Category Archives: How?

Anything related to projects or boat tasks.

Getting Ready For Round Three

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.

A Fresh Rinse

Sometimes when we raise anchor, it comes up coated in thick, black, foul smelling mud. I don’t want the stinky muck to end up in the chain locker, but the only practical way to wash the anchor and chain has been to keep dropping a five gallon bucket over the side with a rope to dip up seawater for rinsing, repeating a dozen or more times until the anchor is back onboard. At eight pounds per gallon, a full five gallon bucket weighs 40 pounds, and my poor back is usually begging for mercy after the first half dozen drops.

We love it when Rhonda can hook a big Mahi or other pelagic fish while we’re offshore. But by the time we finally get the darn thing onboard, subdued and filleted out, the cockpit looks like the shower scene from Psycho. There’s blood spattered from the swim platform to the companionway, and rivers of red run through the cockpit. We can get to some of the mess with our existing cockpit handheld shower, but cleaning the rest requires going back to the bucket brigade.

I’ve known that someday we’d want to install a washdown system so that we could just break out a hose and spray away the messes. Since we usually have plenty of fresh water onboard, I wanted to start out with a freshwater washdown, because it was the easiest to install. All we needed to do was tap into the boat’s existing water system. A saltwater system would have required a new hole in the hull for a dedicated thru-hull fitting (which would have required hauling the boat), and installation of a washdown pump and associated electrical circuit.

Something that made this job a pretty easy one to tackle is the fact that our Hunter (and probably most modern production boats) are plumbed with PEX piping, which is a semi-rigid plastic. The plumbing is put together with Qest fittings, which are just about the easiest, most fool proof plumbing connectors you can imagine. You just cut the plastic pipe and slide on the Qest connector nut, metal collar and compression acorn, and you’re ready to connect up to a new fitting. No special tools or skills required.

qest

Developed for use in the mobile home and RV market, Qest fittings aren’t something you can usually find in your local Lowe’s or Home Depot. But we can find whatever we need at our local RV dealer, with the added benefit that they’re sold at cheap RV store prices, rather than at a marine store markup. They’re also available from several online sources, such as PlumbingSupply.com.

The first step was to empty out the starboard lazarette in order to gain access to the plumbing for the cockpit shower, disconnect the cold water line from the shower, and cut the line in order to insert a T connector.

wash1 wash2

Next I broke out the drill and hole saw, because every good boat job involves making a hole in the boat. I placed the hole where there was enough depth to connect the plumbing, carefully avoiding interfering with the engine stop cable.

wash3 wash4 wash5

Next I installed a Jabsco washdown quick connect fitting in the newly drilled hole, bedding it with some butyl rubber for a watertight seal. I liked this fitting because it sits flush so that when you disconnect the washdown hose, there isn’t an ugly ankle-knocking hose bib sticking out.

wash6 wash7

The last step was to use a Qest elbow and a short length of 1/2″ hose with the appropriate connectors to tie the washdown fitting to the newly installed T.

wash8

The washdown fitting comes with a quick connect that you attach to a standard hose. You then just insert the hose into the washdown fitting and give it a little twist to lock it in place when you want to do a rinse.

wash9 wash10

We purchased a 50 foot coiling hose so that I can easily stretch it up to the bow to deal with a muddy anchor.

wash11

But the hose coils up compactly enough to easily fit in the lazarette when not being used.

wash12

We could probably use a washdown connection at both ends of the boat, but for now I thought we’d just put one back aft since it was the easiest place to access the existing freshwater system. Maybe when the day eventually comes when we’ll have to haul the boat again, we might consider installing a new thru-hull somewhere up forward so that we can add a saltwater washdown system also.

Boat Hacks – Outboard Edition

Here’s another item in our Boat Hacks series, which are posts about little things that solve little problems. Today we’re looking at an easy fix to a recurring problem that has dogged us for quite some time, the dreaded issue of outboard motor clamp lock.

