Category Archives: How?

Anything related to projects or boat tasks.

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.

How We Broke The Boat

In a head-to-head battle between a boom vang and a topping lift, apparently the boom vang wins. Now I have to admit that there is a certain logic in this. You see, in the ongoing adventure that is a life afloat, Murphy’s Law reigns supreme. Breaking the boom vang is something that could be safely addressed from deck level. But the topping lift? Repairing that means that someone has to be hauled to the top of the mast, six stories above the water. So obviously, the one that requires the greatest physical danger to repair is the one that will cry Uncle.

Some background: a boom vang is used to pull downward on the boom to control mainsail twist. A topping lift is a line that pulls upward on the boom to keep it from falling downward when the sail is lowered. In our case, we use our topping lift to keep the boom elevated to the optimal angle for unfurling and furling our mainsail, which rolls up into the mast like a window shade. If the boom angle is off, the sail won’t roll in and out smoothly, which can be kind of a PITA.

Here’s a picture I found online of a vang in case you’re not familiar. Pulling the line on the vang shortens it, pulling the boom downward.

So there we were in 10,000 feet of water, crossing from the Great Bahamas Banks to New Providence, and the wind was dying. We’d started off moving along well, cruising at 6 knots in an 8 knot (apparent) SW wind. But as the wind lightened, our speed started dropping into the mid-5’s, and at times our knotmeter would read 4.9. We were trying to delay starting the engine for as long as possible, because damn it, we’re a sailboat, and we should be able to do more sailing! But we wanted to make it to New Providence by dinnertime, and we still had over 30 miles to go.

Since we’re cruisers, we don’t normally obsess over sail shape like racers do. As long as the boat is moving along at 5 knots or more and we’re not heeling excessively, it’s a happy day. But since we had places to be, I started fine tuning the mainsail to get everything I could out of what wind was left. I noticed that the top of the mainsail was twisting off to leeward (downwind) enough to spill air from the top third of the sail, costing us speed, and I wanted to fix it. So I tightened the vang, pulling down on the boom, and reducing the twist in the top of the sail.

But I forgot to loosen the topping lift. Because it’s set to a particular boom angle, I hardly ever touch it. And because we don’t race and aren’t constantly looking for ways to wring out another tenth of a knot, I usually don’t mess with the vang much. So I just didn’t make the connection when I noticed I had to winch really hard on the vang to pull the boom down. I didn’t think about the fact that I was stretching the topping lift. Not making excuses really, just a mea culpa.

A few minutes later, a cascade of line rained down onto the port side deck. “What the hell was that?” Rhonda and I asked each other, until I looked up and saw we didn’t have a topping lift any longer.

“Crap.” That’s about all I could think to say.

We were in the middle of a pretty good weather window, one that was supposed to last for several days, and our plans were to stop for the night in New Providence, and continue south the next day to the Exumas. But now we had a change of plans. It looked like we’d be heading to a marina in the hopes of finding a rigger who could fix our broken boat.

We learned an interesting thing about Nassau in the next few days. While it seems that there are sailboats all over the place, it turns out that there aren’t actually any people here who work on them. No matter where we called, looked or searched, we couldn’t find a single business that did rigging repair (note: I see a possible business opportunity for someone who wants to semi-retire to the Bahamas). I even texted our rigger back in Pensacola to see if he had any connections here. He suggested a person in Miami, who referred us to a contact on the island, who passed us on to the same local sailmakers loft that I had already called and who told me they didn’t do rigging. It took two days of phoning around just to find someplace that sold the line we needed, and then they only had it in red. (Red’s fine, red will work, we’ll take the red thank you very much. How much? $190? Sigh.)

We finally felt that we were making some progress when we approached the operators of NavTours, the local sailing charter base here at the Marina. “Sure, we have some people that can help, but you’ll have to talk to them and arrange something, and they’ll have to do it on their own time after they get off work,” we were told.

The next three days were spent talking to a succession of NavTours employees who all claimed they’d be happy to help, but then always failed to come through for one reason or another. Finally, we met Yasmin, the wiry French-Canadian, who said that if we’d move the boat at 7AM to a slip on the other side of the marina that faced into the wind and then take down our mainsail so he could use the halyard to ascend the mast, he’d do it for us. We shook hands and a plan was finally in motion.

We settled on the 0700 appointment for two reasons. Yasmin had to start work at NavTours at 10, which would give him three hours to help us. Also, the winds have been lighter in the morning, picking up significantly in the early afternoon.  Dropping and then reinstalling our huge mainsail would be impossible in any kind of significant wind. So underway at 0700 it was. But that meant the alarm had to be set for 0530. Being retired for several years now, neither of us had been up that early in longer than we could remember. But we rose to the challenge (and the alarm), and at five minutes after 7, we were sliding into the designated slip that faced into the wind, and I started taking down the main.

Things actually went pretty well from that point on. Yasmin fixed up his bosun’s seat to go up the mast, and I cranked him up while Rhonda tended the spinnaker halyard, which he used as a safety line. Of course, it was 10x harder than it sounds. About 50 turns on the winch to lift Yasmin was all my poor heart could handle before I’d have to stop, gasping for breath, and then take a break. It took at least seven or eight episodes of winch, gasp, pause to rest, then resume before he was finally at the top of the mast.

