Monthly Archives: July 2015

Otto Joins The Crew

“The German has the watch” was a term I first heard in the Navy. It meant an onboard system was running in automatic mode.

Automatic—Auto—Otto—German; get it?

Yeah, it’s a pretty weak joke, but it’s one of the few from my Navy days that could be considered family friendly. Anyway, after several months of eating the elephant in little tiny bites, we now have a new crewmember. Our autopilot installation is finally completed and Otto is now standing watch on his own. And Rhonda has developed a reputation for superhuman strength in the process. But more on that later.

Because we’re an all-Raymarine boat, our choice of system was a Raymarine EV200 Evolution autopilot with a Type 1 rotary drive.

Autopilot1One reason it took so long to install is that it consists of five separate major components—the course computer (or Mr. Brain as we call it), the pilot control head, the rotary drive system, the rudder reference sensor and the gyrocompass. We also needed to place an order with Grainger for appropriate sprockets and drive chain. It took quite a bit of head scratching and a false start or two to find the best place for each part. By the time all the pieces were installed, I’d say the whole system set us back a bit over three boat bucks. But we really couldn’t see leaving without an autopilot. It’s one thing to helm for a few hours while sailing to the beach. It’s a whole ‘nuther thing to have to stand behind the wheel in the dark for hours during an offshore overnight passage.

Here’s a look at how it came together. If you’re considering adding an autopilot to a Hunter 376 or similar boat, you’ll probably know where all these places are. If not, it will still give you a pretty good idea of what was involved.

The first task was adding an additional conduit from the breaker panel at the chart table in the salon to the port cockpit locker ( or lazarette as it’s known) to run a power wire and a Seatalk NG backbone cable. The Hunter 376 came from the factory with a length of 1″ diameter PVC pipe that runs along the port side of the boat above the headliner to use as a cable chase. But with all the gear we’ve already installed, I doubt we could have shoved (or rather, pulled) one more wire through it. We needed to add room for more wires. While wandering the aisles at Lowe’s one day, I saw this flexible conduit, and thought “Perfect!”


After removing the trim above the chart table, I was able to use my trusty fish tape to snake a messenger line the 15 feet from the salon to the cockpit, and then pull the flexible conduit through. Here’s the end in the salon:


And here’s the other end in the port lazarette, with the autopilot wires already in place:


Once I had the wires pulled back to the cockpit locker, I then needed to pass them through to the interior space below. I had already completely filled the existing pass-through with battery cables when we installed the new batteries in the port and starboard lazarettes:


So after using my remote camera to take a good look underneath the floor of the locker to make sure I wouldn’t cut into anything important, I used my hole saw to make yet another hole in the boat to pass the autopilot wires through.


We decided to put Mr. Brain in a locker on the port side of the aft cabin that’s at the foot of the rear berth. This kept the wire runs short from Mr. Brain to the rotary drive motor, the motor clutch, and the rudder reference sensor, all located in the cockpit above.

Autopilot2 Autopilot3

The rudder reference sensor (the thing that says Raymarine on it in the picture below) had to be connected to the rudder, naturally. This is under the removable cockpit deckplate aft of the pedestal.


Testing the sensor to make sure it functioned properly. Hard to port:

Autopilot5 And hard to starboard:Autopilot6

I’d left a space on the pedestal for the pilot control head. I’d envisioned the layout ultimately looking like this when we first started upgrading the obsolete instruments that were onboard Eagle Too when we purchased her.

Autopilot7 Autopilot8 Autopilot9Since I had to pull the VHF radio out to mount the drive control head, I went ahead and fixed the cheesy, jammed-in-a-hole way the radio had been installed by mounting the proper trim plate.

Autopilot10 Autopilot11

Much better. Now all it needs is a remote control for the stereo and a couple of DC outlets, and this pedestal will be just about perfect!

Installing the autopilot drive motor was probably the biggest job, and that’s where Rhonda discovered her super powers.

The inside of the pedestal originally looked like this. That red thing is the forward end of the steering wheel axle. It had a wrap of red electrical tape on it to retain the small key in the slot machined on the shaft that was needed to mount the autopilot drive sprocket. Hunter had already prepared the shaft at the factory for the sprocket.


Here’s the same area after the drive motor and chain drive were installed.


The tension on the chain is adjusted by using shims under the motor mounting bolts. I was really impressed that Hunter had not only installed a shelf on which to mount the motor, but had placed it at exactly the right distance below the wheel axle so that the chain tension was perfect without needing any of the shims provided.

