Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Generators are the bane of my existence

Don’t get alarmed – our jurassic model Onan is purring away contentedly underneath me even as I type.  But that doesn’t happen by chance.  Its a never ending struggle to keep it keeping on.

Three days ago when we arrived in Vancouver the generator was hard to start.  That’s not completely unusual for it – I’ve come to know that these Onans are a cold blooded beast – they take a lot of preheat to light up when they’re cold.  On Sunday though it was simple lack of fuel.  Lack of preheat isn’t hard to recognize – it will burp and fart and generally complain but eventually it starts.  Lack of fuel, as I have preached numerous times before, is one of only two things that will stop these dead simple machines known as mechanical diesels.  Let me repeat it in case you missed it the first 30 times: if it turns over and it has fuel then it WILL run.  By extension, if it turns over and DOESN’T run, then it doesn’t have fuel.  With a mechanical diesel it really is that simple.

After I bled the pump I deduced that what had happened was that the big engines running on the trip over had sucked enough fuel out of the generator to airlock it and thus prevent it from getting fuel and thereby prevent it from starting.  But why had this happened all of a sudden you ask?  Well, somewhere there had to be an air leak in the fuel line to the generator which was allowing the engine fuel pumps to pull fuel from the generator rather than the fuel tanks.  As luck would have it, I found the leak relatively quickly.  There’s a little 1/8 street elbow that threads into the sediment bowl on the generator and it was very slightly loose. 

As anyone who has ever dealt with small diameter street elbows will know, this wasn’t a trivial problem to solve.  The problem with a small street elbow threaded into a housing is that it is usually done because there’s no damn room to work unless you use a rinky dink tiny fitting to connect to the housing.  When you thread in such a small fitting it usually only has a 20 or 30 degree range of motion where its usable and inevitably what happens is that you get to where its almost tight but its already in the right location.  Then you know that if you try to go another 360 degrees (to fully tighten it) then it will strip the threads in the POS housing you are threading it into and if you leave it where it is it will leak.  So I pulled it out and taped the hell out of the threads with teflon tape – that’s the only good use I know of for teflon tape – I use it so rarely that I had to go buy some. 

In addition to fixing the air leak I decided to put a check valve in the line to the generator where it branches off from the fuel manifold.  That should completely protect the generator from any future fuel starvation issues.  The problem with that plan was first finding a check valve and then finding the right assortment of fittings to plumb it into the system.  When George re-plumbed the fuel system he used SAE 45 degree flare fittings on the hoses with pipe threads in the manifold and shut-off valves.  45 degree flare fittings were probably the best choice but that didn’t make it any easier to find them here in Vancouver.

I used to think that the reason I had trouble specifying fittings to counter sales droids was because I was fundamentally stupid about fittings.  There is, after all a bewildering array of standards and styles of threaded fittings – pipe, ORB, SAE 45 flare, SAE 37 flare, inverted flare – I could go on.  I have lately come to the conclusion that the problem is not me but rather the parts droids themselves.  This morning I phoned a local plumbing shop and asked a very simple question: “Do you stock SAE 45 flare fittings?” “Yep, what do you need?” “Well I need two #5 male flare by 1/4” NPT male fittings”.  You can’t specify it any more clearly than that, I thought.  Boy was I wrong.  I should have hung up when he started telling me that #5 didn’t mean anything to him.  For those who don’t already know, SAE flare fittings are sized by number with the number representing the nominal pipe size in 16ths of an inch.  So a #5 fitting is nominal 5/16 pipe.  Eventually I did tell him that he didn’t know what he was talking about and hung up on him but those 5 minutes of my life are gone forever with nothing to show for them other than the memory of the frustration.

I ended up at a nearby Acklands counter for the flare fittings and the local Ukrainian Tire for the brass pipe fittings.  Everything is tightened back up now and the generator still runs.  We won’t know for sure whether I have fixed this problem until we’ve got a few days run time behind us.  And no doubt there’s many more generator related problems waiting in the wings.  One really great thing about life on a boat is that you are never short of something to do.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On our way

You don’t ever want to have an agenda on a boat.  We got whacked by an agenda the day after Marilyn’s sewing conference in 2012 – we knew better but we did it anyway.  We learned from that day though.  So yesterday when the weatherman was telling me that today would be calm and that the big storm blowing in from Japan wouldn’t get here until tomorrow at the earliest, we pushed our departure one day. 

In return we got a wonderful day at the dock yesterday, capped off by dinner with Bill and Donna on their boat.  Today I was up at 4:00 (which the goofball locals thought was 3:00) and at 7:00 we were untying lines in the dark.  We crept out through Cow Bay in the dark and fog with Marilyn standing guard on the bow.  We only came close to wrapping one crab float – we didn’t wrap it but it was a near thing.  Its really remarkable how fast I can stop this old girl if I need to.  By the time we got to Separation Point the sun was up enough to see what we were doing and the fog never really amounted to anything.


That’s looking west down Sansum Narrows just after sunrise.  By noon those clouds had cleared and it was a glorious sunny day for a Strait of Georgia crossing, maybe a little chilly but who cares, we were inside anyway. 


That’s the sun starting to light up the snowy tops of the mountains on the Island as the clouds started to break up.


