On August 25, 2011 Shear Madness, our 72-foot Nordhavn trawler, was docked at Colonial Beach Yacht Club on the Potomac River in Virginia. We selected this location to be nearby for the closing on the sale of our house in Oakton, VA on September 7 and to be well north of the “hurricane zone”. Hurricane Irene apparently failed to get the memo that hurricanes are supposed to stay well south of our location and she was headed right for the Chesapeake Bay. Bradley and I spent most of the day at the boat making preparations for Irene by securing extra lines, stowing all awnings, cushions, or anything that blows, and reducing windage as much as possible.
Two hours later, a small but intense thunderstorm cell, unrelated to Irene, passed through Colonial Beach. As the storm approached, the boat was disconnected from shore power and most systems were turned off. The exceptions were a single navigation system and the communications computer that were being used to track the storm.
Suddenly, there was a searing flash and terrifyingly load crack; Shear Madness had sustained a direct hit by lightning! After the disorientation of those on board caused by the strike cleared, an immediate inspection of Shear Madness was conducted and it was determined that there was no fire and the boat was not in immediate danger. No leaks were detected in bilges or thru-hulls. It is not uncommon for a lightning strike to create an exit hole in a vessel that has been hit. On this front we were lucky, as we found no signs of hull damage and no water ingress. Unfortunately, there appeared to be a complete loss of power and there were pungent electrical burning odors in the Pilothouse, Salon, and Engine Room.
With continued lightning in the area we had to sit tight for about an hour and hope for the best. Thankfully, we were not struck again and all aboard were unharmed. Once the cell passed and safety was assured, the boat was restored to shore power and a methodical inspection and testing of all systems ensued (see separate report on initial damage assessment).
We determined that the lightning had hit the port VHF antenna. The extremely high current then passed down the antenna and through the metal bracket that secured the antenna to the flybridge roof. At that point, the strike’s charge sought its way back to earthen ground and spread through wiring in the roof to almost every piece of electronic and electrical equipment on board via all the electrical interconnections on the boat.
It is worth mentioning that we were not the tallest boat in the marina. Indeed, there were several sailboats with masts higher than our superstructure. We were also equipped with a Forespar Lightning Brush (which is meant to lower the exposure to a direct lightning strike by controlling the conditions which trigger a direct strike). These types of products are intended to reduce the build-up of static ground charge and retard the formation of the ion “streamers” which complete the path for a lightning strike. Forespar does not—nor does any anyone else for that matter—claim that this is 100% effective. Clearly, this is a wise business decision.
The day following the lightning strike, hurricane Irene passed through, bringing winds of up to 70 knots. Fortunately there was no further damage to the boat and Irene moved north, bringing rains and floods to the entire northeast coast.
Lightning damage is covered by our insurance policy with ACE, a well-known provider of insurance for the marine industry. We immediately reported the lightning strike to ACE and they acknowledged the claim and dispatched a marine surveyor, Steve Knox, to visit the boat and assess the damage. By the time the surveyor arrived, we had conducted preliminary tests to determine what systems had obviously been damaged.
As Steve had handled lightning strike repairs before, he was able to provide excellent guidance and we worked with him and our insurance adjuster to develop a plan of action. This plan is summarized as follows:
- Get engines operational so that the boat could be moved to a facility that has the ability to haul it. Conduct a thorough inspection of the boat and develop a comprehensive list of repairs needed.
- Conduct critical repairs at the initial facility.
- Conduct sea trials and when safe to do so, move the boat to Florida to complete less critical repairs, e.g., watermakers and entertainment systems where it is not cost-effective to pay travel expenses.
- Keep the process on time and costs under control, as we were “representing” ACE, by staying involved with all vendors.
Step 1 – Get Shear Madness Running Again
Like modern cars, our Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines have Electronic Control Modules (ECMs) on each engine with display units in the engine room, pilothouse and flybridge that monitor and provide information about their operation. We also have six remote throttle control stations, located in the Engine Room, the Pilot House, the Flybridge, port and starboard Portuguese Bridges, and in the Cockpit (stern). All of the ECMs, all the display units and all of the throttle control stations were inoperable and had to be replaced.
