Duet's Home Page
How We Spent Our Summer Vacation
May 15, 2003 - February 1, 2004

As our regular readers will recall, we arrived in Jacksonville, Florida from the Bahamas in late April.  Our 18 month sabbatical was over and it was time for Captain Ron to don his blues as Dr. Ron and spend some time delivering anesthesia instead of mahi mahi. Before our departure for northern climes, however, we scheduled Duet for several projects at Huckins Yacht.  Huckins, as some boating readers may know, has been building the Fairform Flyer since the 40's.  The original design was based on a Navy PT boat and relies on light weight and narrow beam to achieve considerable speeds. We boarded a number of these beautiful boats while evaluating Huckins and found them to be outstanding examples of the boat builder's art. 

Planned enhancements included installing a dishwasher and new gas cooktop and building a china cabinet over the sink, a set of bookshelves by the pilothouse steps and a side table in the saloon.  Also, after much consulting with Alaska Diesel, Nordhavn, Huckins and the local diesel mechanic, it was determined that the fuel pump needed to be rebuilt and the injectors replaced on the main engine (Duet's main is the type where injectors are replaced not rebuilt).  Over the last few months Duet's main had developed a new behavior, stalling at low speeds.  The symptoms were associated with close quarters maneuvering, namely rev up, haul back on the throttle with enthusiasm and the engine stalls. They also occurred only at the end of the day, when the fuel was warm.  The engine restarts immediately, but this behavior was apparently indicative of fuel pump and injector issues.  Ron was concerned that these problems may have originated from water in the fuel, so we also had all the fuel commercially polished and tested for water content, before and  after polishing.  Duet's main has 2,600 hours on it, so a rebuild of the fuel pump (which had not been serviced to date) and new injectors were not necessarily out of line with standard maintenance schedules.  After this work was done the engine ran much more smoothly so hopefully we've fixed the problem.  We won't really know, however, until we are out in the real world maneuvering.  Part of our winter departure plan incorporates some time running in the St.John river before we begin an offshore journey, just to be sure everything is working properly.

Throughout the summer we traveled to Jacksonville, about once a month, to check on Duet and the Huckin's projects.  The yard does truly beautiful work on budget, which is a rarity these days.  Leaving the boat proved traumatic for us, as we woke up with nightmares about failing bilge pumps on a pretty regular basis.  Also, Nancy's first act every morning has been to log onto the Tropical Prediction Center to follow whatever tropical storm was taking place near Duet's vicinity. Ironically, the hurricane of the season, Isabel, hit within 25 miles of our summer home, and over 900 miles from Duet. All this said,we do believe leaving her down south was the best answer for us and we plan to leave her again, but on the hard next time.  Having her in the water is more work and many people we've talked to have had no problems leaving boats on the hard for long periods without visiting.  That said, Captain Ron will probably still visit, if only to pat her hull and sit in his beloved engine room.

So there we were, pulling out of Jacksonville, bound for life on terra firma and work. But first, there was Nancy's family reunion to attend. This seminal event (last held in 1990) was convened in La Jolla, California, at the Lowes Coronado Resort.  The occasion was her parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary, the achievement of which milestone Nancy's Mother credits to always having two bathrooms.  Nancy and Ron, having been together 25 years, always with two bathrooms, feel there is much to be said for this point of view.  So Duet's crew loaded up the family Explorer (which had spent the winter dozing under it's cover in Hilton Head) and traveled north to Maryland to deposit Tristan and Maggie at Sunchaser Kennels. La Jolla was a little far to drive and neither Tristan nor Maggie fly, so they spent the reunion with four footed friends in the Maryland countryside. While the team was in Maryland we also selected temporary living quarters, until we identified a more permanent address.  After some sticker shock (Maryland real estate had risen some 25% in our absence, unfortunately after we sold our house) we selected Windsor Villas in Rockville, mainly because they were convenient to Ron's place of work and accepted dogs. They were the only temporary facility which accepted dogs, so the decision was pretty easy.

