Tuesday, June 17, 2014

For Sail

Hello strangers….been really busy lately and have let the blog fall to the wayside…sorry. Since I've last written, many projects including the rewiring of the battery system as well as the re-insulation of our fridge have been completed.  The rewiring turned out, as expected, to be a real pain in the ass.  In typical boat fashion, it was one of those projects where no matter how many lists you make as well as how comprehensive think you are, you are always inevitably going to forget something.  Grrrrr….more on that in another blog post.  

Frank also re-insulated our fridge with Aerogel, which is this silica-based insulation originally developed by NASA and way more efficient that fiberglass or foam.   It has an R-value of 10 per inch and was cheaper and easier to work with than vacuum panels.  Though in truth, less efficient in comparison to vacuum panels, which have an R-value of 50.  But vacuum panels are puncture prone and once punctured, their R-values drop from 50 to 0, making them useless.  Aerogel does not suffer the same fate.   It is hydrophobic (it repels water) but we still took the extra precaution of adding an extra moisture barrier.  Once insulated, he finished out the interior with a textured FRP panelling from Home Depot, that is typically used in shower stalls.  At the same time, he also installed our new Frigoboat refrigeration which is far superior to our old AC Fridge, that I had previously written about. It's tiny, quiet, and a power miser. When I say small, I mean the compressor is 1/4 the size compared to the old one, and we even opted for the larger Danfoss BD-50.  A smart speed controller was also installed to help the compressor run more efficiently.  This project was well worth it and we are very pleased with the outcome.  

The biggest recent news which I have to report is that we took Moitessier out for the first time this weekend.  It was an unnerving day to say the least, but we did it, and it was fun as hell. Going out of the inlet was surreal.  It was the culmination of everything we had worked towards for the past 3 years and to be driving your home around with everything you own inside is sort of an odd feeling.  I remember the day before I kept thinking, what do I need to bring, and then quickly realizing that anything I could have brought was already there.  

We left bright and early along with 2 buddy boats which happen to live on the same dock as us, as well as being some of the first friends that we made here in St Augustine.  Frank and I kept wondering if we were actually dreaming and had to remind each other that we weren't (though Frank is still asking me if that really happened).  We couldn't have picked a better day and though the winds were light at 8-10 knots, Moitessier sailed like a queen.  Far better than either of us had expected in fact.  For being a notoriously heavy and slow boat, we were surprised when we were averaging half the wind speed with only the main and jib up and were gliding along comfortably at 4.5-5 knots on a beam reach.  We kept playing with the sails trying to eek out what we could.  As it always seems to happen, dolphins made an appearance at exactly the right moment.  As soon as we hoisted the mainsail and killed the engine, a pod of around 50 dolphins came to play with us, slapping their tails as they dove down.  It was at that moment, I turned and told Frank that I thought that it was the best day of my life and he warned me not to jinx it.   

After having a beautiful day of sailing, we made our way back through the inlet at exactly the same time that everyone else decided to.  Since it was Father's day and there was an offshore regatta, the inlet was packed with traffic that reminded me of the Williamsburg Bridge at rush hour.  Because nothing had gone wrong thus far, we kept awaiting our usual dose of humility, which made our return slightly more stressful.  Having checked the radar several times throughout our sail, we knew we could possibly be faced with some pretty strong thunderstorms, so we accepted that that was going to be our fate.  Luckily for us, it was not. As we were making our final turn to approach our slip with large thunder clouds directly at our heels, everything came to a sudden stop.  Thud….we had run aground in the middle of the channel.  Apparently a sandbar had formed, even though it had recently been dredged. Derrrrr.  It was a dead low tide, so our worst case scenario would've been having to sit with our bruised egos for another hour or so until the tide came in, but luck was on our side…. Not five minutes after our grounding, our friend, Eddie who works at the boatyard came around the bend on his jonboat with its big ass outboard and pulled us right out of the mud. After creating such a scene with our grounding, we even felt lucky for the crowd that had formed as it's always nice to have extra hands catching my ill thrown dock lines.  Especially since this was both of our first times docking a boat….any boat, EVER.  Yeah…docking drills are definitely in our future. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Assault and Battery

One of the most important projects keeping us from taking the boat out for a daysail is our battery situation.  The batteries we currently have will not hold a charge without some sort of power source (i.e. engine, battery charger).  This means that we can't go for a sail without leaving the engine on, as shutting it off would mean no battery power to re-start it. We all know that with our minimal sailing experience, docking without power would be catastrophic for dear Moitessier.  Since I've been crowned queen of our electrical system, this is something I have been meaning to tackle.  We are in the midst of rebuilding both house and start battery banks as I have seen many faults in our current system.  Frank has been waiting patiently for me to get the ball rolling on this, but with my busy work schedule, I simply have not had the time.  Fortunately for me, Frank has decided to take the initiative and do what he can to help start the project.   A couple months ago, before we splashed, Frank had built us a battery box made from fiberglass and plywood.  He based the measurements off of the footprint of the batteries, and created a box that would very snugly fit the house bank.  From there, he bolted the box to the floor and the wall of the space where we are going to place the batteries. Since the new battery bank is being relocated closer to the centerline of the boat, in the space that our old generator used to occupy, this posed a slight problem.  This meant that we had to figure out how to lift four 110 lb batteries up and into our battery box, which is in a small space under our staircase.  

