Miss Miranda is for Sale

We bought Miss Miranda in 2017 planning to cruise to Alaska and then South to Mexico and beyond.  In preparation, we did extensive maintenance and upgrades over multiple visits to Philbrooks Boatyard.  Our goal was to make a safe, reliable, comfortable and self sufficient cruising boat able to be at anchor indefinitely.  An important part of this effort was to have a “Ready for Sea” Inspection by renowned Nordhavn systems expert Steve D’Antonio, who spent an entire day aboard Miss Miranda identifying any issues that would impact the goals outlined above.  This set of observations formed the basis of the maintenance work done at Philbrooks, while our own knowledge and experience drove the many upgrades, described in a section below. 

We completed our bucket list journeys, travelling to Southeast Alaska in the summer of 2019, putting over 3500 NM on Miss Miranda and then continuing down the Pacific coast in the fall of 2019.  We joined the CUBAR rally to Mexico and spent two seasons cruising the mainland Pacific coast and then the Sea of Cortez.  We returned to the US in June of 2021 having put an additional 7000 NM on the boat and were preparing for more cruising in the Pacific Northwest in the coming seasons.  Fortunately for the buyer, we have had a change of plans due to Gwen’s professional commitment leading to relocation and lack of time for long cruises.   For that reason, we are selling her and hoping that she will find a home with another adventurous cruising couple. Please see the description below.

Miss Miranda has just come out of the yard (Friday, 8/10/21) at Pacific Marine Center here in Anacortes, where she had the bottom and running gear painted, zincs replaced, the keel cooler cleaned and the main engine coolant changed.

Price is on request. If you are interested, please complete the Contact Form at the bottom of the post.


Miss Miranda – 2000 Nordhavn 50 Hull #12

Main Engine Hours: 3865+
Wing Engine Hours: 132+
Generator Hours: 2658+

Accommodations

This is the two Stateroom layout with Owner Stateroom amidships. The cabin sole is teak & spruce. There is a TV locker over a 5-drawer dresser in the starboard corner.  Hanging lockers and drawers are on either side of the Queen-sized island berth, while bookshelves are above the berth.  Above the bookshelves are two opening portholes, with a privacy curtain.  LED lights are mounted overhead and there are LED reading lights on each side of berth.  There is extensive drawer storage under berth on each side and at the foot – total of 12 drawers.

There is a large mirror on the forward bulkhead with a vanity light over bookshelves and counter surface.  Two DC circulating fans provide cooling. To starboard, a door leads to the private head and shower with medicine cabinet and mirror, LED lighting overhead, porthole with privacy curtain and shower compartment with bench and handheld shower; head is aft of the shower.

The guest cabin is in the bow with ensuite head and shower, with full size berth, and desk with swivel chair to starboard that can be used as computer station.  There is a hanging locker forward to port and generous drawer storage under the berth.  There are extensive lockers, drawers and bookshelves to starboard, and the cabin has a teak and spruce sole.

The main Salon has teak & spruce sole, covered with Soundown insulation and an edge-bound carpet.  There is an L shaped settee to port with up down table, overhead handrail and hanging locker aft starboard corner.  There is a Stressless chair with ottoman to starboard next to the built in TV/entertainment cabinet.  Storage locker with two drawers and surface is to port forward of the settee.  Generous storage beneath the settee and wine/bottle storage behind settee cushions.  Bookshelves and magazine rack forward to starboard.  Hunter Douglas shades for all salon windows.  The salon also has two DC circulating fans that often keep the space cool enough to minimize the use of air conditioning.

Climate control is provided by a four zone Webasto Hydronic Heating system (2010) with Everhot water heater plus four zones of Cruise Air reverse cycle heating/air conditioning (well tested in Mexico!).

Engine and Machinery

  • Main Engine Lugger L06108A2 Dry exhaust 3865+ hours
  • Racor 900 duplex fuel filter manifold filter on main engine
  • Yanmar 3JH3E 34HP wing engine 131+ hours
  • Northern Lights 12KW genset
  • 2658+ hours
  • ABT/Trac 220 Stabilizers
  • Reverso Oil change system for main engine, transmission, generator and wing engine
  • SS fuel manifold system (newly fabricated in 2018)
  • Fuel transfer system with separate Racor 900 filter and new Walbro pump on a timer
  • 12HP ABT Bow Thruster, 24 V DC – 4 stations
  • Mathers electronic Controls – 4 stations
  • 120v AC and 12V DC lights in engine room
  • Fireboy fire suppression system
  • Extensive engine room cooling system with delta T intake fans in engine room and delta T extraction fans in the stack, all controlled by separate breakers

Domestic Systems

  • Sea Recovery 800 GPD watermaker with remote control including auto backflush, (new membrane 2021) – approximately 550 total hours on the watermaker, about 50 on the new membrane
  • CruiseAir AC system/4 compressors
  • Webasto Hydronic heating system including Everhot hot water system, with 4 separately controlled zones
  • Asko Washer and Dryer.
  • 350 gallon domestic water capacity in 4 tanks controlled by a manifold.  Jabsco DC pump and pressure accumulator
  • 75 gallon separate drinking water system plumbed into forward tank with its own filter and pump

Galley

The galley features a quartz counter with bar above between the galley and salon.  Above is cabinet storage with custom dishware storage mounted below.  LED lights are on the underside of upper cabinets.  There is extensive storage both under this counter and forward between the range and refrigerator.  More prep counter space is here as well as cabinets behind and above.

Large storage cabinet above the refrigerator.

  • Broan trash compactor
  • SHARP Carousel convection/microwave oven (new 2019)
  • Garbage disposal
  • Culligan drinking water tap and filter M VS316.
  • Force 10 LPG stove and oven
  • Frigidaire freezer/refrigerator w/ice maker (new 2019)
  • Two drawer Sub Zero freezer (compressor replaced in 2019)
  • Moen faucet with extendable wand (new 2019)
  • Double sink
  • Ceiling mounted DC circulating fan

Pilot House

The pilot house is the happy place to be underway.  It is four steps up from the salon and galley.

  • Stidd Helm Chair
  • L-shaped raised settee and table behind helm (settee completely redone in 2019 with Stamoid)
  • Large storage locker to starboard adjacent to settee.  This contains a safe.
  • Book/Manual shelf and cabinets on starboard side
  • Counter and binocular storage above bookshelf.
  • Extensive three panel helm station with three panel overhead valences for navigation and systems monitoring (equipment described below).
  • Defroster fans (new in 2019)
  • DC circulating fans, two forward and one in aft port corner
  • AC and DC electrical panels
  • Stainless steel destroyer wheel
  • Chart storage in the area under the raised settee.
  • Port side storage drawer and locker.
  • Large center hatch above with screen
  • Sliding doors access both side decks
  • Opening windows on both sides
  • Window aft to boat deck at port aft
  • 6 Panels of windshield with mullions between
  • 4 windshield wipers with separate delay controls

Electronics and Navigation

We rebuilt the Navigation system, using the best components of the previous system and making strategic upgrades to provide full redundancy for offshore operations.

