Monthly Archives: September 2020

Listen carefully and you can hear the gates slam shut.

By any measure, this year’s boating season has been unique.  In a socially distant world many have turned to boating as a way to spend time with family and yet avoid infection.   Anecdotally, I have heard that boats, both new and used, have been selling like hotcakes and in spite of some pretty daunting requirements, with testing, quarantine and huge complexities for entering the islands, registrations for the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua are running nearly the same as last year.

As I write this I am aboard Pandora in Block Island, cruising with my friend Craig for a week.    This is the first time I have been here so late in the season and it’s pretty clear that the season is over.   There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of open moorings.  We used an Essex Yacht Club mooring, free for our use.  It’s not uncommon, during the high season, for every mooring to be occupied.  Not so now. Champlins Marina, a very popular spot had only a single boat.   I am told that if you want a spot on the dock during their busy time you have to book and pay by March.  Even with a reservation, you had better be prepared to raft up with other boats on the dock. At another marina, nearly all of the floating docks were already out of the water, and it’s only one week past Labor Day. Craig and I sat out on a patio on the dock overlooking a sparsely occupied marina.  I was impressed with all of the safety precautions in place.  At the Oar, a popular spot, we had to sign our names and list phone numbers in the event that any infection broke out and they had to trace who’d been there.  The place was very lightly attended and tables were widely spaced in a fresh breeze.  We felt safe.  So many open moorings.  No surprise given the fact we are well into cooler weather.  These same moorings, during high season, are so scarce that anxious boaters hover nearby with a dink every morning so that they can race to claim a mooring when someone drops off. We went for a walk and while there were plenty of tourists around, it was not crowded at all and we only saw a few mopeds, the usual scourge of summer.  The constant buzzing of racing mopeds, was nowhere to be seen.

I had remembered that there was a petting zoo near Old Harbor, on the other side of the island, where most of the old hotels and shops are located.  They have quite a collection including a Yak.  I think that’s how it’s spelled.  He’s the big black guy on the right.   Quite the menagerie. I have always loved turtles and this one is a big boy, upwards of 40lbs.    He was quite interested in getting some sort of handout and raced, as much as a tortoise can race, over to greet me.   How about these horns? Reminds me of one of the characters in the movie by Monty Python.   Not sure but I seem to recall his name as Kim.  Of course, what zoo is complete without a camel?Or a lama?   Or is this an Alpaca?  Whatever…Unfortunately,  all is not peaches and cream at the zoo.  This crane, was being tormented by a particularly aggressive goose who kept bugging him, squawked and flapped noisily. Later, a much happier egret, checking us out on the dock. When Craig and I headed out earlier in the week, the wind was strong and directly from the SE, which didn’t leave much choice of where to go.  We opted to head to Mattituck, a tiny harbor at the end of a 1.5 mile twisting channel on the North Fork of Long Island.   I had not been there for years and never with Pandora.  The channel has some very shallow parts so we were sure to head there at high tide.  No problem, and we never saw less than about 8-9′.  However, at low tide, I am certain that we would have run aground.  There is a small anchorage at the end of the channel that is kept open for anchoring boats.   It was disappointing to see that a few moorings have been placed, limiting room for anchoring but we were able to find a spot.

A short walk brought us into town.   Not a lot of action but we did have to wait for coffee and a muffin that we ate outside on the sidewalk, socially distanced of course.   I was impressed that everyone we encountered was wearing a mask.   It was encouraging.   There was a terrific grocery and also well stocked cheese shop.   Eating out didn’t seem like a good idea but we ate well aboard. Years ago Brenda and I had “discovered” nearby Shinn Vineyards, about a 1.5 mile walk outside of town on lovely country roads.   We have visited the vineyard by boat a few times.  We also stayed in their B&B for a long weekend during a snowstorm once, taking advantage of a winter special, complete with wine, of course, and wonderful food.  The vineyard has changed hands now and much has been done to make it even nicer.   Craig and I ordered a bottle of wine, cheese and bread.  All the basic food groups. I thought that these chairs were pretty neat.  Wonder how they keep them from getting filthy on the lawn. The rows of grape vines were meticulously trimmed and shielded with webbing from marauding birds.  The amount of labor that goes into producing wine is remarkable.    And, to make things even more complicated, Shinn is an organic vineyard.   Having  seen so many vineyards in CA that had no grass or weeds at all between the vines, everything burned out by herbicide, made me appreciate the difference here. Nothing quite says clean like glistening stainless steel.  Tonight Newport and Thursday off to Wickford and a mooring at the Wickford Yacht Club where I will leave Pandora while we head home in a rental car.  On Monday, Brenda and I will head back to Pandora for the last hurrah before Pandora is hauled for the winter.  I have written in past posts about all the projects that are lined up for the winter, both aboard Pandora and at home.   It’s going to be a busy winter.

