Category Archives: Captains Corner


Our path south to the Bahamas takes us against the prevailing winds which tend to blow from the south east up the East Coast of the USA. To make our schedule we need to use the diesel engine more than we would like.

To keep our trusty thirty five horsepower Yanmar 3HM35F diesel engine running smoothly, I change the primary fuel filter monthly. Our primary fuel filter keeps the water and gunk out of our secondary fuel filter. The secondary fuel filter is a Yanmar part which both harder to replace and only available from Yanmar dealers. Our primary fuel filter is a Racor 500FG with a 30 micron filter. In the US you can pick up Racor filters in almost every marine supply store.


Racor 500FG fuel filter assembly

Usually when I replace the Racor filter I prime the filter with diesel to prevent air getting into the fuel system. On Wednesday I skipped this step because it looked like the Racor’s bowl and plenty of diesel in it. Frankie was close on hand and I was trying to save time.  So on Thursday when we powered up the engine in preparation to move to Spa Creek for the Annapolis Boat Show staff party it ran beautifully for about thirty seconds before shuddering to a stop.

Most day to day problems with diesel engines can be traced to fuel supply. In this case, I knew immediately the probem was air in the fuel lines because I knew I had taken a dumb shortcut when changing the Racor filter. My first opportunity to bleed our engine! I was kind of excited because bleeding your engine for the first time is a rite of passage for crusing “sailors”.

Mary and I have known since we left Duluth that we needed to know how to bleed our engine.  I had done some maintenance work on the diesel engines in heavy machinery and trucks while working in the Northern Territory of Australia in the mid 1990s and had a vague idea of what to do. I had owned a 1950s Farmall M tractor in Minnesota.  I had also watched lots of Youtube videos of people bleeding diesel engines on sailboats. How hard could it be?

I started by priming the Racor filter.  I then tried turning the engine over. No luck.

The second step was to  push air out of the fuel line to the secondary filter. There is a handly little manual lift pump on the side of the engine:


Manual lift pump

I moved the lever on the lift pump up and down to pump diesel through the lines. I slightlly loosened the bleed screw on the secondary filter.


Bleed screw on secondary fuel filter



Bubbles came out, confirming there was air in the fuel lines. But I was getting impatient with the little lift pump. Our engine has an electric lift pump to draw diesel out of the fuel tank up to the engine so I turned the engine over to get some fuel pumping through the lines.


Electric lift pump

Diesel squirted out of the bleed screw. Great. Tightened up the bleed screw and turned over the engine again. No luck. Bummer.

The next step was to bleed the injection pump.

Bleed screw on injection pump

Bleed screw on injection pump

I loosened the bleed screw. This time I  just turned over the engine until diesel squirted out of the bleed screw. I then tightened the bleed screw. Turned over the engine and it leapt into action.

Cheers and high fives all round.


Going Big

(Warning: Math!!)

Most cruising sailboats run on the same type of electrical circuits as cars – 12 volts. They have batteries to store the electricity (yes, they look just like car batteries) and they generate electricity using the engine, solar cells and wind turbines.

Sailors can guesstimate how much power they need if they know how many amps each electrical device uses. Sometimes the number of amps is stamped on the device and other times it is given as “watts”. Since watts = amps x volts, you can get the amperage draw on a 12V circuit by dividing watts by 12. The sticker on our Group 27 deep cycle battery says it can output 23 Amps for 200 Minutes. So it can store:
23 Amps x 200 minutes / 60 minutes/hour = 76 Amp hours.

Our daily power usage looks like this:
LED anchor light 2W x 12 hours = 2W/12V x 12 hours = 2 Amp hours
Engel Fridge (on low) = 1 Amp x 24 hours = 24 Amp hours
Shane’s Laptop = 90W/12V x 4 hours = 30 Amp hours
LED lights = 4 x 0.5W/12V x 5 hours = 0.8 Amp hours
Fans = 3 x 0.5A x 6 hours = 9 Amp hours
Android and iPad = 3 x 0.5A x 4 hours – 6 Amp hours
LPG Gas controller = 1 x 1A x 3 hours = 3 Amp hours
WiFi antenna and router = 0.5A x 12 hours = 6 Amp hours
Total = 81 Amp hours

We run the Garmin GPSMAP 740S GPS Chartplotter (about 0.75A) while under way but this is compensated by other systems not used much underway – WiFi, fans, laptop.

