Saturday, February 27, 2016

Drive-by (Video) Shooting

I was out on Lake Washington this past week, enjoying some unseasonably warm sunshine and Jason of cruised up and chatted me up about Ripple.  He had been shooting a video of a large yacht, asked if he could take some shots of Ripple. I was happy to agree.  The result is this video.  Jason got one detail wrong... my trip to Alaska was not alone, but rather with 5 crew, one at a time.

Thank you, Jason, for a very nice video hommage!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Installing a Wood Burning Stove: Part III

The Firing

With the deck iron in place, it is time to work out the details of setting the stove in place and fitting the flue pipes.  The enclosure from the original kerosene heater is lined in asbestos and requires some modification to make it more effective. Basically, the floor of the enclosure needed to be raised and leveled, and the space below converted to a short term fuel storage spot.  A simple carpentry effort made short work of that.

I've re-used the asbestos sheets that lined the space.  Asbestos is very dangerous as dust, but as long as it is stable, it presents no health hazard.  Reusing it involved making a few cuts (dust), but also keeps the material out of the landfill,  so the tradeoff seems reasonable to me.

The alternative to asbestos is to create a heat shield which is comprised of sheet metal (typically copper or stainless steel) offset from combustible surfaces by an air barrier (1 inch is the standard recommendation).  In designing mine, I educed that air space to 1/2 inch as the enclosure is already lined with asbestos.

Before patterning the heat shield I worked out the flue design as I wanted the heat shield to track the configuration of the flue in an esthetically pleasing (and safe) configuration.

The flue is made up of 3 inch diameter stainless steel components readily available from the local chandlery.  I needed two standard lengths of flue pipe, two 45-degree elbows, a manual butterfly damper, connected so as to bring the flue gases from the stove to the deck iron in a dogleg fashion.

Cutting the flue pipe is simple with an angle grinder set up with a cutting wheel.  Flue pipe comes with a crimped end and a plain end, and you need one of each end type at every connection.  It was fairly strait-forward to get it all to fit together, and the elbows afford sufficient wiggle room to cheat a bit.

With the flue pipe assembly in place, I then used a piece of cardboard to make a pattern for a stainless steel heat shield that I had fabricated at a local sheet metal shop.  The single piece shield has a wrap-around configuration inside the enclosure, and then rises to the cabin top in a dog leg that echoes the flue so as to reflect heat from the flue pipe away from the combustible surfaces.

I also patterned a finish piece at the top to hide the place where the deck iron intrudes into the cabin, and to provide additional heat shielding.  Fitting, drilling, and fastening this finish piece took up a disproportionately large part of the installation time... and many trips to the hardware store and chandlery!

Stove and heat shield installed

There is an additional section of flue pipe that extends above deck and terminates in a flue cap to keep water out and attenuate wind gusts.  I arbitrarily used the remaining section of flue pipe for this (about 18 inches).  I may cut it down to something closer to 12 inches, which seems to be a consensus for such installations.

In theory, the longer the flue, the better it should draft, but other above-deck appurtenances will influence what is practical in any given installation.  Every installation will be customized to accommodate the specific requirements of a given situation.

I elected to install a manual butterfly damper to help regulate the burn rate of the stove.  A built in damper on the stove affords an additional control point.  It is very important to have the means to prevent a runaway stove... a stove burning too hot.  I will also have a container of sand in the event things really do start to get out of hand, and obviously a fire extinguisher close at hand is essential.

Anyone who would install any kind of stove in a vessel without CO monitoring and smoke detector is foolish and irresponsible.

One flue component I did not install is a barometric damper.  I may yet add one, however.  The idea is to minimize back draft from gusting winds that can force smoke back down the flue and into the cabin.  My initial test run was on a windy day (today), and I did experience some momentary back draft.

I burned the stove for perhaps two hours, and am very pleased with the result.  The flue quickly becomes too hot to touch, but the heat shield never got beyond warm even very close to the stove.  I am very pleased with how well it isolates the stove from nearby surfaces.

I'm not sure what my fuel of choice will be.  Today I burned wood scraps, but they burn quickly and with a fair amount of ash.  I will experiment with charcoal briquettes, small pieces of fireplace logs, perhaps wood pellets, and maybe even coal.  The firebox of the Pet is quite small -- not a fire that will last though the night, but it should be quite effective at keeping the boat dryer and more cheerful.

Time for a late-winter cruise!


One final note.  I'm no expert.  This is my first stove installation.  I have deviated from standard recommendations in several respects, and done so fully cognizant of the risks. No one should start a fire on a wooden boat... on any boat... without clear eyed consideration and management of every aspect of the hazard. 

