Sunday, August 21, 2016

Down for the count

We are docked in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, on the commercial dock with the Tennessee Aquarium's River Gorge Explorer (map). We've been here just over a week, and we are really enjoying being right in the thick of things, on what the city calls its "21st Century Waterfront." That's a good thing, because we'll likely be here for a while.

J.J. Grey performs at Ross Landing Park last night. We had the "roadies" view of the show.

We arrived here last Friday after a stunningly beautiful cruise up the Tennessee River Gorge. My little camera could not really do it justice and I took just a single photo. The gorge is interesting enough in its own right that the aquarium here runs sightseeing cruises through it. The aforementioned River Gorge Explorer runs on a two-hour round trip itinerary, and they accomplish this with a wicked fast boat; she approached us at 45 mph as we were steaming upriver at one seventh that speed, and throttled way back for a slow pass. We've since become friendly with most of the crew, as we're sharing a dock.

Cruising the Tennessee River Gorge.

It's just as well that she was out on tour when we arrived, as I had to execute a missed approach to the dock. We really wanted to come in port-side-to, which meant facing downstream, but between the wind and the current both headed that way on arrival, I just could not do it safely. We tied up on the starboard side instead, and flipped around two days later in calmer conditions to offload the scooters.

The Chattanooga waterfront, at a calm moment, from the pier over our boat.

The waterfront here is quite busy. In addition to the Explorer, we share the dock with a pedal-driven paddlewheeler (really) that takes up to 16 people on river cruises fueled, it would appear, by copious amounts of alcohol. The boat has color-changing LED strip lights throughout and a small electric outboard for maneuvering; it looks a lot like a floating disco attraction. The skipper, amusingly, wears four-stripe epaulets just like the Explorer's does. A low floating dock connecting us to shore (in addition to the overhead pier) is used for kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, which are incredibly popular. And we're passed several times a day by tourists in WW-II vintage amphibious "ducks," sometimes close aboard.

One of the vintage DUKW's passing upriver of us. The next bridge is actually a bascule bridge, arch and all.

The day after we arrived we were treated to the Riverfront Nights summer music series right next to the pier. Fortunately this family-friendly event does not run late, and the music was fine. It's great to see the city really using and enjoying its riverfront park areas like this, a trend we hope continues across the country as cities convert disused commercial river frontage into parks and riverwalks.

The kayak/paddleboard operation in full swing, as seen from Vector.

That same day I went to plug my phone in to charge, and, whoops... the charging port is broken. I was able to jigger it back into service temporarily, but it was clear to me that it was just one plug-in away from irrecoverable failure. It's just shy of three years old now, and I cracked the screen in the Bahamas, so rather than spend good money on attempting to get it repaired, I just bit the bullet and shelled out for a "new" last-years-model phone on Amazon, with a Monday arrival. I figured to spend Sunday backing things up and getting ready to make the transfer.

The peddle-powered paddle boat (say that three times fast).

I no longer use Windows on my own computers, but the management software for Samsung phones is Windows-based. We have Windows 8.1 on the helm computer -- lots of navigation software won't work on anything else -- but I won't use that machine for other things. So I dragged out my old XP netbook that I keep around for just such purposes (and also because it's the emergency back-up for the helm computer). When it rains it pours -- the netbook has a disk problem and won't boot. I spent a good part of Sunday trying, without success, to resuscitate it. I found another machine to do my phone transfer, but I still need to get the netbook working at some point or we'll have no backup nav computer.

Monday was our original checkout day. When we arrived we did not know how long we'd stay or whether or not we'd continue any distance upriver before heading back the way we came. But by the time Monday rolled around, all bets were off, and we called the office and extended indefinitely. The possibility exists we might have to change docks at some point, but we'll be somewhere in the neighborhood for the foreseeable future.

I have not mentioned it here before, but Louise has been struggling for many weeks with pain in her right shoulder. Subjectively it feels like a rotator-cuff injury, and she's been doing all the things that normally go along with such injuries -- rest, ice, stretches, stimulation, etc.. Nevertheless, things have not improved and, in fact, her condition has steadily worsened over time. It had gotten to the point where the motions of docking the boat were very nearly impossible for her, and, more recently, she's been getting very little sleep because every position is painful.

The whole town is covered in art. Here Louise high-fives a bronze dog... with her good arm.

Throughout the month we spent in Decatur, she waffled on going to a doctor and perhaps getting an MRI. We've both had enough soft tissue injuries over the years to know that there's not a lot that can be done beyond rest, ice, stretches -- you get the point. But getting back under way pushed things to the point of crisis, and by the time we docked here in Chattanooga, we realized we needed to get professional help. It was too late Friday to make any calls, but online scheduling site ZocDoc was able to snag her an appointment for Monday with a physician nearby accepting new patients.

What came out of that visit was an order for physical therapy (PT), starting Wednesday, and an MRI on Thursday. We counted ourselves lucky to be in a major city with all of these services within a close scooter ride, and with plenty to see, eat, and do just a short walk from the boat, to boot.

We'd been catching bits and pieces of the town since our arrival, in between all the goings-on around us, the projects, and the doctor. We walked up to the Bluff View Arts District for dinner a couple of times, wandered around the downtown, and checked out our transportation options. Tuesday was our first free weekday, and we visited the very nice aquarium just a few steps from our dock. The aquarium comprises three buildings and a park, and is really an all-day affair. We ended with a light dinner near the boat.

The view from Bluff View. With art.

I had figured to spend Wednesday morning catching up the blog while Louise was out at her PT appointment, but neither happened. Something we ate between Monday night and Tuesday night was clearly bad, and we both had cases of food poisoning starting late Tuesday night. Neither of us slept well, and it had us flat on our backs most of Wednesday. Louise had to cancel her PT and reschedule to Friday. I recovered faster than she did, and was more or less myself by Wednesday night; Louise, fortunately, was mostly recovered by the time her MRI appointment rolled around on Thursday.

A rally of runabouts came to the upriver docks last weekend... all at once.

We're still waiting on the MRI results. In the meantime, her new therapist, whom she likes, thinks it is more likely a nerve impingement than a soft tissue injury, which I think is consistent with what we've observed. The bad news is that she thinks it could be six weeks of PT, and we might be here for the duration. It's too early to say until the doctor has had a chance to review all the results.

In any case, we are settling in. While the dock here is a bit pricey on a daily rate, Chattanooga is a wonderful place to be "stuck" for a while. We've only scratched the surface of the downtown environs, and we're already familiar with some of the outlying areas from previous visits in the bus. There is technically a ten-day limit here, but they are not enforcing it at this time of the year. If need be, we can move to a dock a bit downriver on a monthly rate, which would save us about half over the course of a month, but it's much further from everything and there's no place to park the scooters.

