Category Archives: How?

Anything related to projects or boat tasks.

Getting Legal

Our days are growing short here in Pensacola, and we’re working though the final items on our list of boat chores that need completing before we once again point Eagle Too’s bow south. Today we made Eaglet Too legal.

For some people, a stencil and some spray paint or a permanent marker is good enough for applying their dinghy’s registration numbers. You really can’t argue with the thriftiness of that approach. But we’ve always preferred something a little more elegant, I guess because we take a little pride in how our stuff looks. Plus the paint or marker approach usually needs periodic re-application.

We used glue-on number plates from BoatNumberPlate.com on our first dinghy, and they still looked great when we sold her seven years later. So we really wanted to go with the same solution on our new dinghy. The first time around, we used the glue-on version of the product, which we needed to apply with hypalon rubber cement. This time, they offered a self-sticking version, which sounded like a much easier way to go. Plus, have you looked at what a tube of hypalon glue goes for these days? Almost as much as the number plates themselves!

They did qualify that the self-sticking version isn’t recommended for boats that you want to deflate and roll up. But now that we have an aluminum RIB, rolling up the boat really isn’t an option any longer, so we thought we’d give them a  try.

These things worked great! We picked a dry, sunny day with temps in the upper 70’s. Then we test fitted the number plates to the boat, and traced the outline of the plate with a Sharpie. Next, we masked the outlined area with blue painter’s tape, and then thoroughly cleaned the spot with an acetone soaked rag so the adhesive on the number plate had a clean surface to grab.

You peel off the paper backing on the number plates, line them up and apply then, being careful not to trap any air bubbles underneath. You need to make sure you get them on straight, because the self-adhesive glue is VERY aggressive.

Peel off the blue tape, apply your state registration sticker to the area provided on the port number plate, and you’re done! No waiting for glue to cure and no mess to clean up. It literally couldn’t be easier.

One last thing. You can order boat number plates directly from the site above, but you can actually save about $5 if you order them through Defender instead. They’ll ship you a small package containing a redemption code that you then use on the manufacturer’s website to order your number plates.

You know what? It’s been quite a while since we’ve given something our Life On The Hook™ seal of approval. I think it’s time to dust that off and use it. This one’s for you, BoatNumberPlate.com!

The LOTH Seal of Approval

Why Won’t My Engine Start?!

Spend some time on any Hunter owner’s forum, and you’ll eventually find a thread discussing the dreaded “Why Won’t My Yanmar Start When I Turn The Key?” issue. The problem goes something like this: you turn the key or push the button to start your engine, and it totally ignores you. Or maybe you hear a “click,” but the starter doesn’t engage. Whatever is causing the problem seems to be linked into the boat’s Crisis Detector circuit, because normally the engine will start just fine when it’s a pretty day and you just want to back out of the slip for a short sail, but it will fail to turn over when there’s a squall bearing down on you and you’re being blown onto the rocks while on a collision course with a fuel barge.

We’re not talking here about a significant engine issue, where you’re having a fuel or compression problem or your exhaust elbow is clogged and you can get the engine to turn over but it just won’t start. We’re talking about a transient little electrical problem where the starter solenoid randomly decides it just doesn’t want to do its job today.

It’s really annoying because it comes and goes. Sometimes you can go weeks with the engine starting every time, and then suddenly it just says no. And even though it’s a widely reported problem, it’s one that Yanmar claims they’ve never heard of. Go ahead, call them. They’ll say “why no, we’re not aware of anyone having this problem.” Meanwhile I’ve seen posts by people saying that they’ve complained to Yanmar so many times that they’re looking into a class action lawsuit over the issue due to the potential risk it creates for boat owners when they can’t reliably start their engines.

Some have claimed that the way to fix this problem is to install an additional solenoid in the starting circuit. IF you’ve researched this issue I’m sure you’ve seen this fix.  I’m not going to go into detail with that solution , other than to say that I think it’s the wrong approach. You’re not fixing the problem, you’re just treating the symptom, while also adding additional complexity to your starting system. We had this problem on our first boat, a Hunter 336 with a Yanmar 3GM30 engine. Over the last year, it has now also cropped up on our current boat, a Hunter 376 with a 3JH2E. On both boats, the solution turned out to be much cheaper and simpler.

