Sunday, September 21, 2014

An old guy, a Tartan, and a Beast

Sometimes it seems that easing off makes things go faster. Or maybe it just feels that way. It is no secret that this summer's relentless boat work put a pretty big dent in our first year's cruising experience. I have been struggling to keep the faith and rebelled a little. Even with the deadline looming and the Beast still disassembled, I just decided to finish some mods to the aft cabin; a partial rebuild of our storage area / work bench and a new lid for a storage area. It didn't need to be done, just a simple wood, screw, and glue job. It was something different that had nothing to do with deadlines and so I went with it. It took the better part of three days, mostly because I did it twice.

The first time through it was all poor planning and amateur hour, certainly not my best effort. In fact it looked like something someone kind of disgusted with the world would do; and I was embarrassed. So I backed up and did it again. It is still a mod to a home made thing shoehorned into a 30 year old boat, made with hand tools where function is more important than aesthetics. The aesthetics still need some work, but the function part is pretty sweet, so it will keep until we are back under way. Refinishing the reworked part will give me something to do one of these days while we sit easy on the hook somewhere. Even better, somehow doing that project realigned the mechanic / work / attitude relationship in Kintala's deck monkey, and smoothed the path to tangling with the Beast once again - deadline firmly in mind.

The plan when we rolled out this morning was to finish the mod and then assemble the exhaust riser / heat exchanger. Installation was planned for tomorrow. By late morning the mod was done and the riser and heat exchanger parts were laid out on the bench. Among those parts were shiny new stainless steel studs, washers, and nuts. After hours of searching Deb found them as a kit for rebuilding old style carburetors on 1960s Muscle Cars. The kind that people spend tons of money on making everything perfect, with the space under the hood a celebration of pumping out massive amounts of HP the old fashioned, low tech way. A sparking clean, chromed and painted space, including shiny studs holding massive 4 barrels to intakes and blowers.

Studs that work perfectly for hanging the heat exchanger onto the exhaust riser. They do look a bit out of place, hi zoot gleaming bits in the dark and grungy den where the WesterBeast dwells like a troll under a bridge. But that is where they are. (I would love for Kintala's engine compartment to look like that of one of the above mentioned Muscle Cars – maybe in my next life.) The build up went so smoothly, the old studs coming out clean and the new ones fitting just right, that I just kind of rolled with a job that seemed to be going well. By the end of the day the Beast was a whole unit once again. In addition to new studs, nuts, and gaskets to hang the freshly clean exchanger, a new bit of hose went into the cooling system to replace one that looked like it was causing a restriction when the engine was hot and sucking water. There is, of course, a new $80 exhaust gasket pinched in there as well, some new clamps, and a few other hacks that I un-hacked.

Tomorrow, after a very slow and careful look to make sure everything is where it is supposed to be, the coolant tank will get topped. Once we are sure the engine can suck river water – we have been sitting for a long time and the critters grow quick and thick in these parts – the Beast will be woken. IF all goes well, Kintala will be an working cruising boat once again.

We still have a few days to spare and, and at the moment anyway, and for the first time in weeks, I'm feeling pretty good about the tiny piece of the world that includes an old guy, and slightly less old Tartan, and a Beast.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bits is bits ...

As you might be aware, Deb is an excellent cook, baker, and all around galley guru. Unfortunately the oven in her galley gave up the ghost. Actually the heat control corroded through and the knob fell off. This would generally be considered a full blown emergency on Kintala since, without an oven, homemade cookies are out of the questions.  Stuck as we are in Florida in the summer however, adding more heat to the inside of the boat - even for some of the world's best cookies - is a tough call. Still, summer is waning away and store bought cookies, even Double Mint Oreos, are getting, shall we say, stale.

We debated replacing the stove with a new unit, but the weight of such a purchase would have the budget braying like an overloaded pack mule. Deb wanted to try and score some used parts first and has spent several weeks in full out search mode. Today the effort paid off and we headed off to Sailor Man to pick up our bits.

First though, the old bit had to come off the old stove to be traded in as a core, “old” being the theme here. Two bits actually, since John at Sailor Man (Hillerange and all around boat stove guru) would not sell a rebuilt control without also selling a matching valve thing that goes inside the oven itself. He got tired of people changing one only to have the oven stop working again (and him taking the blame) when the other unit failed a couple of days or weeks later. No hay problema. With care, a little PB Blaster, and some heatage applied as necessary, the bits came out with only minor trauma. I even remembered to tie a string onto the old thermostat before pulling it out.  This allowed the replacement to be snaked through the holes with less abusive verbiage than might, otherwise, have been required.

