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Old 15-11-2010, 14:13   #1
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skipgundlach's Avatar

Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Currently on the boat, somewhere on the ocean, living the dream
Boat: Morgan 461 S/Y Flying Pig
Posts: 1,141
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October Occupations

October Occupations

Hi, y'all,

We left you after some really wonderful experiences in October. Recent
events have been so fun-filled that I've been slack in getting this out...

Our first occupation was to go scrub the bottom of Flying Pig again. We
headed off on October 21st to our favorite place near Fowl Cay, but the next
morning, the wind had shifted, making that not so good for either putting
ourselves aground, and with the waves, keeping the boat from banging on the
bottom. Accordingly, looking at the charts, we headed off to the north end
of Man'O'War, and gently beached ourselves in a mid-tide. I took the anchor
out in the dinghy, really just as a lunch hook, as we weren't about to go
anywhere soon, and got out the hookah and gear.

Lydia and I put on our wetsuits, because the water has become colder as fall
has proceeded. Water was brilliantly clear, and because it hadn't been
months, our cleaning went relatively fast.

My favorite experience in this scrub was aquatic life. It's common for fish
to check us out, or perhaps enjoy what we scrub off, but I noticed, strictly
by chance, as I was near the port stern, a very large stingray easing my

Having petted them in Georgetown, I wasn't the least bit alarmed, but, just
in case he accidentally might have his tail hit me, I put the broom on the
bottom, making a pole in front of me. He eased up to me, gave me the once
over with his big, expressive (how does a ray "express?"), and eased off
into the distance. Just the least little flaps with his wings as he hugged
the bottom, no alarm or hurry (if you surprise one, they're VERY fast to
leave you).

As I'm not stupid, I have a healthy respect for those whose space I invade,
but I really enjoy seeing unusual water dwellers, with a special place in my
heart for sharks, of which I've seen very few. It was so cold and blustery,
wind driven chop making getting in the water uncomfortable, that I didn't do
any of the cuts last spring in the Jumentos. However, we're told that
impressive sharks are everywhere, there.

Indeed, one of the friends we made in Marsh Harbour is a marine biologist.
She told us that the shark population worldwide was on the verge of
extinction due to overfishing, and the Bahamas were one of the last refuges
for them. As we're planning on being there again for the Valentine's day
party, I look forward to being able to see them...

Meanwhile, you'll recall from the "Oooops" log that we'd had difficulty
starting our propulsion engine, and this day was no different. That will be
one of our chores to do later, but we were able to start it again with our
portable Honda generator running, supplementing the available amps for the
starter. Once started, it ran just fine.

Once we finished, we got back aboard and, shortly, the boat started bumping
on the bottom, a sign of the rising tide. We'd timed our excursion
perfectly, being finished in the same day. As I'd put only about 50' of
anchor chain out, and it hadn't really set as it was just dropped from the
dinghy, as I pulled on it with the windlass, it moved us forward just a bit,
and then came out. Once out, with the sails already up, we moved further
offshore and reanchored.

Unfortunately for me, Lydia'd put my wetsuit on the rail to drain. As I
passed it, I had the thought, "Hm. I'll bet that will blow off..." Just
like in reefing, the time to take in a reef is when you first think of it,
and, accordingly, sure enough, as it slipped my mind, it had flown off in
the briskly building breeze when I next looked. The wind direction would
have taken it to near Marsh Harbour, or on one of the small islands outside.
If we'd had one of the island runabouts, I might have made the run to see if
I could find it when we got back to Marsh Harbour, but in our little dinghy,
it would take us days, assuming it might be seen, in the 10 or so miles of
shoreline and islands where it might have floated up. Dang!

The good news, actually very pleasantly surprising, is that prices for a
similar wetsuit are actually cheaper than the economy supplier I'd bought it
from nearly 20 years ago. So, I'll have to order one to either be brought
by a visitor in their own plane, or for picking up in the spring when we
return to the states for a wedding. As said visitor's arrival is looking
more and more unlikely, it will probably have to wait, a great
disappointment, as I'll not be able to spend nearly as much time in the
water between now and then...

Our sail back to Marsh Harbour was brilliantly spectacular, being of bright
sun and fresh breezes with only 1-3' chop. Soon, we were back on the
mooring we've picked up there, and I set out to try to maximize our
potential for making our starter behave as it was supposed to.

