Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Low water

We are anchored in a ravine known as Carter Branch, off Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River (map). On one side of us is a steep forested hill and the other a bit less steep with some houses. It was so narrow I could not really capture it in a photo. Houses notwithstanding, it was dark, quiet, and dead calm in the cove overnight.

Sunset from our quiet anchorage on Lake Guntersville Saturday night.

Sunday we locked down through Guntersville Dam into General Joe Wheeler Lake. Up to this point, the lakes have been just a foot or so below full pool, but Wheeler is down four feet, and just a bit more than a foot over the minimum pool for navigation. The level has dropped nearly three feet since we came through the lake on the upbound leg.

When we passed in the other direction, this pocket tug was afloat.

Not really a big problem for us under way, as the minimum navigation channel on the sailing line is nine feet. But going off-channel to anchor, particularly in some of the smaller bays and coves, can be a challenge. We stayed in the main river. Yesterday  morning found us anchored just upriver of the I-65 bridge in Decatur, Alabama (map).

We were actually ready to stop a bit sooner than that, but there are no buoys for the 20 miles leading down to this bridge, and we were not comfortable anchoring for the night without clearly delineated channel to keep the tows well away. The bridge, while navigable for almost the entire span, afforded some protection because the tows only use the two marked navigation spans.

It turned out to be a great spot, with just a bit of shimmering light from Decatur in the distance. We were far enough from the bridge that the Interstate noise was not an issue. And in the morning, the river was so calm we could see reflections in it.

Leaving our very calm anchorage Monday morning, with the I-65 bridge reflected in the river. Decatur beyond.

We had a beautiful cruise yesterday, and an uneventful down-lockage through the Joe Wheeler dam. We've been passing a lot of "looper" boats over the past week, as they just wrapped up their rendezvous at the Joe Wheeler State Park.

We might easily have traversed the entire length of Wilson Lake yesterday and locked down through Wilson Lock to Florence -- we're making much better time than I had anticipated, in part because we're having to stretch a bit to find anchorages. Since we'd already made plans in Florence for Wednesday and Friday, arriving Monday seemed a bit premature, and we opted to stop here in the lake instead.

Cliffs on Joe Wheeler Lake.

This morning we will lock through at the enormous Wilson Lock, and we should be anchored in Florence by mid-day. We're looking forward to a nice stop there before continuing downriver into new territory.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Engine Room Fire Suppression System

Earlier this month I mentioned that I was installing an automatic fire suppression system in Vector's engine room. Today's post is entirely about the motivation, selection, design, and installation of this system. If you have no interest in such arcane technical matters, feel free to skip it; I will resume our normal travelogue in my next post.

Let me start by saying that it's really inexcusable that a boat such as Vector, designed for open ocean passages and constructed in the 21st century, was not equipped with such a system right from the factory. Almost all recreational vessels of this size today are so equipped by their builders, and ABYC guidelines mandate them. It's particularly baffling considering she was built to Lloyd's shipbuilding standards, and even included a high-volume water pump suitable for manual firefighting (although the hose connection and fire hose were never installed).

For whatever reason, the original owner, who also finished the construction and outfitting of the vessel after the original builder went bankrupt, did not see fit to install such a system, and the boat has lacked one until this month. Our on-board firefighting capabilities have heretofore been limited to a number of hand-held dry-chemical extinguishers, and a garden hose attached to the seawater washdown pump.

A fishing vessel burns in Maine. USCG photo.

Installing such a system has been on my to-do list since the day we took ownership of the boat. That it has taken over three years to accomplish speaks to the complexity and difficulty of the task as much as it does to the general triage of boat projects and their impact on our daily life. Planning for the project kicked into much higher gear after our friends aboard Blossom experienced an engine room fire in the Bahamas; you can see the engine room video of the entire event here. This same event prompted us to install a video camera in the engine room.

Most small-vessel automatic engine room systems utilize "clean agent" technology, which means the suppressing agent is a gas which deprives the fire of oxygen, but leaves no residue and does not harm or contaminate equipment. Because of the walk-in nature of our engine room, we chose an agent that is also occupancy-safe; this is technology with which I am intimately familiar because it is exactly the same technology we used in the computer and telecommunications industries; I've managed the installation of dozens of these systems during my career.

I could spend several paragraphs here giving an overview of these systems for marine use, but instead I will refer you to this great overview article by good friend, fellow gear-head, and marine technical consultant par excellence, Steve D'Antonio. As Steve so clearly describes in that article, sizing the system correctly is critical, especially when using occupancy-safe gasses, which become toxic above a specified concentration (and, conversely, become ineffective below another specified concentration).

Sizing the system involves accurately measuring the volume of the space, in cubic feet. Vector's enormous engine room (we have perhaps twice the ER volume of other similarly sized boats) is irregularly shaped, even above the relatively flat sole (floor, in boat-speak). I had to divide this space into two sections; the taller, wider section forward of the saddle fuel tanks, and the lower, narrower section aft.

The bilge, or space below the sole, is even weirder, and I had to divide that into four sections, modeling each as an irregular prism and using solid geometry to calculate the volumes. Adding the resulting six numbers together provided the total volume of the engine room space, which turns out to be 1,108 cubic feet. Extinguishers are sized to the nearest 50 cubic feet, and you generally order the nearest size that is the same as or larger than the space to be protected, or, in our case, an 1,150 cubic foot system.

