Day 10 – En- route to Bermuda

It is now Tuesday morning, and all is well.

We just did a fire drill as Roberta rang us up to let us know that the master stateroom was full of smoke! That immediately caught everyone’s attention. When we opened the door into the master cabin, there was indeed white smoke. Rip launched himself into the engine room, and the rest of us each grabbed a different part of the boat. I checked behind the electric panels and checked the batteries. The battery banks around the boat are located under beds and floors. The good news is that after 15 minutes of searching we were left scratching our heads. Our best guess is that somehow the air conditioning system in the master cabin is sucking exhaust fumes from the engine compartment. We just had the exhaust from the main engine checked for leaks, and I believe they put new wrapping around the exhaust. Perhaps we have developed a small exhaust leak? We couldn’t find one, but we’ll be watching it VERY closely now. We’ve now given up the search and opened the door to the master stateroom to get rid of the smoke smell.

 It is now 15 minutes beyond when I wrote the last paragraph. The smell and smoke came back with a vengeance. We all rushed back to our stations, and this time we found the problem. The 24-volt alternator was frying!

I’m a software person, not hardware, so if you will keep that thought in mind, I’ll do my best to give the readers of this log enough information to understand what happened and why.

Sans Souci has a constant need for electricity. We have all the ships electronics, lighting, refrigerators, air conditioners, electrical outlets even a power-hungry espresso machine. Just prior to this trip, I had the boat rewired to solve problems with the electrical system. The boat had been in Europe where the electrical standards are different than the U.S. In order to keep the boat running, I had to use shore power to run a European battery charger. This worked when we were in port, but when at sea, I had to depend on the invertors. So, what you might ask, are the invertors?

An inverter converts DC current into 110v AC current. The boat requires a combination of 12v DC power, similar to what you run in your car, and 110v alternating current identical to what you have at home. Unless we are in port somewhere, our only option for getting 110v electricity (actually ANY electricity) is to make it ourselves. Perhaps you have noticed that your car battery, if the car isn’t run for a few weeks, will run down. This is because the alternator, which generates electricity, requires the car’s engine to be running to enable it to work. There is a belt attached to the front of your car’s motor, which is then attached to the alternator. When the alternator spins it generates 12v (or, in the case of Sans Souci, 24v) DC current.

 And what are generators?

Sans Souci is equipped with multiple alternators, and two invertors. We also have the ability to generate our own 110v AC current directly, via generators. A generator is a completely separate diesel engine that has a self-contained alternator and inverter such that it is a “plug and play” solution for generating 110v electricity. This 110v electricity can then be used to power the boat AND to power battery chargers, which provide the 12v and 24v DC needs of the boat.

At the briefing prior to our voyage, it was said that one way to diagnose any problem aboard a ship is to think of it as a sprinkler system, like you have in your front yard. You have a source of water, and then a distribution system that delivers the water to where it is needed typically the sprinkler heads. If you notice a sprinkler head that isn’t spraying water, you check the source to see if the water is coming in, and then you start tracing the system to find out where the water that should be flowing, is escaping from the system. Sans Souci has many systems that can be thought of in this way – the fuel system, the water cooling system, the fresh water system, the electrical system, the hydraulic system, and who can forget one of the most important of all the septic system!

Aboard Sans Souci, the electrical system has MANY possible sources: the batteries, the 12-volt alternators, the 24-volt alternator, the 110v AC generators, and shore power (when we are in a marina). All of these sources of power feed into the invertors, which perform a bit of a traffic cop function on the AC side of things. The invertors are intelligent. They look at all the potential sources of power and make decisions about where to get power from, and what to do with it. For instance, if shore power is connected to the boat, then this is given priority #1 to power the boat, and all other sources of power are ignored. In the absence of shore power, if the generators are running, the inverter is smart enough to stop inverting, and just use the electricity put out by the generator. When the generators aren’t running, the inverter shifts its thinking towards the alternators.

Our current problem is that we do not have shore power, and the generators aren’t running, so, the inverter made the decision to take 100% of the boat’s power needs from the 24-volt alternator. This is fine, so long as you don’t try to take more electricity from the alternator than it has to give. In our case, we overloaded the alternator. The system was sized such that we can do essentially everything we want to do using just the 24v alternator. That said, we have been running three large air conditioning units, and weren’t sure how to measure the amount of power drain we were pulling from the alternator. I consider this an important lesson learned. Mickey Smith, the engineer behind the re-engineering of San Souci’s electrical system, did give me a walk-though of the boats electrical system. Another lesson I should have learned is to write things down. When Mickey walked me through the systems, everything seemed simple and obvious. Now that he is 150 miles away, nothing seems obvious.