With limited methods to control the engines, the first step in our repair process was to order the new ECMs, displays, and throttle controls, which took four weeks to arrive. There is a manual override to allow the engines to be started by bypassing the electronic components, but as we were already in a marina when the lightning struck, we had no need to risk attempting an engine start until the engine mechanics were on board. Upon receiving the parts, Western Branch Diesel dispatched mechanics from Norfolk to come to the boat. With their guidance, we conducted a test of the manual start procedure, which worked well. This was reassuring as we had wondered if we could have restarted the engines had the lightning struck while we were underway. The answer would seem to be yes, though without the electronic controls, we would not have had displays showing RPMs, engine or transmission temperature, or oil pressure and temperature. However, we likely could have headed towards the nearest port and performed regular checks of the engines using our heat gun and visual inspection.
The new ECMs for both engines were installed, as were the related display units in the engine room, flybridge and pilot house. The throttle controls in the engine room, pilot house, and flybridge were also installed with no problem. The throttle control units at the stern and on the port and starboard Portuguese Bridge were not installed at this time as we had some problems with accessing the undersides of the controls and they would require weatherproofing that would best be done in a proper boat yard.
With none of our navigational electronics operational, restoring some functionality was the next critical step in the process. We arranged for Brian from Celtic Marine Electronics (who is familiar with the boat) to fly up to Colonial Beach to develop a plan of action. Brian tested the equipment and determined what was needed. In short, nearly all of our navigational electronics had been damaged and would have to be replaced. Brian departed with enough information to prepare a plan and proposal for all the work.
We also determined that all the electronic components of our bow and stern thrusters and stabilizers would need to be replaced. Working with the manufacturer, ABT, we placed orders for necessary parts and returned some of the damaged parts to them.
Step 2 – The Initial Haul-Out and Critical Repairs
With the engines back in running order, the next step was to move the boat to a facility where repairs could be done. Colonial Beach Yacht Center has no such facilities and our preferred location was Jarrett Bay Boatworks in Beaufort, NC, about 250 miles south. However, with an 8’ draft and no radar, electronic charting, radio, or depth sounder, not to mention bow and stern thrusters, it would be dangerous to take the boat offshore and downright crazy to head down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) with its notorious shoals and rockpiles. We needed a sound plan to complete this essential passage safely.
Basic navigation and communication were easy to arrange. We installed our Nobeltec Trident software on my laptop PC and bought a handheld GPS to provide basic data. We also purchased a handheld VHF radio. But with no depth information and both anchors non-operational, we still could not contemplate a trip down the ICW. This is where Sweet Hope entered the picture. A beautiful Nordhavn 64, Sweet Hope had arrived at Colonial Beach shortly after we encountered the lightning strike. Her captain, George Morgan-Harris, was looking for a place to leave the boat for several weeks and to have her bottom worked on. We suggested Jarrett Bay and after checking them out, he agreed it suited his needs. That meant he would be able to act as our guide down the ICW, essentially functioning as our eyes and ears.
In order to move the boat we also needed a functional anchoring system. The ICW is not safely navigable at night, even with fully functioning navigation equipment, so we would be anchoring before sunset every day. We have two anchors on our bow – both 300 pound CQR’s. One is operated by a hydraulic windlass and one by an electric windlass. Both systems have controls located on deck near the windlass as well as in the pilot house. We were able to get the electric windlass functioning by re-wiring it directly to the up-down controls on the deck, and felt that this was sufficient for our needs to commence the passage.
The journey commenced on September 28, 2011 and went smoothly. We followed very closely behind Sweet Hope each day and anchored near each other at night. Captain George’s professionalism, experience, and guidance were invaluable. We communicated boat to boat using a two-way radio so that we were not broadcasting on the VHF. George relayed information about depth and handled all communications with bridges, locks, and other boats. We agreed on anchorages each night and George ensured our path was clear and stood by until we were secure before anchoring Sweet Hope. In tight spots his demeanor and calm advice on boat handling made an otherwise challenging trip seem routine. We cannot over-emphasize how important George and Sweet Hope were to the journey south. We are forever grateful.
