Editorial September 1, 1998 Issue

Can’t Keep It Simple

We were planning a cruise to Block Island this weekend. Three days. Twenty-five miles out, 25 back. Simple enough. Tanks are full. Viva, our Tartan 44 test boat, is ready. Except the last time I had her out I noticed the alternator wasn’t charging.

Several years ago we installed a 120-amp high-output Powerline alternator and Link 2000R, which manages the inverter, monitors the batteries and regulates the alternator. It has lots of wires, fuses, shunts and terminal boards.

Parenthetically, the reason we installed this stuff was because Viva came with an Adler-Barbour ColdMachine 12-volt refrigerator and just two 80-amp-hour batteries. Mike Adler says you need at least a 300-amp-hour battery bank. So we bought four 6-volt golf cart batteries giving us more than 400 amp-hours. The experts said our 55-amp Hitachi alternator, standard on the Yanmar diesel, would take too long charging such a big bank. Ergo the high-output alternator and smart regulator.

Anyway, in preparation for our mini-cruise I decided I’d better fix the alternator. The Link 2000R comes with an excellent troubleshooting flow chart, which quickly pinpointed the problem: No current flowing from the alternator to #17 Reg Out on the terminal board. Poking about with my voltmeter, I guessed that there was no juice coming into the alternator to energize the field. This is supposed to come from the oil pressure switch, after the ignition key is turned on. Which led me to the engine panel wiring harness—a massive bundle of color-coded wires, all wrapped in electrical tape turned sticky in the heat. That’s when I gave up, being already late for a meeting.

No worries. Viva has a 50-watt Photocomm solar panel that can keep up with modest electrical usage such as cabin lights, stove solenoid and stereo.

Oops. The solar panel wasn’t charging either!

What the #$@!

I’d just moved the panel from the stern rail to the top of our new Wavestopper hardtop dodger and when I last looked, it was working fine. But, as Indiana Jones always says to the chick remonstrating him for his fearlessness (“Indy, someday you’re gonna get yourself, killed!”), “Maybe, lady, but not today.”

Sure enough. The light on the new FlexCharge regulator was as dim as the “idea” bulb in my brain. I untaped the electrical connector plug, wire brushed the pins and stuck it back together. Nothing. Then I checked the open circuit voltage with a meter.

Ditto.

How? Why? I mean, a solar panel with two wires is about as simple as it gets.

With neither the engine alternator nor the solar panel working, we couldn’t go to Block Island. As soon as I got off the boat, I stopped by Oldport Marine and filled out a work order, adding as I left that we were hoping to leave Friday. Jim Razza promised to do his best, and I knew he would.

That afternoon I was talking with Bob Perry, the Seattle designer. He said he’d recently bought a 26-foot boat with a single-cylinder Volvo and one battery. That’s the way he likes it.

“Me, too,” I said. But I have an obligation to my readers to install, try and test all the latest gizmos. Besides, I like my beer cold and I don’t want to hear it from the purists about learning to drink it warm.

Guess I can’t keep it simple.

Did I mention that four years ago, after buying new batteries, the high-output alternator and Link 2000R, I discovered the ColdMachine didn’t even work? By then, I had too much invested to turn back, so I bought a new ColdMachine. I like it (and all the other fancy gear) as long as it works. When it doesn’t, I think about an engineless Folkboat with oil lamps…and warm beer.

—Dan Spurr

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