Project Work in Sidney BC

We returned to Duet on Boxing Day, as the Canadians call it, or the day after Christmas. She was just as we had left her, dozing in her slip, waiting for spring. Peggy from The Boat Butler had given her a good wash before we arrived. We even had neighbors on the boat next to us, a beautifully maintained old Chris Craft with a navy blue hull. They were from the San Francisco Bay area, very nice folks, tolerantly putting up with the endless noise of project work from Duet.


So we settled in with a long list of things to do. But first, leak checks were conducted in various areas. The section over the master berth seemed in pretty good shape, although some searching found several drops of water, which are probably due to continued leaching from the damp core. We will check it again when we return in March. Every other area looked just fine.

Ron installed our new Pepwave router, which will allow us to use the local wifi. It took a little fiddling but he got it going and it is working perfectly.


Nancy started in what seems like the endless paperwork routine, in this case she had confirmed our PLB and Gpirb registrations, so they needed their new stickers.

We also got a chance to start our walks along the waterfront in Sidney again. There is a nice 3 mile path that we try to do at least every other day. Getting exercise off the boat requires a time commitment but we find that it pays dividends, not only health wise, but also in giving us a chance to clear our heads a bit after a long day in Duet’s trenches.

During the weekend a storm passed through and at least one boat had a much tougher time with it than we did. There are a lot of abandoned boats on moorings in BC, more than we expected frankly. The previous week one had overturned and sank off the marina, it was still there several weeks later. Removing these derelicts is expensive and it is often impossible to find out who is actually responsible for them.

On Monday, we got in touch with Philbrooks to see where we were on their schedule. The boat service business has definitely picked up this year, the fairway to their shop was absolutely packed. We were assured that they could start on Duet the following week, right after New Year, so Ron got focused on finishing up the new inverter.


Our readers may wonder why we were still working on the inverter installation, and so did Nancy. The new inverter was installed on the last trip and was working just fine. So we were done, right? Well not exactly. First, we ran the last of the new power cables, which actually were being connected to the old inverter/charger, now serving as a charger only.

The pictures below are a set taken during the project, which should give a general idea of what goes on during this kind of wire installation. Ron, unlike professional electricians, relies on Nancy as his assistant, which does mean he gets lunch, but probably reduces his productivity, as she can’t get into the small spaces like he can.

In the picture below we are using a “fish” to drag the cables through a tight area. The fish is the shiny line in front of all the cables. Once it it thru the hole, Nancy pulls on it, while Ron feeds the cable in from the other side. In this shot, the fish is coming through the area where the wall of the master stateroom joins the ceiling.

Then we had to chafe protect all the new cables. The ‘hot” cables need to be protected their entire length, which means inserting them into long runs of plastic wire loom. The other cables need to be wrapped in rubber or tape wherever they might chafe on anything. So this process took a day or two.

Then the old inverter/charger was hooked up. We now have twice the charging capacity we had before, so the project was deemed a great success. Doubled capacity means half the generator run time, thereby saving fuel and also running the generator at higher loads, which is much better for it.


Since the old inverter/charger had moved from one side of the lazarette to the other, the automatic fire extinguisher was also relocated. Ron had brought the bases he made, neatly painted, on this trip, so this process went relatively quickly. Relocating the water maker filters will be accomplished just before we leave in April, since the water maker is currently pickled and we don’t want to depickle yet.


As an aside, Ron tries to fix problems he sees when he is working on something. So, when he got to the pilothouse electric panel, he took some extra time to protect various connections. These connections had nothing to do with the inverter installation, but since he was there he got them sorted out. Duet’s electric panels are in good shape, which is one of the signs of a well maintained boat. Sometimes, we will open a boat electrical panel and see unlabeled wires running every which way, which is not good.

In the picture below, Ron added a clear rubber boot over one of the terminal lugs to prevent inadvertent shorting to the opposite phase of a split phase system. If you want to know more about this, please apply to Ron, as Nancy doesn’t even know what any it means. 


So New Years week was spend finalizing the inverter/charger installation, with a time out for New Year itself. Other small related projects were also completed, including photographing and ordering some parts from PAE. Duet was built in Taiwan, and many of her parts were custom made there. Her porthole screens are a good example. We have 7 portholes, each with a custom made screen that fits neatly in the hole. 5 of these portholes are oval and 2 are round. During our last cruise Nancy inadvertently dropped a screen into the water when installing it in the master stateroom. So we have been operating with 4 oval screens, which works fine unless we want to open both the oval portholes in the guest stateroom.


PAE can get more parts, but they need to be made in China and shipped to the US, so it takes a little time. Often, with small parts, project managers traveling to and from the China factory hand carry the part, which is what we were hoping would happen with our order.


