Travel 2021-2022

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2021 Land Cruise, Part III

California. 2400 miles down. 2400 miles to go back.

This interstate highway system is nothing short of amazing.

Here’s the journey from Nashville to LA. (The first bits from McLean to Nashville involve me not having working batteries in the SPOT tracker.)

Here’s a picture from the Irvine Regional Park in Orange County, CA.

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Those are some shady-looking peacocks.

We’ll be visiting family for a few weeks, then turning around and running 2400 miles back to Red Ranger.

2021 Land Cruise, Part II [Updated]

We stopped for a few weeks in Ft. Worth. Then we started rolling again. This meant some hiking in the Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, near Amarillo, TX.

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The refuge doesn’t seem to be too large. (At least by Nevada standards.)

But it has a few trails and some places to park. There’s a trail just under the lip of the canyon that’s popular with birders.

Since we visit these places late in the afternoon, the birds are often subdued.

We also did some hiking around Santa Fe, NM. This is a view in the Santa Fe National Forest.

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This is (for us) high altitude hiking. The trail went a bit over 8,000 ft. This is something we approach slowly.

This was our first visit to New Mexico, and I can see why people love it here.


Here’s a view from Flagstaff.

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Here’s the trip so far. It’s not perfectly clear that we spent an extra day in Santa Fe. (And the SPOT batteries had died while we were in North Carolina, so the starting point is missing.)

This second leg has worked out quite nicely. We’ll be staying in Vegas for a few weeks before moving on to LA.

And yes, we only go out masked. Most of our meals are take-out, eaten in the hotel.

2021 Land Cruise, Part I

June 10th, we departed our apartment in McLean, moving to Hendersonville,  North Carolina. We spent almost three weeks getting moved in.

June 30th, we left North Carolina for Ft. Worth, Texas. Here’s a shot from a walk near Nashville.

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July 11th, we’ll be leaving Ft. Worth, bound for Las Vegas, NV.

For a while, our Spot Tracker wasn’t playing nicely. Likely the batteries were *nearly* dead. It powers on and almost seems like it’s working. But it isn’t.

I’ve since learned how to do a hard reset: take the batteries out for well over 30 seconds. Power it on and give it a good solid 10 minutes staring up at the sky to get acquainted with it’s place in the universe. Now, we seem have to have our tracking working again.

This picture is missing some stops along the way, but I think the SPOT messenger is back on line. We’ll find out in a few days.

Next Wednesday, I expected we'll be bound for Flagstaff, and maybe I’ll have some pictures of New Mexico.

US Coast Guard Making Some Changes

If you use https://www.navcen.uscg.gov, you’ll see some changes later this year. It appears they’re going to be modernizing the look. This will break some links.

On the whole, the volume of data for mariners can be daunting. It’s difficult to keep track of charts, pilots, guides, navigation aids, and weather.

It helps when the agencies providing the data make every effort to make it accessible to us.

Jumping Outside

In late September, we’ll be back on the boat. (I’m writing this at the end of June, doing a little armchair sailing.)

In October we hope to be jumping “outside” at Beaufort to sail for Charleston.

This will be 32 or so hours at sea. Ideally, it’s 32 hours or relatively flat seas and a favorable breeze. 

What are the odds of this happening? 

See Pilot Chart 106. The October pages have this little nugget of goodness.

The wind roses show me that there’s only a 1-2% chance of no wind. (Those are the numbers inside the rose.) 

The rose below Hatteras has two interesting features. The long arrow coming from the Northeast tells me the most common wind direction. The 5 feathers tell me the most common wind strength: 5 on the Beaufort scale, which means 17-21 knots. This is very sporty, and suggests we should be carrying nothing more than mizzen and stays’l. 

The predominant direction would be ideal for a ketch to run down the coast. The strength is likely to be a bit much, but, we can reef to keep things under control.

Inside the dotted “100 fathom curve” there’s a favorable current, suggesting we shouldn’t try to get very far from shore.

The pilot chart has a lot more details that I didn’t take screen shots of. For example, we’re unlikely to get waves above 12′ in this area during October. (Twelve Feet!?!!) There’s a chance of extra-tropical cyclones, which can lead to extremely bad sailing, forcing us to wait. And temperatures will remain moderate.

