Grace Hopper, Rear Admiral in the US Navy and computer scientist extraordinaire once said, “A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
Although there is no disputing the fact that Commodore Hopper knew a lot more than I do about ships, computers, and everything else in the world, in this particular instance I believe she was incorrect.
Ships may not be built to stay in port, but that does not mean that ports are safe places. The immense dangers of the sea are obvious: pirates, sea monsters, killer whales, mega sharks, whirlpools, sea monsters, freak waves, waterspouts, superstorms, errant torpedos, ghost ships, tsunamis, and the Bermuda Triangle. The dangers in port are far subtler, but no less deadly. Not only do ports have way too many thieves, press gangs, and dishonest publicans for comfort, but many of the problems that plague a ship on the open sea can be equally present at anchor. Technical difficulties, system failures, and problems with equipment will occur anywhere — and are no less disastrous just because a ship is in sight of (or tied to) land.
Just ask our hardy little Pas de Deux, who in only one week has bravely weathered two deadly explosions due to unavoidable technical failures!
Explosion One: Gas heater raging out of control!
Benn turned on the gas water heaterthe other day only to be seared by a deadly blade of fire which shot out of the box and nearly sliced him in two. Much to the amusement of an old man snooping through the window (people can be very nosy when it comes to boating), Benn quickly leapt out of the shower and ran naked across the boat, turning off the gas just in time to save himself from a fiery death.
We still do not know the real cause of the fire blast. Although it most likely had to do with the shower itself, an incident that occurred last May does suggest a slight possibility that the root of the problem might actually lie with the shower operator. We spent our last anniversary in a yurt on a rustic farm in Norfolk (actually not a romantic destination, by the way) and were both almost torched to death by a similar flame that issued from the eco shower there. Although the gas heater at the farm was far more rickety than Pas de Deux’s nice, shiny Rinnai water heater, we may need to do some further investigation into the proper operation of gas heated showers.
Explosion Two: Batteries transformed into deadly hydrogen bombs!
On Saturday night, the carbon monoxide alarm went off while Benn was sleeping. Normally, this would be interpreted as a sign that there was a dangerous level of carbon monoxide in the boat; however, the gas monitor hadn’t been tripped and the boat is so drafty that it would be unlikely that a sufficient amount of CO could accumulate to set off the alarm. The carbon monoxide monitor had expired in May 2016 (safety first!), and its battery light was on, so Benn figured it just needed to be replaced. He bought a new monitor and all seemed well until… once again, at 4 AM, the alarm went off.
Because the boat was still drafty and the gas monitor still quiet, Benn assumed that the new carbon monoxide monitor was defective. He was about to go back to bed when it occurred to him that he should perhaps do a little Internet research into the matter, just to be safe. After reading several stories about people who died after ignoring their supposedly defective CO monitor, Benn started to think that maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to assume that the problem was with the alarm. He eventually found a story about an old couple in Florida whose carbon monoxide alarm kept going off even though neither they nor the fire department could find any sign of a gas leak. It turned out that the problem lay with a defective battery in their golf cart (old people in Florida, remember) which was spewing hydrogen gas into the air. Because CO meters can also detect hydrogen (in addition to other vapors and volatile gasses), sometimes they will be triggered even when carbon monoxide levels are normal.
Once Benn turned off the battery charger and disconnected the batteries, the alarm stopped beeping, so we can only assume that we also had a hydrogen leak. Our batteries are old and clearly damaged, so the problem probably lies with them rather than the battery charger. Since we won’t need to disconnect from shore power for an extended period of time for at least another year, we are going to wait to buy new batteries until we plan to go cruising. Batteries are expensive and even one year constitutes a substantial decrease in battery life. For the time being, Benn has solved the problem by simply unplugging the charger at night and letting the batteries top up during the day.
Moral of the story: You do not know more about dangerous gasses in your living environment than your CO meter does.
Benn also has a good plan for addressing future hydrogen leaks. He’s going to ventilate the engine bays by installing computer fans which he will then link to volt meters. When the batteries reach 14V charge, the fans will turn on, sucking out any hydrogen. Pretty ingenious.
Needless to say, Benn, Fuji, and Pas de Deux remain unscathed by their brush with death. Whew.
Note: After reading this post, Benn has informed me that the CO meter is very sensitive and there actually wasn’t enough hydrogen to cause an explosion. That information kind of ruins the whole point of this post, but it is encouraging to know that the boat was never in real danger of blowing up.