Friday, April 27, 2018

I used to be a rational person.

 Then I became a sailor.

Deck all prepped, engine checks done, Deb twisted the key to bring the WesterBeast to life for the day's travel.

Nadda. Nothing. Silence.

And my first thought was, “I should never have written last night’s post.” As if there is some mysterious power in the cosmos that reads my posts, gets offended, and then puts a wonk into the starter system just to show me who’s boss.

It gets better.

Kintala is equipped with a secondary starter button located in the port side of the engine box, pointing into the galley. Its main use is to bleed air out of the fuel system and I can’t tell you when was the last time it was pressed into service. Still, it seemed the thing to do, so I pressed the button. The Beast fired right up, but the button stuck on, the starter screaming in protest as it was driven by the engine. Pause for a moment and picture the scene. 

The last time a starter hung on me that badly it nearly burned the King Air B100 I was driving to the ground. Quick thinking mechanics grabbed fire extinguishers and were coating the engine accessory section even as the prop was spinning down, smoke pouring out of the cowl, tiny molten metal bits dripping off to leave little smoke trails of their own. Fire, inside a wooded engine box, inside a fiberglass boat, was just about inevitable unless I could get the starter shut down.

Hammering the stuck switch  few times with a fist did nothing to help the situation. Deb pulled the fuel shutoff knowing only that something bad was happening. I went for the main battery switch as the howls of protesting metal made it clear the end was nigh. It worked. The starter disengaged. Silence reigned, except for the pounding of my heart.

A few posts ago I mentioned having little enthusiasm for the idea of having a ship’s battery bank split into two. I still think that is a poor idea. But a great idea is having a quick way to get all of the DC power off of the boat, and it likely prevented Kintala from becoming a smoking hulk sizzling her way to the bottom of Gasparilla Sound.

Order and poise regained, we attempted to get underway once again. Both starter switches where squirted with contact cleaner and tested for proper movement and “feel” before the DC was turned back on. Deb twisted the key, the Beast rumbled to life with no ado, and we went about getting under way once again.

Going forward to lift the anchor, I noticed the nut that holds the bolt that holds the roller that holds the anchor, was missing. I know it was there when I dropped the anchor in the evening. Come morning, it was gone. Just how is that possible? But my first thought?

“Good. Primary stater switch, secondary starter switch, and now a missing nut. That makes three near disasters of the day. We should be safe for a while.” 

As if there is some mysterious power in the universe that dishes out disasters in 3s, just to make sure we are paying attention.

I used to be a rational person.

Then I became a sailor.

There were four adults in this tiny little sailboat that was battling the ICW traffic jams of large, speeding motor yachts.

It was the day for little sailboats. Beautiful, this one.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

I'll take it

Kintala has her anchor set in the waters of Gasparilla Sound, two days of ICW travel south of Tampa Bay. So I think it safe to say that we are on the way without tempting the fates too much. It took a couple of tries but, maybe, anchoring just outside of Snead was too much of a temptation for Mr. Murphy and his law? This time we pushed off the dock, turned the stern to Snead, and proceeded directly out of sight. We decided to stay "inside" for the start since the boat is recently repaired and we are, likely, a bit more rusty than we would like to admit.

A little sailing on Sarasota Bay
At the end of the first day the anchor dropped in Little Sarasota Bay. We had planned on anchoring off Sarasota but blustery west winds made that look uncomfortable. We will spend many a night in rumbled up anchorages, no use starting out in one if it can be helped. Little Sarasota was an easy reach before night fell.

It was the first night spent out of sight of Snead Island in a little more than a year. It was glorious though, early in the ‘O dark thirty, I had a bit of a scare. The first meal on the hook out of sight of Snead was meatloaf, one of my personal favorites. (Cold meatloaf sandwiches being a close second.) Deb had added some Worchestershire sauce to the recipe for flavoring, gifted by a crew putting their boat up on the hard for the season. It turns out this Worcestershire sauce was made with anchovies. Anchovies are a close relative to shell fish. Shell fish and I are not mates. All is well as it was a subdued reaction, but being anchored out and knowing that something is going wrong isn’t a lot of fun.

I’ll pass on the cold meatloaf sandwiches for now.

