Stuff and Nonsense

Ok, ok.  You’re right.  I’m slacking and not updating the blog.

I’m not sure what the real reason is.  I’ve been maddeningly busy, the kind of busy where it seems like every spare minute is taken up but nothing seems to be getting accomplished.  Still, that’s not to say that life halts, and as such I’ve got a whole pile of micro-updates that I probably should have been posting all along.  Nothing important or earth-shattering, no crazy adventures, just the usual day-to-day crap.  Each of these stories should be its own update though, I just have to stop procrastinating and letting them pile up.

False Creek at night in the rain.  admittedly gorgeous.  I love my neighborhood.
False Creek at night in the rain. admittedly gorgeous. I love my neighborhood.

To start off with, if you’re reading this from somewhere other than Vancouver, British Columbia, you might not realize that it’s been raining for something like fifteen goddamned days in a friggin’ row. I know that complaining about the rain is one of Vancouver’s favourite pastimes, and I knew getting into this that the rain would be something I’d have to face up to sooner or later. It’s not actually all that bad, once you realize that “being stylish” and “being comfortable” are mutually exclusive. I’ve gotten used to living in my tall, bright yellow rubber boots, and leaving the boat without wearing rainpants seems pretty silly these days.  Wet clothes hung up to dry can take days to dry on a boat – my sweaters are still damp from laundry day, which was a week ago tomorrow.

The thing about rainpants and raincoats is that they look pretty dorky, but they really work.  I have yet to find any that are waterproof, breathable, and look acceptable in public – it seems like you get your choice of any two of those features.  I’m willing to pay extra for the good stuff, especially seeing as I use them pretty much every day!  I have one set of Helly Hansen raingear that was quite pricy, but it has already paid for itself many times over just through regular use.  The other day I caught the pantleg in the chainring of my track bike, pulling it almost the entire way around – but when I unwound myself and pulled it free, the most damage was a bit of chain grease; the rubbery material itself didn’t tear at all.

can you see the four or five inches of water in there?  probably a hundred liters overall.
see the four or five inches of water in there? that's probably a hundred liters overall.

Every day that I go ashore – which isn’t every day, mind you – I have to climb down into my rowboat and bail out the rainwater.  I use a plastic bucket made from a cut-off 1.89l bottle of blueberry cocktail, which I assume to be roughly 1l in size, and to stave off the bitter cold and monotony of bailing, I count the buckets as I empty them over the side.  My record to date is 120l of water in the rowboat from one night of rain.  Seriously!  I need to track down and cut up a bleach jug or something similar, bailing at 1l per stroke isn’t the most efficient solution.

One nice thing about my rowboat is that there are large chunks of foam rubber bolted to the inside of the gunwales, which I’m guessing are supposed to keep the boat afloat and upright even if it fills completely with water.  This is reassuring – there are a bunch of other boats in False Creek, many of which aren’t liveaboards and the owners don’t come down very often to check on them.  Those folks have dinghies locked to the nearby dock, but the rain tends to fill the dinghies up and sink them ever few weeks.   Last week, one such boat belonging to my friend Eric had sunk in this manner.  When I returned home from a night on the town, I heard strange splintering, cracking noises from the dock as I came down the ramp – it turned out to be Eric’s dinghy, sunken and trapped lengthwise between the heavy wooden dock and the rocky bottom.  The tide was almost all the way out, but it still had a foot or so to go…  and the noise was Eric’s little fiberglass rowboat, cracking and folding under the massive weight of the dock.  Sad, but there was nothing I could do to help.

mmmm, hot cast iron
mmmm, hot cast iron

It has also been cold lately, and as you’ve probably guessed from my last post, I’ve been fighting with my furnaces again. The warmth from a diesel stove is delightful… when it works. I heard someone on another forum describe diesel stoves as “more of a hobby than an appliance”, and that pretty much sums it up.  Twitchy things, these machines, and at times it almost feels more like I’m learning to play a new musical instrument than trying to heat a boat.  They constantly remind me that they must be treated with respect – as I type this I have yet another slowly-blistering burn on my forearm from touching the wrong part of the oven door while toasting a bagel in the stove an hour or so ago.

