Sunday, October 22, 2017

Dry Tortuga's

We made it to the Dry Tortuga's twice this summer...once with my daughter and stepson, and a second time with Shannon, Dakota, Cheyenne, Colby, and Brogan. This post I'm going to talk about the first Tortuga trip with my daughter Carrie, her  boyfriend Casey and their friend Tyler along with Dakota, my stepson, and his two friends Gabe and Vassel.

A few days before we left for the Tortuga's, I was talking to my dock neighbor Bob, picking his brain of the many decades he has  under his keel traveling these waters. Particularly, I was asking Bob about a strategy of dealing with the sometime violent thunderstorms that happen frequently in this area almost every afternoon. Frequently these storms produce 40 knot winds and some wickedly violent lightening. Bob's answer was if the wind starts healing the boat over too much or the waves start rolling you around, simply change course and head into the storm. I then asked Bob " what about the lightening?" Bob kind of looked at me, and after a pause, told me there's not much you can do about lightening. He also reminded me that we're a steel boat so there's some safety provided by the steel, and Faraday cage effect, also that a steel boat is better grounded than a plastic boat.

Myself, along with my daughter Carrie, stepson Dakota, and their friends Casey, Tyler, Gabe and Vasil left the dock around 4:00 pm for the 19 hour trip to the Dry Tortuga national park. The Dry Tortuga are a group of five island 60 miles west of Key West with Ft. Jefferson being the center of the park. This particular trip had our route as a straight rhumb line from Ft. Myers to the Tortuga which is a 125 mile off shore passage. Adding the 13 miles we travel on the Caloosahatchee river, our total miles to the Tortuga's is approximately 137 which equates into a 21 hour passage...give or take.     Here's a brief description of Ft. Jefferson from Wikipedia:  Fort Jefferson is a massive but unfinished coastal fortress. It is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas, and is composed of over 16 million bricks.

The late afternoon trip down the river was calm as we made quick speed of 8 knots on an outgoing tide. All the mates were on the front deck enjoying the day and the late afternoon sun as we passed under the Sanibel bridge and engaged the auto pilot course for the Dry Tortuga. With the seas flat and barely a breeze, the passage forecast had a good chance of holding true. The temperature was around 90, and a scan of the horizon did show towering thunderheads all around with a particular menacing storm pounding Sanibel now 10 miles in our wake. As the sun set, the seas picked up a little due to the wind created from the thunderstorms that our radar now showed were all around us. Around 11:00 a large thunderstorm blossemed between us and the Dry Tortuga, and our radar showed no chance of skirting around it. As our course and the storms course came together, the wind speed quickly picked up to 45 knots out of the east, and the seas quickly built to a nasty, close together, 4' chop. The healing boat, along with the sporty ride provided by the wind chop, had all the mates congregate in the wheel house with me as I pondered how to handle this. The words of my dock friend Bob came to mind so I quickly changed our course and headed due east into the wind. The boat was now level, and the ride immensely improved as confirmed by the look on the crews faces and the tone of conversation. With monsoon rain pounding us sideways, wind speeds steady at 45 and gusting to 55, our crew seven stood by in the wheel house with only the glow from the chartplotter to light the space. Five or ten minutes into the storm on our new course, lightening began to hit all around the boat. It really came as  no surprise that we would experience lightening, but we for sure did not figure it being so close. The bolts came straight out of the sky and appeared to be the diamater of a large tree. Instantly, our storm tossed surroundings were as light as day, as a crazy loud boom of thunder exploded, with the concussion of the explosion thumping ones chest. The kids were now thrilled with the show as chants of "whoa....check it out....that was close" dominated the discourse. The words of Bob my dock bud came back into my mind as he had told me there was nothing you could do about lightening. I decided there was one thing I could do and that was not be touching the steel steering wheel, so I sat in the wheel house setee as the auto pilot held us on course and the show went on around us. Carrie came and sat next to me and quietly asked me if we were OK. I put my arm around her, and said absolutely.  Like a large spider crawling across the Gulf of Mexico, ten minutes after it started, the lightening target zone seemed have crept more to starboard. The wind speed had now dropped to 20, and the waves seemed to be laying down a bit. 45 minutes after the first gust hit us, the storm was far to starboard, the course changed back to the Torguga's, and with the wheel house windows and door again open, we were rocking and rolling to our destination on unsettled seas.

A short time later, with Carries boyfriend Casey in the wheel house with me, we watched a another storm on the horizon and on radar. The storm was about ten miles ahead of us, and with Casey's observation of its direction on radar, we decided to change course again to the east and try to avoid it. 20 minutes after changing course, the blob on the radar evaporated, and the lightning on the horizon was gone, and for the last time that night, our course was again changed for the Torguga's. The seas that night remained unsettled as the breeze was fresh, but the sky's cleared and with the Milky way painted above us, the view above was was nothing short of spectacular.

20 hours after leaving Ft. Myers yacht basin the auto pilot was maneuvering us around Ft. Jefferson as we picked our way into the Forts harbor via the only channel available. The harbor was crowded with about ten boats, and with Dakota on the bow manning the now operational anchor winch, we dropped the new 85 lbs Manson 15' into a sand bottom, and backed down hard on it at with 5:1 scope. We had arrived after a successful 135 mile passage and the crews excitement showed with them all diving into the crystal clear water.

All anchorages we've been to during our short lives in Florida have their own inherent beauty, but Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortuga's is by far the most beautiful anchorage I've been in. With the view of the massive brick fort surrounded by white sand, crystal clear water, boats from afar anchored and sea planes coming and going, the place oozes adventure. We piled into our 13' dinghy, and made the short ride to the dinghy landing area where the kids quickly took off to explore while I searched for the check  in area and procedure. A few hours later, we were all back on the boat watching a spectacular sunset as burgers cooked on the grill.

