Tumultuous Uproar

A cruising boat with a racing problem...

Dead Boat, no electric power

22 April 2022
Russ Whitford
We could so easily live off the grid. Living on a boat is certainly living off the grid. It is off the grid with additional challenges created by small space, movement and most of all, salt water. We decided early on that our cruising lifestyle would not be “tent camping.” I like Lisa’s phrase, “We will lack for nothing.” We do live comfortably on Uproar but that doesn’t come easily.

Electricity runs a lot of our lifestyle. The bare basics of electricity are lights, navigation instruments and communication. One could consider electricity to start our diesel engine an essential basic as well. Next level of electrical need would be power for the anchor windlass, power winch for raising the mainsail and hoisting me up the mast for inspections. One could consider power for the autopilot also a cut above basic need.

The luxury use of electricity falls to refrigerator and freezer. Keeping food cold or frozen takes about 90% of our electricity generation. Our solar panels do a great job but provide only about 90% of the power we need to run the boat. The rest has to be made up by the alternator on our 50 hp Yanmar diesel engine. We run the engine about every third day when at anchor. Running the engine for 1 ½ hours tops up the batteries and powers our watermaker, making about 45 gallons of water.

Occasionally, the solar is enough that we don’t need the engine for electrical power, we still run it to make water. But after defrosting the freezer, it takes a day or two of running the engine to make up for the increased work the freezer has to do. That’s what happened a few days ago.

We were in Deshaies, Guadeloupe, loving life. I defrosted and the next day we were running the engine to top up the batteries, also making water. We noticed the alternator was not putting out much but still topped up the batteries. Then it quit altogether. I checked the settings on the voltage regulator and all was OK. The alternator was smoking hot. Not good!

The only option to keep Uproar functional was to shut the freezer down! I’m guessing we had $250 worth of frozen meet in there and other perishables in the fridge.

I had all night to lay awake in bed contemplating a solution. We had two spare alternators, both of them somewhat suspect. The next morning we dug the spares out of the bilge. One was corroded to a lump, the other one turned. I have already described the sausage making in detail. What followed was more the butchering of the animal than making a tasty food product.

I worked for four hours in cramped quarters trying different alternators and voltage regulators. Nothing worked. We went to lunch ashore and bought a big bag of ice. That night we were sailing to Martinique where I could likely buy a new alternator. But when we returned from lunch, I mentioned to Lisa there may be another alternator stored under our bed.

The original alternator and belt was found stashed away in a dark corner! It wasn’t an easy swap. I had replaced the drive and waterpump pulleys with serpentine belt pulleys to power our huge alternator. The factory one just used a V belt. One of the serpentine pulleys came off, the other one had some rusted tight bolts. Breaking bolts creates other problems. I decided to run the alternator with the V belt, even though it went over the serpentine pulley on the water pump. After switching wiring back to the original engine harness, it worked!

The original alternator would put out only 40 amps vs. the 140 amps our monster, aftermarket alternator put out but that would be enough. I finished the project right at 5 pm which is when we wanted to depart. As sore and tired as I was, I was elated to have the boat alive again. We had a pleasant passage.

If you have read through all this, it is obvious how stressful and unpleasant this part of life afloat is for me. Sometimes, I really let it get to me. I used to never get upset about toys. My philosophy is that a toy is for only one purpose, to provide enjoyment. When a toy doesn’t work, if you get pissed off, then the purpose of the toy is not realized. But Uproar, even though she is a boat that provides enjoyment, is not just a toy. She is our life.

At worst, we would have lost some meat or given it away. I apologized to Lisa for my angst during all of this. Believe me, she doesn’t put this angst on me, she has faith that I will solve these problems. I need to work on this attitude and get back to treating Uproar like a precious toy. After all, she gave us a beautiful passage to St. Pierre, Martinique.
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Vessel Name: Tumultuous Uproar
Vessel Make/Model: Beneteau 42s7
Hailing Port: Milwaukee, WI
Crew: Russ Whitford & Lisa Alberte plus Sophie our Jack Russell Terrier
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