Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Houston, we have a problem"

Just when we thought things were getting back to normal after the storm another reminder of the cruising learning curve came and paid a visit.

I was working on the computer when it went down (inverter problem) followed quickly by the charging system going down (battery problem).  I was watching the battery bank amps visibly bleeding out, and voltages dropping.  Ack!  No problem, I'll just start the boat and charge things up.  Click - click.  No go.  Boat won't start.

Before explaining what  happened I'll give you the sage advice most long term cruisers have probably learned the hard way.  1) Don't mix battery types in a charging system (i.e. Lead acid and Gell cells).  2) Don't trust amp hour readings - only look at Voltages.

Those of you saying "Of course you do those things," well... you're in the club already.  Now so am I.

When we bought this boat, the previous owner Max was to install all new batteries in the battery bank, which he did.  Four good deep cycle lead acid 6 V Golf cart batteries, plus a 12 V Starter battery.  Check.  Trouble was, the starter was a Gell Cell battery - which he told me was a sealed lead acid - and not reading Spanish - I wasn't able to argue the point.  In retrospect - the "sealed" part should have been the give-away.

Anyway...  so the problem is that our regulator has been overcharging the Gell Cell's (they accept a lower voltage) - and so the the Gell Cell Starter battery had a electrolyte boil off.   The bad Starter dragged the rest of the house bank ( the other 4 batteries) down, and me... well I was watching the amp hours available (which is an imaginary number since it is based on voltage only - and your word that the battery capacity is "X" - presuming "X" is a good value like 400 amp hours.  If the capacity of the batteries has been degraded the Voltage will still show fully charged - but the capacity is minimal.  Yeah, like a fully charged tricycle.

So once we figured out our House Bank was dragged down - we had to bring it back to life.  We stuck it on a charger for three days, and brought the capacity back so every cell was in the green with the hygrometer - which checks the specific gravity of the acid in the cells.  Now we've isolated the starter (which is now a pretty gutless battery) and we are back in business.  Dodged a bullet.

We probably will get a proper lead-acid 12 Volt Starter batter to replace our crummy one - thanks Max.  Trouble is that here in New Zealand they start at about $350.00 - roughly 3 times the cost back home.  We may wait till we get to a cheaper place.  Not sure yet.  Gotta love import taxes here.

So all is well.  Pedestal is basically done - excepting some varnish.  We'll go into the dock soon to clean our water tank - an annual job.  We also have to do some sail maintenance, replace a broken batten on the main, and get a tang welded to strengthen it.  Coming along.  Seems like most boats here have a list about as long or longer.

Everyone's got a cold - snuffles and stuff.  Tamsyn even has a low fever - she usually dodges these things, but not this time.  Carrie's brother Tim has had some medical problems that we are all concerned about, and that's been a bit of a worry.  We're also trying to figure out where we will head when we leave NZ.  Cheers.


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