Then off to the reunion. First Nancy and Ron stopped at her sister Sally's place in Los Angeles, to see the new niece Claire and to carry out extensive provisioning for the reunion.  Unlike boat provisioning, this effort required taking into account multiple tastes, such as light versus regular beer and different types of cookies and chips for snacks.  Nancy doesn't have these problems on Duet, as her crew will eat literally anything.  Several enjoyable days were spent getting to know Claire, who was about 9 months old at the time and just beginning to crawl and make loud noises. 

Needless to say while in Southern California, we also stopped by Dana Point (Nordhavn HQ) to see the new Nordhavn 47. What a stunning boat.  The most interesting feature to us was the sheer size; there was a 57 in the slip next to the 47 we saw, and it was difficult to tell the difference.  The interior is fantastic, with an amazing amount of room and we expect her sea manners to be exemplary.  Early offshore experience so far bears us out.

Finally, after a long day looking at boats (the best day there is) we arrived at Loews in Coronado, just south of La Jolla.  We had some early indication of what kind of stay this was to be, having already fielded a phone call from Nancy's sister Sally enroute.  Sally had arranged delivery of flowers, prior to the guests of honor's arrival.  On her way down to the hotel the florist called to say that the hotel had sent the flowers away, announcing that there were no reservations for said reunion. So Nancy and Ron were tasked with sorting this out upon arrival.  Sally was sidetracked by Claire, who was clearly demonstrating her kinship to her aunt Nancy by being carsick. 

Fortunately, some order did prevail when we reached the hotel, but this was to be a reunion plagued by a continuing series of hotel disasters. Nancy calculated that she has stayed more than 1,000 nights in hotels in her business career and felt she had never stayed in a worse run establishment.  Fortunately, the location was fantastic and the company couldn't be beat, so these little problems could be overlooked.  The key lay in lack of  focus; every time something went wrong, which happened over and over, despite several meetings and clearly written instructions and schedules, it took significant manual intervention to correct it. Nancy's entire family, however, has her sense of humor, so by the second day of this were all competing to identify the last misstep. Also, Nancy's brother Brian and sister in law Wendy are in the hospitality business and actually met while they were both attneding Cornell's School of Hotel Management. Once they arrived we were able to circumvent the front desk and touch the folks delivering the service directly so matters improved somewhat, but this will always be remembered as the reunion where we stayed at the US equivalent of Fawlty Towers.

We returned to Maryland a week later, having greatly enjoyed the trip.  Nancy's family is widely scattered so this was a great chance to catch up with everyone and make plans for the next get together, which hopefully won't take 13 years to achieve.  Captain Ron returned to medical duty, where his first few days were somewhat stressful, but everyone, including the patients, survived.  We also found out that Ron's peers had elected him to the list of Maryland's best doctors while we were gone.  We hope this reflected his performance during his ten years of practice, not a vote of thanks that he had departed.

Nancy settled into the land based routine, taking up extensive exercise and rediscovering old friends and haunts.  Most of the early summer was spent looking for a permanent place to live.  We decided to rent for several years, as our sense of value and local real estate prices did not quite meet.  Having two large dogs limits the choices somewhat, but we knew we were OK when a nice townhouse we examined had a large picture of a golden retriever in the master bedroom.  So we moved again, in September, to a more permanent address, at least for the next 2 years.  During this period we shall spend part of the year in Maryland and part cruising, which right now seems like the perfect balance for us.

We had one other major event during the summer; Ron acquired another Porsche.  He sold his previous one when we moved aboard, but some time spent ashore convinced him that life without it wasn't worth driving.  So we ventured forth on EBay and finally negotiated a decent price on a year 2000 Carrera 4.  The only drawback was it was located in Dallas.  So off to Dallas we went.  After a rather extended examination by the airport security, due we believe to having purchased one way tickets at the last minute, we departed Baltimore at the crack of dawn and arrived several hours later in Dallas. The car was everything that was promised, thereby confounding all our doomsaying friends who were convinced we were going to find it with no wheels, and we set off on the 1,300 mile journey home.

