Thursday, September 25, 2014

Missing Sweet Pea, Part IV

So many weeks passed where the only sustained time I spent on the boat was grinding my knees into the no-skid deck coating while trying to turn a wrench that I forgot what working on Close Enough even felt like.

Now that we've been a few hauling cycles without being towed in and without alarms going off, it feels like maybe I over reacted and over dramatized the ordeal. The circuit of gear- out front, up the bay, the west side- is becoming familiar again. The pleasant soreness of wrists, back and legs from a good day's work has taken the place of sore knees, skinned knuckles and overdriven adrenal glands of endless attempts to identify, understand and act on mechanical malfunctions.

There was, however, one final, smarting chapter in the seeming eternity of problems. Even with the rebuilt water pump, late day dismantling and inspection of every portion of the raw water system and the all consuming analysis, when I went out to haul the boat still would not cool off normally. I tried thinking positively. I tried bending the temperature needle back to the left with my positive thoughts. I asked my brain trust what would be the problem. It was not a matter of catastrophic overheating, but just not cooling off the way I was used to.

Sweet Pea had no temperature gauge. Or raw water cooling.

There were also at that time staggering multitudes of what I thought were jellyfish eggs, but turned out to be called "salps" everywhere around the island. Harmless enough sounding, "salps." After a long day of hauling at idle and watching the temperature gauge every few seconds, we opened the strainer and found that virtually every single hole in this colander-like contrivance had one of those salps wedged in it. I have never been so excited to see a strainer full of salps in my life. The excitement came from the thought that after missing the peak month of the season and having spent large on new parts, after blowing so many hours taking apart and putting back to together again and again, maybe, finally I had found the last link in the chain of problems.

In my excited state, I ran to the rail to rinse the salps back where they belonged and dropped the strainer basket. This item's primary design flaw is that it does not float. I watched it, reached for it and missed. The tantrum that ensued crystallized and telescoped a month of despair and frustration into one sinking, shining stainless steel moment. I cursed myself hoarse in seconds, kicked whatever was handy and sort of managed to dislocate my jaw.

Since we were on "super moon" number two for the summer, I figured Megan and I could go out at dead low tide and reach through a foot or so of low tide harbor water and fetch back the item and be on our way for the day. The eel grass and kelp proved formidable and divers unavailable. Despite many sweeps of the area where I dropped the basket, it was nowhere to be seen, although many false positives were caused by silver beverage cans on the harbor floor.

Fortunately, Hamilton Marine had a basket in stock. Unfortunately, they did not deliver to the air service. Fortunately, Megan's brother was passing through Rockland and took the basket to the flying service. They had no flights until the afternoon, so I had an opportunity to put out legal fires and save myself aggravation for the following week. Extra-super fortunately, we went out on a lovely afternoon and filled the holding tank in a couple of hours.

We've since hauled through the cycle a few times and all is well. It was a long time coming.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Miss my Peapod, III: The Matinicus X-Files

Last year, Scully and I witnessed the incredible pageant of comb jellies- iridescent zeppelins in the water with moving multi-colored light strings down the five longitudinal lines; these are straight out of James Cameron's The Abyss.

Today, at what I hoped was the end of 3 weeks of break-downs and cat-and-mouse games trying to figure out why the boat was marginally overheating, having been towed in 3 times and having to steam in at a dead idle a few other times, at the end of all that, the boat still wouldn't cool normally. This was very much in spite- in vindictive, deliberate, spiteful, gratuitous spite- of the fact that I just spent lots of money having the water pump rebuilt and many, many hours taking the entire cooling system apart piece by piece to try and isolate the problem.

But also today, as I scooped up a bucket of water to wash the rancid bait grease off my hands, the bucket was full of serpentine ladders of gel with a little black dot on the end of each rung. The bait was many weeks past its prime, so I needed to rinse my hands after bagging for the next string of traps.

Since my attention was riveted primarily to the temperature gauge and the radar since it was foggy, it was only because of the very large number of these creatures in the water around Two Bush Ledge that I noticed them at all. I've seen plenty of moon jellies, the big red ones and the aforementioned comb jellies, but nothing like these. They made even moon jellies look sophisticated. These critters were what I'd picture drifting in the primordial seas of early life on earth.

