As of the time of this writing it looks like we will lose the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the trouble-plagued 2015, Wanderlust has not had a full season of cruising, having lost much of 2016, 2017, and 2018 to the legal dispute and repairs. In 2019 additional repairs and a water shortage cut short the season. We had grand plans for cruising, and more paintwork for Wanderlust, in 2020. But those seem to be lost for the time being. With luck in 2021 we will finally be able to enjoy our first full cruising season in six years, as we imagined when we laid down the money for Wanderlust in 2013. But for now we’ll just relive our 2019 season….
In 2018 Wanderlust only moved around a half kilometer. She was stuck in Saint Jean de Losne France as repairs were being made. This left us chomping at the bit at the beginning of 2019’s cruising season. But as always seems, it would not be that easy.
We returned to France at the beginning of April, soon after the locks opened for regular recreational navigation. Given that we had massive amounts of work done on Wanderlust the prior year, it was advisable to start our season with a check out run, ideally on a canal rather than on a more risky flowing river. Thus we decided to take Wanderlust from Saint Jean de Losne up the Canal de Bourgogne to Dijon. It’s a segment of waterway that we knew well.
Pulling out of our mooring in front of the workshop in Saint Jean de Losne involved tight maneuvers to avoid the nearby boats. Going slow I activated the bow thruster, the transverse mounted prop in a steel tube below the waterline at the front of the boat. The force of the water rushing out of the thruster’s tube nudged the bow over slightly and straightened our angle of departure.
It was the first time the bow thruster had been used in about two years; the tailpiece broke in 2017 and wasn’t repaired until 2018 when Wanderlust was out of commission and basically only tested. Though we did successfully maneuver out of Wanderlust’s mooring above the lock in what is formally St. Usage using the thruster it seemed like the force produced was anemic. But it had been years since we’d had a functioning bow thruster I thought maybe I just forgotten how powerful it was.
Further up the canal it became clear that Wanderlust’s bow thruster was indeed not functioning properly. It wouldn’t stop our pleasant journey to Dijon; it’s an easy stretch of canal to navigate and we had become very used to not having an operating thruster. Nevertheless the thruster problem needed to be resolved sooner rather than later. The waterways in France would not always be this forgiving. There were times that we would need the thruster.
It wasn’t long before we determined the Wanderlust’s thruster batteries were the likely source of the problem.
Batteries are necessary to provide power to the electric thrusters. When activated electric bow thrusters can draw a large amount of current. Indeed, Wanderlust’s thruster pulls 540 Amps at 24V, roughly equivalent to the amount of power used by five electric clothes dryers running at the same time. This current demand creates a challenge for a boat builder, as an alternator on the main engine, the source of the DC electricity, is usually some distance away. To power the thruster directly using the current from the engine’s alternator would require an impractically thick electrical cable run from the bow to the stern and a very large alternator.
The solution used in Wanderlust’s construction is standard on many boats: Power for the bow thruster comes from a battery bank installed near its electric motor. As the cable run is much shorter, the voltage drop is minimized. The challenge in turn is how to keep these dedicated thruster batteries at the bow charged.
For Wanderlust the battery-charging problem was resolved by running a boat length wire between the 24V domestic bank and the thruster batteries. Charging at around 20 to 30A, the voltage drop from a cable run from the engine to the bow is far less than for 540A. This set-up is reasonable, but the devil, as always, is in the details.
The detail that caught us out on Wanderlust was that her thruster batteries are only charged when the main engine is running. When the engine runs, a relay is triggered and a circuit between the 24V starter batteries and the 24V domestic bank is created. Connecting the batteries only when the engine is running avoids having the bow thruster batteries become effectively part of the domestic battery bank, at least when the engine is off. That’s a good thing for a variety of reasons.
Wanderlust’s charging set up usually works, though it does have some significant drawbacks. One problem is that it requires the engine to run for a significant time after the thrusters have been used, a problem as a common time to use a bow thruster is coming to a mooring at the end of a day just before the main engine is turned off. Another issue, as we learned soon after leaving Saint Jean de Losne, is that there is no maintenance charging when a boat sits for most of a year without the engine running. Thus at the start of the 2019 season, after a year and a half without cruising, Wanderlust’s thruster batteries were dead flat. Try as we might, we couldn’t get them to accept a charge. They needed to be replaced.
Once we returned to SJdL and the staff at H2O verified the batteries were in fact toast, we ordered replacements. These, the supplier said, would arrive in a day or two. As it always seems to be the case in France, the one or two day delay quickly morphed into eight days. But eventually we had two new NorthStar batteries waiting for us at H2O’s port office.
Once the batteries had been delivered we had the challenge of lugging the two 97 pound dead batteries out of the awkward area under the bed and the easier job of lowering the still heavy but noticeably lighter new batteries in. With the new batteries in place and the tanks topped again we were finally set to head out for some real cruising.
We’ve been based in SJdL vicinity since September of 2016. It wasn’t really our preference. Now we were looking forward to seeing Wanderlust’s bow wake lap up against untraveled shores. With the shakedown cruise completed and repairs made, it looked for the moment that we would have our first full season of cruising since 2015.
We later added a dedicated maintenance charger for the thruster batteries. This charger runs off of the 240V AC domestic circuits. It should help keep the batteries alive if the boat is not used for an extended period.
It’s not a perfect solution. We have to be careful to turn the charger off before starting out, as there can be situations where the maintenance charger will try to charge the main domestic battery bank using power from the main domestic battery bank, creating a circular charging loop that over heats the charger.
If we did this over from the start we would consider having a dedicated charger, say around 50A, running off of the 240V circuits to charge the thruster batteries. With this, the front-back 24V wire could be eliminated and there would be no complications with back charging the domestic bank.
Wanderlust departed Saint Jean de Losne on the 15th of April and returned on the 21st. She stopped in between for nights both on the way to Dijon and back, with four nights in Dijon. The round trip was a little less than 60 kilometers in total. We passed through 43 locks. (The odd number comes as there is an additional lock as we returned to the Gare d’Eau port in SJdL.) Wanderlust’s engine ran for 12.6 hours during this cruise.
Click here for a map of this segment.