We have a bolt problem. The bolt holding our alternator onto our engine sheared off just before we reached Manjack a few days ago. Here is the to-be-continued story of its (I hope) repair. First, let me introduce you to the bolt – pretty underwhelming, right?
Wrong! When it sheared off, it left most of itself inside a bolt hole that is cast into and entirely enclosed within the engine block. The sheared bolt had to be extracted or another bolt couldn’t go in and there’s no other way to attach the alternator bracket. And we need the alternator to make electricity from the engine. So Goldwin spent most of one day carefully drilling out the busted bolt, using increasingly larger drill bits until the bolt piece was entirely removed, leaving just the parts of the bolt that remained in the bolt threads. His slow and careful process was designed to prevent damage to the existing bolt threads.
To remove the pieces of bolt remaining in the threads, we needed a tap, which is a sort of mutilated bolt that scrapes out any remaining bits of the bolt that are blocking the threads and restores any internal threads that have been damaged or cut. We didn’t have a tap. A search by dinghy of the hardware stores, marinas and boat repair places in Green Turtle produced nothing. But we heard that a man named Dick (not his real name), could be located and could come to the boat with a tap. Dick was supposed to be the local diesel repair guy.
Our marina generously called Dick, who promised to come that night or the next morning (Sunday). When we hadn’t heard from him by Sunday afternoon, our marina called again and Goldwin explained the problem in detail, advising Dick that we needed a tap. Dick promised to come to our boat and did, about 3pm Sunday. But without the tap. He told us that he first needed to diagnose the problem. Which Goldwin had already explained in detail on the phone. Dick left on his boat and reappeared later with a tap.
Well, if you weren’t a diesel repair guy and you went on the internet to learn how to use a tap, you would find out, in about three seconds depending on the speed of your internet, that you apply lubricating oil to the hole, insert the tap, straighten the tap and start turning slowly, keeping the tap exactly straight in the hole and repeatedly removing it every several turns to clean out the hole and re-apply lubricant. But if you were Dick the diesel repair guy, you would just jam the tap into the hole, sneer at Goldwin’s offer of lubricant, and crank on it as hard and fast as possible. Until the tap broke off inside the hole, which is what happened. OMG, now what. The point of the tap is that it is very hard steel and you can’t just drill it out. Dick left to get more tools before Goldwin could throw him off the boat.
Dick returned, but was not allowed to touch the boat again. Using needle nose pliers and lubricant, Goldwin and I spent about three hours taking turns wiggling the broken tap inside the bolt hole. Wiggle, wiggle. Do you think it’s moving? Maybe a little. Back and forth, back and forth. Does it seem like anything is happening? Not sure. Twist, turn, twist, turn. What if we can’t get it out? No alternatives. We even used one of my large sewing needles to try to scrape out any minute metal particles that might be interfering with its removal. One of us held the flashlight and one wiggled – we took turns. Did I mention that it’s awkward to get to?
Three hours later – voila – we’d extracted it. A miracle. By that time, the existing internal threads were ruined. So now we have to drill the hole out to a bigger size and then re-tap it to create threads for a new, larger bolt. Thank you, Dick the diesel repair guy. Way to turn a 5 minute job into a 3 day job.
Monday morning was flat calm, but E-ESE winds building to 15 – 20 with gusts to 25 were predicted for Monday night and continuing through Thursday or Friday. In order to get to a bigger town, we needed to move south, which requires a short passage into the ocean and then back into the Sea of Abaco; it’s called Whale Passage, of just “the whale.” Monday seemed like a good day to do that or be stuck in Green Turtle with Dick for the rest of the week. We left Monday morning with no alternator, headed for Hopetown. The first hurdle was to clear the entrance at White Sound – about 4 1/2 feet of water at low tide. We left on a half tide and were fine.
It was an easy, uneventful motorboat ride to Hopetown. Now we are plugged into a marina for power until we can get the bolt re-tapped. More later.