Pencil Zincs

Was probably a bit late given the state of the oil cooler zinc. Will get on to an every-three-month cycle. Ordered several zincs from boatzincs.com

  • Aftercooler – (port side of engine) Both larger E-2, 1/2 NPT, 2”The forward/bottom zinc looked ok, but the aft/top one was deteriorating quickly. Used Rectorseal Tplus2 (per Cummins procedure) but may not have spread it on thick enough. Monitor for leaks.
  • Heat Exchanger – (starboard side of engine) Both are on the bottom of the forward cap (E-1, 3/8 NPT, 2”). Both were deteriorated but outside was worse than inside. Inside one is a bit hard to get to due to the oil lines. Did not use rectorseal as instructions didn’t call for it.
  • Transmission Oil Cooler – (stern of engine) zinc on bottom of port side (E-1, 3/8 NPT, 2”). This one was completely deteriorated. Took off port hose (from aftercooler) to clean out debris. May need to flush more thoroughly next service. Some material on screen/plate. Did not use rectorseal as instructions explicitly said not to.

Raw Water Strainer

Raw water strainer was pretty clean – no major obstructions. One small feather. 

  • Note: There was a small finger-bolt on the top left (toward the stern screwed in from starboard/lever side) of the plate that the through hull ball valve lever is mounted on. The lever was hard-opening and closing, so I took it out but dropped it. I think it is under the gray water tank, but I could not find it. It looks like some kind of limiter to stop the lever, but it is hard to be sure. Could be for the bonding system (double check)
  • Note: The strainer cover was hard to get off – “hand tight” is sticky. Also, when going it, it initially only went half way on, but after some wiggling went all the way on. The top should be flush with the small black o-ring/gasket on the main assembly.

TODO Before Next Trip and after next Cruise

  • Check all bolts and strainer cover for leaks
  • Clean up any remaining water in bilge
  • Ensure engine and oil cooler stay at temperature.
  • Check hose clamp on oil cooler
  • Look to see if finger bolt from through hull ball valve lever shows up in bilge

Went smoothly. The pump makes it easy. Pretty straight forward job after all my consternation about parts sourcing.

Gotchas:

  • Before starting, clean the surface of the transmission, especially around the filter housing and dipstick to keep grit and other stuff from getting into fluid.
  • Lay out petroleum soaks. Don’t be stingy with them.
  • Ball valve for oil pump is under the forward starboard engine mount. It’s not really visible. Need to reach under mount to open and close. Found it by tracing line.
  • Paint chipped off around filter opening – remember to clean thoroughly so no pieces get inside. Need to source some new paint to prevent corrosion.
  • Same issue with ATF bottles. Make sure to carefully remove the foil top and keep pieces out of fluid. May be good to have a screened funnel. 
  • Small gasket is hard to remove. Used can opener hook on multi-tool
  • Torque wrench needs to be put away on lowest setting (torqued filter housing to spec)
  • Pink fluid is hard to see on orange dipstick
  • Only added about 5.25 qts (against a capacity of 5.8) So the rest must be up in the plumbing somewhere. Will check again after actually engaging the transmission for a bit. Then, hopefully good for another 300 hours.

Been doing a lot of cruising. Some maintenance. We’ve got 190 hours on the main. Let’s jump right in…

