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Great Loop Blog Days 23-32 The Mad Dash and Wait

Being Great Lakes Boaters we know what happens in September. There are windy days, and there are windy days, and there are more windy days. The second challenge we faced is the closure of the Brandon Lock on the Illinois River until September 9 - which meant that a horde of loopers would pile up at the Southern end of Lake Michigan waiting for the locks to open filling the few anchorages and taking all the transient slips.

We decided to run, and run hard down to Southern Lake Michigan and then sit for a couple of weeks and relax.

On Tuesday we headed out of Traverse at the crack of dawn and made the 70+ mile run to Frankfort. On Wednesday we ran 50+ miles to Luddington, and on Thursday we ran another 50+ miles to Muskegon Lake, where we anchored out in Snug Harbor. Two days were calm, one of the days - which was predicted to be 1 to 2 feet - was 4 to 6 with sporadic eight footers. There were so few boats out we were all talking to each other on VHF about how snotty it was.

I wish we could have spent more time in Luddington, it was absolutely lovely. We found this ice cream shop and ate carrot cake ice cream. This won the award for best ice cream on the loop so far.

Each of these legs - except the one that ended in an Anchorage - I topped off the tanks and measured the consumption at different RPM. At 1750 indicated on calm seas we average an amazing 1.2 gallons an hour, leading me to believe that 1750 indicated is closer to 1600. At 1850 we use 1.5 gallons an hour. I need to make a run at 2000 indicated yet.

When we woke up in Snug Harbor, eager to make the last 70+ mile run to Benton Harbor/St. Joseph to our dismay the house bank was dead, and the start bank was at 12.5 volts. The engine would not turn over. I just managed to get the generator started with what was left in the house bank. About 45 minutes later I made the grim discovery that the house bank battery charger was dead, despite indicating a 5A charge going into the battery. We put the two 12v bus switches in both and hoped the lone Freedom 1000 inverter would charge both banks. At 10:30 AM we realized we would be there all day before both banks were charged, so we called Tow Boat US who came out and started us with a boost pack around 12:30 PM.

By the way,there is a "Plan C" - there is always a Plan C - which would involve removing the thruster/windlass battery, and moving it to the holy place to start the genset and charge the batteries - as there are two working chargers on board and a backup 6A charger.

It was 12+ hours to Benton Harbor, with 20 knot winds. We doubted our ability to anchor given the state of the batteries so we went for it. The four foot following seas gave us quite the pitch and yaw see saw effect but we weren't slamming in to head seas so we settled in and enjoyed the ride.

The sun set was epic, Darina's first sunset at sea and first night run. There was no moon. We found our way to the harbor entrance about 9:30 PM, The channel was crazy dark, and there was some piece of marine debris or something on the starboard side of the channel lit by yellow lights. On radar it looked like a boat; Darina had the Steiner's pressed so hard to her face it probably left eye rings. We managed not to hit it. The marina entrance was completely dark, Darina held the hand held spotlight and talked me in, the entrance looked impossibly small but we made it.

Once inside the Marina it was completely dark, and the slip numbers and dock numbers were impossible to see. Fortunately for us a boater named Matt saw us circling around with a spotlight, Darina shouted our dock number, and he ran over and illuminated it with his iPhone light. It was not my best docking but we had made it.

The adrenalin rush we both had from the final 20 minutes of our 12+ hour passage was palpable. We showered, and slept from 11 PM to 11 AM the next day.

I ordered a battery charger from Amazon. The marina staff - who were AMAZING - drove us to the store five miles away and picked us up. We bought every heavy item we could squeeze on the boat. That night we feasted on steaks, sweet potatoes, and Michigan cherries.

The charger arrived and thus began the saga of the batteries. The starter bank batteries were questionable, and as they were lead acid and the house batteries were AGM I decided it would be good insurance to swap them out for fresh AGM's. As I started taking the cables off, I disconnected the ground wire from the 2nd 12v bus and the entire boat went dead. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I then disconnected the 1st 12v bus (the original ships electrical panel which only does lights and pumps as it is so old it has voltage drops) and the boat went dead again despite both switches being in the #2 position.

