Our boat wasn’t ready for full-time cruising when we bought her. This was perfectly fine; we’d rather add necessary items ourselves and learn them inside and out through the process, than pay for systems already in place that may not be exactly what we want, or are old and need to replacing anyway.
We had completed a bunch of projects in Wisconsin before leaving on our trip down the river (like upgrading our anchoring system), but a few big projects still needed to be done before we could take off to more remote, sunnier locales.
Project #1: Install an arch/bimini combo to provide shade for the cockpit, a place to mount solar panels and davits to hang our dinghy.
Project #2: Our electrical system needed an upgrade. Our battery bank was old and small. We wanted to double our bank from two to four, install a battery monitor, solar charge controllers, and clean up/rewire anything already in place that might be a potential fire hazard, or was just a bit sketchy.
The question was this: DIY or hire a contractor? The electrical project was a massive undertaking, something neither of us knew much about, so we’d first have to invest a lot of time hitting the books, trying to understand the basics of electrical wiring and energy storage. Time is money, and we contemplated hiring someone, as it might’ve made more sense if we spent that time working our “real” jobs to pay it off instead. In the end, we decided to DIY the electrical project, since all the skills we’d acquire would be useful for any other electrical project/troubleshooting we’d be doing in the future if WE knew our own boat’s electrical system from the ground up. As for the arch/bimini, because we wanted a custom look that required a skilled tradesman (as well as a bunch of machinery we didn’t own or have access to) we felt it made sense to hire a professional, or so we thought…
Here’s how our decisions played out… Pop the corn and settle in for this 20-minuter!
Hope you enjoy!
Lauren & Kirk
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Our camera gear:
So, we have been in Mobile for almost two months now.
We can sail again. Here.
We’re running all the lines on the mast before it gets stepped this afternoon.
Doing a lot of work, work. A lot of boat projects. We gotta test it now.
Sounds clear to me.
Right at about, 19 1/2, 20. I see here, this one’s gonna be difficult.
[Lauren] I find it scary, cutting a hole in your boat.
I think it looks good Kirk.
And right now we’re kinda being held up by the fabrication of our arch and bimini. When we bought the boat, we knew there were a lot of things that we still needed to do to get her prepared for full time cruising. We took care of most of them before setting off down the river, but there were still two more big projects we needed to tackle in Mobile before setting off for sunnier for remote locations. One was to install a new battery bank and solar panels and the other was to fabricate an arch with dinghy davits and a bimini to mount the solar on. Everything we’ve done up to this point, we had done ourselves, which we really enjoyed, but these two projects being large, complex and time consuming, made us consider hiring them out to marine contractors. Ultimately we decided that the electrical project was a building block for all the other electrical projects we needed to do on the boat, and we only needed to acquire some knowledge and a few tools to complete it. While the arch fabrication would require significantly more time to gain the experience to perfect the art of welding, not to mention we’d also need to get our hands on some fairly heavy machinery.
[The Welder] It’s kind of something like, that.
[Lauren] So far, things weren’t going as the welder had promised. It had taken him almost two weeks after we had paid the deposit to come back to the boat to take measurements.
We got a big electrical project to replace all the batteries and we’re putting solar on the bimini and dodger and I’m kinda being held up by having the bimini and arch completed so we know what size solar panels we can fit on there so I know what size battery charge controllers we need to buy so that I can wire it and plan it all out with our electrical system.
[The Welder] You will get six feet at the top.
[Kirk] But that means we’re probably gonna have to buy the smaller solar panels for back here. We’ve just been waiting to order everything until we’re 99.9% certain.
[Lauren] Despite having previously sent him drawings and example images of what we wanted, and discussing in detail about how the arch should look and function, there still seemed to be some confusion around what was being built.
[Kirk] One of the things that was important to me was to have the davit arch followed like the same lines as the other one so when you’re looking at it from the rear it just looks like kinda of one thing. A really tight bend like that, is that strong enough with the tubing?
[The Welder] Oh yeah, oh yeah. Then basically just follow that angle, it’s just, a work of art.
[Kirk] Okay. I’m excited to see the work of art.
[Lauren] Before leaving he told us he expected to have the arch done in a few days.
