipped the old wires, and removed the broken socket.

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Yep, it’s still broken.

I then connected the positive leads to the switch and the negative lead to ground. Then I plugged the pigtail into the LED array.

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Time to turn the 12 volt breaker back on and test the setup.

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The LED Conversion kit comes with two pieces of double-sided foam tape to stick the array into the dome. I only used one. I guess the other one is there in case you mess up.

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Then I just had to re-attach the lens and screw the fixture back into the cabin top.

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Theoretically I should never have to mess with this light again. I’ll let you know how it works out.

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.

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.