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Ahhhhh the purr of the generator

October 31, 2014

Never did Melissa think she would be so happy to hear the sound of the generator.  Dave is plumb wore out.  But he fixed it.  Those following this saga will know that when we got back to the boat the generator ran for a couple of hours and then died.  The next day, Dave spent most of the day diagnosing the issue.  It became clear that there was not enough voltage coming out of the generator to keep the generator circuitry running.  After the generator is started, in addition to producing AC power to the boat, one of the circuits inside the generator is used to power the generator itself.  Dave could see that the voltage regulator didn't have enough voltage coming out of it and according to all the diagnostic tests in the user manual, it appeared that the voltage regulator had gone bad.  Some web research also confirmed that a voltage regulator failure is relatively common.  So we placed an order for a new voltage regulator ($600).  The Kohler dealer promised us 5 to 7 business days, but delivered it yesterday in only 3 business days.  So last night Dave plugged in the new voltage regulator, but no dice.  This was seriously a not good thing as the only diagnostics remaining to be done inside the generator itself.  This is foreign territory for MacGyver who knows engines like the back of his hand, but had never torn a generator apart.  Knows the theory alright, but never actually had to service one.  Out came the service manuals and schematics.  (Oh the humiliation of having to read the manual!)

 Dave opens up the generator and promptly finds a broken wire.  Broken clean off.  

Ok, that's gotta be it, right?  So he solders the wire back on.  And... no dice.  Runs for a few seconds then dies.  Ok, so maybe its over temping because the out-hull is plugged?  The generator automatically shuts down when it gets hot.  And while we were gone, lots of creatures made their home in the small thru holes for the generator and engine cooling systems.  In fact, on Wanuskewin there were fish that had obviously made their home in these holes.  So Dave goes out in the dingy and cleans out the thru hulls - which were somewhat clogged.  Still no dice.

Ok, so then, maybe its the rectifier board.  The rectifier board converts AC to DC power to power the main field.  (Have we lost you yet?  At this point Melissa is just typing what Dave tells her to type in the blog.) Here's Dave testing the diodes on the rectifier circuit board.

Alas, that wasn't it either.  The only other thing it can be (gulp!) is the windings themselves inside the generator.  This is way bad as to fix windings you actually have to pull the whole generator out, and that's going to involve pulleys, hoists and pullers.  At this point, Mike has shown up with his portable generator to give us some power as we are dying because its cloudy and the solar cells arn't keeping up.  Mike reads off to Dave which pins should have connectivity through the windings of the starter circuit.  Sure enough, they find a winding that is broken inside the generator.  Crap.  This is way bad.  But wait.  Dave notices that the test for the voltage regulator does not actually use this winding.  Hmmmm.  Maybe he can rewire the voltage regulator into a different winding and take the bad winding out.  He wires it up.  He and Mike have a conversation about where the fire extinguisher is should they need it.  Then they start 'er up.  Ta da!  It worked!!!!  Mike promptly heads over to Wanuskewin and brings back cold beers for everyone!  Whew!

Oh, and just for grins, Dave put back in the old voltage regulator and, low and behold, it works just fine.  So if the dealer won't take the part back, we will have spare in stores.

Oh, and that broken wire that Dave fixed?  Turns out that at some point, probably before we bought the boat, that wire broke and as a result another of the windings wasn't functioning.  Fixing that wire means the generator now has increased power output.  Gotta love that.  

In the end, we don't know why the winding failed.  Probably a mechanical issue - boats vibrate and the generator itself vibrates like crazy.  So we will be fine using Dave's hot-wiring unless another winding inside the generator dies - in which case its going to be a multi-day job with tool rentals and multiple guys helping to get it fixed.  Fingers crossed that doesn't happen.

Ahhhh.  Air conditioning.  And as we write this, the fridge is beginning to cool down.  Tomorrow we go grocery shopping baby!

Good news bad news

October 30, 2014

This morning Melissa picked up the passports at the embassy with their newly added blank pages.  They are ridiculously thick now.

