Tuesday, March 3, 2015

It's Not Home Anymore

Coming back to the house in Colorado this time has been a very different experience than the previous trips. Yes, it was great to see my wife and the dogs again.  But it just didn't feel like home.

Since I was last here my wife has continued to get rid of all our "stuff" and the house is pretty empty.  In addition to everything that found a new home during the estate sale, now several other larger pieces of furniture were now gone.  A large entertainment center, the piano, a coffee table, and even the entire bedroom set were no longer here.  It almost reminds me of our first apartment...you know, the one you move into before you ever owned any furniture.

The ghost of living-room past.

The family room is empty except for a couple boxes.  The kitchen is the most furnished with a card table and couple of ratty chairs taking the place of our old dinette set (however, the cupboards are pretty empty, so no entertaining or complex cooking can be done).  There is one sectional sofa in the living room...and it is promised to a friend once we are ready to leave.  My computer sits on a TV tray stand that is also promised to someone else.  The lamp, the dog beds, and the computer are all that is really still ours.

In our bedroom there is only the mattress laying on the floor, an old tube television set with HD converter box, and some boxes and laundry baskets that contain some clothing and serve as makeshift nightstands and dressers.  The only other items that can be found in the house are a few odds and ends we need to take to the boat (like clothing and some tools) and stuff that will be donated to various charities or given to friends over the next few days.

Having been my home for the past 18 years, this space now seems quite foreign to me.  It feels like we are camping in the ghost of our previous home.  But it definitely isn't home anymore. I can't wait to get back home...to the boat.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Problem with Normal

I don't recall who said it, but there is a quote that goes something like "The problem with normal is it usually gets worse." Seems that has been the theme the last day or so.

I made it back to Denver.  The flight was about what I expected...crammed like sardine in a little metal tube hurling through the air at 400 knots or more. Of all the airlines I've flown on in the past few years, I have to say that Delta is helping lead the pack on the "make flying as miserable an experienced as possible" front. Glad I expect to be driving back.

After landing, I try to call my wife to let her know I'm in and to figure out where she would pick me up. My phone instantly goes from 50% power to 8% and refuses to make a call or send a text. Rebooting the phone doesn't help and I search for a power plug in the terminal. After about 10 minutes or so I get the phone charged up enough to make the call.  Guess my procrastination on finding a new phone will now be at an end and added to my tasks while I am in Colorado.

The next morning I find out that my wife has been having increasing problems with Internet connectivity at the house. I do all the usual troubleshooting with no luck. It seems that my 10 year old DHL modem might be a goner. I call CenturyLink tech support and the technician And I go through all the steps I just completed on my own (I wish they would just trust me when I tell them I already tried that). After 30 minutes, the technician comes to the same conclusion that I made. My replacement modem should be here Wednesday.  Too bad the modem couldn't have held on for just a couple more weeks.

So, it is starting to feel a bit like Deltaville around here. If it weren't for one of my neighbors failing to secure his WiFi, you would not be reading this now. So, it might be a couple days before another post as I try to repair my technology infrastructure. So, things are pretty "normal" around here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Not Looking Forward to Today

This evening I'm heading back to Colorado.  This is a good thing.  The goal is to do the last few touch-ups to the house and get it on the market, then pack up the car and bring the wife and "kids" back to the boat.  I should be psyched, but I'm not.

Don't get me wrong, I am really happy about the goals for the trip and finally taking that next step to be full time cruisers, but the immediate day's events are not happy-making. I'll be leaving the somewhat warmer temperatures I finally found in Florida and flying to Denver, where the forecast is for temperatures in the 20's and snow.  While the temperatures are far from what I'm used to these days, I think flying is what I'm dreading the most.

Long gone are the glory days of flying, where it was a treat to take an airplane to a destination.  These days, flying seems to entail sub-human treatment.  Getting to the airport hours early for the government mandated colonoscopy, being packed into a metal tube with no amenities (I'm waiting for the day that they charge extra for seats, seatbelts, and make the toilets coin-operated), and taken to your destination by pilots (or at least the first officer) that probably makes about what that guy at McDonalds makes for asking if you want fries with that.  I wonder if I'll have more PIC (pilot in command) time than those up in the front of the plane.

