Thursday, December 5, 2019

Yard report

Today marks two full weeks since I last posted here. We are still in the exact same spot in the Metal Shark shipyard, but as of this morning, we are again hanging in the lift slings. This morning the painters sanded, prepped, and primed the five places they could not previously access due to the blocks holding the boat up.

Posts are few and far between when we are in the yard. In part, that's because I am incredibly busy. When I am not out dealing with the yard guys, I'm either tackling projects of my own that have been languishing, waiting on a block of downtime, or else I am on the Internet researching something for their projects or mine, such as going blind comparing antifouling paint datasheets. And in part its because we're not moving and there's not a lot of interesting stuff to report, other than yard progress.

Shortly after my last post the yard wrapped up installing the beefy new line diverters in front of the fins, and also popped the fins off and replaced the seals. All looked good, and there is no evidence that the shafts had been pushed in at all. The speed with which the fin project moved gave me some optimism about the rest of the work, but yards are often two steps forward and one step back, and a holiday week in the mix did not help the schedule.

It was fascinating to watch the new builds happening. Here part of the deck house, assembled in another part of the yard, is lowered onto the main deck of a new hull. We're still under the lift here and I had to shoot between the belts.

Friday afternoon at closing time, we walked out to the parking lot to wait for Enterprise to pick us up. There was quite a hubbub at the gate; the yard was handing out a frozen turkey to every worker. They even offered one to us, but with no way to cook it we politely declined. Enterprise was a bit late, and with a twenty minute drive back to their office it was nearly 4:30 by the time we were driving away with our car.

Pretty much anyone who knows me, and especially Louise, will tell you that I'm, uhh, "frugal," and I almost always book the cheapest available car, whatever that is. And in this case it was "pot luck" -- a lower rate offered at booking time to take whatever they had available at pickup. As it happens, that turned out to be a high-zoot Cadillac XT5 compact SUV. This car far and away had more bells and whistles than anything we've ever rented heretofore. Shortly after we got it home, I had to dig the ~500 page owner manual, still shrink-wrapped, out of the trunk to find out how to operate everything.

Our first stop after picking up the car was the local Costco, where I needed some items from the pharmacy. On our way into the store there was a nearly identical XT5 sitting in the entrance, from Costco's car-buying program, with the sticker on it: $52k. Holiday shopping had already begun there, but other than my pharmacy purchase, we walked out empty-handed. We drove to a nearby Italian place, Mirko, for dinner, which turned out to be mediocre.

Vector and her neighbors, towboats under construction. We were much more exposed when they finally moved the lift.

We don't get shipyard workers on the weekends, but the paint crew is a contractor that works whenever they can. Saturday, however, was rainy and so we had the day to ourselves. We took the spiffy new car out for a morning drive around Alabama bayou country, driving out past Coden and then back the other way toward the marine research station. I worked on projects in the afternoon, and then we drove out to Dauphin Island for dinner.

This proved to be something of a goose chase. The well-rated place I had my eye on turned out to be closed for no apparent reason, the backup choice closed at 6 and had only outdoor seating, and the third choice place had either a smoky bar upstairs, or a dining room with no booze downstairs. We ended up at Pirates on the beach, which happens to be the place you can dinghy to from the gulf-side anchorage. After years of "missing" Dauphin Island (there was no place to park the bus, and we can't get into the marinas), we can now safely say we don't need to return.

Good friend, long-time boater, and former master of this very vessel reminded me in a comment on my last post that he did his captain's license right here in Bayou La Batre, at Sea School across the channel. He asked if there were still shrimp boats up in the trees, and I am happy to report the answer is no. It took a very long time, but with federal cleanup grants the remaining abandoned vessels have finally been removed. One of the parks we passed on our drive had an informational sign about the program. The town, though, like so many, has never fully recovered.

One of a number of signs around the area discussing rehabilitation.

One of the things on my to-do list for the weekend was to find a restaurant within an hour's drive that was serving the traditional flavors for Thanksgiving dinner, and make a reservation. But after reading in my last blog post that we'd be renting a car, our friends Dave and Stacey on Stinkpot, who are spending a month in New Orleans, invited us to come over for the holiday meal.

It's a two-hour drive to NOLA, and we ruminated about whether we could make the drive back after dinner, or get a room nearby that would allow us to bring the cat. Or whether we could leave the cat aboard for one night with no heat in the boat (we won't run the little portable electric heaters when we are not aboard). Ultimately we decided to make it a day trip.

With that big question solved, we spent the first part of the week using the car to run errands every day after closing time. That included a giant run to the Mobile recycling dropoff, where we were finally able to get rid of our accumulated glass bottles, including some 60-odd beer bottles, that we have not been able to recycle since Illinois. We also made runs to Walmart, Lowes, Joann Fabrics, and a number of other stores for project supplies and provisions. We made a trip every evening so that we could also have dinner someplace other than Bayou La Batre, where we're now on our third trip to every restaurant.

