Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Venice of America

We are anchored in the Middle River, just inside its intersection with the ICW, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (map).  We arrived here Sunday afternoon, after a mostly pleasant cruise from Palm Beach via the Atlantic Ocean.  We remained just a mile or so offshore the whole cruise, so we had good cell coverage (and even Internet access), and I was able to make some holiday phone calls.

We were up early on Sunday to check the forecast, which had dropped to seas of just two to four feet with a period of nine seconds, and light winds out of the north.  We got under way at 8:15, and by the time we passed west of Peanut Island 45 minutes later we had made the decision to head outside, so we alerted our emergency contacts by text message and turned the SPOT tracker on.

This part of the Florida coast is mostly convex, so a near-shore route was the shortest.  We had already pumped out Friday while we were still in Stuart, so there was no need to proceed out to the three-mile limit, and a north wind means progressively rougher conditions the closer one gets to the gulf stream.  It was very pleasant having such a close-in cruise, as we were able to observe the various resorts along the way, many with impeccably manicured beaches filled with matching lounges and umbrellas.  It is the very tail end of spring break, so the beaches were busy but hardly full.  The highlight of the cruise was a close encounter with a pod of dolphins, perhaps a dozen or so, a couple of whom decided to frolic in our bow wave for a bit.

One consequence of the close-in route, though, is that we had to weave and dodge a bit to avoid dive charters and fishing boats.  We were nearly on top of one fisherman, with no day signals whatsoever, who frantically indicated as we approached that he had gear stretched out far shoreward of his position.  I barely managed to get stopped before running over his lines, then had to loop back around behind him.  He looked to have a decent boat and motor, but, clearly, he considers a VHF radio an unnecessary expense.

Most of these fishermen and divers, by the way, emerge from inlets along the route that are unnavigable to us: Boynton, Boca Raton, and Hillsboro.  In between inlets are great stretches of open water where all I need do is put my feet up on the console and look out the window, with an occasional glance at the radar and AIS.

Coming into Fort Lauderdale is another matter entirely.  The inlet, officially known as Port Everglades, is one of the busiest in Florida.  The port is controlled by a Vessel Traffic Service and we monitored their channel on our way in.  We had to hug the north side of the channel to make room for a 600+' barge coming out, and as we made the turn northward on the inside the enormous cruise liner Liberty of the Seas was just pushing off the dock.

Honestly, I am glad I had over 400 hours of experience and over 2,000 nautical miles under our keel before arriving here -- the sheer amount of marine traffic here is overwhelming, especially so on a pleasant Sunday afternoon of a holiday weekend.  By the time we made the Las Olas bridge we were in a giant conga line of traffic, with 100+' megayachts sweeping past us in the opposite direction.  It does not help that half the channel under the bridge is currently obstructed by construction scaffolding as they work on the western spans.

Our plan upon arriving in this neighborhood had actually been to turn south just before our old friend Bahia Mar, and into a reportedly pleasant anchorage known as Lake Sylvia.  It is well off the ICW and protected on all sides, and it would have been a very nice place to spend the four days until our reservations at the city marina at Las Olas.  That said, it is a bit tricky to enter, with charted depths of seven to nine feet only along the very eastern edge of the channel, shoaling rapidly to four feet to the west.  I had some good local knowledge from a skipper we met in Stuart who takes his 80+ footer in there all the time.

Unfortunately, the persnickety depth sounder decided to act up again on our way south.  I had left it on for nearly two weeks in Stuart with nary a further problem, and it got us all the way down the ICW to Palm Beach without acting up.  Everything was fine all the way into the Atlantic and right up until my loop-around encounter with the fisherman.  We were in 80+' of water, but I had to turn shoreward briefly and I knew the bottom came up rapidly, so I checked the sounder only to be faced with a series of dashes where the depth and water temperature readings should have been.

That's not a problem in 80' in the ocean, but I knew we'd have big problems coming into any anchorages here in Fort Lauderdale without a working sounder.  Fortunately, I have a working spare and, in a pinch, we can hook it up and dangle it over the side to take a reading.  That's hardly useful, though, while driving the boat at six knots.

At this point in the trip, we still had more than three hours ahead of us in the ocean, and so I tightened up all the connections and left it powered down for an hour or so, which is how it cured itself last time.  When I powered it back up it came back to life, and has remained working since.  But now we don't trust it, and we don't want to chance being in a very narrow channel with questionable depths and little room to spin around if and when it quits again.  Thus we opted to bypass Lake Sylvia and head north of the bridge instead.

There are not a lot of places to anchor in Fort Lauderdale, and long-time cruisers remember a time when the city would cite you for anchoring here, before the state intervened and put a stop to the practice.  At the end of a long day of cruising, we wanted the first easy spot we could find, and this was it.  There's a nicer, more protected spot another half mile up the river, but we were just done, so we dropped the hook here.  An occasional wake from the ICW moves us around a bit, but we're between two no-wake zones and the big boys can't get going fast enough to rattle our 52 tons of displacement very much.  We thought about moving further upriver yesterday, but decided that we enjoy watching the traffic go by here, so we stayed put.

Yesterday we splashed the tender and headed upriver to Serafina Bistro, a waterside white-tablecloth Italian place, for a nice dinner.  This afternoon we will go a bit further upriver to the city park, conveniently located across the street from the Galleria shopping mall.  We'll probably take the tender to dinner once more before we weigh anchor and head over to the marina.

Fort Lauderdale is one of the few cities in the U.S. where one can explore a significant portion of the city from the water.  It bills itself as the "Venice of America" (notwithstanding there are cities elsewhere in the country, including Florida, named "Venice"), owing to the myriad canals criss-crossing the city in every direction.  Most are obstructed at one end or the other by fixed bridges or other impediments to navigation, but they are nevertheless filled with boats and yachts of every description, many of them over 100' in length.  My AIS currently shows 220 targets, and only a small percentage of boats have AIS transponders, and an even smaller percentage have them turned on.

We are looking forward to exploring the city in our tender, and by scooter once we are at the dock.  We are due at Las Olas Marina on Thursday morning, planning to arrive at slack tide.  We'll spend a few nights there before moving on to another anchorage for a few more days.  At this writing, our plans are a bit fuzzy for when we will leave or even which way we will head.  Most likely we will continue on to Miami when we have had our fill of "Venice."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Escape from Stuart

We are anchored at the north end of Lake Worth (the lake, not the eponymous village), in the town of North Palm Beach, Florida (map). Notwithstanding my last post, wherein I opined that we might shove off Wednesday morning, the weather for an outside run deteriorated, and we held off for another couple of days hoping for good weather on the outside.

When Friday rolled around, and the forecast on the outside was still bleak, getting bleaker over the weekend and into next week, we conceded defeat and decided to shove off regardless and take the inside route down the ICW.  We did not want to chance waiting in Stuart so long that we'd have a mad scramble to make our reservations in Fort Lauderdale.

Martin and Steph spent Thursday night aboard with us, so that Steph could ride with us without them having to get up extra early and drive down from Jensen Beach.  We cast off lines at 8:45 and Martin headed next door to the Nordhavn docks to work on their boat, Blossom.  Even with the rough forecast on the outside, we had a very smooth and pleasant run on the inside.  The depth transducer had nary a problem the whole way down.

Once we had the anchor set here we splashed the tender, for the first time since we left St. Augustine, at the very beginning of January -- nearly four months.  It took me a few tries to get it going, but it did eventually start, and I took it for a spin around the nearby Old Port Cove marina, where we planned to go for dinner, just to blow the cobwebs out.  It was very reassuring to finally have a working fuel gauge, and all the other systems seemed to be working normally.

We made a dinner reservation for the four of us at Sandpiper Cove, the nice restaurant at Old Port Cove, and after a cocktail on the aft deck and some conversation we tendered over with Steph and her luggage, meeting Martin in the restaurant.  It was a great final evening with them until we reconnect in late May sometime, and it was hard to say goodbye at the end of the evening after nearly three months of being conveniently only a few miles away.

