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 Monday.

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.