SS skytower

Southern Star arrives home

Auckland- Sept 2021

Seems a lifetime ago, that we put Southern Star on board Happy Dover in Newport Rhode Island to send her back to Auckland, and back home.

The story began here,

Well, it’s been 10 months now, and Southern Star has finally arrived back in New Zealand. Unfortunately, Happy Dragon the new transport ship from Seven Stars Yacht Transport, arrived here in Auckland, just as we were going into COVID lockdown level 4, as we had our first community cases of the new Delta variant centered in Auckland. It was determined to have come from the latest eruption of cases in New South Wales, in Australia.

SS offloaded from Happy Dragon

So, in level 4 we are confined to our homes, and only essential services are open.

We had plans to meet the local freight agent in his tender and to start up Southern Star and drive her to the marina at the Viaduct.

The day before that we were planning to go to the unloading, we were informed that this was not an essential service, and that the boat would be towed to the marina. We could not meet her and run her over.

And so, the day came. It was, of course, windy and overcast. Unpleasant wintery weather. We waited at the marina for Southern Star to come around the Hilton Waterfront Hotel, and around to the Viaduct entrance.

Southern Star comes around the point.

It wasn’t long and we saw her bright white superstructure come around the point. She looked amazing, staunch and proud, even after 10 months in confinement.

The tow boat operator had come by earlier and we discussed the maneuvers from a social distance, all of us with our masks on.

The crew with the help of Ryan from the Viaduct Marina, in his tender, gently spun Southern Star around, stern to so that we can easily board her from her starboard side.  As soon as we were secured, the tow boat and Ryan were off, and we were left on our own to re-acquaint ourselves with Southern Star.

An emotional reunion

I’ve had plenty of bad dreams about what we were going to find on her. Failed systems, rodents, water damage, mold and mildew, were but some of the nightmares.

After so much time boat less, it was a very weird feeling to be going back to her. A big part of our life had been interrupted and we had to get on with our lives without her. I felt like a part of my personality, my identity had been missing. But now, she was here. And now we had to get to know here again.

We stepped aboard, she was cold, as it was only about 12 degrees today. But she smelled good. No musty smells. We walked through her and were delighted to see that the interior was remarkably in pretty good shape. She of course would need some Ted and Jenny deep clean love, that we do. But she was okay.

My first issue, was the shore power. I knew the batteries would be in bad shape, but was hoping that in the last few months, in Ensenada, and on the deck of Happy Dragon, she has been outside and the solar panels has some time to help to charge the batteries. I was surprised to see that the house batteries were just below 13 volts when I tested them.

The thruster batteries, which are not connected to the house batteries, nor to the panels, were dead flat, I could not see more than 8-9 volts.

Lucky, that the tow boat had been required to bring her to the dock, as maneuvering would have been very stressful without thrusters.

When I plugged the shore power into the dock pedestal, the inverter would flash an error, and I could not get the boat to charge. I learned later after reaching out to the Nordhavn Owners Group, the NOG, that the inverter would not work normally with our 240-volt 50 Hz power, as the boat is a 240v 60 Hz (US boat). I had thought that I could make an adjustment in the inverter settings, but learned that I could not.

NZ Power pedestal

Members of the NOG came back with ideas for using the shore-power setup, including bypassing the inverter in the charging circuit, and using the inverter to run the 120-volt side of the boat, and using the 240/50 shore power to simply run the 240volt requirements and the battery chargers.

I studied the wiring diagrams from Nordhavn, that came with the boat, and I spotted a switch on the diagram, alas, perhaps I could switch off the power into the inverter circuit.

I spoke to our good friends, Michael and Katie from KYA, who are in Australia now, and we agreed that this may be the solution.

We were not yet staying on board, but I was running the generator to help to get the batteries boosted.

We left the boat for the night, shore power unplugged, and went back to our bubble buddy, Gordon at his house. (We are able to stay with another bubble if both bubbles are exclusive, and as Gordon was living alone, we felt that it was good to have our own bubble buddy, Jenny and I and Gordon).

The next morning the house batteries with only the inverter running the fridge, were very low- dead by definition at 11.5 volts.