MadTV was pretty close on the subject.

Just checking in online for Delta seemed foreboding of the experience I expect to have.  It first gives me the option to change my seating assignment.  On both segments of the flight I'm stuck in the middle seat so I take a look.  In the first hour-long segment, the only seats available are some sort of premium seat.  For a mere $19 I could get one more inch of legroom.  The second segment was even worse, there was only one other seat available, it was also a middle seat, and for that one inch of legroom they wanted $69.  This business model of "we will make you suffer until you pay us a lot more" really needs to stop.

Oh, and then after checking in they wanted to know how much they could pay me in flight vouchers if they needed to bump me from the flight.  Unfortunately there was no "screw you, I'm never planning to take your abusive airline again" option.  If they were willing to refund the ticket price in cash, I may just go rent a car and drive back to Colorado.

I really wish I still had my plane, it is the only way to fly these days.  Cruising along at the leisurely pace of 5 knots on the boat is far more appealing.

As for the snow...I guess I'm just not looking forward to it.  Snow is all pretty when you have nothing better to do except curl up next to a fire and sip cocoa. But anymore I feel about like the guy in The Diary of A Snow Shoveler toward the stuff.

In any case, stories of boat projects will probably be a bit sparse in the coming weeks, but I'll try to find some interesting stuff to post about.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Two Birds With One Stone

Remember all the stories about the salon window replacement?  Well, there was one part of the story that I didn't really cover since I wasn't sure what I was going to do.  That missing part of the story is the "window treatments"...or what us guys call them...curtains or shades.

When I bought the boat, the windows in the salon that didn't have opening ports embedded in them had these things called Peek-a-Boo shades.  The shades are two pieces of clear plastic with white translucent stripes on them.  The two plastic pieces are setup so you can slide them across one another so the stripes either align and you can see out between them or block the clear stripe of the other plastic sheet creating a translucent white covering.

The Peek-a-Boo shade effect

They seem like a good idea and worked well to add privacy when you are in a marina and don't want to look out of the boat...or have others look in.  But when you do want to look out, it is a bit like looking out through prison bars.  Now you might be thinking that I could just temporarily re-install them until I found something better, but here is the catch.  The shades are held in place by about 20 little Velcro disks that stick directly to the Plexiglass.  I just couldn't bring myself to stick a bunch of Velcro discs on my pretty, clear, new windows.

I have been thinking about creating external covers for the windows using Phifertex mesh or maybe even Sunbrella material, but that is a longer term project.  In the meantime, it would be nice to have something covering the two big salon windows.

Another thing I wanted to do was to create some insulating panels to put in the windows to help keep the heat down in the summer.  In this case, I want something opaque that will prevent light...and heat...transfer as much as is practical.  I used to have this silver foil-like sun shade for one of my cars and it did a great job on those hot summer days.  I've seen other boats use this material to block out their windows, so I figured I could at least get some of them for now.

Unfortunately, my salon window openings are around 5 feet wide...a bit longer than any of those automotive shades.  Fortunately, I was able to find a roll of that silver covered bubble-wrap like material in a roll at one of the local big box hardware stores.  And at $16, the 16 inch by 25 foot roll was cheaper than buying two of the automotive car shades.  If I want, I could even get some strips of cloth and sew a nice band around the edges to make a custom fit shade that would fit snugly into the window opening.

The solar shade material and paper for the template.

So, I made a template using some of my left over masking paper (unfortunately I had already thrown away the templates I used for creating the window blackout or they would have been perfect).  I cut out two shades from the roll of silver bubble-wrap and trimmed them to fit.

The new solar shade for the salon windows

Now I have something that should be great when the sun is beating down on the boat, and at least for now provides basic window coverings while I am at the marina.  Always nice when one simple project solves two different problems on a boat.  Maybe sometime when I can find the supplies I'll even create that finished edge for them.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Just Say NO To Silicone

The previous owner of my boat seemed to have a love affair with that clear household silicone and used it a great many places on the boat.  You know those salon windows that leaked...yep, it was there.  It also covered the seams on just about every other port or hatch on the boat.  Well guess what...they all leaked.

