Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Space Heaters

I've got a camper and houseboat. Sometimes it's nice to have heat when we're on shore-power and also it's sometimes nice to have hear when we're running the generator. Propane is an option for both, but we prefer electric. Our solution in both cases is a two setting Milkhouse heater. I like the 750/1500 version, but they also come in 1000/1500 and others. This one is less than $25.

The nice thing about these fan heaters is that one can direct the warmth where required without having to heat up a large area. It's also nice to be able to 'hold your hands over the fire' when those fingers get cold or if you want to blow warm air at your tootsies. This isn't easily accomplished with ceramic or oil heaters. BTW - no matter which electric heater you decide on, resistance will be the way it generates heat. Also, a 1500 watt unit for $25 puts out the same amount of heat as a $150, 1500 watt Amish version

These Milkhouse heaters have tip over circuits so they stop if they fall or are knocked over. The other concern folks might have is what if something gets in front of the grill while I'm sleeping? There's sure to be a fire. I'm careful enough that I put my heater in a 'safe' place, but for curiosity I did a test to see how long it would take for something to catch fire if placed directly in front of the grill. I used a paper towel.

Paper towel in front of the heater.

Side view of paper towel in front of the heater.
I used the 750 watt setting for the test because I like to use two heaters in different rooms on the same 15 amp circuit.  After 15 minutes at wide open thermostat there was no change in the appearance of the paper towel and no suspicious odor so I placed one hand inside at the grill and the other hand outside the paper towel and brought my palms together to see how hot the towel was. It was barely warm.

BUT - what happens if something blocks the air from the back? I draped a paper towel over the back grill and in about 2 seconds the unit stopped because the thermostat cycled off. But I got things going again, focused on a 30 minute test. At about 25 minutes, the paper towel at the output grill was still only warm. Then somewhere near the 30 minute mark the thermostat cycled off , presumably because the unit itself had reached thermostat temp (because of the restricted output flow?).

Another note...
On the houseboat, we like to have the heater on the floor of the dinette. It's not only a great storage place, but it also warms the feet when in use.
Heater in place under dinette table
When the dinette table is dropped down into the sleeper position, the heater stays where it is.
You can't see it now, but the heater is still in the same location

The trouble is, that in this restricted space, the heater cycles off when the temp in that confined space satisfies the thermostat setting (of say 70°), and the temp above at the bed is still much colder. The solution is an inline thermostat. The heater is set to wide open but is plugged into a circuit that is controlled by that inline thermostat. The inline thermostat is set to 70° and the heater is wired to keep on heating until that 70 is reached at the thermostat. None of the heater's safety circuits are affected.

In line thermostat in aisle below the seat.

So now the heater has all it's safety systems in tact but will continue to run when safe until the temperature in the aisle is 70°. It's been a great solution for the folks who sleep in the dinette.

Anyway, I'm completely comfortable with using these space heaters in both my RV and my boat.

Friday, January 11, 2019

NYC June ’99

Crown Vic towing a 15'11" cuddy cabin "QT"

For me, the prospect of driving in Manhattan falls somewhere between unappealing and terrifying.  But the Hudson River and Long Island Sound had screamed “Bring the boat” on all previous business trips to NY. My wife and 18 year old daughter would be available during the next scheduled business trip.  They were excited about doing some boating in the area.  With the help of a boating friend, Mark, who works in NY and lives in NJ we came up with a plan to not only combine business with pleasure but also to minimize the pain of having a car (with trailer) in NY City.

The boat was packed, tires and bearings checked and all trailer lights operative in time for the scheduled 5/25 7am departure.  We drove an uneventful 587 miles before checking in to the Newark Delaware Best Western.  The next day (Wed 5/26), after a total of 700+ miles and failure of one trailer tire we arrived at the Weehawken NJ Sheraton Suites Hotel at about 2pm.  We checked in, did a little exploring by foot, got a delicious sandwich at a nearby food court and generally unwound from the road miles until Mark showed up about 5pm.

