Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Boring Generator Saga

Remember these?
It all started innocently enough… a light came on intermittently when we started the generator… Must be the alternator.  We investigated and found that there was a bracket that holds the alternator belt taught that had cracked in two.  We replaced the bracket and adjusted the belt and voila!   Um, it’s not fixed…

On came the red light and off came the generator covers again.  We discovered a steady stream of water coming out of a hole in an aluminum block on the back side of the generator.  That isn’t normal…  More investigation told us that the block was actually acting as a sacrificial anode and had sprung a leak after who knows how many years of active service.  We spent some time figuring out how to replace that as the four bolts holding it on had corroded and the holes would no longer engage the bolts.  We learned about placing helicoils inside the holes to create fresh threads.  We made an executive decision not to use 5200 (recommended by Fischer Panda) as a gasket in replacing the plate and opted for a less permanent solution… and voila!  Um, it’s not fixed…

Now there is no light, nothing.  It's deader than a doornail…  We both took our trusty flashlights and began to look over the generator closely… searching for anything that looked out of place… knowing not a whole dang lot about it in the first place but hoping something would be “obvious” to the untrained eye…  Turns out that my untrained eye is pretty observant as I found THIS!  It appears to be a connector of some sort that has burned out.

The other end leads to this regulator
Even I know that this isn’t a good thing.  And from previous problems of an electrical nature we’ve had, I guessed that it must have had something to do with the recent water ingress… there has to be some corrosion somewhere… and… here it is!

Our corroded Wiring Harness
We found this bunch of wires with some grody corrosion and it was at this point that we realized we were in over our heads.  I sent some pictures to the Tech department over at Fischer Panda and they advised a new regulator and wiring harness.  The funny thing about Fischer Panda is that you don’t get to know the cost of things until you open the package upon arrival.  The price of this little baby was hefty and when we got a look at it, we understood why.  The wiring harness is a complicated looking piece of equipment that connects all of the generator’s functions to one another.  I guess I know why my question (“Is this something we can do ourselves or should we hire a serviceman?”) went unanswered… Serviceman it is…
A wiring harness
Lee was really nice and seemed to be very knowledgeable.  We were relieved when he went right to work.  We had the wiring harness and the new regulator already and he enlisted Bruce to be his assistant.  This is a very good thing as Bruce was able to ask questions as they went and gained valuable knowledge about our previously mysterious generator.  I waited patiently in the cockpit while the guys worked.  All. Day. Long.  My job was to feed the parking meter every two hours as Lee’s work truck was parked in downtown West Palm Beach.  

See the hole?  And the broken mount?
By late afternoon, the sounds coming from the worksite down below were not encouraging.  They were able to get the wiring harness all hooked up and the regulator was replaced… but the discovery of a hole in our exhaust elbow kept us from the finish line.  FYI, this little hole had been allowing deadly carbon monoxide to leak into our engine room… DEADLY…. More parts ordered…

During all of this time we had to use our diesel engine to charge our batteries.  We had some days of sunshine, but equal numbers of cloudy days during which we reduced our power usage as much as possible.  We were almost prisoners on the boat as we scrimped on lights and anything else that would reduce the stored amps that we would have to replace the next day.  Our attitudes suffered as the wait for parts continued on.  It is difficult to remain optimistic when weather windows one after another passed us by while we sat here… waiting.  I tried improving my state of mind by reminding myself of our many blessings:  We have balmy temperatures while literally the rest of the country is in a deep freeze.  We are in a really convenient place with a free dock to use while repairs were under way.  We have a free trolley for getting to the grocery store.  We have internet.  And several of our Cruiser friends have far more to complain about than we do, namely Our Way Too… still dealing with a lighting strike after six months… and more recently, Firefly, lost on a reef in the San Blas islands…  Clearly we have little about which to complain in comparison.

