Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Oct 2019: A Couple More Boat Projects

Updated Port Side Fly Bridge Seating
Chelle didn’t want to be left out of all the recent “boat business” fun so in parallel with the whole throttle replacement spend fest she embarked on a couple of new projects…as if we weren’t already spending enough B.O.A.T. units.  There is probably a cure for us out there somewhere, but for now at least we are slow learners in that particular area of fiscal responsibility.  The "Sea Notes" continue to flow.

The first of these projects involved updating the vinyl cushions for Ghost Rider's fly bridge seating areas.  We had the helm seat rebuilt and recovered two years ago, but now all the other seat cushions were looking pretty ratty, too. And lately they had been absorbing and retaining more rain water than their covers were repelling.  We bought the new foam filling and marine vinyl from our own sources – with the material and color matching what was used for the helm seat do-over (Sea Oyster vinyl) – and then engaged Cape Canvas & Cushion (LINK) in nearby Cape Coral for the handiwork.
The Updated Fly Bridge Cushions Now Match the Helm Chair

They aren’t particularly fancy, but they are functional, much more water resistant than the old ones, and no longer pockmarked by mildew stains.  We treated with 303 Aerospace Protectant which should help with long term survivability.

Four Sliding Shelves Make The Pantry
Area Much More Accessible
The next project was aimed at upgrading the galley pantry.  Ghost Rider has two tall, narrow and very deep cabinets just to the right of the fridge/freezer.  Each has multiple shelf levels and they can hold a lot of stuff, but they require you employ a ladder and a flashlight and have telescoping arms to reach all of the spaces.  It was a fine place to store food related things that you didn't care a great deal about ever seeing again.

The solution was to install some slide-out shelves.  Having seen Rick’s carpentry skills before – essentially he has none – Chelle hired Dave Purcell for the job, who is something of a maritime handyman with good credentials in this area (as well as a USCG 500 GT licensed delivery captain.) She ordered the shelving units from Slide-a-Shelf (LINK) who custom built them to our measurements.  (Note that discounts are sometimes available by ordering through Costco or Amazon.)  And then Dave went to work on fitment, finishing and installation.  He is a bit of a perfectionist so he even crafted a fascia for each sliding shelf and stained them to match the boat’s interior teak woodwork.  They look good and definitely improve accessibility.

With the Stainless Steel Button Latches
Added to Prevent Movement When Underway
To prevent them from sliding forward and banging against the cabinet doors during lumpy seas we used the same stainless steel "button latches" that we had employed on the fridge and freezer doors.  We just need to remember to engage the latches....which is not a given.

On the lowest shelf in the bottom cabinet we chose to forgo the sliding shelf option and instead went with a false bottom on furniture sliders; that preserved the deeper storage area at the base for larger items.

Amidst these boat projects we also had to tend to some routine maintenance activities.  The first of those was refreshing a few Racor fuel filters.  While we had not reached an engine hour trigger, there is always some concern about filter effectiveness with the passage of time.  Does a filter element not being used much but still soaking in diesel fuel eventually undergo a change in filtering properties?  At some point the answer is likely yes, but exactly when can really only be determined when the vacuum gauge rises above seven inches HG.  Rick would rather not deal with that while underway, so we change ours after a year if we haven’t yet hit the magic 500 hour mark. That’s overly conservative, but at $10 apiece it’s cheap insurance and peace of mind.  So both main engine Racor 900 filters got changed as did the Racor 500 for the genset.
The Dual Racor 900 Units for the Main Engine.  After Installing the New Filter Elements We Label Them with Both Date
and Engine Hours.  Same Goes for the Smaller Racor 500's on the Generator and Wing Engine.
Next up was the six month windlass service.  Our hydraulically powered Maxwell 3500 will probably outlive us, but the above-deck components still require periodic attention – basically dismantling down to the lower clutch cone and crank collar, liberally lubing all accessible parts with a good lithium grease, and then shooting a grease gun into the main bearing’s zerk fitting.  Upon disassembly we found the unit clean and still well lubricated, not too surprising given its limited use and exposure this year.  But we know its ready to go and hoping for some use in the next couple of months.  After reassembly and checking for leftover parts (none, yay!) we exercised the unit to confirm smooth operation.
Disassembling the Windlass Deck Components....Not a Difficult Task But It's a Messy, Greasy One When Rick Does It
Another rather mundane item that our Wheelhouse software reminds us of on an annual basis is checking the integrity of the DC and AC electrical panel connections.  While inspecting for chafing is a part of that, it's mainly verifying that all attachment points are still tight -- and there are a LOT of them.  But with a couple of different screw drivers and plenty of patience it only takes about an hour.  Before checking the AC power side it's highly recommended that you turn off the shore power 240V/50A circuit breaker first.  It doesn't take much of a slip to turn the rear of that panel into a rogue defibrillator; don't ask Rick how he knows this.

To wrap it all up we sortied Ghost Rider a short distance upriver to the Fort Myers Yacht Basin to take on 400 gallons of diesel fuel.  That brings our current tankage up to around 1100 gallons in total, which will get us through the foreseeable future and avoid the (much) higher rates down in the Keys.

