Travel 2015-2016

Red Ranger's Mascot

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We’ve find a new location for our mascot. You can see him peeking out of the bottom instrument window.

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He’s sitting where some former instrument used to be. No idea which instrument it was. But there he is.

We found him inside the aft hatch sliding cover. He’d been in there for years, carefully monitoring the health and safety of everyone aboard Red Ranger.

He’s like some warrant officer. Maybe the ship’s purser or something like that.

He lost his right hand in some accident years ago.


Pumps and The 5F’s of Safety

On Red Ranger, we use the 5F’s of safety.

  • Flooding
  • Falling Overboard
  • Fire
  • First Aid
  • Fatigue and Famine

These help us separate what’s safety critical from what’s merely a good idea.

Which leads us to pumps. Hull integrity, hose integrity, and hose clamps are important preventative measures. A dripless shaft seal is a big deal, too. Pumps are a backup measure in case water gets in through some more devious route. The principle is simple: Water stays outside the boat.

Red Ranger had four working pumps when we bought her. Two were for the bilge, one waste, and one freshwater:

  • A big old Jabsco diaphragm pump for the bilge and desk wash down. This is a 36900 that dates from 7/4/96.
  • A smaller (but similar) Jabsco diaphragm pump for freshwater. This is a 36950-2 that dates from 6/15/97.
  • A macerator pump to drain the holding tank when at least three miles off shore. This dates from June 2001.
  • A manual backup bilge pump that (presumably) dates from manufacture in 1982.
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How do we know this?

Paperwork.

Lots of previous owner paperwork.

Each installation manually neatly dated with the installation information.

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The dates are potentially helpful. They might show that each pump lasted as long as 10 years. Since there are two spare 36950 bodies in the back, we have some doubts about the dates. Is the date from the most recent replacement of the four? Or is the date from the first replacement of the four? 

When I divide 33 years by 3 pumps, that also says 10 years per pump. Sounds good. That’s (at current prices) $2100 worth of pumps, or about $63 per year.

That means that the $140 replacement has to last three years to be worthy.

Bilge Pumps

We didn’t think two bilge pumps were enough.

One of the first big jobs I did was to add another electric pump to the bilge. See “A Manifold of Bilge Pumps.” I added a Rule submersible pump. We used a higher float switch so that it’s only used when the primary pump has failed or can’t keep up. 

This second automatic bilge pump is wired (via a fuse) directly to the battery. It cannot be switched off. Some sailors will wire an alarm horn into the backup bilge-pump circuit so that they know if it ever actually starts running.

We’ve also purchased a second manual bilge pump. This is a “hand bilge pump” that we use to pump the dinghy as well as the bilge. 

We could use our freshwater transfer pump in an emergency, also. And the shower sump (see below) would also work.

Eventually, we replaced the big old diaphragm pump with a smaller, less expensive Jabsco PAR-max Plus “water pump.” It’s still a diaphragm pump inside the housing, but it’s smaller, quieter and slightly easier to work with. It’s nominally a “fresh water” pump, so we’re taking a risk by using it on bilge water. But it’s 50 PSI and has been very reliable. See “Week 5: Vacation.” 

I also split the bilge output into three separate openings to prevent the (remote) possibility of water running in circles through the “Y” fittings in the original one-and-only outlet. See “CA’s Day Job.” 

Macerator Pump

I’ve also replaced the 2001-vintage macerator pump. This is a tricky thing to test because you can only use it off shore. I can’t find the blog post with pictures. Maybe I didn’t take very many pictures of this job. It’s pretty boring: pump, hoses, wires. Blah.

I know that I was really excited about putting in a two-part switch: there’s a circuit breaker that’s now separate from the momentary on-off switch that actually powers the pump. Since the pump draws HUGE amount of current, the on-off switch trips a breaker that carries the current load for the pump. The two-switch setup makes it less likely that the pump is activated by accident.

We’ve used it once off shore to be sure it worked. Since we use our Nature’s Head, the holding tank is generally empty. And since we’re only weekenders now, neither gets used much.

Freshwater Pumps

Last weekend I replaced the freshwater pump (finally) with another PAR-max water pump. It’s quieter and slightly simpler than the big old diaphragm pump.  It’s slightly lower volume, but higher pressure. We’re delighted in it’s first weekend of operation.

