Monthly Archives: September 2015

More Power Scotty! Part Four

ScottyMorePowerIn More Power Scotty! Part One, we outlined our plan for transforming the DC electrical system on Eagle Too from one designed for weekend cruising to one more suitable for a Life On The Hook™. In Part Two of the series, we selected our new batteries, and in Part Three, we showed you how we installed them. Now we’ll take a look at how we reconfigured the operation of our electrical charging system, and the new battery chargers we chose to maintain our house bank and starting battery.

To begin, here’s a diagram of what the electrical system on Eagle Too looked like when we bought her.


Now my degree is in Engineering Technology, not Graphic Arts, so please cut me some slack on the diagram. But while crude, it gets the point across. Our electrical system was originally pretty basic. One house battery (a single 4D), one starting battery,  and one 30 amp battery charger feeding both batteries. When the engine ran, the alternator fed current back through the cable from the starter to the starting battery. Whenever the engine key was in the Run position, it closed a solenoid I’ve called Paralleling Relay above to allow the alternator to charge both batteries. The 150 amp fuses were there in the event that you severely depleted your house bank before starting the engine. They are intended to stop a massive rush of current from the starting battery to the house battery when the paralleling relay closed. Those were the only fuses in the system. Note that for clarity (actually, because I didn’t want to bother drawing them), the two battery isolation switches were left out.

As we outlined in Part One, we had a specific set of criteria we wanted our electrical system to meet. What we ended up with looked like this:


The biggest differences are that we’ve increased the house bank to four times the original size (from about 150 amp hours to over 600 amp hours), and we’ve taken all charging sources to a common bus. Once again, I’ve left out the battery isolation switches. Some specifics:

  • We’re using the battery charger to charge the house bank only. We then use a serial or echo charger to keep the starting battery charged. This allows the main charger to run at maximum output for several hours when we’ve run our house bank down several hundred amp hours, without cooking the starting battery. Whenever the echo charger senses the proper voltage on the positive bus, it siphons off a small amount of current and feeds it to the starting battery. When we’re unplugged and running on the house bank, bus voltage drops and the echo charger shuts off.
  • The shunt installed in the house bank negative return line is to allow for the installation of a proper battery monitor. This lets us actually see what our state of charge is and how many amps are going into or out of the bank. We’ll talk more about this in the next installment of More Power Scotty (yes, there’s more!).
  • We’ve fused everything.  We have a 300 amp battery terminal fuse on each pair of golf cart batteries, a 60 amp fuse on the alternator and charger outputs to the positive bus, and appropriately sized inline fuses to the echo charger and from that charger to the starting battery. I’ve put a black X on each of the fuse locations in the diagram below.


We have a stash of spare fuses onboard in case something blows.

I didn’t show it in the diagram because it was just getting too busy, but I left the paralleling relay circuit intact. But I disconnected the wire from the engine key switch to the relay, so it will no longer engage when the engine is started. My plan (I haven’t gotten to it yet) is to put a simple on-off switch in the lead to the relay. It will probably always stay in the “off” position, but just in case we ever find ourselves with a dead starting battery and power remaining in the house bank that could be used to start the engine, we can push the switch to “on,” allowing the relay to engage when the engine key is turned, feeding power from the house bank to the starter.

A nice advantage of this new electrical configuration is that as we add additional power sources, like solar (500 watts of panels are already on their way!) or a wind generator, all we have to do is wire the output from the appropriate controller to the positive and negative bus to integrate the new power source.

So here’s the info on the chargers we selected. For the primary battery charger, we used a Sterling Power ProCharge Ultra.The 50 amp model. Retail price is $520, but by shopping around online we were able to find it for $400. The same model is also sold under the ProMariner name, available through West Marine and other marine retailers (at a higher price, of course). Why did we choose this model? Primarily due to this review. In fact, there’s so much good info in that article, and it explains so much about what we did on Eagle Too, that you should probably go ahead and read the entire thing. Go ahead, we’ll wait. La-la-la-la-la-de-da…

OK, so here’s our old circa-1997 Guest 30 amp 3 circuit battery charger:


And here’s how it was wired up, with two outputs run to the two batteries, and the unused output jumpered:


And here’s our shiny new Sterling Power ProCharge Ultra:

BatteryChargers3And how we wired it up, using one output to the house bank and jumpering the other two:


It then fit very nicely in the space formerly occupied by our old charger:


And since we also removed the old 4D house battery, we freed up this much storage space under the port settee:

BatteryChargers6Which naturally got immediately filled with provisions and fishing gear.

As for the echo charger, we used a Xantrex Digital Echo-Charge:

BatteryChargers7Which we mounted to the inside of the compartment where the starting battery lives under the port settee:


Everything has been in place now for four or five months, and it’s all working exactly as envisioned. Our primary charger can pump out maximum juice when needed to our house bank, without overcharging our starting battery as it did formerly. Meanwhile, the starting battery is completely isolated and protected, maintained by its own charger that feeds it a steady diet of yummy juice whenever some is available. And we’ve gained the ability to regularly equalize our bank, a feature our old charger did not support.

In the next installment of More Power Scotty!, we’ll talk about the monitors we installed to keep track of how our electrical system is performing. And that’s a wrap for this installment. Any questions?


