Friday, September 26, 2014

Been busy in Baltimore

We are under way southbound on the Chesapeake, bound for Yorktown. We just wrapped up a very busy week in Baltimore, Maryland, where we were docked at the Inner Harbor Marina (map), right in the thick of things. Our friends aboard Blossom are still there, enjoying the last couple of days of Trawler Fest, but we needed to get moving to catch up with family in a few days.

Vector at the Inner Harbor.

Before I continue with today's update, we received an anonymous comment on my last post here that is quite timely and appropriate to answer here in the main blog, rather than in the comments.  That reader asks:
You've had to do a number of very in-depth repairs and I'm curious if this is a function of a used boat (ie, you're just lucky to own it when these parts hit the could-be-trouble point in their duty cycle) or if this is just boating generally. ...
Is there a point where you will be able to run for a period of time and not expect a major maintenance issue (ie, tearing apart the cooling system)?

Those of you who are already cruisers know the answer to this, of course,  but for anyone who has never owned a boat larger than a center-console, the answers are "yes," "yes," and "not really."  That is to say that, yes, a used boat will have a different set of issues than a new one, but, sadly, even a new boat will have problems.  Note I said "will," not "may."  Our friends took delivery of their new boat just a month ago, and they are still shaking out problems with the generators, heads, engine room cooling, the propeller -- the list goes on.

The reality is that a boat with living quarters comprises many complex systems, with equally complex interconnections among them.  On a new boat, those systems are universally delivered without an adequate amount of testing, because the manufacturers do not want to deliver a product with systems that have been "used."  No one wants to take delivery of a brand new boat, for example, where the toilets have already been used (for their intended purpose) say, two dozen times, or where the generator has already been "broken in" and run up through its first 100-hour oil change.  Yet that is often what it takes to "dial in" the systems and shake out any "infant mortality" failures.

Of course, on a new boat, those sorts of problems are covered under warranty. Fat lot of good that does you, though, if you are a hundred miles offshore when your generator, or air conditioning, or waste system quits.  Used boats, like ours, usually come from the previous owner with the systems already dialed in and any sub-par factory parts already replaced.  Here, instead, we have problems more related to aging components, incorrect maintenance, and the like.  Many of these problems will be evident during the pre-purchase survey, and, in our case, we made allowance for many expected problems in the final settled price of the boat.

Even when all is working perfectly, ongoing failures are a routine part of boating life, the inevitable result of statistical probabilities.  I once tried to count the number of pumps we have aboard, and found that we have close to twenty of them.  Many are in use nearly 1,000 hours each year.  If the MTBF of a properly maintained pump is, say, 5,000 hours, then we can expect to replace a pump every three months or so.  That's an oversimplification, of course, but you get the idea.

So the answer to the final question, about running for "a period of time" without having to fix something, depends on what you mean by "period."  Yes, we can run for days, weeks, or even months with nothing breaking.  But I can't imagine any boat similar to ours, new or used, going for a full year, or even half that, of full-time, live-aboard use without something breaking.  We cope with this situation by carrying a full-time mechanic (yours truly), a full set of tools, and spares for all the critical parts we can imagine.  Many boaters, including our friends, choose instead to add redundancy -- they have two engines, two generators, two water makers, two steering pumps, etc..

I mention all this now so that I do not sound like a broken record, or like I am whining, when I tell you, so soon on the heels of the coolant pump issue, that our bow thruster quit on our way out of the Maryland Yacht Club a week ago.  We knew this was going to happen: as I reported here back in August, the thruster started making pre-failure noises, and inspection revealed drive leg oil seepage that indicated it was not long for this world and would need to be replaced.  We were hoping it would hang in there until our scheduled haul-out in Deltaville two weeks hence, but it was not to be.  Fortunately, we only have two more dockings before then, so I can't complain.

As long-time readers will know, this is not the first, second, or even the third time our thruster has gone out.  I think, however, that all the failures are related. The drive leg failed early on in our ownership, and I am guessing that was the original and thus ten years old.  We had it replaced, and a couple of months later it melted one of its battery terminals.  Later still it sheared a coupling, and we discovered the bolts were not properly tightened during the replacement.  This likely caused the terminal meltdown as well as the sheared coupling. My guess is that the latest failure is the inevitable result of internal gear damage that was done during that episode.  Live and learn:  we will watch and make certain the leg is installed properly this time around.

After pulling out of the slip at the yacht club, we went around to the pumpout dock while conditions were calm.  It's a face dock, so I had no trouble approaching without the thruster.  After pumping out, we had an enjoyable cruise to Baltimore.  Things got a bit rocky when we arrived at the marina, in the middle of a weekend procession of a half dozen or so boats.

Fort McHenry, flying a replica of the Star Spangled Banner (15 stars and 15 stripes).

