Sunday, October 27, 2013

Miraculously Karl Fixes the Autopilot

I bought the autopilot for the boat about 1999.  She was docked in Kemah, Texas as part of the divorce awfulness. Racing was coming to an end, and I had delusionaly considered single handing. I called up Sea Tech in Kemah and ordered up an autopilot.  Having seen all of the shiny ads in the sailing magazines, I had decided on B&G brand.  The  young man on the other end of the line was silent.  "Any problems with that?" I asked. He said that he had seen a lot of B&G stuff come in for repairs.  "Then what would you buy?" I asked.  He said Simrad AP22 with a Robertson linear drive attached to the rudder post.  I have never received better advice.  The unit worked flawlessly for 10 years.  It was never powerful enough for the big waves, but I preferred to hand steer in the rough stuff anyway.

Then about 4 or 5 years ago ago it began to slow down.  It took longer to wake up and engage.  It became weaker and weaker. By last year even motoring in a flat clam was a problem and by this June during our delivery to the yard, the autopilot  flatly refused to stay on track.  It knew where it was supposed to go but just did not have the "oomph" to do so. My diagnosis was loss of hydraulic fluid in the linear drive. I called tech support for Simrad, and he agreed with me.  He told me to locate the tank and look for a hemisphere. Unscrew this and add hydraulic fluid.  He recommend Pure Oceans brand (which is the house brand for West Marine, go figure?).  "Don't use transmission fluid which is too thin and don't fill the tank more than 75%. It needs air to self bleed. Good luck." were his final words.

Now, dear readers, I do not even like to fix things.  I only do so because I have to, and I figured that a service call would be over $500.00. I found the tank by wedging as far back into the stern compartment as I could.  I marveled at the unit as it looked new after all the years.  Those Danes, who originally started Robertson, really used quality stuff.  I looked at it three times and looked at the schematic three times before I realized that what I had taken to be a round headed screw was this fabled hemisphere.  I had actually kept the instruction manual all these years, It is also available on line.  Now how it  get it off.  The unit was wedged underneath a bulkhead with only an inch of clearance.  No screwdriver in my bag would fit.  Eventually, I had to breakdown and borrow a special tool from the yard.  Thanks, Sadler Point Marina!

Finally, I had access to the tank, and as expected it was bone dry.  For a dip stick I improvised with stir sticks courtesy of Starbucks.  I carefully added just the recommend amount of hydraulic fluid and used the special tool to close up the tank. The whole job took 4 or 5 hours including 20 trips into the stern lazerette, two trips to the office and one trip to West Marine.  But it was done.

Two days later on our delivery on the St Johns River of White Pepper from Sadler Point Marina to Green Cove Springs Marina, I tried out the unit.  It worked perfectly and seemed to have all of the power it displayed in more youthful days.  The sense of satisfaction was intense!

As long time readers of this blog we understand: to boat is to fix things.  This time it worked out wonderfully well.  But from now on we have to carry an extra bottle of fluid, and I have to make a trip to Harbor Freight to buy a special tool. 

Finally as a caution, I have praised Simrad and Robertson, but both companies as well as B&G have been bought out by large marine conglomerates.  I have no idea whether the quality has been maintained.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New Toys for White Pepper

White Pepper is coming back to life after hibernating for over two years. Cleaning or rather mold abatement with vinegar has taken all week.  Jan and I put a new coat of bottom paint on in only 4 days of back breaking labor. The propane system had to be coaxed back to life (rusty solenoid). There is mold all over the deck and lines. About half of the interior lights are out, but they all need to be replaced with LED anyway.  The head (potty) works well at least.

 Despite all of the hard work we have some neat new toys to play with.

The most laborious chores on the boat for both of us is raising the main sail and getting the dingy on board. Getting the mainsail up is such a hassle that sometimes we just don't do it.  This can be a danger as when transiting the gap, etc. To address this problem which only gets worse every year we have installed an electric winch on the starboard coach roof.  It is an Andersen stainless steel 40 self tailer with a single speed motor installed underneath.  Sadler Point Marina did the installation and carpenter Kenny built an an attractive wooden box to hide the motor. The switch was installed at the pedestal so that Jan can control the motor while keeping the boat pointed upwind.  (For non-sailors the main sail will only go up when the boat is pointed directly upwind.)

