Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nothing Goes to Windward Like a 747

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a tow rope long enough...and I doubt my boat could handle a near 500 knot cruise speed anyway...

When we originally left Georgetown, SC., the plan gave us some time with favorable winds and a little time with the wind directly on our nose.  Even when we made the unplanned stop in Charleston, the next day would still give us some winds favorable for sailing.  One more day stuck there dealing witth the motor and the winds shifted to the southwest. Guess which direction St. Augustine, FL., is from Charleston.

We left Toler's Cove marina in the afternoon in order to time for a morning (daylight) arrival in St. Augustine. In Charleston harbor and the inlet we put up the sails and sailed our way out of the harbor. With the sails up, we didn't really turn on course, but as close as we could and still have the sails propel us on our way.  Tacking back and forth we were doing around 5 to 6 knots...with a little support from one of the motors to try and improve the angle to the wind.  Unfortunately, the velocity made good (VMG - the percentage of the speed you are going relative to your destination) was only around 2 knots.  Instead of 44 hours to make the trip (at 5 knots), it would take us 110 hours or more this way.  While I prefer to sail much more than motor, the weather window for making the trip wouldn't allow us to take that long. So we fire up the motors, take down the sails, and point the nose directly into the wind.

We spent the remainder of the trip motoring with the wind directly on our nose. The waves were out of the southeast, but were small enough that the ride was generally comfortable. It was a little rougher the first night with an occasional wave slap on the bridge deck, but smoothed out to an almost calm sea by the end of the trip.

We arrived at the St. Augustine inlet around 7AM and went in looking for a place to pick up some diesel. The motors had been running nonstop since we left Charleston and I think this is as empty as I've ever run the boat (don't worry Mom, we still had around 14 gallons of diesel in the tank + 10 in reserve), but should get more before the final trek down the ICW to our next stop at Hammock Beach.

St. Augustine from the water

Looking through the Active Captain database on my tablet, I found Inlet Marina and they boasted they had the cheapest fuel in the area.  Sometimes the marinas put their current prices in the database and from what I could tell it seemed to be true.  We called ahead and confirmed they had diesel and to get instructions for finding them on the water.  When we arrived, we were definitely not disappointed in the fuel price.  I think it was the cheapest we've paid the entire trip and, with the Active Captain discount, was about $0.50 a gallon less than other nearby marinas.

We make the 9AM opening at the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine and continue our way down this final stretch of very familiar ICW. You can tell the weather is warmer here as there are more boats about than we encountered on the rest of the trip. Unfortunately this also reminded me why sailboats don't get along very well with some power boaters.  Some are courteous, but there are others that will aim directly at you going full speed, then swerve around you at the last minute so their large wake will toss your boat about like a rubber duck in a washing machine.

We are tied up at the marina now, just a couple slips down from where we were on our last visit here. It looks like we will be here for at least a month.  There are family visits to be made and some other family matters that need attention.  And, of course, the boat...who can forget about the never ending list of things to do on the boat.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Down The Rabbit Hole Again

We are preparing to depart the marina in Charleston. My wife takes the dogs for one last "potty break" before we depart while I start the engines and enter our course into the chartplotter. Our oldest dog doesn't like the beeping of the engine alarms prior to startup, so this is a good time to start the boat up.  My wife gets back as I complete the chartplotter setup, and we go to pull the power cord in preparation for departure. And then the port engine just dies.

That is strange.  It had been idling just fine for 5 minutes or more.  I restart the engine, and it starts and then sputters back to a stop.  Third time, same result.  Hmm. The fuel filters aren't really due for a change, but perhaps the trip has kicked up some gunk in the tank or maybe I got some bad fuel so I change the main and try it again.  No luck.  I change the secondary filter (the Westerbeke engine has a small filter on the engine in addition to the Racor filter). Just as I'm putting the second filter back on, I notice the broken wire on the fuel pump.  Aha!  I clean up the wire, add a new connector, and put it back together.

