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The Two Captains



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Volume VI - September 2001

Electronics - all Autohelm ST 80 gauges, GPS, & Raystar Rl70 Pathfinder Radar/Chart plotter.

In Panama we added a new Raystar GPS by Raytheon. Gwen's 10-year-old Magnavox MX100 GPS Navigator was starting to get quirky in acquiring and maintaining position info. The Raytheon GPS, a simple antenna, interfaces neatly with the Sea Talk system that we already have. It did not however come with a keypad of its own for entering waypoints and routes, a problem we had not considered. With the help of several emails back and forth to Autohelm (they are getting to know us personally and I figure we will be invited to their Christmas party if we should happen to be in New Hampshire at the right time), we got the entire system interfaced with the laptop navigation program (we still use The Cap'n), the radar, and the course computer (autopilot).

Things were peachy till the system went "bonkers" on the way to Ecuador. Finally got the autopilot back on line, but none of the fancy navigation computations (Cross track error, Distance to Waypoint, Bearing to Waypoint, Time to Go, etc) other than lat/long would come up on the cockpit displays. The problem, Gwen believes, is getting the course information from the computer into the Seatalk system. Raytheon makes a NMEA/Seatalk junction box that may simplify the connections…or not. But we don't have one. (YET!)

Her latest solution is to enter course info via the Chartplotter. This is a feature of our LCD radar we have never before used since we don't have any C-map chart cartridges (preferring computer charting instead, especially since we have so many CDs, thanks to Gwen's writing project for Maptech.) Imagine our astonishment when, the course between Salinas and the Galapagos being entered, a "chart" of the eastern south Pacific appears. Evidently, some very large-scale data is programmed into the unit's mother board. This is not for any kind of fine navigation, but it does give a satisfying image that the boat is progressing in the right (or wrong) direction AND, more importantly, it puts into the Seatalk system all the navigation computations we'd been missing. It's incredible how much information you can get out of this system and what all it can do. And, it's incredible how much we are still learning about a system we have had on board for two years! I'm just happy when I don't have to steer and when I know where we are and how much longer it is going to take to get to our destination. This system does all of that, and Gwen will be glad to explain it to anyone that is interested.

My biggest complaint about the Autohelm stuff is their manuals. You could write several manuals on the information they leave OUT OF THE ORIGINAL manual. Thank God for email!!!!!!!

Power management and monitor The Heart Link 2000- R and Smart 3 stage Charger

Way more information than you ever want or need to know… BUT once you see it, it will drive you nuts if it does not tell you what you want to know (or think you know). The two main functions I use on it are the voltage (hey, that's worth several hundreds of dollars to know) and the draw on the system at any given moment. Amp hours used, and the number of amp hrs. needed to recharge would be nice, but it's almost impossible to calibrate to my system and be consistent, but somewhat useful to help you develop an ulcer over the state of your $2000.00 worth of gel cell batteries. The unit also allows you to set the amount of output from the engine alternator, which I choose to restrict to about 80 amps from the 120 amp unit. However, I have become so suspect of the digital read-out on this leg that I mounted a separate analog amp gauge to double check the Monitor. In this regard I have also added an outside air vent to the engine room.

I installed a blower inline so the fresh outside air ends up on the backside of the alternator first, then of course into the rest of the engine room space. This additional cooling has extended the life of the last 2 alternators many fold over the performance we got while in the charter business. I can't help but believe it is of great advantage for the engine itself to have more air available .

The 3 stage regulator on the main engine alternator has worked very well. Regardless of the length of the engine run the voltage and amps in the charge have stayed consistent with the range that is required.

Refrigeration 2 Adler Barbour units and 1 Minus 40, 60-liter freezer

This is an area of good news and bad news. The good news is the Adler Barbours have been great since we installed them in St. Thomas almost 2 and half years ago. I have replaced both the electronic control boxes, but this was a warranty change. The purpose of the change was to reduce the amount of interference with the SSB radio. The updated modules helped some, but on most frequencies we still have to turn them off to transmit. I have also replaced both temperature control units. One just stopped working and the other started short cycling. Costs were small and effort relatively easy given the world of refrigeration.

The bad news is the Minus 40…. This is a great freezer and can take the contents to whatever temp below freezing you want (and are willing to invest the amps in). We generally hold it at 10 to 15 degrees F. using about 60 amp hrs/day. As you may or may not remember, we rebuilt the main salon table around it in Trinidad. The bad news is it has gone through two compressors in less than a year. Minus 40 (a South African Company) has been totally mute on any help both technical or financial. The amazing thing is it uses the same Danfoss compressors and control boxes as the Adler Barbours.

The first compressor failure could well have been a function of the installation. Although I followed their guidelines, I did not check the voltage drops till we started having trouble. The run from the control panel was about 23 ft. and the recommended wire still gave me a .4 volt drop, within limits prescribed by the manual but still more than it should have been. So we replaced everything in Bonaire, compressor and control box (for within a couple of hundred dollars of the original costs!) The technician in Bonaire changed the freon to R12 from the original 134a (which can be done on a new compressor) but failed, I believe, to flush the rest of the system in preparation for the use of R12. From the very beginning the compressor made a rattling sound for a few seconds on each start up. The tech said it was just the pressure coming up and not to worry about it. We monitored the system for two weeks, and all was fine: temps were good, amp draw was where it should have been, and the running times were consistent. I had also replaced the power wire with #6 Battery Cable and got the voltage drop down to .2 volts. We left. Three months later in the San Blas islands it locked up again. SHIT! (Well used nautical term.)

