Unexpected Battery Issues While on Anchor

A Week Aboard S/V Sabado: 12/6/2020 – 12/13/2020

Last week we dropped anchor in Palm Beach, Florida and were headed to take a nap when I posted our update… We actually ended up sleeping until 5pm, I guess we were more tired from our trip than we thought! We made dinner at home then realized our batteries were dead shortly thereafter. Although we didn’t have much wind or sun that day, we were still concerned because we had motored all night the night before, so our batteries should’ve been fully charged from running our engine. 

If you’ve been following our updates for a while, you know we’ve been struggling with our batteries on and off for a few months now. We’ve always been able to blame something on board- the drone batteries accidentally staying plugged in, the ice maker running, our fridge sucking more power than it should- but this time we decided that it’s either the batteries themselves or the alternator that’s supposed to charge them when we run the engine, because we’ve fixed or turned off/unplugged all the other possibilities.

We turned on the generator, poured ourselves a glass of wine, and discussed our options. If it was our alternator, we knew we could figure things out, but if it was our batteries, we’d have to get them replaced. We knew we’d need to get on a dock for any sort of battery installation, so we went ahead and emailed a few marinas just in case to see if they could take us anytime soon. We chatted back and forth about possibly upgrading to lithium batteries, which sparked the idea of potentially hauling out and switching our stove and oven to electric while we’re at it so we’d never have to worry about propane again… but if we were going to haul out we might as well repaint the bottom too, maybe get that solar upgrade we’ve been thinking about, etc. etc. etc.

The more we talked about our options, the more bummed out we got because we realized that if we had to get our batteries replaced, we would have to delay our departure to the Bahamas. But, I think Ray put it into perspective a bit when he said “it could be worse… we could be going to work tomorrow”. Cheers to that!

Anyway, we decided to sleep on it and revisit the discussion the next day. At about 6am though, we heard a strange screeching sound. We went outside and saw our bowsprit pointing straight down. What a way to start the day! Sabado’s bowsprit and bobstay design has never been our favorite because when we’re anchored and the current and wind disagree like they did Monday morning, our bridle pulls on the bobstays, which have little to no give since they’re stainless steel, which then pulls on the bowsprit. 

Knowing that it could take a chunk out of our boat if it got any worse, we decided to just take the bowsprit off. Thank god Ray is an engineer (I just handed him tools and made sure the parts he took off didn’t fall into the water)!

During all of this, we noticed we had 3 completely corroded rivets in our bowsprit. We were unable to find the right size rivets to replace them ourselves at any store in the area. So, the next day we swung by a rigging facility and the guy took care of it for us for free! 

After a few days worth of research and tinkering about, we were convinced our battery issues were being caused by the alternator, not the batteries themselves. The batteries were fine all day Monday and Tuesday so we thought we were in the clear. We decided we’d still go to the Bahamas this week, but just be mindful of our charge, knowing we need to rely on the wind and sun. 

Unfortunately, Tuesday night we were woken up by the low battery alarms. Turns out the only reason our batteries had been fine the past few days was because we had consistent wind, but once that died, so did our batteries. This means they weren’t holding a charge from any source (engines/wind/sun) because after a day of good sun and/or wind and/or motoring our batteries should be fine without anything for days. So, that means that despite these batteries only being a year old, it’s time for new ones. 

At this point, we were on anchor with dead batteries- which is not a sustainable situation. We started our generator and started emailing marinas to see if anyone could take us ASAP, because we needed to plug into shorepower. In theory we could just run our generator for a few hours every night and be fine as long as we get consistent sun and wind during the day, but our generator is not the most reliable thing (and neither is the weather!), so we weren’t super comfortable with that being our plan for very long. 

Naturally, there wasn’t a single marina in Palm Beach that could take us. We momentarily considered heading back up to Cape Canaveral, but a quick peek at the weather (6+ foot seas on our nose, we’d get the shit beaten out of us) convinced us to find a place farther south. Ft. Lauderdale was looking like our only option, but there’s typically a month long wait to get in anywhere there. We emailed around anyways and crossed our fingers. 

Luckily, some guys who have done work on Sabado there in the past considered our situation an emergency/safety issue, and said they could clear a spot for us on Sunday. So, we spent Wednesday and Thursday conserving power as much as we could, and running the generator a bit every night. Ray did a ton of research and found that this is a common problem with these batteries, and we decided to get a different brand installed in Ft. Lauderdale.

In the meantime, we set out to explore Palm BEach. The houses we anchored by were gorgeous, and the city itself was so cute! Lots of cool bars and restaurants, and a fun sand castle Christmas tree. Unfortunately, I did not take a single picture (so sorry!), but I promise to do better next week. We were dissappointed that our exploring time was cut short by our battery issues and all the time it took to organize a solution.  

On Friday we got a bit antsy- we don’t do well when we feel stuck, and this battery situation definitely made us feel that way. We called the marina we were supposed to head into on Sunday and asked if they could squeeze us in a day early and they said yes! So, Ray put our bowsprit back on while I ✨assisted✨, and we made some plans for our departure. 

We left Saturday morning around 7am, and ran both engines the entire time.

Obviously, Ray and I were both pretty disappointed about this whole situation. So, I took it upon myself to make a list of positives during this trip. Here’s what I came up with:

  • We have plenty of fuel to run the engines because we fueled up before leaving Cape Canaveral last week! 
  • We’re heading further South, which means it’ll be warmer! 
  • We don’t have jobs! 
  • We have beer onboard! 
  • The Bahamas will still be there after we get our new batteries installed! 

This was definitely one of our more uncomfortable trips. We found ourselves in sloppy seas with big swells and ~20kn of wind. We motorsailed with our mainsail reefed all morning. We were bouncing around a lot. I was not feeling fantastic. Luckily, things started to clear up and calm down as we approached Ft. Lauderdale.

We dropped the main and pulled into the entrance to Ft. Lauderdale around 3pm. The channel heading up to the marina is pretty cool, all the (huge) houses have pilings on the waterline so they can tie their boats up! 

We tied off to the dock around 4pm and headed to the airport to pick up our rental car. We’ve got a few errands we want to run today, but we got the car so we could go pick up our new batteries tomorrow (about 30mins away). 

Although this week put a damper on our Bahamas plans, we’re relieved to be off anchor and one step closer to solving our battery issues. I hope you all had a great week!❤️

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