Our First Three Months Onboard
We finally moved aboard Destiny as soon as she was delivered and our boat life in Hong Kong had begun. Originally, we planned to keep our apartment on for a week and commute back and forth while we set up the basics on the boat – but in the end, we did not want to leave in the evening! It didn’t make any sense to be paying 600 HK$ per day in taxi fares and wasting two hours in travelling time. We went back to North Point, packed up the apartment and booked a GoGo van to bring everything to the marina. We set about making the boat a place we could at least sleep – tracking down the custom made bed-linen which had been delivered to the shipyard two years ago with the mattresses, washing it, clearing the bed of junk so we had a bed to sleep on.
The kitchen basics from our apartment were enough to put together a simple meal and make coffee. We had enough food for a few days already – we filled the fridge with coke and water and the rest could wait.
First Order of the Day
If there was one thing Ed had been longing for more than anything else, it was to eat steak from his own barbecue onboard. This simple thing was symbolic for us of “boat life” – and after several years of rice, fish and chicken bones (in between McDonalds), he was longing for a real steak. I had taken out a mortgage and bought two steaks before he returned from China 🙂 So that’s what we did the first night to lighten the mood before the work began.
First we need to clear the decks ……
The boat was packed full of “stuff” – everything Ed had acquired during his two years in China, all his clothes and possessions transferred gradually with every trip in the last years plus the equipment and spare parts which had been delivered there for the boat. Of course, every boat needs a long list of spares and general hardware – and buying it directly at manufacturers in China was a fraction of the cost of buying later at chandleries. Pretty much everything comes from China anyway – so he cut out the middle men and the shopping list had been long.
Over the last two years, Ed has developed a good relationship with a local Chinese “personal shopper” – Owen Cao. He worked previously for one of the main marine suppliers in Guangdong and wanted to set up his own procurement business for foreigners, which Ed helped him to start. His job is to find what we need, whatever that is. He buys it direct from the Chinese factories at wholesale prices and sends it to us, wherever we are. The items we’ve bought cover everything from stainless steel water fittings for building our water maker, to electrical tape, engine oil, modems and routers, kitchen equipment, fridge for the dinghy, induction plate, oil and fluids, electrical cable ….. the list of things needed for boat life is as diverse as it is endless!
Owen has also procured larger items like our Highfield roll-up beach dinghy and drop-in lithium battery cells for our main dinghy and has liaised with local fabricators to build custom items, like a control panel for the water maker. He works in an open book way – with full visibility to us of the price from the supplier, onto which he adds a fixed handling/commission percentage for his work. Anybody wanting to take advantage of the dirt-cheap Chinese products, at the right quality, without being ripped off through the Western versions of sites like Alibaba – get in touch with Owen and mention Ed’s name 🙂
Every locker full …..
Enough of the plugging for Owen 🙂 – back to the reality of what his procurement service meant for our boat life on arrival! All this stuff was packed inside the boat when it was shipped to Hong Kong. It had been accumulating in Ed’s hotel room for months, and when Destiny was ready to ship, everything was picked up in a hurry and stuffed in wherever there was a space. In addition, the normal “building rubble” which acquires had just been thrown into the nearest locker. When the cleaning service did their pre-delivery clean, it seems they just opened the nearest locker and swept everything from the counter top into it. Add to this, Ed’s clothes and personal stuff that had accumulated and the materials and equipment Jet Tern had been storing in their warehouse for us – and you have a complete mess.
Every locker and cupboard was full of random stuff. A box you think is rubbish, full of cable off-cuts and broken screws, turns out to hold a valuable item at the bottom – or that odd sock Ed has been searching for the last months 🙂 And then of course, on top came all my own clothes and possessions in those 14 suitcases which I had brought to Hong Kong …..
First order of the day – we had to get straight and clear space to put things away. Every locker and hiding place was opened and emptied totally. Cupboards were cleaned inside of building rubble and dust. We searched out the linens for all the beds and found them stuffed in countless places. These were unpacked and washed – stacking them neatly in the laundry cupboard. First easy win! We cleared out the forward cabin and decided to make that the temporary warehouse. Everything spare parts, hardware or equipment related was loaded onto the bed to be sorted out later. Boxes were emptied and the junk was thrown away – random socks were re-united and at least our clothes could be put away in our cabin. We started to get the galley organised with the basic equipment we had brought from the apartment.
It took us about two weeks to get to the stage where we could even think about starting to add more stuff from our pallets. We had to get all cardboard off the boat as quickly as possible – the glue is adored by cockroaches and other such infesting insects in the Far East, so we took a trip to Ikea and bought a pile of stacking plastic storage boxes in different sizes which will be used in every locker to keep things classified, neat and tidy. Boat life means organisation is essential as everything has to be secured for sea. There were endless runs to the waste disposal skip and gradually we are finding a home for things.
It takes time ….
Clearly, our original idea of spending 3-4 weeks in Hong Kong to get straight, before crossing to the Philippines was pie-in-the-sky dream! It was hard to see how we could get straight in a long time – given we also have technical work to do with the installation of our water-maker and commissioning of the electronics, among other things, before we can leave.
We accepted we would be here for as long as it takes!
We started to “call off” our pallets – making a daily trip to the storage place with two trolleys, loading them up and getting them onto the boat with the help of our passerelle. As you might expect, I had the entire shipment in a spreadsheet and had logged and photographed every item before it was packed in Europe. Boxes were numbered and pallets were numbered – so we were able to identify exactly what to take first, and easily find the things we needed, to fit with how we were loading the boat. It took several more weeks to finish – still the boat looked a total mess, but a more organised mess! The rainy season had arrived and we were working in between torrential rain showers and storms, with daily return runs of rubbish and waste cardboard.
