1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: May 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

an Ode to Marine Manufacturers, or Fixing Stuff in Exotic Places, Redux

We all know the line, we even use it as a badge of honour amongst ourselves in recognition of our reality: We are not 'cruising', we are 'fixing stuff in exotic places'. Except that if you're like me, not technically competent, it's having stuff break - or breaking stuff in exotic places - and then traveling to still more exotic places till you find someone who can fix it.
That's not really what this lifestyle is supposed to be about....
A good friend who replaced his alternator with a pricey Balmar system was good enough to give me the two 80 amp Hitachis he was originally going to use for the upgrade when he was unable to sell them. One, he told me, needed new diodes, the other was fine. Better than fine, it was new, unused, in the box even!
So while sitting in Bimini waiting for a weather window, I decide to swap out my working just fine, 35 amp alternator for the larger one. What was I thinking? Cue in the violins now please....
First of all, I installed the 'new but not working one', thinking it was the good one. It didn't work. So, I installed the other one. It didn't work either, so I figured it was actually the broken one since it was in the older box.
That's logical, isn't it? I mean, they're both new, so go with the condition of the box it came in. I re-installed the first (non working) one, figuring I had missed something in the install.
There was a reason I nearly failed shop class in grade school, as you can imagine...
I read online that the unit needed to have the exciter wire installed correctly....that wasn't required on my old unit. So I spent hours searching out the information on the internet.
Now I'm not a totally inept doofus...ok, I am, but I've installed a windlass on this boat, as well as an engine, a new furler, I've built a sail from a kit...but if you've ever tried to install an alternator in anything but the four wheeled vehicle it was intended for, you're in uncharted waters, let me tell you. For starters, the manufacturers do NOT put proper labelling on the units. If you're not a trained 'alternator guru', you have to guess at which stud is the ground attachment for example. Or which terminal is the 'L' terminal and where does it attach to?
And since no two boats are the same, you then have to figure out the connections that are appropriate to your boat. All this while hoping that that red and white wire at the instrument panel in the cockpit is the red and white wire you see in the wiring harness in the engine room. And no, it wasn't, it was the yellow and green wire....that took some time to figure out too. (Aside - WHY WHY WHY do the manufacturers of multimeters use such stupidly short cords?)
Now all of this would be considerably easier if the manufacturers were to put some labeling on the units, or include a nice photo or two (the photo above is from a cruising website, NOT a manufacturer), and instructions - you know, like people who manufacture windlasses, or mainsail kits, or furlers - do. Marine manufacturers in other words.
Yes, I'm about to commit what to many of us is a horrific sin - I'm going to praise, with faint praise, the natural enemy of most boaters, the marine manufacturer. Hold tight....I know this is scary stuff.
These guys don't assume we're some kind of technical genius - they figure we're as dumb as dirt and they are right. They know us well! After all, we own boats, how bright can we be?
They very kindly don't say that, or even give a hint that they know how dumb we must be, they just put together directions that a complete doofus, such as myself, can follow to get the job done. That's smart on their part. (Special thanks here to Matt and Jeff at Sailrite, and also Scott and Scott at Selden, you guys rock!)
Seriously - a windlass installation (see Installing a new windlass, SAIL Magazine) is a complex job, involving some serious wiring to several components, numerous connections and a fair bit of ingenuity to complete. Compared to installing an alternator - two, perhaps three wires and three bolts - it's like flying a 767 compared to flying a kite.
Yet I had a far simpler time installing the windlass, with a great deal less trouble - all because the instructions were complete, detailed and well thought out. Thanks to the guys at Quick for their fine directions and superb customer service...
The sum total of instructions for the alternator? There were None. At. All. And the diagram of the unit was wrong in any event. And the right info about the exciter wire? Ahhh.....don't ask, heck, it wasn't even labeled on the unit. Honestly, I now understand why car repairs are so fraught with problems.
My opening query - the thread ran to over 120 posts
So I turned to the internet, particularly my friends on the Sailing and Cruising group on Facebook. This, it turns out, was the right move, as there is a considerable amount of expertise in the group and a huge willingness to help. Although it took a while to ferret out the problems, the suggestions, diagrams and questions about what was happening with this job kept me moving in the right direction until finally, I established that the alternator I was attempting to install was, indeed, the faulty one.
About this time almost to the minute, my benefactor came online and told me which one was bad.....wouldn't you know it?
Out came the other unit again and, since all the other potential problems - ground wire, exciter wire, connection to the instrument panel, etc. - had been corrected while 'fixing' the faulty one, it was just a matter of three bolts, three wires and start 'er up.
The exciter wire, now properly connected, fired off the idiot light and warning buzzer, then stopped as the power came up. The voltmeter immediately shot to 13.4 from 12.3, telling me that all was good in Electronville. So good in fact, I popped a couple of warm brews into the fridge to turn them into ice cold ambrosia as a reward for all my hard work.
So the next time you are struggling with an impossible install or repair - remember, it could be worse. Or cost more. Or, more likely, both! Don't struggle on your own - join an online community of sailors and share the misery with them. It may not make the job go faster, but it'll be much more fun!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

