Winters on the Oregon coast are seldom severe, but we get our fair share of borderline freezing temperatures that are capable of damaging anything that retains water. Thus the steamer is completely winterized each autumn and stays that way until we once again feel it is safe to introduce fluids into her system. Ideally, that would be in April with a goal of having her in the water in May. For a variety of reasons, that seldom happens and it's often June or even her annual appearance in the Independence Day Parade in July before she sees water. This year's delay was even greater. The weather remained cold through April and we took a month's vacation in May. June saw enough distractions to keep us from paying the boat much in the way of any kind of attention, so it was only when she was fired up for her annual trailer ride along the parade route that anything like a serious steam-up took place. A tiny, pesky steam leak in a well hidden area barely allowed us to steam up enough to entertain parade goers with the whistle, but precluded her launch later that day.
With the annual Northwest Steam Society meet coming up soon, it was time to get serious about repairs and sea trials. The leak was isolated in the line from the hand feedwater pump and once found - was easily repaired. I decided to launch on August 1st to give her a few days in the water before we retrieved her and trailered her to the meet. She slipped into the river with no problem and we headed out to cover the one mile distance between the launch ramp and her home dock. However, after a few hundred feet, the engine began to gradually slow and in less than a minute, it had stopped completely. Luckily, we were still close to the ramp and pulled back in there. I rigged a spring line and started the engine while safely lashed to the dock. The same thing happened. It started just fine, and then slowly began to lose revs until it just stopped again. I decided the safest place would be back on the trailer, so we reversed our launch procedure and hauled her back to the boat barn. So - now what? I had never had this particular problem before, so I had no experience to fall back on. I once again called on my friend Ray to help diagnose the problem. He's a pretty smart guy and we seem to do pretty well on the old "two heads are better than one" philosophy. It was obvious to us that there was something blocking the exhaust from the engine - creating back pressure that eventually stopped the engine. So, we started at the engine and worked downstream from there. A high-tech coolant hose connects the exhaust to the condenser system. Pulled that - no problem. We made sure the keel condenser was clear with no obstructions. Clear. Disassembled a check valve in the condensate return line to make sure it was OK. It was. Next was a tee that accommodates one line for a vacuum pump primer and another to the vacuum gauge. No problems there. We jumped past the vacuum pump to check the line between it and the hotwell. No problems there either. That left the one thing I really didn't want to tackle - the vacuum pump. Not that it's terribly complex, it's just that it appears that they installed the pump and then built the boat around it. Because the nuts securing the base are located immediately UNDER the pump, alongside the engine shifting mechanism and up tight to the drive chain, it's extremely difficult to remove and re-install. Did I mention that it's also an easy drop into the bilge? Anyway, we finessed the pump out of the hull and - voila - the answer to our problem! The 90-degree fitting on the inlet side was crammed full of...something! So we pulled the fitting and extracted some very hard debris. I swear some of that crap was a hard as walnut shells! I cleaned up the pump and headed for the boat to re-install it - and dropped it! Wouldn't you know it? The part that hit the concrete floor was that very fitting that we had just cleaned. Soft...brass...fitting. The pump-weighted brass was no match for the concrete and the threads were flattened.
August 4, 2013
We don't have a huge selection when it comes to steam fittings here on the coast, so I tried to make do with what they had on the shelf at the hardware store. That didn't work, so I spent the rest of the day jury-rigging something out of spare parts. So, I now have a new inlet elbow and it only took about four hours to re-install the pump and so we're ready to go.
August 5, 2013
I really wanted to test the system today, but we're having new side curtains made for the boat and today is the day the canvas people showed up. They're putting in a long day and they have the boat completely wrapped up in canvas while they're working, so maybe tomorrow.
August 6, 2013
I got up early and steamed up to test the engine and see if we cured the stall. When Ray arrived, we opened the line on the exhaust side of the vacuum pump - not only to check for condensate flow, but to allow any excess grease to escape. I may have been a bit too extravagant with the lube while the pump was on the bench. That done, we were ready for the test. My wife was on the ground outside the hull with the garden hose trained on the keel condenser and the prop shaft, and Ray was inside with a squirt bottle - keeping the shaft log lubricated from his end. I opened the throttle and began the test. While the engine ran great, nothing was coming out of the open line on the vacuum pump. We expected this, knowing that the condensate system would have been drained during the past couple of days activities and would need time to refill. Then - with no warning - the pump started spewing condensate! Not just a little - a lot! I shut down the engine, we reconnected the pump to the hotwell line and tried it again. The engine is running great. In fact, I had to slow it down to keep from possible damage. I'm certain that it will run at a more leisurely pace once the boat is in the water. We ran it until we were certain that we were well past the point where it had stalled last week. When we started getting steam in the hotwell (that garden hose can only do so much cooling) we decided we had completed a successful test and shut it down again.