During the trip the engines performed well, with no obvious problems. We operated the boat exclusively from the pilot house and dropped and raised the anchor from the bow as the controls inside the pilot house were not operational. Fortunately the weather was great and we had no major problems, taking six days to reach Jarrett Bay Boatworks in Beaufort, NC. Jarrett Bay has a 200-ton Travel-Lift, large enough to haul Shear Madness out of the water. The boat was lifted out of the water and put on blocks in the boatyard where the work began.
Since we did not want to live aboard while the boat was out of the water and under repair, we rented a house in the nearby community of Sea Gate. The house ended up being a great staging area for storing dead equipment removed from the boat and sorting new equipment as it arrived. It also allowed us to offload, inventory and in some cases, service everything stored on board the boat – various spare parts and other equipment such as EPIRBS, flare kits, and medical kits.
Engine and Bow/Stern Thruster Controls
Like the engines, our bow and stern thrusters have electronic control units in the same locations as the engine throttle controls. These had also failed and needed to be replaced. The bow and stern thruster parts arrived at Jarrett Bay and installation began. Most were straightforward; however, the controls located on the port and starboard Portuguese Bridge have their electronics stowed behind cabinetry in the forward guest cabins and there appeared to be no way to access them without cutting holes in the gelcoat outside. We assessed the problem with several contractors and finally Tim from Core Creek Marine was able to figure a way to get to the parts without cutting new holes. It involved some special tools, a bit of imagination, and several hours of tedious work, but the result was positive and all engine and bow/stern thruster controls were finally installed and operational.
Our hydraulic stabilizers, which are designed to counteract the wave motion and provide a more comfortable ride at sea, are also driven by electronic controls. Here again, these parts were destroyed by the strike. We ordered the parts and Justin from ABT in Florida flew to Jarrett Bay to install and test them. Since the testing had to be done after the boat was in the water, the repair was scheduled near the end of our stay.
The navigational electronics presented some challenges. Because the boat was more than five years old, we did not have the option of simply replacing the existing equipment as much had changed and many of the makes and models we had were no longer available. A particular problem involved the display monitors in the Pilot House. Our monitors were made by Nauticomp and specially designed for marine use. Unfortunately, we could not find replacement monitors—or some of the other dash equipment—that would fit into the existing cutouts in the dash. It is critical that all equipment be securely installed so we had to employ a carpenter to redesign and re-construct the bridge display area. This of course takes time!
We selected Nauticomp 19” marine monitors that were the maximum size that would fit our dash. Several weeks of design and construction of the space preceded installation of the monitors. The monitors were further delayed, because of the earthquake in Japan. While waiting over two months for the monitors to arrive, the new dashboard area was constructed, and the other electronic equipment ordered and shipped. Now it was time for the real work, Brian, Troy, and Ryan from Celtic Marine Electronics drove up from Florida with a truck full of equipment to begin the installation process.
The following systems were fairly straightforward to replace or repair as they were similar models that used existing space: (Many of these systems had multiple components including the roof top units that had to be replaced.)
- Two new Dell computers: One to run our Nobletec Trident chart system and one to run our boat communications systems
- Furuno SC50 Satellite Compass
- Furuno AIS
- Furuno 2100 Radar
- Furuno Sonar (electronic component replacement)
- Simrad AP25 Autopilot Controllers (two)
- Closed circuit TV system, including cameras, video components, and software
- WeatherWorx satellite radio weather system
- Furuno RD-33 (Pilothouse) and RD-30 (flybridge) wind instruments
A bigger problem was our NavNet system. NavNet is an integrated system providing electronic charting, radar, depth (via a sounder/transducer) and other information which integrates with Nobeltec Trident and provides information to the Autopilot. It involves a proprietary control unit and peripheral systems. We had NavNet 1, an older NavNet version which is no longer available. The current version is NavNet 3D, which of course does not fit easily into existing spaces and requires additional wiring and work to configure with other systems. However, finally it was installed and everything was up and running pending the future sea-trial to test.
It seemed that our problems were not over. During our initial testing, one of our new Nauticomp monitors failed. It simply went blank and would not come back on. After consulting with the vendor, we removed it—which entails removing the entire dashboard panel—and shipped it back for repair. A video driver was found to be bad and the monitor was returned within a week and re-installed. All was good until a couple days later when a second monitor failed with the same symptom, followed by a third. This time, we returned the two additional failed units for further testing and a potential problem was found with an internal component. The monitors were returned to us along with new parts to install into the two still on board. All seemed OK and we continued to test the monitors over the next couple weeks.
