Solar Breakdown

With several trips planned over the summer, and due to the fact that it’s really too darned hot to use the boat much in July and August anyway, we thought it would be prudent to strip the solar panels off our bimini. That way, if some tropical weather developed while we were off elsewhere, it would be one less thing to worry about.

(If you haven’t been around long enough too have read the original post from back when we designed and installed our solar charging system, here it is:  Our Vision Realized)

One advantage of flexible solar panels is that it’s not a major task to remove them and pack them away. Disconnect the wiring connections and release the fasteners holding them to the bimini, and you can just slide them off and store them below. It doesn’t even require any tools. But when I started taking things apart, I discovered a very unpleasant fact. The system I’d designed used several rigid MC4 adapters to electrically combine the panels. And almost every one of them had failed in some way.

Here’s a 3-to-1 combiner I removed. You can clearly see that the left leg is cracked and failing, the center one is more or less OK, but the right one has broken off completely.

This was typical of all the combiners I removed. Nothing was holding a lot of these wiring connections together except friction.

Once I pulled everything apart, I made a small pile of everything in the system that had failed in some way.  Amazingly, the system was still working fine, but a good tug on many of the panel leads would have pulled them completely loose from these broken combiners.

The majority of these parts were tucked into pockets in the bimini, so I know UV exposure wasn’t the problem. Either they got brittle and delicate in their four years of use, or some sort of stress, possibly caused by the bimini flexing in the wind, was breaking them.

I scratched my head a bit and thought about a solution. The system I designed needs these combiners to tie our six solar panels together in the series/parallel circuit I’d layed out. They’re pretty important parts. But I didn’t want to just replace them with more of the same now that I saw such a high failure rate.

Fortunately, some research turned up a solution. Rather than rigid combiners, I found that they also make these MC4 pigtails. The piece on the right is a direct replacement for the old one on the left below.

I’m thinking these pigtail-type combiners will be a lot more forgiving of twists and torques than the old ones were. I ordered enough to replace all the existing connectors.

We don’t have a lot of travel planned between now and the end of hurricane season, and it’s finally cooling down enough to start spending some time out on the water again , so we recently re-assembled our solar system using these new parts. Everything snapped together fine, and seems to be working well. Check back in a few years for an update on how these new parts hold up!

In the meantime, if you happen to be designing and installing your own solar charging system, you might want to consider the type of MC4 combiner to use. I just can’t recommend the rigid ones for marine use.

The Verdict Is In

In a couple of previous posts titled “It’s Stupid Cheaper,” and “No Longer The Generous Neighbor,” I talked about how sick and tired we were of having to provide zinc anode protection to our entire marina, requiring us to replace our shaft zincs about every six weeks. (They’re both pretty good posts from back in the day before we actually headed out on the deep blue, so you might want to give them both a quick read.)

Well, installing that galvanic isolation Klingon cloaking device (which won’t make much sense if you didn’t read those posts like I suggested…) has definitely turned out to be a great investment. We spent most of last week out on local waters, and one of the chores I tackled was replacement of our shaft zincs.

Now I’ll admit that the old zincs that I removed were looking pretty darned crusty. But believe it or not, these babies had been installed over a YEAR ago!

You heard that right, ladies and gentlemen. These two shaft zincs had been installed over a year previously. A year in which Eagle Too was pretty much continuously plugged into shore power, since we decided to buy a house last winter rather than head south.

So by making our boat electrically invisible to marina electrical systems, we’d stretched the life of our zincs from about six weeks to over a year. Pretty amazing.

Here’s a picture of old and new together. The old ones were definitely tired and worn, but they still had life left in them, and had obviously continued doing the job they were being paid to do.

So the verdict is in. Our ProSafe SF60 (i.e. Klingon cloaking device) is definitely performing for us. And for that, it goes on the exclusive list of Life On The Hook approved gear and gets our official LOTH Seal of Approval!

Thumbs-Up

Keeping Our Cool

We’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling lately. As a result, Eagle Too hasn’t been getting quite as much attention as she usually would. After returning from a recent trip to Disney World (we’re making the most our Florida resident annual passes!), we stopped by the boat to see how she was doing.

