Saturday, January 2, 2016

Shades for Portholes

All of our boats have portholes. My 3500 has ten of them! For those of us who want to keep the sun off our woodwork--or want some privacy--there are few options. No one wants to drill holes to mount a curtain rod and curtains. Here is an easy, fast, elegant solution, but first, this is what I had when I bought the boat, which I was grateful for. They're more than some boats have:

I call them shower caps. They're okay, but labor-intensive and expensive to have made out of Sunbrella; and they're not exactly elegant, modern, or clean-looking.

Here is the solution you are going to thank me for. I saw this picture from a Pacific Seacraft and fell in love. (It pays to drool over other peoples' boats on

First, go to a plastics retailer or find one online. You want 1/8" PVC foam board, such as this:

In San Diego we have a retailer called Ridout Plastic. I found PVC foam board in their scrap bin, so the amount I needed cost only $4.00. This material is great because it's stiff, light, opaque, and easy to work with. It can be cut with a table saw, Exacto/utility knife, tin snips, or very large scissors. It can be shaped easily by sanding and cleaned with soap and water.

Make a template of the glass portion of your portholes. I taped a large piece of paper over the porthole. Instead of using a pencil, I used a finger nail to trace the outline of the glass. This technique was more exact than using a pencil or pen.

I had two sizes of portholes and a total of ten. I used a table saw to cut the straight lines (top, bottom, sides) of each board, then I used the template and a french curve to cut the radii of the corners. This method will get you close, but not exact. On the boat, use some 150-grit sandpaper to fine-tune the fit.

You will also need 1/8" bungee cord and some wooden beads. West Marine had the bungee cord by the foot. I found these beads at a local specialty bead store.

If you don't want to search for beads, you can buy 12" sail tie-downs with ball ends (West Marine #159228), but they won't have the aesthetic of beads--and the size will not fit all portholes. You're better off custom-making the bungees.

It's interesting to note that the bungee cords and beads that hold the board in place do not have to be removed when you open the porthole. The bungee cord fits under the top hinges and there is plenty of room, so it doesn't interfere with the gasket. On the bottom, the cord fits under the C-shaped metal tab  that is dogged down. Is there a name for this part?

Here is my end result:

I think it's a question of personal taste, but also utility. They're fast, effective, and appealing for a clean, modern look. Yes, maybe they're a little busy. I'll let you know after I've lived with them for six months. Regardless, they're far better than what a live-aboard at my marina said he and his wife use:  paper towels and scotch tape.  Yipes. Not on a Tartan!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Battery Voltage Monitor

Our Tartan 3500, Intuition, hull number 115, has the standard battery voltage and amp meters installed in the nav station.  Since purchasing Intuition, one of the mysteries is determining when to charge the house battery.  The general guideline is don't deplete battery more than 50% charge.  However, there's gotcha's with this, in that the battery voltage needs to be resting voltage.  For our first few years of ownership, I monitored the voltage according to this chart,

My general guideline was 50% charge is reached when open-circuit voltage is 12.32 volts and the load voltage is 11.8 volts.  In practice, this is difficult to monitor when sailing or at anchor, with refrigerator and/or electronics running.

When sailing on an extended delivery on a friend's boat, he monitored the battery bank usage with a Link Pro Battery Monitor,

These gauges provide

- Main and aux battery voltages
- Amp draw
- Accumulated amps used
- Percent capacity remaining
- Alarms

I was hooked - no more guessing when to charge!! 

In researching battery monitors, there are a few suppliers: Xantrex, Victron, and others.  I decided on installing the Victron BMV 702.  This item came with all necessary cables and was less expensive than the Xantrex. I also read that folks have had problems with the Xantrex units, while feedback was generally excellent for the Victron.  

The way these gauges work is that a shunt is installed between the house battery and boat's common ground, along with +12 volt probes on each battery.  As electrical items draw amps from the battery, the current runs through the shunt and the battery monitor measures the voltage drop.  This voltage drop is converted to amps and accumulated by the gauge.

Installation was pretty easy.  There were several items to address to install.

I needed to find a suitable location for the shunt. I decided to put this next to the DC ground bar.

My next challenge was that my house battery had several ground wires connected directly to the house battery.  Since current through these wires or cables don't pass through the shunt, their amps would not be measured by the monitor.  One cable that caused me to think through Intuition's wiring was the DC ground from the Link 1000 battery charger and inverter. After thinking about this for a while, I decided to move the black cable (ground) from the Link 1000 to the DC common bus.  This required ordering two custom 00 gauge cables with the proper M8 and M10 ends. I find it odd that the shunt used M10 sized bolts, while the negative battery terminal and ground use the smaller M8. I also moved the ground for marine ssb/ham radio.  Now all the grounds are on the common DC bus and pass through the shunt.

