Project: Boat Power -Results

While in NZ we made a few changes to Elysium. One significant change was in our electrical power system. When we arrived in NZ we needed new batteries. We had been nursing our House and Starter bank for the last year or so. There had not been any place to get high quality batteries while in the Pacific; at a reasonable price. We could have shiped them in to an island but the cost of shipping would far out weigh the cost of the batteries. In NZ the equation would change.
But; and this is rather significant; while in NZ we ran into Phil on Silhouette. He was an electrical engineer in his pre cruising life and had run Lithiums on his boat for the last 2-3 years. He talked about how wonderful they were – all – the – time. And while we were in NZ other cruisers I know; Mark on Reach, Martin on Katie M II, BJ on Evenstar, and Paul on Anticipation  (all knowledgable sailors I respect) had either installed or were installing them. Not that we follow the crowd. 🙂
However; I do love using others as our “guinea pigs”. For the most part they too understand this lifestyle. They have the same experiences managing their electrical needs. On yachts we must blance charging, using, maintaining a battery bank, and the equipment while we keep it all working smoothly. With the guidance of those wiser than I, Elysium set about upgrading her electrical system… to Lithiums.
First was selecting and purchasing the batteries. I could have paid extra and had a local installer do all the work. The cost would almost double what I had hoped to pay. Instead; considering how cheap I am (and a bit concerned that I don’t want anyone else to blame but myself), I planned on doing the work myself.
I ordered them, as per Phil, from the Chinese shop in Taiwan. According to his information; China has spent billions of dollars in making this storage device perfect. The Chinese see the future. For the most part this technology is driving the new generation of electric vehicles. When on a yacht, in the middle of no where I want something that is not on the cutting edge. I learned in the working world that being on the cutting edge one quite often bleeds. Thus, I followed Phil’s advice and went with the China batteries.
The one real issue was that the supplier didn’t take any credit cards. There was no website and once they quoted you the amount; to buy the batteries you needed to make a bank transfer; roughly $3,500 US. After that I held my breath. They provided us confirmation of the receipt of funds but then there was a black hole in communication for a few weeks. Finally, I received a bill of lading for the batteries. And about 2 months later they said the batteries were shipped. I still worried. Four weeks later I received a note that we had some merchandise in Auckland. One would think that because we are a boat in transit this would be easy. In some respects it was; in others not so much. Of course the shipper could take care of everything and ship the batteries to Whangarei. The cost; another $500 NZ or so. With a car we opted to make a day trip to Auckland and run the paper work down ourselves. . We had left Whangarei in the a.m. timing our Auckland arrival to be immediately after rush hour. We arrived at the shipping agent by 11 am and found customs around noon. After completing the paperwork we began looking for the shipping warehouse and by 2 ish had located it. Thirty minutes later we had two boxes of Lithium batteries loaded in the trunk of the car and were heading home. I, was much relieved.
Phil on Silhouette was advising me. He said I didn’t need all the “rig a ma role” to use the Lithiums. And I wanted to follow the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. Once we had the batteries on the boat I removed the older gel batteries and we took them to a recycle depot. There we received almost $100 NZ for the batteries I didn’t want and wouldn’t hold a charge. Sweet! I kept one 12 v battery to run the boat with the battery charger.
First order of business was to “Balance” the batteries. Some “experts” say to balance them at the bottom of their charge and others say to balance them at the top. Phil indicated that one really didn’t need to do either as they would balance out anyway once connected. So, in lieu of buying a constant voltage charger or draining them to near the bottom and recharging them I simply connected them in parallel and let them self balance. Before any of you get up in arms about that, since I’ve installed and had them in operation over 6 months no pack voltage has been off by more than 0.01 V. I would say the avg difference is 0.006 V but my instruments don’t read to that minuscule amount and I’m having to interpolate.
Once balanced Phil said I needed two latching relays. We spent a good hour on the internet looking for exactly what he suggested. We needed relays that would handle high amps. What we found was going to cost me close to $500.00. Ouch! There goes simple!
Traveling back in time W/ and I had done a house sit for Scott. who owns EMPower Electrical. He is the “go to guy” for Lithium installs in Northland NZ. While at his office he was telling me / showing me about how their company sets up Lithium installs, the BMS they use and the switches. The cost of the hardware was close to a grand NZ! Ouch. Often during this process I was wondering if we had made the right choice. I had already crossed this bridge and to turn back would not save us any $$$’s. All I could do was barrel on ahead. The question was do we install all the bells and whistles for $1000.00 or do I have a minimal system with hope, a prayer, and $500.00 extra in my pocket. I decided to bite the bullet and get the complete Battery Management System (BMS). I bought the hardware from EMPower and Scott would advise me on what to do. Once I had the work completed he would check it all and bring everything up online. Of course that was more money but I’ve already taken hold of the hook.
A couple of days later he brought me the Orion BMS, wiring harness’, automatic battery switches and some extra battery cable. If I ever thought this was going to be easy; boy was I mistaken. During our first consult he drew a new wiring

