Bliss: 100hp diesel powers trawler, Seakeeper, and huge battery bank

The goal of the makeover certainly sounded like cruising bliss, but could a 100hp Yanmar diesel really propel a 39-foot trawler while also producing gobs of 12 volt DC to feed both Seakeeper gyrostabilization and a huge battery bank? I’m pleased to report that the dual MGDC 250 amp alternator setup seen above on the actual trawler Bliss has proven my skepticism unwarranted, and an already beloved cruiser became a “new boat” in the process.

Actually Bliss’s makeover sounds even more radical when you realize that the boat’s generator had to be removed to make room for the Seakeeper 5 though it requires 140 to 160 amps while underway (much of it via a Victron 3000 Watt inverter). But Luis Soltero — Panbo profiled in 2015 with mate Kim and Bliss — is as smart and focused about his vital boat systems as he is about marine communications, and they all enjoyed ample power and a smooth ride from the Chesapeake to Nova Scotia and back this summer. Except for one serious but quickly fixed glitch which I happened to witness in Camden.

The pilothouse setup on Bliss after SeaKeeper 5 and electric power up grade
The pilothouse setup on Bliss after Seakeeper 5 and electric power upgrade

While I’m told that the high and forward pilothouse on Bliss is a lot more comfortable in a seaway this year, the makeover didn’t change much else. Besides the new engine room camera that we’ve already seen on the starboard Simrad NSS16 evo2 screen, there are alternator controls on the dash along with two new small displays on-center overhead: the Seakeeper control head and a Simarine Pico power monitoring system.

Managing and monitoring the big current loads now flowing around Bliss is serious business, and I was impressed with how well it works.

Generating up to 500 amps — Luis reports that 400 is common underway — takes horsepower that is sometimes needed for propulsion. So if you click the upper left photo larger you’ll see an On/Off switch for the port MGDC J-180 alternator and a 100%/50% switch for starboard. (The Mark Grasser externally rectified alternators, along with a dual pulley kit, were sourced from OceanPlanet Energy).

The switches, along with the status and fault LEDs, wire to a Balmar CenterFielder which manages two Balmar MC-614 regulators. And the Simarine Pico screen above shows what happens when you shut down the port alternator and cut starboard generation in half. Just moments before the same screen showed 230 amps charging the almost-full 1,715 amp-hour house battery bank (seven EastPenn AGM 8Ds that also serve as ballast).

Incidentally, the Panbo entry discussing Pico’s outstanding, and still unusual, current monitoring abilities now has added screens from Bliss, and you’ll see the solar panel aspect below. But first let’s look at why the Solteros need to reduce alternator load sometimes, which is also why the new system is quite efficient, as mostly explained by Luis.

The hull power curve for Bliss shows that 25 hp is required to push the boat at 7 knots in light winds. This happens at 2100 rpm. The engine power curve for my J4H2-UTE Yanmar 100 hp engine shows that at 2100 rpm the engine puts out about 70hp.  Finally the alternator power curve shows that at 6000 rpm (3x engine RPM due to the pulley ratio) the alternators want 18.4hp. So the engine load is 25+18.4 ==> 43.6hp, which is 60% and about perfect for keeping it happy.

However, if you’re maneuvering at low RPMs around docks, the extra horsepower load could be trouble, and hence the current limiting switches. But, wow, fuel consumption has hardly increased from the excellent 7nm per gallon Bliss typically achieved prior to the makeover:

We run from 2100 (7.0kn – 1.2 Speed/Length ratio) through 2400 rpm (7.3kn – 1.3 SL) and consume between 0.96-1.35 Gal per hour depending on speed and weather conditions. I notice that when its rough the fuel consumption goes up and I attribute that to the Seakeeper. The rougher it is the more electricity we need to generate to stabilize the boat and the higher the fuel consumption. But the SK does not use much fuel… and what it uses is worth it!

Moreover, the Solteros have only run the engine to charge the house bank a few times during a long cruising season largely away from docks, and it charges fast. But let’s note that the makeover also included a solar component.

Having tried and liked a four-panel 400 Watt array of Solbian flex panels, Luis added 380 Watts more on the pilothouse roof, plus now he can better see what they’re all up to thanks to Pico. (And I’ll add that without such monitoring it took me a long time to realize that fast-moving shadows from a big flag on a windy day reduce panel output on Gizmo much more than slow shadowing.)

But maybe you’re wondering how I got all the way down here without discussing the Seakeeper? The system demo in Camden Harbor did not end well when Luis tried to spin it up repeatedly only to get shutdown error messages after a few gyro RPMs. He was remarkably calm as he tried multiple reboots, but I stopped taking pictures and asking questions.

I’d been getting exultant emails about Bliss’s improved motion during the trip up and I knew that the next planned legs included Nova Scotia’s exposed west coast. In his shoes I might have felt the need to swear loudly.

Then again, Camden was about the perfect spot for the manufacturing defect — quite rare, I’m pretty sure — to show its ugly head. The install was first discussed last summer with Seakeeper dealer and local phenomenon Yachting Solutions, and a YS tech was back on Bliss just hours after the sad demise of my demo visit.

The diagnosis and repair involved a shipped-in gigaohm meter, a courtesy stay at the Rockland Boat Basin, a Seakeeper specialist driving up from Pennsylvania, and finally the haulout and 600-pound gyro replacement… but Bliss was stabilized and underway Downeast just about a week later. And the Solteros are very grateful to Yachting Solutions and Seakeeper for excellent warranty service.

Which reminds me of some excellent engine care I saw on Bliss. Note in the upper left photo how a premium Keenan Filters system is protecting the Yanmar from dirty diesel (and also the Keenan remote filter switch partially seen in the dash photo). Moreover, Luis has been monitoring the diesel’s ultra fine Jackmaster bypass oil filter with frequent Blackstone Lab oil analysis and likes what he’s seeing.

So I never photographed the Seakeeper on Bliss in operation, let alone experienced the effect in a seaway. But fortunately Luis provided these shots, which start with some pleasing anti-roll performance in famously nasty Chesapeake “chop” early in their summer cruise and end with the SK run time statistics collected by the time they hid out from Hurricane Dorian last week in Stamford Harbor.

Partial track of trawler Bliss cruising summer 2019

This Marine Traffic track of Bliss is incomplete both because there are not enough volunteer AIS receiving stations and because the MT membership I earn by maintaining a station only includes 90 days of tracking — and both are good reasons why you should consider setting up a station at your home, business, or boat.

But despite the dotted line, Bliss did indeed motor a long leg from Cape Breton to Nantucket during which “the SK performed brilliantly.” And just yesterday while doubling back to Newport and experiencing the SK5’s “weakest point of sail” — “6-foot seas with 20 knots of wind abaft the beam at 120° from bow and against a 1 knot of current” — Luis shot some videos showing the gyrostabilization working to the max with still comfortable results.

I hope to add an edit of that video to this post soon, though it strikes me as already clear that modern electric power electronics have made Bliss a much more blissful cruising boat. And, incidentally, the results of this well monitored and controlled dual high power alternator system are similar to what the Integrel system highly automates in one package.

In fact, Integrel told Luis that their system would handle the high continuous SK loads no problem, though it wasn’t available for install in the U.S. last winter. That situation might change soon, and we will soon be covering another exciting new advancement in boat power technology, the Wakespeed WS500 Advanced Regulator.

PS 9/16: What’s it like when the SK5 is working hard on Bliss? Big thanks to Luis for sharing his video and observations:

Similar Posts:

Simarine Pico: Good ideas in battery monitoring & more
September 4, 2017

Gizmo 12v power issues, dumb questions?
July 6, 2010

MIBS2020: Seakeeper 1 small boat gyro stabilization
February 21, 2020

Gizmo’s alternator, tune-up & upgrade
May 13, 2011

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

7 Responses

  1. Luis Soltero Luis Soltero says:

    Hi Ben,

    I think it might be good to follow up with some performance notes on the Seakeeper 5 since there is not much mention on how the unit performs under different sea conditions.

    The SK is really good at dampening/eliminating any motion caused by an abrupt event. The motion sensors on the unit are very sensitive and as soon as motion is detected the SK wields massive momentum (600 lbs at 11,000 RPM) to counter the motion. So… wave patterns that have high frequency/short wavelength (or period) are stopped in their tracks. So… wakes caused by monster power boats overtaking you at 15 knots and passing 10 feet away from you whereas in the past would cause the boat to almost capsize (just kidding here but certainly cause lots of stress with wild rolling) are just not an issue any more. Now we smile and wave at the idiots as if on a sunday drive and continue on our happy merry way… Its a remarkable thing to experience.

    so basically short choppy seas at the beam and forward are pretty much nullified.

    as the seas build and move aft of the beam the effective (or observed) wave length lengthens. (i.e. waves have longer observed frequency) the SK struggles more to dampen the roll. This is not to say that the SK fails… The roll that is observed is
    1. Much smaller in amplitude than it would be otherwise
    2. The roll is immediately dampened and the boat recovers back to its upright position right away. The “ring” effect is immediately dampened. End result… the watermelon stays on the counter since the forces acting on it are gentle.

    I keep talking about the “ring” effect. This is when successive waves in a wave train cause the vessel to augment its roll with each successive wave that hits it. Usually this has a magnifying effect. the first roll might be 5 degrees. the next wave builds on the first causing the next roll to be 10deg, etc… with the SK you see the first roll (which is dampened) and then the boat goes upright… subsequent rolls (if any) are much smaller than the first. This is very important since this “ring” effect in our experience can cause a lot of heartache.

    Bottom line… while surfing downwind the boat does roll… but it’s a roll that is much gentler of smaller amplitude that corrects itself very quickly.

    The worst point of sail for the SK5 on Bliss is from 120 deg off the bow. Dead downwind is better than quartering seas. As mentioned above and demonstrated in the video the SK5 will work fine under these conditions with 6′ seas and 20-25 knots of wind. Under these conditions the SK hits its stops at +- 60 degrees and once there can’t provide further righting motion. Under these conditions we see < 5 degrees of roll with moderate roll period (as demonstrated in the video). With larger seas the SK5 reaches its stop and the boat continues to roll with larger amplitude. However, as soon as it starts rolling back the SK is back in action opposing the motion deducing the roll amplitude and period. So good but not as good as in "choppy" seas or sea forward of the beam.

    The SK5 acts in wind like it does with waves… Sudden gusts like what you might experience on the front end of a big squall is countered… but sustained winds can be thought of as waves with infinitely long wave length. The SK5 can't address that. So the boat heels. Unlike fins that can be used to correct heel angle the SK5 is totally ineffective at this. So… for big sustained winds alternative corrective action must taken. On Bliss we have installed pumps that allow us to move water and fuel from tanks on one side of the boat to the other. The 150 gal water tanks (one on each side) are quite effective as ballast. The fuel tanks are lower in the boat and more centered but they can also be used as trim ballast. Otherwise changing course to decrease the effective wind strength is all that can be done.

    The highest wind we have seen since we have had the SK5 is 35 knots sustained… Bliss did fine in this and we did not feel unsafe. Higher winds are things we would want to avoid….

    Case in point.. on our 4 day passage from St. Peter Cape Breton Island to Nantucket across the Gulf of Maine we never saw more than 20 knots of wind with moderate swell. However, given the large tidal currents flowing into/out of the bay of fundy there were many times (especially during tide change) where we saw sloppy/choppy seas with standing waves and eddies. The SK5 performed perfectly under these conditions. It’s like the thing was invented for this kind of perturbed seas. We never saw more than 5 deg of roll the entire trip and most of the time it was near 0.

    One final take away about this last year… Small boats like bliss and Gizmo are hard to stabilize using traditional methods. Roll tanks, Active fins, Paravanes require real estate that we just don't have. Initially I felt the same way about the SK.. there just was no room in Bliss for the thing. That is until we discovered that we could remove the generator and replace it with the SK. The SK fits perfectly in the footprint of the old generator. The ah-ha moment (with the help of Bruce Schwab, Nigel Calder, and friends at came when realizing that generators are hugely inefficient and that there are much better ways to do manage your electrical systems using alternative technology. So there was nothing to loose and much to gain by dumping the generator!


  2. Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

    This gets me thinking a little (and that can be dangerous and expensive) about the possibilities of running my SK9 off an inverter. The 230v 9 requires a maximum of 3,000 watts at startup and steady state closer to 1,600. Louis has done some impressive calculations to figure insure there’s adequate propulsive power available but I suspect that Have Another Day’s two 675hp engines are throwing away large multiples of what would be required to make the power. The biggest issue I see is that I don’t think I’d be able to run the SK for long without the engines running and I think I’d need a separate battery bank for whatever time that might happen. Real estate in the engine room is at a premium and my boat is already stern heavy so I’d need to find a way to add any weight to the bow.

    But man, the ability to run the Seakeeper without firing up the 23kw generator sure would be nice.

    -Ben S.

    • Colin A says:

      I’m sure your diesels have plenty to give for the stabilizer. ( I assume your boat is 24V that makes it a bit easier). If you have the inverter power, you could go with a large battery charger and use your Gen for shorter run times to keep the stabilizer running when the main propulsion is off which would give some efficiency gain if you were running unloaded to just keep the stabilizer at speed. At 1,600 watts (not sure how long start up is to put in the calc) a Pair of 8D (230AH) batteries (wired as 24V) would give you a couple hours runtime to 50% discharge, Now given the weight concerns Lithium is worth a look. If your not going DIY (I’m cheap personally) lithionics has a good rep a pair of their 8D (300AH) replacement 24V (slightly bigger then an actual 8D but slightly less weight) would get you close to 7 hours run time at 20% DOD. Lithium really does have some advantages for systems like this.