Finding a good place for the gyrocompass was a challenge. I first tried mounting it to the back side of a removable access panel aft of the rear berth.


it worked great, until I started the engine. Then the chartplotter display would turn upside down. Turns out that the gyrocompass ended up too close to the new battery cables we’d installed.


The current flow to the batteries from the engine’s alternator threw off the gyrocompass, and the chartplotter would show us moving backward through the water, which really made for some interesting navigational challenges. I ended up moving it to an empty space underneath the rear cabin seat (unfortunately, I apparently forgot to take a picture before I put the seat back together).


This isn’t an ideal location for two reasons. First, it’s recommended (but not required) that the compass be installed on the centerline of the boat, and this spot isn’t. Second, the compass sits right on top of the sanitation line that runs from the toilet to the holding tank, and that hose is reinforced with a steel wire, which might affect the compass. But the location did meet my two key criteria; the compass was out of the way and safe from being accidentally hit by something and possibly broken, and it was within three feet of a Seatalk connector so that I could plug it in to the network backbone without having to buy another cable. Anyway, it calibrated OK when we did the first seatrial on the system, so as long as no one wearing iron underpants sits down there, I think we should be OK.

So after all that, here’s Otto taking the helm for the first time. He’s set to wind vane mode here, which means that rather than following a set course, he’s steering the boat to maintain a constant wind angle. Since the breeze was only about nine knots and variable, he’s hunting around a little, but he did a terrific job at keeping us on a beam reach.

As for Rhonda’s super powers, well, I needed her help to torque down the mounting bolts for the rotary drive motor. We were working on this one, specifically:


I’m basically standing on my head reaching way down inside the pedestal to hold a wrench on the nut that we’re trying to thread onto the bottom of that 1/2″ stainless steel bolt, while Rhonda reaches in and turns the bolt from above with a socket wrench. Grunting with effort, she manages to get about three or four revolutions on the bolt head, at which point I can no longer keep the nut from spinning. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near tight enough. It probably needs at least another dozen revolutions before the bolt is tight. “Let’s take it off and try it again, maybe it’s not going on straight,” I said.

But it wouldn’t come off. We tried and we tried, and nothing we did would get that nut to come off that bolt. Our wrists finally gave out from the strain and awkward position, and I called in reinforcements. I described the situation to my brother. “No problem,” he said cavalierly. “We should be able to get it off.”

But we couldn’t. With the two of us sweating and grunting to maximum effect, that damn nut wouldn’t budge. “I think you’re going to have to cut it off,” he finally said in defeat.

Unwilling to surrender, I called a marina friend. “No problem,” he said. “I’ll bring my big cheater bars and we’ll bust it loose.”

Three men, giant torque wrenches, and multiple extensions, all giving it all we had, and that damn nut just laughed at us. So I eventually had to break out the Dremel tool and do a blind cut on the underside of the shelf that the bolt passed through, trying to shear off the nut. I blew through ten cutting wheels before finally getting it, but eventually I beat it into submission.

When I recently mentioned to that same friend that we’d finally finished installing the autopilot, he replied, “You didn’t let Rhonda tighten the nuts, did you?” And so her reputation is formed.

Actually though, what we experienced is a cruel little trick of physics called galling. Stainless steel is particularly prone to it. What happens is that friction between the threads of the nut and bolt cause the surfaces to weld together at a microscopic level. As Rhonda turned the bolt, it and the nut basically became one. And there was no way we were ever going to able to get them apart.

It was my fault. You should always, always, always use a lubricant on stainless steel fasteners. My personal favorite is Tef-Gel. I had a tube of it right there in my tool box. But we were just doing a test fit. That’s all. It was coming right back off, and then I’d be able to lube it. Or so I thought…

Lesson learned. But it’s all good. Because we got a funny story out of it, and Otto is finally on the job. And Eagle Too is a giant step closer to being ready to go!

The Beginning Of A Possible Plan

People have often asked us what our plans are when we head out. Our answer has always been something along the lines of “sail the islands.”

“Which islands? Where will you go first?” they ask.

“We’ll see…” we’d say. Because we really haven’t had a definite plan.

