Friday, March 28, 2014

Late Winter Blues

That post title is not about a miserable winter in North America.  It’s about our first experience with these two SUPs we just bought.  “SUP” is an acronym for “Stand Up Paddleboard”.  The blues part is the clear water and skies of the Turks and Caicos Islands.   And the multiple blue bruises I now have from my first two SUP outings.  I should also mention that these boards we bought are third hand.  They started out as rental boards with Big Blue Unlimited, who are one of the better diving and eco-adventure companies here in the Turks and Caicos Islands. That's a lot of blues in one paragraph.

When you’re as new at this as we are, stand-up paddleboards become sit-down paddleboards a lot of the time.  In many of my early trials, it was bounce-off paddleboard, and splash and chase paddleboard for much of the time.  I think that's the way it goes when you take off with one of these things and absolutely no instruction whatsoever. Unless you’re like Dooley. With four wheel drive. He can stand up on just about anything. He didn't have much to say about the paddleboards. But I assume he was having his usual fun.  He seems relaxed in this photo, doesn't he?  Who knows what he thinks of anything.

Here’s a sight I had not seen since around 1969.  Surfboards on an automobile of mine.  Kind of takes me back to those days when the Texas Gulf Coast surf report was somehow tied in to my weekly class attendance record. We've both always been beach lovers.

I haven't gotten to the point where I can stand on this board and take photos at the same time yet.  I can sit on the board and take photos of La Gringa and Dooley.  Or my version of a 'selfie'.  You know, it's amazing how much you miss your knees when you don't have them.  Fortunately for me, I have another set these days and things like paddle boarding are back in the line up.  I would love to try my hand at surfing again, too, one of these days.

It just occurred to me that I am, in fact, on my fourth knee. I'm halfway to qualifying as an arachnid.  Or a bobsled team.

La Gringa is much better at this SUP stuff than I am.  I can rationalize that she’s younger, smaller, and had a head start on me because she tried out a SUP in the marina a few weeks back.

Okay, in the interest of truth-in-blogging, she’s also in better shape than I am.   She's been riding a bike up and down this off-road we live on for years while I was limping around mumbling about bad knees. 

I’m going to stick a little note in here earlier than I had planned in case you notice some glitches and rough spots in this post.  I’m trying to make the whole thing using just a camera and laptop, with no internet connection.   I’m using Windows Live Writer for this post instead of Blogger.  I want to come up with a way to generate blog posts while on the boat far away from internet connections.  It’s working well so far, but I do expect some glitches.  So this is a dry run, yuk yuk.

So, back to the story.   

I realize that the above photo looks like it was raining when I took it.   But that’s not the case.  I had just fallen off my board again.  I don’t know how many times I fell off that board, that day.  I stopped counting somewhere around a dozen.  My best guess is that I did my own personal splash-down at least 20 times.  On the first day.  So, my whining aside, that drop of water is sea water.  Not rain. Or tears.  Despite the fact that some of this early SUP stuff feels remarkably like pain, only it hurts worse.

I fell on the board so hard once that the corner of the camera in my pocket knocked a hole in the top of the board. Tough little camera, that Nikon.   Me and the board.. not so tough.  We've sure gotten intimate, though, if body contact counts.

I don’t want you to think that La Gringa had to bear the weight of Dooley the Delirious on her board the entire time.   She had no problem with him riding on her board.   He did tire of it, and seeing me floating peacefully on my own SUP while spitting up water and counting bruises, he decided to swim over and hang out with me for a while. La Gringa was okay with that.  Taking twenty pounds of nervous little chubby dog off her board made it perform better.  Gave me an opportunity to spend some quality time with the dog as a loose cannon on my own board.  That blind trust and absolute respect is so refreshing.

We were surrounded by squalls and thunderstorms for the entire time we were in the water, but it all managed to miss us.   We had a great time of it.  I could tell that the dog was Dooley impressed, too.

He did seem to get a bit nervous after I did one of my outstanding wipeouts.  The board shot out from under my feet, and I experienced the unbridled joy of hitting the board, water, paddle, and sand all in one spectacular splash.  I had to leave the dog and go swim after the SUP. Nervous may not be the right word.   He abandoned ship.