Small Stuff

  • Replaced the propane sensor. It was going off… well, not really randomly, but not associated with anything toxic (e.g. cold air from the fridge). Seems to be working for now.
  • Replaced the hydronic touchscreen. It was not waking up sometimes. The new one does the same thing. Called ITR tech support and left a message. I think there’s like three people who work there, so I’m not optimistic they’ll get back to me.
  • Replaced the filters in our drinking water system. The water from the water maker is pretty pure – I think much cleaner than the Kitsap county water we pull off the dock spigot. But, it’s nice to filter out any hint of smell from it sitting in the FRP tank in the bilge. The old ones were no where near their 650 hours of use, but it had been a year.
  • Still haven’t done anything about the boat Internet, but my marina neighbors are all about the WeBoost system. It’s still a fixed antenna on the outside, but all it does is amplify the signal for cell phones internally. So, you basically use a phone’s hot spot function and this helps pull in the signal. I guess it comes down to the nuances of the data caps for “hot spot” plans (i.e. a sim you plug into a modem and share over wifi) vs. “unlimited data” plans for phones used as hot spots (the “unlimited data” is rarely really unlimited and that usually doesn’t extend to when the phone is used as a hot spot). The cellular market is really dumb.
  • Replaced the fan and control panel in the fridge. It had stopped getting cold. The freezer still worked and the fridge was cool-ish, but not really keeping up. So, the compressor was working but for some reason the fridge was weak. The fan was spinning but not often or fast enough. It’s under warranty but we were leaving for a trip, so they sent me parts and I put them in, (since that was a better option than waiting two months to swap out the whole fridge and ship the old one back). The new parts seemed to do the trick. I added a cheap bluetooth sensor to track the temp (it never really gets down to the setting on the panel, but it’s cold enough). Bonus, we picked up a chest refrigerator as a backup and it’s a nice addition to the boat. We got a good one, so it serves as a bench and additional cold storage.

ELCI

We’ve gone down the rabbit hole on this one. We took the boat to an ABYC electrician and he was stumped. When he clamped the shore power cable, he was seeing up to 100 mA of leakage which wasn’t strongly correlated with any particular device on the boat. This should not only have tripped the boat breaker (it never tripped when we were there), it also should have tripped the shore power breaker (this marina was all up to the new spec). Just to be sure, we tried multiple different shore power plugs, tested with multiple meters, and even clamped a bunch of different boats. Everything was leaking but nothing was tripping. His proposed solution was to install an isolation transformer and call it a day. He also never called me back (this is a thing with boat technicians). While I am not opposed to an isolation transformer, I would really like to understand what’s going on before I throw money at the problem. Plus, with two shore power inlets, I would need two transformers. Not only are they heavy and expensive, they could potentially be loud.

There’s a small chance that changing the control panel on the fridge may have addressed this. The fridge was behaving erratically, so maybe some control system in the firmware was causing excessive inrush current during some compression cycles. I’m not optimistic about this theory.

Dexron

Pulling together all the parts for routine maintenance is turning into a much bigger challenge than I anticipated. I decided to start with the transmission, because of this:

Twenty-five hours… yeah… didn’t catch that.

First, sourcing the filter. Just finding the part number took 30 minutes of spelunking through printed manuals and internet searches. I finally just called the manufacturer (ZF). They referred me to a reseller. The ZF parts department specifically said “Call Mike, at Harbor Marine. He’s got like 100 of them.” So, I called Mike and got Ben (or someone) because Mike was busy, and Ben said “oh yeah, we’ve got like 100 of them.” So I gave him my credit card number over the phone and the filters arrived in a few days. Modern world.

ZF also sent me a parts manual, which I didn’t get in my packet from North Pacific. It was very explicit about not using the wrong kind of transmission fluid. But, when I asked what was in there or required, Trevor said “that’s ATF”. Also, Vikki, with the ZF parts department said, “that’s ATF”. Which is like saying, “that’s automatic transmission fluid”, which is as helpful as saying “use the pink stuff”. So, working my way through the list of several hundred options from the part manual, I discovered that virtually none of them were available from the usual online places, from any of the usual chandleries, or from any local auto parts store. Trawler forum was as helpful as usual, the two variants being, “I’ve used nothing but 30W oil and clover honey in my transmission for 60 years and it’s been fine,” (The Technician). And, “If you don’t use the right spec your transmission will disintegrate and your boat will explode” (The Engineer). Most people thought I was crazy for worrying – but a few gave dire-old-witch warnings about following the specs. I called around a bunch and most people said “use Dexron 3… but don’t mix it if something else is in there.”