Our first effort was to equalize our batteries. Equalization is basically
an intentional overcharging, which somewhat boils the acid in the battery,
enhancing the ionic exchange which removes sulfation from the lead plates
and returning it to solution. I first topped up the distilled water in each
cell, then, after our equalization, did a hydrometer check of each of the
cells in our massive batteries which provide our home with power.

Checking with a hyrdrometer is the only sure way to tell if one of the cells
is damaged, so I was relieved to see that each were essentially identical.
The voltages present on each of the 4 6Volt batteries was within a single
hundredth of a volt, and well over the "charged" level. All the connections
were tight, so I moved on to the starter battery.

I pried off the covers to the cells there, and they were all full. As the
meter also showed that battery to be charged, I didn't bother with the
hydrometer. However, trying to start the engine with just that battery
produced only a click. Metering the leads showed that there was a very
substantial voltage drop when starting, which could have been alarming.
However, the starter is massive and pulls a lot of power, so it wasn't
outside the realm of possibility that this level of voltage drop was normal.

More testing, checking wires, checking the major switch which controls the
batteries (house, starter, both, and off) and all that might possibly have
an influence on power not getting to the starter got us nowhere, so the next
morning I gave up and called in the pro. Andrew is widely known in Abaco as
the absolute wizard. If it's got a wire attached to it, he can fix it or
make it work, or tell you why it doesn't (and won't) if you need a new one.
We agreed that as soon as I'd finished anchoring the morning Cruiser's Net
on VHF I'd go pick him up at the dock. Soon, he was aboard.

I'd spent several hours in my explorations of trouble, but he did all that I
did in a matter of less than one. I asked if he minded my looking over his
shoulder so I could learn from him, and he was most gracious in not only
allowing that, but directly involving me in much of what was going on.
After about a dozen trips up the ladder to the starter button, I dug out my
remote starter button, making my life a bit easier, and we proceeded.

I'll save you the blow-by-blow, but two major, and a couple of minor things
emerged from our work. First, he tightened, to the degree where I was
afraid, from my prior experience with the "Sampson" routine (I'm stronger
than most guys), for his breaking the bolts, each of the battery connections
as well as the charging buss right next to it.

Surprise - they must not have been sufficiently tightened, as I have a
device which is designed to put a small pulse into the batteries on a
regular interval. This functions a bit like equalization, and has been known
to revive supposedly dead batteries. For months, the indicator light has
been silent, leading me to believe that either it had died, or the unit was
dead. Strike one for me for allowing my inability to move any of the wires
in my checking to stop me from tightening, or at least checking, with
wrenches, that they couldn't be moved; they needed more tightening despite
their being brilliantly clean and immobile.

Next, when tightening the start battery didn't change matters, I pulled off
the cap to the cells again, and tested. Sure enough, a dead cell. Strike
two for me for not having done that check, despite their being full of water
and having an apparent full charge. So, a new battery is indicated...

However, the house battery, being a massive bank, should easily have started
the engine. Off with the starter, and taking it apart reveals not only a
loose connection but somewhat worn brushes (the thing which transmits
electricity to the part which rotates). A call to NAPA reveals they have
them in stock, so while Andrew goes and pays some bills ashore, I fetch.
Turns out that they're less than $10, so I get a spare set, along with
another start battery. I was dismayed to see that it was much smaller than
the one I took out, despite it being a nearly 20% higher amperage rating.
However, that was all they had, and the largest capacity, so I got it. That
wasn't so cheap, however, as the one I'd had (still under warranty, of
course, but in the US, so no use to us) was about $90, whereas this smaller
one was over $230.

Picking up Andrew, we set back to finishing up. Installing the brushes,
along with a new, longer screw, to take care of the problem which had been
at root for the loose connection (only 3 out of 4 brushes working insures a
very slow starter!) proves to be the answer, as it starts right up.

