Tuesday, December 26, 2006

An Expensive Month

Vero Beach

Whew. Things are piling up. In addition to the engine we have other problems. Our engine, since reassembled has cooling problems. There is no guarantee on the work since we signed a statement saying "Customer orders reassembly of a seriously damaged engine. No warrranty." It takes 2.5 hours to fully recharge the batteries. Now the engine only runs for one hour before overheating. Last night I burned myself with boiling water when trying to add more water to the hot engine. The burn wasn't serious but still we're not looking forward to doing this daily for 3 more weeks.

In addition we have battery problems. We have two 97 AH gel cells from West Marine. This is the second time they failed in two years. I bought them two years ago. They are supposed to last for 5 years. Last year, West Marine replaced both with new ones when I took them in and complained. This year they replaced one of them again. I only brought one battery in for exchange, because I thought the other was OK. Now, after comparing performance of the remaining battery with the new one, I conclude that both were bad.

What's causing it? I suspect a faulty solar panel charge controller. Poking around in the engine compartment at night I discovered the red LED on the controller saying "charging" even at night. Since our battery problems started just after leaving the marina in Ft. Pierce, I suspect that when we are on shore power, and the batteries are fully charged, that a faulty solar panel charge controller can cause overcharge. Without regulation, the panels put out 18V. Gel cells are particularly vulnerable to overcharging since they are sealed and one can't add more water to them.

I ordered a new solar panel charge controller, and I'm going to pay West Marine for the next new battery rather than asking them to replace it on warranty because I suspect that it wasn't their fault.

I'm also shopping for a portable generator. That's another big expense but it would be a welcome addition onboard. We could eliminate up to 1,000 hours per year running the main engine. I could also eliminate dealing with an overheated engine twice per day for the next three weeks.

It seems that we see only Honda EU1000 generators on board other cruisers. They are very nice, very quiet, lightweight and compact. However they cost almost $800, whereas home generators with more than 3 times the capacity of the Hondas cost $400 or less. On a boat though, quiet, compact and light weight are critically important properties.

We have no AC wiring on Tarwathie. The portable generator would be used only to run the shore power battery charger which uses 120w maximum. Therefore, we don't need much power. Although we have 75w of solar power, that's not enough most of the time. The intelligent battery charger charges as rapidly as possible in phase 1. It tapers off the charge during 2.5 hours in phase 2. Phase 3 is a trickle charge. Even if phase 1 takes zero time because of the solar panel, it still wants to run for 2.5 hours on the tapered charge.

Blog readers, do you have any suggestions other than the Honda?

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