Category: Boat projects

Decalcifying the water system with citric acid

Five Senses was built in 2004 and we sailed her since 2016. Since then, we uprgraded our water pump to a higher flow device, we installed an additional water outlet at the front of the deck, a land-water connection has been build at the stern and of course we try to keep the tanks and the entire water system clean through annual cleaning and ongoing maintainance.

Part of these efforts is regular descaling and desinfection. There are numerous industrial products available for such purposes. For 3 tanks of 240 litres, the cost for all of this can be considerable. And with some of the available products success has been modest and not worth the spend. So I thought I would share this year's experience of a new approach to decalcify our water system with lime acid.

I had read about the usage of lime acid for such a purpose, so I gave it a try this spring. Some words about price difference: Industrial descalist for tanks are about 15 euros per 100 litres of tank volume (0.5 kg of granules); Lemon citric comes at approx 6 Euros per 1 kg. Vinegar acid should not be used because it attacks too much the various rubber seals. That's why I got 2 kg of food quality citric acid per tank this year. Saving me about 50% of what I have spent so far for descaling.

Filling in is quite hassle-free. However, the crystallized acid must be flooded into the tanks under constant water flow, otherwise thick lumps can quickly build clots. After filling all the water containers, I let the "broth" act 24 hours before I started disposing of the tank contents again. I was pretty suprised about the result at the end:  Especially after a short cruise with some swell it seems not only the the lime had been solved, but also vigorously shaken so that a milky soup came from all the taps. Per tank I had to clean the filters at least 4-5 times and also the finer filter directly on the pump had to be flushed several times.

I ensured that all containers, screens and pipes were also thoroughly rinsed with clear water. I had never achieved such a result before. I had no idea how much lime we had carried around with our ship. Whether these deposits came mainly from the tanks, or whether the hot water boiler in particular has given up its contents, I cannot say, of course. But in the fall, I repeat the procedure for sure. Can you share your experiences here? I would be very interested in reactions and experiences. Thank you!

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The end of the PDLC project

This is how the PDLC film looks after a few winter months. I had installed it back in December. The film is totally stiff, it does not adhere to the plexi-glass bottom any more. Not sure if the extreme of temperatures destroyed is, or, if the UV-rays damaged the various layers of film. In any case, the PDLC film is in such a bad condition that there is no hope of refurbishing it in any way. Therefore, I consider this as a total loss. Let me know if anyone of you were more sucessful.

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Comparison of various energy sources

On Five Senses, the main source of energy so far has been the shore power connection. While cruising, I had relied on the alternator of the ship's diesel as an additioal source. What a mistake! Equipped with lead acid batteries (4 x 100 Ah), the alternator only fed in electricity for a few hours a day. However, lead acid batteries require long charging times to really reach their full capacity. Also, the manufacturer's specifications of older alternators are not really correct in terms of their output. Low RPM of the engine, unfavourable temperatures during summer time and contribut to a lot of power loss. Jason Wynn measured his charge current and posted a video. At idle he achieved 25A, at 2000 RPMs it was a maximum of 28A. I'm afraid our setup will hardly deliver better values. This means that neither the charging current nor the charging time on board the Five Senses have been sufficient to provide us with sustainable energy. Season 2019 will be different!

Alternator: New generations of alternators achieve higher charging currents even at lower speeds/RPMs. You can also mount a second device on the ship's diesel. If you have electricity storage that can be charged quickly, 1-2 engine hours a day are sometimes enough to replenish your energy reserves. I definitely don't want to install a generator with another fuel engine, because that would entail maintenance costs, etc. and also means weight and noise on board. The idea of ​​sustainability and environmental protection naturally also come into play. Even if an additional alternator costs a little engine power for me a clear go.

Hydrogenerator: This technology has developed rapidly in recent years. If cruising at sufficient speed, a propeller-driven generator rotates and thus supplies energy. The additional water resistance is negligible. For our main cruising area, the upper Adriatic, I don't think such a solution is ideal, since in summer we usually sail under light wind conditions. Together with the start-up costs, this is not a perfect solution for me, even if the technology overall makes a lot of sense to me. The crew of "Sailing 7 Seas" had a completely different idea. The ship's diesel was exchanged for an electric motor, which now also recuperates electricity while sailing. Cool idea!

Wind generator: Again, new developments have brought good improvements. Annoying wind noise and vibrations are becoming a matter of the past. The advantage of a wind generator is undoubtedly that it also works at night as long as there is enough wind. The charging currents at 3-5 beaufort are considerable and such a solution is certainly one of the choices for longer passages. The cost / income ratio for wind generators is cost! Maybe later for the Atlantic crossing 😉

Solar power: Solar cells have seen several steps-up in technology in recent years. In addition to fixed / rigid installations, there are now also flexible panels. Although they seem to have a shorter lifespan, there is progress here too. An Italian manufacturer produces their panels without the vulnerable soldering points and has redundant wiring, which means that the flexible solar panels remain functional for a much longer time. In addition, such a panel only has a maximum of 2.5 kg. A second problem was shadowing. If even small areas or single cells were covered, the charging performance dropped rapidly. A horror on a sailboat with large "shaded areas". New, intelligent charge controllers can now master this challenge much better. And we have enough space on deck, so again: "green light!"

