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. video

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.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Engine repair

The first engine repair has on  our Deere 6068TFM main engine has reared it's ugly head. Basically, the repair revolves around a fuel leak at injector number five, and after a bit of work, I think I've resolved the leak.

The way a diesel engine creates power is through high compression, which ignites fuel in the cylinder, causing the pistons to move up and down thus powering the engine. This happens via fuel being pumped at high pressure into a device called an injector, which precisely sprays fuel into the cylinder ( at crazy high pressure ). Once the fuel has been sprayed in the cylinder,  valves close, and the piston comes up compressing the fuel/ air mix so greatly that an explosion occurs. The piston is forced back down from the explosion, an exhaust valve opens pushing out the now heated air while another valve opens pulling fresh air into the cylinder. Now, the piston comes back up, and the process is repeated. Whatever fuel is not used by the injector is returned to the fuel tank at minimal pressure. Each cylinder has an injector which sit on top of the engine's cylinder head. To a person who is familiar with gasoline engines, injectors look similar to a spark plugs.

When I was in the in the Gulf inter coastal water way around Panama City with my two older kids, one of our engine room checks  found fuel leaking from the high pressure fuel line where it connects to the injector ( there's a nut on the high pressure fuel line, and another nut on the low pressure return line). Loosening and re tightening the line did not fix the leak, so a crack in the line or nut was my diagnosis of the problem, and a new high pressure line was ordered and installed.

With the new line installed and tested dock side we saw no sign of a leak so off we headed on a 230 mile passage across the Gulf of Mexico towards Venice Florida. Running the engine at a steady 1500 rpm for 35 or so hours showed no leak, and all seemed good. During the next day or so while making way to Ft. Myers at a higher RPM, a slight amount of fuel showed up around the nut causing me to loosen and re tighten the nut again thinking a slight burr or some other issue caused the seep to re appear.

All was well over the next couple of months using the boat lightly for a few day trips with no leak detected. On our 350 mile round trip to Key West, while running the RPM's up over 1700, the leak at number five showed back up. Loosening and re tightening the nut seemed to adjust the leak, but it now was obvious at this point that a bigger issue was causing this.

Back at our home port, and wanting to get this issued resolved before we head back to Key West this summer, I concluded the injector had to be bad. My thought was there must be a crack  in the pressure line on the injector itself, and for some reason, the higher rpm was causing the leak to show up. My real fear, was that if I continued to run the engine with this problem, I could cause a catastrophic failure in the cylinder wall due to improper metering of fuel. It was time to order a new injector and a seal kit.

A few days later, the new injector showed up, so here's how the install went, and what I found: The style of injector on our engine is what's called a pencil injector. The injector has an upper and lower seal on it, and is housed in a very precise bore in the cylinder head. It is held in place by a bolt that compresses some clamps that are on the injector. To remove the injector, one removes the two fuel return lines and fuel supply line. Once  the fuel return lines are removed, the fuel return "T" on top of the injector can now be rotated so you can get a socket on the retainer bolt and remove that. With the retainer bolt removed, you then can use a small lady finger type pry bar to most carefully get under the high pressure line of the injector and ever so easily break the injector loose. Once the compressed seal is loose and unseated in the bore, you can grab the injector with your hand and pull it out of the bore. The key words here are "gentle", "finesse", "easy", "slow" get the idea.

With the injector out and on my work bench, I was now able to remove the compression nut that held the return "T" in place. As I pulled the "T" off of the top of the injector , a small part of the injector fell out of the nut. With the new injector laying alongside the old one for comparison,  it was obvious that the return part of the old injector was broken which was the likely cause of this leak issue.

The new injector was easily installed in the reverse order as the removal. After warming up the engine, and running it at a higher rpm for ten minutes or so, no leak showed up.  As soon as I get some time, I'll take her out and put a heavy load on the engine to see if this was the problem.

Given the part that was broken off on the  injector, I can only conclude that the return circuit of the fuel was intermittently being messed with and this was forcing the leak to develop. All parts of the injector are accounted for, so I'm confident no pieces are in the return line. Before replacing this injector, the engine ran fine, with no hint of a miss. I say this because when I was dealing with loosening and re tightening the offending pressure line, the engine would miss, as one would expect, when the fuel line was broken free. Occasionally, I post on the trawler forum, and the other day I was up on the boat roof with a sound meter observing decibel's for a thread I was participating in, when I noticed a slight puff of black smoke coming from the dry exhaust stack while running her at 1500.  When a diesel engine is running correctly, all one should see coming from the exhaust pipe is heat. Black smoke coming out the exhaust pipe is fuel that has not been burned, and is a tell tale sign of restricted air, or an issue with how much fuel is being metered by the  injector. The amount of black smoke I saw was indeed  minuscule, but was enough to make me pause and think about it for the lasts few days. The exhaust color I was witnessing now makes sense due to the broken injector. Now, with the new injector installed, and me sitting on the roof watching the exhaust pipe while running the engine at 1500, I'm happy to report that the exhaust looks pristine.

