Friday, March 16, 2018

Re-Rover

When I arrived at the boat back in January, I had a list of tasks I needed to accomplish and more that were discovered once on board.  At this point all of them have been accomplished and the boat is once again in good cruising condition. One of the things that I didn't expect but found when I got to the boat was the extreme fading of the vinyl boat name graphic.  After only four years, the name was nearly unreadable.

How the boat name looked when I arrived.
The interesting thing is that, while the name was almost completely faded, the hailing port lettering still looked fine.  When I ordered the lettering, I had them add a UV protective film to the lettering and my first thought was that maybe they applied the UV film to the hailing port letters but forgot to apply it to the boat name.  That would certainly account for the vast difference in the fading.

I decided to contact the supplier of the vinyl lettering and ask them if this could have been the case.  When they responded, they explained to me that, since my boat name lettering had a drop shadow of a different color, it was made differently than the single color hailing port lettering.  The former is created by printing the colors onto a white vinyl substrate while the latter is made from a solid color vinyl. The printed vinyl seems to only have a 3 to 5 year lifespan in outdoor applications (even when the UV protection is applied) while the solid color vinyl can last much longer. So, if you are ever in the need of vinyl lettering for long-term outdoor use, this is something to keep in mind...less you experience the same result as I did.

As an effort to make up for the confusion and my disappointment in the name lettering, they offered to send replacement lettering to me for half-off their normal price.  When I told them that I didn't want a repeat experience, they said they could send me letters made from the solid color vinyl in both the primary and drop shadow colors. That way I could apply the drop shadow color letters and then apply the main color letters at an offset to get the same effect.  For an additional fee they offered to align the two sets of letters onto a single application sheet to ease the complexity of the installation.  Since the boat needs a readable name to be a legally documented US vessel, I decided to go ahead and order the two sets of lettering in hopes that their explanation was correct and the new lettering will last.  I did not have them do the alignment.

It only took a few days for the letters to arrive.  While waiting, I removed the faded vinyl lettering using a plastic scraper and heat gun and then cleaned up the glue residue with Goo Gone and denatured alcohol. I made sure to protect the hailing port lettering as I didn't want to cause any problems with it.

In order to get the alignment correct on the boat, I started by attempting to align the two sheets of lettering, using a flashlight to shine through the lettering and backing paper and used a ruler to measure the offset for the drop shadow.  Once I got the alignment the way I wanted it, I used painters tape to hold the two sheets together. Then I used a variation of a sewing trick I learned and cut two V shaped indexing notches at the upper edge of the application sheets making sure the V was cut into both sheets but did not cut into the actual vinyl letters.  By doing this, any time the two V's in the two sheets were aligned the letters would be properly aligned. At this point I could remove the painters tape knowing that I can easily realign the sheets of letters.

From there, I took the yellow letters out and taped them up to the boat, positioning as needed to center over the hailing port sticker while allowing for the slight shift to the lower right for the drop shadow effect.  When I had the letters where I wanted them, I applied two small pieces of tape to the boat directly under the location of the V notches and traced the V into the tape. I then ran a strip of tape along the upper edge of the sheet of letters and applied them to the boat just as I did the last time.  Once I smoothed out the letters as best I could, I removed the application sheet and the large strip of tape so only the yellow letters and the two marked V's remained. I then retrieved the set of blue letters, lined up the V notch with the ones traced onto the tape, and applied the blue letters over the yellow ones. Again I smoothed out the lettering with a squeegee and removed the application sheet and all the tape.

The new lettering, using the two solid color sets of letters.

For reference: Here is what the original looked
like the day it was applied 4 years ago
The end result I think looks just as good as the original did when it was new.  You can see the slight outline of the yellow letters underneath the blue ones, but you have to be very close to even notice.  So, Rover once again has a shiny new name, hopefully this time the lettering will last.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Best Made Plans

If you follow my Facebook page, you know that I finally managed to take the boat out for a sail over the weekend.  But getting to that point was more time consuming and frustrating than I anticipated on this trip.  One of the issues I had that needed to be addressed before I could move the boat was a broken motor mount bracket I discovered while servicing one of the motors.  On the surface, it seemed to be a relatively simple repair.  Remove two bolts to take out the isolator, then remove two more bolts to remove the bracket, bolt the replacement bracket in place, reinstall the isolator, and align the engine.  Sounds easy enough.

