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Old 19-11-2008, 12:17   #1
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I could use some advice.

Iíve posted this here because the topic seems to range over several categories. If it needs to be moved, I certainly understand.

Normally, when a boat is purchased used, there is a good amount of pre-existing systems in it. The new owner can gut it and work everything new, but usually the desire is to conserve cash and upgrade just a few systems or just simply make do. I donít have choice so I have to put in pretty much all of my systems. Iíve been chipping away at this for while with mixed results.

I used to think what appeared to be the big problem, power system and electronics, actually was the big problem. But now I think it has more to do with a more complex set of issues such as Time (I want to be finished by next June or July with a fall back of December), Project management (I will be farming out a good deal of the work and will rely on photos of competed work) and, most importantly, intended use for the short to medium term. That last one is bit vague so let me clarify since it's the area I'm seeking advice on.

The goal is to circumnavigate starting in another three years with minimal time at dock (due to the width of a trimaran). Now, I suspect this will get pushed back due to economic considerations and I'll have to work a bit to generate the funds in the mean time, so no two months of cruising at a pop. I could get in maybe three to five weeks a year until then. So rigging for long term cruising right now seems to be pretty much pointless unless I want to commit current technology with a possible last minute refresh of things such as batteries, if needed.

My question is how much to install now.

Iím loathe to put in a diesel engine (currently there is an outboard which should be currently sufficient) when a dieselĖelectric system may be the better choice in a few years. I think NMEA 2000 as a bus will be around for several years, but we've seen sexy new 3d and hi-def displays in just the last month. Its hard to say what we'll see in next few years. While things like these aren't required, I think that may be a good argument for waiting a bit, as is the fact I donít usually like to be the guinea pig (lab rat, thatís a different story). And, compounding this whole thing are things like A/C, hot water, comms and therefore battery sizing.

I know the basics Ö build a spreadsheet for projected power use to size batteries, but beyond that, this gets so complex so quickly I find I am ending up with paralysis of analysis. Fortunately I have until February to get a decent plan. After that, itís game time.

So, if you have something to say, Iím listening. Oh, and thanks.



The sea is always beautiful, sometimes mysterious and, on occasions, frighteningly powerful.
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Old 19-11-2008, 12:44   #2
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Lots of good NMEA 0183 electronics available second hand, well proven and cheap, anything new takes a while for bugs to surface

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Old 19-11-2008, 13:00   #3
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Wait for the latest solar panels. You have the ideal situation for maximum use of panels. Lots of places to put them. A good wind generator, and I wouldn't get too fancy with systems, and especially electronics.

The most important basics such as ground tackle, variety of sails, water catchment system, foot pumps fresh & salt. I would work on getting the best in the basics, and then work on the stuff that makes things easy. A water maker is not a necessity. It makes things easier is my kind of thinking.

Fortunately for me the previous owner had EVERYTHING on the boat, and until today it all works...........i2f
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Old 19-11-2008, 13:24   #4
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Maren, efficient, proven diesel/electric powerplants may be affordable and readily available in a few years, but I doubt it. If you believe that you will eventually need something more than your outboard and have the funds to do it now, I would say 'Go for it', and install a diesel. It would allow you to install high-output alternators from the get-go. Further, since the weight of the diesel/transmission (or saildrive) are going to effect the trim of the boat, it will eventually impact on not only your waterline, but likely on battery placement, etc.

As to electronics, if you feel that you have to be state of the art, then put off the purchases. On the other hand, as has already been pointed out, there are some good deals to be had in effective and reliable NMEA 0183 electronics that should suit your purposes now and for the forseeable future. Furthermore, you can get your system designed and installed now and then have ample time to get the bugs worked out - and have ample time to develope the necessary experience with it, well before you depart on your intended circumnavigation.

Finally, in my experience putting off the inevitable in a boat is seldom the wisest course. Each job leads to another, often unseen one - and that leads not only to increased expenditures, but tiime estimates that are almost invariably optimistic. Yes, new technology will be coming out in the next several years (although with the downturn in the world's economy, I suspect that there will be less sales of marine electronics and hence, less money for companies to invest in R&D). On the other hand, I suspect that the downturn in demand will likely lead to better prices now than in the future.