Our first morning in the Tortuga's had me waking the crew of millennials by nine as I didn't want to let anyone sleep this time in paradise away. I was sitting on the aft deck drinking coffee when Casey asked me if it would be OK if he bathed off the swim platform. He went and got soap and shampoo, then jumped in the water only to come flying back out exclaiming that there's three sharks under the boat. Using our snorkel masks, we stuck our heads in the water and quickly determined that the three large fish were Goliath Grouper. The three Goliath's took up residence under the boat for the entire time we were in the Tortuga's. Two of the Goliath's were guessed to weigh in excess of 150 lbs, and the third one , would have tipped a scale of 300 lbs.

We had cut bait  on board, and when not exploring or hanging out on the island, the crew spent much time on the roof fishing, partying, and enjoying the short time we had in the park. The highlight of the on board fishing was when Carries friend Tyler caught a 3' Hammerhead.

The fishing excited the crew, and while I'm no fisherman, Gabe, Casey and myself took the dinghy to the far end of the island and decided to try our luck. The bait was so thick on this part of the island that the water looked more like a stew as we threw the cast net into a school of finger mullet. The first successful cast gave us enough finger mullet to try our luck. We positioned ourselves on the edge of a deep channel, while I captained the dinghy, Casey and Gabe hooked some mullet and tossed them into the channel. Instantly, a 4' Tarpon grabbed Casey's bait and began to run. With rod bent parallel to the water and line leaving the reel, the tarpon began it's jumps, and as fast as it was hooked, it was off. This happened three or four times before Gabe hooked into a five pound Jack that after a five minute fight, we landed it to the dinghy. A few minutes later, we tossed the jack back into the water, and the instant it hit the water a four foot Bull shark grabbed the fish and devoured it 20' off of the boat.  The Tortuga's were not disappointing us as a place full of adventure.

As a group, the Millenial crew decided they wanted to see Key West, so after two days in the Tortuga's, we pulled anchor at five in the morning and headed east for the 65 mile passage to Key West. The wind was a stout +20 out of the east, and with 4-6' seas  hitting us dead on the nose, the ride to Key West was for sure sporty. Four or five hours of this rough beating had us slowly closing in on the Marquesa's where, as we came into it's lee, the seas began to lay down. Not wanting to get into Key West after dark, we decided to anchor for the night at Boca Grande Key. Boca Grande is a great sheltered stop, and with it's white sand beach and clear water, we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon anchored 200' off of the beach.

Boca Grande Key is only 11 miles from Key West. The next morning we pulled anchor early and set a course for Sand Key light, which is a reef and the premier snorkeling area for Key West. We spent a few hours at Sand Key where we saw sharks, turtles and a myriad reef fish in the gin clear water of this special place. Sand Key is five miles from Key West, so an hour after letting go of the mooring ball at Sand Key reef, we were backing into our slip at A@B marina.

While I dealt with the boat at A@B, the crew stampeded for the showers, then quickly set their course for the fun streets of Key West.  Key West really is a mecca in regard to a yachting destination, and for this crew, she did not disappoint.  The free living, quirky lifestyle of the Conch Republic lets one know that they are in a special place. Adventure and experience pours out of Key West, and I can only briefly describe it in this short post as truly amazing. For me, what makes these adventures so much more amazing is that we get to these places on a home made boat traveling from destination to destination with the freedom of sea travelers of old. The word freedom keeps coming to mind, and it's not to difficult to use freedom as a synonym for boat as this is what these adventures mean to me.

Two days of adventure in Key West, had us leaving A@B at noon in order to time our arrival at the Sanibel bridge shortly after sunrise the next morning. This would have us back at Ft. Myers yacht basin by 10 am and back at our house by noon so the kids could do laundry and enjoy a day at our pool before I took them to the airport the next morning.

The passage back to Ft. Myers was under perfect conditions of no wind with the Gulf of Mexico completely flat. Because of the perfect conditions, we all sat on the front deck in chairs laughing and enjoying life as the auto pilot guided us north at 7 knots. Because of the 7+ knots we were making, I had to pull back on the throttle in order to keep us out of the Caloosahatchee river before sunrise.

Shortly after sunrise we crossed under the Sanibel bridge back into the dark waters of the river.  The crew got to work gathering all their gear and cleaning the boat for our arrival at the yacht basin. We effortlessly backed into our slip as a team now experiences with each other, loaded the truck with gear, and 30 minutes after landing the boat, we were headed to our house.

Another trip was successfully in the book, but my heart was heavy as I prepared to say goodbye to my daughter whom I love and miss immensely.  While my heart was  indeed heavy, I sit here and type this with a smile as I think of our adventure together: Living so close to the weather as our first boat storm together reminds us of just how small we are....snorkeling with Goliath grouper hiding under our boat in crystal clear water... the look on these young peoples face as they hook fish that built the legends of this part of the world... amazing sunsets viewed from places only a ocean going boat can get to...figuring out that boat and freedom can mean the same thing.

The Dry Tortuga's are for sure a special place, and a place every seafarer needs to add to add to the bucket lists. Later this summer will find me again making this special trip so another Torguga post is in the works.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hydraulic system

Two things happened while on our recent

trip to Key West that kicked me into gear in regards to finishing the hydraulic system that I never really started. The first thing that happened was having us get pinned against a piling due to high wind while trying to get into our slip at A@ B marina. The second thing that happened was being anchored in Key West for our last night in 25kt winds and stressing over having too small of an anchor due to us not having the hydraulic anchor winch working, making it necessary to use too small of an anchor since we were hauling the anchor by hand.

The hydraulic system powers the hydraulic bow thruster and the hydraulic winch. The system is powered by a load sensing variable displacement pump that is driven by a live PTO straight off of the transmission shaft. Live PTO means that the pump is always turning as long as the main engine is running.

Having said I never really started this job, is true in some regard. The bow thruster has been purchased and was installed. The pump and solenoid valves had been purchased as was the hydraulic anchor winch. This was the one of the most challenging jobs I've yet to do on this the boat build, and like everything else boat building, this project took about five times more effort and funds than I had imagined.

