Where the power goes – Part 1

We have travelled more miles in March than January and February combined – hardly surprising, Cheryl has been taking the helm a bit more.  Actually this has allowed me the chance to take some speed/power readings to gauge the performance of the propulsion motor on long straight stretches of the Grand Union canal.

I am pleased how little power the boat needs to cruise, less than I estimated when I was designing it and selecting the motor, batteries etc.  One thing that is obvious to me as I cruise is just how much more power it takes to cruise faster.

I can see second by second exactly how much power the motor is using, how much power it is pulling from the batteries.  It is really obvious just what a waste of power it is to try to go fast.  A good thing, because going slowly does less damage to the canal banks, and we have more time to enjoy the wildlife as we pass.

KW vs MPH for canal cruising

Cruising at 3mph feels nice.  3.5mph is really as fast as one should travel on most canals but it uses more than twice the power of 3 mph, so seems hardly worth it. The moral here is just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

When we pass moored boats we slow down and our power drops to under 1 KW.  When we travel through locks we use almost no power because the motor only uses power when turning the propeller.  The Stoke Bruerne 7 locks used just 14.8Ahrs.

For people who prefer figures here is the data as a table.  I have included Amps, because most narrow boaters think about battery power in terms of Amps.


1 step forward and 3 steps back

I have been running my own business since 2002, and each time I upgrade my computer I keep the old one mothballed to support old projects.  Cheryl would never have allowed me to bring all these old PCs onto the boat, but one of my customers now wants a significant update on a circa 1998 product.  Well you can guess what’s coming next.

The snag being, one of the tools I use runs on Windows XP and I only have Windows 10 – 64bit on the boat.

The more frustrating thing is I had the ideal PC which could quickly load Windows 2000, Windows XP and the customer’s software.  In the effort to downsize ready for the boat I gave it to charity (tools with a mission-TWAM)  having not even turned it on for 6 years.  It would have been perfect for what I need – C’est la vie.

Since I use Windows 10 Professional, I can run virtual PCs with other operating systems without interfering with my normal desktop.  Something I have never done but Google came to the rescue finding me some instructions on how to enable it, and how to find a Windows XP virtual machine to load. It turns out Microsoft has recently removed their downloadable copies of a Windows XP virtual PC from the usual page, I guess in an attempt to stop people using XP, but luckily they have it hidden away in another location so I down loaded it anyway.  At home I would have downloaded the Windows 8, Vista, and Windows 10 in 32 and 64 bit versions while I was at it, but as we have to use 4G I have to not waste our download limits.

Still with me?

Got all that done – I have Windows XP running on a virtual PC in a window on my desktop and can load software as if it was a standalone XP PC – brilliant.

Well not quite.  The virtual PC does not support USB, which was the whole point in the first place.  Still, I found another interesting article on how to use USB devices with your virtual PC and what’s more, gives the advantage of full screen use – brilliant.  Well no.  Unfortunately, you can only use USB devices that will talk to your host operating system, which the device I want to use does not, which is the reason I started all this in the first place.

After a few days of research and playing around getting my Virtual Windows XP PC working – I am still back at square one.  So now I am going down the route of buying an old laptop with Windows XP professional on – just so I can use two old and obsolete USB devices.  The alternative is to go back to Suffolk and work from home for a few weeks, perhaps not, I don’t think Cheryl would let me do that either.



Boating with a difference, How to spot a Firecrest

Narrowboat design is evolving to take into account modern technologies.  We’ve tried to incorporate a lot of the benefits behind the facia of  Firecrest.  We’ve chosen to embrace the environment, making Firecrest, albeit a very beautiful one, a means to an end, our comfortable home from home that maximises our ability to explore and enjoy our surroundings.  We’re reading that more and more boaters are pushing the boundaries of how much you can fit into a long metal box.  We’re loving the interest shown in our boat, and likewise how interested we are in the more traditional.

Firecrest’s features aren’t unique, just not as traditional as a lot of modern boats.