Since I could not get a response from Minus 40 the last time, I did not even try this time. Emails back to Bonaire went unanswered-Surprise! So I moved on and went to Adler Barbour. It was not their problem, but I was looking answers and it is the same equipment that they use. Response was prompt if not good. The control box that I had "was not reliable, Danfoss has had a lot of problems", so AB builds their own at a costs of $350.00. This is about $100.00 over what the Danfoss unit costs, but, hey, the compressor bill is growing by leaps and bounds, not to mention the labor AND the real pain in the ass of taking the table apart and getting the box off the boat for repair.

Once in Panama, I called Danfoss direct for answers and hopefully some financial help. After a 30 minute phone call ($90.00), it was kind of determined that the compressor should never have made any noise on start up (Was it a new one to start with,? If so it should have been returned….big problem in the Caribbean, not to mention taking it back out of the current installation). The system HAD to be flushed before the R-12 was introduced, and the control box "could" have caused the problem as they have had some similar results in the past. However, they have a new control module (same one that AB sent me for the warranty replacement) but I needed to contact my "dealer" for the follow up work if any warranty consideration was to be given. (Another SHIT!).

Fortunately, Gwen was returning to Florida for a week's visit and parts shopping anyway. We purchased new compressor and control module there, from yet another dealer and she returned with it in her suitcase (don't tell Panama customs). We found a local refrigeration guy and I sat on him everyday to put the system together the way I wanted it done. Many, many English/Spanish discussions later the box was returned and reinstalled on the boat. At this time I also changed the power wire to go direct to the battery bank which made the run now six feet long. (I know, Mr Heart Monitor Tech, I can't do that for your monitor to work right, but I need frozen meat more than I need amps monitored).

We are now in Costa Rica five months later, and all is well. No noise, right amp draw, run times normal and meat frozen-stay tuned.

Now for those who really care, here is what the system draws when we have it all turned on: 200 amp hrs a day!!!!! There is a reason we invested in six solar panels and a wind generator. The good news is we do not use all three units at the same time, at least not yet. With just the Minus 40 and the top AB unit running, we have everything we generally need. We make enough ice cubes for our needs in the refrigerator evaporator in five blue plastic trays (not much else in there). All frozen food goes in the chest type Minus 40, while the lower unit (the original CSY freezer) is kept quite cool by the box above it. Gwen keeps the veggies, eggs and wine in there. This reduces the amps per day by about 60 to 70 amps.

We still have the engine drive system set up but have only used it when the Minus went out. The extra holding plate in the lower freezer really helps keep the temps down. As an interesting note: when the Minus 40 went out, we transferred the entire contents to the original lower unit freezer, and it all fit! We were under the assumption that the built-in unit was much smaller than the Minus 40(60 liters). Now we know.

HF Radio, Antennas & Email via the Pactor II

The new Icom M710 RT has worked like a champ once we got the ground plane straightened out. Currently we have a three-inch copper strap connecting the radio, dyna-plate and one unbonded through-hull fitting in the aft cabin. We also moved the tuner closer to the antenna by mounting it on the upper port quarter of the aft cabin. Up until the last couple of months we were using a 23-foot whip antenna with satisfactory results, except that Gwen often felt that she couldn't hear other stations as well as she should.

Recently have been using a "straight wire" antenna that we had made in Florida (by Steve at the Ft. Lauderdale West Marine.) This wire is approximately 33 feet long and is placed inside a 1/4 inch double braided line (the core of which has been removed) with eyesplices at each end. The line acts as the insulator and it is suspended via a pulley at the top of the mast and another lead line back to the stern arch where it connects to the tuner (the whip now disconnected). This set-up brings us the benefits of a backstay antenna without the risk of a weakened backstay that backstay insulators introduce. Signal reports are very good, and Gwen is much happier with reception. The whip, of course, remains in place, as it would make a great emergency back up.

In the company of Baker of Lite N Up, a good Ham guy, we made up a third antenna-a dipole, which we cut to the appropriate length for our most common nets. So far our best on board set-up was to hoist it on the flag halyard, with the ends stretched forward and aft. In theory its directional qualities would make the best antenna when we were settled in an anchorage (pretty awkward underway). Experimentation to date, however, has the best results from the long wire. Gwen, who got her General class license in Trinidad, is getting more and more into the Ham nets, both since we reached the Pacific where they are more important and since she can receive better. We will continue to play with everything to get the best signal we can.

HF Email has been terrific; probably one of the most important additions we have made. It enables us to stay in touch, on a daily basis if we want, with all of our family. It also has been invaluable in communicating with tech reps - even while at sea - in troubleshooting problems! Although we have a Sailmail account which does permit business, 95 % of our traffic goes out over the Amateur Winlink. There are very few days we can not get out cleanly and clearly, and it is a free service. This alone makes getting the ham license worth the effort. The Pactor (PTC-II) modem makes it a snap to get out. We would really recommend spending the extra dollars for it over the IIe model, if you will be using Winlink and if your HF radio permits remote control. The PTC-II lets us "surf" all the available stations and frequencies with a click of the mouse, as opposed to having each frequency programmed into the radio! We did have the modem "lock up" twice since we left Trinidad, and neither the cause or the remedy have been clear, but both times Gwen was able to get it back up. We think it may come from punching in commands too quickly!

The PTC-II also allows us to receive weather faxes through it using the simple-to-use JV-Com program. This means no extra cables or modems.

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