Sunday, April 18, 2010

Xantrex inverter power!

Victory! In some small way at least.

The tale of our trials and errors with batteries leans heavily toward the error column. But we have come a long ways.

On our first boat, the Fitzcarraldo, we had a short that caused a severe and quick drain on the 2 small batteries that were installed. We had moved aboard knowing nothing about marine electronics. I had to look up which was AC and which was DC. Finding the electric short was a challenge nothing short of gargantuan.... we never did find it. So, the entire time we had that boat, we had to spend our time at sea and at anchor with no lights. Headlamps and lanterns only. It was kinda fun, more like camping.

Then we sold that boat (the new owner has since patched up the electrical issues and has the Fitz working nicely). We bought Madrigal which had a nice new electrical system, but again, two small batteries. We would run low on power quickly, and I eventually figured out that the alternator had been slowly dying all along too. In the course of installing various components I've learned a lot. A ton really, about marine electronics. I've practically memorized the first few chapters of Nigel Calder's Mechanical and Electrical Manual.

That brings us to last spring when a neighbor boater was updating his battery bank. He sold us a set of 4 trojan 6v golfcart batteries totaling 450 12v amhours. Fantastic! I built a new battery box under the steps and setup a new installation for a house bank. Those worked great for the summer, but we could tell they were weakened with age. They wouldn't hold a charge nearly as long as they should. Towards the end of summer had a good deal on a Xantrex Freedom 1800 inverter. We knew that we were going to want invertibility sooner than later so we went ahead and purchased it. We never hooked it up though, for a few reasons. 1. It was the end of summer, we were going to be hooked to shore power for the next 6 months. 2. We were broke and couldn't afford the $$$$ wiring components for such an install. 3. We new the batteries were not so hot and that an inverter would just drain the daylights outta them in no time.

So there it sat. This beautiful new inverter/charger, hanging still and lifeless on the bulkhead I'd mounted it upon. Oh well. We got to stare at this new decoration all winter long, wondering what it would be like to have a boat in which stuff actually worked.

Well, with spring coming along we've been frantically trying to get the boat prepared and re-commissioned for the new year. This is happening in conjunction with the realization that Jenny is going to be quitting her library job in order to index full time. eek! That is so great, and so intimidating all at once. It's great because it gives us freedom and time, two things we value greatly. But we will have to stay tied to the dock so that we can keep laptops, phones, pda's, printers, and computers up and running.... unless... we get the inverter installed.

So, I made a trip out to Atlantic Battery in Watertown MA last week. I'd talked to a few local marine mechanics who all told me to go there for the best deal. It was truly a nifty little shop. It's been there for over 75 years. They had antique batteries laying around and a real "decades past" kinda feel to the shop in general. I did get a good deal on 4 brand new 6 volt golf carters. This time totaling 420 amphours. I exchanged the old ones to avoid a core fee and went home to layout the inverter install. All the wires and breakers and other junk arrived on Friday and I spent yesterday with my brain in a jumble trying to pretend that I'm a master marine electrician. I had a bit of help and advice from Fitzcarraldo Dave. It took me until 10pm before I was finally ready to head outside and throw the main breaker on the pedestal.

It worked like a charm.

It charges at 40 amps and allows the shore power to flow through the unit while docked. When I unplug the boat, it kicks over to inversion mode and our AC panels works as if we were still plugged in. I can turn off individual breakers for various systems so as to avoid drainage-- I can turn them all off if I wish, and I likely will quite often. But the main goal was achieved. All of our AC outlets work as if we were docked. Computers, printers, phones and all can be charged, used and abused.

We have a small crappy 2-stroke generator that we got as a hand-me-down. It is made by all-power and can be purchased from Northern Tool.

It is loud, smelly, and annoying, but it will have to do. Someday maybe we'll strike it rich and we can get a nice, new, quiet, suitcase-style Honda generator and a system of solar and wind power to back everything up.... in the meantime, oh well, 2-strokes are fun :)

So there we have it. We've went from headlamps only with a dead battery system on our first boat to a full inversion 1800 watt self contained system of good clean power on Madrigal.

I, for one, consider this a victory.



  1. success indeed! We too are very familiar with Mr. Nigel's book. Nice work.

  2. perhaps I need a copy of said book.

    nice work!