Saturday, November 21, 2015

Diverting to bear town

We are anchored in the Neuse River, about 20 miles downriver from New Bern, North Carolina (map). This was not our intended stop, but we had a critical equipment failure under way, and here we are.

Tonight's sunset over the Neuse River.

This morning found us anchored in the Pungo River, just a half mile or so from where the Alligator Pungo Canal joins it (map). We had arrived at the other end of the canal just past 2pm, and with a typical three hour transit time for the canal, we figured we could make the anchorage just past sunset. As it turned out, we had a favorable current in the canal and we made it before sunset.

Sunset over the Pungo, just after we anchored.

That put us well on track to make our goal of being at Osprey Marina in Myrtle Beach by Wednesday afternoon, even if we had to slog down the ICW the whole way. I had picked Osprey for several reasons, including the fact that it is one of the least expensive options, had access to $20/day rental cars, and made for the shortest drive to our Thanksgiving destination outside of Charlotte. Also, we were hoping our friend Sandy in town there could look in on Angel while we were away.

Alas, it was not to be. Today started out very well, with a leisurely cruise in mostly open water for the morning, affording me time to check my email and even catch up on a backlog of comments here on the blog. As we were crossing the Pamlico River, we came up on a junk-rig sailboat making way very slowly, and, passing them close aboard, I switched to manual steering.

When I went to engage the autopilot after making my pass, the unit did not respond and we did not hear the pump running. Now this particular symptom also made an appearance yesterday, most of the way across the Albemarle sound as I took manual control briefly to see how the steering felt in those seas, before having to negotiate the tricky entrance to the Alligator River.

The unit would not re-engage, and after fiddling with it for a few minutes, we had to give up and steer manually so our concentration was not diverted from the aforementioned tricky entrance. Once in the Alligator, I tried again and the unit came right back on. We chalked it up to the thermal overload relay in the control box, which has cut out once before.

Today, no amount of fiddling would get it to come back on, and we knew we had a more serious problem. I hand-steered through the Hobucken Cut, and when we were back in open water Louise took the helm while I set about opening up control boxes under the helm console. I would take over the helm through all the narrow parts and Louise would spell me while I worked on the controls, going so far as to pull the end cap off the motor.

The motor end cap. In the brush dust toward the bottom you can see a bit of copper, part of the commutator.

What I found behind the end cap was not pretty, and we figured we'd be in for at least a new motor if not a whole new steering pump. Hand-steering is hard work, and it's another 220 miles to Myrtle Beach, so we knew we'd have to shift gears. As we turned into the Neuse, we started looking at marinas in Oriental, Beaufort, and Morehead City for a week-long stay, to work on the pump and also rent a car and get to our T-day dinner.

There are no cars in Oriental, so we focused on Beaufort and Morehead City, where we spent last Thanksgiving. The best deal we found was $8.50/foot for a week stay, plus metered electricity. The rental car jumped from $20/day in Myrtle Beach to $37/day. Before we made the turn off the Neuse, though, I realized we could continue on up the river to New Bern, where we might find at least equal accommodations and services.

We found a place in New Bern for $7.50/foot for the week. While the $52 we'll save will barely cover the extra fuel to run the extra ~45 miles up the river and back, we'll at least get to make a stop we don't usually get to see. Also the car is a few bucks less, and it's a shorter drive from New Bern than from Morehead City.

And so it is that we will be in New Bern tomorrow, thus we stopped here for the night, right around 3:30 this afternoon, after a full five hours of hand steering. I was already exhausted, but I spent the next hour and a half tearing the pump motor apart, on the off chance that I could resuscitate it and we could resume our journey.

The motor armature. On the left side of the commutator you can see well-scored copper; on the right side it's gone completely.

Not a chance. The contact pads on the commutator, attached to the armature, have worn through and disintegrated. The whole end cap of the motor was full of carbon dust from the brushes, and I found shiny copper bits of commutator buried in the dust.

Some of the broken-off commutator bits.

The pump manufacturer, in their zeal to keep the replacement parts business to themselves, has concealed all labeling of the motor itself, and so I have no way to cross-reference it. I have dimensions, but not a HP rating or even a nominal RPM. And, of course, this pump assembly is now discontinued.

There are two electric motor repair shops in New Bern, and I hope at least one of them can either source a direct replacement, or else repair the commutator (the rest of the motor looks fine). And I will call Jastram, who made our steering system, on Monday to see if they can either supply a replacement motor or at least give me the full specs.

If I come up empty on repairing or replacing the motor, probably about a $200 item, then I will need to source an entire autopilot pump, probably $1,000-$2,000 for our system. That will also mean bleeding the hydraulic system after replacing the pump -- as it stands now, I have not had to break into the hydraulic circuit.

We should be in New Bern tomorrow afternoon, giving me three working days to deal with the pump. If we have to order parts delivered, we may well be there more than just a week. Fortunately, it's a lovely town with plenty of restaurants and a vibrant waterfront -- the place is familiar to us because we looked at a couple of boats there early on in our search, and we'd been there once before that, too.

Depending on how busy I get with all this, you may or may not hear from me before the holiday. So I will take this opportunity to wish all our readers a wonderful Thanksgiving. After the holiday, assuming we have a working autopilot, we will resume our journey south.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Gone to Carolina

We are under way across the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. Winds today are 20kt gusting to 25, and we have four foot seas; fortunately, they are behind us. It's too dicey to take our preferred Pamlico Sound route, especially with winds increasing to 35kt overnight, so we are headed for the Alligator River and the inside route.

White caps on the Albemarle Sound.

Seas are on the starboard quarter and the boat is rolling a good ten degrees, even with the stabilizers set at maximum correction. I've increased speed to give them some more bite, and to keep the waves from overtaking us, but still our sophisticated roll/pitch/intensity meter, AKA Angel the cat, is sounding an alarm. The boat, of course, does not care, and so long as we keep the fridge door strapped closed and the glassware stowed, we should be fine.

Shortly after my last post, my Craigslist day laborer showed up with a pickup truck and I schlepped the battery over to the parking lot in the marina's dock cart. It was a ten minute ride to Battery Outlet and a quick transaction to swap batteries. I asked them to check with Deka on any possible warranty credit, but I am not expecting anything to come of that.

Defunct battery on its way out. It made the cart hard to pull -- tires need air.

Louise and I wrestled the new battery back onto the boat and lowered it into the engine room, and I had it all hooked up and back together before cocktail hour. Now that we've spent a couple of nights away from a power outlet I can report success; this lone battery was causing the whole bank to fall on its face, and now that it has been replaced we are back to most of our original capacity. We did not need to run the generator at all between anchoring yesterday afternoon and starting the main engine this morning.

Shiny new battery. Not much difference...

We had a nice dinner at the Amber Lantern restaurant, which made our dockage and power for the night free, and we remained at the dock most of the morning taking advantage. We dropped lines near slack tide to make the 1130 lock-through at the Great Bridge Lock for a noon opening at the bridge. We locked through with three other boats, including a sailboat that somehow managed to get itself sideways in the lock, delaying the closure of the gates by a few minutes.

