Preparing for sea again … the Heart of Spiritus!
Stress testing the boat! How to give your boat a Heart attack.
The electrical heart of Spiritus is a Heart 2000 interface inverter/charger. It directly or indirectly provides the electricity needed to keep the boat’s electronics, electrics, pumps, radios, and other electrically powered devices functioning. It also acts as a mediator with the boat’s batteries allowing us to make 12v DC into 110-120 volt AC.
We have a habit of stressing the boat before we go sailing on a trip of any length. So, we set about taking the boat off of dock power last week for six days to make sure our nine (9) year old gel-cell batteries were still dependable. We are at the end of their life span (usually five years) and are headed north to either La Cruz or La Paz to replace them.
We had only very minor problems thru the test–mostly due to my forgetting to turn off the icebox one night, followed by a day of overcast weather which lowered our solar input. So, four days into the test, we ran the engine for exactly one hour first thing in the morning and they caught back up with just sunlight by noon. Our Volvo MD 17D engine has an alternator capable of putting out 110 to 120 amperes so, it can actually raise battery level quite quickly.
Still, we believe that the batteries hold about ten-percent less stored amperage than last year when we tested them. This is only an educated guess.
We had basically finished the testing when one o’clock in the afternoon rolled around, and we decided to hook up the air conditioner. By this time, we had switched back on the dock power and had been charging batteries for about three hours at a high rate of charge …( on our boat the Heart charger inverter starts out at 120 amps, stays there for about an hour then drops to 70 amps … and finally 30 … and, if all is well, 10 amps or less as a float or trickle charge).
In an abundance of caution, I (*note not “we”, at this point) decided to shut off the dock power and just plug the air conditioner directly into the shore line, so that the boat would not have a 10 amp load from the air conditioner while it was still charging. I now know I did not have to do this as the inline power and charger are different circuits.
All was well and we had a beer, watched a DVD, and fixed supper.
Why you should never smile when things are going well. As we went to bed I noticed that, after hooking the boat back up, the charger did not fire back up at 70 amps (which I had expected) but instead stayed at one led (which is either a float charge of 10 amps….OR …. a fault indicator … that the charger had shut down unexpectedly. I checked the solar capacity digital readout and ….hmmm …. 12.35 volts.
It usually reads 13.58 volts on dock power and 14.04 volts on dock and solar power. 12.35 is not good, but I went to bed thinking it was trickling. No such luck.
Seems that when I turned off the dock power (may have just been coincidence) the battery charging circuit and the inverter circuits both failed.
We were now 7 days out from checking out from the marina and a trip north and the boat was. I thought, electrically inert. Not to mention that I have to sleep next to the quartermaster, Lady Spiritus, without giving any clues that ‘something may be wrong’. I slip quietly, slowly, into the bed we have over the cockpit. Big sigh! Immediately she stirs and asks, “What’s wrong?’
I hate stress tests!
For the record, I state, “I think we have a problem with the inverter, I will look at it in the morning”, knowing that she would have found it anyway when she made coffee. I know that she secretly checks her ‘happy meter’ which is the battery gauge when she wakes our boat up each morning.
(1) I have very low battery voltage. 12.20 volts–even while connected to the shore line.
(2) When I turn off the dock power, and turn on the inverter, the remote panel for the Heart 2000 goes dark … not good.
(3) When I turn on the dock power and turn off the inverter, I have 110 to all AC outlets and appliances. That is good.
(4) The engine alternator has output. It charges batteries. This is better.
(5) I still have solar charging from the two solar panels.
Have a Plan B
Always have a Plan B. This is called the What-If Option. In this case, when we stressed the boat, we understood that there was not a local marine electrician; there was not a local marine or even electrical parts store; and, unfortunately, I am not an electrician. We are 120 nautical miles from the nearest shipyard and mechanics/electricians that work on recreational boats.
It takes at least six weeks to get a part from the US here, accounting for delays at customs, and shipping delays. The cost goes up as the speed of delivery is shortened. At six weeks delivery, expect the price to be up to double what you would pay for the same part in the US. If you need it faster … add double-to-triple cost of shipping .. so that, sometimes, the part costs more to ship than the part costs (even with the cost of the part doubled)!
Factor in the cost for staying in the Marina for another month and a half waiting for the part to arrive– at the more than double what we are paying winter high season rates.
Our Plan B was improvised on the spot. La Cruz is a three day casual sail. We have engine charging for underway and solar charging for at anchor. And, duh, we would not have shore power between ports in any case. We will continue as planned unless something else fails.
Only drawback is no evening movie, and we had changed all our small device batteries over to rechargeable. Without an inverter, no recharging of handheld portables, head lamps, portable drift alarms, back up portable GPS.
The Owner’s Manual is your friend.
