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How To Defeat the Leak

Posted on Oct 24, 2014 | 0 comments

Nothing better than spending a rainy day snuggling in a warm, dry bed

Nothing better than spending a rainy day snuggling in a warm, dry bed

At some point or another, most of us have had to deal with having a small leak in our home or business. A window or even a roof dripping a bit during a flooding spell in springtime is cause for a check up and a few buckets, but not any real concern for most people. Not so on a boat. A primal fear is awakened when you find yourself on a leaking boat in bad weather, even if you clearly are in no danger of sinking or drowning or in fact any horrible fate at all other than a few sopping beach towels lying around and some wrinkled book pages.

Our first big rainstorm on the boat happened just a week or so after moving aboard. Dan was working and I was attempting to turn a very foreign space into our home. As the heavy rain started to fall and the boat began to sway on our dock lines, I started to hear the tell-tale sound of dripping, something I had (naively) never considered when moving aboard. My heart started to beat faster but I decided that the most logical thing to do was to find the leak and write it down so that I could tell Dan about it when he got home in an hour or two. And thus began the hunt, me with my flashlight and notebook scouring every inch of cabinet, hatch and window, all the while becoming more and more panicked as 1 leak become 2, and then 3, and then 10. After my final count of around 15 of so separate dripping areas, I finally sat down on our settee with my face in my hands and sobbed. What had I gotten myself into?

Luckily, Dan had no such fears of our leaking boat and went immediately to work checking out the problem once he had assured me that our boat was, of course, not in danger of sinking. Nearly 6 months later, I’m quite dry while writing this post during a lovely wet spell to say that we’ve finally located and eliminated all of those leaks (for now at least), though we weren’t able to completely accomplish that feat until just a week or two ago. It is amazing how difficult it can be to locate the source of a leak on a rolling object, especially one in which you can rarely see the direct underside of the deck.  Now that we are leak free however, the boat feels like a totally different place in a storm; a cozy refuge for our family rather than a derelict tent.

A few things that we have learned through the process of finding our many water intrusions:

  1. Start with any leaks that are at risk of affecting the integrity of your hull or decks. Luckily we didn’t have any majors so we moved onto the leaks that were easily assessed and fixed, followed closely by those that were the most negatively affecting our comfort. A small leak in the galley is a lot easier to live with than one directly above your bed or bookcase.
  2. Many times 1 leak can manifest in many different areas of the boat. One of the first and easiest fixes that we found was intrusion where a cable/phone hookup had been removed and not properly covered again. A couple of pieces of duct tape (and replacing the hook-up a few days later) completely eliminated at least 4 different spots that I had marked in one shot.
  3. Check which way your boat is leaning. To go along with #2, one of our leaks would find its way port or starboard depending on which way the wind was coming from, causing us to think we had separate leaks to fix when there was really only one.
  4. If you are having trouble locating a leak, you can try using a hose directly on suspected spots. Always check for leaks from the highest point first and make your way down. We started with the cockpit hardware mountings, then moved to the cabin top, etc. before finally getting down to the deck. A word of warning though: make sure that you give enough time for the water to potentially get through before moving on and test it with your boat leaning in different ways otherwise you could miss your leaks if the water is pooling somewhere first (see #3).
  5. Finally, make sure that when you do find the leak, you fix it properly to avoid any (further) damage, especially in the case of cored decks or hulls. You do not want your leaky hatch bedding turning into a soggy deck!

Hopefully, you’ll find that you look forward to getting out of the rain when you get home, rather than spending the night in it!

Dream vs. Reality

Posted on Sep 26, 2014 | 2 comments

This boat was recently dismasted in an accident involving a drawbridge. I'm sure that's not exactly the dream that the captain imagined.

This boat was recently dismasted in an accident involving a drawbridge. I’m sure that’s not exactly the dream that the captain imagined.

Dan and I are not cut out to be live-aboards. And by that I mean living on a boat in a metro area while working full time. Over the last few months, both of us started to become increasingly disillusioned with our dream of cruising and even started discussing what we might do after cruising was over (something that is decidedly not on a set time-line).  We are living in a small tiny space with 2 and a half people and 2 dogs, fighting crazy traffic every time we try to go anywhere, Dan working worse hours than anytime in his career, 2,000 miles away from close friends and family, and our marina rent is the same price that we were paying for our mortgage, taxes, and insurance on our pre-downsized house! Conclusion: live-aboard city life is definitely not for us.

