It’s been a long time since we have posted. A lot has happened, to us and to the world, since we brought Duet to San Diego in March of 2019. But big news first, Ron has finally retired. Yes really. For those who have known us for some time, well they’ve heard this story before, three times to be exact. But this time we mean it. No interim duty, no temporary work, nothing. He’s done. Really. He means it this time.
But back to March, 2019. We left Duet happily ensconced in her slip at Cabrillo Isle Marina, which is one of the best managed marinas we’ve ever stayed in. Tom from Blue Moon Yachts kept an eye on her for us, while his guys washed her every two weeks, as she is way too near the airport and jet engine fumes. They waxed her, which made her look like new. They also filled her water tank to flush the water maker, every time they washed her. The folks from Dockside Diving cleaned her bottom every three weeks, scrubbed her bulbous bow and changed her zincs. Her new paint looks untouched.
She was empty, of food, fuel, beer, parts, you name it, we didn’t have it. But she was safe enough, with good friends in town if we needed help.
Back in Tahoe, Ron suited up and went back to the world of operating rooms, call schedules, paperwork and all the things that go with being a full time anesthesiologist. Since August 2014 he had worked only a part-time schedule and had not taken night call. Re-entry to full-time was a bit of a shock. No afternoon naps, no broken boat bits, just patients, phone calls in the middle of the night and the very occasional day off. He enjoys working at the VA though, and it was good to see friends again.
Nancy got back into the general swing of things, swimming, hiking, helping her Mom (now 89) relocate to an apartment that wasn’t a climb up a hill, getting the house sorted out, keeping an eye on Duet and catching up with good friends. It was nice to be home.
We visited Duet every 8-10 weeks, for a week, which meant we didn’t really do much. She didn’t move, although Ron started up all the gear and did a few small projects. It was supposed to be a vacation and we tried, we tried really hard, to keep it that way.
Then came Covid 19. We left the boat in February of 2020, with plans to return in April. We finally made it back in July. Ron worked in the new virus environment for 5 months. As an anesthesiologist, he is heavily exposed, because every time he intubates or extubates a patient, respiratory droplets go literally everywhere. So it was stressful, but also rewarding, to take care of patients who needed surgery during this difficult period. Unfortunately, three of his colleagues at the Reno VA died of the virus early on before we knew how contagious it really was. One was a good friend.
Ron had already made plans, in 2019, to retire on June 30, 2020. It was a difficult transition while the pandemic continued, however the VA was ready to fill his slot. A good friend, who previously worked at a private practice in Reno, took Ron’s space and he is leaving the department in excellent hands.
In March, Nancy managed to rupture a lumbar disc. This is not something that she recommends you try at home. Because of the pandemic, she was unable to access treatment on a timely basis, and ended up with some nerve damage in her left foot. She had a repair done in early May and is now recovering well. The damage to the nerves will take about a year to heal, but she can swim and walk and is slowly coming back to full strength. If this had to happen, it wasn’t a bad time for it, as we can’t cruise anywhere anyway.
So why aren’t we cruising, you ask? Duet can keep us isolated easily enough. The problem isn’t being isolated, the problem is, if you slip up and get sick, you need care. This is difficult to access in places like Mexico. So why don’t we go north? We talked about that, but we think we want to return to the South Pacific in the spring of 2022, so going two thousand miles north is definitely the wrong direction. Besides, before she can go anywhere, Duet needs some TLC after her long Pacific crossing. She’s also been sitting, and that’s bad for boats. So, all in all, San Diego made sense for the time being.
Ron has a list of projects, as usual, some of which are pretty important. We’d had started a series of things, like a new cockpit awning and a replacement for the salon table, which had ground to a halt while we weren’t aboard, so those needed to be completed. So we decided to stay put until we can either head for Mexico this winter, or until the spring/summer of 2021. At that time, we will have to decide whether another Pacific crossing is still something we want to do and is feasible. If so, we’ll get started on the process of getting ready to go.
