Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Abyss?

A recent post by friend Livia reminded me of an incident that happened not too long after we moved Eolian to Shilshole.

It was winter, and quite chilly.  And it was dark (but I repeat myself).  Jane and I were walking the docks, enjoying the ambiance, when we noticed that there was a large patch of water between the docks, perhaps 100 feet across, that was gently glowing blue.

It was almost as if there was a light source under water, filtering up.  Several other folks had noticed it too, and we all stood there, watching it, talking quietly as if to avoid disturbing it.  But after a while, we all wandered away.  After all, it really wasn't doing anything...  it was just sitting there softly glowing, pulsing a little, slowly.

The next day that patch of water was completely unremarkable, and we haven't seen the effect again.

Now I'm not saying it was Cherenkov radiation from a nuclear-powered alien spaceship, but it did kinda look like it...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Project: Window renewal (#2) - Phase IIb

Seal the raw edges of the window cutouts in the cabin sides...

If moisture should get past the outside window seal, it would wick into the foam and go who knows where.

I used polysulphide, carefully rubbed in with a finger.  To protect my finger from rough edges of fiberglass and to keep it clean, I used fingers cut off of rubber gloves (the gloves went 10 times further this way).

Counting clean up, each window (there are 6) took me about an hour to do, and I used that whole tube of polysulphide.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Call of the wild: tamed

After I dropped Jane and Erica off at SeaTac airport this morning (they're flying back to Indiana to take Hazel to visit Jane's family), I made a dash for the IHOP at Smokey Point.

Before they were even on the airplane, I had my order in.  Yes, that is my very own plate of cream cheese stuffed cinnamon french toast, topped with strawberry compote and whipped cream. 

But wait!  There's more!

It's only a part of this nutritious lo-calorie breakfast:

Courtney was right - it does not disappoint. 

The call of the wild is quiet once more.  For a while.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Project: Window renewal (#2) - Phase IIa

The manufacturer of our windows (Bomon) has informed me that the plexiglas is cut and he is ready to ship.  I had expected it to take much longer than this.  In fact, I had planned to reinstall the windows this weekend, and then pull them one-by-one to reglaze, much later.

Now I won't do this.  Instead, I'll work on other things.  Here's a partial list:
  • Finish the alternator work
  • Install the anode in the water heater
  • Lube the aft head
  • Remount the tray on the stern pulpit
  • Seal the exposed foam at the window cutouts (OK, this actually is part of the window project)
  • Clean the old Magma grill for resale
Looks like a good weekend...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Maudlin maundering

I confess. I am guilty as charged.

I am maudlin about the end of summer.  Today is the last bit of it; tomorrow is autumn.  And here in Seattle, we have been running the heat on the boat at night for a while, but I've been hiding it from myself (I hide my own Easter eggs too).  The calendar is definitely correct - we are at the thin, nostalgic end of summer.

It has been a good one, and we have definitely gotten a lot accomplished.  And we ended it this last weekend with the visit of our friends from s/v Ghost to our Camano cabin.

I have 3 major projects under way, all of which foolishly presumed an endless summer: replacing the windows on Eolian, rebuilding Jane's '65 Mustang, and starting on the restoration of the 1959 Impala.

Where has the time gone?

I wore the white Hawaiian shirt to work yesterday as a celebration of the last full day of summer, and the black one today as a memorial.

(posted exactly at the autumnal equinox - the end of summer)

Music & sailing

(incorporating the feedback in the comments, as of 10/5/2010)
(We're way over 10 now!  Thanks!)

I was reading a book recently where a thread that ran thru the story was this:  The protagonist had received a gift of 100 downloads from iTunes.  The dilemma then was to pick those 100 songs.   The obvious solution of just buying more tunes was set aside in favor of the larger objective of picking the 100 greatest rock 'n roll songs of all time.  For me, this thread was as entertaining as the primary story.

When I brought this up with Jane, we wondered aloud if we could pick the top 10 popular songs which involved sailing.    (OK, yes, there was wine involved.)