A friend and fellow Leopard 38 owner and I took Rover
out for a day sail. 
I don my bilge rat clothes (sweat pants and a sweat shirt I use when crawling around in the engine room), grab some wire brushes and a socket set and make my way to the broken bracket.  Leaning over the motor, I do my best to clean up the the bolts with the brushes,  I remove the isolator with very little trouble.  I then begin working on the bracket bolts themselves.  After cleaning them up with the brush it looks like the bolt heads were welded to the bracket.  I thought this couldn't be, why would someone do that?  I get a cold chisel and attempt to knock this bit that looks like a weld bead off the bolt heads and it comes off.  I guess it was just a combination of corrosion and old paint.  I do my best to clean up the bolt heads and then attempt to remove them.  No luck, the bolts won't budge. Several attempts to clean and then remove the bolts with either sockets or bolt extractors over several days failed to budge the stubborn bolts.

I finally gave up and decided to call one of the marine mechanics in town, Snyder Marine, to come deal with the issue.  Hopefully they had more tools than I and a few tricks to extract the stubborn bolts. This would allow me to continue to work on other projects as I only have a limited amount of time on this trip. The mechanic came out and took a look at the project.  He said it would probably take about 10 hours of work if he could get the bolts out with an extractor and he wasn't sure how much longer if "other" methods would be required.

The mechanic arrived the following morning to start work.  After a short period of time he emerged from the engine room and told me that indeed the bolt heads were welded and that he would cut them off.  Unfortunately he forgot his grinder and had to go back to the shop and get it. He returned after lunch and spent another hour cutting one of the bolt heads off and was about half way through the other.  Before he left he told me he would go look into the replacement part.  Since I had already done the research on the part, I gave him the original part number from the parts manual as well as the number of the part that superseded it. The next day he returned and spent about 40 minutes in the engine room cutting the other bolt head off and freed the bracket. He then attempted to remove the remaining part of the bolts from the engine.  He again emerged and this time said he was having problems with his stud extractor and would have to go get a replacement. He returned a couple hours later and within 40 minutes had the now headless bolts removed.

The mechanic informed me that he called his supplier and was unable to source the replacement bracket, but had a guy in town that could make me a bracket that would likely be cheaper and better than the original part.  I told him to let me know how it would be made and what it would cost and I would decide from there. He responded the next day that it would be constructed from welded stock and painted and would be about half the price of the OEM part. He also said he went ahead and had them make the part, but if I wanted to source the replacement part myself that they could go that route. I went ahead and told him to use the custom part and he said he would be out tomorrow to finish up. I waited for most of that day for the mechanic to arrive, but he never showed.  I finally called and was told that he was waiting for the paint to dry.  It was a Friday, so he said he would come out the next week to complete the job.

It was about a week later when he finally showed up with the part.  I took a look at it and it seemed well made, but the mounting holes did not appear to be offset like the original.  Sure enough, after about 20 minutes the mechanic confirmed that the holes were in the wrong place and the bracket would have to be remade....but not to worry as I would not be responsible for the incorrectly made part.  He would have to go back to the welder and should have the correct part ready to go the following day but with paint it may be the following Monday before it was ready to install.

Nice bracket, too bad the holes were
in the wrong places.
I waited around a couple hours on that Monday and the mechanic didn't show up.  I called and was told that the mechanic had the day off but would be out the following day.  He did arrive on that Tuesday and this time the holes were in the correct locations.  After 20 minutes the mechanic again emerged and told me the bolts he brought were too long and would need to be cut down.  He left and came back about an hour later with shorter bolts and completed the job.

Given my past experience with "marine professionals" I am always a bit wary of new-to-me service providers.  Part of my process now is to track the time spent on a project.  In this case, I tracked all the time from when the mechanic arrived at the marina to when he left.  The total time spent at my boat came out to 7 hours and 20 minutes.  Now, I know that there was some time spent cleaning up the isolator that was removed, talking with the welder about making the bracket, and travel time to and from the marina.  I figured that we were still pretty close to the original estimate of 10 hours.  At this point I was reasonably happy with the work done, if not the timeliness and communication about when the mechanic would actually show up.

