Thursday, February 6, 2020

Jan 2020: Projects in Port & in the Abacos

Happy New Year!  We welcomed 2020 still confined to port, as poor weather had intervened and prevented our planned cruise up to Sarasota for Christmas week.  That meteorological mess consisted of a cold front accompanied by gusty winds and rain for several days, and was enough of a deterrent to keep Ghost Rider tethered to the dock.  One of the many nice things about retirement is the flexibility to pick our weather windows….our car got us to Sarasota and the planned family rendezvous just fine.  The remainder of our time since our last blog post has mostly been occupied with out-of-town visitors escaping the cold winter weather to the north.  And Chelle took a side trip back to the Abacos….more on that further below.

That also gave us time to turn our attention to a few more boat projects….some expected, some not.
We Replaced Four of These Poly-planar Speakers
Due to Splits in the Speaker Cones
First up was replacing some of the stereo speakers in the boat.  Ghost Rider has three pairs of these (salon, pilot house and flybridge), and both pairs of interior speakers were in dire need of replacement – the speaker cones had deteriorated with splits and cracks and the distorted sound was getting annoying.  (We don’t know the age of these, but strangely the exterior flybridge units are holding up better.)  At any rate, it was easy enough to find drop-in replacements (Poly-planar 6x9 200W on Amazon), and with only six screws and two wires each were easy to remove and replace.

Having to replace yet another Whale fresh water T-fitting was an unpleasant surprise.  During one routine morning boat-check Rick glanced at the bilge pump counter and saw “36” – where normally we expect to see something from zero to five over the course of a day and that’s only if the A/C has been running.  Uh-oh.  After scrambling to check the bilge level (normal, so the bilge pump was keeping up) the scavenger hunt began….from where was that water coming?  While checking various under-floor panels we heard the fresh water pump kick on and run for an extended period; a quick check of the fresh water tank level showed a significant decrease from the previous day, too.  So now we knew we were looking for a fresh water system leak.  We turned off the breaker for the water pump, and eventually Rick found the culprit, one of the many Whale 15mm T-fittings scattered throughout the boat….this one immediately adjacent to, and on the supply side of, the fresh water pump in the engine room.  We carry spares, so the replacement fix was relatively quick and easy.
The Yellow Arrow Points to the Whale
T-Fitting That Was Leaking

Then it was time to call out an A/C tech to the boat once again.  The air handler in the master state room had (again) started to throw “HI PS” errors and shutting itself down.  Previously Rick had been able to clear that error with strainer cleanouts and running reverse cycle heat; but those techniques were proving fruitless this time.  Using the infrared heat gun we found compressor coil temps reaching 156F (normally around 120F) and the unit would shut itself down after a few minutes of runtime. Craig from VIP Marine (LINK) found a hole in his busy schedule to make a visit and after hooking up his manifold pressure gauges (finding high-side pressure way above the normal range) he quickly diagnosed the problem as clogging in the fresh water cooling loop.  We really had no idea if or when that plumbing had last been scoured out, but in an oft-used A/C system in these warm waters it’s not uncommon for raw water loops to get sclerotic with barnacles and other unwanted nasties.

Our first step was to remove the hose from the thru-hull intake, where we found the equivalent of a small tree growing; we cleared that out using a long screwdriver as a rigid drain snake.  Next up was to remove the four raw water manifold hoses downstream of the pump and run an acid cleaner through those.  A loud “pop” and debris coming from the port side discharge was evidence we were progressing with removing considerable sclerosis from the cooling loop.  After a few hours of effort followed by a leak check of the reassembled plumbing, the A/C system was pronounced healthy again.  The improved water flow, pressure and temperature checks confirmed that.  Rick followed up with a “Barnacle Buster” soak over the following days as additional preventive insurance.
When We Removed the Hose and Elbow Coming Out of This A/C Seacock We Found a Small Tree Growing
Inside the Thru-Hull.  First Step Was to Unclog That Mess.
Another project involved updating the ship’s Nobeltec computer.  That device is a Silverstone DC-powered computer running the TimeZero Professional navigation software; unfortunately that’s a mission critical system running under the Windows 10 (Pro) operating system, which is at best only a consumer-grade platform, and not particularly conducive to high availability needs.  Once huge drawback is Microsoft removed almost all ability to control the frequency and timing of its software updates, which occasionally can be quite disruptive.  To manage that we generally keep that PC’s Internet connection turned off, and on top of that we run a 3rd party utility that effectively interrupts that “phone home” behavior.