I try starting the engine again...and it does the same thing.  I check to see if the pump is working, and it is not.  Great, do I need a new fuel pump?  I decide to check the pump by connecting it directly to the battery before I go buy a new pump.  I hook up the jumper wire and it starts pumping.  I test the engine connection for the pump and only see a couple volts on the multi-tester. Ugh.  Now I need to chase down a problem somewhere in the wiring.

I pull out the Westerbeke maintenance manual and start trying to figure out where the issue might be. I discover none of the wiring diagrams in the manual even come close to what is going on with the engine.  I begin tracing wires and find some really bizarre connections.  According to the diagrams, the wire that powers the pump is daisy chained to the power for a couple of sensors and is tapped off of the power supplying the preheat solenoid through a 10 amp breaker.  But what I find is the 10 amp breaker is not hooked up to the solenoid. Instead the breaker is wired to ground with a wire that appears to have a resistor embedded in the wire.  What in the world?!?

I continue tumbling down the rabbit hole and find a mysterious wire attached to this chain of power wires hiding behind the alternator.  I also find a couple other disconnected wires back there that don't have any obvious place to be connected.  One of them is a live wire connected directly to the battery and has been chafing against the alternator case...charring the wire to the point the ring terminal, that obviously hasn't been connected to anything in a while, was about to come off. I follow the mysterious blue wire and find it is wired to a relay mounted on the bulkhead. That in turn is wired to a blade fuse holder and on to the battery. The only real clue I have is that the fuses to the relay exactly match the ratings for the circuit breakers in the wiring diagram.

It appears that some time in the past some fault was found in the wiring harness and, instead of fixing the problem, some hack decided to wire up an alternative circuit, similar to the correct one, to bypass the original wiring.  Sigh. Not wanting to rewire the entire engine so it matches the diagram right now, I decided to take a page from the hacks playbook.  I create a small wiring harness with an inline fuse and connect it to a switched power terminal.  After triple checking my work, securing the new harness, and capping off and securing the other "unused" wires I found, we give the engine another try.  Now the pump works and the engine comes to life.

So, we are good to go (I hope). Of course, it is after 9PM and we are in no condition to depart. Maybe tomorrow. And I guess I'll be rewiring the engine at some point in the reasonably near future. I do wish this boat would give me a little break and let me actually enjoy having it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Myrtle Beach to Georgetown and Beyond

The weather for leaving Myrtle Beach appeared to be improving, so we continued on.  We departed the marina (which was mostly a long face dock that backed up to an outdoor mall) and started making our way south in the ditch once again.

Who parks gondola cars over the middle of the ICW?
Have they not heard of sailboat masts?

This stretch of the ICW has been a bit tricky this year.  Not sure if it is record rainfall or what other factors, but flooding has been a concern.  Normally flooding is not really much of an issue for a boat, but this seems to be the exception.  The flooding has caused high river levels and, as a result, high ICW water levels.  The bridges that allow cars to pass across the ditch either have to open up for boats with big sticks in the air or are built high enough that we can safely pass under them.

The water might be just a bit high.

Most fixed bridges along the ICW are built with a clearance of 65 feet at average high water levels. Many boats, particularly those that are likely to be used in the ICW, are configured to pass under these bridges...but not necessarily by a lot. If you add a few feet of flood water to the normal high water levels, it can lead to trouble. Now, on many bridges there is a gauge that tells you the current bridge clearance when you read the number at the water line, but for some reason many of these bridges don't seem to have it.  The only guidance we had was based on comments and notes people left regarding these bridges on Active Captain. Even though our height is just under 60 feet, we passed very slowly under most of these bridges.  Fortunately, we didn't have any issues.

Our oldest dog, Madison, enjoying the trip.

