Category Archives: What?

Anything related to gear or boat items.

Your Papers, Please

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Our Liveaboard-iversary!

It was December 27th, 2014 when Rhonda and I checked out of the extended stay hotel we’d moved into after selling our house, and settled into our new life onboard Eagle Too. That makes today the 4th anniversary of our embarking on our full time liveaboard life.

So here we are, four years later, deep in the midst of a transition back to life ashore. A friend of ours said we’re going to be CLODs. I guess it means Cruisers Living On Dirt. Will we still be considered cruisers once we have a permanent address ashore? Perhaps not. I’ve often said that someone shouldn’t claim membership in the cruising tribe who spends more nights sleeping in a bed ashore each year than in a berth afloat. For the last four years we’ve felt a strong affiliation with the tribe because we could literally count on one hand the number of nights we spent sleeping ashore in a year. But next year? Probably not. We do still hope to venture out in the future, but it will most likely be for weeks rather than months at a time. I guess maybe we’ll become part of the Cruiser’s Reserve? (that should totally be a thing!)

We’ll probably have more to say in the future about our thoughts on this transition. But for now, just know that while there are parts of this liveaboard life that we’re going to miss, there are also some pretty definite plusses to moving back ashore that we’re anxiously anticipating. For example, after four years, I think Rhonda and I have both gotten pretty weary of marina showers and restrooms. And there is absolutely nothing I think we’ll miss about trying to wash clothes in a marina washer or at a laundromat. And I really didn’t appreciate how much we missed having a car until we recently bought another one. Traveling around is now quite easy again.

And then there are days like today. A strong cold front is approaching the area, and we’re being buffeted at the dock by 30 knot winds, as the boat dances about, rolling, swaying and creaking. It will be a pleasant change on days like this to be under a sturdy roof surrounded by four brick walls, sleeping in a bed that isn’t tilting and rocking.

We’re supposed to be closing on our house in a little over two weeks, and we’ve starting thinking about the things we’ll need for a life ashore that we at one time owned, but got rid of in the great downsizing after selling our house. Our life today is filled with chartbooks and binoculars and lifejackets and VHF radios. But we’ll soon need things like small kitchen appliances and an iron and a broom and mop and towels for the guest bath. Meanwhile we have a mover scheduled to transport the contents of our 10×20 storage unit to our new home. We’re referring to it as Christmas in January, because we have boxes full of things that we packed away four years ago, and we really can’t recall exactly what might be in them.

But we don’t have a Christmas tree. Or at least, not a proper house-sized one. But since it looks like we’ll be CLODs soon, we used the Everything Must Go! day-after-Christmas blow-out sale to pick up what we’ll need for next year’s holiday decorating.

So I guess that means we’re really on our way…

Hurricane Michael—The Aftermath

Hurricane Michael grew to be the third most powerful hurricane to ever make landfall in the US, But being on the “good” side of the storm made all the difference in the world for us. The conditions we saw pretty much matched my expectations. Winds topped out at 35 knots (40 mph), a bit of rain, but nothing too unsettling. For once, the worst of it came during daylight hours instead of in the middle of the night, which was a pleasant change from the usual state of affairs.

Now that the storm has passed, I think I did just the right amount of boat preparation for the conditions  encountered. The only “hardship” I experienced was that the dockmaster cut the power to the marina at about 9PM last night, because he was afraid that the storm-surge-driven rising water would reach the marina power distribution boxes and flood them. So I had to spend the night without air conditioning. Oh the humanity!!!

It’s only been a few hours since the storm passed, but already the sun is peeking out and the wind has dropped to a gentle breeze. It won’t take long at all to have everything back in its proper place, and the forecast says this weekend is supposed to be beautiful, which means we might spend it out on the hook somewhere. Hopefully we’ll hear soon from others we know who were (or may yet still be) closer to the center of the storm. Meanwhile, the airport is supposed to be reopening tonight, which means Rhonda should be returning tomorrow from her trip out of town. I have to compliment her on her timing. It was a good week to be someplace other than the Gulf coast of Florida.

What’s That Sound?

I didn’t know propane regulators could potentially sink your boat. Well, I suppose I probably would have realized they could if I stopped to think about it. I just never gave it much thought. Whenever I have to go into our propane locker, I usually give the solenoid a quick glance, make sure the locker drain is clear, and check the pressure on the gauge. But I never think much about the regulator itself.

