Putting ourselves out there

Did you see the NYTimes magazine article around a month ago about “swatting”? It horrifyingly describes a type of online harassment where SWAT teams are called to an individual’s house. In real life. Like, open the door and face down machine guns. It’s a joke, right? Sooooo funny.

Here we are, world! At Abuela's birthday celebration; photo courtesy C. Blakely.

Here we are, world! At Abuela’s birthday celebration; photo courtesy C. Blakely.

The reality is that being online, in any format–YouTube, Facebook or this here blog–opens yourself up to all kinds of possible abuse, running the gamut from snarky comments to identity theft to credible, real-life threats. So why are we putting ourselves out there?

We are not social media dwellers; we have serious concerns about creating a virtual life for our kids; we like our privacy quite a bit. But: we would not be doing this trip without the existence of family sailing blogs.

When Michu and I met, we both claimed that what we really wanted to do was live on a boat and travel. I remember running into our friend Jo in a restaurant a few weeks after he returned from a circumnavigation, and telling him as much. His response: well, what the heck are you doing here, spending money, when you could be saving it for a boat? Of course he was right; we weren’t serious about saving to go cruising. We had no plan, just a hazy idea about “someday.” And then, the usual pattern–marriage, mortgage, work, kids–became the rhythm of our lives.

During a blessed double-kid-nap one day, without intention or motive, I googled something like “family sailboat cruising blog,” and ended up at Twice in a Lifetime–back when they were Once in a Lifetime. Well, that was that; after reading their entire blog front to back, I was on a mission to read about families cruising, and our fate was sealed: Totem, Del Viento, Wondertime, and the infamous BumfuzzleWindtraveler showed us how to get from Lake Michigan to warmer climes; Toast made us laugh; Knee Deep taught us we didn’t need a $200K boat to make it work.

We’re bad at documenting stuff; we’re hoping this blog will force us to record our trip. We want our family and friends to know what’s happening while we’re traveling. But also, we feel kind of obligated to give back to the place that got us here. There are great, comprehensive resources out there for families interested in getting started with cruising: Beth Loenard, the Pardeys, Voyaging with Kids; but really, every family’s adventure is unique, and we hope ours can inspire other families to break the mold.

Lacking domestic skills

Over here on the East Side of Madison, there’s a certain aesthetic to modern parenting. Organic garden! Chickens in the backyard! Farmers’ market on weekends! Bake your own bread/brew your own beer/make your own yogurt/pickle everything! Happy to report (or maybe sad to say), we have consistently nailed it in almost every category.

But…I have never really learned to sew.

F. is actually pretty good with a needle and thread; she has her own sewing machine, and is unafraid to wield it in the service of stuffed animal construction or Hallowe’en costume alteration. I have clearly been busy with other things. So, some kind of horrible karma is afoot, that I now need to pump out some boat-related sewing projects on this beast:

The Beast.

The Beast.

This is an industrial Sailrite sewing machine, belonging to my sister-in-law, who uses it for leather work. Yeah, it can sew through leather. It can (and will) sew through your hand. I have some serious qualms about learning to harness this thing, but….needs must.

Here’s the thing I find encouraging. I have an old boyfriend who wanted to be a sailmaker. At one point in our history, he found himself in a position of maybe being hired by a loft in St. Thomas. It was a pretty short interview, mainly focused on making sure he actually knew how to sail, and hey, can you sew? His response: Yes! Absolutely! I am a person who can sew! Reality: he had never really sewed anything in his life. He knew a lot about sails, and he really wanted the job, so he just went for it, and attacked some poor sailor’s genoa with the machine they called “Jaws.” For the most part, it worked out ok.

So I’ve got this.

Right?

 

Happy Holidays from Milou!

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Electricity Part 3 – Battery management systems

Are you a total battery nerd, or setting up your own lithium iron phosphate battery system? If so you will probably find this post interesting. If not I’m betting you will find this all pretty dry. I think this stuff is cool, but I am deep (way deep) into setting up the systems upon which we will rely for the next couple of years of cruising.