This morning we had intended to move a little further south along the ICW, enjoying another two or three anchorages on our way to Fort Lauderdale.  I was up early, but with only 45 miles left on the inside route, there was no rush, and we had a leisurely morning aboard.  Mid-morning, Louise started the generator to make hot water for a shower, even though our new battery system was far from needing to be charged,  That's when the plans for the day went off the rails.

The generator sounded a bit different -- hardly surprising since it has not been run since before we docked in Lake Park at the beginning of March.  Louise checked the exhaust for water flow, and, to her horror, discovered only exhaust gas, with no water, emanating from the generator discharge.  Not good.  We immediately shut the generator back down.  Fortunately, it had only run for perhaps a minute, not long enough to melt the exhaust hoses or start a fire.

I suspected a damaged impeller.  We opted to finish our morning coffee before diving in, although I did shut off a few discretionary pieces of equipment, such as the AIS and plotters, to keep the battery load down until we were sure we could restart the generator.  After breakfast I changed into my work clothes and started in on the generator, peeling off the sound shield covers.

Fortunately, the raw water impeller is pretty easy to access on this generator -- much easier than the one on the main engine.  Sure enough, the impeller was more or less completely destroyed.  Worse, I did not find much of the debris still in the housing, which meant is was further downstream and likely lodged in the heat exchanger.

The heat exchanger on this unit is accessed by removing a very weird double-bell/double-clamp rubber end cap.  When I had both clamps loose, bright red coolant immediately started coming out around the end cap.  It took me a while to realize that the inner clamp, on the smaller portion of the bell, closed around the inner, seawater-conducting, part of the exchanger, while the outer bell sealed around the outer coolant-containing portion, with the inner tube being a loose press-fit inside the outer housing.  It's a poor design requiring the otherwise sealed coolant system to be drained to access the seawater path.

It took some serious gymnastics on my part, but I was eventually able to get a cup and funnel under the exchanger's drain petcock, incoveniently located at the very back of the sound enclosure.  I drained about a quart or so of coolant, which let me get the end cap off without further incident.  Behind the end cap I found a considerable number of broken impeller pieces trapped at the inlet tubes.

Once I had all the pieces out it was pretty straightforward to get everything put back together, top the system off with fresh coolant, and install the replacement impeller.  Water flow from the generator exhaust is now better than we have ever seen since we bought the boat, suggesting that this problem has been brewing for a while.  I'm just glad we caught it before damage was done, and I am now thinking about adding a temperature switch to the generator run system which will shut it down if the wet exhaust hose rises above 200 or so.

It was well after lunch time by the time we finished and I had everything cleaned up.  As long as the tender was still in the water from last night's dinner run, we lined it around to the front of the boat so I could look at the bow eye shackle pin, which appeared to have broken it's mousing and backed out of the shackle several turns.  I noticed this during a routine check of the snubber yesterday evening before turning in.

When I got to the bow eye I found the stainless seizing wire we had used to mouse the shackle broken, and the pin backed out of the threads almost completely.  However, the pin itself was completely frozen to the bow eye, in which it was a tight-clearance fit by design.  Louise kept handing me down tools, staring with the four pound engineer hammer, and progressing through three sizes of pipe wrenches, but nothing I tried could free the pin enough to rotate it back into the threads on the shackle.

The silver lining here is that, with the pin this jammed, it is unlikely to come free and let the shackle loose.  Unfortunately, the single thread of engagement on one side is not really sufficient to carry the anchoring load in a big blow.  We will need to find a way to free the pin, clean out the bow eye, and replace the whole shackle assembly at some point.  In the meantime, I moused the pin to the shank of the bow eye itself with some light line, and declared it "good enough."

By this time, we had decided it was not really worth raising anchor just to go another few miles down the ICW, and besides, the forecast for outside has improved and it looks like we might be able to take the outside route all the way to Fort Lauderdale if we leave here in the morning.  We opted instead to just have a relaxing afternoon on board, and stay right here.  It's a pleasant holiday weekend, and several small boats pulling water skiers ran around the anchorage all afternoon.  Some of the wipeouts inspired us to make number signs, such as used by, for example, Olympic skating judges, to hold up when one happened nearby.  After that, three young men skiing from a very small outboard hammed it up for us the rest of their stay.

This is a very popular anchorage, and there are perhaps twenty other boats here, although we chose to anchor some distance from the pack.  One reason for this is that there is a small beach next to PGA boulevard where you can land your dinghy and walk to some shopping and restaurants.  I needed to resupply myself with eye drops, which I am consuming at a prodigious rate, and we were nearly out of beer, so I decided to dinghy in for some quick supplies before we hoisted the tender back aboard.  Louise decided to join me and we got beer, eye drops, fruit, and milk.  We already had dinner cooking, or we might have also decided to stay ashore and sample one of the restaurants.

It turned out to be a very enjoyable day, and we're glad we just stayed put.  The generator impeller was probably overdue for a change anyway, so it's hard to complain that I had a pleasant, calm anchorage in which to do it.  Mostly, it feels great to be back cruising, and away from the dock.

If the weather forecast holds, we may get an early start tomorrow and head outside.  With four days before we are due, though, it will be no problem to continue down the inside route, should that be our mood as we pass Peanut Island.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Counting down while down for the count

We are in our final week here in Stuart, counting down the days to our planned departure, currently slated for Wednesday morning.  I have another follow-up with the eye surgeon Tuesday morning, and I am hoping that my vision will have improved enough by then that I am fully functional.  That has decidedly not been the case thus far, so not much has gotten done around here over the last week.

My left, "LASIK" eye is great, with near-perfect vision, and I have been relying on it for nearly everything.  The right, "PRK" eye, while now focusing to better than 20/40, is still quite fuzzy due to the ongoing corneal healing.  One consequence of the two eyes being quite different is that I can't get a pair of reading glasses that works for both, and so I have been useless for close-up work.  Even reading and working on the computer is a challenge right now and I am limiting my time.  For the first few days after surgery, about all I could do was sit and converse, so we are happy to have the convenient company of friends here.

Re-certified raft in its cradle, before strapping it down.

It gets better every day, and I've been able to ride the scooter and get a few projects done that don't require close stereoscopic vision.  We got our life raft back and I mounted it to the boat deck, horizontally just behind the aft rail, and with the painter now attached in the proper place.  Louise sewed a spiffy cover for it out of Sunbrella fabric so we can keep it out of the sun, hoping to avoid the UV-related container damage it's been suffering exposed on the rail.

Raft weather cover, glistening in the morning dew. "Bump" at top right is the hydrostatic release, which is a couple of inches proud of the canister.  The cover is held on only by a shock-cord gather around the bottom, so it will come off with the raft should the boat sink.

The last of the new LED replacement bulbs for the tender arrived and I decided to install it, which prompted me to spend an afternoon up there working on things.  For example, I added an hour meter to the tender, so we have some clue as to when maintenance is due, and also so we can get a better handle on how much fuel is being used.

Tender fuel tank exposed.  Recalcitrant sender is right in the middle.

Speaking of fuel, the fuel gauge has been inoperative since we got it, which is a real liability with the built-in tank and no reserve supply.  When I first looked at this a few months ago, I found the gauge itself had never been properly connected, but correcting that problem revealed that the sender was also bad, reading a direct short to ground.  In for a penny, in for a pound, so as long as I was working on the tender I cut through the sealant and removed the floor over the fuel tank.  It turned out the sender shorted when the nut fixing the sender wire had been severely over-tightened, and I was able to repair it with some pliers and re-install it without having to hunt down a replacement.

In my last post I mentioned that our depth transducer had stopped working, and I ordered a replacement.  The first two places I tried were happy to take my order for items allegedly "in stock," only to email me a day later to say it was back-ordered.  I eventually found one and it arrived this week.  Imagine my surprise, though, when the old one was mysteriously working again when I powered the system back up, in preparation for testing the replacement.  We left it on and it has been working ever since.  The replacement has been set aside as a backup -- these kinds of intermittent failures trouble me perhaps more than anything else.