These big buggers are parked literally everywhere.  We saw them tucked into little bays today where we’ve never seen them before.  That’s a by-product of the railways’ failure to move western grain to port this winter.  I don’t know what the solution to that is going to be but what we’ve got right now is clearly not working.  Part of the problem is that the railroads can make more money moving oil so they are acting logically.  Part of the problem is that we just don’t have enough rail capacity, let alone competition, to get anything, including grain, out of western Canada.  The solution will no doubt involve a lot of very expensive studies by know-it-alls with PhD after their name.  Part of the real solution no doubt will be to move some of our grain south to New Orleans but I’m sure the first step will be to waste millions of dollars studying the problem to death.


That’s looking back on English Bay as we approached the Granville Street Bridge.  Its hard to convey just how much of a parking lot English Bay is right now.  The ocean goers are literally lined up in three rows starting at the bridges and going right out past Point Atkinson.  We saw one loaded guy leaving so something is getting loaded but on top of the non-performance by the railroads, the local truckers are on some kind of strike as well so I don’t suppose much is happening at any of the terminals.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just beside ourselves with excitement

Saturday is the big day.  Weather permitting of course, Saturday marks the start of our Alaska adventure.  We’ll go first to False Creek in Vancouver to spend some time with Grace and Al but we won’t be coming back to Cowichan Bay until we’ve got some Alaskan time in our logbook.

Today we left $701 plus some miscellaneous cents at Costco.  That was about 1/2 meat with the balance being staples to provision for the trip.  On the way to Costco we picked up a batch of port from Valley Vines & Wines and put on a couple of batches of Merlot to be ready for our return to the prairies.  Last winter Marilyn tried making some wine at a wine shop in Regina.  It turned out to be absolutely awful rotgut.  Pat & Peter at Mill Bay, on the other hand, have never let us down.  Their chocolate orange port recipe which we picked up this morning is absolutely to die for.  And the Stag Leap merlot that has become our standby is pretty damn good too.  They age it for 6 months in an oak barrel before we pick it up so it takes about 7 months to make but its worth the wait.

Now we’re busy trying to stuff everything into the nooks and crannies onboard.  We normally use the v-berth as a store room so preparing for guests means we have to find some other place for the various sewing machines (3, count ‘em, three damn sewing machines we carry now), wine, port, guitar, etc, etc, etc that normally take up space in the v-berth. 

Yesterday I finally got done all my pre-departure maintenance and upgrade projects.  The final big upgrade was to put a surge tank in the seawater pressure system.  We use seawater for our anchor wash.  The “system” that came with the boat was an absolute joke involving a 110 volt motor and pump that had to be cobbled into the water lines every time you wanted to use it.  It flat out didn’t work but my initial upgrade wasn’t a whole lot better.  I put in an RV pressure pump but it wasn’t happy about not having a surge tank.  When we were washing the anchor down it would pump very slightly faster than the lines could handle so it was constantly cycling off and on. 

We need to get our mail forwarded from Regina but we’re waiting for a final couple of items to arrive in Regina.  I bought a Garmin GPS antenna that matches the one that currently drives the new chartplotter.  I thought having two identical antennas would give a level of redundancy but more importantly, once I got the Garmin antenna running I realized how erratic the little GPS puck that we had been using really was.  The Garmin antenna is coming from Florida.  I’ve been tracking it every day and it looks like it will arrive in Regina tomorrow. 

This morning the cheque that I wrote to Covich Williamsa in Seattle close to two weeks ago finally cleared our account at home.  They had a cash discount for the fuel which they initially told us would apply to debit card payments.  When I went in to pay they were really eager to take my cheque.  I was reluctant but they were almost insistent.  After we left the dock I phoned our Credit Union manager and asked him what he thought would happen.  We used to be able to write cheques in the US but I seemed to remember a letter from the Credit Union telling us not to do that any more.  Sure enough, Kevin didn’t think the cheque would clear but he said it would be fun to see what happened.  Easy for him to say!  Apparently they will still clear but it sure took long enough. I think I probably won’t try that again.

As always, all our plans are weather dependant. 



Both the GRIB files and BuoyWeather show a great big low in the Gulf of Alaska by Saturday.  BuoyWeather shows a second, larger low chasing the first one in while the GRIBs show the second low further south by Saturday.  Either way, I think Saturday is likely to be our last chance to get across the Strait for a few days.  Its windy today – I’m glad we’re tied to the dock right now, but there’s a lot of wind in front of both of those lows as they come in.  You can see the really closely spaced pressure lines to the east of the closest low – that’s where the strong winds are.  Saturday is still 3 days out but the forecasts for 3 days are not bad.  They’re better for 2 days which is why I’ll be looking hard again tomorrow and again on Friday but I’ve got enough information now to say that we don’t want to plan to wait until Sunday.  I’d prefer to leave Friday but we can’t get all our packing done by then and the currents are no good for a Friday departure.