Of course, at this point, the batteries are fully charged (the start battery
aside; new-off-the-shelf batteries are rarely fully charged, as wet cell
batteries self-discharge at the rate of 3% a month), so starting, with the
now-functional starter, is swift. Even the start battery is sufficient by

The acid test will be how it behaves when it's relatively discharged, so we
turned on every load we could find, pulling, eventually, nearly 200 amps.
While we waited for the house battery to discharge, Andrew went looking
further. It turns out that my original installation, when we did our refit,
had a miswiring by my contractor. The start battery connection was direct
to the starter's pole on the battery switch. Thus, the starter and the
battery were always in a complete circuit. It could never be isolated.
Moving the starter lead to the common post cured that, but it also could
have had a bearing on the starter battery failure.

Eventually, our house battery was down to about 11.5 volts. The start
battery was down to 11.9 volts. Move the switch to "starter" and, sure
enough, off she goes. Ditto the house battery by itself.

So, all along, the problem was in the starter, exacerbated by
less-than-optimally tightened main battery connections, and a fried start
battery. Of course, we've had the engine started many times in the course of
all of this, so it's relatively warm, and should start more readily, so
we'll have to wait for it to be fully cold before giving it another try.

The final possibility, which I've since come to discard, was that an
annoying very small drip from one of the connections to the high pressure
pump might have allowed that injector's pressure to bleed off, requiring
more time to get up to the proper pressure to start. As I've already
tightened that banjo bolt (so called because the fuel gets out of the pump
via a hole in the bolt which mates to a fitting which looks like a banjo)
more than I dare, I'll have to wait until I can get more crush washers
someplace. A buddy boater who we met during our refit these 3 years ago had
exactly the same problem, and the solution is new washers which can be
crushed to provide the proper seal - on the same basis that a washer under a
spark plug works - so I'm sure that problem is fixable. However, if I were
to break that bolt, we'd be dead in the water for sure...

Anyway, since then, the engine has always started right up on only the start
battery. However, we also had a lesson imprinted, one I'd already known,
but had become lax about (well, to be truthful, never did, based on
knowledgeable folks in the business saying it's not very important in the
circumstances of how we use our battery banks). That is, when you're not
charging, put the switch to "house" so that the start battery remains
charged at all times. Furthermore, most start batteries, even marine ones,
aren't designed to be deeply discharged as are the typical house battery.
As such, as our practice had been to have the switch on "both" all the time,
it's possible that the early death of the starter battery was due to
frequent deep (-er than designed for) discharge. We're working on training
ourselves to switch to "house" only when we're not in a charging mode, but
we're not there yet!

Once we had that dragon slain, it was time for an oil change, long overdue.
Not that it was of any issue, as I routinely change on half the recommended
time interval, but that had passed some months ago, and I was pushing into
the 2/3 range.

Out with all the gear for doing that, and, while it seems to take longer
than I'd expect, eventually things start moving. Too slow, I switch to my
backup drill-driven pump (I'd bought a spare before we left on our voyages
after our refit). Absolutely nothing. The replacement I'd had in stock
doesn't work at all.

Back on the phone, to all the places I'd expect, and, finally, NAPA has a
replacement,l just like mine. Off I go ashore again, and back to the boat.
With this new pump, oil immediately gushes up the tube from the bottom of
the crankase. I quickly have a full oil jug, and switch jugs. Nothing
comes out of the pump. Is it possible I've (intentionally) let it get far
enough down the dipstick that this is all there is?

A full change usually uses 3 gallons. With the oil in the filter accounting
for about a quart of it, and letting my dipstick get toward the "must add"
level, I still usually get closer to 2 gallons out. Wow. That's not good.
Yet, all my continued running fails to produce any more oil.

Shrugging my shoulders, I complete the filter exchange, and pour in my 3
gallons of oil, turn over the engine with the stop lever pulled, to move oil
through the system, then engage the fuel for a minute to let it fully
circulate, stop the engine, and do a level check.

OY! It's WAAAAY over the "add" level. Worse, it's very dark. Obviously, I
didn't get all the oil out. NAPA's closed now, but, fortunately, the guy I
sold my spare injectors to has a dipstick-type oil pump he uses for his
changes. Because I'm no longer certain of my level, I borrow his dipstick,
too (same engine), and recalibrate my dipstick. I pulled out the extra 3/4
gallon of now-contaminated oil into a spare jug which I marked "mix" for
later use. While I don't really like doing it this way, my old/new
contamination is only about 20%, and I have a new filter. I'll do a
much-earlier-than-usual change my next time, and use the mixed oil for
topping up as we use oil continuously, about like in "Captain Ron" - not so
bad as that, but always, between changes, at least a gallon gets added, so
perhaps I'll get to use that up as well.

