Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Rest of the Story

Well, the transmission install went considerably smoother than taking it out. That's partially due to being more familiar with it this time, partially because we eliminated the unnecessary pillow block under the engine that made the driveshaft such a bear to take out & put in, but mostly because I had Dave Laux there to help. Actually, I wouldn't say he helped - in fact, he did the lion's share of the work, and I helped him. He's an older guy and is mostly retired from wrenching on boats these days, but obviously still has a great talent for it. We were fortunate to have the contact with him through the Handleys.

The installation took place on Wednesday, not Tuesday as originally planned, because the ordered shift and throttle cables didn't show up at Dave's on Monday. Instead on Tuesday I cleaned the bilge and engine compartment, repacked the stuffing box, and a few other boat chores. Our friends Erin and Kara on S/V Vela, who we met in Annapolis last year, came down from New York and docked right behind us on Tuesday morning. It was really nice to spend some time with them; we had happy hour on Vela, went to downtown Cape May for dinner, and then had a nightcap on Windbird.

Dave pulled up at 10:45am on Wednesday, fresh off the Lewes-Cape May ferry, with the shiny new transmission and other assorted bits and bobs in the right seat of his pickup truck. He had a machine shop straighten and polish our driveshaft which I had beat up a bit while trying to get the rusty couplings off. Our first order of business was to insert it below the engine and get it in position for transmission installation. Next we removed the old dampener plate from the flywheel of the engine and bolted in a new one. Then I installed the old adapter plate and isolator flange on the new transmission, as well as a new oil cooler. That left the really tricky part: maneuvering the heavy transmission into an impossibly tight spot between the engine and the front of the engine room, slipping it over the driveshaft, lining up the input shaft splines with the dampener plate, sliding it aft against the engine, and getting a bolt started before it slipped away again. It was a two-man job with only room for one person to actually do it. It only took five minutes but seemed a lot longer. At that point we realized that the aft drive shaft coupling was actually behind the prop shaft coupling, and mating them required somehow moving it forward - preferably without taking the transmission back off the engine! It took a while, but we got it, then took a lunch break for Dawn's excellent taco salad and a craft beer.

At this point we seemed 90% done, but we weren't really. We still had to bolt the aft couplings together, install the front split coupling, bolt it to the isolator flange, attach and clamp the raw water input and output hoses to the oil cooler, add oil to the transmission, run the new shift cable through the steering pedestal into the engine room, attach the linkage, then do the same for the new throttle cable (which we were replacing as a preventative measure). The last three tasks took the most time. We got some early payoff by starting the engine and testing the transmission without the linkage attached, at which point we realized the new transmission came with its shifting arm installed up rather than down. Not a big deal to change, but getting the linkage into place and adjusted just right took some doing. The throttle cable went considerably better. And just like that, we had a boat with a brand new, easy-shifting, beautifully working transmission!

We enjoyed a post-project beer and then Dave had to rush off to catch the 6pm ferry home. I reassembled the steering pedestal and binnacle, reinstalled the engine air box, and cleaned up the new cable routing with zip ties. After cleaning up my tools and project supplies, Dawn and I grilled steaks for dinner and then invited Erin & Kara over for a celebratory drink. It felt very, very good to have that installation behind us. And given Hurricane Jose's latest forecasts it felt good to be ready to head back to the Chesapeake.

We and Vela were off the dock at 7am the next morning and steaming out Cape May Inlet shortly thereafter. We were initially motorsailing into a 10 knot breeze, but it became a broad reach once we turned northward around the Cape. At first we motorsailed, then decided the wind was strong enough to turn off the engine. We were ok going a little bit slower as we were waiting for the incoming tide to catch up and give us a boost all the way up the bay. It soon did, but the wind also died after 90 minutes of light sailing; it was forecast to be light the rest of the day. Thus it was somewhat surprising to get a 17 kt gust at 1pm. We turned off the engine and roared off on a 7-knot beam reach. We kept waiting for the wind to die, but it never it - it stayed between 13 and 17 knots for four hours, making for a quick and really beautiful sail all the way up Delaware Bay. Finally it almost completely died at 5pm and we motored the last 45 minutes to the C&D canal.

We reached the C&D while it was still slack water in the canal, but we soon got a boost that pushed us along its 18 miles rather quickly; we exited into the Chesapeake right around 8pm. Erin and Kara stopped at an anchorage just east of the canal, while we continued on in the night. We kept our customary watch schedule: Dawn 7pm-10pm, me 10pm-1am, her 1am-4am, me 4am-7am. On her first watch she woke me for one boat that was crowding the channel a bit, but otherwise it was uneventful. On my first watch the fair current dwindled and then turned foul; the only traffic was a single tug pushing a barge. Dawn saw zero traffic on the dog watch, and neither did I on the sunrise watch until we were approaching Herring Bay at daybreak. It got light just in time for us to ready the lines and fenders and head straight into our marina. This time backing into our slip went very well...it turns out that it's a ton easier when you have a transmission that readily and consistently slips into forward gear for the occasional steering blast over the rudder! In all our 139-nm passage took 24 hours and 5 minutes. Only 5.5 hours of that were pure sailing, but it was very nice sailing and most of the time motoring was very nice motoring (read: completely calm, not beating into waves like when we exited Cape May Inlet).

