Friday, August 28, 2009

August 28, 2009.

September is already almost upon us. I can practically smell the end of October and the beginning of our next trip south. The oppressive heat seems to have broken and there’s finally some breeze although accompanied by a bit of rain at times.

I’m still working a lot and now that the weather is lightening up we’ll start to take care of our own list of boat chores. First up for Saturday will be the ceremonial “flipping of the anchor chain”.

Our anchor chain is 240 feet of 3/8th’s inch galvanized chain. I don’t remember ever having deployed more than 120 feet or so of chain at any one time. So that means that the first 60 feet of chain has spent in excess of 1000 nights on the bottom. So what we have is the first 60 of feet of chain that’s been heavily used followed by a section of 30 feet or so of more lightly used chain with the rest of the chain being pretty much unused. So we’re gonna pull all the chain out onto the dock, flip it end for end, remark it every 30 feet and pull it all back into the chain locker. I know it sounds easy but I’m confident that it’s going to be a huge, dirty pain in the ass. The chain is sure to be full of twists and walking the twists out of the chain is never fun.

While the anchor locker is empty we’ll give it a good cleaning and maybe even a nice new coat of battle ship grey paint. It’ll also be a good time to take apart the windlass wiring and give all the connections a good cleaning. It all starts with something as simple as flipping the chain and before you know it, the projects all start to snowball on you.

Christy has been busy on her new favorite website, I’m not a big believer in the whole “following a recipe” thing but I have to admit she’s added quite a few meals to our regular rotation that are simply out of this world. So, she was due to stumble and stumble she did.

I think it was called Asian Fiasco Wraps. While she was cooking, the smells from the galley had me salivating. I had seen a large portion of ground turkey going into the pan so I assumed we were “doing Mexican”.

I set up the table in the cockpit and Christy started handing up plates of food. The first plate was covered in cut vegetables and I quickly realized we weren’t anywhere near Mexico. I recognized a few of my old friends but there were some things on the plate that I wasn’t even sure they were food.

Next up from the galley was a large bowl of warm water. WTF? After that, a large bowl of cooked ground turkey, and then a bowl of rice. Okay, I thought, it’s starting to look like a meal. Next came a package marked “Rice Paper”. They looked like corn tortillas but were so thin that you could read through them. What? Are we making an art project, collages for two?

It turned out that we had to dip these “Rice Paper’s” in the warm water and then flop them on the plate. From there on it was a lot like building tortillas. The texture of the dipped rice paper was extremely sticky and these Asian tortillas looked a lot like food stuffed in a condom. Most importantly, they tasted good and Christy seemed to really enjoy the look on my face as I surveyed the pre-meal table. It’s good to see her laugh.

She seems determined to have an arsenal of 800 recipes aboard when we leave this fall, I asked her to make this one number 801.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

August 21, 2009.

It’s been a week since I’ve written, so let me bring you up to date. My body is once again processing food as it was designed to do, so that’s a good thing. The insurance company finally decided after 5 days, that yes, they did approve the tests the doctor ordered, so that was a good thing as well.

Work has been interesting. I’ve come to realize that most people view their boats as toys, just like when they were kids. You know like when they left their new tricycle out in the rain, their skateboard in the driveway or their Matchbox Cars where they could be stepped on, they just don’t take care of their boats. I mean there are the rare exceptions, but most guys just show up at the boat, twist the key and expect everything to be as it should.

When they turn the key and the right things don’t happen that’s when you really find out what type of person you’re dealing with. Some guys stand there and freely admit that they don’t know when their oil was last changed, but they’re still pissed that the boat has let THEM down. We had a guy the other day whose engine had been immersed in salt water, LAST YEAR! He didn’t do anything about it and he couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that his supercharger was now one giant glop of rusted, non moving parts. He was practically acting like I had taken it apart incorrectly and had caused instantaneous catastrophic rust to form. The entire outside of the engine was one giant brown block of shit.

When you finally get these people to comprehend that these things happen because they don’t take care of their toys, they just fall apart. But, but I want to drive my buh, buh, boat. The, the, the other guys are all going out to play today. Sobbing like toddlers right down to the heaving shoulders, tear streaked cheeks and the little bubbles of snot when they breathe.

Dealing with the über rich is always interesting. Most of them are in a big hurry, gotta go, gotta get outta here, can you please doing anything for us? Of course they’re the first ones to bitch about the bill. Time and a half? You charged me time and a half because I called you on a Sunday morning and you were on my boat in 30 minutes just like you said you would? Really, when’s the last time you had a plumber come out to the house on a weekend and only charged straight time? I guess bitching about the bill is how you actually become über rich.

