Day 11 Technical Tantrums

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Sat 2 Jul 2016 21:56
Caleta Emelita, Isla O’Brian 

The forecast was for the wind to increase as the day went on so we made an early start. The wind was just off the nose so we motor-sailed the 13NM to Caleta Emelita on Isla O’Brian. The forecast for tomorrow (Sunday 3 July is for gales so we snugged down with 4 shorelines and the anchor and 60m of chain. 

The Darwin Range

Looking out from Caleta Emelita

It has to be said that I am quite proud of the fact that Kath and I completely rewired Caramor. Mainly because although I can Intellectually understand electricity, emotionally I find it difficult, it still smacks of magic. It’s a bit like heavier than air flight. Intellectually, I understand that if you have enough thrust from the engines and enough lift from the wings you can make 30 tons of aeroplane fly. Emotionally, I keep expecting it to fly like a brick. Kath usually deals with the electrics and my contributions are limited to sometimes ridiculous and sometimes amazingly insightful suggestions, and passing the tools.

Now between running the Eberspacher for heating and charging computers, we seemed to be needing to charge the batteries sooner than expected. In the sheltered Caletas, Thomas the wind generator doesn’t provide the juice he did in South Georgia and the Falklands. I came up with the bright idea of charging the computers while underway so as to make the most of the time we spend motoring.

At the end of the first day’s charging under way the laptop hadn’t charged at all and the tablet was charging very slowly. The computer helpfully stated: “Power source = adaptor. Battery not charging.” It was only 5 degrees in the cabin so we put the heater on. Might as well be warm while we try to figure this out. We checked the voltage of the batteries and they didn’t seem very charged for four hours motoring. We ran the engine. The alternator was charging according to the instrument panel, but when I put the meter on the house batteries the voltage was only 12.6 volts, I would have expected about 14.4. We turned over to the starter battery with the engine still running, 14.4 volts. Kath’s conclusion was that the alternator was fine, but that there was either a loose connection or a problem with the batteries themselves. She methodically traced the cables back from the alternator and bingo, one of the connections between the battery selector switch and the main fuse was loose. Kath sorted that and we cleaned and greased all the battery connections for good measure. House batteries 14.4 with the engine running, hurrah! Plugged in the laptop … charging! We sat down in our now lovely and warm cabin and celebrated with coffee and biscuits.

The next day, beautifully charged batteries, but the laptop still wasn’t charging. I tried the back up laptop with a different charger, same result. After turning on the heater we sat down and brainstormed the problem. Both chargers and both laptops couldn’t be faulty, so perhaps there was a fault in the circuit that fed the ‘cigarette lighter’ style power points. Kath worked her way methodically through the system, checking cleaning and WD40-ing everything. With bated breath we plugged the laptop in … it was charging! Once more we celebrated with coffee and biscuits and enjoyed the luxury of our, by now, lovely and warm cabin.

Unbelievably, when we we tried to charge the laptop underway today it wasn’t charging. In the anchorage with engine on or off it still wouldn’t charge. I stormed off above decks to find something sensible to deal with like rigging or mechanical issues, leaving Kath to deal with the ‘magic’ of electricity. Over lunch in the cockpit, only bearable because we were well clothed and there was no wind in the caleta, Kath told me that she thought she had figured it out. We had never tried charging underway in South Georgia because Thomas was providing all the energy we needed. The common factor in all our unexplained successes was that the batteries started charging when the cabin had warmed up! I was dumbstruck, could it really be as simple as that, the laptop batteries wouldn’t accept a charge because they were too cold? We switched on the heating and after a suitable interlude plugged in the laptop … hurrah! Told you it was magic!