Installing a Wood Burning Stove: Part II

Cutting a hole in a perfectly good house top is daunting business, but it has to be done.  Fitting a deck iron (which is bronze) is less daunting, but a lot of work.  The deck iron wants to be level and the house top is not, so it is necessary to make a donut that supports the deck iron and levels it.

Taking the angle is simple enough.  Cutting the angle in a 9 inch square block of hardwood 3 inches thick requires multiple angled cuts on the table saw, and finishing with a hand saw.  The only hardwood I had that was thick enough was a slab of walnut.  Walnut is suboptimal for nautical uses (it is not particularly rot resistant), but painted well and properly maintained, it will do the job nicely.

The interior of the donut need not be cut precisely -- it just need to accept the bronze deck iron without leaving excessive space around the walls of the casting.  I wasted the interior of the donut with a drill bit, and then chucked a drum sander in the drill press and ground out the sloped sides by eye until it fit.

Finishing the outside of the ring is a good deal more demanding, as one wants a pleasing and consistent slope to the sides that is stylistically harmonious with the design of other accessories on the boat.  I used stationary disc sander to achieve this (after a scary and abortive try with a heavy router bit on a router table).

After shaping and drilling holes for the bolts, a couple coats of Brightsides finished the donut prior to installation.

Cutting the hole was straightforward.  The new one is much larger than the pass-through for the kerosene stove, and I took care to locate it between the house top beams so fasteners would bolt through from the top of the deck iron, through the donut and the house top, spaced so as to allow good access for fixing the nuts on the bolts.

The house top is curved gently, so it is necessary to profile the mating surface of the donut so that it fits well.  I was scratching my head as to how to do this, but my brother, a font of wisdom in such things, gave me the trick: fix a sheet of sticky-backed sandpaper to the housetop and use that to sand the mating profile.  Voila!

I used Dolphinite to bed the donut to the house top and the deck iron to the donut, and set it all in place with 4 4 inch 10-24 bolts.  I spun on the nuts from the inside, but didn't tighten it all up (one of the virtues of Dolphinite is curing time that gives you days to finish the job).

Installing a Wood Burning Stove: Part I

Many of my 88 days on the Inside Passage found me layered up in wool and foulies, but with one exception, being cold just wasn't a problem. What was a problem was keeping the cabin dry. Humans respire about a quart of water while sleeping, and Ripple has rudimentary rain protection in the cockpit, so inevitably a good deal of water comes into the cockpit via wet gear and crew.

Testimony regarding the virtues of wood burning stoves in boats is widespread, and the appeal of a cozy fire on a blustery day is self evident. Finding a suitable unit for Ripple rose to the top of my upgrade program. It is a complicated proposition.

Having  made the decision to go with a wood-burner, one still has a potentially vast array of options. My own were severely constrained by space availability. The Force 10 kerosene burner was designed into the boat, leaving the choice of reworking cabinet work or finding a stove to fit within the 12" by 13" by 16" space.

The stove I most coveted is the Sardine by Navigator Stove Works, an Orcas Island business with an avid following.  But the Sardine is both slightly larger than I could accommodate, and more costly than my budget would support. It is beautiful, though, an exquisite rendition of a classic design and wood-burning technology that reputedly qualifies it for energy efficiency tax rebates!

Another stove that I considered is the CubicMini, with a form factor about the same as the Sardine, but available at a fraction of the cost.  This is probably the stove I would have bought had I had the space... a door with a window in it is very appealing. The stove is made in Canada, and is a great value. Once again, I would have had to modify cabinetwork, and I didn't want to do so.

Dickinson offers a solid fuel stainless steel stove that would have fit, and I think it would have served the purpose, but is low on charm, reportedly has a poorly functioning damper, and is more than twice the cost of the Fatsco Pet.

The stove that I decided on is the Fatsco Pet, which is the smallest stove of the bunch, and comes with a heritage that extends back more than a century.  They were originally designed for the milk truck trade, to keep the drivers of these horse-drawn trucks warm on cold midwestern mornings.  It is also the least expensive, at $230 USD ($300 with the ash scoop and shipping).

The Pet is 9" tall and 6" in diameter.  At some point in its history it was reengineered from all-cast iron to cast iron and stainless steel, but its face retains its original old-timey look.  It uses 3" flue-pipe, rather than the 4" that the Sardine uses... an important space issue in my tiny cabin.

The low cost of the stove is welcome, of course, but you're not close to being done after that expenditure.

