Captain’s Corner – Refrigeration And Windlass Repairs

So the refrigeration issue in detail for those interested:

The failure was the result of a determined calculated risk during the refit.  I decided to save $4k and leave the 30+ year old 12VDC air cooled thin plate evaporator systems for the fridge and freezer.  The reason being, we had redundancy in the form of a 120VAC water or air cooled holding plate system for both.  Also on board is a 120VAC/12VDC Engel that can operate as either fridge or freezer.

To keep the fridge going on 120, the issue became the amount of generator run time to rely solely on the holding plates.  Instead of an hour or two every other day, it was two to three hours per day.  To top it off, now I had excess solar coming out of my ears (edited for television) because the 12VDC fridge and freezer weren’t running due too the holding plates being cold.  But I couldn’t run the holding plate compressor off the inverter, utilizing the excess solar due to start up load.

Well, you know how it goes….the fridge compressor locked up.  It is an old Danfoss BD2.5 (the predecessor for BD35) with R-12.  I decide to replace the entire system due to age than to just replace the compressor and deal with all the refrigeration work, oil and compressor compatibility.  It also allows me to upgrade to a BD50 multi-speed compressor system.  I hope to see a difference in energy consumption is this warmer climate or at least, better performance.

While both boxes are empty I will also seal and caulk the lower moldings as they have started to weep a little condensation when the doors are opened and closed.  I had not thought to do so during the refit, and they have been cold ever since.

Hopefully the freezer compressor hangs on for a few more years!

The windlass:

I originally was going to replace the unit, but after days of very large hammers, pry bars, saws and eventually a cutting torch to disassemble the thing to remove our pulpit for deck repairs (when the teak decks were removed by previous owner, they skipped this area due to difficulty), I realized the genius of the extremely heavy, yet simple engineering, that requires only basic parts I can have machined anywhere in the world if needed.  So many less parts, gears, seals etc. than a horizontal style.  Did I mention the unit weighs a few hundred pounds?!

The issue at hand was when the top nut is loosened a multiple spring pad pushes the top drum up, which is keyed to the main shaft allowing the clutch pads to slip, letting the un-keyed wild cat to freewheel.  This was not happening, because the top drum had some shaft corrosion causing friction to overcome the spring pressure.  This is one of the reasons that I demolished the original windlass during disassembly.  Lesson:  disassemble windlass periodically and lubricate main shaft,  a very simple process, due to its design.

Here are some windlass photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Returning To Guanaja

We made our way back to Guanaja, to pick up our refrigerator parts that have been delivered to Graham’s Place, and spend more time on the island. After a short visit, we’ll return to Fantasy Island Marina, where Scott can fix the refrigerator and cool it back down while we’re plugged into shore power. We paid for a month’s slip rental Steve, the dockmaster, was nice enough to let us split our time, leavnig for Guanaja, and coming back to our slip when we returned.

With head seas forecasted, I was not looking forward to the six hour trip. We only had a three hour ride from West End around to French Harbour, but the head seas made it a nasty go; a repeat made me cringe. Thankfully, the winds were much calmer this time, and aside from having to cool Howard down we had a good run back to beautiful Guanaja.

The forecast calls for strong winds this week (surprise), so we tucked back into El Bight. It offers more protection for us, than if we anchor off of Graham’s Cay. We were surrounded by the familiar sights of Manati bar and Han’s place.

Monday morning brought pouring rain (not called for), a beautiful rainbow and then more stormy clouds. It was neat to watch them settle down onto the mountains around us.

By mid morning, there was a break in the weather, so we jumped into the Aluminum Princess and headed for Graham’s Cay to pick up our parts and grab some lunch. It was just a quick 20 minute ride, and the sun came out to greet us as we arrived at Graham’s Place.

