29 August 2012
Mike the mobile mechanic was not able to get the starter working on Boker Tov. He said it ran like a top when he hooked it up at his shop. Said he serviced the engine and it runs great. It would seem the problem is on the sailboat. We checked the wiring and connections and they look reasonably good. He suggested I hard wire the engine to one of the batteries with thick gauge cable and thinks the problem is with the relatively thin stuff currently on the boat. It doesn't make sense that the previous owners would all have suffered through under-powered starting, but I can't figure out what else it could be other than the wiring. It's more complicated than it seems in a lot of ways. The existing wiring charges the batteries from the engine reasonably well. I suspect the existing wire is probably fine for charging at relatively low amperage, but not for starting, which requires high amperage. Mike said he felt the existing wires getting hot after running the starter, which is usually a sign that they cannot handle the load going through them. He told me straight out he was not interested in the job due to the difficulty and discomfort involved this time of year. I left the sailboat that morning pretty upset, having paid Mike for his time and engine service only to find myself facing major wiring repair just to get the starter working.
Why all this trouble to get the electric starter working when it eventually starts from pull starting? Age. Yes, age. I am starting to understand why so many people who retire and go cruising say they should have started earlier. I am already getting to the point where I risk hurting myself if I have to pull-start the outboard every time, and its exhausting. When I pull the starter rope, I feel like I have just enough strength to pull it, but not a whole lot more. This becomes especially so the more pulls required to get it started. It stresses me out not having a proper electric engine starter when I want the engine on. There were many occasions that a quick-starting engine saved me from trouble on Tropical Dreamer. So the electric start feature on the 10 hp outboard is an essential safety tool for me. If it charges the batteries better with larger gauge wire, so much the better.
When I came back to the sailboat later in the week, I brought my wife's jumper cable box with its internal battery. Hooked it up raw to the engine wires and the starter worked like a top. So I knew it had to be the wiring in the sailboat. This weekend, I had the unenviable task of pulling that 10 gauge negative coming off of the batteries to the battery selector switch from its twists and turns around the undersides of the sailboat. Then I did the same with the wires running from the outboard. I'm going to replace the entire run with 6 gauge wire, which will hopefully solve the problem. It does seem questionable that the sailboat's electrics were entirely dependent on a 10 gauge negative wire. Along the way, I'm learning things about the electrical system and further organizing it. As bad as it looks in the picture, let me tell you the electrics were in a lot worse condition when I bought the sailboat. Among the things I'm doing as part of this re-wiring upgrade is properly isolating the engine starter to one battery and running everything else to the other battery (except the solar, which will always run to both batteries). Though I will probably have the battery selector on "both" most of the time, it gives me the ability to preserve a battery just for engine starting if I get into a situation where that is appropriate.
The final picture on the bottom right shows the sunrise coming up as I was getting started this morning. It is starting to get cooler in the mornings and evenings and the sun is presently coming-up about 6:10 a.m., perfect for boat work and riding bikes along the river trial.