There are a lot of things to dislike about outboard motors. My feelings toward them are about the same as my feelings towards horses – they’re evil, spiteful things that continually look for ways to openly defy and frustrate you, and you count your blessings if they uneventfully deliver you to your destination. One major source of problems comes from the use of materials that aren’t fully compatible with a marine environment, or at least a saltwater marine environment. For instance, the screw clamps that you tighten to lock the outboard in place are made of a metal that doesn’t really get along well with the engine mount casting. Consequently, if left alone for too long, corrosion causes them to seize up. When they do, the short toggle handles you have to use to loosen/tighten the screw clamps are too short to apply sufficient force to break them free.

outboardtoggle1

I’ve kept a short length of stainless rail in the stern locker to slip over the toggles to use as a cheater bar to get extra leverage, but if you get overzealous, then you shear off the toggle pins and the handles fall off. We keep a small supply of these pins onboard as replacements since they seem to break pretty frequently. The thing about these shear pins though is that you peen them in place with a hammer, and they’re not designed to be removed.

Recently our screw clamps froze up so firmly that I actually fractured the toggle handles themselves trying to get the clamps to turn. Life actually got a bit easier as a result, because with the toggles now gone I could just put a crescent wrench on the end of the screws to turn them. But I didn’t like the idea of having to always remember to grab a wrench when I wanted to put the outboard on the dinghy. Then I had my “duh” moment.

Instead of replacing the toggle pins with another set that are peened in place, why not just use a couple of stainless cotter pins? That way I could use the toggle handles to tighten up the outboard, but if the clamps seize up, I could just pop the cotter pins out and remove the toggle handles so that I could put a wrench on the head of the clamp screws.

outboardtoggle2

Since we’re a sailboat, we keep a handy box of various sizes of stainless pins and rings onboard. I found two that fit, popped them in, and they worked great.

The true solution to this problem is following a proper preventative maintenance schedule, and I’ll have a post soon about PMS (the non-hormonal type). But it’s good to know that if this issue ever gets away from us again and the screw clamps seize up, I can just pull out these cotter pins to bring more power to the problem in the form of leverage from a big wrench.

Maintenance in Paradise

Cruising /krōōz-ing/ verb: The act of performing boat repairs in a series of exotic locations.

We’ve learned that when it comes to maintenance and upkeep, a good rule of thumb is to expect to spend about 10% of the purchase price of your vessel on annual maintenance.  If you’re currently only using your boat on weekends and for an occasional vacation trip, you might think that that’s a bit (or maybe a lot) too high. But cruisers use their boats daily and use them hard, and things break or wear out with surprising frequency.  We’re now into our 14th month of full time cruising, and our experience tells us that 10% might even be a little light. We have things onboard that we’ve already had to replace twice. And that’s for a boat that was lightly used and thoroughly refitted before our departure. So for you future cruisers out there, ensure that your proposed budget has that 10% maintenance line built in. Trust me on this one, or you might find your cruising dreams unexpectedly cut short.

So there we were anchored between Key Largo and Rodriquez Key, preparing to get underway for Marathon and the Moser Channel. Rhonda started the engine, while I went up on the bow to raise the anchor. I stepped on the anchor windlass “up” switch, and the rode began paying in as usual. Suddenly, the windlass let out a groan and quit. After years of faithful service, it apparently decided it no longer wanted to participate in our adventure. I had to resort to pulling in our 55 lb. Mantus anchor and chain rode by hand.

We knew we had between two and three weeks of coastal cruising ahead of us in order to make it back to Pensacola, much of it spent in anchorages. That meant a lot of anchoring. And I didn’t think my 59 year old back could play human windlass for that long. We had to have a functional windlass, which means fixing it wasn’t something I could put off until we made it home.

So our quick touch and go in Marathon turned into a maintenance stop. We called Skipjack (formerly Sombrero) Marina, where we knew Scott the dockmaster from previous visits, and he found us a spot along the bulkhead (close to the pool!) where we could plug into shore power and work on our problem.

I pulled the windlass unit out and started overhauling it, and finally got it to reluctantly pull the anchor up. Unfortunately, it would trip the circuit breaker every five to ten seconds. This meant that in order to weigh anchor, Rhonda would have to stay below in the cabin to continually reset the breaker, while I pulled the anchor up a few feet at a time. While this may have gotten us home, I decided this just wouldn’t do. Sometimes things happen out here that require you to move the boat right now, and having to nurse a sick windlass that would need 10 or 15 minutes to weigh anchor was just too risky.

removal

removed

It was decision time. The old windlass was a 20 year old Simpson Lawrence Sprint Atlantic, a model that was no longer made. Even if I could get it working again, it probably wasn’t going to get any better in time, and parts were extremely rare. It looked like we were shopping for a new windlass, to the tune of about two boat bucks.