The first step in getting this job rolling was measuring the hydraulic lines that would go from the engine room to the anchor winch and bow thruster. My first route of choice was down the port side of the boat through the master cabin and behind the shower. As I pulled the chase covers away, I soon realized I had not left myself enough room to route the four 3/4" hoses behind the shower wall. The only other option was overhead down the center of the main cabin, or down the starboard side via the identical chase as the port side. The starboard was the most viable route so now I had to make it so. Measuring the lines was a matter of using garden hose pulled through the route. After an afternoon spent pulling and routing the garden hose, I settled on a measurement of 50' for all four lines. The main difference between hydraulic line and garden hose is how much stiffer hydraulic line is thus much harder to route. It turned out that two of the lines worked out perfect being 50', but the other two came up 4' short, and needed hose added to them to make it work.

Having a length on the four main hose was a good start, but didn't even scratch the surface on how much work was still ahead of me. The next step was to get all the system parts mounted and plumb the hard pipe parts of the reservoir. The reservoir has a 2" suction line feeding the pump, and a 3/4" return line which passes through a filter. I installed valves on both the suction and return line. Once the reservoir hard piping was done, I could begin the process of identifying the myriad of fittings I would need along with measuring and sizing all the connecting lines. There is a method to the madness in that one has to be versed regarding the fitting types, sizes, and how to measure a hydraulic line. Time is the constant here, and it was amazing just how much time I had in staring at my work area trying to get a vision of how all these parts and hoses were going to be installed in a way that looked professional....time seemed to vanish as I painstakingly identified fittings, hose size and length, fitting orientation, and then putting this on a material check list. More time was spent transferring the checklist to and order and double checking that all was correct and nothing was missed or double ordered ( which is was ).  Once my order was placed and paid for, more time passed as I waited for the order to make it's way from Pennsylvania to Cape Coral.

When I first began this job, I had every intention of using the local hydraulic shop to purchase all my lines and fittings. The business model of these local hydraulic shops is that when a hydraulic component on a machine fails, 99 times out of 100, the customer walks in and needs the part immediately.  The hydraulic shop knows this, and prices their work accordingly. I gave the local shops an opportunity to quote what I needed, but they could not come close to what I could get the material for online. Why would a local shop sell me their product at $.30 on the dollar when they could use their assets and product to sell to the non stop traffic of local contractors needing parts immediately and willing to pay for that service? It is for this reason I shopped online at   Discount Hydraulic Hose , and could not be more happy with the quality and speed of service they provided. On at least two occasions, they called me directly to give me choices of parts due to availability in order to make sure my orders shipped the same day.  Discount Hydraulic Hose prices are what I would consider  reasonable, and because of this I tended to over order fittings as it is cheaper in my opinion to have two too many vs being short one.

The basic flow of this system is the engine driven hydraulic pump gets fluid from the 12 gallon reservoir through a 2" suction line. The pump is always in motion as it's powered by a live PTO. The pump supplies pressure to a distribution manifold via a 1" line. Using a distribution manifold vs "T's" in my opinion makes for a neater job, and gives me the ability to easily expand the system. From the distribution manifold, pressure goes through a block where the two electrically controlled solenoid valves are mounted. The solenoid valves control the bow thruster circuit, and the anchor winch circuit. If either circuit does not need power, the oil returns to the reservoir through a cooler and filter, and begins the loop again.

The variable displacement load sensing pump is able to provide full power while the engine is operating at idle speed. This pump is controlled by a hydraulic pilot circuit which tells the pump it needs to power up to it's full pressure of 2500 psi with a flow of 10 gpm. Basically, when the engine is running the pump is at idle and only puts out 500 psi. As soon as we need to use either the winch or the thruster, the pilot circuit is engaged, and the pump powers up to 2500 psi. Once either device is not requiring full pressure or flow, the pilot circuit shuts down, and the pump returns back to it's 500 psi idle. Operating the pump in this manner is by design and provides longevity and helps control heat.

The oil is cooled via a 2" x 9" pipe in a pipe cooler which is tapped into the main engine keel cooler circuit. The cooler was sized in the original design.  As you might recall from an earlier post, I had to add an electric pump to the transmission cooling circuit and it's within this line of the circuit that I tapped into to cool the hydraulic oil. The hydraulic oil temperature is holding steady at 160 degrees, which is within the designers specs, but is on the high end. I think I have noticed a slight increase in engine room temperature as on our last long passage of 22 hours, the engine room temperature seemed to hold steady at 112 degrees ( it's summer here, and the outside air temperature on that passage was 94 degrees ). Looking at past logs of our trips, the ER seemed to operate between 108 and 110. The steering oil is keel cooled on it's own circuit and always shows an operating temperature of 105 degrees. The transmission temperature holds steady at 140 degrees, but it has a larger 2" cooler with a length of 18". I'm seriously considering, on the next haul out, of adding a keel cooler for the hydraulic system, and possibly the transmission too. Adding two keel coolers would be job, but would eliminate the electric pump ( which I have confidence in ), keep the oil cooler, would eliminate a source of engine room heat, and would make the boat that much more reliable and trouble free.

I do have one issue that might need to be corrected on the system. When I ordered the solenoid valves and their distribution block, I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. The block I have now does not provide flow to the pilot circuit, so the pump has no way to switch between idle and full pressure/flow. The block that is installed only provides flow to the solenoid valves along with return to the reservoir. What needs to happen is when the solenoid valves open, the block should provide pressure to the pilot circuit turning on the pump, and when the valves close, the block should dump pressure back to the tank thus turning off the pilot circuit. The way I dealt with this problem was to add a solenoid valve to turn on the pilot circuit. When I need to operate either the anchor winch or thruster, I turn on the pilot circuit via a switch at the helm which powers up the pump, and when we're finished with either device, the pilot circuit is turned off, which puts the pump back to it's idle pressure of 500 psi.

The result of all this is that we now have a bow thruster that works fantastic as well as an anchor winch that can handle a proper size  anchor for our boat.

