EOTI Refit: Dinghy and Solar Arch

Eoti came with a set of davits and an engine launch crane. The davits had been modified to take an OEM solar ready kit which a newish Kyocera 260 watt panel had been installed on. The davits are nice davits and manufactured quite well. The problem is that they struggled to hold our air floor Zodiac dinghy and 9.9 Mercury motor. The davits moved quite a bit and they also fully blocked the view to the stern. The primary reason for having a stern view is so you can watch all those poor sailors get left in the dust that didn’t even realize it was a race. That and backing into a med mooring situation can be tricky.

The requirements for this project were pretty simple.

  1. Double or peferably triple the solar array size.
  2. Make everything much stronger so a 400 pound dinghy and motor are not an issue (would like to be lighter but 80 percent rule applies).
  3. Open up the stern so that obstructions to visibility are removed.
  4. Get the solar panels up high enough that they are out of line of sight.
  5. Be able hang the dinghy at rail height easily.

All in all the project seems to have met every one of the requirements. One requirement you don’t see? Cheap.

The davits and solar was very cluttered and required quite a bit of time to be removed. The navigation light, various tackle, and many wires had to be removed. I contacted a company called Atlantic Tower that makes an Arch in a box product. They put me into contact with a captain who had engineered a solution for a customer is Miami. Sydney and I took time off from work to drive down to Dinner Key to see the work. The marina was still a mess after the last hurricane. We appreciated the work we saw and how the arch was laid out and negotiated a deal with the captain to install the arch. He said “One guy, one day, plus some time to set up. No problem.”

The captain from Dinner Key installed a gantry on the stern of Eoti and a week later the box arrived with our arch in it. The box is huge but so is the arch as you will see. The captain had measured everything and said it would take one guy one day to get it installed and I should be very happy with the product.

The marina here in Fort Lauderdale accepted the box and the local critters were very interested in it what might be inside the box. I was kind of surprised at the shape of the box but once I saw how well everything was packed inside it I was very enthusiastic about seeing the workmanship.

The arch box was like a giant Christmas present. Then the grinch showed up. It is still painful to write. The captain from Dinner Key walked off the job. His main issue he stated was with Atlantic Tower, but that seems a bit wonky. They were awesome to deal with. He apparently wanted them to give him a commission up front before the work was done. As their suggested installer he would get a commission for delivering a happy customer. They refused to pay him before the work was done saying once I was happy they would pay for performance of the install. That wasn’t good enough for him so with an Arch in a box sitting in the marina yard he walked.

I have spent a lot of time fixing deals, and getting hostile people to work with each other. A skill that failed me this time. I talked with the owner of Atlantic Tower and spent some interesting time wondering what was up with the world. Regardless of the Captain from Dinner Key Marina the folks at Atlantic Tower were very good to me. I still did not have an installer. It was time to get creative and dial for labor. So, I started calling around town and my first phone call was to a company that wouldn’t seem like a straight up phone call. I called Just Catamarans even though I only have half a catamaran.

Rafael Escobar, a bit of a YouTube celebrity, is their service manager. This is a very busy shop with some sailing youtube channel star power. I had seen Nikki and Jason Wynn pass through on their sailing channel and still smile to see their Smart Car driving around. I had seen Riley and Elyana of Sailing Lavagabonde pass through. Interesting side note my boss was actually picked to be on the show as a patron and has had his name in the credits a few times. I also saw the Sailing Uma folks work in the Just Cats shop extensively and I have talked to the installers from Just Catamarans several times on my dock. Another author and YouTube star lives in our marina and her and her husband currently cruise on a catamaran and are a customer.

So even though I am not a Youtube star and none of the above ever return my emails I am ballsy enough to call just about anybody. Besides I have cash.

So after some giggling by Rafael we had an installer but we didn’t know that the world was going to get very difficult. The captain from Dinner Key Marina had missed a few key details in his design. Like having to move the electric from the corner of the transom. Apparently the unit would fit on the face but to do things correctly a backing plate was needed. So my brand new painted hull got some body work done. I would learn quickly that what you see is only a tiny piece of the craftsmanship as what was behind the scenes was mind blowing great work.

Just Catamarans shop figured it out and had the work done over a couple of days to allow for curing time and for weather. Since we live on the boat pulling it and putting it into a shed wasn’t going to happen.

I was really worried when I saw the paint before it had been buffed. Along about this time I had power cords dangling in a locker, paint that looked like it didn’t match, and I was getting really nervous. We had a few missteps as the project was starting. This is pretty normal. The demolition team got rambunctious and cut my RADAR cable (ouch) and they removed everything off the stern including stuff that wasn’t any kind of issue. Rafael said he would fix anything that got screwed up and he held the teams to a level of expectation that I knew was going to be realized in some pretty awesome craftsmanship.

The result was flawless. The guys who came and did this work were subcontractors so you can really understand that what you get by hiring a company like Just Catamarans is platinum level service along with a significant cost. There is no cheap and great work. Though I would find out they were actually quite thrifty when it all came to the end.

