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How to make a boat a home

March 24, 2013

Firstly, some apologies are due to those of you who have been waiting with baited breath for this blog about how to convert an AWB (Average White Boat) into a liveaboard. I’ve been back in UK helping my brother and his wife fulfil their dream of becoming liveaboard boaters, albeit on board a 70 foot narrowboat as opposed to a sailing boat. Here’s hoping that they have as much fun as we have had. Please note, however, that the following blog will probably be of little interest to non-boatie readers.

The last blog I wrote described the process we went through in choosing “Rampage” as our home. This blog will talk through the process of our initial fitting out before we left UK. The one health warning that comes with this blog is that the process we started is on going and probably never ending, as we constantly find things to change, things to renew or update or things that break and need fixing……..

“Rampage” as we took delivery of her came with much of the normal stuff you’d hope to find on a used boat sold with her inventory, more than enough to be able to simply sail her away from the Hamble where she was berthed. However, as is the case with most boats, she’d never been someone’s home and therefore lacked some of the things that we already knew we’d need on board.

 

The lee sheet rigged in the saloon - this gives us a secure berth for the off watch crew member when making overnight passages.

The lee sheet rigged in the saloon – this gives us a secure berth for the off watch crew member when making overnight passages.

 

Although we’d had a good sea trial on her as part of the purchasing process, it was only a couple of hours long. The passage from the Hamble to our mooring on the Menai Straits was a different venture; the trip was a really good shakedown for both us and the boat. We found that “Rampage” had a few minor problems not revealed by the survey and both J and I gained a lot of confidence in her as we made our way round Lands End and across the Bristol Channel.

Once back home, we sat down and looked at the work list we’d already planned and then added in repairing the various bits that we’d found didn’t work during the passage. We looked at systems on the boat, how well suited they were to our proposed life style and what we needed to change before we set off.

Firstly, we looked at moving the boat: engine, rigging and sails. The engine had worked perfectly throughout the trip, easy to start and smooth running. It came with an impressive array of receipts for servicing work done, so I was reasonably confident that both it and the Saildrive system were not something I needed to worry about. I laid in two sets of filters and some basic spares such as fan belts and raw water impellers and left it at that.

The sails and rigging had also done well during the trip and gave me no cause for concern. We decided to let well alone for the time being whilst planning to replace the running rigging (all the ropes which control the sails) over the next 3 – 4 years, a job which we’ve just completed. We also replaced the sails 2 winters ago, as they had become too fragile for our liking.

 

Spice rack (Ikea, stained to look like hardwood!) and magnetic knife rack.  We only move the knives if we're caught in Force 7 winds or above, when they tend to fall off the holder.

Spice rack (Ikea, stained to look like hardwood!) and magnetic knife rack. We only move the knives if we’re caught in Force 7 winds or above, when they tend to fall off the holder.

 

Next, we looked at navigation. Having the boat moving is one thing – making sure it doesn’t pile into the first set of rocks or sandbank is another. “Rampage” came with a good suite of electronic aides to navigation; a networked system of chart plotter, with work stations at the chart table and wheel, depth and speed instruments, radar and autopilot. Again, the system had worked well on the delivery trip and needed nothing other than ensuring that we had the right chart memory cards to cover our intended trip. Once we knew the make and model of the plotter, I had started to accumulate these cards via Ebay; we have found this to be the best and most cost effective way of getting hold of these items which can be expensive. A note of caution here; like all charts, electronic charts get out of date and therefore if you’re using older charts, make sure that you have a good up to date pilot book to ensure that you have the latest data available to you as you enter and leave new ports.

The boat also had a fitted steering compass which we’d found to be accurate. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the presence of all the electronic whizzbangery removes the need for a compass. It doesn’t and has occasionally been our main method of navigation when said whizzbangery has developed a sulk for one reason or another……

One thing that had emerged on the trip was the fact that the autopilot is an energy-hungry device, especially in rough weather. This had announced itself to us in the middle of the Bristol Channel when the autopilot suddenly announced that the batteries were too low to let it work anymore and switched itself off. This leads nicely into the next bit of what we looked at – electricity supplies.

