Category Archives: What?

Anything related to gear or boat items.

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!

Right Place, Right Time—Our First Grand Prix!

Sometimes things just happen in a way that ends up putting you in the right place at the right time. If I hadn’t shattered my kneecap a few months ago, Rhonda and I would have long since headed to Cuba and the Bahamas. But since our stay here in St Petersburg had been extended for my recovery and recuperation, we’ve ended up experiencing some pretty interesting things. One we’ll probably always remember is this weekend’s St Petersburg Grand Prix. We’ve watched for a month now as they turned two miles of downtown streets into a Formula One race track. This past weekend, it was showtime.

If you’ve been with us long enough to have read our post “Yes I Am (Or Theoretically Could Be) a Pirate,” then you know we’re not above looking for an angle to exploit when trying to save a few dollars while taking in new experiences. In this case, we wanted to check out the race, but the tickets seemed pretty steep at $75 each. But we’ve been here long enough now to get pretty familiar with the layout of the town, and it only took us a short while to find a spot that hadn’t been adequately fenced, and from where we could see some of the action at the best possible price—free!

It’s been quite the scene here in the marina as our dock filled up with the expensive yachts of racing team owners, helicopters buzzed overhead, and the air was filled with the sound of thousands of angry hornets generated by Indy race cars roaring around the course at speeds up to 175 mph.

This shows where we were in relation to the action.

And here’s a cool little video we grabbed from the televised coverage that gives you an idea of the size of the marina (largest on the west coast of Florida) its proximity to downtown and the municipal airport, which is where the grandstands were set up for the race.

It’s now the day after and the show is over, so we took a walk on the empty track that just yesterday was buzzing with action.

We found what are called tire marbles everywhere, and picked up a few as souvenirs. They’re formed from the rubber that peels off the race car tires as they zoom along the course. I wondered why the cars were constantly in the pits getting tires changed, but now I understand. The rubber they use has the consistency of chewing gum!

While I don’t think it’s something we’d plan to try and attend again, getting to experience the St Pete Grand Prix was definitely one of the highlights of our stay here.

Broken Parts and Dead Celebrities

As you may know, there’s an old superstition that says that celebrity deaths always come in threes. For example, did you know that Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett both died in the same week as Michael Jackson? Spooky, eh? It’s a common enough occurrence that whenever we hear of the death of someone famous, we wonder who the next two will be.

Apparently, this evil juju has now extended its influence to include the pieces and parts that make up a sailboat. Maybe this sinister cosmic force was just looking for something new to dabble in. Who knows.  But I’ve written before about how when you’re developing your cruising budget, you should plan on annually spending 10% of your boat’s purchase price on maintenance and repairs. As things would have it, this month was looking like a pretty good one for us. Probably due to the fact that we’re really just sitting in the marina while I recover from knee surgery and thus not using the boat much, I thought we were actually going to get away with no broken things needing expensive parts to fix, which definitely helps the financial bottom line. Not that we haven’t been paying to fix things lately. It’s just been money spent on doctors and physical therapy to fix my broken kneecap, rather than parts of the boat.

But then Rhonda noticed some water in the bilge. Not too much, just a few pints, but since we keep a dry bilge, any water down there means something is wrong. It’s the biggest reason why we encourage people to try and create a dry bilge. Not only does it help with odor control and keep the humidity down, it also gives you a clear warning when something starts to leak.

The good news was that the water was fresh, which meant a plumbing or rainwater leak. Finding saltwater in the bilge means your boat is slowly sinking, and the bilge pump is the only thing keeping you afloat.

I suspected I knew the source, and pulling the settee apart so that I could access the freshwater system revealed a leaking freshwater pump gasket. I jumped on the Defender site to order a replacement. While I was at it I also ordered an inline shutoff valve from Plumbingsupply.com that I’ve been wanting to install upstream of the pump so that I can easily isolate our water tank if I want to do some maintenance on the freshwater system.

