Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Sterling reply and lessons learned!

The Hurricane.  We received a very prompt reply from Sterling after I emailed them yesterday evening to ask whether the PDAR was able to equalize/de-sulphate the domestic battery bank as it had a maximum voltage of 14.8V and the Rolls Battery Manual stated a charge between 15.4V and 16.04V was required.

The reply from Sterling stated

“It's not that simple. We can push up the voltage but it would destroy your electrical kit on board. We found 14.8 is as high as you want to go. The batteries will be fine”

I had anticipated the potential damage from high voltage on all the on-board electrics/electronics and had intended to turn off the master isolation switch when performing the equalizing charge!

Sterling are experts in this field so I assume I should trust their advice the batteries will be OK with a 14.8V charge.

Now for today’s lessons.

The Hurricane.  Yesterday the Hurricane heater stopped working.  The thing is pretty much bulletproof and is also sophisticated enough to do self-diagnostic checks.  The control box display was showing error code “7” which the manual states means “Flameout” and describes the fault as either a lack of fuel or air leaking into the fuel line which is starving the heater of fuel.

My first effort was to check the inline fuel filter.

Obviously some fabrication debris from inside the tank but at least the filter had contained it.  Nick (the ABC engineer) suggested we move Waiouru back to the wharf and he would have a look at the heater today.  Having two separate heating sources meant we didn’t freeze during the night.  The Refleks stove kept us very cosy.  In the morning we cruised down to the wharf where Nick examined the Hurricane. He disconnected the fuel line at the heater….. No fuel!  Then he asked me to place my mouth over the diesel tank vent which is located beside the filler cap and blow into the tank to pressurize it.  The vent was large and cold with a faint taste of diesel.  My lungs aren’t what they once were and bending over with head down and ar$e up isn’t my favourite position.  However Nick reported fuel was pouring out his end of the fuel line.  He deduced that the filler point inside the tank is quite high.  This combined with the heater being mounted on the swim and the fuel lines being fixed on the underside of the deck in the engine compartment meant there was the potential for the fuel to have insufficient ‘head’ to reach the heater.  The situation may have also been aggravated by the large toilet tank under the rear cabin floor being half full whilst the water tank in the bow was half empty.  So the bow is high and the stern low.  There was a further problem at the point where the fuel line exits the tank.  The line dipped down before rising up and then back down.  The first thing we did was fill the tank to the top.  The heater immediately started and ran correctly.  Next Nick modified the fuel line at the exit from the tank to remove the ‘S’ in the line.  We will now run the heater to see if the fault is repeated!

After filling the water tank Jan and I decided to take Waiouru down through Padworth Lock and wind her before mooring below the lock.  This is where we leaned the second lesson.

Some lock gates have additional hazards.  Now we had already been down through Aldermaston Lock and Padworth Lock works on exactly the same principle.  Both locks are doubles with the paddles built into the gates.  They both have a cross-over walkway attached to the top of each gate.  Remember how we had started the Refleks stove because the Hurricane wasn’t working.  Well the stove flue doesn’t fit under the walkway on the lower gate when it is open.

A nice big dent in the top of our new flue! Sad smile

I was concentrating on aligning Waiouru with the gap and didn’t notice the top of the flue was going to hit the gate until too late.  At least my frantic efforts to throw Waiouru into full reverse stopped the entire flue from being smashed off the roof. In future we must remember to remove the stove flue.  This gets added to the TV mast and the pram cover.

The flue has now been removed and my modified ‘paint pot’ cover Is fitted over the opening on the roof.

I thought the pot might have been made of stainless steel but apparently not!  It’s starting to show signs of rust so that’s another job for the list.

Cleaning the boat.  We couldn’t get Waiouru against the bank below the lock and eventually decided to return to our original mooring above Aldermaston Lock.  So we did four locks today only to arrive back at our original mooring.  Albeit facing the opposite direction!  As we were now facing the opposite direction I took the opportunity wash down and clean the towpath side of the boat.  

No sooner had I completed washing down and cleaning the side when two C@RT contractors walked past cutting back all the vegetation.  The side of the boat and towpath were promptly covered with clippings.  I waited until 5.00pm and then went back out to clean all the clippings off the side of Waiouru and then went for the usual evening walk.  Around the bend coming towards me was another C&RT contractor with an air blower cleaning all the clippings off the towpath.  Yes…. when I returned to Waiouru it was again covered in clippings!  Note to myself……….Don’t wash the boat if the vegetation is going to be cut!

Can’t wait until Sunday as we are planning to start our first short cruise.  It will have been 16 months since we arrived at Aldermaston Wharf to start the rebuilding of Waiouru so it’s now time to GO!