Inventory Management and Maintenance Software
We have not yet decided which software to use for our inventory system (consumable stocks and spare parts) and for planned and break-down maintenance. We were intending to buy WheelHouseTech – an application designed for our sort of yacht which we’d been impressed with. However, six months ago the software was taken over by another software house – Vessel Vanguard – and I’m struggling to justify the cost since most of the key reasons for buying the software are no longer a feature. For sure, Vessel Vanguard is a good application – but it doesn’t cover everything I need any longer. The jury is out – on the to do list for later.
With so many items, for sure it needs to be organised. For now, every item will be packed properly, bar coded and consigned to a box number in my spreadsheet. Without this, Ed’s endless search for a specific screw, water fitting or widget would result in hours of searching. There is plenty of storage space in the boat to put everything away – but for now we have too many boat life projects in progress so it’s easier just to leave everything accessible in stacks around the boat.
As we started to live onboard, of course we discovered the things which were not working as they should. All the boat systems are now in full use 24 hours a day – and to be fair to the shipyard, they could never test things properly without living on the boat full time. While I focussed on sorting out all our stuff and packing into the boxes, Ed found himself fire-fighting issues. Given his negative feeling about the boat at delivery, this ongoing saga did not help his state of mind.
The first challenge was to deal with the hydraulic oil issue leakage at the windlass, which had been noted by the surveyor on delivery. One of the downsides of how we bought our boat, directly from the shipyard, was that warranty is not clear – there is no dealer with whom you can park issues as they arise and hold accountable. Each issue becomes a discussion with the shipyard as to how it can be solved – and inevitably given their workers cannot travel, this comes down to Ed to fix things himself for the most part.
In principle, we don’t have a problem with that and prefer to do things ourselves when we can. We are still holding back the final payment on the boat – until we are comfortable that things are in an acceptable state and there are no serious faults. They are waiting for us to send them our complete list of issues, and we can then see how they are solved.
Maxwell Windlass Hydraulic Oil Leakage
The shipyard contacted their Maxwell supplier for the windlass, who sent their Hong Kong dealer to investigate the issue. They had no parts of course – and they were not happy making the trip out to Gold Coast to make repairs initially. After a lot of arguments, finally they came – dismantled the unit and identified the problem. They went away to order the parts and came back a week later to finish the repair. In the process of dismantling the unit, somehow the housing was badly damaged and scratched – resulting in more arguments as to who was responsible to make it good again. The engineer walked off the boat – so we have a working windlass now but a badly scratched housing. This will fall to us to repaint this unit as there seems little choice!
Other Delivery Damage
There have been no suggestions as to how we replace the stern light broken during the tug delivery. This isn’t an item Jet Tern will keep in their warehouse, so they will have to order from the supplier. It will probably be easier for us to order ourselves and deduct from the bill.
Remarkably, there appeared to be only one other issue from the tug delivery and at this time we are unable to verify completely due to the position of the boat. There seems to be some gelcoat damage on the starboard side where the tug was tied up – but there is no pontoon on that side so we can only look from over the railings. The boat isn’t yet movable but we will do a close inspection at the earliest opportunity. This could be a difficult problem to solve if the damage is bad – especially since it’s in the light grey gelcoat on the lower hull. We will see.
The first issue which arose was the grey (waste) water system – as we started to use sinks and the washing machine. We realised the system is not pumping overboard as it should and there are several water leaks into the bilges. Sump boxes appeared to be blocked and overflowing – with the float switches not functioning. In addition, all grey water was going to the holding tank and not pumping overboard as it should.
We specified the waste water system to give us the option to pump to a holding tank (where environmental legislation required that) but for normal usage to pump straight overboard. We are talking GREY water here (sinks and showers), as obviously black water (toilets) would never be sent directly overboard. In general, most boats pump grey overboard – but there are a growing number of countries worldwide who now forbid this. Hence the option for a holding tank. The European CE regulations require the holding tank option – so we assumed this had been set at the yard before departure so the boat would pass its CE survey.
Finding the Components
We set about tracking down the flow of waste water in the boat, and discovered the labelling of hoses and valves to be completely haphazard. Some hoses had label plates but didn’t clearly describe the purpose of the hoses – others had no labelling at all. The manifolds were confusing and siphon loops for the bilge pumps appeared to be part of the same system as the grey water!
We went in search of the technical drawing for the water systems and discovered these were not in existence. No drawings had been made – it had simply been left up to the plumber to fit what he thought was best! The same type of PPR (hard plastic) water fittings and valves have been used for fresh water, waste water and air-conditioning chilled circuit coolant – and the same vented siphon loops are used on the grey water as well as the bilge pumps. So, when you come across a valve arrangement, it isn’t always easy to work out what system you are looking at! We need to get our hands on the proper schematics from the shipyard before we can solve this problem. Or – more likely – try to work it out and draw it ourselves!
How does it work?
When a shower or sink drains away, the water follows gravity to a small box – called a sump box – located underneath the floor of the boat. We have four boxes in total – one for each bathroom, one for the washing machine in the commissary and one for condensation water in the lazarette. Boxes are only needed where the installation is below the water-line of the boat – as sinks above the water-line (such as the galley), drain automatically just by gravity.
Inside the box is a float switch, which detects when the box is filling up and activates a small pump to pump the water out into the waste water pipe. With our two option system, the waste water pipes have Y-valves and manifolds somewhere – where you can select if the water is to go straight overboard, or into the tank. It’s a manual exercise to set each valve – but you first have to track down where they are and work out which way is tank and which is overboard! We have not yet worked out where these are or how the direct overboard option works.
Sump boxes are notorious for blockages – and are disgusting to clean! Unfortunately, they are an integral part of boat life. Although we are only talking grey water – soap, detergents, clothing fluff, body dirt and hair make for a disgusting combination – especially when mixed with building sawdust and FRP dust which was not cleaned out. The small float switches and pumps get easily blocked and this is what had happened. The result is the box fills up then overflows into the bilge – so we had water running around in all sorts of places.
The float switch in the guest bathroom (which has become my bathroom – Ed gets the master as he’s taller!), had given up totally. So Ed swapped it with the float switch in the lazarette temporarily. These switches will need replacing.
