Sunday, November 29, 2020

November 2020: More Tropical Wx & Boat Stuff

 Foreword:  In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”  To date the USA has experienced two.  The first created our constitution & the republic, with 25,000 American lives lost.  The second in the 1860’s nearly ripped the country apart, took 655,000 souls, and failed.  Those now trying for a third will lose, too, but there will still be a cost.

The Drunken Path of a Confusing Storm
What was once Hurricane Eta morphed into a tropical storm after clobbering Nicaragua and the Honduras as a Cat-4 storm, then plowed into Cuba and eventually made two separate landfalls in Florida.  It had a couple of shots at Fort Myers and missed both times, although not by much.  Its path was as convoluted as it gets, giving the forecasters fits.  And that meant Ghost Rider had to be prepped for a possible Eta fly-by.

We had already deployed extra lines and fenders, so this time our preps were focused on securing canvas on the boat deck and flybridge, lowering antennae, and stowing all loose gear on the main deck into the lazarette.  On the night of 08-November Eta passed about 80 miles to our south, bringing rain and occasional gusts to 45.  After heading west into the Gulf of Mexico, then bending south before turning back to the northeast, Eta cruised past us again on 11-November, this time as a Cat-1 hurricane about 80 miles to our west.  That brought us another round of rain and wind, with gusts up to 60 MPH, and an extra four feet of sea surge.  It was an annoying way to celebrate our Veterans Day. 

Flybridge Cover Taped Down, Bimini Rolled Up & Non-fixed
Antennae Lowered & Tied for Storm Preps

By the morning of 12-November Eta had made its fourth landfall just north of Tampa as it turned to the northeast, and proceeded to strafe the coastlines of Georgia and the Carolinas before continuing out to sea a few days later.  We spent a day putting Ghost Rider’s gear back to a normal state, hoping we had seen our last tropical threat of the season.  There was another forming down in the Caribbean again (which became Iota, a record-breaking 30th this year) but the long-term models did not predict a northern trek in our direction.  Eventually Iota spun up into a Cat-5 and clobbered the same areas of Nicaragua and Guatemala that had been whacked by Eta on its first landfall two weeks prior.  We count our blessings. 


Nothing broke this month.  Honest.  Really. 

Regular Maintenance 

It was a light month overall, and apart from the humdrum repetition of numerous, minor Wheelhouse preventive tasks, the main task this month was the bi-annual coolant flush for the wing engine.  In addition to serving as our “get home” auxiliary propulsion unit, that Lugger 984 also powers the hydraulics for our bow and stern thrusters, in addition to the Maxwell 3500 windlass.  It’s almost as important at the main engine, so we pay attention to its care and feeding requirements. 

But unlike the generator and main engine diesels, we had never tackled a coolant system flush for that powerplant – our friends at Yacht Tech had handled the last one two years ago.  Still, the principles were the same, so after a review of the technical manuals, Rick went after it.  Overall it was pretty straightforward, with the main key being the use of the flexible “Form-a-Funnel” – actually two of them; otherwise we would have ended up with all the coolant in the bilge instead of a drain bucket.  After that we flushed with fresh water until the drain ran clear and replaced the drain plug. 

Form-a-Funnels Make Draining Coolant a Much More Precision Operation

While he was at it, Rick also attacked a thorough cleaning of the heat exchanger core, and even that turned out to be reasonably easy:  remove the pencil zinc and drain plug, then both cap ends, take a wire rod and router it into each of the many honeycomb passages, pick out the old pieces of sacrificial zincs, and slap it all back together with a new pencil zinc. 

End Cap Removed on One End of the Heat Exchanger

After adding back about three gallons of the Peak Fleet Charge 50/50 premix (the Luggers are picky about their coolant), the engine checked out under load with no leaks, and kept a steady 180F on the temp gauge.  

Project Work 

There was only one small project that we got to this month, and that was the annual detailing of the dinghy.  To say the dinghy was dingy doesn’t quite cover it.  Cleaning and waxing of the interior FRP surfaces was fairly straightforward, but scrubbing the Hypalon inflatable tubes took several passes with different cleaning solutions before it was anywhere close to acceptable. 

Final (?) Tropical Weather Check 

Almost December & the Tropics Aren't Done Yet

The official hurricane season runs from 01-June to 30-November.  That’s actually an arbitrary definition that simply brackets the months in which most tropical systems (about 97%) have historically formed.  But there isn’t a month when a tropical weather system has not formed.   After Hurricane Eta we were hoping we were done with them for this year, but then the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday two more areas got flagged for potential development.  Fortunately neither were anywhere close to us. 

Departing the Boat 

And lastly, the reconstruction efforts at the condo progressed far enough to make it sufficiently livable.  Chelle had actually been spending more time there than on the boat – busy with project oversight and numerous complementary projects that dovetailed with the overall renovation scheme – while Rick had made a conscious effort to avoid most of the mayhem, enjoying the quiet of the boat.  But by the time the Thanksgiving holiday rolled around most of the major work had been completed, and we both returned to dirt-dwelling. 