Next, I needed to decide where to install the gauge. Installing the gauge was very easy - all it required was a 2" mounting hole.  It was pretty painful to drill this 2" hole in our nav-station.  I didn't have much choice as to where to install the gauge.  I went for it and drilled a 2" hole, mounted the device.

One of the advantages of the Victron BVM is that an RJ11 cable is used to connect the shunt and the gauge.  Connecting the wires was very easy - snake the RJ11 cable through the conduit and plug into the back of the gauge, just like a telephone.

Setup only requires setting the house battery capacity and what feature to monitor on the 2nd battery - I chose volts.  The gauge defaults to 200 amp-hours.  I changed this setting to 300 amp-hours.  I also disabled the 'watts' display.

At this point, I thought I was done and began celebrating!!!  Like everything on a boat, there's always something that goes wrong.  I turned on the boat's electronics and the gauge measured positive amps (great) BUT NOT any accumulated amp-hours (not great).  I let the gauge accumulate amps for about a 1/2 hour hoping it would begin registering. It didn't.  I thought for sure I had a bad gauge.  I was not happy.

After reading the manual for the 10'th time, I found one-sentence that clued me in to the problem,

Charge amps are positive, e.g., putting amps back in the battery, and consumed amps are negative, e.g., using amps.  I had the shunt wired backwards...  A quick fix, swapped the cables and noticed amp-hours increasing with usage.

How did this happen - when installing the shunt, I decided to flip it over so the RJ11 and battery wires are plugged in from the top.  That effectively flipped the battery and ground connections.  Because of the delay in ordering the custom cables, I forgot about this last-minute decision.

This is the single most useful gauge on the boat, even more so than fuel (since we rarely use diesel, but always are using battery).  In practice, knowing that we have 300 amp-hours, it is very easy to check the accumulated amps.  When approaching 150 amps consumed, it is time to charge the house bank!

I find it a bit difficult to view the LCD display.  Like most current electronics, the display is very small and is backlit with blue LED.  This is a minor concern, since the accumulated amps is so important to monitoring  your battery capacity.

Don McLennan
Intuition - 3500 - #115

Tartan 3500 - Rebuild Cabinet V-Berth

A few days into our bash back from Cabo San Lucas, the cabinet frame under the v-berth shifted away from the fiberglass frame and pressed against the frame of the closets.  With each wave, the v-berth sounded like it was breaking apart. While underway, I managed to hold the front-panel in place with a wood-block, between the closet and front-panel.

Here you can see the frame pressed out about 1 1/2".

In looking at the construction, the front frame was held in place by 6 screws from the backside into the plywood frame.  Obviously, these weren't sufficient to hold the frame in place.

My solution was to add a spacer block to the inside of the front-panel and use large fender washers to secure the panel from the back,

With the spacer block in place, I secured the front panel with longer screws and large fender-washers,

I ran a bead of silicon around the entire frame, to provide a bit of insulation and to hold the panel to the fiberglass, and larger screws to hold the sides in place.

Intuition - 3500 - #115

Portlight Gaskets

When bashing back from a recent trip to Cabo San Lucas, I discovered that our portlights did not seal very well and sea-water leaked into the boat.  Unfortunately, this was most noticeable from the v-berth portlights, and soaked both closets and their contents.

On Intuition, 2000 3500, #115, the portlights are supplied by Manship, LS Stainless

The replacement gasket material is 7122 at $6.03/ft.  and only seems to be available through Marine Depot Direct.

Intution has 10 portlights,

6 @ 10 1/2 x 4 1/2      15'
4 @ 15 1/4 x 5 1/4      14'
Order 4' extra          4'

Total                   33'

7122 @ $6.03/ft =   $198.99

Wow, that adds up pretty fast.

Looking for alternatives, I found Wefco Rubber, here in the San Fernando Valley which makes custom rubber.  The size needed was 3/8" round by 7/16", with an inside diameter, at less than $2.00/ft.

Installation was tricky.  The rubber from Wefco was a harder than the seals removed from the portlights.  This made it somewhat difficult to press into the frame,

I used SuperGlue to glue the ends together. On the larger portlights, I needed to use a drop or two of superglue to hold the rubber to the frame.


Notice the compressed and malformed rubber?


Since the rubber is harder than expected, at first, it was somewhat difficult to close the portlights.  I found that by loosening the set-screws on each hinge, it became easier to open/close the portlights.  After about a week, the rubber began to conform to the frame and now is much easier to open/close.  I'm hoping that after a while, all the portlights will get easier to open/close.  The rubber does seem to be conforming to the frame, so I'm optimistic.