So, here’s the deal with these types of specs. The manufacturer will qualify a bunch of fluids, basically that the transmission performs as expected when filled with them. This doesn’t mean that other fluids won’t work, but that these are the ones that they had time to test. What’s not clear to someone like me is what the error bars are on the specs. So, 99% of transmission fluids may be very very close in viscosity and performance, with the differences being driven by obscure engineering tolerances (at the margin) or marketing. But, there may be critical differences, such as detergents or other additives – or just differences in lifespan (i.e. it only stays at the target viscosity for 100 hours instead of 300). Also, when you change the fluid, there’s always some left, so you’re inevitably mixing. Conceivably, mixing different viscosities could cause foaming, which is Bad.

My question is, in this case, is the Engineer right, or is the Technician right? 99% of the time, the Engineer is right – over a long enough time horizon. So, using the wrong fluid may increase wear such that the total lifetime is reduced from ~10,000 hours to ~9,832 hours before a rebuild is required. When it comes to solving immediate problems, Technicians are often right – and know how to make tradeoffs to solve the problem at hand. When an Engineer tightens a filter housing, he does it to six newtons with a torque wrench. When a Technician does it, it’s hand tight, because he left his torque wrench in the truck, and that oughta do it, anyway.

Then, I found this:

For ZF 12, 15, 25, 30, 45, 63, 68, 80, and 85 series, and Velvet Drive 71C, 72C, 73C, and 5000 series, use an ATF fluid which meets Detroit Diesel Allison C-4 specifications (e.g.: Dexron IIE, Dexron III).

I also called Dave Rasmussen (who commissioned Turtle) and he totally understood my confusion. “Just use Dexron 3. These transmissions are simple and tough.” Point #2.

Finally, when, I serviced the transmission in my old boat (also a ZF), I just used the fluid that was in the engine room and never worried about it. The transmission ran cool and smooth.

So, I ordered a Dexron III compatible fluid that’s not on the approved list. Castrol doesn’t even make the approved stuff any more. But: “Meets DEXRON-III H requirements and satisfies requirements of DEXRON, DEXRON-III, IIE and II” and “Introduced in 2003, GM’s Dexron III(H) specification (GMN10055) replaced III (G). The (H) is an additive package for an updated friction modifier and with an oxidatively stable base oil (group 2). Oils according to this specification have longer maintenance of friction properties and anti-shudder properties, better foam control and a longer fluid life. Universal for all automatic transmission with and without controlled torque converter lockup clutch, the so-called GKÜB for gear-clutch-lock.”

Good enough.

I did find Motul Dexron III which is on the approved list, but at this point I think I’m starting to drive myself crazy – so I stuck with the original order.

I’ll let you know if I destroy my gearbox.

Cruising

Piloting this boat is a joy. I’ve taken to single-handing quite a bit (or just me and the kids) and it’s set up very well for that. We’ve also fallen into patterns with live-ability – meals, showers, etc. We’re out all the time. This summer, we took a dozen short trips and one long one to south sound. I can’t get enough of it. Any day on the water….

Duncan from Puget Marine Electronics came out for a few hours to investigate. We cycled all of the AC devices, but could not get the breaker to trip. North Pacific offered to replace some components, but given how intermittent the failure is, I’m loath to tear apart a perfectly good system to try and track down what is a relatively minor (though potentially problematic) fault. Without a repro case, it’s very difficult to figure out what is happening. I had a theory that we might measure the AC devices one-at-a-time to see if any of them are leaking a small amount (as an indicator of maybe a bigger leak during some cycles) but the wires are noisy enough that it’s hard to track those milliamps via a handheld meter.

Duncan proposed building a monitoring rig and temporarily installing it on the shore power connection. This would log all power use so if/when the fault happens, we have the log data. Seems a good plan. We’ll have hard data to help track down the fault and we don’t need to replace what are likely perfectly good components. The Magnum Inverter/Charger has no logging at all, so it would be nice to get some visibility. Bill from North Pacific also kicked around moving us to a Victron system. He’s a huge fan of how configurable they are; but, again, I’m not going to tear out a perfectly good Inverter/Charger to track this down. There’s a very good chance we’d replace the unit only to find the failure was some tiny short somewhere. The downside of this is it could be months before it happens again. Log storage could be an issue.

