Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not mobile in Mobile

We are at the Dog River Marina and Boat Works, in Mobile, Alabama (map). We arrived yesterday around 3:30 after driving straight through from Montgomery, where we ended up spending an extra night. We had agreed to arrive here shortly after 3, when the yard ends its work day.

Shortly after my last post we learned that the person with the keys to the hot site was off for the day, and we could not gain access. After noodling for a little while and realizing it was only a little more than a three hour drive to Mobile if we stayed on the freeway, we decided to spend one more night in Montgomery, on the chance that we could get in on Tuesday morning. We told the Disaster Operations Center that we could be available to have a look up until about noon.

Since we were staying an extra night, we decided to ride the scooters into downtown Montgomery and have a nice lunch at our club there on Monday, and made that our big meal of the day. It was a buffet, which we are fond of saying is all you can eat, but not all you should eat. We ended up having a very light snack later, instead of dinner. Knowing that the chances were good that we would not gain access Tuesday morning, either, I took the opportunity to shoot some photos through the windows once the sun went down.

Sure enough, noon rolled around on Tuesday without any further progress, and we loaded the scooters, disconnected from our 20-amp power outlet, and headed back onto the road. We made it most of the way here without incident.

I say most of the way, because less than five miles from here, on the very short (one exit) stretch of I-10 we had to traverse, we took an enormous rock strike to the windshield. With less than five miles to go, and being expected around 3:30, we decided to continue straight here and repair it once we were settled and had a chance to explain things. Little did we know, however, that this was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and our day was about to get much worse.

We stopped at the marina/yard office to ask where to park -- the folks whose boat we'd come to see had arranged with the yard for us to park overnight. They directed us to a spot that required us to back up perhaps a hundred feet or so and then turn. Right in the middle of the turn came a loud bang, and I lost all power steering. A quick inspection revealed all three or four gallons of our power steering fluid in a large puddle under the bus.

With little other choice, I managed to wrestle the bus into its designated parking space by brute force. My 145 pounds is no match for the steering pressures on a coach this big, and it took me four passes of back-and-fill to crank into a space that would have taken one turn of the wheel under normal conditions. I dumped what was left of our cat litter on the pool of fluid, and we set to fixing the star in the windshield, a time-critical job when temperatures are heading down at the end of the day.

We had already let our hosts know about the delay for the windshield repair, but not anything else, and so after we had the patch done and it was curing we cleaned up and headed over to their boat to have a look. The steering crisis would have to wait for the morning.

We had a wonderful evening with our hosts Norm and Vicki aboard their beautiful DeFever 49 Raised Pilot House. As the boat is on the hard, we had to climb an 8' ladder to board, but it gave us a great opportunity to look at the running gear and any below-the-waterline issues. After an excellent tour we enjoyed cocktails and conversation for quite a while before retiring to the bus for the evening. We agreed to meet again today for lunch after a tour of Odyssey at 11.

First thing this morning I popped the hatch under the bed to have a look at the steering situation. It is dire indeed; I had hoped it was just a burst hose or fitting, but, instead, the hard pipe that runs from the engine bay to the front of the bus was rubbing against an engine mount and has worn through. Apparently it did not get properly secured from such damage after the engine was replaced at Choo Choo back in July. (Photos and more details are in this thread, on the bus board.)

I've spent most of the day, outside of our nice lunch at a local restaurant, trying to find someone who can repair the pipe. Replacing it is out of the question, as most of the chase that carries it to the steering box in the front is inaccessible. And, of course, it is hardened steel and also metric. The guys in the boat yard could do nothing for me, and the forklift repair company we called looked at it and told me there was nothing they could do, either. None of the hydraulic shops in town was able to help me.

There was one repair shop that said they thought they could fix it somehow, but we'd have to bring it in. They are 20 miles from here, and not only can I not drive it that far without the assist working, I am certain the pump would also be damaged with no fluid in it.

