God’s Whisper

I don’t know why I happened to browse our local RV dealer’s web page a few weeks ago. It’s not something I’ve been prone to do. Spend hours every day searching Yachtworld waiting for new listings or price drops on a boat that could replace Eagle Too? Yep. But surf RV listings? Nope, not really a thing for me. Perhaps it was out of discouragement after our recent boat-hunting trip to central Florida, where everything we saw was either stupidly overpriced or so sadly neglected that we wanted to call the authorities to relieve the owners of their parental rights so the poor thing could seek care at a shelter for abused boats. Regardless of the reason, one bright Thursday morning in late January, I decided to take a quick look at local RV listings just to see what might be available. And up popped this—good price, pretty low mileage, and darned handsome, as such things go.

Terra Aquila

On Saturday, Rhonda said “Let’s go into town and run some errands.” I said, “OK dear, and while we’re out, let’s pop into Carpenter’s Campers and take a quick look at this motorhome I saw on their web page.” After 41 years of marriage, she’s pretty used to my just dropping idea bombs out of thin air into her lap. So off we went.

A hour or so later, we were sitting on the sofa of a 300+ square foot land yacht, marveling at the creature comforts. Things like dual gas furnaces and gas/electric hot water, which would mean no more shivering while underway. An onboard generator to run the dual air conditioning units in the summer. An ample number of cabinets and lockers on both the inside and the outside that would devour all the “stuff” we like to travel with.  A bed that takes regular sheets and a shower that actually looked like a shower instead of a weirdly shaped phone booth, and a toilet that flushed without having to be hand pumped. This was a level of comfort leagues beyond anything we had lived with in our waterborne life.

The conversation went a little like this: “What do you think?” I asked. “This is really nice,” Rhonda replied. “I guess if the idea seems appealing, we could start looking around more,” I said. “After all, this is the first RV we’ve looked at seriously.” But then I added, “I can’t imagine finding anything else though that would suit us better.” “I think you’re right,” she replied. The coach just exuded quality and showed the care the previous owners had given it. And I’m pretty sure Rhonda said it hugged her.

We talked about the things we could go see while cruising in a land yacht. I did a little research into the make and model and how much it would cost to insure. We slept on it.  And the following Monday, we bought it. We’ve named her Terra Aquila. And now that she’s a part of the family, we’ll be charting a quite different course. Too many people know us as Life On The Hook, and I don’t really want to part with the name. But rather than writing about the cruising life, we’ll now be focusing on learning to RV from a sailor’s perspective. I’ve already had a few “well on a boat, it would have been done this way,” moments, with I’m sure more to come. I’m hoping some people will find insights into the transition from water to land cruising informative.

Which brings me to the title for this post. We’d soul-searched for months about trying to figure out our next step after losing our beloved Eagle Too. I’ve said in the past that at certain critical moments in our lives, we’ve been very lucky, as the right opportunity has seemed to present itself at just the right time. And I’ve written about how I believe that luck is actually the result of opportunity meeting hard work and adequate preparation. In this particular case, I have no idea what prompted me to look at RVs on the internet that day. It could be a crazy coincidence that someone had just traded in what is probably the perfect motorhome for us at this moment in our lives, so that I could see it when I looked. Or just maybe, God whispered in our ear that this was the path that we’re supposed to now take. In any event, I hope the friends we’ve made along the way continue to follow along as we embark on this next chapter of our lives.

Every Story Deserves An Ending

“The two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it.”

I know you’ve heard that old saying. But it’s not always true. Two months ago, on October 15th, we signed over ownership of Eagle Too. It was a profoundly sad event. So sad, in fact, that it left us broken, to the point where it’s only now that I can begin to write about it in any detail.

After surrendering ownership of our beloved boat, Rhonda and I stopped for a beer and a bite to eat. “To Eagle Too,” I said past the lump in my throat. “To Eagle Too,” my wife replied hoarsely, as we clinked glasses. We both wiped away tears. It was five full minutes before either of us could speak again.

If you follow us on Facebook, you’ve probably heard the story of how this came to be. It was hurricane season. It comes every year about this time. Things seemed to be going pretty well this year. There were a lot of storms, some close calls, but nothing that forced us to storm-prep the boat or put the hurricane shutters on the house. The weather guessers seemed to be doing a really good job with their models, accurately predicting the path of each storm that headed our way.