My favorite broken boaters are the people that appear interested in what happened and why. Some people want to be there just because they can make sure you’re actually working, while others “hover” because they want to learn a bit.

I had to replace the batteries in a woman’s boat the other day. She watched over my shoulder and commented “I could have done that”. I assured her she could have and suggested a few really good books that would walk her through several repairs that are sure to be in her future. The company charges a 2 hour minimum and I was done quickly so I spent over an hour talking her through changing her own oil, changing filters, bleeding her engine and adjusting her alternator belt.
But enough about work……

Christy has been hit pretty hard by this whole “change of life” thing. She was tempted to go visit friends for the next few weeks in an effort to get out of this oppressive heat and humidity. I needed to get to a dock so we could run the A/C for a couple of weeks.

Tonight we decided to pull the hook and go up and take a spot at my bosses dock. I got off work at 1700 hours so we started the boat and started to pull in the anchor chain. We pulled in about 5 feet of chain and……nothing. We were stuck on something, something big and solid. The windlass wouldn’t budge whatever had a hold of us.

We tried going forward and back for 10 minutes with no luck. The anchor chain was straight down and piano wire tight. Shit. Christy got my mask and snorkel and I went in to check out the situation.

Spa Creek is a murky, chocolate brown stream. At the surface visibility was literally 4 inches, at the bottom visibility was zero. I followed the chain to the bottom expecting to find our chain tangled on a sunken log or perhaps the bloated dead body of one of the local crabbermen. I was relieved yet sorely disappointed.

We were entangled in an abandoned mooring. I could literally see nothing at all but what I felt was a steel post jutting up 18 inches from the bottom with our chain wrapped several times around it. To make matters even more interesting, there was a 10 foot length of chain still attached to the mooring and it was thoroughly tangled with our chain. On top of that were the remnants of several anchor rodes that were lying on the bottom and were firmly wrapped around everything. There was even a piece of clothing wrapped up in this giant wad of shit. Crap.

I didn’t have any choice other than to cut it all free before I could even begin to think about untangling the chains. Every time I went to the bottom I cut a line or three free from the tangle. I had to dive on this mess at least 50 times to clear all the crap that could be cut away. Fortunately, I only cut one chunk out of one of my fingers. Once that was done I was able to find the end of the moorings chain and unwrap it from our anchor chain.

Once free of the “post of permanency” we idled up alongside the dock and tied up, plugged in and luxuriated in some A/C. She’ll stay….

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 15, 2009.

One of the biggest adjustments that we had to make when we sailed away was not having the comfort and convenience of seeing your own doctor. We had both been seeing the same physicians for several years. We were comfortable with them, we trusted them. So it was a big adjustment when they weren’t just a short drive away any longer.

As a result, whenever either one of us needs to see a doctor it’s pretty much a crap shoot. Who’s a quack? Who’s any good? Who’s accepting new patients? Can I get an appointment before the end of time? Then throw in the all important insurance question and we might as well go see a witch doctor in the Congo. I know he won’t accept Aetna either, but leeches are only like a dime apiece in the Congo, so we can pay cash.

I had been having some stomach “issues” off and on for about 10 days. On Thursday I got out of work early and felt lousy so I went right to bed. Christy informed me that I had 101 degree fever. Whatever. I woke up Friday with abdominal pains severe enough to keep me from going to work. Christy started the process of lining up a doctor’s appointment. We needed a place that allowed “walk ins” and that accepted our insurance. After some internet research and several phone calls we had a plan. Oh, what a plan it was…….

We got to the clinic at 1030 and sat there for over 4 straight hours. At 1445 we were ushered into one of the examination rooms. At 1530 the doctor finally graced us with his presence. After I explained the problem, he preformed an examination and decided that I needed a CT scan of my abdomen. The doctor was concerned that I might have a “back-up” so to speak, in my plumbing, since things have been going in, but not coming out. But before that could happen I had to go over to the hospital and have blood work done. Luckily I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink since the night before.

The lab at the hospital closed at 1615 so we had to hurry. We made it with no time to spare. We had a giant hassle with the staff about our health insurance as the minutes ticked by. Finally we signed papers which said to we would be responsible for the bill since the FREAKING HOSPITAL doesn’t accept AETNA! Are you kidding me? Finally, the blood was drawn. After that it was back in the car and off to the imaging center.

