Friday, October 2, 2009

Oxidation is an insomniac

A late September sunrise:

As I explained in the previous post, this one will be largely about some of the seemingly endless DIY stuff that takes up a chunk of just about every single day here. At one time I think I had it in my head that if I just knuckled down and spent more hours on maintenance, repair and corrosion prevention, eventually I would be 'caught up'. Now I realize that this will never happen where we are living. We pay for these nice views and constant breeze in trade goods, and those trade goods are everything we own that has any steel or aluminum in it. There is just too much metal in our lives. If it were all titanium, or low carbon stainless steel..then maybe it would last. But it isn't. And it doesn't.

But before I get on to 'Gringo's Interminable War on Corrosion' I thought I would post some photos taken last weekend. Because we had a great weekend.

We have wanted to make our way over to Pine Cay for some time now. In our other summers here we spent weeks out on that little island during the summer when it is almost deserted. But our power boat has been basically unreliable for over two months now. We have been essentially stranded on Providenciales - except for our kayak excursions. I just realized that I could say that we have just spent two and a half months stranded on a desert island! It sometimes feels that way. Boats cure island fever.

Our longest stretch in the kayak to date had been maybe four or five protected miles in canals. But we had been thinking of using the kayak for the trip to Pine Cay for some time. We had kayaked to Pine Cay the first year we were here over the Caicos Bank, and between the tide in our face and the wind from the then-forming storm that would become Hurricane Rita, well we refer to that trip as the "Death March". We have not tried it again in four years. Until now.

But since we have gotten this awesome little inflatable kayak, we have been thinking of trying it again. And this time we would take the open ocean route, which is the dotted line in this image:

(Funny that the images for here on Google Earth are from April 2004. Been a lot of changes since then - a year before we moved here.)

So, this weekend we finally got fed up enough with island fever and desperate enough for some boat time to give it a try. We loaded up the dog, a cooler, remembered the sail this time and launched the boat near Big Blue in Leeward.

There is a nice little boat ramp there which Big Blue gave us permission to use. The floating docks in the background are part of the whole Leeward/Nikki Beach development abomination that was allowed to go on here over the past couple years. Notice the docks are all empty. As they usually are. (We all heard the news last week that the marina and the Nikki Beach resort went into receivership.)

The water is still absolutely beautiful if you crop the Leeward Development out of it:

Saturday afternoon we made the decision to head up out of Leeward-Going-Through along the coastline. We wanted to see how difficult it would be should we decide to head on up to Pine Cay some day. And to our delight, we found out that it was not very difficult at all. We went about two thirds of the way on Saturday (about 8 miles round trip) and then did the whole thing for real on Sunday (a little over 12 miles clocked on the GPS).

Knowing from previous experience that our backsides tend to get a bit numb after an hour or two sitting on the thin kayak seats, I cobbled up an idea I had. I took some 'noodles' (those cheap foam floatation toys) and cut them up into sections. I punched holes in the sections with a (rusty, of course) piece of metal and laced them together with some nylon line to make additional seat cushions. It worked out really well:

They weigh almost nothing, are dirt cheap, are very comfy and would serve as additional floatation if we needed it. Whoops...drifting into the DIY here, I digress...

We didn't really time our trip to take full advantage of the tidal flow, not because we don't know any better, but because the tides were just not convenient. And we have used this little boat enough now to know that we can power through a lot of oncoming current. We just had to slog it out for a mile or so against the flood tide. Once we got out of Leeward and made the turn up the outer shore of the islands it became a nice pleasant summer day's outing. Going slow like this we were able to really look at the shoreline, much more than we do when using the power boat. This is just about in the middle part of Water Cay:

With the wind just off our starboard bow, the sail wasn't much use on the way up. Oh, when I tacked the boat back and forth we did pick up a little help from it. But the little lift we got from the sail in this direction was more than offset by the extra mileage we had to travel during the tacks. We experimented with it and ended up picking a nice compromise. The pedalling was not hard. We did stay right on the edge of some developing rain showers, but even Dooley the Diminutive was pretty relaxed about it. He tried to keep a watch on the shoreline in case a cat or an iguana might show up and need some attention...