We have one more day before we leave for the NWSS meet at Port Orchard, WA. I'll perform a hydro test tomorrow, just to make sure the boat will pass the safety exam once we arrive at the meet site on Friday. Other than that, I think we're ready. Hopefully, the next part of this report will be describing a successful steam meet.
August 12, 2013
Our organization - the Northwest Steam Society - requires that all steam equipment successfully complete a safety examination prior to participating in a club sponsored event. Since I had not been able to complete the exam prior to this event, I had to hope that one of the observers was going to be available prior to launch on Friday. As I said, I wanted to make sure there would be no problems, so I tried to perform a hydro test on Wednesday. I said "Tried". The idea, of course, is to fill the boiler from the tap and then use the hand feedwater pump to pressurize the system to 1 1/2 times the point where the safety lifts - in my case, 160 lbs. I usually have no problem getting the hydro pressure to 240 lbs, but on this day, i couldn't get over the 71 lbs. generated by filling the boiler with tap water. I pumped and I pumped, thinking maybe I had a head of air that had to be overcome. I wasn't until my arm was ready to drop from hand pumping with no results that I decided to check the pump. As it turned out, the pump works fine - but in both directions! Whatever I was pumping on each forward stroke was being sucked out on the return stroke! There are two check valves on that pump - one on the inlet side and there other on the outlet, and it's fairly new. What are the odds that both of them would fail at the same time? But apparently, that's just what happened. By this time, I was ready to leave for Port Orchard and was in no mood to deal with it, so I asked to borrow a portable pump from our Society president, John Hope.
We made it to Port Orchard with no problems. Since we were able to spend the night nearby, we were at the launch ramp in the morning. I connected up with John's pump and began to pressurize the system. I pumped and pumped and with a LOT of effort, got it up to 150 lbs. As I stopped to rest, pressure on the gauge began to drop. So, I started pumping again. Same scenario - 150 lbs. - stop to rest - watch gauge drop. I could not for the life of me understand why I couldn't maintain what I had worked so hard to attain, but the boiler simply would not hold pressure. I was just about to throw in the towel and accept that I wasn't going to steam up for the event when another steamboater - who was also waiting for certification - noted that as I was pumping, I was losing water through the packing in a couple of valves. Dripping water doesn't concern me, but as I told my new friend (because, as it turns out, he saved the weekend for me with that observation) those valves shouldn't even have been open! Long story short - I closed the valves, resumed pumping and was soon at 240 lbs and holding. After a half hour or so, I was able to corner a couple of the society's official observers, who were impressed that I was still within a couple of pounds of my original 240. So we - the boiler and I - passed with flying colors!
We launched and steamed to our group moorage at the Oak Harbor Marina. It was getting close to time for our five o'clock social gathering, so we secured the boat for the night. Saturday morning, we were a bit upset to find that it had quite unexpectedly rained overnight, so the cushions were a bit damp, although the morning sunshine dried them quickly. A five-mile boat parade was scheduled for mid-day, so I started steaming up in preparation for that event. I was unable to get the stack temperature anywhere near where I like to have it - 550 degrees is a good hot fire for me - and the burner sounded sick. With barely 400 degrees at the stack at the top of the boiler dome, it was obvious that even if I could get up to operating pressure, it would drop dramatically as soon as i started the engine. The parade was due to start, we had no pressure and little hope of getting any in the near future and we had an offer of a ride on CROUTON for the parade. No question, we shut down and went for a ride.
Confession time. Even before we left for the meet, my wife was insisting that we needed to clean the boiler tubes, as they hadn't been touched since 2011. My thought was that since we were pressed for time - with the feedwater pump issues and all - and since we had barely steamed up in 2012, that the cleaning wasn't critical. Now, with the apparent inability to get and maintain a head of steam, I began to wonder if perhaps she wasn't right. I went so far as to blame sooty tubes for our extended presence at the dock. I have a policy of not performing repairs on the boat at steam meets. I'll explain my reasoning for that later in this entry. So, we passed the time on Saturday by strolling the dock, talking to other steamers which, when you think about it, isn't a terrible way to spend the day in the company of like-minded individuals.
