Sunday, December 12, 2010

Repairs, reunions, rocket launches, re-lamping, and relaxation

Brought to You by the Letter R

We are at the Elks lodge in Port Saint Lucie, Florida (map). RV parking here is just a spot in the grass behind the lodge, but temperatures have been pleasant since we arrived on Wednesday night, and we've only run the generator about four hours since we got here. The lodge has been very welcoming and we've even gone in for a couple of meals.

Last weekend was quite cold at the shop in Lakeland, and we were very happy to have a power outlet. We had a pretty quiet weekend, and I used the downtime to get some projects done, including installing a relay so that the awnings can not be deployed while the coach is in gear, a response to the problem we had back in October at Hampton Roads. That also let me throw away the giant note we had taped to the dash reminding us to turn off the awning power before driving away. I also changed the oil on my scooter, a bus garage being nearly the perfect place to do so.

On Monday they were finally able to roll us over the pit, but it was well into the afternoon by then, and we had already resigned ourselves to missing the COTS-1 rocket launch scheduled for Tuesday morning. We had hoped to watch that from Titusville or maybe Cocoa Beach. When I let shop owner John know we had waved off our Tuesday "commitment" he told us that on a clear day launches were usually visible from the parking lot, and so we made plans to do just that.

In the meantime, while the techs got to work changing our fluids, I got a text message from WhereIsBen asking if we were still in Lakeland. They had plans to fly out of Tampa for the holidays to visit family, and figured we'd be right on their way from Sanford. We arranged for them to stop by, and John generously offered up a parking spot for the night, sharing our power outlet. Amusingly, Ben did not tell Karen about our little plan before they arrived, and I think I startled her by jumping in their bus out on the street to direct Ben into the lot.

Sometime during the day Steve Siems had also returned to the shop to shepherd the additional work on his Series-60 upgrade, and we all ended up going to dinner Monday evening. We, Ben, and Karen all piled into Steve's SUV and followed John and his wife Lynn over to a tasty Mexican place. We all agreed to meet in the parking lot in the morning to watch the launch.

By the time we returned from dinner, though, I learned that SpaceX had scrubbed the launch attempt due to cracks in the second stage nozzle, and it had already been rescheduled for Wednesday, making us very glad we did not do anything unnatural to try to get out of the shop Monday night. Ben spent much of the morning discussing control systems with Steve and looking over Steve's Spaceliner, and we had lunch in town with Karen and Ben before they headed out for Tampa.

As long as we were still over the pit I asked the techs to change our coolant and inspect the air system, and we were able to complete most of our maintenance checklist with the exception of rotating the tires. They could handle the rotation, but did not have a balance machine and I really want the steers rebalanced when we swap them. The service technicians were very accommodating and the final bill was quite reasonable; coupled with the live-aboard-friendly attitude we can recommend Central Florida Bus Repair to anyone with a converted coach. They also work on more conventional diesel motorhomes and had several in the shop while we were there.

The extra work took us all the way to close of business on Tuesday and there was another rig parked behind us, so we spent another night on the pit. Wednesday morning found us all standing out in the parking lot for the rocket launch, along with local busmen Ace Rossi and Jack Campbell, whose Eagle was the rig behind us and next scheduled onto the pit. Ultimately the launch was delayed another hour and three quarters due to some countdown anomally, however at quarter to 11 they succeeded in getting it off the pad and we were treated to a nice clear, albeit distant, view of the first commercial launch of a recoverable capsule. I suppose most people are jaded about commercial space launches now, but personally I find the COTS program to be almost as interesting as those early flights five decades ago. They had, BTW, a picture-perfect flight and splashdown, the very first commercial spacecraft ever to do so.

The hour-plus launch delay was enough time for Jack to move out of the way and for us to back off the pit, and so by the time the rocket disappeared into the distance we were nearly ready to leave. At the last minute we decided to pull onto the wash rack for a quick wash, and while we were there I filled the water tank as well. We pulled out right around lunch time and headed east.