We’re gonna to start taking this radar off. So it’s kinda frustrating to be held up, we finally have some nice weather. It’s still a little bit cool as you can see I’m wearing a hoody and a hat but now I’m working on doing some varnishing. This is our cockpit grate, it was pretty nasty before all the varnish had come off of it. So I’ve done about five coats of varnish on it and yeah we read about making varnish non-skid and some people put sand in it but then it’s like really gritty and feels like sandpaper. And I saw this somewhere where someone puts a thick coat of varnish on the last coat and then sprinkles some see salt into it.
So where you at?
[Kirk] Ready to put salt in.
And then the varnish dries and then you hose it down with fresh water and dissolves it and then you’re left with a nice, non-skid surface that’s a little more coarse not so gritty. So we’re gonna give that a go and see if it works. Seems kinda like a neat way to go about it. And of course we can always just sand down the top layer if we don’t like it. Hey.
Ooh are you beerin’ me?
[Lauren] Good on ya love, givin’ the boat a good scrub down.
She needs it.
[Lauren] How’d it turn out?
[Kirk] Dunno, we’ll see. I think the spots where the salt is a little clearer, it’s deeper in the–
[Kirk] And I think that’s gonna work better. You can see like that one’s clear and it’s kinda stuck in there. That’s kinda grippy.
[Lauren] Yeah, cool.
But I think I didn’t put in on thick enough on the last coat. Do you wanna go walk out to–
[Lauren] Can we just do it again?
Probably. But I don’t know if it’s necessary right now, I need to focus on electrical.
Let’s go walk out to the end, is that okay?
[Kirk] So just keep that there.
[Lauren] The next day we started diving into our electrical system. Trying to figure out what was what, what went where, what was good and what wasn’t.
So we’re using our multimeter here. Now when I touch this, which is the power supply, it should, should go to 13. 14, because our battery charger is going right now. It was a giant recon mission with a lot of trial and error, tracing wires, labeling what we could in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the wiring in the boat. Now that we know that there’s no power in there, I want to take that off and just confirm, that we flip this back on and nothing else gets power. A big part of the fun of any do it yourself project is ordering all the new tools to get the job done.
[Lauren] Oh is this the old one?
This is one of the old ones, here’s the new one. So you can adjust the length of how much you want stripped off by turning this knob and adjusting the stopper. So I want it that long.
[Lauren] That’s it’s official name I hope.
[Lauren] The stopper.
[Kirk] The stopper, and you just squeeze.
[Lauren] Mm, snazzy.
Fast action. Single movement, instead of having to take these guys and be like, all right let’s see, 16, oh yeah that’s a 16. Twist, and now I’m gonna, go like this, and then it goes flying across the room and then you slam your knuckles into something.
[Lauren] And then you cough. You hack up a lung, gosh. This is a major improvement.
[Kirk] So I think it kinda worked, in the spots where I put it on really thick it’s definitely non-skiddy but it didn’t stick in a lot of spots and I was doing some reading online last night and a lot of people said it just gets dirt and stuff stuck in the grippy spots so it’s like and it peels off your varnish faster, I dunno, jury’s out. At least we know what we need to do if we wanna actually give it a real go.
[Lauren] Lay it on a lot thicker.
[Kirk] Put one more thick coat of varnish on and lay the salt on really thick in the spots it doesn’t have any yet.
[Lauren] Are you labeling everything?
[Kirk] I’m trying to, I mean the shit that I figure out.
[Lauren] Ooh there’s peanut butter down there.
Oh that’s gross. This pair is the fridge, this is a ground, it goes to the ground wire but I don’t know where that goes to up at our panel. There’s one red wire back here and there’s this black wire right here, and I don’t know what this red one is here. This one right here, you probably can’t really see ’cause that’s very dark. So the only thing that’s directly wired to the batteries right now is that cockpit 12 volt thing. But we also know that when we turn everything off,
[Lauren] There’s still stuff dragged from the battery.
The stereo can still play right?
[Lauren] Okay both panels are off.
[Kirk] Now we need to turn the battery selector to off.
I need to go this way?
[Kirk] So it just came on.
[Kirk] That’s what I know. ♪ Girl do I know, but that feel nice ♪ ♪ How the hell you gonna stop me ♪
[Lauren] What you got in that notebook of yours? So this is the first iteration of the new electrical system.
