November 7-9, 2014:
After our racy rendezvous with the Sundowner crew in NOLA we were itching to get back out on our boat. Now that we had our slick solar panels installed and (presumably) working, it was time to take them out for a test run, and what better time than the Pensacola Blue Angels Homecoming Show in November! Several of our boat buddies were planning to get out for it, too, so it was quickly decided we would all get together for a massive raft-up. We were five-deep at the Fort baby!
From left to right:
1. s/v Edelweiss, a well-kept 34′ Sabre, is often packed to the brim with the Armanis — two veterinarians with (now) three little ones in tow. Did anyone call for a doctor?
2. s/v WindWalker, a 38′ Morgan, belongs to our trusted diesel engine mechanic, Johnny Walker (yes, that’s really his name, feel free to make all the associated Jim Bean, Jack Daniels jokes you’d like – he’s used to it), and his beautiful wife, Cindy. (While this is my absolute favorite picture of Johnny and Cindy, don’t doubt it, rain, shine or cold – these two are always smiling!)
3. 5 O’Clock, a 45′ Gulfstar, being the largest boat in the bunch often plays the role of “mothership” and is Captained by the only and only (you know this guy, he’s practically a celebrity in our world), Bottom-Job Brandon! His rocking wife Christine and their (now) two little salty sailors round out the Hall crew.
4. s/v Plaintiff’s Rest and it’s fine-looking crew need no introduction, really. Admit it, it’s only the best-looking boat in the bunch.
5. And, last but certainly not least, s/v Pan Dragon, a classic 36′ Pearson, is the pride and joy of our Broker-turned-Boat Buddy, Kevin, along with his incredibly entertaining wife, Laura, and their (now) two little ones seen here doing what they love to do — just “hang around” on the boat.
I will say Phillip and I are exceptionally lucky to have fallen into such a fine group of sailing comrades when we purchased our boat back in 2013. All of these Captains are sharp, talented sailors, each with a different area of expertise and each having proven their willingness time and again to help us out when we’ve found ourselves faced with a difficult boat project, and vice versa. It’s also great to see the lot of them (which with all of the “nows” you might have recognized has recently grown – three new additions in 2015 alone!) get their boats out just about every weekend they are able with the whole crawling/cradle crew in tow. I wouldn’t trust myself to keep a potted plant alive on the boat and here they bring their actual living, breathing, arms-and-legs munchkins aboard and show us all it can (and should) be done. Families can cruise too. They’re really impressive.
Having all five of us lined up for this phenomenal weekend was a pretty epic feat. But, when the Blue Angels come home, folks in Pensacola tend to get together for the event. And, because the Blue Angels fly over their home base, the Pensacola Naval Air Station, for the homecoming show, we knew we would be right under the flight path anchored out near Ft. McRae.
Here comes one now! Zzzwweeehhhhh!
See? They flew right over us! I kept trying to snap a cool shot of them coming by the boat but they kept breaking up, zipping around, looping and coming out of nowhere. Those suckers are fast! (And loud.)
After about 84 missed shots (give or take), I finally caught them right where I wanted them. Just overhead. Check out the money shot! BOOM.
Hull No. 193, baby! That’s us! It looks like they’re only 20 feet above our mast. While I can assure you, they are much higher, it doesn’t sound or feel like it when you’re watching them zip overhead. Zwweeehhhh!!
(Thank (and like) the Blue Angels Facebook team for the wicked pics!)
The show was jaw-dropping. “Hold on to your drink, Cap’n!”
First Mate rockin’ the rubbers!
They even put on an evening show (which they had not done in years) at the Naval Air Station. We could catch glimpses of it (and hear the roar of the flaming big rig) from our boats.
In all, it was an incredible weekend spent out on the boat with an amazing group of friends.
And, best of all, the solar panels performed beautifully. While we felt good about the Velcro adhesion, just to be safe I had taken some time back at the dock to manually stitch the panels on through their corner grommets with some green sail twine.
You can see it on the corners here:
Those flat little panels were expensive! While it was highly unlikely, I wasn’t going to risk them flying off in some heavy winds. They also proved extremely productive during our weekend out, pumping in (just about as we had expected) approximately 8 amps/hour.
It was truly gratifying to watch our amp hours go DOWN during the day. We were definitely pleased with the input and thrilled with the results of a long and tedious project. Life was good … for a brief moment. I swear that dern boat likes to toy with us sometimes. Right when you think everything is running smoothly and everything about boating is awesome, the boat likes to throw a little wrench in things just to, you know, keep you guessing. After our amazing weekend out on the boat, we woke Sunday to an awe-inspiring sky, sipped on coffee and decided we would ease the anchor up about mid-morning to enjoy a beautiful sail home.
That was the plan anyway, until we tried to crank the engine and ——— Nothing, nada, flat line. We couldn’t even get a click to turn the glow plugs on. Our starting battery was completely dead. The boat seemed to think it was funny.
It’s not funny, boat.
Luckily, on our boat, we can flip a switch to combine the house batteries with the starting battery, in situations like this, to pull from the house bank in order to crank the engine. It’s not really good for the house batteries because they’re intended primarily for deep cycle use, but if you’ve got to crank, you’ve got to crank. So, that’s what we did, and she started right up, which was a good sign. That meant it wasn’t an engine problem just a battery problem, but it was still baffling. What gives, boat?
Thankfully, we had a whole host of boat friends nearby to help us run through some things and troubleshoot. Assuming our starting battery was still good (which, being only a year old, it was pretty safe to assume it was) the primary difference was the solar panels. Once installed, they were essentially “on” all the time. Meaning, any time they panels were in the sunlight, they were pumping in juice. While the MPPT charge controllers regulate the influx of power to make sure the house batteries do not get overwhelmed by the solar input, one option kicked around the group was the possibility that the solar input may have overwhelmed the alternator and caused it not to re-charge the starting battery while we were motoring over to the Fort on Friday.
Back home, we took the starting battery the following week to several different Auto Zone type places to have it tested, and each time it passed with flying colors. The battery was good. That left the panels. We decided to install switches under the aft locker next to the MPPT charge controllers to allow us to turn the panels off when we were running under engine power so as not to confuse the alternator and allow our starting battery to re-charge.
It was a pretty simple job and (we hoped) would be a pretty easy fix to our crank problem. The next couple of times she cranked fine, and we were sure to turn the panels off when we were under motor and turn them back on again once we killed the engine if we wanted solar input. Life was good again. Until …
Yes, again. Such are the joys of owning a boat. Seemingly randomly, after several times cranking without incident, the minute we had some family in town and invited them out on the boat for a beautiful, brisk day sail, she wouldn’t crank. It was clear we
had a serious boat battery mystery to solve. And, I swear the boat thought it was funny.
It’s not funny, boat.
Captain Sherlock and I were hot on the case. It simply had to be “elementary.”
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