Cascading Errors - Steering Cable From Hell

The problem with learning how to do things as you go, is that you will fail...a lot.  The extra problem with doing this on a boat, is that failure can potentially cost a lot of money and jeopardize your safety.  Attempting to simply purchase and install a new steering cable has been a great example of why this whole boat-rebuild thing requires patience unlike I ever thought I had.  

I am currently trying to finish up the engine room and get everything in place so that the engine can be put back on the boat.  It has been awaiting return patiently in my garage for too long now.  This process involves installing everything that would be extra difficult, impractical or impossible to install once the engine is in.   One of the remaining items is to install a new steering cable, which routes above the engine in the engine room.  

One should expect this to be a rather simple task, but expectations about boat projects are more often than not shattered quickly.  My first mistake, as I have encountered many times, was an impatient dismantling of the original cable.  I cut the thing in a couple of spots not thinking of re-measurements in the future.   The second mistake was purchasing the replacement chain & cable far in advance of installation.  I tend to do this when I have some extra money to put towards boat parts, I will look ahead and get things that will need to be eventually installed.  I had not foreseen it taking this long to get to the steering cable installation, so I bought it about two years too soon.  

A couple of months ago I was finally ready to install the cable and went to the boat exited to get it on.  After routing it through the pedestal and sheaves, I soon realized that the cable length on one side was just a few inches too short to make a full connection.  This was a result of a poor measurement on the original cable, and not rounding up to the next biggest size.  

So I try to return it to Edson, but they tell me that since I bought it (1.5+ years ago) they revised the way they make the cables and chains and can no longer accept returns of the old one.  DAMN!  So I figure no problem, I could sell the thing on Ebay and get some of my money back.  So far that hasn't worked out, it has been listed for a few months well below what I paid for it and still hasn't gone.  Shameless plug, if you need one here it is:

Edson Marine - Steering Chain & Wire Kit 2S2B7

So I purchase a new, longer cable/chain kit.  I got a size thicker too, something I got wrong on the first buy.  This time, for whatever reason I gave myself on that day, I ordered one WAY over-sized in length.  I got a longer chain (why? I don't know....the old, shorter one worked fine), and the cable length many feet longer (even though I only needed a few inches).  I may have had a few extra beers telling me to go over-cautious because I still don't know what I was thinking.  

I go back to the boat once I receive the new kit and proceed to install it.  Everything is going fine, and I have finished the installation attempting to get the tension on the cable right.  I realize that I needed to undo the clamps on one side to get more tension before tightening the bolt.  I remove the clamps and to my surprise the cable beneath one of them was split!  How this happened was simple over-torquing the bolts on the clamp.   The clamp bit into the cable and did damage as I kept torquing it.  These are the type of clamps I am talking about:


Here is the damage:


Of course a split like that is unacceptable on a steering cable, so it had to be replaced.  Luckily I was able to find an adequate length and size of new cable at our local second hand marine store Sailors Exchange, they even had two lengths so I bought the other as a spare.  I learned a little bit about hand crimp terminals and made a replacement for the split cable.  

This past weekend I go to the boat ready to finish this job once and for all.  As I am routing the cable through the pedestal, through the sheaves and back to the steering column, I started to notice a smell of burning plastic while feeding more cable through.  I look down and notice smoke coming up through the pedestal, and a small flame on the cable just below it!  I yank up the cable and proceed to burn the heck out of my hand in the process.  It quickly dawned on me that the house battery bank is directly below the pedestal, and the cable must have laid across the posts of a battery and started pumping current through, heating it up.  I had just oiled the cable so it lit on fire easy.  

I quickly grabbed a glove and pulled the whole cable/chain out of the pedestal and off the battery.  Panicking as I still see flame down below, I opened up the engine room and blew out the small candle burning off the battery.  I got out of there immediately because of the fumes, and stood by with the fire extinguisher in case anything more happened to the battery (as in blow up).  After a few moments of calming down and having the fumes fanned out, I inspected the battery and realized the cable must have been laying on the case.  The battery shell itself was melting away and I could see inside the thing.  


To top off the horrible mistake, the brand new cable I just made was also damaged to the point of needing replacement.  Enough heat to melt and damage some cable threads.

So here I am, with another cable to replace and one of my four house batteries ruined.  Luckily I got the extra cable at Sailors Exchange and know how to do the fittings, so that shouldn't be a problem.  But batteries are not cheap, and the potential safety disaster I encountered shook me up a bit.  I have somehow done this entire project with minimal injury and only a few close calls.  But this was definitely one of the worst and dangerous moments.  

A few days of cooling off and reflection have done me well.  Mistakes like these take a lot of time and is a set back financially, but there are so many lessons learned I can look beyond the inconvenience.   Maintaining that attitude has been crucial for this entire project.  

EDIT:  I started inspecting the two cables fully to see if parts of them could be salvaged.  Somehow about 6 other spots on the cables were burnt/melted as well!  Luckily, the prior mistake of getting way too long cables has paid off, and I was able to find two 8' sections that should be long enough for the full cable length.  More confused than ever on how the cables could get so ruined!