During the summer of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged us to spend a lot more non-social quality time on the boat and coach, but it didn’t really slow down getting projects accomplished, in fact it probably increased our project load. Here are a few highlights:
Note: Discovery refers to our Motorhome and Quantum Leap refers to our boat:
Slide Topper Replacement for Discovery:
Slide toppers cover the roof of the slide out rooms when they are extended and roll up into a cassette when they are retracted. Slide toppers prevent debris and water from accumulating, which would either block the slide from closing fully or end up inside the coach when the slide is retracted. They also keep the majority of water off the slide roof.
One edge of the topper has a beaded hem that slides into a track on the side of the coach and is always exposed to the sun. After a nasty wind storm, Rob noticed that the thread on one of our Carefree Ascent slide toppers had rotted out and was separating from the coach track. After further examination it became apparent the other three toppers weren’t far behind. The hem on the other edge is attached to the cassette roller and never sees the light of day and was in good shape. In fact, the vinyl material itself appeared that it probably had a few more years left in it.
Hard to believe that this would happen on a coach not even four years old. The underlying cause is because when Entegra ordered the toppers they did not specify UV tolerant thread. This thread is relatively expensive so that was clearly a cost cutting measure.
Rob considered having the old toppers re-stitched or attempting it himself, but that would entail a lot more work than simply replacing them, so he ultimately decided to replace them. After researching the subject we selected Stone Vos to make new ones. The cost was similar to buying them from Carefree, but the Stone Vos fabric is far superior and not only is sewn with “lifetime” SolarFix thread, but the hems are double stitched. Plus, they have a 10 year non-prorated warranty and ship for free. Going with Stone Voss was a no brainer.
Ordering the new toppers was the easy part, installing them however was a different story! Firstly, the plastic bead rods do not come installed in the hems because Stone Vos uses a heavier bead rod and that does not permit the topper to be rolled up for shipment. They do include pull strings installed in the hems so the bead rods need to be pulled thru the hems before the toppers can be installed. The coach side bead rod was fairly stiff in the relatively cold RI spring weather and Rob had a tough time uncoiling it and getting it to lay straight. That is until he figured out soaking them in hot water would solve that issue. A little silicone lube and some help from me and pulling the bead rods into the hems went fairly smoothly.
Now it was time to install the four toppers on the coach. Typically, it is a two person, three ladder job, lifting the assembly to the top of the slide and threading the beads into both the roller track and the coach track at the same time. You can imagine how unwieldy this is, even for two or three people, considering one of the slides is over 20′ long. Nevertheless, Rob managed to devise a method to do it singlehandedly by working mostly from the roof. He first installed the bead on the coach side, then flipped the material up on the roof. Then he removed the roller assembly from the cassette (it is spring loaded so this had to be done carefully) and while working on the roof slid the roller onto the fabric instead of the other way around. This worked out well.
From there it was fairly easy to drape the fabric over the edge of the slide, roll the new fabric onto the roller, then reinstall it all in the cassette. This project took a couple of days to complete all four toppers.
Replacing Honda Odyssey Brakes
On one wheel, one of the two brake pads unexpectedly wore down to bare metal. Tired of listening to the metal on metal grinding noise every time we stopped, Rob finally ordered the parts needed to replace all the brakes. Rob says doing disc brakes is one of the easiest jobs to do on a modern car and is about the only one he still insists on doing himself. He ordered new pads and new rotors for all four wheels from a reputable supplier. These were mid level parts with coated rotors, not racing grade, but a step or two above economy grade. The kit came with all new spring clips, grease and other parts. The project went fairly smoothly, was finished in an afternoon and cost was about one quarter the cost of having it done at a repair shop. After installation, the break in process for the coated rotors took about a half hour of repeated hard stops in a nearby empty parking lot.
Vacuflush Vacuum Generator Repair on Quantum Leap
Quantum leap has two Vacuflush heads (toilets) both installed circa 2003 when we acquired the boat. These have been fantastically reliable, functional and far superior to any of our RV toilets. The toilets themselves are very similar to a household design, have no moving parts except for the flush ball and require no power. They work via a small vacuum generator installed somewhere between the toilet and the holding tank. That means this system does not require gravity to work, so the toilets can be installed lower than the holding tank and are perfect for RV’s and boats. One of the vacuum generators on Quantum Leap is shown below and is basically a small tank with a bellows type pump and a vacuum switch.
