James M. Cleary
A couple of weeks ago, after Dana was launched, Bonnie and I took off for an overnight in one of our favorite anchorages. We arrived, found a good spot, then turned into the wind to drop the hook. In position I pressed the button for the windlass to lower the anchor. Nothing!!! The machine which had worked fine when tested the week before in the yard was now among the missing. We picked up an empty private morning while I grabbed my multimeter and dove below to troubleshoot. After a half hour of checking and rechecking, I concluded that the solenoid unit had failed because I had all the proper voltages and continuity on all the wiring except I couldn't get the solenoid to trigger the motor. We stayed that night on the mooring (lucky no one came to bump us off). Back home I ordered a new unit to replace the broken one. $185 for the part, $210 with tax and shipping, and it arrived in time for the next weekend. On the boat the following weekend I again dove below to install the new unit. The new unit was identical to the original so it was truly a plug and play affair. With the new unit installed, I eagerly pressed the button. Nothing!!! Again out with the multimeter to check the voltages. Again it showed a faulty solenoid. The damn thing is brand new right out of the box. Another cup of tea and some serious soul searching led me to the fact that I had to start removing connections to find a fault somewhere. The first wire I chose to redo was the 12V negative wire, a #14 AWG, that is the return for the solenoid relays. the connection looked clean with no corrosion. I undid it anyway and cleaned the ring terminal and the area of the connection. Slopped on some Koppercote and reconnected. About to go on to the next wire I decided to push the button again. Holy Cow Poop! The machine worked! The explanation was that the connection was corroded just enough to allow the meter to register the voltage through it but not enough current to allow the rely to pull in. I then cleaned up the rest of the wiring just as maintenance and the machine works fine again. We now have a $210 spare solenoid which will probably never go bad. Anyway, the moral of the story is that in a salt water environment the first rule of troubleshooting should involve cleaning all the connections (even if the look OK) first before ordering expensive parts. Of course I'm absolutely sure that I have learned this lesson multiple times in the past and am writing this confession to insure that I don't need to learn it again.