When talking to the folks at Wefco, I didn't realize the rubber would be harder than what was on the boat.  Consequently, I ordered an 1/8" inside diameter hole, with the idea that this would provide more rubber to conform to the frame.  Note in the before picture above, the rubber is pretty misshapen and in some cases torn.  I thought that extra rubber on the face would help!

Time will tell - I'm 85% optimistic that this will be OK, the portlights will seal and will be easier to open/close.  The funny thing - about 3/4's of the portlights open/close nicely, while the others are a bear to close.  A good hot S. California summer should do the trick!

Intuition - 3500 - #115

Tartan 3500 V-Berth Shelf

Intuition, our 3500,  has a lot of areas that are ideal for storage. One area is directly under the v-berth.   Unfortunately, this space is not very usable since the water hose runs right down the middle of hull . The solution, build a shelf.

This is my second version of this shelf.  The first version was attached to the back-side of the cabinet.  I believe this placed extra force on the cabinet frame, aiding in it becoming broken from the frame.

Instead of screwing into the frame, I made a separate frame out of 1" x 3", contoured to fit the interior shape of the hull, with a mortised 1" x 2" cross-member.

My theory is that the frame will rest against the hull.  Any weight on the shelf will press down against the hull, and not the back of the plywood cabinet.

And used another 1" x 2", thru-bolted to the back of the plywood cabinet, to keep the shelf from lifting,

The shelf is secured to the 1" x 3" frame.  And the final set of shelves,

I did put a small lip around the shelf to keep items from rolling off the base.  I may decide to box-in the front and back areas, so items don't fall into the bottom of the hull.

Final, useful storage,

I don't expect to put heavy items on this shelf.  Specifically, we can store the ditch-bag, first-aid kit, life-jackets, and other soft/loose items.

This provides a lot of useful space that is easy to access. So far, I'm pretty happy with this enhancement.

Intuition - 3500 - #115

Marelon Seacocks

We had a near catastrophic situation when after a nice day of sailing, I went to close the head seawater intake thruhull and the handle popped off in my hand.  Sea-water immediately started flowing in.

The handles are secured to the seacock ball by a 3/8" screw.  There's also a o-ring around the shaft of the handle and the screw to seal the seacock.  After the handle pulled out of the valve, I tried to put the handle back into the valve, to stem the flow of water.  I discovered that the o-ring became dislodged and pressed into the body.  This prevented the handle from seating into the valve.  Meanwhile, water keeps pouring in to the boat.

Using a small screwdrive, I removed the o-ring (all while water is pouring in), reassembled the handle and was able to properly insert and secure.  This is a terrible design, though I guess it lasted 14 years before the threads wore.

The solution turned out to be very easy.  I obtained 2 replacement seackcock valves from Forespar.

Notice the valve is made in 4 sections, held together by 4 large bolts from the top.  There's the threaded thuhull (white, not shown), that screws into the 3 1/2" diameter base, ball valve assembly (middle, where handle is attached), and top assembly.

Forespar's new design uses an embedded nut and bolt to hold the handle to the valve (I checked).  This should be more secure than the 3/8" screw.  Otherwise, the valves are identical.  What that means is you can replace the middle section, and don't have to haul the boat to replace the thruhull!!!!

Notice the white plug on the handle (above)?  It turns out this is the proper size to fit the thruhull from the outside of the boat.  I guess their idea is if the handle breaks off and the boat is sinking, you can jump in the water and plug the thruhull with this little plug.  Right..... I had my diver plug these, the next time he cleaned the bottom.

With the thruhulls plugged, I cautiously took apart the seacock,

Pay attention to the squarish gaskets between each of the marelon pieces.  Per the instructions, I applied a bit of marine grease to these and reassembled.

One final note, the seacock clearly states to not disassemble the valve,but Forespar's technical support encouraged me to do exactly this!  It is great when the design is improved and the parts are interchangeable.  It would have been just my luck if the assembly was 1/8" different is size or the screws were moved.

I replaced both the smaller sea water intake seacocks.  I'm relieved that these are operational without the fear of the handle coming off and flooding the boat.  The fix was very easy.  I'm thinking about swapping out the ball-valve on the remaining 3 seacocks in the boat.

Don McLennan
Intuition - 3500 - #115

Battery Usage

In evaluating our house battery capacity, I put together this table of item and amps consumed,

Total Amps
Interior LED Lights
Navigation LED Lights (Sail)
.1/each, .2/all

1.5 ß may swap out with LEDs


0.8 (*)

1.0 (*)

Autohelm Linear Drive
2.0 – 4.0 (*)

VHF Radio Receive
0.5 (*)

VHF Radio Transmit

SSB Transmit
3.0 (LOW)

4.0  (*)

1.0  (?)

Cabin Fans
1.0 (?)

