Electronics on Doris

Laura Penhaul By

A number of people have been asking the questions of exactly what happened to cause us to turn around and so I wanted to share with you a little more detail into our reasoning and also how our sponsors have been extremely supportive in helping to rectify and prevent any re-occurrence.

 

As we mentioned in an earlier blog, we sustained some flooding into the hatch that housed our batteries and the IP65 box which contained all the charge controllers and battery monitoring system to recharge our batteries. We have a clear lid on the battery hatch so that we could check it easily on a daily basis but it wasn’t until I noticed that there was condensation in the IP65 box that I thought there must be water in there and when I looked more closely I saw the flooding. Typically we had put all the charge controllers  into an IP65 rated box to ensure that no water was to ever come near the system incase of any flooding, but unfortunately when we opened the box we found there to be 1 screw missing which is the only entrance point into the box which must have been how water got in.

1 of the MPPT boxes, which is the clever box that regulates the charge  gets as much energy from the panels into the battery and safely charges at 14.2Vdc. This MPPT had stopped working and overheated due to the water and humidity that was within the box. Initially at this stage MPPT 2 was still in working order so we knew we had at least 1 charging system intact for one battery. Our solar panels are so efficient and wired in series, so we have 2 sets of series on the boat each set linked to 1 MPPT.

Once we had bailed out the hatch and closed off any further charging through the MPPT, I didn’t want anyone staying in that cabin that night incase of further overheating of electrical equipment. So we left the hatch open to air and dry out, whilst we had the boat on para anchor, we then continued with 2 hour shifts with 2 of us sitting on deck whilst the other shift got into the forecabin for warmth. Can’t say it was the most comfortable night! This way we waited until daylight to see what the full damage was and to make a decision on whether we continued forward to Hawaii or to turn around.

Initially we still had 1 working charging system so we decided to push forward to Hawaii as we knew we had plenty of power to continue. Once we started rowing though and I went to tidy up the MPPT connections and wires, I noticed the other MPPT had also gone. This automatically made the decision for us to have to turn around. If we were half way to Hawaii then we would be able to survive  on all of our back ups I.e. Handpump watermaker, handheld GPS, handheld VHF, back up satellite phone and spare battery, solar monkey chargers. As we weren’t half way and have 6months of rowing ahead of us, it seemed the obvious and sensible decision to return to land.

Regardless of the flooding half way up the batteries, they were unscathed and continued to work well as the terminals were completely intact. Once we’d disconnected the MPPT’s, at that time we had 60% state of charge in each battery. With both batteries 90amp/Hr each, this meant we still had plenty of battery to use on our return to land, so even after 6 days of use for our GPS, AIS, VHF and charging our sat phone,we came in with approx 30% in each battery and voltage still maintained at 12.9v each.

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On entrance into Santa Barbara, Tony Humphreys our onshore support was there at hand to assist us in sorting out the issues we had. The main issues was finding where the flood had come from and ensuring we could prevent it from reoccurring. Then we reviewed the electronics and Johannes our sponsor from Victron was amazing and was on hand regularly (even at 11pm his time!) to respond and assist in our decision making with where to move the MPPTs and BMS system. Collectively we decided they needed to be out of the bilge so there wasn’t risk of flooding if it reoccurred, then to be somewhere with better ventilation. This was partly my fault previously as I was so particular about preventing any water entering around the electronics, that I had asked for them to be put in an IP65 box, not thinking that if water did enter it would end up being like a greenhouse in there!

We then had to hunt around for an electrician to be able to do the work under Tony’s supervision so after a few phone calls by Kenny in Santa Barbara, he found Jason who very kindly made himself available at such short notice to do the work.

Johannes from Victron (amazing sponsor support) very kindly sorted out for Justin from Maine,  USA to fly down for a day to oversee and double check that all the Victron equipment was up and running efficiently. It was great to have Justin there as there were a couple of wiring issues that weren’t quite right, so he made the necessary adjustments and by late Friday afternoon we were all up and running again – 100% batteries, solar charge bringing the MPPTs to float, monitors all working and BMS units with 2 lovely blue lights. It is such a relief to have a fully functional system again :).
Some people prefer the old lead acid system to be fitted in their ocean rowing boat, but you tend to only get 60% out of your solar and the efficiency of the batteries slowly deminish over time as sulphur builds up. I love our lithium system and personally wouldn’t use anything else. The wiring is slightly more complicated but the system is so easy to use, means you get 99% out of your solar panels and the batteries maintain voltage right down to less than 20% state of charge. The reason the MPPTs failed was our fault for not noticing the flood in the hatch or into the Ip65 box as the wiring doesn’t mix with water or extreme humidity, which neither would any other battery system.

On this occasion we were very fortunate and the whole process of getting things sorted has reassured us even further of all the experts we have behind us in supporting this venture. Without Tony, Johannes, Jason and Justin, we would have been in more of a pickle. One thing is for sure, no matter how much training I did before coming away, I’d say this has only worked in our favour to now in realtime know more about our battery system inside and out and all the problem shooting involved.

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6 Comments

  1. Great blogpost Laura – thank you. I don’t think you should blame yourself for the flooding – it’s all part of the great learning curve. If that is all that has tipped over then I believe that you and your team have done brilliantly.

  2. pat mitchell says:

    Thanks for the info.not sure I got it all but as long as you all are safe that is all that matters.

  3. The system evolves, so now you have an even better chance of success in the whole venture. Excellent decision making process, I have to say, truly impressed. X David

  4. There should be no blame culture in your team, just learning from the experiences. “The person who never made any mistakes never made anything” is a good saying to remember at this time!
    X David

  5. Simon TY says:

    We have DOTS. New dots to feed my dot addiction. Are u under way again ? Hope so. I think u are even more brave (and mad) setting off again, knowing what the ocean is capable of. Extraordinary. Hope the US stop has boosted profile and donations. Good luck. Hope u meet up with Albert soon and see some great whales. We demand full identification now of everything you see. Keep the blogs coming. We love them. Lots of love

  6. Liz Davey says:

    Wow Laura, never knew you were so knowledgeable about electronics, I am truly impressed. You girls are so multi talented and such an inspiration. God speed, keep safe and let’s hope you get to Hawaii without any more problems. Keep blogs coming, lol xx

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