And then came Sally. Sally was different. Different in a way we hadn’t seen before. Sally paid no heed to her predicted track. She had a mind of her own. And she caught us all by surprise, every single one of us. Forty-eight hours before landfall, she was supposed to hit New Orleans as a Category 1 storm. That’s 200 miles away, which is far enough to practically ignore. But then she started wandering. And strengthening. A move to the east. Then back to the west, then our way again. Twenty-four hours before landfall, it started to look like she might pass pretty close to us. By that point, it was too late to do much more than check Eagle Too’s dock lines and remove a few deck items. The winds were already gusting into the 30’s, which would have made it dangerous to try and remove the sails and solar panels. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

On September 16th at about 1 in the morning, the eye of hurricane Sally passed directly over us as a major category 3 storm. The power went out and we lost some shingles, but the house did fine. It was Eagle Too that had us worried sick. We’re 25 miles from the marina where we kept her, and the roads were impassable in Sally’s immediate aftermath.

Friends at the marina who unbelievably stayed on their boat to ride out the storm notified us at 9PM, a few hours before landfall, that our girl was doing fine, holding her own. But the next morning, about 10AM, we received word that she was gone. Winds at the marina had topped 100 miles per hour, a piling Eagle Too was secured to had broken, and she thrashed against a pier until it punched a hole in her side and she sank.

Since the storm, we’ve dealt with salvaging what we could once she was refloated, said our goodbyes, and settled with our insurance company. She’s theirs now. We’re trying to decide whether there’s another boat in our future. We don’t feel like we’re done with voyaging. We still hear the call of the islands in every steel drum or reggae tune. But maybe it’s time to consider an RV and go the land yacht route instead. We’re probing our hearts and examining our options. Stay tuned.

We asked ourselves in the aftermath what would have happened if we hadn’t bought our house last year. When we lived on Eagle Too, we kept her in a marina downtown. That marina was completely destroyed by the storm. Almost every boat there was sunk or damaged. We would have probably been left homeless. I guess things happen the way they do for a reason.

Some friends and family asked if there wasn’t any way we could have salvaged her. There was no reasonable possibility. She sat submerged in salt water and a toxic brew of diesel fuel, battery acid and sewage for 10 to 12 days. Not only did it completely ruin everything onboard, it penetrated into inaccessible areas below the deck, above the headliner, and behind the bulkheads. Repairing her would have meant gutting her out to a bare hull and completely rebuilding everything onboard. It would be 10 times cheaper to just buy another boat.

I know there are folks who have followed this blog from the beginning. I wanted to write Eagle Too’s final chapter so that we could all have closure. I didn’t want this to be one of those cruising blogs that just stops for some unexplained reason. Every story needs a conclusion. I’m not saying there won’t be more to Life On The Hook. For instance, there are lessons and knowledge I still want to share that others might find interesting or helpful. I’ve even toyed with the prospect of taking these hundreds of posts and condensing them into a book. A guide to help others who might be considering selling everything, moving onto a boat, and following their distant star. Afterall, our experience isn’t THE way to go cruising, but it certainly is A way, and there’s probably benefit in sharing that.

We’ve also started looking at Yachtworld and Boattrader listings, just to see if there might be something out there that appeals to us. We’re actually leaning toward a modest sized trawler. We are and will always be sailors at heart, who live for that moment when you haul in the sheet, cut off the engine, and silently ride the wind. But anything we buy in the future I hope to enjoy for at least the next eight to ten years, which will take us to an age where strength and agility diminish. Better to plan for that by buying a boat more easily driven than be forced ashore by the diminishment of age.

Toward that end, we had already been considering selling Eagle Too, and had recently cleaned her up to take some glamour shots for a possible For Sale listing. I’ll conclude by showing you some befores and afters , so you can see for yourself the impact Sally had. Each pair of pictures is taken from approximately the same location onboard, a month or so apart.

To Eagle Too…

Waiting On COVID-19

I’d say that we are within two, maybe three days of having Eagle Too ready to go wherever we might like to take her. Fill up some fuel cans, top off the propane tanks, load some provisions, and we’ll be set to go. The plan has been to try and be ready in late March to seize a weather window and head south—maybe to the Keys, maybe back to the Bahamas. The destination has been a little vague, only the intent to voyage was somewhat certain. But then, that’s the way we’ve tended to travel. We point the bow southward and see where we end up. After arriving, we look around, pick some people’s brains, and decide where we might like to go next. Some may find this lack of a specific plan, and especially our casualness regarding arrival and departure dates, somewhat unsettling. But in the immortal words of that great sage Jimmy Buffet, “I don’t want that much organization in my life.” (Fruitcakes)

So the weather was starting to look pretty good. We put the word out to friends and relatives that we were getting ready to depart. And then this crazy Coronavirus thing happened. And now we’re not sure what to do. The flu comes every year, and we frankly don’t give it any mind. We certainly wouldn’t let it affect our desire to cruise. But this just seems…different. And we don’t know enough to determine if this is just another type of flu, or if it really is the “OMG we’re all going to die!” affliction that many media reports suggest.

