November is upon us, and hurricane season is winding down. We’ve had a leisurely five months relaxing here in Pensacola while waiting it out, but now it’s time to prepare for round three of our Life On The Hook™.
If you’ve been following along, you may remember that during round one (our shakedown cruise), we explored Florida’s west coast and the Keys, northwestern Cuba , the Mexican island of Isla Mujures and the Dry Tortugas. For round two, we gunkholed through the Bahamian Exuma island chain. So where to next? Well, it’s already getting too darn cold here in Pensacola for our thin blood, so in the next few weeks we’ll be heading back to St. Petersburg, where we have a reservation at the Municipal Marina for the remainder of the year. Then? We’re not completely sure. We’ve only seen about 20% of the Bahamas, so there are a whole lot of islands left to experience. We know of at least three or four boats here in our marina that have plans to spend the winter there, so maybe we’ll meet up in a big flotilla.
But we’re also thinking about submitting another request to the Coast Guard to return to Cuba. During our previous two week visit, we barely scratched the surface of that interesting and perplexing place. We also long to spend some more time in Mexico. So we’ll see. That’s the great thing about cruising. You don’t necessarily need a definite plan. Just be ready for opportunities as they present themselves, and then follow your whims and impulses!
So now it’s time for the getting ready part. We’ve started bringing back onboard all the cruising gear that we offloaded when we returned home last June.
Our dinghy needed a new inflatable keel, so we ordered the part from Boats.net and dropped it off at the inflatable boat repair shop. It’s back now, and we’ve had it inflated on the pier checking for leaks in preparation for lashing it back on deck.
Our outboard is now five years old and still on its first water pump impeller. During several of our long dinghy rides down in the islands, the thought would cross my mind that it would really suck if the impeller failed and the engine overheated and I had to row all the way back. For peace of mind I wanted to install a new one.
Some people wait until the part fails before doing this necessary chore. But I’m Navy taught, and I have a strong belief in preventative maintenance. Considering how old it was, ours was still in pretty good shape. It had a definite set, but hadn’t lost any vanes yet. New on the left, old on the right:
We’ve had two persistent issues with our VHF radio and AIS sytem, which piggybacks on the VHF. We’ve been told that when we transmit from our remote mic, we have a bad buzz in our signal. Also, we get an intermittent AIS alarm that indicates a VSWR fault, which means a problem with the radio signal transiting the antenna system. I’ve always suspected that the problem was coming from the VHF antenna jumper that came with our AIS antenna splitter. It’s way too small in my opinion, and I wanted to replace it with a spare length of RG213 coax I had in the spares box.
Here’s the much-too-small jumper that I replaced. The new one is about as thick as my index finger (I forgot to take a picture) I took our handheld VHF and walked around the marina while talking to Rhonda, and everything seems to be working fine now. Hopefully this will also cure the intermittent AIS VSWR alarm.
While I had my arms inside the pedestal, I tightened the set screws on the autopilot drive gears, adding a lock washer to the lower one. Both top and bottom gears had worked themselves a bit loose and the steering was getting some slop in it.
Our batteries are approaching their third birthday, which makes them about 35 years old in people years. To make sure they still have what it takes to power us through another cruising season, I first turned off the battery charger for a few days, letting the batteries float on the solar panels. I wanted to run the batteries down until the amp meter read about 75% state of charge and then check the gravities in each cell.
All cells measured 1.250 specific gravity, which indicates about an 80% state of charge, and they were all equal. This tells me that our batteries are still young at heart, and we can trust the amp hour meter to give us an accurate reading.
Work continues on our dodger, which should be finished in the next few days.
Our sternrail sports a brand new barbeque. While the old one was only a little over three years old, the internals had started rotting away. Apparently when exposed to high temperatures, stainless steel loses its chromium and nickle, turning it into just plain carbon steel, which then rusts away. When we priced out buying all new internal parts, it was actually cheaper to throw the darn thing away and buy a new one.
The instructions on the new one say that for maximum life, you should thoroughly clean the interior after each use. Rhonda and I got a good chuckle out of that. As in, “Yeah, sure, I’m going to dismantle the grill and scrub all the parts clean every time we grill steaks.” Not.
We’ve reactivated our InReach satellite communicator in preparation for offshore passages and have installed the latest updates. Garmin lets you turn off your account when you don’t need to use the device, which saves us $69 a month when we’re not out cruising.
And we folded up our bikes and zipped them into their storage bags. This time, we’re going to find a home for them down below when we get underway. We learned with our last set that living on the lifelines is fatal to bicycles.
We still have the last big provisioning run to complete, the one where we load up on several months worth of pasta and Spam and rum and coffee. But we’re almost ready to go, so it won’t be long before our bow is once again pointed south in search of warmer temperatures. As if in acknowledgment of our pending departure, we received a farewell fireworks salute from our neighbors at the maritime park.
It’s been a good summer, Pensacola, and we’ve enjoyed the time back home reconnecting with family and friends. But it was 45° F when we woke up yesterday morning, and that means it’s about time for us to go.