Rhapsody refuses to be sold

By John Taylor

Rhapsody is a G28 that I’ve owned (Victoria, BC, Canada) for about eight years.  She’s been in the Swiftsure Race once and in the Round Saltspring Island race many times. She’s traveled among the Gulf Islands and in Desolation Sound (which included multiple crossings of the Straight of Georgia). Last year we motored up the Straight of Juan de Fuca (3 days) and sailed for a week in Barkley Sound.  She’s never looked all that good – chalky light blue hull that I polish when I can, messy caulking jobs around the port-lights, and the general mess that comes from sailing with kids and dogs.  But our adventures have been incredible and almost entirely without incident.  Motoring 80% of the time in the early years and about 50% over the passed few years. In fact we had a San Juan Islands adventure where we sailed about 80% of the time.

Kids got to be adult-sized and one dog became two and we starting looking for a larger boat.  Next to the Ericson 34T that I took my wife to see was a 28’ Uniflite Mega (Pacific Northwest Powerboat). Pressurized hot and cold running water, a fridge and propane stove, and enough room to swing a cat - From the lower galley I can’t even reach the ceiling with my hands and I am 6’2”. The Ericson didn't stand a chance.  We bought the Uniflite.

That brings me to Rhapsody.  I put her up for sale a few months ago for $15,000 (new high quality cushions, almost new sails, a 23hp Isuzu diesel, etc).  No response.  At $10,000 I had a few calls.  One person (Robin) came back for a sea trial.  Did I mention that we had very few incidents in eight years?  While leaving my marina (Genoa Bay - 1 hr from Victoria) I couldn't get her into forward gear. The dock lines were all untied at this point, so we’re just drifting in the marina. The engine was also making a rattling sound.  Then I couldn't turn her off.  My mind raced to racing diesels – get the fuel turned off and do it fast!  Went below thinking that the push-pull wire that controls the fuel supply was kinked or damaged – I just could not get the engine to stop.  Big mistake… I cut the wire and pushed the little lever all the way to stop.  But the engine wouldn't stop.  Now I am stuck.  Let go of that lever and the engine races – push it to stop, and the engine runs.  I am getting hot, smoke is building and the engine is making a very ‘mechanical’ sound.  The prospective buyer is standing there not sure what to do, but at least he has a fire extinguisher in his hands. It felt like 30 minutes but was probably 5 min.  The engine stops, luckily before the smoke killed either of us.  No fire, and luckily no wind, so we hadn’t drifted into anyone. I re-ran the events in my mind (many times) and realized that it was the starter that was making that noise.  I couldn’t turn the engine off, because the starter was spinning it… for 5 min. maybe more! 

The entire motor wiring harness had melted. What stopped the engine (but not what caused the problem in the first place) was a completely burned through 10 gauge wire (ignition to starter).  Robin had a sense of humour about it.  He asked if there was an ‘as-is’ price.  I said no, realizing that Rhapsody was basically worthless at that point. 

Yesterday (about 1 month after this incident) Rhapsody ran again for the first time… beautifully.  I took the tragic wiring harness to the shop and used it to guide my new wire purchases.  Then I replaced every engine-related wire one at a time.  I took the alternator and starter to an auto electric shop.  Bought a new alternator and had the starter refurbished.  Just in case, I bought a new ignition switch.  When I was done – just click, click, click at the starter.  I took the starter back to the original auto electric shop and he bench tested it in front of me.  12V and it spun like it was trying to launch itself into space.  Back to the boat – click, click, click.  Bought a new battery and replaced the battery cables (grounds to engine block weren’t looking very good – the engine was installed 20 years ago).   Click, click.  Despite a continuity test showing the old ignition switch was good, a installed the new one that I had purchased.  Click, click, click.   

I am not a mechanic… I must have done something wrong.  I had some help from an older (wiser) visitor to Genoa Bay… He had suggested I replace the battery ground wires.  Then he said – “It doesn’t make sense”.  That was surprisingly helpful.  I had replaced everything in the ignition circuit, not to mention all of the other wires in the harness.  He was right.  It didn't make sense.  Out comes the starter motor again (it takes me less than 5 min to do that now) and I took it to another auto electric shop. It’s been serviced and installed, and then removed and bench tested, and now it’s getting bench tested again, largely because Dick (yes, that’s his name) said – “It doesn't make sense”.  The second shop does one very important step (the main reason I am sharing this story):  They test it under load.  It spins up, but he said he could stop the gear with his hand.  I said: “That was brave of you”.  He said; “Actually, I did it with a piece of wood, but it required no pressure to stop it.”  He replaced the solenoid (which is bolted to the starter), I reinstalled the unit, and she has never started or run better.  So, after four long days of work, many 1-hr drives between Victoria and Genoa Bay, and many trips to various shops purchase all of the replacement parts  we're sailing again.  Batteries were seven years old and I only replaced the starting battery.  Ignition switch was 20 years old, as was the engine wiring.  New alternator is a higher amperage unit than the old.  So, most parts that weren’t the cause of the problem, probably needed replacing.  I also uncovered many dead-end wires left over from ancient installs and removals of electronic parts. So, it's not been all bad. But, if that first shop had properly repaired and tested the starter, I would likely have saved about $350. 

I know my boat so much better than I did before.  As mentioned, many of these items should have been replaced over the past eight years.  But, because they weren’t (because one in particular wasn’t) Rhapsody failed me on a day she might have been sold.  There’s bound to be a saying about relationships getting stronger in the face of adversity, I just can’t think of one.  But, Rhapsody is no longer for sale.​ 

John Taylor