If not, we’ll probably head north to the Pacific NorthWest, British Columbia (whenever they will let us in again) and Alaska. Never say never though, because recently we’ve also been talking about shipping Duet to Florida instead, doing the East Coast again and then crossing the Atlantic to cruise Scandinavia. Anyone who cruises will be familiar with these plans written in sand at low tide. Regardless, Duet will be moving again in the next year or so, assuming the pandemic resolves enough that Dr. Ron gives the OK for us to set off.
In the meantime, there’s lots to do. Some projects are pretty small, like installing a new compressor on our air horn and some, like plumbing the wing into the Reverso oil change system, are much larger. We’ve also got everything in between, including actually getting Duet off the dock for some sea time to determine what’s still working and what’s not. Suffice it to say, Chief Engineer Ron has got his hands full.
Like many older Nordhavns, the rollers for Duet’s sliding doors had failed.
Ron’s initial solution is a block, not a wheel. It is composed of Delrin, which is a strong plastic. Nancy was skeptical, but it works well on the port pilothouse door . We’ll see how it lasts.
Ron would like to note here that, while it was an expensive hose for the coolant recovery bottle, it has also fixed the ongoing problem. The previous hose collapsed under vacuum when the engine cooled, so it didn’t return the coolant, which had overflowed into the reservoir when the engine was hot, back to the main coolant tank. The new hose doesn’t collapse.
Ron also solved a problem that had been worrying him for some time, namely protecting the boat’s 24V battery bank from his aging memory. Duet’s engine room fans are 24V. They draw a lot of power, so something needs to be feeding the 24V batteries whenever they are running, either the 24V alternator (off the main engine) or the 24V charger (with the generator). When we shut down the main engine at the end of a cruise, or shut down the 24V charger, someone, namely Ron, has to remember to shut the fans off, or they will rapidly drain the 24V bank. Duet’s crane, windlass, bow thruster and main engine starter also use that bank, so having it out of service would be unfortunate. To prevent senior moments with this, Ron installed a voltage-sensing relay, which shuts the fans down automatically once the voltage on the batteries drops below their float charge set point.
Nancy, in the meantime, is spending a good part of her time on her recovery, rebuilding muscle tone by swimming and walking and religiously doing her physical therapy. She was laid up for three months and everything went slack, rather like on Duet! Now that her back architecture is a bit compromised, she will no longer be handling lines and fenders, so she is going to need to learn how to drive Duet in marinas. She can drive her in the dark in a crowded anchorage, that’s not a big deal, but driving in a marina is, for some reason, an entirely different proposition.
Captain Ron, who is an expert at Duet driving, will be teaching her the trick of getting Duet to lumber in and out of her rather tight slip here in San Diego. Fortunately, Nancy’s got plenty of time to learn before we set off again. On her first try she managed to take Duet out of her slip and down the narrow fairway without incident, during a short testing trip around San Diego harbor. When we returned she backed her right in, no problem. So far, so good.
Nancy has also been clearing out Duet’s cabinets. Since we are now close enough to home to drive back and forth, we are hauling everything that we haven’t used, or don’t think we need anymore, to the house. Then we order a bunch of new stuff and haul all that back to the marina. We are replacing worn sheets and towels, aging kitchen appliances, etc.
Jeddys, Duet’s upholsterer of choice, redid the salon and pilothouse overheads, and re-upholstered the pilothouse settee. The canvas maker redid the bimini cover and the forward window covers. We will be getting a new pilothouse freezer, as the old one is not responding to bells. So Duet is having a pretty serious makeover to get her ready for wherever it turns out we go next.
The biggest project we have undertaken so far is the cockpit awning. During our last four years or so of cruising, we’ve been in southern climates. It’s hot. The cockpit is really hot. Our solution, a large plastic tarp, really didn’t cut it. So we swore that, when we got somewhere we could find some talented people to do it, we would put on a proper cockpit awning. Stainless steel, canvas, the works.
