This short tale begins as many do… with a very simple event… I was in the master head performing my morning ablutions… washing my face, brushing my teeth. The usual. Les was in the galley washing the breakfast dishes after we’d prepared and eaten a lovely feast of eggs poached in heavy cream spiced with garlic, salt, pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper topped with shredded Gruyere. Why not? The water that had been so merrily sluicing out of our taps slowed, turned into an anemic drizzle… then stopped. Good thing neither of us were in the shower…
Les shouted down the stairs… the waters off! Well so was mine. I was aware…
Off to the engine room. The circuit breaker had blown. Unusual. That had never happened before. Well, that’s not really true. I’ve had plenty of breakers blow over the years, but never on the water pump. It just doesn’t draw all that much. The 12 volt pump that pressurizes our water system and delivers life giving water to all our taps, showers, toilets, and clothes washer had blown. We were waterless, Mojave Desert style. Break out the straws… So I reset it. That is a simple problem solving maneuver that usually sets things right. Flip the little switch to the left. Problem solved. Well… except… that an hour later it blew again… and later again. Why one might ask? I gave the pump a quick fondle. It was slightly warm to the touch, but just barely. It was not hot, and was just sitting there looking like a little pump that could or wouldn’t… and right now it wouldn’t. I turned off the breaker for the night. No sense waking up to an engine room fire at 0300, eh?
Oh… the ruminations one goes through during the night… particularly in the netherworld between wakefulness and sleep. What’s wrong? Why is it blowing the circuit? Are the brushes or windings in the motor worn and ready to short out? Had the breaker become weak over the years of abuse to a pump that was forced to cycle constantly on and off to keep the system pressure up to specs. Could any of that start a fire and sink the boat? Existential musings… Well, tomorrow the diagnostic algorithms would be put to task.
Well… I couldn’t wait. At 0100 I got up and looked through my stash of spare circuit breakers and found a replacement. Ten minutes later the suspect breaker was out and the spare in. I flipped it on. It held. Problem solved. Back to sleep. In the morning, the new, spare breaker was… blown. Crap. A perfect use for that expression, eh? Well, I felt it suited the occasion. Stronger language was not necessary at this point. Onward. I had a spare pump just like the pump that was… creating issues. I could install it in the morning.
In the morn, Les was ready to go on her daily hike, but I mentioned that it might be better that she stay and help with the change out of the new pump for the old. I had the spare pump out and was prepping it for the switch out and thought it would be fabbo to have a helping hand in case I removed the old pump and was stuck with my finger in the dike holding back 350 gallons of water in the tanks and needed a… whatever. So… she agreed, stayed and we started the project.
All was going swimmingly according to a well thought out multi-step plan. Put on headlamp, remove everything around the pump to make room for the operational theater, gather all the tools and parts needed, remove the hoses, clip the wires, dismantle the pump from its perch on the pressure tank, install new pump on the pressure tank, connect the hoses, re-crimp the wires that were cut, and turn on said replacement beastie… or close to that.
I removed and drained the hoses into a container… only the hose from the tanks didn’t quite shut down as it should have. Hmmm. Les stated “Yeah, I moved the valve on the starboard tank as far as I could, but there was a fuel line blocking it from completely closing”. Hmmm… some diesel mechanic focusing on the engine and ignoring what might impact the plumber working on the water tanks making it impossible to completely close the water tank valve. The usual. That emergent thought aside, a crevice in the well thought out plan was opened. So… instead of stopping and dealing with the valve issue, I placed the end of the hose into the water container. Mischief managed.
That did however insert a sub-step into the carefully crafted procedural master plan: While I was working we had to empty the filling container every 5 minutes or so. An interesting sub-action considering the yoga-like position I was in to work on the pump. I think, dear reader, that you may have a premonition on where that is headed. No matter. Onward. I removed the old pump, put the new pump in place and started the wiring job. As an aside, stage right, I will announce that I mistakenly started on the wiring as the next step. My lean 6-sigma inner voice should have warned me but didn’t. Instead I’m sure it just giggled with inner mirth counting the seconds until the obvious happened: the water container overflowed. That in itself was not a problem. The engine room has a bilge for a reason. But I didn’t notice the error of my ways until the cold water penetrated my wool socks. Imagine my surprise. I stopped everything. Grabbed the hose and stuck my thumb over the end. Les removed and drained the container. While she was doing that I reattached the hoses to the new pump as I should have done as the appropriate next step . Like duh! There is a reason we employ 6-sigma flow diagram gymnastics. Avoiding wet socks would be the outcome if I’d followed the correct sequences. Of course keeping my shoes on would have helped as well, but I’d left those in the master cabin. With shoes on, more water would have been spilled before discovering the overflow event. Whatev… Onward, wet socks and all.
