Shooting Stars at Lick Observatory

On the last day of my cousin Andrew’s wedding weekend he and his new wife Saara invited all of the friends and family out to Lick Observatory for a Sunday evening of desserts and star gazing.  The drive up to Lick was almost as exciting as the place itself.  We wandered over three windy mountain roads to get to the semi-secluded Mt Hamilton. The Observatories large domes make it a beautiful sight. The view from the top is breathtaking.

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Of course everyone wanted their picture taken in front of the sunset.

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After the wedding party had finished with all of their pictures, docents from the observatory treated us to an entertaining lecture on James Lick, the wealthy entrepreneur who funded the creation of the observatory back in 1888.  Lick was a colorful character who explored the world, buying and selling goods, and made his fortune in California real estate. As Lick aged he had a considerable amount of money to decide what to do with, and having no family, his two main ideas were to build a giant pyramid in downtown San Francisco in his own honor or to have a Statue of Liberty size statue made of himself in the harbor. Luckily the science community was able to convince him to instead fund this lovely observatory.

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One of the greatest treats of the evening was sitting in the room with the Great Lick Refractor.  This telescope is 57 feet long, and 4 feet wide.  When completed it was the largest in the world, and today is still the second. While honestly to me, the images were not that exciting, sitting in a room with that giant machine was.  Operated by a man spinning a ships wheel halfway up the telescope the telescope spins and so does the whole dome to match.  The men shout back and forth coordinates and directions to each other over the mechanical noise of everything moving. Meanwhile you walk your way up a metal ladder in the dark to a thin observation walkway, where you can see the whole thing taking place beneath you.

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Operating in the dark I think ads a bit of magic to all of it. They only use red lights like you’re inside a submarine or something. Also my mom and I decided that the thing sticking out of the side is obviously a laser.

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We were treated to a viewing of the Ring Nebula through the refractor, and then a nice close-up view of Saturn at the other end of the observatory looking through the 40-inch reflector. In addition to the big telescopes the docents also had some smaller but more modern telescopes set up outside. Many people took turns asking for specific constellations. Not knowing a lot about stars I asked some basic questions about our galaxy and really learned a lot from the people there helping.

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Fred was in heaven finally being somewhere without any light pollution, so that he could get photos of the Milky Way. I think he enjoyed taking those wide angle photos than seeing the stars close up through the telescopes.

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We wrapped up the evening with a sing-a-long inside the great dome. The acoustics were amazing. It gave me that perfect mix of warm feelings and an inspiration to continue to learn and better myself that always comes from time with my family. Love you guys!

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Involuntary boat repairs are the worst

I really enjoy boat projects — when it’s a nice update or upgrade that I chose to undertake. I just don’t have the same enthusiasm for the inconvenient, unplanned projects that seem to be popping up on a weekly basis.

Batteries

Last Saturday we arrived to find a flooded bilge thanks to a dead float switch. We also discovered that there is an air leak in the manual bilge pump line, so we had to resort to the old cup-to-bucket-to-overboard method of emptying the bilge. I spliced in a new switch. Not especially fun, but an easy fix.The manual bilge pump is still on the to-do list.

This weekend we arrived and kicked on the air-conditioning to get nothing but a small trickle of water coming out of the through-hull. It was running, but just barely.

I went to work checking the strainer and cleaning the raw water system. As I checked each connection I noticed a drip of water coming from the connector on the bottom of the pump. The plastic hose barb that screws onto the pump had split. I removed it and sent Mary to the store to match it while I continued to clean the system. Unfortunately, no place open late Saturday evening had a match. Mary returned with a Frankenstein of adapters from Home Depot. Thankfully there was just enough clearance to get the longer adapter on, and it held pressure. However, I could not get the system to prime.

I made one last ditch attempt to get it running by sticking the shop vac on the through-hull to suck the water up through the system. It actually worked! After sweating completely through our clothes for two hours, we were back in business with a nice, strong water flow and the vents blowing cold air.

Sunday I finally tackled our house battery situation. I’m not sure if we have a bad cell or if our batteries have just gotten old and unhealthy, but while they will power everything for a 4 – 6 hour day sail around the bay, they can’t keep the refrigerator and anchor light on overnight. A while back our friend Rene donated two NAPA Commercial Heavy Duty batteries to us, but I just haven’t been in any hurry to pull 60 pounds batteries in and out of the engine bay.

With the Harvest Moon Regatta approaching, I finally decided to make the battery swap. If the free batteries get us up to 24-hours of sailing time on the house bank, we’ll attempt it this year. If not, we’re going to have to pass for budget reasons.

I was dreading the actual physical battery swap which would require lying on my back and lifting out the old batteries, then lowering in the new batteries. While it wasn’t pleasant, that ended up being the easiest part of the project.