Unlocking the companionway and dropping into the cabin, we immediately noticed that the air conditioning wasn’t running. We normally leave it at 78° when we’re not onboard, to keep the boat dried out and resist the development of odors. But the AC wasn’t working, and the control panel was displaying the dreaded HPF code. A High Pressure Freon (or High Pressure Fault) code is usually a sign that the seawater suction strainer is clogged and the unit isn’t getting adequate cooling water flow.

Sure enough, our seawater strainer was completely clogged. But after cleaning the strainer and flushing some fresh water though the lines with a hose, we still couldn’t get the AC system to run for more than a few minutes before shutting down again with an HPF fault, even though we had good water flow through the system.

Something else was wrong. Some research indicated that we most likely had marine growth in our condenser, preventing the system from being able to properly cool the circulating hot refrigerant, creating a high pressure fault.

The next step here would be to do an acid flush of the seawater system to dissolve the internal growth and scale. But that requires re-plumbing the air conditioner to recirculate an acid solution to/from some sort of container, usually using a small submersible pump. I thought there had to be an easier way.

Here’s what I came up with. The first step was a quick stop at Harbor Freight to pick up a $6 fluid transfer pump.

Then I made a run to West Marine to buy a gallon of Barnacle Buster. It’s a product that’s made specifically for flushing marine sea water systems in a non-toxic, environmentally safe way. And unlike muriatic acid, the usual go-to product for air conditioning and engine flushing, it won’t harm the plastic, rubber and metal parts in your system if you let is sit and soak for a good long while.

I then picked up a couple of hose adapters so that I could remove the air conditioning sea water suction line from the seacock and connect the hand pump to the line.

Dropping the pump suction into the open bottle of Barnacle Buster, I then pumped a half gallon of the solution into the system (until we were pretty sure we were getting some out of the overboard discharge). Then we buttoned up the boat and went home.

After letting the solution soak in the system for 24 hours, I disconnected the hand pump, hooked up a water hose, and flushed out the line with fresh water. About a gallon of nasty black yuck with embedded chunkies came out the the overboard discharge. After flushing the system until it ran clear, I hooked the sea water suction back up, and turned on the AC.

Rhonda and I broke out a deck of cards and settled into the salon to play a game of 3-13, a version of Rummy that some cruisers we met in Great Exuma taught us. A full game takes about an hour, and the AC purred flawlessly the entire time. After playing the last hand without a single AC hiccup, we were pretty darn sure we’d solved this particular problem.

I guess the best part of all this is that for less than $20 in parts, we now have a rig onboard that we can use for routine system flushes in the spring and fall, something we’ve never bothered with before.

Sea Turtle Rescue

Rhonda and I recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. As one of those major anniversaries that end with a zero, we decided to do something special and take a cruise to Mexico. Now you may be thinking two things. First, why on earth would people who just spent four years living on a boat want to get on another boat (ship) for a vacation? And second, how can a couple that look so young and active have been married for 40 years?  🙂

So the first question is pretty easy to answer. Before we became Cruisers with a capital C, we for many years had been cruisers of the cruise ship variety. It was always one of our favorite getaways. A week of fine dining, shows every evening, interesting places to visit, and someone to make your bed and clean your bathroom—what’s not to love? As for question two, well, all I can say is I guess we’re pretty fortunate.

Rhonda has always been passionate about sea turtles. So when I mentioned that there was an excursion we could sign up for where we could help local conservationists rescue baby turtles, she was all in. After arriving in Cozumel, we boarded a van for a trip to the undeveloped eastern shore of the island. Notice the black sticks in the sand in the picture below? Each one marks the location of a sea turtle nest. It was amazing to see, because it went on this way for miles. Back home in Pensacola, we get all excited if 10 or 12 turtles lumber up onto our miles of beach to deposit some eggs. Here in Cozumel, I could reach out and touch a dozen nests without even moving.

So here’s how this worked. The conservationists (I can’t really call them biologists, because I’m pretty sure this wasn’t their day job, but rather something they did out of passion) monitor the nests constantly to see when they hatch out. It usually happens at night. A typical nest might contain about 120 eggs, and when a nest hatches, there are usually a few turtles that for whatever reason just don’t manage to dig their way out. So the next day, this small group of volunteers dig up the nest by hand to rescue the slackers. They formerly dug every nest up themselves, sometimes more than 20 a day. But then someone realized that there are people on cruise ships who would happily pay for the opportunity to do the manual labor, while they just watched and took notes.

