Only a poor or stupid man is cold

The first two weeks aboard Ah Ma were filled with the odd maintenance jobs. It all started with the boiler and the 220v gremlins which I talked about in the previous post. No hot water means no showers. I can not move on board without having a nice hot shower every day. Yes I hear some sailors say they can shower with a bucket of cold water. But for me this is not an option. As someone at the marina club house wisely said. Someone that is cold is either poor or stupid. Well without being pretentious, I can not classify myself as poor, and definitely not stupid. Well maybe a little, but that is only human I guess.

With the regained possibility of a hot shower, the boat is livable again, so the next day I moved on board and had my first night in our master cabin up front. Memories of our Pacific crossing surfaced on the first evening on the water. The sounds of fish nibbling on the thick crust of mussels and oysters stuck to my bottom took some getting used to. Still, the first night aboard was a very good one aside from one little thing. The little sand-flies in the marina had a feast on my feet, so the itching became unbearable and scars started to form. The little mosquito cream that I found in our medical supply wasn’t working as advertised. The only thing that helped was running cold water over my feet.

The next day I drove up to Paihia to get groceries and a better anti-itch cream. I also picked up an automatic insect repellent dispenser. More toys that need batteries aboard, yeah. But it worked like a charm, no more bites and no more itch. I also got a new battery for our stern hatch remote. This is the party piece of the boat as it is impressive to see the entire back of the boat open up with the push of a button.

I replaced the battery for the remote, but no party. I was feeling the dread of a broken computer or some other big electric problem. I have been following the vlogs Thomas of Be Free, another Bavaria 55 that we met in Panama. He had to replace his platform actuators, a very expensive repair, and then he had to replace his control computer thing with some jury-rigged solution to save another huge expense of a new computer board.

With fears of the worst I climbed into the starboard stern cavity that holds these electronics. Definitely not built for 2 meter tall people. But after some boat yoga that still hurts, I managed to find the culprit. It was as simple as a corroded connector on a relay switch. A simple fix, costing me two dollars for some crimp connectors.

Rotten connectors

The next big job would be the diesel engines, the main engine and the generator. As the tank ran empty a couple of times during Ah Ma’s unforeseen prolonged stay in Opua. I tried to pick up some jerrycans of diesel at the marina fuel dock. This didn’t work as the automatic pump did not accept any of my cards. I ended up driving back to Paihia again to fill up four jerry cans at the gas station. With fresh diesel in the tank I started the big blue Volvo Penta up for the first time. She ran at the first try, but didn’t sound too happy. She was not picking up revs, and the gearbox sounded a bit raw. I tried to put her in gear to check the functioning of the folding prop. This surprisingly seemed to work, but the sounds coming from below didn’t make me feel very comfortable.

The logical solution was to check with the Volvo Penta dealer in the marina if they had time to do a checkup of the engine. They did not have time for another two weeks. It is very busy at the marina as all boats that have been holed up here are trying to leave for Fiji as soon as possible.

On the daily walk to the convenience store I ran into Graig, our kiwi crew from the Pacific crossing. He just returned from Australia where he bought an Ovni, a french aluminum boat. He recommended a visit to another shop called Sea Power. They had time for the next Monday, which sounded a lot better.

On Monday morning a pleasant young fella named Sam climbed aboard with his gear to pump out the oil and disassemble the bits and pieces of the engine. At first sight the engine looked in good nick, but when we looked closer we did find some small issues. The gearbox oil cooler needed some work and the alternator didn’t look too good.

When we bought Ah Ma back in Curacao, the alternator already looked a bit worn due to a salt water leak from the raw water pump, which is mounted right above the alternator. We decided to take the alternator off and have her checked out by an alternator wizard. An old man who has been repairing alternators for sixty years. He came back with some bad news. The alternator came apart after some justified violence, but she was in bad shape on the inside. Better that we find this out now, when all the parts and knowledge is available, rather than somewhere halfway between New Caledonia and Borneo.

The deceased alternator set in motion a whole train of thought. If the alternator needs replacing, then better replace it with something that is suitable for a future battery upgrade. For that to happen it would need to be regulated. Since lithium batteries give a much higher stress on an alternator than traditional batteries. The alternator needs to be protected from overheating. This is what a regulator will do (as I was told). But first the alternator needs to be modified to have the regulation done externally. I learned all this when I went over the entire planned upgrade scenario with a fellow named Cam, the goto guy here in Opua for everything batteries and solar related.

New Altenator

I ended up ordering an exact same replacement alternator, 140 Amps strong Bosch. Not the biggest and baddest, but the only one that would fit on the very odd Volvo mount points without having some metal work done. This alternator was then modified by the guys from Marine Electric for the external regulation. Cam sold me a Balmar regulator that would do the job of preventing the alternator to catch fire.

Now the only little thing is to mount this electric wizardry in the engine bay. This was quite a puzzle to me and the electrician that came to help me. But in the end we both learned a lot and got it all in working order. The next morning me and Sam could now put the water-pump back on the engine and test it all out, with great success!. A much better sounding Volvo with fresh oil, a new alternator, new filters and new impellers.

Sam doing smart things with wrenches

In the meantime I tried to get the AIS going. My father has been complaining that he did not receive a noon position on his tracking app. From the looks of it the old Raymarine AIS was dead as a doodoo. I took it out, opened it up and measured the voltages. Power was getting in, but nothing happened, my best guess is that the electronics had died.

On the dock I bumped into a fellow Dutchman named Hans. He is a marine electric engineer specializing in Raymarine and a few other brands. I ordered an OceanSignal ATB1 from him, since these were available and the Raymarine AIS is not. A few days later Hans came to the boat to deliver and help install the new AIS. The configuration was a nightmare and is at the time of this writing still not done. For some reason OceanSignal finds my MMSI code to be ‘reserved’, and needs to release it. This should be done in 48 Hours, but now, 4 days later it is still not done. I’ve sent many messages to OceanSignal in the UK but have yet to get any response. If this thing is not working next week I’ll send it back and get a proper AIS. Sorry dad, no noon updates yet, but were not going anywhere anytime soon.


After the main engine it was time for the generator to get it’s makeover. She has never has been working well, Always problems sucking up water for cooling. This is now finally fixed with a simple new raw water strainer. But with one problem out of the way, the next problem pops up. Now with enough water to satisfy her cooling thirst, she refuses to drink her diesel to keep purring. The result of a broken fuel pump membrane. Sam took the pump off and is now looking if he can just order a pump membrane, or if we need to get an entire new pump. I am thinking of using this generator as an anchor instead.

Now a cold man is either poor or stupid. Hot water is fixed, but the diesel heaters are still not working. I have a little electric heater that sort of does the job, but Ah Ma has two big Webasto 4KW Diesel heaters hidden in the far corners of the stern. We replaced the fuel pumps for these, as the pumps mounted under the engine had been reduced to a clump of rust over time. After doing so it looked hopeful. One of the heaters worked for an evening, and the other one threw an error code indicating that the ignition was not working properly. Understandable, as it is probably the first time these are used in 10 years. But the next morning both heaters refused to work. I think after all this I’ll be poor and cold. But at least i’m having fun and learning a lot, so a bit less stupid..

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