Spring 2014 – Duet Actually Leaves the Dock

After our rather cold visit in February, April was pretty nice. First, the diesel heater worked right out of the box. This cheered Chief Engineer Ron up no end, since he had been having nightmares about arriving and finding that his repairs had failed. As this was not the case, our first day aboard was quite cheerful.


On this trip we would be in Portland for two weeks. Two weeks is much better than one, as we have time to actually get work done. It normally takes us about day to get organized and a day to shut the boat down for departure. So, in a week, we only get about 5 days to work on her. That excludes any social time, and we are supposed to be on vacation, after all.


Our project list on this trip included all the things that didn’t get done in February, as well as spending a few days on the hook to test all the gear. When boats sit, things break. This is particular true in harsh climates, and Portland had just had the worst winter in 30 years, so we were expecting some problems.


One of the best parts of cruising, at least for Nancy, is meeting people. On this trip we hoped to anchor out with some new friends, Bob and Julie, who had recently purchased a beautiful red American Tug 34, named Nekas. Our Portland friend Sean was hoping to join us as well, but his schedule was a little uncertain. As part of this cruise, we also hoped to fuel Duet, so she would be ready to depart for British Columbia in August.


This brings us to some news, Captain Ron is retiring. We know our regular readers have heard that one before, but it’s really true this time, honestly. He will be remaining as a part timer at the VA Hospital in Reno. That way he can work some holidays to give the full time team a break, but he will off about three quarters of the year, which means we can do some serious cruising. This transition has been some time coming, and, until recently, we weren’t absolutely certain we could get all the moving parts to line up, but they did, and here we go.


So the pressure is seriously on. If we are leaving for BC in mid August, after Nancy’s family reunion at Lake Tahoe, then a number of things need to get done. Nancy, as Chief Administrator, will be focused on paperwork (for both us and Duet) for Canada, including getting Canpasses, which require some paperwork and approval from the Canadian government. They do, however, make us better known to the Canadian authorities and, therefore, should make customs entry a little easier.


We also need a Canadian data connection, as our US based provider, Verizon, sees customers who leave the country and want to use their gear as an opportunity for profit. We need a place for Duet to stay during the winter. We need to get our new kayak aboard Duet. Etc. The list of what we need is endless, whereas our time to prepare is not, so there will be, as usual, some triage involved to get us off the dock.


Nancy is also in charge of boat provisioning; she identifies, lists, purchases, stows, and, as importantly, is able to find again, anything we might need during our cruise. This includes everything from apples to Windex. Ron handles all mechanical parts and spares, such as engine oil, but everything else goes through Nancy. The trick to provisioning is to get everything that is needed, but stow carefully, or you find yourself eating chicken every night for a month. In freezers in particular, it is critical to set up weekly layers, or you have to take out the entire contents to find next week’s dinners.


Fortunately Nancy kept her provisioning lists from the 46, as well as gathered several other great examples from other boats, such as the Nordhavn 72, Shear Madness. Nancy and Ron met Bradley and Kathy more than a decade ago, and have kept in touch ever since. Unfortunately our boats always seem to be on opposite sides of various continents, but, eventually, we will end up in the same anchorage. 

While Nancy was attacking the administrative side of things, Ron got focused on the mechanical side so we could depart the dock, be it for BC or just down river to anchor out with Rob and Julie. As our regular readers may recall, Duet’s windlass had been removed, taken home and serviced. Without a windlass, we weren’t going very far, so Ron reinstalled it. This is more complex than it sounds, as the windlass is composed of several large heavy bits which need to be correctly aligned before it will go together. Ron has done this before, several times, on our 46, so he knew what he was getting into. The Maxwell windlass on this Duet is exactly the same as the one on the 46, except it is a 24V version.


Windlass documentation


Windlass goes in

Also on the anchoring front, Ron had decided to replace Duet’s anchor snubber. The previous one had done yeoman service but it was time for it’s retirement. After much calculation and measurement, a new snubber was ordered from Fisheries Supply. Ron is a big believer in oversized anchor gear, and, with oversized anchor gear, you need an over sized snubber.


