When you live on your boat 24/7 you get to know sounds and what I was listening to at 4.00am on a Monday morning didn't sound right.
Every night for the last 18 months as I lay drifting between sleep and awake I'd heard the fridge compressor click on, run for a specific amount of time and then click off. This night it wasn't doing that. This night it was clicking on, powering up to speed and clicking off, then 5 seconds later it would run through the same process. Something was wrong with the fridge. Or so I thought.
My mind ran through possibilities. Maybe the compressor was dying and would need to be replaced. But it was only 15 months old. Maybe it was a faulty thermostat, that would be an inexpensive fix. I got out of bed and flicked the fridge circuit breaker to 'off' at the nav station. At least then it wouldn't be a continuous annoying sound for what was left of the remainder of the night.
The following morning, just as the sun was hitting our solar panels, I remembered that I'd switched the fridge off and flicked the circuit breaker back on. The compressor went straight back into its clicking on, powering up and clicking off routine. I was busy replying to YouTube comments that had come in overnight so I resigned to look at the fridge issue later.
The sun rose higher and our solar array started producing lots more electricity and suddenly the fridge clicked on, powered up and stayed on. Hmmm well at least the problem wasn't the fridge.
I heard Aannsha rouse in the princess suite and go through her morning routine which included flushing the head (toilet). Coming into the saloon she said "I'm not sure if it's my imagination, but the electric toilet flush sounded odd this morning." I cast my mind back 2 days ago and remembered that the aft head had sounded a little dull too.
For some reason I glanced down to the lower right corner of my laptop screen and noticed that even though I was plugged into the 220v outlet the laptop battery was not being charged. I checked the little LED on the electric power socket board, it was not illuminated. Maybe the inverter is on the blink, was my first thought, but the electric heads and fridge don't get their power from the inverter was my second thought.
There was only one possible conclusion, there was something wrong with our domestic battery bank.
Break out the tools
On board A B Sea we have 4 x 95 amp hour batteries, they were all brand new in June 2018 (15 months old). One battery is dedicated and isolated to start the engine, the other 3 are for powering all of the 12 volt systems on board. When the solar was installed we also had a battery monitor installed and it was part of my morning ritual to have a look at what percentage of battery life we had remaining after a normal night's usage. I'd never seen it below '84% available' in the 18 months we'd been living on board.
When I tested the batteries with the volt meter it was obvious that 2 of them were very dead. They only showed 10.13 volts, the third battery looked okay at 12.16 volts. Either way all three needed to be replaced and we only had 3 days to complete that mission.
The 3 day time frame was because I was flying back to the UK on Thursday 3rd October for a long weekend for a 30 year reunion of the people I knew and worked with in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The battery situation wasn't going to get any better and I couldn't risk leaving Aannsha on board alone and have the domestic batteries fail completely while I was away.
It was now 2.00pm Monday 30th September, no time to start the mission today, so we set our sights on an early start Tuesday morning.
Off to Athens
Fortunately we were anchored at Varkiza, mainland Greece, a big town that had a few car hire places and we were within easy driving distance to Athens and many stores that sold batteries.
Car hired, satnav installed, address punched in and the nice lady inside the satnav showed us the way to a store called Battery Park (www.batterypark.gr). We'd taken one of the dead batteries with us so that we had an exact size comparison for the replacements we'd be buying. The new ones had to be the same dimensions if they were going to fit into the battery compartment.
Ideally I would've liked to buy deep cycle batteries with 200 amp hours each but that wasn't going to happen because of the battery compartment size restraints on board A B Sea. We ended up buying 3 Varta 100 amp hour batteries for 420 Euros (AU$675). That was only an extra 15 amp hours collectively from our old batteries capacity. I plan to add a fourth battery into the domestic mix while we're on the hard doing maintenance and repairs this winter (2019/2020).
The side mission
Attempting to figure out how we'd managed to bugger up the domestic batteries in just 15 months of use, I started thinking about how we use our laptops. This is the chain of electrical usage. From our 12 volt batteries we take electricity to our 800 watt inverter where the 12 volts is stepped up to 220 volts, that then passes through the laptop power brick where it gets stepped down from 220 volts to 19 volts to power the laptops. An absolute huge waste of energy. I have seen online, car chargers for laptops which take 12 volts and step it up to 19 volts. Our mission was to buy two of those to power our laptops.
We visited a total of 8 different stores around Athens and not one knew what we were talking about. Some even told me that it wasn't possible to change 12 volts to 19 volts. By 3.00pm on Tuesday, tired and hungry, we decided that the best option would be to order the laptop car chargers online and get them delivered to my brothers house in the UK so that I could bring them back to Greece.
We stopped at a smart looking burger place and had a late lunch of tasty burgers and a couple of cold cokes before driving back to the harbour and transferring out bounty of new batteries back to A B Sea via our dinghy. It was late, so I (sensibly) decided to begin the job of replacing the batteries at first light Wednesday morning.
Everything you do on a boat takes longer than expected and twice as long as that if you're filming it. But despite the time it took it was a relatively straight forward job putting in the new batteries and it was all done just as our solar array began pumping electricity into the system. The new batteries now had a whole day to get fully charged with a slow trickle. Perfect.
Another thought I'd had was that the battery monitor was delivering misleading information, so I downloaded the manual and when I checked it was obvious that the guy that installed it in Spain had not set it up correctly. I reset it to reflect that we now (with the new batteries) have 150 amp hours of 'usable' power before we start damaging the batteries. The following morning after a usual night of electrical usage the battery monitor showed a more realistic 79.5% remaining of the 150 amp hours. Much better.
Back to Athens
Aannsha and I were in need of replacement deck shoes. The ones we'd bought at the Decathlon store in Spain were beginning to split at the seams. A new mission was launched, so it was back to Athens in the rental car. We dropped the old batteries off at the store we'd bought the new ones from so that they could be recycled properly and went off to buy new deck shoes. It shouldn't be that hard. It turned out to be impossible.
Everywhere we went the answer was no and we also had the misfortune of getting caught up in road closures in central Athens due to a general workers strike day and march. We spent 80% of our time that day in the car in traffic snarls. Disappointed we headed back to A B Sea.
Thursday rolled around and I was happy that the power situation was under control, so that was one thing that wouldn't be an issue while Aannsha was solo on board.
My flight wasn't leaving Athens until 22:45 hrs Thursday (arriving Manchester, UK 00:55 hrs Friday) but I got Aannsha to drop me on the shore at 19:00 hrs so that I could get the rental car to the hire place at Athens airport before they closed at 20:00 hrs.