If you remember from my last excellent post Electricity Part 2, we now have a fancy house battery that is basically a large cell phone battery with slightly different chemistry (LiFePo vs LiPo–that iron (Fe) makes it much less likely that the battery will spontaneously catch on fire). In case you were not sure, I will refer you to one of Einstein’s lesser known formulas: fire + boat = bad. A LiFePo battery does the same job as the lead-acid battery under the hood of your car, but goes about it in a very different way.

While researching this new battery technology I ran into the debate about whether or not to actively manage the battery bank on the per-cell level. There are people out there who say “Pshaw, just plug ’em in and go, a series string is self-balancing.”

Self balancing? Huh, that sounds important.

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The copper links connect the yellow batteries into a series string of four cells.

Our house battery is really four three-volt batteries linked in series, negative to positive. This has an additive effect, so the bank ends up at a nominal 12 volts. Balancing comes into play because each cell can have slightly different voltages. A low cell could be at 2.8 volts while another one could be at 3.4 volts, with the remaining cells at 3.0 and 3.2 volts, which all add up to 12.4 volts overall. So what?

Charge Curve

Not science. My best guess.

Well, here is the problem. In lead-acid, the voltage of the battery varies in direct proportion to the amount of energy in the battery. When LifePo absorbs (or discharges) energy, the voltage does not vary by much until right at the full (or empty) point; then the voltage increases (or drops) very quickly. If this goes too far, then the battery is ruined, flushing between $500 – $2000 down the drain. When you charge a battery, or a battery bank, it is generally charged to a set voltage. In our case 14.4 volts would be ideal because it works out to 3.6 volts per cell. Fully charged is 3.8 volts per cell; 3.6 gives a little safety factor. The problem is, the charger does not know the voltage of each individual cell–only the total voltage of the pack. If one cell manages to hit 5.4 volts while the others are all at 3 volts, it still adds to 14.4. The charger thinks, Great–we made it to 14.4 volts, time to shut down (or more accurately, it can’t push can’t more electrons in); but that one cell that hit 5.4 volts is now garbage.Cell overcharge

Hey, those guys on the internet said the series is “self-balancing”, so what is the big deal? The other thing they said was, it is necessary to very carefully manually balance the battery pack before you start to use it. So, naturally I took the batteries out of the crate and stuck them directly in the boat without balancing them and with no active management system. Believe it or not, this worked out ok in the short term.

As the battery bank charged and discharged over a three week family boat vacation last summer, I obsessively checked the overall voltage as well as each individual cell. Here is what I noticed: the series string is self balancing, but only when it is discharging. Once I thought about it, this made sense. The cell the the highest voltage is the cell with the most “push” and it discharges at a slightly faster rate until it no longer has the highest voltage; then the top two cells (now holding hands) are discharging at the same, slightly faster, rate. Eventually all four cells will be the same.

The problem is charging. Due to small variations in manufacturing, each cell holds a slightly different amount of energy. This means that when we charge the system at 14.4 volts one of the cells will “win the race” and be charged up first. Practically speaking, with my three-week experiment, this means that when you discharge your battery bank by 2-3% and then neurotically charge it back to full every couple of hours, the fast cell ends up getting further and further ahead. At the end of our three week trip, the high cell was at 4.2 volts (not yet at self-destruct) and the low one was at 3.2, with the whole bank at 13.8 volts. I think that if I had done the correct thing and carefully balanced the bank, things would have stayed much more in line and maybe, just maybe, the battery bank may have started to “self balance”–if I’d have ever let it get below 95% charged.

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Balancing the battery bank in my basement. Simple incandescent light used to draw down the power in the fullest cell.

Still, the one battery cell at 4.2 made me a little nervous. So, I spent a little more money (it’s a theme) and bought a basic battery management system (HousePower BMS). With the batteries in our basement, I started the slow process of making the four cells match with exactly the same voltage. I started by using a light bulb and the new BMS (battery management system) to get things all in line. I then realized I could simply wire all four cells in parallel and leave them alone for a couple of days, and they’d all end up at the same voltage.

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Red wires between each terminal are the shunts/cell monitors.

