Monthly Archives: June 2008

Lessons in Contentment or Daily Life at the Dock

Barnacles and crabs make strange noises at night. It sounds like someone is popping bubble wrap all night long next to my bed, which is smaller and harder than I’m used to, not to mention that I’m sleeping on the “wrong” side—opposite from the bed at home, where I have slept at Jay’s left side for nearly 11 years. Occasionally, Sam tumbles out of his bunk and I have to respond to cries of confusion if he wakes during the fall (sometimes he sleeps through it and we find him asleep on the cushion on the floor!). I have almost knocked myself unconscious numerous times in small passages in such middle-of-the-night maneuvers. Morning comes too soon. While cooking breakfast one morning, the power failed and I was left with soggy bacon and a bowl of pancake batter. Yum. When it rains, the “roof” leaks. Right over the beds, of course—where else? The afternoons are sweltering, and even with the (praise be to God!) air conditioning on, the salon is warm, the galley warmer. The fridge and freezer, combined, are smaller than my refrigerator space at home. The front burners on the aged stovetop don’t seem to operate at any other setting than “HIGH.”  The head (strange name for a toilet, eh?) smells like rotting sea life and you have to manually pump sea water in and sewage out to a holding tank, which gets pumped out once a week. And even in our calm, sheltered marina on the Manatee River, the whole place is always moving.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining. These are simply some of the things I’ve had to get used to as we have begun to spend weekends on the boat at the dock. Jay is currently repairing the port prop shaft (which connects the engine to the propeller), so we haven’t actually gone anywhere yet, but I am so grateful for this time to “practice” living aboard.  We can learn the rules and routines in a relatively safe environment.  We are close enough to home that we can bail if we need to, but also near local amenities like the marina swimming pool and the Bradenton Public Library so that there’s somewhere to go if we just want to get off the boat for short spells. We are attached to shore power and water, which means the comforts of unlimited (cold) showers and (mostly cold) air conditioning. It’s like learning to live aboard with training wheels—the change variables are blessedly limited. Even so, it takes some adjustment in outlook and attitude to get used to this new way of life.

This is the adventure we have craved, so we are joyfully learning to adapt to changing circumstances. There is no greater analogy to life than sailing—a vessel in a fluid environment with the wind constantly shifting, currents and tides, things you can’t see lurking beneath—the whole operation demands flexibility, vigilance and a good attitude, and not a little humility!  I gave the children some peanut butter bread and went to the neighbor’s motor yacht to cook the pancakes on the fateful morning of the electrical meltdown. When it rains, we set out the pots and bowls and towels and try to keep the baby from rearranging our carefully devised drip-catching system. When it’s hot, we sweat like the human body was designed to do and drink water and stay in the shade and rest. I’m learning how to cook again with different pots and pans, different stove and oven, different ingredients because of limited refrigeration, and lack of gadgets. In essence, we’re learning that we really don’t need that much to be happy.  I can even live without my (gasp!) precious Vita-Mix.  We spent three nights aboard this past weekend, and by the third night, I fell asleep quickly and slept soundly (and so did Sam). As we get things organized and cleaned, it’s starting to feel like home. The children are learning to entertain themselves while we busy ourselves with projects, and to adapt without complaint.  It’s not always smooth sailing (pardon the pun), but we’re getting there, little by little.

Then there are the beautiful things to get used to which I neglected to mention: falling asleep with a hatch open and a cool breeze blowing in and the moon and stars overhead. Waking up to bird calls. Breakfasting outdoors on the waterfront. Washing dishes with a 360˚ view—palm trees, the swaying masts of sailboats in the marina, the sunshine on the water, the clouds, the sky, the train bridge. Sea life at our doorstep: jellyfish, crabs, fish of all shapes and sizes—the kids spend hours in the cockpit looking over the coaming into the water. In the late afternoon, after the rain, a refreshing breeze blows. In the evening, we climb onto our “roof” and watch the red sun sink into the sea and light the clouds on fire. When the children are in bed, Jay and I get a cup of tea, or glass of wine, or cold beverage, as the mood strikes us, and sit up on deck, talking and laughing and listening to the live music from a nearby restaurant drifting over the water to us on our private, floating paradise. 

We wonder what our parents will think when they come to visit us at our new home. Will they wonder what kind of man provides such a small, leaky, dirty, broken-down home for his family (in some places, the boat is literally held together by string and duct tape)? Or will they see it as I do: a perfectly simple, self-contained, cozy, exotic living space with an incredible view?  I venture to say that some wives (including me just a few short years ago) would complain about the inconveniences which I am learning are part of the quirky charms of living aboard.  Now when I hear people complain about not having enough space and needing to move to a bigger house, I laugh! What do we really need space for? We have four cabins with full beds and two quarter berths, so there’s room to spare. Since we spend all our time in the cabins unconscious, they don’t need to be big. Our salon is spacious enough, the table easily seating eight, with a separate sitting area and space for kids to play on the floor. The galley is adjacent, so when I am cooking or cleaning or baking (which is a lot of the time), I am a part of the action. The cockpit is enclosed, which makes it relatively safe, and seats six to eight. The deck is just enormous—open and uncluttered, wide and comfortable. And the yard—it never needs mowing!

It’s true that one’s outlook changes everything (call me Pollyanna). Learning to take every day as it comes is an art. Beginning to see all of life as an adventure is essential to a vibrant and passionate existence. Slowing down is good for us, and living simply, though it may actually entail harder work, is more rewarding than living an easy, convenient life. Certainly, this way of life is not for everyone, but everyone can benefit from the lessons it is teaching us.

