The Sky Is Falling In Paradise

We’ve said our goodbyes to the Fijians of Nadi Bay and are ready to hoist Dazzler’s anchor. We start Dazzler’s motor first usually to help recharge the batteries from the night’s usage. Headsets are charged and in place as I head to the bow for the anchor retrieval ritual. I’ve removed the anchor snubber and started to use the windlass to retrieve the chain. It rotates about five times and then slows to a gradual stop followed by smoke rising out of the chain locker. That can’t be good! What the H E double hockey sticks is going on? Well, using the windlass to retrieve the anchor isn’t going to happen this morning. The double gun retrieval method is employed along with the winching tool to break the anchor free of the sea floor. Great! Now I’ve got a project after we get anchor down for the evening.

Clear of the reef surrounding the anchorage we continue running the main engine for recharge. We hoist the mainsail on a path into a head wind. As we round the southeast corner of Vanua Levu we hoist the jib and finish with the engine. Nice! The sound of near silence as we sail along in paradise.

After about two hours of sailing we decide we need to drop some sail and start the engine to navigate through some reef areas along our route. Turning the ignition key results in a click followed by the electronics flashing off and then back on but no cranking of the starter. WHAT NOW?

We are now forced to sail Dazzler through the reef strewn area and into our anchorage in Bua Bay for the night. The anchorage in Bua Bay is still about 10 miles away. Not really a big deal. Jilly is a bit on pins and needles though.

I contact Lutz on SuAn to bounce around a couple of possible ideas as to what may be wrong. At the very least we know the starter has to be removed regardless of the outcome. So while underway, I grab my tools, remove the cowling around the front of the engine and start to remove the starter. About a 30 minute job. Two things for sure are now a fact. Dazzler has no way of magically starting and we have to sail into the anchorage and drop anchor under sail. Jilly’s eyes get really big about this time. And her reply is, “What?”

Well after a few hours we navigate several reefs and sail into a great anchorage and drop our anchor as planned in about 30 feet of water. Tada! Jilly was ready for the anchor down beverage at this time.

Lucky for us we have internet and phone service here and we’re able to make a few calls to a Yanmar dealer and to a place for potential starter rebuilds in Suvasuva. Once that was done, I started getting out the replacement motor for the windlass and started to get things ready for diving into that project to find out what was wrong.

First I needed to remove more anchor chain as well as the secondary chain and rode so I could access the anchor locker to remove the existing windlass motor. Done!
As I start working on the removal of the windlass motor I realize I didn’t have on my “Work Shorts,” and I had gotten some grease on my shorts. Jilly tells me to take those shorts off. When I start towards my locker, Jilly tells me to just work in my underwear. I was losing daylight so I jumped into the anchor locker wearing a tee shirt and my black Jockey underwear. At this point modesty was out the window.

Windlass motor was now removed and the replacement motor installed. Great. Now let’s check the windlass. Depressed the foot switch and….drum roll….nothing. Step two. Remove the headliner of the V-berth to gain access to the terminal connections of the deck mounted foot switch. I found the connections to be a little loose so I tightened them down, but it still didn’t work. Okay. I now have to pull the foot switch out of the deck and look for my spare foot switch. The one that I thought I had. Humm. After looking where I thought the switch was stored without success, I suddenly remembered possibly selling it at a La Cruz boater’s swap meet. At that time I thought why do I need an extra foot switch? I had just replaced it. Well I know that won’t happen again. I guess I’ll become a boat hoarder. That will be a new reality TV series. Ha ha ha!

Back to the repair. Knowing I don’t have a working switch, I decide to pull from my McGiver roots and make it somehow work until it can be replaced. I disassemble the foot switch to find that some heat damaged it. The warped switch didn’t allow the metal plate of the plunger switch to come in contact with the metal contacts posts. The plastic housing that the posts were set into melted a bit allowing the plunger to push the contact points further downward out of contact with the plunger plate. I needed to somehow raise the contact points upward so the plunger plate could come back in contact with the contact points. With the contact points too low, I decided to use a pencil torch against the studs to remelt the plastic around them and then tap out the bolts with a hammer. Success! Both bolts removed without cracking the switch housing. Now I took a nylon washer and cut it to fit into the opening under the contact points. This seemed to work as planned. I then needed to find out if the plunger plate would now make contact against the contact points to complete a circuit. The plunger is partially made of what looks like the same material as the case housing which means the plastic was sturdy. While examining the plunger assembly complete with a metal washer type plate and spring, the spring fell off into my hand. Whoops! That isn’t supposed to happen. Now what? I figured that I needed to reattach the spring with the metal washer plate and the plunger. I decided that a positive mechanical fix would be best. I sanded down the broken end of the plunger and drilled a hole into the end for a small self tapping screw. The head of the screw was larger than the tapered head of the spring so bingo. The screw held the spring and metal washer in place and fastened nicely to the bottom of the plastic plunger. With the foot switch all put back together a continuity test revealed some more tweaking needed to be done before it was ready for installation. It was then reinstalled on deck. Drum role please…..success!
It was now time to reassemble everything taken apart for the repair, put the tools away, have a shower and a cold one.