The BMS does a couple of different things. First, there is a shunt on each cell. The shunt reads the individual cell voltage and will apply a small load (0.7 amp) to the cell when it gets over 3.7 volts. This has the effect of “pulling down” the cell, or cells, that are too far ahead. Secondly, I can wire the BMS to sound a buzzer if any cell voltage should go to high or low. Lastly, I can wire it to trip a relay to disconnect the battery from the system in case of an overcharge or critical discharge. So far I have only used the shunts. I have a buzzer and a disconnect relay, which I will wire into the system when I re-install the batteries in the spring. In our basement, the system seems to work well and stay in balance. Charging at 16 volts, I get two of the cells to start shunting a little before the others, but this is pretty extreme. I think once it is in the boat, the system will behave itself; maybe after a year or so I will have to wire the whole thing in parallel again to get it back in balance.

Wow–you have nearly made it though this whole, very boring, post!

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Battery monitor. There it is. Do you see it?

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The grey circle is the Victron monitor thingy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final item we have for monitoring the state of charge for the house and starting batteries is a Victron smart battery monitor. The monitor measures the amount of amps flowing into and out of the battery bank. The monitor is programmed with the particulars of our battery; then it does the math and tells us what percent of charge we are at. It also tells us how much current is flowing in or out at any given time, plus the voltage of either the starting battery or the house battery. It is like a gas gauge for our batteries.

Up next is the final installment in the Electricity series: Electricity Part 4 – Getting the Electricity In There. That one will be a little more interesting, and will lead us to the new and exciting Engine series, in which I finally explain the origins of the Frankenstarter.

 

A couple of things to keep us busy

Michu’s been updating the prep list for the spring. No biggie.

Spring 2016

Final Launch List: No way this will be completed by launch day

Below the waterline:

    1. Rust spot on keel
      1. Sand clean
      2. Cover area with fiberglass
      3. Three coats of Interprotect
    2. Two additional coats of Micron CSC throughout
    3. Install new through-hulls
      1. Galley drain/keel cooler.
      2. Marlon for galley raw water (need to spec and order)
      3. Marlon head discharge and valve (need to spec and fabricate backing board)
      4. Marlon head sink intake (need to spec and order)
      5. Marlon head sink drain (need to spec and order)
      6. Fishfinder transducer
  1. Engine:
    1. Repair coolant leak (for the 4th time)
    2. New shift and throttle cables (need to spec and order)
    3. Install alternator switch (need to order)
    4. Safety wire alternator adjustment turnbuckle
    5. Correctly wire tachometer. Alternator puller ratio is 2.5:1
    6. Wire exhaust fan (may need to replace)
    7. CO detectors
      1. T’s berth
      2. F’s berth
      3. saloon
    8. Add anti-siphon loop to exhaust
    9. Replace Frankenstarter with new one. Keep Frankenstarter as backup
    10. Secure Racor filter with 2nd bolt
  1. Bilge Pumps:
    1. Replace AC discharge with large 90 degree through-hull
    2. Install hose run with anti-siphon loop
    3. Fabricate small shelf in bilge for high capacity pump
    4. Install float switch
    5. Wire to 3-position switch and switchable bilge alarm
  1. Refrigeration:
    1. Complete lid panel
    2. Locate lid panel placement and fiberglass to lid
    3. Check measurements, fabricate and install side insulation panels
    4. Caulk all seams
    5. Mount evaporator
    6. Install compressor under galley sink
    7. Mount thermostat and thermo sensor
    8. Run wire to D/C panel breaker
  1. Steering
    1. Prep bulkhead for reinforcement panel
    2. Trim and epoxy in new bulkhead with steering ram mount/pivot.
    3. Fillet and tab in new bulkhead
    4. Fabricate and install stern stops
      1. Two pieces of angle aluminum bolted to transom bulkhead with wooden stop piece
    5. Install rudder position sensor on top of steering stop. Fabricate shelf/spacer if needed
    6. Mount steering computer
    7. Install heading/position sensor
    8. Complete and install Instrument Pod (Needs back and sides fiberglassed, mounting panel fitted. Both front panels glassed, prime coat and paint)
    9. Install and wire in control head
    10. Calibrate and test
  1. Solar install
    1. Drill 1/8 inch weep holes in each leg of arch
    2. Consider new stern light
    3. Place order with Arizona Solar: Topoint 190w x2, the Kid Marine MPPT
    4. Order 2nd mount kit from Atlantic Tower (new stern light?)
    5. Mount panels and controller
    6. Wire system
      1. Run all inputs to a charge buss
      2. install safety disconnect relay
  1. Head
    1. Discharge through hull, seacock and backing board. Find some way to lock in closed position.
    2. Marlon head intake, seacock, and strainer
    3. Marlon sink drain and seacock
    4. Install Y valve and ’T’
    5. Install vent filter (need to spec and order)
  1. Fresh water
    1. Replace port side fill hose.
    2. Replace vent hoses to “t”
    3. Maybe a new vent fitting at the galley sink
  1. Electrical
    1. Measure and fabricate new door for electrical panel
    2. Buy hinge for panel at Woodcraft
    3. Remove AC panel from boat
    4. Install AC and DC panels in door
      1. Instal tank monitor gauge in panel
      2. Install battery monitor
      3. Install USB outlet
    5. Cut out old electrical panel area and instal new panel/door.then begin wiring it in
    6. Run wire from mast to nav station for tricolor light
    7. Install new AC outlet at old phone jack at nav station
    8. Mount and wire in inverter
    9. Secure windlass cable for entire run every 18 inches
    10. Wire in 2nd bilge pump
    11. Install LED cabin lights
    12. Wire in refrigerator
    13. Nav Pod
      1. Wire in anchor remote switch
      2. Wire in USB outlet
      3. Wire in 12v plug
      4. Install alternator switch
    14. New house main cables
    15. New starter cables
  1. Deck
    1. Solent stay
      1. Fabricate and install bulkhead
      2. Fabricate and install chainplate
    2. Stanchions and lifelines
      1. Fill in lower hole with aluminum thick epoxy
      2. Drill out lower holes for life line
      3. Fill bases with thickened epoxy
      4. Drill out deck fittings and stanchion base for through bolt
      5. Install new lifelines.
    3. Tune rig
    4. Install halyard winch on mast
    5. Epoxy broken starboard handrail
    6. Re-bed starboard bimini mount
    7. Install anchor chain tensioner
    8. Make new forward bimini straps
    9. Install new spinlocks
    10. Move speedo and fill old hole
    11. Fabricate and install new slide and drop boards for companionway
    12. Re-bed stern rails.
    13. Fix stanchion leak at F’s cabin
    14. Caulk and finish cockpit teak
    15. Through bolt bow pulpit bases
    16. Service winches
    17. Seal cockpit floor
    18. Fabricate and install new plexiglass fixed saloon port lights (need to order plexi and fabricate)
      1. Consider new port lights in kid’s rooms
    19. Remove traveler, redo wood bases
    20. Service compass and reinstall
    21. Install new instrument pod
    22. Clean and buff… yeah right
  1. Dinghy
    1. Tune up outboard
    2. Rebild carburators
    3. Install oar lock
    4. install new seat
    5. Make good forward lift points
    6. Install Dinghy hoist system
  1. Interior
    1. New Port storage area
      1. Cut mortises for hinges in doors
      2. Trim edge of top shelf
      3. Fabricate dividers
      4. Fabricate trim board, 1st coat of finish, finish on dividers
      5. 2nd coat on top shelf and 1st coat on finger pulls
      6. Drill holes in doors for finger pulls
      7. Epoxy hinge mortises, drill holes and mount hinges
      8. 3rd (final) coat top shelf, 2nd coat on trim board and 2nd coat on pulls
      9. Glue finger pulls into doors
      10. 3rd (final)coat on doors, trim board and face board
      11. Top shelf to boat place on temporary supports
    2. Recover base cushions
    3. Replace V berth headliner
    4. Replace galley headliner
    5. Slides on silverware drawer
    6. Plug holes: starboard A/C control, port outlet and TV cable
    7. Replace head ceiling board
    8. Fabric cover over poop tank
    9. Shoe storage area
    10. Install new saloon overhead light
    11. Screens:
      • companionway
      • forward hatch
      • head hatch
      • saloon hatch
      • kids hatches x2

        And once the work is done, we shall do The Dance.

        And once the work is done, we shall do The Dance.