Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Happy pump dependence day

We are docked at the Florence Harbor Marina in Florence, Alabama (map). I know I said we'd be continuing upriver yesterday toward Huntsville, but circumstances conspired against that. Last night was our third and final night here, after a mostly pleasant couple of days and a spectacular fireworks display over the river.

Part of the finale, as seen from Vector.

Not long after posting my last blog entry, and, in fact, even as I was wrapping up the typing, we entered into the full-scale chaos of the holiday weekend on the water. The canal connecting Bay Springs and Pickwick lakes got busier and busier as we neared Pickwick -- there's even a boat ramp right on the canal at that end -- and I had to dodge several ski boats bobbing around on the sailing line. We had to stop nearly dead in our tracks at one point as a skier lost control right in front of us. I can only imagine what the towboat drivers must go through pushing a full lash-up through here on the weekends.

We emerged into Pickwick Lake with literally hundreds of boats scattered in front of us, and this was just one arm of a very large lake. Things got more and more chaotic as we approached Grand Harbor Marina, where they reached a crescendo of sorts, after which we encountered decreasing traffic for the rest of the day. Which was good, since the first several "quiet coves" we passed were chock-a-block with revelers and I was starting to fret about finding an anchorage for the evening.

Just a small sampling of holiday weekend boat chaos.

Given the circumstance, we opted to continue on right up to 5pm or so, and a very large cove that I hoped would be mostly empty, known as the Rock Piles.  I'm sure it would have been lovely, and quite possibly empty, but our cell signal went rapidly from 4G to 3G to 1X to nonexistent all in the second-to-last mile before the cove. Internet addicts that we are, we saw no reason to live with that when we just had 4G a mile ago, and so we made a U-turn a mile short of the cove, backtracked a mile and a half, and dropped the hook in the river, more or less right on top of the now inundated town of Riverton (map).

It turned out to be a pleasant spot and we had a nice evening on the river. The tows on the Tennessee are twice as large as those on the Tenn-Tom, and a couple passed us at anchor. By the time we sat down to dinner, the river was quiet and most of the small pleasure boats had long since returned to their marinas or ramps.

A full tow steams by at sunset. The tow is so long I could not fit it all in frame.

Sunday morning we weighed anchor for Florence after a leisurely morning. We had only a short four-hour cruise ahead of us and we figured to make port by 2pm. That was the plan, right up until the first hourly engine room check. Louise does the ER checks, and she came upstairs from this one reporting that one of the engine pulleys was "wobbling."

I handed over the helm to go have a look myself, and what I found was horrifying. It was not a shimmy or wobble so much as the whole pulley "jumping" about an eighth of an inch or so every few dozen revolutions. It looked like it was going to fly off the engine at any moment; I came back to the helm and immediately steered for a spot outside the channel where we could drop the hook.

The wobbling pulley was the one on the coolant pump; the only one of the three pulleys on the belt that can be seen with the belt guard in place, owing to a cutout for it in the guard. With the engine stopped I removed the guard to have a better look at the whole pulley system; all looked good except for the coolant pump. Here I could grab the pulley in my hand and deflect it that same eighth of an inch; I've never seen this much end play in a running system. The bearings were clearly shot, and, in fact, so far gone that they were in jeopardy of falling apart, seizing, or allowing the impeller to hit the housing at any moment. Any of which would have us dead in the water. Not good.

With our already planned destination of Florence being the closest services of any kind, we opted to continue on and hope for the best -- oddly reminiscent of our very first visit to Florence. Our only other choice would have been to call for a tow. I shut off the alternator, to reduce the load on the belt, and we proceeded at reduced RPM. We set the video monitor to the engine room camera full time (it normally cycles through all the cameras) and aimed a light at the pulley. And Louise increased her ER check schedule to four times an hour. I put the belt guard back on, just in case the worst happened, to contain the shrapnel.

The pump held together all the way to Florence Harbor and through our docking maneuvers. We tied up at the fuel dock, near the restaurant, as the main transient dock was already full. The we settled in for the holiday weekend, with a new plan in mind for how our time in Florence would be spent. And we were looking forward to a couple of cold drafts at the restaurant, since, in what can only be considered a confluence of calamities, our on-board beer supply had run out the previous evening, and could not be replenished on Sunday, at least not in this county.

Vector tied up adjacent to the River Bottom Grille.