The vacuum generator pump uses relatively low power (about 5A) compared to a macerator toilet (30-50A) and creates a strong negative pressure in the drain hoses. When the toilet pedal is pressed the vacuum rapidly sucks the toilet bowl contents thru about a 1/2″ diameter hole pulverizing everything and then it all gets pumped into the holding tanks. The pump runs for about 30 seconds to transport the waste into the holding tank and re-generate the vacuum.
Every five years or so the duckbill valves and bellows are supposed to be replaced in the Vacuum Generator. Both of our heads have been working fine for the last 16 years without replacing those parts, however at the end of the 2019 season the aft head vacuum generator started making a clanging noise as the pump neared maximum vacuum. Everything still worked fine, but the noise was surely a warning of imminent failure, so Rob figured it was time to do the maintenance and he ordered the parts in the fall of 2019 to be installed in the spring of 2020 before we moved aboard.
Well, to make a long story short there was nothing wrong with the duckbills or bellows! It turned out the pump motor had some kind of issue. The new motor (shown below on the right) was beefier and stronger and fixed the noise.
Water System “sputtering” fixed on Quantum Leap
Shortly after moving aboard Quantum Leap we noticed all the faucets and shower would sputter and spit air and it was getting really annoying. Rob concluded (correctly) that the fresh water pump must be sucking air somewhere in the water line between the fresh tank and the inlet on the pump. With a flashlight Rob traced the 25′ intake line best he could thru the bilges looking for air bubbles (luckily the lines are translucent). Finally, just a short distance from the pump he found a spot with numerous bubbles in the water line. It turned out to be a brass valve buried deep in the bilge that had cracked (see photo below), probably from lack of antifreeze during the winter. Not only was the valve letting in air, it was also slowly draining our fresh tank into the bilges! That explains the mysterious water in the bilges, as well as why our 130 gallons of fresh water seemed to be getting used up faster than usual. Problem was fixed with a new plastic valve.
Replace SeeLevel Tank Gauges with RV-C Version on Discovery
Some of you may be aware of Rob’s eRVin blog site and how he loves messing around with that technology. One upgrade he made this summer was replacing our tank level gauge with a different model that also broadcasts the tank status onto the RV-C network (see this post on Rob’s eRVin site for a detailed explanation of that).
Now the eRVin app (shown below) on our smartphones shows our tank levels no matter where we are. We also get text and email warnings if the gray and black tanks get too full, or the fresh tank gets to low. Very cool!
Tire Sunscreen Retrofit on Discovery
Waaaay back around 2013 (for our previous coach) we naively bought sunscreens for the windshield and tires made by Prompt Sunscreen in Winter Haven, FL. Prompt uses suction cups to hold the screens in place and needless to say that is not entirely reliable. The suction cups just don’t stay stuck and over time (at least a couple times per season) they degrade and need to be replaced. We were tired of them being so unreliable so when we bought our 2017 coach we replaced the windshield sunscreen with a Magneshade which uses strong magnets and is soooooo much better. But, we kept the Prompt tire covers and Rob removed the metal stiffners and figured out a way to install snaps for them on the inside of the wheel wells. Very cool, they keep the sun off the tires, allow plenty of airflow and best of all they don’t fall off!
New (sort of) Carburetor & Fuel Pump for Tohatsu Outboard
Quantum Leap has a 2005 vintage 9.8HP 4 stroke outboard for her 11′ tender (dinghy) which gets us back and forth to shore when away from the dock and allows for exploration and regular ‘evening cruises’ around whatever harbor we may be in. This motor is also powerful enough to bring the boat up on plane even with both of us aboard and can do above 15 mph. Generally it runs very quietly and smoothly and sips gas.
The carburetor design incorporates a high speed jet and a low speed jet. We have experienced many occurrences over the years where the motor runs fine at speed but won’t idle properly, which makes docking maneuvers very difficult. This is due to the low speed jet, which is extremely tiny, getting repeatedly clogged. I think Rob disassembled the carburetor four or five times this year. Luckily, Rob says this is an easy job as only two bolts hold the carb in place. At one point he found a good price for a new carb on Amazon, but it turned out to be a European model and did not work correctly on our motor so it was returned.
Rob says some have theorized that the tiny particles are coming from corrosion that may be occurring in the fuel pump so Rob also replaced that and even installed another fuel filter between the pump and carburetor. That didn’t seem to help so the corrosion may be occurring within the carburetor itself, perhaps due to ethanol fuel. So far, non-ethanol fuel has not been available in RI for marine use as it is in other areas of the country.