A downtown climbing gym has an outdoor wall attached to a parking structure.

They very nearly had us move Friday, as Saturday was the annual Southern Brewers Festival right here in the waterfront park. It's one of the busiest times for the marina, and we were surrounded by other boats. But ultimately they did not need this space and said we could stay put if the hubbub would not bother us. We actually enjoyed it -- ringside seats for the music entertainment, which was actually pretty good, without having to buy tickets to enter the park. Plus it was great people (and boat) watching.

Another duck passes us close aboard.

Speaking of musical entertainment, we had dinner (a couple of times now) at the local hip pizza joint, Lupi's, where they have a bulletin-board wall dedicated to announcements. We were pleased and surprised to see there a poster for the upcoming Halloween show at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, in Live Oak, Florida. Long-time readers will know we've spent some time there with our good friends who live at the park and help to keep it running. I'm guessing they know yesterday's Jacksonville-based headliner, JJ Grey, personally.

If you're near the big bend of FL, check out this event.

Now that we're committed to a stay of some length here, I've turned my attention to some projects. Chief among them is the new pilothouse air conditioner, which worked great on the trip up but appears to still be leaking. I've ordered a cylinder of "dye charge"; refrigerant with UV-reactive dye added. As this seeps out over time it will leave a residue detectable by black light, and I hope to nail down the leak a couple of weeks after adding the charge. I should have it in a week or so.

I also still have piles of items we brought back from Odyssey that I am sifting through and trying to square away. Today I listed the battery-powered chainsaw on the local Craigslist page, and I'm sure I will have a few more items shortly. And I came across my massive collection of casino loyalty cards, which are now in the trash.

Pile of cards.

You'd think we had a gambling problem, but, in reality, we spent many nights in casino parking lots, and we made it a point to always go in and get the loyalty card, which often came with free play, meal discounts, or other goodies (though sometimes they offered us nothing at all). I counted 36 cards in my pile, but that's not a complete count of the number of places we stayed, since some cards, such as Harrah's, covered multiple properties. I think if we counted it all up, our casino stays would add up to nearly three months.

36 in all. And we had two of each, one for each of us.

I'm not sure exactly what the delay here in Chattanooga will do to our overall travel plans. It's possible or maybe even likely that we'll have to forgo the other side trips such as Nashville. If we wait too late into the fall, we might have to go back to the gulf the way we came, although I think that is unlikely. For the time being we're still committed to continuing down the Tennessee all the way to the Ohio and thence the Mississippi, at least as far as New Orleans. It's possible, though, that we'll arrive there long after, rather than in time for, Thanksgiving.

Without plans to move the boat for a while, I will probably not be posting here very often. As we know more I will try to update our plans here, and there might be a project update or two as we go along.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Volunteer State

We are anchored just upriver of Hales Bar, on Nickajack Lake (map). Yesterday we crossed into Tennessee, our 18th state in Vector, before locking up through Nickajack Lock. We are now at an elevation of 634' above sea level. Later today we will cross back into the Eastern Time Zone.


Our dinnertime view.

Yesterday morning found us anchored between Crow Creek Island and the right descending bank of the river, just downstream of the Snodgrass bridge (map). It was a lovely spot for our final night in Alabama on the upstream voyage. I took advantage of the warm water and an early stop to spend a half hour in the water removing the old swim ladder, which broke on our way to Florence.

Last night I finished the project, spending another half hour in the water installing the replacement ladder, which we had shipped to us in Decatur. It's definitely a swim-under-the-boat project, so I could not start it while we were in the marina. The new ladder is now installed and is even a bit nicer to use than the one it replaced, with four steps instead of three and a slightly easier deploy/stow process.


Tennessee River Gorge ahead of us.

We are now entering the Tennessee River Gorge, and the scenery is stunning. I expect a beautiful cruise from here to Chattanooga. It was a bit challenging to find an anchorage here; the lake bottom is steep and covered in submerged timber. We opted to anchor in an old river channel, but it's 40' deep here and we have 150' of chain out. Downriver from here the bottom is dotted with old road beds, submerged bridges, railroad tracks, and bits and pieces of the old Hales Bar Dam, flooded by the newer Nickajack Dam six miles downstream.


Approaching Nickajack Lock.

It's dark here, but not dark enough. I spent perhaps twenty minutes last night lying on the boat deck, but only saw two meteors, despite this year's Perseids reported to be above average. Tonight we'll be in Chattanooga, whose glow I could see in the distance, so it looks like we missed out.

Yesterday we spent a bit of time discussing our cruising plans for the coming months. We'd like to be in New Orleans at the end of November, perhaps for Thanksgiving, which gives us a bit over three months. With stops it's a little over a month from Chattanooga to New Orleans on the direct route, which leaves us two months for side trips. We've decided to skip Knoxville, another 360 miles and eight days, round trip, on the Tennessee, in favor of a side trip up the Cumberland to Nashville. With whatever time is left, we'll see how far we can get up the Ohio.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chugging upriver

We are under way on Lake Guntersville, continuing upriver toward Chattanooga. We spent last night at the very nice free dock in the town of Guntersville, Alabama (map). It was an easy walk to dinner downtown at the Old Town Stockhouse. We also stopped at a c-store to replenish our beer supply, and the city had recycling barrels right by the dock, so we offloaded the rest of our recyclables as well.


Vector at the city dock in Guntersville. That's the town's rescue boat behind us; we had the dock to ourselves.

There is much more shoreline infrastructure on this lake than we've seen heretofore on the river. Most of the shoreline is lined with nice houses, most with docks. Scattered around are a handful of small craft marinas and several campgrounds. There are a few commercial wharves in Guntersville itself.

I'd been to Guntersville before. It was one of the many service delivery locations that my technology team was supporting after the devastating tornado swarm of April 27, 2011. I was based in Birmingham at operation headquarters, but in the later stages as our staff shrank, I did make it out to several of our other locations throughout the state. I developed a great fondness for this area at the time.

Tonight we should be anchored along the river someplace, probably in the general neighborhood of the Captain John Snodgrass Bridge.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Finally cruising again

Once again I am long overdue with a blog post, this time owing to the sale last week of our motor coach, Odyssey. I covered that pretty well in its own post, so today I will return to the normal format and update our other goings-on. I am typing under way on the Tennessee River, this morning having found us anchored in a lovely spot just downstream of the Clement Clay bridge near Huntsville, Alabama (map).


Sunset in Decatur before our big trip. Parking lot is full of bar patrons on a weekend night.

As I wrote here when we returned from our California trip, we were pretty much done in Decatur, but were going to use some of our already paid up time at the dock to ride out a heat wave and to catch up on some maintenance. We also wanted to make a pilgrimage to Costco in Huntsville; my hearing has been steadily deteriorating (it runs in my family), and after seeing the new whizzy Bluetooth-enabled ones that my stepmom-in-law just got, and hearing her story, it felt like the right time -- Costco has great prices on hearing aids.

