July 10, 2017 Race practice and boat improvement notes

No race today to allow boats to participate in Whidbey Island Race Week.
We were not part of the race week so a few of us got together to do some practice.

Crew: Ben L, John P, Keith H
Winds: N 15-20 knots

Winds had been light and from the south all day. Right before the normal race time they switched from the north and started blowing hard. The West Point buoy registered 15 knot winds when we went out, when we were coming in it registered 18 with bigger gusts. We had waves rolling in from the north  that we were slamming into on an upwind starboard tack. Wave heights are harder to estimate but I think they were about six foot waves.

I had intended on giving us a legitimate course to follow but the high winds and pounding seas altered that plan. Instead we took the time to do an equipment shakedown test. I have not had Billabong out in these conditions before and it was a great opportunity to poke around the boat while John helmed, and helmed us very well. Throughout all maneuvers John kept the boat steady and charging through the water.

We put up a full main and the 140% genoa on a starboard tack, which put us bow first into the waves. Billabong was furiously pounding through the swells. Anything not held down in the cabin was quickly on the floor. After getting everything up and trimmed for the conditions I sat back to look at the rigging. The leeward side was slack, not something usually too concerning, but in this case both the inner and outer stays were swinging wildly. I crawled up the deck to look at the mast and from the side it looked like a noodle. The baby-stay, which I understood to be critical in heavy winds, flopped around like it was not connected. From the bow looking back the top of the mast flopped from side to side with each wave we pounded through. This was not good! The stress on the mast alone was intolerable. Too much more and I was afraid she was going to give way and snap in half. I crawled back to the cockpit to confer with John, we needed to reef, now.

We pulled the headsail in till it was about a 110% and moved the sheet cars forward to compensate. John said the helm instantly felt better. The mast was still pumping some but not nearly as much as before. We held that configuration for a bit and as I was adjusting the leeward genoa car my feet (which were on the toe rail) went into the water a couple times. We needed to reef the main as well.

Reefing a main can be an interesting proposition, especially in higher winds. The old adage many sailors live by says, “Reef early and often.” What that means is when the weather looks like it may get rough you set the sails before it gets to you. This makes the boat safer and more comfortable. We now had the prospect of reefing a big mainsail in winds around 20 knots. Luckily one of the previous owners rigged Billabong with a mainsail reefing system that can be operated from the cockpit. Unluckily I took out one of those reefing lines to install a vang line.

Reefing Billabong requires the handling of three lines: main halyard, fore reefing line, aft reefing line. The main halyard and the fore reefing line are controlled from the cockpit, however the fore reefing line has a hook on it that needs to run through an eye on the front of the main. I went forward and put the hook in place and we were able to pull the front of the sail down. That accomplished I again had to go forward to the mast to pull down the aft reefing line, which runs through the boom and comes out the front into its own jam cleat.This was the line that was previously run to the cockpit. It sure would have been easier to have it back there on a winch.

The boat stabilized and even sped up. It is amazing how reefing, which is the process of making the sails smaller, can actually make the boat go faster in bigger winds. Ultimately it comes down to boat control. With all the sail up we struggled to maintain control of the boat as the same speeds. With the sails reefed the boat again ran comfortably and we had control. Ironically, through this entire endeavor we had a Coast Guard rescue helicopter circling us waiting to assist if we got into too much trouble.

The sail was a great learning experience. Keith is a new sailor and got to experience managing a boat in trying conditions while John and I who are both experienced in those conditions got to learn about Billabong herself. Afterwards we went to Sloop Tavern for a beer and a recap. Here is the list we came up with:

  • The rig could really use some work. We could have held more sail but the looseness of the rig made it sloppy and dangerous. The forestay is so slack it looked like the genoa was curved.
  • Need to setup a backstay tensioner. This would help with flattening the headsail going upwind quite a bit. After a good tuning of course.
  • Till the rig is tuned we need to reef at 15 knots of wind.
  • Static topping lifts suck – We knew that but it really worked against us in high wind. Billabong needs a rigid strut to hold the boom up. If we continue to use the topping lift maybe we need to tap the spare (I think) line in the boom to make it somewhat adjustable.
  • We might be able to convert the two reefing lines into a single reefing line by using the aft line and running it through the fore reefing point eye. To control this from the cockpit we still would need another clutch on the cabin top.
  • The furler drum needs maintenance. It is not spinning as well as it should.
  • The battery box in the engine compartment came loose during the pounding. We need a better way to secure it.
  • The raw water pump belt may need to be replaced. It was not spinning when we started the motor.
  • And perhaps most concerning, the rudder post is leaking. Normally not noticeable, when the rudder is being worked hard water splurts out of it. I am hoping all that is needed is for the packing to be changed. This should probably be done with the boat out of the water though.