Going Up

Almost There!

Finally At The Top

Rhonda manning (womaning?) the safety line.

It was then that we discovered that I hadn’t just snapped the line. It looked like I had overloaded the topping lift masthead sheave (small pulley) so severely that I’d bent the axle, rendering it unusable.

That shaft is supposed to be straight!

The topping lift normally runs from the end of the boom to the top of the mast, over the sheave, down through the mast to deck level, and then back to the cockpit so it can be adjusted underway. But with the sheave destroyed, there was no good way to run a replacement. So it was on to Plan B. I passed a length of 3/8ths line up to Yasmin, and he tied it to the top of the mast. I could then tie this to the end of the boom, effectively acting as a replacement topping lift. Only it wouldn’t be adjustable. It would have to be set to a specific length and tied off. But that’s OK. We can work with that. It will allow us to keep sailing the boat, until we can make it back to Pensacola, land of readily available parts, overnight delivery, and easily obtainable rigging services, and have a proper repair done.

Yasmine came back down, the mainsail went back up, and a little after 9AM we were slowly sliding back into our original slip, all before the winds started picking up. A $100 bill changed hands, I tied off the new temporary line at what looked like a good height, and we were back in business.

Of course, it took five days to work out a solution, it caused us to miss what had been an excellent weather window, and it now looks like it will be about three more days before the winds again turn favorable for us to continue south.

And that’s the story of how we broke the boat. A simple little cautionary tale about how a brief lapse of judgement led to a week’s delay and over a thousand dollars in unanticipated expenses counting parts, labor and marina fees.

Just another day in the Bahamas, mon!

Galley Notes—Provisioning Tips

When it looked like our cruising season had been ended by my  recent injury, we began eating into our store of onboard provisions. But now that it looks like we’ll soon be on our way again, we’ve started restocking the pantry. Here are some provisioning tips we’ve learned for you current or soon-to-be cruisers out there.

First, before we leave the states we stock up on some essentials. We like to have plenty of shelf stable UHT milk (no refrigeration required until opened) onboard to make our morning lattes. While we’ve never had a problem finding bacon or some sort of breakfast sausage wherever we’ve traveled, we have had a hard time finding things like Spam and corned beef hash. Spam and hash can be scarce in the Bahamas, and when you do find them, they can run six to seven dollars a can, compared to about two bucks here at Publix.

Refrigerator space is some of the most valuable space on a boat, so in addition to buying UHT milk, another way we’ve found to stretch the limits of our cold storage space is to stock up on canned butter. We usually get a confused look from people when we mention it, and you probably won’t find it on the shelf at your local grocery store, but it’s easy to locate online. This is really high quality creamery butter from New Zealand that tastes wonderful. Each can holds the equivalent of three sticks of butter, and can be stored in the pantry with the other canned goods. As we open each one, Rhonda transfers the contents to a small plastic storage container to keep in the refrigerator.

We’ve never had a problem finding flour and oatmeal wherever we’ve traveled, but all the flour or cereal products we’ve purchased in Mexico (even at major stores like WalMart and Sam’s Club) or in small groceries in the Bahamas have come with unwelcome guests in the form of weevils. It’s common in stores down in the islands to have to look for flour in the freezer, as it’s the easiest way to protect from infestation. A traditional cruiser’s way of dealing with this is to add a liberal amount of bay leaves to the containers used to store pasta, cereals and grains. Apparently there’s something about them that weevils just can’t stand. So we keep an ample supply onboard. It’s much cheaper to purchase bay leaves in bulk than to buy spice-sized bottles, and this gives us enough to let us throw a liberal amount in each container used for cereals or grains. Plus we have plenty onboard for soups or stews!

Believe it or not, mac & cheese is a major staple in the Bahamas. They serve it as a side for everything, along with a dish called peas & rice. Dicing a can of Spam into mac & cheese is an easy to make one-pot meal when underway that we’ve found is one of the few things that goes down easily and stays down when it’s rolly enough to start making us feel a little green around the gills. So when we saw this while doing some online provisioning, we decided to give it a try.

It’s apparently a whole pound of what’s in that packet of golden goodness that’s included in every box of Kraft mac & cheese. We always have plenty of pasta onboard, and usually have butter and UHT milk, so with this, we’ll no longer have to hunt for boxes of Kraft while we’re down in the islands. We’ll let you know how it turns out. Plus we’re all set if we decide to whip up some beer & cheese soup someday!

Fuel By The Numbers

Trigger Warning: This post includes math. If this causes you anxiety, you may want to go browse through some of our other posts instead.

