April 15, 2009.
We had planned to leave at first light so I was up at 0530. Unfortunately, there was the deep rumble of thunder off to our west. Since the first leg of our journey was to be to the west I didn’t want to take the chance of sailing into a storm cell that wasn’t yet visible in the early morning grayness. Plus, Christy said to set the alarm for 30 minutes later.
Chris Parkers weather report showed favorable conditions for traveling north, but there was going to be scattered, possibly violent squall activity. The consensus among the boats in the anchorage was that pulling the hooks at 0700 and heading out was the thing to do.
At ten to seven I turned the key and the engine no starty. F*#k. I went below and arked the starter and the engine cranked right over but refused to catch. Usually, if the engine turns over and refuses to start it’s either a fuel problem or a fuel problem. But there was more to be considered…….
Last night when checking all the fluid levels and the engine room in general I found the alternator belt had started to delaminate. So I removed the water pump belt to access and replace the alternator belt. The new alternator belt was a much tighter fit than the old one but I was able to just barely make it fit.
So, naturally since I had been messing with the alternator only the night before I figured I must have broken or unplugged a wire somehow. There are three poles on the top of the alternator case and all three still had their wires attached. Then I traced all the wires and found nothing broken. I did however find that the engine mounted ignition breaker had tripped. I reset it and went above and turned the key to the run position and heard the tiny *click* of the breaker once again popping. Crap. There must be a short somewhere.
Every time I turned the key the breaker instantly popped. So I removed the ignition panel from the bulkhead to begin troubleshooting. In the meantime, Christy radioed some of the other boats that we weren’t able to get underway. Now I was feeling incredible pressure, I knew I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t help it. I know that people want to help but I just can’t stand being responsible for someone missing their opportunity to move on. If they didn’t leave today they’d probably be stuck here for a few days before another weather window opened for them. The jump across to Abaco from the north end of Eleuthera can be pretty nasty so decent weather is very important. I was sure I could figure out the problem if I could just sit and think it through, instead of trying to frantically find the problem so I didn’t hold everybody up.
The Blown Aways were adamant about not leaving us. They have to be back in the states in two weeks and if they get stuck here for a few days their trip to the Abacos would become a mad dash and kind of pointless. They might as well leave straight from here and head back to the states. How could I be responsible for that? No matter what I said “that we’re in a well protected secure anchorage, that there’s the well stocked town of Spanish Wells only a half hour dinghy ride away” his reply was that we just can’t leave you. I was pretty sure I could get everything squared away if I could just slow down and spend some time with Nigel Caulder’s excellent book on electrical and mechanical boat systems.
0900 was pretty much the cutoff time for getting underway and still being able to make the next anchorage in Abaco before dusk. Finally succumbing to my pressure our friends on Fine Lion, Sapphire and even Blown Away headed out. I appreciated that they were willing to delay or even forego their trip to help us. If I thought that I was in over my head I would have been glad to get the help. I just felt in this instance it wasn’t justified and just being responsible for them possibly staying here was crushing me.
During all of this I had removed the ignition panel. I individually checked the ignition switch itself, then the starter button and the pre heat button. All were fine. I kept coming back to the feeling that this wasn’t coincidence; I must have screwed something up the night before. Every time I checked something and it wasn’t the problem I found myself back at the alternator fondling and retracing those 3 wires to no avail.
Then I ran through the troubleshooting procedures for the starter solenoid and then the preheat solenoid in an effort to find what was tripping that breaker. No love. I was sitting on the settee with the electrical schematic for the ignition system and checking things one at a time.
I still felt it had to be something I had done so I was reading the section of Nigel’s book dealing with the alternator. As it happened the alternator he uses in some of the pictures is our exact alternator. I could see the 4 wires clear as a bell. 4 WIRES? There were 3 poles across the top of the unit and another pole on the bottom corner.
I got my mirror and checked and sure enough there was the problem, the fourth pole. The wire was still firmly attached but the tightness of the new belt had pulled the alternator over just enough that the pole was barely pressed up against the engine block causing a short.
I loosened the alternator and pried it away, retightened it, reset the breaker and at 1015 the boat fired right up. The pole was very close to the engine block at only a sixteenth of an inch away but that’s the best I could do without over tightening the belt. I figured after the belt runs a bit it will stretch allowing me to adjust it to a more proper clearance.
We called Blown Away and told them we were an hour behind them and underway. Because of our heading and the wind direction I wasn’t sure that we would be using the mainsail today. With the wind dead on the stern it often blankets the more powerful genoa and there was no way I was doing 55 miles wing and wing in rolly conditions. So for the first time in as long as I can remember we left an anchorage with no mainsail up.
We left the anchorage’s narrow entrance and pounded south for a couple of hundred yards dead into a nasty 5 foot chop and 20 knots of wind. Then we had to turn west for 2 miles before starting our run north. During this 2 mile stretch to the west things took a turn for the worse. The engine died. Oh Shit.
We were in 15 feet of water about 300 yards off a lee shore composed entirely of stone. Christy immediately turned into the wind while I began to raise the mainsail. Without enough speed to maintain steerage I couldn’t keep the sail from getting tangled in the lazy jacks. The boat was pretty much at a standstill and before it could fall off, I dumped the anchor and ninety feet of chain into the water.
The hook immediately set and saved the day. While Christy monitored our position I went below to find that the alternator had eased its way back so that the fourth pole was once again causing a short. The good news was that the belt had already stretched a bit and I was able to adjust it to keep the alternator a quarter of an inch away from the engine block. I reset the breaker and Veranda once again started right up. I hauled the hook and having had enough excitement for one day I finished raising the mainsail just in case.
We had to make tracks so we had to motorsail north often hitting 8 knots as we hurried in an effort to arrive before dark. The excitement still wasn’t over for the day…..
The waterspouts we had seen the other day were just average, run of the mill water borne tornados. Today we saw the mother of all waterspouts.
It was massive. The spout slowly made its way down from the clouds until it reached the waters surface. The thing that made this spout so special is that it had to be close to a half mile wide and kept its form for at least a half an hour. It finally did fade away and we spent a bit of time dodging storm cells just in case another one decided to form.
The entrance to Little Harbor in Abaco can be scary as hell. The opening is very wide with only a deep center section. It’s pretty scary watching the waves break over the reef on either side of you as you transit the unmarked deeper center section. Fortunately we had a perfect day for our first time entering this cut and surfed in on large slow rollers. We made it by the skin of our teeth as we entered the cut at 1900 hours just 30 minutes before sunset. It was calm enough that I would have been able to do it in the dark but after the way the day started, I was glad I didn’t have to.
We dropped the hook 20 minutes later and went about putting the boat back together. All my tools, books and schematics were still where I had left them when we fired up the boat. I even had to reassemble and reinstall the ignition panel as there just wasn’t time in the morning.
So…..we’re in the Abacos.