Monday, August 22, 2016

Out of Control

(Note: this is an impossibly long and technical post. I promise I will reward you with pretty pictures later. If you have the task of changing the control cables in your boat, please read on.)

Item # 17 on Tim's list: Throttle cable needs replaced.

Item # 18 on Tim's list: Shifter cable needs replaced.

One of the problems with projects like that on a list are that those eight words represent three and a half weeks of calendar time (rainy days and other things like errands and waiting on parts get in the way), and 9 actual days of working time. That's a long time to go without checking anything off The List.

Now if you think that any monkey ought to be able to change out three control cables on a sailboat in less than 9 days, be sure you never purchase a sailboat with a V-drive, at least one that Tartan made. Westerbeke was kind enough to place all the common service items on one side of the engine - oil filter, fuel filters, fuel pump, injectors, control cables - and then Tartan promptly turned the engine around backwards, installed a V-drive, and jammed all those nicely accessible service items right up against the refrigerator with a whopping 1" of space between, and that includes the 1" thick sound insulation.

It took every ounce of willpower this perfectionist could drum
up not to rip everything out here and start over. Who installs
things this way?? Those are my pink messenger lines.
Next, you take that same engine and add 29 years of previous owners and their desire to have all the latest electronic gadgets that require wire to be run hither and yon, and the adequately sized cutout in the bulkheads that the control cables were fed through all the sudden become horribly, inadequately, completely jammed full. Then there's the string of tie-wraps attaching all of that rat nest of wires to the control cables that have to be cut, some of them (of course) in the cubby at the foot of the aft berth under everything stored there, and it's full.

As if all of that wasn't enough, add the fact that some genius designer around the time of Noah decided that both the throttle and the shifter cables should be clamped in the same clamp, and that the clamp should reside 10 inches down inside the binnacle which has a diameter roughly the size of a grapefruit, and into which is stuffed a shaft, a shaft brake, steering chain, wire rope and lighting wiring. Of course, to do this one has to remove the shifter housing which is held on by four very long machine screws which have likely never been removed in 30 years and have frozen solid (3 hours, chisel, vice grips). No less, the genius (read: sadist) decided that to remove the cables (one of which comes up on either side of the wheel shaft), one has to disconnect the cable clamp, tie a line onto the cable ends, push the cable ends down into the binnacle, work the throttle cable under the shaft and then pull them both up on the port (shifter) side. Unfortunately, the genius failed to consider the fact that the clamp is larger than the space left between the shaft and the steering chain so it requires lifting the chain off the sprocket to provide the extra half inch missing.

Rudder post and steering wire rope in the background
The difficulty there lies in the fact that the chain is held in place by the wire rope attached to it, which is in turn held in place by the nuts fastening it onto the rudder quadrant. In order to lift the chain off in the binnacle, one has to empty the lazarette, climb down inside, unhook the wire rope from the rudder quadrant, climb back out, lift the chain off the sprocket. Oh, and then remember to reattach the nuts so you can lock the rudder down so the oh-so-kind sport fishermen in the marina don't break your rudder during their 5-knot approach to their slip next to yours. Hopefully, you remember this before you have put everything back into the lazarette (ask me how I know this.)

Three of my favorite tools. Two different lengths of bronze rod
and a ball of butyl tape. Combined, they are life savers for
maneuvering and retrieving all sorts of things.
After the chain is lifted off the sprocket, you need a long screwdriver or my favorite tool, a two-foot piece of bronze rod with hooks bent on each end, to work the clamp out of the binnacle so you can remove the control cables. Why in the world somebody designed it that way I have absolutely no idea. The logical way would have been to have single cable clamps on each side of the binnacle but, hey, I'm just a grunt mechanic so what do I know? Doing all of this necessitates unhooking the control cables from the engine end as well to give you the play needed. Ahhh...the plot thickens.