When motoring, “Rampage” generates electricity by means of the engine alternator. This charges both the engine starter battery and the domestic batteries, which supply 12v DC current to make all the other systems on the boat work. Given the heads up by the autopilot on the trip, I looked at the domestic battery and its capacity; if it was incapable of sustaining the autopilot and navigation lights for less than 12 hours, then we clearly need to increase the capacity.

Bookcase in saloon with unit plaques below.  The plaques nearly always draw comment when visitors aboard first see them.

Bookcase in saloon with unit plaques below. The plaques nearly always draw comment when visitors aboard first see them.

Before actually doing anything, I looked at the loads on the system: fridge (main drain, especially in the Med), lighting, navigation, water pump, heater, fans. The list is long and detailed and specific to every boat, so rather than getting bogged down in details here, what needs to be done is to work out roughly how much electricity in terms of amp hours your boat will use in normal circumstances at anchor and under way every 24 hours. Taking this figure, we reckoned that ideally we would like to able to live comfortably on board without running the engine for 48 hours. Given that most batteries can only yield about 50% of their nominal capacity before being discharged, this gave us a figure, in amp hours, of the size of battery bank we needed. In our case, this was about 360 amp hours. We therefore replaced the existing battery with 2 x 180 Amp Hour AGM traction batteries; these batteries are smaller in size for a given capacity and as traction batteries are designed for repeated deep discharging, although they are somewhat more expensive than conventional wet cell batteries. To date, they have performed well.

We looked at how to charge the batteries and decided, at that stage, not to fit any solar panels or wind generator. Partly this was down to cost: at that time, solar panels were either rigid and affordable but would have required an expensive gantry to house them or semi-flexible and prohibitively expensive. From discussion with other people and looking at the on-line forums, wind power was unreliable (no wind = no power) and noisy. We had a small (300 watt) generator for emergencies and a 40 amp Sterling battery charger for when we were hooked up to shore power. We have now fitted a bank of solar panels to the forward deck and have just acquired an Aquair towed generator to keep the batteries topped up when sailing.

Fiddle (retaining rail) holding books in place starboard side of the saloon.  Mainly pilot books and 'how to' manuals of one sort or another.

Fiddle (retaining rail) holding books in place starboard side of the saloon. Mainly pilot books and ‘how to’ manuals of one sort or another.

I also replaced the starter battery at the same time; I used a cheap car battery of the right capacity from the local battery man. It has done nicely since fitting and frankly it is not worth paying over the odds for anything other than a bog standard car battery for this job.

Lighting throughout the boat was by means of halogen down lighters fitted in the head lining. They gave a nice light but were expensive in terms of electricity to use them. At the time, we didn’t really appreciate the need to conserve power to the extent that we have subsequently learned as time passed. Looking back, I should have replaced the halogen bulbs with LEDs but didn’t actually do this until the winter of 2010/11.

As we were planning on living on board all year round we knew that we needed some sort of heating on board. Given the internal layout of “Rampage”, it was difficult to find anywhere to fit a simple diesel or solid fuel heater, we opted for an Ebersbacher hot air heater which burns diesel to produce heat and has ducts running to all the internal spaces to provide heat. This was fitted for us by a company on the Hamble before we took delivery of “Rampage” – the only paid work done on the boat! The heater has worked perfectly ever since, starting at the touch of a button and providing heat as required. As we cannot obtain duty free diesel outside UK it is relatively expensive to run but it is easy to do a comparison between the cost of shore power electricity and diesel burnt to decide which to use for heating. Some winters, we have been lucky in staying marinas where electricity is included in the price and we then use a cheap fan heater to provide heating. (It is worth noting that the Ebersbacher is a good way of ventilating the boat is it draws in fresh air from outside. To date we have had very few problems with condensation and damp.)

