Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Sometimes you wonder what boating people are thinking

Captain's Log: 2 June 2015; Hour: 2115

We arrived last night at Alred Marina in Guntersville, AL. It's one of the nicer marinas where we've docked. Swimming pool, laundry facilities, showers. It has everything but a restaurant. As it turned out, a restaurant was the least of the marina's services that we needed. It was other amenities that we would soon be thankful they had.

Reading back over my last log entry it's almost humorous that I said we needed to get an early start. I was up before dawn in anticipation of that early start. It was only a matter of making sure the
Yesterday on the Tennessee River
near Guntersville, AL
batteries were charged enough to start the engines. The starboard engine started just fine. The port engine started but when I went to check both sides for proper water flow there was nothing coming out of the port exhaust nor the port circulating spout on the hull. Only dark blue smoke was coming from the exhaust pipe. I quickly shut the engines down. No water circulating through the engine could only mean a handful of things.

I first opened the sea strainer and cleaned the mud from it. Putting it back together, I hoped that would solve the problem but I knew in my heart it wouldn't. The problem was most likely the impeller. As the word sounds, it's the opposite of a propeller. It's a rubber piece with fins that spins inside a pump to pull water from the sea or river through the engine to cool it. I went to the marina office and meet up with Russ, the manager. Soon he was at the boat with Wally, his mechanic. Wally removed the impeller and, sure enough, it was chewed up and useless.

This should be the part of the story where we just start up the boat and head on our merry way down the river. Oh, if it were only that easy.

When I started the port engine up it was doing the same thing. No water, lots of smoke. I called Russ and he told me to rev the engine several times to prime the pump and get water flowing through the engine. I went to start the engine again and it wouldn't start. Wally and Russ came back to take a look and that's when they made their discovery.

This is an old boat, 47 years old this summer, to be exact. It's set up on a 32-volt electrical system. Most boats these days are 12-volt. Without boring you with all the details, that means that each of our engines operate off four 8-volt marine batteries. We're talking huge batteries. These things weigh 90 pounds each! Long story short, I bought 8 new ones just before we brought the boat to Tennessee from Florida last year. We've had some charging issues and my diesel mechanic in Knoxville suggested I tie two 12-volt batteries together for a 24-volt system per engine. He said that's all I needed to start the engines. It appears that was bad advice. The consensus at the marina in Guntersville is the 12-volt batteries are the source of my problems. The 12-volt batteries are not only not strong enough to start the engines more than once or twice, they're not compatible with my electrical system. They can ruin the starter, not to mention the alternator will not recharge them which is apparently why I've had to recharge them myself.

The mechanic and the marina manager disconnected the 24-volt system and re-hooked the 32-volt system. I tried charging the batteries but apparently some or all of them won't hold a charge long enough to start the engines.

So, here we sit. The plan is to run tests on each battery in the morning to see if any of them are still good. We will buy the number we need but somebody will have to drive to Birmingham to pick them up. That somebody may be me and at least one of my boys if we can convince the marina to let us borrow a truck.

At this point, it's really difficult to say when we might be back on the river. We hope it'll be tomorrow but we've already had our hopes dashed so many times we're a bit gun shy.

I know this may sound like a frivolous afterthought but when we're out on that river there's nothing like it. It's almost worth the trouble. Almost. I have a feeling tomorrow may tip the scales against Yesterday.


  1. I knew that mechanic in Knoxville was not correct. but what can you do, I worked for Chris Craft on boats in the 80's . but in the meantime soon as you get to Nashville have a meter a bilge pump and always there to help you get that boat squared away when you get it to Nashville always there to help it in the past always in the future continued better luck capt. Phil, you get stuck somewhere on the Tennessee River going up to Cumberland hey just holler I'll be there

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  3. If you've got the time, Guntersville is a nice little town with a few good restaurants, and maybe a watering hole or two to drown your problems if only for a few hours. I hate the problems you are having, but the good thing is you did not completely tear up the electrical system.

  4. It seems that some Mechanics are great and some are not. The problem is know which they are. I drive 18wheelers, I've heard of 24v systems.(Even saw some about 1984) I've never even heard of 32v systems, but even my nice modern 12v system has three batteries(its just one motor).