Finally the parts arrived.  So far, we are into about $1,500 in parts alone… and $110 per hour for the serviceman.  Now at this point I’m not complaining (much)… we’ve had relatively little trouble from our 15 year old generator thus far, and maybe it’s time to breathe some new life into the old girl.  Bruce was in awe of Lee’s knowledgeable and efficient management of our growing list of issues and knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we would NOT have been able to get this done without him…  But…

The exhaust elbow, which should have been a snap… took longer to liberate than expected.  Finally it gave it up and the new one was installed, along with new hoses and such… Everything was tidied up and it was time to test it all.  Push that start button and hear it purr and voila!  Um, it’s not fixed…

WTF!!!?  Long story short, several hours of poking around and testing continuity left us with the realization that the wiring harness, although the “correct” one for our generator… was not the same.  In the fifteen years since our engine was made, Fischer Panda has made multiple changes to their generators.  Unfortunately for us, they don’t send along any kind of crosswalk that tells where things go and what the changes are.  Not loving Fischer Panda right now as I can literally hear the sound of my savings account dwindling to nothing… or maybe that’s the train running through West Palm…  Anyway, I was reeling with the unfairness of a life in which the company created parts for our engine that weren’t really for our engine… and didn’t see fit to educate their “Authorized Servicemen” as to their proper installation.  So essentially, we are paying for Lee’s “education”.  Coincidentally, he had an identical service call to make on his next job… so to the unknown sailboat owner after us… you’re WELCOME!  

So in defeat, Lee left our generator in a state of utter disrepair and went off to discuss possible plans of action with the head technician for the entire USA over at Fischer Panda.  Hopefully by the time he returned… he would have a plan.  Hopefully he WOULD return… Oh and to make matters worse, not one but TWO parking tickets were left on Lee’s vehicle, which WE would be paying for…  I rationalized this by counting it as less than spending one day in a marina so thank you West Palm Beach for the (almost) free dock!  Are we on candid camera???

The next two days were dark ones.  Our spirits were about as low as they’ve ever been in our Cruising career. I heard Bruce mumble things like “I just don’t know if it’s worth it”…  We took turns being despondent about our situation, luckily we alternated wallowing so that one of us could talk the other back from the ledge at all times.  Now in hind sight, I realize that this whole thing, while costly, wasn’t really that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.  But in the midst of it, realize this.  We had the fear of the  unknown potential cost, without any certainty of success.  This cost coming on the heels of recently replaced mainsail track and roller furling parts, combined with the replacement of our windlass… was rapidly leaving our financial situation in dangerous condition.  Where would it end???  

There was also a simultaneous side trip down memory lane with the Bahamas Department of Agriculture going on… If we didn’t get to the Bahamas by the 30th of January, we would need new pet permits for our cats.  It was looking more and more like that was going to be the case.  So… we bit the bullet and sent off new permit requests along with the associated fees, via DHL which cost more than the permits themselves…  Two days later I learned via Facebook, that the address and fees listed on the official DOA website were inaccurate.  Not only was there a new address… but a new VAT was now required but not mentioned on the website.  So basically I just sent my money out into oblivion with no hope of getting permits.  A phone call did not remedy the situation as they said I could send the additional $1.50 (yes, that’s a stinkin, dollar and a half standing between me and success) via Fed-Ex… cha CHING!!!  Fortunately for my tender sanity… the permits magically appeared by fax a week later.  Well that’s ONE good thing that happened this week!  I immediately relaxed as it no longer matters how long it takes us to get there…  

So, back to the generator saga…  Lee called us a couple of days later and said he was coming back.  Yay!  That must mean he has a plan, right?  He arrived mid morning.  He and Bruce worked all day long, removing all they had previously done and re-installing it all again.  Finally as evening approached, Lee popped his head up and they started the generator.  It ran!  Yay!  Lee packed up and left with a big check in hand while Bruce and I finished up.  We still had to get a sensor from Panda, which Bruce could install.  We still needed to change the fuel filter and re-prime the fuel lines.  Bruce started the engine twice after Lee left, and on the third try… dead.  Out of gas.  There was no fuel getting to the engine and it had been running on residual.  

We found this bag at a yard sale for $2.50.  The wheels gave out on us!
We called Lee for advice and he told us that we needed to replace our fuel pump.  Bruce and I went to work testing that theory… (again) long story short… We did some troubleshooting ourselves and found the fuel pump WAS working, but there was no power from the generator to make it engage.  Lee advised us that our battery was too weak to engage the fuel pump… we need a new battery.  An epic day later during which we sourced, acquired and schlepped said very heavy and expensive battery back to the boat for installation… and voila!  Um, it’s not fixed….

