January 21, 2020

Lights out...

Under the heading of When Things Go Wrong...
In summer 2018, peacefully at anchor one sunny afternoon, our 12V DC power shut down.
Everything off. 
No sound. No sparks. No smoke. No smell. No alarms. Zippo... Nada...
And no battery power anywhere...

Ruht Roh...
And no high load before this occurred [just the usual stuff averaging ~12 amps 12V DC…]
It was as though the 350 amp primary feed fuse at the batteries silently blew [which was my first fleeting thought…]
I decided to do some tracing and grabbed a VOM to test for voltage on the [few] 4/0 positive [and negative] cable connections starting at the battery bank.

12.7V DC at the batteries— before and after the 350A fuse protecting the boat from a direct short in the 4/0 feed from the battery bank. [Meaning the 350A fuse right at the battery bank is not blown.] Good.
Hmmm… the alternator on the engine still has 12.7 volts…   [This also means the high amperage fuse connecting the alternator output to the battery bank isn't blown.] Good.
Next in line is the emergency DC power disconnect switch in the pilothouse. This switch kills all power from the house battery bank to everything else on the boat, so I continued there [after first confirming it had not been accidentally switched off—  by no one...]
OK; 12.7 volts on the input [battery] side of the switch… Good.  
But no voltage on the output side... Hmmmm?...  Not good...
[Yup, the switch was on and cool to the touch…]
I toggled the switch off and on a few [dozen] times [hoping to remove corrosion on the contacts, or toggle contacts fully into position, or make is magically start working...?] 

No change. Still no battery power.

Apparently the switch just suddenly [and silently] died— and with just the ambient 12V DC load… [e.g., No surge of current from running a welder off the inverter... I exaggerate…]
Having no spare switch onboard [but several in our storage facility...] I ended up just bypassing the switch to put us back online. [Thankfully, the switch was the only culprit, the root cause of this issue.]

This seemed absurd at the time because one never expects a high amperage switch that has maybe been cycled a handful of times in its life to catastrophically fail out of the blue— especially with no appreciable electrical load…
On the plus side, that is the right way to fail… [vs. discovering you cannot disconnect battery power... in an emergency…]

Remember, this is the switch to be quickly turned off in the event the symptoms listed above present themselves... [Smoke, sparks, 'electrical smell', lights dimming and flashing, etc...]
What happened?
After I removed the switch, I noticed one of the 3/8″ cable connection studs on the back was loose; the other wasn’t. I suspect a connection inside the switch [solder/weld?] just suddenly yielded, unceremoniously breaking the circuit. [I didn't care enough to tear it down as it was to be replaced with something different... more below...]
Perhaps the  4/0 cables hanging on it induced a strain that over time broke the bolt’s connection to the switch? [Inadequate strain relief? The cables were firmly secured inches from their attachment point on the switch... Over tightened when installed in 1999 by the previous owners? Manufacturing/design defect? Poltergeist? Who knows...]
But— remember our story started out that it was a warm and sunny afternoon… so it wasn’t all bad… 

Doesn't Murphy mandate events like this are supposed to happen when it it is pitch black and stormy, the boat is bucking at anchor like a bronco, and you have only been asleep for an hour after a long day, and perhaps you are even coming down with the flu, or are seasick…?  [Oh, and the first 3 flashlights you grab have weak batteries...]

Looks like Murphy gave us a pass this time... and...

The dead switch has since been replaced

The new 500A [continuous] emergency cut-off switch [shown with key removed...]
[Different manufacturer from the one being replaced...]
Our lessons learned include: 
  • Always troubleshoot from the bottom up [To determine the root cause, start with the roots... and don't ignore other possible contributing factors...]
  • Never assume you immediately know what has happened [Don't believe everything you think...]
  • Be prepared for any component to fail without warning or apparent cause at any time [AKA Cruising...]

Are there any proactive measures/ preventative maintenance to help mitigate something like this from re-occurring?  
Leave a comment... I'm all ears...

This post began life as my reply to the question:
"What’s the most ridiculous repair you’ve done on your boat?"  
[Asked by our friends on SV Galapagos in their We're in Hot Water post;  7-Mar-2019]

January 11, 2020

Friday Funny 01-10/20 (Winter is Not Just Coming, It"s Here!)

It's not just me either, we're a hacking, blowing, achey duo. This means I have no ambition to write a post, I just want to watch Netflix, and drink hot liquids.

Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating with us, I have been out shoveling snow more days than I want to remember since the first of the month. My lungs are feeling better than Bill's, so I've kept our dock finger clean, and made sure the water hose, and power cord are free, and clear. I even dug out the car last Monday, but it's covered in snow again. The harbor staff clean the main docks with a 4-wheeler, and snowplow. Now NOAA has us in a "winter storm warning", with heavy snow from 6:00pm Thursday to 3:00pm Friday with up to 10 additional inches. When we have dug ourselves out of that, the temperatures are going to drop into the single digits, as low as 5degrees. WTH! I'm pretty sure I read a prognosticator's report about how we were supposed to have a mild winter. OH SO WRONG! I know, I'm whining, and you are a captive audience, so you can just click on the X and close the page if you'd like. See you next time.

All cleaned up, and ready for the next dump of snow.

One of days out shoveling I looked north, and this is what I saw:

Black clouds!

Then when I looked south this was the view:

Blue sky, and the sun setting.

Here is the weather map Bill posted on our Facebook, Denali Rose Sailboat page.

Add caption

Bill rallied yesterday, and went shopping. He found that even though the barge comes in on Tuesday, most of the shelves were getting quite bare. Everyone here is stocking up, and preparing for winter storms, and the possibility that the next barge will be delayed. I'm doing my part today, getting all the laundry done, and going out to shovel snow as soon as there is a small break. Then I'll top up the water tanks, so we'll be ready.

The power went off this morning, in Wrangell, and Petersburg, which is on the next island north. The local power provider switched over to the diesel generators, from the hydroelectric feed, and got everyone back online. 


Bill helped our neighbor put in a new diesel heater on his boat, the heater appears to be working well, insulation, not so much. Most boats don't have much from the manufacturer, usually you have to put it in yourself.

So yes, Fairbanks, where we moved from, has been having sub -20/-30/-40's, and I'm glad to be out of that, but we're having our Alaskan winter challenges here also. 

As always, we enjoy hearing from you, either here in comments or on our Facebook Denali Rose Sailboat page.