However, not two hours later, as we were finishing our yummy fish sandwiches (mine blackened and Scott’s fried), I noticed the sky darkening again. We paid our bill, jumped back into the boat with our boxes and set off for El Bight. Within minutes, the seas went from calm and clear blue to threatening grey. We made our way through an angry chop back to the boat, amidst building white caps. As usual at times like this, we were glad to be tucked into the Aluminum Princess.

Once aboard Sea Life, we unpacked our boxes in the cockpit. Corrugated cardboard is a favorite place for cockroaches to lay their eggs, so we bagged it up (unbeknownst to Howard, as he can’t resist a box) and set it out into the Aluminum Princess. Our parts now wait in the saloon, until they are installed.

The process was costly (2,000.00 in total: cost of parts, shipping to Miami, shipping to mainland Honduras, customs fees, and shipping to a tip for Alex, the manager at Graham’s, who was such a great help to us), but took just under two weeks. All in all, we can’t complain, especially since Defender was great enough to refund Scott the cost of his first order to Mexico (minus the shipping). It seems that they are having such a problem with Mexican Fed Ex customs that the parts will just be written off as a loss. Their customer service is fantastic!

In the meantime, our windlass had decided to give us attitude as we came in to anchor from Roatan, so Scott spent a day taking it apart and repairing it. Thankfully, no part ordering necessary! He promises to do a short Captain’s Corner post on the repair soon. Once the windlass was back together, he fixed a problem with the valving in our shower fixture in the guest head. Because why be bored?

The heat and humidity are in full force (86 degress, with 70% humidity by 8:30am), so we do our best to move as little as possible. Howard doesn’t quite understand the heat. He’ll get a wild hair and have a crazy session in his latest play area, an Ace Hardware bag. The thing has been torn almost to bits.

Exhausted and hot, Howard will splay out for a nap in his Africa basket taco. If his breathing gets consistently fast,  we’ve started placing a cold, wet towel on him. It seems to work well at cooling him down (with great success on our trip here from Roatan). I’m shocked though, at how much he’s starting to tolerate it.

Once cooled down, it’s into a good, deep sleep.

Last night we visited Hans’ place, catching up with the regulars and enjoying some pizza. We’ll stay in Guanaja for a week or so, before returning to Roatan. Here are some photos of our trip back, and the last few days.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”





Movin’ Down Island

With the forecast calling for winds below 20 knots, we planned to move out of El Bight and farther down the coast yesterday morning. However, on our trip into Bonacca for some food and an ATM run, the winds appeared to have picked up instead.

The Aluminum Princess slogged through white caps and sizeable waves in the open waters between our anchorage and town. With Scott wanting to tow her behind us when we moved, and concern for a comfortable stay at anchor, we decided to wait until this morning to change our location.

However, as I worked in the cockpit late yesterday afternoon, I noticed that the towels drying on the line weren’t whipping quite so violently (after getting slapped pretty good in the head by one earlier, I should know). Realizing that the winds had died down, I woke Scott from a nap, and we scurried to ready and go. It was only an hour ride to our next anchorage, but we liked the idea of waking up the next morning already settled.

We raised anchor and headed out of El Bight, around the corner and further down the coast of Guanaja. As always, the views did not disappoint along the way.

As planned, the Aluminum Princess tagged along behind for the ride. After a short and easy hour, we arrived at our next anchorage, off of Graham’s Cay.

Graham Thompson runs a small resort on his island, appropriately called Graham’s Place.

We’d already planned to visit, having heard great things from fellow cruisers. Most hotels and resorts, and some islands in general, aren’t always welcoming to cruisers. Sometimes this is for good reason, but for the most part it’s frustrating and unnecessary. In addition to him being friendly toward cruisers, we now have another reason to like and meet Graham.

Unfortunately, we had no luck with Mexican Fed Ex, and getting the compressor for our refrigerator through customs. At whits end, Scott got Defender involved, the company we ordered the parts from. After more back and forth with no clear instructions or reasoning on the issue, Scott told Fed Ex Mexico to send the stuff back.

