Lithium Batteries for Marine Use...

If there is a single thing that I regret with this complete project was the decision to use Lithium batteries...

On the surface of it they seemed like the answer for this type of application...and if they lived up to the claims of the promoters of the  batteries they would be.  Lets face it...light weight, fast charging, virtually non existant discharge when not in use, about 5 times the cycling life of conventional batteries.  But, as with many things in life, the hype sometimes doesn't match the reality.

Now, please appreciate that the following is only my own personal opinion after having 'lived' with them on the ocean for about 11,000 kms. 

My opinion is that the technology of these batteries are not at a stage in which they can be relied upon in the marine environment.  They need very sophisticated battery management systems and these systems are prone to failures. 

If you have a bank of these batteries and several cells fail in one battery it brings the entire bank down.  This is why we got stranded 200 miles south of Singapore.  One of the circuit boards in the battery management system failed.  That in turn caused a couple of cells to fail which led to a complete shut down of the 48volt bank system...thus no propulsion.

Part of the problem may be due to the higher ambiant temperatures in the tropics.  The batteries were getting extremely hot.  This was something that the manufacturers did not warn about.  It wasn't a problem in New Zealand but it sure was in the tropics.

Four times the boat was disabled...and each time it was due to these batteries.  Maybe they would be OK for a boat just cruising around the coast of a country where there are technicians available who understand this technology but outside of those regions it is still unknown technology.  Nonetheless each time the costs to fix them or replace them are pretty excessive!

Four times I had to fly my technician to various countries to carry our repairs.  Support from the manufacturer is virtually non exisitent even though I opted for the best and most expensive brand.

When the last failure occured in Langkawi I could not contact my technician so in desperation I tossed out all the lithium batteries and replaced them with AGM's.  On hindsight I should have done that a long time ago.  I now have a reliable system that works and any electrician can understand...hey, even I can understand it.

I will do a seperate post on what I have done with the electrical system. By the way, I am happy with the electric motors and although I had a lot of teething problems they are all sorted and had I and others had had experience with them most of those problems could have been avoided.

So, if you are considering usiing lithium batteries in your boat you may like to drop me a note for more into.  One consolation which doesn't make me feel so stupid in persevering with them is that Boeing also made a mistake with these batteries in their new Dreamliner airplanes.  :)


A new Tender for Natural-High

If you having been following this blog for a while you may remember that I have a small Porta-bote dingy.  The idea of it was good at the time but the reality has not been so good.  That is not a negative on the dingy itself...they are quite brilliant but the 8' 6" model is just too small for the use that I wanted it for. 

It is not practical to dive out of and in choppy water it has it's limitations.  Also, it is not the greatest to tow and is a bit of a hassle to assemble and pack away again.

When we were getting towed to Singapore by Mark and his family on SV Relapse, Mark told me about a company in Auckland, New Zealand who had developed a range of inflatable catamaran dingies and he highly recommended them.  The company's name is Takacat, 

Anyway, I made contact with them and they shipped the version I selected to Singapore.  Bottom that it is a fantastic boat.  It is has an inflatable floor but unlike most inflatables it is almost as rigid as an hard bottom.  With the catamaran configuration the stability if fantastic.  You can climb on board from any point.  With three people in it the 8hp out board planes it easily.

It is also very comfortable in choppy water and very dry.  It has a self baling floor.

Best of all it tows very well. I lift the bow up and have towed it at 9 knots in 25 knots of wind with no problem.  It also deflates into an easy to manage pack.  Wish I had got one before the start of the trip.


Port Dickson Malaysia to Langkawi Malaysia...

As planned I sailed from Port Dickson to Langkawi Malaysia in January.  This leg was only about 260NM and quite uneventful.  Light winds but that was offset at times by favorable currents.

The day after arriving and checking into the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Marina by main battery bank was fully drained.  When I tried to charge it up the battery bank would not take the charge as some more cells in one of the Lithium batteries had failed.  That was the last straw...I then had a local electrician take out the Lithium batteries and the complex battery management system and replace them with AGM batteries. 

I will do a seperate post on lithium batteries and my opinion about them for marine use.

