Monday, July 14, 2014

Whirlwind work week, and bang-bang boats

As I am typing, we are underway in the Chesapeake, bound for the southern end of the eastern shore, where we plan to anchor near the small community of Kiptopeke, Virginia.  (Update: we're anchored; I never managed to finish this post yesterday.)  For the past week, we've been in Deltaville, Virginia, at Deltaville Boatyard and Marina (map), where we spent four months last year getting work done on the boat.

We've been hip-deep in projects since we arrived there, leaving me no time at all to blog, so I am taking the opportunity here in open water to get some typing in, just as I did one week ago, on our way there.  To be fair, we did also get a little down time to swim in the pool, bicycle to some of the local eateries, and even have dinner with good friends our first evening.

On this occasion, we actually spent the first five nights in the marina, rather than the boatyard.  While our detour up the Chesapeake to Deltaville was occasioned by yard work, specifically to have the rudder looked at, we figured that to be a one-day project.  That said, we needed a few days of marina time someplace, so we could receive some packages and tackle some projects of our own.  When we realized we'd need to be there for the rudder anyway, we decided to make it a one-stop affair.

Chief among those projects (and also packages) was the installation of our new head (a fancy nautical name for a toilet, also used to describe the bathroom as a whole).  We bought the head, a Tecma Easy-Fit Eco macerating model, from our good friends at Yacht Products International, who long-time readers may remember made the "YachTub" hot tub we have on the bus.  They had the best price I could find on the web, but we then needed a good address where we could have it sent.

We needed a different head principally because the Headhunter brand eductor-style toilet in the master bath could not really be used once the aft waste tank filled, even if there was room in the slightly higher forward tank.  The Tecma can actually pump six feet or so uphill, so it should not have this problem.  That's been pending for a while, but the urgency increased when the head stopped working altogether a couple of weeks ago, due (I assumed) to a stuck check valve in the output line.

I'm sure I could have taken it all apart, cleaned (yuck) or replaced the check valve, and gotten the whole thing working just fine again.  However, since the worst part of the job is the disassembly of the waste line, and we knew we wanted to replace the head with a macerating one anyway, I opted not to go through the disassembly process twice, but rather just accelerate the replacement project.

The Tecma arrived slightly before we did, and so first thing Monday morning I picked it up from the parts stockroom, where large packages end up, and carted it over to the boat.  By the time I got it all unpacked and inventoried and matched the installation instructions to the various parts, it was too late to start the project, given all the other "first day in town" items on our list.  Or perhaps I was just dreading too much the, uh, crappy job ahead of me.

It turned out not to be as bad as I thought.  We had run quite a bit of fresh water through the system -- the blockage in the check valve was not complete, so, while the head would not flush properly, it did eventually drain.  Between lots of clean water, and the fact that the valve was still passing fluids, there was really no sewage sitting in the hose when I took it apart.  That was good, because the best I could do, really, was to stuff an old towel down into the bilge to catch any spillage.

Old head removed.  That's the new piece of sanitation hose sticking up with a rag stuffed in it, before trimming to length.  Unfortunately the new head does not cover the round hole in the floor where the old hose ran, so we will be adding a piece of trim under the head when I can pick one up.  The rectangular hole in the foreground is the only access I have to work in this bilge -- it's tight.

I did have to cut through a PVC pipe with the sawzall, and accessing all the bolts, pipes, and wires made the whole removal process a very long and tedious job.  But all in all it was easier and less messy than I had planned.  Still, it was a full day and a half to make the swap.  The new head went in much more smoothly than the old one came out, but I did need to splice in a new section of sanitation hose, which costs more per foot than gold chain.  The built-in macerator pump needs a good bit of power, but there were already a pair of heavy wires running back to the engine room, from the original head installation, long since replaced, that also needed it.  I connected those wires through a fuse to our new 24-volt power system and ordered the 24-volt head model, which makes the whole thing more efficient.

New head waiting to be installed.  I've already attached the blue PEX water inlet.  Pay no attention to the feet at the right... Louise snapped this while I was working.

I'm happy to report that the new head works great, and uses significantly less water than the Headhunter, which is advantageous with our limited tank capacity.  The old head has been cleaned up to like-new condition, and is now sitting in the lazarette until I can find someone who wants it.  There's nothing wrong with it (the check valve, which was, indeed, stuck, is an external component and has been discarded), and, new, they sell for over $1,300.  We'd rather pass it on to someone than have it go to the landfill.