I believe the problem is caused by the fact that the engine control panel is usually quite a ways removed from the engine, and the builder used a long wiring harness to connect the two. The harness is usually pieced together from shorter lengths and has multiple in-line electrical connectors. With two, three, sometimes four or more wiring connectors in the harness run, there are plenty of places for corrosion to develop and introduce resistance in the circuit, causing a voltage drop in the line. You turn the key to start the engine, but not enough voltage makes it to the starter solenoid to engage it. I think the reason the problem comes and goes is because electrical resistance across a corroded connection can vary due to changes in temperature or humidity. Today might be OK, but not so good tomorrow.

So how did we fix the problem? But running a separate, continuous #10 wire from the engine start switch all the way to the starter solenoid. This eliminates all the in-line electrical connectors with their potentially voltage-sapping corroded pins.

Engine control panel removed from pedestal, original starting circuit wire removed from start switch. Haven’t crimped a ring terminal on the new wire yet in this picture.

Chasing the wire from the engine control panel in the cockpit to the starter solenoid on the engine is the hard part, usually involving some cabin disassembly and a lot of wiggling into dark places. Once the wire is run, however, it’s a pretty simple task to crimp the proper ring connector on the switch end and a disconnect fitting on the solenoid end and substitute the new wire for the old one.

New wire attached to starter solenoid.

Put some insulating shrink tubing on the ends of the old wire to keep it from causing problems and protect the new wire with some plastic wire loom, using a few zip ties to make sure it stays where you want it, and you’re in business.

I followed the exhaust hose for part of the run.

This fix has worked great for us on two boats now. If you’ve having a similar problem (and I think many of you with older Yanmars probably are), then give it a try. I think you’ll be pleased with the results. And it’s such a relief to no longer have to wonder “what kind of mood are you in today, Mr. Engine?” when you reach for that switch.

It’s Not Our First October Surprise

We’ve been living on the Florida Gulf coast long enough to know that you can’t turn your back on the Gulf in October. While the Atlantic hurricane season is wrapping up, with fewer tropical waves rolling off the coast of Africa and developing into storms, conditions in the Gulf are still ideal for cyclogenesis.  Some of the northern Gulf coast’s worst storms have been October storms.

So here we are with a monster Category 3 hurricane named Michael roaring towards us. Three days ago it was just a blob of thunderstorms off the Yucatan. But as proud members of Drunk Donkey Nation (as the half–million followers of Mike’s Weather Page are now known), we’ve been following this system for almost a week and knew it was going to be something big.

What to do about it was the question. It’s easy to underreact to an approaching storm, but it’s equally easy to overreact. Our hurricane plan is to move Eagle Too to the very well protected marina at Pensacola Naval Air Station in the event that Palafox Pier and Yacht Harbor, where we spend our summers, declares a mandatory evacuation. We have access to the Navy base due to our military affiliation. But if Palafox Pier doesn’t force us to leave, we don’t, primarily because we’ve already paid for the slip here. Moving to the base costs us several hundred dollars for a three to four day stay, and as thrifty cruisers, we’d rather not spend that money if we don’t have to. Plus we’re really just moving from one marina with floating docks to another a couple of miles away, so it hardly seems worth it if we don’t have to do it. And a haulout? Forget it. We’re not full time residents here in Pensacola anymore. Since we spend seven months or more of every year somewhere else, we’re not going to pay the thousands of dollars necessary to get on Pensacola Shipyard’s hurricane haul out list. And if you’re not on their list, you don’t get hauled out, plain and simple.

Our frustration always comes from waiting to see what Palafox Pier is going to do. They finally declared a “voluntary evacuation” yesterday. I had to go to the marina and ask them what exactly that was supposed to mean.  I interpreted it as “leave if you want, but stay if you’d like,” which is just another way of saying “business as usual.” But I guess maybe it gives them some liability protection if you stay and your boat gets broken by something in the marina. After all, they did tell you to “voluntarily evacuate.”

Regardless, if the evacuation was voluntary, we weren’t volunteering. Besides, as it just so happens, my first mate and lovely wife (that’s one and the same person just in case you weren’t sure) is up in Virginia visiting family this week. That means I’d be voluntarily evacuating by myself, which I’d rather not do. Not that I haven’t had several sincere offers of assistance, but I just don’t like moving Eagle Too without Rhonda at the helm, as I’ve grown accustomed to her hand on the wheel.