So, when we got to the imaging center, imagine our surprise when they told us that Aetna hadn’t approved the procedure. Apparently, the receptionist at the Dr’s office did not get prior approval and then she went home, and so did everyone at Aetna, who could approve the test. So we needed the crack staff of in-house doctors to decide if the procedure was required.

So I’m supposed to wait while the “doctors” at Aetna decide my fate. But oh no, that won’t be today, because it’s already 1700 hours on a Friday afternoon. I guess that sitting in the doctor’s office for the better part of the day really didn’t help matters much. So we asked the girl if there was a chance that they would have an answer by the following morning. Well, she’s never actually had a situation like this rectified over the weekend.

So, it was back in the car and off to the original doctor’s office. Christy raised holy hell and we got in to see the doctor in about 15 minutes, this time. He did a good bit of tap dancing while trying to explain our options to us. Basically he said “Hmmmmm, this is a dilemma, what do YOU want to do?” I could head over to the emergency room and probably spend another 10-12 hours with the Friday night drunk rush, trying to get a CT scan. Or I could start taking some antibiotics and go home and see how that worked. If it did get worse once I was home and I had to go to the ER hopefully it would be in the middle of the night, after the Friday night rush. Oh yeah, there’s a bright spot. I’ll take curtain number two Monty……..drugs and a trip home.

So now it’s Saturday afternoon and I am feeling a bit better. If the trend continues I should be fine by morning. When I do finally take a shit, I think that I’ll box it up and send it off to Aetna. Doctor’s often need a stool sample to make an informed decision.

So when all is said and done, we jumped through their hoops, and at the last possible moment the insurance company that we pay thousands of dollars to every year decided that real doctoring can wait til Monday, if at all. What a crock of shit. Yet some people still try to convince me that health care reform isn’t warranted. That’s officially the end of my 2009 politically themed post, so don’t be afraid to come back.

On a more nautical note, I’ve got a new Boat Name of the Day.

Baycation…..It was a big sportfisher. I just thought it was a great attitude to bring to the boat with you. “Miss Smithers, hold my calls, I’ll be on Baycation”.

Monday, August 10, 2009

August 9, 2009.

On Wednesday the youngest girlchild graced us with her presence. She's been away, backpacking through Europe for a month so we were really happy to see her and hear about her trip. She’s been pretty busy between screening for a new roommate, working and getting ready for her last year in school. She was debating going back to Jersey to see people or trying to squeeze a visit in with us. She kinda just called up and said “hey, can I?” and the next thing I knew she was here. She and Christy did some fun stuff together during the day. It had been brutally hot so when I got home from work we opted to take the dink down the creek and into town for dinner.

My favorite place in town is kind of a working mans pub called the Armadillo. It’s kind of dark and a little seedy but serves the best damn food in town. The menu is kind of limited but the servings are copious and really good. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s an ice cream parlor right next door. So after dinner we walked further into town and stopped in for some ice cream on the way home for the dinghy ride back to the boat. It’s really nice to have Ashlee spend the night, especially since it usually ends with ice cream.

On Saturday I had to work for just 2 hours to finish up a job and get a guy underway. Until the phone rang that is. We got a call from a guy we fixed a few days ago who had a different problem and just HAD to have us there ASAP. Fine. While we were on the second boat the marina refered a third guy to us and as we’re taking care of him a fourth guy showed up and begged us to come over to his boat when we were done.

The last guy had just come into port and his A/C wouldn’t work. The catch was that he had 2 bigass Detroit twin turbo diesel engines crammed into his engine room. You know, the same place his 4 air conditioner units were. He had a thermometer on the wall in the engine room that read 128 degrees. It was humid as hell in there and the engines were so hot that you couldn’t touch them. The companionway between the engines was only a few inches wider than I am. As the boat gently rocked it was pssst, a burn on my left shoulder. Pssstt, a burn on my right tricep, pssst, another on my left forearm, back and forth repeatedly. It royally sucked.

Fortunately, we were able to find a burned out board that controlled the A/C water circulation pump. We couldn’t get a new board until next week so the owner opted to have us hotwire the pump to run continuously. So, he had A/C for the weekend and we were soon on our way home.

So since I had some time for myself on Sunday I spent it, how else, that’s right, fixing the generator. Armed with the newly purchased service manual I was able to successfully set the timing. I did have to remove the head to make sure that I didn’t bend a valve or damage the piston. It all went well and was back together in a couple of hours. When I was done I cranked the engine through by hand and all appeared to be good. I forgot to bring my torque wrench and feeler gauges home from work so I’ll have to put the finishing touches on it tomorrow evening after work. But as of right now things are looking pretty good.