After lunch, as long as we were all in the marina's courtesy car, we stopped by Walmart to pick up five gallons of ATF, and more cat litter. And I picked up a heavy-duty non-perforated hose clamp and a section of 250psi reinforced water hose at the on-site West Marine here. Tomorrow I plan to try to plug the leak by clamping the hose over the rupture. I'm sure it will still leak fluid while under pressure, but I am hoping it will keep enough fluid in the system to get us the 20 miles to the shop. If that doesn't work, I have no idea what the next thing to try will be, but the marina does not seem to be too antsy about us being here.

Just to add insult to injury, when we got back from cocktails last night, the satellite dish was still searching the sky for the bird, after a good four hours, and the air compressor was running every four minutes. Every so often I reach one of those drive-it-off-a-cliff moments, and last night was approaching that point.

The satellite problem turned out to be a nearby power line interfering with the positioner's ability to detect a good signal. I ended up pointing it manually by using, of all things, the signal meter on the satellite TV receiver. Once I got the dish mostly aimed, we were able to persuade the modem to negotiate with the satellite, even though the positioner still did not believe it had a good signal. It took 45 minutes of fiddling, but we are on line. The marina has guest WiFi, and I supposed we could ask them for access if our shot had actually been blocked by the power line or the nearby Dog River bridge, some 60' above us.

The air compressor was running excessively because the caddywompus tag axle, from the unnatural acts we had to commit to get parked, was pushing the suspension in a funny way and I had overcompensated with the front levelers. Once I brought them back down into the correct operating range they stopped leaking air and all was again calm aboard Odyssey.

I am still collecting tips and advice about the steering situation, and am hoping that something will present itself that will allow us to repair it right here in place. Otherwise it will be a long, nervous drive to the north end of town.


  1. Sean, don't they make those high pressure repair pipe coverings in the marine industry. Something like you're talking about with the clamps and rubber, but like for submarines. They clamp around the bad part and have bolts to secure the apparatus around the pipe. Just a thought. Don't drive off the cliff yet! Steve

  2. Sean, something like this.

  3. @Steve: That type of clamp, assuming I could find it in the 22mm size, would work if the break had been in a straight section of pipe. Unfortunately, the rupture is in the middle of a curved section, so no way to affix one of these clamps.

  4. Cut damaged area out, put a new angle in and use the clamps to rejoin... simple huh? lol

  5. Sorry that this is not a useful comment, just an observation (that has probably been made before).

    Given your recent string of misfortune, your vehicle's name seems less emblematic of Homer than Apollo 13...

    At any rate, I've enjoyed your blog immensely for the past 2.5 years. I'm terminally stationary in southwest Missouri and your travels and travails allow me the vicarious thrill of the road I'm unable to experience for myself.

    Thank you for taking the time to post. Good luck with your repairs.

  6. Can you get a tig torch in there and add a new curved splice?

  7. I just caught up via the bus board thread: Congrats on the fix - and the process the determined the problem wasn't as bad as first feared.

    And - for the record: I really appreciate the detailed documentation you shared about your bus projects. I find myself debating various solutions as I read your diagnosis - and learning from the whole process.

  8. Sean,
    I wish we could have met you in Dog River. We have the Krogen North Sea -- Gotta Smile!. We would have liked to talk to you about: Krogens, your adventures and your scooter. We've been looking for one to carry on our boat and your People looks most interestiing to us. We have seen one other one that actually was on a boat. Anything that you can share about it would be great.
    Sorry we missed you,

  9. Lots to answer, which I will do in reverse order today:

    @Jackie: Sorry we missed you. Drop me an email; my address is on the "Who We Are" page linked in the sidebar. We can chat about the scooters as well as Krogens and perhaps connecting in FL.

    @Phil: Thanks for the comment. I post the details of our problems and their fixes for two reasons. First and foremost is that this blog is essentially our log book, and I find myself coming back here regularly to see exactly what we did and when. Odyssey's next owners will also have this blog as a resource. The other reason is that lots of RVers and other bus owners read this blog and are hoping to learn from our experiences (and mistakes).

    @Kevin: Probably no way to get a torch on it without frying something important nearby, such as the starter cable.

    @Hugh: You may not be aware that the first motorcycle I had stored aboard the bus was named "Aquarius":


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