Thus periodically we need to manually check for OS security updates and functional upgrades/fixes, but only when we have the time to manage possibly adverse consequences.  And that did not go well – after twice applying updates, and then rolling back to recover, the computer turned into a brick. It took Rick three days to recover it – performing a BIOS reset and fresh install of the latest build for Windows 10, followed by reinstallation and configuration of our Nobeltec TimeZero Pro navigation software.  At least we were able to recover routes and other data files from our backups.  On the other hand the newer version of Windows 10 would not recognize the computer’s PCI serial I/O card (which feeds backup NMEA 0183 navdata to the TimeZero software) even after reinstalling new drivers.  A newer I/O card and driver set finally resolved that.
The Ship's Navigation Computer is a 12 Volt Small Form Factor Silverstone Model.  It's Tucked in the Pilot House
Console Locker, a Challenge to Access.  This Pic is with Its Cover Removed to Provide Access to Its Innards So
the PCI Serial I/O Card Can Be Replaced.
Additionally, in the category of “better late than never” we made an interesting discovery regarding the boat’s LPG system.  Ghost Rider carries two aluminum 15.8 pound (empty weight) gas bottles to feed the galley’s gas stove and oven, a common arrangement in long range cruisers – alternative electric units are energy (battery) hogs. The LPG bottles have been securely mounted (vertically, side-by-side) in an isolated and ventilated cockpit locker mostly in accordance with ABYC standards.  Suspecting one of the bottles was approaching empty and requiring a refill, we removed it to weigh it on a digital scale – and for the first time took notice a label on the bottle that read “horizontal cylinder.”  After researching exactly what that meant we realized the heretofore vertical installation violated a rather significant safety measure (and probably interfered somewhat with consistently reliable operation.)  Rick bought some stainless hardware and drilled new studs in the floor of the locker to allow for a secure horizontal mount – although only one bottle would fit in there with that orientation. 
The Revised Horizontal Mount for LPG.  The Yellow Arrows Point to the Two New Stainless Steel Studs and
Wingnuts that Were Required.  The Red Arrows Indicate the Previous Studs Used for Vertical Mounting.
The second (spare) LPG bottle got strapped down in the lazarette storage area.  The better longer term solution would be two new bottles designed for vertical installation – but those aluminum things are pricey and that can wait.

As for Chelle’s side trip…to the Abacos:  Not being one to take the traditional approach to retirement, she has yet to master the skill of being laid back.  After accommodating holiday visits by her mum, then her sister and entire family, then our daughter, followed shortly thereafter by four of her gal pals, she headed off to Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas for two weeks of disaster relief volunteer work.  Via the All Hands and Hearts organization (aka AHAH, LINK), their gritty manual labor efforts are targeting the reconstruction of schools, a clinic and library, and teachers’ homes.  

For more details on that experience, check out the separate blog entry at this LINK.

What’s next:  We’re not planning any significant sorties until the March timeframe, at which time we are hoping to cruise around to the east coast for a (brief?) visit to Yacht Tech’s yard in palm Beach, and then heading off to the Bahamas again. February will be preparation month – provisioning all sorts of supplies and food, along with pre-departure oil changes and other system preparations.  We're also looking into using Ghost Rider as a "mule" to haul needed supplies to The Abacos relief efforts.  More on all that in the next blog post.  

Once again, we wish all a Happy New Year and best wishes for a safe, healthy and enjoyable 2020.

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