September 4, 2002
Port of Refuge, Neiafu, Vava'u Island Group, Kingdom of Tonga

Messing with Boats, Part IV

Intro by Lois:      


Tina of Alii Kai tells the most humorous story of how captains act when they are repairing boats: Her spouse Dennis rushed into the galley, after hearing an awful noise. It was a metallic pounding, like he'd never heard on the boat before, interspersed with groans and cusses. "What's happening?" he asked, his mouth dry with fear. Here was Tina, his trusted partner, gone crazy, with a knife in one hand and a large spoon in the other, pounding on the bottom of a pan, and occasionally banging the counter!

She quit and turned to him calmly, "I'm just practicing for when I might have to fix something on this boat myself."

As we cruise from port to port in the South Pacific and the beer and wine starts flowing, all the captain's mates seem to have similar stories about the awful noises and cusses emanating from their otherwise in-control partners. The invectives begin as soon as an unexpected problem arises (which is all the time out here) and finally end with a cold beer when the problem is solved and the new part installed (or jury-rigged).

Here's the Captain of Pacific Bliss telling his story of how "Messing with Boats" becomes a never-ending, but ever-changing occupation:

Part IV, by Gunter:

Since I wrote my last comments on Messing with Boats, Part III in San Diego in February 2002, we sailed from San Diego to the Marquesas, to French Polynesia, to the Cook Islands, and are now in the Kingdom of Tonga, at Neiafu in the Vava'u group of islands. This is cruising heaven: pretty islands, close together, nice bars and restaurants on the waterfront, and cheap. There are lots of boats here, waiting to continue either to New Zealand or to Fiji, like us. This is a good time, because it is raining since a few days, to reflect on our experience with Pacific Bliss from a hardware and performance point of view.

As a preamble, the following list appears long, but when we compared our experience with that of other cruisers, and we met many on the way, it is not excessive. And we never once regretted having bought a Catana 431. We are still very happy with and proud of Pacific Bliss.

1. Spinnaker

We had a rule not to fly our spinnaker at apparent winds above 15 knots. Well, one night on the way to the Marquesas, the wind gusted up to 20 knots. When we tried to get the spinnaker down, making some mistakes, it wrapped around the forestay. The sock did not come down anymore and we had to lower the spinnaker by the halyard. The wind got very nasty and banged the collar against the forestay and broke it, and ripped the spinnaker foot at several places. A big mess. We needed to get a new collar from San Diego and had the spinnaker repaired in Raiatea. Our mistake caused a $ 400-problem.
Lesson: Don't fly your spinnaker at night and take it down early.

2. Alternator

2.1 Starboard alternators

We had a second 50 A alternator (a Volvo upgrade kit) installed on the starboard engine, to boost the starboard charging current to a total of 100 A. This worked very well and reduced the running time for charging batteries. This was necessary, because we wanted to keep our freezer running as well as the fridge. The autohelm in strong winds and heavy seas draws also heavy currents.

In Palmerston, just before we wanted to leave on our leg for Niue, I noticed that the SB charging circuit provided 70 A, but only 40 A were going into the house bank. Checking the isolator, I found the diode of the house bank lead extremely hot and smoking. The lead was also burned and corroded. After checking with David from Yachtfinders (thanks to our Iridium Satellite telephone), I moved the house bank lead to an empty diode post and disconnected the additional alternator so the charging current was limited to 50 A.

This worked well for our passage, where we had to motor for about 10 hours.
Now, that we are at a mooring in Neiafu, I reconnected the second alternator again but I am charging only with a maximum current of 70 A, which I get at 1200 rpm. This works fine.

I ordered another isolator (from San Diego, being shipped to Tonga) rated higher at 160 A (the old one was 130 A) and also ordered a much heavier cable. I think the problem started with a marginal size cable, which corroded at the post and led to higher temperature on the diode, which killed the diode. Otherwise, the upgrade is a blessing, because it reduces the charging time drastically.

2.2 Port alternator

In Raiatea, I found that the port alternator did not charge anymore. The alternator turned out to be faulty and I had it replaced with a new one coming from Papeete. Since then it charges OK, but always less than the SB single alternator.

3. Windlass

For the second time, the chain stripper on the windlass bent and finally broke loose. I had it repaired in Raiatea. It turned out that the last repair in San Diego was marginal, because the screws were stripped and the mechanic, instead of tapping and putting in the next bigger size, just epoxied the old size back in. I had the whole windlass taken off, which turned out to be difficult, because the axle was not greased at the factory and had rusted to the bushing. We also found out that the contacts of the windlass were completely exposed, so if there is a spare anchor in the locker were the windlass motor is, there is a chance that the anchor will shorten the windlass motor contacts. Not a nice thought considering the hundreds of amps in the Windlass circuit. I had a housing built around the contacts to protect them. At a minimum, put some tape around the contacts.

4. Watermaker

I have a Spectra watermaker with two high pressure feed pumps. One feed pump stopped working. This reduced the flow from about 12 gallons/hr to 6 gallons/ hr. Not a catastrophe, however I ordered a new feed pump.

