Fixing the Boat

There is always something broken. It is just a rule on boats. Usually is is more than one thing, you have a list. Just so long as nothing on the list is truly critical.

Battery circuits on the forward engine room bulkhead of a Nordic Tug ‘42
Battery circuits on the forward engine room bulkhead of a Nordic Tug ‘42
Our journey south along the Inside Passage has been documented by adding things to the list, and crossing a few off as they get fixed. Washdown pump not working? Bad crimp in the power connection. The defrost vents on the bridge… Fixed. The anchor light atop the mast? Fixed… That took some work and dismantling half the ceiling. Door latch on a galley cabinet… Fixed.

Still, the list does not seem to get any shorter.

Nothing really critical… Until we noticed the batteries were not charging.

Hmmm… That might be a problem.

I spend a few minutes poking about in the engine room. The battery circuits are fairly simple, everything is just bolted to the forward bulkhead and fairly easy to get at. There is some complication in that we also have a battery charger that runs off AC power, that adds a few more wires, circuit breakers, and other electrical boxes to the setup.

Yeah… The alternator is dead. It is putting out 2.9 volts, not 12 to 13 volts..

Hmmm… That is a problem.

Fortunately we can charge our batteries. We have to run the generator and use the battery charger. We can keep cruising, with no redundancy. Lose the gen-set or the battery charger and we will soon be dead in the water when the batteries give out.

Of course this happens in the middle of a rather large bit of wilderness, a long ways from any substantial port that would have the needed parts.

So we run the gen-set for a few hours each morning, and a few hours each evening charging the batteries. The nights are punctuated by getting up to check the battery voltages, on the panel just outside my cabin door.

Those few days of cruising allow us to get to Shearwater. This little port serves the cruisers coming up from Vancouver and transiting the Inside Passage. Shearwater offers a fairly good marine supply house and a small boatyard.

Alternator on the Cummins diesel engine of the Nordic Quest
Alternator on the Cummins diesel engine of the Nordic Quest
Of course they do not have an alternator for a Cummins diesel in stock. They can however fly one in the next day from Vancouver. Just $400 for the alternator and another $90 to have it couriered to the airport. The final bill is $515… Ouch. Only somewhat softened by the conversion rate to $US.

We spend the night in a very pretty little cove a few miles from Shearwater. In no hurry to run back to dock I take a couple hours to kayak around a saltwater lagoon playing tag with a family of otters. One nice result of the breakdown.

At 1:30pm the water taxi arrives from Bella-Bella with our alternator aboard. Good, this will take 20 minutes… Not.

A broken 1/2″ ratchet… Run up to the marine supply for a 1/2″ breaker bar. $20 later we can get the serpentine belt off.

We do not have a socket big enough to get the pulley off the old alternator. Run up to the boatyard where the mechanic quickly swaps the pulleys with an air ratchet. We slide him enough loonies for a round of beer.

Done. The batteries are now charging! We head south towards Queen Charlotte and a open ocean crossing with all systems good to go. Everything critical at least.

Overhauling the Bogen 329 Tripod Head

For decades I have used a Bogen 329 tripod head atop a Manfrotto 3221 tripod as my ‘heavy’ setup. This tripod has been carried for miles on hiking trails, over lava flows, and has sat in the cold winds for many a night under the stars of Mauna Kea. Heavy and solid the tripod can hold a camera motionless for hours in strong winds.

Shooting Time lapse
The Canon G12 set up to shoot time lapse video of clouds over Mauna Loa
The tripod has securely held cameras, small telescopes, lights, antennas, and stranger things across the years. It has also been repaired more than once, with a leg replaced a decade back.

This old tripod has also been showing its age, the pan and tilt adjustments becoming difficult to use.

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New Front Bearings for the Ford Explorer

My vehicle comes to a rather abrupt stop, the front brakes lock up while pulling onto Paniolo drive, the main road serving the village. I am stuck across the northbound lanes.

