Tied Up

musket cove marina dock, sv cavalo

Resort guests stroll up and down the dock, pointing to the boats that excite them the most. Penthouse-style motor yachts, carbon catamarans, classic monohulls. The motor yachts are usually a favourite. Exclamations of admiration and desire make their way out of mouths not privy to the fact that most of these boats are broken.

The spot we were assigned on the dock was directly across from the Island Bar. I still can’t decide if this was convenient or inconvenient, or maybe even if it was assigned to us intentionally. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it was. Either way, we grabbed a few beers before what would normally be considered an acceptable hour to do so and set out to solve our most pressing issue: getting the engine started. This turned out to be a fairly simple fix, especially since we knew where the problem lay; Matt did a quick rebuild of the manual lift pump and we were finally able to get all the air out of the lines and fuel to the injectors. She started right up. Phew! Our next task would demand a lot more time and patience, though.

During a seemingly endless inundation of advice, we isolated each of the three house batteries to measure voltage capacities and discharge rates, keeping meticulous notes as we went. We eased them from the normal charge and discharge routine into more aggressive efforts; overcharging them in attempt to burn off any sulfation and then bringing them down under a constantly controlled draw, just to the brink of death. We combed the electrical system over and over looking for a diagnosis. By some form of luck our neighbouring boat was suffering extensive electrical issues, and though the owners were away they had an electrician staying on board doing repairs. He’s more-or-less our age, so we made fast friends (at the Island Bar, obviously) and he eventually popped by Cavalo for a look at our system. We got more accurate readings with his clamp meter, and he was able to take a more educated look at how we had everything set up. He gave us a solid stamp of approval, and assured us that we had been charging and discharging the batteries properly over the last 18 months. Though we’ve learned there can be an unusual amount of room for interpretation when it comes to electrical issues, his comments were what we needed to make a final decision. Our system was fine, we bought shitty batteries.

Battery-buying is not exciting. In fact it’s pretty stressful. It’s a lot of spec-sheet reading and compatibility testing. And then of course we’re in Fiji. There are locally made batteries that are more affordable, but they have only a so-so reputation. And we’d heard stories of brand-name batteries being ordered at top-dollar prices through local vendors only to have knock-off versions delivered. We were over surprises by this point and decided to shell out for some Lifelines that we could get shipped from New Zealand. Matt coordinated movements between vendors and freight companies, I argued with customs over rotation numbers and tax exemptions. Finally we had some batteries on the way, though in the meantime we were still stuck on the dock. We had friends visiting in less than a week, so I decided it was as good a time as any to dig out the power tools and get into some brightwork. I transformed the deck into my own floating woodshop and buried my frustrations in a nice layer of teak dust. Perhaps a bit ambitious with company coming, but it needed to be done and was hugely (bigly?) satisfying to get started. We eventually got the cease-and-desist order from the marina on account that it was not in fact a boatyard, but the dirty work is done.

The batteries arrived and we moved to a slip over in Denarau to pick them up and swap them out. I’d all but forgotten how much they weigh, and how awkward they are to get into and out of the boat. The three batteries together weigh in at almost 500 pounds, and they need to come out of their hole, up through the companionway, off the boat onto the dock, and then the new ones go in. The new batteries were slightly different dimensions, enough so that we needed to rebuild their cradle, but after contorting in all sorts of weird ways we learned that I just barely fit into their bilge-home, with just enough room to wield a cordless drill. Cozy.

As of now? The new batteries are working wonderfully, the varnish is looking great, all the stainless is polished. Lots and lots of work that is so very much worth it.


  1. Hey guys. Good read.

    Some un-solicited advise from a sparky. Great choice on the batteries, make sure you equalise every 6 months or so. It also looks like you have 3 12v batteries in paralell. A battery monitor system would be good to keep an eye on the individual cell voyages. You can get them pretty cheap from electronic stores.

    Adventures of Sprout

  2. Jesse- thanks for the tip. We do have a Victron monitor but it only measures total bank data. What do you mean by monitoring individual cells?

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