Sunday, July 31, 2011

Block Island

Our annual trip to Block Island began with the arrival in Norwich of our friend Ellen Creighton who took the ferry from Orient Point.  We loaded up our stuff and headed downriver to get gas at the Shennecossett Yacht Club in Groton.  There we took on 151 gallons of gas (expensive, we know, but that's the price of boating these days) and then went east in Fisher's Island Sound and went out at Watch Hill. It is 15 miles to Block Island from there.

We were aware that the weather wasn't good and in fact there was a small craft advisory posted for Block Island Sound. The first mile or so wasn't bad under a bright sun but as we got farther out, we began to encounter some large rollers from the southwest. We surfed through them but had to pay particular attention to keeping our exact heading because if we drifted off it, we either turned into the rollers or went broadside to them, neither very comfortable.  Frances was below, trying to hold the furniture in place and Ellen stayed on the bridge with Bill.

About five miles out, our starboard engine quit and with the seas that big, we were unable to go below and see what the problem was.  We increased power on the port engine and continued out at about 9 miles per hour. It was quite a struggle keeping our heading on one engine, but we did.  About five miles from Block, we heard another boat also heading for Block reporting dense fog on the radio.  What else could happen?

As we got closer to New Harbor inlet, the fog began to close in. We managed to stay on our course and watched for Block to show up on the radar, which it eventually did.  As we got closer to the inlet, the density of the fog increased and it was a relief when Ellen spotted the red sea buoy at the inlet.  We motored in but found a big wind still blowing from the southwest in Great Salt Pond.  We were unable to steer effectively against it as we entered the mooring field and ended up trying to anchor in very shallow water at the north side of the pond.  Luckily, another boater saw our situation and called TowBoat US.  Doug, the TowBoat Captain, arrived and towed us to an empty mooring.  That was an expensive tow but it was accomplished before we did any damage to the boat.

Once on the mooring, we sorted out the boat's interior and when we tried the starboard engine, it started instantly. Oh well, another engine mystery to solve. We decided to take the launch ashore and get some dinner and figure out the engine problem in the morning.

The next morning, after a good snooze, we changed the fuel filter/water separator cartridge on the starboard, engine, started up and left the mooring for Payne's.

With both engines running fine, we managed to dock at Payne's with only a minor bump to our inflatable. We were "around back" at Payne's, which is not our favorite spot but comfortable enough with some nice neighbors.

We stayed at Payne's for five days, taking a while to get on "island time," visiting one of our dockmates at a mooring  in our inflatable and generally doing what everyone does there; go to the shops, take walks,get to the library and generally enjoy what turned out to be pretty good weather. 

As always, we met some interesting people. One couple arrived in a nicely restored Chris-Craft that everyone commented on. Once back home, we consulted Jerry Conrad's book, Chris-Craft: the Essential Guide because Brian, the boat's owner, had only identified as a "1953 Chris-Craft."  While we can't be absolutely sure, because Chris-Craft made a lot of boats of this style and type, Brian's boat appeared to be a 25 ft. Enclosed Cruiser, a boat that was made from 1951 to 1953. Chris-Craft made 224 of these popular boats during those years and we suspect that Brian has one of the few left. We wish him many good years with it. He keeps it at Fort Rachel in Mystic, where we like to visit.  Hopefully we will see him there in the future.

Frances made dinner on several evenings, Pooka, the boat cat, seemed happy and Bill's private office, the fly bridge, became a place to hang clothes that had become "damp" during our trip over. (We failed to close the front hatch completely before venturing out into Block Island Sound.)

After years of being the same old place, Payne's has changed. Cliff and Sands have built a beautiful big pine paneled dining room above a portion of the old building. Now you can walk upstairs and watch all the action at the dock.

 On Tuesday, we left Block Island.  Our plan was to head west to Greenport, Long Island and drop off Ellen. The weather was perfect and the cruise down Block Island Sound was wonderful except, after about two hours at our cruising speed, the starboard engine stopped again. We were close enough to Greenport by then and as we entered the Greenport breakwater, we restarted the starboard engine and docked without drama. This problem was getting annoying. Ellen was kind enough to take us to Larry's Lighthouse Marine in Riverhead where we purchased some extra fuel filters. But when we examined the old filter it was clean as was the little filter at the fuel inlet on the carb.

On Wednesday morning, we left Greenport for home.  The starboard engine ran flawlessly until we were about to enter New London harbor (again about two hours of running time) but this time we simply throttled it back and took it out of gear, where it idled happily as we ran up the river on our trusty port engine. Once again, the starboard engine worked fine for docking, so that's a problem that we'll have to figure out.

We have one common 220-gallon fuel tank feeding both engines so it's not bad fuel.  What runs perfectly for two hours and then causes the engine to lose power? We suspect the ignition coil, since they do fail when they get hot. We have since replaced it, although it was replaced last summer on that same engine. Everything on that stinkin' starboard engine has been replaced, including rebuilding the carb. We had three bad coils over three years on, coincidentally,  the starboard engine, on our old Chris-Craft, so maybe that's it.