When in doubt look it up


The snubber shown below is the “small” every day one. It is composed of 30 feet of ¾ inch triple strand line. The “storm” snubber is 40 feet of 7/8 inch triple strand. In addition, new shackles have been ordered, as well as a new chain hook. We have an Ultra chain hook, but it’s breaking/bending strength is not great enough for use with the storm snubber. We will be using a grade 40 (G40) chain hook from First Chain Supply. Ron also whips the snubbers at the eye splice below the heavy duty 3/16 stainless steel thimbles, just to be sure. The whipping is the brown line.

Whipping a new snubber


New snubber


After a week of effort, we were ready to set off cruising. Admittedly we were only going about 10 miles downriver, but we were to anchor out with friends, which is really what cruising is all about. The day dawned clear and fine. We managed to get off the dock by 10:30, which, considering Duet hadn’t moved in about 5 months, wasn’t too bad. Everything started as it should and Captain Ron backed Duet neatly out and forward into the river. In the spring, the Columbia is about 8 feet higher than when we arrived in August of last year, so there is plenty of forgiveness in formerly shallow spots.


The river’s increased height does mean, however, that bridge clearances are lower. So Nancy consulted her local sources, including Nekas who had recently traveled under the Interstate 5 bridge, which was the most problematic. Rob confirmed that the bridge was clearing 34 feet, which Duet can do, with her big ariels down. The information proved to be spot on and Duet rumbled under the morning traffic with no problems.


Safely past the bridges, we motored serenely downriver, traveling at about 10 knots as the Columbia was moving right along with the spring flood. Nancy took a turn at the wheel, carefully steering Duet around large anchored container ships. Portland is one of the largest grain ports in the world. Unfortunately, loading grain is a dangerous business because, if it rains, the grain can explode. In Portland is has been known to rain a bit, so there are often anchored ships waiting for the weather to settle down.


We arrived quite happily at our chosen anchorage, a narrow but deep slough with a nice pond in the middle. Sean followed us on AIS and was happy to see that his recommended spot worked out. We anchored as close to the middle as we could get and settled down to a nice afternoon. About an hour later Nekas arrived. This was Rob and Julie’s first time at anchor, and we are honored to have shared it with them. They anchored without incident and we both decided to get our dinghies down and go exploring. All went well aboard Nekas and soon Rob, Julie and their beagle, Ellie, were headed for shore.

Duet and Nekas on the hook


Aboard Duet, however, things weren’t going quite so well. Our Steelhead crane was was having some problems, it could extend it’s arm but couldn’t rotate it. After some dismantling and reading of the manual, we discovered that these units can airlock during times of disuse. So we rebooted it, and, presto, all was well. Another lesson learned.


We also tried something new on this trip, we deployed a trip line on the anchor. The line is attached to the crown of the anchor on one end and a buoy on the other. Should the anchor catch on something on the bottom of the anchorage you use the trip line to jerk the anchor loose. The only problem with this arrangement was that it was very calm, so Duet kept drifting over the buoy. After a night of worrying about catching the trip line on a stabilizer fin, we pulled it up. But the principle was sound, so we shall try it again, in conditions with more wind.


Once the dinghy was in the water we caught up with Rob and Julie and were invited to join them for drink aboard Nekas. She is a beautiful tug in great condition, with a single stateroom and head, a large pilothouse and a nice salon. Rob and Ron immediately climbed down into the engine room, while Julie, Ellie the beagle, and Nancy enjoyed a nice sunset.


We set a date for a visit to Duet the following evening. In the meantime, we heard from Sean, who was planning to single hand his 34 CHB trawler, Orca, over to visit for the evening. We weren’t far from his home port. Unfortunately, only Sean could visit, as his wife Celia and daughter Elizabeth were committed elsewhere. Elizabeth’s absence could also be viewed as fortunate, since she had trounced Rob, Nancy and Ron at the board game Sorry.


We had a nice evening aboard Duet. Sean brought a bottle of something special, Julie brought appetizers and everything was greatly enjoyed by all. Ellie even joined us, as she had not been left alone aboard Nekas before. It was wonderful to have a dog aboard again and she was the perfect guest.


Sean departed before dawn to be home in time for church. He took the beautiful photo below as he was leaving and emailed it to us. Nancy and Ron awakened some time later, and were surprised to find that there had been fog. As our regular readers know, Duet tends to run on one of two schedules; we rise at zero dark thirty to go somewhere, or we don’t finish breakfast before 10AM. This was not an early morning, which may have been partially related to Sean’s special bottle.