The entire project was a series of secondary decisions made in haste because scope/scale/design was imposed rather than identified up front. As an example the two-30 amp circuits would be terminated and placed into service using a junction box that made it into a 50 amp service. We went ahead and added a CATV outlet on the transom and will tie that into the boat at a later time.

The junction box is just another glowing example of craftsmanship on the project. More than just the box. Cole one of the Just Catamarans team members created the box, got it epoxied on to the hull, but Ray another team member also moved the wire loom, fixed the wiring mistake that would likely have caused another fire, and made the entire lazarette much more usable. Nobody on the outside of the boat is going to see this kind of great work but it really shows a significant level of improvement in just the clarity of how things work. Oh and this also moved things around so the arch would actually fit on the back of the boat.

Here you can see one of the unique features of how the arch is mounted. This was a specific design decision as it keeps the angles of the front legs and rear legs at 90 degrees to each other. That makes it stronger. There are also junction or cross braces that further strengthen the whole thing coming from the rear to lower points on the transom. That gives six primary points of contact to the hull but there is more to it than that.

The push pit/life lines were in the way so they had to be cut. A bracket was fashioned in such a way as the aluminum would not contact the stainless steel, but this like several other things was just one of those things that had to be changed or modified.

Once the arch was up and installed it became pretty obvious how tall it was going to be. I was mildly nervous but because of how it is installed if I ever think it is all too tall I can literally cut up to two fee from the bottom and make it much lower. I can not see that happening but I have the option. Just add money.

The cross braces from the arch mimic the line of the braces going to the life lines and push pit seats on the stern. The entire rig at this point is pretty obvious and was tested extensively by the Just Catamarans team as they made the rear of my boat into a swing. No deflection with the hull or arch was seen or measured. NONE. With my substantial lardish posterior hanging from it there is not deflection. Shaking the arch shakes the entire boat it is fully a part of the vessel at this point.

At this point why not cover the question everybody asks. Why not put it flat on the deck? Because, the contact points are not wide enough and it would require cutting out the deck to do it right. I wanted to keep the deck as wide open as possible and not occlude or block the deck area. I wanted to keep the boat working just as Bill Dixon designed and try and make it work. Some people move these arches fairly far forward but that isn’t how I wanted it to work. I wanted to be able to hang a dinghy off it and not require davits also.

We caught only a few pictures of Ray and his helper installing elements, but using the structure to build the structure was genius. To clean the solar I will have no issue scampering up the outside of the arch to pull a squeegee over the panels every few weeks.

The final install of the solar (below) shows the three LG 350 watt panels installed. Easily I tripled my solar capability. We swapped out my Mastervolt MPPT 25 controller for a Victron 150/100 MPPT smart controller. Mastervolt doesn’t make a MPPT controller big enough to handle the power from these panels in parallel. I asked a question on the solar power for boats forum and a gentleman said he was seeing 420 watts in direct sun across the same panels. I have two Mastervolt chargers, a shunt, and a few other items that will likely replace with Victron at some point. The Victron Venus, GX monitor, 12/3000 dual bank battery charger inverter likely are on the short list for replacement. Along with batteries. At a price tag for electronics alone of around $2500 that is not this weeks project.

The end result has got to be seen. People stop on the dock and take pictures of it, and at least a dozen people have asked about getting one installed on their boat.

So, what did it all cost? Well the cost is relative. It cost 8 weeks having the boat not able to leave the dock. No Thanksgiving trip down to the Keys. It meant that my wife newly diagnosed with cancer wasn’t able to take a pre-chemo trip when construction and weather windows interfered. My winter Bahamas trip was overcome by the intersection of installation and weather windows. I prefer Pinot Noir to that kind of whining.

In load testing over 24 hour period, normal use, anchor and navigation lights on, batteries charged by 10am and the MPPT was backing things off quickly by noon.

Focus on the positive. The result is fantastic with a huge level up in capability. Several niggling things were fixed along the way that increased the cost but also made things so much better. Examples like moving the power and using that opportunity to upgrade the power circuit. Fixing the lazarette and making it better. Finding bad wires in the loom and just fixing them. Those are the additional things experts give you when you engage them.

The sail arch with no shipping costs approximately $5185 a partial refund for the heart ache of Captain Dinner Key paid for the shipping and dinghy davit extenders.

The installation cost approximately $10,256 inclusive of everything that was done.

The installation of the solar final bill is pending but will be approximately $5500.

So, the grand total to hang a dinghy and have power to charge the batteries off grid approximately $21,000 plus weeks of not being able to use the boat.

We expect that we will spend another $6000 to $8000 in batteries at some point. We can only use standard group 24 or “car battery” size because of how our banks are put together. With only 8 slots available that is a physical size constraint. At almost $1000 each for something like Battle Born Batteries the cost goes up quickly Our current batteries are almost brand new so we’re waiting for awhile.

The caveat. As with all of my postings I don’t collect any money, gratuities, or compensation. My blog is paid for out of my pocket and I don’t collect advertising revenues. The companies involved don’t know I’m going to write about their work on my boat. I don’t ask for any price breaks and I pay whatever the going rate is when they ask. I negotiate up front and hold them to their bids but I never want them cutting corners on something that my life counts on. If I ever get a sweet heart deal on something that is the first thing in the story.