But he couldn't seem to stop himself from dozing off in the warm sun to the sound of the water lapping against the boat.

And there wasn't much to see. The reef a mile out to our NW, and the undisturbed beach we were following to our east. Very relaxing. This is the little point that is the SW corner of Water Cay. There is a nice beach now between it and Little Water Cay.

So, after about two hours of more or less leisurely pedalling with some small sail assist, we were able to pull up exactly to where we wanted to be on the beautiful beach at Pine Cay. Notice, nobody to the north..

Nobody to the south:

Nobody to seaward:

Just the beach, the sun and, of course, the water:

Not too shabby, as far as beaches go.

After an hour or so on Pine Cay we saddled up for the pedal home and discovered that now the wind was workable for our little sail. We could make a couple miles an hour with no effort at all. Except for the bald-headed old guy steering and trimming the sail from the stern, the rest of the crew was even able to turn around in the boat to relax and just enjoy the ride back:

See, no pedalling at all. And we had Dooley the Diligent keeping an eye out for sharks, dolphins, or whatever. He's learned to pay attention to things under the surface after the shark incident.

It got even more relaxing as the lazy afternoon drifted by..

We were able to just stretch and out catch a few late summer rays, with the wind and the sail doing all the work.

Eventually Dooley the Drowsy was able to grab the second half of his afternoon nap..

When we got to Leeward we had to fire up the Mirage Drive pedal power again, but all in all it was a very encouraging trip. It makes some of the other longer trips we have been contemplating seem even more feasible after this. All in all, a very nice day.

And this concludes the laid-back tropical portion of this post!

Now, on to some of the reasons why I have not been posting as often lately. It's because I seem to constantly have my hands full. Between working on troublesome motors and trying to keep up with the corrosion inherent in living here it's to the point where it takes planning and effort to get a day off to go kayaking. This summer it started with the Yamaha outboard on our boat. I am going to try to synopsize this in a few photos, just to give you an idea and knowing that most readers are not really interested in outboard motors.

So, here's the warning to those not interested in greasy, dirty jobs. The rest of the post is about just that aspect of living here.

In early July we were motorvating back from a fishing trip offshore when the motor started running really rough. I thought we had blown a piston or something. We limped back to our slip at the marina at the time and over the next few days, and then weeks, I kept trying to figure out what was wrong with it. One of the first things I noticed was that the lower sparkplugs had suddenly gotten very fouled by seawater in the cylinders. Now, THIS is a fouled spark plug:

This is what they SHOULD look like, more or less:

Only the lower two were this bad, but that is pretty bad. Over the next few days I discovered that a thing called a water control (or poppit) valve had corroded away on the engine. This is a motor with only 150 hours on it. Finding this problem took time, as this part is well-buried in the motor. I ordered the parts online from the US. Most annoyingly (that's a very polite way of putting it) the company that I bought the parts from charged me the premium for UPS three day delivery and then put them in the US mail!!! It took over a week and a half to get the parts to replace all this:

And needless to say, I will NOT be doing business with a company called "" again in this lifetime. In fact, I will happily pay higher prices to one of their competitors, to someone with a customer service function. They basically ripped me off and kept the extra shipping money they charged me. It was totally their error.

Well, replacing the corroded parts on the motor didn't fix all the problems. I halfway figured that I would have a compression problem from the water getting into the cylinders. But a compression check showed all six of them to be fine:

I kept removing more and more stuff from this motor, and got down to the fuel injectors expecting them to be corroded, but a visual inspection showed that they didn't really look at that bad at all.

So I continued to check everything I could think of on this motor. I got a lot of support and help from people on some of the online boating forums I frequent, especially from a company called Shipyard Island Marina up in Wisconsin. I think that's great - a guy with a motor on a small island in the Caribbean getting technical help and assistance from an outboard expert on a small island in Wisconsin. Thanks Andy!