Using the post on the starter solenoid as a junction point for the 12v+, and a pair of vise grips holding the 2 ground wires together I took the rest of the wires off the starting batteries. While I was doing that there was a loud BANG so I quickly disconnected my makeshift connections.

After an hour of head scratching I realized that the house bank was getting its ground by looping through the battery A/B switch for bus two in the classic ground loop scenario. There may or may not be a cross connect between bank 1 and bank 2 as well on the + side.

Many phone calls later I found two Group 34 1100 CCA AGM batteries for the confiscatory price of $430 each, and as long as I was spending money like crazy decided to add a third 55 AH battery to the house bank. The Marina staff ran me a good 7 miles one way to the Battery store and back. They couldn't help me with cables - I needed a 2 cables for the new 3rd house battery, plus a cross connect to connect the two grounds together on both banks.

When I removed the old lead acid batteries the top of one was cracked badly. Was this the BANG I heard? I found a piece of a little capacitor in the engine room. Where did it come from? There are no exposed circuit boards anywhere.

The marina staff took me to Wolf Marine in St. Joseph. This is a magical place, the largest Marine Store I have ever seen. It is easily the size of 3 Super WalMarts and has literally everything you could possibly want for a boat, sailboat, dingy, or dive.

The AGM batteries were crazy heavy. Another looper - who is also named Matt - helped me get the batteries from the Marina pickup to the boat. AGM's are HEAVY. Matt, by the way, is doing the loop in a 25' Nimble Kodiak which is quite the accomplishment.

The new batteries went in. I shortened the cable on the charger to match the fuse block running to the batteries, and got everything buttoned up. The charger refused to start, indicating that it was too hot. I went bank and inspected the wires. Sure enough there were two incredibly tiny wires inside the cable that were probably connected to a temperature sensor. With limited tools and only 10/12 AWG butt splice connectors it took about an hour to splice the cable back together. To my happiness the charger indicated weak a weak battery and a charge. The house bank read 12.5 volts.

The next day, the house bank read 12.4 volts, and the charger had turned itself off. Turned it back on at 3AM, at 6AM the bank read 12.4 volts. Attached my trusty Klein multimeter and it showed a charge of 1 A coming from a 10 A charger. Cheap Chinese Amazon crap strikes again. The $100 I wasted on the charger would have been a nice meal off the boat.

Off to Wolf Marine for another $200 and a Marine grade 15 A dual bank charger. Hooked that up - using the wiring labeled Start Battery Only - and it faulted, refusing to charge. Started disconnecting things from the batteries, got down to just the charger, no go.

Called the battery store, asked if there was something special about the batteries. No, they replied.

Pulled out my Wal-Mart emergency battery charger - it put 4 A into the bank. Pulled out the manual for the new charger. Seems that you MUST connect it to two banks or it wouldn't work. Oh joy. Connected bank 1 to battery 1 and bank 2 to battery 2 and it started charging. Woo Hoo.

Connected the third battery to the house bank. It was charging.

Went to tighten the fan belt, as the charge rate while running was not keeping up with the refrigerators. After much of the two of us pulling and tightening and not getting it any tighter, we realized that the bolt on top of the alternator was in the wrong hole. How long its been that way is anybody's guess. I moved it to the front of the alternator and the belt was tight as can be. I'm guessing the engine will finally be able to take advantage of that new water pump installed back in Ohio.

I looked over at the genset, and saw it was oozing black oil. It was at that moment I remembered that I had overfilled it last year, so I cleaned up that mess to discover it was still a bit overfull.

I was planning on changing the impeller on the Lehman - but as I was back to the four things broken on the boat reported on DAY TWO I decided not to press my luck. Tomorrow I'll see if I can break the engine again.

Next, once everything is fully charged we'll simulate anchoring out (e.g. disconnects shore power, set the refrigerator to 12v, and see where we are in the morning). If the start bank drains dry during the night, I bought a battery disconnect switch that I'll install between the old ships electrical panel and the battery, as attempting to troubleshoot that system could take weeks.

Next up we head down to Michigan City, and then Hammond before starting our journey down the river Sept 9.

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