With Mark taking us on a quick tour through his home town of Hoboken, the four of us made our way the 5 or so miles to Liberty Landing State Park to launch the boat.  The girls then took the car/trailer back to the Sheraton parking lot, and Mark and I boated our way around the Statue of Liberty and back up to the Lincoln Harbor Marina where he keeps his Sea Ray 250.  Before tying up in a slip that he had arranged for me to use during the stay, we swung by the NY waterfront to get a look at the ships that were part of the Fleet Week festivities.  We secured QT in the Lincoln Harbor slip and I walked the ¼ mile to the hotel to prepare for the business meeting the next day, my appetite thoroughly whetted for some NY boating.

Getting to Manhattan from the hotel is a joy to behold.  Stop by the front desk and purchase a ferry ticket.  Walk out the front door of the hotel and get directly on the ferry, in 5 minutes later you’re across the Hudson in Manhattan boarding the ferry bus which will drop you off within a short walk of just about anyplace in Manhattan.  Ferries, Marinas and restaurants within a quarter mile of the hotel.  It doesn’t get any better. Not having to use a car for the daily routine is to me one of life’s greatest pleasures. Two other notable carless experiences immediately come to mind.  One was a week at Disney World when we stayed on the grounds …took the Disney transportation everywhere… never fired up the car once.  The other was when we rented a house on the beach at Bald Head Island.  There are no cars on Bald Head, you leave them at the ferry terminal at Southport.  On Bald Head, everyone gets about in golf carts.  The house we rented was so far out on the beach that the high tide actually came up under the house.

Thursday, with a successful business meeting behind me, the family explored Manhattan by foot (and Black Rolls).  Thursday evening the girls were a little pooped from exploring the city.  I too rested for a spell, but soon the call of the boat less than ¼ mile away was too loud to ignore.  It was dark as I untied her, and slowly made my way out of the marina.  Manhattan was a fairyland of lights, sky scrapers and moving vehicles.  As I rounded the turn to head south down the Hudson, the Statue of Liberty came into view with a fireworks display overhead. What an overwhelming sight – I thought I was dreaming.

Reality quickly slapped me in the face as I realized that all those lights were not landside.  The river was bristling with red, green, white and amber nav lights.  One could not just meander down the Hudson gawking at the sights; careful, diligent attention was necessary to keep out of the way of yachts, barges, ferries, cruiseliners, dinner/sightseeing, and military boats.  I carefully made my way around the southern end of Manhattan and up the East River.   I spent about ½ hour drifting while I took in the activities at the Seaport, then made it up to the Williamsburg Bridge before deciding I’d get into trouble with my girls if I spent too much more time on the water that night.  On the return I did pause at the Statue of Liberty, marveling at her majestic presence in the harbor, then hugged the Manhattan shore, trying to stay out of traffic while taking in the brilliance of nightime Manhattan.

The next morning, after a leisurely ‘free’ breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up QT in preparation for a day on the Hudson.  The plan was to make our way to West Point, then decide what to do from there.  The morning was crisp and clear.  We pretty much had the river to ourselves as we headed north.  We asked the Honda to push us at a comfortable, quiet 8 mph. This pace gave us an opportunity leisurely absorb the sights along both shores.  As we came to the Spyten Duyvil RR Bridge at the north end of Manhattan, we noticed a boat waiting for an opening.  This got us to thinking about a circumnavigation of Manhattan rather than heading further up the Hudson.  We throttled her back and waited for the bridge.

The back side of Manhattan down to Hells Gate was not particularly memorable.  Neither was Hells Gate for that matter.  In 1972, when we made the trip aboard a 27’ sloop with a 10 HP diesel giving us a max speed of 6mph we were much more interested in tides/currents, bridge clearances, water depths and the threats of commercial traffic than we are today.  Our current boat is a 15’11” cuddy we call “QT”. She sports a Honda 50 outboard, is capable of over 25 mph, needs only 6’ of vertical clearance and is quite content in only 20” of water.  The critical boating concerns of today are basically limited to weather, and then only when we’re planning open water adventures.  Even the worst of weather is quite manageable up a small creek in 2 1/2 feet of water, either tied to a tree on the bank or swinging from our 8S Danforth.  For me, never worrying about bridge clearances, current, shallow water, or having the right charts, combined with the ability to tow the boat to the cruising area as well as being able to do all maintenance in my back yard, far outweigh any sacrifices in comfort associated with the diminutive size of QT.