While we were in Deltaville I also repaired our air horns (another stuck valve), lubricated the emergency tiller post, inspected the bilges, and otherwise kept myself occupied with the ever-present project checklist.  This, of course, in between actually working with the yard.

Other than having a good address for the new head, the horn valve, and a few other items (including our mail, which never arrived -- a story in itself), the principle reason for our visit to Deltaville was to address the rudder packing.  The story here is that the rudder has been leaking seawater into the lazarette since we left the yard last August.  I had been led to believe that a certain amount of leakage was normal during break-in of the new packing, and after break-in I should tighten the gland slowly until the leakage stopped.

I kept tightening the gland periodically over the past several months, slowly to avoid binding the rudder and damaging the hydraulic system, but water continued to come in.  A couple of months ago, after the latest round of adjustment, the rudder started making a horrible groaning sound when the helm was turned through part of its swing.  I called the yard, who allowed that by now there should be no leakage at all, and we agreed to back the last adjustment out due to the groaning, and come in to the yard to have it addressed.

Monday one of the senior technicians came aboard, and confirmed what I had already concluded, which was that the groaning was not coming from the packing, but rather from the upper bearing where the emergency tiller post passes through the deck.  It was most likely unrelated to my packing adjustments.  I agreed to remove the deck plate myself and squirt some lithium grease down there, which seems to have helped, but if it comes back I will need to withdraw the post from the rudder stock altogether and slather some proper marine grease on it before reinstalling it.

Wednesday they sent a different tech out to our marina slip to deal with the leaking packing.  He found only two rings of packing left in the gland, so either some packing was inadvertently left out back in August, or pumping grease into the gland managed to push a ring or two out the bottom of the boat.  In any case, he replaced the packing with several rings of new flax, pumped the box full of waterproof grease, and tightened the gland to the point where it is no longer leaking.  We then rinsed the lazarette out with fresh water, as there has been salt water down there for a long time.  At some point I will have to clean up the rusty mounting hardware and spray it with corrosion block.

With that done, and the yard owner and I agreeing to have the rest of our warranty list addressed when we return this way in October or so, we figured to be done at the yard, and planned to shove off Friday for the three day run to Delaware Bay.  Wednesday afternoon the marina called asking if we could move around the corner to accommodate another boat Thursday morning, which was fine with us, and I went to the helm to get ready for an early morning move.  When I powered up the electronics, the depth sounder was kaput.

The depth sounder has been acting up since April, when it quit while we were docked in Stuart.  It mysteriously fixed itself before we departed for Fort Lauderdale, thus avoiding an expensive haul-out at a yard with a marginal lift.  It acted up once more out in the ocean, but has been working ever since.  We are counting ourselves lucky now that, when it failed again, we were already docked at a yard, with a lift that was more than capable of hauling us out.

We asked the yard if they could squeeze us into the schedule, and they agreed to haul us out on Friday, replace the transducer (we already had the spare aboard, ordered when the problem first appeared), and let us hang in the slings overnight while the bedding cured.  As long as we were in the slings, we had them clean the bottom and touch up the bottom paint, and I put two fresh coats of zinc spray on the propeller.  We also pulled the shackle off the bow eye, touched that up, and reinstalled it with some grease to keep it from seizing up.  While we were on the hard I also paid out 100' of anchor chain and repainted the "0", 50', and 100' marks, which were wearing out.  Louise has already posted a photo of Vector hanging from the lift.

By the time they got everything done on Saturday morning and splashed us, it was really too late to make it here to Kiptopeke, so we stayed an extra night at the fuel dock and left Sunday morning, which brings me full circle to where I started typing at the top of this post.  It is now Monday morning and we are anchored off the beach behind the Sunset Grille (map), a popular beach bar here at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula.

We arrived at the eastern shore near the town of Cape Charles, somewhat north of here and accessible only by a long channel going the wrong direction for us.  Just south of that channel is a more protected anchorage at Kiptopeke State Park, known more popularly by cruisers as "the concrete ships."  What is now the fishing pier at the park was, prior to the opening of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in 1964, the eastern landing for the ferry that crossed the bay here.  The ships, literally made of concrete during WWII when steel was in short supply, were sunk here after the war as a breakwater for the ferry landing.

Just a small section of the "concrete ship" breakwater as we steamed past.

That had been our originally planned anchorage, but conditions were so pleasant when we arrived that we elected to continue another mile and a half to this much less protected anchorage.  Not only does that cut twenty minutes from our next hop, we hoped to find WiFi here, and if we have to wait a few days, we can dinghy ashore and sample the restaurant fare.  Also, it was Sunday afternoon, and we thought we'd catch some of the weekend-boater mayhem.

