Blundering Around the Bilge

The sound of the filter screen hitting the water inside the bilge was barely audible.  What came from my mouth a half second later was clearly audible.  This was about to go from a minor project to a major project. Par for the course.

I live on a 43 year old Challenger 32 sailboat, Rubigale.  There is one big bilge in the center, mostly obscured from view by the diesel tank, and quite deep. I have been able to see the tops of the keel bolts on occasion, but I’ve never seen the bilge dry, nor do I ever expect to.  I would delight to see it scrubbed clean of oil and dry as a bone, but I doubt that’s in the realm of possibility.  A girl can dream.

No maintenance records were available when I purchased Rubigale over two years ago and the engine hour meter for the Perkins 4-108 had stopped at some time in the unknown past at almost 4000 hours.   I knew when I finally found someone to service the engine that the impeller should be replaced as well and naively went to a marine store with my type of engine and was handed an impeller. I could have done the replacement myself, but some cabinet disassembly is required so I waited for the engine inspection to save some work.

Things never go that smoothly and it wasn’t the correct impeller by a long shot.  Meanwhile, after taking the water pump plate off, a pint or so of sea water spilled into the bilge.  This was not fresh sea water, but the kind that smells of long dead sea creatures decomposing and creating a miasma of a magnitude that was surprising. Meanwhile, the inspection was completed, a list of parts made, and the spill rags and roll under the engine and in the bilge were changed.

The smell from the seawater lingered heavily and had to be dealt with.  I flipped the bilge pump to manual for a minute, then had the bright idea of pouring in a couple or three buckets of fresh water with a dash of bilge cleaner. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but I should have paid more attention to the water level before pouring more in. The pump came on automatically and continued to run. After getting out my flashlight and peering into the deep dark hole I could see the water level wasn’t changing. I ran outside and found no water coming out.  Insert expletives here.

Seemed Like a Good Idea

Seemed Like a Good Idea

To get to the pump and the strainer I have to remove my dining table, pole that holds it, and the floor it sits on.  That done, I checked the hose clamp to the pump, which was still in place.  The strainer looked black so I decided to clean that. But try as I might I could not get it to budge and eventually needed to remove it with a strap wrench. The filter was indeed fouled with oil and cat hair and I scrubbed it with a brush it until it shone silver again.  I was having a little trouble getting the top screwed back on, and the filter wasn’t seated just right.  I pulled it out, bobbled it and watched it fall into the dark deep bilge under three buckets of water.

Strainer Screen

Strainer Screen

I called a nearby marine store to see if they had the part I needed and was told they did.  I rushed there on my lunch hour and bought the whole $30 strainer and housing, though I later learned that I could have just purchased the replacement screen separately for about $12.

WIth everything put back together, I turned the manual switch, and no water filled the strainer.  From the little I knew about plumbing, I figured that either the hose was blocked or had a hole, or the pump was bad.  I once saw a raw water intake hose cleared by blowing a fierce breath in to the hose, so I was emboldened. I detached the hose from the strainer and gave a healthy puff, creating a huge burp in the bilge water. If you were wondering, yes, it was gross as it sounds. Disheartened, I replaced the hose and clamp after scrubbing my face and brushing my teeth. It was time to move to the pump, right after work, which meant putting the floor and table back again.

New In-line Strainer

New In-line Strainer

I took up the table and floor for the fifth time in the last few days, sprawled across the top of the diesel tank and shown a light on the pump. I had done a little research the day before because I knew it didn’t look like the bilge pumps I had seen in the stores, or the water pump I had installed. I wasn’t actually expecting to find it. It was belt driven, sat in a higher, dryer section of the boat and looked practically medieval to me, or perhaps a steam punk prop. Research and a call to a friend told me this was probably a diaphragm pump and I found a few online that looked similar, so I had narrowed down my choices.  I was on the search for a model, or if I couldn’t find the pump, a rebuild kit.

 The Basics of My Diaphragm Pump

The Basics of My Diaphragm Pump

The label on the motor had long since deteriorated and I couldn’t make out one word on it.  Much of the pump was hidden under the diesel tank intake line, but I eventually found a metal label near the base.  Much of the label was gone and the serial number was illegible, but most of the model number was there and was enough for a search. I found that it was an old Jabsco 6680J which was now the 36680 series and readily available. It looked exactly like my pump, just 40 years younger, and the specs matched what I could read on the old label for GPM and amperage. Replacement parts were also readily available.