Old bits and $260 in hand to trade for overhauled bits, off we went. Alas, much to John's surprise, the overhauled bits were not exactly the same as the old bits. “Never before”, he claimed, “have I seen such a thing.” I understood. He hasn't tangled with Kintala before; had no idea he was trying to source parts for the Wicked Witch of the Western Atlantic.

So another couple of hours went by as we searched out alternate bits that could be added to the overhauled bits so they would work with the old bits still in the stove.  Even at that one of the stove's old bits had to be hacked off and replaced with a new bit that would fit the alternate bit.  Which, in the marine industry, is exactly what one expects to do after forking over $260.  By mid-afternoon, only 6 hours or so after shutting off the LP valve and taking wrench to stove, soft blue flames licked out of the oven burner. Not bad so far as boat projects go, and all is well in the homemade cookie world once again. (My guess is even Kintala likes the aroma of Deb's cookies fresh from the oven. Thus was this mechanical thrashing toned down to a minor bruising.)

With the galley at 100% and a few hours left in the day, some work went into a minor mod to our work station / parts bin. That didn't quite get done before the engine parts arrived, and it was also pretty late in the day. So the plan is to finish the mod job mañana in la mañana. Then, fortified with a deep breath and maybe a cold beer, square off with the WesterBeast once again.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Heat exchanger, round 2 ...

I started wrestling with the WesterBeast again today. That was supposed to happen yesterday but it was just a bridge too far. There was never any thought that cruising was going to be “retirement” (in spite of this blog's name). The work involved is just too demanding, there is too much potential risk, and too many win-it-or-bin-it decisions, for this to be anything like easy living. But once in a while a day comes along where I just can't man-up and get to work. Yesterday was one of those days.

I was still planning on working on the Beast when I ran across Friend James. James is the marina's resident “wooist”. If you want to know about what is going on in the ether, why the Mayan calendar was correct about the end of the age, how to cure almost any disease with the proper herbal tea and a “healing attitude”, what happens now that the solar systems is passing through the galactic plain, who is really in charge of the world, or when the aliens may arrive to lead us all to true enlightenment, James is the man in the know. Though I am way too much of a hard-nosed ex-street fighter to climb into his starship, we enjoy volleying back and forth in spite of our vastly different world views. And even taken by the woo, James is a better person than just about anyone I can think of in either politics or business. James is never going to hurt anyone, making him a pretty upright human being so far as I am concerned.

Then I walked over to Publix and made use of their hi-speed Internet connection to watch hometown hero and multiple-times World Champion Valentino Rossi win the Italian MotoGP, his first win in more than a year. After that Deb and I spent an extraordinary evening with new Friends Frank and Audrey. They are graduate alumni from the Civil Rights Movement and current environmental activists. Hearing their story and listening to their hopes for the future for their grand children and mine ranks as one of the five top conversations I have ever enjoyed. I don't generally give our species much of a chance. But if people like Frank and Audrey win the day there may yet be hope that our grand kid's inheritance will include air they can breathe, water they can drink, and oceans they can swim in. All in all it was a great day, but I didn't get anything done on the WesterBeast.

So today it was back in the ring to take another swing. Several people have mentioned that taking the heat exchanger off without removing the exhaust riser is difficult. (And they were right!) Getting it back on, they suggested, is well nigh impossible. For a while it looked like the naysayers would be proven wrong. Less than an hour after starting work the heat exchanger was hung on the bottom of the exhaust riser. All four nuts were started on their respective studs and awaiting proper torquage to be applied. Alas, said torquage turned into a problem. None of the nuts felt “right” and the aft inboard one, the one most difficult to reach, was clearly not a happy nut. After much internal debate between the cruiser who really needs to get this job done, and the aircraft mechanic who can't let things go, it was decided the exhaust manifold / heat exchanger assembly simply had to be removed. The naysayers were two for two.

Contemplating pulling the exhaust riser caused all kinds of consternation. First and foremost is that the exhaust gasket is an $80 – $100 engine bit. Another fear was that touching anything on the WesterBeast will surely lead to many other things needing “touched” as well. A fear well founded.

Six fasteners hold the exhaust riser to the engine, four studs and two cap screws. Two of the four studs came out of the engine. One of the studs that holds the intake muffler was already pulled out (I just lifted it out of the hole), and the exhaust gasket was indeed thrashed, though it wasn't me who did the thrashing. Apparently this is, minimum, the second time this gasket has been pressed into service. As for the studs for the heat exchanger, the reason for going down this path in the first place, they appear to be too short. Deb is currently sourcing the proper paper gaskets and I am considering the use of low profile nuts and lock washers, but it may will end up that replacing all of the studs with new is the only proper fix. At least the one stud I feared had been put in backwards, and thus trashing the riser, turned out to be the wrong stud; -18 / -18 instead of -18 / -24. Still installed by a Fool, but at least not as bad as it could have been.