Sideways sailboat.

Regular readers may remember that there are free docks on either side of the Great Bridge bridge, and while I am fonder of the more rough-and-ready bulkhead on the west side, we wanted to be through the bridge and not have to wait for it in the morning, so we proceeded to the wooden docks on the east side (map). These have been completely reconstructed since our last stay, and are nicer than many marina docks at which we've stayed.

Wednesday turned out to be a gorgeous day, and we took the opportunity to walk the lovely, wooded "loop trail" there at Battlefield Park. The whole park is in this strange limbo, wherein they are doing a great job maintaining the trails and the monuments and the parking area, and even having reconstructed the docks now twice, but still don't have the funds to build the planned visitor center, which stopped at the pile-driving phase. They have, at least, added a couple of porta-potties in the parking lot.

We had our usual fare at our favorite local restaurant, El Toro Loco. We thought we might get breakfast in the morning at one of the two nearby establishments, but it was raining when we got up and we opted to just move along. We dropped lines in time to get out ahead of the group awaiting the 9am bridge opening, so we could be first in line at the Centerville bridge for their 9:30 opening.

There was a giant tow on the other side of the Centerville bridge, and he agreed to wait for us to pass first, which meant we had a chance to make the North Landing bridge five miles south for their 10:00 opening. I figured that surely one or more of the boats now behind us would pass us between the bridges, putting us further back in the line and meaning we'd not need to arrive on the dot of 10:00. Shortly after passing the tug, I even announced as much on the radio.

Nevertheless, the pack behind us opted to just putt-putt along in our wake, and when it became clear we'd be at the front of the line, I had to wick it up to 2200 rpm just to avoid missing the opening. The bridge tender was none too happy with us as we cruised up to the open span at three minutes past the hour; then he ended up holding it for at least one of the boats that was behind me by another couple of minutes or so. That little exercise cost us an extra 3.5 gallons of fuel, but we ended up needing the half hour at the end of the day, and running the engine at that speed for half an hour every so often is actually good for it, given our typical usage.

We had an otherwise uneventful cruise, but with south winds we slammed into chop on the Currituck sound and we had the current against us through the Coinjock Cut. That all added up to a long day, and we dropped the hook just at sunset in the cove of Little Broad Creek off the North River (map), the best we could for for protection from the wind and waves. It was a little bouncy but not uncomfortable.

The winds clocked around overnight, putting the seas behind us today. All told I'd rather have the 5-10 on the nose and the 20-25 from behind than the other way around, so all is good. We're now in the Alligator River after a challenging entrance steering manually, and crossing our fingers that the swing bridge, which shuts down in high winds, will open for us.

Update: We are through the bridge, and tonight we should be anchored just past the Alligator-Pungo canal.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

10,000 Nautical Miles

We are tied up at our old stand-by, the Portsmouth ferry landing (map). Since our last visit here, they are now handing out registration cards stating a maximum stay of 36 hours when you check in at the visitor center. That makes for a reasonable two-night stay; on this pass we only have time for one.

New registration cards. Date and time figuring is not their strong suit.

We finally left the Potomac River Sunday morning, making it over a full month that we'd been in the river. We spent Saturday night at Olverson's; I went to check out Saturday afternoon, figuring to anchor for the nick in the Yeocomico, but owner Fred Olverson offered us a final night on the house, and with temperatures dropping into the 30s we took him up on it to have the heat running. That made for an early start Sunday from the dock.

About two hours out, while we were still in the Potomac, we crossed our 10,000 nautical mile mark. If we had a production boat, we'd get a pennant to fly to commemorate this achievement; instead I reset our odometer. Regular readers may remember I swapped radar units back in September, and the odometer has essentially been wrong since then, with a note in the log book to add 8,866 miles to all readings. Resetting the odometer when it read 1,134 means we can now just add 10k to the reading to know our actual mileage, making the mental arithmetic trivial.

Sunset over Stove Point on the Piankatank.

It was a calm and beautiful day on the river and the bay, and Sunday evening found us in the Piankatank River at a familiar spot just outside of Jackson Creek (map), a place all too familiar to us from nearly five months of yard work there. Still, it is one of the few anchorages available before the final leg to Hampton Roads.

USNS Lewis B. Puller, the first of its kind, under way from the navy yard.

Yesterday we made that final run, leaving the Chesapeake behind us for the season. As we steadily approached Thimble Shoals and the entrance to Naval Station Norfolk, the radio chatter to, from, and concerning warships increased. Having been through here several times now, this is nothing new, but the amount and animation of the naval traffic seemed much higher to us on this visit. Methinks the navy is on high alert after the Paris attacks, and they are sortieing as many vessels as they can.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, with, uncharacteristically in the yard, a couple of jets aboard.

Arriving here on a Monday aced us out of dinner at the Town Point Club across the river, so instead we walked to one of our local favorites, Manino's, here in town. We'd love to stay another night and use more of our 36 hours, but our new-found Thanksgiving plans dictate that we keep moving along.

A pair of Arleigh Burke class cruisers, including the Arleigh Burke herself (on right).

After posting in a couple of places for suggestions, we have located a replacement battery at a very reasonable $490 (with exchange) nearby in Chesapeake, not far from our next stop at Top Rack Marina. Getting the 165-lb battery from the boat to the store and back is a bit of a challenge, so I posted a Craigslist ad for a strongback with a car to help me, and got several responses last night. We have scheduled someone to meet us at the dock today at 2pm to help with the project, and with any luck I should be back at the boat by 3ish, new battery in hand. I took the old battery out of the rack last night and moved it over toward the engine room hatch.

In just a few minutes we will shove off for the short nine-mile jaunt down to Top Rack Marina, another frequent stop for us, where will we top up our fuel at $1.93 per gallon and have a nice meal in their Amber Lantern Restaurant, which will get us free dockage and power for the night.

From here south it is a well-trodden path for us, with familiar stops and easy cruising. We're hoping to make it all the way to South Carolina before Thanksgiving; while the invitation was extended by Louise' cousin in Raleigh, dinner is in Waxhaw, near Charlotte, at their son's house, and it's actually a shorter drive form us from Myrtle Beach or Charleston than from Morehead City.

Update: We are tied up at Top Rack Marina in Chesapeake, Virginia (map). We got under way before I had all the photos loaded, and by the time I managed to get finished enough to post, we were here and I had to focus on fueling. We took on 750 gallons, all we could fit without swamping the stern, at $1.93 per gallon. The battery is on the dock and my ride should be here in a few minutes.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th, bus edition

We are docked at Olverson's Lodge Creek Marina, on the Yeocomico River near Lottsburg, Virginia (map). This is a convenient stop on the Potomac just shy of the Chesapeake, with a discounted rate. More importantly, it offers convenient access to where we have Odyssey stored. On our previous visit here we learned they had a small fleet of courtesy cars; here in the off-season (we are the only transients at the dock) they handed us a set of keys and more or less assigned us a car for the duration.

