Monday, April 29, 2013

Zinc Zen

It's springtime!

That means it's time for a ritual here on Eolian:  the semi-annual changing of the zinc (we only have the one - a D-sized prop nut zinc).

Puget Sound has not yet begun to warm up...  But that doesn't matter.  When I stand on the far edge of the finger pier, I can see the prop and that the zinc is really getting small.  So small in fact, that were I spin the prop with the engine, I'd likely throw it.  So before we can leave the dock this spring, I've gotta... *shiver* jump in.

My rational self, steeped in self-preservation is humming in my ear, "Put it off as long as possible".  But today (Thursday) we had unseasonably warm air temps here in Seattle - 70°, and the wind was calm.  That's as good as it is likely to get for a long, long time...

Who's that on the foredeck?
So I suited up, sat on the edge of the dock, had Jane pour a tea kettle full of warm water down my back into the wet suit, and then I jumped in before a conscious thought could form about what I was actually doing.  To pull this off, I have to sneak up on myself like that... sadly it's actually pretty easy.

A mere shadow of its former self
The screw was loose, which says that the zinc was truly on its last legs.  And when I got it off, I was glad that I had braved the cold - it was nearly gone.



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A little green to go with the blue

This time of year, folks minds turn to thoughts of grubbing in the dirt and green growing things.

And a wonderful thing has happened here at G-Dock. The Port has ripped out some nasty, overgrown plantings left over from the marina renovation (I need to write about that sometime), and made a small space available as a "pea patch" to the denizens of F & G-Dock and the nearby environs.

It draws you. The miracle of green growing things popping up out of the soil - it really is a miracle - the renewal of life that spring portends, but brought home on a human scale, to a small plot of dirt, by the garbage dumpsters.

I confess that each time I walk up on shore, I check to see how the plants are doing.  I feel a strange kind of proprietary interest - kind of like I'd feel towards a friend's children.

Yeah, I know that's a little weird, but then it *is* spring...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Something is not quite right

Something is missing...

Something is not quite right.

At Shilshole, the slips are in pairs; they are horseshoe shaped, with one boat tying up to its port side and the other in the pair tying up to its starboard side.

We are the port side tie-up in our horseshoe.

Over the years that we have been moored here, slip-mates have come and gone.  But the one constant has been that there has been a slip-mate.

But when your slip mate pulls out for 5 months (and still counting...) of major work, something is not quite right.  Sure, when you look out the window, it is obvious that the boat is gone.

But when you are not looking out the window, your unconscious nags you, communicating in the only way it can.  Back in your conscious life, that communication manifests as a vague feeling that something is amiss.

And then you consciously look out the window again, and...

Oh.  Yeah - the boat's gone.

C'mon Wander Bird, it's time to get back in the water.

A constant is missing.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Renewal = removal?

