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.

Jan 2020: A Side Trip to the Abacos

As mentioned at the end of another blog entry, Chelle has trouble sitting still.  After the hectic holiday visits she headed off to Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas for two weeks of disaster relief volunteer work.  She hooked up with the All Hands and Hearts organization there (aka AHAH, LINK) joining their volunteers already on the ground working on the reconstruction of schools, a clinic and library, and teachers’ homes.   

When Hurricane Dorian parked over The Abacos and Grand Bahama for a couple of days while spinning viciously at Cat-5 strength, it pretty much flattened those islands.  And afterwards, Marsh Harbor was basically a pile of waterlogged toothpicks, and those soon turned into moldy ones.  
Chelle headed over there in mid-January, and upon return she was exhausted.  AHAH doesn't mess around -- they're not just a gaggle of volunteers, but rather they bring experienced program managers, project managers and team leads to organize and direct the teams of volunteers, and utilize disciplined direction to get defined and palpable results.  Work days start at sunrise and go nearly to sunset.  Clearing debris, scrubbing mold, vacuuming, disinfecting and rebuilding is really hard and cyclically repetitive work.  If you're on a "muck and gut" team (like Chelle) you don't sleep each night, you pass out.
But it's very, very rewarding.  In addition to the videos above, below you'll find a sampling of the collection of photos Chelle managed to snap off while there.  They will give you an idea of the destruction and despair, but also the hope, optimism and good work going on over there.

AHAH specializes in mold remediation which consists of the following process also known as “Sani”:

** Scrub - Each piece of wood is scrubbed three times with a wire brush on each side of the exposed piece of wood: 1) scrub with the grain – usually vertical, 2) scrub horizontal, 3) scrub in a circular motion.  One of the pictures below depicts an AHAH volunteer scrubbing up in the rafters.  One thing learned after two days of scrubbing was to pick a large room with lots of long runs of studs and rafters; cubbies and nooks are a bear to scrub.  In another pic you’ll see Chelle equipped with respirator mask and scrub brushes getting ready to work an 80 year old man’s home.

** Vacuum – Each piece of wood is vacuumed in two passes (vertical then horizontal) with wet vacs using whatever attachments are needed (or available).  Unfortunately AHAH needs to do a full inventory of the wet vac attachments and re-order.  We were really hurting for the right attachments to fit into nooks & crannies and some of the attachments had to be duct-taped onto the vac. 

** Chemical Treatment – This is done with a solution called Shockwave (ammonium chloride) which is sprayed over all the exposed wood.  It requires wearing a Tyvek suit in addition to the respirator mask used for scrub & vac.

** Muck & Gut – In one of the pictures you see a child’s toys and toddler shoes on the floor of what was their home.  This particular 2bed/1 bath home, the right side of a duplex, had 50% of its roof blown off.  For AHAH, it was a complete muck & gut meaning removal of all drywall, door & window trim, countertops, cabinets, bathroom tub & sink.  In the left side of the duplex they had roof damage but nothing torn off and we mostly needed to only muck and gut the lower half of everything in the home due to water damage.  The owner of both duplexes had allowed extended family to move into the left side duplex so we were trying to work around all their belongings.  However, we ultimately gutted the entire kitchen so we’re not sure they continued to stay there or not.  One of the pictures shows Chelle with crow bar in hand tearing off door trim.

Part of the AHAH Base camp is the Every Child Counts School, which is the only school for special needs children in all of the Abaco Islands.  The school suffered a lot of damage which AHAH is working to repair while using the school as a base of operations for now.  Chelle stayed in Seydel Hall along with 31 other bunk mates.  Luckily she scored a lower bunk but was surrounded by two especially heavy snorers and with earplugs that would not stay in her ears (a week in a half into her stay a fellow volunteer shared some silly-putty-like ear plugs that could be molded and stayed in place – at last some sleep).  You can see from the pictures that the bunk beds have mosquito nets that the volunteers bring with them – all bedding is supplied by each volunteer and many will leave things behind; that was fortunate for Chelle since her checked bag with air mattress, sleeping bag, sheet, pillow and mosquito tent did not arrive when she did and had to be picked up the next day.

Soon AHAH will be opening a new barracks facility at the base camp, an interesting structure donated by Sprung (and locally nick named the Taj Mahal) – the video below will give you an idea what that looks like.  All of the communal bunk beds will be moved there and house up to 90 people.  One can only imagine the cacophony of snoring that will bounce of those walls.
At Base the day starts about 5:45 AM for most; get dressed in your bunk bed in the dark and hope you put everything on the right way.  Grab your headlamp or flashlight and wander to the “mess hall” which was set up as a kitchen plus two long plywood tables for making breakfast and lunch sandwiches.  Chelle lived on PB&J sandwiches for breakfast and tunafish or canned chicken sandwiches for lunch for 11 days.  Thankfully, they had coffee so you quickly got your business done and everyone met up in the outdoor dining area at 6:45 AM sharp – PPE in hand (Personal Protection Equipment – hard hat, safety glasses, respirator mask, work boots & gloves), ready to grab job site supplies, load up the trucks and be rolling to the job site by 7:00 AM. 

