Friday, August 27, 2021

Running From Tropical Storm Fred part 2

 In my last entry, we were running from Tropical Storm Fred. We had made it 63 river miles up the Tombigbee river to an anchorage called 3 Rivers. We had a very calm night other than we could see occasional the spotlights of the alligator hunters looking for their target. 

We arose before first light and got ready to go. I was gaining confidence in the new engine with each passing day. After we had been on the river for a couple of hours I recorded this video update:

Update from Mile 74   click on the link to watch the video

We were able to get an internet connection fairly quickly and were very excited to see that TS Fred was moving more east than previously expected. This was very good for us. We were now solidly on the "dry" side of the storm. We wanted to make it to the Coffeeville lock to have that protection from rising waters, which was looking like would happen around 2:30 pm. 

Just before we arrived at the lock I noticed we had a target on our AIS system. It was the trawler "Satisfied Frog", that we had seen the previous day. They were running close to 8 knots, so they had caught up to us. We talked on the radio and agreed to go through the lock together. When we arrived at the lock, the lockmaster informed us there would be a wait as two of the big "tows" were passing through. We both idled around for over an hour until it was our turn to enter the lock. 

Here we are in the Coffeeville Lock. The rise is 33 feet.

That is the Satisfied Frog in front of us. They are a 50 foot trawler. 

I am not sure what was different, but this ride up was very turbulent. We struggled for a few minutes after they started letting water into the chamber to keep the boat straight and not slam into the wall. After a while, things calmed down and we waited for the signal to leave the lock and head upriver. 

We had a short 2 mile trip from the lock to Bobby's Fish Camp. They have done some improvement on the dock since we were last there. Satisfied Frog and one other boat were there, but there was still room for us to get docked. It was great that the other boaters helped us get docked and tied up. Joshua on Leaping Lizard was a great guy and I enjoyed meeting him later that evening. We also enjoyed meeting and talking with Berrlin and Debra on Satisfied From. They are from Parker, Colorado and have been cruising for 5 years on the Frog including one complete "Great Loop". 

Both of the other boats were planning to depart the following morning. Frog was hoping to make it all the way to Demopolis, which was about 100 river miles including passing through the Demopolis Lock. We hung out and fixed a nice breakfast and studied the weather. It became clear that the storm was going to pass east of us and we were in the clear. At about 9 am, we decided to go ahead and head further north and break up the trip to Demopolis into 2 days. We filled two jerry cans with fuel and promptly left them on the dock. We had only gone about a half mile when Kim asked me where the fuel cans were. I felt pretty dumb, when we returned to get them. 

I recorded this video update around mile 130:  Update from Mile 130

It was a beautiful day as we cruised up the river. We never saw any part of Fred while we cruised along the river. When we reached our intended anchorage at mile 177, it was calm and beautiful. I recorded this video update after we got two anchors down and settled in for the night:

Video Update Mile 177 - Our last night on the river

Just after that update we heard a rushing in the trees that surrounded us. It was Fred paying a little visit. It was actually a far outer band of the tropical storm that was bringing us some wind. Unfortunately, with the stern anchor out, we were being held with our beam to the wind.  We waited out in the cockpit for a while and then the wind died off. I made an adjustment to the anchors to allow a bit more swing to allow SHIFT to get nose into the wind if it came back. We set the anchor alarm and went to bed. We did not have a Tow pass us all night and it stayed perfectly calm. That is all we saw from Fred. 

I took a few shots on this beautiful evening. Those distant clouds are the outer bands of TS Fred.

A small sand island just off our stern.

Beautiful pink colors in the sky as it got dark.

We arose the next morning and got moving. We did see a bit more current as the river got more narrow as we approached the Demopolis lock. The river banks turn to white limestone for long stretches in this area. with the additional current we saw our speed over ground drop to around 5 knots, but still just fine. 

You can see the additional current with the wake coming off of this red channel marker. Red on the right going up the river. 

We made a very easy and uneventful trip up to the Demopolis lock and on to Kingfisher Bay Marina at mile 218. It felt great to be tucked into our slip and safe from the storms along the gulf coast. Or is that true? We will find out in coming entries as a new storm is on the horizon, and this is no Tropical Storm. A real major hurricane is on the way.  

