Electronics and water... dangerous combination!
Racing is one of the more exciting and fun part of our year, what we have been working for during all these past months, and our moment to shine. However, a drop of salt water inside the energy box, a loose connector somewhere in the cable tree or a communication failure can turn this moment to shine into the boat failing to complete the race, or not even being able to start. This is why the electronics department needs to be very alert during the races and ready at all times to track the problem if the boat is not working properly and fix it as quick as possible. One of the most common problems is, of course, that water and electronics are not usually very good friends!
For example, during our first race in Akkrum we had a small problem in one of the LEMO connectors we use overall in the boat. Concretely, there was a very small drop of water in the connection between the motor and the energy box, which lead to the temperature sensors to give a constant value of 4ºC as motor temperature. We knew that water could be the problem, but we were only 3 minutes away from the start of the race so it was too risky to open the connector to dry it, specially with the boat already in the water. At the same time, it is very dangerous to ignore the actual temperature of the motor and just race for a long time, so we had to come up with a plan! With a temperature camera, we followed the boat with our maintenance van during the 52km of endurance and stopped in strategic places where it was possible for us to reach the boat from the side to quickly open the hatch, measure the temperature and immediately continue with the race if we were still under the 85ºC indicated by the manufacturer of the motor as safety limit. Thanks to the collaboration of all the maintenance crew, we managed to finish the race without major problems, even with a second place!
In this case we were lucky and we could fix the problem temporarily, and after the race open the connector and dry it before the next day, but it is not always the case. To prevent that water comes again into our system, we have now sealed the connectors with epoxy, and made sure all the boxes in the system are completely watertight. When everything is connected, the system can be considered safe against the water that will for sure come into the boat while sailing. The problems usually appear when taking the energy box out of the boat for example, when it is very easy to forget to put special caps in the connectors and then they become wet again.
With every test we encounter new little problems and leaks, that we keep fixing and making our electronics in the boat more resistant to contact with water. Let´s hope we arrive to our last race in Monaco with a boat so robust that it can even handle the great salinity in the sea water there, which is way more dangerous for our system that the water from the canals in The Netherlands!