Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lower helm control cables

With the wiring at the lower steering station cleaned up it was time to go on to the next winter task, one that we haven't exactly been looking forward to: Replacing the lower station throttle and transmission cables.

The lower cables are shorter and a lot easier to route. It made sense to gain some disassembly and routing info on the easy ones first. The cables to the fly bridge are a lot longer and will definitely be more of a challenge.

The each steering station has four cables (port and starboard throttle and port and starboard transmission). Of the four at the lower helm, one, the port transmission cable, has always worked very smoothly and with little effort.  We elected to leave that cable in place.

Disconnecting the cables from the control lever assemblies took a while since Silverton didn't leave any extra space, but we did get them disconnected.

This is the starboard control with the cover removed. The cable on the right is shown just after we disconnected it. It took two small open end wrenches to get the elastic stop nut off.

This is what the fittings on the end look like. They still make fittings like this but we have no idea if a new one will fit so we're holding onto the old ones.

Here's a better picture of what they look like.

 Those cables are also clamped to arms that stick out of the back of the control assembly. They are held on by Allen-head machine screws and it is a tight fit to get the wrench in there.

These cables are routed down behind the helm and then under the floor all the way back to the engine space. We had no idea whether they were fastened somewhere or if we'd be able to simply pull them all out together. Just to make sure that we had a way to snake the new cables back in, we tied a length of clothesline to them to serve as a pilot line.

Before we could pull the cables out, we had to disconnect them from both carbs and the starboard transmission. It was cold laying behind the engines but we rigged some work lights and managed to open the clamps and disconnect the carb fittings. From the amount of persuasion required to get the cable disconnected from the starboard transmission, we have to think that these cables are original.

Here's the clamp that held one of the throttle cables in place.

And here's the connection at the Edlebrock carb. This fitting was designed by yours truly when we installed the new carbs.

The starboard throttle and transmission cables were straight shots right up to the lower helm. The port throttle cable was held in place by a dozen or so useless cable ties, all of which we had to cut out to free it up.

It was time to pull the cables out and to our delight and surprise, they came out with almost no effort. As we pulled them out, we could look into the cabin and see our clothesline paying out.

We had no idea how long these cables actually were. Our friends at the Silverton Owner's Club told us that the lengths were marked about four feet from one of the ends of each cable but we couldn't see the markings with the cables installed. We were going to replace them anyway so we took them home and measured them.

We know the pictures aren't very interesting but we took them so onto the old blog they go.

The blue tape on each cable is marked with the cable's function. We didn't know that two of the cables were the same length until we got them out.

Next, we went on a hunt for new cables.Several people at the Silverton Owner's Club had replaced their control cables and they recommended Teleflex TFXTREME cables. A search of the Teleflex website allowed us to figure out their part number system. CCX633XX, where "XX" is the cable length.  We let Google do the searching on those part numbers and came up  with lots of places that carry (or say they carry) the two Teleflex cables we needed.

We started checking all of the website for price. A couple of websites listed these cable for as much as $80. After eliminating the obvious rip-off sites, we went through the stupid drill of filling out all the ordering forms on three of the lowest priced websites just so we could find out what the shipping charges were going to be. (Note to readers who order on the web: Those websites operate that way because they collect, and ultimately sell, the info they gather from you, even if you end up not confirming an order.)

We ultimately ordered the cables from Their prices were about $5 less than the others. We spent $110 for the two 18 ft. cables and the one 21 ft. cable and there were no shipping charges. The time spent searching was well worth it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rewiring continues

Our goal over this weekend was to run new 12 DC power from the batteries to the lower helm. This would parallel the existing wiring but in doing so, would completely reduce dependence on the four original equipment connectors that connect the lower helm instruments, accessories and ignitions to the engines and the batteries. Those old connectors have been trouble in the past so making them redundant will lend a needed element of reliability.

Saturday was windy and cold, but our trusty electric heater raised the cabin temperature to a very comfortable 60 degrees. That was good because the majority of this job was going to take place inside the boat. 

In our previous posts, we described sorting out the primary circuits at the lower helm and connecting each side at terminal strips that would serve the port and starboard power sources. For some reason, much of this wiring had been combined into a bundle of butt connectors.  We removed most of that mess.