I was originally supposed to fly a 6-day international trip on the 14th but couldn't make it due to the delayed installation; I had to burn my once-a-year "get out of jail free" card to drop the trip. In its place I picked up two domestic trips, a two-day and a four-day, starting at 7am on the 16th. So after we arrived at 7am on the 15th, I slept a while, putzed around, talked to John and Trina from Next Place for a while (John had an absolutely insane story to tell - while we were gone he crewed on a delivery, in a catamaran that turned out to be not very seaworthy, with the owners from hell on board), and then packed for my trip. At 4:30 Dawn drove me to DCA, and despite heavy traffic we arrived in time for me to take an earlier than planned flight. I stayed overnight in Atlanta and started my 2-day domestic yesterday morning. I finished today and start the 4-day tomorrow. I'll be back on Windbird on Thursday night.

So Dawn and I are planning on attending the Seven Seas Cruising Association's Annapolis gam next weekend, and we were going to take Windbird there (it's at Camp Letts on the Rhode River, just north of Deale). However, the guy fabricating our new solar panel frames thinks they'll be ready for installation then, and that's something we really need to get done. So we may be leaving Windbird in the slip and driving, and I may have to miss one or both days of the gam if Caleb needs me to assist in the installation. Erin and Kara will have Vela at the gam and a few other friends may attend also, but getting the boat ready to go kinda takes precedence right now.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Brokedown Palace

Our trip started on a high note. The two projects that I mentioned in my previous post, replacing the HF radio tuner and installing the Garmin Gwind wired pack, both went well. I wasn't able to reach Chris Parker on the HF radio but I was able to call a friend at considerably closer distance, which narrows the potential culprits - and now our wind instrumentation works perfectly. Stringing its cable down the mast went surprisingly well, with Dawn's help.

So we got out of Deale on Wednesday, Aug 30th, and had a delightful motorsail in light winds to Annapolis, MD. We took a mooring in the inner harbor, and it was so good to be off the dock and cruising again. The next day involved a long motor in completely calm winds to Chesapeake City MD, and then early the next morning we transited the C&D Canal on a favorable current. A cold front had passed during the night, and as soon as we got out into Delaware Bay on Friday Sept 1st we were able to unfurl the sails and turn off the engine for a fantastic beam-to-broad reach to the S/SE, the delight of sailors everywhere. A squally warm front was pressing in from the south, but the forecast was just right for us to run up to New York Harbor before things got too crappy.

And then, just as we were exiting Delaware Bay, the wind died, we started up our engine, and then our transmission started acting up in rather dramatic fashion - refusing to stay in gear, particularly above 60% power. I had to laugh despite myself - this was exactly where Judy & Mark Handley experienced transmission trouble with Windbird in 2005, just as they set off to sail around the world. Then, they ducked into Delaware Bay and met a boat-mechanic genius that convinced them to repower their boat with a new Yanmar and the ZF transmission that was now, after 8400 hours of faithful service, giving up the ghost. Unfortunately I hadn't read that portion of Judy's blog in about a year and, failing to recall that the genius lived in Lewes, DE, took a left turn into Cape May, NJ.

Yeah, no, I'm not that sorry. Cape May has turned out to be a really cool place to be stranded for over a week. It's a funky old resort town turned artist commune, with a bunch of really great restaurants, art galleries, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and a cool naval air museum. We spent the first two days in a rather snooty high-end marina crowded with expensive sport-fishing boats and nearly no humans, then decamped to the much more sociable Two Mile Marina just past the Two-Mile Drawbridge. We've met some great people here who've provided great moral support as I've torn out the transmission and assorted hardware - a considerable task.

Judy Handley, bless her heart, emailed her Delawarian engine guru the moment she heard we were having trouble, and he called early the next morning. David Laux has been an absolute godsend. He gave me valuable guidance throughout the tear-out process. He called his old friends at Mack Boring for us, and hearing they no longer did transmission overhauls, called several other shops. They said ZF transmissions with this many hours on them generally aren't very economical to overhaul, so Dave found a new one in Florida for considerably cheaper than retail. They sent it our way before the Hurricane Irma evacuations got started in earnest. Dave came across to Cape May on the ferry today to make sure everything was ready for the install. He expects to receive the transmission on Monday, and he'll come back across on Tuesday to help me put it in the boat.

We drove up to New York City early Tuesday morning, checked into a hotel in Chelsea, and showed Dawn's mom all around town on a whirlwind, all-day tour ending with a broadway show. It was her first time in NYC and seemed to really enjoy herself, considering that it was a pretty exhausting day. On Wednesday we got her to Kennedy Airport for her rescheduled flight home (she was originally planning to fly out of Boston on Friday) and headed back to South Jersey.

We've been keeping a very close eye on Hurricane Irma as she's worked her way across the Atlantic (she was the Invest 93L I mentioned in my last post). For a while we were worried that she might make her way up here, where we're powerless to relocate to a less exposed spot. Instead she made an absolutely direct bullseye hit on Barbuda, St. Maarten, the British Virgin Islands, and the USVI. The devastation in the BVI is particularly painful, as we've spent so much time there on charters over the last five years. All of our favorite spots are gone, the charter boat fleet is mostly wrecked, and the people we got to know there are largely homeless. We still plan to go to that part of the Caribbean this coming season, but our focus will be drastically changed. Now we'll be loading Windbird up with supplies and volunteering to do relief work.

