Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It Has Been an Interesting Year

A couple days ago it was a year since I first left Colorado to start living aboard and fixing up the boat. It started with a three day marathon drive from Denver Colorado to Hammock Beach Florida. Since that time I have done a lot to get the boat's systems working and get it up to shape for both living aboard and traveling.

Spending time in Hammock Beach getting basic systems like the port electrical, refrigeration, water, and propane systems working while still working at my day job as a software engineer. Fixing lights and updating to LED as I go, patching up some issues in the gel coat and rebedding hardware. Fixing and servicing engines, learning how to maneuver the boat in tight spaces, and generally learning a lot about my new home. It was, and still is, a steep learning curve.

Then moving the boat up to Georgia to continue work while avoiding the tourist un-friendly tax policies of Florida.  Arriving at Brunswick Landing Marina strapped to a SeaTow boat after an engine overheat mishap.  Resealing boat hatches well into the dark one evening. Disassembling, servicing, and reassembling the neglected line winches. Dissassembling the outboard motor to replace the impeller destroyed by my surveyor. More engine issues and various other odds-and-ends kept me quite busy.

Then taking the boat to Virginia to get some work done while going back to Colorado to "retire", help out with the estate sale, and wrapping up my land-based life.  Getting the sails reconditioned and a new stack pack and UV strip installed. Replacing the black water lines that had started to smell. Eventually going back to Virginia to get at least some of the work done that the yard failed to complete.  Removing a through hull, painting the bottom, and hunting down replacement parts for my running rigging and anchor roller, and installing a better anchor.  Attempting to patch a slow leak in my dinghy and slowly making progress.

Finally moving the boat back to Georgia to escape the cold weather in the Chesapeake. More battles with lights on the mast, water pumps, and the outboard motor. Trying to figure out the best way to care for, protect, and fix 15 years worth of charter-abused and neglected gel coat.  Fixing the fiberglass arch.  And finally getting all the lights on the mast to work for the first time.

Throughout all of this, I've spent a lot of time on Google.  Researching the best ways to bed hardware and hatches and the salon windows on the boat.  Looking into water makers, sanitizing fresh water tanks and keeping the water fresh, adding a hard-top bimini, adding solar and wind power to the boat, reducing power consumption, learning new skills like creating eye splices in lines, and many other subjects.  And, of course, I've even managed to squeeze in a little time writing blog posts.

Even though the focus has been on working on the boat, it hasn't all been work.  I've met a lot of nice people and made new friends along the way (despite my rather embarrassing inability to remember names).  Spent last new years with Pete watching the fireworks in St. Augustine.  Had a great time at both the cancelled renaming ceremony turned impromptu gathering and the official renaming ceremony for Rover.  Got to see a space launch from a distance. Experienced one of the best sunsets I had ever seen.  Laid out on the trampoline and looked up at a star filled night on passage. Played tourist a few times, checking out what various locations up the coast had to offer. Spent time at anchor and others at parties at the marinas I've visited.  And I've met a number of people through my blog and I appreciate all those that reach out, provide encouragement, give me helpful tips on tasks I'm trying to complete, or even just say hi.

It hasn't always been easy, but I wouldn't have traded the past year for my old life living behind a computer 50 weeks a year.  My only wish is that my wife and dogs could have spent more time with me during all of this.  Knowing that this should change, I am looking forward to the upcoming year.

Here's to a fantastic 2015.  Happy New Year!

Now I'd better go figure out what appetizer to take to the marina New Year's party..

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Who Needs a Gym Membership

Pretty much since I arrived in Brunswick, it has been cold and rainy...or at least that is how it has felt. Finally after Christmas, the weather improved so I've been busily working on the boat.  And just too tired at the end of the day to write, so sorry about that.

You know about the deck light.  It ended up taking three trips up the mast to fix, and then improve, the light.  Each time I used the block and tackle system to hoist myself up there and that can be a bit of work even with a 4:1 purchase.  After that I tried going up to the top of the mast to check on the anchor light, but found that the block and tackle system prevented me from reaching the top.

Since that time, I found someone interesting in helping with the anchor light.  Since Jim was the lighter weight of the two of us, had a bit longer reach, and he wanted to go, I had him go up the mast to check out the light. This time I rigged the bosuns chair without the block and tackle (so instead of a 4:1 advantage, it was reduced to 2:1) so hopefully he would reach the top. Bill volunteered to help man the safety line (we used the topping lift line for a safety line), so we both cranked Jim up to the top of the mast using the winches normally used for raising the main.

Jim took a picture of us cranking him up the mast.

When he got to the top he could reach the anchor light.  But he couldn't see it all that well.  After a bit of time trying to open the fixture, he decided he needed a bit more height.  The only other option we had was to switch from the Bosun's chair to the climbing harness I had originally purchased for going up the mast.  The climbing harness attaches a bit lower than the chair, so the theory was that would gain him a few more inches.  We lower him down, swap out the gear, and then crank him back up the mast...again.  The third time up the mast was the charm with the anchor light and he was able to get the fixture open.