We tried to look on the bright side. If the windlass had failed just a few weeks earlier, while we were in the Bahamas, replacing it probably would have been near impossible. But since it had had the consideration to wait until we were back in the Keys, we were able to jump online and order a replacement from Defender and have it shipped second day to the marina. Eagle Too just seems to look out for us that way, for which we’re very grateful.

Since Lewmar had purchased Simpson Lawrence some years previously, I checked their website for guidance. The recommended replacement unit for our old Sprint Atlantic was the Lewmar V2. My hope was that it was similar enough to our old unit that it would drop into the existing mounting holes and fit under the anchor locker lid.

Test Fit Of New Unit

Test Fit Of New Unit

Alas, this was a boat job afterall. Which means that there’s always something unanticipated that has to be dealt with. While the motor and gearbox fit in the existing space and the mounting bolt pattern was the same, the new deck unit was more compact than the older one. The hawsepipe, or the hole in the deck through which the windlass drops the anchor chain into the anchor locker, didn’t align. Which means it was going to take some glass work to make it right.

Now any properly outfitted cruising boat should have some basic fiberglass repair supplies onboard, because you just never know when you might need to do a quick glass job. I chopped up some fiberglass mat and stirred it into about four ounces of catalyzed resin to make a thick slurry, and filled in the forward third of the existing hawse pipe hole. After an overnight cure and some sanding, a quick skim coat of some thickened epoxy and a little more sanding reduced the size of the hole to the right size for the new windlass, and gave me a nice flat surface to ensure the bedding compound (butyl rubber, naturally) would provide a watertight seal. It still needs a little Gel Coat to make it perfect, but that can actually wait until we’re home again.

glassmix

glasswork

Top Half of Hawsepipe Filled With Epoxy

Top Half of Hawsepipe Filled With Epoxy

Then there was the little matter of needing an additional electrical cable to power the motor, as the old windlass used a pair of 2AWG battery cables and this one required a third. So it was off to West Marine for 25 feet of battery cable. And of course, the windlass solenoid and breaker had to both also be replaced. But after about five days, we once again had a working windlass, which wonder of wonders, just fit exactly under the anchor locker lid, even though it was a full inch and a half taller than the old one. I just knew I was going to have to cut a 5 inch hole in the anchor locker lid for the capstan to protrude through, and whooped with delight when I finally had everything bolted together and attempted to close the lid and it actually shut!

installed

So Nice And Shiny!

So Nice And Shiny!

You Can See The Epoxy Patch At The Top Of The Windlass

You Can See The Epoxy Patch At The Top Of The Windlass

Then the level sensor in our shower sump box failed, but that was only about a 30 minute fix, since we had a spare sensor onboard. And then we noticed water in the bilge, which isn’t right since ours is bone dry. I traced it to a failed air conditioner condensate venturi, which was allowing the AC condensate to dribble into the bilge rather than be sucked overboard as it should. So since I was already working on the sump box, I took a day and yanked out the venturi and plumbed the AC drain pan to the shower sump. It’s a job I was meaning to do anyway once we made it home, and the air conditioner seems to be working so much better now that the cooling water flow is no longer restricted by the venturi.

So our quick pit stop in Marathon turned into a $3,000, week long mini-refit. After seven days of living in a torn apart boat, we were tired and cranky and so very glad when we were finally able to get the cabin put back together and just relax for a couple of days.

As we enter June (and the beginning of hurricane season), we’re close to halfway through the year, and we’ve spent about half of our anticipated annual maintenance budget. So our advice is that unless you’re starting out with a new boat that’s still under warranty, make sure you set enough aside for those inevitable repairs. And remember, that 10% figure is just for parts and materials. If you have to pay someone to do all of these basic maintenance tasks for you, you’ll need to at least double that amount!

