Thursday, October 13, 2016

Double failure in Knoxville

We are again under way, downbound on the Tennessee after two lovely days in Knoxville. Our time there was quite full, so now I have to catch up here on the blog, with over two dozen photos to share.

Sunset over Knoxville, from Club LeConte. Sunsphere is center-frame.

Shortly after my last post we locked up through the Fort Loudoun Lock. We are now at a little more than 812' above sea level, the highest Vector has ever been or is ever likely to be. At this elevation and this far north, we're seeing a bit more fall color than we have thus far, but still not enough to make for good photography.

Approaching Fort Loudon Dam. Bridge construction in the foreground.

As we arrived at the lock, a houseboat about a half hour behind us called for lockage, and we thought for a moment that we'd had to wait a half hour for him. The lock was ready for us, as we had ourselves called a half hour earlier, and the lockmaster elected to lock us through and cycle the lock completely for the next boat, giving him a short wait rather than us a long one.

The semi-circular lock gates closing behind us.

There is clearly a new bridge going in just downriver of the lock. The current bridge, which runs directly over the lock and dam, does appear a bit shopworn. The whole underside is covered in netting, which we presumed was to keep the birds from nesting in it and creating a mess on the dam and lock below.

Fort Loudoun lockhouse, with the bridge above it. All these TVA locks had visitor galleries on an upper level, now long closed to the public.

Fort Loudoun Lake is lined along much of the shoreline with high-zoot homes of one sort or another. Large developments of "McMansions" are interspersed with large estates with just a single palatial home. Occasionally we would pass a more modest home pre-dating the recent economic boom that has the wealthier denizens of Knoxville seeking riverfront properties.

Sunset from our anchorage on Fort Loudoun Lake, Tennessee River.

About halfway between the dam and Knoxville we started looking for a spot to drop the hook. This close to the dam, the river channel is still 50' deep or so, and it's necessary to wander a bit further from the channel to drop the hook. Our first two excursions, towards coves along the shoreline, ran us into depths much shallower than charted soundings, and we had to back out and move along -- with inaccurate charts, there was too much risk of running aground.

Steak on the deck. I'm still holding my grilling weapons.

We ended up dropping the hook on top of an underwater "mountain" between two old river channels. The anchor was in 20' but we had 60' depths on either side of us. This placed us right in the middle of a very wide spot in the river (map), and we had a wonderful panoramic view for a very nice steak dinner on the aft deck. We were a bit worried that such a hump might be covered in timber flooded eight decades ago (it was not marked), so we set a trip line on the anchor.

Did someone say "steak"?

We weighed anchor for a fairly early start Tuesday, arriving in Knoxville just after lunch. We had been warned the free docks downtown would likely fill up early for the Tennessee-Alabama game, and sure enough, there was no room when we arrived, with several boats already rafted, although there was a spot big enough, with just a day boat in it, that we figured would be vacated in the afternoon.

Approach to Knoxville as seen from the Southern Railroad bridge.

Even so, with that many Tennessee Volunteer fans piled up on the docks, we imagined it to be a very boisterous experience. The free docks in front of Calhoun's Restaurant were also already rafted two deep, and looked to be party central. Between that and the fact that we'd end up having a boat or two rafted to us by the time we were ready to leave, we decided to just anchor in the river and tender ashore.

Approaching Knoxville. Green roof at left is the UT boathouse. Free docks dead ahead are already full.

Having made that decision, there was no time pressure, and it was still very early in the day. We opted to continue another three miles upriver to the headwaters of the Tennessee, and the official end of navigation on the river system. An unofficial channel continues a short way up the French Broad River to the enormous Sea-Ray manufacturing plant, just past a bulk cargo terminal.

Headwaters of the Tennessee River. Holston River to the left, and French Broad River to the right.

We actually continued past the headwaters, just kissing the French Broad (there, I said it) before turning around past the Holston and heading back downriver to Knoxville. We would have done a bit more of the French Broad (the Holston is not navigable past the railroad bridge) but we have no charts at all that show it.

Heading into the French Broad. Any concerns about depth were allayed by the enormous cargo terminal ahead.

