Monday, February 8, 2016

Projects akimbo

We are coming up on the end of our one-month stay here at the Riviera Beach Marina. Unlike a typical month's stay, we've docked the boat five times since arriving here, and I expect to dock at least once and perhaps twice more before we leave at the end of the week.

This evening's sunset at Rivera Beach Marina.

The last two of those dockings were occasioned by Trawler Fest, which needed the primo slip we were occupying. The marina would have sent us back over to where we were originally assigned when we first arrived, but with Louise's foot still healing I asked them if they could get us closer to the parking lot. They complied by putting us in a spot that was really too small for Vector; I think if we had a another coat of paint we would not have fit.

We spent almost a week shoehorned into that space, with our snout sticking out into the fairway, probably to the annoyance of the workboat skipper across from us who made several runs each day to service the dredge. Our port fenders were against the dock and we had a starboard fender crammed behind a piling, which moaned and creaked the whole time we were there. The fact that the next slip, the same size, housed a patio boat called "Riff Raft" made our tight squeeze all the more humorous. Still, it was a much shorter walk, and once I got the boat backed in past the tight piling, all was good.

Vector shoehorned into a tight space. That's "Riff Raft" to the left. You can see how far we protrude past the piling, and the finger pier on our port side.

We had the luxury and sense to time all our boat movements for slack tide. Getting into that tight slip would hardly be possible otherwise. The same can not be said for the flotilla of boats that arrived for the show over the ensuing two days, and we witnessed at least two episodes of what I like to call "Riviera Beach Pachinko" as boats bounced off pilings, docks, and sometimes other boats. One skipper had so much trouble that it took three of us catching his lines to get him into a random slip (his assigned slip was out of the question), and after he was done, his fiancé, who had been working the deck, up and left him.

Since we were already here, we attended the show. I have to say it was rather disappointing, especially in comparison to many Trawler Fest events we have attended in the past. The land vendor exhibit area was minuscule, with only about a dozen booths, and none displaying any wares for sale. The in-water boat show was lacking in actual trawler-style yachts, which were outnumbered three to one by high-speed semi-planing craft and catamarans. And the number of vessels on display affordable to the average boater was precisely three; the vast majority of show vessels started just shy of a million bucks, and it escalated from there to several times that amount. (The three affordable boats were all '80s vintage.)

My lone photo from the show. These shoes are identical to a pair I own, and I nearly walked off in them. Our friend Steve, whose industry affiliation has him at many shows, lost a pair this way and now has his name stenciled in each shoe.

We did enjoy catching up with some old friends and making a few new ones at the nightly cocktail parties, the only part of the event we bought in advance. I also scored a discount code for new PC chartplotting software, which has been on my to-do list for a while, and had the chance to chat with the rep about various features and issues. And we had the rep from Mantus Anchors over to the boat to look at our bow roller; they are on the cusp of coming out with a roller of their own, and we are interested to see if it might work better for us.

The show was a nice distraction right in the middle of our month, which has been otherwise a nonstop march of boat projects. With no shops, restaurants, or other services right here near the marina, it's been a good spot to get work done with little distraction. Having the scooters available has provided the means to get parts and run out to dinner, although the nearest restaurants are miles away. We also managed to sneak away for some inexpensive massages a few days ago, and I'm hoping to do so again before we cast off. On a less pleasant front, I made it to the dentist to have a crown replaced, and my follow-up to swap the new crown in for the temporary one is scheduled for Wednesday. As long as I was mostly numb I also had a cleaning.

I've made good progress on the project list in our three weeks here. I mentioned in the last post that the tender was at a local shop having some engine work done, and we now have it back with us. There was a bit of a false start, as I ended up taking it right back to the shop just a few minutes after leaving the dock -- the fuel system lost prime and the engine would not tilt back up out of the water. They kept it another day and all is working now.

Once we had it back here, I set to work replacing the worn steering cable. The steering has become increasingly tight, and regular readers may remember that it froze solid once and I had to free it with Vise-Grips and an engineer hammer before picking up a friend in Vilano Beach. Part of the problem is that the cable was just a tad short for the application, and made a very tight bend just before the engine.

