Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Milestones, millstones, and Miami

Once again I must apologize for the lengthy delay in updating the blog.  We have been incredibly busy here aboard Vector, and every time I am in the frame of mind to post, something more immediate preempts it.  I had intended to post an update at the end of January, and here it is nearly half past February and I am just now getting to it.  I will touch upon many of the distractions here in this post.

The last part of January saw some important milestones.  Observant long-time readers will realize that we celebrated our first anniversary of boat ownership shortly after I last posted here.  About a week later, I celebrated another successful voyage around the sun.  Both occasions passed with little fanfare, although it was nice to have our friends and fellow cruisers Martin and Steph here to help us celebrate.

Speaking of Martin and Steph, their own long-range trawler arrived here in Stuart at the Nordhavn docks just south of us a couple of weeks ago, and we drove out with them to the inlet to watch her come in.  We had also driven down to Fort Lauderdale with them the preceding day to see her at the docks at Bahia Mar, where she overnighted after off-loading.  Bahia Mar is very familiar to us from three Trawler Fest events there, and we all had a nice lunch next door at Coconuts.

We've been spending lots of time with them since they arrived, having dinner together perhaps two nights out of three.  Part of that has been catching up, part of it has been boat talk, and part has been helping them through the passing of their cat, who made it all the way here only to be diagnosed with inoperable cancer.

When we are not with them, of course, I am working on the boat, and that has been essentially non-stop since my last post here.  I always have a long list of projects, and we even had a somewhat shorter list of "things to get done while we are in Stuart."  The lists are so long that it is hard to decide where to start.  No problem, though, because more often than not, the decision gets made for us.

Usually that happens because something I have on my list, that I know is a failure waiting to happen, actually fails, and then I can put it off no longer.  This happens often enough that we have an expression around here: "the boat chooses."  But the big one on this visit actually got scheduled as a direct result of my last post.

In that post I mentioned that I would be renting a truck and running down to Miami to pick up new batteries.  I'm not sure what market dynamic is at work here, but the Miami/Fort Lauderdale distributor consistently has lower prices than anyone else on the east coast.  My buddy Steve in Fort Lauderdale read that little tidbit, and contacted me just a day later to say he would be coming up this way to check on his boat on the Okeechobee waterway, and would I like him to just bring the batteries with him when he came up.

After a few messages back and forth we learned he could get a better price than could I from his usual distributor, and he did enough business with them that they would give him until the return trip to bring back the cores.  And so it was that, even though I was nowhere near ready to start the Great Battery Replacement Project, I was now committed to swapping the batteries themselves less than five days hence.

The batteries, at 165-170 lbs apiece, weigh 15% more than I do, and I spent a full day getting them out of the racks and dragging them over to the ladder leading to the aft deck, after first spending another full day rewiring the engine starting circuits and then jury-rigging the whole boat to run off what is now the lone engine/generator starting battery while the house batteries were out of commission.

Poor Martin, who is also outweighed by these batteries, got pressed into service to help me haul them up the ladderway with a block-and-tackle I borrowed from the boat next door. We then used the crane to haul them off the boat one at a time and load them into a dock cart for the trip to shore.

A pair of new batteries on the deck.

Steve arrived just in time for lunch along with his wife Harriet and friends Lou and Renea.  Steve and Lou both have ex-Pegasus Neoplan Spaceliner buses, and so having the three couples together at lunch was a sort of mini-gathering of the heretofore non-existent Neoplan Spaceliner Owners' Group.  They also both have large cruising boats and so we have a lot of common ground.

Hoisting a battery down the hatch.  Note the jury-rigged board to suspend the block and tackle over the hatchway.

Steve, Martin, and I unloaded the new batteries from Steve's truck after lunch, and Martin helped me get them down the dock and next to Vector after Steve and the gang left.  Louise and I were able to get them onto the boat and back down the ladderway into the engine room two days later, and then I was able to finally start on the big project, which long-time readers may recall involves switching the boat's electrical system from 12 volts to 24 volts.

Chaos in the engine room, with all six batteries on the floor.

That will be the subject of a post in itself.  For one thing, it's a long tale and this post is already heading for the far side of "too long."  For another, I expect some people who don't normally follow along here will be interested in that project and I want to have a stand-alone post to which I can link later on.

I need to remediate this rust before I can rack them.

