Saturday, July 26, 2008

"A Three-Minute Tour"

Steve Alexander, Rebecca, Caitlín and I were set to take Amanda Grace on her first cruise in 6 years. The weather was gorgeous for sailing today, with a nice breeze...but we could not raise sails because the halyards had not been put back and we could not get the line through the pulley at the top of the mast.

We decided to take Amanda Grace out anyway, to put the engine through its paces, but discovered in preparation that the thimble had been cut off the end of the anchor rode and the anchor wouldn't have worked without it. So, thanks to Cap'n Alexander's patient tutelage and skill, Caitlín and Rebecca learned some marlinespike. They also cleaned out the anchor locker, and laid the rode in neatly.

The Volvo Penta diesel engine started and sounded beautiful for a "one-lunger." Cap'n Alexander reviewed proper procedure for helm commands and responses, then we cast off with Rebecca at the wheel.

Out in the main channel, Rebecca gave her half throttle, and in about a minute the engine temperature alarm went off. Even though Mr. Schmoker cleared the clog in the salt water cooling system, there is apparently not enough water coming through. So, the Cap'n shut her down, turned the boat about, and we sailed back under Bimini power. A three-minute tour.
Upon reaching our row in the dock, he turned us deftly, and then we used the boat hook and other boats' bows to crawl back to our slip.

Disappointing? YES!

Frustrating? YES!

Are we quitting? NO!

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Mate Schmoker generously and dedicatedly used his day off from Prince William Marine to burn precious gasoline and perform vital work on Amanda Grace's engine today. He blew the clog out of the cooling system with the hose, started her up and held his phone at the exhaust so I could hear the "blub, blub, swhoosh, swoosh" of the engine running and expelling water as it should and must. Amanda Grace's engine cooling system is flushed out and working! YAY!

Not that all is finished, though. Dan gave me two things to tend to on the next visit, since he says he has had enough of Amanda Grace for a while:
  • Check installation of strainer
  • Solve mystery of disconnected wire on top of engine

Cap'n Alexander and I are looking at a shakedown cruise this weekend, but won't have that set until tomorrow night after we discuss it during the Chesapeake Flotilla Sea Scout Wardroom meeting in Bethesda. I am inviting the most proven sailors among the scouts, who are also among the hardest working. They have earned special consideration.

This success is the result of uncounted hours of work contributed by Steve Alexander, Joel David, and Dan Schmoker. A round of grateful applause for Steve, Joel and Dan!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Beautiful "Blub, Blub, Blub"!

Another run up to Herrington Harbour, this time to check out two boats in addition to another attempt to start Amanda Grace. After crawling through Sunday evening traffic snarled by an accident on the Wilson Bridge, my first stop was Quandary, a friend's Catalina 30. I'm trying to work out an owner-retained deal with her, so she can keep and use her boat, and we can have access to it on a regular basis. Oh, Quandary is nice! Standing on the carpeted deck below, my eyes roaming the cabin, I noted the accommodations and thought, "I could live on this boat!"

Next, a quick look at South 40, a Catalina 27 that is up for adoption. Friends of Sea Scouts of Maryland is taking her, but I wanted to have a peek, anyway. Not bad.

I met Steve Alexander aboard Amanda Grace at about 6:30 PM. The first order of business was to open the fore hatch, flip the "receptacle" switch and turn on the blower. Steve and I chatted in the cockpit for a few minutes while the fan dispersed the diesel fumes, and then he went to work. He showed me the fuel injector that he had had reconditioned for only $45. This is a great deal, considering that a new one runs about $300. Steve said he asked Arundel Diesel to go ahead and rebuild the other injector--which will cost $75--because we need a spare and that was a good deal, too.

Mr. Alexander crawled into the space next to the engine compartment and I stood by, handing him sockets, Vise Grips, a "great hammer" (say that with a Scottish accent), screwdrivers and such on request. Between tool fetching, I applied copious amounts of lemon oil to the teak in the cabin and around the companion way. The wood is still thirsty, but it is looking very nice.

When Steve had the injector in place, I went above to the cockpit to start the engine. Pull out the "cold start" handle, adjust the throttle to about half, make sure the transmission is in neutral, turn the key to position I for the oil pressure alarm, turn the key to II for start. "Give me about 5 seconds," Steve instructed. Amanda Grace said, "Chuh...chuh...chuh..." but no start. It took several rounds of 5- and 10-second attempted starts to clear the air out of the system.