So let’s back up a little. Rhonda and I have been retired for several years now, and our life generally moves at a leisurely pace. But this summer, we’ve taken a couple new to life afloat, Beth and Stephen on S/V Cattywampus, under our wings to help them develop their skills and confidence. The nice thing is that they’re pleasant people to hang with, and are eager to learn. Oh, and they give us beer, which is no small thing. The not so nice thing is that they both have full time, Monday thru Friday jobs. That means if we’re going to take them out and show them a thing or two, we’re back to having to cram everything into a Friday afternoon to Sunday window. That hasn’t been our modus operandi for quite a while here on the good ship Eagle Too. We’re much more likely to head to that one particular anchorage during the week when no one is there, and head back just when everyone starts showing up Friday evening. That’s just the way we roll.

Anyway, there we were preparing for a Friday afternoon departure from the marina, headed for our favorite anchorage at Pensacola Beach. The plan was to show the crew of Cattywampus the somewhat tricky entrance to Little Sabine Bay. Actually, it’s probably about a 2 on a 10 point scale of trickiness, but I know we were a little intimidated the first time we attempted it seven or eight years ago, so it’s nice to have someone to follow in your first time.

We were almost finished with our underway preps and about to start unplugging shore power and start the engine. As I headed up the ladder to the cockpit, I suddenly thought I heard a new and unusual sound. A hissing sound that I couldn’t immediately locate and isolate. Was it us? Was it someone else? It wasn’t there just a few minutes ago when I went below to flip on our instruments. But it was definitely there now. And then I smelled it. The distinctive and pungent odor of propane. We keep our small green 1 pound propane bottle that we use for our barbecue grill in the stern propane locker where our big 10 pound tanks live. My first thought was that maybe it started leaking? I know those little green bottles aren’t the most reliable things.

I climbed onto our stern and  popped open the lid to the locker. I found the source of the hissing sound. It was the regulator. A jet of gas was shooting out a tiny hole in its side. I lifted the tank with regulator attached to look closer. The hole the propane was leaking from was labeled “vent.” Suddenly it all became clear. The diaphragm in the regulator had ruptured. Propane at 150 PSI was blowing out the regulator vent into our locker. No warning or indication. Everything was working fine and then it just apparently blew.

So why did I say that this could have sank the boat? Because while the propane locker lid closes with a gasket and vents out the bottom to the outside of the boat, it was designed to control and contain the type of low pressure, gradual leak you get when a fitting is a little lose or a gas line develops a small crack. But what we had here was the full 150 PSI gas pressure of the 10 lb propane bottle blowing out the regulator vent, leaking right past the locker lid gasket and enveloping the stern of Eagle Too in a cloud of propane. One errant spark could have produced a fireball, the likes of which would have been detrimental both to Eagle Too’s stern, and me standing there in the middle of it.

Some thoughts: How lucky we were that we just happened to catch it as it started. It wasn’t leaking, I went below for a few minutes, and then when I went back up topside, it was. If it had happened in the middle of the night, or while we were away from the boat, the entire tank would have vented. Maybe things would have still turned out OK, but I’m glad we didn’t have to find out. Also, I’m glad it happened here, where we have easy access to West Marine to pick up a replacement. If this had happened down in the islands somewhere, there’s no telling how long we might have wandered around without the ability to use our stove or oven, looking for a replacement regulator.

As it was, I was able to borrow Stephen’s car, pop up to West Marine, grab the only regulator they had in stock, rush back to the boat, and swap out the bad one for the new one. I even had a roll of the special purpose yellow Teflon tape onboard that’s safe for use in gas and fuel systems. Never use the white Teflon tape for gas and fuel lines, only the petroleum approved yellow stuff.

An hour later, we were on our way, with no harm done (except to our bank account) and a good story to tell. We even still managed to get anchored down before sunset. But tell me, does anyone think to carry a spare propane regulator onboard? We certainly never have. We carry one for the grill, but not for the main gas system.

So if you’re a cruiser, and your boat is approaching early middle age like ours, you might just want to think about adding an extra regulator to your list of onboard spares. Or potentially spend time eating cold Beanie Weenies while trying to source a new one down in the islands.

Hope That Checked the Box

We spent last weekend watching the progress of Tropical Storm Gordon. The projected track took it far enough to our west for it to be of just minor concern. When the marina staff went home for the long Labor Day weekend without even mentioning it, we thought we were home free. They issue a mandatory evacuation of the marina if tropical storm force winds are expected, and since no one seemed concerned, neither were we. Naturally we did the normal storm prep for gusty winds, like taking all the loose deck gear down below, strapping down the dinghy and rigging some extra lines and fenders. But we didn’t strip the sails or any of our canvas, like our dodger and bimini. We told dockmates who’d never been through a tropical storm not to worry as it just wasn’t going to be that bad.

