July 2011 - Grenada to Trinidad

1 July 2011    Hog Island, Grenada
First thing in the morning, Glenys told me that the fridge had switched itself off overnight.  I checked the batteries and the voltage was down to 11.5 Volts.  There’s obviously something wrong with the batteries or the charging system, so I spent the morning reading up on the various bits of equipment that we have on the boat.

We’ve been relying on a clever battery monitor, which has been showing us the % of charge left in the batteries.  By running the generator for an hour or so every day, we thought that we were keeping the % Charge between 50% and 100%, which should keep the batteries in their working range.  If batteries are discharged too much, they rapidly degrade by a process called “sulphation” which loses the lead from the plates inside the battery.

My investigations indicate that our “clever” battery monitor has been fooled by the charge from our solar panel and wind generator and has been showing us a % charge figure that is much higher than it actually is.  I should have been looking at the voltage of the batteries and making sure that it was between 12.2 Volts and 12.7 Volts.  My big worry is that we now have six batteries which have been kept in a heavily discharged state for the last couple of months and may be damaged beyond repair.  If I’m correct, it will be an expensive mistake because the batteries are only four months old and to replace them will cost £900.  I’m not a happy bear.  I ran the generator for four hours which should have charged the batteries enough – we’ll see what happens overnight.

In the afternoon, we went for a walk around Hog Island and got soaked when a squall caught us out.  The island now has a dirt road which loops around the shore line and goes across a new bridge linking the island with the mainland.  We’re told that the owners of the island were intending to build a holiday resort and sell land to build houses, but it has fallen through because of the global recession.

2 July 2011    Hog Island, Grenada
Bad news this morning.  The voltage on the batteries was down to 11.6 Volts again, so I’m more nervous that the batteries are destroyed.  I ran the generator for a few hours in the morning and decided to be a bit more scientific in my approach by monitoring the voltage and the current going into the battery while it is charging.  Meanwhile, I read more about how the battery charger and other charging equipment should work.

Unfortunately, after running the generator for four hours, it suddenly cut out on me.  After a few minutes of panic, I deduced that it was a fuel problem and I managed to get it working again by bleeding the diesel system.  Is this related to the air that I’m getting in the diesel for the engine?  The engine started OK and I ran it for 30 minutes to make sure that it was okay.

Glenys waterproofed the bimini and kept out of my way – I’m a little bit “preoccupied” and not good company at the moment.

Hash in Grenada

In the afternoon, we went on a “Hash”, which was great fun.  It involves a “hare” who sets a trail along paths, up hills and down valleys, dropping handfuls of shredded paper as he goes.  The “Hashers” follow the trail aiming to arrive back at the starting point between one and two hours later.  There were about 200 people on this one and it is a real fun atmosphere with people who do it every week – mostly locals with a few yachties.

There is a certain amount of ritual in the event and anyone who hasn’t been before is called a “Virgin”.  One of the team is called the “Cobbler” and walks around before the start looking for anyone with new running shoes.  When the “Hash Master” is giving the briefing, all the people with new shoes are dragged to the front of the crowd and have their new shoes displayed to the baying crowd.  Beer is poured into the new shoes and the owner forced to drink it from their shoe.

The “Hash” was fairly hard, steep and muddy – just imagine the chaos of 200 people trying to get up a slippy, muddy path in single file.  There were all ages from 8 to 70.  The trail took us up very steep slopes through areas with banana trees, cocoa trees, rain forest, bamboo, open grassland and even down a river.  Some of the locals were up a tree throwing down ripe “Local Apples” (Malay Apple), which were very welcome.

Back at the start, they had a bar selling food and beer – some Hashers describe them selves as "Walkers with a Drinking problem", but others insist that they are "Drinkers with a Walking problem".  We had the foresight to bring a change of clothes and it was great to change into a clean dry t-shirt.  There was a closing speech by the “Hash Master” during which the “Virgins” were all asked to come up and claim their certificates.  Once gathered, all Virgins were (of course) sprayed with beer – I wish that I had waited to change my t-shirt…

When we got back to the boat, I started the generator with the intention of running it for an hour, but after five minutes it conked out on me.  I went to bed in despair - the batteries are not charging and the generator is not working…

3 July 2011    Hog Island, Grenada
I woke up with a mission – I had to try to get the generator running and sort out these diesel problems.  The generator is an essential piece of equipment – it charges the batteries, powers the water maker and runs the dive compressor.  We can survive for a week with the water that we have in our tanks, but I needed to get it sorted.

