What else could go wrong?
23 January 2017 | Sister Creek, Marathon, FL
EVS: Clear, sunny, and WINDY
There are certain questions in life that should not be asked, because the answers may not be very pleasing. Are we there yet? – is one of the earliest questions people ask, and the answer usually is “no, not for another XX hours.”
What else could go wrong is our current pick for one of life’s persistent questions that should go unasked. We delayed departing the boatyard because we had projects to finish. Just as we thought we were getting done, in the process of putting the sails on Gratitude, we ripped the mainsail. Now, that is not a real problem if one can call the sail maker and get it repaired (or a new one made – to go with the new genoa on Gratitude this year), but when it happens on the day before Christmas Eve, it is a sorry state of affairs. So, while we were away over the holidays, we fortunately were able to engage the services of one of the fellow boaters in the yard to repair the tear. We departed the yard soon after New Years and thought all was well with the world. What could go wrong, right? We soon found out.
Our bank of house batteries (4 six-volt batteries each with 300 AH capacity) simply were not holding a charge. So, we decided to have them checked when we got to Marathon, where we purchased them 5 years ago, and, if necessary, replace them. Not a happy thought because they are AGM (absorbed glass mat) construction, and very expensive (about 4 times the cost of a lead acid battery). We know people who have gotten 7 years or more out of such batteries, so we were hoping for at least one more. Then, when we arrived in Marathon, we decided to defrost the freezer because (believe it or not) ice is an insulator. (When trying to get a freezer to 15 degrees, ice on the evaporator plate makes it hard for the plate to get far below 32 degrees.) That’s when the real fun began for, when we turned the freezer back on, it ran constantly and refused to pull the box below about 32 degrees. We knew we could not head to the Bahamas without getting to the bottom of that.
We had the technicians check the batteries and examine our history of use and charging. The decision was that, while not “dead”, the batteries were weak and it would not be wise to head offshore without replacing them. In the process of troubleshooting the batteries, the thought was that the low voltage and inability to hold a charge was the culprit behind the freezer not working properly. (Low voltage makes a motor work hard and not up to efficient levels; that in turn causes the batteries to fall further below the norm; and a vicious cycle is encountered.) The technician determined that the coolant in the coils was low, so he recharged them (much like a car air conditioner). When he did so, he remarked at how little the coils took and explained that the situation could be caused by a blockage in the capillary tube (a pencil lead size tube) that “sprays” liquefied coolant into the evaporator plate. When the liquid changes to a gaseous state, cooling is produced. Without enough coolant, the plate cannot function and a blockage reduces the amount of coolant that can be introduced (or prevents it altogether). The determination was that an additional test should be conducted (after a day and a half of running) to confirm the suspicion.
So, on the 19th, we up-anchored (Marathon harbor is full of boats and, while we are on a waiting list, there are no mooring balls available) and headed to one of the marinas for the removal of the old and installation of the new batteries. This was no small task as each battery weighs about 95 pounds and each has to be lifted onto the boat, down into the cabin, and up into the battery box. Of course, all that follows first removing all four old batteries (of equal weight) from the box, hauling them up out of the cabin, and off the boat onto the dock. That is about 800 pounds altogether. But, it got done and there was much discussion of our charging and operating routine so, hopefully, we can manage and maintain the new batteries better.
The freezer technician came at the same time and verified that there is indeed a blockage in the old plate, so we now are the proud owners of a new one (at about the same cost as one of the new batteries). The next day, Van got the way cleared, disconnected the old plate, removed it from the freezer (all our food had been taken ashore to the chest freezer of a kind woman, Tatianna (“Tati”), who willingly agreed to store it for a few days), and planned the installation of the new plate. With the help of our able cruising buddy Steve Patterson on Living Well, we bent the plate to fit and be mounted in the freezer, coiled the new tubing (carefully so as not to introduce a kink in the line), and started it up. Voilla! A working freezer again! Unfortunately, the photographer was occupied on other matters, so you will have to imagine Van lying on the stove top, head in the freezer holding the plate in position, whilst Steve was standing on a bucket in much the same position drilling holes and affixing screws to secure all in place. After letting the freezer run overnight, we retrieved our frozen food and have enjoyed watching the freezer cycle on and off (not run constantly) thereby enabling the compressor to operate much less frequently, with far lower drain on the batteries, resulting in happy people!
Alas, the “question that should not be asked” had been and, when we tried to start our generator, it would not go. That starting battery – less than 1 year old – would not crank over the diesel engine on the generator. We had known that the DC circuit on the generator (which produces 110 volt AC power to run the big inverter/charger that charges our house batteries and converts a small amount, via a rectifier, to DC for charging the starting battery) did not seem to be functioning properly. So, with trusty friend Steve (a retired electrical engineer) at hand, we set about trouble shooting the generator thinking we might need to replace the rectifier. It turned out at there was an inline fuse “buried” behind the engine and difficult to see, but when viewed revealed that it had corroded and disconnected. After a trip ashore to buy a new, waterproof, inline fuse holder (we bought the last one at West Marine), the wiring was completed and, after several false starts (because Van neglected to do a wiring diagram of actual conditions BEFORE taking all apart), the generator is running and charging, AC and DC.
All this reminds us of the statement the son of sailing friends told them when they were complaining of boat problems. “What you have are problems of abundance.” Recently, we heard a different expression to the same effect – these are “Park Avenue problems”, not to be confused with wondering from whence the next meal or safe shelter will come. We know we are blessed to be able to do what we do – we just wish we could do it with a little less challenge. And no, we will not ask any more questions!
We currently are sitting out a blow in Sister Creek off the main harbor of Marathon and, if conditions allow, we plan to depart Wednesday morning to do an overnight passage to Great Harbor Cay in the northern end of the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. We will clear in (customs and immigration) and plan to stay there a few days before heading south.