In the meantime the paint crew began working in earnest, sanding down our bare spots and getting primer on all the damaged areas. I sanded the propeller down myself, and the yard had the local propeller guy come over to look at it with me. We've been concerned about dezincification since our 2016 haulout in Bradenton; the yard guys have been saying it looks fine, and the propeller shop basically confirmed that we had little to worry about, but suggested it was time for a tune-up at our next haulout.

Prop mostly sanded. You can see some pinkish areas where some dezincification has occurred.

Things wound down quickly as the holiday approached, and basically nothing happened Wednesday. Thursday morning we made a fairly early start for NOLA, as we wanted to take the longer US90 route. Long-time readers will know that we transited US90 many times in the bus, and not only do we enjoy the drive, but it is interesting to see how things have been slowly returning since Katrina. The debris is all gone, but many empty lots remain for sale, some sporting the parking lots of long-gone businesses.

We left early enough to make a big loop through the city when we arrived, passing by many of our old haunts from our long stay there three years ago. Without thinking about it, our drive ended up bringing us past the demolition area for the damaged remains of the Hard Rock Hotel project, and the rerouting around that dumped us right onto Canal before the Quarter. It's never a good idea to drive near the Quarter on a holiday, as NOLA uses any excuse to close off streets and have a parade, and we ended up being late arriving at the marina.

That marina is literally right next door to where we spent three months getting the boat painted. We're still a bit traumatized by that experience, so we did not stop in. Fortunately we were still on-time for dinner, which was wonderful. Dave somehow found a way to cook an entire turkey in a tiny galley oven, served with dressing, mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, squash, and homemade cranberry apple sauce. We brought a couple of pies, some hors d'oeuvres, and a bottle of wine along with us, and everyone was appropriately sated at the end of the meal. We returned home, leftovers in hand, via the faster I-10 route and were back in quarters before bed time.

Propeller freshly painted. Muddy red spots on hull are new primer.

With the yard closed, Friday would have been a good day to get out and do something fun, but I needed to take the opportunity with the painters gone to finish up the propeller. We did take a nice drive around the coast and back through downtown Mobile in the afternoon on our way to return the car. We had the leftovers for dinner.

Even though it was still a holiday weekend, the paint crew was in on Saturday and Sunday, and they got the second coat of primer on and a spot coat of antifouling. Two full coats went on earlier this week. We stumbled into the Alabama-Auburn game at dinner time at the Lighthouse restaurant; down here in bayou country they are Crimson Tide fans, but I'm sure our friend John was happy for his alma mater to emerge victorious in a close game. We kept a low profile.

Among the several projects we're having done here is to re-coat the tiller flat (lazarette) bilge with epoxy paint. Years of salt water leakage around the rudder gland had taken its toll, and way back in April, before my attention was diverted by a lightning strike and embarking on the completion of the Great Loop, I discovered significant rust damage in the bilge; thick chunks of epoxy-coated rust flakes came off on my scraper. So early in the yard visit, one of the yard guys came out and scraped and sanded most of the damaged area down to bare metal.

They splashed the Lawson just before the holiday. She takes up much more of the lift, and this photo sharply contrasts with the one of Vector in my last post. Monday the crane barge picked up the full-size crew van and put it on deck, the towboat faced up, and they headed back up the rivers.

After the sanding, the yard's opinion was that it was not bad at all and would likely not need reinforcement. Last week the yard brought out its audio gauging equipment and measured the thickness at the worst spots. We had readings of 0.268" at worst, and thicker in most places. I don't have the original specs on the steel, but the plans call for 1/4". With these readings, likely 2-gauge was used in this area. In any case, it's still over 1/4" and will need nothing other than sanding and a fresh coat of epoxy.

In and among all the yard projects, I've been knocking off a list of my own. Now that we're back in salt water, I needed to change the engine anodes. As usual, they broke off inside the heat exchanger, which I had to take apart in order to retrieve the pieces. I found an old impeller vane in there, too, so I also pulled the raw water pump and replaced it with the spare; all vanes were present but a couple were starting to crack, so it was due.

I've also been working, on and off, on the ComNav G1 satellite compass that I bought on eBay three full months ago. I did not realize it would come without a cable or connector, nor did I realize that getting the pinout of the connector or finding a cable would prove so difficult. I finally got through to someone at ComNav support, and while they did not give me the pinout, they gave me a part number for the cable.

Measuring the connector to try to find its mate. There are over a hundred circular 18-pin connectors on the market.

I was not about to spend $275 on a cable when the entire unit only cost me $800, but the part number led me to a site, in Dutch, with the connector pinout. No spec for the connector, so I spent a bit of time measuring it and trying to match it up online. After one failed attempt yielding the wrong part, I managed to source the mating connector, and with a lot of patience I got eight pins soldered to a CAT-5 cable I had lying around. I've been fiddling around with settings and updating the software, and my next challenge is to figure out where and how to mount it. Once done, this should put to rest all of the compass error issues we've been dealing with.

