Warning: this is a long article! I had ample time to write it - my train journey yesterday was six-and-a-half hours, and ample subject matter, given the enormity of the work we've been doing on the boat. For those who just want to look at photos (with captions), scroll all the way to the bottom for the photo gallery. For the rest of you, read on.
It's 8:12am. What follows took place yesterday afternoon. I wrote in real time, switching back and forth between the goings on of the train ride and what had been happening on Arcturus for the past couple weeks. Keeping a running diary on long train rides is a habit I got into a while ago, and I've done it ever since. It's fun, and keeps me aware of my surroundings on the train.
Time for another Running Train Diary! All aboard for Oslo and a weekend with my British friend Clint Wells. This one is going to be slightly out of order – the timestamps are from when I actually wrote the words, so technically this paragraph came after the next. But you get the point.
I’m combining this real-time diary of my train journey with a little retrospective on my first three weeks in Sweden, which, unsurprisingly, has been almost entirely devoted to working on the boat.
I just climbed aboard SJ Intercity train #55, bound for Oslo from Hallsberg, where I’d transferred from the Regional train from Västerås (where I’d spent the morning on the boat). It’s an older train, which looks very cool from the outside, and has a bit of that nice ‘clackety-clack’ as we rumble on down the line. I made a beeline for the café car and got a nice seat with a table, though I’m facing backwards, and find this uncomfortably disorienting. The chairs are spacious and I have ample legroom. My window is cracked to let in some fresh air. And train sounds.
I’ve been in Sweden now for more than (?) three weeks. 24 days to be exact. I just checked. Of those 24 days, at least 19 of them have been spent doing work on Arcturus.
This re-powering project is immense. I had an idea of what we were getting into, but as per usual, the timeline in my head was compressed quite a bit from reality. Mia knows that I think this way, so was probably more mentally prepared for the endeavor than I was.
The lengthy time is due mostly to the fact that this has become – was from the start really – more than just a repowering project. As our friend Micah pointed out, we’re basically refitting the entire after one-third of the boat.
“Most people just squeeze in a new engine and leave everything else around it,” he told me. Micah works for Osmotech in Annapolis, refitting Swans and Hallberg-Rasseys and other high-end boats, and says he’s done about 12-15 engine installations over the past few years. He came to Sweden for 10 days to help us, in exchange for a free place to stay and a plane ticket.
“You guys are doing it right – taking out everything and starting from scratch again. It’s much easier to build something new like that than it is to try and make old stuff fit. It just takes a while.”
I think the café might be open soon, which means it’s high time that I belly up and grab a coffee. The Nordic countries are the leading per-capita consumers of coffee in the world, and take this culture seriously. Right on the sign indicating that my coffee is going to cost me 20 kronors, is a little note saying “inkl. påtår”. This translates, roughly, to ‘including free refills.’ At most cafes this is assumed. I read a book once written in the 1930s about a guy traversing Finnish Lapland on foot who tended to stop along the way and meet the locals, who inevitably invited him into their homes for coffee. He wrote that in one day alone, he’d consumed 27 cups.
Kaffe dax! Incredibly, the milk they serve on the side – in little triangular paper cups – is organic! I love Sweden!
My knees are aching. Before jumping on the train I spent about four hours on the boat re-installing the electrical system. This was pleasant because I was there alone, listened to some music and was working on a relatively clean (not messy) project. It was unpleasant because of those four hours, about 3 of them I spent crouched in the portside cockpit locker in a yoga squat which put undue pressure on my knee joints. My knees were extra tired from cycling home from the boat yesterday.
The electrical project worked well. I’d removed the batteries and the panels prior to painting the bilges and cockpit lockers before we put the new engine in, and dismantled the old shelving that the panels were built into. Before our Atlantic crossing in 2011, I’d basically removed and reinstalled all the electrics with proper end fittings and heat shrink, so all of that had already been done. This time around, it was just a matter of putting everything back together again and running the wires cleanly now that all the other work is (almost) done.