Anyway, I found the Marina to be a good place to get work done and currently the all the decking is being removed, resanded and oiled...all the hardwood is being sanded back and reoiled and/or varnished.  I will post some photos on that shortly. 

After arriving in Langkawi and replacing the lithium batteries I took the boat on a test sail around the island.  Parts of Langkawi are quite interesting as you will see from some of the photos...but, I found the water quite dissapointing as it was not as clear as I would have liked...but, nonetheless it is a pleasant place.  It was possible to find secluded beaches and as such peaceful spots.

The landscape is quite interesting as you can see from the backdrop to the above photo and the others below.  The area where I anchored for the night in the above photo had lots of interesting caves.

In Bass Harbour there were a number of interesting vessels anchored.

Oh...on the NW corner of Langkawi there were lots of dolphins...unfortunately I didn't get any decent photos of them.

I am in New Zealand at the moment and will return early March to complete the final leg from Langkawi to Thailand.



Marianna moves on to new Adventures...

Marianna my crew lady finished her contract with me a few days ago on the 24th Dec.  She is now in Queensland, Australia for a music festival before heading down to Melboune to meet up with some friends and possibly crew on a yacht heading for New Zealand.  She is still deciding if she will go by push bike or motorcycle...yes, she rides a motorcycle and is planning a solo trip though eastern Russia and South America  on it.

She has already ridden a push bike through Cambodia and made her way overland from Scotland to Indonesia.  She is an adventurous young lady.

Marianna worked with me full time for almost a year and was on board for every stage of the voyage from New Zealand to Malaysia.  We had of course planned to be in Thailand by now which is why we set a date for the end of her contract for the 24th Dec.  But she ended up having to depart in Malaysia because she had a committment is Australia where she is participating in a music festival.

I thought that it was appropriate to do a blog entry about her as she has been an exceptional asset in the voyage.  She has been 100% reliable, never complained and has endured some pretty uncomfortable sea conditions as you would know if you have been following this blog.  The first leg out of New Zealand was horrendous and most people would have jumped ship at that time...but, she didn't.

We did not have any serious disagreements during the voyage which is quite remarkable as one hears horror stories all the time about friction between people on a long distance voyage.  So, if you own a yacht and are looking for crew for a future voyage I can highly recommend Marianna.  Just contact me for more details.

I no longer have the need for a permanent crew lady as for the foreseeable future I will just be doing short trips out of Thailand so I can enjoy the pleasures that the boat can offer and the beautiful cruising around that area.  So, I only need the occassional assistance of crew.  I will have a full time person maintaining and cleaning the boat in Phuket or Krabi in Thailand.

So...that is my tribute to Marianna...a pleasure to have had her on board for so long...and may she have many more enjoyable adventures...


Singapore to Port Dickson Malaysia

Well, all the repairs were completed in Singapore OK by my electrician who flew out from New Zealand to carry it out.  We had to replace both electic motors and a number of the cells in the batteries.

The problem with the motors were not related to the motors themselves but rather the failure of some of the cells in the batteries which forced us to run the motors directly off the genset.  That would have been OK if it had a 'buffer' in the line to prevent any voltage spikes which are inevitable with variable loads.

Anyway, they were fixed OK and we left for Malaysia.  Because of the delay in completing the repairs I decided to only go as far as Port Dickson in Malaysia which was only about 140NM north.  We had a good run with most of it motor sailing due to very light winds.

Got settled in at Admiral Marina at Port Dickson which is a nice marina with nice people...oh, I should mention something about Raffles Marina in Singapore.  In a word...terrific.  The people were fantastic, the service was great, the prices were reasonable...I would highly recommend it to any visiting yachts.

After we arrived at Port Dickson I did some more testing on recycling the batteries...and guess what?  Some cells in some batteries failed again.  My electrician had only just arrived back in NZ so I had to get him on a plane again and bring him back to Malaysia.  We are not very confident what the underlying problem is...heat...  The ambiant air temperature was around 38 degrees C and it would have been higher in the marina.  The batteries were getting incredibly hot.