We had purchased 100 ft each of red and black #8 wire for the new wiring. Back in 1980 when our boat was built, the largest wire size used was #14 and there wasn't much of that. The majority of the helm wiring (except for the ignition and starter connections) was #16.

We had no way of really measuring exactly how long the wire run would be from the lower helm to the batteries, so we estimated and as it turned out, came pretty close. We un-spooled two lengths of red #8 and one length of black #8 and taped them together every 18 inches. Then we opened up the storage area that is just behind the lower helm and down in that storage area, removed an access panel that allowed us to get to the area under the salon floor.

We snaked the end of the wire bundle up from the storage area to behind the lower helm and there we connected the cables to our terminal strips.

Next we had to come up with a way to route our three #8 wires back under the salon floor to the engine space. We did that by taping the ends of our wires to our boat pole and then extending the boat pole one section at a time until it poked out a small opening (where the control cables run) just forward of the engines. Then we had to crawl down behind the starboard engine, grab our wires and cut the tape so we could extract the boat pole. Easy to describe but one hell of a lot of work to do.

Then it was a matter of running the cables along the bulkhead that, just above, supports our sliding glass door and down to the batteries. At this point, we didn't know which red wire was which, so we made a temporary +12 volt connection to one of them and then went back to the lower helm and identified our hot wire.

We connected our black ground wire directly to the forward (port) battery bank since that was the most direct and convenient place. The negative terminals of all four batteries and both engine blocks are connected together

We don't like to make connections directly to the batteries (the ground, in this case, is an exception) so we connected our port and starboard +12 volt red #8 wires to the output terminals of our battery switches. No fuses? No, but we did install two very nice surface mount 40-amp resettable circuit breakers directly below the battery switches. The whole thing made a nice neat installation.

Why 40 amps when adequate protection for the lower helm would be at most 15 amps? We intend to add new wiring the bridge as our next step and we sized the circuit breakers to accommodate that, although that took us a while to figure out. Here's how we got there, using a worst case situation.

VHF radio on transmit = 15 amps
Radar on = 20 amps
Air horn compressor = 20 amps
Navigation lights = 2 amps
Chart plotter and other minor accessories = 4 amps

Some of these loads are intermittent but it is possible that in bad weather we could have the radar on, and transmit on the radio and have to sound a fog signal with the air horn, all at the same time. (Actually, I think we have been in conditions like that.) Not a good time to have to reset a circuit breaker.

Merry Christmas to everyone and remember, the shortest day of the year is past.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bird feeders and boat wiring

As part of our ongoing effort to do something this winter beside working on the boat, we decided to design and build a bird feeder. This little beauty, which we have designated "Improved Bird Feeder, Model One," was assembled from scrap wood and the very last bit of Sikkens Cetol that we had left over from our swim platform rehab project. Obviously, the cages that hold the suet in place were purchased but they are held in place with stainless screws and fender washers that would be at home on any boat

Here's another shot, showing the superior workmanship and design including a circular rain roof and bottom feeding platform. Luckily we had an old coffee can on hand to serve as a pattern for them.

After hanging this thing up, we had hoped to see a flock of Downy Woodpeckers enjoying that delicious suet but in the two days it has been up, we haven't been able to detect any peckerage.  We now think that may be because the little peckers can probably still smell the Sikkens. Well, that's what we hope, anyway. We'll keep a proper lookout on this thing to see what, if anything, it attracts.

 Meanwhile, back on the boat...

If you've read our recent blog posts, you'll remember that we're on a mission to clean up the wiring at our lower helm. Last weekend, we managed to separate the 12 volt positive wiring for the port and starboard sides. Much of two two circuits had been wired together for some reason, which resulted in odd and inconsistent engine gauge readings. Last weekend, we pulled all of that positive wiring apart and wired each circuit to a new terminal strip. Here's an example of one of the splices that we cut out. Crap like this, wrapped in old electrical tape and pushed back out of the way, would probably void our insurance if there should ever be a serious electrical incident. This one was 14-gauge wire, wrapped together and then soldered, although the solder connection was cold, meaning that it wasn't holding anything together.

