"Intrepid to Alaska - 2014
Getting Ready: May 2-11We arrived in Anacortes after our normal and uneventful three day drive north from Arroyo Grande. The tide was low (steep ramp) when we arrived so we only unloaded a few things then opened up the boat and turned on systems. During the winter the tops of the railings and exterior of the doors had been varnished and she had been washed a few days before our arrival. The old girls is looking pretty good.
The big improvement project this year is to install a solar power system on "Intrepid" We had picked up everything but the panels in Flagstaff during our trip south last Fall. The panels had been shipped and were to arrive on the 2nd, like us. Well, we got a notice from the shipper that they would not arrive until the PM of the following Wednesday. OK - we rearranged our schedule and dove in.
There are surprising number of things to do to get ready for a major cruise and we had little time to get it all done. I won't bore you with a list but we both humped pretty hard. On top of all the normal things I began prewiring the boat for the solar install while Rolynn made numerous trips to Costco in Burlington for provisioning. We also had dinner one night at the home of Ki and Terri Worten, our friends from "Banyon" and with Judy Moore and her partner Bill Whittmoore, on another.
We have an appointment to fuel the boat the morning of the 12th, our planned departure date. This involves driving the boat from Anchor Cove Marina, "Intrepid's" home, around the top of Fidalgo Island to Cape Sante Marina, named for the big rock that guards the NE corner of Anacortes. There we will be met by Rusty, the driver of the fuel truck from Reisner's - the local Chevron distributor. Once we begin, fueling takes about an hour what with dragging hoses around and what not. After fueling, we intended to depart directly for our cruise. But, after putting a finer pencil to our schedule we thought we might be able to depart on Friday. So, we changed the fuel appointment to Friday AM under the theory that we might be able to depart Saturday or Sunday if not Friday.
Solar School --
OK class, let's begin. Today we will discuss the theory of solar power on a boat. Yes, Sandy, this will be on the midterm.
Solar panels are essentially electron pumps. (So are batteries) When the sun is upon them they push electrons into the batteries at a higher pressure than the batteries can push them back. The pressure of the electrical flow is the voltage, the electron flow itself is measured in amps and the power produced is the wattage of the panels - about 400 W in this case. (We're using round numbers here.) The panels are at about 50 volts and 8 amps but the batteries can only take about 14 volts - any more and they will overheat. So, between the panels and the batteries there must be a controller. It decreases the voltage to 14 and increases the amperage. (Extra credit - Ohm's Law, Watts = Volts X Amps. So, if the voltage decreases then the amperage increases.) In this way, the 50 volts at 8 amps becomes 14 volts at 28 amps going into the batteries. The controller also prevents the batteries from pushing electrons (discharging) into the panels at night where their energy would dissipate as heat. The controller checks the voltage and temperature of the batteries thousands of times per second, looks at the power available from the panels then directs the maximum, appropriate current to the batteries.
|Controller - Cover Off Before Installing|
The panels weigh only about 45 lbs each but they are clumsy at a little over 5 ft long and nearly 4 feet wide. But, Rolynn and I were able to wrestle them down the dock and onto the roof of the pilot house after I had previously attached the mounts to them. Getting the first one mounted was not so bad but once installed it left little room to maneuver the second into place. But, eventually, we got it done. We then wired the panels to the rest of the system. But, we are under cover (no sun) so we had to wait until later to try things out.
|Solar Panels Installed|
We were back to our slip in Anchor Cove by about noon. Later in the afternoon we finished up more solar wiring and other boat chores. I crawled around in the engine room fixing a bilge pump problem and changing the oil filter on the generator. But, in the process of wiring the solar panels I had to unwire the "Link 10", a device that measures the status of our batteries like voltage, amps coming and going, amp-hr capacity, etc. When I wired it up again I got nothing. No readings, no power, no nothing. I checked fuses, wiring, etc, etc. Still nothing. Its Saturday so I can't call the manufacturer.
