Fixing the starter motor in Tortuga Bay
The day after the fire was Sunday, and Steve and I started early, taking the starter
motor off the engine and taking it apart. Within a few hours it was pretty
apparent that the thing was toast. The inside of it was filled with burnt
plastic that had turned to charcoal, all of the varnish had melted off the coils,
and in general, the inside looked like the inside of a 5 year old barb-b-que.
Steve said he used to manage a factory that made Electrical Transformers, and
could tell by just looking at it that it would never work again, but I wanted
to try cleaning it up and putting it back together. I had nothing to lose, since
it was Sunday and I would not be able to even begin getting a new one until
While I cleaned the motor with diesel fuel, rags and sand paper, Steve
went into town to get some groceries and explore Tortuga.
At the end of the process, about 8:00 pm on Sunday night, I too was convinced
that the motor could not be made to work, so I hastily re-assembled it, and
started making plans to get a replacement starter. Thank goodness we had decided
to get the Pactor Modem, which allows us to send emails over the SSB. It came
into heavy use in the next few days. I started by sending an email to a mechanic
I know in San Diego, with all the part number information I could find,
asking him to locate a starter for us. I then also emailed
my buddy Steve Dexter in San Diego and told him about our travails and asked him
to be ready as a stateside shipping location. Then the heroine of the situation
was revealed as crewmate Steve called his girlfriend Gabby in Tijuana and apprised
her of the situation. She said that she would be happy to serve as an import agent
to expedite the delivery of the new starter motor to us. Apparently she is an
expert in the import/export game, as that's what she does for a living. And we
had heard horror stories about parts getting hung up in customs for weeks in Mexico,
and were more than happy to take advantage of her expertise.
Early monday morning, I got a message from the mechanic referring me to a
parts distributor in the midwest,
TAD (Trans Atlantic Diesel), as he could not locate
a starter motor in San Diego. I had done business with TAD before, and
was going to email them anyways. I took a couple of photos of the motor,
and sent them everything I knew about it. A short time later (within one
hour), I received a reply email from Sherri at TAD that they had the starter
in stock and could ship it to San Diego, next day UPS if I wanted. In fact,
I ordered two of them, just in case, since one had burnt, now I wanted to have
a spare one on board as well. Then Steve and I went into town and
checked out the bus station and post office, so we could figure out how
to address the packages so that we would receive them. Steve conveyed
all of the necessary information to Gabby so that
she would be ready to ship them the next day.
The starters arrived at Steve Dexter's in San Diego by lunch on Tuesday,
and god bless Gabby (and Juan) who took time off of work, drove to San Diego
and picked them up, filled out all the customs paper work, and put them on a
bus Tuesday night from Tijuana to Tortuga Bay. Gabby and Steve Dexter were
great, communicating with each other and the next thing we knew the starters
were on their way to us.
While we were waiting for the starters, we made multiple daily trips
into town for various things. Steve was great,
tracking down the bus driver, the bus driver's mother, the post office
manager, and so on until it seemed like half of Tortuga bay was aware
of the motors and the fact that they went to the sailboat out in the bay.
In fact, Steve was great with everyone in town, but especially the kids,
buying them soft drinks and playing with them as an uncle might.
It was totally handy that he speaks fluent Spanish.
Actually, the time turned out to be pretty fun. We got a visit from the crew members
of another boat, DEL NORTE, when they showed up with two bottles of wine just after
dinner. We responded with many shots of scotch, beers, and it wasn't long before the
guitar was broken out and everyone was singing! We also remember fondly "The Night
of the Pelicans", when our deck light attracted fish, which in turn attracted several
dozen pelicans to hang about the boat for hours. And every day we woke up in Turtle
Bay was wonderful, with dolphins lazily swimming right next to the boat, ever present
sea lions and all kinds of birds. The people were all so friendly, and in the end
we had a great time there, maybe better than we would have had with the 170 gringo
boats in the Baja-Ha-Ha.
On Thursday afternoon we finally got the new starter, and by that night had it installed
and tested. Turns out that the damage was a little further spread that we first thought,
as when we were hooking up the new starter, we noticed that one of the terminals on
one of the two engine batteries had completely melted into a puddle of lead. "That
had to get to 660 degree Farenheit", Steve said, as we stared amazed at the damaged
battery. Also it appears that anything that hooks up to the engine batteries to
charger them may have problems ... the alternator appears to be working, but the batteries
recieve no charge (we have two alternators, and the one hooked to the "house" batteries
works fine). The battery charger that runs off shore power or the generator to
acharge the engine batteries also appears zonked,
although, once again, the half that charges the house batteries is still working.
Nonetheless, the starter motor works, and we were very relieved to finally hear
the engine roar to life again, and by hooking jumper cables between the house
and engine starting batteries, we can keep them fully charged, at least until
we can get to Cabo San Lucas (where we've re-scheduled to pick up new Crew,
Pat Kingsland on Wed, Nov 14) or La Paz where we have nearly a week reserved
in a marina.
On Friday morning, we took the boat out into the ocean, under motor, for a 3-4 hour
Sea Trial to ensure that it would keep working and not overheat or burn up again. After
we were satisfied we brought the boat back into the bay, and dropped anchor again.
It was a little sad since we knew that was the last time Steve would be on Rhapsody,
at least on this portion of our journey.
Unfortunately, since we had lost a week, and Steve had to be back at work on Monday,
he had to blow off his flight from Cabo, and depart by bus from Tortuga Bay,
to make the arduous journey back to Tijuana.
So it was with genuine sadness, tears in our eyes, that we said "fare the well" and
"asta luego" to Steve as he rode away in a Panga at 3:30 pm, and we made ready
to leave Tortuga Bay to continue the adventure of Rhapsody to Central America.