Notwithstanding a forecast for rough conditions on Sunday, with a small craft advisory in place, we had the wind and waves behind us coming downriver and we had a very comfortable cruise. We made it all the way to the Yeocomico with no trouble, and anchored in a quiet cove just ten minutes from here, having no need of the dock or the car until Monday. We had a spectacular sunset and a nice dinner aboard.

Sunset over Mill Creek, off the Yeocomico River.

Monday we had a leisurely morning in this very protected section of river before moving over here, by way of the pumpout dock. After nearly three weeks in DC we definitely needed the service stop. Once settled in at our assigned dock we also refilled the water tank and started on the backlog of laundry, taking advantage of the rare luxury of unlimited power and water.

Monday evening we used our "assigned" wheels to get to our dinner date with good friends Steve and Sandy in Kilmarnock, about 25 miles from here. Not a lot is open on Mondays here, and we ended up at a casual Italian place next door to the Walmart Supercenter, so of course we also took advantage of the 50-mile round trip to restock the larder.

I had figured to spend Tuesday out at the bus doing our semi-annual checkup and engine start, but the boat had other plans for me. With unlimited power we've been running the reverse-cycle heaters as well as the laundry center, and sometime in the morning half the power went out. It looked to be a tripped breaker at the main panel in the engine room, but it made a terrible vibrating noise when I reset it, and then tripped again in short order, complete with the smell of burning insulation.

Oops... fried breaker, with the contact melted.

I installed this panel as part of the great electrical system upgrade a couple of years ago, and I used a commonly available household load center made by Square-D for the purpose, with snap-in breakers. The breakers themselves are expensive in the ratings we use, and I bought industrial take-outs for the purpose, with spares. This is the second breaker to fail, and I was all set to pop my last remaining spare in place.

Unfortunately, the problem went deeper than that. Apparently the snap-in contact had loosened up enough to cause severe ohmic heating at the interface between the breaker and the bus-bar, and in the process, the aluminum bus-bar itself had melted. This is an eight-spot panel with only six spots in use, so I was able to work around the problem immediately just by putting the spare breaker in an unoccupied position and moving the wire a few inches. But the burnt bus-bar and melted plastic retainer needed to be addressed.

Burnt bus-bar and damaged plastic.

There is a well-stocked Ace hardware store just down the road here, and while they did not have a direct replacement for our panel, they had a six-position panel that used the exact same enclosure, cover, and bus-bar retainer for $27. While I would have preferred to have the eight-position item, any port in a storm, and I bought the six-spot unit and disassembled it, removing the retainer and bus-bars as an assembly.

The upshot of all this is that I was able to replace the bus-bars without having to remove the entire enclosure or any of the wiring. I did not even have to take the wires off the undamaged breakers, merely snapping them off the old bus-bars and snapping them back on to the new ones. It's good as new now, except I no longer have two spare slots. If that ever becomes a problem, I'll buy another eight-spot panel and do exactly the same thing again. I've ordered more spare breakers as well.

Close-up of the bus-bar after I separated it from the plastic mount.

That knocked out enough of the day Tuesday that I did not want to start on the bus, so instead I continued with some other electrical work on the boat. To wit, installing a bypass for the inverter output, so that the inverter and/or battery bank can be taken down for maintenance. This has been on my plate for a while, because we're having battery problems, and in order to  really delve into them I needed to break apart the entire bank, leaving us without AC power throughout the boat even while plugged in to shore power. That's particularly a problem now that we have an AC-only refrigerator. DC systems can be switched over to the starting batteries for a short time.

I had actually picked up some supplies for this project at the aforementioned Ace Hardware on Monday, reasoning that getting this done here, while we are at the dock on shore power, will be much more efficient than someplace at anchor where we'd have to run the generator for the duration. It turns out the timing was impeccable, because Tuesday morning the inverter shut down on an over-temperature fault, and, while it restarted readily, we realized the internal cooling fans were on their last legs. Sad, because the inverter installation is just 21 months old.

The inverter bypass was straightforward enough. I used a 50-amp DPDT power relay that I had bought for a since-abandoned transfer switch idea, with the existing inverter output feeding one input, and the old 30-amp breaker on the helm panel that used to feed the old inverter feeding the other input. Energizing this breaker causes the relay to close, switching the inverter panel over to it and bypassing the inverter entirely. The relay has a 110-VDC coil, so I had to add a small rectifier to the installation.

Bypass relay, mounted below inverter panel. Black box at the top center is the rectifier.

As long as I was doing all this work up under the helm console, I added a 12-volt marine power outlet in a more convenient location for charging radios and other devices. The existing outlet is now behind the new chart plotter, making it difficult to reach and inconvenient to use; the new outlet is one of the items we picked up at Walmart Monday. We then went out for dinner to Nino's in nearby Callao.

New DC power outlet for the helm station.

Losing a day to these projects proved fortuitous in the sense that Wednesday turned out to be the nicest day of the week, perfect to head off to the bus and get our semi-annual chores done. We've got this down to a science now, and I was able to reconnect batteries and get the engines started and warmed up in a matter of just a few minutes. Louise did a quick cleaning of the inside, and we aired everything out. We left it plugged in overnight to put some charge on the batteries, and it took me less than ten minutes on Thursday to shut it all back down again.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the bus is deteriorating slowly. On each visit we find a little more rust on the bodywork, moisture damage on the cabinetry, and the like. The batteries now need replacing. When we put it into storage, it was "ready to roll" in the event we needed it quickly. Now I daresay it would take a solid week to get it back in fighting trim. To put it in showroom condition as a used coach would take longer and require the services of professionals, particularly in repairing bodywork and touching up the paint, as well as restoring the woodwork. We saw this coming on our last visit, and vowed to step up our efforts to sell it, but the boat is too distracting and I simply did not get it done.

I am resigned to doing now whatever it takes to find a new home for the bus. It needs to be under the daily care of someone who can use it. To that end I've spent a good deal of time over the last couple of days trying to line up some folks who can help make it more show-ready and also who can watch over it more closely and show it to prospective buyers. And I have drastically lowered my expectations for what I might walk away with in my pocket when it's all said and done. Frankly, seeing it back on the road and being used would be more satisfying.

Louise has suggested to me that I've had an emotional roadblock to getting the bus sold. I confess that it does seem a Sisyphean task. So as if to underscore the point, after we got back from the bus Wednesday, I came down with something and ended up in bed in the early afternoon and skipping dinner. Whatever it was knocked me out for about 24 hours and I am just now climbing out of it; we ended up extending our stay here an extra couple of days as a result.

By yesterday afternoon I was well enough to go button up the bus, and when I got back to the boat I tore into the batteries. The symptom has been that our 17kWh bank has been acting more like a 5kWh bank, with the operating voltage dropping to unacceptable levels after just a few hours of normal use. I'd already done all the in-circuit testing and inspection that I could do.