MacGyver began to debug the starter issue in earnest today.  A few days ago he determined that the reason we've had trouble with the starter since we bought the boat is because there is a voltage drop between the starter and the start key in the cockpit.  Figuring that maybe there was an issue with a lose connection somewhere in the circuit, he tried tracing out the wiring.  Alas it wasn't that simple.  After some head scratching he finally dug out the engine manuals and started reading.  Turns out that the recommended installation says that if the run between the starter and the start switch is more than 20 feet, that there should be a relay installed to ensure that the voltage applied to the starter solenoid is high enough.  But there's no relay in the circuit.  Dave rolls his eyes.  Whoever did the original installation probably thought that it worked well enough when all the wires and connections were bright shiny and new, but over time the long run of wires to the cockpit switch got to the point where the starter wouldn't work reliably.  Unfortunately we don't have any relays aboard of the right type.  But Dave had bought some solenoids for the wind generator installation project yet to be completed.  He had planned to use them to divert power from the wind generator to the hot water tank when the batteries are full.  But he figures they will work for the starter.  So he pulls them out and starts looking at them and thinking about how to wire one into the circuit.  While staring at the new solenoid, he remembers there is an unused old solenoid already in the electrical compartment mounted to the wall.  When we bought the boat the old solenoid was being used to combine the house and starter batteries together when the engine is running so they both get charged.  But Dave didn't like that design.  He changed the battery circuit so that the batteries are connected together whenever any charging source (generator, engine, solar) is engaged.  This left the old solenoid unused, and located in exactly the right spot to be wired into the starter circuit.

Dave connected it up, and voila!  The starter switch now reliably starts the engine.  

That was the good news.  Now for the bad news.  The generator part arrived late today - 4 days earlier than the earliest estimate the Kohler shop had given us.  We were super excited that maybe we'd have a working generator tonight - which means working refrigeration and dare we say it, air conditioning!  Alas when Dave installed the new voltage regulator the generator still won't run.  Dave's current theory is that when the voltage regulator blew out it took some diodes in the rectifier circuit with it.  Problem is that the rectifier circuit is inside the generator.  So tomorrow Dave will start tearing apart the generator itself.

Pollyanna Visits the US Embassy

October 29, 2014

This morning Melissa got up bright and early as she had an 8am appointment at the US Embassy to get blank pages added to all four of our passports.  All of us are down to about 6 blank pages, and given that we burned three blank pages in the past two months of traveling, we all knew we needed new blank pages before leaving Panama.  In both the South Pacific where Mike and Holly are headed, and the Caribbean side where we are headed - often a new island means a new country and stamps in your passport.  So our 6 blank remaining pages weren't going to get any of us very far.

She had it in her head that an 8am appointment meant there was an actual human with a corresponding appointment on their calendar at 8am.  So she arrived at the embassy a few minutes early to ensure she wouldn't be late.  She had four passports with her, and one appointment.  The website implied that you needed four appointments, but the first calendar day showing four appointments all on the same day was mid-November.  Its clear that not all four of us had to show up - Melissa could carry them all to the embassy assuming everyone had signed their applications - just wasn't clear whether they were going to allow Melissa to get them all processed due to the appointment issue.

She arrives at the embassy and first you have to go through security.  It was clear they had built a new security building outside the main building so that if you carried a bomb in, all you could blow up was the small bunker like security building you pass through before walking up the hill to the main building.  Reason it was clear that this was a new installation is that there were dusty metal detectors in the lobby of the main building - where security used to be located some years back.  Once inside the main building, she was directed to "take a number" and wait her turn.  Ok, hang on, what's all this about an 8am appointment if you have to take a number when you get there?  Imagining that the embassy was some kind of "how can we help you Ms Pollyanna American Citizen in a foreign country" thing was the opposite end from the truth.  In reality the consulate services is 90% about helping the locals get visas to immigrate or visit the US, and only maybe 10% about helping Americans.  There were 15 bullet proof glass windows - only two of which were designated to help citizens and only one of which was operating.  There were 50 people waiting for the immigration or visa services and two of us Americans.

