Trevor sourced the spares for the thruster and I arranged for a diver to replace the prop. Looks straightforward. “Now I understand one more system a little bit better!”

The propane failure was weird. I called Trident and they have never heard of this failure mode. Basically, there seems to be a short in the data connection wire on the pigtail from “Alarm A”. So, when it starts up, it goes into alarm almost right away. Why this would start suddenly on a Saturday evening when we haven’t been using the propane system, I don’t know. Actually, if the short is in the pigtail, the jumper I put in shouldn’t work. Trident confirmed that all three pigtails (Alarms 1-3) are all soldiered into the same spot on the board – so they should behave the same unless the fault is in the wire.

Regardless, I hooked the detector up to “Alarm B” and put a jumper on “Alarm A”. The propane flows fine and the solenoid opens and closes. I also tested the alarm by putting a little butane on a paper towel and waving it nearby and that works fine as well. Honestly, I am stumped. I don’t like having a system failing for reasons I don’t understand. Especially when it also recovers, for reasons I don’t understand…. Trevor offered to send me a new kit, but I am going to leave it for now and try to avoid the dreaded “maintenance induced failure”.

I got the battery specs from Trevor. The batteries are pretty tough and accept a wide range of voltage inputs. Other than shore power float being a tiny bit low, everything is within spec. Also, since the solar panel float voltage is at the high end of the range, the two together should balance out.

Max Bulk Charge RateAbsorbFloatNotes
Battery Mfg. Recommended40-50% “higher possible”14.25 – 14.613.6 – 13.8
Magnum Shore Power Charger “AGM”132 (observed)14.513.5Float is a tiny bit low.
Solar MTTP “Sealed”??? Nothing observed14.413.8

Note that temperature has a big effect on these ranges as well.

The ELCI breaker tripped again. This is the third or fourth time it’s happened. The good news is we have more clues, but the bad news is it’s still going to be hard to troubleshoot.

Clues

  1. This happened early on when the boat was being commissioned, so it started happening before I brought any of my devices aboard.
  2. It’s happened on both the forward and aft ELCI breakers. The errors were slightly different, though. The last time, it was the forward breaker and the green light was flashing, indicating an over current. This time, it was the aft breaker and the red light was illuminated, indicating a ground fault condition.
  3. It’s happened with both the 50-amp cable and the modified 30-amp cable. The bridge between the poles on the 30A was a culprit, but we can rule that out.
  4. It’s intermittent, so it’s likely from something that’s cycling.
  5. The batteries were fully charged – I know this from a prior check on the boat. For some reason, the charger hit the 12 hour max charge time limit, which was weird, but I had been mucking around with the settings recently, so it was likely related to that. In other words, the shore charger would only have been running float cycles – no bulk or absorb cycles.

Theories

  1. It’s the battery charger. This is my top guess since there are some weird interactions between the shore power charger and the solar charger. The shore charger will cycle on and the conditions that it cycles on in will vary due to the battery state of charge, the relays to other banks being opened or closed, and the input from the solar charger.
  2. It’s the fridge. This is my second guess – only because household appliances are often implicated in these errors. The fridge has a compressor that cycles on and off. If it is losing a very small amount of current and occasionally surging over the 50mA threshold, it could cause this.
  3. Inverter. Even though the inverter was off in all cases, it’s still in the circuit between the shore power and the boat. The inverter switches its ground depending on whether it’s passing the AC power through or creating AC power from the batteries. This seems less likely to me since it’s a brand new modern inverter, but it’s possible.
  4. Watermaker. This is the only other item that is cycling. It comes on once a week to flush the prefilters. It’s a very small draw and seems unlikely.
  5. The 24V charger. This is a separate charger that runs off AC to charge the thruster/windlass banks. There’s no reason for it to cycle on after the boat has been hooked up to shore power for a week. Unlikely.
  6. There is some kind of fault in the wiring causing a bridge between the neutral and ground. This seems unlikely as it is a new boat and the problem is so intermittant (and happens when we’re away and the boat isn’t being used). I can’t think of a reason for a wiring fault to randomly manifest like this.

Troubleshooting and next steps

Bill and Duncan are going to help. The first step is to measure the AC devices and see if any of them are leaking. Maybe more than one is and it’s the two combined that are causing this (e.g. the water maker cycles on at the same time as the fridge or battery charger). The unfortunate part is, what do we do if something is leaking? Is it worth replacing an entire fridge – especially if the replacement has the same issue? I really like the full sized fridge, and none of the other NP owners have had this issue. If it is just a leaky system we could in theory install an isolation transformer. This would prevent the shore power from tripping – which at best spoils my food in the fridge and at worse could kill my batteries if I’m away for a while. But, it also just masks a problem we probably don’t want to ignore.

I actually hope it’s a wiring issue, since that can be fixed most easily (though extremely difficult to track down). Alternately, it could be a configuration issue with the battery charger. Not at all sure, so stay tuned.

Useful links

Single-handing the boat on an overnight seemed like an important milestone. I wanted to prove to myself that I could manage various jobs by myself and get a feel for what it felt like to be at anchor alone. This may sound weird to some, but I haven’t spent a night away from my kids in years. I am on vacation this week, so my wife and I coordinated things so I could take a 24-hour mini vacation and test my skills (and face some anxiety).

Over all, the trip was a success, with one big hiccup. I decided to circumnavigate our home island of Bainbridge and drop anchor in a place we’d never been. On Monday, I headed down the east side and across the south end and dropped the hook in Blakely Harbor. Blakely is sheltered from the north and south and has a very nice view of the city to the east. I anchored for the night, explored by dinghy, had a relaxing dinner, then turned in early. The next morning I headed up the west side and docked without incident. Conditions were perfect for a solo trip.