  • Furuno 1913 64 Mile open array radar with stand-alone display
  • Furuno DSRD4-NXT digital radar, integrated with Nobeltec TimeZero (new 2019)
  • Simrad AP20
  • Autopilot with 4 control stations and dedicated steering pump
  • Furuno Navpilot 711C backup autopilot with completely independent steering pump and fluxgate compass (all new 2019)
  • Furuno fish & depth finder FCV 585 (rebuilt in 2018)
  • Twinscope interphase sonar/DS
  • Furuno GPS 300 (new in 2019) and Furuno RD 25 instrument display
  • VHF radio ICOM M127
  • VHF radio with MMSI and DSC ICOM-M604
  • Vesper XB-800 AIS with integrated GPS (new 2017)
  • Airmar 200 weather station
  • Navigation PC, Apple Mac Mini, running Rose Point Coastal Explorer, connected to 12” touch screen display (new 2021) in front of helm. (new 2018)
  • Navigation PC, Intel NUC, running Nobeltec TimeZero, connected to 21” display on starboard PH panel.  (new 2018)
  • Rose Point NEMO Nav data multiplexer supplies navigation data to BOTH PCs via Ethernet connection. (new 2018)
  • Maretron DSM 410 displays NMEA 2000 data (new 2019)
  • Maretron NMEA 2000 monitoring includes: (new 2019)
    • Fuel flow, consumption and economy
    • DC power systems status
    • Generator power status and load
    • Engine room temperature
    • Wind speed data
    • Navigation data
  • Carlisle and Finch Searchlight with motor control
  • Exhaust temperature gauge for main engine
  • Exhaust temperature alarm for wing engine (new 2019)
  • Bilge counter (new 2019)
  • Bow thruster control
  • Windlass control
  • Fireboy control
  • High water alarm

Electrical Systems

We made extensive improvements to the electrical system to allow for extended time at anchor while minimizing generator run time.

  • 110/220V – 60hz AC. 12 and 24volt DC.
  • Forward port & aft starboard shore power connectors. 50 Amp connector for house power and dedicated additional 50 Amp circuit for Air Conditioning if needed.
  • Magnum MS2812 Inverter/charger
  • Square D inverter bypass switch in pilothouse.  Magnum Remote control panel (with Battery Monitoring option) in pilothouse.
  • Mastervolt 24V charger for starting batteries (new 2018)
  • 2 Victron 100 Amp Auxiliary chargers (new 2019)
  • 12 KW Northern Lights Genset ( 2891 hrs )
  • 24 volt 40 amp alternator on Main engine
  • 12 volt 170 amp alternator plus Balmar controller on Main engine (new 2017)
  • 3 solar panels (on pilot house roof) with 3 Victron MPPT 100/30 controllers tied into DC electrical system (new 2019)
  • 10 Firefly carbon foam house batteries, 1100 Ah total (new 2019)
  • 2 Lifeline starting batteries
  • 1 Lifeline Generator/wing battery
  • Extensive AC and DC power utilization monitoring with Maretron and Magnum monitors

Deck and Hull

Our major focus here was at anchor safety and stability.

  • Airtex 1500LD davit
  • Two Forespar “flopper stopper” at anchor stabilization systems, port and starboard side (new 2019)
  • Viking RecYou 4 person liferaft, canister, mounted on boat deck (purchased new 2019)
  • Two large deck boxes on boat deck
  • Starboard cockpit door & custom portside cockpit door
  • Cockpit cabinet/locker with steering control station, sink with extendable hot/cold shower wand, and storage drawer/lockers.
  • Swim ladder with emergency (from the water) deployment system
  • Stern anchor mounted on swim platform
  • Man overboard retrieval system including lifeline and a custom block and tackle system
  • Raw and fresh water spigots in starboard cockpit locker
  • Two propane tanks (recertified 2021) and propane controls in port cockpit locker.
  • Sunbrella awning over cockpit
  • Swim platform with removable staples
  • Sarca Excell 137 lb anchor (new 2019)
  • Maxwell 3500 windlass
  • with 450′ 3/8″ chain
  • Maxwell remote control with chain counter
  • Bow pulpit modified to include SS anchor chain keeper and anchor lock down system
  • Fresh & salt water washdown in forward starboard side of Portuguese bridge
  • Large bow locker forward of Portuguese bridge

Tender

  • 12 foot AB euro with
30 hp Tohatsu outboard with electric trim, Garmin fishfinder/chartplotter (new 2018)

Miscellaneous

  • Port and Starboard Portuguese Bridge controls
  • Cockpit Control Station
  • Buell Air Horn
  • Fire extinguishers (6)
  • Flares
  • Downrigger; Scotty
  • Pot Puller
  • Crab pot (2)
  • Prawn pot (2)
  • Fishing equipment
  • BBQ (Dickenson)
  • Charts: Olympia to Sitka, Pacific Coast and Mexico
  • Williams-Sonoma stoneware set in custom racks in galley
  • Maintenance records and service manuals are on the vessel
  • Receipts available on request for maintenance and upgrade work

Photos


Maintenance and Upgrades

We had all of our major maintenance and upgrade work done at Philbrooks Boatyard in Sidney, BC.  We visited the yard three times in 2018 and 2109 with a long list of projects in order to make Miss Miranda a safe, reliable and comfortable long distance cruising yacht, investing well over $200,000.  We have listed below all areas of the boat that have had maintenance or upgrades during our ownership.  As you can see, all the critical systems have been addressed.

Engine and Mechanical

Main Engine

  • Rebuild injectors – 2018
  • Replace coolant pump – 2018
  • Add coolant collection bottle – 2018
  • Upgrade 12V alternator to Leece Neville 170 Amp – 2018
  • Add Balmar Max Charge Regulator – 2018
  • New exhaust elbow – 2019
  • New exhaust blanket – 2018
  • New muffler and blanket – 2021

Keel Cooler

  • Clean and repair leak – 2018

Main engine shaft

  • Replace PSS seals – 2018
  • Check cutlass Bearing – 2018
  • Check prop balance – 2019

Fuel delivery system

  • Fabricated new fuel supply and return manifolds to replace original, leaking manifolds – 2018
  • Inspect fuel tanks, clean if needed (not necessary) – 2019
  • Replace leaking port tank sight tube – 2019
  • New Racor 900 fuel manifold for main engine – 2021
  • New fuel lines, Racor to main engine, manifold to Racor – 2020
  • Maretron fuel flow monitoring system – 2019
  • Fuel system pressure tested (no leaks) – 2021

Wing Engine

  • New V drive – 2019
  • Replace raw water pump – 2018
  • Replace circulation pump – 2018
  • Replace engine mounts – 2018
  • Rebuild wing engine prop hub – 2018
  • Align wing engine shaft – 2018
  • Replace wing engine wet exhaust hose with silicone – 2019
  • Install wing engine exhaust cutoff valve -2019
  • Install exhaust temp alarm – 2019
  • Replace Cutlass Bearing – 2019
  • New Tides shaft seal – 2019
  • Re-align wing engine – 2019
  • Replace all raw water hoses – 2019
  • Replace prop shaft – 2019

Generator

  • Install circuit breaker box – 2019
  • Replace heat exchanger – 2019
  • Replace exhaust elbow – 2019
  • Replace injectors – 2019
  • Replace raw water pump – 2020

Stabilizers

  • Service hydraulics – 2018
  • Clean heat exchanger – 2018
  • Replace TRAC panel and servo controller – 2019
  • Replace TRAC power supply – 2019
  • Rebuild actuators – 2020
  • Change hydraulic fluid – 2020
  • Replace failed solenoid
  • New stabilizer water pump – 2021

Bow Thruster

  • Replace coupling – 2019

Domestic Systems

Water Maker

  • Cailbrate Salinity meter – 2018
  • Rebuild high pressure pump – 2019
  • New membrane – 2021

Air Conditioning

  • Replace Sea Strainer – 2018
  • Replace circulating pump – 2018
  • Replace seawater hoses – 2018
  • Replace raw water intake elbow – 2019

Water heater

  • Install new Seaward 11 gal hot water heater – 2018
  • Replace hydronic hoses to heater with exhaust rated hose – 2019
  • Replace heating element, zinc, temperature sensor, high temp shutoff – 2021

Hydronic Heating system

  • Full service, filters, fluid, injectors, etc – 2018
  • Replace Webasto motor – 2019

Heads/holding tanks

  • Replace heads with Tecma Silence plus – 2017
  • Replace duckbill valves – 2019
  • Add charcoal filter to vent line – 2019
  • Add spare macerator discharge pump (offline) and rebuild kit – 2019

Deck and Hull

Flopper Stopper system

  • Install Forespar flopper stopper poles, port and starboard, along with all rigging and with “flop stopper” lightweight aluminum plates – 2019

Windlass

  • Installed chain counter/remote Control – 2018
  • Lubricate/service windlass – 2019