Due to Ron's call schedule this trip needed to be accomplished between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, but fortunately we had the right vehicle for the journey.  It had been sometime since either of us had driven a manual transmission, but we managed to make progress, although Nancy did stall at one light, much to her embarrassment. The bulk of the journey was made on the interstate, so we didn't have a chance to try out the car's handling characteristics much, but we did determine that it could travel at nearly triple digit speeds without the driver or passenger being aware of how fast we were going.  Fortunately, we didn't attract the attention of the local gendarmes, although we did get a bit of a start at an IHOP Sunday morning when what appeared to be the entire staff of the Tennessee Highway Patrol walked in.  It turned out they were there for breakfast, not for us, but we did depart discreetly out the back.  We figured, correctly as it turned out, that Tennessee's highways would be a little more open for some time while her finest worked their way through blueberry waffles.

So we arrived back in Maryland Sunday night, having covered nearly 1,300 miles in about 18 hours.  The key to this journey was keeping the front digit on the speedometer in the 8 range as much as possible, while not being run over by tractor trailers with names such as "BlackJack Trucking".  The Porsche is eye level with truck tires, so we got a great education on what kind of rubber is chosen by today's long haulers. It was a great journey, although we wished we'd had time to slow down and enjoy some of the nice towns we passed.  Once we got home, Ron gave the new acquisition a careful wash

Our other major activity of the summer involved a long planned trip to London.  We had originally scheduled a journey to Beijing, but after a careful review of the Center for Disease Control's statement on SARs, we changed our plans.  We spent two weeks in London and had a marvelous time.  Even better, the bulk of our journey was free, as we were using up Nancy's frequent flyer and hotel points.  We had a much better time spending them than she did earning them.  We ate vast quantities of unbelievably good Indian food, spent too much time in pubs testing local beers and saw endless museums, art displays and other cultural events.  Ron is a bonafide cultural person while Nancy is a philistine. As Ron noted more than once, she has the attention span of a 4 year old, with a level of knowledge only slightly higher.  She did, however, confound him by recognizing a painting by Turner in the National Gallery, without having to resort to reading the caption.  Ron's favorite place turned out to be Hampton Court, home of Henry the VIII, although hopefully Ron won't follow in his marital footsteps.  Hampton Court has an amazing 24 hour clock, which displays all the phases of the moon, as well as a beautiful chapel and other points of interest.

It wouldn't have been a true trip without a boat ride, so we took the ferry down the Thames River from downtown London to Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory. It was enlivened by an opening of the Tower of London Bridge, which is a rare occurrence.  Given the current in the river, we were pleased that someone other than us was piloting during this event.  Greenwich is the home of Greenwich Mean Time, which figures prominently in Ron's weather activities. It is also the site of the Greenwich Meridian, which divides the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, illustrated here by Ron with one foot in each.  One of the keys to Greenwich's dominance of nautical questions was the development of accurate timepieces, without which the early sailors couldn't determine longitude, not having GPS. Until relatively recently, each day the Observatory would drop a black ball down it's tower at precisely one PM GMT, so ships on the Thames could set their clocks.

We spent a very pleasurable day in the Royal Observatory, learning about the trials and tribulations of the early navigators.  Much to our surprise we also discovered that Greenwich is home to the Royal Naval Museum, where Ron finally found the anchor he's been looking for. We capped off  they day by stopping at St. Katherine's Dock on the River Thames, where another Nordhavn 46, Miss Texas, had spent some time.  Upon our announcement that we had a similar boat, we were given a great tour and a free copy of the history of the Marina, which is over 900 years old.

Much of London revolves around the Thames River, and we saw all the water based sights, including the Famous Traitors Gate, at the Tower of London, where many unfortunate prisoners disembarked to read the cheery words "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here".  We also went up the London Eye, which is an enormous Ferris Wheel, built for the Millennium and managed, funnily enough, by British Air.  Nancy is somewhat acrophobic and had to sit down once we got up a little ways but she got used to it, rather like seasickness.  No one else in our cabin seemed to notice and since it wasn't crowded she was able to see while sitting. The view was definitely worth it. We noticed on the way down that the cab behind us contained only one couple, a waiter, a bottle of champagne and some canapes, which is presumably one of the better ways to take a date on the Eye, but must cost a king's ransom.