The are interesting sights coming down the East River, but it wasn’t until we approached the South Street Seaport area that we slowed and diverted closer to take in the happenings ashore.  Watch out for the gigantic fast moving Staten Island ferry as you round the Battery, gawk at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the distance and marvel at the Statue of Liberty as you bear northish into the Hudson.  It’s then decision time, whether to head over to Liberty and Ellis Islands and poke around in the protected marina at Liberty State Park, or continue up the Hudson favoring the bustling Manhattan shore.  We did both.

We had the boat secured in the slip at Lincoln Harbor and were beginning the short walk to the Hotel when we spotted Mark heading our way.  He was on his way to gas up before the scheduled jaunt to Port Washington Saturday am.  My girls and I parted company as I accompanied Mark back into the marina.  Lincoln Harbor only has diesel, so it was necessary to take the boat(s) about ½ mile north to the next marina.  We did his boat first, then mine, taking detours across the river for yet another look at the attractions and ships of Fleet Week.

Saturday morning both the Sea Ray 250 and the Arima 1511 set out for Port Washington on Long Island.  I put my girls aboard the Sea Ray, hoping my Honda 50 and lightly loaded boat would be able to keep up with all the Sea Ray’s horses.  We covered the 30+ miles in about 2 hours.  The choppy waters around Hells Gate kept me off a plane for much of the way between the Queensboro and Bronx Whitestone bridges…the Sea Ray could easily have made better time but stayed close. We were brought to a crawl at the No Wake signs guarding Port Washington Harbor. We finally arrived at the marina together and immediately topped off the tanks.  The Sea Ray took a little under 40 gallons, my boat took a couple tenths over 4 gallons.

A friend who lives in Port Washington met us at the marina.  He took us on a tour of the surrounding area by car, and then we settled in at his place for a pleasant picnic with his family.  Early in the afternoon he and his wife returned us to the harbor and I took them for a brief test drive on my little boat. We then all said good-by at the dock . Mark steered the Sea Ray back to Lincoln Harbor, our friends headed back home and my wife, daughter and I plotted a NE course up Long Island Sound to use up what little daylight remained.

The Sound was busy, but there is plenty of room for everyone.  At least we thought there was plenty of room for everyone until we put into Larchmont to drop the hook for the night.  As soon as we entered the basic confines of the harbor, there were moorings as thick as crab traps on the Chesapeake.  We courteously snaked our way back into the harbor expecting to find a break in the moorings up in shallower water. We found no such opportunity to drop the hook.  Even areas with 3 or 4 feet of water at low tide were packed with floating bouys.  We decided to see if the next harbor, Mamaroneck was as populated.

Once in Mamaroneck Harbor, we found a small area devoid of moorings just south of where the main channel splits.  We lowered the 8S Danforth in 5 feet of water.  NOAA said it would be cool and calm that night, so we didn’t really test the holding – getting blown up into the mud was the least of my worries and if we ended up drifting through the anchorage, I’d just wrap a line around someone’s stern cleat.  I’ve completely overcome my fear of dragging in my little 15’11” boat.

It didn’t seem necessary, but we deployed the bug tent anyway.  The bug tent is a fine mesh screen that attached via velcro to the gunnels, stern and windshield to provide a complete stand up enclosure for the cockpit. It’s a necessity for maintaining sanity while anchored on the ICW during no-see-um season.  I’ve learned to get the bug tent up early, well before dusk, as putting it up later traps the evening bugs inside.  The tent cuts the circulation to less than 50%, but I can live with the heat if it means no bugs.  Heat wasn’t an issue at Mamaroneck, in fact, the chill that night made the sleeping bag ‘down’right cozy.