Huntsville is a long way from Decatur by scooter, but Louise opted to ride along with me so we could wander the aisles together. Ironically, we did not buy a single thing at Costco, other than picking up two freebies for which we had coupons. I spent nearly an hour with the audiologist, and while I do have some dropout at some specific, fairly high, frequencies, the recommendation was that I am not yet a good candidate for hearing aids. I'll be going back every year or two; at some point the curves of my deteriorating hearing and the march of technology improvement will cross and I will get fitted for them.


Leaving Decatur upriver, one passes the huge Purina plant, home of Meow Mix. Angel was unimpressed.

The valve adjustments on both engines proved much less difficult than I had imagined, although my straight feeler gauges would not fit the generator's closely-spaced tappets, and I had to run out to the auto parts store in the middle to get a set of angled feelers. This is exactly the reason I try not to tackle things like this unless we are at a dock with transportation available. I was able to finish the job on both engines without even having to replace the rocker cover gaskets. I did replace the little foam filter on the crankcase vent for the generator, however.

Speaking of the crankcase vent, our generator is so old-fashioned that it merely had a hose running down to the drip pan from the rocker cover when we got the boat. Not only was there always a puddle of dirty motor oil under the hose, but when the generator was running, the whole engine room reeked of crankcase fumes. The main engine, even though the same vintage, was equipped with a positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system, which sends those gasses back into the engine via the air intake, and thus did not have this problem.

Long ago I jury-rigged a PCV system for the generator, involving an extra hose, a tee in the air intake hose, and a metal can from some Blue Diamond almonds to catch the oil. As long as I had to take the skins off the genny and had access to a hardware store, I decided this was a good time to ditch the Rube Goldberg setup and install something just a bit more finished. The new setup uses a large PVC tee for a catch device, with a threaded plug in the bottom to occasionally drain the oil, and a pair of vinyl hoses to send the gas back to the intake. Thus better sealed than the almond can, we now have even less crankcase gas in the ER.


New PCV oil trap, complete with greasy hand-prints. Crankcase gas enters at left under pressure, and leaves at top under vacuum.

Both engines were due for oil and filter changes as well, at over 350 hours each, and I changed the oil and sent samples to the lab. Both reports came back normal; regular testing like this is what allows us to go 350 hours on an oil change. I did find myself short an oil filter for the main engine, and with no Napa or Carquest in town, I ended up buying the filter from the local Komat'su construction equipment dealer, just across the bridge from the marina.

By the time I got around to the main engine oil change, it had taken on new urgency, as the eBay auction for the bus finished with a successful bid. Knowing it might take a full week to make the trip to Lottsburg to close the deal, and with the end of our prepaid month just a little over a week away, we rented a car on a weekly rate for Saturday morning, which would put us back at the marina with a full day to spare. I got all the engine maintenance done but was not able to get everything I needed to finish the installation of the portable air conditioner in the stateroom.

We got back to Vector late Friday evening; it was a very long driving day, but we did not want to put the cat through another night in a strange hotel. Saturday morning we were both exhausted, and slept in. I did manage to make a run to Target and Walmart to get all the recycling off the boat (the city of Decatur itself has no public bins) before dropping the rental car back off. We put over 2,200 miles on the car; fortunately, it got great mileage, at an average of 43mpg for the trip.


Approaching Guntersville lock this afternoon.

Our plan was to give ourselves Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning off to recuperate, then shove off to continue our cruise upriver to Chattanooga. That plan changed when we returned Friday night to find our new mini-split air conditioner had lost its refrigerant. The boat was hot when we arrived (we don't run the air conditioning when we are away), and I turned it on just to help cool things down quickly. I was very disappointed to find it not cooling at all, and I immediately suspected a refrigerant leak; the fancy computer control confirmed this when it shut down after a few minutes with a low refrigerant code. I did not even bother to put my manifold gauges on it.

We opted to stay another night so I could call some HVAC companies Monday morning. While I could probably find a cylinder of R410a someplace and charge it myself, I wanted professional help to find the leak, and a quick resolution without waiting several days for shipping. We were fortunate to find a company in town available to come out the same day, and even though the refrigerant was marked up tenfold, the whole visit was reasonable at just $160. Sadly, even with two fancy leak detectors and more sophisticated soap solution than I had, he could not find any kind of leak; it did, after all, take a full three weeks to leak down. We just tightened everything up some more, and I put pipe dope on the threaded caps over the valves and service ports. I did at least feel a little better that the professional did not find anything more than I did when I installed it. If the problem returns I'll have to put a dye charge in it.


Inebriated skinny-dipper off our aft deck.

Aside from all the maintenance, projects, and road trips, we had a bit over a week in the middle to catch up around the house and enjoy Decatur. We also had two more weekends of, umm, interesting goings-on at the on-site bar and restaurant, which features live music on the weekends and can attract something of a rowdy crowd. One night, hearing loud voices right outside our swim step, I found three inebriated individuals on the dock in the process of stripping naked to go for a swim. Aside from the fact that it is incredibly dangerous to swim in a freshwater marina, this dock is well lit and in plain view of the restaurant parking lot and several other docks that have their own regular crowds on weekend nights. There are also no ladders on these docks. Louise was asleep and I had to ask them to keep it down; our video system caught the whole episode on infrared.


Fishing their drunk friend out. She could barely walk, let alone climb onto the dock.

In that week we also got the chance to try a few more of the local eateries. One night we went to the well-rated Bank Street Grille, in the little historic district, and stumbled into Paint Nite, something we'd never even heard of. It was kind of fun to watch. The restaurant owner came over to chat with us and we learned he also had a boat in the marina, and had noticed Vector there.


Paint Nite. We had a great view from a high-top table nearby.

It feels really good to be under way again after a month of being tied to the dock. We got a late start yesterday after the air conditioning service call and a stop at the pumpout dock, so it was a short travel day. Today we've already passed through the Guntersville Lock into Lake Guntersville, and I expect we'll be anchored or maybe at the free dock in Guntersville, Alabama tonight. We should be in Chattanooga by the end of the week.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Farewell, Odyssey, and thanks for an epic voyage

It is with very mixed emotions that I announce today that Odyssey, our Neoplan Spaceliner bus and the namesake of this blog, has been sold. It is in good hands; new owner Jay has had more than one bus, including a vintage Flxible, a number of Detroit-powered vehicles including his current Bluebird Wanderlodge, and a number of collector cars. He's also an avid motorcyclist and hopes to be able to fit his sidecar rig in the motorcycle bay. It's hard to imagine a more qualified person to take on the mantle of Odyssey's caretaker.


