Category Archives: General

Ethanol Hell

Soon after taking possession of our boat, and delivering her to our home port, we wanted to get the RIB up and running.  Starting with the basics, I replaced the battery and filled the integrated fuel tank with fresh fuel. Sure enough, with those two updates, we were soon zooming around Commencement Bay, checking out potential fishing locations, timing how long it takes to get to certain places, and learning how she handles in different conditions.

One evening I took Tay and two of her friends out for a quick ride, showing off the seals and sea lions. Once clear of the marina, I throttled up, and we were soon on a plane, heading towards Brown’s Point.

And that’s when the trouble started.

The boat simply slowed down, and came off of plane. No bang. No smoke. Not much change in how the engine sounded. Just no power.

Not sure what had happened, I slowly motored everyone back to the dock to safety, and I spent a few minutes seeing if I could debug the issue. Later that weekend, after googling the symptoms, I was worried that maybe the “fresh fuel” that I put in caused the problem, since I simply filled a jug full of gas from a local gas station, which had at least 10% ethanol (I didn’t bother to look). But I am sure there was ethanol in the fuel, as EPA regulations make non-ethanol, or E0, gasoline extremely rare.

We share a dock with Doctor D, an outboard mechanic; we had already chatted about having the dinghy serviced since we had no documentation on how it was maintained, but now I also needed to have him diagnose my problem. In a few minutes he was able to determine that one of the three cylinders was not producing any power, and the suspect (later confirmed) was a clogged carburetor due to ethanol fuel.

Ethanol, I now know, is a serious problem for older outboard motors. I’m not going to pretend to be a mechanic, so I won’t go into details as to how or why, but BoatUS and other sources have some very good reading material to explain it if you care to understand. If not, suffice it to say, avoid ethanol-fuel like the plague on your outboard powered boat. There are websites available that map out where you can find pure gas in case you have a classic vehicle, or boat, that is incompatible with the new fuels.

Oh, but my anger with the EPA wasn’t over yet.

I still had 7 gallons of fresh, ethanol-blended fuel in my RIB’s tank. And I didn’t want to spend all the time, energy, and money fixing the problem, only to have it come back as soon as I started burning that gas. I needed to siphon it all out. After failing to get the siphon tube into the tank via the inlet, Dr. D let me borrow an attachment that allowed the fuel line from the engine to be used. After a few minutes I had a fuel tank full of E-10 fuel.

Modern cars can burn E10+ fuel just fine. You would think that putting the fuel I just siphoned out into a truck tank would be easy. But you would be wrong.

The new “clean air” nozzles, designed to prevent fuel vapors from leeching into the atmosphere, also don’t fit into the fuel port of a truck. I am not sure how long it takes to leech a few cups of gasoline into the atmosphere using the old-style gas cans, but I know exactly how long it takes to pour a few cups of liquid gasoline straight onto the ground using the new-style cans: about 4 seconds. Once again, Dr. D. came to the rescue, this time with a long funnel. We unscrewed the cap, and simply poured it into the tanks of our trucks.

I’m someone that likes clean air and water, so I want to support the EPA. I also want to keep this blog non-political. But this situation has really soured my opinion of the agency, and this meme (not mine) says it all:

To finish up this chapter, though, the dinghy is in Dr. D’s shop, and we will soon have her back in the water, this time filled with E0 gasoline.

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TV on board

I just spent over 4 months figuring out how to solve the problem of watching TV, and to a lesser extent providing high-speed internet aboard. I tried to get cable hooked up, but the line to the pedestal on the dock was broken and had no signal, and besides, it would only work when tied up at our home dock and not underway or at guest marinas. I looked into satellite tv, but it just didn’t solve my problem, specifically because of the internet service, but also because of the equipment costs for tv — it also had the same problem as cable when upderway.

My solution was to go cellular.

Where we boat we have almost 100% 4G LTE coverage.  I purchased a new line/SIM card for my phone plan, purchased a dedicated cellular modem, and added an old wi-fi router that I had laying around  I now have a solid, always-on, internet connection, with plenty of bandwidth to browse the web, stream movies and shows on Neflix or Amazon Prime Video, including 4K content.