Which brings us to the problem at hand. We asked the alternator to produce more electricity than it was capable of producing. The alternator tried to make us happy by working harder and harder, until it started burning itself up. Once we determined what was happening, we shut down the alternator, and fired up a generator. However, nothing on a boat is ever as easy as it sounds. The alternator in question takes its power from a device (called a PTO, which I assume means Power Take Off) attached to the back of the engine. Our first reaction was to shut down the PTO, but within seconds we realized that this would be a dumb move. The PTO on the back of the engine is also used to power the hydraulic system, which runs the water pump that cools the stabilizer system. In trying to solve our electrical problem, we were putting our water-cooling system and stabilizer systems in jeopardy. We reacted immediately and found a cut out for the generator at the front of the engine room (on the voltage regulator for the alternator).
Shutting down the alternator requires us to bring a generator on line. This is literally as simple as pressing a button. This raises the further question of why we don’t just run the generator all the time. The answer is that generators consume fuel. We’re not sure
exactly how much, our sense is somewhere around one gallon per hour. That means nothing on this run, but a great deal on our run from Bermuda to the Azores. I’m still not completely comfortable with the math on our major crossing. We have to run 1,800 miles and have 2,100 gallons of fuel on board. At 8.5 knots, we’ll be running around 210 hours, and are currently consuming over 9 gallons of fuel per hour. If you divide these numbers, the result is that we are cutting it closer than I’d like. All will be well if nothing goes wrong – but, on a boat, things do go wrong from time to time. I’d like to make the big pass without using the generators at all. This certainly means no usage, or limited usage of the air conditioners, which will not be popular. In rough water we close all hatches, doors, portholes, etc to keep water out of the boat. Unfortunately, this also keeps air out. Enough gets in such that we can breathe, but it’s at best an “adequate” airflow. We are currently discussing how to put extra fuel onboard for the big trip. There is one tank on board that is reserved for putting old, used, engine oil. We think this tank holds 200 gallons, and are now planning to put supplemental fuel into this tank. Alternately, we can always cut our fuel consumption by slowing down. Even a 1 mph drop in speed can result in a 10% fuel savings. Our top question now is whether or not the alternator can now be brought back on line, or if we have destroyed it. It does seem to be working. We need to make a decision so we know whether or not to fly parts to Bermuda. I’ll also sleep better once I’ve spoken with Mickey and gotten a better handle on how to measure electrical consumption. I guarantee that our days as electrical bingers are in the past.

On to other issues…

Most people are holding up well. Our chef Phil is looking green. I noticed our EMT (St. John) running through the hallways with medical supplies in hand. He mentioned yesterday that he has a refrigerator full of suppositories should the pills not work. Yuck. Sea Fox, the Krogen 58, has taken to referring to itself as the hospital ship. They have
several people who are “down” with seasickness.

And, in that vein…

Before we left dock, I went aboard the Nordhavn 47, Strickly for Fun. It’s a new
boat, and I couldn’t help noticing immediately that everything is being kept immaculate – even the bathroom floors. As part of their efforts to keep the boat in pristine condition, there is a very official sign posted in all heads that reads: “Gentleman are kindly requested to keep seated throughout the entire performance.” I’ll let you figure it out.

And continuing on the lighter side…

Each boat seems to be trying to express its individuality through their radio communications. One boat called out last night to invite us all over for a cocktail party (they were kidding unfortunately). One Nordhavn, a single engine boat, announced that they were now running on two engines and might fire up a third to go even faster. There was also a lot of discussion as we attempted to decide on which boat would take the lead in mooning the helicopter. No one ever went for it. Our hope was that if the documentary had an “R” rating it might be a lot more fun to watch.

And now returning to the serious issues…

During our battle with the smoke, we dropped the ball on filming. Bruce Kessler, our filmmaker, will be disappointed with us. I did briefly film a discussion of Dan and Rip where they were discussing the possible roots of our problems, but put away the camera about 30 seconds later. I felt like a total loser standing there with a film camera as smoke floated around me. Oh well… The other important lesson we all learned is that you must NEVER stop looking for a problem until you find it. We knew there was smoke, and made a decision to ignore it. That was a bad decision that shall not be repeated.


The wind is better today, but the seas are far from calm. We are running straight into the wind with non-stop 4-6 foot waves. The weather report is saying that the waves are going to continue for many days to come. Crap. Hopefully today will be a bit calmer on the crew front. Yesterday, everyone’s tempers
were on edge. Some comments were made in anger, and some feelings may have been hurt, although you’d never know it today. Now that our excitement has passed, everyone has scattered around the boat to read and enjoy. 


(re: Day 10 – Enroute to Bermuda) Submitted 5/18/2004

Hi, I am Larry Biggs and soon to be an owner of a Nordhavn 47. I don’t know if it is o’k to email back to you, and if it is ok to ask questions. I apologize in advance if responding is a “no go” for some reason. If it is ok, I have a question for you.

Were your Air Conditioning units running off of the invertor, and the 24v alternator charging your inverter batteries? If yes, was the alternator overloading from charging your domestic (invertor batteries)? Or is it set up in some other way?

Stay safe and thanks so much for keeping all of us on land up to date on the progress of your trip. It is truly exciting and historical.







(SSB Autopilot probs) Submitted 5/18/2004


Another boat has same problem w high power VHF xmtting causing hard port turn. Gord West diagnosed H2O in ant. coax causing high voltage standing wave ratio which causes interference along entire coax cable thus affecting autopilot Fix replace coax cable

Hpe this helps

Rod S

PS my 1st message not on the blog now original of this may ni=ot have got through


Sumner, Rod

(re: re: We are at sea!!!!) Submitted5/18/2004

I would love to get my hands on that Video as well. Trawler traveling the great oceans is a dream I hope to accomplish. That documentary would be such great inspiration!

Jeremy Whittaker
Thousand Oaks, CA



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