There are really only two vendors of pre-engineered (a fancy word meaning "not custom made"), USCG-approved systems in the US, Sea-Fire and Fireboy. After sizing the system, I consulted the web sites of each vendor to find their system size charts. There, I learned that the Fireboy system was packaged as a 10" diameter bottle, 21.4" tall, and that the Sea-Fire system came in a 10" x 26" bottle. That extra 4.5" of height turns out to be a really big deal in our engine room, as will become clear later, so I decided to go with the Fireboy system, even though I prefer the Sea-Fire units for technical reasons (better nozzle technology, and a shipping pin that the Fireboy lacks).

After shopping around, I was able to find a Fireboy unit for just under $2,500, plus another $70 for the manual release cable. That's a good deal; the clean agent itself, 47 pounds of HFC-227ea (sometimes known by the Dupont trademark FM-200) represents the major share of the cost, with the bottle, nozzle, and pressure gauge being relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf items.

An unplanned six-week stay in Chattanooga was just what we needed to get this done, as there is about a two-week lead time on delivery and I figured on a week or two to complete the installation. I placed the order and followed up with the retailer as the system was assembled and filled by Fireboy. As I mentioned here in a previous post, we were thus very disappointed when the system arrived in a 10" x 27.5" bottle -- even taller than the Sea-Fire system.

Oops... too tall.

It turned out that Fireboy had made an engineering change but failed to update the size chart on their web site (or the downloadable installation manuals, which were three full revisions out of date). Fortunately, the 1,100 cubic foot system was still packaged in the smaller bottle, and Fireboy's engineers agreed we could use the smaller unit for our 1,108 cubic foot space (1,125' is the cutoff). It was a simple, if tedious, matter to make the exchange. It cost me another week, but we did get $70 back for the smaller unit.

With the new bottle and the correct installation instructions in hand, I was finally able to start the installation. Step one was to finalize the installation location, from a choice of three spots I had picked out earlier, albeit with outdated literature on hand.

You really want to get these systems as high as possible in the space; heat rises, and the automatic discharge depends on a little actuator in the nozzle melting, at 175°F. Ideally the nozzle should be just below the highest point in the ceiling; installation directions call for it to be no lower than 20" below that. Because our engine room is taller in the front than the back, ideally the bottle would mount in this area, preferably to the forward bulkhead.

Looking down at the business end. Clockwise from top: discharge nozzle with thermal actuator and pinned manual release lever; pressure switch, charge/fill port, pressure gauge.

Sadly, most of the real estate on this bulkhead is occupied by the fuel polishing system and the stabilizer heat exchanger, both of which were added by the same cut-rate contractor who had little regard for the possibility of ever wanting to install anything else later. I found one nearly ideal spot which would fit the bottle, but it turned out that the lower bracket is considerably larger than the bottle itself, and I could not make this location work without moving one of the other systems, a very big job.

The other location, also in this taller section, was just aft of the door on the port bulkhead. This was also a great spot, with easy access behind the bulkhead to fasten the bolts (the forward bulkhead would have required surgery on the nicely finished aft wall of the master stateroom), but, here again, that pesky lower bracket would require me to cut a 4"x1.5" notch in a steel structural support for the bulkhead. Messy, tedious, and possibly making a weak point in that bulkhead.

Ultimately I settled on the third choice, against the aft bulkhead, between the day tank and the generator enclosure. While not as high as I would have liked, the nozzle is just below the level of the vast majority of the engine room ceiling. It's also much closer to the most likely fire-producing items in the room -- the generator, and the exhaust/turbocharger for the main engine. The space here is otherwise unused and out of the way, and there is easy access via the tiller flat (lazarrette) to fasten the bolts.

Insulation removed. You can see where I've had to grind down the weld seam. The white paint is leftover from the Racor filter installation below; I had to loosen the clamp and move the filter housing down about an inch to provide adequate service clearance for it.

The next step was to remove the thick fiberglass insulation from the installation location. This stuff is held to the walls (and ceiling) by being impaled on a series of spikes that look like nails spot-welded to the wall. I only exposed one spike in this process, which I bent out of the way so I could put some of the insulation back when I was finished.

The bulkhead here is 1/4" steel plate, and when I got the insulation off I found a heavy weld seam where two plates were joined. This seam, plus a slight misalignment of the plates, kept the brackets from lying flat against the wall, and there was no way to reposition to avoid the seam. Out came the 10,000-rpm mini-grinder, and an hour or so of careful work later, the seam was flat, but grinding dust was everywhere.

The ten 1/2" mounting holes as seen from the back side of the bulkhead, in the tiller flat.

With the brackets now able to lie mostly flat (there was still a small gap at one end due to the misalignment, which I handled with some washers), the next step was to drill the mounting holes. There was no specification for fasteners other than that they should be of "appropriate" size. Since the hardware came with 0.56" through-holes, I opted to use 1/2" stainless bolts; with some 75 pounds hanging from a moving wall I wanted plenty of reserve holding power.

I seldom use a corded drill any more; I can't remember the last time I used mine (well before the boat) and I sometimes wonder why I keep it. But drilling ten 1/2" holes in quarter plate is not a job for a cordless. I completely used up my 1/2" cobalt drill bit in the process. No template was supplied, so I had to measure locations as best I could to get all the brackets to line up.

Mounting area primed and painted.

Like many parts of the engine room, this wall was never painted, and was still mostly in red oxide primer. I wanted a more finished look, but also I needed now to protect the steel I just exposed with grinding and drilling. I used some Rustoleum primer I had on hand and the remains of a can of white Krylon to cover all the exposed area.

