Monday, May 30, 2016

Just like old times

Today, Memorial Day, finds us aboard Odyssey, our Neoplan Spaceliner bus and our home for nine years before we moved aboard the boat. We've been here since Thursday morning, arriving after a whirlwind 14-hour drive from St. Petersburg, Florida. We had expected, honestly, to be back in St. Pete by now, but the universe had other plans.

A "dressed ship" leaves Snead Island for a yacht club event.

In anticipation of this trip, we made plans to dock Vector in St. Petersburg, where we could get access to power for the week and easy access to a rental car, a kennel, and other services. Knowing we could not return a rental car any earlier than tomorrow due to the holiday, we made arrangements to pick the car up Tuesday on a weekly rate, and drop the cat off first thing Wednesday morning.

Vector visible through the bridge at Bradenton, from the riverwalk.

A playground with splash fountain along the Bradenton riverwalk.

We booked the marina in St. Pete on a weekly rate as well, with an arrival for Sunday to give us an extra couple of days to get everything settled and ready to go, and to take advantage of air conditioning. That left us a free night after leaving Snead Island on Saturday, and we motored just a couple of miles upriver to Bradenton, dropping the hook just west of the bridge. We dropped the dinghy and tendered in to the town's nice free day dock along the riverwalk, and walked downtown for another nice meal. The riverwalk itself was also lovely, and we enjoyed our evening before hoisting the tender in anticipation of a morning departure on the flood.

A lovely sunset over the Manatee River from our anchorage at Bradenton.

The moon rose just a short while later.

Sunday's cruise to St. Pete was pleasant in just a bit of chop. Unfortunately, the marina had something of a mixup with late departures, and our space on the transient dock was unavailable when we arrived. After hovering in the basin for nearly half an hour, we ended up heading back out and anchoring off the St. Pete Pier, currently being demolished, until they could find a space for us in the other basin.

All was resolved by early afternoon and we got tied up, connected to power, and all squared away in time to meet up for a final dinner with our friends Karen and Ben, who had to leave town before we'd be back from our trip to the bus. We had a great Thai meal at Sab, followed by wine and dessert at Annata Wine.

Monday was spent getting the boat ready for a week without us, and our gear ready for a big road trip. In the evening we met for dinner with our friend Maria, who had been living overseas the last few times we passed through St. Pete. We enjoyed reconnecting, and meeting her friend Paul, over tapas at Ceviche.

Sunset from our dock in St. Pete.

Tuesday we picked up a rental car from Hertz, just a few blocks from the marina, and loaded up all our gear, including four full boxes of tools that I figured I would not need, but should have with me "just in case." And Wednesday morning we dropped Angel off at the kennel at 7:30am, just as they opened, for an early start to a long drive. We ended the day at a hotel off the freeway just south of Richmond, pulling in just before 10pm and tumbling into bed.

We got an early start Thursday, arriving here at the bus by 10am, plenty of time, so we thought, to have it in "stay-aboard" condition by evening, with all major systems running, and out of the covered sheds for its first bath in three years. Things started auspiciously, with batteries, chargers, and other electrical components coming on line just as expected. I was also very pleased that the big Detroit started on the first crank.

My elation was short-lived, as the engine stalled out perhaps ten seconds later, sounding starved for fuel. And thus began a frantic three-day scramble involving old connections on the Bus Conversions board, two local mechanics, a wayward overnight part delivery, and numerous other shenanigans to get the bus running again.

Part of the diagnostic process involved bypassing the fuel pump and primary filter by means of a garden pesticide sprayer sourced at the local Ace hardware, just fifteen minutes away; Louise thought this was humorous enough to warrant a photo. You can see the pesticide sprayer sitting on the bumper and connected to the fuel system (I had to cut the spray wand off and clamp the hose to a barb fitting), and one of the two 2-gallon jerry cans we bought underneath, to catch the fuel coming out of the now disconnected fuel pump discharge via the orange hose.

Poor-man's fuel system diagnostic tool...

The bus ran fine on the two gallon sprayer, at least for as long as two gallons lasts (just a few minutes -- Detroits return most of their fuel to the tank). This was after changing out the fuel filters and filling the bowl on the primary filter, which involved an hour-plus round trip to the nearest Napa Auto Parts, did not do the trick. At least the $15 garden sprayer test told me the engine itself, the injectors, and the control computer were all fine and the problem was strictly a mechanical fuel delivery issue.

