False Start to Baja Ha Ha Leg2 and a week in Tortuga Bay waiting for a new Starter motor
Saturday morning, Nov 2, 2007, at 6:00 am, we pulled up anchor in Turtle Bay and began to motor
slowly out of the bay to the starting line for Leg 2 of the 2007 Baja Ha Ha.
We were planning, with the rest of the fleet, to make Bahia Santa Maria by
Monday, and then Cabo San Lucas, where crew member Steve was to catch a plane
home, by Friday. We were among the first boats out of the bay and answered
our place in the roll call and made ready to put up the sails.
At about 6:50 am, just 10 minutes before the start, the 1st mate was downstairs
and mentioned that she smelled something burning. I gave the helm to Steve
and went downstairs, sniffed around a bit, and said it was probably just
diesel exhaust and returned to the cockpit to start the race.
A few minutes later, just two or three minutes before the race was to begin,
as Steve and I were beginning to unfurl the main, the mate called out in an
alarmed voice that "I think there's really something wrong." As I descended
the stairs, she opened the motor compartment and a plume of smoke emerged.
I quickled stuck my head in and could see the bright arc from a short-circut
centered in a small two-or-three inch flame. I yelled to Steve to cut the engine,
and he pressed the kill switch, but nothing happened ... the motor kept running!
I looked a little closer and could see that a bunch of wires had melted on the motor.
The plastic insulation was what was burning, giving off an acrid smell.
Quickly surmising that the kill switch solenoid or relay was involved in
the short circut, I pulled on the lever that releases the pressure in
the cylinders and killed the engine, which sputtered to a stop. The
arcing continued, so I raced over to the power switch and turned off
the engine battery which finally stopped the conflagration.
It wasn't immediately clear what had happened, but we could hear on
Channel 16 as the countdown to the race was given by a woman in
an orgasmic voice: "six ahhh five mmmm foour yeah threeeeee twooooo onnnnneeeeee ahhhhhhh".
The race was on and we had a major problem. The next few minutes were kind of
hectic. We were wallowing in the water with 150 boats zooming around, so the
first thing I said was "lets get some sail up to get the boat under control".
number one took the helm and Steve and I pulled out the mainsail and Rhapsody
began sailing down course on a slow broad reach.
I went down and felt the engine and it was not particularly hot, but the
starter motor was very very hot and covered with melted wires. It was
apparent that it was going to take some time to recover the situation,
so I went back to the cockpit to let the engine cool a bit and helped
Steve pull out half the jib. We might still be able to do the leg if
we could repair the motor on the fly. I radioed the Grand Poobah on PROFLIGATE
that we had a small engine electrical meltdown and were going to look
into it more closely, but were continuing the leg for the time being.
I instructed the mate to sail down course with the rest of the boats and
that Steve and I would diagnose the problem further.
So, while the mate steered a steady course, Steve and I carefully went thru the
mass of melted wires, pulling them apart, labelling, and disconnecting them from the
starter, the various sensors, and generally, the rest of the port side of the engine.
Then we looked at them and decided that, although the insulation was melted, there
was still a slim chance that if we re-insulated them and hooked them back up,
everything would work. So we spent the best part of an hour carefully applying
copious amounts of electrical tape to the various wires and hooked everything
back up, discussing each and every wire. It was very reassuring for me to have
Steve around, as he manages a Battery Manufacturing Plant in Tijuana and knows
gobs about electricity and was able to check my work at every step.
After taping everything back up and checking with a volt meter that there was no
short between ground and power, we decided to try to start the
motor. We turned the power back on to the engine, turned the key, and there
was a small spark and nothing else happened so we quickly turned the key and
power back off, and I reluctantly made the decision that we could not continue
Leg 2. Even though we're a sail boat and theoretically could proceed to Bahia
Santa Maria, it is better to have an engine, no discussion needed. I told
the crew that we already knew that BSM was a desolate outpost and that Tortuga Bay,
with it's bustling community, internet cafe's, auto mechanics, etc, would provide
a much safer alternative and better chance to get the problem solved and that,
as skipper, I was deciding to turn back.
I radioed PROFLIGATE and told them of our decision and they concurred that
we were making the right choice in turning back and wished us luck.
So, with some sadness, we put Rhapsody over on the other tack and proceeded
to beat our way back to Turtle Bay. In the one or two hours since the
start of the race, we had made 10-12 miles down course, so we had to sail
for quite a while to get back to our safe haven. In fact, it took us
about 4 hours to sail into TB and, for the first time ever, drop anchor
under sail. We discussed every aspect of this maneauver before performing
it, so Steve was ready and backwinded the main with the preventer as I dropped
the anchor at about 3:00 pm. We let out extra scope on the rode to compensate for the fact
that we did not have a motor to put in reverse to dig the anchor in, but
even so, under the conditions, were proud of the way we handled the situation.
got the boat back safely, and anchored it.
The good news was that now we had Tortuga Bay nearly to ourselves.
Where there had previously been 170 sailboats, there were only 5 or 6.
By 5:00 it was apparent that we were not going to be able to do anything
further that day, so I called for tots and beers and we had a good meal.