After bypassing the inverter and switching the DC house loads to the engine starting batteries, I separated the six batteries from one another and started taking voltage readings. No smoking gun jumped out at me, and after taking readings over the course of a couple of hours, we decided to defer load testing until after dinner, when they'd had a chance to sit, disconnected, for a few hours.

The Mexican restaurant we liked on our last visit has gone out of business, so we went instead to Los Portales, also in Callao, which was decent and inexpensive. By the time we were back home, the batteries had had a chance to settle, and one was showing a considerably higher voltage than the other five -- not a good sign. Sure enough, the load tester said that this one battery was unacceptably weak. I ended up taking it out of the bank, leaving us with an imbalanced bank until I can find a replacement. The battery equalizer should compensate, for the most part.

With that in hand, I started in on the inverter and its noisy fans. Once I had the case opened up, I discovered one of the two parallel fans was not spinning at all, and the other sounded like it had gravel in its bearings. Magnum chose to use the absolute cheapest fans they could source for this product.

Magnum does not provide a service manual for these units -- they want you to send them in to an authorized service center, which would leave us without power for who knows how long. Instead, I spent an hour and a half Tuesday watching this excellent Youtube video made by a repair tech who fixed a similar model. He opted to get nicer fans for that unit, but had to make a special interface board to get them to work with Magnum's PWM controller. I opted to just replace them with like models and figure to swap them every couple of years. Magnum wants $26 for a fan, but I found direct replacements on Amazon for $4.80 apiece, with free shipping. Prime got them to us by Thursday afternoon.

I was able to get the cover off and swap the fans without having to take the inverter down off the shelf or disconnect any wires save for one main power cable, which had to come off just to slide the cover up. After spending around $2k for this unit, it was disappointing to find such inexpensive fans within, especially since the model is rated for marine and RV installations, where dust and salt air are issues.

At this writing, we've been running on battery power all day, and so far the voltages seem normal and the inverter temperatures are well within limits. I'll turn the charger back on tonight, which ought to get the fans working, and we'll see if all the repairs are solid. I spent an hour or so today trying to source a replacement battery along our route, but it's hard to know who carries our make and model.

We were done with all our Amazon deliveries today and might easily have shoved off, but the weather on the Potomac and Chesapeake is horrid until Sunday (there is a gale warning tonight). Instead we opted to spend one more night here, with power to run the heaters and a car to take us to dinner. We'll shove off tomorrow and move down the Yeocomico to anchor just before it meets the Potomac, to give us a head start on Sunday.

Since last I wrote of such things, we have received an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner from relatives in Raleigh. They, too, have a cruising boat, which they keep in Elizabeth City, and we keep missing them every time we pass by. The timing is right for us to stop, and we'll probably have them come get us somewhere in the Beaufort/Morehead City area, which is exactly where we were at Thanksgiving last year.

We should have a good two-day weather window on Sunday and Monday, which will get us all the way to Portsmouth, where we will likely tie up at our old favorite, the ferry landing.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


This morning found us anchored in the Potomac River, just off the small town of Quantico, Virginia (map). We had a nice cruise from DC yesterday, albeit in some chop, and as I type we are again under way, now on a glass-calm river in light rain.

Reflecting pool, WWII memorial, Washington Monument, and Capitol from the Lincoln Memorial.

We had gorgeous weather for our last couple of days in the capital, and I took advantage of it on our last day by walking a few miles around the monuments. From the waterfront I headed past the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to the Washington Monument, then walked around The Ellipse to the White House. From there I headed to Constitution Avenue and the last remnant of the Washington City Canal, the lock keeper's house.

Preparations under way for decorating the National Christmas Tree, on the Ellipse.

From there I continued into Constitution Gardens and walked the footbridge to the forlorn monument to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Situated on an island in a man-made pond for the nation's bicentennial, it is today largely ignored, and the pond has become polluted in the four decades since. All of Constitution Gardens are slated for renovation shortly.

The lock keeper's house, still in its original location from when what is now Constitution Avenue was a canal. It is slated to be moved and restored next year.

I did the circuit of great war memorials, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial ("The Wall"), Women in Combat, The Three Soldiers, the Korean War Memorial, the DC War Memorial, and finally the World War II memorial. Several of these are new since the last time I made this walk. In the middle I stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, but stopped short of dodging traffic to visit the Watergate Steps.

I liked the way the marble columns framed the Washington Monument from the north side of the Lincoln Memorial.

I ended my day by walking past the John Paul Jones memorial and along the Tidal Basin across from the Jefferson Memorial on my way back to the waterfront. In all, about a three-hour walk. While some of the monuments were busy, the walk was mostly solitary and offered the chance to be contemplative.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

For all of the political whining and bickering we all do, it is somewhat cathartic to walk these grounds. From the 56 men who risked everything for freedom and self-governance, to the hundreds of thousands who died defending that freedom, it is fitting that these memorials are just across The Mall from the Capitol.

Sunset over the Tidal Basin.

Thursday evening we rode the Metro to Old Ebbitt Grill, the oldest restaurant in Washington, having long outlived its original quarters, the Ebbitt House Hotel. It was a boisterous experience, but the food was good and we enjoyed the people-watching.

While we could have stayed one more day in DC and still made our commitment Monday, weather on the lower Potomac has been a concern, and we decided to give ourselves a buffer day by leaving Friday morning. That meant an early start -- the tide was already well on its way out at daybreak. We weighed anchor at 7am in light fog and headed out past the Titanic Memorial and the War College into the river. The cat seemed incredulous that we were moving again, but she will not miss the unmistakable sound of Hueys buzzing us just a hundred feet off the deck.

In the three weeks we spent in DC, the fall color has come in along the river, and our downriver cruise was much different than the upriver leg. My little camera could not do it any justice. The folks at Mount Vernon took down the big party tent, leaving the mansion looking much as it did when Washington lived there.

Mount Vernon, southbound. It was too gray to capture the fall colors.

We ran out of tide at 11am and spent our last hour pushing against it, dropping the hook at Quantico right at noon. An early stop to the day but we did not want to push against an increasing current for a few more hours. Besides that, we wanted to see the town.

When hearing the name Quantico, most Americans think of the Marine Corps Base there, the "crossroads of the Marine Corps," or some of their famous tenants. The latter include the FBI Academy and the Hostage Rescue Team, the DEA Academy, and the new headquarters of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and other military investigative services, the Russell-Knox building. It is also, however, the name of a small, unassuming town of just 480 residents.

When the base was developed, the town of Quantico was surrounded by it on all sides, save for a short stretch of Potomac riverfront. Residents and visitors alike arriving to the town of Quantico by motor vehicle, bicycle, or on foot must pass through the base gate, presenting ID and subject to inspection. Consequently, there are few visitors and little development, and the town has the feel of having been left in another era.