Once again, Lee comes back mumbling something about how we broke the generator again… WHAT!!!!  Danger!  Overload!!!  

Another hundred bucks and half a day later (that’s all he could bring himself to ask of us…) the generator is finally fixed and running.  It seems that there was a built in safeguard that shut the fuel sensor down if not properly grounded… the new wiring harness provided for no such proper grounding of said wire… So Lee built a jumper wire for it and now it works.  Two days have now passed and the generator continues to function properly so we are optimistic.  Our power-miserly ways have relaxed and we are back to waiting for a weather window to leave for the Bahamas.  

One of these can make everything better...
We are considering ourselves lucky that we didn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning… and that we now have essentially a new generator with all new wiring.  It should serve us well for some years to come.  We are also now much more familiar with the care and maintenance of our generator.  Bruce feels more in control of our fate and will know what to check for should future problems arise.  Hindsight brings a happy ending and again, attitudes are righting themselves as we realize how lucky we are to be able to experience this life.  Thanks so much for listening.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ten Steps To Enlightenment

Origin of Picture

You don't know what you don't know... Cruising will teach you this.  

Before we left, I had this lofty idea that we were starting out ahead of many of the other Cruisers we know in that my husband has been working on boats and diesel engines for his entire life.  The fact that he’s never been a rich man just means that he’s had to fix things himself instead of hiring it done.  The fact that he’s never been truly poor, means that when a project starts to get out of control… we could just throw some money at it and it would go away!

It’s been a year and a half since I quit my job, thus reducing our income to less than half of what it was.  The boat repairs however, have continued on in force… only now, we have to do things “the Cruiser way”.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that first off, you won’t just throw money at it.  Secondly it means that many times you can find a helpful Cruiser who has the experience you seek and can assist you with your own education.  Thirdly, it means that because on boats, nothing that comes off can ever be replaced easily and in the same way that it went on the first time.  You will be making what we shall vaguely call “modifications”.  

Ahhh the mysterious modifications.  These have left us scratching our heads wondering what in the world the previous owners were thinking when they did this… We can only assume that some of these things were done out in the middle of the Atlantic with parts they had on hand.  And then they just never went back and did them properly, thinking if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it…

We are starting to be repaid for those earlier uncharitable thoughts by being forced to make our own creative modifications… but we won’t talk about those now.  This is about the learning curve and the 10 steps to enlightenment.

  1. Something isn’t right.  A new sound, a new shimmy… something elusive and intangible.  Usually I discover it first and notify Bruce at once.  He professes not to hear/feel said sign of impending doom and so we table it for a while. 
  2. Point of no return.  Some time in the near future, usually at the worst possible time, that aforementioned sign becomes a real problem.  It now will not function.  There is no denying it and it will probably cost more to fix now because it’s broken/damaged something else in the process of dying.   
  3. Denial.  Bruce goes to the ground.  He will spend hours or sometimes days looking at the parts, digging through tools and spares, swearing and making all sorts of exclamatory noises that send me spiraling into despair.  His premise?  “There is just no way this could be happening… it makes no sense!”.  The doom and gloom that waft from the engine room are almost more than I can bear as I curl up into the fetal position and pretend it isn’t happening. 
  4. Acceptance.  At some point, my fetal position stance is no longer doing it for me and my brain kicks into gear.  I come back to the real world and go to Bruce’s aid.  “OK, tell me what you’ve done so far, what is the issue, what are we dealing with here?”… He lays it all out there for me.  We have a problem, lets fix it.  
  5. Investigation.  We both look into it and come up with our individual assessment of the problem, usually completely at opposite ends of the spectrum from one another.
  6. Research.  At this point, we determine whether or not we are in over our heads.  We start with internet research, we reach out to Facebook groups for info, we end up calling friends and relatives to run it by them…  any port in a storm, we’ll take information from anyone.  Learning from the mistakes of others is our motto.
  7. Discussion.  I ask questions and he gives me answers.  He explains the parts I don’t understand and I try to wrap my brain around it.  We discuss possible plans of action and come up with Plan A, Plan B and maybe even Plan C.   
  8. Convincing.  One of us convinces the other of the validity of his/her argument or just wears the other down to the point that he/she will do anything to get the other to just shut up.
  9. Action.  We gather or buy tools.  We procure parts.  We run through it in our heads to make sure we haven’t missed something.  And we get started on the actual project.  You put your plan into action with maybe a few side trips to the parts store to correct unforeseen issues… but we’re doing something.  We have a grasp on it.  We’re feeling good about all of the hard work that has brought us to this point.
  10. Enlightenment.  It is at now that we realize that either we KNOW how to fix it or we don’t.  The sad part is that many times the things we thought we knew how to fix, turn out to be an illusion.  No. We really don’t.  Or, the thing will require those aforementioned "modifications" about which there is no possible way of knowing in advance…This is where it is either fixed and the celebrating and back-patting begins, or it is not fixed and we sink deeper into the realization that we are over our heads and it's time to call in the professionals.  (Hopefully the latter seldom happens)  