One night, while I was at work, Frank designed a block and tackle system that would help lift the weight.  When I returned home, it was just a matter of me pulling a line, while Frank helped to lift and guide the batteries into their places.  It was, as usual, a stroke of genius as the system worked out perfectly as he had planned.  Now that they are sitting nicely in their new home, it is just a matter of wiring them up along with our new start battery. If only there were a few more hours in a day...

On a side note, we recently discovered this really repulsive alien creature called the Bristle worm.  One night, while walking from the boat to the car, we noticed millions (not exaggerating here) of these little red creatures squiggling around in the water.  At first, we thought that perhaps they were baby shrimp, but after looking more carefully, we realized that they did not dart around the same way shrimp do.  Instead, they were literally swimming around frantically, much like tadpoles.  After grabbing some in a cup and inspecting them at the fish cleaning station, we saw that they were most certainly NOT shrimp.  These red things looked like tricolored slimy caterpillars, and upon a quick google search via smartphone, Frank discovered that they are called Bristle worms and that they come around once a year to mate when the salt water warms up.  Now if that doesn’t give you nightmares, he also found out that the bristles sting you if you touch them and that they have “strong jaws that bite.” Ackkkkk! After running away from the scene of the crime, with our skins crawling, into what we thought was our safe haven, Moitessier, we found that a few had made it into our head! We were surrounded.  I thought we were experiencing the eleventh plague of Egypt, and conceded that the water was going to turn into blood and that the locusts were about to swarm the boat. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and the little worms eventually died in our toilet.  I guess you can say our head is not considered a hospitable environment.  

Notice how many there were!
Bristle worm

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Dingy Dinghy Fitting

With the outboard motor finally remedied (or so we thought), we decided to go for a dinghy ride yesterday.  Since I have been marathon bar tending, working 6 days a week since we got back from NY, it was a much welcome respite for my one day off.   Midway through our ride, the motor conked out on us.  This was due to a faulty fitting (the fitting that attaches from the gas tank to the outboard), which to our surprise failed after only one day of use.  Piece of crap!  Luckily for us, Frank had the foresight to carry an extra fitting with him and quickly jerry-rigged it as I was in the midst of very slowly rowing us back to the marina.  With a quick jaunt to West Marine, a new fitting was bought and re-installed.  We resumed our chilly, but fun ride on the water in search of dolphins.  We never did find them, but being on the water, feeling the wind blow on my face, and seeing wildlife everywhere most certainly made my day.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Passing Gas

With our return from NY, it was time to get down to some of the periodic maintenance we had let go during our extended stay on the hard.  Now that we are back in the water and the weather is starting to warm up, we thought it would be nice to have our dinghy at our disposal.  When we first moved down here, we had kept up with making sure to start our outboard engine at least once a month to be sure that the carburetor wouldn't get gummed up from stale gas. (Gasoline degrades to shellac when left unused.)  A carburetor is a device that blends air and fuel for an internal combustion engine and if its not working correctly you're dead in the water. When we got on the hard, that motivation faded fast, and the maintenance got put on the back burner.  Bad idea!  Frank has spent the past couple of days trying to get our outboard started and running correctly. Before this, he has had very limited  (i.e. zero) experience with small gas engines.  At this point, he has disassembled, cleaned, and re-assembled the carburetor and fuel lines at least 4 times, re-gapped the spark plugs, and checked the impeller nearly as many times as well.  It turned out that aside from the initial dirty carburetor, a simple 10-cent O-ring in the carb was causing the engine to run poorly.  

As far as we understand, carburetors tend to be the main culprit when an outboard either refuses to run or runs poorly. Frank was a bit apprehensive when he started taking apart the carburetor for the first time without any instructions, so he made it a point to chronicle his experience in case anyone else out there is in the same predicament.  Our outboard is a 4 stroke Nissan 9.8 and should be the same as the 8hp Nissan as well as the 8 and 9.8 Tohatsu, though I'm sure this is relevant to a lot of other small outboard carburetors as well.   

The first step is remove the carburetor from the engine.  To do that, first, you need to remove the throttle linkage from the carburetor body by loosening the set screw and sliding the connecting rod out.

Set screw for throttle connecting rod

Be careful not to lose the rod as there is nothing holding it in place on its other end.

Throttle connecting rod back end that easily falls off

Next, the choke connecting rod must be removed.  The small white plastic retaining clip rotates down freeing the rod.

Choke linkage

Remove the hose connected to the top of the air box from the engine side.

Air box hose

The fuel line must also be removed from the back side of the engine.  Some gas will most likely spill out as the line is removed, so have some paper towels handy.

Fule line

Now that its all freed up, its time to remove the carburetor (as well as the air box as it comes off with the carb) from the engine.  Loosen the 2 10mm bolts and the whole shebang should easily pull off.