Clean Fuel Makes For Less Drama

We were motoring along in the Hawk Channel at 7 knots, just passing Key West. We’d left Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas that morning, and were bound for the Boca Chica marina at Key West Naval Air Station. We were trying to cross the main shipping channel in time to miss a large Coast Guard cutter that was getting underway. And then the engine, which had been purring along at 2,800 RPM all day, suddenly sputtered and dropped to idle. A few moments later, it died completely.

Rhonda and I looked at each other with our best shocked faces. Shifting into neutral and turning the key, the engine restarted, but we couldn’t bring it back up to cruise RPM. It would hold at about 1,500 RPM though, enough for us to make just a bit under 5 knots. “OK, we can work with this,” I said to Rhonda, as we limped toward the marina, fingers crossed. Fortunately, 5 knots was enough to get us clear of the shipping channel before the cutter needed to occupy the space we were using.

I was pretty sure I knew what had happened. We’d seen this before on our previous boat. It had all the hallmarks of a clogged fuel filter. Not surprising, really. After all, we’d been taking on fuel in Cuba, where you give the dock hands your empty jugs and some money and they return the jugs full later in the day. And we’d filled up in Mexico as well. And then our fuel tank contents had gotten pretty well agitated during several of our rolly passages.

Our Hunter 376 came from the factory with a Racor 110 fuel filter. It’s a small metal unit with a spin off bowl that’s quite a PITA to service underway.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A big lesson from our shakedown cruise was that we needed to install a bigger filter. Preferably one with a clear bowl so that we could visually monitor fuel quality, and one that wouldn’t be so difficult to service in a seaway. Dual filters would have been ideal, so that we could just switch over to a second unit in the event of an inopportune filter clog. But there wasn’t room in our engine compartment for a dual filter setup. I’m fine with just a single filter, however, as long as  you can change the element in just a couple of minutes.

Here’s our solution. It’s a Racor 500FG turbine, which you may know is the go-to filter for most cruisers. As you can see, it just barely fit.

filter1

But it hit all the checkmarks. We can see the fuel to visually check on the amount of water or crud in the unit, and changing the element doesn’t require removing a bowl and dumping a pint of diesel fuel all over the place. We sprang for the optional vacuum gauge, so that we can monitor the filter’s condition over time. (FYI since we’re not a USCG inspected vessel, we weren’t required to use the model with the metal bowl shield. If none of the vinyl hoses or plastic cable covers on the engine are melting, then neither will our filter bowl).

The one remaining problem with our fuel system was that the fuel shutoff valve was located at the fuel tank. Reaching it requires emptying the starboard lazarette, removing a floor panel, and standing on your head. Not a lot of fun when you’re trying to do a quick filter change underway. To solve this issue, we added an inline valve just upstream of the new filter.

valve

Now you can sit in one spot and shut the valve, remove the filter cover, pop out the old element and pop in a new one, and then crack the valve until the filter body is full of fuel. Screw the lid back down with the T handle, and you’re done!

filter3

Another lesson well learned from our shakedown cruise. Hopefully there will be no more fuel-related drama in our future!

Not Your Traditional Thanksgiving

I shot a possum this morning. It was harassing my sister-in-law’s chickens. The chickens provide fresh eggs while the possum provided nothing but aggravation. Since it wouldn’t listen to a stern warning, it unfortunately had to go.

possum

The reason I was out shooting possums on this Thanksgiving morning is because our boat is now sitting on the hard at Pensacola Shipyard, and we’re temporarily homeless. We technically could have stayed onboard, but living on a boat that’s up on stilts in the middle of an industrial operation lacks appeal. Since Rhonda’s sister’s husband is currently working offshore and she was home alone for the holiday, she offered us a room, which we gladly accepted.

haulout

haulout2

With the unpleasant task of dealing with the possum behind me, Rhonda and I headed to the marina to retrieve Eaglet, our dinghy. We’d left her behind in our slip at Palafox Pier when we motored over to the shipyard last Monday to have Eagle Too hauled for a quick refit. After scrubbing Eaglet’s slimy green bottom, we deflated her and rolled her up to store her until we’re ready to bring all of the cruising gear back onboard that we’d unloaded for the mini refit. Our slip lease is up at the end of the month, and so we’re that much closer to getting back underway.

eaglet

Both of our sons are working today, which we’re actually quite thankful for.  Getting our youngest son settled into a stable job and back on his feet financially was one of the key reasons why we ended up unexpectedly returning to Pensacola this summer, contrary to our original plans. The downside is that since they’re both working today, there won’t be a Thanksgiving dinner for our family. We’ve pushed it to Saturday, which seems to fit everybody’s schedule better. Giving thanks for our blessings should be all about the sentiment, after all, and not tied to some specific and arbitrary date on a calendar.

