Adrift between The Snares and The Traps

13 Feb

February 12, 2019Day 130

Noon Position: 47 52S  167 08E

Course(t)/Speed(kts): —

Miles since departure: 17,941

Avg. Miles/Day: 138

The Snares lie 20 miles to the SW; The Traps, 35 miles to the NE. In between is Mo, adrift.

I doused sail when the wind died in the early morning and went right back to bed. It had been a long night, crossing that northerly stream of wind and rain. But sleep was not to be had. At 5am, the AIS alarm sounded for the first time since Cape Horn. It told that a small expedition cruise ship out of Invercargill, the Professor Khromov, made slow (7 knots) way toward us. I watched with binoculars. The ship rolled heavily in the leftover swell. Two miles off it altered course to the W and away. An hour later, it altered course for The Snares. We never spoke.

By now the batteries were sorely depleted, down 142amps, that is, 25% or half of safely usable charge. For the last two days, I have not had access to the Watt and Sea (Wattsy) hydrogenerator (the lanyard downhaul had failed again), and much of the time had been calm in any case. So, I started the engine and motored slowly due east.

Three hours later I noted the alternator had stopped charging. I shut the engine down and deployed both solar panels and have been troubleshooting ever since.

One’s biggest danger at sea is compounding failure. I have three charging alternatives: solar, hydro, and engine. Today is sunny, but usually that is not the case down here, so solar panels in the Southern Ocean are a poor primary power source and hung on the rail, as mine are, they are a danger to themselves and others in heavy weather. Besides the lanyard issue, Wattsy has been acting erratic of late, cycling between high and low output for no reason I’ve yet been able to assess. That leaves the engine and its alternator, now also uncertain.

This issue also jeopardizes access to the autopilot (which draws on battery power); this would mean a failure on Monte’s part would be critical. A lack of steady power would mean severely reduced access to the Chart Plotter and AIS. Nav might have to go manual (can do) and AIS would go off until we made an approach (unlikely an issue in scarcely trafficked high latitudes). The stove uses a solenoid safety switch; this would have to be taken offline. Running lights would stay off. Flashlight/Headlamp batteries might go uncharged, making night work difficult.  Comms would be severely reduced. No tracker.

We are a mere 80 miles from Invercargill. Do these issues warrant a pull into harbor?

All this was running through my head as we bobbed.

In the afternoon I did basic troubleshooting. Alternator and switch wires are connected and secure. Fuses are not blown. I cleaned all the connectors on the regulator, which is in the engine room. Then I pulled Wattsy up on deck to examine his underside for chafe causes. None found, but I was careful in re-reeving the lanyard in ways I cannot be when hung over the transom.

In the evening I started the engine by way of a test. The alternator engaged right away. I shut it down and started again. Now it failed to work. What to do?

Out of ideas, I made sail–even though the wind was from the east. I put Mo close hauled and our course was either due S or a direct for The Traps. Fog rolled in at sundown and the wind died. Again we drift.

(Thank you to Gerd Marrgraff and Dustin Fox for immediate–and likely ongoing–assistance with troubleshooting ideas.)

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage

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