Getting the brackets bolted to the wall was a two-person affair, with Louise turning the ratchet from the engine room side, while I wrenched on the bolts from the tiller flat. My alignment was pretty good; when I set the bottle in the bottom "cup" it was off of plumb by just a fraction; tightening the straps makes it right, but the bottom of the bottle now touches the cup in only one spot. I could probably get it flat by loosening all the bolts and "adjusting" the cup portion with a mallet, but I think it's unnecessary with the straps properly tightened.

Weighing the bottle. At 72.3 lbs, just 1% over rated weight. I set the tare on the scale with the rope in place.

Just before hefting the bottle into place, I hung it from my digital crane scale to weigh it. This is a baseline; every year I will need to disconnect the bottle, take it down, and weigh it like this. If the weight drops more than 5% from the gross weight on the label, the unit requires service. At this moment it actually scales out above label weight; I think the factory tends to overfill by a small amount.

Rating label showing proper agent fill and tare weight.

Heaving 73 pounds up above chest height while kneeling in a cramped space was probably the most difficult part of the entire process. Since I have to repeat this step annually, I may build myself a little platform to rest the bottle on while I tip it into the bracket.

You can see a bit of red gaffer's tape peeking out around the steel straps. The instructions suggest isolating the bottle galvanically from any metal structure; this tape, along with some between the strut and the bottle and some on the bottom rim, achieves that isolation. I honestly don't think it's a big deal; the steel of the bottle and the steel of the boat are nearly identical galvanically.

Bottle mounted and secured. Racor filter has been lowered. I later reinstalled some of the insulation on either side.

With the bottle thus mounted, the engine room is now protected; if the temperature at the nozzle reaches 175°F the bottle will discharge, and, in fact, there's no way to disable this. It's also now safe to move the boat, with all the heavy bits properly secured (we didn't want to get under way with a fully armed fire bottle loose on deck once we unpacked it). Mercifully, I hear you thinking, because this post is already too long, but, alas, no, we are only half done.

There are two other parts to the project, one mechanical and one electrical. The first is straightforward: our bottle is equipped with an optional manual release. Certain fires can do plenty of damage and even produce plenty of toxic smoke long before temperatures at the ceiling reach the magic 175°F. If you watch the video I linked at the beginning of this article, you will see this fire was extinguished manually long before the automatic system installed on that vessel could discharge.

We have smoke detectors in all compartments, including the engine room. They're all linked together so that if any one goes off, we'll hear it on the unit right here in the pilothouse. The smoke detector will give us much earlier warning than the heat-activated discharge, and the aforementioned video camera will let us see right from the pilothouse if things have already progressed too far to enter the engine room to fight it with a handheld. The manual release will allow us to discharge the bottle without going below.

Manual release in salon. Remove pin, then pull handle.

Manual release cables are available up to 100' long, and we could easily have ordered a 50' model to mount the release handle at the helm. But that's very expensive, and longer cables with more and tighter turns pose a greater risk of binding, potentially at an inopportune moment. I ordered a 14' release cable, enough to get to a convenient place in the galley or salon from any of the three potential mounting sites.

Inside the cabinet, above the DirecTV receiver. Bends in the cable need to be large-radius as shown.

With the bottle at the very aft end of the engine room, the best location for the manual release handle is at the port side cabinet at the aft end of the salon, what we call the "entertainment center" because there is located all the A/V electronics except for the TV itself and its sound bar. This cabinet afforded the 18" or so of depth required for the release mechanism, and put the handle in a very visible and easily accessible location, yet out of the way of any potential unintended contact. It's just eight steps for either of us from where we sit in the pilothouse, and even closer to our main seating when the generator is in use.

Hole through deck, as seen from below, in engine room. Water lines go to deck shower.

I did have to drill another hole through 1/4" steel plate for this cable, right between two existing penetrations for the water lines to the aft deck shower. Once that was done and deburred, it was a simple matter to run the cable, install and test the pull handle, and connect it to the bottle. Fiddling with the manual release while standing right in front of the discharge nozzle is a high pucker-factor experience, however.

Cable coming through floor into cabinet.

The electrical side of things is somewhat more complicated. Clean agent suppression relies on the gas concentration in the space being above a specific concentration, in this case 6%, and remaining there long enough to ensure the fire is out and does not reignite. That means the protected space needs to be fairly effectively sealed off, but it also means that there can be no equipment removing gas from the room and/or bringing fresh air in to replace it.

In order to accomplish this, the fire bottle is fitted with a pressure switch, the purpose of which is to shut down every air mover in the engine room. That includes the engines, which draw their combustion air from inside the room and exhaust it out of the boat through the hull.

We have one exhaust fan in the engine room. This is an AC-powered Dayton model (Grainger's house brand) installed by a contractor during the last owner's tenure. When we got the boat, it was connected via a simple on/off switch to a circuit powered only when the generator was running or shore power was connected. Early on, I rewired it to an inverter circuit, so we could run it under way without needing the generator running.

Way back in March, I built a fan control system so that the fan would run whenever either the generator or main engine was running, without one of us having to go down and turn it on. A three-position switch allows us to choose between this automatic mode or to force the fan on or off regardless of engine status. When I designed this, I did it with the future fire bottle installation in mind, such that it was a simple one-wire change to allow the fire system to shut the fan down.

The engines were another matter. Gasoline engines do not need any sort of modification, because the suppressing agent stops them cold just as soon as they get a big gulp of it. But diesels will keep running even when breathing clean agent gas, and so need to be shut down electrically when the bottle discharges.