We have now replaced the faulty cells, spaced the batteries out and put in some fans so hopefully that will solve the problem in the meantime.  There are some design errors that we made and underestimated the heat issues in the tropics.  I will have some major changes made to them after the boat is safely in Thailand.  In the meantime we have put a battery buffer in between the genset and the electric motors just in case I have another battery failure and have to run off the genset again.

The next leg to Langkawi will start the first week in Jan.


Bilitung to Singapore.

In a direct line it is only about 340NM, but there are islands on the way.  The first island is a bit over 200NM.  About halfway across in the middle of the night (problems always seem to happen at 2am) whilst I was on my watch all systems went down, including all the electrics, auto-pilot, navigation lights etc, etc.

Turned out that one of the lithium-ion batteries had failed and that in turn made the entire battery bank inoperative.  I do have a back-up system to run everything other than the electric motors and I thought that I could run the electric motors direct from the generator as I have done that before…but, it appears that cannot be done on a sustained basis as there are periodic spikes. 

Around the time that the battery failed the wind had dropped off and we were running on one motor, so we continued on one motor using the genset.  After about 12 hours the port motor failed but we then had some wind and was able to sail for the next 6 hours, then we had to run the starboard motor.  After about 12 hours that also failed. 

The wind also dropped right away so but we were close to an island called Lingga so we slowly made our way there and dropped anchor for the night.  Next day we set sail early whilst there was still a breeze although the direction had swung around and it was right on the nose.  To make matters worse there was also an adverse current.

We were having to tack back and forth and over about 6 hours were only about 8 miles closer to our destination.  Then on AIS we saw a signal from one of the yachts we had met in Bilitung.  He also saw us on AIS which gives you the speed and direction of the target.  He was doing 6.5 knots heading the right way.  In contrast we were doing 1.4 knots heading the wrong way.  He called us up and I asked him to keep an eye out for a substantial Indonesian fishing boat so I could do a deal with them to get a tow, because with the wind on the nose and the adverse current it would take us a month to get to Singapore.

Luckily he offered us a tow to the next anchorage about 30 miles away.  To say we were grateful is an understatement.

Shortly after Mark the owner of Relapse took us under tow we reached the equator where we stopped for a short while whilst Mark and Katherine in Relapse had some fun with their children.  Marianna and myself had a beer each.  (only time we have had a drink on the boat whilst at sea)

When we arrived at the anchorage I went over to his boat with a cold beer and tried to make him and offer he couldn’t refuse to tow us the rest of the way to Singapore.  He laughed and said he wasn’t going to leave us anyway but the offer was nice, and because it was worth it for me we did a deal so our problem was solved.

It took another four days to get to Singapore as they could not get a berth until the 25th.  Fortunately Raffles Marina also made available a berth for us, so, all was well.  It was a delightful four days being towed around the islands and having the company of these folk and another family who were travelling with them. 

There were some nice islands on the way and some interesting little villages.

It was interesting going across the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Pity to end the 6,000NM voyage with having to be towed the last 100 miles.  But, better than trying to battle against the currents and the head winds for a month!


Bawean Island to Bilitung Island Indonesia

Most cruisers when they leave Komodo Island continue down the chain of islands doing day sails.  That would be very pleasant.  It is a very nice area.  Great beaches and beautiful clear warm water.  Also very sparsely populated although there are small villages scattered around so little fishing boats can pop up from virtually nowhere.

Unfortunately I had a time table to keep to and did not have the luxury of time to have a leisurely cruise through these islands, so we have to do some more overnighters as there was 450NM to our next stop.  There were some interesting volcanic islands that we passed.  Most of the time we have a current running against us so it wasn't a fast passage.

We also passed a few ships and fishing boats...

The fishing boats that I found most interesting were the little ones as in the following photos.  We came across them even up to 60 - 70NM off shore.  They putter around quite quickly and sail even faster.

We only stopped one night at Bawean where we didn’t go ashore although it was a delightful spot to anchor overnight. 

We carried on to Bilitung another 340NM away the next morning.


As I mentioned earlier these night passages are a pain in Indonesia because of the hazards at night with unlit vessels.  Many of them are hard to pick up on radar being quite small and made of wood.  They don’t seem to bother about using radar reflectors.  Also, the ships don’t use AIS although they are easier to pick up visually and on radar, although we saw the odd small ship running without lights.