So here’s what I knew about Michael. Ever since he formed, the models were consistently taking it to our east. That meant we’d be on the “good” side of the storm, with winds coming from the north, off the land. The friction of blowing past trees and buildings would slow the wind significantly. Next, even though the predictions wobbled around a bit, it was pretty evident that there was firm agreement among the models. The eye of the storm was unlikely to get closer to us than about 75 miles. That’s a long way, even for a big hurricane. We’ve been though about a dozen of these in the last couple of decades, and my experience told me that the distance plus the wind direction probably meant we’d never see more than 45 or 50 knots of wind, even from a Category 3 storm. Possibly quite a bit less. Working in our favor is that we’re docked right below a three–story building that would block a lot of the wind, and our bow is pointed east, which means our dodger and bimini were at a good angle to shed the wind rather than catch it.

So what preparations did I make to hit the sweet spot on the under/over prepared scale? First, I decided not to take the sails down. Our mainsail furls inside the mast, so it’s basically impervious to wind. And we’ve ridden out 50+ knot winds in squalls with the jib furled and it never started coming loose. But just to add some extra insurance, I took about a dozen wraps around the furled jib with our spinnaker halyard, candy-striping the line down the length of the sail to keep it from trying to unfurl.

Eagle Too in her Ready For Tropical Storm Force Winds configuration

I also decided not to strip our dodger and bimini. I did take the sun covers off the dodger, because they were only loosely attached. But we over-engineered the dodger and bimini frame, using only steel rail rather than straps for support, and I knew it could handle 50 to 60 knots with no problem, especially with the wind coming from the bow initially, then shifting to the port side.

Not a good day for sailing

Next, I made sure our dinghy was well tied down with both ratchet straps and lines, and then removed all the loose gear on deck and brought it below. Solar lights, water hose, chairs and cushions, all the little things hanging around topside that could get torn lose got stowed.

I also doubled the lines and rigged all our fenders, and put bungees on several lines that I know like to slap in a gale. It’s hard enough trying to sleep during a good blow. It’s even harder when lines are slapping away like crazy.

We’d have naturally done more if Pensacola was Michael’s destination. We’ve been in a Category 3 hurricane; Hurricane Ivan back in 2004, and I have a great deal of respect for the power of such a storm. But my gut (and the data at spaghettimodels.com) has been telling me that Michael had other plans. So I feel good about our approach to this storm. We’ll see in a couple of days whether I chose wisely…

Some thoughts: this irked me a bit. The marina insists that all the boaters make sure they’ve removed any loose gear that can become airborne from the docks. But then they park their work barge just upwind of our dock, covered with loose gear that can become airborne.

Yes, that’s a machete sticking out of that sawhorse. A sawhorse that’s just sitting there, because I could push it and it would rock.

And it’s always a gut check when you see out of state power crews staging their equipment for the upcoming recovery effort.

I think we’ve adequately prepared. I really feel for the people in Panama City, Port St Joe and Apalachicola, because I think their lives are about to be profoundly affected. For now, here’s the calm before the storm…

Lock It or Lose It

While chartering in the British Virgin Islands, we learned to always, always, always lock up our dinghy or risk losing it. It’s a habit we took home with us, and to this day we always try to lock our dinghy to something secure like a dock piling or palm tree, even when we’re in our home waters. When we’re anchored out and retire for the evening, we lock the dingy to the stern of Eagle Too, and when the dinghy is on deck, we make sure the outboard is securely locked to the railing. We also make ample use of bicycle locks to secure valuable but portable deck gear like our Rainman water maker and scuba tanks. Due to an unfortunate incident a few years ago where we had someone enter our boat and steal our cash here in the marina while I was up doing laundry, we never even leave the boat without making sure the companionway is locked. Not even to visit a neighbor’s boat for sundowners just two slips over. If our feet hit the dock, the boat is locked. It’s a little sad that that’s the way of the world, but then we sailors do tend to glorify pirates. It’s just that we always think we’ll be the ones doing the pirating, rather than the ones that get pirated.

While we try to exercise good dinghy locking discipline, I have to admit the locks we were using would probably be considered “honest man’s locks.” They indicated to a basically honest person that no, this dinghy wasn’t orphaned and in need of a good home, but rather was owned by someone who didn’t care to be parted from it. But if you smacked it with a hammer, pried it with a screwdriver, or possibly even just looked at it angrily, it would give up faster than the French army.