We couldn't originally come up with 10.  But with your help, our list now looks like this:
  • Sloop John B - The Beach Boys
  • Southern Cross - Crosby, Stills and Nash
  • Wooden Ships - Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  • Sailing - Christopher Cross
  • Come Sail Away - Styx
  • Closer to Home - Grand Funk Railroad 
  • I am sailing - Rod Stewart 
  • Vahevla - Loggins and Messina
  • Sail On, Sail On, Sailor - Beachboys 
  • Brandy -  Looking Glass

Broadening the criteria to include anything vaguely marine-related (not counting surfing), we  add these:
  • Ferry Cross the Mersey - Gerry & The Pacemakers
  • Riders on the Storm - The Doors
  • Horse With No Name - America
  • Yellow Submarine - The Beatles
  • Orinoco Flow - Enya
  • Edmond Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot
  • Banana Boat - Harry Belafonte 
  • Boat on the River - Styx

You've been great!  We are now way over 10!  Keep 'em coming!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The call of the wild...

I don't know what's the matter with me.

For some odd reason, I am suffering from IHOP withdrawal.  OK, it's been years since I've been in an IHOP, but apparently due to a stray cosmic ray passing thru one of my neural centers, I am now suffering from IHOP withdrawal.

It's been a couple of years since they tore down the IHOP here in Ballard, and about the same since the demise of the one in the University District.   So now to satisfy the IHOP urge, we would have to leave the entire county.

Say it with me:  Stuffed French Toast Combo

It's calling to me....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Journey of discovery: Operational testing and direct measurements

I ate lunch, drank a beer, and thought about this some more.

And then I decided to take another approach.  Clearly my assumption that the problem was a bad wire (or perhaps the oil pressure switch - my first assumption) was incorrect.

So, I got out my voltmeter and checked the voltage directly at the terminal 1 connector.  (I probably should have done this much earlier.)  When the ignition switch was on and the engine stopped, I saw 13.1 volts - battery voltage (and I had to ignore the low oil pressure alarm, screaming in my ear).  This is as it should be.

Then I started the engine and kept it below 1000 RPM.  I still was seeing the 13.1 V at terminal 1.  Then I wiggled the connector around a bit and the voltage shot up to 14.1 - the alternator had started running, and was feeding itself.

I was able to repeat this several times.

Treating the connector with WD40 and plugging/unplugging it several times did not help.

  • The problem may be a bad connection internal to the connector, where the wires join the terminal.
  • The problem may be a bad connector, making a poor connection with the alternator terminals (actually, these two terminals are on the internal voltage regulator).
  • The problem may be a loose connection at the voltage regulator, inside the alternator
  • The problem may be a bad voltage regulator.
  • The exercise was worth it, in understanding how the wiring actually is run, and in removing the last mystery wire from the boat.  I will make a note on the schematic reflecting the actual wiring.
At a minimum, I need to get a new connector.  And I may have to pull the alternator and disassemble it to check the internal connections (I made every one of them, years ago when I installed the non-stock voltage regulator in it).

But I'm tired.  Having gotten this far, I'll leave the next stage for another day.

I hear a beer calling to me (faintly, from inside the refrigerator)...

(Previous post in this series|Final post in this series)

Journey of discovery: Ponderings

The instruments and the alternator field winding connection all are under the same screw terminal, powered from the ignition switch.  And the instruments come on when the ignition is turned on.

The oil pressure switch is not in the field circuit.  Do I need protection for the case when the ignition switch is on, but the engine is not running?  It seems like a good idea, but it adds additional elements into the charging circuit, and additional elements are additional potential failure points.  And the oil pressure alarm goes off when the ignition is on but the engine is stopped.  The only way to stop the alarm is to turn off the ignition.  The sound is obnoxious enough that the switch will not be left on.

  • Conclusion:  the oil pressure switch is unnecessary.  
  • Secondary conclusion:  the resistor is not needed, because the ignition switch will not be left on when the engine is stopped.
  • The problem is not likely to be the ignition switch
Other findings:
  • The other end of the cut-off brown wire at the starter solenoid is the red mystery wire in the cockpit engine control panel.  Now that I have identified it at both ends and can certify it as having no function, I pull the wire and discard it.  A little more confusion is eliminated.  I believe that the last of the mystery wires on the boat is now eliminated.
  • I identify for certain the wire which goes to the fuel shut-off solenoid.

(Previous post in this series | Next post in this series)

Journey of discovery: Following the traces

Here's the manufacturer's wiring schematic for the alternator.  Looks pretty simple, doesn't it?  The field connection (terminal 1 on the alternator) goes thru a current limiting resistor, thru an oil pressure switch, and then direct to the positive battery terminal on the starter.  Makes sense.  You don't want the field drawing current all the time - only when the engine is running.  And when the engine is running, there will be oil pressure (well, hopefully).