A Hidden Cost Of Cruising

I knew that someday I would write this post. It’s been long enough now that I think I can actually capture these thoughts and not be overwhelmed by the feelings that result. I decided to finally address this subject because I’ve seen several discussions lately on other blogs I follow that talk about the costs of cruising. They always focus entirely on the dollars and cents of it all. But there can be other costs to embracing this life that I seldom if ever see mentioned. So for those of you considering embarking on your own cruising adventure, here’s one cost some of you may have to incur that you might want to think about and prepare for.

I guess you could say Tiger was a rescue kitty. We met him one night at the home of friends. Their daughter had found him, hungry and trembling, hiding under a car in the street in front of their house. He couldn’t have been more than six or eight weeks old, and practically fit in the palm of my hand. We all just assumed that someone had abandoned the poor thing in the neighborhood to either be loved or lost.

Our family cat had recently vanished. I can’t say we really missed him terribly. His name was Sneaker, and he just wasn’t much into people. You have no way of telling what they’ll turn out to be when they’re just tiny balls of fluff, whether this will be a cat that would enjoy fooling around with the kids, or one that just bitches and scratches and  acts like the only reason for you to exist is to feed him regularly. Unfortunately, Sneaker had turned out to be more the latter than the former. We don’t really know what happened to  him. He just didn’t come home one day. It’s possible he ran afoul of one of the coyotes or owls or hawks in the neighborhood, or sometimes cats just do that—wander off and never come back.

So there we were, not really looking for another cat, when this little guy showed up, frightened and hungry. Our friends already had a full complement of pets—several dogs and cats, and I think their son even had a snake. And we had no pets and this empty cat dish that wasn’t being used. None of us could even consider putting him back out in the street or taking him to the animal shelter.

So Tiger joined the family. And he actually turned out to be a pretty darned good cat. He’d bring us mice and moles and the occasional cardinal or mockingbird, because that’s what cats do to show affection. He’d tolerate a pretty amazing amount of abuse from the kids. While he’d sometimes seek alone time in some hidden place to sleep away most of the day, he would also often follow us around or lay where he could keep an eye on us if we were outside working.  He knew early evening was Cocktail Time, and would almost always appear from wherever he had been when we sat down at our patio table to have  a day-ending adult beverage. And although he spent the majority of his time outside, he always, always came home again.


But the day came 14 years later when the kids were grown and gone, the house had been sold, and the movers were in the process of packing our remaining possessions off to storage. We were pursuing a crazy dream, embarking on this Life On The Hook™. Everything was falling into place. Everything except Tiger. We just couldn’t see how he could possibly adapt to this next phase of our lives. He’d spent 14 years as a free-range kittie, living as lord and master of our four acre property, which he regularly patrolled and defended. We thought it unlikely, unrealistic, indeed even cruel to try and force him to suddenly exist on a 37 foot boat at a marina in the heart of downtown Pensacola with all its people, dogs, and scary garbage trucks. And I should mention that Tiger hated litter boxes. Absolutely refused to use one unless he was about to burst and it was his only option. That’s one of the reasons we’d turn him out for the day when we both went to work. We were both still working when we first moved onboard, and we just couldn’t see leaving him on the dock every morning to let him wander the busy streets of downtown Pensacola.

Our boys couldn’t take him. One lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets, and the other one already had a cat and couldn’t accept another. Oh, they loved Tiger a lot, but I think that somehow they just assumed that Mom and Dad would figure something out and it would all be fine, because usually we did and it was, no matter what the problem.

None of our relatives wanted him. None of our friends wanted him. None of the complete and total strangers who came to our yard sales wanted him. And since he was fourteen years old, even the animal rescue shelters all said he was just too old. They prefered to take in cats less than five years old, because they were adoptable. While the county animal shelter is a no-kill facility, we couldn’t bear the thought of him living his remaining years in a 2 foot square cage. We even briefly considered just leaving him behind, hoping that maybe our home’s new owners would take him in. But it was equally likely that they’d have their own pets already and he would end up starving alone in the woods.

Unfortunately, Tiger didn’t help the situation. Apparently in the year before this all played out, another cat owning family had moved somewhere close by. A family whose cat was younger and tougher than Tiger, and who routinely beat the living crap out of him. Three times we had him at the vet’s office having abscesses on his face drained and festering wounds fixed, we assume incurred in territorial fights. So even if we’d ask someone if they’d please consider giving Tiger a home, he really didn’t present his best appearance. He was a bit shredded up.

So the day finally came, the day I’d become increasingly resigned to. With the way that everything else just fell into place, I’d hoped against all odds that surely something would happen and Tiger would find a home. But it never came to pass. The sale was closed, the furniture was gone, and we were moving to the Homewood Suites until we could get Eagle Too out of the shipyard and back in the water. And so I had to perform that duty that husbands and fathers often have to do. Rhonda and I hugged Tiger, and petted him, and thanked him for the fourteen years of love and companionship he’d given us. And then while she went outside to compose herself, I put him in his carrier and took him to the veterinarian’s office to be put down.