Ford Explorer Front Bearing Repair
The front bearing of the Explorer removed and the mounting cleaned up. Ready for re-installation!
Well? This is awkward.

Shut down, restart, nothing unlocks the brakes. I am still stuck in the middle of the road. Another driver gives me a quizzical look and drives around me.

With no other idea I put the vehicle in 4WD low and drag the locked front tires backwards into the side street where I can safely work on the issue, I left skid marks in the road.

In retrospect the failure was not a complete surprise… I knew the front bearings were going, making noise, but the vehicle was still driveable. Over the last week I had checked on prices and asked about with the guys about borrowed tools to do the job. I was thinking I had a few weeks before the issue was truly an issue.


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Consequences of a Bad LED

A bad indicator LED, a simple ten cent part brought the Keck 1 telescope to a stop this last week.

Logic Card
A section of the AAA logic card.
How can that be? Usually an indicator is just that, an indicator. While an LED may indicate a problem it is rarely the cause of the problem.

I was getting ready to leave the summit when the radio started to speak words of concern, it sounded like something was not working, an instrument rotator?

Worse, the Keck 1 computer room hosted a veritable crowd, from the summit supervisor to all of the techs. Yeah, this was not good, why are they all looking at me? Oh, h%#*!

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Fixing Slippahs

One of the necessary life skills in the islands is the ability to fix a slippah. Yes, I know the mainland calls this minimal footwear sandals or flip-flops, but here they are called slippers or slippahs.

Slippah Clip
A bit of heavy steel wire to repair a broken slipper strap clip.
The usual failure is the clip that holds the strap into the sole,a simple plastic item subject to wear as you walk. You could say this is simple bad design, but it really does not fail often and slippahs are pretty cheap to start with.

Plus, it is easy to fix.

My wife can relate a dozen slippah fixing tricks from around the school where she works. Many of the kids wear them and teachers learn all the tricks to fixing them when they inevitably break. From putting a bread clip on the central knob, to using a paper clip to replace the little side clips.

In my case it is one of the plastic clips that has failed. I used some heavy wire a touch more substantial than a paper clip.

Fixing the Stairs

Some carpenter years ago thought that two nails would be enough to hold the stairs up.  They did, for a decade or two, but they would eventually fail when the stringer began to split around the nails.

Jacking the Stairs
Jacking the front stairs back into place for repair.
The stairs did not collapse, no one was hurt.  On the other hand they had sunk about an inch and felt decidedly unstable underfoot.  Another weekend project!

Remove the old nails to free everything up.  Use the 3.5 ton floor jack to push the stairs back into place.  An aluminum plate and wood glue to splice together the split stringer. Quite a few new bolts, not nails, to hold everything together.  A bit of 3/8″ threaded rod on the other stringer to secure it to a joist.  I think everything is secure, solid underfoot again.  I just need a little paint to cover over the new work.

A Pop, a Puff of Smoke, and an Ominous Red Glow… Not Good

When powering up a nearly three decade old computer for the first time I should really have a video camera running…

The loud pop, and the stream of smoke issuing from the side vents was bad enough. It was the ominous orange glow seen for just a couple seconds from the same vent that really sent me the message…

Not good.

Compaq Portable III
A Compaq Portable III personal computer, circa 1987, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
I yanked the power cord as quickly as I could, then just sat there for a moment considering the implications of disaster. A Compaq Portable III, a design first marketed in 1987. A computer that runs DOS, predating the first versions of windows. This is the computer that holds the software that operates the Keck II dome.

Without this machine it will be very difficult to program the old PLC the dome runs on. I do have a replacement for that PLC controller running in my office, but I face the challenge of verifying the design, I would like to run the old software in the test setup to compare it to the new. I would also like to have a backup in case something goes wrong during the transition, a way of putting the old PLC back into the system and programming it.