Out with the old...

Out with the Old…..

diagram. Our boat is / was mostly old school. All charging and load sources were brought to individual power posts. Whichever battery bank I wanted to use were switched at the panel and run to the power post. That was NOT what I needed to do with the lithiums. ( Side note on Orion:  I’ve needed to communicate with the company via email a couple of times and they have been excellent in responding in a timely manner and answering my questions completely)

Lithiums needed to have the load and charge separately controlled. They die one of two ways: Over charging and being discharged flat. What this process entailed was installing some new wire runs. We have two alternators, one on each engine and an 80 amp battery charger. I needed to run new cables from the alternators to the lithium compartment and from the battery charger to the compartment. I was also going to add some solar panels. (Another blog entry will cover that). Solar too will need another cable feed into the charging post / switch. The Battery Monitoring System will shut off the charging of the batteries when they reach whatever setup point is entered-preventing them from overcharging. From my research Lithiums are 100% charged when they reach 14.4 volts. I set the BMS to shut down the charging a 14.3 volts. Lithiums have no need like other batteries to ever be at 100 % during any part of their life. On our regulator the max charge point is set to 14.2 volts. This ought to keep everything healthy, never really charging the batteries over 95%.
After a brief interlude of cursing from having to re route wiring W/ and I set about completing this job. Any yacht owners having read this far might well listen to the following advice. Anytime you run a water line or power cable through any bulkhead on the boat, double the size of the hole you believe you will need. DOUBLE IT! It NEVER fails that you will need to run more wires or more hose through that same hole. And as any woodworker understands: You can NOT enlarge a hole with an electrical cable or water line running through it. You either need to remove the cable / hose and recut the hole or add another next to it. At times there are several cables passing through the same hole. It would be quite problematic to remove them, enlarge the opening, then reinstall them. I opted to add more holes.
A couple of days later and a 100 wire ties fewer I had the change cables run. The next step was to remove the load from the power post at the panel and move it back to the lithium compartment. Again with a colorful language and W/’s support I set about pulling the load wiring and re routing it to the lithium bank. The idea here is that with an extreme discharge of the bank I could kill the batteries. Near future replacement is not in our budget. I have the minimum capacity of the bank set at 20%. All of this work including the language lapses took a couple of weeks to complete. (I’m retired and don’t work 8 hour days anymore! 🙂 ) I would run out of wire, need another power post, or simply run out of patience and need a break.

Lithium yacht power installation; overwhelmed.

Once completed I called Scott and scheduled a time that we could actually bring the system online. One item I was missing was a cable that connected the Orion BMS to my computer. Well, that and the BMS configuration file. Scott had both. I had ordered the cable from TradeMe; the eBay of NZ and was waiting for it’s arrival. But I still needed / wanted Scott to check everything and have the system functioning right the first time. He checked the wiring, checked that all the connections to the Lithium cells were correct, checked that the load and charge switches worked and then made the final connection. After that we checked to make sure my Ample Power EMON read the same voltage that the battery pack indicated, ran the charger and bingo… we were up and running. He advised us to run the charger up to where we had set the batteries for full and then I would be all good to go.