The last picture I can find of Tiger

It was a hard thing to do. Even now, almost a year later, I’ve had to take several breaks while writing this post. If circumstances had been different, maybe we’d have had other options. If he’d been younger, or more of an indoor cat, or even better able to tolerate a litter box, maybe we could have made it work. But we knew in our hearts that taking him from the only home he’d ever known, where he was free to roam over acres of fields and woodlands, and confine him to a 37 foot boat, would leave him miserable. I can’t imagine how he would have reacted the first time we threw off the lines and went for a sail. I know there are people who sail with cats onboard. We just couldn’t see Tiger adapting to that life. And so we did what we felt we had to do. But it was a cost that still takes a toll on us.

Was it worth the price we had to pay? Of course. Two people don’t make providing a home for a pet for the final two or three years of its life the focus of their lives. That would just be crazy. As I’ve said in several previous posts, you never know what the future may bring. Right now we have the family circumstances, the financial ability, and most importantly, the good health necessary to embark on a Life On The Hook™. If we’d sat around for three years waiting for Tiger to live out his time, who knows if any of those would have still been true.

But I can say with all my heart and soul that I wish it were a price that we had not had to pay.


No, we’re not the type of people who dress up our animals. I just thought this would be funny, and Tiger was willing to put up with it for a few minutes.

Lewmar Old Standard Ports – Fixing A Bad Design

If you have a boat of a certain age (built prior to 1998) there’s a good chance you have a few Lewmar ports onboard, of the design they call Old Standard. They appear to have been the go-to port for production boat builders in the 80’s and 90’s, probably because they were aggressively priced. For reasons known only to Lewmar (but probably related to hitting that aggressive price point) these ports were designed with a two piece aluminum frame, which were fitted together to form the completed port.


The problem with the ports and the reason I say it was a bad design is that Lewmar used a gasket or separator strip of some kind between the two frame pieces. A part that only appears to have had a lifespan of five to ten years before crumbling to dust due to UV exposure.


Once these separators finally crumble away, a direct path opens for water to leak past the port seal and enter your boat. Consequently there are hundreds, probably thousands, of boats out there with ports that drip, dribble or pour whenever it rains. Here’s one on Eagle Too where the previous owner tried to “fix” the problem with some silicon.


If you have this problem on your boat, you can do something about it without having to yank the ports out and replace them. If you’re tired of having to place pots and bowls to catch leaks whenever the skies threaten, then try this fairly simple and inexpensive fix.

First, pull together the following tools:


Use a scraper to remove any silicon or other caulk that may have been applied in a previous (probably futile) repair attempt. Then use the pick (or similar tool) to pick out all the decaying little remnants of whatever used to be in those slots. Next, use a small wire brush to scrub the slots clean and get every little last bit of crumbly old seal out, and follow up with a good wipe with an acetone soaked rag. Don’t use alcohol, as it can interfere with the curing of the caulk that’s to follow.

Then mask the now clean slots with painter’s tape.PortFix5PortFix6Next, use a black polysulphide caulk to completely fill these slots. You could probably use silicon if you must, but I’m one of those people who think silicon should never be allowed on a fiberglass boat. Plus if you use silicon you’ll probably be doing this job again in a few years.

Fill the slots full, and then use a tool of some sort to force it down into the slots and trowel it smooth. I find the little black plastic stirring sticks that West Marine sells for mixing epoxy work well.

PortFix7PortFix8Allow the caulk to cure until it has started to set, and then carefully peel away the painter’s tape. If you take your time with it, you’ll be rewarded with port frame seals that look factory new.PortFix9Will this stop your ports from leaking? Not necessarily. They are still 20 year old ports, afterall. But at the very least it should help significantly, and it could possibly fix the problem completely for the price of a tube of caulk and a couple of hours of your time. Plus they’ll look so much better when you’re done!

Striving For The Holy Grail

It took almost a year, but I’m proud to say that we’ve finally achieved that rarest and most elusive state, the Holy Grail of onboard habitability—the bone dry bilge. So uncommon is this condition that I once believed it to be a myth, an unattainable level of maritime perfection that could be constantly strived for, but never truly achieved. But with persistence and determination (and, as always, the liberal application of  dollars from the cruising fund), we finally accomplished it, and you probably can too if you want it badly enough.


A bone dry bilge that still shows the previous high tide line.

Why is a dry bilge important? For several reasons, I believe. First, as I described over a year ago in Oooh, That Smell, stagnant bilge water is a major source of odorous funk. We don’t like smelly boats, and we’re damn proud of the fact that over the past year, we believe we’ve successfully eliminated 95% of our onboard odeur. But it was always going to be a never ending battle unless we cured rather than just treated the sources of our smells. Replacing our permeated sanitation hoses made a huge difference. Upgrading the shower sump system helped a lot. And finding out what was constantly leaking water to the bilge and fixing it was another important part of our odor elimination strategy.

Second, it was a safety issue. It’s not the water outside the boat that sinks it, it’s the water within. The fact that there was always water in our bilge and the bilge pump would cycle on several times a day meant that the only thing keeping our boat afloat was our bilge pump. Now think about that for a moment. A boat with a value in the high-five-figures whose ability to continue floating depended entirely on the health and well-being of a $69 pump. We could vacuum our bilge dry, and a few days later, there would be six inches of water in it again and the bilge pump would start kicking on once more.  Just not a comfortable feeling. Like many (most?) boat owners, we lived in a continual state of slow motion sinking. Amazingly, most people seem to be perfectly OK with this. Us, not so much.