We very much want to visit the Bahamas and then spend time more thoroughly exploring many of the Leeward and Windward Islands that we’ve briefly visited in the past,. But I really haven’t been relishing  the long and difficult upwind slog to get there, the so-called “thorny path.” The primary procedure for taking some of the thorns out of the trip, the one detailed in Van Sant’s “The Gentleman’s Guide To Passages South”, involves primarily traveling at night when the trade winds lay down in order to work the offshore flow from Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. But neither of us are big fans of sailing at night unless it’s way offshore. And the whole part about setting out at midnight and sailing until 5 or 6 AM for days on end sounds more like a chore than a joy.

Thorny Path Map

I was looking for another way. And we may have just found it.

I’ve been thinking for a while about possibly working around the Caribbean counterclockwise, which for some reason seems opposite of the way it’s normally done. But we’ve heard from several sailors who have made the trip that crossing the Gulf from Pensacola to Mexico in the spring can really suck, with contrary wind and currents. Then I started studying the pilot charts, and discovered that the southern Caribbean really isn’t a fun place to sail. High winds and 10 to 12 foot seas off the northern coast of South America are quite common, and very experienced sailors have broken their boats there.

But after studying the pilot charts some more and reading some discussions on the Seven Seas Cruising Association’s website, I think I may have come up with a plan.

We’d first sail from Pensacola to Key West. Probably not directly—we’d follow the coast down unless we get an ideal wind.

After the Keys, we’ll shoot across to Havana, Cuba. Rhonda and I both want to see it, and since no one seems to care anymore, we figure “why not?”

From Cuba, we’ll head west to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We’ve been following the blog of the crew of S/V Sundowner, and they loved the island so much they almost never left.

From there, it would be a short trip south to Cozumel, which we’ve been to so many times it almost feels like a third home. Then further south to a little town called Mahahual, which we’ve always enjoyed and would like to see again.

It’s an easy trip down the Mexican Riviera from there to Ambergris Caye, Belize. Then Caulker Caye, and if all goes well, we should be able to drop the hook in Placencia just in time for their Lobsterfest in June.

Maybe we’ll tuck into the Rio Dulce in Guatemala for the peak of hurricane season, then southeast to the Bay Islands of Honduras, Costa Rica, the San Blas Islands of Panama, and ultimately, Cartagena, Columbia, which I’ve heard is just an amazing place.

But afterwards, instead of continuing east, bashing into the high winds and seas to continue the counterclockwise circuit, we’ll turn back north, and shoot across to Jamaica. According to the pilot charts, the prevailing winds generally make this a broad to beam reach (i.e. a pretty easy sail for you non-nautical types). From there you can shoot straight east to Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and the Virgins, with a much better angle on the wind than you have if you follow the Bahamas down.

Once in the Virgins, we’d have the run of the place, with good sailing from St. Marteen all the way to Trinidad and back.

Route Map

So that’s our plan. Maybe. We’ll see. But there’s just something about it that quiets that nagging little anxiety I was feeling about taking the thorny path. And we can catch the Bahamas another time, on a trip north back to the States. When it will be a nice downwind sail, rather than a grueling bash to windward.

I’m getting excited just thinking about it! Now I’m off to fly it by the Admiral and see what she thinks.

First Look – Back Bay Folding Bicycles

In the seven months that we’ve lived on our boat, we’ve explored most of what downtown Pensacola has to offer within a 15 minute walk from our dock. We’d occasionally talk about picking up some bicycles for covering the middle ground between places that were within easy walking distance and those that we needed our cars to reach. But at only 37 feet, Eagle Too just doesn’t have the room to store full size bikes. So when West Marine recently put their Back Bay folding bicycles on sale, I was intrigued.

“What do you think of these?” I asked Rhonda, showing her the ad.

“They look nice,” she replied. “Maybe you should go look at them and see.”

So I did. And I liked what I saw. So we’re now the owners of a pair of folding bicycles.

FoldingBikes1We’ve seen small folding marina or dock bikes before. I usually call them “clown bikes” because a grown adult looks pretty silly riding one. It’s because the bikes generally have 12 or 14 inch wheels, and look like something suffering from some strange form of mechanical dwarfism. These were different though. The 20 inch wheels, while still a bit small for anyone old enough to drive, looked a little less clownish.

FoldingBikes2The frames, risers, handlebars, cranks, and wheels are aluminum, and the spokes are stainless steel. They was obviously designed with the marine environment in mind. They come almost fully assembled–you only need to insert the seat riser into the frame to get on and ride away (well, after you double check all the fasteners to make sure some Chinese laborer didn’t forget to tighten something, you know, important).

Best of all, starting with this:

FoldingBikes3You just flip up the pedals and release one clamp at the base of the handlebar riser and another on the center of the frame, and you end up with this:

FoldingBikes4So how do they ride? Not bad actually. I’m six feet (1.8 m) tall and weigh 190 lbs (86 kg), and I think they feel very solid—there’s nothing about the ride to indicate that the bike is collapsable. The sprung front fork lets it float over bumps (and train tracks) pretty smoothly. The brakes grab hard—hard enough that you have to be a bit judicious in their use in order to not launch yourself off the bike when stopping suddenly. It has seven speeds, which I initially thought might be about three too few, but with some riding around I actually feel it’s just right. In first gear I can pedal up the ramp from our dock to the sidewalk with no problem, and in seventh gear on level ground I can easily cruise as fast as I’d care to go on a bike this size. The indexed shifter on the right handlebar grip operates smoothly, and the bike clicks solidly into each gear.

There is some getting used to it involved. Because the wheelbase, or distance between the front and rear wheels, is pretty short, you’re basically sitting directly above the rear tire when you ride. This is fine on level ground, but if you try to pedal while going up a hill, you have to lean forward or you can quickly end up in America’s Funniest Videos territory as you flip yourself off the back of the bike. I also think it’s a bit wobbly at slow speeds, like when just starting out from a full stop. It’s probably because you’re sitting pretty high above a small pair of wheels. Once you’re rolling though, it’s fine.

At $299.99, there are definitely cheaper folding bikes to be had. But they generally have more steel and less aluminum, which I think disqualifies them from use on boats. Plus most of the others we looked at had a step through frame similar to this:


That just doesn’t look as rugged as the arch shaped frame on the Back Bay. Sort of reminds me of an old sway-backed horse.

I will say these bikes seem to have some issues with inconsistent quality. I initially ordered two. One was terrific. On the other, it was impossible to insert the seat riser more than a half inch into the frame, and it was very difficult to fold the bike at the frame hinge. But one thing I do love about West Marine is their no-questions-asked return policy. So I took it back to the store and swapped it out for another one they had in stock. Reading the online reviews, apparently others have had the same problem with the seat riser not fitting into the frame properly, as well as the folding issue. But we have two now that seem to be working well.

We hope that these will not only let us easily scoot around town, but also be of use once we get down to the islands. For their inaugural trip, last weekend Rhonda and I rode them up to Pensacola’s Festival of St. Fermin and the Running of the Bulls, which is a real hoot if you’ve never seen it.

After the “bulls” took off after the runners, we pedaled along following behind observing the general mayhem, and then circled back around to the finish line to watch the runners face the gauntlet.

Without the bikes, we’d have missed half the fun!

I’ll try to post something in six months or so regarding their durability and whether we’re still enjoying them.

Sitting At The Firing Line Of Fun

For almost six months now, I’ve enjoyed a life in which every day is Saturday (In fact, there will be a post soon that examines a half year of retirement). For Rhonda, however, life is quite different. She’s still caught up in the workaday world of early reveille and off to the office, then home (back onboard) nine hours later. Dinner, a cocktail, relax a bit and watch some television, and then it’s bedtime and the whole process repeats again.  So to break things up a bit, we tried something new yesterday. For the foreseeable future (as long as it takes to determine whether this experiment is a success or a dud) Wednesday evenings will now be Halfway Night, a cause for celebration. Suitable Halfway Night festivities may include dinner out, drinks with friends, a movie or show, or some combination of any or all of those. The noble purpose is to give Rhonda a break and make her work week feel shorter. We kicked off this grand experiment yesterday evening with dinner and drinks at the Margaritaville Beach Hotel.

Word apparently spread, as others got into the spirit. Upon returning to Eagle Too, we were treated to a wonderful display of pyrotechnics by our neighbor to our immediate west, Pensacola Blue Wahoo’s Stadium. Or maybe it had something to do with the baseball game that just ended. I’m not really sure. All I know is that fireworks are usually on Saturdays, not Wednesdays. So we’ll just accept it as part of the first Halfway Night observance.

How close are we to the action? Close enough that this morning our decks looked like this:

DeckDebris1That’s fireworks debris that rained down during the show. It’s no exaggeration to say that we sit at the firing line of fun.