The Major Renovation Work Progressed Enough to Allow a Thanksgiving Back at the Condo

Finally, a big thanks to our friends Martin and Stephanie Maurer aboard N60, Blossom, who stopped off at Legacy Harbour on their way from RFYC to their home in St. Petersburgh.   They hosted us for two enjoyable evenings in the spacious open-air cockpit of Blossom, and the rare social experience was a wonderful break from the rigors of the pandemic. 

With the arrival of December and south Florida’s version of winter, we’re now at a point where we may start contemplating what Rick calls “a different kind of boat.”  But that’s an evaluation still in the very early stages, with more to come in the future.  Stay tuned. 

Afterword:  During any crisis the only thing more dangerous than a leadership void is blaming conspiracy theories for those failures of leadership.  That’s a downward spiral from which the weak-minded never functionally recover.  And from which pandemic victims get sick or die.  We’re supposed to be better than this, but unlike previous generations, too many are proving they are not up to the challenges.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

October 2020: Back on the Boat

Coping with Covid can often feel like déjà vu….as in, what day is it?  It’s today.  Still.  It’s like a really bad version of the movie Groundhog Day, but with annoying masks, no hugs, and a pathetic plot.  Rick gave up on remembering days of the week and now calls each day “Blursday.”

View of the Portion of the Condo Where Kitchen & Wall &
Floor Tile Were All Ripped Out

Chelle got so bored she decided to demolish about half of our condo as a distraction. Presumably that was in preparation for a remodeling effort, and Rick evacuated to the boat just before the jack hammering started.  That turned out to be good timing as we had a lot going on in terms of Ghost Rider activity.


Rick had invited Craig of VIP Marine out to the boat to evaluate a cooling problem with the A/C unit for the pilot house.  That’s a relatively new compressor/evaporator combination (barely two years old) but its cooling output was trending 10F warmer than all the other units.  That’s enough deficit to greatly impact the pilot house with all its greenhouse-like glass.  Craig showed up on day one of the condo exodus and slapped the gauges on the suspect compressor.  That revealed a lack of refrigerant pressure and volume, so he pumped it up with the R410A stuff, providing an immediate improvement.  We did not find any leaks in the obvious plumbing places, so we’ll run it for a while in the south Florida swelter and see how it holds up over time.

Jerry & Ross Trying to Figure Out How to Fit the New HPU
Assembly into the Too-Small Space in the Base

At about the same time Ross and Jerry of Class Yacht Services showed up with the heavily altered HPU for the davit/crane.  The machine shop mods to the fastener holes, fluid ports and hydraulic adaptors still allowed installation room in the base of the davit, but it was a very tight fit.  Sleuthing the electrical connections took a while as we did not have the benefit of a good schematic, but Ross was able to cobble together a reverse engineering of the wiring.  New hydraulic hoses were then fashioned and connected.  All that took a few days.

Then it was time to add hydraulic fluid (about two gallons of ISO 68), apply power through the circuit breaker, connect the control pendant and test it all out.  We got good movement of the hook up and down, and of the boom to port, starboard, and down – but it would not raise.  Suspecting that particular control valve had a blockage in the “up” direction, they again removed the valve manifold and took it to the shop for individual valve testing.  Some debris was found and removed but upon reassembly back at the boat we still faced the same problem.

So, we all stood there and stared at the crane for a while, waiting for some inspiration.  It came to Jerry:  while the motor would run with the “boom up” command the valve might not be opening via the magnetic coil actuation, or in other words, it was an electrical issue. We had previously requested an updated wiring schematic for this later version HPU from the manufacturer (Aritex) in Taiwan, but had received no response.  Revisiting the control box wiring with a Fluke volt meter eventually led to the discovery of a well-hidden orphan ground wire.  Once it was connected, we were back in business.  The final touch was for Rick to clean and polish the base, and to drill an additional drain hole at the rear of the davit’s base.

This is How the New HPU Assembly Looked Before We Turned it Over to the Machine Shop
for Some Significant Modifications

The Machine Shop Removed the Valve Manifold Assembly and Crafted a New Mounting Base
So That it Could be Installed Off to the Side of the HPU

In Place of Where the Valve Manifold Used to be, the Machine Shop Created a New and
Smaller Interface Block to Mate with the Relocated "Remote" Valve Manifold

Regular Maintenance

It was also time for Ghost Rider to get her periodic spa treatment.  Based just on visual evidence she was actually overdue – while the light gray vertical hull surfaces below the gunwales still looked pretty good, after 11 months the white FRP surfaces above that were getting that dull weathered look.   And keeping it clean was becoming a real chore.

The Bow of Ghost Rider Getting Detailed

We engaged Frank of Ultimate Marine (LINK) once again to tackle the enormous job of washing and waxing the entirety of the boat’s exterior.  Over a period of six days he and a few helpers got Ghost Rider looking spiffy once again, with the aid of electric buffers and copious amounts of Collonite Fleetwax on the FRP and Flitz on the brightwork.