Vector at anchor off Quantico, from the riverfront park.

Arriving by boat (or train -- there is a station serving Amtrak and Virginia Rail Express trains) avoids the pesky base checkpoints. The town even provides a nice new floating dinghy dock at their riverfront park.

It took us all of fifteen minutes to walk the entire town, just 12 square blocks. We counted no fewer than a half dozen barber shops -- the Marines are serious about their crew-cuts. They're serious about beer, too -- our drafts at Sam's Inn Restaurant came in one-liter mugs. A perfect complement to a nice pizza.

It was still warm and pleasant enough when we returned to Vector to sit on the aft deck for a while enjoying the river. We decked the tender in anticipation of another early start this morning. After yesterday's chop, it was nice to awake to calm conditions, and we had a nice push down the river.

Update: We are now anchored off Swan Point, Maryland (map). We had the hook down before noon, just a bit after the tide turned. The wind is picking up and the river is no longer flat, but I expect we will have a comfortable night. We'll see how far we get tomorrow -- conditions on the lower Potomac are forecast to be rough. We'll try to make the Yeocomico if we can tough it out.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Project and schedule update

As I wrote in my last post, in and among being a tourist while masquerading as a local, I've also been busy on the project front. Spending three weeks in one place with a good delivery address has allowed us to catch up on a backlog of Amazon Prime orders, and it's a short Metro ride to Ace Hardware or Home Depot from here.

Bilge Fan

First up was a project that has languished on my list for nearly two years, since we replaced all the waste tanks at the yard. It's steadily ratcheted up in priority over that time as the work in the bilges has aged; to wit, adding a small fan to exhaust the bilge. All boats get bilge odors, and Vector is no exception. The gray water sump, for example, has no external vent, and even theoretically impermeable sewage hoses do exude an odor after they have aged a bit.

When we replaced the tanks, we ended up with an extra inch-and-a-half vent pipe leading from the bilge up to a deck opening inside a locker in the Portuguese bridge. My plan has been to put a small fan at the bilge end of this pipe to create a slight negative pressure in the bilge at all times. Not enough to purge any sort of large volume of gas (we'd still know it in short order if we had any kind of leak), but enough to keep "routine" bilge odors from migrating up into the cabin.

I ordered a 40mm, 12-volt computer fan for the purpose, reasoning that the 40mm fan opening is exactly the same size as the ID of the existing vent pipe. Computer fans are, of course, square, and I needed to somehow adapt this to the round, threaded pipe fitting, located in a very tight space in the bilge.

40mm computer fan, with the corners rounded off. About $4 on Amazon.

Without disassembling either the black waste tank or part of the forward head, it's really impossible to work on the end of this pipe. I knew I'd have to pre-assemble the fan and then somehow thread it into the fitting. A simple pipe section had occupied that space previously, and there was a notch in a cross-beam to accommodate it -- not enough room to rotate an assembly much larger in diameter than the pipe itself.

The fan mounted inside a 1.5" PVC MIP/Slip adapter, looking from the threaded end.

I ended up picking up a PVC adapter with male threads on one end to mate with the existing 1-1/2" galvanized pipe elbow, and a slightly larger slip fitting on the other end intended to mate with 1-1/2" PVC pipe. Using a hacksaw and a file I rounded off the corners of the computer fan to fit tightly inside the slip fitting, where it is held in place by simple friction and backed up by a ring of foam weatherstrip tape to keep air from escaping around the edges.

Louise took this photo of me crammed into the bilge. My right hand is on my stomach because it did not fit anywhere else. Hard to see, but there's not a lot of clearance between my chest and that beam. Note the pipe at my right shoulder and the hose under my left arm. My left hip is against the waste tank.

In order to reach the existing pipe to thread this assembly in, I had to lie on my back, squeezed in between the black tank and a bulkhead, and do a sort of limbo under a support beam. In this position I could get only one arm and hand under the beam, and it was my left one to boot. Making matters a bit worse, I found my fan assembly to be just a bit too wide to squeak past the aforementioned notched beam, and I had to do some left-handed filing with a coarse wood file to enlarge the notch a bit first.

The finished assembly. You can see the notch at the top of the photo that I needed to enlarge, and the brown weatherstrip tape around the inside of the PVC fitting. I had to mate those electrical connectors one-handed after crimping them on elsewhere.

All's well that ends well, and once installed and connected to power the fan is working just fine. We did not need to call the fire department or the Coast Guard to extricate me from the bilge, although it was beginning to seem that way toward the end. I was a bit sore the next day. As a side note, you can not maintain a boat if you have claustrophobia -- I had to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths more than once.

Laundry Center Power

As I wrote here back in September, being able to do laundry under way without running the generator had been a long-term goal, and I finally had gotten around to poring over the wiring diagrams for the laundry center (a stacked washer-dryer affair intended for apartments), even opening up the cabinets to see how it was all put together. An integrated unit like this has just a single power cord to operate both the washer and dryer.

It didn't take long to figure out that the washer runs exclusively on 120 volt power sourced from just one leg of the incoming 120/240 volt, four-wire circuit. The dryer controls are run by the other 120-volt leg, with the dryer heating elements powered by 240 volts sourced from both legs.

While it is "fudging" a bit (such an installation would technically not meet code on land), this particular wiring arrangement allowed me to simply provide 120-volt power to only the relevant leg, from the inverter, to get the washer working, using switching apparatus completely external to the washer/dryer in the incoming power circuit. That was a much simpler alternative to opening up and internally modifying the hard-to-access washer/dryer assembly.

This DPDT power relay supplies 120v inverter power, coming from bottom right in this photo on a temporary cord, to one leg of the laundry center, connected at the left. When the 240-volt circuit at upper right is energized, the relay connects the laundry center to that power source instead.

I put the required gear together as a prototype back in September, just in time to be able to do laundry under way on our last open-ocean passages, where we could still make the necessary water. I already had the required 30-amp DPDT power relay on hand, and there was already a junction box in-line in the laundry center circuit (left over from the big main AC panel project that went along with the inverter installation). I used a three-wire power cord with grounded plug that I had lying around for the inverter input on the prototype, and we plugged it into an existing inverter outlet with an extension cord.

All buttoned up in a proper enclosure, with permanently run inverter power.

Having proven this all works as intended, I needed to run a permanent feed from the inverter circuit to the relay, and contain the entire assembly in a proper enclosure. The enclosure cost me more, at $16, than the rest of the project. Now the washer works any time we want, and the dryer works when on shore or generator power, with no thinking or manual switching required.

Sound Bar

Regular readers may remember the hoops we went through to get a new TV for the saloon incorporating an all-important headphone jack. After many hours of research I turned to our readership for help. That led to some false starts, even returning a model ordered online that turned out to be 60% thicker than claimed in the specs. We eventually found a perfect fit, with a headphone jack, at Walmart, and it has served well for two years.

