Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hitting a low point

We are still on the hard at the Deltaville Boatyard in Deltaville, Virginia.  Today marks two full months that we have been here at the yard, and, at this writing, the end is not in sight.  We had hoped that we'd be back cruising by now, with the possibility of meeting up with our nieces from California at their usual summer haunt in Long Island, New York in another week.  We still want to see them, so we are seriously considering heading up that way in Odyssey for a long weekend.

Up to now, I have been pretty upbeat about the progress and how well things have been working out, but this week has been hard, and yesterday I reached a nadir of sorts.  We found a problem with one of the stabilizers, we discovered we have 200 inaccessible gallons in the main fuel tank, we learned the wing tanks have no baffles and some minor corrosion, and the quotes for all the additional work have catapulted our total bill past 200% of our original budget.  If any other unexpected problems crop up, we'll be eating Top Ramen for the rest of the year.

The straw that broke the camel's back, though, was the phone call I got mid-day from the roto-molding company in Idaho, from whom we ordered the new waste tanks.  Even though we placed the order over a week ago, looking directly at their catalog while speaking to a salesman, they informed me yesterday that one of the two tanks we ordered is no longer available.  In the roto-molding business, what that means is they don't have that mold.  I was absolutely livid that they took over a week to tell us.  The salesman did promise that we would go straight to manufacturing with whatever other tank we wanted.

So here we are at the eleventh hour, making up mockups for different tanks -- mockups that, of course, cost real money.  We've now spent more on mockups than the price of the tank.  Unfortunately, the mockup we made yesterday afternoon would not fit down the companionway, and it would seem that the only option from this vendor would be to go down to a 40-gallon model from the 53-gallon one we had ordered.  That would take us from 93 gallons of capacity down to 79 gallons, which we judged unacceptable.  We are, instead, switching vendors, which means another two mockups, plus we once again have a seven business day manufacturing lead time.  With shipping from Wisconsin that means we have another two weeks, at least, before we have our tanks.

The port stabilizer fin has been removed from the boat, as we discovered it was hitting the hull in its uppermost position.  Most likely this stems from the weight we had on it in our grounding episode at Tom Point Creek.  Fortunately, there is no damage at all to the fin, pin, or stabilizer mechanism, so the best we can figure, the whole assembly moved ever so slightly by bending the hull plating a bit.  The yard that installed the stabilizers, among many other mistakes, did not tie them to any stringers or other structure at all, instead merely gusseting them to the hull plating.

Port stabilizer mount -- that's daylight in the center.  You can see the gussets and doublers holding the stabilizer mount to the hull plating.  They really should have extended these reinforcements to the adjacent lateral and longitudinal stringers.

The good news lately is that we have opened up all the integral tanks and found far less corrosion than we expected.  The wing tanks appear to be completely uncoated inside, as we can still see the etching from the steel fabricator showing where each plate is to be fastened.  Very high tank vents and a continuous coating of diesel vapor has kept corrosion at bay everywhere except a handful of spots along the uppermost welds.

Plate markings still visible on hull plates in port fuel tank.

The worst rust is actually inside the galvanized pipes that were installed inside each tank to guide a dipstick for gauging the fuel level.  Without cutting those pipes out of the tanks there is not much we can do about this, so we'll just leave it alone and count on the fuel polisher to take the rust out as needed.  It was this rust, in the only visible part of the tanks, that gave rise to our corrosion fears.

This pipe is a guideway for a dipstick.  It appears to be a section of galvanized steel pipe that had the galvanizing sanded off.  The inside of the pipe is rusty, but the outside is clean.  It is open at the bottom and has a small vent hole at the top, so the fuel level in the pipe is the same as the tank.

The center (main) tank presented a somewhat different problem.  Here we were not so concerned about corrosion, because it is mostly full all the time, with diesel sloshing onto all surfaces, so not a lot of chance for water vapor to build up.  Instead what we found was that the pickup point for the fuel is only half way to the bottom of the tank.  The tank is supposedly 600 gallons, and we calculated that the usable volume is just 400 gallons.  That's more than half, because of the irregular shape of the tank bottom, which is also the hull.  The pickup is at the aft end of the tank, which is the shallow end, with the forward end being quite a bit deeper.  Even then, the pickup is not all the way at the bottom.  We knew, of course, where the pipe came out of the tank into the engine room, but we had assumed that it continued into the tank and downward somewhat -- it did not.