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

More on battery de-sulphating / equalizing

This post might be a little boring for some readers….. (so Jan informs me! Winking smile)

My research into battery equalizing is progressing.  However I need and answer to whether “de-sulphating” is the same as “equalizing”.  The information on the Sterling website states the Pro-digital Advanced Regulator (PDAR) automatically manages the equalizing of the battery bank being charged by the PDAR but little else is mentioned about equalizing.  However elsewhere in the technical information it states

Automatic 7 day de-sulphation cycle <link to Sterling here>
The good thing about a constant current charger is that it de-sulphates the battery plates ensuring maximum life from the batteries. However, this only works if the charger is switched on/off regularly (i.e. every time you disconnect and reconnect the charger the plates are subjected to a de-sulphation cycle). The problem is some boats or standby equipment may be rarely used, for example: a boat could be moored all year and never leave the pontoon, or a stand-by generator with the charger on all the time. In these cases the de-sulphation cycle would only happen once and the batteries would eventually sulphate causing premature destruction. However the Sterling software has a 7 day timer which in the event of inactivity will automatically run a de-sulphation cycle keeping your plates clean.

The Sterling website also states the maximum voltage reached during the de-sulphating is 14.8V.  Other websites state equalizing the batteries only occurs at 15.2V.  I need to fully understand all of this.

When power is drawn off the batteries they are being discharged.  In theory this results in a chemical reaction where lead sulphate is created on both the positive and negative plates in the battery.  When the battery is being charged all the lead sulphate is converted back to the positive plate as lead dioxide and sulphuric acid.  However in reality some of the lead sulphate can be left on the plates and if left there for a period of time it crystallizes as a hard sulphate coating on the surface of the battery plates.  Sulphate is non-conductive (ie, an insulator) and as a consequence the capacity of the battery is reduced.  This sulphate needs to regularly be removed (a process of de-sulphating) otherwise the life of the batteries will be reduced.

Actually three types of sulphate form on the battery plates.  Soft sulphate can be removed during normal charging.  Hard sulphate can be removed by routine equalizing of the batteries.  Very hard sulphate can’t be removed and will gradually reduce battery capacity and life.

The best way to minimize sulphating is to keep the batteries fully charged.  However it’s not possible to fully charge a battery and leave it.  All batteries slowly “leak” energy.  This is one reason for having a solar panel continuously trickle a charge into your batteries.

So whilst routine charging removes soft sulphates from the battery plates, an equalizing charge removes hard sulphates.  But nothing removes very hard sulphates.  In effect an equalizing charge is a controlled over-charge to equalize the specific gravity among all of the cells. It is a controlled high-voltage charge lasting for a duration of 5 to 7 hours (depending upon the make and type of battery). During this charge, the battery gases out hydrogen and oxygen and creates heat. By performing this charge it is possible to damage the battery plates by excessive gassing and heat. The benefit of an equalization charge is removal of some sulfation build-up and correction the stratification of the acid density by stirring the electrolyte using the rising gas bubbles. Stirring is necessary to avoid high acid concentrations that can corrode the lower portion of the plate faster than the upper portion where the acid density is lower.

It appears equalizing a battery is the process of de-sulphating it.  On that basis the Sterling PDAR is supposedly monitoring our domestic battery bank and performing an equalizing charge every 7 days. 
But two things still concern me.  We are not running the engine for 7-8 hours daily or even once a week.  Yet this is the time it allegedly takes to perform an equalizing charge.  Additionally, The PDAR is conducting the de-sulphating at 14.8V whereas other sites claim equalizing only occurs at 15.2V.
Our battery bank consists of four Rolls 6v 450AH flooded wet cell lead acid heavy duty traction batteries connected in series parallel to provide 900AH at 12V.  The charging table in the Rolls manual states the charging voltage for a 12V bank is:

  • Stage 1 – Flood          Temp (0-16C) 15V  (17-27C) 14.4V
  • Stage 2 – Absorption Temp (0-16C) 15V (17-27C) 14.4V
  • Stage 3 – Float          13.14V
  • Stage 4 – Equalizing  15.48 – 16.02V

The Sterling PDAR forces the alternator to produce a maximum of 14.8V and our battery bank is sitting on the top of the ‘swim’ where it’s quite cold (the temperature would usually be below 16C) which means the PDAR isn’t damaging the batteries during the Flood and Absorption stages charging at 14.8V as the batteries will accept up to 15V.

However the batteries require a voltage of between 15.48V to 16.02V for equalization to occur and the PDAR doesn’t produce that level of voltage.  So the Sterling PDAR IS NOT performing an equalizing charge on our domestic battery bank?

Is our Victron Muliplus 12 / 3000 / 120-50 / 230-240V Inverter/Charger capable of completing the equalization charge?  The manual actually doesn’t provide much information.  It states

Less maintenance and aging when the battery is not in use: the Storage modeThe storage mode kicks in whenever the battery has not been subjected to discharge during 24 hours. In the storage mode float voltage is reduced to 2,2V/cell (13,2V for 12V battery) to minimise gassing and corrosion of the positive plates. Once a week the voltage is raised back to the absorption level to ‘equalize’ the battery. This feature prevents stratification of the electrolyte and sulphation, a major
cause of early battery failure.

More information here

Para 3.3 Equalisation and forced absorption
Traction batteries require regular additional charging. In the equalisation mode, the MultiPlus will charge with increased voltage for one hour (1V above the absorption voltage for a 12V battery, 2V for a 24V battery). The charging current is then limited to 1/4 of the set value. The “bulk” and “absorption” LEDs flash intermittently.