We've also had painters on the boat on and off for the last week, touching up rust spots as I mentioned in my last post.  They made a rookie mistake, though, grinding down to the steel on the edge of the transom without cleaning up the grinding dust.  When we washed the boat after they had finished, we noticed rust spots from the dust all over the swim step.  They came yesterday to remove the rust, and while the rust is gone, the paint is also irreparably damaged.  They are supposed to come back today to completely repaint the swim platform, but we are concerned that weather may intervene, in which case our planned departure date will be in jeopardy.

Grill cover in place.  There will be a zipper in the front when it's finished; Louise did not have one on hand.

As long as Louise had the sewing machine out for the life raft cover, she also made a cover for the BBQ grill, and fixed some clothing items to boot.  (We try not to fall into gender-normative roles around here, but the sewing machine baffles me.)  We've both been also busy getting everything aboard squared away for our departure, and we even made provisioning runs to Costco and the grocery store in our friends' rental car.  Things are definitely starting to feel cruise-ready.

George has been hanging in there, and many thanks to everyone who sent her well-wishes.  We've increased her sub-cue fluids to every other day, and she has her ups and downs.  We are thankful for every day we have with her.  Lately, she's been wanting to sleep on the same pillow with my head at night, which is a concern now that I am no longer wearing eye shields.  She manages to sneak in there without waking me, and I notice her when I roll over.

At this writing the weather is still looking good for an outside run on Wednesday, and it looks like Stephanie might join us for the run to Palm Beach, with Martin meeting us there for dinner.  That will still allow us a full week before our reservations in Fort Lauderdale, and we'd likely do two more hops with a pair of days between each.  Once we are on the move, I will be updating here more frequently, returning to my practice of one post from each stop.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Game changer

I was hoping to keep to no longer than two weeks between posts while we remain here in Stuart, but I seem to have gone over by a bit. I've been somewhat out of commission for the past couple of days, and even today typing is an effort. That's because I had refractive surgery Friday. Yesterday I merrily tossed two pairs of glasses and three pairs of contact lenses in the trash, and for the first time in 45 years I can see the walls when I wake up. Well, sort of -- I am still having to wear clear plastic shields taped over my eyes while I sleep.

I promise to get to an update on Vector momentarily, but for the curious among my family and friends, I will first share a few more details. Those who have known me a long time know that I was extremely nearsighted -- worse than 20/400, which is the maximum on the chart -- and I also had astigmatism. More casual acquaintances might never have known this, because I have worn hard contact lenses for the past 40 years, which corrected my vision completely.

One consequence of being blind without glasses or contacts is that I have been denied the simple pleasure of swimming, diving, and other water sports without worry.  Wearing the glasses there was always a worry they would come off, even with a sports strap (and they did just that, once, in the wave pool at Disney's Blizzard Beach), and many water parks even make you take them off before boarding some of the rides.  With my contacts in, I could not open my eyes under water or when being splashed.  As much as I like the water, though, it's been a small enough percentage of my life that I was willing to put up with all this rather than take on the risks (and pain) of refractive surgery.

Now that I live on a boat, surrounded by water almost every minute, and we are on the cusp of entering waters where I will be tempted to jump in virtually every day, I decided to take the plunge, if you will excuse the pun.  After a great deal of research I chose LASIK, with a well-experienced surgical team here in Stuart.  We knew we'd be here for at least two months, and one of the requirements for surgery is to stop wearing hard contact lenses at least that far in advance.

All well and good, but between my New Jersey nose and my pronounced brow reminiscent of neanderthals, they had a very hard time "docking" the flap-creating laser to my eyes.  I ended up having the LASIK procedure on the left eye, where they were ultimately able to dock the laser, and the PRK procedure on my right one, where they could not.  The PRK procedure has fewer risks and often results in better vision, but there is more post-operative discomfort and vision is distorted for days to weeks afterwards.  The good news is that I already see perfectly, well enough even to drive, with my uncorrected left eye.  I have some more follow-up appointments this week, but I should be seeing nearly perfectly with the right one, too, in another couple of weeks.

In the meantime, work has proceeded apace here aboard Vector.  I've finally gotten the dinghy chocks properly secured to the deck, and Louise managed to sew the dinghy cover back together after its longitudinal seam ripped open in a windstorm.  I also removed, refurbished, and reinstalled the dinghy's battery disconnect switch, which was so badly corroded that the whole electrical system was intermittent.  While I was at it, I upgraded the navigation lights to LEDs.

The electronics at the helm are finally 100% complete, and ASUS turned my laptop repair around in record time so we even have the nav computer back where it belongs.  Unfortunately, the depth transducer seems to have given up the ghost, a fact I learned when I put the nav computer back for testing.  I've ordered a replacement transducer, but the boat will need to be hauled out to replace it, turning a $300 part into a $1,000 project.  That needs to get done before we leave -- we can hardly navigate out of Stuart without it.

Also since last I posted here, we attended the Palm Beach boat show with Martin and Steph, where we ended up ordering our offshore medical kit (minus the AED, which we already have). That's mostly on board now, except we are still waiting on a pair of oxygen cylinders, which come via a different shipper.  Once we get our life raft back, scheduled for Tuesday, we will finally be fully equipped for an offshore passage.

A contractor here at the yard has been busy touching up all our rust spots, and we even sprang for a professional wash job.  I finally installed the test port for the watermaker, for when we get back out into open water, and I reconnected the aft deck shower and the watermaker flush port with some new PEX and fittings, tossing another three dozen feet of nasty-looking vinyl hose off the boat.

I made up a portable sediment filter for the fresh water fill hose, to keep gunk from getting in the tank in the first place, and I replaced the backlights on the rudder angle indicators with LED items, as the one on the flybridge had burned out recently.  I also removed one of the fixed shelves in the large locker in the master head, so Louise could reorganize in there with a nicer multi-drawer organizer.  Louise, meanwhile, also got the taxes done and off to the CPA.

So the boat has come along nicely, and once the depth sounder is replaced, we will be ready to cruise.  We've been enjoying the great weather and the company of friends here in Stuart.  We'd be happy as clams, but our happiness is tempered by the fact that our most loving cat, George, is deteriorating rapidly.  She slowed down so much, and started eating so little, that we brought her to the vet early last week, despite having her on subcutaneous fluids twice a week.  Her BUN and creatinine had skyrocketed since her episode in November, and even her phosphorous was elevated.  The vet kept her for two whole days to flush her out with IV fluids.

While the kidney values are much improved (at the expense of increased anemia), she is still moving very slowly and not eating much.  We honestly do not know how much longer she has left.  We are increasing her sub-cu to every other day, and trying to tempt her with whatever food she will eat, as the kidney diet is no longer appealing to her.  She does not seem uncomfortable, but it is very hard to watch the decline, and we are very sad.

At this writing, we are still on track for shoving off here mid-month.  By then my eyes should be nearly fully recovered and we should have been hauled out for the depth transducer, either here at Apex, or at nearby Hinckley if the Apex lift can't fit us.  Our first stop on the way south will be Palm Beach, and we'll take the outside route, weather permitting.  Steph might join us just for the ride, with Martin meeting us down there in the car, depending on where they are in their commissioning process.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Open Season

We are back at Apex Marine in Stuart, FL, albeit in a different spot than the one we left for Trawler Fest (map).  We arrived in high wind and mid-ebb, and it was all I could do to get the boat to the end tie on the south end of the dock, arriving as we did on the weekend, when there was no one around to tell us where to dock or help with lines.  We decided we like it here on the end, and the marina let us keep the spot, although I did turn the boat around at slack a day or so later, so we could off-load the scooters.

We've been here a full two weeks already, and the time has gotten away from me.  I keep thinking I will have a quiet hour or two in which to post to the blog, but the quiet time never comes.  I confess that I am looking forward to having most of the "heavy lifting" behind me so we can enjoy the boat without the Projects of Damocles hanging over me.

