Frankinverter

Why I built my Frankinverter.

My solution started with a problem, and that problem was the lack of power. I don’t mean that friendly, cuddly, 12 volt stuff. It’s the evil, scary, 240 volt kind I’m talking about.

You see, our large and sometimes feared boat job list, crammed neatly into a phone, was gathering layer upon layer of cyber dust, or cyber mould if you’re in the tropics. And our tools lay peacefully in their lockers, uncomplaining, in fact, uncaring, of the lack of magical, electrotrickery juice, needed to be surging through them.

And this job list brimmed with potential. Once completed, the craft will be worthy of any snobby marina, strong and capable enough of rounding both capes, windows open, with my wife and I polishing our Boccherini string duets.

But these jobs were not trivial. None of this daintily dabbing stainless polish about the place, or some gentlemanly varnishing. I’m talking angle grinders for cutting rusty chain-plates, gouging out rotten deck coring, and re-glassing that aft bulkhead that creaks terrifyingly every time the boat rolls to port. I’m talking the hard and dirty stuff! You know, steel capped boots, five day of beard (not my wife), and a hard hat.

Besides, no boat yards for us, we’re too cheap.

So for better or worse, peace reigned. We could sit on anchor, sway peacefully back and forth in a deserted, palm tree lined anchorage, doin’ doodly squat. No need to fight the urge to exert oneself. No pressure to gently place the kindle down, heave oneself off the settee, and emerge bravely into the big outside, and you know, do some work?

Because we couldn’t.

Now I know to some of you, this is not an issue, you’re craft already bristles with enough power to run a remote village in Vanuatu. We, though, are more in the humble sailor style, who count their pennies. We weigh heavily, each equipment purchase, and know each boat buck, or standard boat unit spent, means a lot of cruising time lost. So if your boat is geared up like a cross between a space capsule and a nuclear power plant, look away now.

But how much juice did we need? We reckoned two thousand watts. To a landlubber, not much at all, but to us, this seemed like an entire power station. Archimedes said, “Give me lever and a place to stand and I can move the world.” We said, “Give me one power point and I can fix my deck!”

There floated the dilemma.

Having established the why, the problem was how. There were two choices we could see. Neither cheap, neither completely reliable.

Option One: Combine a fancy, huge, expensive alternator (say a Balmar 6 Series) with a fancy, expensive, external regulator (Balmar multi-stage regulator) and really, really, fancy, expensive 2000 watt inverter (Victron 2000VA maybe) Cost $3,000 (OMG!, OMG!)

Or (drum roll please),

Option Two: A cute little petrol generator like a Honda EU20i. Cost maybe $1,500.

Both have pros and cons.

Now to be honest, I’m suspicious of inverters. A machine that converts 12 volt boat power into 240 volt house power? Surely that 12 volt electricity, being mashed, squeezed and brutally re-purposed to 240 volts must leave some scars. I mean when you make sausages, the pig is never the same afterwards? Am I right? So can inverters be trusted? I really don’t think so. And the cost!

If I’m sounding precious about all of this, I can clarify that quickly. It’s the money. Anything over $200 in this family is a major purchase, once you get in the region of thousands, they are life defining decisions.

Just say I went ahead and recommended to the executive committee that we go the inverter route. What if one day, some tiny capacitor silently excretes a puff of smoke, falls on its knees and sneers to the other components “That’s it boys, down tools, all out!” Well, that’s what happens isn’t it? If one bit breaks, every other bit might as well be broken too ’cause it ain’t gonna work no more. Then this pretty blue box, still looking important, will sit silently and forgotten, whispering those cold hard words “warranty expired.”

Well, where will that leave me? That’s right, in the doghouse, which happens to be free right now because the dog sleeps on the bed.

Almost worse, what if I choose the inverter and it was just too small? What if my new shiny blue ampere factory is one watt short of what we need to meet the demands of say… my grinder’s… (wait for it) “inrush current draw”? Did that sound clever? Well did you know a tool might say it uses 6oo watts to run, but it may also need 2100 watts to start? Inrush current draw is like strong coffee in the morning for the tool. No coffee, it won’t be getting out of bed.

Let’s not even start on who or how this is going to be wired up! The 12 volt bit is fine. Happy to do it all day every day, the worst you can do is start a fire (actually that’s pretty bad), but the 240 volt stuff is different. It can kill you, just by touching it! That’s dangerous. I mean radiation can kill you by standing next to it, but let’s all agree, 240 volts is not far behind.

So then, let’s look at the generator option. We love Honda stuff, it’s bright red and their cars go fast. Our lawn mower is a beaut. Plus there is something about those generators. I see one in a camping store and I just want to put up a tent, pull on a checked shirt, crack a cold one. Then grab a folding chair and throw some snags on the barbie. It’s technology you can trust! Plus at about $1,500 smackers, it’s cheeeeap compared to the inverter option.

But is it yachty? Will people judge us? Plus you need more fuel, it’s gotta be heaved out from a deep locker every time we want a smoothy, and for some yachty etiquette reason the noise of a genny, seems to upset more than a diesel engine.

Worst of all, it too might turn up its toes one day. Exactly one day after the warranty expires. Then where will I be? That’s right, in the dog house.

So where did this leave us? I’ll tell you where, nowhere. Whichever way I went there is danger. Round and round in my mind this went, in ever decreasing circles until it was starting to effect my emotional and mental stability. Then one day, visiting Ikea with my wife, an event that occurs whenever in port, even though we have no house, I got it!

The Frankinverter! Why didn’t I see it before?

It’s a natural solution. Organic and macrobiotic. At the home of Swedish innovation, I latched onto a design solution Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea’s founder, would have been proud of. I can stock up on those $1 hot dogs they sell and feed a mouse to spin a wheel to drive an alternator to power my needs. It just makes so much sense!

So one night, sometime soon, in a moonlit anchorage with clouds whisping across the sky, you may hear a squeaking noise followed by a whining electric drill. A maniacal laugh may echo across the water and just as Doctor Frankenstein fearfully declared “I have created a monster.” I may say triumphantly, “I have rotated a hamster!”

Anyway, if the hamster doesn’t work out, we can eat the franks.