Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Score: Team Cinderella: 1; Forces of Entropy and Chaos: 1

Totally charmed by Savannah!
We had planned to be in Beaufort SC and Savannah GA for a while – two cities we hadn’t really taken the time to explore before.  Plus, there was a pleasant, congenial, and inexpensive marina here (Lady’s Island Marina – great spot, it’s on our list to return in the autumn) where we would do some boat projects in between explorations.  The marina was so inexpensive that we were able to indulge in a rental car for 2 weeks to get into the living-in-suburbia groove for a while.

We were totally charmed by Savannah.  Everyone who writes about the city, it seems, uses the words “charming” and “gracious” and I understand why!  The city was planned in the early 1700s and organized around a regular grid of leafy public squares. The squares were originally used for drilling the militia, but now they are just lovely small parks in the middle of the urban bustle.  We drove up and down the streets looking at historic buildings, walked for hours along the waterfront, and took a trolley tour.  I didn’t take pictures but if you google “Savannah, GA” and click on “images” you get a wonderful medley of photos of trees draped in Spanish moss, fountains, spectacular architecture, and waterfront, and that medley of images is about the way I remember the town.  On our tour they gave us a brief formal history of the town.
This illustrated map shows all the leafy squares and boulevards (you can get the map here)

You can read the history for yourself, but here just 3 weird little things that struck us:

  • British General Oglethorpe was for us in St Augustine, the “bad guy.”  After all, we were Spanish and he was “the enemy.”  So it was a bit of a jolt for us in Savannah, to see boulevards and parks named for him, and statues in his honor.
  • Savannah is one of the busiest ports in the US.  Even though its on the east coast, It’s on the same longitude as Cleveland Ohio (whoda thunk?) so bringing them by ship this far is a pretty efficient way to move goods that are destined further west.  
  • You can get your beer “to go” from any of the many local pubs and drink it while walking the streets.  

Its not a town that is very easy to visit by boat, no good downtown marina access, so we were just as happy to be nearby, in a place where we had a rental car.

Mixed with playtime, however, were boat projects.  For best look and protection of the wood, 8 coats of oil would be brushed on and allowed to dry overnight, with light rubbing between coats.  So, most mornings Dan spent oiling our teak trim, one coat per day, then we’d take the car and do things in the afternoon while the oil dried.  Sometimes we explored the city and surrounding area, other days we ran rather utilitarian errands.

In addition to the teak, we had two significant boat projects we wanted to accomplish.  The first was figuring out what was wrong with our dinghy.  Back in Annapolis, the outboard engine was somewhat unreliable for two reasons: ethanol in the available gasoline, which absorbs water and is a known problem in marine engines; and the fact that we didn’t use it regularly.  (You know, it is a truism in cruising circles that your dinghy is your family car, well, just like a car that sits too long and then develops minor problems, our dinghy also had that litany of minor sticky problems.)  But now that we were actively cruising again, we were using it every day, and we were using the ethanol-free fuel that was readily available after we left the big Washington metro area, so with both those likely causes removed, the issues should have resolved themselves.  But, just when I had started feeling good about the engine’s reliability, it stopped being reliable.  Again it was acting like it was having trouble getting enough fuel, and worse, we were occasionally smelling a tiny gasoline leak somewhere.

We narrowed the problem down to a broken O-ring in the connector at the end of the fuel hose, but of course you couldn’t just replace the O-ring, you had to replace the entire connector, a part that was maddeningly hard to find.  The guy at the marine supply place across the street from the marina looked at the hose and said that they didn’t have the part that we needed, but helpfully called his colleague across town at West Marine, who said he thought he might have it.  But when we showed up next morning with the hose (thank you, car), the part he had wasn’t a match.  He called another colleague, this time in the little town of Bluffton, halfway to Savannah, who didn’t have the part either, but mentioned another boat repair shop to try (thank you again, car).  Directions were country-style: “Go over the two long bridges, then after the second one there’s a stop light about 3 or 4 miles later…” We finally arrived at a shop selling small open boats and lots of parts for outboards.  The guy was friendly and super-knowledgeable, took one look at our hose and went to a rack and picked up the part we needed.  Its tiny size and price belied the fact that it was capable of completely shutting down our dinghy – it was about the size of a wine bottle cork (yeah, yeah, we needed wine after this whole lot of running around!) and cost $6.  It was the end of the work day, so we also got into a long rambling just-for-fun conversation with the owner, a lot of stories that gave us “local flavor.”  We heard about bribing the bridgetender with a good Southern dinner of friend chicken and grits and greens to guarantee an opening, about duck hunting at Okracoke (since we had announced our intention of going there this summer), and (of course) about the vagaries of gasoline outboard engines.  We got home and exchanged the new part for the old one, and took the dinghy for a test trip up the creek – the current is really strong here, so we cleverly planned our trip to go up current first so if the engine should fail, we’d be able to drift back to our boat without paddling too hard.  But the engine was just perfect – problem solved, and score one for Team Cinderella!

Our second project, though, was a lot more disappointing.  In fact, the only thing uglier than what we found … would have been what might have happened if we hadn’t found it.  Twice back in St Augustine, we smelled something that could have been electrical insulation smoking.  I don’t remember how we decided it was coming from the new hot water heater we had installed just 18 months ago, but it quickly dissipated when we shut off the breaker.  We examined it and couldn’t find a problem, (maybe something had spilled and now burned off?) and called in a marine electrician, who carefully examined our installation, declared it sound, had us turn the power back on, and found … nothing.  We monitored it closely for a few days, turning it off when we left the boat or went to sleep, and found … again, nothing.  All seemed well and we never smelled anything again.  We had plenty of hot water until one day the circuit breaker popped while Dan was taking a shower.  We tried some diagnostics of our own (inconclusive) and then talked to the manufacturer’s technical rep, who had further troubleshooting suggestions.  Unfortunately all of them involved being upside down on the bottom of an awkwardly-shaped cockpit locker while trying to unscrew some very tight, very tiny screws that you could either see or touch but not both at the same time – such is life on a boat designed to make use of every single cubic inch of space.  But after contortions to rival any yoga class, we found a disaster waiting to happen in the form of obvious corrosion around the thermostat and scorching around the electric heating element.  Whew! Glad we found this when we did!  And glad it’s still under warranty.  Score one for the forces of entropy and chaos.  It’s going to be cold showers, or showers ashore in the marina’s (fortunately very nice) bathrooms for a while.

Unless we run the engine.  Our hot water heater is designed to work either by electricity at the dock, or by excess engine heat while underway, and there’s nothing wrong with the engine-heat hot water system.   We’ve been really enjoying ourselves here, but it’s starting to get warm, hurricane season is coming, and we’ve got a serious case of inertia, lingering longer than we ever have before on a northbound run.  Maybe this is just the Universe’s way of urging us to get moving again … we can have hot water every night as long as we’re under way.

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