When researching, I found the big problem with tv was live events, specifically sports. I want to spend the weekend on the boat, and in the afternoon watch a soccer, hockey, or football game, and I really had a difficult time figuring out how to make it happen. Our marina is tucked behind a hill, so we have very little over-the-air capabilities. To solve the TV issue, I subscribed to YoutubeTV, and a new 43″ TV with Roku built in. I also added a bluetooth transmitter, so the sound gets picked up and played through the 5.1 stereo.

YoutubeTV was my best option as it had the best sports coverage as well as unlimited DVR, but if you’re not a sports fan you may find better options with Hulu, Sling, Vue, or DirectTV Now

For $40/mo I have all the local broadcast channels (NBC/CBS/FOX/ABC) as well as traditional cable channels such as ESPN/2/U FoxSports/FS1/FS2, CNN/Fox/CNBC/BBC, etc. Compare channel lineups and other offerings between the providers and pick the one that serves your needs the best.

For the past month or so I’ve been enjoying all the Hockey, NCAA Basketball, and soccer that I can watch on my boat. Way more selection and at a better quality than my cable account at home which costs over 5x as much. So I’m now looking into drastically reducing my cable television plan, and using this same solution at home.

Our 2002 Bayliner 4788

Our new-to-us boat is a 2002 Bayliner 4788.

The 4788 is perfect for how we boat. We’ve been searching for a home-away-from-home for a long time, and this boat finally fits the bill. If it was an apartment, it would be a 3-bedroom, two-bath, 600 square foot, 4-level apartment with a heck of a water view.

If you will indulge us, we’ll give you a quick virtual tour…

From the cockpit, you enter into the main salon, with a large L-shaped settee and table to starboard, seating and storage to port:

Forward of the salon is the galley on the port side:

Up the stairs just starboard of centerline is the pilothouse, which is one of the primary reasons we purchased this model. Aside from the great visibility and organization while underway, having a second full room available while tied up in port is amazing:

When tie up in our home slip, we have a great view of Commencement Bay. This goes back to the floating condo idea — we don’t even need to leave our slip to “get away” and have a great view of the water:

From the pilothouse, you go up a few more steps to the fly-bridge and dinghy. The dinghy, aside from being the boat’s tender, will also become the primary fishing and skinny-water exploration boat:

From the main salon, heading down below, immediately to port is the first stateroom which has become Taylor’s room:

Down the hallway, past the head to starboard, is the 3rd stateroom which can be made up into either two single bunks, or a setee extending the master:

Forward again is the master stateroom, with private head to starboard:

We use this boat way more than any other boat we’ve owned. We come down almost every weekend just to hang out on it. We have all the comforts of home, with enough room to even host thanksgiving dinner:

Santa brought a couple kayaks at Christmas, so aside from the dinghy we can explore the beaches, seals and sea lions, and the harbor:

 

Yes, this is our new boat.

We think we’ll keep this one for a while.

Farewell, Seahorse, And We Thank You

It’s official now. Officially official.

We have sold our 1983, 34′ Fu Hwa Seahorse, a Europa styled trawler.

Tom and Wendy made an offer that we accepted, and last weekend took ownership. With a little bit of work solving a persistent leak on the fore-deck, they will have a great little boat, that hopefully serves them as well as she served us.

The Fu Hwa Seahorse has a lot of positive traits, especially for Pacific Northwest cruising. She has high gunwales, covered side decks, a large flybridge, and a comfortable cockpit outside. Inside the salon with integrated seating, galley, and helm station is where we spend the vast majority of our time. Below the v-berth and head are great for a couple. Her single diesel engine would run for hours, economically pushing her along at 6kts all day long, simultaneously heating water and air for comfortable cruising.

We just out-grew her.

We wanted to spend more time aboard. The problem was that there was only one full-time berth on board, and with the three of us plus a dog, there just wasn’t a ton of indoor living space. So, while we would still come down a couple times a month, we rarely spent the night aboard.

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Almost two years ago we decided it was time to upgrade. And this month we said goodbye to our Seahorse for good.