Macerator Pump



An example of using this information, when using the items marked with an asterisks (*), it is reasonable to expect Intuition to use between 6 and 8 Amps per Hour, depending on the cycling of the refrigerator and autohelm linear drive.  Assume 6 Amps per Hour.  Over 24 hours, we'd consume 144 AmpHours, or about 50% of our house battery capacity.

Note - each of the original incandescent interior cabin lights draw about 1 Amp.  I replaced all of them with LEDs, and the total is 2.5 Amps!  Likewise for the navigation lights.  I have not replaced the anchor-light, but that's next on my list!

It is interesting that even with 300 AmpHour house battery bank, I only have enough capacity to keep the boat's electrical usage for 24 hours.  On multiday sailing, we need to charge the house battery bank every day.

Don McLennan
Intuition - 3500 - #115

Windlass Remote - Experiment

Recently I've been having problems with one of my windlass foot controller switches.  The problem stems from the base not properly sealed against the deck.  This allowed sea-water to seep into the switch mechanism and corrode the contacts.  Previously, I tried cleaning the contacts, which was a temporary fix.  I eventually replaced the switch and properly bedded to the deck.


In looking around options for controlling our windlass, I've been thinking about a hand-held remote.  There are wired versions, particularly the Quick  HRC remote, which retails for around $100.

This is pretty slick and would work well in the anchor locker of our Tartan 3500.

There are various wireless remotes.  Pictured is the Lewmar remote, starting at $250.
There are also inexpensive wireless control units found on eBay. These run between $13 and $20, some include two remotes, others a large remote and keychain remote, and this one claims to be waterproof!  I couldn't pass up this experiment.

Surprisingly enough, the remote is pretty solid, with a good feel to the on/off button and the up/down.  The receiver is of comparable quality to other electronic gadgets in plastic cases, found on the boat.

If this works, I'll be very happy with his purchase.  For the price, it is a noteworthy experiment.


Wiring is pretty straight-forward,

Red - plus, which connects to the positive lead on the windlass switches.

Black - negative, which connects to the windlass ground

White - down

Yellow - up


Since the size of the receiver is small, it measures about 3" x 2" x 3/4" and is very light, I decided to tuck up under the deck by the windlass control switches.  As a temporary measure, I simply wire-tied to the wire conduit.

I turned on the windlass main breaker and the handheld remote - pressed the down button - after about 1/2 second delay, the windlass engaged properly in the down direction. Likewise for the up direction.  Now I need a lanyard for the remote!

For $15, I could replace this every year and still be ahead of the dedicated marine units.

Don McLennan
Intuition - T3500 - #115

Deck Latch Tartan 3500

Our Tartan 3500 came with flush mounted cylinder cam locks on the anchor and propane lockers.

When we first bought the boat, these were corroded beyond repair. I tried soaking in kerosene, vinegar, fresh water.... but could not free the cylinders.  I even purchased a replacement set from Tartan.  These locks were manufactured by Accon Marine and from what I can tell are only suitable in a non-marine (salt-water) environment.  The locks are of poor quality and only lasted a few months.

What a challenge to find the right latch - I finally found the perfect replacement.  As much as I wanted the square frame, I ended up going with a round compression lock that claims to be waterproof and resistant to salt-water, corrosion.

There were several challenges – my anchor locker deck thickness is 15/16”; propane locker is 1 ¼”.  Many of the locks are limited by the deck thickness of 13/16” (.88).  To add confusion, the offset to the mitered groove in the locker is 2 ½” and propane locker is 1 ¾”.  I need adjust ability from 1 ¾” to 2 ½”.  Then there’s size of the arm, though I could always cut it shorter.

What finally influenced my decision was the Gemlux online calculator,  

After spending too much time looking at the mechanical drawings and technical specs for several of these latches, I found their calculator and voila -  they have a flat plate for thicker decks, and various shaft lengths and cams. 

Customer service was outstanding and very patient as I sorted through variables such as deck thickness, grip, cam length, offset,.... Although I wanted the similar squarish flat frame, the sales guy at Gem Products told me that the square locks are fading and people are going with these compression locks.  Claims to be waterproof, which hopefully will keep my anchor locker dryer.  Amazing customer service.  I'm looking forward to finally having a secure anchor locker.

Installation should be pretty easy.  These locks require a 2" diameter hole cut in the deck, using a hole-saw.  This seems a lot easier than cutting odd-shaped holes for shaft, routing out the recess, etc. Now that I found the proper configuration, it should be very easy to install.  

Intuition - Tartan 3500 - #115

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cleaning your fuel tank

One of the profound mysteries of operating sailboats is maintaining the fuel system.  There are several theories regarding your fuel, tank and filters.  Should the tank be topped off and kept full?  This minimizes the space for condensation, yet, if you are like us, we rarely motor, so a tank of diesel fuel lasts a  year or more.  Some claim, with the various additives, diesel fuel has a shelf-life and should be consumed within 6 months or so.  I don't claim to know the proper balance between topping off the tank vs. running it down and refilling.