The cruise to the headwaters and back took a bit over an hour, and we dropped the hook just before 3pm between the Henley and Gay Street bridges, across the channel from downtown (map). There's not a lot to grab onto here, so we laid out 150' of chain, figuring that a quarter ton of anchor and chain would keep us in place in these benign conditions.

Some of the beautiful scenery coming upriver on Loudoun Lake.

We made dinner reservations at the Club LeConte atop the First Tennessee Bank building, and tendered ashore a bit early to stroll along Gay Street downtown. Knoxville has done a good job of keeping and repurposing many of its historic downtown buildings, and we enjoyed walking past the shops and restaurants in eclectic historic structures. Just getting up the enormous hill from the waterfront, known as Volunteer Landing, to the main street level downtown was something of a chore, however.

Volunteer Landing and Calhoun's, with its docks, as seen from our anchorage.

We had a very nice dinner at Club LeConte, celebrating another trip around the sun for Louise just a few days early (we'll likely be anchored with nary a restaurant in sight tomorrow). This is the tallest building in Knoxville, and we had great views of downtown, the river, and the Smoky Mountains beyond.

Vector anchored alone in the river, from Club LeConte. Smokies in the distant background.

As we walked back to Volunteer Landing we kept our eyes open for a breakfast place. With such a limited time in Knoxville we wanted to make the most of it. Alas, it was not to be. There is a saying among cruisers that "cruising is just fixing your boat in new and interesting locations" and Knoxville turned out to be no exception.

We arrived with mostly full batteries; the main engine alternator and our whizzy Balmar charge controller do a great job of charging under way. By morning, though, the batteries were low enough that I started the generator before starting the coffee maker. That let me also put the heat on -- we're in the time of year where there is a distinct chill in the morning.

The pavement striping contractor's truck pays homage to the UT Vols.

Everything was fine up to halfway through the coffee brew, at which point all the power went out and the heaters went off. The generator engine itself, however, kept ticking merrily away. Fortunately, the coffeemaker runs on the inverter, and there was plenty of battery left to finish making the pot. Which I was going to need.

With the generator breaker not tripped, but no power to the main panel, I started by pulling the cover off my home-brew Automatic Transfer Switch, reasoning that this was the most likely issue. The switch checked out and the delay timer was active and calling for power, but no power was coming in from the generator breaker. I pulled that cover next, to find no power coming to the breaker from the generator head itself. Not good.

Even the porta-potties in this town are Vol orange. All of them.

I shut the generator down and started tearing into the control box. I had recently been monkeying around in there, because I had to splice in the shutdown wires for the engine room fire suppression system (detailed post still in the works). In addition to the start/stop/run controls and relays, this same box also houses the electronic Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR). I was hoping the problem would be in here, possibly from my recent foray, and not with the diodes or windings on the generator head itself.

Fortunately, within just a few seconds I spotted the problem -- the negative field wire leading from the AVR to the exciter coils in the head had come loose. Upon close inspection it was separated from the crimped ring terminal that secures it to the terminal block; I figure the wire itself to have broken off from long-term vibration. When I got the terminal out, however, the ferrule was empty -- the wire had simply slipped out of the crimp entirely. Poor workmanship during assembly.

The culprit - this tiny ring terminal had come loose.

Crimping a new terminal and reconnecting the field wires was a simple fix, and we got the generator restarted and making power in short order. It had barely run five minutes, though, when it stopped entirely. This time it was the engine itself that stopped, not just the power output, and I knew it was a different problem.

Closer inspection reveals the wire has slipped out altogether. Bad crimp termination.

Double failures like this -- two distinct and unrelated problems happening at exactly or very nearly the same time -- are the bane of all engineers. The probabilities are so low that we don't believe it when it happens, instead wracking our brains trying to connect the problems in some way.

In this case it was a simple matter of lack of cooling water. If there was any correlation to the broken wire it was simply the number of times in quick succession we started and stopped the generator in the course of diagnosing and repairing the field problem, and even that is unlikely. I'm very good now at recognizing the cooling water problem, and replacing the impeller and pulling the bits of failed impeller out of the heat exchanger is so familiar that I can probably do it in the dark now. Within another 20 minutes I had the generator running and buttoned up, and we were making power and charging the batteries.