Now, I should say that this is a special kind of motor by TCI standards. In fact, it is the only one of its kind here that either I or the Yamaha mechanics here even know about. The Yamaha people here don't work on these, don't know much about them, or stock parts for them. They told me that the problem with HPDI (High Pressure Direct Injection) motors here was that the local fuel was just not good enough for them. Great. Just what I needed to hear. Well, anyhow, we hauled the boat out of the water and moved it to the house where I could more easily work on it. Please keep in mind that I am condensing twelve weeks worth of troubleshooting and aggravation into a few paragraphs here.

In the course of all the things I tried, I discovered that the marina-bought fuel in the boat's tank looked a lot different from the fuel we bought at the local Texaco station:

Marina fuel is on the left, and you can see the difference. This led me to really concentrate on fuel issues. As in get rid of the old stuff and look at how to filter the new. One question I had was how to dispose of around thirty gallons of gasoline in the boat tank. I wanted it out of there. I did not want to dump it on the ground, or burn it. That's pollution, I figure. I would like to avoid that where I can. Neither of our other vehicles use gasoline, since they are both diesels. But we finally thought up with a way to dispose of the gasoline and to help some other people out at the same time.

La Gringa contacted the guys who bought the Suzuki from us and told them that if they wanted to come siphon the fuel out of the boat, they could have it. Oh my. The next day we had several Filipino carpenters here, happily siphoning about 30 gallons of gasoline out of the Contender tank. It was fine for their purposes, and will burn okay in non-injected motors. They filled the tanks on two Suzukis, and still hauled several five gallon jugs of fuel away. That should last them a month, at least, and saves them $ 4.30 a gallon. Every time we see these guys on the road now, we get big smiles and a lot of friendly waves. Hey, it got my boat tank emptied. The gasoline is being used. It helped some people out. I feel good about it.

This motor has been very, very frustrating. I have removed and cleaned some fuel filters:

I bypassed one that was not really doing anything to see if the air leak in it was the problem. The ethanol in the fuel had made the plastic of the filter housing swell up. Filter in place:

And bypassed:

Didn't matter. I let the swelling go down and re-installed it. What idiot decided that putting alcohol in gasoline was a good idea, anyhow?

I have checked ignition coils, spark plug wires, caps, etc....

We have re-launched the boat and tried to run it after every little thing I changed or cleaned up. There is a very rough ramp just a few miles from the house and we are getting pretty good at running the boat down there with the Land Rover:

Some of the tests need for us to be able to run it wide open, and we found out we can do that here:

(Remember the little jellyfish I posted a photo of in the last post? Well, I think I lost some of the good environment karma from not dumping the gasoline when we cuisinarted a dozen jellyfish during this runup. I guess we basically just shortened their trip back into the food chain)

Since there are apparently no injector-testing services in the country, I had to make up my own test jig to be sure the injectors are firing and not clogged:

And by golly, it works!

But I couldn't find anything obviously wrong with any of the injectors. I guess that's a good thing, in that they are about $250 each and there are six of them.

We have drained the old gasoline out and bought fresh new gasoline to put into the boat:

We have put it through a special filter funnel that removes water and debris even before it gets into the tank:

After the freshly bought, filtered fuel goes into the tank, it goes through no less than five more filtering levels before it gets to the injectors. And I am about to add another one. Sheesh. This is turning into a lot of trouble.

The last thing I got to before this post was to open up the high pressure fuel pumps (the motor also has five fuel pumps)

And clean these little bitty filter screens that the Yamaha technical manual does not even mention. There are four of these little boogers in there:

(...the screens, not the penny or the bolt. The penny is for scale, and the small bolt is what I used to get the danged screens out )

No good. Didn't fix it.

Drat. Gosh darn. Fiddlesticks. Dang it. Oh Pshaw. Horsefeathers. And some other words that I am not going to print here.

Well, now it's early October. I have gotten very, very familiar with the Yamaha 300 HPDI outboard motor. I never intended on getting this intimate with an outboard motor. It just happened. But it's still not fixed.