I think he was wondering why I kept standing up when I invariably  just fell again.   From his standpoint, life would be a whole lot smoother for all concerned if I just stayed seated.  And I did, for long stretches of time.  I was getting exhausted from climbing, standing and falling, while whining about climbing, standing and falling.  I think I swallowed more salt water than Jonah.  I could see Dooley's nervousness about the safety of being on a small vessel while I wildly swung a paddle in frantic arcs when hitting the water.  I could appreciate his point of view.  Which he moved to a safer location, by the way. 

After his experiences on MY board, he decided to swim ashore and watch the rest of the show from the beach.  Wimp.   

That was okay with us, too.  It let me get some good photos of La Gringa without the dog rocking the boat.

We managed to get in several hours of playing around with these things, and eventually I started getting the hang of it.  You know how the experts in these things always tell you that the trick is to bend your knees slightly?

I wish I had listened to the experts. Because apparently, the trick is to bend your knees slightly..

That’s not the only position, though.   We spent a lot of time just floating around chatting about dogs, life, surfboards, boats, and tropical islands in general.   This is starting to sound like an old Annette Funicello movie. With some more practice, maybe we can make it look more like Endless Summer.  If we could only find some surf, and in my case drop about forty years.

I thought La Gringa looked pretty relaxed after a few hours.  She got her workout paddling the SUP. 

I got mine through constantly exploring zero crossings through sea level,  plus/minus about six feet.  This was a welcome change to our recent routine of working on the sailboat, where I was getting most of my exercise chasing my tail and jumping to conclusions.

As a change of scenery, and with the same Blue theme as the post title, we recently needed to run down to Blue Haven marina to meet a boat from Pine Cay.   We hadn’t been down there since that post we did about Blue Haven.  The marina was fairly quiet back then.  That has changed, now that we’re at the height of The Season here. There are some sweet boats in there at the moment.

See that sleek thing on the end?   We had to take a walk down there to check that one out.  On the way we walked up to a sportfishing boat while the captain was in the water cleaning the hull.  I saw the hailing port and said to La Gringa “What are the chances of seeing a boat from Refugio, Texas down here?”

And the crew overheard me.  Jimmy in the blue t-shirt told us that they were taking the boat from Florida to the Dominican Republic where the boat’s owner would be joining them.   The captain, John, said that the owner had told them that they wouldn’t find anyone on this trip who would pronounce “Refugio” correctly.   And he said “What are the chances that as soon as we get settled in here, the first guy to walk down the dock is a Texan who knows how to pronounce it?”   He was amazed.  I have to admit, it was a pretty small chance to begin with.

We found out that the crew is from Houston, and so we were required by Texas law to go through our  secret Texan handshakes and code words about how much bigger everything is there.  John said he was eagerly anticipating telling the owner about it.  Jimmy still didn’t have it pronounced right when we left.   (Hint, Jimmy:  it's NOT Ree-fuge-i-oh.)

I didn’t bother to tell Capt. John of the Cinco that we’ve seen 9 ft. sharks here. I was diving here for a dropped fishing pole some years back.  No reason to alarm him.  Besides, I was hoping for some  colorful photo ops.  But nope.  Only thing we saw in the water was a school of needlefish.   I could be wrong, but I think I usually see these guys swimming alone.  I’m sure there’s a reason for this.   Me being wrong, I mean.   It’s not the first time.

We saw one familiar boat out of the dozen or so boats in the marina. Pirate Boat belongs to friends of ours from the TCI.  You’ve seen photos of it elsewhere on this blog if you’ve looked around over the years.

Remember that slick boat I pointed out earlier?  We did go check it out.  The name of the boat is Polly.  It’s a former charter out of the Cayman Islands.   It’s a thing of beauty, with nary a scratch, gel coat chip, tarnish, or duct tape to be found.  They had two of the fat tire beach bikes on the dock for local transportation.  A few sat antenna for entertainment and communication.  Oh, yes, what’s not to like about this boat?

