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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Boat Yard Wrap Up
09/05/2008, Raiatea

We wrapped our diesel fitting project today. That out of the way we are almost ready to take off. Our final challenge was getting our propane tanks filled. Our tanks are 9kg (good) and made out of steel (bad). Steel tanks are heavy and they rust. They don't belong on a boat. Aluminum tanks are good. They are light and they don't rust. Fiberglass tanks, recently approved the US powers that be, are the best IMHO. They are light, they don't corrode, and you can actually see how much gas they have in them!

We really like having two 9kg (20 lbs) tanks. A pair of full tanks has lasted Hideko and me as much as 9 months. This is great for cruising remote islands. The bummer is that our tanks don't have bleed valves and no one here seems to be able to fill them. We have been able to get them about half full.

As I was thinking things over at the Carenage office the skipper of Miss Molley, a nice 60 something Oyster, came by to pick his nice new 9kg fiberglass propane tank up. I tried to bribe him but he wouldn't part with it. Hopefully down the road we'll be able to swap our steel tanks out for a nice pair of 9kg fiberglass units.

We finished up a lot of little projects today. We drilled holes in the Saloon table legs and the nav station chair post, inserting pins. Both used to slowly sink over time. I suppose the adjustable height is nice but we never really adjust them except to put them back where we want them after they sink. The nav chair needs to be the height of the nav station and the saloon table needs to be eating height. Now they are.

It is not looking good for our one year stay in French Polynesia. On the other hand we have been getting excited about heading west. We have one more avenue to explore but should that fail we will be off to the Cook Islands.

We will try to hit Maupiti on the way out of French Polynesia. Maupiti has been described as Bora Bora 50 years ago. We like the sound of that. The only pass opens to the south and with anything more than 2 meters of swell from the southwest through southeast it is supposed to be unreasonably risky. Mauphilia is another stop we'd like to try but this atoll is supposedly even more dicey than Maupiti. If we can stop on the way we will, otherwise we'll just make for Aitutaki in the Cooks. Aitutaki is also supposed to be a fantastic Bora Bora like lagooned island. From the Cooks we'll head to Niue with a possible stop at Palmerston Atoll on the way. Niue is the world's largest raised atoll and due to its lack of soil there is no heavy run off. This reportedly leaves the waters around the island shockingly clear making it one of the most amazing dive sights on the planet. From Niue we'll head on to Tonga, Fiji and then up the Solomans to Micronesia for cyclone season.

French Polynesia
Biggest Wind
09/04/2008, Raiatea

It was really windy today. In the evening the high wind alarm started going off. I usually set it to 30 knots. I upped it to 35 so that it wouldn't be so bothersome (we were trying to watch Star Trek for heaven's sake). It still kept going off. The wind was not blowing steady 35, more like 15, then 20, then 25, then 20 then, 30, then 25, then 35, then 20. I ratcheted the alarm threshold up to 40 to be done with it. About an hour later it went off again! This crush zone with the stationary sheer line above us was really kicking it up. The Gribs report almost 10 days of high wind counting the days already gone by.

The seas have also been 4-6 meters the last couple days. This makes the lagoon passes very interesting. Even the stretch between Raiatea and Tahaa (which share the same lagoon) can get pretty crazy with this kind of wind. The diagonal angle exposed to the southeast creates a fair amount of fetch and up to a couple feet of sea on the Tahaa side not to mention the wind velocity created by the squeeze between the islands.

Not to be slowed by a little breeze we got a few more projects done today. Fred finally got all of the parts for the diesel fitting swap out. It went well and the new bronze parts will last the life of the boat. We used a 90 out of the tank shut offs to a T that provides all of the appropriate connections with good European A4 stainless hose clamps. It was a little tricky ensuring all of the shut offs had swinging room but it all worked out nicely. One shut off arm needs to be shortened a bit but we should have that in hand tomorrow, after which we can finally go visit Tahaa!

French Polynesia
Bigger Wind
09/03/2008, Raiatea

We are still waiting to get our diesel fittings all sorted out. In the mean time Hideko and I have been working on other projects such as rewiring the power cable for the washer dryer (the plug inside the unit seemed corroded but certainly was making poor contact and ultimately burned up), cleaning out rarely used parts of the boat, moving all of the food stashes we created for the big Pacific crossing back to the pantry (no need to have potatoes and onions in the bilge anymore), etceteras.

