Author Archives: Robert

Waiting On COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Con: If we get sick, we could die.

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

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

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

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

For now, stay safe and keep washing those hands!

Naked Gennie’s New Shoes

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

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

This is where Gennie usually lives.

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

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

This is Gennie naked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloodwork For Your Engine

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

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

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

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

The package that arrived from Blackstone Labs

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

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

Bottled up, ready for return

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

Your Papers, Please

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

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

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

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

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

Solar Breakdown

With several trips planned over the summer, and due to the fact that it’s really too darned hot to use the boat much in July and August anyway, we thought it would be prudent to strip the solar panels off our bimini. That way, if some tropical weather developed while we were off elsewhere, it would be one less thing to worry about.

(If you haven’t been around long enough too have read the original post from back when we designed and installed our solar charging system, here it is:  Our Vision Realized)

One advantage of flexible solar panels is that it’s not a major task to remove them and pack them away. Disconnect the wiring connections and release the fasteners holding them to the bimini, and you can just slide them off and store them below. It doesn’t even require any tools. But when I started taking things apart, I discovered a very unpleasant fact. The system I’d designed used several rigid MC4 adapters to electrically combine the panels. And almost every one of them had failed in some way.

Here’s a 3-to-1 combiner I removed. You can clearly see that the left leg is cracked and failing, the center one is more or less OK, but the right one has broken off completely.

This was typical of all the combiners I removed. Nothing was holding a lot of these wiring connections together except friction.

Once I pulled everything apart, I made a small pile of everything in the system that had failed in some way.  Amazingly, the system was still working fine, but a good tug on many of the panel leads would have pulled them completely loose from these broken combiners.

The majority of these parts were tucked into pockets in the bimini, so I know UV exposure wasn’t the problem. Either they got brittle and delicate in their four years of use, or some sort of stress, possibly caused by the bimini flexing in the wind, was breaking them.

I scratched my head a bit and thought about a solution. The system I designed needs these combiners to tie our six solar panels together in the series/parallel circuit I’d layed out. They’re pretty important parts. But I didn’t want to just replace them with more of the same now that I saw such a high failure rate.

Fortunately, some research turned up a solution. Rather than rigid combiners, I found that they also make these MC4 pigtails. The piece on the right is a direct replacement for the old one on the left below.

I’m thinking these pigtail-type combiners will be a lot more forgiving of twists and torques than the old ones were. I ordered enough to replace all the existing connectors.

We don’t have a lot of travel planned between now and the end of hurricane season, and it’s finally cooling down enough to start spending some time out on the water again , so we recently re-assembled our solar system using these new parts. Everything snapped together fine, and seems to be working well. Check back in a few years for an update on how these new parts hold up!

In the meantime, if you happen to be designing and installing your own solar charging system, you might want to consider the type of MC4 combiner to use. I just can’t recommend the rigid ones for marine use.

The Verdict Is In

In a couple of previous posts titled “It’s Stupid Cheaper,” and “No Longer The Generous Neighbor,” I talked about how sick and tired we were of having to provide zinc anode protection to our entire marina, requiring us to replace our shaft zincs about every six weeks. (They’re both pretty good posts from back in the day before we actually headed out on the deep blue, so you might want to give them both a quick read.)

Well, installing that galvanic isolation Klingon cloaking device (which won’t make much sense if you didn’t read those posts like I suggested…) has definitely turned out to be a great investment. We spent most of last week out on local waters, and one of the chores I tackled was replacement of our shaft zincs.

Now I’ll admit that the old zincs that I removed were looking pretty darned crusty. But believe it or not, these babies had been installed over a YEAR ago!

You heard that right, ladies and gentlemen. These two shaft zincs had been installed over a year previously. A year in which Eagle Too was pretty much continuously plugged into shore power, since we decided to buy a house last winter rather than head south.

So by making our boat electrically invisible to marina electrical systems, we’d stretched the life of our zincs from about six weeks to over a year. Pretty amazing.

Here’s a picture of old and new together. The old ones were definitely tired and worn, but they still had life left in them, and had obviously continued doing the job they were being paid to do.

So the verdict is in. Our ProSafe SF60 (i.e. Klingon cloaking device) is definitely performing for us. And for that, it goes on the exclusive list of Life On The Hook approved gear and gets our official LOTH Seal of Approval!

Thumbs-Up

Keeping Our Cool

We’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling lately. As a result, Eagle Too hasn’t been getting quite as much attention as she usually would. After returning from a recent trip to Disney World (we’re making the most our Florida resident annual passes!), we stopped by the boat to see how she was doing.