I do know that microbiological organisms tend to grow in the tank which settle to the bottom.  If you've ever looked at a typical diesel fuel tank, the pickup tube stops about 1" from the bottom of the tank.  In theory, this prevents the the various sediments on the bottom of the tank to not be drawn into the fuel system.  

Theory is fine, but what happens when your tank level is low and you are motoring into a choppy sea?  The sediment becomes stirred and any growth may dislodge into the tank.  This will be picked up through the fuel line and hopefully filtered by your primary fuel filter.  Unfortunately, this also tends to block the filter, effectively shutting down the fuel supply to your engine.  In this case, your engine will stop.

This happened to us one, years ago on a friends boat.  We were motoring off the west end of Santa Cruz Island, through a region fondly called the "potato patch".   We hadn't planned on sailing through this, but this seemed like the best course to our planned anchorage for the night.  Of course, our fuel tank level was low.  Within a mile of the anchorage, the motor just stopped.  We tried starting the engine, it ran for a few seconds and stopped again.   The cause - blocked fuel system.  Believe me, it is not fun to change the fuel filters and bleed the fuel system while underway in choppy seas.

In preparation for our trip to Mexico, I am trying to anticipate problems before we head south.  Since this trip will entail a fair amount of motor sailing, I was curious about the state of our fuel tanks.  In preparation for this inspection, I deliberately ran the fuel level less than 1/4 tank.  

Our 2000 Tartan 3500 has a 25 gallon fuel tank, located under the starboard locker with two 5" inspection ports.  Clearing out all the junk in the locker (spare jerry can, paddles, dinghy wheels, lifejackets, siphons, fishing supplies...), I ventured into the locker to open the port.  It was very easy to unscrew 10 or so screws and to my surprise, the inspection cover came right off (I was expecting it to be sealed with gasket material - instead, just a crude rubber gasket). 

I pumped out about 1/2 the remaining fuel (2 1/2 gallons) to inspect.  Peering into this mystery void, I found black/brown goo lightly sticking to the bottom of the tank.  Diesel fuel is red in color.  What you see here is sediment on the bottom of the tank.  The red squiggly lines are where the bottom of the pump hose scraped against the bottom of the tank, dislodging the debris.  I was very pleased to see that the rest of the tank is pretty clean (lower left of the photo).

Looking at the 2 1/2 gallons of fuel that I pumped out, it was cloudy and dark red in color.  It was pretty ugly.  Obviously, this sediment was stirred up and became suspended in the fuel.  This dirty fuel is what would be pumped into your engine.  I'm waiting to see if this will settle down and I can filter/siphon the top clear good fuel.

Thinking about what I found, taking advice from friends, and considering our trip, I decided to clean the tank.

Cleaning the tank is actually two processes.  The first is to physically clean the tank.  Commercial systems either steam-clean the tank or pressure wash the inside with cleaned fuel.  The second process is polish the fuel, by filtering the suspended debris from the fuel.  The Alamitos Bay Fuel Dock provides a fuel-polishing service; however, the service is pretty expensive.  For our boat, there's a flat fee of $170 plus $85/hour.  I could see this costing $250 or more and I'd have to move the boat to and from Alamitos Bay.  I called a few mobile fuel polishing services, and I'm still waiting to hear back from them.

Using my iPhone, I took several photos of the tank interior.  I didn't see any nasty bits of growth on the tank.  In fact, the tank looked remarkably clean.  

Rather than put the cover back on this and hope that the tank was clean-enough, I decided to pump out the remaining fuel and clean clean the tank.  Armed with a couple rolls of paper towels, micro-fiber cloth, heavy-duty gloves, I jumped into cleaning the tank. Most of the debris was along the bottom of the tank, with more buildup by the pickup-tube and baffles.  

Using the paper towels, I mopped up most of the debris.  An interesting side note - diesel fuel makes a remarkable good cleaner.  Dipping my paper-towels in the remaining diesel fuel, made it easy to clean the tank.  Reaching around through the inspection port, I was able to reach all of the sides, top, bottom and tricky corners.

Finishing up with the micro-fiber cloths, I took a dozen photos, to verify that the tank was clean!!!  I was very surprised how clean the tank was and how quick this process actually went. After deciding to clean the tank, on the way to the boat I purchased 5 gallons of diesel to refill.  I refilled the tank with new, clean fuel.  Now my next dilemma - will the boat start?

