Much Better!

We left the windy, rolly anchorage at Port Orford this morning heading for Brookings.

As you can see, winds are way down from the 30+ we saw yesterday and the swell is long behind us. We are not making 9.7 knots consistently, but rather surfing down the swells.

Crew is happy, listening to newly discovered Storm Weather Shanty Choir.

Experimenting with post by email feature.

At anchor on Oregon Coast

After leaving Neah Bay two days ago, we made excellent time down the Washington and Oregon coasts. We did two nights at sea, taking shifts of 3 hours alternating with trying with varying degrees of success to sleep.

On the ocean side of the breakwater for Neah Bay.

I was surprised by how quickly I acclimated to the rolling and got my “sea legs”. We both took Gravol (a canadian seasickness medication) the first day, at full dose and I think that helped significantly with our ability to sleep during the first 24 hours. I also used my ginger candies whenever I had to go below to use the head, that was the only way I didn’t feel a lot worse!

Lighthouse on the coast, day 1.

The sloppiness of the initial night improved a lot and we had a very pleasant day yesterday. We both felt good and didn’t need to take any medication. Early this morning we passed Coos Bay, and the conditions were so good that in consultation with our weather router we felt we could scoot the rest of the way to Brookings even though there were some predicted higher winds, not anything we haven’t been in before.

But, mother nature sometimes has other ideas. We rounded Cape Blanco mid-morning and by that time the waves were getting much larger and the winds were consistently above 25 knots, higher than predicted. Conditions can often be more difficult around a Cape, but once we get south of that and came closer to shore things still weren’t getting better and the winds were climbing. We knew the boat could handle things, but we were tired and didn’t know if it would continue to get worse. And, there is a small bar to cross in Brookings.

So, we pulled in to the one anchorage that can be a port in the storm on this part of the coast, called Port Orford.

We are anchored in front of this bluff hoping for some wind protection.

As I write this, I see wind gusts as high as 25 knots every few minutes. I know we made the right call!

Their breakwater needs some work. They do have a wharf but it dries so they haul out all the fishing boats that use it.
Huge rocks like this abound around the shore. We wonder what geologic process formed them.

After trying to sleep for a bit unsuccessfully partly because of how much we were rolling, we got to work putting out one of our flopper stoppers. We had these added in August and had practiced it at the dock but this was our first time at anchor in wind and rolling conditions. It’s a bit tricky!

It starts out in pieces like this. (It is actually stored in the towel as provided by the company!)
Then we have to hook up all the lines, push and pull it out to the middle of port side.
Then it gets lowered into the water, where it will move into a horizontal position and resist the water movement, significantly reducing our rolling.
Nicely suspended in the water from the pole on our port side today. Worth all the struggle!

Tomorrow it looks like things moderate enough that we hope to make the 48 miles to Brookings, where it sounds like we will need to hang out for a few days until our next solid weather window.

Overall we are quite pleased with how we’ve done so far!

Dawn at Sea

We’ve made it through our first night at sea and all is well.

First light along the Oregon Coast just North of the Columbia River.

Conditions were a bit sporty exiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca yesterday afternoon, but as predicted, calmed down overnight to 10 knots or less from the South. We passed several fishing boats overnight and Gwen talked to a couple of them on the radio to negotiate safe passing distance. We made up a berth in the salon with settee cushions and pillows, and both of us managed to get some sleep.

Gwen getting some well deserved rest.

We’ve been running against an adverse current that ranges from .5 to 1.5 knots, but we planned on a knot all the way, so should be in good shape.

We’ve covered about 140 NM since leaving around 3 PM yesterday. Our goal is a 7 AM arrival at Coos Bay tomorrow, but if the weather holds we will continue on to Brookings.

Into the Pacific

We departed Neah Bay about 90 minutes ago. The weather was stormy this morning and we debated waiting until Saturday, but carefully watched the bouy reports from outside Neah Bay and watched the wind speed drop to 5 mph and the wave height return to manageable levels. After a conversation with Bob our weather router we decided this afternoon was an opportune moment to head south.

Larry taking the first shift at the helm.