It appears the Victron attempts to equalize the batteries at the Absorption voltage (13.2V) plus 1V or 14.2V.   However the Sterling PDAR produces a higher voltage at 14.8V and the Rolls batteries require between 15.48-16.02V.  So the Victron is less effective than the PDAR!

After a little more research I found some of the CTek chargers have a “recon” cycle which de-sulphates (equalizes) the batteries with a 15.8V charge.  It’s a pity I didn’t “liberate” one of the CTek chargers on narrowboat Kelly-Louise when we were living one her in  late 2011 (just joking Peter)!

Sterling sell a de-sulphating unit.  However the website also states “This device is not required if you have a Pro Digital battery charger or any other advanced Sterling charging product connected to your batteries as they have a desulphation cycle built into their software program.”  If this includes the Sterling PDAR then I’m not sure whether the Sterling de-sulphating unit is any better than the PDAR (ie, only produces 14.8V). 

I think an email to Sterling is probably appropriate.

Worst case scenario might be to purchase a CTek charger with the “recon” phase and connect it to a generator or shore power each time we need to “equalize(de-sulphate) the Rolls batteries.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

On the buses……

No…. not the TV series from the 70’s!  Rather the return trip to Calcot which we made this morning.  After consulting the bus timetable we made it to the nearest bus stop with 5 minutes to spare.. Then we waited… and waited… and waited!  The timetable shows a service every 30 minutes but after 40 minutes no bus had arrived.  However during this period two buses passed in the opposite direction.  Jan was starting to get cold and threatening to call off the trip to the supermarket when the bus finally appeared…. with another one behind it!!!  The driver couldn’t tell us (or any passengers who subsequently boarded) what had gone wrong.  Fifteen minutes later we were at the supermarket and filling the trolley.  We were back at the bus stop just over 30 minutes later and waiting with some trepidation for a return bus.  However one arrived four minutes early! Smile But drove straight past the stop without collecting any of the waiting passengers? Sad smile  A second bus then arrived four minutes later!  I asked the driver were they playing leap frog?  He informed me the first bus had been despatched directly back to the other end of the route without stopping and was to recommence the cycle from that end.  Whilst I understand the logic, one wonders why the second driver hadn’t been told to stay at the other end of the route in the first place?

An apology to any readers who read our ramblings via the RSS feed.  You may recall I had a devil of a job fixing the “” problem and eventually resorted to a “slash & burn” approach.  Apparently one side effect of this was the loss of the RSS feed and I hadn’t realised it had happened until Mark Zimmerman kindly let me know.  Unfortunately I’ve had to create a new RSS feed link to reinstate the feed.  This means you will probably have to resubscribe to the blog if you use a Reader such as Google Reader.  If your RSS feed previously sent our blog posts to your email inbox you will find I’ve installed a new wiget from Blogger.  All you have to do is enter your email address in the window under “Follow by email” header at the top left of the blog page and click the “Submit” button.  If any of this doesn’t work then please either email me or leave a comment on the blog and I’ll endeavour to rectify the problem.

One of the reasons for examining the feasibility of purchasing a small generator was to enable us to complete a periodic “equalising charge” of the domestic battery bank.  Doing this prolongs battery life and as the batteries cost us in the region of £1600 I like to keep them well maintained.  The Victron Inverter/Charger can do the equalizing charge using a 240v source (mains power or generator) hence the idea of a generator when continuously cruising.  Today I became rather excited when re-reading the manual for the Sterling Pro-Digital Advanced Regulator (PDAR).  It mentioned the software in the PDAR would monitor engine use and voltage before completing an equalizing charge when required.  This indicated to me the PDAR may already be doing something I thought I’d need to do with a generator.  However the manual isn’t that clear.  The PDAR raises the alternator voltage to 14.8V to complete a rapid “Bulk” stage in the re-charging cycle.  But my understanding is the “equalizing” voltage needs to be 15.2V.  I need to establish whether the PDAR actually forces the voltage to 15.2V for a short period.  I was reminded of one piece of information during all this reading.  Rapidly re-charging the battery bank will result in a need to top up the water in the batteries very regularly.   So we really need that automatic watering system we purchased from the suppliers Australia to arrive as soon as possible.

Oh…. one final thing I want to mention.  We had the engine running this morning prior to leaving for the bus and I decided to attempt to turn it off remotely using the Empirbus system and the immobilizer circuit I’ve fitted.  It worked! Smile

Monday, 25 February 2013

Boat Painting

Jan and I made separate visits back to the ABC boatyard today to see the latest boat being repainted.

Both of us had reservations about the colour scheme at the start of the project but now think the colours actually work together.

Tom, the sign writer has already visited and repainted the name.

Whilst I don’t like to stop a man working I did ask Darren to pause briefly from the welding of his brush.  Watching Darren paint has been very interesting and I just hope I’ve learned enough from him to maintain the paintwork on Waiouru.

Outside the tent waiting for Tim’s return is the previous boat.