The old steering cable removed. Tight bend is at right, near the ram.

The tight bend eventually developed some cracks which were admitting water, and the whole cable was probably a rusty mess. I ordered a replacement cable that was a foot longer, allowing a somewhat larger radius and, as a bonus, moving the cable away from the stern light stanchion with which it had been interfering. Changing the cable out only took me an hour or so, a pleasant surprise, and the difference in steering effort is tremendous. While I had all the lockers emptied for the project I also cleaned out and reorganized all the gear, and I removed an hour meter that I installed just a year or so ago, which had rusted and quit working. I replaced it with a plastic-body model, which should at least stop the rust problem.

When I got the dinghy back from the shop, the chart plotter on it was not receiving any satellites. I think the guys left it uncovered for the week or so they had it, and some water got into the auxiliary antenna port. In the course of troubleshooting and getting it working I ended up buying an inexpensive ($10) external antenna for it, but it's once again working on its internal antenna and the dinghy is now all in working order. I even put our spiffy new Florida registration numbers and sticker on the hull (it previously had a Delaware registration).

By far the biggest project I've tackled here, close to the start of our stay, has been installing the video camera system. The write-up on that project was long enough by itself that I broke it out into its own post. That will also allow me to send folks interested only in the video system project directly to that link.

We run a "dry bilge," and while that might sound obvious to some, the reality is that most boats always have at least some water in their bilges. We do, too, but only in the tiller flat; a certain amount of seawater seeps in around the rudder gland when we're fighting heavy seas, and the access hatch is not a true water-tight type so we get rainwater in there whenever it rains hard enough to douse the aft deck. One of these days I'll improve the hatch gasket and perhaps build a sump around the rudder post. The rest of our bilges are usually so dry they are "dusty."

Since that's the goal, we want to know about even a teaspoon of water, because it probably means some sort of developing problem. We have automatic bilge pumps with alarms, but the shape of the bilge means there can be lots more than a teaspoon, and in fact several gallons of water in the bilge before the alarm sounds and the pump comes on. That's not good enough, so we've been using some cheap Zircon battery-powered water detectors meant for household basements as our early-warning system.

These have worked well enough; they're cheap, at about $20 for a three-pack, and they have a loud "SOS" alarm. There are two problems with them: First, they need to be at the low point of the bilge, which means that, in many cases, by the time we've responded to the alarm, the whole unit is under water. They're intended to be reusable, but meant for flat basement floors, not V-shaped bilges. Submerging the circuit board and sounder is nearly always fatal, and we've had to throw three of them away already.

The second problem is that they are hard to access in our deep bilges, and I've actually added recovery strings to them to fetch them out of the bilge when they go off. And, of course, the bilge hatch must first be removed, which in the case of the forwardmost bilge, means first moving the guest mattress out of the way, a process now vastly complicated by Louise's quilting setup, involving a table and sewing machine supported by the mattress

Remote-mount bilge alarm. This one is at the side of the guest berth, near the head. It might be quite the wake-up for an unfortunate guest.

We ordered a pair of Glentronics remote-mount water alarms, which will eliminate the problem of the circuit board getting submerged should we have any water in the bilge. They're also easier to hear since they are not deep in the bilges, and we can shut them up, if need be, without having to get into the bilge -- at least one of the alarm units we lost because we were in heavy seas (the water was coming in through the bilge pump discharge) and we simply could not get to the bilge safely.

The other "common" (perhaps twice a year) reason for water in the bilge is a failure of the shower/sink sump for the lower deck. This is a small tank with an integral pump and float switch that discharges shower and sink drains, which are below the waterline, overboard, two gallons at a time. Occasionally the float switch sticks or fails outright (we're on our second one), the four-gallon sump overflows, and we end up with soapy water in the bilge.

Miniature float switch. There's a magnet in the float; converting from NC to NO involves flipping the float over.

