Saturday, 17 February 2018

Keeping the important things running ...

This passage may well replace our 2011 Capetown to Saint Martin sail as the most gentle and perfect ever. In two weeks, we have used the motor only 17 hours, 3 of which were getting down the river and out to sea and another 3 in the wind shadow of Robinson Crusoe Island. On that occasion, we sailed very close to the land in a futile attempt to acquire a cellphone signal and, as a bonus, lost the wind! After the first day, the seas have been gentle and the progress continuous if not stunning.

A cargo ship is now passing us in the night. At eight miles away on our port beam, I can just make out his lights. Our instruments reveal much about him and a little thought easily fills in the rest. At 300 meters length and 42 meters beam, he is quite large - of course I can see that from the lights. That he reaches down 16 meters beneath the sea says a lot more about his massive bulk. He left a Chilean mining port about six days ago with a load of ore and, at his 11 knot speed, will not reach his destination in China until the third week of March, around when we reach Honolulu. This is an immense ocean for everyone!

The night is now very peaceful - in stark contrast to the technical glitches of the two days preceding it. It all started with an electrical issue ...

An engine driven alternator recharges our batteries and provides electricity when we are motoring. The original 18 year old unit failed in a rather final way while we were cruising in the south of Chile so we ordered a new replacement in order to have a comfortable level of power redundancy on our voyage north. Following a rather drawn out delivery and customs process, the alternator was installed and appeared to be functioning "normally".

Now far out to sea - the nearest land being an uninhabited speck roughly 700 sea miles away - all seems not well with the alternator. The current flowing in the negative post is a typical 135 amps - what you would expect refilling our large, half discharged battery bank. That said, the current being pushed out of the positive post of the alternator and into the batteries is only 45 amps! The better part of a day with tools and meters revealed that the missing 90 amps was almost certainly being shorted out internally to the case of the alternator and flowing through the engine block and various heavy gauge ground wires back to the negative post of the alternator.

Now 90 amps is a lot of current when it is up to no good - not charging a battery or doing useful work. Thus after all that effort to get an expensive new part delivered to us in Chile, prudence suggested we disable it. We will get no further use out of it until we can deliver it for warranty service after arriving in Honolulu in a month. Thus again, like in southern Chile after the initial failure, we have to run a separate generator to charge the batteries even when the engine is running.

Today, because trouble comes in threes (some say), I discovered the fresh water had stopped flowing from the taps. Oh well, there ARE cold water foot pumps. Nonetheless, hot and cold running water is so darn convenient that I immediately sought Mary Anne's help to unearth the spare electric pump from under the guest cabin berth. Together we moved a considerable bulk of gifts, paper towel and cookies off the guest bed to access the hardly-ever-needed stuff beneath. Then, spare pump in hand, as a final check, I turned the pump power off a while and back on later to see if it had magically fixed itself. Wow, it worked again but produced a very anemic flow ... and didn't shut off when the tap was closed. Maybe the pressure switch had failed? But when I closed a valve just downstream of the pump, the pump shut off as it should.

It was starting to look more and more like a leak! I checked the in-use water tank quantity. Both tanks had been full an hour before and now one tank had decreased from 250 liters of fresh water to 125 liters. Most people who have read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" know that fresh water is a big deal when you are 1000 kilometers from land. But where was the leak? 125 liters of water is a great deal and ought to be seriously sloshing around in the bilge. There are very few ways to have a water leak inside a boat without some obvious mess.

Finally a culprit! The valve that rinses the desalinator (water-maker) with fresh water had failed internally and, though the handle was in the closed position, was sending all that fresh water through the water-maker and overboard. It is certainly now well rinsed! That continuous pumping overheated the waterpump such that it shut down ... mercifully saving half the water in the in-use tank.

An hour of work removed the offending valve, capped the fresh water line and disabled rinsing. The water maker will be fine without rinsing as long as we use it daily but the rinse facility will have to be re plumbed as soon as we get to Honolulu to prevent damage during a period of non-use in the harbor.

Did I mention threes? After starting to relax knowing the leak problem had been put to sleep, the pump started to make occasional pulses - the leak noise it typically makes that we wouldn't have heard before over the noise of the genset.

This time the leak was slower and easier to find, involving the visible escape of water. That valve downstream of the fresh water pump - the one that allowed me to find the BIG leak - was rhythmically dripping. I guess, having been unmolested for years, my closing and opening it a few times had dealt it an unsupportable trauma. With no spare valve around, I simply replaced it with a continuous length of plastic fresh water pipe. We always have THAT around.

At that point, repairs and jury-rigs complete, Mary Anne ordered that work cease and presented a welcome spread of wine and cheese.

We HAVE blogged this same theme from time to time in past writings. When things go amiss at sea, you have to have tools and materials aboard and you have to do what is needed to carry on.

After all we still have 4300 miles to go. Just over a month more of sailing should see us in Honolulu.

At 2018-02-16 22:11 (utc) our position was 17°40.11'S 097°09.31'W

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