Monday, December 30, 2013

Burning out a fan up here alone

As I type this, we are in the Atlantic Ocean about five miles east of Fernandina Beach, Florida (map). We are steaming south at 7.3 knots, and it looks like we will make the turn to the St. Johns River entrance channel around 2:30ish, two and a quarter hours from now.  The flood current will give us a boost into the river and we should be tied up around 3:30 if all goes well.

We're not really in Florida yet, as we are far enough offshore to be out of the state, but for all intents and purposes we left Georgia behind when we crossed the St. Marys entrance channel about 15 minutes ago. We are close enough to shore, though, that I got a good view of Jekyll and Cumberland islands as we passed by, and I could see Fort Clinch and the state park campground on Amelia Island where we stayed in Odyssey on our very first pass down the coast.

We passed one giant RoRo in the Brunswick channel on our way out, and we've passed a half dozen or so shrimpers plying their trade, but have seen nary another cruising boat since we left the harbor. Conditions today are perfect -- the 3:40am forecast was revised back down to 2'-4' seas, and, frankly, we haven't really seen much over 3'.

It would have been a perfect day to visit Cumberland Island, but Louise, while on the mend, is still too far under the weather for a shore excursion.  Besides that, with such perfect conditions, we wanted to make progress while the going was good.

Our plan had been to weigh anchor at 8am, to have a good boost from the ebb on the way out of St. Simons, yet still plenty of daylight for the whole trip.  That had us bringing the anchor in with well over a knot of current, making for a bit of a challenge.  We actually got a late start, as the chain was fouled on the bottom somehow and getting it all back aboard was slow going.

Near the beginning of the retrieval I went on deck, as I always do, to retrieve the chain hook.  Louise otherwise handles all the deck work while I drive the boat, but her arm is just not long enough to reach the hook at the end of the anchor fairlead through the little hawsehole we installed for the purpose.  As I stepped out of the pilothouse I detected the smell of burning electrics, and my first thought was the windlass motor was burning up.

Finding no obvious problem with the windlass, and detecting no smell there, we continued getting the snubber off the chain and went back to work.  As I stepped back toward the pilothouse door, I smelled it again.  Louise brought her more sensitive sniffer over toward the pilothouse, and found the smell to be coming from the hood for the forward bathroom exhaust fan.  I had turned that fan on a few minutes earlier.

Relieved that it was not the windlass, I raced downstairs and, fortunately, found no fire or other badness, but the fan was now inoperative and it looks as if we've burned it out.  This is the second one -- we replaced the identical fan in the master head a few months ago, both probably victims of our Modified Sine Wave (MSW) inverter.  It probably says something about me that the first thing that popped into my head is the (somewhat altered) Elton John lyric that titles this post.

As a side note, that line from Rocket Man has generated more different mondegreens than perhaps any other song in history, so much so that Volkswagen made a commercial out of them, touting their audio system's clarity.  They understandably omitted our favorite, though, "burning out a pair of underwear."

Repairing a fan a foot above my head is more than I want to tackle out here in the ocean, so a full diagnosis will have to wait until we are tied up or anchored tonight.  The sorts of induction motors in fans really don't like MSW power, which is one of the many reasons our new inverter (yet to be installed) is a true sine model.  The fans were also ten years old, which is probably the lifetime of the insulation in a damp, let alone marine, environment.

Tonight we will either be anchored just a few miles up the St. Johns, or else tied up to the free docks at Pine Island.  There are no services there, but it's not far from the entrance.  Tomorrow we might continue upriver to Jacksonville.  Our affiliate club there is having a New Years Eve party, and there are plenty of other venues just a short walk from any of the three free docks in town.


  1. Do you have any solar panels? We will be going solar as much as we can with our boat (when we get it). Funny you should mention affiliate club, Beryl and I have just started with reviewing products for affiliate programs and hope to use it for a supplemental income while at sea. Great stuff Folks, hope Louise feels better soon.

    1. No solar on the boat. There is, unfortunately, no place to put the panels.

  2. Sean wouldn't it be better to make those fan run off battery instead of an inverter?
    I know you are far more knowledgeable as to the pros/cons of this, but I would think some cheap 24 computer fans would be perfect. (I know they seem to last forever in computer towers that stay on 24/7/365 so they should last a while in your application as well.)
    Bryce Gaston aka "BK"

    1. If we were designing this from scratch, we would certainly go with DC fans instead. But the boat is fully finished, and the original builder opted to use household bathroom ventilators. Converting these to DC operation would be a major project and probably considerable expense, whereas a Broan replacement motor is less than $20 from Home Depot. The percentage of time the fans are on (mostly just when we shower) is so small that it's not worth changing.

  3. I like your title from misheard lyrics. My sister used to sing "round convertible, mother and child" at Christmas. See


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