Here’s to new adventures in 2021

2021 started on a good tack. We spent New Year’s Day on the boat prepping for GBCA Icicle Series 1, and we were treated to an absolutely amazing sunset.

I finally broke down and bought a 3M Stripe Removal wheel to take the old Florida registration numbers off the hull. It was working pretty well until it popped out of the drill and into the water.

Poseidon demands his sacrifices. I almost went diving for it, but then I remembered I still have stitches in my stomach from the hernia surgery, so I decided against it. Guess I’ll get another one and try again next weekend, but I’ll be checking the chock tightness frequently.

We were up early Saturday to finish boat prep before our crew arrived, and we cast off just after 11 a.m. for our first race aboard the Krogen 38. There’s no better way to shakedown a boat than to race it. As a wise man once said, “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.”

We’re still having trouble with our furling main. It’s an early design, and it just doesn’t seem to work very well. Someone has to literally sit under the boom and guide the line onto the drum by hand or it wraps too low and then overwraps. It took multiple attempts to fully deploy the main. Then our staysail and jib furlers just don’t want to spin. Even with decent wind, it took some real effort to get them started. It probably doesn’t help that the staysail furler lost an eyelet during transport to Houston, and I had to rig it with a big U-bolt to stop it from overwrapping immediately. Apparently it’s not a great solution because when we attempted to furl it back in after the race, it was still an overwrapped mess.

Hopefully by the end of the series we’ll have it all figured out and working correctly because replacing two furling units and switching the main to a smart track is a really expensive proposition. We’ll see how it goes. Our furling issues definitely contributed to a late start for race 1.

Overall we did well. Our tacks were messy, but it was literally everybody’s first time sailing the boat. Yes, Mary and I have been out on the boat previously, but we never had the jib out in more than maybe 5 knots of wind.) We learned that the jib does tack across in high wind, but that it has seen better days. It did not hold shape well, and there were several patches of sunbrella fluttering in the wind by the end of the race.

Mary helmed the start and the first leg of the course while I was fixing furlers, then I took over the second two legs.

I have no idea when we could have possibly hit 16.8 knots. It must have been while Mary was driving.

Racing with dogs aboard was interesting. Tex has been sailing for the entire 10 years we’ve had him, and he could care less except when we start heeling, and he gets dumped off a bench. However, he does get cold.

Hemingway, on the other hand, was nervous the entire time. By the third leg Mary was designated dog holder. There had been discussion of possibly bringing Finn along for a race in his car seat, but I think that will have to at least wait until the summer rum races.

We spent this morning addressing all of the little issues we documented during the race. I also noticed the air-conditioning water return wasn’t flowing very well, so I decided to clean the strainers.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much strainer left to be cleaned. The underside of the lid was coated in barnacles, and the basket was completely deteriorated. The good news is that the basket is a common size that is still being made. The bad news is, nobody had it in stock, so we may not have air-conditioning or heating for a couple of weeks — but that’s the excitement of boating, right?

Here’s the hoping 2021 continues to stay exciting, not just in sailing, but in all of our endeavors.

The guitar project that went wrong … then wronger

Back in the 90s when the distinction between music store and pawn shop was rather blurry, I acquired a second-hand silver sparkle Les Paul guitar that only said “Lady Luck” on the headstock and “Made in Korea” on the back of the neck.

This was a time when cheap guitars were really bad. Everyone and their brother had a beginner-level Squier or Jasmine that wouldn’t stay in tune and had the tone of a brick.

Lady Luck played well, but she had an extremely bass-heavy tone. It just never sounded good. Sometime in the early 2000s I actually tried to revive her by transplanting some nice Seymour Duncan pickups, but she still only sounded marginally better.

The silver guitar just hung on the wall for the past 15 years.

Since I’m now working from my home office at least eight hours a day, I’ve been trying to clear the clutter and make it a more pleasant, usable environment. That meant some of the guitars, amplifiers and camera gear had to go. I decided to clean up Lady Luck and put her up for sale.

I opened the back panel and squirted a little bit of contact cleaner into the crackling volume pots. The knobs got stiff. Then they froze. Then they unfroze … completely … and just kept spinning.

In the past few months I’ve cleaned the pots on an amplifier, a vintage clock radio, and another guitar. This has never happened before. I also couldn’t believe the same thing happened on both volume pots. I guess the corrosion was the only thing holding them together.

