Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Everybody Does It . . .

One thing I like about Meridian is that there's alot of space in the engine room. Now, mind you, it's not exactly spacious down there, with headroom of about three feet or so. You have to move around by doing something of a duck walk - or, alternatively, by scooting around on your read end. And in order to reach into distant corners or around equipment you have to perform what I like to refer to as "boat yoga".

But changing the engine oil is pretty easy. Access to the filter is wide open, with no stretching or abnormal bending of body parts and limbs. And it's always gone relatively smoothly for me. After all, what's really involved? Pump out the old oil with an "Oil Boy", pull the old filter, being careful to place a ZipLoc Bag around it prior to loosening (I double up on the bag), install the new filter (after rubbing oil on the gasket) then add new oil. Finally, run the engine for a minute or two to circulate oil throughout and into the new filter, then check the oil level and fill up as necessary.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, I've always wondered how long you need to run the engine in order to circulate the oil.

This past summer, I found out.

I had changed the oil in the starboard engine, then went up to the helm and cranked it. After a minute or two, I shut down the engine and headed back down into the engine room.


I hadn't paid close enough attention and left the old gasket on the oil filter. With two gaskets, it didn't seal properly. Those two minutes of running the engine sent over half the oil (about three quarts) all over the place.

After a lot of unpleasant words, and the entire afternoon, I had the mess cleaned up. Not the way we wanted to spend the afternoon in Grand Haven. And a bit embarrassing to talk about.

But here's the thing. Everyone I eventually told this about responded "Hey, that happened to me once!" In fact, it started that same day with the boat right beside us in the slip at Grand Haven. Yes, they had done it before. Even when talking with professional mechanics - "Yea, we run into that all the time".

Guess I'm not entirely alone with my ineptness! Somehow, that feels good :-)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Never Assume . . .

We moved Meridian to a new storage yard this winter and I didn't stop by until several weeks after they shrink-wrapped her.

You'd think I'd take a look first but, no, I stopped at Home Depot to buy a ladder before going to the the yard (we left the old ladder at the old yard).

Maybe it was the excitement and anticipation of visiting Meridian after such a long absence . . . but it never crossed my mind that the entry door could be placed in a different location this year. It's always at the transom where a six foot ladder gets you to the swim platform, then the swim ladder gets you up to the entrance and into the boat.

Suddenly, though, a six foot ladder doesn't quite do the job! The nerve! They put the door on the starboard side!

That's about a five foot step from the top of the ladder to the deck. And I actually tried to stand on top of the ladder and unzip the door. As though I'd really be able to climb in there! Luckily, I was foiled by my inability to reach the top of the zipper.

So, it was back to Home Depot - this time to get real ladder.

You'd think that after almost half a century of "experience" on this planet, I'd have learned better by now!

But, hey, I have to admit it's easier to get into the boat from the side!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Maintaining Batteries in Winter

Every autumn, boaters in cold climates take part in a ritual called "Hauling Out and Winterizing". It's the time of year when boaters blink back the tears associated with knowing there's a long hard winter ahead and stumble through the routine of fortifying their beloved boat against the cold wet miserable climate in which they choose to live.

Or, maybe those tears are simply because they got the winterizing bill from the yard.

You see, I don't think I know anyone who does the winterizing themselves. I walk across the boatyard and see scores of boats. But no owners. Only yard workers.

Yet, every autumn the boating world is awash with how-to-winterize information. Articles cover the pages of boating magazines. Signs plaster the aisles and windows of local marine stores. And posts clog the internet discussion groups.

And I'm pretty sure no one in a boat larger than 30 feet does it. Sure, we read that info, and even give out advice and views of our own about it. Then we pay the yard to do it for us. Why is that? Well, it's certainly not because we're all filthy rich. Having a boat pretty much takes care of that problem. No, I'm convinced people look at those "how-to" lists, think about the complex (and expensive) systems on their boats, then come to the conclusion that "I'll let the yard handle it so if something isn't properly winterized it won't be my fault."

But batteries . . . now batteries are different. Especially the standard wet cell kind. Just unhook 'em, isolate 'em and give 'em a charge every now and then.

Yeah, they say you should take them off the boat but, really, who's gonna lug those heavy things out of the engine room, down a 10 foot ladder, into the back of a car, then into their home where they can spill battery acid on valuable belongings (and get yelled at by the admiral - again), while attempting to maintain a proper charge?

No, I just leave them on the boat and charge them every now and then. It always works just fine, and in the spring the boat fires right up as though the batteries are brand new.

If you're gonna follow this procedure, here's the general rule: NEVER MIX OLD BATTERIES WITH NEW ONES IN THE SAME BATTERY BANK.

We've all heard it, and we all understand it. A bad battery will drain the good ones and then you'll have one big dead battery bank.

This year, I got lazy and didn't disconnect the batteries from the charger - or each other. I have two banks, one for starting and one for house. I just left both banks hooked to the charger, with the battery switches set to "both". That way, I can go to the yard at my convenience, plug a power cord from the boat into one of their outlets, and give the batteries some juice every now and then. I don't even have to go into the engine room and access the batteries.

Sounds like a great deal until just one battery goes bad. I went to the boat the other day and was surprised to find everything was dead. Sure enough, the starting battery, which is the oldest of the bunch, finally died. Since all batteries were effectively connected to each other, it drained the house batteries as well. I've since disconnected it and recharged the house batteries.
But I broke the simple rule on battery maintenance. The one thing I didn't pay the yard to do. Sigh. It may not have damaged the other batteries, but it sure didn't do them any good. I'll see how well they hold a charge in the future.

So . . . don't be like me! Disconnect those batteries from each other in the winter! Or, come spring, you'll have much more "commissioning" work to do.

(Commisioning is a traditional nautical term that means "pay the yard lots of money to put your boat in the water")