Friday, 31 August 2012

Shake Down

Anytime a ship undergoes repairs or overhauls, and especially if there is a new crew aboard, it’s important to carry out a short cruise that will put the ship and her new crew through their paces in a realistic setting.  This is a Shakedown Cruise.

This week, we set off for a 3 day Shakedown Cruise in the Quiberon Bay to familiarize ourselves with Spray and her new gadgets, and to take her to the largest port in our area for repairs to the alternator.

The first task at hand, however, was to appease Neptune and the Wind Gods for our audacity of having changed the name of the boat.   

Requesting Neptune to accept a name change.
Appeasing the 4 winds.

Being a Franco-American couple, we also “cut the serpent” according to French tradition. 

Anesthetizing the serpent.

Also according to French tradition, we drank quite a lot of it ourselves !

Finally - some for us !

The Happy Couple and their newly baptized boat.

My original plan was to have a mix of hard work (day) and idyllic moorings (night).  The weather, however, had other ideas, and we were forced to duck into ports each night.  Doing this in the Quiberon Bay on the last week of August meant overcrowded and expensive port stops (Haliguen and Crouesty).  The positive aspect was that it gave us a good series of exercises for manoeuvring in close quarters, such as “parallel parking” between boats tied up 2-deep to the quay.

As the ports offered stability, electricity, and water, the work often continued well into the evenings.  Here is our list of tests / repairs carried out during Spray’s shake-down cruise:

  • Tested out-board motor and tender.
  • Installed the spray dodger.
  • Installed removable forestay for head sails.
  • Tuned rigging (shrouds, forestay, backstay, etc.).
  • Marked reef lines and main sail halyard for reef marks.
  • Verified the settings on the depth-sounder using a hand-held lead-line.   
  • Tested basic sail handling with 2 crew (tack, jibe, reef the main, change the head sails, etc.).
  • Adjusted position of the ratchet block for the Genoa furler to better control the furling line as it feeds into the drum (tended to get stuck sometimes when unfurling).
  • Adjusted clutch handle on auto-pilot.
  • Tested new windlass system.
  • Verified there were no leaks in engine filters, pumps, and propeller stuffing box after recent repairs / modifications.
  • Replaced alternator (the electrician did this).  We now have a loaner alternator and will have to go back after ours is repaired.
  • Repaired tachometer.
  • Tried valiantly to install radio fm / CD player / MP3 player.  Professional electrician declared that the radio was wired correctly and was most probably broken.  Return to supplier.
  • Identified and documented all the electrical connections hiding behind the chart table control panel (Guru Bob bravely did this…).
  • Tested navigation software (OpenCPN) with GPS and AIS systems.
  • Tested “anchor watch” system of OpenCPN.
  • Tested wifi antenna (most excellent) and managed to Skype home to Jacksonville, Florida using only wifi on the boat.  Pretty dang cool.
  • Picked Guru Bob’s brains and 30+ years experienced to identify the best mooring spots along the coast and islands.

Just before heading back to our home mooring buoy, we finally managed a calm anchorage for lunch (and to test the windlass).  This shake-down cruise has given us confidence in the boat and her equipment and increased our frustration at not having the time or the appropriate weather to enjoy the many beautiful mooring sites around the islands that rim the Quiberon Bay. But next week, a high-pressure system is supposed to be sitting comfortably near, and we fully intend to head out for some island hopping !

Patchew at the helm.

More tranquil moorings in our near future.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Afloat !

Spray was launched this morning at 11 am and is resting comfortably (we hope) on her mooring in the Auray River.  Everything went smoothly, despite scattered showers and a stiff breeze.

Spray hanging from her ball in the Auray River.
We now believe what we have been told: if you wait until everything is perfect to put the boat in the water, you’ll never put the boat in the water.  At least our remaining problems are not ones that require the boat to be on dry land.  

Since the last update, our gremlins continue to play hide-and-seek.  Two days ago as we were putting on the last coat of bottom paint, we noticed that the joint around the keel was still sticky and gooey.  After 2 months of drying time, we thought this a bit odd and called the boatyard guys to check it out.  They declared that the sealant had failed to cure, which, according to the Sika company, is a “phenomena” that happens in about 1 in 10 batches.  (Now honestly, is a known, regular 10% frequency really a phenomenon?)  That was easy enough to fix but fortunately we had already postponed the launch date.

Our last big mystery is the alternator failing to charge the batteries.  The electrician said he’d never seen anything like it, and suspects the regulator.  We have a date next Wednesday with the experts in Crouesty, the largest port in the Gulf of Morbihan area.  Fortunately, it’s something that can be fixed with the boat in the water, so no excuse for a launch delay.

3 burners with 30mbar pressure regulator.

The gas stove now works with our new French fittings.  We had anticipated not being able to use all 3 burners at the same time, since the new pressure regulator is 30mbar and the original German one was 50mbar, but when we fired up the burners, we got a good strong flame out of all 3.  Crazy Germans.  (wink at MV !)