We soon discovered another problem with the monitors. They come with separate control units that allow the displays to be dimmed and allow you to select different sources for input. We could not get the controllers to dim the displays. It turned out to be a software problem which unfortunately could not be corrected without returning the controls to Nauticomp. That meant once again ripping apart the dashboard panel, but that was soon done.
The following communications systems had to be replaced. These were straightforward replacements.
- ICOM VHF radio (two)
- ICOM SSB radio
- Iridium Satellite Phone
- Panasonic Phone System (a small PBX system which allows intercom, cell, and satellite phone use from all over the boat)
- House Phones ( yes we have nine, one in most rooms)
- Wave WiFi Amplifier
We were fortunate to work with Steve from Offshore Marine Electronics in Beaufort, NC, who was a thorough and highly competent electrician, as well as a real pleasure to work with. As we began to address the electrical problems on the boat, we were happy that we had extensive electrical wiring diagrams for the boat. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the diagrams were from the design stage and often had no relation to the actual build (though they are labeled “as built”). Sometimes this was a minor annoyance and other times it caused wild goose chases resulting in wasted time and frustration. By the time we had finished the electrical work we had an entire legal pad filled with changes that needed to be made to bring our drawings up to date.
Here’s a list of the most significant electrical items that were fixed or replaced:
- Bilge high water alarm replaced
- Fuel tank water sensor replaced
- Back up fresh water pump replaced. However due to both flawed design change last year that had to be redesigned by the manufacturer and the impact of the Japanese earthquake, this took months to arrive and installation was postponed until we reached Florida
- Pilot house fans replaced
- Electrical remote bus switches and transformers tested and replaced as needed
- Electrical circuit breakers replaced
- Spot Light slave control replaced
- Five Windshield wiper switches replaced
- Dozens of light fixtures and dimmers in salon and pilot house replaced with LED lights at the same price as halogen lights.
- Freshwater, grey water, and black water tanks level sensors and display units replaced
- Port & starboard windlass controls replaced
- Link 10 (used to monitor batter levels) replaced
- Main electrical switchboard displays shorted replaced
- Marquipt davit (crane) repaired with several components replaced
- Sea Fire repaired with several components replaced and system tested and re-certified
- Inverters/Chargers replaced (see below)
- Hydraulic alternators (see below)
By far the greatest challenge on the electrical side was 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 power (shore or generator) to 24V DC to charge the 2040 amp-hour battery bank. In the inverter mode, they convert 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.
We had two Xantrex Trace inverters which were no longer made. Of course! With no possibility of simply replacing the inverters, we had to develop a plan using new units that would physically fit into the same space, provide the same level of inverter/charger capacity, and entail as little re-wiring as possible. While this may seem like an easy task, it was not. After weeks 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 selected the Mastervolt units because they best met our design objectives.
While Steve was able to install the system, we had to engage a consultant to design it and to provide details of how it was to be installed. This was a daunting project. Perhaps the scariest moment of the entire process occurred when the old inverter/charger units were removed. The units cannot simply be “turned off,” they must be physically disconnected from both AC and DC inputs and outputs. Steve studied the wiring diagrams, ensured that all bypasses were engaged to route AC power to the rest of the boat when the units were removed. Steve and the team checked that all terminals had no voltage on them, then set about removing the AC and DC wiring. However, despite all this, when one power leg was removed there was a large spark resulting in a voltage spike that damaged a 120V power filter. Notwithstanding this anomaly, the old inverters were successfully removed—all 210 pounds of them—and the new Mastervolt installation was installed and tested. The process took three weeks of two people full time.
Shear Madness is equipped with two hydraulic alternators that are designed to provide power to charge the batteries while underway. These units are driven by the hydraulic system, which is driven by the main engines. We use these devices as an alternative to running a generator while underway, and although the fuel consumption of running them is equivalent to running a generator, they produce less heat and eliminate the problem of having to keep a generator loaded while it is going. However, they had a downside; they cannot be safely operated at engine speeds below 1100 RPMs without causing excessive heat and risk of a fire. That meant that we always had to be aware of when they were engaged and if we needed to reduce speed, we had to be sure to turn them off. We were never happy with that.
