Calling it done!

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Looking into the living room from the deck.

We moved from Seattle to Anacortes on January 27th of this year.  The plan was to live on Miss Miranda for a few weeks while we did some minor renovations on the condo that we own along with the boat slip.  We bought the condo a few years ago, but always had it rented.  We used the slip occasionally in the summer, but mostly rented it out as well.  Our tenant’s lease ended on December 31st, so we were ready to begin work in the new year.  Our initial plan… foolish in hindsight… was to limit the work to replacing the kitchen appliances and painting.  Everything changed the moment Gwen walked into the place and really saw the tired, mid-70s decor.

The kitchen cabinets were hideous.  OK, replace them.  The new appliances wouldn’t fit the old cabinetry without surgery anyway.  Disgusting carpet and 70’s tile – gone.  In goes new laminate flooring except the bedroom, which would get new carpet.  The place sure is dark.  Well, lets put in some can lights.  By the way, the downstairs neighbors took down the kitchen cabinets facing the living area, knocked out the wall next to the bar, and made it a peninsula.  Fine idea, we’ll do that too.  Very tacky bi-fold door to the laundry room.  We could replace with a barn door… cool!  What was one of the previous owners thinking installing a line of kitchen-like cabinets from the ceiling down 3-4 feet in the bedroom?  Out they go.  And while we are at it, lets add a built in closet and replace those mirrored doors.  And finally, about half way through the project, we decided that the ancient, ugly insert shower-tub combo had to go.  And the toilet.  And the flooring.  And the counter.  And the lighting.

So here we are on April 28th, and we can finally call it… DONE!

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Dining area and “office” over in the corner.

Actually, all of the work was completed earlier this week, including glass windscreens for the deck (forgot to mention that).  And we actually moved in on March 18th, but with work travel and various other committments, it has taken us until now to get unpacked (but let’s not even look in the garage).

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Looking at the kitchen. Before, there was a line of cabinets where the pendant lights are and a wall at the end of the peninsula.

We are very pleased with how it turned out.  The condo is small, less that 800 square feet, but we find it very comfortable.  Of course, we’re only here for another month before heading off to Alaska and then Mexico.

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The deck and the view.

We really like waking up to this view each morning…

Elephant Seal Molting

Walking McGee late last week near the shore down the street from our condo I came upon a solo elephant seal in the grass by the gate at Cabana Park. There were a few signs on the fence warning “Female Elephant Seal Molting – Stay back 100 yards”. This seemed a little tough for the people attending the retirement party at the Cabana that evening because she was right on the edge of the driveway. I kept McGee back and he seemed blissfully unaware until I tried to take a picture with my phone, rather unsuccessfully.

This morning in front of the boatyard.

I had no idea that seals molt. Turns out at least that elephant seals do, every year once they reach a certain age. I went back this morning, expecting to see her in the same place, but this time she was right in the cul-de-sac itself in front of the boatyard gate. A volunteer named Corinne was adjusting the tape and markers around her and I got to learn some more from her.

She started to get curious about McGee I think.

This seal is from a elephant seal family that lives around Whidbey Island, but she’s an independent young woman who behaves atypically and takes off on her own. This will be the first time she molts as she still considered a juvenile. Molting is the process of shedding the fur and skin layer to reveal fresh fur underneath. It takes about a month, during which the seal doesn’t eat or go in the water. They don’t even like to be on the sand. Speculation is that sand doesn’t feel good on new skin. Females molt around now, after they’ve given birth to pups earlier in the spring. Males mold later in the summer. More often they congregate as a group, so her solitary choice is unusual. They usually return to the same site every year.

This will be something to watch for the next 5 weeks as we prepare to leave for Alaska. She should be finished with the process by the time we leave.

Lucky for the boatyard they have another entrance. Hopefully she won’t come further out into the road. I would much prefer to see her back up on the grass. The volunteer also said she is becoming very interested in dogs. Good thing they aren’t supposed to eat during this time. I think I will keep McGee away from her anyway.

Boatyard Update

Miss Miranda has now been at Philbrooks for a couple of weeks, working through a long list of maintenance items and upgrades that we have compiled over the past year.  Many of the maintenance items came as a result of a Ready for Sea inspection by Marine Guru and all-around good guy Steve D’Antonio.  The upgrade list was driven by how we think we will use the boat for the next couple of years.  Here’s what shows up as complete on the work order so far.