We have not yet worked out the overboard valves. The galley sink is going straight overboard, but the bathrooms and washing machine continues to go to the waste tank, and we haven’t yet been able to track down why. We need the drawing of the water system from the shipyard – or to work it out ourselves – and to properly label the hoses.
As one thing leads to another, the presence of water in the bilges made us aware that the bilge pumps were not functioning as they should. An overflowing sump box is just annoying – but a non-functioning bilge pump is a critical system! Once again, water in the bilges is part of normal boat life and an ongoing challenge to keep them dry and clean. Water left behind very quickly stagnates and creates the horrible waste water smell that is so common in boats. There are those who say that this is the sole purpose of bilges – but it’s a complete no-no for us – all bilges should be dry at all times.
Shortly before Destiny had left the shipyard, there had been a major crisis with the spillage of 2000 litres of diesel fuel into the bilge, caused by a failed fuel tank fitting. The boat had been on the hard-standing at the time and all power was off – because of fire-safety on a long weekend when nobody would be on board. The fuel had therefore emptied into the boat and had not been pumped out automatically – until Ed and the workers arrived after the weekend and turned on the power.
Jet Tern had assured us that all the impacts of this potential disaster had been resolved with their team fully cleaning the entire bilge area, aft of the main cabin. Although this spillage should have been contained within the engine room (with water-tight bulkheads sealing the engine room off), the fuel had in fact over-flowed forwards and had reached the commissary and master cabin bilges.
This highlighted a structural error with the integrity of the supposedly water-tight bulk-heads – the engine room is supposed to be 100% sealed off from the other areas of the boat (except for the ventilation system at the ceiling height)! However, a hole had been drilled in the bulkhead to pass through a water hose, and had not been properly sealed again. We would never have discovered this error until it had became a potentially life-threatening crisis, so as always there is a silver lining. Better now than when the boat is sinking at sea! We were assured that the offending opening had been properly sealed, restoring the integrity of the engine room (Ed has checked of course – and this is indeed the case).
From this volume of fuel, we believe the float switches which activate the bilge pumps became totally clogged – fuel mixed in again with all the building rubble and dust from the bilge. The float switches are not designed to be sitting in fuel! The pumps work intermittently – sometimes they run, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they run but don’t empty the water. Sometimes they do run and empty the water from the bilge, just to have it flowing back again into the same bilge – meaning they are constantly switching on and off.
We have 7 high capacity main pumps, one in each of the sealed bilge compartments from the crash locker at the bow, to the two compartments in the lazarette. They are rated for 2200 gallons per hour and the one in the engine room is 4000 gallons per hour. Each pump has its own through hull exit from the boat, via a siphon break device and a one-way valve.
The siphon break prevents water from flowing back from the sea into the bilge. When the pressure from the pump stops, the water falls back to each side of the break – so the water in the hose between the siphon break and the pump potentially flows back into the bilge. The hose length here could be up to 5m, so could be a lot of water. This is the purpose of the one-way valve, which is located next to the bilge pump. This valve stops the backflow by closing it’s flap – and when the pump runs the next time, the flap is pushed open again.
In addition, beside each standard bilge pump is a suction device for the backup emergency pump, which is located in the lazarette. This emergency pump is also electric, but can be switched to hand pumping in the event of an electrical failure – although this is not going to work in practice as it would be impossible to pump enough water out by hand. The emergency pump has a manifold where you need to select the bilge compartment to empty – and it is designed to be used as an extra device if the main pump cannot cope with the volume of water.
This specification is high, with backups and safety margins – but still we don’t seem to be able to empty our bilges!
Ed’s diagnosis …
Ed’s assessment is that the one-way valves and float switches which were sitting in diesel for a long weekend have been damaged by the fuel. When the pump doesn’t run, it’s because the float switch is stuck – so the pump doesn’t know there is water to empty. When the float switch works and the pump comes on, it can’t empty the bilge as it can’t open the stuck one-way valve. Sometimes the pump comes on and does empty the bilge – if there is a large volume of water and enough pressure to push open the one-way valve. However, the valve then gets stuck in the open position, so when the pump turns off the water between the top of the siphon break and the bilge pump simply runs back again.
Initially, the problem was compounded by the volume of building rubble which had also been flushed into the bilge compartment. As can be seen from the above photo, this would block the pumps very easily.
As of today, we think the solution is that all the float switches and the one way valves need to be replaced, and in some cases the bilge pump itself as the one-way valve is an integral part of the pump in some models. This is on our list for the shipyard to solve and will obviously be necessary before Destiny can safely leave her berth.
Ongoing Diesel Issue
The bilge pump problem resulted in Ed spraying fresh water in the bilges to try and clean them and clear the pumps. He was very happy that we had decided to buy a Karcher Wet-Vac and ship it on our pallets! Although the machine is large and he isn’t sure where he will store it – it’s been invaluable in this excercise and so far the most used appliance on the boat.
Once again, as one thing leads to another, this uncovered the fact that the diesel had most definitely NOT all been cleaned from the bilges as promised. He discovered pockets of fuel/water – underneath the water tank for example – which had not been cleaned. With aggressive spraying of bilge compartments to clear building rubble, gunk and diesel was coming out from everywhere. The fuel had obviously soaked into insulation materials as well as lurking in multiple hidden places.
For two weeks, he spent almost the entire day flushing out the bilges and cleaning with detergents, brushes and sanitising. Not an ideal thing to be doing in the marina, but there was not much choice. The quantity of diesel remaining was minimal in the scheme of things, but the smell of a teaspoon is already unbearable. Thousands of litres of fresh water were flushed through until there was no trace of any more smell and the water was coming out clean. We are satisfied now that the diesel has been removed as much as possible, but it will be impossible to get rid of it all from foam insulation for example. At least, for now, there is no smell any longer and no residue floating on top of the bilge water (which as mentioned above is still an issue for now).
