Friday, May 27, 2016

Scotty would never allow it

So one of today's tasks was to de-fuel the USS ENTERPRISE.

No, really.

Fortunately for me is wasn't the CVN-65 USS ENTERPRISE driven by buckets full of uranium-235. The kind of stuff that could put a hurt on my little corner of the universe if, say, I stumbled down the ladder carrying a bucket full. I imagine the people who did do that job for real charged a bit more than our shop rate.

Nor was it the NCC-1701 STARSHIP ENTERPRISE driven by buckets full of anti-matter. The kind of stuff that could put a hurt on a big corner of the universe if, say, I stumbled down the ladder carrying a bucket full. This USS ENTERPRISE (really, I don't name them, I just work on them) carried a maximum of 39 gallons of old fashioned diesel fuel, nearly 20 of which remained and was leaking into the bilge at the rate of about a quart a day.

Unfortunately the only way to get it off the boat was 3 to 4 gallons at a time in a 5 gallon bucket...out of the aft cabin, up the companionway steps, across the deck, and down the aforementioned ladder. Then, across the yard to the “used oil” shack to be dumped in a holding tank for later pickup and, well, I don't really know what the “and” is. It goes away in a truck. After that maybe it gets turned into lighter fluid or something. (I wonder what they do with depleted uranium-235 or extra anti-matter?)

This would be a better story if I did stumble down the ladder to dump 3 to 4 gallons of diesel on some unsuspecting passerby, thus putting a serious hurt on this, my very tiny corner of the universe. Better story, but a really bad day. But by being very, very careful during the eight round trips, careful almost to the point of guaranteeing something going wrong, the USS ENTERPRISE's fuel tank was rendered harmless and ready for removal. The worst was a very small squirt of diesel getting free from the transfer pump and landing, almost entirely, on the cardboard I had laid down over the floor. Given the overall awkwardness of the operation that amounts to getting away scot-free, and the tank is now sitting under the bow of the boat. I hear it will be used as a pattern to fabricate a new one. I hope they get it exactly right. The old one came out of its hole with about 1/16th of an inch to spare.

Other tasks today also included changing the head discharge thru-hull in a wooden boat, a smelly first for me. Not the smelly, head, or thru-hull part, but the wooden boat part. There was a new antenna / mount installed on a mast touched by lightning. Some more wires where chopped out of the “get all the wire out” boat, and I stroked a keel bolt in a way I will not share with the innocents of the world. (If you must; picture a tiny trace of H2O. Then envision the cost of dropping the keel off a boat to properly address a leak in that area. Now imagine what an owner might ask be done to banish the former without facing the latter. When I asked a second time to be sure that I had this “repair procedure” correct, Boss New described it as “a band-aid on a bullet wound”. But if it was my boat I would try the exact same thing and hope that is was a very small caliber bullet.)

A bit of embarrassment also came my way today. Part of a job running the wiring for a new navigation suite included the instruction to “wire this unit up to power using that”. “That”, was a two wire shielded cable; one red wire, one yellow wire, and the shield. The cable was left over from the old system and I had no idea of where the other end of it went. Since the wiring wasn't complete and the system could not be “powered up” while I was building it, putting volt meter to cable to check actual “power” wasn't an option. I wired red to the hot side and yellow to the ground side because, according to ABYC standards yellow is often “ground”. Except, in this case, yellow was “info” and the shield was used for the ground. So the first attempt to “power up” the new system, with the proud owner on board waiting to see all his new “gee-wiz” goodies come to life...was a bit of a disappointment.

In the marine industry it seems “standards” are more like “suggestions” or, maybe, “wishful thinking”. It was a quick and easy fix but there are still times when I feel like I'm playing a game that has no rules. I've gotten brand new “marine” units with white / black wires, red / black wires, and two black wires. (It didn't matter which way that one got installed.) I have never seen one come out of the box with red / yellow wires, and I don't think I've seen one come with tinned “marine” wire yet either. Eventually it all gets figured out and works, but to this old aviation tech it often seems a bit amateurish.