Duet in the fog


All too soon it was time for Rob and Julie to head back. We remained another day, during which the weather was quite nice. During our stay, however, it became apparent that our house battery bank was not up to snuff. Duet has 6 8D Lifeline AGM batteries, containing 1500 amp hours at 12 volts. We use a lot of power, actually Nancy does, via the various household appliances she requires to maintain the style of living to which she has grown accustomed. The primary culprits among these are the SubZero units, of which Duet has three, two refrigerators, and one freezer. We were also running the pilothouse freezer, as Ron, correctly as it turned out, wanted to stress the system a bit to see what would happen.


The battery problems were discovered the first night on the hook, when Ron woke up about 1AM and said “there’s something wrong”. We have found that being on the boat heightens our senses somehow, we are far more aware of the weather, strange noises, etc. After long periods aboard, this follows us on to land, on one of our first nights ashore after a winter in the Bahamas, we woke simultaneously, looked at one another and said “the wind’s picked up”. We do find, however, that we sleep extremely well on the boat and still feel rested, despite frequent wakings due to wind changes, etc.


Anyway, Ron had discovered that our battery bank voltage had dropped to below 11 VDC after only a modest amp-hour usage. He performed a thorough re-charge, insuring that the batteries were charged past the point where they could accept little additional current. Still, on subsequent testing, battery voltage dropped to 10.5 VDC (essentially ‘dead’) when only a fraction of their theoretical amp-hour capacity was drained.


His diagnosis was that the batteries had become sulfated. This is a condition that batteries develop over years of use, especially when they are over-discharged and inadequately recharged. The battery bank was 5 years old. Lifeline batteries general last 5-7 years, so this seemed like a reasonable age at which to retire them and install a new bank, especially since we wanted to avoid problems once we are in BC this coming summer. A new AGM bank is expensive enough in the US; we did not want to discover how much more expensive they would be in Canada!


Regardless of the battery problems, we had a great time being out on the hook again. We are not really marina people, we enjoy being anchored and experiencing nature close up. Too soon, it was time to return to Portland. On our departure day, needless to say, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, as so often seems to be the case.


We discovered another minor problem during anchor recovery, the salt water wash down pump refused to cooperate. Ron spent about an hour on diagnosis, turned out it had frozen during Portland’s record winter, and needed to be rebuilt. Oh well, what’s a little mud in the anchor locker, its not like it’s the first time, nor will it be the last. The pump went on the fix before we leave list.


On our return to the marina, Nancy ran most of the chain and the hook over the roller, into the water and back aboard multiple times, while rinsing it with fresh water from the dock hose. She also flushed out the anchor locker. So, hopefully, we now don’t smell too much like the bottom of the Columbia River. Also, Ron’s anchoring dock siders (he always wear shoes to avoid a foot injury) were a little worse for wear, so they got washed and set on the dock to dry.


But first we needed to fuel Duet. Local knowledge, via Sean, indicated that the freshest and most economical fuel was to be found at the St. Helens City Dock. Nancy called the helpful owner, they struck a pricing deal and we showed up, about an hour behind schedule due to the salt water pump kerfuffle, to take on approximately 1,000 gallons of diesel.


We have only fueled this boat once before, and it wasn’t a huge success. We had taken on approximately 600 gallons of diesel in Seattle. All of it went into the main saddle tanks, which are on either side of the engine room. We did try to fill the aft tanks, but couldn’t get the fuel to go down the fills. When that happened we figured we had made a mistake and tanks were actually full. They have no gauges, so it’s harder to figure out than you might think. This time, Ron pumped them dry with the fuel transfer pump, which is extremely slow and on the list for replacement. They were almost empty.


As part of this fueling exercise, we were quite interested to see what happened to Duet’s trim. As you can see in the photo below, with little fuel on, she as quite bow down. We had consulted several other 50 owners, all of whom reported relatively level trim. Duet is equipped slightly differently than some of her sister ships. She has a wet exhaust, a flybridge and her A/C compressors are not in the lazerette. All of these things affect her trim, but we decided to wait until her tanks were full to see how she looked, before worrying about it.


