Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Unintended Consequences

Last night we were anxiously awaiting Chris Parker’s email to help us decide if we were crossing to the Exumas today or tomorrow. It appeared that we would have better wind speed and direction today but better sea state tomorrow. We wanted to see if there was any change in the forecast before we made a final decision. The email didn’t come until after 9:00 (cruiser’s midnight). Based on the email we decided to leave in the morning but by then it was too late to pull the dinghy up onto the arch. 

We got up at 6:00 to take the motor off the dinghy and pull the dinghy up. We did all of our other preparations to leave. As George was at the bow getting ready to pull up the anchor I started and engine and...it shut off again. Just like it had the other day. I checked the battery key. It was on but I switched it off and back on just to be sure. Still nothing. George checked the engine battery, it seemed fine. We started to think it might be a problem with the starter. George started poking around looking for the starter connections and I did an internet search for Volvo Penta D2-55 start problems. I found a few forums that talked about issues similar to ours. Our engine has an electrical start system. There is a black box with wires going in and out that acts as an interface between the starter panel and the engine. If it thinks that the battery doesn’t have enough voltage when you are trying the start the engine. it shuts everything down. Since it seemed that the battery had enough voltage we thought the interface was faulty. Someone on the forum suggested bypassing the interface and jumping the battery by connecting the red and yellow wire to the fat red one using a long screwdriver. (Sounds like hot wiring to me). George was happy to have a long screwdriver with a rubber handle that he used to service the winches on our last boat. We attempted the hot wiring but the engine still didn’t start. Then we thought there really must be a problem with the battery. Someone else on the forum suggested testing the voltage drop as you try to start the engine. We did and, although it was hard to tell since it shuts off so fast, it seemed to drop from over 13 to 11 something. Not good. 

We have 3 sets of batteries on Breeze On. The house batteries, the starter battery and the bow thruster battery. They aren’t connected to each other so we can’t use the house batteries to start the engine, etc.  George asked Michael if he had jumper cables. He did not. I mentioned using the Honda Generator. George was focused on jumping the battery and said the Honda Generator didn’t have the right connections. Then he realized he could just start charging everything using the generator through the shore power connection and we could see if the engine would start with the generator on. It did!  Hooray!  Of course, by then it was too late to sail to the Exumas today so we plan to go tomorrow. We think the battery problem may be the unintended consequence of the new solar panels. They, and the new lithium ion batteries, work so well that we haven’t plugged into shore power since they were installed about 6 weeks ago. The solar panels charge only the house batteries. The engine battery and bow thruster battery charge when the engine is running or we are connected to shore power. As I said, we haven’t connected to shore power in about 6 weeks and we haven’t been running the engine much lately either. The voltage on the engine battery seemed good at over 13 volts but wasn’t as high as it used to be when we used shore power more often. I read that the engine is a big draw of power so we are assuming if the voltage isn’t closer to 14 it drops too low to start the engine. We may need a new battery. We will look into that when we get to Georgetown. After we get home next spring we will have a switch installed that will allow us to connect the house batteries to the starter battery, if needed. George is charging the batteries with the Honda Generator as I write this and we hope the engine starts right up in the morning. 

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