But this isn’t the current, local weather. This is weather history. I need to start getting the weather emails again.

https://www.weather.gov/marine/faq#3

This is an antiquated, but still very nice service to provide email of forecast products. The science project nature of FTPMAIL is a holdover from the early days of the internet. But. It still works. I want some of the AMZ100, all the AMZ200, and some of the AMZ300 suites of products. I send an email, I get the text forecasts. 

If we can’t get out in October (or early November,) our fall-back plan is to drive down the ICW. As we get to the end of the year, the seas can get bigger, even though the winds are more moderate. We might find a window, but we can’t wait forever. By December, the waves in the North Atlantic are getting bigger from the effects of winter storms to the north of us, and the ICW is our path of least resistance.

Route Planning

See “Finding a Single Source of Truth” for some back-story.

I’m planning routes. And working with OpenCPN’s planning capability. And my own NavTools planner.

I’ve found that we have some (minor) differences of opinion here.

Or.

I’ve been doing it wrong. (This is much, much more likely. Aircraft pilots and the FAA seem to have some specific regulations for this.)

Here’s the concern.

Going from P0 to P1 to P2.  The three waypoints are spanned by two legs: P0-P1, and P1-P2. 

This isn’t surprising: n waypoints have n-1 legs. 

So far, so good? Here’s a picture with some waypoints and legs.

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When we print out the plan for a voyage, the convention is to list all the points once in the plan. That way, we don't repeat points among legs. In our example with two legs, P0-P1 and P1-P2, the P1 is repeated. Undesirable.

When we do the computation, of course, we’re computing range, bearing, and estimated time enroute (ETE) for each LEG. Each point is used twice (once as departure and once as arrival) but only shown once.

This leads to an awkward “ugh” when we create a the schedule table.

One of the points in the table doesn’t have any actual distance or time enroute (or bearing for that matter.)

My Approach (This May Be Bad)

My preference was to list each point with the range and bearing to the next point.

The final point didn’t have a useful range or bearing because you’d arrived.

The OpenCPN Approach (This May Be A Standard)

I just noticed that OpenCPN includes a “fake” leg to the first point. This leg is from your current location. (This is expressly unhelpful when I’m here, planning a voyage that departs from Beaufort; the 600 mile first leg is wrong and misleading.)

For their planning table, each point is listed with the range and bearing to that point from either the previous point, or from the assumed starting point.

Ah.

This is a tiny algorithmic change. And a revision of a bunch of test cases.

Forward and Reverse Scheduling

While I’m fixing things, the other thing I need to do is to change how ETA’s are computed.

Currently, I pick a departure time and add up the times enroute to compute ETA’s at each waypoint.

It turns out, I sometimes need to pick an arrival time and work backwards through the times enroute to compute a planned time of departure (PTD) that will give me the desired ETA.

This surfaced when I started planning our Beaufort-to-Charleston run this fall.

The goal is to arrive at the entrance Charleston at 06:00.

When do we have to leave Beaufort? At 6 knots we need 32½ hours. That could mean leaving at 21:30, motoring until dawn and then sailing the next day and night.

While we *can* go faster than 6 knots, we’re unlikely to beat this speed. We’d put a reef in if we had the kind of wind that could push us much past 7 knots. It’s much more likely that we’ll go slower, arriving later in the day, which is good.

This plan has to be computed backwards from the desired ETA.  I don’t have software for that. Yet.

We don’t want to be too ignorant about this. We need to iterate a few times to work out a sensible combination of planned departures and estimated arrivals. This is a kind of spreadsheet where I need software that lets me plug in a number of assumptions and tweak the results until they look sensible.

In this case we might want to leave Beaufort at 18:00. While this could lead to a pre-dawn arrival in Charleston, we have several choices. One is to slow down a bit along the way. Or we can loiter outside Charleston waiting for sunrise. Another is to try to anchor by the Coast Guard station in the dark.

What’s important is having the choices laid out in advance; that saves trying to think when you're tired. Instead, we can look at one of the other pages of the plan for a bailout location.

Mobility

The point of a sailboat is a way to be mobile.

That means we don’t own much.

Here’s what was in our apartment the morning we left Virginia:

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An Ikea Poäng chair, a cart, a computer, and some luggage.

The chair had to be given away to one of the maintenance folks for our building. I couldn’t get it into the truck without figuring out how to take it apart.