Remember the V-drive? To unhook the shifter cable from the engine end, you have to remove a cable clamp (one of the most accessible in the whole job), and then remove the cotter key holding the pin that runs through the clevis which attaches to the shifter arm. This was the easiest thing in the whole job and it took me two hours.
One of the screws for the clamp deep inside the engine

Since I was going to be doing the other two cables, I decided to replace the fuel cutoff cable as well. To remove the engine end attachments for the throttle and fuel cutoff, you have to remove the cables from the cable clamps and remove a nut from a ball fitting on the throttle and a set screw from the fuel cutoff. Each of those two attach points took over four hours. For two screws. Most of that time was spent laying on the engine with my arm nearly up to my elbow jammed between the fuel manifold and the exhaust anti-siphon hose. Working with one hand. Blind. The screws were standard, not phillips, and were less than an inch from the fridge side wall which meant using an offset screwdriver attached to my wrist with my handy 3-cent tool keeper, and getting about 1/32 of the full turn between each time I dropped the screwdriver. Easily retrieved by my tool keeper, wash, rinse, repeat...and repeat...and repeat...

Once you're ready to remove the cables, you have to attach messenger lines to them (I used Gorilla duct tape) and attach the bitter end of those lines to something on the engine. My messenger lines did get tangled on more than one occasion because I used standard weight messenger line. Notes on messenger lines: use a little heavier line like paracord  that you can really tug on, and color code them if you're doing more than one cable at a time. When you're reinstalling them, you'll be glad you did as you're often working in different cubbies where you can't see the whole line.

Three days to remove three cables. The first delay was waiting on the cables. Our shifter cable was a 6400 model Teleflex, and the really good parts guru here at Snead Island couldn't find one. Turns out, the only reason we had a 6400 was because the boat was originally outfitted with a Paragon transmission which requires one. Now we have a Hurth transmission which can function on a 3300 model. Cheaper, more readily available and half the thickness. Score! Easier to run back through the stuffed bulkhead cutouts. Ahhh, but the plot thickens again.

Converting from the 6400 to the 3300 also requires changing out the shifter handle shaft on the binnacle. The shaft we had was too thick to accept the clevis that fits on the 3300 cable. Lots of chit-chatting with Edson's very capable and kind technical staff and we had the parts on order. Ordering was the easy part. Installing was another thing altogether. Another half day (and half a can of PB Blaster) down the drain. It turns out that the set screw in the end of the shifter handle wasn't what was holding it. 34 years of corrosion did just fine, thank you.

Running the new cables turned out to be much less of an issue than removing them. The new cables were much more flexible and slippery. It took me less than 6 hours to run all three new cables. Keep in mind that it would take considerably less time to do all of this with a helper. Part of the reason it took me so long was I was climbing in and out of the boat constantly and the companionway stairs were removed to access the engine. It also involved going from access panel to access panel from cubbie to cubbie, each time moving the cable just a few inches. Color coding the messenger lines is extremely helpful in this process.

Installing the binnacle fittings and getting the cables anchored in the binnacle was next. This involves figuring out a way to hang a flashlight in such a way that it can shine past your head which is squeezed between the cup holder and the binnacle while holding a very long piece of bronze rod with a hook on the end. Why you say? Because the bronze rod will be used to try to prod the cable clamp bolt down into the binnacle in such a way as it lines up with the teeny little hole, push on the clamp to push the bolt through the hole, and then hold it there while you feed the nut on the outside of the binnacle. Oh joy.

Edson binnacle cable clamp
Last, but not least, you have the fun of attaching the engine ends of the cables. Shifter cable was the easiest, done in  just a couple hours. The throttle and fuel cutoff cables go through the cable clamps with those screws that are right by the fridge wall - one full day to get those screws in and get the ends attached. Part of that time was spent cutting the utility cable for the fuel cutoff. In spite of the fact that it was measured against the old one, it was about two feet too long. Not a difficult job, just time consuming. (I loves me some Dremel.) This was the  most difficult day of the job. In fact, it's the most difficult job I've ever tackled on Kintala and I have the cuts and bruises to attest to that.

