Thursday, November 27, 2014


In America the last Thursday in November is set aside for giving thanks for all that we have. 

Those of us in the boating world have things to be thankful for that the average American can only vaguely understand...
  • The quite peace of an anchorage at dawn, coffee in the cockpit
  • The look of filled sails against the sky
  • The feel of a boat as it slices thru the waves, propelled only by the wind
  • The stark beauty of a rocky islet topped with a cap of evergreens
  • Gulls (no, really - they are the most accomplished and graceful fliers ever)
  • A nite sky filled with an infinity of stars
  • Sleeping to the sound of water gurgling against the hull
  • And... sunsets
 I am thankful.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Magnetic Personality?

Like the rest of the country, the Pacific Northwest has been experiencing unseasonably cold temperatures of late (well, ok - for us, 32° is unseasonable).  And of course you know what this means...  our heating system failed.  Just like roof leaks only appear when it rains, heating plants never fail in the summer.  Oh well.

The first clue was that the thermostat display was completely blank.  Well, and the boat was cold, too.  Some back and forth with Marinaire, the heat pump manufacturer (great customer service, by the way), disclosed that there was a fuse on the main circuit board - a fuse hidden with a blue vinyl cover.  Yep, it was blown.  When it was replaced, the replacement blew immediately as the fan and circulation pump tried to start.  Blowing a couple more fuses revealed that the problem was the circulating pump - the pump that provides sea water to the heat pump.  (It is by the chilling of this sea water that the heat pump produces heat.)

Here's the pump after I pulled it out:
Salt water short-out
Yup - the shaft seal failed and sea water was trickling back along the shaft and into the electric motor.  Bzzzt!

So I bit the bullet and ordered a new pump.  This one has a magnetically driven impeller - that is, there is no shaft seal.  The motor drives a cup-shaped magnet; the pump body extends into the cup but has no opening.  The impeller has an imbedded magnet, and is thus driven by the motor without any mechanical coupling and without a shaft seal.  As you might expect, this kind of pump is more expensive.  But the technology is worth it.

As a bonus, the pump body itself (the white plastic portion) is considerably larger than in the old pump, and is much more substantially made.  The inlet and outlet are larger as well.

Since the pump is physically larger, it wouldn't fit where the old one had been.  So there was some fooling around involved in finding a location that...
  • was below the water line as far as possible - centrifugal pumps are not self-priming,
  • was not actually on the floor of the bilge compartment, since that would promote rusting of the motor base,
  • did not interfere with access to the nearby battery, 
  • minimized the required plumbing changes,
  • and finally, did not block the access door you see in the background to the right.
And of course I had to change the plumbing to use the new location.  If you can believe it, I actually ended up with fewer fittings in the new installation!

Based on the appearance of the discharge water stream, I'd estimate that this pump is delivering twice as much water as the old one, even tho both are rated at 500 GPH.

The boat is warm!  And now I expect to be able to forget about this pump for a long while, just as I have been able to with the refrigeration circulating pump.

Magnetic personality?  I must have one.  Can I make a recommendation here?  Avoid sea water pumps that have shaft seals wherever possible.  Like the cosmetic ad says, they're more expensive, but you're worth it.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Origami Kayak

This morning while walking down the dock, we passed a gentleman pushing a dock cart with two unusual looking packages in it.  So of course we stopped to talk to him.  It seems that he had just purchased (at REI, in Seattle) a pair of ORU Kayaks.  And that was them in those suitcase-sized packages.

Huh?  Really?

This is a full-on 12 foot kayak, not a sit-on one.  Yes, it takes a spray skirt - it's a real kayak.  It is made of polypropylene sheets, the kind that have the internal bracing (you've seen light-duty versions of in lawn signs, etc).  It folds up (rated for 20,000 folds) into a package that is 32" x 28" x 13" and weighs 26 lb.

Go measure some of your storage onboard and see if it will fit...

(If you go to their website be prepared to be assaulted by an excess of fancy bells and whistles.  But do it anyway...)


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Renaissance Man

Tom Steinbach 1932-2014
In 1975, when two young kids drove cross country from St. Louis to Chewelah, Washington, they were beginning an adventure that would last a lifetime.  But they didn't know that they were following in the footsteps of another adventurer.

We first met Tom Steinbach (and Dorna, and Teena, and John, and Mike - it was a family business...) in 1980 when we contracted with Steinbach Construction to pour the foundation for the house we were building.  But because of Tom's outgoing and inquisitive nature, the relationship grew.

Pretty soon Tom was helping me with difficult framing issues - have you ever built a house?  Framing is solving one problem after another.

And grew.  Tom and his family essentially adopted us...  he became an older brother to Jane and I, and he and Dorna became surrogate grandparents to our children (since their real grandparents lived 2500 miles away).   Our children were part of Teena's wedding, and the Steinbachs hosted Easter egg hunts for Adam and Erica.  Tom and John even participated in the Christmas Eve toy assembly ritual at our house.  He introduced me to goose hunting and trout fishing (but alas, thru no fault of his, I am no good at either), and flying (yes, Tom was a pilot).

Above all, Tom was curious.  He was always thinking.  Some of our best conversations involved the Big Subjects:  the meaning of life, cosmology, etc.  But not always big, tho always from an unusual angle.  One particular thought that comes to me in that vein as I write this was a remark he made as we surveyed a woodlot he held behind Quartzite mountain - he asked me to imagine the tons of wood that were being created literally from thin air every month in that woodlot.

Tom was gifted mechanically - he was an inventor.  Have you ever been to a real sawmill?  I suggest you go to one, and then contemplate the fact that Tom built his own.  And I remember that he stole a march on the power tool industry when he came up with the idea of using propane to power an air nailer instead of compressed air, the idea being that this would be an internal combustion tool, burning the propane one explosion at a time to drive nails (my small contribution was to use a piezo ignitor as the trigger).  Dragging an air hose around not required!

I cherish the memories of those discussions.

Tom was also a collector of what today might be called practical knowledge:
  • How to hammer a saw blade (look it up)
  • What varieties of wood were best suited to each purpose (use locust for fence posts - instead of rotting, it will take root)
  • How to run 3-phase tools on 2-phase power
  • How to straighten a warped cast iron saw table by building a fire under it and then cooling it slowly
  • How to build a metal-cutting chop saw using an automotive power steering pump for the hydraulics
  • How to supply his house with all the water it needed from a small spring way up the hill behind the house
  • He ran a few cows occasionally butchered one.  Have you ever cut up an animal?
  • His house was heated with a wood-fired thermostat-controlled furnace... that he built.
And as if that weren't enough, he was an artist:

Tom carved this squirrel on a yellow locust log harvested from his property on the Flowery Trail in Chewelah.
Tom was a true Renaissance Man, and the world will be a poorer and drabber place for his passing.

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