The marina had assigned us to a slip at the end of a very long fairway.  It would have been a perfect back-in, with a great view and very close to the ramp leading ashore.  But we had ten knots or so of crosswind, and I thought it would be too risky to try.  After some back-and-forth on the radio they gave us a bow-in slip closer to the entrance, but as soon as I started my turn to line up, the boat got caddy-wumpus and there was no way I was going to get it into the slip without hitting anything.

It took everything I had to back all the way out of the fairway into open water, much to the annoyance of the other boats waiting to enter.  We pleaded with the marina to give us a spot on the face dock, which would have been a slam-dunk, but they had reservations for larger boats covering the whole dock.  We finally convinced them to give us a slip much closer to the fairway entrance, with no boat in the adjacent slip (the slips are in pairs, with no pier or pilings separating the two spots).  That was the ticket, and I got it in on the first shot with no further problems.

It's a nice marina, adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant where Martin and Steph joined us for dinner that evening.  The marina has passes for the very nice indoor pool and fitness center in the Royal Sonesta hotel across the street.  It is a short walk to all the inner harbor attractions, and a pleasant walk along the quay in the other direction leads to the Harborview Marina where Trawler Fest was held and our friends were staying.  We got a discounted rate, arranged for the show.

Over the weekend we put one scooter down and I spent a good part of Monday and Tuesday running errands, including picking up the new coolant pump at the Komat'su dealer, and loading up on distilled water at Walmart and Fleet Charge coolant at the auto parts store.  Louise also made a provisioning run to the nearby grocery store before we hoisted the scooter back on deck Tuesday evening, mostly because it was too much of a hassle to park it.

Komat'su water pump.  Hard to tell here, but it's big.  And heavy.

Monday afternoon our new bicycles arrived from Amazon.  The scooters are absolutely wonderful, and usually the right solution when we are tied up at a dock.  But we prefer to anchor out, and there is typically no way to get scooters ashore when we are anchored.  We've been hunting around for some inexpensive folding bicycles that we can carry ashore in the tender, effectively extending our shopping and exploring range by several miles.

One of our new bikes.  We've ordered a folding stand so we don't need to use the pedestal like this on a dock.

Louise found these 18-speed mountain bikes on-line, with a single hinge in the middle and 26" wheels.  They don't get particularly small, and they are anything but light, but they work great and they (just barely) fit in the tender.  We happily used the bikes to get around, and over to Harborview and back.  We need to make some carry bags for them, mostly to protect the boat and the tender from pointy bits on the bikes.

When we were not running around on errands or assembling bicycles, we enjoyed seeing some of the sights around the Inner Harbor and enjoying several restaurants with Martin and Steph, who also fed us a couple of meals aboard.
We enjoyed meeting our neighbors JD and Whitney, their trawler displaced from Harborview for the show.  We also caught up with many long-time friends at Trawler Fest yesterday, and we were sorry to have to leave this morning after just a single day.

The "big boy" dock at Trawler Fest.

We shoved off at 8:15 for a long day's cruise.  It was calm and the adjacent slip was still empty, so it was straightforward backing out and getting turned around without the thruster. On our way out of the harbor I captured a shot of the Trawler Fest docks behind us, as well as one of the city skyline and the nuclear-powered cargo/passenger ship NS Savannah.

Goodbye, Baltimore!

Nuclear Ship Savannah.

With so much going on in Baltimore, I did not have a chance to post to the blog. When I realized we'd have an autopilot-intensive ten hour cruise today I decided to just wait until we were under way and post a bigger update.  As nice as it would be to make a few stops along the way, such as Annapolis or Solomons, my cousins are arriving in Williamsburg on the 28th, and we'd like to be there shortly thereafter; I booked the marina for the 30th.  It's at least a three-day trip, and we left some room for weather, with today being our longest run.

At this writing, we've been under way nearly seven hours, and the coolant leak has essentially stopped completely.  It was greatly reduced on our way to Baltimore, and we had a bit come out when I revved it up several times while maneuvering this morning.  We'll see how it does when I do my "full RPM" five-minute run at the end of the day, but at this point I am willing to try putting the correct coolant in the system and calling it good for the time being.  We've got the spare pump on board now for the day when it starts back up at a more prodigious rate.

Tonight we should be somewhere in the Patuxent River, a run of about 65 nautical miles.  Tomorrow will also be a long day, unless weather intervenes. We have some flexibility in our arrival date, and I want to come in to the face dock at Yorktown with a minimal amount of current, on the nose.  That should make the lack of thrusters moot.  Blossom will join us there a day or two later.


  1. As the old saying goes, "A boat is a hole in the water that you try to fill with money."

  2. My guess is the failure rate for many boat components follows a bathtub distribution:

    1. Yes, which is what I was alluding to when I said "infant mortality," a term normally associated with bathtub functions. But Wikipedia's page on the subject is overly simplistic, and the sample curve is not representative of typical failure curves for these sorts of parts (the sides of the "bathtub" are typically steeper, especially the early side of the curve). It was not a subject I wanted to delve into in the main post, but I think I wrote enough to convey to most readers the general concept.


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