So that’s how we found ourselves on a beach in Cozumel one August morning, along with our friends Lance and Shelly, who were also celebrating an anniversary and who also liked the idea of rescuing baby turtles.

After some brief instruction, we were turned loose to excavate.

You had to go pretty deep. After a certain point, I had to take over because the hole was deeper than the girls could reach.

It was amazing when we started finding tiny little turtles buried in the sand.

The four of us eventually found seven turtles alive and kicking and apparently happy to be out in the fresh air and sunshine.

The conservationists had previously collected a batch of hatchlings that decided to dig their way out in daylight, which is a pretty bad idea if you’re a turtle. The area was swarming with Magnificent Frigate birds (that’s their name, look it up!) that love tasty little turtle snacks. The men rounded up the turtles to protect them from the hungry birds. We then added the ones we’d collected,

After traveling a mile or two further down the beach to a spot free of birds, we then let all the little guys go. One look at the water, and instinct kicked in and they were off and running.

Here’s a brief video to give you a feel for how marvelous it all was.

We’d hoped for a fun and memorable experience. It greatly exceeded our wildest expectations. We can’t recommend this activity enough if you ever have the opportunity to take part. You’ll remember it forever. We sure will!

And from now on, whenever we spot a sea turtle while out sailing, we’ll ask ourselves, “Is it one of ours?”

Maintaining a Fresh Smelling Boat

We recently had some friends join us onboard Eagle Too, and we were pleased when they commented that our boat didn’t smell like a boat. If you spend much time around boats, you’ll notice pretty quickly that an alarming number of them present a mild to major diesel fuel and sewer aroma, often with a pungent stagnant bilge finish. After purchasing Eagle Too, we worked extremely hard to eliminate the sources of any smelly smells onboard, and after solving those, we’ve tried to keep up on the little routine things that help keep funk at bay.

After tackling and curing diesel fuel and engine smells and head odors, and creating a dry bilge to eliminate swamp smells, we’ve found that there are a few other things that need to be attended to if you want to keep your boat smelling as fresh as possible. One of these is the condensate drip pan for the air conditioning system. In Florida in the summertime, the air conditioning runs probably 12 hours or more a day, in the process producing gallons of condensate. While we have plumbed our drip pan to an enclosed shower sump to be pumped overboard, the pan still gets a bit slimy with muck, which would undoubtedly smell unpleasant if we didn’t do anything about it. So whenever we’re onboard, we try to remember to drop a couple of these little tablets in the pan before closing up the boat to leave.

We bought them on Amazon, they’re pretty cheap, and a bottle probably holds at least a year’s supply, perhaps more. Plus they’re handy to have around, because you should probably be using them at home as well in order to keep the condensate line clear on your air conditioning system. After all, one little clump of gunk plugging the line is all it takes to shut your AC system down, or even flood your home if your system doesn’t have a condensate level sensor.

Between Two Worlds

It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything. The reason is pretty simple. For the last six months, we’ve been in transition. After four years as liveaboard cruisers, we’ve returned to the life of typical American dirt dwellers. We haven’t quite “swallowed the hook,” as we still have Eagle Too and continue to harbor dreams of extended island cruises. But our typical day to day now deals much more with home decorating and utility bills rather than passages and travel to exotic destinations. The money we used to spend at West Marine now goes to Lowe’s instead. And frankly, I just assume that the average reader of this blog probably doesn’t care that much about how we get 50 channels of TV without paying a cable bill or how we set up a drip irrigation system for watering house plants. You’re here for the marine maintenance tips and the travelogues. So I just haven’t felt compelled to post for a while.

But a recent message from a long-time reader asked for an update on how our life as CLODs (Cruisers Living On Dirt) is going. And in thinking about it, I realized maybe we do have some information and advice to share. After all, almost everyone who embarks on a life of cruising eventually has to wrap it up and move back ashore. And I’m here to tell you that after several years afloat, the transition back to land can be just as trying as the move onboard was. So here’s the first in what will probably be an occasional series about what we’ve learned as CLODs.

