Sunday, June 26, 2011

Comparing Troubleshooting Methods: Aspergers v. Politics

2011 06 26

"You know, until you woke up I was having a wonderful morning!"

With that pronouncement the Budget Committee slammed the bread pan to the counter and turned away. The bread pan had contained a lovely rounded well risen ball of dough perfect in every way to be baked into the BCs very good bread. I say "had" contained for the drubbing it received at her hands caused the fragile little co2 pockets so nicely trapped amongst the skein of dough to collapse and the nicely rounded ball to become, well, flaccid. Now it lay limp and deflated and glistening in the bottom of the pan looking thoroughly inedible and beyond repair.

"Well, I can fix that in a hurry" was my sleepy reply and I turned and walked the five steps back to the head from which I had just emerged. Clearly I had done something wrong. Strange since all I had done since waking up a few minutes earlier was visit the head and discover that it was plugged. Try as I might the hand pump would not pump. It must have been something I said. Usually I will start the day with "Hey beautiful' or "what are you making. Smells fantastic!" or "Looks like a great day". Today my greeting had been "The bloody head is plugged". Somewhere in there I just knew was the reason for the BCs strange response.

It had been a difficult couple of days. We had discovered two days ago that the fridge was running continuously. Seemed clear to me that the thermostat had malfunctioned and needed replacement but I wanted to run some tests. That of course was just my Asperger's speaking. Like any self respecting male of my generation I am afflicted with a touch of Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. In most of us this "ism" manifests itself as a form of compulsive behaviour - the bug collector who knows everything there is to know about dung beetles, or the stamp collector who has every Disney stamp ever printed by very country ever. My particular compulsion is tracking down the "exact" cause of a problem. It drives me crazy not to understand what is wrong with a system once I find there is an error.

You would think compulsion of this sort might be advantageous in finding the source of trouble. Frequently my efforts run into interference from the Budget Committee who applies a political approach to sorting out problems. It works like this: I like the fridge.  Just because my friend the fridge won't shut off doesn't mean it is broken and I won't let you attack it that way. There is a perfectly good reason for the fridge not to shut off.

In this case it was mentioned to me frequently that the fridge worked very well at anchor so it must be the rocking of the boat that caused the thermostat to stay on. Soon though the problem intensified. I initiated a program of manually controlling the fridge: we would run it one hour out of every three. This was when the real problem began. Because the Link 10 ammeter is installed right at the breaker panel we noticed that when we turned the fridge on there would be a very high intial current draw. Very high. On the order of 40 amps. This was not normal. My pronouncement that there was more wrong with the fridge than I initially feared drew nothing but a "hmmph" from the BC.The current draw grew worse. It got to the point that turning the fridge on caused a huge fluctuationg current draw running to 80 amps then 125 amps then 250 then 350 and maxing out at 427. This was bizarre and dangerous. It also made no sense. The fridge was fused at 20 amps which should have burned out if we ran 427 amps through it. The fuse did not burn through.Yet the batteries confirmed the amp draw. 427 amps draws down your voltage very quickly and the batteries were depleted in minutes during one of the current draw phenomenon.

Sitting that evening listening to Herb Hilgenberg the BC lit up. "Did you see that!" she shouted. "When you hit the [tune] button on the SSB the current draw went way up". She continued "It must be the SSB. And you are blaming the fridge". You see I was in trouble.

That I tore the electrical system apart. Every separate system was tested then every separate current using device. I could not find the problem.

In the middle of the effort the BC called from the cockpit "Benner the staysail is broken." Up I climbed from the engine room, a polite noun describing a box with enough room for a diesel and almost enough room for an arm to work on said diesel, and to the bow I went. The staysail traveller had swung across the track and broken the end stop. The stop didn't and ended up somewhere in Neptune's living room. The boom was flailing wildly in the wind its pinioned end no longer pinioned. It was wrestled to the deck and tied down. I returned to the engine room and my electrical investigation.

Opening the engine room door I noted a drip from the raw water cooling pump. I grabbed a readily available screwdriver and tested one of the bolts holding the cover on the pump. The head of the bolt fell off. Flush with the pump housing. Now I would have a major leak but first I had to find the electrical problem. First stop the boat from burning down, then stop the leak that will sink us.

After a full night of fruitless investigation I grabbed a couple hours sleep and it was from this that I awoke to greet my wife with news of her fourth major system failure.

Cut to the chase:

The electrical problem was with a bad ground connection due to a badly manufactured lug on the end of some big (2/0) wire. The coating had corroded and started to heat up as current crossed it. The SSB draws a lot of current and so caused a lot of heat, so much heat that the lug melted, welded itself to the post it was connected to and the stainless steel washer and nut holding on. Then the heat had melted through the post and it had come loose. As the loose post vibrated against the electical buss it caused more and more arcing and heat build up. Had we not found it the ground connection could very well have generated enough heat to cause a fire.

The fridge drew enough current to set off the bad connection. In fact the fridge was an early warning system that alerted us to the whole problem.

The staysail traveller has been jury rigged to work fairly well.The raw water pump was repaired when I was able to back out the bolt from behind, then cut a line in the end of the bolt big enough to insert a screwdriver which I then used to unscrew the bolt from the pump housing. Pure luck had an exact replacement in my "junk box" spare parts bin.

The head was not totally plugged. Some judicious work with the plunger and I was able to free the obstruction. Half an hour of pumping made sure the obstruction was out of the system and the BC hit it with a gallon of vinegar to try to forestall failure until we reach civilization.

The bread rose again and fed us quite nicely for two days.

I am in remedial classes on how to greet my wife in the morning.

The thermostat on the fridge has started to work again.

1 comment:

  1. Did you have the lugs to make a spare 2/0 cable...or anyway to crimp it?

    Would a big "less than 400 amp" inline fuse have helped?

    Good catch, however. That could've been extremely ugly.