The boat has now essentially been out of commission for three months. I have just ordered some diagnostic software to try to pinpoint what's going on with it. Locals tell me to junk it, and buy a motor that is happy here. They tell me that it will never run right on the local gasoline. That is not such an easy thing to do. Outboard motors in the 250-300 horsepower range are not cheap. Even if I could find a decent used one. So we continue to put time, money, and frustration into trying to get this to run reliably. The last time La Gringa and I took it out, the motor quit entirely and I got to enjoy the experience of jumping overboard and towing it back down a canal and into a slip in about a knot of current. No kidding.

Guess all the kayaking did a pretty good job of rehabilitating the new knee. The problem this time was a loose fuel line, and I have gotten pretty handy at fixing fuel lines this summer.

I have to admit, though, that the more I mess around with high tech outboard motors.... the more I like the idea of sails. Add the cost of fuel, and oil, and thoughts of the environmental impact of these motors...and we have tons of free wind here. Constantly..

Maybe a new day is dawning in the boating department.

And as time consuming as the boat has been, oh, this is not ALL that's been going on. Oh, no no no no no no no... not by any means. There's more.

I continue to metaphorically beat my frustrated fists against the corrosion and rust issues here. You may have noticed, we do NOT give up easily on things. Toward this end, we added some new stuff to the arsenal. La Gringa snapped a few photos of Jon and I bringing a new toy home in the little Defender:

And no we did NOT buy a telephone booth. Wouldn't work half the time here if we did, anyhow. Trust me on this.

Nope, we have struck out in a new direction tool-wise. This is our new compressor which only took around six weeks to order online and receive in the TCI. Once again we got a lot of help from a friend here in getting this down to us. Brenton Berry runs TCI Paint & Supplies on the island and he ships a container of new merchandise down every two weeks from Florida to supply his store here. The containers are not always totally full. We had the compressor shipped to Brenton's family business in Florida, and they kindly transported it in their container to Providenciales for us. The shipping companies don't care how much weight is in a container, they charge by the cubic foot, or essentially per container.. Thanks Brenton!

Dooley the Distracted seems to be asking... how you gonna get that thing out of the truck? And that is a very good question. It's top heavy and with the pallet it's strapped to, weighs almost 400 lbs. And I am old and cripple, etc. And our driveway, such as it is, is always somewhat of an expedition experience whether you are going up, or down.

(This thing needs a proper roll cage for this kind of stuff, I think.)

Well, after considering and discarding several schemes and ideas what we did was use a ladder for a ramp, and just slid that sucker down into the garage like it was on greased rails:

See, my thinking on this is that I will start standardizing on air tools where I can. I have pretty much gotten discouraged with the choice, quality and price of electric tools here. We pay top dollar for low quality. When we can get it. Each power tool I buy has an electric motor. Electric motors have a lot of steel in them. Iron does not last long in this environment. Exposed, spinning parts and bearings also don't do very well. Salt environments and electricity are mutual enemies, as well. And the salt always wins. Friends here have told me that if you get two years out of a new power tool, you have done well. This is kind of hard to accept for someone who had tools routinely last fifteen or twenty years before. Oh, not here amigo. Not here.

Then I thought of air tools. There is a good selection of them, even here. I know of at least four places in Providenciales that stock air tools. They are very inexpensive. And since they are simple and sealed up air tight, they are relatively impervious to water, salt, and the other environmental factors here that seem to kill electric motors on a regular basis. And compressed air ties in nicely with my ongoing skirmishes with corrosion.

For example, now I can start with something that is merrily corroding itself into oblivion, such as one of the folding steps on the Land Rover:

I now have an air hammer that will definitely twist the rusted bolts off one of these things. And an air chisel that will cut them if need be. Then, I take the rusty part and put it in the electrolysis gunk and apply some low voltage to it for about 24 hours. This breaks up all the rust to a remarkable extent.

One of the Land Rover steps is in that blue plastic bucket. No kiddng. That's how much stuff comes off it in this solution. I have found out that steel rebar makes a good, cheap cathode.

