Winter 2013

October – To bond or not to bond, that is the question

And that’s enough paraphrasing of the great bard. As our regular readers know, electrical systems are one of Chief Engineer Ron’s favorites. Aboard the new Duet, the survey identified the bonding system as needing attention. Work started while Duet was still in Seattle, but really got going once we arrived in Portland.

The key was the acquisition of a silver silver chloride electrode, and no, that’s not a typo. Nancy tried to read about it on Wikipedia, but as the third sentence began with a complex mathematical equation, she gave up. Essentially, said electrode is a fixed reference point. When connected to an electrical meter and put in the water, it tells Ron how much corrosion protection the bonding system is providing.


Ron and the silver silver chloride electrode

Sorting out the electrode for deployment

Securing the electrode in the water

This enabled him to identify which connections were helping, having no affect or actually hurting the system. He started with a base reading, with nothing connected. Adding in zincs or connecting various bonding wires improved the protection, but some really helped, while others didn’t do much. He was also able to determine which electrical items, such as the inverter, helped, hindered, or had no effect on overall corrsion protection.


Setting up the meter

Nancy spent a lot of time reading the meter and shouting the results into the depths of the boat, while Ron connected and disconnected things.

Connecting and disconnecting in the laz

The bonding wire shown below is a larger size being used to bond the Yanmar wing engine. Usually bonding wire is a smaller size and also the standard is to use green. This size cable doesn’t come in green. 

Chief bonder

In one of the larger additions to the bonding system, Ron cut a hole in the engine room floor to install an access panel, so he can connect the zinc on the wing engine shaft to the system. Interestingly, it wasn’t connected before. He did some careful measuring and will make the panel at home, out of Garolite, a fiberglass material made by McMaster Carr. (McMaster is one of Ron’s favorite go to sources) He will paint the panel to match the engine room. It will be fitted on our next trip. He also has a few connections left to clean up, but generally great progress was made. 

Ron also added a guppy to the boat. The guppy is a portable zinc, which we attach to the boat’s bonding system and drop into the water, usually when we are in a marina. Marinas tend to be even more hostile electrical environments than the general sea. On our 46 our guppy was actually shaped like a fish. Nancy was disappointed to see that this guppy is just a solid tube of aluminum. As part of the guppy project, Ron installed a permanent connection for the guppy inside the starboard cockpit locker, to make it easier to deploy and recover.

Central bonding bus, guppy joins it at top center

In addition to Ron’s work on the bonding system we also retained a local diver to check Duet’s bottom and replace her zinc anodes with aluminum ones, which provide better protection in fresh water. Patrick, a recently retired teacher, disappeared beneath Duet for about half an hour. When he reappeared he reported that all was well, everything was where it was supposed to be and her bottom paint was in good condition. He also measured all our zincs so he could order replacements. Those were installed after we left on this trip, but Ron expects them to further improve her bonding protection.

You may ask why the bonding system was in such bad shape. Basically, age. Electrical connections, when exposed to salt air or damp, corrode. Wires rust away. Posts, where connections are made, rust. If the sacrificial zincs are not well attached to the bonding system, the enemy, namely electricity in water, goes looking for something else to eat, usually expensive steel items.

In Duet’s case one Naiad fin actuator needed to be replaced just after her previous owner purchased her. The diagnosis was corrosion, which means that it wasn’t adaquately protected. We, having just spent quite a bit on upgrading the Naiads, really didn’t want that to happen again. We dodged a bullet with the main shaft, which was removed and pronounced OK during her haul out, but we didn’t want to take any more chances.

Bonding systems are not high on a boater’s hot list. New electronics, galley appliances, upholstery, etc., are much more fun. In our experience though, investments in maintenance go a long way in keeping a boat in good condition for the long run. Crawling around in the bilge tracing, rewiring, greasing and replacing electrical connections is boring and dirty work, but fortunately Ron, not Nancy, had to do it, so it wasn’t all bad.

Ron is also a big believer in documentation, so he is creating diagrams of what is connected to what. He writes a daily log of everything he does, step by step, often including pictures. We still have the 46’s log and it has been handy, as much of the work on this Duet is similar. Looking it up is often easier than taxing our aging memories.