The situation is complicated by our dependence on our friend with the
private plane bringing the oil I'd bought in anticipation of their visit
nearly immediately after our return from the states this summer. Oil in the
Bahamas is almost exactly 3 times as expensive as in the states, i.e. $29-34
a gallon, so, with this fill, I'm down to my last gallon. On the other
hand, the way we don't run our engine, it's POSSIBLE :{)) that we'll not
need a change before we return to the states!

Back to this new pump I bought. It happens to be one with a removable
plate, so I inspect the impeller. Sure enough, there's a broken one. My
old one had 3 of them; no wonder I wasn't getting any oil up! Off to NAPA
again, who exchanges this for a more expensive version, the same as my spare
had been (the one which was DOA when I tried it). This one works, pumping
out the soapy/oily water from our engine pan after I've scrubbed it, into
yet another empty jug. As this one is a Belkamp, with a NAPA brand on it,
there's hope that it's better than the unbranded one they sold me first!

So, all is well in the engine room. However, the main engine on our boat is
our sails, which are held up by wires against the mast, keeping it straight.
Those with us since a little more than a year ago will recall that we
replaced all those wires and fittings, known as "standing rigging," during
our refit last summer. As new wire will inevitably stretch a little, I
wanted to retune our rig.

Shortening this story, too, we watch a video by Brion Toss, the guru of all
riggers. I loosen everything in sequence, hand-tightening everything as we
go, and "pinging" each for relative tightness after I take out the induced
bends which happen as I incrementally tighten first one, then the others, of
the shrouds which keep our mast aligned. Once "dock tuned" we take her out
for a dynamic tune, done under sail.

The normal experience is to have the downwind wires relatively slack.
However, our first tack has them flapping. I tighten them up and we begin
our tacking. 10 tacks later, my arms are burning from all the winch
grinding we do, as I only attack one of the three on each side on each
adjustment but our chartplotter's track shows us looking like a zig-zag
stitch on a sewing machine. Better yet, we're sailing closer to the wind
than we have ever done successfully, with the boat perfectly balanced at 30*
to weather, hands-off steering, and tacking through 90* (the track changes
by 90* as you tack), a great improvement over the past, and very impressive
for a heavy old lady like Flying Pig.

Hooray! Everything's in line, the wind is piping, and we're full-sails in
17-22 knots, with the boat standing relatively upright (not more than 15*
heel). We head downwind to return to home, and I check the rig with the
pressure from the rear. A couple of jibes proves the rig to be well tuned.
Very soon, we're back on our mooring.

So, now we're ready to leave - almost - to Eleuthera. First, we want to top
up our diesel, gasoline and water, so we'll wait for our weather window to
leave. However, one of our prior concerns about a too-tight rig has been
that it compresses the hull to make pulling up the floor access to the
diesel tank (we fill from the outside, but to avoid splashing any fuel from
the vent, I instead pull the accss plug and look into the tank, guiding
Lydia in how fast to feed it until we're actually full up) very difficult.

I REALLY don't want to do this over, and all of my tightening from the time
of slacking the various shrouds onward has been by hand alone, so I'm
confident that they're not so tight as to represent any danger to the rig.
None the less, the floor sections are very firmly wedged in place.

Accordingly, I pry them up with a large screwdriver (fortunately, the first
has a slot in it for our deck compression rig's rod) and out comes the
sander. A couple of minutes later, the floorboards have been adjusted so as
to come out easily. A great month it's been, indeed, in the Abacos, but
we're ready to move on. Our buddy boats who are also in the harbor are also
ready to go, but we'll wait for the appropriate weather window before we go.
In the meantime, I'll continue to act as anchor for the morning Cruiser's
Net, and enjoy our last-minute stocking up at the grocery store and some
camaraderie with our fellow cruisers.

As usual, this is pretty long, so we'll leave you here. Next stop,

Until then, Stay Tuned!


Morgan 461 #2 SV Flying Pig, KI4MPC
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