The issue now is that we'll have to take a two-hour plus cruise to see if the coil was the problem. Isn't boating fun?

Just for the record, our Norwich-Block Island-Greenport-Norwich trip covered 148.9 miles. If we can believe the fuel gauge, that consumed about 150 gallons of fuel so we're running about one mile per gallon.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The last few little projects before Block Island

As you can see, Pooka the boat cat, is no longer content to sit quietly in the salon. He now climbs the ladder to the bridge and after this shot was taken, we opened the canvas and sure enough, up he went, happy to find a new place to explore. After a thorough sniff of everything, he came back down.  He's not as good coming down as he is going up, but he'll learn, we're sure.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that we have been rehabilitating the outside of the wall that surrounds the sliding door. We finished the trim last weekend and on Saturday, we taped again to protect our trim.  We then applied one coat of Petitt Easypoxy paint, using the same color that we had used on the deck.  When we paint, Bill applies the paint and Frances goes back over the surface to make sure it's perfect.

The whole project looked great but as we often comment as we do these things, no one will ever notice it because it simply looks the way it should, rather than weathered and dirty. So many of the things we have done to our Silverton fall into this category but we remember how the boat looked when we got it and we take a lot of satisfaction from working on making it look good and function the way it should.

After painting, Frances took a break to chat with our friend and dockmate Joanne. Joanne was drinking wine and plucking out fresh blueberries. Nice way to get some extra nourishment.

We had a number of other small jobs on our list and we got them all done on Sunday.  They aren't very exciting but they make life on the boat easier.

Frances devised a way to keep the expandable deck hose inside its circular holder. All that was needed was to drill a couple of holes and add some zip ties. Good engineering on Frances' part.

We also found some clips at Defender marine that could be used to store the oars that we use with our inflatable. Those oars always seemed to be in the way.  We mounted the clips up under the edge of the cockpit.  Frances stood back and let me know when the clips were in exactly the right spots.

We also checked the fluids in the engines, transmissions and v-drives (no fluids needed) and we fired the old girls up and let them come up to temperature.  We managed to raise the idle speed of the starboard engine just a little to give us just a more bite when backing into a slip.

When you raise the engine hatches and start the engines, a few dockmates always come over to see what we're doing. (We do the same thing when someone else has their engine hatch up. It's a very  guy thing.)

John Hanks, a dockmate who is ex-Navy, a diesel engine technician and very knowledgeable about boats, asked about the capacity of our water tank which is mounted outboard of our starboard engine. We told him that it holds 50 gallons of water and was full.  He suggested dumping most of that water to save weight and fuel.

He was right, of course. Water weighs 8.4 lbs per gallon so we were dragging around about 420 lbs. of extra weight. The only time we use the water in that tank is while underway and we don't drink it but use it to flush the head (one pint per flush) or to wash hands, etc. We could easily get away with 10 gallons or so, so we opened faucets and shed about 336 lbs. of unneeded weight.

If we raft up with others or spend some time on a mooring, that water would be very useful to have but for now, our next stop is Block Island, where we won't need it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fireworks on Sunday and Woodwork Unveiling on Monday

We all gathered on Sunday for the rescheduled fireworks and dockluck dinner.  Both met our expectations. Our media expert, Sue was able to find the radio station that was in concert with the "works"

Here is the gang.  Kudos to John Hanks for the hot and mild venison meatballs. 
Dang tasty!

Our very own Southern Belle

The rest of the gang

Milo the Mascot, all dressed up and nowhere to go

John T., Mayor of "A" Dock


Tape removed from deck woodwork project.  We will reverse the green tape and paint the wall this weekend.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Great weekend to get some more things done

We arrived at the boat on Friday afternoon, loaded with food, only to find that the fireworks originally planned for that night had been postponed until Sunday night. It was just as well because it began raining early in the evening and continued for most of the night.

Pooka is the official 2nd mate, he is sometimes referred to as "Kitty Buffett"

On Saturday morning, we continued our trim rehab project and taped all of the trim around the sliding door.

We applied a coat of Sikkens Cetol and, although it set up very quickly in the heat, decided to let it cure overnight. We took some time on Saturday afternoon to visit Defender Marine in Waterford to get the paint we'll need to go around the newly refinished trim. That color will match the deck so we expect it to give the cockpit a new, much cleaner and newer look.

Early on Sunday, we applied a second coat of Sikkens.

The plan is to apply three coats for now.  After the second, it began to take on some color.

We also updated our list of things that we'll need to bring down to the boat for our upcoming trip to Block Island.  Pooka, the boat cat, added his companionship.

At one point during the day, we needed something that was stored in the space under the lower helm. We picked up the hatch and Pooka, who loves to inspect any new space, jumped in immediately and gave everything an introductory sniff.

Pooka has taken to the boat and seems very happy there.  Normally an inside cat with Frances at home, he now comes out into the cockpit, rolls over in the sun and sometimes climbs up on the side boarding ladders to check out, well, just about anything.  Everything is new to him and he seems to love it.

