Saturday, November 5, 2016

Taking Up 2016 - Malfunctions and Extreme Stubborn Persistance.

Getting my right hand into the glove was a painful struggle. The glove was soaking wet and my hand was griping at me about the hundreds of knots untied, the 4+ miles of rope coiled and the hundreds of traps lifted. Each one gets picked up six times at the end of the season between the water and my trap yard. Mine is a small scale operation.

The rain started 4 hours or so earlier and had sheeted down for a couple hours by the time the last load reached the wharf.  This was Thursday, November 3.

No amount of November rain could dampen the glow of relief and joy of knowing all I had left was to truck the gear to my yard. That process is hard work, but the uncertainty of sea and weather conditions and tide is no longer relevant.  I confess having a warming measure of wine on the trips back and forth. Readers can bear in mind that top speeds on the short largely deserted dirt roads to my home are approximately 10 miles per hour, so I’m not rationalizing buzzed driving anywhere but in this peculiar context.

The end of the season was a nightmare ordeal of breakdowns, gales, lost and mangled gear.

Typically because of weather getting uglier and mainland obligations, I try to take my traps up after Columbus Day weekend. Last year, the last load came in on Halloween.

This year’s ending was a train wreck, or better a boat wreck. I lost most of September to the Monster Under the Engine Box (the last post). After getting Close Enough, operational again following large expenditures and large lost revenue, I had the most lucrative 3 days of my life.

The only cloud came on the second day, THE SECOND DAY- after getting the boat back. The voltage meter was reading slightly low, a tenth of a volt here, another tenth there, back up, a little down. Just enough to get me fretting and wondering if maybe all of the work done just changed things a little.

I pulled the engine cover and peered into the monster’s cave, but saw nothing amiss.

Weather and scheduling blotted out the next week or two, and by the time I got back the panicxiety of winter coming and a big job ahead was keeping me up at night and driving me by day. I got one load of traps up on a Tuesday afternoon, and thought I would get the train rolling. More surprises proved me wrong.

1. Snap-Snap-Snap!

Wednesday morning it was a little rougher than I’d prefer, but I planned to find a sheltered side of the island to work. Half way there, the growl of the diesel was rudely interrupted by loud snapping sounds. The needles on the gauges were jumping. I throttled back and embraced the twist in my middle. 

Oh God, please no. Not breakdowns this late in the season with almost all my gear still in the water. Yes, my wayward son, that’s exactly what is happening. Enjoying my sense of humour are we?

I nursed the vessel back to the mooring and took a close look at the electrical system. This time I saw the top bolt on the alternator had backed itself out and crushed the wiring harness plug coming off the top of that component.  That explained the arcing snapping sound. I figured on just winding the bolt back in and being on my way.

I scrunched myself into the space and started working on the bolt, which was having none of it. In the dark place under the alternator, I saw that a brace holding it up had snapped in half and that the main engine belt was chewed up on the edge from the misalignment. Those explained the charging discrepancy.

Fortunately, Clayton had a 13/32 inch socket and an adaptor to get it onto my wrench handle. This got me past the first and often worst repair struggle- removing bolts in a marine environment.

Michelle did not know when they might have the new brace, so I headed back to the mainland on Wednesday afternoon. The part came on the following Monday, along with 7 straight days of high winds.

Megan and I headed out the following Monday morning in a brisk northwesterly wind. I had used my insomnia time to rehearse the repair steps to get all the parts back together properly. I did not factor in the cosmic sense of humour of the deity.

I got the new brace installed and went to wind in the top bolt. After a few different approaches and confused irritation, I pulled it out and discovered that it had sheared off, leaving a piece securely wedged in to the top brace and the alternator itself.  I need another new part and to get the broken piece out!? At that moment, I noticed oil seeping from the top of the filter housing. God was pissing his pants.

I paddled back to the wharf and went where I always go in despair and asked Clayton how to proceed. ‘Can you get the brace off? It would be a lot easier to work on here.’

Drive back down, paddle out, put wrench on bolts, ease first one out, round edges off the next. Nope. Not working on it back in the shop. I put a screwdriver into the opening in a vain attempt to wiggle the remnant out. God was obviously attending to other things, because it came loose. Now I knew how big a bolt and what threads I needed for a replacement.

A five gallon bucket of bolts is heavy. Clayton heaved it to the doorway where we could tip the pail into a sorting tray. My hand landed immediately on a miraculous replacement.

The reassembly was straightforward. I started the motor up and saw that there was no charge coming from the alternator. F* F* F*. I was ready to recruit someone to set fire to Close Enough, or just head up the bay a little and do it myself.

Everything looked fine. I retensioned the belt, replugged the plug, retried, reF*’d several times and headed back to Philbrooks’.

‘It’s got to be a wire. Try this Shop Solve.’

Drive back down, paddle back out, clean the plug. Oh, that’s bent. I straightened a tongue inside the alternator, and voila, on restarting, everything was normal.

It was still too windy to work on the water, so Megan and I headed out the next morning, timed to the tide. There are only a few hours on either side of high tide in which to get into the dock, so timing is key. I had never gotten 3 trips in on one tide.

Thanks to the hardest working person I know, we got three trips in on three consecutive days- something I’d never imagined.

Day one was brutal, but effective. After getting the three loads heaved onto the dock, the victory lap was 7 trips back and forth to truck the gear to my yard.

2. Floppy, the Valve Cover
Day two was more brutal and, according to the hardest working person I know, I got in a whole year’s worth of F*s.

Wednesday started with the oil level being significantly low. I couldn’t tell where the problem was but suspected the filter housing. In putting some fresh lube in, I noticed the valve cover with the filler cap was very loose. Even my rudimentary knowledge of diesel beasts told me that this should not be flopping about. None of the other ones were. I tightened the bolt which helped not a bit. Two days later, when the gear was up and I took the works apart, I noticed a washer was missing. Must not have been put in during the massive job in September.

I decided we’d chance cooking the engine and started across the harbor, only to see that the alternator was not charging again. We tied up at the lobster car and located a rotted wire. This thankfully was literally a 5 minute repair.

Even though it was an easy one, it seemed at that point as though the malfunctions would never stop, which I suppose is true of all boats. I wished though that they’d not all come at once with winter breathing down my hoody.

The day was far rougher than forecast, and I couldn’t seem to find a cubby hole to work in where the wind wasn’t frothing things up at that particular time.

We managed to get three trips in anyway and earned every one. The last one saw a couple traps go overboard when we got surprised and tossed by 3 unusually big waves.

The next day was our lucky and last one. The sea was calm and we were now in a solid groove. Even in a driving rain, we were both tasting victory.

With the last load from the west side aboard, we came around the corner and realized how lucky we were to not be taking up gear on the east. It was dark and ugly and rough.

It was just a matter of hard work from that point. The tide, the wind and the rain were no longer factors.

We had been just a hair more stubborn and persistent than the malfunctions and bad weather. It was enough.

Thanks, Megan.