Sunday, August 19, 2018

One Small and Very Powerful Metal Fragment

Each time I broke another drill bit, I was shocked, surprised. No fing way did I just do that for the fourth time. Inconf'ingceivable! Panic had taken hold of me in the form of a 3/8" by 1/4" bolt fragment. This small intransigent piece of metal was now in complete control of the other 6 or so tons of Close Enough.

If I can't get the bolt out, I can't refasten the lower alternator brace, reset the alternator, put the engine covers back and actually run the motor.


There was some excitement a couple weeks ago when the lower alternator brace broke for the second time in two years for no apparent reason or purpose other than causing toxic levels of frustration and bewilderment. The problem makes itself known by dropping my voltage a few tenths. Not enough to fry anything, and still enough to charge batteries, but just enough to keep me obsessing over the readout.

I've been through a few alternators in 7 years and bought one last year just in case. I decided to swap them out when the voltage got wonky, but only got as far as loosening up the lower brace and finding it broken. How this short stout little hunk of metal could ever break, let alone twice was way out beyond my limited base of salty diesel knowledge.

Clayton welded the brace back together and I ordered a new one. All seemed well enough until the second day back when voltage readings started going way up instead of sagging down. As in, instead of a few tenths low, it was reading up to four whole volts over. Tail tucked and hoping we didn't trip the main engine breaker or burn to a crisp, with the merry chirp of the VHF telling me it did not like 18 volts, we headed back to the harbor and tore the engine box apart to install the new unit.

Aside from one bolt that chose to shear off instead of cooperating, that was a relatively easy repair.

All was well until the ferry was canceled on Tuesday. The Matinicus ferry is an important lifeline during the two to four days per month that our fair state indulges us with a trip aboard the Everett Libby. Two to four days per month unless something breaks or someone installs a bilge pump backwards on that lumbering partially decomposed ox carcass of what passes for public transportation infrastructure in Maine.

Meara really, really wanted to come out to the island with friends for a couple of precious days between farm work and heading back to school and work. 'That's part of why we have this boat, ya know,' I said out loud to Megan while the interior monologue was less confident.

Crossings are usually memorable. I had been lulled by a couple of boring ones to pick up new traps in Rockland earlier in the season and hadn't left Matinicus waters since then. The next would stand out.

We set out through fog so thick you're sure you have something in your eyes and that they are making cartoon spirals. A friend told me when I first bought Close Enough that its kind handle very poorly in a following sea. I would refine that. In a relatively bigger following sea, she's fine. In a medium size following sea, she is a drunken mess, with stern trying to pass bow. I wouldn't want to watch me on radar as I was constantly swinging 30 degrees off course in both directions.

I was worried there must be a rudder problem until we headed back out into the fog toward Matinicus at which time she tracked elegantly exactly where I pointed her.

All was again well until just outside the harbor when voltage dropped from the normal 13.8-14 to 13.6. Charaist, what now?

I was astonished that ignoring the problem did not help, and after a full day of stewing and watching the voltage change for no good reason, I started taking things apart again. This time, it was yet another bolt on the alternator brace assembly that had broken. That doesn't look so big and bad I reassured myself.

Clayton outfitted me with an assortment of boat dental tools and I set off to drill, gouge and coax out that small metal fragment between me and employment.

As with all boat work, the space is cramped, slippery, asymmetric and very hard on knees, back and neck. This is the only excuse I can offer for drilling off-center and actually making a small virtually cost free repair into a much more expensive and time consuming one. I fixed 'er until she was good and broke.

With the hole drilled cock-eyed, the extraction tools wouldn't work. After some consultation, I decided to try and drill another small hole, and hope to get the fragment turned into smaller fragments. This was a very bad idea and I pursued it relentlessly. Drill bits snapped like pretzels. Knees pleaded for mercy. Brain overheated. Now I had misshapen oversized hole(s) in the wrong place.

That would be a fail.

After the obligatory emotional breakdown, I decided to head home where I needed to clean up and get ready to play some accompaniment for a wedding at the church. The next morning, my plan was to temporarily bolt the mess together and hope it held until the new parts arrived.

So far so good.