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.