Pleasant Harbor

Our Hood Canal trip was a success. Not much to report. We had good weather on the way down and stayed at Pleasant Harbor on the first night. It’s an odd little marina without much to do, and they’re sticklers for rules (making us initial one-by-one that we acknowledge each and every rule), but it’s a nice sheltered place with good pizza – and they took good care of us.


Alderbrook had their usual outstanding service, though much of the resort is under construction. They’ve taken good care of their people over the pandemic and continue to support the town. Many people there recognize us now, including Cindy the harbormaster. It feels like coming home.

We left on a snowy day in a small craft advisory. The south end of the canal was fine, but we knew we were in for some weather once we approached Dabob. Slow Burn, the Nordhavn 47 we’d shared the dock with, radioed to set up a buddy boat, since visibility was less than 1/10 of a mile. At first, the weather got better – with good visibility and no wind. Then, we hit the full force of the winter storm. We were hitting 4-5’ waves in 50 kt gusts, with heavy snow. We could have handled it if it were just for an hour, but predict wind suggested it would have continued all the way up the canal, so we ditched to Pleasant Harbor again. They were very nice – finding slips for both us and Slow Burn, and not even charging us (since everything was closed). We waited out the weather in warmth and comfort in the marina and had comfortable conditions for our cruise home the next day.

It was great having a buddy boat to check in with in bad conditions. As always, discretion is the better part of valor when winter cruising.

After multiple begged rides, a bus trip, and a ferry ride, I’m back aboard Turtle. She’s spent the last month up here in the capable hands of Dave Rasmussen, who’s been diligently going through my list. I’ll be heading back toward home at first light (7:30-ish) with a planned overnight in La Conner. Conditions seem good.

A brief summary of the work completed:

  • Bunk is complete. Dave did an amazing job getting a 24” bunk to convert to a 36”. Plenty of space on the top bunk and a bigger cave for our solitary reader.
  • New dash looks great. I didn’t realize just how bad the old one was.
  • Gelcoat is repaired – seems like this may be a warranty repair, since both chips were on corners where the fiberglass wasn’t flush against the gelcoat (there were voids). Still needs a third coat, but it’s been rainy.
  • The 24v charger seems… ok. This deserves a longer post, but we sent it back to Pro Mariner and they said “everything’s fine” and sent it back to us. They did recommend putting it in “Power Supply” mode instead of “Battery Charger” mode – which is a little weird. There’ve been no ELCI trips and no measurable AC leakage. Crossing fingers.
  • The engine “smoke” seems to be steam from cold air and cold seas. I may have just started noticing it on the way up because it got colder. We did a sea trial and Dave said everything is nominal.
  • The weird noise at 2250 RPM is also something Dave has seen before. It’s how the engine is programmed. Nominal.
  • We added a foot rest in the pilot house, makes the starboard side of the bench sittable.
  • Replaced one of the blackwater sensors that had started detaching from the tank – mild corrosion as well. Seems to be reading right, now.
  • Flipped the port tank site gauge upside down, since the bottom acrylic was cracked causing the drip leak I’ve observed. Need to get a new one, but that’s an easy swap that I can do.
  • Installed the shaft brush.
  • Wash and Wax.

So good to be aboard again! After a quick turn-around in our home marina, we’ll set out for Hood Canal and our annual Alderbrook Christmas getaway.

We’re up to 219 hours on the main. There’s been a pretty steady stream of gremlins and I’m making progress on the routine maintenance, so let’s jump right in.

Oil Changes

Honestly, the oil change system makes this super easy. I changed the oil on both the main and the generator without too many issues. I initially overfilled the main. The Cummins manual says the total system capacity is 17 quarts, but the pan is actually 15 quarts + 1 qt. for the filter and the rest for up in the engine. But, the pump made it really easy to drain down to the right level. Just a brain fart on my part.

The hardest part of the generator was accessing the engine identification plate (behind the coolant overflow bottle) and removing the old filter, which had been painted on. My large filter wrench didn’t fit the small filter, so I wound up mangling it off with a channel lock. While the transmission and main engine oil have ball valves for controlling flow to the oil change pump, I could not find one for the generator. The hose from the generator oil pan goes through a couple of fittings/couplings that look like some kind of back-flow controller, so I’m guessing that’s why.

