Just when you thought

Sunday 10 September 2017

Lovely Lolawai

The ten “sleepers” onboard slowly emerged in their own time between 6:00 and 7:00am to a glorious morning; still seas, a gentle breeze and sun in the sky. Breakfast was a case of grazing to suit.

Richard, Bob, Jay, Wellan and Parkon stayed onshore and we’d be catching up with them later in the day.

The plan was to attend church around 8:00am, after which the dental and medical gear would be transferred to the black-sand beach to our stern, loaded on a truck (4wd) and then taken to a community area for an afternoon clinic – plus of course more Oral Health Surveys

By 7:30am I figured the generator could be turned on without interrupting anyone’s sleep, or the onboard “vibe”; it’s a quiet unit, but the noise is still a bit intrusive. Anyway, the battery voltage was getting lower and lower over the previous 24 hours as laptops, phones, cameras, GPS units, VHF radios, torches, iPads, dental headlamps, and I’m sure other things I can’t remember, sucked AMPS from the battery bank – which is the way it’s meant to be of course.

On the panel the battery monitor had gone from “green bars” to two “yellow bars”, which is just one stop before a single “red bar” and truly uncharted territory.

After turning on the generator, then the breaker switch, I checked the charge-rate on the panel and quickly discovered nothing was going into the batteries. Nothing! No AMPS whatsoever. Most perplexing. I did the usual re-checking of things and eventually ended up at the Xantrex battery charger behind the saloon seat, a trusty unit that has been working faithfully for at least 7 years. Today, however, it showed no lights whatsoever and gave the appearance of being turned off, even though the switch on the wall clearly indicated it was receiving 240v power from the generator.

I pressed the unit’s “On” button and an “Err” message displayed in red, followed by a “CHF” message. A quick look in the manual (yes we blokes do eventually read the manual) revealed the following:

Err = Error
CHF = Charger Hardware Fault, “Call for Service”

At this point things began to look a bit bleak because we rely on this Battery Charger to, well, charge batteries. In short, something that’s essential to the operation of the mission. I quietly excused myself and motored over to Gary, the skipper of the large charter catamaran “Rendezvous” (whose fishing customer came over for medical assistance last night from Graeme) still anchored in the bay.

Gary is the step father of the owner of “The Boatyard” in Port Vila and someone I though could give me a few tips. After the initial … “hey thanks so much to you guys for giving medical care to one of our guests last night”, and then over a coffee, hearing all the things that can and have, gone wrong on a boat where guests are paying $3,000 per day – from blocked toilets and faulty cabin lights to broken alternators and water pumps – he suggested I talk with Bradley at Santo Hardware, or Justin at Port Vila. We discussed some possible strategies, but everything seemed to point to us returning to Luganville overnight, leaving the medical and dental team here to live ashore and then returning tomorrow night for Tuesday morning’s departure to the next island … hopefully having obtained a new battery charger in the process.

Returning to Chimere everyone headed off to church except me, Matt Bryant and Matt Latimer – affectionately known as “Old” Matt and “Young” Matt. Old and Young Matt’s job was to pull the charger apart to see what might be done to fix it … my equivalent of “Calling for Service”

In the end the unit was declared “dead” and so it was agreed that the charging of the batteries will now be done solely by the alternator attached to the main engine, and that we should make a judgement about a quick dash back to Luganville after fully checking the main engines ability to fully charge the batteries.

We then proceeded to turn on the main engine and after checking the charge-rate on the panel it became apparent that here too there was no charge … no AMPS … going into the batteries. There was also no revs showing on the panel – a sure indicator of a dead alternator.
At this point the battery voltage was hovering around 12 and there was possibly another couple of days charge before the lights went out … and fridge, freezer, radio, laptops, phones etc etc …

So where do you get a new alternator in a remote village, on a lonely island, miles from anywhere? As it turns out, at the bottom of the wardrobe in the captain’s cabin (now occupied by Annette and Cathy) all wrapped up in its new cardboard box after being purchased a week before setting out from Westernport (Australia) back in May.

Two hours later we had replaced the alternator … actually, when I say “we” … I did hold the torch a lot and at one point even fed (young) Matt a banana. This was necessary because Matt had squeezed himself under the floor in order to gain better access to the unit on the front of the motor. He might be tall, but he was the skinniest of us all

Finally the main engine … our beloved Perkins … was fired up and the charge-rate showed 40 AMPS going into the batteries … to much jubilation all round.

The result …? We do not have to sail back to Luganville tonight, only to then return for Tuesday morning!! Yeh!! And we can charge our batteries using the main engine alone.

I know it was a mistake to declare out loud that problems often come in “threes”. Here were two big problems in short succession – the dead battery charger and the dead alternator – and again I wondered out loud “I wonder what might be next?”

As it turned out I didn’t have long to wait. Maybe two hours tops. It came as I returned from transporting gear to the beach. The 25hp motor on the back of the large dinghy was behaving “funny”. It seemed to lack power. On closer inspection it was revealed that the back of the boat, the “transom”, to which the motor is attached, was moving. In short, cracks had appeared between the sides and the transom, due to 8 years of metal fatigue in a spot that takes a large amount of stress. Not only when accelerating, but every time the motor is raised and lowered.

On return to Chimere, we lifted the dinghy aboard and Martin and I set about bolting and riveting aluminum angle-brackets in the vital spots, only completing the task in the fading light.

We look forward to inflating the dinghy again and testing it out tomorrow.

In “Clinic & Survey News”…

Doctors Duke & Duke continue to make referrals to each other – although from what I hear it’s a one-way street currently

A total of 12 dental surveys were conducted in just 3 hours, with the occasional rain leading to some pretty wet volunteers
More news and a broader range of mission perspectives can be obtained from the following websites:

Graeme Duke

Annette Vincent

Smooth seas, fair breeze and just when you thought …

Rob Latimer

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