The alternators were not operational following the lightning strike and we determined that various components had to be replaced. While at Jarrett Bay, we had the good fortune to meet Steve Dashew, whose boat Windhorse was also resident at a nearby yard. In discussion with Steve, he mentioned that he had worked with Electrodyne, the manufacturer, to re-design the alternators to eliminate this problem. Sure enough, Electrodyne repaired the units, and they have now eliminated this problem. The interface with the new Mastervolt system is in place and all electrical components have been replaced and are working. Eliminating the alternator burn-out/fire hazard was an extra bonus!
With all of the critical repairs completed, it was time to put Shear Madness back where she belongs, in the water! It was time for sea trials. Justin from ABT and Brian from Celtic Marine were onboard to test the new electronics, the stabilizers and the bow and stern thrusters. We had a perfect day for it – a strong breeze and unsettled seas with 4-6 foot waves allowing us to give the systems a real test. The results were mixed. Justin was able to adjust the stabilizers so that they were performing well. Most of the navigation systems performed well, with the exception being the SC50 Satellite Compass. In our first encounter with real waves, alarms started to go off indicating that our position was lost and since this device supplies data for NavNet, it too began alarming. Brian found one of the sensors was mounted improperly and was able to adjust it, resulting in better performance. We did not do a lengthy test as both Brian and Justin had planes to catch, but we did enough to feel confident that we could safely move the boat to Florida.
Step 3 – Heading South and Finishing the Job
After four long months at Jarrett Bay and five months after the lightning strike, we were ready to head to sea. We planned to depart from Jarrett Bay and head south for two hours. If all went well, we would continue but if we encountered serious problems we could turn around and head back. After two hours no major problems were encountered so we headed for St. Helena Sound in South Carolina as we did not quite feel ready for an overnight passage. From there we headed to Charleston for a night, then to Savannah where we spent a few days relaxing before tackling the final leg to North Palm Beach.
This extended sea trial uncovered a few problems. Most notably, our autopilot; when it was set to steer to a route, it had difficulty making turns of more than a few degrees. It would oversteer, and then try to correct, but ultimately it would lose track and sound an alarm that the boat is off course. Thankfully, we were able to correct this by adjusting some of the parameters on the autopilot, including the rudder and counter-rudder settings. We also adjusted the NavNet waypoint arrival radius, which allows the autopilot to recognize arrival at a waypoint sooner and begin turning towards the next waypoint rather than doing a more severe turn directly on top of a waypoint. These adjustments seemed to correct most of the problems, though we still has instances where we noticed the autopilot not responding exactly as it should.
Regardless, these challenges are a normal part of new systems and we had gained enough confidence in the boat’s performance to deploy the fishing lines after leaving Savannah. Fish on! We hooked a large fish in following seas with winds of about 15 knots. When we slowed the boat to try to land the fish, a new challenge emerged; the SC50 Satellite Compass lost position and set off a series of alarms on NavNet and the autopilot and caused the autopilot to disengage. We were being tossed around pretty good and reluctantly decided to cut the line, losing a possible nice dinner but allowing us to get all systems back under control.
On the last leg of the trip we did an overnight passage. This uncovered an additional challenge with our new monitors. The controllers, which we had replaced due to their failure to dim the monitors, now dimmed the monitors just fine, however the controllers themselves did not dim and had bright blue lights that shined like neon in the pilot house. This is definitely not suitable for a night passage as it destroys your night vision. We temporarily solved the problem by taping black paper over the top of the controllers.
Our Furuno radar had a large number of sensor error messages which we documented. We had a few problems with the interface between NavNet and Nobeltec, mainly in their ability to share routes, but that was solved by simply learning to use the systems properly.
Most disappointing was yet another failure of one of the Nauticomp monitors. Despite the various diagnostics and repairs, the symptoms were the same – the screen suddenly went blank and would not come back on.
Despite these problems, we made it safely to Florida with a list of all the problems we had encountered.
