Things That Go Whirl In The Night

The wind was blowing and occasionally Caprica would get lifted onto an ice sheet and dropped with a raucous crunch. I laid in bed, listening to the sounds of nature; the wind in the rigging and the grating of the ice against our hull, mentally planning the to-do list for our June departure. Passing in out of sleep-deprived consciousness as Eleanor fidgeted, spun, kicked and climbed next to me in her own heroic Dora the Explorer style dream, a new noise manifested.

The water pump-pressured, purred and grunted briefly with a whirl, then clicked into silence. Was there a leak in a line or tank? No. The pump would have continued to run. The water lines in the back of the boat could have a slow leak. Maybe the work that I did on them before winter failed. I spent several hours in a space the size of a kitchen cabinet working with power tools at hard angles next to fuel lines, a furnace and our autopilot a few weeks prior. Was water slowly seeping out of the line and collecting somewhere in the stern? Again, No, I thought. It was a difficult installation with low light and I could have easily missed a step. I should inspect the water lines this weekend and add new clamps at the junctions. I bet the water tank control quadrant is ready to be replaced. Then a new thought seeped into my brain. The water pump might be on its last legs. We have a spare but is the circuit rated for 10 amps or 15 amps? What was the PSI of the spare pump? I waited a few minutes, listening intently for the water pump to grunt and whirl. Okay. All Clear. It was just pressuring up. Eleanor rolled over and planted a cold foot on my lower back.

I was on the verge of sleep, or maybe sleeping when the compressor for the refrigerator hummed. A minute later, the cooling fan nosily spun up and filled Caprica with a sound that vaguely resembled static. At the same time, the 12-volt fan in the forward berth slowed and I drifted back into complete consciousness. Eleanor was at the top of the bed, wedged into a stack of pillows with one leg vertical like a ballerina after a dizzying spin. I chuckled then remembered what woke me in the first place. When the refrigerator compressor turned on, the 12-volt fan slowed. Those two systems are tied into the same 30 amp circuit. We are plugged into shore power so the system should have easily carried the load unless something was wrong. At anchor when we are running systems off of our 3 batteries, it’s common for one system to run on reduced power while a larger system siphons off electricity. Did the battery charger fail? It is a small battery charger, the smallest that the system would accept. The system really needs a 50 amp charger but the factory installed a 30 amp. The charger is a 2005 and theoretically should be replaced, but a new charger would cost a month’s tuition for Eleanor.

After a few minutes, the compressor suddenly stopped and I could hear the cooling fan on the battery charger working. I was relieved and felt my body relax from the idea of purchasing and installing a new battery charger in the cramped cupboard above my diesel engine. Then I realized how much electricity my refrigerator was consuming from my battery bank. A thought ricocheted around my dull skull and through the accessional synapse. The refrigerator is as old as the battery charger and both could fail at any moment. Even if they didn’t fail, they were both outdated. The refrigerator consumes a huge amount of electricity and I bet the battery charger wasn’t keeping our 12-volt system at a healthy level. Running my battery charger could inadvertently lower the life expectancy of my enormous battery bank. I listened to the cooling fan on the charger slow and turn off. The Batteries were topped off and all was good. Eleanor rolled hard then sat up and looked blankly towards the “living room.” Dada? She quietly asked.

“I’m here my honey.” I reached out and padded her leg.
She craned her head to the side and nodded. “Hi, Daddy.” Then she fell immediately over into a hard sleep. It was completely unfair.