One project I had to knock out early on was to install another "dry" power outlet under the helm. Pretty much every outlet on the boat comes from the inverter, with two exceptions, one being deep inside a cabinet for the original refrigerator (abandoned since changing to a household fridge, which needs the inverter), and the other being on the aft deck. The former is essentially inaccessible without getting behind the fridge (in hindsight I should have left an extension cord back there), and the latter is outside the living space.

This generally has never been a problem, right up until we were sitting in the mud at Dog River and realized we could only run two of our three portable electric heaters at a time without tripping the 30-amp breaker on the inverter output panel. Even though we had two 50-amp feeds available on board, we were thus limited to a single 30 amps. At Dog River we ran an extension cord from the aft deck back in through a window to get another heater running.

After six years of service holding Vector at anchor, this Crosby alloy shackle is done, the pin worn to an unacceptable level. I've replaced it with a cheap import while I try to source a proper replacement.

Having the window open a crack, of course, lets some of the heat out, but here in the yard it would also let a bunch of nasty things in, such as yard dust, paint fumes, and the rotting fish smell that permeates the area some evenings. So I installed a quick-and-dirty non-inverter outlet under the helm, near the electrical distribution. With this setup we still need to use an extension cord to get the heater where it's needed, but it's entirely indoors. I could sprinkle some non-inverter outlets throughout the boat, but that's a lot of work, and this issue has literally come up just once in seven years of cruising.

One of the things we discovered after the haulout was that the "stationary" part of our line cutter on the prop shaft was missing altogether. Going back to the photos from the Green Turtle haulout, it was missing then, too. My guess is that the diver we hired in Fort Lauderdale to reposition it after our transmission work, who seemed baffled by the device, failed to get it back on properly and/or fully torque the two setscrews, which backed out from vibration. I had to have Spurs ship a replacement from Fort Lauderdale, which I installed myself to be sure it was done right.

We marched through this soft, sometimes muddy dirt multiple times daily on our way to and from the boat. At least we had beefy steel boarding stairs.

In between the rotating part of the cutter and the propeller hub itself we had a shaft anode that had been custom-cut to size for us and installed in Fort Lauderdale during our haul-out two years ago. That anode was done, and the yard could not source a replacement. I found a couple in California and bought both of them; the yard did a real butcher job cutting one to size (the last guys had a machine shop), but at least it's back on. We've also changed out three (out of eight) of the large hull anodes that were installed over three years ago.

Other projects included replacing the pump in the cat's drinking fountain, which failed completely one night, and installing a handheld nozzle in place of the spigot on our filtered drinking water system, so we can just pull it over to fill the coffeemaker rather than have to transfer the water in a container (rough life, I know). Lots of minor things got fixed around the house as well.

Life in the boatyard is a dirty affair, dirtier here than most. That's because the yard is neither pavement nor gravel, but just bare earth, with a fine coating of blasting media, metal dust, old paint, and hydraulic fluid and motor oil from all manner of equipment. The lack of surfacing is understandable considering one of the machines is a Manitowoc 888 crawler crane, which itself weighs over 150 tons and has a payload capacity of over 200 tons, nicknamed Mr. Marty. It routinely moves around the yard loaded, including once coming right up next to Vector. Not many surfaces can support that kind of weight.

Mr Marty approaching to squeeze between us and the towboat under construction to our starboard.

We have to traipse through this dirtpile multiple times each day, to get to the scooters which are parked off-yard on pavement, and to get to the bathrooms in the main building, in order to conserve waste capacity. Normally we can go three weeks on a tank, and it's been longer than that since our last pumpout at Dog River. We can probably go another week or two at the rate we are going, but only if we remain diligent about going ashore.

Update: It is the end of the day (blogging has taken a back seat to dealing with yard guys multiple times) and we are still in the slings. The primer took longer to set than expected, and the painters ended up having to do the topcoat after the lift crew ended for the day. We will splash first thing tomorrow. It will be nice to be back in the water, which is warmer than the air temperature most of the day, and where we can run the big heaters and use as much water as we'd like.

With any luck the topside work and the bilge work in the tiller flat will be done by the middle of next week, and we can be back under way before another weekend passes. We went to Kain's Mexican restaurant tonight, the best joint in town, and were recognized and warmly greeted by the staff, a sure sign we've been here too long.


  1. Try U.S. Cargo for your Crosby alloy shackle.

    Bill Kelleher

    1. There are lots of sources. But unless I wanted to pay $$$ for overnight shipping (as I did, for example, with the shaft anodes), I could not have it here in time to install it before splashing. Now it's a matter of figuring out the next stop where we can have it sent, and then I'll buy from whoever is cheapest. I'll take a CM or a Crosby.

  2. Glad to read that without your line cutter, at least you didn't need it! Nice feature. Wish we had one, especially as Maine looms on the horizon!

    1. Maine takes the cake, but parts of the FL Keys and the Chesapeake are nearly as bad. Glad we discovered it and fixed it before getting back into pot float territory.


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