Preparing for Maine winters as a liveaboard, part 2

Polynya, our sailboat, was built in 1977 and then extensively sailed around the world by her previous owners. The details and thoughtful additions that have resulted from extensive cruising are unique and functional; the very reason we were drawn to this boat. However, with a boat of this age, and particularly one that has been cruised in remote corners of the world, there are numerous nonfunctioning or superseded systems and components remaining. This has ultimately led to a cluttered and chaotic engine room. Various pumps, hoses, wires, even the hot water tank were disconnected or inoperable, but still mounted. Needless to say, it was time for some spring (late fall) cleaning and some new components.

Upon purchasing the boat in 2015, the first step was removing several milk crates of spare parts, toolboxes, and extra hardware. The varied and extensive inventory has yet to be completely recorded and was moved to our storage unit. Out came the old water heater, the Espar D7L forced air cabin heater and the holding tank. Nonfunctioning pumps were either replaced or removed, and a bit of shelving was dismantled to make a large clean area for the boiler. It was starting to look like a more manageable space. Section by section we will strip the engine room to clean, repair, replace, and reorganize.

Some of the spares from the Engine Room

Spares and tools removed from the engine room.

Knowing that we had opted for an 110V AC powered diesel boiler, it was imperative that the AC system was ready for regular use. After a thorough inspection, we agreed that we would feel much safer if we installed a new AC system from the shore power receptacle, all the way through to the panel. Following ABYC guidelines we installed a new inverter/charger, galvanic isolator, and distribution panel. We then ran new wiring of appropriate gauge to support the maximum expected loads safely. I have some experience and have received training on electrical systems at Maine Maritime Academy, but I did a lot of refreshing and research before installing the AC power.  This is very dangerous stuff, so it is extremely important to pay attention, double-check your work, and ask an expert if you have any doubts!

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With the panel and wiring ready, it was time to install a new water heater. We were very fortunate to receive an unused water heater from my grandparents, who had intended at one point to use it on their own boat. It works wonderfully as an electric water heater but also has a coolant loop allowing the hydronic heat, or the engine coolant, to heat the water in the tank. By combining these systems we are able to maximize the efficiency of the boiler by utilizing its heat for multiple purposes. With the addition of a new freshwater pump, we finally had reliable hot and cold water in the galley.


Out with the old…

As with any job, preparation is a major factor in the final outcome. In addition to the tasks discussed above were numerous little projects ranging from building a new electrical cabinet for the distribution panel, repairing freshwater line leaks and fittings, and general housekeeping. Knowing that the areas behind the water heater and boiler would be hard to access, I made every attempt to properly secure all wires and plumbing which would later be difficult to access. As we finished our preparation of the space, winter approached and the urgency of the installation had me concerned about its complexity. Would we finish before the first deep freeze? Would the system work as intended? I had faith in my ability to complete the project and to get it to work. But I had doubts as to my ability to do so in the time allotted.


In the next of this series, I will outline the process of installing and commissioning our new heating systemFor information on why we chose this system, where we purchased it, and a comparison with similar units click here. Also, be on the lookout for the final post reviewing the performance of the Olympia OL-60 system.

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.