I'm pretty sure it wasn't done this way on the USS ENTERPRISE of either Navy or Sci-fi fame.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Any Port in the Storm

Today was a huge day for me. I haven't gotten to check anything off The List for quite some time, but today I got to check off "rebed starboard ports". Now, to be fair, the starboard port project also became the "replace headliner" project which also became the "rebed the mainsheet block" project which also became the "glass in and paint the rotten teak" project, so to finish it all in 10 working days is not too bad. Truly, this is one of the most satisfying jobs I've done on the boat. The difference in the interior is astonishing. Now if I could just ignore the ports on the port side...

New headliner, rebed ports, all trim strips up. Only the hatch screen has yet to be refinished and reinstalled.

You can see the difference it makes to have the teak painted white in that strip.
Here you can see the port side that has yet to be done

Monday, May 23, 2016

De-wire mahn...

So the Owner said to me, “Take all the wire out of the boat. I want new. I want it to look like the wiring in my Fleming.”



“Okay. As soon as they put me on the job, I'll start pulling the wiring.”

A couple of days ago they put me on the job. I started pulling wiring.

I hope he was serious.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Just Passin' Through

Boats leak. A lot. So it was no surprise that a new drop of water slowly streamed its way down the teak siding beneath our headliner, and the irony of its resemblance to a tear was not lost on me. Boat leaks take a lot of work to fix. I sighed deeply.

The leak remained unchecked for some time. We were working our way down the East coast of Florida after having visited with five of our nine grandchildren, on our way to the West coast of Florida where we had arranged to work over the upcoming eight months to replenish our cruising funds. There simply was no time to stop and find the leak, and the summer would provide time in abundance to do so.

Having already tackled some more pressing issues after our arrival, the leak presented itself to the top of the list. It was, of course, part of a multi-project as all boat projects are multi-projects, cause and effect being intertwined in multiple systems in such a small space. The rebedding of the ports project required the removal of the trim around them, which meant the headliner panels were only six screws from being down. It was time.

Kintala is a Tartan 42, known for its soft decks and core damage. Our particular Tartan 42 had the deck core replaced a few years before we bought the boat, a job that was done from the inside of the cabin. We were in possession of photos of the job, one I was happy we had not been required to participate in. As I removed the first panel, I was pleased to see that all the trim pieces and furring strips were well marked, a sign of a professional job. But as I removed the second panel, there staring me in the face was someone's rest-stop-restroom-level declaration of abiding love. It had been scrawled in permanent marker on the new fiberglass, and overlaid with a fresh sheet of glass mat to lend it some permanency.

Scraping old silicone sealant off gives you a lot of time to think. I wondered about the person who wrote the words. Did she still love Ritchie? Was it ever love at all? Did he care for her and respect and support her the way my husband does? Did he bring her smiles or is the scar of their relationship as permanent as this whimsical scrawl? Was it heartfelt, or a pre-Facebook careless need to indulge impulse?

Written communication is a voyage. Through it our thoughts, feelings, and questions travel from the nebulous jumble of impressions in our mind to concrete permanence. Used to be, once upon a time, that communication was labored over. A letter would be carefully crafted and often modified many times before the exact nuance of thought had been captured, a signature artfully assigned, and the stamp affixed. Its receipt would be considered a gift. The command of the English language was broad and deep, and communication an art form of itself. With the increase in the pace of life and the introduction of electronics, communication became – of necessity – fast and easy. Too easy. The letter labored over with love went the way of eight tracks. Impulsive blurting of feelings and impressions became commonplace. Complex thought was delegated to road-weary motivational posters. Subtle humor morphed into crudity.

A disclaimer: I don't yearn for days gone by. I'm a techno-geek and love all things electronic and computer. Without Skype and Facebook to see grandkids, cruising would be much less likely to succeed. But recently I've seen a disturbing trend among my compatriots. The ease of communication through emails, texts, and social media has been around long enough now that it has brought with it a fundamental change – not just in the form and substance of our communication, but in the way we think.

