10/10/2015 – Problem solving

John always jokes that he likes sailing because he likes solving problems. I like problem solving in a less practical, more cerebral way like Sudoku, crosswords etc! That is not to say that I can’t contribute ideas, however the practical work falls to the skipper. One problem which John has discovered recently concerns one of the alternators on the engine, the one charging the domestic bank of batteries. We knew it was wrecked when the heat exchanger burst a pipe fitting, spraying sea water around the engine bay en route to Christmas Island. There was nothing we could do there to source a replacement so we have to rely on the generator to charge the domestic bank, which in turn depletes the engine start battery. Theoretically we can charge that one by running the engine in neutral or connecting the two battery banks but that is where one of the problems manifested itself. The expensive diesel pump we bought on Christmas Island doesn’t prime itself easily so we had started the engine once a day to try to keep some fuel in the pipes then found that the engine battery wasn’t charging. John has discovered that the fan belt is loose so no great problem there; of more concern however is the domestic battery alternator which drives the water pump even if it fails to provide electricity. It has two fan belts, newly replaced in Darwin, however the alignment of the alternator has shifted, shedding one of the belts so the engine is now only going to be risked for the final approach to the harbour. So far so good. These problems will be solved when we get to Mauritius. Thursday evening the generator suddenly stopped, showing the red oil pressure light. This promptly became a matter of extreme concern: no engine, no generator and insufficient solar power to fuel our needs. We have been there before, in the Tuamotus, where Chez Nous kindly lent us a 2Kw portable generator. This time we still had about 800 miles to go. Next morning John spent about an hour reading through the owner’s manual then changed into filthy working clothes to lay across the engine to attack the generator. He spotted the problem very quickly, a plug had fallen off a fuel valve; who mounts plugs upside down? It is now held firmly in place with an elastic band. The generator started but produced no power, hmmm. If the unit is switched off while still under load the important heavy lump inside can become demagnetised and we know how to fix it, when the generator suddenly stopped it was under load. The solution was again quickly found, a circuit breaker had switched off. It helps that John understands electricity and engines, I wouldn’t have known where to start. The one problem concerning sailing was the damaged spinnaker pole track on the mast. While the wind was from up to 120 degrees from the bow we had a chance to fill the genoa on the same side of the boat as the main but when the wind backed to almost straight behind the genoa was practically useless, blanketed by the main. A bit of lateral thinking and John came up with a solution. A Twistle Rig (or Twizzle Rig: Google is your friend) can use a rope universal joint to join the inboard ends of two poles together and has a downhaul pulling the poles forward and an uphaul pulling them back. The twin headsails are pulled out by the pole ends but the middle can flex and swing from side to side and it’s supposed to cause less roll. John came up with a one sided Twistle type rig, the inboard end is tied to cleats on the mast, replacing the uphaul on the original design. A downhaul is fitted to the same point on the pole and is led forward to a bow cleat to prevent the pole hitting the mast. We now have a working pole. Sailing has been a little frustrating, I’ll just list our daily runs for the last few days and I think it will be obvious. Tuesday 147 nM, OK; Wednesday 160 nM, great we might make next Tuesday; Thursday 116 nM, at this rate next Thursday looks more likely; Friday 132nM, but only because we had 6 hours of good wind around dawn, the afternoon was dire; Saturday 146 nM, acceptable. The heady days of 160+ miles seem ages ago, we are now hoping for a dawn arrival on Wednesday! At least if the wind is disappointing the seas are fairly calm and we enjoy showers without adding to the bruise count (you always get bruises sailing!) You know that you are a cruiser if the doctor questions you about spousal abuse! I have completed the stitching of 7 Christmas cards so far, hopefully 2 more will be finished by the time we arrive in Mauritius. Light clouds, no rain and safe winds; the days are relaxed and enjoyable. We’ve started to come across shipping. We seem to be crossing an uncontrolled shipping lane between Indonesia and S.Africa, skirting round the southern end of Madagaskar. We are nearly parallel to their course and sometimes have them on both sides at the same time with us sailing down the middle. Thank goodness for AIS as we have seen four ships in alternating directions with us in the middle! Joyce

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