Sunday morning we beat feet to West Marine and a bought newer, replacement unit. If I can get the old one working then fine, I can return the replacement. Otherwise I will install the new one some where up stream. We performed final pre-departure tasks and plan to leave for destinations north and west Monday morning. The weather and the currents look good so we will try to make Nanaimo. Its about a 8.5 hr run to Dodd Narrows and slack there is at 15:45. So, if we leave by 07:15 we should make Dodd and then get into Nanaimo Harbor by 16:30.
Departure: Anacortes - Shearwater
Monday, May 12 -- We were off at 07:15, as planned, under clear sky and over smooth seas. We pointed the bow towards Montegue Harbor on Galiano Island where we will clear Canada Customs. We have NEXUS cards which makes us members of the Trusted Traveler Program. (Guess what that makes you?) To get the cards we had to complete paperwork in advance, go to a US CBP office in Seattle by appointment, be interviewed, fingerprinted, eye scanned, anally probed and pay a fee. NEXUS allows us to clear customs by phone. Sometimes they ask us to go to a customs dock and if no one shows up with in 30 minutes we are good to go. That's why we go to Montegue - it's for NEXUS only and there is no customs dock there so we never have to wait. Except this year.
After an hour or two, when the engine was up to temp, I crawled through the engine room looking for anything amiss but there were no runs, drip or errors. I then turned on the solar array while gazing at the remote panel expectantly. Nothing. No lights, no glimmers, no hum, no buzz. Zip. With volt meter in hand I inspected the controller in the lower companion way. Like the remote, there were no lights nor any signs of life. I measured about 50 V output from the panels to the controller. That's good. But the output voltage from the controller to the batteries was only 6.7 volts. Exactly half of what it should be. Hmmm. This is a perfect example of:
Anderson's Third Nautical Law. If you have a problem, there is more than one cause.
There is cable that runs from the controller to the remote. It has RJ-11 jacks on the ends, just like wires to your phone. This cable delivers data from the controller to the remote for display. The cable that came with the unit was about 60 feet long. I only needed about 10 feet so I replaced the long one with a shorter phone cable. Opps! A phone cable only was two wires but the cable that goes with the unit has six wires. Now, for the voltage issue. A 12 volt battery which is fully charged, which ours were since we had just left the dock, needs 13.4 volts of current to maintain its full charge. This is called the "float" charge. What is half of 13.4? 6.7 - the reading I got at the controller. Our battery banks consists of 5 pairs of 6 volt golf cart batteries. Each pair is wired in series to produce a 12 volt battery. The pairs are then wired in parallel to create the entire battery bank. Inspection of the connections I made from the controller to the battery bank revealed that I had wired the positive and negative cables to a single six volt battery - not a pair of them. So, it only produced half the voltage required to operate the controller and its remote. Two causes for one problem. Either one alone would have caused the same symptoms.
We called Canadian Customs about 45 minutes before our ETA at Montegue, per the normal procedure. But the officer who took our call (after 15 min in que) said we had to proceed to the harbor and call from there. When I asked if this was a change in policy since we had always called in advance, as the books say, he said he didn't know where we heard that but we had to go to the harbor to call. OK. Later we pulled into Montegue and called again. The agent asked why we had not called earlier, as required. (Calling early gives the nearest officer a chance to get to your boat, if they feel the need.) I explained that the prior officer chewed me out for calling early and required us to proceed to the harbor. Well, she said, that's not correct. Always call earlier with NEXUS. Go figure.
They ask a number of questions, usually, including how much alcohol we have on board - for taxes and duty. But, since we are in transit to Alaska we are allowed to have as much as we want for personal consumption in "ship's stores". Good deal since the fees come to several hundred dollars.
We were concerned that custom's confusion about their own procedures would make us miss the slack at Dodd - and it did. By two minutes. It seems that tugs with log booms also think that slack is a good time to transit Dodd so we had to wait for one and then squeeze through between it and the next one. Nanaimo Harbor is about 45 minutes north of Dodd and is a very busy place. There is an air harbor so float planes come and go on continually. There are two ferry terminals plus several cargo ships at anchor. Add in tugs towing log booms or barges full of wood chips for the pulp mill. Then there is the little passenger ferry that takes folks from the city dock to the pub on Newcastle Island. Anyway, we dropped the hook at 16:30 and had a gin and tonic. Maybe two.
