ma 2 apr 2018 09:25

The hardest thing I've ever done...

You have most likely had one yourself. A day where things don't go according to plan and multiple things fail one after each other. We experienced one such day last week, when the winds gusted over 40 knots (8 Beaufort) and breaking waves averaging 9 meters continuously beat Karma. Fortunately the ship is very strong, though ... a hank of the staysail disappeared, all instruments fell out after a breaking wave landed in the cockpit and the VHF stopped working when seawater found its way into a connector. My main concern was the VHF, since out at sea that is the only way to communicate with other ships. A decent VHF unit is essential to receive or send emergency signals and can save or cost lives at sea.
I decided to send an e-mail to my supplier, that gave me the e-mail address of Standard Horizon. What happened afterwards, is almost unreal. Please read along...
From: Werner Toonk Sent: Tue, 27 March 2018 Subject: Please help

Dear Standard Horizon expert,
I am sailing in the Southern Ocean and my VHF just failed. I hope you can help me getting it to work again, since it is very important for safety. The closest land is two weeks of sailing further on.
Below you find my model, serial number and the type of the RAM-handset. The handset was mounted outside, the main unit inside. Both are always on when sailing. However, today I noticed that the handset outside was off. I disconnected it to store it inside and to protect it against more breaking waves. I then noticed some water in the connector. That should not have been there, but hey, this is the Southern Ocean and waves are enormous.
Inside the cabin, I noticed that the main unit was still on. It produced a sound like 'Krgggrehhr'. I switched it off, removed the cable leading towards the handset and wanted to switch the unit back on, but then it failed. Fuse is ok, voltage is 11.87. I tried the reset procedures of the manual (page 125), though the unit does not come up anymore. The unit itself is dry by the way.
I am just not sure how to proceed now. I would love to get it back to work, since it is the only VHF I have in the mast. My next port of call is only in two weeks from now, in Hobart Australia.
Is there a chance of opening the unit, and trying to fix it? And where to look? Or any other suggestion?
Unfortunately my only way to communicate with the outside world for the next weeks is this email address and attachments are limited to less than 100kb.
Kindest regards,
Werner Toonk S/Y Karma

It was a small chance, but there was nothing to loose, not?
Within 2 hours I received this reply, making me happy:
From: Service Sent: Tue, 27 March 2018 Subject: Re: Please help

Many thanks for your mail and I am sorry to hear of your predicament.
I am out of the office today, back in tomorrow, so this is half a reply and half a holding email.
I think from your writings and the quite accurate sound description I know what has failed in the unit.
Simplified, the 12v power comes into the radio, goes off to various devices, one of them being a 5v regulator device which feeds the control panel of the radio - button functions, display and also the main CPU. This 5v regulator also feeds via a small surface mount fuse the RAM mic for its functions.
When a fault occurs with the RAM mic or its interconnect cable, this fuse is designed to blow, protecting the radio and its 5v regulator device so that radio can continue to function/be used ‘stand alone’.
In very very rare cases, under odd conditions, this fuse is slow to blow and therefore the 5v regulator IC becomes short circuited and fails. This device is not something I think you could replace on the high seas. With this device failed, the radio CPU has no 5v and therefore will not switch on.
When back in the office tomorrow (Wednesday) I will take a picture of this part of the circuitry and email across to you. There is then no harm in taking the radio apart, which is very easy, and having a look.
I will in the meantime think if there is an ‘Apollo 13' fix we can do to get you back into communication....
Many thanks again and speak very soon,
Service Engineer
What else could one hope for? A thank you, a sorry, a very logical technical explanation and the willingness to seek an 'Apollo 13' solution together.
The next day I received this:
From: Service Sent: Wed, 28 March 2018 Subject: Re: Please help

Hi Werner,
Hope you are well there..
We have an 'Apollo 13' fix... do you have a soldering iron and a small piece of wire on board?
Speak soon,
That was easy to answer. On the ocean you're on your own. I would never dare to sail out here without a soldering iron - and quite some other tools.
Within an hour I received the following instructions and 4 useful photo's. On these particular moments, being out on that rough ocean with a broken VHF, it's important to stay positive and keep on smiling. This engineer knew how to help with that. Check step 12...
From: Service Sent: Wed, 28 March 2018 Subject: Re: Please help

Hi Werner,
Please see process below. You will also receive 4 separate pictures to accompany these words and all should be clear. Do mail with any queries and let us know here the results... We all have our fingers crossed!!!
1. Remove cover - undo six screws on rear of unit, holding rear case and grey gasket/seal near the front, slide case assembly and gasket backwards and off. 2. Undo four screws and remove top metal shield plate, it can be a tight fit and may need to prise off. 3. Locate component as per picture. Hopefully it is grey/black and crispy so we know it is definitely the fault! 4. Remove this component if possible, be very careful not to damage the PCB. The component may come off in 'bits'. 5. Make link wire as shown in picture from main 12v dc radio red wire to the solder pad shown. 6. ENSURE THE RAM MIC INTERCONNECT CABLE IS REMOVED FROM REAR OF RADIO! 7. Check and double check and re-check that no solder blobs or stray cable strands from link wire are shorting onto any other part of the radio. 8. Hopefully... connect power to radio, and switch on........ 9. If switches on, REMOVE POWER and re-assemble. You do not need to worry about the tin plate in your situation. 10. Re-power up 11. Put the kettle on 12. Make Tea, 13. Chuckle....
An Apollo 13 fix, right there. Me happy! Although the seas then were still way too big. Average wave height had to decrease from 9 meters to something that would allow soldering. And I had to be fit enough to do so. My first attempt failed. The gale of the previous days did not allow much sleep and after step 2 I literally fell asleep above the unit.
My second attempt was two days later, just at sunrise after having a few hours of sleep and a big black coffee. The crew were asleep and our Hydrovane steered the boat. Waves were still significant and wind averaged around 24 knots gusting 33. Not easy to solder, though the forecast for the next 10 days did not bode well.
With the help of the photos, I could easily locate the blown component. After double checking with Adie, I removed this component without damaging the board or any other components. Fitting the additional wire took another hour since it was hard to get the iron in the right, stable position to solder, and at the same time hold the radio and the wire in position, while holding myself steady in the moving boat. After that there was great relief when step 8 (switch on) went well. And then Chuckle with Tea of course.
Soldering an electronics board in a sailboat surfing on 5 meter waves in 7 Beaufort was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Though with the support of this service engineer it felt like I could not fail and do the impossible. I am very glad it worked out this way and that I could share my result with him.
I received his reply within an hour again, although by then Easter weekend already started.
From: Service Sent: Sat, 31 March 2018 Subject: Re: Please help

WOOO HOOOO..!! Fantastic....!
We will arrange for a replacement radio, RAM mic and routing cable for you. A full set of kit. When and where is your next dock?
Have a great day there.
Flabbergasted. Extremely thankful and happy. That is how to deliver service!
If I ever have to buy another radio, it will be a Standard Horizon again. Being an engineer myself, I know very well that all electronics can fail, especially in the extreme conditions of the Southern Ocean. Companies or particular brands cannot be blamed for that. What matters is how these companies handle these failures. While being out in the Southern Ocean, 2.000 miles away from the mainland, Standard Horizon outperformed all my hopes and expectations. Hats off to its service engineers!
For a picture of the operation please see the status update.

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