He then received an email asking for his credit card number, to pay for “fees and storage.” There was no cost given for said “fees and storage,” and Scott replied that he did not intend to pay. He was through with the matter, having done what little they’d asked of him, with no result or explanation as to why.

Defender has been just as frustrated with the issue. They have someone who deals just with Fed Ex, and with international shipping, and can’t get a resolution. Fed Ex Mexico wants Defender to pay 500.00 for return shipping. Defender has decided to just let the parts go, write it off and refund Scott his money (less original shipping). The company has been terrific to us the last few years, during our refit, and this is a true testament to their exceptional customer service, going above and beyond for Scott.

Ok, so we now turn to Honduras, and getting the stuff shipped there. I again reach out to our friend Louis, who is proving an invaluable resource. He suggested that I contact Graham Thompson, to ask how to proceed. A great idea; a local man, who could point me in the right direction.

It turns out that Graham didn’t point at all. He quickly replied to my email, giving me the information for a shipping company based in Miami, that he and his son use for things that they cannot get locally. Once our parts are in Miami, we can choose to have them shipped via boat or plane, with his name on the package. When they arrive in Guanaja, Graham will be notified. He will pick up the items, pay the fees and we can reimburse him…hoo-RAY!

However, this stupid saga continues. When Scott called Defender to re-order his parts, he feared the sale price originally offered had ended. It indeed had, but they honored the sale price for him…of course. However, the parts are now on back order until the end of the month! This was disappointing to hear, as we know that there are perfectly good parts sitting in Merida, Mexico!

We plan to go ashore and say a big hello and thank you to Graham, as well as get final details before the parts come in to Defender and the order goes through. Since it will take weeks for that to happen, and for the stuff to arrive here, we plan to stay here a few days and then head on to Roatan. We’ll stay there for a few weeks, and then return here to wait for our shipment. Neither location is a bad place to be stuck!

Here are a few photos from our short trip “down island.”

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Boats Big And Small…And Many Friendly People

We are surprised at the amount of large, commercial boats that come and go from this area. In addition to the many commercial fishing boats that work the local waters, there are often larger ships loading and unloading goods. One ran aground recently, just behind where we’re anchored. Two fishing boats helped to free it, before it headed south.

Since there are very few cars on the island, and the main town is only accessible by water, most locals seem to motor, or row where they need to go by boat.

Water taxis are also popular, ferrying both locals and the few tourists that visit back and forth.

Scott got the chance to use one recently, when the Aluminum Princess had a set back. We also discovered how great the locals, and our cruising friends are.

We were on our way to town for “shopping day,” when the supply boat brings the weekly load of fresh fruits, vegetables and supplies. Scott went to increase our speed, and instead the motor revved up, but our speed remained the same.

Not wanting to get stuck in the choppy waters, we turned back and putted our way toward Sea Life. Whenever Scott tried to increase speed, the motor would again rev up, but not accelerate. He was almost certain that the bushing between the hub and the propeller had worn, allowing the motor to rev without engaging the prop. So it seems we needed a new propeller…the search began.

I started with emailing our friend, Louis. He was one of the first cruising friends we’d met in Isla Mujeres, and has spent much time here. I got a quick reply, telling us to find a local couple, Jim and Cathy. He described where there house was, and also told us to just ask anyone about where to find them. He also told us to see Hans, a German man who lives here on the beach (he also makes a mean pizza, more on that later).

We headed to shore, and stopped in to see Klaus and Annette, a friendly German couple who have been here for over 20 years, and run Manati bar. They also told us to go talk to Hans, so we walked the grass path, and over the bridge to see him.

Hans told us that he could “rig” the prop, but if we wanted a replacement, it should be available in town. Scott had already researched this, and had put in an email to the business he thought may have what we needed.

We stayed and enjoyed beer and conversation with Hans and others at his small bar, and then headed back to Manati. Annette and Klaus told us to stop by the next day, when they would help us call the store, just in case we got no email reply.