Sadly, the power to the boat kept shutting off, which turned out to be a main breaker which served not only the four marine receptacles on the dock, but also the fuel pumps, two walk-in coolers, and part of the restaurant itself. After the fourth time it tripped the marina asked us to just run our generator until the restaurant closed at 9pm, which we agreed to do for a discount on the bill equal to our running costs.

Monday morning, while much of the country was watching sports and gearing up for big holiday grill-intensive food fests, we descended to the engine room to begin replacing the coolant pump. Fortunately, I already had a spare pump on hand, which I had ordered when the original one started leaking nearly two years ago. I won't know for sure until I get the pump apart, but I'm guessing that leakage is responsible for the untimely demise of the bearings. All because some overconfident mechanic someplace decided he knew better than the engineers at both Komat'su, who designed the engine, and Lugger, who marinized it.

Expansion tank removed. That's the bad pump, center-frame.

I had been led to believe, back then, that I'd need to disassemble most of the cooling system, including the thermostat housing and the main pipes leading to the heat exchanger, in order to replace the pump. When we started getting it apart, though, it turned out that I was able to remove the pump without disturbing the thermostat housing. That cut the job to less than half what I was anticipating; I had purchased seals and O-rings for the entire project along with the pump, and now most of those will remain stowed until the inevitable day when I need to replace the thermostats.

Pump off. We had to make a gasket to go here.

I spent the whole day huddled in front the the engine, with my legs dangling in the bilge. Louise managed the myriad parts that had to come off in sequence, and finding the new gaskets and O-rings from an obscure exploded diagram. We had everything on hand except one gasket, which did not appear on any diagrams we had. Fortunately it was a fiber gasket, and Louise was able to cut a new one out of sheet material by tracing the pattern from the old one.

A view inside the water jacket. That's cavitation damage up against the cylinder wall.

The new pump is now in place, and we put the old coolant back in the system for testing. Well, most of it -- I managed to get a coolant shower when the pump finally came off. Two pipe plugs that were too stubborn to come out of the old pump had to be replaced before we could refill the system, and that had to wait until the hardware stores opened yesterday morning. Once we had the engine running again we moved the boat over to the now empty transient dock, to avoid a repeat of Sunday's breaker-tripping fiasco (the restaurant was closed Monday). By this time it was well past mid-day and we opted to just spend another night.

Shiny new pump installed. I think the Komat'su Yellow makes a nice accent against Lugger White.

That gave us the opportunity to sample yet another restaurant in town, Rosie's Mexican Cantina, which was very good. Monday we ended up at Ricatoni's, which did not live up to the hype, and we just ate at the dockside joint, the River Bottom Grille, after we arrived Sunday. The dinner run last night gave us a chance to pick up several gallons of fresh coolant and distilled water; once the system has proven itself under a full day's load we'll replace the coolant.

Fireworks over the river, after the storm.

Even with the major project, we've enjoyed our time in Florence. We got to see a bit of the town while running errands or going to dinner in the marina's courtesy car, and we enjoyed the music and fireworks display Monday evening. We got a bit of extra entertainment, as a huge thunderstorm hit just before the scheduled fireworks, clearing many spectators out of the park and many small craft off the river; we got to watch from the comfort of our covered flybridge.

Florence, the O'Neal Bridge, and Vector in the harbor from the cliffs of Muscle Shoals across the river.

Shortly we will drop lines, bound for Decatur. We have two locks ahead of us today, which will put us in Wheeler Lake. We'll either anchor tonight or perhaps tie up at the General Joe Wheeler State Park, where, ironically, we spent our final Independence day in Odyssey. It's only 47 miles to Decatur, but we're not in any rush now.


  1. Disappointed to hear of the decline of Ricatoni's, I'll reconsider recommending it in the future. Enjoy Joe Wheeler, spent many happy days boating out of there in the early 2000's.
    "Travis McGee"
    currently Fort Pierce City Marina
    Fort Pierce, Florida

    1. It was "OK," but nothing special. Even the marina staff thought it had gone downhill. Supposedly their sister restaurant right next door, River City Hardware (IIRC), is nicer.

  2. Saw you anchored in front of Joe Wheeler Lodge last night. Sorry we missed you. Hope to see you on your way back down river. Joe, Slip 723 Joe Wheeler Marina

    1. We're thinking of stopping for the prime rib on our way back, if the timing works out. Unless you tell me it's not worth it...


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