Furling Follies

By , October 26, 2012

On Wednesday, I told you how I intended to try to fix the wind generator. Since I intended to wait till the sun was fully up that day, I hiked part of the way to the bay with Michelle as she went to work. I’d been cutting firewood at the other end of our property, and wanted to haul some more of it home As we left the cabin, I saw that the wind hadn’t reached the forecasted 30 knots—We could see swells, but no white caps in Lynn Canal. I wondered momentarily if I should stay home and climb the tower while I had the chance.

By the time I’d returned home, I saw that I should have done so. The wind had risen to 30 knots or more. I set up our sectioned tree climbing ladder on the wind generator tower, securing each section with its webbing cinch belt. I gathered my tools, an adjustable wrench, and a self-adjusting box wrench, my safety harness, and warm clothes.

furled wind generator

The wind generator, stuck on furl (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

I climbed to just below the wind generator, where I immediately realized the wind had become too strong. I could feel the tower wobble more than usual with my added bulk. Staying there might endanger the tower as well as me.

I’ve learned to give up before a task becomes life-threatening. I climbed down, shed my harness, and went to do something else. The weather has continued cold and dry, so I left everything in place, with my tools laid out on the rocks around the tower, should conditions change.

Thursday morning before dawn, the wind was lighter again. I realized that if I were to do anything on the tower that day, I’d need to start immediately. Michelle and I bundled up and headed out to the Power Point.

I shinied up the tower, and Michelle handed me one last section of ladder. I secured it in place, but as I looked above me at the generator, I realized that I simply didn’t have the courage to climb that high. I climbed down and confessed this to Michelle, rested for a moment in the lee of a boulder, then climbed back up and got to work anyway.

The pivot is held by two nuts, one at the top of the pivot shaft, the other at the bottom. I had doublechecked my manuals, and found that I wasn’t supposed to tighten the nut. Loosening it, I knew, could also be risky. The machine might vibrate to the point of destruction. I figured that a turn or two looser might allow the machine to fall back into alignment when not being furled by a gust or steady high wind.

In the dim predawn, I clipped my safety harness to a ring at the top of the tower, and pulled out my wrenches. The self-adjuster proved too big, so I pocketed it and adjusted the other wrench to the righ size. I tried to turn the bottom nut, but had no luck. I had to reach up to the upper one blind; the machine, in its stuck-furled position, swung in the wind in such a way that the nut lay on the opposite side from me. I seated the wrench and gave it a couple of half-turns, working one-handed against the force of the wind. At times I had to brace the swinging generator with my forehead.

This maneuver required my complete attention. If the looser nut allowed the machine to fall into alignment, it might happen suddenly. If my fingers or anything else strayed into the wrong place, the two halves of the machine would likely shear it off. Though braked, the prop continued to move in the higher gusts; the slow moving blades banged against my elbow. When aligned, I would only have about a foot between the tower and the swinging blades to accommodate my head, shoulder, and working arm. I steeled myself to drop out of the way of the blades should I see any movement in that direction.

Turning the nut didn’t change anything. After loosening it as far as I dared, I pushed the machine back into alignment. That closed the gap. It was time to leave. I climbed quickly below the sweep of the blades, inches from the back of my head.

I disassembled the ladder as I descended, dangling each section by its cinch strap to Michelle’s waiting grasp. I thought of leaving it up until we were sure my process had worked, but as the sun cleared the mountains, the wind rose sharply; I decided not to leave it for later.

Luckily, we had gear to haul to the car that morning, and stuff to haul back, so I went to the road with Michelle, burning excess adrenaline through the exertion. Before we left the cabin, the battery bank percentage had begun to creep higher. We would get our charge, and our equalization.

By noon, the wind had furled the generator again, and it had stuck once more. Still, it charged enough to finish the equalization period, so we’re that much better off, at least.

I’ll need to repeat the whole process sometime soon, with better wrenches, or, now that we have our equalization, simply wait it out.

2 Responses to “Furling Follies”

  1. Nance says:

    This was interesting and honest. I’m 62 and in the last 5 or 6 years my husband and I have pushed our limits on some projects. There was a time or two I knew I didn’t have the “heart” or the courage to complete the task but I, too, went ahead and did the job. Only thing, you are going to have to this project again. Good luck! Fair weather!

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Nance, I just turned 52 also, and my thought as I stared hopelessly at the top of that tower was, “I might be too old to do this any more.” But I did it, did it again last night (lugging a socket wrench that proved too small for the nut) and will do it again soon. I’m likely to wait out the wind, which is supposed to die Tuesday, but it’s also supposed to rain or snow! Can’t decide which is worst–wind, or precipitation. Either way, I’ll get it done, but I’ll likely vent on the blog!

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