Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Tank Senders and Gauges

As part of the "refit" (aka demolition) handy work performed by Phoenix's previous owner, the majority of the wires were cut, and many of the masking tape labels on the few remaining wires are illegible. Bill's been running new wire throughout the boat for both the AC and DC systems, and the time had finally come for us to tackle the tank senders and gauges.

All of Phoenix's tanks are aluminum, and from what we can tell from diagrams and other clues found on board, the tanks were replaced around the same time that the cabin tops were modified. She came equipped with older VDO adjustable arm senders and gauges, and all of the gauges were located in a panel near the nav station. The port fuel and starboard water tanks didn't have senders, but aluminum plates covered the holes where the senders should have been. We were able to locate the wires that went from each gauge to the senders, and with the aid of a volt meter, Bill determined that all the wires were good. The water and holding tank senders were definitely not registering on the gauges, and our assumption was that that starboard fuel tank sender was faulty as well, since it was always registering full when connected.

Our first thought was to simply replace the senders and keep the gauges, at least for the fuel and water tanks. We really liked the functionality, simplicity and price of the Wema senders, and noticed that they have a standard American 240-33 ohm signal output, whereas our VDO gauges needed an European 3-180 ohm input. Wema could custom manufacture senders with a different signal output, but we weren't really looking for custom orders or custom prices (especially if we need to replace them later down the road while cruising).

Due to the corrosive nature of the contents of holding tanks, we knew we wanted something different for that tank -- something without moving parts and with an enclosed system. Our friends on m/v Beach House were really happy with the Solo Tank monitor and sender they recently installed, and after doing a little homework we decided that this was the system we wanted four our tank as well. The Solo system is perhaps better known as the Scad monitor, though you can purchase directly from the manufacturer rather than through private label.

Solo makes a multi-tank LED monitor that was pretty tempting, but after looking at all of the costs, the layout of our existing gauge panel, and with a general preference for redundant, independent systems, we decided to go with new Wema analog gauges for the fuel and water tanks, and a single solo tank monitor and sealed internal PVC tube sender for the holding tank.

With our decisions made and parts in hand, it was time to pull up the floor boards and start replacing the tank senders. Theoretically this should have been the easy part. We removed the senders from the water tanks first, and much to our surprise and dismay, the hinge on the old VDO senders was not made of stainless steel, and were a rusty mess. In fact, all of the water in our port tank was orange from the rust, as was our water filter! So we had some cleaning to do. Once the water tanks were clean and the old senders thrown out, installing the new Wema senders in the water tanks was simple.

Next, we tackled the fuel tanks, and again had a bit of a surprise. Apparently the old starboard tank sender was working all along, and when we removed it, we saw that the tank was full! So we have 100+ gallons of fuel we didn't know we had (we've been running off the port tank), and our fuel polishing system upgrade has moved up the priority list!

We saved the most fun for last with the replacement of the holding tank sender, and neither of us were too excited about the prospect of opening up that tank. On the plus side, we pumped it out in the Fall before winterizing so we knew it was empty. The fuel lines running from the tanks to the engine run almost directly over the location of this sender, so we were a little worried about the logistics of removal and installation.

And, one of the previous owners had the bright idea to use brass screws to install a stainless sender into an aluminum tank. Of the 5 screws holding the sender in place, 2 were missing, 1 came out easily (was actually undersized for the hole), 1 had half of its threads corroded off, and the last was completely corroded in spot with no head remaining. We were able to pry the sender top off of the tank and drill out the last screw, but when lifting out the sender, which was completely corroded as well, it fell apart into pieces. We retrieved the top half, but the rest remains in the tank. 

What remains of the holding tank sender (left) and the one working fuel sender (right). The water tank senders
were identical to the fuel sender, except the hinges on the float end were completely rusted.
With all of the senders installed, it was time to wire them up and work on the gauges. Of course the Wema gauges are not the same size as our old VDO gauges, so rather than make Swiss cheese out of our original panel, we opted to make a new panel to go in its place. This would also allow us to custom fit all of our new gauges, and add a few other gadgets like our upgraded bilge pump switch with an added audio alarm, Xantrex Link 20 battery monitor, 12V power socket, etc.