Our final view of Odyssey, parked in Richmond, Virginia awaiting its new owners.

We returned to Vector, still docked in Decatur, Alabama, late last night after an exhausting week-long trip to Lottsburg, Virginia to prepare the bus and hand over the title. We had hoped to have a relaxing return trip over perhaps a couple of days, but it was not to be; Odyssey would not leave us peacefully without a struggle. We have not had even five minutes of downtime since leaving here early Sunday morning, between all the driving, and working 13 hours a day while we were there. I must apologize to our Northern Neck friends, as we did not have the chance to visit for even a cocktail while were there. I also did not have a chance to finish the blog post I had started before leaving, covering the rest of our time here in Decatur; I hope to finish that and get it posted in the next couple of days.

If you've been following along with us, even very recently, you will know that we made the decision to list the bus on eBay in early May. We did not expect it to sell right away, and, in fact, we expected the listing to run its seven-day course and be renewed, unchanged, many times, possibly over several months, before the right buyer came along. It "sold" right away, to someone too impecunious to complete the sale, and it "sold" again on the first relisting, to a buyer who actually traveled to Lottsburg (after a few hiccups) to see it and, we hoped, complete the purchase.

Accordingly we made a pilgrimage to Lottsburg in a rental car to get the bus ready; it was the first return visit in half a year and the bus was due for its semiannual check-up anyway. As I wrote about extensively back then, the bus would not run, and we spent several extra days there while I replaced the fuel pump and tracked down a defective check valve. All was thus working, or so we thought, and we even moved the bus around the yard and into a new space in the shed, as it had sunk quite a ways into the ground in its original spot over three years. That buyer, it turned out, wanted to renegotiate the deal once he arrived on site, and we were unwilling to move below our rock-bottom minimum bid, about which we have been very clear from the start.

We've relisted the bus three times since then, with a brief hiatus for our California trip since we would not be able to complete the sale while we were away. This most recent time was the charm, and we had carefully timed the listing so that we could complete the sale while still here at the dock on our one-month pre-paid stay. If it did not sell, we might well have shoved off before the month was up. That did, however, put a bit of time pressure on us to get back here before the month ran out.

And so it is that we rented a car last Saturday morning, running down to the rental office on my scooter, which we left there behind the office. They close at noon, and we arrived just before then. We spent Saturday afternoon running errands that the car made much easier, such as offloading our copious cache of recyclables. Saturday evening we loaded the car with tools and supplies, just as we did in May. This time, with the cat freshly traumatized from a week at the vet, we opted to cat-proof the car and just take her with us. We covered every surface with quilts, and put her litter box in the pass-through trunk next to the tools.


Angel, all settled in for the long ride. We have a few extra quilts in the house :-)

Sunday we drove a full ten hours to a cat-friendly hotel in Richmond, the Hyatt Place. They did levy a $75 pet charge, but that was still less than kenneling her for a week. She complained bitterly in the carrier on the way to the car (and from the car to the hotel), but once she had the run of the quilt-covered back seat, she settled right in and slept for most of the trip. We went the whole time at the Hyatt without any maid service; the cat stayed in the room while we were gone, and the logistics of having the room cleaned around the cat are daunting. By the time we left yesterday morning we were down to the last of the soap bar and had used all the towels.


She settled right in to the hotel room, too. We call this pose "the most interesting cat in the world."

Monday morning we drove the hour and a half from the hotel to Lottsburg to again prepare the bus. I had shut everything down and disconnected all the batteries after my last visit, and it takes an hour or so to get it all back together. It took quite a few cranks to get the main engine running, enough that we had to jump it with the rental car for the last few tries. I was a bit surprised but did not think too much of it.

After getting everything going again we decided to move it out of the shed and to a "camp site" for the sale, where all the bays could be opened and the awnings extended. As long as we were pulling it around, I also decided to take it out onto the street for a real test drive. That's when the trouble started. The bus was sluggish, with almost no power, and the turbo boost never getting up above 5psi or so. Perhaps my fuel system repairs were not really complete. I only made it to the church at the end of the block, at a top speed of about 15mph, before turning around and coming back to the yard to work the problem.

Once more unto the breach; I spent the whole afternoon going back over the fuel delivery system, and also ruminating about whether it was something more sinister like the turbo or the injectors. We found nothing other than a bit more crud around the suspect check valve from the last visit. With little else to go on, I found a check valve service kit at the local Detroit dealer not far from the hotel, and had them hold it for me for the morning. Of course, the buyer flew in Monday afternoon, so I'd be installing the kit while he waited.

Tuesday we picked up the check valve kit in Richmond, and buyer Jay in Warsaw, just a half hour from Lottsburg, arriving at the bus about 10:30. By 11 I had the kit installed and, after a tour of the bus and all its systems, we went for a test drive, with Jay at the wheel. Sadly, that did not cure the problem. We came back, parked, finished the tour, and then set to work on bypassing the filter system altogether by running the bus from a jerry can of fresh fuel. Of course, I did not think to bring either of the jerry cans I had bought on the last trip with me, or even all the tools I needed, and once again the Ace Hardware in Lottsburg made a small fortune on me.

Running on a two-gallon can of fresh fuel, the engine seemed to be strong and normal. But that's not enough fuel to even get out of the parking space, let alone road test, and it did not tell us whether the problem was the fuel itself, sitting, as it had been, in the tank for three years, or the supply line from the tank to the filter. We ruminated on this over a nice lunch at the local Mexican joint, and formulated a plan of attack. With little to lose, we hacked the end off an old vinyl garden hose, connected one end to the fuel filter, and stuck the other end in the tank through the filler neck. After re-priming with fresh fuel, we went for another test spin, this time with our redneck fuel delivery system taped to the side of the bus. Things seemed better at first, but quickly deteriorated, and we had to limp back to the barn from the highway.

By this time it was the end of the day. With the bus clearly not running well enough to carry him back home, and a commitment on his calendar there on Thursday, Jay reluctantly booked a return flight and reserved an airport hotel in Richmond (he had checked out of his Warsaw hotel in the morning anticipating smooth sailing). What happened next both stunned and delighted us: Jay agreed to complete the sale anyway, with a gentlemen's agreement that we'd fix the fuel system before he returned to collect it. We celebrated over a nice meal together in Tappahannock, and signed the paperwork in the lobby of his hotel before we headed back to the Hyatt a half hour away.


Closing the deal at the airport Sheraton.

We had been scheduled to check out of the Hyatt Place Wednesday morning (for the aforementioned leisurely return trip to Decatur). Not wanting to stress the cat by moving her to another hotel or even onto the bus, we just extended our stay. The room we had booked for $100/night miraculously became $140/night when we extended, but we were ill-positioned to argue about it. We again made the trip out to Lottsburg, stopping in Warsaw for some fresh fuel filters and an even larger jerry can.

