On Our Way ... Again
07 April 2017 | Vero Beach, Florida
Beth / 33 dropping to 23
We splashed on Tuesday evening. We set off on Wednesday morning - into a beautiful sunrise, with plans to make it to Cocoa Beach, about 67 statute miles up the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway.) We made it as far as Vero Beach, a full 7.5 statute miles.
The first thing we noticed was that the engine did not appear to be charging the battery - bad news since we depend on the engine, supported by the solar panel and wind generator to keep our house batteries topped up - to run the fridge, VHF radio, lights, GPS, autopilot, all the electronics on the boat. So, we considered that perhaps we should stop in Vero Beach where there is good access to marine services. Or, maybe we could keep going to Melbourne.
And then, almost simultaneously, the engine overheating alarm started blaring, and we noticed a strong smell of burning rubber. I pulled off to the edge of the channel; Jim dropped the anchor and we quickly turned the engine off. Next step, Jim opened up the engine compartment - the alternator belt was hanging loose and delaminated. When that broke, it meant the sea water wasn't cooling the engine - hence the alarm - and the smell.
Jim replaced the belt and we continued cautiously on our way - discovering in the process, that the engine would start only when the house and starting batteries were combined. It was clear that our destination had to be Vero Beach. ($15 per night, lovely clean washrooms and showers, cruisers lounge, laundry, free bus to town and the beach.) We picked up mooring #5 in the south anchorage, and went ashore. The marina office gave us a card for Atlantic Mobile Marine and when Jim talked with Larry, he said he would be here on Thursday morning.
The phone rang on Thursday morning and Larry said he couldn't make it - he was involved in another job and would try for the afternoon. As it turned out, that was just as well because we had a tornado warning and one heck of an electrical storm - 1 1/2 hours of thunder and lightning and torrential rains - not the kind of weather for working on our boat. We were quite happy to have two boats with taller masts rafted with us - (interestingly, both from Trident Yacht Club in Gananoque, Ontario - our old club. Penelope and On Y Va had just come across from the Bahamas.) The tornado passed south of us, the skies cleared and we waited. Afternoon came and went with no sign of a mechanic. Jim called and Larry promised to have someone here Friday morning. We dined on a nice chicken stir-fry, read our books, reminded ourselves that we are warm, comfy and not really on a schedule, and went to bed.
Sure enough, at 8:45 on Friday morning, Danny called to say he would be at the dock in 10 minutes.
Now, an alert - If you like technical information, you might find the next bit interesting; if not, your eyes will glaze over. If you are really technical, you might say, "What IS she talking about?" Because despite the best encouragement from Cap'n Jim to get this right, I may well have mangled some of the terms and descriptions.
Danny first established that the alternator was pumping out lots of amps. Hmmm, then what could be the problem? Aha - the starting battery was dead, and that was probably what was draining the amps. Jim was "in awe" that Danny managed to extricate that battery as efficiently as he did. It was barely visible and located behind the four heavy house bank batteries that are bolted into place and would be a major undertaking to remove. In Jim's words, " It was like pulling thread through the eye of a needle while blindfolded." Into the dinghy they went, off to the dock and Danny drove away to find a replacement. Within half an hour, the phone rang again - "I've got a new battery!" Into the dinghy, off to the dock, and back again. (It's not quite like getting out of your truck and walking to the job location!) But once that was installed, Danny discovered that the alternator was working overtime - within seconds, the reading at the new starting battery climbed from 12.7 volts to 17 volts - way too high, and was likely what killed the last one. Jim quickly turned off the engine lest we destroy another battery, as Danny told him we were fortunate that the first battery died a quiet death - it could have exploded. (Yep - we are fortunate indeed.)
Next step - what was going on with the Balmar regulator, the device that controls the output of the alternator? All the readouts were normal but there had to be something strange going on there. Danny called Balmar, got a real person on the line and between them, they spent 20 minutes puzzling out the problem. As they talked, Danny noticed that the under-voltage light on our automatic battery bank combiner was illuminated which incorrectly signalled to the regulator that it should be sending more energy to the starting battery. Hence, the alarmingly high voltage readouts. Next step? Danny and the Balmar technician decided to isolate the battery combiner and remove it from the system. And with that done - yippee do dah- everything worked as it should. Just for good measure, Danny also removed the accumulated rust from the alternator pulley - to minimize the possibility of another broken belt.
So the initial problem turned into three (no apparent charge in the battery, dead battery, broken alternator belt that caused overheating) and three hours later they were all solved.
Thanks to Cap'n Jim for the details of this story, because I was staying well out of the way. And thanks to Danny from Atlantic Mobile Marine Service (atlanticmobilemarine.com 772-913-1686) one of the best electricians we have dealt with.
After lunch, we decided we should have more than one spare alternator belt - just in case. As we waited for the free bus to town, Marilyn and Vic (Whisper) with Cindy (Dark Star) pulled up in their rental car and said, "Hop in!" So we did, and we not only got the belt, but had a very entertaining trip to the mall. So thanks to them for the ride and the fun!
A walk to the beach, delicious shrimp skewers at the Red Onion Eatery, and we are ready to set off again in the morning. I wonder how far we will get this time?