Our 'winter' companionway curtain.  This is heavy material, lined with wadding to help retain heat in the saloon.  We have another lightwieght one for the summer for privacy.

Our ‘winter’ companionway curtain. This is heavy material, lined with wadding to help retain heat in the saloon. We have another lightwieght one for the summer for privacy.

Remaining with electricity, “Rampage” has a 240 volt AC ring main fitted, which is connected to the shore power system. Thus, main voltage electricity is only available when in a marina. Clearly there would be times when we needed mains voltage at sea, so I fitted a 1000 watt inverter (which changes 12v DC into 240 v AC by means of electrical whizzbangery). The inverter came from Maplins and is fitted beneath the chart table; I saw no need to buy an expensive ‘marine’ inverter, nor do any of the appliances we have on board need an equally expensive pure sine wave inverter.

OK. That wraps it up for electricity on board. The next system to look at is water in all its forms. The water tanks fitted to “Rampage” are connected to a water pump which pressurises the system. There are 4 taps on board: one at the galley sinks, one in each head and a shower on the sugar scoop. The pump will deliver enough water to run any one tap at a time; more than one tap and the one furthest away from the pump will almost stop working. We were content with this but there were leaks in two of the taps; the galley sinks and forward head. On investigating them, I simply replaced them rather than trying to source spare parts. The taps in the heads and galley are all standard commercial monobloc taps which can be bought from most DIY stores.

Hot water on board is provided via a calorifier which is heated either by waste heat from the engine or by an immersion heater when shore power is available. There’s enough hot water for 3 or 4 people to shower (sparingly) so that’s OK for most of the time. Once we reached the Med, we found that many people use a solar shower for heating water and we now do the same when trying to conserve water, although the quality of shower from the on-board hot water is much better when its available!

Reading light in our cabin - one each side.  Now fitted with LED bulbs for low electricity useage.  Note the number of pictures!

Reading light in our cabin – one each side. Now fitted with LED bulbs for low electricity useage. Note the number of pictures!

The two water tanks hold a total of 300 litres (about 65 gallons) of water. When we first set off, this would last us about a week; as time has gone on and we have learnt the value of fresh water, we can now make it last about 15 – 17-days before we really have to find fresh water. One thing we have done is to fit a sea water pump to the galley sink, so that most washing up is done in sea water; this is a real saving and we should have done it before we set off. We also considered fitting a reverse osmosis watermaker but it still belongs in the like-to-do-it-but-just-a-bit-too-expensive category at the moment. Having a water maker is never going to be a money saver but it would extend our cruising range and is something that remains firmly on the wish list.

The two heads on board both use sea water for flushing and originally both discharged sewerage straight to the sea. Whilst this is OK in tidal areas, where the tide quickly removes effluent, it is not acceptable in the non tidal Med, where it would tend to hang round the boat. Not nice when you want to be able to swim off the stern of the boat….. To avoid this problem, I fitted a holding tank to the aft head and a complex set of valves so that we could discharge the tank to the sea when we were far enough offshore. The tank is in the port cockpit locker and is the biggest we could fit into the space.The tank works fine but when you pump the head out into it, the smell from the breather pipe is not nice and no matter what we do we’ve not been able to eliminate the problem and now live with it!

Talking of heads, they need servicing at least once a year and it is a good idea to obtain several servicing kits before leaving UK as they are about double the price or more, just about anywhere else in Europe.

m_DSCF6142

Another shot of the galley, showing the incredibly expensive (not) kitchen paper dispenser, made from a bit of salvaged dowel and some srting…..

“Rampage” had limited storage space for books when we bought her, so I made two bookshelves to fix to the bulkheads and fitted fiddles to the shelving in the saloon and forward cabin to give us space for books. We left before the advent of the Kindle and had we done so, book storage would have been less of a problem! I also fitted a spice rack which we bought in Ikea for £3 and we stained everything match the existing woodwork.

