Friday, April 17, 2015

Dirty Jobs

We are anchored just off Rudder Cut Cay, one of a group of cays owned by famed magician David Copperfield (map). This one is as yet mostly undeveloped, in contrast to Musha Cay just to the north, where Copperfield spends several weeks a year at his private resort. When he's not around, you and up to eleven of your closest friends can stay there and be catered to in the lap of luxury for just under $40,000 a night (three night minimum).

Beautiful but forbidden white sand beach just a few hundred yards from us. We did check out the interesting cave to the left.

Copperfield hopes to develop the entire area and keeps calling it "Copperfield Bay," though I can assure you it is not called that in real life, at least not according to the official nautical charts. It's a beautiful anchorage, though, even if landing ashore on the private islands is strictly forbidden. The eccentric near-billionaire did commission an underwater sculpture, though, that is a popular snorkeling spot for cruisers.

We took the dinghy the quarter mile or so to go see it, a full-size grand piano made of stainless steel, with a stainless steel mermaid lounging against the bench. There's room on the bench to sit and have your photo taken "playing" the piano, but we lack any sort of underwater camera and so had to be content with just snorkeling around the sculpture before returning to the boat. You can see plenty of other people's pictures of the mermaid and piano using this Google Images search; photos of the submerged sculpture when it was still new and shiny can be seen on the artist's web site, with a brief description of the commission.

Getting here involved a bit of excitement, as circumstances dictated we get under way this morning knowing full well that we would arrive at Rudder Cut with wind and waves against a strong ebb, forming confused and churning seas known locally as a "rage." With a deep and fairly wide inlet --forgiving of minor course deviations -- a sturdy boat, and over 300 horses on tap, we figured now was as good a time as any to get in some practice handling these kinds of conditions, and other than a good workout on the helm we had no trouble at all.

Coming through the rage.  This picture does not do it justice -- it looked a lot worse in person.

We've spent the last five days in a lovely anchorage just west of Lee Stocking Island, inside Adderly Cut (map). We had a short and uneventful cruise there from Emerald Bay via Exuma Sound, where we had fairly calm seas of just a couple of feet. We opted not to divert out to the three mile limit, as we had just macerated our waste on the journey up from Georgetown. We proceeded all the way to the abandoned Marine Research Station on the island and anchored in eight feet or so; Blossom opted to stay out in deeper water a half mile from us.

Remains of the Perry Institute's Marine Research Station, from our anchor spot.

I really wanted to walk around the old research station, but the island is privately owned and there are clear "no trespassing" signs posted. That did not stop a few cruisers from landing there anyway, but we find that to be disrespectful of the wishes of the owners. We did get out in the tender to explore the area a little, and snorkeled off the swim step a bit. At one point we swung in an odd direction at dead low tide and the depth sounder started squawking, so I jumped in the water with my mask just in time to see our keel grazing the tops of the sand mounds scattered on the bottom, leveling them off. Louise reported that she could not even detect it on board.

We are squarely in the part of the Exumas where there are no services for miles in any direction. At least we have cell service, and we are blowing through our metered data bucket at a prodigious rate. So other than cocktails aboard one boat or the other we mostly remained aboard, and had lovely sunset dinners on the aft deck most evenings. It was quite relaxing.

In the middle of our stay the fridge started running low on beer, and I went down to the forward bilge to bring up some more. That's when I discovered our forward waste tank was completely full, despite having macerated just a few days earlier. More troubling was the fact that the aft tank was nowhere near full, yet the tanks are connected together -- there really should be no way for them to be at different levels.

And so it was that we spent the better part of the next day working on the waste system, never a pleasant task even under the best of circumstances. In the middle of nowhere, with no access to hardware stores or even a pumpout station, it had the potential to be downright nasty. I spent the previous evening racking my brain over what could be used to rod out the crossover connection if that proved to be necessary, but it looked like sticking my whole arm into the tank might be required.

We'd been having problems on and off with venting in those tanks, and I figured on a better than even chance that the crossover pipe was fine and a vent blockage was causing a hydraulic lock in the tank. So step one would be just to remove the access port plug on the top of the tank. That said, before I opened the tank I wanted to first try a completely non-invasive technique to move any blockage in the crossover: vibration.

Forward tank. Blue tape shows the level. Access port is left of the green screwdriver. My oscillating tool is next to the trouble light.

All joking aside about industrial-strength vibrators, or that I have actually been thinking of buying one of those naughty Hitachi Magic Wands to deal with the ever-present knots I now have below my right shoulder, we don't have any such thing aboard. So I had to improvise by putting some padding and a nitrile glove over the sanding attachment on my Fein-knockoff oscillating tool. That made an excellent vibrator, although I needed to be extra careful that the edges of the sander did not end up rubbing right through any part of the tank or the fittings.