Air Conditioning Chilled Water Circulation System Leak
With the air conditioning running full blast 24/7 in the Hong Kong climate, the WEBASTO chiller system is getting a huge workout. After just a few days, there was a major leak in the coolant system – close to the chiller units, at lazarette ceiling height. For want of a better word, coolant fluid was pissing out!
There are several valves there for different components of the system – including PPR pipes with butterfly PPR shut-off valves, a 3-way actuated valve which connects the underfloor heating system to the air conditioning system, various pressure gauges and other components. Some of the PPR connections had been connected crooked – and whilst PPR itself is “welded”, any metal connectors attached to other components end up being potentially with cross threads if the pipe is not straight.
Ed stripped back the insulated covering on the pipes and we tried to determine exactly where the main leak was coming from. There were several different leaks but the main one was caused by a metal shut-off valve, part of the motorised 3-way valve connecting the air conditioning and under-floor heating systems. A constant stream of green liquid was pouring out of the ceiling. He tried to tighten up the connectors and ended up with a green shower on his head and coolant was all over the fresh water equipment underneath, as well as the teak floors of the lazarette.
The air conditioning had to be switched off – in high 30’s and 90% humidity of Hong Kong this was not funny! We switched off the isolation valves each side of the actuator and luckily we had a huge red bucket to place underneath. Ed dismantled the PPR connector to find that the O-ring was missing!!!! Of course we didn’t have the exact spare part – but we consulted the Oracle (my stock spreadsheet) and located some which might do the job.
In the end, none of the parts we had available fitted, so Ed made a custom new one from some padding material which had been used to protect the tables. Re-assembled, the main leak stopped – but not before the huge bucket had been filled with coolant fluid – and we didn’t have much fresh coolant in stock. Being able to McGiver a solution from what you have available is always a feature of boat life 🙂 Every time something like this happens, I am reminded why I have a hundred plastic boxes full of seemingly useless items!
There followed a major cleaning up exercise to flush out the whole area with fresh water – cue the ongoing bilge pump issue! We checked back along the hoses as best we could to try to find the other smaller leaks and clean up. However, this was not the end of the story since losing that much coolant from a pressurised system caused havoc with air-locks around the whole boat, and the air-conditioning was not operating properly. We had to access every individual air-handler – cue emptying the lockers again and in the case of the pilot-house, removing the galley ceiling. Without very much fresh coolant fluid, we had to recycle all the liquid which came out from bleeding, as well as the contents of our red bucket – and we were busy for days bleeding the system and refilling the expansion tank a water bottle at a time.
Over the course of a week, we monitored for leaks and continued to bleed the system, as air bubbles made their way up eventually to the highest point in the circuit. Since then, things have operated properly and the leaks appear to be solved – at least for now. In the longer term, Ed will systematically go through the whole circulation system of PPR pipe and check every butterfly shut-off valve and connection.
Galley Air Conditioning Drip Trays
Having solved the leak issue with the air conditioning, a few weeks later we had a 2nd and different problem with the air handlers in the galley/pilot-house. There are two 18 BTU units and they are fitted into the ceiling void of the galley. It is quite normal for air handlers to produce condensation and WEBASTO build in a drip-tray under the unit to catch the drops of water. This drip tray needs to have an overflow to the outside of the boat for the water to escape.
Because of the location of these two units, Jet Tern added an additional emergency drip tray, underneath the original Webasto one – so if there was an over-flow it would be caught in the 2nd drip tray. Unfortunately, the way the hoses were connected between these drip trays meant they always ran into each other and to flow to the over-flow, the water had to go uphill! Obviously that isn’t going to happen without some sort of pump to push it uphill …. and so one evening I was standing in the galley and got a shower from the ceiling of condense water 🙂
Ed took the ceiling down again to investigate and he rigged up a hose to drain into the sink while he set about working out how to permanently solve the issue and find the right hoses to make a proper repair. Back to Owen again to find us the right hose – and when it arrived Ed was able to re-route the trays so water now drains as it should.
Fresh Water Supply
The fresh water supply system had not been fully completed before the boat left the yard – of course Ed was aware of this, so it wasn’t an issue – just meant that he had to do some work before we could fill the tanks in the normal way. This was not a Jet Tern problem – he had decided to redo the way water is handled, adding a filter system and UV sterilisation system, and of course our water-maker.
There are two fresh water tanks on the boat – so two places to send incoming water to. Water can be either from a shore supply or it can be from the water-maker (which we are yet to install). In addition, we have what is called a “City Water Hookup” – which you can use in a marina where you have your own supply on the pontoon. Water is connected permanently to the boat and is taken in on demand, rather than being stored in a tank.
To deal with the different inputs and outputs of water, there needs to be a small manifold. In addition we wanted all water to pass through a system of filters to ensure the quality of the supply – and to be sterilised with a UV light system. When cruising in some countries, you can’t always be certain of the safety of the water – so we have the equipment to make it the best it can be.
The water-makers will come later – and will slot into their already reserved place in the lazarette. For now, Ed needed to finish the job with the filters, UV and manifold and check all supply lines to make sure there were no leaks. As of the moment, he has not been brave enough to hook up to the permanent supply which will then mean pressurised water in the lazarette – until such time as the bilge pump problem is solved and he is comfortable there are no water leaks.
We designed and implemented a “smart electrical system” with several over-riding objectives:
- Capable of using all available resources at the same time – shore power, generators, solar, batteries – to provide maximum possible power to the ship
- Since our big generator is our backup propulsion system in the event of an engine failure, we needed to be able to run BOTH generators at once – so when the main generator was pretending to be an engine, we would still have power for the ship
- Enable us to operate as we would at home without any compromises if we choose to
- Make use of all free resources available – such as solar and shore-power – no matter how small the contribution is. Such as still being able to make use of a small 16A shore power supply or a few hours of sunshine.
