Update July 1: C-Head, Solar, Sails, HF Radio

C-Head:  Over the course of the past couple of weeks I have been busy digging in the lockers, getting parts together, ordering things and repairing a few things.

We ordered and receieved the standard “C-Head” toilet a couple of weeks ago.

Unpacking it was easy.  The parts inside are standard parts.  The most expensive piece I suppose was the C-Head container which is a box like plastic container.  It holds a standard sized 5 gallon bucket which has been modified for use inside, with a frame that holds a paddle that you crank around to mix up the composting material.

The number 1 bucket (pee bucket) is a simple 1 gallon water/milk jug.

The device is well built, but personally I still feel it much more expensive than it needs to be.  Everything can be back engineered however to make your own if you wanted to.  In our case, after looking over the forward head, that appears to be our next option.  I’ll just reverse engineer this thing to fit a new, home built device in the forward head.  Reason being is this standard one will not fit.

Installation was easy.  Taking the old electric head out was a bit more difficult, but it took me a couple of hours.  I still have not actually removed the hoses.  I plugged them all, and left everything in place “just in case”.

The new head doesn’t quite fit right, but after playing with the various angles of the head we were able to mount the toilet in there.  It’s been in use for over a week without any issues at all.  I make it a point to empty the urine jug daily though.

So far, so good.  It doesn’t smell at all, especially not like the still-existing holding tank.

Wiping it down is easy.  Emptying the tank is easy.  I have yet to attempt the emptying of the bucket (the “Number TWO” container, haha).  That will be soon so I can make sure it’s done once and I’ve gotten the hang of it.

Solar:  Solar panels and some parts arrived a week ago as well.  I have installed them on the Bimimi frame.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to buy all the cool, fancy stainless steel fixtures I actually needed, which would have been clamp on stand offs.  Instead, I manufactured my own.  Cost me about $20 dollars for stainless steel bolts, nuts, washers and some aluminum stock (yeah, I know steel and aluminum don’t mix in sea water, but these are physically under the bimini anyway).

I will add pictures when I have time to this blog entry.  I have to take them, upload them to the host, then post the images in the text here.  It will not be today.

The solar panels are working very well, but, they aren’t hooked up, so there’s no place for all that beautiful sunlight to be stored as electricity at the moment.  However, the Charge Controller is mounted already in a closet in the aft quarters.  I have a plan together to run the wires through an existing deck entry which contains an apparently non-working GPS antenna.  I’ll be tracing wires shortly to make sure it’s not being used somehow.  There’s a second one mounted on the aft taffrail area, and it blinks a green light when operational, orange when searching, so I’m pretty sure it’s the operational antenna.

Here the charge controller is wired in and operational.  Taken 2 July 16 at 0800

Yesterday in the US Postal mail a letter came addressed to me from Dick Stapleton who used to own Duna.  Duna is now Adventure (and we did have a naming ceremony and all that, in case anyone wonders).  In the letter was a very short note on a yellow sticky from Mr. Stapleton.  The most important part was the single sheet inside the envelop.  It was something that engineers love.

An electrical schematic for the sailboat’s systems!  I had been mulling over how to trace everything and this schematic is pretty accurate from the parts I already chased down.  The only thing different on the schematic I can find is the fact that there were only two 6V batteries when we purchased the boat, and there are four of them now, in two 12v banks tied in parallel.

Funny part is, the schematic shows four batteries.  So, now it is about as accurate as I could have drawn it.  Obviously there aren’t all the connections shown on the page, but it does tell me a lot of things I was unsure about, like the battery/service/engine switch and how it actually was wired.  I checked it last night and the meters and sure enough, it’s wired as it says.

Tying in the solar panels will be simple, or rather, relatively simple.  I need to feed wires down below from the panels, I need to attach connectors (some of the parts I bought) to tie the panels to the controller.  Then I need to feed wires from the controller over to the batteries and tie those in.  Pretty much all I need to do.  I could add a small inverter to the load link, in case we wanted to have a separate AC load in the bedroom area, but I’ll consider that later.  I do have a 400 watt inverter we carry in the car when traveling and might put it in the bedroom as back up to the large one.

We have a several hundred watts inverter in the boat.  It’s part of the Xantrex Heart monitor system.  I’ve not really taken a close look at it, and don’t remember the model, but it is capable of running a fridge, coffee pot and a few others things, but not necessarily all at once.

Thanks to Dick Stapleton for sending that schematic.  That was very helpful!

Sails:  All of our sails are roller furling sails and the main and mizzen live inside the masts, on a furler built inside.  A few weeks go when I looked over the sails I realized the UV covers were in tatters and weren’t really doing much any more but flapping in a breeze, so Kurt Seastead, the owner of the Transworld 41 Facebook Group  suggested I contact Ullman Sails and drop off the sails for repairs.  Instead I opted for them to come visit the boat, help me take them down and look things over.  I ended up sending the working jib, main and mizzen sails to have new covers installed, repairs done and so forth.  Wasn’t cheap.