I ended up replacing the fuel pump, about a six hour project, except it mushroomed to twice that when we had to drive all the way to Portsmouth and back because the shipping clerk at the Detroit dealer neglected to check the "Saturday Delivery" box on the waybill. The shop is closed Saturday but after I called the emergency number the parts manager met us there, part in hand. He was wearing a clerical collar and his wife was dressed up, so we figured him to be on his way to officiate a wedding. It was very nice of him to take care of us and he credited me for the shipping on the part that is even now still in transit to a UPS store over an hour from here.

That's the fuel pump, with the hose coming from it. Somehow I have to get it out (and back in)...

The new fuel pump at least let us start the engine without involving a pesticide sprayer, but it still would not run more than a few minutes at a time, and another couple of hours of troubleshooting led me to the check valve at the inlet to the primary filter, which is supposed to keep fuel from draining back to the tank, but allow it to flow unimpeded to the filter. It's really just a little ball held against a seat by a caged spring.

Look -- I found the ball. On the wrong end...

When I removed the assembly I found a cage and a spring but no ball. A closer look revealed the ball had somehow been blown past its seat, which is considerably smaller in diameter than the ball itself, and had lodged itself against the end of a street elbow that was threaded to the outside of the check valve assembly. In this position fuel could hardly pass in either direction, and I have to say in some 40 years of working on engines and their plumbing I have never seen anything like this.

This is the side it's supposed to be on (the cage and spring have been removed).

All's well that ends well, and after moving the ball back where it belongs, the bus is running fine now. But that was it for the schedule, and the umpteen other things I needed to do to get the bus ready were delayed until yesterday afternoon when I finally finished with the engine work. I did take time out on Thursday to replace two broken recirculating valves that probably froze the first winter, tighten a bunch of leaky plumbing, and re-start the water and waste systems after three years so we could stay aboard. Louise, meanwhile, has been going through hundreds of personal items we left aboard in the event we needed to fly in from someplace and have a usable coach. Fortunately, that included a supply of coffee...

The buyer was originally scheduled to meet us here Friday to close the deal, but he had some personal issues of his own, involving a family medical emergency, and so the timing worked out in the end. As it stands now, he will be arriving tomorrow mid-day and, if all goes well, tonight will be our last night aboard as well as our last night of ownership.

Truth be told, I am a little sad. Spending these last five evenings aboard Odyssey has reminded us of everything we love about this bus. We love Vector, too, but we miss the extra-large master bathroom with its wonderful shower, and all the light maple cabinetry, and having huge windows in the bedroom. We settled right back in, as if we never left, just like old times. That said, fixing three years worth of problems, which might have come along perhaps one every two or three months, all at once over just a few days provides ample evidence that the bus really needs to be in the hands of someone who will use it and maintain it regularly.

Looking forward to returning to St. Pete, where our boat has apparently started selling real estate in our absence.

Hertz is expecting their car back tomorrow, just as the kennel is expecting us to pick up Angel, and the marina is expecting us to shove off. None of that will happen, and so tomorrow morning I will be making some phone calls to add a couple of days to each of those  If the sale closes, we should be in Richmond or maybe even further tomorrow night, which would put us back at Vector late Wednesday or maybe sometime Thursday. At least I have been able to check up on the boat daily by way of our whizzy Internet-connected camera system.

Update as of 7am Tuesday: We learned this morning that the bus buyer's father passed away in the night, so the sale has been suspended for now. Our sincere condolences to his family.


  1. I admire you mechanical ability. Glad you found a buyer and good luck through the next stage of the proceedings. I've enjoyed your many postings about the Odyessey and also will miss her.

  2. Seems amazing that it's been three years....
    The many niggling mechanical issues tend to diminish in importance/severity when contrasted to losing ones father. Puts things in perspective.

  3. Sean -

    Your fuel pump/check valve incident has me a bit puzzled... Was the pump really bad - or was the check valve the real culprit? And I - like you - don't see how a ball check valve can fail this way without causing other damage. Please share any further insights you learn as prepare the bus for a new owner!


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