 

First Ever Tow

For the first time ever I had to be towed back to the dock.

It could have been worse. It could have been a dangerous situation requiring emergency services. We could have drifted into shallow water requiring us to take action to save the boat. It could have been windy. It could have been cold and rainy. We could have run out of ice.

As it was, it could have been better, but in the end it was a BoatUS membership tow back to the dock and a pretty memorable story.

An Afternoon of Fishing

* All photos taken by Jason Brandolini

With my wife and daughter out of town, I took the opportunity to take a friend out on the water after work to do some salmon fishing. As I started up the engine, I heard a high-pitched squeal. I assumed, at the time, it was just the belt slipping a little bit, and as soon as the engine got up to speed it went away.

On the way out to the Brown’s Point area, we motored through sailboats getting ready for some Wednesday night racing.

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It was a little windy, nothing to worry about, and we were soon trolling comfortably.

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As the evening approached, we were enjoying our time on the water snacking and drinking iced-teas. Legitimately, neither of us had a drop of alcohol all day, which served our needs well as the night unfolded.  As sunset approached, the wind died down, and it became one of those nearly perfect evenings on the water. We shut off the engine a couple hundred yards off shore, and mooched until sunset.

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An Evening of… Towing

As the sun just dropped behind the Olympic Mountain Range — at approximately 9:30 pm, a call came over the VHF radio of a small power boat drifting, dead in the water, between us and our home dock.

I asked Jason if he thought we should be good Samaritans. Since it was getting dark and we weren’t catching any fish anyway, he agreed that it was time to pull up the lines, head in, and help out a fellow boater. I answered the call on the VHF that we were an estimated 10 minutes away from the disabled vessel, and would be underway in approximately 5 minutes.

As Jason started reeling in a few hundred feet of line off both rigs, I turned over the engine, whereupon a horrible noise emanated from the engine room… It sounded like a chain got caught in the belt and was flopping around! I immediately shut off the engine, and went downstairs to investigate — everything appeared to be in order. I tried to turn over the engine again, and it made a more grating metal-on-metal sound. It was clearly not right, and mechanical — exactly like this:

There were now two disabled vessels adrift in Commencement Bay.

The good news for the small boat is that another, faster, closer boat decided to help them so they weren’t waiting for us. But after our call to BoatUS, we called the Coast Guard to let them know of the situation — two uninjured adults were aboard a vessel in no distress, simply waiting for Vessel Assist… and that was going to take a while.

To pass the time Jason decided to keep fishing, and in fact caught a few dogfish:

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Vessel Assist gave a 90 minute estimated time of arrival and at around 10:45 the friendly red boat was seen coming towards us.

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James was great. I felt bad that I had to drag him out on the water on a random Wednesday night, but like I said before it could have been worse. For everyone.

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Within a few minutes after filling out the paperwork the towing bridle was set up…

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And by 11:00 we were on our way home.

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I sent the all-is-well text to my wife at 11:49pm once the boat was safely tied up in her slip.

Well, all-is-well as in everyone is back ashore safely — the boat still has an issue.

To Be Continued?

At this time I believe the issue to be the starter.

I don’t believe it’s anything internal to the engine, and I really hope it’s not. There was no smoke coming out the exhaust with the noise the first time we turned the engine over. And the only thing I could think of to check the internals was to check the oil — it was normal: Not black or milky, no particles when I rubbed it between my fingers, full amount, and it smelled just fine. Your standard brownish-black diesel oil.

After investigating and researching for the past 24 hours or so, the starter seems to make the most sense. The screetch at departure could be attributed to a starter, especially since the belt seems in good shape. The knocking has been reported when the starter pinion continues to make contact with the flywheel. And combined with the fact that I found a YouTube video (posted above) of a starter making the exact same noises, I think it’s a fair assessment.

But to be safe I’m actually going to hire a mobile mechanic to come out and take a look.

The Big Bash 2015

We went on our first boat trip of the year. We left our home dock on Friday, April 24th, and tied up to the docks at the Port of Poulsbo that afternoon. On Saturday I presented to the Cascadia sailors also in attendance, discussing Building your own Chartplotter with AIS, Radar, and followed up by listening in to presentations on sailing much further north than we have tried — all the way up to Alaska in most cases.  On Sunday, April 26th, we returned home, this time going around the east side of Vashon Island to avoid the currents, tying up at home in the mid-afternoon hours.

