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I was blessed with perhaps the finest maternal grandparents ever. My loving grandfather had a saying I’ve quoted on my blog before:

“Baby, things always work out. They don’t always work out the way we want them to, but they always work out.”

My mom and I used to repeat his words often before she passed. We’d always chuckle in appreciation of his simple wisdom. And, as an imperfect Christian, I live by the truth that God has a reason for everything. The years have shown me one generally doesn’t understand those reasons when, at the time, things don’t seem to be going their way.  Our efforts to depart have once again shown me just how true the above premises are.

For two solid weeks we were bound to the marina due to high tides prohibiting us from exiting under the only bridge we needed to go under to get to the Gulf of Mexico. During that time we performed the myriad chores and general maintenance that any boat owner knows are necessary. A multitude of the expected unexpected surfaced. Several of those failures have been documented here. Though some of the failures were a bit expensive, they were all repaired with new equipment along with the purchase of new spares. Most, if not all, were mechanical in nature and none were serious enough to keep us from leaving.

The days ticked enjoyably by as we monitored the tides here in Clear Lake and the winds and sea state over the entire Gulf of Mexico. Waiting for a fuel pump for our genset, we determined this past Monday that Wednesday should be favorable for departure. On Tuesday morning, weather and tides continued to improve. We decided to top off our fuel tanks (we carry 187 gallons) at the local fuel dock, before returning and installing the genset’s new fuel pump. Departure was set for early Wednesday morning at low tide.

We docked uneventfully at the fuel dock and took on the thirty gallons are so of diesel we needed to top off or tanks. When through and with the fuel dock’s experienced dock hand, we started our engine, cast off the bow lines and prepared to spring off with our aft stern line. This had the potential of being a somewhat difficult undocking as we were pinned securely to the dock with a ripping incoming tide and a 15+ knot wind directly on the beam. The fuel dock is fixed with tall pilings. If not handled correctly the wind and tide could easily have sent our stern into the pilings, potentially and probably damaging our davits and dingy. Though a tricky maneuver, it really wasn’t that big of a deal for us, nonetheless, we had to be careful.

And, then…the engine quit.

Both husband and I both suspected air in the lines…however, bleeding the lines didn’t solve the problem. We are gold unlimited members of both Tow Boats US and Sea Tow. We called TBUS and had them tow us back to our slip. Once we had a chance to take a better look, we found that a fuel supply line had cracked and slipped off of its fitting…in the process sending several gallons of fuel into our bilge. The repair and cleaning the bilge took a couple of hours. We then bled the lines and the engine started right up.

Next we turned to replacing the genset fuel pump. That didn’t take very long. We bled its fuel line as well and it also started right up. But, our genset starting has never been an issue; it continuing to run has. From the survey forward our genset would run for fifteen or twenty minutes and then inexplicably quit. Husband has replumbed the fuel system, removed the heat exchanger and had it serviced, changed the heat sensors, and now replaced the electric fuel pump…in every instance the unit would start right up and then die after a few minutes.  The fuel pump replacement didn’t solve the problem. We now suspected the water pump needed inspection and replacement.

After a very difficult extraction, the pump was out. We found a gasket blocking a significant portion of the water port. Hoping this might finally be the problem, we ordered a replacement water pump…it will not arrive until next Friday. As the original owner told us personally he was never, ever pleased with this 8 Kw, Yanmar diesel powered Kohler genset, we decided that if the new water pump isn’t the problem we will trade the genset in on a too-expensive-to-even-say new unit. We will see.

The above is, in reality, not all that big of a deal. However, over the past three weeks of living on the boat – the last three or four days specifically – we have uncovered a problem that is a very big deal indeed. It involves our electrical system.

As near as we can tell, Freedom came with one electrical panel, along with a panel that starts/stops the genset and allows one to switch from generator power (ship’s power) to shore power. When we purchased the boat, it contained three electrical panels. This is not unusual for as different devices are added, additional circuits and associated electrical panels are often needed.

On our boat, the major AC circuits seem to be in order. There is one breaker for each associated device…the microwave, water heater, outlets, water maker, air conditioners, and shore power.