[Kirk] Yeah, that was the first iteration. I’m on like 17 right now. We could fit one more there.
[Kirk] But the thing is, is this slopes in that way. So I was gonna cut off this lip, because there’s a big lip here, I was just gonna cut that flush
[Kirk] and hope that I could squeeze another battery down in there, but I don’t know if I can now.
Sounds like we need to go pick up our batteries. Our batteries were delivered about a month ago and they’ve been sitting in the workshop at Turner Marine. We just didn’t want to bring ’em on the boat because we had no where to put ’em, because we couldn’t install ’em yet so, I think it’s time to go get ’em and see if they’ll fit.
[Kirk] We need at least one.
[Lauren] And just tell ’em, hey guys can you just hang on to the other two for us. Hi.
I’m gonna bring you over here then. Okay.
[Kirk] Alright so is the wire we think it is?
[Lauren] Yeah that’s the wire.
[Kirk] All right now I’m moving a different one, right?
[Lauren] Yep, now you got the, it’s the smaller gauge. Slightly smaller.
[Kirk] Yeah you’re right. You’re positive you can tell which one that is right?
Right so let me just double check here that, that’s that one.
[Lauren] In the battery box.
Under my butt.
Yeah. I think I’m figuring out what we need, our boat is way worse off electrically than what I thought. We don’t have any fusing on the battery except for whatever this one is. Our major power sources are not fused, which is a big no no. We have some ground loops it seems like, because we have no ground bus bar except for this engine mounted one but there’s only a few things that are mounted to that. So you can tie every ground in your boat together into one thing and it can all go back to the battery. It’s only the power side plus the positive side, that needs to go through the breaker. Everything else can go to, it’s like a tree branch coming back, all the leaves to the branches, to the big branches to the main truck back to the battery. And ours are just like scattered everywhere. Like, it’s an incestrial tree.
[Lauren] No one wants and incestrial tree.
All right, you ready to try this out? We’re about to turn on the lights.
[Lauren] Wait, why is that light on?
This light is on cause we still have 120 and we went to Home Depot the other day and bought a work light so that when we do electrical we always know it’s going to take longer than it should and we’re gonna be working into night time, we would have something to work on while we’re at this short power. So I just spent the afternoon re-wiring the lighting circuit because there’s 18 wires jammed into the breaker and there was one hot wire that was just hanging out that was just electrical taped up. So I wanted to clean it up, so I put in this little terminal block here which I know, I know, I need to have it covered. This is kinda temporary for right now but it takes all these five wires puts it into one, which then runs down to the circuit breaker. Just trying to kinda clean things up a little bit. So, I’m about to flip on the DC power again, there goes our bilge pump. Okay, let’s hope nothing blows up here. That’s a good first sign.
Hoorah. All right. That’s like 8% of what needs to happen.
[Lauren] Wow that’s more than I thought.
Okay yeah, eight is probably a bit much.
One of our boat neighbors is being towed out of her slip today and across Mobile Bay to Fairhope and they’re just getting started.
[Kirk] Pretty good.
Bye! All right. Still makes me nervous though.
[Lauren] She just bought her boat a few months ago right?
[Kirk] I don’t know, I don’t know her story.
And she doesn’t have a sail so she’s gettin’ towed to her new marina, her insurance covers it. That’s pretty sweet. Lunch, baloney sandwiches and a bunch of fruit.
Big day here on Soulianis, we’re getting all our batteries and all our electrical stuff. Hey, those are just the batteries.
[Lauren] Yeah, I couldn’t get the other stuff.
The box is huge.
[Kirk] Was that a workout?
Oh my gosh these are so heavy.
[Kirk] They’re 75 pounds each.
[Kirk] So you’re carrying 225 pounds.
It took me all of my body and like all of my kinetic energy to get this thing on its wheels.
[Kirk] Do you want me to pull the last bit here?
If you want.
I’ll go back and get the other box.
[Kirk] We’re hoping to make it to the Bahamas this year is the goal but, we’re kinda falling behind right now.
[Neighbor] It always takes longer than you expect.
Yep. They’re not so bad one at a time. So what’s that in that giant box, we don’t know yet though.
