Tech Talk 3 – What To Do During COVID

A quick recap on what Suz has said in other sections of the blog: We arrived in Darwin in late October 2019, with the intention of staying during the cyclone season and then moving on to Queensland at the end of April 2020. Well, the world changed with COVID and we ended up staying in Darwin until early September 2020. While in Darwin, which by the way we loved, we decided it was a perfect opportunity to catch up on some maintenance. As it turned out, we ended up doing quite a bit, as we were going to be in Darwin for quite some time. This particular article details some of the major works completed and includes a list of the minor items. We found that we had to order-in quite a few parts and with the delays due to COVID  it generally took  2-3 weeks to get parts  to Darwin.

Haul Out

The first major job was to have the boat hauled out. This was a pain, as the next anti-fouling was not due until towards the end of 2020, but the ever-increasing insurance requirements insisted on a full survey being done before April. With no other option we bit the bullet and arranged for the haul out to be done at NT Marine. They are located virtually next door to Tipperary Waters Marina and had a 150-tonne lift (the biggest we’ve ever been in).  This ended up being one of the easiest and most enjoyable lifts we’ve had.

Opal Lady on the hard

The first thing we noticed, once the boat was out of the water, was that the hull was extremely clean even after all the travelling we had done in tropical waters.  According to the locals, the lack of growth was due to the large amounts of fresh water entering the marina during the wet season. Whatever the reason, ‘Opal Lady’ only needed a quick wash down before being moved into her allocated position where we could inspect her more closely. There ended up being very little work required with only anti-foul touch up, worn zincs replaced, keel coolers cleaned and the main shaft packing replaced. For those interested, we had accidentally put PropSpeed on the keel cooler at the last haul-out in February 2019. At the time we decided just to see what difference it made temperature wise, and from our records we did not notice any difference in coolant temperatures, but it was interesting to find that all of the PropSpeed had disappeared by the time we hauled out in Darwin and there was very little growth on the keel coolers.

The marine surveyor (Keil Maritime) turned up on time, the survey was completed (our big girl got a clean bill of health) and after four days we were back in the water.  This was the fastest and cheapest haul-out we have done; which was a pleasant surprise considering the actual lift and washdown cost was over double what it used to cost us in Perth.


Our generator had logged over 5,000 hours and I wanted to have a good look at it, especially as up until now I have had other people servicing it and I now need to be able to do this myself. In addition, I could see there was some sort of leak near the forward heat exchanger cap, so this was a good opportunity to check it out, along with the condition of the exhaust elbow. I found it frustrating that although I had previously asked for the elbow to be checked it was clear that no-one had been over this side of the generator for some time, which was disappointing but I only have myself to blame. Once I had removed the salon table and floor panels, access was very simple.  We found that the forward heat exchanger cap had a small split in the rubber, so a spare was ordered. What did surprise me, after all I had read about the possible build-up of carbon in the elbow if the generator was improperly loaded, was that the exhaust elbow was very clean. We must be loading the genset fairly well, although it is a constant battle to put enough load on our 10kw unit. Generally, we use the water maker, washing machine or air-conditioners to assist with the loading. After replacing the heat exchanger cap and noting that the heat exchanger itself was in good condition, everything was put back together; oil changed along with oil and fuel filters and the genset was all good to go.

Opening the floor to access the far side of the genset


The main fridge in the galley (original U-Line) had given up the ghost while travelling up the Western Australian coast, so it was time for a new fridge. We ordered another Nova Kool (slightly larger model) from Queensland.  We have been happy with the Nova Kool unit we installed some years ago on the stairs to replace the U-Line unit that failed there. The installation in the galley was relatively simple, but we will need to get the final carpentry work completed when we get to Brisbane.

Fitting the new galley fridge


All the ropes for the boom and flopper stopper poles were over 10 years old, so having mastered the art of splicing double braided rope via YouTube, we methodically replaced all of the ropes over a one-week period. It has certainly made a big difference in how they look and feel.

Measure and measure again


We have a Maxwell 3500 anchor winch on ‘Opal Lady’. After performing faultlessly all last year, it just stopped working when Suz and I went to use it to lay out the anchor chain in the marina for re-marking. After being put onto a local mechanic with a good reputation (Nafea Soliman), we removed the motor and when he pulled it apart it proved to be pretty well stuffed. A new motor was promptly ordered and installed with instant success.

Removing the gearbox

Once repaired, the chain was laid out on the walkway and sprayed every 10 metres with alternating red and white paint.

White on the even tens end


We had been having intermittent problems with the flushing of our electric Raritan toilet in the master ensuite and we did have a slight odour that comes from permeation into the piping. About 4 years ago we had purchased replacement Trident sanitation hose, but had been putting off this particular job, knowing it was going to be a painful and smelly job to do. So, with plenty of time in Darwin we bit the bullet and over 3 days replaced the joker valve and all of the sanitation hoses.

