Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Get Me To The (Church) Port On Time

As of Thursday, Aug 1st at noon, it still was not clear that Tiffin Service would be able to paint the exterior repair that day. We thought we’d be included in the first service shift but, as of 9am, no one called us to a bay. We checked phone messages. Nothing. While we waited, Vincent tried to tend to what would have been item #20 on our fix list, the blinds.
Some fixes are just better left to the professionals.
Fortunately with some diligent follow up , Vince found we were on someone’s schedule, just not the main service roster; nevertheless, the assigned service team would not guarantee they would finish that afternoon. (Really?) Reinforcing yet again that we had to be on the road later that day somehow seemed to successfully convey our urgent situation and we received a call 2 hours later that our rig was ready.

We quickly paid the bill for staying at the Tiffin lot ($20/nt) and for the repairs throughout the week. We were struck by how reasonable the repairs were. Everything done was the price of a single repair item in the SF Bay Area. As we were pulling out of the lot, someone sped up in a golf cart and told us we were overcharged one night so Vincent had to return to the office to deal with that.

(And now a side note: While my blogs may seem critical of Tiffin and our forced vacation in Red Bay, I would like to clarify a few points. So far my experience with our 2 RVs (Winnebago and Tiffin) has made me conclude that all RVs have things that break; the more "bells and whistles" the vehicle has, the bigger the probability for malfunction. That being said, if time is not an issue, buying a Tiffin and visiting their factory and service center is a very good experience. You will be well taken care of and the cost of repairs are extremely reasonable. Many items are covered by an multi-year warranty which will apply even if you are the second, third or whatever owner. The people we met at Tiffin, in Red Bay and in the South were all very friendly and helpful.)

About 4pm we were (finally) on the road and made it 196 miles to the Camping World Chattanooga Campground where, in the parking lot, you can have one foot in Tennessee and the other foot in Georgia. Over the course of that drive however the fuel gauge on the Prius remained firmly registered as "full" and I feared the fuel sender was still on the fritz. This was a problem because the tank needed to register no more than ¼ full upon delivery to the Port on Monday.

The next morning (Friday), as we were getting ready to start out again, Vincent started researching propane dealers in the Baltimore area that could remove propane from the RV and certify the tank was empty; this is a requirement for shipment. After about 10 calls, Vince tentatively announced, “Hey hon,.... emptying the propane tanks might be an issue...” Yes, another issue.  

So I called our TWIC agent, who was booked to escort us through US Customs and to the K-Line terminal, and asked for a propane purger recommendation. Fortunately they provided a name, “Jim Donnies RV Service Center”, and that was our next call. The good news: Jim Donnies would certify an empty tank. The bad news: It could take well over a day for them to empty a tank and, by the way, they are closed on the weekend and don’t open until 8:30am Monday morning. The pressure was back on. But wait. Vince found another dealer, Praxaire in Jessup, MD, that would purge and certify the tank, including pumping in nitrogen (a proper way to render a propane tank empty) and was open from 7:30am on Monday. 

The drive Friday was our longest yet and certainly the farthest I’ve ever done solo: 500+ miles. A hundred or so miles in, I happily noticed my fuel tank register was beginning to drop...just not as quickly as it should. We reached Virginia and stopped at the Creekside Campground in Edinburg. Once parked, we lit the barbeque with hopes of putting a dent in our half tank of propane. That evening, we at at Sal's Italian Bistro which is worth a mention; the food was great.
Having just arrived at Creekside Campground, the barbeque is fired up (by RV steps). This was a nice stop; the town is just on the other side of the creek (pictured).
Saturday morning and twelve hours later, the propane gauge hadn’t moved. Uh oh. This could be bad. But we had to push on to our next destination, Bull Run Regional Park in Manassas, VA. Once there, we restarted the barbeque and the kids headed for the Atlantis Water Park. A few hours later, the kids reported that the Atlantis water slides were much slower and “lamer” than those at Red Bay. There was a retrospective big thumbs up to the Alabama slide with the thrilling potential to slam into the outer pool wall. 

Fast forward to Sunday morning and another 18 hrs of barbequing; the propane fuel gauge rested at a quarter tank. Progress, albeit very slow. At 11am, we packed up once again to head for Falls Church to a TownePlace Suites hotel located near Vince’s sister and her family.  About 4pm we were settled and again lit the barbeque and set the temperature in the RV for 90 degrees. Our date at the Port was just hours away.

Monday morning arrived and the propane fuel gauge was just above 1/8th of a tank. Nerves were tense. By 6:15am, Vince and I headed out to Praxaire, which we hoped would offer a speedier method to empty the propane tank.
Never thought watching a fuel gauge drop would provide so much drama.
We arrived at 7:45 to learn that Praxaire didn't have a propane push panacea; we needed to burn off the fuel via conventional means and, frankly, we needed intervention from a higher order. We lit the barbeque, the 3 burners on the stove and set the house front and back temperature controls for 99 degrees. The Port would close in about 7 hours and we still had a 30 minute drive ahead of us.
Hopefully all our efforts to promote eco-friendly choices and live a greener lifestyle the past few years helped balance out the propane debacle.
Miraculously over the course of 6 hours at Praxaire, we burned enough fuel such that our contact at Praxaire, Jamie, could add nitrogen and certify the tank as being empty. I seriously wanted to hug Jamie. I give 5 stars to Praxaire; they went beyond the call of duty to help us; if you ever are in the Baltimore area and need any of their services, please contact them.
At 1:20pm, the propane tank was certified, we had copies of the certification and we were off to the Baltimore Port. We arrived at Americas Security Escort Services (a trailer), our TWIC agent, at 2:10pm. We were assigned our agent, who drove with Vincent in LandShark to the Port, and I followed in the Prius. Our first stop was US Customs. There were no lines and we were able to be seen right away. Several stamps on our paperwork later, we drove over to the K-Line drop-off lot. We checked in and then had to wait for our vehicles to be measured. We were assured, once we were checked in, they would have to process our vehicles so, at this point, "we had made it". We jointly gave a huge sigh of relief after all that we had to work through in order to reach this point. The dock employees eventually appeared and quickly measured the RV and Prius. I was thrown by their using centimeters to measure (rather than inches, which was used in our paperwork). Accurate measurements are important because if the dock employees report that your vehicle is larger than what is on the paperwork, you will be charged extra. (I will describe the process of shipping in more detail in another blog.)
Having just passed through US Customs, we waited for the dock employees to show us where to park and to measure the vehicles.
Once measuring was complete, we were taken back to the Americas Security Escort Services office and called for Enterprise car rental to pick us up. 
Waiting for our Enterprise pick-up in the TWIC escort parking lot. Feeling happy.
There was enormous relief having met the milestone of getting the vehicles to the Port on time after all that went into the planning, crossing the country, addressing repairs and arriving on our scheduled day. This was a big achievement. Nevertheless, I did wake up at 1am the next morning thinking more about measurements....Would Murphy's Law rear it's ugly head?

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