After tidying up, reviewing our checklists and checking oil and various fluid levels, we brought up the anchor.

Our goal is to come into port in Oregon on Sunday, potentially at Coos Bay depending on how long the good weather holds out.

Looking west into the Pacific horizon.

Engine RPM Variation – Fixed!

Fuel flow reading for our main engine at cruising RPM.

Finally! We have a clear identificaiton of the cause and have fixed the issue. Following my earlier post in this topic, I sent along the writeup and video to the Nordhavn Owners Group, which has some 750 members including owners and top marine experts familiar with Norrdhavn systems. This group is an incredible resource representing a wealth of experience, and sure enough, I got some very good suggestions for potential causes and methods to troubleshoot the issue. I shared these with the Philbrooks staff and they started in on it Monday morning, Sept 30th.

The key was the “bucket test” suggested by Bob Senter of Northern Lights/Lugger (the engine manufacturer). The idea was to get a bucket filled with fuel and run short supply and return lines direct, bypassing the entire fuel delivery system. If everything is fine, you know that the issue is with fuel delivery. If not, you suspect the engine (fuel pump, inejector pump, etc). The philbrooks guys did a variation of this using clear hose so they could see what was going on.

Long story short, there were obvious, large, frequent air bubbles in the clear hose when connected to the boat’s fuel delivery system. No such bubbles (obviously) when straight to the bucket. Now the issue was to identify the source.

By the end of the day Monday we were able to go out on a Sea trial on which we bypassed the primary fuel filter assembly (which contains two replaceable fuel filters and allows you to select which one to draw fuel through). The engine ran perfectly, not skipping a beat. The conclusion was that there was a leak somewhere in that manifold, so a new one was ordered to arrive mid-day Tuesday. Unfortunately, testing at the dock after installing the new manifold still revealed air bubbles, to be chased down on Wednesday.

New Fuel filter assembly (white, on the left).

On Wednesday we identified a problem with the fuel selector valve in the new manifold that allowed air into the lines. Tightening that valve elminated the problem, but there were still air bubbles getting through. The source was determined to be the supply lines from manifold to the engine. These were replaced, and the Algae-X filter removed just for good measure. A final sea trial proved that all of the air bubbles had been eliminated, and the Maretron fuel flow sensors, now reconnected, showed a very steady rate of fuel consumption. Here is a clip showing the display at our normal cruising RPM and another at WOT.

The new fuel supply hose (black, on left).

We are going to depart directly from Philbrooks to Neah Bay today (Thursday, 10/3/19) and will be making the passage down the coast on our own, with the help of our weather router, Bob Jones of Ocean Marine Navigation Inc.

Departure

After 3 days of detective and repair work on our fuel system, all is right with the world. No engine hiccups or air bubbles on our sea trial yesterday.

We had a wonderful meal at the marina Sea Glass restaurant last night, slept well and got ready to toss off the lines this morning.

Van Isle marina in the background as we depart.

The weather in the Strait of Juan de Fuca will be somewhat windy this morning but nothing concerning for us.

We will head to Neah Bay and likely anchor overnight. It is 77 miles to Neah Bay, which will be an excellent final test before heading into the ocean.

Tomorrow morning we’ll pow wow again with our weather guru, but good news is that it looks like we will have a nice two day window over the weekend to get down into the Oregon coast and maybe even cross into California.

The sun is trying to break through as we head past Sidney.

Now we can really break into the snack box!

Engine RPM variation (again)

As Gwen wrote yesterday we were finally ready to head off on our journey down the Pacfic Coast, trying to catch an elusive and narrow late season weather window. We were a bit nervous prior to departure as the forecast were for gales and small craft warnings down the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The worst of it was to be right at the Eastern end, so we made a pre dawn departure to, hopefully, avoid the worst.

When embarking on a trip like this, particularly with the possibility of encountering bad weather, you do not want to hear your trusty Lugger diesel engine begin to slow down spontaneously. We thought we had resolved the RPM variation issue by replacing the fuel flow sensors, as I described last week. Apparently not. It only took a couple of cycles of this to realize we weren’t going anywhere.