Prepped and waiting

The Tuesday that Gordon paid us a visit started out about like we expected. By mid-afternoon things had turned quite blustery, and we were telling friends that this was probably as bad as it was going to get. In early evening, the boat was still calm enough that Rhonda was able to whip up a sumptuous and hearty meal.

Pork chops in orange sauce over jasmine rice and green beans with bacon

But Gordon had a few tricks up his sleeve. As darkness fell, the storm intensified to almost hurricane strength and veered more to the north, bringing it much closer than expected. By midnight things were pretty intense, with howling winds gusting to 55 mph pushing Eagle Too hard against the pier and creating a 20 to 30 degree heel.

I don’t know why storms always come ashore in the middle of the night. It sure seems though that every time we get hit by tropical weather, the worst occurs in the early AM, and Gordon was no exception. At one point, as the winds peaked and rain poured down and tornado alerts began alarming on our phones, we started gathering up some essentials in a ditch bag in case we needed to leave the boat to seek shelter in the marina laundry room. But just when it started feeling like leaving made more sense than staying, things finally started easing up. By 1AM we were able to walk the dock with a flashlight to check our lines and look in on our neighbors who were also riding out the storm onboard their boat. By 2AM we were able to climb into bed for some much needed sleep. By later that morning, it was back to being just another blustery day.

We never lost power, and fortunately there was very little lightning, for which we were grateful. We had surprisingly few rain leaks, as the recent work I’ve been doing replacing most of our old, leaky ports paid off. I suppose if we had known exactly how strong Gordon would become, we would have probably buttoned up the boat and headed inland to stay with family. But as we often say, if the experience was frightening but nothing got broken and no one got hurt, then it just means that in the end, we had an adventure resulting in a good story to tell. And adventure is the purpose of a Life On The Hook™, afterall.

One last thought. The night before Gordon hit, this was the wrapper from my nightly Dove chocolate (a tradition here on Eagle Too).

We held onto that little scrap of foil until the day after the storm, when we saw this…

We were having a stress relieving day-after dinner with Beth and Stephan from S/V Cattywampus to celebrate our surviving Tropical Storm Gordon when this rainbow appeared, arcing high over downtown. We’re hoping it’s a sign that with Gordon behind us, we can check that box for the year and not have to worry about storms again until next season!

Our Hypalon Anniversary

Yesterday was our 39th wedding anniversary. Checking online, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether or not there is a specific gift associated with 3.9 decades of matrimony. While there are a few mentions of lace being appropriate, there are more references that basically say that once you hit 25 years, you’ve been married long enough that you need to quit taking it so seriously and only shop for gifts every five years. Thirty-five years is jade, and 40 years is ruby. Thirty-nine years? You’re on your own. So it seems to us that since there are no rules, we’re free to do whatever we want, and damn the social consequences! So from now till forever, we’ve decided that the appropriate gift for 39 years of marriage is Hypalon and aluminum. Preferably something in a nice boat shape.

Unwrapping our anniversary gift—a West Marine aluminum hull Hypalon RIB. Man that’s a lot of plastic! Makes you wonder why everyone gets so worked up about plastic straws. Be free little dinghy!

Pumping up our new baby. It’s Florida, it’s August, so yes, I’m sweating. But did you notice I’m pumping up the boat with the leg I broke back in January? Yay me!

So light, clean and shiny! I’ll bet this thing is fast!

It just fits on the foredeck with no room to spare. A half inch longer and we wouldn’t be able to open the anchor locker. Thank you, West Marine, for your special 39th anniversary edition RIB!

Just like parking a new car in the driveway. The neighbors stop by to see the shiny new boat.

Old and new. After almost eight years, we’ll miss our old dinghy Eaglet. We had a lot of good trips together. But we just ran out of patience with crappy Mercury high pressure air decks. It’s a solid aluminum double hull for us from now on!