The combined project of changing the batteries, rewiring the core electrical system, and replacing the inverter have consumed the lion's share of my time over these past two weeks, with some 50 hours or so in it so far.  We're now running on the new batteries and inverter, but I'm not done yet, as I still need to replace the engine alternator.  I'll write up the whole project, with photos, when it is fully completed.

Lest it sound like it has been nothing but work since we arrived, I will also say that we've had a good amount of pleasant weather and have enjoyed many beautiful sunsets from the deck.  I also watched the launch of Nasa's TDRS-L satellite from our upper deck, which was spectacular as it arced across the night sky even though we are a fair ways from Canaveral here.  And we made the time to walk across to Loggerhead Marina for Kadey-Krogen's open house, where we toured perhaps six of their top-of-the-line Krogen 58 models (including the aforementioned neighbor from whom I borrowed the block and tackle) along with a couple of smaller boats more akin to Vector.

I also do not want to leave the false impression that, aside from the surprise acceleration to the schedule, I have been working seamlessly on the electrical system when not socializing.  It is inevitable that in the midst of such a long project, the boat will intervene with some demands of her own.

For example, I mentioned that we used the crane to hoist the batteries off the boat, onto the dock, and into a dock cart.  To avoid damaging the boat, I kept the wire rope, "headache ball," and sky hook above the level of the boat deck, opting to connect the lifting sling to those harder bits with a nylon line.  When we were done for the day, I tied the line off to the rail to keep it all from swinging around, knowing we would need the same setup to get the new batteries back onto the boat.

It was a rainy evening -- my brand new batteries were sitting on the dock getting drenched -- and while we were sipping our final postprandial glass of wine we heard the horrible sound of an electric motor whirring, then straining, then stopping.  At first we thought it might be coming from the engine room, but then we realized it was the crane.  I turned off the breaker and the lights in the boat visibly brightened, and when I checked the line it was bar-tight.  The crane is rated at 800 pounds and can probably exert 2-3 times that amount of force, so I backed away without disturbing anything further.

It turned out that water had worked its way into the hand controller, shorting the switch and commanding the winch to retract.  I was able to dry it out enough to command it to extend, and we disconnected the controller and left the winch power off.  Lesson learned -- never leave the davit breaker energized except when actually engaged in hoisting operations, and don't leave the supposedly weatherproof hand controller out in the rain.

We made it all the way through the hoist-in operation the next day with only one uncommanded retraction, and the controller is now on my workbench to see if I can improve the weather resistance somewhat when I am done with the bigger projects.

A day or so later, after my morning shower and while I was shaving, I realized I was not hearing the gray water sump running periodically, as it should be while using the sink.  I opened the bilge to find most of my shower water in the bottom, having overflowed the sump.  The batteries sat unconnected another day while I wrestled with the sump, finding the pump clogged.  I ended up removing the pump altogether to try to resuscitate it on the bench, but there is no way to open one of these up and no amount of cleaning and lubrication would get it to spin more than a single revolution.  I ended up going to West Marine on a Sunday morning to buy a new pump, which took me the rest of the day to install due to cramped working quarters and the fact that the replacement was a different brand, with a different bracket, than the original.

The unscheduled sump project spanned two days, and as the sump is in the guest stateroom bilge, we simply closed off that room before we headed to dinner Saturday evening with our friends.  Forgetting there was a giant hole in that room where part of the floor used to be, Louise stepped into the darkened room after coming back from dinner and fell straight into the bilge.  She has bruises all over and lots of sore muscles, but we were very, very lucky -- she did not break any bones.  (It's been over a week now, and she is on the mend albeit still a little black-and-blue.) Another lesson learned -- either put the floor back, or leave a light on when taking a break from working in the bilge.

The electrical project is also massive enough that I am interrupting it periodically to wrap up other projects as I am able.  For example, the updated board for the AIS came back from Furuno, and the connectors, cables, and adapters I needed to connect it to the permanent antennas on the mast arrived, so I spent some time getting all of that working again, to include cramming the two antenna cables through our already overstuffed vertical chases in the pilothouse.  Also the repaired microphone came back from Icom just a couple of days after I had sent it out.

New cable to connect the AIS on the console to the antenna lead-in in the overhead.  I had to connectorize this after pulling it into the chase -- no way to pull the whole connector through.