We didn’t make it very far…

OK, now you know what happened. If you don’t want to read a bunch of geeky stuff about trying to fix fuel flow issues with diesel engines, this might be a good place to stop.

Because this is an ongoing issue, I pulled out my phone to capture some video of what was happening. I compiled a short compilation of those clips in hopes that it will be helpful in trying to diagnose and finally resolve this problem. I’ll include a link at the end of this post.

What we saw and heard

  • While cruising at our normal 1800 RPM, a spontaneous drop of > 200 RPM, which was very obvious listening and watching the tachometer. The engine would slow down, stay at lower RPM for a moment, and then speed back up to the “right” RPM. Several instances of this are illustrated in the video. We also saw this when running at Wide Open Throttle (WOT).
  • As this was happening, the Maretron display showed large fluctuations in fuel flow as recorded by the inline sensors. It looked like the decrease in RPM was associated with an increase in reported fuel consumption, but it is hard to be certain because the system averages readings over a 5 second window.
  • There did not appear to be any fuel restrictions as would be measured by the fuel supply vacuum gauge, which is mounted on the fuel filter manifold. In fact, the reading we saw on the gauge was 0, surprisingly low, and meaning no fuel restriction.

Troubleshooting and attempted fixes

Diesel engines are pretty simple and very reliable. According to Wikipedia:

The diesel engine (also known as a compression-ignition or CI engine), named after Rudolf Diesel, is an internal combustion engine in which ignition of the fuel is caused by the elevated temperature of the air in the cylinder due to the mechanical compression (adiabatic compression). This contrasts with spark-ignition engines such as a petrol engine (gasoline engine) or gas engine (using a gaseous fuel as opposed to petrol), which use a spark plug to ignite an air-fuel mixture.

Wikipedia

Diesel mechanics say that 90% percent of issues are due to fuel delivery, so we decided to work our way through the fuel system from supply to return in order to identify and eliminate potential causes. Here’s what we did:

  • Inspected and replaced the Racor primary fuel filters. These are the first stage of filtration, making sure that the fuel to the engine is clean. If there is contamination in the fuel, these filters remove it. They eventually need to be replaced. The indicator is the vacuum gauge I mentioned earlier. There was no symptom of high vacuum, but the filter had not been replaced since we started our trip to Alaska, so we replaced it. By the way, the system actually has two filters, so if one gets clogged you can easily switch the the backup.
  • Replaced the Lugger secondary fuel filter. This one is mounted on the engine and is the final stage of filtration. It was replaced this summer while we were in Alaska but had not been replaced since the tanks were inspected and the sensors installed, so we did this one as well.
  • Inspected and cleaned the Algae-X filter, which is some odd contraption that a previous owner had added. It is essentially a housing with a magnet in it, through which the fuel passes on the way to the engine. I suppose it is yet another stage of filtration, but it is entirely unclear that it actually does anything. Nevertheless, we disassembled and inspected it. All clean.
  • Having done all of this, and “bleeding” the fuel system to make sure no air remained in the system after changing filters, we started up the engine. We ran it up to 1800 RPM at the dock, and still saw the RPM (and fuel flow display) variation, even when the engine was running in neutral under no load. So, clearly none of these items were the cause of the problem.
  • Next, on the advice of the knowledgeable mechanic that replaced our fuel flow sensors, we “bled” the high pressure side of the engine, which involves loosening the fuel injectors while the engine is running to ensure that no air is trapped in the system. This had no effect – same symptoms when running at 1800 RPM at the dock.
  • Finally, we bypassed the Maretron fuel flow sensors using a couple of fittings to connect the fuel supply and return lines, respectively.
The diesel supply and return lines going in to (and coming out of) the Maretron fuel flow sensors. We put fittings in place to bypass them.

At this point we were out of ideas, so time for a sea trial. Unfortunately, the variation was still present… smaller and far less frequent, but noticeable both by the sound of the engine slowing down and watching the tachometer needle drop and rise back up. This time it seemed to be less noticeable at cruise RPM, but clearly evident at WOT (as shown at the end of the video). So, I think we can conclude that the Maretron sensors are not themselves the cause of the RPM variation. Now we need to turn to the fuel system on the engine itself, perhaps the fuel injector pump or even the injectors.

