A Tale of Two Batteries

Three years ago in Puerto Rico, I wrote a blog post called “Of Rubber Bands and Marriage” to answer an oft-asked question about our voyage: How do you manage to live together on a 35-foot boat without murdering each other? I described a simple incident involving a package of rubber bands that revealed Eric’s and my left-brain/right-brain differences and how we utilize them to function as a team. I’m told the post was pretty funny, and you can read it if you like at: https://www.arlissryan.com/of-rubber-bands-and-marriage/

Now, thanks (or no thanks) to the self-isolation imposed by Covid-19, couples everywhere are experiencing the bliss (or curse) of proximity. As an “expert” on the subject, I’m prepared to offer some updated advice. This time the triggering incident involves batteries—big, heavy batteries with scrambles of wires and cables attached—and electricity, which I revere as magic that descends from the sky via a kite string with a key attached—thank you, Ben Franklin! Already you can see my right brain is way out of its depth. Which is why Eric is stepping in to explain (briefly, Eric!) the two photos below.

Our batteries
The inverter. I have no idea what is inside this box.

Eric: “Corroboree has three 12-volt, 105-amphere-hour batteries. The top two batteries in the battery photo (called collectively the #2 batteries) are for powering “house” circuits such as cabin lights, electrical sockets and navigation instruments. The third battery (called the #1 battery) is an “engine-start” backup battery. It is joined with the two house batteries when starting the engine. See the battery selector switch in the lower righthand corner for 1, 2, and 1+2. The inverter (lower photo) converts 12-volt DC power to 120-volt AC power to run AC devices such as computers and power tools.”

Got that? So did I! The problem is that this type of information refuses to stick in my head. Show me these photos tomorrow and it will be spaghetti again. What I do understand at all times is that without batteries, we are doomed. So when we discovered the two “house” batteries were dead and that their cases were cracked and dripping powder, this was not good news. Still, my first reaction was not panic but gratitude. Whew! Far better to have this occur when we are tied to a marina dock with replacement parts readily available than in some isolated anchorage or far out at sea. And so it proved. After consulting with our Aussie dock-neighbors, Eric got the name of a supplier and phoned in the order. Three new batteries would be delivered to the marina the next day.

But while I was as cool as a Lebanese cucumber, Eric was internally agonizing. The dead batteries were four years old. Should they have lasted longer? Had he let them run too low? Had he let the charge get too high? Should we be plugging our computers directly into the marina’s shore power instead of going through the inverter to the batteries, especially with the high usage the computers are getting while we’re self-isolating? He had been musing aloud over these issues, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until the following morning when we woke, and he announced he’d had a “terrible dream.”

Eric’s terrible dream: “Arliss and I were in a house, and I was trying to fix a leak in a pipe that had occurred because of some repair work being done. Water was gushing out, and I called to her for help. But she was on the phone with someone, and though I called and called, she kept ignoring me. Finally, I got so mad I grabbed the phone from her hand and shouted into it, ‘This conversation is over!’ That ended the dream.”

Advice #1: Maintain your sense of humor.

Well, no mistaking where this dream came from. Back when we owned a house and anything broke, Eric would suffer a classic “anxiety” nightmare that featured a massive, hidden leak in the roof or walls. When we moved aboard Corroboree, the nightmare came along, especially since on a boat something is always breaking. So here was our battery issue tormenting his subconscious brain. Except, in our waking hours he is the one constantly on the phone, checking the news or Facebook, and I have to prod him to get his attention. But in his dream I’m the guilty party! The nerve! What else to do but burst out laughing?

Advice #2: Be honest with each other

Nevertheless, it was time to get serious, first to empathize with Eric’s stress and then to ask a hard question. Namely, was he upset that I just don’t get electrical stuff and am of little help in these situations? He said no, not at all, and I’m sure he meant it, but his twist of me ignoring him in the dream said otherwise. Let’s face it: Though I bring other talents to the voyage, my complete lack of engineering expertise combined with my confidence in his puts an extra burden on him to get it right. So when the batteries arrived two hours later and Eric proceeded to install them, I stood by to support the process, hand him tools as necessary, and then to understand his explanation of the wiring, or rather, the rewiring.