Looking back, sometimes it seems that our time on Eolian has been dominated by deinstalling things and hauling them off the boat, some large, some small, and some almost trivial.  Here's what I remember so far, over the 15 years that we have now been responsible for her care:
  • I think the first think to go back in 1997 was a rusty  suspended metal three-basket set.  It was ugly beyond belief.
  • Remove a whole host of corroded brass doodads that celebrated dolphins. 
  • Remove another host of straw fabrications, presumably procured in Mexico and attached to various places with generous quantities of silicone
  • Removed an ancient battery charger, and eventually the batteries that it ruined.
  • Removed (and refurbished) the insulation of the refrigerator
  • Removed and plugged the refrigerator opening that had been cut into the countertop, apparently by a drunken logger with a chainsaw that needed sharpening
  • Removed (and replaced) the refrigerator door
  • Removed (and replaced) the original stove/oven.  This was at least 20% by weight congealed grease
  • Removed a 110V crash pump - a large 110V centrifugal pump.  In a situation that needed it, it was likely that the time spent getting it to prime would have allowed the water to rise up and drown the generator.  
  • Removed (and replaced) 3 bronze head thru-hulls and associated leaking bronze tapered plug valves
  • Removed (and replaced) the original bilge pump, installed when there was nothing else in the hull, apparently.  Spelunking skills were required.
  • Removed a corroded and non-functional antenna tuner
  • Removed an unbelievable quantity of "mystery wire" - wires that went nowhere and caused no end of difficulty in troubleshooting electrical problems.  At today's copper prices, I wish that I had saved it for recycling - I'd be rich.
  • Removed (and replaced) the old bowsprit
  • Removed (and replaced) the old inner forestay pad eye
  • Removed  (and replaced) the old Benmar autopilot
  • Removed the leaking fuel daytank
  • Removed (and replaced) the refrigerator cooling water circulating pump
  • Removed (and replaced) the holding tank
  • Removed (and replaced) the bilge pump controls
  • Removed (and replaced) the forward electrical distribution panel
  • Removed two non-functional diesel filters
  • Removed (and replaced) the stern lite
  • Removed (and replaced) the masthead lite
  • Removed (and replaced) the old microwave
  • Removed (and replaced) the water heater
  • Removed (and replaced) the corroded section at the foot of the mainmast
  • Removed (and replaced) all the running rigging
  • Removed (and replaced) the old cockpit canvas/bimini/dodger/side curtains
  • Removed (and replaced) the old Groco heads
  • Removed (and replaced) all the head plumbing
  • Removed (and replaced) the exhaust elbow
  • Removed (and replaced) the exhaust manifold
  • Removed (and replaced) the alternator
  • Removed (and replaced) all the original instrumentation (except windspeed/direction)
  • Removed (and replaced) the original inverter
  • Removed (and replaced) all the interior cushions and upholstery
  • Removed (and rebuilt) all the cockpit cushions
  • Removed (and replaced) the large fixed cabin windows
  • Removed (and replaced) four of the eight opening ports
  • Removed the original 110V space heaters
  • Removed (and replaced) the original TV
  • Removed (and replaced) the original VHF
  • Removed the LORAN set (replaced with GPS)
  • Removed the remains of the original airconditioning equipment
  • Removed a non-functional oil change pump
  • Removed (and replaced) the mizzenboom gooseneck fitting
  • Removed all the original wood-grain formica
  • Removed (and replaced) all the engine rubber hosing
  • Removed (and replaced) the original fuel level senders
  • Removed (and replaced) the original fresh water pressure pump
  • Removed (and replaced) the original anchor wash-down pump
Woo boy.  I'm pretty sure that there's more, but the list is depressing enough as it is.  And there are investments that don't show up properly in the list, like a new bow lite, or a new inverter/charger.  Many of the removals above constituted their own projects which are documented elsewhere on this blog (you can search either by keyword or by label, over there on the right).

It seems that our waterline should have moved down...


Monday, April 15, 2013

The end of a two-year project

Two batteries still have to go back in.

This morning we reached the end of a two-year long project.  It started in June of 2011 with the removal of the fuel daytank.  Back then, you might have thought that the tank was the project - but it was only the first phase of the larger project...

Repairing the Leaking Port Fuel Tank

Because it had a slow leak, we have never used the port fuel tank.  Eolian has two fuel tanks, each 150 gallons, so this was not a hardship.

Nevertheless, in the fullness of time, all problems must be addressed.  Including this one.  One of the advantages of being moored in an area with a long maritime tradition is that there are a whole host of marine services available - services which would not be available elsewhere.  One such service is the repair of fuel tanks provided by Felix Marine.

The difficulty with tankage on boats is that the tanks are physically large, and are by necessity located as low in the boat as possible (to keep a low center of gravity).  This means that the tanks are frequently the first thing to go into the hull during boat manufacture, and the rest of the boat is then literally built around them.  Doing any kind of work on the tanks therefore is difficult.  In the worst case scenario, the entire interior of the boat must be deconstructed if the tanks are to be replaced - expensive and, well, destructive.