Boat Internet

I really hate boat internet. I have been limping along with a relatively simple system based on the Netgear modem Steve recommended. It worked great until Verizon unceremoniously cancelled my plan and put me on some lame 15GB plan that seems to top out almost immediately. Verizon has really driven customer service to astonishingly new lows.

I’m now ready to install a real system using some of the more updated components recommended over at SeaBits (Steve is a national treasure for cutting through all the BS with these system designs). Someday soon, I dream that a company will come along and offer unlimited broadband over LTE, and all of the companies squeezing people with byzantine plans and absurdly low data caps will lose all of their customers and all of their revenue. On that day, the schadenfreude will be delicious.

Trevor sourced the spares for the thruster and I arranged for a diver to replace the prop. Looks straightforward. “Now I understand one more system a little bit better!”

The propane failure was weird. I called Trident and they have never heard of this failure mode. Basically, there seems to be a short in the data connection wire on the pigtail from “Alarm A”. So, when it starts up, it goes into alarm almost right away. Why this would start suddenly on a Saturday evening when we haven’t been using the propane system, I don’t know. Actually, if the short is in the pigtail, the jumper I put in shouldn’t work. Trident confirmed that all three pigtails (Alarms 1-3) are all soldiered into the same spot on the board – so they should behave the same unless the fault is in the wire.

Regardless, I hooked the detector up to “Alarm B” and put a jumper on “Alarm A”. The propane flows fine and the solenoid opens and closes. I also tested the alarm by putting a little butane on a paper towel and waving it nearby and that works fine as well. Honestly, I am stumped. I don’t like having a system failing for reasons I don’t understand. Especially when it also recovers, for reasons I don’t understand…. Trevor offered to send me a new kit, but I am going to leave it for now and try to avoid the dreaded “maintenance induced failure”.

I got the battery specs from Trevor. The batteries are pretty tough and accept a wide range of voltage inputs. Other than shore power float being a tiny bit low, everything is within spec. Also, since the solar panel float voltage is at the high end of the range, the two together should balance out.

Max Bulk Charge RateAbsorbFloatNotes
Battery Mfg. Recommended40-50% “higher possible”14.25 – 14.613.6 – 13.8
Magnum Shore Power Charger “AGM”132 (observed)14.513.5Float is a tiny bit low.
Solar MTTP “Sealed”??? Nothing observed14.413.8

Note that temperature has a big effect on these ranges as well.

The ELCI breaker tripped again. This is the third or fourth time it’s happened. The good news is we have more clues, but the bad news is it’s still going to be hard to troubleshoot.

Clues

  1. This happened early on when the boat was being commissioned, so it started happening before I brought any of my devices aboard.
  2. It’s happened on both the forward and aft ELCI breakers. The errors were slightly different, though. The last time, it was the forward breaker and the green light was flashing, indicating an over current. This time, it was the aft breaker and the red light was illuminated, indicating a ground fault condition.
  3. It’s happened with both the 50-amp cable and the modified 30-amp cable. The bridge between the poles on the 30A was a culprit, but we can rule that out.
  4. It’s intermittent, so it’s likely from something that’s cycling.
  5. The batteries were fully charged – I know this from a prior check on the boat. For some reason, the charger hit the 12 hour max charge time limit, which was weird, but I had been mucking around with the settings recently, so it was likely related to that. In other words, the shore charger would only have been running float cycles – no bulk or absorb cycles.