The pressure switch on the fire bottle is a simple SPST, NO type switch, which closes upon a set pressure, I would guess in the neighborhood of 350 PSI. So the switch is closed at all times so long as the bottle is not discharged, and opens fairly quickly once the gas is released. It is intended to be in the ground end of the operating circuit for anything needing to be shut down, and it is also the ground for an indicator lamp at the helm, which is included in the kit.

Indicator installed at the helm (and literally behind the helm wheel). Green light means full bottle; dark means discharged.

In order for this "ground-to-operate" type of system to work, it's necessary to find a circuit, or else add one, on the engine's control system, where interrupting the ground will cause a shutdown. On the generator that seems fairly straightforward: there is a "run" signal that keeps the normally-closed fuel solenoid open; breaking that run circuit will close the fuel valve and stop the engine. All well and good, except the fuel solenoid itself is grounded directly to the engine -- it threads into a hole in the injection pump.

Noodling over the generator schematics (and let me just say that Northern Lights generator run/stop controls are unnecessarily complex), I found a relay (one of four) in the control box that supplies the power to the fuel solenoid. Clipping the ground from this relay and re-routing it to the fire system pressure switch was all I needed to do to make the generator stop when the bottle discharges.

The main engine is a much more challenging problem. By design, once the engine is running, you could literally rip the entire wiring harness from it and throw it, as well as the batteries, overboard, yet the engine will continue to run. The engine is stopped by supplying 12vdc to a "stop solenoid," a fuel valve which is open by default and closes only while power is applied.

New main engine stop relay, below fan control box.

In order to make the mere interruption of a ground signal cause the engine to stop, I had to add a relay that would supply power to the stop solenoid, but only when the engine was already running and the signal was interrupted. To do this, I make the assumption that the engine key switch is "on" when the engine is running, even though the engine continues to run if the key is turned off. I use this signal to power the stop relay if and only if the fire bottle switch opens. It's not a bad assumption, inasmuch as all the engine instruments and alarms (tach, oil pressure, water temperature, voltmeter, and hourmeter) stop working if the key is turned to the "off" position.

A set of diodes keeps any one of these three systems from falsely grounding the others. The indicator lamp, also connected here, is an LED, so no additional diode is needed. When the pressure switch opens, the fan, generator, and main engine will all stop, and the indicator lamp will go out. It took several hours to design this fail-safe system, and a few hours to run all the wires and wire it all up.

Normal/Test/Override switch in engine room.

Before these diode-steered ground signals get to the actual pressure switch, they pass through a three-position switch, with safety cover, in the engine room. The normal position passes the signals on to the pressure switch. A "test" position interrupts the signals, providing a functional test of the shutdown system. And an "override" position bypasses the pressure switch and sends them directly to ground. This allows the systems to be restarted if and when the bottle discharges, so that the gas can be exhausted from the room, and engines, if still operational, can be used.

With safety cover open. Closing the cover forces the switch into the normal "active" position.

The final piece of the installation consists of an emergency override switch at the helm, also equipped with a safety cover. This switch interrupts the "run" signal from the key switch to the engine itself. The engine will continue to run (or could be restarted if already stopped) but the alternator will be turned off when this switch is opened. This is critical in the event that close-quarter maneuvering is required even while a fire is happening.

Fire override switch at the helm allows main engine to keep running if needed.

All told it took me perhaps 30 hours to install the system. In addition to the $2,600 for the bottle, cable, and shipping, I spent less than another $50 on miscellaneous wire, switches, covers, and mounting hardware. A turnkey professional installation would have come in somewhere north of $10,000.

As soon as I was finished I called our insurance agent to let him know we now had a system installed, and to see if there was any policy discount to be applied. The underwriter, who was very keen to know if we had such a system back when they quoted the policy, declined to provide any further discount. But the peace of mind is priceless; short of the ship sinking, there is no greater danger aboard than a fire at sea.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

West bound and down

We are anchored in Lake Guntersville, on the Tennessee River, near the community of Scottsboro, Alabama (map). We're now at an elevation of just 594', and we've moved into the Central Time Zone. We've also moved more squarely into fall.

A little fall color in a beautiful gorge view yesterday.

Yesterday we woke to a cold, blustery day, the first in recent memory, just as hordes of paddlers were getting set up and practicing for the Chattajack-31. Seeing stand-up paddleboarders covered from neck to ankles and  working hard against the wind and the chop was quite a sight. It was challenging enough just getting the tender alongside and onto the crane.

These paddlers from Florida arrived in a serious off-road rig, complete with enduro bike.

After decking the tender we made our way to the city quay underneath the Market Street Bridge. I took the last of the recycling and trash off the boat and went over to get the scooter, which was on deck and secure by noon. Our friends Chris and Alyse arrived around 1:15 and we met them at Tony's Pasta Shop at Bluff View, more or less directly overhead of the boat by about 80' or so.

Vector under the bridge. The wall says "Ross's Landing" in Cherokee.

We had a nice visit with them over a very long lunch. We returned to the boat around 3pm and immediately got under way. We wanted to put as many miles as we could between us and the start of the paddle race before we ran out of daylight.

Some much warmer paddlers on their way to Audubon Island Wednesday afternoon for a weekly beer meetup. They stopped to invite us along,

We managed to get about 20 miles downriver, dropping the hook in a wide spot just downstream of the Raccoon Mountain storage facility (map). As the crow flies, we were just six miles from where we started, and we could still see the Chattanooga tour boats on our AIS. We figured that even the fastest paddlers would take three to four hours to cover that same 20 miles. With an 8am start, that gave us plenty of time for a leisurely start in the morning after a relaxing cup of coffee.