Most of you  know La Gringa Suprema’s real time nickname is Polly, right?   I’d love to buy her this boat for our birthday, but after a quick inspection I calculated that I could save my money for a year and maybe afford their shore power cables.  Plural.  

Perhaps she’ll settle for a bike and a stand up paddleboard?

Okay the rest of this post is boat DIY stuff.  Boring, but it's a huge part of our life here at the moment.

This isn't going to be one of my marathon posts.  Or at least not when compared to my other marathon posts.  I've received enough emails to know that some of you are following the trials and tribulations of my education in old boat repairs,though.  I think I've hit some common nerves.  I've found out that those who are interested will contact me to discuss this stuff, which I really like.   And those who are not interested in this stuff sure don’t need to have to read about it in great detail.

I did want to tell a typical story about this boat rehab thing, though.  I've shown you some photos in previous posts  about the state of the propane (LPG) delivery system we uncovered.  One of the things that I had to change was the active gas line running along the outside of the boat.  I picked a day last week to  cut and remove all this corroded copper tubing.   Some of the boaters who have written me were a bit shocked that the boat had a thin, corroded copper tube carrying flammable gas along the port side.  Which is also our preferred docking side, by the way.  Well, it’s true. Here’s the first cut in progress to remove it.  (Note to self, do NOT leave those two holes  unpatched that some previous idiot drilled through the hull.)

This copper tubing was in bad shape.  Worse than I thought.   The  cheap plastic clips that secured the gas line to the outside of the boat literally fell apart in my hand after we removed the screws.  No kidding.  I am not jiving you.  UV does that to cheap plastic.  And the copper tubing broke in my hand when I was bending it later.  It was that brittle.  just the kind of stuff you want filled with explosive gas and pinched between you and something hard, isn't it.

I bet you thought that was the story, about the corroded tubing.  Nope.  That part was just another typical old boat surprise.  A gift down through the decades from an unknown previous owner.   The story  continued when I went down into the lazarette to further disconnect and remove the internal components of this inflammable installation. I realized it was ankle deep in water.  I was really, really, really hoping that it was not sea water.  The whole point of having a boat is to keep the sea water on the outside.

I decided that the quickest way to pump out the water so that I could find and fix the leak, before I removed the rest of the copper was to use the manual bilge pump attached to the inside of the starboard engine compartment.  I thought that this would be a good exercise.  We could go through what’s involved in having to quickly set up and use the manual bilge pump that is meant to cover both engine compartments if the electric pumps fail. Sheesh. Are you going to be terribly surprised when I tell you the pump didn't work?

So I found a partial repair kit that still had a valve in it, and fixed the pump to drain the water so I could find and fix the leak before removing the rest of the  copper tubing that I had almost forgotten about by this time.

So about four hours into the twenty minute job I had described to La Gringa, I was mopping up the last of the water in a newly swabbed out lazarette.   That t-shirt was clean when I wore it to the boat.  And I normally have  clean, spare t-shirt on the boat, but I used that one to mop up water.  

The good news was that the hull is solid.  No sea water leaks.  I had La Gringa shut me up in the compartment with the hatch closed.  And then she sprayed water over all of the deck above me and I found the leaks almost instantly.  They were where the other wind generator used to be attached to the toe rail before the ocean tore it off and ate it in the Exumas.  Sloppy eater.  Easily patched with putty until I can get the right hardware. 

An hour after that photo the old copper tubing was all out.  My intention is to replace it with some approved flexible tubing.  But so far I can’t find it here, nor have I been able to source it online yet.  Not in those lengths. 

That’s the story I wanted to tell you.  I started out planning to spend an hour on the boat pulling copper tubing off.  And I did accomplish that.  With some detours along the way. And as we drove away from the boat that day, I felt that funny feeling some people sometimes get when something is staring at the back of their head.   Yeah, there are still some big jobs waiting for me.  Like the entire top of the mast.

None of the electrical stuff in that photo works.  Not the wind measurement system on the left, not the tricolor navigation light in the middle, not the blasted stub of a VHF antenna you can just barely see  behind the mast, and most definitely NOT the lightning suppressor thing that looks like an exploded metal cotton swab next to the light.  