Next up:  We'll be heading inland up to Missouri and Illinois for a much anticipated visit with family and friends, plus our favorite annual charity event.  Packing will be interesting as it much cooler there - it's still damned hot here in southern Florida.  But it will still be great fun in the Midwest.  When we return we hope to get Ghost Rider underway again and head down to the Keys for a spell.  More on that later.
Looking Behind the DC Electrical Panel....Lots of Wire Attachments
That Require Integrity Checks Once a Year.
Looking Inside the AC Electrical Panel....More Attachment Points to Check,
and Most of Them Pack Quite a Punch.  It's No Fun to Become a Human Fuse,
So Disconnecting Power is Highly Recommended.
When We Returned from Our Short Sortie to Take on Fuel, We Parked Ghost Rider Nose In at the Request of Our
Fiberglass Repair Tech.  That Gives Him Easier Access to Patch the Scratches on the Starboard Bow Section.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Oct 2019: Sea Trial to Captiva Island

TS Nestor Moved Quickly from the Southwest Caribbean & Into the Gulf
Towards Florida.  But Its Winds Stayed At or Below 50 MPH.
We took a break from boat business from 10-October to 15-October to enjoy a visit from daughter Suzanne…a friend’s wedding and copious amounts of wine were involved. It was a great family break.  During that time Rick was trying to decide between selling the boat and taking it out for a sea trial, with the latter winning out for now.  Besides, our local Grady-White boat club has scheduled a long weekend get-together at nearby South Seas Resort on Captiva Island, and that looked to be a good excuse and opportunity to wring out the systems.

So by Thursday, 17-October, we were back on the boat to prepare for the sea trial.  We packed and provisioned for a short three day jaunt and performed our usual pre-departure checks on Ghost Rider.  The weather forecast wasn’t particularly good for the coming weekend – actually it rather sucked.  A tropical depression was spooling up in the southwest Caribbean and would eventually become a named storm (Nestor), and head in the general direction of the Florida panhandle….just close enough to cause some nearby meteorological chaos, but nothing dangerous in our estimation.  At a minimum we thought our departure and return windows looked reasonably good, even if in between that wasn’t the case.
Our Track from Fort Myers to Captiva Island and Back
So on the morning of Friday, 18-October we steered Ghost Rider out of her mooring at Legacy Harbor – ever so slowly and carefully, paying very close attention to throttle behavior and response – and then chugged down river, across to Pine Island Sound and then north up the ICW to the tip of Captiva Island.  It was a short sortie, just over three hours to cover 25 NM to the South Seas Resort Marina.  We had overcast skies but warm and dry (albeit humid) conditions with a light southerly breeze from the south.  The bottlenose dolphins were plentiful and playful. During our wide open throttle (WOT) run towards the end of the short cruise, five of them flew formation on our starboard side for nearly ten minutes, with one adult in particular enjoying repeated leaps and side flops in the slipstream.  You’ll find one video link HERE (taken from the upper boat deck).  And another taken from closer to the fish and the water HERE.
The Dolphins Put On a Show for Us in Pine Island Sound
And the boat (and its new electronic throttle system) performed perfectly:  docking at the South Seas marina was mercifully boring.

Upon arrival we were met by good friends Bill and Terri from our Grady-White boat club, who had arrived the previous day in their gorgeous Marlin 300.  The remainder of the GW boat club contingent had cancelled out due to the deteriorating forecast, understandably so.  But the four of us enjoyed an excellent dinner at the marina’s Harbourside Bar & Grill, and then gathered on Ghost Rider for Goombay Ghost citrus rum drinks to conclude a good day.  As expected we got plenty of rain overnight and into Saturday morning, along with gusty winds from Nestor.  But by midday the storm’s rain bands had cleared out and allowed for some pool and beach time.  The ocean was all commotion (video link HERE). Unfortunately the strong southerly winds also brought a red tide algae bloom into the area, so we spent much of our remaining time in Ghost Rider’s air conditioned salon to avoid the respiratory impacts.  
Bill & Terri

A frontal passage dragged some more rain across the area early Sunday, 20-October, but that too cleared out rather quickly, and by 1130 we were back underway and heading back to our home port in Fort Myers. Winds continued to die down as the day progressed, with some sun peeking through a broken cloud layer, although the red tide aerosol lingered enough to tickle the throat.  The egress channel between the marina and the ICW was a little sporting at low tide, with barely a foot of water below the keel at one point, but we stayed off the bottom.  As expected, boat traffic was very light on the waterway and Ghost Rider continued to run well and without any issues throughout the warm and humid day.  Less than four hours after departure - punching into a current the whole way - we were back home at Legacy Harbour in Fort Myers, and the stern-in docking maneuver proceeded smoothly.

So overall the sea trial went well and the short journey was enjoyable.  It was a good reminder that the boating between breakages can be good fun.  Now to see how long that lasts.
Bill & Terri's Grady-White Marlin 300, Starship, Docked at South Seas.
Ghost Rider Docked Up at South Seas
The Gulf of Mexico Was a Boiling Mess Even Though Nestor Was a Good 200 Miles Away

Sep-Oct 2019: Maintenance Wrap-up

Ross & Jerry in Ghost Rider's Engine Room Working on
Installing the New Transmission Cable and the New
 ZF MicroCommander 9110 Brain Box.
We have noted before, and not without some humility and embarrassment, that experience can be a tough teacher.  And within that realm of education, that failure is the absolute best instructor.  Based just on failure frequency alone we're now thinking we should be at genius level by year end.