I had just rendered the guitar unplayable. Selling it was no longer an option.

The “hand wired” tone craze started a few years ago when Gibson started using pots connected to printed circuit boards in their guitars. That was actually good news for me because there were dozens upon dozens of pre-assembled pre-wired pots available to replace those PCBs that ranged from $30 with some questionable looking hardware up to $250 with vintage bumblebee capacitors.

Since Lady Luck isn’t a real Les Paul, I was worried the pot spacing wouldn’t quite be the same. I was wary of buying a pre-assembled kit. I decided to spend $50 and order an unassembled kit from Amplified Parts that included everything from the input plug to the switch. It also came with some really nice shielded wiring.

I immediately ran into a few issues. The pots and the output jack had larger diameters than the original hardware. I wasn’t excited about drilling out the holes and risking a chip in the paint, but I decided it was worth the risk.

Then I had to address the fact that the new knobs were also longer than the old knobs. I made a run to True Value for 3/8″ spacers. Unfortunately, they were out of 3/8″, so I had to pay double and buy a set of both 1/4″ and 1/8″. I ended up $20 into the project just for spacers!

The new selector switch was more of an issue. It was taller than the original switch, and it needed to be countersunk to reach through the body. Lady Luck is mostly plywood with an unknown top. The switch area was not that thick to begin with.

I finally decided that countersinking the new switch to make it fit wasn’t worth the risk of having the new switch rip through the front of the guitar. I had already replaced the switch in the 90s because the original had been snapped off when I bought it. It was clean and seemed fine. I mean, after all, a switch is a switch.

The instructions that came with the MOD kit were very clear, so it only took about an hour to put everything together. Of course, I still somehow managed to hook up the switch backwards. There were no strings on the guitar, so all I could do was plug it in and tap the pickups to see which one was active with each switch position.

I thought, it’s fine, I’ll just rotate the switch 180-degrees and let the wires wrap around. Wrong.

Assuming all was well, I got to the business of reassembling the other pieces of the guitar with the new stainless steel screws I’d picked up while I was True Value. I also decided to put the chrome pickup covers that originally came on the guitar onto the Seymour Duncan pickups. That entailed a little double-sided tape and some solder on the back, but it seemed easy enough.

The next morning I spent quite some time adjusting the truss rod, setting the bridge height, and adjusting the intonation to get the action just right. Then, the moment finally came. I plugged her in.

A very loud hum came through the amplifier.

I strummed a chord.

Nothing.

When I touched my fingers various places the hum would change tone or sometimes stop completely, but never did a single note come through the amplifier.

Did I wire something wrong? Is one of the new pieces bad? Did I ruin the pickups by putting covers on them?

This project had gone wrong when I destroyed the original volume pots. Now I was an additional $70 and 5+ hours into the project, and I had NOTHING.

I hung the guitar on the wall and walked away.

The next morning I got out the multimeter and started checking continuity. This was my first time using shielded cable with a metal sleeve. My first discovery was that I hadn’t peeled the shielding back far enough on the wire going to input jack, and it was touching the base of the prong, causing a short.

My next realization was that by spinning the selector switch 180 and letting the wires wrap around it, they were shorting to the sides of the selector switch.

I remedied this situation by rotating the switch back the correct direction and adding a little bit of electrical tape for insulation — just in case.

At this point, I was still getting a terrible hum, but I was also getting intermittent sound depending on what I touched.

I decided to yank the pots and see if I could get anything to work outside the guitar. Unfortunately during this maneuver I lost one of the $3 spacers into the body of the guitar forever.

After a few solder repairs, which included hooking the switch leads up correctly, I suddenly had sound. That was amazing news since it meant I didn’t destroy the expensive pickups when I put the covers on them.

I made another run to True Value to get another 1/8″ spacer.

I put everything back into the guitar.

The hum was back, and the sound was gone again.

The shielded cables were just touching too many things inside the guitar.

If I ever do this again, I will purchase shrink wrap or some sort of plastic sleeve to put over the metal braid. I didn’t have either of those things, so I started wrapping it in electrical tape. A few minutes later, the hum was completely gone, and the guitar was singing.

So after more than 20 years, this guitar finally plays the way it should. Now I can’t decide if I still want to sell it or if I should hold onto it a little longer.

