Saturday, April 2, 2022

April foolin' on Treasure Island

OK, I know it has now been over a month since my last post here, and some of our readers are growing concerned, as evidenced by some recent comments (which I have yet to catch up on) and even a couple of direct messages. So I'm taking a little break from the endless boat projects to try to bring the blog up to date. As usually happens when I have been on such a long hiatus, it's likely to be a bit long-winded.

Rather than my usual chronological format, and in consideration of the most concerned comments and messages, I will do the health update first. Or as the denizens of this region of Florida might say, "the organ recital." Health care is a booming industry here.

This classic sign on a beachfront hotel is a prominent feature of Treasure Island, where the row of beach hotels looks trapped in the '50s.

When last I posted, my new cardiologist had ordered blood work, an echocardiogram, and an MRI, and had scheduled a telehealth appointment for after the blood work. My blood work came back completely normal, and after the appointment we stopped the naproxen in favor of a tapering course of prednisone, which I am now about halfway through.

I have also since had the echocardiogram, and it, too, was normal for my recovery, meaning no signs of ongoing pericardial effusion. The cardiologist followed up with me via messaging after those results came in. That leaves just the MRI, which is scheduled for April 7, the long pole in the tent that has us hunkered down here for two months. Unless that shows something of concern, I am hopeful that on our April 13 in-person visit, the cardiologist will want to continue any further treatment entirely by telehealth. That would clear the way for us to depart the Tampa Bay area and progress toward being north of Jekyll Island, Georgia by our annual hurricane deadline of June 1.

Vector at the dock of the Fusion Resort, as seen from the rooftop bar.

While we chose this area explicitly due to the cardiac care reputation of Tampa General and its physicians (and, in no small part, because we have friends and a support network here), it did not make sense to settle in for a good couple of months without trying to knock out some other medical appointments, some of them seriously overdue on account of the pandemic. And thus I have more to report before we move off the medical subject and into the even more thrilling segment on boat projects that I know so many of you are yearning for.

Once we settled in at our dock we quickly booked annual physicals, eye exams, and dental appointments for both of us. Physicals are done with a clean bill of health, as are the eye exams which we did at Costco. The earliest dental appointment I could get (so far) is mid-May and we're hoping to be gone by then, so we'll either find someone else in the area or else those will have to happen elsewhere. I've also been to the dermatologist with no unusual findings, and that leaves just the past week's fun-fest involving my liver. (See, I told you it was the organ recital.)

Apparently, you can rent anything in Treasure Island.

Regular readers may recall that I ended up briefly in the emergency room back in Little River, South Carolina in December with more pericarditis symptoms. While I was there they did a CT scan, and in addition to looking at the heart, the scan caught part of the liver and showed some lesions of concern. The attending basically told us that any time a CT scan is done they find things other than whatever it was they were looking for. In any event, I was directed to get it checked out at my convenience, and while we're here is as convenient as it is going to get.

The follow-up involved yet another CT scan, this one specifically targeted at the liver and GI tract. It required fasting and drinking an unpleasant barium sulfate contrast solution ahead of time. The scan was also repeated with an iodinated IV contrast. I am happy to report that the scans revealed only benign lesions with no follow-up required.

This market happens every Friday morning at the park across the road from us.

Whew. Eight paragraphs and I have not even started on the non-medical goings-on. Picking up where I left off at our lunch hook off Snell Island, we weighed anchor in time to arrive at the yacht club fuel dock just after closing time, but, as luck would have it, we instead found plenty of room for Vector at the long hourly city dock, in front of Doc Ford's at the St. Pete Pier (map). Four hours at the dock cost us just ten bucks, paid at a parking meter at the gangway. The large concrete floating docks made offloading the scooters quite easy, though we did have to then push them all the way off the dock to the parking lot, and we did not have to worry about overstaying our welcome at the club.

The race noise was quite loud as we came into the harbor, but we were still able to hear each other on the headsets to get tied up. SPPD was patrolling the anchorage, the very same one from which they booted us earlier, keeping all the day boats outside the security zone established for the race. Everything was very busy, which meant we had quite the audience for docking and offloading the scooters.

View of St. Pete harbor on race day, from the 34th floor of Signature tower. Our anchorage is just to the left of the pier, and the day dock we used is visible if you zoom in.

