Monday, 23 April 2012

Electrical Safety afloat

A simple electrical polarity indicator.
We have all heard horror stories about dodgy shorepower installations abroad, and following the recent electrocutions on a pontoon in Cyprus, I decided to install a simple indicator.
It consists of three neon lights (not LED) which cost a few pence each from Maplins, and which take a matter of minutes to install.  They are connected together in a triangular circuit between the three poles of the incoming shore supply.   The amber light is connected between live and neutral.  This indicates that power is present, and should normally be on.  Green is connected between earth and live, and again should normally be on, indicating that there is an earth connection.   Red is connected between the earth and neutral, and this should never come on.  If it does, it means that either the polarity is reversed (in which case switches on sockets will not actually isolate an appliance from the live, although they will stop it from operating) or that there is no earth at all (in which case the green will also be lit).
The following truth table shows possible light combinations and the meaning and implications

Green and amber
Normal, correct connection
Use with normal precautions
Red and amber
Live and neutral reversed
Dangerous installation.  Switches will not isolate equipment correctly, although appliances will function. Risk of shocks if equipment malfunctions.
Green, red, amber
No earth, polarity may or may not be correct, earth pin could be live
Extremely dangerous installation. Serious risk of shocks. Equipment may function, but metal casings could be live!
Green only
Neutral disconnected, circuits live
Hazardous. Switches will isolate, equipment  will not operate, but  may be live.
Red only
Reversed polarity, live pin disconnected, but appliances may be live
Very dangerous installation.  Switches will not isolate equipment correctly, equipment will not operate, risk of shocks if equipment malfunctions.

The more sharp-eyed among you may be wondering what the control switch above the socket is for.  A few years ago a friend of mine had his Mercruiser outdrive very badly damaged by corrosion.  He had always been meticulous in replacing the anodes every season, whether they needed it or not.  The casing was actually ruined, and a replacement part (excluding labour) cost him several thousand pounds.  I was in the same marina, and had noticed that my anodes had disappeared in a matter of a few weeks.  I investigated with a test meter, and identified an earth fault in the supply coming in to the marina.  Essentially, everyone in the marina with shorepower was getting their anodes burnt away.  To give them their due, the marina sorted the problem pretty quickly once it was drawn to their attention, but it made me think seriously.  I considered a galvanic isolator, but these were rather more than I was prepared to pay, and in the particular circumstances I described, the earth fault was so serious that the galvanic protector would probably have offered little protection.
My solution to the problem was to install my own earth on the boat, with the earth circuit permanently connected to the underwater metalwork.  At the same time, I installed a switch (above the socket in the picture) which disconnects the shore earth.   I carried out the appropriate earth tests (as prescribed in the wiring regulations – being qualified as an electrician helps here!) and discovered that my earth was significantly better than the shorepower one.  When we are afloat with shorepower in seawater, the switch is put to the off position to protect the anodes.  Ashore, or when using the generator, or shorepower in freshwater (or in water of low salinity, for example in a tidal river where there is significant freshwater input)  we turn the switch on and use the shore earth.
I have to emphasise that my solution to the earthing problem does not comply with the wiring regulations, as it requires intelligent input and use by a “competent person” as defined in the regulations, because forgetting to switch it on again when required (or not knowing when to do so) can result in a hazardous  installation.  However, if you are competent and have suitable test equipment to check the earth continuity, it is a very effective way of ensuring that your anodes do not protect other boats in the marina.

Wendy’s Diary 22 April 2012 – Spain!

St Jean de Luz is in a stunning location, but, like Cornwall, the wind blows and it rains a lot. The reception from the locals was truly amazing, we were treated like guests of honour in the local fishing club which became a regular haunt. We are not accustomed to drinking out much, living on a tight budget as we do, but this really was an exception and was not expensive. During the week we were invited to an evening of traditional Basque singing by the local male voice choir which was fantastic.

The club members didn’t want us to leave and kept saying that the weather would continue to be bad and we would have to stay there. Much as we enjoyed being there, we felt it was time to move on as soon as the weather would permit, and on Monday, after the wind blew very strongly all night we woke up to a flat calm and took the opportunity of the afternoon tide to make tracks. A weeks’ marina berthing came to 51 euros and the Capitainerie gave us a 2011 almanac as a parting gift, so all in all an absolute bargain. The 6 mile sail to Hendaye went without incident, and we very soon found our way around the back of the marina and anchored in the bay, sheltered from the worst of the winds that were forecast for later that night.