Unlike our last leg, the tides were not to our advantage much of the trip. We were making 5 knots or less most of the time. Actually, I'm not sure if it was tidal or more flood water related...since it seemed to last most of the trip.  When we turned down the Wacamaw river, everything changed.  Without changing our throttle settings, we went from 5 knots to as much as 9.5 knots.  This is the biggest change I've seen and about as fast as I've ever had this boat go when motoring down the ditch.

I usually don't see these speeds on the ICW.

The speed boost at the end of the trip actually made for an early arrival into Georgetown,SC. We spent the night at Georgetown Landing Marina. After checking with multiple weather sources, it appeared we had a good window to make a run straight to St. Augustine, Florida. We departed the next morning for a trip on the outside.

The trip was a bit choppy, Nothing bad but the seas were just a bit confused due to the shifting winds. The main swell was from the southeast and the winds were from the west. Things were going along OK until we checked the latest weather on the NWS broadcasts. A small craft advisory had been issued, and forecasts were for higher waves on shorter periods with stronger winds.  We knew a weak cold front was moving through, but I guess the NWS decided it was going to have a higher impact than originally anticipated.  We decided to change our plans and headed into Charleston, SC for the evening.

I looked at the anchoring options around Charleston.  I wanted something at least a little protected from weather and easy to enter at night.  Needless to say, there weren't many options that fit both criteria. There was one anchorage just off a shipping channel that might work in a pinch, but that was it.  My wife tried calling a couple of marinas to see if anyone was around after hours.  We did find one, Toler's Cove that is just off the ICW near the Charleston inlet. It sounded easy enough to get to so we decided we would head there.

It was after 8PM when we entered the channel into Charleston. I know that Charleston can be a busy commercial port, and nighttime seems to be the time the big ships all like to come out to play. Fortunately for us, it seemed to be a slow night for shipping.  There were two ships leaving the channel as we approached, but the only traffic we saw while in the channel was a boat carrying a Charleston Pilot out to a big ship waiting offshore and returning to port.

Coming into an unfamiliar port at night is not something I wanted to do, but it was the lesser of evils compared to getting beat up offshore. The wide shipping channel was easy, with well lit markers all where the chartplotter said they would be. Turning up the ICW, there were both lit and unlit makers for the channel, and we slowly made our way through the unfamiliar territory.  Everything went fine until we got to the marina.

I don't know if it was some misinformation or just a poor cell phone signal, but the instructions didn't quite match what we found when we arrived. It took 3 tries to figure out the actual entrance into the marina, but we finally made it to the slip around midnight.  We quickly tied up, connected the internet to let family know the change in plans, and then called it a night.

This morning after we woke up, we checked the weather.  It seemed that the actual weather wasn't as bad as predicted until you get a bit further offshore. Unfortunately, the predictions are now further south, around Georgia and northern Florida.  We decided to spend an extra day in Charleston to let the weather keep moving south and will likely continue our journey tomorrow.  It seems to be a very nice day here, so I think we will go out and enjoy the warmth and sun.

Monday, February 15, 2016

We Moved!

The longer than planned stop in Southport had me wondering if we would ever make much progress south.  The sudden battery replacement project certainly took longer than it should have (but it seems everything does on a boat).  Once that was complete, the weather turned sour and that kept us sitting even longer.  But we finally came up with a plan that seemed do-able.

The theory is we will head south from Southport on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) for the couple days when the weather wasn't supposed to be all that good.  That should get us to Georgetown, SC where we can hopefully make a run on the outside to get us down to Florida.  So, this morning we untied the dock lines and pointed the boat south once again.

Given the relatively short days and limited good weather, it has been difficult to plan anything based on tides.  The rule of thumb is pretty much we depart between 7 and 8 am and trudge our way down the ditch until 5pm or so. But today even the tides seemed to be somewhat helpful as we were able to make 6 to 7 knots most of the trip.

Here are a few of the sights, in between rain storms, from the trip...