Unlocking the companionway and dropping into the cabin, we immediately noticed that the air conditioning wasn’t running. We normally leave it at 78° when we’re not onboard, to keep the boat dried out and resist the development of odors. But the AC wasn’t working, and the control panel was displaying the dreaded HPF code. A High Pressure Freon (or High Pressure Fault) code is usually a sign that the seawater suction strainer is clogged and the unit isn’t getting adequate cooling water flow.

Sure enough, our seawater strainer was completely clogged. But after cleaning the strainer and flushing some fresh water though the lines with a hose, we still couldn’t get the AC system to run for more than a few minutes before shutting down again with an HPF fault, even though we had good water flow through the system.

Something else was wrong. Some research indicated that we most likely had marine growth in our condenser, preventing the system from being able to properly cool the circulating hot refrigerant, creating a high pressure fault.

The next step here would be to do an acid flush of the seawater system to dissolve the internal growth and scale. But that requires re-plumbing the air conditioner to recirculate an acid solution to/from some sort of container, usually using a small submersible pump. I thought there had to be an easier way.

Here’s what I came up with. The first step was a quick stop at Harbor Freight to pick up a $6 fluid transfer pump.

Then I made a run to West Marine to buy a gallon of Barnacle Buster. It’s a product that’s made specifically for flushing marine sea water systems in a non-toxic, environmentally safe way. And unlike muriatic acid, the usual go-to product for air conditioning and engine flushing, it won’t harm the plastic, rubber and metal parts in your system if you let is sit and soak for a good long while.

I then picked up a couple of hose adapters so that I could remove the air conditioning sea water suction line from the seacock and connect the hand pump to the line.

Dropping the pump suction into the open bottle of Barnacle Buster, I then pumped a half gallon of the solution into the system (until we were pretty sure we were getting some out of the overboard discharge). Then we buttoned up the boat and went home.

After letting the solution soak in the system for 24 hours, I disconnected the hand pump, hooked up a water hose, and flushed out the line with fresh water. About a gallon of nasty black yuck with embedded chunkies came out the the overboard discharge. After flushing the system until it ran clear, I hooked the sea water suction back up, and turned on the AC.

Rhonda and I broke out a deck of cards and settled into the salon to play a game of 3-13, a version of Rummy that some cruisers we met in Great Exuma taught us. A full game takes about an hour, and the AC purred flawlessly the entire time. After playing the last hand without a single AC hiccup, we were pretty darn sure we’d solved this particular problem.

I guess the best part of all this is that for less than $20 in parts, we now have a rig onboard that we can use for routine system flushes in the spring and fall, something we’ve never bothered with before.

Sea Turtle Rescue

Rhonda and I recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. As one of those major anniversaries that end with a zero, we decided to do something special and take a cruise to Mexico. Now you may be thinking two things. First, why on earth would people who just spent four years living on a boat want to get on another boat (ship) for a vacation? And second, how can a couple that look so young and active have been married for 40 years?  🙂

So the first question is pretty easy to answer. Before we became Cruisers with a capital C, we for many years had been cruisers of the cruise ship variety. It was always one of our favorite getaways. A week of fine dining, shows every evening, interesting places to visit, and someone to make your bed and clean your bathroom—what’s not to love? As for question two, well, all I can say is I guess we’re pretty fortunate.

Rhonda has always been passionate about sea turtles. So when I mentioned that there was an excursion we could sign up for where we could help local conservationists rescue baby turtles, she was all in. After arriving in Cozumel, we boarded a van for a trip to the undeveloped eastern shore of the island. Notice the black sticks in the sand in the picture below? Each one marks the location of a sea turtle nest. It was amazing to see, because it went on this way for miles. Back home in Pensacola, we get all excited if 10 or 12 turtles lumber up onto our miles of beach to deposit some eggs. Here in Cozumel, I could reach out and touch a dozen nests without even moving.

So here’s how this worked. The conservationists (I can’t really call them biologists, because I’m pretty sure this wasn’t their day job, but rather something they did out of passion) monitor the nests constantly to see when they hatch out. It usually happens at night. A typical nest might contain about 120 eggs, and when a nest hatches, there are usually a few turtles that for whatever reason just don’t manage to dig their way out. So the next day, this small group of volunteers dig up the nest by hand to rescue the slackers. They formerly dug every nest up themselves, sometimes more than 20 a day. But then someone realized that there are people on cruise ships who would happily pay for the opportunity to do the manual labor, while they just watched and took notes.

So that’s how we found ourselves on a beach in Cozumel one August morning, along with our friends Lance and Shelly, who were also celebrating an anniversary and who also liked the idea of rescuing baby turtles.

After some brief instruction, we were turned loose to excavate.

You had to go pretty deep. After a certain point, I had to take over because the hole was deeper than the girls could reach.

It was amazing when we started finding tiny little turtles buried in the sand.

The four of us eventually found seven turtles alive and kicking and apparently happy to be out in the fresh air and sunshine.

