Saturday, February 19, 2011

Charging Forward Old School!

My Cal 2-29, Dervish, has been getting some major work this month. I've got several projects going on and could almost do a post everyday, if I weren't so darn busy tending to my life. I'm out of my apartment in a week, trying to line up some temporary work to fill the proverbial "cruising kitty," and even managing to find time for dating. I won't be going into that today though. Instead, I'll limit this post to recent work on my charging systems.

Dervish inherited quite a lot of hand-me-down gear from Nomadness and the Microship, for which I am very thankful. One of the more useful things was a TrueCharge Statpower battery charger. (It is now the Xantrex TrueCharge.) At a measly 10 amps, it is a bit on the small side, but since Dervish doesn't have refrigeration, or power hungry instruments, she uses very little power now, and will use even less once I swap out the failing, fluorescent cabin lights for a couple of low power LED dome lights.

The TrueCharge unit, though originally thought of as a temporary kluge, has been working sufficiently for a year. Why not stick with it?  It is a three phase smart charger with dual leads for my two batteries. It is now mounted at the back of the starboard quarter berth where the old scorched Dytek charger once lived and died. In some ways this isn't the best location because I intend to use that berth for storage, which will make it tough to see the charge status lights, but again, convenience dictated. Better to get it done than put it off again waiting for the perfect solution. Moving it later is always an option.  At least it's not simply clipped on as it had been for the past eleven months. I've already had one fire as a result of that! (Click here to read that adventure.) The switch next to it may not be necessary, but it was already wired in to the shore power. I figure if something were to go "haywire," I could manually shut off the charger. Then again, I could probably disconnect shore power more quickly. 

Next we tackled the bigger issue: the engine charging system.  Last summer one of my two batteries had bloated up a bit. We suspected it had over charged, so Steve disconnected the alternator before I put in two new group 27 deep cycle batteries.  I didn't want to risk damaging them with over 16v or more surging in. 

The alternator remained disconnected for all of my outings last summer. It wasn't too much of a problem really, as I was rarely on the hook, and miserly with power the few times I did anchor out. Still, I knew it was something that seriously needed attention. For Dervish, I try to only buy new gear if the old stuff can't be fixed, or if it becomes (or could become) a safety hazard. I like to stay old school when possible. In that spirit, we carried the alternator and voltage regulator to the local guru at Dan's Alternator and Starter Service. 

Now, Dan is one of these guys that does what he knows how to do, and does it very well. One thing Dan knows, is alternators. He knew my Motorola 37 amp 12v marine alternator intimately. He is also a nice guy and honest; he isn't going to try to sell you something you don't need. Especially not if he can fix it. Dan clearly takes pride in keeping old parts functioning, which, in this day and age, is a rarity. Evidently few shops still rebuild components like these. Why should they? Can't you buy a new one for nearly the same price and get a warranty? Sure, you can always buy a new something, but rebuilding or refurbishing an old part to give it new life, is more satisfying. If guys like Dan can stay afloat in their business for a few more years, I think they will recover. If our economy continues downward, people will be forced to repair what they have. When goods become too expensive in a market where the dollar is no longer almighty, guys like Dan will be highly valued.  But I digress...
Dan said he would test the alternator and open it up to see if a rebuild was in order or if it was irreparable. If I needed a new one, I thought I'd get something beefier than 37 amps, something newfangled with an internal voltage regulator.
In the shot above Dan is opening up a Delco alternator, not mine, (unfortunately, I didn't get down there with my camera in time) or even the same make, but he reminded me as he opened it that "basically, all these things work the same way."  

Most alternators look something like this inside. Again, I was delighted to discover that it isn't really all that complicated. It is empowering to demystify some of this stuff. Strange that it took me so many years to discover that I actually enjoy learning how things work. 
Alternators have stator coils fixed to the housing and rotor coils that are driven by the motor. The rotor produces a field current as the coils rotate. The strength of the field current determines the strength of the magnetic field. The magnetic field has, like all magnets, a north and a south pole.  The rotor, driven by a pulley when the engine is running,  supplies current to the coils via a set of brushes.  As the rotor coils couple with the stator coils it produces A/C, which is passed through a few diodes that rectify it into D/C which can then nourish your batteries.  