Writing this post took longer than replacing this injector. While I hate to see a failure with only 400 hours on the engine, one has to be a realist with the fact that things due indeed break. It is a little comforting that the failure was so evident and that I was indeed replacing a part that obviously needed replacing. I'm going to order another injector so we have a spare on board as this is a not so expensive part that could literally leave you dead in the water.



Friday, April 29, 2016

Steps for the roof

Ever since we launched the boat, we've been using a short fiberglass ladder to gain access to the roof. Along with being too short, the ladder was never secured properly, and it was a matter of time before something bad was going to happen, and someone would end up hurt.

Most, if not all, of my decent tools are stored in Ohio. While I do not yet have a working shop in Florida, I do have some basic tools that I store in a shipping container, and for the time being, that shipping container is my "shop".  My multi process inverter welder along with some basic welding tools made the boat trip to Florida with me, and that's what I used to fabricate these steps. The Everlast inverter welder I have is actually a pretty nice machine being able to stick weld, TIG weld, and plasma cut. This welder is compact only weighing 60 LBS, and is easily small enough to fit in the engine room of the boat if I ever want to bring it with me on a trip. The boat is wired for 120 volt AC, and our on board, 10 KW generator is capable of producing 240 volt AC. When I want to have 240 volt AC on board, such as needing to run the welder, I simply have to change two wires in the generator and install a 50 amp pigtail to plug a 240 volt device into. When I do this re-wire, I'm disconnecting the 120 volt feed from the generator to the distribution panel, and temporarily installing a 240 volt circuit.

Working on a boat in a harbor is a tough, and there's now way around it. Things just go slower in the harbor. Our harbor has wide, fixed concrete decks, and that makes a large project like this a little more easy to get finished. The back deck of the boat became my weld shop while the concrete deck of the harbor was my cut shop. TIG welding aluminum is as finicky process and having the sheltered aft deck helped control the breeze that messed with shielding gas of  the weld process. I greatly miss my shop in Ohio, and one of the things I miss most of having a large, well equipped shop, is that when I had enough of working on something, I'd just put my stuff down and pick up where I'd left off in a day or three. Here, working on the boat in a harbor, I have to clean up everything every time I leave the boat for the day. It's a great thing keeping my work area clean, but it does add time to a project.

Like I said above, the steps are made of 6" aluminum channel, which is way over kill for this application. I could have gotten by with 4", but I wanted wide treads, and I didn't want to have to get into a much more tricky fabricating job of having to get the same wide tread using lighter material. When I built the salon and wheel house, I knew there were going to be steps of some sorts leading to the roof, I just didn't know what they'd look like. I took a guess, and welded brackets to the salon wall, and this is what I used to pin the steps to the bulkhead with. Back then, I did some guessing at future needs, and have fixtures and brackets in a few other spots on the boat.  While the steps are not the most elegant and svelte design, I can honestly say they're robust and rock solid.

Our grill is on the roof, our kayaks are on the roof, and our dinghy will reside on the roof. The roof is a place we go to often, and having a functional, solid set of steps is a huge improvement. The one compromise is the steps block easy access to our mid ship cleat which we spring off of. I have two choices regarding this cleat. When underway, I like to have all the lines off of the cleats and stowed on the fore deck rail, but the new stairs are going to alter how we treat one line. I can stow the mid ship line on the rail above the mid ship cleat, adjacent to the steps,  and not worry about it, or weld a hook to the back side of the stair tread to stow the line under the steps. Either way, with the steps pinned in place, the line will have to remain on the mid ship cleat. Or, we can stow the steps on the front of the wheel house and have easy access to the mid ship cleat. Either way, it will still be an easy deal to throw line to a line handler, and that's  not changed, it's just that we've been doing it a certain way for a couple of years now, and the new steps have changed that.

As I've said many times before, I'm glad I didn't have to give someone a price to build these steps, since they took a lot longer than what I would have guessed. While they're not ideal, I'm totally happy with how good they feel, and how much safer getting to the roof has become. With the outboard pipe rail and the trim detail of the wheel house roof, one has dual grab rails while using the steps.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

I'm back

Well, truth be told, we never left...just relocated.

My last post was regarding me working on the handrails for the lid deck. That was an important detail as it makes spending time up on the roof much safer, and makes the boat that much larger. The handrail was finished, the boat went back in the water for the season, and boat building ceased.

Boat building had pretty much ceased for the winter of 14/15, and my focus shifted to working on our house getting it ready to list for sale. Shannon was still in school finishing up her respiratory degree so I began pecking away at  a long to do list on the house. Some projects were substantial, some were not. The bottom line was I devoted about five months of steady work, and sometime about the end of May, 2015, we listed the house on one of those online " for sale by owner sites ". Three weeks after listing the house, we had an offer, and a week after that we had a deposit with a move out date agreed upon a week or so later. Fast forward a fuzz and we ended up in Cape Coral, Florida

Moving the boat to Florida began in late October of 2015, and was done by me and a friend Pat. The route to Cape Coral was as follows: The Ohio River, to the Cumberland River, to the Tennessee River, to the Tennessee Tom Bigbee River, to the Black Warrior River, to the Mobile River in to Mobile Bay, East on Gulf Coast Inter coastal water way, cross the Gulf of Mexico from Panama City to Ft. Myers Florida where we now harbor the boat at the Ft. Myers Yacht basin. The trip was about 2000 miles, and took a couple of months as we left the boat a few times to return to family.