One of the lessons we’ve learned in the over 5,000 nautical miles we’ve traveled since embarking on our Life On The Hook™ is how reliant we are on our engine to get around. While we may live on a sailboat, we don’t really do that much sailing, because of the wind’s uncanny ability to always blow too much, too little, or from exactly the wrong direction. If we relied on the wind alone to get where we wanted to go, we’d probably spend months waiting for just the right conditions, or it would take five times longer to get where we were headed. I’d say we spend roughly 80 to 90% of our time underway either motoring or motor sailing. It always surprises new cruisers when we share this lesson with them, but whenever we catch up with them further down the line, they usually admit we were right.

Being as reliant as we are on our trusty little Yanmar diesel, you can imagine how unfortunate it would be to run out of fuel. We always keep a close eye on our fuel tank level, and a big part of planning for any passage is making sure we have enough fuel onboard to motor the entire way if necessary.

While we obsessively watch our fuel level, you may be surprised to find out that this gauge really isn’t very important or even useful:

It only provides a rough estimate of the level in our tank, probably plus or minus 25%. We’ve learned that we can be down six to eight gallons and the gauge will still say full, and when we’re underway and the boat is rolling, it will swing wildly over half its range. It also hits empty long before we are critically low, causing needless anxiety.

It turns out that this is actually a much more useful tool to tell how full our tank is:

How does the engine hours meter tell us how much fuel we have onboard? It’s really very easy. It all comes down to knowing our burn rate, or how much fuel our engine uses in an hour. When you know your burn rate, you can multiply that by the number of hours since your last fill-up to determine exactly how much fuel you’ve burned, and thus how much you have left (because you know how many gallons your fuel tank holds, right?).

So how do you determine your fuel burn rate? To get a rough estimate, you just fill up your tank, run the engine for a while, and then fill the tank back up again. Now divide how many gallons it took to fill up the tank by the number of hours you ran the engine, and you’ll get an answer in gallons per hour. This is your burn rate. Do this several times and average the results, and you’ll get an increasingly accurate estimate of your actual number. In our case, the year or so we spent sailing our local waters around Pensacola gave us an estimated burn rate of .6 gallons per hour.

Now this rough estimate was fine for ensuring we’d never run out of fuel while sailing our local waters, where we had numerous places to refuel. But when we started actively cruising, actually crossing oceans and traveling to remote places where there were fewer opportunities to refuel, we wanted to have a more precise number. That’s where a fuel log becomes vitally important.

In the back of our maintenance log, we have a section in which we record the engine hours every time we add fuel, and the number of gallons added. We began the process by carefully filling our fuel tank until fuel came out the vent, which told us it was completely full. For several months of cruising, we’d log our hours and gallons whenever we added fuel. After several hundred engine hours and over a hundred gallons of fuel burned, we once again filled the tank to the vent, bringing it back to full. Dividing the total engine hours by the total amount of fuel consumed gave us a much more accurate burn rate value of .664 gallons per hour.

Why go to all this trouble? Two main reasons. First, when we pull up to a fuel dock to fill up, the last thing we want to have happen is to overfill the tank, spill fuel out the vent and create a fuel spill in the marina. It makes everyone very cranky, and you can actually be fined for the environmental impact. If you’ve never been at a fuel dock, you may not know that because most sailboat fuel tanks are vented, they don’t build up the backpressure necessary to make the pump automatically click off like it does when you fill the tank of your car. When the tank is full, they just keep pumping, spilling fuel out the vent. So you need to have a way to know how much room there is in your tank so you know when to stop pumping.  A quick check of our fuel log and a simple calculation (engine hours since last fillup x burn rate) tells us exactly how much room there is in the tank and thus how much to pump.

Second, having this information lets us calculate our maximum range under power, which is a pretty good thing to know when planning to cross an ocean. For example, we carry 35 gallons in our tank, we want to maintain a 5 gallon reserve for emergencies, and we have 20 gallons of fuel on deck in Jerry cans. We know we can motor for (35 gal tank + 20 gal in jugs – 5 gal reserve) x .65 gal/hr = 76.9 hours. Let’s just call it 77 hours. Now we can calculate our maximum range for various speeds. If the wind, current and sea state limits our average speed to 5 knots speed over ground (SOG), we can travel  77 hrs x 5 nm/hr = 385 nautical miles under power. If things are a bit calmer, we’re not bashing into a swell or fighting a contrary current and can maintain closer to 6 knots, our range is 462 miles.  If we find one of those rare weather windows with calm seas, light and variable winds and no current, at cruise RPM we can maintain closer to 7.5 knots SOG, which would give us a maximum range of 577 nautical miles. We can also run the numbers in the other direction. If we know we can motor for 77 hours, we’ve been underway under power for 48 hours, and we have 120 miles left to go to our destination, we have enough fuel to complete the trip as long as we can maintain at least 4.2 knots SOG (120 ÷(77-48) = 4.13)

I’ll admit it takes a bit of discipline to keep an accurate fuel log, but the peace of mind we get from knowing exactly how much fuel we have and how far we can travel is worth the effort. The results speak for themselves. We went 11 months between complete fillups this year (i.e. fuel out the tank vent), putting 300 hours on the engine and burning 200 gallons of fuel. To completely fill the tank took 3.1 gallons more than I expected, which means our calculations were off by only 1.5%.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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!