QT's 'Camper back'  and old unreliable Yamaha

Sleeping 3 on a 15’11” boat needs to be closely coordinated. Two sleep in the cuddy, the 3rd crew member sleeps athwartship in the cockpit. The porta potty’s home is under the berth in the cuddy.  To keep from having everyone disturbed when nature calls in the middle of the night, the potty is relocated to the cockpit.  Any gear occupying the sleeping area in the cockpit is moved, then the inflatable mattress is blown up, after which the sleeping bag is made ready.  After these arrangements are complete, the berth in the cuddy is made up.  I’m usually horizontal on the cockpit sole in or on my sleeping bag shortly thereafter, asleep within minutes. The girls might opt to read a spell before turning in, either sitting at the helm or passenger seats, or snuggled in the cuddy.  No one could claim the helm seat at night during this expedition though, because we had brought along my wife’s Black Rolls (wheelchair), and the helm area was the only place that we could squeeze the wheelchair to allow room for me to occupy my required 6’ of sleeping space.  In the morning, the air has to be removed from the mattress and the sleeping bag must be stowed in order for there to be maneuvering room in the cockpit to prepare breakfast.

On your boat or mine, I’m up to watch the sunrise.  If humanly possible, I’ll have a cup of coffee in my hand.  I don’t mind standing or tinkering as the sun emerges, but I’ve also been known to relax in even a dew covered seat to witness the spectacle.  As soon as the sun clears the horizon I’m ready to up-anchor.  This sunrise watching may seem like a pretty ambitious feat, but it ties in rather closely with my ‘explorer’ mode that comes into play around 1pm.  Not long after lunch, I like to explore. Some folks like to look for the ideal place to build a house or start a business or take a family vacation or to go fishing.  When I’m on the boat, at about 1pm, I begin to explore for a good place to take a nap.  Between 1 and 4 or so pm, I may try naps in several different places.  I can’t remember the last time I found a bad place.  If there is other crew aboard, I will encourage someone else to take the helm while I go below for a nap...I boat alone quite often and a nap under way is a great pleasure.

My girls may not make sunrise, but the shuffling in the cockpit usually has them working their way into the daylight shortly thereafter.  We put together some milk and cereal in a styrofoam cup, shared some pop tarts, passed around a glass of juice, tidied up ourselves and the boat and it was time to get the anchor aboard.

The morning on the Sound was ideal…it was crisp, clear and flat.  It took us about 4 ½ hours to leisurely make the 70 some miles to Clinton.  It was a most enjoyable way to turn a morning into an afternoon.  The harbor at Clinton was busy, but pleasant.  We had lunch at a marina restaurant and explored the waterfront businesses before venturing back out into the Sound.  Mystic was a tantalizing distance, but we decided we could tow the boat up that way and launch instead of making the trip by water.  This would allow us a more leisurely return pace to the marina.

After the pleasant visit to Clinton we headed back down Long Island Sound, settling in at Zieglers Cove for the night. By 6:30 pm we were comfortably anchored amidst the many moored boats in the cove. We were beginning to be a little more comfortable being part of the moored fleets that apparently inhabit every nook and cranny of protected water on the Sound, but got a little homesick for the unmatched solitude found in the anchorages along the North and South Carolina ICW.

About sundown several of the boats slipped their lines and headed back into the Sound, probably heading home. Just when we were grateful for things thinning out, a big stink came in and picked up the mooring next to us.  He immediately lit up the genset. I thought I was going to have to take my can of spray paint and graffiti his stern with, “I ran my genset all night”, but evidently after cooking dinner and watching his evening TV he realized it would be cool enough that he wouldn’t have to keep his A/C on all night. He shut down the genset about 10 pm.

We did the evening turn-in drill and slept soundly, getting underway again shortly after sunrise.  The Sound was again friendly and inviting.  As we headed back to Lincoln Harbor, plans for the rest of the cruise were considered.  There was the Hudson and West Point as well as Mystic by car and an Arima boat dealer I would like to have visited, but about this time, my teenage daughter’s thoughts were of all the things she was missing at home and my wife was ready for at least one night ashore. We decided to postpone any decisions until we were back at the marina in Weehawken.