And then there’s the fact that keel bolts have been known to develop leaks over time. But if your bilge is constantly wet, you’ll never know. Before we take Eagle Too to the islands, I wanted to know that all was well with the keel and the bolts holding it on. And that meant we had to dry out the bilge and keep it that way.

And finally, we have plans to bring on 200 feet of chain for our new anchor rode, and I want to store the existing 100 feet somewhere onboard just in case it’s ever needed. The bilge would be a perfect spot, as it would put the 500 pounds of chain nice and low where the weight would increase rather than detract from our stability. But I really didn’t want to store it underwater. I’d prefer it stay dry to prevent it from rusting.

So here’s how we finally dried out the bilge. First, at our last haul out, we replaced our old packing-style shaft seal with a dripless model.


A shaft seal that relies on packing requires several drops a minute of leakage to keep the seal lubricated. Water that then finds its way to your bilge, where it sits and stagnates and becomes a bacterial theme park. The advantages of a dripless seal are, well, that they don’t drip. WIthout adding one of these, your quest for a dry bilge will be fruitless.

Please note in the picture above that the seal vent is on the right side of the unit. The installation instructions specifically say that the seal has to vent out the top, and not the side. But there isn’t enough room under the cabin sole to install it with the vent on top. So we did it this way, and it hasn’t been a problem. I just try and remember to feel the carbon rotor occasionally to make sure it’s not getting warm, which would indicate an air bubble had formed inside. If it ever did feel a little warm, all I’d have to do is push the seal back against the bellows for a moment to release a few drops of water and “burp” the seal.

Also, the installation instructions say that the vent line merely has to extend above the boat’s water line, and can be open. This would be a big mistake. We ran our vent line to an inexpensive radiator overflow bottle that we picked up at the auto parts store.

DryBilge3When you run the engine in reverse, we’ve learned that the prop wash pushes water up the seal’s vent line and into the reservoir. If we’d left the vent open to the air as the instructions directed, we’d have a little salt water fountain spraying on the engine whenever we backed the boat. We always back into our slip, and Rhonda usually empties about a half inch of water out of this reservoir after every underway.

Once we entered air conditioning season, the greatest source of water in the bilge was from the air conditioner’s condensate drain. It produced several gallons a day. At least it was fresh water. But it would still get stagnant and turn an ugly black color with the associated funky smell if we didn’t periodically dry and clean the bilge. Something had to be done. The something was this:

DryBilge4This is a kit made by Dometic that uses a small venturi installed in the air conditioning sea water cooling line to suck the condensate out of the unit’s drain pan and send it overboard. Here’s the inline filter and check valve:

DryBilge5and the venturi unit installed in the seawater line.


Here’s a little video of the unit working:

We’re now having to get used to the subtle sucking sound it makes whenever the air conditioned is running. Sort of like someone sucking a soda straw on an empty cup! But at least we can hear it’s working. Beware if the sucking ever stops, I suppose.

With the two biggest sources of water eliminated, we were down to just one last item—the refrigerator drain. Now we normally keep a rubber plug in the bottom of the refrigerator to avoid losing cold air to the bilge.

DryBilge8Whenever we defrost the freezer, a cup or two of water collects, and when I pull the plug, it drains to the bilge. But there’s a reason the sump box that the shower drains to has a couple of extra inputs. It’s so you can plumb in other lines that also need to be pumped overboard.

DryBilge9 It only took about an hour (and a brief trip to West Marine) to reroute the refrigerator drain from the bilge to the shower sump. As an added bonus, I also got to drill another hole in the boat, which, if you’ve been following along, you know I consider the hallmark of any worthwhile boat project.

DryBilge10 DryBilge11 DryBilge12

And that was it. It took a year to get around to it all, but our reward has been a bilge so dry we could use it for a paper towel and toilet paper locker!

Which I guess means our keel bolts are OK 🙂

Radar Love

I feel a real sense of accomplishment today. The latest round of our ongoing rolling refit is drawing to a close.  After spending the winter putting a project list together, and then placing a huge order with Defender in late March during their annual warehouse sale, Rhonda and I have been slowly working our way through the pile of boxes, installing, testing and learning to use stuff we feel Eagle Too needed to be a real cruising boat. Much of that work has been fodder for earlier posts. This week, we concluded this phase of the process by completing the radar installation. It was without a doubt the most difficult of all the jobs we tackled this summer. More than once I thought to myself, “Let’s just hire someone and get this whole thing done in a couple of hours.” But we’re just the type of people who believe if we can do it ourselves, we should, because that way we’ll know it’s done right, and we’ll better understand how everything is put together if we ever need to repair something. And you may remember that I once said doing things ourselves also leaves more cash for beer! 🙂

Radar4Here are some tips and lessons learned in case you ever consider doing this job yourself.

1. A hand held rivet gun is not up to the job of attaching a radar mount to a mast, even though it says it can pop a 3/16ths rivet. It’s a serious job, and you need a serious tool. Thank God for Harbor Freight. After a trip up the mast came to a premature end when I learned that I could squeeze till my fingers were purple and still couldn’t pop those rivets, I picked up one of these. Probably one of the best $20 I’ve spent this summer.