We did get some really nice sailing the first day out on Sarasota Bay, (the big one), though we did manage to get tangled up in yet another sailboat race. But, for the most part, ICW sailing is trawler motoring so Kintala has been making like a trawler-with-a-really-tall-antenna. The WesterBeast has been happily thumping along, temps hovering a couple of degrees cooler than they used to while pushing our squeaky clean hull along at better than six knots. ICW travel, true. But really good ICW travel, which isn't half bad at all.

Particularly after slightly more than a year spent at a dock.

Thirteen bridges in two days, but the west coast tenders are awesome and we flew through them.

Finally some pretty water

There were a few butterflies on departure, which I find a bit embarrassing. Back in my old life we could be sitting at the departure end of 28R, 60 some odd people in the back of the jet, snow falling out of a coal black sky being strobed by lightning flashes, wind blowing…and it was just another day in the office. In fact it was better than just another day at the office. Anyone can fly when the sun is shining and the sky is friendly. Based out of Chicago’s O’Hare during the winter? Nervous types need not apply, they will not last long.

But after a year at the dock getting Kintala underway once again didn’t feel like just another day in the office. (Well, shop.) And someday I’m going to figure out why that is. Maybe it’s because we have a history of false starts, getting going only to come limping back in with one kind of wonk or another. We always get it straightened out and, eventually, get on our way. But it never seems to be a smooth departure, and this last one was no exception.

Maybe it’s because the jet didn’t belong to me. Should something break we were well trained to handle the problem and limp back to earth with whatever was still working. At that point it became someone else’s problem. Should it be a slow news day with someone taking a video and loading it up on youtube, one might even be hailed as heroic for doing the job one is supposed to be doing, (and saving one’s own skin in the process). Back when I taught a class in high altitude turbine operations, I used to tell the students that, if they had to have a problem with an airplane, landing gear was the system of choice. Only an absolute klutz could get hurt by failed landing gear. But the videos of sliding one in on its belly will make the crew famous…so long as that didn't happen because they forgot to put the little handle in the “DOWN” position.

In any case, if the jet proved to be a disappointment (a pilot should never be surprised by an airplane) it wasn’t going to cost me any money to get it fixed, nor would it likely be me doing the fixing.

But Kintala? Should (when) something breaks we will likely limp (or be towed) back to shore with nothing more than some minor drama but, once in, she remains my problem. We plan on being at this for a while yet. There will be lots of opportunities for “problems." Depending on a boat as one’s home and primary mode of travel is a bit more problematic than I ever anticipated.

But not today. Today we have been on our way for two whole days. Today the weather has been perfect. Right now there are dolphins playing around our boat and the sailboat anchored nearby answered our conch horn as the sun touched the horizon. Today future has the promise of some very good times.

I’ll take today.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


More than a year ago Deb spotted a tiny pin hole in the metal exhaust pipe connected to the exhaust manifold. We were far from anywhere repairs could be made, so we wrapped it and clamped it and basically forgot about it. I noticed it again when I started to mount the new heat exchanger and decided this would be the perfect time to do a more permanent repair. The first thought was to replace the 5 inch bit of tube with one that didn't have a hole in it. That thought faded away when it was discovered that the shop didn’t have any such thing in stock. The offer was made to weld a patch over the bad spot, something that would take about an hour and leave me with the possibility of getting the boat done by dinner.


Pipe welded, JJ, Christopher, and I set about reassembling the Beast. It went pretty well right up until we filled the new parts with coolant. When bright green liquid starting dripping past the newly installed flange gasket at the base of the exchanger, we set about disassembling the Beast. New new gaskets replaced the old new gaskets, different and more robust hardware in the form a larger washers replaced the original, and a layer of gasket sealer was added to the install. By then Grampy T was well and truly spent. The reassembled unit was left on the bench to be hung on the Beast the following day. My young crew was delighted at the prospect of having another day of “real engine work” to do.

Come morning the Beast was assembled once again. Part of the fun of this install is the four nuts that help support the exhaust manifold. The only way to get the them started on the studs is to uckum sticky them to a long thin screwdriver, hold them against the stud end, and try to get them started using the edge of another long, thin, screwdriver. It is actually a pretty standard technique for working around an engineering wonk, but not exactly “boat mechanics 101.” All was going well until the very last nut to go on got started a little cross ways, buggering up the stud threads. So we had to back up a bit, removing the manifold to reach and dress the stud. Count that as having to do half of a removal.