Main Engine

  • Shaft seal.  The shaft seal keeps water from entering the hull at the exit point of the propeller shaft.  There are generally two types, which are referred to as “stuffing boxes” or “dripless seals”.  I have the latter, which are supposed to be, as the name would suggest, dripless, meaning no water enters the bilge from the seal.  That is true, as long as they are installed and aligned properly.  Steve’s inspection revealed that these seals were leaking, even after having been replaced when we were in the yard last year.  Furthermore, they were not type Steve preferred, as they are sensitive to the alignment of the prop shaft.  After some discussion back and forth, Philbrooks is replacing a suspect part on the existing seal and asserts that it will address the issue.  By the way, the whole stuffing box/dripless seal topic is another one of those that generates near religious fervor.  Personally, I just want the things to work as advertised.
  • Exhaust leak.  Miss Miranda has what is called a “dry exhaust” system, meaning a muffler and exhaust pipe that goes up and vents out of the top of the stack.  What that means is that the (very hot) muffler and exhaust pipe run right through the engine room, and is therefore insulated with a special blanket.  Ours was of an old “bandage” style, and needed replacement, which we had done in November of last year by Ballard Insulation in Seattle (highly recommended).  Well, the guys at Philbrooks noticed that the initial section of the exhaust, a 90 deg elbow that leads from the turbo up to the muffler, was leaking.  Good catch by them, and they fabricated a replacement.

Wing Engine

The wing engine is a small Yanmar diesel that has a speparate shaft and folding prop that is to be used as an emergency “get home” engine.  It is a critical piece of safety equipment, but is not run very often, and frankly, has been a bit of a pain in the ass from a maintenance perspective.  We had work done it it last year, with more to be done (and redone) this year, hoping to make it the reliable backup that we can depend on.

  • Shaft seal.  This one is getting replaced with the Tides style recommended by Steve D.  We could never get the PSS seal to work properly in spite of having it adjusted several times after it was replaced last year.
  • Shaft.  It turns out that the wing engine shaft has some pitting (corrosion) which means that it needs to be replaced in order for the Tides seal to work properly.
  • Motor mounts and alignment.  The mounts were replaced last year, but were too soft.  Replaced and motor to be (I hope) properly aligned.
  • Raw water hoses.  The hoses that supply sea water for cooling the engine are original, meaning that they are 20 years old and long past due for replacement.

There is more to be done on the wing… they just haven’t completed all of the work yet.

Generator Maintenance

We thought we would need to replace the generator exhaust elbow, as it showed signs of leakage during Steve’s inspection.  It turns out that the leak was from the heat exchanger end cap.  Good news, as this is a relatively minor fix.

Miscellaneous Mechanical

  • High water bilge pump.  We have a second pump located above our main bilge pump that is intended to help dewater the boat in case of a leak.  We switched it out for a larger capacity pump and added an alarm.
  • Rudder bearings.  Rusted, needed to be replaced.  There is a removable deck plate over the rudder post that allows emergency steering via a tiller in the event of hydraulic steering failure.  When the deckplate leaks (ours did), the bearings eventually rust.  The additional new piece of equipment to be installed is a tupperware bowl to cover the post…

Electrical

  • Battery replacement/upgrade.  We are replacing the Lifeline AGM batteries (last replaced in 2015) with Firefly Carbon Foam batteries.  The principle advantages of these batteries are ability to withstand deeper discharge, tolerance to partial charge cycles and longer service life.  We think they will work well for extended cruising off the grid.  Along with this, the battery boxes in the lazarette will be reconfigured, and we will recover some valuable storage space.
  • Upgrade charge capacity.  Our exisiting battery charging system was woefully undersized for the size of the battery bank, at 125 Amp/hr for 1500+ Amp/hr capacity.  We are adding:
    • Two Victron 100 Amp chargers.  This will give us a peak capacity of 325 Ah, which will help us recharge the Fireflys quickly while running the generator.
    • About 750 Amps of solar panels.  We hope to get roughly 200 Ah per day of charging from the panels, which is a bit less than half of our daily consumption.   This will reduce the daily generator run time while at anchor.
  • Replace the original 24V engine/thruster battery charger.  It is mounted under the master berth and is very noisy, as well as not having the right charging profile for the AGM batteries.  We’re replacing with a Victron.

Reupholster Salon Setee

We were very happy with the work Philbrooks did on our pilothouse setee last year, and the 20 year old salon setee is well past due.  We used Stamoid fabric for the pilothouse, and really like it for it wear resistance and ease of cleaning.  Unfortunately, the color pallete is pretty limited, so we decided to use ultraleather for the salon.

There is a lot more work in progress, and we are still hoping for completion by May 1st, in time to head down to Seattle for Opening Day.

