Almost ready to head south?

Yikes, what a month.  I’ll admit, and Brenda will willingly say, that every fall it is a whirlwind, and not in a good way.  Getting Pandora, and us, ready to go away for the winter is complicated.

Yes, every year is a challenge and this year, even worse, when you toss in all the responsibility that goes along with my role as rally director for The Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean.

With nearly 80 boats heading to warmer climes, and me at the center of all the “fun”, it is turning out to be quite a ride.

You may recall that I took on this job as “interim rally director” last May when the “then current” director resigned abruptly and as I probably contributed to his departure, (don’t ask) I felt obligated to help keep things moving along.

So, here we are, months later and I am no longer able to hide behind “interim”.  I’ll admit that the job is a bit overwhelming.

Having said that, this role is turning out to be very rewarding, if in a “head snapping” sort of way as I lurch from one thing to another.  Trying to keep everyone involved in the rally happy and yet still keep up with our home here in CT and Pandora is a handful.

Pandora is now mostly ready with all mechanical systems working and ready to go.  But there are always last minute issues that crop up.  Fingers crossed…

In getting Pandora ready over the last few month, the big issues that needed addressing were the bow thruster that crapped out somehow over the winter and a refrigeration system that stopped working properly following our time in Maine.

First the refrigeration.  When I got back from Maine I noticed that things in the fridge were freezing and that the temperature was going down as low, sometimes lower than the freezer.  After a lot of back and forth with the manufacturer we determined that one of the zone valves that directs where the coolant is to go, fridge or freezer, had frozen in the open position so whenever the freezer called for cooling, the fridge got colder too.   Can you say, “popped sodas?”

As everyone knows, it’s nearly impossible to get someone to work on a boat these days and it took about a month to get someone out to fix things.  In order to be sure that the repairs could happen quickly, I ordered exactly what we needed and had it on hand when the tech arrived.

Not so fast it seems… the guy, and he was well recommended, wasted hours “diagnosing” the problem on his own, spending the better part of a day making some adjustments to the existing valves. declaring that the problem was fixed.  All the while his assistant sat by ready to hand him a tool but mostly just fiddling with his phone.

Well, it wasn’t fixed and again he came back to Pandora only to learn that he needed to do some fabrication in his shop.   Did he take the new valves with him when he left?  No, so I had to make a trip to his shop to drop the parts.

Ok, so back he came for a THIRD visit and finally fixed what I had told him was the problem from the beginning.   I won’t say how many hours went into what should have been a simple “fix” but it is finally done and the fridge is cooling happily.  The bill?  He adjusted it but it was still nearly a boat dollar.   Amazingly, the replacement of a single valve costs more than the installation of the entire new unit in St Lucia two years ago.  Painful…

Doesn’t look like much does it?  The little black square blocks are the two zone valves.   Messy but it works.  To make matters worse in replacing them, they are located under and behind the oven.  In order to get to them I had to invert the gimbled oven and open up an access panel, a really tight spot. Actually, the install looked a lot better before it was “fixed”, but one of the reasons that the valve failed is that it as oriented in the wrong direction.  The “correct” setup was to have the stem oriented vertically so that gravity could assist when the valve closed.  In the original install, when Pandora was built, the valves were not set up this way which caused them to fail over time.   I will say that it looked a lot less messy back then.  However it doesn’t show and now it works just fine, messy or not. Cold beer anyone?  Pandora’s got em.

The other issue, the malfunctioning bow thruster, took all summer to fix.  When I put Pandora up for last winter, the thruster worked fine but come spring it no longer “thrusted”.   The bad news is that there is only ONE company in the northeast that can even service the unit and they were booked solid and generally didn’t even return my calls.

Finally, after months of calls and emails, I was able to get them aboard.  There was a lot of back and forth about why it wasn’t working but finally the motor was removed just to be sure that it was ok, and it was but needed a bit of cleaning.  Back in place still no “thrust”.  At that point, we feared that it was the electronic controller that was at fault and replacements are unavailable.

One thing lead to another and the tech Andrew, who really knows these systems, narrowed the problem down to a corroded wire.  Isn’t that always the way?  A sort of “is it plugged in” answer that is so hard to figure out.

So simple and yet it took months to get it resolved, mostly because they were so swamped that they could not visit.