Part of my concern is the fuel pickup tube is 1" diameter tube running from the top of the tank to near the bottom.  By emptying the tank, I was convinced that the fuel in this tube would drip out, leaving a large air-pocket in the fuel system.  Considering this, I bleed the fuel system at the secondary fuel filter, and a little bit of air came out of the system.  The engine started and I ran it for about 20 minutes at the dock.  

I still wasn't convinced.  The fuel that I bleed, was the old fuel, pink in color.  Recall, that I filled my jerry can with auto diesel, which is blue in color.  I was hoping to see blue fuel at the bleed screw.  I didn't.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day for sailing.  We filled the tank with 22.8 gallons of new, clean fuel, with additive, and sailed nicely in 20+ knots of wind.  Not trusting the fuel system, we ran the motor hard at 3000 rpm for 30 minutes, without incident.  A quick mental calculation, .66 gallons per  hour, 30 minutes is 1/3 gallon which is more than a quart.  There's not a quart of fuel in the fuel-pickup tube and 4' of 1/4" fuel hose.  I'm pretty certain there's no evil air pocket waiting to kill our engine at the most inopportune time!  I still don't understand why this wasn't a problem, but I'm happy it wasn't.

My only remaining issue is what to do with the 5 gallons of old fuel?  At $4.80/gallon, this is $24 worth of fuel.  It is not worth a lot of time or money to polish - it might be better to simply dispose of it.  Out of curiosity, I'm going to watch the fuel for a few days and see if the it the sediment settles to the bottom.  If so, I can siphon the clean fuel, filter, and possibly reuse.  If not, I'll check with auto supply stores if they'll recycle used diesel fuel.  As a last resort, I can dispose of the fuel at the Alamitos Bay Fuel Dock, for $2.00/gallon.  Perhaps I can use 1/2 of what I have and dispose the rest.  I've got time to sort this out.

I'm pleased how easy this entire process was and I'm now comfortable that large nasty bits won't be clogging our fuel system.  Once your tank level gets less than 1/2, I would strongly recommend opening inspection port and checking out the state of your tank.  This will give you piece of mind that your fuel system is clean and reliable!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Replacing Cabinet Latches

I love the push-button locks on our cabinets until one day something snapped inside the plastic mechanism. The cabinet was stuck in the locked position and my car keys were in there!  What was I going to do!

I pushed the button repeatedly hoping it would unlock. No luck. I then looked at the inside of another cabinet and realized the lock could be twisted from the outside. With a pair of channel locks, I gently twisted the bezel of the stuck latch about 90 degrees and the cabinet opened! Yay!

I looked at other cabinets around the boat. Some of the latches have screws securing the latch body to the cabinet. If that’s the case and one were to break, well, I'd just sell the boat. So I removed the screws, as you can see in the photo below. The center screw is all you need. 

Cabinet latch without screws holding it in place 

I researched replacements and found Tartan had nothing to offer, which seemed odd. I found OEM replacements at D.B. Roberts, which sells latches made by Sugatsune. The part numbers are PKL-08/GA (latch in gold) and PKL-S/WT (latch body in white). You might be able to find them on ebay, but they’re over-priced. At you’ll pay $13 for the former, $3.00 for the latter. You may not need both parts. Of course, you’ll buy extras to justify the shipping, among other reasons.

By the way, my car keys weren’t in the cabinet, but the booze was. Now you understand my panic. 

Replacing The OEM Water Heater

I know a charter captain who is fond of saying, “From the minute you buy the boat, everything aboard is headed for the dumpster. It’s just a matter of how quickly.”

When your water heater is ready for the dumpster, you’ll have several choices. The current Tartan’s, according to Art Averell, get Force 10's. There are others, so shop around to see what you like. If you're like me and are attracted to things that are shiny and expensive, be sure to check out this one: 

 This is a six gallon heater by Torrid. It’s beautiful, well-built, and has a glass liner. It’s a little pricy, so find someone with a wholesale account at your local chandlery. (West Marine doesn't sell this brand.) The list price was $700. I saved $100 by calling in a favor.

The installation was a bit of work, but it would be with any new heater that is not exactly like the OEM. A pro could have installed this unit in two days. It took me three weeks. You know how it is--as soon as you need a tool that’s at home you’ve lost the rest of the day on the project. 

The primary difference in the installation is that the old heater was fastened with screws that sat fore and aft. The Torrid sits sideways, so I installed a couple of shelves made of HDPE–high density polyethyleneand you can see where the Torrid is bolted down. 

No doubt you know the water heater in a 3500 sits under the nav station. This is a fun place to work--only slightly better than in the lazarette. You might be happiest hiring someone to install this heater. If you do it yourself, be careful. The tank will have to go in and out of the space more times than you would imagine while you figure out and fine-tune the installation. The tank fits beautifully in this space, but go slowly so you don’t trash your woodwork. And try not to break your nose in the process. Yes, I technically broke mine. I was tired and diving into the empty space yet one more time when I hit my head on the wood trim above the space. I rebounded down and hit my nose on the fiddle of the seat—it’s the lower piece of wood in the picture above. I heard a crack and started to bleed, inside and out. It smarted for a while. A friend called a colleague, an otolaryngologist, who said, “If it isn’t deformed and you can breathe through it, don’t worry about it.” 

