Ready to go
As new boat owners, you want to believe that when a boat is described as ready to go that you could indeed cast off the bow lines and set sail after provisioning. The reality is the term “ready to go” is a relative statement. It depends on your use case, not the previous owner’s use case, who deemed the boat ready to go.
Our boat had a niggling issue with the compressor for the Sea Frost SA-111 refrigerator system, which was known at the time of the sale, and made it the seller’s responsiblity to fix. If we wanted to replace or upgrade the refrigeration, that would be on us as buyers. The night before we arrived in Florida, Bill had installed the compressor but it didn’t work. So we were left without the use of our refrigerator for a couple weeks while we dealt with the ordeal of moving.
Once we had a handle on that, Bill dropped by to help us pull out the compressor so that we could take it to Jeff of Hawthorne Marine (authorized Sea Frost distributor and servicer) to have it bench tested.
It was a balmy, sunny day with scarcely a whisper of wind. Andrew and I sat in our cockpit sipping our morning coffee and tea. Unbeknownst to us, Rich was messing with taking something apart on his boat, and he accidentally discharged bear spray. He was hacking quite a bit as well as Lyn. He looked around to see which way the wind was blowing and whether we would start coughing as well.
No disturbance on our boat, to his relief.
Bill arrived as scheduled and immediately got started on the project with Andrew. In a small space behind the oven, there’s a cabinet which houses the compressor and a vast number of cables, hoses and lines for electrical, water and gas in order to operate the Sea Frost refrigeration system.
I’m sure there’s an order of operations to pull out the unit, which Bill answered in vague disjointed parlance when prompted by questions from Andrew, but otherwise would remain a complete mystery to us (see post mortem.) At one point, Bill did mention to shut off water valves (in and out) before taking the next step.
When it seems everything was disconnected and a few items were labeled with tape so Bill knew to attach that particular hose first, Andrew got a couple 24” alpine slings from our climbing gear to fashion a reliable handhold on the compressor unit so it can be lifted and rocked out of its tight space. The trick though was needing to wedge objects underneath so that we could lift incrementally to reset the compressor’s path while not losing any progress.
As Bill cast his eyes around the cabin, he suggested using books and other small objects. I mentally inventoried the sailing, cooking, climbing, philosophy and other books we had and grimaced at the thought. Then, I suggested using two wooden bowls that they had left behind in the galley, and I detected a hesitation on his part,
“You don’t want to destroy that.”
It was a test. Naturally, he would place a higher value on items he knew than on those he didn’t. I had expressly set them aside for use on this project and that’s what we used.
Moments after a lot of grunting and pulling, the compressor was freed. Bill carried it to the companionway to an awaiting Andrew who hoisted it up and set it down in the cockpit. Bill called up Jeff who was currently working on a different boat and would need until 1 o’clock before he could take time away to do the bench test.
In the meantime, Bill wanted to test the unit, so we ran an extension chord and plugged the unit in. It clicked and buzzed to life.
Son of a gun.
The compressor worked after all. Something else was amiss in the wiring of the unit. Bill swore up and down he troubleshooted and tried everything when he dropped the compressor into place. Understandably it was a long day and into the night when he did this, so something was missed. Luckily, it was an opportunity for Andrew and I to learn and trouble shoot along side Bill.
The next two hours revealed some faulty wiring and connections. Through trial and error, two plugs were not working and luckily ample spare plugs were on the boat.
Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés. ~ Louis Pasteur
…or to paraphrase, “Luck favors the prepared.” Since Andrew had taken the time to inventory various compartments of spares, the plugs, screws and any other necessary tools were quickly accessed and made available. I dutifully held the LED shop light while the two of them made repairs.
After the last electrical connection was restored as well as hoses connected and sealed, we evacuated the system of air and charged the system with R-134a refrigerant. Since this process would take a couple hours, Andrew suggested we break for lunch and offer Bill a beer.
Bill called up Jeff to offer his mea culpa and status on the refrigeration. Then, Andrew and Bill settled into the cockpit with a couple beers, while I made rice (in one of our toys) and heated up the vegetarian curry I made the night before.