I was puzzled by the white antenna on the bracket, until I checked with some long time sailors on the Cruiser’s Forum.  Some people tell me that that this is supposedly a satellite navigation antenna from back in the middle of the 1980’s. I haven't been able to confirm that but if true it would mean this has been obsolete for twenty years.   Well I have no trouble believing that at all. And it can glare at the back of my head as long as it wants, it’s coming off this boat.  I think it attracts lightning.

Okay, enough whining for one post.  I hope you enjoyed the blue parts.   I don’t have a sunset photo at the moment, and can’t process a time lapse on this backup computer.  My fancy new high-end Lenovo didn't even make it a year in this environment.  I've done this entire post offline, with no internet connections just to see how it works.  If you’re reading it, it worked!

Oh, and here’s a  grainy full moon shot to end it.  That sounds strangely redundant for some reason.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Big Ocean, Little Dog, Old Boats

 I wasn't happy with that last blog post.  Too much DIY and mechanical stuff, and not enough tropical scenery.  I know most of you guys don't tune in here to see photos of greasy diesels, although we do have our share of like minded weirdos. So we've decided to move back toward something nicer to look at.   Starting with a sunrise video:

As you can see, I started playing around with some time lapse and zoom features, and La Gringa found some nice music for that one.

The day after writing the previous post whining about how we never go boating anymore, we went boating. It was  a nice day and the photos came out suitably tropical and colorful, as usual.  It's so easy to take nice water photos here, the place is just so photogenic it's amazing.  I'm hoping you will agree and that these photos are an attractive alternative to what it looks like outside a lot of frozen windows up in North America this time of year.

No snow was shoveled  in the making of this post.

 In the previous post I mentioned that we had problems when we tried to start up the old 1992 model Mercury dinghy outboard that came with the sailboat.  I cleaned it up and changed the plugs and installed some gaskets and worked on the carburetor and got it running.  That's the short version.  This all took days. We finally decided that this past Sunday was a good day to risk taking the freshly patched up inflatable and newly running old outboard outside the marina.  And we wanted to go get another photo of an old ferro-cement wreck up against the rocks just outside the entrance to South Side Marina.  There's not much left of the old hull sticking up above the water these days.

We'd posted photos of this old hull some years ago when it was still recognizable as a hull.    We knew it was a wrecked boat. That was obvious. But we didn't know anything more about it. Since then there have been three hurricanes and a number of tropical storms through here.  The old boat is almost gone now. And we know more about it. This is one of the tales we've now collected after asking the old expats during the study of another sundown from the vantage point of Bob's Bar.

This boat was a ferro-cement sailboat owned by Bob Gascoine, the way we hear it. Some of you boaters out there may know of Bob, or perhaps you know of some of his work.  He and his partner, Jane Minty, are the principals of Wavey Line Publishing. They personally gathered most of the depth data you see on the only decent set of nautical charts for a lot of these islands. Anyhow, the boat was anchored over near South Dock during a storm. A big storm. This storm was worse than expected, I guess, or perhaps there were some other factors affecting decision making on that day.  The way we hear it, Bob Gascoine and Crazy George Taylor and several friends who could also have fit "crazy" in front of their names  decided to try to move the sloop to safety in the canals here.  The problem is that they tried to do it during the brief time that the eye of the storm passed over Providenciales.  And they got this close, before being swept onto the rocks by the returning winds. And here she sits, what's left of her.   

I've been in contact with Bob over the past few months, and it was in one of our email exchanges that I found out that he was the builder of the old wreck in Cooper Jack Bight that we've been kayaking around for years.  We're planning to sail Twisted Sheets up to the Abacos to visit with Jane and Bob on Manjack Cay.   Sadly for the island of Provo and a big part of  this little slice of the world,  George Taylor passed away a few months ago.  He left a heck of a footprint in the sands of the Turks and Caicos Islands.    I know we'll think of him every time I look at those patches on our old dinghy.   The glue that I used to patch the holes in our little boat came from Crazy George.

There are worst places than the south side of Providenciales to spend the remainder of your days, if you're a shipwreck. Or even if you're not. We like this little stretch of coastline a lot.  There are a few small and secluded stretches of beach that are accessible by boat.