As we approached Manhattan we were brought out of our lazy cruising world by maneuvers necessary to keep out of the way of commercial and pleasure boat traffic.  The closer we got to Manhattan, the browner the air became.  The water traffic around Manhattan was overwhelming.  We still had a couple of vacation days left, but we unanimously decided to put QT back on her trailer and head home.  This wasn’t a big sacrifice for me as I had a buddy, Sadler, back home who needed help getting his 29’ Sea Ray back in the water at Charleston SC. In agreeing to head home early I could easily negotiate spending the upcoming weekend in Charleston, and I’d have a couple days vacation to burn later.

The entire NY experience was an overwhelming success.  It was fortunate we didn’t experience the ‘brown side’ of New York until late in our visit, and maybe the boat traffic was no worse when we left than when we arrived.  We will get back up there one day to fulfill our promise to do the Hudson…hopefully all the way to Lake Champlain.

Total miles = 1,776
Boat miles = 224
Boat fuel = 44.6
Engine Hours = 24.8

Smallest Walkaround cuddy I could find at less than 16 feet long.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

My Name Is Jeff Nicholas & I Am A Propeller Junkie

I used to have a Seaswirl 1850.

Back then I was a propeller jumkie - just had to try them all...plastic, aluminum, stainless, 3 blades, four blades, exchangeable hubs and blades, vent holes, high torque, high speed. Here's a few of them.

When I sold that boat I thought my addiction was over. And it was, until I bought my next boat - a 1972 28' houseboat.

This boat has a Volvo Penta Aquamatic outdrive - which is no longer supported by VP. Also the drive is of the 'short hub' variety, which takes exclusively short hub propellers. It's successor, the long hub drive will accommodate either the short hub or long hub propellers. This made me want to be sure I had a spare short hub propeller because the short hub propellers are no longer readily available.

I searched and found very expensive Volvo Penta propellers and less expensive Solas propellers. I opted for the cheaper Solas props and bought a couple of different sizes. 
The trouble was, the Solas propellers weren't a bolt on substitute. I had to modify my short hub mechanics to accommodate the Solas propellers.

But I wasn't totally satisfied that the Solas props were best, so eventually I bought a couple expensive OEM props. I banged up the OEM props in shallow water, so I decided to replace them with the cheaper Solas props. BUT my source for short hub Aquamatic propellers no longer carried them - they were becoming dinosaurs. I got nervous and looked at maybe upgrading my outdrive to take the later long hub propellers. In that search, I learned the big difference was that the long hub shafts were tapped to take a locking bolt instead of using the familiar bendy tab. I decided to see if I could modify my short hub drive to take the locking bolt by drilling and tapping the shaft.

Now that I had succeeded in being able to mount a long hub prop on my outdrive, I bought a couple long hub props to test. Now I had bocu short hub props and a few long hub test.

Well, now there's more testing to be done. Here we see a 16x13 long hub (top) vs a 16x13 short hub. These are both official OEM Volvo Penta propellers with identical diameter and pitch but the top is long hub and the bottom short. Wouldn't you want to know the difference in performance/characteristics? 


Monday, December 10, 2018

'05 Ford Focus Rear Wheel Bearing Fiasco

At about 60,000 miles my ‘05 Ford Focus had a driver’s rear bearing that started growling. I went to Advance Auto and got a new drum with included/installed bearing because I had no way to press out the old and press in the new bearing. 60 some bucks.

About 20,000 miles later that same wheel started whining again. This time, thinking that maybe Advance wasn’t the best place to shop, I went to NAPA. $67…and the NAPA part had instructions to rotate the wheel (no less than 10 times) in the opposite direction while torquing the nut to 174 ft/lbs. So I did.

About 40,000 miles later, I again experienced a bearing noise at the drivers rear. Having had better experience with the previous NAPA drum/bearing, I went back to them. I installed the new NAPA part(s).

The new NAPA bearing howled right out of the box – like a dog howling at an ambulance siren. Believing in NAPA, I rotated the tires - no help. Then I had the alignment checked – which was dead on. So I took drum/bearing back to NAPA and told them I’d like to try another.

