Thursday, July 16, 2020

Beginning of a New Voyage (Prequel)

This post is a chronicle of what it took to get Intermezzo underway on a new voyage after launching on June 27.

The first thing on the list after launching was to commission the electric head (marine toilet) in the master suite, one of the few luxuries I allow myself on the boat. Water had intruded through a shaft seal into the pump motor. I had the old pump motor rebuilt in Santa Rosa, but chose to purchase and install a complete new pump assembly so that I would have a spare. I got everything hooked up and did a test flush. The new pump and motor is so much quieter than the old- the water intrusion had really messed up the bearings in the old motor and made them noisy. I was so happy. Then, two days later, I was dismayed that the joker valves had failed and waste was slowly seeping back into the bowl after flushing. I dismantled everything again to install new joker valves and we were finally back in business.

I am motivated to provide the above information for two reasons. First, so that landlubbers understand that sailing and living on a boat is not paradise 100% of the time, as advertisements might have you believe. Second, it serves as the obligatory marine toilet story for those readers that do have boats and expect such tales of woe. No sailing blog is complete without an episode of a clogged or otherwise problematic head every so often.

After getting the toilet back in service, I moved on to a science project. My Lifeline AGM batteries did not seem to have the capacity they once had. At the end of last year's voyage, low voltage alarms were going off in the middle of the night, requiring me to get up and run the engines to recharge the batteries. I did some research and learned that these batteries can be reconditioned to recover their charging capacity. I figured it was worth seeing if I could do this before buying new ones.

The steps in involved in reconditioning the batteries are to fully charge them and then apply a constant 15.5 volts for eight hours. Before I did this, I wanted to test the batteries to know their capacity prior to reconditioning and then afterwards I could test them to measure any improvement.

I purchased two pieces of equipment for this experiment. I bought a Kunkin KP184 battery load tester for testing the batteries and a BK Precision 1688B DC power supply to condition them. These set me back about $320, a modest investment compared to the $2,000 price for new batteries. Both would be useful in on the boat in the future, regardless of the outcome of the experiment.

I disconnected one of the batteries from the boat and applied a constant 25 amp load with the Kunkin tester. The specified capacity of a new battery is 390 minutes under this load to get to a 100% discharged voltage of 10.5V. The battery actually lasted only 130 minutes under this load, only 33% of its rated capacity. I tested a second battery the same way and got the same capacity measurement. These were not promising results as I understand that the batteries need to have at least 50% of their rated capacity to be reconditioned.

I tried reconditioning a battery anyway, fully recharging it and then applying the 15.5V constant voltage with the BK power supply. The battery accepted very little charge, 2.4 amps or less during the conditioning. I then tested the reconditioned battery with the 25A constant current load and the result was no difference, only 33% of capacity.

So, I bit the bullet and purchased three new Lifeline 4DL batteries for $1910 with shipping and swapped out the old ones, which required the manhandling of 840 lbs of batteries on and off the boat. Oh well.  At least now I can use the BK power supply periodically to condition the new batteries and extend their lives.

The other big job that needed to be done at the dock was to seal the source of a leak. While bashing in heavy weather to the Panama Canal last April I noticed a lot of water dripping off of and into the food locker in the starboard hull. I tried to track down the source of the leak, but couldn't figure it out. I suspected it was coming from behind the rubrail on the side of the boat. It was.

The boat is basically constructed in two major pieces- the hulls and the deck. The deck is lowered on to the hulls and the two pieces joined with epoxy. The rubrail covers this joint. When I removed the rubrail, I discovered that there we some gaps in this epoxy joint and some unfilled screw holes that could let water in if it was determined to do so, like in Panama.

It was a relatively easy repair to make, but took time. I removed the stainless steel strips that hold the rubrail in place and then loosened sections of the rubber rubrail to expose the hull-deck joint. I cleaned out the joint and then caulked it with a high-quality sealant. Then, after polishing them, I replaced the stainless steel strips and put a thin bead of caulk along the top edge of the rubrail. I turned the boat around so that I could access the port side and did the same repair on that side for good measure. I'm confident I won't have a leak from the rubrails again.

The leak now fixed, I moved on to rebuilding the head of one of the watermaker pumps. The pump was not pumping at the same rate as its twin and was sucking air. I had to remove the whole pump assembly to access the pump head, but other than that, it was pretty easy to replace the old head with a new one.

It was time for sea trial, so I invited my Dad out for the first sail of 2020. It was fitting, as he was crew for the last sail of 2019. We motored out the inlet and tootled around for an hour, enjoying the water, conversation and a beer. When I ran the starboard engine hard, however, I saw quite a bit of white "smoke" (steam) coming out of the exhaust. Not good. Add another item on the list.

I had noticed the white smoke a couple times on our way to Mattituck last year, but I rarely run the engines hard so I didn't do anything about it. I guess I was wishing it would go away on its own, hahah. Yet deep down, I knew the truth. When I replaced the raw water pump impeller, one of its blades was missing. These blades don't just disappear into thin air. They lodge at the inlet of the heat exchanger and then compromise the engine's cooling system.

It's not hard to remove the cap of the heat exchanger to extract the piece of blade. The annoying and time-consuming part of the job is having to remove the alternator to get to the cap and then re-install it. Two hours of disassembly and reassembly for a ten minute repair. I got the little bugger out and no more white smoke. Good.

Everything on the list was pretty much done in time for Lisa's arrival last Saturday. I picked her up at JFK and now had helping hands. She deep cleaned the cabin and was a big help with the final pre-departure punch list. And now I have someone other than myself to talk to, though I still am talking to myself, which confuses and annoys her.

On Sunday we went shopping for provisions and on Monday it was time to return the rental car. That turned out to be kind of fun.

I had purchased a Montague folding bike to use for shoreside transportation. I put the folded bike into the trunk of the rental car and drove the 50 minutes to Bohemia to the car rental office. The car returned, I took the bike out of the trunk, unfolded it and rode the three miles to the Ronkokoma LIRR station, folded it again and boarded a train for the hour ride back to Mattituck. Hopped of the train in Mattituck, unfolded the bike and road the 2 1/2 miles back to Strong's. The bike is really well put together and rides great! A fun way to travel. A great addition to the boat's infrastructure.

And that was it. We were ready to go. And so we went.

Performing a capacity test on an old battery. It failed.

The leaking deck-hull joint exposed

The joint after caulking with sealant

Test sail with my Dad

The heat exchanger cap with the offending impeller blade lodged inside it

My folding Montague bike, a new way to get around on land