So here I sit in Cape Coral, Florida typing this blog update and I'm still working on finishing the boat. There are a few big projects that need to be finished, and I plan on documenting these projects on the old boat build blog.



Sunday, February 15, 2015

Handrails and winch battery box

Winter is not wanting to let go of our small Ohio river town, so no work has been finished on the roof of our boat. As I sit here and type these words, a forecast for 7"-11" of snow, high winds, and close to zero degree temperatures is playing from my radio giving us the promise of an interesting day tomorrow. The mid range forecast  has temperatures staying in the teens and low 20's for the next ten days, so the snow we're going to get tonight is going to stick around for a while. "In like a lion, out like a lamb" was how March was described to me while I was growing up.

So while continuing  painting rooms in the house, I've managed to get some boat work done in the shop with material I've had stockpiled. The handrail fabrication was the first job I wanted to get finished, and for the most part, went pretty smooth. The handrails are made of 3/4" schedule 20 stainless steel pipe. I want to paint the rails, and while cost could have been  lowered with mild steel, using stainless pipe will be better in the long run in regard to maintenance. Because of cost, pipe was used vs tube, and because of weight, thin walled pipe was used. Wall thickness on schedule 20 is about .095 so MIG welding and stick welding is easily used.

The handrail will be 36" tall, with the stanchions being 24" on center. The stanchions centers could have probably been stretched to 36", but 24 is what I laid out when I was framing the roof, and the doubler pads are already welded in place. Once I post about the handrail install, you'll see what I'm talking about regarding doubler pads. The stanchions were cut to length on the lathe using a parting blade, and a stop to  make sure they are all the same length. To make fit up idiot proof, I coped each stanchion to fit the rail. Some people call it notching, I call it coping, but what ever you call it, I accomplished this by using my mill and an annular cutter. An annular cutter , or a rotary broach, as some call it is nothing more than the baddest assed  hole saw you've ever seen. The 3/4" shaft of the cutter with flats milled in it, are really designed to be used in a mag drill with it's specific chuck, but I was able to use a collett to hold the cutter in the mill. The pipe is beefy enough to be held in the mill vice, and the key to doing this coping is an extremely slow feed. Rigid holding of the part, a sharp tool, and a slow feed gave me top  notch results.

Because the rail is going to be painted, I was able to MIG weld it. The mast boom is being secured right now by hooking it to one of the cleats use to lift the wheel house last year. I  never got around to cutting off the cleats, and darn if they've not come in handy for securing the kayaks, and in this case, also the boom. It made sense to me to weld a couple of stanchions to the hand rail over a mounting stanchion to be able to rest the boom and snatch it down with the cable.

Because we're using electric winches to control the load and the boom, a battery box had to be built for the battery. To help keep things out of the weather, I hinged a lid to the box. The box has a partition in it to hold the battery on one side, and on the other side house the motor solenoids, the motor fuse's, and a positive and negative buss bar. The motor fuse's are 50 amp inline, and came without a cover of any sort. I really did not like having two hot posts unprotected, so I used an orifice shield for pipe to cover the posts of the fuse's .

The battery I'm using came out of my "slightly used, but still OK " inventory I keep in the back of the shop, and  is a group 31. This battery is not going to get heavy use, but I still had to decide how to keep it charged. The choices were charger in the wheel house with heavy wires. Heavy wires from the house bank with no battery on the roof. AC wires to the roof, with charger in the roof top box. Solar panel to charge the battery. I chose a solar battery charger.

The solar battery charger is 1.5 watt, and it's my understanding that with this low wattage, I won't need a charge regulator. I don't know what type of panel this thing is, but in my shop with the panel just seeing shop lights, it puts out 12 volts. When I move the panel outside and it's shady, it puts out 21 volts. When the panel see's sunlight, it puts out 23 volts. The panel came with a small diode light on it that blinked when it was charging, but that blinking caused the voltage to pulse erratically when no sun was shinning, so I took the panel apart and cut the wire lead to the diode light. With the light not blinking anymore, the voltage was steady. I might as well say now, that this panel cost $14.00 , and has nothing but great customer reviews. For the three days I had it connected to the group 31, it held the charge steady at 13.2 volts.

The whole electric winch thing might come back to bite me in the butt some day, so I should probably have a few manual blocks and tackles on board. But truth be told, for how low the winch's cost, I should probably have a spare winch on board. While the winch's are of low cost, they seem to be put together well, and appear to be  weather tight. Once they're wired and operational, I'll probably cover them with something water tight, and keep things up to snuff.

In two weeks, the boat yard opens for season hours. In ten weeks, the harbor opens for business , and we'll be in the water. There's no way I'm going to have my off season boat "to do" list completed, but that's OK. D day for me to have the real list complete is late June, when the plan is to motor to Kentucky lake.