Next up was the bi-annual service for Ghost Rider’s two Vacuflush toilets.  We had been experiencing minor and periodic issues with a temperamental water valve on one of them, along with a slow vacuum leak on the other, so Rick lobbed a call to the local Dometic shop. Travis and Gary from Fleet Repair (LINK) tore down and replaced the key serviceable parts for both heads, and also serviced the two vacuum pumps with motor mount adjustments and new duckbill valves.  It’s always good to have a smoothly operating waste water system.

Ghost Rider Looked a Lot Better After Frank & His Crew Finished Up

Project Work

Rick focused on a short list of “little stuff” this month….touching up paint scars in the engine room, refreshing Denso tape wraps on some hydraulic fittings, polishing corrosion from the pilot house Stidd chair base, and drilling a new drain hole for a fly bridge storage box.  The gas tank and spare gas cans for the dinghy also got reinforcing shots of Sta-Bil fuel conditioner – that stuff loses its potency after about a year. The overall punch list actually – finally – got a tad shorter this month.

Rick Got Some Cleaning & Detailing Work Done in the Engine Room, Too

The Steering Box & Stern Thruster Hydraulic Manifold in the Lazarette....Along with the Bow
Thruster Compartment, It Also Got Cleaned Up and New Denso Tape Wraps

Tropical Weather Check!

Hurricane Epsilon spun up into a major storm but fortunately stayed out in the open Atlantic, even missing Bermuda (barely) as it curved away from the U.S. and far to the northeast.  Then, as expected, yet another tropical system spooled up in the Caribbean this month and eventually made its way into the Gulf of Mexico.  Now deep into the Greek alphabet names, Hurricane Zeta got steered away from us by a high pressure system to our east and took initial aim at the Yucatan.  And then, following a disturbing pattern this season, once again the Louisiana coastline was bore sighted.  It would be their fifth of 2020.

After Five of These We're Guessing Land in Louisiana & Mississippi is Getting Pretty Cheap

As October came to a close yet another system was just spinning up, and didn’t take TD29 very long to morph into Tropical Storm Eta.  It was forecast to ping pong around the Caribbean before potentially turning north towards us….but as you can tell from the scattered model plots in the graphic below, they really have no clue where this one would end up going.  We’ll be monitoring closely.

The Early Track Forecasts for the Next Storm are Literally All Over the Place

And finally, to bring October to a proper close, we enjoyed a marina-style celebration of Halloween.  By 31-October our temps had moderated to a pleasant 80F, with a pleasant breeze and mostly clear skies. That allowed B-dock adults to gather for happy hour docktails, and then at sunset the youngsters in our little liveaboard community enjoyed a fun, albeit masked and socially distanced “Trick-or-Treat” experience.

Trick-or-Treating on the Docks at Legacy Harbour Marina

Afterword: As we went to press with this blog entry the latest tally of the US election results was still underway.  One candidate was lobbying to stop counting votes and declare himself the winner.  We suppose there's something to be said for being a consistent cheat.  Meanwhile the virus seemed to be exploding (again) nearly everywhere.  Be very careful out there.

Friday, October 2, 2020

September 2020: Same Old Stuff, Only Different

The intrepid sailor and circumnavigator, Eric Hiscock, once said “the only way to get a good crew is to marry one”, and there’s tonnage of truth in that.  And if you know anything about Ghost Rider’s crew, then you know our Chief-of-the-Boat (Michelle) is a list-maker.  All kinds of lists.  There’s always the “to do” list, but also lists of recipes, ingredients, galley supplies, durable foodstuffs, fresh produce, frozen food, shoes, whatever. And the shopping list.  She may have lists of lists. Fortunately, some time ago she discovered an application, called “AnyList” (LINK), which makes all that enumerating and cataloging very efficient.

An "AnyList" Screen Shot

Chelle has also been a long-time fan of the “The Boat Galley” web site (LINK) where Carolyn Shearlock has long advised cruisers on tips and tricks for the voyaging couple.  Carolyn asked Chelle to write an article on how she uses the “AnyList” app, and you can find the result of that collaboration at this LINK.  Note that while it’s mentioned as an option, we do not use the app for tracking boat parts or spares.  (For us that still remains in the realm of our Wheelhouse software.)

Break/Fix (Davit Update)

As for the davit’s new HPU, Ross’s machine shop is just now completing its modification work, which is fairly extensive.  

The HPU Manifold Assembly is Requiring Significant Surgery

Two aluminum blocks were machined to match the fluid ports and fastener holes on the new pump and manifold.  Those blocks also had fluid ports machined to accept o-ring boss hydraulic adapters.  Then the blocks were bolted to the pump and manifold, and a base is being fabricated for the valves. 

Next up will be to install the modified HPU after which it will be necessary to make up new hydraulic hoses for the pressure and return flow.  So there is still a lot of work left before we’ll know if we can make it all work.