Rather than take the hour and a half route along the freeway, we instead scouted a longer route using only four-lane secondary roads, in the event we'd have to again jury-rig the garden hose and limp the bus into the Detroit shop at 20mph for more seasoned mechanics with better tools to take over. That took us past Harbor Freight, where we bought a diesel transfer pump in case we had to offload a half tank of bad fuel.

I confess to sweating the possibilities the whole trip, worrying that Jay's confidence in my abilities might be misplaced. We spent the whole day at the bus, trying everything we could to nail down the root cause, short of rerouting the fuel return line or dumping the tank. We also ran the generator from the moment we arrived, trying to burn as much fuel as possible; the fact that the generator seemed to run just fine on the same stale fuel made us doubt that this could be the root cause at all.

Late in the day, after the main engine had been running for over an hour straight, in an effort to "polish" the fuel through the 10-micron filters, we shut it down in order to connect the Diagnostic Data Reader (DDR) to the engine's diagnostic port. My plan was to run an "injector cut out" test to see if one or more injectors was bad. After connecting the DDR, the engine would not start at all.

It was the recovery from this that led us, finally, to conclude the stale fuel was the culprit. It took many minutes of cranking with a jerry can of clean fuel to get the engine to start, even after the fuel in the filter had been completely replaced. If a supply obstruction was at fault, merely replacing the supply line with the jerry can should have been sufficient. Bad fuel, however, would take many revolutions of the engine to purge from the entire injection system. Once we had cranked long enough to get the clean fuel to the injectors, the engine started.

And so it was that Thursday morning we returned to the bus, primed the system with fresh fuel, reconnected the main tank, and limped the few miles to Perkins Truck Repair in nearby Callao, whom I had called the previous day to ask whether they could dispose of our old diesel. We hooked up our spiffy new fuel transfer pump (complete with the sort of nozzle you find on gas pumps), stuck a long hose into our tank, and filled three 55-gallon drums to the brim with old diesel. That 160 gallons probably cost me well over $500 when I put it in the tank in 2013; now it cost me another $40 for disposal. We had to shut the generator down once we started to empty the tank; it had been running non-stop since early the previous day.

Perkins did not have any diesel fuel, but a gas station with diesel was just a few hundred feet down the road. With the level in the tank right at the bottom of the dip tube, I managed to drive up to the diesel pump, running out of fuel just as I was parking. We put 140 gallons of fresh diesel in the tank, and then had to spend the next 20 minutes re-priming the system and trying to get the engine to start, much to the consternation of other diesel fuel patrons. Fortunately, we were only blocking one side of a two-sided dispenser.

That did the trick, and I was able to drive the bus all the way to Richmond without any further issues. Louise drove behind me in the rental car, giving me smoke reports, and I ran through the full range of gears and throttle settings on the way, also testing the retarder and other systems such as the horn and wipers. We parked the coach at a familiar spot in Richmond with a 30-amp power outlet and plugged it in, well past our usual dinner time. We grabbed a bite and collapsed into bed.

That meant a return trip to the bus yesterday morning to pack up tools, including the fuel transfer pump and hoses that had been unceremoniously stuffed into the motorcycle bay, clean up the trash, and otherwise close down the bus while it awaits its new master. It was nearly 11am by the time we rolled out of Richmond for the ten-hour drive back to Decatur.

It was all we could do this morning to get up in time to unload the car, which we simply parked as-is when we arrived last night, clean it out, and get it back to the rental agency before they closed at noon. I had emailed Jay from the road yesterday with a final status report, including a breakdown of what we spent, and he reimbursed us for the fresh fuel, filters, and disposal fees before we even arrived in Decatur.

We wish Jay and Odyssey a long and happy union. I'm sure we will remain in touch, as I have offered to provide telephone technical support on any issues while he comes up to speed on all the systems. I am very sad to be closing this chapter -- it was a great bus and a great home, and it took us to many wonderful places. But I am also glad that it will be put to good use, and not sit forlornly in a storage yard, slowly deteriorating. If you see Odyssey on the road, give Jay a wave, for us.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The view from 30,000'

We are back home in Alabama after our whirlwind trip to California. I barely had time to keep up with email, let alone blog; now that we're home and rested I can catch up. We're not in any hurry now, as we paid for a full month here at the Riverwalk Marina in Decatur (map). I had expected to take just a couple of weeks, but the monthly rate was less than even seven days at the daily rate -- a no-brainer.

We arrived here mid-afternoon Thursday (the 7th), shortly after I posted here. We're on the north side of a face dock, and we arrived in ten knots of wind out of the south, making for quite the challenge docking. The marina has no staff, and it was a good ten minutes of back-and-forth maneuvering before I could get the midships close enough to the dock for Louise to lasso a cleat. All's well that ends well, and we tied up without incident.


Sunset over the Tennessee, from the Hard Dock Cafe at the marina.

The marina is actually on an island in the middle of the river, which in turn is really part of Wheeler Lake. A causeway connects the island to Tanner, Madison, and Huntsville on the north shore of the lake, and the "Steamboat Bill" bridge connects it to Decatur proper on the south shore. Consequently, nothing at all is in walking distance here except the restaurant on the property, the Hard Dock Cafe. It's extremely popular, with live music most nights and a good crowd. On the weekends, some patrons arrive by boat.


A unique view of Vector, from 30,000' (click to enlarge). It's the white blob just below the green roofs.

With temperatures in the high 90s and heat indices some ten degrees higher, we opted to just walk the hundred yards to the Hard Dock for dinner when we arrived. The food was decent and the beer was cold, although the joint is open-air. Still, it was better than lowering the scooters in the heat, or cooking. We landed the scooters Friday morning, when it was a bit cooler.


Approaching Decatur. The rail bridge had to open for us; the marina is beyond it.

Also on Friday, a semi-truck from R&L Carriers arrived with our mini-split air conditioner on a pallet. We unloaded it all from the skid as soon as it came off the truck, and were able to wheel the components down to the boat on our collapsible luggage cart individually. This marina does not even have a dock cart. I had not figured to dive right into the installation before our trip, but after uncrating it all and looking it over I decided I could just get started, rather than have it cluttering up the boat.

It took me the better part of three full days to install it, which included a trip to Lowes for mounting bolts, PVC fittings to sleeve the holes in the boat, and a power cord. I've already written up the full installation in its own post, so I won't repeat it here. I'm happy to report that we tested it again when we returned from our week in California and it's working fine, so it looks like my refrigerant connections are leak-free.

