Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When disappointment is a good thing

Disappointments are never pleasing.  When they happen, they can seem like the worst possible thing.  But there are times when that disappointment can actually be the best of alternatives...

Referring back to a previous post, I have indeed found the blockage in our raw water system.  It was right where I thought it would be.

This is that end plate on the water-cooled exhaust manifold... from the inside. Where is the water inlet?  Exactly.  You can't tell.  It is completely limed over.

Here is the same plate with the lime chipped off.  There's that opening!

So I took the plate to the shop and pickled it in concentrated hydrochloric acid to get rid of the remaining lime.  And guess what I found?  The spud where the hose attaches was cracking loose from the attaching brazing (this is an iron casting, and it had been repaired already by brazing on a new spud).  And inspecting the spud itself, I found that it was paper thin.  So OK, time to replace it.

It was the work of just a couple of minutes to break off the old spud (that is frightening in its own right).  Then grind the old brazing down and braze on a new piece of 1" copper pipe (the old spud was steel).

But wait!

When knocking off the slag from the brazing exercise (using the correct tool: the handle of a pair of pliers...), I actually knocked a hole in the plate!  It's visible there in the photo.  Here's a better look from the inside:

And there is a crack there too.  Yup... your conclusion is the same as mine:  there isn't enough good metal left on this thing to put it back into service.

So, here's a case where a benign failure at the dock was a disappointment, but it was far better thing than if that end plate casting had failed out on the water somewhere.... and surely it would have.

Postscript:  I checked - I'd have to order a replacement out of England.  Instead, I have a local boat yard (Miller & Miller - I really cannot recommend them highly enough) fabricating me a new one out of mild steel plate.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Ten most common questions asked of liveaboards

This blog is about living aboard a boat in Puget Sound.  Since most folks consider this to be an unusual lifestyle and are curious about it, inevitably questions arise.  Below I have tried to put answers to the ten most common questions we have received over the years.   They are in no particular order, except that #1 is by far the most common question.


  1. Don't you get cold in the winter?
    No, we don't, because our boat is heated.  In fact, in this climate any liveaboard boat will have some form of heat.  On Eolian we actually have two heat sources:
    • An electrically powered heat pump that we use when we are at the dock and plugged into shore power (it has a thermostat and everything, just like your house), and
    • A diesel-fired heater which we use when we are off the dock

  2. Isn't the boat always moving?  Doesn't this bother you?
    Yes, the boat is always moving.  And no, it is not a problem.  The human body is amazingly adaptable...  so adaptable in fact, that when we are hauled out and the boat is stationary on stands ashore, it is the lack of motion which is discomforting.

  3. How do you sleep in all that wind?
    In light to moderate winds (up to say, 20 kt), we sleep just fine (see "adaptation", just above).  But in a heavy blow, well, we don't.

    And when at anchor, we don't sleep well when the wind goes above 15 kt.

  4. What do you do with your *ahem* sewage?
    This is an uncomfortable topic which folks ashore can mostly ignore, except when paying their sewage bills, of course.   The short answer is, "We carry it around with us."

    We have a tank onboard into which our sewage goes.  When it is full, it must be emptied before the onboard "facilities" can be used again.  There are a couple of services (we use SS Head) which will periodically come to your boat and empty your holding tank.   Also, most marinas in the Sound have facilities to pump out your tank.

    The sad and frustrating part of all this is that the carefully managed and collected sewage is then deposited into Seattle's sewage system which, thru a series of design decisions made long ago, overflows raw sewage into the Sound thru "Combined Sewage Outflows".  Thankfully, that only happens when it rains.  And we all know that never happens in Seattle.

  5. Where can you "park" your boat?
    The short answer: "Pretty much wherever you want."

    But that is an over-simplification.
    • You can tie up at any marina that has space on their docks.  For a fee, of course.   It's been a while since we did this, but I think the going rate may be running $1/ft, which means it would cost us $50/nite to tie Eolian to a dock.
    • With a few exceptions, you can anchor anywhere.

      But the preference is always to anchor somewhere where you will be protected from wind and waves.  This means in a bay, inlet, or harbor.

      Also, it is desirable to have water that is not too deep (we like to anchor in less than 30' if possible) or too shallow (Eolian needs 6'... at low tide).  And the bottom needs to have good holding characteristics - that is, the anchor will get a firm grip on the sea bottom.
      Beautiful surroundings are nice.  Thankfully, these are common in Puget Sound, the Gulf Islands, and the Inside Passage.

      As far as I know, there are no fees to anchor anywhere in Puget Sound.
    • You can tie up to a mooring buoy.  Washington State Parks maintain a whole host of Marine State Parks, each with mooring buoys.  Last time we tied up to one, I think the fee was $10/nite.  It may vary with location.

  6. Where do you park your car?
    We park our car in the marina parking lot.

    When we have the boat away from the dock, we simply do not have a car available to us.