We woke to this view this morning at our anchorage.

As it turns out, we were up early anyway, and under way by 9am this morning. We passed the Hales Bar takeout area a little before 11am, and folks there were just getting set up for the festivities. The parking lot, just as the ones at the starting line, was packed with vehicles sporting roof racks.

My chart plotter has ears.

We locked down through Nickajack Dam before lunch, and shortly afterward we set the ship's clocks back an hour. We're now making such good time, with over a knot of current behind us, that we'll probably make Florence by Tuesday afternoon. Louise will try to get Wednesday and Friday PT appointments there, and we'll meet up with some RVing friends there as well. Tomorrow we'll lock down through Guntersville Dam and anchor somewhere in Wheeler Lake.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cleared for departure

We are anchored in the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, between the Market Street and Walnut Street Bridges (map). We're on the north side of the sailing line, just 75 yards or so from shore, where can be seen the remains of the ramps and stairs that used to serve the Delta Queen steamboat during her tenure here as a floating hotel.

Vector between the bridges, as seen through some trees that have just been painted Moccasin Blue.

Shortly after my last post we dropped the hook in Chickamauga Lake, just off channel behind a long bar that forced us to run a couple of miles or so further downriver than planned (map). It was a fine stop, even if we landed a bit past cocktail hour, and we had a quiet night. A long day Saturday made for a very short one Sunday.

Moonrise at our quiet anchorage on Chickamauga Lake.

Sunday we locked through at Chickamauga Dam mid-day, and cruised right past the downtown docks to the Erwin Marine fuel dock to pump out and take on water. Afterwards, we cruised the short distance upriver to the city quay, free for up to four hours, to offload a scooter before anchoring.

We went back to our old spot across the river from Ross's Landing, where we remembered getting at least minimally usable WiFi from downtown (map). It was a fine spot, until the homeless encampment on the north bank decided to have a campfire on Monday evening. With winds out of the north, the boat soon filled with campfire smoke, to the point where we had to close the windward portlights, making things rather stuffy. We moved over here Tuesday morning just to avoid a repeat performance.

Vector at her old digs, as seen from the Trail of Tears monument and fountain.

This anchorage is not for the faint of heart. The bottom is scoured rock, with poor holding. We've got over a quarter ton of ground tackle out, and are being held in place more by sheer weight than anything else. We haven't budged, but if we start dragging downriver, the concrete abutment of the Market Street Bridge is just 75 yards astern. We have good anchor alarms and are seldom away from the boat more than a couple of hours at a stretch.

After Louise's PT appointment on Monday, she was more or less cleared to leave at the end of this week's sessions, with this afternoon being her final session. She's not 100% yet, but she has a list of exercises to do at home, and we plan to stop in Florence in a week or so, and Memphis a few weeks after that, where she can get in some additional sessions with therapists from the same physiotherapy group. Her therapist here has already forwarded her file to the Florence office.

Another gratuitous fall color shot, on Chickamauga Lake.

This week has been a whirlwind of preparations for getting back under way. I still had two sub-projects to complete on the big fire suppression project (dedicated post still forthcoming), and the round trip to Knoxville notwithstanding, many things were still helter-skelter on the boat that needed to be put back into more permanent stowage.

Given this was our final week here in town, we opted to eat dinner out every night, starting with a dinghy ride upriver to The Boathouse upon our return Sunday, and progressing through several of our downtown favorites including Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria in the Bluff View Arts District, Community Pie, and Hennen's. We also made a pilgrimage to the local Five, which we first encountered last week in Knoxville.

The Niña passes under the Market Street bridge, under power.

Yesterday, as I was moving from one project to the next, I happened to look out the window to see two fifteenth-century caravels coming upriver. These turned out to be the replica Niña and Pinta , Columbus's ships, on their way to a public exhibition in Knoxville from their most recent stop in Huntsville, Alabama. They won't be stopping in Chattanooga until their return trip downriver. I remember seeing them docked in Stuart, Florida on one of our visits there.

Niña at left, under the Veterans Bridge, and Pinta at right, in front of Audubon Island.

Tomorrow we will deck the tender, weigh anchor, and head back over to the city quay to board the scooter. Today was the final day of the Looper rendezvous a couple of hours (by car) west of us in Rogersville, Alabama, and we're hoping to connect with friends Chris and Alyse, who made presentations there, on their way to Knoxville tomorrow. We'll stay at the dock until we connect, then shove off to head downriver, before the Chattajack-31 paddling event takes over the whole river on Saturday, starting at Ross's Landing and also heading downriver.

My next post will likely be from the water, somewhere downriver of Chattanooga in Nickajack Lake. In the meantime I will leave you with another photo of a supposedly clean nuclear plant releasing giant clouds of potentially lethal Dihydrogen Monoxide gas into the atmosphere, this time at the TVA Sequoyah plant. We learned just today that when we passed the Watts Bar facility Saturday, a photo of which I also posted, Unit 2 there had literally been online for just three days, the newest commercial reactor in the world.

DHMO emissions by the ton.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


We are under way in Watts Bar Lake on the Tennessee River, downbound for Watts Bar Dam. This morning found us in our own private cove near Martin Light, at river mile 548 (map). It was serene, and the cove was like glass overnight, reflecting the nearly full moon.

A bit of fall color on the Tennessee.

After my last post, we turned off our route near the Fort Loudoun Dam and proceeded through the short man-made canal to Tellico Lake. This lake was formed in 1979 by damming the Little Tennessee River, just upstream from where it enters the Tennessee. Rather than creating a separate lock system and powerhouse, the lake was simply joined to the much older Fort Loudoun Lake by this canal, forming a single large body of water.