At 0815 on the morning of Friday, 27-September, Ross and Jerry of Classic Yacht Service showed up at the boat with a new throttle control brain box.  The ZF 9110 – the latest edition of the “MicroCommander Marine Propulsion Control System” – was identical in size and proportion to the old unit, so it dropped right in.  Jerry worked on attaching the small lead wires from each of the three throttle stations while Ross ran the new cable to the transmission.  Calibration of this unit is done with electronic programming vs. the old style dip switches, and that takes time and patience (as well as two people.)  But three hours later we were dock testing successfully.

After another inspection of the fly bridge throttle station we all agreed that it warranted a new replacement unit.  Ross’s normal supplier had a six week lead time (ZF bought Mathers years ago, thus it's mostly an overseas operation now), so Rick went hunting online and found one in Tennessee (through Marine Parts Source, LINK) and placed an order for the last one they had in stock.  The new 400 Series control head, a Mathers 453-3R, arrived via FedEx a few days later.  On Tuesday, 01-October Ross called to say he had found a sudden hole in his schedule, so that afternoon we rendezvoused at the boat, uninstalled the old fly bridge throttle, installed the new unit (with seven new crimp terminals and heat shrink sleeves), and got it all tested out. 
The New MicroCommander 9110 Brain Box.  In Addition to Upgraded Mother Board Electronics It Also Provides
an LED Digital Readout (Yellow Arrow) For Status & Error Codes.
The New Fly Bridge Throttle Control Station (Red Arrow).  It Isn't Easy to Access the Underside but We Found
Removing the Instrument Cluster Panel (Yellow Arrow) At Least Made That Possible.
Shortly thereafter Mike from Brightworks stopped by the boat to take a closer look at the port side rub rail damage.  As expected he was not very optimistic….it’s an extremely thick and heavy duty piece of stainless steel hardware; it will require special cutting tools to remove the damaged segments, and then it’s likely the replacement strips will need to be custom machined to fit.  We decided that was a job for a yard more experienced with the beefy build of the Nordhavn, so that will get deferred until we can get the boat back over to the east coast.  We'll discuss further with Yacht Tech in Palm Beach, but that will be a next year thing.  Rick spent a couple of hours each day during the first week of October sanding and polishing the deep scratches in the rub rail and was at least able to make it less ugly in the interim.
Accessing the Mid Bilge Drain is a Royal Pain,
But the Arrows Point to its General & Well
Hidden Location.

Amidst all the throttle system work we also encountered more standing water in the mid bilge area.  By this time Rick was getting thoroughly irritated.  The previous water leaks we had found and fixed were still fixed….no leaks from the new Whale fitting on the accumulator tank, ditto for the tightened water maker line on the water manifold.  But after once again tearing into that mid bilge area Rick did find an A/C condensate hose (from the pilot house unit) that was steadily dripping into that bilge cavity.  That part of the puzzle is actually normal – the issue had to be with a plugged limber hole or drain, preventing a flow back to the aft bilge (where the pumps are located.) 

It took some taxing boat yoga to locate, but eventually Rick found a plugged drain in that small bilge recess.  Fortunately and eventually we were able to snake a hose from the wet-dry shop vac down there and suck out the clogging debris.  If you look at the picture to the right, you can gain access to that drain via the removed panels noted by the yellow arrows -- from the top if you have five foot long arms, or from the backside if your arms and hands are less than two inches in diameter.
Yes, Seriously, There is a Drain Hidden in There.  How to Access It is Not At All Obvious or Easy.  Eventually We Were Able to Snake the Shop Vac Hose in There & Suck Out a Variety of Clogging Debris.
Next up is a sea trial....to test out the new throttle system components and find out if we broke anything else.  We'll cover that in the next blog.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Sep 2019: More Boat Business

The "Brain Box", a ZF/Mathers MicroCommander 585;
Servos & Physical Cable Connections Are Behind
the Printed Circuit Board.
In the days following the electronic throttle (and gear) failure we began pursuing answers…but we weren’t finding anything definitive.  Immediately after the event Rick had tested the electronic throttle station in the pilot house and found it nonresponsive – dead, unable to take control at that location.  But by the following day (Tuesday, 17-September) ALL THREE throttle stations were operating normally once again.  He ran the engines for a few hours to heat up the engine room – wondering if the “brain box” for the electronic throttles, which is located in the engine room, might be succumbing to heat related issues.  But after retesting the throttles following the heat soak, all stations again worked normally.

The next day, Wednesday, 18-September, Rick called on Ross Lund of Classic Yacht Service to visit the boat and assess the electronic throttle system, but absent any active misbehavior that would not be an easy task.  No electrical issues were found….voltage checked out at 13.3 volts at the control box, there was no corrosion there, and all but one of the wire terminals were tight.  The bare ground wire for “station 1” looked a little ragged, so Rick removed & trimmed it, then re-attached it more securely.  Ross and his helper Jerry found one potential issue with the physical cable running from the control box servo actuator to the transmission – the cable length was about a quarter inch too long, which theoretically at least might cause the servo control to keep trying to push it further and issuing a fault when it couldn’t.  They adjusted the cable appropriately.

The more common failure in these types of electronic throttle controls is loose or corroded connections at the throttle station(s).  Given we experienced failures at both the fly bridge and pilot house stations, Rick didn’t think that was the likely cause – a fault at one station is isolated from the other stations.  But to be cautious he spent some time examining the seven wire leads on the bottom side of each throttle.  The pilot house and cockpit units checked out tight and corrosion-free; the fly bridge station looked a little weathered and will require further evaluation and possibly replacement.
The Wiring on the Underside of the Throttle
Rather than just hope this 17 year old system wouldn’t fail again we had Ross order a whole new brain box.  The estimated price tag hurt (about three BOAT units once a new cable and labor were also factored in) but we were not going to be taking chances with such a mission critical system.  Having your 80,000 pound boat ping-ponging around the marina isn’t our idea of fun.  There was a gremlin hiding somewhere in that throttle system and we were determined to exorcise it.

While waiting on those parts the next step was to coordinate repairs to the physical hull and rub rail damage Ghost Rider incurred when it crunched the concrete piling following the throttle failure.  One of the go-to folks in this area with good references for fiberglass and trim repairs is Mike Peters with Brightworks.  Mike inspected the damage and thought the first pass should be wet sanding and buffing, so now we’re just waiting on an opening in his busy schedule to see how that turns out.  We were also concerned that the boat’s bulbous bow might have made contact with the docks; but on Friday, 20-September, our diver took an underwater spin around the boat and found only a minor abrasion in the bottom paint there.  That can wait for the next bottom paint job.

The Water Accumulator Tank with a
New Whale Fitting
In the midst all of this unplanned maintenance activity we encountered yet another repair opportunity.  During his routine below-deck checks Rick discovered some standing water in the mid bilge area.  The slope of that area isn’t ideal and thus does not fully drain to the aft bilge where the pumps are located.  Regardless, water doesn’t belong there, and the “taste test” revealed it was fresh water.  Tracing such leaks back to the origin is usually a frustrating treasure hunt – the source is rarely at or even near where the stuff ends up.  But after using a shop vac to suck the mid bilge dry Rick was able to trace a slow tell-tale water flow back to the water accumulator tank on the port side of the engine room.  The Whale compression fitting at the bottom of that tank had a steady dribble – which of course turned into a wild fountain fest when Rick fiddled with it.

After scrambling to close off the water manifold valves and cutting the circuit breaker to the water pump Rick got the wild spray under control – and then toweled himself and the engine room dry.  It was then simple enough to drain the accumulator tank into a bucket and replace the 15 mm Whale fitting with one of the spares we kept on board.  Re-pressurizing the system revealed a good fix.  To be on the safe side Rick also checked the starboard side of the engine room where the fresh water manifold resides and found the water-maker feed line leaking over there; re-tightening its connecting nut resolved that.
The Arrow Points to the Cheap-Looking Water Maker Line Nut

Coincidentally we were also in the middle of cleaning and draining the FRP water storage tanks.  This is the first time we’ve had to do that, as up to this year we had been on board and turning over the water supply often enough that it couldn’t go stale.  But after several months of non-use a mild odor made it obvious that water quality had declined.  A shock treatment of chlorine, followed by draining, followed by three gallons of Camco’s Cleaner-Deodorizer and two more fill & drain cycles got the job done.  That routine took most of a week, finishing up on Monday, 23-September.  We would leave three of the four tanks mostly empty (with a little of Camco’s Freshener product added) until we began more active use of the boat in a couple of months.
The Tropics Were Still Very Active But Not in Our Immediate Vicinity

In the meantime our weather had turned and stayed stunningly good.  While the tropics were still chock full of named systems, none seemed to be threatening our area, and the same upper level air flow that was keeping them away from us had brought us dryer than normal air.  It was a tad breezy and still warm, but we were enjoying abundant sunshine and reasonable (for us) humidity levels. 

It would have been fabulous boating weather.  Alas, that will need to wait until parts are procured, and repairs have been made and sea-trialed.  Hopefully we'll have more on that in the next blog post.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Sep 2019: After Hurricane Dorian

Ghost Rider's Bottom Paint Getting a Much Needed Waterline Touch Up.
Rick didn’t visit RFYC and Ghost Rider again until Tuesday, 10-September, when he made the drive to check on work order progress and to coordinate logistics for splashing the boat once it was again ready for sea duty. 

The RFYC crew had been busy….they were about 80% complete with the bottom paint touch-up job, and had already torn into the two raw water intake seacocks for the main engine.  The one on the port side checked out OK – we visually verified the ball valve was moving to the closed position, plus they removed a hose end and poured water in to verify the ball valve wasn’t leaking.
Where the Starboard Side Seacock Used to Be.
The starboard side seacock definitely had a problem, though.  While we could visually verify the ball valve was moving to the closed position, when we performed the same leak check it was a veritable sieve.  Under pressure it would produce the scary flow that Rick had observed last time he tried to clean out its strainer basket.  Our guess was either there was upward play in the ball valve mechanism away from the sealing surface, or the Teflon sealing seat between the ball and housing was shot, or both – either way it would no longer serviceable.  The Groco replacement unit was due to arrive the following day.  (As it turned out, during bench testing of the removed seacock Rick discovered that the handle was traveling beyond the 90 degree closed position to a partially open condition - the mechanical stop had broken off the handle.)

Rick attacked a few new Wheelhouse maintenance items during this visit and also reconnected the boat’s WiFi system and camera network to the marina’s hotspot.  Along with the previously reconnected Monnit remote sensors, we now had our full remote monitoring solution back in service.

Two days later on Thursday, 12-September, after John (the yard manager) had called to verify they would be completing the work that day, Rick returned to RFYC and the boat.  This trip was to inspect the work on the bottom paint and the seacock, and to insure the boat was ready for splashing the next morning.  Everything looked good – the bottom paint touch up job was neat and thorough, and all seacock plumbing, hoses and clamps passed ready-for-sea inspection.
Bottom Side of the Removed Seacock.

Except for a few closed thru-hulls in the lazarette (mostly cooling circuits that tend to cavitate later if not closed off when on the hard) Rick also completed the engine room and laz preflight inspections.  That way we would be ready to startup soon after relaunching.  He also spent a little time wire brushing some barnacles off of some thru-hull trim rings and strainer slots; after that the bottom looked very good indeed.  The rest of the boat, however, was a dusty, grimy and bug-stained mess, so before leaving it for the day Rick gave Ghost Rider a quick hose down.

While we were hoping to splash the boat the following morning (Friday, 13-September), the weather forecast was changing quickly and not for the better.  The NHC was now calling for a tropical system of some sort to approach south Florida as the weekend neared, so we decided to leave Ghost Rider parked on the RFYC pad for the weekend.  Once again the models behind the NHC's cone of probability diverged significantly, with a wide gap between the GFS and Euro model path predictions.  The good news was that neither was calling for anything beyond tropical storm strength locally.  But with the likelihood of increasing TRW coverage along with windy conditions we decided to wait until this one passed.
By Saturday Tropical Storm Humberto Had Formed But Was Already Turning North & Staying Away From Florida.  A New  Disturbance Started to Spin in the Gulf but Was Moving Away Towards Texas.  We Would Need to Keep an Eye on the Other Three in the Middle of the Atlantic, but They Wouldn't Delay Our Plan to Splash Ghost Rider.
By Saturday morning, 14-September, NOAA's 5-day tropical outlook map was looking more like a game of tic-tac-toe with the number of potential hot spots it was tracking.  On Saturday night, caught between two low pressure systems, it rained like hell here. But as one (Hurricane Humberto) began to pull away to the north, and the other to the west towards Texas, they had sucked away most of moisture with them by late Sunday.

That made the weather forecast for Monday, 16-September pretty good for the slow slog down river back to Fort Myers.  So we dropped one car at Legacy Harbour and drove the other to RFYC.  We splashed Ghost Rider around 1030 and after leak-checking the new thru-hull seacock we were ready to take the boat back down river to Fort Myers.  The sortie down the big ditch was mostly uneventful -- both locks and the two low bridges were prompt in opening and we were the only traffic heading west on the Caloosahatchee this day.  We had good weather, with temps reaching the low 90's and just fair weather "popcorn" cumulus clouds.

Ghost Rider ran perfectly again -- right until we were attempting to dock at Legacy Harbour.  That's when the electronic throttle for the main engine failed.  Shit.
The Scarred Rub Rail on the Port Side Where Ghost Rider Crunched the Concrete Dock Piling After the Electronic
Throttle Failed in Forward Gear.  Use of the Bow Thruster Avoided a Direct Hit on the Anchor & Bow Pulpit, Which
Would Have Been Really Nasty.
And it failed (died...totally dead) while in forward gear, so Ghost Rider crunched the port side bow rub rail on a concrete piling before we got the main shut down and backed off using the wing engine.  We had a 15 knot crosswind for the stern-in docking maneuver, and that wasn't going to work with wing-only propulsion, so we backed down to a side tie near the entrance to the fairway.  

To say that Rick was torqued off would be the understatement of the decade.  More about troubleshooting and repairs in the next blog post.

A Close-up of the Rub Rail Scar.  There is Another Just Aft of This One.  And a Couple of FRP Scars Opposite
 on the Starboard Side.  This Won't Be a Cheap Repair.
Head-on View from A Distance at Our Temporary Slip....Ghost Rider Still Looks Good.  Up Close - Not So Much.
The Damage is Not Obvious Until One Gets Close.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Aug-Sep 2019: Hurricane Dorian

The Early Path Predictions for This Storm Covered a Huge Area.  Marinas &
Boat Owners Had to Make Decisions Early.
From August through October hurricanes are an annoying but normal part of life in Florida.  The damned things are inevitable, and with climate change accelerating at an alarming pace they are also getting more frequent and stronger.  And that’s why we always give ourselves a bailout option.  This year we knew we would be stuck in Florida for the tropical storm season, so we signed up for the hurricane club at the River Forest Yachting Center (RFYC) in Labelle, Fl.  That facility is 40 miles up-river from our Fort Myers (Legacy Harbour) mooring, with two locks (meaning no storm surge) between it and the open ocean, and with an expansive apron of concrete dotted with embedded tie-down anchors.  It was designed specifically to offer safe harbor from big blows.
Our Satellite Tracker Path from Fort Myers to River Forest Yachting Center
Near Labelle, Florida.
When the forecast for TD5 suddenly went from a dissipating tropical storm to a major hurricane named Dorian in the span of a couple of days, it definitely got our attention.  And when the Euro model’s forecast track had it going from Palm Beach on the east coast and straight over Fort Myers on the west coast of the state at formidable strength, we decided to move the boat to RFYC.  We had been intending to take the boat there for some maintenance attention anyway, and this was a compelling trigger.