San Diego is a good place to get boat work done. There are a lot of talented tradespeople here. Ramon, from Chingon Custom Metal Fabrication, is one of the best. He’s known throughout the area for his stainless work. We visited his shop, chatted with him and chose Chingon to design and fabricate our new awning structure.
Given our schedule, and Ramon’s, the design and fabrication process took months, but, finally, we had it. A truly beautiful bit of work, it stops traffic regularly on the dock.
Once we had the awning, then it needed canvas. Dave, from Ocean Beach Boat and Auto Upholstery, came highly recommended. He, Ron and Nancy spent hours discussing various ways to mount the canvas so it melded cleanly with Ramon’s structure. Dave and Ramon work together a lot, so they both contributed to this thought process.
Ron and Nancy installed the track for the canvas. The track is screwed onto the boat every 4 inches, so about 60 holes had to be drilled in Duet’s boat deck edge. Fortunately, it uses very small screws. It also had to be bent around the corners, which required a heat gun and, more importantly, an oven mitt to avoid Ron burning his fingers.
The new salon table was also progressing. We had visited Ian and his Dad, Wilson, several times at their shop at Shelter Island Boatyard, to discuss wood and see samples. They had visited Duet to take measurements. Then, lo and behold, a table started taking shape.
Once the table is completed, it will go to the finisher for several weeks. Then it will be installed on Duet, where it will serve as the basis for many happy meals, social gatherings and project team reviews.
In the meantime, Ron chugged along, changing the oil and filters on all the engines, which, while they had been changed before the boat was put up, should be changed again, because she’s been sitting. So that took some time, but everything fired up normally.
He also swapped out the Vickers hydraulic pump and the overhung load adapter on the Naiads, installing a new overhung adapter and a rebuilt pump, while rebuilding the old ones to serve as spares. He changed the hydraulic oil on the system and also changed the filter, which required removing the entire housing (and all the hoses attached to it) turning it upside down to screw it all together again, and then putting it back.
Ron also plumbed the Yanmar wing engine into the Reverso oil change system. Our Reverso System is permanently plumbed to the main engine (lube oil and gear oil), and generator. It had not been plumbed to the Yanmar, so draining gear and lube oil meant using temporary hoses to drain through the dipstick tubes. It worked but Ron thought it was messy and inconvenient.
To access the lube oil sump, Ron converted the single banjo bolt that joins the dipstick tube to the sump to a double length banjo bolt. This allowed him to install a drain hose at the bottom of the dipstick. The gear oil sump already had a threaded drain plug, and Ron converted that to a flare fitting to which he could attach hydraulic hose. Oil change for the Yanmar is now easy and neat.
Nancy had Duet’s fire extinguishers inspected by Aztec Fire and Safety. All the small handhelds were replaced, while the larger handhelds were re-certified. The engine room automatic system passed, the lazarette system did not. So Nancy ordered a new one, which Ron installed. Needless to say, it was taller than the old one, so the mount had to be re-engineered to fit. We also figured out how to use a rope ladder to get out of the forward head, in case we are trapped below by fire. The awful dive boat fire at Catalina in 2019 got us thinking a lot about what would happen aboard Duet, particularly at night, if fire broke out.
Nancy was tasked to send our Steiner binoculars back to the mothership for repair. The compass had been sticking while we were in Australia. Imagine our surprise when we found out they weren’t broken, they were just lost.
According to Steiner:
In order to get an accurate compass-heading reading from a compass, the magnetic needle in the compass must be able to move freely inside the compass capsule. The needle must be balanced to make sure it can move freely, without touching and dragging along the top or bottom of the capsule; while consistently and precisely point to a compass-heading.
The compass industry has divided the earth into 5 zones. Your compass is pre-set for the magnetic field in the northern hemisphere (Zone 2). If you sail too far outside of the pre-set zone, the compass needle might stick or not work at all. Many trans-oceanic sailors will take 2 or 3 binoculars with different zones.