Dedicated Internet Access for Quantum Leap
We like to keep the internet active full time on Discovery while we are living aboard Quantum Leap so we can keep tabs on the lighting, HVAC and keep an eye out via the assorted cameras we have installed. Also, full time internet is important should there be an alert that needs to be transmitted. For that internet connectivity we are using an AT&T Mobley plan which is $20/mo (plus taxes) for unlimited data.
On the other hand, we also want to have internet full time aboard Quantum Leap so we can do the same sort of stuff when not there and have connections for our laptops and TV’s. The Mobley plans are no longer available, so this year Rob signed us up with Verizon Visible service to use on the boat. Visible is $25 all in with a “Party Pay” plan and also offers unlimited data. There are some limitations that you can read about here but the service generally works really well. Visible only runs on certain smartphones so Rob picked up a relatively inexpensive but high performing moto e6. This phone is plugged into a tiny, but really impressive, little $20 router (the yellow box in the photo below) so all the devices on board have full time access to the internet. The whole thing runs off 12 volts via a 12v USB adapter.
How well does it work? It has been fantastic! So good in fact, our original plan to cancel the Visible plan during the winter was nixed. We carry the Visible phone with us on the coach too in case the AT&T service is poor (which happens often). Rob is working on a setup that will allow us to use both the AT&T and Visible services bonded together.
New TV’s for Quantum Leap
Now that we had great wifi and internet aboard, it’s was time to update to a smart TV. We had very old TV technology in the bedroom and even older equipment in the main cabin. We replaced the bedroom TV with a 22″ LG which has a WebOS interface and the main cabin TV with a 32″ TCL 32S325 which has a Roku interface. Basic models, nothing fancy, but a big leap in technology for us. Now we can stream Netflix, Prime, Disney, etc. as well as all the channels included with our DISH service, directly to either TV. Both WebOS and Roku offer the same capabilities, but Roku is a little easier to use. The Roku unit even supports buffering over the air signals to a USB thumb drive, so the TV can pause a live broadcast for up to 90 minutes, wow!
Best of all, we sold the old main cabin TV on eBay, a circa 2003 Visio, for almost as much as we paid for the new one! Apparently it had some features certain video enthusiasts are looking for but were of no value to us.
New Enclosure Panels for Quantum Leap
The cockpit enclosure on Quantum Leap is getting on 16 years old. We have a hardtop, but the sides consist of 11 ‘soft’ sections built of Stamoid and Strataglass that protects us from the sun, wind and rain. Five of the panels have zippered ‘windows’, one is the door, but the other 4 have large zippered opening ‘smileys” in the Strataglass that let in the breeze when the weather is good. It has held up extremely well, but the thread for the smiley zippers is deteriorating. Rob spent many tedious hours this year and last, re-sewing the zipper teeth. This year we decided to replace the Strataglass and zippers in the 4 panels that have the smileys. The work is being done by our canvas guy this winter so next spring we’ll have partially new canvas with working zippers. Maybe next winter we’ll replace the Strataglass in the other panels.
New Battery Charger for Quantum Leap
For the past couple of years our Xantrex MS2000 Inverter/Charger seemed to be having difficulty charging our battery bank. Rob says for some reason it wouldn’t stay in bulk mode as long as it should. Bulk mode is where the batteries receive – wait for it – the bulk of their charge, ha ha. So this isn’t necessarily a problem while at the dock where we can plug in to shorepower 24×7, but it’s a huge problem while on the hook where we are totally off the grid. And we spent a LOT of time on the hook this year.
Rob says our solar panels (on sunny days) take care of all our power requirements during the day, plus can put back about 40 amp-hours into the batteries, which leaves about 40 more amp-hours we need to make up some other way, and that would be to run the generator so the battery charger can do its job. The Xantrex has a 100 amp charger so it should be able to put back the needed charge in way less than an hour, but the way it had been working we would need to run the generator for at least 9 – 10 hours each day!
Rob said he didn’t think he could fix it because Xantrex won’t sell parts to consumers, plus he really wanted to get rid of it anyway to make room for another project. The Xantrex is a beast at about 80 pounds and takes up a lot of space. So we replaced it with a much smaller, much lighter, much smarter Sterling 50 amp charger. Yes it has half the charging power that the Xantrex was supposed to have, but keeping in mind we run the generator primarily to charge the batteries and heat hot water, an hour or so of run time per day is just about right, so a 50 amp charger does the job quite nicely.