I know we've shown photos of this area many times in this blog. We come here quite often.  It's very close to the marina where we spend so much of our time. And we never get tired of the water here. It's one of those places where you can just relax. And it's a very benign place to take a dip. Unless you're a ferro-cement sloop during a hurricane, I suppose.  I'd bet the scene was entirely different on that day.

We ran our new old inflatable and antediluvian outboard back and forth across the bay here up to a good stretch of beach so I could take the cover off the motor.  I needed to run it wide open while I fiddled with the mixture screw on the carburetor. 

Ah, take a look at that beach.   Not a footprint on it.   Not even any dog prints.  And that's unusual.  Dooley the Demented is almost always the first one off the boat into the water, and the first one ashore. And he usually dashes up and down the beach for several minutes until we can get ashore. He likes to thoroughly mess up the sand before we can get a photo of it. But not this time.  We were ashore, walking around taking  photos and we looked around and there was no dog.    

He was still on the boat. This was surprising. I think what happened was that he isn't accustomed to us beaching the boat.  When we take the Hobie Tandem Island or  the skiff we always anchor in about a meter of water and wade ashore.   This time there was only a thin layer of water to jump into.  It seemed to give Dooley pause.  Yes, I know that's a bad pun.

We were  not in any hurry to help him solve his little dilemma.  It was nice to actually be able to take a photo of a nice beach scene without a dog in the middle of it. This little bay is known as Cooper Jack Bight. Dooley has been trying to figure out a way to get it changed to Cooper Jack Russell Bite.  I don't think he's been getting much traction on that with the local dogs.

And speaking of Dooley's lack of traction, it seems that faction is out of action. We watched in some amazement as he moved around the boat, wanting to get on the beach but afraid to just jump down into the water.  I think he could tell it was too shallow to dive into, but he hadn't worked out the physics of just ignoring the thin layer of water entirely. If it had been dry beach, he wouldn't have hesitated. Some insight here into the mind of a Jack Russell.   They apparently think they can sleep through physics class because they know it all already. Dooley the Indecisive:

La Gringa and I were having a fine time of it. We were able to walk up the untrammelled beach and get some pristine photos. The scenery here is some of my favorite on this island. This board across the top of the rocks is a ladder cobbled together from driftwood planks and bits of flotsam. I am guessing that the locals who frequent these beaches from the land side store the ladder like this to keep it from getting washed away from high tides and storms.  It would be easy to just pull it toward the land and let the end of it fall to the sand.  

We were still surprised that the silly dog who lives with us hadn't figured out that he could easily just hop down onto the beach. We've never seen him so flummoxed over something so easy and simple.  I think he was just over analyzing the situation.

Here's another look at that DIY beach access ladder.   We had plenty of time to examine it without suddenly finding a small dog standing in the middle of the photo trying to see what we're so interested in.  Refreshing, for a change.

We wandered along for a while enjoying what worked out to be a very nice winters day. La Gringa had the camera and was taking some photos of the waves and beach. It was very quiet, with no one around to interrupt us or kick sand.

We'd only intended to take the dinghy out for a shake down cruise when we started this little jaunt. I pulled the boat up  onto the beach just to take the cover off the engine and get my tools ready to adjust the carburetor while we ran it at full speed. We had brought it over here to do it instead of racing up and down in the marina. There are a few cruisers in at the moment, and this is a two stroke outboard. That means it's loud. Over here we had nothing but clear sailing for running a noisy boat. Well, except that we spotted another cruising catamaran heading into the marina.  Can you see the mast just to the right of center there on the horizon?

We weren't planning a beach combing day, but it sort of worked out that way for the next half hour.  I found a nice blue boat fender to add to our collection of boat fenders we don't particularly need and will probably never use. It was strange to be able to dig into a pile of seaweed and have it to myself to explore undisturbed for a change.

We found a better spot to frame that approaching sailboat for a photo.

This reminded us of those times when we've left the dog at home while we went sailing or beach combing. It seems quiet without him underfoot. The universe just seems to operate at a slightly lower frequency when the Jack Russell is at a distance.