In the morning we wanted to go in search of bread, and having stopped first at the local sailing club to ask permission to leave the dinghy, we found no one so moved on to a pontoon belonging to the Yachting club. A request to leave the dinghy for a while was not granted, with apologies, but the mayors orders, and by the way, anchoring is no longer permitted in the bay and if you don’t go and move your boat we will report you to the local authorities! We went round to the marina at Hendaye who quoted us 42 euros for 2 nights, with the 3rd free. Not in the marina but on a cheaper pontoon on an outside wall, no water or electricity. We walked over to inspect it, the wind was causing some steep slop, and agreed it would make a very uncomfortable berth.

These were the waves inside the harbour!

We decided to take our chances and go and enquire on the other side of the river, so upped anchor to motor over to SPAIN. At Hondaribbia we found a very welcoming Capitanerie and the offer of berthing for 11 euros a night including wifi. Another very scenic location on the odd occasions that the rain clears and you can see the mountains. Several days of high swell (5M) and SW winds followed so we stayed put exploring the area on our folding bikes. John has been delighted to be speaking Spanish again, although a little rusty and somewhat complicated with all the French in his head. My vocabulary extends to about 20 words, and I am not planning on breaking my other leg in order to be able to converse in another language.

The old walled town of Hondarribia

On Saturday the pontoons burst into life when all the locals arrived to do waht boaters do when the time permits but the weather is not good. Spring cleaning, general maintenance, catching up with old friends, checking out new neighbours etc. John went out to speak to a local couple who were peering at Freya Frey, and, as is his wont, invited them onboard for a cup of coffee. 4 hours later and with a lot of information exchanged, we moved to their boat for a very enjoyable evening meal. This was another lovely and to us typical example of the camaraderie that exists within the boating world.

Today we set off, with two destinations in mind depending on the weather. The favoured one being Getaria, 20 miles away, with Posajes, a commercial port available 6 miles away if the weather/sea turned disagreeable. Plan C came into play around half an hour after setting off which was to return to Hondarabbia as the swell was very uncomfortable. I have taken a screenshot of our electronic chart software, the purple squiggly line is our “track”, showing how we poked our nose out beyond the headland to test out the swell.

The track out beyond the headland and back!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Wendy’s Diary 11 April 2012 – Sailing again!!

March continued pretty much the same as February, with sanding and painting a regular activity. We were paid up in the marina until 1st April and didn't want to pay for any additional nights so it was full steam ahead to get the boat ready to set sail. The weather continued to be very kind to us and we spent a lot of time outside, even when not painting, which for me being used to long office hours was very much appreciated.

We rounded off the month by bringing/taking (where do we live??) Annie and Philippe (who so willingly and patiently looked after me with my broken leg) to Cornwall for a holiday and to leave our car behind. We had 5 fabulous days of sunshine and did the touristy things like eating fish and chips on a harbour wall, cream teas, drinking Cornish beer – you get the picture? On our return to Pornichet we had an “open boat” afternoon for friends we had made in the area to come and say goodbye. Annie and I bid a very tearful goodbye on the Saturday evening and Philippe came back to see us off on the Sunday morning, with a meteo forecast that was almost perfect.

Our first stop was Ile d’Yeu (37 miles), the pilot book says a very pretty island with stunning scenery along the south coast. We only used the engines for a few minutes at either end of the journey and dropped anchor below an ancient fort on the cliff side, which was rather picturesque:

With the meteo as it was we decided there was no time for sightseeing and took advantage of the northerly’s to push us on our way. Our second stop was the river at Auguillon (58 miles), it was dark by the time we arrived and we had to pick our way between the mussel beds until we were far enough up the river for a comfortable anchorage. This had been an uncomfortable passage and for the first time onboard Freya Frey I had been seasick.  A good night’s sleep was brought to an slightly early end when a stream of local fishermen headed out to find the day’s catch.

The meteo was still forecasting Northerlies so we continued south to our next port of choice which was Rochefort (37 miles). This was a smoother passage which found us a berth for the night on the visitor’s pontoon, next to the “Corderie Royale” an amazing and well maintained building which seemed to go on forever. It was particularly picturesque after dark and I was pleased that my camera coped with the lighting:

We spent a very long time studying charts and discussing with local sailors/fishermen the options for heading south. We could either go round the outside of Ile D’Oleron adding around 15 miles to the journey, or go through the channel between the island and the mainland which the pilot books and charts strongly state that this should only be done in good weather and on the turn of high tide. The weather was settled, there was just a gentle breeze from the North so we decided the channel would be feasible.

