Thursday, October 10, 2013

Voodoo Princess

Learning the ins and outs of a 30 year old boat maintained by a string of clueless monkeys takes a long time; longer than the two plus years Kintala and I have been beating on each other. We are currently tied to an underpowered dock, living on the hook if you will, without the hook. Every day ye 'ol Honda comes on line to fill the boat with electric juice which, on any other boat, would be a no-brainer kind of thing. A few days ago a bunch of electrons tripped over each other when we tried to run the vacuum cleaner while "on the gen". Nothing was obviously wrong so, after puzzling over it for a few, I reset all the breakers and CFGIs and tried again. Success.

This afternoon the electrons stumbled again. Resetting brought things on line just as before, but 'fridge and water heater were left off just to try and understand what was what. There was good AC power on the interior outlets but no charging voltage was going to the ship's batteries. Say what? There is no "BAT CHARGE" switch anywhere, so the working assumption these past two years has been that the battery charger was hard wired to the AC, flowing electrical juice into the batteries whenever the AC and DC were both on. This was not happening, and since battery charging is the life's blood of a boat living off the grid, serious poking and prodding ensued.

Checking the battery charger showed it dead as a door nail; could we have roached the charger somehow? But wait, why is the battery charger plugged into a standard house outlet mounted in the equipment hole? There is no switch marked "Equipment hole outlet" on the AC power panel. And what is this other thing plugged into the same outlet, the 'fridge? But there is a switch marked "REFRIG SHORE POWER", something that is clearly not factory.

Ah Kintala, you sneaky little voodoo princess you. It turns out the battery charger and refrigeration units are both plugged into that standard house outlet mounted back in the equipment hole. I've noticed it in passing but it was just more weird wiring in a boat full of such. This, it turned out, was the focus of the current electrical poltergeist, the battery charger is only powered up when the 'fridge switch is closed. Slapping REFRIG, OUTLET, and WATER HEATER switches all at the same time leads to weirdness in the Honda. Something we never noticed on shore power where one just turned everything on as a matter of course.

One can, of course, power up just the battery charger by going into the equipment hole and physically unplugging the 'fridge before closing the FRIDGE SHORE POWER switch. It would be better, much better, to rewire the boat and eliminate such weirdness altogether. But time and funds and a shrinking weather window make a total rewire something that must be put off until later.

This is a bit disconcerting since I have no real information on how much of a load this spooky wiring can take. All I can go with is that is has worked this way just fine for several years at least; and maybe a couple of decades. Who knows since monkeys never take credit for their work or leave any incriminating paperwork lying around. So for now understanding the voodoo will just have to do.


S/V Veranda said...

Ah Kintala, the good little ship where the fun never stops...

Robert Salnick said...

I don't understand it. Somehow, when a person that would be scared to death to open the breaker panel on his house gets a boat, suddenly he is ready to dive right in to the wiring. And in many ways, 12V wiring can be more dangerous than 110V wiring.

And it doesn't stop inside the boat either...