This weekend, we attacked the ground circuits. By design, there are no separate port and starboard ground systems since both negative battery banks are wired together through the engines. But all the current drawn by every DC circuit on the boat returns through those grounds, so they are important.

What we found here probably can't be blamed on the previous owner. This looked like original Silverton wiring. All of the ground connections were connected together at a large bolt that also held a big cable clamp in place. Here's a picture of what that looked like.

There were nine separate ground connections made at the bolt you can see just to the left of blue hydraulic steering line. When we began inspecting them, we found that they weren't even tight.

Our solution was to install another terminal strip that combined all of the small and large ground connections on one ground buss.  We ganged the terminal strip at home with 12-gauge wire and then, once on the boat, pulled everything apart at the helm and reconnected all of those grounds properly.

We have no way to test what these repairs actually accomplished except that the lower helm voltmeters now accurately read the true battery bank voltages, which they never did before. Obviously, we can't start the engines to do a real test because we are out of the water.

We have one more effort before we move on from the electrical system. We're going to run dedicated (8-gauge) cables from the two battery banks directly to the upper and lower helms. The lower helm probably doesn't need this additional electrical capacity but the bridge certainly does, where we have radar, a chartplotter, an air horn and a VHF marine radio.

Pulling cables through this boat in the dead of winter won't be fun but what's the alternative?  Building bird feeders?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fuel costs

About this time of year, we haul out the log book and the receipts and add up what we spent on boat fuel during the past year. Our hope is that we'll be able to get a refund on the Connecticut road tax that we paid on marine fuel and up through 2010 we always did get a small check from the state.  Since fuel costs have risen so high (and the way the tax is calculated by the state), we didn't get a refund last year nor will we get one this year.

But we do the calculations anyway, just to see what we spent on fuel. and because going back and reading through the log book is fun when it's below freezing outside.

We've had Act Three for three full seasons so now we have some data to compare. We're just coastal cruisers and we notice that we use the boat a lot less than when we had the 32 ft. Chris Craft Sea Skiff. Back then, we'd go off to Shelter Island or Greenport for just a weekend. A day trip wasn't out of the question either.  But we don't do that much anymore. Act Three is bigger and more complex and uses more fuel. Because it's so nice inside, Frances (and Pooka, the boat cat) are able to live on the boat for at least some of the summer and that's good because we get more value out of it.

There's nothing wrong, we have found, with owning a floating cottage.

Because fuel cost have increased, we tend to take fewer trips and when we do, we stay longer.

In the three years we have owned Act Three, we have used 1,495 gallons of fuel at a cost of $4,329.  The average price per gallon over that period was $4.03. That average masks just how much fuel prices have increased. In 2010, our fuel costs averaged $3.17 a gallon. In 2011, our average fuel cost had risen to $4.25 and last summer we paid an average of $4.45 a gallon.

Some of those gas purchases reflect a $0.10 per gallon discount for having a SeaTow membership.

By way of comparison, our slip cost is approximately $3.300 per year. That's about $10,000 over three years when you add in the cost of electricity, which we only began paying last summer.

Keep in mind that we aren't "rich" but we have no intention of leaving boating. We've met too many nice people and had too much fun for that. But if a trip to Greenport and back costs almost $300, we just have to be careful how many times we do that.

Maybe fuel prices will be lower next summer. Somehow, that's probably wishful thinking since those prices always go up in the spring. We guess we'll just have to see.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's good we like old things

December 8 - We park our old car in its accustomed place in front of our old boat for a Saturday afternoon of fun. Actually, we like our 1990 Mercury because it still looks good and is super reliable. We like our 1980 Silverton because we have so much fun on it and because it's safe in winter storage. We read today that there were 65,000 boats sunk, destroyed or damaged by hurricane Sandy. At least we still have a boat to work on and enjoy.

We decided to devote the day to cleaning up the wiring in our lower helm. Everything worked but we were bothered by the mess of wiring with everything tacked in, spliced and thrown together.  It took the previous owner 30 years to crate that havoc and it's going to take us more than a few hours to straighten it all out.

We posted this photo before but it is typical of the way things were wired behind that helm. Sorry, but we can't abide connecting +12 volts to five accessories using a bolt and nut.