On looking further at the charts we ran into the next conundrum - where to go next. Into the Gironde Estuary was looked a nice days sail away...but if we left the Oleron channel on the high tide at our hull speed it was the wrong state of tide to enter the Gironde. OK, so the forecast was good, we were well rested, how about we carry straight on to Arcachon....wrong state of tide again. Back to plan B, go round the north of Oleron..but every option we looked at had the same problem, it was always going to be the wrong time of tide, and/or impossible with the wind in the north to get in anywhere.
Another study of the meteo and we made the decision to head straight for Bayonne, which was enterable at most states of tide. We needed to go back down the Charente river on the ebb tide to opted for an overnight anchorage on Ile D’Aix, very close to Fort Boyard. The short distance from the mouth of the Charente across to the island was wind against tide and John had to work very hard using the twin engines to steer us across. Once in the lee of the land we headed for the shallows and took a drying mooring and settled down for the night.

It was an midday tide to start the journey so we had a relaxing morning checking every meteo report to ensure that we were making the best decision. All was looking good, the northerlies were forecast for several days, it was clear blue sky and sunshine and a calm sea state. 

The passage started well, as we neared the road bridge that connects the island to the mainland we both stated having doubts as to its height. The chart didn’t have the height and John did his usual trick of comparing the height of the lampposts on the bridge to the gap below, and this confirmed there was plenty of height. As we approached the angle became deceptive and with John out on deck and me at the helm we crept underneath and breathed a sigh of relief as we passed through. On later checking a different chart we had about 10m to spare, but it certainly didn’t seem that way at the 

The channel was well buoyed and only varied slightly from our charts. The final approach to the open sea was unsettling for me as we had breaking waves on both sides (complete with people surfing), but the buoyed channel through the deeper water had no surf and we safely entered the Atlantic waters once more. Sail up, time to head south, John bagged the first sleep and off we set. The next 24 hours passed pleasantly and on the second afternoon, we sat out on deck drinking a cup of tea and thinking this was the life.

Not long after the wind dropped to virtually nothing, no problem, engine on, motor ahead. By this time we were about half way down the sand dune that runs from Arcachon to Bayonne. Out of nowhere, the wind turned and very quickly built up to a southerly force 7. The seas became very short and steep and very uncomfortable. The dinner that I had enjoyed earlier soon fed the fishes and for an hour we battled on, hardly making any progress over the ground. We made the call that we had to turn back and so headed north, knowing that the next port was a long way off. It was demoralising to say the least and I continued to feel very ill. We struggled on through the night, making between 2 and 3 knots under bare poles (no sails, no engines) for 17 miles.

At dawn, the wind veered to the west and we decided to turn south again, and taking it in turns to sleep or helm we battled through not just mine but John’s worst passage on record. My spirits lifted a bit when the weather cleared enough to see the spectacular mountain range of the Pyrenees with snow capped peaks. Around 6pm, after 56 hours and 200 miles we finally entered the river at Bayonne. Finding a suitable anchorage proved impossible so we chose to find shelter in the marina, something we wouldn’t normally do but under the circumstances felt was well deserved. The capitainerie was closed but a few minutes after arriving the directeur appeared and welcomed us to Bayonne, gave us access codes to the facilities and free wifi and wished us a good night.

After 2 nights (11.5 euros per night) of rest we headed out once more, this time for a short 12 mile hop down to St Jean de Luz. After a slightly bumpy but expected exit from the river at Bayonne we reached glassy seas, and I captured a contented John at the helm.

We had an enjoyable afternoon sailing with views of more snow capped peaks behind Biarritz before we entered the scenic bay of St Jean de Luz, 5 miles north of the Spanish border. We anchored close to the fort at Socoa and took a gentle stroll around the harbour.

I had been on holiday in the region about 8 years earlier and we had climbed one of the local mountains, La Rhune, which is the back drop for the bay.

After a peaceful night at anchor, the weather didn’t last and a forecast westerly gale set in. We were sheltered by the land and fort but decided it would be prudent to stay on board in case of any problems. We spent the afternoon watching a video of “Singing in the Rain” with very frequent interruptions from special meteo broadcasts updating on the storm blowing through. By late afternoon the swell picked up, despite the short fetch from the west, and in the evening we sought shelter in the little marina at Ciboure-St Jean de Luz.

The Capitainerie was closed but the adjoining bar was open, a fishing club rather than sailing, where we were made very welcome and stayed for a drink. The barman declared the tab was on him, we were welcome to return the following lunchtime so we thanked him and headed back to the boat. After a morning stroll around Ciboure we returned to the bar, were introduced to the president and spent an enjoyable couple of hours discussing all things nautical. We were presented with a Basque courtesy flag (something which we had tried but failed to buy beforehand) and in exchange gave the club a St Piran flag. The tab was again on the house and we returned to the boat for a siesta.

Later in the afternoon we unfolded our bikes and cycled from one end of the bay to the other, it is a truly beautiful bay and port and we felt something like normal once more and the ground had stopped swaying.