Here’s our concern in a nutshell. Having a bad case of flu sucks. But dealing with it from the comfort of a centrally heated and cooled home while lying in a stable, king sized bed with a Walgreens nearby and quality medical care a mere 911 call away seems preferable to dealing with the same affliction while traveling on a boat. You can’t put on hold things like dealing with a dragging anchor or thunderstorm preparations or setting up and running the water maker until you feel better. What would normally be a gentle, sleep-inducing rocking could become an agonizing torment if you’re wracked by fever and muscle aches. Climbing over the stern and into a pitching dinghy to take a wet and bumpy ride ashore to look for medical assistance may not just be difficult, it might become impossible. And as for finding that assistance, well, in our experience, you wouldn’t want to be sick and need help in most of the Bahamian out-islands. You’re lucky if you can find a small clinic, and if you do, it’s probably only open a few hours a week, and that’s if the traveling nurse didn’t miss the mailboat that day. We’ve actually seen fellow cruisers who were injured or sick have better results by reaching out to other boats, quite a few of which have a retired nurse or doctor onboard.

There seems to be advantage in social distancing. Being offshore would put a lot of space between us and anyone infected. But as much as we hate to admit it, Rhonda and I have both crossed the line into that category where the CDC says “you should be very cautious if you are this age or older.”

So what to do? In situations where the path ahead is not clear, we’ll often resort to the time-tested ‘pros-and-cons’ list. But here’s what happened when we thought through both sides:

Pro: If we go, we’ll be effectively self-quarantining, which reduces our chance of infection.

Con: If we get sick, we could die.

Insert loud tires-squealing, needle-dragging-across-a-record-album noise here. All stop. It’s hard to imagine anything we could add to the Pro list that would offset that glaring red flashing Con.

Is the concern overblown? Yes, I’m sure it is. But people die of the flu every year, and the CDC is saying that Covid-19 is about 10 times more contagious and 10 times more deadly.

Even with that, we were still leaning just a little toward going. And then the President announced that all travel by non-citizens from Europe was being suspended. Never in our entire lives have we seen that happen before. And suddenly, the whole world seemed like a much more dangerous place.

So now we feel paralyzed by a lack of information. Maybe this will be really bad. Maybe it will turn the corner in a few weeks and everything will be fine. Only time will tell if this is another 1918 Spanish Flu or just a case of media hysteria. And for that reason, I think we’ll just stay in standby for the next few weeks. Take the boat out locally, do a shakedown cruise, and keep watching the news. If things take a turn for the better, we’ll still be able to squeeze in two or three months of cruising. If not, well, I guess there’s always next year…

For now, stay safe and keep washing those hands!

Naked Gennie’s New Shoes

This is Gennie. She’s one of the most valuable crew members on the good ship Eagle Too.

From running our espresso maker to heating water for a warm shower, she’s always there when we need her to add a little comfort to our lives.

This is where Gennie usually lives.

She has a pretty blue Sunbrella sweater, and hides out of the weather under the helm seat. Because the cockpit is covered by our Bimini, it keeps her mostly warm and dry.

Sometimes though, her feet do get a little wet. While I can only remember one time when we had following seas high enough to wash a little seawater into the cockpit, I do know she gets a bit wet from rain runoff or boat washing.

This is Gennie naked.

Why is Gennie naked? Because after five years of living in our cockpit, I noticed that her feet were beginning to get a bit rusty and corroded.

I thought they should be replaced. And I really didn’t know if I could get to the mounting hardware for these metal and rubber feet without taking off her clothes.

Turns out I could have done the job without stripping her. But since I was poking around her insides, I decided to see if there was anything else that might need some attention. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that after a quick wipe down with an oily rag, her innards looks darn near new.

Since we’re poking around Gennie’s insides, here’s a picture of her runtime meter. This isn’t a standard Honda feature. This was an accessory we added to better keep track of how old Gennie was getting.

Two hundred and twelve hours in a little less than five years doesn’t sound too bad to me.

Because our local Honda parts dealer hardly ever answers their phone, I found the new set of shoes for Gennie on Amazon at a really good price.

Replacement only took a socket wrench and about 15 minutes. An oil change and a new spark plug, and it looks like she’s ready to go back to the Bahamas!