There was however one other concern I had. While discussing this setup earlier at Scott’s home he said that when running correctly the system will shut down the alternators before it disconnects the charge source. If one shuts down the charge source while running the alternators then you blow the diodes in the alternator. When off shore or in remote locations- that is not good. I was not interested in blowing out any diodes. He has another (yes I know) switch that I could wire into my regulator. Thus when the BMS tells the battery switches they will be shut down in 5 seconds, the system immediately disconnects the power to the regulator thereby shutting off the alternators. As that is a latching relay it will not repower the regulator until the BMS indicates that the batteries can now take more power.
For the most part; this setup is for safety. That and saving me from needing to purchase more batteries in the near future. Safety on a cruising boat is the first priority. And while I am by no means a conservative individual, sailing, when W/ and my life depend on everything working well: I am quite conservative.
As a rough total we have about $6,000.00 US invested in this battery setup. That includes a spare BMS ( I picked it up off of eBay), two new CAN regulators (they will actually talk to the BMS and are not yet installed- maybe this year), the extra cables and switches and the consulting bill from EMPower. In a worse case scenerio this battery bank will reach 2,000 cycles before degrading enough that I will need to replace anything again. Elysium is using about 10 cycles / month which would give us close to 200 months of full time cruising use. That comes out to about $1.00 / day for storage and use of our batteries. Not bad.
Remember I said whilst in the middle of this install I was wondering if I was doing the right thing. No longer. In our old system we had an effective amp hour usage of a maximum 200 amp hours between charging. In a typical lead acid battery for deep cycle use you only get 50% of the rated amp hours. In this current setup we have almost double that. To top it off, the charging of this bank is more efficient. A lead acid charge cycle voltage will taper off the closer you get to a full charge. For lithiums, I am charging at my full capacity for the majority of my cycle. I am getting the full benefit from my solar panels or my alternators all day long. Lithiums have been a good choice for Elysium. W/ and I no longer worry about using too much power. We no longer worry if our battery bank is below 50%. It is all taken care of . Hell, we even bought a Toaster and run it off our Inverter! W/’s happy, I’m happy, life is good…
 
Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Time Warp

If anyone choose to look at our “dot” they would find that we had stayed in Linton.  We’ll in spirit we did but in reality we had moved back to Shelter Bay.  But that doesn’t count.  IB (svPassport)reported a bit ago that while he was gone a year and half a friend of his had only thought he and Becca were gone a couple of months. Our cruising compadre’s on Como No had said of their circumav when we had commented on how young they looked that when you circumnavigate you subtract 10 years from your living. Basically, you travel for free around the world. Dirk and Silvie on Lison Life will be able to bank 7 years as they’ll soon be finishing their 4 year circumnavigation.

But for us; we ended up with some extra time at the dock replacing power on the boat.  Maybe our Karma is back.  The following day or the same day; when problems occur time takes on a new dimension. We started up the generator and cooled the freezer and icebox down, then before we shut the generator down we started up the main engine.

Once the main engine started the boat didn’t need any more electricity. It’s a diesel and even with dead batteries and it’s own non electric fuel lift pump it would run.  And we still had electric, just not a good full house bank.

We pulled anchor and headed back to Shelter Bay Marina. There we could plug in and had access to shore transportation as well as other; in our mind, necessities.

By 7 am we had cleared the outer reefs and W/ headed on a course to Shelter Bay. By 10 am I had contacted them on the phone and let them know we were coming back,  John the manager was glad and sad but said there was a slip for us; simply call Frank on the VHF when we were close.

Now in and secured we began trying to figure out how to get back up and running. Brian on Darramy was selling his Gel Batteries before we had left. We tried to purchase them then but he didn’t have the replacements and was worried that if he didn’t get the replacements by the time he had to go through the canal he would really be up a ditch without power. So we had wished him well and taken off.

Fortunately he hadn’t received the batteries yet and fortunately he hadn’t someone else wanting his 3 year old Gels.  So we made a tentative deal; tentative on when he pulls them out they can sit and hold a charge for 24 hours.

Yes; our Karma may well be back.  The day we returned was Halloween in the US and indeed we looked to be skipping the trick and maybe able to enjoy the treat. Chris at the Dock restaurant was hosting a Halloween party and although I wear my disguise 24/7 I was still allowed to attend. As we were loaded for our cruise to the hinterlands we had lots of treats aboard (remember I’m a junk food junkie) and we brought some up to the restaurant for the kids.  What outfits they had on! So kool to see them dressed as Pirates, Witches, Angels, etc.

