A Few Days of Electrical Hijinks

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.

A Portion of the Engine Room Electrical Panel
A Portion of the Engine Room Electrical Panel

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.

It didn’t.

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.

The Hamburg Pulls Up Next to Dauntless
The Hamburg Pulls Up Next to Dauntless

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.

Hamburg Docked in Waterford
Hamburg Docked in Waterford

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.



Author: Richard on Dauntless

I’m an eclectic person, who grew up in New York, lived overseas for many years and have a boat, Dauntless, a 42 foot Kadey Krogen trawler yacht. Dauntless enables me to not only live in many different parts of the world, but to do it in a way that is interesting, affordable, with the added spice of a challenge. Dauntless also allows me to be in touch with nature. As the boat glides through the ocean, you have a sense of being part of a living organism. When dolphins come to frolic, they stay longer if you are out there talking to them, watching them. Birds come by, sometimes looking for a handout; sometimes grateful to find a respite from their long journey. I grew up on the New York waterfront, in the West Village, when everything west of Hudson St. was related to shipping and cargo from around the world. For a kid, it was an exciting place of warehouses, trucks, and working boats of all kinds: tugs and the barges and ships, cargo and passenger, they were pushing around. My father was an electrical engineer, my mother an intellectual, I fell in between. I have always been attracted to Earth’s natural processes, the physical sciences. I was in 8th grade when I decided to be a Meteorologist. After my career in meteorology, my natural interest in earth sciences: geology, astronomy, geography, earth history, made it a natural for me to become a science teacher in New York City, when I moved back to the Big Apple. Teaching led to becoming a high school principal to have the power to truly help kids learn and to be successful not only in school but in life. Dauntless is in western Europe now. In May and June, I will be wrapping up the last two years in northern Europe, heading south to spend the rest of the year in Spain & Portugal. Long term, I’m planning on returning to North American in the fall of 2017 and from there continuing to head west until we’re in Northeast Asia, Japan and South Korea, where we will settle for a bit. But now, my future lies not in NY or even Europe, but back to the water, where at night, when the winds die down, there is no noise, only the silence of the universe. I feel like I am at home, finally.

4 thoughts on “A Few Days of Electrical Hijinks”

  1. You have my admiration Richard, definitely. Yesterday my two hour project took from 0815 until 1630, and no, it’s not done. I managed to burn out one of my amp meters. And it wasn’t telling me what I wanted to know anyway. Of course I was tired so when I stuck the white and black wires in the two hots… well, poof.

    On the other hand, my new MPPT60 is installed and working well. That was a good thing. And only one of my four zincs needed replacement (on the starboard strut. The shaft zincs and port strut were fine. A report on the bottom paint was good. All that good news made up (almost!) for the fact that I lost a battery this month.

    I’d been suspecting one was going down as the batts were going down too much overnight (down to 12.3 by morning and that should not happen with just .01 amp hour LEDs on. The reefer is running on shore power while the engine swap progresses at the speed coral grows.

    Congratulations on figuring out yours. I’m glad mine is simple. My eyes spun looking at your wires. Too many to comprehend…

  2. Greetings Richard.

    Not sure if you want input, however if your blog is destined to be a book (and I hope so!) you’ve got a typo.

    Search for Cosco. Should be from, nor form… otherwise perfection. And interesting too. 🙂

    Your site is wonderful. I like the emailed parts as it saves bandwidth and makes it all easy. That’s a nifty touch.

    Janice aboard Seaweed http://janice142.com

  3. speaking of typos, my previous should say NOT instead of nor. (sigh)

    On Mon, May 11, 2015 at 1:53 AM, Janice aboard Seaweed wrote:

    > Greetings Richard. > > Not sure if you want input, however if your blog is destined to be a book > (and I hope so!) you’ve got a typo. > > Search for Cosco. Should be from, nor form… otherwise perfection. And > interesting too. 🙂 > > Your site is wonderful. I like the emailed parts as it saves bandwidth and > makes it all easy. That’s a nifty touch. > > Janice aboard Seaweed > http://janice142.com > > On Sun, May 10, 2015 at 1:27 PM, Dauntless at Sea <

    1. Thanks Janice,

      I’ll fix the typos. I had rewritten that piece and was already tired of it , so I just wanted to get it posted.

      I bought an expensive amp meter. Never use it that way though. Sometimes too much information is NOT helpful.

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