What makes her unusual.

1) Instead of a diesel engine we have an electric motor for propulsion, giving us totally silent cruising.

2) We are a gasless boat, so don’t use bottles of LPG for cooking as is usual, instead we have an electric oven, an electric induction hob, use an electric kettle, and an electric toaster.  These are all powered from the batteries so we can use them any time day or night without running the generator and disturbing the neighbours.

3) With my background in electronics and computer control, we have a modern computerised CANbus wiring system so all our lights, water pumps etc., are powered and controlled by a system much the same as is in all modern cars, lorries, coaches, and many commercial boats.  This gives me a lot of flexibility how things work, greatly simplifies the wiring, and reduces the amount of wire needed too.

4) Instead of the normal deck at the bow that is above the canal water level, ours is below the water level, a dropped well deck, at the same level as the rest of the interior of the boat.   Instead of the canvas cover (a cratch cover) we have extended the steel roof over the bow deck to make it an indoor sitting area, with headroom to stand up, and overhead lighting.  We have cratch sides that can open up, or be removed completely allowing us to have fresh cool air, but also shelter from wind.

5) Since we don’t get “free” hot water every time the engine runs, we have a modern high efficiency diesel boiler for our central heating and hot water, more like the ones found in homes with oil heating than the typical boilers used on narrowboats.  This means we have hot water all the time, Cheryl can wash up as many dishes as she likes and take as long in the shower as she wants.

6) We’ve opted to have a waterless Eco toilet, (composting toilet.) which are becoming a more and more popular choice for boaters. One of the biggest benefits is because we don’t flush, we don’t have to fill up the water tank so often.  And no, it doesn’t smell.

7) Our battery charging system is also computerised, and nothing like the usual alternator run from the propulsion engine.  This I have had to write the software for.

8) Our batteries are LiFePO4 (a type of Lithium battery that is much safer than the ones used in phones and laptops).  These have very different characteristics to the usual leisure Lead Acid batteries making them ideal for our boat.  These are charged from an onboard GenSet or shore power when available.  These need electronics and software management which I have also designed and built myself.

Lots of people seem interested in our electric propulsion and how we charge our batteries so I will add some “techie” posts in the future to describe that in some detail, and how we find it works in practise.

For all of Firecrest’s individuality, she still requires polishing and painting to keep her looking good.

Battery Charging Day

Having had a cup of tea at 5:30 am because we woke early, come breakfast we had no 240V power – oh well no coffee.

Opps – we had run the batteries flat and the Inverter had powered down as it should.  I knew the batteries were low, but declined to run the generator the afternoon before because our neighbours were enjoying the sun and the peace fishing off the bow of their boat, and I thought we would do it today instead, and let them enjoy their afternoon.

We ran 3 cells out of 32 – 100% flat – opps not the best thing to do for longevity, but once in a while is OK with our batteries, but something I intend to ensure does not happen again.

It has given me the chance to check the state of all the cells, and assess the state of balance, and we now have a fully charged battery, and I have lots of measurements for each cell.

I am installing electronics that will monitor the batteries all the time, and will eventually start the genset automatically if they get too flat, but I have not installed that yet – ironically I was going to make a start today.  This will also keep an track of exactly how much power we have left.

Normally it is best to keep LiFePO4 batteries between 10% and 90% charged.  The normal practise of charging Lead Acid batteries to 100% and float charging them is a really bad thing to do to Lithium Batteries, so I have been very careful not to charge them too much.

Still it has been a nice day – and we have a nice view over the wide’s – with pairs of Geese being very territorial, and chasing the swan away.



Ran out of water today

Today we ran out of water, quite deliberately, as we wanted to measure the tank capacity and get a feel for how the water gauge relates to the amount of water we have left.

Our water tank is in what is usually the Gas Locker.  For none boaters that is the very bow of the boat.  This means it has a complicated shape which is small at the bottom and large at the top.

