I called Fourwinds today to talk about a replacement part for my Fourwinds II that I picked up second hand. I expected that they wouldn't give me the time of day, since I'm not their original customer.
Instead, Paul (the owner) spent 45 minutes with me on the phone, talking about every aspect that I needed help with. He pointed me many times to hardware stores for some of the things I need and gave me some great leads otherwise. I was impressed that even though we were talking about "marine" parts, they were reasonably priced. He seemed almost apologetic that a certain part costs $13.
I asked to get a new swivel (slip ring) at the top of the pole. He said those rarely wear out and that it was most likely because my test setup (link to testing last weekend)
left a lot of play at the top of the mast -- I was doing a simple test (12v versus 24v) and used some pipe I had on hand for the testing, not the actual correct pipe size for installation.
Turns out, I need two brackets that did not come with the used fourwinds that I got. What did he do? Since he had looked up the previous owner, he said "The previous owner ordered those two parts right before he sold you the generator. You ought to contact him and see if he still has the parts." (!!!)
Some more things we covered
Cost for them to reassemble and balance the blades and airbrake -- $65.
Cost for them to refurbishing the blades (which are really beat up and need new turbulator strings) -- $10.
How to get a 12v hot water heater element (to use as a dump load) -- bring your current 110v element to an RV store. You need to match the exact piece that will fit in your hot water heater. Don't take it for granted that anything you order will match, even if you know the model number of the hot water heater. (He has some in stock and did not recommend getting them from him, since I'm far away.)
Refurbishing the airbrake -- he gave me detailed instructions on how to do this myself. 1) To restore the appearance, apply On&Off for a few minutes, then rinse it with water. 2) To improve it's ability to deploy freely, check the bolt tightness. Use WD40 (which I think doesn't last long) or even better use corrosion-x.
Checking the brushes -- **Note: newer Fourwinds II's are brushless. I have an old one.** -- peel off the mylar tape in four places near the back, remove the cap and gently pull out the brush. If it resists don't force it. Use a small file on the brushes if necessary to make sure they slide easily in their bracket. They are 1/2 inch long when new. If you are cruising, put a new set in now and save the olds ones as spares. (Since I'm coastal cruising, don't worry, they are easily available.) Anyway, put the brushed back in. Use mylar tape available at hardware stores, or use rigging tape wrapped around the unit.
Painting the exterior -- use home depot's appliance epoxy paint. Any color. They use white. (Giu -- should I paint it BLUE?)
Mounting pole -- Use schedule 40 Pipe (not tubing!). Inside diameter is 1 1/4. (?Outside diameter is 1.66 inches?) Considering the lenght of pipe I need, I should use stainless steel. (I'm mounting on the reverse transom of my Beneteau so I need something the kids won't hit when they are standing on the seat that is 3 feet above that point, given that there are 30" blades.)
How to improve the look of schedule 40 pipe -- use the "sponge looking" (I knew what he meant) disk and buff it until it has a brushed look. To get it looking shiny will take a lot more time spent polishing my pole. (Let's not get off-topic here people.)
Procedures for leaving the boat -- (There are stories of Fourwinds wind generators coming out okay after a tropical storm.) We talked a bunch about this, since I want to be able to leave the boat unattended for periods of time, with power maintained for the 'fridge. I have a friend close to the boat that can help.
High wind sailing -- (pay attention here Smack) -- recommended procedure is to tie-off the wind generator when you put your first reef in. [I think he might have said "because the wind could easily pick up further", not sure.] Anyway I could easily imagine keeping it running depending on several factors like sea state, as I get experience with it.
Do not use a stop switch -- A momentary stop switch can be used below 16 or 17 knots. Don't use a stop switch in high winds, since it could burn out the windings. I'm thinking now that I could rotate the tail to decrease the speed when I need to tie it off.
How to get a replacement copy of the manual -- get one in PDF off the website.
I chose the fourwinds because 1) In theory, IMHO, the bigger blades generally mean they are quieter and will have a lower start up speed. Let's face it, anchorages usually aren't that windy. Also, I wanted an active method of speed limiting and the airbrake fit that bill. And 2) in practice, I heard an AIR-X "taking off" last June. And then in August I went around the very crowded anchorage in Block Island on a windy day, and noted the different wind gennys spinning away. I chose based on what I saw and heard as they ran.
As a former industry analyst an a leading IT analyst firm, I'd be remiss if I didn't share the Viability part of the equation. I asked him these questions perhaps out of habit, since it wasn't my intention to probe him. The marine business is slow (no surprise). They also make money selling LEDs and solar panels. (Paul mentioned the "blue LED nav light" issue.) They are doing a lot more wind generator sales in the remote power area - pipelines, surveilance cameras, and things like that. Maybe that's why they can sell me marine parts without the "gold plated" pricing we are all used to.
Yes, take this as one man's opinion, and your needs may be quite different than mine. After today's conversation I'm even more pleased with my choice.
(P.S. I don't work for Fourwinds, not friends with anyone there, not related to anyone there.)