Generator woes

January 28th, 2008

I went to Dublin a couple of weeks ago with work, to be enthusiastic about BAS to Irish schoolchildren at a big exhibition, and whilst I was away it rained a lot in Cambridge. Upon my return, I pulled the starting handle on my ever-faithful Honda generator and it wouldn’t start. Oh dear. One of the features of Honda engines is that they are extremely reliable, and the little EU10i generator has performed brilliantly for as long as I’ve owned it. It nearly always starts on one pull and is quite happy to look after itself – the nifty electronic engine management stops it automatically if it overheats, runs out of oil, etc, etc, and so it’s virtually foolproof. I put two and two together and reckoned that the wet weather was possibly to blame. The generator does normally live on deck (it’s unwise to keep petrol in a closed cabin near to sources of ignition, and against the Boat Safety Regulations) and it did once have a rather nice Honda waterproof cover until it blew away in some very high winds a month or two ago.

I brought the generator inside to try and dry it off, but still nothing. So I eventually took it down to the Honda agents, Elliotts, in Bar Hill, just outside Cambridge, where they serviced it and solved the problem, which turned out to be water in the fuel tank and carburettor. This cost me £60, but they did do a service (oil and filter change, new spark plug) at the same time, which I’d been meaning to do anyway. To avoid further expense in future, I shall be keeping a strong plastic bag strapped over it whilst it’s living outside!

The fact that the internet contains virtually no information about possible faults with an EU10i shows how reliable they are – so I’m blogging this in the hope that anyone else who has a wet generator that won’t start knows to either take the machine to be fixed or cleans and dries the carburettor and fuel tank themselves!


January 7th, 2008

This morning it was very windy. According to the Met Office, the wind was 30mph with 50mph gusts, which made for an entertaining bike ride into work!

Just as I was getting a coffee, I got a phonecall from my neighbour Helen, to say that Innocenti was in danger of coming adrift, but that they were getting things under control. What had happened was that the force of the wind (which was coming across the fen and hitting the boat broadside on) had ripped out the two mooring stakes and the boat was only being held to the bank by the stern rope, which was tied around a solid metal post set in concrete. When Helen, Gabriel and Phil started to rescue the boat, this post and concrete block were being dragged away from the bank by the combined force of the wind and current.

I got a text later on saying it was secure, but reckoning that they’d lost the gangplank. This was a pain, as I’d actually borrowed the gangplank from Phil (he’s got a spare one) after the last one vanished downriver when the boat last came adrift. I decided to shorten my afternoon at work and go and check on things – when I got back to Waterbeach I found all the boats tied up very securely and I put a couple of extra mooring lines on Innocenti just to make sure. Phil, meanwhile, had found the gangplank on the other side of the river (it floats, being wooden) and retrieved it, so I was saved the cost of a new one for him! I’ve subsequently bought a long piece of wood to make a new one, but it’ll have to be painted before I can leave it outside. Another job to add to the queue…

In-boat entertainment

January 6th, 2008

Once again I begin by apologising for not writing earlier – just when I’d settled back into life on the boat I became embroiled in the whirlwind of Christmas and have only just extricated myself again… happy New Year everyone! It’s odd to think that I was still at Fossil Bluff this time last year – 2007 was a pretty excellent year for me, so let’s hope 2008 is as good or better.

Anyway, a slightly geeky post this one, but perhaps one of interest to my fellow boaters. I’ve just this evening finished wiring my new stereo system in the cabin, which includes the rather nice new loudspeakers that Mum and Dad kindly gave me for Christmas. I’ve also been meaning to describe the work I did installing a DAB radio in the kitchen back in September, so instead I’ll describe them both here.

Starting with the radio, I quickly realised once I was living alone on the boat that I needed Radio 4 to keep me company. My little FM portable doesn’t work at all inside the boat, of course, so I had to look at getting a radio with an external antenna. The obvious solution is a car radio, of course, but I went and looked at a few and found them to expensive, ugly and with rather poor user interfaces. Anyway, I dawdled around the various electrical megastores in Newmarket Road and came across this Hitachi DAB radio in Currys. It’s a DAB/FM radio, which uses the NXT flat-panel loudspeakers, making the design very slim and light. However, the two clinching factors were that it runs on 12v from an external power supply (meaning that I could easily hook it into the boat’s electrics) and that the telescoping antenna supplied with it can be easily replaced by an external one. A quick trip to Maplin supplied me with a suitable power connector and cable, which got wired into the kitchen lighting circuit, and then I found a suitable DAB antenna kit in the Screwfix catalogue. The antenna is clamped onto the handrails up at the bows, and the feeder cable runs along the handrail and then comes down to the radio through the ventilator in the kitchen ceiling. It works well, although it suffers from the problem of all DAB sets – it uses a lot of power.

For the main cabin I wanted a system to play music from my little MP3 player, and found the intriguing Sonic Impact T-Amp whilst Googling for 12v amplifiers. The T-Amp is tiny, not much bigger than a paperback book, and all that’s in it is a little one-chip amplifier and a volume control. It uses a clever PWM-based circuit that lead some people to call it a “digital amplifier”, which it isn’t, it’s more like a switch-mode power supply. Anyway, some reviews on the internet suggested that various people in the audiophile community reckon that this is The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, and at about £30 it seemed like a good buy. Then I actually tried to buy one. The things seemed to be in very short supply, so I ended up ordering one from Think Geek in the US because it was about the same price including shipping as the only UK stockist, and Think Geek had one in stock. I’m glad I did because the manufacturers have subsequently discontinued the basic model and replaced it with a more expensive second-generation model, which is basically the same circuit in a fancier case. Anyway, it’s sat around in its box waiting for a pair of loudspeakers since November. Today I’ve hooked it up to the pair of JBL Control One speakers that I got for Christmas (thanks again, Mum and Dad!) and also managed to wire it into the boat’s 12v supply. This was only slightly trickier than it sounds. One of the reviews I read said that the amp runs from a nominal 12V but won’t tolerate any more than 14V. Unfortunately, the boat’s alternator regulator routinely kicks out 14.5V with the engine running (this improves the battery charging performance), so I needed a regulator to protect the amp. Fortunately I found one in Maplin today – it’s a little compact multi-voltage unit which comes with a choice of DC plugs, one of which fits the T-amp – and it delivers the necessary 1.5A to the amplifier quite happily. I wired in an extra cigar lighter socket at the forward end of the cabin and plugged it all in – hey presto, music! The system does sound good, although it’s hard to tell given that the source is my tiny MP3 player with its compressed music and the boat cabin’s hardly an ideal listening room. Anyway, I now have to decide how best to mount the loudspeakers, as they’re currently just floating around the floor until I give them a proper home.