    This means that we prefer to frequent places which have stores, pubs and restaurants that are with easy walking distance of the shoreline.  For example, there is a very nice grocery store within easy walking distance of the dinghy dock at Eagle Harbor.  But sadly, in Gig Harbor, the nearby grocery store has closed.

    Some boats carry bicycles.  These would extend the range a lot, but the carrying capacity not so much.

  7. What is it like when it rains?

  8. How do you live in such a small space?
    This is a big topic.

    We are all, every one of us, pack rats.  How else to explain the profitability of all those self-storage places out there?  It seems that we will fill the space available to us, with things that we "might" need at some point in the future.

    Living on a boat forces you to face up to this, up close and personally.  For example, before I got my Kindle, if I found a book I wanted to keep, I was forced to make a decision on which book I was willing to discard to make room for it.

    But even tho you start with more available space ashore, you will eventually be faced with the same decision:  Can I afford to store this (object) somewhere?  Living on a boat, you just reach this point sooner.

    Of course, many liveaboards rent those self-storage units.

  9. What do you do for electricity?
    This is another big topic.

    When we are at the dock, we have a cord which plugs Eolian into the electrical grid.  Thru that cord, we can get up to 30 amps.  How much is that?  Is it a lot?  No - it's not much at all, compared to the 200 amp service you probably have at your house.  But it is enough.

    When we are away from the dock, we have far less electricity available to us.  We have a diesel generator onboard, but it is noisy, so we avoid running it as much as possible.  We carry 8 large batteries in our bilge which provide us with most of our electrical needs.  Of course, these are storage...  we must refill them with electricity periodically (there's that generator again).

  10. How do you get your mail - at the marina, right?
    Until recently, the answer to that question was, "No."  The marina provides no mail services, so we kept a Post Office Box near where I work.  But that all changed a year ago, when Angela on s/v Ghost across the dock started Dockside Solutions.  What a wonderful blessing that has been!  Not only does she do the mail and USPS packages, but also UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc. packages as well.

If, after reading thru this, you have a question about living aboard a boat that I have not answered above, please put it in a comment, and I'll try to answer it  (to bloggers, comments are like candy!).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Project ST5000: The relays have come in!

Aren't they pretty?

(OK, you're probably not as excited about this as I am.   I can understand.)


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Project ST5000: Report #4

  • I have ordered 4 Solid State Relays (SSR's) via eBay.  They are Mager brand, rated 5-220 VDC load voltage, 3-32 VDC control voltage, 40 Amps capacity and 0.035 ohms resistance in the on state.  That resistance means that the heat generation within the relay will be at a rate of 8 watts with locked rotor conditions on the drive, and about 0.9 watts during drive actuation under normal operation.  This should put heat generation well within the capacity of the cast aluminum case to absorb it.  Yes, they are Chinese - but Mager publishes all the specs.
  • Worked up the wiring path for the ST5000 drive output to the H-Bridge inputs, including the limit switches in the drive unit, using diodes to select the flow path and to protect the inputs of the SSR's from back voltage.  (As always, click on the image for a full-sized version.)
  • Hooked up the drive and my single SSR (left over from another project), and was able to actually observe the autopilot running the drive at slow speed when small course corrections are requested, and at very, very slow speed when only a 1° change in course was requested.  I am very much looking forward to seeing this in actual operation. 
Now I am (not very) patiently waiting for the relays to arrive, and looking forward to beginning the assembly.   I plan to document and write up the wiring changes that I make in the drive unit, in a step-by-step fashion... for myself as well as for others who may wish to adapt a Benmar drive to a modern autopilot control head.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Maintenance flowchart

(Credit where credit is due... seen originally on s/v Estrellita's facebook page.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nautical charts, Puget Sound

A substantial number of people come to this blog in search of nautical (sometimes they call them "depth") charts of Puget Sound.  And while it is true that I have made many chart excerpts here to cover detailed destinations of interest, I do not have a collection of full-sized charts available.

But NOAA does. 

The mother lode of charts can be found in NOAA's historical chart archive, where hi-res jpeg images of all the paper charts they have ever issued (and some that were issued well before NOAA existed) are available for download.  But be prepared... these are huge image files.

For free.  Go there and be satisfied.

If you just want to view a chart and don't need your own personal copy, NOAA also makes available a useful web-based chart viewer application that allows you to pan and zoom around a chart without actually downloading it.  Check it out.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

If its not one thing...

So this weekend seemed to be an ideal time to do the annual mechanical maintenance tasks:
  1. Change the oil in the engine
  2. Change the oil and filter in the generator
  3. Replace the zinc on the engine heat exchanger.
  4. Take a look at the diodes in the alternator (I think one may be blown)
    So,  since it takes a long time to suck the oil out of the engine, I thought I'd get that started and it could be going on while I did one of the other tasks.  Step one for sucking the oil out of the engine is to warm up the engine so the oil thins out enough to make it go a little faster.