Yesterday I drove to Deltaville VA to collect the sails.  Unfortunately, they lost the one bag I have for my sails, but were nice enough to give me a new one as replacement.  Thanks Jerry!

They did good work.  I wasn’t happy that they called me later to tell me they “forgot to charge me for the washing” – because the initial conversation said “wash, repair, etc” and then I got the invoice later and it added a few hundred dollars to the bill I wasn’t expecting.  Other than that over sight, things were fine.

Until I went to install the mizzen sail.

Apparently the halyard was weakened near the bottom.  As I hoisted the sail something bound up and before I could reverse everything, the halyard snapped just inside the mast opening.  I had my hands full of broken line, winch handle and suddenly sail…. the sail pulled the halyard up and out of the mast assemble, leaving me with no halyard inside the mast now.

So, until I either get up the nerve to climb us and thread the needle, or bite the bullet and hire someone, I’ll use the outside track and spare halyard to use the mizzen sail.  Might be easier anyway.  The thing always seems to bind or act funny.  Putting a sail on in a NORMAL manner might be a change of pace and give me a chance to actually USE the mizzen now.

HF Radio: JoAnne and I are both Ham Radio Operators.  She is KB0IRW and I hold call sign N0NJY.  She doesn’t really do much with ham radio these days but used to get on the VHF and chat, or do Skywarn stuff in Colorado.  Since we started refurbishing the house a couple of years ago all my ham gear had been packed up and disconnected.  I don’t even have a rig in the car any more.  The only times we’ve used it was around marinas to talk to each other or in the car traveling on the handhelds.

So a couple weeks ago while waiting on parts to arrive, I ran some wiring back to the backstay antenna and connected up the HF rig.  I have been able to do a bunch of contacts on a digital mode called BPSK31 on 14070Khz with numerous hams around the US, Caribbean and even Europe.  The rig is only Amateur Radio and I don’t marine HF (SSB as the mariners call it) right now.  Going to change that soon.

The reason for having HF in the first place to call for help if we get into trouble, or pass email traffic through Airmail and a pactor modem.  We don’t have a pactor modem though, so I use a Tigertronics SignaLink external sound card (box) connected to the computer to feed data in and out of the laptop.  Using linux as my OS.  One day, I’ll write about that.  Should be educational if not boring as hell. Ha!

That’s what’s been going on lately.  Well, off to dig in the bulkheads, cabinets and wiring to see what’s actually connected, and what isn’t, start pulling in wires, and get these solar panels doing what they were designed to do… give me MORE POWER!

 

LED Lighting

I decided to drop a few bucks at Lowe’s yesterday on a strip of LED lighting in the hopes I could made a simple mod and run them on 12 Volts DC.

Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

After looking over the connectors I found that the lighting was designed around LEDs, which is nice, but the little “adapter” which I assumed (wrongly) would be a simple step down transformer, going from 120ac down to 12vdc was not.  Instead it was a device (called a rectifier, a set of diodes really) that converted the voltage to 120vdc instead of dropping it down to where I could use it.

In other words, the lights weren’t designed (probably purposely) to use low voltages.

So… no easy modification there.  But, on the bright side (see what I did there? LOL) they light up the cabin pretty nicely.  I can really only use them on shore power as I wouldn’t waste the battery power to run the inverter to run these lights.


I promise, they aren’t throwing out lightning bolts like a Tesla Coil. Though it looks cool. haha


One image showing part of the lighting.


Different image showing the rest of them.

Later, I’ll go on the hunt for strip lights from Amazon.com because they have everything a electronics geek could want to play with!

Continuing Studies

Something I’ve learned over the years is that I learn better when someone shows me how to do something.  As a teacher I discovered that students had all sorts of learning idiosyncrasies and most of them learned either by reading, listening or seeing demonstrations.  I endeavored to  do all three for students in my electronics courses.  Some simply refused to learn and just ‘wanted the answers’.

Those students who just wanted the answers were the kind who simply wanted to “be done” with college and really weren’t planning on doing anything with their lives after getting finished with their degrees.  One day during a class, after a test, we were going over the test answers after I’d graded the tests and recorded the results in my record keeping.  That particular week we were studying how semiconductors functioned, very specifically we were discussing diodes and P-N junctions.  A diode is an electronic device which passes current in only one direction and blocks current flow in the other direction.  They are used as rectifiers to convert alternating current into direct current.  The concept is actually one of the simplest things you learn in electronics next to resistance, and Ohm’s Law.

One student had asked me questions all week, and I had explained several times verbally how a diode works, showing circuits with current flow, an oscilloscope (which shows the sine waves and the subsequently converted wave forms of half-wave rectification).  Just before the test, this student asked for a review of specific points.  We reviewed with the whole class.  The student expressed confidence that “I’ve got this” and I passed out the test material – basic 30 question tests with 25 multiple “guess” questions and five “essay questions” – asking students to, in their own words, explain some basic concept they had learned this week.

