Day 107 – Fire

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Wed 30 Mar 2022 08:24
Noon Position: 40 25.4 S 069 52.2 E
Course: ENE Speed: 6.5 knots
Wind: SW F7 Sea: rough
Swell: SW 3m
Weather: partly cloudy, occasional showers, mild
Day’s Run: 147nm

I did something silly yesterday, or, to be more precise, I did something silly a few weeks back which culminated in a near disaster yesterday. Indeed, I am rather embarrassed to admit to it but in the interests of maintaining the integrity of my blog I feel obliged to write the incident up.
I think I may have mentioned in a previous entry that I use a tablet for downloading weather faxes from the SSB radio. The weather fax app is inexpensive and works very well and the tablet is convenient and uses minimal power. On the down side the tablet can only be recharged through a micro-usb port which I have found can be easily damaged, as has been the case with the tablet. I had pulled the tablet apart to see if I could hook up a five volt power supply to the circuit board bypassing the USB port but the circuit board proved to be too compact to be able to solder any wires to, so initially I gave up on the idea. However, after a brief correspondence with the Ineffable, I decided to have another go at it, hooking up the wires to the battery side of the power supply instead of through the circuit board (not the Ineffable’s suggestion I should note).
And this worked, at least initially, with the tablet power meter showing 100% charge. However, over about a week, despite being plugged in, the power meter indicated the battery going flat until eventually it shut itself down. I figured one of my connections must be loose so I opened the tablet back up and had a poke around. When I put it back together again, once more it showed the battery state as 100%. Hooray, I thought again I had fixed it. But yesterday the power meter had once more dropped to zero and the tablet had shut itself down.
What a nuisance! But I am not easily defeated. I thought it might be a matter of unplugging the battery and resetting the battery meter, which I did and it worked – on restarting the tablet the meter once again showed 100%. I started putting the case back together when I noticed a slight bulge in the back of one of the two batteries. Knowing that lithium ion batteries can be very volatile I thought this a bit of a worry. And as I watched I was mildly alarmed to see the bulge getting bigger. Then I thought I could detect a wisp of smoke and I went from mildly alarmed to very concerned. I placed the tablet outside on the floor of the cockpit and, to my horror, a few moments later witnessed the battery issue an intense jet of orange flame from its side in an impressive pyrotechnic display. I grabbed the fire extinguisher and promptly gave the fire in the bottom of my cockpit a squirt of dry powder. The fire was out but there were two batteries in that tablet and one of them lay hot and smouldering next to the as yet undamaged battery. I contemplated throwing the tablet in a bucket of water or just leaving it lie, but after a few moments reflection, despite my concerns about polluting the ocean, decided the most prudent thing to do was to heave the remnants of the tablet over the side. And thus the burnt out shell of my tablet now lies beneath some 4.5 kilometres of water in the South Indian Ocean. I rationalise that if Sylph had caught fire a significantly greater amount of pollution might have followed.
I cannot help but ponder how much worse this story could have turned out and feel that I have been lucky that the consequences of my actions have been so minor. I guess the moral of the story is do not mess around with the power supply of devices that use lithium ion batteries, and don't buy devices that rely on a micro-usb port for their power supply (I believe this style of port has been phased out of almost all devices now). Now, having made my mea culpa, back to the sailing.
We continued with a fresh following breeze overnight, running wing-on-wing with three reefs in the main and 30% jib poled to starboard. The wind started to ease around midnight but the forecast was for it to freshen again so initially I decided against getting dressed and going on deck to set more sail. However, by 0300 Sylph was starting to complain, rolling about, her boom occasionally banging between preventer and mainsheet, so I went on deck, shook out a reef in the main and unrolled some jib. She picked up her skirts, as the old sailor's expression goes, and was happy once more.
At 0445 I was out of my bunk again, this time in all haste as a passing shower had brought a wind shift to which the wind vane self-steering was not able to respond quickly enough and the mainsail was caught aback. I didn’t waste time donning foul weather gear as the urgent thing to do was to release the vang-preventer and allow the mainsail to come across. That done, I returned below to get some basic protective clothing on before going back on deck to sort out the shaking sails. I adjusted the wind vane and used the tiller to bring the wind on to the port quarter then gybed the mainsail back over to port and returning Sylph to the previous heading and sail plan – running wing-on-wing with the wind on the starboard quarter.
As I write from down below, I was watching with interest a wave break just under Sylph’s stern. A mass of white foam frothed over the counter and looked like it was going to sweep into the cockpit but Sylph must have kept up with the wave for the white water just hissed and frothed away just above her taff rail and then subsided as the wave passed under us. ‘Well handled old girl’, I thought - not that we haven’t had some heavy breaks from time to time with water half filling Sylph’s cockpit, but these mostly come from the side. Sometimes a wave break over the windward side and sometimes a wave causes Sylph to roll heavily causing water to cascade into the cockpit from the leeward side, the latter seeming to cause more havoc than the former.
At 1100 the forecast wind increase duly arrived and we are now back down to three reefs in the main and 30% jib. I am happy to note that the wind is forecast to abate this evening to a moderate force five which I trust will allow for a restful night.
Amsterdam Island is now 390 miles ahead. I am looking forward to heading north and getting into the SE trades and, I hope, more pacific weather.
Advanced ship’s clocks one hour to time zone -5.
All is well.