Electrical Adventures (November 2011)

November 17, 2011

(By Kathy)

Warning: This post is more technical so if you don’t really care about details of our electrical systems just browse the photos and wait for the next post!

Steve from Offshore Marine Electronics has been aboard nearly every day working with John to diagnose and fix a variety of electrical problems. I wanted to give you a sense of what this has entailed. There are dozens more examples, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Steve with a long list of updates to our drawings

Good news – we have extensive electrical wiring diagrams for the boat. Bad news – the diagrams are from the design stage and don’t quite match what was actually built. Sometimes this is a minor annoyance and other times it causes wild goose chases resulting in wasted time and frustration. Steve so far has an entire legal pad filled with changes that need to be made. By the end of this process we will have updated drawings that come closer to matching what is actually on the boat.

Here are a few examples of things being fixed:

Bilge high water alarm failed – replaced

Fuel tank water sensor failed – parts on order

Back up fresh water pump failed – new pump ordered. However due to both flawed design change last year that had to be redesigned by the manufacturer and the impact of the Japanese earthquake, earliest delivery date is 1st quarter next year.

Pilot house fans failed – replaced

Electrical remote bus switches and transformers tested

Hydraulic alternators shorted – rectifiers replaced and new regulator on order

Electrical circuit breakers blown – replaced

Spot Light slave control failed – replaced

Five Windshield wiper switches replaced

Freshwater, Grey water, and Black Water tanks level sensors shorted out – replacement tank sensors and display units installed

Port & Starboard Windlass controls failed – new Autoanchor controls ordered

Link 10 (used to monitor batter levels) not operational – new unit installed

Main electrical switchboard displays shorted – new units installed – need to be calibrated

Marquipt davit (crane) not operational – parts on order – the parts have to be shipped to Marquipt, then undergo some programming before getting to us!

Sea Fire system not operational – new parts installed and system tested and re-certified

Dozens of lights and dimmers not operational – being tested and replaced as needed

There are currently 67 items on the electrical checklist, some complete, some in progress, some still to be started. This does not include the electronics, which will be covered in a separate post.

By far the greatest challenge on the electrical side is the replacement of our inverters/chargers. These are the devices which control the power on the boat. In charger mode they convert incoming 240V AC shore power (or onboard generator power) to 24V DC to charge the 2040 Amp Hour battery bank and, conversely, convert (invert) 24V DC from the battery bank to 120 and 240V AC for ships services (and air conditioning) when AC power (shore or generator) is not available.

Old inverters awaiting removal

We had two Xantrex Trace inverters which (of course) are no longer made. With no possibility of simply replacing the inverters, we had to develop a plan which would a) physically fit into the same space b) provide the same amount of power and battery charging capability, and c) entail as little re-wiring as possible. While this may seem like an easy task, it was not. After days spent on research and talking with consultants, the choices were narrowed to two – Outback and Mastervolt. Neither was a perfect solution, but in the end we settled on MasterVolt because it provides a similar level of charging and inverting capacity as our existing system and requires minimal rewiring of existing boat systems.

While Steve and John will be able to install the system, we had to engage a consultant to design it and to provide details of how it is to be installed. Parts have been ordered and this will be the biggest electrical job. Perhaps the scariest moment to date occurred when John and Steve removed the old inverters. The inverters cannot simply be “turned off”, they must be physically disconnected from both AC and DC inputs and outputs. John and Steve studied the wiring diagrams, ensured that all bypasses were engaged to route AC power to the rest of the boat when the inverters were removed, disconnected AC and DC power inputs and outputs to electrically isolate the inverters/charges, and disconnected the remote control panels – which had also been damaged. Finally they checked that all terminals had no voltage on them. However, despite all this, when one power leg was removed there was a spark and a voltage spike occurred blowing a 120V power filter. Seemingly not possible and we are still working to understand what happened and why. Notwithstanding this anomaly, the inverters were successfully removed, all 210 pounds of them, and boat power has been restored in a bypass mode until the new Mastervolt installation is up and running.