And for any tech geeks out there who might be wondering, Lady Luck has a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates in the bridge and a Seymour Duncan SH4 in the neck. 220k-ohm resistors tie into 470pF ceramic capacitors on the 500k-ohm volume pots, and .022mf 600v MOD capacitors run between the volume and tone pots.

Resurrecting my first guitar

Did you ever visit The Golden Pawn II?

It was located on Peoria Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Apparently the building is about to be torn down.

The Golden Pawn II: It was a pawn shop … and also golden.

When my granddad took me there in 1992, it was both my first time inside a pawn shop and my first time to experience the joyous overwhelming sensory overload generated by a wall of guitars and stacks of amplifiers.

I didn’t know anything about guitars. The Internet did not exist. I had been learning on an old classical guitar I found in my dad’s closet. My knowledge was limited to what I’d seen artists playing in music videos (which I wasn’t supposed to be watching) and one second-hand Guitar Player magazine a friend gave me at school because he didn’t like the songs in that issue.

My guitar selection method began with choosing black guitars that looked cool, but quickly shifted to black guitars that actually worked when plugged in. I finally landed on a black Arbor stratocaster knock-off that looked much like the guitar Bryan Adams played in the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves music video. While the style hadn’t been my first choice, I decided that it was “cool enough.”

Sidebar: It was actually moderately difficult to find this video. When I finally did, it turns out the Stratocaster was red, and it’s clearly not plugged into anything. Definitely not as cool as I remember. Also, fun fact, Mattel re-used the Return of the Jedi: Ewok Village playset in a different box as the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves forest hideout.

Amplifier selection wasn’t nearly as complicated. The deal was whichever working amplifier — with distortion — Granddad could get them to bundle with the guitar for $100. The man was a negotiator.

I played and played and played that Arbor Stratocaster and the little Peavey Rage amp for years. Eventually the amp died, and I upgraded to something bigger, but I always held on to that guitar.

The Arbor was gigged exactly two times for two songs.

My sophomore year of high school I played Creep by Stone Temple Pilots at the Bartlesville Mid-High Talent Show. My friend Chad sang the second part of the chorus with me. As far as I know, there is no photographic evidence of that performance.

Project Graduation (ProGrad) Talent Show Dinner at William P. Clements High School in Sugar Land, Texas, March, 1996. (Thanks, Mom. Your decades of hoarding really paid off for this blog post.)

In 1996 I opened the senior talent show with The Joker by Steve Miller Band with my friend Steve Love playing the wolf-whistle lead guitar part. Then I played Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton to end the show — but not on the Arbor. The audience was really into The Joker. Unfortunately, it was my first time to encounter large-auditorium off-beat clapping, and I ended up having to stop for a moment in the middle of the song just to find the beat again. I thought Tears in Heaven went better, but feedback at school was, “You sang it too low.” Nevertheless, photos of my performance did appear in the school newspaper.

That was both the first and last time my music ever garnered any media attention.

The Arbor came to college with me, and many people took a turn on it during dorm jams and sing-arounds my freshman year. However, as time went on, it had more and more electrical issues. Eventually I was seduced by a brand new Epiphone Les Paul, and the Arbor was left in a case in the closet for years.

Having had success with the recent amplifier repair, I decided to see if I could work some magic on the Arbor.

At some point the tone pots had frozen up. Turning the tone knob equated to rotating the entire pot, which put strain on the wiring. Eventually one of the leads from a resistor had pulled loose, which was why the guitar had a terrible hum when it was plugged in and why it got put away in the first place.

As a kid I never realized the pick guard was just one big nicotine stain.

When I pulled the knobs, I realized just how much nicotine build-up was on the pick guard. I wasn’t aware of nicotine staining as a kid — no one in our family even smoked. However, I do remember always feeling like I could never really get the pick guard clean. Who knows what life this guitar had before my granddad and I came across it.

A few squirts of CRC cleaner got the pots working freely, and then it only took about 30 seconds to solder the broken lead back to the correct tab. I tightened the nuts on the pots to make sure they wouldn’t rotate again. I cleaned the 5-way switch, then put it back together.

The next issue was the bridge setup. Teenage me really didn’t have a concept of intonation. I had adjusted all the saddles to make a nice, neat straight line. As a beginner guitarist, I also had a tendency to miss the high E string when picking, so I remedied the situation by raising the high E above all the other strings — couldn’t miss it.

