Lessons in Boat Patience – technical stuff

As Gwen mentioned in the previous post, we had a couple of interesting problems over the Opening Day weekend.  I keep telling myself that it was good to have these issues in a place where we can get parts and service.

Domestic Water Pump

The simple, but annoying issue was the failure (again) of our domestic water pump.  This is a critcal piece of equipment not only for the operation of all the sink faucets, but also for the operation of our marine heads, which use fresh water to flush.  Honestly, I’m surprised that Gwen didn’t wake me up on Friday night to replace the pump after it gave up the ghost. (Thanks!)

The pump is a variable speed pump made by a company called Jabsco.  It is very fancy, and relatively expensive.  The benefit of a variable speed pump is that it allows us to avoid having a bulky accumulator tank in the system.  This model of pump has been notoriously unreliable for us – we just replaced it in February, and also replaced it last summer.  Unfortunately, I didn’t put the spare pump we ordered in February back on the boat, so it was off to Fisheries Supply.  My friend Ted also had the same Jabsco pump, also had multiple failures, and eventually replaced his with a Johnson pump, which he is very happy with.

When I showed up at Fisheries and told them about the issue, the “pump guy” gave a knowing look, and took me right back to the Johnson pump, which is a “drop in” replacement for the Jabsco.  And so it was, except for having a different mounting pattern.  So, a few holes drilled and in it went, super easy… except that the tabs that secure the input and output ports were missing!  Fortunately, I was able to reuse the ones from the Jabsco pump.

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The Johnson pump in place.

I’m not sure that we are done with this saga.  The Johnson pump is not particularly effective at maintaining a high flow rate.  It surges and then slows down, which may be problematic for taking showers, etc.  I wonder if it might be defective, so am contemplating taking it back to Fisheries for a replacement.

Battery Chargers and Generator

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, one of the work items in our trip to the boatyard was changing the batteries from Lifeline AGMs to Firefly Carbon Foam and adding two Victron 100 Amp chargers.  The goal was to allow the Firefly batteries to be recharged as fast as possible, minimizing generator runtime at anchor.  I had the chance to put the system to the test by accidentally discharging the batteries to nearly 90% overnight (left the engine room blowers on).  So, I start the generator in the morning, and flip on the breakers for the chargers.  I immediately see the batteries getting charged at a rate of 300 Amps/hr, which is exactly what I was hoping for.  Awesome… until both the breakers for the Victron chargers tripped… repeatedly.  It turns out that each charger was installed on one “leg” of our 240VAC outputs from the generator to balance the load.  Fine.  But, the breakers were rated for 15 Amps.  The Victron installation manual clearly states that the charger draws 15 Amps of 120VAC current to deliver 100 Amps of DC charging.  I suspect that the breakers were undersized for the application.  Not a big problem, I thought, since the exisitng Magnum Inverter charger was still working, putting out 120 or so Amps of DC charging.  It will just take longer.  After a couple of hours, I tried turning on the Victron chargers again.  This time the charge rate was low enough that the chargers were not pulling maximum current, and the breakers did not trip.  All good, I thought, and went about preparations for the day’s festivities.

Miranda’s friends arrived and she asked that we set up a lounge chair that can be hung from the davit.  No problem, as the generator was already running (the davit is powered by a 240VAC motor so needs the generator to be on to operate).  So, I moved the davit into place, rigged the chair and got ready to lift it… and…. nothing.  Davit is dead.  Checking the AC panel in the pilot house, I see that my voltage reading is at 120, not the 240 that it should be with the generator running.  I had somehow overloaded the AC circuit and had “lost” one of the two 120V legs that combine to give 240 volts.  This was a bit of a mystery, given that I knew of no way to switch a leg on or off.  It was usually 240 or nothing.  I could not find the problem, and what was worse was that the “dead” leg was the one that supplied the Magnum inverter/charger.  Thus, no AC power for things like refrigerator, freezer, etc from the generator, and the batteries were still deeply discharged, so running them from the inverter for another 24 hours would kill the brand new batteries.  This was a bit of a problem.  But then I remembered that one of the Victron chargers must be wired to the leg that was still working.  So, turn that one on, and yes, we are charging… for about 30 seconds, until the breaker trips again.  Now I am really wondering what to do.  I look at the panel and notice that the breaker for the watermaker is just above those for the chargers, and is a 20 amp breaker.  So, I disconnected the power for the watermaker, and moved the power lines for one of the chargers to one half of that breaker.

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Rewiring the Victron breaker.

That worked, and thus we were able to keep charging the batteries with the one Victron charger while running the “house” from the inverter.  I was able to determine that the generator itself is still putting out 240V, which is good news, but was unable to find the fault leading to the panel.  Bottom line is that the boat is going back to the yard next week to have this addressed (along with several other items that did not get completed last month).

 

 

Lessons in Boat Patience

Last Wednesday morning we were very excited to head to Philbrooks in Sidney, BC to pick up Miss Miranda after a month of maintenance work and a few upgrades. We boarded the Washington State ferry that goes from Anacortes to Sidney once a day and settled in for a pleasant 3 hour cruise. About 1 mile away from the dock, the boat came to a stop. After a while , it turned around and headed back to the dock, where we sat for 90 minutes while they tried to fix “mechanical difficulties” and warned us not to use the toilets. But after all that, the sailing was cancelled for the day and we disembarked, wondering how the heck we were going to get to Sidney that day. We had a tight schedule because we were committed to taking the boat down to Seattle for Opening Day of boating season weekend. We had promised Miranda that she could host a bunch of her college pals for the big event on Saturday. And, this was likely our last Opening Day for a long time and we wanted to catch up with our friends before we depart.