Mia made a new plywood panel that she painted white to mount the circuit breakers and the battery switch on. It’s flush, unlike the old one, which projected back into the locker, which will allow us to install much bigger batteries next year when we get to that project (along with solar panels). What we lost in a little junk shelf behind the sink, we’ve more than gained in appearances, as the new panel allows for much cleaner runs for all of the wiring and much easier access from the cockpit locker.
It’s all back together now, and it looks…neat.
The benefit of grabbing a seat in the café car with a table is just that – I have room, and a table. The downside is that I’m facing backwards, the landscape outside whizzing by in the wrong direction, and I’m facing two other passengers who are sitting on the opposite side of the table. The seat next to me is empty.
It’s a man and his wife, and they are dressed more or less the same, in only black and white, the man wearing dark black sunglasses. They look to be in their 50s or 60s. The woman’s white shirt has a repeating Mickey Mouse pattern on it. They both look bored, and have not spoken much to each other. She’s also drinking a coffee.
There are lots of dark-skinned people on this train, Africans and Middle Eastern folks on their way to somewhere between here and Oslo, or maybe Oslo itself.
At the moment, the scenery outside is green and flat, though I suspect it will get more mountainous as we approach the border.
I’m on my way to visit Clint, a trip I planned almost immediately upon arriving in Sweden. Clint is one of my very best friends in the world, and I take every opportunity to see him. We met in Fiji, when he was traveling with his brother Glenn, and the three of us bought a car together in Auckland, New Zealand. A few days later we met two Swedish girls, Mia and Johanna. Four years later, I ended up marrying Mia, with Clint and Glenn in attendance at the wedding – it was the first time that the five of us has been reunited since leaving New Zealand. This will be my second trip to Oslo to visit Clint, who has relocated there from the UK to work as a tree surgeon and get paid in Norwegian kronors.
I’ve been silent on my website for a while now after posting almost every day about the progress we’re making on Arcturus. It’s because our friend Micah was here from Annapolis, and 1). I just didn’t have the energy to blog after the long hours we would spend on the boat, and 2). it was more fun being social and enjoying the evenings with Micah and Mia and a glass or two of wine.
By the time Micah arrived, Mia and I had the old engine out, the new engine poised on the cabin sole and ready to go in, and the entire bilge stripped clean and painted anew, our goal. Which meant that Micah and I could get straight to work on the heavy lifting, engineering the new engine and installing all the surrounding systems.
We needed to widen the engine beds slightly. I had an idea to use steel angle-iron to accomplish this, bolted through the sides of the engine beds and drilled and tapped on top for the flexible engine mounts. This idea is difficult to express in Swedish when calling around and looking for parts.
I managed to find a metal distributor and for 1200 kronors (the equivalent of about $200), bought two lengths of 10mm thick angle-iron, each 16-inches long. It took another stroke of luck to find a nearby machine shop not on vacation that could help drill and cut the plate to our specs (10mm is freaking thick, almost ½-inch).
The first three days that Micah was in Sweden saw us fitting, marking, removing and adjusting these steel plates, driving them back and forth to the machine shop until we had the correct shape and the correct positioning for the holes for the engine mounts. This was crucial, as once the holes were drilled and tapped, there was little room for adjustment on the mounts themselves, so we were extra careful. What that meant was trying to align the engine to the shaft without it actually being bolted down.
I managed to cross-thread a nut onto one of the bolts that hold the metal plates onto the fiberglass engine beds, bolted through the sides. It was hard enough drilling the holes (I had to buy a 90-degree drill), and then just as the nut was pulling up tight, it stopped spinning, in either direction, and I spent the next 30 minutes cutting it off.
The train is stopped now in Kristinehamn, and I know this only because I happened to look out the window and take note of the station sign. It’s hot onboard and the woman across from me has taken off one of her shoes, perhaps because of this.