Incredible Andersen 40

Other chores for this winch will be to lift the dingy, Habenero, onto the fore deck using the starboard spinnaker halyard.  This chore still requires remarkable agility by Karl on the fore deck wrestling a nine foot two hundred pound dingy, especially if the wind is blowing at all.  But at least now it will not require manual labor by Jan grinding up the beast.  Finally, the winch will let Jan winch me up the mast which was impossible previously.  Having me winch Jan up the mast resulted in the very cute posts of her waving from aloft when the halyards tangled at Little Farmers Cay Bahamas April 2011.

We bit the bullet and had a new cabin sole installed to replace the incredibly scarred and worn old one. (Non sailors will recognize the cabin sole as a floor; sailors know that the floors on a boat are the cross members of the foundation.)
Aphrodite enjoying her new cabin sole

The Navtec hydraulic back stay adjuster was replaced with a mechanical stainless steel ratcheting mechanism from Wichard.  The Navtec is just not reliable enough for cruising.  It leaks and when the fluid is gone, you are helpless.  The whole story is so sorry.  Only Navtec has the seals and the tools to install them with leak proof (sort of) results.  However, Navtec is out of business.  Sending the unit to Hydraulics-R-Us just won't cut it.  So the whole $2500.+  apparatus is junk.  The Wichard unit, however, looks and works great.
Ratcheting Back Stay Adjuster by Wichard

Minor issued addressed were nipping up the genoa halyard which had become frayed over the years.  Failure of this line in a remote area would be catastrophic.  And finally we had a chock installed at the base of the mast to allow the spinnaker/whisker pole to be stored and deployed from the mast.  The last trip out convinced me that a spinnaker is not reasonable for a powerful 41 foot boat double handed.  But there are many opportunities for wing and wing sailing downwind in the Bahamas esp. in the Spring. Not having to wrestle the pole off the deck and onto the mast will allow us to take advantage of those opportunities.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

White Pepper Visits the Davises in Solomons

After the excitement at the boat show Jan and I had a chance to visit with our friends Kay and Richard Davis on there boat docked in Solomons, Maryland.  They have a wonderful Katy Krogen 48 trawler and were attending the annual Katy Krogen rally at Solomons. The name of the boat is Texas Ranger.
Texas Ranger at dockside

Kay and Richard also maintain a neat blog at  Following it I was filled with nostalgia as some of the pictures in the blog were near duplicates of those we took on our own journey up the East Coast in 2008.

Jan and I were travelling with daughters Kristi and Layla and son-in-law Pat.  By and by we all headed off the lunch at Stoney's Kingfisher. There is some history here.  During our last visit to Solomons I was still on my quest for the perfect crab cake. A crab cake seems like a simple meal, but is really difficult to do well.  So difficult that few people from Texas have ever had a good one. First the crabs have to be good and fresh, then you can not use too much filler, finally it has to be seasoned and cooked to perfection.  My quest had been fulfilled at Stoney's in 2008, and I was looking forward to another perfect crab cake sandwich.  Richard had said that the crabs were not as good this year in the Chesapeake, but I persisted. When the meal finally arrived it was good but not great, and I was unreasonably disappointed.  The crab was not meaty at all.  I believe the oil had been left in the fryer too long.  

Heraclitus said in the fifth century BC that you could not step into the same river twice.  But I say today that you can not eat the same crab cake twice. So enjoy life the first time around because if you do get a second chance it may not be as much fun.
Three happy customers and one disgruntled gentleman at Stoney's Kingfisher

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The 2013 Annapolis Sailboat Show

 “Why go to the boat show when you do not have a boat or plan to buy a boat?” That was the question I heard several times before Jan and I attended the 2013 Annapolis Sailboat Show. Well, for us it is not about the boats for sale on display. There were many on display to be sure, but most of the boats were large catamarans destined for the charter trade. We did board the Tartan 47 which was listed at close to a million dollars. It was large and well laid out, but it was after all--a Tartan and for a million dollars?? There were three Alerions on display—the 28, 34, and 41. These are gorgeous boats, but pitched towards the day sailor. We caught the scuttlebutt that Tartan had cut C&C loose and Alerion/J Boat had picked up the trademark. There is no word yet on what will happen, and no new boats have been announced. It is another sorry chapter in the saga of the once glorious name C&C. For my money the pick of the show was the Gun Boat, a futuristic 60 foot catamaran made out of carbon fiber.

We had come to meet friends. We rendezvoused with Don and Sue Engler, our cruising buddies from 2011 in Georgetown, Bahamas. They own a sister ship C&C 41 (but not keel/centerboard) and they base out of Delaware. We also had the kids with us—Kristi, Layla, and Pat. We all had the traditional lunch of large and rare roast beef sandwiches at the Fleet Reserve Center. This is a boat show tradition that is not to be missed. Also at the lunch at the Fleet Reserve Center was Bob Bitchen. He has relaunched his publishing business with “Cruising Outposts” after the collapse of “Attitudes and Latitudes.” I was able to introduce him to Pat. Bob was as gracious as ever.