The thruster is made by Key Power, and is a 10" size. The thruster has a hydraulic motor on it which turns a gear box. The gear box uses 90 weigh oil, which I modified slightly. The problem I saw with the gear box ( which might not have been a problem ) is it was not vented. I talked to the manufacturer, and they suggested installing a header tank using one of the fill ports, and some clear tubing to connect with. Adding a header tank was simple as I used a gravity paint gun's paint pot for the tank ( all pipe thread, and $9.00 ). Installing the header tank in the blanket chest keeps it out of the way and makes it as simple as looking at the clear tube to make sure there is oil in the case. The problem with not having a vented case is the risk of blowing the seal between the thruster prop and the gear box. If that seal fails, sea water will get into the gear box and possibly the boat. The thruster is in a water tight compartment, and while it made installing the lines a challenge, it was worth the trouble for the peace of mind that compartment provides.  The  horse power rating of the thruster is 15, and it's obscene how much water this thing shoots out it's tube. We've only had to use the thruster half a dozen times, but I'm extremely happy about how much it moves the boat, and how much easier it makes docking the boat. Being a single screw boat with a lot of windage, my stress level is way down as the boat is now a dream to handle.

The anchor winch we have is made by Kinematic, and is primarily used in the commercial fishing boat industry. It's a drum winch and for sure has a commercial look to it ( which I like ). I was able to get 300' of 3/4" line and 20' of 3/8 chain on to the drum. Because we'd been hauling the anchor by hand, we have been using a 30 lbs Danforth anchor. The Danforth has done me well for 20 years, and I'm for sure not going to bad mouth it as we've anchored 100's of times with it. I will say since we've moved to an area where tide switching has to be considered we've dragged twice with the Danforth due to the rode catching on the fluke bar and fowling the anchor. Now that the anchor winch is fully operational, I decided to upgrade our anchor to a Manson Supreme. The Manson sizing chart had us being able to use their 65 lbs model. Defender was having a sale on Manson anchors, and was sold out of the 65 lbs model, but had the 85 lbs anchor for about the same money, so the 85 lbs unit is the size I chose. After a few times anchoring, I can say how happy I am with how fast the Manson sets, and how well it seems to stay set. I can also for sure say the kids love the anchor winch as they no longer have to hoist by hand.

As I said above, this was one of the most challenging jobs I've done to the boat to date. Hydraulics are for sure expensive to install, but the reliability and longevity of the system is second to none. Being in a large harbor, with lots of transients coming and going, I've seen at least two occasions where captains have exhausted their electric thruster batteries trying to maneuver in strong winds. With the hydraulic thruster, and hydraulic anchor winch, we'll never have to worry about running out of power. The reliability and robustness of this system is unmatched.

The last major job on the boat is going to be installing the air conditioner for the salon and wheel house. The duct work is all in place, but the unit has to be purchased and installed. Another project I want to get installed is and inverter so we can have the fridge running without running the generator. Once  these two projects get completed, I might have to think about changing the name from Conall's Boat Build to something else.



Sunday, April 23, 2017

Key West boat trip 2017

Since I now have unlimited data on my phone plan, I am finally able to listen to a good radio station vs the nonsensical commercial radio offered in the Ft. Myers area. On this Sunday evening  I'm in my pickup truck headed north on Burnt store road. WNKU is streaming on my radio, and "Drowned" by the Who is powering out of my speakers as I make my way towards the airport to pick up my two college age children. Myself, my two children, and one of their friends are shoving off for Key West on this warm Spring evening, so this is by and far the happiest day of the year for me. The music seems more crisp tonight, and memories, like the flood tide, were pouring all around me.

                                            " There are men high up there fishing
                                             Haven't seen quite enough of the world
                                             Ooh, I ain't seen a sign of my heroes
                                             And I'm still diving down for pearls
                                             Let me flow into the ocean
                                             Let me get back to the sea
                                             Let me be stormy and let me be calm
                                             Let the tide in, and set me free"
                                               "Drowned" by the "Who"- Quadraphenia

A short while later after arriving at the airport with hugs that I for sure didn't want to stop, Conall Jr., Carrie, and their friend Sacco stowed their bags in the bed of my Tundra so we could begin heading south on SR 41 to the yacht basin in Fort Myers, and the beginning of what would be a great boat trip to Key West.
As we stepped onto our boat, the smell of oiled Cherry wood, cork flooring, along with the other senses one encounters when stepping on to our boat, put smiles on my kids faces as I hoped they felt like they were coming home in one sense. Stowing all their gear away in various drawers and cabinets, we went over the basics of our trip to Key West along with some important safety issues. The engine rumbled to life, the dinghy was pulled tight to the swim platform, and we cast off with 135 miles to go to Key West on this moon lit Sunday night.

Fort Myers Yacht Basin lays 15 miles up the Caloosahatchee River, and with it's narrow channel and shoal waters, this was for sure the most dangerous part of our trip given we were making way in the dark. Having already loaded the route from the yacht basin to Estero, it was just a matter of engaging the auto pilot, and fine tuning the radar gain as we cleared the first bridge past the yacht basin. I've never been a big fan of night travel on a river, but I can say that the new auto pilot made me feel much more at ease as I was able to focus on keeping watch ahead. Standing in the wheelhouse door, I was able to easily see ahead in the moonlight along with seeing the radar and chart plotter. The Garmin auto pilot I purchased is the newest software Garmin has, and along with many other features, the auto pilot follows the route I plotted including making all the turns. With this new auto pilot, there's a good chance I won't have to touch the steering wheel until we arrive at Key West 18 or so hours later. Not having to touch the steering wheel for 18 hours proved to be wishful thinking, as I soon discovered I had cut it a little too close on my route plotting in regards to channel markers, forcing  us to hand steer away from a few channel markers as we headed south down the river.
Two hours after leaving Ft. Myers Yacht Basin, we passed under the Sanibel bridge, opened the route to Key West, and engaged the auto pilot. The moon was almost full, and with the 15 knot fresh breeze, San Carlos bay was twinkling and winking at us as we plodded along our route. The forecast for our passage was not what I'd hoped for with a stout 15-20 kt wind out of the east along with seas of 3-5 feet also out of the east. Given we are headed south, the seas would soon be hitting us port beam making for a sporty ride. Five or so hours later, we cleared Cape Ramano, and with the amount of fetch the wind would pick up, the sea state changed to 3-5' on the beam, and would remain that way until we turned into the north channel on our final approach to Key West.

