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2017-06-19

Pride goeth before the flow

The Pride Flag at my very downtown boat club
I interrupted today's labours, which involved passing on some companionway hatch dogs to my excellent fabrication for pondering and modification (they are a little over the top along the length) to attend a brief flag-raising ceremony in honour of Pride Month. Now, it's true my yacht club has a demographic not only pretty pale, but also one in which after nearly 20 years, I'm still one of the younger sailors...a disturbing thought, maybe...given my rapidly greying hair. But it is also true that there's several gay men and women, a few of whom are couples, who are members at the club and avid boaters as well. Of course there are. There almost certainly always were. We just called them "bachelors" in the past. Or maybe "married to the sea". But the times have changed, Toronto is an extremely gay-positive city (it wasn't as late as my 20s), and hey, flags, parades, merriment.

The Commodore looked tickled, as well he might, as it was a beautiful day to be hoisting a flag and not being indoors at a budget meeting. It was also (finally) showing signs at the seawall that the waters that have plagued us with their abudance are in retreat. There's only five or six centimeters of water over the bricks of the inner basin wall now. The swans and geese look a bit put out, but the members hope to get to damage control shortly. D Dock is in terrible shape and the breakwall keeping the lake out is still submerged, although it can be faintly discerned dragging at the waves.


From the Big Book of Amish Sailing
Some time ago, I purchased a hand-cranked fuel pump. I intended to plumb it to transfer fuel between keel tanks and the (provisional) day tank I hope to install post-filters. But I've changed my mind a bit on that score and may just use the Walbro FRA-1 inline 12 VDC pump I bought to overcome a potential rise problem from the keel tanks to the engine. Turns out not only does this measure seem unnecessary, but the diesel's fuel pump seems to do just fine dragging fuel up from the tank, further up to the filters, and down into itself. I rarely have to use the filter setups integral pump, and there's no sign of strain in the pressure gauge. So I realized I'm up one old-timey manual pump.

I rooted around in my "plumbing" tackle box (my spares are stowed more or less by function: plumbing; electrical; wire reels, impellers and filters and so on) and found enough correct pieces to try making a Jerry Can Aid. My deck fuel fills are located less than ideally close to the double upper stays; it's a tight fit and tipping a full 25 litre diesel jug has always been a bit fraught and problematic, even with a tall funnel. I thought leaving the diesel jug on deck and hand-pumping would be cleaner and less alarming.
Going with the flow. I doubt the carp knew what I was doing.
And so it came to pass. Less splashing, only a couple of drops away when I was done, and this little simple device really passed the fuel rapidly: about 40 revolutions for 21 litres into Aft Tank. I may bother to get fewer, more correct pieces and use this regularly. Squeeze bulbs are for outboards!

2017-06-01

Impelling evidence

The original impeller at circa 20 hours runtime. One of those vanes is partially torn at its base.
Sometimes on a boat you can't determine what a big problem is, but you can identify a number of small problems that may be performing a decent impression of the big one. The big problem in this case was a lack of cooling water throughput when the engine was switched out at launch. Preoccupied as I was with clearing the slings and getting to our dock on a day that's never described as "relaxing", I didn't notice the absence of water sluicing out with the exhaust. But I did notice that the engine temperature gauge was at about 70C after a rather short run.

Investigation via eyeball confirmed I wasn't getting water through. Generally, I would make the following assumptions:
  1. Some sort of blockage in the seacock or standpipe, up to and including "forgot to open engine water cooling seacock". (This was ruled out quickly).
  2. Some sort of blockage in the hose to the Perko water strainer I've described before.
  3. Some sort of airlock, probably at the "top" of the cooling circuit (which would be the Perko) keeping water out of the "down" side.
  4. A failure of the impeller to impel or of its related camshaft.
  5. All of the above.
I've learned that boat maintenance has a forensics flavour (if not often a smell) in that chains of causality must be pursued if the correct fix is to be determined. Such was the case here.
  1.  Using a bottle washer on a stick, I plunged the standpipe. Some, but not much, vegetation stuck to the bristles. 
  2. I removed the hose going to the Perko and gave it a good blow. Attached as it was to a column of water in the standpipe, it amusingly spat lake water back in my face. Apprised of various laws familiar to Boyle and Torricelli, I learned the hose, at least, wasn't particularly mucky or occluded.
  3. I opened up the Perko strainer and examined the filter element. Quite a few small weeds, broken shelly bits and some sand were visible; I disposed of them. Probably from last fall's grounding, I thought.
  4. I puled the impeller. Huh. Signs of wear, but not failure.
Best to do this right. I got out the spare.

