More Headwinds and Flat Batteries

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Mon 6 Jan 2020 01:26
Noon Position: 36 00.5 S 160 20.2 E
Course: ENE Speed: 6 knots
Wind: SE, F4 moderate breeze
Sea: moderate. Swell: S 2.5 m
Weather: partly cloudy, mild
Day’s run: 109 nm

Overnight the wind freshened some more, to 25-30 knots and, unfortunately, from ahead. I decided to opt for a comfortable night (relatively speaking) rather than pushing the crew too hard. So, at sunset I reduced sail to two reefs in the main, furled the jib and set the small staysail. The smaller sail area reduced Sylph’s heel significantly and made for a much easier motion without sacrificing much speed. Indeed, I was surprised to see that after reducing sail we were still averaging seven knots. The investment in a little bit of comfort and some quality sleep for the watch below was well worth the loss of a couple of knots of speed.

Over the last few days we have not had a lot of sun. Consequently, a few hours after sunset I was not surprised to see the battery voltage down to 12.2 volts. I tried to start the engine but it would not turn over. The engine batteries are separate from the house batteries so the low voltage should not have affected the engine. I decided to leave it for now and attend to it when conditions eased.

I came on watch at midnight and found the batteries down to 12.0 volts. The wind had eased a little and the cockpit was reasonably dry so I took the risk of running the portable genset for a while. Twenty minutes later we were back up to 13 volts (actually not a good sign to have recharged so quickly). I tried starting the motor but still no joy. I suspected a damp connection in one of the plugs between the engine and the control panel. Quietly, so as not to disturb Kate, I opened the engine box hatches and prodded at the some of the connections but still no luck. Next, I had a look at the plug under the floorboards. I pulled it apart and found that one of the connections was loose. I cleaned the connectors, sprayed them with some WD40, rejoined the plug and had another go. This time the engine started. Hooray! I shut down the genset and ran the engine for twenty minutes. This, I hoped, would keep the batteries sufficiently charged until morning. Kate relieved me at 0300 and I turned in for few hours.

Up again for my watch at 0600, I was disappointed to see that the batteries were down to 9.5 volts. Very flat! Sylph’s electrical systems were effectively all dead. Kate made me a cup of tea while I pulled up floorboards to inspect the two battery banks and their wiring. Eventually I worked out that the battery switch was set to the wrong bank. Consequently the engine batteries had been providing power to the house services as well as to the engine while the house batteries were sitting idle, fully charged at 12.9 volts and only cross connecting into the system when the engine batteries were above 12.5 volts (the battery isolation switch is supposed to work the other way round). I changed the switch over which brought all the house systems back online, including the GPS and chart plotter, and once again used the little genset to put some charge back into the engine batteries. Twenty minutes later I tried starting the engine again. It started! Kate could now turn in for some overdue sleep while I continued keeping watch. I suspect I will have to replace the engine battery bank sometime soon.

Meanwhile the wind, while still from ahead, has eased back to a more congenial 15 knots. I have shaken a reef out of the main and reset the jib. Sylph punches forward towards New Zealand… 612 miles to North Cape.

Kate’s poem:

Day 4

Grey and lumpy
like porridge
Like Doing Time
With a stiff upper lip.
The cell is cramped and damp
The can is small and smells
No sharps
No larks
No exercise yard
It’s certain death, other side
of the perilous perimeter fence.
One strong coffee a day
The cook’s addicted to liquor
but doesn’t have any
and it shows.
Yer git wot yer given
Anything goes.
Outside is wild
but I’m inside with me mate
we’ve planned our escape
from Australia.


Hmm … All is well (I think).