I took a wild guess that maybe the bulb in the anchor light was the same as the other nav lights, so I sent Jim up with one of the LED lights I had installed in the rear nav light.  Fortunately it did fit.  In a rare bit of luck for me with the lights on this boat, that was the only problem and the light came on when I flipped the switch.  Jim cleaned the contacts, applied a little dielectric grease to the LED bulb, installed it, and put the fixture back together.  And finally, for the first time since I bought the boat, the anchor light works.  This is the first time that all the lights on the mast have worked at the same time.  But to keep me humble and in true boat fashion, I just discovered that the power to the lights in the port hull is acting up again.

As I also previously mentioned, I washed the boat the other day.  While it looked a lot better, there still seemed to be a brownish hue to the gel coat.  There were also some stains that didn't come off.  So, I decided to try a few different cleaners and waxes to see what works.

I got a recommendation from a local marina employee for a product called Presto.  This stuff is supposed to be a mold and mildew product, but the marina scuttlebutt is that the pro detailers often use it to clean hulls. So, I went and bought a gallon (the smallest size it comes in, and at $10 a pretty decent price).  I think you can use it full strength, but I diluted it 50%.  Apply the stuff, let it sit for 5~10 minutes, and wash off.  I tried it on the rear swim platform and it worked pretty well.  The brown hue was gone and most of the stains were at least lighter, even a rust stain.  I then tried the stuff full strength on the stains that didn't come up.  It lightened them further and removed some of them.  So, for the price it is a good second level cleaner (above basic soap and water), but not good for the stubborn stuff.

The next thing I tried is some stuff called On and Off that the previous owner left with the boat.  I applied it to the stubborn stains.  Again, this stuff you are supposed to let sit just a bit to let it work and then wash it off.  It did a good job getting rid of all the remaining stains on the boat, except for a couple spots where the gel coat is damaged (it appears like it is crazed, not sure how it happened or what can be done about it beyond new gel coat).  This stuff was pretty effortless and did a great job removing the stains.

The reason for re-cleaning the back of the boat was to test out some polishing compounds and waxes. I have some Meguiars polishing compound, 3M marine polising compound, Mothers synthetic wax, and 3M cleaner wax.  So far the 3M products seem to be worth the extra price, but I need to do a bit more testing to be sure.

And about the title of this post.  You really don't need a gym membership with a boat.  Just climb the mast 3 times a week, wash and wax the hull, and perform all the other maintenance and repairs and you'll get quite a workout.  If the weather is nice, you may get a tan too.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Deck Light Improvement

Just in case you aren't yet sick of hearing stories about my deck light, I have one more for you.  This time it is an improvement to the existing system.

After finally getting the deck light working, I just couldn't leave well enough alone.  The deck light is a pretty standard 12 volt, 30 watt, PAR 36 incandescent bulb.  What that means is that it takes approximately 2.5 amps of current to run the light when it is on.  While that is fine if you have an infinite supply of energy, on a sailboat under sail that is a lot of power being drained from the house battery bank.  And being an incandescent bulb, most of that energy goes to producing heat and not light.

Since I have been replacing the most used incandescent lights on the boat with LED bulbs, I decided to look around and see if I could find a reasonable cost replacement for this relatively power hungry bulb.  Consulting the oracle, I found a number of LED 12 volt PAR36 bulbs.  Unfortunately a lot of the bulbs I found were for indoor use only.  Since my deck light is held up by a simple, and not weather tight, plastic frame, I definitely need an outdoor bulb.  I found a few relatively expensive bulbs (in the $60 U.S. price range) and then came across a more reasonable option on Amazon.

The bulb I found consisted of the standard PAR 36 glass bulb housing.  Inside, instead of an incandescent filament, is a circuit board with a bunch of LED's mounted on it (and I assume some other circuitry that you can't see).  The result is an LED bulb with the same physical characteristics and weather protection as the bulb I am trying to replace.  And at $26, it is only twice the price of a replacement incandescent bulb.  So, I ordered one.

LED Par36 Bulb

I ordered it through Amazon and the order was fulfilled via EverSale.  To my amazement, having ordered it just before Christmas, it arrived the day after Christmas...probably the fastest "standard" shipping I have ever had.

So, today I went up the mast to the deck light again.  I swapped out the incandescent bulb for this new LED one, making sure I applied some dielectric grease to the connectors when I installed the new one (I hold out hope that this one will last a while and I won't have to go back up there again anytime soon).  I test the light and it lights up and seems brighter than the original bulb, but during the daytime it is hard to tell.

Another issue I had with the original bulb is that, while it is technically a flood light, it acted more like a spot light. The light produced by the bulb created a well lit 4 foot diameter circle on the forward bridge deck and then quickly faded the further out you went from that circle.  Given that my catamaran is just over 21 foot wide, a better light spread would be nice.

Finally, after it got dark, I went out to see how well this new LED replacement works...

To say that I'm happy with the result is an understatement. The light is certainly brighter than the original bulb.  At 9 watts (.75 amps), it consumes less than a third of the power of the original.  And a nice side effect is that the light produced by the bulb is much more even across the entire deck of the boat (as you can see in the picture above). I'm sure that this will make working on the deck at night a much safer experience.

