Friday, September 23, 2016


We remain docked on the Chattanooga riverfront, as summer transitions to fall. It's been three weeks since my last post, yet somehow it feels like I don't really have much to report. That said, I seem to have accumulated over two dozen photos to share, so there must be something to be written.

Fireworks at the tow truck anniversary.

Louise continues with her physical therapy, which she has increased to four sessions per week. Some days are better than others, and it's been hard to stand idly by and watch her be in near-constant pain. We had to make a quick trip down to the fuel dock to pump out a week ago, and two very easy dockings nearly did her in. Fortunately, Captain Pete from the River Gorge Explorer here on our dock came over to help with lines on our return. A day involving two or three lock-throughs along with anchor handling would be pretty much out of the question right now.

A quiet view to the east at sunset on a particularly calm day.

Since my last post here, I've managed to get out and do a few things in town, and I've knocked a fair number of items off the project backlog. And Louise has improved to the point where we've even gotten out a few times together to take in some of the sights. Last weekend we even rented a car on the Enterprise weekend special and got a bit further afield.

Hunter Museum on the cliff, from the river.

I mentioned here a couple of posts ago that we're passed close aboard three or four times a day by the "duck" tours. I finally made some time to go take the tour myself, a quintessential "tourist" thing to do. Captain Rob, who also pilots the River Gorge Explorer, was our guide (to drive a Duck, you need both a Commercial Drivers License with Passenger Endorsement, and a USCG Masters License for Inspected Passenger Vessels).

Vector and the River Gorge Explorer from the Duck tour. That's the aquarium in the background.

Rob was full of interesting tidbits about the history of Chattanooga and its riverfront, and I was glad I spent the time to take the tour. I also got several good shots of Vector as we passed by. We only went as far upriver as Audubon Island, just past the Veterans Bridge. Rob explained the history of the bridges, and that the bascule bridge just upriver from where we're docked opens four times a year just to maintain its operational status, even though river traffic never requires an opening.

The Bluff Docks on a busy weekend, from Coolidge Park. Vector is off-frame to the right.

One of the things I learned on the tour was the story of the historic carousel in Coolidge Park, right across the river from us. We had walked past the carousel and through the park on one of our dinner outings and found it quite pleasant; now that I know more of the story I'd like to ride the carousel one of these days.

Louise on the Walnut Street Bridge, with the Hunter Museum in the background.

One of the bridges featured on the tour is the historic Walnut Street Bridge, which long ago ceased carrying vehicle traffic and is now open as a pedestrian bridge, after being restored through grass-roots fundraising. It was too hot in our first few weeks here, but as things have cooled down we finally managed to walk most of the way across. The bridge offers a great view of the majestic Hunter Museum, perched high above the river on a cliff.

An antique entry in the tow truck parade.

The weekend before last was a time of commemorations, with the 15th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday, a fairly muted observance here in Chattanooga. Much more rowdy was the 100th anniversary of the tow truck, invented right here in Chattanooga by Ernest Holmes. The company that bears his name is now part of the Miller towing equipment empire, which has the lion's share of the market worldwide. Miller's headquarters is still here, along with the Museum of Towing and its memorial wall to operators who lost their lives on the job.

This outfit in NJ sent more than one antique truck; this one has some family riding along.

On Saturday the museum added this year's names to the memorial, and, in honor of the 100th anniversary, a parade of antique and modern tow trucks made their way to Ross's Landing, where we are docked. The company sponsored a stage with local band The Beaters playing "our" music all evening. There was even free draft beer and a birthday cake, and we picked up dinner from one of the food trucks that came in for the event.

Free draft beer! We refilled these cups several times.

The Beaters on stage. Two brand new tow trucks on display to the right.

It was all capped off with a nice fireworks display over the river. About midway through the fireworks the soundtrack and the effects started to seem familiar, including patriotic music, and we realized it was a repeat of the July 4th fireworks we saw in Florence, Alabama. Probably the same vendor; no need to reinvent the wheel, and somehow appropriate on the eve of September 11.

Some of the bigger boys in the parade.

Sunday morning we were stunned to see the Ross Bridge, locally known as the Market Street Bridge, open for the first time since our arrival. Apparently, Sunday was one of the aforementioned four openings per year; I could see maintenance workers standing on the end of the partly open bascule leaf. Once closed, a worker could be seen atop the arch inspecting the connections.

The Ross (Market Street) Bridge, partway open. If you click through you can see workers standing near the opening.

We booked massages at one of our old favorites, Focus 4 Massage, which we discovered when we spent time here in the bus. Louise has since been back for a second time, and I'm looking forward to going back this week.

One of the oldest trucks in the parade.

Also last weekend we went out on an afternoon run with the River Gorge Explorer. Captain Dusty, who often runs the peddle-powered paddleboat, invited us along, and we rode in the pilothouse with him and Captain Rob. The boat always goes out with two licensed masters; at 45 mph it takes two sets of eyes to spot river traffic. They bring the enormous jet-drive boat to a stop before passing any traffic on the high-speed part of the trip, dropping the reversing buckets. The nose pitches forward quite dramatically, and all the passengers are required to remain seated until the low-speed meander through the more scenic part of the gorge.