The new batteries were larger, so the old #2 cables to connect them to each other were not long enough. Then I had three cables made for batteries with posts instead of screw terminals. Then none of my old wires with screw terminal connection rings were large enough to fit over the new, beefier screw terminal posts. I spent quite a long time re-sorting cables and replacing the ends of them.

We made a run to West Marine for some #2 cable and terminal rings. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask anyone how I was supposed to crimp on the new terminals. All the tools on the boat proved woefully inadequate.

Mary made a trip to Home Depot while I worked on other things and came back with the heaviest duty crimpers they had, which were still far too small. We then made another trip to return them and tried O’Reillys. They had pre-made #4 battery cables in various lengths, but no crimper. We called our diesel mechanic friend, who showed up with clamp on post terminals. He just shook his head when he saw what we really needed crimped. He referred us to Blackburns, which unfortunately was closed.

In a last ditch effort, Mary called West Marine again, where we’d already been twice that day, to see if they had crimpers. They said they didn’t have one for sale, but they had one we could use, so we packed all the cables and connections into a bag, and made our third stop there.

The guy at the customer service desk led us to aisle 1 where there was a huge crimper bolted to a table. He said the staff was not allowed to crimp cables for us due to liability reasons, but we were welcome to crimp away.

Five minutes later we were headed back to the boat, and 15 minutes later I finally had everything reconnected and running.

I won’t know until next weekend whether or not our battery situation is really resolved, but I’m crossing my fingers we won’t have any more surprise projects this year.

 

Maintaining the raw water system: seacock, strainer, impeller, zincs

My sailboat to-do list has been growing all year, and there was no way around it, this weekend I had to do some maintenance and work off some of my lingering projects.

Universal 2420 Diesel

Auxiliary power on Gimme Shelter is supplied by the original 1982 Universal 5424, a marinized Kubota diesel. This weekend I decided to work through the raw water system.

Raw water seacock

I checked to make sure it moved freely open and closed. I checked the hose for cracking, and I checked to make sure the hose clamps did not show any signs of corrosion. Everything looked fine, so I closed it and moved on to the next piece of the system. (Closing the raw water seacock is a key step in all raw water maintenance and repair, as is opening it before you start the engine again!)

Raw water strainer

The strainer is basically a jar with a metal basket inside. Water is pushed through the top of the basket, and then shoots out all of the tiny holes of the metal strainer while leaving debris inside the metal strainer basket. If you look at the photo above, mine is very easy to access on the port side of the engine. I pulled out the strainer basket and found just a little mud, sprayed it with the hose and put it back together. No problems.

Raw water pump impeller

It’s recommended that you change the raw water impeller annually. I hadn’t had any water flow issues, and we hadn’t put many on hours on the engine, so I had let Gimme Shelter go two full years without replacing it. It was still working, but when I pulled it out, I could see the difference between the old and new impellers.

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I really like the Oberdorfer pump because it’s easy to access on the front of the engine, and it only takes four screws to open it up.

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The impellers just push onto the keyed center shaft, and you’re ready to go. The only catch is that you have to replace the paper gasket every time you open the pump. You also have to make sure you remove all of the old paper gasket before you install the new one or you won’t get a good seal. In the past I have resorted to cutting a new gasket out of construction paper with a pocket knife, but it’s definitely easier just to order a new gasket when you order the new impeller.

Sacrificial zinc anode

From the pump, the raw water moves to the heat exchanger where the antifreeze moves through tubes and transfers the heat of the engine into the seawater before it’s sent overboard in the exhaust. A sacrificial zinc anode is screwed into the heat exchanger to protect it from corrosion. If the heat exchanger tubes corrode out, you’ll end up with seawater in your antifreeze and vice versa, so this zinc is very important.

I’ll admit it. I’d been as lazy about the zinc as I had been about the impeller, and it hadn’t been changed in two years. When I unscrewed it, this is what came out.

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On the left is the two-year-old zinc. On the right is a new pencil zinc. This was bad. However, I didn’t have any seawater coming out of the hole, so I resorted to taking a selfie with the heat exchanger to see what was going on down there.

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There was still zinc left in the hole. However, two or three pokes with a screwdriver, and that little bit of zinc left crumbled to pieces and fell right out. I then installed the new zinc and promised myself I’d start checking it every six months.

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Once the new zinc was installed I opened the seacock and watched for leaks from the strainer lid as it filled. With no leaks from the strainer, I cranked up the engine and looked for waterflow from the exhaust. Water was flowing, so I popped back into the cabin to check for leaks from both the raw water pump and then zinc.

Once I’d verified that my maintenance hadn’t caused any new problems, I moved on to my next project, which I’ll blog about tomorrow — installing a NMEA 2000 backbone.