Talk of the Kindle brings me neatly to the communications systems on board. There is a Marine VHF radio fitted for communications with other vessels and harbours. The one fitted has done well but we would like a remote that could be used at the wheel. The age of the fitted one precluded this, although we have fitted a speaker in the cockpit, so we won’t miss any more calls, as we did before we fitted the speaker.

We rely on the internet for doing most of the day-to-day admin as well as staying in touch with friends and relations. Initially we relied on wifi signals picked up either in the boat or in a café ashore. This quickly became a major irritation, as the built-in wifi antenna was never good enough to pick up distant signals. We solved this by using a 3G mobile internet dongle usually on a pay-as-you-go basis. We have built up a good collection of country specific dongles as we’ve gone around the Med…… So far, we’ve found this to be the most cost effective solution to staying in touch. It does mean that you have to find a mobile phone shop on arrival in a new country and buy a dongle (or a new sim for an old dongle). We have found that it costs around €20 – 30 per month for the amount of data that we use; mainly emails, banking and Skype – oh and internet shopping in winter when we have a postal address. Having just acquired an iPad (yes Megan, I’ve finally succumbed to Apple) this process will be slightly easier in that only a new sim will be required in a new country.

A selection of bags made by J to hold various things, inthis case the angle grinder, cruising chute sheet and 60 metre long shore line.

A selection of bags made by J to hold various things, inthis case the angle grinder, cruising chute sheet and 60 metre long shore line.

In addition to the internet we also have a mobile phone using a Global Yachting Mobile SIM (Gymsim). This uses a UK number but does not charge for incoming calls and has competitive rates for outgoing calls. We also used to have a Vodafone smart phone on a contract but ended this when Vodafone switched off their Passport service (which gave us phone calls to and from the phone for a £0.75 flat rate charge).

Other modifications we made before setting off include fitting a lee sheet to convert the long bench seat in the saloon into a passage berth. This has proved extremely useful when passage making as whoever is on watch knows that the other person is within easy calling distance if required. Also being in the centre of the boat, it is more comfortable than in our V-berth in the forward cabin if the sea is a bit lumpy. It has doubled as an extra berth occasionally although it is not desperately comfortable for more than a night or so except for the grandchildren.

We also fitted jackstays (safety lines running down the sides of the deck) and D rings in the cockpit so we could clip on at night or in rough weather. This is an essential safety feature; in theory we are both familiar with man overboard drills, but in practice the chances of finding and recovering someone in heavy seas and/or at night are slim at best. Infinitely better never to get into that situation. We also fitted a liferaft and there was none aboard when we bought Rampage. We were advised to go for a 4-man liferaft even though at times there may be 5 or 6 people on board. This was not simply because it was cheaper but at a pinch 6 people can squeeze into a 4-man liferaft but a 6-man one can be very unstable with only 2 people in it.

 

The starboard cockpit locker, showing the holding tank and some of the pipework (mustard yellow bit), loads of bits of rope and the turbine for the towed generator (black propeller like thing).

The starboard cockpit locker, showing the holding tank and some of the pipework (mustard yellow bit), loads of bits of rope and the turbine for the towed generator (black propeller like thing).

 

We have fitted two 12v electric fans – one by the galley and the other in our cabin. To be honest neither gets much use. The one in our cabin is nice if it is very hot when we go to bed but we only run it until we are ready to sleep as it is quite noisy. The one by the galley simply tends to blow the hot air from the cooking at the chef; it also gets very dirty with the combination of grease and dust and has to be dismantled for cleaning.

Of course there have been countless other small modifications to make life pleasanter including a bimini, boom shade tent and wind scoop for summer, mirrors and pictures, bedside lights, lots of hooks for hanging towels, clothes etc. a new hi-fi system, winch handle pockets (amazing that they weren’t in place already) rope tidies (made by J,) a curtain for the companionway, mosquito nets for all hatches and the companionway plus a great many bags. These last include canvas ones for the protection of tools etc and rip-stop nylon ones which are ideal for storing ropes, particularly the very long shore lines used to hold the boat in an anchorage with confined space. The sewing machine has done sterling service since J has also made all new saloon cushions and curtains thus saving us an enormous amount of money. Seriously consider bringing one even though they are relatively bulky and heavy. We have a German Pfaff electric machine which is over 30 years old but is robust and can cope with several thicknesses of canvas. The ideal however would be an old-fashioned hand machine.