 But is this the true enlightenment… no it is not.  True enlightenment is when you discover that although you did not know everything… you have the ability to learn and grow and gain the knowledge to conquer adversity so that next time you WILL know.  And if you’re lucky, you can pass your newfound knowledge along to someone else some day.  That is the real Cruiser Way.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hurry Up And Wait

I’ve been lax in documenting our progress south.  I really wanted to just hold my breath until we reached the Bahamas, not wanting to jinx it…  Evidently that isn’t working, we’re STILL jinxed!  

My mind has been in such a muddle, what with the holidays, both Christmas and New Years…  So many things churning around in my head.  It’s just been difficult to come up with anything interesting to say other than that we are marking time, slowly making our way towards the Bahamas and just goin’ with the flow… what else can we do?

Once the excitement of our daughter’s engagement and our (now) son-in-law’s winging died down, we left Titusville and continued on our journey.  We stopped for one night in the Banana River near what is called Dragon Point, although the dragon for which it was named has long since disappeared.  We have some friends from home who have moved to this little town and keep their sailboat in the marina just south of the Mathers Bridge.  

I still love swing bridges
We opted to go through the swing bridge and anchor just north where we had the river to ourselves.  (N28°09.119’,W080°36.465’) The anchorages south of the bridge were very crowded… I guess nobody wants to wait for the bridge opening… which is “on demand” and not a problem at all…  We spent an enjoyable evening being fed and pampered, followed by a blissfully peaceful night.  

Morning - Time to go...

Living up to our resolution to sail more.

Happy hour our second night in Vero Beach
Weather is completely in control of our lives.  At this point, we are thinking that we can spare a couple of days in Vero Beach to visit with friends, top off our tanks, and then scurry onward to our staging point in Lake Worth where we would spend a solitary Christmas eve and then LEAP!

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave...
Vero Beach has a reputation for holding Cruisers far longer than their intended stay and once again, this proved true.  Weather didn’t look great for a crossing and Christmas was coming.  We had dear friends with whom to celebrate and access to everything we could need in the way of supplies and entertainment… so we stayed.  

We wiled away the days taking almost daily (free) bus trips to shop and dine.  We walked the streets for exercise, we enjoyed the warm temperatures and the beautiful beach.  We hung out with other Cruisers for happy hours and Christmas dinner.  We hosted dinners aboard our boat and enjoyed other dinners with friends aboard their boats…  It all merges to form a pleasant blur with the purpose of passing time until we got the weather OK to LEAP!
Lighted Kayak Christmas Carolers.

Big waves

Land of endless summer

The view.  Why do they look so young?

A favorite pastime

Finally there was a good looking weather window… we spent a day loading final provisions and topping off tanks, generally making ready for our departure from the US.  As we prepared for bed that night… Bruce asked me: “What do you know about dentists in the Bahamas?”…  WHAT!!!?  

So, we delay our departure again, miss our weather window and plunge into trying to get him a dental appointment at a time of year when many dentists take their vacations!  The best we could do was the following Monday… a work-in appointment for which we would have to “wait”.  

Our appointed dental visit day arrived.  We took two busses and walked a bit to arrive early at our appointment.  We sat for hours in the waiting room, forced to experience the dreaded “daytime television”.  It was blasting so loudly I couldn’t concentrate on my book… someone is now famous for being so addicted to alcohol that she drinks hand sanitizer… Oh my brain hurts from it!!!