2. Radar cables are big. LIke as big around as your thumb big. Last year when we had the mast down, I’d run a messenger line through one of the mast’s internal conduits up to the steaming light thinking I could use that to pull the radar cable down through the mast when the time came. It just didn’t work. There was no way that cable was going down through that 1″ internal conduit. I had to take a hole saw and make a new, larger hole in the mast above the steaming light, drop a weighted line down the inside of the mast, and have Rhonda fish it out through the hole I cut at the mast base, and then use that to pull the cable down from above.


This meant that rather then being confined in a conduit, the nice fat heavy cable was free to swing around inside the mast, potentially clanging and clattering every time the boat heels. But some online research turned up a technique that I think will do the trick. Every 18″, I attached three zip ties spaced evenly around the cable.


The thinking is that they’ll act as stand-offs and help keep the cable centered inside the mast, preventing it from clanging when the boat rocks. Here’s a closer look.


So far it seems to be working. While sitting at the pier with the wind gusting and the boat rocking, there’s not a sound coming from inside the mast. That’s a good thing!

3. I always left all the tools and equipment on deck when I climbed the mast, and then would lower a 30 foot line with a big carabiner attached so that Rhonda could clip on a tool bag, the radar mount. or the radome (or something I dropped and needed to have sent back up). Remember to cover your deck with a tarp when working aloft or else your risk chips in the gel coat when you inevitably fumble finger something!

4. Our rigger told me that when it came time to haul up the radome, it worked best to put it in a mesh bag and use that to lift it up the mast. It was quite frankly scary as hell trying to use both hands to lift a 30 pound radome over my head and place it on the mount while hanging in a bosun’s seat, realizing that if something slipped and the radome fell, we’d be kissing almost two grand goodbye. But by having it in the mesh bag, I was able to set it on the mount and hand thread the mounting bolts through the bag and into the radome while keeping the bag tied off to my harness. If you look closely at the picture at the top of this post, you’ll see that the mesh bag with the radome inside is tied to my chair. Once I had all four mounting bolts started, I cut a slit in the bag, tore it open and pulled it off the radome. Worked like a charm!

So now, we can see in rain and fog, take the measure of approaching storms, and look around to make sure there are no big bad freighters barreling toward us in the dark of night. Yes, we have a big case of Radar Love!

Radar5There’s a lot going on in the picture above. On the left, you can see a chart displaying our boat in its slip at the bottom center. The three red triangles surrounding us are AIS contacts (other vessels transmitting AIS information). They’re red because they’re inside our half-mile guard zone, and thus indicated as “dangerous” contacts. On the right, you can see the same picture on radar. We’ll be spending a lot of time this fall running these two screens side by side so that we can learn what ships and bouys and things shown on the left of the display look like when seen on radar.

So are we done now? Of course not. Next up will be our big solar panel bimini project, meanwhile I have a somewhat unconventional idea on how to modify our lifelines in order to secure extra fuel cans topside. Stay tuned…

Don’t Wait Forever For Someday

Most people have a Someday plan. Someday they’ll do something, go somewhere, be something. Someday soon, hopefully. But not now. Because.

Life often sends people with Someday plans a message. A wake up call I guess you could say. The question is whether they listen or not.

I believe it was Wednesday when we got word that Tom had died. Brain cancer. We didn’t even know he was sick. We weren’t really friends, but we were friendly. The memorial was Friday at McGuires Irish Pub. He had worked there for a long time. The room was packed. There wasn’t a dry eye in sight when McGuires’s bagpipe band played Amazing Grace.

He was 58 years old.

I assume Tom had Someday plans. I really don’t know, we’d never talked about it. But most people do. Fifty-eight is too young to pass on to whatever is next. It’s the age when many of us are saying to ourselves, “Someday soon. But not quite yet.”

My point is that it’s important for us to each remember not to wait too long for Someday. Because far too often, Someday never comes. Something else happens instead. Something totally unexpected, that puts Someday forever out of reach.

We’ve made our choice. We’re on our way. So tell me, when is your Someday? And what are you waiting for?

OK. On a lighter note, (because I really don’t want to leave you depressed and introspective), I’d like to mention again how much we’re enjoying learning about this town that we’ve lived in for a very long time, but haven’t really experienced in a significant way until moving onto our boat downtown. We thought we’d scoped out the weekend’s events, and had several on our calendar. There were the dragon boat races and the Corvette show, Casablanca showing at the Saenger theater, and the Seahawks season opener at our usual sports bar. But I was clueless when Rhonda came home Friday afternoon and asked, “What are the white balloons for?”

“White balloons? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied.

“They’re all over,” she said.

Sticking my head up from down below, I could see she was right. There were indeed bunches of white balloons tied to every lamppost, street sign and park bench along the street next to the marina.

“Huh,” I said. “I have no idea. There weren’t there at lunchtime,” which was the last time I had been topside.

Later that evening, on our way back from Tom’s wake, the mystery of the white balloons was solved. DeLuna Plaza, at the foot of Palafox Street overlooking Pensacola Bay, was teeming with people. A huge crowd totally dressed from head to toe in white. There were rows of white linen covered tables, and the plaza was filled with the sound of a hundred conversations, laughter, and the clinking of champagne glasses. As we watched, it grew quiet, and then apparently on cue, everyone lit and held aloft a giant white sparkler. It was mesmerizing. I tried to take a picture. I wish it had turned out better.