Let start with something simple:

Q. What do we like the most about returning to life ashore?

A. Lots of things. In no particular order, here are just a few:

Sleeping in a king sized bed, especially since it’s one that you don’t have to crawl into. Our sort-of-a-queen-sized master berth on Eagle Too was adequate at best. One of us always had to crawl over the other to get in or out, and it took some pretty elaborate contortions to perform the maneuver without banging our heads on the overhead. Just putting the sheets on it involved a lot of what I can only refer to as mattress swimming, squirming around like a stranded sea turtle with its flippers flailing, trying to make it off the beach and out to sea. Once or twice is humorous. But after four years, it wears a little thin.

Long hot showers and a full-sized toilet that you don’t have to wait in line to use. You can often tell a cruiser by their subtle aroma. Most cruisers are more like Europeans in that that usually don’t shower every day. Boat showers are typically cramped, use too much water, and generate way too much humidity onboard. But the average marina shower is always a crap shoot. The more pressed you are for time, the more likely you’ll find someone’s already using it, and has brought their bluetooth speaker and a hair dryer along, so you know they’re camped out for quite a while. And the toilets are often out of paper, clogged, or just dirty enough to make you reconsider exactly how much room still remains in your holding tank.

A washer and dryer that we don’t have to feed quarters into and that we don’t share with people washing oily rags, pet beds covered in fur, or sandy carpets. Or that leave their clothes in for hours after they’re done.

24/7 air conditioning (and in the winter, heat). As I write this, it’s over 100ºF outside, but it’s a cool, comfortable 75º inside, the air conditioning barely a quiet whisper in the background. Onboard, we’d either be in a floating sauna, or if lucky enough to be plugged into shore power, we’d be treated to the loud whir of the AC running non-stop, struggling to maintain a temperature below 80º despite the sunshade we’d rigged topside.

Unlimited ice and water. Friends of ours still tell the story about how amused they were when we met them for drinks on their boat one evening, and we were amazed that they offered us fresh ice with every refill (turns out they had an ice maker onboard). After several years of cruising, ice truly becomes a most valued commodity, so even though we now have a refrigerator that dispenses it on demand, after six months ashore we still hesitate before dumping a glass of it in the sink, as it seems such a waste.

No fear of passing storms. If it’s the middle of the night and we awaken to the sound of distant thunder, there’s no need to worry about whether the anchor alarm is set, or run a “rain drill,” pulling the wind scoops and closing all the hatches. No need to get dressed and go on deck to see where any neighboring boats lie that could possibly drag down on us. We can just sigh and go back to sleep.

Fast, reliable high speed internet. I don’t think I even need to explain this one. A 21st century life is a connected life, and it was always a struggle while cruising to find good internet for banking, bill payment and communications.

There’s more, but I think you get the idea.

Q. What do you miss the most about Life On The Hook™?

A. First I’d list the sense of community. Cruisers congregate, and I think because they all share a challenging, some would say difficult life, they relate to each other as equals. Drop anchor in any bay or harbor, make a radio call asking for information or assistance, and I assure you there will be several dinghies headed your way. People we’d barely met offered us help in so many ways, and we in turn tried to pay that forward to as many other cruisers as possible. Now that we’re living in a typical subdivision, we’re reminded that most Americans never bother to get to know their neighbors. The first thing most of our neighbors have done when they moved in is put up a privacy fence. Sometimes when we’re walking through the neighborhood, we’ll come across someone else who lives in the area, and while usually polite, they generally project a lack of interest in making our acquaintance. I think if we ever needed help with something that we couldn’t handle by ourselves, knocking on doors and requesting assistance would be met with reluctant skepticism.

Awareness of our natural surroundings. As cruisers, we usually knew the phase of the moon, when the tide turned, what the wind forecast was for the next few days, and when the next front was expected to pass. Sunsets were a daily cause for quiet celebration. And while cruising (not so much while living in a marina, but more while out traveling) we were almost daily treated to some delightful display of marine life, be it a jumping dolphin, a spotted ray swimming by, or even just a grouper or barracuda hanging out in our boat’s shadow.

A sense that we were living self-sufficiently and lightly. There’s a satisfaction in making your own power and water and providing for your own needs. While cruising, we got by on about 15 gallons of water a day. Many cruisers would say that that was extravagant, but we had a water maker, so we didn’t sweat it. Fifteen gallons a day works out to about 450 gallons a month. Now, according to our water bill, we’re using between 12,000 and 18,000 gallons a month just to water our lawn. We don’t have a choice, because our homeowners association would have a fit if we turned off the sprinkler system. But it does make you think about how we use our resources.

