Monday, April 20, 2015

Waiting for Jonas

We've been seeing a lot of Jonas lately.   Jonas is our local Federal Express delivery man.   Two or three times a week we get to see Jonas' smiling face as he brings us another totally necessary and vital widget.  Or gadget. Or gasket, switch, bulb, relay, pump, cable, fuse, connector, fitting and / or bolt.  Jonas gives us a call when he's ready to leave the warehouse  to find out where we're going to be located. For the past year he's been delivering to the house for the most part.  But that's been changing lately.  


We've been using a courier consolidation service in Florida.  We have all these little bits and pieces shipped to them.  Rather than to us.  We're international, and you wouldn't believe how much that scares certain small minded vendors. But we use this consolidtion and forwarding servive, and they open the incoming shipments, mix them around, lose a few pieces, mislabel others, mess up the paperwork, screw up the packaging, and then put them all into one box and ship them.  This saves us money supposedly.  One shipment to deal with and clear through Customs instead of a half dozen small ones..  It also causes us quite a lot of annoyance.  But none of this is Fed Ex's fault.  They just keep on delivering boxes of exciting things like   connectors and fluid transfer pumps. How very thrilling it is to get a fresh shipment of butt connectors.   

And if you're familiar with those connectors in the photo, you already know that it's a total waste of time to buy the cheap ones sold at Do-It Center, Lowes, or Home Depot.  Oh, they might be okay for the doghouse at home.  But not for a boat.  Get the good stuff.  It pays in the long run.  I've had to relearn this several times over lately.  But I think I have finally learned that life is just too short for cheap butt connectors.     And that's all I'm going to say about that.

And we've discovered  that Jonas would much rather deliver to the boat at South Side Marina.  He likes to walk out on the dock to Twisted Sheets for a quick pick-me-up of fresh air.  Then he hands us our goodies, we hand him a cheque for the import duty and shipping fees, and then we say something to the equivalent of " See you Thursday".   And we  probably will see him again on Thursday.  In fact, I think Twisted Sheets' new washing machine should be arriving right around Thursday. Yes, we're putting a washing machine on board.  We're serious about this, I tell you. We ain't messing around here.  We're going sailing.


Maybe I should get another photo when he delivers the washing machine.  Not to get your hopes up for some spectacular washing machine photos,  I should mention that it's a very small washing machine.   

That mottled looking life ring in the boat photo of Jonas is not yet part of the boat equipment, by the way.  We found this commercial grade life ring washed high onto the rocky shore at West Caicos.  It has no name or identification on it.  It had been painted yellow at some point, and repainted many times judging from the thickness of that paint.    We thought it would be cool to repaint it and put it on board Twisted Sheets.  In order to do that I am going to have to fabricate some kind of mounting bracket.  Not good to have loose things on the deck of a boat.  Especially loose things that can roll and fall overboard.  Which I suspect this particular bouy is famous for in its own little world.  Considering how we found it.  I think I will keep it yellow, too.  I find that much easier to see at sea than International Orange.  Especially in low light.

This post is going to be mostly about the boat.  There's really just no avoiding it.  This is what we do almost every day now.  We work on the boat.  I don't even bother to take photos of the majority of it.  Unexciting. Drudge work. Scrubbing the inside of hulls. Sanding old paint. Gluing hull liner.  Ripping up old stuff, buying new stuff.  Waiting for Jonas.

 We've gotten past most of the lows involved in this refit, and we're starting to put the shiny new and improved stuff back on board.  This is the fun part.  It's also getting close to the point where the boat is feeling almost habitable. So for the next few weeks at least, this is still going to be mostly about   the boat.  It's what's consuming us at the moment.

Oh, we manage to fit a few fun moments in from time to time.  La Gringa is getting pretty good on a ukulele.  I've momentarily put the fiddle aside and have been concentrating on mandolin.  They're a lot alike, as some of you know.  Just don't need the elbow room with the mando.

And the quadcopter continues to live.  It had failed after an intense week of charge battery, fly, crash and repeat until dog hides.  Then I finally got to that one gruesome landing that it didn't walk away from.  Well, I guess technically it did walk away, but it was more of a looping stumble. I eventually discovered that one of the motors had gone belly up.  I replaced it, resoldered two small wires, and it was good to go, again.   But now I have to keep an eye on Dooley.  He realizes that it can be sabotaged.  And he's up for that.