Salon Ceiling Panel Removed to Reveal Water Leak Location (Yellow Arrow)

Along the way, the removal of the old HPU from within the base of the davit housing had exposed an electrical wiring run which goes through the boat deck level and down into the salon ceiling void area.  And that had started to leak rainwater inside the boat on the starboard side of the salon.  We took down the ceiling panel to locate the source, and then it was an easy task to apply some silicone caulk (at the boat deck level, inside the davit base) to resolve the issue.

More Break/Fix (Main Engine Water Pump)

While we were not exactly sure it was “broken”, the main engine’s raw water pump had developed a small oil leak at its engine block adapter.  That usually means a deformed o-ring, although there was the lingering doubt about more significant internal pump issues.  So Rick decided to remove and replace it with our spare pump with a new impeller.  That sounds simple, but access is a real bear, and it took him several hours over a couple of days.  Subsequent testing demonstrated the leak was resolved, and Rick then sent the leaking pump to the Depco Pump Company (LINK) in Clearwater for evaluation.  They were – as usual – very prompt, and recommended that both the pump’s internal water seal and oil seal be replaced; for $190 (on a $1600 pump) that was worth it.  It took all of three days to ship it, have it examined and rebuilt, and get it back into the spares bin.

The Old Raw Water Pump Being Removed....Not a Fun Job

Project Work

When you acquire a boat – any boat – whether you acknowledge it or not it comes with its list of projects.  Whether you write them down or not is also immaterial to the reality, that list is there.  There is also a Murphy’s (maritime) Law that states any time you cross one project off the list, two more will appear to take its place.  It’s maritime magic.  If the Greek mythologists were more attuned they would have made Sisyphus a sailor.

Next up on our docket of boat projects was related to a time-based deadline, specifically the expiry date for the boat’s pyrotechnic signaling devices – primarily red flares and orange smoke.  For the record, those things expire at 42 months from the manufacturing date.  Our inventory included not only the hand-held flares and smoke devices, but also flare gun cartridges and SOLAS certified parachute flares, along with sea dyes.  An inventory refresh for a well-equipped voyaging vessel can easily run around $500 USD.

We have periodically tested expired pyrotechnics – New Year’s Eve and Independence Days are the best nights in the USA unless you want to entertain the consequences of an accidental SAR mission – and they’ve always worked.  Testing or practicing at any other time requires USCG and LEO notifications, and a securité call on VHF channel 16.

When we crossed the Atlantic back in 2017 we also had five vessels fire off an impressive variety of expired devices one night (quite literally in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) and they all performed well.  The SOLAS parachute flares, by the way, were by far the most impressive given their brilliance, illumination time, and altitude / visible range.

The Array of Signaling Devices We Carry in Our Ditch Bag...with the New eVDSD Device in the Middle

The bottom line is if you store your pyrotechnic devices properly (waterproof container) and inspect them regularly (checking for damage), they will last for years beyond the expiry date.  But should you rely on expired stuff when safety is at risk?  Probably not.

But there is now another sensible alternative, and that’s the electronic Visual Distress Signal Device (eVDSD).  It’s only in recent years that these have received USCG and SOLAS approvals, sporting powerful LEDs which automatically emit the visual Morse code for SOS, built-in flotation, and user-replaceable batteries.  Replace the latter once a year and they never expire.  Combined with the standard daytime distress flag – and an arsenal of expired pyrotechnics – you can remain legal and safe for a one-time outlay of $89.95 (plus a few bucks annually for batteries.)  We chose the Sirius brand, but Orion makes a decent one, too.  There’s a good explanatory article at this LINK.

The next project was one that we had been debating for a while, and that was whether to upgrade our navigation software.  On Ghost Rider we use Furuno TimeZero Touch2 (TZT2) MFDs and also Nobeltec’s TimeZero Professional on the ship’s PC.  As you might guess from the shared “TimeZero” labeling, the software for both systems share an integrated architecture, so care must be taken to insure version compatibility between the two.  When Nobeltec introduced V4 of their TZ PC software in early 2020 it included a warning that its Furuno integration would break without the next version of TZT2 (version 7), so we waited for that.  Then the debate was whether the price was worth the gains.

These Types of Screens Make You Hold Your Breath....But It All Went Smoothly

In the end the price tag was nominal (Furuno’s upgrade was a freebie, Nobeltec’s was not) and we did not want to be in an upgrade-limited box canyon, so we pulled the trigger this month.  While it was a distinct pain-in-the-ass to upgrade both systems, overall it went fairly smoothly.  The Furuno side of it required separate upgrades for each MFD (involving downloads to both microSD and USB flash memory) and took a couple of hours.  The Nobeltec side of it was predictably less time-consuming – it basically was your typical PC-based software upgrade, although we did hit the limit on number of routes it could convert and support (200), easily overcome by removing duplicates and unused “what if” routes.

The New (V4.1) TimeZero Animated Weather Screen is Cool....Leaves No Doubt Where the Gulf Stream Current is Ripping Along.
Post-upgrade testing showed all functions to be ops normal, and Rick spent some time playing with most of the new features on both subsystems, all satisfactorily.