Money (and time) are always issues, but I say the more you can afford to do now, the better.

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Old 19-11-2008, 16:37   #5
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Avoid the latest Electronics, even if the mfr's say they will interface, they may not. Case in point just read Nigel Calder's report on his new boat with all the faancy systems.... Offloading work is very hard. Hard to find people period, harder yet to find conscientious people, each boat is different and the best laid plans need to be modified on the job, etc.
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Old 19-11-2008, 22:54   #6
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my opinionatedness

Primary systems of concern which will not undergo fundamental changes in 3-5 years
  • Primary propulsion: sails and rig
  • Auxiliary propulsion: inboard engine
  • Plumbing generically
  • Food storage
  • Food preparation
  • GPS navigation
  • Hull/deck
  • Life raft/auxiliary craft (dinghy, &c)
  • Safety gear (pfds, harness/tether, first aid equ.)
  • Household goods/clothing/books
Secondary systems which might undergo fundamental changes in 3-5 years, but not likely enough to be worth worrying about if you're purchasing a used vessel (iow: you should not be bleading edge enough to be worried)
  • Electrical production and storage
  • Primary instrumentation - depth, speed/log, wind speed/direction, compass
  • Environmental (heating/cooling, de/humidifier)
  • Water purification
  • Sewage treatment/storage
  • Primary radio communications (VHF, SSB, HAM, cell phone)
  • Secondary emergency radio communications (epirb)
Secondary systems which are darned likely to undergo changes in 3-5 years, which are all non-essential but probably useful, and which you may wish to delay purchasing until closer to departure
There's almost nothing you need to put off, and even those you can start planning what needs to be gotten when. On the other hand, these lists are a crude way of prioritizing what you need to do/focus on.

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Old 19-11-2008, 23:22   #7
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My theory has become to buy the boat that has most of what you want already on it..because piecing togather systems is expencive.

Think about it ...Have you priced out winches latly? up grade all of mine and add additional ones I what would cost 1/4th what I paid for a compleat 41 foot boat in the first place..its ridiculous... and my main argument against trying to save/rebuild a derelict boat for thoes so inclined to do so.

End of rant
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Old 20-11-2008, 01:31   #8
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My advice would be to focus on the basics for the moment, and buy the best you can afford. A strong rig will last 10 years, good deck hardware much longer. You don't need any fancy systems to sail the boat.

A year or so before you're ready to circumnavigate, you can review the progress of technology and decide on what extras you want for your trip.

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Old 20-11-2008, 02:38   #9
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Think well of what technology you really need to sail a boat. The vast majority of equipment on the market is not needed, but technology has a way of generating it's own necessity; case in point, cell phones with all of the bells and whistles. The less "stuff" you have on board, the lower your power requirements and the lower the likelyhood of equipment failure.

Keep it simple and simply have a wonderful adventure!
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Old 20-11-2008, 03:23   #10
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I waited for 3 years for the diesel electric solution, for my size boat, that was just around the’s still just around the corner.
I would proceed with what’s available today, go rock solid, and stick with the basics.
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Old 08-01-2009, 22:30   #11
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(Thanks, Maren, for pointing me to this thread.) I have three thoughts on this.

First, what I have learned in the past year ($painfully$ at times) is that so-called "experts" often are not. A professional autopilot hydraulic installation that created an overflow of fluid that streamed down cabin walls for weeks (they ignored all my comments on the subject, though continued to discuss sales matters); a professional plumber who charged attorney-rates for a holding-tank job but would not come 50 miles to fix a stinky leak he created with a flubbed spin-weld; even an expensive professional diesel job that didn't solve the startup-smoke problem I called about (though it did accomplish some other needed things).

I've had it. My solution is to stop assuming that other people know more about everything than I do, and get my hands dirty... even when it's a subject I know very little about.

I've been a geek all my life and am comfy with electronics, but have always had an irrational mental block about engines and other big loud things with scary fluids. Obviously, in an environment where survival depends upon knowing one's own boat and being able to deal with problems, this is unacceptable... and the assumption we too-easily make about "professionals knowing better" is provably unreliable. So my first comment is that costs can be dramatically reduced by doing it yourself.