When diesel stoves and heaters are working perfectly they’re lovely, but when they start to work badly it’s a slippery slope… give them a bit too much or a bit too little fuel and they’re inefficient, dirty, smelly and can even be dangerous.  I’d been feeding the main stove a bit too much fuel, and it responded by filling up with soot.  The last time I had an overabundance of soot, I used my little wet/dry shop-vac to clean it out.  I was absolutely pleased as punch with the results – until I noticed that every bit of soot that I’d removed from the stove had been blown straight out the back of the shop-vac and all over the cabin, creating a nightmare of a mess to try to clean up.  It was literally weeks before I got the last of it – and actually, from where I sit in the aft cabin right now I can see at least two spots where there is still soot from that fiasco.

This time I did not intend to make the same mistake – I researched shop-vacs and soot on the internet, and came to the realization that the root of my problem was simply a lack of a filter device on the shop-vac.  Since I could not find any information about my ‘Stinger’ shop-vac on the internet, I made a plan to purchase a newer, more appropriate shop-vac – but when I went to the Home Depot to pick one out, I found that my ‘Stinger’ had merely been renamed to ‘Husky’, and the colours changed.  This certainly wasn’t obvious from their website!  Fortunately, the Husky model had filters available, and for a whopping $6.99 I left the Home Depot with a filter and a vision of a clean stove.

And it worked!  Well, mostly anyway – the stove is now clean and there wasn’t a major mess to clean up afterwards.  It still wasn’t a simple or tidy job, and all of my cuticles are still as black as night, but the stove is once again safe and clean-burning.  The only real downside is that the filter didn’t seem to get *all* of the soot – I didn’t notice any in the air, but when I blew my nose later on I was startled by a pair of jet-black spots on the tissue.  *sigh*.

In other news, I’ve been spending my quieter evenings watching movies I’ve purchased from The Sailing Channel – and actually, I’m really torn here.  The Sailing Channel has made their DVD movies available for $29.99 USD plus shipping, or you can download them for $12.99.  Wow!  That is some seriously forward thinking for a niche video company, and I’m very happy to help support them; I have purchased four downloaded movies so far and will likely purchase more.  The part that tears me a little is that for such a forward-thinking company, their website is hideous.  Seriously.

One of the movies, Lin and Larry Pardey’s “Get Ready to Cruise“, had a bunch of tips that I’d already figured out on my own, but there were two in particular that were each alone worth the price of the video download.  One of the tips involved seat cushions in the salon, which I won’t bother to explain here (yet, perhaps I’ll blog it when I implement it) – but the other was a simple and effective way to build a shower on a sailboat!

9.5 liters of pure, unadulterated cleanliness
9.5 liters of pure, unadulterated cleanliness

I’ve been working a bit on that tip, and while I’ve still got a little ways to go I’m nearing completion.  The premise is simple: use a basic pesticide sprayer, and refit it with a longer hose and a showerhead attachment with a simple valve assembly.  I’ve expanded on the idea a bit, and replaced the 1/8″ feed tube in the sprayer with a 1/4″ stainless steel version, which should give me significantly more water flow, making it even more like a real shower.  I also chose a black plastic canister, which should mean that in summertime I can just fill the canister with water and leave it outside in the sun and in a few hours I’ll have a hot shower.  In the meantime, I’ll have to boil a pot of water on the stove, but given that there’s usually a pot of water on the stove for tea anyway, I don’t feel like this is a particular hardship.

After you’ve got the mechanics sorted, all you need is a spot in your boat configured to handle a bit of water splashing around and you’ve got a shower!  My boat has just such a place – the bathroom, or ‘head’, right at the front of the boat has waterproofed walls, raised bulkheads and a simple floor to catch the water.

The remaining parts, before I can finally have a shower on the boat, are pretty easy – I need a piece of hose, I need to replace the carpeting in the head with some kind of raised plastic draining tile, I need to fit the bathroom with shower curtains and I need to install a small bilge pump in the bilge to pump out the used shower water.  I hope to get those tasks done before the end of the weekend, but we’ll see how it goes.

On the engine front, I think the best money I’ve spent in ages was the $399 for the Cooper Boating ‘Diesel Theory – Advanced 5 Session Program’ course down on Granville Island.  The instructor really knows his stuff, and even though the classes come out to about $25/hour, as Trent pointed out a visit from a diesel mechanic is about $120/hour.  I’ve learned so much about engines in the past few weeks, and it has given me a great deal of confidence in my ability to tackle any problem that should arise on my boat.

rocket surgery!
rocket surgery!

