Summer 2004 Update
Here are some pictures of the progress on the main electrical panel and the forward wiring closet. We're getting there!
Let's Tame Those Electrons
When we bought "Island Eagle", we knew that she would need some electrical work. Some of the problems were obvious, such as the antique genset which leaked a gallon of oil per hour and the rats nest of wires coming out of rusty junction boxes. Some of the problems were a bit more complex, such as the question of whether to convert the boat from the existing 32 volt system to a more modern 24 volt one.
Lest you think that the problems were overwhelming, there were also some real positives (no pun intended): All lighting on the boat was battery powered (32 volt, of course), which avoided having to run the genset. Most of the wiring runs were relatively exposed and easy to get at, which would make rewiring easier. The roomy engine room afforded plenty of space for battery stowage, panels, inverters, etc. In short, rewiring would be difficult but not impossible.
Luckily, Scott has a fair bit of experience wiring, and he comes from 3 generations of electricians. After a thorough investigation and consulting with the experts, he came to the conclusion that the only solution was to rewire the entire boat. This included new batteries, new primary wiring, new load panels, new shore power, an isolation transformer, a new genset, and completely new AC load wiring. Throw in the conversion of all motors from 32 to 24 volts, and you've got a fun summer project.
All of the schematics are online here, in both PDF format and source files for those of you who want to play with them. If you have any questions at all don't hesitate to contact us here. You can also check out some of the good references and web sites we used, in the References section on this page.
Removing the Genset
The first project, undertaking before we even left Seattle, was to remove the old Delco 2-71 genset. This puppy weighed about 2200 pounds, and we had to remove it up a companionway about 24" X 29". Without a crane. In a day. And did I mention that it weighed 2200 pounds?
We did it, but not without a few tense moments. See the details...
The Projects and The Team
Here are some details about the various projects we undertook, in roughly the order we did them. In broad outline, the first big chunk of work consisted of removing all of the old stuff, and the second big chunk consisted of replacing it all with new stuff. Of course, this was complicated by the fact that we were actually living aboard the boat, which meant that it was difficult to simply remove everything. Instead, we typically had to install some of the new wiring, and then cutover from the old to the new, then remove the old, and finally complete the new. All very amusing and enjoyable, to be sure. When you added in factors such as the pathetically bad electrical supply at our first marina (a single 15 amp circuit shared between two boats!) this really was a situation where the brain was the most important muscle.
Fortunately, we had some pretty strong helpers in the brains department: Jim Dobby, Jim Stewart, and Dieter Reeh. Jim and Jim are both journeymen electricians with a dozen years of experience as big-ship electricians. Dieter is a jack-of-all-trades recently retired from a position as senior electrician of a major West Coast yachtbuilder. Between the three of them they helped Scott perfect the design of the new electrical system and then worked closely with him to get it installed and tested by the end of August.
Jim Dobby and Scott planning new AC shore power inlet:
Dieter removing old wiring from the enginroom bulkhead:
Jim Stewart pulling 110AC wiring:
Out with the old
Since we were both rewiring the boat and converting from 32 volts to 24 volts (not to mention converting AC from 3 phase to single phase), we took out hundreds and hundreds of pounds of old stuff. Some of the old stuff was actually pretty good, such as the new batteries. And some of the old stuff was really and truly junk, and terrifying junk at that. When we saw the charred wood next to some of the wiring, and watched old insulation literally turn to dust when wiring was moved, we realized what a wise decision it was to completely rewire.
The old 32 volt DC panels were 1964-vintage Square D: Actually, they were in darn fine shape, considering their age, but they had to be replaced due to the rust:
New Plywood Backer Panel
Once the old 32 volt and 110 /220 volt wiring was removed from the aft engine room bulkhead, we had room to start to plan our new installation. First, though, we had to do something to refinish the bulkhead. It had four or five different paint colors, and at least 300 screwholes from various equipment which had been bolted to it over the years. Clearly, any sort of refinishing was going to be tedious. It was Dieter who suggested the solution: application of a Formica-covered plywood panels to the surface. Some careful measurements of the remaining wiring and the companionway yielded a maximum panel size of 47" X 42", which we had fabricated at a kitchen-cabinet shop out of 1/2" plywood and white melamine. We then fastened these to the bulkhead using stainless steel screws and cup washers. The results were fabulous.
Putting in new AC breaker panels
We choose to go with Square D again for the AC breaker panels. They're tough to be, as long as you can install them in a protected location. There are three AC panels: one fed from the inverter, one fed from the genset, and one fed from a manual switch which selects between shore and genset.
Scott putting in the new AC panels:
New Genset Installation
This was actually one of the easiest jobs for Scott on the boat... because he didn't do very much of it! See all of the details here.
Some random shots
Scott after one week on the job:
Pressure washing excess cable-pulling lubricant off AWG 2 wire (Don't ask why, it's too depressing):