Then, I take the formerly rusty piece out of the bucket and dry it off and put it in the new sand-blasting cabinet, which is hooked up to the new compressor:

It takes just a few minutes in the sand blaster to bring the formerly rusted metal down to shiny steel. Then I take it outside, and hook up one of the small paint spraying guns I bought with the compressor, and start with a good primer coat of fresh paint. These are trailer hitch parts, and one of the four formerly rusted up Land Rover steps. Waiting for the top coat of paint..

And blasting rust down to shiny metal is so much fun I am getting kinda carried away. I have even been blasting and painting some of my iron tools that had been corroding silently, hidden away in the bottom of tool boxes:

I picked up an air-tool called a "needle scaler" for stuff too big to fit into the sand blaster. For example, I was able to clean and paint the rear cross member on the small Defender in a day:

I have managed to clean up and put fresh paint on such things as the front bumper for the Land Rover:

I think that if I can spot the rust early on and deal with it with sand blasting and paint, I can probably prolong the life of some of these tools and vehicle parts indefinitely. And if things work out as I hope, when an electric power tool fails I will replace it with an air tool. The only power tools I have not yet found air-driven replacements for are saws. Just about everything else can be replaced with an air tool for about a quarter of the price of a new electric tool.

Speaking of the small Defender... it's in the process of getting a facelift as well. In additon to the new heavy steel front bumper with trailer hitch (which has a fresh coat of shiny new black paint on it) we also had a local upholstery shop start sewing up a new soft top for it from the remnants of the old one:

I had started sewing this myself, but doing it by hand with a needle was taking way too much time away from other projects. It needed a sewing machine.

And this week, I received a shipment of plastic grommets and am excitedly attacking the aluminum screen problem we have been having. And I thought of including that in this post, but looking back I see that this DIY stuff has gone on far too long already. I'll include what I have done for the screens in the next post. Here's a hint: it's working out great.

But hopefully, you can see that we are not just sitting in a hammock somewhere like this was some kind of a Corona beer commercial. No sir. That ain't it at all. We've been busy.

So I will stop this post for now, but there is more on the way. And we are just moving into the time of the year when we get the best selection of sunsets, and electrical storms, and maybe even the odd waterspout. I can hardly wait.


Anonymous said...

Go to be a busy life in paradise with all the diy and posting. Thanks for some more good reading. B


jschieff said...

Pine Cay looked unbelievable. True deserted tropical paradise type stuff. Please tell me there are biting sand fleas or something.

Your never-ending problems with the outboard and all metal parts in your life make me wonder what other people do in the Turks & Caicos who do not have your hard-learned technical savvy?
Do people who buy a house or condo in paradise end up selling out because their car/boat/appliances/lights corrode and stop working and they find there is no one who can repair/replace them in less than several months for less than a minor fortune?

I hope you figure out the outboard issues soon -- kayaks and sailboats are great but nothing beats a fast, seaworthy center console for fishing and exploration fun.

Preserve and prosper.

Steve B said...

Enjoyed your post, as always. You are living my dream life. On your corrosion problems, I'd recommend you get familiar with working with stainless steel. A small heli-arc welder, good electric bandsaw, and high quality drill bits, and you could make some permanent repairs. Good luck with the Yamaha. I always follow that saga on THT, and wish I had a solution for you.

Steve said...

Maybe take a picture of the workshop, not sure if a saw it in old postings. I'd like to see the whole setup. Great posting, for me I enjoy both the DIY and the kayak trips. Steve from Lake Hopatcong

LeoinSA said...

Sail? You said sail.

The post was DIY oriented.

Why not build one of these?

I'd be that this one would be perfect for your needs.

Give ya something to do besides fighting corrosion all the time. Git-r-done in about 450 hours total labor and pretty cheaply too boot.

Enjoy the blog. Been following y'all since you were posting regular on that boating forum that you/I/we left because it went commercial or something.

Victor said...

As always we enjoy, and it is our great entertainment of the week. Being Island people at one time we really enjoy it. That screen job looks great and something to keep in mind if we ever become Islanders again.


Anonymous said...

Did you ever figure out what was going on with your yamaha outboard? I'm having a similar problem an would appreciate a reply. Thanks!