Mobile phone holder and wifi booster antenna.  This is the small antenna - using the big one (about twice the size) we can pull in signals from about 500 metres away.

Mobile phone holder and wifi booster antenna. This is the small antenna – using the big one (about twice the size) we can pull in signals from about 500 metres away.

OK. So there’s an overview of what we did before we set off and some of the things we’ve done as we went along. I hope that people found this informative and I’m happy to expand on anything via email if anyone has any more detailed questions.

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7 comments

  1. Very interesting, thank-you.

    May I ask three things.

    Did you investigate getting a less power hungry auto-pilot, or was that not practical?

    Do you have any experience of the towed Aquair yet please? Does it work well, is it easy to deploy and retrieve, does it twist up and get in a tangle – sort of thing:-) ?

    Was the Alfa wi-fi booster the best or simply the cheapest or the only one available/ I hear of the Bullet and the Wirie, but I don’t know which is the best to go for.

    Thanks.

    Mike


    • Hi Mike,
      Auto pilot first. The auot pilot isn’t particularly power hungry – typically about 4 amps – it was the battery bank that wasn’t up to the job of extended trips. When you add in to the 4 amps another 8 amps for the nav lights, the existing battery just couldn’t cope with the demand. Hence a bank 3 times the size of the initial offering.

      Haven’t used the Ampair yet, so can’t give you an answer there. I’ll post something from Mallorca once we’ve had a chance to use it properly.

      I chose the Alfa for 3 reasons: cost (the kit I bought was about £38), free carriage from Amazon and it was one that I’d had recommended to me by other live aboard folks. I’m very pleased with the way it works.

      Hope that helps,

      Duncan


  2. Hi duncan I’ve discovered a device which reduces power consumption from 30ah to 5ah per day that the autopilot uses i.e. if you autopilot is an L&S one. The device is called an ECOPILOT.
    Keep blogging I always find it interesting.


  3. Duncan
    Would you be able to give me some advice on a cruising plan please? (Or refer me elsewhere if appropriate). I’ll be in the Ionian for Sept/earlyOctober and am wondering whether to just stay there or take a trip to Hydra (which I love) and back. I would have thought that Ithaca-Hydra-Ithaca (with a couple of nights in Hydra) would be do-able within say 14 days? But, I’m wondering if it might be a bit of a slog when coming back westwards through the Gulf of Corinth/Patras at that time of year in a cruising cat (which doesn’t point at all).
    I’ve sailed in the Aegean and Ionian before but never been through the Gulf. I like to go at a leisurely pace, say ~30/35 miles every other day on average, but don’t mind putting in the very occasional 8 hour day when necessary.
    What do you think?


    • Hi Chris,
      I’ve sent you an email with some ideas, rather than replying via the blog.

      Hope you enjoy your trip,

      Duncan


      • Hi Duncan
        Thank you so so much – your email is extremely helpful (and prompt). Unfortunately I think it may mean that we will not get into the Saronic and the pleasure of buying you a drink – another time hopefully. Thank you
        Chris


  4. Hello,
    I am writing from the Azores, and would like to congratulate you for the blog.
    I was looking for an answer on the internet on how to put a rubber seal in a saildrive and found a post from you on a forum. I followed the link and found this blog.
    I have carefully read the posts 24th March and 9th April. They have very useful information. Allow me to congratulate you on how you made the boat an house.
    May I ask a question? I own a sailboat LM30 and lost the rubber seal of the saildrive. It is equipped with a Volvo saildrive. Are there specific seals for Volvo or any rubber does the job? In a forum someone stated that the rubber seal is not meant to prevent the entry of water because it has a hole for drainage. Can you share some information? Thank you.
    Best wishes,
    Pedro



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