So far I have to give this bulb a thumbs up.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Finally a Nice Day

Since arriving in Brunswick Georgia, the weather hasn't been all that cooperative. Lots of colder days and rain and wind...great for finding leaks on your boat, but not so good for getting any work done outside. Today it finally dried out and warmed up, so no more excuses, time to get some work done that has been on my list for a while.

First task was to wash the boat. There is still dirt, pine needles, and a few other things left over from Deltaville that really needed to go. So, around 10am it was warm enough to start playing with water outside. In addition to my biodegradable wash soap, I added a little bleach in hopes it would help cut through the "Deltaville stains" and started washing.

This is one time I definitely don't like owning a catamaran. All that interior space equates to a lot of exterior surface to wash...and wash...and wash. I scrubbed every nook and cranny on the deck of the boat and didn't finish until around 2:30pm.  4.5 hours to wash the deck...and while it looks better, it still needs more work to get rid of some of the stains that seem to have soaked deep into the gel coat. Once I get that resolved, then I need to wax. Guess it takes 2 to 3 days to thoroughly clean and wax our new home.

Since there was a little more daylight left, and I wasn't completely exhausted yet (ok, I was pretty tired after all that scrubbing), and since I had a couple people available to help, I decided to go up the mast and see what I could figure out about the nonfunctional anchor light. I gather up the supplies (screwdriver, pliers, multi-tester, wire brush, Scotchbrite pad, best guess at the bulbs that might be used, etc.) and get the chair and rig setup to go up the mast. And, naturally, while I was doing this, some bird decided my boat looked too clean and left his mark on my clean hull. I remember when I used to like birds.

I again used the block and tackle system that I borrowed from my boat neighbor Bill (more on this setup in this post). Unfortunately, this proved to be a mistake. The added blocks in the setup cost an additional foot or so of lifting ability. The result is that I was about a foot short of being able to reach the anchor light that sits at the very top of the mast. It wasn't a complete loss though, I did manage to get a picture of my first trip up to (almost) the top of the mast.

It was too late in the day to remove the block and tackle system and try again, so I guess I'll be heading back up there tomorrow...if the weather cooperates.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

May you have a Merry Christmas and find joy this holiday season.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

If It Fails On A Boat, It Is Probably Corrosion

Well, as I mentioned in my last post, I'm running out of things to try in fixing my deck light. Short of replacing the entire wire, the connectors up at the fixture are the only other possible failure points. So, for my first try today, I decided to replace the connectors.

Of course, I already know that the wires up at the fixture are pretty short (I had previously repaired the positive lead), so I'll need to add a length of wire along with a new connector...or I'll never be able to get a bulb connected. I don't have any "boat approved" 14 gauge wire on the boat, fortunately there is a place nearby that is supposed to have a bunch at much better than West Marine prices named Genuine Dealz.

I plug the address into my phone's GPS and head over. My phone directs me to this nondescript warehouse that almost looks like it is abandoned, except for the two cars parked near an open door. No signs or any other indications I'm in the right place, but I park and poke my head in the open door. Inside there are a lot of spools of wire and other electrical parts. Definitely a low-budget, mostly internet based operation. There were a couple nice employees that confirmed I was in the right place. I told them I was looking for some 14 gauge wire and a few connectors. They hooked up their giant spools of wire and made me a 100 foot spool while I waited. Given their prices, I ended up buying a couple spools of the marine grade tinned wire and some additional heat shrink connectors to extend my parts stock.

I return to the boat with my supplies and construct some 5 inch extension wires with spade terminals on one end and butt splice connectors on the other end. Best to assemble what I can on the ground instead of trying to do it all while swinging from the mast.

After doing what I can on the ground, I once again get out the Bosun's chair and go up the mast. Instead of using my harness, I borrowed the Bosun's chair I had used before from a friend here at the dock (I have to admit, after trying a few different chairs and harnesses, Jesse has the most comfortable one I've found). Another friend, Bill, here at my dock has an interesting rig to allow you to pull yourself up the mast. He has rigged up a couple fiddle blocks, one with a jam cleat and becket and a lot of 1/2 inch line to create a 4:1 purchase system. With this, and a rope climbing ascender, someone can pull themselves up the mast while only having to lift 1/4 of their weight. This setup made it easy and comfortable to go up to the deck light as many times as I have over the past few days.

Bill's mast rig with an eye splice I did for him.

I make my way up the mast to the light, pop the light out of the holder, and carefully unscrew the lugs on the back of the bulb enough to remove the bulb. Then the surgery begins. I cut off the existing spade connectors and strip the wires so I can attach the butt connector that is already attached to the new spade assembly. I make sure that the stripped wire is clean and in good condition. I then crimp on the new wire assemblies. This all sounds quite simple...but imagine doing it mostly one-handed while sitting on a swing hovering 20 feet over the deck of the boat. After the crimp is solid, I use a BBQ lighter (they work a bit better in the wind than the average lighter) to carefully shrink the heat-shrink end of the butt connector for a weather-tight seal. Now I have longer, weather-resistant connections for the deck light. I reattach the bulb and snap it back in the holder. The moment of truth arrives...will this Hail Mary attempt work or will I need to pull a new wire.