The next day, after our sweaty hike, we stopped into Manati, but found no one downstairs. Scott decided to give the email some more time, as we were still able to use the Aluminum Princess at a slow speed. A day later, we received an email reply. The place in town had what we needed…hurray! We were so happy not to have to order it!

That afternoon, a local panga boat made it’s way to our swim platform. It was Louis’ friends, Jim and Cathy! With all else going on, we’d forgotten to ask about them. It seems that Louis had emailed the couple about our situation, so they stopped by to see if we needed help. I think Scott wants to stay here permanently.

We stopped into Manati after our second hike, and found Klaus and Anntte sitting down to lunch. They had seen our boat tied to the pier the day before (we’d left it there to go and hike) , and went looking for us at Hans’. It seems that they’d called the store in town on their own, and were trying to let us know that the part was in stock. It’s so nice to have so many people here look out for us.

I convinced Scott to take a water taxi to get the prop, instead of putting back and forth to town in the choppy water. He dropped me at the boat, and then went back to shore. Annette phoned a water taxi for him, and soon he was off to town in style.

With part in hand, Scott now wondered how he’d work on the motor while we were at anchor. When the Aluminum Princess is up on the flybridge, the motor hangs off the back. He thought of taking it to the pier at Manati, and backing it up into shallow water. Eventually, he came up with this “MacGyver” idea that worked great!

The prop went on in no time at all, and after a brief test drive (with turns that I will not allow when I’m onboard) the Aluminum Princess is back in business!

A few more boat photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Our Fight With Customs

The compressor in our refrigerator went up a few weeks ago, and it’s been a hard go ever since, trying to get a replacement. We’d heard from several sources that having things sent into Mexico can be a nightmare. Still, we need the parts, and so the process began. We started with the “West Marine” in Cancun, Servimar. The man there said that he thought it was possible to get it through his rep. Delivery would be ten business days, and he’d get back to us to confirm…we’re still waiting.

With little faith in that avenue, we were told to order through Defender, (a company that we used extensively throughout our refit, and offer fantastic customer service), mark it for a “yacht in transit” and have the parts shipped directly to the Fed Ex office in Cancun. The package arrived in Merida, Mexico (three hours from Cancun) three days later! Unfortunately, it’s been there for the last two weeks.

We received an email from both Defender and Fed Ex that the shipment was being held in customs, and awaiting further information. Several phone numbers were provided, but no information needed for shipment. We went to an internet cafe in town to make the call. Thankfully, the owner phoned on our behalf. After some arguing, he was told that there would be an email sent, with the required information. Scott returned in the afternoon, and Adrian phoned again. After more arguing, and some hang-ups on the customs end, it was determined that they would only proceed through email. O-KAAY.

After several emails, Scott was told that he needed an agent to proceed, but there was no information provided. Scott replied, asking for some help, and was provided with a list of agents. He emailed all of them. Only one replied, asking for details and information that Scott had already included in his original email to all of the agents.

Things went quiet on Thursday and Friday, as everything here shut down for the Easter holiday. On Monday, Scott sent an email asking for an update. He got a reply that without a commercial invoice, they could not proceed, and that they could not help him.  ???????  We ordered the parts from a commercial company, and are willing to do or provide whatever they need to get these things shipped! Scott then asked what he needed to do to proceed, what more information did they want? We’ve had no reply.

We have now contacted Defender. Scott explained that unless they have a way to help us, we’ll need to have the items returned for a refund. We’ll start again fresh in Honduras, with an agent. Defender has contacted Fed Ex and Mexican Fed Ex, but we are still waiting for a response. The winds don’t look good for us to head for Honduras for another week to ten days, so we are willing to give it that long.

In the meantime, we are fortunate that our refrigerator and freezer also have a 120 volt powered holding plate system as well. However, that means we have to run the generator every day for a few hours, as opposed to every two to three days. Generators like to run with a full “load” of things drawing power, so we’ve been making water like crazy, and using the ice machine as well. We end up with extra power, as the solar panels put out a ton during the day, so I am also washing clothes, towels and sheets like mad. Silver lining??