Now looking at the actual alternator, we discover something:  The brown/white wire and the green wire are no where to be seen.  Stuff has been rewired.  From my previous forensics, I know that the Previous Owner installed a 60 amp or greater alternator but didn't upgrade the wiring to handle the extra current, causing a major melt-down in the engine wiring bundle.  There have been a lot of splices. 

Our actual alternator terminal wire (past the short section of white wire at the plug) is pink.  The wire bundle goes from the alternator (lower right in the picture) to the back of the engine (upper left in the picture) before it joins any other wires.
At that junction, we find additional evidence of the wiring melt-down:  three of the four wires coming from the alternator have been spliced, again.  And the colors have changed, again.  Instead of a pink wire, we are now interested in a lavender wire, which enters the larger engine wiring bundle and heads to the left...

Under the floor, towards the cabinet behind the pantry...

Up the inside of the cabinet in a large bundle of wires...

Finally arriving at back of the cockpit engine control panel.  Here we discover that it is connected directly into the wiring coming from the ignition switch, specifically, the circuit that is energized when the switch is turned on.

This is nothing at all like the manufacturer's schematic.  But it should still work to deliver current.  There is a risk of burning up the field windings if the ignition switch is left on for long periods when the engine is not running.

This is not good.  But still, it should work.

(Previous post in this series | Next post in this series)

Journey of discovery: Initial steps

Like Mike pointed out - working on things on a boat is made difficult by the fact that everything already has a place, so there is no place to put things as you do the work. You have to put things in your work space.

Step 1: Clean and undress the patient

The engine is under the floorboards that support the companionway stairs. All that stuff has to find someplace else to be. And then the floor needs to be vacuumed - there is always a lot of dust and etc. under the stairs. One of the realizations I came to early on moving aboard is that everything that comes aboard either leaves by being carried off, or ends up in the bilge. Cleaning the floor before lifting the panels keeps junk out of the bilge.

Step 2: Open the patient

Pull up the floor boards - they get stacked vertically in front of the sink
Lift the stairs. They pivot at the top, and hang from the overhead on a hook with a secondary safety (they're really quite heavy - I wouldn't want them to fall on me).

(Previous post in this series | Next post in this series)

Journey of discovery

Today, I am going to take you with me as I go on a journey of discovery, troubleshooting an alternator problem. There is some risk in this, blogwise, since I don't know in advance what the outcome will be. We'll be shooting for a fully working alternator...

To set things up for you:
The Problem
The alternator does not start making electricity when the engine is started. Sometimes several minutes elapse before output appears. It seems that momentarily racing the engine will sometimes get it going.

Background: Alternators, How They Work
To make electricity, you spin a coil in a magnetic field (a generator) or spin a magnetic field in a coil (an alternator). Now where does that magnetic field come from? In both devices, it is made by passing an electric current thru another coil (it's an electromagnet). So, until you supply electricity to the field coil, you just have one coil spinning inside another coil... it's pretty, but it doesn't make electricity. Once the alternator is making electricity, some of that output is redirected internally to the field coil, so it becomes self sufficient.

This bootstrap problem is solved by supplying a little electricity from the battery to the alternator field coil. In a car, that current passes thru a small lite on the dash labeled 'Alt'... when the lite is lit, the alternator is not making electricity. Once it is delivering electricity and its own field excitation current, power stops flowing from the battery thru the lite, and the lite goes out.

What's happening on Eolian?
No output means no field current. Delayed output means delayed field current. There is one more possibility, that I think is likely: If there is a residual, small magnetic field in the iron core of the field coil, it could be enough to kickstart things if you spin the alternator fast enough. That is, I suspect that what we'll find is that there is NO field excitation current being delivered to the alternator, due to a bad connection or a broken wire.

Next post: Stay with me today as the journey begins...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

RIP Basil

In an amazing feat of horticultural wizardry, Jane managed to keep half a dozen basil plants alive and flourishing in a water glass right next to the sink here onboard, all summer long.  Oh, they had more than a few near-death experiences when the water nearly completely evaporated, but somehow they always came back. 

Over the summer, the big curled leaves slowly decreased in size tho, apparently missing some key ingredient in their hydroponic world.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the exquisite taste of basil all summer, and got a blast of spicy fragrance every time the plants were brushed, even slightly.

Sadly, Jane declared today as the last day of the basil plants' lives.

I washed their water glass this evening.

Monday, September 13, 2010

200 stories

No, not stories as in tales... there's but one of those here.

Every year at this time I am confronted once again with my mortality.

When I was young, each birthday signaled another expansion of my world, and was a joyous, exciting occasion.