Entering the canal to Tellico Lake.

We would have loved to go much further up the Little Tennessee and its tributary, the Tellico, but we only had time to go just a little over an hour upstream. We dropped the hook in 35' in a small cove near a state park (map). The cove was private and secluded, and we shared it only with a small herd of cattle in a nearby pasture, who came down to the lake to drink. As a bonus, we plucked a wayward fender from the lake just as we entered the cove.

Our new fender. You can see where the much-too-small line securing it had parted.

Houses along Tellico Lake are just as ostentatious as those along Fort Loudoun Lake, if not more so. In this case, we passed close enough to shore to capture a few in photographs. With a much newer lakefront, there are no waterfront homes here dating back to a time when river frontage was less prized.

Some representative homes. Tiny figures on the dock, center, give some scale.

The more recent inundation also makes for some interesting navigational hazards. We passed more than one cluster of concrete grain silos sticking up out of the lake. Presumably the TVA felt the cost of removing these non-submerged hazards to be unjustified.

Grain silos sticking out of the lake.

Yesterday morning we weighed anchor and steamed back to Fort Loudoun Lake, rejoining our route and locking down through the Fort Loudoun Lock. This is the first time we've locked down since entering the river system back in June. It's a very different experience from locking up, in several ways.

Sunset across the lake, from inside "cow cove."

For starters, approaching a dam from upstream it is much harder to see the lock, which looks little different from other gate structures on the dam. We had bread crumbs to follow, of course, but I needed to use glasses to pick out the lock structure from a little ahead of the arrival point.

I had to dodge this complete wheel on our way downriver yesterday. Someone's trailer must be one short...

Entering these tall locks from downstream, all wind dies as you pass the gates. From upstream. wind is definitely a factor for Vector when maneuvering to the lock wall to catch the bitt. These upper river locks have most of their bits on just one side, which turned out to be upwind on our arrival.

Cows drinking at our anchorage cove.

During up lockage, the lock wall is constantly trying to rip the fenders from the boat. We have them well tied to a sturdy rail, and while they get scuffed, they eventually slide along the rough aggregate of the lock wall. Going down, the fenders instead want to roll out from between the hull and the wall and land on deck. I needed to use the thruster periodically to "ease the squeeze" and let each fender drop back into place.

We caught this herd of deer swimming across Tellico lake. Too distant for a good photo.

Fort Loudoun is but the first of nine locks we must descend from our lofty position 812' above sea level on our way to the Ohio River. Unless we find time to make another side trip, say up the Cumberland to Nashville, it will be, as they say, all downhill from here. Our speed has also improved, from an average of less than 7mph upstream to around 8mph downstream.

Leaving our anchorage this morning, looking through the narrow cove entrance to the river.

While I started typing in Watts Bar Lake, we're now in Chickamauga Lake, having locked down just before lunch. We ended up waiting in the lock five minutes for a bass boat to catch up behind us. I'm sorry I didn't have the camera ready, because watching them tie up was comedic.

Some of the limestone cliffs that periodically line the river.

They managed to get the boat right next to the bitt shortly after entering, but they had no lines ready, and by the time the guy with the line was ready, the boat was ten feet from the wall. They ultimately put the trolling motor down to get back to the bit, but bow-on; once they had the first class string they were using for a line wrapped, they had to pull the rest of the boat alongside.

The fish are bitin' in Watts Bar Lock.

In much the same way as our cat grooms herself after making some kind of gaffe like missing a landing, after these guys were secure they took out their rods and started fishing, right there in the lock. Of course, all the fish were up by us, as it seems they always are when we lock through.

Those dirty nuke plants. Watts Bar lockmaster is at left, shooing some boats away from the discharge.

Today's cruise has been lovely, with bits of fall color here and there, and a different angle on some of the same spectacular scenery we passed upriver. Tonight we should be anchored somewhere in Chickamauga Lake, and tomorrow we'll lock through Chickamauga Dam and be back in the Chattanooga environs. Louise has a PT appointment Monday, and we need to be poised to offload a scooter in the morning.

Gratuitous foliage shot.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Double failure in Knoxville

We are again under way, downbound on the Tennessee after two lovely days in Knoxville. Our time there was quite full, so now I have to catch up here on the blog, with over two dozen photos to share.

Sunset over Knoxville, from Club LeConte. Sunsphere is center-frame.

Shortly after my last post we locked up through the Fort Loudoun Lock. We are now at a little more than 812' above sea level, the highest Vector has ever been or is ever likely to be. At this elevation and this far north, we're seeing a bit more fall color than we have thus far, but still not enough to make for good photography.

Approaching Fort Loudon Dam. Bridge construction in the foreground.

As we arrived at the lock, a houseboat about a half hour behind us called for lockage, and we thought for a moment that we'd had to wait a half hour for him. The lock was ready for us, as we had ourselves called a half hour earlier, and the lockmaster elected to lock us through and cycle the lock completely for the next boat, giving him a short wait rather than us a long one.

The semi-circular lock gates closing behind us.

There is clearly a new bridge going in just downriver of the lock. The current bridge, which runs directly over the lock and dam, does appear a bit shopworn. The whole underside is covered in netting, which we presumed was to keep the birds from nesting in it and creating a mess on the dam and lock below.

Fort Loudoun lockhouse, with the bridge above it. All these TVA locks had visitor galleries on an upper level, now long closed to the public.