I finished the cable install on Friday, and wrote this post that evening, fully intending to get to publish it Saturday morning after Tim helped me do the engine run-up to test all the cable functions. Saturday morning came, the engine started, water poured nicely out of the exhaust thru-hull, the oil pressure came up and...the engine died. Somewhere during the contortions of getting my arms into the areas needed to remove and replace clamp screws, I must have pushed too hard on the many fuel lines and worked something loose and the engine got a little air in it. It doesn't take much on a diesel, like I said in a post not too long ago. Rats-n-frackin. The weekend passed with a bit of a gray cloud overhead. I really really wanted to check the project off my list before the weekend but it was not to be.

This morning I dug up all my enthusiasm and all my Westerbeast bleeding tools and set to work. An hour and a half later the engine roared to life and all my newly installed cables functioned as should be. A few lessons were learned here, which I thought I would recap:

  1. I should have just taken off the fuel manifold to give me access to the space where the clamp screws were. I thought of this, but since bleeding a Westerbeast is NOT FUN, and I had just done it a few weeks before, I didn't go that route. In the end it probably cost me two days. I confess to being worried about damaging a fuel line trying to take off the manifold which would have cost many, many more days so that's my main reasoning for not removing it
  2. Use good color-coded messenger lines.
  3. Double check the cable placement in the binnacle clamp before you go to all the trouble of installing the clamp. The cotter key has to be firmly in the groove in the cable. Ask me how I know.
  4. Disassemble your compass and binnacle pieces periodically and lube them with Tef-gel. You or some other future owner will greatly appreciate it some day
  5. Take the time to do things right. A previous owner had done a real hatchet  job on repairing the block base on the fuel cutoff handle in the cockpit. It took me most of a day to fix.
  6. Make use of good techinical service when it's available. The guys on the Edson tech line are top-notch.
  7. If you're going to be working way back in the bowels of a 34-year old Westerbeke, be sure to take off your rings. This one I actually did think of before I started.

So before my English major daughter states the obvious that this post is almost one long run-on sentence, it was written that way on purpose because this project was the project from hell that just wouldn't end. And now, I believe, it's time for a project that's easier and a bit more fun. Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Beauty of the Florida Sky

It's summer in Florida. Every day there are afternoon and evening thunderstorms that yield some of the most amazing sky vistas. For those of you who might be land locked in a city where you can't see the breadth of horizon that we can here, these are for your enjoyment.


With Kintala resting in the state of Florida for several months, and with plans to return here next summer, it seemed reasonable to shift our official place of residence to the Sunshine State. There was some
paperwork hassles involved, but not as much as one might think. The finale was getting Florida driver's licenses, which turned out to be a very low key, even pleasant, experience. Having wrestled with Missouri's DMV for more than a decade, we were expecting the worst.

I never really thought I would end up as a Florida resident. I have spent a lot of time in the state. The last job I had involved regular visits to Ft. Lauderdale, with occasional stops in Key West, Ft. Myers, Jacksonville, and Daytona. Family vacations in my growing up years usually meant a week or so at a Florida beach or dive spot. Still, Florida is about as far south as America goes and it is brutal hot here in the summer. Insects actually own the state. They lease living space to the humans, getting paid in bites, itches, rashes, and just general unpleasantness. And I am not a big fan of hurricanes. I often said that “Florida was a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.”

Oops. One of life's little twists and turns.

Another of those twists is landing in Florida during a presidential election year, a “swing” state. For most of my life voting for a President was a duty that didn't really matter. The states I voted in were pretty much one flavor of politics or the other. With few exceptions there was little doubt into which column the electoral votes would fall. But, for reasons I will have to explore some day, Florida votes actually matter. Unfortunately, that means that the residents of Florida, which now includes yours truly, are being blasted with all of the attack ads literally millions of advertising dollars can buy.