The map below shows the path as captured by our GPS location on our OpenCPN chartplotter with the purple track being the north-bound trip, and the yellow track being the south-bound return trip. There are a few gaps where I rebooted the machine for some reason or another, but it still shows the path we took quite well. I just extracted the route from OpenCPN, and used gpsvisualizer.com to generate KML files from them. Then I logged into Google Maps, and imported the KML files into a custom public map.

Preparation

Prior to the trip there was a ton of work to do.

Last summer we had a bit of an electrical issue on board, and lost our alternator and house bank of batteries. While we had replaced all the batteries, and purchased and mounted a new alternator, it wasn’t hooked up properly. I couldn’t figure it out as the wiring did not match up to any of the diagrams on the instructions that came with it. So before we went on this trip, I wanted to have a professional marine electrician finish up the installation.

I improvised a charging solution so that the engine wouldn’t die on the way, and drove the boat over to ModuTech Marine. At first even the electrician was confused as to what the instructions were showing. But he then discovered the issue: The instructions were showing three completely different options for installing the alternator. They just didn’t actually state that they were options, so I was trying to do all three at once! Less than an hour later we were done, and spent a couple hours cruising around Commencement Bay, validating that the batteries were, in fact, being charged properly.

Mechanically the boat was ready to go. Since this was the first time the boat had been running for any considerable time since last August, it was nice to just be out on the water.
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I also had to prepare for the presentation I was giving. I have been working on running OpenCPN on these low-powered systems such as the Raspberry Pi and CubieTruck for quite some time, but because these are active projects and platforms things change. Taking the opportunity, I started over from scratch, building the chartplotter on a Raspberry Pi 2, the most recent device. Over a couple days’ span, I had built a new system, running the most recent version of OpenCPN (4.1.412), with GPS location.

I also had an AIS receiver module that I planned on hooking up while we were underway and within range of signals. I also threw together a Powerpoint slide deck for the presentation, plus a bunch of other examples of hardware. The presentation was ready as well!

The Trip North

The trip north started out under overcast skies. We got a bit of a later start than originally planned, but did get some extra water in the tanks, and we were still well within the timeframe to catch the ebb current to assist our way north. We cruised through Colvos Passage at nearly 8 kts over ground, 6 through the water, with a substantial front to the south following us all the way.

The conditions were nice enough, though, that I was able to have a few hours to play with the AIS module, and caught our first ever AIS contact just as we were coming out of Colvos. It was a ferry leaving the Southworth Docks, and it showed up great! I wasn’t sure how to take a screenshot, so I simply took a picture with my phone:
First AIS Contact

Once we got to the north end of Blake Island, that front that was chasing us caught up. 2-3′ chop built up, and the ride got quite bumpy, right as we were entering into Rich Passage. Of course the Bremerton Ferry heading in at the same time didn’t do anything to reduce the stress of the situation. But once we rounded the southwest corner of Bainbridge island and turned more north, the wind pushed us straight into Liberty Bay. It was still windy and bumpy, but much better. The boat handles these conditions well enough that everyone was able to at least get a small rest in:
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An hour or so later we were docking at Poulsbo. I didn’t have the bow thruster working (did I mention we have had some electrical issues?) so it was a matter of lining the boat up on the dock and letting the wind push us in. We docked the boat as if we’d been doing it every weekend all year long! With the boat safely tied up to the docks, with shore-power and water, we were able to turn on a few movies and assist the rest of the Cascadian sailors as they arrived. Soon appetizers were shared and everyone was having a good time on each other’s boats.

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Poulsbo

The next morning we woke up to fog and glassy conditions.

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There is a ton to do for everyone in Poulsbo. The bakery is great. The bookstores are great. There are great restaurants. There’s even a great little aquarium with free (donations) admission. In short, it’s a great destination.