That's not to say that it has been all work and no play.  On the contrary, we've been enjoying the occasional evening out with Martin and Steph, or just the two of us, and we even made a jaunt to Fort Lauderdale, where the four of us enjoyed cocktails with our friends Dave and Carole, whom we met in Baltimore, aboard Buccaneer.  We even took some time this weekend for a late breakfast and a visit to the Arts Fest in Memorial Park, downtown, followed by a quick tour through the farmers' market.

The weather has been perfect over the last week or so, which is a mixed blessing.  It means boating season is entering full swing here, and on the weekends there are some number of inconsiderate skippers who blast by here in heavy boats on full plane, sending shock waves throughout the marina.  Sunday one particularly bad wake sent us crashing into the top of a piling, scuffing the paint on the edge of the boat deck.  By the time we got hit, the offender was too far away to get a name -- skippers are (in theory, anyway) responsible for any damage done by their wakes.

Mostly, though, I have been working on the boat since we returned.  The trip to Lake Park was something of a sea trial for some of the work I did during our first month here, including the new chart plotter setup as well as the new electrical system.  While we only anchored one night on that trip, I'm happy to report that the batteries, inverter, and new alternator all worked like a charm.  The chart plotter, though, had some issues.

The new chart plotting system had worked flawlessly on our way to Stuart back in January, when it was connected via a single serial port to our old SeaCas setup, which provided both GPS position and AIS target information in a single datastream.  That was a temporary arrangement, though, as we really need to have it connected to the new Furuno FA-100 class-A AIS transponder, along with a separate GPS position receiver as well as the autopilot system, so it can drive the boat.  Here in Stuart I upgraded the single-port serial interface to a four-port model, removed the SeaCas system (whose former antennas are now connected to the FA-100), and wired the FA-100, a GPS, and the AP20 autopilot to three of the four new ports.

At the dock, it all appeared to work as expected.  But when we got underway to Lake Park, the ship's position icon seemed to be jumping around, and our ground track looked like we had had a few beers before setting out.  Slowing down to anchoring speeds in Palm Beach, and while docking in Lake Park, the track was a bit more revealing: we appeared to be moving in short hops of straight lines, due east-west, due north-south, or, occasionally, at a 45 degree angle.

Our very squared-off track in Lake Park.  Click for full size to eliminate any moirĂ© effect.

That suggested that one of the position inputs was wonky.  The primary position source should have been the dedicated GPS, and this was the same unit that had been driving our old Northstar plotter quite successfully before the plotter itself gave up the ghost.  But I knew that the AIS was also providing a position input, embedded in the "own ship" information feed, that it was passing along from the Furuno radar/chartplotter system, and backed up by its own internal GPS.

Reasoning that either the two position sources, differing as they did by a few feet due to antenna locations, were causing the charted position to jump back and forth rapidly, or that one of the three GPS systems was providing bad data, I tried alternately disconnecting each of these two systems from the chartplotter on our way back to Stuart.  I also tried forcing the AIS onto its internal GPS by powering down the radar.  None of that changed the symptom, and we had a drunken trail most of the way back to Stuart as well.  Since we came back via the inside route, I did not have much opportunity to fiddle with it, as I needed to focus on driving the boat.  Ironically, the jumping around on the plotter was much more of a problem on the inside route than it would have been in the ocean.

We we very nearly all the way back to the marina when it finally occurred to me to disconnect the autopilot from the plotter.  This connection exists so that the plotter can send course information to the autopilot, to steer the boat.  But it is bi-directional, so that the autopilot can provide heading information (basically, the way the boat is pointed, as opposed to the direction in which it is traveling) to the plotter.  This lets you see at a glance that you are pointed one way, but moving another (for example, due to wind or current).  Et voila, the jumping around stopped immediately, our position was dead accurate, and our track was smooth.  We left the autopilot disconnected from the plotter for the remainder of the trip (we never let the plotter drive except in wide open water anyway).

Our much curvier smooth tracks from maneuvering into the slip here in Stuart.

It took me a while to track it down, but it turned out that, even though the documentation says the autopilot sends only heading sentences on output #2 (where the plotter is connected), it was actually sending a whole panoply of sentences, including GPS position sentences.  It was getting the GPS position from the Furuno radar/plotter, which is connected to input/ouput port #1 (so we can drive the boat from that system, too, if need be).  That alone probably would not have caused this problem, but apparently the autopilot was truncating the last two decimal places from the GPS position sentences.  Moreover, it was sending ten times as many position reports as either of the two actual GPS inputs. Having two fewer digits of position data yields the squared-off, stair-step plot that we were seeing.  The jumping would happen when a more accurate report arrived from one of the GPS units, immediately followed again by a less precise report from the autopilot.

I called Simrad to ask about this and they immediately knew the answer, as it is a known problem.  After having me check my software version they informed me that the problem had been fixed in a later (and final) release.  In the case of our now-antique unit, upgrading the software requires installing a new ROM, which any dealer will be happy to sell me for upwards of $200.  Instead I simply turned off the input from the autopilot on the plotter -- the pilot will still get commands from the plotter, but the plotter will not hear the pilot babbling away.  The plotter will get heading information from the AIS (which gets it from the autopilot in the first place) while we are under way, and we'll just forego having the heading display when we are at anchor unless we also keep the AIS powered up.

This is now my second interaction with Simrad (the first being when the Northstar quit working), and I would be hard-pressed to ever buy another piece of equipment from them.  By contrast, Furuno has been phenomenal in supporting their older gear on Vector, while they have yet to charge me a penny.  When I am in the market for a new radar or other dedicated marine electronics, they will be the first place I look.

Shortly after we returned here, the new VHF radio I ordered in Miami arrived.  We've been having some signal quality problems with the venerable Icom 602 in the pilothouse.  On top of the signal issues, the DSC is nearly impossible to use, and the loudhailer's fog repertoire lacks an anchor bell function.  It was a bit of an impulse buy, but I got a great deal on Standard Horizon's new top-of-the-line radio, which in addition to having user-friendly DSC operation and a fog bell, also has a built-in AIS receiver/display and its own built-in GPS.  The AIS is redundant aboard Vector, but having it built right into the radio means we can contact any AIS target via DSC with just a couple of button presses, rather than having to copy the MMSI off the AIS or plotter and enter it into the radio.

New radio installed, showing AIS "plotter" display and position.  I need to make a trim plate to cover the larger hole from the older radio.

The new radio looks and works great, but it is considerably smaller than the Icom and I will need to make a trim plate of some sort to cover the larger hole in the console.  I think I can get a fair amount of money for the old radio, but I first need to have Icom blank out our MMSI.  If that proves too troublesome or expensive, I'll just box it up and stow it as a spare.

While I was under the helm installing the new radio and wrapping up the plotter issues, I discovered some mis-wired grounds, and I am still in the process of cleaning those up.  I also took the opportunity to fish a CAT-5 up to the overhead and installed the proper exterior cable for the WiFi amplifier, which heretofore has been running on a jury-rigged cable hanging exposed from the pilothouse ceiling.  I hope to have all the under-helm work (for now) finished in the next couple of days, so I can replace all the safety gear that stows under there, which is currently strewn around the pilothouse.

Among the safety gear is a Zoll AED, which this month decided it needs new batteries.  That's straightforward enough, but in the process of looking up batteries I learned it also needs a software update.  As if I did not already have enough to do, that's one more project on the list.  As long as I am on the subject of safety gear, the life raft also needs to be re-certified, and I took it off its mounts in preparation for bringing it in for service.  In the process I discovered it had been installed upside down.  I'll be moving the bracket anyway before re-installing it, as the old position on the starboard rail of the boat deck made it the widest thing on the boat, and more than once I had to dodge a piling threatening to knock it off the boat.

Upside-down raft canister.  This cord, which serves as the painter and also activates the inflator, is supposed to be on top.

I actually typed all the foregoing paragraphs Sunday afternoon, with the best of intentions to finish up and get this posted on Monday, making an even two weeks since my last update.  But Monday morning I had my first consultation at the ophthalmologist for Lasik surgery, and they dilated my eyes, which kept me off the computer the rest of the day.  Instead, I put on very dark sunglasses and we hitched a ride with Steph, on her way to Fort Lauderdale to pick Martin up from the airport, so we could drop the life raft off at Viking in Miami for service.

