Category Archives: Why?

Anything that deals with the philosophy or emotion that motivates us.

What’s In A Name?

Several years ago, while on vacation in Hawaii, I picked up a T shirt sporting a picture of the Hawaiian state fish. I liked the shirt because it showed the fish’s name in Hawaiian, which is Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. It’s a real mouthful to say, but after some practice it soon flows easily off the tongue, and even tickles a bit in the process.

humuhumu

A year or so later, I was driving home from work (this was back in our pre retired-to-go-cruising days) and I found myself following a trailered boat by the same name.  There plastered across the entire transom was Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. It just barely fit on a boat that was easily nine feet wide. I laughed out loud. Because the name just tickles my funny bone.

But now it’s several years later, and Rhonda and I have a few thousand miles of cruising under our belts, and the thought of boat names has been on my mind. Particularly because I’ve seen a few lately that make me go, “Hmm, I wonder if they really thought that through.”

You see, one thing we’ve learned in our travels is that sometimes a boat name works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  And while it may seem as though an inappropriately named boat might be merely inconvenient, in our experience it can sometimes become a bit of a problem. So I find myself pondering the issue of how to choose an effective name for a cruising boat, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the subject.

Now none of this really matters a great deal if your plans don’t involve cruising. But if you do intend to head out over the horizon someday, then here’s what it all boils down to. While cruising, you are going to find yourself interacting with foreign officials. They may not speak English very well (or at all), but they’re going to have to hear and understand your boat’s name. Second, you’re going to have to fill out forms and declarations that will require you to list your vessel’s name, and sometimes the space to write it isn’t very large. But most importantly, you’re going to find yourself having to use your boat’s name on the radio quite often. From speaking to bridge tenders to negotiating crossings with other vessels, responding to the Coast Guard or checking in and out with harbormasters, you’ll be on the radio a lot more than when you were weekend sailing around your local waters. And long, complex names just don’t work well on the VHF.

The first tip I’d suggest when choosing a good name is to not use something that suggests nefarious intent. This would seem so evident that it hardly needs mentioning. Yet there we were in Marina Gaviota Varadero, Cuba, watching some very un-amused Cuban police detain the crew of an American flagged vessel that had just arrived. Their boat was named “Guns and Drugs,” and sported a large graphic of an assault rifle. Now this might have really cracked up the boys back in Miami, but it didn’t go over so well in Varadero. Our check-in only took two hours. We didn’t see the crew of Guns and Drugs for three days. So if you think “Human Trafficker” is a hilarious name for a boat, don’t be surprised if the Customs and Immigration officers fail to share in your mirth.

I’d also recommend avoiding foreign phrases. If you think “Occupandi Temporis” or “Mi Velero Impresionante” is just so c’est chic, then have at it. But please know that you’re going to be phonetically spelling it slowly and often on the radio, usually to someone who is dealing with background noise from boat or helicopter engines and can barely hear you. Most importantly, try to keep it short. When it comes to VHF radio communications, the shorter the better. One or two syllable words work best. “Ultimate Retirement Strategy” might expertly define your life situation, but it’s a mouthful to have to keep repeating to the Coast Guard every 30 seconds while reporting a vessel in distress. “Cool Sea Breeze” sounds lovely and is pretty easy to understand. But “Sea Breeze” is better, and the best option would be to just keep it to “Breeze.” Trust me, you’ll thank yourself in an emergency.

A boat’s name can often be a highly personal reflection of the hopes, dreams or desires of its owners, but choosing an appropriate one can involve compromise. The point of all this isn’t to dissuade you from putting what you truly feel is the best expression of yourself on the back of your boat. We just wanted to give you a few things to consider when making your decision. Because I can only imagine the issues the crew of the good ship Humuhumunukunukuapua’a would face if they ever tried to take their boat cruising.

A Cruiser’s Passage Planning Primer

There’s a lot of time to think about things when you’re spending 32 hours motorsailing across the Gulf. One of the many thoughts that crossed my mind during our recent jump from Clearwater, Florida to Port St Joe was the issue of picking a suitable weather window for offshore travel. The criteria for planning a comfortable and thus enjoyable ocean passage is a topic I wish we had known more about before setting off on our Life On The Hook™. But there’s no teacher like experience, and after over a dozen offshore passages of a hundred miles or more, many involving the crossing of a major ocean current, we’ve come up with a list of criteria that we apply when determining whether or not to make a jump. This list reflects our priorities and ours alone. You may have or learn to develop your own list of what’s important to you. But since it’s always good to share knowledge and experience, I thought we’d pass along what we feel makes for the most comfortable passages.