While some Ikea products aren’t made to be disassembled, I think the chair can be taken apart. I’ve built at least four of them. Maybe more.

We have a bedroom in CA’s aunt’s house as a kind of “in between voyages” space. We keep a few things there. We were sort of hoping to keep the chair, but it didn’t work out.

At the moment, we’re doing a bunch of things with CA’s aunt to get settled in there. We’re cleaning and tidying. Auntie doesn’t really want to downsize the way we have; she owns well over a dozen chairs, for example, and we’re not here to disrupt her life any more than minimally necessary.

In a few weeks, we’ll load the truck for our voyage to Vegas. Visiting Vegas in the summertime is painfully hot, it also keeps us away from hurricane season on the US East Coast. It seems like a fair tradeoff.

The marina is more than able to take good care of the boat. In the unlikely event of a hurricane barreling up the Chesapeake, we may be forced to fly back to strip the sails before the boat is put on the hard. So far, we’ve had two close calls in ten years. We’re optimistic. 

Finding a Single Source of Truth

We have a primary chart plotter on Red Ranger. And we have backups. A lot of backups. A second chart plotter, an iPad, a MacBook pro. I even have iNavX on my phone, so it can work under limited circumstances. (I don’t have all of the US East Coast charts on my phone, for example, so it’s not great.)

Each device has its own limitations on what names are allowed. Each device has its own internal state. And the states diverge as soon as you create or edit a waypoint. 

This situation closely reflects the two hardest problems in computing:

  • Naming things.
  • Invalidating cache to manage distributed state.
  • Off by one errors.

I have a problem, which — I acknowledge — is not simple. I need a workable approach to reduce entropy in this system I’ve created. I need to manage a  distributed state.

To make it more painful, I still don’t have current charts in the first place. So I really have two problems. One is relatively minor, but exasperating.

Here’s the side-bar story.

Downloading charts for the chart plotter is a right pain in the ass. I’m sure there’s a way to do it, but I haven’t figured it out. The problem I have is that C-Map doesn’t support Macintosh computers. 

The C-Map folks need to confirm I have a paid-for SD card. And they want to confirm this via a Windows computer and their Windows-only app that checks the SD card. (It’s 2020, a WASM or Rust app that runs everywhere would be nice. Better, a frozen Python app, like Dropbox, that runs everywhere would be even nicer. C-Map could partner with Dropbox to keep our charts up-to-date on our computer.)

Sigh.

I ordered SD cards from places like The GPS Store. And either I messed up the order or they did, but I got an SD card that the Zeus2 chartplotter can’t use. 

Big Sigh.

Ultimately, the data comes from C-Map. The GPS Store is a retailer and doesn’t really know very much about the supported devices. For them, the messed-up order is a technical problem (“Call C-Map, they’re super-helpful.”) I don’t think it's a technical problem; it’s a “you shipped the wrong format” problem (or, I ordered the wrong format.) I’m happy to send the SD card back. But. They didn’t seem to have a clear procedure for what to do other than place yet another order for charts. 

First Lesson Learned

Order from C-Map directly. Place separate orders for separate chart plotters. Do Not Combine Two Orders For Two Separate Devices. Skip the retailer, they’re unhelpful.

But it doesn’t stop there; that’s only the first of my two problems.

I use a computer for planning, separate from the chartplotter that handles navigation. This means I have two copies of waypoints and routes. This leads to a distributed state with multiple local caches. One of the two hardest problems in computing.

It’s not like the computer or the plotter is definitely authoritative. The chart plotter’s subset of waypoints is very useful, since it reflects actual on-the-water observations and changes. The computer, however, has the whole history of Red Ranger. Including all of the previous owners waypoints from their ancient charting system.  (It also has five waypoints with the name “OK”. Why did I do that?)

I have the seed (https://github.com/slott56/navtools) for an app that can compare the sets of waypoints.

  • By Name. A few waypoints (6 out of ~630 total) are clear copies from one device to the other. The names and locations match. (A few have modified locations in spite of the name match, which is right?)
  • By Location. A few waypoints (9, actually) look like copies with modified names. This may mean I entered them manually. Which strikes me as dumb, but, for a while I didn’t have a direct computer-to-chartplotter connection.

So. I have software tools to confirm the level of chaos. What do I do?