It’s not recommended to raise the high E above the rest of the strings, but if I had become famous, everyone would be doing it. The strings are finally level and intonated.

I adjusted the neck truss rod, leveled the bridge saddles, and put some new strings on it. Then, for possibly the first time in this guitar’s entire life, I intonated each string.

Playing her through an amplifier last night generated a brief time warp.

Fourteen-year-old me was home alone in his small-town Oklahoma bedroom, the amplifier pegged to ten, fumbling through the chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit before kicking the amp over and pretending to smash the guitar onto the mattress of his bed.

The action is nice and low. The tone comes through dirtier than it does on my American made Telecaster, but that’s what you’d expect from old, cheap electronics. It plays as well as any cheap guitar can.

Maybe someday Finn will think it looks “cool enough” to give it a try.

Repairing a 1964 Gibson Skylark GA 5T Tremolo Tube Amplifier

“Adopt a son,” was the tagline under the Instagram photo. A local music shop had a vintage Gibson amplifier listed for sale in remarkably good cosmetic shape — except for the logo.

1964 Gibson Crestline GA 5T Skylark Tremolo

I had a quick chat with Mary about the rising value of vintage instruments that veered into a promise to sell the large Line6 AX2-212 amplifier sitting in my study, and I was off to retrieve the Gibson.

The amplifier had the original speaker, the original leather handle, no tears in the tolex or cloth, and very minimal rust on the faceplate. Unfortunately, the amp didn’t play quite as good as it looked. We still brokered a deal, and I brought it home. That’s when I took the week long deep dive into vintage radio and amplifier repair.

Yes, we have gone way beyond banana bread.

The Death Cap

It wasn’t until 1969 that Underwriters Laboratories mandated three-prong plugs on appliances. Amplifiers from the 1950s and 1960s came with a two prong power cord, which could be plugged in either way. The lack of earth ground made those amplifiers susceptible to RF noise. To combat this, designers added a capacitor between the negative terminal of the power cable and the chassis ground of the amplifiers. It was well-known and accepted at the time that if a musician was touching the guitar strings and touched another reverse grounded object such as a microphone, he or she would receive a noticeable shock. The problem with having a capacitor coming from the cable to ground was that if it failed open, it would deliver the full 120 volts AC to the musician.

The “paper caps” and the “death cap” on the unmolested board.

While I wanted to keep the amplifier as original as possible, I decided removing the “death cap” and adding a three-prong power cable with ground to earth was the way to go. I also relocated the positive cable lead to run through the fuse before the switch for a little added protection of the amplifier internals.

Three strand power cable with earth ground installed.

120hz Hum

The most noticeable issue with the amplifier was a very loud hum coming through the speakers even with the volume turned to zero. A lower 60hz hum can be an indicator of poor shielding, but a 120hz hum is usually an indicator of bad filter capacitors.

From what I could tell, the amplifier internals had never been touched, so the circuit was sporting two paper-wrapped electrolytic capacitors — a Maximite and a Minimite. I didn’t have a way to test those capacitors, but it’s generally accepted that the lifespan for a paper-wrapped electrolytic capacitor is 6 – 10 years. Being 56 years old, it was a pretty solid bet that both of them needed to be replaced.

I replaced the Maximite with two modern 22mf 450volt capacitors, and the Minimite was swapped for one of the same. I flipped the amplifier back on, and the hum was gone.

A pair of 22mf 400Volt capacitors in place of the Maximite.

As a side note, if someone is selling you a tube amp and says, “It has a hum, but it still plays great,” walk away. You can’t play great battling that hum. You can’t record with that hum. You can’t perform with that hum. Also, it’s just a matter of time before the leaking capacitors fry the power transformer and cause more damage to the amplifier.

The Mysterious Disappearing Tremolo

This amplifier has a built-in tremolo circuit powered by the oscillations of a vacuum tube. When I purchased the amplifier, it wasn’t working at all. Later at home you could hear the oscillations in the 120hz hum, but it wasn’t evident in the actual guitar sound. Then I tapped on a few connections and spread some crowded wires apart, and the tremolo disappeared completely.