EveningInWhiteWe had to know what was going on. We learned it was a flash mob event called An Evening In White. Originating in Paris, they’re now held all over the world. Apparently a sponsoring organization (in this case, the Junior League of Pensacola) plans the event as a charity fundraiser. Participants pay a fee ($30 pp in this case) to attend, but aren’t told the location of the event until noon the day of. Which is why we had no idea this was occurring right next to our marina, and explains the purpose of the mysterious white balloons. Google “Evening In White” to learn more. It’s an interesting story.

So late Sunday morning, as we’re walking the five blocks or so to the sports bar that reserves a section for our Seahawks fan group on game day, Rhonda noticed that the streets were eerily quiet. It was 11:30 on Sunday, but there were no cars on the streets. We soon noticed police cruisers blocking the major intersections. The roads were apparently closed for an event of some kind.

“Probably another race,” we said to each other. It seems there’s a 5K or fun run of some type every other weekend.

Well, we were partly right. It was a race. But not the kind we were expecting.

BikeRace2BikeRace3BikeRace4We watched them whiz past, trailed by a guy on a motorcycle wearing a jersey labeled “Official”. 

“Well that was cool,” I said. “Did you know anything about this?” I asked Rhonda.

“No, nothing,”

At the moment, it’s hard to find the time to fit in all the things we know about in this Summer Of Taking It All In. Now they’re even throwing stealth events at us!

All in all, not a bad problem to have.

God Bless you, Tom, you were a good man. I hope you made it to Someday before you left us.

Update: After writing this post, Rhonda received this video from a co-worker who’s with Pensacola Junior League.

A Toast To Your Continued Good (Battery) Health

We toasted our batteries yesterday. Literally. I put our four-stage battery charger in “equalize” mode and pushed the button. For the next four hours, our 12 volt batteries were fried with excess voltage like a condemned murderer sent to the electric chair, until the battery acid actually boiled. Why on earth did we do that? Because it’s good for them. To a flooded lead-acid battery, it’s like a rejuvenating day at the spa.

EqualizingNow the truth is, the batteries probably didn’t need equalizing. Since we’re mostly tied to the pier and running the battery charger from shore power, the batteries usually stay at a 100% state of charge. It’s when you’re actually out cruising and often don’t have the ability to fully charge the bank that it’s really necessary. When relying on wind, solar, or your engine to charge the batteries, they typically only get up to about 85% or 90% state of charge, and then the acceptance rate slows way down and they only take a trickle of additional juice. So you get tired of running the engine or the generator for hours on end to try and get that last 10–15%, or the sun starts to set on your solar panels, and charging stops. Then that part of your battery that didn’t get charged starts to build up a hard sulphate layer, reducing the battery’s capacity. The purpose of equalizing is to give the batteries a controlled overcharge to convert that lead sulphate (the bad stuff that just takes up space in your battery) back into lead oxide (the good stuff that actually holds a charge).

For the more technically minded among you, here’s what’s going on. This is something I used to have to be able to recite in my sleep back in my submarine days, where as you can imagine, proper care and feeding of the ship’s batteries is a pretty important thing.


Do you need to know this in order to go cruising? Not really. It’s more important that you just have a general understanding of what’s going on and why.

So it’s a new month, and it’s once again time to check the fluid level in our batteries. As I had mentioned in the post More Power Scotty! Part Two, flooded lead acid batteries are by far the best bang for the buck for powering your cruising boat, provided you have the discipline to maintain the fluid levels! We check ours the first week of every month (and spray the terminals with anti-corrosion spray). They were starting to look a little low last month, so I expected them to need some topping off this time. Since it’s normal to have to add some water after equalizing, I thought I’d go ahead and do it before topping off the cells.

But why run an equalization if they didn’t need it? Well, these batteries have been on board now for about five or six months, and I’d noticed that after returning from an afternoon sail or a night at anchor and plugging back into shore power, they were taking noticeably longer to get back to a 100% state of charge. They’d make it to 99.6% or so and then just sit there for a day before they’d finally reach 100%. Now I realize this doesn’t sound like much, I mean, what’s .4% of a 645 amp bank after all? (umm, about two and a half amps). But it looks like it’s going to be another six months or so before we can finally throw off the dock lines and head out, and I want to make sure that when that day comes, our batteries are completely healthy.

Besides, it’s a button that I haven’t pushed in a while (just once when we first installed the batteries) and, well, if you know anything about me, you know how hard it is for me to keep my hands off buttons and knobs and things. 🙂

A Brief Pause For A Message From Our Sponsors

If you’ve been following Life On The Hook™ for a while, you may have noticed a recent change. We installed a plug-in that allows Google to embed ads in our posts. We didn’t originally intend to try and monetize this site. The cost to own a URL and manage a blog is really pocket change in the grand scheme of things. But here’s why this became important.

As we mentioned in The Evolution Of A Possible Plan, we intend for Cuba to be our first stop when we leave Florida. It makes life so much easier to be able to use Cuba to work your way east to the Caribbean or west to Mexico rather than having to avoid this 760 mile (1,200 km) landmass directly to our south. But there are still some restrictions in place for Americans who want to visit the island nation. You have to have a legitimate reason to travel there. And “tourism” or “it’s a convenient stop on our way to Mexico” aren’t on the list of reasons that the US Government will accept.