The bow plate has been installed (zoom in on 1st photo above) and we added an anchor-chain connector (Junction KONG) so that the chain and anchor retract smoothly in the bow roller.  Because the hole in the anchor stock was not a simple round hole but an oblong one, the junction tended to slide down when not under strain, so we had to fill the hole with some clever seamanship.  Time will tell if it holds up to chaffing, but it works well for now.

Anchor-chain connector.
We finally removed the last 2 names of the boat from the transom (Zephyr and Er Gwennick) and put the SPRAY sticker in place.  We opted for a metallic silver color that we thought would be evocative of sea spray shining in the sun, and unfortunately this is the case, rendering it a bit hard to see when the sun hits it at a certain angle.  We also renamed the life buoy but I suspect Zephyr is still written on the inflatable annexe.  A battle for another day.

And for our next trick, 3 days of REST !  We’ve been working very long days non-stop for the last 3 months and my body’s alternator, like Spray’s, has entirely failed to recharge my batteries. 

A big thanks to all who gave advice, equipment, and a helping hand in getting Spray into the water over the last 3 months:  Antoine and Caroline, Remi, Daniel, Roland, the Le Borgne Crew (Nicolas, Patrick, Yves, Alain, Eric, Betty, et Helene), the E3 electricians Patrick and Philippe, Jacques (we tested out the annexe this morning - it's perfect - thank you !), and last but foremost, Guru Bob.

Posted on Friday, August 24, 2012 | Categories:

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Launch Scuttled by Euro-Gremlins

Mark my words: Europe is doomed.  Forget harmonization of social security, retirement, and the minimum wage.  The problems run much deeper, like the fact that German screw threads turn to the right, and French screw threads turn to the left.  I haven’t had the time to investigate further, but at first glance, it appears that most of the Anglo-Saxon EU countries follow Germany’s lead, while the Latin “Club Med” countries stick with France.  I’m sure a closer investigation would reveal pocket alliances resembling the voting in the Eurovision Song Contest  (For non-European friends unfamiliar with Eurovision, it’s uncomfortably like the Gong Show without the gong.)

We discovered this charming example of regional diversity whilst trying to re-plumb our cooking gas lines.  The original fittings were so rusted that it was hard to tell where one nut ended and the next one began, and so we decided to change them all.  A word to the wise who find themselves in a similar situation:  DON’T.  Rust is also known as “the poor man’s Loctite” and that original rusty system probably had less chance of leaking than the new one we planned to install. 

The connection to the copper tubing was still good and we had hoped to use the same pressure regulator.  Long story short:  After 7 visits to different hardware, plumbing, boating and camping stores, the answer was nyet.  The hoses and fittings we buy in France cannot be made to work with the original German fittings.  We have now a shiny new French system, where the next challenge is to make this French system fit in the gas tank compartment of the German boat.  This will involve drilling a new hole in the compartment and bending / aligning the copper tubing that runs to the stove. 

Yoga helps, too.
The next bugaboo was the electrical system.  I realized that working with gas and electricity made me nostalgic for those sweet simple days of working on the engine.  Engines are fairly straightforward beasts, and there are lots of technical books to help you.  Every country, nay, every boat owner, seems to want to put his personal stamp on the electrical and gas systems, and there is no way to know what they’ve done or why … just a mass of multi-colored spaghetti with strands trailing off behind bulkheads, never to be seen again.  We have the original German wiring diagram, but after 20 years in the hands of 2 different French owners, there is little resemblance.  To keep things really fun, nothing has been labelled. 

After a nervous hour of trying to figure out why the service batteries were no longer feeding any of the instruments, we discovered that the system is outfitted with a fuse that had blown.  How or when it had blown is still a mystery, but at least the problem was easy to resolve.  We debated putting in a breaker switch instead of using fuses, but the smallest breaker available was 60 amps, which we thought was probably too high to give much protection.  Next, we realized that the 220V recharging system was wired to the control panel rather than directly to the battery, meaning that the batteries would only be recharged if the circuit breakers were closed.  Why?  Fixed that. 

The major problem du jour is that the alternator is not charging the batteries.  The alternator works fine and the recharger works fine, and when wired together correctly, the system works fine.  But the system is not wired correctly and none of the motor controls function except the ignition alarm.  The electrician we worked with yesterday gave up at 8 p.m., apologetically announced that he had to go on vacation, and gave us the telephone number of a colleague who might be able to help us.    

The original launch date was based on finalizing our major refits, namely the propeller shaft tube and the windlass, both of which are now done.

Reinforcing and stratifying the forward part of the chain locker.
Windlass and foot controls in place, chain marked every 5 meters.