Melissa waits her turn and goes to the window for American citizen services.  The clerk promptly explains she needs four appointments.  Can't Melissa see how busy they are?  Melissa pleads stupidity over the whole appointment thing.  She begs the clerk to process all four.  Saying that she has come a long way to the embassy.  The bureaucrat rolls her eyes as if Melissa could not possibly be asking such an inconvenience as to want additional pages glued into four passports instead of one.  (Like seriously, how long could that possibly take?  Probably less than this dressing down about not having enough appointments.)  The bureaucrat glares at Melissa and says she will go ask someone if it is ok.  She returns to the window and says that they will process all four, but Melissa will have to return tomorrow to pick them up rather than getting same day service.  Apparently that's the punishment - another round trip taxi ride.  Oh well, probably better than waiting around all day at the embassy for them to do it the same day anyhow.

For the additional pages we paid $82 x 4 = $328.  Completely ridiculous.  And the kicker is that because we are on the embassy mailing list, we got notified a while back that embassies around the world are going to discontinue the service of adding passport pages to passports.  And according to the passport processing site, the EXPEDITED service to add pages back in the US takes 2 to 3 weeks.  So folks - start asking for the additional pages in your passport when you renew so you can avoid this whole bit of nonsense!

Meanwhile MacGyver was busy back on the boat replacing the air conditioner control head for the forward air conditioning unit.  When he installed the new unit back in June, it turned out that the thermostat control panel was incompatible with the unit controller.  He made it all work by attaching the old controller to the new air conditioning compressor, because the old controller was compatible with our existing thermostat control.  Meanwhile we had ordered a new thermostat controller so that we could upgrade the thermostat and controller so that everything would be new.  MacGyver got it all installed, but we can't test it till the generator is up and running.  The generator voltage regulator is in country, and they are telling us we might be able to get it as early as Friday!

Whale Song

October 28, 2014

We were sitting down below, both working on our computers, when we heard a strange sound.  As boats are noisy, Melissa barely registered it.  But Dave said, "Hey, I think that was a whale!"  Melissa looked up and the sound she had just heard finally registered.  And indeed, it sounded just like the recorded whale songs we have heard.  Must have been a close humpback but when we ran up on deck there was no sign of it.  Not unusual as they can swim for 30 minutes underwater without coming up.  This is the first time we've ever heard one though so it was super cool.

Dave has been worried about our water pump for a while.  It tends to come on about every minute or so for a few seconds.  It shouldn't come on unless we are using water at the sink or shower.  So either we had a small water leak somewhere, or the pump one-way valve that prevents back flow was failing.  Sure enough,MacGyver connected the pump intake to a small container of water.  The pump would cycle then shut off, and then slowly water would back flow from the pump back into the bucket (i.e. water going the wrong way) and then the pump would come on, sucking back into the system the water that had flowed backwards till it pressurized the system again.  So the water would flow back out of the pump, the pump would turn on and pump the water back into the system, over and over again.  MacGyver tried cleaning out the old pump, and that improved things a bit, but didn't fix it.  So he replaced the pump with the spare we bought 18 months ago before leaving Seattle.  No fun since the pump is located inside one of the couches in the main cabin - so he spent most of the day inside a small cupboard sweating like crazy.  Melissa ordered another spare pump to replenish the spares kit.  Melissa's job is way easier than MacGyver's.  Melissa also replaced the broken part on the anchor chain winch that she broke some months ago.  Took about 10 minutes.  Yep, Melissa has it easy compared to MacGyver .