Bottom line… back to the yard. We plan to limp over to Philbrooks in the next day or so, which will be our new jumping off point for the trip South.

Here is the YouTube video that illustrates the issues: https://youtu.be/UFkKP2qk-AI

Best laid plans ….

After some late night and early morning detailed weather reviews, we cast off the lines and headed out toward the Strait of Juan De Fuca and Neah Bay.

The condo and slip in the rear view mirror

The weather was beautiful and calm and it looked like we would beat the northerly winds by heading west out the Strait.

Well, the gods, or maybe the furies, are not smiling on us today. Or maybe they are by having us face this engine issue before we are out at sea.

Only a mile outside of the marina the engine showed very significant RPM decreases. This only had to happen a couple of times for us to make the decision to turn around and head back and figure out what the heck is going on.

So we are back in our slip. Larry and Steve spent the day going through all the easy to fix and diagnose items like fuel filter clogs, taking the fuel flow monitors out of the circuit, etc. We thought we might have fixed it and took the boat back out to trial it, but the spontaneous RPM variations continued.

We will be making a trip to the yard for diesel work rather than down the coast over the next few days.

More to come as we figure out what the situation is.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Robert Burns

Communication at Sea

Looking at our cruising budget, a surprisingly big chunk of it is dedicated to communications. I wrote earlier this summer about internet connectivity in Alaska (https://mvmissmiranda.com/2019/07/30/cellular-data-and-connectivity/), and here I review our current inventory of communication tools (with a few comments from Gwen).

Internet/Cellular Data

We have several Cellular data providers, described below:

  • T-Mobile – OnePlus plan that when we started, claimed to provide unlimited data in the US, Canada and Mexico. Of course, since we signed up, they have placed constraints on the data, limiting the high speed data in Canada and Mexico, and we have heard, limited the amount of time that the service can be used in Mexico… likely not the 6-7 months we will be there. Reading the T-Mobile website, I see that they have revised their definition of “unlimited” data to be unlimited 2G data, rather than the unlimited High Speed data that was advertised when we signed up. And our cell phone carriers wonder why we hate them. Between our 3 lines and a couple of new phones, our bill is over $200/month.
  • Verizon – Unlimited pre-paid JetPack plan. This has actually worked well for us at our home in Anacortes. For $65/month we get unlimited data at pretty good speed on our Verizon Mifi device. This is our only internet service. It does not work at all in Canada and Mexico, and we learned this summer that it works only in Ketchikan and Juneau Alaska.
  • Google Project Fi- Probably the best plan for use internationally. Base rate is $20/month and then we get billed for data usage, topping out at an additional $60/month for up to 15 GB of high speed data. No problems in Canada, no problems (we’ve heard) in Mexico.

Satellite Data

Iridium GO!
  • Iridium GO! is essentially a wifi hotspot that connects to the Iridium satellites and transmits data at, wait for it, 2400 bps. I have to go WAY back to my early computer days to remember serial modems that were that slow. On the plus side, it was relatively inexpensive to buy, and allows for email, text messaging, calling via your existing phone, and weather data retrieval. We bought ours from PredictWind (described below) and have an unlimited data plan at cost of about $120/month. We did use it a lot in Alaska for texting with Miranda and some other cruiser friends. There were a few times in fjord areas with high stone walls where it didn’t work and also varied with the level of the tides in Alaska, but neither of those issues will exist in Mexico. Our phone number on the Iridium does start with 82, so if you get a mysterious call beginning with that it could be us, so answer it!
  • Garmin inReach is a similar, less capable device that rides on the same Iridium satellite network. It costs less than the GO! and data usage charges are about half that of the GO!, but we find the capabilities to be extremely limited – position tracking, which we like, and text messaging, which is barely adequate. It does, however, have an SOS capability, which we hope is a good safety feature. (Gwen did find many interesting stories on the Garmin website of real rescues that occurred for mariners using the Garmin SOS feature, although all were in US waters). The only reason we have it is that it is a CUBAR requirement for fleet communications. Data cost is about $65/month.
Garmin InReach.