The second big constraint on a Strait crossing is the currents in the passes on the west side of Georgia Strait.  The timing for slack really sucks for us right now.  There’s a slack early in the morning and then the other one of course is 6 hours later.  I’m not sure we can make the early slack because we’d have to leave while its still too dark to travel.  Every day that we can wait pushes those times back roughly half an hour so that’s a reason to wait until Saturday.  If we wait for the second slack then we don’t get across the Strait until close to dark plus the wind is more likely to get up in the afternoon which can make a Strait crossing really miserable.  Sunday would be even better for the currents in the passes but, as the images above show, much more risky for weather.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A very worrisome day

The rest of the story about the starter on the Onan is that I put it back on, started the genset and it went downhill from there.  I ran the gennie for maybe a couple of minutes, shut it off and thought “I should check the oil”.  When I pulled the dipstick it looked like it had come out of a chocolate milkshake. I’m still not 100% sure what happened but with the benefit of 2 days hindsight here’s the current theory:

When we got back out to the boat in December I immediately changed oil in the engines and the genset.  At that time I ran the gennie briefly but it hasn’t run since then.  In the interim its been consistently cold and wet.  I think that lead to accumulation of condensation in the crankcase which was sufficient to whip the oil into a gray emulsion when I only ran the gennie for a brief period.  If I had run the generator “normally” it would have warmed up, burned off the water in the oil and by the time I shut it down I would never have known about the murky oil I had started out with.

Like I said initially, I’m not 100% sure that’s what happened but that’s the theory I’m running with.  I spent a sleepless night while the emulsion drained out, changed the oil in the morning, ran the gennie for about an hour and a half and then checked the oil again.  At that point the oil was as clean as when it came out of the jug and more importantly, the gennie never hiccuped or overheated.  So I don’t think I really ever had a problem but it sure scared the hell out of me.  And I’m going to carry a head gasket rebuild kit when we leave for Alaska, just in case.  There’s a really good website called that is devoted to antique iron.  Its my go-to location for information about my two old Onans.  Through that connection I have found a guy in Washington who still has some Onan parts so that’s likely where the head gasket repair kit will come from.  The guy at Delta Marine in Sidney is also a really good resource so I’ll likely check with him tomorrow before I make a deal with the guy in Washington.

The guy in Washington also told me that the reason my Mitsubishi starter wouldn’t fit is because when Onan switched to Mitsubishi they needed to use an adapter plate with every starter.  So the guy in Selkirk – he had also been an Onan dealer – who sold me the Mitsubishi starter would have known it couldn’t work without that adapter plate.  In other words, I was whizzed by a Ukrainian ex-Onan dealer.   Bastard.

We got back to Cow Bay about 4:00 yesterday afternoon.  In the morning we did the work party thing at the clubhouse and then they fed us lunch.  Their work parties are a pretty easy gig – they don’t start until 10:00 AM and they wrap up with lunch.  This time the goal was to clean up the building and yard in preparation for some big sailboat race next weekend.  My job was helping set up a tent on the deck and then sweeping leaves off the patio.  As is usual in those situations there was a surplus of wanna-be supervisors but I made it clear from the start that I wasn’t there to make decisions.  Marilyn got to scrub toilets – fortunately I have never mastered that particular exercise.  I’m a piss poor vacuum cleaner operator too.

While I was sweeping the deck I got a call from neighbour Michael in Buchanan.  He had called the night before to say that they have been having a lot of frozen waterlines in town.  I had been a bit worried about that but what with all the more pressing immediate concerns and all the getting ready for Alaska stuff I hadn’t spent a lot of time worrying about frozen waterlines 1000 miles away.  Evidently right now the post office has no water and one house out by the highway is similarly frozen.  Likely there are other houses – like ours – where nobody is home and therefore nobody knows that they are also frozen. 

We blew the lines before we left but Michael – trooper that he is – went in yesterday and turned everything back on to see whether or not we were frozen up.  And it turns out we are not which is why he was calling me while I was sweeping leaves.  We agreed that we will waste  a bit of the village water in order to keep the line open for the next month.  This is the time of year when frozen lines are the most likely to occur.  Despite the fact that the surface is thawing, the frost keeps going deeper until about the 1st of May so we’ll let the water run for a month or so just to be safe.  We never come close to using our minimum so it won’t make any difference to our water bill.  I suppose someone will say we are wasting precious water resources but the alternative is letting the line freeze and then burning scarce hydrocarbons to dig it up in the spring.  Some days you just can’t win, particularly when enviro-quackery is involved.

As soon as we got back to The Bay we made a Walmart run.  It felt good to drive the big Ford again.  I bought three pails of Wallyworld oil but when I got home and did some crude route calculations it appears that will not be enough.  It takes about a pail and a half to do an oil change and I do them every 100 hours.  Based on my crude calculations I think the return trip to Juneau will be about a 300 hour adventure so that’s a minimum of 3 oil changes or 4.5 pails of oil.  I guess I’ll be making another Wallyworld trip on Monday although I’m not sure where I’m going to stash that much oil onboard.  Marilyn is encountering similar difficulties as she stuffs food and other provisions into every nook and cranny. 

Our goal is to leave next weekend or as soon after that as the weather is fit for a Georgia Strait crossing.  So the clock is definitely ticking now.  I talked to Terry-the-diver about buying a couple of used air tanks to use with the Hookah system that Van and Nancy gave us.  I’m kind of halfway looking forward to trying that out once the water warms up a bit although the shark that we saw on the dock two days ago will weigh heavily on my mind as I enter the water.  Terry is also going to come over today to give the underwater gear one last look before we leave. 