Our new batteries

Eric explains the rewiring: “The top two batteries are still the house batteries, but I changed the wiring to call them battery #1. The third battery (bottom) is still the engine-start battery but it is now called #2. I did this because the solar panels referred to the house batteries as #1 and the engine-start battery as #2, so our battery numbering system was opposite to the solar charger numbering. Now the two numbering systems agree.”

Got that? I started to. The two house batteries are now #1 while the former #1 engine battery is #2. I searched for and found a memory aid. Aha! The word “house” has one syllable so that’s #1 and “engine” has two syllables so that’s #2. Brilliant! But now the #1 battery consists of two batteries, while the #2 battery consists of one. And what about the inverter? Are we still bypassing it for direct shore power? How does the electricity we obtain via the wind generator and solar panels figure in? Can’t you please just give me a kite with a key attached and send me out to play in a thunderstorm? I can do that!

Advice #3: When a crisis arises, always use the pronoun “we.”

Look, it doesn’t matter who’s mostly responsible for this or that aspect of your well-being—when something goes wrong, you are in it together. It’s not “How are you going to solve this?” but “Okay, what’s our plan?” Even when your partner is willing to take full blame—“Damn, I am so stupid! Why didn’t I know this, think of this, foresee this?”—don’t let them shoulder the guilt. It’s unkind and unproductive, and if the tables were turned, wouldn’t you want them to sympathize and cut you some slack? When the problem is resolved, endowing you both with valuable new expertise, then you can laugh about it over a glass (or a bottle) of wine. See Advice #1.

The really funny part of all this, however, came the next day, when after completing some chores and eating lunch, Eric said he needed to ask me about something he’d thought of while scrubbing the deck. His tone was serious, so per Advice #1 I jokingly said, “Uh-oh, is it about something I did wrong?” He replied, “Well, it might be.” This sounded ominous, but if I’ve screwed up, I need to know. So per Advice #2, I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, what is it?” To which Eric replied, “Do you think you made a mistake when you married me?”

Huh? Where did this come from? How did he go from scrubbing the deck on his hands and knees to wondering if I rued my choice of a husband? Why did he wait two hours to bring it up? Just to clarify, because we English majors value linguistic precision, I asked, jokingly again, “Are you asking me if I’ve ever thought marrying you was a mistake?” To which Eric replied, “Oh, no, I already know the answer to that one.” And vice versa, I’m sure. I’m also certain that although Eric claimed he couldn’t remember exactly what train of thought had led him to that question, it was some lingering doubt over his—our—handling of the battery situation.

Advice #4: When the crisis is past, give credit where it’s due

I did. Jettisoning the “we,” I went straight to the point. “Eric, did you think I thought you had overcharged or undercharged the batteries or whatever and this was somehow your fault? No way! Besides, you fixed it!” Then I answered his initial question with similar well-worded precision. “No, I don’t think, at this moment, that I made a mistake when I married you.”

So that’s my expert advice: Humor, honesty, togetherness, praise. Does it always work? Of course not! Get real! Yet I do think it helps, especially in a crisis like the one we’re experiencing. Good luck to us all. By the way, some research now says there is nothing to the left-brain/right-brain theory, totally stripping me of an excuse for my technical ineptitude. Don’t tell Eric.

P.S. – Although I wrote this post in the hope of providing a laugh, I know Covid-19 is putting serious stress on many families and relationships and that there has been a surge in domestic violence. Please, if you suspect someone you know is suffering, contact them and help them get help via a hotline or other intervention if necessary. This is not the time to turn our backs on a person who is being doubly isolated by both a virus and an abuser.

We came upon this sign on one of our walks. Best advice of all