Another item we had been needing to address was the final cockpit canvas setup. We had a cockpit windscreen made by Beaver Brand Canvas in Fort Lauderdale two years ago and this has been wonderful. They used good materials and the windscreen is in great shape for its age. The side curtains on the other hand have had four different shops work on them. We finally have them the way we want them, almost. The side curtains are now square and roll up nicely. The quarter panels that connect the sides to the wind screen can be zipped up to create a winch access area or you can unzip the area next to the side curtain to open a walk trough.

Unfortunately, while the starboard curtain reaches the arch snaps that secure its aft edge the port side does not. Curious that. We didn't have enough cloth for Leonardo, the local canvas guy, to work with so he made us some nifty snap extenders. They are little nylon straps with a male snap on one side and a female on the other side at the other end. This allows us to snap these into the trailing edge of the port curtain and reach the arch snaps. A little hokey but it works. We will of course get the curtain extended properly as soon as we are in a place that has our Sunbrella in stock. The thread available locally is also not UV resistant so some of the recent mods will need to be re-stitched in a couple of years anyway.

It has been raining here and there today but we have left the cockpit enclosure up mostly to keep the wind out. It has been howling for a few days. The wind is fun but if you are not careful it will steal things from your boat. The curtains make the cockpit a nice area you can actually leave things in with the wind up.

French Polynesia
Big Wind
09/02/2008, Raiatea

Wow, it is windy today. We have been getting gusts over 30 and the skies have been fairly overcast with little stints of sun and little stints of rain mixed in.

The wonderful folks at Raiatea Lodge invited us to visit and have lunch on them at the end of our stay so we decided to take a chance and dinghy over. Hugging the coast we managed to stay pretty dry. They had just hosted a dinner for the President of French Polynesia so they had some interesting stories to tell since our departure. It was great to see them all again and we met a really interesting guy named Kevin who lives on his catamaran in Hawaii. He takes a break from the rough life in French Polynesia!

We got a lot of internetting done and had a wonderful lunch. We will miss the Raiatea Lodge and its gracious owners.

French Polynesia
Diesel Fittings and Mooring Shuffling
09/01/2008, Raiatea

I went ashore to see about getting Fred to swap out our diesel fitting in the bridge deck lockers and to clear our stay on the new mooring. The mooring we had ended up on was owned by Raiatea Marine (the yard right next to the Carenage). I went over to see about paying them and after determining that I was a Carenage client they told me I had to go. "I understand", I said, "you have a client coming in?" "No.", they said. "The mooring is too small for our boat?", I said. "No.", they said. "So what is the problem?" "You are a client of the Carenage", they said.

I was blown away. The Raiatea Marine folks apparently have a very serious case of petty. After a little more digging Fred found me a private mooring that a client of his was not using. So we moved, again.

Fred came out to look at our diesel shutoffs in the afternoon. The shut offs and the tank fittings are both good stainless. The hose fittings that Saint Francis used are mild steel though. When they delivered the boat to us the fittings were already heavily corroded. I tried to get the factory to take action but I got the sense that they liked those fittings and didn't see that any change was necessary.

I should note that in the engine rooms use these fittings and that they are fine there. Unfortunately this is not the engine room. In fact the tank fittings are mounted just above the bridge deck drain for the deck locker above. This means that when you are at sea salt water is splashing all over them continuously.

I had tried on a few occasions to find a solution but getting no support from the factory and finding no obvious fixes in the Caribbean I had sort of accepted the situation for the time being. Right until last week. As we were preparing to launch I was going over the underside of the boat to make sure that everything was in good shape. As I looked over the bridge deck I noticed a greasy looking sheen leading back from the bridge deck locker drains. The "rub you thumb and forefinger in it test" revealed corroded metal and diesel. The fittings were finally leaking as they ultimately had to do.

I am now committed, involuntarily, to change out the lot of them. They are just oozing a drip here and a drip there right now and we are keeping up with paper towels.