Minor Stuff

Blaine Trip

I took the boat back up to Blaine so Dave Rasmussen could work on it. He’s the same guy who commissioned it and does super high-quality work with innovative customizations. The boat will be up there for the next few weeks while we get several items sorted.

24V Charger Failure – Turtle is a 12v boat, but has two 24v battery banks for the thrusters and windlass. These are charged by a 24v charger that runs off of AC power (A DC-to-DC system would have been much simpler here, but I’m not going to rewire at this point). I noticed a while back that the fan was running a lot and I confirmed earlier this fall that it cycles on at full power even when the charger is on standby. I called ProMariner and they confirmed that it’s faulty, but they wouldn’t send me a replacement, instead insisting that I send it in for diagnostics. So, I filed the RMA paperwork and Dave will pull it out while the boat is in Blaine. This picture shows the fan on high when the charger is in standby and the case is 56 degrees Fahrenheit. This could be the root cause of my ELCI issues, which Dave is also going to spend some time on this month.

Engine Smoke – This was kind of disturbing. The boat has always made a weird sound when it hits about 2250 RPMs, which I assumed was the turbo. I noticed on the trip north that if you get the rpms exactly right, it kind of cycles on and off and makes a rattling sound. That was on Monday. Then on Wednesday, I noticed engine smoke when it was under load. I did some documentation and Dave will look into it. There’s no reason an engine with 200 hours should be producing smoke. Dave doesn’t think it’s serious, but was a bit mystified why it would start on the second day. I was cruising harder than usual to make my weather windows, but the boat should be able to go all day at 2700 rpm.

The sound as the engine changes modes.
The growling / rattling sound at higher RPMs
The engine rattling right around 2250 rpms
Engine smoke at 2200
Engine smoke at 2500
Engine smoke at 2900 (Max load)

Replace Ultraleather in Pilothouse – This was the original reason for the visit. The dash is bubbling up and the headliners are drooping. The factory just cut some corners, so North Pacific is replacing the defects.

Widen the Midship Bunk – Turtle has an “L” bunk configuration, with a full-sized bed on the bottom and a single on the top. Not only does this cause the family “not fair” klaxon to sound, it really isn’t a great configuration as the kids grow. In retrospect, we should have had two twin-sized bunks in a regular aligned configuration (along the hull) with more floor space. But, given what we have, we’re going to widen the top bunk. This has the side effect of crowding out the already very small standing space (if the bunk comes out to the door, the distance between the forward hanging locker and the bunk is like 24″). So, Dave came up with the idea of making it retractable, similar to the pilothouse bench that converts into a berth. We’ll have a couple of expansion blocks that we can keep under the lower bunk and convert the bed from a single (with floor space) to a twin (with play space above and a privacy cave below, for our cellar dweller). We love this idea and are super excited to see how it comes out.

If There’s Time Stuff

  • Add a foot rest to the pilothouse bench.
  • Repair the blackwater tank gauge (the solder on the starboard foil sensor came loose)
  • Install the shaft brush.
  • Apply a coat of wax.
  • Repair a couple of gelcoat chips.

Cruising Notes

We’ve covered a lot of water this fall, including a fair amount of single-handing by me with and without the kids. We went to Dyes Inlet, Port Orchard, Downtown Seattle (Bell Harbor Marina), Edmonds, and 100 miles from Liberty Bay to Blaine. We filled up twice, including 350 gallons in Brownsville, which took a couple of hours with a dispenser with no lock on the handle (!). First world problem…

The trip to Blaine was interesting as I did it in the midst of a series of nasty low pressure systems that brought heavy wind and rain. I used a weather router to confirm my own planning and spent an extra day in LaConner waiting out the 50 kt gales, but it all worked out. Rich (The Weather Guy) turned around a float plan on short notice and checked in with me every day. Very nice to have some expert backup.

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.