Two random topics from the Bahamas.
We take a break from bragging about the sunny skies, the white sand beaches, the blue water and warm temperatures to talk about two issues from this week. The trip isn’t all rainbows and unicorns!!
We have been training ourselves for the past 10 months how to be sailors. On the job training, but none the less. And we all know the saying about ‘old dogs and new tricks.’
I have trained our dog Lucky to sit. When Lucky was young, we trained him to sit by rewarding him treats and effusive praise. And at least 30 percent of the time his training takes and he sits around the time I give the command. But the jury was out on if the various parts of our ‘sailing training’ (as opposed to Army training, Sir!) have indeed taken.
At 1am this morning, I got confirmation that I am officially trained on the ‘anchor alarm’ sound. That when it goes off, I go from “deep sleep, middle of kick butt dream” to “PANIC” in about 3.2 microseconds.
An explanation and a side note before we continue:
For those of you who live on land and don’t care about no stinking boats, and anchor alarm is something you set that alerts you when your boat has moved. To give you enough time, one hopes, to stop a disaster from happening. There are a ton of apps out there that can do this for you, or you can do it the old fashioned way, and pick out visual references on shore to see if you moved. But visual references don’ work so well at night. So we us an anchor app called anchor alarm.
How it works is that when you get to your anchorage, you mark your anchor location in the app at the location where you anchor is at on the bottom. Then you set how big you want your circle of safety to be based on the amount of line you have out and how close any obstacles (i.e. land or other boats) are to your location. The app then uses the internal GPS on the iPhone (or iPad, or chart plotter) to keep tack of your boat and mark the location on a pretty picture so you can see where your boat is at any given time. And if you break the line, a really, really annoying alarm goes off alerting you that you have crossed the “LINE OF DEATH” (my word, not the app developers word). And you should do something.
And on a side note, why does the alarm always go off at 1am. Or 3am. Or any time that is morning and dark. And raining. Because the thing never goes off at 1pm, or at anytime that has the sun up.
So when the thing went off, I heard it deep in my dream. And in my dream I remember saying to myself “self, that is the anchor alarm.”
To which I replied “don’t worry…it is just the alarm, stay in bed.”
To which I replied “IT IS THE ANCHOR ALARM GET UP NOW!”
At which point I levitated like a board up off the bed, rotated and tilted so that as my feet hit the ground, my body was leaning forward so that I could SPRING out of the room, up the stairs and out on the deck. And somehow I grabbed my phone on which the alarm was going off constantly.
Up on deck it is windy. And dark. And I can see that we are not much closer to any of the other boats that we have been next to for the past 36 hours. So the panic subsides a bit. If we are dragging, it is a slow drag. I check the anchor chain and bridle, and they are both still where we left them (at the front of the boat) and pointing the right direction (down towards the anchor). Both of these are good things. So we didn’t break our rode, or our bridle, and we appear not to be moving quickly.
I look at the anchor app and I can see that our boat did indeed break the LINE OF DEATH, but not by much and that our little boat symbol which was outside the line was slowly creeping back into the line. So I sat on the deck, clad in my underwear and a scowl, watched my screen for awhile and waited for two things. First is for the app location to solidify to see if we had really moved, and second was for my heart rate to get back to something approaching normal.
After 15 minutes it appeared that our boat was not moving, had not moved, and all was normal. Or again–if we were moving we were doing so at a glacial speed. I opened the circle a bit more (increased the circle of safety), with the thinking that maybe I had made it too small so if/when we swing due to a wind shift, it swung us out of the circle. And if we were indeed still moving, it would wake me up and we could address. Because this is not the first time that we have had a spurious alarm from the app. Which is annoying, but would rather have a couple of false alarms and keep the thing on, instead of spinning away into the night.
So remember back in December we got some new solar installed? Cost us a couple of boat units, but really made the difference in generating enough power (assuming sunlight) so that we didn’t have to run the generator.
Since we have gotten to the Exumas, we have been having a hard time producing enough power to top off our batteries on a daily basis. And certainly not for lack of sun! The power, which had been pouring into our batteries when the sun was up, was still being produced, but the solar controller was throttling back the amps that were going back into the battery. So in the morning we would see our batteries get charged for a couple of hours, but then by 11am or noon, the charger would switch to float and only put a couple of amps/hour into the battery. Even though the state of charge was still way low. And we have had to run the generator not once but twice!
We had a hardware update on the charge controller while we in Highbourne Cay and my initial thought was that update perhaps switched a setting. I contacted Alex and he had not heard of any problems. I also described what was happening, but there was no smoking gun I could point to–only that we weren’t producing enough and that the
controller appeared to be acting funky. It was working…just not as well as we had been come to expect. For example, the last couple of days we had been getting a charge, but only got our batteries charged to 85-90% (according to our battery monitor) and it required me to be constantly monitoring the solar. This is no way to get power. And this morning (2/12/18), it came to a head when the power into the battery dropped to zero at noon, even though it was a bright, bright sunny day.
So troubleshooting began.
First I checked the voltage at the batteries, at the positive bus and at the MPPT fuse line (input into the MPPT). All were at 12.3 Volts. Batteries not fully charged. This was in line with our battery state of charge monitor which showed a 70% state of charge. But the controller was not feeding any power from the solar panels into the batteries. I then looked at the volts that the controller was seeing via the bluetooth interface to the box, and it showed 13.7 Volts. For some reason, the controller thought our batteries were charged.
Weird. I sent a note to the installer and his thought was that perhaps there was a problem with our battery monitor and that the solar had already charged the batteries. That didn’t seem to fit with what I was seeing, so I decided to hook up our generator. If the batteries were charged, the generator would also go to float and not be able to charge the batteries.
Fire up generator, amps POUR into the batteries. So they aren’t charged. It is something in the solar system.
About this time Joe, Carla and Ethan show up from S/V Mahi and I have another set of eyes. I walk through the troubleshooting steps with Joe and and he says start simple. Look at the physical path first. And low and behold, when we trace all the wires, we found the negative/grond wire from the MPPT to the negative bus was not connected. It was looped over the terminal but it was on top of the nut that was to affix it to the bus. Which it demonstrated by sparking like big dog when I pulled on the wire. Pretty sure that isn’t ABYC standard. Pulled out a wrench, put nut on terminal, tightened down and low and behold, the current started flowing. And though we lost a couple of hours of prime solar time, we still are at 95% charged!