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Old 07-08-2019, 11:07 AM   #1
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Smoke in the ER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Part One:

Smoke in the Engine Room!!!

(It sure got my attention, too!)

I'm out on the California Delta documenting in photo and video 25 bridges in 25 days. I had just finished bridge #12, was cruising along the South Fork of the Mokelumne River about 20 minutes from my destination anchorage, the Secret Cove. I was listening to some classic rock on the stereo when I heard a distant rhythmic beeping that I couldn't identify. Stereo off...beeping continues...look up at the TV ER camera display and I see the ER is filled with thick SMOKE!!!

Engines shut down, anchor dropped, all electrical off, grab the fire extinguisher and flashlight, open the hatches (gray smoke billows out with an acrid, electrical/rubber smell. Into the ER I go with the smoke alarm waling and the smoke just starting to clear. No flames, no unusual hot appearances, smoke alarm quits as the smoke continues to clear.

Back to the helm to check that the anchor set in its rapid deployment...it did just fine! I grab my laser thermometer and return to the ER to find the source. First stop was the high output 120A Balmar alternator on the starboard engine. As I approach it, I feel the heat radiating from its general area on my right cheek. Shoot it with the thermometer and it reads over 350* F. The port alternator checks in at 160*F. I found my culprit!

The bearings on the Balmar alternator apparently failed and the unit was overheating from the friction. once I caught my breath, I limped into the Secret Cove on one engine. When I started the stbd engine to help me back up straight while setting the anchor, the belt squeal was incredible!! In the 30 minutes of cool down, the alternator had fully seized up and when I restarted the engine, the belt just slipped on the seized alternator pulley. The smoke alarm started waling again! Engines shut down for the night.

I had planned to return to my home marina by the 9th expecting to return in late July/early Aug to pick up where I left off and attend the Taste of the Delta at Village West Marina. Now I sit in Secret Cove near Tower Park Marina pondering my next move.

1. Stay here and fix it, then go home for the 3 week scheduled break

2. Move elsewhere nearby and fix it then go home for 3 weeks

3. Drive the boat home on one engine and fix it.

Being a holiday weekend, finding a marine source for the alternator might be difficult. If I can find a replacement alternator locally, it could be a simple fix and I could go home on two engines. (There will be no single-engine bridge visits.)

All I need is a non-operating small-frame alternator with a Perkins foot to serve as a pulley tensioner for the accessory belt that also turns the engine's cooling water pump. I have enough electrical power available from my port alternator and my onboard generator.

Standby for updates...
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Old 07-08-2019, 11:12 AM   #2
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Part Deux:

Found a replacement alternator from Napa Auto Parts in Sacramento....about an hour away by car. A TF friend, Ed Alagozian, has graciously offered to pick up the new alternator and belt and deliver them to me at a nearby marina. He's on his way with the parts in hand now.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


And in the end.....

The part fit and we had both her Perkins purring by noon! Tossed Ed, Lindsay and their son Jaden the keys to the water sled and they caroused the area while I installed the new part. Then we had a great lunch at Tower Park Waterfront Grill.

Thanks to Ed Alagozian of www.TrawlerForum.com and the @DeltaBridges friends in supporting my rebound from yesterday's near disaster. What a difference a good night's sleep and a new day can make!!

Thanks, God. You're the greatest!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Epilogue:

The next morning, after servicing the engines for the 7 hr run back to my home marina in Vallejo, CA, I decided to connect the one-wire alternator and leave off all external regulator harness connections. It works like a champ putting out ~40A but without the alternator wire so I have no stbd tach for the time being. No biggie...

When I get home, I'll have the alternator shop look at the seized Balmar to see if it can be repaired. I'll also have this new alternator modified with the alternator wire so it'll become my onboard spare for the next time I need one.
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Old 07-08-2019, 11:14 AM   #3
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Glad to hear it wasn't something worse, and that you found a fix quickly!
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Old 07-08-2019, 11:19 AM   #4
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Nice comeback!
And you didnít even have to hit a runway on a windy day with one engine down.....
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Old 07-08-2019, 11:19 AM   #5
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That was a good adventure Al. Thanks for the story.
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Old 07-08-2019, 11:22 AM   #6
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Nice catch, nice fix, nice people. Isn't the cruising community awesome!
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Old 07-08-2019, 11:33 AM   #7
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Yet another save, and maybe a lesson learned! Thanks for the post Al.
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Old 07-08-2019, 11:59 AM   #8
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How many engine hours do you have on the Balmar?

Ted
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Old 07-08-2019, 12:25 PM   #9
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WOW! glad it worked out OK!

I just lost a 150A Balmar alternator due to brushes wearing out at about 2,000 hours.

Now I am glad I bit the bullet and bought a new unit, plus had the old one rebuilt as a spare.

When we think of alternators, we tend to think of electrical, but your bearing failure was a eye opener to the important belt routing function the alternator also provides.
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Old 07-08-2019, 12:34 PM   #10
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Good to read it sorted out nice and calm without big issue!