At anchor in Bimini....

Local hunting conch in Bimini...
At anchor here in Bimini, after an uneventful crossing. The arrival, now that had some drama!
About seven miles out, I decided to put in the North Bahamas chart chip so that, you know, I would be able to see the channel clearly and enter without any problems.
Now where did I put that silly little chip? It's always in the nav table. Always - well, except for now, when I need it. Seems that when I sold the old chartplotter, I left that chip in it. Darn. Someone got a deal there.
Fortunately, I've got my paper charts...
In any event, the entry to Bimini is very easy and well marked, especially now that the casino is here - can't be having the guests roll the dice before getting to the tables, can we?
How many of you remember the range markers - a couple of stakes - we used to use to get into Bimini - line them up, turn left about 20 yards off the beach, and follow the pretty blue colour into the harbour. I honestly wonder how many of the boaters I see here now could actually manage that?
Fast forward to about 500 yards from the channel markers....and the sound of the exhaust changes. What's this? No water from the exhaust? Not good, especially this close to shore. Turn the boat around and head back out towards sea...
Duck below to check out the engine and whew! - it's just a hose clamp at the top of the engine that's broken, the hose coming loose. Easy fix. Stick it back on, and run the engine slowly to keep the pressure down so it's not blown off again. Being so close in, I didn't want to take the time, unless forced, to find and install a new hose clamp if this would work.
And why didn't I just raise the sails? Love the concept, but there was no wind at all to use the 'emergency white things'...
That changed real quickly the next day though. The winds went into the east, the direction I'm heading in, and are anywhere from 10 - 20 knots...which makes for a miserable ride across the Bahama Banks in a slow sailboat. The waves are small, perhaps two feet, but short. Think Albermarle Sound here. Worse still, they will be staying out of the east until sometime next week and I won't be able to leave here.
Gee...that's tough.
So...what's changed in Bimini? The north end of the island has been developed with a resort and casino - lots of pretty pink houses, to quote Mellencamp, and they are doing the best they can to 'pave paradise' here, to quote Joni Mitchell. Don't you just love progress?
However, the rest of Bimini is doing fine. Sherry is still serving her great conch fritters on the beach, and her Goombay Smash is still pretty darn potent. Captain Pat at Seacrest is still as congenial as ever. Captain Bob's has new owners, and the menu prices are badly out of date, with a $10 meal ending up at $17. Eleanor is still Eleanor, hard at work in her shop.
My Three Daughters still has the best conch fritters in Bailey Town, and really fabulous conch burgers - at $5 for the fritters, and $6 for the burger. No kidding - someone should tell them progress is happening and they need to jack up their prices and drop their quality to keep up - ok, sarcasm meter just pinged the limit there. Oh, did I mention they have homemade ice cream for $5 a bowl? Yummmm.
I come to the islands to experience a different lifestyle than what I find on the mainland. Why people call it progress to transplant what you can already experience there is beyond me.
At this resort, they actually ship in crates of shells to build walkways and gardens, bring in palm trees - I'm serious - and build sand beaches on the harbour side when there is a beautiful sand beach just 200 yards away on the Atlantic side.
Except, no one goes to that beautiful beach, and it's empty even at sundown. These people are all hanging out at the infinity pool, telling one another how great it is in the Bahamas.
Fact is, they could be at any resort in any tropical area and it would be exactly the same. These people will tell their friends they have been to the Bahamas and I suppose that's true, but it's not accurate.
They may be traveling, but they aren't exploring, aren't discovering the real world, and they wouldn't understand what we do as cruisers, because they wouldn't be willing to put in the effort it takes to cruise.
They miss so much, and they haven't the slightest idea that they do. They may be living the good life, but it sure isn't the best life.
In any event, I'm happy to report that the sun still shines, the beach is still free and the water is warm. Life is very good. Now if only I could get 24 hours of anything but an easterly wind and get moving on to Chub Cay and then the Exumas.
Gotta run folks - there's a sunset awaiting on the Atlantic side that needs my rapt attention.
(Remember, you can find my location by following the 'Where's Wally Now' link here on LiveBloggin', at "Where's Wally?")

