Friday, August 22, 2014

R.I.P. Our Onan MDKD 8kw Generator, and It’s About Damn Time

Okay, so here’s the story about the demise of our persnickety generator. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that our relationship with our genset has been, shall I say, challenging.
We left Baltimore under great boating conditions; no winds to speak of, and the tides and currents were going in our direction. It was only a short thirty-one mile hop down to the mooring field in Annapolis. We were going to stay there two nights to let a storm system pass before we would cruise to Hampton in two long legs that each ended at anchorages. We tied up without any problems and spent the entire day onboard just lazing around. The generator performed just like it was suppose to; running smoothly and obediently. All was well.       
The next morning, as usual, I woke up around 2:00 am. The first thing I did was go down into the engine compartment and check the oil and coolant of the gen. No problems. All looked good. I climbed back up into the salon, closed the engine room hatch, preheated the generator, and pushed the start switch. She fired up. I then went down into the galley and started to make a pot of coffee.
Less than a minute later, the generator died. There is a fault switch that trips open whenever there is fault with the engine, most likely due to low oil pressure or if the engine is going to overheat. The switch tripped. I rechecked everything, closed the fault switch, and tried again. Same thing happened. After several attempts I did finally get the gen to run for two hours. At that time we went ashore. When I returned to the boat (Lisa went shopping), once again, the switch kept flipping and it would not run for more than twenty or so seconds. Uh-oh.
We moved the boat back over to Annapolis Landing Marina, our home away from home, it seems, and called Rob and Michelle of Dependable Marine Service. We had used them in the past and they have a rock-solid reputation. They came on board and Rob determined that one of two things were wrong, both having to do with oil pressure. Either the sensor was bad and needed to be replaced, which isn’t so bad, or the oil pump was failing, which is fatal to the generator. Well, at least fatal to a very old generator that had a history of unreliability. Fortunately, they had a replacement sensor (though Rob wasn’t sure it was the correct one) with them and installed it. The gen fired up and ran. Maybe we dodged a bullet.
We had every intention of leaving the next morning, thinking our generator woes were behind us. When I woke up that morning I had received an email from Rob and Michelle confirming that the sensor was indeed the correct one, and that I should run the gen for a couple of hours, just to make sure. Well, I’m glad I did. Not only did the engine not run, even for a few seconds, it wouldn’t even turn over. It’s dead. Their opinion, and an opinion we share, is that the generator is not worth repairing an further.
Back in Savannah, Georgia, a year ago, we had a certified Onan technician come on board and give the generator a look over. I asked him to state the condition of the generator in terms of an elderly person’s health. He said that he would be very old, in a nursing home, but doing sort of okay. I guess the condition of the patient has deteriorated to the point where hospice care is needed.
Our upcoming cruising plans include locales where we will not have any access to marinas, let alone electricity, so having a generator that works reliably is absolutely essential. No generator = no electricity.
 I think we have a few mixed feelings about this. Obviously, if the damn thing is broke and irreparable, it needs to be replaced. But then again, the pump, if that is the culprit, could be fixed. But then, would we only be applying a bandaid to a patient with much greater injuries? Lisa said that the generator is experiencing ‘cascading failure’. (I love it when she talks techie.) That is, when things start going wrong, everything eventually starts going wrong. I think that is certainly the case with the Onan. And, applying an adage I coined, leaks never get smaller. But, it is a hefty expense. But, if we don’t replace it, we could end up nickel and diming ourselves to death. Also, being in the Bahamas or some backwater anchorage off of the ICW in Texas is no place to have it fail. So, we’re going to suck it up and replace the generator.
Getting the gen replaced is a pretty straightforward affair. In about a week or so we will move the boat to a marina a hair south of Annapolis. According to Rob, they have all the facilities there to do the job. I spoke to the marina master and he says they will want to pull it out of the water as soon as we arrive there. So, we will be packed and ready to leave when we get there. We will then head to BWI and catch a plane back to St. Louis and Denver for our fall shore leave during September instead of October. We will then, hopefully, return to the boat in early October and start our trek south.
Now, this does kind of screw up our short term cruising plans. To what extent, we still have to determine. For instance, we have friends (Rick and Margi, I’m talking to you!) whom are at Barefoot Marina in North Myrtle Beach awaiting our arrival for a long overdue reunion. We were thinking we would see them in September. Now it looks like October some time.
But, we are in Annapolis, and if there is anyplace better to have this happen, I’d like to know where it is. After all, we love Annapolis.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Baltimore ... Finally!