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The Main Pressure Regulator

Raking leaves out from underneath the lanai I just happen to look up. The water line into the house is right there and can be seen through a opening I cut in the lattice to allow the main shutoff valve to be reached without crawling under the house. There are pretty little ferns growing on the water pressure regulator.

That is not good.

Household Water Pressure Rregulator
A leaking household pressure regulator… Another weekend repair required.

The regulator is weeping, a steady dripping from the bottom of the assembly. A closer look shows that the valve body is badly corroded. This is not something I want to mess with until I have replacement parts on-hand. It is likely to come apart when disturbed, leaving the house without water.

Thus a mid-week trip to HPM is made. No matter, a lunchtime trip is an excuse to stop in Big Island Brewhaus and try some of the new menu items, the burgers are great! I note that the cherry trees are also beginning to bloom nicely, all good for the Cherry Blossom Festival next week.

A new regulator, a water pressure gauge, a handful of copper fittings. I have the rest of the needed tools on-hand already… Torch, propane, pipe cutter, flux, solder and pipe compound. I make sure I have everything before I shut off the water. I also warn my wife that the house will be without water for a few hours.

The old regulator is in bad shape, but not that bad. Failure was not imminent, maybe in a few months, but not tomorrow. It was leaking quite a bit, a steady drip. Water shut off at the street and at the supply to the solar water heating system I can open the lines. A little struggle ensues before the old fittings yield and the old regulator can be removed.

Of course the new regulator is smaller, I can not just thread it into place. This is what the copper fittings are for… I cut away the old threaded fittings and measure some new pieces of pipe. While I am cutting and fitting copper I add a new valve above the regulator, a convenient way to drain the household system and a place to attach a pressure gauge when adjusting the new regulator.

Yes, I raked out the pile of old leaves caught in the corner before lighting up the propane torch. No need to burn the house down to do a little plumbing repair.

All done I open the valves and return water pressure to the house. The gauge reads just below 50psi… good, just what the manual stated for the setting from the factory. This is not, of course, satisfactory for Deb, not enough pressure! Adjusting upwards to 60psi and my wife is happier.

The job cost a bit over $100 in parts. All good, and vastly cheaper than calling out a plumber for an easy job. Never mind that Hawaii law requires a licensed plumber to do such a job. Another weekend repair completed. What would I be doing else-wise? Probably painting or cleaning the garage.

Washer Repair

Internet wins again.

Washer Repair
A broken pump in a washing machine… No problem.
Appliance parts have always been an interesting game. In thankfully bygone days the various companies would restrict access to parts, selling only to licensed repair shops. Some parts were available from more enlightened companies, many were not. Still, there are companies I will not buy appliances from, no parts, no deal.

The problem… A washing machine that will not spin, making a horrible racket instead. The pump bearing was shot, shutting down the whole drive system.

These days the parts game has been broken open by website based suppliers that will sell just about anything. Parts are still an interesting game, if not nearly as bad as before. Making sure you get decent parts from a website supplier. A bit of online research shows who has been around for a while and is recognized by the major online services. I bought the parts from Nice website, complete mechanical diagrams of the washer with cross indexed part numbers, no fuss, no muss. Real Whirlpool parts show up in the box.

Consider that the cost of getting an appliance repairman here in Waikoloa is hundreds of dollars. And that is just for the visit, the parts would have been additional. My total cost for this repair? $80.45 after I added a new belt and shipping to Hawaiʻi.

It did take five days for the part to show up, FedEx home delivery. Fortunately we had enough clean clothes to get by without a trip to the laundromat. Meanwhile the machine was shoved back into the puka on its front and a sheet of cardboard, feet stuck out past the door, a pile of tools on the back. The cats though this was quite interesting and investigated thoroughly.

The most difficult part of the job? Disassembly? Diagnosis? Those were quite easy, it took about 15 minutes to get the washer out of its home, turned over and find the problem. The most onerous part was cleaning up the pile of lint, dust and cat-hair found behind that machine when I pulled it out of the closet.