When a Negative is a Positive

Forward: by Jack (Pompano Dan’s Son)

Hi all, Jack here. Dan is currently in transit between the Bahamas and the Virgins. Marked with red pin, on the Google maps screenshot below, is Dan’s approximate location as of yesterday evening 02/19/20 (23°27’N 66°40’W). We are communicating 1-2 times daily via satelite text/email at this point. A low pressure system is forecasted to move through the region this Saturday/Sunday bringing rain and strong winds. The eye of the low is forecasted to pass several hundred miles north of Dan which should help him avoid most of the weather.

The post below was written by Dan before departing the Bahamas.

I think we’d all agree that the most difficult problems to troubleshoot are intermittent problems. If something is awry all the time, you can generally get to the bottom of it and fix it. In writing those sentences, it occurs to me that the intermittent-nature of Colleen’s challenges were perhaps the most vexing aspect. While it wasn’t something “to fix”—it was a lot more complicated than that—the intermittent-ness of her struggles was hard on all of us, especially her. When she was good, she was so good; when she wasn’t, she wasn’t. However, that’s not the primary subject of this post.

As opposed to a house that runs on 110 and 220-volt alternating current, Hazel James runs on 12-volt direct current. 12 volt current is a lot more sensitive to resistance and faulty wiring connections than 110/220, there’s just not as much electrical differential to power-through corrosion at connections and terminals, frayed wires, etc. Virtually all of this 12 volt power is routed through her electrical panel which sits behind the “nav station”. The nav station (navigation station) is a stand-up desk in her saloon used to layout charts, plot courses and track progress. The electrical panel is akin to a house’s fuse box or circuit-breaker panel. This location of the electrical panel, allows me to monitor HJ’s power consumption and make sure anything not needed is turned off and not drawing power from her battery bank. When the sun is shining and her solar panels are cranking, I can use all the power I want. However, we need to be parsimonious at night and on cloudy days. Especially at night and on cloudy days while on passage and sailing. On passage, you want and need more power to run radios, GPS, radar, running lights and various other safety and navigational gear.

HJ’s nav station with electrical panel immediately behind

I’d been having an intermittent problem with one of Hazel James’ lighting circuits. It’s a series of three lights for the navigation station, head and galley (bathroom and kichen). To put size in perspective, given HJ’s compact layout, the three lights are within 5 feet of each other. Some days the lights would work fine, other days not at all and yet other days flicker on and off. I kept playing around with the power the lights were getting—the red wires on the positive side of the circuit—and all seemed fine. I’d tap connections, poke, prod, etc. in hopes of inducing the problem and zeroing-in on its solution but no luck.

A couple nights ago, at anchor, I was up in the middle of the night checking on the anchor-set and a few other things. I flipped the switch for the nav station light and…nothing. I was at first mad that it wasn’t working and then thought, “Great, if the circuit stays not working in the morning it will help me troubleshoot in the light of day.” Sure enough, when I got to troubleshooting the next morning the lights worked fine. Murphy’s Law at its finest.

Then it hit me, an epiphany for a hybrid sailor/engineer—what if the problem is on the negative (ground) side of the circuit? I’d been focused this whole time on power and the positive side of the circuit. Sure enough, when I opened up HJ’s electrical panel and poked around the ground/negative terminal block (circled below), I found a loose ground wire and was able to force the problem into happening. From there it was a simple matter to tighten the ground wire for that circuit and, while I was at it, tighten all other ground wires on the terminal block. I felt so good about myself, so self-sufficient, so badass.

The lessons learned from the situation stuck with me. Yes, there’s the narrow view of an electrical problem and wires and connections; however there’s the broader application to life and our collective situation with the loss of Colleen. I recently read the book “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Thanks to Elyse for sending it to me and including a note about how the book had helped her family. Sheryl lost her husband Dave several years ago and Adam is a family friend, psychologist and professor who is helping her through it. While not 100% applicable to our situation with Colleen, it’s a very good read.

In Option B, Sheryl and Adam introduce the concept of PTSG: post-traumatic stress growth. That is, taking a horrible, shitty situation and finding a way to grow from it, and venture forth and do things you would never have done if the situation hadn’t happened. It can turn a negative into a positive.

5 thoughts on “When a Negative is a Positive

  1. Did enjoy Option B and thought it made a lot of good points. Have been on the verge of suggesting Post Traumatic Stress Growth to patients who suffered misfortunes on a couple occasions, but backed down as did not want to be misinterpreted as lacking empathy. But the right opportunity will occur in the exam room eventually. I think it’s a great approach.

  2. On my way to get Option B. Thanks for the blog. My friends Uncle Ron Boersma and his wife Gail find you writing awesome as I do!
    Thanks again!

  3. So true!

    Kevin, I can understand your reluctance on using PTSG with patients – they may simplify it to “When God shuts a door, a window opens” but it can be so much more than that. And not in an immediate sense, either. It can take years for you to even realize the changes that have come up since the traumatic event.

    1. Mike and Kevin: Yeah I can see both sides. There certainly is the “Too soon?” meme to consider. Also, one thing suggesting friend-to-friend, another to suggest as a medical professional. WIth that being said, Mike and I are happy to scrub-in and do “that doctor thing” if we ever need to.

  4. Once again thank you Jack for participating in this writing journal…I dont think I would have any idea what to do with electric issues..probably end up with a flashlight all the time..lol..keep the stories coming..and I like option B too!

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