So much for lucking it with the batteries. Both sets of thruster batteries – 4 Size 8D AGM batteries, and both sets of house batteries, 6x 8D AGM batteries would need to be replaced.

We started the generator and ran the batteries back up, and did a major clean up of the boat.

Her topsides were very dirty, with boot prints, and scuffs from fenders and boots. There were patches of rust spots, where metal flakes had been dropped on the bow deck and the boat deck. Probably from when the boats were secured to the freighter’s deck, or when the supports were cut loose so that the boats could be moved.

A hands and knees cleaning, about 5 hours of hard work, left us with a surprisingly shiny Southern Star, and not surprisingly, with very sore backs and bodies.

The next day, batteries very low again, I started looking around at the inverter switches.

I open the control box next to the inverter in the lazarette, and look what I found. An inverter isolation switch, with instructions none the less.

Excitedly I flipped the switches, and bypassed the inverter from the shore power and we were back in business.

I later learned that the Master Volt battery chargers, one of the two was misbehaving- not powering up. I tested input and output, tried to locate a fuse. No good. I contact Master Volt New Zealand by voice mail, and got a call back that afternoon. The customer service tech suggested it may be time to replace it. He suggested trying to disconnect the battery temp probe, which I did, and the charger started up.  A win?

And so, we are now moved back on board the boat full time. We’ve pumped out the black tank to see if all the fittings worked, they did.

The refrigeration is going well, hot water is hot, water pump is pumping fresh water. We can shower, and cook.

We are using small 120-volt space heaters for now, as we are on an 18-amp 240v shore power circuit. The pedestal tripped once with the oven and the heater on. I will look into getting connected to the 32-amp circuit and run the HVAC on a separated input.

A big project that I was meaning to undertake for some time was to check the continuity of the bonding system on the boat. We have seen some excess corrosion on several thru hulls, an indication that the protective bonding may be an issue.

And so, Jenny and I undertook some boat Yoga, as I check each thru hull fitting, to assure it was connected to the anodes that protect the underwater metals. We have a map of each fitting, 33 in total and tested each one. We had to make 3-4 repairs of the wiring to the copper strap that runs along both sides of the boat.

As we are in lockdown, in Auckland due to COVID being transmitted in the community, we are both working from the boat. We have Wireless Nation which provide cellular Wireless, which is what we need here on the boat. It is manageable.

We both feel very fortunate to have good jobs, that we can both do remotely. It is really nice to be earning some money rather that just being a full-time consumer. It’s a great chance to top up the kiddy again. Thank you Vesper Marine

and AMP

We have set up the guest cabin forward as an office, with docking station for the laptops, and an additional monitor.We take turns using the office depending on who needs the multi monitors. Its pretty comfortable. We also use the small table in the pilot house as the second office space.

So, life on board is starting to feel normal again (COVID excepted). Time to get back to work. And time to get Southern Star back into shape.

I am taking some time now, to look at the options for the house batteries, thinking of going to Lithium iron phosphate batteries. LIFEPO4, which are known to be remarkable for their ability to use the entire range of battery storage capacity, they can be discharged to 20% and come back up to 100% with no degradation in the battery life. Compared to AGM- lead with absorbed glass mat (rather than a liquid acid bath), which can only discharge to 50% and takes long time to come up to 100%. Plus they are about half the weight. They also have long life cycles, which means they should last 2-3 longer than the AGM batteries.

I am learning and studying. A change does require new charging system, hence the battery charger thoughts, as well as alternator adjustments, and inverter adjustments, so that the LIFEPO4 don’t over or under charge.

And the life on board returns. Its good, and now that we can now sleep through the night again afloat, it is feeling like home again.

It will be fun once we get out of lock down.

Stay tuned.


7 thoughts on “Southern Star arrives home”

  1. Glad to hear you guys are back on board and that she was in fairly good condition after the crazy journey! Duane installed lithium batteries on Sojourn last summer and they are terrific! We’re getting ready with What If to head back to the Bahamas Nov 1 if all goes according to plan. Look forward to reading about your next adventures. Karen & Duane

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