Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pole dancing for Jesus

I've lived in Spring since 2000, and it is NEVER a good thing when we make national news.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

It was another gorgeous weekend in Houston with temperatures hanging in the mid-70s and big gusts of wind. I used to hate wind, but without it, sailing is very boring.

Perfect morning in Houston

After getting the alternator wiring sorted last weekend, I thought we were set for a nice long season of sailing every weekend through the entire summer. Unfortunately, the boat was not in agreement. My first weekend out in February, I noticed an occasional stutter and shake in the hum of the engine. I also could have sworn I felt the boat speed up and slow down a couple times. However, the tachometer wasn't yet working and I was in the cabin when it happened, so it was hard to judge. Then during our outing last weekend, we definitely felt more stuttering, but we thought it might be due to the choppy water. Unfortunately, this weekend we found out the real cause.

Upon leaving the slip Saturday, the boat suddenly stopped moving forward and the tone of the engine went from being under load to being in neutral. No longer did we have just a stutter. The transmission was full-on slipping. We would get 30-40 seconds in gear, 5-10 seconds out of gear, 30-40 seconds in gear, 5-10 out of gear over and over. Ben went below to check the linkage in hopes that maybe it had slipped and the shift lever wasn't pushing the transmission all the way into gear, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

I had finally started feeling confident enough to invite friends out sailing. You never know how people are going to react when a boat suddenly quits in the middle of the bay. I'm not one to panic, but that doesn't mean my passengers wouldn't. It also doesn't mean they would be thrilled sitting for hours waiting on a towboat.

Once upon a time in a previous life I had a lucrative Sunday afternoon gig playing guitar on the patio of a local restaurant. I had about 25 people turn out that first weekend. I thought I did a great job entertaining, but the bar staff managed to get hair in most of the food and then double bill half the crowd. Needless to say, none of them ever returned. I get the same fear when it comes to the boat.

Knowing it was just a matter of time until the transmission gave out altogether, we just sailed back and forth in Clear Lake for an hour or so. It was good practice. We also saw another sailboat get stuck over near our channel. They kept tipping the boat at precarious angles attempting to break free, but it never happened. Someone in a motor boat finally threw them a line and pulled them free.

When we returned to the marina, I sat moping in the cabin for a long time before I stirred up the energy to start pulling the transmission. Then I still took a nap before I started. However, I did have it off and was headed home with it by Sunday morning.

ZF Marine Hurth HBW-5 transmission

Upon disassembly, I couldn't find any broken gears, obvious signs of failure or even signs of wear. The clutch discs still looked new.

ZF Marine Hurth HBW-5 transmission

Since I already had a rebuild kit from the first time I'd done this last summer, I went ahead and put fresh clutch discs on just to be on the safe side. Then I made sure to shim the output shaft, so there was no forward/backward wiggle. My only theory was that the pressure of the prop shaft would slide the output shaft forward, which would reduce the pressure on the clutch discs, which would allow them to slip until the RPMs of the propeller dropped, which then reduced the forward pressure on the output shaft allowing the clutch discs to catch again -- and so on and so forth, which would explain why we'd have a few seconds of power, a few seconds of no power, etc.

I guess we'll see how it works Saturday when I reinstall it. While annoying, at least this breakdown hasn't cost anything.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The tides are high again

The sun has returned to Houston, and with it, high tides. Well, not today as we're currently in the middle of a thunderstorm that is actually booming loud enough to shake the building I'm in. However, the past two weekends have been beautiful in Kemah. It's still cool enough that we have to run a space heater in the boat at night, but last weekend I finally made it out of the marina for a good sail and a sunburn.

I've made a few improvements in the past month or so. For my birthday back in February, my mother sent me a new sail cover and jib bag. You've got to love moms who actually ask you what you want for your birthday. The new canvas really dresses up the boat, and it's nice to not have the jib taking up space in the cabin anymore. On a 27' boat, every inch of storage counts.

I finally found some interior hatch trim to cover the jagged, uneven edges of fiberglass on the V-berth hatch. It makes it look a hundred times better, and now we can fit a screen into the hatch to keep mosquitoes out. Of course, there's only one month a year in Houston where you can sleep with the hatch open instead of running the air-conditioner, but I'll be ready for it.

New hatch trim and screen

Unfortunately my first sail of the year wasn't without incident. I started smelling something burning just before we passed the boardwalk and made it to the bay. I did a quick check and one of the wires from the alternator was melting. It had burned itself through by the time we made it home.

This was a frustrating development because I had just gone back through the alternator wiring in November as it wasn't making charge. Now it definitely was making charge, but it was also catching on fire, which isn't a great tradeoff.

After staring at a bunch of generic wiring charts and tracing wires from the control panel down to the engine, I found that the wire we had running to ground, which was the one that melted, was actually supposed to be running to the tachometer -- which had never worked. Suddenly the tach sprung to life. It was a relatively painless troubleshooting expedition, aside from the three times I got electrocuted connecting the battery wire back onto the ungrounded alternator because my brother hadn't disconnected the batteries. He actually seemed to enjoy that part way too much.

Working tachometer!

The temperature gauge had also quit working when I had previously rewired the alternator. We refitted the connections to the sensor, and it came back to life. My last electrical challenge is to fix the fuel gauge, so I'm going to pull and replace the float this weekend.

We made a test run out to the bay and back Saturday evening just before sunset to make sure everything was running smoothly. Everything seems good.

I didn't get to sail Sunday because I'm trying to get a handle on the massive amount of yard work that needs to be done. Between my gutters and my gardens, I raked up eight huge bags of leaves Sunday, but sadly, you can't even tell. Looks to be great weather this weekend. Hopefully I can find someone to go sailing with me.