After libations, I replaced the "phone" cable and moved the battery cable to the adjacent terminal. Flip the switch and, "Bob's Your Uncle" - we're in the solar business.
Tuesday, May 13 - The marine weather report last night promised a good transit of the Straits of Georgia today. We took the hand held VHF to bed and listened to the conditions on the 05:30 report. Still good so we were off by 06:15. We snuck through the channel behind New Castle Island into Departure Bay and turned NW for the 9.5 hr run to Cortes Bay on the Island of the same name. As we lined up for Cortes at the outer harbor buoy I turned on the autopilot the boat immediately began a hard turn to starboard. "What's up with that?" Line up again - switch on the AP again. Turn right again! Hmmm - do I have the wrong way point activated in the computer? No. I looked at the little green boat on the computer screen and it was pointed almost 90 degrees to the port of our intended course. The compass heading on the screen and on the AP also showed about 90 degrees left of what we wanted. So, the AP knows we want to go north but, thinking that we are pointed west, it turns to starboard (east) where it thinks north is. But why? We looked at each other dumbly when Rolynn asked, "What is the only thing we have changed since it worked right yesterday?" "Fixed the solar wiring", I answered. I will tell you more about the solar wiring then, dear readers, you should be able to solve the problem.
Cables (+/-) from the solar panels, along with other wires, snake down a hidden runway through the pilot house to the controller under the washer/dryer in the lower companion way and then into the adjacent engine room. The cable (+ only) that carries the output from the controller goes up the runway to a switch in the pilot house and then back down to the batteries in the engine room. Next to the cable runway is a cabinet where the ship's compass lives happily among the nuts and tortilla chips.
|Pilot House Power Monitors|
[Ten Minute Pause]
Put your pencils down - now! Who can help us with an answer? Bonnie? Roger? Fran? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone?
OK - Electrical current passing through a wire creates a magnetic field. (Remember eighth grade science when you wrapped wires around a nail, attached the wires to a battery and used the nail to pick up paper clips?) Compasses sense magnetic fields. There is both a positive and negative cable from the panels so their magnetic fields cancel each other out. But the controller output cable goes to a switch so it is positive only (no negative to cancel it out) and since it goes up and back down again, its magnetic field is doubled - enough to throw the compass off, if it carries sufficient current. Yesterday the batteries were fully charged so the charging current going by the compass was minimal. But today the batteries are depleted after a night at anchor so the charging current passing the compass (twice) was strong, playing havoc with the compass. As proof, I turned the battery switch off. Presto - the compass corrected itself. The remedy was to remove the cable from the switch and wire it directly to the batteries, away from the compass compartment. With that adventure behind us we happily cruised NW up the straits under sunny skies and over flat seas.
|Winchelsea Island - Area "WG" Control Center|
By about 16:30 we reached quiet Cortes Bay. We BBQed pork cutlets and watched three episodes of "Breaking Bad" before turning in around 20:30.
Wednesday, May 14 - Today, we have to climb the five rapids that separate us from our destination, Forward Harbor at the cusp of Johnstone Straits. Three of the five are grouped together about 3.5 hrs away from Cortes Bay. Dent Island Rapids, is the last and strongest of the threes. Slack there is at 11:00. So, the challenge is to arrive at slack tide at Dent while passing through the two lower rapids a little before slack. Under some tidal circumstances we can ride the tide all the way through the upper two rapids if we catch the lower three just right. But today is not one of those days. After passing the lower rapids we will have to wait for the afternoon slack to pass the upper two.
|Yuculata Rapids at Slack|
Forward Harbor is just around the corner from Whirlpool and we were settled in for the night by 17:00.