Melissa has been struggling to keep our Carbonite backup's up to date.  We love Carbonite - its a cloud backup system that seamlessly ensures that our data is backed up in such a way that even if the boat were to sink, we would be able to very easily restore our laptops even if they go down with the ship.  It runs in the background and automagically keeps the computer backed up whenever we have a good internet connection.  Problem is that in the past month while traveling, we've not had good internet, and now where we are in Panama we only have a cellular data connection - that limits us to 3 GB's of high speed data per month.  And in the past month, we've gotten 35 GB behind in backup of pictures and videos from the trip to Peru and the Galapagos.  Its not clear when we will be able to catch up that much data.  So yesterday Melissa went and purchased a new 1 Terrabyte external hard drive ($89).  We will back up the pictures and video to the new drive so at least there is some type of backup of everything whenever we can't connect to Carbonite or whenever we get this far behind in data backups that we know we will be at risk for a while.  Yes, if the ship goes down we will be at risk of losing pictures and video, but if the ship goes down, that will probably be the least of our worries.

Parts everywhere parts

October 27, 2014

Today we headed into town to pickup all the boat parts we had shipped here in our absence.  The anchorage was so rocky that Dave had a heck of a time even getting the big boxes out of the dingy and onto the deck without having anything go in the water.  It took hours to unpack and stow everything from printer ink cartridges to a new heat exchanger for the engine.  This means Dave has a number of additional boat projects for which he now has the parts.

Meanwhile, Melissa had headed into the mall to get a pile of errands done - including ordering a new pair of glasses.  She got a doctor's appointment to be measured for the new prescription with only a 15 minute wait - during which she picked out a new frame.  The doctor didn't speak much english, but if you've been through an eye exam before its obvious when he asks is "this or that lens better?"  The total bill - including the new glasses with anti-scratch lenses and a name brand frame was $120.   Gotta love that.  They should be ready for pick up no later than Monday.

Dodging Big Ships

October 26, 2014

This morning we decided to move the boat over to an anchorage just outside Panama City called Las Playas.  Its not much of an anchorage, but we have to pick up numerous boat parts that were ordered in our absence and taking everything aboard the ferry to Taboga Island wasn't practical.  This meant we had to cross the shipping channel directly outside the panama canal.  Wanuskewin had done this a couple of times while we were gone, but it was something to be dodging all the ships at anchor and underway on the short 1 hour trip across.  The anchorage is a very rolly one because it is right next to the shipping lanes so the wake from every ship going through the canal rolls us around day and night.  Bleck.  We will be here just long enough to conduct our business and go back to Taboga Island.

At some point within the past few days, one of our websites (www.limerickproperties.com) stopped working.  We have five websites - and this was the only one not working.  Melissa did a trace and discovered that the main record in the .COM servers had been removed - so to the internet it was as if the domain didn't even exist.  Turns out that at some point a law was enacted that requires domain registrars to verify your email contact information.  So they send an email to you with a verification link - similar to when you set up a new account with anyone who wants to do an email account verification cycle.  Problem is that when NameZero (our original domain registrar) sold out to Dotster (our current domain registrar) they defaulted the contact email to contact@limerickproperties.com - or similar for all our websites.  This is an invalid email address - hence the verification email went into the ether.  At some point Dave had fixed the contact email on all the other websites.  But for whatever reason the limerickproperties one got missed.  Two hours later everything was operational again...

Start your engines!

October 25, 2014

Because the generator isn’t working, we can’t start the boat using the starter switch.  This is because there’s been a long standing problem where the main engine battery voltage drops before it reaches the starter.  Dave hasn’t bothered to debug it because if we started the generator first, we could always start the engine.  But without the generator we wanted to determine whether we are “dead in the water” so to speak.  But Dave quickly determined that he could hot wire the starter by putting starter battery voltage directly to the starter – thereby bypassing the wiring between the starter, the start switch up in the cockpit, and the battery.  This means that the voltage drop is somewhere in the wiring – probably a loose connection somewhere.