The second drum/bearing was worse than the first. I scratched my head...what else could be happening back there. It's not the alignment. It's not the tire/wheel. What else is there? There’s nothing else that could be causing the whining. It had to be the bearing. I disassembled the bearing from the drum I first took off. I would have to have had a press to get the outer race out, but I could remove the bearings from the hub by tapping them out. The bearings looked OK, but the race for both the inner and outer bearings was not shiny and bright - not as bad as I expected, but none-the-less not clean.

So I went online and looked up the bearing for the ‘old' drum knowing I'd need to somehow get that outer race out. Wow! I could get a drum with bearing for $38. But there were horror stories in the reviews about how crappy the included Chinese bearings were, several reviews nearly identical to my experiences. I was hesitant to order a new drum with Chinese bearing. Here's a few reviews from various places.

Bearings have always been noisy. Installed June 2017, and failed after only 1 year (August 2018). Don't recommend these.

WARNING WARNING WARNING "Will Robinson" (if your old enough to know that reference) Ok to start with I was dumb enough to have tried these in the past and had to return them time after time for garbage bearing that are installed in them. (Note you can torque to 174 Ft pounds all day long while turning the drum while installing and it wont change anything) POINT IS BEARINGS ARE GARBAGE and expect to get perhaps 10000 to 20000 miles at most if your lucky.

I'm on my 2nd pair of these and it's already making a lot of noise. I can't recommend this.

in 2 years i have warranted 5 of these parts for bad bearrings. yes 5.they go bad and become unsafe to drive on. Then you have to replace the nuts. only good to torque 4 times each to 172ftlbs.

This bearing is worse then the bad one that was replaced

Six months later... bearing has failed.

This bearing is worse then the bad one that was replaced

So I bought a bench top press from Harbor Fright (Freight) with my 20% off coupon.

So now it was full steam ahead...well after a couple hours of assembling the press. If I wasn't dyslectic I might have had it ready in less than an hour. Knowing that I could now press bearings in/out I thought I'd try a bearing only from Amazon - despite the less than glowing reviews.

In order to press the old bearing out, one first needs to remove a ring, and then a snap ring.

I pressed in the generic Amazon bearing and found it too howled.

Not willing to give up yet, I ordered a Timkin bearing which is what I should have done in the first place.

I pressed out the race from the original problem hub. After freezing the new Timkin overnight to facilitate an easier press into the drum, I (easily) pressed in the Timkin. Then I mounted the hub turning it against the nut at least 10 times while torquing to 174 ft/lbs. I was soooo relieved to know I'd finally conquered the growling bearing.

Took her out on the road for a test drive. N-I-C-E...or was it? Eventually the bearing growl returned, seemingly worse than before. I pressed out the Timkin bearing and prepared it for return.

By the way - torquing the axle nut has little to do with the set of the bearings. They are mated in the outer race with their inner races in contact with each other. They are held together by a clip - seen with a gap in the pic below. The bearings also have a very thin grease seal on each side of the assembly.

Desperate, I went online and ordered an OEM Ford drum/bearing assembly thinking I'd get better results from an OEM part. I got tired of waiting after 4 days and was ready to cancel the order when it showed up on my doorstep. Nothing could stop me now.

At this point I had the procedure and all the wrenches down pat. Jack her up, remove the wheel, undo the axle nut, pull the drum...less than 5 minutes. Open the box with the new OEM drum and find this one wasn't as advertised and doesn't include the bearing. Well 5hit!

As I was contemplating my frustrating predicament I noticed that the wear lines were almost showing on the passenger rear tire. I reassembled the drivers side and jacked up the passenger rear. I spun the tire to get a look at it 360.  Yup, it was time to start thinking about a new tire, but also, the spinning tire jerked several times on it's way to a stop. Spin it again and the same thing -- hesitation several times as it stopped.

I went into the shop and downed a beer, then removed the rear wheel and drum from the passenger side. Then I pressed the bearing out of the hub...and pressed the 'old' Timken bearing  back in (that was packaged and ready to return), mounted the drum honoring the minimum 10 turns in the opposite direction, then put the tire/wheel back on. Then took her out for a test run.

Guess what? No more noise - from either side. Go figure!