The admiral, dressed for the weather

Lots of people around Holden Beach

Guess that was a bad day fishing.

Guess staying at the dock isn't safe either.

Tourism is big business here.

One part of the trip I was particularly worried about is an area known as the Rockpile.  It is a section of the ICW north of Myrtle Beach that has a reputation for eating boats. My understanding is that this man-made section of the ICW was dug through a lot of hard rock.  Since blasting through rock is an expensive and time consuming process, this section is rather narrow.  A narrow, jagged rock lined channel sounds fun doesn't it?  Well, it wasn't nearly as bad as I've heard. The only real problem here would be meeting another wide boat coming the other way...and there are so few people on the ICW right now, it really isn't a concern.

Danger, big jagged rock canyon submerged below.

Not exactly a wide channel.

In the Rockpile I found something my aviation friends should recognize.

Soon after we left the Rockpile, we made it through one last bridge and our home for the night at Barefoot Landing marina in north Myrtle Beach.

Guess it is time to check the weather and see if we can continue the trip tomorrow.  Keeping my fingers crossed that we will be able to go.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Just In Time

I had a hard time with the title for this post.  There were so many options based on what we've been up to the last couple days. "How not to burn down your boat", "Battling freezing temperatures", and a few others.  But, as of yesterday, this one seems to sum it up best.

We are still in Southport, North Carolina, waiting on the weather to improve enough to continue the trip.  Cold and/or windy and/or  rainy sums up the forecast for the last couple and next couple days. While we sit, it only made sense to knock a couple more items off the to-do list.

Weather Underground report this morning.

Due to the cold weather, we decided to utilize an electric space heater in the boat.  The reverse cycle air conditioning units can generate heat, but they get less efficient as the water temperature drops. Once the water temperature dips below 40F, there just isn't enough heat to extract out of the water. This boat, being designed for Caribbean charter, just doesn't have much option for dealing with really cold weather. In the process of using the plug-in electric heater, we found that a few of the 115v AC electrical outlets were in need of replacement.

Electrical outlets have a limited lifetime.  Anyone who has owned an older home knows that the outlets wear out and eventually don't hold a plug all that well.  And in the harsh marine environment, you add corrosion to that mix.  The combination of poor clamping force on the plug and corrosion can cause a lot of resistance in the outlets.  Resistance causes heat, and if you have enough heat...well, it ain't pretty.  So, it was obviously time to retire the 15+ year old outlets on the boat.  What to replace them with was the next question.

The old outlet and the new mounting "box".
One of the corroded plug contacts below.

Off I went down the rabbit hole of what is a good, marine-grade electrical outlet. I tried finding the plugs currently used on the boat, but they are, naturally, no longer made. Searching all the usual marine suppliers resulted in GFCI outlets touted as marine.  We have two 15 amp 115v circuits on the boat and both are currently protected by newer GFCI outlets already, so we just need standard plugs down the line. The only standard plug provided by a marine supplier is a bright yellow plug that looks just like any normal household 3-prong outlet.  In fact, looking closely at the picture showed it was made my Leviton. The information I found showed that, internally, it was no different than the normal weather resistant Leviton or other industry standard plugs.  Since we prefer white to bright yellow, we decided to go that route for the replacements.

Naturally, as a boat project, this wasn't the end of the puzzles on the project. When attempting to remove the old outlets, I discovered that the factory didn't mount the plugs well (the holes were cut just a bit too large for the mounting screws), and a previous owner resolved the issue by gluing them in with silicone caulk. In order to make everything mount properly, I picked up some low voltage remodeling electrical boxes.  These are basically the front edge of an electrical box (so it has the needed receptacle mounting holes) and can clamp to a hole cut in drywall (or in this case, fiberglass). Now the outlets can be secured in the holes without the need of silicone to glue them in place.