I’m about 90% certain we cut a crabpot line coming out of Bellingham earlier this week.  We ran through an absolute minefield of crabpots for about 4 hours.  At one point I saw one disappearing under the bow and there was simply nothing to do about it – it was too late to turn the wheel and too late to stop.  I think it ran down the starboard side, got caught on the stabilizer and snipped by the prop.  Snipped is better than wrapped and I may be making all this up but I don’t think so.  When we got to SNSYC, two days after the presumed crabpot incident, Marilyn found a crabpot float in the water amidships on Gray Hawk.  That float may have been there when we docked but I sure didn’t see it.  I think it managed to stay hanging on the stabilizer for two days and finally let go when we docked in Sidney.  It was trailing just about the right length of line to reach from the stabilizer fin to the prop and the end was frayed.  Whether or not that happened, I think its a good idea for Terry to look at our bottom before we leave. (later) Terry says our bottom is clean so the mystery remains but its all good.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Predicting the weather

This one deserves its own post because it is so incredibly important to our life on the water. 

I never come away from a visit with Chuck in Anacortes without something useful and this trip was no different.  Chuck is the guy who owned Gray Hawk 3 owners back.  He’s the guy we called on to help us get her from Seattle to Anacortes in January 2011.  We never miss a chance for a visit on the way through Anacortes.

This trip I happened to ask him what he uses for weather information because that has been a huge issue for me.  There’s plenty of free weather sites that I use regularly.  Environment Canada has good short term information for the waters around Vancouver Island but there’s not a whole lot of depth to their site and certainly no charts that would help predict more than one or two days out. 

I regularly use GRIBs which, depending on who you consult, either stands for GRIdded Binary or General Regularly-distributed Information in Binary form. 


That’s a current GRIB for the northern Pacific or Gulf of Alaska for today.  As you can see, while it doesn’t explicitly show highs and lows, it is pretty easy to infer where they are.  In the northern hemisphere the winds blow counterclockwise around lows and clockwise around the highs.  So all you need to do is look which direction the little wind arrows are blowing and that will in turn tell you whether they are surrounding a high or a low.  GRIBs are designed for exchange of data with no interpretation so GRIB viewers can only interpret them based on rules.  For one or two day predictions that’s pretty well all you need anyway but I always felt like there might be more information I could use, if I could just find it.

Chuck told me that he subscribes to so I ponied up the 80 bux and got me a one year subscription.  There’s a lot of stuff on their website, most of which I don’t understand but I hope with time I will learn more. 


That’s the big picture – northern pacific – for today.  If you look closely you can see that we’re enjoying a bit of sunshine with crap on the mainland today.  Its windier today than this image would suggest – we’re in an area with wide isobars which should mean little or no wind but instead its blowing pretty good. 


And finally here’s a closer in view of our area which clearly shows the precipitation on the mainland.  Despite the fact that we’ve got sunshine today, rain is pretty well a given for winter boating – its wind we really want to avoid.  So I still need to learn more because these charts don’t agree with what’s going on outside my window.  Not that its any howling gale out there either – its maybe gusting to 20 with a steady 5 or 8 knots.  But these charts would suggest to me more like 0-5 knots.  0-5 knots is a nice cruise – gusting to 20 can put my crew in a bad mood.

A little bit broken down ………….

…….. not too badly broken but a little bit nonetheless.

We’ve had a really long run where nothing went wrong so we were overdue.  Yesterday morning at Prevost Harbor Marilyn tried to start the genset and nothing happened.  Being the “man” I assumed she was doing something wrong so I tried it and got the same results.  We normally remote start it from the cabin so I went down below and tried starting it directly from the control panel on the generator.  From there I could hear a solenoid click in when I hit the starter but the engine wasn’t turning over even a little bit.  That meant one of two things – bad batteries/connections or bad starter/solenoid. 

So I broke out the VOM and hooked it up to watch the voltage when I hit the starter.  The genset starts from its own battery which lives in a really ignorant location underneath the generator.  By standing on my head and shining a flashlight through a tiny hole I was able to determine that there was no untoward level of corrosion on the cables or connections.  When I tried the starter with the VOM connected there was hardly any fluctuation in the voltage at the starter so that pretty well ruled out cables, connections and batteries, leaving just the starter & solenoid.  That was pretty well what I had expected but I thought I should go through the troubleshooting before I got greasy taking the starter off.  I wasn’t even a little bit worried because we carry a spare, brand new, Mitsubishi gear reduction starter sporting a genuine Onan parts decal.

Of course to do any serious work on the Onan I have to pretty well completely disassemble the sound shield.  Once I got that out of the way the starter came off relatively easily and I got out the new Mitsubishi.  It fit easily into the hole and the nose cone looked right for the ring gear but it simply wouldn’t turn the last 2 or 3 degrees to line up the mounting bolts.  In a nutshell, its not the right starter for the block we have.  I spent a few minutes figuring out that I couldn’t reclock the nosecone on the Mitsubishi and a few more minutes taking apart the solenoid on the starter I had removed.  Once I got inside the solenoid there was no doubt why it wasn’t working.  The only real surprise was that it had been able to work at all.  I briefly toyed with the idea of boogeying up something with the old solenoid to get the genset running.  Probably if I had turned the contacts 180 degrees and shined up the plate that connects them I could have made it work a while longer but that seemed like a lot of work for very little gain.  The drive gear on the starter was badly worn and I have no idea how old the starter is but it was no virgin when we bought the boat close to 4 years ago now.  It is a Presolite starter and I don’t think the Prestolite brand even exists anymore.