As we filled the tank I measured the voltage from the water sensor every 5 minutes and noted how  full the tank gauge read.

It turns out that when the gauge says we are half full we are in reality a quarter full, and when the gauge reads a quarter full we are very close to completely empty.  To give you an idea of how extreme this is, the gauge read nearly a quarter full after filling for 5 minutes but it took 1 hour and 50 minutes to fill the tank.

This graph illustrates how quickly we run out of water once the gauge shows a quarter left.

CHart showing water level

Of course, the aim is never to run out of water, so todays measurements will help us manage our water supply and to plan when we stop at water points to take on more water.

Water points are distributed along the canals and clearly marked on canal maps.  As we intend to continuously cruise (move on every few days) we should be passing water points every few days as we go.

Connected (or Eric in the bed)

One of the things that makes modern living what it is, is being connected to the Internet and having access to information at our fingertips.  Rightly or wrongly we view it as an essential.  So whilst the TV and Radio are still waiting their fine tuning and we have had a quiet weekend without them Eric has been sorting out the internet access and on board WiFi.

We have a Huawei router (LTE CPE B315) and roof mounted 4G aerials from WiFi on board. http://www.wifionboard.co.uk/

The router is housed under the bed which means it’s accessible if necessary and the WiFi signal isn’t hampered by too much metalwork so that our connection is good in both the saloon and dinette.

We’re using an EE data package and have started with a 6GB/90 Day pay as you go SIM to start with. (We now this will be woefully inadequate but it is only meant to start us off.)

We’re now conscious of paying for the time we spend browsing and we’ll have to top up regularly until we can decide the best monthly contract to use.  It will seem expensive at first but when you consider the true cost of paying line rental etc. on dry land, it’s just that we are conditioned to absorb those costs without thinking much about it.  Time will tell as to how many hours we can waste on YouTube before we realise we can’t check the weather forecast or make blog posts. We’re also taking advantage of the families BT home hub system so when we do feel the need for a little moving action we’ll choose our mooring spot more carefully.

As with all the things on Firecrest we’re not actually cruising yet and a lot of our technology is still to be put to the full test, hopefully for Eric’s sake it will work otherwise it’ll be back under the bed for him until it is right.


Fuse goes POP

Fuse goes POP – ooops.   This was fun when I was at university, making the lab technicians jump, but on my boat – well not what I wanted at all.  No satisfying POP in this case, not even a sound or a flash.  At university the fuses were loud when we deliberately made them pop; louder than any firecracker I have ever heard a really sharp bang – VERY satisfying.  Ok what amused me at 18 is less than amusing when over 50 and on my own boat, and where I have to figure out why and find a solution.

I tried a larger fuse 16A instead of 10A – well who doesn’t and to be fair the higher rated fuse was still more than adequate to protect the cable.  Well my 16A fuse also blew instantly on a circuit that had no load where it should have only used 0.05A at most. Ok, time to start to think what is going on, especially when these fuses are £5 a pop, literally per pop.

Our boat has a 48v propulsion battery that connects to the motor and Victron Quattro inverter via 225A and 400A fuses.  It also supplies the 24V DC system for the lights, water pump etc. via DC/DC converters that turn the 48V battery supply to 24V.  So far so good; this saves having a separate 24V house battery and battery charging system.

Under normal canal cruising conditions our batteries need to supply about 50A and when cooking less than 100A (yes we have an electric oven and electric induction hob like one would normally use in  a house).  Even our 3KW Electric kettle only requires 60A.  But, our batteries can deliver over 2,000 amps as a continuous load, around 5,000 amps for many minutes and perhaps 20,000A for tens of seconds into a fault.

The fuses I had selected are capable of interrupting a 200,000A fault current without rupturing or creating a source of ignition, but now I know will blow instantly when it should only draw 50ma (0.05A). Oh!

Time to get back home and let the boat builder do the final fettling before we move on board later in the month, while I consider what to do next.