Daytank removal: First cut

Which takes us to the removal of the daytank.  With the daytank out of the way, access to the port fuel tank was possible, kind of.

The Felix Marine professionals carefully cut three holes in the structural bulkhead which concealed the tank.  Then they cut holes in the tank proper.  Following a thorough steam-cleaning of the tank interior (imagine the environmental gear that had to be set up out on the dock for that!), an epoxy mix was applied to the tank interior, and cover plates were installed.  Finally, I repainted the area and installed the access plates and door you see in the picture above.

So why was the tank leaking, you might ask?

The usual case is that the fuel pickup tube does not go to the bottom of the tank.; eventually, condensation produces a layer of water in the bottom.  A microbial culture gets started in this water, eating diesel for a living, and makes the water acid...  acid which then pits the tank bottom.

But not in Eolian's case.  Eolian's tanks have the fuel pickup going to the absolute lowest point in the tank.  Water buildup is simply not possible - any condensation will immediately be picked up and trapped in our big Racor filters - an arrangement I think is superior.

So what was the problem?

Amazingly, after the tank had been cleaned, I found a lead fishing sinker (with a few feet of line still attached!) wedged into the very bottom angle of the tank.  How or why it got there, I have no idea (your speculations are welcome!).

Lead and aluminum (our tanks are aluminum) are quite far apart on the electronegativity scale.  Thus it is entirely likely that the aluminum tank gave up protons to protect the lead from corroding, creating a pit under the sinker where the metal simply dissolved.

In any case, the epoxy applied by Felix has solved the problem.  The tank doesn't leak, and so now Eolian can carry 300 gallons of fuel (presuming the bank will loan me enough money to buy it)!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The problem with condensation...

If you are a dehumidifier, condensation is not just good, it is your raison d'être.

But if you are a fuel tank, condensation is bad... no, it is evil.  Here's what happens:
  1. The sun goes down.
  2. The tank cools off.
  3. Because it is cooling, the air inside contracts, wanting to pull a vacuum
  4. But you have a vent on the tank (thank goodness!), so damp night air flows in thru the vent.
  5. And the moisture in the damp air condenses on the tank walls and the surface of the fuel itself.
  6. Eventually, the moisture makes it to the bottom of the tank.
  7. The sun comes up
  8. The tank heats up.
  9. The air in the tank heats up, and grows in size.
  10. The air exhausts thru the vent line, leaving the water in the bottom of the tank - after all, it is covered by a thick layer of diesel - it is effectively out of circulation.
  11. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So a layer of water slowly accumulates in the bottom of the tank.  Aside from the things that this can do if it reaches your engine, the water will eventually host a collection of microbial life - life that lives in the water but eats the diesel as food.  The end result of this microbial life is that the water becomes acid.  And that, my friend is a problem.  No one wants acid in the bottom of their tanks.  Most especially if they are aluminum.

So how can you prevent it? 

My friend Drew over at Sail Delmarva, who does this professionally for large industrial tank farms recommends this product from H2Out Systems:

This is a flow-thru container made of diesel-compatible materials, and filled with silica gel.  You know, the same stuff found in those little "Do not eat" packets in there with your new digital camera or your vitamins (have you ever been tempted to eat one?). 

This device gets installed in your fuel tank vent line.  When there, the silica gel adsorbs the water from the incoming air; only dry air gets to the tank.  The silica gel is treated with cobalt chloride which serves as a moisture indicator.  When it turns from blue to pink, it is time to regenerate the silica gel. Regeneration consists only of heating the silica gel in a low temperature oven for a few minutes.

According to Drew, there is some self-regeneration, depending on the size of the filter and the size of the free airspace in the tank.  When the dry air in the tank expands on heating, it passes thru the filter in the outbound direction, and strips moisture out of the filter.

Pretty simple, eh?  But there is one important caveat:  the moisture filter must be protected from contact with diesel - either by design of the installation or by process constraints.  If diesel gets into the media, it is ruined.