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Cuba Bound!

A quick post, as I'm getting the boat ready for travel...

At last - the stars have aligned and it's off to Bimini after far, far too long in Miami. From Bimini, it's then over to Chub Key - or possibly Andros and then over to the Exumas. I'll be avoiding Nassau like the plague - far too many murders there recently, including several on boats (see story here). Besides, why go to an island paradise and spend time in a city? I want beaches, sun, sand and rum!
From there, it will be on to the Exumas. This trip, I want to visit the northern Exumas, I've missed them in past years. Some lazy cruising down the islands follows, with a stop at Staniel and other popular spots to revisit some past haunts. Maybe drink some rum, chase lobsters and find the best conch fritters in the world. That sounds about right...
Of course, Georgetown comes next - it'll be quiet at this time of year with most of the winter transients having returned north, or moved on further south into the Caribbean.
Lots of room at the Chat and Chill for a cold brew in other words, and less crowding at the market when de mail boat comes in!  Maybe take in a rake and scrape....Ya mon, we be limin' dere, goin' wit' island time.
Talking about the market, sad news that the Georgetown straw market burned down - I'm sure the folks who traded there will rebuild and I'll certainly let everyone know what I find out in a forthcoming post.
Following Georgetown, it's Salt Pond on Long Island. The resort there, Long Island Breezes, has apparently closed, which is unfortunate - it was a great spot to hang out. I'll reprovision from the anchorage in Long Island, since there are two stores and prices are considerably less than in G-town.
Next, it's on to the Jumentos, which with the advent of the Explorer Charts for that area are much easier to transit. The bottom end of that chain brings us to Ragged Island, and this trip, I'll probably take a day or two to explore there. My last trip, the weather was just right for crossing to Cuba, so I was gone the next morning barely 12 hours after I'd arrived. Ragged Island has the bar with the airplane on (or is it 'in') the roof. Met the owner my last trip, so it'll be fun to reconnect.
Sixty-five miles from Ragged Island and up comes Puerto de Vita, Cuba's easternmost port of entry. The folks at Puerto de Vita are very friendly and make the process quite simple, for which I'm quite grateful.
I'll be using wifi as it's available to keep everyone in touch, and also, you'll be able to follow my trip using the 'Where's Wally' feature on the Delorme InReach unit I carry.
To find my location, and where I've been, click on the 'Where's Wally' tab you see at the top of this page, just below the photo of my boat. Currently, as you can see, it's set to my last location at the end of the ICW Snowbird Rally, but that will be changing as of Saturday at about 0100 hours.
You can also keep up with my posts on Facebook, at Sailing and Cruising, and also Sailing and Cruising: Cuba, even while I'm in Cuba.
Using the Delorme InReach unit, I'll be able to post regular updates via satellite, so you'll be able to follow what's happening. Unfortunately, photos won't be possible unless I find internet, which is difficult in Cuba outside of a resort or major hotel. Even then, given the poor bandwidth, photos might not be possible.
It will be possible for you to email me via the Delorme, and I do hope to hear from you while I'm underway. I'll try to answer questions, but at 160 characters per message, it's gonna be a challenge to give a lot of detail.
For those wanting more information about cruising to and in Cuba, my FB page is the most up to date site for information about cruising in Cuba on the net. I actually have people who live aboard in Cuba posting to it, as well as people who are cruising there now, or who have very recently returned from cruising in Cuba. It doesn't get more up to date than that, so accept no substitutes!
I make a serious effort to keep the information current, and to give you the facts, not the rumours and incorrect scuttlebutt you'll find everywhere else. Check it out, if you're planning - or just dreaming - of cruising to Cuba, then you'll appreciate Sailing and Cruising: Cuba

(ps - posted while at anchor in Bimini, Bahamas, after an uneventful crossing :>)