All in all it was a pretty good trial run of the Halfway Night concept. I think it accomplished its main goal of inserting a relaxing diversion into the middle of the week. I wonder what we can arrange for next Wednesday…


Disappointing Dinghy Durability

You may remember Eaglet. We introduced her back in The $400 Solution. She’s a Mercury 270 Air Deck, and she’s our trusty tender.

Eaglet1 She’s been transporting us back and forth from our boat to our favorite beach bars for four years now, and has never once caused us to miss a happy hour.

Unfortunately, when we climbed in her a few weekends ago to make the trip to shore, we discovered her floor had developed an extremely severe case of Droopidus Non-Erectus. The air deck lost its stiffyness (yes, I’m making up words. I’m a writer, I’m allowed to do that!).


Eaglet’s Floppy Floor

Overnight, she’d become a floating trampoline. Boarding became somewhat of a challenge (he said with extreme understatement)

When we bought Eaglet back in 2011, we sprang for the CSM model (i.e. Hypalon, which is actually a trademark owned by DuPont, which no longer makes the material so technically there are no Hypalon boats anymore) rather than the PVC version. We’d read that PVC dinghies (which are actually the majority of inflatable boats out there) only last about four or five years in the hot tropical sun, while CSM boats can go 20 years. SInce we had plans to head for the tropics eventually (and let’s face it, Florida in the summer would meet anyone’s definition of tropical), we figured it was money well spent.

We also decided to go with the air deck model. The high pressure floor was supposed to offer the same firm footing and smooth ride of plywood or aluminum floor models without the weight. Light weight was important, since we intended to hoist the dink onto the foredeck between  uses. It also has the added benefit that you can roll it up when deflated, which we commonly do in the off season.

Interesting thing though about Mercury CSM air deck boats. The boat is made of CSM. But the air deck is PVC. That’s the only way they make them. Which is a little detail that they seemed to have forgotten to mention in the sales literature.

So here we are, a little over four years later, and our floor wouldn’t hold air anymore. Fortunately, it was easy to buy a replacement on Defender. Unfortunately, it cost almost $400. But it’s hard to put a price on good Mojitos at our favorite beach bar, so our water taxi had to be repaired.

Interestingly, air decks infected with Droopidus are apparently a common enough problem that Defender even offers its own knock-off version for those looking to save a few bucks. But we opted for the OEM model rather than going aftermarket. Next time, maybe not. We’ll see.

It turned out to be a pretty simple job to swap out the floor. There are just two little mounts attached to the stern that had to be removed so that the new deck could be installed.

Eaglet3Once pumped up to the 11 PSI called for, it gets super rigid and wedges itself tightly between the boat’s tubes and bottom.


I think I remember that the air deck came with a five year warranty, so provided I can find the receipt (we should still have it somewhere around here), maybe we’ll see if it’s possible to get it repaired. Or I have this crazy idea that it might be possible to shoot it full of expanding foam. It wouldn’t roll up anymore, but it would never go flat again.

(Update: I later learned that the air deck was only warrantied for 12 months.)

Eaglet5If nothing else,  in addition to keeping it as a spare, it might make a really odd and interesting paddle board!


Rhonda’s maternal grandfather Byron Woodside taught her to sail. He would take her out on Chesapeake Bay in his Cal 25, where he showed her basic boat handling and how to use a chart to maintain a plot. He called her Skipper. Thanks to his efforts, when Rhonda and I met, she already came equipped with a basic understanding of port and starboard, range and bearing, a feel for the wind and an eye for depth, and the ability to tell when there was too much or too little of either.

Mr. Woodside passed away a long time ago. Rhonda and I were newly married, and decades away from having our own boat. So he never got to see what an accomplished sailor she grew up to be.

Rhonda’s mother also passed away six or seven years ago, and Rhonda’s connection through blood to her grandfather was irrevocably severed.

Last week, we had the privilege of taking a delightful lady out for a sail. Martha is a spry woman who, even though she’s experienced almost 80 years of life on this world of ours, had never sailed before.  A woman who was an old friend and high school classmate of Rhonda’s mother, and who had known Mr. Woodside very well.

We motored when the wind was light. We sailed when it picked up a little. We offered Martha the wheel, and she willingly took it. We saw dolphins leaping. We saw a waterspout. And she had a wonderful time.

And when we were done, she told Rhonda, “Your grandfather would have been very proud of you.” And the connection was finally made.