No sooner had we finish installing the new outlets than the boat decided to give us another challenge.  We discovered that the reverse cycle air conditioner in our berth was not producing any heat. Checking out the system, I found the raw water pump stopped working sometime in the past few hours.  Not good when the coldest temperatures we will experience on the boat thus far were only 24 hours away. Good thing we just finished the plugs so we could use the space heater that night.

The next morning we dug into the issue. We started with the obvious. Since it was a little past time for us to clean the sea water strainers, we pulled the strainers and cleaned them. Unfortunately the strainer on this unit didn't look that bad so it likely wasn't the issue.  But, just to confirm it was a boat project, the strainer decided to leak when we put it back together.  It took a while messing with it, but we were finally able to get it to seal properly.

Since I already had a little experience dealing with the raw water pump (this is the pump I previously replaced), I decided to dig into it to see if we couldn't get it running again.  Attempting to run the unit this morning resulted in a small amount of water being produced, so there was some hope.  I pulled the head off the pump (not an easy feat given its location in the bilge) and it became obvious what was wrong.  The used pump I purchased had obviously been rebuilt, and the rebuild wasn't done properly.  A spacing washer was missing from the impeller housing, and one of the spindle supports was broken.  The missing spacer may have been the initial fault and the impeller rubbing on the housing may have been what broke the support, but I'm not really sure.

March Pump. Worn cover with broken support top.
Worn impeller left.
In any case, we were in luck.  I still had the old pump that was removed when it failed.  On that pump, the motor seized but the pump head was still in good shape.  I was able to scavenge the impeller, housing with the intact support, and missing spacer from my old pump to "rebuild" the pump head.  After getting it all back together, we once again have good water flow from the pump. While it is a pain to have to fix things, it is nice when everything needed to repair a complex thing like an air conditioner raw water pump can be found on the boat, and all it cost was a little time.

So, just in time for the cold, we have all our possible heat generating items working again on the boat, although we would much prefer warmer weather.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Waiting On The Weather

While working on the battery bank replacement the weather was nice.  So nice, I almost forgot it was February. Now that the battery bank is installed and seems to be working fine and we are ready (OK, WE'VE been ready for a while...but the boat is now more ready), the weather has been an issue.  Our hope was to make a run on the outside from Southport down to St. Augustine, reversing the trip we made last summer.

But mother nature has had other ideas.  The past couple of days there have been small craft advisories with waves nearing 10 feet on relatively short periods. This morning talk about the Polar Vortex has returned to the forecasting vernacular and temperatures are expected to dip into the 20's and maybe even the teens by the weekend.  Add in the occasional forecast for rain (or maybe snow) and it is not exactly the type of weather you want to be in when the helm of the boat is outside.

The other choice is to continue the trip down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).  It is a much slower trip that way since we are only on the move during the day time.  Add in the fact the next stretch of the ICW includes the infamous Rock Pile (a rather narrow, rock ledge lined section), and I'm just not that enthusiastic about making that trip in my wide-beam boat. Even on the ICW, the cold temperatures and less than good weather would make the trip miserable...we know, we've already done it on this trip.

Right now the current plan is to hang out for a few more days in Southport while the Polar Vortex does it's thing this weekend.  Early next week we will start down the ICW.  The weather is supposed to slowly improve (as of the last few forecasts we saw) so we hope after a couple days in the ditch, we can hop out and make a run for St. Augustine.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Safety Check Time Again

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you probably already know this. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary does a free safety check for boats.  The admirable goal of this program is to make the waters and the boats on them just a little bit safer.  Ever since I learned of them I've had one done on the boat each year. Now that we have the navigation lights all working again and we are waiting for a weather window, I figured I would see if I could get one done before we departed Southport.

I checked with the marina office and they had the name of a local Coast Guard Auxiliary member who might be able to squeeze me in on short notice.  I contacted him and unfortunately he was out of town, but he passed me on to an associate of his who came out within a few hours of my original contact.