One of the unusual things that we experienced during our time in Chesapeake Bay is what I call the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Effect. That is, there can be a distinct difference between the conditions above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (on the Baltimore side), and below the bridge (on the Annapolis side). This came into play twice last summer when we made two attempts to go to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from Annapolis, and got turned back both times when we crossed under the bridge. Both times the conditions changed from near calm on the south side of the bridge to turbulent and impassable on the north side of the bridge. And I’m not the only person that has noticed this. We have talked to other boaters that experienced the same thing.
After our wonderful visit to Philadelphia, the only major attraction left for us to visit on the bay (and I’m including Philadelphia) was Baltimore, and we were determined to make it there. I say ‘we’ when in fact it was ‘me’. I’ve had a bug up my stern ever since last summer about getting there. I was not going to give in to that SOB bridge and it’s dastardly sea condition machinations. My solution to the problem was elegant in its simplicity. If we couldn't get to Baltimore from the south – from Annapolis – we’d attack it from the north. Brilliant!
After spending a couple of days in Fredericktown on the Sassafras River, we steamed down to the Patapsco River channel and up into Baltimore. Our goal was to get to the Inner Harbor, the upper most end of the river, to one of the long finger docks operated by the city. The pictures we had seen of the area made the harbor look bright and inviting, with the downtown skyline right down on the water, and lots of attractions to explore and experience.
Baltimore delivered on all of that.

The city docks themselves were long and solid, and we were able to bite off a big chunk of the center dock (there are three docks that jut out into the harbor) so that our exit was simple. As we've said about some of the marinas we felt particularly comfortable about getting in and out of, it was a Why Knot friendly place. No problems.
Now, if there had been any apprehensions on going to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, it would be similar to those we heard and read about from other boaters. You and your boat are right in the middle of downtown and there is nothing that would prevent hooligans from making trouble. In the very near past, there had been a lot of difficulties with criminal elements lurking around the docks and the boats. But apparently, Baltimore took this problem very seriously, and with ever present police patrols, combined with a very robust downtown redevelopment push, we had no problems at all. The Inner Harbor is very much a family-friendly area with lots of attractions. It’s all very clean and vibrant.
The attractions were many and varied. There was the National Aquarium, notable ships moored along the side that we visited, the B & O Railroad Museum, several great art museums; all with a very convenient FREE bus service connecting them all. (Boaters take note: there are several grocery stores along the free bus lines, so provisioning is possible. We did.)