We weren't worried about the dog. He was never out of our sight, and there's not much here for him to get into that could harm him here. Nothing for him to get  excited about. Just a single boat on a deserted beach.  Again.

That photo was actually taken after he'd gotten out of the boat and raced up the beach to join us.  He seemed to have come to some decisions one way or another about getting out of the boat.  In any case, he didn't say much to us about it.  I think he was still a little bit miffed about being left to handle it by himself. Maybe when he sees these photos he'll see how ridiculous he looked. He reacted as though he had a huge leap down to the beach. I'm sure his imagination made a lot more out of it than it deserved.  What a character.

This shot was supposed to be a good one of the rubber boat sitting there in the background.  But it turned out to be a better photo of the wooden ladder than we had before.   So I'm including it for that value, such as it is.   

We explored up and down the beach for a while.  None of us was in any particular hurry to get back in the boat.  It was just about a perfect beach day.   Dooley soon found his stride again and was checking out all the little sea caves looking for something to annoy.

Some of these little caves are naturally lit by sinkholes in the tops.   They let the sunlight shine through into the interior.

Another fine late winter day on the south side of Providenciales.

The water is so warm that we really don't feel any kind of thermal shock when stepping into it.  It's certainly cooler this time of year than it would be in September, but even now it's manageable.  I think I need my sand shovel and pail.   If this next photo doesn't make you want to kick off your shoes and go wading in the ocean....

Then maybe this video of the same spot will do it

How's that? A full minute and a half of waves. With a little dog at the end.

The whole stated purpose of this trip was to wring out the outboard motor and make adjustments as needed. It's just coincidental that this mission required us to zoom up and down the beach for a few hours.  I did adjust the jets on the carburetor. This is what the trusty steed in rusty need looks like with it's battered cover removed. It's battered  underneath the cover, too.  It actually looks a lot better these days than it did when we first opened it up.  We considered junking it on the spot.  No kidding. I've cleaned it up considerably.  This is after a half a can of WD-40, a lot of cleaning, lubricating, adjusting and tightening, two new spark plugs, and a carburetor clean out can do.  Sometimes.  If you're lucky.

Doesn't look too bad for an outboard that is probably older than most of your children and all of your automobiles, does it?

Dooley the Delighted really enjoys zooming back and forth and back and forth just out of reach of the nearest beach.  He doesn't share much of what he's thinking.  Sometimes he just goes into his blank stare mode and I wonder if he's thinking about anything at all. The dog zones out.  I've caught him mumbling to himself.  He lets me know that he'd rather be on the beach.  I can see it in his face.

We  must have made several dozens runs back and forth in the smooth protected water.  I had the throttle wide open while adjusting the mixture jets on the carb.  I can move the "smooth spot" up or down the RPM range, but can't seem to make it run smooth throughout.  So I compromised and stuck the rough spot right where we accelerate onto plane.   We never stay in that RPM range for long.  She runs real smooth at idle and full bore now.  Good enough, until we can find another outboard. I'm getting interested in the light little Suzuki two stroke 15 hp. I don't know that I will ever trust this one completely.  It still has some issues and local parts availability is around zero by whatever means I measure it.

I didn't want to get too far away from the marina until we built up some confidence that the old thing would keep running.    Eventually we stuck our noses out and went up further to the north.  All our playing around was in this general area:

You can see how this spot is protected from the prevailing northeast winds.  A good spot to test little outboard motors.  Big ones, too, come to think of it.   

As we rounded the point we spotted something colorful draped on the ironshore rocks.  We turned the boat around to go take a closer look.  You literally just never know what one might find washed up on the shore around these islands. Personally, I'm expecting an aluminum briefcase full of money. Any day now.  

But in the meantime, this caught our attention.

Someone has stitched fabrics from a number of different sources together into one large sheet of material.  We didn't try to untangle it, but our best guess is that it's a patchwork sail.  Handmade boat parts of this nature usually mean that there is another abandoned Haitian sloop in the area.  Now, in the area could also mean underwater.  We didn't spot a sloop on this day, but then we didn't get very far away from the marina, either.  It could easily have been just around the next rock. This area is not far from where we last saw an abandoned Haitian sloop just recently.  We took photos of that one and they are on the post in this link.  But I just went back to look at the sail on the boat in those photos, and I don't think it's the same one.  This one is much more colorful. The sailmakers in Haiti must be scratching for material.