Above you see the Torrid heater has inlets and outlets that extend horizontally, so elbows were used to direct the flows down. That took some creativity due to the space limitations, but it was a fun puzzle to solve.

The water heater is so good-looking I considered replacing the cherry panel that covers it with a piece of Plexiglass. Wouldn't others want to admire it! 

I changed my mind.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Electric Swim Steps -- Sexy Is Not Always Sensible

Anyone who owns a Tartan with an electric swim step knows there is always the possibility that it will fail to work. Failure is so imminent that Tartan devised a mechanical alternative so owners could deep-six the electric actuator and pull up the step with a series of blocks, lines, cam cleats, etc. That solution will be discussed later.

After 13 years, the swim step on my boat (Cheap Therapy, 2001 T3500) would not go down. It was a sudden failure, not having been preceded by grinding sounds or intermittent operation. For this reason, I assumed—and hoped—the problem was simple, such as a bad switch or crusty connection.

This is a schematic of the circuit on my boat, including wire colors. My drawing is a variation of the schematic posted by Phil Roberts of As you can see, the circuit is simple and there are only four places where things can go wrong electrically: the limit switches (2), the actuator (motor), or the control switch. (There are a lot of references to switches in this blog. I'll define the control switch as the one used to operate the step.) There are other places down in the lazarette where wires can be loose or corroded—a terminal strip, butt connectors, a three-way splice, and the connections behind the control switch. Some of this wiring is surprisingly vulnerable to moisture, so look for problems. 

A brief note on how the actuator works: the motor has a pinion gear on it. The pinion gear interfaces with an aluminium rack that has teeth on the bottom. The rack is connected to the swim step. When the motor turns, the pinion gear moves the rack in or out, pushing the step open or pulling it shut.  

Motor, rack/pinion in port lazarette

After studying the schematic and lowering myself into the lazarette, I traced the wires, measured voltages, and determined the swim step wouldn't go down because there was no voltage at the control switch.

Back of Control Switch on transom

Next, I needed to determine if the motor would work if the lower limit switch were bypassed. For this test, I cut the limit switch out of the circuit and bypassed it with a jumper. The motor worked, so the problem was a defective limit switch. 

Bypassing the limit switch with black jumper

In the photo above, note the terminal strip on the lower right. Granted, that's not the lowest part of the bilge, but I still can't believe Tartan would locate a hot 12-volts where it could be wet. About 18 inches aft is a safer location. Relocating this terminal switch would be a great exercise in prudence.

Next I went around to the transom and tried pushing the limit switch. The switch was stuck closed (the plunger was in), which meant the circuit was stuck open; hence, no current to the motor. (This is a Normally Closed switch, which means the circuit is made, not open, when the switch is not activated. This is the opposite of most switches we work with, but it makes perfect sense.) Due to being wet every time the boat is underway, the switch was DOA. Working it back and forth didn't help.

I gave this problem much thought and research. I arrived at four possible solutions.  

1. Throw Away The Electric Motor

The first solution—Tartan's mechanical line-lift system—can be dismissed quickly. Granted, it's a work of art, if you're an engineer. It's about as complex and labor/parts intensive as you can get. Rube Goldberg would have devised a much more simple solution. Art Averell at Tartan was kind enough to send me the PDF of the drawing, but to be able to read and work with it, you need to print it on a large-scale printer—the type used for blueprints. Contact me if you want the original PDF. 

A Tartan Engineer's Lift Line solution

I don't use my swim step often, so I wouldn't invest the time, money, and effort to implement Tartan's solution. Another mechanical retrofit was offered by a member of Tartan Owners of New England (TONE).  It's the polar opposite of Tartan's solution. Judge for yourself.

At a recent boat show I saw many swim steps with line controls. Go to a Beneteau dealer or elsewhere to see how they use double blocks on two sides and a block with a cam cleat. It's an easy installation, but remember-their swim steps are designed to accommodate the line hardware and hide it when the step is closed. We have to work within the physical constraints of our steps; hence, the challenge. 

2. Bypass The Limit Switch

If I were in a situation that required a quick fix, bypassing the limit switch would work and get the swim step functioning again. A more permanent and less-risky solution would be implemented later.

I would not recommend bypassing the limit switch and considering that a permanent fix.You'd run the risk of damaging the rack and pinion if you held the control switch too long. When activated at the right time, a limit switch opens the circuit and turns off the motor so the rack will not strip. 