The following morning we awoke at A@B marina in Key West harbor. A weather system had planted itself in the Atlantic, so the wind was forecast to remain out of the east in the high teens and low 20's all week. Snorkeling at the reef, and other day trips to various Keys were shelved as we agreed to spend our days and evenings enjoying what the city Key West has to offer. Key West is a great place with lots of history and more interest than one could possibly experience in the short week we had together. Because I don't get to see Conall Jr. and Carrie enough, I would have been happy staying anywhere just as long as I could see them every day, but because I wanted this to be a trip they would remember, I chose Key West, and this gem of a city didn't disappoint.

Before we left, I had decided to service the Twin Disc transmission with an oil change and new filter. While the transmission has low hours on it, the oil didn't look as good as I'd like, hence the reason for service. While changing the oil I noticed the oil had a burnt smell to it. I pulled the transmission screen and it was clean so no worry there. I also checked the operating pressures which also were good.  On our short day trips around our harbor, I've noticed the transmission was getting to 190 degrees of temperature, so I made the decision to change the oil viscosity to 40 weight as my owners manual recommends. During the engine room checks on our 20 hour passage, I was seeing transmission temperatures of 205 - 207 degrees, and this got me concerned. The keel cooler was for sure not doing a good enough job circulating coolant around the transmission, so something had to be done. Because of a previous issue I had misdiagnosed, I happened to have a high quality in line cooling pump ( German made ) designed to help cool hot rod car engines. A trip to the local marine hardware store and six hours later got this pump installed into the transmission cooling circuit along with wired into the engine electrical power circuit. Spending an hour of running the engine in gear at a high idle tied to the dock saw the transmission temperatures staying below 140 degrees. This was for sure no comparison to running for 20 hours straight, but I was confident I'd get the cooling I was lacking. On the passage home, I checked temperatures hourly, and was happy to see the operating temperature holding steady at 160 degrees. I honesty feel as if I averted a catastrophic failure of the transmission by adding this pump. While I also feel this pump is of the highest quality, I for sure will have to get a spare pump as this is now a critical piece of equipment. In the near future, I'm going to check with my local mechanic about getting a mechanical temperature gauge run to the helm so I can keep a closer eye on the transmission.

The other issue we had was one of those cases of if it's not broken, don't fix it. When I plumbed the oil cooling line into the transmission, my guy who sold me the hydraulic lines recommended these lines that had built in swivel fittings. The problem is these lines need about 1000 psi to seal, and our transmission only operates at 300 psi, so we slight drip of oil. Because I  had some time on my hand, and the drip annoyed me, I decided to replace the line while at Key West. A cab ride to the local hydraulic shop and 50 dollars later, I was installing the new line in to the transmission. This is hydraulic pipe thread fitting, and my standard install has always been to wrap the threads with tape, then apply Gasoila thread sealant ( I've never had a leak ). On this particular job, for some reason, there was no tape on board, and I went ahead and did the install anyway. I tested the line while tied to the dock and a high idle and found no leak. The morning we left to head back home had us dealing with a down right crappy weather forecast. The forecast was so bad that I had made a decision to head to Shark River one day, then hug the coast the next day to hide from the weather to get home by Tuesday ( a three day trip home ). With my daughter keeping watch as we headed up the north channel at 0700, I went below to do an engine check and found a substantial drip coming from the just replaced oil cooling line. I made the decision to shut the engine down to take the line apart and re do the paste sealant. After that the line was still dripping and given the crappy weather forecast and a serious doubt I had enough oil on board to keep the transmission happy, I made the decision to turn back so I could properly repair the line. An hour and a half later we were anchored in the bay, and I was headed to town in the dinghy to get what I needed.

The wind was an honest 20 and the anchorage was rough and white capped as I headed to the Key West dinghy dock. As I motored towards the harbor, I noticed someone in a dinghy a 1/4 mile away pulling like crazy to get his engine going. He'd pull a few times...get it 50', the engine would die...then get back to pulling on the starter...he was obviously having problems. I watched him as I passed, and looked over my shoulder a couple of times to see him continue to struggle. Given the stout wind, there was no way he was rowing in so I made the decision to turn around and see if he needed help. He for sure needed help and 10 minutes later we were in the calm of the harbor where he told me he could row the rest of the way.

An hour later I was back in the engine room with proper tape, and after re doing the hydraulic line install, and topping off the transmission, we pulled anchor to take her out for a proper test ride to verify the repair. An hour passed of cruising speed and temperature, the repair was indeed verified so we headed back to the anchorage, and tucked in as close to Flemming Key Cut as we could to drop the anchor and hide from the wind as best as we could. Putting out a 6:1 scope I backed down hard on the anchor making sure it was buried deeply in the poorly rated bottom. The best way to describe this anchorage is a crowded. Setting an anchor alarm and marking some way points as to our location, I watched things closely for an hour before my stress level began to abate.

The day spent anchored turned out to be a good day as the kids were happy, the sun was shinning and we were together. I had some cut squid in the freezer so we spent the day doing some fishing, listening to music, and enjoying being together while the crew enjoyed a few adult beverages. As the day winded down, we all sat together on the back deck taking pictures and laughing as we watched our last ( of this trip ), beautiful Key West sunset.

