Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Finally cruising again

Once again I am long overdue with a blog post, this time owing to the sale last week of our motor coach, Odyssey. I covered that pretty well in its own post, so today I will return to the normal format and update our other goings-on. I am typing under way on the Tennessee River, this morning having found us anchored in a lovely spot just downstream of the Clement Clay bridge near Huntsville, Alabama (map).

Sunset in Decatur before our big trip. Parking lot is full of bar patrons on a weekend night.

As I wrote here when we returned from our California trip, we were pretty much done in Decatur, but were going to use some of our already paid up time at the dock to ride out a heat wave and to catch up on some maintenance. We also wanted to make a pilgrimage to Costco in Huntsville; my hearing has been steadily deteriorating (it runs in my family), and after seeing the new whizzy Bluetooth-enabled ones that my stepmom-in-law just got, and hearing her story, it felt like the right time -- Costco has great prices on hearing aids.

Huntsville is a long way from Decatur by scooter, but Louise opted to ride along with me so we could wander the aisles together. Ironically, we did not buy a single thing at Costco, other than picking up two freebies for which we had coupons. I spent nearly an hour with the audiologist, and while I do have some dropout at some specific, fairly high, frequencies, the recommendation was that I am not yet a good candidate for hearing aids. I'll be going back every year or two; at some point the curves of my deteriorating hearing and the march of technology improvement will cross and I will get fitted for them.

Leaving Decatur upriver, one passes the huge Purina plant, home of Meow Mix. Angel was unimpressed.

The valve adjustments on both engines proved much less difficult than I had imagined, although my straight feeler gauges would not fit the generator's closely-spaced tappets, and I had to run out to the auto parts store in the middle to get a set of angled feelers. This is exactly the reason I try not to tackle things like this unless we are at a dock with transportation available. I was able to finish the job on both engines without even having to replace the rocker cover gaskets. I did replace the little foam filter on the crankcase vent for the generator, however.

Speaking of the crankcase vent, our generator is so old-fashioned that it merely had a hose running down to the drip pan from the rocker cover when we got the boat. Not only was there always a puddle of dirty motor oil under the hose, but when the generator was running, the whole engine room reeked of crankcase fumes. The main engine, even though the same vintage, was equipped with a positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system, which sends those gasses back into the engine via the air intake, and thus did not have this problem.

Long ago I jury-rigged a PCV system for the generator, involving an extra hose, a tee in the air intake hose, and a metal can from some Blue Diamond almonds to catch the oil. As long as I had to take the skins off the genny and had access to a hardware store, I decided this was a good time to ditch the Rube Goldberg setup and install something just a bit more finished. The new setup uses a large PVC tee for a catch device, with a threaded plug in the bottom to occasionally drain the oil, and a pair of vinyl hoses to send the gas back to the intake. Thus better sealed than the almond can, we now have even less crankcase gas in the ER.

New PCV oil trap, complete with greasy hand-prints. Crankcase gas enters at left under pressure, and leaves at top under vacuum.

Both engines were due for oil and filter changes as well, at over 350 hours each, and I changed the oil and sent samples to the lab. Both reports came back normal; regular testing like this is what allows us to go 350 hours on an oil change. I did find myself short an oil filter for the main engine, and with no Napa or Carquest in town, I ended up buying the filter from the local Komat'su construction equipment dealer, just across the bridge from the marina.

By the time I got around to the main engine oil change, it had taken on new urgency, as the eBay auction for the bus finished with a successful bid. Knowing it might take a full week to make the trip to Lottsburg to close the deal, and with the end of our prepaid month just a little over a week away, we rented a car on a weekly rate for Saturday morning, which would put us back at the marina with a full day to spare. I got all the engine maintenance done but was not able to get everything I needed to finish the installation of the portable air conditioner in the stateroom.

We got back to Vector late Friday evening; it was a very long driving day, but we did not want to put the cat through another night in a strange hotel. Saturday morning we were both exhausted, and slept in. I did manage to make a run to Target and Walmart to get all the recycling off the boat (the city of Decatur itself has no public bins) before dropping the rental car back off. We put over 2,200 miles on the car; fortunately, it got great mileage, at an average of 43mpg for the trip.

Approaching Guntersville lock this afternoon.

Our plan was to give ourselves Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning off to recuperate, then shove off to continue our cruise upriver to Chattanooga. That plan changed when we returned Friday night to find our new mini-split air conditioner had lost its refrigerant. The boat was hot when we arrived (we don't run the air conditioning when we are away), and I turned it on just to help cool things down quickly. I was very disappointed to find it not cooling at all, and I immediately suspected a refrigerant leak; the fancy computer control confirmed this when it shut down after a few minutes with a low refrigerant code. I did not even bother to put my manifold gauges on it.

We opted to stay another night so I could call some HVAC companies Monday morning. While I could probably find a cylinder of R410a someplace and charge it myself, I wanted professional help to find the leak, and a quick resolution without waiting several days for shipping. We were fortunate to find a company in town available to come out the same day, and even though the refrigerant was marked up tenfold, the whole visit was reasonable at just $160. Sadly, even with two fancy leak detectors and more sophisticated soap solution than I had, he could not find any kind of leak; it did, after all, take a full three weeks to leak down. We just tightened everything up some more, and I put pipe dope on the threaded caps over the valves and service ports. I did at least feel a little better that the professional did not find anything more than I did when I installed it. If the problem returns I'll have to put a dye charge in it.

Inebriated skinny-dipper off our aft deck.

Aside from all the maintenance, projects, and road trips, we had a bit over a week in the middle to catch up around the house and enjoy Decatur. We also had two more weekends of, umm, interesting goings-on at the on-site bar and restaurant, which features live music on the weekends and can attract something of a rowdy crowd. One night, hearing loud voices right outside our swim step, I found three inebriated individuals on the dock in the process of stripping naked to go for a swim. Aside from the fact that it is incredibly dangerous to swim in a freshwater marina, this dock is well lit and in plain view of the restaurant parking lot and several other docks that have their own regular crowds on weekend nights. There are also no ladders on these docks. Louise was asleep and I had to ask them to keep it down; our video system caught the whole episode on infrared.

Fishing their drunk friend out. She could barely walk, let alone climb onto the dock.

In that week we also got the chance to try a few more of the local eateries. One night we went to the well-rated Bank Street Grille, in the little historic district, and stumbled into Paint Nite, something we'd never even heard of. It was kind of fun to watch. The restaurant owner came over to chat with us and we learned he also had a boat in the marina, and had noticed Vector there.

Paint Nite. We had a great view from a high-top table nearby.

It feels really good to be under way again after a month of being tied to the dock. We got a late start yesterday after the air conditioning service call and a stop at the pumpout dock, so it was a short travel day. Today we've already passed through the Guntersville Lock into Lake Guntersville, and I expect we'll be anchored or maybe at the free dock in Guntersville, Alabama tonight. We should be in Chattanooga by the end of the week.

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