Fortunately, Deb and I don't watch television, listen to commercial radio, subscribe to a newspaper, have a front door that campaign workers can knock on, or a mailbox into which they can drop fliers. (It never occurred to me that would be one of the advantages of living this life-style.) When I want to find out something about a candidate, I usually go to a web sight and read their position papers. The one place I don't look to for information is attack ads, which is pretty much all that those advertising dollars are being used to buy. Attack ads are, to me, just that; slander, propaganda, innuendo, and outright fabrications. They work of course, which is why all those advertising dollars are being spent. But that says more about us as American voters than it does about the pluses or minuses of any particular candidate. I can't even blame the ad buyers. If the job one is assigned to do requires a hammer, one doesn't go out and buy a tape measure.

I do understand that no politician is going to admit to mistakes, past indiscretions, failures of policy, or failures of conscience. Few will ever say, “We tried my idea and it was a disaster. We should try something else.” Normally one would think a free press would point out that kind of history. But the US has an entertainment industry rather than a free press; and that industry's only reason for being is to rake in advertising dollars, including those advertising dollars spent on attack ads. Thus attack ads are, unfortunately, a nearly useless attempt to fill the role the media has abandoned. One of the many serious flaws in our experiment in democracy.

But this is the only democracy we have, and my vote will (very slightly) matter this year. I hope to cast it as a quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful human being. A tall ask, that, since I'm not sure many of us qualify as quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful human beings. Quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful, and human being, may be a contradiction of terms. Nor is such something our society values or teaches. We like conflict, emotional outbursts, shoot -from-the-hip, over-the-top, free-wheeling, free-for-all bar fights. (And hyphens. Really. Think about it.) 

And it may be that a quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful review of this election will leave one thinking, “Well, now what do I do?" There is no one running who is quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful...hell, even their humanity is questionable.” Not their humanness, their humanity. (Note: there appears to be 25 some odd people running for President, and I don't want to suggest that none of them would be welcome on Kintala. But only 5 or six have any real name recognition, and only 1 of 2 will take the oath of office. And of that group, I can't imagine looking at any of them while thinking, "there's a person I would want to take on an afternoon's sail.") 

We will all just have to do the best we can and hope something workable survives past November. But I am glad to live a life that is light-footed, mobile, open to new experiences, and more self-reliant than some others. I am glad to have a boat full of tools that we know how to use.

And the Islands are only a day's sail away.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Story of Stuff

If you haven't been there yet, is a wonderful resource for news on new recycling efforts that will ultimately help to save the oceans by using less water and dumping less polution into the seas. Here's one of their recent articles by Andrea Newell that highlights an exciting new development in the recycling of clothing.

The Story of Stuff - Soon Your Clothes Could Be as Recyclable as Glass or Paper. Really.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mother Nature Rules the List

We've been on the dock now at Snead Island Boat Works for 132 days. When we arrived I had 45 items on my to-do list and Tim had 27. After adding a few since we got here, I now have 57 but 38 of them are checked off. Tim has one of those Magic Lists - you know the kind that you go off to work and when you come home something has been checked off. He has 15 left on his list.

I can't complain. Progress has been swift and I'm very pleased with the results. A lot of the reason for the progress is due to the excellent parts department they have on site here. Very nearly everything I need to get a job done is either in stock or can be here the same or next day. I haven't had to wait much for parts to complete a job. The one exception was waiting all last week for some Edson parts to arrive that weren't in stock so I can run the new throttle, shifter and fuel shutoff cables. They all finally arrived late yesterday - you know, the day the heavy rain arrived as well.