In the back of the Viking warehouse I felt like a very insignificant drop in a very large ocean.  The huge facility was stacked to the rafters with enormous canisters of ship-sized rafts awaiting service.  One whole section was dedicated to Carnival Cruises, for example, and if you've ever been aboard a cruise ship you've seen dozens of these, looking a bit like oversized 55-gallon drums on their sides, racked on the decks to supplement the hard-sided lifeboats.  The young lady taking my service order assured me that I did not have the smallest raft -- they make one size smaller than ours.  At least I know we are in good company with our six-person, offshore rated raft with IMO-compliant emergency equipment pack.

So surely Tuesday I could have finished this diatribe and gotten it posted.  Ha.  While I was reading my morning news over my first cup of coffee, the screen on my fairly new Asus laptop went kaput.  As in not readable at all.  I cleared a spot on the chart table, heretofore piled high with project paraphernalia, so I could plug the laptop into the same monitor we use for the chartplotter.  Fortunately, the rest of the laptop was fully operational, but there went my whole day, as I then spent the rest of the day arranging for warranty repair, backing up all my data, and clearing off any confidential information in preparation for sending it in.  We dropped it at the post office yesterday evening; ironically, it is going to Milpitas, California, where I lived for several years.  I have my fingers crossed that we'll have it back here before we want to shove off, mid-April.

Hmm.  I can't read this at all...

I'm now back to using my old laptop, which you might recall was recently re-purposed as the new chart plotter at the helm.  It took a while for me to get all my email and other items synced back up to this computer, and it's a little clunky, but it will suffice until I get my new one back.  It still has all the charts on it, too, so it can quickly be put back at the helm should we need to get under way.

Speaking of laptops, when we are under way, Louise sets hers on the table at the pilothouse settee, where she is generally seated while I am driving.  She has the same chart software loaded, and this gives us two sets of eyes on the charts.  Moreover, I can ask her, for example, to scroll ahead, or to read the details of some chart object such as a marina or anchorage, without having to divert the screen of the main chart plotter for that function.  Up to now, we've been using one of those USB-connected GPS "pucks" to show our position on her computer.  Naturally, the puck does not get a great signal inside the aluminum pilothouse, and, having it positioned as near as practical to the port side window for this reason, her display always shows us a little to the left of where our main plotters show us.

Having removed the SeaCas AIS unit to make way for the Furuno FA-100 transponder, I saw an opportunity here to ditch the puck and its clumsy cable running across the settee, get her a more accurate updated position fix, and add AIS targets to her display all in one fell swoop, and so I ordered an inexpensive car-top GPS antenna and a "rubber ducky" VHF antenna made for handhelds and re-installed the SeaCas unit in the flybridge coaming, running the output down to her position on the settee.  I also installed a power outlet in the settee, so she no longer has to drape the cord around to the galley.

Amplified GPS antenna and flexible VHF antenna installed on the flybridge.  The receiver is under the coaming and wired to the pilothouse settee area.

So this might be taking redundancy to the point of absurdity, but we now have aboard Vector three separate AIS receivers, four working VHF transceivers, four fully separate chart plotters with their own position inputs, and six dedicated GPS receivers.  And that's not counting three Android phones and one iPad, all with their own GPS receivers, as well as the aforementioned puck, which can be added to a third laptop, if needed, for chart display.  The only way we can get lost is if the GPS constellation goes dark, and even then, we carry paper charts and know how to dead reckon.

All of the re-wiring of NMEA inputs and outputs to get all this working was the excuse I needed to finally clean up the mess under the helm that formerly passed for an NMEA "junction," and now it's all wired through a compression terminal block and properly labeled.  The depth transducer is also now connected to the radar/plotter as well as the numerical display, so we can get a graphic picture of the bottom, and the depth is also being passed to the PC plotter, so it can be correlated directly with the depths on the chart.

Not the prettiest, but a far cry from the way it was, and more flexible and functional.  I was a bit too limited on real estate to dress all the wires off squarely.

While I was under the helm I also installed a wireless remote for the anchor windlass.  One of the two foot switches crapped out a few months ago, and I've been having to work the windlass from the helm, with Louise giving me instructions over the headsets.  I'd like to fix the foot switch, too, but I'm worried removing it will damage the paint, and I want to wait until we are having paint work done on the foredeck.

I still have a lot left to do before we are ready to take the boat out of sight of land.  The life raft bracket needs to be bolted down in its new location, the new tender chocks need to be secured, the water maker needs to be serviced, and a host of smaller projects needed to be ticked off the list.  I have another three weeks or so of relative calm here in Stuart, and I am hoping to have the boat open-ocean-ready by the time we leave.

As it stands now, our plan is to shove off from here mid-April and head to Fort Lauderdale, where we will spend a week or so visiting folks.  After that, things are a bit fuzzier, but we'll either continue south to Miami and the keys, or else head east to the Bahamas.  We'll remain in these southerly latitudes until June or so, when we plan to head north along the US east coast for what is likely the last time in the foreseeable future.

With any luck, it will be something less than another two weeks before I post here again.  For one thing, I need to commit the 24-volt upgrade project to writing before it fades too much from memory, and for another, these gargantuan updates are a bear to type.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to try to sell a VHF radio, an inverter, and maybe a bus.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

That's a wrap

We are at the Lake Park municipal marina, along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Lake Park, Florida (map).  We are on the floating docks on the south side of the basin; the Trawler Fest show completely consumed the fixed docks on the north side, and the marina was completely overwhelmed when we arrived.  We ended up station-keeping in the basin for several minutes while they figured out who we were and directed us to our spot.

While we are only a couple hundred feet from the show boats by water, it's a long walk around the basin by land.  Still, it was nice to just be able to walk to the show; apparently, most of the staff, vendors, and attendees are in hotels across the ICW, a 15 minute or so drive.  We were able to walk home for lunch, and stumble home with no worries after the nightly cocktail parties.

We had a great time.  We did not find anything here that we needed to purchase, and there were only a handful of boats that were new to us from which we could get some ideas, but we reconnected with a dozen or so old friends, and made some new ones, too.  The connections we make at these shows have been great sources of information for our cruising life.

We docked starboard-side-to and so were unable to offload the scooters, so we really have not gone further afield than a few blocks from the marina.  There is a grocery store a very short walk from the dock, which has come in handy with four of us aboard, and a nice white-tablecloth restaurant, the Pelican Cafe, a few blocks north, where we had dinner before the show started.

The show wrapped up last night, and many of the exhibitor boats have already left.  We've decided to move along as well, and with no other particular destination in mind, we've decided to head back to Stuart with Martin and Steph.  They need to be back this evening, so we'll shove off this morning near slack water and head north.  Conditions outside are not great, and we'd hit the St. Lucie Inlet at an unfavorable tide, so we'll instead take the inside route up the ICW.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Back under way

We are anchored just inside Lake Worth Inlet, near Palm Beach, Florida (map).  Aboard with us are our friends Steph and Martin, taking a brief break from the commissioning of their new boat to join us at Trawler Fest, which starts tomorrow in nearby Lake Park.

We shoved off yesterday morning at 7am from our slip at Apex Marine, from which we had not budged in six weeks.  Other than when we were on the hard at the boatyard, that's the longest we've stayed in any one spot without moving, and it feels good to finally have a change of scenery.  Also, we got a good chance to test out many of the changes we made to the boat while we were in Stuart.

We had fantastic weather for the outside run, and once we were well past the jetties at St. Lucie Inlet we had calm seas with gentle ~2' rollers.  With little breeze it actually got a bit warm in the pilothouse even with the doors open, with the massive expanse of glass facing south, and so we spent the middle portion of the day on the flybridge -- a perfect day on the Atlantic.  We might easily have come the whole way less than a mile off shore, but we angled out to the three mile limit and back in order to empty our tanks.