I had a quick conversation with Darren to discuss when he will have some time to finish the painting on Waiouru.  The first thing we need is some dry and sunny weather.  Then we need it on the days Darren is available……..  Which revolves around the movement of the hire boats.  They usually leave on a Friday and return on a Monday.  Darren doesn’t work on a Thursday and nor does he work a Wednesday when he has been rostered on call during the previous Sunday.  So the weekly window of opportunity is quite small.  But it must be completed by the end of March if we are to achieve our cruising plans.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Aldermaston Tools

We woke this morning to see a light sprinkling of snow on the Houdini glass and on peering out the porthole the towpath was dusted with a very thin white layer.  However the mercury didn’t appear to be low enough for the snow to settle.  Until a month ago we were running the Hurricane central heater 24/7 but subsequently discovered it wasn’t necessary to keep it running during the night.  The insulation inside Waiouru appears to be very efficient and we are able to sleep with just a 4 Tog duvet and no heating.  Last winter we were on NB Ufton and were cold under a 13 Tog duvet, plus had the heating running 24/7.  Ufton had single glaze windows rather than double glazed portholes, however I suspect the superior insulation on Waiouru is the critical factor.  Connecting the Hurricane ON/OFF control into the Empirbus system has also been an advantage as it’s given us the ability to have multiple locations inside Waiouru where we can control the heater.  One switch is beside the bed so it’s possible to poke a finger out from under the bed covers first thing in the morning and start the heater before subsequently rising to a warm cabin.

Today’s plan was to walk across the fields to the Sainsbury’s supermarket in Tadley for a loaf of fresh bread and some bacon.  The latter was required because Jan is contemplating ‘Bacon Butties” for dinner.  I had been hoping the combination of the recent lack of rain and falling temperatures would have firmed up the ground and this largely proved to be correct.  The planned return route utilised the A340 as I wanted to go to Aldermaston Tools and purchase a replacement 2.5mm HSS drill bit.  The smaller bits always seem to break!  I also find when I need a particular sized bit it’s the one I’ve recently broken.  Aldermaston Tools is one of the few places I found that sell individual bits at a reasonable price.

There were no issues with the walk and I’d started to warm up nicely quarter of the way into it.  However by the time I reached the Sainsbury’s it had once again started to snow, and it remained like that for the rest of the walk.  The circuit wasn’t very long and only took a couple of hours.

I recorded the last part of the route (red portion) on the gps as it is the new footpath beside the A340 between Aldermaston Village and Aldermaston Wharf.  This has now been uploaded to the Open Street Map (OSM).

After a hot shower back on Waiouru there was time to watch the rugby on BBC1 in the afternoon.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

New Boat

We’ve had a comment on the blog from Phil.  I did some research snooping to find out he has a blog and is about to commence having a narrowboat built by SM Hudson.  The layout and equipment specifications look quite interesting and I will keenly follow the progress of the build.  If you want to follow Phil’s blog it’s in our blog list to the right or you can click on this link <nb Achernar>.

Good luck with the build Phil!

Blogger faulty link

This morning I discovered I hadn’t fixed the “” issue <grrrr>.  It’s getting to be like a bad penny.  Or perhaps I’m reinfecting myself!  Anyway, this morning I deleted a number of the blogger feeds so if you have subscribed to our blog posts through a reader rather than directly reading the blog you may have an old or corrupted link.  I apologise if that has happened to you and can only suggest you delete the old subscription and re-subscribe.  I think all this “purging” has finally fixed the problem.  The problem is I don’t see the “” link because it’s our blog.

More on the Heat Exchanger

Nick Norman’s link to a different heat exchanger has resulted in me re-examining my original cost benefit calculations.  This is what I’ve worked out.

  • The Hurricane central heater is using 0.19 litres/hr (approx 17p per hr)
  • The engine runs 4 hours day (max)
  • Little heat would be obtained during the first hour.  Therefore the heat exchanger would provide 3 hours free heat per day.  An energy saving of 51p (3x0.17=£0.51)
  • Assume we need heating 8 months pa (240 days x 51p = £122)
  • The annual fuel saving at £0.90/ltr is £122.

Conclusion.  If I were to purchase the parts and fit the heat exchanging system myself it would pay for itself in a year.

This morning I had a good look in the engine compartment to see if it was physically feasible to install the heat exchange.

The Beta 43 engine has two separate cooling ‘take off’ points.  The larger of the two goes to the skin tank on the side of the swim where the hot engine coolant is cooled by the canal water.  The second set of connections goes to the calorifier to heat the hot water.  It makes sense to me that I should be utilising the hot water going the skin tank.  Why heat the canal when it can be used to heat the interior of the boat.  There is one potential issue with this approach.  If the heat exchanger was to take too much heat out of the engine cooling system then the engine may run at too cold a temperature which might damage it.  I need to check whether there is a thermostat in the engine system preventing too much heat being lost via the skin tank.

Turning to the ability to physically install the components. This next photo shows the port side of the engine.  the arrows marked ‘A’ point at the existing cooling hoses between the engine and the skin tank on the swim.  These would need to be ‘tapped into’ so water could be diverted to the primary side of the heat exchanger.

The red arrow marked ‘B’ in the above photo identified a vacant section of engine room bulkhead where some additional hexi-panel could be screwed and glued on place to provide a mounting for the heat exchanger.  A heat deflector of some type would need to be positioned between the heat exchanger and the existing Sterling PDAR above or hot air would rise into the PDAR and potentially cause issues.

The above photo shows the Hurricane Heater (arrow C) with the pipes to the second heater coil on the calorifier (arrow B). Arrow A points to the return connection from the boat heaters and the calorifier.  The output pipe is behind it and obscured.  The following photo provides a better view.

  • A – Black hoses to and from the calorifier
  • B – Return connection from the boat
  • C – ‘Swirl pot’ which removes any air from the system
  • D – 12v Isolation valve.  It cuts off hot water to the cabin when only the water in the calorifier requires heating.
  • E – Circulation pump.
  • F – Inlet and outlet hoses from the Hurricane boiler.

The problem I can see is an inability to connect the secondary side of the heat exchanger between the current Hurricane connections and the cabin (at arrow B).  There appears to be insufficient room to fit a ‘T’ connection into this part of the system.  More thinking is required.  Fortunately I have plenty of time to think because any potential purchase is in the distance! Smile

Friday, 22 February 2013

This ‘n’ that!

Jan woke to a cold morning and rose to start the Hurricane central heater before having a hot cuppa.  I sensibly stayed deep under the duvet either counting sleep or examining the inside of my eyelids!  There was no ice or frost outside and Waiouru was warmer inside than a few days ago.  I know this because there was no ice on the Houdini frames.  But it just seemed colder for some reason?  Last Friday ‘Towpath Bill’ informed us Newbury now has a Maplin and, with the idea there might be some opening specials, Jan headed to Newbury yesterday.  She was able to purchased a combination digital weather-station/clock at less than half the normal price.  It will replace the one she bought during our Hong Kong stop-over on the way to the UK.  For some reason (not battery related) the Hong Kong clock has decided to speed up.  I guess until it regains Hong Kong time!  Anyway, Jan is keeping an eye on the weather-station temperature and reporting (to me) any discrepancies between it and the Hurricane thermostat.  When we can afford some AAA batteries I’ll fit the weather-station’s external sensor in the cratch.

I’m optimistic that I’ve fixed the “” problem for those of you who use Google Reader.  After reading a range of solutions obtained from Google I discovered none of them worked.  In the end I used my own logic (dangerous ground) and decided the problem was Google+ which I had joined last year.  I’d already deleted my Google+ account but obviously there was some left over “rubbish” somewhere in the settings of a Blogger related program.  Then I had a revelation.  The problem only appears in Google Reader which is getting its information from Blogger.  Both programs looked OK.  However between the two there is ‘Feedburner’.  Perhaps the Feedburner link had been changed by Google+.  First I deleted the existing link in Feedburner and then created a new one. I then deleted my own Google Reader subscription to our blog and resubscribed.  The now been replaced by our correct email address.

So if I’ve fixed the problem can I ask you to do the following if you’re using Reader to follow our blog and still seeing

  1. In Reader go to the left column of Blog name subscriptions
  2. Scroll down until you reach nb Waiouru and hold your cursor over it.  A small down arrow will appear to the right of the name.
  3. Click on the down arrow and a pop-up window will appear.
  4. Click on the "’Unsubscribe’ option and delete our blog from Reader
  5. Click on the large red ‘Subscribe’ button at the top of the column and re-subscribe to our blog (only if you want to keep reading all this old tat)

Hopefully that will have fixed the problem.


I’ve done further reading which has confirmed my calculations that a 1KW generator should produce approximately 40 amps of charge at 12V.  Following a few comments after my last post.  I wouldn’t store and petrol in the engine compartment.  It would be too dangerous.  The starboard cratch locker is a safety location.   However an empty generator could be stored beside the engine.  But thinking about storing the petrol made me realise it might be possible to store the generator in the cratch locker.  This afternoon I braved the elements and disappeared into the cratch with a tape measure.  The locker does have sufficient height to store a 1KW suitcase generator.  So everything looks positive except we don’t intend to spend any money on a generator at this time.  There are more important things we need to purchase… if only we had some money!

Heat Exchanger

We received some very interesting information from Nick Norman who has fitted a heat exchanger to his boat at a much lower price than I had previously posted.  He pointed me to the CWDF (Canal World Discussion Forum) where I read the thread with interest.  A system could probably be fitted for £100 (excluding labour) instead of my original estimate of £400.  This makes it a viable option.  Although, again it will have to be a potential future project as funding is currently so tight you can probably hear the orange pips crying.  

Thursday, 21 February 2013

More on Heat Exchangers & Generators

Aldi have replied to my query about their Heat Exchanger.  I wanted to know whether it contained any aluminium as I understand the metal is incompatible with copper.  They advised the heat exchanger is made from stainless steel so there is little risk of galvanic corrosion.  However we have already decided the idea of installing a heat exchanger on Waiouru isn’t a financially viable option.

I’ve now being doing further research into petrol generators.  Initial thoughts focussed on the generator output but then I realised size and weight would be critical factors.  We’re not going to be continuously moored which means the generator will have to be regularly carried on and off the boat.  Moreover I was thinking it would have to be stored in the engine compartment when not in use.  Reaching down and retrieving a heavy generator was a recipe for a strained back or shoulder.  But I’ve now realised we could possibly stow it in the starboard cratch locker.