My online searches turned up conflicting diagrams, some indicating a 6EU7 tube and some indicating a 6C4. As I researched both, the 6C4 was noted for it’s oscillations, so I ordered one thinking I had the wrong tube. Turns out a 6C4 isn’t even the right size for the plug. I tried a new 6EU7, and the tremolo was back.

Matched Power Tubes

When I purchased the amplifier, the dates and makes of the tubes varied greatly. The schematic called for two 6AQ5 power tubes, but one was a much more recent 6005. Power tubes are supposed to be electrically matched, so that they have the same plate current and amplification characteristics. The performance of vacuum tubes can vary wildly, so matched tubes were allegedly manufactured at the same time and more rigorously tested to meet the same specifications. When I ordered replacements from Amplified Parts, they sent me a pair of matched new old stock 6AQ5 tubes that were manufactured together in France in 1963. It kind of blows my mind that there’s still parts for these amplifiers sitting in warehouses.

Does the amp sound better with the matched tubes? Maybe I’m just a auditory plebeian, but I can’t tell a difference.

With the three-strand cable, new filter capacitors and new tubes, the amp is playing well, and I imagine it should be able to handle another 50 years. However, if I get the chance to upgrade my testing equipment I’d like to take some measurement and see how far off the original values the other capacitors and various resistors have wandered.

I should also probably spend a little time working on my guitar skills, so they do justice to this amplifier.

1967 Mercury Cougar project update

I haven’t done a great job of documenting the progress on my 67. Most of the earlier projects were just so filthy that I wouldn’t have even of thought about touching my cameras. However, now that I’m home with plenty of time on my hands and in between major projects, I thought I’d take a moment to catch up. As I was editing, I realized I didn’t even touch on half the projects I’ve done over the past three years, but nobody really wants to hear about the restoration and alignment of a glovebox latch or the linkage for a shift indicator light. I hit most of the major projects, and I was even able to match up photos for some of it.

Since this car is a pretty plain-jane standard, my goal wasn’t a full restoration. I was hoping to just create a nice, usable driver. I’m hoping to start some paint and body work this year, but we’ll have to see how the world turns out after we get out of social isolation.

1960 Crestliner: Phase 2

Last week we headed to Illinois four days earlier than the rest of the family to get the Crestliner running and comfortable for the 4th of July.

While we were gone I had a rebuilt outboard put onto the back of the boat. When the shop installed the outboard, they also replaced the rotten transom board for me.

When we started the project, we had an idea that we would pattern a new floor with painters plastic or butcher paper. This didn’t work too well. It was very difficult to keep the plastic tight on both sides on the curved edge. It was also impossible to reach both sides at once without being in the middle of them. We ended up doing side to side measurements every 6 inches to create a pattern.

Not perfect, but not bad

The subfloor of the boat had been filled with styrofoam, but throughout the decades, it had become water-logged, crumbly and moldy. When I looked up replacement options for closed cell foam, the slick mix and pour foam that would have perfectly formed to the subfloor troughs was far too pricey for this project. After googling several types of closed cell foam, we landed on pool noodles! $50 for enough to fill the whole thing.

We secured the floor over top by screwing it into the metal ribs.

The next step was the front seat. My father had a bench screwed down on all sides, but we wanted to make it open up to provide access to the storage we found underneath. This was obviously the original design since the hinges were actually welded in place.

We decided to cover the seat and the floor with a vinyl imitation teak decking. It’s soft on the feet, non-slip, pretty to look at, and it keeps you from getting splinters. After the flooring we took considerable time to install some swivel chairs. It was difficult because they bolted in both sides.

During the spring we made some cushions for the aft part of the boat using some closed cell foam and sunbrella leftover from our sailboat interior. Our next step was to make some bases for them. We chose to do a rectangular plywood base with 2x2s as joiners in the corners. After we had them all put together and painted, we traced them onto the floor where we wanted them. I then took them out of the boat and cleaned the plywood floor carefully before sticking down the vinyl decking. Then we bolted down the side seats and left the middle seat as a floater, which can be also be used as a step or a coffee table.

The last thing we needed was to get the lights running on the boat. That was fairly simple as the wiring isn’t very complex so we just ran all new. We ended up buying new stern and fore lights as well.

Our last obstacle was some safety concerns on the trailer. Our forward winch wasn’t working at all, so we got a replacement for it along with some new tires at the local farm store.