It’s easy to see why we might be slightly disappointed. However, when we recently purchased a cruising guide for the Bahamas and started planning the beginnings of our trip for this winter, suddenly a huge light bulb turned on. The reason why both of us had been feeling so discouraged was because we had subconsciously equated our current living arrangements with the dream we had been working and saving towards for the last three years, when the goal was still just around the corner! We want to get away from big cities and stressed out, high-speed life, so it makes perfect sense why we weren’t exactly feeling like we’d found ourselves in Paradise yet.

Now that we’ve realized what was causing some of our uncertainty about cruising, we’re able to move forward with our plans for this winter. The more that we read about and plan for actual cruising, the more energized we’re becoming again. A lot of our biggest projects stopping us from leaving are getting wrapped up and the official hurricane season will soon be over. Let’s just say that we’re getting to the point where the To-Do list is partially getting smaller due to completion and partially due to us making strategic decisions like “new cushions or leaving sooner…screw the cushions they’re fine.” Hopefully sometime soon we’ll be rounding that corner into the final stretch before heading out!

Power at Sea: Part 1

Posted on Sep 7, 2014 | 0 comments

Michele and I are very fortunate to have a plethora of electronic gadgets on our boat. We have a hydraulic autopilot, 4KW HD radar, two vhf radios, 7 inch touchscreen multifunction device (chartplotter), microwave, TV, water pumps, bilge pumps, etc… you get the point. All of these gadgets, both essential and superfluous, take up a surprising amount of electricity. We estimate that our electrical usage while at anchor will be approximately 110-125 amp hours a day. While at sea it will be higher due to the autopilot and radar being active for the majority of the time while sailing. While this is a lot of electrical demand, it is by no means insurmountable with today’s technology.

In this part of the series I will focus on the sizing and selection of our system. The first step in sizing the system was to ascertain what our actual daily usage will be both at anchor and at sea. There are several useful calculators online that give reasonably accurate estimates, but we wanted to go a bit further. We decided to install a digital battery monitor that tells us the percentage charged, amp hours used, amp hours available, current amps, voltage, and historical data so we can know precisely how much electricity remains in our batteries at any given time. The Victron Energy BMV-702 meets all of these needs in a very easy to install and professional looking package.

Most battery monitors utilize a high amperage shunt that is installed between the batteries and load/generation in an electrical system. The shunt is then wired to the battery monitor. With the BMV-702 it is as simple as running a computer network cable (included!) from the shunt to the battery monitor.

Battery Monitor Shunt

The 50mV shunt I installed for the battery monitor

The next step in the installation of the monitor is to decide where to mount the unit itself. We had a 1970’s era voltage meter that no longer worked taking up a large space in our electrical panel area. After removing the old Danforth meter we had a serious hole left in the bulkhead, however…


Modern battery monitor size vs 70’s era voltage meter

Thankfully my dad was able to fabricate a black lexan panel that matched our existing panels quite nicely.

BMV-702 installed with new panel

BMV-702 installed with new panel

With the new monitor installed and running, we were able to accurately determine our actual electrical usage averages 90 Ah a day. Granted we are at dock right now so our usage is different than it will be while at anchor, but we now have a very good estimate to size our system with. We decided to add a buffer of 33% to account for increased inverter usage and other possibilities.

To meet all of this electrical demand, many people choose to install and utilize a diesel generator to meet their electrical demands while cruising. This is an acceptable choice for day sailing, hopping between marinas, etc that can quickly become expensive if used as the main source of power for a vessel. The maintenance and fuel for a generator can quickly meet or exceed the maintenance costs of the main engine on a cruising sailboat.

We decided to go with a hybrid setup that utilizes both solar and wind power sources simultaneously. This has the benefit of high power generation while also diversifying the source of power… on rainy days we will generate less solar power, but most likely more wind power. We also will have as a last resort backup our engine alternator that can charge the batteries to nearly full in a few hours. The next part of this series will showcase our solar panel, charge controller, and custom solar panel mount installation.