Rhonda and I have thoroughly enjoyed our month here at Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg, and we’ll probably soon have another post or two that talks about some of the things we’ve seen or done while here, but it’s time to move on. The engine checks are complete, the bikes are lashed down on-deck, the speed sensor is re-installed, and Eagle Too is ready to get underway. We postponed our departure by a day to allow an intense storm front to blow through, but tomorrow morning and the next few days are supposed to be beautiful, so after a quick breakfast we’ll be bringing in the lines and pointing the bow south. Next stop—Sarasota, where we’ll take a mooring for a few days. I hope that this time we’ll be able to linger long enough to visit the Ringling Museum!
I spent about 30 minutes today working on a little task that probably did as much to increase our safety and security here aboard Eagle Too as almost any of the many other improvements we’ve performed in the last few years. What was it, you might ask? Well, I’ll show you.
If you own a boat, you know how vital a good anchor and a robust anchor rode (chain and/or line that attaches the anchor to the boat) are. When you’re sitting at anchor and the wind picks up or a storm passes through, your boat’s safety is completely dependent on the ability of your ground tackle (anchor, rode and associated components) to hold up. A 20,000 pound boat like ours, being battered by 40 knot winds, can create hundreds, even thousands of pounds of force yanking on the anchor. But even though we carry a two-sizes-too-big anchor and almost 300 feet of high-test (G4) chain, I’ve always been a little concerned about the weak link in the system, the piece that ties it all together—the shackle.
When it comes right down to it, no matter how over-sized your anchor or robust your rode, that little link of cast metal is all that stands between you and being dashed against the shoreline in a blow. The problem is that not all shackles are created equal. The 3/8ths shackle we’ve been using for the last few years was one we picked up at West Marine for about $5.
If you look closely, you’ll see that the shackle is stamped WLL1T. This means that it’s rated for a working load limit of one ton. Now a ton might sound like a lot. But when a really good blow gets the boat sailing around at anchor, jerking up short on the rode as it completes each arc, the shock loading can be pretty intense.
So today I replaced that shackle with a new one. It’s the same size as the old one. But look closely…
It’s a bit hard to make out in the photo, but this shackle is stamped WLL2T. Same size shackle, but rated for twice the load of the previous one. Why the difference? Pretty simple really. Let’s look at the other side.
The new one is stamped “USA”. Now go back and take another look at the first one. You’ll see that it’s stamped “China”. And that’s all you need to know. The new one is the same size shackle, but much better quality, resulting in twice the load rating. It’s a Crosby G-209A, which you can pick up from Defender for a whopping $15.
Here’s another look at the issue. I dug though our parts box, and found another shackle onboard with a 2 ton rating.
The one on the left is another Chinese made item, and is way too big to work with our 5/16ths chain. But even though it’s much meatier than the Crosby shackle on the right, they both have the same load rating!
If all you ever intend to do is occasionally drop the hook to grab lunch, then any old shackle should do. But if your goal is to cruise, and you want to be ready for whatever Mother Nature might throw at you, then do yourself and your boat a favor, spend the few extra dollars, and just say no to cheap Chinese shackles.
On Saturdays, St. Petersburg puts on a big public market in the parking lot of Al Lang Stadium, the waterfront home of the local soccer team the Tampa Bay Rowdies. It was a quick 10 minutes by bike from our marina, a popular form of transportation in this town where the sun seems to almost always shine.
It took over an hour to explore it all.
There was a fabulous selection of produce…
…and a wide variety of food and crafts, along with live music.
It was yet another delightful adventure in this town that we’ve lingered in to explore in depth.
We’ve relaxed into a comfortable routine during our time here in St. Petersburg. For example, yesterday was Tuesday, which means it was movie day. Every Tuesday the Sundial Muvico, a large multiplex theater that’s a ten minute bike ride from our marina, offers $5 tickets and deeply discounted concessions.
So for three weeks now, we plan our Tuesdays around the afternoon matinee schedule. The first week we saw Rogue One, and last Tuesday we caught Passengers. This week, looking for a change of pace, we watched a little jewel of a movie called Collateral Beauty.
Do yourself a favor and go see this film. I don’t care what the reviews say on Rotten Tomatoes. If you can make it to the end of this movie without shedding a tear (or a flood of them), you have no heart.
Anyway, today is Wednesday, which means it’s dinner at The Hanger, where they offer their $12 gourmet cheeseburger for half price. So I’m pretty sure I know what we’ll be doing this evening. 🙂
But our time in St. Petersburg is growing shorter, and we’re starting to look at what comes next. Over my morning coffee, in addition to catching up on the latest news, I’ve started perusing the Waterway Guide to outline some possible options for our next few stops. And today, we’ve started some of the maintenance chores we’ve been putting off until we were closer to moving again.