Anchor

  • New Sarca Excell 137 lb Anchor – 2019
  • Install chain retainer, anchor retainer – 2019
  • New delrin anchor roller – 2019

Davit

  • Service davit and motor – 2019
  • Replace leaking hydraulic lines – 2019

Rudder/Steering

  • Replace rudder bearing – 2019
  • Replace tiller arm bolts with Grade 8 yellow zinc – 2019
  • Add a second steering pump, replumb hydraulic lines to switch between pumps – 2019
  • Rebuild steering ram – 2019

Cockpit and decks

  • Repair chips in non-skid – 2019
  • New gasket for lazarette hatch – 2019
  • New gas struts for bow deck locker – 2019
  • Rebed swim platform staples – 2019

Electronics and Navigation

  • Replaced obsolete Nav Computer with DC powered Intel NUC, running Nobeltec TimeZero – 2018
  • Added a second Nav Computer – Apple Mac Mini with 12” touchscreen monitor running Coastal explorer.  Completely redundant – each computer can run the boat. – 2019
  • Rationalized the Navigation data input from multiple NMEA 0183 devices using a Rose Point NEMO gateway.  Data from all Nav sources shared on dedicated hardwired network. – 2019
  • Installed NEMA 2000 Network and Maretron monitors for critical systems – fuel flow, AC power consumption (generator), DC power consumption, and engine room temperature. – 2019
  • Added new Furuno DSRD4-NXT Digital radar.  Integrated with Nobeltec TimeZero to allow radar overlay on Nav chart. – 2019
  • Installed Vesper Marine XB-8000 AIS with GPS.  GPS data made available on Nav network for redundancy. – 2018
  • Installed a completely redundant Autopilot system with Furuno Nav Pilot 711c, Furuno fluxgate compass and dedicated steering pump.  Both Nav computers can run this autopilot if the primary fails – 2019
  • Replaced GPS receiver/antenna with Furuno GPS 300 – 2019
  • Added an iPad as a third Nav computer, gets Nav data over wifi network.  We added this because it had the most accurate charts for Mexico – 2018
  • Furuno FV585 fish finder sent to Furuno for rebuild – 2018
  • Installed new temp/depth/speed transducer – 2019

Pilot House

  • Installed defroster fans – 2018
  • Settee: Reupholstered with Stamoid and replaced cushions– 2018
  • Installed DC circulating fan – 2019
  • Installed Iridium GO and external antenna – 2019
  • Installed long range cellular data modem and external antenna – 2018
  • Rationalize Pilot House dash and instrument panel, moving stabilizer, EGT and spotlight controls to overhead and navigation equipment to center dash
  • Replaced weather stripping on PH doors – 2019

Salon

  • Install new bound carpet and Soundown insulation – 2018
  • Settee: Reupholstered with Ultraleather and replaced cushions– 2019
  • Install DC circulating fans – 2019
  • Refinished table – 2019

Galley

  • Replace faucet with Moen extendable wand model– 2019
  • Replace subzero freezer compressor – 2019
  • New refrigerator – 2019
  • New convection/microwave oven – 2019

Staterooms

  • Installed DC circulating fans – 2019

Electrical System

DC

  • New Mastervolt 24V charger for engine start/windlass/thruster batteries – 2019
  • New Magnum BMK battery monitor – 2018
  • New 12v DC Ammeter – 2018
  • 10 new firefly carbon foam house batteries – 2019
  • New Blue Seas master battery switches – 2019
  • Two Victron 100 Amp chargers – 2019
  • Three solar panels (710 watts) and 3 Victron mppt controllers – 2019
  • Rewired Bonding system – 2018
  • Replaced interior light bulbs with LED throughout – 2018

AC

  • Replaced main panel ship’s service selector switch.  This addressed a major safety problem with shore power leakage current found by Steve D’Antonio during the ready for sea inspection.  It turns out that the AC system as built DID NOT match the design drawings – there was no provision to bring the generator neutral to the selector switch.  It required replacing the original 2 pole switch with a 3 pole switch.  After the repair – no leakage current. – 2019
  • Added a circuit breaker for the generator output.  Another safety issue discovered by Steve.  Original installation did not include this breaker.  – 2019

Maintenance reported by previous owner

2016

  • New Stabilizer seals (ABT)
  • New Bottom paint (Sea Hawk) New Zincs
New Propspeed; all running gear
  • 2015
New Lifeline batteries (all)
  • Delta ”T” 9 inch fan (2), engine room input

2015

  • New inverter; Magnum MS2812
  • New 24V alternator
  • Rebuilt 12V alternator
  • New 12V external regulator; Balmar
  • New davit cable
  • New windshield wipers and controls
  • Rebuilt windlass motor
  • Rebuilt HVAC circulating pump

2014

  • All new sanitation hose and valves

If Interested, Please Contact Us:

Fuel system – the Final Chapter

Warning. Geeky stuff ahead, no wildlife pictures. Those without a deep interest in fuel systems or human suffering might consider skipping this post.

We are back in La Paz and I made arrangements for Rob Cross to help me get to the bottom of the fuel system issues.  From the last post we know that the air leak that I see as bubbles forming in the Racor filter housing must be coming from somewhere between the tanks and the supply manifold. I had the opportunity to talk to a technical specialist at Racor since the last post and he agreed with my conclusion about the potential source of the leak. He also convinced me that the fuel levels in the filter housings have reached a steady state around halfway full, and that still provided adequate filtration. Any additional air coming in was passing through and going out as bubbles in the output line. He said that the bubbles in the output is common and not a concern. So, I eventually stopped refilling the housings every day and in fact have not even checked the levels since leaving Marina Puerto Escondido at the beginning of April. That has been 289 miles and 49 hours of engine run time over 14 voyages in the last month. I am pretty sure that this leak is not going to cause the engine to stall at an inopportune moment, but I am still determined to track it down.

Rob got to the boat and we started by pressure testing the fuel supply lines.  To do this, we removed the supply line at the tank and plugged that end.  Then we used the fuel transfer pump to create positive pressure in the fuel line.  We shut all the other valves in the supply manifold, leaving open only the valve for the fuel pump input and the line to the tank.  We turned on the pump and… no leaks.  The pump is rated for 8-11 PSI of pressure, equivalent to 16-22” of mercury, which is easily 4-5x the amount of vacuum on the system when the engine is running.  No leaks on either side. 

The next step was to take the inspection plates off the tanks to inspect the fittings and dip tubes.  As I observed before the thread sealant on the fitting that goes between the plate and the fuel lines was old and cracking.  Bad thread sealant could be the source of the leak. 

On removing the inspection plate we saw the dip tubes for the supply and transfer circuits, both with stainless steel screens at the ends.  The welds on the tubes looked good, as did the tubes themselves, and the screens were free of debris.  Rob took them to his shop for pressure testing, and they are fine.  He used a high quality thread sealant on the fittings, so that should be eliminated as a leak source.

Cleaned up with well-sealed fittings, the cover is ready to go back on.

The next step was to reprime the system and fire up the engine to look for the telltale bubbles. Before we did that, Rob suggest that we pressure test the Racor manifold and supply manifold, again using the transfer pump to create positive pressure. The pump is rated for 8-11 PSI or 16-22 inches of mecury, the unit of measure displayed on the Racor vacuum gauge. This is at least 4 times the normal vacuum level when the engine is running (2.5-4 inches of mercury). We found no leaks anywhere.

Next, we primed the transfer and supply dip tubes using the transfer pump, and topped off the racor filter housings. There was about 3″ of fuel in the housings before we topped up, one month after I last checked. The filter elements are 5″ tall, so we were about 60% full, as good as I have seen when I was measuring every day.

We selected the starboard tank for fuel supply and return because it has a shorter hose run and therefore lower vacuum in operation compared to the port tank. We selected the forward filter on the Racor manifold and then started the engine….