Naturally, I received a bit of a surprise when I received the invoice.  The parts and supplies charges were all reasonable, but it listed 19 hours of labor.  So, in addition to the 7 hours and 20 minutes spent actually working at the boat, they somehow came up with another 11 hours and 40 minutes on the bill.  That is a pretty large sum at $109 per hour ($1271 to be exact). Like I said, I expected there to be some time added for travel (shop is 12 minutes away) and work done away from the boat.  But the idea that they spent more time working on my project away from my boat than actually at the boat in the process of replacing an L shaped bracket was something I couldn't justify.

I immediately wrote back and asked if they perhaps billed some time from another project to me and if they would mind reviewing the bill and let me know. It took 6 days for them to respond, and when they did they said they actually had more time on my project than was billed (however, it didn't say what they spent all this time on) but would adjust the bill and send me the update.  The updated bill arrived the following morning and they knocked 5 hours off the bill.  Still a bit higher than I would like, but close enough so I paid the bill.

This was when I received an email from the owner of the company. The email again stated that they had more time on my project than they billed.  The only suggestion provided for the extra time was research into the project.  Since I did the research and provided them with the part numbers and I was told they called their supplier and was told the part wasn't available, I'm not sure how much more research could have been done. Certainly not 11 hours worth. The letter went on to tell me how busy and how sought after they are. That is all great, but they never did justify the extra time they claim they spent on the project. And given they reduced the number of hours charged, I can only assume that they did recognize that the time was excessive.

The email then says they normally don't take on work that someone else has started. Not sure what this has to do with the issue, other than my possibly knowing what the issue is and what it should take to fix.  Maybe it is easier to overcharge hours when the customer doesn't have a clue about a problem. Then the note goes on to tell me that the bill is final and overdue.  Now remember that I already paid the bill.  Looking through my emails, the total amount of time, excluding my time waiting for their response to my question, from the time I received the first bill until I paid the adjusted bill was under 12 hours (and a good portion of that was it sitting in my email while I was off doing other things). Hardly overdue.

My initial recommendation was going to be that they did reasonable work and as long as you get firm time commitments, get written quotes, and track the time they spend on your project they might be an OK solution.  But add in that final email and it proved to me that they are not very customer focused and were upset at getting caught over billing for hours they could not justify. I do not recommend Snyder Marine in Southport.

I'm glad the work is done, but why is it so painful to work with many of the so called professionals in the marine industry?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Working through The List

Progress on the "to-do" list has been slow but mostly continuous up to this point. Speed has been hampered somewhat by the current weather pattern.  Not sure if this is normal, but the pattern is either cold and windy or warm and rainy.  I have to admit that this year my joints are not terribly happy with the weather and folding myself up into the nooks and crannies of the boat has been trying at times.  Yet every day the boat closer to the way we left it.

One issue I've dealt with was a minor fuel leak that the caretaker for our boat recently found.  Apparently over the course of the year (or at least a good portion of it) a tablespoon or so of diesel had made its way into the bilge. We initially tried getting a local company to fix the leak, but they were unable to find anything.  The only "problem" they could identify was that the Racor fuel filter "may" have leaked and offered to rebuild it for a pretty hefty sum.  Since I was unconvinced that this was the problem, I decided I would check on it when I came down. I crawled down into the engine compartment and was rather quickly able to find that the fuel supply hose was showing age and was seeping just a bit.  In the process of removing the hose it became fairly apparent it was the cause. The hose was replaced, new fuel filters and accompanying gaskets were installed and the system was checked for any signs of leaks.  None were found.  I checked fluid levels and then started the engine.  Despite the age and hours on the motor, it started right up and ran like a top.  I let it run for a little while and repeated my leak check and it all checks out great now.