While somewhat less ubiquitous than in Chattanooga, Knoxville is full of public art.

By this time it was nearly 11am, and the downtown breakfast window was long gone. We had an early lunch on board and counted ourselves lucky to have nothing but first world yacht problems. We had ruminated about whether we'd stay through dinner and over another night; this sealed the deal and we knew we'd stay put until this morning.

After lunch I went ashore stag to do some exploring. I started by landing at the aforementioned free docks (we had landed instead at Calhoun's for our dinner outing), where the "Vol Navy" was now rafted two deep along most of the docks. From there I walked past the UT boathouse, through part of the campus (using an elevator in one of the academic buildings to overcome part of the hill), and along Second Creek to the World's Fair Park.

World's fair park, with the amphitheater to the left and Sunsphere to the right of the enormous central fountain.

The World's Fair was held in Knoxville nearly 35 years ago, in 1982, and is still the last World's Fair held in the US. Only two structures remain, the amphitheater, and the Sunsphere, a 266' tall tower topped with a five-story gold sphere, which has become an iconic symbol of Knoxville. Closed for decades after the fair, it is again open, with a free observation deck on the lowest level of the sphere (the remaining levels contain a restaurant, an event space, and private businesses).

Flowers, at the museum of art. More in the background, one floor down.

I walked through the extensive grounds and visited the observation deck, although the dusty and heavily tinted windows made for unusable photos. After walking through the fairgrounds I looped around past the old L&N railroad station (a restaurant during the fair and now a STEM school, not open to the public) to the Museum of Art, my second art museum in as many weeks, located approximately where the Japanese Pavilion stood during the fair. The art museum, also free, was small but nice, and was hosting a juried flower exhibition on the day of my visit.

My favorite piece. Devorah Sperber, "After the Mona Lisa 8," 2010 -- 1482 spools of thread, stainless-steel ball chain and hanging apparatus, clear acrylic sphere, metal stand

The rest of the gallery, as seen through the acrylic ball.

It was a pleasant couple of hours, and when I was done I hopped on one of the free downtown "trolley" buses to get across downtown, to where my map said there was an elevator to Volunteer Landing. Sadly, the elevator, which I had hoped would make for an easier dinner trip, was out of service for renovations. At least I got to pass White's Fort (the birthplace of Knoxville) and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

White's Fort. I opted to skip the admission fee.

When I got back to the dock, yet another houseboat had arrived, displacing the tender a short ways. I had a nice conversation with the Vol fans, including one who owns a marina down near Watts Bar and who was interested in maybe buying the tender. I got back to Vector just a short while before cocktail hour. Louise informed me that I had missed all the excitement on the radio, where arriving boats aced out of direct dockage were grousing about how the boats already there were taking up more than their fair share.

Giant basketball outside the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

That dock was already rafted three and four deep when we left this morning, and we've already passed at least 30 boats heading for Knoxville today, including our friend Marty who runs the marina in Chattanooga. The Vol Navy web page says that boats raft up to 13 abreast, with the hard limit being the sailing line mid-channel. All the boats there this morning were Vol fans; today we're passing many 'Bama fans, who will, of course, have to walk across all the UT boats to get to the dock. I suspect the cries of Roll Tide might be slightly muted.

Rafted two and three deep as I walked back to Scalar, lost in here somewhere.

After cocktails on deck we again tendered ashore, climbed the huge hill, and this time boarded the Green Line trolley for a loop out to the Old City and back. Afterward we again strolled Gay Street, and settled down at Five restaurant for a nice dinner on the sidewalk, in perfect weather. It turned out to be Wine-down Wednesday, where all bottles were half price, and we scored a lovely red blend from Australia called 19 Crimes (and a shout out to our OZ friends aboard Two By Two and Tide Hiker).

Dinner at Five with 19 Crimes.

This morning we again got an early start; blissfully, no equipment failed. It was chilly enough this morning that we ended up turning Meriwether on in heat mode, something we had not predicted when I installed it at the beginning of the summer. Fair enough, since we barely got to use it in cooling mode as planned this season.

Tonight we'll make a brief detour up the Little Tennessee to anchor, putting us back at Fort Loudoun Dam in the morning to lock back down.

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