Last Identifying Marks

Last Identifying Marks from Old Bilge Pump

The question now was whether to buy the rebuild kit or get a new one. The rebuild was at best $115, compared to $350 or more for a new pump. I had friends that could help me do the rebuild, found instructions online, and it would be a good learning experience. A year ago I might have done that, but it seems as though Rubi has hit the magic boat age where things are falling apart at the same time-diesel heater pump, fresh water pump, accumulator, fresh water hoses, etc, so my gut told me to get the new pump and use the old one to learn on some day in my retirement.

My New Jabsco 36680 Pump

My New Jabsco 36680 Pump

The new pump arrived, the table and floor came up again, and a throw pillow was laid on the diesel tank. I find it frustrating and at the same time hilarious that screws of every type and size were used everywhere on this boat, often on the same item.  I have learned to prepare for all types before contorting myself into an uncomfortable position. Only two of the four legs of this pump were attached- one with a Phillips head, one with a square drive (P.O.s loved square drives), one had rusted off and left a flathead behind, and one just had nothing. I removed the pump and also a variety of screws attached to nothing in particular.

I had replaced my fresh water pump not long ago, so thought this should be straight forward. No. Both the old and the new pumps had two black wires coming out of one opening with no discernible differentiation. This baffled me. I had been expecting a red and a white wire like the water pump. I looked at the diagram…no explanation. L

This is the Phone a Friend part of the story, and I left a hectic message in TinySpeak that may have sounded like this: “I am trying to put the bilge pump in, and I have the fancy butt connectors with the stuff you squirt in there to protect it (Dielectric Silicone Compound), but there is a brown wire and a black wire coming from the boat, and the pump has two black wires coming from the same hole with no identifying marks on either wire, and nothing on the diagram to tell me what goes where and this is nothing like the water pump!” Insert foot stamp here.

J called me back within 10 minutes, and the explanation took less than 2 minutes because he speaks Tiny. “That is a series pump, hook it up this way, and it spins this way, hook it up that way, it spins that way. You have a diaphragm pump with a piston and valves, and it doesn’t matter which way it spins. Just don’t put the male connector on the brown wire”.

“I can do that!” I thought. And did.

The physical attachments to the boat took awhile because it was a tight space, and I needed to remove more random, useless screws. Fortunately the legs of the pump pivoted so I could get around some obstacles. Once the hoses were attached, everything worked like a dream, a dream of getting smelly dead sea creatures back into their natural burial place, and to finally moving on to the engine service that had started this whole mess to begin with.

The happy ending to this was that I could now see the filter screen that I had dropped. It was definitely out of my reach, so I taped a fork to a pole and was able to fish it out, clean it up, and have a perfectly good spare strainer on standby.

As seen in Three Sheets Northwest

 

Review of the Bad Elf GPS Pro Bluetooth GPS Reciever

Bad Elf GPS Pro

Bad Elf GPS Pro

I love paper charts- the look, the feel, marking where I’ve been, practicing dead reckoning, all of it. I was planning my Gulf Islands and Princess Louisa trip which was already requiring the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound chart books, as well as the 3311 chart set for the Sunshine Coast. To also purchase large scale charts for all the nooks and crannies I wanted to visit would have cost hundreds more dollars. I have a handheld Garmin GPS, but last year in Canada I found I preferred the Navionics US and Canada App which was easier to read and operate on my phone or iPad than the Garmin, and in some instances was more accurate.  I knew I would be in locations with no cell reception, so the accuracy of the Navionics would be lower, and buying a fancy chart plotter was out of the question. My solution was the Bad Elf GPS Pro which is a satellite GPS receiver that will Bluetooth to other devices and allow me to turn my iPhone, iPad or iPod into chart plotters.

Bad Elf App Map and Display

Bad Elf App Map and Display

Bad Elf has several different versions of the GPS with different features and capabilities. The Pro model cost me $149.99 through Amazon and it provides latitude, longitude, altitude, speed, time, a downloadable track and can be paired with up to 5 devices at a time.  There are higher grade models provide that barometric pressure readings and more precise location services for surveying applications. There is no monthly subscription fee. I paired it with my iPad for a bigger picture display, but also my phone for when the sun made the iPad hard to see or I needed to enlarge something quickly without moving from behind the wheel to reach the iPad. They can be used for aviation, vehicle navigation, biking, hiking, geocaching, cycling – pretty much anything you can imagine where you might use a GPS.  You can use the simple map that comes with the app, or use other apps such as Navionics, Google Maps, etc.  The accuracy is reported to be as good as 8 ft, although mine usually read about 15 ft. It’s also water resistant, although not waterproof.  Mine took a little spray and a few sprinkles, but it’s not meant to be submerged.  A small zip lock bag would take care of any worries in the rain.