And that’s good as my mother used to quote, allegedly from Mao, “busy people are happy people”, and busy I’ll be.  And that’s good, as I really don’t want to have time to think about the warm weather of the Caribbean that I’ll be trading for what I hope won’t be a harsh New England winter.

The good news though, is that our son Chris, his partner Melody and their dog Mila are settling in nicely at our home with everyone sharing in the housework, cooking and grocery shopping.  Mila isn’t much of a cook and is spending much of her time on the back deck, concentrating on keeping all the birds and squirrels in their place.

Hopefully after a winter with us they will decide that moving back to California isn’t a good idea.  With wild fires raging everywhere, the ever present risk of earthquakes and, these days, pestilence, perhaps they will decide that boring New England might seem like a good place to stay.  It would be nice to have them nearby.  One can always hope.

One thing that is certain though… summer is over.   Here in Block Island, the crowds have gone and the harbor is nearly empty.  It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago this place was hopping.

If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the iron gates of summer slamming shut…

Me, I really want to do what I can to wring a bit more time out of this season. I sure hope I don’t get bruised by that slamming gate.

Running Pandora’s AC on a Honda 2000

I’ll be truthful when I say that we hardly ever use our AC, especially in the Caribbean where there are constant cooling breezes.  However, in New England and the Chesapeake, where the breezes die at night, that’s a different story.

On the rare occasion that we tie up in a marina, even in the Caribbean, we use our AC to stay cool.    The problem, even in trade winds, is that in a marina, we are generally not facing directly into the breeze so getting sufficient air below can be a problem.

When we found ourselves in the midst of pandemic lock-down in St Lucia last winter we fired up the AC units only to find that both units were just blowing hot air as they had lost their coolant charge.  We contacted a tech who quickly recharged them both and cool we were again.

Unfortunately, that “repair” was only short lived and when we arrived in Florida, following our run home to the US, both units were again low on coolant.

I contacted a local tech that declared both units dead and recommended that they be replaced.  His opinion, after making a service call of course, was that it never made sense to try and repair what he referred to as “package units”, those units where the entire system is housed in a single “package”.   He went on to say that the life expectancy was about 7-8 years.  So, I guess that Pandora’s units, now more than a dozen years old, were well overdue.

This is the front unit after it was removed, and it sure looked ready for the scrap heap.  Note all the rust in the drip pan.   I had the forward unit replaced by a tech in FL, but replaced the aft unit myself while Pandora was in Annapolis.  It was surprisingly easy although I did have a tech hook up the unit and check that it was running properly. The forward unit, a 6,500 BTU Dometic unit was very easy to get at, located in the back of a roomy forward hanging locker.  Getting to the unit was very simple and yet the installation still took the tech nearly two days.

The new unit, also the same 6,500 BTU output, but with a stronger blower, is much improved and works beautifully.  One issue with any AC unit is that they give off a lot of water that drips off of the condenser and can add up to several gallons per day, per unit.   Normally, this water drains into the bilge, which isn’t ideal.  In this case, the tech recommended that I add a special positive drainage device that installs into the cooling water exit line.  It is the grey unit with the red arrow.  It also has a small strainer to the right to be sure that nothing can be sucked into the unit and block the tiny exit hole.  The principle behind this active condensate drain is that when the water is forced through the narrow part of the fitting, it passes a small hole on the bottom, causing a vacuum that sucks out the condensate and evacuates it overboard as part of the cooling water.   The suction is caused by the venturi principle where a fluid is passed horizontally, constricted as it passes a hole, causing the formation of a vacuum. It’s a simple, elegant approach and works very well.  I installed one on both units.  I’d put in a link but could not find one on the Dometic site.