Tomorrow Irma will be making landfall in Florida; we're keeping our fingers crossed that she weakens and drifts further west, as she had done during much of the last 36 hours. And then we'll be keeping an eye on Jose, which the most recent models suggest may not be headed out to sea quite as soon as we thought. Ugh, this hurricane season is kinda stressful. I just want to get our transmission back in and operational, just in case we need to move our boat somewhere better. Should be there in another couple of days.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Back on the Boat

As you probably guessed by the dearth of blogging, Dawn and I have been off Windbird for the last month visiting family in Minnesota and the Dakotas, in addition to me flying several long international trips. We're back on the boat now, though, and preparing to head north to NYC and Long Island Sound on a 2-week minicruise. Our departure has been delayed by weather, namely Post-Potential Tropical Cyclone Ten that Would've Been Named Irma churning up the eastern seaboard. The rain stopped tonight and the north winds should die in the morning, so we're planning to leave Deale tomorrow afternoon or Thursday morning.

Dawn's mom Marg drove back from SD with her, and will be accompanying us on our cruise. She's flying out of Boston in about a week and a half, though we can change her flight if we get delayed much further. It's her first time seeing Windbird, and we're excited to share a little of our cruising life with her. Yesterday (Monday) we showed her around Washington DC, and today we went up to Annapolis.

While we were gone, I had our HF radio tuner tested at Burghardt Radio in Watertown, SD. It turned out to be the apparent culprit to our HF not transmitting, with damage consistent with last year's lightning near-strike. So we ordered a new autotuner, I installed it yesterday, and then today I called into the Chris Parker show...and got no response. So disappointing, but possibly just RF interference here in the marina. We'll see.

I went around with Garmin a bit on finding a solution to our malfunctioning GWind wireless transducer and finally asked to just have it replaced with the wired version, and they agreed. A Gwind wired pack was waiting when we got back to the boat on Sunday. I planned on installing it today (Tuesday) but it was pretty rainy so I'll work on it tomorrow before we take off. It'd be nice to have working wind instrumentation. It should be a fairly easy install as we already have a GND-10 networked into our N2k network; all I have to do is fish the Nexus cable down the mast (we have a pilot line) and through our cabin ceiling.

Our neighbors John and Trina on Next Place (a 2007 Valiant 50) are possibly coming with us up to NYC. I'll be fun to buddy boat with someone again. If everything goes right - a big if - we'll make it all the way to Windbird's old home of Quissett Harbor in Woods Hole, Mass. It's a gorgeous area and Judy Handley lives a few miles away in Falmouth. Even if we don't make it that far, I'd like to make it to Newport, RI. Judy could meet us there, Dawn's mom would be able to get to Boston to fly out, and it's the "other" U.S. sailing capitol besides Annapolis. But as with so much else, it all depends on the weather. After a slow start the hurricane season really got going in dramatic fashion this week; we're keeping a particularly close eye on Invest 93L.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Home Sweet Summer Home

The morning after my last post, the coolant pump for our engine finally arrived and I spent the day putting the engine back together. It now runs perfectly, leak-free, and quite a bit cooler than it ever did in the past - no more than 170° F, under load on a hot day. It was a really great feeling to fix it myself and gain a much better understanding of our engine's cooling system in the process. My other projects came together nicely, too, and I finished my ambitious to-do list only an hour before I left for my work trip to Lagos, Nigeria on June 24th. It had been an extremely busy, productive four days off work.



Dawn did a wonderful job of provisioning and readying the boat for departure while I was gone (and driving our Xterra north to MD!), and we were ready to leave as soon as I got back into town on Tuesday, June 27th. We said our goodbyes, did our final checks, and cast off the lines at 2pm. We had been in Georgetown, SC for a month and two days, and had come to really enjoy the town. It felt great to be finally moving on, though - the itinerant cruiser lifestyle agrees with us both, it seems. We left on an strong ebb tide and were steaming out into the Atlantic only two hours after departure. We had a benign weather window for rounding infamous Cape Hatteras offshore, sparing us from days of droning up the Intracoastal Waterway, but it wasn't a great sailing forecast for the first few days: no wind Tuesday, light to moderate northeasterlies Wednesday.



We put up the mainsail and in fact there was just enough northwest wind to keep us steady in the swells as we motored east through the night. During my 10pm-1am shift the engine began faltering; I shut it down, rolled out the headsail, and called Dawn up to take the helm while I changed a rather filthy Racor filter, a quick ten minute job. Our first offshore leg in a month had obviously churned up some sludge in the tanks. In the morning, shortly after we passed Cape Fear, the predicted headwinds filled in, right on the nose with a short ugly chop that slowed our progress below three knots. It was only predicted to stay NE for twelve hours and shift SE as we neared Cape Lookout, so we just tacked back and forth and kept the sail driving us through the chop. Unfortunately, the wind didn't shift as forecast, and we were continuing to beat as night fell. It finally shifted, suddenly and decisively, just after midnight, but it also quickly faded so we kept the engine going at a reduced power until 10am Thursday, when the wind finally filled in enough to sail after 44 hours of motoring and motorsailing. We rounded Cape Hatteras in the early afternoon with a big course change from NE to NNW, and we ran with the wind for a while. Sure was nice to have the downwind pole back! The wind faded at sunset; it still would have been strong enough to keep us moving under spinnaker, but we didn't feel comfortable flying the kite at night (with solo watches to boot) so we started the engine again.