Leaving Clearwater Florida Bound For Apalachicola

Leaving Clearwater Florida Bound For Apalachicola

Number one on our list by a wide margin is sea state. When we first started cruising, I’d have considered the wind forecast to be the top concern, but something we’ve learned is that the winds don’t matter if the sea state doesn’t work. When making a go/no go decision, we’re looking for forecast seas of one to two feet. If everything else is perfect or we absolutely have to get moving (which seldom happens because as cruisers we don’t travel on a schedule), then we’ll consider two to three foot seas. But if we see that the forecast calls for three to five feet or more, then forget it, we’re staying put, even if the winds and weather are favorable. High seas make for a miserable passage, which often means missing out on an otherwise nominal weather window because the seas are still too high from a previous weather system.

Now we’ve met some cruisers that will laugh at that. “Three to five foot seas? That’s nothing!” they’ll say. But here’s what we’ve learned. The forecast wave height is for the average sea state. If the forecast is for 1 to 2, you’re going to experience quite a few 3 footers. If they’re calling for 4 to 5, well, you’ll have more than a few 7 footers hitting you. And for us on our boat, this would be dangerous. Not because the boat can’t take it, but because the chance of one of us getting hurt increases exponentially with sea state. In 1 to 2 footers, it’s not too hard to move around, as long as we’re careful and always keep one hand on the boat. It’s possible to put a pot on the stove to make coffee or heat up a meal. Above 3 feet, the boat will start pitching and rolling enough that going below and moving around can be dangerous. The stove gimbal is hitting its stops, which means pots won’t stay put, so it’s strictly sandwiches and water rather than hot food and coffee.  Spending hours holding on to the stern pulpit to keep yourself upright is tiring, and fatigue leads to loss of focus. Then you try to go below, miss one of the ladder steps, and fall into the cabin and get hurt while 50 miles offshore.  Following 5 foot swells cause the boat to roll 25 to 30 degrees or more, and beating into them causes the bow to bash into the waves. It can be tolerated for a few hours. But a day or more? No thank you.

Rhonda Caught A 24 Inch Little Tunny. Related To Tuna, The Gulf Was Full Of Them.

Rhonda Caught A 24 Inch Little Tunny. Related To Tuna, The Gulf Was Full Of Them.

Next we look at forecast precipitation. We live under a 63 foot aluminum pole, and when we’re out on the ocean, we’re the tallest thing by far from us to the horizon. So if they’re predicting thunderstorms, we don’t go. It’s just that simple. Much better to just wait it out in the marina or anchorage, where at least we’re not the only tall aluminum pole around. If the forecast is calling for showers, but not thunderstorms, then it comes down to intensity. A little light rain isn’t that big a deal, we have foul weather gear for that. But if they’re calling for moderate to heavy showers, we’ll probably stay put. It might be different if we had a full enclosure for our cockpit, but we don’t, and there’s only so many hours of standing at the helm in the rain that we can tolerate. If it’s not a day that you’d consider riding a motorcycle, it’s probably not a good day for a passage.

Another Little Tunny. Only 18 Inches, So She Let Him Go.

Another Little Tunny. Only 18 Inches, So She Let Him Go.

Now we get to wind. You might think that as a sailboat, this would be higher on the list, but here’s what we’ve learned about wind in our 4,000 miles of travel. It almost never blows from the right direction at the right speed. It’s either too little, too much, or coming from the wrong direction. If we only traveled when the wind was right for sailing, we’d hardly ever go anywhere. So if the prediction is for force 3 or less (up to 10 knots), we’ll go, regardless of the forecast direction. We’ll consider going in a force 4 wind (11 to 16 knots) if it will be behind us, but we won’t go if we’ll be reaching into it, because the apparent wind will be in the 20+ knot range. Greater than force 4, we’re staying put. Even as seasoned a sailor as Bruce Van Sant, author of the cruiser’s bible The Gentlemen’s Guide To Passages South, says that there’s no point in traveling in anything higher that a force 3 wind unless you have no other choice. It’s not relaxing, it’s hard work, people can get hurt and boats can break, and that’s not why we cruise. It’s probably different if you have to be at work on Monday, but cruisers don’t sail to a schedule. We just don’t do it.

So here’s the dirty little secret about sailboats, at least as far as cruising goes. Seventy-five percent of the time, you’re going to be motoring or motorsailing. Only a quarter of the time or less will you actually be able to arrive at your destination under sail alone. So yes, make sure those sails and rigging are in top shape, but also consider adding that three bladed prop, make sure your engine alignment is spot on, and do whatever propulsion system upgrades you may need in order to feel confident about running your engine for days at a time without a break. You’ll probably need a spare alternator or water pump much more than a spare sail.

Good Morning, Apalachicola!

Good Morning, Apalachicola!

After considering the sea state, rain and wind, we like to take a look at the moon phase. Since you only get one full moon a month, it’s not something you can really factor in to your decision to go if everything else is in alignment. You just take what you get. But let me tell you, spending a night at sea in conditions that require sail adjustments or movement about the deck is infinitely better when there’s actually some light to see by and you’re not totally dependent on a headlamp. And it’s extremely comforting to actually be able to see a horizon at night, especially when crossing a shipping lane full of fast moving freighters or threading through a pack of fishing trawlers. The total darkness of an overcast night with a new moon, where you can hear the waves but can’t see them because the world beyond the lifelines is invisible, can be unsettling. So we like to make long passages during times when the moon is at or near full.

