A Hectic Week

Cheryl has been off the boat so I could have a quiet week working.  But this is boat life, and my social life this week has been hectic.  After a very enjoyable day helping Jo and Laurence down the Atherstone flight, they picked me up as they passed through Rugby hoping I’d help them down the 3 Hillmorton locks as well.  Jo was only a few hours from her new home so keen to get going so left Laurence and I chatting, it was nearly sunset before I arrived back on Firecrest.

Then I met Malcom and Barbara from Ampere, on their way to Crick to represent the Electric Boat Assosiation .  They kindly invited me to a BBQ, something Cheryl and I used to enjoy regularly when we were land based so this was a real treat. The next day I saw Laurence again.   Continue reading A Hectic Week

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.

 

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.