Getting some better locks was always one of those things I intended to someday do. So when we were wandering around Home Depot the other day on an unrelated matter, I was pleasantly surprised to find these new locks from Masterlock. They had beefy stainless steel bodies that looked like they’d be more than able to withstand hammer smacks and prying attempts, and would be better able to stand up to the marine environment than the locks we’ve been using.

In addition, they had our “must have” feature, a user settable combination. We just don’t like key locks here aboard Eagle Too, because we’re too likely to misplace or forget the key.

Best of all, they were less than $20 each, which seemed like a real bargain. Time will tell if that turns out to be true.

While these obviously won’t stand up to a determined assault from someone armed with a pair of bolt cutters or a hacksaw, they should make life much more difficult for “pirates of opportunity” to make off with our dinghy compared to the cheesy little locks we’ve been using.

So what’s your philosophy on when, where and how to lock up your dinghy?

Galley Notes—Our Own Diamond Mine

“Ice is civilization.” — Harrison Ford, The Mosquito Coast, 1986

Cruiser’s diamonds. That’s how some refer to those little nuggets of frozen water that put the chill in ‘Chillin’ with a Sundowner.’ While a ten pound bag of chill is available for a couple of bucks in almost any marina in Florida, the price climbs rapidly the further from the US you get. Six to eight dollars a bag is pretty common in the Bahamas, and in Cuba, when we could find bagged ice, it often smelled like fish.

When we’re out cruising and living Life On The Hook™, once the ten pound bag is gone (all we have room for), we’ve been limited to the small quantity of ice balls that Rhonda can make in our freezer. Sometimes we’ve gone weeks with our daily production of concentrated cold only allowing a single cool drink for each of us per day. Every piece of ice was valuable, and almost as rare as diamonds.

We’d always just roll our eyes when someone on another boat (usually a big trawler with a generator running 24/7) would say “Oh, we have an icemaker onboard.” Can you even call that cruising? I mean, learning about what you can do without is a big part of adopting and adapting to this lifestyle of being a maritime gypsy.

But Rhonda and I were having some cocktails with Beth and Stephan on S/V Cattywampus recently, and noticed that they weren’t shy about sharing their store of this most precious resource. Every round of drinks came with an ice refill. “No more ice, I don’t want to run you out,” I said. “It’s OK, we’re making more,” they replied. “Show me,” I said. After all, this was a sailboat we were drinking on, and not many sailboats in the less than “Oh my God you’ve got to be kidding me” price range come with something as exotic as an icemaker.

Stephen pointed to a small countertop appliance. It wasn’t much larger than a four-slice toaster. But it was producing enough cruiser’s diamonds to keep four people in cubes all evening.

We already carry a few countertop appliances on Eagle Too that many cruisers would consider superfluous, such as our Foodsaver vacuum sealer and Gourmia electric pressure cooker (both of which deserve their own Galley Notes blog post). But they’re small enough to store on shelves or in lockers, and their advantages outweigh the inconvenience of finding an onboard home for them.

Surely something as important to crew morale and the general welfare as a reliable supply of ice to chill beverages deserved a place in our equipage?

We were walking the aisles of Home Depot a few days later, and what of all things did we happen to see but a big stack of Magic Chef countertop icemakers on sale for $89. Since the seed had already been planted and had some time to sprout, it only took us about 30 seconds to say “it’s a sign!” and decide to take one home.

So now we can mine our very own diamonds, pretty much whenever we want!

Here’s the lowdown on operation. I couldn’t find a wattage rating on the box in the store, but when we returned to Eagle Too and unboxed the icemaker, the UL tag on the back said it uses 650 watts continuously, and 800 watts while birthing new cubes. That’s pretty much ideal, because our 50 amp battery charger uses about the same amount of power. When we redesigned the electrical system on Eagle Too, I settled on a 50 amp battery charger because I knew our Honda EU2000i generator (2000 watts surge, 1600 watts continuous output)  could easily power it while still having about 800 watts left for other uses. So this means that next cruising season, when the occasional need arises to run Genny (our Honda’s name) to charge our batteries, we’ll also be able to plug in the icemaker and replenish our supply of cruiser’s diamonds.