- Operate effectively and seamlessly across the world – 110V-240V / 50Hz-60Hz
The system is based on VICTRON devices, Winston LiFePO4 2000Ah battery bank, REC Battery Management System. We will not describe the system here in detail but full information will be available in our technical library.
We discovered our smart electrical system was TOO smart, when one day the REC-BMS shut down our AC power without warning. How does that happen you might think? The BMS is controlling the lithium batteries and DC power! This happened because of the VICTRON “Power Assist” function which monitors the incoming shore-power versus the AC demands of the boat. When the boat needs more power than the shore is giving, VICTRON will automatically go to inverter mode, drawing from the battery bank to lend a helping hand. This is supposed to be a short-term feature to boost power demand peaks which should drop off again once demand is reduced.
The next step in the process is that the main generator is supposed to start up automatically and start charging the batteries, in the event battery voltage is too low to support the power demands of the boat.
There were obviously a few issues with our system as this didn’t happen!
- There had been just a very short warning that the power was about to shut down – short bleep, then gone!
- We had no idea that the system was running on power assist in the first place – of course if we had been studying the VICTRON screen we would have been able to see that but there was no audible alert or flashing lights
- Why had the system been running on power assist anyway, when the demand of the boat was around 8.5kw and the shore supply is a 63A connection which should provide far more than that?
- When the batteries got so low the BMS needed to shut down, why had the generator auto-start not kicked in to charge them, before shut-down?
Changing the Settings
The first and last questions were easily solved – looking at the battery voltage settings in VICTRON, the difference between the voltage where auto-start should kick in and the voltage where the BMS would do a full disconnect was too small. The BMS and the VICTRON system were not aligned with each other. Changes to the settings would prevent that happening again.
We tested the new settings and indeed the generator started as it should. This uncovered an additional challenge as we also have to establish the right parameters for the generator to shut itself down again. We discovered if you manually turn the generator off after an auto-start, this creates errors in the system which have to be reset before the generator can be started again.
The second question is a matter of setting alarms in the MARETRON system. Although I had started to do some work on the ships management system, we are a very long way off from having it operational as it should be. I did quickly add in a status box for the inverter/charger so the operating mode of the VICTRON Quattro would be visible easier on the overview screen. From there, we were able to note that we were indeed running in power assist frequently throughout the day – which was not right.
Understanding the Power Source
The third question led us to challenge the marina about the amps being supplied to the boat – there is no way we were receiving 63A as we were paying for. The marina electrician came to the boat and together he and Ed set about trouble shooting the issue. The shore supply was constantly cutting out – without us realising it. Our “smart” system didn’t even give a warning when shore-supply was lost, it just took over and seamlessly started pumping in power from the batteries with the inverters.
The marina checked their supply pillar and found some faulty wiring, which was causing the safety cut-out, and at one point had the pillar smoking!!! This was immediately replaced of course and they then measured supply and confirmed it was delivering 63A. Despite this as soon as our boat was switched to shore-power it was again overloaded and blew the pontoon. Eventually, Ed worked out that the problem was being caused by another of our smart gadgets in combination with the performance of the shore supply …… 🙂
We have an isolation/transformer box aboard. This is a huge, heavy unit to manage the shore supply (for those familiar with these devices, it’s a Chinese – read “much cheaper” – version of an ATLAS Transformer). It’s first purpose is to create an isolation barrier between shore and boat, to protect against power surges, dodgy power supply and issues with earthing in the water. However, it’s main purpose is to stabilise the power supply to the boat no matter what is thrown at it – we can connect to a supply with any voltage or frequency, anywhere in the world, and the transformer will simply convert what it gets into a stable 230V-50hz European supply to the boat.
We had not considered that Hong Kong would be an issue – this box is there for the time we get to the USA (with 110V-60hz) or even other countries more locally in Asia where supply is unreliable or frequency varies. On further investigation, it turned out that the voltage in Hong Kong was only around 200V and not the normal level of 220-230V.
Lower voltage = higher amps to deliver the required power (watts). Amps = Watts/Volts.
So, whilst the 63A connection should have been able to deliver around 15kw power, by reducing the voltage, this was reduced to around 12.5kw. As the boat demand peaked, the shore power blew out as our equipment expected to be able to draw 15kw.
We control the amount of amps we are allowed to draw from shore power with the use of a VICTRON Multi-Control Device. When you know the capability of the shore power you are connected to, you set the amps that are allowed to be drawn. As the boat demands more than this, the power assist cuts in and generator auto-start would cut in when needed for charging, but the shore power is maintained. In this way, we can always make use of “free” shore power when at a marina – no matter how feeble that supply may be.
With some experimentation between Ed and the marina electrician, we established that setting a limit of 34A would maintain a stable supply. Not only was the voltage low, but it was also unstable – at this level we were getting a reliable supply.
Now we are making use of the full power available from shore and this runs all our air-conditioning and normal consumers in the boat. When we cook dinner and jack up the usage with the hob and oven, the power assist can kick in if needed to supplement – we don’t even notice this happening. When draw demand becomes less, power assist switches off automatically. The battery bank can support many hours of running the boat – but if it gets short, then the generator will start for charging. And whilst there is sunshine, our solar panels are topping up the batteries in the background. Overnight, when the consumption is much less, we are still running air conditioning in the cabin but there is enough remaining power from shore to recharge the batteries.
As part of testing the electrical system, we ran the boat under each generator. Both generators need to be serviced as this was not done by the shipyard before leaving. We have the special break-in oil but need to make sure we have filters and other parts – we will do this before we leave for the Philippines.
The 26kw Northern Lights has run several times and worked just fine. However, the smaller 10kw Northern Lights was over-heating, and shutting down. Ed dismantled the generator and went through all the normal checks. Sea strainers were emptied and cleaned. The impeller was found to be in numerous pieces – which could in itself have been the problem – but with hindsight we think this happened due to lifting and launching creating air locks in the raw water supply. He tried to locate all the missing pieces – important to do to make sure parts of rubber don’t end up where they shouldn’t be. The thermostat was removed and checked. The heat exchanger was removed and cleaned. This seems to be the work you would be carrying out on a well used generator and not one that has just been delivered from the shipyard!
