Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong
In part 1 of this article we left you as we were just steaming out of Brisbane, and heading south, bound for Perth on our big 3,200 NM delivery trip. A number of hiccups already had us leaving a number of days later than planned. Venilia had never really been sailed before and had been sitting proud in her Brisbane marina berth for a number of years, therefore, I was expecting a few things to go wrong during the delivery trip and they certainly did.
I will leave out the part at Jacob’s Well where we ran aground on a large falling tide, because, that was really just moderately bothersome in comparison.
One day in, after a whole lot of motoring, “Hey, how come the new batteries are almost flat?”
Just before leaving Brisbane, I had some local marine sparkies on board to give the DC system a good check before setting off on such a big trip. They replaced a woefully undersized cable and the 4 house batteries which were bulging, a sure sign of sulphation. Venilia has a current 12v house bank capacity of 450 A/H which is not enough for our requirements long term, but still an honest size that should keep us going until we are ready to start spending longer periods of time off the grid.
Unfortunately capacity is only useful if you have the charging system to fill it up, and we soon found Venilia’s setup was inadequate.
There were 3 charging sources on Venilia
- 1 medium (120w) and 1 small (40w) solar panel
- A very basic battery charger as you would buy at an auto store
- The engine alternator
We departed rather quickly after getting the new batteries installed and, due to the very inadequate charger, they were probably not fully charged when we threw the dock lines. This would not have been an issue since, due to unfavourable wind direction, we were planning on motoring for a good long while to begin this trip and the engine alternator should have been pumping power in during this time. It did not.
Damn you Murphy!
The one outstanding piece of equipment on this trip was our new Raymarine EV-400 hydraulic autopilot. It tracked straight, never complained and never cut out. Even when the battery voltage was getting as low as 11V.
Day 2, after some mild wave action, “Fellas, we did remember to bring some backup bottled water right?”
So, fresh water tanks on boats… Venilia has 2 of them, 2000 litres each and it would seem they had never been cleaned… ever. As soon as we were out in open water and there was a bit of movement, the sediment in the bottom of the tanks clearly got stirred up to make the water coming out of our taps look more like funky ginger beer.
All boats/RVs etc… are going to accumulate a layer of who knows what growing on the inside of the fresh water tanks. In fact, I am pretty confident the pipes in the street that bring water to your homes are just the same. On a boat/RV you need to keep control of the issue and clean them out, just like the water company occasionally does by flushing some cleaner solution through the pipes. Once or twice a year, you open up your boat tanks, purge them, put a mild bleach solution in for the night, flush again, scrub, etc… and then refill with fresh water again. Given the colour of the water we had at the taps, as well as the 3 inch thick layer of gunk I found at the bottom of the tanks when I did eventually get around to cleaning them, I would say it had NEVER been done.
Luckily… we did have the foresight to bring some bottled water. Not a whole lot of it, but enough (when combined with tap water filtered through a clean t’shirt) to keep us alive until we dropped anchor in Sydney.
Day 3, “Guys, remember all that hard work we put into cleaning the diesel out of the bilge? How do you feel about motor oil sloshing around?”
Day 4, after giving the motor a good rest and enjoying some sailing, “Ummm… the motor won’t start”
So you’ve got almost no power, no refrigeration and no water. Surely not much else could go wrong right?
After some glorious sailing, with a number of dolphin pods joining us on and off for a bow wave ride, we decided time had come to get the engine running again to power on to Sydney and get in during daylight hours. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Probably due to a slightly worn tooth on the starter motor pinion, the starter motor was unable to engage the fly wheel to turn the motor over and get things going. We spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with a mechanic to get assistance, but ended up doing more harm than good and never got the engine running.
This meant sailing on to Sydney, entering the leads late at night, in a lightning storm. Luckily due to the skipper’s great skill sailing the boat, we were able to make it into rush cutters bay just before midnight, drop the anchor in a designated anchorage and get some well deserved rest.
So where does that leave us?
With a number of issues to sort out before continuing on from Sydney. After some long delays (close to a week), I was eventually able to get a mechanic on board to remove the starter motor and send it off for rebuild. I was initially told it would be rebuilt and reinstalled on the boat with a week. That soon became 2 weeks, which then became 3. It’s at this point that the mechanic stopped answering my phone calls. Long story short, I could not afford the delays anymore and had to call it quits on the trip, leaving skipper and crew to take Venilia from Sydney to Perth for me while I got back to work in Perth to make some money to pay for all of this.
Before leaving, to deal with the charging problem, I purchased a smart inverter/charger that would ensure the house batteries would be cared for and charged when plugged in to shore power as well as supply 240v AC power to the boat when not plugged in. After another very long delay, almost 2 weeks, trying to find an electrician that didn’t mind doing the occasional bit of work (seriously, are all tradies really that busy?), we concluded that the house batteries were never linked to the alternator and only had the small solar panels to supply any power to them. Therefore, I purchased a clever relay thingybob controlled by the inverter/charger that would parallel the house batteries with the engine batteries as soon as the alternator had brought the engine batteries up to a programmed voltage and charge them all together. I would have had the electrician test the alternator as well, but due to the starter motor being off for rebuild, we could not do so on the day. We decided that the charging problem would more than likely be resolved by the fancy relay switch and didn’t worry about it any further… In part 3 of this article, you will see just how much of a poor decision that was.
Mechanic, electrician, carpenter, plumber, upholsterer, rigger, author, painter, sailmaker, navigator, meteorologist and captain of the S.V. Venilia.