    RRRrrrrrr, vroom.  And then always check the exhaust for water.  This part of the task has become perfunctory, since the water is always there.  Well, not so much.  I'm glad I checked - the exhaust was dry.

    Already the day is not turning out like I had planned.  Rats.  OK, so add one more task to the list, and it goes on top:
    • Find/fix the problem with raw water cooling.
    The first thing I did was pull the cover off of the raw water pump (piece of cake, now that I have a SpeedSeal cover) and look things over.  All looked normal.  But perhaps the metal core of the impeller has come loose from the rubber part -  so put in a new impeller and try again.

    No joy - exhaust is still dry.

    That's where I am right now.  I'm drinking a beer and eating lunch.  Stay with me today as I work my way thru the raw water cooling system...  because this too is part of living aboard.

    Lunch is over, and the inspirational beer is consumed.

    I know I have water as far as the pump.  Next in line is the heat exchanger, and lookie there, item #3 on the original list is to change the zinc on the heat exchanger.  Doing so will remove an item from the list, and also allow me to determine whether water is getting this far.

    Yup, the zinc needed replaced, and yup, water gets to the heat exchanger.

    Downstream from the heat exchanger, the water next enters the water-cooled exhaust manifold, thru this connection:

    Is there any chance that the inlet is limed over?  I'd say there is, but whether or not it is, it sure looks like a gasket needs to be replaced here, so that will be the next stop in our journey.  There is more than an even chance that those bolts holding on the endplate will twist off instead of unscrewing.  If that happens, then I must remove the entire exhaust manifold and take it to the shop where I can drill out the bolt ends and probably rethread the holes.

    (Starting from the other end, I should also add that I can hear the engine exhaust coming out of the vented loop vent that is the next item downstream from the heat exchanger.  This means, I believe, that the exhaust elbow is not blocked.)

    But before I tackle removal of that endplate, I should remove the alternator that is visible in the picture below it.  Draining salt water thru the alternator won't do it any good, and the alternator is item #4 on the list anyway.

    So, that's what I'll do with the rest of the day - pull the alternator and check the diodes as well as the internal connections, since I still have evidence that the sense lead is not delivering current to the alternator internals somehow.

    And I'll spray WD-40 on those bolts.

    So, the original plan for the day got seriously changed.  Paraphrasing (and generalizing) von Moltke, "No plan survives contact with reality."

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Perspective refocus

    That big moon we've been seeing the last few days?  The one that shines in the hatch all nite and keeps you from sleeping soundly?

    This morning as I was leaving the boat in bright moonlight (not yet dawn here in Seattle), I briefly wondered if the moon was full for our friends in the Caribbean or Mexico...

    And then that perspective refocus happened.

    Of course they have it, just like we do.  The moon is not weather - it is a world-wide phenomenon.  Every human on Earth is experiencing the exact same full moon.

    Talk about stretching your perspective from local to global...

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Cold toothpaste

    When toothpaste is cold, it is stiff.  I mean so stiff that you fear rupturing the tube when you lean on it to try to squeeze some out.

    One of the objectives that I set for myself in writing this blog was to convey to those of you who are not, what it is like to live on a boat.  The toothpaste is part of that.

    Eolian's interior is designed so that almost universally there is cabinetry against the hull in the living spaces.  Beyond being just a well-designed use of space, this has the further advantage of providing some insulation against the outside temperatures.  So, your clothes help keep the interior of the boat warm when they are hanging in the hanging locker, just like they keep you warm when they are hanging on your body.

    And when you open the medicine cabinet behind the sink in the aft head, you find it full of cold air.

    And stiff toothpaste.

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    The bells

    The bells of St. Mary's, they are not.

    Every boat with a mast has lines that run up that mast to hoist sails.  What to do with those lines when there are no sails hoisted?

    You can tie them off to cleats thoughtfully provided on the mast down at deck level for just that purpose.  But if you do that then the length of that line, running up the mast and inches, nay fractions of an inch, away from the mast will come alive when the wind starts.  It is a kind of aeolian harp, but with a very low frequency due to the long length of the halyard and the lack of tension in it.  And unfortunately when it gets to vibrating, it slaps against the mast.  With irritating regularity.

    Whang whang whang whang
    Whang whang whang whang

    I have written before how living on a boat is like living inside a guitar.  Well this is like living inside a guitar that has the action set too low, making for string buzz, but again at a very low frequency.

    And not only is it irritating down below, but it can be heard by your neighbors, and their neighbors.  One of the least neighborly things you can do is to leave your halyards rigged in such a way that they will begin to rhythmically ring the bell.  Your neighbors will grow to despise you...

    And yet...

    And yet, after a long day of sailing, when the anchor is finally down and the boat is rocking gently to and fro, the gentle clank of the halyards, still rigged to hoist the sails and ready for the morrow, is somehow soothing.

    Like the bells of St. Mary's.

    {listening to Gillian Welch: Tennessee}

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