Friday morning found us with land in sight again as we passed Virginia Beach, crossed the Chesapeake shipping approaches, rounded Cape Henry, and finally passed over the northern gap of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The wind picked up enough to sail into the Chesapeake, abruptly died, and then filled again rather strongly first from the east and then shifting south. We enjoyed a fast, rollicking downwind sail the rest of the day, alternating between a broad reach and wing-on-wing, surfing down short steep waves that took us astern. By 5pm we were getting a bit overpowered and the autopilot was having real difficulty keeping up; for a while I hand-steered, and then we rounded up to drop the mainsail. As we did, the clew came loose and the sail whipped viciously until we could get it down. At first I thought we had ripped the clew out of the sail; closer inspection showed merely that the pin securing the clew to the outhaul car had somehow come out. No worries. We continued northward under yankee alone, which resulting in a fairly rolly ride but a much better steering job by the autopilot. Late that night the wind shifted more SSW, and I called Dawn up a bit early for her 1am-4am shift so we could gybe - a slightly lengthy process when the downwind pole must be gybed as well.

While we were offshore there had been absolutely no traffic for the first 36 hours - I actually thought our AIS was broken - and then a few ships that passed no closer than four miles and a single sailing catamaran that overtook us just off Hatteras, passed within a mile, and hailed us on the VHF for a friendly conversation somewhat shortened by our horrible reception (I had just replaced a faulty PL-259 connector on our antenna coax, but it clearly hadn't fixed the problem). Now, in the Chesapeake, there was a steady procession of large cargo ships, both north and southbound. We quickly learned to stay just outside of the shipping channel. At least they all had AIS. During Dawn's shift on Saturday morning we started to cross the channel, and right on cue a big white oiler appeared coming up our stern at 20 knots. Dawn wisely woke me from my morning nap (she seldom rousts me on her watches, but has proven smart about when to do so), and I hailed him without result - maybe our faulty VHF, maybe he wasn't listening to 16. Just to be sure we turned 30 degrees to port and scooted out of the channel. The oiler was still several miles away, but the extreme disparity in speed means our changes have to be early and decisive to make a difference.

I napped for another hour and then it was time to roll up the Yankee, start the engine, and head into Herring Bay. It was 10am on Saturday, July 1st, the start of a four-day holiday weekend, and there was already a steady stream of boats coming out the entrance channel for Herrington Harbor Marina and Shipwright Harbor Marina, the latter of which is our new home for the summer. We had covered 477nm, a new record for us, which took us 92 hours for an average of 5.2 knots. I hadn't realized that our fixed-dock slip has a very short finger pier, making it necessary to back in. I tried a few times but the westerly wind was making it very difficult to back into our west-facing slip, so we ignominiously retreated to a nearby T-head for the night and relocated to our slip the following morning when it was calm.

I was originally supposed to work July 1st-4th, but was somehow able to trade for a trip on the 7th-11th, so we had a few days to settle in and get more boat work done. The morning that we arrived we spent a few hours washing the boat and putting her together from the passage, and then explored the marina and environs. Shipwright Harbor consists of five docks arrayed around a point of land that divides two rivers; the much larger and fancier Herrington Harbor North Marina is arrayed along an opposite bank. Sailboats outnumber powerboats at both marinas - a big change from South Carolina - and both feature nice amenities, regular events, and lively communities of liveaboards and cruisers. There are a number of smaller marinas around plus several lively dockside restaurants, a large West Marine at Herrington Harbor, and a decent hardware store in Deale; otherwise the small town offers very little. Groceries and most other things are in larger towns 5 to 15 miles away, but the drive through the beautiful green wooded hills west of the Bay is quite pleasant. Washington DC is only 30 miles away (making DCA very convenient for my commute to ATL), but you'd never know it. Annapolis is 20 miles north. Those who warned us about the summer heat and humidity of the area weren't exaggerating; we're very thankful that Windbird has working air conditioning. Our slip is extremely sheltered, which will be a good thing if any hurricanes head our way, but it doesn't get much breeze.




Our good friends Dan and Isabelle on Epiic beat us north by a few days; their boat was already on the hard at Herrington Harbor. They had decided to come back to the US to sell Epiic and upgrade to a catamaran, but on arrival CBP decided their three months in the Bahamas didn't count as a "meaningful exit" and they're being banished back to Canada until this winter. We had two last nights with them, though. On Saturday we all went up to Annapolis, showed Dan & Isabelle around town, and then met up with our friends Roy and Christina on Moor Passages, whom we had met and buddyboated with in the Exumas and narrowly missed in the Abacos (we sailed into Marsh Harbor as they were pulling up anchor for the passage to Annapolis). They were departing for Maine the next day, but we had a wonderful time catching up. And then Dan & Isabelle came over to Windbird for sundowners on Sunday night, which ended up lasting wayyy after sundown...I felt bad the next morning as they had to be up early to drive to Ottawa! We'll miss those two and hope they'll come sail with us while they're between boats.