There are some obvious reasons for doing the safety check.  They will go through the boat and check all the things that the Coast Guard will if they stop and board you.  But unlike the Coast Guard, they won't fine you if you are not in compliance, instead they just let you know what you need to correct. I know I have the occasional senior moment, so it is good to have a second set of eyes making sure the boat is safe. Add in the fact that the check is free, and it seems like an obvious thing everyone should do. It isn't too often that a free program helps to keep you safer and may save you some money and time.

It is also rumored that the safety check may even reduce the number of times you are boarded by the Coast Guard.  Upon successful completion of the safety check you are given a sticker to apply to the port side of the boat.  The theory is that if the Coast Guard is considering boarding you and come up along side and see the sticker, they may decide you are most likely to be in compliance and not worth the time to board and inspect your boat.  This, of course, assumes you haven't done anything else to attract their attention. I don't know that it is true, but I can tell you that the Coast Guard has pulled up alongside my boat on a couple of occasions, waved, and moved on.

If you own a boat, I highly recommend getting a safety check done each year.  To see what they check and request a safety check, go the Coast Guard Auxiliary web site:

It is well worth the small amount of time spent.

Image from the US Coast Guard Auxiliary web site.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

One Less Incandescent Light

A while ago I started converting most of the incandescent lights over to LED. When I bought the boat, there were a number of incandescent bulbs. All the navigation lights and a number of interior lights used incandescent bulbs, so as I found LED alternatives and when lights or fixtures started giving me problems, I would switch them out.

All of the salon lights were 10 watt festoon bulbs and have been converted to homemade or pre-purchased LED bulbs. The navigation lights were converted once I found the right bulbs at a reasonable price.  When the anchor light burned out, it was replaced with an LED.  When the deck light went on the fritz, I found a nice Par LED replacement bulb and replaced it.  The only incandescent lights left on the boat were the reading lamps in the berths (I hadn't found a bulb replacement for them), a couple of cockpit lights (the new top will be getting new lights to replace them), and the steaming light (not a high priority since it is only on when engines are running).

Well, on our trip south, the steaming light went out.  So, I guess it was time to convert that one to LED too. All of the navigation lights on the boat use the same BAY15d base bulb. Of course I couldn't find one in stock in Southport, so I ordered one from the local Napa store that also sells a lot of marine supplies.  I had been using the bright white bulbs in these fixtures, but since I had to order one, I went with the warm white this time.

Why warm white?  Well, it actually has to do with the red/green navigation light. The colored lenses on those lights were designed for use with an incandescent bulb.  When I went to the bright white bulbs, I noticed that the green looked a bit more blue than before (after all yellow + blue makes green). I had heard (after I bought the LED bulbs) that this might be the case.  So, by ordering the warm white bulb, it should help the bi-color light look the right color once again.

The bulb came in yesterday, so naturally it rained all day.  Today it was cooler, but sunny, so it was time to swap the bulbs around.  I removed the bulb from the bi-color navigation light and replaced it with the new one.  I then took the bright white bulb that was in the bi-color light up the mast with me to replace the steaming light.

I wasn't sure what I would find when I went up the mast to fix the steaming light.  With previous light issues on the mast, one was a burned out bulb and another was a bad connector.  So I gathered up a multi-tester, some crimp connectors, pliers, screwdrivers, and my trusty dielectric grease and headed up the mast. The steaming light is protected by a metal cage, and when I tried to remove it, I found the screws were pretty much frozen in place.  They wouldn't budge.  At all.  The screw that I needed to remove in order to remove the cover of the light was positioned right behind one of the bars, but I managed to get a screwdriver to it well enough to disengage it.  Then I carefully removed the cover and lens, maneuvering it through the openings in the cage.