For instance, before putting too many more hours on the engine, I wanted to make sure our shaft alignment was still within specification. We last aligned the shaft after reinstalling our rebuilt transmission while we were at Pensacola shipyard. But the boat was on the hard (out of the water, supported by stands) at the time. And here’s the thing about fiberglass boats—they’re made of plastic, and they bend. Sitting on stands doesn’t support the boat the same way as floating in water does. I know this is true because while we were on the hard, we noticed that the cockpit seat that has to be flipped down in order to access our swim platform would wedge and jam, making it difficult to open. It was due to the way the hull was being flexed on the stands, and the problem completely went away once Eagle Too was floating again.
So while we had gotten the alignment dead-on in the shipyard, I wanted to make sure it was still running true. If you have a boat with a direct shaft, it’s not really a difficult task (if you have a V-drive, best of luck to you. And if you have a saildrive, just completely disregard what I’m about to say. And check for corrosion. Daily! 🙂
Basically, checking the alignment just requires removing the coupling bolts.
Then you measure the gap between the coupling faces with a feeler gauge. The general rule of thumb is that you’re allowed up to a .001″ gap (that’s one one-thousandth of an inch) per inch of coupler diameter. So for our 4 inch coupler, I was looking for less than a .004″ gap at any point around the circumference.
I used the .002″ feeler gauge, and it wouldn’t slip between the coupler faces at any point. So we’re good. While our boat may have been bending a bit while on the hard, it apparently wasn’t enough to upset the alignment. I’m glad everything checked out OK, because if it turns out that your alignment is off, you have to start loosening engine mounts and making adjustments, and that’s just way too much to get into today. Google it if you need to know how, as you’ll find several really good online guides on how to do the job.
While I was back there, i also checked our transmission fluid, and I’m happy to say that it’s still nice and pink after about 35 hours of use, rather than brown and burnt smelling. So far it seems that sending the unit out to be rebuilt was definitely the right thing to do, and will hopefully allow us to have weeks, months, years of trouble-free travel in the future.
To finish up, I pulled the vacuum breaker on the vented loop, cleaned it and reinstalled it. It had started leaking a little salt water onto the top of the engine while motoring. These vents usually have some type of little rubber flapper or check valve inside, and in time they’ll usually accumulate some salt crystals and start to leak a bit. Normally a good freshwater flush is all they need.
A quick check of all the hose clamps (there are a LOT of hose clamps on our engine, and I always find a few loose ones that need tightening), belt tension (no more belt dust to clean up since we put a new pulley on the alternator during our refit), and a look at the fluid levels and fuel filter bowl, and our engine underway checks are basically done.
We can’t say for sure yet what our next stop will be, but I’m confident now that if called upon, the engine will be ready!
First, the good news. The bikes are still doing their intended job, getting us around town to stores, bars, restaurants and local attractions. Now that we’re back in the very bicycle-friendly city of St. Petersburg, we’re using them almost daily, and we peddled the heck out of them when we were down in Marathon in the Florida Keys. And people will often say “nice bikes!” to us as we ride by.
One thing we changed almost immediately was the stock seats the bikes came with. After a few longish rides, I was noticing the narrow, hard seat was causing some, ahem, discomfort in places where I’d rather not be feeling pain, and Rhonda didn’t particularly care for the way hers felt either. So both bikes now have cruising saddles with wider seats and spring suspension for a more comfortable ride. Mine also has the anatomically correct (and pretty darn important) furrow down the middle to relieve pressure on certain essential nerves. We also added some small LED lights to make riding at night a bit safer.
In the so-so news department, we learned that while the bikes are mostly made of aluminum and stainless steel, they actually snuck in quite a few mild steel parts. A lot of the nuts and various fasteners, while still doing their jobs, are getting pretty rusty. And it turns out that most of the front forks have turned a deep copper color due to corrosion, and the front suspension tubes have to be regularly sprayed with penetrant and lubricant or else they just seize up.
Now the bad news. The biggest problem has been how totally unsuitable for the marine environment the original bike chain and brake/shift cables are. When we first set out to cruise full time, we stored the bikes folded in storage bags lashed to the lifelines. This keeps the sun off them, but it unfortunately traps moisture, which viciously attacks the steel parts. When we broke out the bikes in Marathon, the chain on Rhonda’s bike had corroded into a flakey clump of rust, and I had to work through the chain link by link with pliers and penetrant to get it to function. Once we returned to Pensacola, the gears on both bikes froze, refusing to shift any longer. It took two days at the bike shop to get them back on the street. The shop replaced the galvanized shift cables with stainless wire, added full-length cable sleeves in place of the partial sleeves the bike had originally, and fitted new, corrosion resistant chains.
