Be your own troubleshooter
In spite of my post yesterday about how helpful our friends Rayon and Mark have been, you really do need to be your own marine troubleshooter and repair guy. This point was once again driven home yesterday morning.
As we readied ourselves to raise anchor from Peter Island to head to Soper’s Hole to clear out with customs for our return trip to the USVI, I completed my normal engine checks and then, as I typically do, started them both up to run for a few moments. It was at that point that I discovered that the red charging light on our port engine, the one that Mark had fixed the day prior, was back on again. Only this time the situation was worse. Previously, the light was erroneously indicating that the alternator was not charging. This time the alternator actually wasn’t charging, proven by the gauge at the helm, our LinkPro battery monitor and later, my multimeter. Not good! The strange thing is, it was working the night before, or at least I thought that it was.
The source of our drama.
Assuming first that it must have had something to do with what Mark had done, I crawled into the engine compartment and inspected the wires leading to/from the alternator. One of the smaller wires had previously broken off and Mark had reattached it, crimping a small piece of wire to make the connection. My initial inspection netted nothing; everything looked OK. I even went back and forth between the two engines just to ensure that the wires on both sides looked to be configured identically.
Thinking that we could just be the victims of a very bad coincidence, I decided to check the most common (I think) source of charging problems: the alternator belt. I removed the cover and even though the belt looked and felt OK, I decided to tighten it up. Of course, this bit of work was complicated by a couple of things. First, one of the bushings which fits around a bolt holding the cover on dropped and bounced under the engine, a space that is just a bit too tight for my hand to escape without getting cut. No, this is not the first time that I have dropped something under the engine and yes, I draw blood every time I work to retrieve the item that has fallen! After getting the bushing back, we were faced with a second delay. For some strange reason, when I tightened the alternator cover back on again and then started the engine, we found that the cover was rubbing on something. Stopping that from occurring was a whole other bit of drama and once sorted some time later, we were still no better off than before. The engine was still not charging the starting battery.
At this point I was just about ready to give up and head back to the USVI anyway, figuring that I would address the problem again once there. Before we left though, I wanted to check on one thing first. I needed to ensure that if need be, the generator could charge the starting batteries. Firing the gen set up, our battery monitor was easily able to show us that yes, it was actually charging them. Satisfied with that, Rebecca moved to the bow to operate the windlass and I took my place at the helm. The only thing is, when she pushed the button on the windlass control to begin raising the anchor, nothing happened. Rebecca immediately assumed that the windlass breaker had somehow gotten switched off. That was a good thought but I had a much worse feeling. Whatever issue we were having with the alternator was also preventing the windlass from working (the windlass is in some way connected to the port engine alternator). Apparently we weren’t yet done with our troubleshooting!
Back in the engine I went for an even closer inspection. I took notes on the wires and once again, compared them to the starboard alternator. Hoping that it was just a loose connection causing our issues, I re-crimped the terminals. It was during this act that a small wire broke off from one of the crimps. Presumably, it had been broken off inside the crimp but had not yet come apart so as to become visible. That had to be the problem. Fortunately for us, we carry quite a selection of electrical terminals on the boat, and a good crimper. Once the problem had been discovered, I was able to affect repairs pretty easily. And yes, all was well after the wire was reattached. The alternator was charging the battery, the red light went out and the windlass started functioning again.
How long did all that take? My guess is a couple of hours. Why, during all this, didn’t I call Rayon to see if he could help? Well, to tell the truth, I did. Even though I knew it was his only day off (so was the day prior though when he did all that work for us), I had hoped to at least pick his brain for suggestions. Unfortunately, he didn’t answer. After we fixed the issue though and were underway towards Soper’s, he called me back after seeing our number on his phone, apologizing for not being available. I told him that all was well and the drama had been averted. Until next time.
Note: I was under the impression that the engine needed to be running and thus the alternator charging for the windlass to operate. Our friend Wiley had this to say: “If you just turn the key the windlass will work. I believe there is some sort of automatic isolation transformer of sorts that is actuated by the ignition being on… It saved a lot of bareboaters from draining their port engine start battery when I worked for The Moorings.” I verified that this morning and it’s true. You do only need to turn the key to make it work although if you’re raising or lowering the anchor, chances are you probably have the engines running anyway.