Monday, March 23, 2015

The Wages of Zin(c)

The Yanmar 1GM10 is the simplest of diesel engines, and mostly it just works.  Its natural reliability can lead one down the path of negligence, however, and so it has been for me with regard to the zinc that is embedded in the cooling channels of the engine block.

The engine block has a zinc anode because it is raw-sea-water cooled, and because this water is frequently salt water, the potential for electrolysis within the engine block is substantial.  The problem is that this zinc is hard to get to, requiring moving the alternator out of the way so as to get a wrench or a socket near the bolts that hold the zinc-bearing plate in the block.

Having done so, the plate comes off easily enough, and I had the zinc and necessary gaskets on hand. My intentions were good, you see... I've had these parts for two years, knowing that it had almost certainly been too long since the zinc was last renewed.

The evidence:

Nothing left.  Not the smallest remnant of zinc to be found.  Cold comfort, having been right.  Bad form, my procrastination, and that of others before me.  Below is what the new zinc looks like, installed on the plate, which was then re-installed on the engine block:

The actual renewal of the zinc anode took just minutes.  Getting to it took 2 hours, and putting it all back together took 40 minutes or an hour.  I'm resigned to going through this once every other year or so.  Maybe again at the end of the trip north, as that should be about 500 hours, the interval the manual recommends for zinc renewal.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

There Be Dragons (but they aren't where they used to be)

Maps (and their maritime versions, charts) are abstractions of the places we travel.    They project geography, history, technology, politics, commerce, and even art.

The very definition of explorer rounds to traveler without maps.   We celebrate those who traveled the uncharted world and secured it with soundings, but dismiss as imprudent those who would travel without a chart today. The term itself -- uncharted territory -- remains a primary abstraction for the dangerous unknown, though few regions of our world have remained uncharted in the lifetime of any living person.

Today's recreational boater may have few paper charts.  Traveling close to home, especially in the Pacific Northwest, you're seldom far from visible landmarks, and the shoal waters are the exception rather than the rule.  The electronic surrogates for charts are rich in functionality and reduce the complexity of navigation, telling you your heading, orienting you on a chart that moves with you, and zoom easily to frame your perspective at a suitable scale.  Any smartphone or tablet can be equipped with free chart plotting software and extensive chart sets can be had for a few dollars.  And they work wonderfully well.  Until they don't.

To travel without paper charts is to hang your security and your life itself on the performance of your alternator, belts, batteries, myriad connectors and brackets and electronic devices that all serve in a hostile environment of vibration, corrosion, electrolysis, and yes, lets admit it... sub-optimal maintenance.  Stuff breaks, and boat stuff breaks more often.  The dragons no longer haunt the uncharted reaches of the map, they lurk behind bulkheads, in bilges, and in the dark regions of engine compartments.   They hide behind the placard "NO USER SERVICEABLE PARTS INSIDE". 

I have recently installed several species of dragons on Ripple in preparation for a trip up the Inside Passage.  But I have also set about acquiring as complete a set of paper charts as I can manage for the waters I will travel.  To buy these charts new from authorized purveyors of US or Canadian charts would cost several thousands of dollars. If X is the number of charts you need, multiply by $20. That's a lot of money for insurance, which is largely the purpose served by these charts for most recreational mariners.  

Many feel that multiple devices with electronic charts are sufficient protection.  A chart plotter, a tablet, a smartphone, and a laptop with PDF versions of the appropriate charts affords four levels of redundancy.  Governmental agencies that maintain these charts do not at this time agree, requiring up-to-date paper charts of the highest resolution available for commercial vessels.  

If you are old-school and decide to have the paper, you have to procure, organize, store, and access them at appropriate times, so they have to fit into your budget and your storage plans, they have to have a secure home in your boat, and they must be cross-referenced to your daily travel plans.

My approach has been to find used charts for as much of the trip as I can, and to buy new charts for essential charts I can't find.  I've amassed 75 SE Alaska charts, and 60 of the BC Coast.  I'm hoping to fill in the bare spots (especially the BC Coast, the Haida Gwais, and the western side of Vancouver Island) as time goes on.  No, they are not up to date, and no, I won't be annotating all 130 charts with official updates.   But with some notable exceptions, I'm banking on the changes in this area as minor, and that they will serve me well.  Again, they are not my sole navigational resource.

I store them in a chart safe sewn of Sunbrella and clear vinyl, constructed as an accordion file that will neatly manage a half dozen or a hundred charts, as well as a portable chart table that moves easily from cabin to bridgedeck.  The chart table also has a clear vinyl flap that protects the chart from rain or spray, and keeps the chart where I want it to be in a busy cockpit.