Disappointingly, there were still bubbles forming in the filter bowl. We could reasonably expect some bubbles from residual air trapped in the system as we disconnected and reconnected various lines. We used a rubber mallet to tap on the supply manifold and the filter manifold hoping to dislodge residual bubbles. Even after tapping for a while, we were still seeing a small but steady stream of bubbles, perhaps less than before, but the goal is zero bubbles (or, at most, tiny “champagne” bubbles). When we switched the selector to operate both filters, the bubbles disappeared (after some transient air bubbles in the aft filter bowl). What remained were champagne bubbles in both bowls. Progress, but I was not satisfied. At Rob’s suggestion, we checked the fuel tank vents to eliminate the unlikely possibility of blockage there. Then, just to be sure, we plumbed some clear line into the input port of the Racor manifold reasoning that if there was any air at all, we might see at least some sign of bubbles. Nope. None. The fuel going in was absolutely clear. There was nothing more we could do. I believe we addressed any and all possible leak sources, summarized on the table below.

At this point, we called my technical contact at Racor and reviewed all of the findings. He had no suggestions for additional tests, agreeing that we had covered all the possible sources. He said that the bubbles we were seeing were due to cavitation, which, in his experience occurs when the filter is undersized compared to the delivery demands of the engine. However, he confirmed (what I already knew) that my filter unit was well within spec for the engine, and also confirmed that the vacuum levels were well within the normal range. His one suggestion in this regard was that I could replace my filter manifold with the next size up, whose filters were twice the size. The other area we touched on was the fuel supply and return to the tanks. When we told him that there was not a return dip tube into the tank he speculated that the return fuel dropping from the top of tank could be aerating the remaining fuel in the tank, which he called the “aquarium effect”. He suggested that adding a dip tube returning the fuel to the bottom of the tank could negate this effect. In my opinion, neither of these suggestions are worth the time/effort/expense to implement at present.

As the last step, we removed both sections of clear hose from the Racor input and output ports and fired up the engine again. This time, we were seeing some small amount of bubbling when running the front filter, no bubbling at all when running both, and, surprisingly no bubbling at all when running the back filter. I suppose it is possible that it took a fairly long time of engine run time to clear all of the residual air out of the system, but this was quite encouraging. We observed this running the engine at normal cruise RPM, but at dockside. We will need to do a sea trial to be certain of the results.

Sea trial and videos

We got out of Marina CostaBaja on a warm, sunny Saturday morning. After we got everything stowed and up to cruising speed, I went down to the engine room to check on the filters. I decided to run the Racor on the aft filter and was drawing from the starboard tank. The first video shows me checking for bubbles selecting the aft, then both filters, then the forward filter. The results were pretty encouraging. Very little bubbling from the aft filter alone, some bubbling from the forward filter alone, and still less when both were selected. Pretty good, but not perfect.

I continued to run on the aft filter for the 22 mile, 2.5 hour run up to Caleta Partida. When I checked the fuel level in the housing, it was down to about 2″ or so of the 5″ height of the filter element… lower than I’d like to see.

On the way back from Caleta Partida, I decided to run in tandem filter mode, after having refilled the aft bowl. Here is the video with the results.

Again, better, but by no means perfect. There is still a little bit of bubbling even running in this mode, although less than I was seeing before. I’d REALLY like it if there were NO bubbles at all. However, I remain pretty convinced from following this all season that this amount of bubbling is not going to lead to an engine stall at an inopportune moment.

Summary and my conclusions

Here is everything we did to test the system:

  • Vacuum and pressure test Racor filter manifold. No leaks.
  • Vacuum and pressure test fuel supply manifold. No leaks.
  • Check/tighten all fuel fittings – hoses, supply manifold, Racor manifold.
  • Check/tighten all valve assemblies on the supply manifold.
  • Pressure tested supply lines – manifold back to tank. No leaks.
  • Inspected/pressure tested dip tube assemblies in port and starboard tank inspection plates. No leaks.
  • Resealed NPT to JIC fittings on the inspection plates.
  • Reinstalled inspection plates, tightened all fittings.
  • Checked all fuel tank vents. Clear.
  • Observed fuel entering the Racor manifold using clear tubing. No bubbles.

I can’t think of any part of the fuel system that we didn’t look at and/or test, and I am as certain as I can be that there are any extraneous leaks in the fuel system. I now believe that the residual bubbling that I see is normal for the filtration system. In fact, a Racor Technical Bulletin discusses air separation in diesel fuel, and starts by listing these facts:

Fact #1: There is AIR entrained in diesel fuel.

Fact #2: A very slight pressure drop can cause air to form visible bubbles.

Fact #3: Air can cause problems.


Racor, Products Parts, Service
and Technical Information, 7480F

I love how understated they are with fact #3. In another Racor document, “Turbine Series Rebuild”, they state in the troubleshooting section that “It is normal for fuel level inside housing to be about 1/2 full after lid removal“. They also mention that if the fuel level gets too low, the engine will stall, and that excessive bubbles indicate either a system restriction (high vacuum) or an upstream air leak.

Going back to the very beginning, I did have engine stalls on two separate occasions last year. I am certain that both of those stalls were due to leaks within the Racor manifold itself, which I replaced back in January. From then until now, I have still seen some degree of bubbling, and have seen the fuel level in the housing consistently down to half full, but not lower. Until now, I have not been able to rule out an upstream air leak as the source of the bubbles. After this week, I conclude that there is no upstream air leak. The final question – is the bubbling that you can see in the videos excessive. I have decided, because it has never caused the engine to stall, that it is NOT.

Done. Really. Finally.

(Yet another) Racor Fuel Manifold Update

I spent some quality time in the engine room while we were at Puerto Escondido trying to diagnose the problem with air bubbles forming in the Racor filters.

I have been suspicious that there was a leak in the Racor filter manifold itself, despite it being brand new. Fellow N50 owner Ron Goldberg suggested that I test this by creating a vacuum in the filter housing and seeing if it holds. The method for creating the vacuum is to run the engine at idle and then shut off the fuel valve at the supply manifold. The engine continues trying to suck fuel in and will create a vacuum, shown on a gauge mounted on the filter manifold. When the vacuum level reaches the desired point, shut down the engine and monitor the vacuum level for a period of time. This sounds scary, but in practice was pretty easy – the vacuum rose pretty slowly after I shut off the fuel supply, and I could shut down the engine by closing the fuel solenoid. The fuel manifold lost very little vacuum over an hour, even after operating the filter selector valve a bunch of times. I concluded that there is no leak in the filter manifold.

I did the same test on the fuel supply manifold and had the same result. It too was able to maintain a vacuum, which means that none of the valves or their connection to the manifold itself were leaking. That leaves the lines back to the fuel tanks (including the fittings) or the “dip tubes” in the tanks themselves.

The next experiment was to select different tanks (Miss Miranda has 4 fuel tanks, port and starboard, forward and aft) as the supply to the filter manifold and look for changes in the amount of bubbling. To get an idea of what the bubbling looks like, take a look at this very shaky video. You can see towards the end of the video that there are few, if any bubbles. That is the result we are looking for. The bottom line was that I saw many fewer bubbles when drawing fuel from the aft tanks. These are much smaller tanks (115 vs 500+ gallons) and have shorter dip tubes, and seem to have less opportunity for air leaks. This is very good news. It seems that we should be able to run from the aft tanks with much less air leakage and much less concern about pockets forming in the Racor filter housing. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we have a fuel transfer system so that we can refill the aft tanks from the forward tanks.

The very last check was on the fittings to the forward fuel tanks. I have pretty easy access to the top of the port forward tank via a hatch in the galley floor. I disconnected the fuel supply line from that tank and inspected the adapter fitting. That fitting needs to have thread sealant on it to prevent leaks. The sealant on the fitting was 20 years old and most of it seemed to be gone. I cleaned up the fitting and applied new sealant. The tests for bubbling, unfortunately, were inconclusive. It seemed to be less than before, but still more than the aft tanks. It is possible that the source of the leak is the dip tube itself or the hose, or the fittings at either end.