Looking aft in the main tank. Pickup point is the hole just above and to the right of the keelson.  Large hole at upper left is the fill tube.  The vertical tube with the small holes in it is the return from the polisher.  Perhaps it was the pickup tube (minus the holes) at one time.

At this writing we are in the process of pumping the remaining fuel out of the main tank and into the port wing tank, which has already been emptied and cleaned (it had the least fuel of all the tanks, with the level down to the gravity feed to the main tank).  Once it's empty we can assess the hull condition, and extend the fuel pickup forward to the bottom of the pointy end of the tank.

We were quite surprised to find no baffles whatsoever in any of the fuel tanks.  This is somewhat disturbing given the size of the tanks, and I will be reviewing the engineers' notes on the project to see if this was ever addressed.  I am not overly concerned, as the main tank is low and centered, extending less than five feet across the beam.  The wing tanks are quite narrow, averaging just over two feet across, but they are nearly 14' in length.  As long as we keep them empty there will be no danger from free surface effect, but we plan to keep 100-200 gallons per side to mitigate corrosion and balance the ship.  At least we will only be concerned with pitching moments and not rolling ones.

Looking aft in the cavernous port wing tank.  We could convert this to crew quarters.  The lack of baffles is surprising -- only the hull stringers resist the movement of fuel fore and aft.  Hard to tell from the photo, but this space is nearly 6' tall and 3' wide, and extends 14' along the side of the hull.

The water tank does extend the full beam of the hull, albeit at a forward section where the hull averages just about ten feet across.  To their credit, the builders extended the keelson all the way to the top of the tank, effectively dividing it in half, with a separate access hatch on either side.  The two halves are connected by relatively small holes, essentially limiting free-surface effect to that inside each compartment separately.  That said, we will make every effort to keep the tanks full to the top whenever under way in heavy seas, thus eliminating the free surface effect.  By the same token we can keep the main fuel tank out of the equation by filling the wing tanks with all the fuel necessary for a passage and keeping the main tank 100% full.

Looking forward in the port side of the water tank.  The baffle is to the right, with a hole through to the starboard section.  The epoxy coating is in good shape for ten years, but we will be covering over it with fresh NSF-approved epoxy.

The new propeller shaft, which was waiting for us when we returned from Colorado, turned out to have several defects and it is back at the machine shop in Norfolk being fixed.  Between that and all the other holes in the boat, including where the stabilizer used to be, we will be out of the water at least another week. With daytime temperatures in the high 90s here, that's keeping all the workers on our boat miserable, and us too as we spend most of the day aboard.  I've been continuing with my own projects, but it is slow going in the heat and humidity, and I keep running up against the limits of where I can work without being in the way of the yard crew.

In hindsight, knowing how much over budget we have gone, I might not have started many of these discretionary projects, such as the dishwasher, the induction cooktop, or even the electrical upgrades.  The parts for this latter item are still sitting in the salon, and have been for a month, as I can't access the areas where they need to be installed.  The kitchen items were prelude to new granite countertops, which will now be on hold for a few months, leaving us with contact paper over raw plywood in the interim.  Too bad, because counters take a couple of weeks, and while we are stuck here for a few more weeks would be an ideal opportunity.

In the meantime, I get done whatever I can.  Today I installed the remote-control microphone for the flybridge radio in the pilothouse, which will allow us to maintain a watch on both channel 16 (emergency and hailing) and 13 (bridge-to-bridge) at all times while underway, and let us keep a watch on 16 even when we switch over to a working channel.  Also, for whatever reason, the flybridge radio seems to work much better, by which I mean it both receives and transmits farther, than the pilothouse one, so this gives us access to the better radio from the pilothouse, where we spend more time.