So we opted to untie and head across to Sidney.  We had lots of battery to make breakfast and once we had the Lehmans running we had lots of power to make dinner.  By the time we landed at the Customs dock in Van Isle the batteries were back up to 100% and the water heater was hot.  We need the generator but we are by no means incapacitated without it.  By this time of the year the sun is getting high enough to deliver some serious charge off the solar panels.  We have been having uncharacteristically sunny weather lately which means we are getting some serious benefit from the solar panels. 

When we landed at Sidney the first order of business was to call Customs.  As has been our experience, they couldn’t be bothered to come down to the dock.  The guy yesterday must have been on commission though because he nitpicked over all our purchases in the US and actually charged us tax on the groceries that we declared.  When he asked if we had bought those groceries in the US I pointed out that we left with a full freezer and returned with one but that information seemed lost on him. 

After I got done paying tax on imported Corn Flakes I immediately got on the phone to find a replacement starter.  I haven’t seen the starter yet but I think I hit a home run on the first call.  Delta Marine is located in Westport which is the next bay over from our yacht club.  The parts guy at Philbrooks told me to call Delta and Rob who answered the phone sounded like he knew what he was talking about.  He had a rebuilder who he claimed could have a starter ready for me today but he wanted to see my old one first.  Given my experience with the Mitsubishi, which was sold to me as a replacement and turned out to not fit, I was pretty enthused about matching the housings too.  So we hustled over to the yacht club reciprocal dock and got tied up.  Then I unloaded the dinghy and headed over to Delta with the dead starter.  That was the first time we have had the dinghy in the water since getting back out here so of course it was extremely reluctant to idle.  I need to run some injector cleaner through it but by the time I got back from Delta it was running better although it still died shortly after I dropped to an idle. 

Today we’re in a holding pattern at the SNSYC reciprocal dock waiting for the rebuilt starter.  There’s a work party to do some spring cleaning at the yacht club tomorrow so we’ll wait for that too and then go back to Cow Bay tomorrow afternoon. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Back in Anacortes ………………

…….. in the high rent neighbourhood.  This is what is parked directly in front of us. 


I don’t particularly like the looks of it and I’m damn glad I don’t have to pay his moorage, let alone his fuel bill.  I wouldn’t even want to guess what it might sell for – it looks pretty shiny.  We’re on a reciprocal dock so our moorage is zero dollars per night, paid for by our SNSYC membership.  There’s a great flurry of activity in the marina today – the sun is halfway out, its not raining and it is pretty warm so everyone’s thoughts are turning to getting their boats ready for spring.

This morning we got untied relatively early – I couldn’t sleep so I was up really early and Marilyn didn’t sleep in as late as she said she would.  We were entertaining guests onboard last night.  That happens pretty regularly on cruising boats.  You meet someone on the dock, invite them for drinks and end up visiting for several hours.  Last night it was a couple from Seattle in an Ocean Alexander and a young guy in a sailboat.  As we pulled up to the dock in La Conner, they materialized out of nowhere to take our lines.  I think we very rudely spurned their offer of assistance but they let on they didn’t notice.  We’re just so used to doing it alone and its really no big deal. 

La Conner has a bad reputation because there is always a current flowing through town but our slip was parallel to the water flow.  Current running lengthwise down the boat doesn’t really present much of a problem.  If its running crosswise to the pier you are trying to tie up to it can be more of a challenge.  Anyway, having blown off their help we felt compelled to go apologize and that morphed into appetizers. 

First we had to go shopping for a few staples.  Marilyn was out of flour which meant she was also out of bread.  She’s turned into a pretty damn good bread builder.  She uses a machine but sometimes she makes dough and sometimes she uses the machine to make a loaf.  Anyone who has ever run a bread machine knows they aren’t dead simple to operate.  Most people get frustrated with them and quit using them.  That’s how she got this one – someone didn’t use it so they gave it to the Thrift Store where she bought it. 

After she bought flour she was able to make cinnamon buns for our guests.  I made some garlic roasted mushrooms.  Evidently they both were a hit because we didn’t have much for leftovers.  Our guests arrived armed with a creamy spinach dip and some crackers so by the time we got wrapped around all the appetizers we didn’t bother with supper. 

We had to stop at the pooper pumper this morning.  Puget Sound is a no-discharge zone for sewage but they make it pretty easy by providing lots of pumpouts.  The whole subject of marine poop is extremely political with people holding strong views on both sides.  I have a bit of a philosophical problem with pumping our sewage into shoreside pumpouts which dump into municipal sewers which in turn dump directly into the ocean.  But we’re guests in the state so we do as they do, whether we think the practice makes sense or not.  On the Canadian side there’s lots of enviro-quacks who think we should pump our sewage but no pumpouts to pump it into so the decision is pretty well made for us there too.  In the big scheme of things I think there are a lot more serious environmental concerns than the shit that a couple of prairie dogs create in their 5 or 6 months of annual cruising.

By the time we got done pumping poop our guests from last night were untied and heading north up the Swinomish Channel so we just followed them to Anacortes.  The channel is a little shallower north of La Conner than it was south of town which is the exact opposite of what it was the last time we went through.  They need to dredge this channel about once every four or five years.  I think they had just dredged the channel north of town the last time we were through; at that time the south channel was really shallow.  They did the south channel in the winter of 2012-13.  It looks to me like the one north of town is going to need to be done pretty soon.  There was some big fight leading up to the dredging in 2012-13 because the Corps of Engineers refused to fund the dredging, as they had done in the past.  Their decision had something to do with the amount of commercial traffic that goes through the channel and it seems to me that the local communities ended up raising some or all of the money for the project.  The alternative to the channel is to take Admiralty Inlet on the outside of Whidbey Island and eventually follow Juan de Fuca, Rosario or Haro straits, depending on where you want to go.