Our refit is going well. Our troublesome transmission came out easily, and is now on its way to East Coast Marine Transmission in New Jersey for a tear down and rebuild. We’ve been promised a 24 hour turn around, which means we might get it back as soon as next week.

transmission2 transmisson1 crate

Our bottom is sanded and prepped, and we should start applying paint tomorrow. We’ve pulled our old vinyl-coated lifelines, and our local rigger has already ordered our new replacements, in bare-stainless of course. So far the weather is cooperating, and if we can get a few more warm, dry days, we should be able to finish the bottom by Monday.

lifelines

bottomjob

It’s quarter till departure, and we’re charging rapidly ahead. With a little luck and some good weather, we hope to be back to living our Life On The Hook™ by mid-December!

Turn Your Head And Cough

The countdown clock has once again started.  We’ve begun gearing up for departure, and it’s now time to give Eagle Too a thorough physical. We need to make sure that she’s in tip top shape and ready for the long trip ahead.

One of the first items on the checkup list was to make sure that our batteries are still youthful and fit. We installed them about 18 months ago, which means that in people years they’d be finishing high school and starting their freshman year of college about now.

Back in a post from last year called More Power Scotty, Part Two, we talked about the reasons why we preferred flooded lead acid batteries over other types. One is the ability to take individual cell readings with a hydrometer to monitor their function, something that’s impossible with AGMs or Gel cells. We don’t want any unpleasant “Holy crap, the batteries suddenly won’t take a charge!” incidents while we’re deep down island, days or weeks away from a marine chandlery.

It’s a pretty simple process. While performing this month’s battery level checks and topping off the cells with water, I took a moment to sample the acid in each cell with a hydrometer to measure their specific gravity.batterycheckup1 batterycheckup2

The results tell us two things. First, we were looking for all the cells to be at about the same reading. A cell that’s reading significantly higher or lower than its neighbors is a harbinger of doom. And second, comparing the readings obtained to a specific gravity chart gives a good measure of the state-of-charge, which can be used to validate the reading on our battery monitor.

Here were our results:

batterycheckup3

Not all exactly equal, but within the normal and expected range. Most of the measured difference could possibly be chalked up to interpretation, as it can be a bit tricky to read the scale on the hydrometer accurately.

Once we had our readings, I then compared them to the data in this handy chart:

batterycheckup4

Based on our specific gravity measurements, our batteries were at just under 90% state-of-charge. And sure enough, when I checked our battery monitor, it read 88%.

I think we can check this one off as ready to go!

Great Balls Of Ice

Ample (or at least adequate) amounts of power, water, and ice. It can mean the difference between a comfortable cruising life and a life of “tell me again what part of this was supposed to be fun?” We’ve described our efforts to ensure that we have plenty of electrical power in our More Power, Scotty! posts (still one or two more posts to go before that series is done), and we addressed how we’ll make sure the taps are always flowing in Making It Rain. But we hadn’t yet tackled the issue of how to ensure that there will always be plenty of ice to make frosty boat drinks.

Until now, the way we’ve dealt with ensuring we always had ice for the Mojitos has been simple. We walk up the to marina office and buy a 10 pound bag of ice, repeating as necessary. While that approach has served us well during our life on the pier, we knew it wasn’t going to support our Margarita habit once we depart for our Life On The Hook™. But what to do?