New isolation valve on the left, and quick disconnects installed in pump wiring to make a future replacement easier.

Next, it’s that time of month when I like to run our outboard motor and generator to make sure the gas in the carburetors doesn’t go stale. It’s a precautionary routine maintenance task that we try to regularly do to ensure they’ll both easily start when we need them. But apparently we were now caught up in the rule of threes, because when I inserted the motor safety key in the stop switch so I could start the outboard, the red kill button fell off in my hand. It’s really not supposed to do that. While you can disconnect the switch and still start the outboard, it’s a bit hard to shut the motor off without this little piece of safety equipment. So I was off to Boats.net to order a replacement. I’m just glad this happened here at a dock in St Pete during a routine check, rather than somewhere down in the islands.

And then the discharge connection on the air conditioning pump got broken, meaning no more A/C or heat until we installed a replacement. So back to Defender I went to place another order.

So in less than 48 hours, we went from thinking we’d have a surplus in the monthly maintenance budget line to suffering three equipment failures requiring over $500 in parts. This naturally puts us right on target to maintain that 10% annual repair expenditure, but at least the law of threes is appeased, and order and balance has apparently been restored to the cosmos.

Our Latest Articles!

Rhonda and I were pleasantly surprised to open our February issue of Southwinds magazine and see that I had not one, but two articles published in the issue! With some of the bumps we’ve encountered along our cruising road this past month, this put a smile on our faces, and will even add some dollars to the cruising fund.

“A Cellular Plan for Cruisers,” our explanation of why and how we chose Google Fi as our cellular carrier for cruising, appears on page 48 of the February 2018 issue.

And “What’s In A Name,” a humorous look at picking a good name for a cruising boat, is on page 70.

If you’re interested, check your local marina or favorite marine store for a copy, or you can read them online at the Southwinds Magazine site:

Read the Current Issue of SOUTHWINDS Magazine

And don’t forget, if you enjoy the articles and would like to sample more of my writing, my science thriller Lunar Dance is still available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions! 🙂 Check the page margins for a link.

The Road to Recovery

I’d never ridden in an ambulance before. I guess that’s a pretty good thing. But now here I was, strapped to a gurney, taking that dreaded ride. I can’t say I recommend it. The vehicle swayed and bounced, and if I hadn’t been belted down I probably would have ended up on the floor. Plus the service left a lot to be desired. I asked if I could have a little water. The EMT replied, “We don’t have any water, or peanuts either.”

“Really?” I said, with a “So that’s how it’s going to be” tone.

“Sorry, but we get asked that a lot. We don’t have any water.” At least she was smiling, so I think it was intended to be a lighthearted moment.

And a little while later, there I was in the ER treatment room, Rhonda by my side, as the doctor looked at my X-rays.

“You’re going to need surgery,” he said.

“It’s not just dislocated?” I asked with resignation.

“Lateral fracture of the patella,” he explained, showing me in the X-ray image where what should have been one bone was now two distinct pieces. “By the way, that was pretty badass, pushing your kneecap back into place,” he added. He said he’d worked with hockey teams quite a bit, had seen similar injuries, but couldn’t recall a time where the patient was able to relocate the broken bone himself. “Kudos,” he added.

The hospital arranged a consult with an orthopedic surgeon for the next day, but since my condition wasn’t severe enough to admit me, they gave me a leg brace, a pair of crutches, and a prescription for pain meds, and showed me the door. Unfortunately, in my current condition, there was no way I would be able to climb back onboard Eagle Too. We had to book a hotel room for the duration.

The next day, at the surgeon’s office, the doctor explained that the lower third of my kneecap was mush and unsalvageable, but the top two thirds looked pretty good. In my current state, my patellar tendon, which is what moves the lower leg, wasn’t connected to anything, which explained why I had no ability to lift or straighten it. But he felt pretty confident he’d be able to reattach the tendon to what remained of my kneecap, restoring normal leg function. A few weeks of recovery and a few months of physical therapy and I should be, if not quite as good as new, at least able to return to my normal range of activities. He scheduled the surgery for the next day.