I make my way back down the mast, wriggle out of the Bosun's chair and head over to the electrical panel. I flip the switch....and...the light comes on!  Yes! It appears that a connector was the issue after all.

Being an engineer, I now wanted to know why this was the failure. When I was up on the mast, I did some tests, including pulling on the connectors to make sure they were well crimped, so I wanted to know exactly what the failure was. The first thing I noticed is that the crimp on connector on the ground wire is not the right size.  The wire is 14 gauge and the crimp on connector is red for 18 to 22 gauge wire...but it seemed solidly connected.  The red connector is also not sealed so weather (or on a boat, salt water, could theoretically make it's way into the connection and wire. I stripped a little bit of insulation off of the wire and found that the ground doesn't appear to be tinned wire and there was some corrosion over an inch down the wire from the connector.

Top: Bad Ground spade, Bottom: Good power spade

Checking the resistance from the spade to the cut and stripped end of the wire on the ground connector I removed, I found resistance in the 18 mega-ohm range. That's a lot of resistance. In comparison, the positive connector I removed, that I had previously replaced and only replaced again because I wanted a longer length of wire, showed 0 ohms of resistance. Clearly the ground connector is the issue.  Pulling on the wire using pliers, I was able to pull the wire out of the connector.  I found the charred and corroded remains of the wire. I guess the insulation was what was holding the connection together as well as it was.

So, it seems that corrosion slowly turned the connector into a resistor and then the heat and corrosion eventually weakened the wire to the point it would not provide enough power to light the light (I think it was more carbon and corrosion than wire).

If you have stayed with me this far in this story, here are your tips (or my lessons learned) should you run into a similar issue with electrical on your boat. First, always use heat shrink connectors anywhere corrosion may be an issue (is there any place on a boat where corrosion isn't an issue?). The combination of the shrinking and the oozing of the "glue" that seeps out as the result of the shrinking should go far to protect connections from corrosion (you can see the difference in the two types of connectors in the picture above). Next, if it looks corroded on the end, it is probably corroded where you cannot see it and it is worth replacing even if it seems to be connected. And finally, always assume it will take 10x longer to perform a task on a boat than you think it should. I'm sure there's a joke in here about how long it takes for a boater to change a light bulb...and it being 3 days by the time you fix the things found along the way.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Can't See The Light

The deck light is driving me crazy.  Went up the mast again to do some additional tests.  When the bulb is attached, I wasn't seeing any voltage measured across the bulb or when I tested the positive terminal and grounded the negative to the mast.

Once I removed the bulb from the circuit, I found house battery voltage (13.something with the charger running) when measuring between the positive wire and a ground point on the mast.  When testing continuity between the ground wire and the mast, I found an open circuit.  I verified that the bulb terminals showed continuity, so it should be OK.  It seemed like the ground wire was the culprit and the issue wasn't up on the mast after all.

I was finally able to track down where the ground wire terminated.  I had first thought it was grounded through the mast, but after a bunch of detective work, found 3 possible wires that could be the ground in the cabinet under the mast where the other connections are.  And the connection looked rather corroded.

Hoping the corrosion was the issue, I cleaned up all the connectors and terminals on the terminal block.  I put everything back together using dielectric grease to help combat corrosion.  I tried the light again...and nothing.

Not wanting to climb the mast again...and not knowing what I would do if I got up there...I tried thinking up possible scenarios that I could test from the connections in the cabinet.  I was able to determine one of the green ground wires was the one for working steaming light and assume the other two, which were crimped together in a connector, were for the anchor and deck lights.

Since both the anchor and deck lights are out, I decided to remove the crimped on connector so I could perform some additional tests.  There is, after all, a chance that with both lights out and the common point being that connector that it could be the issue.  After removing the connector I could individually test each circuit.  I checked for continuity between the positive wire for the deck light and the two unidentified green wires.  Both showed open circuits which seems to confirm the bad wire theory.  I also tried with the anchor light and it showed an open circuit regardless of which ground wire I tried (this was not unexpected since I hadn't gone all the way up to check on that light at the top of the mast yet...but I was looking for a miracle bit of evidence at this point).

So, it seems that power is getting up to the bulb, but isn't making it back down to ground.  The connections up on the mast look reasonable, so it seems that it may be a break in the ground wire somewhere in the mast.  I wouldn't guess that this wire would fail it is routed inside a sheath and well secured at all points I could inspect.

I may try replacing the connector up on the mast as a last Hail Mary before I bite the bullet and try pulling new wires through for the light.  Why is nothing on this boat ever easy to fix? Maybe if I sleep on it I'll come up with some obvious problem I have missed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Fiddling Around

Work continues, slowly, on the boat.  A few days ago I decided to fix the other side of the arch since it seemed pretty obvious that a prior delamination repair attempt was poorly done.  So more epoxy has been applied and cured, some faring compound has been added and sanded, and if the weather holds tomorrow I'll probably apply the gel coat.  Given the mess I made spraying it last time, I think I'm going to try brush application this time.