  3. Luis Soltero Luis Soltero says:

    Hi Ben,

    My guess is that you should have no problem running the SK9 off of the engines. The thing to keep in mind is that 2x 250 alternators == 20 hp (worst case)… so if you look at the engine hp output at your cruising speed (the graphs should be readily available from the engine manufacturer) subtract 20 from that figure to find out how much power you actually have at your disposal. Getting power curves for your boat from the carver might be more difficult but again my guess is that at displacement speeds you are way over powered. You have much more horsepower than say a Nordhavan 63 and that is a MUCH larger boat!

    So… 2x 250 amp (at 12v) alternators per engine is ==> 12Kwatts way more than what you need. You would need 2x victron inverters to get your 3000 watts continuous. Your alternators would be loafing and running at 1/4 of their capacity which is good. 1 inverter might do it but i would hate to run the inverter full out for extended periods of time. But if all you really need is 1600watts to run then it could be that one inverter would do it. The inverter would be peaking at 3kw a lot lot while spinning up but once up then you would be set since it would only be running at 1/2 capacity… However.. it is nice to run the house off of inverters without having to start the genset. So 2x is probably the right number.

    There is no reason why you could not keep your current generator setup in addition to having an engine driven setup. Given that you could easily have 12Kw at your disposal form your engines really the only time you would need to run the genset is when at anchor. Underway all of your power requirements can be met by the DC generation system.

    As far as batteries go.. Although we have a large bank we often spend long periods of time at anchor and when foggy or rainy the batteries do go low. Sometimes as low as 40% of total charge. Under these conditions we don’t run the SK off of the batteries. We start the engine 30-50 minutes before lift anchor and let the engines warm up and the SK5 spin up. Keep in mind that at 800 RPM you will have more than enough power to run the SK9. So.. just idle for a while before you go and you are all set. And.. you could also switch to lithium batteries which are much lighter if you wanted to spin up the SK9 without having to start the engines.

    I would give Bruce at OPE a call to discuss high output alternators and inverter options. From what I see you are in much better position to this than Bliss given the size of your engines.


  4. Luis Soltero Luis Soltero says:

    Hello All,

    Many have asked what cause the SK5 to fail after 170 hours.

    So first of all let me state for the record that it was Ben’s fault! The unit had been working perfectly all the way to Camden Maine. We used it as we sailed into the inner harbor and tied up to one of the town floats. It was only when Ben came aboard to have the unit demoed that it failed to start. Ben broke it!

    The error condition message was “Over current”. There was too much AC current being drawn on start up.

    The cause…

    If you look watch the video above you can’t help but notice that the SK moves often and fast. The hydraulic arms are pumping away and the 600 lbs sphere swings from up to +60 degrees to -60 degrees frequently. Its pumping away when in stabilization mode. It is absolutely essential that all wires and hoses that are attached or near the sphere have clearance. As it turns out the AC motor wire that feeds the bottom of the sphere would just happen to brush (and I mean just slightly brush) up against one of the hydraulic hoses when the unit approached one of the stops. So… at the end of the swing. After 170 hours the wires fatigued and some of the strands broke causing resistance and hence requiring higher amperage. This must have happened while under passage to Camden but since the unit was running it required much less current than on startup. So the problem did not manifest while under way. Only on start up the next morning the we realize we had an issue.

    SK5 support was great. At first it was not obvious what the problem was. So… they sent a tech out with a MegaOhm meeter to test the motor windings. They were all fine.. there was enough conductor there to allow the 1000V test to pass…. Then they overnighted an electronics package which the YS tech installed. That did not resolve the issue. SK then had their head tech drive up from Pennsylvania in a custom van with a replacement sphere. The boat was hauled and the sphere replaced.

    After the installation of the new sphere we made darn sure that there was ample clearance between all the leads, wires, and hoses on the unit. All this was covered under warranty. Its obvious that the company stands by its product and customer satisfaction is a high priority for them.

    The unit has performed flawlessly since then. Now before we make any lengthy passages I do a visual inspection to make sure that all hoses and wire leads are secured in their place and that nothing is hanging loose or that there is no chafing between components. I am pretty certain that this was a one off freak accident. The tech who had been working for SK for over 8 years assured me that he had never seen a failure like this one before. So…after 400 hours now I am confident that the replacement unit will work fine moving forward and have total confidence in the system.


  5. Rick Gard says:

    amazing write up and back up. thank you all. the alternators, monitoring, and inverter seem to work as will as an integrated unit.

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