A whole new project list sprouted once we arrived in Deale, and we made pretty good progress on it this week even though we basically took the 3rd and 4th off. I found out it was our VHF radio that was the problem, not the antenna; a replacement is on its way. I rebuilt our Racor and replaced fuel hoses, clamps, and the low-pressure aux pump in our engine room; we'll be getting our tanks cleaned & fuel polished later this summer. I troubleshot our faulty wind instrument (which was dead all passage, thank God for our new bimini window so we could at least see the masthead fly) and tracked it down to a faulty wireless reception box, which Garmin is replacing. I've tweaked our bimini solar system and will be installing digital monitors for our solar controllers next week. Our new Solarland fixed-frame solar panels (160W each) for the davit arch have been ordered, and once they arrive a local welder will be modifying our stainless angle brackets to accept them.  Our fairly new VSM-422 electrical system monitor died due to water ingress (an adjacent hose that came loose) and I am in the process of replacing it with a Victron VE.net battery controller and Blue Power Panel, which will also serve as the remote switch for our new Victron charger/inverter. I even designed a new custom Blue Seas Systems circuit breaker panel, though the $1700 price tag and abundance of other projects will probably dissuade me from ordering it this summer.



I'm trying to get these projects done fairly quickly because we're planning on spending the bulk of August with family in Minnesota & the Dakotas. And then at the end of August and beginning of September, we're now planning to take a two-week trip through the C&D canal, down Delaware Bay, up to New York, and down Long Island Sound to visit Judy Handley and Windbird's old haunt of Falmouth, MA at the base of Cape Cod. We had toyed with doing the trip before but it's now been rendered necessary by the discovery that Maryland imposes a 5% use tax on any vessel that spends more than 90 days in a calendar year in the state. Dawn's mom is actually going to come out and do the northbound cruise with us, which is really exciting. But this definitely means we have to get our projects done sooner rather than later, and it might limit the amount of cruising we actually do in the Chesapeake this summer. That's ok; our real focus is on getting the boat completely ready to go for the Bahamas and Caribbean this winter. We're really getting excited for that.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

When It Rains, It Pours

Still in Georgetown, and not headed north until June 27th at the very earliest - probably later. We've had a bit of a deluge of boat problems and projects, and I've been spending every waking moment working on the boat, except when I'm at work, which has been quite a bit lately. I actually picked up an extra 4-day trip starting late this week because we've been shelling out money at an insane rate lately. Here's the rundown:

Boat Canvas Project: The whole reason we're in Georgetown is to have our canvas replaced at Sharp's Custom Canvas (~$8000). I'm happy to report that our new dodger, bimini, connector and enclosure curtains are all complete and on the boat, and they look spectacular. We ended up having them more-or-less copy the existing canvas, except that we added a zip-open skylight to the bimini, added a zipper to the bottom of the connector, and added canvas strips with velcro to the bimini for securing our new solar panels. Sharp's did really nice work and the project was completed almost on-time despite incessant rain showers and thunderstorms that made patterning and fitting a bit challenging.



Batteries: Our five new Firefly Carbon-Foam AGMs ($2400) finally arrived during the second week of June, and I had two days off between trips to install them. I actually got the project done in a single day; it ended up being pretty easy. Hauling the three existing 140-lb Rolls batteries out of the boat was a bit of a bear but Dawn was able to help get them up the companionway ladder. I positioned the new Fireflies under our aft berth, installed chocks and straps to keep them from going anywhere, and connected them in parallel with beefy 2/0 AWG battery cables to create a single 550AHr bank. The new batteries look great; here's hoping their performance lives up to the hype.


Charger/Inverter: We shipped our faulty Xantrex Freedom SW2000 out to a service center in Bradenton, Florida, and they confirmed that we have a shot FET board and main logic board. Repair would cost $1100, or a new unit would be $2000 through them (I found it for $1600 elsewhere). This was only a 4-year old unit, and the Handleys had gone through another Xantrex as well; they simply don't have a very good reputation. I decided to switch brands and ordered a Victron MultiPlus 3000W inverter/120A charger ($1100) through eMarine in Ft. Lauderdale. It arrived on Monday and I installed it yesterday. As of right now I haven't decided what remote panel I want to get for it, so to switch the inverter on we have to remove a cover under our companionway ladder. But that aside, it seems to work great...and now that we can use shore power to charge our batteries, we have refrigeration again! And air conditioning, which has come in very useful as the rain has made it necessary to keep the boat closed up most of the time.


