We planned to complete TWO big projects while in Mobile, AL: 1) upgrading our battery bank & 2) fabricating a solar arch with dinghy davits. After much deliberation, we decided to DIY the batteries and hire out the arch fabrication.
The battery bank and electrical system upgrade was nothing to sneeze at. But Kirk took it on with his characteristic analytical approach, meticulously planning out the new wiring in a digital diagram first before making any cuts to our costly large-gauge battery cables.
Unfortunately, the fabrication of our arch doesn’t go as smoothly. The metal fabricator told us he needed only a couple of weeks and our planned month timeline was an easy task, and assured us of his experience building arches just like ours. As the days go by, we become less and less sure of either of his claims. Decisions about our electrical project and solar panels rest on the completion of the arch, and as each promised date of completion slides by on the calendar, our faith in the project dries up.
Lauren & Kirk
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[Lauren] Last time on Sailing Soulianis.
We have been in Mobile for almost two months now. Being held up by the fabrication of our arch and bimini.
It’s just a work of art.
[Kirk] Okay. I’m excited to see the work of art. Yeah.
[Lauren] As he left, the fabricator told us he’d have the arch finished by the end of the week, three to four days later. In the meantime we had been making good progress on our big electrical project to upgrade our battery bank.
It goes to the ground wire.
[Lauren] But discovered that our new batteries didn’t fit in our old battery box.
They’re the same group size, they’re supposed to fit.
[Lauren] Oh my god.
[Lauren] Our boat is naked.
[Kirk] Yeah it is.
[Lauren] A week later, the welder showed up with two pieces of bent aluminum. A far cry from the finished Arch he had promised.
[Kirk] Building an arch with davits in an integrated bimini to support our new solar panels was a project that we wanted to splurge on. We didn’t need to build this in Mobile, but we figured if we’re going to be here for a while it would be great to get it done while working on other parts of the electrical project. Does that look high enough Lauren? If it was–
Yeah, I like that. That looks really good. We did our homework, and asked for recommendations, we checked references, and looked at boats that they had worked on. We provided drawings, and sent photos of what we wanted, and told them that we’d be around for four to five weeks. But if that timeline wasn’t easily doable, we didn’t want to move forward.
[Lauren] They seemed incredibly helpful. Walking us through their process, bringing over materials to show us what the finish would look like, and they were extremely cordial.
[Lauren] They were adamant that this was a two week job, three weeks tops. And since they didn’t have a lot of work at the moment, they were confident that they could get it done. Yeah. After the arch measurements had been taken earlier that day, and the spots marked on the deck, where the mounting holes would go for the base plates, Kirk drilled out oversize holes so we could fill them with epoxy in preparation for redrilling during the final mounting.
[Kirk] Share what’s happening.
We are right in the middle of our battery upgrade project. The boat came with two batteries, neither of them were housed nor start specific. We don’t actually know how old they are, but they were never very good, so.
They’re from 2005. So that’s pretty old. Are you sure about that? That’s really old.
[Kirk] Maybe it’s 2015. I think it was 2015.
Yeah. Yeah, either way.
[Kirk] They were bad batteries.
They were bad batteries. So we upgraded. We’ve got four new batteries, two of those will go here, where the old ones were, and two of them are going to go back here in our quarter berth storage area. So we’re gonna lose a bit of storage but we going to gain a lot of battery juice.
Yes. So our one light acid battery, our auxiliary slash start battery is gonna go probably in this box. The other three batteries that we got are Firefly Oasis batteries. Which are carbon foam they’re very similar to ADM.
We chose these batteries because they have most of the advantages of a Lithium battery, but are half the cost, there’s no complex battery management system, and they won’t catch fire. They can be drawn down to and 80% depth of discharge, they’re rated for a very high number of charge cycles, they can be charged quickly, and they can be stored at a partial state of discharge for long periods of time without damage. Because we work remotely from the boat, having a robust, easy to manage battery bank was a big priority for us.
Kirk has built a brand new battery box, for our additional two batteries, or is in the process of.
[Kirk] So show me what we got going on here?
Do you want me to take it apart?
Okay. Now it goes back together, right?
[Kirk] You don’t know how to do this?
So we got two shelves for each of the batteries, and we’ve been using these to measure the size of the batteries, the reason that they’re on different levels is because we wanted to use the max amount of space, and also give ourselves the ability to work on the engine. The fuel filter, sorry.
[Kirk] The oil filter.
The oil filter is actually right here behind this panel, so having this battery as low as possible made it easy for us to be able to change the fuel filter.
[Kirk] Oil filter.
To change the oil filter, right here.
I’m super pumped with how this battery box is coming together, I’m on version three, ’cause I made the first templates out of cardboard. So what I’m doing is tracing the contours of the hull, so we get a nice tight fit. Made the second, what I thought was gonna be the actual battery box out of half inch ply that I got from Home Depot. I knew it wasn’t marine grade but I didn’t realize how crappy it was, called all over town here in Mobile, to try and find marine grade hardwood. Finally did. So I’ve got marine grade three quarter inch plywood. Which is like way over-built for what this things gonna hold, but it’s fitting like a glove. Thousand years from now someone’s gonna find this battery box on the bottom of the ocean, and be like, “Wow, this is well built”. Probably not, but with a little bit of glass to tab them into the bulk head of the boat it’s gonna stiffen up the boat. I’m gonna laminate the plywood today, coat them all down in epoxy, tabbing in glass tomorrow hopefully, and overnight, tonight I’m gonna be working on electrical. These guys that are building our arch are still. We have not had a stern rail on the back of the boat for the past week and a half. The arch is almost done, but they still have the whole bimini to do.