Although one should avoid running dry, this version will do better.
The impeller pump's cover plate was a little worn, but not scarred or pitted. I suspect some sand got past the Perko and that, along with the vigorous throttle action associated with the grounding, had caused the wear.

Yeah, it's time for Speedseal to get my order.
I cleaned up the inside of the cover plate with Scotchbrite pads. It didn't needed sanding or anything particularly intensive.
Good to go with the right gasket.
Further viewing of the old impeller showed it was probably fit to save as an emergency spare. The tear wasn't complete, although it argued for the same "between pump and block" filter basket as I had on Valiente.
An argument for removing the impeller over the winter, I would think, but that complicates the winterizing a bit.
Although the old gasket came out undamaged, I decided to use the new one that came with the run-dry impeller, saving Old G for future service. So I laid a thin coating of grease over it and packed it away. The new one got the same treatment. It helps to get it to stick to the plate as the cover is being restored.
A last confirmation that the new impeller was the right one (yes, prudent seamanship has elements of paranoia) and back it all went.
The red/silver stick to the right is a large dental-type mirror. This gets used a fair bit aboard.
Not pictured is the "cable-tie trick", whereby a cable tie is used to compress the impeller vanes to get it into the pump housing, after which it is slipped off. Another Internet forum trick pays off.
Restored! And yes, not dropping any of the six slot screws (why?) into the bilges was in fact an achievement.
Once reassembled and the Perko primed (by pouring water into it until the level passed both inlet and outlet apertures and then screwing down the gasketed lid to prevent air getting in), the engine gratifyingly produced gushes of raw water out the exhaust. All was cool and collected.

Did I just lose prime? Was it the damaged vane? Did the vegetable and mollusk muck play a role? I can't say if there was one cause or several in concert. But I feel better that the problem of "no throughput" led me to a methodical process, because having plunged, blown and mucked out, I feel I'll likely get better, longer service from the new impeller.

2017-05-25

A cheap cure for terminal disease

There was a time when small electronic projects of the kind handy children and hobbyists assembled would be housed in what I called "project boxes", lidded and often opaque relatively heavy plastic or metal boxes into which openings could be cut or drilled for wire runs for circuitry that could be inserted, glued or mounted. Yer basic "black boxes", although they needn't have been black.

Like this. Gasket optional.
Well, they aren't easy to find anymore. Apparently, hobbyist electronics aren't a thing in downtown Toronto, at least since the late and lamented Active Surplus closed up. They had shelves of what I'm talking about (see above). So my secondary go-tos of Rotblott's and even Lee Valley did not have what I needed, a way to keep the weather off the terminal strip I use for the mast-mounted steaming, trilight and anchor lights. So I had to get creative. Creative can be freeing...and free.

Behold this crappy if sturdy little plastic box. It originally held an assortment of driver bits (Robertson, Phillips and slot). I usually stock up when they are on sale at Crappy Tire, because they tend to wander or drop off the boat. I kept the container probably because I wanted a place to consolidate glass fuses or auto fuses or thread-cutting dies or some other small, obscure, easily lost bit of kit. My hoarding tendencies paid off yesterday when figuring out how to connect wiring from the mast to the pilothouse nav light breakers.
Note the Dremel...man, have I used the hell out of it over the years.
With slots cut out of the ends and "internally", this would just be an experiment in keeping the rain (plentiful today) off the terminal strip and the PL-259 connectors from the VHF to its antenna. "Water resistant" would suffice, as I'm mainly doing proof of concept until I can source a better box. But even a better box isn't going to be much bigger than this.
As it turned out, these strips were rotated 90 degrees.
The job took five minutes of careful (meaning slow) Dremel work with a small cut-off disc. The plastic melts as much as it is cut, so a light touch was needed. Further on-deck crimping and heat-shrinking with the Ancor ring terminals I got in my last Amazon order finished the job.
Flat on deck, but covered is better than a bag, right?
This is provisional (I do not expect it to do well in direct sunlight and UV rays may make it brittle and clouded quickly) and may yet leak, but this beats butt connections and a load of heat shrink in that I can remove it if required and "inspect" it with a glance. And before anyone comments, yes, the entirety of that aged RG-58U coax will be replaced with LMR-400 or some equally decent grade of low-loss coax. Although I'm still "5x5" according to my radio checks with Prescott, which is nice.