Assuming our 190W solar array averages half it’s capacity for 12 hours on a sunny day we produce:
85W x 12 hours/12 volts = 85 Amp hours


So in short, our power usage drains one battery per day and on a sunny day our solar array refills one battery.

Up until today, we only had two deep cycle batteries. Our SunSaver Duo solar controller (the device with regulates the power coming out of the solar array) was set to distribute the power equally between the two batteries. Every morning I would switch the batteries. The idea was to hope the solar would cope with the daytime usage and the battery would still be full charged in the evening.

With this setup I was finding we would end up with the resting battery at full charge by mid afternoon and the battery in use only at about 75% charge. From mid-afternoon until night time the 50% of the solar generation was being wasted because the battery at rest could not take more charge. By morning, the battery in use would be down to 25-50%. Since deep cycle batteries prefer to only be discharged to 40-50% we were killing our batteries slowly. This also meant if we woke up to a rainy day we would need to run the noisy engine to generate power.

My conclusion – we have enough power production but our storage capacity was inadequate efficiently store it. Similar problem with battery charging. Each battery cannot absorb more than 120W (10A at 12V). Our alternator can generate up to 30 Amps, so 20 Amps is wasted if one battery is already full.

The solution: go big.


Today I replaced one of the Group 27 marine batteries with three Group 24 batteries in parallel. This will now be our “house” battery bank. The Group 24 batteries can output 23 Amps for 150 Minutes. So the battery bank can generate:
3 x 23 Amps x 150 minutes / 60 minutes/hour = 172 Amp hours.
Just as importantly, there will be enough capacity in the batter bank to consume all our our energy production. Our maximum energy production is 30 Amp hours/hour (Engine) + 10 Amp hours/hour (Solar) = 40 Amp hours/hour. With four batteries (three new plus one old) we can now absorb 4 x 10 Amp hours/hour = 40 Amp hours/hour.

I changed the solar controller to 90/10, which means 90% of solar power generated will be directed to “house” battery bank. We will use primarily, resting it about one day every two weeks.

Next… more power generation. Just kidding. The trick is to keep our power consumption at a minimum. It is easy to see how sailors get stuck in a vicious cycle – more power usage -> more power generation -> more power storage -> more power usage -> more power generation -> more power storage… and soon their boats start looking like space stations!

Laundry day

We do our laundry every week or so. I like doing the laundry at a laundromat rather than a marina because there tends to be better access to laundry machines and the quarters needed to operate them. Today I took Franklin on the the 1.5 mile walk to the laundromat today only to find every single machine full. Note to self, do laundry on weekdays. The pram (stroller) works for groceries, supplies, beer , little boys and sometimes a bit of everything!

Haswell might change my life

Over the last five months we have been gradually eliminating our power hogs and growing our power generation capabilities. As long as it is not rainy for days on end, we can run the boat at anchor without any fossil fuels indefinitely with just 190W of solar and two deep cycle lead acid batteries.

Our last big power hog is the laptop, which on our boat is essential because it is the income generator. There is some really good information on the Internet about laptop power usage. Here is a great article:

And a more scientific one:…=rep1&type=pdf

In short, if you are using your laptop (as opposed to letting it idle with the screen on) then then biggest battery killer is the CPU.

I already use a DC to DC power supply so the best way for me to extend my battery life is to throttle the CPU. To do this I simply go into my power settings and change the maximum processor state to 50%.

So why is Haswell going to change my life? The energy efficiency of CPUs in laptops has not been significantly improved in several years. Haswell is the code name of a new processor from Intel that cuts energy consumption by 50%.

The first Haswell laptops are being released now. There should be a good range of Haswell based laptops on the market by the holiday shopping season. I am hoping buying a Haswell based laptop is going to change my life!

More US CBP confusion

Shortly after arriving in Annapolis the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) office in Baltimore called and left a message on my cell phone.

The Annapolis Harbor pumpout boat took my cell phone number ostensibly for pumpouts. They must have reported us to the CBP because we shortly thereafter received a call from the CBP.

The CBP has been a constant source of angst and confusion on this trip. Every CBP office interprets the rules differently so every time we move to a new area we are expected to comply with a new set of rules. Worst yet, it is difficult to find out what the rules are.