We also placed an order for extra water and fuel fill caps, since they, particularly the fuel caps, are easy to drop overboard. Ron needed replacement strainers and caps for several custom made thru hull strainers in the engine room. Most of our strainers are Grocos, but there are two that were made in Taiwan. Over time Ron will replace the Taiwanese made strainers with Grocos, but since the Grocos have a different footprint this is not an easy swap out.


Bright and early the following Monday the Philbrooks team began appearing. First came Robin, master mechanic. We were lucky to get Robin, he is normally managing other mechanics, but the yard is so busy that he has been pressed back into service on the front line. He confided that he actually prefers working on boats to administration, so he was happy to come spend time with us.


First, Robin started in on the leaking wet exhaust. He removed the leaky section easily and ordered a replacement.

Then he removed the overhung load adapter. Once that was out of the way, it became apparent that the hydraulic pump would also need to come off, as its oil seal had been damaged by the leaking overhung load adapter. Unfortunately, Robin was afraid that the pump shaft had been scored from rotating against the damaged seal, so the right thing to do was order a new one, rather than try to repair the old one. It was taken away and it’s supply hose plugged until new parts could arrive. The overhung load adapter just needs a new bearing, so Robin put it on his bench and fixed it right up.


During this time Steve, who is to make our new exhaust wrap, stopped by and did some measurements. Once that was complete, Ron and Robin removed the old wrap, which came off quite easily with almost no mess.

The exhaust run has a long fixed section, suspended from the ceiling of the engine room by flexible mounts. It marries up with the wrinkle belly (shown above), which serves as a shock absorber, so that vibration in the main engine doesn’t shake the fixed exhaust run.

The wrinkle belly is mated to the two ends of the exhaust using gaskets. Our gaskets showed needed replacement, so Robin took the wrinkle belly away to serve as the pattern for the new gaskets. Gaskets are custom made on the spot, rather than ordered, it ensures a better fit.

In the picture below the wrinkle belly has been removed and the gap between the long exhaust run and exhaust pipe exiting the engine is visible. 

The replacement hose for the leaking exhaust arrived in a few days and was installed in short order. It is a handsome blue color and much more flexible than the hose it replaced. The silicone hose does not require sealant to join it to the rigid exhaust sections, so it will be much easier to replace in the future, should that become necessary. Obviously we couldn’t sea trial the hose, as the main engine is out of service until it gets new exhaust wrap and a hydraulic pump, but our guess is this repair will be just fine.


Sometime during this week, the diesel heater, possibly feeling neglected, decided to give up the ghost. It did so in a truly spectacular fashion, blowing huge amounts of funny smelling smoke all over the dock. We were concerned that someone might fall off the dock in the fog, so we shut it down pronto. Ron disassembled it, and diagnosed a failed fuel injector pump. So a new one was ordered and installed. Unfortunately, this didn’t fix the problem and smoke still billowed everywhere.


At this point, our neighbor Ian, from the Nordhavn 56 motorsailor Lolani down the dock, walked by. He stopped, sniffed the smoke and said “when my heater did that, it was coolant leaking into the heat exchanger”. Ron and Nancy looked at one another, said “that makes sense” and off came the heat exchanger. It was in very bad shape, from coolant leaking into it over time. Coolant is quite corrosive and it had eaten holes right through the exchanger wall. So a new heat exchanger was ordered and, in due course, arrived.


Replacing the heat exchanger is not a complex process, replacing the fuel pump was much more difficult. Removing the old exchanger, however, requires detaching it from the exhaust pipe. When the exchanger was originally installed it was cemented to the exhaust pipe, so that means sawing it off. Ron gave it a good try with a hand saw, but after several minutes decided to use our Rotozip instead. We will bring that with us on our next trip in March.


Once the exhaust is sawed off the exchanger a custom join needs to be fabricated by Sure Marine, makers of the diesel heater. So we will saw the exhaust pipe off the first day we arrive in March and immediately order the new exhaust join. That will hopefully mean that the diesel heater will be up and running by the end of our next visit.


Our readers will now be wondering why we don’t just deep six the diesel heater, as it always seems to be on the to be repaired list. The diesel heater is a wonderful bit of gear when it works, it heats the boat far more thoroughly than the reverse cycle A/C. It can also produce hot water at the drop of a hat. So we have decided to keep it. Frankly, the diesel heater has been neglected while Ron has brought other ship’s gear up to his standard, and we are paying the price for that. The same can be said of the dinghy engine, which has now given up the ghost again. We aren’t sure why, but we think it is due to a mangled impeller, as there is no exhaust cooling water coming out. It is high on the repair list for our next trip as well.


As an aside, we manage Duet on the principle of continuous preventative maintenance for everything. Most long distance cruisers we know do the same. In our perfect world, nothing ever breaks, because it has no reason to. This does not, of course, actually happen, things break all the time, but we strive for perfection. Actually, key equipment, like the main engine, doesn’t break often, if at all. This, coupled with a detailed understanding of how everything aboard the boat works, gives us the confidence to trust Duet to take us far and wide.