That little terminal strip is a common ground point and it's okay, we guess, except for that red (ground?) wire that is tacked on at the end. We removed that and found that it was more than 3 feet long and was wrapped around many other wires to take up the slack. Why not just cut the damn thing to the right length and wire it neatly and directly? Needless to say, it's neat now and just 11 inches long.

We disassembled the bolted-together connection and rerouted all of those cables to a new terminal strip that we mounted below.  One the 12-gauge orange wires is the +12 volt supply and the others bolted to it distribute power to the port and starboard instruments, switches and fuses; the trim tabs, the lower station radio and the pump in the toilet. Amazingly enough, the other orange wire is the +12 volt supply for the entire fly bridge. No wonder the chartplotter on the bridge recycles when you transmit on the radio.

Here's what the connections look like now.

Notice all those butt connectors at the bottom of the photo?  It looks like someone, over the years, cut many of the connections and spliced in extra wire. Don't know why or why they didn't at least follow the color coding of the wire. Check out how the orange wire at the bottom of the photo is spliced to red wire?  If you could see down under there, you'd see that the red section is only about 5 inches long and another butt splice connects it to a red wire again.

Maybe someone tried to replace the entire lower helm at one point. Short (no pun intended) of that, we can't see why anyone would would add all of those butt splices and there are many. But for now, everything works. It does make us think about rewiring the entire helm, although that won't happen this winter. We do intend to run new #8 positive and ground cables from the port and starboard batteries to both the upper and lower helms a little later this winter when we install new throttle and transmission control cables.

Today's efforts yielded the usual pile of junk. Good to have it gone.

One note for any boaters who are reading this.  A great place to buy electrical stuff (wire, connectors, etc.) is Del City in Milwaukee. Just Google "Del City" (and no, we don't get any money for mentioning them). This is a wholesale supplier with minimum order policies so unless you're planning a big project, they won't be useful. Our winter boat yard charges about 50 cents for a 14-16 gauge butt connector. We bought 100 of them last week for about 5 cents each. Call and ask for their catalog. Besides being a good reference, it makes ordering from them on the Internet so much easier.

Before we left, we had to take a walk around the boatyard.  We've been here during the winter for many years (and before than for many summers) and we know many of the boats and their owners well. It was gray and damp today and when we took these pictures, getting dark quickly. Everyone had left.

Most of the docks are out.

They'd better not forget this one.  The ice will carry it way later in the winter.

Even the moorings have to come out.

The last boat to come up. It's an Ocean, maybe 48 feet. Let's hope he has winterized is engines.

Monday, November 26, 2012

After a great turkey, some work on the boat

It was time to begin investigating why we are getting ignition failures on our starboard engine.

Since the boat is out near the front of the shed this year, we get a nice morning and mid-day sun (at least for a while) that warms the cabin. We began by checking out the wiring at the lower helm. The starboard engine engine gauges (especially the voltmeter) have always read low and while that engine has always been reliable, we thought it useful to check things out by making a few voltage readings.

Silverton's wiring plan is to run all of the engine wiring directly to the lower helm and there, split it off and run all of that wiring in a bundle up to the bridge. We have a schematic drawing of the engine wiring so we had an idea of the color codes used on individual circuits. In most cases that schematic was correct but in some places the wiring colors didn't quite match.

The wiring at the lower helm may have been neat when Silverton built the boat but after 30 years of the two previous owners adding things such as trim tabs, an AM-FM radio, etc., it isn't what we'd call "neat" right now. Someone added a small terminal strip as a common point for DC grounds and that isn't what we'd call very well done, although it works.  Silverton's grounding method was simply a very long bolt with nine or ten ground wires attached together. It would be impossible to add another ground wire and we suspect that's why someone added the terminal strip.

There is also a very sloppy connection for a number of +12 VDC connections and this could have been done much more effectively if someone had thought about it while the helm wiring was being done at the factory. Maybe Silverton didn't do this but if they didn't, some amateur did over the years. Here's what it looks like.

