Gene Gene Gene

June 26, 2019 posted by Diane

June 26, 2019

This morning I’m reminded of a song from the 80s Should I Stay Or Should I go.  The Clash held a lot of meaning for some of us back then and ironically the song still rings true today for our morning breakfast and crew brief.

Yesterday was a pivotal day for our boat Eleanor being ready to go across the ocean.  The technicians were fully engaged in testing this exciting new Victron lithium battery system.


The new lithium system truly is state of the art.  It will afford us an incredible level of conveniences and safety in depleting the batteries without catastrophic battery failure while maintaining an incredible long life for the batteries.


There are colour digital panels that tell us exactly what is happening at any given moment and we could even download the computer’s historical data to do analysis remotely with a technician!  In my usual world I think I’m lucky when I have a little digital battery meter gauge showing me the amps draining the system or replenishing the system.  Not only is this lithium system clever with depletion and monitoring, but when the boat gets to the UK, the Skylla chargers which accompany the multiplex charger will manage the step down from 60hz to 50hz to charge the system.  The boat won’t even skip a beat when we plug in to shore power in the UK.


Really a great system to meet the needs of the cruising that the boat will do, but let’s look at what this battery power can really do.  On Eleanor we have 600 amp hours of house service for the system.  My math shows that if we turn on the fridge/freezer, use the shower once a day, plug in our gadgets and yes watch a movie or two, that we will deplete the battery power somewhere between 200-300 amp hours a day.  We then would charge the batteries off of the generator for 2 -3 hours a day to keep the system topped up.  If it is breezy, the wind generator will supply a few amps of power and if it’s sunny, the solar panel will also provide a couple amps but really these two items act as a battery tender for when the boat is on a mooring ball or on the hard.  This whole idea of managing our power expenditures and intake is not unusual to us human beings.  Anyone who carries a cell phone knows how long they can go before their battery will die.  They know how to go into conservation mode and when they can charge again.  But what if you couldn’t recharge?   How would you reorganize your world to still meet your operating needs?  Would you be ok with just shutting the phone off?  Could you shut down the battery consumers and all the crazy apps and stretch your power out over a longer period of time?  Or would you just reorganize your world so that you didn’t ever need a phone again?  Imagine how you would restructure your world to functionally live without a phone.

Yesterday while the technicians on Eleanor were testing the new system they discovered that our generator was not delivering any output of power to charge the batteries.


Capacitors were replaced and “Gene” was still dead.  Bench testing the alternator….pretty much requires pulling the engine out to get at it as she is installed aft of the main engine in a tight little locker surrounded by the steering quadrant cables.  “Gene” is our primary method of supplying power to charge the batteries.  Without Gene, ie without our main power source, can Eleanor complete her mission and what reduced parameters are we happy to live within for the crossing?  Some of you may be thinking wait a minute….you have a perfectly good generator with the main engine….why not just use that?

This generates (hahahahahah) the argument of why boats have both a generator and a main engine.  The basic theory a generator runs at a high enough RPM at idle that it doesn’t cause long term damage to its rings and cylinders.   A main engine idles at a lower RPM and is designed for low end torque working the pistons harder when the prop turns and load is created.  Running the main engine at idle without any load on it uses low compression.  This low compression doesn’t always completely burn the fuel in the cylinder.  The leftover fuel creates a buildup of carbon and starts to burn on its own.  There are others that say “define low compression”.  The low compression theory used to be a valid argument in “one or double lung” diesel engines.  These were the old single or two cylinder engines.  In Toronto sometimes if it is really cold in the spring, the compression is so low in these old cold engines that to start them I have to run a blow torch in the air intake to warm up the cylinder… glow plug is warm enough!  Running these engines at low idle really causes them to “belch and fart” as I say.

Our engine on Eleanor however idles at 1000 RPm.  In my humble opinion this is sufficient RPM to keep the engine running efficiently.  It generates about 130 amps of power out of the 160 amp alternator.  Plenty of power to charge the batteries!  Now the great debate continues.  How much fuel would it take to use the main engine as our power source?  Generators typically use about half the diesel as a main engine.  However, this is a hard equation to answer mathematically and accurately.  Between my experience and my research my math gives us about .3 gallons per hour of consumption at idle on the main engine.  If we were to function in conservation mode aka no movies, bucket showers, careful management of the fridge/freezer and foot pump only, we could easily manage all the way across with our 140 gallons of diesel.  But here’s the other part of the “mathematical” equation.  This trip is not just about getting the boat there.  I have to remember that after I get off the boat there are future adventures in her travels and our fantastic boat owner needs to be able to function without a generator.  The great question remains… we go without a generator.  Do we take the boat to Scotland where we don’t have the resources of the technicians that have spent countless hours with this new hi tech system and where the boat and her owner needs to function without the luxury of charging gene?  Here comes the song again

Should I stay or should I go now…..indecision’s buggin me!

Stay tuned for the final decision!


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