At the job site the Team Lead conducted a stretch circle each morning – each volunteer selected a favorite stretch and introduced themselves to the team for that day.  Your teams changed daily so it was a great way to meet your fellow volunteers (there were 90 some volunteers the day Chelle arrived and around 60 something upon departure – constant turnover of people on base).  Then, off to work whether that be Sani (scrubbing or vacuum or spray) or Muck & Gut, or roofing, or some lucky people got assigned to work at World Central Kitchen or the rebuild of St. Francis School getting it ready to reopen in the next month.  You were at the job site until about 3:45 with an hour break for lunch (at the site; there was no transportation once dropped off and typically no ‘facilities’).  A truck arrived around 3:45 to 4:00 PM to bring you back to base which allowed about 45 minutes to clean up and shower before the mandatory daily 5:00 PM meeting in the outdoor dining area.  It was important to Chelle to get showered before that meeting since the showers were outdoor and cold-water only, and by the end of the 5:00 PM meeting it’s really dark in the showers.  Those cold fronts that blew through Florida in January blew through the Abaco Islands as well, and that shower could be really cold. 

The 5pm meeting was to greet & meet new arrivals, walk through the day’s work results and discuss the next day’s assignments – all documented on the work board; there were about 9 to 12 job sites in progress most of the time.  After the meeting everyone lined up in the mess hall to grab a hot plate of food (same dinner rotation every week – spaghetti, chicken curry, burgers & fries, chicken souse, tuna pasta, BBQ chicken); each volunteer is on their own for dinner on Sunday, the one day off each week.  After dinner, everyone just socialized a bit and got prepared for the next day.  AH&H provided a clean volunteer t-shirt each day; there was one washing machine on base strictly for washing the t-shirts which were then hung to dry.  Any personal clothing to be washed was your responsibility in a bucket with a stick to use as agitator.  Volunteers hung their personal wash wherever they could outside the buildings.  Chelle was usually in her bunk by 8:00 PM to read and wind down before the 9:00 PM lights out and quiet hours.

Sunday was our day off and 8 of us decided to drive an hour south to Sandy Point which had sustained only relatively light storm damage.  A staff member was kind enough to drive us down there Saturday night and we got four rooms at Oiesha’s “Resort”, which was much more like a Motel 6 but we LOVED it: electricity, a real bed, a real bathroom with toilet and hot shower AND she let us use her washer/dryer for our clothes. (Chelle knew there was a washer & dryer and recommended to everyone to bring their stuff – we all threw it together into two loads – heaven!) Oiesha’s was across the street from a beautiful beach and we spent the day at “Nancy’s” restaurant and bar on the beach.  Lots of folks from base arrived on Sunday for the day.  Our group had planned to take a taxi back to base but managed to grab a ride with some of the others from base that had come for the day.  Then on Monday it was back to work!

Chelle was so very ready to return to Florida the following Sunday – exhausted from the work, the Spartan living conditions, and lack of restful sleep.  But, she hopes to return again; although next time will be a shorter stay as 2 weeks was a bit much.  She’s currently reaching out to AH&H to determine what supplies they might need when Ghost Rider journeys back to the Bahamas in April.  We are also working with Stokes Marine in Fort Myers to haul some of their collected supplies to the Hope Town area on Elbow Cay.

AHAH is committed to recovery in Marsh Harbour for two years (until Oct 2021).  There was a big difference in activity levels from Chelle’s first week and her second week; people are coming back, there’s far more traffic and school buses are beginning to run.  The Bahamian Government is finally (after five months) starting to take action and is targeting to have electricity working by sometime in March of this year.  They also finally allowed AHAH to begin rebuilding the public schools there (to date, AHAH has been restricted to rebuilding private schools); they were just awarded the rebuild of CAPS – Central Abaco Primary School – the largest school in the Abaco Islands serving 800 students.

Of course All Hands and Hearts is not just working on disaster relief in the Bahamas….they have active teams on the ground around the globe, in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Australia, the Phillipines, Peru, Mozambique and Nepal.  They do good things.
Some of the Devastation in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island
More of the Damage & Devastation
Interior Structures Are Embedded with Mold
More Devastation
Not Uncommon....Nobody Knows for Sure Where the Boat Originated
There Are Tragic Stories in Every Pile of Rubble
This Served as Our Barracks Building
These 16 Bunks Served 32 Volunteers
Close Up of the Bunks....the Mosquito Netting is Important
Outdoor Showers....and COLD Water Only
Gearing Up for Battle -- Sani Duty (Mold Remediation)
Work Board - with Team Assignments
The Only Special-Needs School ("Every Child Counts") in All of the Abacos...Now Being Renovated
Sani Work (Mold Remediation) in the Rafters
"Muck & Gut" -- Crowbarring Off Trim & Drywall
Another Worksite....Muck & Gut in Progress, New Roof Coming Next
But We Did Have One Day of Rest...Beach & Break Time (Sandy Point, About an Hour's Drive
 South of Marsh Harbour)
Some Day It Will All Look Like This Again (From Our Last Visit in 2018)