Thursday, November 5, 2015

Project and schedule update

As I wrote in my last post, in and among being a tourist while masquerading as a local, I've also been busy on the project front. Spending three weeks in one place with a good delivery address has allowed us to catch up on a backlog of Amazon Prime orders, and it's a short Metro ride to Ace Hardware or Home Depot from here.

Bilge Fan

First up was a project that has languished on my list for nearly two years, since we replaced all the waste tanks at the yard. It's steadily ratcheted up in priority over that time as the work in the bilges has aged; to wit, adding a small fan to exhaust the bilge. All boats get bilge odors, and Vector is no exception. The gray water sump, for example, has no external vent, and even theoretically impermeable sewage hoses do exude an odor after they have aged a bit.

When we replaced the tanks, we ended up with an extra inch-and-a-half vent pipe leading from the bilge up to a deck opening inside a locker in the Portuguese bridge. My plan has been to put a small fan at the bilge end of this pipe to create a slight negative pressure in the bilge at all times. Not enough to purge any sort of large volume of gas (we'd still know it in short order if we had any kind of leak), but enough to keep "routine" bilge odors from migrating up into the cabin.

I ordered a 40mm, 12-volt computer fan for the purpose, reasoning that the 40mm fan opening is exactly the same size as the ID of the existing vent pipe. Computer fans are, of course, square, and I needed to somehow adapt this to the round, threaded pipe fitting, located in a very tight space in the bilge.

40mm computer fan, with the corners rounded off. About $4 on Amazon.

Without disassembling either the black waste tank or part of the forward head, it's really impossible to work on the end of this pipe. I knew I'd have to pre-assemble the fan and then somehow thread it into the fitting. A simple pipe section had occupied that space previously, and there was a notch in a cross-beam to accommodate it -- not enough room to rotate an assembly much larger in diameter than the pipe itself.

The fan mounted inside a 1.5" PVC MIP/Slip adapter, looking from the threaded end.

I ended up picking up a PVC adapter with male threads on one end to mate with the existing 1-1/2" galvanized pipe elbow, and a slightly larger slip fitting on the other end intended to mate with 1-1/2" PVC pipe. Using a hacksaw and a file I rounded off the corners of the computer fan to fit tightly inside the slip fitting, where it is held in place by simple friction and backed up by a ring of foam weatherstrip tape to keep air from escaping around the edges.

Louise took this photo of me crammed into the bilge. My right hand is on my stomach because it did not fit anywhere else. Hard to see, but there's not a lot of clearance between my chest and that beam. Note the pipe at my right shoulder and the hose under my left arm. My left hip is against the waste tank.

In order to reach the existing pipe to thread this assembly in, I had to lie on my back, squeezed in between the black tank and a bulkhead, and do a sort of limbo under a support beam. In this position I could get only one arm and hand under the beam, and it was my left one to boot. Making matters a bit worse, I found my fan assembly to be just a bit too wide to squeak past the aforementioned notched beam, and I had to do some left-handed filing with a coarse wood file to enlarge the notch a bit first.

The finished assembly. You can see the notch at the top of the photo that I needed to enlarge, and the brown weatherstrip tape around the inside of the PVC fitting. I had to mate those electrical connectors one-handed after crimping them on elsewhere.

All's well that ends well, and once installed and connected to power the fan is working just fine. We did not need to call the fire department or the Coast Guard to extricate me from the bilge, although it was beginning to seem that way toward the end. I was a bit sore the next day. As a side note, you can not maintain a boat if you have claustrophobia -- I had to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths more than once.

Laundry Center Power

As I wrote here back in September, being able to do laundry under way without running the generator had been a long-term goal, and I finally had gotten around to poring over the wiring diagrams for the laundry center (a stacked washer-dryer affair intended for apartments), even opening up the cabinets to see how it was all put together. An integrated unit like this has just a single power cord to operate both the washer and dryer.

It didn't take long to figure out that the washer runs exclusively on 120 volt power sourced from just one leg of the incoming 120/240 volt, four-wire circuit. The dryer controls are run by the other 120-volt leg, with the dryer heating elements powered by 240 volts sourced from both legs.

While it is "fudging" a bit (such an installation would technically not meet code on land), this particular wiring arrangement allowed me to simply provide 120-volt power to only the relevant leg, from the inverter, to get the washer working, using switching apparatus completely external to the washer/dryer in the incoming power circuit. That was a much simpler alternative to opening up and internally modifying the hard-to-access washer/dryer assembly.

This DPDT power relay supplies 120v inverter power, coming from bottom right in this photo on a temporary cord, to one leg of the laundry center, connected at the left. When the 240-volt circuit at upper right is energized, the relay connects the laundry center to that power source instead.

I put the required gear together as a prototype back in September, just in time to be able to do laundry under way on our last open-ocean passages, where we could still make the necessary water. I already had the required 30-amp DPDT power relay on hand, and there was already a junction box in-line in the laundry center circuit (left over from the big main AC panel project that went along with the inverter installation). I used a three-wire power cord with grounded plug that I had lying around for the inverter input on the prototype, and we plugged it into an existing inverter outlet with an extension cord.