Theories

  1. It’s the battery charger. This is my top guess since there are some weird interactions between the shore power charger and the solar charger. The shore charger will cycle on and the conditions that it cycles on in will vary due to the battery state of charge, the relays to other banks being opened or closed, and the input from the solar charger.
  2. It’s the fridge. This is my second guess – only because household appliances are often implicated in these errors. The fridge has a compressor that cycles on and off. If it is losing a very small amount of current and occasionally surging over the 50mA threshold, it could cause this.
  3. Inverter. Even though the inverter was off in all cases, it’s still in the circuit between the shore power and the boat. The inverter switches its ground depending on whether it’s passing the AC power through or creating AC power from the batteries. This seems less likely to me since it’s a brand new modern inverter, but it’s possible.
  4. Watermaker. This is the only other item that is cycling. It comes on once a week to flush the prefilters. It’s a very small draw and seems unlikely.
  5. The 24V charger. This is a separate charger that runs off AC to charge the thruster/windlass banks. There’s no reason for it to cycle on after the boat has been hooked up to shore power for a week. Unlikely.
  6. There is some kind of fault in the wiring causing a bridge between the neutral and ground. This seems unlikely as it is a new boat and the problem is so intermittant (and happens when we’re away and the boat isn’t being used). I can’t think of a reason for a wiring fault to randomly manifest like this.

Troubleshooting and next steps

Bill and Duncan are going to help. The first step is to measure the AC devices and see if any of them are leaking. Maybe more than one is and it’s the two combined that are causing this (e.g. the water maker cycles on at the same time as the fridge or battery charger). The unfortunate part is, what do we do if something is leaking? Is it worth replacing an entire fridge – especially if the replacement has the same issue? I really like the full sized fridge, and none of the other NP owners have had this issue. If it is just a leaky system we could in theory install an isolation transformer. This would prevent the shore power from tripping – which at best spoils my food in the fridge and at worse could kill my batteries if I’m away for a while. But, it also just masks a problem we probably don’t want to ignore.

I actually hope it’s a wiring issue, since that can be fixed most easily (though extremely difficult to track down). Alternately, it could be a configuration issue with the battery charger. Not at all sure, so stay tuned.

Useful links

Single-handing the boat on an overnight seemed like an important milestone. I wanted to prove to myself that I could manage various jobs by myself and get a feel for what it felt like to be at anchor alone. This may sound weird to some, but I haven’t spent a night away from my kids in years. I am on vacation this week, so my wife and I coordinated things so I could take a 24-hour mini vacation and test my skills (and face some anxiety).

Over all, the trip was a success, with one big hiccup. I decided to circumnavigate our home island of Bainbridge and drop anchor in a place we’d never been. On Monday, I headed down the east side and across the south end and dropped the hook in Blakely Harbor. Blakely is sheltered from the north and south and has a very nice view of the city to the east. I anchored for the night, explored by dinghy, had a relaxing dinner, then turned in early. The next morning I headed up the west side and docked without incident. Conditions were perfect for a solo trip.

What went well

  • Got out of the marina and to the harbor with no issues. Pleasant cruise
  • Dropped and set the anchor with no issues
  • Dropped the dinghy and cruised around for a couple hours. Went tidepooling at Blakely Rock, visited a friend who lives on the water, explored Eagle Harbor
  • Moved and reset the anchor when the current shifted and I noticed a very slow drag. The Garmin anchor alarm is buried behind 30 menus, but once it is set up it works well. After the second set, I didn’t move all night. I’m much more confident about anchoring, these days. I still make mistakes, but they’re recoverable and I am learning how to read the signs of a well- vs. poorly-set hook.
  • Plenty of sun kept the batteries above 95% for most of the day
  • Relaxing evening with plenty of peace and quiet. Replaced doomscrolling on my phone with reading a book on my kindle.
  • Stowed the dinghy solo without issue
  • weighed anchor without issue
  • Saw my wife from the boat when she was out for a run along the shore
  • Backed into my home slip with a 10 kt. crossbreeze solo (a neighbor was on hand in case things went sideways – literally). The trick I learned here is to not worry about the “neighbor side” of the slip. If I am 1-2 feet away from the dock, I have plenty of clearance to my neighbor. So, I don’t need to check out both sides of the pilothouse. Also, when I am the correct distance from the dock it actually looks way too close from the pilot house. So, I need to get used to that.
  • Spent a few hours puttering around after docking – milked my vacation day to the max

What went poorly

  • There was really only one thing, but it was a big deal for me. When I moved the boat to reset the anchor, I was towing the dinghy. When I used the stern thruster to reposition, it sucked in the line connecting the dinghy to the boat. I was able to cut it away, but it broke two fins off one of the thruster props. I emailed Trevor, who has become a reluctant therapist, and he said this is a common failure mode and the props are replaceable in the water. All in all it wasn’t a big failure, but it was hard to forgive myself, since line handling and keeping them out of the water and away from props is one of the very first seamanship skills you learn. I’m not hard on myself for honest mistakes, but when I know better and screw something up because I was being lazy or on auto-pilot I get really annoyed.