Finally, it was time once again to test out all of Ghost Rider’s bilge pumps.  The nuisance water pump (a Whale Gulper 320) gets a daily workout just expelling air conditioner condensate, but the other three dewatering devices require a special effort to verify their operation.  So Rick ran a dock hose down to the engine room, turned the nuisance pump breaker off, and flooded the bilge until the high water pump float switch kicked off the next pump (a Rule 3700) and triggered the high water alarm.  That revealed a problem, which turned out to be a blockage near the through-hull at the stern of the boat back in the lazarette; repeated cycling of the through-hull handle along with a coat hanger auger and a high pressure water hose took care of that.  (There’s a lesson here: we’ve discovered that any through-hull that has a 90 degree bend near its exit port needs periodic testing and cleaning.)

The Pacer Hydraulic (Crash) Bilge Pump....Capable of Expelling 10,000 Gallons per Hour

Next up was the manual pump (an Edson 638) which primed and pumped as advertised.  And last was the hydraulically powered emergency crash pump (a Pacer centrifugal model rated at 180 gallons per minute)….we leave that until last because that beast will completely empty a flooded bilge cavity in a matter of seconds – and it did (after priming.)  In the process our Monnit high water remote sensor also dutifully alarmed and sent its remote notification, so we declared victory.

Weather Check!

To say that the tropics were – as predicted – heating up this month would be quite the understatement.  By mid-September the NHC's map of the Atlantic basin and adjacent seas looked like a video game of tropical pinball.  Here in Fort Myers we got all of 24 hours of notice when TD18 formed just east of Miami, and by the time it cruised past us a day later became Tropical Storm Sally, mainly as a rain event.  But by the time it reached the next shoreline at the Mississippi-Alabama border it had reached hurricane status and dumped about a year’s worth of rain there as it slowed to a crawl for several days.

Tropical Storm of 14-Sep-2020

Luckily all those other named storms got steered out into the Atlantic, pin wheeling towards Bermuda or otherwise heading into vast open ocean areas.  As the month progressed the number of storms finally exceeded the normal allocation of names (all 21) and progressed into the letters of the Greek alphabet.  Even the Mediterranean and the coast of Portugal encountered tropical systems this month. 

Sally Skirted Us as a Tropical Storm then Moved on to Clobber Alabama as a Cat-2 Hurricane

Wait, why do we only use 21 letters of the alphabet, why not all 26?  Naming these systems has a long and tortured history, but first note that it isn’t NOAA/NHC in the USA that decides such things – it’s the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) international committee that does that.  They actually maintain lists of storm names for four separate ocean basins (one for the Atlantic/Caribbean/GOM, then three others for the different Pacific Ocean regions).  And there are actually six such lists for the Atlantic basin which rotate on a six year basis – except for when a really nasty storm gets its name retired.  The Atlantic list doesn’t use the letters Q, U, X, Y or Z because there just aren’t enough available (and recognizable) names that begin with those.

Towards the end of the month the tropics settled down for a spell, but we expect the activity will pick up again in October.  To make it more entertaining, that’s the time of year when such storms tend to originate closer to home – in the Caribbean and GOM – which tends to give folks less prep time.  We’re two-thirds of the way through hurricane season, but there’s more to come.

Afterword:  It’s only slightly humorous that many in the USA are acting shocked that their government has been lying to them about Covid-19 since late January.  As if that was a new phenomenon.  Just as interesting were those twisting themselves into knots trying to explain it away as some bizarre and nouveau form of leadership. We continue to look to science, wear our masks, keep our distance, and long for competent governance.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

August 2020: Humility, Health & Hurricanes

Foreword:  We continue to remain cautious with our Covid protocols and healthy as well, and hope the same is true for all y'all.  We know some others are not so lucky.  And we remind ourselves that students are called students because they still have a lot to learn – including basic common sense.  Our youth have an excuse for their occasional incompetence and idiocy.  The rest of us do not.  

There’s nothing quite like a boat project (or two) to occasionally remind you that you’re not near as handy as you previously thought.  Or, perhaps, once were.  If you ever wonder why some vessel owners can seem rather humble at times, there is likely a causal connection to some boat project.  But since humility is a healthy sign of emotional maturity, we're OK with that.

Keeping ourselves and Ghost Rider healthy and happy while (still) confined to port was the main goal for August, mainly to be able to move to our RFYC hurricane hole should the tropical weather patterns call for that.  The official tropical forecast from the weather-guessers had just recently increased the expected number of named storms to 24 (yikes) and the expected hurricane count to 12 – which basically gave us the distinct potential for the equivalent of two full storm seasons packed into one. 
Secondary goals included getting the dinghy davit (crane) back in operation and completing the Racor fuel filter conversions.  But neither of those was going very smoothly.

Break/Fix (Davit Update)

Both Ross (of Classic Marine) and Rick had been active in the hunt for replacement parts, mainly for the corroded hydraulic reservoir tank.  As it turns out, the hydraulic pump, motor and manifold assembly, which were theoretically still serviceable, have to be matched to the opening fitment on the reservoir, which was most certainly not serviceable, nor recoverable. 

The Crate Containing the New HPU for the Davit
Was a Work of Art
Basically that meant they had to be matched and replaced together as what’s known as an HPU, or hydraulic power unit.  Ross had found a potential third party source, but wasn’t certain it would fit in the limited space we had available in the base of the crane.  Rick had contacted the manufacturer, Aritex, located in Taiwan, and they committed to providing a factory original HPU for two and a half Boat Units….plus $500 USD shipping via DHL air freight.  And that’s the option we took.  (If you’re curious, a whole new hydraulic crane of similar capacity runs in the neighborhood of 20 Boat Units.)

The new HPU did not arrive here in the USA until 19-August, with the crate weighing in at 65 kilograms (143 pounds), and it took Rick 45 minutes to remove the 30 rather beefy wood screws securing the top and four cross members that secured the cargo inside.  Overall measurements of the new HPU matched up favorably with the old parts, but that’s where the similarities ended.  The motor was actually bigger, the hydraulic manifold was mounted in a different location, and electrical connections were lacking.  Ross took it to his shop where a lot of surgery is currently in progress to see if we can make it work.
The New HPU (Tank, Manifold, Valves & Motor) for the Davit
Project Work

Our little “Racor conversion” project by now had morphed into something a bit more involved than originally anticipated.  After installing the fire deflector on the wing engine’s primary filter, we did the same for the transfer pump filter.  But after a couple days that one developed a slow leak.  Out of an abundance of caution Rick decided to replace all the remaining fuel bowls – after 18 years they were quite discolored – but in the end the real key was to not over-torque the brass nut securing the heat deflector shield to the plastic bowl...which would deform the sealing o-ring and allow fuel seepage.
Rick Saved the Racor Conversion for the Genset for
Last...It Had to be Completely Removed from the Fuel
Lines & Bulkhead (Yellow Arrow) & then Disassembled
(Red Arrow) to be Converted.
In the process we had also found that three of our filter brackets required adding a 5/8” starboard backing plate to provide enough room for the increased diameter of the heat deflectors.  Rick also had to remove and relocate two “Algae-X” filters for the wing engine and generator.  There was some added frustration after discovering some of the Racor parts kits were missing o-rings or washers, installation instructions on washer sequence sometimes differed between parts kits, and at least one of the brass nuts used to attach the deflector to the fuel bowl was threaded for the old-style bowls from the 1990’s.

Eventually we got it all figured out and corrected.  We sourced most major parts from the Racor Store (LINK), but also tried Discount Racor (LINK), although they were painfully slow, delivered the wrong part, and we saw nothing resembling a discount from them. As mentioned in our previous post we sourced the UL rated brass draincocks and plugs from McMaster-Carr (LINK), and in contrast they were very prompt, and all of their stuff fit correctly.  As an extra precaution Rick applied Loctite 565 to the male threads of those draincocks during assembly, but that was likely overkill given their NPTF threads.

It took a lot longer than expected, but it was very satisfying to have converted the five Racor secondary fuel filters to a much safer, fire-tolerant configuration.
The Final Result -- All Five Racors Converted with Fire Protection Deflector Shields with Brass Draincocks & Plugs
And An “Aw Shit” Event

Lastly, Rick managed to create a new maintenance opportunity during what should have been a routine activity….cleaning the A/C strainer basket.  But after removing said basket and while cleaning it dockside with a high pressure water hose, he lost his grip on it and the power of the water stream shot the thing off the dock like it was a Roman candle.  And straight into the marina basin.  He verified stainless steel strainer baskets do not float, and that we had no spare on board.
This is the Stainless Steel Strainer Basket for the A/C
that Took a Dip in the Marina.  Based on What West
Marine Charges for One, It Belongs in a Bank Safe.

We did not want the boat to be without air conditioning in the stifling Florida humidity for the several days it would take a reasonably priced replacement to arrive.  So Rick found an overpriced one at the nearby West Marine and got the system back in operation the same day.  About a week later when the diver showed up for Ghost Rider’s monthly below-the-waterline cleaning, Rick asked him to scour the silty bottom, and he did manage to retrieve the wayward strainer basket.  So now we have a spare.

And Then There Was the Weather

The first half of August was just the typical hot, humid and stormy stuff in south Florida.  But the second half got more interesting.  By 19-August the NHC was tracking the next two systems, one in the western Caribbean (which would eventually become TS Marco) and another in the western Atlantic (and would be dubbed Hurricane Laura.)  While the former was not a factor for us, the latter was initially forecast to take direct aim at our area, and potentially at hurricane strength. 
The Original Forecast Track for Laura Was....Concerning

River Forest (our hurricane hidey hole) gave us some pretty short notice on a narrow arrival window; we decided against moving the boat there for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was low confidence in any of the early model calculations.  It was becoming clear that even the best of the predictive weather models were not dealing well with the changing climate conditions.  But we added extra lines and fenders to Ghost Rider just in case and kept careful watch on the evolving forecast.

Eventually the Tracks for Both Marco & Laura Shifted Well to Our West
Luckily (for us anyway) over time the predicted and actual path of Laura increasingly shifted to the south and west, eventually missing us by a full 500 miles.  The northwest Gulf coast was not so lucky, as the hurricane made landfall at Cameron, LA as a Category 4 storm packing 150 MPH winds and pushing 12 feet of storm surge in spots.

We’re now halfway through the tropical storm season, with only three months to go.  Stay tuned, we're sure as hell paying attention.

Ultimately Hurricane Laura Spooled Up to a Cat-4 Storm & Clobbered Louisiana on 27-August
After Laura Departed Four More Areas of Potential Development Appeared.  Long Way to Go in This Season....

Saturday, August 1, 2020

July 2020: More Maintenance & Projects

Foreword:  We’re still observing our healthful Covid protocols and staying safe, although here in Florida a lot of folks seem intent on making that increasingly difficult.  Hurricane Isaias isn’t helping any, although thankfully we are not directly impacted by that.  

The Aeroshell Aerobatic Team Flies Their AT-6 Texans with Beautiful Precision
Apart from trying to keep the boat clean, keeping up with routine maintenance, and occasionally exercising engines and systems, our focus this month has been trying to find a fix for the busted crane up on the boat deck.  But first we’re going to back up and start at the beginning of the month.

Independence Day!

As a three generation military family every July 4th we appreciate and enjoy our Independence Day celebration.  It’s a fabulous USA holiday that celebrates the beginning of a marvelous experiment, albeit one in some jeopardy these days.  We flew Old Glory both at the condo and the boat all day, and respectfully retired the colors at sunset.  In between we made sure we were at the marina to witness the celebratory flyover by the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team (LINK), in their precision fourship formation of AT-6 Texans directly over Ghost Rider. That vintage WWII aircraft (in service since 1938) is the one in which Rick’s father learned to fly back in the early ‘40’s before deploying to the Pacific Theater….and deserves its own salute.  Short amateurish video below.

Regular Maintenance

A few days later it was time for our periodic “running of the diesels”, normally not a routine with which we need to be concerned, but which is worth mentioning during a time when so many boats and boaters (like us) are stuck in port.  While Nordhavn vessels and their Lugger diesels have proven to be largely indestructible, our goal is to minimize the expensive service opportunities along the way.  Keeping systems exercised helps with that.

Just running an engine for a few minutes does more harm than good – failing to bring it all the way to the normal operating temperature range will just promote internal condensation, corrosion and the early demise of both coolant and oil.  In reality that requires running them for at least 30 to 45 minutes, and where possible under load.  

The Genset Instrument Cluster, with the Yellow Arrow Highlighting the Much
Too High Temperature Gauge Reading of 210F
That means activating as many engine-driven systems as possible and exercising them as well.  For the main engine that includes the stabilizers and alternators, as well as bumping into gear for working the transmission and packing gland.  (You want to be double-tied to very sturdy dock cleats for this part.)  For the wing engine that entails running the hydraulic thrusters.  And for the generator we disconnect from shore power and run full electrical loads.  Finally, the steering system – helm pumps, steering ram and autopilot pump – all get a short workout, too.

Break/Fix Opportunities

During the generator exercise period we noticed its coolant temperature gauge was reading high – up to 210F, well above its optimum target of 185F (its thermostat opens at 180F).  Shooting the engine’s coolant expansion tank with the infrared temperature gun confirmed that it was indeed running at normal temp, so we knew we had some sort of gauge issue and not an actual mechanical problem.  (The genset also has an internal fail safe switch that automatically shuts down the unit at 205F.)  It was time for some sleuthing.
The Back End of the Generator Where the Ground Wires Terminate.  Yellow
Arrow Indicates Gauge Grounding Bolt, Green is for the Bonding Wires.

We had learned from the Nordy owners forum that this wasn’t a particularly unusual problem, and that just replacing the gauge rarely if ever resolved the problem.  While the sending unit was a possibility, that wasn’t likely either – when that goes wonky, it’s usually a total failure.  It was much more probable that one or more ground wires on the engine needed attention, and in the end that proved true in this case.  On our L843 (12 KW) generator Rick eventually located two 10MM bolts securing a total of three grounding wires plus three other bonding wire straps at the junction box bracket.  Disassembling those and then thoroughly cleaning, sanding/filing, and then coating the ring terminals with dielectric grease before reassembling did the trick.  Rick also rearranged them a bit to isolate the smaller grounding wires from the larger bonding straps.
The Genset Instrument Cluster, with the Yellow Arrow Now Highlighting
the Improved 
Temperature Gauge Reading of 190F Following Ground
Wire Removal, Cleanup & Reattachment.

The genset’s temp gauge still reads slightly high compared to the IR gun reading, but knowing that analog gauges aren’t particularly accurate in the first place, we can live with it.  (This is the reason that in most cars you now mostly see either “idiot lights” instead of gauges, or at best their gauges have rather wide pointer ranges in between “low” and “high” pegs at the extremes.  The gauges with precise graduations are rarely better than false advertising, better to treat them as trending indicators.)