One more frustrating project is the installation of a new blower (fan) for the lower cabin. A new fan had been ordered and received and John was ready to install it. Installation is quite an adventure in itself as it requires a journey through a tiny opening to a very restrictive space very deep but narrow. Let’s just say this is not a space where Bradley will ever venture. After making his preparations, John descended and began asking for a variety of tools which an assistant (me) duly handed down to him. After an hour of work, John determined that the new fan was the wrong kind and would not work. It wasn’t wasted effort, but it was frustrating because of the difficulty of access. At least we now know what we need and we’ll get it done next time. Since it’s very difficult to describe these kinds of restricted spaces, here is a video of John trying to get OUT of the space (click to play):

Sergio installs new engine and thruster controls

The best news of the week concerned the installation of the remaining control units for the engines and bow and stern thrusters. We have five separate control stations for engine throttle and thruster controls – Pilot House, Fly Bridge, Aft cockpit, and Port and Starboard on the Portuguese Bridge (the walkway outside the big windows in the Pilot House). We had not been able to install the controls on the Portuguese Bridge because the electronic units (brains of the system) are housed inside cabinets in the port and starboard guest cabins. Nobody had been able to figure out how to get the old units out and the new ones in without cutting an access panel into the outside of the boat. It is never desirable to cut holes in a boat and they will almost always leak at some point. Nevertheless, we had proceeded on getting quotes for cutting the access panels. Finally, we talked to one last person, Tim and Sergio from Core Creek Marine, who assured us he could do it without cutting an access panel. Sure enough, he had the tools, experience, and skill to do it! So the new units are now installed and we are thrilled with that outcome.

Sanding the bottom

Core Creek is also doing work on our bottom. This falls into the category of general maintenance and is not related to the lightning damage. Nevertheless, it’s a big job. Shear Madness is now covered with a plastic skirt while workers in protective gear are sanding her hull below the waterline in preparation for new bottom paint. This paint, called anti-fouling, is designed to protect the hull and to prevent growth of marine creatures (barnacles, grasses, etc.). During the process, all the propellers are also cleaned and treated with special coating. This work is now underway at full speed.

We’ve also had all of our fire extinguishers (9 of them, plus 3 Sea Fire systems in the engine room) and our primary EPIRB (emergency beacon – we have one primary one and one on each of our two life rafts) serviced and tested. We’ve also selected new carpet for the salon and pilot house and new material for re-upholstering our dining chairs. The tender has been lifted off using a boatyard crane and is being serviced. Planning is in progress for stabilizer and watermaker repairs.

Brian and Troy from Celtic Marine Electronics have arrived to start installing the new electronics. More on that next time! Please click comment button to leave a comment!

  1. #1 by Anonymous on April 27, 2012 - 11:12 am

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRADLEY……Hope I have the correct day! Have not recieved a posting from Shear Madness in awhile. Hope things are going well. Spring has arrived in our Nation’s capitol. All is well although we truly need “hope and change” in November, 2012 and not the hopeless and poor change we got in November, 2008! Here is wishing you a great day and a wonderful year. XXX……………Sandy B.


  2. #2 by Anonymous on November 17, 2011 - 11:47 am

    You didn’t say who was in charge of the window boxes!


  3. #3 by Anonymous on November 17, 2011 - 11:41 am

    AAAAAAAAAAACH! Does insurance pay for any of this? With so many variables it would be hard for me to ever trust its seaworthiness no matter the experience and skill of everyone and everything with every push of a button to another and another and another repaired connection. On the other hand, its repair will forever be a memorable journey of its own sort. Please keep a strong rope tied around a big tree trunk to the boat for a while! Ye are hearty souls, me lads and lasses! Kathy, I hope you are keeping a still more detailed explanation diary that may eventually be publishable, and then you can buy another boat!

    It is all quite incomprehensible to me, and blessed be you all for the same mindsets, goals and coordination.I would have to keep the pieces that are left over to make a nautical sculpture.


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