Lesson Two

I need a procedure for resolving the two sets of waypoints (and routes, knowing routes depend on waypoints.) This means make one of the two sources the final authority, and the other device has copies of the waypoints and routes.

I think it’s this:

  1. Copy the distinct, unique chartplotter waypoints to the computer, making the computer the one source of truth. It doesn’t seem to be easy to filter on the chartplotter, so I need my comparison app to also have a fancy set of filters to locate “unique” according to some flexible criteria.
  2. Manually tinker with “near-miss” waypoints which reflect edits and get the waypoints and routes cleaned up and (if possible) deduplicated. 
  3. Copy all of the routes from the chartplotter and reconcile those with the computer routes. Again, my comparison app will need to filter the chartplotter routes to avoid creating obvious duplicates. Much manual adjustment is required. There will be “to-be deleted” waypoints, I think, that are still part of a route, but need to be replaced as part of waypoint deduplication.
  4. Once it’s clean on the computer, I can then replace the routes on the chartplotter wholesale. Incremental changes aren’t part of it.

It seems reasonably simple, right?

I’m not sure what this process will do to any modified waypoints. Will I have duplicates? The chartplotter assigns a GUID to each waypoint, to spot name changes. BUT. These are not obviously present in the chartplotter’s GPX files, so I suspect I’ll have duplicates. The schema allows for extensions (see https://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/1/#type_extensionsType) and OpenCPN seems to use its own extension schema.

The confounding factor? We’re leaving Red Ranger for three months. So. No chance to fuss around directly with the chartplotter or the charts. I can merge stuff into OpenCPN, but, I can’t check my results on Red Ranger.

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center has a street address, I’m sure. But it also has a dock in Muddy Creek off the Rhode River. So we can anchor nearby and take the dinghy in. Who needs a car?

It seems so simple. There were, however, surprises. Big surprises.

The SERC dock is a little past the point in this picture. Which — admittedly — is hard to discern. No surprise there, it’s sunset.

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On the near left is “Big Island" in the Rhode river. About 40% of the way across the image you’re no longer seeing the island, but are seeing the far shore. SERC is on the far shore behind the island. We’re not anchored too close to the dock, we worry about bumping into shallows. Active Captain has several reviews of the anchoring. 

Yes, the Rhode River can be idyllic. At night. During the day, on the other hand it has jet skis and boats towing floats with shrieking children. (These are not bad things, they don’t match what some people consider idyll. There should be no surprise here, but some folks have a vivid imagination for summer days being weirdly quiet. And they write long posts on Active Captain.)

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Here’s our route, BTW. (I love MarineTraffic.com) Marine Traffic didn’t gather a lot of details because it’s only a three hour trip. Wind was very light, so we motored the whole way.

Nothing broke. Nothing went wrong. We didn’t break the dock, or any additional engine parts.

Was that the surprise? 

Not really. We’re getting better at boat maintenance.

We did put the mainsail up and watched the wind die. So, that was a half hour of sailing during the weekend.

The Big Surprise

Okay. It was a pleasant sailing trip to a wildlife research area and nature preserve. 

What was the surprise?

These three boats.

You can see other boats in the background; what makes these three unique? 

Surprisingly unique?

I’ll add a hint.

Okay. That’s not a great hint.

You may be able to see the West River Sailing Club burgee.

Or you may not be able to  see it very well in the picture.

It was hard to discern in real life. 

CA and I had to discuss it for a while. “It looks like the yacht club burgee.” “Maybe it’s another burgee that looks similar.” “What are the odds?” “Can you Google burgees?” 

Eventually, we decided to dinghy over to see who it was. This was something we learned about years and years ago.

Our very very first anchoring out in Red Ranger was in Reedville, back in September 2010. We had no real idea what to expect. We arrived — pleased with ourselves that we hadn’t broken anything. We saw another boat drop their dinghy and motor slowly around, reading the names on transoms of boats. They saw our hailing port, “Norfolk, VA” and said hello. They added “Maybe we’ll see you at the bar around Tim Point.” 

It was a very casual invitation to drive around in dinghies looking for a good restaurant that wasn’t too crowded on a Saturday night. It was a spectacular impromptu party with utter strangers.