So just a few specifics for those who care. As we wrote about in our previous post providing a long term review of our Mercury air deck dinghy, we were just really tired of having to buy new air decks every year or two. We wanted a Rigid Inflatable Boat, or RIB, with a solid, deep V hull so that we’d never have to worry about a soggy floor again. Plus we can go faster. We learned down in the Bahamas that you really need a go-fast boat if you want to get around. With the long distances to cover, anything else is just a waste of time. But we wanted a RIB with a flat interior floor and a covered bilge so that all our belongings wouldn’t be sloshing around in two inches of water constantly. That meant a double hull. Fiberglass double hull RIBs are heavy. Since we lift our dinghy onto our foredeck for passages, weight was definitely an issue. Then we found out about aluminum hulled RIBs. The double hull models are quite a bit lighter than fiberglass ones. When West Marine marked all their boats down 30% in a recent one-day sale, and we saw we could save an entire boat buck ($1000) on a double hull aluminum RIB that was the perfect size for our foredeck, well, we jumped at it. It was our anniversary after all!

By the way, we’re currently looking for a good home for Eaglet, our old dinghy. Please tell us if you know of anyone who may be interested in adopting a loved but well worn inflatable boat with special needs. 🙂

Galley Notes—Stove Topper

Anyone who owns a boat knows that anything with the word “marine” associated with it commands a premium price. But did you know that a lot of the pieces and parts onboard are actually the same as the ones used in motor homes and travel trailers? It makes sense, since we tell people that our boat is basically an RV that floats to help them understand what it’s like to be a liveaboard cruiser. From water pumps and plumbing parts to locker latches and tank level gauges, power cables and hoses to LED lights and galley items, there’s a wide range of components that you can save a bundle on if you shop for them at your local RV store rather than at West Marine.

For example, the Seaward Princess propane stove on our Hunter 376 was also used in motor homes. So when we went looking for a stove top cutting board (which Rhonda won’t let me under any circumstances do any cutting on!), we found one at our local RV dealer for less than $40 that was custom made to fit.

I might not be allowed to chop and slice on it, but it does really extend the counter surface while we’re doing prep and cleanup, and it just looks great. So if you haven’t tried it yet, take a run down to your local RV dealer and wander around their parts department for a while. I think you’ll be amazed at all the things you’ll see that you’ll recognize and/or could use onboard, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the cost compared to marine store pricing.

Red, White & Blues and Broken Boat Bits

Our cruising off-season is bookended by two signature events. In mid-July, shortly after we arrive in Pensacola to wait out hurricane season, the US Navy’s Blue Angels perform at the Pensacola Beach Airshow, part of the Red, White & Blues 4th of July celebration week. In early November, the Blues end their season with their annual Homecoming Airshow at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Shortly after that, we’re on our way south again.

This past weekend was the beach airshow, and for once the weather was perfect, or at least as perfect as the Florida Gulf Coast in July can offer. While it was HOT HOT HOT with little breeze and a heat index in the triple digits, no thunderstorms interrupted the performance. The warmup acts all flew as scheduled, and the Blues performed their entire show all three days (practice flight on Thursday, dress rehearsal on Friday, and the airshow performance on Saturday).

We headed over on Thursday morning with plans to return to the marina after Friday’s show, because we’ve learned that the on-the-water drama ramps up dramatically from Thursday to Saturday as the number of boats crowding into the prime viewing areas increases exponentially. That part of the plan played out perfectly. Thursday was a mellow and uncrowded day, Friday saw some breakdowns, dragging anchors, and marine rescues, and by Saturday when things got truly insane we were safely tied up back in our slip.

When we left the pier Thursday morning, we had a fully functioning boat. Unfortunately, by the time we returned late the next afternoon, the windlass deck switch for raising the anchor had quit, and our refrigeration seawater circulation pump had expired. The windlass switch problem wasn’t completely unexpected, as we have had issues with it and already have the parts onboard to replace both the “up” and “down” deck switches. But the refrigeration pump, now that was something new. It was running just fine, up until the moment it wasn’t. Oh well, that’s life on a boat. You’re always just a few days removed from something breaking, failing, quitting, or otherwise making demands on your time and repair budget.

It was a great show though, and I’m glad we were able to experience it again. The pictures don’t begin to do it justice!

Mercury Air Deck Dinghy Long Term Review—Just Say No

It looks like the writing is on the wall for Eaglet, our Mercury dinghy. At just seven years old, I expected quite a bit more use from her, but we’re starting to suspect that she doesn’t have another cruising season in her. Since buying pretty much anything is much cheaper and easier in the US compared to down in the islands, that means we’re probably going to be buying Eaglet’s replacement sometime this summer. So for those who are considering a dinghy purchase, here’s our long term review of life with an air deck inflatable.

When we bought Eaglet, we had a short list of requirements. We wanted a CSM (Hypalon) boat, because they’re supposed to last much longer in tropical sun. Our home state of Florida is pretty tropical most of the year, and we had plans to eventually go cruising, so we wanted the durability of CSM rather than PVC. At the time, I was reading that PVC dinghies will fall apart after about 5 years in the islands, while a good Hypalon boat can last 15 years or more.

