Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bus-n-boat update


We are at the Shelter Cove Marina, off Broad Creek on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The harbor area here, part of the Palmetto Dunes resort complex that extends across the highway all the way to the ocean, comprises several condominium buildings, a dozen or so shops and restaurants, and, across the marina from us, Disney Vacation Club's private island, complete with ubiquitous mouse-ear signs.  We've already enjoyed two of the restaurants since our arrival Saturday.

You have probably noticed that the pace of our life has increased dramatically since buying the boat.  I am looking forward to a time, likely some distance in the future, when it will slow back down to a more leisurely pace and we can enjoy languorous sunsets on the aft deck sipping cocktails.  For now, however, there is a lot to do, and the list seems to grow rather than shrink each day.  One of the unfortunate consequences of this is that I have much more to write about, yet much less time to write, and so it all tends to pile up in the back of my mind until it all comes out at once in a mega-post whenever I get a quiet morning, such as today. I do have a big project for this afternoon (more in a moment), but otherwise we are taking a "day off."

To pick up where we left off, we splashed the boat (marine-speak for a mostly splash-less process of putting the boat back in the water) Friday morning, checking the thruster installation for leaks while we were still in the slings.  No water was evident and so we slipped out of the lift, with Kevin once again at the helm, giving the thruster a good workout in the process.  We tied up on the pier with Beija-Flor, some of whose crew rushed out to take our lines.  Karima was just off our bow, and keeping us far enough from the power pedestal that we needed to borrow a cord from the yard.

With everything now working, we confirmed a Saturday departure with Captain Gary and also called Shelter Cove to re-confirm our reservations.  As it was still fairly early in the day, I decided to wrap up the thruster re-wire project so we could put the stateroom back together.  So I spent a good part of the day crouched under the guest berth, or straddling the thruster tunnel cowboy-style, with an old bath mat as my "saddle" (the tunnel, being steel and immersed in ~55° water, was coooold).  The project was fairly involved, and unavoidably grew to include rewiring the anchor windlass as well.

Both the thruster and the windlass are 24-volt items, and they share a 24-volt battery bank located under the forward berth that is separate from our normal house and engine battery banks, located in the engine room.  The bank, a pair of size 8D gel batteries, is constantly being charged by a 25-amp battery charger whose 120-VAC cord is plugged into an outlet powered by our inverter.  In this way, the batteries are charged by shore power or generator when available, or by our main engine alternator while under way.

That's all well and good, and this single pair of batteries is sufficient to run both motors as needed.  However, it turned out that both items were also sharing a fuse.  While the windlass, with its much smaller wiring, also had its own 100-amp circuit breaker, that breaker was downstream of the massive 250-amp fuse that was specified for the thruster alone.  As a side note, there was no spare on board for this highly critical fuse, and one of the eBay items waiting for us when we arrived here was the spare I purchased just as soon as I learned this.  That fuse blew once, on the previous owner's watch.

The problem with this arrangement is that there are times when we use the thruster and windlass simultaneously, and the risk of blowing the fuse during anchor retrieval operations is extremely high, which would leave us in danger should we be trying to weigh anchor, say, to avoid weather or because we were dragging the anchor.  Replacing the fuse requires several minutes, time when one of us would have to leave the deck or the bridge -- not good.  Retrieving the anchor involves one of us at the helm, with the other on the foredeck peering over the bow at the anchor chain while operating the windlass with the foot controls.  The person on the bow directs the helmsman, using hand signals, how to move the boat, with thrusting the bow one way or the other being nearly as common as moving the boat forward with the engine.

Another inconsistency in the wiring for both devices was that the builder chose to install a pair of very expensive, marine-grade, 250-amp contactors (remotely-operated cutoff switches), but oddly chose to put them only into the low-current control circuits for the devices, rather than in-line in the main power supply to each device, clearly within the rating of the contactors.  The result of this was that the main power supply wiring to both units was still energized even when the switches at the helm console for the devices was placed in the "off" position.  Making matters worse, subsequent work on the thruster system had bypassed even this isolation, so the thruster worked at all times regardless of the position of the switch.

It took hours, but by the time I was done we had the windlass on its own circuit separate from the thruster, and each system's power routed through its own contactor operated by switches at the helm.  Now when we turn the thruster and/or windlass "off" we can be assured that neither can be accidentally operated by an inadvertent movement of the control levers, which are exposed at both helm stations, and that the systems can be serviced with the power properly disconnected. We had the stateroom cleaned up and back together by the end of the day.

