Thursday, July 7, 2011

Every so often you get REALLY REALLY lucky

When I’m tackling a project that is peripherally or directly related to electricity the good elf on my shoulder often whispers “you need to disconnect that wire/shut off the breaker”.  Pesky bastard that he is, invariably I ignore him.  And about 75% of the time the project completes without incident.  Once in a while I get a shot of 110 volts up my arm or across a knuckle that reminds me why I need to be more careful about where I put a screwdriver.  And I’ve got a few wrenches with brands on them from inadvertent contact with a high DC current.

About a month ago now I replaced an alternator on the port engine.  When I was installing the new alternator it didn’t seem like it was properly aligned but I couldn’t see what I had done wrong.  I keep checking on it and it was working but I still wasn’t happy with the way the belt was running and last week I figured out why.  When I changed the diapers under that engine I found a little bit of pipe cut to act as a spacer and immediately realized that it had fallen when I took off the old alternator and was in fact the reason that the new one wasn’t perfectly aligned.  So today I got busy and removed the alternator so I could install this little bit of pipe on the mounting bracket.  Clearly not a project where a real man would need to disconnect the batteries.

Once I got the alternator free and checked the bracket I decided that it needed some 32 oz. adjustments.  (for those of you not familiar with that particular fine tuning method it is a very precise technique involving a 32 oz. or heavier hammer)  In the course of the adjustments the alternator fell from where I had carefully perched it so that I wouldn’t have to disconnect any of its wires.  On its way into the bilge I saw one teensy tiny little spark as the output touched ground and the field wire pulled out of its connector.  No biggie – I would have been happier if it hadn’t happened but no apparent damage. 

Then SWMBO started screeching from upstairs “THERE’S SMOKE COMING OUT OF THE VOLTAGE THING”.  I learned early in my amateur electronics career that smoke coming out of electrical things is never a good sign.  In fact my experience has been that it is universally terminal for the device in question.  By the time I got upstairs there was still a thread of smoke coming out of the panel so it smoked for a significant length of time.  I unplugged the ribbon connector, cursed my stupidity and returned to the dungeon to finish the alternator install all the while wondering how I was going to figure out exactly which bit of electronics in our extremely complex charging system I might have fried.

When I came back upstairs I reconnected the ribbon connector and everything seems to be working.  I still don’t believe that it is OK but so far I haven’t been able to find a real problem.  I’ve been obsessing about the display voltage – currently it appears to be floating the batteries at between 13.6 and 13.7 volts – but I don’t have a real baseline to compare that with.  The manual says it should float at 13.5 so its not a whole bunch different from that and it may in fact have been this way ever since December – I’ve just never watched it every five minutes.  Time will tell and the next time I have an option to disconnect something electrical I likely will.  The time after that ----- who knows?

We arrived back in Cow Bay the night before last around midnight.  We had dawdled on the dock in front of Anne’s house in Pender Harbour until around noon.  That got us to Nanaimo about 6:00 but slack at Dodd Narrows wasn’t until 8:00.  We ended up going through Dodd against about a 4 knot current around 7:00 and after that there weren’t a whole lot of good anchorages until we got so close to home that it didn’t make any sense to stop. 

We were getting so much entertainment off the VHF radio I didn’t really want to stop anyway.  In mid afternoon a woman called in a MAYDAY from inside a marina.  The coasties must get thoroughly fed up with the crap they have to listen to.  In this case they calmly asked her if maybe she had an anchor or dinghy that she could use to help herself and less than 10 minutes later she called back to say she was tied up at the dock.  They got another one in the early evening from a sailboat just outside of Nanaimo – they were becalmed.  There was a long pause before the coasties responded.  Then they asked “so there wouldn’t actually be anyone whose life is endangered by your situation would there?”

The best entertainment was a guy who called Comox Coast Guard in mid afternoon.  To his credit he didn’t call his problem a MAYDAY.  He was in something called Buccaneer Bay, which I haven’t bothered to find on the charts but which must be up near Comox.  Evidently he went into an anchorage on high tide, went too far up into the mud flats and then didn’t realize what he had done until his sailboat started to tip over on the ebbing tide.  He wanted a tow.  They chase the non-critical situations off to channel 83A and I didn’t bother following this one so I hadn’t heard any more when about an hour later there came another call to Comox Coast Guard.  This call was from another boater in the vicinity who asked the coasties “have you been following the situation here in Buccaneer Bay?”  They made some non-committal response and chased him up to 83A.

I thought this one sounded like it had legs so I followed them up to the new channel. The caller must have been anchored close by and evidently had taken his dinghy over to survey the situation. “You can’t get within 100 yards of this guy.  If anybody tries to tow him there’s going to be damage damage DAMAGE.  The best thing he can do is get busy and clean his bottom and wait for the high tide”.  It was pretty obvious the coasties were amused but they kept it professional and advised the new guy to talk to the stuck guy who was supposed to be monitoring 83A.  Nothing came of that but about 10 minutes later I heard the coasties on 16 telling stuck-guy that he wouldn’t likely get refloated until well after 8:00.  That wasn’t the news he wanted but evidently he had already called Sea-Tow so he was going to wait to see what they had to say.  By the sounds of it when they got there a tow truck would have been more useful than a tow boat.

We will be leaving here in about a week and I won’t miss the crap on the radio any more than I will miss the increasingly crowded waters.  We used to love being in the Shuswaps until about the time the Calgary Stampede wrapped up.  Then all the yahoos moved out to the BC interior and ripped up the peaceful water for the next 4 weeks.  It seems like a few of them also move out here to the left coast and create their particular brand of mayhem on these waters as well.

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