We have a tradition of rafting together for a wine and cheese celebration at each of these annual meets, and this one was scheduled for mid-day on Sunday. I had been thinking about my steam problem and had decided to break my rule about repairs and take a look at the burner. I had begun to disassemble that unit when the call came for us to head up Sinclair Inlet for the social event. So, once again we begged a ride on CROUTON and joined about 10 other steamers in a side to side raft-up. Those are always fun, and a good opportunity for some good conversation because tied side by side in the middle of the waterway, there are NO other distractions! About half the boats had left by Sunday morning, and shortly after the completion of this event, all but three of us were gone. Now I had plenty of time,so I finished cleaning and re-installing the burner. I fired up and there was a marked improvement in performance - not only in the way it sounded, but in pressure response. We took it out into the inlet for a test and it ran so well that I was actually gaining water in both the boiler and hotwell. Those are adjustments that I can make with a little more time to tinker, so we headed for the dock. I am a bit disappointed that our boat missed the parade and the socializing, but having it run well on the final day almost made up for it.
The three remaining boats gathered at the ramp to help each other with retrieval on Monday, and with a final good-bye, we left Port Orchard. It was about a five-hour run back to Wheeler.
Now, about my reluctance to make repairs in the middle of a steam meet. A number of years ago, we were at one of these annual meets and I was having problems with the boat. So, I was "butt-in-the-air" making repairs and in a less-than-pleasant mood when a rather pesky fellow insisted on talking with me. I was having little luck solving my problem and was even less inclined to discuss it with anyone, so I totally ignored him and he finally went away. It was only later that I learned he was an advance scout looking for steam launches to use in the filming of the movie "Maverick". All of the others who were dockside at that meet and had talked with the fellow became movie stars along with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner. We were relegated to buying a bag of popcorn and watching them at the theater. I swore from that time on, I would never again take time to make repairs on the boat at the annual meet. Of course, no Hollywood scouts have come calling since, but I do try to adhere to the rule.
August 23, 2013
There's not a lot to report since our return to homeport, other than the boat is still in the driveway. Another project - totally unrelated to the boat - has commanded most of my time and so she sits, waiting to be launched. I'm hoping to do that early next week.
I did pull the hand feedwater pump and checked everything - and I do mean EVERYTHING! The pump works, the check valves - er - check out. I'm beginning to think that I had a water supply problem when I couldn't get the pump to work the other day, so I guess I'll re-install it and see what happens when she's in the water.
September 5, 2013
A dozen other distractions have kept the boat on the trailer - untouched - since the last entry. Now we are headed out for another meet, so we've been thrashing about, getting things ready to leave later today. We have a five-hour drive to get to Ten-Mile Lakes - a couple hundred miles due south of us near Reedsport. It's a beautiful location, with literally hundreds of miles of shoreline to explore. I'll file a report - including results of using the hand feedwater pump and the filter for the main feedwater system - on our return.
September 9, 2013
Well, that was an interesting trip. First things first - we had a great time at this mini-meet. Six boats and 14 people for four days on one of the most beautiful lakes in the state. Ten-Mile lakes has over two hundred miles of shoreline, so there's no end to the places to explore. The biggest problem they have is weeds. The part of the lake where we were moored was choked with the nasty green stuff. In fact, each of us - as we cleared the launch ramp and headed for the dock, became mired in the long, grassy tendrils. In fact, when I got to within ten feet of the dock, I came to a sudden stop. I thought I had hit a submerged piling or something. When I finally got some help getting to the dock, we pulled the mother of all salads out of the prop. And everyone - with the exception of our resident paddle-wheeler - suffered the same fate. Once we figured out where to go to "tiptoe through the tulips" we were on our way again. After a couple of minutes, I realized that there was no water showing in the sight glass - NONE! A quick U-turn and we once again tied up at the dock. I spent the next half hour or so fighting with the injector and the hand feedwater pump (there was no water faucet within 200 feet of the dock), trying to get something into the boiler. Finally, with the help of some of the other steamers, we determined the reason neither of those were working was that there was no water getting to them. I had just topped off the fresh water tanks, so I knew I had plenty on board, but nothing was getting to source. The only thing in that line is a strainer, but because of the way it was installed, it was going to take some doing to get to it. By this time, it was getting late in the day, and I had pretty much resigned myself to another weekend tied to the dock as a stationary exhibit. The story I related earlier about being "butt in the air" instead of playing stuck with me. So we spent the rest of the weekend riding in other boats - nothing wrong with that - and came home with only about a half mile under the keel. While I was still frustrated Thursday evening, I made a list of things I absolutely need to deal with on the boat so that next year, we're steaming instead of cheerleading. I'll continue this report over the winter as I tick off each item.
April 10, 2014
Well - "the best made plans" and all that... Shortly after writing that last paragraph, I was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. So, instead of spending the winter checking things off my "to do" list, I got spend several months in and out of the hospital while undergoing chemotherapy. The good news is that the treatment was successful - the bad news is that it took a lot out of me. I'm probably going to have to take a season away from steaming and look at getting my list checked off this next winter with a goal of returning the boat to the water in 2015. We'll see how it goes.