Friday, August 20, 2021

Time to Depart - Running from TS Fred

 As I wrote in my last entry, we had finished the installation of our new engine in SHIFT. We would have liked to do more testing, but we had a problem. Tropical Storm Fred was looming out in the Caribbean. The forecasters were in agreement that the storm was going to impact the Gulf Coast between Apalachicola and Gulfport. We were right in the middle of the possible landfalls. We looked at all of our options and we decided our best bet was to head north as soon as possible. 

On Thursday, August 12, we rented a car and relocated our truck to Demopolis, Alabama. Demopolis is where we stayed for hurricane season last year. There is a very nice marina and boat yard there. The problem is that is about 270 nautical miles from where the boat is now. At an average speed of 5 knots into the current, that would be over 50 hours of motoring on our brand new engine. 

I recorded this video on the morning of August 13:Ready for Departure

Click on the link to watch the video.

You may notice that the boat is now facing out of the channel. We turned it around when we came back from our sea trial two days prior. It was very shallow and I wanted to get that turn out of the way. 

When we got the engine started and the instruments on, we started hearing alarms. It was a shallow water alarm. It told us we were in 3.5 feet of water. The problem is that SHIFT draws 4.5 feet. I knew it was a muddy bottom, so I decided to try to power out of there. It worked! we left a trail of stirred up mud, but before long we were in 7 feet of water and moving well. 

The next problem is that we were going to be moving up another shallow bayou to get to the Pascagoula inlet. We saw some depths of just over 4 feet, but we were able to power through. It felt great when we rounded the corner and entered the main ship channel. As we hit the open water, we had a nice breeze, so we unfurled the genoa and motor sailed at almost 7 knots out into the sound. It was a nerve racking start, but we were now on our way. 

I recorded this video at that point: Leaving Pascagoula

Very calm water in Mobile Bay. A very welcome site.

We cruised along making good time. As it turned out, much better than I had expected. As we approached the bridge between the mainland and Dauphine Island, the wind died off to nothing. The water became glassy. We have heard of horror stories about crazy weather and rough seas in Mobile Bay. That would not be our story on this day. It was like a mill pond. I called the Dog River Marina and they told us to dock at the fuel dock and plug in for the night. They closed at 6, but we arrived at 5:30. After waiting for another boat to fuel, we tied up and began stuffing all the fuel we could into the main tank and then two 5 gallon jerry cans. While doing the second can the high volume pump overfilled one of the tanks and covered me in diesel. That was not good! I had to quickly pay the bill and then hit the shower they have on shore. It took a while, but we got everything cleaned up. Kim decided it was a good time to wash the boat yard off of the boat. 

I spent the evening checking the shaft coupling and all of the fluids. I found nothing that concerned me. We were in bed early and up before dawn the next morning. We got underway at first light. We had a long way to go and that storm track was now heading right at Mobile Bay! They were also predicting it would get stronger as it approached the coast and may make hurricane status. My big question in my mind was how strong was the current going to be. Last year we struggled to make 4 knots over ground in the 2-3 knot current. I was hoping for 5 knots, but only time would tell. 

I recorded this clip of the early morning over the calm Mobile Bay: Sunrise over Mobile Bay

Sunrise over Mobile Bay

We traveled 10 miles to reach the downtown area of Mobile. The current was light and we were averaging over 5.5 knots. I was very pleased. 

A large container ship at the port of Mobile. 

Downtown Mobile by water never gets old. We have done this 3 times now. 

Even though it was the weekend, the downtown port area is very busy and you have to pay close attention. I was really looking forward to leaving civilization and being on the quiet river. The change is immediate as you get to mile 6. It was now just us and the river.

The rainbow ahead was a good sign.

We had to pass two barges, that were moving upriver a little slower than us. The good news is that our speed was consistent at between 5.5 and 6 knots over ground. The barges were running around 4.5, so the pass was very slow, but the captains were very helpful and we made it. We had to wait a while at mile 14 for the railroad bridge to open. They were having mechanical problems, but were able to get it fixed and did not delay us too much. 

At the good speeds were started to plan our stop for the night. We thought we could make it to mile 63 and the 3 rivers anchorage. It was about that time that we were passed by a fast trawler named "Satisfied Frog". When a thunderstorm came up, they pulled off and anchored for the night, but they will become part of this story. We kept going and the thunderstorm passed south of us. We made it to 3 rivers. Some locals told us it was safe to go back to the lake. We tried, but ran aground. I had to power hard to get SHIFT back to deep water, but we got it done. They also told us that it was alligator season. We met a couple of guys that were hunting. We saw a number of alligators while we were there. 