As soon as we got the bikes off the dock we fired them up and rode over to Martin and Steph's about ten minutes away. We were joined there by friends Dori, Bob, Kristina, and Atle for Thai take-out. It was a fun evening and we did not get back to Vector until just as our meter ran out, having us dropping lines at the uncharacteristic hour of 10pm. We left the scooters at the house and Atle and Kristina dropped us at the dock in their golf car. It was a very short cruise out of the harbor and around to the north side of the pier where we dropped the hook (map), having no need of the protection of the breakwall.

Saturday morning we weighed anchor soon after the cacophony of the IndyCars started for the short cruise to Treasure Island. The early start put us against the current and also had us arriving at a fairly low tide, and the timing was such that we had to hover for the Treasure Island bridge for fifteen minutes. After crossing a fairly shallow bar off the ICW to get into the small bay we had no further issues and we backed into our slip here at the Fusion Resort (map). Dockhand Luis handed us a thick welcome packet with some drink coupons, pool wristbands, and a parking pass along with local information.

This morning I wandered past the classic car show in the local park.

Local friend and fellow cruiser Alex offered to shuttle us back to St. Pete to fetch the scooters from where we left them, and we enjoyed catching up with him in the car. It's a 20-minute scooter ride between here and downtown. Once the scooters were squared away in the garage we used one of the two-for-one drink coupons for a couple of drafts at the on-site restaurant overlooking the pool, after learning the vaunted rooftop bar is basically a drink cart they roll out on the weekends and has no taps. We ended up strolling over to one of the handful of local places for dinner, a theme that has repeated itself throughout the month.

I imagined that we'd trek back into downtown St. Pete perhaps a couple of times a week for dinner or visits, but it's been considerably less than that. However we did end up right back there the very next day, as we got an invitation from Atle and Kristina to take in the finals of the Grand Prix from their 34th floor balcony overlooking the course. We brought binoculars and earplugs. Auto racing is not our usual entertainment, but it was a fun afternoon with good friends.

Our view of the chicane from Kristina and Atle's unit, safely behind the sound-insulating glass. This parking lot is normally where the Saturday farmer's market is held.

There are no fewer than a dozen eateries in walking distance from here, and we've eaten at our fair share of them. Our choice on any given evening is often driven by wind direction, as each establishment offers protection in a different direction for its outside seating. We've enjoyed Caruso's, Gigi's, Foxy's, Britt's Pizza, Middle Grounds, The Floridian Cuban Sandwiches, and Sunrise Tacos. Ricky T's was less appealing, and we found The Pearl to be overpriced for what it offered. VIP Mexican was OK but impossible to get into most evenings. We've yet to make it to local hangout R Bar, Captain Bill's, or Sloppy Joe's, an outpost of the renowned bar in Key West. The on-site restaurant, Vibes, is limited and suitable mostly for poolside beverages or a shorter walk in bad weather.

Also in walking distance are a True Value hardware store, which has come in handy for project work, a Walgreens where we've been having our scripts sent, and a nice Publix grocery store for provisions. Ironically the Publix has its own dinghy dock, which might come in handy on some future visit now that we know where to anchor.

Karen has been fattening us up by making home-made pizzas when we visit. These five came out of their small wood-fired outdoor pizza oven.

On the social front, in addition to the friends already mentioned, we've also connected a few times with our close friends Karen and Ben who live in Clearwater, about a 40 minute drive, and we've been to a couple of Wednesday luncheons at the yacht club where we have met some new faces. We also rented a car and made a three-day jaunt out to Sanford by way of Wildwood just to reconnect with a few more folks.

The Wildwood stop was to visit our good friends and former American Red Cross colleagues Kathleen and Tom. We did not realize we had literally dropped in on their anniversary until after we landed at, of all places, a pizza joint for dinner. The Sanford visit was to catch up with fellow nomads and cruisers Cherie and Chris aboard Y-Not and Stacey and Dave aboard Stinkpot, both of which have been wintering in the city marina there. Dave is a professional musician, and as a bonus we were able to take in his weekly gig at the local Irish pub, The Sullivan. It was a great evening, and a nice visit among three couples in various combinations for catching up.

Our good friend Dave in his element at The Sullivan, A Public House, in Sanford. You can find his original music and more at daverowemusic.com

Perhaps 2/3 of the way between here and downtown St. Pete is a vibrant district known as Grand Central and we've met up there with friends Diane and JP at Matteo's (quite good), and Martin and Steph at LaLa (also good, if eclectic and a bit loud). We also ended up at a group outing in the same neighborhood at Trophy Fish.

Whatever time is not spent on medical appointments or social visits has been going into the bottomless well of project work. Several of the projects have been waiting for an uninterrupted and extended stay at a dock with power, and being here has deprived me of any excuse to keep putting them off.