The 4th day of Micah’s visit was spent aligning the newly installed shaft. With the new dripless shaft seal, new shaft coupling from Beta, and the new flexible coupling, also from beta, there is barely an inch of shaft showing in the stern of the boat now before it connects to the engine. This was incredibly tedious work, like trying to thread a needle with a piece of string that won’t quite go through the eye.
We’d also installed a new cutlass bearing, epoxied and set-screwed into place since the old one kept slipping out, so now everything from the engine to the prop is brand-spanking new, save for the shaft itself.
Which proved an interesting dilemma. The old engine, a Westerbeke 30B-3, is significantly longer than the new one (three cylinders as opposed to the Beta 16s two), and thus required a pretty short shaft. To make the new engine fit, we had to mount it as far back as possible on the beds. To make matters worse, we needed more shaft showing in the aperture in the rudder to accommodate the new prop (which was a guess – the new prop isn’t even here yet, so fingers crossed), a fixed Campbell Sailer, which has a much shorter hub than the old Variprop feathering wheel and thus needed to be positioned further aft in the aperture to be centered.
The result of all this is that the new Beta sits so far aft that a full 10 inches of engine beds remain at the front, where we were able to mount the new strainer.
We’re whizzing by the flat countryside now, really rolling. The trains here travel almost 100mph, and are smooth as glass, smooth enough that my coffee cup is resting nicely unattended on the table in front of me, and I’m able to type on my computer without the slightest sense of motion sickness, even traveling backwards.
I’ve been looking forward to this trip to Oslo as much for the train ride as I am about seeing Clint. I love train rides, and often joke (half-seriously) that I’m going to just ride the train for a big loop one day just to relax. I’ve loved trains ever since I was a kid, so perhaps it’s something of my childhood bubbling up, I don’t know. I tend to think it’s actually adulthood and the attendant responsibilities – riding the train lets me escape all of that for a while, forces me to escape and sit back, for there is nothing else to be distracted by.
Ahh, legroom! That black-and-white couple just got up (ostensibly to get off the train, as we’re coming to a stop now), so I took the man’s seat, which is further away from the table (where my coffeecup is still resting placidly), and more importantly facing the direction that the train is going, the right direction.
I could have gotten the work done on the boat without Micah’s help, but I can’t imagine what it would look like. Micah is a perfectionist, but not in the annoying sort of way. He’s the mellowest guy I know, and he’s methodical when it comes to boat work. As he says, he’ll have those ‘oh fuck’ moments, but they normally exist only in his head, and almost immediately transition into a ‘hmm’ moment as he works out a solution.
Micah’s biggest contribution was his experience. He does this stuff for a living, and knows how it’s supposed to go.
With the engine bolted down, we moved onto the fuel tank project. Mia and I had removed the old metal tank, which was hung from underneath the cockpit sole. We’d intended to get a custom plastic tank made to fit in the same space, but it was prohibitively expensive. I managed to get ‘industry’ pricing from Vetus in the UK, and one of their standard sized tanks would fit in the front of the starboard side cockpit locker, so we went with that, saving almost $1000 in the process in parts alone.
We built a hefty shelf out of Brazilian hardwood and galvanized angle brackets we found at Bauhaus, the local hardware store, which the new 88L (23gal.) tank is strapped to. Micah ran the fuel lines after an extremely frustrating time trying to find a primary fuel filter / water separator (Racor fittings are impossible to find here in Sweden, which scrapped my plan of using the brand-new Racor 500 I’d brought from the USA), and he ran them in such a way that everything is at right angles and it looks like train tracks going from the tank to the engine (he likewise set the tone for my electrical work today by installing the engine panel and wiring harness, following similar patterns as he ran the wires).
We temporarily plugged in the start battery and tried the key switch once the panel was installed…and for the first time, the engine turned over. Just once. But it’s going to work.
Do you remember Thunder Mountain Railroad? That train/roller coaster at Disneyworld? Is it still there? That was my absolute favorite as a kid. My grandparents live in Pompano Beach in the wintertime, and we’d go to Disney on occasion when visiting them over our Easter break in elementary school.
