Monday, August 27, 2007

Vacation Starts

Two Concordia Yawls at 'The Gulf'Here I am anchored at Point Judith Harbor of Refuge. It is my third pleasant and unhurried day of cruising. Tonight, Laura and Cory will tie up and tomorrow we'll be heading to Cuttyhunk in the Elizabeth Island chain.

If Cape Cod is an arm, then the Elizabeth Islands are the armpit hair. I use that imagery just so you know where it is. They start at Woods Hole (where the eponymous oceanographic institute is) and continue down past Tarpaulin Cove on Naushon Island and Cuttyhuck Island where Cuttyhunk is, ending at Gosnold Island. The island chain separates Buzzards Bay from the Vineyard Sound.

Pelican has performed impeccably - all the instruments are doing exactly what they're supposed to do, although the autopilot went sort of nuts around Noank/Mystic last night. All of a sudden it couldn't figure out a magnetic course. Pretty strange, but once I left there it was ok.

I left Saturday around noon from City Island and because it was beastly hot and humid with no wind, I motored for 6 hours and dropped anchor behind Charles Island, outside of Milford Connecticut. As uncomfortable as the day was, the night was very cool with just enough breeze. Lovely sleeping weather. In fact, so far, that's been the case every night.

All this lovelyness cannot go untainted, however, and the payback comes in the form of biting flies. They attack a boat somewhere around Middle Ground (Stratford Shoals) which is between Bridgeport CT and Port Jefferson, Long Island. I thought it might be just me because during the day before my shower I can be, um, ripe. But my friend Sylvia experienced them and so are Laura and Cory - we've never seen them so bad.

Yesterday between Milford and Noank I must have killed a couple of hundred of them - they just kept coming! And biting. Somehow they know where your ankles are and that's what they go for. It turns out I have an old cap that covers the binnacle compass that is the perfect weapon. It kills without schmearing. And most of what would get schmeared would be my blood. In any case, the cockpit floor was so littered with dead flies that I had to rinse it down. Twice under way and once again when I got to Noank. Yuck.

Today, Monday, it was better because there was some breeze so they tended to stay put. Makes the easy targets. I only had to kill a dozen or so and I was good. They are just awful!

I haven't experienced flies like this since the horrible trip from Norfolk on a fly infested boat (they had laid their eggs in the sail cover, and literally covered the boat). We solved the problem by jettisoning the sail cover, dragging the mainsail behind us for a few miles, and covering ourselves in diesel fuel. But that's another story.

Today started out as a sailing day, but the wind got lighter and lighter and Pelican just does not do well upwind in light air. You can imagine. So I motored for about three hours to this idyllic spot. Point Judith.

It's quiet, pretty, and the sound of the waves against the breakwater is just like you'd imagine. Normally in an anchorage it's quiet - the lapping of the water on the hull, noises from nearby woods or homes or cars, but here, because it's not seen as a 'destination', it's very pleasant. And so far, empty. I really like it here.

If we get going tomorrow, it's to Cuttyhunk. I hope we can sail. I hate motoring my vacation away....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Beautiful Solution

I'm all about simplicity. I have a low tolerance for frustration. And I am easily surprised by engineering decisions that are obviously bad.

That said, boating offers some spectacularly horrendous examples of what I call 'That Should Work' solutions - usually taken as an expedient fix with the idea that it'll get taken care of correctly later. But when a boat is built with these 'Gotchas' I am truly amazed.

Here's a case in point - Pelican has three water tanks, one each 50 gallons under the port and starboard settees in the main cabin and one 60 gallon tank under the v-berth. So far, so good. But the vents are not overboard - that's also a pretty good idea except in this case when the port tank vents into a hidden space, the starboard into a hanging locker, and I haven't found the vent for the bow tank yet.

Rerouting the vent is no problem - I've rerouted them to the bilge which is not the best idea but is better than venting into your clothes or somewhere else. I may change them to vent into the forward cabin's sink, which is the best solution. But that was a stupid engineering/builder decision.

The next issue is one of inappropriate engineering. When you're venting into hidden spaces, you need to know how much water is in the tank to prevent an overflow. So someone - Either Pearson or a previous owner decided to put a clear plastic deckplate into the tanks so they could ostensibly clean the tank and see how much water was in it during filling. Sounds like an idea, right? Except those plates are designed around keeping water out of something, not in.

