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2017-07-21

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Supposedly rare, these bright little twerps seem to dislike my head
Before we get to today's rant, it must be said that spending a lot of time aboard a boat does expose one to a more varied palette of nature. These are barn swallows on our rail; Mrs. Alchemy, an expert in such matters, says they are "threatened". Perhaps by those humans they imprudently dive-bomb, perhaps. I counted six when I came aboard the other day and peevish they were, too. And keen on low passes over my head. I had the wife check the anchor well for a nest (it wouldn't be the first time: we've had ducks), but she called out the all-clear and besides, they prefer the boom, which is why she's stuck a Scotch-Brite pad in there. Seamanlike prudence comes in many forms.

To make? Small change. To buy? Oy.
The humble object pictured above is the transmission fluid filter for a Hurth ZF25A hydraulic transmission, such as is usefully bolted on the back end of Alchemy's Beta 60 diesel. The manual I treat like holy script, for lo! we wish to power our ark for many thousands of hours before rebuild! suggests an initial filter change at 25 hours of run-time. Well, it was more like 35, and there hangs a tale.

Despite the very common nature of ZF transmissions, both mechanical and hydraulic, and also despite the fact that this specific filter is used in a wide range of Hurth transmissions, including ones suitable for engines seven times more powerful than ours, it was a hard item to source and the prices quoted had no relationship to each other, or indeed, to reality.

Such is the process of spares acquisition, unfortunately. A filter is a simple thing: oil filters, being common, are cheap and plentiful. "Marine", however, infers a yachtie level of free cash sloshing around the bilges, and this is reflected in the price. My odyssey of bargain-hunting (which is very much a relative term in this case) involved about eight phone calls to various local suppliers. Few had the filters or knew how to get them. One took several calls and messages to get back to me and then couldn't quote a price ("...ah, maybe a hundred and a quarter?"). One very helpful woman, Peggy from Eastmar Marine, was able to find this filter, but the price varied from $135 to over $210 Canadian. Keep in mind that this is something I'm supposed to change every 300 hours. I could put 4,000 hours on in the next five years.

I did find one on eBay for $50 in American currency...but the "freight fee" for this 50 gram little box was an additional $45! I have, as has proven to be wise, a U.S.-dollar VISA card and some funds in that denomination tucked away for these sort of purchases, but the price galled me. I went to the ZF Parts distributor list and found the one place that had a toll-free number. I wasn't going to compound my wallet's reaming with mid-day long-distance charges. The laconic but efficient Georgian on the other end of the line said "yes, I have some at $50." I said "how many do you have?" "Five." "I'll take them all." They are a consumable, after all, and I care not to worry about this until I have 1,525 hours on the tach. They arrived in about four days and cost, all in with freight and customs, about $350 U.S., or $70 per. This was still cheaper, even with the exchange rate, than the cheapest, if vague, Canadian supplier's price, and while I'm not happy with it, I am more content than had I bought one and one alone around here.
I've often thought of marine mechanicals manuals as the Berlitz course of sailing
After further thumbing the already well-thumbed documentation, I removed the "old" 35-hour-runtime filter, which looked (of course) immaculate. It went into a box called "SPARE", because if my last one goes, I like to have a "get me home". Yes, I checked for bits of metal and other evidence of hard use...nothing. Looked minty. So a spare it becomes. Then I looked for the drain plug.

Hmm. The diagram in the manual suggested low (naturally) on the housing and on the starboard side. Feeling around didn't reveal much save for the cooling fins (or what I assume do that on a hot transmission). Fetch the extendable dental mirror. Nope. Get the inspection camera. Wow, needs a spot of paint, but no plug. Then...ah hah! I felt the port side of the housing. There you go.

The plug was a brass hex bolt with a straight thread, gasketed with an O-ring. It was a European piece of kit and so was presumably metric. I had only one socket, however, that fit: 7/8th inch. And it wasn't so snug. That suggested 22 or 23 mm...sockets I (of course) lack. I top out at 21 mm. Again, this is utterly typical of the refit experience.

