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December Weather

Text and Photographs by Paul Clayton

Christmas festivities were over and I didn't have anything pressing to do at home so I decided to make a short trip to Edenton to do some boat maintenance and take care of a couple of nagging problems that needed addressing. First, the Atomic 4 needed winterizing. It wasn't a huge deal, because the water was still warm at the coast, and the old engines will take a bit of freezing regardless - but with that done, I wouldn't have to worry about running down to the coast in case a protracted period of bitter cold was forecast. Second, when I left Edenton after returning from Florida in mid-month, the cutless bearing was dripping. Not much, and certainly not so much as to threaten the capacity of Terry Ann's enormous bilge, but nevertheless...

We all know what a red sky at morning means, but how about a blue and white one? Nothing better, it seems.

Two days after Christmas, in the waning days of 2018, I trekked east, arriving at the marina in late afternoon. The cutless bearing had stopped dripping on it's own, and the pump cleared the bilge in about a minute - three gallons, maybe?. It was cold, not freezing, but in the 30s, and my Coleman kerosene lantern provided pleasant heat as well as light. One of my old backpacking sleeping bags kept me warm through the night.

I had started winterizing the A4 back in November. I ran the engine, changed the oil and got ready to pump a couple of gallons of RV antifreeze through the system, when the exhaust abruptly stopped spitting. In the past, this problem has been due to a clog in the exhaust downstream of the water injection, or a bad impeller. Both can be time-consuming to cure, and I didn't have any time. Phil had abruptly moved departure date for taking his catamaran Oryoki to Florida forward by three days, and I had to make a flying trip home to make final arrangements to be gone for perhaps three weeks. The Florida trip took the maximum time I had budgeted, and I again got jammed for time. Even so, on arriving back at Edenton I aet aside a couple of hours to clear the exhaust spitting issue and finish winterizing the A4. Unfortunately, the engine refused to start. So I went home in mid-December with the intention of returning to Edenton at earliest instance. Just after sunrise on a late December morning, light showers, light winds, moderate temperatures, I set to work on getting the A4 started. Same drill as usual - check that gas was getting to the carburetor, plenty of gas, try the engine, no luck. Tap on the carburetor with a hammer, try the engine, no luck. Check the spark plugs, good spark, try the engine, no luck. Tap on the carb some more, try again, no luck. Finally, off to the auto parts store for a can of ether. A quick burst and the engine fired right off and ran with no complaints - except, of course, not spitting. Unlike the cutless bearing, tempus edax rerum had failed to solve that problem.

As the day went on, the weather went down hill. The winds picked up, and after a while I had to strike my big awning and replace it with the small one that just covers the companionway. Periodic showers swept through, and I would use them as an excuse to take a break from work on the A4 and wash down the deck. There's no better time to do that kind of cleaning than a rain shower. It's a pleasure to run a brush over the deck and watch the pure, clean rainwater wash the grime and soot out the scuppers.

Since changing the impeller on my A4 is a wretched job, involving laying on the engine head down and laboriously working the impeller loose by feel, I chose to check the other end of the system first. But the water injection seemed to be clear, so there was nothing to it but to have a go with the impeller. The Moyer manual is not a lot of help, with instructions along the lines of "remove the cover and then remove the impeller and replace it with a new one", but having done this once before I slowly progressed with the job. The cover was easy enough, but the impeller was firmly lodged in its cavity. The trick is to grab the fins one by one and pull with needle-nosed pliers and wiggle them out, all by feel (the pump is mounted facing backwards on the stern end of the engine). After about 45 minutes, the impeller was half-way out, and I did what I should have done to start with - drove over to Kellogg's and bought the smallest size needle-nosed vice-grips that they had. A few minutes of work with that and the rubber part of the impeller came out. The metal core mostly stayed in. I had a sinking feeling that this was going to be a biatch of a problem, but in fact it came out fairly easily. Now I was able to put in a new impeller, button everything up and try it out. With no great hopes, I fired up the engine and immediately it began to spit. That's the advantage of a pessimistic outlook, now and then you get a pleasant surprise.

So here it was, only mid-day and both the crucial tasks taken care of of. I got a quick shower and headed into town to the library to check my email. The southeasterly wind, gusty enough in protected Pembroke Creek, had Edenton Bay churning like the inside of a Speed Queen washer. Back at the boat, I checked the weather radio. The afternoon forecast promised winds 15-20, possible gusts to 40, maybe more in thunderstorms, rain showers, heavy at times. All this was supposed to go away overnight, and Saturday looked like light northerlies under blue skies, temps in the upper 60s. Perfect for painting.

The exterior woodwork on Terry Ann is in such bad shape that the options are to paint it or replace it. Before going the very expensive replacement route, I plan to try painting it. As a test, I did the companionway drop boards, and the results looked promising. So, with a good painting day in the offing, I set to work scrubbing the inside of the starboard cockpit coaming, to get it ready for a coat of primer. As with the deck, periodic heavy showers gave it a good rinsing. If everything came together and we got warm sunshine in the morning, I could paint and have 18 hours for it to dry before the possible showers Sunday morning.

All evening the wind blew and the rain fell and the weather radio repeated a constant litany of warnings about lines of thunderstorms, torrential rains and 50 mph winds, but Edenton Marina never saw anything quite that extreme. During the night, the winds clocked around to the west and then northwest, and finally blew themselves out well past midnight.

Saturday dawned clear, sunny and warm, and I got the painting done by late morning. Then came the usual round of showering, library, grocery store and back to the boat for a few more afternoon chores. The main one was to reroute the fuel line on the A4 so that it was less liable to get knocked around when I have to lay on top of the engine to do maintenance. Then I tried to get into the back of the A-B switch as something is loose in there, but I will need a stubby straight-head screwdriver to have a chance. So that job will have to wait. I thoroughly vacuumed the work bench area as there were some aluminum shards laying about from an earlier project. A few other little chores finished the day.

The forecast for Sunday was for more rain in the morning then maybe a cessation for a while in the afternoon, then showers on Monday, rain on Tuesday, and so on. Sure enough, it was raining as the sun came up, and it kept on as the morning progressed. But there was the promise that the showers would end mid-day, so I hung around the boat, cleaning and polishing, and sure enough, the sun finally burned through and the afternoon turned warm and partly clear. That was all I needed to put another coat of paint on the cockpit coaming before hightailing it for home. Like chocolates, the December weather had proven that you never know what you are going to get.

Copyright © 2018 Paul M. Clayton.