The upper right shows the grounding terminal strip we mentioned earlier. Just below and to the left is a mega-connection of seven +12 VDC wires all bolted together. They are +12 VDC from the port engine bolted to a wire that feeds +12 VDC to the bridge; +12 VDC feed to the starboard fuse bank; +12 VDC feed to the port fuse bank; +12 VDC to the trim tab switch; +12 VDC feed to the stereo and lower station VHF radio; and the +12VDC feed to the head. Notice how close this thing is to the top of the aluminum steering helm?

We're going to remove all this crap wiring and replace it with a terminal strip that we had in stock. That will mean lengthening and rerouting all of those wires. That's not going to fix the problem with our starboard engine but it will let us sleep better.

We also found something funky going on with the port gauges. The voltmeter is sluggish and reads way below the true battery  bank voltage of about +13 volts. When we measure the voltage at the ignition switch "BATT" terminal, we get a little over 13 volts, which is what we would expect. When we measure at the ignition switch IGN terminal (key on), we get only about 11 volts.

If we do the same measurement at the starboard ignition switch, we get +13 volts at both terminals.

Are we losing 2 volts in that crusty old ignition switch? Maybe, but rather than guess, we are going to simply replace it. We previously replaced the other three so we might as well do this one too.

The picture of the rear of the switch doesn't show much but we took it for reference.

Those two yellow wires connect to the START terminal and the red one above it (with an extra wire that someone added over the years) is the IGN terminal.

Again, none of these repairs will do anything to fix the problems with the starboard engine but since we're poking around at the lower helm, we might as well correct these things.

Before we left on Sunday, we removed the ballast resistor from the starboard engine. This is a Mallory part that came with the new solid state Mallory distributor. It is a variable resistor between the battery and the coil and is there to limit the current to the coil. Our thinking was that if the resistor was somehow faulty, it could be the cause of our consistent coil failures. (That's not really logical thinking since when these ballast resistors fail, they open, not short, but at this point we need all the info we can get.)

This particular ballast resistor should show 0.75 ohms when cold and 1.5 ohms when hot, the idea being to provide a little hotter spark when the engine is cold and a little less spark when the engine is warm. Our digital voltmeter won't read resistances that low so we took the resistor home and set up a little experiment that would be right at home in an 8th grade science class.

We used a 12 VDC power supply and connected the output to a 12 volt car tail light bulb. The no load voltage of this power supply is 13.8 VDC. We inserted the ballast resistor in the positive side of that circuit and measured the voltage at the bulb. It was 11.92 VDC. Then we used a heat gun to simulate a hot engine and as we heated the resistor, the voltage dropped steadily to 11.25 VDC. It wouldn't go any lower.

All we managed to learn is that the ballast resistor does, in fact, increase in resistance as it is heated. We don't know the amount of current drawn by the coil in the boat and we suspect that it is a lot more than that drawn by the tail light bulb.  If that's true, the voltage drop would be higher on the boat.

If you're still reading this far, you may wonder why we didn't measure these voltages on the boat. Well, we did, just before the boat came out of the water.  Here's what we found:

Starboard (problem) engine. 
Ignition on, engine off: +12.4 VDC at the input side of the resistor and 7.0 VDC at the coil side. Engine on at 1400 RPM: 14.2 VDC at the input side of the resistor and 11.2 VDC at the coil side.

Port (reliable) engine
Ignition on, engine off: +10.5 VDC at the input side of the resistor and 6.4 VDC at the coil side. Engine on at 1400 RPM: 11.6 VDC at the input side of the resistor and 8.5 VDC at the coil side.

Since we were tied to the dock when we took these readings, the engines weren't really hot but simply warm.

The readings we took at home on the starboard coil are really pretty much in line with what we found when we measured on the boat. What we don't  know is, is 11.2 VDC to high a voltage and is that why we keep getting coil failures after about two hours at cruising speed?

The starboard engine never fails no matter how hard we push it but the voltage at the coil on that engine is only about 8.5 volts or maybe a little less when the engine is at operating temperature.

The ignition parts (ballast resistors, coils and distributors) are identical on both engines and both alternators have recently been rebuild by a very reliable shop.

This blog post is getting too long but it's good for us to put all of this data down in one place even if just for our own reference. If you know anything about coil voltages, please share. We need all the intelligence we can get.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The winter has really started

It was a beautiful day today and a great time for a cruise but not for us. After Storm Sandy and then a snow storm earlier this week we were just as glad to see the boat tucked away in the shed. It's always somewhat sad to climb up a ladder and step aboard knowing that this is where we'll be for the next six months.