So I have this one installed - I'll let you know how it works in about 6 months.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Painting vs. cleaning

It's a question that must be asked: Is it better to clean? Or is it better to paint? Or both?

When the subject is a compartment that has mildew deeply embedded in a rough fiberglass surface, the answer is clear, and empirically proven:  Paint.

The compartment above is against the hull.  That is, the back wall in there is actually the hull itself.  In the winter, that hull surface is nearly the outside air temperature - because the compartment is full of Jane's clothes (in Tupperware boxes and plastic bags), so there is little air circulation.  But the moisture finds its way to the hull and condenses there.  Consequence:  mildew.

For you purists out there, I first tried cleaning the surfaces with bleach and water.  It worked, sort of, but was slow and messy.  And it was clear that when I was done, another coat of paint was still going to be needed anyway.

So I just got out the Brightsides - I love this stuff!  A single coat completely covered the mildew.  And surely killed it.  I wore an organic vapor respirator while I applied it, by necessity - I won't be sleeping in the aft cabin tonite!  The paint fills in the surface roughness that the mildew loves to hide in, leaving a beautiful, smooth, shiny surface.

And since the aft cabin is off limits for a while, I'm going to also sand and re-varnish the sole in both the aft cabin and the aft head after lunch.  But that's another story.


Friday, April 5, 2013

The persistence of engineering

The ubiquitous cigarette lighter socket
Have you ever read that old ditty about the persistence of engineering? In case you haven't, I'll repeat it here for you:
The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That is an exceptionally odd number. Why was that gauge used?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and the U.S. railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English build them that way?  Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did "they" use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

So why did the wagons have that particular odd spacing?  Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions.

The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads? The ruts in the roads, which everyone had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels, were first formed by Roman war chariots.  Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

The U.S. standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Specifications and bureaucracies live forever.  So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back end of two warhorses. Thus we have the answer to the original question.

Now a twist to the story... When we see a space shuttle sitting on it's launching pad, there are two booster rockets attached to the side of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah.

The engineers who designed the SRB's might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad tracks, and the railroad tracks are about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, the major design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass.
I think you get the parallel. When it became necessary (back in the 60's?) to have a source of 12V in cars for some newly developed accessory, the cigarette lighter socket got pressed into service as the source of that 12V - it was right there, in every car.  Plugs were developed to tap that resource.

Today, cars still all come with that cigarette lighter socket, but no actual cigarette lighter.  And the socket is not labeled 'Cigarette Lighter' - it is simply called '12V', if it has any label at all. 

Modern generations of kids have no idea why a 12V source in a car needs to have such an awkward size and shape, not knowing its origins.  And they are right.  It is only because of 'persistence of engineering' that we are saddled with these things. 

But today a new standard is emerging: the USB plug.  The USB (Universal Serial Bus) standard was developed as a means for data transfer.  The provision of power via the plug was almost an afterthought.  And yet today, every cell phone, eBook, and in fact virtually every electronic device with a rechargeable battery inside it (even my remote control helicopter), uses a version of USB plug, not for data, but for power.

The new standard.  But with a still familiar shape...

To provide USB sockets on a boat, the old molds for the cigarette lighter socket were used to make the outer casing.  And because of that, the new socket will fit in the hole exposed when a cigarette lighter socket is removed.  For new installations however, it remains to be seen whether a more compact form factor will appear in the future. 

You are seeing a real, live case of persistence in engineering, right here in River City.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Tethered aeronautics

What do you do on a warm spring evening?  When you have a Styrofoam birthday glider with a three foot wingspan?

And you live on a boat?

If you're Zak over across the dock on s/v Ghost, you have it figured it out.  You tie a fishing line to it!  Then after each water landing (some good, some not so much), you just reel it back in for another flight.  And you get your sister Ellie to hold the fishing pole during the launch.

You might have guessed: Zak's dad is a pilot.

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