Sunday, August 26, 2018

August 2018: Service at AYB and on to Norfolk

We got a visit from our assigned AYB technician (Tim) the morning of Wednesday, 22-August and we went to work on the sight gauge and steering ram issues.

We managed to get the sight gauge upper shutoff valve completely closed with a mostly unreasonable amount of torque on its packing nut, and that allowed us to drain the sight tube glass into a small bucket.  Removal of that tube revealed a crack near the top along with a malformed o-ring, so Tim would be hunting for replacement parts.  Then, after we depressurized the steering system, Tim also removed the faulty steering ram, and then took all the parts with him back to the shop to see what they could match up, or determine what needed to be ordered and shipped.

Another Shot of Ghost Rider's Alongside Tie Up at AYB
The estimate to rebuild the steering ram came back at a week and an undetermined cost….whereas a new one could be here in a day or so at 1.5 boat units.  Rick opted for the latter – rebuilding a 16 year old ram just didn’t sound like a great idea, as even later model rebuilds tend to be a 50/50 proposition.  We still did not have an ETIC, but weren’t stressing about that; whether it was another day or a week did not matter much to us as long as we felt the key repairs were solid.

That evening we walked to the nearby restaurant, Vino Italian Bistro.  Our experience there a few years ago was excellent, and this time was no different – excellent drinks, food and service….their scallops, shrimp and even the salmon are first-rate-fresh, and the accompanying pasta seasonings are outstanding. We highly recommend it to anyone transiting the area.

On the morning of Thursday, 23-August the big news was the weather….in a very good way.  We felt like we had been transported to Fort Myers in February – air temps in the low 70’s, humidity in the 50’s, a bright cloudless sky and a slight cooling breeze.  We turned off the A/C and opened up the boat.  It felt wonderful.  Ironically enough this perfect summer weather greeted us at the very place where we and the boat would take refuge during any severe tropical weather. AYB’s location on the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal is about 16 miles inland from both the Virginia coastline and the Chesapeake Bay, and with the Great Bridge Lock immediately to the west it experiences little to no storm surge.  For obvious reasons it’s a popular hurricane hole and their priority dockage program is well worth the nominal reservation fee.
Chelle on Her E-bike with Golf Clubs

Taking advantage of the glorious weather, in the early afternoon Chelle grabbed her golf clubs and rode off on her e-bike to play golf at a nearby course…about 5 miles away. Everyone there thought she was nuts for biking that distance with clubs slung across her back, which, of course, was true enough.

Just after that Tim, our AYB tech, showed up with the new steering ram cylinder.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that the recommended replacement unit was a bit bigger (longer plus larger piston diameter) than what we were replacing.  That meant that just re-using the existing attaching bolt holes gave us full starboard rudder authority (30 degrees) but very limited port rudder (about 8 degrees.)  So we had to drill new mounting holes for the larger ram.  Since that meant punching through a ¼” stainless steel mounting plate, that took a while but we got it done.  We added some Seastar hydraulic fluid to replace what we lost with the cylinder swap-out, pumped up the reservoir pressure back to 28 PSI, and confirmed with both manual wheel movement and autopilot steering that we had full rudder authority in both directions. Of course we will need to sea trial all that on the next sortie.
Our Shiny New Steering Ram

By the morning of Friday, 24-August Tim had secured the parts needed to replace the port fuel tank sight gauge and we finally got that damned thing remediated.  It was bit of a puzzle when it came to figuring out how the multiple o-rings (two at each end of the tube) should be configured, but Tim persisted and got it solved.  

The weather was still fantastic, so Chelle decided to try out another nearby golf course while Rick went into cleanup mode: both in the lazarette to wipe up residual steering fluid, shop vac the drill shavings and laying down clean absorbents around and under the new ram and hose runs; and in the engine room around the new sight gauge, wiping up the diesel spills and disposing of those soaked absorbents pads.  Chelle also decided it was time to replace the Seagull fresh water filter in the galley, so Rick took care of that, too.

We had one more last relaxing evening at AYB, happy with the repair service, enjoyed another sunset, and began planning to make our way to Norfolk for our next stop.
Another Fine Sunset, This One at the AYB Docks
We had a broken cloud cover overhead on the morning of Saturday, 25-August but it was still pleasant enough, with temps in the low 80’s and reasonable humidity.  Since we only had a short jaunt to Norfolk’s Waterside Marina (maybe two hours even with having to negotiate one bridge and a lock), we were in no hurry to get underway.  We walked to the marina office to settle our bill, and 2 ½ boat units later we were done with that.  (We should note here that AYB did not charge us dockage fees for the days they were on the boat for service.)  Chelle took her bike to make one more run for a few grocery items, but just before 1300 we had Ghost Rider underway and waiting on the bridge, behind a tug pushing several hundred feet worth of barges.
Locking Through Great Bridge We Had Plenty of Company

Rick had radioed the tug on VHF channel 13 to find out where he wanted us to loiter as we waited for the bridge, so there was no confusion on that.  When we got to the Great Bridge lock there were two other small runabouts also waiting but the lock master gave them the red stop light and via radio directed the tug/barge and Ghost Rider into the lock.  It got a little snug in there, but everyone behaved themselves well enough.

The short 11 nautical mile ride to Norfolk and Waterside Marina was uneventful, and we had plenty of US Navy firepower to stare at along the way.  The 90 degree turn into Waterside’s basin was a little tight, especially with a decent sized Marlow parked at its entry dock, but we managed to poke our nose in there, pivot and get tied up without issues.  Coincidentally, we were also now at mile marker zero of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW), which, practically speaking, means very little since there are plenty of navigable and well-marked waterways between here and Maine.
This Part of the ICW Features Many Large Navy Warships

This place was going to be very different from AYB….besides a basin that’s a little on the snug side, it was also teeming with boats, boaters, pedestrians, and the docks and boardwalk were alive with music, both live and piped in.  Numerous restaurants, bars, bistros and hotels border the area. And the local ferry boats, which ran on a very regular 15 minute schedule, were hard to miss as they blasted a loud horn upon each departure….and that continued until 1145.  

Dockside at Waterside Marina....Lots Going On Here
We munched a light outdoor dinner at the adjacent Blue Moon Tap House; while their bar has a limited selection of scotch, the hot pretzels with crab dip almost made up for that.  Afterwards we took a seat in Waterside’s small outdoor amphitheater theater and listened to the lively classic rock of the Brass Wind band; with nine members (including two trombones and two trumpets) they were loud, but also very good.  It was like attending a live Chicago Transit Authority concert back in the '60's, and the weather for it was perfect.  It was a late night but we slept very well.

We’re going to spend a couple days here relaxing and touring, more on that in the next blog post.

We Passed Another Nordy on the Way to Norfolk, N46 Shrug. We Had a Nice Chat
on VHF Ch17.  They Were Headed to AYB.

Dining Outdoors at Waterside with Ghost Rider in the Background
The Brass Wind Band at Waterside Marina....They Had a Very Good Sound
Chelle Joins the Dance Floor....During an Instrumental Designed to Accomplish Just That


  1. A cheaper alternative to the expensive seastar steering fluid in the aircraft mil spec 5606 hydraulic fluid. The red color help identify any leaks and its much cheaper than seastar's product. Its an acceptable alternative according to their manual.

    1. Concur. If one was flushing / bleeding a large system those alternatives could make some sense. That said, compared to the other spends on a boat like this, a quart or less of Seastar is barely a blip on the radar. I think there's a newer PRF milspec that improves flammability specs.