Others on the dock were busy as well. Our dockmate Bob borrowed a ladder from another dockmate and climbed up to fix his anchor light.  It's amazing how something as mundane as fixing a light can draw a crowd but, that's boating among friends. You can see what a beautiful day it was. That's our friend John, the guy who helped us bring Act Three back from Long Island two years ago, holding the ladder.

Since we were on a roll on Sunday, we decided to try one more time to put the boat's MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number into our Icom VHF radio.  We followed the directions carefully but could never get the radio to successfully accept this simple nine digit number. Today, we tried one extra step that wasn't in the instructions: Turn the radio power switch off after entering the last number. Sure enough, when we turned the radio back on, the radio display showed the correct MMSI number.

Now, if we trigger the emergency switch on the radio, the radio will transmit our MMSI number on channel 16, which will tell the Coast Guard basic information about the boat and who we are.

But to make this really useful, we should also transmit our exact location as part of that emergency message. Sure, we could verbally say our location over the radio but if we were busy dealing with a real emergency, this might not be practical. Our Standard Horizon chart plotter has that information and all modern plotters make it available through a couple of wires coming out of the back of the unit. Also, all newer radios have a couple of wires that if connected properly to the plotter, will accept that position data and broadcast it automatically as part of the emergency message.

(A recent article in Soundings magazine pointed out that while VHF radios and even chart plotters are now widely used by recreational boaters, a relatively small percentage of boaters have bothered to interconnect these two pieces of equipment.  Not doing so is fairly dumb, since since making these connections dramatically increases the Coast Guard's response time and the type of assets it deploys in response to your emergency.)

It is worth noting that although we have a pretty thorough knowledge of marine electronics and even understand how NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 work (these are the data formats that allow various pieces of equipment to communicate), we found connecting the chart plotter to the radio to be far from easy..

First, Icom (our VHF radio) and Standard Horizon (our chart plotter) didn't have matching color coded wires so we had to look up that data in the instructions to figure out how to connect them. Second, Icom, a company that we would consider a top-tier electronics manufacturer, provided data wires that were ridiculously short and of much too light a gauge to be able to add even the smallest crimp connector.  Standard Horizon wasn't much better.  The wires were much longer but they were also very thin and difficult to strip and splice. How much can it add to the price of this equipment to provide longer, heavier gauge data wires?

It took a while, but we made the connections and then tried the radio to see if we could see our position on the screen. "No position," was the only message we got.  Then we plunged into the "advanced settings" screens on the chart plotter.  This area is very poorly documented in the manual.  We found that Port 2 (the port we selected to connect to our radio) was formatted to work with a Standard Horizon fish finder. We didn't even know that Standard Horizon made a fish finder. After some exploring, we found that we could re-configure port 2 on the chart plotter to NMEA 0183 data settings. Bingo!  That worked. We saw our position scroll across the bottom of the screen on the radio.

While you can't see it in this photo, the radio displays a "GPS" message when properly connected. Nice, although we hope we'll never have to trip that little red "emergency" switch on the front of the radio and make all of this technology go to work for us.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hangin' out on the boat

We didn't have much planned for this weekend boat-wise. Lots of our dockmates went to Napatree to raft up together and it turned out we almost had the dock to ourselves.  Saturday, was a warm and sunny day and we used that time to wash the boat completely, not with a deck brush, mind you, but on our hands and knees scrubbing all the old salt and grime that had collected.  Looked nice when we were finished and Pooka the boat cat decided that sleeping on a chair was a better choice than prowling around outside in the cockpit.

On Sunday, we were sitting outside and began discussing the refinishing of the wood trim around the sliding glass door. We had noticed as we washed on Saturday, that the discoloration on the wood seemed to be mold and some of it came off with the mild soap we were using.  Now, on Sunday, Frances decided to try some of her favorite cleaning material and an old tooth brush to see how clean she could get that trim.  Using two tablespoons of Dirtex dissolved in a gallon of water, she began scrubbing at the discolored teak.  In about a half hour, the trim appeared to be free of mold.  We let it dry while we went to get some lunch and when we came back, the trim on the starboard side looked good enough to refinish without sanding.  The second photo is the starboard side showing what the trim looks like before scrubbing with Dirtex.

The plan now is to mask the newly cleaned teak and apply multiple coats of Sikken Cetol.  Once that is done, we'll reverse the masking and paint the wall area surrounding the teak.

There are July 4th fireworks in Norwich where we keep our boat next weekend, so maybe we'll get a chance to begin that refinishing process then.

That Sunday lunch we mentioned was at Harry's in Colchester.  We both wanted a good old fashioned hamburger and there is nothing like that short of fast food in Norwich.  Harry's has been there for 90 years (or so the sign says) and it's a place that just about everyone knows about. It's all outside and probably very much as it was in the 1940s. The burgers are cooked perfectly and served on little rolls. The french fries actually taste like potatoes and the fried onion rings will send you to an early grave with a smile on your face and grease on your lips.  Perfect for a humid, early summer afternoon.