It has been over two weeks since my last post here, and once again I have a great deal to update.  I do also still plan to write up the whole electrical system upgrade as a separate post, but I literally just finished the project three days ago, and I need a few hours to gather it all together.  At least I can report that all worked well during yesterday's test run, and last night was our first at anchor on the new batteries and inverter and we finally can make it through a whole day without running the generator.

When last I posted here, we were just about to leave for the Miami boat shows.  Parking in Miami Beach turned out to be quite the challenge, and we missed an hour or so of show by the time we got parked and into the convention center.  We stayed all the way to closing time at 6pm, and I just barely made it to all the vendors on my list.  I think we made it up and down 85% or so of the aisles as well, and we picked up a handful of items for the boat.  I also ordered a new VHF radio for the pilothouse, thus adding to my already lengthy project list.

One of the reasons to attend on (and spring the upcharge for) "premier" day at the show is that the manufacturers send their technical reps for that day.  We got great information from Lugger, the manufacturer of our engine and generator, Wema, who made our tank monitors, Nautical Structures, who made our crane, Naiad, who made our stabilizers, and ACR, who made our searchlight and EPIRB.  I also spent a good deal of time with the head guy at Standard Horizon, which cleared up enough of my questions to enable me to order their newest radio.  All in all a great investment, and we'll probably come back to this show again some day for just that reason.

Even though we did not make it to absolutely every booth on Thursday, we decided it was not worth paying another full day's admission Friday, and we opted instead to go to the Boat and Brokerage show a little further north, which is free.  We went through the handful of booth vendors there, and walked through a few boats as well, before finishing up at "Cruiser Port," which is a miniature version of Trawler Fest that pops up within other major boat shows.  That left us just enough time to get back to Stuart and our lonely cats Friday evening, and the car back to Budget on Saturday morning.

Last week's great project was, of course, the installation of the granite in the galley.  I had to defer completion of the electrical project and other engine work until the granite was done, so that I could have my parts of the project done in time for the granite installers to do their thing.  That meant, for the most part, my least favorite activity: plumbing.  As long as we were getting new sinks which would require re-plumbing of the waste lines, I took the opportunity to remove the hokey ABS unvented traps and wastes all the way down to the metal stubs at the base of the cabinets, and start over.

Granite being shimmed during installation.  This is the cooktop cutout.

I also took the opportunity presented by all this to install an under-counter filtration system at the wet bar.  We've been using a faucet-mounted Brita filter at that sink to get our drinking water, and we wanted to get rid of the unsightly and somewhat less convenient faucet-mount, with its expensive proprietary cartridges, in favor of an industry-standard filter holder and a dedicated spigot on the countertop.  This would also allow us to plumb the ice-maker into a filtered source, whereas before it was connected directly to the supply from the tank.

New PEX water lines (left), filter (center) and waste plumbing (right).

Redoing the fresh water plumbing meant removing the supply valves and a handful of fittings upstream, and I decided that now was as good a time as any to replace all the crappy galvanized steel pipe in this part of the system.  That added more than a full day to the project, involving ripping out some 40' or so of 1/2" galvanized pipe in the engine room and replacing it with PEX.  This has been a long time coming, and we now finally have at least one place in the boat where we can get fresh water that has not been flowing through decade-old galvanized pipe.  I still need to do this for the rest of the boat, but at least there is no galvanized potable plumbing left aft of the engine room bulkhead.

Countertops removed.  The duct at left carries HVAC from the unit below the counter to the grille in the upper cabinets and is normally covered by trim.

In order to get the wet bar countertop out (and the new one in), I also needed to disassemble the lowest level of the built-in wet bar bottle rack.  I had to pick up a brad nailer to put it all back in -- fortunately, there is a Harbor Freight in town and I was able to grab one on sale for $22, as I really didn't want to spend $80 or more on a "lifetime" tool to shoot perhaps four dozen brads for this and some other trim projects around the boat.

New wet bar counter and sink with new faucet at left and drinking water tap to its right.  You can tell what's important on our boat -- the wine is wearing its own life vest...

Even though we paid the granite company for "demolition," a modest $75 fee that included hauling away the old counters and sinks, I removed the wet bar counter myself, and also removed all the fasteners from the galley counters and broke them loose.  That left only cutting them in two and carting them off the boat for the granite guys.  The new counters also came in two pieces, with a small seam in the center of the sink cutout.  They did need to take two of the counters back off the boat to make a few additional cuts with a diamond saw -- the stove cutout was too small, and the wet bar counter needed an adjustment.

Fixing dinner on the new counter.  The nice large sink is a bonus, and the seam between sections is barely visible.  We added soap dispensers for hand and dish soap on either side of the single-handle faucet.

The new counters are gorgeous, and really make a huge difference to the look and feel of the galley area.  In addition to the new drinking water tap in the wet bar, we also had to get a new single-handle faucet as well, as the two-handle one that was in there did not leave enough room for both.  The new spigot makes it easier to fill the coffee pot and our water pitchers, too.  Most of all, I'm glad to finally be rid of the hokey plywood square that's been filling in for the counter where I removed the electric range back in June.

The old solid-surface countertop, before removal.  What a difference.

After the granite was in it took me another full day to get all the plumbing back in.  As long as I was adding fully new drains, I brought the stacks all the way up to just below the counters and installed mechanical vents on each, which has reduced considerably the amount of "blurping" that we hear when the washing machine drains, as well as allowing the new sinks to drain a bit better.

New replacement O-ring on left, old, leaky one on right.  Definitely not the correct part.

By the time all this was done we had just a few days left before shoving off for Trawler Fest, and it was a mad scramble to get everything done.  With the old alternator off the engine I needed to yank the raw water pump to address a long-time oil leak.  I had already purchased a replacement O-ring, and I was certain that I would find the old one pinched, cracked, or dried out.  Instead I found an O-ring that was several sizes too small in thickness for the application.  Considering the reversed cover plate and the took marks I found on the raw water side of the pump I can only conclude that some technician somewhere pulled the whole pump off the engine to get a cantankerous impeller out, then used the O-ring intended for the cover plate to reinstall the flange to the engine.

"Inside" the water pump cover.  Stamped writing indicates this was originally the outside and it was flipped when the inside became worn.

The new alternator, being exactly the same frame as the old one, fit on without any trouble, and I was able to use my Gorilla Bar to tension the new pair of V-belts.  A quick stationary test of the new unit under load showed more than the rated 110 amps.  We detected a faint burning smell, which we are attributing to break-in as the belts seat and the manufacturing oils burn out from the new parts.

Getting everything cleaned up and secured after all the projects was itself a big undertaking, and I also had to finish wiring the new chartplotter system to the autopilot before getting under way.  We just barely got it all done, but almost everything worked perfectly on the way here.  The two separate GPS inputs to the new chart system appear to be causing some "jumping" of the position signal, and I need to learn the routing commands, but the oil leak is gone and we had plenty of juice from the new alternator under way.

The new hydrostatic release for the EPIRB arrived just before we left, and, along with having just recertified the unit with a brand new battery, updated that part of our safety regime before our ocean excursion, leaving only updating the life raft on our major safety-related list.  Good thing we are not signed up for any seminars at Trawler Fest, just cocktails -- as an arriving cruise ship suggested to me this morning, I need a vacation.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Milestones, millstones, and Miami

Once again I must apologize for the lengthy delay in updating the blog.  We have been incredibly busy here aboard Vector, and every time I am in the frame of mind to post, something more immediate preempts it.  I had intended to post an update at the end of January, and here it is nearly half past February and I am just now getting to it.  I will touch upon many of the distractions here in this post.

The last part of January saw some important milestones.  Observant long-time readers will realize that we celebrated our first anniversary of boat ownership shortly after I last posted here.  About a week later, I celebrated another successful voyage around the sun.  Both occasions passed with little fanfare, although it was nice to have our friends and fellow cruisers Martin and Steph here to help us celebrate.