That exposes boaters to a lot worse weather than the relatively sheltered trip up the east side of Whidbey Island and then out to Rasario through the Swinomish Channel to Anacortes.  When I think about it though, we really don’t see much commercial traffic on that whole inside route so if they’re who is paying the freight, there won’t be much commercial support for dredging.

Edit: Google came through on the tug: Evidently she is the Nautilus Swell.  According to this guy she was 100 years old in 2012.  Platypus is the yard that we hauled Gray Hawk at 2 years ago – this boat may have been there while we were there but if she was I certainly don’t remember her.

Leaving Seattle

We got an early start from Puget Sound Yacht Club Friday morning because we had a big day ahead of us.  As it turned out one of the biggest challenges of the whole day was winding our way through the flock of rowing sculls between Freemont and Ballard bridges.  Talk about taking your life in your hands.  There’s some serious boats go through that canal – boats that make Gray Hawk look like a dinghy.  And then here comes a bunch of clowns out there rowing.  Kayaking is bad enough but at least they look where they’re going.  Rowers sit ass backwards in their boats, can’t see shit for where they’re going and these clowns didn’t seem overly concerned.   Out of the whole works of them – maybe a dozen boats in total, some with 4 idiots rowing, I saw exactly one of them with one of those head mounted rearview mirrors that bicyclists sometimes use.  I had one clown that appeared determined to ram me until I blew the horn at him and most of the time we were in and out of gear and spinning the wheel from side to side to get through them.  I’m sure the commercial guys are a lot less concerned for their welfare.

Covich Williams, the Chevron dealer just inside the locks was our first stop.  We took on just a few gallons less than an even 500.  I think maybe we could have squeezed in the 500 if it had mattered but their volume break started at 400 gallons. Its really bad form to overflow your tanks – the EPA has no sense of humour about oil spills so we stopped just short of 500 gallons.

The total came to close to $1,600 US – I expect it will kick hell out of $2,000 by the time it clears our account in Nipawin.  When I did the miles per gallon calculation it came out to 1.47 nautical miles per US gallon.  I could make that sound better by converting it to statute miles (shorter miles) and using a real gallon instead of that wimpy ass thing the Americans use but no matter how you cut it, we don’t get great mileage.  And after well over three years, that’s what it is.  In the winter we burn extra diesel running the Webasto to keep warm and in the summer we burn extra diesel through the old Onan to keep the lights and stove working.  We probably get something better than 2 nautical miles to the US gallon when we’re underway but this whole adventure wouldn’t be much fun if we were freezing our asses off and hungry all the time.

Armed with full fuel tanks we tackled the locks again and this time they were a piece of cake.  We went through the small lock again – and all alone again.  There was some monster plastic boat sitting outside the locks when we pulled out of Covich Williams – I thought he must be waiting for the locks but after a while he just cut across the channel in front of us, turned around and buggered off.

Then we had an uneventful cruise north to Everett.  Uneventful is always our goal.  The occasional whale event would be pleasant but, in general, boring cruising is the best kind.


As we approached the entrance to Everett Marina we could easily see the warship in the foreground of this photo.  As we got closer though it became apparent that what initially appeared to be the background waterfront is actually an aircraft carrier.  Those things are immense – its hard to imagine just how big they really are until you are looking up at one from the water. 


Everett Marina is at the mouth of the Snohomish River so there’s a pretty fierce current flows through it at all times.  It took me by surprise as we approached the marina because I had throttled back to idle, as I always do, and couldn’t figure out why we were barely moving.  Getting through the entrance required some additional throttle followed by quick action to make the turn up toward our reciprocal slip.  Unlike Seattle, in Everett we had lots of room to tie up.  The evening turned out to be really pleasant – not quite warm enough for a glass of wine on the aft deck but we tried that for a few minutes anyway.

Yesterday we moved further north to La Conner, retracing our track from when we first moved Gray Hawk from Seattle to Sidney.  I didn’t have Chuck standing beside me as we entered the Swinomish Channel but I could have used him yesterday.  We had a really stiff breeze blowing out of Skagit Bay to the south of us.  It was blowing hard enough that I had to be crabbed about 30 degrees to the channel as we followed the range in.  That’s pretty hard on the nerves when you’re in a really narrow channel but you have the boat pointed out of it.  As you turn in at the west end of the channel there’s a couple of reefs that were just barely awash yesterday and our strong crab made it look like we were heading straight over top of them.  Fortunately we didn’t hit anything.  We had all the electronics turned on plus 2 pairs of eyeballs watching the world around us.  They’re still the best nav instruments on the boat – eyeballs that is.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Backing up in Seattle

There was a pretty wicked breeze blowing yesterday afternoon.  It got a lot worse overnight but it was howling pretty good by the time we got around to docking at Puget Sound Yacht Club. 

Calling what they have here a reciprocal dock is generous.  We sure appreciate the spot to tie up but its really marginal for our purposes.  REALLY marginal.  There’s probably less than 30 feet of dock available and we’re a minimum of 48 feet overall, likely closer to 50 feet.  If we could properly tie the bow off to somewhere that wouldn’t be insurmountable and I think we’re moderately secure but its by no means ideal.  I guess its “free” moorage (paid for by our annual SNSYC membership) so we’re getting what we pay for. 

