Getting a boat ready for a long trip with your family to isolated areas is definitely a challenge. Just determining what is most important to add and maintain vs. do without can be tough.
We are lucky that SandStar was taken care of so well by Cliff and crew @BelizeSailingVacations who sailed her only as a crewed boat and largely with the same captain. Cliff and I spent hours talking through some of the areas to consider improving as well as upgrades when we made it to Tampa for the Refit.
This article will be technically minded and aimed at those that are looking to do something similar with their boats. Not all of our decisions will fit for everyone but we felt like they were the right ones, for the most part, for us.
Through hulls are critically important & the last thing you want to repair while in the water. We have heard of other Lagoons having issues with faulty or leaking through-hulls so we put these high on our list to address. Repairing these can require a haul out, which is a big problem for our boat as our beam is 28’ and most facilities cannot support us. After a bit of investigation we settled on – since our boat was built in France we needed to opt for the BPP threading.
|Our old thru-hulls - so glad we made this change|
Our new Through Hulls with new threaded pipe installed in Belize during our paint. You can feel the difference in construction with Groco and I cant recommend them enough.
|American Made and Solidly built|
We opted to get SandStar painted down in Belize when she was hauled out before coming up to Saint Petersburg. Choice there can be limiting by supply but we found which has worked well for us so far. Zero growth in 9 months. This is great since bottom growth can cost you major speed and fuel if you have to motor.
We are concerned about getting reliably clean fuel on the trip so we invested in replacing our existing factory primary fuel filters with a Racor system and installed them in Tampa. These units are not cheap but allow you to switch filters while running!
Redundancy is key for your fuel supply
We opted for 10 Micron filters in the units, as our secondary filters on the motors are 2 Micron, and the steel bowls as they will be installed inside the engine rooms. These have worked well so far as we picked up a batch of Diesel in Staniel that had quite a bit of dirt as I think they were getting to the bottom of their tanks.
Fuel Polishing & Transfer
On our boat the Generator only runs off the port fuel tank so this can lead to an imbalance between our two hulls on long trips. We decided to install a fuel transfer pump that will allow us to move fuel between tanks and balance out the boat. In the process we also added a 2 Micron Racor filter to capture any contamination.
Our solution looks a bit confusing and even Frankenstein-ish but it works for us. Our two three way valves allow us to pull from either tank and deliver back to either tank. This allows us to pull and fill from the same tank to just clean the fuel as well as transfer from one side to the other. The last piece we are installing here the ability to pull from jerry cans, which we will need to do in Georgetown and Luperon, through the filter prior to putting in the tank.
|8 Gallons a Minute and a 2 Micron Filter|
This is an area that can require maintenance on our motor and is basically the spot that exhaust mixes with raw water to exit the boat. We opted for a stainless upgrade by HDI marine made specifically for Yanmar JH motors. These are almost double in thickness and I feel like they are a better solution to eliminate water leaks.
Impellers & Covers
Replacing our impellers isn’t all that tough but you never want to have to do this at sea bumping into a hot motor. We went with SpeedSeal Life covers and Teflon washers for the Generator and motors - which are supposed to extend the life of our impellers 3x for about $90. The next project is to install these on the generator with our new "run dry" impeller.
SailDrives – SD50-4T’s
If there is one area I don’t like about our Yanmars it is the saildrives. While they provide a lot of room in the boat by giving Lagoon the ability to move the motors behind the aft cabins we have found the design is fragile and requires constant maintenance.
In St.Pete we pulled out both transmissions while trying to troubleshoot a continual leak from the bell housing between the motor and saildrive. It turned out our saildrive shafts had a groove worn in them and they needed to be replaced. We also lapped both sets of cones at that time and new upper seals.
After about 170 hours, , our port saildrive began slipping and needed to be fixed. We found an awesome kit from Gideon ( ) who specializes in this area. He was able to come over and help us install the upgrade on both motors. The main components are moving from brass spacers to thrust bearings at the top and bottom of the units. We also found our cone clutches needed to have the grooves cleaned with a wire brush and the vertical grooves deepened and widened with a Dremel during the install. So far so good with 100% thrust on both motors…
Installation went well with both drives upgraded in about 8 hours
|Gideon was a champ removing all play from both transmissions|
Energy – Batteries, Alternators and Solar
Being on a boat full time without a marina means you have to generate and store your own power. This actually becomes a hot topic and we check our battery level, and usage, throughout the day and evening.