French Polynesia
Diesel Service
08/31/2008, Raiatea

I did the 250 hour service on the Westerbeke Genset and the Port Yanmar today. The Yanmars are so nice to deal with. Pump out the oil out, change the oil filter, change the fuel filter, add new oil, check the coolant, drive leg oil & flexible mount, engine belt and the impeller (all of which have never been an issue) and off you go. I have never had a part fail on either of our Yanmars (both have over 1,000 hours now). We changed the belts and impellers only because you're supposed to at 1,000 hours. It seemed a shame because the old ones were in fine shape. The only "what were they thinking" experience I have ever had with the Yanmar's is the silly seacock setup that is seize prone and gives you no visual indication as to whether it is open or closed. We replaced these with 90 degree shutoffs and have had no complaints since.

The Westerbeke is another matter. When it is working properly I like it, though it vibrates more than I would expect and is a little loud. We have the Westerbeke sound box but our install only has one set of isolators (inside the box). I would like to try double isolating it at some point as this seems to make a big difference. Perhaps I am spoiled. Our genset is mounted aft of the engine in the starboard hull, which is fairly far back in the hull, giving the shimmy some leverage. My favorite genset is the one on our friend's yacht, Kelp Fiction, a 53' Amel. I'm sure that mounting the genset directly on top of a 15,000 pound lead keel has some sound and vibration advantages that light weight catamarans will never be able to achieve.

The service side of the Westerbeke is more work than the Yanmars. First there are two fuel filters, a filter and a fuel element, and the element is mounted such that it is hard to get to and can interfere with the sound enclosure. The fuel filter is mounted in a tricky to work on location also and makes it very hard to see what is going on with the gaskets that must be lined up properly. A normal fuel filter mounted high on the engine is an easy to access spot would be a welcome change here.

The oil dip stick is also hard to get to. Would be much better if they had made the stick and the tube 6 inches longer so that you don't have to contort to check the oil.

The heat exchanger zinc is a problem. The manual asks you to check it but if you attempt to remove the zinc after more than 50 hours it will break off. I have never been able to pull a zinc for inspection once installed. This is a hassle because even if there is a good bit of zinc left it will break off and now it is floating about fouling up the heat exchanger (hopefully dissolving along the way when in contact with the housing).

We have had a lot of impeller problems with this particular unit. The service spare parts kit we bought from Westerbeke for our exact genset came with the wrong impeller. This is the part we thought we were supposed to have so we purchased several spares. The part fit but required the center pin be removed (we had to reuse the original). I knew something was wrong but could get no support. I have sent three unanswered questions through the Westerbeke web site. This impeller also never lasted more than 250 hours, at most. The problem being that you start the genset, everything is fine, then after a while the impeller goes and the genset overheats and shuts down. The shutdown feature works well but the overheat is no good for the plastic bits. Our plastic air intake box is warped and no longer mates with the block keeping the air from filtering properly (waiting for the part). One shut down also melted our coolant overflow line and damaged our pressure cap. Only the actual Westerbeke replacement pressure cap seems to work properly (we have tried several).

I was wandering through a chandlery in Panama one day when I found an impeller just like ours but with a different center pin. It had a different part number but I bought it anyway. When I contacted the Westerbeke distributer to see what was up they said, "oh, that is the correct part for your genset". I installed it and it has worked like a charm for nearly 300 hours (a new record). This was my first service without changing the impeller! I have come to believe that if yacht and systems manufacturers would just talk to their clients and answer their questions in a timely fashion, even over email, cruisers would have far fewer frustrations. Unfortunately there is a long way to go before the market reaches this mark.

As I was wrapping up the service a big Fountaine Pajot charter boat showed up and asked why we were on their mooring. Hmmm. The sun was setting and the wind was up. Fortunately a neighbor, Bruce on Top Cat, came by and told us there was a mooring available on the other end of the field. I buttoned things up and we motored over and picked up the last mooring in the bay.

French Polynesia
Boat Clean up and Clean out
08/30/2008, Raiatea

It is amazing how dirty your boat gets just sitting in a boat yard. Hideko and I spent the day putting things away and cleaning up on deck. It was pretty windy today and it is looking like it will stay that way for a week. The high pressure/low pressure squeeze causing this is supposed to bring rain and overcast as well but so far it was a nice day and we are getting things ready to go so that we can take off for Tahaa later in the week.

French Polynesia

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