Food for thought

  • I spent the whole night convinced I had damaged something permanently and wouldn’t be able to dock. In the light of day, I got a picture using my underwater camera and did some research. The breaker would have tripped before anything serious happened, and the prop is accessible enough that I might be able to replace it from the swim step. Every mistake is an opportunity for learning. This is a new failure mode.
  • I don’t have enough spares. Spare thruster props should probably be standard kit. Even without leaving lines in the water, thrusters suck in anything nearby, making this a likely failure. It’s very hard to dock without them, so I should have them aboard. I should also have a spare pin for the dinghy prop. There are a lot of rocks around, and it only takes one to break a prop. This dinghy has oars, but it’s just not made for rowing. A $2 spare pin could make all the difference. Spares and knowing how to use them turn big failures into minor inconveniences.
  • Lines are incredibly strong. The dinghy painter was about 1/4″, but my multi-tool knife couldn’t get through it. I had to use the saw and it took several seconds. I have a line knife aboard, but I don’t usually have it on me. This is probably a handy tool to keep on you, since, if you have to cut a line, something serious has happened.
  • The sound of an anchor dragging from the V-berth sounds a lot like the sound of the chain just rolling over rocks. Either way the sound is conducted right up into the main cabin. While in bed trying to sleep, I kept hearing the telltale sound of chain on rock. I went up to the pilot house a few times to check the chartplotter, but she was holding tight. I know a lot of people who put instrumentation next to where they sleep to help with this – something to consider.
  • Weighing anchor solo is easy, but if it’s muddy there’s really no way to wash it down. I went all the way home with a giant pile of mud on the anchor. Fortunately, the chain was clean, so it didn’t get into my locker.
  • I had had one drink before dinner when I noticed I might be dragging. For a 180lb man, it’s not really enough to impair my judgement, but I usually never drink when I have anything important to do. When I reset the anchor, I didn’t take the time to walk around and make things ship-shape (like securing the dinghy). Since things can and do come up on the boat, drinking on a trip – even when at anchor – seems like a bad idea. After breaking the thruster, I’m even more convinced of that. Of course, having a sundowner is one of my favorite parts of the day. But, I think I need a checklist of sorts to make sure I can be off the clock when I have one.

Critical gear for single-handing

Turtle is well-set up for single handing. I also need a couple of improvements.

  • Windlass control from the pilothouse with a chain counter.
  • Chartplotter with anchor drag alarm
  • Bow and Stern Thrusters with remote – so I can control it from the dock
  • Power davit for getting the dinghy on and off
  • Boathook – for many reasons
  • Forward gate so I can climb down to the dock from the pilothouse. The porthole from the midship head doubles as a step. This isn’t ideal, but since the only way to the stern is through the main cabin it’s still the most direct way to the dock and the fastest way to get to the midship line.
  • Underwater camera – I’m still using a cheap Panasonic I bought like 12 years ago and it still works great.
  • Todo – backup camera. The one they install by default is on the hardtop. This along with the relatively low resolution makes it pretty worthless. Putting one on the roof of the cockpit will make this a ton easier. My neighbor (NP42 Well Seasoned) has a wireless one that even has backup guidelines.
  • Todo – more spares

I also recorded a video – which may or may not continue…

This electrical system digression has had some unexpected benefits. Apparently, I’m not the only one annoyed by imperfect system integration. I can totally relate to his irritation.

I’ve been spending more time on YouTube (welcome to 2011). While I still feel like 99.9% of it isn’t interesting to me, there are still some great finds there. I may try some more videos, myself. Though, I’ll still be posting them on Vimeo. (These people are far more good-looking, though. I was born to communicate by the written word…)