Provenance and Providence

The single part of Ripple that failed in the entire 88 day trip
May 13, 2015

Mathias and I got away from Port Townsend early in the morning, the ambitious target of Bedwell Harbour in our heads.  It is a stretch for a slow boat (55 nM), but we were motivated.  The tides were favorable for slipping between San Juan Island and Lopez Island (a pretty fast tidal gate) and by doing this interior route, we had a pretty clear shot north in protected waters towards Friday Harbor, and on up to Bedwell Harbour, our most convenient place to clear customs into Canada.  We decided to stop at Friday Harbor for something or other from a drug store, and I thought I might as well top off the fuel tanks while there. At a liter an hour, we had used less than half of our usable fuel.  But never pass up a bathroom (or fuel stop)... thats what my mom says.

I topped off the tank, switched the key on, and hit the starter button. Nothing.  OK, OK... its a loose panel connection... a problem I'd had before.  Take it off, wiggle everything, check every connection. Click. Nothing. Now I'm starting to sweat -- fuel docks are unsympathetic to malingerers.  I quickly pulled the engine box panels apart and did the only thing I knew to do: wiggle everything on the engine. Which is often exactly the right approach, as it was in this case.  The ground cable to the alternator terminates in an electrical fixture that is crimped onto the ground wire (about the size of a finger... not a small conductor).  This 20-some-year-old connector had failed from metal fatigue, interrupting the backbone of my smallish electrical system.

OK, at least I know what the problem is.  The fuel attendant told me that if I could get the boat to an adjacent dock, no one would bother me while I did the repair.  It was easy, but I needed the right size connector, and the means of crimping it.  But first things first.  That thirteenth of May, visitors to the harbor were treated to a comical vision of me in my tiny, nearly weightless dinghy, trying to tow my 8,000 lb sailboat the 30 yards or so to the next dock.  I thought immediately of the episode in  The Curve of Time where the author tows her disabled motorboat with her tender...  all I can say is that must have been a light boat.  If you haven't read that book, by the way, it is wonderful.

There was a Puget Sound Express whale watching boat from Port Townsend on the public dock, and . they had been watching my hapless antics.  The helped us to get Ripple over to the dock and I sang my sad song as I got ready to scour Friday Harbor for the requisite part. One of the fellows on the excursion boat graciously offered to see if they had a suitable spare, and they did, and I set about doing the fix. We were chatting, and he remarked that my boat looked a lot like his boss's old boat.  I told him thats because it IS his old boat!  I had met Peter, the owner of PSE, at a previous Wooden Boat Festival.  I thanked them for their help and told them our plans, and hoped that they would not hear about us again!  And to please remember us to Peter, who must have smiled knowing that his folks had helped us out.

Here, on day 2, was the first of many acts of kindness of strangers that kept us moving.  We were underway again in plenty of time to get to Bedwell Harbour that night.  Another crisis surmounted. As it turns out, that fatigued connector was the only boat failure that took place the entire trip.

Lessons Learned:
  • The spare parts you have are not enough, and probably never will be.  It is really hard to anticipate all your problems and have fixes at hand.  But try.  Try harder than I did.
  • That idealism thing... people are eager to help when they can: be open to it.
  • Towing my boat with my dinghy is a non starter. Fugeddaboutit.

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