We’d never used Uber before. It actually works really well. Until now Rhonda had been able to borrow a car from some friends in the marina (thanks Mike and Jen!) to transport me around. But they had plans today, so we took an Uber to the surgery center. I can see why the service has become so popular. Once you set the app up on your phone and enter your payment method, then you just type in where you need to go, and in minutes a car pulls up to take you there. No cash is required, as the payment is handled by the app. I guess if there’s one small bright spot in all this, it’s that we’ve learned a new way to get around.

The surgery went well. The doctor said I could walk on the leg while I was recovering, and that he’d see me in 12 days to take off the leg brace and unwrap everything. If it all looked good, I could then start physical therapy.

We stayed in a hotel for five nights, but I wanted to get back onboard Eagle Too as soon as possible. Not only is she our home, but the hotel bill was eating us alive. With Rhonda’s help and the assistance of friends in the marina I finally stepped back onboard five days after the accident.

With a few minor bumps, each day since has been better than the one before. I’m eight days post-surgery now, and while I still have a cage on my leg and a bandage from my ankle to my thigh, I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve been completely off pain meds for over 36 hours, and I can lift and walk on the leg with little pain. Rhonda has been taking very good care of me, and I’m quite fortunate to have such a capable partner. I can’t imagine what dealing with something like this would be like for a single-hander who doesn’t have someone to prepare meals and dispense meds and take care of all those little boat chores that still need doing like filling the water tank and adjusting the lines. Thank you for being there for me, dear!

So that’s where things stand as of today. I have my follow-up appointment next week, and I’m pretty sure it will go just fine. With Rhonda’s help I was able to get off the boat and take a short walk on the pier yesterday. Today we did it again and I went at least twice as far.  Hopefully before long my range will increase from just a brief stroll on the pier to being able to make it the three or four blocks into town so we can take in a few movies at the AMC or grab lunch someplace. It will probably be a while before I can get on a bike again though.

It’s still too early to tell what comes next for us. We’ll most likely call off the rest of this cruising season and return to Pensacola in a few months so that I can finish rehab at home. With luck, by spring this will all be just an unpleasant memory and we’ll be ready to head south again next fall. There is even a (remote, but not impossible) chance that if my leg heals enough in the next four to six weeks, we might be able to salvage at least a few months of the season, possibly traveling down to the Keys. We’ll see. I’d just need to feel confident in my ability to do things like get in and out of the dinghy, climb the stern boarding ladder or stand on the foredeck and work the anchor windlass without my left knee folding up.

I do know one thing though. If I ever decide to move forward with that cruising guide I’m considering writing, I’ll be able to approach the chapter on “Dealing with Medical Emergencies” from a position of firsthand experience!

In The Blink Of An Eye

Eagle Too tugged at her lines, dancing and swaying at the dock as she was buffeted by strong north winds. Rhonda and I slept fitfully, our rest constantly interrupted by sudden jerks and shudders. In the early AM, we simultaneously awoke, both realizing that the boat didn’t feel right. She had a pronounced list (lean) to port, and the boat wasn’t rolling back to level as she should. Something was wrong. And I had a pretty good idea what it was.

The full moon (the Wolf Moon) had shown brightly and clearly in the sky when we had gone to bed the previous evening. A full moon makes for spring tides (which has nothing to do with the season), with higher highs and lower lows than are typical. The strong north wind that had been blowing since the passage of a recent cold front had pushed an enormous amount of water out of Tampa Bay. Taken together, the result was an extreme minus tide. Poking my head up the companionway, I could see that Eagle Too was sitting almost four feet below the dock.