Among the many projects on our "do in Stuart" list was replacing the carpet in the master stateroom with woven vinyl Bolon sheet goods that Louise bought when we were still in Deltaville.  She also bought tile squares of a similar material at the same time, which I installed in the salon while we were in Charleston.  We could not really use the squares in the stateroom, because there are hatches throughout the room which may need to be accessed periodically, and so we needed something that could be lifted as needed and then laid back down, and the squares really need to be adhered to the subfloor more or less permanently.

Using the old carpet as a template for the new flooring.

Unlike the squares, I needed to cut the sheet goods to shape off the boat, and here that meant in the parking lot.  That necessitated doing the bulk of the cutting on a weekend, and, reluctant as I was to interrupt the electrical project yet again, with another big project to boot, we were running out of weekends.  So Sunday we hauled the Bolon out to the parking lot along with the old carpet as a rough pattern, and by the end of the day I had the forward half of the stateroom finished.

The finished product.  Shadows in this photo make it look blotchy -- it's not.

It's not possible to do the whole room in one section, as the carpet had been.  Instead we had two different-sized remnant sections of the same material, and I have a small seam on each side of the berth.  This also lets us get to most of the hatches without having to lift the much larger forward section of flooring.  Double-sided carpet tape holds down the edges and keeps the seams even, and when it loses its grip from too many removals we will just replace the tape.

Another project on the "Stuart" list was to replace the galley counters with granite.  Anyone following along since Deltaville may remember that I replaced a three-burner electric range with a dishwasher and two-burner induction cooktop, and we've been living with a square of plywood filling in the missing section of countertop ever since.  We finally got a quote we could live with from a local countertop outfit, and they came this morning to make templates, for installation next week.  It should look nice when it is done, but of course I have more work ahead of me undoing the plumbing and the old counters.

A sample of the new granite, atop the Corian it will replace.  Hard to capture the true colors in a photo like this.

To punish me for taking so long to get around to posting here, Neptune had two more surprises for us in the past week.  One of the boarding gate latches popped off as Louise was boarding with an armful of groceries, trying desperately not to let the gate hit her in the bruised hip.  Of course, that latch went straight to the bottom of the marina, and, as luck would have it, they are no longer made.

Finally, two days ago, just before dawn, we were awakened by the unmistakable sound of the water pump running.  The vinyl hose supplying hot water to the sink in the guest head had popped off its barb, where it had been barely seated and poorly clamped during construction.  Hot water quickly filled the locker below, cascading out onto the teak-and-holly floor and raining down into the bilge that we had just finished cleaning and drying from the previous week's sump episode.  Fortunately, we got the water shut off after only perhaps a dozen gallons or so -- had this happened while we were away, all 500 gallons of our fresh tank could have done untold damage to woodwork and soft goods.  We don't have a dock water connection, but this is a key reason why we would never use one even if we had it -- you can't sink the boat by pumping from an on-board tank.

Tomorrow we pick up a rental car so that we can zip down to the Miami Boat Show on Thursday.  We're not going there to look at boats, but I have a long list of vendors and products to check out in the convention center.  The alternator and the plumbing will have to wait another couple of days.  With any luck, I should have it all done and the whole boat back together before we shove off for Trawler Fest at the end of the month.


  1. Just a FYI on dock water, I use a water timer and set it for only 1/2 hour and reset it when needed.

    Bill Kelleher

  2. Can't believe it's been a year already! And the work continues.

  3. Almost done and shook down! Looking good. We can't wait for the "after" pix. I hate floods (been thru a few) and poor Louise! :-(

  4. I gotta say that I know nothing about boats, but this sounds like an amazing adventure! I am an old Cornell friend of Louise's and was telling my daughter about Cornell Days when I decided to look Louis up and see what she was doing. I gotta say...when she graduated as an engineer, I never imagined her touring the country on bus, motorcycle, and boat.
    Please send my love,

  5. Been there, done that! Had to re-connect hose fittings on barbs at water heaters myself quite a bit while aboard :-) Amazing how fast water flows where you don't want it.

    Friend built a automatic shutoff using a relatively inexpensive water meter and a latching off/on water valve. If it detects certain levels of flow, uninterrupted, it will automatically cut out. In his case, this is to avoid overfilling a septic tank or drying out a rather weak water well.

    Take care,


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