Who did we find on these three boats? Pat and Jan, Maggie and Eric, and Liz and Al had rafted up in the river. Dave and Rachel stopped by for a little while, also. 

This impromptu party was a huge surprise. We didn’t expect to see anyone we knew, much less eight people we knew. 

We had, years ago, learned that dinghying over is rarely a bad idea.

We did see tons of brood X cicadas. They were everywhere. And they were so loud I thought something was wrong with the outboard’s motor. They are as dumb as flying rocks. They’d hit the boat, and drop into the water to die. Either they couldn’t see us or didn’t know what to do when they did see us. They fly once in their life, and don't seem to be born with solid evasion skills. 

Here’s Red Ranger with our stack of burgees.

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There are burgees for the Whitby owners, SSCA, WRSC, Cloud Custodian software, and the Python programming language. They’re kind of loud if you leave them up on a breezy night. But they’re fun to rig.

And if anyone is from the West River Sailing Club, or needs help with Python software, they know which boat to visit.

Getting off the dock (or “Shakedown”)

Red Ranger last moved in once in August 2020 and again in October 2020. Before that she last moved in October 2018. She hasn’t been out of the slip in the last 8 months.  

We decided to go back to Cambridge, MD, for Memorial day. 

On the way… the Pride of Baltimore. This was fun to see.

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Spectacular. (Snarky side note. She’s under power motoring straight into the wind. We were also under power because we aren’t going to try to trim sails in a river.)

While the overview (from MarineTraffic.com) looks like this, the story is nothing like a simple direct track out and back.

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A big question is “why did you divert to Oxford and not continue on to Cambridge?”

Under this big question are a number of smaller questions. Like “What broke?” and “What did we do to fix it?”

The real question behind a shakedown cruise is, “Can we fix the inevitable problem ourselves?” Or “Are we self-sufficient?”

The Problems

We’ll start with the list of problems. It’s surprisingly short.

The Light On the Piling In Our Slip. The first thing we broke was part of the dock before we left. It counts in this list because it was cockpit error. I thought we could undo our aft spring line early in the process. We pretty much can’t. It must be the last line off no matter which way the wind is blowing. 

Especially when we have wind from astern. In spite of banging around in the slip haphazardly for a while, we did get out and underway. So that’s a problem solved without help from others. 

What I mean is the Red Ranger problem of casting off the lines in the wrong order has a solution. The broken dock light is something we’re not going to “solve”; instead we’re going to pay the damage fee.

The Anti-Siphon Loop. The next thing that broke was the piece of the engine exhaust system that prevents the a big wave crashing over the exhaust port from starting a siphon that fills the engine with seawater.

The anti-siphon loop is mounted as high above the waterline as it can be. It has a little diaphragm acting as a one-way valve. The exhaust water, driven by the impeller is under pressure and forces the diaphragm shut. A huge wave’s water, however, isn’t under the same pressure as engine water, and will tend to pull the diaphragm open, breaking the siphon. 

On the right, a 1″  hose brings exhaust water up from the cooling system to the loop.

On the left, a 1″ hose descends through a coupler into 1¼″ hose. And into the exhaust riser, where it is mixed with exhaust gas, and runs into the muffler.

On the top is a ⅝″ hose to try and pevent water from burping onto the engine.

The three horizontal lines are part of the steering hydraulics. They’re not relevant, but in the picture anyway.

The diaphragm — inside the bronze casting — is a neoprene rubber slab mounted on a stainless steel base. With a stainless rivet. It’s almost indestructible. 

Which means it’s not totally indestructible. The stainless steel — in an anoxic environment — isn’t truly stainless. So. There’s rust, which means gaps, which means the diaphragm doesn’t stay closed and the damn thing burps water onto the engine.

So. In a way, that’s broken.

The Raw Water Input. We knew the anti-siphon is burping water onto the engine. While stressing over this problem, the engine temperature gauge starts creeping up. It’s normally at 160°F. Solidly. (It goes to 180°F briefly during warmup, and when the thermostat opens, it drops.)

In addition to a rising temperature, we have “white smoke”. See this post: http://www.sailingncruising.com/boat-maintenance/white-smoke-exhaust/. There are two kinds of white smoke. The first kind:  “white smoke right from start up and the smoke sits on the water without disappearing.” Not what we’re seeing. Ours takes a while and dissipates.