That being said, Maude still doesn’t start.  I’ve identified the problem; her fuel lift pump is either clogged or the pumping diaphragm has worn out and come apart.  It isn’t rocket surgery; I have to remove the pump, disassemble it and inspect it.  If it is still serviceable I need to clean it out, then purchase and install a primary fuel filter before the pump ($100-$200), then bleed the air out of the fuel lines, and Maude should then start.  If the pump isn’t serviceable (apparently the diaphragm used to be a replaceable part, but they haven’t made them in years) then I have to purchase a new lift pump, which will cost me about $110.  I spoke on the phone with Lindsay at ‘Stem To Stern’, the local Yanmar service center, and he was exceptionally friendly and helpful.  He was my first contact with that company, and ensured my business – I’ll be heading down to their shop soon to pick up the parts, and I’ll probably also stock up on fuel and oil filters, zincs and replacement hoses while I’m there.

So what’s the holdup?  Well, the fuel lift pump is in a very difficult place to reach without pulling out the whole engine, which is simply not an option at this point.  None of my sockets are long enough to reach the bolts holding the pump onto the engine, and so yesterday I went to Canadian Tire to purchase a wrench to do exactly that.  I figured a single 10mm wrench would do the trick, however when I saw the Mastercraft ratcheting wrenches on sale for $49 for a set of ten, I went for that instead.  Comparing that to $16.99 for the single 10mm socket wrench, $50 was a great deal!

there's the problem...
there's the problem...

Of course, the wrench doesn’t fit – I mean, the sizing of the socket to the bolt is correct, but the thickness of the wrench itself means that I can’t get it to set on the head of the bolt.  I basically need to go back to Canadian Tire tonight to fetch yet another socket – a longer one this time – and then try my best to manoeuvre my hands in between Maude and the wall, remove the pump and then figure out the next step.

Once that’s all done and Maude is starting again, I’m not even close to finishing the other work that she needs.  For one, before I purchased Tie Fighter one of the previous owners had had a pump failure while off on a sailing trip, and had to make some emergency repairs – she’s been converted to use raw water (ie straight from the ocean) for cooling.  That’s… acceptable, at least according to the manual, but not optimal.  There are a pair of heat exchangers bolted to the engine room wall, and a newly-rebuilt freshwater pump is waiting in the wings to be reinstalled.  I’m not sure just how much work that will be, but I’m sure it’ll be at least twice as long as my best estimate, which currently is “a Saturday”.

Furthermore, I noticed during one of my extended stays in the engine room that the raw water pump belt is very loose!  This is especially troubling, in that it could mean the engine could overheat and eventually fail completely.  I won’t have her started up without first replacing that belt.  I do have a replacement belt, I just have to install it – thought that means removing all the other belts first in order to get it on.

Lastly – and the most blatantly obvious to any outside observer – none of the instruments work.  Nada.  Not one.  They’re not even hooked up!  Neither is the key ignition or the starter switch, none of the gauges or emergency lights… nothing.  I basically have to rewire them all individually, which isn’t actually all that difficult, but will take some time.  Someone in the past has rewired the panel at least twice, probably due to using the wrong gauge wires originally and having them overheat and melt.  I think it’s probably better to just rip it all out and install it fresh, so that I know the work is good from end to end.

Anyhow.  That’s what’s going on.

2 thoughts on “Stuff and Nonsense”

  1. After committing to reading such a long blog post, I feel compelled to comment with two suggestions. I always just thought your dingy was inflatable, and then while reading the part about rain water, I thought “Why doesn’t he just flip it over when not in use”, then I saw the picture and it became clear. The first comment comes from Kim, “Why doesn’t he just get a cover for the dinghy?” And I though “hmm, he totally could, some sort of tarpaulin with a cinch-line sewn into the outer edge”…Might be a custom job at an upholstery job though. Also, you’d need something in the centre of the boat to keep the cover from sagging. My second thought has to do with the fuel pump…Neither the picture nor the explanation is that clear as to why you can’t get at the bolts, and you might be on your way to Canadian Tire as I type this, but there’s these things called “crow’s foot wrenches” basically is an open ended wrench that has been mated with a box wrench, it may help you achieve your goal here. Anyway, good post, being an ex-mechanic, the engine stuff was quite interesting. I don’t envy your having to replace the wiring harness, although it’s not like you have to contend with all sorts of sensors, but a daunting task nonetheless.

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