Back to the sorry history of recent mechanical difficulties and human aggravation and discouragement. Pretty much the day the lobsters hit for the season, I had an alternator fail. Close Enough was reassembled and the engine enclosure bolted back on confidently. I noticed the motor seemed a few degrees on the warm side steaming to Spruce Head, a little over labored after passing through some flotillas of rockweed and debris, and sort of noticed but dismissed a little dripping noise at the end of that run.

Coming back a couple of days later in marginal conditions, the temperature alarm started whining and the red light was fully ablaze just past Big Green Island. I slowed down, hoping that would allow me to limp the rest of the way. Then I shut the motor down. Lapping waves and whistling sea breeze lose all their appeal while broken down, being smacked on the head by the side-to rolling while trying to peer into dark recesses to figure out what's wrong and drifting toward unfriendly ledges.

I quickly exhausted my diagnostic expertise and decided to flag down a couple of boats working nearby in hopes of a tow a little ways toward Matinicus where one of my brothers could hopefully drag my sorry ass the rest of the way.

Since these boats were close by, I was a little surprised they hadn't responded to a dead stopped boat from out of town and a bug-eyed guy jumping up and down and waving two safety orange PFDs. I set off a smoke flare which finally brought another vessel along side. Let's just say that the introduction and greetings didn't go all that well...

Bless his obscenely high powered diesel soul, Robert came and got me back to the harbor. It was a slow and humiliating ride, punctuated only by a spectacular parting of the tow line and said line's choice to become wrapped around various underparts of my vessel. Once on the mooring, it was obvious that a coolant hose had let go. I had an inkling that the coolant hose failure was a symptom rather than the underlying illness. My sister and mother and nephew were headed out for a visit and picked me up some hose and coolant. I was able to share important lessons with my nephew, such as never, ever get a boat.

The following Monday, after having been out of commission for the better part of a couple of weeks, it was great to get out for a day and work. That winning streak was a short one.

The engine would not cool normally. It wasn't overheating to the point of damage, but it wasn't cooling off normally either. Megan and I tried the next day and came in after an aborted attempt to haul the few deep water pots I put out this year to the northward.

I recalled Capt. Griff having seaweed get stuck in an intake which put an undue strain on the rubber gear inside the water pump known as the impeller. This seemed logical in light of my recent passage through the debris field. I took off the water line and could see one of the fins on my impeller had come off entirely and gotten lodged in the outflow part of the pump.

Again there was confidence as I grabbed the relatively modest priced impeller from the marine store. Confident feelings continued right up until I test fired the motor with the new impeller and found the outflow to be bone dry. Many, many experiments followed over the following days. Priming, tearing apart the cooling system and blowing into this or that hose or fitting only to discover no resistance or apparent obstruction. The were numerous calls for a replacement gasket and consultation from Art's Marine Service.

I would occasionally remember the peapod during these times. Sweet Pea had no impeller save my arms, no hoses, pumps, rust, filters, or other technology. If I pushed on the oars, it moved.

I finally settled on having the pump rebuilt. There were another 5 days or so of delays and office work to push that chapter into the future. Today, I walked to the harbor without much confidence, but found the newly rebuilt pump was actually moving water through the system and decided to head out and haul a few to use up the wretched old bait and start paying for all my new parts.

After a period of normal operation, the motor once again would not cool down to 160 or 170 degrees where it normally sits. I decided not to ever be a pirate or cowboy or fisherman ever again. Again.

I got the boat beached just as the tide was headed out. The only remaining variable I could come up with was maybe there was something stuck in the intake vent. After taking all those pieces apart and jamming knives and a screwdriver up the works to disinvite whatever was up there, Megan shined a flashlight down from above and it was immediately clear that the water intake was unobstructed.

Now what? I have been through 2 straight weeks of everything I and all the experts could come up with for possible causes and solutions.

On a whim, I decided to check the strainer which in all previous experiments had been virtually empty. This time, though- cue the X-Files theme- it was half full of jelly blobs with little malevolent black nuclei. Hmmm.

I want to believe (that I can haul tomorrow). The truth is in there (meaning the innards of the Cummins 210B) along with some shredded jellies.