Ups and Downs.

Mon 2 May 2011 04:34
Monday, 2nd May
Position last night  2:05.7S 105:13.35E
Well, my diurnal clock is upside down for starters. Generally the days have been flat calm, with a storm each night lasting from 2 to 6 hours. My ears are ringing with the sound of the kitchen timer rousing me from my bunk, as I try to cat-nap in between traffic and weather checks. Right now I'm in the middle of the Bangka Strait: a hundred miles long, with flat mangroves on the south shore (Sumatra), whilst the Island of Bangka is dotted with hills. We have mirage conditions right now, so you can see the peaks of the hills, but then a clear gap to the horizon. The Strait is up to 20 miles wide, so, except at the various headlands, there is not much to look at. The water is brown, so there must be some big rivers running in, hope not to find any submerged logs.
Bit of a panic two days ago, when I scalded my leg on the ships battery box! Lifted the lid and very acrid fumes: diagnosis? boiling batteries. Treatment?, well, not here in the middle of the nightly storm. So shut down as much as possible, and tried to just keep them on 'simmer'! Calm seas by morning calmed me too, and after a long morning stemming the foul tide, I turned the corner into the Strait, looking to anchor in the first bay possible. Almost immediately a bright coloured local open boat with a big outboard drew up alongside, and a young man leapt aboard. Pointing to his cap, he indicated that he was the Port Policeman. I don't think that his Tshirt was standard issue uniform, but he did seem friendly enough, and sat down to attemp an interrogation. Neither of us acquitted ourselves very well, so he asked to see my documents instead, cellphoning the info back to base, Then he took out some money and indicated that I should give him some. I went below and opened my wallet: stuffed with notes for different countries, but hadn't noticed that he had followed me, and was now looking over my shoulder. I was suddenly quite frightened. But we should be more trusting. Eventually it was clear that he collected banknotes from differnt ships: he showed me his collection: Vietnam, Italy (Lires!). So he just wanted an English note. Well, I did have a crisp new £20 one, but that seemed a little outside the spirit of the rules, so I kept it hidden, and eventually he tired of the game, didn't want any of my now redundant Sri Lankan money, and summoned up his launch, which drew up alongside, and off he went.
Decided that I should put a little distance between this chap's village and my boat, so travelled on a bit, then headed for a deserted bit of shore and dropped anchor when it bacame shallow: about 2 miles out! Spent the rest of the day topping up the batteries, looking for dud cells. There were none obviously shorted out, so I decided to blame the voltage regulator: which meant changing the alternator on the engine. Drenched in sweat by the time all this was done, because in these temperatures it takes about a day for the engine block to cool down comfortably. Puddles of sweat on the floor as well. Nearly dark as I finished and tested everything: alternator absolutely dead! Remember when cars regularly broke down?  We would open the bonnet and pull on things, pretending that we knew what to do, but fooling no-one. So I pulled on a few things, all of which turned out to be very hot, then for some strange reason, noticed that a little red light, which I had only noticed for the first time a couple of weeks ago, wasn't illuminated. Diagnosis no 2: burnt out fuse on the charge splitter. A complex but rather vital bit of the system. Usually a fuse blows for a good (ie bad) reason, But it was possible that in changing the alternators I had somehow failed to disconect it properly, and that the splitter blew its fuse to defend itself. So, worth just changing the fuse, to see what would happen. No, I didn't have a spare mini 5 amp car type fuse: so had to rig a different sort of 5 amp fuse in a real Heath Robinson setup: and hey presto, all well. Outcome is that I'm right now putting in just 3.4 amps of float charge, before the boil we had 10 amps of top up going into fully charged batteries. Still not quite sure that I understand everything, and I suspect these batteries, only a year old, may have a problem. But for now they are fragrant, and a lot cooler.
Decided to stay put for the night. Supper was a can of chick peas, a packet of instant noodles, and a fried egg, less that 5 mins gas time, but two saucepans. Next time I'm going to break the egg over the hot noodles and veg, and see if it will poach itself without the yolk breaking up: less fat, and only one saucepan then! Two chapters of War and Peace, then fast asleep by 21.00 hours. Woken at 02.00 by the anchor watch alarm: 20 kts of wind and drifting fast onto the now lee shore. Remembered that in my haste yesteday I had just chucked that anchor overboard, but had not set it. Anyway there were quite big waves already, so the only thing to do was up anchor and set out for the day. That was 9 hours ago. The wind quickly abated, and we have calm seas, and some cloud cover too. So, up and down, but at least I didn't have to watch you know what on the telly.