Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Solar Project is DONE!

Dawn and I did end up missing the SSCA gam due to a couple of unforseen events. First, our local welder wunderkind Caleb had the long-awaited solar panel frames all ready to install on our solar/davit arch, needed my help to do so, and wanted to get it done this weekend. Secondly, Dawn's childhood friend Cindie decided to make a last-minute trip to the boat. So sadly, we missed the gam. Erin & Kara on Vela say it was a good time. Hopefully we'll still make a couple days of the Annapolis Boat Show.

I did some work on our teak decks over the weekend (replacing/rebedding screws & bungs, epoxying splits) and I should finish that up in the morning, but completing the solar panel project was the main objective. And as of tonight, it's 100% done. We now have 520 watts of solar power: 200 watts in 4 PV panels on the Bimini top and two 160-watt panels in the gleaming new frames on the arch. Together with our wind gen this should meet our daily electrical needs a good 90%+ of the time.

We did manage to get Windbird off the dock yesterday for a nice easy, slow upwind sail across the bay. I had no idea Windbird would go upwind in 5-6 knots of true wind, but she does albeit at a stately 2.5-3.5 knots. We didn't even care, it was beautiful out and the apparent breeze was just enough to cool down a hot day. We anchored at Lowes Wharf just after 5:30pm and took the dogs to land (we're dogsitting Leo for our friends John & Trina on S/V Next Place). Turned out the popular beach bar there is closed on Mondays but they were ok with us walking the dogs there. We had a beautiful, quiet night on the hook, and were anchor up early today to get Cindie to DCA to fly back to Minnesota. We sailed for a bit and motorsailed at reduced power for the rest, wing-on-wing dead downwind to Deale. Once again backing into the slip went very smoothly. We're finally getting the hang of that (he said just before trying it in real wind & current!).

We spent a lot of time today doing planning for our next season. Obviously many of the places we planned on visiting have been devastated by hurricanes Irma and Marie, including the Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, Spanish Virgin Islands, USVI, BVI, and St. Maarten. We're still planning on going but our focus will be much different as we're going to try to volunteer as much as we can in the rebuilding effort (particularly in the BVI, which got absolutely destroyed by a direct hit from Cat 5, 185-mph Irma). I'll post more about that later. Tomorrow I'm heading out on a seven-day international trip that will take me to both London and Paris, among other places. 

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.