The aft 16,000 BTU Dometic unit had never cooled the main cabin effectively and after analyzing the installation, we determined that the two ducts that were part of the original installation, did not allow for sufficient air flow over the condenser and therefore caused the unit to ice up and further restrict air flow.  We were never able to get the main cabin down below the high 80s.  The prior owner told me that the unit was just too small for the boat.  However, with modifications, this hypothesis proved to be incorrect.  It was simply a badly designed installation.

After thinking about the problem, the simple answer was greater airflow, the addition of a third vent.   The fix was simple, well simple in concept, as I had to install a new duct that went through the top of several lockers, using a 5.5″ hole saw, intimidating to use as it creates a lot of torque as it bites into the bulkhead.   I’ll admit that I really took a deep breath when I started to cut that 12″ square hole in a cherry bulkhead, but it turned out well.  What a difference it  the extra air flow has made and basically doubled the cooling capacity of the system.  The original ducts included a 4″ duct with a very long run, in the main cabin and a 3″ vent in the aft cabin.    It was not practical to change the main cabin duct but I upgraded the aft cabin duct to 4″ and the new duct in the galley at  5″, allowed for a substantial increase in capacity, matched to the system.

Adding air flow capacity to the system was doubly important as the new unit has a larger blower with greater flow.  Now we get 60 degree air blowing right into the galley, where it is needed most. I also split the forward unit so that I could divert some of the cold air from the forward cabin back to the main cabin.  That involved putting in a small 4″ louvered vent on the bulkhead adjacent to the unit in the forward locker.  That was fairly simple and it is set up in a way so I can close it and divert all of the air into the forward cabin as needed.  It is a nice edition and blows cold air over the starboard settee, the hottest part of the main cabin.The unfortunate reality is that we had not been able to use our AC at all at anchor as Pandora does not have a built in generator.  As I mentioned, previously, we have not felt a need to use the AC at anchor, when there is a breeze, but summers in the Chesapeake or New England, south of Maine can be stifling at night when the breeze dies.

With 600 watts of solar we have never felt the need to have yet another complex and EXPENSIVE piece of equipment on board and many of my friends with generators have reported plenty of maintenance issues, especially if they don’t use the generators regularly.  And, to spend $20k+ to put in a generator and add all that weight to the boat when we won’t be using it much, doesn’t seem prudent.

Once the 16,000 BTU unit is running it doesn’t draw all that much power and the small Honda 2000 gas generator can handle it.  However, when the compressor starts, the draw causes too much of a amp spike and causes the generator to surge, tripping the fuse every time.

With this in mind, the installer suggested that I install an “easy start”.    It seems that these are very popular with the RV set as they are rarely “off the grid” but when they are, want to be able to use their AC.    On boats, the surge of the compressor isn’t usually a problem because so many boats have diesel generators on board. I understand that the Easy Start’s magic is that it “learns” the momentary peak draw of the starting compressor and somehow smooths out the load so the generator is not hit with a sudden jolt.

Installing the Easy Start was a bit anxiety producing even though it only has four wires as I was terrified that I’d “fry” my new AC unit if I made a mistake.  However, the tech person at Micro-Air was very supportive and endured my four phone calls for reassurance.

Once installed, the instructions told me to turn on the generator and disable the Eco Mode, so that it was running at full RPM.  Then I was to turn on the AC unit, wait for the compressor to kick in and then turn it off again.  After 4 starts and stops, the unit will have “learned” the characteristics of my compressor and be ready to use.

After I completed this procedure, I restarted the Honda generator in eco mode and held my breath.  It worked!  The fan started, the compressor slowly spooled up along with the Honda, and cold air came out of the vents.  Magic!  What surprised me most was that the generator really didn’t seem to be running as fast as I had expected and wasn’t all that loud.

I won’t say that the generator, loud at nearly any speed, was quiet enough to run in a crowded anchorage at night but it was definitely a lot quieter than I had expected.

So, to make the generator quiet enough not to annoy my neighbors, I plan to build a sound deadening enclosure out of high temperature foam and a cooling fan to encase the generator.   I will be sourcing materials for this project from McMaster Carr, an industrial supplier that I have used before.