Soon after this trip we returned south to Duet, trading in the cosmopolitan city for the more restrained countryside and riverfront of Jacksonville.  We are still figuring out what to leave on the boat and what to bring, so we were forced to add some stowage to the family truck, in the form of a 20 cubic foot Samsonite duffel bag, which fortunately stayed attached to the roof through the entire journey.  Duet looked great, with all her new enhancements courtesy of Huckins. The dishwasher, in particular, is a triumph.  It uses less water than Nancy does to clean a load of dishes, makes less noise and doesn't complain, no matter when you start it.  It is actually two drawers, which can be run together or independently. The drawers can also be configured differently (one for pots and one for plates for example) and can run different cycles (i.e. one on tough wash and one on rinse) at the same time.  One drawer can run off our inverter (2500 watts) although for both we will need to turn on the generator.  So far the Fast cycle, which takes 56 minutes, has proved equal to all cleaning tasks.  The unit is made by a New Zealand company, Fisher Paykel, which has just established a beachhead in the American market.  We predict they will do very well.

The new gas cooktop is also wonderful.  It has only two burners, as Nancy never uses more than one at a time.  The larger burner has about 3 times as much punch as the old burners and can boil water for pasta in quite a hurry. It is also easy to clean, as the surrounds are glass and the burners closed so nothing goes down inside it.  To fit the dishwasher Nancy was forced to sacrifice her propane oven, but since she only uses the convection oven anyway (which is part of our microwave), this hasn't been a hardship.

Huckins also built a new china cabinet over the sink, which has freed up a lot of storage space.  It matches the other cabinets exactly, down to the shade of the varnish, and is a great example of the kind of woodwork they do.  The new bookshelves and entertainment cabinet are of the same caliber and we think look nicer than those installed as original equipment on the Nordhavn 46.  These additions also liberated storage space, which is welcome as we'll be in the islands longer this year and Captain Ron was worried that we would be unable to load enough beer.

Huckins also refinished Duet's floors, with a hard varnish.  Unfortunately, it doesn't withstand the dogs' nails, although we don't believe they are scratching through to the wood itself, just marring the varnish.  Thus, we have given up any idea of beauty and have gone with the industrial look, modeled here by Tristan, namely gray 3M nonskid tape on all exposed surfaces.  We briefly debated a return to carpet but cleaning it in the tropics is not something Nancy would sign up for again, while the tape vacuums and wipes down with little effort. 

Once we got settled on the boat Captain Ron set to work with a will.  We had developed a rather extensive project list and ordered most of the necessary parts and supplies before we left for the summer.  The projects were divided into two types, standard maintenance (a long list as we had cruised Duet pretty hard for 5,000 miles before laying her up this year) and new installations of various types.   The most time consuming (but least obvious) of the new gear projects was replacing the starboard and aft engine room vents with custom made units from Delta T Systems.  The original stainless louvered vent covers leaked.  This was especially problematic with the starboard vent which is located near a deck scupper and ocassionaly swallows saltwater in rough seas!  The new vent covers have an extensive baffling system which removes the water but does not impede air flow.  Ron also redid the fan system in the engine room, adding an intake fan above the Naiad stabilizer machinery, as that corner of the engine room gets rather warm.  This project required a partial rebuild of the vent area, which had to be enlarged slightly for the new vent and fan.  All the insulation and wiring was redone and a shelf to support the new vent, which is rather deep (shown here on it's back) because of the numerous baffles, was installed.  Ron also fabricated a custom aluminum support for the new fan.  Finally, everything was put back together.  He also added a new aft vent, (from the same manufacturer) which was a much simpler installation as it didn't require as extensive a baffling system and it fit easily without modification of the boat.  So far no leaks, but the real test will be when we get offshore.

We also plan to replace all our lights with new ones by Cantalupi, which Huckins got for us at a reasonable price.  When Duet was built, Nordhavn was still using Guest lights (now they use Cantalupi) which are not marine grade, so the fixtures burn out.  The new lights are so bright that Nancy still hasn't gotten used to them in the head.  She is now wondering whether a dimmer can be installed to soften the rather clinical early morning views they produce.  Duet has over 50 lights, so this project is ongoing, with Ron popping in a few between other projects.  Installation priority is determined by current status of the lights;  the master head was completely dark, so it came first.  The salon came next, as we noticed that our guests had started bringing their own flashlights.  Finally, new red overhead lights will go into the pilothouse to make operating offshore easier.