Last weekend, we unloaded a couple of hundred pounds of freight and now the inside of the boat is prepared to morph into Bill's winter workshop where we'll work through the list of things we want to accomplish.

The first  thing we did today was to collect all of the dock lines - there were 14 of them holding the boat in place during Sandy - and put them out to dry in the nice warm afternoon sun.  We also cleaned the last of the snow off the cabin top.

The engines and water system were winterized last weekend but we still had to do the air conditioner. We assembled a few fittings, a length of 3/4-hose and a funnel and after a few false starts got the AC to suck up some antifreeze.  Always nice seeing it squirt out of the thru-hull. Then we sat down in the nice warm cabin and started a list of things we'll need. This is the first of about 20 lists that we'll make between now and April.

We couldn't resist taking a walk around the boatyard. There are still boats coming up the river for winter storage and many of them seem like old friends. The dock was full, but it always is at this time of year.

The boat at the right is a 1936 Elco Cruisette. We've had a boat in this yard for the last 26 years and the owner of that Elco was restoring it even back then. We remember helping the owner of the gray boat (fourth from right) squeeze a Ford Lehman diesel engine out through his cabin door. That was probably ten years ago. Walking through this place certainly does bring back memories.

Standing at the ready to remove the mast from a sailboat is "The Crane." It's powered by diesel fuel, hydraulic fluid and Bud Lite. It has been used to remove more marine engines than anyone can remember. It was used to remove and reinstall one of the engines on our old Chris~Craft. Despite the Bud Lite, it can place an entire engine to within a fraction of an inch of where you want it.

This time of year, there is lots of frame building going on and some of them are really masterpieces. Of course, there is also lots of boat chatter.

Sometimes, the engineering is truly amazing.  The owner of this boat, "Chumchucker," built this winter garage a number of years ago. Storm Sandy took the top off but he'll have it back up in a week or two. For you boat nuts out there, this a 34-ft. Hatteras.The length should give you a clue to its age. It is actively fished every summer and kept in great shape.

Chumchucker's next door neighbor didn't fair any better but he'll put a new roof on, too. Incidentally, these "buildings" are framed with electrical conduit and some of them have been here for many years.

On our walk we came across what we think is a mid-1970s Silverton. It's been abandoned now and will soon be broken up. We're sad to see any boat be destroyed.

That's it for now. Time to rake the leaves and refine our "to do" list.

Monday, November 5, 2012

This email is making us a little cranky

Got an email today from Mike Valentine, the manager of our summer marina, The Marina at American Wharf.  It seems to reflect the new owner's updated pricing policies.

The "summer savings" deal is that if we pay for our slip in full by December 15, 2012  we get a price of $70.00 a foot.  Then there's a sliding scale: Pay by February 15, 2013 to get $72.50 a foot, by April 15, $75.00 a foot and finally, pay April 16 or after and get a price of $77.50 a foot.

That's some savings considering that for summer 2012 we paid $62.70 a foot plus, for the first time, 22 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. (Our electric bill was $142 and that was with Frances living on the boat for most of the summer. No problem with that.)

If we pay in full by December 15, we are paying for a slip that we can't occupy before April. Are we in the business of lending this guy money?

There was little that would justify such a big increase in price. For summer 2012, we got a re-paved parking lot.  There was some painting and now the grass is mowed by an outside contractor. Oh yes, the gas dock is back in operation. We probably spent $2,000 there. The men's room area is still flooded most of the time and we've found it best to bring our own toilet paper.

The big tent on the marina property is not something that seasonal boaters like us derive any benefit from. It is rented for weddings and other events and when that happens, we are denied entrance to the marina because there are no parking spaces left.

The one-site restaurant is just passable. It would be nice if they could employ a chef with a little more imagination.  There are many out there who could make this a popular spot in Norwich. As it is, the April menu is fine for the entire summer. Sorry, that's not how you manage a truly good restaurant.