Identifying some of the Kidde recalled extinguishers
(image linked from Kidde recall web site)
Then there is the fact that 5 of the 6 fire extinguishers on board the boat were made by Kidde. Just in case you weren't aware, there was a recall of around 40 million Kidde fire extinguishers. Given boats are required to have working fire extinguishers on board and I had no idea how long it would take to get any warranty replacement, dealing with them was high on my list and one of the early things I checked when I returned to the boat.  Fortunately, I found that none of the extinguishers on board were impacted by the recall and the boat was good to go on that front.

The rainy weather helped to point out another issue, a leak on the boat. The aft berth overhead hatch was leaking.  It was the only hatch that I had yet to re-bed, so it isn't isn't much of a surprise that it would be the one to leak. On one of the few relatively warm and dry days I was able to pull the hatch, clean it up, and re-bed it.  Rains that followed tested my work and confirmed that the leak has been fixed.

Failing West Marine lifeline netting
Another item that I didn't expect to deal with was the lifeline netting.  When I arrived at the boat I was quite surprised to see a number of holes and broken strands in the netting.  At first I thought someone had come along and vandalized it.  But after tugging on it a bit myself, I found the netting to be quite brittle.  Obviously this netting, sold at West Marine, is not UV protected and a couple years in the sun has all but destroyed it.  If anything were to fall against the netting, I have no doubt that it would give way and whatever it was supposed to prevent going overboard would end up in the water.  Since it was now useless and looked ugly to boot, I spent quite a bit of time removing all of the netting that we painstakingly added just two years ago.  So, if you are thinking of adding netting to your lifelines, I think I can safely say you should avoid the stuff sold by West Marine.  Given how long it takes to properly install, you will really want a better netting. Look for netting that clearly states it is protected against UV.

So, work continues, in between rain and wind storms.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cutting the Cord

This is a post I started months ago but never completed. Arriving back on the boat I have found that this may be of some interest to those on a boat as well as those saving up for the experience. So the following is edited from the original and mixes experiences from time spent living on land as well as on the water.  Hope you find it helpful and not too confusing.

For all of those people saving up to go cruising or even those just trying to conserve a few pennies, I thought I would take a few moments to write about something I discovered moving back into an apartment in the Denver Metro area.  In the past I have written about my experience with our low-cost phone service (still like it, btw.) and this is another one of those technology things.  The thing I am talking about is television, the ol' boob tube.

Streaming "Man on a Ledge" from Crackle...on the boat.
The cheapest way to go, other than tossing your TV out (or better yet, selling or donating it), is to use an antenna for the over-the-air broadcasts.  This works OK in most metropolitan areas...or at least did in the U.S. until much of the broadcasts have concentrated on programming that highlights the POTUS screw up du-jour. This is still handy for the occasional check of the local news, weather, or occasional diversion. Since I get enough of the political shenanigans online to make my blood boil, I'm looking for more a entertaining diversion.

To start with, we needed internet anyway, so the simple choice for the apartment was to see what the local cable company (Comcast, Xfinity, or whatever they are calling themselves this week) had to offer.  A quick call to them resulted in my hysterical laughter followed by hanging up the phone.  Their cheapest package that included internet and basic cable was over $120 a month. Internet only wasn't much cheaper at around $100 a month.  I did a little more searching and found that our phone company (CenturyLink) had 40 MBit access for just under $30 a month.  A much better price, but that didn't include any television programming...or so I thought. If you are living on the water, hopefully you have access to marina WiFi or an open hotspot (perhaps using a long range WiFi antenna). At the marina we have a fairly slow WiFi connection that ranges from around 3Mbit down to 0.5Mbit.

We looked into satellite TV but it would be a severe hassle to deal with in an apartment and when we last had one it was around $50 a month for the basic channels.  This is even more complex on a boat as a dish has to point at the satellite and a moving boat complicates that (although there are expensive dishes that track...but that defeats the idea of saving money).

Then I started looking at the new streaming services. These are some of the services that are collectively called cutting the cord (as in cable cord). Many of these services can be accessed via an internet connection, so having internet solves part of the problem.

You can watch many of these services on a computer using a web interface or using an app on a phone or tablet. If you want to watch streaming content on a real television instead of computer device or phone, you will need a compatible smart TV or the modern technology equivalent of the old cable box. This box is actually about the size of a stick of gum, plugs directly into the TV's HDMI port and comes with a remote control. Various devices are available from Amazon (FireTV), Roku, Google, and others. They seem to run around $30 for the device, but if you need or want more of a TV experience, they are a relatively economical means of making that happen. Some of the pay services will even give you one for free if you sign up and agree to use their service for several months to a year.