One of the two 10mm screws attaching the carb/air box to the engine

At this point it's time to take the carburetor to a CLEAN work surface to continue disassembling it.  On the bottom of the carb bowl there are 4 phillips screws that need to be removed.  Once off place the screws in a small dish so that they don't get lost, and separate the bowl from the carburetor body.  There  will most likely still be some gas left inside, so its best to do this over a disposable plate to avoid making a mess.

Screws attaching the bowl to the body

Inside the float is visible, and can be removed by loosing the phillips retaining screw.

Removing the retaining screw that holds the float in place

Once freed up gently lift the float body straight up; careful not to lose the needle in the process.  Remove the needle as well as the hinge pin form the float and place them in a small container of carb cleaner (a shot glass works well for this).

Floate with the needle and roller pin still attached

 Now with a flat head screwdriver remove the two brass screws that are visible.

Larger of the two brass screws

They are easily stripped so be careful.  Once removed, place the screws into your small container of carb cleaner along with the needle and pin.

Removing the smaller screw that hides the jet

Under the smaller of the two screws lies the jet.  You will need a small flathead to get down in there and unscrew it.

The jet is visible in the lower hole

The jet is one of the most prone places on the carburetor to become clogged by small debris because of the tiny passages it contains.  A specialty carburetor jet cleaning tool is available, however, a piece of mono-filament fishing line will work if your cheap like me.  The idea is to clear out any debris or gummed up gas from the tiny hole down the center of the jet.  A soak in the carburetor cleaner will help loosen all the nasty stuff up.  


Next, flip the carburetor over and remove the SS plate from its top.  At this point the carb is as disassembled as it needs to be for the average cleaning.  Take the body outside along with the bowl that you removed earlier and blast it all with the carburetor cleaner.  Make sure to pay special attention to all of the small holes and passages through out the body, and use a liberal amount of cleaner (this is no place to skimp). 

SS plate on top of carb

When your sure that the carb body, bowl, jet, needle, pin, and brass screws are absolutely positively squeaky clean, you can begin to re-assemble everything.  This is a good time to check the gaskets and o-rings that you removed and replace any damaged ones.  When you have everything back together and mounted back on the engine the last thing you have to pay attention to is the adjustment on the throttle linkage.  With the throttle set to full on the handle, the throttle on the carburetor should hit its stop.  If it doesn't just loosen up the set screw and re-adjust until you have it right.

Throttle hitting its stop on the carb body when the handle is set to full throttle

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ice Ice, Baby

We just recently got back from a frigid trip up north.  Reason for torturing ourselves with the winter was because I had to take a DC Electrical systems course in Annapolis.  A few years back, Frank had taken a Diesel Mechanics course at the Annapolis School of Seamanship and touted it to be a very comprehensive, hands-on class.  Since I had been struggling with understanding wiring and how to build a well balanced electrical system on board, I figured the best thing I could do would be to get a more hands-on learning experience versus trying to learn through reading very dry textbook material.  Unlike Frank, I cannot learn through books, and trying to retain all the pieces of information involving DC systems has proven to be incredibly frustrating.  I cannot say more about how great the class really was.  Before the class, I had a very basic knowledge of how to wire some piece of equipment into our panel, but after taking the class, I now feel confident in troubleshooting any electrical fault as well as building a safe, efficient way of charging and maintaining our brand new Rolls Royce batteries.  The class teaches you everything from theory, what a diode is, to how to use a multi-meter, how to properly fuse, to the types of batteries, inverters, chargers, and regulators you can get for your boat.  Bob Campbell did a really good job teaching it all in a concise and relatable manner and being able to work with all the systems hands-on has helped increase my understanding of electricity exponentially.  If you do take the class, I recommend taking both parts 1 & 2, as part 1 really only covers just the basics.  

Annapolis School of Seamanship
Hands on training
Since we were taking a trip up north anyway, we couldn't skip out on seeing my beloved New York, and our well-missed friends and family.  The trip was short but sweet, and seeing 10-12 inches of snow made us feel a little less bad about living in Florida.  It reminded me of how miserable winter in NY can be, and upon my third day there, I got really sick with a fever and what I believe was the flu.  Yikes.  We haven't really seen a true winter since moving to St Augustine, so turning into a human popsicle in 7 degree weather was certainly not ideal (Mind you, 7 degrees was the HIGH and not the low). I can't believe that we have lived that way for most of our lives! Seeing only warm weather for a couple months out of a year is not cool (well, actually, it's too cool.)  Knowing that the cold was only temporary for us, we took advantage of how beautiful a white snowfall can be and played like school children on a snow day.  Snowball fights and snow angels made an appearance along with our dusty winter hats, shearlings, and snow boots.  Frank even had to shovel my parents’ driveway to get the car out, while I sat inside sipping hot chocolate, watching him through the window.  Thanks, but I’d rather squeeze into a tiny space to work an angle grinder inches from my face any day!  

My sister and I 
Caught in the Act! Frank getting ready to chuck a snowball at me
Yes, that says 7 degrees at 11:31am
Upstate, NY...
I even got to play with my darling, Cynthia :)
My brother and Cynthia
So long NY, until next time….