We can just bet that our owner, Gary Joval, figures that with all the marina damage from storm Sandy, he can finally have a successful marina at prices he can live with. Sorry, but we don't think that's a way to operate any business..

How about offering some free seasonal slips to those who lost their docks?  God knows, you have the capacity and what great publicity. But that probably won't happen.

We'll probably send in our check to get the best price because we have friends on A-dock that we'd like to see again for another summer.

We'll also update our ActiveCaptian link so that others know what they ar facing when they dock here.

If you are on  A-dock, sorry for the rant. Someone had to do it.

Bill & Frances

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gettting ready for Storm Sandy

 It was getting late for us. October 25 and the weather looked right to run from Norwich to Portland, where we keep the boat in the winter. We usually leave a week or two earlier and now, with good weather predicted, off we went down the Thames River.

At this time of year, the marina looks a little sad with many boats gone. We have no complaints; we had six months of A-dock fun this year and we hope to repeat that again next year.

 We had a nice trip back, except for that old, annoying starboard engine failure. It was less severe after all the changes we had made and we dealt with it, arriving at Portland Riverside at 4:30 pm.

 The marina was full (except for a spot for us, thankfully) and there was a lot of nervous chatter about hurricane Sandy that, it appeared, might be coming our way.

During the next weekend, "Sandy" had matured into a full fledged Hurricane (later to be reclassified as a Tropical Storm) and the marina was full of activity.  We arrived on Saturday morning and began the process of taking down our bridge enclosure (ugh!) and installing the bimini cover and the mooring cover, which he had never used. We had intended to winterize the engines but that took a back seat to making sure that the boat was a secure as it could be.

 We brought down our little generator and started packing up our summer stuff in bags. Frances took pictures of the interior of the boat just in case we had to file and insurance claim later.

Once finished with all we could do, including extra lines and fenders, We were ready to leave and let old Act Three ride out the storm by herself. She certainly had a lot of neighbors.

 Having never used the mooring cover before, we found it somewhat awkward getting off.

As we walked to car, we realized that we had done all we could do. Act Three will be better off tied to the dock.

And that turned out to be true. The winds on the upper Connecticut got to over 70 mph later that night but our old boat sustained no damage, save for one lost fender. The marina lost power due to a downed utility pole near the driveway but nothing else was damaged except for a few bimini tops that had not been removed.

This weekend (November 3-4) we winterized the engines and plumbing system.  Once that was complete, we carried 13 bags of stuff home for the winter. Act Three will be out of the water in a week or two and then we'll begin our winter "To do" list.

We hope that everyone on A-dock and the many people we have met over the years on our boat were a lucky as we were.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Time to start packing up

 As you can see it was raining during cocktail hour this Saturday on the dock.  All the stuff that people accumulate during the summer on the dock was still there, but of course, it isn't summer any more. There was no one around.

But, that's fine with us. As the rain pounded down, Frances cooked a great dinner of fish and squash. The inside of the boat smelled so good! Pooka decided to relax as we got ready for dinner.

We probably have only two weeks left before we head out to our winter home.

 We fired up the engines they came to life and warmed up perfectly.

Frances will be away next weekend so I'll probably use that time to take stuff off the boat and then call it a day. No fun being on the boat alone and no fun going back to Portland. But, we have a lot of things we'd like to fix during the winter.

A couple of more post for this summer.... and then we begin winter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A weekend at Mystic Seaport

After returning from Block Island at the end of August (and solving the annoying problem with our starboard engine), we wanted to take one more short cruise. Given the price of gas, it would be a relatively short one. We decided to visit Mystic Seaport, a place we've been by boat and car a number of times. However, instead of anchoring in the Mystic River, this time we'd tie up at the seaport dock. Good choice.

On Saturday morning (September 15), we gulped down 111 gallons of gas and set off down the river running the boat faster than we normally do, just to make sure that damn starboard engine was up to the task. It was and we were in New London harbor in 55 minutes, record time for us.  Then it was east into Fischer's Island Sound for the four or five miles to the entrance to the Mystic River.

We know that many of our boating friends who read this blog know the Mystic River but for those who don't, it requires some explanation. The river extends about four miles from the sound to just past Mystic Village, a tourist mecca that is almost always crowded.  The Seaport, a museum-like compound devoted to boat restoration and sailing ships is just north of "downtown" Mystic.

