Another Gremlin?

Today, Karen flew home to go to a concert, so I have no real adventures to share. I am, however, at Palm Cay Marina in the Bahamas. It’s wonderful. It has an infinity pool, a lap pool, a hot tub, a bar, a private beach, a coffeeshop, a gym, and a restaurant, so I’m good for a few days… really, really good, as a matter of fact. 

As there is nothing particularly exciting to share, I am afraid you’ll have to suffer through another repair blog. This boat is simply too large for me to take it anywhere by myself. (I am aware that I just lost a majority of readers right there. It’s OK – you’re all super-excused).

Here goes… About a month ago, Gratitude’s galley lights suddenly stopped coming on when we flicked the switch. This was unexpected and unwelcome, since the galley is an important shared living space as well as the place we cook. Karen got out the electrical schematics book, and we traced it down to a particular 8-amp fuse (fuse #15). After taking various detachable panels off of walls, we found the fuse box in the starboard cabin. I pulled #15 and tested continuity with my multimeter and confirmed that the fuse had, indeed, blown clean through. Then the search began for a replacement fuse of this size and amperage, and believe me – we went everywhere. Four stores later, we were empty-handed. No one in Nassau had it. When we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, we tried West Marine and McDonald’s Hardware, and neither of them had one either (to our great surprise). 

Amazon to the rescue. This entire box of assorted fuses, delivered to the marina in one day, cost less than $7.00 It’s hard for me to wrap my head around those economics.

Fuses galore

Then, there was the nagging problem that even if I replaced the fuse, I would not have determined what caused it to blow in the first place, so I arose sometime around 2:30 a.m. and grabbed my trusty multimeter to go investigate.

An electrical short is often as simple as two wires touching that should not be connecting. This can happen for a number of reasons – particularly in a moving environment like a ship. If there is no fuse to burn up, this could heat up the wires and start an electrical fire, so it can potentially be a big deal.

In this case, I traced the problem down to the blue, 12-volt LED accent lights on the port side stern steps. These lights were on the same circuit as the galley lights but operated off of a different switch. There was a short somewhere in the system, and the worst part was going to be wriggling into the very tight space to change out the wiring and lights once I had new lights to use as replacements. 

A day later, when I was back in Fort Lauderdale, someone working on the boat who was about half my size volunteered that he could fit in there “like… no problem”, and I decided that was pretty much an offer I could not refuse. Soon thereafter, the short was resolved, and everything worked. 

Well, that was the port side of the boat, but yesterday, back in The Bahamas, the starboard (opposite side) lights started doing the same thing and blowing the same fuse all over again. #DejaVu. There always seems to be some maintenance needed on the boat, and in this case it reminded me of the classic Twilight Zone episode where William Shatner was on a flight and saw a gremlin on the wing destroying things, but he was the only one who could see it. Technically I never saw a gremlin, but it could explain a lot.

Don’t be afraid to look, William

Anyway, I got the joy of repeating most of the aforementioned steps to track this down. And the culprit is…

A (charred) 12-volt Lumitec Andros Accent Light

These 12 volt Lumitec Andros LED Accent LED lights seem to fail closed and short out the entire circuit when they go bad, rather than just quit working like a good old-fashioned incandescent lightbulb. Go figure? The net result is that the surrounding wiring heats up very quickly, and the fuse is (mercifully) the first thing to sacrifice itself for the greater good.

I cut out the bad bulb, replaced the fuse, and seven of the eight accent lights now work perfectly, so that is a partial victory. Karen is bringing a few replacement/spare lights back with her on Thursday, and I have the wires all stripped and ready to attach so that I will be able to check this one off the list and resolve my symmetry issues for the time being.

Gratitude safely docked with galley lights and ⅞ step lights working perfectly

As a last word here, I have one tool that has become indispensable aboard Gratitude. It is a Vise Grip wire stripping tool. If you or someone you love enjoys working on electrical things, buy them this for a birthday gift or stocking stuffer. It’s very well-designed and super-functional. I’ve probably owned a half-dozen or more wire-stripping tools in my life, and this one is the best, by a long shot.

Vice Grip wire strippers: an indispensable addition to my tool bag

2 thoughts on “Another Gremlin?

    • Andy Crowe says:

      Ron, Aren’t they cool? It took me some trial and error to figure out how to use them. It’s just a well-designed tool.

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