Melissa got word from Sail magazine that they aren’t going to publish her Nicaragua article.  They made her remove all the inland travel and focus on the anchorages, which she did – precisely as asked.  But then they decided it was too dry.  Well, duh.  Melissa has been pinging the editor every two weeks to ask whether they wanted more changes to the article, but the editor waited until two months after Melissa submitted the revised article to notify her that they weren’t going to publish it.  Oh, and the editor also waited till her last day before quitting the magazine to send Melissa the email.  Well, time to submit the original more interesting article to some other magazines!

Generator is busted but good

October 24, 2014

This morning MacGyver began work on the generator which stopped working last night.  It took the better part of the day to determine that the voltage regulator assembly has failed.  Now to see if we can find one here in Panama.  Melissa located the Kohler dealer down here and looks like it will be 1 to 2 weeks.  Meanwhile being without a generator means no air conditioning and very little refrigeration.  So that means we are eating canned food or going ashore.  And until the generator is working he can’t debug the problems with the air conditioning systems either.  This means he will be at the “Mr. Fix It” routine for a while.

Boat Needs Work

October 23, 2014

When we got up it was late.  Our goal this morning had been to sleep in!  Then we headed off to get some lunch.  We found a cute café and sat down for some excellent lasagna.  As fine a béchamel sauce as we’ve had.  Mmmm.  As we were sitting there, these three characters came to stand and wait for their bus.  Melissa took out the camera, but they spotted it immediately and had to pose.  Kids are the same the world over.

Then it was time to grab the ferry back to where the boat has been parked for two and a half months.  We were anxious to see how she fared while we were gone.  We were happy when we got aboard to find that the there was some mold, but it wasn’t too bad.  Dave’s dehumidifier and the open bottles of Clorox seem to have helped.  The pillows all had some mold and the bed had a few spots of mold.  And there was some on the cabinets.  Melissa immediately started scrubbing everything down with a diluted bleach solution to try and kill all the mold and spores.  A couple of hours of cleaning and the main and aft cabins are clean. The forward cabin will have to wait for daylight.  Mid way though the water tank we were running on went dry.  Melissa asked Dave to switch tanks, and a quick check of the water tank gauges indicated we were totally out of water.  What the devil?  We know we had 50+ gallons when we left the boat.  After thinking maybe we had a tank with a slow leak, Dave discovered that it was the tank gauge that wasn’t working.

Dave fired up the generator so we could turn on the water maker and the air conditioner.  Hmmm.  Both the forward and aft air conditioners are acting up.  Ok, gonna have to look at that tomorrow.  But then the generator shuts down.  Uh oh.  Not good.  Dave finds there are a bunch of small fish in the sea strainer.  He cleans it out and turns it back on.  Runs for a while and quits again.  This is not good.  Let us hope when Dave goes to work on it tomorrow it isn’t anything major…  Regardless, Dave is happy to be back aboard his boat with projects to work on.

Meanwhile, Dave was working on fixing one of our hand held radios.  It was a super cheap one he bought from China at the start of this trip for $35.  The speaker in it had died.  So he ordered a new speaker for $1 and was able to resolder it tonight and now the radio is working again.  Of course, we also ordered another two new ones for $35 each.  So now we are swimming in hand held radios.  But that’s ok, cuz we already sent one overboard a while back.  So having spares is a good thing.

Casco Viejo in Panama City

October 22, 2014

Another early morning wake up call to board the flights from Lima back to Panama City.  Since leaving Seattle we've been on 14 flights and stayed at 28 different hotels.  We will be happy to finally make it back to sleeping in our own beds.  But we are still one night away from that because our flight into Panama arrives after the last ferry departs to where our boat is moored.  So we are spending the night in a small hotel in the Casco Viejo district of Panama City.  Its a cool old colonial part of town.


Lots of hotels and small restaurants are here as the old french colonial style buildings are very quickly being refurbished.

Though buildings like the one above can be found right next door to a building that looks like this one.  Rumor is that there are a lot of squatters living in these old run down buildings that are awaiting renovation.  This means that the district is an odd mix of upscale cars and people right along side some fairly questionable types that you wouldn't want to meet on a dark alley at night. 

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