Attack of the Gremlins

Oct 19, 2016| 0 Comment

A generator on an energy-demanding boat like Avante is a necessity.  Sure, we can charge up the batteries using the engine, but that consumes triple the amount of diesel, and since the batteries must be recharged several times a day for a minimum of an hour at a time, that eats up to a lot of diesel if done solely by the engine.  We need the generator.  We love the generator, but there are times this dear inanimate conglomerate of metal, tubes and wires feels neglected.  It lets us know, and tonight laying in bed waiting for the batteries to reach full load, the generator suddenly stops.  There’s is no hiccup, no sputter, no nothing.  It just stops like the off button had been hit.  The First Mate wakes up a dozing Captain to tell him.  (Why is she almost always the carrier of gloom?)  “No!” he says and climbs out of bed to check.  She’s right.  It has stopped.  Nothing to be done about it now in the dark of night.  It can wait until the morning.  He turns off the energy-eating refrigeration and climbs back in bed.

Sunday, October 16th – 0630He is up checking out the generator.  It starts nicely, runs for a while, then suddenly stops.  The engine is turned on, for the batteries must be charged again, and that gives us enough oomph to run the expresso machine to start the day with our life-giving cappuccinos.  After that, he is all work.  What is the problem?  The generator will start, run for a variable period of time and die quickly and suddenly for no visible reason.  The problem is intermittent.  Sometimes, the generator will run for much longer, and just about the time he thinks he’s got it, it dies.  Occasionally, it will refuse to start from the exterior control panel across from the Nav Station.  Then he has to start it from the engine itself. 

A loose or corroded wire somewhere?  But where?  Panels and floorboards are removed so wires can be located and tested.  Nothing shows up as the culprit.  “It’s the Gremlins,” announces The First Mate to a Captain who has no patience to hear, but she knows that every once in a while they do sneak on board despite all our most vigilant safeguards.  Devilish little creatures they are!  Oh, the incomprehensible havoc they create!  Gleefully, they watch from hidden recesses as their victims struggle to untangle the puzzle-that-defies-all-understanding.  Their creation!  What fun — for them.

1100 – “Enough!” exclaims The Captain.  “We have a mountain to climb.”  Yesterday’s plastic-wrapped baguettes which fortuitously turned out to be sandwiches and two water bottles are tucked in our backpack.  At only 262 meters, Pic N’ga is not much of a mountain, but it is the highest point on this island.  This will be our second hike to the top, for we “summited” the peak when we were last here.  It’s a pleasant hike with fantastic views of the surrounding reefs, shallow waters and islands.

The trail at first meanders through a forested area where several Kanak carvings have been erected along the side of the path.

Are they figments of the carver’s imagination or do they have an ancestral or spiritual meaning?  We know not, and there is no one to ask.

The trail becomes a bit rougher as it follows a deeply worn gully eroded by heavy rain runoff.  Occasionally, the trail detours into the woods to avoid completely washed out areas.

Steepening, the trail emerges into the open.  We are now walking over areas of rocks, stone and gravely red earth.  Unlike our mountain hikes in Telluride, Pic N’ga’s summit can be seen from most angles and not temptingly, hopefully, just beyond the next bend.

There is one really steep part.  It’s not that it is so steep.  It’s the loose stones on grumbling dirt that make every step a caution.  This is not a place to twist an ankle!

We remember that a rustic, old wooden cross had been erected at the pinnacle, and we wonder if it has survived the winds and storms it has seen since last we were here.  “The Old Rugged Cross” — a church hymn recalled, but neither of us can remember the words.  Never mind.  Bringing up the rear as she usually is, for The Captain has nimbly disappeared up the slope, she sings “Jacob’s Ladder” to herself as she climbs higher, higher to the top and that old rugged cross.

It’s there!  He’s there sitting on the concrete platform which stabilizes the cross and just waiting to enjoy our ham and cheese baguettes.

It was a great day for a hike in the tropics. The overcast skies mean there is no blazing sun, and the stiff breeze keeps the body cool.  Unfortunately, those great hiking conditions make for terrible photos.  For a much better idea of what it was like up there, refer to 2012 and the blog entitled “Noumea to the Ile des Pins”.  The photos do show the beauty.