All buttoned up in a proper enclosure, with permanently run inverter power.

Having proven this all works as intended, I needed to run a permanent feed from the inverter circuit to the relay, and contain the entire assembly in a proper enclosure. The enclosure cost me more, at $16, than the rest of the project. Now the washer works any time we want, and the dryer works when on shore or generator power, with no thinking or manual switching required.

Sound Bar

Regular readers may remember the hoops we went through to get a new TV for the saloon incorporating an all-important headphone jack. After many hours of research I turned to our readership for help. That led to some false starts, even returning a model ordered online that turned out to be 60% thicker than claimed in the specs. We eventually found a perfect fit, with a headphone jack, at Walmart, and it has served well for two years.

Getting that TV installed was a big project, including cutting a hole in the bulkhead for all the wires and then snaking the power, antenna, A/V, HDMI, and headphone cables through it from various directions. With the headphone jack inconveniently buried between the TV and the bulkhead, a permanently attached headphone extension cable runs from the TV to a location in a cabinet across the saloon, near my chair.

This arrangement works perfectly for one person to watch TV. But the TV's built-in speakers are disconnected when anything is plugged in to the headphone jack, and so when we want to watch a movie together, or put news or weather on during a major incident, or even use DirecTV's music channels to play holiday music in the house, I have to remove a drawer in the galley, crawl under the counter, and wedge my fingers through the aforementioned hole to gently tug the headphone cable out of the jack so the speakers will work. If I tug too hard and the plug comes out entirely, getting it back in is a struggle.

Fortunately, this is an infrequent occurrence; Louise seldom watches anything with me, and so I've gone through this exercise perhaps only a dozen times so far, including a couple of times when we've had guests aboard and wanted to watch a DVD. Still, it's tedious, and perhaps more importantly, I've grown concerned that any more tugging on the cord would lead to failure of the cord or, worse, the jack, creating a much bigger problem. Or else one of these days I'd damage something with the heavy drawer of dishware that needs to come out in the process, twice.

We did not have this issue on the bus, because I had designed in a fancy surround-sound system involving a high-end Technics receiver/amplifier and a Bose 5+1 speaker setup. Push-buttons on the amp allowed me to turn the speakers on or off regardless of the headphone status. I had envisioned, perhaps foolishly, that we'd watch some number of DVD or BluRay movies in surround sound, and use the system for music regularly; in practice I can count on both hands the number of times we watched something in surround sound in nine years on the bus, and the only time we ever had any music on was around the holidays. It proved a waste of money and space.

Not wanting to repeat that mistake, we opted not to have any sort of audio system on the boat other than a portable weatherproof Bluetooth speaker box to stream music whenever and wherever we wanted it. We deemed the built-in speakers on the TV sufficient for movies as needed, and that would be true if not for the headphone-jack contortions.

Enter the "sound bar," a compact stereo speaker system with built-in amplifier, meant to complement today's flat-panel TV systems. Our TV has a digital optical audio output in addition to the headphone jack, and I hunted around until I found an inexpensive sound bar with a digital audio input and which was small enough to mount comfortably in the saloon. I found a Vizio model on Amazon Prime for $78 which, as a bonus, connects to our cell phones and iPads via Bluetooth so we can stream music to it.

Our new sound bar under the vent register. The TV is below right, behind its custom quilted cover.

Sound bars are meant to be installed just below the TV screen, and typically one uses a bar about the same width as the TV. Since our TV takes up all the wall space immediately above the back of the settee, that was not an option for us, so instead I mounted it under the A/C vent register, above and to the left of the TV and facing the room at an angle. It's close enough for the stereo TV audio to sound natural. I had just enough room in this spot for a 29" bar, which is about the shortest made.

Mounting it in this spot meant fishing more cables. I drilled a 1/2" hole in a spot hidden behind the bar for the power cord and optical cable; on this latter item I also had to order a 10' cable to reach the TV via the somewhat circuitous route the cable has to follow between the devices. A 3' cable came with the bar. The cables run down in about a half-inch space behind a wood panel that conceals the engine room vent duct. I took the lamp and A/C control already on that panel off so I could fish the cables through.

There's no way to get my eyeball back there, so I started with my electrician's fish rod, and after poking a couple of times the fish came through under the settee and I thought I would be good to go. I thought that same half-inch gap ran the width of the panel. Using the fish rod I pulled a nylon pull-string from under the settee all the way to the new hole. Then I used the pull-string to try to pull the optical cable through, only to have it stop abruptly at the top of the settee.

I managed to get my phone up under the back of the settee far enough to snap a photo of the problem. What I discovered was that, by chance, my fish had managed to find a fairly small hole that had been drilled for the A/C control cable, which comprises a length of "silver satin" telephone cord with phone-style connectors. The hole was big enough for the fish rod, the nylon pull string, and even the power connector for the sound bar, but the molded end of the optical cable was much too large to fit.