My second observation on the subject relates to the cost of waiting. Ages ago, in the '70s, I had one of the first computer stores... and often was asked why one should buy now when the next cool thing is coming down the pike. Of course, that hasn't changed (and has in fact accelerated), so at some point you just have to dive in and begin to benefit from the available technology while you're still alive. James is right - go with what is available, perhaps one step back from the bleeding edge. That level of tech has the benefit of reviews and user forums... maybe even someone who has been there and is interested in barter.

I also agree with Stillraining... adding stuff is always more expensive than it seems. My boat seemed pretty complete in the glow of new love and the expertly calibrated purring of the broker, and I mentally glossed over the nonfunctioning Lectra-San, the dead old autopilot, the paleo-watermaker, the illegal water heater with standing pilot, and a few other things. In retrospect, those have been huge sinks of time and money. I don't regret my choice of boat, but if I were doing it again I would be much more careful about ensuring that all systems are functioning (and negotiating much more aggressively if not). As a geek, only the blinky things should be on my "new toys" shopping list; I can't believe I'm still doing plumbing.

And finally, on the subject of ongoing boat projects... I highly recommend carving out a space in your tri for a shop, even if (like mine) space prohibits leaving it set up all the time. Think about a mode-changing space where you can deploy domain-specific packs of tools and parts, allowing many planned upgrades (and unplanned repairs) to happen underway. I realized that without this, I might never escape the dock, and instead fall into a cycle of seasonal local cruises to refresh a to-do list that never gets shorter.

My tasks here in the lab are very clear at this point: finish the large packaging jobs that really do require a lab, compress the toolset into something that can be packed away in the boat, move all that (and the new toys) aboard, then continue hacking whilst underway. Otherwise, and this is from a decade of experience preparing for an expedition that is always going to launch in the Spring, I might never reach escape velocity.

Cheers from S/V Nomadness,
Steve (currently working on the Boat Hacking book)
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Old 09-01-2009, 00:26   #12
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PS - I think it is worth it, while doing all the pre-launch crawling around, to plan and run an N2K backbone. It's awfully convenient, once it's in place...

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Old 09-01-2009, 01:26   #13
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Well said! I have begun to believe that part of the process of reaching maturity is the establishment of the belief that you are as "smart" and as capable as anyone to handle life's issues, be they boat projects or fundamental life-choices. Without meaning to wax philosophic, most of the current so-called "crisises" (financial or otherwise) were caused by "experts" who didn't have a clue (and still don't).

I am of the opinion that the vast majority of the projects that need doing on our boat can be completed by myself. Having said that, I still need to have the "desire" and the pysical capability of completing the boat work. If someone else does the work for me, my word is still the final word for completion of the job.

Anyways, great write-up and good luck to all of you trying to keep your boat afloat without going to the poor-house (or the locker of Davey Jones!).

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Old 09-01-2009, 20:23   #14
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Ah, you said it. Somewhere along the way we got brainwashed into handing responsibility over to experts. I've run into enough bad doctors and (as noted above) dubious marine contractors to shake the foundations, but it is really hard to let go of that belief system. And no kidding about the financial nonsense... our whole system has been broken by people we trusted.

The resurgence of DIY culture is in response to a perfect storm of unhackable/frustrating/junk products, the crashing economy, the availability of cheap components, and - most of all - the wealth of information shared in places like this. Perhaps in the Olden Days one could be justified in handing over responsibility for some hydraulic or 'lectrical bits to a "professional," since the only readily available sources of information for the non-engineer were chewy trade books and night classes, but now there really is no excuse. It's all out there, and parts are not hard to find.

New publications like MAKE Magazine are capitalizing on this and helping to promote it, spilling over from the electronics hobby community into everything from rapid prototyping to homebrew autonomous drones. Open-source hardware is making it much easier than ever before to cheaply get into doing embedded controllers, and sources like eBay are making once-esoteric parts just a few clicks away.

The only remaining hurdle is confidence, which is not as trivial as it sounds in the context of expensive boats. There have been too many horror stories about propane leaks, hydro-lock, failed thru-hulls, galvanic corrosion, and so on... most skippers limit their tinkering to familiar territory and bring in the pros for everything else.

I think that is slowly changing, which is a good sign.

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