By the end of the day both the heat exchanger and the exhaust riser were sitting on the bench waiting to be installed. By any reckoning that is a pretty big step backwards, particularly since the days are rapidly counting down to the killer-rise-in-dock-fees deadline. But this is cruising and, more to the point, this is me cruising on Kintala. Truth to tell I had a nasty hunch this was where today was going to lead all along.

Which may be why I took yesterday off. Once in a while even a tough guy needs a break from taking a daily beating. I am way too far down the road to be a tough guy any more, and this run of daily mechanical boxing matches going back to The Bear, has about done me in.

Maybe I need a glass of herbal tea and a trip through the ether.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A technical rant …

The heat exchanger guy called yesterday and said the bit removed from the WesterBeast was all prettied up and ready to go to the dance. Then he gave me a heart flutter by saying he had found a trace of oil floating around in the coolant. Bad juju. Really bad juju. The only way oil gets into the coolant is through a breach in the engine somewhere. Any such breach is going to be hard to find and expensive to fix. My day went straight in the dumpster.

Both Deb and good Friend / Boat Guru Bill (late of S/V Veranda) suggested there was no need to assume the worst just yet. There has never been water in the oil and what coolant that used to disappear stopped disappearing with the installation of a new cap. So assuming the worst was likely unnecessary. One shop's opinion does not, necessarily, bad juju make.

I assumed the worst anyway. After all this is Kintala and me, the world's most dysfunctional boat / owner relationship. Why wouldn't I assume she was presenting me with a blown head gasket or cracked block?  Kintala's WesterBeast has been the bane of my existence since the V-drive hand-grenaded itself and took the transmission with it.  But when I went to pick up said bit, the shop guy told me he had changed his mind. It wasn't oil after all. Thanks … I think.

Today started out with the newly refurbished heat exchanger sitting on the bench waiting to go back back on the WesterBeast, and thus offering us the chance to get off of this dock soon. So that was my job for the day. Would you like to take a guess as to how it went?

Shop man had been kind enough to make a couple of new gaskets for the install. The ones he handed over were about as thick as waffles. The ones that came off where more like cardboard. Mm … not sure that is going to work but hey, he is the heat exchanger expert.

When the heat exchanger came off the engine, one of the four mounting studs came off as well. Not a big surprise, though it meant a little more work when putting things back together. Included in the box of tricks from my old life are a set of stud drivers as well as a set of taps and dies, thus giving pretty good odds of setting things right, thread cut and stud wise. The studs were 5/16 with a -18 thread cut on the block side and a -24 thread cut on the heat exchanger side. Pretty standard stuff. As it turns out the stud that came out did so because the last fool who put this thing together (let's call him Fool 2) jammed a -18 nut on the -24 end. “Cross thread is better than no thread” is an old mechanic's tongue-in-cheek saying. Not sure why, but in this case a cross thread was barely good enough, it held and there was no leak. (“Barely good enough”, by the way, seems to be the “best practices” standard for much of the Marine industry.)

As the heat exchanger went on the forward port side nut would not tighten up. The waffle thick gasket was just too much, so off came the heat exchanger once again. But, what is this? When I went to check the threads on that stud, the -24 nut wouldn't go. Some fool in the distant past (let's call him Fool 1) had put that one stud in backwards, with the -24 end jammed into the block and the -18 end left exposed. Fool 2, who had put the -18 nut on the stud that had pulled out, was only half a fool. He had been hoodwinked by Fool 1. It likely never occurred to Fool 2 that Fool 1 would install three studs in one way and one stud in the opposite way. That would be incompetence desperately close to outright lunacy. He had four nuts and four studs, and made it work.

In my struggles to install the heat exchanger today, I was had by Fool 1, Fool 2, and the heat exchanger expert who had sold me waffle thick gaskets. So, after a couple of trips to the hardware store (Thank-you Craig for the use of your car!) things stand at the exact same place they did this morning, with the heat exchanger sitting on the bench waiting to be installed.

Tomorrow the WesterBeast and I will tussle once again. At least this time the gaskets will be of a proper thickness. There will also be three new -24 nuts and one new -18 waiting to be torqued onto the appropriate stud. (No, I didn't turn the offending stud around. No telling what is going on with the threads in the block side, but disturbing them now smacks of just asking for more trouble.) Most importantly work will commence with a fresh reminder that nothing (NOTHING!) done on this engine, before it came to me, was done by anyone who had a clue. And, truth be told, I am an old airplane guy and approach this marine stuff with, at best, just half-a-clue myself. Which, if you have followed me this far, puts me a half-a-clue up on most of the gurus.

