Power Struggles

Annual Annapolis vs. Eastport tug of war 

November 6, 2017 

    Though we have been wearing boardies more often than not since we arrived in Maryland almost three months ago, that time has now passed.  Within the course of a week, what still seemed more like summer days have given way to the bone chilling reality that we are quickly running out of time; fall is not only here but almost over… winter is definitely bearing down on us with a vengeance.

We could spend all winter doing tasks and projects here in the bay; but we bought a boat to go sailing and traveling and are very cognizant of not getting bogged down in the vicious cycle of never getting going because there is still something that needs to be done.  The only thing that we have vowed to get sorted out before starting south is the refrigeration.

The old generator-driven refrigerator system


Electrical power aboard a boat is both a rather simple and rather complex issue simultaneously.

The simple issue is no different than power on land – everything that plugs in has to get juice from somewhere. For boats that spend every night tied up at dock this is not a problem, as the boat’s batteries can be plugged in to shore power for recharging.

When a boat spends its nights at anchor, as is the norm for liveaboard cruisers, this becomes much more complicated. Without being attached to civilization’s power grid, and essentially infinite amounts of electricity, a boat must supply its own power. There has to be a power source for not only everything on the boat, but also a means to store, recharge and/or generate that power.

Most equipment aboard runs off a 12 volt system (just like a car). The challenge with 12 volt batteries are providing adequate long term current for equipment with a higher energy consumption.

Exit has two independent power banks. Two 100 amp batteries dedicated only to running the engine starter and windlass, and six separate 100 amp house batteries tied together to power all the boat systems (600 total amp-hours of rated power).

Every time we run the Perkins diesel engine it charges the 12 volt house batteries. However, unless we are underway, our energy consumption far outweighs our need for engine propulsion, leaving us with the less than ideal situation of burning diesel to run an engine not needed to get us somewhere but, rather, just to charge our batteries.

The obvious solution, and high on our priority list, is installing solar panels to charge the batteries, thereby eliminating the need for running the engine… but that’ll have to be another blog entry.

The other option for power is a generator. The downside of a generator is it’s another noisy engine slurping fossil fuels. The upside is it gives access to off-shore AC power, making it possible to power such luxuries as microwave ovens, toasters, coffee makers, air conditioners, big screen TVs, refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and even scuba compressors (woohoo!!!). Our diesel generator is particularly French in that it supplies 230V/50Hz power.

The only things on Exit that run off of 230 volt are the refrigeration/freezer charging (which is required every day), the water-maker (which hasn’t been in service for over ten years), and the tiny washing machine (which also hasn’t been used for over a decade)… which means we run the generator only to charge the refrigerator/freezer or to charge the house batteries. Eventually, we hope the washing machine will disappear off the side of the boat in a possible maritime mishap and be replaced by a scuba compressor… but that’ll have to be another blog entry.

So the ongoing dilemma is having to run the generator every day. Its sole purpose is keeping our fridge and freezer cold – using diesel fuel and requiring us to be aboard to manually switch things on and off.

Our solution… switch the refrigeration system to 12V which frees us from having to run the generator. It’ll cost to make the switch, and in the immediate future we’ll still have to run either the genset or the engine to recharge the house batteries; but it’s a step in the right direction and sets the stage for the future solar upgrade.

Finally, it looks like, as has been the case so often since we arrived, its all about sorting and waiting, and sorting and waiting, and then at the eleventh hour… boom… it all slips into place just under the wire.

Bryan, with Annapolis Cruiseair (who we brought aboard for a consultation a month ago), is coming tomorrow to install the new system.  I have 24 hours to get the old one removed.  Once again, a balance of function, budget, degree of necessity, logistics, and scheduling options come together in a swirling mass, and a plan emerges…

Jellyfish in strainer
Cleaning a jellyfish out of the fridge’s raw water strainer for the last time

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