By the end of the day, Bruce was finally next up to see the dentist but we had to leave to catch the bus back to the marina… so we left without Bruce being seen.  

The next day we tried again.  We parked ourselves on their doorstep until they saw him and ended up waiting less time… It wasn’t good.  There is a lot going on in Bruce’s mouth and their estimated cost of nearly SIX GRAND and six to eight weeks delay had our heads spinning.  This is definitely something we need to sleep on….  

Anchored in Peck Lake
Fast forward through a wet and dreary New Years Eve which was spent onboard in our jammies alone… Good or bad… we decide to go and try to see a dentist either in the Bahamas or if he can wait… to see his home dentist in May.  It looks like we have another weather window opening up a a couple of days so on New Year’s Morning we took off, next stop Peck Lake!  

Beach path
The anchorage at Peck Lake is one of our favorites.  It’s easy to get into and there is a wonderful beach.  We arrived in the early afternoon to find it full of boats but still room enough for us.  We walked the beach and enjoyed this peaceful place to contemplate the upcoming year… 

Easy to entertain...

Tiny Man-o-war were all over the beach.

My new worry stone.  I'm gonna need it!

Sunrise at Peck Lake

Once again we’re on the move, happy and hopeful (if not a bit anxious) that we would be enjoying a peaceful crossing and finally reaching our ultimate goal very soon…  We found our intended anchorage just south of Peanut Island blocked by dredge boats, so we picked a spot among the many other Cruisers staging to cross.

Gorgeous moonrise at Lake Worth
We enjoyed the rising nearly full moon and the sunsets and the feeling of knowing that in a couple of days, we will be joining dozens of other boats in a midnight departure with favorable conditions all around.  The moon, tide and winds would be, if not perfect… at least reasonable to assure an uneventful crossing.

Sacrificial anode has made the ultimate sacrifice
Until we tried to charge up our batteries and a warning light came on… We took off the covers on the generator to change out a belt and found a steady stream of salt water spurting into our engine room from a hole in the generator.  Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!

Long story short, we missed another weather window, resigned ourselves to at least another week here and ordered a part and several others for spares... and we wait until they arrive...

The water is gorgeous on the incoming tide

Lots of BIG boats coming and going

The beach at Peanut Island

View of the anchorage from Peanut Island

The moon was big every night

One of the frustrating things about Cruising is that we often find we have limited access to shore.  Florida especially seems to want to keep us out.  Not so here... We found the Palm Beach Sailing Club to be a welcoming and convenient place to get parts shipped.

They have a nice facility where they extend the welcome mat to us for a small fee.  We get access to shore for the dinghy, wonderful hot showers, wifi, water to fill our jerry jugs, and a couple of days a week, they have food service and happy hour at their bar.
Next time we'll bring a hose and fill the jugs in the dinghy

New part - old part
After a couple of free days, our parts arrived and we set about getting this thing installed so that we could be ready for the next weather opportunity for a crossing.

But our jinx was still in full effect... we couldn't get the bolts to bite.  After trying for what seemed like hours, we finally gave up with the realization that the holes in the generator weren't good.  We'll have to go in search of a tap and die set to fix the holes...

You can see where the marina, anchorage and PBSC are located
The forecast was calling for a couple of days of clouds and REALLY high winds...  So we took refuge at the nearby Riviera Beach Municipal Marina.

The docks are nice floating concrete, the people here are very welcoming, which is nice... there is a bus stop just outside the marina area.

Jetsam takes a little walk-about on the dock
So here we sit... spending more money and time than we really want to be spending... Contemplating life and how it throws curve balls just when you think you're getting somewhere.

"Don't worry... the Bahamas will still be there when you get there..." you say.  But our pet permits (the ones that took literally MONTHS and a couple hundred bucks to obtain) will expire on the 31st of January.  If we don't get there before then, we will be delayed yet again for who knows how long.

And the weather continues to be uncooperative as well...  so we hurry up and wait once again...

But for now we're in a safe and cozy spot where we have access to stuff.  We have unlimited water, I can clean and get the laundry done.  We can take the bus to Publix easily while we're here... and there's wifi!  Lovely fast wifi!

Cross your fingers that we can get this generator thing worked out before our permits expire and I lose my mind.