Overall a great learning experience. Even though conditions could have caused us some serious problems we recognized and compensated for them quickly. Everyone on board stayed calm, focused on what needed to be done and we all had life jackets on. We now know some strengths and weaknesses to address in the boat too.

Pulled out the old asymmetrical spinnaker…flying pretty

Billabong has a huge sail locker. I was pulling stuff out a couple months ago and found a compact blue sail bag. To my surprise there was an asymmetrical sail all ready to fly inside of it! Went out with my buddy David and we tossed it up to see how she was. Sail is still in great shape and flies pretty.

We left Shilshole with a Northerly and scooted across the sound quite well with just a whisper of wind. The wind built and we just kept speeding up. David had never flown a spinnaker before and he did a great job of learning to dance with the spinnaker and make the boat fly downwind.

June 19, 2017 Race Report – NBMBN

Race: Ballard Cup Series II Race 3.
Course in Shilshole: NBMBN – Shortened to NBMB due to lack of wind
Crew: Ben L, Robert K, Keith H, David S
Winds: 1-10 knots (guesstimate)
Average Speed: 5 knots
Placement:

  • 3rd in class
  • 5th in series (Missed the first race and got a 7)
  • 59th overall
  • Results link

We had an interesting downwind start for this race right into a strong ebb. From the start line we had to fight our way down to the B mark against the ebb. Typically when doing this you want to stay near the marina breakwater to get out of the current as much as possible and that is exactly what we intended to do.

After Figaro forced us to gybe.

At the start we gybed onto a port reach and smartly crossed the start line headed right into the breakwater. Figaro and Blue Lullaby started on the other end of the line on starboard which gave them right of way over us (No idea where the rest of our class was). We were scooting along well when Figaro (who had ultimate right of way) decided to bring Blue Lullaby up and force us to gybe over again to avoid a collision. We executed it cleanly and accelerated away from Blue Lullaby.

Bye bye Blue Lullaby

Once we were far enough ahead of Blue Lullaby we turned down and went wing-on-wing. Figaro stayed on a reach and we scooted past and beat her around the first mark.

Looking back at the fleet after the start

On the upwind leg our mark was the Meadow Point buoy. With the tide now at our back and the wind picking up we streaked out on a long starboard tack. Our strategy was to head out till we could turn and come back in on a single tack just about the time the tide turned slack. We had a bit of a snafu near the mark with another boat fouling one and nearly fouling us which allowed Figaro to sneak ahead. We caught her and passed her a few minutes later when she tacked into shore way too early. Possibly trying to stay closer in for the tide, but with slack coming up we were not concerned about it pushing us away from the mark.

Blue Lullaby

When we tacked in our fleet was far behind us. As we got within a couple hundred feet of the mark the wind got light and shifty. A big header pushed us down away from the mark and we had to tack up to get back.

After rounding M we needed to head back to B. The plan was to hit the breakwater and gybe around behind the committee boat. We shot inside and the wind died… We were far enough out front that the rest of the fleet saw what happened and stayed outside. The wind filled outside first… We gybed over and struggled to make our way back out. That allowed Figaro and Blue Lullaby the opportunity to stay in the wind and sneak by. Womp womp.

The committee boat pulled anchor and reset the finish line at the B mark. We nearly caught Figaro again when our wind died and Figaro was able to slowly float across the finish line. Blue Lullaby as well.

Because Billabong owes both boats time the best we could hope for was 3rd place after the corrections and that is what we got. Our real time behind Figaro was 9 minutes as we slowly bobbed our away across the line, 14 minutes corrected time.

Overall we had a good race. If the wind had not died on us inside I have no doubt we would have crossed the line first in our class. I think corrected time would have put us 2nd behind Figaro. We had a couple snafus with getting the headsail around and in that lost us time but the crew is learning! As I improve in tactics, boat handling, and ability to direct the crew we are gonna start smashing the competition way (Until Breeze shows up again…)!

Eagle Harbor – First cruise since motor rebuild!

Today I finally took my first cruise on Billabong! It was a small shakedown cruise from Shilshole Marina to the Eagle Harbor Public Park dock on Bainbridge Island.

Took a couple good friends along as well as a new friend Jesse that I met right before he got on the boat. Motor fired up beautifully again and we got out of the marina no problem. Wind was strong on the way down to Eagle Harbor. 16 knot southerly with big gusts. As we headed south towards West Point from the marina we got lots of lifts and headers. I was sitting on the low side watching the headsail and missed a couple gusts and buried the rail in the water. It was a blast! As we came around West Point the wind shifted to south south west. We set the sails once and stayed on a port tack from the marina right up to the entrance buoy of Eagle Harbor.