I was a little bit disappointed after doing some more testing while underway. Under more load, there are still bubbles in the filter housings when drawing from the aft tanks, and after a short, two hour run, the fuel level in the filter housing was down, though less than previously. Racor does say that it is normal to have the fuel level down about halfway when you open the filter housing, so not sure if this indicates a problem. I did try drawing from the port tank while underway, and there seemed to be less bubbling than when drawing from the aft tanks, so maybe the thread sealant helped. I’ll continue running from the port tank and monitoring as we continue along the way.

I now have a very good idea of where the air leakage is coming from. I will probably wind up having to replace the supply lines and fittings to the tanks (and maybe even the dip tubes) before returning to the US, but can I can get that work done when we return to La Paz.

Racor Fuel Manifold Update

We are back on the grid after a week and a half cruising from La Paz up to Puerto Escondido. Lots of posts and lots of pictures coming, but first this maintenance update for those who love the smell of diesel in the morning…

Well, the new Racor manifold has not worked as well as hoped.  Underway we are seeing some small bubbles on the output side of the manifold which we are not concerned with… the engine has no problems with these and has been running smoothly.  However, there are bubbles apparent in the filter bowls themselves, which indicate that air is getting into the filter housings.  This air is either coming in from the input line OR it is the result of a leak somewhere within the racor fuel manifold itself. 

Why is this a problem?  Well, the fuel filter sits in the housing, which is filled with fuel right up to the top of the filter. There is a cover that seals the housing closed, which has a gasket and a t-bolt to tighten it down. When bubbles form in the (bottom) of the filter housing, an air pocket forms at the top.  When the air pocket forms, the fuel level goes down (and no longer covers the entire filter).  If too much air gets in, the fuel level might get to the bottom of the filter, and air would get into the output line to the engine.  If enough air gets in the line the engine shuts down. 

The bubbling seems to be minimized by running both filters simultaneously, so that’s what we are doing. I have been monitoring the bubbles as we are underway, and the I measure and top up the fuel level at each stop. We’ve had no problem on runs as long as the 40 mile, 5 hour run from La Paz to Isla San Francisco, but the fuel level has gone down in the housing each time.  That’s not a big deal when we are doing short runs, but will become a real problem when we need to make multi-day passages.

Refilling the housing has become part of the departure checklist, and now that we are here in Puerto Escondido, I plan to add a section of clear tube to the fuel line going in to the Racor manifold, just like I had last year. If the fuel going in is clear and without bubbles, I will know (again) that it is the manifold. If there are bubbles in the input line, that means that there is an air leak upstream of the manifold. More to come, I’m sure…

Last Project(s)… We Hope!

On Saturday January 30th we moved the few miles from Marina CostaBaja to Marina La Paz. The plan was to be here for a week for what we hope is the last set of boat projects with Cross Marine Works before we get underway for some real cruising. The main project is replacing the dry stack muffler, as mentioned in a previous post. The muffler arrived here in La Paz, delivered by a freight forwarder that specializes in bringing parts across the border. The shipping cost was 35% of the overall price, which covers the 16% tax plus another 19% for shipping and handling. There was an optional additional “special shipping charge” that got added on after it arrived in Mexico that we agreed to in order to get it here in a timely fashion. Otherwise we suspect it could still be in limbo.

Another issue to be attended to is a fuel delivery problem on the Tohatsu outboard for the big dinghy/tender. In spite of adding a gasoline stabilizer, it appears that the fuel got gummed up after sitting so long in the heat. Apparently this is a common problem down here. It is likely that there is a problem in the internal filter or the injector pump itself. Not too big a deal, or so we are told. While we are looking at the dinghy, we are hoping to get some canvas repair done on the seats. Apex did a terrible job on the bench seat for this model.. the fabric is not waterproof, the foam gets soaked and the seat stays wet. The edges of the seat covering have now come loose, exposing the foam. What’s worse, the seat back, which screws into a couple of supports that allow it to fold up and down, has some rot at the screws, and they are coming out. I suspect the back is plain plywood, covered by the aforementioned non-waterproof fabric. We will have some canvas guys take a look at repair or replacement.

A last, “while we are here” issue is addressing the one piece of teak on the exterior of the boat- the cockpit cap rail. We have not done anything with it since we’ve owned the boat, and it is in desparate need of refinishing.

Muffler Replacement

Day 1: Very good progress, removing the stainless steel vent grates, removing the old exhaust insulation and removing the stainless steel bolts, all of which came out pretty easily. Late in the afternoon, they cut the access panel in the back of the stack. The muffler is now ready to come out.

Day 2: The muffler is out! They took it out while we were away for a walk, and used the davit crane to lower it to the dock. The rest of the day was devoted to making an access panel out of the piece of fiberglass that was removed from the back of the stack.

We also took the opportunity, while the stack was empty, to install a new VHF antenna on the port stack wing. That was a part I sent down to replace an improperly installed antenna for the back up radio. Apparently the installers twisted the cable resulting in a dead short… that means no transmit or receive on that radio. We knew that it was not working the whole way down to Mexico, but confirmed the short when we in La Cruz last year. It’s good to have the new antenna in place and a working backup radio again.

Day 3: Time to get the new muffler installed. We used the Davit to lift the new muffler up onto the boat deck.

Day 4: We lifted the new muffler into place, put in the new gaskets and re-used the original stainless steel bolts and nuts to secure it in place. Now the focus is on fabricating a flange for the cutout and fitting the fiberglass panel back into place.

Days 5/6: Getting very close! Today they installed the insulated jacket, reinstalled the aluminum housing for the the exhaust fans, and closed everything up. The only item that remains is installing and sealing the access cutout. They got this done on Day 6 (Saturday), and did a good boat wash to clean up.

The Dinghy

The problem with the motor was as suspected; gummed up fuel in the high pressure pump. After Rob cleaned out the pump, the motor started right up. Also, we discovered that the steering ram had frozen up… a little shot of grease took care of that. A future project to go on the list will be installing a primary fuel filter before the on-engine filters. The seat came back from Hector the canvas guy, who repaired the seat back and re-glued the fabric covering on the seat bottom. Cost was 500 pesos!

Not much to see here, except that the seat is no longer falling apart.

Teak Cap Rail

We had Mauricio from Rob’s team working on the only piece of exterior teak on the boat for the entire week, stripping off the old varnish, sanding it down and gradually building up many coats of fresh varnish. Unfortunately, I neglected to take any “before” pictures, but trust me, it was in bad shape. We never touched it in the four years we’ve owned the boat. It now has 4 coats of varnish, and according to Rob, could use 4 more. We might come back in April to have that done. Oh, and the flagpole is also redone and looks beautiful.

Our thanks to Rob and Kim Cross and the rest of the crew at Cross Marine Works. They did a great job – high quality work with attention to detail. Recommended if you need any work done in La Paz.

Miscellaneous Jobs

Hot Water Valve. We recieved the fittings that we ordered to properly repair the hot water line mentioned here. The rescue-taped jury rig was holding up surprisingly well, with just a little bit of leakage. The new fitting was easy to get on and the whole job was done in less than 10 minutes.

The new connector that replaced the hot water valve that blew it’s top.

Racor Fuel Filter Manifold Revisited. You may recall that we had some issues with our fuel delivery system last year, as outlined here and we wound up getting a replacement fuel filter manifold from Racor as decribed here. Well, this week I finally removed the old manifold, installed the new one and replumbed the fuel connections to reconnect the fuel transfer filter back to the tansfer pump. Easy job, but very messy. It seems that there is no way to do that without distributing diesel fuel all over myself and the engine room. But, it is finally done.

The new Racor fuel filter manifold on the left, and the fuel transfer filter on the right.

I left just a little bit of clear tubing in the output from the manifold to the engine so I can see if there is any air in the fuel line. We will test it out when we restart the main after the muffler install, and will have a good chance to watch it while we cruise up into the Sea of Cortez.