The boys were delighted.

Stud threads dressed, the manifold was set in place for the third time. The boys insisted that they could handle the screw driver trick and wanted to give it a try. I’m not sure you could call it a true solo flight, but they got most of the way around the pattern; much to my delight.

Engine buttoned up, this time with the coolant system full and not drooling, Deb prodded the Beast to life while the boys and I looked for leaks. Almost immediately water started flowing from a set of clamps at the tube that was welded. A quick shut-down and some additional torque would cure the minor glitch, no problem. On the second start the clamps held tight but, a few moments later, water and mist could be seen seeping enthusiastically out of the weld repair. Problem. We would have to back up and start all over.

The boys were delighted. Grampy T? Not so much.

For the third time on this repair, fluid was drained and hoses undone. For the fourth time on this repair, the exhaust manifold was unbolted and lifted off the Beast. The boys insisted on trying to remove the nuts and washers, employing a magnet to catch all the bits as they came off the stud, thus avoiding having them cascade down the engine and into the engine pan. A pretty standard technique but not exactly “boat mechanics 101.” Nine and five years old, they handled it with little trouble, and were delighted with their prowess.

The heat exchanger / exhaust manifold assembly is at the shop waiting on a new chunk of exhaust tube to be delivered and installed. Since I am no longer an official employee of the yard and it will likely take a blow torch to get the parts apart, I suspect no one’s insurance would be happy with a DIY. Besides, the boys would likely insist that they could handle the torch, so this is an “out” for Grampy T.

When it comes to puttting the thing on for the fourth time though, I may just sit back and let them have at it.

They would be delighted.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Young hands

Parts for the WesterBeast’s heat exchanger repair finally started to show up. It took a while to find the required gaskets, which were then shipped via the slowest boat to China ever commissioned. Or maybe the second slowest? The gasket arrived before the new heat exchanger, though the heat exchanger was ordered first. Both ended up being about a week late.

“Why a new heat exchanger” you ask?

The original one was, well, original. We have already had it repaired once. This time the yard's engine guru took a peek and told us that it had been repaired at least once before that. New seemed better. But a new factory bit proved hard to locate and was rumored to carry, should one actually be located somewhere, a price that bordered on astronomical. A new one "manufactured to the original specs” could be had at slightly less than a week’s wages. Yes, I had the same misgivings, but ordered it anyway. And yes, I wouldn't be surprised if we had ordered a "factory new",  they would have gone and bought the same one we did, stuck a factory price tag on it,  and then shipped it to me.

The heat exchanger showed up today, packaged professionally, glistening in a Westerbeke red, and looking good. All the fittings were in the right places and of the correct sizes. The new end cap is clearly superior to the original rubber one. And it had a certain amount of heft to it, a good thing with something that is a serious chunk of metal. Seeing as it was after lunch already, tomorrow seemed like a good time to start. Five year old grandson JJ, however, was of a different opinion. He wanted to help in the worst way, this being “engine work”. Grampy T bowed to the inevitable and changed into work clothes.

One might normally cringe at the idea of“marine diesel heat exchanger install” and, “five year old” being used in the same sentence. True maybe, if that five year old isn’t JJ. It didn’t take long to find a job needing done that he could do. This heat exchanger hangs off the exhaust manifold, requiring 3 new gaskets for the install. Old gasket bits needed to be throughly removed before the new ones are installed. JJ insisted that he could handle the task as long as I could find him a piece of ScotchBright. I did.

And he did.

New gasket installed, we went to place the heat exchanger in place and…remember that “original spec” claim? Apparently that did not include placing the slots for the mounting bolts exactly where they needed to be. Fortunately bronze is pretty easily worked, they were only off a few hundreds of an inch, and we own a Dremel tool. I really couldn’t explain to my five year old co-worker how the people building the heat exchanger managed to screw up the one measurement they really needed to get right to make the thing work. Dremel tool humming, I did get the chance to explain that taking off a little bit at a time, seeing if it was enough, then taking off a little more, is a far better option than taking too much off the first time around. He is a little too young for the sarcastic “I cut it off twice and it was STILL too short” quip. I’ll save that for when he is in his teens.

