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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, 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.


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/
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.


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'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:

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.


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, 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".


Gas spring hatchling and unsound methods

Warning: plenty of pictures in this one.
The redoubtable Mr. B. finds his groove.
When last we left the matter of the engine bay hatch, welder and fabricator and fellow National Yacht Club member Andrew Barlow had made the lid. But more was required on both our parts to finish the job.
Making the "towers", pieces of angled steel bar stock that will support the lower part of the gas struts.
Andrew made the cross-piece, removable if needed, that supports the far end of the new hatch. My job was to trim off the excess bolt length and to apply Loc-Tite, etc. The division of labour is that he does what I can't, which is to bend and expertly weld custom fabrications. So far, so good.

There's a nicely shaped plate underneath at either end tying the lip of the hatch together. The aft par will serve a future job.
The old plastic stand-offs and related adhesives were scraped off, and the hatch "lip" or "flange" (I tend to waver on terminology) was scraped, "Multimastered", sanded and recoated with galvanizing paint and a topcoat of cheap Tremclad. That parquet floor is leaving, by the way. It's nasty.
Just another chaotic scene in the pilothouse.
I put Loc-Tite of the milder sort on the threads in case I need to get the engine out. Which I hope never to do. I might need to remove this to get new water tanks in, however.
That piece fit perfectly first time in. I was impressed.
I Dremelled off the SS bolts close to flush as they will be below EPDM rubber stripping to keep the new hatch from damage and dissimilar metal issues.

My job involved some tricksy measurements avoiding both the structural members of both lid and pilothouse sole in order to find the appropriate places for mounting holes for the McMaster-Carr-acquired stainless steel piano hinge attaching hatch to boat. I needed to acquire a metal countersink so the bolt heads wouldn't dent the lid when closed. Lee Valley had a nice one.

Cleanup of the piece involved a light grinding to remove burrs. Yes, a wire wheel would have been better, but it's stainless and it's buried!
The labelling is because I am a touch OCD. An arrow would have sufficed.

The hinge finished, it was time to attach lid to boat.
Stainless steel piano hinge, courtesy of McMaster-Carr.
Further tricksy measurements to get  both sets of mounting holes away from each other AND lined up so I could blindly get nuts and washers on followed. My Makita torquey drill was of great help. That steel is 3/16" thick, I believe.
The tarp is to keep paint off the motor, metal shavings out of the bilges and to catch stray dropped things.
Mission partially accomplished! The lid, with the temporarily restored plastic stand-off, closes properly. Now I needed to wait for Andrew and his portable welder to be free for the last part of his work. So I put a hole in the hull, or rather, revealed an existing hole to the outside world.
I have no idea how this surround worked. That once-clear disc is a thick piece of some sort of acrylic.
When we got Alchemy, there was an antique (late '80s) "Video Depth Sounder" at the helm, literally a small monochrome monitor thingie that showed a rather primitive outline of the bottom and a (presumably correct) depth in little yellow numerals. It didn't seem in great shape, was huge and gobbled amps, so I got rid of it. The transducer to which it was attached, however, remained in place.
That's a milled aluminum "bullet" on the lower part, and epoxied wood on top, angled to the hull.
 This is the transducer housing, a bit draggy despite the pointy bit, I would think.
Prepatory to getting a new, current sounder, more of which I'll discuss later, I had to get the old one off. Full on grinding commenced, and I discovered half of the housing was fairly substantial aluminum. Not sure about that on the steel hull, with a brass transducer in the middle, but at least the part above was "something else", epoxy-soaked slivers of plywood shimmed in to make the protrusion straight up and down. I will prefer to do this all on the inside, I think, with an HDPE block and compression fittings.
This was immediately cleaned up and repainted. The wires will be better secured, too, after the tanks are put in.
Luckily, the hole was a standard one-inch one, which should fit the new transducer. Tricky bit will be mounting it vertically so that it reads perpendicular to the centerline of the boat.
I can take rough numbers from this for the block necessary on the inside to orient the new sounder properly.
 Old sounder retained for reference, I cleaned up the hull plating around the hull.
It was odd seeing daylight through the bottom of the boat. Unnerving, actually.
This area now has four coats of galvanizing paint over it. 
On the threshold of further refitting. Note our old friend butyl tape.
The next fabrication job is a new companionway hatch, which is more elaborate than a simple engine bay hatch in that it will have a hinged flap, gasketing, the ability to lock, to keep all weather out and to keep the boat more secure than a simple dropboard. So in preparation for this, I disassembled the existing hatch framing.
I bet I could have gotten the engine in and out of that without removing the roof! But I didn't know that then.
The "hatch hole" minus the surrounding wood is noticeably larger; the new hatch will take up some of this extra space, but should give us about another half inch of height and an inch of width. Which will be nice. After Andrew came by to run a stainless fabrication by me as a test piece for the new framing, he got to work on the "towers", the upside-down T-shaped pieces of steel to which the bottom of the gas struts would be bolted.

It's not often I tell a man he's got a nice unit, but that little Miller portable stick welder is the bomb.
Andrew's compact if pricy (over two grand) welding unit ran on my single 15 amp line from a nearby standpost. I improvised a fire blanket because the stainless steel welding sticks he was using would have merely melted right through the green plastic tarp, or possibly the top of the remaining starter battery, so caution was observed.
The 'fire blanket" was a dampened canvas sack. Only slightly charred by the end.
About 15 minutes of zapping and eye-averting later, the "towers" were firmly in place and Andrew scribed two spots where I was to drill holes. Because I was doing the rest of this. Andrew does good work, and I would prefer he stick to brainstorming followed by fabrication.
 Makes me want to weld more things, though!

The secret weapon: the heavy Makita drill with the Milescraft Orbiter, a sort of gadget to drill in tight spots.
Today was my turn. I pilotholed and drilled the bottom brackets (1/4" steel" and drilled and tapped threads into the hatch's aluminum lugs. These would take the top end of the gas struts I had got from (again) McMaster-Carr.

Again, I'm glad I have a lot of hand tools nearby
 The gas struts themselves are powerful and long. I didn't want this hatch bonking me in a seaway. The trouble was that they needed to be compressed slightly, once bolted under the hatch bay's flange, to get onto the mounting bolts on the aluminum lugs. Eventually, I got one on myself using a massive set of channel locks, but it was easier to ask Andrew to come up so I could compress the second strut from above until he could push it on. Once on, they are unlikely to move.

The above clip is the result. Neat, isn't it? And that fit is beautiful. Eventually, this will be soundproofed, covered in faux teak and holly non-skid, as will the rest of the boat. Parquet belongs on dancefloors, not in pilothouses.
There's further "L-shaped" squishy gasketing that should greatly reduce the motor noise, not that I find it too much, to be fitted. These black strips are just the first layer.
This hatch project (and the coming companionway project and sounder installation) have been a long time coming. I feel good about the work and the focus of the man I hired for the fabrications. I haven't been able to say that for some time.
Even the cat approves.