Tuesday we cleaned up the boat, got it set up for a week without us, and took Angel to the vet for boarding. The vet turns out to have a patio boat which he keeps in this marina, and he allowed that he had noticed our boat here. We are the biggest thing here. Louise took the cat over in a taxi, and I followed on the scooter to pick her up. We reversed that process yesterday to retrieve Angel, who is still settling back in to her routine aboard.

Executive Connection picked us up Wednesday morning at 0530 for our 8am flight. We had asked for a 6am pickup, but they had a conflict. It turned out to be fortuitous; our 8am flight led to a very tight 45-minute connection at ATL, where connections often involve taking a train to a different terminal. The 5:30 limo got us to the airport in time to make a much earlier flight on standby. This plane was nearly empty; we had a row to ourselves, and we had plenty of time in Atlanta for a leisurely ride to the next terminal and a sit-down breakfast to boot.


A sign that makes sense only to denizens of Stanford University and its environs.

I won't bore you with all the mundane details of our visit to the bay area. Suffice it to say that in six days (seven nights) we had 13 different visits, most involving a meal, seeing some 36 different friends and family members. It was completely exhausting. Beyond that, we normally eat only one full meal a day, at dinner, and have more like a light snack at breakfast and lunch time. On this trip, we ate three full restaurant meals a day, and our bodies were complaining vociferously by the end of the trip.

I made a pilgrimage to our condo building, the first in several years. Our unit is rented out, so even though I have keys I could not enter; in hindsight I should have asked our management company to give the the tenant notice so I could just go in and have a look. I did check out the rest of the building, though, including our storage locker on the garage level. We used to rent this out, too, but it became too difficult to find a tenant among the existing building residents. Long-time readers may remember we stored some items here when we first moved onto the bus, and then had a challenge purging them several years later.


Our storage unit in the garage area. Hard to believe it was once crammed full.

Our last visit to the bay area together was in the bus, at the end of 2012. The economic recovery is in full swing in the bay area, and many new buildings have sprung up in just those few years. I drove around to several of our "secret" on-street boondocking spots, and many are no longer usable due to development or repurposing of nearby real estate. The Sunnyvale Elks lodge, where we'd stayed a few times, which used to have perhaps ten usable RV spots, is now hosting at least twice that many rigs, and there are on-street RVs all over Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and even Palo Alto, a testament to the current housing crunch in Silicon Valley.

The tragic shooting of police officers in Baton Rouge happened while we were in California, and we spent what little time we could spare watching coverage and reading the follow-up. Long-time readers may know that we spent considerable time in Baton Rouge as volunteers for the American Red Cross, and the shooting was not all that far from the area where we worked, also off Airline Highway. The event prompted me to spend some time looking at the area on Google Earth.

The building where our disaster headquarters was housed was a vacant Walmart store, a common occurrence on disasters, as Walmart is a significant donor and we work with their real estate department. Heretofore I could not disclose the location of this facility on the blog, because we continued to use the building as a disaster relief "hot site" for several years; Louise and I, in fact, worked three different disaster relief operations there over several years. We spent more time in Baton Rouge, LA, than any other single place while we were on the bus.

Walmart has since reopened the building, after significant upgrades, as a Sam's Club, so I can share it now. While I was on Google Earth looking at how the area had changed, I decided to go back through some of the image history, and I discovered a satellite photo from our very first week on the job (and boy, were we green), responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Odyssey is clearly visible in the parking lot of the Cortana Mall, across the street from HQ, right next to the Spirit Of America mobile feeding kitchen. You can see the ground-level photo in this post from, quite literally, the day before the satellite pass.


Our bus, Odyssey, during the Katrina relief operation (click to enlarge). A few support vehicles are with us in the mall parking lot. The western half of the Lowes parking lot is full of Budget rental trucks for distributing food and supplies (we spent time in this lot, too). The old Walmart lot is full of rental cars -- volunteer transportation. We spent a few weeks in the Baptist Church lot as well.

We spent our final night in the bay area at a hotel just north of the airport, ironically surrounded by marinas. It was actually a much nicer room than where we spent the other six nights, but all we go to do was crash for a few hours after checking in at nearly 10pm. Wednesday morning we had to leave first thing to return the rental car to its off-airport location and make our flight.


SF bay from the air (click to enlarge). The GG bridge is shrouded in fog, but SF is about center frame. To the right is the old airfield of Alameda Naval Air Station; long time readers may remember we've spent a bit of time there having Odyssey serviced at a bus shop in one of the old paint hangars.

We had clear skies and great weather for the flight from SFO to Atlanta, and I was able to snap a few photos out the plane window. The bay area is always fascinating from the air, but I also managed to look out the window at just the right time to see our anchorage at Joe Wheeler State Park, most of Wheeler Lake, and even Vector sitting in the marina from 30,000 feet. We had a dinner layover in Atlanta and it was four hours between our flyover and when we'd be back at the boat in person.


Wheeler lake. At far left is Wheeler State Park, where we anchored.


Decatur, AL, with Riverwalk Marina just right of center frame.

Our final flight from Atlanta to Huntsville was, in fact, delayed, and we counted ourselves lucky that we did not miss our limo appointment when we landed. We found the boat in good condition, if intolerably hot, and after cranking up the air conditioning we collapsed. I think I spent most of Thursday in a stupor, after a completely exhausting week, compounded by jet lag.

Yesterday I managed to get back into the swing of things, even starting the project list back up. We had to get the cat in the morning; we intended to pick her up on Thursday but did not realize the vet closes early that day, at 11am, and we moved the boat to the pumpout and back first thing Thursday instead, wanting to do that in the relative cool of the morning. My first project was to try to clear up the last remnants of the mini-split project.

The big one of those, of course, was the shelf I had to remove over the pilothouse settee. This is a really, really nice shelf, with nicely rounded corners and seamless joints; I can only imagine what our friend and former master of this vessel paid for it, but knowing yard rates for millwork, I'm guessing well in excess of a "boat unit." Thus we really did not want to consign it to the scrap heap (which, really, would have been a "free to good home" pile at a marina someplace), but rather to keep it for ourselves. We ultimately settled on a spot for it over the master berth.


Shelf from the pilothouse, now in place over the master berth.

It looks great there, and will give Louise some more storage for quilts. We can't really use it for books, because it's four feet above our heads when we are sleeping and the risk of books falling in rough seas is a real issue. I'm glad we were able to find a use for it on board.

I also moved Mr. Roboto downstairs to the master stateroom, getting a head start on making him operational there. We made a stop at Home Depot to get some parts for the project, to plumb the condensate drain to a hose, by way of a ball valve, so the unit can be drained without moving it from its new perch on the forward dresser top. I'll post some photos as the project progresses.