While the weather forecast for the next day was still not good, it was better than what it was on our turn back day. Given the forecast, I was sticking with the plan of pulling anchor at first light and heading to Shark River. Even with losing a day of travel, this route was still a doable way home as the seas were forecast 4-5 feet on a three second period, but still out of the east. My thoughts on this course was to stay out of beam seas, and have a relatively short run of 60 miles to Shark River.  This plan would have us in Shark River by mid afternoon where we'd anchor for the evening. The following morning we'd have to pull anchor at 0500 the next day in order to get to Ft. Myers late in the evening. The long run from Shark River to Ft. Myers would be tough, but at the present moment, it still appeared to be our best option.  The Key West anchorage was crowded, and not wanting any mishaps we waited until it was light enough to see before we pulled anchor.  Key West was coming to life as we passed Mallory square, engaged the auto pilot and headed up the north channel pasts Tank Island. A couple of mega yachts were anchored out by Tank Island, and as I passed them enjoying the view I couldn't help but notice that the waters were calm and the wind was only blowing 10. Four or five miles later the conditions were still great as fishing boats skirted past us and we got closer to making the turn towards Shark River at the bell buoy marking the beginning of the north channel. When the auto pilot made the turn towards Shark River, I for sure realized what a great day we had woken too.  The seas were 2-3' out of the north east, the wind was blowing 10, and the sky was cloudless and blue with an air temperature of 70 degrees. Given our tight schedule, and much improved weather condition, I made the decision to change course towards Marco Island. The route to Marco was 90 miles, but a great anchorage and restaurant was waiting for us. The real benefit of getting to Marco was that the next day would only be a 50 mile trip to Ft. Myers, in protected waters close to shore.  So the decision was made, 2-3' seas and 10 kt wind were out of the NE as the auto pilot was engaged and we made way to Marco Island.

The course change to Marco had us traveling 90 miles that day vs the 60 to Shark River. In order to get to our anchorage by daylight, I had to increase our rpm to 1600 in order to be making about 7.2 kts speed over ground. This speed had us getting to the anchorage by 1900 which was plenty of time to get secured while still light out. As the day wore on, the wind and seas built, and by 1300, the seas were almost out of the east and 3-5'. Both myself and the kids were now use to the boat motion, and while for sure lively, nothing felt threatening. I just jammed myself into corner of the wheel house settee, and read a book as we rumbled and rolled towards our way point. The auto pilot ran great, the engine room checks showed all as perfect, and other than a sporty ride, life was good. The kids spent most of the time sleeping, as eating and drinking was pretty difficult with these conditions.

Because things got a little rougher, our arrival time started to get later. I decided to again increase rpm to 1750 as to still arrive during daylight. The miles to the next way point slowly decreased, and as we got closer to the coast, the sea state improved.  By 1500 things had laid down to where the ride was fairly decent. The sun dropped below the horizon as we set the hook in the Marco river by green 15, directly across from the Snook Inn restaurant.

I've been in this anchorage before, and while the current can be strong, the holding is good. Once confident of our set, everyone got cleaned up and we took the dinghy to the Snook Inn for a great dinner. It was good to get off of the boat, and better to have a fine hot meal as our boat pantry was getting thin.  As I watched my kids enjoy their food and evening, my heart was a bit heavy as I knew our time together was coming to an end, and soon they'd back in Ohio living their lives, and I'd be in Florida living my life.

The next morning the sun came up and found us under a blue sky. Since this day had the promise to be an easy ride and relatively short day, little Con and I had some coffee while we watched a few crab boats head out into the Gulf to tend to their traps. Letting the girls sleep, we pulled the anchor, and headed back out the Big Marco Pass into the Gulf on our way to Ft. Myers.

This day turned out to be spectacular with a 5kt breeze, and seas of 2' out of the NE. With the smooth ride, I was able to play with the auto pilot adjustments, and by tuning the rudder gain, get the slight roll out of the boat. It was really a perfect day in all regards: The kids were laying out on the front deck in chairs listening to music and snap chatting our day. The conditions were benign enough that I got out the hose and started washing the salt off of the boat to help speed up our departure from Ft Myers once we got back to the harbor. I still had the Who song "Drowned" stuck in my head for some reason as we chugged up the SW coast of Florida. The Quadrophenia album uses water as one of it's main themes, and maybe I was making this connection is some way... or maybe I just like kick ass music. Either way, I popped in the disc for one more listen to the tune.

                                                   "I'm flowing under bridges
                                                   Then flying through the sky
                                                   I'm traveling down cold metal
                                                   Just a tear in a baby's eye
                                                   Oh, let me flow into the ocean
                                                   Oh, let me get back to the sea
                                                   Let me be stormy and let me be calm
                                                   Let the tide in, and set me free"
                                                       "Drowned" by the "Who"- Quadraphenia
Soon the water turned from the blue green of the Gulf of Mexico to the tannin stained waters of the Caloosahatchee as we passed under the Sanibel bridge and back into the river. A small pod dolphins rode our bow wave for ten minutes giving the kids one more great experience as our passage was soon to end. The wind was barely a breeze as we idled into the harbor and stopped the boat in front of our slip. Conall Jr. and Carrie were on the bow and had lines ready to drop over the  pilings as we backed into our slip. This landing was one of my better performances as one line quickly found its mark, then a short kick ahead with rudder over had the other bow line over the piling. Putting her in reverse with the rudder over, we easily handed a line to our neighbor waiting on the finger, and just like that the journey had come to an end. Sacco, Lil Con, Carrie, and myself did some high five celebrating on the back deck, with smiles all around.
We had landed in Ft. Myers around 1430, and were pretty much ready to go once we got tied off as far as boat cleaning goes. Shannon had made a big ham dinner for a belated Easter meal, so we quickly loaded the truck and beat feet to our house. Having everyone together as a family unit eating a meal was a great way to end a great trip.
This was a pretty long post for me and I didn't really even begin to touch  on how emotional a week this was. This is blog about a boat I built, but I also use the boat and sleep well knowing I just imprinted some great memories in the hearts of two who mean so much to me. I've got lots more to say regarding what I learned of the boat on this trip, and the adaptations and changes I have in mind to get her where I want her to be in regards to the intended use, but that will be for later posts. Until then....



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cooling the steering oil

Our steering system on the boat is pure hydraulic. An engine mounted pump is driven off of gear on the cam shaft which in turns powers the helm pump which in turn controls the twin cylinder rudder quadrant. All the parts were built and supplied by Marine Hydraulic Engineering in Rockport , Maine. I've been very happy with the system as it's performed flawlessly. All who have been on board are amazed at how straight the boat tracks, and how easy it is to operate the wheel. It's three turns of the wheel hard over to hard over.