A Nordhavn 55, Fusion, Heading in the Opposite Direction....for Good Reason.
Thus on Friday, 30-Aug, we were up at 0600 and underway just before the 0700 sunrise, chugging eastward up the Caloosahatchee River at a steady 7.8 knots.  In spite of the two locks (Franklin & Ortona) and a few bridge openings to negotiate, we covered the 40 NM in just five and a half hours, arriving at RFYC by 1230.  Surprisingly there was only sparse boat traffic along the way, one of which was a westbound Nordhavn 55, Fusion, who via VHF told us “no way we were staying in Palm Beach” and were headed to Twin Dolphins Marina on the Manatee River in Bradenton.

We did not have to loiter for any openings; both locks had their western gates open when we arrived, and the two bridge tenders were prompt and courteous.  At the Alva bascule bridge the attendant inquired via VHF: “Aren’t you guys headed in the wrong direction?”  We mentioned our RFYC destination and haul-out intentions and he congratulated us on a good plan.  

Waiting on the Fort Denaud Swing Bridge & Hoping it Wouldn't Get
Stuck in an Intermediate Position.
The only real angst we had was at the Fort Denaud swing bridge (9 foot clearance); that thing is ancient and rickety, and has been known to fail in the closed or partially open position….but not this time.  Even the weather cooperated, with the usual thunderstorms holding off until much later that afternoon.  And Ghost Rider ran perfectly; we even managed to squeeze in a short wide open throttle (WOT) run as we hustled to make the final lock opening at Ortona.

We didn’t even have to wait for the haul-out upon arrival at RFYC….we were directed straight into the well, got Ghost Rider all strapped in, and we were out of the water in short order.  We shut down everything – all AC and DC circuit breakers, plus the inverter.  Except for the battery monitor and a few electrical panel LEDs, Ghost Rider was electrically dead.  There would be no shore power connection, so that was necessary to preserve the house battery bank.
Ghost Rider Hauling Out at River Forest Yachting Center.

It took us about three hours to get the boat prepped after the travel lift had positioned us on their tie-down apron.  We had been through this preparation routine once before with Hurricane Irma in 2017, so we had a good checklist to follow.  We stripped canvas, lowered antennae, stowed loose items, and tied or taped anything that might move or leak.  In the 90+ degree heat it was an exhausting afternoon.  The RFYC staff placed plenty of blocks and jackstands to support the boat’s 80,000 pounds, then ratchet strapped 4 of our beefy corner cleats to their equally beefy concrete-embedded hurricane eye bolts.  We were storm ready if needed.

While there Rick sat down with John, the yard manager, and we wrote up a work order to replace or repair the two faulty seacock through-hulls we had discovered back in the spring.  We also added some remedial bottom paint work to the order – upon haul out we noticed excessive ablative wear all along the water line and some on the bulbous bow.  Below that, however, the bottom paint was in excellent shape. 
The Bottom Paint Along the Waterline was Looking Pretty Sad, Although
Below That It Still Looked Very Good.

By 1600 we called it a day.  RFYC is in the middle of nowhere, with no good transportation options available locally.  Fortunately we had dropped one of the cars at RFYC the day before (by automobile it’s only an hour’s drive from Legacy Harbour) so we weren’t stranded.  Coincidentally we had met another Nordhavn couple the day before, George and Christina, who were transient berthed at Legacy; they also took their N35, Sophie, to River Forest, so we gave them (and their cat) a lift back to Fort Myers to retrieve their rental car.

We slept like corpses that night and then spent the next few days relaxing at our Fort Myers condo while tracking Dorian’s progress (or lack of it) across western Atlantic waters.  By the time it reached the hot-tub-temperatures of Bahamian waters (Sunday, 01-Sep) it had spooled up to a Cat-5 storm with sustained winds at 185 MPH and gusts to 220, pushing a surge around 20 feet.  The Abacos and Grand Bahama – places like Hopetown, Marsh Harbor, Green Turtle Cay, West End, that we had so enjoyed during last year’s cruising – got absolutely walloped by the storm as it plowed westward, stalled, and spun a sustained and devastating attack on those small islands.
Ghost Rider at RFYC After Being Relocated to a Covered Spot on the Apron.

Dorian had slowed so dramatically that it wasn’t until Wednesday, 04-Sep that RFYC was able to start unstrapping and splashing boats.  Chelle went shopping for groceries and supplies to drop off for our area’s Bahamian relief efforts, and Rick drove back to RFYC to visit Ghost Rider and to get an estimate of how long our repair work order would take.  The boat was pretty dirty but otherwise in good shape.  Rick began reversing some of the storm preps, ventilated the engine room and got shore power hooked up (to re-charge the house batteries) after the RFYC staff relocated Ghost Rider to a work slot on the apron that was also under cover.  