Speaking of Martin and Steph, their own long-range trawler arrived here in Stuart at the Nordhavn docks just south of us a couple of weeks ago, and we drove out with them to the inlet to watch her come in.  We had also driven down to Fort Lauderdale with them the preceding day to see her at the docks at Bahia Mar, where she overnighted after off-loading.  Bahia Mar is very familiar to us from three Trawler Fest events there, and we all had a nice lunch next door at Coconuts.

We've been spending lots of time with them since they arrived, having dinner together perhaps two nights out of three.  Part of that has been catching up, part of it has been boat talk, and part has been helping them through the passing of their cat, who made it all the way here only to be diagnosed with inoperable cancer.

When we are not with them, of course, I am working on the boat, and that has been essentially non-stop since my last post here.  I always have a long list of projects, and we even had a somewhat shorter list of "things to get done while we are in Stuart."  The lists are so long that it is hard to decide where to start.  No problem, though, because more often than not, the decision gets made for us.

Usually that happens because something I have on my list, that I know is a failure waiting to happen, actually fails, and then I can put it off no longer.  This happens often enough that we have an expression around here: "the boat chooses."  But the big one on this visit actually got scheduled as a direct result of my last post.

In that post I mentioned that I would be renting a truck and running down to Miami to pick up new batteries.  I'm not sure what market dynamic is at work here, but the Miami/Fort Lauderdale distributor consistently has lower prices than anyone else on the east coast.  My buddy Steve in Fort Lauderdale read that little tidbit, and contacted me just a day later to say he would be coming up this way to check on his boat on the Okeechobee waterway, and would I like him to just bring the batteries with him when he came up.

After a few messages back and forth we learned he could get a better price than could I from his usual distributor, and he did enough business with them that they would give him until the return trip to bring back the cores.  And so it was that, even though I was nowhere near ready to start the Great Battery Replacement Project, I was now committed to swapping the batteries themselves less than five days hence.

The batteries, at 165-170 lbs apiece, weigh 15% more than I do, and I spent a full day getting them out of the racks and dragging them over to the ladder leading to the aft deck, after first spending another full day rewiring the engine starting circuits and then jury-rigging the whole boat to run off what is now the lone engine/generator starting battery while the house batteries were out of commission.

Poor Martin, who is also outweighed by these batteries, got pressed into service to help me haul them up the ladderway with a block-and-tackle I borrowed from the boat next door. We then used the crane to haul them off the boat one at a time and load them into a dock cart for the trip to shore.

A pair of new batteries on the deck.

Steve arrived just in time for lunch along with his wife Harriet and friends Lou and Renea.  Steve and Lou both have ex-Pegasus Neoplan Spaceliner buses, and so having the three couples together at lunch was a sort of mini-gathering of the heretofore non-existent Neoplan Spaceliner Owners' Group.  They also both have large cruising boats and so we have a lot of common ground.

Hoisting a battery down the hatch.  Note the jury-rigged board to suspend the block and tackle over the hatchway.

Steve, Martin, and I unloaded the new batteries from Steve's truck after lunch, and Martin helped me get them down the dock and next to Vector after Steve and the gang left.  Louise and I were able to get them onto the boat and back down the ladderway into the engine room two days later, and then I was able to finally start on the big project, which long-time readers may recall involves switching the boat's electrical system from 12 volts to 24 volts.

Chaos in the engine room, with all six batteries on the floor.

That will be the subject of a post in itself.  For one thing, it's a long tale and this post is already heading for the far side of "too long."  For another, I expect some people who don't normally follow along here will be interested in that project and I want to have a stand-alone post to which I can link later on.

I need to remediate this rust before I can rack them.

The combined project of changing the batteries, rewiring the core electrical system, and replacing the inverter have consumed the lion's share of my time over these past two weeks, with some 50 hours or so in it so far.  We're now running on the new batteries and inverter, but I'm not done yet, as I still need to replace the engine alternator.  I'll write up the whole project, with photos, when it is fully completed.

Lest it sound like it has been nothing but work since we arrived, I will also say that we've had a good amount of pleasant weather and have enjoyed many beautiful sunsets from the deck.  I also watched the launch of Nasa's TDRS-L satellite from our upper deck, which was spectacular as it arced across the night sky even though we are a fair ways from Canaveral here.  And we made the time to walk across to Loggerhead Marina for Kadey-Krogen's open house, where we toured perhaps six of their top-of-the-line Krogen 58 models (including the aforementioned neighbor from whom I borrowed the block and tackle) along with a couple of smaller boats more akin to Vector.

I also do not want to leave the false impression that, aside from the surprise acceleration to the schedule, I have been working seamlessly on the electrical system when not socializing.  It is inevitable that in the midst of such a long project, the boat will intervene with some demands of her own.

For example, I mentioned that we used the crane to hoist the batteries off the boat, onto the dock, and into a dock cart.  To avoid damaging the boat, I kept the wire rope, "headache ball," and sky hook above the level of the boat deck, opting to connect the lifting sling to those harder bits with a nylon line.  When we were done for the day, I tied the line off to the rail to keep it all from swinging around, knowing we would need the same setup to get the new batteries back onto the boat.

It was a rainy evening -- my brand new batteries were sitting on the dock getting drenched -- and while we were sipping our final postprandial glass of wine we heard the horrible sound of an electric motor whirring, then straining, then stopping.  At first we thought it might be coming from the engine room, but then we realized it was the crane.  I turned off the breaker and the lights in the boat visibly brightened, and when I checked the line it was bar-tight.  The crane is rated at 800 pounds and can probably exert 2-3 times that amount of force, so I backed away without disturbing anything further.

It turned out that water had worked its way into the hand controller, shorting the switch and commanding the winch to retract.  I was able to dry it out enough to command it to extend, and we disconnected the controller and left the winch power off.  Lesson learned -- never leave the davit breaker energized except when actually engaged in hoisting operations, and don't leave the supposedly weatherproof hand controller out in the rain.

We made it all the way through the hoist-in operation the next day with only one uncommanded retraction, and the controller is now on my workbench to see if I can improve the weather resistance somewhat when I am done with the bigger projects.

A day or so later, after my morning shower and while I was shaving, I realized I was not hearing the gray water sump running periodically, as it should be while using the sink.  I opened the bilge to find most of my shower water in the bottom, having overflowed the sump.  The batteries sat unconnected another day while I wrestled with the sump, finding the pump clogged.  I ended up removing the pump altogether to try to resuscitate it on the bench, but there is no way to open one of these up and no amount of cleaning and lubrication would get it to spin more than a single revolution.  I ended up going to West Marine on a Sunday morning to buy a new pump, which took me the rest of the day to install due to cramped working quarters and the fact that the replacement was a different brand, with a different bracket, than the original.

The unscheduled sump project spanned two days, and as the sump is in the guest stateroom bilge, we simply closed off that room before we headed to dinner Saturday evening with our friends.  Forgetting there was a giant hole in that room where part of the floor used to be, Louise stepped into the darkened room after coming back from dinner and fell straight into the bilge.  She has bruises all over and lots of sore muscles, but we were very, very lucky -- she did not break any bones.  (It's been over a week now, and she is on the mend albeit still a little black-and-blue.) Another lesson learned -- either put the floor back, or leave a light on when taking a break from working in the bilge.

The electrical project is also massive enough that I am interrupting it periodically to wrap up other projects as I am able.  For example, the updated board for the AIS came back from Furuno, and the connectors, cables, and adapters I needed to connect it to the permanent antennas on the mast arrived, so I spent some time getting all of that working again, to include cramming the two antenna cables through our already overstuffed vertical chases in the pilothouse.  Also the repaired microphone came back from Icom just a couple of days after I had sent it out.

New cable to connect the AIS on the console to the antenna lead-in in the overhead.  I had to connectorize this after pulling it into the chase -- no way to pull the whole connector through.

Among the many projects on our "do in Stuart" list was replacing the carpet in the master stateroom with woven vinyl Bolon sheet goods that Louise bought when we were still in Deltaville.  She also bought tile squares of a similar material at the same time, which I installed in the salon while we were in Charleston.  We could not really use the squares in the stateroom, because there are hatches throughout the room which may need to be accessed periodically, and so we needed something that could be lifted as needed and then laid back down, and the squares really need to be adhered to the subfloor more or less permanently.