Fortunately, Eagle Too has a fairly large freezer (remember we’re talking about a boat here, so fairly large means about four or five cubic feet) and separate refrigerator, and since we do now have a more than adequate amount of power available, we keep them turned to their lowest settings. So it seemed like going old-school and getting some ice cube trays should work. Unfortunately, because of our freezer’s odd size, a regular ice cube tray can’t lay flat anywhere inside, and even it if could, it’s unlikely that the water would stay in the tray long enough to become ice, since boats have this weird tendency to rock and roll and pitch about and cause things to not necessarily stay where you put them. And there’s just no way we’d be willing to pay the obscene, highway robbery price (almost $80 each) that Adler Barbour wants for their vertical ice cube trays.

We were looking for a solution. We first experimented with these no-spill trays from OXO. They have a silicone rubber flap that in theory is supposed to seal the open top of the tray so that it can be tilted without losing the contents. But the problem with a lot of theories is that they don’t stand up to actual real world practice. When we received our two floppy-topped trays and tried to put them in our freezer, we found that they were too long to fit inside the evaporator box, which means they had to be slid underneath it. This meant tilting the trays nearly vertical to fit them past the evaporator and get them down to the bottom of the freezer compartment. And while the rubber flaps on top did sort of slow down how fast the water drained from the trays when they were tilted, you definitely could not call them no-spill. While not quite a total fail, we knew we needed something better.

I remembered reading on another sailing blog about molds to make round ice balls, which sounded like it could possibly be our solution. But I seemed to recall that their approach involved individual molds that made one ice ball each, and we knew we were going to have to fuss with a lot of individual little molds to keep the ice coming. But it gave us a path to follow. After exploring some twists and turns along that trail on Amazon, we found these:

Savvy Ice 2 Pack Silicon Sphere Ice Molds

Intrigued, we ordered a pair, and broke them out to give them a try as soon as they arrived. They seemed to be the perfect size for our freezer, and are stackable. The first thing we learned was to ignore the instructions, which tell  you to fill the lower mold with water and then press the upper mold in place. This just made a wet mess. No, we learned it worked really well to go ahead and press the mold halves together (there’s a satisfying click-like feel as the two parts engage) and then fill them with a measuring cup through the little holes. This way you get each ball completely full, with no spillage. Pop them in the freezer, and viola, several hours later we had ice balls!Ice2

Ice1

It worked so well that we immediately ordered another pair of molds. We’re still experimenting with how long it takes to make a batch of balls, but we’ve started keeping two half-gallon plastic jugs in the freezer, and at least twice a day we can birth a batch of balls and put them in the jugs to stockpile a ready supply of adult beverage coolers.

It’s been said that ice is civilization. Eagle Too is now a most civilized place. 🙂

Sunshine And The Fine Art Of Boom Management

Last Monday at 0900, I turned off the breaker to our onboard battery charger. Since then, our refrigerator and freezer, lights, water, stereo, fans, indeed our entire DC electrical system, has been running solely on solar energy that we’ve captured and stored. In the days between then and now, we’ve seen a mix of sun, clouds and rain. I’ve followed the system’s operation closely. The day’s first trickle of power starts flowing into our battery bank a little before 0730, and the panels don’t shut down and go to sleep until about 5 PM. So far the peak power generation I’ve seen in bright sun at midday is just a touch shy of 20 amps. I designed our solar array to put out over 30 amps, but since it’s only mid-February and the sun is pretty low in the sky (and the panels are often being shadowed by the masts of surrounding boats), I’m confident we’ll get closer to and maybe even exceed our design goal once we head further south.Solar2

It’s now exactly one week later, and after seven days unplugged, our bank reads 87.2% full. The charging day is just beginning, so even though it’s supposed to remain cloudy today, I expect our bank to be above 95% full by dinnertime. My goal was to create a system that would eliminate the need to run our generator or engine to charge our batteries. I believe we’ve succeeded. 🙂

Also, on Monday afternoon a strong front blew through with 40+ knot winds. The method we worked out to mount our flexible solar panels to our fabric Bimini survived the gusts with no hint of lifting or flapping.Bimini5

One thing I didn’t sufficiently appreciate though until we actually activated our array is just how sensitive solar panels are to shadowing. I found that the shadow cast on the panels by the boom could drop the system’s total output by up to 60%.  Getting the most out of our system means that in the morning, I have to pull the boom to its starboard-most position to get its shadow off the panels. In early afternoon, it has to be pulled all the way to port as the sun moves west in the sky. So we’ve learned that proper boom (shadow) management is now going to be a part of our daily routine if we want to keep the solar juice flowing and the bank topped off.Solar3

I’ll soon do another post in our More Power, Scotty! series to give some of the technical details of how we integrated solar charging into our onboard electrical system.