However I’ve now had time to consider the matter further and asked myself again “Why do we need a generator?”  At the moment we have two sources of power; the engine and the solar panels.  The solar controller is rated at a maximum of 15 Amps for a 265W solar array.  Our panels have a rated output of 200W so the most we’re likely to get from the panels is 10-12 Amps.  We have a 900Amp flooded lead-acid domestic battery bank which needs to be regularly charged.  Lead-acid batteries go through three stages of charge.  The first is “Bulk” where the batteries will accept a relatively high charging rate.  The combined output of the 175A & 50A alternators on the engine can produce this high rate.  The “Bulk” stage can be quite brief.  As little as 30 minutes!  The second stage is “Absorption” which occurs when the batteries are approximately 80% charged.  During Absorption the batteries cannot accept a high rate of charge which means the engine is producing a large charge, most of which will not be accepted by the batteries.  Therefore running the engine during the Absorption stage is very inefficient.  The last stage is “Float” where the batteries accept an even lower level of charge to get them to 100%.   

It appears there are two options when considering generators.  Have one with the necessary output to complete all three re-charging stages (which avoids running the engine) whilst simultaneously provide power for any 12v and 240v load from the boat.  Alternatively, have a smaller generator capable of completing the final two stages of the re-charging.  As the size and weight of the generator is a critical factor in our situation I have eliminated the idea of a large generator from our considerations.

There are a wide range of small petrol powered generators.  As we are going to be continuously cruising the open frame “box” type generator doesn’t seem appropriate.  They are noisy and their bulk makes them difficult to stow.  This leave the “suitcase” style generator.  The options are Japanese, Korean or Chinese with the Japanese Honda considered to be the best (and by far the most expensive).  A 2KW generator weights approximately 21kg whereas a 1KW weighs 13-14kg.  The latter is a better option from a handling and storage perspective.  However the 1KW output is actually the ‘peak’ output and the generator is more likely to have an 800-900W continuous rating. 

We are rather fortunately that our Victron Multiplus inverter/charger has a current limiter function.  This means that it is possible to set a maximum power level that the Multiplus will attempt to take from the external power source (eg, generator).  If we didn’t have this functionality then the inverter/charger would attempt to take more power from the generator that it was capable of producing which would result in the generator either overheating or stalling.  So we can use a small generator.

Some rough calculations

Assume our batteries have received their “Bulk” charge.  They would be at 80% and require a further 180 Amps.  But nothing is 100% efficient so we allow an additional 50% of charge.  Therefore the batteries require 270 Amps.  A 1KW generator produces 900 watts which should provide approximately 30-40 Amps of charge.  This means the generator will need to run for 6-8 hours (270÷40) to fully charge the batteries.  I suspect I’ve been very conservative with the figures and the actual charging time will be less.  Moreover I haven’t included any input from the solar panels.  However it does appear using a small generator is a viable alternative to completing the last two stages of charging the batteries.  I should do some calculation regarding the generator purchase and running costs.

But I’ve probably bored you enough already! Smile

We purchased six more Dri-Deck 300x300mm interlocking mats from the chandlery this morning.  I’d already worked out for this small number of mats it was cheaper to purchase them from the chandlery than order them online and pay the delivery.  The mat will go on the roof of Waiouru and the folding ladder/gangplank will sit on top.  My idea of the rubber tape on the underside of the ladder didn’t work and I’ve scratched the new paintwork removing the ladder from the roof.  Now I have yet another painting task to compete this summer arrives.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Misty Morning

We woke to a misty and cold morning.  There was a frost outside and the condensation on the inside of the Houdini frames had turned to ice overnight.  The Houdini frames are the only part that are not insulated or double glazed!

The engine was started at 8:00am and ran for a couple of hours to put some ‘Bulk’ charge into the domestic battery bank.  It’s rather pointless running the engine after the ‘Bulk’ stage of the charging has completed as the batteries are incapable of accepting the majority of the generated electricity.  It was rather obvious the sun would put in an appearance so I’m relying on the solar panels to provide the electricity for the Absorption and Float stages of the re-charging.  It must be working because two hours later (midday) the panels are producing 7.1 Amps and the Smartgauge shows the SOC at 99%.

No doubt with time we will learn the percentage charge for the batteries using the engine and then top up with the solar panels.

I’ve also starting investigating the cost and effectiveness of a generator.  Most of the time we will be cruising which will charge the batteries however there will be days when we don’t move yet need to do some re-charging.  Additionally, there will be days when there is no sun to power the solar panels and a small generator may be an alternative.  It’s all research at the moment as the little pink pig is well and truly empty. 

I wonder how many other continuous cruisers carry a generator?  I know Keith & Jo on nb Hadar do!

In the afternoon we took Waiouru down through the lock into the pound and filled the water tank.  The tap is a very slow filler so I used the time to wash down the stern deck and top up the Hurricane diesel tank from the jerricans.  Jan then decided it was time for haircuts.  She cut her own and then gave me a good shearing with the new clippers on the park bench in the pound.  First cut with them and now their cost is 50% recovered.  Jan asked me what the difference between a good and a bad haircut was?   So I told her “It’s a fortnight!”   We’re now both rather itchy and looking forward to a shower.