While processing news in short clips without in-depth analysis of the issues is its own whole topic of another discussion, processing relationships the same way is devastating. The overwhelming amount of information and the speed at which it is delivered, leaves us dashing off snippets of communication bereft of body language, voice tone, and eye expression. Carelessly hitting the Send button without reviewing the material in the framework of the person receiving has left many hurting, angry, or confused. The anonymity of internet forums and social media groups lends its own wild West aura to communication, unleashing trolls into the melee with no reliable way to sift their content from our friends'. And while the communication seems fleeting, it's frighteningly permanent, sitting in the cloud archives for eternity to haunt. Writing used to be a legacy to leave behind, a way of lending credence to our short time here. Looking at some of the things in my Facebook feed, I wonder exactly what kind of legacy we're leaving.

Whether you're a cruiser or not, we're all just passing through and time is short. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I've been blessed that the cruising lifestyle has given me the opportunity to do both. Being far away from those I love, and sharing our adventures with others who wander, I've come to realize that the ability to communicate is both a treasure and a responsibility. The treasure is to be cherished, a means of fulfilling that very basic human need to connect with another; the responsibility lies in measuring its impact. Before it becomes your legacy.

The leak is fixed, the new headliner panels are up, and with it Ritchie's story has leapt from boat maintenance obscurity to the dubious social recognition of the World Wide Web. Besides getting a shiny, clean, new headliner, I also got a reinforced foundation for my thinking. Not a bad return from one little leak.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I've been thinkin'...

Tim always cringes when I say that because he knows it's usually followed by a major modification / upgrade / maintenance idea for Kintala, but I think this time he was pretty happy I said it because the workload was going to be mine, not his.

When we bought the boat, there was one headliner panel that had a water damaged corner in it. The leak had been fixed, or at least the gremlins had moved to another spot, because it was no longer wet, just damaged. Kintala has the hard type of headliner - vinyl coated panels of masonite in 2 foot wide sections that go crosswise to the boat with teak trim strips between them. Somebody fixed the leak, but for whatever reason never chose to replace the panel. It has bugged me for the last 5 years.

Since I had all the trim down to take out the ports to rebed them (the biggest part of the job), it seemed like a good time to replace the panel. I did some research to see what Lowe's and Home Depot had in stock in Bradenton, the closest place I could get to in a borrowed vehicle. I had recently seen photos of another boat online that had been refit, and the owner had installed the scored paneling typically used as wainscoting. It was impressive to say the least. While perusing Lowe's inventory online, I saw the paneling and mentioned to Tim that it might be worth the time to change it all out rather than have a new panel, clean and white, make the rest look old and yellowing, which they were. We agreed I should take a look.

The company pickup was available, the price was right, and two days later we have a brand new headliner that, if I might say so, makes the boat look like new. Here are some progress picks, but I say progress because even though the headliner is complete, the ports are still out and that project is going to take a couple more weeks. But you know, I've been thinkin'...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Learning the curve

One of the challenges of going cruising was climbing the learning curve. Open water, navigation, tides and currents; it was steeper than expected. Not insurmountable, just steep. Turning to anything new requires a learning curve.

I expected changing from vagabond boat wanderer to on-the-clock marine mechanic would involve yet another learning curve, but not much of one. Fixing things is fixing things. Electricity, internal combustion, refrigeration, air conditioning, fiberglass works the same in a garage, hangar, or boat yard. The bits are arranged differently, RADAR is usually mounted in the nose of an airplane, not hung off of a mast. And there are some things noticeably different, there are not a lot of turbine engines found in sailboats or roller furling headsails on Citations. Still, I expected to be able to find my way around pretty quickly. And for a little while, at the end of last week, I was starting to feel like I was hitting my stride.

And then came Monday.

All of the technicians in these parts keep several different jobs going at the same time. When a project hits a stopping point waiting on parts or some approval from an owner, there is another project whose parts just arrived or whose owner decided which way a project needs to go. It has to be that way. Those of us who work here expect to get 8 hours of pay each day. Those hours have to show up on a bill somewhere if there is going to be money to make that pay, but you can't bill for waiting on parts or decisions.