We did a quick test run in the yard, as well as some backing practice. The yoke of the trailer turned out to be a bit crooked, so pulling straight back involved a sort of S pattern wobble with the steering wheel to compensate.

Finally we got to take her down to the river! I can’t wait to take her out many more times in the future.

Tips & Tricks for Installing a Lokar AOD Transmission TV Cable Kit

The 1967 Mercury Cougar project came with a 1980s Ford AOD transmission. This conversion is a nice upgrade over the original C4 if you plan to do much highway cruising.

OntheRoadAgain

However, the craftmanship of the original conversion left a bit to be desired. The person had used the factory AOD throttle valve (TV) cable, which didn’t really connect correctly to the carburetor. They had also fabricated a cable bracket and spring return that wasn’t holding up too well. I had noticed quite a bit of flex in it, and when I attempted to unbolt it from the intake manifold to investigate, it disintegrated.

TVCableBracketDisaster

The Lokar TV cable kit for AOD conversions came recommended from several different car magazines and forums online, so I decided to give it a shot. I won’t go into detailed instructions for the installation because there are a couple great videos about that already.

However, I will mention a few problems I encountered during the install and my solutions.

The first thing I did was add a Geometry Corrector to the Holley carburetor. While some people said they connected the Lokar cable directly to the carb with no issues, this piece creates an even pull from idle to WOT.

SonnaxGeometryCorrector

Then I tackled the transmission end of the cable. The shift lever went on with no problem, but the cable bracket was a trick. The Lokar kit comes with a longer bolt to replace the original pan bolt. It goes up through the pan and has a nut that goes on the back of it to support the tension.

LokarTVbracket01

On my car there was not enough space between the hole and the wall of the transmission to get the nut threaded onto the end of the bolt. If I had been doing this project with the transmission on a bench, I might have been able to hammer in the housing a little or bend the lip down a little to create enough clearance, but neither of those things were going to happen in the car. Instead I grabbed the dremel and shaved down the back edge of the nut.

ModifiedNut

With the flat side against the transmission case, I was just able to get it to thread. That stupid nut was the hardest part of the project.

Once I had the transmission end put together, I tackled the spring return bracket on the carburetor.

LokarReturnSpringBracket

The Lokar bracket that comes with the kit is really engineered for a throttle cable, so I had to adjust the bracket all the way in towards the carburetor, and it still barely has clearance for the throttle rod. However, the rod has full travel and the bracket isn’t causing any binding, so although I’d like a little more space, it seems ok. In the photo above you can see the Lokar adjuster tool that comes with the kit on the cable between the snap connector and the stop adjuster.

Strange fact, the allen wrench sent in the Lokar cable kit did not actually fit the set screw in the stop adjuster. I had to dig one out of my toolbox. Not sure how Lokar let that issue sneak past QA. Not a big deal, but then again, it’s not much of a confidence builder either.

Once the cable and all the brackets were installed, I screwed the pressure gauge into the TV test port on the passenger side of transmission and started the car up to set the TV cable tension.

With the car in neutral and absolutely no pressure on the cable, I was still getting 40 psi on the gauge. After several google searches and various tests, I finally pressed my finger against the shift lever and found it moved just the slightest bit. The gauge instantly dropped to 0. I let my finger off, and the lever slowly moved back out a few millimeters and the pressure came back up to 30 psi.

I have no idea why the lever wants to move by itself. This was not really discussed anywhere in any of the instructions. However, on some forums people had claimed that the Lokar cable spring wasn’t heavy enough to return their transmission to neutral while others defended it as being great. It definitely wasn’t strong enough for my transmission. I fabricated a little bracket and hung another return spring on the system, and suddenly, all my pressure readings were exactly where they were supposed to be.

LokarTVbracket02

I used vice grips to hold tension on the cable and tighten the set screw with the Lokar spacer in place to 35 psi.

PressureCheck

Then as soon as I pulled the spacer, the cable would snap back and the pressure would drop to 0 psi.

As soon as I removed the pressure gauge I took it for a test drive, and the shifts were much smoother and not as late as before.

One step closer to being on the road.

CougarTagSmall

Does your boat have eyebrows?

I’ve never really understood having eyebrow rails on boats. Does it make them more expressive? Ours just seemed to catch dirt then get broken when people slid off the cabin top and caught their feet on them.