The Eagle Harbor Public Park dock can be crowded and rafting is encouraged. We rafted off to a beautiful old Westsail owned by a nice couple and headed into town for a food and drinks. The dock pay per foot and the cost of this “big boat” compared to Zippey is quite different. Zippey would have cost $2.30, Billabong cost $3.60! Breaking the bank here ;).

One of the crew over was Benjamin, a co-worker who lives on the island. He hopped a ferry to Seattle and I took him back home. It was fun.

One the way home the winds died and the seas became glassy. Used the iron sail to get home.

We made it to Eagle Harbor in about an hour and a half and got back in about an hour with the motor.

Great day all around! I think that long tack helped me learn the steering on the boat much better. She is a bit sensitive. I was able to keep her on edge pretty well. Looking forward to testing myself again on tomorrow’s race!

June 12, 2017 Race Report – NMBN – Light, Gusty, and Swirly

After months in hiding Billabong has finally poked her nose back into the racing world! The rebuilt motor purrs like a kitten but what that boat really likes to do is sail and sail fast.

Race: Ballard Cup Series II Race 2.
Course in Shilshole: NMBN
Crew: Ben L, Robert K, Keith H
Winds: 0-8 knots (guesstimate) gusty and swirly
Average Speed: 2.7 knots

Robert let me helm the boat which surprised me a bit being as this was our first time out together and he knows I do not have much experience helming a big boat in general, let alone racing it as well. I think I did a decent job. I tended to overcorrect and reacted too quickly but I think that will get better with a couple more times out as I get to feel the boat better.

At the start winds were probably about 5 knots (wind speed indicator is busted, another project 😉 ) with a significant flood coming at us. We knew we wanted to head in to the beach and I mistakenly picked our start about 2/3 up the line away from the beach thinking of a port tack start. Most of the class started next to the committee boat which put them closer to shore and more out of the current. It also meant that when the wind completely died right after the gun went off further out they were able to eke their way up to the beach and tack back out to the M mark. We had nearly caught our class (On your tail Figaro!), even with the extra 2 tacks, when the wind died on our position. Anarchy, Blue Lullaby, and Figaro all coasted around the mark as we watched the rest of the fleet thunder down on us. It was a float fest for a while as everyone watched a wind line slowly come down on the fleet. We were all bobbing near the pin. Water Street, a Cal 24 which is much lighter than Billabong, took off and we were right behind her! We could hear the crews behind us leap into action and start calling out commands for spinnaker hoists and leeward space as they jostled for mark room.

We cleared the mark and headed down to the leeward B mark. We were making pretty good time just on the front edge of the wind line on a beam reach. We caught and passed Water Street. They are friends and I may have tossed out a few friendly jabs about their spinnaker handling skills. No offense guys! You did great! Winds were really shifty and we went from pointing at the locks to Bainbridge and back again several times, all without moving the sails an inch. At one point we fell into a hole heading towards Bainbridge and watched all the spinnakers go cruising past only to die a few hundred feet past us. We noticed the wind clock around nearly 180 degrees before they did and took off again.

Nearly the entire fleet wound up at the leeward mark together. It was a complete cluster. Crews were fending off other boats all around them. We managed to skirt around the outside of the cluster and were nearly around on a port tack when Water Street came charging through on a starboard tack and forced us to turn down. Mark thought he could sneak through and force everyone out of the way since starboard has right of way but he got pushed away from the pin and had to do a 360 to get back in the game.

The leg back from B to the finish was a smooth (nearly) upwind sprint. Boats were crisscrossing everywhere but nobody interfered with anyone. At one point a boat on starboard came pounding up toward Billabong as were were on a port tack. The smart maneuver would have been to turn down and go behind. Robert was busy with another line and could not let out the main for me to turn down so I spun up! One of those over corrections. I parked us in a hove to position and lost us at least 4 minutes of time…whoops! I am more familiar with Breeze and that boat does not like turning down with a tight main. Turns out Billabong could have done that with ease and lost hardly a beat. My motto though: If I am not winning I am learning!

We came in at least fourth, maybe fifth after time correction to Frog Prints due to my spinning blunder. Overall though I would count it as a good race with a shorthanded crew on an entirely new boat to me! Bigger and better action to come in the future I am positive.

Motor parts degreasing day

While I have the Yanmar 3GMD motor out of the boat I want to knock off the rust that is slowly creeping in. The paint on the motor is starting to fail, which makes sense after 34+ years of service.

Today I spent a few hours and 10 canisters of brake cleaner getting the build up oil and carbon off the external parts of the motor. There is still quite a bit more left to do but this was a good start.

I only took one picture, but see how much better the transmission looks?!