We had initially thought we'd be shoving off about now for Chattanooga. But as long was we are paid up all the way to August 7th, instead we'll spend a bit more time right here in Decatur. That will let us get past the current heat wave with full air conditioning, and I can also knock down some of the project backlog. The generator needs its oil changed, and both engines are overdue on valve adjustment, plus I need to finish up the portable air conditioner project in the master stateroom.

At this writing, I'm not sure when we'll leave here. We're already ahead of the game on dock fees, so there is no need to stay any longer than we feel like, but, by the same token, we are not in a hurry. If we get a later start upriver to Chattanooga, then it's possible the next upstream lock will be reopened by the time we are done there, and we could continue on all the way to Knoxville if we feel like it.

I'll probably post one more time while we are here in Decatur, and by then I should have a better idea of the plan moving forward. In the meantime, we'll be making some slow progress as we continue to recover from our packed week of travel.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Keeping our cool under way

We just finished installing a mini-split, high-SEER air conditioner in our pilothouse, now that we've stopped in one place long enough to get it delivered. This post will be exclusively about the installation of this air conditioner and how it came about, so if you are not interested in such things you can just skip past it. I'll return to our normal travelogue in my next post.


The new air conditioner in operation, during testing. "62" is the current setpoint, the lowest available. When powered down, the louver door on the bottom closes completely; it can oscillate, if desired, when operating.

One of the great things about a nomadic existence is that we can choose to follow temperate weather, staying comfortable year-round without breaking the bank on the energy budget. But if you have followed us for any length of time, you'll know that we've sometimes chosen a different path, for one reason or another. In the bus, that was often due to our volunteer work with the American Red Cross, which had us driving into tropical storms, and heading into the sweltering heat of summer in the south during hurricane season.

The reasons are more mundane on the boat. At seven miles an hour, it's not possible to just zip away to cooler climes on a whim. And without being able to do the river system of the central US by starting in the Great Lakes and slowly working south, due to Vector's height, if we wanted to do them at all we had to start north from Mobile in June. That inevitably put us in heat and humidity unlike any we've heretofore experienced on the boat.

When we designed the bus, more or less from scratch, we had the luxury of designing in some highly efficient and flexible climate control systems. We deliberately set things up so that we could run an air conditioner directly from the batteries if needed, for example to keep the bedroom cool overnight without running the generator. On the road, with the massive 7.5kW alternator spinning, we could run two air conditioners and still have juice left over for charging the batteries. It was a great system, and, frankly, we were spoiled by it.

The boat came to us as a completed work. While I personally would have made some different design choices during construction, we deemed most of the existing systems to be livable "as is" (and had we not, we would have passed on this boat). What we've done instead is to make incremental improvements over time, mostly DIY, that have made life easier. One such project, a fairly major one, was to upgrade the electrical system fairly early on, increasing alternator capacity from 1,560 watts to 2,640 watts (still a far cry from the bus, with three times that amount), and inverter capacity from 3,000 watts to 4,000 watts.

One of the hopes we had for that upgrade was that it might allow us to run at least one of our four air conditioners on the inverter, if not from batteries alone, then at least when the alternator was spinning. Sadly, this proved not to be the case. The inverter simply could not start both the massive seawater pump, which supplies all four units simultaneously, plus one air conditioner, admittedly an older and less efficient type than are available today.

There are lots of ways to solve this problem. One would be to simply run the generator whenever we need air conditioning, even under way. Fuel and maintenance included, that costs anywhere from $2 to $4 per hour, depending on fuel and lube prices. This summer alone we will be under way some 500-600 hours, and having an air conditioning solution that can also run on batteries will reduce generator hours at anchor as well. So, while running the generator is the simplest solution, and even the cheapest in the short term, it's not the best answer in the long haul.

We might also have replaced the large seawater pump with smaller individual pumps, one of which the inverter might be able to start along with a single AC unit, and/or replaced one or more air conditioning units with more efficient models. These solutions would also require changes to the seawater plumbing, the unit mounting, and possibly the refrigerant piping, and when we added up the potential costs it was prohibitively expensive. Also in the cost-prohibitive category was an electrical upgrade, adding an extra inverter so that the pump and the AC unit could be separated across two different inverters.

We opted instead to do some creative engineering, adapting technology that has been cooling apartments in the far east for decades and has recently reached US shores as a more efficient alternative to whole-house air conditioning: the mini-split heat pump. These have been available here for a decade or so in 230-volt models, as those are more or less the same units used in Asia. More recently, 120-volt models have also become widely available. An additional advantage of installing such a system is that it can be used when the boat is out of the water, unlike the built-in system we already have.

Regular readers may remember that we bought a "portable" 120-volt air conditioner in Panama City a few weeks ago, as a "proof of concept." Before making permanent changes to the boat, including drilling some very large holes through walls and weather decks, we wanted to have some confidence that a relatively small unit in the pilothouse would keep us comfortable enough under way to minimize the need for the generator, and also that the inverter and alternator would be able to start and sustain such a system indefinitely under way.


Mr. Roboto, sitting on the pilothouse settee and blowing hot air out the window.

The portable unit, which we nicknamed "Mr Roboto," has been doing a fine job of that, and we consider the experiment a success. Thus it was time to take the next step, installing a permanent solution that would not take up a full seat on the pilothouse settee, have a Rube-Goldberg hose hanging out the window attached to a piece of cardboard, or require us to empty a condensate tank every other day.

Mr. Roboto is a 10,000 BTU/hr unit, which was adequate if not stellar. For the permanent solution, we opted to go up to 12,000 BTU/hr, which we felt was still within the capability of the inverter to start. This is also the largest size mini-split system available in 120 volts, and had components small enough for us to mount in the limited space we had available. We picked a slightly older heat pump model from HighSeer, aka Parker Davis HVAC Systems, who sells under the Pioneer brand name. It was just $699 complete, freight included, on Amazon.

One key feature of this model (and many like it) is that it is a "DC inverter" system. The incoming line voltage is rectified to DC, which then feeds a high-frequency inverter circuit that in turn drives the compressor. This allows motor speed to be efficiently varied and allows for a "soft start" under software control. Without this feature, our house inverter would have more difficulty starting the unit up. We were not looking for a heat pump type -- air conditioning was the primary goal -- but most units on the market seem to fall into this category, so it was just a bonus for us.

As the name implies, the system is split into two parts, connected by refrigerant lines. The smaller part goes inside the living space, mounted on the wall, near the ceiling. The larger part goes outside, and while an optional wall-mount bracket is available, it is generally intended to be bolted to a pad on the ground. Finding a suitable spot for this outside unit was one of the biggest challenges of the project.