What went well

  • Got out of the marina and to the harbor with no issues. Pleasant cruise
  • Dropped and set the anchor with no issues
  • Dropped the dinghy and cruised around for a couple hours. Went tidepooling at Blakely Rock, visited a friend who lives on the water, explored Eagle Harbor
  • Moved and reset the anchor when the current shifted and I noticed a very slow drag. The Garmin anchor alarm is buried behind 30 menus, but once it is set up it works well. After the second set, I didn’t move all night. I’m much more confident about anchoring, these days. I still make mistakes, but they’re recoverable and I am learning how to read the signs of a well- vs. poorly-set hook.
  • Plenty of sun kept the batteries above 95% for most of the day
  • Relaxing evening with plenty of peace and quiet. Replaced doomscrolling on my phone with reading a book on my kindle.
  • Stowed the dinghy solo without issue
  • weighed anchor without issue
  • Saw my wife from the boat when she was out for a run along the shore
  • Backed into my home slip with a 10 kt. crossbreeze solo (a neighbor was on hand in case things went sideways – literally). The trick I learned here is to not worry about the “neighbor side” of the slip. If I am 1-2 feet away from the dock, I have plenty of clearance to my neighbor. So, I don’t need to check out both sides of the pilothouse. Also, when I am the correct distance from the dock it actually looks way too close from the pilot house. So, I need to get used to that.
  • Spent a few hours puttering around after docking – milked my vacation day to the max

What went poorly

  • There was really only one thing, but it was a big deal for me. When I moved the boat to reset the anchor, I was towing the dinghy. When I used the stern thruster to reposition, it sucked in the line connecting the dinghy to the boat. I was able to cut it away, but it broke two fins off one of the thruster props. I emailed Trevor, who has become a reluctant therapist, and he said this is a common failure mode and the props are replaceable in the water. All in all it wasn’t a big failure, but it was hard to forgive myself, since line handling and keeping them out of the water and away from props is one of the very first seamanship skills you learn. I’m not hard on myself for honest mistakes, but when I know better and screw something up because I was being lazy or on auto-pilot I get really annoyed.

Food for thought

  • I spent the whole night convinced I had damaged something permanently and wouldn’t be able to dock. In the light of day, I got a picture using my underwater camera and did some research. The breaker would have tripped before anything serious happened, and the prop is accessible enough that I might be able to replace it from the swim step. Every mistake is an opportunity for learning. This is a new failure mode.
  • I don’t have enough spares. Spare thruster props should probably be standard kit. Even without leaving lines in the water, thrusters suck in anything nearby, making this a likely failure. It’s very hard to dock without them, so I should have them aboard. I should also have a spare pin for the dinghy prop. There are a lot of rocks around, and it only takes one to break a prop. This dinghy has oars, but it’s just not made for rowing. A $2 spare pin could make all the difference. Spares and knowing how to use them turn big failures into minor inconveniences.
  • Lines are incredibly strong. The dinghy painter was about 1/4″, but my multi-tool knife couldn’t get through it. I had to use the saw and it took several seconds. I have a line knife aboard, but I don’t usually have it on me. This is probably a handy tool to keep on you, since, if you have to cut a line, something serious has happened.
  • The sound of an anchor dragging from the V-berth sounds a lot like the sound of the chain just rolling over rocks. Either way the sound is conducted right up into the main cabin. While in bed trying to sleep, I kept hearing the telltale sound of chain on rock. I went up to the pilot house a few times to check the chartplotter, but she was holding tight. I know a lot of people who put instrumentation next to where they sleep to help with this – something to consider.
  • Weighing anchor solo is easy, but if it’s muddy there’s really no way to wash it down. I went all the way home with a giant pile of mud on the anchor. Fortunately, the chain was clean, so it didn’t get into my locker.
  • I had had one drink before dinner when I noticed I might be dragging. For a 180lb man, it’s not really enough to impair my judgement, but I usually never drink when I have anything important to do. When I reset the anchor, I didn’t take the time to walk around and make things ship-shape (like securing the dinghy). Since things can and do come up on the boat, drinking on a trip – even when at anchor – seems like a bad idea. After breaking the thruster, I’m even more convinced of that. Of course, having a sundowner is one of my favorite parts of the day. But, I think I need a checklist of sorts to make sure I can be off the clock when I have one.

Critical gear for single-handing

Turtle is well-set up for single handing. I also need a couple of improvements.

  • Windlass control from the pilothouse with a chain counter.
  • Chartplotter with anchor drag alarm
  • Bow and Stern Thrusters with remote – so I can control it from the dock
  • Power davit for getting the dinghy on and off
  • Boathook – for many reasons
  • Forward gate so I can climb down to the dock from the pilothouse. The porthole from the midship head doubles as a step. This isn’t ideal, but since the only way to the stern is through the main cabin it’s still the most direct way to the dock and the fastest way to get to the midship line.
  • Underwater camera – I’m still using a cheap Panasonic I bought like 12 years ago and it still works great.
  • Todo – backup camera. The one they install by default is on the hardtop. This along with the relatively low resolution makes it pretty worthless. Putting one on the roof of the cockpit will make this a ton easier. My neighbor (NP42 Well Seasoned) has a wireless one that even has backup guidelines.
  • Todo – more spares

I also recorded a video – which may or may not continue…

This electrical system digression has had some unexpected benefits. Apparently, I’m not the only one annoyed by imperfect system integration. I can totally relate to his irritation.

I’ve been spending more time on YouTube (welcome to 2011). While I still feel like 99.9% of it isn’t interesting to me, there are still some great finds there. I may try some more videos, myself. Though, I’ll still be posting them on Vimeo. (These people are far more good-looking, though. I was born to communicate by the written word…)