Mounting slots now properly located, we once again attempted to mate the heat exchanger to the exhaust manifold, and found a second place where the “original spec”, wasn’t. The body of the heat exchanger was fouling against the ends of the mounting studs, though the original one fit fine. I don’t know which original spec was off. Maybe the new one is of a slightly larger diameter than the old. Maybe the new mounting flange is slightly thinner. Either way the studs were too long.

The Dremel tool wouldn’t be much of a match for the hardened steel studs. But we also own an angle grinder with a cut-off wheel.

Even in Grampy T’s work shop five year old’s don’t tangle with angle grinders. Still, JJ stood near enough to see what was being done, and to remind me not to cut off too much. It is always fun to tell kids that the sparks flying off a grinder are hotter than the sun. JJ wanted to know how that was possible and so learned something about friction and heat…and not to touch the part just cut without gloves or a rag. No, I didn’t. I sent him to get a rag.

Mounting slots modified and mounting studs custom cut to size, the heat exchanger and exhaust manifold could be properly introduced and joined together in engine cooling bliss. The only hitch in the ceremony was the lack of space for slipping the two all the way together before installing the mounting washers and nuts. But with a pair of 5 year old hands working along side a pair of 62 year old hands, exchanger and manifold were ultimately torqued firmly together.

Tomorrow they will take up residence in their permanent home, the move likely to be aided by boat mechanic JJ.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hell is 3mm wide

It was almost exactly a week ago. I took a shower and went to bed with a book, but I couldn't get comfortable. I tried pillows and moved from one side to the other but I was increasingly uncomfortable. I got up to go to the bathroom. It didn't help. After a bit, it became apparent that something was seriously wrong and it was getting worse. I told Tim I thought it was time we saw about getting some transportation to the emergency room. He ran up to the guard shack and the guard on duty quickly handed him his keys. We were off.

Image courtesy of
The pain was getting worse at a rapid rate. Tim was stopping at red lights, looking, and running them. We were in the emergency room in just under 12 minutes, and not a single minute too soon. The staff there was professional, courteous, and efficient and happened to have some greatly improved sick bags handy, a good thing as I almost immediately revisited our excellent dinner from earlier in the evening.

Within the hour, a Cat scan revealed the cause of the misery, a 3mm kidney stone which was lodged just above the bladder. The photo at the right is so you can get an idea of the size. It's amazing that something that small can bring a human to her knees. Pain meds were administered, which finally brought some blessed relief. After a while, they allowed me to leave, pain and nausea prescriptions in hand. I slept the rest of the night, all of Monday, and Monday night. I completely lost a day, which I guess isn't really out of the ordinary for a cruiser who usually doesn't even know what month it is.

The next three days I was pain-free. I read the handout the emergency room had given me which stated that should you be pain-free for more than 24 hours, it was likely that the stone had broken up or passed unnoticed and you were in the clear. I was buoyed with hope, but unfortunately it was in vain.

Friday night (yes, Friday the 13th,) as I left the shower, I had a twinge in the exact same place. By the time I tried to lay down in bed it became apparent that I was headed the same road again.This time we didn't wait. We had a rental car that we had picked up for weekend errands and we quickly left. By the time we got to the hospital, I was in as much pain as the previous visit, not able to sit comfortably in any position, not able to stand, not able to lay down, and revisiting dinner again. A small word of advice - if you have any inkling that you might be getting ready to pass a kidney stone, enchiladas in red sauce is probably not the best choice of dinner. A couple hours, some kidney performance tests to be sure the kidneys were functioning correctly, and a blessed dose of pain meds, and I was once again in the land of the living.

The doctor was really sweet when I asked her whether she thought the stone was going to pass soon. She said she wished she was a fortune teller, but just couldn't say. So we're now left with a decision of how long to stay put. Hurricane season is closing in fast and we need to go north, but the idea of getting down to the anchorage in the Everglades and having to tough it through that level of pain without medical assistance is frightening to me. Of all the difficulties that cruising brings, the issue of needing medical attention when out of range is the one that bothers me most, especially as we age.