Eleanor kicked again and rolled sharply with an extended arm, unintentionally (I think) slapping me in the eye. I was again, completely awake. The wind had ceased and Caprica was still in the ice, floating in a small pool of open water that we shared with assorted mohawked diving ducks. After an unknown period of time, I began drifting into the first stages of precious sleep. Comforted by the hum of the diesel heater and the knowledge that the boat would be a coveted 72 degrees at a coffee time, I felt my body finally relaxed exhaled deeply and for a brief second, I thought, This is good. My mind began to drift into the fog of deep sleep when my subconscious began speaking to me. At first, it was a short rational thought, It’s very quiet in Caprica right now. No pumps, no compressors, not even the constant hum of the diesel heater purring away. Then the Sam Kinison voice that occasionally graces me chimed in. THE DIESEL HEATER IS OFF! IT’S 8 DEGREES OUTSIDE! “I’m up!” I said, then thought about what I thought about and listened carefully. Something was wrong. It was completely silent in Caprica. Sure enough, our 20,000 BTU Diesel heater was off. The only device that made living in Caprica during the winter possible was off. 

I was still in bed, warm with my daughter laying half on top of me, drooling down my neck. If I was in bed, warm, everything was okay, But for how long? I thought. It wouldn’t take long for the boat to get cold. I could start the oven. That would buy us some time. We did use one space heater to warm the forward berth, between the space heater and the oven we could keep her warm until I fixed the heater. FIX the heater! I thought. When the diesel heater breaks, there is no service technician to call. I would have to unhook the fuel and electrical connections and disassemble the housing. I wonder if the burner filled with Carbon? I paused for a moment. I’m getting too far ahead of myself. It’s probably a clogged fuel filter. There are two fuel filters, both under the starboard berth. I didn’t have any spare filters but this shouldn’t be too much of an issue if it was just a clogged filter. I could dismantle the berth and diagnose the issue, pull the filters but then there would be air in the lines. I would have to purge the air and that would mean crawling into the cabinet size aft locker tonight in single digit temperatures. I exhaled and ninja slid out of bed, carefully using my boat yoga skills to maneuver around Eleanor working hard not to disturb the slumbering beast.

I stood in the main cabin, waiting for my eyes to focus, staring at the diesel heater control panel. There is a little green light on the control panel that flashes Morris Code when there is a fault. When the light is solid green, everything is functioning within parameters. My eyes adjusted and I saw the light begin to flash. Damn! I watched intently, keeping track of the code. After a minute, I instinctively knew what the control panel was communicating as my feet absorbed the cold seeping out of the teak hardwood floor. The panel reminded me that my father’s birthday was approaching.

The bilge pump clicked and choked loudly into existence, waking me from the dream. My Dad’s birthday is soon. I thought and realized that the bilge pump was on. Why was the bilge pump on? Did a thru-hull fill with ice and rupture? How many gallons of water would enter through a 2-inch hole in the hull before I could stop the leak? A few hundred? That’s manageable, I thought just as the bilge pump went silent. Condensation filled the small nook where the pump sits in the hull. The same thing happened in Maine. This is okay. This is why the pump triggered. 

I inhaled sharply and held my breath for a second, carefully listening to the diesel heater. The quiet unobtrusive hum allowed me to relax briefly before I realized both the space heater and the dehumidifier were off. We tripped the big circuit breaker. We were pulling too many apps through our 30 amp circuit. That’s the first time that’s happened, and I immediately thought about fire.

I climbed out of bed and made my way into the main cabin. I stood in the darkness and examined the main electrical panel. Sure enough, we had power coming into the boat so we did trip a breaker. I flipped the main breaker into the on position and turned off the dehumidifier. It was a power hog but kept Caprica dry in the winter and eliminated any condensation. This would be an easy fix. I could run a 15 amp circuit off of the air conditioner. It wouldn’t tax the system since we didn’t use the air conditioners in the winter time. I could solve this problem for $60 and an hour of work.

Against my better judgment, I checked my watch. It read 0417. My alarm was set for 0430, It’s not worth going back to bed at this point, I thought and started the coffee. A few minutes later, I was sitting on our couch listening to NPR and sipping my morning chemicals. I looked up through the hatches at the early morning stars scattered across the sky and sipped the scalding coffee. Yeah. This is the life, I thought.

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