Once I finally had access to the bulb, what did I find?  An intact incandescent bulb.  I removed it, inspected it, and put it back in place.  I asked my wife (since she wasn't hanging off the side of the mast) to go flip the switch.  Sure enough, the light came on.  Whew, it was just a little corrosion on the bulb that caused the outage.  After turning the power back off, I removed the old bulb.  I took out the LED bulb, applied a little dielectric grease on the contacts, and installed it in the fixture. We tested the new bulb and confirmed it worked.  I replaced the lens and cover and checked the function one more time before I headed back down.  All was well.

So, now all the lights on the big aluminum stick have working LED bulbs.  Hopefully the LEDs and the protective grease will make these lights a bit more trouble free for a while, and I won't have to climb the mast for any lighting issues any time soon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where's The Juice

The house battery bank has become our major task on this stop.  I had hoped we could partially revive the bank and deal with it once we were further south, but it was not meant to be.  Right now one battery has been removed from the bank (suspect an internal short that may have been the cause of the original issue), and the remaining two don't hold much power.

The old battery bank...and some baking soda to neutralize acid

I've been doing research on batteries and have found that many don't consider most of the marine deep cycle batteries to be very good or capable of deep cycles.  Add in the fact that the identical replacement batteries cost $700 each (and I need 3) and spending that kind of scratch on a less than good solution seemed silly.  Golf cart batteries (group size GC2) are generally considered to be much better at deep cycle use, and two of them fit within the footprint of the group 4D batteries (that is the size that currently make up my house bank). They are generally less expensive and have higher amp-hour (Ah) ratings so this decision was fairly easy.

Then came the great AGM versus wet cell debate.  There are certainly pros and cons to both options.  The big pros for AGM are the lower maintenance requirement, low self discharge rate, and faster charging.  The pros for wet cell are they can tolerate overcharging a bit better, seem to have a bit higher capacity, and are cheaper.  To us, it was a real toss up.  The existing batteries are AGM as are the engine start batteries, so we figured we would likely go that route.

That is, until we tried to get some.  The local Napa store didn't have any in stock, and the ones they could get seemed inferior to many others.  The guy at the local golf cart store tried to locate ones from a variety of different suppliers and only found two options.  One he wouldn't be able to get until mid February and the other was over $300 each. On the other hand, he had just received a pallet of 232 Ah wet cell batteries that cost $105 each. We tried looking online for AGM's as well, but between shipping and the inability or cost to ship the old batteries back (cost of batteries usually includes returning the old ones back for recycling...since all that lead is still worth some money) and the resulting core charge we would have to pay (over $200), it wasn't a feasible option.  So, the decision was pretty much made for us...we would go with the wet cell batteries. Since the race between AGM and wet cell was so close in our minds, we really didn't mind this route.

The new batteries

We bought 6 of the US 2200 XC2. These are 6 volt batteries rated at 232 Ah.  By wiring two of these in series, I end up with a 232 Ah 12 volt "battery".  Wiring 3 sets of these in series would give me 696 Ah.  The old batteries were 198 Ah each, so the battery bank, when it was good, was a total of 594 Ah.  This means the new setup will give me an extra 102 Ah.  Of course, for best life you are only supposed to discharge batteries to 50%, so this gives me an extra 51 Ah of usable power.  Not too bad, particularly when you consider the fact that all the batteries cost less than just one of the West Marine batteries.

Of course, the batteries weren't the only cost related to this change.  I needed 3 new cables to connect the 6 volt batteries in series to make 12 volt battery sets.  I considered ordering some custom cables from GenuineDealz (I've purchased wire from them before and have seen their custom assemblies), but being a bit impatient, I opted to have them made locally.  The Napa Auto Parts in Southport stocks a variety of marine grade stuff and that included the 2/0 marine grade wire and crimp on connectors needed to make the cables. They made me the 3 cables I needed for a little under $40.