New Anchor

Anchoring technique and equipment is a topic near and dear to crusing boaters, and is one that can become something like a religious or political conversation – people have very strong views.  For example, Trawler Forum has an entire forum set aside for Anchors and Anchoring, with over 19,000 posts.  What we know about the topic is that we don’t like our CQR anchor, and have had a number of problems, both with setting and dragging, with the last one having us leave an anchorage at 3 AM to find a better spot.  So, high on our Philbrooks list was replacing the CQR with something bigger and better.  I am a member of the Nordhavn Owners Group, which is a wealth of information on all things related to owning and operating Nordhavns.  Consulting the group, it seems clear that the preferred replacement anchor is the ROCNA.  It has a long track record, and is reported to set quickly and hold really well.  The downside is mostly around how the anchor actually fits on the bow roller and stays in position.

I’ve decided to do something that may be a bit heritcal, and am going to experiment with a SARCA Excel, as I mentioned in a previous post.  I’m working with Chris from Ground Tackle Marine, who happens to be located right near Philbrooks in Sdiney, BC.  He sent me a couple of pictures today to show me the initial fit, and I like what I see.

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Here it is sitting on the bow of the boat.  It is certainly not obvious from the photo, but it is a “size 13”, weighing about 140 lbs.  It seems to fit really nicely on the pulpit and roller.

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Here is a shot looking at how it connects to the windlass. The bar at the end of the anchor is called a flip link, and basically causes the anchor to get into the right position to stow when it comes over the bow roller.  It serves the same purpose as an anchor swivel (another one of those topics that will generate endless arguments).  There is a chain stopper under the bar, positioned to evaluate fit.  However, I don’t think we will wind up going with that setup.  Instead we will have a short snubber line that has a loop to go around the windlass and a chain hook that we will use for setting the anchor.  We will use a turnbuckle setup to secure the anchor when underway.  I’ll show some pictures of those when they are installed.

Nav System Upgrades

Warning… geek-ish content.

Miss Miranda’s navigation system is put together from high quality components, mostly from Furuno, but I believe they are original to the boat, meaning that they are nearly 20 years old.  Furthermore, none of the systems have any built-in redundancy, so failure of one component could have some pretty serious consequences.  I would love to install a brand new, fully redundant system, but frankly, we could not justify the expense, which could easily exceed $100,000.  So, I’ve been thinking about how we might slowly upgrade and modernize the system while creating some redundancy.

The main components of the system are:

  • Furuno GPS for position and course/speed
  • PC-based chart plotter software, originally Nobeltec “VNS” which I have replaced with Rose Point Coastal Explorer and Nobeltec TimeZero Navigator.  More on that later
  • Furuno 1932 Mk II open array radar.  This model has a standalone “green screen” display but works very well.  What it lacks is an optional module for ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid), which allows you to track a radar target (i.e. another vessel).  We had the same radar with this module on our other boat, and I really miss not having it.  I think it is one of those critical safety components.
  • Furuno FCV585 fish finder.  This is a depth sounder with a color display to show bottom contours.  It also shows water temperature.
  • Simrad AP20 autopilot.  The autopilot allows us to steer a course based on boat heading, but is also integrated into the chart plotter so that it can follow a route.  It also provides rudder control for the 3 additional steering stations on the boat, located on the port and starboard portugese bridge and the cockpit.  These are super handy for docking.
  • Airmar PB200 weather station.  Provides weather information, notably wind speed and direction.
  • Furuno RD30 display.  This is a multi function display for navigation and weather data, typically things like boat speed, position, wind speed and direction.
  • ICOM VHF radios.  One of these radios has DSC (Digital Selective Calling) which allows us to transmit our location over VHF in the event of an emergency.
  • Vesper XB8000 AIS receiver. This is a recent upgrade and is a very nice addition to the system. It broadcasts our position, and also receives position data for other AIS equipped vessels. Very handy for places where there is a lot of marine traffic. It also has a high quality GPS receiver and has wifi capability, so it can send data to mobile devices.

We decided that the critical systems for which we would want backups were GPS, Radar, Autopilot, and Chartplotter, probably in that order. We already had multiple GPS sources, and just needed a way to move the data around. Therefore, our goals for the upgrade were:

  • Be able to deliver navigation and weather data to multiple devices, including a second navigation PC and over the wifi network to various iPads. Most of the navigation data on the boat is shared by a marine networking standard called NMEA 0183, which is essentially a point to point serial communication protocol (does anyone remember serial ports on early PCs?). The data are sent to the PC via 4 serial to USB converters, which makes it difficult to send to more than one PC. Furthermore, some of the navigation devices are “daisy chained” together, for example, the fish finder gets GPS data in and therefore sends out both depth and GPS data. This results in duplication of data streams… messy.
  • Install an additional radar for backup and for the ARPA capabilities that I described above.
  • Install a second autopilot system as a backup.