Getting that TV installed was a big project, including cutting a hole in the bulkhead for all the wires and then snaking the power, antenna, A/V, HDMI, and headphone cables through it from various directions. With the headphone jack inconveniently buried between the TV and the bulkhead, a permanently attached headphone extension cable runs from the TV to a location in a cabinet across the saloon, near my chair.

This arrangement works perfectly for one person to watch TV. But the TV's built-in speakers are disconnected when anything is plugged in to the headphone jack, and so when we want to watch a movie together, or put news or weather on during a major incident, or even use DirecTV's music channels to play holiday music in the house, I have to remove a drawer in the galley, crawl under the counter, and wedge my fingers through the aforementioned hole to gently tug the headphone cable out of the jack so the speakers will work. If I tug too hard and the plug comes out entirely, getting it back in is a struggle.

Fortunately, this is an infrequent occurrence; Louise seldom watches anything with me, and so I've gone through this exercise perhaps only a dozen times so far, including a couple of times when we've had guests aboard and wanted to watch a DVD. Still, it's tedious, and perhaps more importantly, I've grown concerned that any more tugging on the cord would lead to failure of the cord or, worse, the jack, creating a much bigger problem. Or else one of these days I'd damage something with the heavy drawer of dishware that needs to come out in the process, twice.

We did not have this issue on the bus, because I had designed in a fancy surround-sound system involving a high-end Technics receiver/amplifier and a Bose 5+1 speaker setup. Push-buttons on the amp allowed me to turn the speakers on or off regardless of the headphone status. I had envisioned, perhaps foolishly, that we'd watch some number of DVD or BluRay movies in surround sound, and use the system for music regularly; in practice I can count on both hands the number of times we watched something in surround sound in nine years on the bus, and the only time we ever had any music on was around the holidays. It proved a waste of money and space.

Not wanting to repeat that mistake, we opted not to have any sort of audio system on the boat other than a portable weatherproof Bluetooth speaker box to stream music whenever and wherever we wanted it. We deemed the built-in speakers on the TV sufficient for movies as needed, and that would be true if not for the headphone-jack contortions.

Enter the "sound bar," a compact stereo speaker system with built-in amplifier, meant to complement today's flat-panel TV systems. Our TV has a digital optical audio output in addition to the headphone jack, and I hunted around until I found an inexpensive sound bar with a digital audio input and which was small enough to mount comfortably in the saloon. I found a Vizio model on Amazon Prime for $78 which, as a bonus, connects to our cell phones and iPads via Bluetooth so we can stream music to it.

Our new sound bar under the vent register. The TV is below right, behind its custom quilted cover.

Sound bars are meant to be installed just below the TV screen, and typically one uses a bar about the same width as the TV. Since our TV takes up all the wall space immediately above the back of the settee, that was not an option for us, so instead I mounted it under the A/C vent register, above and to the left of the TV and facing the room at an angle. It's close enough for the stereo TV audio to sound natural. I had just enough room in this spot for a 29" bar, which is about the shortest made.

Mounting it in this spot meant fishing more cables. I drilled a 1/2" hole in a spot hidden behind the bar for the power cord and optical cable; on this latter item I also had to order a 10' cable to reach the TV via the somewhat circuitous route the cable has to follow between the devices. A 3' cable came with the bar. The cables run down in about a half-inch space behind a wood panel that conceals the engine room vent duct. I took the lamp and A/C control already on that panel off so I could fish the cables through.

There's no way to get my eyeball back there, so I started with my electrician's fish rod, and after poking a couple of times the fish came through under the settee and I thought I would be good to go. I thought that same half-inch gap ran the width of the panel. Using the fish rod I pulled a nylon pull-string from under the settee all the way to the new hole. Then I used the pull-string to try to pull the optical cable through, only to have it stop abruptly at the top of the settee.

I managed to get my phone up under the back of the settee far enough to snap a photo of the problem. What I discovered was that, by chance, my fish had managed to find a fairly small hole that had been drilled for the A/C control cable, which comprises a length of "silver satin" telephone cord with phone-style connectors. The hole was big enough for the fish rod, the nylon pull string, and even the power connector for the sound bar, but the molded end of the optical cable was much too large to fit.

Looking up behind the settee. The pink item is the nylon pull cord, going through the same hole as the silver-satin flat control cable. The black at the upper left of the photo is the curved back of the settee. The lower right third of the photo is the aluminum engine room duct. A piece of reinforced vinyl hose is at the bottom right of the shot.

By cramming my torso into the galley cabinet behind the TV, I could reach this hole just with my fingertips, but there was really no way to make a new, larger hole. I was able to clean up the existing hole a bit with a round file, but not enough to fit the cable end. What I finally ended up doing was whittling the molded rubber cable end down with a utility knife until it was barely larger diameter than the business end of the connector. It took me a few tries, but I was then able to cram it through the hole from below, then use a gripper tool to grab the cable from above and pull it through.

The whole project, which ought to have been an hour job, took me perhaps four hours, not including the delay in the middle where I had to go to the hardware store for angle brackets to hang it from the ceiling. The brackets that come with the unit are suitable only for mounting to a flat, vertical wall. It's all working well, though, and I'm quite happy to never again have to crawl through a drawer hole to unplug the headphone cord.

Camera System

As long as we had a good delivery address and I was hunting for things on Amazon, I started on the camera surveillance project. This has been a "nice to have" project that has languished due to its perceived "luxury" nature, the idea being that it would be nice to have a camera on the aft deck to make it easier to back the boat into a slip, and one in the engine room to keep an eye on things down there from the pilothouse. These sorts of cameras are very common on boats like Vector.

This project moved up the list quite rapidly after our friends aboard Blossom experienced an engine room fire under way in Nassau Harbor. Blossom, at least, has a window in their engine room door, so they were able to see the fire before opening the door and make an informed decision to go in. We have no window, and so a camera in there may be the only way to know whether or not it is even safe to open the door.

Our initial thinking had been for only live cameras. But Blossom's experience caused us to rethink that, too. After the incident was all over, they realized they could go back through the stored video, which proved instrumental in establishing the timeline of the fire and pinpointing exactly where it started. We decided to add a DVR to the project for exactly this reason. A side benefit will be additional security for the boat, as we will have a stored video record of any incident aboard.

Angel helping me pre-scope cable routes for the cameras Here she is under the pilothouse settee, next to the air conditioner.

Complete kits with cameras, cables, and DVR can be had on Amazon now for less than $200, and I selected a package with a 500gb DVR and four night-vision dome-style cameras. Installing this will be a major project which I did not want to start here in DC, but I needed to scope out the cable runs and camera locations to make sure I was ordering the right system.

MiFi Update

As long as I am posting administrative updates, I might as well tell you we got some bad news yesterday about our whizzy new unlimited Verizon MiFi service that we picked up late September: it is being terminated at the end of the month.

