..Sailors take warning. Geez, I wish I had a whole bunch of aphorisms like that memorized for predicting weather. Of course, I’d also like them to be somewhat reliable. Instead, once we leave the land of the internet, our weather information is based on various reports I get via HF e-mail as well as on various SSB cruising nets when I can actually hear them well enough to make out what they’re saying.
Yesterday, after we got settled here at San Juanico, I wrote a short blog entry, updated our position report, and then fired up the SSB to send them out and to receive our weather reports. I checked the propagation chart to see what station and frequency would give me the best chance of success. I usually use one of the stations at San Luis Obispo, San Diego, or Watsonville. I found the correct frequency, tuned up the radio and tried to connect. No go. Okay, I’ll switch frequencies and try again. Again, no go. Never discouraged, I switched to a different station. Still no go. I repeated this a few more times before, grasping at straws, I tried a station in Corpus Christie and some frequencies that were pretty unlikely. No joy. OK, what’s going on here? About then I picked up on the fact that this was a pattern that I had experienced before.
Thinking back, I remembered that I had had NO luck getting connected with either SailMail or WinLink until our friend Paul from s/v Jeorgia showed me that you have to press the “Tune” button to get the automatic tuner to adjust itself after picking your frequency. Silly me, I assumed “Automatic” meant automatic. Anyway, after Paul tuned my radio, he got me connected to a Winlink station almost immediately. But I’d been pressing the TUNE button this time so now what?
When I press the TUNE button, I can hear a couple of clicks and then a short bit of mechanical noise coming from my tuner which is located at the very back end of the quarter berth (“garage”). I listened closely and realized that I was hearing the clicks but not the other noise. My tuner wasn’t tuning. That’d certainly do it. But why not? As far as I knew, nothing had changed since the last time I had success with the rig.
The control cable to the tuner plugs in to a short wire on the radio through a 4-pin plug that had seen better days. This, then, was my first suspect. It seemed to be intact but you never can tell just be looking. I cut off the suspect plug and wired the 4 wires to four individual connectors. Tested the rig and still no joy. I climbed down in the engine compartment to check the wiring as it runs through there on its way to the tuner. The tuner control cable has some butt connector splices in the engine room but they all appeared tight and clean. There is also a coaxial connector on the antenna wire there so I opened it up and checked it out. One side was maybe just a little bit cruddy so I wiped it off and reconnected.
Back at the radio, I tried tuning again. Still no good. I decided to see if I was receiving anything as, if I understand it right, the tuner only comes into play for transmitting. The only station I KNOW will be broadcasting at any given time is the “time-tick” station on WWV. I tried all 5 bands and got a weak signal on one. This was pointing towards the antenna as the culprit. But by now it was time for dinner. Unlikely that I was going to fix the tuner today. I didn’t want to half-ass the repair. I wanted to be thorough in my troubleshooting, so, not having any current weather info, we decided to stay in San Jaunico on Thursday so I could try to get the SSB up and running again.
It was a fairly windy night. The winds were coming pretty strongly our of the W and WNW and, considering that was our protected side, must have been even stronger than they seemed. All the more reason to want a current weather forecast.
After breakfast today (Thursday), I decided to get busy. The first thing to do was to eliminate the tuner control cable as the problem. I disconnected it from the back of the radio, turned the radio on and then took some voltage readings at the plug. The main voltage was a little bit low (12.75 VDC instead of 13.6) but that’s standard procedure when we’re not plugged in to shore power and the engine isn’t running and it’s never caused a problem before. Just in case, we also tried tuning with the engine running to bring the voltage all the way up to 13.6. Still no go. The tune button was working OK as it interrupted the 8 VDC “start” voltage just like it was supposed to. Plugged the cable back together. The next place to test was at the tuner itself. And this is why I didn’t tackle it last night.
In order to reach the tuner, everything and I mean EVERYTHING has to be removed from the quarter berth. And it all has to be stowed somewhere where it won’t interfere with access to the radio, my tools, or the bathroom. This means that someone would have to move outside for the duration of this aspect of the job. Lulu, excellent first mate that she is, took her micro macrame out into the cockpit and left the cabin to me. I emptied the garage, being careful not to block anything important and also to stow stuff so that putting them back could be done somewhat logically.
Once I was able to reach the tuner, I removed the 10 bolts holding the cover on. I had Lulu come down and turn the radio on. All the appropriate LEDs lit up. Then I had her hit the TUNE button. There was some clicking but nothing else and the LED that is supposed to indicate a successful tune-up stayed OFF. (Question: why didn’t they locate this particular LED on the outside of the box?) I checked voltages and everything was jake so I closed the box back up. While I was back there, I cleaned up the antenna connectors although they were all pretty clean already.
Back at the radio, tested it and it still didn’t tune. OK, that pretty much eliminates the tuner as the culprit. At least it eliminates the parts of the tuner that I can do something about. Anything else would require a shop and someone who knew what he was doing. So, what’s next? While I was cleaning antenna connections, I tried tuning up a couple times and, lo and behold, it acted the same with or without the antenna connected. That told me that, for some reason, the tuner wasn’t “seeing” an antenna whether it was connected or not. I had already checked and cleaned all the connectors except the one where the lead-in cable meets the antenna wire. I really didn’t want to open that connection up as it’s really a nice connection and I don’t have any more butt connectors of that size to replace it once I destroyed it opening it up for inspection. So, I decided to check the engine room connections again instead. One of them, the one I wiped off last night, was looking a little tawdry. So, I got a piece of emery cloth and buffed it up good and proper and put it back together. As I’ve done every step of the way so far, I returned to the radio to test it after this move.
And it worked! It actually tuned like it was supposed to. That little bit of crud caused a complete failure? Unbelievable! I rechecked all my other connections and they were all clean and shiny. I put everything back together but, before I moved all that stuff back into the garage, I decided to try sending and receiving e-mail. The blog you got earlier today as well as the updated position report are the proof that it all worked. I’m debating with myself whether or not to take the butt connector at the lead-in wire apart. It’s bound to be cruddy, being the one most exposed to the weather. Maybe after I send this out.
As far as weather goes, it looks like, if we leave tomorrow, we’ll be beating in to 15 knot winds from the NW, which just happens to be the direction we want to go. However, Saturday is calling for “not much wind and flat seas”. Sounds like our kind of conditions. Even better, after Saturday, the wind will be 10-15 out of the SE for a few days so we may even be able to use it to our advantage. So it looks like we’ll stay put and go ashore to explore San Juanico tomorrow and then head up to Bahia Concepcion (a 47 mile trip) early Saturday morning.