We were scheduled to be in Stuart Friday for an open-house event at Nordhavn, and I had it in my mind that we would park Odyssey in the empty lot next door to their office, where we stayed last year for Cruiser Expo, while we toured the boats. This lodge in Port Saint Lucie was on the way, and so we set our sights here for the intervening two nights. On our way, we ran into an outlet mall with a VF outlet, which is more or less the only place I buy pants these days, and we ended up making an hour-long stop there to replenish my supply. Louise used the time to pick up some gifts for our nieces. The unplanned stop put us here at the lodge well past dark.

We told them we'd be here just two nights when we checked in. But Thursday morning I realized that we were all of five miles from Nordhavn, just down US-1 in Stuart, an easy scooter ride. So we decided to just stay put, and run down there on the scooters instead. Thursday was bleak and rainy and we just stayed in the bus all day, but Friday was gorgeous and a perfect day for a scooter ride an also to stroll the docks and look at boats. We're very glad we did, because we had something of an epiphany while at Nordhavn.

I should mention here that we'd love to have a Nordy, but a new one is out of our price range. Frankly, even most used Nordhavns are out of our league, even the ones in our size range. But that said, they are in many ways the ideal boat for our cruising goals. We find ourselves, consciously or not, comparing the other boats we are considering to the Nordys that we've seen.

At this open house we were able to board and inspect, side-by-side, the two models that might conceivably fit our needs and budget, the older and thus more affordable Nordhavn 46, and the much newer and probably still out of our grasp Nordhavn 43. The important discovery we made Friday is that notwithstanding the 3' difference in name, the 43 is actually the larger boat. More importantly it has better engine room access and a preferable layout, with the master stateroom amidships rather than in the bow. The boats have almost identical waterline lengths, meaning the same top speed and equivalent seakeeping, while the 43 is slightly shorter in LOA, which is a good thing vis-a-vis dockage and close-quarters maneuvering.

Bottom line: the Nordhavn 43 has moved to the top of the list as the perfect boat for us (money aside). The 46 is probably a distant second, with all the other contenders well beyond that. In the overall scheme of things, the 43 is a relatively new boat, and we are hoping that as the early ones age, and owners trade up to larger models or retire from cruising, that a few of them will come down from the stratosphere into a more affordable price range in the next few years.

Speaking of Nordhavn 43s, after coming to this conclusion and while strolling the other docks at the marina we ran into Three @ Sea, a 43 belonging to a young family out cruising the world. I have followed their blogs on and off for some time now and they have many interesting stories. Interestingly they came to trawlering more or less the same way we did, and are also refugees from the Silicon Valley rat race. I am hoping we will meet them at Trawler Fest; they looked quite busy when we strolled by, and we are perhaps overly sensitive to "blog stalkers" dropping by unannounced so we merely waved.

While it was gloomy on Thursday I started another "bus project" that has been languishing in my project bin. I knew it would be a bear and had probably been subconsciously avoiding it, but driving down to Saint Lucie from Vero Beach in the dark drove home that it was overdue: upgrading the dashboard lighting.

Odyssey is a 24-volt bus and we have the original factory dash, with lots of 25-year-old rocker switches, VDO gauges, and an Argo tachograph (recording speedometer). That makes for three different kinds of fiddly little hard-to-find 24-volt bulbs, and they seem to last only a thousand hours or so. Since we drive with our lights on all the time, that means a dash lamp lasts us perhaps a year and a half, and so we've replaced them, from a secret stash that I ordered when we first got the bus, three or four times each. The last time I noticed a couple of gauges unlit, early this year, I put my foot down and said that I was not going to replace another bulb before I tore the whole thing open and replaced them all with LEDs. I bought the LEDs for the project way back in March.

With more than half the dash unlit on our way here, the project was clearly overdue, and with a few days of downtime it was time to just get 'er done. I won't bore you with all the details -- I'm saving that for the readers of Bus Conversions Magazine, where I am turning my pain into a feature article for a future issue. Suffice it to say that I used a bunch of super-bright green LEDs that I purchased in a lot of 100 for less than five bucks, and between roughing them up to approximate omnidirectional bulbs, soldering resistors into the circuit, and figuring out how to mount tiny LEDs where much larger lamps had been, the whole project took maybe a dozen hours over three days.


