Just dropped anchor in busy Suva after sailing 200 nautical miles in 31 hours nonstop from Vanua Balavu. The passage was pleasant with a variety of conditions. We flew the chute (spinnaker), which was awesome! We motor-sailed through the night with lightning in the distance and this morning we had the chute up as we dodged Tawainese junker fishing boats barreling into Suva harbor. We are now anchored a stones throw from the Novotel Hotel, where we are headed for sundowners. We are celebrating catching an almost exploding battery before disaster struck. It was a nerve wracking morning that I’ll describe below.
After breakfast we started smelling a rotten egg smell in the salon. Alyssa asked if I had eaten more deviled eggs and I flat out refused (even though I did sneak some ;-). I said it smelled like a dirty head (toilet). It wasn’t on “my side” of the boat so she started sniffing around the port side “her side”. Well it wasn’t a head but the aft berth. She called for me to come down into the port aft stateroom. I came in and we both tracked the smell down to under the mattress. We lifted the mattress and the battery cover to find an extremely hot starting battery and acid spilled in the battery box. I asked her to go turn off the port engine. She did so and then came back in. I measured the outside of the battery box with a laser thermometer – it was over 180 degrees F! The side was bulging out and acid was everywhere. Now this is a sealed lead-acid battery so it must have seen some serious overcharging. I had periodically measured the voltage while running and it stayed at 14.0v – a bit high I thought for a float charge voltage but I wasn’t immediately concerned. Well, NOW I was extremely concerned. We almost had an explosion and boat fire. We lifted the mattress to let it cool down. I also went to work figuring out how to get the engine running again without harming the battery…
Since the battery was obviously overcharged we figured it wouldn’t hurt to disconnect the alternator. So I climbed into the very hot engine compartment and disconnected the positive lead and field leads on the alternator. With sweat beading down my face I got the leads off, taped up and zip tied to the harness. We then decided to let the battery cool off.
Luckily we have a sailboat so up the chute went again and we gave the engines a rest. The wind filled in and we ended up sailing downwind with the chute up for the next few hours as we approached Suva harbor. Alyssa also put on some gloves and mopped up all the spilled acid – a fun job indeed.
The engines ran fine all the way into the anchorage. That battery is destined for the trash and we are now shopping for new voltage regulators that hopefully have battery temperature sensors! It could also have been the Chinese/Fijian sealed lead acid batteries I bought and had shipped to Savusavu. It’s the best option I had for the price and given our location but this experience has me scared to death of cheap batteries and I am going to buy the most expensive USA-made batteries I can find here in Suva. Ditto the regulators. I just hope we can find quality equipment here in the land of cheap Chinese crap. Wish us luck.
Well, time to shower and then off to the hotel to look back at our boat resting peacefully at anchor. Life’s still good 🙂
Lewis & Alyssa