A simple solution
Apart from the impeller, there appeared to be nothing wrong with the generator – which brings us back again to the issue of warranty in our situation. Who do we call? Who comes to fix things? The yard have no idea what is wrong. It falls to us to resolve the problems – and the shipyard are facilitating where they can, as there isn’t much more they can do. Ed was put in touch with their NORTHERN LIGHTS supplier and they talked him through some checks. It turned out that the temperature sensor grounding wire was slightly loose – and a quick turn to tighten it up solved the problem. This is why you need the product manufacturers sometimes – this is not something you would ever have guessed on your own!
Still Standing Boats
We have to remember that just before the start of the pandemic in March 2020, apart from electronics, Destiny was almost finished and ready to ship. At that time, we were waiting for the engine and generators to be officially commissioned by John Deere and Northern Lights – but everything was installed. Since then, we sat for more than a year in mud and shallow, dirty, water at the shipyard without moving. There is nothing worse for a boat than not moving and there is no more testimony to that than the state of the hull and under-water gear when Destiny was lifted after the lockdown!
Technically you could say that the shipyard were responsible for maintaining her in the right state all the time she was in their care. But to be fair to them, this was new ground. Normally, they build a boat, they launch it, run a few sea trials, they test the equipment works and a month later they ship it. The dealer sorts out snagging problems and equipment manufacturer warranties kick in at the customer location. Straightforward.
They have no idea what it takes to keep a boat in good condition in normal use, or unused. Much of what has been necessary over the last year has been to fix all sorts of degradations caused by that period of lockdown at the yard. Of course, our standpoint has been all along that we bought a NEW boat and we have demanded work was redone – Jet Tern have done everything we asked them to in this respect, although sometimes only after some argument. There has to be some sympathy for them – effectively they had to build our boat twice!
The biggest area of work for us is our electronics installation. When we designed our boat, our electronics were fairly complex. In addition, we do our own installation and configuration and have never used an installer. This will be the third boat we have done – but for sure the most complex. The detail of our system is far beyond the scope of this progress update but will be coming shortly under it’s own technical library.
The original plan
The shipyard did some of the preparation work – we paid them to lay cable looms while the boat was open, for CAT6 network and NMEA2000 backbone. We also paid them to physically install boxes – cut holes in the consoles, fix in the box, connect sensors to equipment and connect the cables according to manufacturer instructions. They had no responsibility at all for switching the box on and getting it all to work.
Jet Tern were nervous about doing this work and were clear that the complexity of our system was beyond their experience. Normally, electronics installation is done by the dealer with a local installer after delivery. For us, this wouldn’t be possible with direct delivery. The plan was that both of us would be at the yard for the entire electronics installation project and while the shipyard workers fitted devices, Ed would be overseeing and getting things running. Then I’m the one who then takes over for the logic, software configuration and integration. We are all essential people in this process with different skill sets!
No need to even explain why this plan went belly up 🙂 We will cover how this process actually went in other blogs.
Numerous reasons why the network won’t work
Ed did a large part of the commissioning while was in China but when he got to the part where I would take over, he struggled to understand how to proceed. We had tried for me to log on remotely, but it just didn’t work. Bad internet connections and different screen resolutions meant it was an almost impossible task. Things which are obvious and logical for me are complete gobbledegook for Ed – and the same the other way around – our brains work in different ways 🙂
He went as far as he could and far beyond what he would normally do – forcing himself to set things up how he knew I would want them. Proper labelling, capital letters, detailed naming etc – even though this does not come naturally for him! He did a great job – the basics were working just fine – but he was hi-jacked frequently by the shipyard workers, who had little respect for the sensitivity of electronics and just pushed and pulled cables ad lib so they could access other places for their own tasks. Things worked one day but not the next and it caused Ed a lot of stress! It was driving him nuts 🙂 In the end, I told him to leave it as it was and together we would work it out after delivery.
There were several factors which potentially had a role to play in our unreliable systems:
- As mentioned above, being hi-jacked by workers – the electrician would just unplug stuff because he needed to reach a power board behind, for example and not plug it back in
- A lightning strike on the power supply at the yard while Destiny was in the water – which did NOT hit our boat and our isolation transformer gave protection, but difficult to say if there had been any impact or not
- A product recall from the manufacturer of the cable connectors – a batch of connectors had been supplied with the wrong connection instruction label, meaning if the labels were followed power would have been connected onto the data cable instead. Potentially this could have caused electronics damage to devices.
- Some faulty hardware units which were returned to suppliers and replaced
- Faulty cables – difficult to say if these were damaged by not installing them properly, damaged later by excessive pulling and lack of care or had been supplied faulty in the first place
- Lack of understanding from the shipyard about data and power cables being together – in many cases they cable tied electronics cables to power cables, potentially causing interference, and pulled cable ties too tight
At the end of the day, Jet Tern did their best within the scope of their experience and the pandemic restrictions made the whole job much harder as they did not receive the promised support from us in the right timescale.
Systematic trouble shooting
For the last few weeks, Ed has been systematically going through the whole network and getting each individual device up and running. He took out all the cables and checked them all, finding many which were faulty and replacing them. He has checked the NMEA2000 network to make sure every navigation device is functioning without incidence errors. For the LAN, the IP configuration has been corrected as per our documentation and he has made sure each device is reachable. The entertainment system in each cabin has been configured with the same app interface on each TV and he has checked connection to the satellite TV system, although we haven’t tried to get that working yet.
The internet router has caused many difficulties and we now have three different routers which he is testing to decide which one we will use. Originally, we purchased the LOCOMARINE Yacht Router system which promised to provide a good integrated solution for internet from multiple sources. It is possible to have 4G, shore wifi and satellite integrated into one system, designed specifically for a marine environment. Unfortunately, the hardware is very “locked down” and does not give the user any administration rights – so its difficult to configure what we need. We are very disappointed with this product – but the jury is still out which way we will proceed.
