August 15, 2017
A friend recently left a comment that Panama was a “boat killer.” I don’t think I would go quite that far, but it definitely has been an “electronics killer” for us. I’m not specifically blaming Panama, but it has been a rough month for our electronics!
When we first arrived in Panama and were preparing to leave the boat to fly back to the States, we pulled out our power cord to plug into shore power. We hadn’t been in a marina to get shore power in quite some time. But, in the event that there was no sun or wind to keep our batteries charged while we were gone, we thought the safest thing was to plug in while we were away. Well, that plan shortly went out the window when we discovered the day before we were to leave that we weren’t getting any AC power in.
After some trouble shooting, we determined that it wasn’t the power cord but it seemed that the battery charger itself had decided to die on us. I’ll back up here and explain a bit about how we get power…
We have a bank of batteries that power all of our electronic equipment, from lights and fans to our chart plotter and autopilot. There are quite a few ways that we keep our batteries charged up. First, we have solar panels and a wind generator. In sunny Mexico, we relied almost exclusively on the solar panels. But, if there is no sun or wind, we still have to be able to charge the batteries. If we are running our diesel engine motoring from one place to the next, the alternator will charge the batteries. But, if we don’t want to run the engine, we have a portable gas powered Honda generator. (We mainly use the Honda just to run our water maker.) And, finally, if we are in a marina, we can plug into shore power directly.
I’ll save you a boring diatribe about AC power versus DC power and how we have to use an inverter to convert from one to the other. But, our battery charger also acts as an inverter to allow us to plug in regular electronics, such as a computer to the wall sockets (AC power). When the battery charger went kaput, it prevented the AC in from the shore power and the Honda generator, but we could still charge from solar, wind and the alternator. Luckily, we had friends watching the boat while we were away who could run the diesel engine if necessary to keep the batteries charged if there were a few cloudy days in a row (very possible during rainy season here.)
After returning to Panama, we went on a hunt for a new battery charger/inverter. We found a guy in Panama City who could order us a new one. Of course, this was a $1,200 expense that wasn’t originally in our budget, but that’s what happens on a boat! A week later we had the battery charger and Mike spent the better part of a day dripping sweat in the heat and squeezed into a tiny compartment to get the new charger installed. Whew!
The next electronic mishap was all my fault. It was a gloomy afternoon when we saw the dark clouds coming our way in the anchorage. After the rain started, the lightening soon followed. As I’ve mentioned before, lightening on a boat is not our friend. There were some strikes pretty close, so we put our portable electronics, such as our computers, tablets, etc. in the oven, which we hope would act as a Faraday cage in the event of a lightening strike. After the storm passed over, we started to get ready for a quiet evening. I went to make us some dinner and pulled the computers, etc. out of the oven since I was going to roast some vegetables to have with our chicken.
After a few minutes, we started to get some weird smoke in the galley. I knew it wasn’t the chicken and went to check the vegetables in the oven. I looked in the back of the oven and discovered I had missed pulling out our Iridium Go satellite phone that was in the back of the oven. Ugh! I grabbed a hot pad and yanked it out as melted black plastic was dripping off of it. There were many obscenities being yelled by me. Of all of the electronics we had put in the oven to stay “safe” this was by far the most expensive one.
Mike very nicely told me to calm down and not freak out. He waited some time for the Iridium Go to cool down and decided to see if it still worked. Unbelievably, it still works! I have no idea how, as the front of it is completely melted and mangled. But, I guess they make these things pretty tough. So, it may look funny, but at least it works!
After the last two electronic issues, I was really not happy to find out we had a third problem. We pulled up anchor to move the boat while we helped our friends on Manatee go through the canal and discovered that our B&G system with our depth sounder and wind indicator wasn’t working. It was getting power to the system but no data. We really can’t go anywhere without the depth sounder.
So, Mike got to work trying to troubleshoot this issue. I’ll spare you the details of how the network works and why you have to have terminals on each end, blah blah blah. It gave me a headache to have it explained to me. Anyway, after disconnecting and reconnecting every connection and a climb up the mast, Mike was able to get the depth sounder working. BUT, the wind indicator at the top of the mast, which has a 60 foot cable running down inside the mast to the network was not functioning. Ugh. It’s nice to have a wind indicator that gives us wind speed and direction, but technically we can live without it. At least we have the depth again! We’re looking into getting the new anemometer, which will have to be installed on the top of the mast and a new cable run inside (no idea how Mike plans to do that), but it will be another $500 unexpectedly added to the budget.
We’re not sure why the wind indicator decided to fail on us. Another boat suggested that it is possible one of those close lightening strikes in the anchorage put off enough of a charge to kill it. I guess anything is possible. Maybe Panama really is a boat killer… We’re hoping our boat karma changes soon as we prepare to head out to the Las Perlas islands!