More to the point, to get to it you have to remove all the cushions and slide the berth extension out. How about not needing to do that each time you fill the tank, eh?

If you inadvertently fill the tank above the top but not enough to spill out the vent some three feet above the tank, you put approximately 1.3 psi on the tank, and that results on a total force of about 16 pounds over a 4" diameter inspection plate. That is enough to make it leak. And that doesn't take into effect the dynamic loading of water splashing about.

Ok, you say, you've lowered the vent. That should help, but the fill is 1.5" and the vent 5/8", so you could have a standing column that can essentially pressurize the tank to some 3psi including the dynamic loading of the force of the water - so even with the vent there will be leaking around the plate.

So what's the solution? This is great. Brewer's Post Road Marina's maintenance manager turned me onto this product that will work on any tank that doesn't involve explosive liquids like gasoline. SeaBuilt makes real, honest inspection plates out of stainless steel or aluminum.

They consist of a split back plate held together with a rubber gasket, a separate gasket for the top, and of course, a plate that's bolted on.

Installation is as simple as simple can be. If you don't have a hole in the tank, cut one or drill it with a hole saw, drill the 3/8" holes in the pattern of the top plate, fold the internal ring at the gasket and insert it into the hole, push 1/2 up through the holes you drilled and place the top gasket over the bolts to hold the thing up. Then you unfold the bottom plate, do the same with those bolts. Finally put the plate on with the supplied washers and nuts (they even supply an extra set to replace the ones your going to drop in the bilge), snug them down and you're done.

If you're handy with power tools, it'll take you about an hour. If you're not, maybe an hour and a half. It's that easy and you will have an real inspection plate that can take the same or more pressure than the tank it's in. Highly recommended.

Next: Installing instruments, frustration associated with that and living out of the water, and the good people at Raymarine.

My cruise starts next weekend, and I'll be seeing you on the water!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Alarums in the Night, and Other Projects

The new boat's been a whirlwind of work. Work's been a whirlwind of work. Selling my house and moving to the boat has been, well, a whirlwind of work. At least that's my excuse for not writing more sooner.

Where to start? I've moved to the boat. And closed on my house so I have money, which of course, will be put partially into the boat. I can't think of anything as satisfying as spending money on the boat. Especially big ticket items that I had already budgeted for. I know there's the whole boat-budget dichotomy, perhaps an oxymoron.

In any case, the current projects are installing the autopilot, chart plotter and instruments. But there's a roundabout story how that's all coming about.

Last weekend I decided to go sailing. I left City Island to meet friends in Cold Spring Harbor - a lovely anchorage that is only exposed directly to the north. Clean and quiet it is the site of the former Louis Comfort Tiffany artist colony/estate. I got to be the mother ship with my friend Lou and guests rafting up.

It was really cool to drop the big 60 lb anchor with the chain and just stick there. Anchoring on the north shore of Long Island is almost universally easy. Pretty much any anchor will hold. But letting go of all that chain! It's a special sound. A manly sound for a manly boat! Arrggh, matey!

Ok, the evening progressed more or less as you might expect with much food, G&T's, wine and good company. It was a murderously hot day, and we spent a good deal of it in the water. The evening cooled down very nicely. Just the way I like it.

Anyway, the next morning the wind was up so taking one of Lou's crew, Andy, we sailed off back to City Island. As is always the case on the Sound, about 10am the wind died. So I started the engine and Andy and I motored back. Just at the southern tip of City Island (within site of my mooring), the engine died. No wind, no engine. No current, thankfully, but we weren't going anywhere.

Just at the point of deciding to get towed in, a small 3-5 knot breeze came up and we were off! Slowly at first, and then more slowly. Two hours later we were almost to the mooring when the wind changed direction requiring some fast thinking by the launch operator. Let's just say my judgment is better now.

