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One fine summer day I was going in to my claim to dredge and had a young Russian guy with me that wanted to see what it was all about. We headed upriver in my jet boat, the trip usually took an hour and a half. My friend had never been in a jet boat and was having ball. He was really looking forward to the suction dredging part of the trip.
After about an hour going upriver I decided to stop on a gravel bar and have some coffee from the thermos I always had with me. As we sat drinking coffee he was full of questions about gold and mining. Finishing up our coffee I went to start the boat. That's when I found that we had big trouble. As I turned the ignition on all I heard was ruuuh ruuuh...click click click. The battery was dead and there would be no one coming way up here to help. Walking out was not an option, a jet boat can travel a long way in an hour.
I had emergency supplies in the boat, along with lots of spare parts, none of which was a battery of course. So we sat down to have a bite of lunch and think the situation over. Evidently the alternator had failed and we had been running on the battery up to this point. What to do; what to do? I racked my brain which didn't take too long since there is not much in there.
I've had experience with dead or almost dead batteries before and I know that sometimes if you just let them sit, don't try to start the vehicle or run anything that ran on battery power, the battery will recover a bit. In thinking along these lines I thought, what if I could somehow help the battery by hand? Silly I know, but we were in desperate circumstances.
Fortunately this boat was powered by a small four cylinder Chevy. motor and the motor was connected to the jet pump by a short drive shaft. I of course had some rope in the boat and a plan began to form. The plan went like this: Wrap the rope around the drive shaft and tie it to the universal joint. The idea was to try to help pull the motor over after letting the battery rest for an hour or so.
I knew I was really reaching for it with this idea, but it was all we had to try. This little motor started easy, so it might just work. There was just not enough battery juice to turn the motor fast enough or long enough to start, when I had tried it before it turned really slow.
I got the rope all wrapped around the drive shaft, and knew that if the motor did start there would be no way to get the rope off because I didn't intend to shut the motor off until we got to my truck. I told my friend that we would count to three and on three I would pull the rope as he turned the ignition. Amazingly it worked, on three he turned the key while I was mightily pulling on the rope.....YES, I knew enough to not wrap the rope around my hand to pull better, I just had to grab it.
The engine came to life and we immediately left for safety and home. All the way back that rope beat the water in the bottom of the boat into a heavy spray. This gave me visions of what it would have looked like if I had wrapped that rope around my hand. We got back ok, even though the alternator was dead and we were running the ignition on the little bit of juice that the battery had. All the way back I was praying that there would be enough juice in the battery to get us back, so needless to say it was a very fast trip back.
No mining that day to say the least, but it did make for an Alaskan adventure to be shared many times over.
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It is so easy putting an automotive ammeter in the charge line from the generator to the battery. Nobody I know has a hydrometer to check battery condition out in the field. You could also use a 'charge light circuit where a diode direct discharge current through the bulb. This will help to tell which direction current is flowing by glowing red when discharging the battery.
This reminds me of the time I got too clever by noticing that the red discharge light on my 1962 MGA would illuminate whenever I started my car. Not being too happy having to push a button each time I wanted to start the car, I wired the starter solenoid relay to latch in when the red battery discharge light went on. So, then as I turned the ignition key to ON, the car would start automatically. This worked great for years except when I had an accident with another car. The hit stalled my motor but since the battery discharge light went red, my car restarted as it did so many times before. My reaction time was not good enough to catch the problem, and before I could react and shut the engine down, I hit him again. An embarrassing lesson learned that it's not good being too clever.