Shower Sump

The original design for the showers had the water draining straight into the bilge. This can lead to stinky soapy water in the bilge. This is not a good idea. I added a sump pump to the forward head to pump shower water straight overboard. This is a Whale Gulper specifically built to handle shower water including hair and other detritus. See “Week 2: Final Preparation” for details.

The aft head — if we ever used the shower there — still drains straight into the bilge. 

We’ve moved “up” from four pumps to eight pumps. Two electric bilge pumps, shower sump pump, freshwater pump, macerator pump, portable wash down pump, plus two manual pumps. This seems slightly more complex than what we had before.

Pumps — and pump failures — are an important part of boating. There’s water out there, and it’s supposed to stay out there. The overall idea is to improve safety through technology refresh and redundancy.

Party Time and Water System Repairs

With the water tanks a mess, we can still host guests and sail around in the Piankatank River. Outside party time, we do have some new water problems to solve.

Memorial Day 2015

We set up some gallon jugs of dock water in each head and five gallons of grocery store water in the galley. Fine for a day sail.

Our guests brought beer, wine, and water also. It was a perfect sailing day.  A great escape from work and water tank woes.

We did a lot of B&F (Back and Forth.) We didn’t want to go far. We just want to sail around for a while. Eat some dinner. Camp out on Red Ranger.

Overnight

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Since it was a long weekend, CA and I anchored out Sunday night in Fishing Bay. 

Yes. Fishing Bay.

It’s barely five miles away.

But it’s a long five miles from a day job and a small downtown apartment.

It was good to sleep on the hook.

Returning to Jackson Creek

The tides were high at 04:46 and low at 11:36. "So what?" you may ask.

That means that we can only slip into Jackson Creek right around dawn or well after noon (closer to 14:30 to be sure there’s enough water.) 

We haven’t had a dawn departure in almost a year. It felt great to get up super early, make a pot of coffee, pull up the anchor and get started in the first light of the day. Just like cruising again.

There’s nothing so fine as squinting into the rising sun. 

In spite of an early arrival, we bumped a few times coming in to the creek. With the tide falling, that was scary. But we did manage to get through the shallows and back to D dock.

Jobs

After arriving at 09:00, we were left with a full day in which to tackle the next part of the water tank job. We used our wash down pump to drain the starboard tank of all the pickle-fresh vinegar water. CA scrubbed and rinsed the tank one last time, and we filled it with clean dock water.

After the vinegar (4.5 gallons white vinegar to 90 gallons of fresh water) treatment, it seemed really clean. It certainly smelled pickle-fresh. It looked good. 

The new problem was that our freshwater pump would not come to pressure. We tried to purge the air from all three spigots, but there was always another bubble. We spent a remarkable amount of time listening to bubbles working their way along the pipes, wondering if that was the last bubble.

CA went back to watch the pump. She saw a stream of bubbles cascading down one stretch of hose on the outlet side of the pump. That meant that the pump was sucking air from somewhere. We checked the plumbing between tank and pump, less than six feet of polybutylene. We were pretty sure that this can’t easily have a crack that admitted air because it would leak as as soon as we turned the pump off. It was dusty dry.

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The pump was an ancient Jabsco 36800 belt-driven diaphragm pump.

These are famously reliable. They’re expensive ($700 new.) They’re rumored to be worth every penny.  We know that the main diaphragm can fail; the two white check valves can clog or fail; there’s a 40 PSI pressure switch that can also fail.

How do we know all these parts can fail?

We have three spares for this pump. Each has a part missing. Check valves gone from one. Diaphragm gone from another. Pressure switch gone from two of them. This collection of spares came with the boat. Since none of them work individually, they’re not really worth $700 each, are they?

Between the four, we may have one good working pump. With three spare electric motors and belts. And we may still need to buy another diaphragm.

In this case, it appeared that the housing itself had started to leak. We had already (twice) screwed in new check valves with plenty of caulk. We’d also had to replace the exposed belt. The hard freeze this winter may have cracked some part of the pump.

We could — I suppose — fiddle around trying to get a single working pump  built from this plethora of parts.

Instead. 

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We replaced it with a smaller, lighter-weight Par Max 31395 pump that offers an actual 50 PSI at 3 GPM instead of a potential 40 PSI at 4 GPM. Lower GPM is better for us because we use less water. It does mean that the pump runs a little more often. Actual PSI is better than potential PSI because it doesn’t suck air and the water system pressurizes and the pump stops running.