Motor disassembly and issue finding

Harold, a retired diesel mechanic who has generously donated his shop and knowledge, and I ripped into the motor today. What we found was both better and worse than anticipated.

The Good: All the major internals seem to be in fine condition. The issues seem to be limited to the piston.

The Bad…

We initially thought cylinder 2 had a stuck ring. We pulled that piston out first and sure enough, stuck rings. Stuck pretty good too. Barely a gap in the rings and no movement from them whatsoever. Then we popped out the cylinder 3 piston, whoops stuck rings on this one too! Worse than the first! The rings were stuck in so bad they had to be pried out. There was significant carbon build up in the grooves the rings fit into. Harold showed me a neat trick to use and end of the ring to scoop out the carbon. Made quick work of that.

That was not the extent of the issues though. The bearings and rods looked great. No discoloration on the piston or cylinder sleeve that would indicate overheating or worse. No grooving. However after we cleaned off the piston heads Harold was examining one and found a nasty crack that runs nearly through it, another had a crack forming. I am going to be replacing all three pistons and their rings just to be on the safe side. Because everything else looks so good I will have full confidence in this motor when we get it back into the boat.

While the motor is out I want to get the rust cleaned up and put new engine paint on for protection. That is the next actionable step.

Pulling the engine for a rebuild

In the last post I mentioned that cylinder 2 was having some blowby issues. I took the head in for testing in the hopes that it was cracked and the issue. The head came back superbly. That meant it was time to dig deeper into the motor, which meant pulling it and putting it up on a bench at Harold’s house.

Today I pulled the motor with the assistance of Shane and AJ. Both great guys. It went remarkably smooth. I anticipated it taking a few hours but it wound up being less than an hour. I had everything prepped and disconnected when my helpers arrived though which certainly helped.

Tomorrow I will be heading out to Harold’s shop to put it on a bench and start pulling it apart to see what is what.

Engine finally fires! Now troubleshooting cylinder 2 issues

VICTORY! Billabong’s Yanmar 3gm finally fires!

(Read text under video too!)

Harold, a diesel mechanic and fellow Shilshole Bay Yacht Club member, came out today and helped me troubleshoot the motor. With experience backing him we found the air leak pretty quickly. It is coming from the external fuel filter. We bypassed it straight into the mechanical fuel pump on the motor and she fired up pretty quickly. I will be disassembling that to determine if the issue is in the filter rings or in the filter housing itself.

Unfortunately we uncovered another issue after the motor was running. I lost one of the nuts from the valve case when we pulled the cover to inspect underneath it previously. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed us to see an excessive amount of exhaust coming from the cover. Harold held a finger over it and a significant amount of pressure built. A well running system will have little to no pressure here.

So….what does that mean? Could be several things, bad head gasket, cracked head, clogged vent, worn piston rings, etc.

We started by cracking open the fuel injector inlets. A good running cylinder will cause the motor to die nearly instantly when its injector is cracked open. Cylinders 1 and 3 both died with their injectors cracked. Cylinder 2 cracked open and the motor kept running for about a minute before conking out. That ruled out a clogged vent. Time to go deeper and remove the head.

We pulled the head off with our fingers crossed that the issue was the head gasket. Head gasket looks fine. What’s next? Harold worked the cylinders up and down while checking for any scoring that could indicate a broken piston ring, the cylinders seem to be smooth and scoring free. What’s next? No visible cracks on the pistons. What’s next? We learned several things, first the issue is not immediately discernible with the cylinder/pistons. This could be good because the second is to look towards the head itself. The head could be cracked or leaking somewhere we cannot see. We already had it pulled off so I will be taking it in to be tested. Fingers crossed that the head is the problem. If not we look deeper and begin to think about pulling the motor out of the boat to mount it on an engine stand and pull it apart to get the pistons out of the cylinders and send the bunnies down that rabbit hole. First though I will get this head tested!

Reminder to change fuel filters often

Billabong’s Yanmar 3gm is having a hard time firing. I am fairly certain it is due to fuel issues. When I pulled out the primary and secondary fuel filters there was a lot of gunk that came out with it. Clogged fuel filters restrict fuel flow and can cause issue inside the motor if not changed out. Based on what these filters look like I believe it is also time to suck out and polish the fuel tank as well. After changing the filters and trying to fire the motor out of a fresh can of diesel I am concerned the injectors and/or injector pump is also clogged up due to filter failure. Waiting on a real mechanic to come provide his opinion on the matter.

(Click images to make them larger)

This is the primary filter. It came out looking like mud with thick brown sludge oozing out. The fuel has an unhealthy look about it as well.

 

This is the secondary filter. It does not look muddy but there are big concerning chunks that nearly completely clogged the filter material and were swirling around inside the filter housing.

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