The key component for making all of this possible is the Rose Point NEMO gateway. Rose Point describes it better than I can:

The nemo gateway connects your onboard data systems to provide your PCs, tablets, and phones access to all of your marine electronics. It can also translate information between NMEA 2000 and NMEA 0183 so you can use a combination of older and newer devices rather than upgrading everything at once.

When I learned that the NEMO would be on sale at the Seattle boat show, I decided to take the plunge. I bought the NEMO, a Furuno DRS4D-NXT solid state radar (with a name like that, it must be good, right?) and a Furuno NavPilot 711c. I then enlisted electronics expert Steve Elston (http://www.elstonmarine.com/) to do the install with me and teach me a bit along the way.

MM_Nav_NewHere is a diagram of what I hoped to have at the end of the project. We will replace the existing NMEA 0183 “network” with a small NMEA 2000 (the current standard) network as well Ethernet and wifi networks.

NEMO Installation

The first step was to identify all of the existing NMEA 0183 connections and wiring. Opening up the pilot dashboard panels was truly frightening – a mass of unlabeled cables running in all directions. It took a solid day for the two of us to clean up the wiring and trace all of the connections, giving the label maker a good workout as we labeled each end of the existing cables. Once that was done, installing the NEMO was quite straightforward. The cables that had USB connectors for the PC went instead into the NMEA 0183 inputs and we wired a couple of NMEA 0183 outputs to send signals to the devices that needed 0183 inputs (Autopilot, fish finder, radar, radio). We then created a small NEMA 2000 network to connect the Vesper AIS transponder to the NEMO, and we created an Ethernet network to connect the nav computers. Once everything was connected, we were able to use Rose Point Coastal Explorer and/or the NEMO web interface to configure the device.

We ran into a couple of interesting challenges along the way:

  • For some reason, we were not getting the depth output from the Furuno fish finder. It had been working before the upgrade, and we spent a lot of time diagnosing the problem. It turned out that the NMEA output chip on the 20 year old device had died. We were able to send it back to Furuno to repair, and were also able to get the screen, which was beginning to delaminate, repaired at the same time. I think it is very impressive that Furuno actually repairs 20 year old equipment. They have earned my loyalty.
  • When we got the fish finder back, we were getting depth on the network, but not to the Furuno 1932 radar. After another prolonged but of diagnosis, we discovered that the plus and minus wires had been crossed in a hidden splice far down the cable. It was one of those “what the @#$% were they thinking?” moments.
  • Finally, when we were configuring the PC navigation systems to use the UDP data stream from the NEMO, TimeZero seemed to be getting the wrong heading data. The source, we knew, was supposed to be the fluxgate compass for the Simrad Autopilot, and we could see that Coastal Explorer was receiving and displaying the data correctly, but for some reason, TimeZero was not. It turned out that the fish finder was sending an inaccurate heading through water (VHW) sentence that TimeZero was using instead of the standard HDG sentence. There was no way to turn it off at the device, but I was able to filter it out of the UDP data stream using the NEMO console.

I am very happy with the NEMO. I can now run two (or more) navigation PCs on the network (but make sure that only one is trying to control the autopilot!) and all of the data from the NMEA 0183 devices is converted to NMEA 2000. That means that the Vesper can rebroadcast all of the nav data over wifi so I can use it with an iPad running iSailor.

Radar Installation

The next phase of the project was to install the Furuno radome. Before doing that, we had to remove the KVH trackvision system – the Furuno dome was going to replace the unused KVH dome up on the stack. The removal and replacement was uneventful for the most part, with the biggest challenge being getting access to the upper part of the stack to pull and secure the signal/power cable. The only way to get to it was to pull off a stainless steel vent grate that had been extremely well sealed into place. Nothing that a little bit of heat and a lot of salty language couldn’t fix. Once physically installed, all I needed to do was to configure the Ethernet network to live in the Furuno proprietary address range. I purchased the optional radar module for TimeZero and was up and running in no time. The only configuration needed was to tweak the alignment setting to account for the dome not pointing perfectly straight ahead. TimeZero allows the radar to be displayed standalone in a separate window, or as an overlay on the chart display. I have to say that I really like the overlay mode, and I love the automatic target tracking feature, which identifies and color codes targets based on whether they are moving towards or away from your vessel. At about $2500 for the hardware and software, this is an upgrade that delivers huge bang for the buck.

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Here is a not-so-great picture of the stand-alone radar display in TimeZero.

We have not yet gotten around to the autopilot installation. That is planned for our second visit to Philbrooks, sometime in mid-August.