It was pretty damn hot today and as a result the local Mexican crabbermen were pretty drunk by the time afternoon rolled around. There was one guy that obviously gave up on crabbing so he could dedicate his attention to drinking. You never go swimming after eating but after drinking……nobody ever said anything about that. He was swimming along in the slowest dog paddle/ breaststroke I’ve ever seen. He was going from one anchored boat to another and hanging from the anchor chain to rest. So inevitably, he got to our boat. I was sitting in the cockpit with my post generator celebration cocktail as Miguel Phelps swam up and started hanging on our chain.

He was not hurting anything but I have every confidence that this WILL become a problem. I was sitting there trying to remember my high school Spanish. I can remember “Donde esta el banõ? (where’s the bathroom?) and “El pluma esta en le tabla”( the pen is on the table). But when it came to “get your hands off my boat before I have to choke you” I was drawing a complete blank. I must have been absent that day.

Both dogs were standing directly over him looking straight down at him. I briefly considered flashing my wallet and screaming “Immigracioń” to watch as he set a swimming record on his way back to the woods. Then slowly but surely I watched as the dogs made their way back from the bow, still looking over the toerail as Seńor Phelps made his way aft. Is he kidding?

I got up, strapped on an attitude and made my way aft. I lookd over the stern and was met by the grin adorned face of a slobbering drunk. This guy was completely shit faced and hanging on our swim platform. He couldn’t speak any English and I didn’t need to use the bathroom, so we were at an impasse. The awkward moment was broken when I realized that not only couldn’t he speak English, he was so drunk he couldn’t speak Spanish either. He had little drunken eyes rolling in his head, a flat out stupid grin on his face and sounded like a baby with a spoonful of carrots in his mouth as he attempted to speak. How am I supposed to cop an attitude with that? I looked at him and said “Adios senor, tu familia esta en la tabla” (Goodbye mister, your family is on the table). Hey, it’s the best I could do. His eyes kind of clouded, his grin widened, he waved and swam slowly back towards shore.

With an international incident averted Christy and I decided to take a dinghy ride down the creek to try and beat the heat or at least feel some breeze. We were almost a mile away when my phone rang. Our friend Jeff was on the line and he asked me “Bill, are you aware that you have a Mexican hanging from your bow?” So I turned the dink around and headed back. Then Jeff told me that the guy had once again made his way to the stern and was now attempting to get up on the swim platform.

So we made our way back to the boat and as we came around the last bend in the creek we were met by the sight of this guy hanging from our swim platform. He had one foot up on the platform and was hanging by both arms from the dinghy lifting lines. His head, ass and the rest of him was down in the water with both hands and one foot up in the air. We pulled right up to him without him realizing that we were there. Christy announced our presence by screaming at him “hey, get off our boat!” while I removed his hands from the lines. She was so loud that I was even startled. He swam slowly away from the boat out towards the middle of the creek. He looked back like a sad, a very sad puppy that’s been sent on its way.

I dinghied over to the other crabbermen and their families. I explained that Senor Phelps was pretty drunk and shouldn’t be out in the river clinging to the boats. They thanked me profusely and called Miguel back to shore. As I made my way back to the boat I passed Senor Phelps and he had his drunken grin back on and waved as we passed. Puppies evidently have short memories.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August 4, 2009.

I was able to order my generator parts, including the service manual through work so things are looking better on that front.

I thought that I would post a few pictures of how the “other” half lives. No, not my other half, rich folks. These are a few pictures of an Oyster 68 that I have to fix, what else, the generator on.

The thing is driven by a pair of 135 horsepower Mercedes diesel engines. That’s right twin engines. It also has a 15 KW generator and a 7.8 KW generator which is currently on the fritz.

The salon area is to is to die for with comfortable seating for dominoes.

The inside helm station is pretty nice and would be pretty comfortable in the event of bad weather.

There’s a nice sized galley with breakfast seating for 4.

Up forward there are 4 bunks for crew with a huge master stateroom for the owners aft. The boat is really nice but I gotta say that I was pretty disappointed with the smallish size of the master bunk. Although they do have a full sized couch in the master stateroom. There is however, a single bunk back there as well, I’m not real sure what the hell that’s all about.

The massive cockpit has room to easily seat a dozen fat folks. The decks are covered in teak and the duel exhausts just look kinda cool.