At the moment they are only compatible with iOS devices.  The website says you can use them on some of the apps that Android supports, but you still need an iOS device to do your initial set up or to download your trips.  The website lists an incredible number of apps that it is compatible with for various activities.  There are 18 marine based apps (you should check first if you are considering a purchase), including one for an anchor alarm that I hope to try out soon.

Bluetooth Display

Bluetooth Display

I’ve had no problems bluetoothing to my iPhone, iPad or iPod (I plan to try one of the compatible hiking/walking apps), and I’ve been very happy with the battery life.  I’ve been able to use it through three full cruising days without recharging, and it recharges very quickly – I’m estimating about an hour. A 12V adapter comes in the box, so I could leave it charging the entire time I’m traveling, but I like being able to scroll through and look at my latidtude/longitude, heading, time, etc.  If I were going to leave it charging, I would probably want it mounted to a window in case that affects satellite tracking.

Position Display

Position Display

You are able to change how you want the latitude and longitude to be displayed, and I breezed through this part during the setup which was a mistake. When I was trying to mark my position on the paper chart, I discovered that I had gone with the digital format which completely confused me.  It took me a few tries and an internet search to figure out I needed to go into the app on my phone to change how lat/long were displayed.

App Display Screen

App Display Screen

Being able to download and share your tracks is a nice feature and it will record up to 100 hours of trip data before you have to download the trips onto one of your devices.  Once you’ve turned the Bad Elf on and paired it to your device, simply press and hold the GPS button until it says GPS LOGGER STARTED. If you repeat this process yo have an option to record a POI (point of interest) or to turn off the logger.  Once you are finished with your trip, go to the Bad Elf app on your device and it will tell you how many trips are available for you to download.  Once they are downloaded on your device they will be cleared from the Bad Elf to free up more trip memory. There will then be another bar on the App telling you how many trips have been downloaded to your iPhone or iPad. Tap this tab to view and name the trips – there will be a default name like “Monday Morning Walk” so you will want to keep up on the renaming.  As you can see from the photo, I had to rename 18 trips at once. With the Navionics app you can view the trip either as as standard map or as a satellite image.

Standard Display

Standard Display of a Saved Track

Satellite Display

Satellite Display (Before Renaming) of Saved Track

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once this is done you can share the trips as a GPX file, KML file, Twitter, Facebook or via email.  I emailed a trip to myself to see what it would look like, and it actually gives you all of the trip data as well as a screenshot and the two file versions.

Email Sharing

Email Sharing

What could they do better?  The compass only reads in true, not magnetic.  It took a little research to figure out why it wasn’t agreeing with my autopilot or the compass on my binnacle.  I would prefer to be able to switch it over to magnetic, although technically I’m able to navigate in true with my charts and a little math.  However I think for most things I would want it for, magnetic would be my preference. For those people with a proper navigation station, being able to view it on the actual Mac so that those below could see as well as those above would be a convenient addition. Apparently the high end survey model is able to display on Mac or PC with a USB cable.  All of the versions I searched were splash resistant, but not water resistant.  This isn’t a deal breaker since it’s small enough to put into the tiniest of dry bags, but would be a great feature. Lastly, adding functionality for Android users would be a nice touch as well.

In general I was very happy with the Bad Elf GPS Pro for this trip and I’m looking forward to trying it out with SafeAnchor and the Navionics Hike and Bike apps in the near future.

Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia

Crossing Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia (Navionics)

 

August or Fogest?

The tropical feel of my playlist, filled with sounds from Cuba, Brazil and Portugal, was in sharp contrast to the loud, foreboding tone of the fog horn every two minutes. I like that playlist, I call it Tapas. I don’t like the fog.

Rather than basking in the August sun of a Pacific Northwest Summer, I strained to see the two other boats in our group about 25 yards away. We had already lost one day of our individual trips, partially due to fog and partially due to too much pirate party the evening before.