So the diesel heater was out of the picture for the rest of our stay. The reverse cycle A/C was doing fine, although it doesn’t keep the boat as warm as the diesel heater, there are large cold spots everywhere. We also ran the oil heaters, to keep key areas, like the salon, warm. Fortunately, it was not too cold in BC, although we did have several days of 0 degrees centigrade. This meant the dock water was turned off, so we filled our tanks and went on water rationing (to a point) for a week or so, until warmer temperatures returned.


In the meantime, other Philbrooks personal joined our team. The fiberglass repair was completed by one gentleman, who spends all his time doing fiberglass work. His skill was patently obvious, he completed the repair in about a quarter of the time it would have taken Ron. It is so perfect you can’t tell he was even there, which, he informed us, is his goal for every repair he does. He used a combination of fiberglass resins and gelcoat finishers, which are the same as those used when Duet was built, so the deck is now as good as new.

The picture below shows the wet material removed from underneath the deck, before the new glass was put in.


The folks from the canvas shop, accompanied by several woodworkers, also joined us. We had two projects for them, an easy one and a harder one. The easy one was to replace our fly bridge cushions, which were original to the boat and had completely lost their waterproofing. We had some debate on what to replace them with. Most folks go with Sunbrella covering and have a separate cover made to put over the cushions when not in use or in inclement weather. We did not want to follow that route, as we don’t want the work of having to cover our cushions all the time. We want to put them out at the beginning of the season and bring them in at the end. We also hope to only wash them once or twice a year.


We chose to make the new cushions from a Stamoid product, similar to that used to cover our storm plates and flopper stopper. The cushions will be filled with a combination of comfortable foam and draining foam that allows water to run straight through. We shall see how they work out over the next couple of years.


The next project was more complex. Our pilothouse settee is not comfortable for the off watch to sit and keep an eye on things. First, the seat is high enough that our feet don’t touch the ground. Second, the corner is rounded, which means it is impossible to lay back with your feet up facing either forward or to the starboard side. So we need new cushions and a square corner.


The corner requires the attention of skilled woodworkers, as it needs to look like it was always there. When we change things on Duet we try to do them at the standard established when she was built, and the Taiwanese woodworkers know their trade. Fortunately, so do the craftsmen from Philbrooks, so we were in good hands.


Two skills were actually required for the woodworking part. First, the woodworkers, to remove the curved cover and craft a 90 degree version, complete with a bottom seat that retained the access to the storage underneath the settee. But we also needed the finishers/painters, to match the grey paint underneath the settee and, more importantly, the finish on the visible teak surfaces. The two gentlemen assigned to our team felt that the matching would be no big deal, so they dismantled the corner and carried it off to be reformed. They returned to fit it once, and then it went off to the paint shop. It will be installed on our next visit.


We also spent time with Luke, head of the Philbrooks canvas shop, discussing choices for the pilothouse settee. He took us aboard a redone Nordhavn 47 so we could see what he had in mind, and also get a chance to sit on it. We chose the same black ultra leather that was previously on the settee and matches the Stidd helm seat. The cushion form will be slightly more restrained than the previous ones, and should enable us to put our feet on the ground.


In between hosting the Philbrooks folks, wrestling with the diesel heater and other boat work, we did manage to go out to dinner a few times. Most notable, we took the afternoon ferry to Vancouver to visit with Lawrence and Penny of the Nordhavn 46 Northern Ranger II. They introduced us to the owners of Nordhavn 60 Sea Level II, and we all had a very enjoyable dinner at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.


We also spent some time inventorying boat parts, provisions, clothing and other gear for our Alaska journey. Our next trip north in March will be the last time we drive, so anything large and heavy needs to either come then or we will do without it.


Unfortunately, a few days before our departure, our new Victron inverter started crashing intermittently. Naturally, it first did it when Nancy pushed the trash compactor button, but it really wasn’t her fault, even Ron said it wasn’t. Several days of careful testing, supervised by Ron and using Nancy as a guinea pig, because, honestly, if anyone can break it Nancy can, did not provide any reasonable explanation for its symptoms.


So we called Victron technical support, who asked us to ship it to a Seattle facility for further testing. We put it back in its box, which we had fortunately kept, and loaded in the car to go home and then be sent on. Since we couldn’t operate without an inverter, Ron rewired our old one to serve in the meantime. It is not obvious what caused the Victron failure, but we will provide an update on it’s status when we return to the boat.


Finally, we removed our life raft for service. It was headed to WestPac in Tacoma, who has serviced it twice before. It came off easily, and we made careful notes, including taking pictures, of how it was installed, as suggested by Rollie Herman at Westpac.


Too soon we were off home again. Peggy prepared to wash Duet and keep an eye on her while we were gone, and we set off south again, via the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles. Our next blog will cover our experience at Westpac watching our raft be repacked, and we will return to Duet in early March.





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