So the initial opening of the boat had finally come. It was a moment of intense concern. Would the bilge be overflowing? Would there be leaks? Would it be a garden of mold? All of our worries slowly evaporated as we climbed down into the fumes of formaldehyde and dusty but faint smell of mold and saw that Sundowner was essentially in the state that we left her.

There were no obvious sources of water intrusion. There wasn’t mold all over everything. The items we’d left in bags to protect them were still protected and looked good. Even the open containers of vinegar and bleach we’d left around the boat were still there, still not evaporated and still doing their thing. Relief flooded through us as we realized that no major disaster had taken place.

There were some of the usual small issues though. The side decks had sitting water for so long that our water based nonskid Kiwi Grip that we had painted on right before we left peeled up. In some places.

The batteries had finally died for the last time. I’d left the solar controller hooked up to keep them going but they hadn’t been watered in 10 months and they were old and weak when we left. So at some point they must have dipped under the 8 or 9 volts required to keep the solar charge controller running and at that precise moment, their death knell sounded. The boat was completely and totally dead.

To complicate matters, I’ve noticed quite a bit of corrosion in the junction boxes on the solar panels themselves. It doesn’t appear to be that bad but the junction boxes are clearly not weather tight as they were advertised. The solar problems were of serious concern because if they are dead we’re out of luck on power. We’ll get to that soon enough though.

Some of the other issues we immediately noticed… Wasps had taken up residence in various places. They built nests on curtains which seems to have left unremovable stains in places. They’d built nests on the fire extinguishers. They’d built nests under the boom. And to my amazement, there was a truly massive but extinct next hanging from one of the flag halyard blocks. That nest when it was function was probably the size of a 1 gallon jug. I was happy to see it was extinct because whatever built it was probably not of the small harmless mud building variety but instead of the “I’ll sting the hell out of you” sort. It is still up there. I expect it to fall down once we get under sail.

And finally, there was the old shifter.

I’d long deemed it suspect, what with its copious amounts of rust and troublesome throw. I had sat up many a night back in the refit days contemplating its replacement. But at the time with so much going on, I always had higher priorities. In the end, in a last minute decision, I ordered a new shifter but put it away as a “spare”. It was good that I did. I moved the shifter and felt an ominous “give”. It had broken. The gear selector part of the shifter had finally given up the ghost. Thank God something in my gut had told me to bring a spare with me. I guess a year sitting in the boatyard broke its crumbly little heart. However, the best place to break anything is a boat yard, so there was that.

First things come first. Power. Everything revolves around power. Without power we have no fans and with no fans we are miserable down here in the heat. And so day one in the boat yard was day one of changing the old batteries out.

When those old batteries went into the boat, there wasn’t a lot in the engine room and access was better. So it took a while just to get to the point that we could remove the old ones. I had to remove the “big” cockpit hatch, then pull the battery box out far enough to get clearance to lift them out of the boat.

This is easier said than done. The battery box weighs approximately 320lbs. It sits on a shelf in a corner and if moved incorrectly would fall onto the engine doing whatever damage it could.

To move it, I found one of the large wood blocks they put under boats on the hard and rigged a “temporary support” upon which I could drag the box out some.

I also had to remove the cockpit scupper drain on the starboard side and some other small things to make way for this behemoth. With the box in this new position it was possible to lift the batteries out. So out they came, one by one.

I removed all the old cables and our battery watering system and transferred it to the new batteries that Emilio had brought us from Pricesmart (The Panamanian equivalent of Sam’s Club). All of our house batteries are 6v golf cart batteries. There are 4 of them. 2 sets are wired in series to make two 12v batteries of about 220amp hours each. Then these two sets are wired in parallel to give a single bank @ 12v with 440amp hours of power.

The process of getting the box back into position was just as delicate as it was moving the old ones out. We used leverage and a tow strap to pull all back into place and reconnect the wires and fuses. Then we threw the switch and the boat lit up. Everything was energized and I was relieved to see it so.

After the onerous house bank, the starter battery was a piece of cake by comparison and we had it changed out in short order. It is a standard 12v battery like that you would find in a car and the port side had better access for removal and installation.

It was a nice to turn on a fan. I checked the battery monitor and it showed a couple of amps going in and so I knew at least one solar panel was working. I’ll leave it at that for now and go into more details next time.

I have to say that being back in Panama and the boat after so long away has given Dani and I a very different perspective on cruising life. There is a different feel. Back when we worked on the boat during the big refit, everything was by the book, had to go smoothly, needed to be perfect. Two project managers smashed together in a small boat shovelling away. Now, after this first day of work, there was a very mellow vibe. Less rush and less expectation and instead a steady pace mixed with expected competence and support. I think our RV trip chilled us out a lot. I also think that coming back to the boat we had so much stress and low expectation of the conditions that we were ready for the worst. Ready to deal with a lot worse than we found.

Other things are better too. Having a room to stay in while we work with a shower is nice.

The bugs aren’t as bad this year. It isn’t as hot as we remembered it. Dani and I are both strong personalities. When stuff goes wrong our inclination is to ask why. This can become accusatory. It can be stressful to have your wife or husband asking hard questions about why something is screwed up. It can escalate. We dealt with it in the past by designating project ownership and taking responsibility. This alleviated our problems. This time we didn’t. We just both started working and helping one another.

There were inevitable screw ups. “Why is it this way?” But instead of it getting toxic this time we turned to each other with support and smiles. A common saying aboard, “This sucks, but we’re going to the islands. We’re going to little tropical deserted islands.” I’m not sure why, but everything seems smoother now. Like our time away made us appreciate not only the boat life more, but each other more now that we are back. Life is good.

(Dani’s note: Tate forgot to mention that He did all this battery work on the day after we arrived, his Birthday. My handsome husband made 35 the day the boat got power again. We celebrated with a steak and old cruising friends that are still in San Blas.)

Check out our new video where we show the inside of the boat for the first time after almost a year and also document the battery change!

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