The new Duet came with a much more detailed Owner’s manual than the first Duet, as Nordhavn has improved it’s documentation considerably over time. iPads have also helped, Ron has many of Duet’s manuals available electronically, rather than littering the boat with binders. That said, we still seem to have lots of binders. On our 46, Nancy spent many an hour sitting in the pilothouse watching the world go by, while scanning paper documentation. This is a lot easier today, it can be done with a smart phone, rather than a large heavy scanner.

During our October week in Portland, we had pretty good weather. We were able to get out for exercise every day and met up with Tom and Jill for dinner. Portland is a great town, with many good places to eat and drink. Tom and Jill live in the Mississippi district, which has a number of well known establishments, so Nancy and Ron got to experience yet another new place on this trip.

While Ron was working on the bonding system, Nancy undertook cleaning the aft teak rail. This Duet, unlike the 46, does not have literally miles of teak which require maintenance. For this Nancy is profoundly thankful. Jeff’s teak had stripped the aft rail of varnish, sanded it lightly and coated it in teak oil. Nancy’s task was to clean it off, and coat it again. Teak oil is a new treatment for us, so we wanted to see how it lasts.


Blue tape

So far we were not impressed, it had lasted less than 4 months in Portland’s endless rain. But we figured we would give another chance. Nancy would treat it, thereby getting a sense of how much work was involved, and then we would track how long it took for the oil to wear off. As boaters know, working with teak requires protection the surrounding fiberglass, especially when using teak cleaners, which are caustic. Said protection is composed of miles of blue tape, which is carefully placed anywhere that the teak and the fiberglass touch. The taping takes much longer than the actual teak cleaning and oiling. Then you have to remove the tape, relatively quickly, or in colder weather, it sticks, leaving a scum on the fiberglass. Nancy put about 6 coats of teak oil on Duet’s rail and we await results.

As is typical of our boat visits, this one went far too rapidly, in a blur of electrical connnections and general boating activities. All too soon, Ron was activating the Siren Marine monitor to take charge while we were gone. It is wired up temporarily every time we leave the boat.

Sorting out the Siren


The water maker, an expensive and temperamental bit of gear, does better if it’s membranes are flushed with fresh water weekly. We don’t like to leave anything electrical turned on when we are not on the boat (unless it’s critical, like the bilge pump), so we use the Siren as a remote switch. The system also monitors shore power (or lack thereof), battery voltage and the temperature in the engine room. Ron communicates with the Siren via cell phone, so he gets text messages from her (it’s definitely a her) whenever he asks for status or anything changes aboard Duet.


November – A clean boat is a happy boat

Soon enough, we returned to Duet in mid November. Various projects continued, including the never ending bonding system. We also, however, had Duet waxed, which is a subject near and dear to Nancy’s heart. On our 46, Nancy did all the washing, waxing and teak work. Since that was nearly a decade ago, without getting into delicate details on how much Nancy has aged since then, suffice to say that this type of work is not longer on her list. Fortunately, however, we were able to find an excellent local detailer, Ashley, to replace our great man Jeff in the San Juans. 

Ashley happens to also be married to a Captain Ron, except he is captain of the local Tow Boat Assist service. So, like Nancy’s Captain Ron, he gets called out at odd hours, to assist vessels, rather than patients, in distress, but there are similarities. Ashley washed Duet under Nancy’s watchful eye in October, thereby demonstrating she and her team were expert enough to be trusted with Duet. Then she and Nancy had decided on a wax schedule. Since Duet has to be moved around in her slip to ensure all of her gets the salon treatment, we waited until our next trip up to do this year’s wax job. Fortunately, the Portland weather decided to, mostly, smile upon us during the 3-4 days it took to get Duet done.

Ashley waxing

Ashley only hires women for her wash and wax team. Ron had an enjoyable week, keeping a careful eye on the team, in case they needed assistance at any time.

Ashley’s team

Duet moved around quite a bit, and we even turned her completely about, so she was stern to the dock for a few days. By the time the team was done, she looked almost brand new and had a good coat of protection for the upcoming winter.