I'm very happy to have this project behind me, and I am also happy with the results. The LEDs are much crisper and brighter than the wimpy incandescents they replaced (made worse, in the case of the gauges, by a green coating on each bulb), and I will never again need to replace a dashboard lamp.

We are now contemplating our next move. I am thinking that the Port Saint Lucie/Stuart area, where we have not one but two Elks lodges from which to choose, is probably our best bet for the upcoming Christmas holiday. There are a number of hotels and resorts here in the Treasure Coast area, so someone is bound to have a nice Christmas dinner on tap, and maybe even a brunch someplace. I have plenty more projects I can knock out in the next ten days, and our next scheduled stop is Arcadia for the bus rally over New Years, so pretty much anyplace else we could go actually takes us further away from where we need to be next.

"R" Photo by christopher.woo, and "Green LED" photo by
project+ landscapes+; both used under a Creative Commons license. Nordhavn 43 photo courtesy of


  1. Are you getting rid of the Odyssey when you get the boat???? You are much better than I, as I would have never attempted the project of replacing the bulbs. I have learned from my years working construction that me and electricity don't get along. Glad it came out great. Good Luck on your search for the boat.

  2. What happened to the TrawlerCat idea? I assume there must be a circumnavigation or at least a transatlantic in your future. If not then - IMHO - Nordys are waaaaay overkill and in fact you make some significant compromises in order to enable the long distance capability. Compromises that will negatively impact your enjoyment of the vessel as a coastal or inland cruiser, if that type of voyaging is in your future.

    OTOH they certainly do give you bragging rights at the dock. :-)

  3. @Bob (Jorgito's Dad): Still looking into the trawler cats (although they have been very slow to market). Also still have a "short list" of other boats, and, frankly, Krogens are more in our budget in this particular genre anyway. But hey, a guy can dream...

    As far as compromises, you are of course correct. We go back and forth on this; serious offshore capability is non-negotiable, but trans-oceanic capability is still under discussion. What started all of this, for me, though, was the idea of a circumnavigation, and so I tend to gravitate to passagemakers.

    What I want, of course, is a boat that is 25' when maneuvering around the docks, and 60' when crossing an ocean. Also it should have a draft of 2' in the Bahamas or some parts of the ICW, and 7' in the middle of the Pacific. And it should sleep 6 comfortably and have a separate study and game room while on passage, but have a single stateroom and small salon while we are cleaning. Oh, and don't forget the tall flybridge with excellent visibility, and a tall mast for the stabilizers, radar, and davits, which all folds away neatly to make the 15' air draft requirement on the canals ;)

    Don't even get me started on how it should have twin engines for maneuverability and reliability but only a single when when it comes time to pay for fuel, oil changes, or maintenance...

  4. You are of course right that it is all about compromises and I confess that I started out in love with Nordys too but that all changed as we started to talk about what is really important to us. You probably have done so already but if you haven't get a copy of "Voyaging Under Power" by Beebe. The current edition is revised by James Leishman of Nordhavn fame. That'll get you all fired up about circumnavs - there's a copy of it lying beside me right now because Marilyn is in the midst of reading it (little late for that now I guess)

    I think I could have talked her into a transatlantic and afterward, assuming there was an afterward, we would have talked about the trip with pride. But what we really want to do is cruise the PNW to Alaska, go through Panama, do the loop and maybe do the European canals and the Mediterranean. We looked at other passagemakers besides Nordhavn and ultimately decided that there were too many design compromises to enable those 30 days between the north coast of Africa and the Bahamas. We simply weren't prepared to give up the living space and maneuvreability that we wanted in order to enable those 30 days that ultimately weren't all that important to us. YMMV but once we got that decision behind us it got a lot simpler to define exactly what we needed.


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