The auto pilot interfaces with the hydraulic steering system via a solenoid valve which directs oil to either the starboard or port cylinder. Before adding the solenoid valve, the oil had an easy path to and from the reservoir and the heat created was minimal. Once I added the solenoid valve and it's complicated path of oil flow, more friction was created, and the oil heated up. On a two hour commissioning of  the auto pilot, I saw the oil temperature creep up to almost 160, which is 20 degrees warmer than the 140 degrees MHE recommends for this system.

Our boat is keel cooled and dry exhaust with an operating temperature of 185 degrees...give or take which makes the keel cooling circuit too hot for the steering oil. Because we have no raw water pump bringing cooling water on board, I  had to come up with a way to add a pump.

The auxiliary drive adapter on our Deere 6068TFM engine is usually used to power the raw water pump, but because we don't need a raw water pump, I used the auxiliary drive adapter to power the hydraulic steering pump. Talking to our local Deere dealer, I asked the parts guy to look into adding a pump to the front of the engine, and powering it off of the serpentine belt.

While waiting to hear back from a couple of vendors, I added a two inch pipe in a pipe cooler into the return oil circuit right before it entered the oil filter that was mounted on the oil reservoir. Already having a cooler in my spare part inventory, this was no big deal of a job, and costs only a trip to the hydraulic shop to re work one line and fabricate a small line along with a couple of new fittings. Having the pipe in a pipe cooler plumbed into the system, and not leaking, I began to get some feedback from a the vendors I contacted. The Deere dealer told me Deere had no option for adding a pump to the front of the engine, and anything I added would have to be a one of fabrication by myself. Fabricating a bracket was going to be a lot of work, and would require me hacking on the good looking belt guard Deere had on the front of the engine. Gregg at Washington Marine, sent me a picture of a pump sticking out of belt guard installation that looked pretty good, so I called the guy to inquire about the install. He was very familiar with the engine, and had fabricated many add on pumps for 6068's. The problem was that the newer PowerTech, which is what I have, is not set up to do a pump this way. He told me the only way to get a pump on the front of this engine was to have a pulley fabricated to bolt to the harmonic  balancer...which put me back into cutting on the belt guard, adding a bracket, and a whole lot of work. With buying the pump, hiring a machine shop, 40 or 60  hours of my time, parts, yada yada yada, I was going to have well over a boat buck in this alternative, and probably closer to two boat bucks ( a boat buck is $1,000,00 ). Even though I don't have a proper shop anymore, I feel confident in my fabricating skills, but no matter what I did, this job was always going to look like an after though.

Adding an electric pump came to mind, but this option turned me off big time, and would always be my last resort.

I began to think about finishing the hydraulic system which will power the bow thruster and anchor winch ( this system is still a pile of parts ). By finishing ( starting ) the hydraulic system, I could add another circuit and use a hydraulic motor to drive a cooling pump. This is for sure a viable option as it would be reliable and guiding philosophy. The only problem is getting the hydraulic system up and running is going to require a few boat bucks, and quite a bit of time. The boat bucks are always a concern, but time was the real enemy as I'm taking the boat to Key West in early April, and time is getting tight.

A temporary electric pump is starting to look like a reasonable option, so I started researching those pumps. One afternoon while cleaning up the bilge and checking the newly reconfigured hydraulic lines for leaks, I noticed two 1" couplings  welded into the bottom of the hull about 10 inches away from where the hydraulic lines pass through the water tight engine room bulkhead. The couplings were capped off with threaded plugs, and I quickly remembered I had welded a keel cooler to the starboard side of the keel for cooling the lower air conditioner. The cooler I welded to the keel was 2" pipe I'd split in half.  Smiling from ear to ear, I quickly grabbed some pliers to remove the plugs, which turned out to only be finger tight, and was now looking down into the dry galley of an unused cooler....problem solved.

The first thing I did to commission this cooler was to connect the shop vac to one coupling and let it run for ten minutes. After ten minutes of running and looking in the vac bucket, there was a slight sign of moisture on the sides of the vac bucket. I turned on the vac again and sprayed a can of brake clean into the open port so the vac could suck the brake clean through the cooler. The brake clean would evaporate any moisture in the cooler. My next step was to fill the cooler with oil, so I turned to my trusty $25 harbor freight utility pump and sucked oil into the cooler. Using a pump to pull fluid into any fixture is really the best way to do it as it guarantees all air is removed. I decided to let the pump run for about 1/2 of an hour and used a cloth filter to catch any debris. After a thorough running, I made another trip to the hydraulic shop for a few fittings, and new line, and as easy as that I had the cooler plumbed into the system.

The cooler is in the return circuit which goes through a filter before it returns to the reservoir. I decide to change the filter before I started the engine, and along with replacing the filter, I purchased three spares for the spare part cabinet.

The cooler took about three gallons to fill, and along with the nine gallon reservoir, we have about 12 gallons of oil in the system. The 12 gallon volume alone should be enough to keep the oil cool, but now we have a bullet proof system with no auxiliary pump which will guarantee cooled oil with zero chance of failure of the cooling system.

Along with having spent almost no money on getting this job done and having something so bullet proof and reliable, this is one of those jobs that has me pumped up and patting myself on the back. Being able to install it and forget about it on a boat is such a big thing especially as something as important as oil cooling. Now I'm thinking about holding off on starting the hydraulic system install  until I can haul out and weld another cooler on the other side of the keel for the hydraulic system.



Saturday, March 4, 2017

Auto pilot

After doing some long runs of 30+ hours hand steering the boat, getting the auto pilot installed has been high on the list of projects. Finding myself in a slow period regarding work gave me the time to tackle this project, and after a few days of toil, the auto pilot is up and running.