Any hope I might have had, however, of moving the bus from the marina to Hilton Head before our departure was lost, and that will be today's project.  When I am done posting I will head back down to Thunderbolt on the scooter to pick it up, then I will drop it at a nearby location we have arranged for the month before riding back here on the scooter.

Saturday morning Captain Gary arrived as promised at 9:30 am so we could depart on a favorable tide.  That tide was chosen explicitly so that we could make it through the shallow waters of Fields Cut, north of the Savannah River, at mostly high tide.  Fields Cut was where I grounded the boat on our last training excursion.  Gary's training style is to observe first, and correct only when needed, so after discussing our plan we ended up taking the boat off the dock and into the ICW on our own.  We cleared the Causton Bluff bridge at 28' without an opening (although we did lower our HF antennas) and had an uneventful and pleasant cruise to the Savannah River.

Savannah is a deep water port, and as we entered the river channel, which the ICW crosses at an angle, we had to turn downriver to allow an inbound container ship to pass.  We ended up passing the entrance to Fields Cut by a quarter mile or so.  While the three of us were discussing the maneuver to turn around and approach the cut from downriver, which is actually an easier approach, we instead decided to take the outside route, just because we could.  So we continued downriver, passing yet another giant ship as well as a dredge working the channel.

Other than a very brief encounter during the sea trial, this was our first time with the boat in open water.  Among other things, it gave us the chance to try letting the chartplotter drive the boat through the autopilot along a course that we entered graphically through a series of waypoints.  Just like Mr. Chekov -- course plotted and laid in.  In 2-3' seas with fairly stiff winds, it also gave us a chance to see how well our jury-rigged scooter mounting arrangement would hold up, and gave us a sanity check on how well we had stowed everything aboard.

The boat and systems did quite well, but we learned that we need some windshield washers.  The very blunt bow on this boat tends to send salt spray over the pilothouse when slamming into head seas, and the wipers just mush the salt around on the windshields.  We had to go out and clean off the windows by hand several times; fortunately they are easily reached from the well-protected Portuguese bridge.  Add another project to the list -- pilothouse windshield washers.  We also learned that Angel gets seasick in the ocean.  I heard her yowling down on the master berth while I was at the pilothouse helm, and Louise was able to rush below and get her off the bed and onto the bathroom floor just before she lost her breakfast.  She did this in the early days of her life on the bus, too, and we're hoping she will similarly acclimate to the boat in time.

We arrived here at Shelter Cove in the early afternoon, with those same stiff breezes blowing us away from our assigned dock.  Gary only had to help at the controls once, wherein he learned what I had been saying since we met -- that the boat does not "prop walk" at all -- and we made it to the dock mostly courtesy of the dockmaster and another boater taking our lines and helping to drag us in.  After Gary left we got signed in for the month over at the office, and collected a half dozen packages that had been stacking up awaiting our arrival.  We had a celebratory dinner at the upscale Ela's restaurant above the marina office and store.

Sunday we made no training plans so that we could get the scooters unloaded and possibly retrieve the bus.  This latter endeavor was scrubbed when we realized the office was closed for the day at the location we had arranged, and instead I ended up installing some of the items that had been waiting for us, such as a new bushing for the helm chair and a reading light for the pilothouse settee.  It also took us quite a while to get Louise's scooter started after it sat unused for a couple of weeks.  Without the ability to jump-start it from the bus, I had to kick-start it, requiring too many kicks to count.

Yesterday our training started in earnest, and we spent a full three and a half hours under power, without ever leaving the marina.  We traveled a total, according to the GPS, of just 0.3 nautical miles, bouncing around among four different docks here at the marina, including the fuel dock to avail ourselves of the pump-out.  I mostly drove and Louise mostly tended the deck, and we're pretty comfortable now getting back to our own dock as well as the fuel dock.  Gary had us back in to a traditional slip as well, which was more nerve-wracking but we managed it.  Fortunately, there was no boat in the adjoining slip (there are two slips between each pair of finger piers).

Most of the day we had fairly calm conditions and little current.  By the end of the day, though, winds were again pushing us off the dock and I made five passes to get the boat back to the dock on our last attempt.  Of course, we were deliberately eschewing any help from ashore, since we really need to be able to dock unassisted when needed.  We finally managed it, with the owner of the 72 Hatteras in front of us, fresh from a $2m refit, eyeing us cautiously much of the time.  He's a nice guy, and they will be our  neighbors for the month, so I am sure there will be cocktails in our future.  I should add that we had an audience of one sort or another all day, including the four or five people that took seats on the quay to watch our final multi-pass attempt.  Apparently, this is to be expected at every marina.