The draining did not go well. I needed a third hand as I was doing this over the metre-deep aft bilge and I didn't want to drop the plug. I needed a bigger funnel, a bigger measuring cup or (ideally) a sort of pan I could hang off the transmission to capture the draining fluid. While I got the job done, somewhat messily, it led me to consider alternatives to a drain plug, which led to an interesting bit of crowd wisdom on a sailing forum.
The good part here is that two jugs of fluid are good for over five changes. If I don't spill it.
Topping up was easy, although the "not too much" band of filling the transmission is, to judge from the dipstick, fairly narrow. I used a Dexron III-type nothing special fluid as recommended in the manual. That's the cheap part of the operation: that the transmission takes nothing exotic or hard to source. Like the filters.
Some of the many jugs necessary for smooth operation.
Next comes the first oil change at 50 hours. I feel that will go more smoothly (the Beta has an oil change pump on one side) and certainly more cheaply. But the lesson here is it pays to shop and it pays to buy, where logical to do so, in bulk for those things you can anticipate using, like filters, gaskets and other "consumables". The freight for a dozen is often barely more than the freight for one.

2017-07-16

Fab results

Four years, four months later...
The process of boat refitting is rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. The reward is in gaining skills and experience that will undoubtedly be required once the voyaging begins. The frustration is realizing that sufficient skills to do some jobs cannot be learned in a timely or effective fashion and that outside help will be required. Such was the case with our desire to replace Alchemy's flimsy and awkward dropboard-style companionway hatch.

That hatch, which mated with the oceanic-grade sliding hatch in the pilothouse roof, was flimsy because it was just a quarter-inch-thick sheet of smoked Lexan glued to a cherrywood lip, which slid into two grooved pieces of wood screwed into the steel sides of the pilothouse formed into a supporting flange. A single kick...or even a modest pooping wave, would have stove it in. Adding to this impression of insufficiency was that the dropboard, relying on mere gravity to keep it in place, was ungasketed: a driving rain or a snow-covered deck would cause water to seep down the companionway steps, ticking off the skipper. The dropboard was awkward because it was either all out or all in, a 16 x 26 inch flat wind-catching rectangle of bother that had no proper home when out and would constantly fall over if not secured strongly. The redesign came early, as did the frustration, because while I could draw what I wanted, as I did with the engine bay hatch (which turned out differently once I confabbed with the fabricator), I did not possess the skill nor the tools to do it myself.
Both frame and door hatch materials were made from stainless steel plate and bar stock bought locally
So Andrew Barlow, fellow NYC club member and welder/millwright/fabricator extraordinaire, was put on the job. He is approximately the fifth or the sixth person with his skill set to have seen and commented on my design, and it is the bane of my existence that I can't despite my best efforts persuade tradespeople to come to work on the boat. Part of that reason is that the work is on a boat: many fabricators are unfamiliar with them and prefer to stay in their fully equipped, predictably immobile workshops and I can understand that. Andrew, by contrast, lives on a vintage wooden power boat during the week, and goes to work in a 24-foot Shark. He gets boats and consequently, grasps (and can creatively critique) my ideas, such as they are. And, from my point of view, he actually executes the work, which is the hardest stage to overcome. I sent the above design to some professional marine fabrication places and was basically told "your job is too small for us to bother with."
SS hinges! The bar across the top was just for support and to keep the pre-welded-in frame from twisting.
As it turned out, there were a few onsite mods required, and the full-on custom approach paid off. Also, seeing a heavy chunk of stainless steel fabrication emerging from the small cabin of a Shark sailboat rafted off my starboard midship bollard proved amusingly nautical.