Since buying the unit, we’ve run it about every third or fourth day, and it has made all the ice we use onboard, saving us a few dollars over buying bagged ice. It takes eight minutes per cycle, with each cycle producing nine cubes. Well, more like hollow cones, but you know what I mean. It makes about a pound an hour, compared to probably the pound a week we were averaging making ice balls in our freezer.

Will it turn out to be a good decision? We’ll see. Something we currently carry onboard will probably have to be left behind next season in order to make room. But as we gain more experience, we’re constantly adjusting our list of what’s essential and what’s not, so we’ve probably made enough space due to things we’ve already taken off the boat this off-season. Also, I’ve heard stories that these units only last about 8 months to a year in continuous use. That will be disappointing if it turns out to be true, but then again, every season we have to buy replacements for something (or several somethings) that we expected to last for years, but barely made it through a single season, like power cords and solar lights, or fuel cans and dinghy paddles, to name just a few. So if we get a year’s worth of reliable diamond production out of it, we’ll probably be happy.

One last comment before wrapping this up. The icemaker we bought was branded Magic Chef, and it has a sturdiness about it that I like. We were recently in Sam’s Club and saw a stack of no-name icemakers of similar design for the same $89 price. But when I examined one, it had a cheap and flimsy feel about it that totally turned me off. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if one of those bit the bullet within a year. I’m hoping ours is a bit better quality.

Summer Upgrades—Hatch Work

The Lewmar size 3 hatch over our galley sink needed replacing. I’m fine putting new seals and O–rings in an old hatch if that’s all that’s needed to stop a leak. You can get the parts at Hatchmasters. But in addition to dripping water down the back of our necks while standing at the galley sink whenever it rained, the hinge rivets broke off this one, so the hatch wouldn’t operate properly, and replacement rivets are impossible to find. It needed to be replaced.

In another case of procrastination paying off (I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t get so much positive reinforcement), West Marine put all their Lewmar hatches on sale, and for a brief period were actually the cheapest source I could find for a replacement. The price was so good that I bought two, although being a somewhat rare size, it took them two weeks to get the new ones in.

The replacement hatch had been redesigned to eliminate the hinge that had broken off our old one, which I liked. One less thing to go wrong.

It fought me tooth and nail, but I eventually got the old hatch out with the help of some heavy duty pry bars from Harbor Freight. Then I cleaned and prepped the deck.

If you follow us here at Life On The Hook™, you know that butyl rubber tape is the only bedding compound we ever use. But don’t use just any butyl rubber tape from Home Depot or AutoZone. Get it from this guy: http://www.pbase.com/mainecruising/butyl_tape. His is the best.

I applied several overlapping layers of tape to the flange of the new hatch.

Then all I had to do was set the new hatch in place, press it down firmly to set the butyl tape, tighten the mounting screws, trim off the excess butyl that squeezed out, and I was ready for a leak check.

I’m delighted to say that we no longer have to endure the shock of cold water dripping on our necks while washing dishes during a thunderstorm!

Summer Upgrades—New Cowl Vents

Being back in the land of online shopping and two day delivery gives us a chance to work on some of the things we’ve wanted to upgrade on Eagle Too. Today’s task is the replacement of our really sad, decaying, weathered cowl vents. These things are just a complete eyesore, and like duct tape on upholstery, they just make our boat look shabby no matter how good she looks otherwise.

We’ve already replaced these rotatable air scoops once before. But they’re made of soft PVC, and the sun just absolutely destroys them. These were less than two years old, but were so UV degraded that they were actually sticky to the touch. Trying to clean them just resulted in a gummy mess.

Buying another set of PVC vents seemed like good money after bad. But at least they were affordable, at about $80 a set. There are some that are made from stainless steel, and Rhonda thought that sounded like a great idea, until I told her they would cost between $600 – $800 for a pair. We didn’t hate the old vents that much!

Thinking there had to be another option, I kept researching, and found out that Vetus actually makes a line of cowl vents in silicon rubber. Unlike PVC plastic, the silicon is supposed to be impervious to sun and weather, and come with a three year warranty. They’re twice the cost of the PVC vents, but only about a quarter of the cost of the stainless steel ones. I placed the order for a pair.

One of the issues with purchasing anything online is that you can’t touch, feel and take a good look at what you’re buying. When the new cowl vents arrived, we learned that they mounted to a completely different type of deck ring, which was never shown or explained in the product description. I couldn’t use the old deck rings, but the mounting holes on the new ones had a smaller radius and wouldn’t work unless I could make the holes in the deck smaller.

