Not the kind of fireworks you imagine, however. Cool Change, herself, almost had a fire!
It all starts with the fact that after we returned from Mexico, Rick began working diligently on installing a new, 120 amp alternator to replace our 65 amp alternator. This was necessary because our new, 225 amp batteries required recharging faster than a 65 amp alternator could handle, and because we didn’t want to have to run the engine any longer than necessary to charge the batteries when we were out long-term cruising.
Rick finally finished the installation to his satisfaction on January 3, 2014, so on January 4th, we motorsailed over to South Beach Harbor in San Francisco and took a guest slip for the night. The trip over was uneventful; it was a gorgeous, sunny day with very little wind. We motored through Pier 1 1/2 but there was no room for us to tie off to stop and have a little bite to eat near the Ferry Building, so we continued on to South Beach. South Beach gives us great access to the City. Our friend Brian was in town at his high-rise condo so we visited with him for the evening, and together we all went out to eat at our favorite little Belgium mussel and beer joint in North Beach.
We went out to eat for breakfast at the little greasy spoon near the docks, and enjoyed hanging out so much in the sun reading at the restaurant’s outdoor tables that we persuaded South Beach to let us stay there a little longer. We finally got underway, heading back to Sausalito, after 2 p.m. There was a little issue with getting the motor to turn over; as usual, there was a little pause when Cindy pressed the start button, and it took a few times to get the battery to turn the engine over. Rick, who was carefully monitoring the alternator output, noticed that there was also a big spike in output during that time. But after a few minutes, we switched the battery selector over to the house batteries and went merrily on our way, motoring the whole way back home. There wasn’t much wind to speak of, but it certainly was a lovely day. While the East Coast was suffering through horrible winter storms, we were in shirt-sleeves sailing on the San Francisco Bay. What could be better?
As we are accustomed to doing, Rick and I take turns behind the wheel, especially when docking or leaving the dock. In this case, as we returned, I was behind the wheel and Rick stepped off to attach the docklines. Once secured, I went below. As I approached the head, I noticed a foul smell. We both discussed it. I suggested that maybe, heaven forbid, the holding tank was overflowing, and maybe Rick should look inside the starboard lazarette where the top of the holding tank can be seen. He opened the hatch, and low and behold, the starter battery that was sitting on top of the holding tank lid, had ballooned, almost to the point of exploding. There was a whiff of smoke coming out of it! Rick quickly protected his hands and then lifted the battery out of the lazarette and onto the dock.
After much ado with the vendor who had sold us the starter battery with a promise that it was perfect for us (Rick was skeptical of its size and amperage) and that the vendor would stand by his product if anything went wrong, the vendor finally did the right thing and credited us towards a new starter battery. Rick can go into more detail, but basically he believes that the battery had a bad cell so the alternator kept giving it power until it got into a state of thermal runaway. Our previous alternator probably wouldn’t have done that because it was so weak anyway!
Two months later, the new battery hasn’t yet been installed, but it is on order and we are confident it will do the trick.