This piece was "dry-fitted" more than once to ensure as snug a pre-weld fit as could be managed. The only thing I really changed was to nix the fixed port in the upper hinged part of the door, which was dubbed "the cat flap".
The new door was meant to a) take a pooping (over the stern) sea, although that is pretty rare due to the height of the "stern castle" of Alchemy,  My job was to take off the painted plywood outer surface of the aft steel plate of the pilothouse; it was held on but simple galvanized studs and plastic battens and was construction-grade exterior plywood sheathing. It wasn't going to be missed. I also sourced after much searching the beefy "hatch dogs" that would act both as handles to the upper and lower parts of the companionway door, but would also secure it, thanks to the magic of compression, against seas and, with the addition of a locking mechanism, potential intruders. I am a big believer in deterrence in the sense that if you make your already clearly metallic and industrial boat more metallic-and industrial-looking, thieves will move on to the airy and bright Beneteau with the beautiful paint job three moorings over. Nobody wants to steal a dirty hammer.
This relatively minor sub-plywood rust has already been "Ospho'd" and painted. A decision about insulation and further covering this will come later when some other decisions, like where to put the propane supply, are made.
As is customary with jobs like these, I want the welder to do welding. Cleaning up the surfaces, removing the flammable stuff and making sure the beer is cold are my jobs, as was running a "clean" 15 amp 12 ga. line to the power post as the compact Miller welding machine kept tripping my onboard breaker.
Amazing to watch, if indirectly, Andrew was the perfect combo of fast and fastidious.

I'm only part-way through educating myself about welding, so welding chat with Andrew was confusingly technical but illuminating, as was the combination of stick tack-welding, as in the above shot, and MIG welding with stainless steel wire to "fill in the gaps" later on. I was impressed by the quality of both Andrew's gear and his technique. I don't have the shop nor the experience to have made this job a reality.
An early fit: We learned that the massive dogs would interfere with the flap lying flat enough to open the whole hatch enough. They would themselves get ground down a bit.
A note on the design: As can be seen, Alchemy's pilothouse roof is not flat. Like its deck and its solar panel arch, it is curved to shed water more effectively. This means, however, that a single-plate  companionway hatch door hinged on one side cannot open beyond 90 degrees to the roof. To do so, a second hinge must allow a "flap" (dubbed "the cat flap") to fall forward so the whole door can nestle under the overhang of the pilothouse roof. Such a door is known as "a Dutch door" and was inspired by one used by long-time cruisers and writers Evans Starzinger and Beth Leonard. Besides solving the opening issue, the cat flap allows a nice 25 cm. opening for ventilation and communication between sailing helm and pilothouse in all but severe conditions.
Some discussion about cutting down these handles was necessary.
That was the theory, anyway. Much of my refit journey has involved making virtues out of necessities.
More lining up revealed a gap in the plate that Andrew would fix.
A couple of fitting and modification sessions later (during which I had to take apart and reinstall the old crappy dropboard pieces so I didn't leave the boat wide open), we were largely done.
This flange on the cat flap comes just inside the overhang of the sliding hatch.
 In the photo above is the flange that mates with the underside of the sliding hatch when closed. Gasketing may be required here, but it will be hard to do permanently until I physically bolt the pilothouse back down later in the summer after installing several necessary wire runs and after using HDPE plastic, butyl stripping and Tef-Gel-isolated bolts to dog it in place.

The stainless steel part: Filling the gaps between frame and bulkhead with molten wire.

That visible rust is what happens when you grind SS with a non-SS wire wheel: residue.
After Andrew's part was finished, I had a door that would open, close and flap down, but nothing particularly tightly. That part was on me. I cut, fitted and glued rubber stripping and an HDPE strip of thin stuff (1/32nd of a inch thick) to make the door have a compression fitting to block water ingress, and then I fabricated out of UHMWPE triangular wedges against which the dogs could further compress the door at four points.

Needs a daub of paint and probably a layer of insulation, but I got what I wanted.

The wedges are secured by bolts drilled through the SS frame and the mild steel pilothouse plate

The remaining to-do jobs in this respect are mainly cosmetic.We can paint this or insulate it and paint it, and I need to pack the handles with some sort of grease to keep them limber in their nylon bushings. In addition, we have to decide if we want some sort of peephole or small fixed glass porthole to let in light when the boat is sealed up here. Also needed is some sort of means to hook or otherwise capture or restrain the entire door when it is fully open at sea ("fair-weather mode"). Still, it's been a big advance and clearly, a long time coming. Yay us!

2017-07-03

Flat, but out

A pleasure cruise in Hamilton Harbour was vetoed by the skipper due to inclement weather conditions.
As it was both a holiday weekend and a rare three days off in a row for the hard-labouring Mrs. Alchemy, we took the boat to Hamilton to visit friends. Hamilton's about 30 NM WSW from Toronto, which means "head to wind" most of the time. So about a five-hour motor.