Sometimes a day gets filled with jobs that just pop-up, jobs that have to be dealt with A.S.A.P. It may be a resident boat limping in after a weekend jaunt with something broken, something needing attention before the boat can go out again. It may be a boat undergoing a survey being shepherded in with gentle nudging from Towboat US. (Just last week. I guess that survey didn't work out so well.)

Even hip deep in Island Packet wiring and Tug repairing, Monday started with an easy pop-up job; testing the galvanic isolators on a newer Catalina. Boss New had a picture of where Catalina claims they are mounted and sent me off to do a quick check while he started putting out the week's fires, which were already filling his day. The access ladder was leaning against the starboard side (which detail will play into my excuse) and I drove in from that side. Yours truly climbed aboard with tools and meter in hand, removed the indicated panel and, voila, no isolator.

Not a big surprise. Galvanic isolators are not small units and I had not really expected to find one behind the DC control panel at the navigation station, regardless of what Catalina might say. Just to be sure the AC panel next door was removed as well, still no isolators. So I went looking where such things are normally found, near the shore power plug. (The isolators purpose in life is to keep stray electrical currents out of a boat's AC system, thus preventing them from eating up parts of the boat.)

This particular Catalina's shore power plugs were in the bow, at the top of the anchor locker. I had never seen a boat set up this exact way before but hey, I'm still new at this and, well, that whole learning curve thing. But I searched all around and still no isolators. The starboard side lazarette sported no isolators, and the port side actually opened up into an aft cabin. At a bit of a loss I climbed back down the starboard side ladder, found Boss New juggling two or three other problems and tossed him another one. His new boat tech couldn't find the supposed isolators, not behind the panel claimed nor anywhere around the shore power plugs.

“Leave it for now” he said, and sent me back to working on the Island Packet mast. But just minutes later, while I was setting some ¼ inch stainless steel rivets into a replacement RADAR mount, he came by. (Having spent decades fixing airplanes, riveting things together is definitely NOT on my learning curve.)

“I found the isolators in the aft lazarette mounted at the stern. Check them when you get the chance.”

Mounted at the stern? The shore power is in the bow. Boss New had said or done nothing that indicated I had done something dumb, he just pointed me in the right direction. But I got a feeling that boat had something going, something that would make me look silly. I snapped the last rivet in place, gathered up my stuff, loaded it onto my cart, and drove over to the Catalina...approaching it from the stern.

Where, mounted in the bright daylight for everyone to see, two additional shore power plugs sat just above the swim platform. They were big, bright, shiny and damned near impossible to miss; but I had managed. As promised, inside a lazarette located aft of the starboard side helm sat two galvanic isolators, eager to be checked. My guess is it took Boss New all of 30 seconds to find them; and that included climbing up the ladder.

I had not looked that far aft since the boat was plugged into shore power at the bow; one of two choices on that boat. Having both is actually a good idea – making it kind of a surprise that a boat manufacturer thought of it. Having never seen a boat that had shore power access at both ends, it never occurred to me to look at both ends.


I suspect Boss New was a little surprised that I couldn't figure it out. I also suspect he knew I'd be pretty embarrassed when I did, and saw no reason to rub it in.

Then again...

Next morning's unexpected pop-up job was to install a new toilet in the tiny head of a Pacific Seacraft sitting on the hard out in the sun, just down wind of another boat getting new holding tanks and head plumbing. I enjoyed the ambiance wafting off of that job all day long as I struggled to fit 8 pounds of...stuff...into a three pound bag. It took some doing.

I'm not saying that one thing led to another. The Pacific Seacraft needed a head that works, it isn't like it can go to sea without one. But the next time I will look a little closer for the galvanic isolators, or at least be smart enough to walk all the way around the boat with my eyes open.

Some parts of the learning curve are not too bad, so long as one doesn't climb them twice.