Stern to and sideways

As part of our regular schedule, we again caught up with Tom and Jill for dinner. Much to our surprise, Tom was growing a beard. His local bar selects a Christmas tree team every winter. The team sets off to the forest to cut a large Christmas tree for display in front of the bar. To be a team member, you need to be a bar regular. Tom has seat named after him, so he was OK there. Team members also, following in the steps of Paul Bunyon, need a beard. So a beard Tom had. We look forward to seeing said tree when we return at Christmas. As an aside, Nancy’s brother Tom is not only a bar regular, but also a certified arborist, so he not is only on the team, he cuts down the tree.


Tom and Jill

Immediately prior to our departure from this visit, we got a new dock denizen. For any of you who saw Cast Away, with Tom Hanks, you will immediately recognize Wilson, who now calls G Dock home.



New Year 2014 – Stuffing, but not the kind that goes in a turkey

Soon enough we were back again, in December to stay over New Year. Our Duet visiting schedule is shaping up to be every 6 weeks or so, depending a bit on Ron’s schedule, as he doesn’t have an unlimited amount of vacation. During our time back at Lake Tahoe, Ron spends a good part of his off hours thinking about upcoming projects and ordering tools that he requires.

His latest, shown below, is probably the largest tool we have ever bought, so far. While we had lots of large tools on the 46, this one boils down to a bigger boat needs even bigger tools. While these tools are not inexpensive, the ability to do the work ourselves is valuable to us. First, it makes us independent, so we don’t have to keep finding and waiting for folks to help us when something breaks. Second, we have learned over time, often Ron can do the work as well, or sometimes better, than most professional shops. Finally, Ron enjoys it. 

Bigger boat, bigger tools

Ron also works on his shop, which is actually one of the garage bays in our house. It is coming together well.

Working on the home shop

This visit was focused on several new projects, now that the bonding system was, mostly, subdued. These included removing the anchor windlass to take it home for service. It’s easier to service gear in the shop, than on the boat, if the gear fits in the car. 

Halfway thru the windlass job

Presto, no windlass

Windlass all packed up and ready to go

Ron also got a start on the salt water wash down pump installation. This was originally installed by Jeff’s team, but Ron had some changes he wanted to make before the next cruising season, so it was on the list. He also removed the transmission oil hoses to take home and serve as models for the new ones he would make. The hoses, while potentially not original, were definitely due for replacement.

In addition, Ron wanted to restuff the stuffing box. The stuffing box encloses the main engine shaft, where it enters the engine room, aft of the transmission. The box (usually made of bronze) is stuffed with a material, which in olden days used to be waxed wool, but is now a more high tech dacron or wool impregnated with teflon grease. The stuffing box’s job is to allow a controlled leak (we kid you not, a controlled leak in a boat) thru the shaft log into the bilge.

The shaft log is the fiberglass tube installed thru the hole in the aft end of the boat, where the shaft enters the water. For those really paying attention, the shaft log is lined with the cutlass bearing, inside which spins the shaft. This shaft itself fits loosely inside the cutlass bearing, so this structure is not watertight. Water enters between the bearing and the shaft, cooling the shaft as it spins, and then travels thru the log and empties into the boat. Hence the controlled leak.

The picture below show’s Duet’s stuffing box from above, after being disassembled. It’s in two parts, one on each side of the shaft. The stuffing box is the two bronze colored parts, while the shaft is silver. The transmission and main engine are to the right, while the shaft log is to the left. The top sea strainer is for the wing engine and the bottom one is for the generator. The one to the left is for the air conditioning. 

Stuffing box from above

The first step to putting new stuffing in the box is to take the old stuffing out. To do this, you need to loosen the box, which is held together by several bolts. In the picture above, the box is completely apart and you can see the bolts on the left side. When you loosen the bolts, more water comes into the box. If you take the box apart completely (as shown above), there is nothing to prevent a relatively significant leak into the bilge. So there is some risk to this procedure, and Ron had not performed it before with the boat in the water.

The old stuffing, and a stuffing puller, which is key to this activity, are shown below.

Old stuffing and stuffing puller

As an aside, one might wonder why we wanted to restuff the box, since it had just been done 6 months ago when Duet was in Seattle. After that, however, the box had been running too hot for Ron’s taste. There was very little drip, which meant that not a lot of water was getting thru and keeping the main shaft cool. Ron had loosened the box significantly, even going so far as to remove some of the stuffing, but he couldn’t get it sorted to his satisfaction. Hence, restuffing. 

