Friday, September 30, 2011

The Easy Button

Some days it works, some days not so much.

I had business near Annapolis yesterday, and combined with an alpine start, I had a full afternoon to knock out a few projects, and perhaps, take a brief sail. I could sleep on the boat as well, and commute to the office from there.

Project One. Replace foot switch for windlass. Easy Button working well.
On my last several outings the button had been touchy, requiring several pushes. On the last outing it stuck on. Fortunately I realized this with enough time to dash to the cockpit and pop the breaker, so no harm. I called West Marine; nothing under $85.00 which is absurd for a small low amp low voltage switch. An on-line search revealed that the original was from Vetus and was $37.00 from Defender Marine. I ordered 2.

Installation is a simple matter of a few crimps, some heat shrink for chafe protection, and a few cable ties. Piece of cake.

Project Two. Replace sanitation hoses. East Button working better than I expected.
I'm currently working on a series of articles for Practical Sailor Magazine investigating holding tank vent filters, holding tank treatment chemicals, and sanitation hose permeation. It's been an interesting trip so far, seeing how interrelated the subjects are and how complex. Many trade-offs and many user-specific issues. These tests will be running for several years.

 Some of everything!

To the right, Tident 102. Descending, Shields Poly-X. To the left, Gates Rubber petroleum tank truck hose. Yup, I noticed the misplaced clamps in the photo and fixed them later. For some reason, I didn't see them when they were in front of me.

Why tank truck hose? I replaced that piece before I researched the topic with a free scrap of new hose from our fleet. It is very high quality hose, but not the best for this purpose. I suspect I will be replacing it sooner, but at least it is the easiest piece to fit.

Most of the testing is being done with matching 5-gallon holding tanks which contain sanitary waste. Subscribe to the mag if you want the gory details. However, an upside and a downside is that I received many test samples of expensive premium hose, enough to re-plumb my head and holding tank... but I would have to install it. Since PDQ plumbed much of the holding tank system with water exhaust hose, and the plumbing was all 14-year old original, most of the lines were completely shot; a PDQ rep told me those hoses typically were only good for 3-5 years. Those that were very seldom used--only to pump overboard--were OK and I had replaced the pump-out hose a few years ago, since it was cracking. They did use sanitation hose (Shields 148) on the run from head to tank, but it's a low-end white PVC hose and it was badly permeated; wipe your hand across the surface and you'll regretted it immediately. The situation has been livable only because PDQ 32 sanitary plumbing is all in a bullheaded compartment vented overboard. Only 8 inches of hose are in the cabin.

I'll skip the gory details. No matter how much you flush before working, there is some material cemented to the inside of the hose and some hoses that can't be well flushed. Fortunately the head compartment has a bathtub floor that is easily hosed down and that the bilge in the holding tank compartment was painted and smooth. A few tips:
  • Flush a lot of clean water first. We covered that.
  • Atlas-Fit coated palm gloves are a big help when muscling hose through bulkheads and onto fittings.
  • I only needed to lubricate one fitting. I used glycerine, which is compatible with sanitation hose and will eventually (unlike soap) evaporate and leave no slippery residue. DO NOT use petroleum compounds with sanitation hose; these hoses are NOT COMPATIBLE WITH PETROLEUM and will be damaged.
  • Do not use silicone to seal hoses. It only makes a mess for next time and is not needed if everything else is right.
  • 2 hose clamps, 180 degrees apart. Obvious. A cordless driver with variable torque and a nut driver head makes this faster and more pleasant. Yup, one is wrong in the picture above--I fixed it later.
  • Inspect the barbs. If there are bad spots, either replace or smooth it off with a file.
  • Skip the Sea Land Odor Safe Plus hose. It's too damn stiff, requires ~ 200F heat, lube and a VERY firm hand to get on fittings, and is prone to kinking if forced. I wouldn't take it for free; I've only used it here as a necessity of the research effort. I will use it for vents lines as it is the only thing you can find in 3/4-inch; even in that small size it is STILL a battle.
  • Trident 101/102 and Shields Poly-X may be the best hoses out there, but they too are somewhat stiff (not as bad as Odor Safe II) and may be a challenge. Raritan Sanigard (very flexible) hose is a dream to work with in tight spots and is still very well regarded.
  • Shields Poly-X has a lifetime warranty, Trident 101/102 a 5-years warranty but a perfect 15 year record, and Raritan Saniflex has a 5-year warranty. 
  • The Trident 102 is a bugger to keep clean; white and rough surfaced. The Shields just wipes off and the others take some scrubbing.
  • The securing points and fit will change if you switch to a different hose type; all have significantly different stiffness and bend radius requirements. No big deal, just don't cut the new hose to length  based upon the old hose.
  • DON'T FORCE ANY HOSE TO BEND more tightly than it likes. It will kink.
  • Secure the end of the wire reinforcement under the first band. You can try to simply cut it flush but that's difficult and it will work loose in time. It is needle sharp and will cut you someday. Since I often sit on my holding tank, this is important! I learned this practice during many years in the refinery business. 
But other than some exercise, it went smoothly enough. Overall, I liked the Shields Poly-X  best, in terms of flexibility, durability, and easily cleaned jacket... but the price is stout. The compartment is now multi-colored and will be a good test-bed. Like free rigging (the Shields Poly-X is $19.69/foot), it saved a few bucks.