But we can self-certify under the “journalist” license and travel to Cuba to do research. Now normally this would require you to hold actual journalist credentials for a recognized network or news organization. But the rules are constantly relaxing as the definition of “journalist” changes to meet modern realities. More people get their news from blogs and websites now than from newspapers, afterall.

So here’s where the ads become important. Now that we’re allowing advertising to be placed on the site, our writing is providing a small but steady income stream. This means LOTH™ is now a commercial site, and we are basically professional writers (because we’re earning income from it, afterall). So viola, we can self-certify as journalists under the general license and legally travel to Cuba! As long as we write about it (which you know we will), or do research for future books or articles (which is sort of the plan). And being able to point to a tangible site that’s actually generating income that’s reported to the IRS makes it real and indisputable, rather than just a possible future intention.

We hope the type, number and placement of the ads doesn’t detract from your reading experience. Let us know if you’d like us to change something, and we’ll consider it. In the meantime, if you’d like to help us move closer to our goals, please take a moment to visit (click on) any of the sponsored links that peak your interest. It won’t cost you a thing (except the half-calorie you’ll burn twitching your index finger) and will help us show the government that we are indeed engaged in legitimate journalistic activity.

I should mention that there’s still the issue of the temporary export license for the boat that the Department of Commerce requires to sail your own vessel to Cuba. But I couldn’t help but notice that the latest issue of Cruising World featured a cover article about a group that sailed to Cuba. In the article, they admitted that they hadn’t obtained the necessary export license. But they felt comfortable enough about it to allow the magazine to feature a picture of their boat sailing in Havana harbor on the cover.


As Bob Dylan once said:

Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown. The times, they are a changin.

We Thought We Understood That There Was To Be Sailing

Editor’s Note: The following is based on an actual conversation but has been edited to fit within the confines of a normal attention span. The actual dialog took place over several days.

“So do you want to take the boat out for the Labor Day weekend?” Rhonda asked.

“Sure, that sounds good. It’s been a while since we’ve spent a night out at anchor.”

“Where do you want to go?” she asked.

“How about Big Lagoon this time instead of Little Sabine,” I suggested. “We haven’t spent a night there yet this season.”


“Although on Saturday morning I’d really like to go up the mast and see if I can finish getting the radar installed,” I said. “I think one more day and it will be done.”

“OK, then we can go Saturday afternoon,” Rhonda said.

“Wait, isn’t the Saenger Theater showing Young Frankenstein Saturday night as part of their classic movie series? I asked.

“Yes, and Chris (our oldest son) said he’d like to go see that with us,” Rhonda confirmed. “There’s also fireworks that night at the Blue Wahoo’s stadium. The last ones of the season.”

“Hmmmm,” I thought. “Well, I guess we could go see the show and then come back to the boat and watch the fireworks. Maybe we can get up early Sunday and head out.”

“What time?” Rhonda asked. She’s still punching a clock Monday through Friday, and is no more a fan of early mornings on the weekends than I.

“Oh, 7:30 or 8:00 maybe. We could do a quick breakfast and then head out.”

“I’m pretty sure the bathtub races and anything-that-floats contest is Sunday at the Portofino Boardwalk,” she pointed out.

“What time?”

“We’d need to be there by 1:00 to make sure we don’t miss it again.”

“That will be cutting it a bit close. By the time we sail over to the beach, get anchored, launch the dinghy and put the outboard on, and then motor in, well….”

“We’ve been wanting to see it but we’ve always had something else going on,” Rhonda reminded me.

“OK, well, we can drive out to the beach I guess. By the time we make it back though, it’ll probably be a bit late to be heading out on the water.

“So, a daysail on Monday?”

Which is what we ended up doing. It was a wonderful five hour tour of the bay and we really enjoyed ourselves (and Rhonda caught a fish!), but it was far from the three day weekend at anchor off the national seashore that we first envisioned.

“So, think we can try to spend next weekend out?” I asked.

“Next Saturday is the Dragon Boat Festival. And they’re showing Casablanca at the Saenger. And then Sunday is the Seahawks season opener. You’re supposed to be finding a place for the peeps to get together to watch the game, by the way.”

“Oh yeah…”

And so the season has gone. As I mentioned in The Summer Of Taking It All In, since it might be a while before we spend another summer in Pensacola, we’re trying to remedy the fact that we’ve lived here for years but have missed many of the local things to see and do because of other obligations. Which means there isn’t as much sailing occurring as we would have thought.

But I will say this—when we awake every morning to the crackling sound of “little munchers” (what we call the small fish that nibble on our hull’s underwater growth), grill dinner most evenings on our cockpit barbeque, and have the opportunity to toast the sunset from our deck every night, well, maybe there isn’t quite the urgency to get underway that we once felt when boat time was measured in the few precious days we could carve out of our busy dirt dwelling lives.

“Maybe the weekend after that…” I tentatively suggested.

Gallery Night,” Rhonda replied with a gentle smile.

“Oh yeah. And there’s a show at Pensacola Little Theater that looks interesting…”

And so it goes…

Can You Hear Me Now? (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The PL-259)

This is a tale about how starting down one path can often lead you in new and unexpected directions. Being a boat tale, it of course involves a bit of anxiety, some determination, and the liberal application of dollars to finesse a solution (and purchase some new tools!).