While things were curing/drying, I decided to go up the mast to attempt to figure out what has happened to my deck light.  Last time I was in Brunswick I fixed a broken wire and on the trip up to Virginia it went out again.  When I was in Southport, I tried replacing the bulb and that is when I found that it wasn't the bulb but somewhere in between.  So, today I went up to see if I could figure out anything more.  The only thing I really figured out was that 12 volts was available at the connector below the mast but disappears before it reaches the bulb.  They must be magic electrons.

While setting up to go up the mast, I noticed some chafing on my spinnaker halyard line.  It appears to be rubbing excessively against the spreaders, so I found a new place to secure it when not in use that should alleviate the chafing.  But this got me thinking about replacing that line.

Unlike the other lines that I have replaced on the boat thus far, this line has an eye splice at the end for a shackle so you can easily attach the spinnaker.  Now I know one can order lines with splices, but I think knowing how to splice lines is a good skill for a sailor to know so I decided I should learn how to do it.

I consulted the oracle, and found some links to instructions and videos.  There are varying techniques, but they all follow the same basic process.

Of course, in order to splice line, you need the special needle-like tools called fids.  They are kind of like knitting needles except instead of the standard end they have a tapered cut and are hollow so they can be used a bit like a sewing needle.  Of course, I didn't have these handy little tools.  I tried using a partially deconstructed ball point pen, but that didn't work.  I was talking with Mark, one of my new friends at the dock, and he said he had a set and since they are "swallowing the anchor" he gave them to me.  Thanks Mark, I hope to put them to good use.

On a side note...if you are looking for a 50' mono-hull, their completely refitted '87 Gulfstar is an impressive boat.  Mark is a woodworker and engineer and the boat is gorgeous and systems seem to be immaculate...right down to the wiring behind the electrical panel that would put every boat maker to shame.  And for the James Bond in all of us, the dishwasher that pops out of the galley counter at the push of a button and the companionway steps that automatically raise to provide access to the immaculate engine room are just jaw dropping.

Anyway, this evening I decided to try a practice eye splice in some 1/4 inch double braid I had on the boat.  Figured I would see if I could manage it before I ordered new line for the spinnaker.  Armed with the couple Youtube videos I had watched and the instructions from Samson, I added an eye splice to the end of my line.  I think it turned out really well for a first attempt.  Seems to be a very solid splice even without the locking stitching that everyone seems to recommend.  What do you think...

I'm betting if I can do it with the 1/4 inch line, the larger line should be even easier to complete.

Friday, December 12, 2014

And Sometimes You Win

In my last post I told you a story of a couple days that just didn't go my way.  And that is how it goes sometimes.  Of course, a few times you win the battles too.

After learning the little secret on burping my air conditioner sea strainers, I thought I had the problem solved.  But, during the latter part of the trip south, I found that one reason for the need to burp may be result of the design of the boat.  I found that if the boat goes over about 7 knots or so, the Bernoulli effect actually sucks water out of the system.  I confirmed this at one point when I removed the lid of one of the strainers and the water was sucked out through the open through hull.  Since the strainer is below the water line, normally opening the strainer would cause water to enter the boat.

Unfortunately, part of how I discovered this was that I had attempted to fire up one of the AC units to provide some heat during the trip down to Brunswick.  After noting that the system wasn't providing heat I shut it down.  But, it had been running for at least 15 minutes or so and when the raw water pumps run without water...well, it is a bad thing.

So, of course, when I got to the marina and tried it out I found that the pump wasn't working even after I burped the system.  The raw water pump would buzz but not turn. Not a good sign at all...and I was thinking that I would probably need to drop another couple hundred dollars for a replacement pump. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided I would first try to remove the pump head and see if there was anything I could do to revive it.

I pulled the head off and then turned the system on for just a few moments to see if the motor would spin by itself.  Of course, it did not.  I then tried turning the motor spindle by hand and was finally able to get it moving pretty freely.  Restarted the system and now the motor would spin...this was a good sign.  While I had the head off I cleaned it up (it seemed to have a little dust from the ceramic magnets caused by it running dry) using a soft scotch brite pad, some towels and water.  I was able to clean it up enough that everything seemed to move freely.  I re-assembled the unit and gave it one more try.

At first it just buzzed, but I tapped it with the handle of my screwdriver and it started working.  I let it run for a few minutes and then shut it off.  When I tried restarting it, it again needed a little tap to get going, but once going, would run OK.  When I contemplated taking the pump apart, I had found a website on beer making that talked about servicing these pumps (yep, I guess these March pumps are also used in beer production) and mentioned that if you had one that was sticking, you could loosen the screws just a little while it was running and then re-tighten them and that would help realign the pump head.  I gave it a try.  After loosening and re-tightening the screws on the pump head, I shut the system down again.  When I restarted it, the pump spun right up.  I've been testing it the past few days (OK, with the colder temperatures I've been needing some heat so have been using it) and it seems to be working just fine now.  Success!