The conservationists had previously collected a batch of hatchlings that decided to dig their way out in daylight, which is a pretty bad idea if you’re a turtle. The area was swarming with Magnificent Frigate birds (that’s their name, look it up!) that love tasty little turtle snacks. The men rounded up the turtles to protect them from the hungry birds. We then added the ones we’d collected,

After traveling a mile or two further down the beach to a spot free of birds, we then let all the little guys go. One look at the water, and instinct kicked in and they were off and running.

Here’s a brief video to give you a feel for how marvelous it all was.

We’d hoped for a fun and memorable experience. It greatly exceeded our wildest expectations. We can’t recommend this activity enough if you ever have the opportunity to take part. You’ll remember it forever. We sure will!

And from now on, whenever we spot a sea turtle while out sailing, we’ll ask ourselves, “Is it one of ours?”

Maintaining a Fresh Smelling Boat

We recently had some friends join us onboard Eagle Too, and we were pleased when they commented that our boat didn’t smell like a boat. If you spend much time around boats, you’ll notice pretty quickly that an alarming number of them present a mild to major diesel fuel and sewer aroma, often with a pungent stagnant bilge finish. After purchasing Eagle Too, we worked extremely hard to eliminate the sources of any smelly smells onboard, and after solving those, we’ve tried to keep up on the little routine things that help keep funk at bay.

After tackling and curing diesel fuel and engine smells and head odors, and creating a dry bilge to eliminate swamp smells, we’ve found that there are a few other things that need to be attended to if you want to keep your boat smelling as fresh as possible. One of these is the condensate drip pan for the air conditioning system. In Florida in the summertime, the air conditioning runs probably 12 hours or more a day, in the process producing gallons of condensate. While we have plumbed our drip pan to an enclosed shower sump to be pumped overboard, the pan still gets a bit slimy with muck, which would undoubtedly smell unpleasant if we didn’t do anything about it. So whenever we’re onboard, we try to remember to drop a couple of these little tablets in the pan before closing up the boat to leave.

We bought them on Amazon, they’re pretty cheap, and a bottle probably holds at least a year’s supply, perhaps more. Plus they’re handy to have around, because you should probably be using them at home as well in order to keep the condensate line clear on your air conditioning system. After all, one little clump of gunk plugging the line is all it takes to shut your AC system down, or even flood your home if your system doesn’t have a condensate level sensor.

Between Two Worlds

It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything. The reason is pretty simple. For the last six months, we’ve been in transition. After four years as liveaboard cruisers, we’ve returned to the life of typical American dirt dwellers. We haven’t quite “swallowed the hook,” as we still have Eagle Too and continue to harbor dreams of extended island cruises. But our typical day to day now deals much more with home decorating and utility bills rather than passages and travel to exotic destinations. The money we used to spend at West Marine now goes to Lowe’s instead. And frankly, I just assume that the average reader of this blog probably doesn’t care that much about how we get 50 channels of TV without paying a cable bill or how we set up a drip irrigation system for watering house plants. You’re here for the marine maintenance tips and the travelogues. So I just haven’t felt compelled to post for a while.

But a recent message from a long-time reader asked for an update on how our life as CLODs (Cruisers Living On Dirt) is going. And in thinking about it, I realized maybe we do have some information and advice to share. After all, almost everyone who embarks on a life of cruising eventually has to wrap it up and move back ashore. And I’m here to tell you that after several years afloat, the transition back to land can be just as trying as the move onboard was. So here’s the first in what will probably be an occasional series about what we’ve learned as CLODs.

Let start with something simple:

Q. What do we like the most about returning to life ashore?

A. Lots of things. In no particular order, here are just a few:

Sleeping in a king sized bed, especially since it’s one that you don’t have to crawl into. Our sort-of-a-queen-sized master berth on Eagle Too was adequate at best. One of us always had to crawl over the other to get in or out, and it took some pretty elaborate contortions to perform the maneuver without banging our heads on the overhead. Just putting the sheets on it involved a lot of what I can only refer to as mattress swimming, squirming around like a stranded sea turtle with its flippers flailing, trying to make it off the beach and out to sea. Once or twice is humorous. But after four years, it wears a little thin.

Long hot showers and a full-sized toilet that you don’t have to wait in line to use. You can often tell a cruiser by their subtle aroma. Most cruisers are more like Europeans in that that usually don’t shower every day. Boat showers are typically cramped, use too much water, and generate way too much humidity onboard. But the average marina shower is always a crap shoot. The more pressed you are for time, the more likely you’ll find someone’s already using it, and has brought their bluetooth speaker and a hair dryer along, so you know they’re camped out for quite a while. And the toilets are often out of paper, clogged, or just dirty enough to make you reconsider exactly how much room still remains in your holding tank.