Duet bow down


We also wanted to try to see how accurate the sight gauges are on the big saddle tanks. They each showed about 150 gallons, and the gauges show a total 450 gallons per side. We know, from talking to other 50 owners, that the tanks hold closer to 550 gallons each. This makes sense, as we also know the aft tanks hold around 110 gallons each. This gives Duet a total fuel tankage of about 1,320 gallons, which is the specified tankage for the Nordhavn 50. Most 50s, when completely full, hold slightly more, around 1,400-1,440. We weren’t planning to jam as much fuel into her tanks as possible, but we did want to get a gut check on these numbers.


So we would be loading 8,000 pounds, or 4 tons, of fuel. At the St. Helens dock, they have a gate valve on the fuel hose, so we could easily control the fuel flow rate. They also have angled nozzles on their hoses, rather than the straight high speed nozzles we found in Seattle. We hoped the slower flow rate with an angled nozzle would solve the aft tank fueling problem. Ron had traced the fills and hoses for the aft tanks and they make a tight turn just below the fill, which would explain why the fuel came back out the fill during our Seattle attempt.


We started slowly into the starboard aft tank, and, presto, in went 100 gallons. Rather than push it, we stopped there. We then added 400 gallons to the saddle tank on that side, putting it above it’s sight gauge and at about 550 gallons, assuming the start point of 150 was correct, or at least close to it. At this point Duet had a rather severe starboard list, as we had loaded an extra 4,000 pounds on that side. We repeated the procedure on the port side, thereby leveling her off, much to the relief of onlookers, who were perhaps wondering whether she was going to roll right over. Nordhavns are heavily ballasted, so there was no chance of that, but she did look a little odd for an hour or so.


Ron has a standard procedure for fueling. First, he adds Stanadyne High Performance fuel additive (highly recommended by Lugger Bob), to keep the diesel healthy. Then he fills, covering the side of the hull with a diesel diaper, with more on hand. He wears gloves the entire time. We’ve considered having him wear a respirator, as diesel is carcinogenic, but we haven’t gone that far, yet.


On the 50, the fuel fills are all on the stern hull just below the cockpit cap rail, two to port and two to starboard, with the tank vents just below the fills. This is easier than the 46, where the tank vents were located on one side of the hull and the fuel fills were scattered about the boat, so it was hard to tell when you were getting near the top of the tank. The tank vents start to make a whistling and/or gurgling noise when you are near the top of the tank. The best solution we’ve seen is on the newer Nordhavns (and a number of other boats) where the fuel fuels are contained in a molded in box on the side of the house, so that any spill is trapped there, rather than running out the tank vent into the water.


We’ve never had a spill, but we are quite cautious during the process. It does slow things down, it took us nearly 2 and a half hours, at a flow rate of approximately 10 gallons per minute, to fill the boat. That’s about 15 minutes for each stern tank, and about 50 minutes per saddle tank, plus of course time to pay, etc. About the same time as fueling, Ron also changes the o-rings on the tank caps, unless we are fueling often, which isn’t usually the case. He changes them once a year, regardless. These o-rings lead a tough life and we change them religiously, to prevent water intrusion. He changes the o-rings on the water and holding tank fills yearly as well. He greases all the o-rings withSuper Lube.


Nancy has several jobs during fueling. First, she keeps track of how much fuel is going in, and lets Ron know how much he has pumped. She also writes down the total that goes into each tank for the log. Finally, she pays the bill. During our visit to St. Helens, we also took on 15 gallons of gasoline for the dinghy. This dinghy has an integral 20 gallon tank under the main seat. This is a nice feature, our previous dink had a loose gas can. On the 46 we kept several extra cans of gas on the boat deck, equaling about 20 gallons. This dink engine seems pretty efficient so far, although we haven’t done much with it yet. Gasoline also gets stabilizer added during fueling.


Duet was now sitting a lot lower in the water than when we started out. Not only that, but she was level, bow and stern. We were very pleased and so, presumably, was she. Unfortunately, by the time we departed St. Helens it was late in the day, and we had a 15 mile run upriver, against a 1-2 knot current. Worse, it had gotten a lot colder and started raining.


At this point, the advantage of the 50 over the 46 came into strong focus. The 50, headed upriver into the current, maintained 7 knots at about 2000 RPM without strain, whereas the 46 would have been managed 5 knots max. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, it is a nearly 50% increase in speed, which is very helpful when you want to get tied up on a cold rainy night.


There was little traffic, we returned home without incident and positioned a much heavier, but level, Duet in her home slip. Too soon it was time to return home, with the exciting prospect of returning in May to replace the house battery bank.



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