We’d been here at the St Petersburg Municipal Marina for over six weeks, and we’d “dialed in” our lines and fender board so our boat rose and fell to the tides with no adjustments necessary. But this super-low tide had us hanging from our lines, which had drawn up as tight as guitar strings, causing the boat to roll to port. I had to go ashore and loosen them to relieve the pressure or risk tearing out our deck cleats.

As I stood on deck, the dock was at about the level of my upper stomach. Placing my hands on the dock, I jumped up and got a knee on top of it while doing a pushup, easily scrambling up off the boat. Loosening the lines to take the pressure off our cleats, Eagle Too settled down into the water and rolled back to level. Job accomplished, all I wanted was to return aboard and crawl back into our still warm bed.

Because the lines were now loosened, Eagle Too was not only almost four feet below me, but the north wind had also pushed it about 2 feet away  from the dock. It seemed like the best way to get back aboard was to sit on the edge of the dock with my legs dangling over the side while Rhonda, who was still aboard, pulled the lines to try and pull the boat closer to the dock. She pulled the boat in as close as she was able, and then released the line and moved aside so I could jump back aboard. I swung my legs out in front of me, pushed off the dock with both arms, and launched myself in an arc toward what I thought was going to be a graceful landing onboard.

Maybe it was because the boat started drifting away as soon as Rhonda released the line, or maybe it was because the graceful arcing leap my youthful feeling brain attempted to perform was poorly executed by my not-so-youthful 59 year old body. But rather than both feet landing squarely on the deck as planned, I just barely caught the edge of the boat with the tips of my toes. Down I went, falling along the side of the boat, eventually catching myself with my elbows and preventing a fall into the frigid water.

A quick blast of pain told me I’d banged my left knee on the toerail of the boat as I slid down the side.  But my first concern was to get myself back onboard. Pushing myself upright and swinging my legs up over the side, I was able to clear the side of the boat, collapse onto the deck, and then crawl into the cockpit. I was relieved that I hadn’t gone swimming, and grateful that I hadn’t hit my jaw or head. We’ve known of others who had killed themselves in similar circumstances by hitting their heads, knocking themselves out and falling into the water and drowning.

With time to now evaluate the situation, I took stock of my condition. My arms and shoulders were a little sore from where I’d fallen onto them, but everything still worked. My biggest problem was that my left leg was really starting to throb, and I couldn’t move it very much. I pulled up the leg of the sweatpants I’d donned to go topside, and the first thing I noticed was that my left kneecap was now on top of my thigh.

“Well that can’t be good,” I thought. “Better put it back where it belongs.” I believed it was most likely dislocated, and pushing it back into place seemed like the right thing to do. So I put my left palm on the lump atop my thigh, placed my right hand over the left, and then gently walked my patella back to the front of my knee. I needed a couple of minutes to catch my breath after that, but then I took my leg in my hands and began slowly flexing the knee to make sure nothing else was broken while Rhonda went below to grab an ice pack.

“OK, this is going to be fine,” I thought. “A few days of ice and compression and I’ll be good as new.” Just then one of the marina dock managers walked by, checking to see how boats were handling the low tide. “How’s it going?” he asked.

“Not so good,” I replied, rubbing my knee with both hands. “I just fell back onboard after adjusting our lines, and I banged my knee up pretty good.”

A look of concern crossed his face. “Do you want me to call someone?” he asked.

I started to say no, that I’d be fine. But I had enough presence of mind to realize that maybe I wasn’t. It probably wouldn’t hurt to get it checked out. So the marina called EMS. While waiting, the adrenaline starting subsiding, which had been hiding the pain. By the time EMS arrived, I realized asking for help had been the right call. The EMS crew agreed, and radioed the Fire Department. It was going to take a whole bunch of people to lift this 200 lb invalid up off the boat, onto a dock, and into a gurney.

The day had started as just one of those days where life had tossed us a little challenge that we often encounter in our Life On The Hook™. But in the blink of an eye, everything had changed, and now I was taking my first ambulance ride.