Weather Tools

PredictWind Offshore with our route to San Francisco
  • PredictWind Offshore is the tool we use in conjunction with the Iridium GO!. It allows us to plot our route and download weather data (GRIBs) that covers the route. We can see forecasted conditions, get routing recommendations, and look at different departure time options. It takes care of connecting with the GO! and retrieving the data. I find PredictWind to be an OK tool, but it is far from a comprehensive weather planning tool. It does a fine job of retrieving and displaying the GRIBs, but has almost no capabilities for retrieving the many NOAA forecast and analysis products that I use to supplement the binary data. In the next section, I will describe my solution for retrieving these products. This is costing us $250 annually.

Email Tools

UUPlus… not the most modern, but very effective
  • There are several ways to use email to retrieve the NOAA forecast products. NOAA has an ftp email server that you send a request to, and it sends back text or graphical data for the specific product requested. There is also a service called Saildocs that does something similar. The issue is sending and receiving email over a satellite connection. The Iridium GO! comes with a very rudimentary email solution that only works on IOS devices. We used it this summer in Alaska, and found it to be completely inadequate for any serious use. In looking for a better solution, I discovered that there is a niche industry that supports long range cruisers by providing email services customized for low bandwith connections, first using SSB radio, and more recently, using satellite data connections. One that I have started using is called UUPlus, which basically sets up an email server on your local computer, connects to the Iridium GO! and sends highly compressed messages that are decompressed and forwarded on their servers on the other side. It has a handy feature of being able to fetch multiple NOAA weather products at predetermined times so you don’t have to sit there and wait for the very slow satellite transfer. I really like it… but it is extremely pricey at around $30/month. We are giving it a 3 month trial on the way down to Mexico. The primary use underway will be for weather data, but it will also be useful for email communications when we are away from cellular and/or wifi service (which I assume will be fairly regularly). We can also use email to make blog posts, which otherwise require pretty high bandwidth connections.

I am afraid to add up the total costs here, but you can see that it is a pretty significant chunk of our cruising budget. Part of that is that we have all of the underway data sources as additions to our existing land-based services (e.g., T-Mobile, Verizon). We also have a fair amount of redundancy (e.g., both Iridium GO! and Garmin InReach, multiple cellular providers).

We will evaluate the services we actually use after we have some time in Mexico and likely eliminate some. For example, I could see eliminating the InReach services as soon as we finish CUBAR. I would also consider eliminating the PredictWind subscription, and using the email-based weather retrieval services in conjunction with one of several free GRIB viewers. I don’t think we will do anything about our multiple cellular plans.

The Waiting…..

Well, we now have had time to really work on storage perfection, sorting and labeling. The galley is stocked with everything I can imagine I want for cooking. I’ve been also cooking every day, so we have some meals stored up and now I am working on baked treats.

It looks like the weather will open up this weekend. We are planning to depart on Saturday morning at 6am to head to Neah Bay, which is about 90 miles from Anacortes all the way out the Straits of Juan de Fuca, just before turning into the Pacific Ocean. Which we will do on Sunday morning, and go as far as we can down the Washington and Oregon Coast, before another low pressure turns the weather ugly again. We should be able to make it to Newport, Oregon without a problem under current weather forecasts.

This is the snack box for the helm person while underway. We do anticipate it being rolly so easy to eat snacks are key. Our friend and experienced captain and cruiser of Mexico Steve is going with us as crew, so we will do rotating shifts between the 3 of us. Larry is very excited about this box. I will also have fruit and veggies but I may be the only one who eats them.

Tomorrow I will start my anti-seasickness regimen. This involves hydrating like crazy, and starting one of my two preferred medications before bedtime – either Gravol, which is from Canada, or Stugeron, which is available in Europe. I had Miranda buy a bunch last summer. Both are more effective than dramamine in my experience. The other very important parts of avoiding being seasick is no alcohol for one or more days before departing (and of course none while underway) no heavy breakfast, and keep the carbs and liquids going. Ginger also helps settle the stomach so I have ginger snaps and ginger hard candies too.

We will post pictures as we pull away from the dock!