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  • Writer's picturetheblacksprayhood

Explosive tendencies

"hydrogen sulphide, which is not only poisonous, but potentially explosive..."

woman looking at a sunset
The sun is very powerful here in Curação

It’s been a couple of weeks since I have written. I have been doing some online exam marking and it’s been quite all consuming due to the short turnaround times and necessity to remain accurate - they plant premarked seeds amongst the papers to ensure you are on track.

At last I finished, which gave me a chance to try and investigate exactly where the ‘sewage’ smell we’d noticed for two days seemed to be emanating from. We’d been trying to work it out but had had no luck, but now I was determined and set my nose to work.

It seemed to be coming from somewhere in our stern cabin. The most obvious source would be the heads, but both the toilet and sink seemed fine. I stuck my nose in the cupboard under the sink, it also wasn’t coming from there, nor anywhere I could find in the tiny heads.

Was it coming from our bedroom carpet? Had one of the cats had an accident there? I sniffed all over, but no luck. Same with our bed. I stuck my nose through the windows. It wasn’t coming from outside.

How about just outside the cabin? It wasn’t coming from the engine compartment, nor any of the nearby cupboards. I thought reluctantly about removing everything from our pilot berth to access the compartment space beneath. Could something have died in there?

But before that, I decided to give our bedroom woodwork a good polish. As I made my way across the room, I felt the wooden side of our inbuilt settee that is attached to the bed. It was warm. Very warm.

Wood is not known for its conductivity. I pulled off the cushions on top and heat radiated out along with the ‘sewage’ smell. It was our starter battery. I called Luciano and we turned off the battery and disconnected from the mains.

I quickly found some sailing forums online. They stated that the probable cause was a collapsed cell in the battery, or possibly a charging fault. The smell was because the battery was emitting hydrogen sulphide, which is not only poisonous, but potentially explosive. We had to get the battery off the boat as soon as possible.

Hands removing a battery
We flew to work on removing the hot battery

We managed to gingerly disconnect the hot battery. I ran to get a trolley from the marina office so we could transport it out. We lifted it out. It was so hot that the sides were bulging. We got it onto the trolley and placed it next to the bins.

Then we immediately informed the marina manager. He was fairly relaxed about it - he immediately said it was a collapsed cell in the battery, so we assumed he’d seen this several times before. But we did notice that he wasted no time at all in removing it from the site. Better safe than sorry.

starter battery on ground
The old battery was slightly bulging at the sides

Phew. We reflected on how lucky we were that I had finished my marking and had time to do a proper investigation. Otherwise it could have been curtains for us, the cats and Matusadona. But that wasn’t our only potentially explosive encounter this week.

We hired a car so that we could go and buy a new starter battery - a sealed AGM one this time. It was kind of urgent. The day after we removed the starter battery we had our first power cut across the whole of the island.

We’d known that this was a possibility in Curação, but what terrible timing. We had installed an inverter in Martinique as a back up to power Starlink for work in case of a power cut. But now we didn’t want to risk turning it on with a missing battery.

That night we waited anxiously to see if the power would return before the next working day started. Thankfully at about eleven pm it came back on and we could plug into the mains again.

Before we got the battery we also took the opportunity of having the car to refill our empty gas canister. This is illegal in Europe, so we had been eking it out in Martinique and trying not to use the gas very much.

Here in Curação, we could finally get it refilled. The only problem was that their filling systems only work with the official canisters. However, the man at the filling station was very obliging. We had brought along a case full of gas adapters that we hadn’t had to use until now.

Unfortunately none of them worked. We visited a couple of hardware stores to see if we could buy one, but to no avail. Finally, we had to cut one of the adapters in half with an angle grinder and then it could be used.

We watched him fill up the regular gas canisters. There was a slight hiss as the canister reached maximum pressure and he detached it. Then it was time for our little one to be filled. A cloud of pungent propane gas escaped, but he persevered and it was filled.

blue gas bottle
Our well-travelled gas bottle

We put it in the car and drove off to our next stop to buy the new starter battery. We did notice however that the car smelled quite strongly of propane. We wound down the windows to let it escape. We got the battery and got back in the car. Quite a strong smell.

The canister was sealed, so we were hoping it was just the residue we could smell. We quickly went back to the boat and installed the battery which worked great. Then we did the washing up liquid test to check if gas was actually escaping - you can tell by the foam. Luckily it all seemed to be OK.

starter battery being installed
Installing our new starter battery

We’ve also had some more good news - after a month and a half in Curação, our fridge has finally been repaired. It’s very hot here and drinking warm bleach flavoured tank water is not very appetising to say the least.

The man who repaired our fridge has a busy full time job repairing air conditioning units, so it has been difficult for him to have the time to clear our refrigerant lines. Then he replaced it and it worked. For two days.

However, he came back and found the leak and the fridge is working again. Hallelulah. Ahoy there cold drinks! The next day we had another power cut. Curação is heating up as we approach hurricane season and the increased use of air conditioning units is having an impact on the electrical capacity on the island.

Luckily we now have our battery installed and the inverter is working. Unfortunately it does mean we’ve had to turn off the fridge to save the battery power for the inverter. So hopefully we’ll get a cold drink again tomorrow. Cheers!

This week's Vlog.

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Jun 18, 2023

Very scary and worrying! Glad you got it sorted. In a weird way scarier than the Bay of Dismay. Shame re the fridge being off/on/off as I think at least 1 x cold beer per day would help at the end of stressy battery and/or power cut days!

Jun 18, 2023
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The power is back on now so we can enjoy a nice cold beer again and cold water too 😀

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