Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Idiot Tax

The first replacement Automatic Voltage Regulator
Our friend Matt Myren refers to The Lottery as the 'Idiot tax.' We apparently have our own version of the 'Idiot Tax' on Perry. Basically, it's the extra money (and time) we spend because we are too optimistic about how well any given boat project will go (and consequently how long it will take and cost). But moreso, we really need to learn that if it ain't (completely) broke, don't try to fix it.
This time it was our generator seal. It has been leaking slightly for a couple of months but the conventional wisdom is that a slow leak is not a big deal. We planned to address it the next chance we got (which we thought would probably be Australia when we work on our prop shaft and strut). But, after talking to some knowledgeable local contacts here, we decided to have an Indonesia mechanic take a look since the labor rates would make the whole project much cheaper than getting it done in Australia.  The mechanic originally recommended worked for about $50 US a day but wasn't available right away. Another mechanic, Rudy, also came highly recommended and would still cost a fraction of the price we would pay in Australia.

With our limited Indonesian, Rudy's limited English, and Google Translate, we negotiated a fixed price (starting at 6 million rupiah, we settled on 2.5 million rupiah--$450 US down to $185 US). Rudy started work. It was going relatively well, though he had trouble getting one of the parts off (which is nothing unusual for pretty much anything on a boat). Eventually he came up and said that the seal was actually fine and that the leak was actually coming from someplace else which you couldn't see until everything was apart.  We took care of the leak and Rudy started to put everything back together.

During all this, Rudy was sweating profusely in the hot engine room and at one point near the end had to come up because he was getting dizzy. Matt had rigged up a fan to try to get more air flow and supplied lots of liquids but it is just really hot and humid here and being cooped up in a hole roughly the size of a port-a-potty with half the head room. It's the last place you want to be when the boat is in full sun, less than one degree away from the equator. 
In the late afternoon (he started work in the morning and worked all day except for lunch and a few breaks), Rudy reassembled the generator.  Matt started up the gen to test it. The motor started up and ran but it wasn't putting in any AC power (which is what we use to charge the batteries, desalinate water, and fill our dive tanks). Everyone's spirits sank at that point and the troubleshooting started. To make a long story a bit shorter, one of the windings was damaged during the work and Rudy was able to re-solder it. When we started it up again, he decided to tap on the windings with his screwdriver while the unit was running, to see if it would 'spark' to indicate voltage (why he decided this, we'll never know).  It sparked...and also shorted out the Automatic Voltage Regulator (the fuse that blew apparently wasn't enough to protect the unit).  So now the unit was only producing 310 volts--waaayy more than the 230 V it should have been making.

A NorthernLights replacement AVR has a price of almost $700 US exclusive of shipping. Of course, the price doesn't even take into account that it's nearly impossible to get things shipped here, let alone in a timely fashion.  So we did our best not to strangle Rudy, who actually demonstrated quite a bit of competence up to the point where he fried the AVR. Maybe it was the near-heat stroke that addled his brain near the end. He assured us that he could find a new AVR for a lot less in Sorong (or somewhere that we could get it within a day or two).
He found a Chinese-made model for 1.5 million Rupiah (a little over $100), but we're not sure whether it is beefy enough or whether it will be fried if we installed it. We have been spending the last few days trying to figure out our options for (a) getting the Northern Lights part; (b) seeing if the Chinese-made AVR will work; and/or (c) limping along without a generator until we get to Australia. As we mentioned previously, it's a bit of a nightmare to have parts sent into Indonesia.

While we wait, we pray for sunny days and when needed, run our starboard engine with its recently beefed up alternator to charge the batteries. We were getting a bit low on water because it hadn't rained for awhile and Sorong's harbor was way too dirty to make water. Luckily, the day after the 'Breaking of the Generator' was perfect for battery power and water production. It poured in the morning, giving us the much-needed water, and then the sun came out for enough time to give us a good battery charge. We're good for water for now and have had (knock on wood) an uncharacteristic string of sunny days.
So the exact price of our 'Idiot Tax' remains to be seen. If we had to do it again, we would have waited until Australia where there were better options if things went wrong (which they almost always do). Even if the low-cost AVR works, we have paid into the tax with time spent sitting around sweating and some additional grey hairs. Stay tuned for more...

UPDATE: The new Chinese-made AVR seems to work for now!  We found a slightly beefier model at a bit of a higher price. This was after Matt spent the morning fixing the connections so the generator would start (Rudy and his friend, an expert on the electrical side of generators, were down there troubleshooting the day before and knocked a couple of the starting circuit wires loose). There was much swearing, which was fortunately muffled by the engine room. So, final tally on the 'Idiot Tax': we may actually have broken even or even paid less in dollars ($370 USD versus ? for the work in Oz). However, we definitely paid a hefty bill in time and headaches.

But maybe we learned something...or not (old dogs, new tricks and all that).

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