After bleeding the air from three spigots and the filter, the pump came to pressure and stopped running. An expensive way to be sure it wasn’t a crack in a pipe somewhere.

Bonus?

It’s a new pump. No leaks. No silicone goo to fix leaks in the check valves. No exposed belt. Each big, expensive pump lasted about 8 years. Call it $87/year. If this new pump lasts two years, we’re ahead of the game.

Time to plan next weekend’s outing.

After that, we’re going to Cape Charles the weekend after that. With clean, working water in the starboard tank.

Port tank? Maybe mid-June? We have partying to do, first.

More Season Setup

We’re limited in what we can do on the weekends. Partly it’s the time. Partly it’s CA recovering from surgery. She still can’t lift much or bend over. Activities must be balanced against rest time.

Smart helps. Sometimes, we’re smart. Sometimes not.

We bent on the two head sails. We’re getting better at horsing the things around because — well — with only one of us to do the horsing, we have to be more efficient. Lay them out properly, feed them properly: more neatness, less muscle.

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We opened the water tanks two weekends ago. We thought we had drained them before winter. We hadn’t. We’d let the water run for a while. The pump finally seemed to be sucking air from all three tanks. Turned out that they weren’t really empty. They were about ¼ full.

We manually pumped the water out. One gallon at a time. This took several hours. 

This was Not Smart. Very, very not smart. 

It turns out we have a perfectly good electrical pump we used to transfer fresh water from a bladder in the dinghy into the tanks. Did we use this? Not the first weekend. No. 

The next weekend, we busted out the powered water transfer pump. It’s high pressure. We can use it spray around inside the tank to do a better job rinsing.

Vacuuming

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After leaving them open for a week. CA Vacuumed the grit out of the tanks. We used the shopvac running from the inverter. Want to see POWER?

Yes. That’s 81.7 Amps at 12.8 Volts.

81 Amps will drain the batteries stone dead in about 5 hours. 

A few minutes of vacuuming is an amazing amount of power.

Cleanliness

The next issue is sanitizing the tanks. Chlorine Bleach is popular, but it’s potentially a bad thing: it interacts with the aluminum parts, leading to pitting and aluminum chloride (AlCl3) crystals.

This article says — in effect — don’t worry about one-shot chlorine bleach ruining your tanks: Curing the Tainted Tank. They suggest ¼ cup per gallon: a ratio of  1:64. Call it 1.5 gallons of bleach per tank. A three hour sit. And then pump the tank dry. Rinse until it doesn’t smell.

(Incorrectly, the article suggests “use one gallon of solution for each 5 gallons of tank capacity” which doesn’t make any sense. One gallon of bleach for 50 gallons of tank makes more sense. A gallon is 128 ounces.)

For 90 gallon or so tanks, this takes a while. A long while. It’s 20 minutes to fill. If we use our electric water pump (the one we forgot about on Sunday!) it might make the draining job go a little more quickly.

The issue is that 3 gallons of bleach winds up in the Bay.

The alternative seems to be a 1:20 ratio of vinegar. Let it sit for several days. That’s 4.5 gallons of vinegar. Per tank. This seems less destructive. This looks like the next few weekends will be spent putting water (and vinegar) in. Or cleaning. Or rinsing. Or refilling. 

We’ve pickled the starboard-side tank. Next weekend we’ll pump the pickle water out and put some dock water in.

The port-side tank is up next. Access is more awkward because the settee is partially in the way.

Current Leak [Updated]

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Our two most recent zinc anodes haven’t lasted 6 months. 

They used to.

What changed?

(1) Solar panels. (2) GFCI outlets. (3) A few small things.

The solar panels mean that we now generate power constantly. Constantly. 

I added a Camp zinc grouper. This is 6 pounds of zinc, clipped to a grounded chainplate.

You can sort of see it hanging from its wire in this picture. It’s a little grey blob down in the water.

I measured 37.5 mA of current flowing at 275 mV. This is about 0.01 W. This was in broad daylight, with batteries being charged. Current flow at night was comparable. It’s not merely the solar panels, then. Also, it’s DC, so it has nothing to do with the inverter or GFCI outlets.

There are some possible bonding/grounding issues. The shaft may not be electrically isolated from the engine; this is sometimes seen as a problem.

It could be stray current at the marina. That’s a known (and common) problem.