We were well aware this might happen at any time, although we had really hoped we'd get at least a few months out of it first. We ended up paying $143 to have this for barely two months, and to date, we've only used about 20gb total. Legalized gambling, really -- we gambled and we lost. We could have spent less money to just bump up Louise's cell data for the two months. Oh well. No word yet on whether or not we get to keep the MiFi device itself, or if it can even be re-activated on another plan.

Schedule Update

At this writing we are still in our cozy anchorage in DC. Louise is back aboard and mostly recovered from her jet lag; we decided to stay an extra couple of days to take advantage of pleasant weather this week. We've been to the Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Park, and back to the City Club. Tonight we have dinner reservations at Old Ebbitt Grill.

All good things must come to an end, though, and we will be weighing anchor early in the morning either tomorrow or Saturday, heading downriver to Quantico. We have dinner plans with friends on the Northern Neck Monday, and we plan to be at Olverson's Marina there Monday afternoon, where we can grab one of the courtesy cars for our visit. As long as we are in the area, we'll also go out to check on Odyssey on Tuesday, which would put our earliest departure from the Potomac sometime on Wednesday.

I am very happy to say that we do not have a single thing planned after that. We'll be heading south, as a matter of comfort -- it will soon be cold enough here that we'll need the heater more than just a couple of hours a day. From the lower Chesapeake, there is no percentage for us in going outside around Cape Hatteras, so we will retrace the now familiar route south through Hampton Roads and the northern section of the AICW down to Beaufort, NC. Regular readers will remember that we ended up there for Thanksgiving last year, and, who knows, we may be right there again this year.

From there we will make one or more outside hops in the Atlantic to warmer climes in our new home state of Florida. We've never cruised up the Saint Johns River any further than its intersection with the ICW, and perhaps this year will be the one wherein we actually go all the way to Jacksonville and beyond. Maybe we'll visit our "home" address in Green Cove Springs, or even the Elks lodge there to which we now belong.

What I know is that our calendar is very fuzzy after the new year. We could return to the Bahamas and perhaps beyond, down into the Caribbean. Or we could explore further up the gulf coast of Florida and then into the Gulf of Mexico and the other gulf states. There has even been some talk of a re-try of the Cuba rally that disintegrated last year, now that rules are even further relaxed. We really just don't know, which is actually a great place to be.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Capital idea

A half month has flown by here in Washington, DC, where we are anchored in the Washington Channel (map). I am seriously behind on the blog, with much to report and plenty of photos, so grab a cup of coffee or a beer and settle in -- I'll wait.

The view from our dinner table at Redstone American Grill. The lights on the Capital Wheel lit up the whole marina.

When last I posted here (well, not counting the mini-post about technical difficulties with Twitterfeed, which seem to be resolved), we were still at National Harbor, just south of DC and about seven miles from here on the river. We enjoyed our short stay there and our visit with our friends Bradley and Kathy aboard Shear Madness.

National Harbor marina. You can see the Washington Monument in the distance to the right; Vector is bottom center, just behind the two large yachts. Taken from the top floor of the Gaylord hotel.

In addition to wandering the immense complex there, we enjoyed dinner and breakfast at two of the restaurants, walked through the Gaylord Resort, which was very reminiscent of the Opryland Hotel (also a Gaylord property), and rode the Capital Wheel. The view from the wheel is spectacular, but the inside secret is that you can get the same view for free by riding the elevator to the top of the Gaylord. Fortunately we did not pay extra for the Wheel, as our friends garnered some free passes for us.

Vector from atop the Capital Wheel. That's Shear Madness off our port quarter (top right of photo).

About mid-day we dropped lines, stopped at the pumpout dock, and then headed up the Potomac to DC. It was a pleasant cruise, and I was struck by how relaxed the waterfront is here, as compared to New York. We saw no Coast Guard boats, no Harbor Patrol boats, and no law enforcement of any kind, a stark contrast to New York Harbor where the Coasties have their 50-caliber guns mounted and at the ready, and law enforcement vessels are everpresent. Considering you can't walk down the street here without passing officers from three or four different agencies, the waterfront seemed anomalous.

Washington sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers; between the two is the Washington Channel, which leads to the Tidal Basin by way of the neighborhood known as Southwest Waterfront. Several marinas line the channel, along with the docks for a half dozen tour boats. The channel is a dead end, closed to navigation at the cluster of bridges that separate it from the Tidal Basin, and there is room here for a dozen or so boats to anchor.

After circling the anchorage we selected a spot immediately across from the brand new docks of the Capital Yacht Club and dropped the hook. We contacted the DC Harbor Patrol, a requirement for vessels anchoring here, gave them our details, and received our clearance.

We were ruminating about dropping the tender for dinner or just eating aboard when I spotted Bradley and his new deckhand, Austin, cruising up the channel in their tender. Bradley told me the tender had been sitting a while and he wanted to breeze it out; we ended up getting in with them and heading over to the Cantina Marina restaurant at the nearby Gangplank Marina for dinner.

Sunset over East Potomac Park and the Washington Channel from the Cantina Marina. That's Greta Van Susteren's Trumpy motor yacht, "Sophie," at the dock on the right.

In the morning we dropped the tender and checked in with the yacht club, who provided us a card key to access the docks, bathrooms, lounge, and bar. We pay $16 per day for the privilege, which includes Internet access..

East Potomac Park to our south. That's the Marine Corps Marathon in progress, the day I took Louise to the airport.

Looking up the channel to the northwest we can see the Washington Monument, soaring behind the Mandarin Oriental hotel, and the dome of the Jefferson Memorial. To our south is East Potomac Park, home to the Park Police, a golf course, and a waterfront trail popular with cyclists and runners. Across the channel, just beyond the new docks, is a giant construction project, The Wharf, a mixed-use development to revitalize the waterfront. We hear the pile drivers during the day, but it has not been any sort of problem.

Vector at anchor, as seen from East Potomac Park. To the right you can see the yacht club docks, with the construction cranes and L'Enfant Plaza behind. At left is the I-395 bridge and the Washington Monument.

Beyond the construction project is L'Enfant Plaza, a Brutalist-style office/retail complex where we can access the Metro in almost any direction. There was once a four-star hotel on the upper levels, the first place I ever stayed in DC, in my youth and shortly after the complex opened. I had hoped to go there one evening for dinner, but the hotel closed in 2013 for a year-long renovation and has never reopened.

An easy few-block walk to our east is a nice, new Safeway grocery store, along with a CVS and a couple of trendy restaurants. We wandered over early on to check it out and to descend to the Metro station there to buy the new SmartCards we needed for the Metro and buses, trading in the collection of paper FareCards I'd been saving, including the Obama inauguration commemorative one. I was amused to see one of these at the Smithsonian later.

The President flies over Vector. East Potomac Park in the background.