I have literally no idea ’cause I didn’t make this order. This is all you love.
[Kirk] I think that’s literally just the battery boxes.
So these are just boxes of boxes of boxes in it.
There’s literally another box inside of that box. It’s just this time it’s a plastic box. All of our electrical stuff got shipped to my parent’s house accidentally, so then they had to ship it down here which delayed us a few days. I’m pretty excited, this means we’re gonna be getting out of here soon. More boxes! This is gonna help us finish our electrical installation. It’s also–
A murder weapon?
Gonna get people to talk.
[Lauren] As an anti-pirate device. Wow, those are scary.
Holy shit look at these things, oh my goodness, those are heavy duty locks. I have 18 feet of red and 18 feet of black. Tinned zero gauge battery cable.
[Lauren] Whatcha got?
[Kirk] So this is the wiring diagram for our engine, and I’m trying to figure out how to re-wire this battery system. So up here is our panel, in the cockpit, the tachometer, there’s an amp meter. This is the alternator, and then this is this little solenoid that’s right next to the alternator and this is the starter. If you remember from what we read in Nigel Calder’s book as soon as you start to charge a battery, it starts accepting less and less amperage.
Now that we have a three, well four batteries instead of two we have a much larger possibility for it to fill so it will be running at a higher output for a longer period of time and more often. If the output goes and runs through this long skinny wire that isn’t rate large enough to carry it, it can heat up and start a fire. And so people say remove that it’s old, it’s antiquated you don’t need it especially if we have a new battery monitor, which is what we’ve got.
Are we sure that it’s this one, this dotted line?
I dunno, it seems like they have optional alarm, optional splitter, seems like they would have put optional here. So if I power the starter with this battery, and I put the output about right here. I think if use the separate.
Radar is coming down today. We wanted the tide to be lower so that the boat was sitting lower so that we had better access to the radar from the dock, but the tide is only rising right now and we’ve got the guy coming over who is constructing our arch and we need to get it off so that he can measure where the arch is gonna go.
I’m just eye candy here.
You are so eye candy. We’re thinking we’re going to mount it on the mast.
[Kirk] Hey Lauren, can you come here? I need to back this the rest of the way out.
That was way easier than I thought. Thank you so much man, I really appreciate it.
[Contractor] They did use to be heavier.
Yeah, yeah. Hyah, it’s very light. We thought it was gonna be like 100 pounds, no I thought it was going to be 25 but it’s probably 10.
[Lauren] We got the radar and pull off the boat but the Welder never did show up that day. Unfortunately this was becoming a reoccurring theme. Kirk, what are you making?
[Kirk] Some gravy.
[Lauren] What are the key ingredients in your gravy?
[Kirk] I can’t give away my recipe.
[Lauren] Yeah well you can say the ingredients just like–
Sausage! Biscuits and gravy.
Oh hi biscuits. You know the way to my heart. Biscuits.
Now that we had our new batteries on board and we’d gained a basic understanding of our boat’s electrical layout, it was time to pull out the old lead acid batteries and test with the new ones. So we just spent 10 minutes looking for gloves, they’ve been sitting right here on the shit shelf for two or three weeks, in my way every single day. I set them somewhere like two days ago, knowing I would need them today, and I’ve spent the last 10 minutes looking for these gloves. People say boating is just doing boat work in exotic places, boat work is spending 90% of your time looking for the thing that’s been in your way for the last five days. We just pulled out our battery and we’ve got some fluid, some liquids down below our battery, and the question is, is that water, or is that battery acid. So here’s a test, baking soda. Battery acid. You do that until it stops bubbling.
[Lauren] How heavy is that?
I think they’re 80 pounds. Heavy, heavy enough.
[Lauren] Moment of truth.
[Kirk] Yeah, I’m a little nervous now looking at that. I’m quite nervous actually.
[Lauren] Will it fit?
[Kirk] They’re the same group size, they’re supposed to fit. Oh my God.
Hm, Focker, mm.
Focker, Focker, Focker, Focker.
Are you a Mr. Focker. Fuck.
[Lauren] Our butt is naked.
Yeah it is. It’s the seventh week here and it’s not even close to being finished.
It would have been fine if the product was good, but it’s not.