The day was near dead calm, with occasional fog and mist, anyway, and I had a reason to want to motor. Alchemy has two keel tanks of about 50 gallons (200 litres) capacity. Both were filled to their respective brims in 2009 before I went into a cradle for a few years to replace the engine, the entire drive train and other needful things. The diesel at that point was primarily intended to keep the tanks of black iron from corroding. I got it from a marina that I knew didn't sell diesel with ethanol in it. I had yet to spec out the new engine, but I had already heard of the ethanol additive effect on deleterious gaskets and seals and its tendency to absorb moisture from the air.

The interesting part came after I had installed the fuel filter system and had stopped (basically) using a siphon from a jerry can, which even in my mind was asking for it. The diesel from the aft tank looked good. It seemed to work. After cleaning the pickup tube (a tiny bit of gunk was found), all seemed to be well. The diesel purred. The boat moved. All was well. I regularly mixed in new diesel and kept that aft tank full.

But I didn't address the forward tank. That was filled with nearly nine-year-old, pure diesel. I topped up that vintage fuel with fresh diesel (if ultra low sulphur, which is another issue). Then I ran the fuel  from that tank for an hour at dock (at about 1,300 RPM; I'm not a monster) Again, no issues.

So it was with some trepidation that we departed circa 0800h yesterday. While I knew I had a "good tank", I was keen, frankly, to burn off as much old fuel as I could. As it turned out, the Burlington Bridge, a lift bridge that allows the only access to Hamilton's large harbour (and which we've seen before on our now-sold first boat), only opens on demand and every 30 minutes. My new plotter told me if I could steer tightly, we would get to the piers in front of the lift bridge at 1228h. Yikes. Apply throttle!

So, flat out through flat water it was. I like my hydraulic steering just fine, but under motor and plenty of it, the rudder tends to drift slightly and corrections applied are not subtle. While I don't think this is a problem, particularly, I will be inspecting the fluid levels and the state of the seal. And the purchase of an autopilot, because steering by hand in calm conditions is actually a bit of a drag.

The photo at the top indicates why I didn't take our hosts out for a boat ride. It poured and blowed a fair bit, but the evening and our dinner and convo were great. The next morning, we left the literally brand new and mightily impressive docks of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club with a lesson learned: the prop walk I use to slip Alchemy's stern to port side with a quickness isn't such a benefit when leaving from a starboard docking. I had to do some awkward spinning between rows of boats to get out. The solution(s) were: to have gone in stern first and docked to port; to have walked the boat back nearly to the bow of the boat in the next row, and then steered to port in forward; or to have done the previous move warping off against a line. Ultimately, no harm, no fouls, no buffer required, but I dislike giving a show before my coffee's settled, and the need to make a bridge opening (it's about a 30 minute motor from the YC to the bridge) by a specific minute (we did) makes for unseemly concern.
Mrs. Alchemy mulling over autopilot brands.

Sea state: Stateless
As can be seen, it was another windless day (although it improved at the last stretch and we motorsailed with a more or less effective jib adding a couple of knots).
How to Avoid Huge Ships: Lake Ontario Edition.
Both legs of this otherwise minor journey, I took an interest in the doings of the little AIS targets on my VHF. The CPA calculation is the one I find most useful in AIS monitoring. When we sailed yesterday in moderate fog, we of course noted that plenty of boats did not have AIS and therefore required careful watchstanding (we have as yet not installed a radar). But there were quite a few that had it going, and even the scant data delivered by our AIS-equipped radio gave us a heightened awareness. Not to mention notifying us when the large lake freighter had started to move off its pier at 90 degrees to our course. Handy, that. 
Water scene with duck.
We were just missed by another line of thunderstorms and made it home tired but happy. The Canada Day Weekend involved an enormous rubber duck (see photo). Patriotism continues to baffle me.
My god...the harbour...it's full of duck!

2017-06-30

Fitzstakes

Apparently, the interior of the Fitzgerrald skipper's stateroom is visible in this shot. Good grief.