The big problem when we arrived yesterday was this guy:


That’s a broken off “dolphin” or piling.  Its pretty ominous looking, despite the attempt to beautify and safen it by the addition of a flower pot and flashing light.  You can tell from the photo how close it is to our port side but what is harder to convey is how tight the space is between it and the boat immediately behind us.

When we first pulled up to look at our mooring I didn’t think I could squeeze between the broken off dolphin and the boat behind us so I attempted to back down on our mooring.  That’s doable on a calm day or even in a mild breeze but yesterday with 20+ knots blowing us directly off the dock there wasn’t a hope in hell of success.  I got close and then the bow fell off, I couldn’t hold it and I ticked the dinghy on a piling at the end of the dock.  I put a tiny bend in a piece of aluminum trim on the dinghy – invisible damage compared to the years of abuse our dinghy has suffered but enough to convince me that plan wasn’t going to work.

So we came around, went deep into the marina, spun the boat in the middle of the fairway and then crept between the monster in the picture above and the boat that is now behind us.  That went just fine, as I knew it would as long as we could get through the gap between boat and dolphin.  The marina host was out and about by that time so she came to get in the way while Marilyn was handling lines.  I continue to be amazed by how little some boaters actually know about line handling despite – as in her case – over 20 years of experience doing it.  Some people get better with experience and some people just get more experience at doing things the awkward or wrong way.  If you review back to the spring line drawing that I posted earlier this week and imagine some fool taking that spring line just barely FORWARD from the midship cleat then you will have a picture of what our host did.  She had grabbed that line away from Marilyn who assumed that meant she knew what to do with it.  I had to tell her three times to take it back and I think in the end she was offended by my tone.  I pretty well had my hands full using throttles and thruster to hold us against the wind so by that time I was more interested in results than tact.

Pineapple express alive and well

This screen capture from Weather Underground says it all:


That big conveyor belt in the sky has been hauling water up from the south Pacific for close to a week now and shows no signs of letting up.

Back in Seattle, virgins no more ….

…… lock virgins that is. 

On Monday we left Bremerton and headed across the Sound back to Seattle.  We thought we were headed to a yacht club on the north side of the canal by Ballard but at the last minute discovered that I had seriously effed up on the location.  It was in fact way down on the south end of Lake Washington.  We were freaked out enough about going through the locks – clearing under multiple bridges to get to some unknown location in Lake Washington was flat out of the question.  So we diverted to what was supposed to be a yacht club dock at Fisherman’s Terminal.  As it turned out when we got there the large woman in charge of moorage had no clue about the yacht club we were referring to.  But that was all ahead of us as we approached Hiram Chittendam locks.

Locking through was pretty much a non-event.  We hung out at the waiting point on the west side, just past the bascule bridge for probably 10 minutes.  They have multi-level bollards built into the wall so we just threw a spring line over one of the bollards and tied it off short to a mid-ships cleat. There’s a pretty stiff current runs past there – they are releasing a lot of water from the lakes and all that water had to flow past us as we waited.

I could tell the lock was getting ready to let us in because I saw the gates opening before they turned on the green light for us.  Once we got the green we just pulled into the small lock and tied off to the floating bollards.  Its pretty simple in the small lock because the bollards rise and fall with the level of the lock.  On the big side you have to send long lines up the sides and then tend the lines as you rise or fall in the lock.  Because we were in the small side we just tied off, waited for the boat to rise and the gates to open and then untied and moved out.  QED as father would have said.

This morning we untied at Fisherman’s Wharf and came under Ballard Bridge, then Fremont Bridge and finally Aurora Bridge which brought us into the top end of Lake Union.  We scouted out the location of Puget Sound Yacht club whose reciprocal dock will be our home for the next two nights and then did a very leisurely tour around Lake Union. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014


On Friday afternoon we arrived in Bremerton to use our free moorage pass from the Seattle Boat Show.  Evidently someone in town realizes that tourists are important – that’s why they staffed a booth at the Boat Show and handed out coupons to induce us to come for a visit.  And it worked to get us here but I don’t think we’ll come back.  As so often happens in business, the promotion got us in the door but the follow through will keep us from coming back.

Now don’t get me wrong, Bremerton Marina is a lovely place.  Its one of the nicest marinas we’ve ever tied up in.  It is very reasonably priced – in addition to our free two day pass we paid for a day so we know what their rates are.  And they even had a “Bader – Reserved” sign stapled to our slip when we arrived – we’ve never had that kind of treatment.  The woman in the marina office was friendly enough but when we started asking about local facilities the train started to come off the rails.  She had no clue about where to buy groceries.  She was unaware of some other local businesses too but come on – groceries???  In a marina that is trying to attract transient boaters??? 

Since we’ve been here we’ve noticed that the marina is largely empty.  I’m sure the fact that their internet is constantly down isn’t the reason nobody is here but its annoying nonetheless.  We’ve been having a real run of boogy internet access this trip.  Yesterday Marilyn had a big file to upload so she went to the library where they advertise internet access.  “Oh no, its not working today and we don’t know when IT will get it fixed.”  So she went to a little coffee shop where random untalented singers entertained her while she uploaded. 