Stove, shipping, stainless steel ash shovel                      $ 300
Bronze deck iron                                                             $ 215
Stainless steel flue pipe, flue cap, butterfly damper       $ 250
Custom stainless steel heat shield                                   $ 250

A fire on board is high on every mariner's list of worst-case-scenarios, so starting one intentionally demands close attention to safety, and that starts with the installation.  If you're installing your own stove, some standard safety guidelines will help you get started. It is difficult in constrained spaces to achieve the recommended standoff distances to combustible surfaces, so one must improvise in a manner that will ensure safety.  In my case, this included a stainless-steel heat shield that extends from the base of the stove to the top of the flue. I think will give me the necessary protection,  will confirm my design decisions with surface temperature measurements when I do operational tests.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pulling Teeth (gear teeth)

disconnecting fuel, mechanical, and electrical connections to the engine
 in preparation for removing the gearbox
June 15

Monday is the Day that Mathias leaves, heading back to New York, then on to Europe to continue his post-discharge walk-about year. The problems with Ripple have distracted from the passing of the torch from my oldest son to my closest friend, but the three of us will have a couple of hours together in any case.

Wes arrived fairly early in the morning. We arranged to meet him on the town-side of the ferry that connects Ketchikan with the airport, which is across the channel.  Bar Harbor Marina is perhaps a half mile from the ferry dock, so Mathias and I walked up to meet him.

We got back to the boat, fixed some breakfast, and the three of us reminisced about previous trips we've shared, a rich collection of the best experiences of my role as a parent.

The highlight of the year for many years in our family was an expedition of some sort that involved both of my sons and any of my friends who had the time and inclination to go.  Wes was on most of them.  We undertook many desert backcountry trips in Southern Utah, canoeing in the Boundary Waters, and even a ski-camping trip in the mountains around Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The last of these was the shortest of all our expeditions, but perhaps the most intense. We pushed ourselves to the limits, we bivouacked in the snow when we couldn't make it to our destination cabin, crossed avalanche fields, finally found the cabin the following day, and had to turn around and go back the next morning. A sublime, unforgettable death march. All of us on that trip -- myself, Mathias, Brendan, Pete, and Wes -- would take their place on this one as well.

Pete, Wes, Mathias, Brendan, Stu
 at the Gros Vent WIlderness ski cabin in 2002
Wes has had an intimate connection to the upbringing of our sons: these memories, as well as a host of others, create a bridge between our families that has grown ever stronger down through the years. The voyage of 2015 would be different than our previous expeditions in that all of it was done two at a time.

Wes's segment took place amidst the uncertainty of the mechanical problems.  We still hoped we would get onto the water for part of the trip, but what we knew for sure is that we would have a good time, whatever happened.

Derek contacted us to confirm some engine model details, and later confirmed that the parts were available and would be on their way to Ketchikan later that day, and that he would be by that evening at 7 PM or so to take the gearbox out.  Hoping to make his job as easy as possible, Wes and I spent a good part of the afternoon disconnecting the various parts of the engine in preparation for its removal. We documented each step in writing and photographs so we could get it all back together.

When Derek arrived it took only a few minutes to rig a chain hoist from the boom to lift the engine. He made short work of getting the engine out far enough to detach the gearbox and then set the engine back on its mounting bolts.  That was that.

The chain hoist to lift the engine off its mounting bolts
It had been a long day at this point, but we had heard that there would be a party that night at The Fish House downtown to honor the early finishers in The Race to Alaska. Tired as we were, we almost didn't go, but we roused ourselves and made the trek, and were glad. It was good fun to see people dancing and laughing and eating and drinking, celebrating this first running of a very unusual event.

Having fun already at the R2AK party

The End of the Beginning of the Voyage

Ketchikan heritage sculpture at the cruise ship docks

June 13 - 14, 2015

John and Derek arrive at the boat in the early evening, and after introductions, we review the symptoms. Is the propeller OK?, Derek asked.  I assure him it has to be... my images are ambiguous*, but the evidence is unequivocal: no THUNK! no vibration!

We run the engine so Derek can hear it for himself, and engage the gearbox... forward, reverse, no bad noises, no untoward vibration. Diminished thrust is the primary symptom.

The prospect of pulling the engine out, removing the gearbox, rebuilding it at his shop, and re-installing it is straightforward to Derek. It is the smallest diesel that Derek has ever worked on (because it is basically the smallest diesel engine... period). The big unknown is whether parts will be available for an engine out of production for more than a decade. For myself, I am simply grateful to be in the hands of a good mechanic who is as comfortable at rebuilding the diesel engines of 56 foot purse seiners as working on my little lawn-tractor engine.