We were both exhausted by the end of the day, and opted to take today off to recover.  That gives me the chance to get the bus this afternoon, and Louise to do some grocery shopping.  We are tentatively scheduled to resume training tomorrow, but the forecast does not look good, so we shall see.  That's OK, as I have no shortage of projects to keep me busy, and we're in pleasant surroundings here.

Yesterday we also received the estimate from Deltaville Boat Yard in Virgina for the extensive yard work we need to have done on the boat.  We are still discussing it but on the surface it looks reasonable, and we are leaning towards heading in that direction from here.  That would resolve the whole Florida six-month rule issue with which we've been wrestling, and give some focus to our travel plans.  One of the terms of the estimate, though, is that we would be off the boat for some or perhaps all of the heavy lifting.

This had come up when the yard owner was aboard last week, and I had volunteered that we were happy to move back to the bus for that part of the work if it would lower the estimate.  The yard has offered a parking spot with shore power, so that will work out perfectly.  It's a perfect fit all around, giving the old girl a new purpose in life, at least for a month or so.  We only need to figure out how we will leap-frog it from Hilton Head to Deltaville when the time comes; it probably does not make sense to take it to either of the potential long-term storage options, in Tennessee, between now and then.


  1. Watching people dock their boats can be the best entertainment in the marina or downright boring. When a noob shows up you just never know which way it will turn out. We've got a big fleet of commercial fishemen and 3 working tugs docked behind us. Its fun watching how easy (boring) they make docking appear. You can usually radio ahead and the marina will send a couple of goofs down to the dock to grab your lines if you want them to.

    1. I agree Jorg living aboard up here in the NE and it's always a show when transient's come in to dock for the night or so. They always try on hold the pier head for them...Sean seems like you are getting this single wheel under control. I didn't do as good as you guys and moved up to a twin...

  2. I've been following you two and the "crew" since the start of the Odyssey Adventure. I must admit that it has been truly entertaining all these years. I've seen "Odyssey" three times in the past years....twice at Death Valley and once on the "road". None of these chance meetings seemed convenient to say "hi", although we got close at DV.....You appeared to have visitors so we felt that we would be intruding.
    Glad to hear you're in a good place to spend the next month. I truly enjoy reading your posts and observations. Thanks for keeping us "lurkers" up on the latest news. You folks are great!
    Maybe one of these years I can buy you a "cold one"....LOL

  3. One of those cheap little battery tenders from W Mart would keep the scoot's battery topped up... We use them all the time on stored cycles... I enjoy your discussion of prop walking and would love to learn more as you learn it... We have always had stern drives or currently a 250 Honda outboard.. so we can change the angle of the prop with the wheel... Can't imagine only having a rudder to direct a fixed props wash.... We are enjoying your experiences with you, so thanks for keeping up with the blog.... Rod

  4. I forgot to mention in my earlier comment but the entertainment value for the dockwatchers goes way up if you screech at each other. Don't use radio headsets because nobody can hear you then. And if you throw in a little profanity or references to your mother-in-laws that only serves to improve the performance.

    Another nice touch for the dockwatchers is aggressive use of the throttle, preferably in neutral but if you do it long enough you'll eventually shift with the engine screaming. That can be really entertaining. And don't ever abort an approach and do a go round - just scream louder and rev the engine higher - trust me, it will all work out.

    I can give you lessons in anchoring and picking up a mooring ball as well. That's another good spectator sport.

  5. I remember fondly our rule of anchoring early so that we were safely situated with the evenings cocktails in our hand when the rest of the fleet came into the anchorage. The entertainment value far outweighed the time we lost sailing. Like Rod above I am enjoying hearing about your mod's and upgrades as they happen. And like BMW we have had the pleasure of seeing Odyssey on the road through Maricopa, and look forward to crossing wakes with Vector someday.

  6. There is so much to consider when boating with pets, like what happens when your pet take the plunge...
    The following site has some nice info to help.
    My husband and I are both RV and boaters.

  7. As one who enjoyed your bus projects: Thanks for sharing detailed info on your boat projects! As it turns out, a friend with a C&C Landfall 38 wants me to help with some rewiring project this spring, so I'm watching your electrical work with great interest.

  8. I have found that boating list's never seem to get any shorter, the contents just change.

    Bill Kelleher


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