That evening survived we were back to our battery issue. Had we been required to order some new Gels  they would have taken at best 25 days or at worst 35 days. That’s if we were lucky. We could have purchased wet celled  batteries in Panama but I don’t have a dedicated Battery Box for wet celled batteries and we’re not like a Catamaran where we sail flat. I priced out locally purchased Optima Blue Top AGM’s and they were $400 each (roughly $150 each in the states) and when I got a quote on locally purchased high quality Gels they were more expensive still.  Since we heel up to about 15 degrees (that’s our sweet spot) and we can often roll up to say 25 degrees I didn’t want to go with wet; that leaves Gels or AGM’s. Wet celled batteries are meant to be used horizontally.

No More Lifleline 8D

No More Lifleline 8D

Our next task was to unload the 8D Lifelines; heavy suckers, and to get the space ready for the 4 Group 27 Gels.  This would involve redoing some wiring and changing around some of the cleating that holds the batteries in place. We don’t relish them moving when the boat is in any kind of heavy weather.  I just don’t think it would be fun trying to coral a 75 lb battery that is sliding around the cabin.

I was glad to get the Gels.  Ample Power (the true Geeks of the battery world) actually says that AGM’s aren’t really ready to be used in Deep Cycle Boat applications.  After our experience I concur. When our batteries died they

Re-Wiring for the Gels

Re-Wiring for the Gels

didn’t slowly wander off into the sunset, they went south fast leaving little or no warning. Further; after reading Morgan’s Cloud website where they’ve been working with a Lifeline engineer,  they’ve discovered that to keep the Lifeline AGM’s really healthy and to get the most amp hours / dollar out of them, you really need to condition them once / month (in wet celled batteries that’s called Equalize).  In addition a posting on the Cruisers Bulletin Board one individual noted that an Optima engineer said that may be best to for their line but it’s not yet the company line. To condition them you need to run the Lifeline batteries  up to 15 + volts for 8 hours or 16 volts 6 hours. Then you need to make sure you have copious amounts of ventilation as the by product of this process is Hydrogen (an explosive gas) as the batteries  come back to full life. Further, if you run them too flat they won’t come back 100%; contrary to what was said a few years ago about AGM’s. If we wanted our boat  to be a dock queen then AGM’s  would be a good option. We don’t want to live at the dock.  Now I know there might be a few that have noticed how much time we’ve spent at the dock in the last year – much too long – but that is not what we want to do. I’m sure they’re quite good for RVer’s that plug into the power grid on a regular basis but for a boat on the hook they’re not making as much sense to me now. Thus no more Lifeline AGM’s till the charging process is simpler and the recovery better.

Friday came and no batteries. Oh well, we weren’t going anywhere without them. We’re patient. We can wait.  I hope.

Late Friday evening they were delivered and Brain was planning on the switch out Saturday.  By Sunday we would know if they kept a charge and I would begin the task of putting them in our boat.

Our friends son, John, had brought the 8D’s  aboard for us when we were in New Port Richey; however, he’s in his mid 20’s and could then pick them up and lug them up the ladder and down the steps without killing himself! Once maybe I could have done that. Now; maybe I can do that only once and then take a month to recover but we have two batteries. So I lift one out of the battery compartment and W/ and I take our time placing it under the forward hatch. There we attach some lifting lines to it and W/ uses our mast winch to crank it up to deck level while I guide it out the hatch.   We figure if we remove one battery per day that’s enough work.  One goes out the hatch, onto the boat, then up and over the lifelines and into a dock cart. There I begin to wheel it down the dock and before I get two boats away a worker on a friends boat wants it.  OK. Done with battery one.  The following day we do battery two the same way and I give it to the same worker.  I’m sure the price of them as scrap is a few bucks (quite a few by Panamain day wage standards) but I doubt I would get anything for it even if I found the scrap yard.  He’s happy, I”m happy. We’re ready for our new set.

The following day the batteries had held a charge and W/ and I move them to our boat for the install. Clean up the batteries, make some patterns and begin the task of arranging them in and then putting them in our boat.  I chase down some more wire; Bill on Bamboo has double ought  and discover I need a couple more lugs (Tiffany and Ed on Antigone have 4 and that’s just what I need).

By the end of the day the batteries are in place and 99% wired. I’m tired, and have some checking to do so tomorrow I’ll attach the last of the cables and we’ll throw the switch.