The problem is that I've been trying to fly this little thing up above the house.  It's the size of my hand, and it really cannot handle much wind at all.  I've managed to find the exact spot where the flow of air over the ocean goes up the hillside, over the top of the house, and develops a shear just downwind of the roof.  I can fly the little multi-rotor up in the lee of the hill, and just when I see it start to wobble from the unstable boundary layer I can get a few frames like this still shot from the video:


And right about at this point, or perhaps a half a meter above this point, the wind hits the little contraption and sends it spinning madly out of control to the ground.  Where I trudge through underbrush looking for it, and Dooley does his little version of a victory dance.

Now this thing is a very inexpensive camera and it takes really, really terrible video.  The stills I pulled from the video look bad enough in this size, so I'm not even going to zoom in on them and make them look even grainier.  This is not to impress you with our new quadcopter.  This is to show you that we are moving in that direction.  This is still my 'training-wheels' camera platform.  It won't handle a Go-Pro size camera.  

The little quadcopter won't handle much wind, and we have wind almost constantly.  The end result is that I have been spending a lot of time flying it near the ground, looking for places sheltered from the wind but still outside.  I've gotten to the point where I can fly it without crashing every time.  And I've found that the dog is a great camera subject.  He refers to it as 'target' for some reason. It catches him in some great moments, too.  Here he is showing some fancy footwork as the camera crashes into the dirt at this feet. 


I know he's having a good time with this.   Well, maybe.  At least I hope he is.  He's losing weight and twitching a lot, lately.   I mean, who wouldn't love an annoying, buzzing little thing flying around spying on you at inopportune moments?


I was going through several videos trying to find some good shots of Dooley the Distraught to show you, and I've discovered something that I hadn't realized before.   This dog seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time hiding under structures lately.  I'm not sure why this is the case, but much of the aerial video I have of him lately show him in situations like this one, hiding under a chair.


Or this one, where he briefly stepped out into the open.  All three of us and the little flying beastie are in this photo, by the way.  The quad and I are in the reflection.


I tried to coax him out into the open for a quick game of  'grab-the-tennis-ball-and-run-for-your-life!!' but he was still acting all paranoid and keeping his head down.   I wonder what he's going to think when I fire up a much bigger version of this and fly it around.


That gave me an idea.  I started looking to see if someone makes a quadcopter that could lift, oh, say something on the order of six kilos of small dog....with a camera. I tried discussing the whole flying dog idea with Dooley, and I have to admit it was disappointing.  His level of enthusiasm for this adventure is truly something marvelous, by the way..  It's that small.

Okay, that's pretty much it for the fun stuff.  Sad, isn't it?   We live in this tropical island nation environment and we spend our days taking Fed Ex handoffs, working on the boat, and terrorizing the terrier with a drone.  What a boring life.  

Well, I'm sad to have to tell you that it's about to get more boring.  Yes, this is the Boat DIY section.  The subject matter is going downhill, while the quality of the photos improves slightly.   Good thing I'm not trying to sell this, isn't it?

This one is for you other boaters and RV people out there who use the Nicro solar vents.   I've discovered a few things that might help you eventually.   These vents are pretty well known in the boating world.  They have a small solar panel that charges a battery and drives a fan motor.  The whole idea is that they independently ventilate the boat without impacting the charging or energy system.  They're supposed to be stand-alone.  And they are.  For a while.

We've put six of the Nicro solar vents on Twisted Sheets in the past year.  One of them stopped working, and two others are starting to show signs of intermittance. These things are $200 apiece, and I cannot afford to buy new ones every year or two, so I looking into the one that stopped working entirely. With the mounting screws out and the solar cell popped off, it looks like this:


There's really not much to it.  I don't see where they can justify the $ 200 price tag, but I guess the total package is where the value is.  At least I hope so.  I have six of these.  Some value would be nice.   These are the parts.


The first thing I checked was the battery.  I had just taken this entire assembly out of the tropical sun, and I could feel that the battery was still warm from being charged.  I didn't see any obvious signs of damage in the case.  It's a 1.2 volt NiMH type.