Solar Project: I originally ordered three 50-watt semi-flexible panels and one 100-watt panel for the bimini but the fit ended up being very problematic, so I returned the 100-watt panel and ordered another 50. Meanwhile I took our current solar controller out from behind our circuit breaker panel and relocated it to the locker behind our nav seat, just below the air conditioning equipment. We now have three solar controllers there, two Victron 75/15s for the bimini panels and one Victron 100/30 for the davit arch. We still have our old Siemens 85s mounted there but will replace them later this summer, and this bigger Victron controller will handle 320 watts just fine. I have all three controllers wired in parallel via a Blue Seas Systems bus bar / fuse panel and then via a very short run to the positive battery bus which starts under the nav seat. The PV wires run through a waterproof gland I installed on the cockpit combing, through the salon ceiling, and down into the air con/solar controller locker. I'm still working on wiring the PV wires from the panels through the bimini. I originally used the short stock lead wires and hooked up the PV wires via MC4 connectors right on the bimini, but it looked absolutely terrible. So instead I am splicing in longer leads that will hide the MC4 connectors in a zipped-up pocket where the bimini attaches to its frame. I worked on that tonight and should have it done tomorrow by noon, I think.



Leaky Water Pump: This seemed like such a minor project that I don't think I've even mentioned it until now. Our coolant circulation pump was leaking and it seemed to be coming from the cylinder return O-ring. So I ordered a new o-ring and two new gaskets online, but they took forever to get here. When I put them in last week and got the engine back together, it was still leaking. Closer inspection revealed that it was really leaking from a weep hole in the pump itself, which is indicative of an internal seal failure. So I ordered a new water pump from A&M Marine, a local repair shop, and on a bit of a whim decided to have them install it since I was leaving on a trip and we wanted to get headed north by June 20th. Can do, they said - since your cooling system will be apart, would you like us to go through your heat exchanger too? It was on my list for this summer but I figured yeah, as long as the system is apart, let's do it and be done with it. Fast forward to two days later when I got a phone call in London: two of the heat exchanger cover bolts were corroded frozen and snapped, so now I was looking at $3500 for a new water pump, heat exchanger and exhaust manifold, plus labor. They already had 7 hours into it at $125/hr and were estimating 8-15 more. I told them to order the parts but I'd put them in myself.

This morning we got the heat exchanger, exhaust manifold and associated parts, but not the water pump. That should be here tomorrow, hopefully. In the meantime I washed down the engine and replaced a few hoses that looked dodgy as well as all the hose clamps that my Skandvik ABA jihad hadn't reached yet, and then installed the exhaust manifold and heat exchanger. Hopefully by tomorrow night or Friday morning we'll have a running Yanmar again. But jeeze, those were a couple of expensive bolts. I don't fault A&M, persay - they tried everything they could to get the bolts loose without snapping them, including soaking them in penetrating oil overnight. But I think I would've been more patient, and if I had still broken them at least my labor would've been free. And in any case I'm learning a lot more about the cooling system by doing the installation myself. Eventually I'm going to get it through my thick skull that the only person that should really be working on the boat is me.

So yeah, that's what's going on. I'll have another few full days of working on the boat and then I'm off to lovely Lagos, Nigeria to pay for some of this! It could be worse. We're sharing the dock with one sailboat that just turned a bearing and is looking at a repower, a big cat that just took major damage from a lightning strike (I feel your pain, brother), and a new cruising family with a new-to-them, 17-year-old Beneteau that has absolutely everything going wrong. We're shelling out money, yes, but it's mostly on stuff that will make Windbird a better, more reliable cruising platform.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Back to Work

Well, the not hardly working thing was nice while it lasted, but my employer has shifted to its summer schedule, meaning a rapid uptick in block hours, and all our pilots are flying whether they want to or not. Besides, it's time for Dawn and I to rebuild the cruising kitty. We have a number of boat improvements on our plate for this summer and will be paying for a slip, so some income will be nice.

A few days after we arrived in Little River, I flew to Atlanta to report for a 9-day trip (which doubled the number of days I'd worked in 2017!). It was a trans-Atlantic international pairing with layovers in London, New York, Amsterdam, New York, and London again. Simultaneously, we sent Piper off to a dogvacay and Dawn flew back to MN/SD to spend a week with her family. Before leaving, we had befriended a cruising couple from Vermont, Ernie and Bette of S/V Iemanja. They had come up from Florida a half-day ahead of us; it was their Chris Parker forecast I was cribbing since Chris forgot to give us our own. Anyways, they promised to poke their head into Windbird every couple of days just to make sure everything was ok.

On my second New York layover, Ernie texted me to let us know our low-voltage alarm was going off. Our Xantrex charger/inverter was on and indicated that it was still in charge mode, but our house bank indicated 10.6v - dead flat. At that voltage our fridge and freezer don't work, and apparently hadn't for some time as all the food was warm and defrosted. Bette set to work cleaning everything perishable out and throwing it away, while Ernie dove into the Xantrex to do some basic troubleshooting. It had good shore power going in, and good 120v out to our main AC bus, but there was less than 1A being put out to the batteries. Ernie observed that it was almost like it was stuck in trickle charge mode. Once the engine was started, the alternator charged the batteries pretty rapidly, but by the next day the voltage was back down to 12.2 with no overnight loads. Our three Rolls AGM house batteries are 4 years old and evidently struggled with sulfidation issues during our Bahamas cruise, but I'd been hoping to get one more season out of them. This pretty well killed them, though. We've been operating with minimal house loads (lights, fans, USB charging, bilge pump, wifi, propane & CO2 sensors) totaling less than 30Ah per day and the batteries still regularly fall below 12.3v, requiring several hours of engine charging to top back up.

