Sunday, November 3, 2019

Critical equipment failure

As I begin typing we are under way downriver on the Tombigbee, headed for the Bevill Lock and Dam from Columbus, Mississippi. It's a short cruise today and I expect we will be anchored for the day before I finish the post.

When last I posted here, we were securely anchored in a lovely oxbow near the Barton Ferry recreation area. What I did not mention here was that, shortly before ending our cruise in that lovely spot, Louise reported to me that the sewing machine was acting up, stopping at random mid-stitch.

And so it was that I spent the entire afternoon with the sewing machine up on the chart table, poking and prodding at it. I was so engrossed in the project that I did not notice our friends aboard Stinkpot go by, headed for an anchorage downriver. They had looked at our anchorage but reported that it appeared to be "fully Vectorized," which we've now adopted as a new catch phrase. In fact, there was plenty of room for several more boats in front of us, but that was not obvious from the river.

I tore the machine down as far as I dared without messing up the timing or alignment, and I was able to rule out a number of safety switches that might have been causing the symptoms. But eventually I hit the wall; the service manual is silent on the internals of the electronic control module, and I more or less determined the module was shutting it down.

The sewing machine in pieces on the saloon table yesterday.

Sewing machine repair is a highly specialized business dominated exclusively by small repair shops in larger towns. There happens to be one in Columbus, but Juki is not on their brand list. More importantly, the nature of the business is that it's usually at least a week before they can even look at a machine, and often 2-3 weeks beyond that to repair it. Neither could we stay here for 3-4 weeks, nor can Louise really be without her machine for that long.

After some hand-wringing and much discussion, we decided the right path forward was to order a new machine on Amazon Prime, and I would either strip the old machine down for parts, sell it as-is, or else try to fix it with a donor machine and then keep it as a spare or sell it as a working unit. Which left us with the next problem: where to have the new machine shipped.

Friday morning after a leisurely coffee, we weighed anchor and continued downriver to the Stennis Lock. On our way, a local in an express cruiser passed us on full plane, throwing quite a wake, and made it to the lock well ahead of us. So it was with much glee that, when we called the lock from ten minutes out, we learned they had just taken in the other vessel, and would hold the lock for us.

Stennis lowered us to the level of Aliceville Pool, which was up by nearly five feet. Water was racing through the gates at a prodigious rate, and we had a speedy cruise downriver to Columbus. At that river level, we could have turned off onto the oxbow at the upriver end, and had a very short trip to the anchorage. But we knew the river would drop, and we wanted to lay down tracks from the downriver end for our eventual exit.

Vector at anchor in Columbus, under the port access bridge. Tender is at the dock on right, in better shape than last visit.

From that direction it's a little over two miles to the anchorage, through a working port. We had to pass a giant towboat who apparently was not monitoring the radio; after five tries on both 13 and 16 I finally sounded an actual whistle signal, which also went unanswered. I called the port authority later to see if I could get a working channel, to no effect.

With the water still 4.5' above normal pool, we had no depth issues on our way in, but noted a couple of spots where we'd just be grazing past at normal pool. I was glad to have the tracks. The official head of navigation stops just past the barge terminal, after which we passed under three bridges without marked spans. The first two, the railroad bridge and the old highway (now pedestrian) bridge are swing bridges now locked in place, but at 61' normal clearance they were plenty high even at this water level.

We dropped the hook just past the new road bridge, a stone's throw from the dinghy dock (map). This is the same dock where we landed the tender three years ago, except back then it had been displaced and partially sunk by flooding. They've repaired the floats and put it back where it belongs since then.

It's only been warm enough for outside activities lately for a few hours in the afternoon, and so I splashed the tender and went ashore to explore a bit. The dinghy dock lands at a nice riverfront park, and a short walk up the hill is the old downtown Columbus. I walked most of the old town, past the Tennessee Williams house and up and down the two main drags, Main and 5th, which intersect right in the middle of town.

Tennessee Williams' childhood home. Just as it looked on our last visit.

Like many such places, the commercial and retail epicenter of Columbus moved out of downtown and along the new alignment of the highway, which now crosses the river north of town. That's where Walmart, Kroger, and all the chain restaurants can be found. But downtown still sports a few restaurants, some shops, and the civic center. I was able to drop some packages off at the main post office, and, importantly, replenish the beer supply at the mini-mart close to the dock.

We returned ashore for dinner at regional favorite Harvey's, which we remembered as having excellent prime rib. We shared the larger cut and were not disappointed. With temperatures already down in the 40s when we returned home, we fired up the genny and started the heat, something of a theme of late.

Yesterday we awoke to find the water almost two feet lower than when we had arrived, dropping much faster than forecast. I again spent most of the day up to my elbows in the sewing machine; having already made the decision to replace it with a new one, we reasoned that I could attack this one more aggressively than I had been willing to earlier.

Spending another few hours with the machine stripped down on the saloon table allowed me to rule out several possibilities, and it's now down to either a bad speed sensor or else a bad main board. I will be calling Juki in the morning to see if they can confirm the diagnosis and help narrow it further; we've held off placing the order for the new machine until I speak with them. In the meantime, Louise is muddling through with her old Kenmore that she's been trying to give away for the last couple of months.

Vector at anchor near Bevill dam, as seen from the visitor center.

Our friends Dave and Stacey on Stinkpot spent Friday night at the Columbus Marina, needing an address for an outboard motor shipment. We had tried to connect Friday evening, but the marina is a long way from town and the courtesy car schedule did not work out. But yesterday afternoon they came steaming into the anchorage, and dropped the hook just a bit further upriver from us.

We agreed to get together for dinner at Huck's Place in town, and I went back ashore in the warmth of late afternoon to do some more exploring, this time taking the e-Bike. I rode the entire length of the riverfront trail, which goes out to the main river and up to the new highway bridge, and I also went across the pedestrian bridge, which used to be the main highway decades ago. While I was riding around I got a text saying Huck's was fully booked, and we ended up reserving at Harvey's for a second night.

We awoke this morning to find the river had dropped nearly four feet since our arrival. It still had another foot to go to get down to normal pool, but I know we passed a couple of spots on our way in that would be squeaky at that level. In the interests of our own anxiety, we decided to weigh anchor and head out while we still had an extra foot of depth. We could easily have spent another night here, and I was hoping to try the well-rated Thai place in the middle of town. As it turned out, the least depth we saw was over 8', and we would have had no problem had the water dropped even another foot.

Update: We are anchored just upriver of the Tom Bevill Lock and Dam, in front of the Visitor Center and historic paddlewheel snagboat Montgomery (map). We are in more or less the exact spot we anchored three years ago, at the end of a longer day having just cleared through the lock.

Looking back toward the lock with the Montgomery at left. The lake was mirror calm.

The visitor center, a reproduction of an antebellum plantation home, is closed today, as is the snagboat. Nevertheless I splashed the tender and went ashore at the courtesy dock there, just to have a walk around. It was a nice walk around the snagboat, where most of the interesting stuff is visible from outside. The visitor center was in surprisingly poor exterior condition, which I suppose lends it more verisimilitude.

In the morning we will lock down through the Bevill lock and anchor somewhere less than halfway to Demopolis.

1 comment:

  1. First time I've heard the name Juki in decades! I owned a daisy-wheel Juki computer printer around 1988, and it was a noisy but wonderful printer.

    Enjoying your posts very much as always.


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