When Dan took my alternator apart, he found the brushes and coils were absolutely fine. The bearings, however, were toast. Below is a bearing exactly like the one from my Motorola. This one is pretty gunked up, but evidently mine was worse. 
Fortunately, I hadn't run it until it had frozen up and completely destroyed the whole unit, so Dan was able to replace the bearings without having to do a total rebuild on it. He assured me it was a good little unit worthy of reuse.

When we returned a few days later to pick it up along with the new voltage regulator, Shawn and Dan marked the wires and terminals to insure proper installation of the new regulator. You really do not want to hook it up incorrectly, and it isn't all that obvious by looking at it, which wire goes where. Here it is all clean and reinstalled. The new voltage regulator is fastened to the inside of the engine compartment just a few inches to the right. It has been tested and works great! Plus I get "reuse" points, and I saved around $60!
Times are tough and the economy is poor; little shops like Dan's are becoming scarce. I encourage anybody in the South Sound area to take your business to Dan the alternator man. He'll fix you up. Old school. His shop is a metal mess of parts both new and used, but Dan knows exactly where everything is. You can easily miss his sign on Black Lake Blvd, and I told him as much. He said he was thinking of investing in a new one. He knows an aspiring, young artist whom he'd like to hire for her first paid job. If you visit him, be sure to tell him Sky sent you!  
3614 A Black Lake Blvd. S.W., Tumwater, WA
(360) 352-4523

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pedestal Project

As the long awaited and highly anticipated move aboard date approaches, I find myself excited and yet, a little panicked. Over the past week, I have had some recurring thoughts: Where will all my stuff go? I have no hanging locker. I have no refrigeration. My fuel tank is empty (and probably growing all sorts of biology). My charging systems are either jury rigged or completely disconnected. My vintage kerosene stove has a leak (I bought the rebuild parts from England eight months ago, but have I not fixed it yet). My wheel is so stiff that the rudder hardly moves, and like every boat I've known intimately, my plumbing could use "some work." I wouldn't even let myself think about wiring. My how quickly a perfectly sailable boat can become The Project Made of Many Projects.

But if you know me at all, you know that I am not easily daunted, and although I am still healing my injuries, I am ready for whatever the universe throws in my way. Nothing like a few hard knocks to wake me up and send me crashing straight through a stagnant phase. (I think Gurdjieff called these shocks.) I hold the same thought/feeling each night as I drift between the lucidity and dreamland. I envision good things working their way to me. Right now.

As it turns out some of these were much closer than I ever could have imagined! A friend I met awhile back had offered to help me with some boat projects. Shawn is a competent mechanic who understands the workings of marine systems, so I brought him aboard Dervish, to give her a looking over. He decided the steering pedestal would be a good project to start with because "you don't want that thing failing on you."

The first step was to open it up, so I could see how it worked. It really isn't such a complex thing. Here you can see the two cables, one for shifting and one for throttle. The big chain that couples with a brass sprocket (much like a bicycle) controls the movement of the rudder through cables and sheaves.

You can see that it was quite grimy. Shawn cleaned and lubed it up, but it remained stiff. We discussed the parts that could be the culprit and came to the conclusion that the bearings may be bad; I ordered a pedestal rebuild kit with needle bearings from Edson and waited.

When we returned two weeks later, the wheel was moving nicely due to the lubrication having worked its way in. I didn't need the kit after all! Shawn dismantled the rest of the pedestal parts and sent me home with some sanding and clean-up to do.

Unfortunately he also found what we thought was a broken bolt, but what turned out to be a broken off drill bit. Ultimately, the pedestal would get reassembled with only three of the four fasteners. Though he did install a stud to help hold the bottom half in place. I don't know how long it had been that way, but I am sure she'll hold up just fine.

Once the parts were sanded and cleaned up, Shawn put a few coats of Helmsman Spar Urethane and some fresh paint on, and we met at the boat for reassembly. Here he is drizzling a bit of motor oil onto the chain to lubricate it.

After dry fitting the pieces together, a bead of 4200 polyurethane was used to seal it.

Here is the final product. I just love how tidy and pretty the whole thing looks. Much better than it was, and most certainly better than I could have done. I am inspired to sew up a cover for it now.

I am honored to have so much generosity and expertise come my way. This week I plan to take her for a spin, fill her up with diesel and begin to prepare my little escape pod for full time living.

Next up? The charging systems. The stove. And art and adventures.