In situations like this, I usually put the job aside and ponder on it a while. After a couple of days, a solution popped to mind. I called Carpenter Tony (our name for him, to differentiate him from Canvas Tony, who does all our canvas work), and asked him if he had any scrap 1/2″ Starboard laying around his shop. In case you’re not familiar, Starboard is the brand name of a marine grade plastic lumber that holds up really well to sun and weather. He had some available, so I asked him to make two 6″ rings for me with 4″ holes in the middle. The next day he called to tell me they were ready.

Two new Starboard rings and one of the old mounting rings for comparison.

Taking them one at a time, I removed the first vent and mounting ring…

and then cleaned up the 21 years of accumulated gunk that had collected.

I drilled and countersunk holes in the Starboard ring to match the existing screw holes, applied a bead of silicon, and screwed it down. You don’t really need to seal this, as any water that goes down the vent will drain away, but I thought it would act as an adhesive to back up the screws.

Next I mounted the deck ring for the new cowl vent…

and then screwed the new vent to the ring.

Not bad! Now on to the other side to repeat the process.

And shortly after that, Eagle Too sported two shiny new vents.

You probably noticed the new vents are more upright than the old ones. I couldn’t find the low profile vents in silicon, and these were the best I could do. But they’re still short enough to not be in the way of anything, and they should probably catch a little more air than the old ones.

 

A Bigger Mess Than We Thought

In an earlier post titled  “How We Broke The Boat,” I described how I managed to part our topping lift while cruising in the Bahamas a few months ago. At the time, a temporary repair was the best we could manage. Now that we’re back home for the summer, getting this properly repaired was high on our to-do list. After ordering the parts from Rig-Rite, we scheduled a date with our rigger.

We only have two lines that go to the top of the mast. One, the topping lift, was broken, and the other, the main halyard, needed some adjustment as part of the repair. That meant there was no line available to haul someone to the top of the mast, so we had to take the boat to the shipyard in order to use their boom truck to hoist someone up.

When ordering new axles and sheaves for the top of the mast, I’d ordered a few extra, “just in case.” It turned out to be a good thing, because once our rigger got to work, he determined that we were dealing with a much bigger mess than we thought. Not only was the sheave (small pulley) and axle for the topping lift destroyed, but the ones for the main halyard as well. Basically all the little pulleys and the axles they rode on at the mast top were trash.

Suddenly it all became clear. I thought I’d broken the topping lift by over-tightening the mainsheet and pulling the boom down too far. But our problems probably started a year earlier when we’d had trouble with our mainsail head swivel. For some reason (I can’t really remember), we had taken the mainsail down. Perhaps it was in order to ship it off to SailCare for cleaning. When it came time to re-install the sail, it refused to go on. The top swivel, which attaches to the head of the sail, wouldn’t go up the track inside the mast. It would hang up about a quarter of the way, and then refuse to go another inch. We continued applying more and more force with the winch, until the halyard was as tight as a guitar string, but the swivel just wouldn’t budge. Eventually I gave up and called the riggers, who diagnosed and fixed the problem (a loose screw on the swivel that had backed out enough for the screw head to catch on something inside the mast). But unknowingly, when we were trying to force the swivel to go up the mast, we applied so much force to the halyard that we crushed the sheaves and axles at the mast head.

Hoisting someone the easy way – using a cordless drill

No wonder I’d almost had a heart attack down in New Providence while trying to winch someone up the mast to do our temporary topping lift repair!  I had 160 pounds of French Canadian hanging from a line that I thought was running freely over a pulley at the top of the mast. But it was actually just dragging over a crushed pile of pulley and axle parts that were no longer capable of doing their job. I feel much better now about having needed five rest breaks to get him all the way to the top!

In any event, all is now squared away at the top of Eagle Too’s mast. The efficient folks at Zern Rigging finished the job in a little over two hours, and then we were back out on Pensacola Bay, where we rolled out the sails and tested everything out. We’re good as new and ready to go!

Out Out Damned Stain

You can always tell a boat that has spent time traveling on the Intracoastal Waterway by its unsightly brown bow stain. The tannins given off by the mangroves and decaying vegetation along the canals turns the water in the ICW a murky brown, and the stain it leaves on your boat develops so fast that we never bother trying to keep our bow clean while we’re actively cruising. It would take a daily wash and wax to keep the stain from forming, and who’s got time for that. But removing this ugly brown stain from our bow is one of the first things we try to tackle when we return home for hurricane season.