Personal physical fitness. A cruising life is an active life. When sailing, we were almost always in motion. Even when anchored or tied to a dock, simply moving around on the boat meant dozens of trips up and down the companionway stairs, or twisting, turning and bending during movement that just isn’t necessary to get around in a single story house with wide hallways and 9 foot ceilings. Climbing in and out of a dinghy is way more physically demanding than getting in and out of a car. We used to walk or bicycle almost everywhere we went ashore. Now we drive. And let me tell you, after six months, we can tell. We’re gaining weight, developing aches and pains, and just generally starting to feel older than we did when our lives involved much more fresh air and physical activity.

There’s more I could say on the subject, but this makes a good start. It’s actually too early for us to say with certainty what we miss or don’t miss about a Life On The Hook™, or whether becoming CLODs was or wasn’t the best decision. It will be a while before we can answer those questions definitively. But I will say this—the thing we clearly learned is that cruising changes you. It changes you in ways that just learning to sail or buying a boat or doing an occasional charter doesn’t begin to. Many of those changes I believe are beneficial, making us better human beings. Some of those changes probably put us a bit out of step with modern American society, which can be stressful. But having lived what we have lived so far, I can’t imagine our lives without having had that experience. So many moments, so many memories, so many good people well met. We have been greatly enriched by this amazing adventure together.

It’s Our Liveaboard-iversary!

It was December 27th, 2014 when Rhonda and I checked out of the extended stay hotel we’d moved into after selling our house, and settled into our new life onboard Eagle Too. That makes today the 4th anniversary of our embarking on our full time liveaboard life.

So here we are, four years later, deep in the midst of a transition back to life ashore. A friend of ours said we’re going to be CLODs. I guess it means Cruisers Living On Dirt. Will we still be considered cruisers once we have a permanent address ashore? Perhaps not. I’ve often said that someone shouldn’t claim membership in the cruising tribe who spends more nights sleeping in a bed ashore each year than in a berth afloat. For the last four years we’ve felt a strong affiliation with the tribe because we could literally count on one hand the number of nights we spent sleeping ashore in a year. But next year? Probably not. We do still hope to venture out in the future, but it will most likely be for weeks rather than months at a time. I guess maybe we’ll become part of the Cruiser’s Reserve? (that should totally be a thing!)

We’ll probably have more to say in the future about our thoughts on this transition. But for now, just know that while there are parts of this liveaboard life that we’re going to miss, there are also some pretty definite plusses to moving back ashore that we’re anxiously anticipating. For example, after four years, I think Rhonda and I have both gotten pretty weary of marina showers and restrooms. And there is absolutely nothing I think we’ll miss about trying to wash clothes in a marina washer or at a laundromat. And I really didn’t appreciate how much we missed having a car until we recently bought another one. Traveling around is now quite easy again.

And then there are days like today. A strong cold front is approaching the area, and we’re being buffeted at the dock by 30 knot winds, as the boat dances about, rolling, swaying and creaking. It will be a pleasant change on days like this to be under a sturdy roof surrounded by four brick walls, sleeping in a bed that isn’t tilting and rocking.

We’re supposed to be closing on our house in a little over two weeks, and we’ve starting thinking about the things we’ll need for a life ashore that we at one time owned, but got rid of in the great downsizing after selling our house. Our life today is filled with chartbooks and binoculars and lifejackets and VHF radios. But we’ll soon need things like small kitchen appliances and an iron and a broom and mop and towels for the guest bath. Meanwhile we have a mover scheduled to transport the contents of our 10×20 storage unit to our new home. We’re referring to it as Christmas in January, because we have boxes full of things that we packed away four years ago, and we really can’t recall exactly what might be in them.

But we don’t have a Christmas tree. Or at least, not a proper house-sized one. But since it looks like we’ll be CLODs soon, we used the Everything Must Go! day-after-Christmas blow-out sale to pick up what we’ll need for next year’s holiday decorating.