The next few steps were critical to mission success. Trim and strip the ends of the wires, splice the wires together with a connector using a specially designed ratcheting crimper designed to squish the connector tightly around the wires to in effect, splice them together. Heat shrink the connectors and voila! Success. Not so fast… not so fast… That is how it should have gone. Steps 8 through 14 or so… A small problem did exist. The house wiring was 10 gauge. Quite thick actually and probably overkill. The new pump wiring was 12 gauge. Quite a bit thinner. I crimped the connector to the 10 gauge wire side first then the 12 gauge side. Pulled on it to make sure the splice was secure and… the 12 gauge wire pulled out. Chagrined… I cut out the connector and started over. This time I really smashed down on the 12 gauge side to make sure it was tight… and I really don’t know how this happened, but the way I was holding the connector and crimper… I somehow trapped the end of the middle finger on my right hand in the device and the malign jaws of the crimper pinched the shit out of it. I shrieked appropriately, I might add, and started emitting a few profoundly appropriate expletives. My co-worker was not impressed by all the theatrics.
Now… the thing about rachet crimpers. They are powerful. And they ratchet.. Combine that, and it means that they are designed to not let the ratcheting / squishing operation stop until a full crimp is obtained. One way only. Squish. No half crimps allowed, no sir. So there I was with the crimper firmly affixed to my digit. I really didn’t want to complete the crimping cycle to release the crimper and cause further damage… now did I? At least my crimper has a release. Some don’t. I carefully fingered the release lever, opened the crimper, and pulled out my damaged appendage from its jagged maw. Not too bad. Blood oozing from two nice little puncture wounds, the surrounding tissue already bruising. At this point I was at an operational dead end. I felt that if I kept emitting my expletives to whoever would listen it would help, so I did. I stood up… stomped out of the engine room, swiped my glasses and headlamp off my head. They went skittering dramatically across the master cabin floor. Quite dramatic, eh? Drama… drama… drama… But alas, the only audience I had was Les. She is quite tuned into my antics surrounding a failed process, so the only impact I induced was to receive an eye roll. The usual. She left the scene of the carnage… for the sanctity of the salon upstairs. Time to watch TV and get far away from the bleeding idiot in the engine room. Obviously, this was not my first nor her first experience with one of my plans that had gone adrift… I went into the head, cleaned up said appendage and put on a tight Band-Aid to staunch the bloodletting.
Back to the project. It was time to man up and finish the job. I sat back down on my little stool and hunkered down to a tight finish. I cut off the semi-crimped connector, replaced it with a new one and succeeded in connecting that wire together, and somehow managed to crimp the other wire together. Success!
Well… not really. In my haste and post failed procedure state of mind, I had connected the wires incorrectly. Red to black… black to red. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH! That was my inner voice. Not a peep from me. What good what it have done. I was now alone in the engine room. No one to listen to my babble. I got out my special wire cutters… and was having trouble using them. Enough blood was seeping through the Band-Aid to make them slippery enough to make cutting impossible. That was it. Time to retreat to the salon and read email, play solitaire, do anything but try to connect wires.
Back at it about an hour later. Blood letting at bay. Attitude adjusted with an agreeable double IPA. I fished through my box of electronic parts and found an interesting little connector left over from an earlier project. It was designed to accept and connect different sizes of wires. Kewl… I re-positioned myself on my little stool throne, wire cutter, wire stripper, connector part and correctly sized screwdriver handy. I cut out the offending wire connectors with my cleaned up wire cutter, stripped the wires, inserted them in the bespoke connector, tightened everything down and was done. Standing up, I decamped the stool / throne, flipped the circuit breaker for the pump to its “on” position. The pump cycled up to pressure. No blown circuit, no leaks. Done.
Lessons learned: Have a plan. Follow it until you can’t. And… there will always be a diversion. The tool you just bought won’t work. The replacement part won’t fit. There are sharp objects that can cut. It’s a boat. Deal with it. Leave the drama at the engine room door, at the dock or anywhere you are not working. If you have a willing helper, treat her with reverence. That way you just might not have to finish a project alone…
It’s been over 24 hours and the pump is working just fine… Time to fix that ill routed fuel line… an easy fix. Ha! you say…