Repairs in Florida
Tom from Watermaker Marine visited to get the watermakers back in service. This entailed several visits to the boat. On the first visit, Tom replaced the primary control units on both watermakers (located in the engine room) allowing us to start them up. We were then able to determine that the remote monitoring units located in the pilot house, were also not working, so these were ordered as well. Since we had also been unable to flush our watermakers for several months and because they were over five years old, Tom recommended replacing the membranes. Those too were ordered but would take a couple weeks to arrive. When they did, Tom returned to install everything. It went well, except that we could not get the connector cable to plug into the new remote control unit. We tried and tried and upon close inspection found the brand new control unit had a defect in the female plug connector, so a new one had to be ordered, requiring Tom to visit for a third time. Finally everything was installed and working and both watermakers tested out just fine.
One monitor had failed on the trip and with Brian aboard testing them, a second one failed. We had now escalated this to the top level at Nauticomp and it just happened that Ryan, the CEO of the company, was coming to the Miami Boat Show and arranged to stop by to see if we could fix this problem. As this was a serious problem, Ryan was committed to ensuring it was fixed. He had the two monitors shipped back to Nauticomp for extensive testing. In the meantime, Brian replaced the video amplifiers and did further testing to ensure that nothing on the boat could be causing the monitors to fail. After several weeks of testing following replacement of some parts, the monitors were returned. New controllers were also sent in order to solve the problem with the blue neon not dimming. Once again, all was back to working. We kept all four monitors and controllers in operation 24 hours a day for several weeks, frequently dimming and brightening and changing the input source. No further problems were encountered.
Brian upgraded the software on our Furuno 2107 radar to eliminate the sensor error we had been receiving.
Fresh Water Pump
The long awaited backup fresh water pump finally arrived and James from Yacht Tech was engaged to install and test it. In order to do that, we had to shut down the fresh water system and drain all fresh water from the lines. Not a problem as we have done this in the past. However, once the pump was installed and working we found that we could not get the icemaker on our Sub-Zero freezer to work. We tried every troubleshooting tip we could find and even discussed it with a technician before having to bring him in for a service call. He was able to fix the problem by performing some kind of manual override. No parts were required! But this seems typical for a boat – fixing one thing can sometimes cause something else to fail!
Though it was not a high priority, the entertainment system needed work too. We have a SeaTel satellite antenna and DirecTV receivers. The system also includes a stereo receiver, large screen TV in the salon and smaller TVs and DVDs in all cabins. With the exception of the DirecTV Receivers and SeaTel dish, everything else had to be replaced. And no sooner had we gotten everything installed and working, when the Sea Tel system also failed, so new parts were ordered for it.
We have two types of compasses on board – a gyro compass, which uses a fast-spinning disc and rotation of our planet to automatically find geographical direction, and a magnetic compass, which contains a magnet that interacts with the earth’s magnetic field and aligns itself to point to the magnetic poles. Calibrating the magnetic compass is accomplished by bringing a specialist on board with equipment that provides accurate readings, then “swinging’ the compass by turning the boat in a circle to determine its deviation at various points and placing magnets on the compass to reduce the deviation as much as possible. There will always be some deviation and every boat should have a deviation card, which shows the deviation at each cardinal (North, East, South, and West) point as well as intermediate points. All compasses on board are now in reasonable agreement and can be relied upon for navigation.
Sea Trials – Part 2
We conducted another set of sea trials to test all our new electronics. Over the past six weeks or so our Nauticomp monitors had been working well. While in the marina, we left them on most of the time with various things displayed on the screens and have exercised the brightness and on/off controls frequently. We have had no further failures so believe the problems have been fixed.
The day of our sea trials saw some nice winds of 20+ knots. We left the marina with Brian from Celtic Marine Electronics on board and headed out into the ocean and east to the edge of the Gulf Stream where we found some nice waves to give us a good bouncing around. This allowed Brian to make some adjustments to our Satellite compass and autopilot. The satellite compass has a setting called “Rate Error” which allows tolerances for pitch and roll to be adjusted. We think this will eliminate the problems we had in rough conditions but will have to wait for those conditions to confirm.
