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.
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.
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:
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