Since getting our sailboat here at the end of May, I have been spending my weekends working on a variety of boat projects instead of keeping up with this blog.
It started the very first weekend in June when I took the Coconut Grove Sailing Club water taxi out to the boat and tried to start the engine. All the starter did was make clicking noises. There wasn't enough oomph in the batteries to turn over the engine. My first instinct was to blame Mike and Kevin, who had stayed on the boat in the shore power-free mooring field for a few days after our arrival from Mexico but probably hadn't thought to run the engine to keep the batteries charged or to change the battery switch from "Both" to "2" to preserve the starter battery.
Weighing my options, I decided it might be a good time to install the PowerFilm solar panels I had bought last year but never taken out of the boxes. Not remembering that I had all the cables I needed somewhere on the boat, I went to West Marine and bought components to build a cable that would plug the panels into one of the cigarette lighter adapters and charge the batteries. The cable worked, or at least the little green lights on its ends lit up, but the batteries did not charge. If anything, they ran further down, since now the starter wouldn't even click. It could have been that I didn't have a diode or charge controller in the circuit to prevent the panels from draining the batteries when the sun wasn't shining.
The next option was to pull the starter battery and take it ashore to get it charged. The Sailing Club has a charger available for use by members, but there was a long line of batteries waiting to be charged. Not wanting to wait a few days during which the bilge pump was not running and the stuffing box was slowly dripping water into the bilge, I bought a charger from West Marine. It indicated that the battery was fully charged. I reinstalled it, confirmed that the engine still wouldn't start, and pulled the two house batteries. Each required extensive charging, which made me hopeful that the problem would be solved. Sure enough, after reinstalling them, the engine fired right up.
I moved on to other projects, like measuring for the new Doyle CradleCover I was ordering and taking down the mainsail to have the Super Sailmakers people attach the fittings for the new TideTrack system I was installing. (See Strictly Sail at the Miami Boat Show for more information on both products.) Each weekend, I started the engine and ran it for at least fifteen minutes to charge the batteries. Eventually, it wouldn't start again. When I talked about the situation with my friend Pompeii, who is a professional boat person from Cuba, he told me I needed new batteries. The current batteries were the ones that came with the boat when we bought it in 2010 and they were at least two years old then. Sorry, Mike and Kevin. It wasn't your fault; the batteries were old and would have died soon anyway. Pompeii was very specific with his advice. He told me to go to DC Battery in North Miami and buy three new AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) batteries. So I did. At sixty-five pounds each, installing the batteries in the tight space of the extremely hot engine room was one of the most difficult physical things I have done in a long while. I was sweating so hard I worried I would short one out or electrocute myself.
That was last Saturday. This morning, I returned to the boat for the first time in a week and the engine fired up immediately. Feeling confident, I attacked the solar panel project again. I had ordered a controller and I had found the missing cable, plus I had located some excellent testing instructions online. With everything connected together, my multimeter indicated that amps were most definitely flowing from the panels to the batteries. Life was good! That should end my nightmares about having the boat sink at its mooring after the bilge pump fails due to dead batteries.
Bob at Super Sailmakers says the CradleCover should arrive at his shop tomorrow. It acts as both a sail cover and a set of lazy jacks, and makes quickly dousing the mainsail as safe and quick as possible. If I can convince Pompeii to help me install it next weekend, Nan and I may finally be ready to take the boat out by ourselves.
This blog is an account of the pursuit of a dream, to sail around the world. It is named after the sailboat that will fulfill that dream one day, Whispering Jesse. If you share the dream, please join me and we'll take the journey together.
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For Charlie and Scout
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