We took the binoculars from Zone 2 to Zone 5, which was definitely outside their magnetic home. Now that we are back in Zone 2, they are behaving just fine. So repair averted, but new problem created, namely what do we do when we go next time? Steiner sells a “global” version of our excellent Commander binoculars, the Commander Global. It is, however, priced like the top of the line at about $2,500 USD. So we’ll see how that works out when we get organized to go again.
Now that Duet is 20 years of age, we are beginning to remove and re-caulk all her fittings. This includes things like the boat deck and fore deck rails, which were weeping rust during the last part of our Pacific crossing. There is nothing wrong with them, but the caulk that seals them is now worn out, so they are letting water. Removing them and re-caulking is not a complex task, but it takes time and attention to detail.
For this one we retained Morton Marine Services, rather than have Nancy do it. One of Ken’s competent guys showed up, right on time, and removed all the rails in less than a day. The bases went to the shop to be acid washed and he cleaned up all the rails aboard the boat. During the removal process, he wrote off our rubber mallet, but he replaced it with a much nicer one, so it’s all good. They did a great job and we will be working with them again to remove Duet’s rub rail next time she is in the yard.
Not only did they do a great job, but Ron managed to justify a new tool after Nancy watched how useful it was to remove and install the rails. He is now the proud owner of a Dewalt electric screwdriver.
We will do some of this caulking work ourselves, Ron will be upsizing the dinghy tie downs, so they will be done when they are replaced, and Nancy will do the screws around the base of the flybridge. This work is an ongoing effort, we did the same thing on our 46. We also redo everything we work on, so when Ron replaces our second GPS unit with a new one he will re-caulk the antenna.
The port side portholes need removal and caulking, they will also be done at the boat yard. They were on the weather side of the boat for 9,000 miles, so they took a lot of water. Ron caulked them from the outside in Fiji, which worked but isn’t a long term answer.
Ron has spent a lot of time thinking about what he wants to do if we set off across the Pacific again. There were really only two single points of failure that worried him on the first trip, the generator and the water maker. We did have a generator failure, it needed a new rear seal and that was a tough enough situation that Ron wants to have a backup in case something like that happens again. In the perfect world, we’d install a small generator in the lazarette, but Duet’s lazarette is packed with electrical gear and there is no room. Instead, Ron is thinking about how much power we can generate from the main engine, running at idle, with a larger alternator. The concern about a water maker failure will be addressed by adding a second water maker.
Some folks would suggest, at this juncture, that we add solar panels. We had them on our 46 and they did a great job. This Duet, however, has a limited amount of real estate to install panels. We do not have a rigid bimini on top of the fly bridge, we fold it down for passages. There is little room on the roof of the pilothouse without relocating antennas. We could put them on our new cockpit awning, as it is a rigid structure, but that would require making some changes to the awning itself, which we are loathe to undertake, having just finished it. Also, regardless, we would still need additional charging power to keep up with this Duet’s power needs, so, while solar panels are a possibility in the future, they aren’t on the current list.
One of the things we are often asked is “why don’t you just get parts if something breaks?”. This is a good question. The answer lies in where we take the boat. The more remote the cruising, the harder it is to get parts on a timely basis or, sometimes, at all. One of the places we would like to visit is the Gambier Archipelago, which is about 1,000 miles SE of Tahiti, near Pitcairn and Easter Islands. Getting parts is possible, but could take weeks. Not being able to keep our batteries charged or make water while we waited for parts would make life difficult, if not impossible, aboard Duet.
So we are back aboard, at least some of the time. We spend a few weeks at home, then drive to San Diego to spend a few weeks aboard. This schedule will continue until we decide to go somewhere. Normally, we would invite readers to visit, but, in this environment, it’ll have to be a virtual fly by. We look forward to the return of better times and we hope everyone stays safe.