More to follow…

An Unpleasant Encounter With Nate

It started out as just another week. Monday, October 2nd dawned warm and clear, and the weather news talked primarily about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and its just concluded rampage across Puerto Rico.

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service noted an area of disturbed weather in the Caribbean off the coast of Panama, and gave it a 40% chance of developing into a tropical system. It seemed too far away to worry very much about. Rhonda spent the day running errands with her sister, while I had a long lunch with my brother followed by beers at Pensacola Bay Brewery. Our canvas contractor was onboard Eagle Too templating our new dodger.

dodger

Wednesday morning, the area of disturbed weather had become tropical depression 16, with the forecast track taking it to the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday. That afternoon, our marina issued the first in a series of emails expressing concern and reminding us of their criteria for determining when to close and evacuate the marina. We really hoped nothing would come of it, as we didn’t want to have to implement our hurricane plan. Boats began to leave, however, because Pensacola Shipyard had implemented its hurricane haulout plan. Our anxiety level started to ratchet up.

Before closing for the day, the marina office informed us that a decision would be made the following morning regarding a mandatory evacuation after the 10AM CDT update from the National Hurricane Center. We started talking through the steps in our plan. We both slept poorly that night.

Thursday, October 5th began as another sunny, humid Florida day. The storm was now Tropical Storm Nate, and was forecast to make landfall to our west as a hurricane in less than 72 hours. I felt it would be too far away to do us much harm. We idly puttered around the boat waiting for word. When midday approached with nothing from the marina, we felt it was safe to go into town and do some shopping. At 1PM, my phone dinged notifying me of an incoming email. The subject was “MANDATORY EVACUATION OF MARINA.” It was a punch to the gut. I still didn’t think the storm would amount to much, but it wasn’t our decision. We had to go. We wrapped up our errands and returned to the boat, spending the remainder of the afternoon collecting the things we knew we’d need to take ashore.

One of the reasons we’ve returned to Pensacola the last two hurricane seasons is because we have options here in the event of a storm. The marina at the nearby Naval Air Station is tucked in the arm of a well protected bayou, and we have family here with whom we can seek shelter rather than have to try and find transportation and a hotel room. We hoped we’d never need to invoke our plan, but it was good to have one regardless. Some of our marina neighbors were at a loss as to what to do.

The evacuation order gave us until noon on Saturday to leave, but we knew that conditions would begin deteriorating Friday afternoon. So after another restless, anxious night, we were up early Friday to prepare to get underway.

nate1

An hour later, we were safely tied to the Transient Dock at the Bayou Grande Marina at NAS Pensacola. They put us on the inside, which is where we wanted to be. Less chance of being hit by another boat there in the event one broke loose, plus the strong southeasterly winds would be pushing us off the dock rather than hard against it.

nate2

We worked the rest of the afternoon and into the evening preparing Eagle Too for the coming storm. My first concern was to break down our solar panels and bimini. If you’ve read our More Power Scotty! series, then you know we designed our bimini mounted flexible panels to be firmly attached, yet easily removable in the event of a hurricane. In two years, this was the first time we’d had to test that process. Fortunately, it only took a little over an hour to remove the panels and wiring, unzip the canvas, and fold up and secure the frame. Everything stored compactly below.

removingpanels1 removingpanels2 panels

All loose gear was brought below, and we tripled up our lines, running additional “just in case” spring lines to take over if a primary line chaffed through and failed. I still didn’t think we’d see winds over 60 mph, which we’ve experienced in the past in thunderstorms, so instead of taking down the jib, I tightly wrapped it multiple times with our spinnaker halyard to keep it from unfurling accidentally. The marina confirmed that they would leave the power on, so we decided not to empty our refrigerator and freezer. With our solar panels offline, I knew our refrigeration would only be able to run for about 48 hours in the event of a loss of shore power before our batteries were dead, so I secured our power cord with bungee cords and duct tape to prevent it from shaking loose and unplugging itself.