So I guess that means we’re really on our way…

The Right Tool For The Job

I love the easy engine access our Hunter 376 provides. I really feel sorry for some of the folks whose blogs I read, when they post pictures of the cramped little holes they have to crawl into in order to service their engine. But there’s one routine task we have to perform that’s a real PITA, and that’s changing the raw water impeller. On our last boat, the raw water pump was a belt driven unit that was mounted right on the front of the engine and was totally easy to access.  But on Eagle Too, the raw water pump is gear driven and set into the engine block on the port side of the engine, tight up against the bulkhead. For reasons known only to a handful of Japanese engineers, the cover plate for the impeller faces aft, right in front of the starter. There isn’t enough room between the pump cover and the starter to use a socket wrench, and the location is almost impossible to get a visual on. You have to use a box wrench to remove the four bolts that hold the impeller cover on and pull the impeller entirely by feel. I actually can’t even get my hand into the space without first removing the alternator to open up an access. It just seems like a really bad design for something that has to be serviced pretty regularly. Some people actually cut a hole through the bulkhead and install a hatch in the head (bathroom) in order to have another way to approach this problem. We just didn’t want to cut a hole in the boat for a job that’s only done once a year.

Alternator removed to give me access to the area indicated.

This is the small space you have to work in. Raw water pump to the left, starter to the right.

One thing I did discover though is that having the right tool makes the job quite a bit easier. In this case, the right tool is a pair of right-angle pliers. The first time I tried changing the impeller, it stubbornly refused to come out. I had to use the old trick of prying at it with two screwdrivers to try and get it out of the pump body, ripping it to shreds in the process. One thing I did to make the next time go a little easier is that I coated the pump shaft with Tef-Gel before installing the new impeller. This Teflon based paste keeps parts from corroding and freezing together, and it’s very useful whenever you have to put something together that you hope to be able to easily disassemble again in the future.

The other trick was the pliers. Since there’s very little room to work, I thought the perfect solution would be to use a set of right-angle pliers to reach into the pump body, grasp the impeller, and then pull it out. A quick trip to Harbor Freight turned up exactly what I was looking for.

The owner’s manual for our Yanmar 3JH2E diesel engine says the impeller should be changed every 600 hours. After we returned from our last season of cruising, we were right at 650 hours, so it was due. While the job was still a bit of a pain, the combination of having used Tef-Gel when installing the impeller and using the special pliers to get into the tight space made the job go much easier.

It looks like the recommended maintenance interval was spot on, because when I examined the old impeller, I could see the beginnings of cracks on some of the vanes. Let this job go for too long, and these vanes start breaking off, travel through your cooling system and end up clogging the tubes in your heat exchanger, causing your engine to overheat.

Vanes just starting to crack.

If you’ve done this job, you know what a pain it is. Try the Tef-Gel and bent pliers. I think you’ll be pleased with how much easier things are.

If you haven’t done this job, what are you waiting for? Don’t let a worn our impeller leave you stranded.

Caution: Detour Ahead — Part Three

Our visit to Antietam had set us to thinking. Thinking more deeply about where and when would be the right set of circumstances to purchase another home. Not swallow the hook (give up cruising entirely and become landlubbers once again), but establish a base to operate from between trips on Eagle Too. Keeping the boat was important to us. We know we’ll eventually grow too old to continue this Life On The Hook™, but we hope that’s still years in our future.

Maybe the home we’d recently seen was a good fit for us. But the numbers just didn’t quite work. Some calculating told me we’d need to sell Eagle Too to pull it off. And we just weren’t prepared to consider that. So we put the idea away and looked again at the weather with an eye toward departure.

Then I received a momentous email. When we’d visited the model home at Antietam, we’d left our contact information with the sales agent. “Let us know if any good deals come up,” we said, or words to that effect. Well apparently, our ship had just come in. The agent was contacting us to tell us that the builder was close to finishing the house we were interested in, and wanted it sold. So they were dropping the price $10,000, as well as giving us another $10,000 in cash to use for closing costs. I’d already done the math, and had a pretty good idea that this would tip the balance in our favor. We could swing the house, and keep the boat as well.

“Throw in the complete appliance package, including refrigerator, washer and dryer, and put blinds in all the windows, and you have a deal,” we told them, with an eye toward conserving as much of our cash as possible.

“Done,” they replied. “In addition, we’ll pay your first year’s Homeowner’s Association dues,” the sales agent added, icing the cake for us.