2017-05-20

Looking forward to sounding interesting

Spring for many is heralded by blossoms. The above were on the apricot tree in our backyard last month. 
Oh, how distant the days in April when the edge of our club's basin wall was still above water
There's been a run on fender line.
A slightly damper herald involves high water. In the run-up to this year's launch, the fact that Lake Ontario was rising alarmingly fast was hard to ignore. 
And this was nearly calm.
It was very apparent that a rainy winter had caused lake levels to risee risen rapidly and unseasonably; it usually takes until early June for the snowmelt to move "down lake" to Lake Ontario. Not this year.


With more, alas, to come

In hydrographic table form, the hourly variation (which could be just wave action, I suppose, but 10 cm in two hours?) seemed considerable, but the trend is still "more lake" as this is written in mid-May.

This made the pre-haulout decision to proceed with the purchase and installation of a new depth sounding transducer a touch ironic. Even prompted by our keel scouring of last fall, Lake Ontario is up well over a metre above chart datum (in fact, as of today, it's about 1.65 m); running aground is comparatively harder to do.

But I had chosen something special for Alchemy: a forward-looking sounder. Traditional depth sounders fire downward; the 180 Khz "ping" (not the usual 200 Khz so as not to conflict with other sounders nearby) is reflected from the bottom and the time it takes is related to a depth and, in some cases, a rough picture of what the bottom looks like. Alchemy's original sounder was not attached to the rather primitive and long-disposed-of video screen (think IBM XT) that we found on purchase: the cheese stood alone and had to be removed.

Ye olde transducer. Note the angle, which matches the angle of the chine plate.
Removing the old transducer was complicated by the fact that it had both internal (inside the hull) and external fairing blocks made of epoxied wood layers of ply and wedges. It was a little sketchy, frankly. The transducer itself was "potted" in a big chunk of cast aluminum. All of this had multiple layers of bottom paint on it and made different colours of smoke under my grinder's brutal kisses.
One-and one-quarter inch hole, plus cleanup of the surrounding area.
The new transducer was of a different type in that it has a sort of check valve allowing its removal in winter or for haulout. In this "unboxing" photo, various options are presented: the SS  housing can be used on a flat-bottomed hull, but on a curved or angled hull, you need to use the fairing block, which is the black egg-shaped piece on the left.

The Simrad/Navico/B&G Forward-looking Sonar. Photo (c) Ben Ellison/Panbo.com
The idea is to have the transducer itself (the black cylinder with the silvery cap) pointed straight down, parallel to the keel and with a clear view forward. As the boat was cradled pitching a few degrees down by the bow and slightly to port, a lot of bevel work, taking off of degree measurements and copious sweating were involved.
It's option number two.

The original hole, cleaned up and with several coats of cold galvanizing paint applied.

So I had to clamp a piece of wood over the existing hole to give the hole saw's bit something to drill into:    
That's the starter battery inline fuse. It won't be fully secured until the water tanks are in.
And I also had to drill a hole more than twice the size of the original.
Why yes, holding the Makita at the right angle even with a pilot hole for the huge hole saw did skip a bit at first.
No sailor likes making holes in his vessel, particularly bigger ones. Life isn't fair, but fairing can be made that way.
That's about three kilos of UHMWPE, which is as fun as it sounds.

Fairing blocks were to be made not with wood (which admittedly would have been easier to shape), but with ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, which is the big brother of the HDPE I've used elsewhere on Alchemy for gasketing and standoffs for the traveller. I picked it because it's even tougher and acid- and alkali-resistant; the engine bay isn't usually a chemical bath of horrors, but this is keeping the water out: I wanted tough. For the racing sailors, it's essentially a block of Dyneema or Spectra.
Two weeks after contact. It's just lumpy now.

Now, I am generally careful around tools, but some days the bear gets you. The day I cut the fairing blocks, I had to first use a hole saw on a drill press to cut the aperture for the sounder element and then I had to cut down the two pieces I needed on a table saw angled to 11 degrees. Yes, I was wearing safety glasses and was using a pusher, but was not, alas, wearing gloves: the block jumped and my left index finger, which was guiding the block, skipped across the blade, which was barely proud of the cut. The resultant wound was mangled and bled a lot, but was not deep. Buggered up typing for a while, however, which was tough because that's how I pay for the boat. Still, could have been worse. Could have been Captain Ninefingers.

Launch 2017 and a new coat of bottom paint. The transducer can be spotted by the bead of sealant around the outside fairing block.

After binding my wounds, Mrs. Alchemy and myself finished the job (we had to, as launch was only a couple of days away). Unfortunately, we didn't have the multi-function display I intended to use with the sonar before launch, so our main priority was "does this leak?". To date, it does not.