The boat is for sale because the owner wants something a little smaller. I’m thinking that a straight up trade for a nice Pearson 42 would be a pretty good deal for all involved. As a matter of fact, its fair right down to the fact that we both have generators on board that don’t work. I hope he doesn’t fall off the dock laughing when I ask him……
August 2, 2009.

Guess who! That’s right. Guess where! Right again, Spa Creek in Annapolis, Md.

Well, I got my new parts for the generator and installed everything. There was to be a bit of irony though. You see, at work I’ve probably fixed a half dozen generators in the last 2 weeks. So it was ironic that when I cranked our newly reassembled generator over I found that I had screwed up the timing. The way that the incorrect timing made itself know to me was by the top of the piston coming into contact with one of the valves and bending the shit out of one of my pushrods. F*%k. I can’t believe this shit. Of course, it was on Saturday morning so I got to stew in my own juices waiting for Monday morning so I could order new parts. So it seems that I can fix other peoples crap but I screwed up my own. Ironic, moronic…..whatever. Damn.

Right after the generator “event” my boss called and asked if I could put in a few hours. So I dinghied in and found myself tasked with installing a new stackpack on a small sailboat. It all went pretty well and the new stackpack looks pretty sweet on the guy’s boat.

On Sunday Christy and I were supposed to go pick up a catamaran that had been hit by lightning and bring it in for repairs. But at 0835 on Sunday morning “Bob” called and asked if I wanted to put in a few hours as 2 boats had broken down in the city marina and were referred to us. So at 0900 “Bob” and I drove down to the marina and headed to either boat.

It turns out that the boat “Bob” went to was in the care of a new captain / engineer and he might not be as familiar with his new command as his resume might have led his new employer to believe. It seems that they had come in from Baltimore, docked for the night and when the boat was started in the morning it soon died. These bigger boats all have several fuel tanks and it turned out that they had run out of fuel in their selected tank. The captain was certain that he had 75 gallons of fuel in that tank before the beginning of their short trip to Annapolis. “Bob” had to explain to him that in a boat this size 75 gallons is nothing. So after changing to a full tank and a bit of bleeding they were up, running and on their way again.

My boat for the day was an 85 foot monster. They were also having fuel starvation issues. The engine room was massive and housed two 12 cylinder twin turbo diesel engines and a pair of generators that were each bigger than my boats propulsion engine.

The captain said that the port side generator failed, followed shortly by the other generator and then this morning during warm up both main engines died. He also assured me that nobody had been in the fuel system. So I was left to ponder how the hell all this air got into the system. Its gotta be sucking air somewhere. I crawled through the engine room and all the way to the bow tank, which was their chosen tank, looking for evidence of a leak.

There were 4 different fuel tanks, 2 main engines and 2 generators. None of them would run because of air in the fuel lines. The boat has a huge manifold system and I was able to determine that they all only had one line in common. The main fuel line from the number 1 tank. So I switched the selector to tank number 2 and isolated the port engine. Then I started to bleed it. The system is so big that it took me an hour to bleed it but viola, the port engine started right up and purred like a 4000 pound kitten. Then I did the starboard engine with the same results. It was when I was bleeding the port generator that I realized what the actual problem was.

You see, it’s a good habit that whenever you change a filter on an engine that you use a marker and date the filter so you can tell at a glance just when it was last changed. As I was sitting there pumping fuel to the generator I noticed the date on the spin on fuel filter and it was 8/1/09, yesterday. So it seemed that someone HAD been into the fuel system. Oh look, and they were in there on the same day the problems started. Coincidence? I think not.

When the port generator died the captain / engineer decided to change the filter and evidently screwed it up bigtime. Some how he got air into the entire system. The only thing I can figure is that he had the other generator running while he opened the fuel system and he sucked air into it as the other generator drew in its fuel. That would explain the starboard side dying and then there being air in all the lines when it was time to fire the main engines in the morning. So once realizing that there probably wasn’t any leak at all things went like they were supposed to and everything was soon running.

The owner was aboard and was pretty happy that we had come out on a Sunday and he was psyched that I got him running. As a result I got the first tip I’ve seen since working in Annapolis. But its already pushrods.

When I got home to the boat there was a bit of entertainment going on in the adjacent mooring field. It seems that someone brought their wee powerboat into the river and dropped the hook and then dinghied in to town. Then their wee powerboat dragged into the mooring field where it came to rest against one of the empty moorings. If you look closely in the picture you can see his tiny rope anchorline pointing almost straight down. And they'll be wondering why they dragged....