But getting rid of the Xantrex means we also eliminated our 2000 watt inverter. Rob says the inverter was very inefficient anyway and we never used it. I won’t get into the technical nitty gritty of that, but the only thing we need the inverter for is running the TV’s, so he installed two small, inexpensive and much more efficient, “point of use” inverters to take care of that.
But the big win was getting the old Xantrex (below – white box upper right) out of the compartment shown below. More about this in the next section.
The new Sterling was certified (ignition protected, etc.) for installation in an engine room so that’s where it went as shown below (marked by the red arrow). This project involved some significant rewiring of the AC and DC circuits.
Rework A/C Compartment on Quantum Leap
So it was important to get the old Xantrex out of the air conditioner compartment so that compartment could be rebuilt. We wanted to shrink the size of that compartment by about 15 inches and then put a storage cabinet on top. That provides a lot of additional floor space for our recliners and provides for additional air ducting to improve our A/C efficiency. Below is the compartment with the Xantrex removed and the A/C and ductwork in the process of being relocated.
The photo below shows the project nearing completion. The new ductwork takes up the space where the Xantrex used to be. The pipe stack is experimental to check the cooling efficiency. It is incredible how much this ductwork change improved the effectiveness of our A/C! The pipe will be hidden in a new cabinet to be built in the future over the top of this equipment bay.
As we have mentioned before in previous posts, our boat is a 1985 Chris Craft which we purchased in 2004. Since we have owned it, we have spent a considerable amount of time and money updating the various systems on the boat including replacing the two gas engines (one went belly up) with new ones, replaced existing two toilets with new Vacu-Flush toilets, replaced the refrigerator, installed a propane locker and replaced the electric cooktop with a propane oven/cooktop, installed a cockpit hardtop and had a new enclosure fabricated, repainted the topside, replaced the cockpit seating, upgraded many of the electronics, installed solar panels, and replaced and repaired a variety of other items.
The only item we hadn’t replaced was the original inboard Onan MCCK 6.5 kw generator which we use to make hot water, run the big electric appliances such as the microwave and hair dryer and charge the batteries. Because the boat was originally a fresh water boat, the generator did not have a heat exchanger and was raw water cooled. That was ok in fresh water, but being operated in salt water for the past 20+ years has ensured it would die a slow death. In particular the intake and exhaust manifolds are badly rusting. Every year at the start of the season, Rob crosses his fingers, then gets down on his knees and prays that it will start when it is time to flip the switch. Amazingly each year including this year it has! It’s hard to believe there’s enough metal left based on the piles of flaking rust we remove from the bilge every few weeks.
For the past few years, we have discussed several options for replacing it. The first option would be to buy a portable unit but there are a few disadvantages to this option: 1) it wouldn’t give us the same amount of power as our existing internal unit; 2) for proper ventilation it would have to be used from the swim platform so Rob would have to go outside to manually start/stop it and it would have to be stored somewhere when not in use; 3) it would be much noisier; 4) the cost of a good, quiet portable unit is over $1000; 5) not a good selling point if we ever want to sell the boat.
A second option would be to buy a brand new generator. The biggest disadvantage of that would be the cost, $7000 – $10,000. With the age of our boat, that didn’t make any sense.
The last option, which is the one we chose, was to buy a rebuilt generator exactly like the one we have, but with fresh water cooling. Yep, it’s a 1980’s vintage unit but it has been completely refurbished. Cost was a little more than double the portable approach but we get to keep the 6.5 kilowatts we have now in lieu of just 1.8kw with the portable.
Rob had been eyeing gen sets on eBay for several years. After a lot of research, he decided to buy one from a seller in Ocala, Florida. The unit was delivered in September and will be installed sometime in the winter of 2021. That project is in the hands of a professional as it will involve a crane to move the 500 pound machines (out with the old in with the new) and should be done before launching in the spring. The old generator will be returned to the seller in Florida who will rebuild it. BTW, the Onan MCCK 6.5 is a marinized version of a tractor engine popular in the 1950’s. It has two opposing cylinders.
So that sums up the major projects, of course there were all the other usual cleaning and maintenance projects. Whew! After listing all that out, I’m amazed we had any time to relax!