Generator Oil and Filter change. So easy it is hardly worth mentioning. The oil change interval on the generator is 200 hours, and it was due this week. With our reverso oil change pump, it is as simple as letting the generator warm up a bit, pumping the old oil into a waste bucket, replacing the filter and refilling. We should be good for most of the season now.

What now?

The weather over the next week or so looks outstanding… sunny and warm with light winds. Our goal is to get out of La Paz on Sunday (Feb 7) and start heading North towards Puerto Escondido, where we expect to arrive in late February. We think we won’t be back to La Paz until late April as we think about heading back to the USA.

Clean up after your Perro!

Nothing to do with the project, but we loved this sign at the marina.

No translation needed here.

Watermaker Maintenance… and Repair

Miss Miranda is equipped with a watermaker, which we found to be a “nice to have” up in the Pacific Northwest, but is a must have down here in Mexico. Our boat holds a little bit less than 300 gallons of water, and we tend to use 20-25 gallons a day, depending on how often we shower and do laundry. So we have at most a 10 day supply on board. Given the general scarcity of water in Mexico, where it is common that people have water delivered to their homes, it is important to be able to make our own. Anyway, when we left the boat in March of last year we “pickled” the watermaker for long term storage, which consists of adding a chemical preservative to the system… kind of like winterizing the domestic water system on a boat or RV.

We just got around to “unpickling” the watermaker in yesterday, in part because we were waiting for a new filter, as one of those we sent down with Red Rover was the wrong size. The unpickling process is pretty straightforward. It involves allowing the system to fill with fresh water to displace the preservative and then circulating fresh water for a half hour or so. Next, we put in new filters, and then we were ready to test the system by making some water. Everything seemed to work perfectly… except the “product” water was contaminated with a chemical taste. We have a TDS (total dissolved solids) tester that allows us to check the quality of the water, and it was reading well over 950 PPM, even after making about 15 gallons of water. As a reference, the TDS in our filtered drinking and tap water on the boat is 150-160 PPM, and any water over 500 PPM is not considered safe to drink. Seawater is about 35,000 PPM!

It was now time for some professional help, so we called Hector Marine, who is the local watermaker dealer. He had two techs over on the boat within an hour, and they found the same thing – the watermaker was working properly (meaning it was producing fresh water from salt water) but the quality was poor. They saw PPM readings as high as 4000, and not lower than 1500. From this they concluded that the membrane needed to be replaced. This was not terribly surprising, since it was last replaced by the previous owner in early 2015, and the average lifespan is about 5 years.

This is the old membrane assembly removed and sitting on the dock. It’s 3 feet long.

The membrane is the real guts of the watermaker, and it works via reverse osmosis. Put simply, salt water is pushed through the membrane at high pressure. The membrane prevents salt from passing, so what comes out is fresh water. About 10% of the water pumped into the membrane assembly comes out as fresh or “product” water, and the remaining “brine” is pumped overboard. Our watermaker can produce about 30 gallons an hour or a little more than a day’s usage.

It turns out that they have the membrane in stock here in La Paz, so they removed the assembly and took it to the shop to install a new membrane. The very next afternoon they were back to reinstall the assembly on the boat.

The guys in the Laz installing the membrane. Better them than me!

After about 30 minutes of installation and flushing with fresh water, we were ready to test the watermaker. After just a few minutes of run time, it was producing product water at 238 PPM, which is just fine.

A bit hard to see, but TDS of 238. Way better than the 1500+ we saw yesterday!

I am super impressed with the quality and speed of the work done by Hector Marine. It is almost shocking to have a job like this, especially one that requires a replacement part, to be completed in just about 24 hours!

A “triple play” Boat Project

Boat projects can sometimes be fun and satisfying (OK, at least satisfying).

There are three conditions that must be met for this to be the case.

  1. Having the right parts on hand
  2. Having the right tools on hand
  3. Having the project be in a (relatively) accessible location

In my experience, the confluence of these three factors, which I call the triple play, is very rare. Well, yesterday it happened.

The project at hand was replacement of the sea water pump for the stabilizer heat exchanger. The stabilizers are powered by a hydraulic pump running from the main engine, and the fluid moves the fins. This fluid is at high pressure and gets hot, so it needs to be cooled. On our boat this is by means of a heat exchanger that is cooled by seawater. A 120V pump circulates this water, and it runs all the time that the boat is underway. If the pump dies, no more water circulation, and soon, no more stabilizers, which will shut down when the fluid gets too hot. So it is a pretty important piece of equipment, and it is one of those single points of failure… there is no backup pump installed.

I have been suspicious of the pump for a while. It runs pretty hot, and in fact, part of underway engine room checklist is checking the temperature of that pump. For that reason, I bought a spare pump before we came down to Mexico. I did not install it, however, following my new “ain’t broke don’t fix” rule. Well, coming back to the boat I discovered that it now is broke, so its gotta be fixed.

The old Primetime pump, after the raw water hoses were disconnected. The output of the pump, on top, goes into the heat exchanger on the right. You can just see the end of the hose at the top left of the picture.

Getting the old pump out was pretty easy. It was clear that the line from the pump to the heat exchanger needed to be changed, but as it happened, I had some spare hose of the proper size and almost exact length. One small complication was that the new pump has the motor control unit mounted on top of the motor instead of the side. In the picture you can see the unit on the old pump on the left side of the motor. That makes it easier to access the mounts, but interferes with the 90 deg elbow for the water output, seen in the middle of the picture.

Putting the new pump in was straightforward save for running the hose. I had to angle the elbow off the centerline in order to get the hose and clamps attached and then had to make sure it didn’t rub against the side of the compartment. Of course, the mounts were laid out differently from the old pump, so I had to drill new holes, and it was a bit of a tight fit getting the screws in. After it was mounted I just had to wire it up to AC power. Once installed, all I had to do was open the through hulls for the inlet and outlet and prime the pump – a simple matter of loosening the bolt to the left of the elbow until a little bit of water flowed out. A quick test confirmed that we had good water flow. Success!

The new pump in place.

I was surprised when finished to find that the job had taken most of the day – about 5 hours or so. Things just take a long time on a boat, due to a combination of tight spaces and rummaging for various tools and parts. When it all comes together, though, it sure is satisfying!

Special Bonus!

I had a little bit of apprehension this morning. The plan was to start the main engine… after sitting for 9 months. I primed the fuel system, Gwen pulled off the stack cover, and I turned the key… YES, it fired right up!!

I love the old Lugger!

A (not so new) Summer Pastime

Coming back to Washington with no boat left me wondering what I would do with myself this summer. As mentioned previously, I was fortunate to land a job as a Training Captain with Freedom Boat Club, which has seen a tremendous jump in membership during this “stay local” summer.

Being landlocked, I’ve rekindled my on and off love of cars and fast driving. It all started with my buddy John buying a Mercedes AMG sport utility (yes, there is such a thing) and signing up for the AMG driving school, which wound up being cancelled due to the pandemic. Talking with him reminded me of doing track days in Wisconsin with my 2005 BMW M3 with the local chapter of the BMW Car Club of America. They offered High Performance Driving Experience (HPDE) days during which you would receive driving instruction and drive your own car on a race track with an instructor (until you were “qualified” to drive solo). It was not racing, in that passing was strictly by consent, but it was a whole lot of fun! I did several events with them, eventually graduating to “solo intermediate” and drove at Blackhawk Farms in Illinois, and Road America in Wisconsin, reputedly one of the fastest tracks in the world.

Not my M3… I couldn’t find a single photo of mine, so borrowed an image of the identical car from the “Mad Russian”, a well-known M3 enthusiast. In retrospect, I REALLY wish I had kept the car.

I figured that we could find a local, non-brand specific driving school, and sure enough, we discovered Proformance Racing School at Pacific Raceways, a bit south of Seattle. They offer a range of programs from one day high performance driving school to lapping programs to a full two day racing school.