Scott can’t stand this process, so we’ve shifted things a bit. We defrosted the freezer, and that will act as our refrigerator until we get this settled. Howard was very intrigued with the process.

I purchased an Engel eight years ago, for our winter cruise to Florida, and it has been acting as our beverage fridge. For those who don’t know, the Engel can act as a cooler, fridge or freezer. It has a compressor, and works on either 12 volts or 120. Things stay incredibly crazy cold, and it freezes things into a hard block; it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

It’s now loaded with almost all of the contents from our freezer.

The contents of our refrigerator went into a cooler out in the cockpit, until we got the freezer defrosted and dried out a bit. I have one less shelf in there, so things are a bit piled up, but it’s doing the job.

So that’s our customs saga. We continue to wait, but aren’t holding our breath.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


Maintenance And Repairs

We have been without internet this week, so I’m now catching up on posting:

Scott is a stickler for routine maintenance, believing that it extends the longevity of systems. Afterward, he makes a point to check what’s been done, testing a new part that has been replaced or looking for leaks if hoses have been disconnected during maintenance, etc. He also does a thorough visual check of the area. This can expose small, affordable problems before they become big, expensive ones, usually rearing their head at an inopportune time.

So as we waited for good winds to travel south to Puerto Morelos, Scott planned to spend a few hours cleaning out our sea strainers (which get clogged every few days with sea grass here) and topping off the water in our battery bank. The anodes in the motor were to be changed, and the heat exchangers on the raw water circuit cleaned.

Cleaning the heat exchangers required taking hoses off, and while off, Scott checked to see that they were clear of any debris (bits of the old anode, etc.). When finished, he ran the motor to test everything and check for any leaks, from having the hoses off. Running the motor revealed a leak in the raw water pump, which he hadn’t worked on at all. Then, when he tried to shut the motor off it wouldn’t stop, so it had to be shut off manually at the motor.

Scott addressed a leaking shaft seal on the raw water pump first. We didn’t have a spare seal kit onboard (shocking, as I feel we have two to three of everything part and tool related), but did have two back up pumps (one, brand new and the other a used one that came with the boat). Scott started by installing the used pump, but it leaked at the seal even worse, so it came out and the new one went in. So we went from having two spares to zero, but the pump is now back to working leak-free.

Now to the motor shut off. Scott smelled some electrical burn at the exact time the motor wouldn’t shut down, and then the start circuit breaker would trip. Our solenoid, (An electrically powered magnetic switch that pushes a lever to snuff off the fuel, stopping the motor) was original to the boat, which is 32 years old. As a side note, Scott loves that our motor needs no electric power to run. When it wouldn’t shut down, he could manually power it off. We can have a complete power failure, and still have the motor chug along.

Scott had purchased a new solenoid to have on hand, knowing ours was old, but it didn’t come with a bracket that holds it in place. So he set about removing the old solenoid from it’s bracket. It proved challenging, and it finally had to be cut out with an angle grinder (complete with sparks). The solenoid was replaced, and the motor would now stop when called for, but there was still the electrical burning smell.

The initial thought was a short circuit in the wiring harness of the motor. Upon further investigation, this proved not to be the source of the problem. Scott continued to performed multiple tests, and determined that the exciter circuit for the starboard alternator was drawing too many amps. He changed out the alternator with a spare that we had, which was again on the boat when we bought it. By the way, all of these things were at the far depths of the storage under our bed. Not fun to get to! We’re not sure how long this one will go, due to it’s age and wear, so we plan to have the old one rebuilt.

So, an easy day of regular maintenance turned into two full days of repairs. But, because the issues were found during regular maintenance and visual inspection, they were easy fixes while at anchor. Had Scott not done his maintenance and found this, we would have had salt water in the bilge and could have eventually overheated the motor.

We’re now ready to make our way to Puerto Morelos, jobs and fixes complete!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”