 Time passed. The mast went in. Jobs were done. Meanwhile, the waters rose. And rose some more.
Prior to tweaking the offset for the depth of the keel below the transducer. Pardon the mess...
 Then the call came. The B&G Vulcan 7 MFD had landed.
I wanted "basic MFD". Basic is more complex than it used to be.
It comes loaded with charts adequate for Lake Ontario, certainly given our habits of using paper charts and pilotage. Installing the MFD at the inside helm is only temporary; this unit will actually live at the outside helm after the fabrication of a new binnacle and supports to carry the solar panel wiring down into the boat to reach the batteries. Inside the pilothouse, I will go with OpenCPN on a laptop for my navigation needs.

The depth is 3.8 m directly below the transducer; the sharp vertical is the hull of the boat in front of the cabin cruiser directly in front of us, as in "the next row of docks".

I'm going to have to practise with this forward-looking display to interpret it properly. Basically, one can usefully "see" reefs, awash containers, logs in the water, etc. The effective forward scanning range is, according to the specs, a "maximum forward view of 8X current depth, nominally 4-5X current depth." More than a boat length is fine if I'm creeping into a lagoon, say, trying to spot uncharted coral heads. And yes, you can set alarms. In fact, there's settings and customization galore of interest to us, which is why I gravitated toward this package in the first place.

Basic for now. It can take a number of chart programs, which is a plus.
I would have preferred knobs over a touchscreen, but I realize that for open-air use, a touchscreen actually makes more sense in terms of splash-resistance.  After we've used this great leap forward in earnest, I'll post my thoughts on how I like or don't like electronic navigation. I know that the prices were lower than I expected for this sort of tech. Now we'll see how durable it is.
















2017-05-08

Tools: the good and the ugly

FTZ Correct Crimper: Using this is like being a mohel for a Transformer.

Because we bought an old house in 1998 and I bought my first old sailboat in 1999, I was thrown headlong into the timeless debate of whether to buy the "excellent, but expensive" tool or part or the "cheaper and less well-made" tool or part and suffer come what may. And suffer I surely did.
Also not cheap, but very effective: Double-crimped heatshrunk adhesive connectors stay both dry...and connected.

Of course, having bought a house and a boat, I had no money left and had to do the vast majority of my own repairs and improvements. That's OK; that's what I deserved having ditched shop class to chase girls in drama class. Je ne regrette rien, ladies.
1/2 inch Mastercraft torque wrench: I thought this was just going to be for the engine, but I use it all over the boat.

It wasn't long before I grasped that saving on tools and parts wasusually a mug's game, and that "China" meant "disposable". I don't blame China for that, actually. They are often making tools and parts to North American specifications that favour the lowest bidder and there's no incentive to sell one superb tool that will last forever when 10 pieces of crap will sell for $29.95 at a door-crasher sale to people who, you know, won't be offshore and will really need non-bendy long-arm pliers not made of pot metal.
"Thumb ratchets" are of limited use, but when I've needed them, I've absolutely needed them,

So now I buy tools of quality and I follow independent contractors to where they shop. I read the reports of working marine technicians for tips and tool selection: I have, for instance, heeded Maine Sail's sage advice and have crimped about 100 power lugs aboard the boat in the last year. Therefore the huge "professional-grade" crimper at the top of this post I thought was stupidly expensive when I bought it has since paid for itself. I'll do your crimps, too. I work for rum and/or diesel.

Channel Lock brand tongue and groove pliers: Essential to remove and screw down the cap on the standpipe, but handy for less-obvious jobs, like dogging down the nut to secure fairing blocks. I have an equally fearsome crescent wrench.

At the same time, surrounded by nice tools and quality parts, I have realized that, in many cases, the word "marine" before any other noun means "triple the price for this approaching sucker". I have, for instance and to defer such rip-offs learned to fashion gaskets and seals from gasket and seal materials instead of buying the made-up gasket kits. I've also successfully removed old gaskets without tearing them to use as spares. I have also learned how to do splices and sail repair with the right tools; they aren't pretty yet but they are strong.
The rubber mallet: Good for dent-fixing and crew morale.
Save for some fabrications I've commissioned, I basically do most of my own work, and, on the rare time I call in "professional" help (which is not great in my experience this far inland from the sea), I watch said help like a hawk in order not to have to call them again. Where we are going, there's no mechanics or electronics gurus, so this is a necessity that I at least have a grasp of all our systems, and the correct tools to fix what may require it.