Navigation resources, old and new: Note that the clear vinyl extends an inch or so
beyond the chart, even with a spiral-bound chart folio instead of one or two free charts 

I have as much invested in my charts as I do in my chart plotter, but I've gotten most of them second-hand at good prices, and unlike most of my boating expenditures, I can probably recover their cost when I pass them on to another frugal navigator.  If not, their artistic virtues and shamanic spirit will decorate my dotage and remind me of exquisite passages and dumb-ass decisions that I survived when I could still button my shirt straight.
~ 0 ~

A note about chart purveyors:  The least expensive charts I have found are from The Frugal Navigator, a mail-order authorized dealer whose charts are available for a good deal less than other dealers I've encountered.  The charts are printed on substantial paper that looks and feels more durable and heavier than the charts once issued by the gub'mint. They are beautiful artifacts.  I have no connection with them except as a satisfied customer.

Chart Plotter: physical installation

There are many mounting options for chart plotters, some of which have fancy swiveling armatures which allow the device to be swung out of the way when not in use.  My diminutive cockpit is not well suited to such solutions, and in any case they are expensive options.

Two possibilities seem suitable.  One is to mount the device on a companionway board that slides into the companionway, but this makes access to the cabin problematic.  I also have a compass so mounted, and while I use it only rarely, a long trip in unfamiliar waters mitigates in favor of its use.

The second option is to take advantage of the port-light in the cabin bulkhead.  I fashioned a wooden plug, (4 7/8" diameter  x 1 5/8" depth) that is sandwiched between two discs slightly larger than plug and the rim of the portlight.  The plug is thus captured securely in the port-light housing (hanger-bolts and wingnuts), and the swivel base of the chart plotter attaches to the plug.  The cabling will pass through the plug as well, and the chart plotter will be easily removable to secure it inside when not in use.  My reservation about this configuration is that the chart plotter will be somewhat vulnerable to being stepped on, being in a relatively high traffic area for boarding.  The installation is fully reversible, however, so if it seems not to be working out, I can remove it without trace.

I used the same idea to make a foam water-proof pass through for the shore power cord that fits snugly into any of the portlights so that rain can be kept out with the power cord deployed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Un-race to Alaska

I'm sailing to Alaska this Spring/Summer.  That's the plan, anyway.  I have friends who will be rendezvousing [is that really how you spell that?] with me for various parts of the journey.  People who have spent cold, hard cash on plane tickets.  So... this is real.

But I am NOT racing.  I hate racing, and have, since the summer of '68 when my father and I campaigned an aging Star class sloop (sail # 1500, christened Surprise) through a summer of racing in the Kaneohe Yacht club.  Our racing confederates were state sailing champions in Hawaii, and raced Stars to keep their hands busy between TransPac seasons.  Dad and I were dwarfs, without the experience or the mass to keep Surprise on her sailing lines, and our single victory that summer was that we avoided finishing last in a single race, by a single second.  [insert pump fist here].

But others, of course, ARE racing to Alaska this summer, and it just may be that we will arrive in Ketchikan in the same calendar week.  If you haven't seen any of the hoopla, it is fun stuff.  First prize: $10 K.  Second prize: a set of steak knives.  But really, you need to read the team profiles.  If the race is as interesting as the team profiles are funny, it should be an interesting time.  I hope to see some of these characters on the water.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

All Rodes Lead to Where I Stand

I travelled to Victoria a few weeks ago to buy a stash of used charts for the Inside Passage, and the fellow who sold them to me recounted the story of the worst night of his life.  Anchored in a cove out of the 50 knot winds in one or another strait, he found himself at the mercy of 70 knot katabatic winds -- Williwaws.  As a landmass cools at night, the air cools, grows heavier, and slides down towards the water, converting potential energy to kinetic energy.  His 40 foot steel sloop was sailing on her anchor, describing smiles on the chart plotter, a pendulum on a 300 foot tether, rolling through 90 degree arcs.  THUNK.  His anchor let go, but mercifully reset itself.  More than once.  Those smiles were getting closer to the lee shore, until finally when all was said and done, his margin of safety was a scant 6 feet.

I've been boning up on ground tackle ever since.

The guidebooks to the Inside Passage talk about 15 fathom anchorages in some places.  Multiply that by even modest scope, and you're talking serious rodes.  My 7.5 kg Bruce anchor, 20 feet of G3 chain,  and 200 feet of 1/2 nylon just aren't up to this trip.  Terry, my sailing partner of recent years, directed me to an article that makes a convincing argument that beyond a boatlength of chain, there is no particular advantage to all-chain rodes, which is great, as I have no windlass.  Its hand-over-hand for me.

An additional argument in the analysis is that, after 8:1, increases in scope don't buy you much.  But 15 fathoms is 90 feet, and I won't have more than 400 feet of scope to draw on,  so in a real blow... well, it will be a long and anxious night.

The article that I'm quoting is on the Rocna Anchor site.   They are in the business of selling anchors, but there is independent data that lends credence to their claims, and I drank the KoolAid.  The standard Rocna anchor doesn't work with a bowsprit, so I decided on the Rocna Vulcan, a design that purports to retain the features of the Roll-bar Rocna with a configuration that fits a boat like mine.