Given our limited refrigeration space, we had kept the curry at room temperature overnight. My initial inclination was to worry about spoilage despite having taken care to use only ingredients that were shelf-stable. My second thought was if each ingredient was originally shelf-stable before a heating process, then the sum of the parts ought to be shelf-stable afterwards.
Over lunch, we talked about diving gear, free diving, spear fishing, teak decks, and the unsolicited advice from Bill to get rid of 80% of the personal items we have on the boat. He called them toys. Andrew deflected this advice with a joke. Still, there was a palpable tension created simply by the original owner pushing his own agenda and his tendency to not let go of being a captain on a boat that is no longer his to command.
A lifetime of habit is hard to break.
As a counterbalance to this instinct is the message from Bill’s wife Raquel, who echoes that we will find our own way. I have also come to learn the same thoughts from talking to countless sailors, that there is no one way. Each sailor will have a way of doing things that suit him or her. Ultimately, the captain of the ship gets to dictate what will be done on his or her boat.
About two hours later, Bill and Andrew went back to work. I stayed aloof during this process and opted to spend time on deck tending to the laundry and chatting with Lyn. From time to time, I would pop down below to check on the status. Toward the end of the four-hour session, Andrew gave me a project, which was to fix the LED shop light which was tempermental at best. I got busy unfastening screws, tracing the wires, tightening connections and refastening the whole thing.
As the day was winding down, the refrigation system was mostly working. It’s hard to count your chickens before they hatch. There was too much refrigerant in the system, and periodically Andrew would have to release the excess amount until the refrigerator would continue to hum. We monitored this activity well into the evening and before we went to sleep.
After a day of observation, it seems we’ll need to take a two-pronged approach to learn about the boat systems. This simple exercise of relying on Bill’s knowledge to deinstall, reinstall and trouble shoot a refrigeration system taught me that it wouldn’t be enough. We’ll need to be proactive and learn the manuals ourselves, perhaps sanity checking against Bill’s experience.
Less than a week later, the compressor failed. We spent a couple days looking for leaks and troubleshooting with the help of Seafrost to no avail. For the moment, we are making do using our well-insulated refrigerator and freezer simply as ice boxes. This is a short-term solution for dockside refrigeration.
The more important test is to ensure that the engine-powered refrigeration works, and we won’t test that until we take our maiden voyage.
So, we are counting down the days until then. In the meantime, I leave you with this video of Still Counting by Volbeat since the song was running through my head while writing this story.
In other news…
We’re braving through Tropical Storm Eta while on the dock. We have a spiderweb of docklines securing us to ward against the wind, strong currents, coastal flooding, and storm surge.
At one point, I spied captain Rich in his foulies looking at our boat, and I went topside to see what was going on. He saw a white canvas cushion with a nautical figure 8 rope design floating against our hull. He had a boat hook in hand and asked us if it was ours. I replied in the negative that I didn’t recognize it. Moments, later Andrew joined me on deck and upon closer examination, he saw some creepy crawlies on the pillow, including a cockroach. We sent the critter safe-haven downstream.
After attending to bowlines and sighting the rising tide and flooding, we went down below and hoped for the best.
The worst part of this experience was feeling cooped up. Andrew was desperate for fresh air. Each respite we had from the torrential rain, he would stand at the companion way drinking in the fresh air. As for captain Rich, he was staving off boredom by taking things apart just to fix them. In contrast to the others, I took a nap and did some reading and writing.
The rain has been pretty steady throughout the day and night. We roll around in our berth, but feel pretty secured with the docklines. We have a near full water tank, access to shorepower, and plenty of shelf-stable provisions for a couple of weeks.
I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship. ~ Louisa May Alcott
In the end, staying on the boat during these conditions has been a good learning experience for us. Andrew spent an hour yesterday on a videoconference showing our friends Subu and Bill (and their sons) a tour of the boat. When the topic of safety came up during the hurricane/tropical storm Eta, Andrew articulated that we both wanted to stay with the boat and that there was no where to go. In response, Bill suggested, “There’s a thing called a hotel…”
Where’s the fun in that?
We’re on an adventure! Just as we had experienced storms in Greece, we look forward to a broad range of conditions so we can get to know our boat better. In the process, we also get to know ourselves better as well as our resolve.
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