I’m unsure on what I should be doing next. I’m starting by reading this:

http://www.bristol27.com/projects/bonding-grounding-system

Wow. Everything from Nigel Calder, Don Casey, and Beth Leonard in one fabulous summary.

Perhaps I need to be absolutely sure that my bonding between through-hulls and electrical system are cleanly separated. Or. Perhaps this:

  • Bonding – the original idea behind bonding was to put all underwater fittings at the same potential to stop galvanic corrosion. Unfortunately, this type of bonding invites more-destructive stray-current corrosion. Bonding is still intended to put fittings at the same potential, but today the purpose is to prevent side flashes from voltage differences in the event of a lightning strike. The rules for bonding are simple: bond all sizable metal components within 1.8m (6′) of mast or rigging to the mast ground, but do not bond any submerged metal (ground plate excepted).  (Sailboat Electrics Simplified, p. 164)

From this it looks like the 1981 wiring plan was to bond all the bronze through-hulls and mast to a Dynaplate. The chainplates are part of this, even though they’re not submerged.

The modern idea appears to be to disconnect all the bronze through-hulls from any dynaplate bonding. 

The recent survey said that all of the bronze looked great: no signs of galvanic or stray-current corrosion. Since “it ain’t broke” I hate to try and fix it by rewiring the grounding needlessly. The zinc was properly sacrificed to preserve the bronze, so that’s working. It’s just working at a higher rate than it used to.

Update 5/25

At anchor — away from the marina — we measured the current flow just to be absolutely sure it wasn’t anything to do with stray current at the marina.

I checked at just about sunset, panels producing almost no power. We had some interior lights on, the anchor light on, chart-plotter and radio. We were pulling about 1.4 A. This shows about 50 mA at 400 mV. More current. Higher voltage. Twice the power: 0.02 W.

Clearly, this is the DC electrical system ground that is flowing through the zinc fish. Perhaps the fish is a more efficient ground than the dynaplate? Perhaps there’s some disconnection from the dynaplate?

Essential Repairs

Our insurance requires a survey every five years. We contacted John L. Schnoering. Traditional Yacht Surveyors, in Deltaville, and got a detailed list of what’s right and what’s wrong with Red Ranger.

The “red flag” item on Red Ranger? What’s the single most dangerous thing that must be fixed?  We’ll get to that.

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John noted the  “bang rail problem.” 

In the middle of this picture you can almost see a string on the left-hand boat. A string that ties a flap of steel to the shrouds. An awkward piece of string. A piece of string that hints at bigger damage and bugger problems in boat handling. 

I (still!) need to take a picture that shows how elegantly the carpenters repaired that damage and reinstalled that flap of steel.

Notice, also, that the fenders on the right-hand boat are sparkly white? We’ve fixed that problem, too. More of our fenders are now sparkly white.

This weekend, we bent on the mizzen sail. Not a big thing, but important at the start of the season. CA’s still not up to any heavy lifting, so the Yankee and Stays’l haven’t been bent on yet.

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On the end of Red Ranger, in addition to the mizzen, you can see three yellow jerry-jugs. We carry a total of five 6-gallon jugs of spare diesel. 30 gallons should get us about 150 nm. It’s our emergency bail-out fuel.

I never took a picture of the gray pad that we had them sitting on.

For a while, they sat directly on deck. But the rocking of the boat meant that the jugs were slowly wearing away the gelcoat. CA found this thick closed-cell pad material somewhere and we sliced it up to make elegant pads for the jugs. The pad traps dirt, but you can shake it out and it’s dry.

I decided to replace it with sparkly white “Dri-Dek” panels. It looks so much nicer. The pad was free. The Dri-Dek is not quite so free. But it now looks nicer. And it should not  trap as much dirt and pollen as the pads did.

Oh. The red flag safety issue? Flares. Technically, Visual Distress Signals. Your basic flares are only good for about 42 months (3 ½ years.) You must have flares on board which are less than three years old. A quick trip to West Marine and the serious red-flag issue is closed.

Flares.  ✅ Done. Rail. ✅ Done.

Next up: two drain hoses that are nearing the end of their lives. One electrical wiring short-cut that needs to be corrected.

The main and mizzen sails need to be looked at with an eye toward repair or replace. We’re going to wait until November for that. We can strike the sails and leave them at Latell Sails for the winter.

And. I really want an asymmetric spinnaker. But that’s an upgrade, above and beyond the minimum required for safe operation and maintenance of value.

  © Steven Lott 2017