The whizzy pilothouse of the River Gorge Explorer.

I've been on a lot of fast powerboats, and I was awed by how incredibly smooth and quiet this one was. You could hardly tell you had risen up on plane, let alone that you're careening along at 40 knots. I've been daydreaming about upgrading to a jet-drive tender, and this trip did nothing to disabuse me of that idea. I sat in the helm chair and steered briefly on the way back to port. You may notice in the photo that there is no wheel -- a joystick at each helm chair controls the jet drives.

Louise at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the American Quilters Society show.

On Sunday, as we were catching one of the electric shuttles at the visitor center, I noticed a flyer for a quilt show at the convention center, the same one which had just finished hosting the annual tow truck show. The quilt show ran from Wendesday through Sunday and we went on Wednesday, to avoid the crowds. I went along to keep Louise company and also to see what all the hoopla was about; she assured me this show was a mere fraction of the size of the big show she attended last year in Houston.

One of the winning quilts, for color.

No blog post of mine, it would seem, would be complete without a project report. With Louise down for the count, I've been busying myself getting things done around the boat and knocking some very old projects off the list. With the scooters on the ground, I've been able to run out to the hardware store as needed.

The aquarium, Vector, and Ross's Landing from Coolidge Park.

Given her reduced mobility, Louise put in a request for me to finally deal with the master bathroom door. In what I can only imagine was a design goof by the original builders, the vanity interfered with the opening of the door in such a way that, really, you had to step completely into the bathroom and close the door behind you to even use the mirror, get anything from the medicine cabinet, or use the sink for anything more serious than a quick hand wash.

There was really no reason for this; standard vanities come in 22" or 18" depths, and had they chosen to use 18" the door would have opened flush against the wall without issue. The tiny stainless sink they used would easily have fit. Instead they chose a 22" depth, and the door smacked into the countertop right about midway across.

It was an uncomfortable ride the dozen miles back from Home Depot with the new sink and faucet.

Fixing this has been on my plate for a very long time, but, honestly, I've been putting it off because it was a daunting undertaking. With new incentive I tore into the project, quite literally. Oddly, things were not as well fastened under there as I had imagined (or even as they should have been), and I was able to remove the sink and heavy wood countertop without damage. Getting the face frame of the cabinet out without breaking it was a bit more difficult, but I managed it with just one crack that I had to glue together later.

Plenty of opportunity for damaging nicely finished wood...

Starting to tear into it. The air handler will need to move back a tad.

I also had to relocate the master stateroom air conditioner, located in that cabinet, moving it back by about an inch, before I could reassemble the face frame in a new position about 2" further from the doorway. The "wall" to the left of the vanity is another finished cabinet, and other than touching up some minor damage from the demo, I did not have to do much on that side. To the right, the wall is faced with paneling, and there is now a 2" gap between the face frame and where the paneling stops. I'm still hunting for a 2" wide piece of trim or molding that I can use to conceal that.

Cabinet and face frame removed. That's the bathroom door at right, fully open for the first time ever.

I cut 2" off the back edge of the countertop, and enlarged the existing sink cutout. We both hated the stainless sink, and I replaced it with a nice vitreous china model that was large enough to conceal the fact that I had to enlarge the opening toward the leading edge, to recenter the sink in the narrower counter. It all came out looking very nice, and we are both relieved to be able to open the door all the way against the wall and use the sink without having to do a little dance first with the door.

Completed vanity. You can hardly tell there was carnage.

...and you can see the sink now from the stateroom with the door open.

The dye charge and UV flashlight that I bought to find the leak in the new pilothouse air conditioner did their job, and I discovered an ever-so-slow leak in just one of the four flange fittings (suction side at the condenser, for you HVAC geeks). I was able to tighten and re-check it until it was leak-free, and I ended up using up the rest of the 29 ounces of charge that came in the bottle to get the system back where it should be. I'm probably still a few ounces short, but it seems to all be working fine now.

If you've been following along for a while, you might know that I have also slowly been rebuilding the main engine raw water pump. We quite fortunately had a spare pump, a fortuitous eBay purchase, when this one sprung a huge leak almost exactly two years ago. The failed pump sat around for the better part of a year before I started on it, and it's been a slow process of finding bench and bearing presses and gathering a dozen parts from several sources. I finally got the last of it disassembled just a couple months ago.

The last component in the rebuild, a "new" impeller. From 1998, apparently, on the boat when we bought it.

With some time on my hands I started the reassembly here, and it went much more smoothly and also much faster than the disassembly. In fact, it took me just a day to get it all back together, and the next day I spent a few hours putting it on the engine. There's no other way to test it, and it's not much use as a spare if we can't be sure it works. The "new" pump that I installed two years ago will now be the spare.

The "new" pump after removal, now a spare. 12" ruler included to show the size of this beast.