So it looks like we’re buying a house. It’s about a 90% done deal at this point. We’re just waiting to hear back from the underwriters regarding our mortgage. We easily pre-qualified, but it won’t be official until we get the final thumbs up from the bank.

So what does this mean for the crew of Eagle Too? Well, we currently have a preliminary closing date of January 14th, 2019. It will probably take the rest of the winter and the following spring to get our stuff out of storage and into the house, and take care of setting things up. We’re guessing that by the time we’re finally settled, it will be close to hurricane season again, which means we’ll once again be waiting it out here in Pensacola. But maybe next fall we’ll be able to head out once again, for a trip of two or three months. If we can pull it off, it should be a nice compromise and an interesting life, spending some quality boat time in the Keys and maybe the Bahamas, but with a nice home with all the comforts a dirt dwelling provides to return to.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear from the bank…

Caution: Detour Ahead — Part Two

The area on the northwest side of Pensacola has grown explosively in the last few years. The primary driver has been Navy Federal Credit Union’s decision some years ago to build a sprawling corporate campus there for their southern headquarters. The complex has grown to over a dozen large office buildings where thousands of people work. The sleepy little two lane state road through the area is in the final stages of being converted to a four lane divided highway with direct Interstate 10 access, and an adjoining section of land (640 acres, or one square mile) that the Navy has used for helicopter flight training is in the early stages of being converted to a major industrial park. People have flocked to the area for the better-than-average wages, good schools and semi-rural surroundings, and homebuilders have taken note, with new subdivisions popping up like spring flowers.

It had been quite a while since Rhonda and I had visited the area, and with little to do while waiting for the weather to improve enough to let us start the trek south for the season, we decided to take a drive one afternoon and see what was new.

With no specific destination in mind, we just let whim and impulse dictate our course as we wandered along rural back roads, investigating all the new construction. In the back of our minds was the recognition that while our Life On The Hook™ had no set end date, we knew we wouldn’t be liveaboard cruisers forever. At some point, maybe in a couple of years, or maybe four of five, we’d want to buy a house and reestablish a home base rather than live as full time gypsies of the sea.

A sign caught our eye. It was a new gated community called Antietam. It sat at the top of a ridge with a western exposure. We loved the location. Most of our lives it seems the homes we’ve owned have come with water and drainage problems, and high on our list of must haves if we ever moved back ashore was a place on high ground with good drainage. If you’re at all familiar with Florida, you probably know that ridge-top property is almost non-existent. At 130+ feet of elevation, Antietam practically sat on a mountain top by Florida standards.

The name resonated with us. Rhonda’s family had strong ties to northern Virginia. Her grandfather’s farm had sat on the edge of the Bull Run battlefield. A development named after a major Civil War battle, with streets named after famous generals, had a familiar feel.

The model home was open. We stopped and took a look. And we learned that Antietam was Northwest Florida’s first Freedom community, a development concept D R Horton designed for what they termed “active adults.” Briefly, the basic idea was to allow the homeowners to travel extensively without having to worry about their homes.  All lawn service was provided by the Home Owner’s Association. The houses were all built as Smart Homes, fully internet connected with remotely monitored intrusion and alarm systems. And as a gated community, it was access controlled. So you could just lock the door and leave on extended travel with no worries.

It was as if it had been designed just for our needs.

We were blown away by the model. Somewhat small and almost non-descript from the outside, it opened up to enormous interior spaces with room to spare to swallow everything we’ve had in storage for four years. At just a little over 2,000 ft2, it felt larger than the 2,500 ft2 home we’d sold in 2014. A house with the same floorplan was already under construction at the highest point on the ridge.

It got us to thinking. Maybe this was what we would want when the day came to move back ashore. We could still cruise, maybe two to four months at a time, but with a comfortable home to return to. A home that we knew would be well looked after in our absence.

We returned to Eagle Too and pondered the possibilities. Now probably wasn’t the time. The boat was ready to head south as soon as the weather broke. We really planned to keep cruising fulltime for at least a few more years. And the numbers didn’t quite work out. The price was just a little bit out of our reach. Maybe we’d check back next season, or the season after that. The most desirable ridge-top lots would all be gone by then, of course, and we’d end up further down the hill, but we’d still have the Freedom Community amenities.

We put the idea aside and refocused on preparing to leave.

Then my phone chimed, and an email arrived that profoundly altered our plans…