GE Advantage Silicone Sealant-CLEAR Silicone Sealant
This is NOT for boats!

Yesterday I noticed some water was leaking in over in the galley near the salon windows that I had rebed.  I know those don't leak so I started looking for possible culprits.  Around one of the mounts for the handholds that reside above the window I noticed some deteriorating silicone sealant and, yep, that appears to be the leak.  I removed the hand-hold, slowly removed all the silicone from the hull and the hardware, and bed it properly with butyl tape. I need to wait for the next rain but I'll bet that will take care of the leak.

Today I noticed that one of the two hatches I had yet to rebed, the small forward facing one in the forward port stateroom had started to leak.  So I went about the labor intensive process of rebedding that hatch.  Normally these hatches are not that hard to rebed, you remove the screws, take a putty knife to sever any sealant that is still holding on, then clean up the frame and opening and reinstall with new sealant.  The reason why it was so labor intensive was due to the fact I had to remove all the silicone first.

You see, this household silicone is like putting a band-aid on a broken arm.  You might think it does some good, but in fact it does not and it makes more problems down the road.  Very little sticks to silicone and silicone can actually interrupt the normal curing process for other sealants.  Paint and gel coat won't stick to areas that have silicone on them without cleaning every last molecule of silicone off of the surface.  A more proper bedding compound for the hatches, such as 3M 4000 UV, won't work unless the silicone is completely removed.

So, I spent a couple hours picking off little bits of silicone and cleaning the surfaces thoroughly with acetone.  Once I finally got all of the silicone removed, rebedding the hatch was pretty easy.  Apply the new sealant, press the hatch in place, and secure with the screws (the screws are really only there to hold the hatch in place while the sealant cures).  Now, if all the other hatches are any indication of my success, this hatch should no longer leak.

My public service announcement here is...if you own a boat, or ever think you might own a boat, do yourself a favor and properly rebed your hardware.  Doing it right doesn't take much more time than doing it wrong. Doing it right will save you a ton of time in the long run since you won't have to re-do the repair in a few months and won't have to clean up the mess you made with the silicone.  Please leave the household silicone at the hardware store...or your land-based home.  And as I mentioned on my Facebook page yesterday...if you do use this stuff on your boat, please don't ever sell that boat to me.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Windlass Control

An anchor windlass is a very handy device.  Now that I have my new oversized Mantus anchor as my primary, it is even more important to have it help deploy and haul up the anchor. Unfortunately, for as long as I've owned the boat, there have been a couple issues with the windlass,

The first issue is that there is only a single control for the windlass.  It is a hand-held controller that lives in the windlass locker and is wired to the windlass via a coiled cord.  While the controller allows you to watch the anchor locker and anchor being deployed, the cord does not reach to the helm, so any attempt to anchor while single-handing the boat is not an option.

The second issue is that the up function would only intermittently work.  Usually after not using the system for a while, the windlass would run just fine when deploying the anchor but would fail run in the reverse direction....it wouldn't bring the anchor back aboard the boat.  Since it is fairly easy to deploy without the windlass and hauling the anchor up manually can be a real chore, the up function is the more important of the two. The coil cord on the controller is deteriorating and I suspect this may be part of the issue...but regardless it needs to be replaced.

The last issue I have with the windlass is that it will only operate when the starboard engine is running. I understand that the windlass can quickly run down a battery if an engine (and it's alternator) isn't running to provide extra energy. This "feature" was probably added to prevent charter captains from killing the boat's house battery with the windlass, but it also limits when the windlass can be used.  If you are running on only the port engine or if both engines have died, the windlass is inoperative.  And if both engines suddenly quit while near rocks, I want to be able to deploy the anchor quickly and easily.

In trying to figure out what to do about these issues, I researched adding a windlass control switch at the helm.  This would require running a three wire cable from the windlass control box (located in the cabinet under the galley sink) and out to the helm where I would have to mount and wire in a switch.  I also looked for a replacement coil cord for the controller, but was unable to find a proper 3-conductor coiled wire. The only option I found was an entire hand-held coiled controller that was over $150 (U.S.).