A washer and dryer that we don’t have to feed quarters into and that we don’t share with people washing oily rags, pet beds covered in fur, or sandy carpets. Or that leave their clothes in for hours after they’re done.

24/7 air conditioning (and in the winter, heat). As I write this, it’s over 100ºF outside, but it’s a cool, comfortable 75º inside, the air conditioning barely a quiet whisper in the background. Onboard, we’d either be in a floating sauna, or if lucky enough to be plugged into shore power, we’d be treated to the loud whir of the AC running non-stop, struggling to maintain a temperature below 80º despite the sunshade we’d rigged topside.

Unlimited ice and water. Friends of ours still tell the story about how amused they were when we met them for drinks on their boat one evening, and we were amazed that they offered us fresh ice with every refill (turns out they had an ice maker onboard). After several years of cruising, ice truly becomes a most valued commodity, so even though we now have a refrigerator that dispenses it on demand, after six months ashore we still hesitate before dumping a glass of it in the sink, as it seems such a waste.

No fear of passing storms. If it’s the middle of the night and we awaken to the sound of distant thunder, there’s no need to worry about whether the anchor alarm is set, or run a “rain drill,” pulling the wind scoops and closing all the hatches. No need to get dressed and go on deck to see where any neighboring boats lie that could possibly drag down on us. We can just sigh and go back to sleep.

Fast, reliable high speed internet. I don’t think I even need to explain this one. A 21st century life is a connected life, and it was always a struggle while cruising to find good internet for banking, bill payment and communications.

There’s more, but I think you get the idea.

Q. What do you miss the most about Life On The Hook™?

A. First I’d list the sense of community. Cruisers congregate, and I think because they all share a challenging, some would say difficult life, they relate to each other as equals. Drop anchor in any bay or harbor, make a radio call asking for information or assistance, and I assure you there will be several dinghies headed your way. People we’d barely met offered us help in so many ways, and we in turn tried to pay that forward to as many other cruisers as possible. Now that we’re living in a typical subdivision, we’re reminded that most Americans never bother to get to know their neighbors. The first thing most of our neighbors have done when they moved in is put up a privacy fence. Sometimes when we’re walking through the neighborhood, we’ll come across someone else who lives in the area, and while usually polite, they generally project a lack of interest in making our acquaintance. I think if we ever needed help with something that we couldn’t handle by ourselves, knocking on doors and requesting assistance would be met with reluctant skepticism.

Awareness of our natural surroundings. As cruisers, we usually knew the phase of the moon, when the tide turned, what the wind forecast was for the next few days, and when the next front was expected to pass. Sunsets were a daily cause for quiet celebration. And while cruising (not so much while living in a marina, but more while out traveling) we were almost daily treated to some delightful display of marine life, be it a jumping dolphin, a spotted ray swimming by, or even just a grouper or barracuda hanging out in our boat’s shadow.

A sense that we were living self-sufficiently and lightly. There’s a satisfaction in making your own power and water and providing for your own needs. While cruising, we got by on about 15 gallons of water a day. Many cruisers would say that that was extravagant, but we had a water maker, so we didn’t sweat it. Fifteen gallons a day works out to about 450 gallons a month. Now, according to our water bill, we’re using between 12,000 and 18,000 gallons a month just to water our lawn. We don’t have a choice, because our homeowners association would have a fit if we turned off the sprinkler system. But it does make you think about how we use our resources.

Personal physical fitness. A cruising life is an active life. When sailing, we were almost always in motion. Even when anchored or tied to a dock, simply moving around on the boat meant dozens of trips up and down the companionway stairs, or twisting, turning and bending during movement that just isn’t necessary to get around in a single story house with wide hallways and 9 foot ceilings. Climbing in and out of a dinghy is way more physically demanding than getting in and out of a car. We used to walk or bicycle almost everywhere we went ashore. Now we drive. And let me tell you, after six months, we can tell. We’re gaining weight, developing aches and pains, and just generally starting to feel older than we did when our lives involved much more fresh air and physical activity.

There’s more I could say on the subject, but this makes a good start. It’s actually too early for us to say with certainty what we miss or don’t miss about a Life On The Hook™, or whether becoming CLODs was or wasn’t the best decision. It will be a while before we can answer those questions definitively. But I will say this—the thing we clearly learned is that cruising changes you. It changes you in ways that just learning to sail or buying a boat or doing an occasional charter doesn’t begin to. Many of those changes I believe are beneficial, making us better human beings. Some of those changes probably put us a bit out of step with modern American society, which can be stressful. But having lived what we have lived so far, I can’t imagine our lives without having had that experience. So many moments, so many memories, so many good people well met. We have been greatly enriched by this amazing adventure together.