When Andrew visited for the second time and finally “fixed” the thruster, I could have hugged him.  Awkward as that might have been, nobody was more shocked that the unit was working again than me.  I expect that he was too.   The big issue looming over the job was that if the control box was damaged, I was screwed as the unit is no longer manufactured.   But it turned out to be OK and Pandora’s thruster is back in business.  Whew…

There have been myriad items to fix and add to get her ready to head south and I am very pleased that it’s all come together.   One upgrade, small though it may be, was the addition of a “storm window” on the front of the dodger, a hard plastic cover that I can clip over the opening window when things get snotty.

While the zipper window is mostly waterproof, sometimes a big wave can hit it and there is an annoying spray that comes through the zipper.  This addition will strengthen things a lot.  Chad, the canvas guy, did a nice job on this along with lots of other little “tweaks”.

And speaking of “tweaks”, my wind vane steering system, only really used on long passages, works pretty well but in order to keep the boat balanced, I have to lock the wheel with a bit of rudder to make it easier for the vane to steer the boat.  The problem is that the steering lock on the wheel hub isn’t strong enough to hold the wheel steady in big seas so I had to fabricate something to hold the wheel firmly against any movement and yet still be easy to release when needed.

I have tried a number of approaches over the years and none have worked particularly well.  However, after lots of “chin stroking” while sitting in the cockpit, I came up with a solution and fabricated it out of starboard, but not until I had made a number of trial designs out of plywood and pine.

Here’s the unit attached to the steering pedestal.  I think it’s pretty nifty, if I do say so myself. Each “jam cleat” is set up with a line that goes up from the bottom of the steering pedestal to one of the wheel spokes to hold things steady.  It’s easy to pull the line out of the cleat and to secure things for minute adjustments.  It will be interesting to see how it works.  I’m optimistic.

Perhaps the most concerning issue I faced in getting Pandora ready for the trip to Antigua was to have her hauled out yet one more time, to access the damage from a “grounding” in Maine over the summer.  I won’t go into much detail except to say that I misread a mark and hit a rock.

“You ran aground Bob?”  Yes, I did.   Of course, you know what they say about running aground don’t you?  “There are those who admit to running aground and those who lie about itveryone.”

Yes, I admit it, I ran aground and it was very upsetting.  I did dive on the boat right after it happened and I was pretty sure that the damage was cosmetic.  Fortunately, I was right.

Pandora, it seems, is a pretty tough boat and her keel is different than most boats.  The actual keel is composite and the only lead is the “torpedo” that is cross-bolted onto the bottom of the skeg.   And it’s a long keel so any “loads” put on it are distributed over a long area.  Especially helpful when you bump into something hard, like a granite bolder.

Fortunately, when we hit, we rode up on the rock as opposed to hitting the keel dead on, so the damage was cosmetic and on the bottom of the bulb.  It looked very nasty.  I won’t go into much detail except to say that I was able to clean things up beginning with a 5lb sledge hammer to bang down the high spots before filling things in with and apply some thickened West System epoxy.  It was cold outside that day and I needed to get three coats applied, faired and then coated with bottom paint, all within 24 hours.

In order to get things to set up faster, I tented the keel and put a heater and 500w flood light below. Happily, the damage was only cosmetic so now the keel is fair again and actually looks better than it did before the grounding.   Go me…The marina manager, Brian, was very accommodating and even took the time to launch me on a Sunday following a “short haul” that ended up not being quite as short as it should have been , 24 hours or not.  I appreciated his help.  He was actually pretty amazed that I was able to get her fixed and ready to launch so quickly.   Me too.

So, there you have it and I am hoping to be heading to Hampton to join up with the rest of the fleet, all vaccinated, before heading to Antigua, hopefully on November 1st.

There are still so many details like provisioning and getting clothing aboard for me and Brenda that it makes both of our heads spin.

Somehow all that’s going to get done by next week.  Oh yeah, we leave today to spend the next four days with our grandchildren in MD.  Now, that’s going to be fun.

I keep having to remind myself, and Brenda, that being in the tropics this winter will be a lot better than digging out from heavy snows.

Soon we will be aboard in Antigua again…Hanging out with all the Dawgs, and there will be plenty of them. Ok, so I’m almost ready to head south.  Now, if I can just get a weather window to head down to Hampton.  One step at a time…

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