I put a DVM on the battery, and no load it showed a 1.38 volts.  So I figured the problem was not the solar panel, battery, or the wiring between them.  Had to look closer.


Many years ago when I was working in the offshore underwater acoustics business I had to fix a lot of things on boats.  I came up with some basic rules, or truisms, that I found to work in many cases.  My most common and repeatable one goes like this:

"Rule #1:  It's always connections."

And it didn't take long to see a line of corrosion where the battery contacts the positive terminal for the motor and solar cell.   This is a bad connection.  I cleaned it up with very fine #500 grit wet/dry sandpaper. 


While I had the motor apart I took a look at the spots where the little brushes ride on the motors commutator.  And again, I found  corrosion on both surfaces.  Cleaning these up was a delicate job but I used the same abrasive polishing cloth to shine up the contacts.


I  sprayed a small amount of electrically neutral lubricant and put the vent back together and re-installed it.  Not only does it work, it works better than any of the other five vents.  And better than it did new.  This is an easy fix.

There's a lot of other drudge work going on with the boat right now, not nearly as exciting as fixing a busted solar fan.  If you can believe that. And I mean some incredibly exciting stuff.  I have discovered that if you buy the wrong fiberglass epoxy hardener, for example, it can take hours for the resin to set up.  Instead of minutes.  I've been fiber-glassing a few things that should have been sealed up before, in my estimation.  Like the bottom of the shower tub.   This is the ugly side.


Seeing that photo reminded me of something I learned from you guys, too.  Remember me mixing fiberglass resin up in an aluminum can because I had no other way to measure it?  Well, several readers wrote to tell me about inexpensive food scales.  And while 'inexpensive' is no longer a word I would ever associate with the Turks and Caicos Islands or boats in general, I did buy a scale for the fiberglass work.  Thanks, guys.


This is just another small example of why this boat project is taking so long.  We had a small leak in the starboard head, under the sink in the vanity.  I figured  I'd just have a look, figure out what needed tightening, grab the proper tool and fix it.  

I was wrong.

It ALL needed tightening.  and there are no tools to use for this.  I started this little chore thinking I'd have it all tightened up in ten minutes.  Three hours later, I removed the entire basin.   This is original equipment that came with the boat thirty years ago.  It was never meant to have that big hunk missing from its cranium. It appears that along the way someone dropped something in the basin that broke a piece out of it.  From the inside.


So they apparently removed the entire thing and bashed the outside shell off,so that they could get to the pieces of the broken basin on the inside.  They managed to glue it back together, and finish the voyage. My problem is that this voyage was a long time ago, and nobody ever bothered to replace the damaged basin. They left it for me. How sweet of them. Gee. Thanks.

Maybe it was worth something at some time, I suppose.  It has all this official looking  china stuff baked into the ceramic.


This came from England, has made three trips across the Atlantic and  is now going to spend the rest of its days in a landfill in a British Overseas Territory.   I suppose that's fitting.   It probably reads better than the truth, which is that I am going to replace it with a stainless steel sink.  Made in the U.S.A. Or possibly it's Hecho en Mexico.  I'll have to take a look.   

And the new one doesn't fit the hole the old one left.  So I have to buy some wood, and laminate, and redo the entire vanity top.  And this started out as a five minute leak tighten job.    

See what I mean?  A five minute job turned into a three day job, which will not be done with any of my first choices in materials.  Unless I want to wait another week to ship them in, at three times their value.  This is not a good place to refit a boat.  It is a slow, frustrating, and expensive place to refit a boat. I don't think I would take this job on again.  In a million years.

That's it for this Monday.  Another week of slaving away on an old boat in a tropical climate.  Doesn't sound that much fun when I put it that way, does it.



But we know the fun parts will come later.  After we've patched, painted, fixed, cursed, blessed, kicked and kissed this old catamaran into a home.   And that day is nearly upon us.

I was looking at that sunset photo and thinking I must have something better than that lying around, even out of the past six or seven days.  So I asked La Gringa if she had any better sunset photos.  She told me she took some of that same one in the photo above, except she took it through the glass blocks of the wall of our bathroom shower.  I thought hers looked better.  So I'm going to use that one instead.