One of the joys of wintering on your boat in northern climes is condensation. (Not to be confused with that singular joy of having siblings: condescension. – ed.) Warm air rises and when it meets a colder surface, like the hull of your boat, moisture in the air turns from a vapour into a liquid. Water runs down the hull into the bilge only to be pumped overboard in due course. Aleta is almost solid fibreglass. Layers of it with no insulation. The exception is her cabin top. That is a sandwich of fibreglass and balsawood, broken up by single panes of glass and acrylic. Suffice it to say, Aleta is about as well insulated as a can of beer.
Exacerbating the situation are a few essentials we are unwilling or unable to live without.
- Breathing – every breath we take exhausts warm, damp air. Even wearing an N95 Covid-inhibiting mask breathing is a soggy business.
- Cooking – we use propane, a ferocious water generator. For each pound of propane burnt we toss 1.6 pounds of steam into the air. For the chemically enhanced, here’s what that looks like: C3H8 (propane) + 5O2 (oxygen) → 3CO2 (carbon dioxide) 4H2O (water). Mitigation is pretty simple. We open the hatch above the stove and most of the water escapes.
- Marlon – exhausting moist, fragrant gases from both ends of his body, Marlon’s saving grace is his relatively small size.
The solution of course is a dehumidifier. We began looking around. Sadly, most available units are either large, or expensive, or both. Then our neighbour Bob did some handy dumpster diving and found an abandoned dehumidifier in the recycling area of the marina. Muscling it on board we plugged it in. It was quiet, as Bob said it would be. A little too quiet. After running it for a good 15 minutes it was clear the compressor wasn’t switching on. No compressor, no refrigeration. No refrigeration, no condensation. No condensation, no dehumidification. Hear the word of the Lord!
Given the price, I had nothing to lose by tearing it apart and trying to see if it could be fixed. My knowledge of the inner workings of Chinese-built dehumidifiers is wafer thin. I know if they work or they don’t. But! I also know how to search YouTube. After 10 minutes I found a repair video made by a much cleverer chap with exactly the same control board as the one I was gormlessly staring at. Magic Smoke suggested it might be the 1 micro-Farad safety capacitor. He showed me how to test it with my multimeter. I did as instructed. The capacitance was off by 660 nF. Clearly a good enough starting point for troubleshooting. (Note: Had the UK been reduced by 1 Farage five years ago, the world would be a happier place today. – ed.)
Prising the bad capacitor off the control board was half the battle. Finding a replacement was the other. I could have ordered 100 from Alibaba for about $10, but delivery was sometime in April. Fortune smiled on me at the local electronics store. For 3 euros they sold me a new capacitor.
There are very few things in this world like brandishing a hot soldering iron at electrical componentry to make a man feel he is intelligent. (Note: In England the word is pronounced sol-der-ing, because there’s a frikkin ‘L’ in it. Soddering is something else altogether. – ed.)
Having successfully soldered the new capacitor in place it was time to plug her back in. The compressor kicked on. Carol spent 10 minutes resuscitating me during which time the dehumidifier dripped a little water into its catchment bucket. Job done!
Rescuing 10 kilos of useful metal and plastic from the dumpster for 3 euros gave me pause. In our modern age, the cost to fix things often outstrips the cost of purchasing a new item. The art of board-level repair is all but lost in the west, with the exception of a few hobbyists and eccentrics. Thankfully, YouTube is capturing their knowledge and, for those with time and shallow pockets, extending the life of all kinds of products. It is good for the environment. And it’s fun.