Speaking of which, getting that pump off was not a moment too soon. I opened it up to inspect the impeller and found it to be halfway disintegrated; it's a wonder it was pumping enough water at all. We do have an overtemp alarm on the wet exhaust, so we'll know in a hurry if the pump quits, but that might well be at an inopportune time.

Impeller removed from the "new" pump -- quite done.

The condition of the worn parts on the main engine pump has me thinking about getting a spare pump for the generator, too. That should be fairly easy to source, as opposed to the enormous one for the main. Unlike the main engine, the generator impeller can be changed without taking the pump off the engine, so I have been less concerned about it.

One of the more colorful denizens of the waterfront, coming in to the Aquarium dock.

I also replaced the gas struts on the flybridge hatch -- one of them was doing nothing at all and the other was barely holding the hatch open. I was surprised to find them rated for 60 pounds apiece -- the hatch weighs perhaps 15 pounds, so 120, even close to the fulcrum, is overkill. I replaced them with a pair of 45-pound models, and even that feels like a bit much.

In and among the more physical projects, I also undertook to repair the old XP notebook that used to be the helm computer, and, still being licensed for the chart software, is the emergency spare for same. You may recall me saying I found it dead when I tried to use it to program my phone; it turned out to be a handful of bad blocks on the hard disk.

Of 625 million blocks, why did the very first one have to go bad?

Unfortunately, one of the bad blocks happened to be block 0, so the Master Boot Record and Partition Table were lost. I have the tools to repair those, but anyone who has ever done so knows it is a very long and tedious process. I am happy to say that the machine is working again, chart software and all, and has been returned to its cubbyhole to stand by if needed.

Projects have been consuming so much of my attention that it was literally a week ago when I started typing this post. Since then, we received a shipment we had been awaiting -- an engine room automatic fire extinguisher. The boat lacked one when we got it, and it really ought to have one, so I thought I'd tackle it here while we had a good delivery address and plenty of resources available.

Was a little too tall, could have used a few pounds....

Sadly, the manufacturer changed specs on the unit without updating the chart on their web site, and when it arrived it was several inches too tall. We had to go down one size (from 1,150 cf capacity to 1,100 cf) to get one that fits; fortunately, the engineers at the manufacturer tell us we will be OK with the smaller unit in our 1,108 cf engine room. We are still awaiting the replacement unit, as well as the HazMat paperwork to return the incorrect one.

I also, just yesterday, wrapped up another long-awaited project, replacing the step in the salon. The one that came with the boat was an open-framework affair that allowed the possibility of your foot traveling right through it and all the way to the floor; Louise did exactly this early on, and I added a back to the open upper step to keep it from happening again.

I never remember to take a "before" photo. This is what the step looked like originally.

The back itself was a different sort of liability, as it made the tread a bit too short and it was easy for your heel to land on the slanted back when descending. One visitor to the boat took a nasty spill that way, and it's been on the corrective action list ever since.

I replaced it with what amounts to a rectangular box with flooring on the top; This makes for a full-width step of code-compliant depth. As a bonus, the tread can be removed to reveal some additional stowage. We did have to relocate the cat's water bowl, which had been living under the lower step.

Finished step. Millwork is not my strong suit.

The step project is what actually necessitated the rental car, as I needed a 2'x4' section of cabinet plywood and a couple of 8' long sections of trim, and riding a dozen miles with those on the scooter is a bit much. As long as we had the car all weekend, we took a day to take in Ruby Falls, drive around Lookout Mountain, see the battlefield, and loop along the ridge line and back along the gorge. It was a nice day off.

Obligatory tourist shot of Ruby Falls.

I was able to repurpose some of the finished wood from the bathroom cabinet project to finally finish off the starboard nightstand, which had been modified when we cut the master berth down to a queen (from some non-standard size) three years ago, and has been fronted with a piece of scrap plywood ever since.

Divers setting the buoys for next weekend's rowing event, just a few meters from us.

This Sunday is the Chattanooga Ironman competition, wherein 2,500+ competitors pay around $750 apiece to abuse themselves mightily, in one of the world's toughest triathlons. Top finishers here will go on to the national championship. We have front row seats, as each segment ends right here at Ross's landing, and the transitions from swim to bike and bike to run also happen here.

Our dock, the bridges, and the Aquarium from the "third deck burger bar" on a stationary riverboat just downriver of us, known as "Pier 2." The functioning riverboat Southern Belle moors here, and they have a good burger and cold beer with a great view. You can see the Ironman preparations along the riverfront.

Unfortunately, our power will again be off for four hours Sunday morning, and we'll be more or less trapped on the boat. Certainly the scooters will be trapped here, as all the surrounding streets are already closed (we've been allowed past the barricades until the actual race day). The whole city is a zoo right now; all the hotels are sold out and downtown restaurants are packed.


  1. The sink looks great, Sean!

  2. Hi Sean, how are you and Louise doing? Is the hurricane affecting you at all? Stay safe!

    1. Thanks for asking, Brian. We are dry and comfortable with no effects from the storms here in TN. Our thoughts are with all our friends on the east coast who are dealing with it.


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