Then while searching for these things, I found a simple wireless remote controller on Amazon.  This controller is specifically designed for winches and windlasses.  The unit consists of a small control box and two remote controls.  The best part was that it was under $40 (U.S.).  This device could resolve both the coiled cord issue as well as allowing me to run the windlass from the helm.  So, even though it sounded too good to be true, I ordered one.

Everything in the package...nope, no instructions

The remote came today and so I just had to install it and see if it would work. Installing the control box was pretty straight forward even though the device came with no instructions.  There is a power (red) and ground (black) wire to provide power to the switch and the remote receiving radio.  There are also two other wires (white and yellow) that provide voltage only when the remote button is pressed.  And a small green antenna wire is also part of the mix. Hooking it up to the windlass control box only required a secondary ground so the radio would always have power.

Unfortunately the windlass control wiring on my boat did not match the boat's wiring schematics. I had to rewire the existing windlass control so it would match the schematics and allow me to install the controller box. The other disturbing issue with the wiring was that the control wires were not fused and a short could have easily caused other issues like fire.  I rewired the controller to match the schematics and added an inline fuse to protect the circuit. While I fixed the wiring, I also setup an option to bypass the oil pressure switch that was used to prevent the windlass from operating unless the engine was running. Now by swapping one wire on the terminal block pictured below, I can switch between the original functionality and the "always let it work" option.

New wireless controller at the upper right

After getting everything wired up, I gave it a try.  Other than having the two switched inputs reversed (so up was making the windlass go down and visa-versa), it worked well.  I switched the two inputs and now I have a windlass that can be operated from just about anywhere on the boat.  The only problems I've found thus far are that there is a small lag between pushing the button and when the windlass starts and one of the controllers had a near dead battery. Compared to the couple hundred dollars I could have spent, I think this modification is a win.

Friday, February 20, 2015

More LED Goodness

Back when I did the florescent to LED conversion of the guest berth light, one of the features I added to that light was the ability to switch it to a secondary color (blue).  The concept behind having a second monochromatic color was to try and help preserve night adaptation of the eyes during night operations.  Normally red is used in these cases, but my experience in aviation has proved to me that red and I don't get along that well and that any monochromatic light can work fairly well in this regard.

The big problem I had with the concept of creating lighting for night operations on the boat was the fact that the existing lights in the salon area didn't lend themselves well to this idea.  The overhead fixtures are small round lights and getting multiple colors into them wasn't really practical without spending a lot of money on specialized fixtures.  But on our recent overnight trip, I realized I had another option that might work.  The boat has courtesy lights under the stairs and one under the salon door that may be able to light up the cabin enough for safety without the need for the overhead lights.  Honestly, I had almost forgotten about these lights because most of them never worked and I didn't find them particularly useful with the original incandescent bulbs.  But converting them to blue LEDs might just make them useful,,,and a nice accent light for other times.

I originally thought about getting replacement LED bulbs for the fixtures, but then I remembered I had all of that left-over LED strip lighting I could use. It wouldn't cost me a thing, other than some time and a few small bits of wire, to convert the lights using the strips.   So out came the screwdriver, the soldering iron, and the spool of LEDs.

It was a fairly simple process to convert the lights.  I removed the bulb, and then bent and cleaned the contacts so I could easily solder to them.  I then figured out the size of strip that would fit around the inside diameter of the fixture (a 6 led segment fit about 80% of the way around the fixture), cut it to length and soldered an inch long piece of wire to the positive and negative contacts on the strip. After removing the protective paper from the adhesive, I applied the strip and soldered the wires to the contacts in the fixture.  Using a permanent marker, I marked the terminal on the back of the fixture that was attached to the positive side of the strip so I would know how to reconnect the fixture (incandescent bulbs don't care which way the power flows, but LEDs do).  And then all I had to do was reinstall each fixture.

Now I have nice, working, blue accent lighting in the boat.  And the lights produce enough light to keep you from tripping around the boat in the dark and should help with night adaptation of the eye.

These light strips continue to be a nice, low cost way of converting lights to LED.