Next, I needed to find a car to use. We have a 2014 BMW 328i wagon, and believe it or not, these turn out to be pretty good on a track. Gwen was having NONE of it, however, as it is our only car. So the search for a cheap, trackable car was on. John realized that it might not be a great idea to turn his fancy, very pricey AMG into a track car, so agreed to partner with me on one. I remembered that my other buddy Ryan was a car guy with a shop and a bunch of cars. We pulled him into the search as an advisor and eventually wound up buying a 1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R from him for dirt cheap. The SE-R is no M3, but it is a lightweight, manual transmission coupe with a reliable, but low-powered engine. In other words, a car that is not likely to get you into trouble on the track.

The track car, a 1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R. Pretty much guaranteed to the slowest car on the track on any given day.

Having secured the car and drawing up partnership papers, we went to work on preparing it for track days. This included the following parts and service:

  • New/upgraded tires
  • New/upgraded brake pads, rotors, lines
  • New windshield, as the old one was cracked, new wipers
  • New rear hubs (bearings were shot)
  • New CV axles
  • New coolant system hoses
  • New fluids – oil, transmission, coolant and brakes
  • New sparkplugs and wires
  • New headlights and turn signals
  • New air intake

As you can see, money can be spent on a car nearly as quickly as it can on a boat. Fortunately, it seems to flow in slightly smaller increments, and we were able to use Ryan’s very well-equipped shop to do the work. It was actually fun to work on the car in a shop with a lift and all the right tools. Like working on a boat, except that everything is easy to get to. Soon, we had the car ready for our driving school day.

John, Ryan and I all did the Proformance Driving school together. John opted to drive his AMG, and Ryan drove his C5 corvette, leaving the SE-R in my capable(?) hands. The morning included a bit of classroom talk and a number of exercises such as braking, a slalom course, lane changes and deliberate skids to learn how the car reacts. I did quite well with the skid exercise… the car’s antilock brakes are not functional, so I had to brake the old-fashioned way.

The afternoon consisted of lapping the track with a coach in the passenger seat showing us the track and providing real-time instruction and feedback. We all had a great time, and agreed that we would come back for a lapping day, during which we would receive another hour of in-car instruction, and then be issued a “sport” license and a logbook to record our progress. This would allow us to drive solo on subsequent track days.

I realized during the driving school that the old suspension was shot, so we ordered a set of coilovers (which are an adjustable set of shocks and springs). While we were waiting for the coilovers to ship, John and Ryan both got out and earned their sport licenses, and I was signed up to earn mine the week after the parts were to be delivered. Ryan and I installed the coilovers, lowering the car 1.5″ in the front and 1″ in the back, and I then took the car in for a full alignment, which is necessary after replacing suspension components.

Finally, I was ready for my track day and the chance to earn my sport license. I had a good day, and the instructor was impressed with how our little car handled. His main suggestion was to replace the stock seat with a proper sport or racing seat and harnesses. Thus, another item was added to the upgrade list (that is turning into a bit of a long story best saved for another day). All was going well during my first solo session when I noticed that the car suddenly got a little noisier. I came back into the pits and had a look, but didn’t see anything amiss. I went back out onto the track for a few more laps, and it got louder again. Clearly there was a problem. It turns out that I had cracked the exhaust manifold (in several places, actually). We had been thinking about adding headers and a sport exhaust system anyway, so this was a handy excuse to pull the trigger on yet another upgrade. The problem is that all of us had signed up for another track day just a week later. A few frantic calls, a whopping shipping bill, and a hard-core overnighter by Ryan got the new headers in place in time for our track day this week.

John wasn’t able to make it, so it was me in the Nissan and Ryan in his Corvette for a sunny afternoon down at Pacific Raceways. The start of the session was delayed a bit due to the crash of a Mercedes AMG GTR coupe on the front straight in the morning session. We heard that it was caused by a rear tire blowout, which caused the car to go off the track and into the retaining wall. Fortunately, the driver was not injured, and equally fortunately, had track-day insurance to cover the damage sustained by the nearly $200,000 car.

We finally got out on the track and were having a great time. The car was handling well, and I was running a bit faster than my last time out as I started to get a feel for the track. I got a very cool timing device called Harry’s Lap Timer that uses the iPhone to capture data and video. Here is a clip showing my best lap in the Nissan:

SE-R lap, August 12

If you look closely at the video, you will see that there are cones along both sides of the track. The orange cones indicate braking zones, the yellow cones indicate turn-in points, the green cones indicate the apex of the turn and the white cones indicate the track out points. Basically, you should come as close as possible to the green cones and the white cones coming through and out of the turn and you’d better be off the brakes by the time you are at the yellow cone.

After about 15 laps or so I heard the exhaust get louder… again! I pulled into the pits, opened the hood, and could see the gasket sticking out of the joint between the header and the exhaust pipe! Looking closer I could see that two out of the three bolts holding the pipes together were gone. Very disappointing! I was done for the day after less than an hour.

Or was I? Proformance has a fleet of Toyota FRS sport coupes that they use for the driving school. They will also rent them out during track days, I discovered, for the princely sum of $200 per half hour of track time.

The trusty car #11 that I beat on (oops, I mean drove) for a half hour.

I decided that I had spent too much time, money and effort getting here to sit around for the rest of the afternoon watching other people have fun, so I ponied up the $200 for a session. The FRS is a very nice car, featuring a 200 HP engine (compared to the 140 HP in the Nissan), a six speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, a comfortable seating position, and all the expected modern goodies like anti-lock brakes (yay) and traction control (boo). It was definitely faster than the Nissan, and I liked the steering feel of the rear wheel drive. I managed to turn in a lap time 4 seconds faster than my best in the Nissan.

Proformance FRS lap, August 12

While I really enjoyed driving the FRS, it really made me appreciate how good the Nissan is. The FRS definitely had a softer suspension with more body roll, and I don’t think the tires were as good as the ones on the Nissan. The braking was similar, and I realized only after the session that the traction control on FRS was kicking in around some of the tighter corners (the funny chirping sound you might hear in the video as I go around Turn 3b). The power and top speed was certainly nice, and it is definitely a more refined car. However, at a purchase price (used) at about 10x what we paid for the Nissan, I think we have put together a little car with pretty good bang for the buck. I did love driving for several laps in front of a hot Mustang that blew past me when I was driving the Nissan, and could not get around me in the FRS… even with me giving “point bys” in the passing zones. Ryan said the Mustang driver was commenting in the pits that he couldn’t get around me because I was too good a driver.

To top the day off, I think Ryan felt a bit sorry for me, so he let me take a couple of laps in his Corvette. That is a much more serious car, powered by a 350 HP v8 with a 6 speed manual transmission that will get you going to “oh sh!%” speeds in a hurry. It was a blast to drive, definitely way faster and stronger than the other two cars, and noticeably heavier. But it was really very easy to drive smoothly around the track. Thinking about the difference between the cars, I was driving both the Nissan and the FRS pretty hard, but going easier yet faster in the Corvette. I felt like I could push both the Nissan and the FRS hard without getting into trouble, but not so with the Corvette – much like my old M3, it was a much better car than I was a driver.

Wringing out the SE-R down the front straight. Image from local track photographer Karl Noakes

All in all, a great day, and I realized that I really do like doing this. Next step is to get the Nissan repaired – in this regard it seems much like a boat – and get back out on the track for more fun.

A stressful "puzzler"…

I remember the NPR radio show “Car Talk”, and how each week Tom and Ray would have a segment called “the puzzler” in which they tried to diagnose some weird car problem.  Well, I have a boat version of the puzzler. As I mentioned in a previous post, when preparing to depart from Tenacatita the engine suddenly shut down after idling along for a few minutes.  This was not good.  At all.  Diesel engines are simple and reliable… and almost all issues are related to fuel delivery.  We have been battling fuel delivery demons on and off since departing in October, and believe me, you do not want to have a fuel delivery issue when traveling offshore.

My immediate suspect was the Racor 900 duplex filter assembly.  This fancy setup has two fuel filters connected by a selector valve.  You can run the fuel through one filter or the other, or both.  The value of this setup is redundancy.  If, for some reason, your fuel filter gets clogged (say by some bad fuel), you can simply select the other filter, keep the engine running, and then change the clogged filter.  Sounds good right?  Yes, if it actually works.