The most important reason we won’t likely come back though is that its a pretty boring downtown – what’s left of it.  In places like Anacortes, Roche Harbor, La Conner, Vancouver or Victoria there’s a vibrant downtown community with stores and/or entertainment in close proximity to the marina.  Here not so much.  A couple of coffee shops and several hotels is about it, as far as we can see anyway.

Right next door to Bremerton marina is the Puget Sound Shipyard and Maritime Maintenance …………….. I dunno the rest of it – the name is like a paragraph long.  Whatever the name, it appears to be the sole local employer.  Judging by the dolts we’ve seen wandering in and out its a heavily unionized environment.  And judging by the boarded up retail space in the downtown the shipbuilding activity has been severely curtailed in the last few years. 

The new Garmin system worked flawlessly on the way over.  I’m moderately puzzled by that – perhaps someone who reads this knows something about Cat 5 networking.  If so please help me understand what is happening.  We waited at Elliott Bay until the mailman arrived because he was delivering a couple of super dooper genuine Garmin Cat 5 modular network connectors.  I didn’t install them but I did read the directions.  I had actually given up on them arriving before we left so I used RTV to goober up the connections sufficiently to keep out rainwater.  Garmin has these really neat cable boots that include a locking ring complete with an o-ring to keep them watertight. In addition to the fancy weatherproof boot, they came with instructions for field installation which clearly indicated that the cables are to be wired as crossover cables.  That matches some of the anecdotes I read online – Garmin’s website is silent on the matter, at least as far as I can tell. 

The problem I have is that, when I bought the cable, it was a straight through cable which I intended to cut the end off of in order to pull it through some tight spaces.  I didn’t bother looking for a crossover cable because I reasoned that I could simply attach the new end that I was going to put on anyway as a crossover.  However, once I got the cable back to the boat, I figured I might as well hook everything up to try it out and when I did that, with the intact straight through cable, the system worked just fine.  My reaction at that point was “Oh well, the internet anecdotes are therefore wrong – no surprises there.” and I went ahead and hooked the radar up with a straight through cable.

So now I’m thoroughly puzzled.  Based on internet anecdotes and Garmin’s own assembly instructions, my installation is wrong.  But it appears to be working.  In the short term I’m going to leave it the hell alone but it will no doubt bother me until I get to the bottom of it.  Some of what I’ve read suggests that I need a crossover cable if the MFD connects directly to the radar and a straight cable if I have a router in between the two devices.  But we don’t have a router in that network so that theory doesn’t help me.

Our voyage to Bremerton started out along the same path that we took on our very first trip in Gray Hawk.  We recognized the marker buoy that held the basking sea lions three years ago and sure enough, there was a sea lion on it again.  It was the same route but it felt very different.  This time we docked in a seriously stiff breeze that had been bossing me around as we worked our way through the marina.  I was worried about holding the boat against the dock while Marilyn got off but everything went well with no incidents.  Three years ago my approach was point and pray – this time I actually had some clue what I was doing.  As I recall we had a dead calm day three years ago – the wind we had on Friday would have seen us bouncing off boats all the way down the fairway.  Having a clue doesn’t guarantee success but I think it helps.

We use a long midships spring line for virtually all our docking situations.  Its such a simple system and we rarely see anyone use it.  Occasionally we will run into someone who claims to use a spring line but often they are clueless about how to best use one so I’m going to post instructions here.  Not that we’ve such great boating experts but this system simply works so its worth putting it out there.

docking Three things to note:

  • The rudders are hard over AWAY from the dock
  • The spring line leads from a midships cleat and attaches to the dock well aft.  I’ve shown it attaching behind the boat but that’s not necessary.  What I often see though is people leading a “spring line” directly from the boat to the closest cleat on the dock.  That doesn’t work.
  • the drawing doesn’t show it but at least one engine is engaged.  Depending on wind I will try to use the engine away from the dock to avoid the chance of a dropped line getting picked up in the prop closest to the dock.  If the wind is strong though that won’t be possible because the outside engine will tend to counteract the rudder action. 

When we approach the dock Marilyn has the spring line attached to the midships cleat and coiled beside her.  She is sitting at the exit on whichever side we are docking, ready to step off immediately when the boat is stopped next to the dock.  Even with a stiff breeze blowing us off the dock, if I approach at about a 30 degree angle to the dock, the turning momentum of the boat will easily put us solidly against the dock at least momentarily.  The trick then is for me to stop the boat completely once it touches the dock and for Marilyn to promptly step off the stationary boat, before it drifts away from the dock.  If the wind is strong, we will almost immediately start to drift away from the dock.  I can counter that somewhat with power against the rudders hard away from the dock (that holds the stern to the dock) and countering the turn away from the dock with bow thrust toward the dock.  As I found out in Nanaimo a month ago though, under the wrong conditions I simply can’t hold us for long.  In that situation we had backed into the slip so I didn’t have any forward momentum to initially pin us to the dock.

If all goes well Marilyn steps off and promptly ties off the spring line well aft.  At that point it simply doesn’t matter how long or hard the wind blows.  Once that spring line is attached I can simply tighten up against it and we aren’t going anywhere, at least until we run out of fuel.  The rudders and props hold the stern pinned to the dock and the spring line keeps the bow from swinging out.  I generally stay at the helm but if need be I can leave a prop turning and go forward to handle lines.

It is important to note that all of the above can be accomplished at a dead idle.  I view it as a failure if I use throttle anywhere in the above manoeuvring except for a brief burst of power to quickly stop us against the dock.