Where to start?
Letting the sun do some of the work
Putting it all back together

As it turned out, the smell was not too bad, but it took some ingenuity and muscle (along with assuming some very peculiar positions) to get this job completed. I must have got my calcs right when we ordered the hose all those years ago, as we had less than 500mm left over at the end of the job.

Air Conditioners

The air conditioners had proved somewhat unreliable on the trip up the WA coast and as we would be moving back onto the boat, full time in April, these needed to be sorted. With the help of Refrigeration Darwin, we flushed all 3 units with Barnacle Buster and replaced 2 of the control units. Once that was done, all was good and they certainly got some use over the next few months. As an aside we found a peculiar issue with the control units when we were using the TV.  When we used the remote to change channels, it would change the settings on the pilothouse and salon air conditioners, which meant that suddenly the units would change from cooling to heating – not good. Suz came up with a simple solution which involved getting some alfoil and covering the air conditioner control units – problem solved! Expensive solutions are not always required.

Simple work-around


The performance of our house batteries had been steadily deteriorating and although we had planned to change them out in Brisbane, we decided to do it while in Darwin. We had had a very good run on these batteries, as they were now 8 years old, but we were seeing battery levels drop from 100% to mid-60s overnight while anchored, and it was getting worse. I would have dearly liked to put lithium batteries in, but after much agonising, decided we would go with AGMs again, as I was not confident about the technical support available in Darwin to properly set lithiums up. We ended up replacing our 5 X 220Ah batteries with 5 X 270Ah batteries, which actually fitted better into the lazarette due to slightly different LxWxH specs. I will confess though, that I had 2 guys from Battery Power do the actual installation, as each battery weighed 64 kilos and lowering them into position at the back of the lazarette was definitely a job for young ones with strong backs. Suz and I carted all the old ones out of the marina while Steve and Wakanda installed the new ones.  The guys did a fantastic job and had all the old ones out and the new ones installed over a mornings work. We took ‘Opal Lady’ for a run to Bare Sand Island (Bynoe Harbour) shortly thereafter and the difference was immediately noticeable.  When anchoring overnight with this combination of new and larger capacity batteries we saw battery levels only dropping from 100% to 83%. This new set up is also greatly assisted by the 330W solar panel which has reduced our generator run time markedly.

New windlass battery


We have 2 tenders on Opal Lady. A 3.2m Zodiac RIB with a 15hp 4 stroke Suzuki, and a 2m fold up Zodiac with a 2.5hp 4 stroke Suzuki. When we took the cover off the larger tender, after being covered during the wet season, we found mould everywhere. Lots of elbow grease, especially from Suz, and all was cleaned up, but we needed a better solution for protecting the RIB from the sun, while preventing mould growth. We had made many friends at the Tipperary Marina and amongst them were John and Tracey from ‘Mad Mac’s’. They suggested fitting chaps on the tender, which means you don’t need to use a full cover, which solves the mould problem. We were given the name of a business called The Canvas Company who did the job for us, making up a set of Sunbrella chaps, which as you can see below turned out really well.

The only way to get the tender back to the boat was to drop it down the wall and row it across the marina

Based on our experience with the larger tender we thought we’d best unwrap the less used, smaller tender (we call ‘The Chip’). There was not so much mould on this one, but we found a number of holes had formed at it’s joins and patches were required. Dave Ewart from ‘Fonster’, who was berthed next to us, had just done this job on his tender and had the right gear, so assisted us to fix up ‘The Chip’. As an aside, Dave and I worked on a large number of projects together in the months we were in Darwin, both on our own boats and helping out others.  Dave’s experience in electronics/electrical was pretty comprehensive and I learnt a lot being his TA on many jobs, as well as consuming many beers as we pondered our next steps in the various projects.

Gluing patches on The Chip

Finally, we had both outboards serviced and given a birthday; we knew our next trip, heading to Queensland, was going to be mostly very remote travelling, so worth the expense.

THE BIG ONE – Electronics Upgrade Pt 2

One of the major refurbishment items we had planned for Brisbane was upgrading our electronics. You may remember from the first technical blog, that Greg from Taylor Marine had assisted us back in Perth when we had issues with our auto pilots.  As time marched on in Darwin, I remembered that Greg had mentioned that he was going to transfer to Darwin at some point. I rang his mobile and after saying G’dday asked whether he had ever ended up going to Darwin. When he said he was here now, I said right, have I got a job for you. The fact that Greg knew our electronics intimately and I trusted him a great deal, pushed me into bringing the upgrade forward.  And so, started a whole process which although frustrating at times, was ultimately very successful.

Decisions, Decisions

 The first and probably the most important part of the process was deciding what were we going to upgrade and how extensive should it be. As part of the upgrade I wanted to change the instrument layout to more suit the way Suz and I operate. For example, I wanted to move the auto pilots closer to the helm chair so we didn’t need to lean across the instruments as we changed course. Similarly, I wanted to move 1 VHF unit and the HF speaker to one of the upper panels to free up some room on the panel down below. This meant I would need 3 new panels made up with cut-outs put in once we had confirmed new instrumentation. The picture below shows the original layout.