Now, when the engine stalled, I drained and cleaned the Racor fuel bowl. But after that no fuel would come in. That's a problem. What could it be? The fuel was old, and the goop that had been in the fuel could have been the culprit. That means 65 gallons of contaminated fuel to get rid of. Or, the tank, despite showing 3/4 full on the meter, could be empty. Lou lent me 5 gallons of fuel and after spilling a fair portion of it, at least 4 got into the tank, but still no joy.

That means the tank is full of junk and I have a big problem. Well, a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth, I found a yard that will, 1. haul me, and 2. let me dispose of the fuel. Kudos to them. A smack in the teeth to the yards I contacted that would only haul on the condition I let them work on my boat. You yards know who you are. Shame on you.

So Laura's husband, Cory, popped down Monday to help me rig a gerry can to the engine so I could get somewhere - most notably to the yard, and allow me to charge the batteries. Living on the mooring is fraught with issues, eh?

We started at the racor and worked our way back to the fuel tank to see where the line was plugged. Someone had installed a lift pump in the racor suction so that you could dispense with bleeding the engine when you change the racor. Well, a pump with no inlet filter is asking for trouble, especially where fuel with stuff in it is concerned. And that was the culprit. The pump was jammed.

This brings up another issue. If, for some reason you start wiring with a particular color wire, get enough to do the whole job. This pump had a purple wire connected to it. Fine. Run it all the way to the power source. Somewhere in a conduit, it changed color to red, and then went to the engine control panel. How stupid is that? Fortunately I've dug around in the wiring enough to notice there was extra wires on the panel. This was one of them.

Anyway, problem solved. Engine runs. All is good with the world. In the meantime, I ordered a Honda EU2000i generator from Wise Sales who were very nice, competitive and shipped that day - I got the generator Thursday after ordering it Tuesday. Marvelous! Even though I didn't need it, I had to try it out.

First, it comes without oil, as you'd expect. The oil fill is the most ridiculous design possible. You have to lay the generator on its side to fill the oil. It takes .4 quart. Can you measure .4 quarts? I thought not. The way you know it's full is to stand it up and see if it runs out the fill. When it stops running out, it's perfect.

What does that mean? It means you're going to get oil all over the place. Why not use a funnel? Because the fill is not vertical - it's nearly horizontal. Not the best design.

Remember I mentioned most of Lou's fuel got into the fuel tank? Well, if you haven't bought a fuel can recently, you can't without device that prevents it from leaking or spilling when the can is tilted. All fine and good except it's quite possibly the worst design I could imagine -you have to hook the filler on the device to be filled and press down on it to open the valve. This virtually guarantees you'll spill the fuel. In an effort to save the environment, the designers have made sure you're going to spill. It's the stupidest thing I've seen all week. A smack in the teeth to whoever thought it would be a good idea.

But once oiled (and cleaned up after), and fueled (and cleaned up after), it runs like a top! It's quiet, and man, oh man, it charges the batteries, runs the AC loads except the water heater, and what fun! I'm ticked pink. But with electricity. It's the generator of choice for cruisers without shipboard mounted diesel generators.

I still want a wind generator... But that's next year.

Today's project is to put LEDs on the 12v power panel so you can see at a glance what's on. When my panel was made 30 years ago, LEDs were very expensive. Now from Plasma LEDs you can get a whole bag of them for $50.00. Panel before LED installation
Working on adding leds
Panel with LEDs lit
They're simple to put in - drill a hole with a #3 drill, stick the LED in the hole from the back and using silicone or crazy glue stick the LED to the panel back. Connect the red wire to the LOAD side of the breaker or switch and the black wire to a ground, and hey! presto! a circuit monitor light. Cheap, easy, and quick. Pictures to follow on an edit as I'm still waiting for the silicone to set.

A final note on the results - perhaps you don't need the brightest LEDs available. At night they light up the aft cabin pretty well, especially if you have four or more circuits on....

This is one of the very few uses for silicone sealant on board a boat. Using it as a sealant virtually guarantees a leak and worst, also guarantees that the next adhesive you use to fix the problem won't adhere without some serious work. It's bad mojo all the way around. The only other use I can think of is to put a dab on cotter pins on the standing rigging so you don't have to bend them around in circles and they are easy to remove. But that's it.

Monday is the haul out, and the start of the new instrumentation.

The last week of August is the start of my cruise, and I will definitely see you on the water!