5. Sails

One lazyjack line broke twice, which required going up the mast to fix it. Also, most of the bands tying the sailbag to the boom ripped off and need to be replaced. I did a temporary fix with short lines. The lines holding the bag to the mast are worn and need to be replaced.

6. Water pumps

The Port side house water pump (Johnson) failed and I replaced it with a spare one that I had on board. I have a seawater pump installed in the anchor locker to wash the decks. It failed the second time. (It was replaced in San Diego). I got a new, better one from Papeete which is waterproof and specified for heavy duty use.

7. Fluxgate compass and cable

At the worst possible moment (Murphy's Law), in the middle of the night, heavy wind and seas on the way to the Marquesas with over 1000 miles to go, our Autopilot failed. I had on board a spare kit (expensive) consisting of fluxgate compass, computer, and rudder position monitor. So we installed the new fluxgate compass on the paneling at the side of the 200-liter fridge (taping it to it) and plugged the cable into the computer (easy, because all the wires are color coded and snap into the connector). After steering a slow 360 to recalibrate, all was OK again. In the next harbor, we (thinking the faulty part was the fluxgate compass) replaced the old fluxgate compass, located under the bed in the master cabin, with the new one and connected it to the existing cable.

All worked fine for a while on the next passage, then the same problem occurred again: no Autopilot. Now we realized that the problem was not the fluxgate compass but the cable to the computer. We tried to pull out the old cable but were unsuccessful. It goes around so many inaccessible corners, it would not move.
So I installed the fluxgate compass on the side of the steps down to the owner's hull and ran the cable through the navigator seat, through the door to the computer. It has been working very well since then.

8. Holding tank valves

The plastic valves switching the heads to the holding tanks are about the flimsiest design I know. On the way to San Diego, they froze on both sides and, in the effort to free them, the valve mechanism broke internally. Both were replaced. Large clumps of deposit are forming on these valves. They need to be operated frequently to keep them clear. We missed that for a few weeks, and now our SB valve is broken again in an effort to free it. Because there is no need for holding tanks in the South Pacific, I thought to hell with it, we don't need it.

However, it is a good idea to regularly exercise all the valves on board.

9. Batteries

On the way to the Marquesas, I observed twice that the battery voltage after charging is not coming up beyond 13 V and that there is a drain on the batteries, though the Link did not register any currents. We found twice that a battery was getting hot, indicating an internal leakage. We disconnected the faulty batteries and continued with a reduced house battery size. In Papeete, we could not get any gel batteries at all--especially not the Sonnenschein which we needed. We moved both engine batteries, which are the same size as the house batteries, into the house bank, replacing the faulty batteries.

For the engine batteries, we purchased regular sealed lead acid automotive batteries of about 80 Amp-hour capacity each. This arrangement is working well and so far, the house batteries are holding up. That is the good news. The bad news is the following:
The warranty labels on the two engine batteries showed a date of October 2000, that is close to the date on which Pacific Bliss was completed at the Catana factory. The two faulty batteries showed a date of May 1998, more than two years before the boat was completed at the factory. Clearly, these were old batteries beyond their useful life and beyond warranty. The warranty on batteries is typically 2 years.
The remaining house batteries do not have a label at all, which is a very unsatisfactory situation. An inquiry to Catana as to the manufacturing dates of these batteries did not get a response. This bad situation will need to be settled with Catana in due time.

10. Solar panel/ boom

When reefed, the boom needs to be lifted with the topping lift, otherwise it is not high enough and will hit the solar panels. On one stormy night, we had to put in a triple reef and did not lift the boom high enough. We were running downwind. The boom was resting on the outside SB solar panel and worked a groove into the aluminum frame. The solar panel glass itself appears to be shattered like a car windshield after a collision, however, the output did not change. It must still function.

Lesson to everybody: Keep the boom up when reefed.
Lesson to Catana: Make a bar across the solar panels, so that the boom never can touch the solar panels.

11. Dinghy

Our dinghy deflated on one side twice without any apparent reason, no leaks observed in the rubber, and after re-inflation holding air well. The first time in the Marquesas it was in the water, resulting in flipping and immersion of the outboard. It took half a day to get the outboard marginally going again. Only after complete disassembly of the carburetor in Raiatea, cleaning the salt out of it, did it run well again. The second time, in Niue, the dinghy was hoisted onto the Jetty. Again, no cause for deflation could be determined. Since then, we always carry the dinghy pump with us. It is a disheartening sight to face a limp dinghy when you are returning from a fun excursion on land.

12. Bilge pumps running

The port engine room bilge pump started to run one day and did not stop. I needed to pull the little circuit breaker to stop it. Later, in Raiatea, a smart electrical technician found that at the edge of the flat cable in the circuit breaker box in the engine room, a very fine hairlike copper wire bridged the contact of the bilge pump circuit and provided power to it. Clipping it solved the problem.

Messing with Boats, Part I by Gunter

Messing with Boats, Part 2 by Lois

Messing with Boats, Part 3 by Gunter

Messing with Boats, Part 4 by Lois

The Anchor Story, By Lois and Gunter




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