EyeBrow01

Within weeks of buying Gimme Shelter, a section of our starboard eyebrow rail had snapped off. Then another and another. By the time we rang in 2017, we were missing several sections of the trim on both sides of the boat.

Since O’day has been out of business for decades, there were no readily available replacement eyebrow rails. I had a discolored strip of gel coat with exposed screws sticking out that needed to be addressed.

From the beginning I knew I didn’t want to use screws to install the replacement. I looked into buying teak boards and cutting my own, but it was expensive, and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I looked into PlasDeck and NuTeak to see if they could replicate the originals for me, but they said they would have to make the rails wider and the plastic would require screws because an adhesive wouldn’t stick to it. I even thought about skipping the teak altogether and just putting a blue pinstripe on the cabin to cover up the stain.

It was by pure coincidence that the local boaters resale shop happened to have a set of never-installed eyebrow rails for a Catalina 34 for $99. (They’re $203 from CatalinaDirect.com.) The O’day rails were 14’4″ while the Catalina rails are only 14′, but they were pretty similar.

Eyebrow05

I removed all the screws, filled the holes with epoxy, and stuck the new eyebrow rails on with 3M emblem adhesive — the same stuff I used to replace the fixed ports.

Eyebrow04

The entire project was painless, which was such a relief after the nightmare of our heat exchanger replacement.

Eyebrow03

The only downside was that the new eyebrow rails made our hand rails and toe rails look terrible. We spent the entire next day sanding them down and oiling them to make them match.

EyeBrow02

Gimme Shelter is looking great.

Upgrading my Universal/Westerbeke Heat Exchanger: The dumbest repair I’ve ever made

This is a tale of folly and failure. My lack of research and trust in manufacturers led me down a long path of woe.

Universal5424

The Universal 5424 in our 1982 O’day 34 was overheating. The 3-cylinder diesel motor was rated to run at 2800 RPM. However, if we pushed it past 1900 RPM, the temp needle began rising and never stopped.

Decades ago, Universal/Westerbeke admitted that the 2″ diameter heat exchanger was too small for the 5424 and the M-25 and recommended upgrading to a 3″ heat exchanger. Despite our engine allegedly being rebuilt in 2008, that never happened.

At the very beginning of this debacle, a friend said I should just buy a cheap generic 3″ heat exchanger with screw-in bungs, so I could size them to my hoses and just do a quick swap. I decided against that because I wanted to keep the engine as OEM as possible with an “official” upgraded part, and I thought finding the barbed bronze bungs might be a pain. Oh, how foolish I was.

Catalina Direct had factory style replacements heat exchangers starting at $500, but I wasn’t ready to pay that much, so I searched eBay. One seller claimed he had a 3″ Universal heat exchanger. It looked very similar to the one I had. I made an offer at $150 (plus $20 shipping), and he accepted! I probably should have paid more attention to the last line in his auction that said, “measurements are not exact.”

A few days later the eBay exchanger arrived. It did look very much like the one on my boat — because it was the exact same 2″ diameter heat exchanger mounted on the back of my motor.

I contacted the eBay seller, and after a photo with a measuring tape showing that he had definitely listed this part incorrectly, he agreed to refund my money. Unfortunately, I had to spend another $20 to ship it back.

Before the project even started, I was down $40.

I browsed the Universal/Westerbeke options on Catalina Direct, and they all had the same hose inlets/outlets listed. I took that to mean they were standard sizes that would be the same as the heat exchanger I was removing. That was a terrible assumption.

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Approximately $550 later, I had this 3″ x 17″ behemoth that didn’t share a single intake or outlet size with my old unit. In fact, despite being the “factory” upgrade, some of the outlets didn’t even point the correct direction.

I slowly began the process of adapting the hose sizes and directions to make it fit.

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Why have four hoses and eight leak points when you can have 15 adapter pieces, nine hose sections and 63 leak points?

The worst part of it all was the 7/8″ raw water intake port. My oberdorfer pump had a 1/2″ barb and hose coming off of it. I found a 3/4″ barb, but a 3/4″ hose will not fit on the 7/8″ intake — even if you boil the hose first. There are no 7/8″ fittings available ANYWHERE.

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I ended up running the 1/2″ hose to a 3/4″ adapter and then triple clamping the 7/8″ hose onto that to keep it from leaking. However, since the soft 7/8″ inlet got slightly out of round as the heat exchanger was being moved around for three weekends, the 7/8″ hose doesn’t make a perfect seal on it, and I’ve now got an ever-so-slight drip of sea water leaking into my bilge for the rest of my life.