The original electronics configuration

As you can see, we have 2 monitors above the steering wheel, which we prefer, as it means we can have radar on one while the other can be switched between camera/plotter/sounder or a combination of these. I tried really hard to get 16” screens, but apart from the cost they just weren’t going to physically fit, so we ended up going for two of the latest TZ3 12” multi-function displays (MFD’s).  These were noticeably bigger than our old MFD’s and had the advantage of being touch screen (as well as having button control, which is handy in heavy seas where touch screens can be problematic due to bouncing fat fingers).

Once the MFD’s were chosen, the rest fell into place.  The new MFD’s used NMEA 2000 technology, so the rest of the new gear also linked into the NMEA backbone. The final new gear list compared to the original is set out below.

Once the new instrumentation had been decided, templates were made up to decide on final layout for the new panels. In the meantime, I started stripping the old gear out. The picture below shows what it looked like with the panels removed before Greg started his magic. This was also the chance to sort out all the wiring with Greg taking the opportunity to remove a lot of redundant wiring and make sure everything was labelled for future reference. Once the panels had been removed, I found a company, Designer Kitchens who could make up the new panels. Stuart, the manager was brilliant and matched the colour perfectly.  There were only very minor adjustments required for a perfect fit. Very happy with the result.

The work begins

As part of the upgrade we also purchased a new navigation package; ‘Time Zero’. After seeing how user friendly it was on Dave Ewart’s vessel ‘Fonster’ it was a no brainer compared to what we were running previously. This software is run on a separate laptop to the rest of the system and linked by USB. This way we always have a backup in case of losing the main Nav system through lightning or some other unusual event. On the lap-top we also installed the software to run the Airmar weather station (already installed but had not used to date due to broken cabling – once we found the problem it worked perfectly).

Greg discussing cabling with Peter

Once the new gear arrived Greg started the install which progressed well until we hit a significant snag. The new radar was some 60mm closer to the mast which meant the old radar support did not work as it was not long enough to hold the radar away from the mast. Getting a new one made up became a bit of a drama, but eventually after 3 weeks it was sorted out with a new mount made. As part of the job, Greg also provided a comprehensive digital wiring diagram for future reference. We then took ‘Opal Lady’ out to calibrate the new heading sensor and check radar alignment, which went well and suddenly we were all done. The photo below shows the final result. To say we were happy is an understatement. Although not a cheap exercise, having now used the new system on our travels from Darwin to Gove, there is no comparison to the old system regards capability and useability.

The new electronics layout

How Not To Install A Light

One small but difficult job that needed to be done was installation of a new LED anchor light. The anchor light sits some 7m above the deck on the very top of the mast, and although we have a bosuns chair (which has proven invaluable), the boom winches could not take me up high enough to be able to see the anchor light, let alone work on it. The title of this section sums up Dave’s and my ingenious solution; but all my mates in mining would be horrified, from a safety point of view. What we did was wire two 3m ladders together and lash this to the mast.  We then had excellent access all the way to the top to complete the job. It’s not as bad as it sounds as I was wearing a fall arrest harness (attached when I got to the top), but it certainly was a more agricultural solution than I would prefer when 7m above the deck.

I have no words (Suz)

Polishing The Boat

Once a year in Perth, we would have the boat polished to keep her looking as best as we could. In Darwin we met Phil, known as Froggie, who was the go-to man for polishing – and what a guy. He worked non-stop for 3 days, doing the hull from the gunnel to the waterline.  Along the way he taught me what polish to use and the technique for applying it to get the best results. I have a Dewalt polisher, which Phil says is pretty good, and I practiced on the upper hull under his instruction. I suspect that this is an ongoing job, but ‘Opal Lady’ was looking as pretty as a picture by the time we left Darwin.

The apprentice polisher

Odds and Sods

As well as the key items above, there were a whole lot of smaller jobs knocked off (on a boat there is always a list of things that need doing, as well as the regular maintenance). Some of the these included:

  • Installing mounts for the barbecue so that both the barbecue and bait board had their own mounts (they previously shared and we were constantly changing them over)
  • Replacing boat deck lights
  • Preserved/Pickled the water maker (as we wouldn’t be making water in the marina)
  • Cleaned the anchor well (and found 85cents down there trying to block the drain)
  • Oil and Fuel filter changes and an oil change for the main engine and transmission
  • A new Flopper Stopper plate was made to replace the one we lost in the Kimberleys
  • Bleached and flushed the fresh water tanks (there was a bad taste after staying at Cullen Bay)
  • Replaced the fan in the salon
  • Replaced the fresh water filter under the sink
  • Cleaned all rust off coolant tank, alternator fan cover and spots on main engine, and repainted with white heat resistant paint
  • Dived under the boat and cleaned both keel coolers just before we left Darwin, again there was very little growth.
Suz replacing the boat deck light (photo shows the original dinghy cover)

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