Ok, pull out the manual. We have a Heart 2000 inverter charger. I have all the original paperwork including the installation manual and the owners manual.
RTFM. Seems the single red LED means 10 amps or less. If less– it flickers. OR, if there is a problem, it can mean LED One says “there is a problem, the unit shut down”. Confusing, huh?
The Internet is your friend
Look up Heart 2000 inverter charger failures, LED messages, diagnostics. I will put a few sites and newsgroups below to show what was available.
What I learned, is (1) many of these units are now boat anchors …. (2) company no longer makes, services, or has customer service for these units, (3) they were not designed to be used in the marine setting (looks like RV and of- grid usage was what they were for), and finally (4) they have been very popular with the sailing cruising community.
http://www.wikihow.com/Test-a-Fuse-With-a-Multimeter (useful videos for principles of using the tool)
Diagnostics are your friend.
(1) When I turn off the dock power, and turn on the inverter, the remote panel for the Heart 2000 goes dark … not good.
(2) When I turn on the dock power, turn off the inverter, I have 110 to all AC outlets and appliances. That is good.
(3) When I disconnect the shore line and start the engine, it charges all batteries (if I have it configured correctly). This is better.
(4) If I monitor the solar panels on the LED readout for the MMPT charger with the engine off and the dock line disconnected, I get solar charging at a normal rate.
The dock workers who make a living working on boats are your friends … not just your part-time employees!
Yes, as with all cruisers, the basis or our relationship is the work we have and need done. But, if you treat everyone as people–not just workers, it is amazing how much they will help you learn about their nation, their families, the state we live in, and the local community. They also know everyone who knows anything about a boat.
Sometimes, they help and don’t ask anything in return, kind of like friends. Friendship–what a concept!
One of them (Arturo) who works on Spiritus occasionally, told us that the owner of ‘Cavatina’ had lots of good tools and knew about electrics. Another (Pancho)who hasn’t worked on Spiritus, but who befriended my wife and quartermaster was headed to town and stopped by to see if we needed a part. By that time, we knew what was wrong and took some pictures with his phone of the bad fuse and asked him to see if the people at Casa de Pescadores in Santiago had a replacement. Parts number and cell phone pictures can be your friends, too.
Other cruisers are your friend
The owner of ‘Cavatina’, a ketch getting ready to head south to the Canal and then west to the Marquesas is an electrician. He is not familiar with my inverter or the way my boat is set up BUT he has tools that I do not. He has a crimper that can handle 2 gauge battery/welding wire ends and he has a spare 2 gauge end connector.
Electrical diagrams are your friend!
An Electrical Diagram of your boat’s power system is a good thing. This is something a lot of boats do not have. We do. When we had our last electrical work done in La Paz, I sat down with the electrician and had a paper diagram drawn to show how the system was laid out.
It is very different after cruising than when it left the factory and was finished in Winchester Bay, Oregon, in 1990.
Figuring it all out.
Diagnostics with your gauges and meters is great but, at some point, you will have to bite the bullet and simply go find the problem physically if there is a problem you can see. This means, in our boat, an inspection of the lazarette where the batteries for starting the boat and the solar banks are found. It is my least favorite place in the boat to work because it is the most cramped.
It is also where boaters tend to put stuff they don’t use a lot. Ours is now empty of all but the batteries and one rope (rode) for the stern anchor.
So, under the starter battery, this is what I found. We had a 300 amp fuse melted into the wiring that connects the two solar batteries in series. Attaching it to the charger/inverter was a 300 amp fuse. The fuse, after testing, was found to be dead. Probable problem identified.
You will need to know … or learn in a hurry, how to use this Multi -Tester or something like it to check the fuses and wiring.
Photo below was taken after replacing fuse and putting new end on No. 2 gauge wire and heat-shrinking end to protect from corrosion.
Fixing it. Small space. Foreign country. Hard to find part. No crimpers. Oh, and I don’t carry (I do now) a spare of this fuse. I do have a pair of 250 amp fuses that might work in a pinch. My kind of project.
The dreaded lazarette.
This is your work area.
We assembled all the parts, the tools, the info, and set about fixing the (hopefully–with fingers crossed) obvious problem. After a half a day’s actual work in the lazarette and two days retesting all the various electrical functions, all is back to normal.
Heart attack avoided.
Good news is probably that if we had not had this problem, the hot fuse would have melted thru the insulation and a big red wire would have been directly connected (shorted across) a big black wire in a very small space that is also occupied by the boats LPG system. Picture: shorting out two massive solar batteries, and the starter battery all at once! Unpleasant thought….
Moral: Everything happens for a reason. The boat was trying to tell us to go look for the problem so we could find the real problem and danger. Never ignore the boat.
Cause’ the boat is your friend!