Failed Starter–Oh No!


F’n Boats… Its sometimes my daily mantra.


Yesterday our plans of heading over to Petit Martinique were quickly derailed as I went to start my starboard motor and was greeted by silence. I let the key go and tried again, no go!. Damn, damn damn. I headed down stairs and began dismantling the aft berth so I could stick my head in there to try and discern the problem. Once access was obtained, I had Rhonda attempt to start the motor while I listened for clues. Low voltage relay click, but no high voltage solenoid click. Alright, I assumed the solenoid had failed and I could simply jump the starter with a screw driver or pliers. I obtained a nice beefy screw driver and began poking at the terminals sending a spray of sparks in all directions. Although it was a pretty fireworks show, the starter still failed to chooch (insert a long string of explanatives)


I was now sure the problem was bigger than I could quickly cobble around and our trip would be delayed. I came upstairs and radioed Avanti of the bad news. Cheryl insisted on sending Bobby over to see if he could help. I felt really bad about this as it was Bobby’s birthday and I didn’t really want him crawling around our dirty engine as a birthday gift. However, that is just the type of guy he is and he was over in a flash.


Upon arriving, Bobby and I talked about the troubleshooting steps that had been done and quickly came to the conclusion the starter would need to be removed. Bobby decided he would crawl in the engine hole as he was smaller and quickly set to work removing the starter. He made short work of the removal and we had the starter sitting on the cockpit table in 15 min. I quickly set about dismantling the starter and was dismayed as parts began to spill out once I removed the bolts holding the field winding. Sigh, I continued disassembling hoping it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Unfortunately when I reached the brushes it was bad. The brushes had disintegrated and caused damage to the brush holders and rotor commutator… (insert a second string of very visual explanatives).


After a cooling off period, I sat at my laptop and began researching places to call for a new starter. Since we are in Carriacou our best bet would be a company on mainland Grenada as they have daily deliveries here. After numerous calls to Grenada Marine I finally got someone online and was informed they did not have the part and it would cost $1080USD to have it imported (before delivery to Carriacou). At this point, I was too in shock to actually swear. Seriously, how could a starter cost that much, even 1/2 that much would be crazy.


In the mean time, Bobby had been sitting at the cockpit table silently working away. He called me over and I was shocked to see that he had bent the brush holders mostly back in shape and repaired the commutator damage. We looked at the parts and decided that if could find some suitable brushes, then we may be able to cobble it back together for a short term repair (while I regrouped).


So Bobby departed back to Avanti as they planned to head over to Hillsborrow for provisions. I then headed into the local marina in search of someone to point me in the right direction for some suitable brushes (or better yet a used starter). I was unable to find anyone to help me, so I hoped on a bus headed for Hillborrow. Upon arriving I asked the bus driver if he knew where I could find electrical brushes. “No problem mon, I will drop you at de place”. A few minutes later he dropped me off at a shop that sold everything from clothes to car parts all within a 400sq/ft shop. I asked if they had electrical brushes (with very low expectations). The lady reaches under the counter and pulls out a tray with a nice assortment of brushes marked $18/pair. I was so elated actually said, “Damn, I could give you a hug right now”. She just smiled and blushed. I quickly selected a size of brushes I felt would work with a little filing and sanding. Paid my $18EC (about $9cdn) and left in search of a bus back to the boat. I ended up running into Trismic and Avanti in town and was delayed in coming back.


Upon arriving back at the boat with my booty, I set about modifying the brushes to fit the Volvo holders. After some filing and sanding I had a near perfect fit. Rhonda then helped me “desolder” what was left of the old brushes and solder the new ones in place. At this point we had to stop for the night as it was getting dark and Avanti had come back for Bobby’s birthday dinner.


Unfortunately Avanti had a bad day too and were struggling with a burst water pipe. Sigh, the definition of cruising “Boat repair in exotic places”.  He had repaired the pipe by the time we got there so we helped him forget it by enjoying a great dinner and drinks with them. We were all wiped, so we called it an early night and headed back to Party of Five by 8:30pm.


The next morning Rhonda and I got up, made breakfast and went to work on the starter. At this point we only needed to reassemble it, test it, then reisntall it (with our fingers crossed). We worked together as a great team and had it back in the boat by 10:00am. Although we had a successful bench test, we still held our breath when I turned the key. The motor roared to life amid our cheers and high fives!


As I write this final paragraph, Rhonda has gone to shore for some provisions. Once she is back on the boat, we will hoist anchor and boogy to try and catch up with Avanti in Petit Martinique!









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