We also came to see the vendors. This was actually the principal reason to go at all. Jan meet a Facebook friend , Dinnen, at the Mantus booth, and I bought a Mantus chain grabber. I had been eying it for several months in the magazines, and think it will serve nicely as part of the anchor system. Just around the corner at the Spade Anchor booth, I saw an innovative anchor stabilizer that will fit very nicely on the tip of the anchor roller. The White Pepper's bow roller is too small and the anchor chair often jumps off the roller. Hopefully, this will help. I got advise from the Map Tech vendor about problems with the program I bought 5 years ago. We picked up a Nautical Almanac at the Celestaire booth. I had a long and informative discussion with the Yanmar distributor about a possible re-power. Also at the Yanmar booth was Chuck, an old friend from Deltaville Boatyard in Virginia. Jeff Coxwell, an old friend of Jan's from Rockport, Texas was there selling his very successful C Cushions for boats. I picked up some invaluable insights from the Edson dealer about instrument mounts.

So you see, I hope, that the boat show is not just about boats. It rained off and on all day, but we were sad to see the show close at 6:30. Like so many cruisers, for us the Annapolis boat show marks the start of our cruising season. The next Monday we headed for Florida --via I-95 this time and not the ICW. Next up the Sadler Marina Boatyard and all of the 2013 upgrades to the White Pepper.

The pics show how rainy is was.  But as one attendee said.  There is no bad weather only bad foul weather gear. Also shown is the Gun Boat, my new gadget for the anchor bow roller and "too many multihulls."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Cruising Guide to the I-10

For the past two years Jan and I have been commuting to the White Pepper from Beeville, TX to Jacksonville, FL—a trip of 1150 miles. Most of this trip is along the I -10 interstate highway. The I-10 starts in Jacksonville and ends in San Diego. I will describe only the part between Houston and Jacksonville.

East Bound

Easily the trickiest part of the trip is entering the I-10E from US 59 N at Houston. There is a spot in Houston near the George C. Brown Convention Center and Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros) in southeastern Houston where I-10, I-45, US 59 also known as the South West Freeway, and US280 known as the Lake Jackson Express all collide. I believe that not another square yard of concrete could be poured into the tangled mess. Proceeding N along US 59 precise lane discipline is required. There is a two lane forced left toward downtown, then a forced left to I-45 requiring a sharp move to the right-- but not to far as there is soon a forced right onto US 280. Finally about a mile and half past Minute Maid Park the big moment arrives—the exit to I-10. It is a typical interstate exit with two lanes to the right. One is forced and the other is a gentle divide. Here is the trick! The lane to I-10 E to Jacksonville is on the left and the lane to I-10 W is on the right which is exactly the opposite of what you expect. Even worse the divider comes up about 3 seconds after the exit. The arrangement is so counter intuitive that I missed it the first two times and even now find it unnerving. But after that it is smooth sailing across the top of Galveston Bay and the piedmont of southeastern Texas. One suggested excursion is a diversion to San Jacinto monument. The drive is surprisingly rural for being so close to a major city and includes a neat ferry ride.

Just over the Texas Louisiana border the tourist information stop is not to be missed. There is a nice park for a picnic lunch and walk, good chicory coffee and an elevated walk into the nearby swamp. The roadway between here and Lafayette is the best along the whole route. It is smooth, wide and a distinct contrast to the usually rickety infrastructure of Louisiana. We always try to time the stop at Lafayette to come around lunch or dinner time as Cajun cuisine is supreme here. There are big box restaurants off the interstate and fine dining in town, but our favorite is Fezzo's. This a local hangout just off of exit 97. The gumbo is old fashioned and authentic. We also pick up a canister of Fezzo's own spice blend.

Just past Lafayette is the 32 mile elevated causeway over the Achafalaya River basin. This area was once and will again someday be the route of the Mississippi River. For now it is a amazing ride over one of America's natural wonders. Be sure to check out the tourist information stop in the center of the area although this stop seems to work better on the west bound trip.