You may recall that we actually bought a brand new filter assembly back in Sidney before we started on the journey down the coast.  This was part of solving the air bubbles in fuel line problem that was causing very disturbing RPM variation (post).  We determined that the old filter assembly was leaking air, and as a matter of expediency, we simply had Philbrooks install a new one.  We were dismayed to observe that the new filter assembly also leaked, so the guys tightened up the bolts on the fuel selector valve, and all (seemed) good.  In retrospect I believe that was a mistake.  Anyway, we took off, ran 2700 NM down the Pacific Coast of North America, and had no problems…. Until I changed the fuel filter.  I did what I always do in this situation – I turned the selector to the unused filter and replaced the used filter.  The next time we started the boat, the engine died.  It was clear that there was something wrong with the selector valve, at least in the position of the forward, or looking at the assembly, the left filter.  I also noted that the selector lever was extremely tight, and it was very difficult to feel the “detent” indicating the selection of that filter.  Long story short(er), we had the selector valve rebuilt, did a sea trial, tested all positions, seemingly successfully, and thought we were good to go. 

We left from La Cruz down to Bahia Chamela, and later to Bahia Tenacatita, a total of about 130 NM underway.  All good.  Until the morning in Tenacatita.  When the engine shut down, I checked the filter assembly.  The level of fuel in the active filter was quite low.  I refilled the filter with fresh fuel and then went through the process of priming the fuel system and bleeding the injectors.  It seemed obvious when working the manual priming pump that there was air getting into the fuel line regardless which filter was selected.  My experience has been that when you are working the manual pump, it becomes stiffer as the air is replaced with fuel when bleeding at the secondary, or engine, filter.  This was not happening.  I could not get the engine primed with fuel.  Also, I noticed that the selector valve was very tight, like before, even after it was rebuilt.

The Racor dual filter assembly drained of fuel and ready to be disassembled. The troublesome selector valve has a yellow handle. Below the fuel filter assembly is the fuel supply manifold, to it’s right is the return manifold. This allows me to select which tank to draw fuel from (we have four).

Because I was very suspicious of the selector valve, I decided to disassemble the manifold and plumb together a single filter module.  I got it done and went through the priming routine again, and this felt a bit better – the pump was offering some resistance.  But, bleeding the injectors was not successful.  I managed to get engine started, but it shut down again, and again, it seemed clear that there was air coming in somehow.  And again, the fuel level in the filter module was low, even though I refilled it completely when I reassembled it.  Listening carefully, I could actually hear the sound of some air leaks around the body of the filter module.  The supply line from the tank via the manifold had some old black electrical tape at the joint between the hose and fitting.  I wondered if it had been suspected as a leak previously, so I replaced the electrical tape with a good wrap of rescue tape.  That wasn’t it.  There was a black plastic nut beside the fuel input port, and I was able to tighten that a little bit.  Also, it seemed that there may have been a leak between the upper and lower parts of the filter assembly, so I tried tightening the four retaining bolts and was able to get a bit of a turn on three of them.  Repeating the priming process again, still no start. 

In desperation I made another call to my man Lance at Diesel Premier (he had been taking my calls and offering advice all day – even though it was Super Bowl Sunday).  His suspicion was the supply from the tank.  We had been drawing and returning to the starboard tank, but have regularly alternated between port and starboard.  It didn’t make much sense to me… but it was an easy thing to try.  I though there must be something else, so I put a wrench on all of the fittings on the Racor filter and on the engine side.  I was able to get a bit of a turn on each of them, including those to and from the fuel pump assembly on the engine.  After one last round of priming and injector bleeding, I was finally able to get the engine started and running.  We ran it up to 1700 RPM for a few minutes and left it to idle for at least 30 minutes.  No problems.  I put an old filter top vacuum gauge on and it was recording good, low, but non-zero vacuum.  After running, I checked the fuel level in the housing, and disturbingly, it was low.  I estimated that I needed to add about 24 oz of diesel to bring it back up to the top.  I did see a little bit of fuel between the bowl and housing when I checked the level, but it is hard to tell whether that is a real leak or the result of small drips when topping off with diesel.  I suspect a leak in the filter housing itself. 

I refilled it and we decided to take the chance the next day on the 12 NM run to Barra de Navidad where we could be at a marina to make repairs. We made it with the wing engine idling the whole time, just in case.  We were nervous the whole time, not confident that my single filter jury-rig was reliable. There weren’t any detectable RPM variations the whole time.

The simplified setup with a single Racor fuel filter. This seems to be working…

So, here we are in Barra trying to figure this thing out.  I have some clear hose and fittings on the way so that I should be able to see any obvious air bubbles or leaks in the system.  There have been many suggestions for potential causes including a bad fitting, a bad piece of hose, tiny holes in the tube that draws fuel out of the tank, etc.  In the meantime, I replaced the Racor filter housing that I suspected of leaking with the other one, that seems not to leak.  We actually ran the boat for a couple of hours on this setup without any problems.  While I will systematically address all the possible sources of leaks, I remain very suspicious of the filter and assembly.  I have spare parts on order to completely rebuild that.

So that’s our puzzler for this week.

Fixing the Boat in Exotic Locations…

I understand that cruising boats are complex.  And I know that with so many systems it is natural that there will be a significant amount of maintenance and repairs.  I do.  Really.

What is irritating me a bit today is the failure of a component that was newly replaced, according to the manufacturers recommended maintenance schedule.  Before  leaving we tried to be proactive with maintenance and part replacement, and much of the work we had done at Philbrooks was around maintenance of the boat’s critical systems. 

We have just experienced one of those failures.  We were re-assigned to a better slip here in Paradise Village and were getting ready to move the boat at high tide, since the slip we were in was in a relatively shallow part of the estuary.   Following our normal routine, I started the engine and then the stabilizer system (to make sure that the stabilizers are locked in the center position while we maneuver the boat).  There was an immediate alarm from the system indicating “dangerously low oil level”.  This was quite surprising, as we have just been sitting here for the last week or so and we had no issues on the way in to the marina.  I went down to check, and sure enough, the stabilizer hydraulic reservoir was empty,  meaning that some 4+ gallons of hydraulic fluid have leaked into the bilge.  So, move aborted, I started looking around for the source of the leak.  on opening the access panel to the starboard fin assembly, the leak was obvious – the bilge area below the stabilizer was very wet.  None of the hydraulic fittings were wet or leaking, which left the actuator cylinder (the part of the system that actually moves the stabilizer) as the likely suspect.  A call to ABT TRAC get me in touch with the authorized service center in Mexico, and, with a stroke of luck, they were able to send over a crew within an hour.  After brief inspection, it was obvious that there was a massive leak in the seal around the piston – manually activating the stabilizer produced a noticeable amount of fluid right at the seal.  

Yes, that is a nearly brand new stabilizer actuator cylinder.

Fortunately, I had spare, rebuilt cylinders on board.  Why?  Because we had just replaced the cylinders (which were working just fine) based on the TRAC maintenance interval, which is six years (the system is 19 years old).  So, a brand new part that has a service life of 6 years failed after about six months of use.  Now, I can’t say anything bad at all about TRAC’s service and warranty.  They will replace the part and will ship it wherever it is needed.  But that is little consolation and doesn’t take into account the expense incurred in replacing the part.  

Bad seal… enough to leak 4 gallons of hydraulic fluid into the bilge….

I think there is a lesson lurking in all of this for me.  I think it was a mistake to replace the existing actuator cylinders just because they had exceeded the recommended service interval.  They were working fine and showed no signs of leakage.  I realize that in retrospect, I should have bought the replacement cylinders and put them into my spare parts inventory in case of a future failure.  I ignored the old maxim of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  I think from now on, we are going to follow this rule.

I’m also getting a little tired of writing about stuff that breaks… and suspect that you are getting tired of reading about it. Next post will be on “stuff that works”.