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.

11800272_10153524100084096_4970863028190797517_n

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

11822400_10153524100089096_8468589590104755762_n

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.

11755803_10153524100129096_5882859474478309579_n

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:

11800347_10153524100139096_168158708295130021_n

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

11828589_10153524100179096_433002765647934803_n

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.

11800114_10153524100189096_6770795744014822875_n

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

11825700_10153524100234096_3355114278362968609_n

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

11811502_10153524100254096_253131167740623641_n

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.
20150420_125712

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:
20150424_122447

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.

20150424_161231

Poulsbo

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

20150425_07070420150425_07065020150425_074213

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.

20150425_202319

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.
20150426_112546
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?

A few of our boats…

This blog is for and about  m/v C:\[ESC] (pronounced “Sea Escape” – yes ‘there go the geeks’) our current boat – a 34′ Europa style CHB trawler.  She is currently moored at Foss Harbor Marina in Tacoma, Wa.

She is the fourth “real” boat we have owned. Our first boat was a Catalina 27 which we owned for just about a year. We sold her and upgraded to a Catalina 30 which we sailed and cruised in the South Puget Sound area, learning much about boating in the region:

aground1

A few years later a couple of two became a family of three, and we decided we were going to do less cruising and more day-trips, so to expand our cruising range, we sold the sailboat and downsized to a 28′ twin-engine Bayliner. This boat did exactly what we expected of it, and we spent a few more years learning how to be power-boaters

bayliner

As our daughter grew older, we found that we were able to spend longer durations aboard, but we wanted more space. One weekend we were visiting friends and were out walking the docks; we saw an older Europa-style trawler and casually mentioned that in a “couple more years” we would love to buy a boat just like it. Well, a few months later, our friends called us and said that that very same boat was for sale at a can’t-pass-it-up price. We bought her, and after being a 2-boat household for a year, sold the Bayliner.

We haven’t looked back.

headinghome

Allow us to share…

We are not expert sailors.

We have not sailed around the world, or even offshore. Nor do we plan to.

We have not written any books.

We don’t speak at conferences or boat shows.

We are just a family — a father, a mother, a daughter and usually a dog — that boat.

While this site is designed primarily to share with friends and family, it’s not an exclusive club, and everyone is invited. Please allow us to share our stories, projects, trip reports, plans, and photographs of our experiences with you.

We hope you Enjoy.