Looking up behind the settee. The pink item is the nylon pull cord, going through the same hole as the silver-satin flat control cable. The black at the upper left of the photo is the curved back of the settee. The lower right third of the photo is the aluminum engine room duct. A piece of reinforced vinyl hose is at the bottom right of the shot.

By cramming my torso into the galley cabinet behind the TV, I could reach this hole just with my fingertips, but there was really no way to make a new, larger hole. I was able to clean up the existing hole a bit with a round file, but not enough to fit the cable end. What I finally ended up doing was whittling the molded rubber cable end down with a utility knife until it was barely larger diameter than the business end of the connector. It took me a few tries, but I was then able to cram it through the hole from below, then use a gripper tool to grab the cable from above and pull it through.

The whole project, which ought to have been an hour job, took me perhaps four hours, not including the delay in the middle where I had to go to the hardware store for angle brackets to hang it from the ceiling. The brackets that come with the unit are suitable only for mounting to a flat, vertical wall. It's all working well, though, and I'm quite happy to never again have to crawl through a drawer hole to unplug the headphone cord.

Camera System

As long as we had a good delivery address and I was hunting for things on Amazon, I started on the camera surveillance project. This has been a "nice to have" project that has languished due to its perceived "luxury" nature, the idea being that it would be nice to have a camera on the aft deck to make it easier to back the boat into a slip, and one in the engine room to keep an eye on things down there from the pilothouse. These sorts of cameras are very common on boats like Vector.

This project moved up the list quite rapidly after our friends aboard Blossom experienced an engine room fire under way in Nassau Harbor. Blossom, at least, has a window in their engine room door, so they were able to see the fire before opening the door and make an informed decision to go in. We have no window, and so a camera in there may be the only way to know whether or not it is even safe to open the door.

Our initial thinking had been for only live cameras. But Blossom's experience caused us to rethink that, too. After the incident was all over, they realized they could go back through the stored video, which proved instrumental in establishing the timeline of the fire and pinpointing exactly where it started. We decided to add a DVR to the project for exactly this reason. A side benefit will be additional security for the boat, as we will have a stored video record of any incident aboard.

Angel helping me pre-scope cable routes for the cameras Here she is under the pilothouse settee, next to the air conditioner.

Complete kits with cameras, cables, and DVR can be had on Amazon now for less than $200, and I selected a package with a 500gb DVR and four night-vision dome-style cameras. Installing this will be a major project which I did not want to start here in DC, but I needed to scope out the cable runs and camera locations to make sure I was ordering the right system.

MiFi Update

As long as I am posting administrative updates, I might as well tell you we got some bad news yesterday about our whizzy new unlimited Verizon MiFi service that we picked up late September: it is being terminated at the end of the month.

We were well aware this might happen at any time, although we had really hoped we'd get at least a few months out of it first. We ended up paying $143 to have this for barely two months, and to date, we've only used about 20gb total. Legalized gambling, really -- we gambled and we lost. We could have spent less money to just bump up Louise's cell data for the two months. Oh well. No word yet on whether or not we get to keep the MiFi device itself, or if it can even be re-activated on another plan.

Schedule Update

At this writing we are still in our cozy anchorage in DC. Louise is back aboard and mostly recovered from her jet lag; we decided to stay an extra couple of days to take advantage of pleasant weather this week. We've been to the Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Park, and back to the City Club. Tonight we have dinner reservations at Old Ebbitt Grill.

All good things must come to an end, though, and we will be weighing anchor early in the morning either tomorrow or Saturday, heading downriver to Quantico. We have dinner plans with friends on the Northern Neck Monday, and we plan to be at Olverson's Marina there Monday afternoon, where we can grab one of the courtesy cars for our visit. As long as we are in the area, we'll also go out to check on Odyssey on Tuesday, which would put our earliest departure from the Potomac sometime on Wednesday.

I am very happy to say that we do not have a single thing planned after that. We'll be heading south, as a matter of comfort -- it will soon be cold enough here that we'll need the heater more than just a couple of hours a day. From the lower Chesapeake, there is no percentage for us in going outside around Cape Hatteras, so we will retrace the now familiar route south through Hampton Roads and the northern section of the AICW down to Beaufort, NC. Regular readers will remember that we ended up there for Thanksgiving last year, and, who knows, we may be right there again this year.

From there we will make one or more outside hops in the Atlantic to warmer climes in our new home state of Florida. We've never cruised up the Saint Johns River any further than its intersection with the ICW, and perhaps this year will be the one wherein we actually go all the way to Jacksonville and beyond. Maybe we'll visit our "home" address in Green Cove Springs, or even the Elks lodge there to which we now belong.

What I know is that our calendar is very fuzzy after the new year. We could return to the Bahamas and perhaps beyond, down into the Caribbean. Or we could explore further up the gulf coast of Florida and then into the Gulf of Mexico and the other gulf states. There has even been some talk of a re-try of the Cuba rally that disintegrated last year, now that rules are even further relaxed. We really just don't know, which is actually a great place to be.

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