Oh…. I managed to reverse 90° around from the services block, up through the lock and back onto the mooring.  I’m feeling rather pleased with my efforts (but not smug!).  Jan did a sterling effort on the lock.  One gate is particularly difficult and prone to jamming!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Is fitting a Heat Exchanger to Waiouru a financially viable option?

I’ve just completed some interesting cost benefit calculations on the financial viability of fitting a heat exchanger to Waiouru in order to utilise the waste heat from the engine to warm the interior of the boat. The calculations look like this
Hurricane Heater
  • Used every day for 15 hours
  • Fuel consumption is 20 litres/week
  • Hourly consumption is 0.19 litres
  • Heater used 4 months (120 days) pa
Heat Exchanger
  • Estimated installation cost £400
  • Cost of diesel is 90p/ltr
  • Cost of installation in litres is 444 ltrs
  • Hurricane running hours for 444 ltrs is 2333 hours
  • Normal daily engine hours is 4
  • 1 hour warm up. 3 hours daily available heat
  • Days to recover cost is 2333÷3 = 778
  • Years to recover cost (778÷120) = 6 years @ 90p/ltr (but price of diesel will rise)
From a cost benefit perspective the heat exchanger doesn’t appear to be a viable option.

Jan and Graham of nb Whistler walked past Waiouru on their way back to Frouds Bridge Marina after looking at the river conditions downstream at Ufton Nevet.  They accepted an invitation for a cuppa and we had a great discussion about many things “boatie” before they had to depart.
Jan, Graham & my Jan

After a significant amount of reconfiguring the connections between Blogger and Picasa I’m hoping the problem with the link to the photos on Picasa has been rectified.  I concluded the problem was Google+ and removed it.  Then I had to go back into our Google account and change the url link to Picasa.  So if you click on a blog photo it should now load the relevant Picasa Album.  Please let me know if it doesn’t!

I’m still attempting to resolve the problem in the blog comments where some of you who leave comments receive a “ response.  The “fix” as reported by Blogger isn’t working <grrrr>.

Monday, 18 February 2013


Following on from yesterday’s comments about supermarkets……..  These arrived by email this morning from a friend ‘Down-under’!

We had a good laugh and hope you did too! Smile

Of course…. being Australian he is used to eating ‘fresh road kill of the day’!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Hammering in the pins…..

Well it’s the only hammer we currently own! Smile

The pins are for the plate hangers I purchased from Hombase this morning.  I must say trying to nail home a tiny pin with a 4.5lb club hammer isn’t easy. 

More than a year ago I stumbled upon three porcelain plates of canal scenes going for a very cheap on eBay and bought them.  Today was plate hanging day!

Two in the bedroom so I can wake to them in the morning and one on the side of the cabin the saloon.

Jan isn’t very keen on them complaining there is too much “railway” in them! 

Whilst out shopping for essential supplies this morning I noticed a small billboard at the checkout counter of a major supermarket chain.  It was and advertisement for car insurance and stated more than 10% of the supermarket’s customers would be eligible for a third off their annual premium.  That sounds good until your reverse it.  90% of customers will NOT be eligible for a third off .Smile  Marketing spin!  Back at Waiouru we received an email from the CEO of Tesco informing us of his concern about the recent horsemeat contamination scandal.  Philip went on to tell us Tesco is developing a plan “to build a world class traceability and DNA testing system.” They will have a website where customers will be able to check what products have been tested.  I must be getting old and cynical.  Why didn’t they already have a testing system? When I ran a construction company we regularly ran compliance tests on products supplied by sub contractors.  This smells more to me of an attempt to control self regulation before central government regulates a more comprehensive and expensive system.

Paul (Waterways Routes) left a comment that the Picasa link to the photos on the blog wasn’t working.  They work for me, but then I probably have different ‘viewing rights’ as the originator.  Looking around in the Picasa settings didn’t help much but then I realised Google has also done something with Picasa which led me to Google+ where I found some further settings.  Hopefully that has now fixed the problem and if any reader double clicks on a photo it should now load separately or load the entire Picasa album.  Please tell me if they don’t!

Saturday, 16 February 2013


There I was in the front seat on the upper deck of the bus to Newbury plugged into the iTouch when another “boatie” looking couple got on at the Rising Sun pub.  It was Jan and her husband from nb Whistler.  Jan obviously knows my Jan as she asked how things were going with the build.  We got talking about boats (as boaters do) covering a range of subjects but never quite reaching toilets.  They are continuous cruisers but this year have spent a few months wintering over just up the canal from us in Frouds Bridge Marina.  During this time Whistler has been fitted with a new Beta 43 engine and; more of interest to me; an Alde heat exchanger.  This is connected into the engine cooling system on the primary side and the central heating system on the secondary.  I’m informed there is sufficient heat being extracted from the engine to heat the boat.  Apparently the Alde Heat Exchange is quite a small unit.  It’s something I must do more research into.