Now, about that busted crane.  At the end of last month’s blog post we mentioned that our Aritex HSC-610 davit had developed an onerous problem – we traced a nasty hydraulic fluid leak to a corroded reservoir tank in the base of the unit.  Rick subsequently determined that it was likely electrically related (electrolytic) corrosion….the green bonding strap attached to the metal tank was carrying voltage and current according to the multimeter, and that’s a problem. Rick pumped remaining hydraulic fluid out of the tank, then spent a few afternoons reviewing manuals (which were mostly useless) and trying to discern how to dismantle and extract the tank, motor, manifold and control box; but without much success.

The Crane's Hydraulic Motor and Tank Reservoir After Removal
From Inside the Base.  It Was Tight Quarters.
We learned from the marina office that Ross at nearby Classic Marine (who had very capably handled our electronic throttle replacement last year) was experienced with hydraulic cranes and davits, so we invited him out to the boat for a look.  He dug right in and had the motor & tank assembly removed and on its way to his shop after about two hours of sweaty persistence.

We’re not exactly sure what the ultimate resolution may be, or when.  For now Ross has agreed to work it in to his busy schedule, but thus far hasn’t had any luck locating compatible replacement parts.  So we’re trying to look at the bright side: at least it didn’t expire while we were trying to launch or retrieve the dinghy.  We still have no idea what we would do about a crane failure with a 450 pound rigid inflatable suspended from it, especially at some remote anchorage.

Project Work

The next “future project” to bubble to the top of the list was to upgrade the boat’s five Racor fuel filter assemblies.  Ghost Rider was originally built at a time that preceded today’s ABYC and US Coast Guard standards for fire protection, which now specify filter housings must either be all metallic, or the clear plastic ones should be protected by metallic heat deflectors. The objective is to make them survivable for a minimum of 2 ½ minutes in the event of an engine room fire, giving the fire suppression system time to do its thing before a breached (melted) filter could dump a full fuel tank into the blaze.  There’s a good explanatory article HERE from
In the Background is the Generator's Racor with
Its Exposed Plastic Bowl & Plastic Drain (Yellow
Arrow).  In the Foreground is the Converted Wing
Engine Racor with Metallic Deflector (Red Arrow)
& UL Listed Brass Draincock (Black Arrow).

Rick’s goal was to retrofit the Racor “MA” series of heat deflectors to our old “FG” series of filters.  On the surface that appeared straightforward and less pricey than buying five new primary fuel filters.  And, as usual, the reality turned out to be a bit different.  Research revealed that the Racor fuel bowl design was changed in the 2002-2003 timeframe (when Ghost Rider was built), and the older model bowls are not compatible with the MA heat deflector kits; there could be differences both in thread sizes as well as the o-ring gland required to properly seal the bowl’s new brass plug.  But the only way to tell was to drain the bowl and remove the old plastic plug.

Rick used one of the smaller 500FG filters (for the wing engine) as an initial test, ordering the heat deflector kit and a new bowl out of an abundance of caution.  As it turned out the new bowl wasn’t needed, but Rick swapped it out anyway.  He also had to remove the fuel lines, move an Algae-X filtering device, and add spacers between the filter housing the engine room bulkhead to create enough room for the deflector shield…so it was a bit more involved than originally anticipated.  Typical boat project.  
Removing & Replacing the Fuel Bowl on These Older
Models is No Fun...the Upper Turbine Assembly Has
to be Disassembled to Get That Done.

Finally, Rick also added a brass on/off fuel valve (draincock), replacing the standard bowl plug, to make future draining both easier and less messy.  To maintain conformance with ABYC fire standards that valve not only had to be metallic, but also could turn no more and no less than 90 degrees, could not rely on any spring tension for leak integrity, and also had to have its own plug as an additional measure against leaks. 

We used the Racor Store (LINK) for the deflector kits and bowl, and McMaster-Carr (LINK) for sourcing the UL Listed fuel valves.  After running the wing engine for a spell and thorough leak-testing over a few days we declared victory for the initial test.  Rick proceeded to convert the bigger 900FG Racor for the fuel transfer (polishing) system as a second test and that, too, ended well.

In our August blog post we’ll report on the efforts to convert the remaining three Racor filters (the two 900’s for the main engine, and the other 500 for the generator.)  And hopefully by then we’ll have a better idea on next steps for the boat crane.
Next Month We'll Get the Conversion Done for the Main Engine's Dual Racors (Far Left) and for the Generator (Far Right).
The Latter Won't be Fun Because of the Algae-X Filter Below & Behind It.
 Afterword:  We can't tell which disease is more dangerous, Covid-19 or Utter Stupidity.  Either way, we have plenty of both down here.  Back in March we accurately predicted the havoc that results from a leadership vacuum, but it seems we underestimated the additive impact of sociopathic idiocy.  Historians won’t be kind, and neither will our future generations.

Hurricane Isaias Stayed Off to Our East.  Only Four More Months Remain in the "Season".