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Old 07-08-2019, 01:53 PM   #11
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I'm not a fan of Balmar alternators. While they may have a nice coating to protect them from a moist engine room, don't think the quality is any better than an automotive alternator. IMO, a commercial grade, large frame truck alternator is a far superior product, especially if you're using an external multistage regulator. They have larger bearings, better cooling, and are designed to handle rated output at low RPM continuously. Unfortunately, they aren't a simple swap for the more compact frame alternators found on most diesel engines.

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Old 07-08-2019, 02:27 PM   #12
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Ted,
Would you rate Leece / Neville higher or lower than Balmar?
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Old 07-08-2019, 02:34 PM   #13
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Action,adventure and romance on the high seas Al!... Glad it all worked out
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Old 07-08-2019, 02:37 PM   #14
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Are you sure the problem was a bearing?? My experience with failed bearings is first the squeal loudly followed usually with belt breakage when they lockup..

Now to Balmar or for that matter any alternator. Cooling is a real problem for performance. In vehicles there is a constant air flow while moving and a fan when not. Don’t believe standard alternator ratings such a 100 amperes unit for example. Sure they maybe can output 100A but they are not designed for constant output. Back to the Balmar. I often in the past wondered about their reliability. All armatures that I am aware of use copper wire in their armatures which has a positive temperature coefficient. This means when hot the wire resistance increases over that measured when cool and this increases the power (watts) dissipation which means it then even dissipates even greater wire resistance and internal power dissipation causing the wire to get even hotter. Alternators can have thermal run away if things get too hot.
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Old 07-08-2019, 03:48 PM   #15
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Flywright
As best I remember your switch to the Balmer required a sepentine belt drive setup. Belt tension can be tricky to set up on serpentine drive systems, often leading to bearing issues. Assuming you have the serpentine setup, what is the protocol you used for establishing the proper tension?
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Old 07-08-2019, 04:00 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ksanders View Post

When we think of alternators, we tend to think of electrical, but your bearing failure was a eye opener to the important belt routing function the alternator also provides.
I'm wondering if you're using serpentine belts? That's on my Wish List.

Edit: Never mind. just saw the previous post.
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Old 07-08-2019, 04:15 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Sailor of Fortune View Post
Action,adventure and romance on the high seas Al!... Glad it all worked out
I laughed, I cried, I threw up in my mouth a little!

Glad you didn't burn down, Al!
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Old 07-08-2019, 04:25 PM   #18
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Scary and exciting story! The failure point of not having a quick alternator substitute is enlightening. I kept regular v belts and kept to < 100 amps per alternator. What I don't carry, but plan to, is one of the v belts you can put together piece by piece to match pretty much any length. Makes for good spares and can go anywhere. In your case, you should figure out the length of belt that would work without the alternator in place and carry that. I can and have survived with one alternator not functioning (due to voltage reg), but did not have to worry about the pully problem.
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Old 07-08-2019, 07:08 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stubones99 View Post
Ted,
Would you rate Leece / Neville higher or lower than Balmar?
Leece Neville large frame commercial alternators are far superior to Balmar. They were designed for commercial applications such as firetrucks and ambulances sitting with their engines running and all sorts of equipment running. Designed to run full output at low RPM with no other airflow other than the alternator fan, for hours. They make 12 volt alternators up to 700 amps! Same mount and fan as my 230 amp alternator, just longer. They don't give them away, think mine was around $500.

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Old 07-08-2019, 11:22 PM   #20
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How many engine hours do you have on the Balmar?
Good question Ted so I looked it up. It's been 5 years and 900 hrs since I installed it. It was a lightly used unit I bought from a blow boat friend after it wouldn't fit on his replacement Beta engine.



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Action,adventure and romance on the high seas Al!... Glad it all worked out
Somehow I missed out on the romance on this trip...

Quote:
Originally Posted by sunchaser View Post
Flywright
As best I remember your switch to the Balmer required a sepentine belt drive setup. Belt tension can be tricky to set up on serpentine drive systems, often leading to bearing issues. Assuming you have the serpentine setup, what is the protocol you used for establishing the proper tension?
I run my 120A alternator at 100A bc I have a 1/2 inch belt. No tension issues, no belt wear or dust.

I learned a few lessons that I thought I might pass along.

1. My cheap $5 home smoke alarm installed in the ER called my attention to the smoke early in the process.

2. My nearly free repurposed cameras in the ER confirmed the smoke event early without the need to enter the ER.

3. If I had not installed these 2 items, it's very possible that I would not have detected this problem before more damage occurred.

4. If I had been driving from my FB out of earshot of the smoke alarm and out of sight of the ER camera monitor, neither of those improvements would have mattered.

5. I was in a narrow 12 ft deep channel surrounded by 3-5 ft water with thick weeds in 15 kt winds. The IMMEDIATE deployment of the anchor was critical to maintaining control of the boat. If I had to run to the bow to deploy, that delay could have been costly. I normally run without a tether on my anchor that allows one-finger deployment and retrieval.

6. Without a spare alternator, if I had a single engine boat, I would have had to have my boat towed to safely following the failure of a little alternator bearing!

7. Knowing now the critical role the alternator plays in maintaining my belt tension, I will never again be caught without a spare alternator on a long trip.
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