So, in a welcome change, a little time and patience saved me a few hundred dollars for a replacement pump.

Another issue that cropped up on my trip from Virginia was that my steaming light went out.  It worked fine when I was at the boatyard, but the first time I tried using it on the trip, it didn't come on. Since it has been cold here, I have been reluctant to go up the mast and check on it.  Yesterday I decided that I had nothing to lose and decided to clean the connections of the terminal strip that contained the electrical connections for the mast (I had previously verified that electricity was making it to that point on all 3 of the lights).  At worst, I would be cleaning up something that could use a little TLC, and at best maybe I would get my steaming, anchor, and/or deck light back.

In my boat, this connection is found in a cabinet under the galley sink.  While this isn't the most comfortable place to work on the boat, it does beat climbing the mast and hanging on to a big piece of aluminum when it is only 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside.  So, I disassembled the connections on the strip, one by one.  I used a wire brush and scotch brite pad to clean up the terminal strip, spades, and screws.  I then reassembled each connection, using a little dielectric grease to help combat future corrosion.

After getting everything reassembled, I turned on the 3 lights and went outside to check and see if any were alive.  The anchor light was still out.  So was the deck light.  But the steaming light was once again functional.  So, for taking a complete stab in the dark that was convenient to try on a cold day, I got one of my lights back.  I'll chock this up as a win as well.

I also got the motor back for the dinghy that day.  The cost to fix it was probably right around the same as the cost to replace that pump, so I guess in the grand scheme of things, I'm about even.  I put the motor on the dinghy and went for a spin around the marina.  I even managed to get the dinghy up on plane for a few moments and that 15 hp engine can make the dinghy move.

After the failed fixes the other day, it felt good to have a few things go right.  Definitely improved my spirits.  Now, if it would warm up a little, maybe I can get some other things done.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Highs and Lows

I don't know where I heard it, perhaps on a number of blogs I read, but the general idea is that cruising is filled with highs and lows that are a bit more extreme than those in a more "normal" lifestyle.  I think my lack of posts recently was due to one of those lows.

After arriving in Brunswick, I had a list of items in need of attention. This seems to be a common theme aboard boats...what do they say...something like "if you don't have something to fix on your boat, you aren't looking hard enough".  There were lines to replace, electrical issues to troubleshoot, and other minor repairs on top of the items that were never completed by the boatyard.

One of the items on my list was a fiberglass repair.  While en-route I noticed a crack where it appeared the interior and exterior fiberglass skin of the hollow arch on the back of the boat was separating and no longer a single part.  After posing the question to the Leopard owners group I found this is fairly common and the repair isn't particularly difficult.  The repair consists of cutting the crack to make a wider gap and then filling the gap with a thickened epoxy (making a better bond than the original fiberglass resin). I found a pre-thickened epoxy at West Marine as well as syringes and this part of the repair went fairly well.  I injected the epoxy into the crack with a syringe and then sealed it up with cellophane tape as I went to keep the epoxy in place as it cured.

Crack cut open for repair.

Of course, after the epoxy had cured, I needed to refinish the edge of the arch.  I had some color matched gel coat from a couple repairs back when I was in Palm Coast. The color matched stuff wasn't quite the right color since the sun had bleached the gel coat and the panel we could remove for the color match was in a more shaded location.  So, to get a better match, I added some white gel coat and came up with a pretty good color match.  While doing the color matching, I discovered the plastic cup I was using to mix the gel coat are a poor choice and the gel coat started to dissolve the cup and dribble onto the deck of the boat.  I quickly poured my remaining mix into a paper cup to preserve my work and then cleaned up the gel coat that had spilled out of the cup.  Fortunately, this was before I had added the hardener, so cleaning up the dribbled gel coat wasn't too big of a deal.

In order to spray on the gel coat, I should put up some plastic so I wouldn't accidentally spray neighboring boats.  Being a good neighbor, I constructed a plastic tent around the area where I would be working.  I added the hardener to the mix and a little acetone to thin it all for spraying.  About the time I was finishing up the application, in my usual luck, the wind started picking up and shifting direction.  The wind managed to rip one corner of my tent loose and it, naturally, made a beeline for my wet gel coat.  The flapping corner managed to slap the wet gel coat and then apply it to other areas I hadn't intended.  Cue the next scene from Laurel and Hardy.

After re-securing the tent corner I quickly grabbed a rag with some acetone to remove the unintended gel coat application.  While cleaning up, the tent came loose again and while fighting with it, I dropped my rag full of acetone...right onto the name we applied to the boat during the renaming ceremony.  In addition to cleaning and thinning gel coat, acetone apparently does a really good job of removing the color from vinyl lettering. As a result, our 10 month old lettering was now ruined. I finished cleaning up the errant gel coat and the smear of color from the lettering that made its way across the adjacent surfaces. I tried applying a bit more gel coat, using a brush, to the area that was thinned in the plastic tent attack, but brushing on gel coat doesn't produce a nice even coat.  I gave up, removed the tent, and allowed the gel coat to cure.  Not a very good start to my first gel coating attempt.