I'd already been considering switching to Oasis Firefly carbon foam AGMs when I thought the house bank might need replacing this summer, and decided that now was the time to do it. They're expensive at $480 per 110Ah Group 31 battery; a bank of five for 550Ah set us back a whopping $2400. Ouch. The upside is that they are known to be extremely resistant to sulfidation and can be operated at a partial state of charge (PSOT) as low as 10-20% without repercussion. Traditional AGMs like ours shouldn't be run below 50% charge, which effectively halves our house bank to 330 usable amp-hours. Carbon foam batteries don't lose capacity when you fail to charge them that top 5% absorption charge that takes forever, which was the problem with our batteries this winter (we were sailing everywhere and then running the engine for battery charging - and nobody runs their engine for several additional hours to put only a couple extra amps into their house bank). Carbon-foam longevity is also much better than traditional AGMs, being rated for a whopping 3500 cycles at 50% depth of discharge - and 1000 cycles at an impressive 90% depth of discharge.

The problem is finding anyone with Firefly batteries in stock; they're typically backordered by 2-3 weeks. That's fine for a planned replacement, but a long time to go without refrigeration for an unplanned order. Bruce Schwab at Ocean Planet Energy - a friend of Ernie and Bette's - didn't have any in stock, but gave me a hot tip that Fisheries Supply in Seattle did. They should arrive on Monday. That still leaves us with a bad battery charger, meaning we'll still have to recharge the batteries with the engine until it's fixed even though we're on a dock. I've done all the troubleshooting I can, I'm trying to get somebody local to take a look at it, and if that doesn't work I'll ship it back to Xantrex for repair. If that's not possible, I'm not going to replace it with another Xantrex - they don't have a good reputation for reliability. In that case I'll go with a Victron MultiPlus 3000W unit.

The other part of our electrical refit, which was already planned, is upgrading our solar. Part of this will be replacing our ancient Siemens 85w panels on the stern arch with new twin 160w panels, which will take us from 170w (probably more like 120w these days) to 320w. Additionally, we're adding 250w in flexible solar panels to our bimini top. Between 570W of solar and our BreezeX wind generator, we should be entirely self-sufficient using renewable energy with plenty of juice to spare for things like watermaking. There is nothing that irks me more than enjoying a fantastic sail only to get to the anchorage and having to crank up the loud, stinky diesel to charge the batteries. More than half of our engine time this season was for battery charging.

I ordered three HQST 50W sunpower panels and a single 100W HQST panel off of Amazon; they arrived at Lightkeeper's Marina while I was on my trip. I'll be using a separate Victron 75/15 MPPT charge controller for the port and starboard sides, to avoid shading issues. Before leaving on my present trip, I came up with a pretty good scheme for mounting them and running/hiding the wires; this will be incorporated into the new bimini top we're having made in Georgetown, SC, in the next few weeks.

Last weekend, Dawn and I repositioned Windbird from Little River to Georgetown. There was little wind, so we took the ICW, a repeat of a trip we did in mid-September. Being Memorial Day weekend, there was a ton of traffic on the ICW, but it was a beautiful day and everyone was in a great mood - lots of waves and mostly considerate skippers. We got a late start on Saturday - as we repositioned our Xterra truck to Georgetown early in the morning - but timed the tides just right so we had a mighty boost from the current plus outgoing tide on the Waccamaw River, and made it all the way to a peaceful anchorage at Butler Island, only six miles short of Georgetown. On Sunday it was a quick jaunt down the Waccamaw and up the Sampit to downtown Georgetown, where we docked at Harborwalk Marina. This has a really nice location but is pretty expensive in transient season; we only stayed here because the other marina didn't have room due to a marlin tournament. Tomorrow after I get back to the boat we'll be moving to Georgetown Landing, which isn't quite as proximate to the cute downtown but has much better weekly rates.

On Wednesday, Sharp's Canvas started patterning and building our new dodger. Once that is complete they'll build a new bimini, and then the enclosure curtains. They estimated two weeks to do it all, though I suspect that's a little ambitious. I'm done flying for the month on June 19th, and we'll head north to Annapolis the next day. We'll do as much offshore as we can, though it would require a pretty good weather forecast to go offshore around Hatteras. If that doesn't work, we'll go via the ICW. We've selected our home marina for the summer: Shipwright Harbor Marina of Deale, MD. It's about 20 miles south of Annapolis, within convenient driving distance of both DCA and BWI. I haven't done any sailing in the Chesapeake yet, & I'm really looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Passage Log - Day 3.5

Still Wednesday, May 10th.

By late afternoon the wind has backed southwest and filled in, and we've finally picked up a little fair current; it's looking like we'll get in before sunset after all. Dawn and I are in a really good mood and talking about what a nice passage it's been, though I would have liked to motor less. No sooner do I say this than the engine overheat alarm goes off. Crap. I reduce the throttle - and the temperature keeps climbing, above 210 degrees. There's plenty of water coming out of the exhaust. Ugh. I shut down the engine and roll out the Yankee - our first priority is to keep sailing. The wind is actually strong enough that we can do just over 4 knots dead downwind, wing-on-wing, though it's not ideal with no spinnaker pole. It seems we're always going downwind ever since we broke it on the sail from Rock Sound to Governor's Harbour, and on this boat it's supremely useful. A new inboard fitting from Rig Rite is one of the first things we'll order back in SC.