Duet had just had a new cutlass bearing installed, so the chances of a lot of water coming in were relatively remote. If the cutlass bearing had been older and hence looser, we might have waited until she was out of the water. Ron also consulted with our good friend Mark, on the DeFever 49 PH Paydirt, who had recently restuffed both his main shafts in the water. Mark confirmed that, while this operation sounded perilous, it really isn’t, provided you prepare your materials in advance, test your bilge pumps and make sure your wife is handy to help bail.

Mark also pointed out to Ron that, worst case, if water came out too fast when he removed the old stuffing, he could ram a t-shirt, or a rag, or whatever, into the box to slow down the water flow, while he got organized. This demonstrates an interesting point. Stuffing boxes are old technology, and, they are, like much old technology, exceeding simple. 

Some boats have installed a newer solution, the dripless shaft seal. The big advantage of the dripless seal is pretty obvious, namely it doesn’t drip. This lets you maintain a nice clean and, potentially, less smelly, bilge. The big disadvantage to the dripless seal is if it fails, which it had been known to do, you end up with a very large hole in the back of the boat, lots of water coming in and little chance of stopping it.

Stuffing boxes do not tend to fail catrophically, they just leak more over time. They can then be retightened, and/or restuffed on the spot, thereby controlling any significant leak. This can even by done offshore, if, heaven forbid, such adjustments are necessary in that situation.

After carefully thinking all this through, Ron started preparing. First, he ordered new stuffing. When Delta redid Duet’s stuffing box they used a teflon impregnated wool, which is what Ron planned to use. He did feel, however, that it might have been a size too big, so he ordered the next size down, shown below.

New stuffing

Next came pump testing. Duet has three bilge pumps, one manual and two electric. We tested all of them. The bigger electric pump needs to be switched on at the breaker panel (rather than via a local float switch) using a switch rather ominously labeled “Crash Pump”. Ron filled the bilge high enough to reach the pump, Nancy flipped the switch, the pump went on and all was well. We did discover, however, that the alarm which should set off a loud siren in the pilothouse in the event of high water in the bilge, only emits a rather pathetic squeak. It went on the list to be evaluated and repaired or replaced.

So, after extensive preparation and rehersal, Ron restuffed the box. It went without a hitch, so little water came in that the smaller automatic bilge pump shoved it overboard without any difficulty. We didn’t even need the sacrificial t-shirt Nancy had carefully selected in case disaster threatened.

The two pictures below show the stuffing box, with the old stuffing completely removed, leaking into the bilge.

But a big question remained, did this procedure work? Would the box permit more water through, thereby cooling the shaft correctly? In normal operating conditions one should be able to put one’s hand on the box, without feeling undue heat. On a more technical level, one can also get a box surface temperature using an infrared heat gun. Said temperature should be no more than 30 degrees higher than the water temperature. To get the outside water temperature in the engine room, Ron takes a reading on the intake sea strainer. 

The only way to test the box is to spin the main shaft. So we started Duet up, and, after carefully checking her lines, put her in forward idle. Ron let her warm up and then checked the box. All was well, she was dripping at about 2 drips per minute at forward idle, which was just fine. The box stayed cool to the touch, despite the engine reaching full operating temperature and Duet doing her best to pull the cleats out of the dock over more than an hour of running.

We actually wanted to step on the gas a bit, but the amount of churn being generated at idle forward made us cautious.

We used to run the 46 at mid RPMs at the dock with no problems. This boat, however, has far more low end torque, because of her much larger motor and prop, and we were frankly afraid she’d plow right over the dock. So we quit while we were ahead, and decreed the stuffing box fixed. We shall test it more thoroughly when we go out in April for a few days on the hook.

While the stuffing project takes a long time to explain, it didn’t take that long to do, so Ron also worked thru some more issues with the salt water wash down pump. It now awaits only a new hose fitting to hopefully cure it.

Again, too soon, we were headed home, planning to return in early February. For those of you who wonder what happened to the windlass once it got home, the following pictures depict some, but not all, of the activities associated with servicing it.

After it was disassembled, it was washed.

Once Nancy found out that Ron was washing the windlass in her kitchen sink, he was sent outside for the rest of this process.