We continued onward along the shoreline for a bit further.   We wanted to see if perhaps some other bits of wreckage were washed up under the overhanging rocks. The bright spot in the water in this next photo is  sunlight shining down through an open sinkhole in the limestone.

La Gringa tried her hand steering an outboard  with a tiller for the first time.   She did great handling the little boat, except for letting go of the controls to study the chart she was wearing.   Wearable charts.  What a naval idea!

I've managed to keep the boat DIY stuff completely out of this post so far, but you know that won't last.  I'm all about boat repairs these days. Well the entire RIB trip was about checking out the outboard, but that was mainly an excuse to go play for the afternoon. This doesn't mean the boat work has come to a halt.  Oh no.  We're still working on it just about every day that something doesn't preempt us. For those of us following the saga of the senile sailboat, here's some quick snippets about that stuff.  This has been one of the places I've been spending  a lot of time lately,  my new office cubicle:

And I have another one, even more crowded, on the other side of the boat.   This starboard engine is actually pretty easy to get to.

The port side (west wing of my office complex these days) is not so easy to get to. Especially for a lazy old fat man. If you peer down into the darkest depths of the engine room, that big greasy bilge rat thing peering back at you, well, c'est moi.

I'm not going to describe what it takes to climb into, and back out of, that spot. And that's not the worst spot, either.  Getting my hands on the inboard side of that engine is a real trip.  It's located one floor under the red compressor tank.  I've been bleeding a lot lately.

Since this post is obnoxiously long already, it won't hurt much more to stick in a few more greasy diesel photos. I'll show you just what kind of things I have been spending my days on.  While wriggled up claustrophobically next to a greasy Yanmar.  My spell checker says that claustrophobically is not a word.  I think I should take that spell checker down into my port engine room for a few hours.  Spend them with one arm wedged helplessly  while working blind with the other one. Dropping nuts and washers and tools into the bilge and having to squirm to retrieve them.  Yeah.   Then we'll see if spell checker thinks claustrophobically fits any better.

On that particular trip I was figuring out and fixing the bilge pump and switch.  I won't bother you with the details, other than to show you boaters out there what I did.  You'll already know some of the bilge pump issues.   I attached the float switch and pump to a little box I made from the tank we salvaged on West Caicos.   It's made things a lot easier for me.  No more chasing stuff around the bilge blindly, and the slots keep the floating debris away from the pump inlet until it's deep enough not to foul it.

And while I'm squirming away down there I am too frequently finding out the solutions to little mysteries on this old boat.  Like, for example, when I was staring stupidly at an injector pump fitting when something else caught my eye.  An explanation for why our starboard engine idle is unsteady. And has been for years.  It's been subject to cable flex.

And now, of course, you realize I have to go climb down into the worst spot of all to inspect the same idle stop on the other engine.  One of the downsides of catamarans with two engines.   Everything is also two potential problems to fix. Twice the moving parts.

I don't want you to think that all of our little problems are big parts.  Nope.  Lots of our big problems are little parts, too.   As in one of the little lingering kisses I recently discovered from our brief meeting with that lightning bolt.  This pc board explained the refrigeration issues. Totally fried and conformal coated.   Adios two hundred bucks plus plus. Pidgin Boatish?

Did you know that this kind of hose clamp is frowned upon by boaters who know what they're doing around hoses and engines?  The hose clamps with the slots cut all the way through the band are not the best ones. They fail more often under stress. The good ones have the grooves for the tightening screw cut into the stainless band, but not all the way through the band. It's a solid band. Cutting the holes all the way through weakens the band.  Just like it did this one. This one failed, says Capt. Obvious. He's the genius with the burn on his thumb, by the way.  Did you know that the flame from a propane torch is almost invisible in direct sunlight?