They sell every imaginable type of material and I am sure that I can find what’s needed to muffle the sound so stay tuned for updates on that project.  My plan is to share what I learn in putting this enclosure together along with a detailed materials list.

And Lord knows that I’ll have plenty of time to research and build that enclosure as I WON’T BE HEADING SOUTH THIS WINTER!

Did I mention that I will be hauling Pandora for the winter?

Thought so.

As always, details to come…

 

Where is Pandora headed? To the hard…

While it pains me to write this, we will not be heading south this fall.   Aside from a local trip or two between now and when Pandora is hauled for the winter, Pandora’s destination will be to the “hard” and that’s going to be doubly hard for me.

There are a number of reasons for this but I won’t dwell on it except to say that the two key reasons are…

  • The Pandemic and the threat it represents.

Yes, I know, it’s a problem everywhere but given the chaos here in the US and the relative safety of the Caribbean, with so few cases, it’s likely to be safer there than here.  However, if we were to get sick in the islands, as remote a possibility as that may be, good luck with that as there are very limited medical facilities in the Caribbean.  I also fear that if we were to head south, come spring, I would, once again, be unable to get crew to head down and help me return Pandora to New England.

Given the terrible track record that we have had here in the US in keeping the pandemic under control, I expect that air travel will remain anxiety producing in the spring, vaccine or not.   It is Labor Day weekend as I write this, and to date nearly 190,000 people have died of the virus in the US alone and with some 1,000 more dying every day, medical experts are predicting we may reach 400,000 deaths by the end of the year, with deaths accelerating as those in colder climates move indoors.

I would not be surprised if Antigua and the other islands that have been much more effective in keeping the virus under control, decided to restrict travel from the US, making it tough to get anyone into the islands to help bring boats home come spring.

And that brings me to the second reason and certainly the biggest.

  • Brenda hated the trip from St Lucia to Florida

Of all the passages that I have made over the years, the run from Great Inagua Bahamas to Florida, the second half of our run to the US VIs, was the most unpleasant yet.   And that’s saying a lot when compared to a four day run in the teeth of a gale that I experienced several years ago.

No, it wasn’t quite as rough as that trip but with sustained 30kts on the beam and waves breaking over the boat regularly, Brenda was terrified and  miserable.  And I was forced to stay awake for a lot longer than I was safely able, so it was a pretty tough trip for us both.

She hasn’t really gotten over that run and it has proven to be pretty difficult to coax her back aboard.  The good news is that while she hasn’t spent more than a few hours aboard since returning to the US, we are planning an early fall run, south of the Cape, in the next few weeks.  It will be interesting to see how cruising in New England is during a pandemic, even after the summer crowds are gone.

It’s going to be very tough for me to give up a winter afloat and endure a New England winter, but at least I’ll be home with enough time to tackle some of the larger jobs that I have been meaning to address aboard Pandora and at home.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about what’s on the agenda except to say that I plan to repaint the interior/underside of the hard dodger.  For some reason, the paint has pealed and is looking scruffy.  The decks also need some love where the paint has worn through from traffic on deck.  Fortunately, the cabin top is fine as that would be much more difficult to address with all the fittings I’d need to work around.  The side decks are mercifully free of hardware so preparing them for painting will be fairly easy.  Well, easy when you consider that there is nearly 100′ running feet of side deck that is about 2.5′ wide.

While I have no experience working with Alexseal, the paint that her hull was done with, the local company rep is a good guy and I expect he will be very open to guiding me through the project.

And that brings me to the biggest and most intimidating job I need to tackle, fixing a number of scratches and dings in the hull.  There are three areas in particular that need addressing.  The dings in the aft port quarter made by the couple aboard a small catamaran that rammed us in St Lucia.  I wrote about that experience in this post.   And, there is always a “first” scratch that happen to “christen” my shiny new paint job, and this one, my fault, happened when a squall came up last fall in Hampton.  As the gusty winds shifted during the squall, one of the fenders fell off of a piling that put a deep scratch in my shiny boat.  The first scratch in a new paint job is always the most painful.