However, our lesser tasks, by their number (33) and “regional diversity issues”, have now become a force to be reckoned with, and the launch has been postponed for one week.  Looking over my list, I’m wondering how many more Gremlins are lurking.
Posted on Saturday, August 18, 2012 | Categories:

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Diesel Motor Crash Course

If you are growing weary of all our technical dramas starting out with “it all started out so simply”, then just imagine our frustration.  This one really did come out of nowhere, or to be more precise, from the cautionary tales of a fellow mariner who had a nasty surprise during his recent summer sailing trip.

Guru Bob, recently returned from the aforementioned trip, suggested that we check the pre-filter of our diesel engine to look for any rust particles that may be emanating from our 20-year-old “stainless steel” fuel tank that just might clog up a fuel line when you least expect it.  Since the fuel is of dubious origin (the Caribbean) and had been sitting in plastic jerry cans for over a year before being put in the tank, he also suggested we check for condensation.

Water pump impeller and gasket.
The engine has always been an element of moderate anxiety for us, and we were eager to get to know it a bit better before trusting it blindly in potentially dangerous situations.  Before tackling the fuel lines, we decided to start with something simple: checking the water pump impeller and gasket.  When we saw that it was, in fact, a simple operation, and that the impeller was in good condition, we should have suspected that fate was just teasing us.

Pre-filter before cleaning, the contents, and the cleaned canister.
Bolstered by this initial success, we moved on to the pre-filter and water separater.  By turning a small valve at the bottom of the filter canister, you can bleed out a sample of the fuel.  Ours looked like Turkish coffee.  Guru Bob explained that it wasn’t supposed to look like Turkish coffee.  We took the filter apart and, not surprisingly, it looked like the bottom of a Turkish coffee pot.  The liquid drained from the canister, however, took on the allure of a nice Black-and-Tan mixed beer, with the water and dark matter in the bottom and the diesel floating on top.  Cleaning it out and replacing the filter was a relatively straightforward affair, but of course, this was a sign that there was trouble brewing further along the line.   

The filter, before and after.
Next, we decided that we should check out the fuel filter.  Not surprisingly, it looked like a Turkish coffee pot, too.  And once more, cleaning out the filter canister and replacing the filter was easy*, but this was just a symptom of bigger problems yet to be resolved.
(* “easy” is a relative term meaning that it is conceptually simple.  However, even the simplest task on a boat motor is a royal pain in the butt because space is limited and access to the part you want to work on is always blocked by at least two other things.) 

Tank goobers.
Examining the root of the problem could no longer be avoided, and we decided to inspect the tank directly by removing the fuel gauge sensor and peering into its fitting hole.  The good news is that there was no rust.  But there were numerous black gelatinous goobers floating in the fuel and clinging to the bottom, indicating a bacterial bloom.  

 The solution: 
  • Drain the tank.  (Guru Bob had a kick-ass electrical drill-driven pump)
  • Remove the tank from the locker.  (Dehler calculated this to the ½ milimeter and it was not easy to get it in or out of the locker…lost a little gelcoat around the rims.)
  • Clean it with a hot water high-pressure hose.  (That part was fun.)
  • Rinse it with gasoline and let it dry.  
  • Put it back into the locker and reconnect all the lines.
  • Filter the diesel and treat it with an anti-bacterial additive.
  • Put the cleaned diesel back in the tank, and
  • Prime the system to get the air out.
Tank operations.

This all took two days.  The shipyard mechanic came to help us prime the system once we had got everything put back together.  There is a small hand pump on the motor between the pre-filter and the filter.  You remove a screw to open up a hole on the top of the filter to let the air escape while you pump.  We’re glad the mechanic was there, because it took a helluva long time to prime and we would have given up thinking we were doing something wrong.  But we eventually got the big belch and the fuel ran clear.

Motor running smoothly ... with no leaks !
The mechanic then turned to us and said, “I think it would be a good idea if we fired up the motor to make sure everything is running smoothly before you put it in the water.”  YES !!  We weren’t sure how to manage this ourselves and having him there to help was a great relief.  We rerouted the water intake to a bucket that we filled continuously with a hose, and with little effort, the motor started right up … and NO LEAKS !!  What a great compensation for 2 full days of really dirty work ! 

While the mechanic was still with us, Patrick brought up a recent story we’d read in the newspaper about a sailboat who’s engine began revving out of control, overheated, burned and sank the boat in a matter of minutes.  The captain had shut off the diesel to the motor, but that had no effect.  The mechanic explained that this can happen when the oil is too full, and that the only thing to do in that case is to smother the engine by blocking the air intake.  He showed us how to do this by opening up the canister of the air filter and placing a rag in the intake pipe.  But when he did this, we discovered that there was no air filter.  The wire basket that holds the filter was there, but the thin foam filter was missing.  That one truly was easy to fix, but very expensive for such a flimsy little thing.

I’m sure that the care and feeding of the marine diesel motor still holds many mysteries for us, but we certainly feel more confident after our 2 day crash course and we know that everything is now in good working order.  With only 5 days left on land (in theory) it’s great to get this out of the way.   

Posted on Sunday, August 12, 2012 | Categories: