Battery Woes

The suspect is in here somewhere….

We have been in Bahia Los Tortugas (Turtle Bay) for the last couple of days after a 35 hour run down from Ensenada. We have a great story in an upcoming blog post with lots of pictures, but it will have to wait until we get someplace with better data connectivty. We had great Telcel phone signal, but no data here.

This is the first time we have anchored overnight in a month (since we were in Neah Bay). Unfortunately, when I got up the first morning to make coffee, I discovered that the battery voltage was unusually low. I realize that before I continue the story, I need to do a little aside explaining our electrical system and why low battery voltage is not a good thing…

Our boat has an electrical system based on large 12V DC batteries. These batteries power the electronics, lighting, water pumps, heads, etc, that all run on 12V DC, and in combination with an Inverter, also power 120V equipment such as the refrigerator, freezer, etc. The batteries (in what we call the “house bank”) are charged by chargers which run from shore power when we are at a dock or from a generator when we are at anchor. They are also charged by the solar panels that we installed recently. The bottom line is that the house battery bank is a critical system on the boat, and we carefully monitor the “state of charge” to make sure that everything keeps working as it should. One important detail here is that the battery voltage is a (rough) indicator of how fully charged the batteries are, and a fully charged 12V battery should read not 12, but 12.8 volts. If the reading is below 12V, as it was on this morning, that means that the batteries are either deeply discharged, or a warning sign that something is amiss.

Back to the story… we ran the generator to recharge the batteries and decided to monitor and record the state of charge data over the next 24 hrs to see if we could identify the problem. During the day, our new solar panels are working well, producing enough energy to keep up with the house loads (usage by the refrigerator, freezer, etc) all day. When the sun goes down, we start drawing on the house banks, and the battery voltage got pretty low by bedtime that night. The next morning, we were down to 11.5V. Clearly something was wrong.

Because our batteries are split up into two banks (they are in two bix boxes in the lazarette), I was able to isolate the problem by turning each bank off and observing the results. When I switched off the port bank nothing happened. So I turned it back on and switched off the starboard bank… and everything on the boat shut down. Clearly there is a bad battery in the port bank – so bad that the boat can’t even run on it. My suspicion is that the bad battery is creating a load within the battery banks, therefore drawing down all the other batteries. So, I disabled the port battery bank and started the generator to charge up the starboard bank. That bank charged back up, with voltage and other parameters as expected, so we think that set of batteries is still good. Therefor we are good to go, except with half our our battery capacity. We will need to conserve electricity usage and monitor the batteries carefully, but will have no problem continuing on down the coast to San Jose Del Cabo. Once we get there, our task will be to determine which battery (or batteries) is dead and figure out how to get a warranty replacement from the manufacturer.

Today (Wednesday, Nov 5th) we are underway from Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria. It is a 30 hour run, and we have the same great weather (and fishing… also the subject of another post) that we had for the ride down to Turtle Bay. We expect to arrive tomorrow (Wednesday, 11/6) around 2 PM. We have heard that there is decent cellular data there, so we will be able to do some updates on the great time we have been having so far on the CUBAR Rally, Fishing, and enjoying Mexico.

Into Mexico!

The Marina Coral in Ensenada. Finally in Mexico!

After our aborted departure on October 30th due both to a stabilizer issue and then 50 knots wind reports telling us to stay in port, we had a lazy afternoon with a nice lunch courtesy of Sean (thanks Sean!) at the Kona Kai resort next to the Police Dock.  It was a beautiful day, although we did feel a bit like we were in limbo.

Still in San Diego…..

The next morning we were up and out and successfully made it to Mexico.  The winds were still gusting up to 35 knots for a few hours with big waves and we took a lot of water over the bow and port side,  but we had secured everything well and rode it out into Ensenada.  The winds had another effect which was fires – we saw several large fires on our way down the coast, including one that seemed to have started spontaneously as we passed with huge amounts of black smoke suddenly pouring off the hillside.  On our way into the Ensenada harbor there were fires on the shore – we could see firefighters actively fighting them. 

Wildfires above the bay in Ensanada.

In Ensenada Marina Coral staff took us to town to the Customs and Immigration offices, as well as the Port Captain. It was hopping there as this is prime season to enter Mexico by boat.  We had to check ourselves into the country and obtain a Temporary Import Permit (or TIP) for the boat.  The TIP allows us to have the boat in the country for 10 years.  They ask for a list of equipment on the boat and serial numbers of the engines.  If you do not get a TIP, the government has the right to confiscate your boat.  It seems similar to the US process of registration and tax collection.  In this case no tax payments are required. 

One of the very professional Mexican Officials. Photo courtesy CUBAR and Justin Edelman.

There was some confusion over names.  The boat documentation has Jr. listed next to Larry’s name, which he never noticed was there, but it’s not on his passport.  Much confusing discussion in Spanish and English ensued about where the owner, his son, was (we do not have a son), and us telling them the boat is named after our daughter.  Hijo versus Hija and lots of perplexed faces all around.  In the end, we reached comprehension and the officials decided I would be listed as the sole boat owner on the TIP to avoid any problems with the mismatched Jr.    Larry seems ok with that for the moment. 

That evening there was a spectacular seafood feast for us hosted by Marina Coral.  They obviously specialize in all types of ceviche and oysters cooked with various toppings.  I ate until I felt like I would explode.  We listened to a lecture by a professor who is part of a conservation group kayaking the entire Baja peninsula to bring awareness to the history and environmental gems of Baja.  It sounded somewhat harrowing at times with the huge Pacific swell!    Topped off the evening with the best margarita I have ever experienced – no mix used here, and churros, a classic Mexican dessert.

All the captains assembled for the CUBAR Captain’s Briefing in Ensenada.