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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Fifty-Nine

The vast majority of cruisers are do-it-yourselfers. It's almost an admission of surrender to call in a professional repairperson. This is good, because many times a repairperson is not available. A few days ago our 12-volt refrigerator began acting up. Normally, it turns itself on and off just like any other refrigerator, but for some reason it decided not to turn on. The first check was the batteries, which were fully charged, indicating 12.5 volts. After pondering the situation for a while, I decided to experiment and see if the fridge would turn on if more voltage was available. In order to properly charge a 12-volt battery, more than 12 volts must be applied to it. So, I turned on the diesel generator and watched closely as the voltage regulator applied more and more voltage to the battery. At 13.4 volts, the refrigerator turned on. I felt very clever at having got the refrigerator running, but of course I had no idea why.

So, I went to step two, which was to talk to other cruisers. I got all kinds of answers including, the compressor is dying, to the start relay is gone, to the start capacitor is gone, to the wiring has corroded and needs to be replaced, to it's a faulty thermostat. So, I checked the voltage at the compressor and it was the same as the voltage at the battery, so the wiring was good. The thermostat made a clicking noise whenever I turned it, so I deemed it healthy. At this point, I surrendered and looked for a refrigeration repairperson. No one on the island of Margarita could be found, who would come and look at it.

After three days of turning on the generator in order to turn on the fridge, I finally got smart and called the manufacturer. A service rep in California got very interested when I told him I was calling from Venezuela. I made a mental note to remember that in the future. After describing the symptoms, the rep said I needed a new electronic controller (a black box), which only cost $200 and could be FedExed overnight to me for only $60 freight. That sounded acceptable so I said ok. In only three days the part arrived. It was the wrong part. Another call to the rep elicited an apology and a promise to send out the correct part overnight. I sent the wrong part back for a cost of $40. Three days later we had the correct part. I installed it and now the refrigerator works just fine. Out of curiosity, I took the old black box apart and looked in it. It was chock-a-block full of resistors, capacitors, coils, wires, integrated circuits and other strange gadgets. Why a simple little 12-volt refrigerator has to have a black box that looks like something that really belongs on a satellite is a total mystery to me. But it works and now I can tell all my cruising psuedo-expert friends that they were all wrong.

We also had another interesting repair experience while we were in dry dock recently. We noticed that a cutlass bearing was worn out. Actually it is called a shaft bearing, but Cutlass is a large supplier of these type bearings, so most cruisers call them cutlass bearings. That's kind of like calling all photocopiers Xeroxes, which must make Xerox very happy. Anyway, the shaft bearing is a brass cylinder with a rubber lining inside. The propeller shaft slides through the bearing and the whole apparatus is held in place by a strut, which is a brass or stainless steel arm that is bolted to the bottom of the boat. When the rubber lining finally wears out, the bearing must be replaced. We had four brand new bearings on the boat, so we took off the propeller, removed the lock screws and tried to tap the old bearing out. It was firmly stuck. So, being a firm believer in "get a bigger hammer," I decided to use a new bearing to force the old bearing out of the strut. This seemed to work well at first, but as soon as the new bearing started entering the strut, the strut cracked. Naturally, we now had to remove the strut, in order to have it welded. That is one of those un-fun jobs where someone has to get into the bowels of the boat and stand on his or her head to apply a wrench (spanner to our English friends) and utter many four letter words at recalcitrant bolts.

With the strut removed, we were able to remove the old bearing and the new one with the help of our bench vise. The problem it turned out, was that someone at sometime had put an under-sized bearing in the strut. The bearings are measured for inside diameter, outside diameter and of course length. This one was the right length and had the right inside diameter, but its outside diameter was one sixteenth of an inch too small. So this seaweed mechanic (no shade trees around boats) had filled in the gap between the outside of the bearing and the inside of the strut with something that resembled concrete. After a half-day of cleaning and polishing the inside of the strut so our new, correctly sized, bearings would fit, we sent off the strut to be welded. In only 48 hours, an all time record in Venezuela, I believe, we had a beautifully repaired strut back. Another gymnastics exercise inside the boat and the strut was re-installed. The propeller went back on easily and we were back in business. We are now beginning to understand why so many people who work in marinas are former cruisers. They got their boat repair experience on their own boats.

After so much work, we decided to take in a movie and found one to our liking at the newest and nicest shopping mall in Porlamar. The mall is every bit as nice as anything we have experienced in the states. It is replete in every way, including a huge food court where everything from hamburgers and pizzas to empenadas (Venezuelan meat and cheese fried pies) can be obtained. The mall also has a six-screen movie theater. However, the Venezuelans are very fond of their air conditioning. We had been warned to take sweaters and we needed them. Imagine, 90 degrees outside on a tropical island and inside the theater it was about 65. All the seats were excellent recliners with holders for drinks and snacks. Americans love popcorn and buy large containers of it, but the Venezuelans set records. For less than two U.S. dollars we got a huge tub of popcorn that the two of us could not finish - and we love popcorn. Fortunately, American movies in English with Spanish subtitles are very popular in Porlamar, so we understood the movie and picked up a new word or two of Spanish. The natives in Porlamar are real night owls. Maybe that's due to the hot days and relatively cool nights. When we went into the theater at 1800 hours the mall was mostly empty. When we came out two hours later the place was packed. Just like in the states, the mall is the place to hang out and people watch. Stay tuned.

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The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.