Ron also redid much of the instrument wiring in the pilothouse.  This project was billed as "no big deal, I''m just going to put the GPS (which had been back to the factory for a software update) back".  Nancy, who should know better, unwisely went off to the Publix assuming that all would be completed on her return.  Unfortunately, a rather different sight met her startled eyes; all the panels had been removed and all the instruments disconnected. Ron was able to explain, however, that the end result would be much better, as he was enabling the GPS, the Autopilot, the Nobeltec software and the radar to communicate with one another.  He also installed a panel-mounted serial port which will make plugging in a backup GPS (if the primary fails) very easy.  So now we can see waypoints on the radar and don't have wires running every which way.  All in all, a definite improvement.

Other "small" mechanical projects including replacing the fuel manifold with a new one (top in picture) made by Kato Marine.  As regular readers will recall, the manifold sprang a leak while we were in the islands last year and has been puttering along plugged with MarineTex.  While this has worked well it just doesn't have that professional marine look Captain Ron strives for, so over the summer Kato, with many faxed diagrams and measurements, custom fabricated a new one in thicker steel with high strength welds.  Ron believes that the previous one broke due to vibration (it is installed on the floor of the engine room next to the main and there is really no way to move it without rerouting all the fuel hoses) so we hope this new stronger version will survive.

Ron also had another go at the generator's continuing problem of running slightly hot.  This has been an issue since we acquired Duet. Previously, he cleaned out the thru-hull and the sea water side of the heat exchanger; this time the coolant side of the system was given a turn.  This required the use of some rather interesting chemicals, which are added to the system, the generator is run and then the system flushed.  All sorts of gunk flows out until you get a clean flush, at which point you start the gen, put some load on it and stare intently at the temp gauge.  Ron also replaced the generator's thermostat and tested the accuracy of the generator's temperature sender by immersing it in boiling water and comparing it's readings to a relatively accurate instant read meat thermometer and the known temperature for boiling water (212F). This Mr. Science experiment determined that the sender was reading approximately 4 degrees high, which made us feel better about some of the operating temps we had seen in the islands.  Once the coolant system had been cleaned and the generator put back together, operating temps were several degrees cooler than they had been (and in the normal range), so Captain Ron called it day.  We are anxious to see how things go in the warmer waters of the islands. 

As part of the overall maintenance, the generator valve clearances were reset.  As a rather interesting aside, during this exercise Ron discovered the valve clearances in the owner's manual were different from those shown in the shop manual.  Several phone calls later he got the right clearances, which turned out to be the ones in the shop manual.  Finally, Ron installed his own version of the dishwasher, namely a Gulf Coast oil filter.  When we are living on the hook our generator works hard, which necesitates a lot of oil changes.  The Gulf Coast filter should extend our oil change intervals from the current recommended 200 hours (recently increased by Northern Lights from 100) to at least 300 and probably more.  Ron plans to test the oil frequently at first, to ensure that we don't over reach the filter's capabilities.

Ron also changed the hydraulic oil on the Naiads, a standard maintenance activity.  It got more interesting, however, when he started them up again.  Testing them at dock required Nancy to rock Duet vigorously too and fro, which produced some rather amused comments from our long suffering slip neighbors. The fins countered to the rocking motion and appeared to be working.  The other test of Naiad behavior involves the gyro, which you should be able to hear spinning down after the system is turned off.  This may be true in laboratory conditions, but is more difficult in the field, with all the ambient noise of the engine room to contend with.  Captain Ron, always creative, deployed his Littman cardiac stethoscope (which Nancy gave him when he was a medical student more than 20 years ago) and was able to hear the gyro quite clearly.  So the Naiads were pronounced healthy and Ron moved on to the next project.