Fuel cell: For some years now, fuel cells run with alcohol have been able to produce energy. The charging capacity can be almost completely automated via programmable relays. As long as you have enough alcohol (usable for this device!) on board, you won't run out of electricity. This still very young technology is relatively expensive compared to other energy sources on board and I don't imagine constantly lugging around the canisters. So I'm waiting here for a few more years for further developments.

In addition to new energy storage, I will plan for solar fields and an additional alternator this year. I discussed the connection diagram in a Facebook group (Solar on a boat!) And received a lot of interesting feedback. So now it's time for detailed planning!


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How to calculate power consumption on a sail-boat

Before deciding about your prefered way of storing electricity on board, a few things need to be considered: you have to estimate your power consumption and therefore know the necessary storage capacity. You have to know the specifications of your power sources such as how much power is provided, for how long they are available (wind vs solar vs alternator/generator) - how they charge and then of course such smaller things like how much space you have on your boat and of course cost.
As I want to renew the entire engery and storage system on our Five Senses, I did all these evaluations myself. Here I am sharing one of the steps taken: the calculation of power consumption.

All of this is clearly no rocket science: device list, power consumption (in watts or kilowatts), estimate how long the devices are operated in 24 hours (in hours) and then calculation of the consumption in ampere hours (Ah) taking into account your electrical system voltage. However, there are several different units used, so you might have to do some calculation. Here is an example table to show you how to do that:

LED lighting salon and cabins: 50 watts (rough estimate)
Operating time per 24 hours: 4 hours (estimated)
Daily consumption in kilowatt hours: (50/1000) * 4 = 0.2 kWh
We are using a 12 volts system
Conversion to Ah: 50 watts / 12 volts * 4 operating hours = 16.67 Ah

With the kWh and the Ah you are able to estimate your consumption per day. Usually, this includes on-board and navigation lights, electrical devices (hair dryer, laptop, coffee maker), navigation devices such as GPS and plotter including radar and autopilot, cooling boxes / fridge and freezer. This is the sum of your average, estimated consumption in 24 hours. It is obvious that an air conditioning system can hardly be powered by battery power. The navigation electronics created a bit of a surprise to me. Each device does not need a lot of electricity, but in total and over the sailing day and the many hours, there is a lot of overall consumption.

To estimate the battery storage capacity you need, you have to know the answers to these two questions:

How long has my stored electricity to last before I can recharge?
What kind of power storage = which type of battery do I want to use?

The first question is rather easy: This is heavily depending on your crusing plan and how long you are planning to stay off grid. Depending on where you sail, choices shoudl be made on energy sources. I collected some information and put this into another blog post to compare pro's and con's of the various alternatives.

For the second question again some background info is helpful: i.e. conventional lead acid batteries supply about 50% of their total capacity, lithium ion batteries can provide up to 80 or 90% of their storage capacity without being damaged. There are various other alternatives available and all come with their very individual specifications. Make sure you know what you need before buying any new batteries.

For our Five Senses (a 49 foot yacht in the Mediterranean and most frequently used during the day and somtimes during night), I calculated a daily consumption of around 330 Ah, or around 4 kWh. For LiIon batteries one can expect 80% of their capacity to become available, which translates into 412 Ah or almost 5 kWh of capacity per storage day. We currently have 400 Ah lead-acid batteries on board, so we are missing 130 Ah when 50% is removed, or in other words: after 14 hours without any charge, all power run devices are down.  330 Ah is a conservative calculation and an average, the power sometimes lasted longer, mainly because we also use the ship's diesel for docking and anchoring. But after a night at anchor, the batteries were mostly empty ...

Conclusion: new energy storage and energy sources are needed! Stay tuned ...

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Start der Saison 2019

We bought Five Senses June 2016 to then pick her up in Croatia the following October. Since then she has found a new home in the Marina Punta Gabbiani in Italy. I truly believe that with a boat it is the same as with a home on land: first you need to discover and put all the functional stuff in, but over time you really want to know the details and then develop and upgrade those step by step. And this is how I also plan maintainance and upgrades for the boat - step by step. Also because of the financial implications.

2017 was the year of the large scale changes, the teak deck had to be renewed, I ordered new sails and included a code zero (rigg adaptations were necessary) and some of the electronics, like the plotter had to go. Also the through hull fittings and sea cocks had to be replaced.

2018 the underwater paint had to be renewed and also new phrophylaxis against osmosis was due. A really great side effect was that this gained us 1 to 1.5 additional knots of speed in average. Furthermore we renewed the sprayhood and bimini and changed the color from deep blue to light grey. And we added some comfort via installing a freezer and of course our air-condition. On the safety side we renewed all the natural gas equipment, including the stove and oven.

2019 now is the year of refitting some of the instruments, making upgrades to the wooden pieces of the interior and renew energy production, storage and output. We also thought of renewing the cockpit cushions and I have started to install more of red light sources to equip us for night cruises. And not to forget, I started to install a smart glass film on my companion way door hatch.

Looking from the out-side

So the next posts will focus on the plans and also the execution of those plans in terms of upgrades, improvements or simple maintainance.

Last but not least, I started an instagram account to share more photos and to increase speed of posting. So if you are interested to see more pics feel free to subscribe - and like or comment! I appreciate to see your thoughts or responses.
Fair winds for all for you in 2019 and have a great saison!!


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