Truth be known, a problem as small as mine would not normally surface in his domain, except that John wants my problem to be fixed, and because they work together closely, Derek wants what John wants. They both inspire confidence.  As I learn over the coming week, these folks work very hard at challenging, difficult problems that are time sensitive. Breakdowns in the canning plant or on the boats that feed their stock to the cannery mean lost revenue for everyone. Lots of revenue. They make sure that interruptions in that flow are as few and short as possible.

This means that during the peak fishing months, they work 12 hours a day.  So, whatever Derek will do in the way of mechanicing for me is on top of a long work day.  I'm not only small potatoes, I'm a nuisance to these folks.  I'm cutting into their small slice of discretionary time after a hard day of work. In spite of this, both are solicitous and generous with their time.

Derek's plan is to talk to his supplier down in Everett, WA, first thing monday morning.  If they have the parts he'll have them shipped up by express air.  He'll pull the engine Monday when we know the parts are on the way, and disconnect the gearbox and take it to the shop. With any luck, Derek can rebuild the gearbox the following day or so. We could be running by Wednesday or Thursday.  In the meantime... nothing to do but take a deep breath and explore Ketchikan.

It is Saturday evening, we have a plan, expertise, and a schedule. Sunday, Mathias and I will relax, do a few errands, re-provision, and go out to dinner to close out our 5 week sojourn together.

I've enjoyed one of the greatest privileges a parent can have - 35 uninterrupted days of close cooperation and mutual learning with an adult son.  There are many lessons yet to learn on this trip, but I'm convinced the trip would have been stillborn had Mathias not been my first crew member. Both of us learned a great deal.  I know what to expect from myself, from the waters of the Inside Passage, and from Ripple.  We have checklists in place, our logging is sound and useful, my skills are stronger, and I am confident of myself and my boat, problems notwithstanding.

Whatever happens for the rest of the voyage, we have had an epic adventure an enduring memory for us both.


* of course, my images are not ambiguous at all, but (1) the lcd screen on the little camera is small and dim, and (2) the openness of my diagnostic brain is small and dim.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Network Effect

Sailing up the channel to Ketchikan.
The cruise ships are visible before the town is

June 13, 2015

Well, this is awkward.  Two days before a scheduled crew change, I have a serious mechanical problem on the boat, with no clue how difficult it will be to fix it. There isn't going to be any problem getting Mathias back to Ketchikan by the 15th, but Wes is scheduled to arrive that same day, and who knows what will happen?

The previous evening I had managed to get off a few texts by standing on deck and holding my phone as high as I could reach. I thought about sticking it a pelican box and hoisting it up a halyard, but there was no real urgency.

We left the mooring ball in Alava Bay at 0415, trying to make use of as much of the flood tide as we could to help push us up to Ketchikan. Before we could avail ourselves of that flood, we had to get past it, as it was not only flooding towards Ketchikan, but up Behm and into Alava Bay. So, it was slow going for a bit at 2 knots. An hour later we were out in Revillagigedo Channel, headed towards our destination, and with the tide.

We had a bit of a cellular signal at this point, and I called Wes to explain the situation, telling him about the problem and that I had no idea when the boat would be fixed and I would understand if he wanted to bow out. Wes told me he wasn't coming for the fishing, he wasn't coming for the sailing, he was coming to spend time with his friend, and whatever happened with the boat, he was sure the two of us would tell jokes and laugh and have a great time together.  He was coming. The first good news of the day!

Next, I posted to Facebook:
Approaching Ketchikan at the painfully slow pace of 2.5 knots... mechanical problem with the gear box. not good, but all safe
This simple note brought a cascade of well-wishes, but also, Ann, a colleague in Seattle from the time that I actually worked for a living, went into action. She has two brothers in Ketchikan, and before long we had offers of assistance from each of them. One of them manages a cannery in Ketchikan, and before we got to the dock that afternoon, John had sent me a message something like:
Stu, I understand you are having a mechanical problem on your boat.  I'll be down with my port engineer this evening and we'll see if we can get you fixed up.
Port engineer? Who has a port engineer? Well, John does. It is hard to overstate the relief that washed over me at that point. Whatever our actual problem was, there were good people I'd never met who were going to help me get it sorted out.

We snuck by the cruise ships at 1430 or so.
By this time, we had lost the wind and were concerned
about being able to stay out of their way as they left.
The trip into Ketchikan that afternoon was laborious, but largely free of the previous day's anxiety. We covered 25 miles in 11 hours.  The weather was favorable and pleasant, our spirits were high, and our outlook was optimistic. The difficulties had developed within 55 miles of a safe harbor with facilities (and contacts!). We were very fortunate indeed.

The last log entry on June 13th was at 1515, fast at the dock at Bar Harbor.  There would not be another for 11 days.