The DC side, however, powers most of the systems on our boat. The refrigeration, windlass, DC outlets, televisions, VHF, AIS, SSB communication electronics, stereo, two chartplotters, both heads (fore and aft), the entire running light array, radar, our two huge Lewmar 65 winches, two sump pumps (fore and aft), two bilge pumps, Xantrex battery monitor, propane gas control, interior cabin lights, all of our wind and depth instruments, several alarms, genset starter, main engine starter, bow thruster, bow thruster charger (24vDC), two battery chargers and probably a few I’ve forgotten or left out…are all DC powered. We have six separate batteries on the boat, two for the 24v bow thruster, one dedicated to starting the genset, and three huge main house batteries, all are heavy duty deep cycle marine batteries…perhaps 1000 or so amp hours total. Compare those amp hours to that of a car battery with 70 or so. While at sea, the batteries are charged with the engine alternator and/or the genset…at the dock, the chargers are powered by shore power. All of the batteries are brand new.

To complicate things, not every DC circuit has a breaker. For instance two huge power drains are the windless and the two electric winches…neither of them are on breakers. We added a fusible link to the windless. We have not traced the winches to see if they have fusible links yet, but they have no breaker. In addition, some of the DC breakers were labeled wrong, and the wire connecting them to the device are rarely labeled or not labeled at all.

The boat can do without every single AC device. But, if the DC power fails obviously there could be problems.

Over the past two years we’ve replaced, repaired, or made additions to much of the electronics on our boat, primarily the communications and navigation instruments. But, there have been other electrical devices, for example our two bilge pumps were replaced. Our three new 250 amp hour each house batteries required a specific battery charger; the old charger was replaced. Our AC refrigeration was replaced with DC units. A lot of electrical work has been done on our boat, both by my husband and me as well as paid technicians…a lot.

Tens and tens and tens of electrical connections have been made. Some of the connections were made with new wire, some with the existing wire. Some of the connections were made with new terminal strips, sometimes the existing terminal strips were used. Often a combination of the two were utilized…new wire, old terminal strips, old and old, new and new, etc. All of our electrical equipment works…but somewhere there is termite in the ant pile. For example, both of our winches worth fine under ships power, but under shore power only the starboard side winch engages. And, there are a couple of other examples of this kind of thing that are too complicated to get into.

In conclusion, there are electrical gremlins that must be isolated on our boat before we can depart.

One might think that DC battery power is safe and harmless; generally that is the case. However, anyone who says that has never experienced what is referred to as a “hard ground.” This occurs when a short to ground causes the resistance to approach zero, triggering the amperage’s approach to infinity until the circuit is broken, one way or the other…hopefully the breakers will trip the circuit but a fire is almost as probable as the amp surge is so swift. Ohm’s law in all its glory.

We experienced such a hard ground with a previous, much smaller sailboat. My husband while working on an electrical connection dropped a wrench that landed against a primary wire connection that attached directly to the positive pole of one battery while the other end landed against the engine block. Instantly – and I mean instantly – the 10 gauge wire melted in half, melted several other smaller wires on another circuit and the battery itself was destroyed…causing a minor fire, though big enough to require a fire extinguisher . Many a boat has melted to the water line by fire caused by a faulty DC electrical circuit.

The long and short of this entire treatise is that the boat is simply not ready to cruise until we trace more than a few circuits and test our entire electrical system more thoroughly. Since our genset part will not be in for a another week, putting us well into week four of our allocated six to eight week cruise, we’ve decided to terminate our extended cruise, remain on the dock, continue living on the boat, and chase the electrical gremlins that have reared their ugly head. Over the summer, we will continue our upgrades and coastal sail, departing for good when hurricane season is over.  This was the original plan and we are sticking to it.

Our intentions were always to shake the boat down but it would be disingenuous to say that the both of us are not a bit disappointed…but only a little. However, the objectives of the past few weeks are being met, i.e. using the boat full time, 24/7, for weeks on end as we test the boat’s systems determining what works, what doesn’t, and what we might want to change.

Things do indeed work out, though seldom as we want them to…we’re disappointed in not being able to sail. And, things do happen for a reason…the tides kept us in port saving us from having to necessarily deal with these problems underway. The things we’ve had to repair on our boat could just a easily have happened in an area with little access to the parts or services we may have required, or at sea in bad weather.

We are pleased overall with what the boat has revealed to us but, simply put, she is not ready for cruising quite yet.


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