As long as I was wedged uncomfortably in the bilge covered with oily water and filth I thought it was a good idea to pull out the water pump and take it apart, too  I mean it was right there in my face.  Literally, in my face.  I still have the bruise. It was leaking and needed a new gasket.  I've gotten to the point where I'm always a little nervous taking things apart on this boat.  I never know what kind of surprises I'll find. And very few of those surprises have been good ones. This one was manageable.  And cheap.  

And as long as I was checking out the whole cooling water thing on this engine, I  decided to take a look at the thermostats. Good call. The two on the top in this photo are a couple of working ones from the spares. The ones on the bottom are the ones I just took out of our starboard engine.  They were frozen in the partially open position.  This means that this engine would have run rich when it was cold, making it smoke and run rough until it warmed up.  The frozen thermostats were also unable to completely open.  This means that the engine would be running on the hot side once it was warmed up. These were indeed some of the symptoms that caused me to keep digging into this engine.  Those little problems have now been rectified.

The replacement thermostats that I used were of unknown quality.  They were obviously used, but I really didn't have any options other than flying some down from the USA.   I thought it made sense to just test these and see if they were any good.   Did you ever test a thermostat?  It's pretty easy to do.

These gadgets use wax to regulate whether they are open or closed.  When a thermostat gets to a pre-determined temperature the wax inside it melts and turns to liquid.  This lets one of the springs open the valve, which lets water flow through, which cools the engine.  To test them, one simply puts a thermostat into hot water.  If it's in working condition, it should open up as it warms up.   Just like this:

My remaining issue with our starboard Yanmar is that when it is idling I have problems shifting it from forward to neutral to reverse and back again.  This is the kind of thing we do when docking the boat.  The engine acts like it just doesn't quite have enough power at idle, and shifting from forward to reverse loads it up enough to stop the little diesel.  It acts like it has a breathing restriction, or a line wrapped around the prop shaft, but it doesn't.  I think we can live with it, although it means I will sometimes be coming into a dock on one engine.  Again.
Eventually I'll figure out what's going on with it.  For you Yanmar  mechanics out there, I've already cleaned the foam air filter, cleaned out the mixing elbow (another big ugh)

I've adjusted the intake and exhaust valve clearance, and the governor seems to be working fine.  I have only slight wisps of white smoke and sometimes not even that after the engine warms up.  The prop shaft turns freely by hand in neutral. A Yanmar mechanic took the clutch etc. apart and there are no problems there.  It's as though the engine just needs about 5 more horsepower at idle.  Idle speed is in spec, although I might increase it a little.    I really don't want to pull the head off of it, and I am not seeing the smoke I would expect from a stuck or broken ring.   Maybe a valve issue? Any useful ideas gratefully examined.  

This next photo really doesn't fit in here, but I thought some of Dooley's correspondents would like to see a photo of a wet dog that just barely missed jumping onto the boat by about an inch.   He figured he could just hop up, but fiberglass doesn't have much traction and he fell back into the ocean.  Where we fished him out.  Which is why the dock and the dog are wet.   Since he got a nice swim out of the deal, I have to wonder if he did it on purpose.    He sure doesn't look ashamed to have missed the jump.   There was a temptation here to write that he missed the boat.  But he didn't miss it.  He hit it a pretty good lick, in fact.  He just didn't stick to it very well. Kerplunk.   He's using his poker face, but I can tell that inside, he's grinning.

Coming to the end of this post, I was looking around for some recent sunset activity to finish up with.  I thought some of you might appreciate this next one. Reminded me of an alien invasion book cover. Or perhaps someone trying to doodle a crescent moon onto a photo.

Of course a slight change in perspective and directions clears it all up.  It was a flock of kite boarders.  A gaggle of kites? A herd of borders?

This isn't one of the flashier sunsets we've seen lately.  But it's one we saw when we had a camera in hand.  Most of our sunsets lately have been from the deck of Twisted Sheets in South Side Marina.

My favorite sunset photos are the ones with just the sea, the clouds, and the shifting light as the sun outruns my horizons.   But I don't mind the odd palm frond now and then. It brings me down to earth and home to a little island nation so cool that some people will spend twelve million dollars for a beach house here just like those three. And there are bigger.