Fort Loudoun Lake is lined along much of the shoreline with high-zoot homes of one sort or another. Large developments of "McMansions" are interspersed with large estates with just a single palatial home. Occasionally we would pass a more modest home pre-dating the recent economic boom that has the wealthier denizens of Knoxville seeking riverfront properties.

Sunset from our anchorage on Fort Loudoun Lake, Tennessee River.

About halfway between the dam and Knoxville we started looking for a spot to drop the hook. This close to the dam, the river channel is still 50' deep or so, and it's necessary to wander a bit further from the channel to drop the hook. Our first two excursions, towards coves along the shoreline, ran us into depths much shallower than charted soundings, and we had to back out and move along -- with inaccurate charts, there was too much risk of running aground.

Steak on the deck. I'm still holding my grilling weapons.

We ended up dropping the hook on top of an underwater "mountain" between two old river channels. The anchor was in 20' but we had 60' depths on either side of us. This placed us right in the middle of a very wide spot in the river (map), and we had a wonderful panoramic view for a very nice steak dinner on the aft deck. We were a bit worried that such a hump might be covered in timber flooded eight decades ago (it was not marked), so we set a trip line on the anchor.

Did someone say "steak"?

We weighed anchor for a fairly early start Tuesday, arriving in Knoxville just after lunch. We had been warned the free docks downtown would likely fill up early for the Tennessee-Alabama game, and sure enough, there was no room when we arrived, with several boats already rafted, although there was a spot big enough, with just a day boat in it, that we figured would be vacated in the afternoon.

Approach to Knoxville as seen from the Southern Railroad bridge.

Even so, with that many Tennessee Volunteer fans piled up on the docks, we imagined it to be a very boisterous experience. The free docks in front of Calhoun's Restaurant were also already rafted two deep, and looked to be party central. Between that and the fact that we'd end up having a boat or two rafted to us by the time we were ready to leave, we decided to just anchor in the river and tender ashore.

Approaching Knoxville. Green roof at left is the UT boathouse. Free docks dead ahead are already full.

Having made that decision, there was no time pressure, and it was still very early in the day. We opted to continue another three miles upriver to the headwaters of the Tennessee, and the official end of navigation on the river system. An unofficial channel continues a short way up the French Broad River to the enormous Sea-Ray manufacturing plant, just past a bulk cargo terminal.

Headwaters of the Tennessee River. Holston River to the left, and French Broad River to the right.

We actually continued past the headwaters, just kissing the French Broad (there, I said it) before turning around past the Holston and heading back downriver to Knoxville. We would have done a bit more of the French Broad (the Holston is not navigable past the railroad bridge) but we have no charts at all that show it.

Heading into the French Broad. Any concerns about depth were allayed by the enormous cargo terminal ahead.

The cruise to the headwaters and back took a bit over an hour, and we dropped the hook just before 3pm between the Henley and Gay Street bridges, across the channel from downtown (map). There's not a lot to grab onto here, so we laid out 150' of chain, figuring that a quarter ton of anchor and chain would keep us in place in these benign conditions.

Some of the beautiful scenery coming upriver on Loudoun Lake.

We made dinner reservations at the Club LeConte atop the First Tennessee Bank building, and tendered ashore a bit early to stroll along Gay Street downtown. Knoxville has done a good job of keeping and repurposing many of its historic downtown buildings, and we enjoyed walking past the shops and restaurants in eclectic historic structures. Just getting up the enormous hill from the waterfront, known as Volunteer Landing, to the main street level downtown was something of a chore, however.

Volunteer Landing and Calhoun's, with its docks, as seen from our anchorage.

We had a very nice dinner at Club LeConte, celebrating another trip around the sun for Louise just a few days early (we'll likely be anchored with nary a restaurant in sight tomorrow). This is the tallest building in Knoxville, and we had great views of downtown, the river, and the Smoky Mountains beyond.

Vector anchored alone in the river, from Club LeConte. Smokies in the distant background.

As we walked back to Volunteer Landing we kept our eyes open for a breakfast place. With such a limited time in Knoxville we wanted to make the most of it. Alas, it was not to be. There is a saying among cruisers that "cruising is just fixing your boat in new and interesting locations" and Knoxville turned out to be no exception.

We arrived with mostly full batteries; the main engine alternator and our whizzy Balmar charge controller do a great job of charging under way. By morning, though, the batteries were low enough that I started the generator before starting the coffee maker. That let me also put the heat on -- we're in the time of year where there is a distinct chill in the morning.

The pavement striping contractor's truck pays homage to the UT Vols.

Everything was fine up to halfway through the coffee brew, at which point all the power went out and the heaters went off. The generator engine itself, however, kept ticking merrily away. Fortunately, the coffeemaker runs on the inverter, and there was plenty of battery left to finish making the pot. Which I was going to need.

With the generator breaker not tripped, but no power to the main panel, I started by pulling the cover off my home-brew Automatic Transfer Switch, reasoning that this was the most likely issue. The switch checked out and the delay timer was active and calling for power, but no power was coming in from the generator breaker. I pulled that cover next, to find no power coming to the breaker from the generator head itself. Not good.

Even the porta-potties in this town are Vol orange. All of them.

I shut the generator down and started tearing into the control box. I had recently been monkeying around in there, because I had to splice in the shutdown wires for the engine room fire suppression system (detailed post still in the works). In addition to the start/stop/run controls and relays, this same box also houses the electronic Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR). I was hoping the problem would be in here, possibly from my recent foray, and not with the diodes or windings on the generator head itself.

