Saturday, June 16, 2007

Less hectic today, but ...

Hi everyone.

The good news about the shredded dodger is that the gash over the right-hand window lets in a nice strong flow of cool fresh air while keeping out the direct air blast and most of the spray. On the other hand, if you see green water coming, it's "Duck yer haid Charlie!". How's that for a gratuitous literary reference (from the 50's?) that most of you will be too young to understand?

We spoke to Richard yesterday at 1730 and got the news that they had already turned back. Apparently they got knocked down again and blew out their last useful upwind jib. Aloha Richard, and fair winds. Funny, Bill said afterward, that once you make the decision to turn back, all turns to sweetness and light. The cacophony and chaos of beating upwind is replaced by the serenity and silence of the downwind romp. The dark skies lighten, and the angels sing. Instead of going over Niagara in a barrel, it's like Sunday morning on the porch. Good point.

Lindsey claims that she was the first to spot the albatross following us. We haven't seen much trash so far. But we remain optimistic.

I called Lou on 4B last night as scheduled, but did not hear him. He sent me an email today saying that he heard me loud and clear but I did not wait long enough for him to get his transmitter tuned before switching to a new channel. Sorry Lou. I look forward to trying again tonight.

Last night, just before dinner time, Donna noticed that the propane breaker was off. This was bad news, because she had put the ribs in the oven an hour or two earlier and now the oven was off. Upon investigation, she determined that the ribs were done, and hot, and the rice was done, but the stove would not light, and the breaker would not stay on; when she tried to switch it on, it would pop off immediately. So we ate our ribs and rice (yummy), but no green beans, and we discussed this propane situation more fully. You see, this is not the first time this has happened on Cirrus.

This problem is caused by a defective solenoid actuator, located in the propane locker, that is supposed to open the gas valve and allow propane to flow from the tank to the stove. But over time, apparently, these solenoids overheat and short out. In fact, the solenoid that failed last night was brand new last year; Bill installed a brand new valve after last year's Pacific Cup because the same thing happened to the previous solenoid during the race. Of course, this solenoid valve is an important safety feature designed to keep raw propane out of the boat, a very dangerous possibility. However, it needs to be more reliable. Hot food and beverage are critical components of a safe and successful ocean crossing. Can you imagine the night watch with no coffee? Talk about a dangerous possibility.

So you think it's ironic that the same failure occurred on Cirrus two years in a row? How about this: I have had the exact same failure on my boat, and she was only five years old at the time. What makes it hard to diagnose is that the problem can be extremely intermittent, and sometimes you think it's an empty tank or a clogged line. Fortunately for me, once I decided to take action on my boat, True North was sitting at the dock in Santa Cruz and the nearest West Marine store was only two miles away. The parts were in stock (I replaced the regulator at the same time), and after a few hours working scrunched up in the lazarette, I was good to go. But, wait, there's more. Since my boat is in a charter fleet, I always keep the charter company owner apprised about problems and solutions. When I mentioned what I had done, he exclaimed, "No ****?! We have three other boats in the fleet with the exact same problem but we did not know how to fix it!"

So, next morning, back on Cirrus with no gas, after a night with no coffee, what did we do? Well, when this happened during the race last year, Bill modified the valve to make it work without electricity. Using his electric (twist) drill, he drilled the center of the valve out from top to bottom, bypassing the actual valve path completely. Basically, he converted the valve into a straight piece of pipe, but with the correct fittings to go into the system. Then, when he got back to Honolulu, and replaced his drilled-out gizmo with a new valve, what did he do with his magic adapter? Did he throw it away? Negative! He put it in the spare parts box on the boat. Where he found it this morning.

So, picture this: Bill and Lindsey sitting facing each other in the cockpit, with the propane locker open between them, with Bill reaching down into the locker and Lindsey holding an aluminum foil casserole pan full of tools and parts. Like a scene from ER, Lindsey hands an instrument to Bill and Bill removes a part. And so on until the magic gas adapter is installed and Bill calls down for me to light the stove. Woo-hoo! Fire in the hole! And we didn't have to get the drill out. After all the tools and parts are put away, Bill says, "Anyone want coffee?"

I have lots more to tell you about today, but that's enough for now. Stay tuned.

Our position at 1620 HST: 30N33, 153W26. Course 010 M at 6.0 knots.

Fair winds ...

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