Lowering the Bar

Posted on Monday 1 May 2006

Apparently, the definition of what passes for quality, professional work, has gotten lower. I asked around and was given Peter Kennedy’s name as the go-to guy for doing the electrical upgrades on my Telstar. He was recommended by several sailors I spoke with, as well as the Telstar manufacturer, Performance Cruising. Given these references, I expected to see quality, professional work from his company.

The upgrades I asked Peter to do were relatively straightforward. They included: replacing the masthead anchor light with an Orca Green Marine TriAnchor/Strobe LED masthead light; adding a Raymarine Smart Controller to the existing Raymarine instruments; designing and installing mounts for the two 130 watt solar panels I have; upgrading the house battery bank; installing two charge controllers and a battery combiner; installing a handheld VHF NMEA charging cradle; and installing a GPS chart plotter and connecting the NMEA wiring to the two VHF units.

So far, what I have found with his company’s work are the following:

New Masthead Light

The masthead light, as I found it on Saturday morning.The new LED masthead light mounting bracket fell off the masthead during the trip from Annapolis to Fairhaven, as seen in this photo on the right. The only reason I didn’t lose my new masthead light is the electrical wiring didn’t break, but I doubt that kind of strain was any good for the wiring. I’m checking the light for full function tomorrow evening.

A closeup of the masthead light and bracket.The masthead light bracket was poorly made, with sharp corners and burred edges, as seen in the photo on the left. Further inspection of the bracket reveals that two of the three screws holding the masthead light to the bracket do not pass through the plate, but are adjacent to it—relying on the sealant and washers to hold them firmly in place (also visible in the photo on the left). Another closeup of the masthead light, showing the screws provided by PKYS.What’s worse, is the screws that were used to attach it to the masthead appear to have been bent over, like nails, and were not held in by their threads as far as I can tell (see photo on right).

Raymarine Smart Controller

The Raymarine Smart Controller base unit was mounted horizontally. The Raymarine installation directions clearly show the unit is supposed to be mounted vertically. Granted, on the Telstar, space is at a premium, but this could have been done properly. If the base unit had to be mounted against the instructions of the manufacturer, a phone call or e-mail stating why, and giving me the option to have it properly mounted would have been a courtesy.

Another issue with the Smart Controller installation was when I first inspected the remote charging cradle, the SeaTalk cable was so short that it would be under great strain if the remote was fully seated in the cradle. However, this was later remedied after I mentioned it to Peter.

Solar Panel Mounts

The solar panel mount concept Peter has come up with is both innovative and relatively easy to use. It leaves the panels in a position that is both out of the way, and simple to setup, use, and take apart. However, his actual execution falls far short of what we discussed.

In the actual installation, the port solar panel is clearly warped and distorted, when mounted. I doubt that is is good for an aluminum and tempered glass solar panel. This should have been fixed by shimming the mounts to level the panel. The rails for the port side are clearly not parallel. The method of mounting the blocks, which clamp to the mounting rails, to the panels could be more robust as well.

Also, the aft mounting rail on both sides is mounted into a stanchion base and held in place via two small hex set screws. This is not acceptable…losing the set screws will make the rail mounts unsafe to use. Besides, Peter and I had discussed using fast pins of some sort for the solar panel mounts, to make installation of the panels easier, as well as tool-free.

Finally, the screws for the railing attachment points do not have any locking washers or nylocks on them, and were loose from the trailer trip up to Fairhaven. I doubt how long they’d last on a rough sail. Many of the screws for these four mounting points were also badly mangled during their installation, with the heads partially stripped. All of these screws are being replaced as well.

House Batteries

The house battery bank works quite well, and the battery box, for the two six-volt, golf cart batteries, is located under the cockpit sole. To inspect the batteries, the battery box must be removed and opened. I don’t have a problem with the location, and it is where Peter and I chose to locate the new batteries, but I do have a problem with the fact that I have to remove the inspection hatch and mounting ring to one of the aft buoyancy tanks in order to get the battery box out. Peter only mentioned this after installing the battery box. I would have preferred a different location—one that didn’t require disassembly of the boat to inspect the batteries.

Charging Systems

The charge controller for the solar panels is held in place by screws through the thin fiberglass side of the navigation console. This should have been either backed with a wooden mounting block for the screws, or attached using nuts and machine screws. Fiberglass is a very poor holding medium for screws of any sort. I’ll be putting machine screws with washers and nuts in tomorrow.

I don’t believe either charge controller was adjusted to the specific voltage recommended for the type of batteries they are responsible for charging. The smaller FlexCharge controller should be set for the two AGM batteries in the starting bank, and the ICP Solar charge controller should have been set for the two golf cart batteries which are connected in series for the house bank.

The A/C-powered battery charger is not on a separate circuit, and is not hard-wired to the AC side of the boat’s shore power system. Instead, it is setup via an outlet inside the navigation console, and it requires the user to plug it in and unplug it to turn it on or off. I understand that this was mostly due to space issues with the AC panel in the boat, and I agreed to have this installation, after Peter discussed it with me.

VHF and GPS installation

The VHF handheld and GPS chartplotter installations seem to be fine. Both the handheld VHF and main VHF units receive GPS position data from the Garmin chartplotter, as does the Raymarine Tillerpilot. The one possible issue I have with this part of the installation, is the location of the NMEA/SeaTalk wiring block. It is in the rear of the navigation console, and attached to the wiring, rather than the side of the navigation console.

General Fit & Finish

The installation’s general fit and finish is not to the level I’d expect either. In many locations, the new wiring was secured with cable ties. The cable ties were trimmed and left with very sharp edges, which were often left exposed. After getting badly scratched several times, my friend rotated the cable ties, so the razor-like edges were no longer exposed.

Conclusions

I’m still in the process of inspecting the rest of his installation work, as well as the rest of the boat in general. There are some other problems. Manuals for some of the new equipment he provided were not included. For an installation of this size and cost, I’d also expect a clear wiring diagram of any complex electrical installation, but none was included, so I’m tracing wires to do my inspection. One major question I have with the installation is whether the different charging sources charge both battery banks or not. Are the charge controllers downstream of the battery combiner or not? A wiring diagram would make this very clear.

I’m waiting to hear back from Peter regarding these issues. Another issue is the long delay that the upgrades caused in getting my boat. When I had spoken with Peter, back in March, the original finish date was the first week of April. Peter said that might be a bit tight and asked for another week… but did not finish until the 27th, three weeks after my initial installation deadline, and two weeks after his postponed deadline.


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