The Washington Channel and the Tidal Basin are used as visual landmarks for the helicopters that are an everyday presence in DC. That includes a pair of VIP transports that shuttle back and forth to the Pentagon (the most frequent of the lot), the Coast Guard patrolling the river, a few fully-armed gunships assigned to defend high-value targets in the city, and of course the white-topped VIP transports that serve as Marine One, carrying the President. The choppers run at all hours but mostly have not been a bother. One day I was heading ashore in the tender when I heard the rumble; I was able to get the camera out just in time to catch the President flying right over Vector (three white-tops in formation is a sure sign that one of them has the Commander-in-Chief aboard).

Louise's dad, Jerry, and stepmom, Kay, had booked a cruise this month out of New York City, and when they learned we'd be in DC for a couple of weeks, they added a stop here to their itinerary. It was fortuitous timing, in that their cruise departed just a day or so before Louise's flight to Houston. They arrived here a couple of days after we settled in, and we were able to catch up over dinner and do some sightseeing together.

Jerry wanted to see the Udvar-Hazy Center out in Chantilly, Virginia near Dulles Airport, and I've wanted to see it for a long time as well. We've actually spent a good deal of time in that neighborhood working at the Red Cross facility there, but Louise detests air and space museums, so we'd never stopped; this was my big chance. We rented a car and the four of us drove out for the day, and I found it very enjoyable.

The Mobile Quarantine Facility from Apollo 11. That's the space shuttle Discovery in the background, still charred from its final return from space.

I typically don't take photos at museums; there are far better photos than I can take available on-line of every museum artifact in the world. (I seldom take photos of buildings or monuments for the same reason.) But I could not resist snapping a shot of the Apollo 11 "Mobile Quarantine Facility" manufactured by Airstream and looking much like one of their travel trailers. I credit the moon shots with putting "Airstream" into the lexicon of the non-RVing American public, myself included. I was a boy of eight when I first saw this very artifact on TV, with an as-yet unsullied President Nixon standing in front of it and Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins beaming big smiles from inside. It is, perhaps, one of the early contributors to me catching the RV bug -- cool enough for astronauts, cool enough for me.

The space suit, at the White House Astronomy Night. Photo by Matias Ocner, SHFWire.

At the end of the day, as we were all sitting in a set of chairs resting our poor feet, two museum staff walked past us wheeling a large space suit, fully assembled and held upright on a metal rack with casters. I casually said "there's something you don't see every day." I did not realize it at the time, but the suit was just returning from the White House, having been on display there the previous evening as part of the White House Astronomy Night. I'm sorry I did not snap a photo of it rolling by.

View over the Tidal Basin from the tour bus. We are on the bridge and Vector is behind me.

One day we elected to do one of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours of the city. Call us corny, but we actually like to do these in cities with lots to see; it's easier on Louise's feet than most of the alternatives, and sometimes the narration can be hilarious. We did two different loops across two days on a 24-hour ticket; on the first day the open-air bus managed to be in just the right place to get stopped for fifteen minutes while the metro police closed off the roads for Obama's chopper to land. We could not see the south lawn but the bird flew right past us. On the second day we needed to get a cab back to Jerry and Kay's hotel from the final stop, and once again they closed the streets (for a motorcade, I think) just in front of us.

The President, stopping traffic again. You can see the police in front of us; White House is off frame to the left.

We did not really hop on and off the bus except for one stop, at the National Cathedral. I opted not to go inside (I've been there before) and instead walked around the grounds. Both of the west towers have been constructed since my first visit, and all three towers are again sporting scaffolding as they continue to repair damage from the 2011 earthquake. As a side note, we boarded this bus at the Washington Hilton, at the conference entrance, in more or less the exact spot where President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hickley, Jr. in 1981. The spot looks much the same as it did 34 years ago.

The National Cathedral. You can't make him out, but Darth Vader is in this photo.

While Jerry and Kay were in town we also enjoyed the International Spy Museum, not far from their hotel, and we had a couple of casual meals in their neighborhood. I'm sure the hotel cost them a small fortune (DC is an expensive city), and we helped them get the most of it by crashing the complimentary cocktail hour a couple of evenings. It was a nice visit, and we bid them farewell as they grabbed a cab to the airport after breakfast at the hotel.

I wandered the terminal after accompanying Louise to National Airport. This is the "historic" terminal; I remember this space as bustling the last time I passed through it.

That left us a day to ourselves for Louise to pack for her own trip and to square the boat away. We also had a nice dinner at the City Club before being apart for a week. Regular readers are probably aware that Louise is in Houston right now, at the International Quilt Festival held there each year. She returns this afternoon, and I've been stag for eight days now.

That's given me a week to do all the power-walk activities that her chronic plantar fasciitis does not allow us to do together. I used the time to revisit some old favorites, and also to see some of the places that I've just never managed to make it to in perhaps a dozen visits to the city.

LM-2 in two pieces. You can make out the top of the descent motor in the lower section. That's Chuck Yeager's Glamoris Glennis in between the ascent and descent stages, also being worked on.

I started at the Air and Space Museum, where I caught some exhibits I'd never seen before, although many have been there forever and are looking a bit dated. They are in the process of moving their Lunar Module and I got a photo I am unlikely to repeat, with the ascent and descent stages separated and most of the Mylar removed.

A better view of the ascent stage. The pile of Kapton film (gold/Mylar) to cover it is at lower right. A small army of conservators was working on these artifacts during my visit.

As I came around a corner in the observatory exhibit, I found myself facing a familiar sight, the eyepiece end of the Great Lick Refractor. Well, actually just a life-size photo of same, with an actual spectrograph attached to the "telescope" in the photo. I recognized it instantly, having spent a full night with this telescope a decade ago in Odyssey; two familiar names, Remington Stone and Laurie Hatch, were on the explanatory placard.

A remarkably life-like image of a telescope, with a real instrument attached to it.

I also went for my first time to the National Archives to browse the exhibits and put eyes on the originals of our most cherished founding documents. Other firsts for me included the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. And I made a repeat visit to the Capitol after some 40 years; without gallery tickets I had to settle for the guided tour of the building.

Mandatory Zoo photo of a giant panda.

The "O-Line" which lets the orangutans move between two enclosures, even crossing the walkway. New since my last visit.

I took most of a day to wander around the zoo, and I also visited the National Museum of American History. This building was closed for renovation on our last visit here; I was a bit sad to see the Foucault pendulum that was a centerpiece of the building is now gone forever, as are many of the computing exhibits. That's consistent with the change from it being the Museum of History and Technology; I understand the computers and maybe the pendulum will reappear in the historic Arts and Industries building as part of a new Technology museum when that building completes the renovation it is currently undergoing.

My only photo from the history museum, for one of our distinguished readers. One of the original puppets.

No blog post would be complete without an update on the unending boat projects, but I've droned on for too long already, so I will bore you with those in a later post. For now I will leave you with one last photo, flooding in East Potomac Park as seen from our deck, during this weeks extremely high tides.

If you look closely you can see park benches, behind the fence, peeking up out of the water.

I'll try to do one more update before we leave DC, with some thoughts about our plans for heading south.