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.