Since most of the indoor projects are done already, I'm sort of at a standstill until this giant low pressure that tried to be a hurricane decides to bless Georgia with its presence. So now I wait and try to busy myself with research and planning the remaining project needs as well as cleaning and sorting and throwing away a year's worth of accumulated stuff that somehow - even in 400 square feet - seems to migrate into the cabinets. Worker Man's Magic List will have to wait on Mother Nature.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Working it out

When we first started thinking about cruising as a way to retire early, we knew we didn't have the money to retire on land with the associated housing expenses and transportation expenses that come with the lifestyle. Our careers in aviation had provided a satisfactory upbringing for our three girls, but it hadn't left us with a huge retirement fund. If you've read thebook, then you know the whole story - how we started thinking about retiring onto a houseboat on the river because we could keep the motorcycles, how our middle daughter moved to Cape Cod, how we started looking at power boats to make that trip from St. Louis, and how we quickly began thinking about sailboats as an alternative that fit our travel budget. That was 2007. By 2011 we realized it was a thing we really wanted to make happen and we bought Kintala. Shortly after, I lost my job followed by the loss of Tim's job in 2013. We had a decision to make, and quickly. Our options were to:

  1. Find other jobs which would not likely be in our present location and would require a 2 year commitment and the mothballing / sale / or move of Kintala (Think big $$$$)
  2. Leave early, even though neither Kintala nor the cruising kitty were ready.

At that point, Tim was 58 and I was 57, both of us a long way from collecting Social Security even early at 62. We had some cash savings, we knew we could sell the car, the bike, and the house and come up with a couple years of cruising, but we also knew after owning Kintala for 2 years that unexpected expenses were likely. (Oh...if only we knew how many of them...)

It was about that time that I read a post by Mike on Zero to Cruising where he talked about their departure. They also had some funds to begin cruising, acrued from the sale of their business, but realized that the money they had wasn't going to last forever. I can't remember the exact words he used, but he made the statement that they decided to go and figure it out along the way because they had always managed to work things out through their lives together and they were confident they could find a way to make it happen. It resonated with me because Tim and I are pretty much the same. We've been thrown a lot of curve balls in our 44 years together but we've always managed to work it out.We decided to leave early, fully realizing that we would probably have to stop and work at some point along the way.

People cruise for all sorts of reasons. Some are trying to escape, some are out for the adventure, others are challenging themselves. Some cruise for the closeness to nature, others for the closeness of the cruising community. Some venture far, across wide oceans and to foreign lands. Others cruise the Great Lakes or the US coastline, the Chesapeake and the Bahamas. Some find a place they like along the way and settle for a while. Some are better off and travel in mega yachts, others are cobbling together small production boats with duct tape and wire. Some work, some don't. There are as many ways to cruise as there are people doing it. I said it in the book and it's worth repeating here: There is no right way to cruise, only your way.

I had a blog follower tell me recently that it seemed we were doing more working than cruising. Unless you're independently wealthy, were fortunate enough to save up a (pardon the pun) boatload of money, or even more fortunate enough to have a large inheritance coming your way, you will probably have to stop and work at some point in your cruising years. It's part of the life for a large percentage of the cruising community. Some are lucky enough to supplement their cruising kitty with writing, others have part or full time jobs in IT that they do from their boats, some make and sell jewelery, others are rated captains and charter their boats or do deliveries. Some cruise for a year or two, put the boat on the hard, go back to their professions for a year or two, then rinse and repeat. While neither of us had any desire to return to aviation, we did have a need for cash.

Just as the need for cash was becoming apparent, a friend of ours mentioned that he was in need of a mechanic. We checked the place out, decided it would be a good fit, and Tim started working for Snead Island Boat Works in April of this year. It's a good place to work, a company that does quality work and stands behind it. The people are hard-working, kind, and generous. So when they asked if Tim would return next spring after our winter tour of the Bahamas, he said absolutely. The extra summer will give us a financial cushion, allow us to wait a year to collect Social Security, give us a chance to learn quite a bit more about boats, and give us a home base to which our eldest daughter and family can visit for a prolonged period.

Yes, at the moment we are doing more working that sailing, but we're in this for the long term and we want to do it comfortably. Soon the working/sailing balance will tip the other way, and we will be the better for having been here. So, if you're planning your cruising life in retirement, don't be afraid of the prospect of working along the way. You just might find something interesting that captures your attention, something new to learn, some new coworkers to get to know. It's all part of working it out.

An amazing storm rolling into the basin at Snead Island Boat Works