My AIS presentation went well, I think. It’s difficult to find that right balance between technical and non-technical aspects in a presentation like this. Some of the geeky sailors wanted to know things like what kind of interface do the chips communicate on between the modules, while other sailors just picked up the Raspberry Pi and said “well that’s kinda cool” before putting it down. But in the end, I had lots of people that seemed legitimately interested, and very few people walked out of the room. Well, except my wife of course.

I also wanted to listen to the other presentations, and was able to catch the vast majority of all of them. We definitely need to do more cruising on our boat, even if it’s just short weekend trips. But to hear about the multiple-months-long trips that these sailors went on, and see some of the thousands of pictures they took was amazing. The room was mostly full the entire day.

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Gramma and Papa took Tay and the dog home in the afternoon so that neither of them would be bored just sitting around. That night, with the boat to ourselves, we decided to watch the first episode of this season of Game of Thrones. About 20 minutes into the show, our electric heater went out. For those that have boats, you probably already know that electric heaters very often trip the breaker switch, and I assumed that was the situation here. Except when I looked at the switch panel, the breaker was fine. And the same was true with the breaker on the dock. For giggles I tried to turn over the engine, just to see… It barely made a sound.  Uh-oh.

So at 11:00pm, I dug into the engine room with a headlamp. I grabbed my electrical meter, and stuck the probes on the first house bank — 13.7 volts. Then I tested each of the other house bank batteries, and all of them were fully charged. I tested the starter battery, though, and it registered only 9.8 volts — essentially dead!

We weren’t stuck because with the fully charged house bank I knew I could get the engine turned over if I wired the engine starter to it. It’s not the most efficient way to do it, but once would work just fine. But I needed to figure out why we ran down our starter battery while plugged in to shore power. As I’m tracing wires and trying to figure it out, I lift up one of the house bank batteries to see behind it… and a large cable falls away loose. It was stuck between the battery and the battery case, and I couldn’t see it. It was also about 8AWG, so substantially large. I reconnected it to the negative bus, and realized that it was the return line from the starter battery charge circuit — the starter wasn’t charging at all.

I believe that because our 1-2-All switch was set to all, we were running down both banks all weekend, and only the house bank was being replenished. After letting the starter battery charge overnight, the next morning I tested the engine and she turned over without hesitation. We were good to go again.

The Return Trip

Most of the boats were starting to leave around 10:00. After a couple cups of coffee, and failing to give away the last of our mini cinnamon rolls, we decided to follow suit. Running the Raspberry Pi Chartplotter (because why not?), we backed out of the slip we had rented, into a very wide fairway, spun the boat, and headed back south.

The return trip was, for the most part, uneventful. We saw more ferries coming through Rich Passage, and again had to deal with ferries leaving the Vashon Island docks that confused us (we thought they were going to head east, so moved out of the way of that direction, but instead the ferry turned 90 degrees and headed north, more towards us than away!), but there was nothing truly concerning.
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The boat ran well the whole time, showing charging voltages on both battery banks, and we even took a short detour just north of Brown’s Point Lighthouse when we saw a small pod of Dall’s Porpoises off to our starboard.

Just four short hours after leaving the docks in Poulsbo, we were docking in our slip. Of course we did an absolutely terrible job on that docking maneuver! But at least there was nobody there to watch it happen, so nobody knows.

Right?

Exterior woodwork

The cetol and varnish on our cap rail had seen better days. Due to a few weekends in a row of exceptionally sunny weather, we decided to tackle this project.

The first step was to strip the old varnish and/or cetol that was previously applied. We didn’t know what it was, but a heat-gun was able to soften it, and a scraper was able to lift it off:

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With two people, one person holding the heat gun and another scraping, one side of the cap rail could be stripped in about two hours. Another 30 minutes of sanding, and the rail was clear. You can see that the previous application was done fairly sloppily, as there were drips and bleeds:
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A few minutes with the shopvac cleared the side decks:

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We use Cetol natural. We truly don’t mind the look, but the ease of application is really why we use it:

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But to really make it look nice, you need a couple coats of Cetol clear over the top. You don’t need to sand between coats, and it gives a glossy “wet” look, and continues to protect the wood:

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