Martha1 Martha2 Martha3

I didn’t know Mr. Woodside very well, but he appears to have been an extraordinary gentleman. A lawyer and a senior member of the Securities and Exchange Commission under three Presidents, he was sent to Japan by President Truman after WWII to help them create a new postwar economy.  But he was a man that was so grounded in the soil that he and his wife also ran a chicken farm on the rural outskirts of Washington D.C. So I have no idea what he might have thought of our plans to spend the next few years being gypsies of the sea. But he loved to sail. And we have it on good authority that he would have indeed been very proud of his little Skipper.

Boat Hacks – Marine Growth Edition

It’s mid-July here on Florida’s Gulf coast, which means daytime temperatures are routinely approaching those found on the surface of the sun.  It’s peak air conditioning season, and our poor overworked system runs nonstop from dawn till way past dusk, steadily losing ground the entire time. While it’s a comfortable 72° (22° C) early in the morning, the temperature onboard can peak as high as 78° (25.5° C) by dinnertime before finally turning the corner and starting to decline again.

Unlike your typical home cooling system, most onboard AC systems are water cooled. A pump sucks up some of whatever water the boat is floating in (seawater, in our case) and uses it to cool the system’s condenser. If you understand anything about how an air conditioner works, you’ll know what that means. If not, the short explanation is that all the heat the air conditioner sucks out of the air has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is the seawater. Naturally, proper care and feeding of the AC system is priority one at the moment. This means regularly cleaning both the air filter and the seawater strainer.

Now the problem with using seawater to cool the AC condenser is all the microorganisms it contains. If you had any idea about the quantity of jellyfish eggs, oyster larvae, baby barnacles, and fish semen that every quart of ocean contained, you’d never swim in it, much less get any in your mouth, nose or ears. Most of those microorganisms are just drifting around looking for a safe place to homestead so that they can put down roots and grow up to be bigger organisms and make their own eggs and babies. Unfortunately, many of them do so inside the air conditioner’s heat exchanger. Over time, this buildup of marine growth will foul the condenser, reducing your air conditioner’s ability to make cool refreshing air.

If you read the owner’s manual for your system, you’ll see that it says that you should periodically (annually?) flush the unit’s seawater system with a mild acid solution. This is supposed to kill any marine growth that may be forming and dissolve the barnacle farm that sprouts wherever there’s seawater touching a solid surface. You basically fix up a bucket of muriatic acid solution and use a small pump to circulate it through your unit’s heat exchanger.


Personally, I think it’s similar to flossing after every meal. We all know we should, but who honestly ever does it? I’m guessing it’s the pretty rare sailor who has a bucket, circulating pump, jug of muriatic acid and some suitable hoses sitting around waiting for its once-a-year use.

Now we boaters have a solution to deal with marine growth on the underwater portions of our boats. It’s called bottom paint. Marine bottom paint is a special type of paint that contains toxins to kill off or keep under control all the little critters floating around in the water. The most commonly used toxin in bottom paint is copper. Each gallon of bottom paint contains several pounds of ground up copper, which forms a layer on the bottom of the boat that tells the little ocean critters, “Move along, you’re not welcome here, go try your luck elsewhere.” It occurs to me that if it were possible to get some copper inside the air conditioner’s heat exchanger, maybe it would help slow down the buildup of growth inside the condenser, and reduce the need to acid flush it, which quite frankly isn’t being done anyway.

While turning this over in my head one day, I recalled how when we used to live in Washington (the state, not the city), everyone was constantly fighting moss and mildew growth on their roofs. At its best it was unsightly, at its worst it made some roofs look like putting greens with their luxuriant mossy coats. But an easy fix to the problem was to attach some zinc strips along the peak of the roof. You could buy a roll of it at the local hardware store. As it rained, a tiny bit of the zinc would dissolve and flow down the roof, killing the mildew and moss. I guess they are zinc intolerant.

So here’s where the boat hack comes in. I thought the same basic idea might work with copper. So I bought a package of copper plumbing fittings at Lowe’s. It cost about three dollars for ten ½” slip couplings. Then when I did my monthly cleaning of the system’s seawater strainer, I dropped a couple in the strainer basket. The strainer is plastic (nylon I believe), but even if it were stainless steel, copper is much higher on the galvanic series, so it shouldn’t hurt the strainer. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means. It’s technical. Unless you own a boat. Then you should be very worried!)  As the seawater flows through the strainer, it should pick up some dissolved copper. Not much, just some ions, but it shouldn’t take too much to make the inside of the heat exchanger less hospitable to ocean critters.