After several weeks of start and stop progress, I was finally in the last stages of installing our AIS system (don’t worry, there will be a blog post on that soon). One of the final steps involved pulling the VHF radio to disconnect the antenna cable and reroute it to the new AIS antenna splitter so that both the AIS and VHF could share the same antenna. That’s when I noticed this:

PL259-1That’s your typical VHF cable connector, what’s known in the radio world as a PL-259. I couldn’t help but notice that the black cable jacket had pulled out of the body of the connector, exposing some of the cable shield. Hmmm. Better take a closer look. Unscrewing the body of the connector, I discovered this:

PL259-2This particular model of PL-259 (there are several) requires that you solder the outer connector shell to the shield braid. There are four holes where solder should be applied. But only one had solder in it. The other three were empty. Does it matter? The cable was passing a signal, because we could send and receive on the VHF, but there was a bit more static than I liked. Besides, it wasn’t right, which means it bugged me. So now I wondered “hmmm, I wonder what my other connectors look like.” There are two more at the mast base, where you can split the cable if it’s necessary to take the mast down. The first one was also only soldered in one spot:

PL259-3Now maybe this is accepted practice in the radio world, I can’t really say for sure. Maybe some of my Ham radio friends can set me straight on this. But I can’t help think that there are four holes there for a reason, and that reason probably isn’t to let you pick your favorite one to use and ignore the rest. Regardless, when I checked the next connector, I knew it wasn’t right:


While it was indeed soldered at each of the (slightly differently shaped) holes, I could clearly see that they were all cold solder joints.


The solder had stuck to the wire shield, but it hadn’t been heated enough to actually flow into the braided shield. This means it wasn’t the best electrical connection.

So why does any of this matter? I mean, the radio was working, right? Well, it all basically comes down to range. If you’re getting signal loss in your cable due to crappy, high resistance connections, then not as much radio energy is making it to the antenna, which means you can’t transmit as far. It might not make a difference when you only sail in bays, but since we intend to be heading offshore in the future, well, I wanted to know we could reach out and touch people from the greatest distance possible.

Now that i knew these connectors weren’t right, I wouldn’t stop worrying about them until I did something. That usually starts with research. I found what I needed at my go-to site for boat projects, Compass Marine.

Easy VHF Connections

One of the things I learned is that soldering your cable connectors can cause a problem. The inside of the cable, the part that insulates the center conductor, is made of a plastic material, and too much heat can melt it. Soldering it correctly, where you melt the solder enough to flow into the braid, but not overheat the plastic insulator, is a bit of an art. I elected instead to use crimped on connectors. No heat means no melted insulator and fewer opportunities to screw something up.


Now Hunter Marine used RG-213 coaxial cable when they built Eagle Too. That’s good, because it’s a nice heavy duty grade of cable (e.g. low signal loss over a long run). But it’s larger than what your typical marine electronics shop stocks, which means I had to go to the internet to find the tools I needed.

PL259-8The crimping tool (top center) and cable stripper (bottom left) I found on Amazon as a set for $43. The critical dimension for the crimper is .429. If you ever need one, just ensure it has a .429 die and says it works for RG-213 cable (your size may vary).

PL259-9The stripper makes short work of preparing the cable. You just clamp it on the end of the cable and spin it around a few times, and three inset blades make the precise cuts necessary so that you end up with this:

PL259-13You can do it yourself with a sharp knife and some patience, but the tool literally makes a 30 second job of it. If the blades are a little off and cut a bit too deeply or not quite deep enough, there are adjustment screws on the bottom (and an included allen wrench that stores in the handle) to precisely set the blades for your cable.

PL259-10The PL-259 crimp fittings I found for $2.30 each on eBay. They’re good quality, with silver plated surfaces and a teflon insulator. I bought 10 in order to have a few to practice with. The cable cutter (lower right in the tool picture) was actually something I was able to pick up at Home Depot for about 12 bucks. You definitely want to use a cable cutter when cutting coax, and not wire cutters, as the wire cutters will crush and deform the cable.

Once the cable end is prepped, you slide on a length of shrink tubing, then the compression sleeve, and then push the fitting onto the end, making sure that the braided shield slides up over the collar on the fitting.

PL259-14Then you slide the compression sleeve up over the braid and fitting collar:

PL259-15And crimp it:


Slide the shrink tubing over the crimped area and hit it with a heat gun, and you’re almost done (this is a picture of my finished practice piece).

PL259-12The last step is to hit the center pin with a soldering iron to solder the center conductor to the pin. Yes, I said there’d be no soldering, but this step is easy to do without melting anything:

PL259-19And that’s about it. The first one probably took me an hour to do. The second one took ten minutes. By the time I did the two at the mast, I was probably down to three to five minutes each:

PL259-18Did it make a difference? I think so. Maybe it was just a little projection on my part, but after I was done, an automated radio check on channel 27 (you’re not one of those people constantly requesting radio checks on channel 16, are you?) seemed to return a clearer signal. If nothing else, I feel a lot better about the long term durability of these connections. Plus it’s one more hat I can hang in my hat locker.

There’s only one problem now. There’s still one more fitting that needs to be done. The one at the antenna itself. Which is exactly 65 feet above my head. Do I hear any volunteers?