3. OEM Solution

Some people will insist on an OEM solution figuring Tartan knew what they were doing when they design this. It's the most expensive and difficult to install. You'll be lucky if you can find someone to do the job. Getting to the lower limit switch will take an abundance of patience, a very small person or both. Consider yourself very lucky if you have a six-year-old malnourished niece or nephew who loves to be lowered into confined spaces. You'll be miserable if you attempt this repair yourself. Just getting a picture of the switch was a challenge for me. 

If you want to pursue an OEM solution, the lower limit switch is an Omron D4A-1109N. It's the one with the top plunger, not the roller. You can find these for $75 or more on ebay and elsewhere. If you're really lucky—like me—you can score one for $28 on ebay. I'm not going to install it; I just couldn't resist a deal and wanted to have it in my back pocket, just in case. I also wanted to gloat about my bargain karma. :)

Lower Limit Switch -- Omron D4A-1109N

The upper limit switch is an Omron ZE-N-2S. It's much easier to access and, if it it goes bad, just replace it. In fact, if you're going to work on a swim step electrical problem, replace this switch anyway so it's done. As I discovered about five weeks after posting this blog, the upper switch can fail at any time. Given the confined space in which you have to work and get aggravated, you don't want to revisit this issue more than once every five (?) years. 

Upper limit switch and bracket -- Omron ZE-N-2S

The only reason I would pursue the OEM replacement of the lower limit switch would be either: 1) I'm O.C.D., 2) I'm paying someone to do the work or 3) I'm O.C.D. The OEM solution does not guarantee a long-lasting fix. The previous owner of my boat replaced the lower limit switch twice in 11 years. Including the first one, that means they last an average of three to four years. There are very few other switches on your boat that are so unreliable. When you see where this switch is located, you'll agree there's got to be a better way.  

By the way, if you choose the OEM solution, be sure to thoroughly seal the opening around the switch with 3M 4200 or a similar sealant. If the switch leaks, water could get on the terminal strip. It's also important to turn off the swim step breaker when not in use.

4. Magnetic Reed Switches

I have to thank Chris Hancock for suggesting a magnetic reed switch. They're simple, have no moving parts, are plentiful, cheap, and you couldn't ask for an easier installation. The genius for which I'll take credit is the location of the reed switch. After considering the outside of the step, an Ah-ha! moment lead me to a dry spot out of the weather. I mounted it on the rack and the motor housing! 

You can buy magnetic reed switches at any electronics store or online. Get the kind that can be wired Normally Open or Normally Closed. Wire it Normally Closed. When the two parts of the switch are not in close proximity (swim step up), the circuit will be closed, allowing current to flow to the control switch, then to the motor, thus allowing the step to be lowered. When the step is lowered, the two parts of the reed switch will come close together, the switch will open, the current will stop flowing, and the motor will shut off even before you release the control button. 

The key is to position the two parts of the reed switch so the circuit opens at the right time in the travel of the swim step. I lowered the swim step all the way and put the unwired part of the reed switch--the magnet--on the end of the rack. I used Velcro with a heavy-duty sticky back. I figured Velcro would enable me to move the switch parts and fine-tune the positioning. I then attached a VOM to the leads of the switch half of the reed switch and attached it to the plastic housing of the motor. 

I used the audible resistance setting on the meter, which I would hear until the magnet came close enough to open the circuit of the reed switch. By playing with this set-up, I found the perfect spot for each part of the reed switch. That position was verified after I wired the switch into the circuit and tested it by lowering the swim step. I then used some very sticky tape to hold the reed switch in place. The way you attach it may vary. I may change the tape to something better in the future. Let me know if you have a better idea. 

One More Switch Idea

If you wanted a somewhat different solution, you could bypass the lower limit switch—or both switches—by mounting a DPDT (Double Pole, Double Throw) momentary switch somewhere inside the lazarette, at the top of the hatch where it could be reached. The idea would be to hold that switch at the same time you're activating the swim step control switch. One switch could bypass both limit switches. (Think ahead—the upper switch might quit someday.)You would wire 12-volts to the center of the switch and then use each pole to bypass the limit switches. If you read the schematic, this will become clear. The advantage would be ease of installation compared to the OEM option. It would also be fail-safe because only people who knew about the second switch could operate the swim step. The momentary switch would have to be pushed at the same time as the swim step control switch—and remember to release either switch when the swim step is close to or exactly at the desired position. Caution would dictate that, when lowering the step, the switch should be released just before the guy wires pull tight. That last inch might save your rack and pinion.

I hope this write-up helps. I welcome comments by folks who might be more experienced or knowledgeable. 

Garry Schaeffer
Cheap Therapy
2001 T3500
San Diego, CA

June 29,2014