Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Things break, things get fixed

It is one o'clock in the morning. It is totally overcast and the moon is new. Outside, it takes about 10 minutes for your eyes to become accustomed to the dark before a vague grey sensation appears that there are waves out there beyond TRAVERSAY's deck. The mainsail can just be made out, a kind of nearly black against the infinitesimally lighter nearly black of the sky, and, by craning your head way back, you can see the wind indicator in the light of the masthead running light. The red illumination of the outside instruments casts a warm glow around the nearby space.

The wind is blowing just over 15 knots on the beam. This is not enough breeze to raise an objectionable sea but it does race us along at 7 knots. The ugly five meter waves of a few days ago have now faded to a few meters of ground swell leading to a gentle rocking motion. At this speed though and in this dark, you leave the shelter of the dodger at your peril. The dodger, a canvas shelter protecting the main entrance, is repeatedly doused with wave tops cast into the air by our motion. It is very easy for the unwary to get wet - and seawater never seems to dry.

The dark and the speed and the nothing-to-see-beyond-the-boat combine to give an intense feeling of isolation. Of course, another source of that feeling that we are in a very remote place is the failure of some important piece of boat gear. After all, we DO have another 1700 miles to go!

It is a rare day at sea, with lots of sun and a good breeze, when we can make up our entire electrical energy requirements with solar and wind power. The 730 watts of installed alternative energy is largely theoretical, depending as it does on the whims of nature. The considerable power consumption of our autopilot and freezer, by contrast, are real and unrelenting. This all leads to our running the diesel generator for a few hours almost every day.

Yesterday in the late afternoon, during this compulsory battery charging, the generator abruptly ceased making noise and electricity and displayed a high temperature warning light on its panel. A cursory examination suggested loss of cooling water to be the cause rather than some hard-to-fix internal problem. The coming night lead to some minor procrastination. It's no fun fixing things in the dark anyway.

When light returned in the morning, it was time to go to work. Usually, loss of cooling water is the result of the failure of a small rubber impeller in the water pump. A typical failure leads to the inner and outer parts of the impeller separating from each other so that the shaft rotates but the impeller does not. I expected to simply take off the cover, pull out the old impeller, push in a spare and put things together again.

Not so simple! The old impeller had disintegrated completely. I knew I had to find all the missing pieces or they would simply be lurking somewhere waiting to cause some internal harm. The whole afternoon wore on as I removed more and more pieces of generator in my search for debris, bit by bit re-assembling the broken impeller much like an air crash investigator reassembling a destroyed fuselage.

Finally, with light and mirror, I saw the last piece of the puzzle hiding inside the inlet pipe. How it moved upstream to get there, I have no idea. The inlet pipe would be far more difficult to remove than the outlet pipe, now sitting on the galley counter. It would involve yet more panel covers and the removal of the whole pump from the generator. Fortunately, the little rubber shards yielded to some very thin stainless surgical instruments that could be pushed into, and extract debris from, the tiny inlet pipe.

So just the re-assembly left to do? Oh no! My thought that the generator exhaust had run hot and dry for a little while before the automatic shutdown led me to check the rubber exhaust hoses for heat damage. Sure enough, the hose section from the generator to the muffler had a soft spot that could lead to failure, exhaust and seawater in the boat, and much unhappiness. New hose is a challenge to force over tight connections; old hose is even harder to take off. During all this time the work place is bouncing around.

But it all got done, leading to a gin and orange juice reward and a fine Thai chicken green curry dinner prepared by Mary Anne.

Our nearest land is now Easter Island 700 miles almost due north of us. Rather irrelevantly, Coronation Gulf, visited on our 2013 Northwest Passage, is far beyond Easter Island on the same line 7000 miles due north of us. And I do believe we are now two thirds of the way across this endless ocean.

At 2017-03-01 17:54 (utc) our position was 37°59.42'S 108°22.54'W

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