Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sparks will fly

Cruising is full of surprises. Some are good, like meeting people in a bar and becoming friends. Some are bad, like an early morning start to sailing to your next island and smelling something electrical burning.

We were in Bequia and leaving before sunrise to head up the chain to St Lucia. Way too early for us two. We were like zombies getting the boat prepped for voyage and it was time to start the engine and let her warm up. We are not 'start and go' people when it comes to systems. We like them to run up a bit and then we check to make sure everything is hunky dory. Hell we are not start and go with anything especially getting an early start, as our old "buddy boat" knows.

Something smelled wrong. We had not showered in a few days but this was something unrelated to the body.

Our engine room blower exits at deck level and if something is burning in there we will know it quickly and we sure did that morning. I thought it smelled electrical and Deb thought it smelled like a belt burning. I went below to find the alternator smoking and when the engine room door opened the smoke alarm went off and I yelled for Deb to shut the engine down. We went from peaceful easy morning to WTF IS HAPPENING! in just a few minutes and I am not sure our early morning zombie brains could really get a handle on it.

After a quick inspection for anything obvious we started back up and I checked the current from the alternator to the batteries. Damn, not much there for trying to restore a bank at 85%. We shut her down again and I gave Debra the bad news that the alternator was probably shot. I came to this conclusion when molten stuff was flying out of the vents accompanied by smoke and the distinct smell of electrical components burning. Deb just put her head in her hands realizing we are staying for a while and then said we are heading back. "Too many failures. This season is jinxed and I am not going any further risking a disabled boat." I understood.

This engine has always had a high output alternator. I didn't want one so I removed the old 135 amp beast and tried to put an 80 amp in it's place but everyone talked me into at least a 100 amp unit. Our Yanmar 4jh does not like anything that size even with a 1/2 inch belt but I listened to the experts and went with the Balmar 100 amp super expensive alternator with the ARS-5 super deluxe regulator. Wow. I felt superior. Superior and poor. That shit was expensive.

One year into cruising and the ARS-5 lit up like a roman candle and ate itself in the Abacos. Two years later the Alternator did the same thing. Son of a ...

Everyone online thought we were doomed. No way will you find an alternator in Bequia. Out of sheer luck we did. There was a Hitachi internally regulated 80 amp alternator in a box on a shelf in some obscure little shop behind a hairdresser and under some palm trees run by a sleepy guy who really wanted to help and knew his gear. The only thing he didn't know was if the thing was internally or externally regulated. There were no model numbers anywhere. The box it came in was not the original. It was a sketchy deal but we were desperate sailors.

We found this guy by stopping at the local chandlery where a young Aussie fellow said he knows a guy who can help and to go to the petrol station and cross the street to a field with a bodega/shop. Go behind the shop and follow the path to a gate. Go through the gate and ask for Cary. We found Cary and he said we need to go see Piper. Take the back road towards the church and he is on the right by the hair cutters but don't go past the church.

We bought the alternator from Piper after verifying through Wifi that we had the right style. Unfortunately there were no wiring diagrams and the wifi on the boat is extremely poor but what the hell, there are only three termination points to deal with. I should be good.

It didn't work. The alternator case was only marked with 'Batt' nothing else. I assumed the negative batt cable went to the terminal in contact with the case. Wrong. I assumed the blue wire coming out the side of the case was the field wire. Wrong. I assumed the alternator was externally regulated. Wrong. I suck at this. Correct!

To make a rather long story short (not short enough you say) I found some patience and waited for Debra to search for a schematic. We found one from some forum and some random dude bitching about his Hitachi alternator wiring. He sketched the correct wiring with explanation of the terminals. Awesome!

Our internally regulated alternator (damn) had the negative batt cable relocated to the correct terminal (not grounded) and there is no field wire (internal regulator) and the vertical blade on the T-connector is the ignition wire. Let's go make some amps! Nope. The random dude had the wrong terminal on the T-connector. Now let's go make some amps! Ta Da!

This morning we will start the engine while the batts are down about 70 amp hrs and we should see the alternator kick in with a full load. Hoping not to see smoke or burning belts or smelling anything burning except the spliff from the lobster guy.


Paradise. More like Pair a Dice. Every voyage is a roll of the dice. You feeling lucky?

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