We passed a weird bit of debri with birds sitting on it.  I would not like to have run over it.

Bilitung is a large island about 100NM south of Borneo.  The north eastern coast is delightful.  We arrived at the coordinates we had in Bilitung just after a rain squall which unfortunately we missed as our water maker had a problem.  At the anchorage there were a number of other yachts which were part of the Sail Indonesian Rally.  The Indonesian government were really making a big thing of it and were welcoming all yachts and doing everything they could to help.

To say the local people were delightful is an understatement.  Marianna and myself walked down the beach and we were stopped by locals with their children at least 6 times so they could take a photo of themselves alongside us.  Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me at the time.

Bilitung is as yet unaffected by western tourism and the locals did not ask for anything.  The children and their parents were happy just to be able to take a photo.  This is contrast to areas that are exposed to mass tourism where everyone has their hand out.  Not so here.  The coastline around this area is beautiful.  This combined with the locals makes it a place that I will definitely visit again.  The scenery is quite different and the day before we left I was going to do an excursion in the dingy and take lots of photos but a rain squall came through and blew onshore up to 30 knots for some hours so that squashed that idea.  We were there in the transition period between monsoons which is why we encountered that weather. 

Along with the squalls were the long calms which was more annoying because at least you can sail in the squalls.

We met a number of the other yachts and some very nice people.  We decided to check out of Indonesia there instead of Nongsa Point across the strait from Singapore.  Turned out to be a good thing as you will read shortly.


West Timor to Komodo Island in Indonesia.

Kupang was out port of call in West Timor and we used an agent called Napa and he and his helper were great.  He arranged not only the clearance but also clean diesel. 

We also purchased an internet card to we could get internet reception when passing some of the main islands in Indonesia.  Kupang was quite a busy little town but as in most places in Indonesia the people were nice, helpful and friendly.  We stayed a couple of days.

I wanted to time our arrival at the southern part of the straits going into Komodo Island for early morning, so we left Kupang and anchored at an island about 8 miles away because it was quite choppy at the anchorage where we were.  I figured if we left about 9pm that night our timing would work well for Komodo which was about 240NM away.  So we left around that time into a night which has zero visibility…no moon or stars.  About 11pm whilst I was on watch there was a big crash and all I could see was something that looked like a massive prehistoric above the trampoline in the front of the boat.  Turned out to be a palm tree fitted to a big bamboo raft.  These are used by the locals to help attract fish.  Wasn’t expecting any because we were in more than 500 meters of water…so, I was wrong!

Anyway, we untangled ourselves from that and continued, narrowly missing another one at the last moment an hour later.  We had had a taste of having to deal with unlit fishing boats and nets prior to arriving in West Timor but that was our first taste of one of these fishing rafts which became very common from then on.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of it.

Getting through to the anchorage at Komodo was a bit of a challenge because of the difficulty of getting the tides right as they do not coincide with the tide tables.  We got there a bit early so I thought that I would try and motor into the tide.  Thought I was doing OK as we seemed to be going quite fast against the current and still making 2 knots over the ground until I looked at our track and realised that yes we were making 2 knots OK but were actually going backwards.  Fortunately the flow changed a couple of hours later and we made it to the anchorage early afternoon.

Komodo and Rinca Islands are quite pretty but barren.  The water is very deep, hence the strong currents…and it is a beautiful blue.  There are lots of nice beaches and interesting landscapes.

We went ashore to the National Park to have a look at the Komodo dragons which roam wild in the Park.  They feed on deer and wild pig…which there are lots of.  The one which Marianna and myself were photographed against must have had a meal as was more interested in sleeping than us.

When we left Komodo we sailed around to a delightful little island called Gili Lawa and anchored there for two nights.  The water was really clear and the snorkelling is good.  Didn’t have a scuba dive as the good diving was off shore and we were not set up for drift diving.  (I’ve just bought a new tender which will be better for diving than the porta-bote.  It’s a 3.4 meter takacat sports.

These are some photos taken from the top of the island. 

Natural-High at anchorage.

Sunset from the anchorage.

Next stop Pulau Bawean 450NM NW.