Bingo!  All works well; too well. As I replaced all the house batteries I reprogram the chargers. Gels have a different charging regime then AGM’s and I also set up the Energy Management Module (EMON) for control. There I add one more thing to watch; the voltage of  the starting battery that is when I discover I have a phoopa!  The starting battery charges whether I have the battery switch set to on or off!  Oh -Oh!  That shouldn’t be.  In the four years we’ve been aboard the charger has been charging the house and the starter battery the same and more importantly, i’ve been using the starting battery as part of my house bank.  Not good. The starting battery is to be in “reserve” for when we need it. Truth be told, I’ve rarely used it as we’ve had more then enough power in the house bank to start either engine but now I know why I’ve sometimes felt there were gremlins in the electrical system.  Time enough to look at that wiring when we get back to Kuna Yala, with IB and some Rum I’m sure we’ll get it all straightened out. For the month or so of using the system  the same as it was; I don’t believe there will be any problems. The only thing I really need to do is cycle the Gels to 50% of their capacity and then recharge and for that I need to make sure the starting battery is not being drained nor charged at the same time. That discharge help sets the controller up on the EMON to function accurately.

Now we begin to look for a weather window to once again leave the dock and head back to Kuna Yala.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Around the Corner

We’re hoping.  We’ve moved around the corner to Linton. About 8 nm farther along. There we hope to isolate which of the 2 Lifeline D8 house batteries is bad and put a dinghy in the water and get ready for our move back to Kuna Yala.

John on Millenium is here and I’ve an opportunity to play chess with a real person. Most of my chess playing is on line at FICS when we have a good internet connection. After some chatting we chose tomorrow afternoon for a round of strategic moves.

John and I discuss the battery situation and he suggests isolating each one and testing it. Sounds good to me so that evening W/ and I  isolate a battery, then run the generator to pull down the refrigeration temp as well as charge.  After our 50 minute run time of the generator we shut it down and the only power draw is a couple of 1 amp lights and a 3 amp computer draw. Less than 15 minutes later our battery voltage is 10.5 volts and viola!  We found our bad battery.  I switch connections and we watch the now good battery stay up on volts.  If the battery is really good we have 215 amp hours ideally but practically we have about 100 since IMHO not really a GOOD battery.  I’m guessing maybe 50 amp hours to play with. So what.  We pick up about 30 amps  / day with solar and with the generator running we should be able to limp along.

Things look good that evening and throughout the following day.

The next day we put fuel in the 2 hp Yamaha only to discover it is dripping rapidly out of the carburetor.  I take off the engine cover and discover that 4 of the doo dads that the bolts go into to keep the cover

Yamaha Nut all Rusted Out

Yamaha Nut all Rusted Out

on are rusting so bad the bolts are now just cosmetic. This Yamaha  engine is a little over 2 years old, is a marine engine and these doo dads are made of steel!  Shame on Yamaha!  I open up the carburator to clean the jet and reset it. If memory serves me correct it’s to be 1 1/2 turns back. I put it back together and there is  still drips.  Oh-Oh. I reopen it up and close the jet all the way.

We open up the fuel and no leakage. That’s a good sign –  we’ll see if she starts. Put the engine on the dingy and after several pulls (we remembered to attach the dead man switch) she starts up. Unfortunately she needs some choke to run so I need to sometime back out the jet a 1/4 turn at time to see if I can get it ….just right.

Ok, we’re rather pleased with ourselves and all set to move to Kuna Yala. Now we set up to enjoy the day. Mother Nature has other designs on us. From roughly noon till midnight it rains. People living in the temperate zones don’t have a clue what a rainy day really is.  In the US when it rains it’s mostly from a front moving through. My mom use to say “Rain before 7 quit by 11”.  Four hours of rain and that was a relatively accurate. Here it rains, and rains, and rains. and…. you get the idea.

Somewhere in the middle of the night I rouse myself out of my berth to open the hatches and ports; the rain has stopped,  to check the surroundings and make sure all is ok.  I look at the battery (not batteries anymore) and discover an issue. Last night we charged it; and the  battery settled at 12.58 volts after charging. Now it’s reading 12.03 volts. Effectively a flat battery after drawing out say about 15 amp hours!  If we continue on we’ll have no real reserve power in our house bank – no real power at all. It means instead of heading on to Kuna Yala we’ll head back to Shelter Bay. Life could be worse. We could be driving on Hwy 19 or sitting on the Beltway. We could be in a meeting with someone spouting off the new politically correct way education is to work.  We could be farther away from a solution. Luckily we’re  only a 1/2 days travel to a place we can solve the situation, provided the main engine will start.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long