Down below, I remove the engine access panel and find coolant dribbling out from where the water pump joins the cylinder head. I also find a broken hose clamp on the raw water side of the heat exchanger, though the hose is still attached. I put a new ABA hose clamp on but this clearly isn't the problem. I check the coolant overflow canister, as I do every day before starting the engine...and it's showing completely full! Hmm, something doesn't add up. I wait for the engine to cool, and then remove the heat exchanger cap and start adding coolant. It takes over half a gallon. I try to tighten the bolts holding the water pump outlet to the cylinder head but they're quite snug. So apparently the O-ring let go, we've been losing coolant for umpteen hours, I never detected it because I haven't had reason to check the engine while it's running lately, and there's some sort of blockage in the hose to the overflow canister so the loss of coolant hasn't been reflected there. Once I've finished adding coolant I have Dawn start the engine. Yep, it continues leaking from the same spot - but at a rate of 10 small drips every 30 seconds. We can easily make it into port. The water temp heats up to its "normal" figure of 190 degrees (actually a bit warmer than it should run, which is why I''ll be reconditioning the heat exchanger) and stays there. We continue to use the engine, and I go down below every 30 minutes to make sure the leak hasn't worsened.

We enjoy a spectacularly red sunset thanks to some inland fires, and it's the later stages of dusk when we reach Little River Inlet. The safe water, entry, and exit buoys are all well lit but there are a few unlit & uncharted temporary channel buoys that get moved as the deepest channel shifts; Dawn lights them up from the bow with our spotlight, and the entry is perfectly easy. We drop the mainsail and ease into the Bird Island anchorage. There's one boat in there already, leaving room for us and maybe one more. It's just past high tide and the current is just starting to oppose the 15 knot south wind, plus the full moon isn't very high yet, making anchoring a little tricky. We drop the hook once and belatedly realize we're a bit too close to the reedy shoreline; we're in 11 feet of water, which will be only 6 at low tide. We pick up and relocate two boatlengths westward. Perfect. I'm suddenly very tired, hungry and thirsty, with a distinctly windburned, headachy feeling. We make up some celebratory Dark & Stormys and eat a simple meal of gourmet meats, cheeses and crackers, catch up a little on the news and facebook, and collapse into our beds - which are still the seaberths (salon settees with lee cloths). It feels odd for the boat to be so still. I set my drag alarm and immediately fall asleep into a deep, deep slumber.

Thursday, May 11th

I don't get up at 6:30am to listen to Chris Parker, and for once I miss the sunrise. It's a beautiful morning in the still anchorage. I make egg-cheese-and-kielbasa sandwiches on Dawn's homemade habaƱero-cheddar bread for breakfast and brew up some coffee. John Schwab calls to let us know that he's somehow come up with a slip at the usually-full Lightkeeper's Marina, and we tell him we'll be in later today. The tide is already outgoing and we don't feel like motoring 7 miles against a fierce current. On deck we find a prodigious amount of poop on the foredeck - it's only Piper's 2nd time pooping since the passage began, though he urinated on the foredeck fairly regularly. Good dog! Now that he's over the mental hurdle of going on the boat, we need to get another grass mat and teach him to go on that for easier cleanup.

Nevertheless we launch the dinghy, since we want it on the davits while we're on the dock, and take Piper to shore for a slightly more civilized bathroom experience and a good hard run on the beach and up a few sand dunes. Back at the boat we put together a monstrous Amazon.com order based on a list that Dawn's been compiling all season long. I call RigRite and order our spinnaker pole fitting - nearly $650, ouch! John and Beth Schwab stop by the boat on their jetski, and we make plans for sundowners later this evening. At 3:30pm we top off the coolant, start the engine, pick up the hook, and motor the last seven miles to Lightkeeper's Marina. The last time we were here was September 21st, when we left on a planned 3-day cruise that ended up detouring to Charleston. James is on the dock to help us into slip S-5, which is beautifully located near the head of the dock just across from the bathrooms, laundry, and pool. We tell him about our winter in the Bahamas and almost immediately people start dropping by to introduce themselves and check out our boat. I forgot how friendly people are here. I'm not much of a marina guy but this one is pretty tops - very well protected, nice floating docks, immaculately clean facilities, extremely friendly and helpful staff, and very reasonable monthly rates. This will be a great place to pause for a month or so while I work, Dawn visits home, and we get some boat projects done including, perhaps, our canvas.

So that's it. Our first long(ish) passage: 411nm, 61 hours enroute, 6.7 knots average SOG, 24 hours sailing, 2.5 motoring, 34.5 motorsailing, ten 3-hour watches apiece, four fish caught, three incredible sunsets, three beautiful full moons, one minor breakdown, and two grateful sailors that really enjoyed the experience (plus one salty dog that seemed to have a pretty good time, too!). The ICW is interesting in its own way, but I think we definitely prefer going offshore - and Windbird clearly does, too.