17th Annual Pacific Northwest Cruisers Party

17th Annual Pacific Northwest Cruisers Party

This time everyone had turned in early and agreed to be leaving Port Townsend at 8 a.m. to take advantage of the last couple of hours of the ebb tide and a bit of slack before the flood poured in again. Between the three of us, we had one boat with broadcasting AIS, radar, an automatic foghorn that could rival boats 5 times the size, and a bubble maker, one with radar she doesn’t totally know how to use, and one with the largest cooler of Rainier I have ever seen.

Fogust

Fogust

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is 102 miles long from the east entrance to where it connects with the Pacific Ocean on the west. It’s about 18-20 miles from Port Townsend to the beginning of the San Juan Islands which is where we were headed. Usually the water is relatively flat in the fog, and it’s nice to not have to battle visibility and large waves simultaneously. Reports from vessel traffic said that the fog was lifting about halfway across, so we were hopeful we would have good visibility in a few hours. I queried if this was normal for August and was asked if I had heard the term Fogust. I hadn’t. I will never forget it.

The fog did indeed lift enough so that the fog horn was silenced, but at the same time the waves started to build. That 102 mile fetch can create some angry waves when the wind is from the west and that is what we were now running into, and what I like to call the Strait of Juan de Puka. We bounced and rolled and were somewhat forced to head more northwest than we wanted to lessen the effect of the waves on the boats. RollyPolly

We had been staying in a relatively close formation when I noticed that Boo’s boat had stopped and he was on deck in the rough waves. I hailed Captain Bubbles about it as I turned back to see what was happening. Their diesel engine was no longer working and he was raising the sails to continue on. Once he was sailing, he was almost as fast as I was motoring, so I pulled out my jib (I was solo and had no desire to go on deck to raise the main in those waves, but I would have been better off with the main up from the start) and Capt. Bubbles came back to us and raised his sails as well. About a mile and a half from Cattle Pass the wind died and Boo could no longer make much progress. I was closer, but Bubbles had the much larger boat (and towing experience) so he dropped sails and came back to set up a tow while I became the escort. That was a rough ride.

Uncomfortable Tow Through Cattle Pass

Uncomfortable Tow Through Cattle Pass

Our untintended timing had landed us in Cattle Pass at max flood, which is not many sailors’ favorite time to cross. The waves are steep and confused, powerful eddies everywhere. Even with a slow tow in progress, the boats were doing 8-9 knots over ground through the pass. Once through, Bubbles found the closest place to anchor and troubleshoot Boo’s engine.

The theory was that it was a clogged fuel filter due to debris getting tossed around from the waves we were in. A new filter was put on and the engine started. Since that was the back-up, Boo made a VERY long dinghy run to Friday Harbor but was unable to find the type that he needed. We had a variety of other friends meeting us in the San Juans, so possible filters would be flowing in the next day.

We settled in for the night at anchor, grilled pork chops, asparagus and apples with cinnamon for dessert, and started looking at the charts and going over our plans for the next few days. I was making a break for Canada in 2 days time to pick up crew while the others were going to stay in the San Juan Islands a bit longer.

The next morning our bay was crystal clear with flat, reflective water, but I could see the fog in the pass and beyond, with some of it creeping into San Juan Channel. I only recall this much fog one other August in the 9 years that I’ve been here, so perhaps I’ve been lucky with Fogust. The good news was that Boo’s engine purred to life the next morning as if nothing had happened, and I got a mini-lesson on some of the features of my radar from Capt. Bubbles. I got lucky again and rafted with Boo on the transient dock in Friday Harbor. They saw me coming and hailed me on the VHF to say there was no other space. We all got showers and ran errands, and we all ended up in Reid Harbor that evening in different spots, but to me, we were all together. Paddle board and dinghy visits…we are a rag tag family.

Life and sailing are always adventures, and I’m glad to have been with a group of boats and friends this time around rather than on my own. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we’ve paid our fog dues this year and are done with it!

ARGGH

ARGGH

Downsizing-Learning to Live Smaller and Better

Home

Home

Here’s an article I wrote that was published in LifeEdited.com about a year and a half ago, inspired after Deborah Bach of ThreeSheetsNW asked me to write about learning to live aboard as a single woman. http://lifeedited.com/woman-plunges-into-deep-end-of-downsizing/

Both http://www.LifeEdited.com and http://www.TheMinimalists.com are great sites for people interested in ways to de-clutter and free up space for better living – check them out.

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