Friday, September 13, 2013

Safe harbor

We are anchored off Sandy Point on the Great Wicomico River, south of the community of Reedsville, Virginia.  Louise chose this anchorage because it is protected to the south and west, the two directions from which last night's storm-driven high winds were predicted.  Our Ubiquiti Bullet on the flybridge is picking up a WiFi network some two miles away, so we have some marginal Internet access.

We had a very pleasant three-hour cruise yesterday, leaving Jackson Creek in the early afternoon and dropping the hook here around 4:30 or so.  There is just one other boat here, the s/v September a.m., which we remember seeing on the hard in Deltaville.  The weather was so beautiful when we arrived that I even went for a swim, my first from the boat and my first chance to test the swim ladder.

We had a very comfortable ride in 1-2' seas yesterday, with the wind behind us most of the way, but today is projected to be much rougher.  We will see how it goes; Angel managed to make it through yesterday without throwing up, even though we had a rocky 20 minutes or so heading west into the river.  Today Louise might give her a bit of Dramamine before we weigh anchor.  Our goal is to push some 40nm to Solomons, where we will tie up and have a celebratory dinner out.

Picking up where I left off last post, the yard had the engine oil change and hose replacement wrapped up Friday, along with most of the punch-list items complete -- they had been pushing hard to get us all done by Friday.  We needed to give the Line-X time to cure, so we scheduled the loading of the anchor and a sea trial for Monday, giving us a final weekend in Deltaville.  We needed that extra weekend, as Friday night was our very first night back aboard, having finally finished testing the waste system and putting the floors back over the bilges just the day before.

It was fitting, perhaps, that on our first night back, NASA launched a probe to the moon on top of an Orbital Sciences Minotaur rocket.  Orbital mostly launches for the military, using the mid-Atlantic range and a launch facility just east of us on Wallops Island, Virginia.  Louise struggled mightily to stay awake but could not, however I was able to see most of it right from our flybridge, starting as an orange glow behind the tree line but becoming spectacular as it cleared the trees, and I could make out two stage separations before the glow disappeared downrange.

Now that we are past Labor Day, Enterprise is again offering its ten-dollar-a-day weekend special, and Louise went to Gloucester Friday afternoon to pick up a car while I dealt with the Line-X folks.  The car let us get out of Deltaville for some nicer dining options over the weekend, and gave us the chance to do some last-minute shopping.  But really what we needed it for was to square Odyssey away in her new home, which was further away than practical for returning by scooter.  We spent most of Saturday and a good deal of Sunday morning moving the rest of our gear back off the bus and onto the boat, and prepping the bus for long-term storage.  Sunday afternoon we took her over in caravan, returning in the car with a dinner stop en route.

I'm not going to disclose the actual location here, but suffice it to say it is a secure facility that offers covered RV storage for a reasonable monthly fee.  It is within easy driving distance from a number of marinas should we need or want to visit in the boat, and getting there from a major airport should be no problem, in the event we need to fly back from some far-flung corner of the globe to take care of stateside business, one of the reasons we prefer to keep the bus in storage rather than accept a low-ball purchase offer.

We also really needed that final weekend to deal with the closeout, but we were looking forward to shoving off Monday after the sea trial, at least as far as the Jackson Creek anchorage.  For the sea trial it was just the two of us aboard along with Keith, the proprietor of the yard, himself an ABYC master technician.  The boat ran smoothly and all seemed to be going well, but on their first engine room check, Louise noticed there was no water dripping from the stuffing box -- not good.

The IR pyrometer told the tale -- the box was heating up rapidly, and Keith and I ended up hovering over it in the ER while Louise minded the helm.  As luck would have it the one size of open-end wrench I am missing in my toolbox is exactly the size of the nuts on the stuffing box flange, so we had to make do with a pair of adjustable wrenches.  Still, no matter how loose we made the flange, we simply could not get enough water running through it to cool the box.

At one point in the exercise, we had Louise put it in gear, and Keith and I watched in near disbelief as the entire flange started to rotate on the shaft tube.  Most likely by this time the waxed flax had become a tight and nearly solid mess, transferring force from the shaft to the stuffing box.  We opted to leave it in neutral and call for a tow, and the yard's deadrise came out with four crew aboard to assist, including Neal, the technician who had installed the stuffing box.

Neal came aboard with some proper wrenches and he and Keith continued to fiddle with the box throughout the tow back.  It's unlikely we could have been towed all the way through the very narrow channel leading to Jackson Creek without running aground, so they adjusted things to where we could run the last half mile under our own power just above idle speed.  We made it back to the dock without further incident, with what should have been a one-hour sea trial wrapping up in three hours.

Tuesday morning first thing Neal was back aboard to replace the packing, which was visibly charred when he removed it.  With all the packing out of the box, Neal and I both were glad I had rigged up the sump box.  I was happy to see that the little 500gph pump easily kept up with the inflow even with all the packing completely removed, although it would likely not have done so with the engine running (we have cooling water injected into the shaft tube).  As soon as he finished installing the new packing, Keith joined us for another sea trial, this time will all four of us, and Neal's tools, aboard.