If one were to look back in this blog for information regarding the steering system we have on board, you'd discover that it is a true hydraulic system. A hydraulic pump is driven off the cam shaft of the main engine which powers the helm sending fluid to the twin cylinder steering quadrant in the rudder room. The steering system was manufactured by HydroSlave in Rockport Main, and has been a rock solid, high performing system on our boat. I can't say anything bad about the folks at HydroSlave.

While the electronics package is fairly basic on board, it's all Garmin, and like HydroSlave, I've been extremely happy with Garmin. We have a 6212 chartplotter, and a 24" high def radar unit. So when it came time to get the auto pilot project going, I contacted HydroSlave first for mechanical input, then Garmin regarding the auto pilot.

Because the steering system is all hydraulic, I did not need to purchase a pump to power the auto pilot as I would be using the existing hydraulic pump. The only piece I would need to buy from HydroSlave was a solenoid valve which would plumb into the existing hydraulic lines. Pressure from the pump enters the solenoid valve, and signal from the auto pilot tells either the port or starboard solenoid valve which way to turn the rudder. Once the valve was mounted under the console, a quick trip to the local hydraulic shop for some fittings and to have a few short lines made up, was all it took to get the valve operational. The issue with the solenoid valve is that it restricts the flow of oil and as a result, the oil is going to heat up...more on that later.

The Garmin auto I purchased consists of the helm display, CCU device, ECU device, and rudder feedback sensor. The CCU is what tells the boat what the boat is doing in regards to compass direction, pitch, and roll. The ECU is the power device that brings feedback from the rudder, the CCU, and provides a source of power, and interfaces with the chartplotter. The rudder feedback device senses what the rudder is doing and sends signal to the ECU. The helm display is the screen one sees, and allows the user to control the system.

Installation of the auto pilot itself was pretty straight forward but it did take a couple of days. Careful attention regarding where to install the CCU was critical, and a hand held compass needed to be used to assure magnetic interference did not occur...kind of hard to do on a steel boat. The spot I chose was directly under the helm in the sink base cabinet in the master cabin. This location fit all of Garmin's parameters being low in the boat on the center line and slightly forward. The CCU was also mounted forward facing, and level with the water line of the boat. Having the CCU in all these orientations makes setting the auto pilot up during sea trial much easier. The ECU mounted under the helm console where the chart plotter gear resides. None of the cables feeding this gear can be cut, so all cables get rolled up and secured to the forward bulkhead. The existing NMEA backbone was increased by two more fittings to add the auto pilot ( the NMEA is a fantastic electric connection and makes adding hardware idiot proof ).

Not having a proper shop anymore makes fabricating parts challenging. Needing to fabricate a bracket for the rudder feedback proved to be a bit frustrating, and my first attempt didn't go so well as I messed up the geometry and the sensor didn't follow the rudder correctly. I finally got it right, and while not a thing of  beauty, the sensor works correctly and is about as tight to the rudder as I could get it. My biggest concern with the feedback sensor location is that someone is going to use it as handle while moving around the rudder room, and damage it. I'll have to think about this problem some more.

With all the components in place it was now time to connect the power cable do the dock side wizard.  The dockside wizard basically makes sure the rudder is moving in the right direction  and communicating with the auto pilot. Because of having a hydraulic steering system, when the auto pilot helm control is used to move the rudder, the helm wheel does not move. Just to make sure everything was moving and moving in the correct direction, I had to walk back to the rudder room a few times to verify. Amazingly everything worked correctly the first time. I will say it was pretty cool being able to move the rudder with buttons, and little details like a green line on the screen following the rudder to starboard along with a red line following it to port made me smile.

With the dock side wizard complete, it was time for the sea trial wizard, and a week later, I headed out into the river to clear windless day.  Once in a wide area of the river with deep enough water far enough off of the Okeechobee Waterway, I engaged the sea trial wizard. At an idle speed I began by turning the boat in a tight circle twice. While doing this, I was watching the status screen, and at the end of the second circle, the screen showed 100% compass calibration, and it was time for step two. Re positioning the boat so I had decent room for error, I brought the boat up to cruising speed and began step two. The auto pilot took over at this point and steered the boat in 15 zig zag maneuvers. This step took three or five minutes, and after a short while the system showed 100% complete, so step #3 was ordered up. Step 3 consisted of choosing a heading and engaging the auto pilot. The auto pilot again took over, and after 45 seconds, step three was completed and the system told me the sea trial wizard was complete, and the auto pilot was ready for use.

The rest of the afternoon was spent playing around by following short courses and headings just to get the feel for the auto pilot potential and basic operations. If I put in a heading the auto pilot follows it...which is it's basic function. If I plot a course on the chart plotter, with multiple turns, the auto pilot follows the course and performs the turns. As we navigate around water ways, the chart plotter lays down a trail showing where we've been. The auto pilot, if engaged, will follow those trails if I choose to do so. So if we come into a strange anchorage during the daylight hours, and want to leave during dark hours, we can engage the auto pilot to head out following the trail in as we idle away from our anchorage.

Heading  back to the harbor later that afternoon, I used the auto pilot to hold to headings and sat back admiring this fine addition to the boat. If one were to listen closely, the only noise you hear is the slight clicking of solenoid valve magnets engaging. For all practical purposes the auto pilot operates silently, and because the wheel doesn't move, it's as if a ghost is steering the boat. The folks at HydroSlave had warned me that because of adding the solenoid valve and it's restrictive configuration of how the oil must now flow, the oil was going to heat up. I have a thermometer in my hydraulic reservoir, and one of my engine room checks found the oil temperature pushing 160 degrees. HydroSlave wants  the oil temperature at140 degrees or less, so I'm going to have to find a way to cool the oil.

With it's large rudder, almost full length deep keel, and our commercial hydraulic steering system, our boat tracks straight as string and is very easy to steer.  The addition of this auto pilot is going to make a good system even better, and I have a feeling this is going to be one of those devices I'll soon be saying " I can't believe I went all this time without it". I have a 20 hour passage planned for in about six weeks, so I'm big time happy this system is up and running, and I'm looking forward to a few day trips in the mean time to make sure all is well.