Monday, February 29, 2016

While In St. Pete....

St. Pete Muni
Our six day stay in St. Pete was thoroughly enjoyable.  We docked and stayed aboard Ghost Rider at St. Petersburg’s Municipal Marina, located on the far west side of Tampa Bay.  The great thing about the facility is its location immediately adjacent to downtown and all its attractions, as well as the friendly and helpful staff.  The downsides are a FUBAR reservation process (be ready for multiple & likely frustrating phone calls), spotty Wifi coverage, and that it’s mainly a 208V marina (with a few isolated exceptions.)  That meant we were cellular hot-spotting for Internet access, and since Ghost Rider does not have a power booster (yet?), that also meant that on our 240V boat we had to run the genset for hot water, laundry, heat & air.  But overall it was still a very inviting marina.

5,000 Autographed Baseballs!
The close proximity to downtown meant that numerous restaurants, bars, parks, piers and museums were within easy walking distance, and we took advantage of that.  St. Pete has done a fabulous job of building and preserving a vibrant waterfront city – there’s something for everybody.  If there is a bad or mediocre eatery there, we could not find it.

The Museum of History had a unique display that captivated me – with 5,000 autographed baseballs on display (yes, I’m a diehard baseball fan), I could not go wrong with a protracted stroll through that area.  Of course there is more than that in there.

The Dali Museum
Also nearby was the Salvador Dali museum, and it was totally fascinating.  While mainly a permanent (and impressively large scale) display of Dali’s works, at this time they were also featuring an exhibition that focuses on the friendship and collaboration between Dali and Disney.  Previously I had no idea that the two were so close, and that the surrealist and the dreamer had so much in common.  I probably learned more about Disney that I did Dali.

Steph & Martin @ the Dali
Of course the bigger attraction of the entire journey was the opportunity to spend time with friends and make new ones.  We were able to spend the better part of a day with good friends Doug & Cat Cox (from our previous Grady-White boating days), as well as hook up several times again with Martin and Stephanie Morris on N60 Blossom, who were spending the month there in St. Pete.  On top of that we got to meet new friends Atle and Kristina (N57 Summerstar owners) who were visiting the U.S.  

Michelle & I had a wonderful time.  It was a good week.

To Useppa & Fort Myers

Busy Anchorage @ Useppa
On Saturday -- after changing out fuel filters to address our WOT issues -- we departed Venice and cruised down the outside to was a nice afternoon sortie, with seas much friendlier than the previous day at 2 to 4 feet.  The anchorage at Useppa was a bit busy, but we managed to squeeze in without cramping any other vessels.

Bad Alternator or Bad Gauge?
On Sunday we slept in since we had a relatively short day ahead of us for the final leg back to Fort Myers.  Winds had finally died down a bit and it warmed up into the 70's as well.  We discovered another small problem after cranking up the main engine...the digital gauge for the 175A alternator wasn't reading anything.  After a few minutes of troubleshooting we determined the alternator output seemed normal, as the house bank of batteries were showing a good charge state (confirmed using the Batt Test switch and the LinkPro Battery Monitor.)  Hopefully that will be a simple part swap.

The ride down the inside ICW was very pleasant, with weather conditions permitting a full afternoon of driving from the fly bridge.  Not bad for late February.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Heading Back to Fort Myers

We didn't go "boating" today as much as we went "surfing and wallowing".  We departed St. Pete's Municipal Marina this morning around 0800, headed out of Tampa Bay and then south on the outside....about 3 miles offshore.  NOAA had forecast seas at 4-to-6 feet, and that was pretty close....with an occasional 7-footer tossed in.  It was a following & quartering sea for the most part, and Ghost Rider's autopilot struggled with heading -- plus or minus 10 degrees was the norm today.

Lumpy Water
The good news is that we had the auto-nav function working today, and we were the only boat out there, so it wasn't like our meandering path was all that concerning, although it did make dodging the (sometimes numerous) crab pots quite the guessing game.