Rick made one more trip back to RFYC and the boat on Friday, 06-September, to complete reversal of our storm preps and to take care of some interim maintenance to-do's that our Wheelhouse program was nagging about.  The RFYC staff indicated they intended to start on our work order the following Monday, so for now we were done with boat business.

In the interim Chelle had kept extremely busy with the storm relief efforts for the northernmost islands in the Bahamas.  In addition to her shopping trip we posted signs in our condo complex and collected more non-perishables from our neighbors.  One of our local Fort Myers boat yards, Stokes Marine (LINK), was a nearby and convenient site coordinating supplies and transport.  (Owner, Brent Stokes, was interviewed by CNN, a clip is available at the THIS LINK.)  While Rick was distracted with Ghost Rider Chelle spent more of her time helping load up trucks and boats. Their initial flotilla and private plane formation delivered a significant payload to Lucaya, Grand Bahama, today -- it's the only port capable of receiving materials at this point.  But the hope is to keep it going and include the Abacos sometime next week.

Overall they’ve done a fabulous job collecting and transporting a huge amount of critically needed supplies....pics below. Fortunately the weather was cooperating, as Dorian had sucked all the moisture out of our atmosphere like a gigantic wet-dry vacuum on its journey north.  If you want to help and are not sure how, there is a safe GoFundMe site at this LINK.  Or just head over to the Red Cross web site HERE.

Just Some of the Relief Supplies Being Collected at Stokes Marine.
Loading Up the Boats.  Some Would Sortie Across Lake O, but Many Were Trailered Over to
Fort Lauderdale and From There Headed to Lucaya, Grand Bahama.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Aug 2019: Miscellaneous Boat Business

Looking Down Into the Bilge Cavity Which is
Just Aft of the Main Engine, with a Water Hose
Pumping Water In at a Pretty Good Clip.
The summer weather in southwest Florida is rarely an attraction, but this year it truly sucks.  A persistent westerly flow has been bringing copious amounts of moisture, so not only has it been raining every day, it has been raining all day.  And some nights.  Based on the decline of El Nino and NOAA's latest tropical storm forecast, we've calculated the rain might stop some time in November.  Ghost Rider may be our ark.

Still, even as we were enjoying the distraction and satisfaction of recently completing two special projects – for the boat’s remote monitoring and CCTV systems, see two previous blogs – we of course continued to pay attention to the periodic duties that Ghost Rider requires to stay (and keep us) happy. 

It is not normal to wake up one morning and think “let’s see if we can flood the boat today”, but that’s essentially the approach required when it’s time (annually) to test out the boat’s bilge pumps.  Ghost Rider has four of those as part of its de-watering systems.  Two are DC powered with automatic float switches: a Whale Gulper 320 for nuisance water and a Rule 3100 for high water, with 300 and 3,000 GPH ratings respectively.  A third is manually operated via a hand pump; that’s an Edson 638 with a gallon-per-stroke rating.  And the fourth is a Pacer crash pump which can evacuate up to 10,000 GPH – that’s about the volume of an average domestic in-ground pool here in south Florida – and is hydraulically powered via the PTO coming off the wing engine. 

The Hydraulic Pacer Crash Pump Located in the
Lazarette.  You Can Tell It's a Serious Pump by the
Size of the Input & Output Hoses.
After dumping a prodigious amount of fresh water into the bilge via a garden hose – about 40 gallons based on what was drawn down from our forward water tank – all  pumps were working, although Rick wasn’t particularly happy with what appeared to be intermittent suction from the big Rule 3100. He later disassembled that to check for debris clogs, but to be completely safe we ordered a new Rule 4000 GPH pump to replace it.  The big Pacer hydraulic unit required some manual priming which is normal for anything other than a full down-flooding event, but once primed it sucked out the entire bilge in a matter of seconds; that thing generates an amazing fire-hose stream of water out the back of the boat. 

And the recently installed remote sensor dutifully reported its detection of high water, but also revealed a weakness – it wouldn't dry out and kept triggering alarms.  After huddling with the vendor (Monnit) it was determined that we had a faulty unit and they shipped a replacement.  Rick fashioned a new mounting method for this one  (vertical vs. horizontal orientation, and a few inches lower) and thus far it is behaving.  To illustrate we have added a couple of updated photos of the bilge area towards the bottom of this post.

As mentioned in a previous blog we also needed to figure out what was wrong with the master stateroom's air conditioning unit, which had started throwing “HI PS” (high pressure) warnings and shutting itself down.  After a week of trying his home remedies with no resolution, Rick called an A/C tech out to the boat; when he showed up as scheduled one morning, we cranked up the air conditioning unit in the master stateroom….and it performed flawlessly.