We continue to experience one problem with the autopilot not working properly in “Nav” mode – that is when it is set to automatically follow a pre-programmed route. In this case, when a waypoint is reached, the autopilot is not getting the proper heading information to execute a course change to the next waypoint. For now, this can be worked around by manually selecting the new waypoint – it’s never a good idea to totally rely on an autopilot anyway. We will gather some more information to diagnose and ultimately correct this problem, but for now, we are comfortable that the systems are working well enough for us to GO CRUISING!
Our shakedown cruise was to be a six week trip from Palm Beach, Florida to the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas with Bradley and I handling the boat on our own. We departed the marina and anchored out for the night just inside Lake Worth Inlet. Here we encountered our first problem when we ran the generator to charge the batteries. Prior to leaving Palm Beach, we had adjusted the settings on our Mastervolt controls to allow it to monitor the system as a whole – that is, to show the total amp hours used for the whole battery bank, the percentage of overall charge for the entire battery bank, the amp hours being put in from all three chargers, and other data about usage. That involved setting the two shunts up as one “virtual shunt”, per instructions from Mastervolt and under the supervision of an electrical engineer and Mastervolt dealer, James C. After disconnecting from shore power and moving to our first anchorage, Bradley noticed that the battery charge percentage for the batteries was different between the Mastervolt meter and the Xantrex meter. Initially we were concerned that the charging system was not functioning properly as the Mastervolt meter showed the batteries losing amps faster than we thought they were being consumed by onboard systems. After some diagnostics and a phone call to James at Cote Marine, we determined that when we set up the virtual shunt for our 2040 amp battery bank, the Mastervolt system calculated that the bank was actually half that capacity, so it is using 1020 amp hours for all its calculations. The charging system is actually working properly, but the Mastervolt controls will have to be re-programmed, which I will do next time we are on shore power and in phone range in case I need help. For now, the Xantrex controls are accurate and allow us to determine the real battery status.
After a smooth passage across to West End in Grand Bahama, we were ready to make some water. We fired up both watermakers, which consist of various parts – low-pressure pump, high-pressure pump, filters, and membranes. The control units are stacked with one atop the other. Unit 2 functioned perfectly. The first step is for it to take in sea water, then to begin the reverse osmosis process to turn that into fresh water. A salinity meter tests the product water, which is “dumped” back into the sea until salinity reaches less than 500 ppm (parts per million). Then a valve is triggered and the water is directed into our fresh water tanks. Unit 2 quickly achieved the required salinity and water was directed to the tanks. However, unit 1 was taking a long time for the salinity to come down. It was gradually reducing and we theorized that there was a lot of salt built up in the system, so we continued to let it run, monitoring the salinity from the remote panel in the pilothouse. Finally the salinity approached 500 ppm, but when Bradley went below to check, he found that a hose on that unit had popped off its fitting and water was dripping onto unit 2. We shut off Unit 1 and determined the leak was coming from a hose connector. Perhaps this was what had caused all the trouble. Bradley tightened the connection and we re-started the unit. Again it took a long time for the salinity to come down, but it did, slowly but surely. We went about some other projects and when I returned to check, I found the hose had once again come apart and was leaking profusely onto Unit 2, which was now showing an error message on the control. It also looked like some water had gotten into the control panel. Now, neither unit was operational, and we were not about to go cruising without at least one functional watermaker. We killed the power to both units and removed the front of the control panel for unit 2, cleaning up all obvious water. Fortunately it was fresh water, not salt water! We left it to sit overnight in the warm and toasty engine room, and by the next day it had dried nicely and Unit 2 fired up with no further problems. Unit 1, however, was out of commission until we could determine what is wrong. It seems there are two problems; taking too long for the salinity to come down, and then when it does, some problem with opening the valve to the tank, resulting in pressure that blows out the hose connection. We emailed our Village Marine tech in an attempt to diagnose and fix remotely but ultimately decided to wait until we return to Florida to fix.