We wanted a fairly light boat, because we knew we’d be lifting it onto our foredeck for passages. We also wanted to be able to roll it up for convenient storage, but we didn’t want to have to find a place to store a removable plywood or aluminum floor. And we had hopes of being able to get the dinghy to plane so that we could travel faster and thus further, which ruled out a flat-bottomed sport boat. It needed to have a V hull.

Some of these requirements are sort of contradictory. But our research indicated that an air deck inflatable would check all the boxes. Rather than using plywood or aluminum for the dinghy floor, it has a high pressure inflatable floor, similar to an inflatable standup paddle board. The floor requires 10 psi, which is actually quite a challenge to pump up using the included manual air pump. With the floor and keel inflated, the boat has a V shaped hull, and thus should plane. But with everything deflated, the boat rolls up and stows easily. No heavy wooden floor meant it should be easy to winch onto the foredeck. So in 2011, we bought a new Mercury 270 Air Deck dinghy.

Life was good for a while. Eaglet was light enough to hoist with our spinnaker halyard, and when the floor, keel and hull were deflated, it could be rolled up into a fairly small bundle for transport or storage. She would plane with one person, but our six horsepower Tohatsu couldn’t coax her up on a plane with both Rhonda and I onboard. Maybe an 8 horsepower might have worked, but a 6 hp was what we had, so we lived with it.

But then one day, the floor went flat, rendering the boat practically useless. The bottom of the boat is too soft and flexible to walk on with the floor deflated. It cost almost $400 to buy a replacement. It was at that time that I discovered that while we had paid the money to buy a CSM dinghy, the air deck was actually PVC. Nowhere in the online literature or advertising for the boat did Mercury ever mention this little fact.

Less than six months after receiving the new air deck, it also went flat. It failed at the exact same place as the first one. The floor has about a 5” hole in it (I call it the doughnut hole) to access the valve to pump up the inflatable keel, and the tape around this hole had developed a leak. Since the floor came with a 12 month warranty, I was able to get a replacement, but it required me to pay to ship the flat one to the warranty center.

Attempting to repair the leak at the doughnut hole. The repair didn’t work. I really didn’t think it would.

After another 7 or 8 months, floor number three also went flat, failing again in the same area. Since the warranty period for the floor dated to the purchase of the first replacement, it was now beyond 12 months from the original purchase, and was no longer covered by warranty, even though this particular floor was less than a year old. Funny how that works.

Doughnut hole closeup

So now we’re looking at having to spend  yet another $400 for air deck number four. And we probably would, if we had confidence that the boat would hold up. But about a year ago, we noticed that the outer skin of the tape strips used to hold the seams of the boat together had started peeling off. At first it was localized enough that I actually tried gluing the peeling skin back on, but it would just peel off again after a month or two.

Then it began spreading to larger and larger areas, and I finally gave up and just starting cutting off the flapping ribbons.

Then the underlying layer of reinforcing fabric starting peeling loose, leaving just a gray rubber strip. It’s beginning to look like it’s only a matter of time before a seam splits.

So at this point, it seems like good money after bad to buy another air deck for poor old Eaglet. Our time in the Bahamas has taught us that a rigid floor RIB is really the way to go, as it’s much better at covering large distances. They’re a bit heavier, but only by 20 or 30 pounds, so we should still be able to hoist it onto the foredeck for passages. And now that we’re full time liveaboard cruisers, we really don’t need to roll up and store the boat in the off season.

So in the final analysis, we’re giving the Mercury Air Deck inflatable dinghy a thumbs down for reasons of poor durability. For starters, Mercury should be more upfront about the fact that the CSM boat you’re buying is actually a CSM/PVC hybrid since the inflatable floor, a critical component, is only available in PVC. Next, a CSM dinghy that’s only used about six to seven months of the year and then kept under a cover the remainder of the year should not start falling apart after seven years. It should have lasted at least twice that long, in our opinion. And finally, you shouldn’t have to buy a new air deck every 18 months or so. The warranty center said the floor should last 10 years. I just laughed. Maybe if you never inflate it, possibly. But in actual use, they blow the same seam just slightly after the warranty runs out, which tells me we’re either dealing with a significant design defect or a deliberate revenue generating strategy.

So if you’re shopping for a dingy, we recommend taking a pass on the Mercury Air Deck. It’s just not worth it.

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.