Friday, January 28, 2011

Joe versus the .... Well, We're Not Really Sure

2011 01 28

Floating at Anchor Listening to Dire Straits broadcast from the onboard IPod

Our friend and travelling companion of the moment, Joe, called yesterday with trouble onboard.  His  batteries were low and refused to take a charge.  His Rutland 913 wind generator was not producing any current despite strong gusty winds and his Honda gas generator just sat on his transom idling spent fuel into the atmosphere.

Joe, with whom we intend to cross the gulf stream, outlined his dilemma to us and expressed concern that he and Jeana, his erstwhile mate, might not be able to cross.  

Allowing a respectable interlude for the ebbing of onboard frustration aboard Joe and Jeana's boat we dinghied over to interfere with their goings on.  Frustration like the tides are factored into every boater's assessment of how and when to proceed with their mate.

We fell into a maelstrom of cushions, boards, cans, packages of paper towels.  It was as if the gust front that hit us on Tuesday night had reserved special treatment for Joe and Jeana's boat - stuff strewn everywhere.

Experienced boaters we knew this disaster scenario had nothing to do with storm conditions.  The first step in troubleshooting any critical system on a boat is actually gaining access to the malfunctioning system.

Why do boat designers hide the battery locker in one of the two most inaccessible places on earth.  On Joe's boat he had to dismantle an entire stateroom to get at his batteries.  At that he could only access two the batteries.  The third he assured me was buried so deep in the bowels of his Beneteau that we would have to just assume it was in good working order.  On Meredith we have been here and done this.  We accepted Joe's assurance that third battery was in good order. 

Joe's batteries were showing only 12.25 volts on his Link 1000 a cool little display device which monitors and controlls his boat's Freedom 20.  This after a full night of 15 to 20 knot winds driving his wind generator and 3 hours of Honda generator to boot.  His batteries should have had so much charge they were sparking excess energy into the ether.  As per the Link 1000 they were at low voltage.

The Freedom 20 inverter/charger was buzzing like a steroidal mosquito.  Ten minutes spent in the battery room trying to figure out the connection scheme of the mulithued spaghetti wiring so favoured by French nautical designers left both Joe and I near hysterical.   Forget waterboarding.  Homeland Security need only put terrorists in Joe's battery compartment.  They'd talk.

We found nothing amiss: no loose connections, no visible corrosion, no tell tale black spots or smoke smudges. 

Poking buttons on the Link 1000 for a few more minutes did not good at all.  

We decided to shut down all incoming power sources and "reboot".  

This was overly ambitious.  Beneteau had hidden all the AC breakers under the nav table.  My head would not fit under the table and despite wearing trifocals none of my aids to visual navigation provided a focal length sufficient to resolve any of the carefully letters labels into any more defined than white smudge.  

Joe, same age as me more or less, could do no better.  We made educated guesses on the contents of each label based on the number of indistinguishable characters we could count on a label.

This is  another point about sailboat design that really irks me.  Most people who sail boats, and thus most people who have to work on boats, are middle aged or better.  Our eyes are no longer our primary sensory organ or if they are we stand mute inglorious Miltons.

Shutting things down and restarting had no discernable effect

Nothing worked.  Not that we expected it to.  But we were men fixing a boat.  Something manly needed to be done.  Ego demanded it. 

We plugged the Honda back into the system and tried charging.  No go.   Now, when you think about it, why would it work? It did not work the first time and we had made no changes to any part of the system.  

This is the moment when the lightning bolt of near genius struck.  "Let's plug something in to the generator and see what happens." came out of someone's mouth. 

Joe plugged a space heater into his Honda.  Without even slight hesitation the Honda roared into life.  Life with the volume turned up.  Simultaneously the Link started to blink and its display showed amps coming into the batteries.  2, 4, 10, 24, 42.  We were charging baby.

Oh, but then 32 then 48 then 20 then 45.  The poor old Honda was speeding up and slowing down in time to the varying display on the Link.  Interesting.

Unplug the space heater and the Honda fell silent, refusing to supply current to the Freedom 20.  Interesting.

We had reached that most sacred of moments in any boat project.  It was time to commune: to reflect and consider things greater than ourselves.  It was time for a Bud.  We had two.  This job was going to take a lot of communing.

Over the course of the day we found out that the reason Joe's batteries were not charging was because they were fully charged.  The Link 1000 was giving incorrect voltage readouts.  We checked for corrosion to no avail.  Interesting.

The BC and I left Joe and Jeana his erstwhile companion to put away the 3 tons of stuff they had to remove to get at the batteries in the first place.

Three hours later Joe and Jeana responded to our invitation and dinghied over to Meredith.  Joe and I communed well into the night and well into a twelve pack of communion beer.  Yingleung this time.

This morning while dinghying ashore we slipped quietlly past Joe and Jeana's boat.  His Honda was running.  The space heater was plugged in and glowing redly.

I love troubleshooting probles.  On someone else's boat.

This included one fused connection where the fuse was good, as verified by my ohmeter, but the fuse would not transfer current. 
Joe's generator still works just so long as he runs his space heater at the same time. 

I'm calling that one a win.

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