When it comes to the WesterBeast everything must be checked, double checked, and then checked yet again. That means every nut, every stud, every screw, every gasket … cada sola cosa! Ghosts of fools past are lurking to open the hurt locker on anyone who thinks otherwise.

That “anyone” would be me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

gypsy muse ...

The relentless drive of getting the boat ready to go again is in a bit of a pause. We are awaiting parts from various places near (the heat exchanger in a shop nearby), far (traveler parts from the North East), and further (electronic bits being shipped from China – thanks for not bothering to mention that Amazon). We are still working every day.  The projects are less intense but still make life aboard better. Deb is making storage bags so I can get my tools under control, and reorganization of the tool area in progress. After years of working out of a very well organized rolling tool chest about the size of a basement freezer (I had two of them) it just drives me nuts to have to rummage through piles of tools tossed in drawers looking for the only socket that will work or an odd-ball pick. Boat projects take twice as long as land projects anyway,  Searching for tools with slippery fingers, greasy bolts between my lips, moving this out of the way to look in that, dents my otherwise sunny disposition and sours my normally positive view of the world. It also makes long, tiring days longer and more tiring.

While she works on my tools dilemma, which I think she is doing more for her own sake - making me easier to live with in "project mode" - than for mine, I have been replacing some rotting wood trim and sealing leaks in her galley.  Also, we have a whole new set of killer dock lines ginned up from a discarded (but still perfectly sound) anchor rode, and I am continuing on with the Spanish-lessons-that-will-never-lead-to-me-speaking-Spanish. (At least that is the way it feels.) All of which has served to remind me …

… we are living a pretty good life. For all of our struggles during this 2014 Hurricane Season in Florida from Hell, we are still on the boat. There is no time clock to punch, no demented boss to try and keep happy (Deb's old one, not mine).  There is no Board of Director Politics that will decimate a life on a whim (my old one, not Deb's).  Compared to our old economic standing, which was pretty good before the Boss / Board world dumped its radioactive waste into our lives, we are now near the bottom of the income pile. But that's okay. We don't need much, don't want much, and are very happy to be out of the Boss / Board empire.  Indeed, during my moments of sunny disposition and positive view of the world, it seems likely that the empire is flaming out in a spectacular fashion, which cheers me up to no end.  The further away we are, and the sooner it engineers its own demise, the better.

Our friend Guilles left the marina yesterday, escaping the rising flood of dock fees. He has become a good friend, another of the many we now count floating around this part of the world. Along the dock many other new friends are working as hard as we to get going.  Some are thinking of heading to the Islands this winter, several thinking of the Abacos after hearing about our time there last winter. S/V Kintala and her crew, though bruised and battered and economically challenged, may yet find a way across the Stream come winter, and find friends to call on once away.  What we can't get done on the boat before going will simply not get done.  But last year, running on the little generator, without an auto pilot, and living under a tiny bimini, was nothing but grand.  And we do have a nice solid foredeck and a new staysail furler.  The jug board is pretty, the main traveler should be like new, various leaks and rots are gone.  There is no reason next year can't be as grand as last.  And all this coming and going and planning and making do has served to remind me of another thing …

… in spite of it all, I love belonging to this band of gypsies.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Garage Sail

As many of you who have visited the boat know, more often than not our aft cabin is referred to as "The Garage". There is a rather nice-sized double bed in there on the port side, but its proximity to the rather very nice workshop on the starboard side means that everything gets put on the double berth. Since the modification of The Floating Bear from sail to powerboat, the sails from The Bear landed - you guessed it - in the aft cabin. They had 5 sails, we had 4 extra sails, and something had to be done.

All of the sails hanging up and the ones on the floor were in our aft cabin. Good thing nobody wanted to visit! The biggest one there is the reacher folded in half. It's huge!

The original plan was to sell them on Craigslist, but time constraints and the lack of energy levels from what we can only assume has been a case of pneumonia have severely limited our desire to spend months selling used sails. We needed the room. We and the kids both needed the money.  We decided to keep one spare jib for our boat just in case we happened to blow ours out. A friend decided he wanted the hank on staysail that we took off when we converted to roller furling. Another friend declined on the huge reacher because, even as huge as it was, it was 6 feet too short for their 46 foot Hylas. We borrowed a van from a very good friend and off we headed to Second Wind Sails, with 8 sails: 3 jibs, 2 mains and a spinnaker from The Bear, a staysail and a reacher from ours. While selling used sails to a wholesaler is never a good way to make much money, it is a good way to empty out one's aft cabin in a hurry and end up with some cash and a new roller furler sail for the staysail on trade. Even though the day seemed wasted with heat exchanger errands, in the end we did make some progress toward The Deadline.

Our really huge reacher folded in half