Thunder Mountain was the perfect roller coaster for me – I loved trains, and I hated roller coasters. I hated frightening things in general, and was very sissy when it came to amusement parks. I’d stay low to the ground and conservative. I didn’t go on my first upside-down roller coaster until I was 18.
I was reminded just now of Thunder Mountain because the train, as we approach Karlstad, the next stop, tilted slightly on the tracks going around a particularly sharp bend, first one way, then the other, and the image of that roller coaster jumped immediately into my head.
It’s the little things that take the most time and energy when working on a boat project. The engine was bolted in, the shaft aligned and the fuel tank installed. Time for the details.
We did take a couple of breaks with Micah here. First, a morning and some lunch in Uppsala where we met Johanna (who is on the cover of the July issue of Spinsheet, on Micah’s boat actually). Then a morning target shooting at Mia’s dad’s farm before spending the afternoon in Stockholm, touring the city and visiting the Vasa museum. Then it was quickly back to work the next day.
Micah installed the engine controls while I worked on the exhaust and some plumbing and Mia built the electrical panel board. Actually, it's unfair to say simply, 'he installed the engine controls,' because that implies that it was an easy, quick task. The old shift lever, original to the boat, has a massive fork fitting that accepted the old shift cable and it's threads. The new shift lever is of course smaller threads, and the new fork that came with it is too small to attach to the old lever. This is fairly typical of any sort of custom boatwork, and is just one example of a relatively simple project turning into something bigger and more annoying. It took Micah half the afternoon to run the control cables and another thirty minutes to adjust the shift cable length when it wouldn't fully engage the forward gear, then another good bit of time cutting the old fork so the new cable would fit.
All the hoses had been removed from the cockpit locker and under the sink, and I wasn’t about to put anything back in again that wasn’t right. In 2011, we’d cobbled together quite a bit at the last minute just to get away from the dock, and now I had to fix all of that. The lousy saltwater footpump mount, the cobbled together spigot, the improper vent on the water tank, etc. etc. We ended up installing both a new water deck fill and a new fuel deck fill, Micah built a custom aluminum bracket for the footpump (which is now plumed off the head intake instead of the engine intake) and I installed a new tank vent that drains into the sink instead of the engine compartment. Inevitably this led to myriad trips to and from the local chandlery, who got to know us quite well.
Stopped again, this time in Karlstad, where an adjacent track is lined with freight cars loaded with newly cut trees and probably headed to a lumber yard somewhere. Just like the train cars on Pappap’s model railroad in the basement. One of my favorites is the little lumber steam train he had that just goes back and forth up the mountainside in the back of the layout. You’d hardly notice it it’s such a small detail, but it’s memorable.
Just about two-and-a-half hours to go now.
Micah left on Tuesday, two days ago. But we’re almost done with this immense project, and the boat should be going back in the water next week. It could be in already, except we’re waiting on that prop, which is shipping from Canada, in British Columbia, half a world away from Sweden. And anyway, Tommy, the yard guy, is away on summer vacation.
It’s only for all of the progress we’ve made in the last three weeks that I’m even able to take this little trip to Norway without constantly thinking about the boat. I’ve actually been dreaming about the work and the new engine. Having nightmares. I dreamt last night that the new engine had the same problems as the old one, not being able to hold a stable RPM in neutral, and shaking the boat to pieces when it ran. And a couple nights earlier, I’d dreamt that the new engine was so loose on it’s mounts that it shook uncontrollably all over the place. I woke up each time not really sure what had happened, but very thankful that it had indeed been a dream.
While I’m away, Mia plans to sand and paint some of the holes we filled in aft deck and slap on a couple new coats of varnish. I need to wire the depth sounder and splice up a couple of new Dux shrouds (last year we took two of them to send to Colligo for pull-testing, the results of which we’ll know shortly).
But otherwise, we’re just about ready to go cruising again. Save for the two-page list of other fiddly projects I want to do on the boat, but then again that will never, ever get completed. And anyway, isn’t that part of the fun of it?