We ended up having our Mastervolt chargers and inverter die on us while in Belize and after much research opted to go with a Victron Quattro 5KVA 240V inverter and charger unit. This has been great and allows us to precisely configure how we want to charge our batteries. It also supports up to 150AH charging and has worked flawlessly.
Monitoring your batteries is a crucial component so we installed the Victron Color control and BMV702. These two items work together so at a moments notice we can see the state of charge on the batteries as well as our loads.
|Notice the 36% charge. We sometimes take it all the way down to 25%.|
Our boat is pretty power hungry as we have 2 fridges and 2 freezers
plus the ultimate power consumption device – the ice maker (15AH). *Update on 5-18 -- Our ice maker bit the dust and we have moved to trays in the freezer. What a difference! We now can fully charge on a sunny day... We knew that monitoring and charging wasn’t going to be enough so we added a bit of solar:
|Dual Kyocera 260W panels|
|Our big array with the LG Panels|
and built a custom solar arch for our davit system with 4 LG 315W panels. This totals out to 1780W and on a sunny day we have seen almost 70A going into the battery. To manage these we added two Victron MPPT controllers. These controllers are solid and can be connected and configured by the ipad. As I write this it is overcast and early but you can see the big array of LG’s is putting in 11.8A. 8 days ago we did 8.35KW which is almost 700AH from the one array – pretty good power generation for us.
We bought the boat with standard lead acid deep cycle batteries. These lasted just one season in Belize and they could no longer hold a charge. We ended up replacing them with an additional bank over the next couple years and they required continual maintenance by topping up their water level. We knew as we headed south we didn’t want to worry about our batteries so after much research we opted to go with Firefly Oasis Carbon Batteries. These batteries are a great balance between performance and cost as you can drain them down to 40-50% SOC and typically only need to top them up once or twice a month.
We placed our order for these in July as we have heard they are in high demand – after almost 4 months we still didn’t have them and no confirmed ship date – we needed to go back to the drawing board.
We had really wanted Lithium (LifePO4) batteries but it felt a bit complex and challenging to install. For a great overview check out this article by MaineSail who is a guru on this topic - . If we were going to go down this path I wanted a complete system that was well put together and didn’t depend on me crimping dozens of connections…
Lithionics – – was right around the corner from us in Clearwater and Kathy and I made a trip out to their factory to see if these would be a fit for our boat. After seeing how they build these batteries and the industrial connections and safety measures we were sold.
Here is a picture of our two 450AH batteries. These batteries weigh about 125Lbs each and we ended up reducing over 1K of weight in the back of SandStar.
|Tight fit but perfect for our battery box. We also mounted the BMS and combiner box|
We really like the Lithionics Battery Management system ( ) as it offers some protection from over charging, under charging and provides two isolated channels to the batteries. They also have a dedicated FCC circuit that connects from the BMS to our Alternator controllers which can shut them down in case of overcharging without damaging the diodes.
Why is this important? – Well when we were coming across the Bahamas Bank early in our trip we noticed our tachs go to zero but our GPS and electronics were fine. This was the BMS doing its job by shutting down the charging channel while keeping all the load items isolated and running. We realized that one of our alternator controllers was reset to the default configuration and trying to over-charge the batteries to 15.6v! These set of features are a definite MUST for lithium batteries…
To charge our 900AH bank with the motors we opted for the BALMAR AT200 alternators. These are well put together units that are externally regulated with a MC 614 controller which allows us to precisely control exactly how to charge the batteries.
If you are interested in the exact parameters we used for the Alternators, MPPT controllers and Victron Charger email me (Check out our blog post on dealing with a blown rectifier.) and we will send you over the configuration and testing document. I can't say enough positive things about working with Balmar - Dale English has been fantastic and has helped us get things working perfectly.
Dragging your anchor always seems to happen at the worst time so we knew we wanted the best we could get for our boat. After a bit too much research and a half dozen boat shows we opted for the Rocna 55KG (121LB) and have loved the decision.
It fits perfectly on our ½” chain and rollers and the anchor has set every time on the first try (knock on wood). The anchor is one part of the system – to complete the setup we went with the Mantus catamaran bridle which is ¾” nylon with anti-chafe.
as well as the Mantus swivel to eliminate chain twist.
We like the Mantus setup so much we event went with their small dinghy anchor which has worked out great.