Will it work at reducing marine growth inside the condenser? I have no idea. But at about 30 cents per copper fitting, it’s a cheap experiment. I’ll monitor the fittings at each monthly strainer cleaning to see if I can notice any reduction in their size, indicating that they are slowly dissolving. Please let me know if you think I’ve overlooked something.

Strainer4 Strainer5

Strainer1 Strainer2 Strainer3


Back At It

We returned from our trip to Alaska just in time to catch the peak of Pensacola’s summer sailing season—the 4th of July and the Pensacola Beach airshow (with the Blue Angels!) on two consecutive weekends. Consequently we’ve had very little time lately to put fingers to keyboard. We’ve been just too darn busy adding to our collection of experiences in what could be our last summer in this area for a while. But things are settling down a bit, so it’s time to catch up.

First up will be another quick boat hack that you might find interesting, and then in no particular order, some reflections on family connections, more storm tales, an introduction to our new crew member, a description of disappointing dinghy durability, the trial of the bumbling bureaucrats, views on retirement after six months, and yes, maybe even some pictures from Alaska!

And many thanks to the other Hunter 376 owners out there who have contacted us with words of praise. It’s really gratifying to see some of our ideas being adopted by others, and we’re delighted that you’re finding some useful information on our site. Maybe a future project will be a better tagging system to make it easier to find the boat upgrade and maintenance posts scattered among what is really our electronic diary.

So stay tuned, there are a lot of interesting things on the way!


Reflections On Mortality

The old woman shuffled hesitantly down the steps of the tour bus. She gripped the handrail tightly with her thin, veined hands, pausing on each step to cautiously plant both feet before attempting the next. I sighed with impatience as I stood behind her waiting to exit the bus. We were halfway through our Alaskan cruise, and wherever we went, the elderly with their walkers and wheelchairs were causing slowdowns and creating congestion at elevators, buses, theater doors, gangways.

Sensing my frustration, the old woman turned to me, and with a gentle smile tinged with sadness, said, “I’m sorry I’m taking so long. But I was 20 once…”

Suddenly I saw the world from her perspective. An old woman, aware of her limitations and her impact on others, wistfully recalling the vigor of her youth and sadly resigned to its passing. Instead of pushing past her, I wanted to hug her for having the desire and courage to continue heading out into the world in pursuit of new experiences and adventures.

Then there was the Westerdam. The Holland America ship was our buddy-boat on our trip north, leaving from the same Seattle pier as us and following the same itinerary.

WesterdamThey moored ahead of us in Ketchikan, where eight passengers boarded a floatplane for what was probably an excursion of a lifetime—a flight to the remote Alaskan wilderness.

The plane never returned.

Now some would say that those eight people and the pilot who flew the aircraft, who was also lost, would have been better off staying home and quietly rocking away their lives on their front porches. But I know that we humans are extremely bad at evaluating relative risk. The truth is that the odds of those nine people meeting an unfortunate end during their flight was much less than the risk of being killed while driving to the grocery store.

By now, our close circle of friends and relatives have heard about our plans and have reached their own conclusions. But on this trip we had the opportunity to tell newly made friends and far flung family about how we plan to spend the next five to ten years of our lives. Their reactions were varied. Some instantly got it and said “That sounds so exciting!” Some frowned and pursed their lips, unable to understand why anyone would want to take the road less traveled.  But one of the takeaways for me from this trip was a reminder that none of us knows how many pages are left in the story of our lives. It’s so easy to fall into the monotonous rhythm of daily existence that we fail to appreciate what a gift each day truly is and that tomorrow is not guaranteed.

We live for a short while, and then we die. I know that many are perfectly content to spend their brief time on Earth tending a garden and accumulating things. But I think a day in which you see something new, experience something new, learn something new, is a day well spent. I’m more convinced than ever that doing this now, while we’re still young enough, healthy enough, flexible enough of mind and body, is the right thing to do. I have to admit though, I do so hope that like that old woman on the bus, Rhonda and I will still be holding hands and venturing out in search of new experiences and memories long after most have settled into their rockers.

We had an amazing trip. We definitely added to our collection of memorable and photo-worthy moments, and never fear, there will soon be pictures. I just needed to first get this off my mind.