We decided when we headed back out last December for the next leg of our adventure that we’d just store the bikes on deck sans bags. We remove the seats to store below and collapse the handlebars, and then just bungie cord them to the lifelines. They’re exposed to the sun every day, but we’re hoping that regular fresh water rinsing from rain or a dock hose and having the chance to dry out more often will slow down the rust.
So 18 months later, our Back Bay folding bikes are still serving our needs. But we’ve had to spend an amount equal to the original purchase price on upgrades and repairs to keep them functioning. We’ll still recommend them, because after all, a boat is a pretty harsh environment. Just be aware that you’re going to have to do some upgrading if you want them to go the distance.
A friend back home in Pensacola who follows our blog recently texted. He said Rhonda and I are living La Dolce Vita, or The Sweet Life. Now I can’t say that a cruising life is the never-ending vacation that some people might imagine, but I have to admit it can often be quite sweet. For example, when we passed through St. Petersburg, Florida back in April on our way to Cuba, we couldn’t linger long. But we knew we’d love to come back again someday. Well, it’s someday, and now that we’re here again, the fact that we live the cruising life means we can stay as long as we’d like. Really get to know the town. Here’s just a taste.
We arrived two days before Christmas, and enjoyed biking around, taking in the holiday decorations.
There’s a Publix supermarket just a five minute bike ride north of us, and we take great advantage. Departure planning and preparations took up so much of our December that we forgot to plan holiday meals, and found ourselves on Christmas Eve with nothing good in the larder for Christmas dinner. But a quick stop at Publix, where we found the perfect boat-friendly rib roast (i.e. on the smallish side to fit our oven), and we were all set for a truly terrific meal.
Love those LED candles, by the way. They add just the perfect touch of atmosphere, without setting off our smoke detectors!
As we pointed out last April in our post St. Petersburg And A Very Good Day, this is a terrific town to explore by bicycle. And one of the things we’ve noticed as we’ve cycled up and down the streets and avenues is that a good nickname for the town would be “City Of A Hundred Fountains.” They really like fountains here. Big fountains,
even fountains in restaurants.
I could probably do a lengthy post on just the fountains of St. Pete. Maybe I will someday. 🙂
When we arrived in town, we took a chance on a marina we’d never been to before when it turned out that there was no room at the inn (the municipal marina). The Harborage Marina at Bayboro is located less than a mile south of downtown, immediately adjacent to the University of South Florida St Petersburg campus.
We initially had our doubts, because we really enjoyed the municipal marina’s location right in the middle of downtown. But Harborage does have some advantages. The biggest is the floating docks, which are actually hard to find in these parts. We’re less than five minutes from the heart of town by bike, and it’s a pleasant ride, past the USFSP campus and several small parks (which this town has in abundance).
While researching the marina on Active Captain, we saw mention of a nice restaurant at the nearby Albert Whitted airport. Since it was so close, we thought we’d give it a try.
They have a $6 gourmet cheeseburger special every Wednesday, and so far we’ve been there two Wednesdays in a row. It’s fun to have a tasty and inexpensive dinner while watching the planes and helicopters arrive and depart.
Exploring the local dining options is one of our favorite activities, and we love how many bars and restaurants here are set up for al fresco dining. Eating outside in January (and being comfortable doing it!) just never gets old. We watched the Seahawks play at The Avenue.
And we try to catch the happy hour at 400 Beach as often as we can, as they have half price draught beer and house wines from 3 to 6 PM.
It’s hard to beat $3 for a cold pint while people watching and taking in the street scene. Plus it’s right across from the north yacht basin, so there are boats. Boats make everything better. 🙂
Even though it’s in the heart of downtown, when you sit down in the courtyard at Red Mesa Cantina for dinner, you feel like you’re someplace truly distant and exotic. The surrounding wall of bamboo completely shuts out the city. And there’s a fountain.
We even found a family run Cuban cafe just down the street from the Post Office. It’s fun to talk to people who run a Cuban restaurant about our experiences in Cuba.
Eventually, perhaps in a couple more weeks, we’ll continue our journey south. But for now, we’re content to linger. Afterall, we’re in a place where the birds you see in trees and on power lines are likely to be parrots,