Our boat camera system is also one which has been disappointing. The service from the supplier has been terrible with long response times to queries and still some broken hardware which they have not replaced. Ed dismantled some of the cameras and also rebuilt the distribution hub and matrix which is core to the system. We tested cables again hoping to improve the quality of output. It is now “acceptable” – but still some work to do.
The computer cabinet where the PC’s and most of the helm equipment is located was completely dismantled again. Every cable was removed and the hardware rearranged in a better way. Cables were properly routed, labelled, and cable tied, and we simplified the outputs to screens by removing our TESLA SMART HDMI 16×16 video matrix and cabling directly to monitors. The matrix allows us to display anything on any of the 11 monitors onboard – each monitor having at least 2 inputs, so a total of 24 output channels. It would allow us to created multiple “scenes” for different boating scenarios – for example, having all cameras visible when docking, but navigation and sonar when underway.
We discovered the matrix is faulty – it does not accept the complex programming in the way that it should, so the outputs are not where they are supposed to be. We need to return it to TESLA SMART to be repaired or replaced – but for now we decided to get things working in a more simple way and to worry about the multiple scenes later on.
In the absence of the matrix, we now need to use a software tool called DisplayFusion, which controls a multi-monitor environment so we can send the right data to the right screens. The software allows a turnkey system where everything automatically starts up on the right screens when the navigation PC’s are turned on. The software is fairly complex and this falls to me to learn how to do what we need and to write the necessary scripts – a project I have started but not yet mastered. For now, we can manually get what we need – but it’s a bit random as to which screen it appears on 🙂 Work in progress!
Maretron Ships’ Monitoring
For those who aren’t familiar with it, MARETRON is a ships monitoring application designed to monitor the entire boat. There are numerous sensors attached to equipment to monitor performance – fuel consumption of engine and generators, electrical system status, filter blockages, water in fuel, temperatures, how many times the pumps run, bilge high water, smoke and CO alarms …. the list is endless.
The software also presents environmental data to show what is happening with the weather and tides, anchoring, wind, humidity and other general navigation data. There are alert lights, switches and alarms to tell you when something is wrong and the software is fully customisable to your exact needs. All the hardware is installed and sensors are operating – I have to design all the screens and find the data on the network to create the information widgets, configure alarms and parameters to make the data useful. We have got some basic screens operational now, but much more work to do. It’s a very powerful application and one which I’m sure we will be tweaking forever.
Steering and Rudder
We have been sitting totally still since arriving here at the marina. Quite hard to believe that we have not even taken the boat out of the slip! With all the work going on, she is not in a movable state right now – so we are just focussing on getting sorted and we will then need to go for a sea trial and a bunkering exercise to fill up with fuel. The issue with the diesel fuel spillage at the yard means that we have almost no fuel – they only refilled enough in the tanks to make sure we could get to Hong Kong. Apart from the fact that we have to be careful if we need to run generators, it also means the boat is completely out of balance.
We dread thinking about what the hull looks like underneath – the water here is pretty bad, although it is tidal so constantly moving. We started the engine and hydraulics last week so we could turn the props (engine and thrusters) a little bit – that went fine, but what we noticed is that the rudder angle indicator is completely wrong. The pilot-house and the flybridge are showing different readings – and neither of them match with reality. At this point, we don’t know why. Possibly just calibration? Or something else? Until we can take the boat out, we don’t know. We plan to engage a diver to check out under water and to clean the hull and underwater gear before we take the boat out (given the pictures above of what happened the last time!).
The hydraulics need to be calibrated – thrusters are not synchronised properly and our DOCKMATE remote docking system needs to be set up. In addition, we need to do the normal calibration of our auto-pilot. Once we get out of the marina, we need to find a quiet place and follow the calibration patterns – driving the boat in circles one way, then the other, then figures of eight.
But that’s the next step – lets hope it turns out to be straightforward.
Many Minor Issues
Over the last three months there have been many other minor issues which Ed has just solved as they have arisen – or we are waiting to solve with parts from the shipyard or elsewhere:
- The hydraulic passerelle jammed and would not close away – it seems as if the track was not fitted in a perfect straight line and the gangway makes a small judder at the same place, both coming in and going out. Ed cleaned up the tracks and thinks the issue may be due to a protruding screw or excess FRP dust in the way. To be looked at further if the problem persists.
- The coving lighting rope in the saloon has given up totally on portside and there is no light. We need the shipyard to send us a replacement.
- Damage to the wood floors – the floor covering is not fit for purpose, particularly in the galley. It dents and breaks extremely easily from the smallest things dropped. We don’t know what the solution is yet – but definitely we will need a different floor covering for the galley
- Gelcoat blistering has been noted in the Portuguese bridge gate in the heat – we are monitoring this and no solution discussed yet
- Water leaks in the anchor locker when the anchor wash runs
- Guest WC temperamental – making adjustments to the water supply to see if that helps
It may seem like a long list, but every new boat has issues and many only come to light when the boat is operational. We are not unhappy with the outcome so far – we are reserving judgement to see how Jet Tern respond to the things we need their help to solve. For the moment the ball is in our court.
What’s Next for our Boat Life?
We badly want to get out of Hong Kong and get some real cruising. However, there are several harsh realities right now, which we have to live with.
First of all, we are now in the off-season – we cannot cruise right now as we are sitting in the middle of the Western Pacific typhoon season. The typhoons themselves are not the biggest concern – they are visible for days, if not weeks, before they develop fully and can be tracked on numerous web resources. You are just a sitting duck though – if a typhoon comes your way, there is absolutely nothing you can do except secure the yacht as best you can and hope. It’s part of boat life here.