Another $500 in adapters and hoses later, I finally had the entire coolant system put back together.

Since I had to drain all the coolant anyway, I decided to replace my thermostat.

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That was an easy process, but you have to special order the molded hose that connects the thermostat housing to the water pump. Be aware of this fact ahead of time because if you’re not, you have to put the project on hold for another week while you wait on that hose to show up.

Once I finally got it all back together, I fired up the engine, and it promptly overheated.

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Yes, I had an airlock. I did not know that after filling the coolant system, you must remove the bolt in the top of the thermostat housing and then pour more coolant in there to remove the air pocket.

After overheating the engine twice dealing with the airlock, I finally got it running. We ran it in the slip long enough to verify the thermostat was opening correctly, and that she wouldn’t overheat anymore.

It took three weekends and about $1200 after the expense of the heat exchanger, hoses, adapters, clamps, thermostat, and impeller, but we can finally push into the wind at 2200 RPM without overheating.

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Our last time out in that type of wind we were running at 2 – 2.5 knots. Making trips down to Galveston in a strong headwind were completely out of the question. Now we should be able to plan trips at an average speed of at least 4 knots no matter what the weather is like.

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We still don’t have one of those speed demon sailboats that can motor at 6.5 knots, but four is twice as nice as two. However, if I could do this project again, I definitely wouldn’t be so freaking dumb.

Don’t be like me. Get the generic heat exchanger and screw in the barbs that fit your existing hoses. You can even get 90-degree nozzles and twist them to the exact direction required.

I’m going to apologize now to any future captain of Gimme Shelter. Projects like this are the reason people hate previous owners.

 

 

Chasing leaks

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I was in my favorite seat in the boat when I thought I felt something on my head. I looked up just in time to feel a very cold drip down my neck.

Last year we had replaced the two large cabin windows, but it was time to chase leaks again. This time we had water coming through the handrails on the ceiling, so we swore we’d actually commit a nice weekend or two for repairs rather than just sailing around while our boat continued to leak.

I wasn’t excited about dealing with all the wood plugs that were hiding the screws, but there was nothing to do except start drilling.

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Our rails were through-bolted from the inside of the cabin to the rails on the cabin top with the screw heads inside and the nuts outside.

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Unfortunately after 35 years, most of these screws didn’t want to budge. We managed to break about half of them loose, but then I had to deal with the tedious process of drilling the heads of the other half.

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After much longer than expected, we finally managed to get the rails loose.

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I made a trip to West Marine for new hardware, but of course the screws weren’t a standard length, so I had to buy longer ones. Meanwhile Mary was sanding the rails to clean them up. When I got back we gooped up the holes and started bolting everything back together.

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In retrospect I wish I had taken the time to paint the black spacers while the rail was off, but it never crossed my mind until we had it back on the boat.

The interior rails had the screw heads, so it was easy to get those holes plugged and leveled. We then rubbed the rail with teak oil, and it was looking pretty good.

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On the exterior I had to grind the extra length off all the screws, which wasn’t as terrible a job as I thought it would be. It took about 30 minutes to get all of the screws cut down. Then I started tapping in plugs.

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This was my first time to use plugs, so it wasn’t a flawless operation. I chiseled them down and then sanded them level, but I had two or three that split wrong or came apart and had to be redone.

Finally, I got it all sanded smooth and added another layer of teak oil.

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You would think that would have been enough leak fixing for the year, but we also finally tackled the broken opening port in the V-berth. When we bought the boat fit came with a tupperware container under that window to catch the water. A year ago we bought a replacement window. I guess after four years it was finally time to do something about it.

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The new window was the same size, but the interior screw holes weren’t in the same places, and the exterior trim had no holes at all.

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There was a long debate whether or not to drill holes in the new trim to make it match the old trim rings, but it was finally decided to mount it with sealant only the way we had mounted the fixed ports. If we really need it to match we can always glue screw heads on the trim.

On top of all that work, Mary also sanded and oiled the companionway as a bonus project.

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The good news is we’ve got no leaks from the re-bedded rails or the new window.

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The bad news is that our mast is leaking again. Guess we’ll tackle that next year because I need to do some sailing.