Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Virtuous Circle

 Definition of the snowball effect

Last month I mentioned we were running a NMEA 2000 backbone and installing new instruments (click here).  All by itself this was a big endeavor but, like everything else I do, it has gotten out of hand, growing beyond it's physical and financial boundaries as we learned more about the capabilities of the system.

The first thing that became obvious was the need for more DC breakers.  Our main DC panel only had two unused breaker positions available before I started in on this path and we quickly used those up with the radar and auto pilot course computer.  As I contemplated adding AIS, sonar and the backbone itself I realized the only correct way to do this was to add a sub panel for DC power.  Of course this requires a breaker of it's own on the main panel.  I ended up removing all the breakers for instruments and moving them over to a new sub-panel panel mounted at the nav station.

Our nav station is divided into two sections.  The right side is entirely taken up by the main breaker panels for AC and DC voltage.  The left side is used for mounting radios, controls and instruments.  When we bought the boat this was almost completely taken up, very little room for new additions and what was there was installed in a haphazard fashion, wasting space.  There were instruments here that didn't need to be, that could have been mounted in other places.  A good fer-instance is the control for the solar panels.  The main control takes up some pretty good real estate, it's a large panel.  But there's also a remote panel that's 1/4 the size and they mounted them both right next to each other.  The larger panel can be mounted inside a cabinet, out of the way.  Then there's the AM/FM radio.  We only use this as a place to plug in our iPod and plan to install a better system soon.  My birthday IS coming up!  There were also a couple of 12VDC outlets, like the cigarette lighter in your car, that have never been used.

After looking around for a location for the DC sub panel I decided the best place for it was on the left side of the nav station.  All the wiring runs into here and it would save a lot of trouble if it was mounted right there.  All I'd have to do is make a new panel and re-mount only the stuff we really needed.  Simple!

I started out with relocating the VHF radio.  I decided to make a small cabinet for the top of the nav station cabinet and mount the radios up there.  We're planning to get a Single Side-Band (SSB) radio so we can communicate to and from anywhere in the world.  This cabinet will mount the two radios and a speaker and open up quite a bit of space on that instrument panel.  I drew up a design and asked The Dude to build it for me.  He finessed the design and made it so it blends in with the cabinetry of the boat.  He also made it easy to open up for wiring the radios.  Since we don't have the SSB yet he put in the cut-outs for it and made some nice plugs for the holes.  You can't even tell they're there.

Next I went through and completely dismantled the old panel.  With everything removed I laid out the new panel with the DC sub panel on one side.  This gives us eight additional breakers and I was able to leave the panel open below that in case we ever wanted to install a bigger panel.  I relocated all the breakers for the instruments here except for the auto pilot because that baby draws too much power.  By removing the AM/FM radio we now have 3 additional breakers on the main panel and 3 more on the sub panel.  Big improvement!  To the left of sub panel I installed an i70 display to monitor all our instruments, the control panel for the new inverter, the control panel for the genset, the control for the tri-anchor light and the remote displays for the solar panel and the holding tank monitor.  The control panel for the wind generator is mondo huge so I dismantled that and cut down the panel, making it four inches shorter and an inch narrower.  Now that fits here too.  I still had plenty of room so I added one of the 12 VDC outlets too, just in case we need to charge our phones or something.

We're adding two more solar panels and that required an additional control unit.  These Blue Sky controls can be daisy chained together and run by a single remote so I made a mounting panel for the two units inside the cabinet for the nav station.  Here I added terminal blocks to tie into 12VDC power for the outlets and the lights.  That'll come in handy later on for an easy connection to power things like LED lights inside storage areas around the boat.

I had originally planned to mount the course computer for the auto pilot and the control unit for the sonar beneath the floor in the galley.  The Hinckley electrician advised me to rethink this, saying that if we had flooding in the bilge these units would be the first to go.  I pulled all my wiring and relocated these to the cockpit lockers.  I had hesitated doing this at first because the auto pilot has a huge amperage draw, 30 amps, and wire length is critical.  If the wire run is less than 15 feet then I can use 8 gauge wire.  This stuff is expensive but going up to the next larger size is a major step requiring a short term bank loan.  When the galley work was being done and all the cabinets were removed it exposed a wire run along the starboard side that I hadn't used before because it was inaccessible.  I had been running all my wire under the floor to get it back to the cockpit.  By using this run down the side the length is much shorter and this is how I was able to mount the course computer in the starboard side cockpit locker, still using my 8 gauge wire.  The sonar control is going in the port side locker but wire size isn't as critical for that.

Can you say "snowball"?

But that's not the end.  Cheri and I were talking about this new backbone and how all the information was right there, available to be called up in several places around the boat.  She wanted to know if we could display it on our Mac mini computer and our iPads, especially the navigation stuff.  That'd be cool.  I started looking around and found that we could get a WiFi gadget that connects directly to the NMEA 2000 backbone and broadcasts all the info wirelessly.  Is that a word, wirelessly?  I guess it is now.  Anyway, Digital Yacht makes the WLN2net and this'll give us a wireless feed to the backbone.  Running apps like iSailor or Garmin's BlueChart we'll be able to monitor our navigational and AIS info from anywhere on the boat.  Picture this....we're sailing across the Pacific, the auto pilot is running and we're sitting up on the forward deck playing Parcheesi, or whatever.  By having our iPad nearby we can keep track of the boat and where we're going, what's around us (if anything).  Maybe even getting weather updates through our SSB radio and displaying the info through the backbone.  As time goes on there will be new developments for information sharing with the NMEA 2000 design and we'll be right on top of it.

While exploring the instrument installation and rewiring the power panel I found some interesting stuff.  There was a terminal strip inside the nav station cabinet that had seven wires going into one side and nothing coming out the other.  It wasn't connected to anything.  I've been pretty busy with other projects and didn't really have time to chase this down but I was curious.  I chose one wire, a nice purple one and traced it out.  It ran under the floor from the nav station into the galley and from there went into the engine compartment.  I followed it around the other side and found it connected to the engine battery.  Huh?  What was this used for?  What are the other six wires for?  It's a mystery right now but I do plan to get to the bottom of it eventually.  Apparently there's stuff like this all over the boat.  The guys installing the genset found a bundle of wire that wasn't connected to anything.  It was in the prop shaft trough just behind the engine, tied into a large cable run.  About five feet forward they found the other end of the cables, hanging out in the air, connected to nothing.  Great.  No wonder we sit so low in the water.  If I could eliminate all this unused wire we'd probably increase our speed over ground by 25%.  Our last boat, a 1979 Islander 28, was like this only worse.  It had been owned by an electrical engineer who loved putting in new gadgets.  Only problem was he didn't remove the old stuff so there were wires all over the place that didn't do anything.  Not only that but nothing was documented.  Oh no, that reminds me.  I really really need to document all the new stuff we just added to this boat.  Yikes!  I'm turning into that old dude I keep complaining about!

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