Our situation in Annapolis is a good illustration. We called the Baltimore office when we entered this area almost a month ago because we knew we had entered a new customs area. We were given a general number to call and the operator had no idea what to do with us.

After we talked to several people we were usually sent into the yachts voicemail and asked to leave a message with our phone number. We never received a call back.

When we do talk to somebody we are told we did not need to call in the first place because our boat had never left US waters…. but if we don’t call they come looking for us. If are not in compliance we could face a $5000 fine and seizure of our boat.


For the last month we have had one of the most dangerous things a sailor could have on a boat – a schedule. We need to be in Annapolis on Friday, September 27th for the start of the job at the boat shows.

We planned on being ready to leave Deltaville on Friday, September, 20th so we would have a big enough weather window to find two days of favorable breezes needed to sail to Annapolis. On Saturday, we made a nice downwind run from Deltaville to Solomons Island, a little more than halfway to Annapolis. But since Saturday night the wind has been dead on the nose for the next leg of the trip to Annapolis.

There are two weather models we have bee watching since leaving Duluth: GFS (Global Forecast System) and NAM (North American Model) via GFS was the more reliable from Lake Superior to Cape May, but in the Chesapeake NAM seems to have become more reliable. This may be because NAM is a higher definition model, ie: it gives more detail for smaller areas. For more discussion on the models see



Both models predict unfavorable conditions for sailing to Annapolis by Friday, so we are resigned to a 40 mile motor. But how unfavorable is it going to be today? The GFS model predicts conditions moderating early today with light winds later in the day. The NAM mode predicts conditions moderating late tonight.

Our schedule pushes us towards betting on the GFS model, even though we know that probably is not a great idea and we will probably be motoring into a cold north wind. But the crab boats are going out this morning for the first time in a few days… maybe that is a good sign? Oh well, the sun is coming up, time to get out into the bay and find out!

Small town, big boating scene

Sea Change's makeover  - a coat of primer going on.on_the_hardDeltaville, VA is a small town with a big boating community. The permanent population of the town is one thousand but there are up to two thousand boats, a West Marine, several canvas shops and at least a dozen marinas and boat yards.

All this work means we have a little extra money to spend on home improvements.We have been on the hard at Chesapeake Boat Works the since last Monday so do some maintenance and improvements on the boat. Our fixed monthly income covers our living expenses, but the money for maintenance and improvements comes from additional work we do every month. This month I have been busy with Farm Show and SpEd Forms programming. Starting on September 27th, Mary will be spending three weeks working at the Annapolis boat shows.

  • At the top of the list was a “bimini”. A bimini is a shade for the cockpit which makes life on board the boat a lot more bearable. We had thought we might be able to make one ourseleves, but find it can be almost impossible to get a project like this done with a three year old aboard while also trying to get consulting work done. We have handed the job onto Ship’s Tailor, a Deltaville cavas shop.
  • Fans. I purchased three expensive Hella boat fans almost a month ago and finally had time to install them. Their flmisy plastic construction is a disappointment, but their low power consumption is not.
  • Another solar panel. Since leaving Duluth we have added several power hungry “neccessities”. Our 85W solar panel can no longer keep up.  At anchor we have been finding we need to run the engine every two or three days to keep our batteries charged. Our new solar panel doubles our solar capacity to 190W which should be adequate for our needs… for now.
  • Paint job. Our topside paint was so oxidized, faded and splotchy we felt our home needed some brightening. I found a boatyard (Chesapeake Boat Works) which would let me do all the prep work and then spray the boat for me. Like all paint jobs, prep is most of the work so I maanged to cut the cost of a paint job from about $6000 to $2200.

The boat primer was applied yesterday. I will sand the primer one more time before the final coats are applied. We hope to have the final coats applied on Monday and the boat back in the water next Friday.

Sailor-readers of this blog read through the list and notice none of the improvements actually make our boat more seaworthy. This time around we have been spending money on cosmetics and creature comforts. But in their own way, the cosmetics and creature comforts do make the boat more seaworthy. A happy crew is a safer crew, and more power will help me get more programming work done which in turn allow us to spend money on improvements that do make the boat more seaworthy.  That’s my story and I am sticking to it.:)