Soon after the Achafalaya is the Mississippi River and the Huey P. Long bridge. This bridge is a bitch with a narrow and steep roadway. There is a forced left exit to I-110 just at the bottom on the eastern side which keeps the traffic all stacked up on the right lanes. One of the benefits of stop and go on the bridge is having more time to look out over the river. Off to the south one can see Tiger Stadium and the taller buildings of the LSU campus. Just past the bridge we take a short cut to I-12 as I-10 goes on south to New Orleans. I-12 goes across the top of Lake Pontchartrain through an area that the locals call Northside. This is an area of considerable wealth and is not the poor Louisiana that I remember from my high school days in the state. Hurricane Katrina and the retreat from New Orleans has empowered Baton Rouge and all of Northside remarkably. Just past Baton Rouge is Denton and the number 10 exit makes for a nice anchorage. There are numerous inns and restaurants. Best of all there is a Bass Pro Shop to visit.

If we are really hustling along we travel on the Slidell or as far as Gulfport. Mississippi. Exit 34 is loaded with good stops and we can especially recommend the Best Western for the amenities and fully loaded breakfast buffet. If you have the energy after a long day, it is only a few miles to the beach and a hopping entertainment district along US 90. People of a certain vintage remember US 90 as the “beach road” to Florida. Now it is a scenic byway and would require a whole 'nother post.

Up early in the morning the little stubs of Mississippi and Alabama just fly by. Mobile is interesting with a long sweep of drive between the city and the waterfront, followed by a tunnel under harbor and drive past the USS Alabama and then several miles across sparkling Mobile Bay. We never stop however.

After Pensacola and the lovely Escambria Bay starts the interminable drive of 400 miles across the panhandle of Florida. I-10 was carved out of the woods of what probably should be southern Georgia with endless red dirt and second growth pine. It is just a long corridor of green. I think that even West Texas is more interesting, but Jan prefers Florida. To be fair the DOT of Florida takes great care here. There are call boxes every mile and a good rest stop about every 30 to 60 miles. We have to make frequent use of these and frequent driver changes to prevent falling asleep. If we can not quite make it to Jacksonville or Green Cove Springs, we stop at Tallahassee or Charles City.

Finally we arrive at Jacksonville and immense confusion as I-10 collides with I-95 which is probably the busiest highway in America. Thanks goodness for Nu-vi and Garmin. She can even call the lane changes. Our business takes us south from here on US 17 along the western shore of the St. Johns River and a quiet end to a long journey.


The west bound trip on I-10 is of course much the same as east bound with a few wrinkles. We get the panhandle earlier in the day and can use coffee to help stay awake. Also it seems easier to appreciate the many rivers of northern Florida including the Swanee and the Chattahoochee. Every one knows about the Swanee in song , but do you remember that the Chattahoochee was the river where Billie Jo MacAllister threw something off the bridge? I-10 makes contact with the ICW in several spots. Although White Pepper has never traveled these waters many of our friends have, and we imagine how they meander ed along under I-10 and US 90.

There is another Bass Pro Shop on the right just at the Florida Alabama border and just before Mobile Bay. It can be a good lunch stop. Usually however we opt for one of the many Subways. They are fast, cheap, healthy and are not so filling as to cause sleepiness on the afternoon drive.

Once again Alabama and Mississippi just fly by. You can count the miles by all of the billboard ads for the casinos. Once in Alabama I saw a billboard for Buckey's 880 miles ahead. It was complete with Buckey the buck tooth beaver. For readers not from South Texas Buckey's is a truck stop in Wharton Texas which advertises all up and down US 59. I never saw it again. Worth waiting for is spectacular vista of wet lands as we cross the Old Pearl River into Louisiana. For some reason it seems prettier looking west rather than east. The first rest stop in Louisiana is worth a visit. It is large and inviting for long walks and has free coffee. I always try to sign in there. This is voluntary of course, but the more that sign in the better the funding.

Baton Rouge again makes for a nice overnight stop with plenty of dining options. On a really good day of driving we can get all the way to Lafayette. One caution at this point is always gas up in Baton Rouge. There are few gas stations between the Mississippi and the Achafalaya Causeway. On the causeway there is no gas and no stopping. Once again the Achafalaya tourist center makes a nice day stop.

Back in Texas there is famous roadway sign that shows 887 miles to El Paso. Very close by is the Texas tourist information center. I think that this is the Texas DOT's best effort in the area. It has decent facilities, but no coffee. There is a nice elevated walkway out over the Sabine Lake wetlands.

Driving west across Texas is straightforward and requires little comment. I will close with the observation that the exit off I-10 onto US 59 S is easy and completely different than the maneuver described in the first paragraph of this post. There is a well marked gentle left exit and easy drive even in rush hour traffic. There is only one lane change required and that is near the I-610 intersection. The 30 year construction project on the South West Freeway is over and it is usually smooth sailing back to Beeville with maybe a stop at Buckey's in Wharton.