After a couple of hours, I noticed that the gel coat wasn't curing particularly well.  By this point it was getting cold and dark, so I thought maybe the cold and damp air was inhibiting its progress and it would cure overnight.  But somehow, given the way the day had gone thus far, I had a feeling that may not work.  So, that evening I researched how to deal with gel coat curing problems.

If you are unfamiliar with gel coat, it is a rather strange substance to use for a coating as it can only fully cure when air is absent...not a great characteristic when using it here on planet earth (unless you are applying it to the inside of a mold that will be covered with something else).  To combat this, they make a version of gel coat with a "wax".  As the gel coat starts setting up, the wax works itself to the surface and provides the needed barrier to the air so the stuff will properly cure.  At least that is the theory.

I don't know if it was the fact my gel coat was about 8 months old, or if I failed to mix it properly (after shaking the can for about a half hour), but it seems that the "wax" wasn't doing its job in my application and the gel coat was still not cured by the next morning.  To try and salvage my already somewhat messed up gel coat, I ran around town looking for a chemical called poly vinyl alcohol (PVA or mold release).  This stuff, when sprayed on gel coat, acts like the wax is supposed to act by blocking the air.  I applied it to the top of the gel coat, and then for good measure, covered it all with plastic wrap in hopes it would cure.

Finally, after letting it sit for much of the day so the warmer daytime temperatures and lack of air would give the stuff the best chance possible, it did cure.  Now I had cured, albeit a terribly uneven, coat of gel coat.  After sanding the stuff down to a somewhat more even surface, there are some pretty thin spots but at least the repair is coated.  At some point I will have to readdress this gel coat and make it a better looking repair, but I think I've had enough of gel coat for now.  If/when I do, I think I will use the PVA and not assume that the wax will work. And on the bright side, the color match is much better than many of the prior repairs you can find on the boat.

Fixed, for the most part.

Not being very successful with the gel coat, I turned to another outboard engine.  Thanks to the previous owner leaving old gas in the motor, it has never run very well.  So, I started looking into what it would take to clean and rebuild the carburetor (the necessary task when you let gasoline sit unused in a carburetor for a long time).  While working with the engine, I noticed that I had failed to reconnect the shift rod when I had replaced the impeller about 6 months ago.

Well, in the 6 months since that repair, the brass nut and steel bar had made an excellent demonstration of dissimilar metal corrosion and had stuck themselves together.  I tried using penetrating oil to work the nut loose, but ended up breaking the shifting rod while trying to get the nut to budge.  Ugh.  I find a parts catalog on the internet and order the replacement bar and nut.  The parts are only $25 so I consider myself lucky that the mistake of not reconnecting the bar wasn't more costly.

Of course, my luck din't last very long.  After the parts arrived, I put the engine up on the cockpit table and begin the "surgery" to replace the rod.  I pull the lower unit, remove the carburetor and finally manage to get the bar free from the other linkage.  But the bar won't come out of its channel along the back edge of the motor leg.  The rod has a bend at the top end and in the engineers apparently thought it would be funny to make the hole the bar passes through just slightly smaller than the bent part of the bar.  The only other way to extract the shift rod is by removing the entire engine (power head) from the cowling and leg assembly and pull the rod out from the top.  Since I don't have much experience with outboard motors, I decide that completely disassembling the motor to remove it was beyond my current capabilities.  I resign myself to taking the motor to a shop so they can replace the rod and I put everything back together to make sure all the parts get to the shop.

That's two failed repairs and one new bit of damage.  Not exactly the direction I want to go.  And it all had me feeling a bit down. I'm feeling better now, and making some progress in the right direction...but the details of that will have to wait for the next post.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Old and New Friends

Most of the time I've lived on the boat, I've been at marinas.  In this time, I've met a lot of people that are actively cruising, preparing to cruise, or just living aboard their boats.  I figured sooner or later I would run into someone I had previously met...and this happened just after returning to Brunswick.

I was walking over to the marina bath house (admittedly, it is the most likely trip at a marina to run into someone) and came across a couple I had originally met in Hammock Beach FL. It was a nice surprise. We ended up having drinks and catching up that evening.

During the Thanksgiving dinner that was put on by Brunswick Landing Marina I ran into another couple that I had met the last time I was here.  The marina was so full that I had not noticed their boat still at the dock where they had stayed when I left.  They were getting ready to sell their boat when I left and it is now "under contract".  Another chance to catch up.

At Brunswick Landing, there is a covered wooden section at the head of each dock.  It is kind of like a wooden patio balcony you might find on a home in our old neighborhood.  There is a grill and a number of chairs.  It seems to be a regular event when the weather is nice, to congregate there in the evenings for sundowners and conversation.  I've met a number of my dock neighbors at these gatherings and it is a good way to wind down after a day of working on the boat.

It still amazes me how much better I know my transient neighbors than I ever knew my neighbors in my subdivision back home.  For people that can take their homes and come and go as they please, there is still a much better feeling of community in the cruising world.  You can pretty much count on fellow cruisers helping you out if you need it, or providing advice (particularly valuable for a new cruiser like me).  If there were still such things as a community barn raising, the cruising community would be where you would find it in practice. It is too bad that most of our society seems to be getting more and more isolated behind long work schedules, computers, TV, and political nonsense.

