Sunday, April 1, 2018

Trying to get going

So there we were, within 36 hours or so of pulling the hook out of the Manatee River and heading off. There was a last day to be spent getting the mast lights on Blowing In The Wind squared away, and getting some play time in with the grand kids. I had long dreaded that last day of play, knowing the heart break that would come with those final hugs before we took the Ding out to Kintala. Best guess was that it would be three days of tears and at least another week of shaking off a grey cloud of wondering just why we needed to be away. After that there would still be intermittent bouts of the grey, bouts that would fade as the months wore on, though never going completely away. But, as it turned out, they were not thrilled at the idea of seeing us sail off over the horizon while they stayed tied to a dock, and so decided to leap in the cruising life themselves and come along.

How cool is that?

Because Kintala can’t fit through the Okeechobee, and Blowing In The Wind’s Captain and Admiral wanted to have a little easer “first go” than running through the Gulf of Mexico to the Keys, the two boats will be taking different paths for the first few weeks. After meeting again in Stuart our little family flotilla will head north.

Kintala was due to leave first with the plan of spending a few days hanging out in places we like to hang out, and meeting some people we would like to meet. So there we were, within 36 hours of pulling the hook out of the Manatee River and heading off.

Right up until we did the morning’s routine battery check. The check doesn’t amount to much, just running through the monitor menu to verify each battery’s voltage. The fancy Xantrex monitor does a whole bunch of other stuff as well, all of which I review, and none of which is very useful. Individual battery voltage displayed on a digital read-out to the hundredth off a volt will tell you everything you need to know about battery health. In the five years these batteries have been in Kintala the morning voltage checks have always been within a couple of hundredths of a volt of each other. This morning…

Battery 1 =12.16v.

Battery 2 =13.23 v.


The first step in troubleshooting is to verify what one thinks is wrong actually is wrong. In this case that would mean opening up the battery box and putting a volt meter on each battery. Alas, since we had been working on BIGW’s mast lights yesterday and left the tools on that boat for today’s efforts, my volt meter was back on the dock and not with Kintala out here in the anchorage. A quick run in to say “good morning” and grab the meter ensued. Sure enough, checking with an independent meeter confirmed, battery 1 was down an entire volt from battery 2.

Five year old batteries on a full time cruising boat. One really can’t complain. We started making plans to replace the batteries, figuring we could get back on the dock for a couple of days. Better to do it now than face the music somewhere along the East Coast. But…

Deb kept asking, “Why?” Why this sudden drop. Why today? And I kept answering, “Everything works right up until it breaks.” We are trying to get going. This is a boat. Of course it is broken. Boats are always broken. It is just a matter of how broken.

The second rule of troubleshooting, after verifying the problem actually exists, is to figure out the most likely cause of the problem. And, when it comes to the most likely cause, one might as well start with the last thing someone touched that might have something to do with the system wonk now messing up the day.

Since I wasn’t aware of anything being done that would jostle the electrical system into a wonk, and since the batteries are five years old, and since we trying to be on our way; I just fell into the conclusion that the batteries had decided this was the perfect day to file for retirement. But clearly Deb wasn’t convinced. Even while using the internet to check the prices and availability of various batteries she kept asking, “Why now? Why today?” After a bit she disappeared in the aft cabin and started poking around.

“Found it.”

Found it? Found what?

Working on BITW’s electrical system had her rummaging through all of the various bins and cubby holes on Kintala yesterday. Places where we stash all kinds of do-dads, like wire and connections and tools not often used. Stuff needed to fix BITW’s lights. It is a bit of a pain. Actually, it is a major pain, not being able to just reach into a tool box or easily accessed storage cabinet to get something. I often claim that, should I ever loose my mind and move back on shore, it will be to avoid having to spend 20 minutes digging though cubby holes for the stuff needed to do a five minute job.

Kintala’s battery master switch is located in one of those cubby holes. We rarely touch it. In fact, it probably hasn’t been moved in a couple of years. In the process of searching for stuff Deb had bumped the battery master select switch with a box full of cable, moving in from “BOTH” to “ONE”.  It was late. It had been a long day. She was tired. And the cubby hole was dark and stuffed. As a result last night’s entire electrical load had been sucked out of just one battery.

Of course it was low. We had selected it to be low. We just didn’t know that we had selected it to be low come morning.

So, here we are, within 36 hours of being on our way.


Robert Sapp said...

I wrote a blog post quite a while ago that stated my opinion on how there is no place for an A/B/Both switch on a cruising boat. It makes the crew part of the charging and electrical distribution system, and human error can cause too many problems, including frying the alternator regulator if you accidentally select Off while motoring. Better to isolate the banks and put each on a simple On/Off switch to make it foolproof.

Robert & Rhonda
S/V Eagle Too
Pensacola, FL

TJ said...

Robert my friend, I completely agree. I'm not sure how marine electrical systems evolved but, it does seem obvious that, at least until recently (maybe) there were no electrical engineers involved. Certainly no one who knew the first thing about ergonomics was within miles. It is hard to imagine a machine less "user friendly" than a cruising sailboat. They will get us where we want to go, and let us live the kind of life we want to live, but it happens on the boat's terms, not ours.

Robert Sapp said...

I'm sure it was a cost driven decision. One selector switch and a common ground cable for two banks saves a few dollars over separate switches and wiring. Similar to how so many boats use the starter cable as the charging path from the alternator to the batteries rather than a separate #6 or #4 wire.

Robert & Rhonda
S/V Eagle Too
Pensacola, FL

TJ said...

Robert, I totally agree once again but you know where that discussion would lead... Two friends, a socialist and a capitalist, head into a bar debating the reasons for the cost and quality of the beer...