I called my buddy Mark in the United States from the Pirate’s Pub in Angara, Terceira. I told him that I’d just met a guy named José on a street corner and handed over my Balmar high output alternator. They cost around $1,000 new. Mark guffawed. Then he accused me of being an inveterate traveler. It was at that point I realized how our situation looked objectively. I’d pulled out a critical piece of Aleta’s technology, spoken with one of the managers at the marina, hopped on a bus to the next town and handed over said critical piece of technology to a complete stranger without so much as a second thought. Traveling really instills (or restores) your faith in humanity. Trust is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness that we panic only when it’s called into question. The adventure, they say, begins when things go wrong. Almost any kind of adventure puts you in direct touch with your paleomammalian cortex.
My alternator came back the next day. José said the alternator checked out perfectly and gave me a worn bearing that he’d replaced as a keepsake. But, he said in broken English, there might be a problem with the voltage regulator. He gave me a promise that if it didn’t work then tomorrow the ‘electrician’ would pay us a personal visit. I forked over the 90 euro ransom. A couple of hours later I had installed the alternator on Aleta. It didn’t work. It was late. In the morning I texted José.
Then I called him. The electrician would come to Aleta in the afternoon and see if there was another, non-alternator, issue causing the problem. I was skeptical. Then I wondered, what the heck do I know? Well, I’ve got 18 months of fault-finding experience, along with Nigel Calder’s books under my belt, so I’m not a complete numb nuts. Okay, I said. We waited. We ran errands. We had Marlon checked out by a veterinarian. We visited the Coast Guard’s tall ship, The Eagle. Nothing. I texted José again. We returned the rental car and my phone rang. A guy named Claudio said he’d be at the dock in 30 minutes. We had a beer while we waited, keeping our hopes in check.
Then Claudio turned up! Woohoo! Happy day!! At first I thought he was a Russian gangster. He had all the hallmarks, a shaved head, cellphone in one hand, cigarette in the other and talking like a Russian (at times Azorean Portuguese can sound a lot like Russian to the untrained ear). With the help of Microsoft Translate we soon sorted everything out. We all piled into Nell, our dinghy, and puttered out to Aleta. There he traced the fault and tested for continuity by bridging a high amperage, deathly high, pair of contacts with a good fuse and his bare hands. Ah, the value of experience. With the fuse swapped everything lit up and we were back in the bar in under 20 minutes. My faith in humanity restored, we were also delighted to have met Claudio.
Born and raised on Terceira, he’s the best marine electrician on the island and probably all of the Azores. Over a brandy for him and another beer for us (beers in the Azores weigh in at a paltry 20cl) Claudio told us about his work. He’s living his passion. As a kid he discovered an interest in electronics, studied it at school, and finally started his own business. The most fun he has is Rube Goldberg-ing solutions for shipboard systems that no longer exist. Repairing ancient radios, or pump control systems, by designing and building replacements from scratch in his garage. A garage, by the way, that is a vast museum of defunct nautical electronic wizardry from the last century.
If you’re in the Azores with a boaty electrical issue, call Claudio. His buddy José Vieira at firstname.lastname@example.org will put you in touch. And be sure and buy Claudio a brandy for me.