The Mystic River is one long no-wake zone through what must be hundreds of acres of mooring  fields. The shoreline is lined with marinas, in some places so close that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the next one begins.  To make navigating the river extra fun, there are also two bridges: an AMTRAK railroad bridge and the so-called Mystic Highway Bridge. The railroad bridge is normally open, closing only when a train passes. The "highway" bridge, which is right in the center of Mystic village, opens only 40 minutes past the hour. Or so we thought.

We entered the river at 2:00 PM and slowed behind two sailboats. When they finally turned off into their moorings, we sped up a little and watched the time pass. It was going to be close.

We motored up to the bridge at 2:30 PM and jockeyed back and forth in the wind waiting for the bridge to open. When it didn't we called the bridge tender on VHF 13 and asked what was going on. "Not opening'" we were told.  Apparently he required an advance reservation.

So, we had an hour to wait in a very crowded channel and eventually turned around.  Right below the bridge, we found Seaport Marine that had a sign offering "hourly or daily tie-ups."  We called them on the radio and were told that they were closed and having a season's end party but, luckily for us, agreed to let us tie up free for an hour. We did and gave $20 to the lady who took our lines. Money well spent, in our opinion.

The dockmaster at Mystic Seaport was waiting for us.  No need for a radio; we just heard someone yell "Act Three!" and in no time, we were tied up.  Nothing fancy, but enough for us and one of the best views in Mystic.

After setting up the boat (Flowers on the table, etc.) we settled down for a beautiful sunset and our traditional cocktails. The seaports wasn't crowded but once the patrons left, we were left inside, free to wander around. Pretty cool, in our estimation.

For this trip, we decided to stay an extra night (which was free) and go home on Monday afternoon.  That extra day made all the difference since it gave us time to tour many of the Seaport's fascinating exhibits. No restaurants for us.  Frances has developed her on-board cooking skills in our small galley to the point where our food is much better than anything we'd find on shore. The best part is she loves doing it.

Please note the cool LED strip lighting that runs around above the counter tops. Just another winter project that turned out to be very useful.

Pooka, our galley supervisor was on duty, as usual.

The mystery of the stinking ice cubes
Some time after our arrival, we noticed a funny odor that seemed to come from the freezer section of our fridge. On Sunday, we decided to find out where it was coming from and in doing that, completely unloaded everything from the freezer and the fridge (and there was a lot of stuff in there). Nothing was spoiled but believe it or not, our ice cubes smelled really bad.  We checked the head and the bilge. Nothing, but those cubes appeared to be the source.

After some careful thought, we discovered what had happened. On our arrival, we found that our water hose wasn't long enough to reached the dockside faucet. No problem, the Seaport staff loaned us a nice length of new looking hose. We hooked it up and turned on the water. One of the first things that Frances did was fill our ice cube trays from the sink.  Apparently, the loaner hose from the Seaport contained some nasty stuff and that stuff flushed out of the hose and into our ice cubes. Whatever it was didn't last long because the water in our head and the kitchen sink didn't smell after that.

One guess it that it was a long dead and decayed mouse or maybe a tiny snake. Whatever it was, it smelled really bad but didn't change the flavor of Bill's favorite vodka and orange juice one bit.

We enjoyed watching this cat boat. It belongs to Seaport and a young Captain takes small groups out sailing in the harbor.  While we're not sailboat people, we were amazed at how skillful the young sailor was at getting this beautiful boat to sail very smartly with very little wind.  He also docked it perfectly every time, better than we could dock Act Three with two engines and a lot of help.

On the way home on Monday, we didn't have any issue with the Mystic Highway bridge.  We called him on VHF 13 and asked if he was going to open at 12:40 pm and he answered simply, "yes!" There were several boats coming upriver that were also waiting for the bridge.

There really isn't much outgoing traffic on a Monday afternoon in September on the Mystic River. We idled down past all of those moorings and marinas and were soon soon heading back out into Fischer's Island Sound.

We also shot some video of our visit to Mystic and we've included it here.  It gives you an idea of how beautiful the weather was and what a great spot this is to visit when the summer crowds have gone.