Getting the old 4D batteries out of their home in the cockpit locker wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.  Doug, the harbormaster at Deep Point Marina, came and helped me lift them out of the locker and get them off the boat and to the car. We put them in some heavy duty trash bags and took them to the battery store to trade them in for the $35 per battery core charge (the golf cart store was nice enough to understand that a 4D battery was roughly equivalent to two "cores" so we could get the 6 core charges refunded with the 3 4D batteries). After getting the batteries out, we had a little cleanup to do.  We ended up using 3 boxes of baking soda and copious amounts of water to clean up the mess we made trying to revive the old batteries.  This took quite a bit of time, but after a few hours the battery box was reasonably clean and ready for the new batteries...or so I thought.

Before I decided to go this way I spoke with a couple of people who owned Leopard 38's and have done this change, and they reported no fit issues.  When I measured the space (as best I could when the old batteries were still sitting in there) it looked like it was going to be close. So, naturally, the batteries didn't quite fit.  I guess my battery box was just a bit smaller than the boats that came after mine, and the two golf cart batteries, when placed end to end, wouldn't quite fit into the tray built to hold the old 4D batteries.  I ended up having to modify the tray so there was enough room. Height was also a minor issue, and I had to modify the ledge that holds the shelf/lid to the battery compartment in order to get the batteries to fit. Not major reconstruction, but not a slide in replacement either.

Minor technical adjustments to the battery box

Finally, after many hours of cleaning and reworking the battery box, the new batteries were placed in the compartment and wired up.  Connections were checked, and after verifying everything looked OK, we flipped the switch and brought the electrical system on the boat back to life.  Before letting the inverter/charger go to work charging the bank, I changed the settings to represent the new battery bank configuration.  Then the charger was started.  It seemed happy with the batteries and charged them up after an hour or so (being new, they were mostly charged when we got them). Since it was getting dark and cold, we decided to finish the last parts of the install in the morning.

The new house battery bank wired up

The next morning I started by running a couple tests to confirm everything was working as it should.  I ran the inverter with high load (our smaller cabin AC unit) and checked temperatures of the batteries, battery terminals, and cables with a non-contact thermometer and only saw a couple degrees of difference after letting the unit run for 15 minutes or so.  I then turned the charger back on and took more measurements to verify everything is fine.

Then came the finish work on the battery box itself.  With the cables attached it took up even more room above the batteries, and I decided I needed a little under an inch of extra height for the lid. I added some wood strips to the battery box lid and mount to give it more clearance for the taller batteries and cables. I also repositioned a couple of the wires to allow better access to the battery vent caps.

Modified ledge so everything fits

The one last hurdle was how to strap the batteries down.  The box had 6 straps and I figured I could use one per battery.  But I didn't take into account the wires and the funky battery caps on the battery.  Simply running a strap over them would hold down the caps so you couldn't open them to add water (a necessary maintenance task on flooded cell batteries) and worst case might even break the caps. I thought about just putting wood blocks on the top of the batteries to hold the strap off of the caps, but I was worried that they could slide and that would result in the straps coming loose.

My solution was to create some wood spacing blocks that would slide in between the battery and tabs of the battery tray and run up the side of the battery.  At the top, a second piece of block was added to sit atop the battery so the straps would hold the batteries down.  This solution will hopefully prevent the batteries from moving side to side as well as allow the straps to hold them down without crushing the battery caps or putting a lot of strain on the cables.

Modified battery box lid and battery hold down shims

Of course, constructing these things and then painting them so they might survive a little while in the harsh environment of a boat battery box has taken a lot of extra time.  The temperatures have been OK here in Southport, but still not good paint drying temperatures. I let the shims dry for a good day, and they still feel just a bit sticky to the touch but I'm sick of waiting.  The batteries are strapped in now and everything is finally back in the locker, and the cockpit is looking a bit more like a cockpit and less like a garage. It has taken me about 5 days to do this battery replacement. I'm still hoping for the day I find a project that doesn't take 10 times longer than I think it should on this boat. But now we seem to have a well functioning battery bank.  Only time will tell if going the golf cart battery route will be worth it.