I spent all morning tracing the fuel systems and tightening every connection that I could see.  I changed the fuel filter on the generator circuit, bled the system and managed to get the generator running again, but it was erratic – it kept slowing down and occasionally cutting out.  I checked various things and bled the system three times, but couldn’t get it to run smoothly.  The engine (which has a separate diesel circuit) starts okay, so I decided that I’ve done as much as I can and need to get someone to look at the generator.

After lunch, we went snorkelling on the reef just outside Hog Island.  It was very murky and not a lot of fish about – I think that the reef is fished out by the locals.

We went to the Hog Island barbeque in the evening.  Most of the Americans had gone to an Independence Day party in Port Louis, so it was a non-American event which was pleasant for a change.  We ended up chatting to Mike & Pat from “El Lobo” (UK) who were hit by a jet ski in Tobago which put a big hole in their hull just above the water line.  Another British guy had been boarded and robbed in Venezuela.  Both he and his wife were beaten up and his wife is now back in the UK – sounds like we should definitely avoid Venezuela.

4 July 2011    Hog Island, Grenada
I was up early with another mission, this time to sort out our charging system. I rang an engineer to get him to look at generator – he will come tomorrow.

I analysed my voltage/current graphs and spent all day tracing electrical systems.  In order to charge effectively, the voltage of the batteries has to be raised to between 14.0 and 14.4 volts.  We have a battery charger which is run from the generator and two alternators on the main engine.  Both of these systems are installed in a way that only raises the voltage to 13.5 volts, so it was impossible to fully charge the batteries without going into a marina and plugging into the mains supply.

The alternators are quite small and installed to charge through splitting diodes which is a common way of wiring boat systems up, but it isn't very efficient. There’s nothing I can do about this in the short term – it will be a major project to fit a bigger alternator and re-wire it all.

Tracking Down Charging Problems

The battery charger is a very sophisticated device (a new one costs over £1000.)  It should charge at 14.25 Volts, but it obviously thinks that the voltage on the batteries is higher than it actually is.  After tracing the wiring, I decided that the basic installation is correct.  I did a few experiments and found that if I installed a sensor wire from the charger to the batteries, the charging voltage increased to above 14.0 volts.  (It was hard to be certain because the generator keeps varying its speed and cutting out.)  This is good news; I left the temporary sensor wire in place ready to be used when the generator is fixed tomorrow.

We have a wind generator and one solar panel that provide additional charging capacity and they seem to be installed correctly, but with a very simple regulator.  I'll have to improve this when I fit more solar panels onto our arch.

Glenys spent day cleaning and polishing stainless steel fittings and generally keeping out of my way as I ripped the boat to pieces tracing wiring.

5 July 2011    Hog Island, Grenada
Mike from Palm Tree Marine came in the morning and I was very impressed with him.  He found and fixed the generator problem in ten minutes flat.  He deduced that it was being starved of fuel, looked at the electric fuel pump and found that it wasn’t switching on properly hence the lack of fuel.  He found the relay for the fuel pump, swapped it with another one and the generator ran perfectly.  I was on the right track, but wouldn’t have thought of the relay.

While he was on-board, he gave me a few more clues on how to track down my “air in the fuel” problem for the engine.  He had a look at the alternator circuit diagram and agreed with me that I’d be better off getting a bigger alternator and a ”smart” charger.  I also got him to test my batteries and his clever device said that all six batteries were good, but undercharged, which is a relief.  The cost for fixing the generator, testing the batteries and his advice was only £40 – a bargain.

Now that the generator was working, I did some more experimenting with the battery charger and managed to get it to charge at 14.15 volts which is great.  We decided that we’ll go into a marina tomorrow to get access to mains electricity and fully charge the batteries.

We went to Roger’s Beach Bar at five o’clock because it was “Zero to Cruising’s” wedding anniversary and there was a small celebration going on.  We had a few too many beers and then foolishly cracked open a bottle of wine to go with our dinner.

6 July 2011    Hog Island to Port Louis, Grenada
I had a hangover this morning, but no time to feel sorry for myself - we needed to get around to Port Louis marina in St Georges lagoon.  We had a good sail around the coast and went alongside a huge pontoon.  I immediately plugged into the mains and started charging the batteries.

After lunch, we went to the chandlers and spent loads of money-  mostly on two life jackets and another fan for the saloon.  Back on the boat, I ran a permanent sensor cable through the boat from the battery to the battery charger – that took three hours of sweating and cursing.  Glenys wisely retired to the swimming pool to cool down and stay out of my way.

It’s very airless in the marina and the lagoon has a reputation for being “buggy”.  I was bitten four times while fitting the cable so we went onto MOSCON 1 - full out war.  This meant that all hatches are closed unless covered with mosquito netting and I’m covered from head to toe in mosquito repellent while outside.