I think we’re gonna be here for two weeks. The arch is not gonna be exactly what I wanted, I’m not 100% happy. It’s not exactly following the lines of the boat which was really important to me, it’s the whole reason we wanted to go custom, but it’s starting to look really nice, and the back rail looks awesome. They did a really nice job replacing the curvature of the stern rail, integrated in with the arch which was really, really cool. That was a huge part that I wanted, it’s just the shape, you know with all the constraints that we had trying to fit the size solar panels that we wanted to get enough solar generation, you know just all the stuff coming together it’s difficult. One of the things that I decided we would do, when or if we build another arch, is to do it myself with conduit first, to kind of get the lines that I want and take rough measurements, and at least that kind of gives you a model to work from, and you can see the outlines, you know. There are a few other odds, and ends that we would have done. Oh, we would of gone to the shop where they were fabricating, we sort of relied on one or two other boats in the yard that had some work done. But as it turns out, they didn’t actually do all the metal work on that boat like they had told us. We’re continuing to learn over and over again boats and timelines just don’t mix. No matter what you’re trying to do. So, I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’ happy though, we’re hoping to see clear water, clear blue, awesome ocean water soon, and get out of the, the mud here in Mobile. So back to work. We’re making . Alright, so I’ve gotta figure out where to mount all of these things. This isn’t an exact layout, physically but it’s a close approximation. I can do a positive, and negative bus bar in one piece with this guy. I just pulled this wire, but that wire is going to come in here and then, I need the wire to go to the battery which is going to go out there. So, I’ve got those two wires, those are big cables so they need to use the big post. Then we’ve got number 10s coming in for our solar chargers, which we might have three of, then we’ve got the 120 shore power charger, which is also a number 10. The last one, which is for the DC panel, so those I think will all work. So then on the negative side, we’ve got the cable that’s coming from the starter engine which is going to come in here, and then going to the shunt which is going to go out here, then I’ve got the DC panel which is number 10, the three solar chargers which are number 10, and then the short power, which is also number 10. So I think I can make this all work. So what I need to figure out, is where are we can mount these things, this is the shunt, inside of this box here. So I wanna give you a couple of layout options. Option 1 is we separate these, like this, so we’ve got enough room to run these cables down and out, to have these cables come up and out, whichever way they need to go, and this clears below the seat. Option two is to put this vertically and we would mirror the house bank batteries with the positive on the right, and the ground on the left. Option three, is we would have that be vertical. Where’s my red cable?
[Lauren] Your red cable is…
[Kirk] We lost it. 70% of all projects is finding the thing you just had in your hand.
[Lauren] No. Is it in your pocket?
[Kirk] No. Yes. ‘kay. Give me the red cable. Reverse of what the battery bank is. The tough part about working with large gauge battery cables is that the bigger they get, the tougher it is to bend them, and they’ll also only twist in certain directions. This one doesn’t really cross, because this one actually comes up this way, instead of–
[Lauren] Is there enough space there? For two blocks?
I think so. Unless they go like this. Draw one more. Put these constraints together with the limits of working in a small space, means that taking the extra step to draw out and test fit everything within the space you’ll be working with can save you from a costly mistake. Cause then what I can do, is I could just bring the positive right in here. Bring this positive down, which is ALT. All right, I think that might be what we do. What do you think?
[Lauren] Game plan?
[Lauren] Our neighbors were moving their little house boat across the harbor, and ran into some trouble docking. So Kirk jumped in to help bring this wee little vessel home safely.
That’s all right. You’re okay. I’m pretty centered.
I wasn’t puttin’ power in it.
I know that. You’re like Bryce.
Don’t touch my docking!
For now, to just to keep us safe. Oh shoot! The handle fell off.
Remember this lovely thing? This was our quick fix to try to get all of our clothes stored in our hang locker, in the V-berth, so that we could get under way. Well it’s seen better days. That’s all mold from the river trip because we were traveling in close to freezing temperatures, and then trying to keep the boat warm there was condensation forming on the hull, constantly and this was pressed up against the hull, and got pretty wet. We’ve been actually living with all of our clothes out of this now, since we got here to Mobile, and they’ve all been kind of stacked on those shelves in the V-berth, but soon as we start sailing again all that stuffs going to come flying off, so we’re working on putting permanent shelves into the V-berth locker today, and hopefully we’re going to get all of our clothes stored away again.
[Kirk] You look real happy.
I’m hangry, love.
[Kirk] I am very hangry.
And our… Arch fabricators are gonna show up right at lunch time?
So we’re not going to be able to eat till dinner. That’s good.
[Lauren] Oh, nice.
[Lauren] We used the leftover marine plywood to create four shelves, and eight supports, which we painted with the leftover Bilge paint we had on hand. Turning supplies we otherwise would have continued to haul around, into something useful.
We were now a month into what was quoted as a two to three week project. We were no closer to being finished since the initial fitting a week prior. It was clear then that some of his measurements were way off. So he took the Arch back to his shop, and was back for a second attempt to make it fit. Things were not going very well. At this point, we were starting to doubt the entirety of the arch. We weren’t seeing the quality of work we were sold, and it was starting to feel like an endless cycle of trial and error for every step forward brought us two steps back. We expressed our concerns about the timeline and workmanship, seeing as he was now cutting the arch in half, and using a ratchet strap to line up the legs. He assured us he would make it right. We told him we had two weeks remaining of our slip parental, and that we needed the a to be completed and installed with time to do a shake down sail before we left. We didn’t hear from them for another week. It’s three o’clock on the last day before we’re supposed to leave, they’ve been here all day, hammering away at our boat, bending, sawing the Arch, we finally told them this isn’t gonna work.