Before

The usual boat soap, water and a scrub brush won’t touch this discoloration. Even so-called super cleaners like Amazing Roll Off that brag about their deep cleaning ability won’t phase it. In the past, we’ve had to resort to a product called Mary Kate’s On and Off to remove our bow stain. But On and Off is basically muriatic acid, and it’s a real hazard to use. Forget to wear your rubber gloves or fail to rinse it off your leg when you spill some and you can be looking at some nasty chemical burns. It’s pretty unpleasant to inhale it, and safety glasses are a must to protect your eyes from splashes.

But we heard a tip recently that seemed so good that we thought it couldn’t possibly be true. We were told that simple lemon juice would wipe that stain right off. At only a couple of bucks for a quart bottle, we thought it was worth a shot.

Here’s a three word review of our results: best idea ever! The lemon juice cleaned off the stain better than anything we’ve ever tried. I poured some into a trigger sprayer, and then I just sat in the dinghy and wiped the hull with a wet sponge, sprayed on the lemon juice, let it set a few minutes to work, and then wiped the hull clean. No concern about accidentally getting some on me, no worry about accidently splashing some in my eyes, no need to have to use rubber gloves and a scrub brush. Cheap, effective, and environmentally friendly. It even made the boat smell good!

After

I wish someone had mentioned this to us years ago.

Give Me A Home Where The Customs Apps ROAM

In the past, returning to the United States meant we’d have to pay a visit to our friendly neighborhood Customs and Border Protection office to clear back into the country. It was never a convenient thing to do, because we’d usually be at the Navy marina in Boca Chica or at Boot Key Harbor up in Marathon and have to rent or borrow a car to go to the CBP office in Key West. I’d started the process once to enroll in the Small Vessel Reporting System or SVRS, which could have theoretically let us clear in with a phone call, but I never got around to finishing. I guess having to make an annual trek to Customs upon our return to the US wasn’t enough of a hardship to push me to finish submitting the paperwork and scheduling the in-person interviews necessary to enroll in SVRS. Well as it turns out, that will no longer be necessary. While we were off enjoying ourselves in the Bahamas this past Spring, CBP apparently rolled out their new Reporting Offsite Arrival – Mobile, or ROAM, app.

Our friends Mike and Jen on S/V Sanitas first told us about it, and then Deb and TJ on S/V Kintala filled in the details for us. While sitting on a mooring in Boot Key Harbor one morning, I downloaded the CBP ROAM app from the Google Play Store and installed it on my Samsung tablet. After entering our personal details, it prompted me to use the app’s camera feature to snap pictures of both our passports and upload them. Next I entered our vessel details. I’m pretty sure the personal and vessel info is a one-time entry, as it appears to save the information to your ROAM account. Finally, I answered a few quick questions about our recent travel and where we were returning from and clicked submit. A moment later, the app requested permission to open a video chat. A smiling Customs agent then appeared on my screen, confirmed that I was Robert, and then asked me to show him Rhonda. I pointed the tablet at her, she smiled and waved, the Customs agent thanked us, and we were done. A moment later it notified me that we were cleared back into the US.

From start to finish, it took about a half hour to get everything set up. I thought I’d hit a speed bump when I learned I needed to purchase an annual Customs border crossing decal for our boat, because I had to input the decal number as part of our vessel information. But the ROAM app launched me out to the appropriate website so that I could order the decal, and then let me use the order confirmation number to complete the vessel info.

My intention when I downloaded the app was to just set it up and explore it a bit. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly be video chatting with a CBP agent. I didn’t even have a shirt on! Apparently using ROAM, you can clear into the country in your pajamas or underwear if you wish to.

The app does say that this is a limited release and not currently available for use at all ports of entry. It’s apparently in an advanced Beta stage, with CBP planning to eventually roll it out for use nation wide. For now though, it supports Customs clearance through all Florida ports of entry, so it’s now the primary means to clear in if you’re returning from the Bahamas or points south via Florida.

One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes procrastination does pay. ROAM replaces the SVRS, which means if I had bothered to jump through those hoops, it would have just been time wasted.