Once back at Waiouru I decided to transfer another jerrican of diesel into the Hurricane tank using our new 3v pump. Because it was a sunny day there was no requirement for an umbrella so I was able to take a couple of photos.

You may recall Ray & Diane (nb Ferndale) put us on to the 3v pump and it’s doing a reasonable job of transferring the fuel.

The 2x1.5v ‘D’ size batteries go in the handle and there is a small toggle switch on the top.

The pump doesn’t reach the bottom of the 25 litre container but it does empty a 20 litre one.  my assessment is the outlet hose is likely to perish or fracture in the not too distant future but I should be able to make up a more robust replacement hose. 

As you can see in the photo, ‘Ollie’ the swan now has a girlfriend.  we’re now getting twice the amount of tapping on the side of the boat.  It will be a hell of a racket if they start a family! Smile

Friday, 15 February 2013

Incorrect decision

After a long night of consistent rain it was highly likely the local footpaths would be a sea of mud.  It seemed a wise decision to avoid these areas and instead chose another location with better paths.  Having previously walked the Thames River Walk from Reading to Pangborne and finding the footpath in excellent condition it seemed a logical decision to walk in the opposite direction downstream from Reading to Shiplake Lock.  Subsequent events revealed I had made a serious mistake erred in my judgement. 

Before heading along the Thames River Walk I decided to check the conditions of the River Kennet at County and Blakes locks in Reading

There was no significant change in the water level at County Lock after my last visit.

Water is still going over the upstream gates

There is also flooding around the downstream gates.

The water level is high where the river passes through the Oracle Centre and I noticed the access to lower paved area on the riverbank had been blocked.

Further downstream there was debris deposited on the riverbank which suggests the water level has actually dropped at some stage.

Blakes Lock looked rather normal, but then there are two large weirs immediately upstream from it.  I did notice the RED BOARDS were on display.

Now for the actual walk.  The first kilometre of footpath was in reasonable condition but when I reached the canoe clubroom the path became a meadow.   A very muddy and flooded meadow.

The footpath went straight through this flooded section and there was no alternative route.  I carefully waded my way across picking the ‘high ground’ by looking for the tips of the flooded grass floating on the surface.  Whilst I don’t object to getting my feet wet, I do try to avoid it!  In this situation my last step let me down and the water poured over the top of my right boot <bugger>!  I was to later learn this was the “good part” of the path.

Just before Sonning Lock the footpath was completely submerged by the adjacent Thames.  Rather than turn around and walk back to Reading I managed to climb along the 6ft high steel picket boundary fence beside the path.  The path either side of Sonning Lock was in good condition.

There is a bridge on the downstream side of Sonning Lock where the route of the Thames River Walk crosses to the opposite bank.  The path on the opposite bank was in very poor condition and after 300 yards it became completely submerged.  I backtracked over the bridge and elected to follow the footpath on the south side of the Thames.  A major error!  Not only did this path also get very muddy and flooded, it also diverted away from the river.

At one point I was forced to climb the fence into the adjacent field.  I never did make it to Shiplake Lock, although I think I must have been close.  Rather than retrace my route I opted to walk back via the roads.  According to the GPS the distance covered was slightly more than 21km.  Not very far, but then much of it was hard going slipping and sliding down muddy paths.

Reading at the bottom left.  Read arrow points to Sonning Lock.

Back at Waiouru by 4:30pm dirty, tired, hungry and ready for a hot shower Smile

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Another small enhancement

The day started overcast and dry before turning to snow in the mid afternoon.  Fortunately all our outdoor activities had been completed by then!

During Ray and Diane (nb Ferndale) recent visit they mentioned fitting towel rails under the gunwales which could then be used to dry laundry or wet clothing.  As we have finrads at floor level they suggested the concept might be well suited to to Waiouru.  So today I made a trip in to B&Q a Newbury where two 1500mm (6ft) lengths of 19mm towel rail tubing and fittings were purchased.  The greatest challenge was carrying the tubes on the bus.  It was reasonably full of OAP’s (like me) and I could have easily skewered one or removed an eye.  At least the children are quick on their feet!

Back at Waiouru Jan had started the engine to charge the batteries.  She had also started the inverter and was charging the batteries in the laptop, iPad, walkie-talkies, etc.  Smart move!  Not wanting to have idle hands Jan had also baked two loaves of bread.  One of my favourites; sundried tomato and parmesans cheese.  It tastes delicious with a thick slice of butter. 

The idea was to fit the rails at a height under the gunwale where they would be concealed unless sitting down and we may just have achieved that.

Fitted under the gunwale

Now concealed

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out many boaters have already done something very similar.  We actually have sufficient room in Waiouru to fit 3 metres (12ft) of railing on either side of the saloon but it might make the boat look too much like a chinese laundry and would, I suspect, significantly increase the condensation level in the boat.

I really need to tidy the wiring to the Empirbus nodes and made a start today by purchasing an automatic cable stripper on eBay.  Once Jan realised money was about to be spent I was reminded to place the order through the ‘Nectar’ website to ensure we receive the discount points.  She does the same thing with purchases from Amazon, Sainsburys, Homebase, etc.  All those points are starting to accumulate!   Jan is also using Quidco after reading about it on the blog of No Problem.