Getting the Shaft

As previously mentioned, we lost the port prop shaft during the delivery trip.  This occurred when we reversed the propeller to spin off some sea grass that had accumulated and was slowing us down.  Fortunately, the zinc nut on the shaft could not pass through the strut and the shaft stayed under the boat, but the end of it was inside the stern tube and could not be accessed from inside the boat.  This morning I had a diver down to the boat and he pushed the shaft back in for me.

One of the mysteries about the shaft problem was where the shaft key went.  This is a piece of 5/16" square rod that fits into grooves cut into the shaft and the coupling to keep the former from turning inside the latter.  The key should have been somewhere in the bilge, but it wasn't.  Improbably, it emerged from the shaft seal along with the shaft.  I had assumed that the last mechanic to pull the shaft put it back without the key.  I had gone through the trouble to take the starboard shaft out of its coupling and have that key duplicated.  Oh well, now I have a spare and the starboard side got new bolts and set screws in the bargain.

Getting these couplings apart was a bit of an adventure.  Being of light displacement, our boat's bilge is much shallower than that of a typical sailboat, but it has all the same stuff crammed into it.  Combining the tight quarters with some very stubborn bolts, the job looked impossible for many hours.  When confronted with this type of problem I usually end up at Home Depot staring at the tools I don't have and imagining how they could be employed.  In this case I bought about $150 worth (no such thing as too many tools!), but the answer lay in the $12 pipe wrench.  The first attempt with the pipe wrench failed for my lack of understanding how it works (well, have you ever used one?).  I think I would have nailed it on the first try with a chain wrench, but HD doesn't sell those.  Success came when I discovered that the pipe wrench's teeth are angled so that it only works in one direction.  You learn something every day.

Once I had it apart, I took it all over to General Propeller and they supplied me with a new shaft key and new set screws.  These set screws were drilled, so they can be wired and hopefully we can avoid this little exercise in the future.  One oddity was that all the set screws (two on each coupling) were 10mm, but one of the screws on the port coupling was 1/2.  Looks like maybe somebody couldn't get the screw out and ended up retapping it.  But the dimple on the shaft that the screw fits into wasn't any bigger.  I wonder if this could have contributed to the shaft slipping out.

The shaft seal itself was in bad shape and leaked heavily after the shaft was back in.  Fortunately, I had proactively purchased a spare on eBay and could replace it.  It had probably worn out and begun leaking during the delivery but wasn't noticed.  Turns out these seals are water lubricated and are supposed to be "burped" when the boat is put back in the water to avoid an airlock in the seal.  Even though it has a Volvo Penta part number (828416) stamped right on it, Volvo doesn't have any record of the part.  I've read elsewhere that this was equivalent to #828422, but this is for a 30mm shaft and mine is 32mm.  I'll keep an eye out for the 416's and buy any I find, but I should probably get a 422 just in case.

The port shaft seal is additionally challenged since it has to make up for an alignment issue on that side.  The way it has been explained to me, the stern tube and the strut are not aligned with each other, making it impossible to align the engine with both.  The correct solution is to rebore the stern tube, but that sounds like as much fun as getting a tooth pulled.  The more expedient remedy is to align the engine to limit the wear on the cutless bearings and accept the fact that they'll wear faster than usual.  With the misalignment the tolerances are so tight that the normal vibration of the engine transmitted to the shaft causes it to knock against the stern tube at some speeds which is not a pleasant sound.  Pretty much sounds like a hammer banging on the bottom of the boat.

Once everything was back together, I ran the engine at the dock for awhile, revving it up in forward and reverse.  Everything stayed together, but I didn't have the nerve to stress it in hard reverse.

The diver told me that I had barnacles growing on my propellers.  This was a surprise since I'd just had them treated with Propspeed.  I knew Propspeed wasn't an antifoulant, but didn't know that the barnacles could still adhere.  He said that if I ran my propellers periodically they would come off pretty easily in the wash.

Transfer Switch

We had a small electrical problem a couple weeks ago.  While making breakfast and running the airconditioner one morning, we got one of the conductors in or 220V wiring hotenough to melt through the insulation and short against the otherconductor.  This caused our 50A shorepower breaker to trip.  That put an abrupt end to the air conditioning, battery charging, and pancakes.

The wires in question are 8 AWG and more than adequate forcarrying 50A at 110V.  I’ve seen thestove pull an impressive amount of power, but the breaker should have trippedlong before any wiring was damaged.  Ifour breaker failed to trip for some reason, there is another 50A breaker on thedock that would have.

Where the short occurred was immediately after the transferswitch that selects between shore power and generator, and I later discoveredthat the switch itself would no longer turn. 
Did the switch fail internally and cause the problem, or did a badwiring connection cause the heat buildup and melt something inside the switch?  I’m betting on the latter, since I discoveredsome corrosion in the connection.

The switch itself is a Kraus & Naimer C42 A212 and notthe kind of thing you can walk into a local store and pick up.  But I felt fortunate that the first call Imade to a marine electronics shop yielded the part in inventory.  It was in my hand two days and $275 later.

Replacing the switch and burned wire was unremarkable exceptfor the mechanical challenges of crimping 8 AWG.  Most crimpers only go down to 10 AWG.  I bought an uninsulated barrel and a crimperthat could handle 8, 6, 4, and 2 AWG. 
After crimping, I covered the splice with heat shrink tubing.   I did not put any type of dielectric grease onthe connection,  but I’m wondering if Ishould have given the corrosion.

In the current setup, the boat’s 220V ammeter only measuresthe black conductor the circuit.  I wonderif it would be advantageous to install a second ammeter for the red conductor.