The Sea Strainer for the A/C with a New "Hat".  Rick Ordered a Whole New Lid
with Rubber Gasket for it After Experiencing Issues with the Old Cork Gasket.
No "HI PS" errors, just a constant flow of nicely chilled air.  We had the tech (Craig, from VIP Marine, LINK) check the system for pressure, component temps and overall system health – all of which he pronounced to be sound.  Puzzlement.  Theoretically the issue could be a control board about to go bad, or an intermittently sticking pressure switch, or just a piece of flotsam that unstuck itself from the cooling loop…with the latter being the most likely and preferable.  But at any rate the problem seems to be gone.  Perhaps occasionally you just get lucky.
The "Before" and "After" Pics of an Overhead Light Bezel (Trim Ring).  It is
Not a Difficult Task to Buff Out, but There Are 40 of Them.
Moving on from that, we turned our attention to another minor item on “The List” of things to do.  This one was to replace or repair the overhead lighting trim rings that dotted the ceiling panels in the pilot house, galley, salon, and both staterooms (and heads).  The faux chrome plastic bezel rings were thoroughly pitted and turning green after 17 years of salty exposure.  

As it turns out, rubbing them down with a 3M Scotch Pad soaked with white vinegar restores them quite nicely and is a lot cheaper than buying new ones.  But there are 40 of the damned things and that took a while given the difficulty of prying them off and snapping them back on.  (After the first dozen or so we learned a useful trick: lightly coat the inside of the snap-on trim ring with Superlube synthetic grease… after which they became much easier to reinstall.)

The Pilot House Overhead Panel (Removed) Where Water Was Leaking; the Red
Arrow Points to the Sirius/XM Antenna Wire Feed That Was the Source.
Next, with the deluge of monsoon events here, we discovered a rain water leak in the pilot house.  It didn’t take long to narrow it down to the Sirius/XM satellite antenna wire where it fed through the pilot house roof.  Coincidentally the Furuno (BBWX3) weather receiver started complaining about intermittent antenna signaling, so Rick decided to just rip out the whole thing and start fresh by installing a new one, a Shakespeare SRA-50 unit.  That turned out to be a good idea as we found frayed wiring inside the old unit.  Once the new one was operational the Furuno weather receiver was back to its ops-normal happy state, and the new gasket / caulking had solved the rain water leak.
Looking at the Underside of the Old Sirius/XM Antenna, with the Red Arrow
Pointing to the Frayed (and Eventually Broken) Wire.  It Was Pretty Obvious that
a Previous Owner Had Tried to Re-caulk & Tighten with Poor Technique.
The New (and Properly Caulked) Sirius/XM Antenna on the Roof of the Pilot House.  With No Leaks.
Another annual fun job that came due was to remove and clean the tank level probes for the black water holding tank.  This isn't a difficult task by any means, but it isn't a particularly pleasant one, either.  The most important tools involved are a pair of nitrile gloves for your hands and a clothespin for your nose. 
The Top of the Black Water (Waste) Tank with the Yellow Arrow Pointing to
the Tank-Level-Probe Assembly that Needs to be Removed & Cleaned Annually

The device itself is dead nuts simple, with three adjustable level floats attached to a threaded top cap, and easy to remove (after labeling and disconnecting the four lead wires.)  We then placed it into a large bag-lined bucket to (quickly) carry outside for a thorough hose down.  We had replaced the original probe assembly with a new one when we first bought the boat, so it was in pretty good shape, easy to clean, and simple to reinstall.  Rick followed up with a healthy shot of air sanitizer, also replacing the vent line charcoal filter, and those should not require attention for another year.

A Schematic of What the Float Probes Look Like Inside the Black Water Tank.  It Doesn't Take Much Imagination
to Figure Out Why They Need to be Removed and Cleaned at Periodic Intervals...Unpleasant as that May Be.
Lastly, it was obvious that Ghost Rider was in need of some TLC on its fiberglass exterior.  While the light grey hull still looked good, above the gunwales was another story.  Months of Florida sun and rain -- absent the daily chamois mopping since we were no longer living aboard -- left a lot of white fiberglass looking less than white; dirt stains were digging in.  In between rain showers we spent several days of washing with Z-Tuff, removing tougher stains with Collonite fiberglass cleaner, followed up by applications of Collonite boat wax.  In the exhausting and soupy heat of a south Florida summer it reminded us why we normally try to be elsewhere at this time of year.
Ghost Rider Looking a Bit Cleaner While Comfortably Nestled in Her Slip at Legacy Harbour in Fort Myers
Another Shot of the Bilge Cavity. All of this Gear is Located on the High Water Shelf which Sits About 13 Inches Above the Normal Bilge Level. The Black Arrow Points to the Rule High Water Pump. The White Arrow Points to the Float Switch that Activates the Pump.  The Yellow Arrow Points Out the High Water Alarm Switch (which Triggers an Ear Piercing Scream in the Pilot House.)  The Blue Arrow Points to the New (Monnit) Remote Water Sensor, which is Now Mounted Vertically on a Black Starboard Base, Extending 3 to 4 Inches Lower Than the Shelf.

Closeup. of the New (Monnit) Remote Water Sensor (White Arrow) Mounted Vertically on a Black Starboard Base (Yellow Arrow), Extending 3 to 4 Inches Lower Than the High Water Bilge Shelf, but Still 8 or 9 Inches Above Normal Water Level.
Last but Not Least....Ghost Rider Got a pair of New Stainless Arctic Tumblers Courtesy of Daughter Suzanne.
 Perfect for Goombay Ghosts!