In Hong Kong, there are numerous typhoon shelters which provide the best locations to move to when a typhoon is on its way. Gold Coast marina is one of them – not an official typhoon shelter, but right next door to one. Here there are advanced warning systems from the Hong Kong Observatory – most typhoons are scary but not disasters as long as you do the right things. It is just a matter of luck whether or not there is a direct hit! Our neighbours at the marina have lived aboard here for 20 years and have told us they only had to evacuate on one occasion – for Super Typhoon MANGKUT in 2019 which made a direct hit on Hong Kong. Statistically we hope we’ll be OK and I try not to obsess too much about it – but knowing our luck …… 🙂
It isn’t just full blown typhoons which cause issues – any sort of tropical cyclone system can mean you need to take action. We are currently sitting on the tail end of TS (Tropical Storm) MULAN – this was a huge system which covered most of the South China Sea from the Philippines to China down to Vietnam. It was what they call “disorganised” which means it didn’t have the scary looking black eyewall – winds were only 30 knots at the centre. But ….. the rain it has produced is horrendous, and we’ve spent the last 3 days dodging really heavy thunder and lightning squalls. Out at sea the conditions are not tenable.
The bigger weather issue is the monsoon season – which brings these huge volumes of torrential rain, and in between very high temperatures and high humidity levels. We are advised by the locals that the best time to leave Hong Kong and cross to the Philippines will be during October, when the season shifts from South West monsoon to North East monsoon. Boat life is controlled by the weather and certainly when we look out of the windows most of the time, it is not weather we would want to be cruising in! Having said this, IF we are ready to leave earlier then we will do so – picking the right weather window.
We are still being plagued by health issues for both of us. The medical services here in Hong Kong are outrageously expensive but very good – so as long as our insurers are prepared to cover the cost, it is a good place to get ourselves sorted.
In our update last October, we covered the shock of Ed having a heart attack out of the blue. At that time, I was also having some balance and cognitive issues and after a brain MRI, the specialist’s opinion was that I had recently suffered from a small stroke (lacunar stroke). While not causing any lasting damage, on top of the high levels of anxiety and stress, I was not in a good place and needed time and treatment to “reconnect the neural pathways”. I’m well on the road with that now – but still have some crisis moments when trying to work through a complex task I haven’t done for a while. It can be very frustrating not to be able to get your thoughts in order and this can end up in a melt-down!
Ed’s heart attack had been a wake-up call and we both set about trying to change our lifestyle for the better. Being back together again, things did gradually improve for both of us but Ed is not tolerating all the new medications very well. As somebody who was previously never ill, suddenly he was taking a suitcase of meds every day and his body was reacting to them! At the same time, I had developed lower back pain, sciatica and numb legs which were hampering my ability to get fitter as I could hardly walk. This meant Ed had to take his prescribed daily exercise walk alone most of the time. We were worrying about how these developments were going to impact our plans. It was difficult to imagine boat life in remote locations, in the way we were at that time.
During Ed’s final trip back to Mainland China, he was having continual side-effects from the medications and was feeling really miserable. His heart indicators were all good though – so the meds were doing their job, and he persevered with them. He managed to completely stop smoking and keep up with the changes to his lifetime eating habits. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been able to be quite as successful – but I will get there.
Once he returned to Hong Kong and checked in with the cardiologist, the good news was that his stent was working perfectly. There is no sign of any lasting damage from the heart attack. However, it turned out that he has developed Type 2 Diabetes – a rare but known side-effect of the statin he had been prescribed. He has never had any issues with blood glucose levels in the past. Unfortunately the statin is an essential part of his cardiac treatment for the moment so can’t be stopped.
There are now even more medications on top, with more side-effects, and the dietary changes and monitoring have become critical. He has to monitor his blood glucose several times a day. It is now largely under control for the most part but he has a long way to go before he can stop some of the meds and get himself back to normal. He has lost a lot of weight and is down at least 3 sizes in his shorts/trousers ….. so all the brand new clothes I brought for him from Europe are now in shrink bags unworn 🙂 He is LOOKING good, but not FEELING great some of the time.
And yet another challenge to our boat life
Over the same period, my back and leg pain got considerably worse and I had to start using a stick to walk even very short distances. Strong pain killers were not helping much and I was referred to an orthopaedic specialist who diagnosed spinal stenosis, instability and several other issues with the lower two vertebrae (L4/5 and L5/S1). Basically I had no discs remaining there and my spine had compressed, trapping the nerves. I had steroid treatment as a temporary measure but full on surgery was necessary to solve the problem, which I had in the middle of July. I now have two titanium cages with bone grafts to replace the disks and a titanium bridge structure holding my lower spine together, while the bone will grow back and fuse to support itself again eventually.
We could perhaps have deferred this surgery – but with things getting steadily worse, it was likely I would have been unable to be in charge of the boat on a watch safely. The recovery period is fairly long with 6-12 weeks expected for the initial stage and full recovery more than 6 months. Certainly so far, it has been very painful and there is very little I can do to contribute to getting the boat ready to cruise. There is extra pressure on Ed as well as he is having to care for me.
The plan ….
As long as the Hong Kong immigration services agree to renew our visas each month, we will stay here until such time as the boat is ready and I am fit enough to skipper across to the Philippines – probably some time in October. Given we cannot cruise anyway, it makes little difference if we work on the boat in Hong Kong marina or in Subic Bay – it’s still a marina. Here in Hong Kong, it is easy and cheap to get deliveries of everything needed from the USA or Europe – there is no tax or duty and shipments arrive within 2-3 days without any hassle. Amazon USA even offers free delivery to Hong Kong for orders over $49. Hong Kong itself is extremely expensive for day-to-day living costs, but there is nothing you can do about it.
Once we get to the Philippines, although there will probably be better and cheaper “proper” shops around the old American air base, importing anything we need for the boat will be far more complicated and costly. We are trying to make sure that we have all the parts and equipment we need onboard, with the help of Owen, before we leave.
For now, we are focussing on getting ourselves fit and getting Destiny into a state where she can make the passage over the South China Sea when the favourable weather returns.
Until next time!