Maybe if everyone could feel a bit more of a sense of community we could better deal with our differences and learn to work together as a society once again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gettin' Shiv'd

Ok, I think it is official, I'm losing my mind. I thought I had written, or at least started this post while I was at the boatyard, but I guess not.  Squirrel!

One of the reasons I spent more time than I wanted at the boatyard was due to the fact I was waiting on parts.  A couple parts in particular, sheaves (pronounced like shiv - the rollers in a block, not the makeshift weapon in a prison) in my genoa cars and an anchor roller were in rough shape and needed to be replaced...badly.  The sheaves in the genoa cars had apparently started sticking during the trip up and the result was pretty severe rope burns that cut grooves in the sheaves (you can easily see one of the grooves in the picture below).  The anchor roller had apparently gotten stuck some time ago and the chain had worn a groove all the way through that roller and started cutting into the bolt that made up its shaft.  Since controlling the sails and using the anchor are fairly important, I decided to replace both before I left.

Now, you might think it would be easy to find replacement parts for such common items used on many sailboats.  I know I did.  Wrong! In fact, I'm finding it more difficult to find parts for the boat than it was to find parts for the out-of-production 1976 airplane I used to own.

For the genoa cars, the makers name (Lewmar) was emblazoned on the side of the car.  But there was no model number.  I went to the Lewmar website and dug around for a while and eventually found a document that described how to identify the model and size of the cars.  I determined they were size 2 Ocean series cars.  I checked with several different parts suppliers but couldn't come up with a replacement part number. I eventually called Lewmar and described the part and the car to them as well as what I thought was the model.  After some time on the phone Lewmar admitted they had a number of different models that are all called "Ocean series" and I ended up sending them pictures of the sheaves and cars in order to identify them. They did finally identify the parts I needed and then I found out there were two replacement sheave kits (part number 29172054BK)...on a cargo ship on its way to the U.S. and I could have them in about week and a half if I get them next-day-air shipped from where they get off the boat.

Old and New Genoa Car Sheaves

The bow roller was another conundrum.  In this case, the roller appears to be a custom part.  This roller isn't the main roller on the end of the bow, but a secondary roller that sits further back in the anchor guide channel.  I tried searching for a roller in the internet, but the small-ish metric size could not be found outside of a few companies that make custom custom part prices.  I finally contacted a local machine shop in Deltaville.  Wes Summerfield runs a small machine shop out of his garage and seems to be inundated with work.  He said he had some scrap acetal stock and could turn a roller for me for the cost of labor.  So, after spending a lot of time scouring the internet for this roller, I had one in just a couple days thanks to Wes...and while it wasn't incredibly cheap, it was cheaper than any of the other options at one hour of labor.  I was able to get him to make the belly of the roller a bit thicker too, so maybe this one will wear longer before needing replacement.  The part he made turned out very nice.  If you are ever in Deltaville and need the services of a machine shop, look up Wes.

Old and New Roller.  Look at the wear on the old one

So, after a couple week delay, I finally had these little, necessary, plastic wheels and could finally start making my way south after getting them installed.  Here is where another rule of working on a boat came into play: No task is ever simple as you think it should be on a boat. Installing the bow roller should be easy, just insert the bolt through the roller and attach the locking nut.  I even had the roller made just slightly thinner to provide a bit extra clearance so it would roll easily, yet when installed this roller wouldn't turn.  Not wanting the new roller to quickly end up like the old one, I needed to figure out and correct the problem. I ended up having to remove the metal plates that lined the anchor guide channel.  The dirt I thought I was going to clean out after removing the pieces was actually old sealant that had given up and started collecting dirt and squeezing against the roller.  I'm starting to wonder if any of the glues or sealants used on this boat were designed to last. The 15 minute "replace the roller task" turned into a day of clean the guides and channels, re-glue the channels with 3M 4000 using the old roller and a couple thin shims to guarantee spacing, wait for it to cure, then re-install the roller.  But, a day later than planned, I had a properly functioning roller again.

And one update filed under the "this is my usual luck" category.  The replacement Lewmar sheaves came in a kit with new pins and screws.  They changed the design from the original through bolted design that used a standard nylon locking nut and a sleeve to a custom threaded sleeve and two screws.  I can only imagine this change was probably in order to make the parts custom so they couldn't be purchased at the local hardware store.  Anyway, the assembly requires that Locktite be used on the screws to secure them.  I did use Locktite when assembling the cars, but apparently didn't get one of the screws covered well enough.  So Yes, in the middle of the trip south, one of the screws came loose and the brand new sheave decided to go for a swim and jumped overboard during the second day of the outside passage.  Fortunately I hadn't thrown away the old sheaves and took the better of the two and put it back in service for the rest of the trip.  Two more replacement sheaves (part number 25002090) are now on order.  Still trying to decide if I should continue using the new design sleeve or go back to the old bolt through sleeve design since it is simple, seems less prone to failure to me, and works.