Having rock solid electronics onboard is a safety issue for us so we spent quite a bit of time looking at the different options between BnG, Raymarine and Garmin. When we bought SandStar she came with Raymarine gear and an older networking technology called NMEA 0189. We have had to replace the Raymarine chartplotter in Belize, the existing depth sounder wasn’t terribly accurate and would just blink under 5’ (just when I needed it most) and our Radar just flat out wouldn’t work.
I spent a considerable amount of time looking at the options and we ended up going with Garmin but kept the Raymarine Autopilot which has been working like a champ.
Here is a picture of our helm with the Garmin and Raymarine setup
We opted for the 7616xsv thinking we would want the larger screen and possible sonar, if I could get the additional transducer purchase past Kathy. For us that was the right choice so we can get side by side radar with different distances on the same screen. The system is integrated with the VHF and AIS600 units so we can use DSC as well as display vessels on our chartplotter. We added the cheaper Garmin Heading unit (steadycast) to get accurate heading info as well as turn on MARPA and object tracking for our Radar – so far so good….
For tunes we went with the Fusion system from Garmin and have been somewhat pleased. The XM radio reception isn't the best even with a stand alone external antenna. We have also had strange issues with the head unit rebooting. If we had to do this over I may have looked at other options. The speakers are pretty good but the subwoofer and amplifier leaves a lot to be desired.
We also added an ultrasonic wind as well as fuel and fresh water sensors from Maretron. While we like the wind sensor the fuel and water sensors are almost too sensitive to be useful. There is another project on the books to add focus tubes so they can accurately and consistently display but that is for another day….
To get RPM, Temp and alarm data from our yanmars we added the Actisense kit () which has been good. This gives us the ability to get the engine data as well as set alerts across the NMEA network.
Dinghy and Davits
They say the Dinghy is your car in the sailing world and having one that can comfortably fit 5 of us was a top priority. Like all boat things this is a bit of a tradeoff. Going lighter and smaller means we can pull it up on the beach easily and not use a ton of fuel. Getting a bigger dink with more power meant dryer trips across the bay and quite frankly a bit more fun pulling the kids on a tube. You can imagine which way we went J
We debated for a while between the Highfield and AB aluminum tenders and wanted to get a 13’ setup. After looking at both and talking to our local dinghy guru (Brad @Suncoast Inflatables) we opted for the AB with a 40HP Yamaha and a lightweight center console. We love this choice – the boat is dry in chop and flat out moves. We are comfortable with several mile trips and coupled with a bimini shade can spend the whole day exploring islands. Here is a nice picture at Shroud Cay.
But with a heavy dinghy and the need for more solar we needed to address the existing davits. While they theoretically could have supported the weight it was at the top end of their design and definitely not an area you want to have a failure in 6’ seas. We turned to Dave @CustomPipes in Fort Lauderdale to build us an integrated davit and solar solution out of welded aluminum – overbuilt on purpose to handle the weight and conditions if needed.
This was our “before” picture with the original davits and dinghy.
And this is how things finished up. The davits are beefy and pull the Dinghy well out of the water. We still have a bit of tweaking to do as I think we will adjust the dinghy lifting cables to be a bit shorter getting it a bit higher for longer passages but overall this has been awesome and we love the ease and solid construction.
Sails and Rigging
Saving the best for last is our new Sails and standing Rigging. The guys at Mack Sails did a terrific job planning our new Main and Genoa. For the Main we went with 11.77 oz Challenge Marblehead Dacron main with 9.77 oz 25% full leech 2 ply & 3 rows of reefs. On the Genoa we did 10.77 oz Challenge Marblehead Dacron that was miter cut with full leech 2 ply, Sunbrella Cover and Foam Luff. This configuration was the best balance between longevity, solid construction and affordability. So far the sails have been great and we can notice a pretty big difference in speed.
We opted for the Mack Pack sail bag and our review has been a mixed. When we are at anchor unzipping is a snap but when we raise the main the reef points have been known to stick on the zipper line. At one time in a brisk wind in the Abaco’s we actually managed to rip off the small blocks sewn into the sail bag. If we had to do this over I think we may have opted for another solution, possibly buying one that is less of a challenge when raising as well as wrapping fully around the front of the mast.
The existing standing rigging was 8 years old and was a topic of discussion on whether or not we should replace it. In the end we opted to knock it out with all new cable from Mack at the same time the sails went up. They tested the whole rig and did a fantastic job.
I hope you enjoyed the run down of our refit. Not all the choices were perfect and we are still learning as we go but we are pretty happy with a majority of the choices and definitely recommend doing these before you leave the states.
Please email us if you have any questions or thoughts on areas we might be able to improve.