Previous efforts to make an early-warning system for this using one of the Zircon sensors proved unreliable, so this time I ordered some miniature float switches, designed for aquariums, and mounted it inside the cover plate for the sump. I re-purposed one of the Zircons as an alarm sounder activated by this switch. While the float is very high -- the sump will be very close to overflowing by the time the alarm sounds -- it should alert us in time to shut off the water before the sump overflows into the bilge. I do have a vision of having to haul my soap- or shampoo-covered self, soaking wet, onto the aft deck to rinse off with the outside shower when this finally happens, hopefully not in a marina or in 40-degree weather.

Float alarm mounted in the access plate. Above the float unit is a re-purposed Zircon alarm.

Somewhere in all of these other projects, a package arrived that Louise had ordered on Amazon, and she announced that our new hatch screen had arrived. Hmm -- not on the project list. No matter -- it was a bulky package and rather than find a place to store it to some indeterminate future date.  I spent a few hours installing it. This involved cutting down the slide rails as well as conjuring up some way to mount the whole thing, intended to be squeezed inside a vertical window jamb, instead as a surface-mount system that operates horizontally.

Louise scored this item for a mere $35 and, again, we had low expectations, including possibly that it would not work at all for our application. But once again we were very pleasantly surprised. I fabricated a pair of L-brackets from some aluminum angle stock I had lying around to simulate the inside jamb edges, and I had to fashion a pull handle for the inside of the boat, which was really the "outside" of the screen, but it works great and looks fine. Opening the hatch is one of the best ways to keep the boat cool in warm weather, and this should keep the no-see-ums out when we do so.

Our whizzy new hatch screen, as seen from above.

The last major project, so far, was to finish up the wiring and installation of a bypass for our isolation transformer. We absolutely love having the transformer, as it means we have no worries about stray current when connected to shore power, and it also means we can plug into European-spec (220v) shore power directly, without having to worry about voltage conversion. But the downside is that we can't make use of any shore power less than 208 volts, such as a standard household-style 15- or 20-amp receptacle, or the very common 30-amp marine shore power.

A long time ago I scored a deal on a 30-amp, three-pole, double-throw relay so that I could wire the input side of our inverter/charger directly to a 120-volt power source if needed. I re-used some abandoned shore power wiring from the aft deck, and relocated an abandoned 30-amp shore inlet from the foredeck, and I've just been waiting on a block of time to wire it all up and an opportunity to run to Home Depot for two feet of 10/4 cord to complete the project. All the other parts have been languishing on my workbench for months.

The relay and its power supply are in the gray box; galvanic isolator is partly obscured behind it.

It took me most of a day to wire up the junction box and splice it into the system. The smokin' deal I got on the required relay was for a unit with 12vdc coils, so I also bought a cheap 12vdc wall wart to power it. The whole mess is carefully enclosed in a junction box, along with a terminal strip for some of the connections. A pair of ground wires leads from the box to a nearby galvanic isolator, also salvaged from an earlier abandoned shore power system aboard.

Lots of smaller items have been ticked off the list, too, such as replacing the radiator cap on the main engine with a "closed system" recovery-type cap. I continue to work on organizing files recovered from the failed file server, including reorganizing everything to optimize the cloud storage. And parts for yet more projects are en route even as I type. But I'm comfortable now that the list is somewhat pared down, and we can continue south when our month here is up.

We've never made it all the way to West Palm Beach since our arrival, and so I expect our next stop in a weeks' time will be the anchorage right across from the city docks there. We'll probably spend another few days in the area before continuing south, either via the Atlantic Ocean, or on the inside route if the weather does not cooperate. Our next real port of call will likely be Fort Lauderdale.


  1. Thanks for the tip at Trawlerfest about my laptop keyboard. Problem solved for $12. Good choice on the Mantus anchor, ours has been rock solid for 3 years and 5K cruising miles.

    1. Glad the keyboard thing worked out. I see lots and lots of computers ending up in the scrap heap due to relatively minor component issues; keyboards and screens are pretty easy to get form many models these days, and disk drives are a commodity item.

      We're still noodling about the anchor, waiting for Mantus to release their bow roller product, first, to see if it will all fit together. In the meantime, our Bruce has never let us down.


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