This red goop is from leaking coolant, emanating from the weep hole at the top of the black streak.

First up was removing the fuel injection pump from the generator and taking it to a fuel shop to be rebuilt. This is the second time we've done this; the pump started leaking at around 2,500 hours and we had it rebuilt in New Bern back in 2015 to the tune of about $900. Apparently, 2,500 hours is the lifetime of one of these pumps, because it again started leaking right around 5,000 hours. At least I'm an old hand at removing and reinstalling it, but it again cost $900 to rebuild. To put this in perspective, that's 36 cents for every hour of operation, on top of costs for fuel, oil, filters, and other expendables. Electricity is expensive aboard Vector.

I knew the pump rebuild would have the gen off line for at least a week, which is why it needed to happen at a dock. As long as it was down for the count with the injection pump out for repair, I jumped right in to replacing the coolant pump. The pump has been weeping coolant at the face seal for several months, since well before the injection pump started leaking, and I bought a replacement pump when we were still in New York. I have my suspicions that the pump is the victim of incorrect coolant, much the same way we lost the coolant pump on the main engine in Alabama.

Replacement pump in place. I left it bare aluminum as received, but I did touch up the paint on the steel engine block. Note the rubber cap, top right, to close off a heater port.

I have a completely separate post in the works on replacing the coolant pump, in case anyone else might find it useful (these generators are ubiquitous). Thus I will spare you the gory details here, other than to say that I had to plug two outlets on the aftermarket replacement pump that did not exist on the original, and it took me nearly an hour to remove all traces of the old gasket. Draining all the coolant to replace the pump gave me a great opportunity to flush the entire system with fresh water once the injection pump was back on, and refill it with the correct coolant.

Proving the maxim that no project goes to plan, this 7psi coolant cap disintegrated in the middle of the coolant flush/fill project, sending me to the auto parts store in search of a replacement.

The main engine coolant was also due for change, and since I am now using the same product in both engines I decided to do it all at once. And there I was with both engines drained when I realized the vendor had sent the wrong product, a 50/50 pre-mix instead of the concentrate that I had ordered, leaving me short by half. I refilled the engines with plain water while we sorted out the mix-up. Eventually they sent me again as many 50/50 to make up the difference, and both engines are now properly filled.

Long-time readers may remember that our bow thruster motor gave up the ghost on the Welland Canal, ascending from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. I replaced the motor with a less powerful spare that we had on board, thinking that at some point we'd be in a city with a DC motor shop who could service it. Of course the pandemic interfered with those plans, and we've been using the less powerful motor for nearly three years now. Here I was finally able to get it off the boat and at least clean it out.

Yet another pizza night courtesy of Karen, this one involving deep dish pan pizza made in the regular oven. So good.

After getting all the brushes and springs out and as many covers as I could remove, I hauled the motor to the end of the dock along with my compressed air hose, and blew a metric ton of carbon dust out of the frame. Each of four brush positions actually holds two side-by-side brushes, and about half the eight brushes are fine and the other half are worn. I am hoping that blowing the carbon out and re-distributing the good brushes will get the motor running again; if it does, I will order four replacement brushes. I've put it all back together and in the coming days I will reinstall it for a test.

The main engine seawater impeller was overdue for replacement, in part because it is very difficult to remove. Here again, an extended stay without needing propulsion was a good time to get it done, and this time, without the pressure of getting back under way that had me replacing the pump wholesale the last couple of times, I decided to deal with the removal difficulty. That took the form of modifying my impeller puller so that it would fit in the limited space behind the pump. It was still harder to remove than most marine impellers, but now it can be done with the pump still on the engine. I was just in time -- two vanes on the impeller were already cracked.

One of the original 4' fluorescent "vapor tight" fixtures, this one over the generator enclosure at left.

Working in the engine room dockside has always been easier than at anchor, in no small part due to the overhead fluorescent lighting that floods the room with bright light. Those lights only work on shore power or when the generator is running. We have a combination of four foot and two foot fixtures, and over the years I've replaced perhaps three lamps of each size. It's a pain in the butt every time, because fluorescent tubes are hazardous waste and can not be placed in the trash.

And the LED replacement. Note the improvement in working clearance over the generator enclosure.

Nowadays, of course, there are even more efficient lighting fixtures than fluorescent, and with a couple of our lamps flickering and showing signs of imminent failure, I took the opportunity of having a good shipping address and plenty of shore power to replace the two-decade-old fluorescent fixtures with modern LEDs. The LED fixtures are brighter, use 2/3 the power, and are a tiny fraction of the size of the old fixtures, leaving a lot more headroom in the lower part of the engine room. It took me three days to get all the old fixtures and wiring out and the new ones installed and re-wired. Now I have a half dozen complete fixtures, lamps included, that I am trying to give away before we cast off.