Moving on in our research: “With white smoke that quickly disappears after a couple of yards behind the boat, you’re most likely looking at steam. There are two possible sources to create steam in your marine diesel engine: one is from coolant and the other is from the raw water drawn into your engine to cool the coolant.” 

We’re not running out of coolant. So. We’re looking a raw water problem. (Actually two raw water problems: the anti-siphon loop is puking water onto the engine, also.)

Things to look at:

  • Clogged up heat exchanger
  • Damaged impeller or leaky impeller housing 
  • An obstruction clogging the raw water inlet or debris clogging your raw water filter.
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Here’s the impeller pump. 

It’s the bronze circular thing with a hose coming in the bottom and an elbow and hose coming out the top.

It’s a Johnson F5B-9 pump. It’s a pain in the neck to pull the impeller out. It’s not too bad to mush a new one in. Turn it clockwise until the vanes mash into the body.

I have spare impellers, we can fix one of these.  I don’t want to try and unclog all three heat exchangers.

I have good reason to suspect that we have so much algae on the input that we’re not getting all the water we want. Red Ranger hasn’t moved much in almost two years.

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First Day Score: 3 things broken. CA suggested we divert to Oxford and fix what we can.

Here’s Oxford’s shoreline on the Tred Avon. 




Solutions

First fix. The Impeller.

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You may not be able tell if this one is old or new.

It’s *nearly* perfect.

Zoom in on the 8 o’clock position and you’ll see a vane that’s bending slightly the wrong way. 

Second fix. The anti-siphon loop diaphragm.

I spent hours (more than one) trying to reassemble the “Cap” to the Groco unit. It was essentially impossible to force the diaphragm back into the seat machined into the bronze. The rubber gasket around the outside of the stainless frame the holds the actual diaphragm does not go back in. 

Instead.

CA found me two 4′ lengths of high-temp ⅝″ hose in our spare hose cupboard. And a junction. Now the water dribbles into the bilge instead of burping onto the engine. This means the bilge pump ran 5 times in the 2 hour run from Oxford to Cambridge. It ran 12 times in the 6 hour run back to Herrington Harbour.

The “solution” is a weird hack. But. It works. 

Did we pass the self-sufficient test? Kind-of.

The Future

On the way to Cambridge (and on the way back) we still had steam. The new impeller on the raw water pump changed nothing. 

One bent vane (out of 12) is not enough to starve the engine of cooling water when running at higher RPM (over 1700 on the tach, which is about 1400 in reality.) I’m guessing (based on the Johnson marketing material) that this pump is geared to spew 10 gallons a minute through the heat exchanger and out the back of the boat. 

A bilge pump run of 15 seconds is about a gallon of water. We’re seeing about 2 gallons per hour burped in the bilge. Compared with 600 gallons per hour through the cooling system. From this, I conclude the diaphragm problem is unrelated to the cooling problem.

When we ran aground. (Yes, I cut a turn waaaay too close to the bank and hit a cliff. 30′ of depth to 3.2′ of depth in the time it takes to say “Yikes!”. Full power reverse pulled us off. Steam and all. And yes, our depth meter is well below the water line and *not* adjusted with either a keel offset or a waterline offset.)

So. We’re back to algae (and barnacles and oysters) on the outside or something in the strainer on the inside. The bottom requires a haul-out. The strainer is an easy check. The outside will wait until we paint in September. 

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In Cambridge, in an actual brew-pub, Rar, with actual other vaccinated people, we talked to S/V Shooting Star about the steam business. Their anti-siphon doesn’t have a diaphragm or duck-bill joker valve.  No. Diaphragm. Really. 

Their anti-siphon has a hose. The hose goes up to a “T” fitting in one of the cockpit drain hoses. Water can run down the hose. Air can comes in from the drain on the floor of the cockpit to break a siphon. It’s pretty slick and avoids the valve.

Some more reading reveals these are the two common designs. Diaphragm valve and overboard vent. (Or. Hybrid not-seating right valve and bilge vent in the Red Ranger case.)

I could install another Groco. In principle, they sell caps as a stand-alone replaceable part, but they’re hard to find using ordinary Google search. Instead, I’m going to try the Vetus anti-siphon. It looks like it’s easier to clean the diaphragm and reassemble the loop.


© Steven Lott 2020