Exhausted from stress and storm preparations, we headed to Rhonda’s sister’s house for the evening. We had another restless night.

Saturday morning saw us back at the boat to finalize our preparations. FInally, we stood back, looked everything over, and declared Eagle Too ready for a Cat 1 hurricane. We gave her a pat, wished her luck, and headed inland.

secure secure2

First though, we stopped back by Palafox Pier to see how the evacuation had gone. It looked eerie seeing all the empty slips.

slip

Although the storm was still 12 hours away, the surge was already starting. It was still hours away from high tide, but our floating dock was already higher than we had ever seen it. Normally the walkway around our marina is at about my head level.

surge

It was a long evening, as we sat at Rhonda’s sister’s house glued to the Weather Channel. For reasons I’ve never understood, hurricanes seem to prefer to come ashore in the dead of night, and Nate was no exception. Landfall occurred as a strong Cat 1 storm just after midnight.

weatherchannel

One thing in our favor was the fact that Nate obviously had someplace it needed to be. While a typical hurricane might rumble along at 8 or 10 miles an hour, Nate flew by at over 20. In just a few hours, the worst was over.

Sunday morning, I received a text from another boater who had ridden out the storm on his Lagoon catamaran across the dock from Eagle Too, informing us that she looked just fine. Whew! What a relief it was to receive that news. We’d left our wind instrument on when we departed, and found out when we returned that the wind had peaked at 44 knots, or about 50 mph, which really wasn’t that bad, merely tropical storm range.

And by Monday, it was all over and it was just another week. The weather was partly cloudy with a gentle south wind, and Palafox Pier emailed to notify us that they were open for business again. We took Eagle Too out of bondage and headed back downtown, having a pleasant sail for most of the trip.

returning returning2

By lunchtime, Eagle Too was securely back in her slip, and we watched as other boats began finding their way home.

slip2 slip3

We have a bit of work ahead of us, restoring everything back to its proper place onboard. As it happens, we were already planning to remove our solar panels and bimini so that our canvas contractor could attach a zipper to tie it to our new dodger, as well as fix a few areas that have gotten worn during our travels. Removing all our shades and covers also revealed that we have a bit of deep cleaning to do, which is something we’d want to attend to anyway before heading out next month. So I guess in hindsight, there was some benefit that came from it all.

But we hadn’t been back in our slip more than a few hours when Rhonda looked up from her phone and said, “So did you see that there’s a new Tropical Storm in the Atlantic?”

Her name is Ophelia. I hope she stays far away from us. It’s someone else’s turn now.

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.

In Praise of Production Cruisers

This is a post for those of you that geek out on the technical side of boating and marine design. I was having a conversation recently with a fellow boater who told me that he was shopping for a cruising sailboat, but was advised to ignore production boats (e.g.  models by Beneteau, Catalina, Hunter, Jeanneau) as they weren’t suitable boats for cruising. Next to the relative merits of different anchor types, few topics will generate a more heated discussion among a group of sailors than the suitability of modern production boats for cruising. On one side you have the Old Salts, who think only limited production, heavier displacement, craft-built boats like a Hinkley, Westsail or Bristol can safely transport you to faraway islands. On the other side, you’ll find a large number of sailors who own and actively cruise their late model production boats and who know from experience that no matter where you go in the world, you’ll find the harbor full of boats that Old Salts will swear were never capable of making the trip. It’s clear which side we fall in with. We’ve traveled close to 5,000 nautical miles so far on our 1997 Hunter 376, and think she’s a terrific boat for island hopping.  There’s a list of features that we think make her a great cruiser, but the one I’d like to talk about today is how the use of an interior fiberglass floor pan stiffens and reinforces the hull.