Our inverter, which is an absolute workhorse, powering our life aboard 24/7 the vast majority of the time, is now nine years old. It's still going strong, but I have been noticing an increasing amount of fan noise. At least one of the two fans had a bad bearing, and it was only a matter of time before it seized up and we'd get over-temp shutdowns. This, too, is a project for dockside power, and I opened the case up a week ago to have a look.

The innards of our MagnaSine MS4024 inverter. I was very glad to be able to remove the enclosure without having to disconnect all the DC and AC wires and unbolt the unit from the shelf.

For an expensive, well-designed, and solidly built piece of equipment, boy did they sure go low-bidder on the fans. I found a pair of inexpensive sleeve-bearing server fans in there, and sure enough, one was on its last legs. With the measurements, part number, and specs I could set about finding replacements, preferably with ball bearings and better air flow.

Cheap 92mm OEM fan with sleeve bearings. One of two was nearly dead.

I probably spent well over an hour on Amazon trying to source decent replacement fans, but the place is increasingly becoming the Ali Baba Bazaar and it's next to impossible to distinguish absolute junk from something that will give decent service. I had gone through the same process with the engine room lights, but those are much lower risk. In the end I gave up and ordered a pair of NMB fans from Mouser, which set me back $20 apiece. Ironically, that's more than the OEM fans would have cost me from a Magnum distributor, but they are much better fans.

I was a little worried about whether they would work, since Magnum is speed-controlling the fans by PWM, even though they are two-wire fans. The OEM replacements would have been a drop-in affair, but with the change of model I spent a bunch more time testing them in place by using a heat gun to fake out the thermal sensor on the transformer. Once I was sure they worked I finished the install, but it meant reconnecting and disconnecting the inverter two extra times. The new fans are a bit louder but they move more air and should last longer.

Damage to the helm seat, initiated by our beloved cat Angel, and subsequently "repaired" by me numerous times with vinyl goop.

Our ancient and stained flybridge seating cushions are all down at a local canvas shop being re-made in Sunbrella, after a wait of a full month, and I had the ripped panel on the helm chair replaced at a local auto upholsterer (the helm chair is a Chrysler mini-van seat that I repurposed). We've had a local diver clean the hull and inspect the running gear (all good), and we're on a regular schedule with the local pumpout boat that is in the area weekly.

Good as new. The replacement panel is vinyl rather than the original leather, but it's a perfect match.

When we were at the dock in downtown Tampa I was gifted a spare battery for the e-bike. The battery is meant for the upgrade from my model, which uses interchangeable batteries, whereas mine has an inbuilt one. The extra pack was incentive to open up the e-bike and "convert" it to allow swapping the two batteries, albeit minus the enclosure normally found on the replaceable ones. A bonus side-effect is that I can charge the batteries separately on board without needing the bike itself, which, at an anchorage, can remain ashore. That will be very handy for multi-day anchorage stays.

The spare e-bike battery case. The innards from this case can now be inserted into the bike frame.

As I type, the parts for yet two more projects surround me. One is a "dry bilge" system for the tiller flat, which has a nasty habit of filling up with rainwater from the impossible-to-seal hatch. The regular bilge pump can't reach the bottom of the compartment, so this system will suck out any rainwater that makes its way in. And the other is a new Class-A AIS transponder to replace our aging and obsolete Furuno unit. Lots of other projects still on the list, and chances are I won't get to all of them before we get back under way.

The resort itself has been a pleasant enough place to stay, and I've enjoyed the pool and hot tub on a few evenings. There is live music at the pool area on weekend afternoons and on the rooftop deck on weekend evenings, but it all wraps up by 9:30 or so, right after the pool closes, and the place is not as rowdy as the promo materials might lead one to believe. That suits us just fine.

The new AIS. This scrambled screen was the last thing it did before hanging permanently. It needs to be exchanged.

Looking ahead to the rest of April, we are in the area until at least after my cardiologist appointment mid-month. Beyond that will depend on whether she wants another follow-up or more tests, and when we get our flybridge cushions back from the canvas shop. The 26th will make an even two months here, and that seems like a good target for casting off the lines. Between now and then we will continue to catch up with our friends in the area, and I will try to wrap up as many projects as I can. It's quite possible that you will next hear from me when we are back under way.

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