Thursday, May 15 - We were under way by 07:15 for our trip up Johnstone Straits. The day was perfect - the straits were dead flat all the way to Havannah Channel where we turned east into the Broughton Archipelago and on to Lagoon Cove, our first stop today. We stopped so that Rolynn could stock the little store there with her books for the season. We chatted with Pat, the manager, and another boat couple. (It was the first pleasure craft we had seen since leaving Anacortes.) Our final destination today is Pierre's at Echo Bay which we are visiting for the same reason. Tomorrow we will stay at Sullivan Bay, only 3-4 hrs away where Rolynn will stock that store, too. We are positioning ourselves to cross Queen Charlotte Sound Saturday or Sunday. Both days look good.
We arrived at Pierre's around 16:00. We were the only boat there. Pierre and Tove are "down island" visiting their kids in Nanaimo. Mike, the year-around second mate is here alone since his wife is in Toronto with a new grand-baby. He invited us to his little float house Friday AM for coffee and we had a nice chat. He is a retired Air Force (Canada) fighter pilot. He and his wife were cruising by in their sail boat about 4 years ago and saw Pierre building docks. Mike offered to help for the afternoon and stayed a month. He came back the following spring and never left. He build the float home himself a couple of years ago. People have interesting stories to tell. You never know.
Friday, May 16 - We arrived at Sullivan Bay around 12:00. Again, we are the only boat here. It looks like we will round the corner to Allison Harbor early tomorrow, Saturday. The wind is supposed to come up some in the PM. Both Sunday and Monday look like good days. 5-15 knots and seas less about 0.5 M. If its especially nice we may go all the way to Shearwater from Allison. That would be about 10 hrs. We'll see.
I'm not sure when I will post this blog. I cannot seem to get this computer to connect to the WiFi here although my other devices are plying nice. Again, we'll see.
Saturday, May 17 - The weather forecast and present conditions for Queen Charlotte Sound are looking good for this morning so we are going to stick our nose out Wells Passage with a mind to go all the way around Cape Caution today rather than stop in Allison Harbor. With favorable tides we should be able to do it in about 9 hours.
As foretold, the conditions were pretty good. We had about a 1.0 swell from the west (our port beam) for about 3 hrs as we rounded the cape but we adjusted our course for the inside of Dugout Rocks and that helped. By 16:00 we anchored in pretty Fury Cove, in the Penrose Island group. Two other boats here. It has a nice sand beach across which we can see into the southern portion of Fitzhugh Sound.
Sunday, May18 - A beautiful day. No wind - Fitzhugh is perfectly flat. Under the theory of "make way when you can" we will skip Pruth Bay and go straight to Shearwater. That will put us two days ahead with the possibility of arriving in Ketchikan five days early. Last time we made this trip we had the diesel stove going very day. This year we haven't started it once. I am sitting in the pilot house, at the dock in Shearwater, with the door open. Its almost 19:00. and its 61 degrees outside. We plan to spend two nights here. There is internet access, Rolynn had some book stuff to do and I have several manly, nautical, maintenance projects to complete.
Monday, May 19 - Rolynn worked on book stuff and did laundry while spent most of the day in the engine room installing the LinkLite battery monitoring system to replace the nonfunctioning Link 10. I finally got all the wire pulled and things hooked up and it appears to be operating properly. The solar system has a monitoring system that tells us some things like battery voltage, and so on. But it only knows about what the solar system is doing. The LinkLite knows what all four charging systems (main engine alternator, generator, shore power and solar) are doing and tells us what percent of our total battery capacity we have used and, therefore, how much charging we have to do.
Later, we had dinner with acquaintances from "Adventure". This is a couple from the Florida Keys who have been living aboard and boating in the PNW for a couple of years. They are headed for Alaska, too, and will winter in Petersburg. Near the end of dinner a gentleman heard us talking about the history of Shearwater and he came over to sit with us. He is Craig Windsten, the owner of Shearwater. His father bought the place in 1946 when it was a navy seaplane base and Craig was eight years old. He bought the business from his father in the 60s and has built it into a multimillion dollar enterprise. We had an interesting talk.
We plan to head to Bottleneck Inlet tomorrow. The weather is supposed to take a turn for the worse on Thursday so we will have to think about where we want to be then.