Related image
A few of the devices for streaming to a TV.
There are a number of content options available when you have an internet connection. Obviously several major broadcast and cable networks have some online content available on their websites or via applications.  In addition, there are free services like Crackle, Tubi, and Pluto that provide access to on-demand movies and shows as well as some free channels.  A step above that are services like SlingDirectTvNow and others that provide cable-like service (minus any local channels) at a lower cost than cable or satellite.

At the apartment I tried all the services mentioned above.  With reasonably fast internet, all of the services worked well except for one.  DirectTvNow seemed to have streaming or application glitches that caused the video to stop playing or would hang or skip on a regular basis.  On the boat, I've tried using all but DirectTvNow and have found that they are usable, but with slower internet connectivity, the video will occasionally pause during playback.  Best I can tell, the services need around 3 Mbit speeds to provide a reasonably watchable experience with a limited amount of interruption. They do tend to run on slower speeds, but will periodically pause to buffer the video stream.

The one service I found to work the best was actually Sling. The service (or application) has the ability to monitor internet speed and adjust video quality to provide a more fluid experience. On a large TV the video quality changes may prove to be annoying, but on smaller screens like you often find on a boat, tablet, or phone, I find that it is far less annoying than the video pause.  With this approach, Sling seems to be able to run with as little as 1 or 2 Mbit connections as best I can tell.

So, if you are paying upwards of $100 or more for cable, one of these options may help put some cash back into your wallet.  Or if you are on a boat with reasonable internet connection and in need of some entertainment on those rainy and windy days (like I've had here the past few days), you might want to give one of these options a try.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Dealing with Water

Well, I've been back on the boat at the marina for a couple weeks now.  In some aspects it has been nice and in others...well, no so much.  As I mentioned, one of the main purposes of this trip was to get some basic maintenance done.  Unfortunately, even if you aren't actively using a boat, there is still ongoing maintenance.

In addition to the above-the-waterline cleaning I did a few days after arrival, I've also spent some time cleaning the interior and had divers come out and clean the bottom of the boat and check the condition of the sacrificial zincs.  The boat is starting to look a bit more cruise-ready once again. Below the waterline the report from the divers was that everything was looking good, with little other than some soft growth that was wiped away.  I guess that bottom job done in Baltimore has performed well and the Petit Hydrocoat is doing a good job at keeping growth at bay.

One of my many tasks was to test, sanitize and refill the fresh water system on the boat.  When we left the boat we made the calculated decision to not winterize since temperatures generally do not get all that cold for very long in Southport.  So, naturally, I arrived just after a once in 50 year cold spell and was concerned there might have been a bit of damage.  Fortunately, almost everything survived unscathed.  The only loss was a plastic fitting that feeds the main shower's handheld wand.  I guess there was a little water trapped in the hose and it managed to freeze and break the fitting.  The rest of the system was fine.  After the water was drained from the tanks, a sanitizing solution of bleach and water was used to clean the tanks and plumbing.  After the solution was circulated and allowed to work for several hours, I drained the tanks and then refilled with fresh water. I then replaced the drinking water filter that we have mounted under the galley sink and the system is again ready for use.
The 3M Drinking Water Filter

Recently The Boat Galley re-posted a write up on water filtration systems.  They mentioned 3 basic options for filtering tank water on a boat.  What I use is a variant of one of the "at the tap" systems they mentioned but I thought I would note a few things about the route I took and why I think it is a good solution for the average boat.

The system pictured above is a full flow filter designed to be used on a home sink.  Since the main difference between a home sink and a galley sink is the size of the basin, I figured this would work fine for a boat.  You can plumb it to a separate drinking water spigot if you wish (and have the space) or you can plum it directly into the cold water supply line of the galley sink.  Not wanting a second spigot in the counter of the galley, I chose the latter.  The filter claims it will last approximately 2000 gallons (6 months), and in using one at my prior home on land, I find that to be a reasonably accurate number if plumbed into the sink and it would likely last longer on a dedicated drinking water spigot.