Still, there's some exceptions here: Tools and water seem magnetized and consequently I keep "deck tools", poor or indifferent quality gear that I won't miss if it goes into the drink. The Makita drills never leave the pilothouse, but the no-name hand drill? Sure, because it cost $11. I also get good old Stanley and Craftsman hand tools from garage and estate sales. I apply Boeshield, bag 'em and leave 'em around the boat. A lot of people rightly leave softwood plugs strung to thru-hulls. I also leave a Vise-Grip wrapped in greasy plastic...it's cheap insurance. And sometimes even a tool that I suspect is utter crap internally has attributes that separate from all others into the "really useful" category. Such is this oddball battery screwdriver: it fits where others don't, and if I don't need heavy torque, it's handy as hell to date. Please forgive the cheesy video:
video

I think my point here is that if you expect top quality, pay for it and do so cheerfully. Or scour the online want ads. A lot of quality tools, if often worn, can be had that in terms of durability and function that exceed many lower-end new tools. There's no middle ground here: the next purchase might as well be crap you can easily sacrifice after the one job you need it for.

The crappy Leatherman/Gerber mulltitool knock-off I still have is so old I can't find a picture of it, but I still use it so much that sliding it from hand to pocket keeps it shiny.
I do find it funny, however, that even crap tools can live long and productive lives: I have a nine-dollar Leatherman knock-off multitool I've been carrying in my pocket for 15 years and I still use it three times a week. I couldn't lose it if I tried, whereas a real Leatherman  or Gerber multitool would need an accessory diver.

2017-04-14

The fellowship of the ring buoy

Both salty and no longer to code without some sort of self-righting beacon.
This is a ring buoy, also called a life buoy. It's not strictly necessary on smaller private yachts and I believe it's not entirely to code without a long length of floating line and a light that will switch on when it hits the water; its use here is to be ring-shaped and thus justify my stupid Lord of the Rings pun in the blog post title.

Said pun is being made to underlie that there is, in fact, a fellowship of the sea, or at least the boatyard, one in which sailors help sailors to get sailing. I have sailing friends who help me with boat jobs and I try to help them. I was helped in my earlier, more ignorant days and in turn, it's me who steps aboard other peoples' boats to act out Return of the Atomic 4 Whisperer. A modest if kind example of that was the recent offer of Bob Salnick, proprietor of the Puget Sound, WA-based S/V Eolian and also of the excellent resource blog smallboatprojects.com, to make me some white on clear plastic labels.

Frankly, my own work sometimes insults me.

Now, we've never met, though he's been kind enough to link this blog to his own and has over the years cross-posted some of my posts where I've exhibited an ounce of wit. Nonetheless, he had the means to be helpful, and was.

And I got a lovely card suggesting that Bob's daily vistas are a lot better than mine.
Bob had seen a previous post in which I brought 120 VAC to the forepeak workshop, but alas, a rather sad attempt at label-making. Mine doesn't do white on clear and I need to buy plastic tape, as, let's face it, paper just doesn't do the trick (see above).

Easy to see, right?
Inside an attractive card was two little labels from a Brother label maker. Every sailor has his/her favourite as without labels, modern boats would be incomprehensible. I mean, to the Pardeys, an oil lamp is obvious.
An example of "aspirational designation", as I have yet to run the DC line forward.
Bob's second label found a home on the DC panel, because I want to run DC forward for LED lighting and perhaps a small inverter or a 12 volt socket. Thanks to Bob and all the other helpful sailors to whom I owe a rum or at the very least, the wish for fair winds. I don't hesitate to offer help these days to other sailors thanks to the examples you've set.

These fixed portlght/windshield is leaking and requires regasketing. We'll do both to get ahead of it.
There's been a small leak from the starboard forward pilothouse portlight, which is tempered glass. The rubber truck-style gasketing appears to be failing and will be replaced this summer. The glass looks good enough to remain if we can source a couple of those suction cup thingies to handle it once free of the frame. The frames are no doubt a touch rusty, as the paint job above now masks and will need remediation.
A similar situation pertains in the starboard aft part of the pilothouse, although it's less a leak and more a dribble from the less-than-watertight drop board of the companionway hatch. The prevailing westerlies drive rain and even snow past the drop board; it melts and collects under this portlight. The fixing is done with a quick scrub to remove dirt and loose rust, followed by  a coat of Ospho, a rust-converting metal treatment (NOT A PAINT, as they insist) that binds with rust to make a less-permeable surface suitable for priming. Becky put down a two-part epoxy and will top it with our "cream" two-part paint for a more durable surface...until we can reset those windows and upgrade the companionway "door".