"Before" shot of the Nav station cabinets with original panel

"After" shot of the Nav station cabinets with new gauges and a few additions

New panel
With the new senders, gauges and panel installed we can really start monitoring our systems and are one step closer cruising!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Dorade Guards

Ever since we installed the dorade boxes on the foredeck, we've been planning to install dorade guards. The last thing we want is to get our sheet leads caught on one of our cowl vents, potentially ripping them out of the boxes, or worse. As a temporary stop gap solution, we simply removed the cowl vents when sailing and covered the holes with a deck plate, but this was far from convenient.

Many years and a few boats ago, Bill made these dorade guards for a 31' Irwin out of 7/8" stainless and bimini fittings, so our original intention was to make some for Phoenix as well, but this time with 1" stainless tubing.

Dorade guards Bill made on an Irwin 31
We had some scrap 7/8" and 1" stainless from discarded bimini frames that we had picked up in various places, so we decided to try to bend a few test pieces with our hydraulic bender.  This little bender did a great job when we curved our sheeting track to fit the curve of our cap rail, and was similar to what Bill used on the Irwin. Each tube was corked on one end, packed tightly with wet sand, then tightly corked on the remaining end. Despite several attempts we just weren't really happy with the results. Bill could do a nice 90 degree bend, but all attempts at a "U" just kinked or crushed the tube.

Looking at our laundry list of projects, we decided that maybe we shouldn't try to make everything. This could be one of those projects that we outsource to make our lives easier, or at least we could get a couple of quotes to see if it was worth the headache of doing this one ourselves. There are many good (and expensive) companies in the Annapolis and Baltimore areas that we figured we could tap if necessary, but for simplicity we began our search online. 

Ahoy Captain was the first company that we tried, and at first pass they seemed like a good fit. Simply fill out their worksheet with your dimensions, email it to them and you'll get a quote. Well, after a week of waiting, I contacted them again, and finally got a quote. Not a bad price, but we wanted a little clarification and discussion before signing on the dotted line. Bill called to discuss the quote, made a few tweaks to the design, and was told we'd get a revised quote. Several days (a week or more) went by, and despite several phone calls and emails on our part to follow up, we never heard back from them. Completely turned off by their lack of customer service, we decided to seek out a more professional company to work with.

We then contacted White Water Marine in Port Huron, Michigan. They custom fabricated all of our stanchion poles (will be installed soon) and we were very happy with their work. We initially hesitated in contacting them because we didn't love the shape of the example they had online (more square than we wanted), but when Bill spoke with them, they said they could custom fabricate the dorade guards to our specification. They provided a quote via email the same day (which was cheaper than Ahoy Captain's), and said they had a 4 week turnaround.

Three weeks later, our new dorade guards arrived -- well packed, made exactly to our specifications, and they looked great!

We immediately unpacked them and took them down to the boat to see how they looked.

Checking out the dorade guards in spot
Even though White Water made the guards to our specification, we knew they would need a little tweaking prior to installation. To simplify fabrication, we had them make the guards slightly taller than desired, so we could play with them, pad them out, etc. to make them fit the camber of our foredeck.

Plastic pad under forward tube
After careful measurements, Bill made plastic pads to fit under each base, cut 1" off of the inner-most tubes and 1/2" off the forward tubes, and the guards were then level with the deck.

Now it was time for final fitting and placement, drilling the holes through the deck, filling them with epoxy, and then screwing the pads and guards in place. We used a marine grade silicone to help create the "gaskets" between the base and the pad and the pad and the deck, and to prevent any water penetration. We chose silicone so we could remove them if necessary in the future.

Time to punch holes in the deck -- never my favorite part!

Ready for a dress bead of caulk
Now that the dorade guards are installed we won't have to worry about catching our sheet leads on the cowl vents anymore, and they serve as great hand holds when going forward!

The finished product

Once the dorade guards were installed it was time to celebrate with a crab lunch -- we are on the Chesapeake after all!