I also started removing some of the old galvanized piping from the fresh water system, which I will be replacing with PEX.  Not originally on the plan, but I've also delved into the original (now abandoned) shore power entrances, as the old wires coming up through the deck into the Portuguese lockers was in the way of remediating the corrosion and painting the inside of the through-pipe that passed them through the deck.  We'd cover the pipe altogether if not for the fact that it also houses a 1.5" vent pipe that we plan to use for the new black tanks.

As it stands now, it's not clear how far north we will get this season.  I had hoped to make it up the Hudson as far as West Point, and that's still possible right now, but the odds dwindle with each passing day.  We'd like to be back in the Chesapeake in time to make Trawler Fest in Baltimore in September, before heading south for Florida just after hurricane season.  Now that we've already spent the cruising kitty on yard work instead, we'll be doing more anchoring out and moving more slowly than planned (which was already anchor-intensive and pretty slow to begin with).

The bus, meanwhile, has been largely neglected.  We're living aboard, and having working air conditioning is delightful, but I have a major air leak in the rear suspension (bad check valve, I think) which keeps us from leaving the compressor on.  The roof needs some sealing work.  The toilet valve needs to be rebuilt.  And a host of more minor annoyances, the sorts of routine maintenance I would just take care of as needed, back when I actually had free time.  At least I managed to get the long-overdue generator oil and filter change done last weekend, along with a less-overdue scooter oil change.

One of those many minor annoyances, by the way, is a bad crank motor on the FanTastic fan in the kitchen, which is our main source of ventilation in the forward half of the bus.  The motor has failed in such a way that we can not open the vent even manually, thus rendering it inoperable.  In the past, FanTastic has been, well, fantastic about dealing with these kinds of problems -- I've never had to pay for a replacement part in all the time we've had them, and their tech even replaced a motor for us at a rally once.  Apparently this is no longer the case -- I've left two emails and four voice messages for them, all of which have gone unanswered.  I can only assume their customer service went to pot sometime after they were acquired by RV/marine mega-supplier Atwood Mobile Products at the end of 2010.


  1. Oh gosh guys... I'm so sorry you have encountered so many problems and budget overruns on this :( I just want to transport you over and take you out for a margarita or three. Sending you guys lots of hugs, and hoping for more hopeful news and progress in the coming day.

    1. Thanks. Can we get a raincheck on the margaritas?

  2. Whoa! There was a serious dose of reality for any potential boat buyer. Hang in there - it will all be worth it once you get back on the water. Sez he as we twist in a gentle breeze at anchor under the Pender Harbour sunlight.

    1. Thanks, Bob. Looking forward to anchoring together, one of these days. At least a year, though, before we make it to the west coast.

  3. Odyssey wants you to come home.

  4. Hang on their! Less 4 U 2 do down the road! Thanks for taking the time to update us.

  5. You know the definition of "boat"
    Break Out Another Thousand

  6. Sean,

    Sorry to read about the setbacks, but reading between the lines I can tell you will be first class when it's all buttoned up.

    I also wanted to mention that there are two marine rotomolders in middle TN that I used to use as vendors. I was just thinking there is a slim chance they might have a stock mold on hand and if you wanted me to check I'd be glad to. PM me if you want me to check.


    1. Thanks, Russ. We've lined up another vendor; the real problem is spending hours staring at catalogs trying to match stock tanks up to the space. If these guys don't pan out, I'll drop you a note.

  7. A dishwasher...what a luxury! How much water do you carry? I don't recall you mentioning that Vector had a water maker. If not, do you plan to install one? What kind of get home system do you plan on installing? Is it on the list of things to do while at Deltaville?

    Enjoy following your blog & congratulate you on overcoming all the obstacles.

    Peggy S/V Sweptaway

    1. Hi Peggy. Yes, we have a watermaker, though we have not really been far enough offshore to use it. We do have 400-500 gallons of fresh water in integral tanks, which are right now being re-coated. The dishwasher actually uses less total water than hand-washing, if you fill it up (about two day's worth for us).


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