Within a half hour we had a result, which was that they simply could not adjust the box to get a consistent and proper cooling water flow.  Admittedly, this is an enormous stuffing box for a 3" shaft, and it needed eight rings of packing to have the flange proud of the tube at all.  Neal's theory was that with that much wax, we'd need to run for a good number of hours to get the flax seated and all the excess wax to flow from the box, and we'd likely overheat the box again before that could happen.  The danger here being that once the flax overheats the packing can crystallize, subsequently scoring the shaft.

We reluctantly turned around and limped home, and decided we needed a new strategy.  While it does present some additional corrosion risk, we elected to try the fancy modern graphite-impregnated Teflon fiber packing, which promises more lubrication, better heat transfer, cooler running, and longer life.  While I would never use graphite on a bronze shaft or even 304 stainless, our new shaft is aqualloy-22, and there is a shaft brush mere inches from the stuffing box, so we should be OK.  Nevertheless, we will slide the box up the shaft annually and inspect the area where the packing rings make contact, just to be safe.

Of course, no one in town had enough of that material to wrap up Tuesday, and we had a repeat performance with Neal aboard first thing Wednesday morning, after our Duramax Ultra-X packing arrived.  The high-tech packing did the trick, and Wednesday's sea-trial was picture-perfect, with plenty of water flow and the stuffing box temperatures well within limits at all engine RPMs.  We're running quite a bit of water through it now, even at rest, until it seats in and we make what the manufacturer claims will be our one and only final adjustment, after a dozen hours or so of run time.  My hokey sump-pump contraption is easily keeping up with the flow, so all is good.

Once we had a clean bill of health for the stuffing box we were clear to leave, and we borrowed the courtesy car one last time to get a few last-minute items, including the missing wrench.  Of course, that size was the one size they were also out of at the hardware store, so I'm stuck using the adjustable wrench until I can order one in Baltimore.  They did have the supplies we need to try to get the barnacles off the tender, and some two-stroke oil for it.

The tender, by the way, also came back to us this weekend, and Ronnie got it in the water for us Monday evening while we were out on sea trial.  Ronnie is one of the yard techs, who traded us his 25hp Mercury outboard for the enormous 40hp monster that came with the tender.  While that may seem like a lopsided trade, especially considering the 40 had the power tilt and trim option as well as oil injection, the fact is that Ronnie did all the work to swap the engines, including having to glass in some holes on our transom, plus get the boat out of and back into the water, so it was a fair trade from our perspective.  I am happy to report that the tender now sits much more level in the water and handles much better, and the 25 is more than enough to move it right along with the two of us aboard.  It also has a pull start, handy should the battery die.

The tender fits nicely on deck behind the scooters, but the hull shape is different enough from the old one that we will have to modify the chocks.  I bought a block of HDPE to do this when I get the time, but in the interim we stuffed some packing foam underneath to make it snug and level.  Unfortunately, it sat in the water much too long before Ronnie got to it, and we have a nice coating of barnacles on not only the hull but also the pontoons.  No magic potion for that -- we'll be using Soft Scrub, plastic scrapers, and elbow grease to clean it up.

Now that we've anchored two nights in a row, we are getting things dialed back in, although the need for some new batteries is becoming more pressing.  But our first night presented some challenges -- the batteries died way too soon, after just a couple of hours away from the dock, and when I went to start the generator -- nada.  That was easily resolved as I found the generator battery selector switch set to "off."  Once I got it started all was well for just five minutes, after which it slowed down and died.

That turned out to be the fuel supply valve, which mysteriously had been closed, perhaps during the bilge painting.  Mystery solved, but there we were in the dark with a flashlight trying to bleed the fuel system.  Ten minutes and several crank attempts later we finally got it all going.  Unfortunately, we still could not manage to get a decent charge into the batteries.  We shut everything down and called it a night once we had enough amp-hours to run the anchor light, fridge, and anchor alarm.

 I've known for some time that the batteries are at end-of-life, and recently we've noticed one of them to be significantly hotter than the others.  When the morning generator run did not produce any meaningful charge, we went down and removed that one battery from the bank.  That seems to have worked for a time -- we made it several hours last night before we ran the generator, and then that took us all the way through the night.  This morning, however, we are again struggling to charge, and I am thinking that this charger is also part of the problem.  Fortunately, it will be replaced shortly by the new Magnum sitting in a box behind my chair.

In a few minutes we will weigh anchor and get under way for Solomons.  Louise has already picked out a nice marina, and we are looking forward to an evening out.  A week from today we are scheduled to be in Baltimore, a very comfortable pace with a few "safety" days, so if we get too beat up we can stop short today  if we need to.


  1. The only experience I EVER had with a stuffing box (wonder how many people know that the heck that is?) was on a 27' sailboat, and the shaft was thankfully NOT three inches.
    Put it in, it didn't leak, (it was the dripless kind) and that's all that mattered. This was years ago at the tail end of an engine rebuild that I got suckered into.
    Good learning experience. What I learned though, was that I never wanted to do it again!

  2. Sean, what version Magnum did you purchase for your application? I've been tinkering with the MSH4024M lately and really liking it.

    1. Sorry for the delay -- I am behind on comments.

      We got the regular MS4024. Due to the nature of the shore power (coming, as it does, through an isolation transformer), I can't really make use of the Load Support feature on the hybrid model, although if I were in the market for an inverter for the bus today, that is the one I would choose.


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