Parts of it were heated, to make them expand, so it was easier to get the old gaskets out. After this, the new seals were frozen, to make it easier to fit them in. After one episode during which Ron put a windlass part in the main oven, thereby causing the entire house to smell like roast windlass, he was exiled to the deck to cook his windlass parts on the BBQ grill.

The windlass was finally mostly reassembled in the shop, and prepared for it’s trip north again.

February – Blizzards, ice storms and no heat

February was to be one of those trips we would look back on later with a sense of accomplishment. During the actual trip, however, one tends to wish it was over already.

First, we had to transit some rather dicey weather. We left Tahoe first thing on Friday morning, rather than around lunch as we normally do. This was to avoid an incoming snow storm projected to arrive late on Friday afternoon. As Nancy noted, managing this trip was just like sorting out a weather window for the boat, except it didn’t involve thinking through all the meals.

All went well, our chosen route, Interstate 80 over Donner Pass, was clear. We normally take the shorter route through Susanville, but local road cameras showed snow on road surfaces. While our AWD SUV has Bridgestone Blizzak studless ice tires and runs just fine in those condtions, many folks do not. We didn’t wish to spend the entire trip at 20 MPH behind someone in a vehicle less snowworthy than ours.

We joined Interstate 5 just north of Sacramento, and bowled along at almost ten times Duet’s normal speed. All was well over the highest point of the trip, crossing the Cascades just south of Ashville, OR. Elevations there are about 3,500 feet. We live at 6,500 feet and Captain Ron crosses 9,000 feet every day on his way to work, so we didn’t find this part of the trip particularly challenging. Once we got to about two hours south of our destination, Eugene, OR, however, things got a little more interesting.

Unlike in the Sierra Nevadas, where large amounts of snow are an everyday fact of life, and plows, snow blowers, personal vehicles and people are prepared, Eugene and most of the rest of Oregon doesn’t see much snow. So they don’t have the equipment to plow, salt or otherwise deal with it. Interstate 5 south of Eugene closely resembled the opening scene in the movie Fargo, complete with howling wind, limited visibility and, as an added theatrical touch, vehicles abandoned everywhere. The only things moving were us and tractor trailers who had chains. Everyone else was stuck.

Road conditions were poor. Icy ruts, up to18 inches of snow that hadn’t been packed down and abandoned vehicles in unexpected places created some interesting obstacles. Ron, however, has driven a lot of miles in snow and ice, so we proceeded without incident to our hotel in Eugune.

The next morning we arose to the news that the Interstate was closed, due to a significant accident north of us. We had a leisurely breakfast and then consulted the video cameras conveniently placed along Interstate 5. We were only 110 miles from Portland, so once the Interstate reopened, we set off. Conditions were similar to the night before, except we could see slightly better as it was daytime and only snowing intermittently. There were more abandoned cars and more moving tractor trailers, as many of them had sorted out their chain situations and they all had deadlines to meet. We rumbled along at about 25MPH, all the way to Portland, without incident.

Upon arrival we did some light provisioning at the Safeway and then went to the marina.

Our main concern was whether we could get down the access ramp, which is quite steep. We had brought our Yaks, which are like tire chains for boots, just in case. Fortunately, Salpare Marina Manager Justin was way ahead of us and had not only shoveled the ramp, but had coated it heavily in a combination of salt and kitty litter. He had also shoveled a path down each main dock, so we reached Duet without difficulty.

Then things began to get slightly more challenging. Our first move when arriving aboard in cold weather is to fire up the diesel heater. It takes it some time to warm up and start delivering heat throughout the boat. Since it was already mid afternoon, we wanted to make sure that we had a nice warm evening aboard.

At this point, an aside is in order. While the diesel heater had been serviced and many leaks and other issues solved by Jeff’s team, the system was still leaking slightly. As we have noted before, the best way to locate leaks to let the system cool off, so that all the joins contract. If they are going to leak, that’s when they do it.

Unfortunately, Portland had just come out of a seriously cold snap, involving temperatures in the teens. Duet was fine, her three oil filled electric heaters kept her above freezing and there was no damage. The diesel heater, on the other hand, was not so fine, having dumped it’s entire coolant contents into Duet’s bilge. Said coolant is environmentally friendly, so we had no spill issues, but we also had no diesel heater.