In the meantime,  Nancy undertook to compound and wax the boat.  This is a tougher task than it sounds, as much of Duet is exposed to the sun and therefore the fiberglass was in pretty poor shape.  Washburns had waxed her the year before and Nancy had added another coat but she was definitely in need of refurbishment.  Compounding involves applying an abrasive to take off the damaged layer of the finish, which is then replaced with a new waxed layer.  Nancy acquired a large polishing machine, which makes this much easier, provided you can keep it going in the right direction. It does tend to have a mind of its own and can go zooming off unexpectedly.  This provides the opportunity for electrical excitement if you drop it in the water.  Ron has carefully (multiple times) pointed out to Nancy that, if she drops it in the water, the best result will be she shorts out the entire dock and the worst result will be she falls in after it and is killed by the ensuing electrical surge.  So she has been very careful and so far no problems.  We also borrowed a page from our friends Bill and Ellen on Chicory and bought a right angle drill, which can be equipped with smaller polishing pads.  It is lighter and has less torque, so it is less likely to get away.  This is used on small or difficult bits of the boat, particularly when leaning over the water.  The whole polishing and waxing exercise took more than 5 weeks, as Nancy is only able to man the polisher for 2-3 hours a day, but Duet now gleams almost like she did when she came from the factory, so it was definitely worth it.  Also, as Nancy finally figured out, many people pay for tanning salons and personal trainers, while she gets all this for free while working on the boat.  Ron did make her wear a mask, which he maintains is to keep rubbing compound out of her lungs, but she is convinced is intended to make her look stupid.

Ron's final project involved an improvement which was not on the list, but fell under the guise of a Christmas present.  During a brief visit to Sears (which Nancy feels is always a mistake) Ron discovered the world of Craftsman toolchests.  After a lot of careful measuring, he determined that a 5 drawer chest would fit neatly on top of the desk in the guest stateroom.  Purchase of said chest survived the cost benefit committee, even with some rather shaky additional tool storage calculations, and the chest was carefully brought home and nursed down the dock.  Once it came on board it became apparent that this was a large toolchest but, fortunately for Ron, it did actually fit in the space planned for it.  It did, however, require a substantial amount of plywood backing where it is thru-bolted to the bullkhead.  Once it was complete it was obvious that this had been a great decision, as about half a bunk's worth of tools disappeared into it's capacious maw.

So we spent a very happy and busy 8 weeks tied up in Jacksonville, prior to departing for the Bahamas.  During that time we did not neglect our social life, linking up with friends Bruce and Janet from the Chesapeake on the Krogen 42 No Call. Bruce is a retired anesthesiologist, hence the boat name, and he and Ron found much to talk about, none of it relating to their common profession.  We also caught up with Jeffrey on A Cappella. Regular readers may recall that Jeffrey and his wife Karen were readers of the Duet site.  Last year they bought a beautiful DeFever 53 and set forth on a cruising journey. They also acquired a wonderful Labrador puppy named Tucker, who is now a seasoned cruising dog, just like Maggie and Tristan. Via the crew of A Cappella, we linked up with American Nomad, a beautifully fitted out DeFever 66, owned by Grady and Dottie.  Grady and Dottie are new to cruising and American Nomad is their first boat.  Nothing like starting at the top!  It also turned out that they were from Bethesda, Maryland, which is where our new townhouse is, so we were able to get some good leads on local restaurants.We spent many a happy evening with various combinations of friends, talking boats, destinations and weather and all looking forward to our departure dates. No Call headed to western Florida, while American Nomad and A Cappella were Abacos bound, but we have no doubt we will link up with everyone somewhere else along the way.  We also learned a lot from our slip neighbors, including David, waxer extraordinaire, and Captain Jimmy on the beautiful sport fisherman Class Act, who showed us just how much TLC a professional captain can provide, not to mention giving us many valuable fishing tips.

In early February Duet finally left the dock, with many fond memories of Jacksonville.  First we plan to cruise the St. John briefly to make sure all the systems work, and we remember how to use them.  Then we shall set off, preferably offshore, to Miami and thence to some combination (we hope) of the Exumas, Eluethera and the Jumentos.  We will have limited (if any) email access while in the islands, but will catch up with everyone when we return in mid June.  In the meantime, we wish all our readers fair winds and calm seas.

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