In the middle years, the birthdays flew past, essentially uncounted, although there was some vague unease, as the piles of years allocated to me slowly dwindled.

Now, each one is special once again. The old guy that looks at me in the mirror each morning tells me that I am getting old, and that I ought to get used to the idea. This weekend, I proved him wrong, one more time.

In what may be becoming a tradition, we did an overnight backpacking trip for my birthday, this past weekend.

We drove out of Granite Falls and parked at Barlow Pass, in the Cascades east of Everett.  Donning our packs, we hiked in the 4 miles to what is left of the old mining town of Monte Cristo.

Aside: When you are backpacking, your pack takes on a special meaning to you - you are carrying everything in there - your larder, your kitchen, your closet, your whole house in fact. It is not unlike the feeling you develop for your boat when you are away from your home dock (obligatory sailing reference: satisfied).

Don't look down...
Over the 4 miles, the trail gained an elevation of 500 feet - it was almost imperceptible. Still, carrying 50 lb for 4 miles is not entirely trivial. We had lunch at Monte Cristo, and then started the last mile and a half, up to Poodle Dog Pass (who thinks up these names? There must be an interesting story here...), and then down slightly to Silver Lake.

In this last mile and a half, the elevation gain was 1500 feet. Tho the scenery was spectacular - huge old growth fir trees, mountain streams cascading, and Friday Falls dropping hundreds of feet, that is a lot of elevation gain in quite a short distance. When we reached the pass, we had, in perhaps 5 hours, climbed 2000 feet. Now I know that there are rock climbers and mountain climbers out there who read this site, and that they will have an appreciation of what this means. For the rest of you, pick out a 100 story skyscraper and imagine bypassing the elevator and climbing up its stairs.


With a 50 lb sack of cement on your back.

The view from our tent
It was worth it. We set up our campsite on a knoll above the lake, with a spectacular view, right from our tent.

And then we enjoyed a glass of wine, sitting with our backs to an old gnarled tree, enjoying that view - we had truly earned it. Yes, tho pride is a sin, there is an undeniable feeling of accomplishment.

Why yes, that is a glass of wine...
I give Jane all the credit on this. She is the one who did the planning and provided the encouragement that I, sadly, needed to set out on this adventure.

We did it.

I'm not old, yet.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I awakened this morning to the haunting call of a loon here in the marina.

Fall can't be far away.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Project: Window renewal (#2) - Phase I

Back in 2003 we had new windows custom manufactured for Eolian. Unfortunately, even tho I had specifically requested Plexiglas glazing, the manufacturer mistakenly used the more expensive Lexan.

I wanted Plexiglas because the poly(methyl methacrylate) is transparent to UV radiation - that is, the UV passes thru the acrylic without stopping and doing consequent damage. Not so with the polycarbonate - it is opaque to UV, meaning it absorbs it and suffers the consequences.

Now, here we are 7 years later, and the glazing has failed. It is so crazed that it is essentially opaque when the sun shines on it, and further, it is now brown in color. I talked to the manufacturer about this situation, and he offered to reglaze at his cost, but the shipping was so high that this option was untenable. He then offered to supply me with the materials and instructions at his cost - an option that seems fair to me.

Unfortunately, at this point we have already pulled the windows out.

We have covered the openings in the cabin sides with pieces cut out of shower curtains, attached with white duct tape.

Amazingly, the shower curtains have about the same transparency as the aged Lexan, and are not brown - they are actually an improvement. But we do feel like we are outside - the shower curtains do nothing to stop the outside sounds from coming in.  The birds are especially entertaining at first light.

I desperately hope we can get the materials in, the windows reglazed and reinstalled before the fall rains begin in earnest.

Friday, September 3, 2010

An exclusive secret society

Sitting around and talking with others on the dock, I am, once in a very great while, able to step outside life and listen to the conversations flowing around me... How to transit  Deception Pass.  Where to anchor in Friday Harbor.  Threading the needle into Fisherman's Bay on Lopez Island.  Crossing the shelf at Port Ludlow in the fog.

These are actual subjects discussed in very recent conversations here on the dock.  I feel privileged and blessed to have been granted the experience to be a part of these conversations.  It's an exclusive society with very few members compared to the population at large.  In fact, it is largely unknown to the population at large... it is a secret society of the seaworthy, and I feel privileged to be a member.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Ken and Erica donated a spare figure 8 to us for use in a boom brake!

Now all I have to do is figure out how I want to do the rigging.

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