But the biggest painting task is will be to address a large number of scratches on the port bow that came about when I dropped the anchor in the middle of a fierce squall in Ft Pierce on the ICW.  Those scratches, while fairly light, run all along the port bow and will require painting a section of at least a 3’x6′ area.  I am not confident that I will be able to blend such a large area properly so I guess I’ll have to see how that goes and then decide if I am going to hire the work out to fix my (perhaps) botched job.   Time will tell on that front.

However, the most annoying , and depressing, job of all will be the process of winterizing Pandora to keep her systems from freezing.  That job, the risk of mistakes leading to damaged equipment, and the reality of knowing that I am facing a long winter in New England, is what I am dreading most.  At least I have an extensive list to refer to, and it’s a long list.  I’ll need to add one more item this year, blowing out the watermaker product tube, which I missed last time, leading to the damage of the flow meter.

However, there is still some warm weather left before things freeze over so I’ll try to focus on that.

It’s good to have Pandora nearby.  This was the view that my crew George and I enjoyed as the sun rose up in the east as we rounded Montauk on our run from The Chesapeake  few weeks ago.  Pretty impressive glow in the east.  Montauk light showing the way.  As we headed down the Delaware river we were passed by many ships.  It’s hard to get a real feel for how big these ships really are. Well, at least until you see how big these “tiny trucks” are, secured on deck. And, the final view, one of my favorite lighthouses.  Saybrook Point light at the mouth of the CT River, freshly painted.So, home we are, me and Pandora.  And me, pining for the warm tropical winter that will not be.  I’ll admit that I am quite anxious about what life will be like here in the US when the weather turns cold.  Gone will be the outdoor dining options and combined with a desire to be with family for the holidays, I fear that many will let their guard down and infections will skyrocket.  Medical experts are also sounding the alarm, in particular, about what will happen this Labor Day weekend when party-goers throw caution to the wind and gather together for one last fling of summer.

In about two weeks we will know more about that…

Anyway, a cold winter awaits…

And speaking of cold, it was in the 50s when I got up this morning, the first morning cold enough to close the windows to keep things a bit warmer indoors.

Not a good sign.

For a while, I had toyed with the idea of moving Pandora back to Florida and heading to The Bahamas after the holidays.  However, the government of The Bahamas has been particularly erratic in how they are handling the pandemic, closing airports with little warning, only to open them again a week later.

I understand that they have limited medical facilities and their population is spread out in many small settlements, but the on again, off again that has become the norm, and the thought of crew arriving and not being able to fly out when they arrive, makes it nearly impossible to make plans.  And, that is in addition to the mandatory two week quarantine upon arrival, regardless of any virus tests that you might have taken prior to departure.   And, once you are there, any time you move to a different location, another 14 day quarantine is required.

Unless you are willing to arrive in the Bahamas and stay for the entire winter it seems to me that we are better staying away for this season.

Having said that, I much prefer the variety of cultures, food and geography of the eastern Caribbean to the relative sameness of the Bahamas.  I will say that one thing the Bahamas has going for it over the Caribbean is the near crystal clear waters and wonderful beaches that you won’t find anywhere in the southern islands.

A ray of brightness in all of this is that our son Christopher and his partner Melody, along with their husky Mila, have come to stay with us for an extended visit.    They arrived last week from the San Francisco Bay area.    At our prompting, they decided to leave their sky-high priced apartment in Oakland, in part because they were tired of being in such an expensive area and unable to enjoy all that it has to offer.  Because of the danger of infection, they have isolated themselves from friends and all of the culture that the Bay area offers, which takes a lot of the fun out of living there.  Additionally, the relentless fires in the area and the rising infection rates tipped the balance East which made us happy.

Brenda and I were also feeling pretty isolated so it was quite appealing for us to expand our admittedly tiny “bubble” and have them join us.   

Brenda will surely whip herself into a holiday frenzy this year and I expect that the forthcoming holiday decorations will be “epic”.   It will be fun to watch as Melody and Brenda as they have a lot in common and both have strong artistic interests.  It will be interesting to watch the cross-pollination of ideas and experiences develop between them.

So, there you have it,  Pandora’s heading to the hard and I’m headed, well nowhere.

There’s always next year to look forward to and, of course, our upcoming mini-cruise to the Vineyard.

For now, I’ll focus on our “land home”.   There’s no place like home…at sea or on the hard.