The highlight of the trip was that we made some new friends there. On Friday morning, a new boat pulled into the next of the three docks and tied up for the night. It was named The Good Life, a very nice fifty-two foot Carver, crewed by Bill and Michelle. Boater friends of theirs, Bill and Nancy, were on board too.
Now, the spaces between the docks are very wide, so there is room for another boat to pull past your boat and tie up, if you are tied up on the outside end like they were. While I washed Why Knot late Saturday afternoon, I saw that a Mainship trawler with an obviously inexperienced crew on board, was doing just that past The Good Life, and they were having a lot of trouble. I ran over to their dock to help with lines, or lend whatever assistance I could. Bill, Bill, and I caught lines and instructed the Mainship’s crew on how to maneuver their boat successfully onto the dock.
After we had them tied up, the two Bills, Michelle, and Nancy gathered around me on the dock. They had seen out gold AGLCA burgee and asked me about the journey. We stood on the dock for something like twenty minutes until I excused myself to go back to Why Knot, finish my chores, and go in and take a shower. While I was in the shower, there was a knock on our door. Lisa answered it and it was Bill and Michelle. They invited us to come over to their boat for dinner, which we gladly accepted.
We had a wonderful evening on board The Good Life. They all wanted to know as many of the details about the Great Loop as we could remember. And they were interested in what we had experienced in the cruising seasons since. We also learned a lot about them, and what they had done. It was great fun. They’re lovely people. As we've always said, the thing that makes boating such a great way to live is the wonderful people we meet, like Bill and Michelle, and Bill and Nancy.
Our stay in Baltimore was fantastic! But, there was one incident.
We had heard about this happening to others that were docked at the city docks, but, frankly, I thought it was the stuff of boating urban legends. The city docks are open to the public and lots of people walked down to the ends to take pictures of the city and seascape (it is a beautiful vista) and it’s packed, especially in the evenings. People also like to have their pictures taken in front of the boats tied up on the dock, including ours.
The urban legend had it that some people, and for some reason most of these people are said to be Asian tourists, apparently don’t care much about personal boundaries, and have climbed up onto the boats to have their picture taken on deck. Again, I thought it was a legend. I was wrong.
On the Friday evening that we were there, Lisa and I were sitting in our galley just hanging out. Amazingly, we heard the distinct, unmistakable sound of hard soled shoes walking on our deck. We looked at each other in astonishment and said together, “There’s somebody on our boat!” I quickly dashed through the doorway and there was an elderly Asian woman standing on our foredeck getting her picture taken by her husband who was standing on the dock.
My reaction was immediate. I yelled, “GET THE HELL OFF OUR BOAT!” She jumped down through the gangway and looked at me like I had a third arm growing out of my forehead. Then the two of them walked off of the dock. I was flabbergasted!
There was a very nice man and his daughter that approached me and said that they were native Baltimorians and apologized on behalf of the city. He was also a boater himself and explained that what had happened to us did indeed happen all of the time there. He also said that even though he didn't want to stereotype, it always seemed to involve Asian tourists.
We’re proud of Why Knot. She’s a good looking boat and has always been approachable. We wouldn't have minded it if they had knocked on our door and asked if they could have come on board to take a picture. I would have said yes. But to just climb on deck and walk to the bow takes a helluva lot of gall. The lady certainly wasn't dangerous, or the least bit hostile or destructive, but there are boundaries in life, and some people just don’t give a crap, I guess. Bottom line, if you come to the city docks in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, be prepared. It’s not an urban legend. There are people that will climb on board your boat to get their picture taken. It happened to us.

Anyway, back to Baltimore. It is a great destination! It’s beautiful, convenient, fun, bright, and well worth the effort. Baltimore calls itself the Charm City. It’s a well deserved moniker. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Boating to Philadelphia (with apologies to Mark Knopfler)

One of Lisa’s favorite songs is called Sailing to Philadelphia, by Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), along with James Taylor. It’s the story of Mason and Dixon, the two English surveyors that surveyed the borderline between Pennsylvania and Maryland, which also became the imaginary boundary between the North and the South. The whole Philadelphia thing is that they arrived in America in 1763 at the port of Philadelphia, rather than someplace like New York, Boston, or Baltimore.
It is very easy to think that Philadelphia is not a seafaring city, went in fact, it has a long history as a major eastern seaport. All ships had to do was go up Delaware Bay and then up the Delaware River a relatively short distance (30ish miles) from the top of the bay to the city.
We made the trip ourselves, and are happy to report that it was a terrific experience. And the reason we made the trip there was simple; we were invited.
When we were all the way back in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, we were fortunate to get back together with Dick and Deanna of Sareanna. While we were at dinner Dick asked us what our cruising plans for the summer were. We told him about going to the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, spending a month in Annapolis, and finally getting to the inner harbor of Baltimore. He simply told us that we should go to Philadelphia also. We were a little perplexed by the suggestion because, frankly, we didn’t know we could get there by boat. We didn’t think of it as a boating destination. He told us about the easy boating to get up there, Penn Landing Marina (where we stayed), and all of the wonderful things to see and do in the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love.
We looked into it, and I was apprehensive about it. First, I wasn’t sure about the marina. Active Captain’s information about it was up to date, but the satellite photo was woefully out of date. The marina is actually a nice one, located in a sheltered (sort of) manmade bay right next to downtown.
The cruise up to Philly from Delaware City was easy enough. The Delaware River is wide and deep and did not present any challenges whatsoever. Now, there is definitely a current that can be substantial, and unfortunately, no matter how well you plan your route, coordinating the times you make the run compared to when the tides go in and out, you are going to hit some head on current at some point. One tip I have is to plan your trip immediately after a new moon, when tides are less.