"Okay, I'm going to give her a squirt of WD-40," Steve announced. We knew Amanda Grace likes it, as she had previously run on it for a few seconds. "Give her about 10 seconds." Amanda Grace said, "Chuh...chuh...bluh, bluh, bluh, bluh..." She ran for a few seconds, then sputtered out. "Was that the WD-40?" I asked. Steve acknowledged. She must be a high-test girl. Another attempt or two, then Amanda Grace said, "Chuh...chuh...bluh, bluh, bluh, bluh...blub, blub, blub, blub, blub, blub, blub, blub, blub, blub!" A single-piston diesel is noisy and coarse, but to us, it was the most beautiful "blub, blub, blub"! Steve said, "YAY!" and I yelled, "WOOHOO!" For the first time in about 6 years, Amanda Grace was running!

From his horizontal spot next to the engine compartment, Mr. Alexander told me to check for water coming out of the exhaust. Amanda Grace's 8 hp Volvo Penta single-cylander engine is water cooled. Sea water is brought in by a pump, run through the transmission and engine where it picks up heat, and expelled by the same through hull as the exhaust. Looking overboard on the starboard aft side, I could see the exhaust, but no water. This was not good. The engine cannot be run long without cooling or it will overheat and be ruined. I shut her down and Steve began to troubleshoot. He took the cover off the impeller--the part of the water pump that does the work--and said it looks good. I wanted to know what it looks like, so he moved out of the way and let me crawl back in there where I could see the rubbery blades that push the water through. Cool.

Next, Steve took the hose off the sea cock and turned it to "open" position, to test whether water is coming in there. It was, so he put the hose back on. By then, it was closing in on 9:00PM, and we had both had enough, so we turned off the "receptacle" switch, closed up the boat, and headed to the Skipper's Pier for a bite and a celebratory beer. The food and drink was pricey for my budget, but very good. Best crab soup ever! And, oh, the A/C felt really nice, too.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fighting Discouragement

Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there. -Josh Billings

Another Amanda Grace work day--2-hour round trip, plus 3 hours on site--and still the engine only runs on straight WD-40. With a wet slip charge of $150/week, the engine's idleness is racking up considerable expenses.

Steve Alexander came to remove the fuel injector, intending to replace it with one that had supposedly been reconditioned. However, examination showed that the alternate fuel injector was rusty and in worse shape than the original. Mr. Alexander promised to take both to a diesel shop for cleaning and testing. Then he will have to make yet another trip to Herrington Harbour.

At least the cushions and life jackets are no longer filling my living room. I hauled them up in a borrowed truck and Daniel and I stowed them on board, cramming as many as possible into the v-berth, hoping they will stay dry. We also washed the halyards and continued cleaning up below deck.

This photo was taken on my first visit to Amanda Grace, back in September of last year.
It shows the clutter in the belowdecks, but not the dirt and mildew, both of which were considerable. Application of large quantities of elbow grease has made a difference. The boat is starting to look good. When I board her now, I think, "there is hope." Several scouts and adults have put numerous hours into cleaning, organizing, and treating the wood.

The lag in engine operation is disheartening, but we will not give up.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Our First Advancement Ceremony

Seven of our scouts advanced to Apprentice rank during a ceremony they organized. Our ship's flag happened to arrive the day before, just in time to be included.

Our teens learned and accomplished a lot in preparing to be Sea Scout Ship 7916's first Apprentice scouts. I reminded them that they are young, capable, intelligent people who are not in school right now, and appointed the lot of them to the ad hoc committee for advancement. They were allowed to create whatever they wanted, so long as it is within BSA and Sea Scout guidelines.
Mark created beautiful certificates; Aaron selected music to play on his iPod and his family provided a chocolate cake with cream cheese icing; Sarah brought cups and drinks; and David came up with a landship ceremony.
Given the level of advance communication (it was sketchy), I was pleasantly surprised by how well the scouts pulled together our premiere advancement ceremony. By the time I arrived, they had the chairs, table, and landship set up, and my heart did a little happy dance when I saw them rehearsing from across the room. The scouts' individual contributions and collective creation showed that they took the event with due seriousness. As I have said, they have done me proud before, and they did so again tonight. They showed me that I am not crazy for doing this thing that has taken over my life, reminded me that they are the reason. I am looking forward to seeing how they will use this experience to make things happen even better in future.