Saturday, May 11, 2013

Plugging Leaks & Catching Fish

A fellow boater once told me, “all boats are sinking; it’s just a matter of time.”  But, this article is not about water leaks.  Someone with firsthand experience can write that article. 

This article is about electrical leaks.  When a boat is “leaking” electricity it has to go somewhere.  Usually it is into the water through underwater metal components such as the propeller shaft and propeller.  Besides destroying metal components and eating up zincs, a leaking boat can repel fish.  If you are not catching fish, it may because your boat is leaking electricity, but more on that later. 

Upon arrival at Marina Bas-du-Fort, on the south end of the French island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies, we plugged in to a 220 volt, 50 amp outlet and promptly blew the circuit breaker on the power pole.  French islands use European standards which include very sensitive Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt (GFCI) circuit breakers.

An electrician had me turn all the boat’s breakers off, reset the GFCI breaker at the power pole, and then he watched as I individually turned the equipment back on.  It turned out that we had two offenders, the inverter/charger and the oven.  The First Mate’s solution for the oven was that we could eat out. 

 Pollie’s Valentine Gift
(she was so happy)

The inverter/charger was replaced, and that cured the problem.  The breaker at the pole quit having a hissy fit when we plugged in.  But, that got me thinking; does Motivator have other electrical leaks?

Without the advantage of a finicky French marina, checking for alternating current (AC) leaks can be done with a clamp-on amp meter clamped around your shore power cord.  The current flow is really in two directions, it is alternating.  It must cancel itself out, or be a sum zero situation.  So if your boat is not leaking the amp meter should read close to zero.  One amp is way too much and could fry a nearby swimmer.

A check should also be made for Direct Current (DC) leaks and stray current in general to ensure your boat is not driving fish away and eating zincs.  This is best performed away from the dock so that you are not reading your neighbors leakage.  A silver chloride electrode available from (no affiliation with Motivator) that plugs into your multimeter for ease of taking readings is just the ticket.  Again, do as the electrician in Guadeloupe taught me, turn off all components and then turn them on one at a time to find the culprit.

Small but tasty tuna

Success!  Once the electrical leaks were plugged, our previously dismal fishing performance ended and we started catching fish.  The first was this Black Fin Tuna caught leaving Guadeloupe.

Barracuda caught and released off Culebra

I know what you are thinking - coincidence.  Scientific research has proven that fish are both attracted and/or repelled by electricity.  Commercial fishermen have effectively used electricity to help herd menhaden and shrimp into purse seines.  There are even electric lures available see: (not a recommendation, merely an example). 

This 4’ 4” Bull Maui Maui was caught in the Anegada Passage.  Coincidence?  Motivator had suffered a long drought, but now her freezer is full of fish.

This guy had to be filleted on deck then released because it was too big for my cooler and cleaning table.

Special Note:  The First Mate managed to gaff this 25 to 30 pound angry Maui Maui and fling it into the cockpit in one fluid motion.  Then she held it down and applied “fish killer” (cheap Vodka) to its gills.  The whole time she was apologizing to the fish.  Very impressive!

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