Or How to Turn a Three hour Job into Three Days
Today is sunny, the birds are singing and I hope to finish the great electrical puzzle.
Its Sunday, 10 May, 2015 15:00, 3:00 p.m., 30 hours after I had written the sentence above. Little did I realize three days ago that I would still be dealing with this tar baby.
Day 1 Friday, started out rainy, dark and damp. I figured a good day to stay in and finish the electrical work that I had started yesterday. Shouldn’t take me even all day, I thought. Ha!
It was’nt complicated in what I was trying to do. Dauntless has two electrical systems: 120 volt AC like you has at home and 12 volt DC, as your car uses. But now it becomes complicated, because unlike a house that sits on the ground and is literally and figuratively “grounded” or a car, which sits on rubber tires and therefore is isolated from the ground; a boat is neither. Not only that, but unlike a house, a boat is producing electricity or bringing it from the shore and making sure it doesn’t escape is a crucial.
Why? Because in the process of the electrons leaving the boat, going to Earth, the ground, they do not travel as free electrons, but as ions, electrically charged particles, that conduct electricity, in other words any metal on the boat in contact with water.
So this means that if the boat and its electrical systems are not grounded correctly, it will eat away at whatever metal parts it can find. There are two ways we deal with this. The first is to have a metal block somewhere on the outside hull that is connected to all the major grounding points inside the boat. The second is to use sacrificial metals, in particular zinc, which is attached to the engine, and on the drive shaft, so it eats that zinc and not the engine, the prop or the drive shaft.
These systems work well when properly maintained and designed in the first place. Dauntless actually has three electrical systems, two 120 a.c., one being connected to the Inverter and one 12 v d.c. I discovered that the 120v systems were cross wired in a way that helps to defeat the other safeguards in the boat. That’s bad. It can damage equipment, but worse lead to electricity leaking into the water taking metal ions from wherever it can find them with it. There may even be some electrocution risk, but that’s minor in the scheme of things.
So the process started Thursday, with me making a plan, looking at the old blueprint of the electrical system and making a new diagram of the changes I wanted to make.
I soon discovered that the neutral wires, those white wires in a 120v system, were not correct. And much like an old series style Christmas tree bulbs, having one burn out, darkens them all, in this case, having one wire going to the wrong place, puts the entire system at risk.
So thus started the get neutral hunt. Having to disconnect everything and then figure out what is connected to what.
I did that and at the same time I also changed the function of three of my upper panel breaker switches.
This is where I always get in trouble. By making many changes at once, while it may seem more efficient, it is only so, if and only if, everything works as planned when done.
By late afternoon, I was ready to check to see if my changes worked as anticipated. The most significant change was allowing the Inverter to give power to the hot water heater. Completing the last connections, I turned on the inverter, got my trusty volt meter and tested the voltage going to the water heater. 1 volt! Not zero, but clearly not right.
Decided I’d finish it in the morning. Going to sleep that night, I did not have visions of sugar plum fairies, instead it was circuit diagrams and what had I missed.
The sun streaming in the windows woke me Saturday. Had my coffee and two oatmeal cookies form Costco that I had brought back with me and kept in the freezer.
I proceeded to spend the next few hours trying to understand what was happening or not. OK no power to the water heater, but what about the other stuff on the Inverter circuit? The outlets, the microwave, etc. Sometimes they had power, sometimes not.
Brought my analog volt meter out. Too many times in the past, I have been fooled by the digital meter not registering voltage for who knows what reason. I then spent the next few hours at the upper panel, maybe the problem was just getting the electricity down to the engine room?
Like everything, at first it seemed different, but upon closer inspection, same old problem.
I had noticed that if I turned on one particular circuit that the microwave happened to be on, then the entire system had power, but if that one circuit was off, no power anywhere.
I got worried that I had some strange feedback going on, that my turning on the circuit was allowing the electricity to flow backwards. Made no sense, but is possible, so I had to disconnect more stuff to make sure that wasn’t happening.
Earlier this morning, I heard a strange noise while in the engine room. Almost sounded like a mixer inside my fuel tank. Having learned the hard way that ignoring strange noises in a boat is like waving a red flag at a bull, I crawled out of the engine room to discover this behemoth in the middle of the river. What I had heard were his bow thrusters.
I watched him dock across the river.
Well, at least the weather was better than the day before, so I decided I needed a break and would do some shopping. I went the baker and got an apple pie (I like pieces for breakfast), then the butcher, who ground for me hamburger with 20% fat, instead of their normal 5%. Lastly to Dunn’s supermarket where I get my greens, in particular wild rocket (arugula, I think) and lamb’s lettuce.
Getting back to the boat, I fiddled with the electricity some more
Made my salad, didn’t overcook my burger on the Weber this time and it was one of my best dinners in a long time. Even drank red wine with it. Watched a few episodes of a new Korean Drama that I had downloaded while in NY, Cheongdamdong Alice, a really sweet drama.
So today, Sunday, I woke to gusting winds, driving rain and figured I would disconnect everything again, figure where every line goes and it has to work.
Didn’t work. Finally, I figured maybe it was the Inverter. Maybe I should read the manual again. Get it out, sit down, and make a cup of tea. Right in the introduction as it talks about how great it is and all the marvelous features, it mentions an “idle” mode.
WTF? Idle mode, I was pulling my hair out, thinking I had some crossed wires and now it tells me there is an idle mode, immediately I realize that’s why I was seeing one volt. And then like figuring out that 2 + 2 =4, I realized the one circuit that had to be one, was the only circuit that had a load, the little display of the microwave oven! Eureka,
California a very interesting town, but I digress.
OK, easy test, I get the vacuum, plug it in to a plug on a different circuit and turn on the inverter.
Within seconds the vacuum comes on, even while the microwave circuit is off.
Three days later, the problem was solved. Even got my water heater to work off the inverter. Takes a lot of power, but it will suffice this summer on those days we are at anchor.
Now, back to that drama.
Think I deserve a scone and some tea also.