Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Losing Our Cool

We managed to get to bed early enough last night that I was able to get up at 5:00 am this morning.  It was a beautiful clear night, without a hint of dawn yet in the sky.  I let Joan sleep for a few more minutes while I put on a (pre prepared) pot of coffee.  I was looking forward to being out of the Patuxent River and out on the Bay to watch the sun rise.  I love it when a plan comes together.

As I waited for the coffee, I checked the battery monitor, and was surprised by how few Amp-Hours we had burned through over the night.  As I puzzled on this too-good-to-be-true number, I caught sight of the refrigeration temperature gauges.

Instead of being at -18 deg C (0 deg F) the cold plate gauge was showing -9.4 deg C (15 deg F) and rising as I watched!  At this rate, our entire supply of frozen food would be thawing within a day!

The refrigeration compressor is located in the far aft of the port sail locker, which is jam-packed with stuff.  So, first order of business was to empty the locker.  With the deck now looking like a derelict boat, and all the rest crammed into the cabin, I lowered myself into the cavernous locker to start troubleshooting. 

My ears told me the fan was running continuously, but the compressor was "short cycling", trying to come on, then stopping for a few minutes, only to repeat the cycle.  No wonder our power consumption was so low!  This must have been going on all night! I got a meter and clip-leads to probe the diagnostic terminal on the controller  to see what kind of an error code it was producing.  But before I could probe it, the compressor fired up as normal and began cooling! 

I watched it cool all the way back to -18C, and then shut off.  Later, when the temp had risen a few degrees, in came on again as normal and cooled.

Now we had a dilemma.  The compressor was working, but for how long?  If we left Solomons, there wouldn't be any real support services along our planned stops until we got to Norfolk.  But right here in Solomons, there is no shortage of marine services, including the most excellent Zanheizers.

So, after a short discussion, we decided to call Zanheizers.  Left a message with the service department and settled in to wait.  I hope we're getting all of our bad karma out of the way at the beginning of the trip!  I mean, two failures in three days!

As we sat around waiting for a return call, Joan spotted a bald eagle landing in a nearby treetop.  Maybe this was a good omen.

Finally, we got a call.  They would be able to take a look at it today!  So we pulled the anchor and wandered down the creek to Zanheisers.  Dockmaster Terry directed us into an empty slip and helped us tie up.  And within a half hour, the tech showed up, tools and part in hand.

It turns out that this is a fairly common problem with these systems.  The electronics in the controller has circuitry to detect a stalled compressor and shut down.  Unfortunately, as they age, they tend to produce "false alarms", stopping when there really is nothing wrong.  After verifying that the compressor was ok, he replaced the control module, which was fully connectorized.  The newer version is a drop-in replacement, and has better circuitry which produces a higher "starting torque" in the compressor to avoid this problem.

So, the fix was easy, but pricy.  In a masterful understatement, the tech said, "They ain't giving these things away!"   $295 for a box the size of two packs of cigarettes.
Defective Controller, with Dime for Scale

That, plus labor, brought the whole fix to $480.  Good thing we have a contingency fund!

So, the saga continues.  Tomorrow, we'll try again to get to the Wicomico River.

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