It will be interesting to see what impact a lurid post headline has on our site traffic… 🙂

Bloodwork For Your Engine

Oil analysis. You get such a comprehensive amount of information from such a simple test that I don’t know why we haven’t done it before. We’re well into our preparations for taking Eagle Too back to the Bahamas for a spring cruise, and one of my concerns is that she’s spent most of the last 18 months gently resting in her slip. Before heading out across the Gulf again, I wanted to make sure that we can totally rely on her propulsion system. So I decided to do an oil analysis on her engine.

Wearing rings, a leaking head gasket, tired bearings: all these problems and more can be identified by analyzing the trace elements in the engine’s oil. Just as routine bloodwork can help you understand what’s happening inside your body, a chemical analysis of your engine’s oil can indicate imminent problems lurking below the surface, waiting to blow up in your face at the most inopportune time.

The process consists of nothing more than running the engine to warm it up, and then drawing out a couple of ounces of oil to send to a lab for analysis. After doing some research online, I decided to use Blackstone Labs. Their standard analysis included all the tests I wanted to have run, their reviews were pretty good, and their price of $28 seemed very fair.

One of the things I liked about Blackstone is that they provide a free sample return kit. Just hit their site and fill in your info, and a few days later a package shows up with everything you need to ship back your oil for analysis. When I opened the package, I found a small white poly bottle for the sample, a plastic bag to put the filled bottle in along with a provided absorbent pad, and then a mailable black plastic bottle to contain it all, with a pre-paid postage label already applied.

The package that arrived from Blackstone Labs

Inside the package. White sample bottle, plastic bag and absorbent pad, black shipping bottle with pre-paid mailing label, instructions.

I know that the Post Office can have an issue with mailing liquids, and Blackstone’s ‘bottle inside a bag with an absorbent pad inside another sealed bottle’ is supposed to mollify their concerns. They even provide a form you can download and take to the Post Office with you that explains the law regarding mailing engine oil, just in case the Postmaster still doesn’t want to accept the shipment. But after reading that it could still sometimes take several weeks for the samples to make it back to Blackstone due to the Post Office treating them as hazardous material, I decided to go a little rogue in order to beat the system. After taking samples of both our engine oil and transmission fluid and bottling them in the provided containers, I then packed them in a well-padded Priority Mail box with tracking for return shipment. This meant that unfortunately I couldn’t take advantage of the pre-paid return shipment labels Blackstone had provided, but it also meant that by conveniently forgetting what was inside the box and saying “no” when asked if I was shipping anything liquid or hazardous, they would quickly make their way to their destination.

Bottled up, ready for return

Less than a week after dropping the samples in the mail, I received an email with our completed oil analysis results. I was delighted with the findings. Everything looked perfectly normal. No coolant in the oil, no excessive metal wear products. Just the readings you’d expect from a healthy, happy little diesel engine. And so for a little bit of effort and a minor expense, we’ve received a great deal of reassurance that our trusty little Yanmar has a long life ahead of it.

Your Papers, Please

For the last year, most of our attention has been focused on getting our new house in order. Consequently, we’ve been a bit lax on tending to boat chores. With the holidays behind us though, our thoughts have turned to preparing Eagle Too for a possible trip to the Bahamas this spring. 

One of the first items on our list was to go over all our documentation and paperwork to make sure everything’s up to date for travel. We normally keep a three-ring binder in the chart table on Eagle Too, our ‘boat book,’ that has all our essential documentation. In one easy to grab package, we have everything we think we will or might need to go ashore and check in with Customs and Immigration or reserve a slip in a marina. What’s in the book? It’s a list of things that we’ve curated through four years of travel, and we think everyone who intends to cruise, particularly to other countries, should have something similar. So here’s what we keep in Eagle Too’s book:

  1. USCG Certificate of Documentation. This is basically our Federal title that shows that we are the legal owners of the vessel. We always get asked for this when checking into a new country, so we keep it right up front. It has to be renewed annually (longer renewal options just became available though), usually on or around the date that you originally purchased the vessel. Note—the Coast Guard is having a major issue with their computer systems at present, and it’s currently taking four to six months to renew a COD rather than the usual week to ten days. Current Coast Guard direction is to keep your expired COD along with a copy of your application for renewal, which will supposedly make you legal.  Our copy is in the same pocket as our COD.
  2. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) DTOPS decal. This decal displays a registration number that you’ll need for CBP when clearing back into the US. It’s basically a tax stamp, because you pay a fee to obtain the decal every year, and then you don’t have to pay a clearance fee when returning to the US from international travel. It expires on 31 December each year, you need a new decal each year, and if you obtain your first one at some point during the year, it’s only good for the remainder of that year, even though they don’t prorate the fee. So if you’re gearing up for your first season of cruising, and you don’t purchase your DTOPS decal until November, it’s only going to be good for two months, even though you paid the entire amount. We’re currently waiting for our 2020 decal to arrive, so we keep the receipt from our online renewal order in the pocket. Note—the directions say that the decal is void if it’s not attached to your vessel near the companionway entrance. But we’ve never applied ours to our boat. We just keep it in the envelope in which it arrives, filed in our boat book. It’s never been a problem, because whenever we’ve checked in to the US, we’ve either visited a CBP office, or used the CBP ROAM app to do it online. We’ve had to supply our decal number, but no one has ever asked whether it’s stuck to the boat.
  3. Our boat insurance policy and several additional copies of our declarations page. We’ve never been asked (that I can recall) by a Customs officer to show proof of insurance, but marinas often ask for it. We have additional copies of the declarations page (which shows what our policy covers and for how much) because on occasion a marina will want a copy of the page for their records, but they sometimes don’t have a working copier.
  4. Our passports, along with additional full color copies of each passport open to the ID page. This one is self-explanatory. If you’re traveling to other countries, you’re going to need your passports. The copies come in handy in some instances. The Customs officers will always want to see your original documents, but I remember in Mexico the official seemed quite pleased when we said “and you can have a copy if you wish” and presented him with color copies. They really seem to love paperwork in Mexico, particularly when you give them lots of things to stamp.
  5. Our state fishing licenses. Just in case we’re ever visited by Florida Fish and Wildlife while we’re trolling a few lines while making a coastal passage. These get renewed annually.
  6. Several copies of our crew list. It’s just a simple document we generated that includes the names, crew positions, date of birth, passport number and country of citizenship for every member of the crew. Which is just Rhonda and I. But sometimes bureaucrats gotta bureaucrat, and they want to apply a requirement that’s meant for ocean-going cargo ships to a small sailboat as well, and ask you to fill out a crew list. Whatever. We’re ready.
  7. Our Federal Communications Commission Form 605-S, Radio Station Authorization. This is the document that issues the official FCC call sign to your vessel. It’s good for ten years. No one has ever asked for it and I really don’t know what purpose it serves. If someone wants to hail us on the VHF, they’re going to call for Eagle Too and not WDH8994, not that we’d answer them if they did. But apparently it’s an international requirement to have this license to legally operate a VHF radio, so we have it just in case, even though it’s a rule that the FCC pretty much ignores within the US. One less thing to trip us up in the event that we ever encounter a Customs officer who’s having a really bad day and wants to try and make our lives difficult.
  8. Our World Health Organization certificates of vaccination. Basically, our shot records. Many countries require proof of certain shots to be allowed entry. But truthfully, no one has ever asked for these either. Our health examination has generally consisted of a Customs officer asking us how we feel and whether anyone has been sick onboard, sometimes accompanied by a small self-certification form for us to fill out. Clearing into Cuba was the only time we actually received a visit from a Doctor before being allowed to clear in, and even he didn’t ask to see our records. But they’re still great to have, because if nothing else, they give us something tangible to turn to when we start asking ourselves questions like “So when do our tetanus shots expire?”
  9. Copies of all current prescriptions. Because we don’t want to have to rely on the bottle labels to prove the drugs we carry are ours, since they tend to get smudgy and hard to read after a while onboard.
  10. NOAA SARSAT Beacon Registration. This is the document that comes with the registration sticker for our Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), which has to be re-registered every two years. It’s not something anyone is probably going to ask for, but it has all the contact information for NOAA and registration data for our EPIRB in case we need it, and reminds us when renewal is coming up.
  11. Home marina slip contract. Because if we ever have any reason to have to refer to our marina contract, say to look up whether something like grilling onboard is or isn’t prohibited, we know exactly where we can find it.
  12. And finally, we have a separate pocket for each country we’ve visited, in which we place any official documentation we receive when clearing into or out of that country. Sometimes a cruising permit is good for longer than the few weeks or months we’re visiting, and if we return, the document might still be valid. Or a good example is the Temporary Import Permit that Mexico required us to obtain in order to bring our boat into the country. It’s good for 10 years, so if we go back, we’ll know where to find our TIP from our previous visit and not have to pay for another one.

Believe it or not, everything fits in a 1” binder, so it’s no problem to tuck into the chart table, and easy to grab when going ashore to check in. So, do you have a boat book? If so, what’s in it?

By the way, some of the documents we carry are things we applied for over five years ago, and the process to obtain them may have either changed (almost everything can be done online now) or have become lost to the mists of time. So please don’t ask for guidance on how to acquire this or that particular document. Just Google it and I’m sure you’ll find a better answer than one I could give you. Cheers!

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!


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?”