We knew right away that the inside unit would need to go on the forward-facing pilothouse wall, above the settee. That meant removing a nice bookshelf that was installed there by the previous owner, and relocating the books thereon, many of which were also purchased by the previous owner. About half what was up there was obsolete, and we found other homes for the rest. I was able to remove the shelf without destroying anything other than the bungs that covered the mounting screws. It's a very nice shelf, and we're going to see if it will fit above the master berth instead.


I forgot to photograph the shelf before removal. This old photo was the best I could find.

With that decision made, we next needed to determine how to get the refrigerant lines from there to the flybridge deck, where the outside unit would be installed. The two choices here were to route the lines on the surface of the wall, then up through the ceiling onto the deck, or else drill a 2.5" hole in the wall behind the unit for them to come out the back. We wanted a cleaner finished look, so we opted for the big hole in the wall, making the installation a firm commitment (although we've covered similar holes elsewhere by hanging art over them).


The inside unit mounted. Again, I neglected to first photograph the hole I had to make in the wall, just above and to the left of the small light fixture.

The wall has an interstitial space nearly 2" across, large enough to run the pipes. But bending the copper pipes to run them up through the wall is risky, connecting them to the rest of the line set would be a challenge, and insulating the connection nearly impossible. Plus, I'd have to drill a 2" hole through the deck, from above, dead-center on the wall. That hole would be on a part of the deck exposed to weather, so I'd need to use a gooseneck, or seal the hole some other way.


Inside the galley cabinet, with freshly drilled hole in the top. You can see light coming from the hole in the deck above. The silver stuff is the insulation around the existing flexible AC duct.

We chose instead to drill all the way through the wall into a galley cabinet. That would give me plenty of room to bend the pipes gently, make the connection, and insulate it. It would also let me come up through the deck inside the flybridge settee, a bit more sheltered from the elements and also out of sight, with a convenient place to hide the excess refrigerant lines and cables. If we centered the unit on the wall, my hole would come out in the wrong cabinet and we'd have to go through two cabinets, taking up precious space in both. We elected to offset the unit to port so that the lines would come out in the correct cabinet. I was, however, able to run the condensate drain line down through the wall, and connect it to an existing condensate drain under the pilothouse settee.


Hole in the 3/8" aluminum deck plate, inside the settee. Also shown is the PVC fitting I used to protect the hole from water entry and the pipes from chafe.

Fortunately, that cabinet already has a large AC duct in it, so it was already partly unusable and unsightly inside. The upper galley cabinets are wall-mounted, with a gap between their tops and the ceiling, so I had to drill a hole in the top of the cabinet to match the one I drilled in the deck under the flybridge settee. I also had to carefully notch the vinyl-covered ceiling panel to fit once the pipes were in place.


This view shows both holes lined up. You can see the underside of the aluminum deck; I had to remove the yellow fiberglass batt insulation that you can see in other sections of the ceiling, which I notched and replaced later.

We found a spot for the outdoor unit just forward and inboard of the flybridge settee. In this spot all the air intakes for the unit are unobstructed, the settee is still fully usable, and the port helm chair can still swivel 360°. The small aisle between the helm chairs is still accessible. While large and perhaps unsightly, the unit is at a convenient height to use as a cocktail table when using the settee, and Louise is going to make a canvas cover for it for when it is not in use, which will be the vast majority of time. I did have to drill four holes through the weather deck for the mounting bolts.


Outdoor unit bolted in place. To the left is the settee, sans cushion at the moment. The thing to the right with the Home Depot bag flapping over it is the pedestal for the helm chair, removed so I could work behind the unit. The bag is to keep the greased pedestal from soiling my clothes.

I finished off the hole from the galley to the inside of the pilothouse settee with a 2.5" PVC fitting (spigot to FIPT) which I bedded into the deck with butyl tape. It only needs to deflect occasional rainwater that finds its way inside that locker. I also drilled a hole through the forward end of the settee to get the pipes and cables out to the outside unit, and this I finished with a 2.5" PVC 45° elbow, secured from the inside by cementing it to another spigot fitting.


PVC flange in place before running the line set.

With these two holes perpendicular to each other and only about a foot apart, the trick now was to get the pre-terminated 16' copper line set through both holes without kinking it. The line came coiled, and I uncoiled only enough from both ends to reach the respective terminations, then carefully worked both ends into their holes without disturbing the rest of the coil. It was a slow process but I got the lines in without kinking them or even damaging any of the pre-installed insulation.


Excess line set coiled under settee. Pipes exit to the right to the outdoor unit. At rear can be seen the pipes heading down below deck. The Styrofoam block seen underneath the coil is to minimize stress from vibration, rather than having the stiff coil supported only by the ends.

The copper lines are pre-flared and have the flare nuts already installed, ready to mate to the flare fittings on the outdoor and indoor units. HighSeer even provides some flare sealant to put on the connections. I torqued them to just a hair above spec with a torque wrench -- it's really easy to damage copper flare connections if not careful.


Insulated line set coming down from the deck has been connected to the bare copper lines from the indoor unit. The single gray insulation tube shown at right, also pre-installed on the indoor unit, proved inadequate to cover both pipes and connections, so I had to add foam pipe insulation to the exposed portions later.

The refrigerant for the entire system comes pre-installed inside the outdoor unit, which contains the compressor. After making the connections, I pressure-tested them with a can of R-134a I happened to have lying around. This let me use a soap solution to check for leaks before I even evacuated the lines. I bought a cheap venturi-type vacuum pump at Harbor Freight to do the evacuation. While this pump is only capable of about 28"Hg of vacuum rather than the 29+" called for in most HVAC guides, I judged it good enough, especially after blowing the lines out with R-134a. The mini-split actually uses R-410, a more modern, higher-pressure refrigerant.


Behind the outdoor unit, showing the pipe/cable egress from the settee.

My manifold gauges, which I've owned since the days before R-134a and other modern refrigerants supplanted R-12 and R-22, fit easily on the vacuum pump. The newer R-410 systems use a different size fitting, however, and I needed an adapter, also from Amazon. That was the last item to arrive, just in time to evacuate and charge the system for testing before we left for California. Our air compressor, which is sized for "hookah" diving, could not deliver enough air continuously to evacuate the system; I had to make a dozen passes, closing the manifold valve each time the compressor kicked in.


Notched ceiling panel back in place. This 1" section is all that "shows" of the line set indoors, but you have to get your eyeball up above the cabinets to even see it.

I'm pleased to report the system works perfectly, in both cool and heat modes. Our inverter easily starts it, even on batteries. And, surprisingly, it's quiet. So quiet we, at first, did not think it was running. We had to shut down the AC in the rest of the boat to hear it. It was also quite a bit more effective than Mr. Roboto, and even beats the built-in seawater-chilled air conditioner in that room. We're very pleased, and looking forward to testing it under way. We've even already given it a nickname. Meet Meriwether, the Pioneer.