The bad news is that we had no cell signal. I could not see what was going on with Fred. The last we knew it was heading right at us and would be here in 24 to 36 hours. I did my engine checks and all looked good. We would now try to sleep without air conditioning. We have a big battery bank of 4 AGM batteries, so we ran fans all night and actually slept well. 

In my next entry, I will pick this story up from there and let you know how we made it north and the safety of the marina in Demopolis.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Real Time Update and Finishing the Engine Installation

 In my last entry we were finishing up the installation of our new engine. It had been a long road and we were now looking at another week in a less than desirable motel/apartment. My Birthday is August 6th. I spent that Friday working on the engine with Adam. It was a very long day, but we were close. He left about 3:00 to go work on other boats, but I worked on into the evening getting the raw water system put together. I had a list of things to do over the weekend to get the boat ready to go back in the water on Tuesday, August 10. It was over that weekend that a storm named "Fred" started to become a worry. At first it was just another tropical storm way out in the Atlantic, and then the models showed it could grow into a hurricane and it was heading straight at us.  

Now for the real time Update: We are safe and sound in Demopolis, Alabama. Demopolis is 155 miles from the gulf coast. This is a very safe place from most hurricanes. How we got here, will be detailed in the rest of this entry, and future entries. I just wanted to let everyone that reads this blog know, that there is nothing to worry about. 

Back to the story: I spoke with the yard manager and he agreed to put us in the water on Tuesday, August 10. Monday was a very long day. Kim and I both worked hard on all of the last minute things that had to be done before going in the water. 

The Beta looks beautiful sitting in her new home. The polished Stainless Steel Alternator bracket was custom built by me.

I wasn't taking many pictures at this point. I was just ticking things off of the list. We splashed on Tuesday after paying our yard bill. The lift out and then 15 days in the yard and then splashed was about $500. 

It is always a scary thing to see your home lifted up and carried to the water, but these guys a Pitalo's Marine did a great job.

Cameron keeping a watchful eye as we approach the water. Stacey was at the controls of the lift. 

When SHIFT was in the water, I jumped aboard to see if there were any leaks. Oh No! there was a leak in the shaft seal. I quickly grabbed a wrench and tightened it up and we were good to go. I guess all of the shaft movement when it was getting cut caused the leak. We were very close to being ready to start the motor. We warped the boat (which means we used the dock lines to pull it over) to a small barge and tied her securely. 

SHIFT's new home for a few days. 

It was then that I bled the fuel system and then cranked the engine. She fired and then sputtered out and died. I tried again and then it settled into a smooth idle. I was so happy to see water coming out of the exhaust and all looked good. I sent a message to Adam that we were now ready for commissioning and sea trail. We scheduled it for the next day. That evening the forecast for Fred looked worse. The storm was taking a move to the west bringing it right at Mobile Bay. Scheduled arrival was still not until Monday August 16, but we needed a plan. I talked to the yard and staying where we were, was not an option. We considered going back to Gulfport, but that is not a safe place in a storm. 

Adam showed up on Wednesday and we went through an extensive checklist. The new motor passed all of the tests at the dock including running it in gear for 20 minutes at 1500 RPM. We made a cloud of mud. It was now time to head out to run the engine much harder. The engine sounded great as we raised the RPM. First to 2000, then 2500, then Wide open. It reached 3300 RPM. It should have made 3600 RPM, so that means that we will need to change our prop to make the engine run at it's best. It was then we started to see smoke coming from the engine compartment! We shut it down and investigated. It was just some oil on the exhaust header. That was there from the installation and welding. All was good and we passed the test and were now ready to go. 

While we were on our sea trial, we saw this dead alligator floating in the bayou. It is not the hunting season, so I don't know what happened to it.  

Kim and I discussed our options and decided our best bet was to rent a car and  move the truck to Demopolis the next day and then depart the following day and head north as fast as we could. The truck moving day went well. We drove to Demopolis in 3 hours from Gautier, Mississippi. It took us much longer in the boat, but that is a story for another entry. In my next entry, I will begin to tell the story of how it feels to run from a storm with a brand new untested engine. I am not going to lie, I was worried.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Much More Difficult Than Expected

 As I wrote in my last entry, the process of installing a new engine in our boat has begun. On July 27th we moved the boat about 40 miles to Gautier, Mississippi. We were hoping to be in the yard about a week, boy were we wrong.