Our Simrad AP25 autopilot continues to have intermittent problems with Nav mode. Sometimes when it reaches a new waypoint, the BWW (bearing from waypoint to waypoint) field is null (zeroes), causing the autopilot to get an inaccurate course to steer to the next waypoint. I have gathered some additional data from NavNet when this occurs, and confirmed that NavNet is showing the proper course to the next waypoint, so the problem lies somewhere in the transmission of data from NavNet to the autopilot. This is a minor annoyance as we do not rely on this feature. Especially in the Bahamas with very little water below our keel, we rely on a sharp lookout and attention to course; our routes and waypoints serve only as a guideline. It also appears to happen only when there is a very short distance between waypoints. When waypoints are further apart we have not had this problem.
We have also noticed a problem with our Nobletec Trident chart system in which it seems to report erroneous distance and time to arrival data for waypoints along a route. We have documented this problem and Nobletec has confirmed it is a bug which will be corrected in a future release.
We have been unable to get weather broadcasts via our SSB radio. We have been in anchorages where other boats are able to clearly hear broadcasts but when we tune to the same channel we get only garbled reception. It sounds like we are getting some kind of interference which we tried to eliminate by turning off all other equipment. This did not affect the quality of the reception so we will test when we return to Florida.
Our Wave WiFi system, which is used to pick up wireless internet signals, does not appear to be working as well as it should. At Staniel Cay, we were unable to pick up the local Exuma WiFi system through Wave WiFi, but could get it via our laptops if we took them to the flybridge. Since the Wave WiFi antenna is supposed to be higher and stronger, this does not make sense. We met a boat here that experience the same problem and had to have some adjustments made to their Wave system. Another item to fix in Florida.
All in all, our problems on this cruise were minor and manageable. We have enjoyed learning all the capabilities of our equipment and have spent a fair amount of time reading manuals and customizing our navigation systems.
Conclusion and Lessons Learned
Preventing Lightning Strikes
Since the strike, the most common question I get is “What can you do to prevent lightning from striking your boat?” We have talked to dozens of people about this, many of them experts, and unfortunately the answer is not what we’d like to hear. Although there are some products out there that claim to prevent strikes or minimize damage, the consensus is that there really is no practical way to protect your boat. One noted expert offered this advice: 1) anchor right next to the biggest sailboat you can find and 2) go to church regularly.
We have made some changes in an effort to minimize our risk. Our Forespar brush is now well above all antennas and is clearly the highest point on the boat. We are installing lightning surge protectors on sensitive and operationally critical systems such as engine electronics and power distribution sub-panels. And we have renewed our insurance!
A word about insurance is in order here. I will admit that we have always been ambivalent about insurance. We have always viewed it as protection against a total loss and hope to never really need it. This applies not only to boat insurance, but car, home, and health insurance, where we have always chosen the high-deductible, lowest possible premium plan. I remember grumbling about our boat insurance because we could not get a high-deductible plan. Now, our boat insurance turns out to be the best investment we have made in the past ten years!
Our carrier, ACE, has been reasonable and fair and we have worked closely with their surveyor to ensure that all repairs will be covered. We have been personally involved in all repairs so as to learn as much as possible about the boat as well as to keep the costs as low as possible. In the end, our insurance claim will approach 20% of the value of the boat. I’ve told many people that I will never again grumble about writing a check for an insurance premium. If you are wavering about whether or not to carry insurance on your boat, ask yourself if the financial burden of spending 50% of the value of your boat to repair it out of your own pocket would impact you more than you are willing to bear. If so, write the check. Also, be sure to check with people who have filed claims with your carrier – a carrier who works with you as cooperatively as we have experienced with ACE is invaluable!
Knowing your boat
They say every cloud has a silver lining and if that’s the case, the silver lining for us was the opportunity to really learn and understand the systems on board. Because of the lightning strike we now also have a completely new, integrated, state-of-the-art electronics systems. The cost was eight months of repairs, countless hours tracking down parts, many dirty days spent in a boatyard, and lots of time with people, including ourselves, crammed into tiny spaces swearing, sweating, and yes, even bleeding. And yet, aside from the obvious benefit of new systems, what we gained in every other facet has been invaluable. Besides having a much better understanding of our systems, we have a long list of competent contractors, many of whom we now consider good friends.
Most importantly, we never let people work on the boat without being present. This allowed us to learn from the experts and better prepare ourselves to be self-sufficient once we go cruising in remote and exotic places where help will be non-existent!