During some email correspondence with Curly Carswell, a long time resident of SavuSavu, for some suggestions for a starter repair facility in Savusavu. He supplied us with a contact named Paul that could rent a car, drive, 1.5 hours to Bua Bay, pick me up with our starter, drive back to Suvasuva, repair the starter and then drive me back to Bua Bay. The rental car fee would have been $135 Fijian dollars and his fee per hour would have been $35 Fijian dollars per hour. Not bad for what we would be getting. Oh yeah, Curly gets 20% of the total bill for his services.

The next morning I was up early pawing through internet sites for possible solutions and help articles. At 0600 hours, I started clearing the quarter berth of the stored equipment to gain access to the batteries and other wiring areas. At 0750 hours, I contacted Paul to arrange for his services. Our friend Lutz of SuAn suggested that I try to spin the starter with a direct wire connection from the batteries. After hooking up the starter to the batteries the test was positive and the starter was spinning. No need for Paul’s services at this point, so I immediately recontacted Paul to cancel him before he rented the car.

One of the crazy things about DC electricity is positive and negative sides of the system come from many different sources throughout the boat. Patience and good luck is required for tracking down a short or bad connection. But I knew I needed to find where the short or bad connection was located. As it turns out the windlass ground, the motor ground and the alternator ground cables where all attached to the same bolt on the motor. Looking at the motor ground cable’s connector it looked like a possible issue. Having more 2/0 wire onboard, I decided to replace both the positive and negative cables to and from the motor.

It’s about this time that Lutz shows up on Dazzler for technical assistance. It was great to have his input and between the two of us we found the culprit. A negative bus bar that was under sized for the ground wires of the alternator, windlass and the starter combination. The post that the negative engine cable was attached to had signs of heat and some melted plastic. If I’d have known the windlass ground was also attached at the engine block I’d have installed a heavy duty bus bar in this situation. Hind sight is 20-20. No sense beating myself up over it. I moved the engine ground cable to a ground post with suitable capacity to handle the loads. With the starter wired, and everything in its proper place now, it was time for the moment of truth.

I gave Lutz the honors of turning the key. Besides I was down below knee deep in tools, equipment from the quarter berth and an open engine compartment with no easy way out of the hole. He turned it over and nothing. I pulled out my phone and examined the photograph of the connected wires on the starter I took the previous day before I removed the starter. I had missed two wires from the starter switch. Oops! I reconnected the wires and once again Lutz tried to start the heart of Dazzler. Dazzler’s 45 horsepower engine sprung to life and her heart was beating again. It was a wonderful sound followed by Jilly shouting cheers of joy.

Lessons learned:
Have spare parts. The question is always which ones. There is no West Marine in the South Pacific. So, get used to the idea of if you want it…bring it with you. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to fix something without having to leave your boat. Not to mention the time needed to go get and or find something that might work.

When you have spare parts that you think you can do without and then think you should sell them at a cruiser swap meet to lighten your load…..DON’T do it! Resist the urge.

Know what equipment is or going to be grounded to bus bars and use a bus bar of sufficient capacity. Have some extra battery cables and lugs. I used a hydraulic lug crimper that I bought from Amazon for $35 USD before I left on this long journey. It is small and compact and has been used numerous times on Dazzler and helped many other sailors with cable lug crimps. Have a good multi-tester.

Take a photograph of something before you take it apart. It’s a good backup to memory.

There is always some way to fix something even if you use a pound of epoxy. I’ve said it before, if it’s broke and not working, you have nothing to lose by taking it apart to find out what makes it tick and possibly find a McGiver solution to fix it temporarily. Not trying and giving up has no chance of finding or making a solution. 100% of every short putt will never go into the hole.

In closing, I leave you with this comment. After repairs are completed and your boat is put back together with everything working again you can get back to enjoying why you are cruising in the first place. There will be days like this one and you will have to power through them to get back on track to the tropical waters, islands, indigenous people and sundowners.

I hope this will help you with similar issues and if not be sure to watch the next episode of Boat Hoarder next fall on CBS (Cruiser Bull s**t) channel.
Until the next issue of working on your boat in exotic places or part failure 101, happy cruising.


Captain Dan and Jilly

Author: Dan & Jilly

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