A Pleasure Doing Business

In The Beast Arrives, we posted about our new 55 lb anchor from Mantus Anchors in Kemah, Texas. Once it was hung on the bow roller, we then had the little matter of what to do with our old 35 lb Manson Supreme. Since both anchors are modern spade designs with roll bars, they weren’t going to fit side-by-side on the bow. But the Manson is just too good of an anchor to let go of. After all, the only time it ever let us down was during the 50+ knot winds we encountered in Our Perfect Storm. I had this idea that if I could find a way to store it on the stern pulpit, it might make a great emergency brake if we ever needed to stop the boat in a hurry.

As it turns out, the folks at Mantus make what looked like a terrific solution to our dilemma. It’s a rail-mounted anchor bracket that holds a wide variety of anchors. But the specs on the unit say that while it can carry up to a 45 lb Mantus or Rocna, it can only hold a 25 lb Manson. Wondering why this would be so since all three anchors are very similar, I called Mantus to ask why.

It turns out that the stock on the Manson Supreme is extra tall to incorporate their unique rock slot, and this prevents it from fitting in the bracket properly. But this is where the folks at Mantus stepped up. Rather than just saying, “So sorry, thanks for calling, buh-bye,” they instead offered to grind the bracket so that the internal rollers could be set deeper and allow it to take our Manson anchor. For free. While also giving us a Miami Boat Show discount, when we weren’t even at the show. Sold!

Unfortunately, after taking some measurements, they emailed me back to say that it wouldn’t be possible to modify the bracket the way they thought. So we brainstormed a little. And I said, “You know, it looks to me like if you removed the bracket rollers and just used the roller axle bolts, the anchor should fit.”

“You might be right,” they said. And then they actually took the time to remove the rollers from one of their brackets and take it to West Marine, where they pulled a 35 lb Manson Supreme off the shelf to test it. And then they took pictures and emailed them to me to show that it would work! Now understand, I’m not talking about a $5,000 item here. This bracket was less than $150. How hard would it have been for them to just say, “Not worth the effort,” and blow us off? So I’d definitely call that “going the extra mile.”

So the bracket arrived and after playing around with it a bit, I found that you could leave the bottom roller in place, only the top one had to be removed to allow the 35 lb Manson to fit. I just slid a short length of scrap water hose onto the axle bolt to cushion the anchor. Color me happy. 🙂Bracket1 Bracket2 Bracket3

In addition, I had heard about some fancy new rail clamps that Mantus had developed, and I wanted to try some. They looked like they could be really useful as we work out where we’re going to store all the gear we plan to bring onboard prior to departure. So I purchased a pair. When they arrived, I tested one out, snapping it onto our bimini frame, the new top rail we recently added, and the companionway handholds. But when I tried it on the aluminum cargo rack we had made for our cabin top, I broke the clamp. I could tell that there was some extra resistance when I tried to clamp it, but I forced it, and it snapped. I was really puzzled by this, because everything I tested the clamp on was supposed to be 1″ railing. But I pulled out my micrometer and took some measurements, and learned that while the stainless steel bimini frame, top rail and handholds were all 1.000″, the aluminum cargo rack tubing measured 1.04″. This was apparently enough to overload the jaws on the clamp when I tried to close it, as it just wasn’t able to compress that aluminum tube down to 1″.

“Oh well, lesson learned,” I thought. I also thought that the folks at Mantus might like to know that their clamps probably aren’t suitable for use on aluminum railing, so I sent them an email describing what had happened, along with a picture of the broken clamp. That’s all, I wasn’t really looking for anything from them. But less than 30 minutes later I received a return mail apologizing for the problem I’d encountered and informing me that they were sending me two more clamps for my trouble!

Bracket4 Bracket5

So this is a little shout out to the folks at Mantus Anchors thanking them for their devotion to customer support. A company that tries this hard to earn your business is a pleasure doing business with.