So, today, I replaced my 7.5 KG Bruce claw anchor with a 9 KG Rocna Vulcan.  I will attach 400 ft. of nylon rode,  and ride the rode to a better night's sleep.  Till those Williwaws make me smile.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Queequeg's Coffin

Before boats were designed for the tyranny of stand-up headroom, esthetic proportion ruled nautical form, and while it is as difficult now as ever it was to define such beauty, you know it when you see it. William Atkins knew it, and I fell in love with his efforts from the first time I saw Ripple for sale. The price to be paid is not small, though. Well, actually, it is exactly small. You won't find a more compact (Latin for cramped) 26 footer than Ripple, so every cubic foot of storage space is dear.

Facing two to three months aboard for a trip up and down the Inside Passage, I need to optimize my storage, and have been building a house-top carrier to help.  The challenge, of course, is to devise a solution that does minimal esthetic damage while making a substantial contribution to available storage.  I'll be taking propane canisters along with me as well, and having a non-interior storage space for those will increase safety and peace of mind.

I also wanted it to be secure, easily removable, and to do no damage. My solution is a box contoured along its bottom to match the house roof, with its top contoured to match the companionway profile, which are different. A closed-cell pad is captured in a recess below the bottom,  to distribute the weight evenly along the house top.  The box will be secured to the deck hand rails with webbing straps with leather chafing protection.

The box itself is made of 1/2" marine grade plywood epoxied together with reinforcing blocks.  The profiled 1/4" bottom is let into a 3/16 deep channel that follows the curve of the house-top profile.  It was not a trivial glue-up.  In fact, the first attempt I tried to do too much, and had to abort, wiping off the thickened epoxy so as to start over in a two-step glue up.  What a mess.  The second go worked fine.

The top was trickier still. With less depth to lend rigidity, I chose box joints for the mahogany frame to make them as strong as I could. Fussing with dado blade shims took more time than actually cutting the box joints, but the results are satisfying.

I didn't think the mahogany would be strong enough to cut a slot so close to the top of the profile without breaking down at the vulnerable corners, so I cut ledgers that matched the profile, set about 1/2 inch below the top profile.  Thus, the top is supported securely much as it would be if captured in a slot.

As it curves down to the straight sides, the 1/4" top plywood lands on the full 1"-thick sides, running all the way to the edges so there is no ridge to collect water.  This leaves an exposed ply edge, a potential failure point, especially if the paint is compromised, as corners sometimes are.  I'll have to keep an eye on that, but the benefit of smooth drainage laterally seems reason enough to chance it.

The mahogany frame for the top will be finished bright, of course.  The wood I used has its own special provenance.  It came from a table leaf that once lived in the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.  For all I know, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos may have plotted nefariously at that table!  Two such leaves were given to me 25 years ago and I've been looking for a project for them ever since.  In a way, it was sad to cut them into small widths, as these leaves were continuous boards 30 inches wide, without joins!  But the wood is lovely, and will serve its new purpose admirably.

I looked in vain for a piano hinge of stainless that I was willing to afford, and found instead two stout 3" stainless hinges that I let into the top back edge of the box and through-bolted for extra security. The hinges do not show, so stainless seemed an acceptable compromise.  I was concerned about installing them straight and true... no second chances once you drill the holes, but they work smoothly enough.

The top fits well enough that you can drop the top from its open position and compression of air in the box cushions the stop - a piston fit.  If I made 10 more,  I wouldn't get it so close.  With some weather stripping it will be as water-tight as Quequeg's coffin... and who knows, with as many whales as there are along the Inside Passage, it could prove just as useful.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Who Governs the Governor?

Ripple is powered by a quirky one cylinder diesel engine (a Yanmar 1GM10) whose operating costs round to zero.  At a liter an hour and an oil change once or twice a season, it just runs.  For the first three years I had Ripple, I had no difficulties with it, and developed a fondness for its pockety-pockety rhythms.  The last two years, however, I have had trouble starting, with symptoms that had all the earmarks of air in the fuel.  Once started and warmed up, the engine ran like a top, but getting to that point was often challenging.

The problem was ameliorated somewhat by rebuilding the injector, which was 30% or more out of spec.  The air-head diagnosis was reinforced by various minor faults discovered in the fuel system: a dodgy Racor filter head, loose banjos, looser-than-ideal fuel hoses.  Most everything pointed in the same direction, and the mechanic I engaged helped get all of this stuff sorted, including rebuilding the injector, installing a more reliable Racor filter head (no prone-to-failure vent at the top), and a valve adjustment (long overdue).

The starting problem survived all this fussing.  A pressure check on the fuel tank revealed no flow problems.  Sourcing the fuel supply to an isolated tank did not solve the problem.  Head scratching and consternation led to consultation with a higher authority.  The culprit turned out to be the injector limiting component of the governor, which was badly out of adjustment.

I am happy to have had all the other components inspected, adjusted, rebuilt or replaced, but the essence of the problem that i've been struggling with for two years was the tension on a spring associated with the governor.  Such a joy, to turn the key, and have the engine fire right up.