For anyone not familiar, industrial vibrators are commonly used to get lumpy, viscous fluids to move through narrow spaces.  For example, when filling post holes, footings, bollards, utility trenches, and the like with concrete, a vibrator is essential for getting the concrete to fill in all the gaps and remove any entrained air pockets. Small tabletop vibrators are used in many industries where molds need to be filled with plaster, for example dental laboratories, again to ensure the plaster flows fully into the mold with no spaces or air pockets. Having prior experience with all of the above, I reasoned that vibration might "help along" any sort of blockage due strictly to coagulation of the material.

After 20 minutes or so of vibrating every part of the crossover, focusing heavily on the two right-angle turns in the system, failed to achieve any result, I reluctantly set to opening up the access port on the forward tank. This proved more challenging than expected, owing to the fact the the 3" threaded pipe plug required a 1" square-drive tool to remove, a tool which, like the industrial vibrator, I do not have.

I started with a 1" square end of a scrap of plywood, but applying torque to that simply shredded the plies without budging the plug. What ensued was a mad scramble around the house looking for any solid item with a 1" square profile. What I ended up finding, in my soldering kit, was a 1" cube of plastic resin with a short length of thin wire rope embedded in it.  Atop the wire rope is an alligator clip; the whole assembly was a trade-show giveaway somewhere or other that, I think, was intended as a note-holder to adorn one's desk. I don't take useless giveaways at trade shows, but I did this time because I thought it would be useful to hold small parts or wires while soldering (it was, and I have used it many times for that purpose).

My soldering "third hand" giveaway from some trade show.

It turned out to be a perfect fit in the drive detent on the pipe plug; Louise was so amused by this that she snapped a photo of it. It stood far enough proud of the plug for me to get a giant adjustable wrench on it and get the plug out. That did not result in an immediate equalization of the two tanks, though, and so we moved on to checking the vent for the aft tank.

Opening the gates of hell...

I will spare you the rest of the long drawn-out story and just say that compressed air (by way of the combined tank vent output) was involved, and in the middle of that process we managed to eject the cap off the pumpout fitting.  We think it went overboard, and I immediately donned snorkel gear to find it, but we could not. Once we had the aft tank's vent cleared the levels slowly equalized and the crisis was averted.

In the course of all this we determined that the improperly sloped vent connection from the forward tank is still obstructed. I can't simply clear it with compressed air because the air just diverts through the unobstructed path to the aft tank. That's not an immediate problem so long as we keep emptying the whole system before the aft tank fills, which is perhaps 75% of capacity. But we have guests coming in May and I'll need to have it working by then so we have full use of both heads.

With the aft tank now nearing that magic mark, we thought it best to get under way this morning, head out to the three-mile limit, and empty the tanks. We needed fairly high tide just to get out of our anchorage, which had us leaving from Bock Cut on the ebb, and into our first rage, which was not bad at all so soon after slack.

Unlike our last two times, where a relatively long coastal leg meant a fairly short diversion to cross the three-mile mark, this time we had a more aggressive angle and added nearly three miles to the trip. Still that's less than two gallons of fuel, about $6, which is far less than a pumpout costs anywhere in the Bahamas.

Once the tanks were empty, I turned the stabilizers off for a few minutes, in the hopes that some significant roll and the resulting jostling of the boat would empty the recalcitrant vent connection. I have some more work to do to see if that gambit worked, but I think not based on behavior of the forward head. Now that I know where the problem is, though, it's a straightforward fix, if a bit messy and hard to reach.

Another ten minutes of cruising brought us to Rudder Cut and the rage conditions I mentioned earlier. The extra half hour on the outside along with the local differences in tidal currents had us arrive here mid-ebb, so the worst possible conditions. Unfortunately, tide and current reporting stations in the Bahamas are few and very far between, so we had no real way to know the timing here until we arrived.

We left Blossom behind at Lee Stocking, but we are hopeful that they will join us here tomorrow. We'll part company again Sunday when we need to move along to Little Farmers Cay. We're running out of funds on our BTC account, and I'm having to add data now more than once a day at $2.50 a pop to stay online. We'll be out in a day or so, and Little Farmers is the next settlement with a place to top up. We can use some provisions as well.

Update: our data bucket ran out in the middle of typing this post, so I will upload it in the morning. We think Louise's Windows-8 machine is doing something in the background that's using a bunch of bandwidth, so we'll just leave the network off overnight.


  1. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 have a way to mark a wifi connection as "metered", here are instructions for 8.1 - .

    1. Thanks, Bill, but we've had this connection set as metered since before leaving the US. Apparently, not everything respects that setting.

    2. It was worth a shot, since it is a new feature with 8.x.


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