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 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.