Risk assessment is more than reading a forecast or watching a radar's guard zone. It's a holistic, ongoing appreciation of what all sorts of inputs are saying while one is in command (or crewing) on a boat, including the harder ones to quantify, like gut checks or the smell of the air. It's too early to speculate on the precise chain of events that led to the recent incident involving a container ship that killed seven sailors on the U.S. destroyer Fitzgerald, depicted above, but even the already-known facts are reminiscent of the way another U.S. Navy ship, Guardian, managed to ground itself in 2013 on a charted reef (even if the charts were known to be predictably inaccurate), which led to a total loss. Ironically, considering the ecological damage done, the last biggish vessel to ground on this reef belonged to Greenpeace in 2005. Incorrectly, in my view, they also blamed the chart.
Minesweepers are made of wood, so a few weeks on coral...
...precludes a buffing-out.
It's a poor seaman, I think, who blames his tools. Charts feature dates of surveys, after all, and if you are heading into a remote or poorly surveyed area, it's best to know the quality of the data on which the plotter or paper positions are based, and to not try to shave time and distance down when there is any kind of ambiguity.

Our tools, in this case, our navigational tools, are not ourselves, or, to put it another way, they are not extensions of ourselves. While it is not always possible (think of a submarine at depth) to lay physical eyes and ears on our surroundings, to put more emphasis on representations of said surroundings, rather than going outside of the glass bridge to have a look-see, would seem imprudent.

Despite the as-yet absence of a full investigation (which, like the one that dissected the USS Guardian incident, may be redacted or opaque with naval jargon), a lot of mariners have discussed this incident as it features some fairly clear-cut premises on which modern civilian and military ships operate. Particularly hard-to-turn, unhandy and comparatively slow cargo vessels and agile, fast naval ships bristling with detection gear. As this article sums up, avoiding collisions is a shared responsibility, but U.S. warships are not supposed to be crept up on by 750-foot container ships.
 
How agile? This agile. This is the same class of destroyer as USS Fitzgerald.

If, as is customary, both ships were on autopilot, that doesn't get anyone off the hook, of course, as this more in-depth article suggests. The consequences are real and are, of course, tragic. While we think of warships as intrinsically strong, they are merely strong enough; if you want speed, you can't build a ship with 30 cm. thick sides. Most modern naval warfare involves missiles at a distance and countermeasures to missiles at a distance, not ramming. I cannot imagine what went through the skipper's mind as he was (apparently) nearly ejected from his ship. What is known is that it was a new gig for him.
Physics has the final word, again.

Even in the seaways with the most heavy use and the arguably most closely monitored traffic separation schemes (TSSs), the scourge of under-crewing and lax watch standards can cause ships to collide.  Again, this is a recent (July 1, 2017) event, but I will wager that someone who should have been looking around wasn't, or was beguiled by a screen. Makes sense in such circumstances to avoid ships entirely if they exhibit zombie-like behaviour, doesn't it?
Yes, the struggle is real.

Back in the small-boat realm, I just read a rather good article (in which the writer, rarely in my experience, seemed to have sailed and knows what a sailor would care to know when reading about a bad day on the water) on a heavy squall that hit a post-race group on Mobile Bay, Alabama in the spring of 2015. The description in the article make it clear that a host of factors led to tragic outcomes, but a few people chose not to race that day. The technology didn't fail those who did choose to race, but perhaps their instincts faltered. I can't make that judgment, frankly, and it would be hubristic to try. But I have noticed that a) people rely a great deal on technological inputs while sailing (readers may recall we ourselves recently updated our plotter) and b) the traditional skill sets of the sailor are beginning, I would argue, to wilt. Who sails today with just a handheld VHF and maybe a bulkhead compass? Perhaps the lack of screens might sharpen some skills that may be shown, once again and sadly, to be absent on some of the largest and most-crewed vessels on the oceans.

UPDATE, 17.07.15: Receent shots from the drydocking of the USS Fitzgerald suggest why crew died and how it was very fortunate that this ship did not go to the bottom: https://news.usni.org/2017/07/12/new-dry-dock-photos-show-extent-hidden-uss-fitzgerald-damage

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.