I learned something valuable today -- I should make my breakfast before we depart the bay and head outside. Plus we need to do a better job of securing stuff stored in the SubZero fridge; the crashing noises coming from the inside of that thing whenever we surfed off the top of that occasional 7-footer was disconcerting.  We elected not to open the fridge door until we tied up at Venice late this afternoon.  Surprisingly nothing had broken, and we managed to catch the few things that did fall out when we opened it.

Some boat stuff:

  • We reduced but did not quite eliminate the slow-drip leak coming from the main engine's transmission; more work to do there.
  • Located and fixed the coolant leak coming from the front of the wing engine; thankfully it was just a loose hose bracket and not the water pump.
  • The stabilizers worked well (and hard today); didn't even think about comparing the ride "off" vs. "on".
  • The autopilot definitely needs some tuning for following sea conditions; need to study the Simrad book.
  • Big problem:  the main engine won't get past 2000 RPM under WOT; it also vibrated and we had some smoke in the engine room (yikes!)
That smoke cleared as soon as we quickly backed the revs down to normal cruise. It's a puzzling problem, as the boat ran perfectly at 7.4 to 8.1 knots today at 1680 RPM with no issues whatsoever. I've got some calls & emails out to our diesel guys to see if we can get some troubleshooting help. More to come.

(Edit 2/27....this morning we changed both the primary (Racor) fuel filter as well as the secondary (on-engine) fuel filter, and that completely resolved our WOT issues on the main engine. Yay.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Back in St. Pete

We had a very nice 3 day journey to St. Petersburg, with stops at Useppa and Venice along the way. The weather was very pleasant with sunny skies, mild temps and flat water the entire way.  We were once again able to hook up with friends Dan, Juli and Jerry at Venice, and enjoyed a nice dinner aboard Ghost Rider (take-out from Crow's Nest....excellent meal!)

Dolphins in the Bow Wave
The boat ran well, although we are still challenged with an overheating stuffing box (prop shaft) on the wing engine...pretty sure we'll need to disassemble and repack that thing since the adjusting nut changes are having no impact whatsoever.

On the first day's sortie we also had a fun encounter with a pod of dolphins who enjoyed playing in our bow wave as we exited the Caloosahatchee River enroute to Useppa.  Michelle captured part of that via cell phone video, here's a YouTube link:  Dolphins at Play.

We are currently lying at St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, juggling work with boat duties and some tourista activities.  Martin & Steph are also moored here aboard Blossom, and it's great to be spending time with them as well.  We'll be here until the end of the week, then heading back home to Fort Myers to tend to some administrative chores.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Time to Sortie Again

It’s been nearly a month since we returned from our last trip, consequently marina fever has once again set in….it’s time to go somewhere.  Since we enjoyed the St. Pete journey so much the last time out, and fellow Nordy owners Martin & Stephanie are hanging out there aboard Blossom, it just sounded like a good idea to head back up there, but this time spending a few more days to enjoy the local area.  
On the Hook @ Useppa (Again)

So we’re off….first to Useppa for a relaxing night hanging on the hook, where we are right now, and it was a gorgeous day here in south Florida.  As we exited the Caloosahatchee River today we also came across a VERY playful pod of dolphins, who rode our bow wave for quite a while.  Michelle got some pics and some video, hopefully we'll find a way to post those, it was great entertainment.

Tomorrow we pull the hook in the morning and head north to Venice (Crow’s Nest), and then make the longer leg to St. Petersburg’s Muni Marina on Saturday.  Once again we’ll make the run on the “outside”….while the inside path up the ICW is almost always a smoother ride, its bridges, narrows and shallows are just a royal pain in the ass.  We’ll take lumpy water over that, and the forecast actually looks pretty tranquil.

We also have some operational testing to do on this sortie, more on that later.

Friday, February 12, 2016

More Mucking Around with Nav/Comm

Michelle & I spent the past week or so battling cold & flu bugs, so we didn't get a whole lot done on our Ghost Rider punch list.  But I did make some progress on a couple of nav/comm mysteries.

Mysterious AP Nav Error
The first was investigating why, on our last sortie (up to St. Pete), our autopilot Nav (route-following) function had suddenly stopped working.  After tracing potential physical wiring issues, as well as pursuing software configurations, it finally occurred to me that none of that likely would have changed -- the only difference on that last trip was that the various routes we were following had been imported from my laptop's backup copy of Nobeltec Odyssey. Or so I thought.

(Edited here 2-25-16.) After testing several more times, it appears the issue is one of sequencing -- e.g., if the ship's computer was turned on prior to everything else (Furuno Navnets, Simrad AP, etc.) then apparently the various inputs (COM ports) were not being recognized or initialized.
An RD-30 "4-Up" Display

The second was trying to understand what data was available to the (admittedly ancient) Furuno's RD-30 digital display & how to configure / display that properly.  Reading Furuno (old NavNet 2 era) manuals is like practicing bleeding -- it's fairly painful & they are definitely not the drop-dead simple stuff you get with Garmin equipment.  That said, these old Furuno units are nearly bullet-proof commercial grade devices, and once you figure them out, they just work.

Another RD-30 Example
Anyway, after painful reads of the RD-30 and Airmar manuals and decoding NMEA sentences -- oddly aided by a couple of cold fronts that generated consistent 20-30K winds from the NW that you couldn't misinterpret -- we were able to dial in seemingly correct wind & temperature readings from the Airmar antenna, along with a handful of other nav metrics from the Furuno Navnets & the ships's Nobeltec computer.  (And yes, that depth display -- under the keel -- is accurate.)

Sometimes even these minor victories feel majorly good.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Final Piece of the Connectivity Puzzle

Office Space with Ethernet Powerline Adaptor
A while back we had installed a MikroTik GigE wireless router & a MikroTik Groove high gain antenna to bring the boat's wireless Internet up to snuff.  But the lower deck office equipment (scanner, printer, NAS) remained on a separate (wireless) network due to the difficulty of running more cable down there.  I considered creating a wireless bridge to join the two networks, but that configuration exercise can be exasperating, so I decided to revisit the "Ethernet over Powerline" technology to see if that might be an easier solution.  As it turns out, it definitely was.
Ethernet Powerline in PH

While I'm not a huge fan of Netgear's consumer-grade equipment, their new "Powerline 1200" adaptors were getting very positive reviews and are actually quite good -- you won't get anywhere near the advertised 1.2 Gbps speed, but they do reliably clock in at 400 Mbps, which is plenty good for the boat, and faster than anything else out there in the Powerline networking genre.

I plugged one unit into a Pilot House outlet and connected its Ethernet cable to the MikroTik router; and then plugged the 2nd unit into an electrical outlet in the office and hooked its Ethernet cable into the office router.  Voila!  Instant network connectivity over standard 120V AC circuits.  Now we can access the printer, scanner and our network-attached-storage device from the ship's single wireless network.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Stern Thruster: Resolved

We lost use of the boat's stern thruster back on the morning of 19-Jan as we were trying to maneuver Ghost Rider away from the Gasparilla pump-out dock (at a very low tide.)  We had kicked up all sorts of mud, and the back end wasn't responding well to the thruster....pretty sure we were dragging the keel on the muddy bottom, but we finally broke loose & were able to motor out of there using only throttle & rudder....and the stern thruster at that point was non-responsive.

While we don't class the stern thruster as a "safety of flight" issue, it is damned convenient to have in cross-wind / cross-current docking maneuvers on a single screw boat.  Our two dock-ups & departures since then sans thruster have been uneventful, but given what we paid for that thing, we wanted it back.

Debris Removed from Thruster Tunnel
I finally got one of the local SidePower techs to come out to the boat today, and after verifying that the 15HP motor was still in good shape, we decided it was either a shelled gearbox (that would be bad, requiring a haul-out), or something was jammed up inside the thruster tunnel.

I managed to intercept a diver working on a Kadey-Krogen two slips down from us; one dive & 20 minutes later he had extracted about 10 pieces of black poly rope - totaling about 7 feet, with lead weights and parts of a plastic handle - from the thruster tunnel & props.  Best $40 I've ever spent.  After I plopped in a new 500A fuse, the thruster was back to life & sounding healthy.  Yay!

I need to replace that 500A fuse with the prescribed 400A, and then do some stress-testing on the thruster, but it's looking very, very promising.