Fortunately, within just a few seconds I spotted the problem -- the negative field wire leading from the AVR to the exciter coils in the head had come loose. Upon close inspection it was separated from the crimped ring terminal that secures it to the terminal block; I figure the wire itself to have broken off from long-term vibration. When I got the terminal out, however, the ferrule was empty -- the wire had simply slipped out of the crimp entirely. Poor workmanship during assembly.

The culprit - this tiny ring terminal had come loose.

Crimping a new terminal and reconnecting the field wires was a simple fix, and we got the generator restarted and making power in short order. It had barely run five minutes, though, when it stopped entirely. This time it was the engine itself that stopped, not just the power output, and I knew it was a different problem.

Closer inspection reveals the wire has slipped out altogether. Bad crimp termination.

Double failures like this -- two distinct and unrelated problems happening at exactly or very nearly the same time -- are the bane of all engineers. The probabilities are so low that we don't believe it when it happens, instead wracking our brains trying to connect the problems in some way.

In this case it was a simple matter of lack of cooling water. If there was any correlation to the broken wire it was simply the number of times in quick succession we started and stopped the generator in the course of diagnosing and repairing the field problem, and even that is unlikely. I'm very good now at recognizing the cooling water problem, and replacing the impeller and pulling the bits of failed impeller out of the heat exchanger is so familiar that I can probably do it in the dark now. Within another 20 minutes I had the generator running and buttoned up, and we were making power and charging the batteries.

While somewhat less ubiquitous than in Chattanooga, Knoxville is full of public art.

By this time it was nearly 11am, and the downtown breakfast window was long gone. We had an early lunch on board and counted ourselves lucky to have nothing but first world yacht problems. We had ruminated about whether we'd stay through dinner and over another night; this sealed the deal and we knew we'd stay put until this morning.

After lunch I went ashore stag to do some exploring. I started by landing at the aforementioned free docks (we had landed instead at Calhoun's for our dinner outing), where the "Vol Navy" was now rafted two deep along most of the docks. From there I walked past the UT boathouse, through part of the campus (using an elevator in one of the academic buildings to overcome part of the hill), and along Second Creek to the World's Fair Park.

World's fair park, with the amphitheater to the left and Sunsphere to the right of the enormous central fountain.

The World's Fair was held in Knoxville nearly 35 years ago, in 1982, and is still the last World's Fair held in the US. Only two structures remain, the amphitheater, and the Sunsphere, a 266' tall tower topped with a five-story gold sphere, which has become an iconic symbol of Knoxville. Closed for decades after the fair, it is again open, with a free observation deck on the lowest level of the sphere (the remaining levels contain a restaurant, an event space, and private businesses).

Flowers, at the museum of art. More in the background, one floor down.

I walked through the extensive grounds and visited the observation deck, although the dusty and heavily tinted windows made for unusable photos. After walking through the fairgrounds I looped around past the old L&N railroad station (a restaurant during the fair and now a STEM school, not open to the public) to the Museum of Art, my second art museum in as many weeks, located approximately where the Japanese Pavilion stood during the fair. The art museum, also free, was small but nice, and was hosting a juried flower exhibition on the day of my visit.

My favorite piece. Devorah Sperber, "After the Mona Lisa 8," 2010 -- 1482 spools of thread, stainless-steel ball chain and hanging apparatus, clear acrylic sphere, metal stand

The rest of the gallery, as seen through the acrylic ball.

It was a pleasant couple of hours, and when I was done I hopped on one of the free downtown "trolley" buses to get across downtown, to where my map said there was an elevator to Volunteer Landing. Sadly, the elevator, which I had hoped would make for an easier dinner trip, was out of service for renovations. At least I got to pass White's Fort (the birthplace of Knoxville) and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

White's Fort. I opted to skip the admission fee.

When I got back to the dock, yet another houseboat had arrived, displacing the tender a short ways. I had a nice conversation with the Vol fans, including one who owns a marina down near Watts Bar and who was interested in maybe buying the tender. I got back to Vector just a short while before cocktail hour. Louise informed me that I had missed all the excitement on the radio, where arriving boats aced out of direct dockage were grousing about how the boats already there were taking up more than their fair share.

Giant basketball outside the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

That dock was already rafted three and four deep when we left this morning, and we've already passed at least 30 boats heading for Knoxville today, including our friend Marty who runs the marina in Chattanooga. The Vol Navy web page says that boats raft up to 13 abreast, with the hard limit being the sailing line mid-channel. All the boats there this morning were Vol fans; today we're passing many 'Bama fans, who will, of course, have to walk across all the UT boats to get to the dock. I suspect the cries of Roll Tide might be slightly muted.

Rafted two and three deep as I walked back to Scalar, lost in here somewhere.

After cocktails on deck we again tendered ashore, climbed the huge hill, and this time boarded the Green Line trolley for a loop out to the Old City and back. Afterward we again strolled Gay Street, and settled down at Five restaurant for a nice dinner on the sidewalk, in perfect weather. It turned out to be Wine-down Wednesday, where all bottles were half price, and we scored a lovely red blend from Australia called 19 Crimes (and a shout out to our OZ friends aboard Two By Two and Tide Hiker).

Dinner at Five with 19 Crimes.

This morning we again got an early start; blissfully, no equipment failed. It was chilly enough this morning that we ended up turning Meriwether on in heat mode, something we had not predicted when I installed it at the beginning of the summer. Fair enough, since we barely got to use it in cooling mode as planned this season.

Tonight we'll make a brief detour up the Little Tennessee to anchor, putting us back at Fort Loudoun Dam in the morning to lock back down.