We have often watched small private planes fly into the tiny airport just over the hill beyond our harbor. Now we were going to get a chance to experience that first hand. Larry arranged for a tiny 4 person plane to fly us up that afternoon and saved the day.

Heading to the plane. It was VERY small.

It was only a half hour flight, and I think we waited longer on the runway to clear Canadian customs than it did to fly there. Thank god, because I did have to work to keep my stomach in its place up in the air currents!

View of Skyline Marina from the plane.

We did a thorough check out with the crew at Philbrooks, including a lot of time on our new massive anchor and its operation. Then we cruised back into US waters to Friday Harbor in time for sunset and a quick dinner. The next morning we left at sunrise for Anacortes and turned ourselves around in 2 hours to sail down to Seattle. We made it to Seattle, through the Ballard Locks and the Ship Canal and tied up onto the log boom in Lake Washington, again just in time for sunset and a well-deserved cocktail!

Along the way we listened to a dramatic coast guard story unfold over the VHF. An unconscious man was found in the water near Whidbey Island and rescued, but the boat he came from was nowhere to be seen. Later a second person was found who unfortunately did not survive. The boat has still not been found. A sobering reminder, and maybe the reason Larry purchased the rig yesterday that I am supposed to use to get him out of the water if he goes in, despite thinking it was expensive. We need to practice.

I was prepping dinner when the water pressure trickled to nothing. A reset of the pump breaker seemed to fix it. Friday morning, however, the flow of water continue to stop periodically. I managed to take a shower but we decided we needed a spare pump because we left our other spare in Anacortes. A dingy ride and trip to Fisheries Supply was in order.

Larry went to bed early because he was beat after several hectic days. I stayed up cleaning and talking with Miranda, and by the end of the evening the pump was officially dead. No amount of breaker resetting would get it back on. Careful use of the head overnight was in order.

When Larry woke up to the beautiful sunny Saturday, I had to inform him the pump needed to be replaced. He did it with a smile, even when he discovered the box was missing the parts needed to actually attach the pump and he had to jerry rig others to fit, turning a 5 minute job into something much longer. But then all seemed well and we were ready for the party day!

Miranda picked up her buddies from the UW dock minutes before they closed it for the rowing races. It was a clown car of a dingy because she ran out of time for two trips.

We were set up on to spectate in the cockpit and the kids up on the boat deck. Larry got the davit out to set up a swinging hammock chair, when suddenly it stopped in midair, the generator died and all our power went out. Dead in the water. Larry has become very restrained – no salty sailor language was heard.

It’s a very long story and Larry is an amazing electrical detective. He spent much of Opening Day puzzling over the generator and figuring out how to rescue at least a leg of power to provide some charge to our deeply discharged batteries – brand new Lifeline batteries that are supposed to be charge much faster with our newly installed dual inverter chargers. He rewired one of the charges to the water maker circuit (one problem was the charged breakers were clearly too low capacity). He recovered our 120 volt service, but not our 240, which runs the davit. That meant no ability to raise the dingy or put the davit back where it belonged. Also very long time to charge our batteries and stay out of the danger zone while anchored for the 4 day weekend.

Miranda and friends had a great time, fairly oblivious and enjoying the crew races.

The line of boats across from us is freely anchored in the water, on our side we are all tied up to a log boom and anchored. The races and the parade go down the canal between us.

By about 1pm Larry felt there was nothing more to be done and we watched the parade.

The Chief Seattle Fireboat is always a favorite. They usually avoid spraying the crowd.
Many boats come to participate from Canadian yachts clubs and large vessels like this one.

We were happy Miranda had a great time and that it was a beautiful day, but we still had to figure out how to get home through the Locks with the dingy towed behind us in the craziness of hundreds of boats all trying to do the same thing. We planned out all our steps and thought through what could go wrong. We hooked up our tow rope, and lashed down the davit in its upright saluting position. Then early Sunday morning we headed out. We uneventfully hauled our anchor up (our windlass is not on 240 power) and made our way to the Locks. As usual after Opening Day it was an exciting time in the large lock, which can handle up to a small cruise ship and has strong currents when the gates open. A boat always seems to go sideways and there’s yelling and screaming, but damage was averted. Fun to watch when it’s not you.

The view of the Locks filled in front of us. They did cram another boat in there after I took this picture. The view behind us went on twice as far.

We made it home to Anacortes with blessedly calm wind and no significant wave action. Now we are regrouping to get the electrical work fixed over the next week back in Sidney. I am sure Larry will post a technical update for those of you who are into that.

Calling it done!

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Looking into the living room from the deck.

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

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

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

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Dining area and “office” over in the corner.

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

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

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

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The deck and the view.

We really like waking up to this view each morning…

Elephant Seal Molting

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

This morning in front of the boatyard.

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

She started to get curious about McGee I think.

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

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

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

Boatyard Update

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

Main Engine

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

Wing Engine

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

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

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

Generator Maintenance

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

Miscellaneous Mechanical

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

Electrical

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

Reupholster Salon Setee

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

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

New Anchor

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

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

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

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