I generally studied my own materials while awaiting students to finish but something told me to look for the “visual feedback” you get from student’s faces and actions.

The confidence of the previously mentioned student began to falter; I could see him struggling with the test so I quietly began walking the room as I often did to get a glance over their shoulders to make sure no one was cheating (something that was very rare in my classrooms I discovered, but did occasionally occur).  The confusion of this student was apparent when he hit the question we had discussed just before the test.  I had actually covered almost every thing on the test before passing it out and I was shocked that as I scanned quickly and walk on that this person was completely lost.

What was *I* doing wrong, I asked myself.  How could I have explained this over and over in the space of a week and given these students essential information needed to understand the material AND pass the test and yet this student was going to fail this test.

Now, the quarter before this one, I had a similar problem with another student who has passed but was barely keeping his grades up in each of his courses.  Was there something happening here I wasn’t getting?

After grading his test – he passed by one question – we begin going over the test.

At that point I realized that the majority of the students in the classroom has gotten 100% on their tests.  To me, that was a measure of 1) How well I presented the lesson and 2) how well the students grasped the concepts.  All but a couple of people, and one in particular were doing very well.  Instead of chalking this up to “poor learning” or “poor teaching” I thought I’d turn this around on the students.

I asked, “Ok, some of you had issues with this concept (which I explained quickly) and I’d like to get an idea where you’re not understanding this.  Would anyone like to share with the class and me what sort of problem this is causing?”

It was enough to get the student in question to say, “Well, I don’t know the answer.”

“What do you mean, ‘I don’t know the answer’?” I queried.

“Well, it’s like this….” and this student regurgitated the exact process of how a diode works, not only from the beginning of the chemistry portion (where you dope different sections of silicone with boron or arsenic to make P or N junctions – but explained electron movement and hole-theory to the class in precise and professional terms).  I was shocked.  He could explain exactly what it was he’d learned.  I applauded him on his knowledge… then he said, “I just don’t know THE ANSWER!”

I prompted once again for an explanation of the “answer”….

So he said, “Ok, its like this.  If I am working in a radio shop for instance and someone gives me a radio to work on, if a diode goes OUT in the radio… what is the answer?  What symptoms does that diode show me that tells me it’s broken?”

The light came on for me.

What the student wanted wasn’t all the theory behind how electronic components functioned; he wanted a set of RULES that told him how to easily fix or repair something.

A communications gap the size of Texas was what we were having.

Today – twenty plus years later I can see this attitude in everyone around me.  No one wants to study a subject and understand it inside and out, they want a pat answers to a series of questions that allow them to move on to something else!  Email messages that contain more than three lines are rarely read.  Even this article will have 2 readers out of 100 who read the entirety of the article because, frankly, it’s “too long” for the limited attention span of most people.

Over the past five years of preparing for our voyage my wife and I have read a multitude of books.  I read, almost exclusively, technical texts containing scientific discussions of how to anchor and keep a vessel safe to operations of diesel engines, to repairs of water makers – among other things.  These books contain math, charts, explanations that put my verbosity to shame.  But I have come to the conclusion that there are those who will never venture offshore because they won’t read anything; worse they WILL venture offshore – without reading anything.

In my estimation today’s electronic communications technology–which has essentially made radio almost obsolete, has taken the fun out of learning, it has forced people who are in the midst of information overload in their everyday lives to skip over anything they deem “extraneous”.  I’ve found that this sometimes even affects me and I tend to ignore long emails, or skip reading attachments when I should probably at LEAST glance at them.

As a skipper of a vessel one must be aware of all that is going on, stand above panic and think through every detail of what one must do to make things work, keep the ship going and to keep the vessel and crew alive.  Fortunately, it’s not flying planes or space ships.  You’re not traveling at high speeds or falling from space (or high in the sky) if things fail on a boat.  However, shorelines get in the way, and winds and blow you into the weather shore, lines break, sails tear, engines get dirty fuel, anchors can get jammed in coral or rock, anchors can drag and winds can blow when you’re not expecting them because you ignored this morning’s weather report; or over slept and didn’t listen to it.

There are NO “pat answers” in anything in life.  There are jobs all over the country that require thinking processes and regardless of how mindless a job becomes (I picture someone installing lug nuts over and over and over and over in a car factory, but even there robots have taken over…) there is some thinking required.

You can make a list of answers for your students so when they are troubleshooting a robot, computer or a space station they can simply check off and when they have one left over that’s “the answer”

I suspect my former student never made it “to the big time” with his degree.  He grabbed some job somewhere that required little thinking on his part.

All to often today in conversations I have with random people I see his “lack of thinking processes”.  They can regurgitate what they hear on television, from a show, or their favorite movie, and can even repeat things they learned in high school or college courses.  But they can’t take two or more related (or even unrelated) concepts and combine those in a logical and reasonable fashion to come up with answers to their questions.

Is there an answer for this problem?  I’m sure there’s a list someplace that can help us “fix” the problem, right?