On this last score, we got a bit more than we bargained for.  When we arrived around three in the afternoon, there were perhaps 50-60 boats anchored here.  Many were unoccupied, their crews either in the water (78 degrees -- too cold for me), or ashore on the beach or at the bar.  We maneuvered in as close as we could get, dodging crab pots the whole way, in a small area bounded to the north and the south by rows of fish stakes.  With the rapidly shallowing bottom topography, that put us about a quarter mile from the beach, further than any other boat by a good 150 feet or so.

We dropped the hook, set it, snubbed it, and settled in, enjoying a marginal WiFi signal (we're just a bit too far), distant music emanating from the bar, and a nice view all around, with the concrete ships to the north, the beach to the east, the Bay Bridge-Tunnel to the south, and the wide expanse of the Chesapeake to the west.  By the time we were sitting on the aft deck enjoying a beer, however, a swell had moved in from the south, along with the 15+ knot wind, and the scantily clad beach-goers did not look particularly comfortable to me.

As the swell got progressively worse, I went to the pilothouse and fired up the radar, to double-check our distance from the closest boat, a 40' Sea-Ray express bridge.  I could see it bobbing in the swell and stopping hard against its all-chain anchor rode, which lacked any kind of snubber.  I was wise to do so, as our distance from him was closing rapidly.  A quick check of the chartplotter revealed that we were not dragging -- our anchor was holding fast.  Louise was deep into a phone conversation with relatives on the west coast when I started the engine.

Seeing me in high-alert mode she quickly wrapped up her call, and we had a quick pow-wow about the situation.  I speculated that the Sea-Ray was dragging, and we noticed it getting closer not only to us, but also to a 45' sportfisher, which my memory said was even farther from us when we anchored, maybe 300', but now also was much closer.  When the Sea-Ray was less than a boat-length away, we hurriedly removed the snubber and weighed anchor, fearing we might be hit by not one, but maybe two boats, both of which were clearly dragging.  While we were mid-scramble to get under way, with our hands full, the other two boats were mere feet from each other, and I sounded five blasts on the horns, hoping that one or both crews ashore might look out and see the impending peril.

One operator did eventually arrive on a center console, but it was too late.  The two boats had already collided, and the swell was pounding them together over and over again.  The boats smacked into each other (side by side) for several minutes before the skipper of the sportfisher managed to get aboard, start engines, weigh anchor, and move away.  We were free and under way by this time, but I was sorry I missed any opportunity to snap a photo of the two boats pounding into each other.  The sport fish re-anchored a few hundred feet south.  We re-anchored a few hundred feet north, giving what we thought was plenty of drag room to the Sea-Ray, whose skipper heard neither my horns nor my Sécurité call.

About a half hour later the center-console came back from shore to the sport fish carrying another eight people.  They all boarded the sport fish, tied the center console to a tow line astern, and beat a hasty retreat.  I tried several times to raise them on the radio to see if they had made contact with the Sea-Ray owner.  No response.  Guessing they were hoping to leave the scene of an accident without consequence, we called the coast guard, passed along the details of both boats, and a short while later I got a phone call from the Virginia Marine Police.

I was on this phone call when the Sea-Ray crew finally returned to their boat, and we managed to contact them and tell them what had happened.  They had no clue.  In the meantime, their boat has also continued to drag across the anchorage, and by the time they were aboard they were again just a boat length from us.  In their haste to get their anchor weighed and under way, they managed to run over their own anchor chain three times, and also wrap the tow line for their center console tender around a prop, severing it.  Then both boats raced off into the sunset, with, I suspect, nary a sober soul aboard.  I had the engine running and did my best to stay out of their way, but with our anchor well buried and no time to remove the snubber, there was little we could do save fend off if they had gotten any closer during the process.

By the time sunset came around, we were the only boat still here, which suits us fine, as we'd had enough drama for one day.  Still, I'm glad we did not miss the excitement by being up behind the concrete ships.  Today, in stark contrast, there is nary a boat to be seen, unless you count the giant US Navy hovercraft conducting exercises a mile to our west.

The swell picked up quite a bit overnight, and it was so rolly when we got up this morning that we thought about weighing anchor and heading back up to the protection of the park breakwater.  It calmed down quite a bit as the morning progressed, though, and we've decided to stay put unless it picks up again this afternoon.  At this writing, it looks like we will be here at least two more nights to have good weather on the ocean.

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