Sunday, November 23, 2014

Well, there's your problem...

We are tied to the free wall at Great Bridge, Virgnia (map).  This is now a very familiar stop for us, and we like it because not only is it free, but there is a great Mexican restaurant right next door, and shopping of various sorts (groceries, hardware, auto parts, and more) in easy walking distance.  It was a short mileage day for us, as we spent last night at the free dock at the north ferry landing in Portsmouth (map), another familiar stop, just ten route miles from here.

Yesterday was a long, frustrating day.  We loaded up the scooters and were under way from Deltaville by 9am, which gave us an expected arrival in Portsmouth a bit after 4pm.  That would get us tied up in the daylight, and plenty of time to take the ferry across to Norfolk for a nice dinner at the Town Point Club.

Given all the work that's been done, and the fact that the PTFE packing seriously overheated on the sea trial, we set a schedule for engine room checks of every 20 minutes.  For the first couple of checks the stuffing box temperatures were again above normal, and I went down and adjusted the packing more than once to try to get more water flow and the temperature down to normal.  Unfortunately, it kept climbing, and beyond that, it looked to me like the shaft was vibrating a lot more than it had before we hauled out at the yard.

So there we were, less than ten miles into a 50-mile day, and we waffled about whether to return to the yard.  I actually turned the boat around, and we headed back in that direction for a couple of miles before deciding to do slow circles while we assessed the situation and our options, and spoke to the yard by phone.

After ruminating for a while, we ultimately decided that we could deal with the stuffing box on our own.  After all, I had done the packing myself, so it was hardly the yard's problem anyway.  The vibration means we need to have the engine alignment checked, even though it looked in spec when the yard checked it before the sea trial.  That can be done anywhere along the way, and while Deltaville would likely do the alignment at no charge, we decided paying a couple of hours for someone elsewhere to do it was worth it to keep moving.

The tinkering, about-face, and circling ultimately set us back an hour and a half, but we figured arriving at the well-lit and well-marked ports of Norfolk and Portsmouth shortly after dark would not be a huge problem.  The stuffing box, while hotter than we'd like relative to the incoming seawater, was still much cooler than it had been with the flax, and, thanks to 55-degree seawater, was acceptable in absolute terms.

En route to Portsmouth I called to make dinner reservations and learned that the place was sold out, due to the city's annual holiday lighting ceremony.  Had we learned that on our original schedule, we would have continued to Top Rack marina, where we could get free dockage and power by eating in their very nice restaurant. However, it was indeed after dark when we arrived at the ferry landing, and we were not comfortable pressing on another eight miles upriver in the dark.

The ferry landing was, of course, very busy, with triple the normal number of ferries to accommodate the crowds going to the festival in Norfolk.  Still, there was only a single other boat with us on the dock.  When we learned about the festival we had called the visitor center to make sure the dock was open, and asked them if there was still room for us -- the dock at the north landing is visible from the visitor center.

We ended up walking to Olde Towne Portsmouth and having a nice Italian dinner at Mannino's, which we remembered from last visit.  A couple of glasses of Montepulciano rounded off the very square corners of the day.

This morning, already figuring on a short day, I spent some time before departure with the stuffing box again, this time completely removing one ring of packing.  Sitting idle in the water, we had a good rate of flow coming in. Nevertheless, even in the eight miles to Top Rack Marina, where we stopped for fuel, the box again overheated.  With only two more miles for the day, though, we decided to wait till we arrived here to deal with it.  Ironically, at Top Rack, while I was switching fuel valves in the engine room, I noticed the sump box had backed up.

After we fueled up, taking on over 1,000 gallons at the lowest price we've seen since buying the boat ($3.049/gallon), we asked to remain at the dock to deal with the sump.  That turned out to be some debris in the check valve, a ten minute fix, but by this time we missed the Steel Bridge opening and ended up sitting there another half hour.

After we got tied up and settled in here, I went back to the engine room to tackle the stuffing box again.  Having tried everything else, this time I took the injection hose off for inspection.  There was nothing at all wrong with the injection port, with seawater nearly blasting me in the face at a prodigious rate. We put a stopper in the port.  Oddly, nothing was coming from the hose itself.

I watched the hose as Louise started the engine -- seawater should definitely be coming out under pressure at this point, from the raw water cooling pump.  Nada. And here's why:

Inside the end of the hose, buried as deep as the barb on the injection port is long (perhaps a bit more than an inch) was a plastic plug.

Whoever removed the hose (which had to come off to remove the flange in which the injection port is located) apparently put this plug in the end.  Then whoever put the hose back on did not notice the plug, which admittedly is the nearly same color as the lining of the hose itself, before fitting it over the barb, which pressed it well into the hose.

When I removed the plug with a pair of fine needle-nose pliers, the seawater in the heat exchanger immediately started coming out.  I'm hoping this is the root cause of the heating issue, but we won't really know until we get back underway again.

After I wrapped that project up, I walked a mile to Advance Auto Parts, where I had pre-ordered a second engine start battery.  I used the battery I removed from my scooter a couple of weeks ago as my "core" exchange, which made up for using a giant 8D battery as a core exchange the last time I did this, back in Yorktown.

I had hoped to get away with just one start battery, and if I had bought the largest automotive battery size in the store that might have worked.  But I wanted to make sure there was room in the box for a second parallel battery if one couldn't do the trick, and that limited me to a Group-24.  It starts the engine, grudgingly, if it is fully charged and the engine is relatively warm, but it just couldn't do the job in the cold.

We could not really have gone much further today anyway, because conditions are poor on Currituck Sound.  It's looking a lot like they'll be poor again tomorrow, too, so we might be here another day.  If so, we might go over to Atlantic Yacht Basin, just the other side of the bridge, to see if they can do the engine alignment.

Since our last stay, the city has put up some new signs indicating an enforced 24-hour limit, so if we stay in Great Bridge we may need to move to Atlantic Yacht Basin, or else the other free dock across from them, which appears to again be open after a closure for maintenance.  We'll decided in the morning, after the morning forecast comes out.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Mike, I emailed you. Deleting the comment so your email is not public on the blog here.

  2. There is always something to keep you occupied on a boat isn't there? You are a great detective though, and it is always interesting to see what the next challenge is going to be. Safe travels

  3. Good job finding that plug, it saved you from a costly repair. It is always fun reading your Blog, always something going on!

  4. Hi Sean - great to see you guys have been able to finally shove off from Deltaville. I had been checking your blog to see how things were going and had started to wonder if something serious had been found. Enjoy the ride south. Hopefully you will find much warmer weather!

    Brian Diehl


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