A lot of cruising spots are named "Hell Gate" or some version of it. We've been through the one in New York on a small sailboat, and we're going to attempt the one in Georgia in a few weeks but, truly, the worst Hell Gate I've navigated is this passage of a kidney stone. My wish for you this evening is that you never have to go through it.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Not where we hoped to be

The Kids rowed out to Kintala last evening for the final hugs and good-by. No tears, since we will be meeting up again in a few weeks. This morning dawned perfect for the first run toward the Keys. It felt good being up on deck setting the rigging, pulling off the sail cover, running the sheets. We were cruisers once again, heading back out to where the rest of the tribe lives. It had been a long time since I felt that good getting about my day.

Kintala hasn’t been completely stationary lately, having been out to the anchorage a couple of times as well as making runs to the pump-out. In fact she has been riding to her anchor for the last ten nights while we Dinged in each day to help with the final prep for Blowin' In The Wind to be on her way as well. There was little thought of touching a dock for weeks, and then just for fuel. Everything has been checking out okay, so I gave little thought to Deb doing the engine checks last while I finished up the deck and got ready to pull the hook. 

When she called up from below to ask me to come look at something my good mood vanished. I could tell from the tone of her voice we likely weren’t going very far. In spite of the checks being completely normal for the last couple of weeks, this morning Ye ‘Ol WesterBeast appeared to be adding engine coolant all by itself. It was hard to say for sure. There is no overflow tank, Kintala being an antique when it comes to marine coolant systems. So checking the level means peering down into the actual coolant tank and judging that the fluid is where it normally is. And it certainly appeared to be higher than we are used to seeing. Deb also thought that the color was wrong and I took her word for it. My color sense was never very good and hasn’t gotten any better with the passing of decades. Still, that is some pretty sparse evidence of there being a problem, and the very idea of having to fix yet another thing on the boat was setting firecracker thoughts off in my brain, none of which should ever see the light of day.

After some debate and a call to the shop to see what the engine gurus might suggest, (as if I didn’t already know), we pulled the hook and headed to one of the face docks inside the yard. A pressure test on the coolant system would tell the tale, and the tale it told was the we were definitely not going anywhere. The gauge confirmed that the coolant system is breached somewhere, that somewhere being a place that lets raw water in where raw water shouldn’t be. About the only place that can happen is in the core of the heat exchanger.

The WesterBeast’s heat exchanger was overhauled about 5 years ago because the engine was overheating. Of those five years we have spent nearly 2 tied to the dock here at Snead Island. That seems a pretty limited service life for a unit that isn’t particularly modest in the price department. My joy at being on our way was long forgotten. In its place was my opinion of the mechanical side of the marine world in general, and the WesterBeast in particular, falling to its normally abysmal low. But, what else to do? It has to be fixed. This is a far better place to get that done than somewhere 50 miles from the nearest shop. And Deb caught it on some very thin information; one quarter inch or so of too much fluid, and a slight color change. I don’t think I would have noticed.

We moved the boat to a more permanent pier, one less exposed to the wakes coming in off the river. It is a good bet that we will be here a week or more. It was at least a week the last time the heat exchanger came off the boat. Though it was late in the afternoon, my mood grim (to put it mildly) and my head filled with thoughts of meeting my daily limit of alcohol intake as quickly as possible, it would be best to pull the heat exchanger with the hope of having it in a shop before the weekend. Cruising clothes were shed, work clothes were dug out of the locker, tools located, and boat parts removed.

I remember the last time taking off the heat exchanger as being nearly 8 hours of continuous hurt and frustration. Whomever it was that decided pulling the exhaust manifold was a perfectly acceptable first step to reaching the heat exchanger should be flogged repeatedly with hot coolant lines. He should also be forced to pay for the $100 exhaust gasket required as part of the job. Practice makes a difference though, and this time the heat exchanger/exhaust manifold landed on the work bench barely two hours after the engine covers were pulled. Ten minutes later the heat exchanger was free and ready for the shop.

