Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Single Handed Mutiny

The crew says we were in the Thimbles yesterday.
I have pictures to prove it.
When I'm sailing solo I think of the various electronic gizmos scattered around the boat as my crew. They tell me where we are, worry about depth, collisions and voltage and remind me when I'm about to screw up. Best of all, they totally ignore my wishful thinking and dispassionately report their own version of reality. It's like a Greek play where I have the gods watching over me, discussing things among themselves via SeaTalk.

When Anita is aboard she leads this crew. We run Fugawi on an LCD monitor below, displaying our little ship's position on a chart. She busies herself, knitting or whatever, but keeps an eagle eye on our progress. Like a deus ex machina, her words waft up the companionway, solving some intractable problem such as my heading for a shoal or having wandered off the waterway.  She is, after all, our world-class worrier.

Batteries disconnected as ordered, Sir.
Recently she's been single handing the house in Atlanta and I've been the one worrying over why the starter battery always has the same voltage as the house bank. The West Marine Combiner is responsible for joining all the batteries into a single bank when a charger is pushing enough electrons to raise the voltage above 13.1 and disconnecting them when the voltage falls below 12.8.

It uses an LED to say whether the banks are combined or separate and reported that it was faithful in fulfilling its duties. Still, the voltages should have diverged between charges. When I demanded to know why the voltage is always the same across all banks, it had nothing to say, the dog. I realized that its mechanisms were failing but its tiny brain either didn't realize this or was making up a story in desperation.

Sailing from Providence, I've been listening to an unabridged audio of James King's stunning first novel, Bill Warrington's Last Chance. Synapses in Bill's brain are in the throes of early dementia. He fills in the gaps to cover his growing inability to determine what has just happened and to recall names and facts.

Like Bill and myself, that combiner is getting along in years. It has faithfully cycled its relays thousands of times. Alas, at some point one relay snapped shut and stuck, refusing to budge despite repeated combiner commands to do so. The combiner knew the voltages but didn't puzzle over why they were always the same. Instead its LED reported that all was well. The implications of voltage are above its pay grade so I suppose it was doing its job to the best of its ability.

Rather than a flogging to serve as an example to the rest of the lot, I kindly rearranged its wiring to avoid the sticking relay. Once again the LED means what it says. It has been rehabilitated, without my having to let the cat out of the bag.

If only it were so easy to fix all those aboard. These days I find myself monitoring the congruity between my external world and my internal awareness of that world. I ponder my growing inability to determine what has just happened and to recall names and facts. Is it age-driven brain wear and nothing much to worry about for now? Or are my own synaptic relays sticking shut? Am I filling in the gaps? Is this actually Duck Island Harbor outside my port or not?

Duck Island Harbor, yeah.
So rather than simply believing the stories I make up, I'm relying on my electronica to keep me on course and off the shoals until Anita rejoins me in a couple of weeks. Then her voice will again float up the companionway.

The GPS is certain that we're where I think we are. Even so, after Anita looks at this picture of the place and agrees, I'll know for sure.

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