Tuesday, June 3, 2014


We arrived in Petersburg late yesterday afternoon.  We were in Petersburg about 2 weeks ago but Marilyn didn’t want to stop that time.  Evidently they were having some kind of annual Norwegian festival.  With all due respect to our many Norwegian friends, partying with Vikings just wasn’t on our bucket list for Alaska.  So that time we cruised right on by and anchored that night in Portage Bay. 


The icebergs in Tracy Arm were pretty.  Scary but pretty.


Fortunately the damn floating hotels were taking a day off on Sunday.  There were none on Sunday and three of the miserable SOBs on Monday.

Yesterday we wanted to be in Petersburg for a couple of reasons.  First off it sounds like kind of an interesting place when they aren’t wearing Viking helmets and drinking grog.  Second it is directly in the path of the Mermaid.  When we left Cow Bay the theory was that we would connect with dockmate Currie onboard Mermaid somewhere around the north end of Vancouver Island.  Clearly that plan was a bust.  We were in Ketchikan the day that Currie untied from the dock at Cow Bay.


Petersburg is very old with lots of history (and really really big tides)


We’re snuggled in with the fish boats again.  You can see us in this picture, sort of, if you know where we are, but we’re far from easy to spot.  The Mermaid is about halfway between the end of the cannery pier and the right hand side of the photo.


More low tide.

Finally we have connected but it wasn’t easy.  I talked to Currie on the phone while he was still in Prince Rupert.  Then I tried repeatedly to contact him but all I could get was some Spanish speaking broad who told me in both English and Spanish that I couldn’t speak to Currie.  Somewhere along our travels it became clear to me that it made sense for us to connect with Currie in Petersburg but I was worried that he might be expecting us in Kake.  I didn’t want to miss him but the damn Spanish woman was interfering with my ability to make plans.  So finally yesterday I spammed Currie’s email contacts with a request for an alternate phone number onboard the Mermaid.  Then I phoned Currie again and this time he answered. 

As it turned out he was in Wrangell fixing a busted anchor.  So we agreed that we would meet today in Petersburg and we headed for the famous Norwegian town, arriving late in the day yesterday.  When we arrived we discovered that we couldn’t connect to their power system.  They have just built a new marina here and it has ground fault plugs on the dock.  We have had serious difficulty with GFI plugs in the past with the bus.  On one memorable occasion Marilyn succeeded in getting ordered to “eff off with your effing big effing bus and don’t effing come back”.  Cooler heads prevailed on that occasion and we didn’t in fact eff off at all but our experience with ground fault plugs has been less than pleasant over the years.  And it wasn’t much better yesterday.

Initially I convinced myself that the problem was on the dock.  Ultimately the problem turned out to be a little blue box under our dash that was connected across the ground and neutral conductors.  It didn’t appear to be serving any useful purpose now, if in fact it ever did, so I disconnected it, our ground fault went away and now we are powered.  Currie arrived about the time I was figuring out our power.  We were less fortunate with his power connection so he is forced to run his generator tonight.  His boat is considerably older than ours (built in 1938) but it has relatively current electrics and I was overall impressed with the quality of the installation.  Some of the maintenance less so but we should have been able to find his ground fault and we clearly failed to do so. 

There’s a couple of pretty good electricians that I know read this nonsense I write fairly regularly.  The rest of you may wish to skip the rest of this post.  For the electrically inclined among you, the situation is as follows:

Power comes onboard through a standard Marinco male 30 amp connector mounted to an external part of the hull.  From there there is a run of 10 gauge shore cable approximately 15 feet long that goes relatively directly to the box containing the generator transfer switch.  My first step was to measure resistance between the ground and neutral conductors on the Marinco connector and that showed a dead short.  We next went to the transfer switch box, disconnected the incoming white conductor  and again measured resistance between ground and neutral.  At this point I was measuring resistance between the incoming white (disconnected from the boat side but still attached to the Marinco outlet) and the green system onboard which was still connected to the Marinco.  That test showed connectivity.

Says I to myself “This is good! The fault must clearly be in the Marinco connector – easy fix!!”  However, when I tested the Marinco connector it has no connectivity between the green and white.  Then we briefly surmised that there must be a junction box somewhere between the transfer switch box and the Marinco but there is no such box.  As near as we can tell, the cable makes a homerun from the transfer box directly to the Marinco connector.  I can’t see anywhere that the cable has been pierced by a screw or nail but that’s really the only explanation I can come up with at this point.  Somehow that white conductor between the transfer box and the Marinco has connectivity to the green system onboard but that connection is NOT through the Marinco itself.  If the cable is pierced then the connectivity could (at least theoretically) be throw the salt water because the green AC system onboard is bonded to the electrolysis bonding system which is directly in contact with seawater through the zincs.  I’m baffled.

All was not lost, we did discover a seriously burnt hot conductor inside the Marinco which we insisted that Currie replace at once.  The mating end on his power cord is in equally bad shape and I intend to shame him into doing something about that as well but I haven’t got to that yet.  I lay awake about 3 hours last night trying to figure out what else might be causing the ground fault problem.  I was unsuccessful in my midnight deliberations but I welcome any and all suggestions.

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