We made only one mistake, and, as with all mistakes, we learned a lot from it. We didn’t check the coolant level in the heater before firing it up. Since it was empty, it immediately air locked, trying to pump nonexistant coolant throughout the boat. So, no heat. The outside temp was about 30, the boat’s inside temp was only slightly higher. Obviously we weren’t going to be spending the night aboard.

Experienced boaters will point out that Duet is equipped with reverse cycle air conditioning units which are capable of producing heat. They are dependent on the water temperature, namely the colder the water Duet is sitting in, the less heat they produce. Also, their ability to deliver hot air depends what kind of refrigerant they contain. Since Duet’s A/C was configured to be an air conditioner, not a heater, as she has a diesel heater, we figure she didn’t have the most effective refrigerant for heating loaded up. We did fire the A/C units up anyway and they managed to get the boat up to about 45 degrees (with the three oil filled heaters also running full blast) which is at least 20 degrees less than Nancy will tolerate.

So off to the Marriott Residence Inn we went. It not only had heat, but also a refrigerator to store the provisions we bought, and, even better, free breakfast.

The next morning, the TV in the breakfast area (and everyone’s cell phones) blared the alert signal for things like a nuclear attack, which considerably disconcerted the audience. After the hooting noise and the statement “this is not a drill”, the authorities asked everyone not to go outside as conditions were dire. We returned to Duet. We were almost the only car on the road, which was icy, but no match for Ron, Lexus AWD and the Blizzacks.

 Ron started diagnosing and repairing the heater. 

This process took the better part of five days, with one day off to spend a wonderful afternoon and evening with Sean, Celia and Elizabeth. As we have mentioned, Nancy met Sean via the Nordhavn Dreamers site, prior to our trip to Portland. Celia and Sean had visited Duet, so now it was our turn to visit their beautiful home. Nancy, Ron and Sean also got to visit the family trawler, Orca, a nicely maintained CHB 34. Sean was just completing an ambitious engine project, which included removing and cleaning the injectors. After visiting Orca we had an outstanding steak dinner, and a proper trouncing playing “Sorry” with 3 year old Elizabeth. Suffice it to say she has a future in the casinos, should she wish to pursue it.

After this pleasant interlude it was back aboard Duet, where the daily temperature didn’t get above about 40 degrees. Nancy spent most of the days huddled over the oil heater, writing email updates to various long suffering corresponents, including Sean and another Portland friend Rob, owner of the beautiful red tug Nekas.

Finally, after much careful work, the diesel heater was refilled, fired up and we moved back aboard. What, you ask, took so long? Basically, there were three major problems. First, the system was airlocked, so it had to be bled. This seems easy, but given that it has many feet of hose and 5 air handlers, not including the over flow and resovoir tanks, there were lots of places for air to hide. Second, it still leaked. So there wasn’t much point in refilling it until all the leaks were fixed. Third, Ron didn’t know where all the key points in the system, like the low point (of which there turned out to be two, instead of the appropriate one) were located.

So, first, Ron set out to document the system, by making a detailed drawing of what was where. Documentation is key on a complex boat like Duet, as, while Ron’s memory is good, it’s not that good. Documenting the system meant crawling around to all it’s remote points, determing their function and then, in the evenings in the hotel room, creating an eDraw document.

Second, Ron serviced the furnace. That made sense, since he wasn’t absolutely sure it wasn’t part of the problem. So he cleaned the fuel nozzle, checked the ignitor, etc.


Third, he fixed the leaks. There really were only a couple left, but one was a real doozy to get to, deep in the bowels of Duet where the hoses passed above the bilge on their way through the engine room.

Fourth, he installed two new valves, at the two system low points. These valves allow him to attach a pump to pressurize the system, in sections, rather than all at once. That makes it easier to get air out and coolant in or out.

Finally, he refilled, bled and restarted the system, which, flattered by all the attention it had received, ran beautifully for the remainder of our time aboard.

The rest of the visit consisted of two days of planning for the next trip, to do all the things that were supposed to get done on this trip. Regardless, we had fun. We went a great BBQ place with Tom and Jill, and had down home cooking, with ribs, mac’n’cheese, etc. Too soon we were headed back to Tahoe, but plan to return in mid April.



2 thoughts on “Winter 2013”

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