Ten minutes after that I was well on my way to meeting that daily limit of alcohol intake.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Trying to get going

So there we were, within 36 hours or so of pulling the hook out of the Manatee River and heading off. There was a last day to be spent getting the mast lights on Blowing In The Wind squared away, and getting some play time in with the grand kids. I had long dreaded that last day of play, knowing the heart break that would come with those final hugs before we took the Ding out to Kintala. Best guess was that it would be three days of tears and at least another week of shaking off a grey cloud of wondering just why we needed to be away. After that there would still be intermittent bouts of the grey, bouts that would fade as the months wore on, though never going completely away. But, as it turned out, they were not thrilled at the idea of seeing us sail off over the horizon while they stayed tied to a dock, and so decided to leap in the cruising life themselves and come along.

How cool is that?

Because Kintala can’t fit through the Okeechobee, and Blowing In The Wind’s Captain and Admiral wanted to have a little easer “first go” than running through the Gulf of Mexico to the Keys, the two boats will be taking different paths for the first few weeks. After meeting again in Stuart our little family flotilla will head north.

Kintala was due to leave first with the plan of spending a few days hanging out in places we like to hang out, and meeting some people we would like to meet. So there we were, within 36 hours of pulling the hook out of the Manatee River and heading off.

Right up until we did the morning’s routine battery check. The check doesn’t amount to much, just running through the monitor menu to verify each battery’s voltage. The fancy Xantrex monitor does a whole bunch of other stuff as well, all of which I review, and none of which is very useful. Individual battery voltage displayed on a digital read-out to the hundredth off a volt will tell you everything you need to know about battery health. In the five years these batteries have been in Kintala the morning voltage checks have always been within a couple of hundredths of a volt of each other. This morning…

Battery 1 =12.16v.

Battery 2 =13.23 v.


The first step in troubleshooting is to verify what one thinks is wrong actually is wrong. In this case that would mean opening up the battery box and putting a volt meter on each battery. Alas, since we had been working on BIGW’s mast lights yesterday and left the tools on that boat for today’s efforts, my volt meter was back on the dock and not with Kintala out here in the anchorage. A quick run in to say “good morning” and grab the meter ensued. Sure enough, checking with an independent meeter confirmed, battery 1 was down an entire volt from battery 2.

Five year old batteries on a full time cruising boat. One really can’t complain. We started making plans to replace the batteries, figuring we could get back on the dock for a couple of days. Better to do it now than face the music somewhere along the East Coast. But…

Deb kept asking, “Why?” Why this sudden drop. Why today? And I kept answering, “Everything works right up until it breaks.” We are trying to get going. This is a boat. Of course it is broken. Boats are always broken. It is just a matter of how broken.

The second rule of troubleshooting, after verifying the problem actually exists, is to figure out the most likely cause of the problem. And, when it comes to the most likely cause, one might as well start with the last thing someone touched that might have something to do with the system wonk now messing up the day.

Since I wasn’t aware of anything being done that would jostle the electrical system into a wonk, and since the batteries are five years old, and since we trying to be on our way; I just fell into the conclusion that the batteries had decided this was the perfect day to file for retirement. But clearly Deb wasn’t convinced. Even while using the internet to check the prices and availability of various batteries she kept asking, “Why now? Why today?” After a bit she disappeared in the aft cabin and started poking around.

“Found it.”

Found it? Found what?

Working on BITW’s electrical system had her rummaging through all of the various bins and cubby holes on Kintala yesterday. Places where we stash all kinds of do-dads, like wire and connections and tools not often used. Stuff needed to fix BITW’s lights. It is a bit of a pain. Actually, it is a major pain, not being able to just reach into a tool box or easily accessed storage cabinet to get something. I often claim that, should I ever loose my mind and move back on shore, it will be to avoid having to spend 20 minutes digging though cubby holes for the stuff needed to do a five minute job.

Kintala’s battery master switch is located in one of those cubby holes. We rarely touch it. In fact, it probably hasn’t been moved in a couple of years. In the process of searching for stuff Deb had bumped the battery master select switch with a box full of cable, moving in from “BOTH” to “ONE”.  It was late. It had been a long day. She was tired. And the cubby hole was dark and stuffed. As a result last night’s entire electrical load had been sucked out of just one battery.

Of course it was low. We had selected it to be low. We just didn’t know that we had selected it to be low come morning.

So, here we are, within 36 hours of being on our way.