Regarding the practice of pouring vinegar in the head to prevent scale build-up: Scale build-up inside the head discharge hose is thought to be primarily due to precipitation of calcium ions with uric acid, and this precipitation requires calcium to be present at near saturation. Since the mid- and upper-Chesapeake Bay are much lower in calcium than the ocean and far below saturation (the ocean is very near saturation), this reaction does not take place and hoses do not collect much scale. In fact, my 12-year old hoses were nearly scale-free. Skip the vinegar if you are a fresh or brackish water sailor. Boats in the southern Bay do build scale.

Does vinegar actually do any good? From all of the field testing we have managed (side-by-side) it is probably more urban ledge and wishful thinking. If you want to actually remove scale, use CLR; based upon lactic acid instead of acetic acid, it is perhaps 5-10 times more effective and easier on the neoprene parts common in many heads. It's formulated for this purpose, not for salad.

Project Three. Replace carburetor while underway. Singlehanding. Easy button working better than you would think.
The port engine had been starting hard and not idling well for some time. Though I ran it for an hour, just as I pulled into an anchorage, it started to run, then stop. Start hard, run, then stop. I figured I would change the carb back at the dock, but then while sailing, remembered what fun it isn't to back in with one engine. Then I decided that since I had a rebuilt spare and the tools and the sailing was easy....

Of course, it's a bit harder when everything is moving and you have to poke your head up every 5 minutes to keep watch. Not too bad, actually. The port engine is the easier to access (carb faces the cockpit) and only a few things need released...
  • 2 bolts
  • fuel hose
  • 2 wires to electric choke
  • throttle linkage clip
... but after replacement it wouldn't run at all. It would start on ether, but not run.

The main fuel filter couldn't be plugged; it is a huge Raycor and anyway, and the primer bulb would be collapsed by vacuum. However the secondary fuel filter could be bad. I pumped the primer hard and nothing to speak of came through. Yup, I had a spare. It's just a lawn mower filter and the dingy engine uses the same one. The replacement filled right up, before I even pumped the primer. Good. But still it wouldn't run, not even a cough.

I tried running the fuel pump outlet hose into a bottle. Nothing to speak of. Yup, I carry a spare. Only 2 screws and 2 hoses need moved to replace it, and access is easy when the engine is tipped.

Perfection! The replacement carb was taken off the original engines (failed from rusted cooling passages), made in Canada, and is NOT sealed against mixture tampering the way the US carbs are. Runs better than the US carb ever did. If you have an old Yamaha with Canadian carbs, by all means keep them when engines go!

I backed into my slip without ceremony, enjoyed dinner and a good book, and drifted off to a satisfying sleep.


Lessons? The Easy Button works best when you are prepared, though even then a cascade of problems can make for a long day. And NEVER assume there is a single cause when trouble shooting engine fuel systems; more often than not it is an accumulation of insults.

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