Installation is simple using push on connectors.  The gray and black part at the top is the only piece that needs to be mounted.  Filters are installed and removed with a simple 1/4 turn by hand (no tools required) and water flow is automatically shut off when the filter cartridge is removed, so changing is a snap.  The diameter is smaller than the typical cartridge type filter and not having to use any tools makes it easy to mount in an out-of-the way location. The filter and mount are plastic, so there is little concern about corrosion, which is always an issue on a boat.  Filters can be found at most big box home improvement stores in the U.S. but may be a bit more difficult to source in out of the way locations.  The filters themselves are only slightly larger than the average cartridge filter element, so having a few spares on board will easily cover replacements in excess of a year of use.  The units typically sell for around $50 (and filters are around $25), so they are more economical than many of the systems marketed to the boating industry. I've found the filtration to be good, taking any plastic or chlorine taste out of the water and they claim 0.5 micron filtration.  Overall I am happy with the performance of this type of filter.

Another water related task has to do with the house battery bank.  One of the last times we were in Southport our house battery bank started going south and we were in need of a replacement.  Instead of going with the West Marine AGM batteries, we opted for a higher power and yet more economical solution.  We installed a bank of 6 - 232AH 6-volt wet-cell batteries.  The entire set of batteries were less than the cost of one of the AGM batteries and we gained about 100 AH in capacity.  The only down side is that you need to occasionally check and refill the electrolyte level (watering the batteries).  Fortunately, with the amount of money saved, it was easy to spring for a watering system that makes this task quick and easy.  I've had the caretaker perform this task regularly, but while I'm here I thought I would take care of it as well as inspect the battery bank and perform an equalization charge.  I'm happy to report that the battery bank is doing very well and the watering system works like a charm to keep the batteries topped off.

The other water-related item on the list was to exercise all the through-hull valves to confirm operation and make sure no growth is causing issues.  Not an overly time-consuming task, but still one that I think is worth performing on at least a semi-regular basis.

Well I think that covers much of the water-related tasks for the boat from washing to drinking water.  Work continues in other areas, but every day the boat is getting closer to the condition she was when we left.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I'm Back

I know, it has been a VERY long time since I've posted anything. There are numerous reasons behind that, but mostly I haven't had much sailing/cruising/live-aboard or "escaping the rat race" related to write about and, essentially, that is what this blog is all about. It had been just over a year since we left the boat and put her up for sale. So, why am I posting now...well...I have returned to the boat.

I'd like to say that I was here to prep the boat for a trip to the islands or some other warm and picturesque destination, but that is not the primary task.  The person taking care of our boat had identified a few minor issues that started popping up, so the main purpose of the trip is to check up on the boat, perform some maintenance and repairs. I'm also here to try and figure out what to do about the sale of the boat, the broker and the listing company. That whole mess has become quite a disappointment to us, however, that is a story for another time.

Snow along the side of I-95 in South Carolina
I arrived at the boat last Monday, just as the unusual winter weather was releasing its grip on the east coast.  It was rather bizarre to see snow on the side of the roads here while there was no snow in Colorado or much of the drive out.  Driving along I-95 in South Carolina there was snow on the side of the highways.  There was also evidence that it had been plowed since all the lane reflectors were neatly piled along the side of the road with the last remnants of the snow.

While it had been several days since the snow fell, there was still a fair amount on the boat.  Snow covered much of the deck and the trampolines. Under the snow was a good inch thick layer of ice. It took about half a day just to clean it up so I felt safe loading my stuff on the boat.

Snow just doesn't look right here.

Of course, only a couple days later I was in shorts and a t-shirt performing a much needed wash of the hull (that is, after the marina turned the water back on at the docks). It seems that a few weeks around November or December, all the birds along the east coast congregate in the area for the sole purpose of making a mess of the local boats.  It took about 6 hours for me to do a basic wash of the boat. Finally, the boat is looking respectable again.

Over the next few weeks I'll be continuing my efforts to get her back into a travel-ready state and deal with the brokerage issues.  Hopefully the weather will continue to stay warm.