Back at ground level, our return path back to Baie de Kuto takes us down a street which The First Mate vividly remembers.  How could she forget the cool greenness of walking under Mother Nature’s arbor?

Beautiful it is, but there is an untamed, haunting feel to this place.  Blown by island winds, gigantic tree arms branch out to reach across the street to meet and entangle with stretching arms from the other side.  

What is the story behind this strange looking thing?  Is the dark brown tree growing up through and sucking the life out of the grey one.  Or is the grey specter strangling the dark brown one?  She has never seen anything like this ghostly apparition.

To The First Mate’s imagination, by day, this arbored walk is a fantasy land, but by night, her mind transforms into a place of reaching, screeching nightmare.  It is place to walk gently under warm sunlight or to run for your life in deep darkness.

Monday, October 17thWe are here off Ile des Pins not just because it is a delightful spot to hang out, even under its present overcast, rain-threatening skis, but because it is a good jumping off spot for the 100 nm leg to the Loyalty Islands.  With that much distance, it will be done on an overnight passage.  We are waiting for steady SE winds at around 15 knots.  The Captain downloads the weather forecast and declares that Tuesday night is looking good.

Another trip ashore to buy bread is made, cut short by a quick return to fixing the generator. (“To finding that Gremlin,” silently thinks The First Mate.  The boat is again taken apart.  All our paraphernalia stored in the port aft cabin is pulled out into the main cabin.  The First Mate is consigned to their cabin in the bow of the boat.  Not only does she not know how to begin to fix a generator, there is little she can do to help.  Don’t ask questions, and stay out of the way.  That is her MO for the day.  Occasionally, she is asked to hold something or to watch something, but only when The Captain needs another arm or two or a set of eyes in a different location.  Our generator was installed several years after the boat was built, and it was somehow squeezed into the barely accessible aft section of the engine compartment.  To work on it, The Captain has to wriggle his body into incredible contortions as he stretches to get his arm and a tool on some component.  What he really wishes for are orangutang arms!  From her comfortable berth, The First Mate hears an almost constant series of grunts as he strains to reach something.  She hears The Captain start up the generator at least 10 times during the day, but it never runs for more than 30 minutes before it shuts itself off.  “Don’t even ask how it’s going,” she counsels herself.

Tuesday, October 18thRain that had been forecast finally arrives.  It’s a dismal day.  Not only is the weather bad, to make matters worse, The Captain had a miserable night with the onset of some kind of stomach bug.  He’s laying low so it’s a good thing the weather is as equally poor.  Our departure to the Loyalties would not have happened.

Cruising has been defined as “fixing your boat in exotic locations”.  Well, we are certainly in an exotic location, and The Captain must continue working on the generator no matter how he feels.  He has eliminated a number of possible causes, but he can’t find the real culprit.  “It’s got to be in one of these circuits,” he mutters.  At 1040, he again starts up the generator.  As it continues to run, both of us cross our fingers.  After almost two hours, the batteries are totally charged, and The Captain shuts down the generator.  “Is it fixed?  What was it?” asks the First Mate.  “I’m not really sure” he replies.  Did it fix itself or did The Captain just happen to find the offending connection.  He doesn’t know, but The First Mate knows. It was those Gremlins.  The Captain was getting much too close to finding the puzzle-that-defies-all-understanding, so our diabolical Gremlins stopped their conjuring and went into hiding.  They’ll eventually reappear.  Gremlins always do.

Wednesday, October 19th – Departure day! – We will leave at noon which will allow us to arrive on the island of Livou tomorrow in the late morning.  Of course, before we leave, a supply of baguettes must be taken onboard.  They do freeze well.  We also have discovered that the strange looking elevated platforms erected at intervals along the beach are for trash.  How clever!  Wandering dogs and feral pigs are deterred.  While The First Mate heads to the store, The Captain deposits our trash and returns to the dinghy to await her return.  Walking up the road in his present condition would not have been a good idea, but he insists that he is well enough to journey onward on the boat.

Under the first bright blue sky we have seen in days, we enjoy our final views of the sweeping beach at Ile des Pins.

1130We are underway!  As we pass Ilôt Infernal, we turn into the wind.  The Captain climbs up to attach the Main halyard.  Back in the cockpit, he presses the button on the electric winch.  Mainsail goes up.  Out next unfurls the jib.  Lifou Island in the Loyalties, here we come!

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