Sunday, March 14, 2021

Day Off at Peanut Island, Lots of Work Ahead

Today was my day off from working on the boat. I try to work a solid 9 to 5, six days a week, but enjoy taking Sunday's off to rest and do whatever I want.

This morning, I got up a little later than usual and spent a leisurely morning drinking coffee and reading The Economist, the weekly newspaper that I am always two to three weeks behind on reading. After over a week of strong, gusty northerly winds, today was calm, sunny and warm. I decided I would take the dinghy to Peanut Island, just across from the marina, less than a quarter mile away. There is a snorkeling lagoon on the east side of the island, so I pulled out all the dive gear to give it a rinse and put just my own stuff into the dive bag for carrying around the island.

Well, so much for a day off. The dive gear is stored in the life raft locker, which has never been cleaned out. I emptied it, culled its contents, and washed the interior and the life raft case. A fire extinguisher bracket had completed corroded away, leaving a big pile of rust. I mounted a new plastic bracket in its place. It didn't take long, I worked at a relaxed pace and I can check another item off my boat work list. So worth the little interruption to my day of leisure.

Lake Worth was swarming with boats, a Florida scene of powerboats, loud music, alcohol and tanned people of all shapes and sizes in bathing suits. I puttered over the short distance to the Peanut Island to tie up at the day use docks in the tiny Mangrove Lagoon.

Peanut Island was created from the spoils from dredging the Lake Worth Inlet that connects the port of Palm Beach to the ocean and which used to get to and from The Bahamas. The sandy dredge spoils are fenced off in the center of the island, the circumferential ring around the spoils is a park with beaches, lagoons, picnic areas and a campground. There is an old coast guard station (now closed) and, strangely, a bunker from the Kennedy era, a relic from the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis days. There weren't many people on the paved trail that circles the island through palm trees and other tropical vegetation. It was a nice peaceful walk to the snorkeling lagoon, diametrically across from where I left the dinghy.

The beaches were busy with mostly families enjoying the beautiful day and the water. The trail and all the facilities are really well maintained. It's a really nice park. There were lots of small tropical fish in the snorkeling lagoon, some large parrot fish and a couple of stingrays. I was hoping to see a manatee, but no luck. I swam out the inlet to the lagoon and came across a school of many dozen large snooks, ranging from 18 inches to three feet long. They were just lounging near the bottom, seemed to be enjoying the cool water "breeze" of the incoming tide. I've seen them swimming around the marina. They are good to eat, plentiful and not colorful, so maybe I'll try to catch one. The only trick is that you can only keep fish between 24 and 32 inches long. Smaller are considered juveniles and, interestingly, male snooks turn into female snooks when the get large, so big ones are left to reproduce.

I lay out on in the sun on the white sand beach to dry off and then finished my circumnavigation of the island, returning to the dinghy and making my way back to Intermezzo and a rum cocktail. It was a nice day off. I'm thinking of returning to Peanut Island during the week to go running there in the evening. The ring trail is 1.5 miles long, so a few laps would be a perfect distance and much more pleasant than running on roads with traffic on the mainland. 

I have a lot of work ahead of me in the coming weeks. In addition to getting Intermezzo ready for transport, I was planning to tackle two big projects. As it turns out, I now have three big projects to complete.

Project #1 is to upgrade the engine charging system. On sunny days, from the spring until fall equinox, the solar panels provide all the electrical power that Intermezzo needs with two people living aboard. If the weather is cloudy, when the winter sun is low in the sky, or if more than two are on board, they often don't keep up. When we are motoring, the diesels are capable of making up the shortfall, but their charging systems are limited in capacity and don't treat the batteries very well. The current system is just an internally regulated alternator like the one on a car that puts out a constant voltage to the batteries.

The upgrade is to install a new externally regulated alternator connected to a sophisticated charging regulator for each engine. The new alternators are high quality AMP-IT 80-ER 80 amp units built by Compass Marine. They are externally regulated and fit the existing saddle mountings on my Yanmar engines without modification. External regulation allows the alternators to be closely monitored and controlled to maximize output and efficiency.

The new regulators are Wakespeed WS500, probably the most sophisticated voltage and current regulator available.  Instead of just putting out a constant voltage, like the current system, these regulators deliver the three phase charging regimen (bulk, acceptance and float) that is much better for the batteries. What makes the WS500 special is that, unlike other voltage-only regulators, it can monitor the charging current. Batteries are fully charged when they can only accept a low current, for the Lifeline AGM batteries on Intermezzo, 0.5% of the battery bank capacity. The WS500 will continue charging at the 14.3 volt absorption voltage until this limit is reached before switching to the 13.3 volt float stage. Other regulators will just apply the absorption voltage for a set amount of time, often not long enough to fully charge the batteries. The other great feature of the WS500 is that they can be connected via a CANbus communications network so that they can "talk" to each other.  What this means is that the regulators can synchronize the charging when both engines are running, achieving the full capacity of both alternators, 160 amps total, for faster charging. The existing "dumb" charging system lets the alternators fight it out so that only one is actually charging the batteries at any instant. 

I think this charging upgrade will be a great improvement towards keeping the batteries in a healthy state of charge and reducing how often and how long we run the portable gas generator to supplement the solar panels. It's a big job, though.

Project #2 is replacement of the standing rigging, the wires that hold up the mast. The service life of stainless steel wire rigging in salt water environment is about 10 years, based on generally accepted practice, coast guard guidance and insurance company requirements. Intermezzo's standing rigging will be nine years old at the end of October and it has a lot of hard sailing miles on it. There aren't many skilled, experienced riggers in Mexico and there are some very good ones in Florida, so I'm getting the work done a bit early. I've selected Nance & Underwood out of Fort Lauderdale to do the work, based on their experience with rigging Leopard catamarans and recommendations. In addition to replacing the rigging, they will be installing a new Harken jib furler to replace the Z-Spar furler and its crappy bearings which is getting stiff to turn again. This is a job that I will watch get done, versus do myself. And pay handsomely for the privilege.

The unexpected Project #3 is to repair or replace the starboard diesel fuel tank. The tank has been leaking a tiny amount of fuel into the bilge. I had hoped the leak was from overfilling the tank. Unfortunately, that's not the case; it's leaking from the bottom. And, alas, the rate of leakage is increasing. Still just a nuisance leak, but it's not going to get any better.

The aluminum fuel tanks on Leopards are prone to pinhole leaks from corrosion of the tank. I had hoped to dodge this bullet, but not so lucky. My first choice is to replace the aluminum tank with a plastic one, like most Leopard owners have done. However, if I can't get a plastic one shipped to me in time, I'll get a new bottom welded onto the tank, which should give a few more years of service. Either way, I have the unpleasant job of pumping all the fuel out of the existing tank and pulling it out from under my berth in the starboard hull. I'm hoping that I can some help from the Rybovich superyacht boatyard next door. Intermezzo is a puny toy compared to the megayachts they work on, but I figure I might play the "how 'bout the little guy" card and get some sympathetic assistance. For a price, of course.

Well, writing about all the work ahead of me has put my lovely day at Peanut Island squarely into the past and I better get to bed soon so  that I can get cracking tomorrow morning.

A Florida Sunday afternoon on Lake Worth

The circumferential trail around Peanut Island

The old Coast Guard building on Peanut Island (Kennedy bunker nearby)

The AMP-IT alternator and Wakespeed WS500 regulator charging upgrade