Penn Landing Marina is a three star marina. The slips are long, wide and easy to get in and out of. The only downside to it are there are no dedicated shore side facilities like showers or flushable bathrooms. There isn’t pump out available there either. (There is pump out available at another marina a bit further up the river, but they want forty freaking bucks! No thanks. I can hold it.) But you won’t have to worry about your holding tank because you will not be on your boat very much. That’s because you will be spending all of your time in the city taking it all in. And there’s a lot to take in.

The biggest reason I was apprehensive about going to Philadelphia was that I had a preconceived idea of what the city was like. I thought that it was going to be a rough and dirty place, without nice amenities or interesting things to do.
I was wrong.
Philadelphia was a terrific city. It was clean, bright, shining and very exciting. There were a gazillion restaurants, stores, attractions, and museums to visit. Let me give you some of the highlights.

Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell — They are the centerpieces of the city, and very worthy of the pilgrimage. It was truly inspiring to stand in the footsteps of our founding fathers. The Liberty Bell is just that, a bell. But it is iconic and almost spiritual in its context. There are all kinds of other revolutionary period things to see too. Helpful hint: Go to the visitors center around 8:00 am and get in line early. (The center opens at 8:30 am) You need a free ticket to get into Independence Hall, and get in there for the first tour that starts at 10:00. You do not need a ticket to see the Liberty Bell, but the line outside the hall where it is located starts early and is very slow. There is a security check point inside the front door. We were second in line. By the time we got in there the line outside went all the way to the end of the building.
City Hall — Visit a city hall? Absolutely! Philadelphia’s city hall is a massive French design building that is very ornate, and, according to some residents, ugly. But the party piece is the 540 foot tower at the north entrance. You can get tickets to go all the way to the top to an observation platform. The views are breathtaking. Call the city hall visitors center for reservations.
Museums — They have a oodles of them. The Franklin Institute is a science museum (lots of kids). The Rodin Museum (Lisa’s favorite), The Barnes Museum (another art museum), the City Art Museum (the one that Rocky ran up the steps at), The museum of American Jewish History, the U.S. Mint, Ben Franklin’s print shop, and on and on and on.
Philly Pass — The Philly Pass is a prepaid three or five day card that pretty much lets you into everything without paying any additional ticket fees. Worth it. We bought five day cards at $95.00 each and definitely got our money’s worth.
The Big Bus — The Big Bus is a double-decker tour bus that zooms around downtown. Lots of fun. Hop on / hop off. Covered in the Philly Pass.
Duck Boats — They are the amphibious bus/boats that you see in some cities. It’s fun. Covered in the Philly Pass.

 Reading Terminal — The former train station, now a convention center. The street level is the market with eighty food vendors of every type and taste. Historic and tasty.
All in all, we had a terrific time in Philadelphia, made all the better by being with Dick and Deanna again. We also went out to dinner with them and two of their friends, Ron and Patty Weingrad. They were hysterical! All the two of them and Lisa and I wanted to talk about was baseball. They are died-in-the-wool Phillies fans, and I am a Cardinal fan, so we had a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, Lisa is stuck with the Rockies. It was a fun evening that again proves that the true reward of living an on board life is the wonderful people that we encounter.
Now, there is an issue that I want to talk about that I am afraid may make me some enemies; Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches … I'd rather have a sack of White Castles.