At one time, builders hand-fitted wooden frames into their hulls, and then fiberglassed them in place. Unfortunately wood rots, particularly if water finds a way inside the fiberglass. And all the labor needed to do this fitting and layup costs a lot. So as fiberglass technology progressed through the 1970’s and 80’s, builders began devising ways to cut production costs by molding a solid fiberglass floor grid consisting of a series of box beams, and then gluing this into the hull interior. The Old Salts will say that this makes access to the interior of the hull impossible in the event that you get holed (you hit something at sea that punches a hole in the bottom of your boat). But the modern naval architect will point out that as an engineered, wood free structure, this grid is incredibly strong, light and will never rot. Personally, while both may have a point, I’ll take light, strong, cheap and durable, which benefits us every single day, over the extremely unlikely possibility of being holed while underway, requiring an emergency repair at sea.

We recently pulled up a portion of our cabin sole in order to refinish it, in the process exposing some of our boat’s interior floor pan.

floorpan1a floorpan2

As I looked at the box beam grid, I realized that I had seen this method of reinforcing used before. Here’s a shot of a Metro subway station in Washington, DC, which Rhonda and I have ridden many times in years past:

washington-dc-metro

The box beam construction they used when building this tunnel makes for a light yet strong structure that resists the weight of the city above. And if you took the top of that subway tunnel and flipped it over, you’d have something pretty similar to how a modern production boat hull is designed.

To give you an idea of how long engineers have known that a box beam grid makes for a strong, light structure, here’s a picture of the Roman Pantheon, constructed almost 2,000 years ago and still standing despite being built in a seismically active area.

roman-forum-2

This is pure engineering excellence. So as far as I’m concerned, if an Old Salt tells you that production boats aren’t strong enough to take cruising, ask them how they can doubt a technology that’s been in use and performing well for over two millennia.

Making Space

If you’ve spent any time around boats, you know how valuable storage space is. There’s never enough room for all the “stuff” you want to bring onboard, and being a cruiser and liveaboard means life is a constant exercise in possessional triage, where every item has to have enough value and utility to make the cut and find a home on board, with the rest ending up stored ashore or disposed of. Things are even a bit worse when you own a Hunter, like we do. Hunter put a great deal of effort into packing the biggest living spaces possible into the hull, which makes the boat live like one that’s significantly larger. But it comes at the expense of little things like storage lockers. You get a lot of room to lounge on a Hunter, but not a lot of places to store stuff. So when we find a way to turn an unused area into a locker, we jump on it.

While waiting around to see what Hurricane Irma was going to do, we decided to start pulling out our cabin sole (interior floor) to apply some coats of polyurethane. When we unscrewed the chart table seat from the deck and removed the sole panel, we found this vacant, completely empty, totally unused void. There’s probably two whole cubic feet of potential storage there! Enough to allow for a significant expansion of our wine collection, an additional case of beer, or possibly even something practical, like groceries and spare parts.

locker

We know a really good, reasonably priced marine carpenter here in Pensacola, so I immediately gave him a call to ask him how busy he was at the moment. As things worked out, his truck was at the repair shop and he was just puttering around his shop working on this and that. Could he do a quick plunge-cut on a sole board to put in an access panel, I asked him? Sure, drop it on by, he said. So we dropped the panel off, and four hours later we had a newly cut and trimmed out access panel, opening up this formerly sealed void that probably hadn’t seen the light of day since April of 1997 when Eagle Too was built.

locker1 locker2

Cutting the hole took a lot of the strength out of the panel, so before reinstalling it we attached a cleat to the head bulkhead to support the edge of the sole panel. I’m actually surprised the factory hadn’t put a support cleat here since that was such a large, unsupported span, and it explains why that particular floor board always creaked when walked on.

cleat

Do you own one of the hundreds of Hunter 376’s (or possibly a 380 or maybe even a 386, which are later versions of the same boat)? Then you might want to look into opening up this enclosed void. Because it’s an easy way to create a couple of cubic feet of that most valuable of spaces, a place to store your stuff.