The following day, a mechanic named Michael came to begin unhooking our current Yanmar engine. In 3 hours he had the mechanical part done, but he does not do electronics. The company that we are using is very busy and they were not sure when someone would be available to do the electronics. That is when I offered to do that part, which they accepted. I spent Thursday and Friday pulling out the wiring harness and disconnecting the control panel. On Friday afternoon, the lead mechanic, Adam stopped by on his way home to check on the project. That was the first time he had seen the boat. 

We ordered the crane for Monday morning. The crane operator wanted to do it early because we have been under a heat advisory. We planned for him to arrive at 6AM. 

Michael arrived at 6 AM and the crane not much later. In less than an hour we had the motor removed and on a trailer that was brought over by the guy that was buying the engine. That part went very well. 

The crane just got done putting the old Yanmar on the trailer that the buyer brought to transport it to his shop.

Kim looking on as we say good bye to the Yanmar. That motor always concerned me, but never let me down.

About 7:30, Adam arrived with the new engine in an enclosed trailer. We quickly unpacked it and were ready to lift it into the boat. The crane charges $250/hour, so time was of the essence. The motor went high up in the air and then swung over the boat. All went well until we tried to move it into the motor compartment. We had measured the motor compartment and based on the dimensions on the Beta web site it should fit. Guess what, it didn't fit! The exhaust was hitting the back wall. We had to just set it down partially in the compartment and get it disconnected, so that we could send the crane on his way. We ended up only using him for 2 hours, so that was what we expected. 

There is the new engine getting dropped right in the middle of our living room.

Here is a shot of the empty motor compartment. We needed to take a minute and change the shaft coupling before we could set it in place. 

There is the new motor and transmission. The Beta 38, pretty, but the add-on exhaust manifold was much longer than the stock one.

Do I look concerned? Believe me, I was!

This is a shot of the very special Balmar Alternator that was on my old engine. I wanted to move it to the new Beta. This is a high output unit that is used to charge my very large battery bank, while we are running the engine. 

Now that the crane was gone, we left Michael and Adam to go to work. We came back at one o'clock and they were gone. The next day we found out that after removing the exhaust and cutting 5 inches off of the propeller shaft, they were able to make the motor fit. We also found out the next morning that Michael's wife had test positive for the COVID Delta Variant. He was now in quarantine for 14 days. Adam worked hard much of the day Tuesday, but was unable to get the engine and shaft aligned. By the end of the day he also had a very sore neck. He called on Wednesday morning to let me know that he was also unable to work. To say I was now concerned, would be a huge understatement. 

To Adams credit, he came to work on Thursday and worked as hard as he was able with my help to finally get the motor aligned and the motor mounts installed. I went to work installing the alternator and whatever else I could do. It was hard work, but thankfully we brought our window unit air conditioner from Missouri and were able to cool down the boat as we worked. 

I worked well into the evening on Thursday and then again on Friday to finally feel like we were getting close.  We even bumped the engine with the started to verify that all was hooked up correctly. The only problem was the propeller was spinning backwards! Adam did some research and determined that actually all was fine, we were just going to have to get used to an opposite lever direction for the transmission shifter at the helm. The two transmission linkages are set up backwards from each other.

Here is a shot of the motor almost finished. Check out the polished Stainless steel mounting bracket on the alternator. I bought one and had to modify it to make it work. 

I called Beta-USA to find out what we could do about the exhaust. They suggested we cut the exhaust and have it rewelded. I found out a guy that works in the yard was a welder. He could do it for me after work on Friday. I gave him the parts and on Saturday morning we had a perfectly welded exhaust. I installed it and it fit perfectly. 

As of Sunday, we have a few things left to do, but we are close to going back in the water and starting the engine. We are hoping to be ready on Tuesday. The problem with that is that we then need to sea trial and do final adjustments. That means that we will stay another week in the "roach motel". It seems that 3 weeks is what it takes every time we go to the yard. It has been tough, but the good news is that I know exactly how it was installed which will allow me to address problems down the road. 

In my next entry, I will hopefully document the final stages of this project. We can't wait to get back in our floating home and on the move. For now, the tropics are quiet, it doesn't look like that will last much longer.