Using the old carpet as a template for the new flooring.

Unlike the squares, I needed to cut the sheet goods to shape off the boat, and here that meant in the parking lot.  That necessitated doing the bulk of the cutting on a weekend, and, reluctant as I was to interrupt the electrical project yet again, with another big project to boot, we were running out of weekends.  So Sunday we hauled the Bolon out to the parking lot along with the old carpet as a rough pattern, and by the end of the day I had the forward half of the stateroom finished.

The finished product.  Shadows in this photo make it look blotchy -- it's not.

It's not possible to do the whole room in one section, as the carpet had been.  Instead we had two different-sized remnant sections of the same material, and I have a small seam on each side of the berth.  This also lets us get to most of the hatches without having to lift the much larger forward section of flooring.  Double-sided carpet tape holds down the edges and keeps the seams even, and when it loses its grip from too many removals we will just replace the tape.

Another project on the "Stuart" list was to replace the galley counters with granite.  Anyone following along since Deltaville may remember that I replaced a three-burner electric range with a dishwasher and two-burner induction cooktop, and we've been living with a square of plywood filling in the missing section of countertop ever since.  We finally got a quote we could live with from a local countertop outfit, and they came this morning to make templates, for installation next week.  It should look nice when it is done, but of course I have more work ahead of me undoing the plumbing and the old counters.

A sample of the new granite, atop the Corian it will replace.  Hard to capture the true colors in a photo like this.

To punish me for taking so long to get around to posting here, Neptune had two more surprises for us in the past week.  One of the boarding gate latches popped off as Louise was boarding with an armful of groceries, trying desperately not to let the gate hit her in the bruised hip.  Of course, that latch went straight to the bottom of the marina, and, as luck would have it, they are no longer made.

Finally, two days ago, just before dawn, we were awakened by the unmistakable sound of the water pump running.  The vinyl hose supplying hot water to the sink in the guest head had popped off its barb, where it had been barely seated and poorly clamped during construction.  Hot water quickly filled the locker below, cascading out onto the teak-and-holly floor and raining down into the bilge that we had just finished cleaning and drying from the previous week's sump episode.  Fortunately, we got the water shut off after only perhaps a dozen gallons or so -- had this happened while we were away, all 500 gallons of our fresh tank could have done untold damage to woodwork and soft goods.  We don't have a dock water connection, but this is a key reason why we would never use one even if we had it -- you can't sink the boat by pumping from an on-board tank.

Tomorrow we pick up a rental car so that we can zip down to the Miami Boat Show on Thursday.  We're not going there to look at boats, but I have a long list of vendors and products to check out in the convention center.  The alternator and the plumbing will have to wait another couple of days.  With any luck, I should have it all done and the whole boat back together before we shove off for Trawler Fest at the end of the month.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Settled in

We are tied up at Apex Marine, on the north fork of the St. Lucie River in Stuart, Florida (map).  Apex is a boatyard and also manages the docks for Allied Marine, a brokerage here.  A majority of the boats here are for sale, listed by Allied, nearby Kadey Krogen, or other brokers including our very own Curtis Stokes.

We actually arrived here a full week ago, on Wednesday.  Upon checking the forecast after my last post, we learned that conditions would deteriorate rapidly starting late Wednesday, making docking here Thursday dicey at best, if even possible.  So Wednesday morning we got an early start and headed straight here, calling on the way to see if they could take us a day earlier than we had planned.

No problem, but by the time we arrived winds had already started to pick up considerably, and backing into the slip from a narrow fairway was challenging.  The boat "walks" to starboard in reverse, and the wind was also sending us that way, while as luck would have it the dock was to port.  It did not help to have a brand new $1.5M+ Krogen 58 on my starboard side, but with some help with the lines from the yard staff we got tied up without incident.

There are a lot of large, expensive boats here, and Vector looks almost diminutive in the lineup, a sharp contrast from some of our recent stays, where she was the largest boat in the marina.  Just driving down the fairway with all the expensive gelcoat on either side of us was a bit intimidating.  Fortunately, we're in for the long haul now -- no need to move even to pump out.  Martin County has a free pump-out boat that makes the rounds, and we had them stop by yesterday.  County ordinance requires us to have a pump-out receipt every ten days.

The trip down from Fort Pierce was otherwise uneventful, although it gets a bit exciting at "the crossroads," the intersection of the dredged channels that constitute the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which follows the Indian River, and the Okeechobee Waterway, which follows the St. Lucie River.  The ebb in the St. Lucie can be fierce, and I had to hand steer with vigor to keep within the channel as we approached the intersection.

To add to the excitement, the new AIS squawked twice just as we were in the thick of it with "messages."  Sheesh, we just installed this thing -- who can be trying to send us a message?  As it turns out, they were test messages from NAIS, I think in advance of MLK (at least, those initials were in the message), possibly some sort of DHS preparation.  The sending station turned out to be an enormous land-based mast antenna southeast of Orlando.

Speaking of the AIS, it's now "down for maintenance," as I've had to send the main board to Washington for a firmware update.  When it comes back we should be getting proper reporting of all in-range targets, including the Class-B ones that came into being after this unit was first released.  I've also returned the microphone from our pilothouse VHF radio to Icom, who promised to replace the cord, with its crumbling insulation, at no charge.  With any luck we will have both items back aboard and in service before we shove off for Trawler Fest at the end of February.

Now that we are settled in for a month, we've started dealing with a number of routine medical checkups as well as some administrative minutia that is all best handled while stationary for a while.  One of the administrative issues had to do with "registration" for the boat, an issue necessitated by Florida law, which allows visiting yachts a 90-day stay so long as they have registration in their home state.

We had no such registration, of course.  We chose Delaware as a home port, in part because they do not require any registration of federally documented boats, have no tax on boats, and have reasonably easy procedures for registering the tender and other administrative matters.  We knew, too, that they would be happy to issue us a registration sticker for Vector, with an administrative fee, should such a sticker be required by another state.

We were assuming that we'd have Delaware send us the sticker here once we got settled in, which would give us the 90-day grace, taking us to the end of March, at which time we'd have to have Vector out of the state.  We could then come back for up to another 90 days, up to 180 in a year.  When we shared this with local friends and professional skippers Chris and Alyse, they suggested we could just register the boat in Florida instead, which would eliminate the need to be counting days.

After doing a bit of research on our own, it appears that we can register the boat here without becoming Floridians ourselves, and since we've had the boat longer than six month and it has been out of Florida that whole time (closer to a year, actually), no Florida tax will be due.  Registering the boat here is just shy of $200 -- only a bit more than it would cost for a Delaware sticker, and that's a bargain compared to what it would cost us to move it out of the state for a few days at the end of 90 days.

So Florida gets some more of our money, we get to stay as long as we like, and everyone is happy.  We now have a shiny new Florida sticker on our window, which will deter the marine patrols from pestering us to prove we've not overstayed the grace period or to show them proof of registration in another state.  We did spend nearly an hour, though, showing receipts to prove the boat was out of Florida for the first six months we owned it.

In between doctor appointments and DMV visits I've been trying to whittle away at the project list; today I installed new blinds in the guest stateroom to match the ones we already installed in the rest of the boat.  My port multiplexer is here and other parts will arrive over the next few days to finish up the chartplotter project, and I will start on the battery rewiring in the next few days so I can run down to Miami for new batteries in the next couple of weeks.

Today our friends Martin and Steph arrive from California and will settle in to their temporary apartment here in town; their new boat should be arriving sometime around the end of the week.  If they are not too bushed after a full day of travel -- with a cat, no less -- we will meet them tonight for dinner.

As I have said here before, my goal, although not always met, is to blog once from each stop, in other words, every time we move the boat.  Now that we're stationary for a bit, I will not be posting as frequently, but I will try to put something up every now and then with an update on the projects.  Our next voyage will not be until the end of February, when we head south to Lake Park for Trawler Fest.