Heading Up The Apalachicola River

Heading Up The Apalachicola River

Yes, the stars are breathtaking out in the middle of a calm sea on a clear, moonless night while ghosting along under sail in a gentle breeze. But in 14 months of travel, we’ve experienced exactly two nights like that. Every other of the more than a dozen overnight passages we’ve made have been cloudy, dark, rolly, windy, or some combination of the four, while the steady drone of the engine numbed our ears and physically wore us down.

RIver Cruising. We Saw Alligators, Manatees, Turtles And Ospreys.

RIver Cruising. We Saw Alligators, Manatees, Turtles And Ospreys.

So those are the criteria that we evaluate when determining when to head out onto open water. If you’re one of those people whose response is “we go regardless of the conditions,” or “we sail through thunderstorms and force 7 winds all the time,” I have one simple question for you. Why? I’d like to hear what motivates you to do such a thing.

Crossing Lake Wimico

Crossing Lake Wimico

Since much of this discussion probably makes ocean passages sound less idyllic than you may have pictured, some of you may be asking the question, “Is it worth it?” My answer is “Yes, it is.” Passages can be a trial, a measure of determination and a test of endurance. But the return on the investment is that we get to spend weeks, even months visiting some pretty amazing places that most people are lucky to experience for just a handful of days. And in the final balance, that’s what cruising is all about.

Maintenance in Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

removal

removed

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

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

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

Test Fit Of New Unit

Test Fit Of New Unit

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

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

glassmix

glasswork

Top Half of Hawsepipe Filled With Epoxy

Top Half of Hawsepipe Filled With Epoxy

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

installed

So Nice And Shiny!

So Nice And Shiny!

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

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

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

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

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

The Thousand Dollar Box

The following is a true story. Identities have been concealed to prevent hurt feelings.

One of the reasons to read cruising blogs it to learn from the experiences of those who are out here living the life. Study their mistakes so that you can hopefully avoid making the same ones yourself. Well, here’s a cautionary tale about a total screw-up we made that ended up costing us a whole lot of time and took a huge bite out of our meager cruising budget. It’s the story of the thousand dollar box.

It all started with what we thought was a rational decision. Rhonda needed some medications refilled. Her doctor had written her several prescriptions prior to our departure, and our plan was to have them filled in the Bahamas. But it turned out that it wasn’t going to be that simple. While in Nassau, we called a local pharmacy, which referred us to the local hospital. When we called, the nurse we spoke with told us that we would first need to make an appointment with a Bahamian doctor to countersign the prescriptions, and then the pharmacy would most likely have to order one of the two meds Rhonda takes. We were only in town for a few more days and had only limited access to transportation, so the logistics of it all started to seem a little too complex. There had to be a better option than renting a car and paying a doctor and then waiting for ordered drugs to arrive when we really wanted to keep moving south. So we kicked the can down the road and decided to wait until we arrived in George Town. They dealt with hundreds of cruisers every year, most of them retirees like us and undoubtedly many of whom took various medications. Our plan B would be to put Rhonda on a plane to fly home and get her prescriptions filled, since Delta has daily flights from George Town. If we could find a good place to leave the boat, maybe I’d also come along and we’d take a little vacation from our permanent vacation.

During the few stops on our way south where we had internet access, I started looking up airfares from George Town to Pensacola, and discovered that it was going to be $800 to $1000 for just Rhonda to fly home. Flying both of us back for what was a non-emergency was just out of the question.

But then we started considering another possibility. Maybe a family member back home that had a long relationship with a local pharmacy there could get refills for Rhonda and ship them to us. How much could it possibly cost to ship a small box to the Bahamas from the US? Sixty or 80 dollars maybe? Much cheaper than trying to fly home.

Once we started kicking the idea around of having Rhonda’s prescriptions mailed to us, we began talking about some other things we’d like to have but couldn’t find in the Bahamas, like some Starbucks espresso for me and a few boxes of that precooked packaged bacon that Rhonda likes. Turn the shipment into a care package. So we put a short list together that came to about $200 worth of groceries and things and emailed it home (that might sound like a lot, but four bags of Starbucks was $50). The family member in question likes doing that sort of thing after all, performing thoughtful little tasks to help out.

So about this time, we dropped anchor in George Town, where our first order of business was to look into shipping options and a local address where we could have a package sent. It was while doing this research that we found out that my suspicion about George Town was true – they were used to dealing with older cruisers and their prescriptions. We were referred to Smitty’s Pharmacy, about two miles north of town, where we were told we could get whatever Rhonda needed.

Two miles? OK, a bit far to walk, and being frugal cruisers on a limited income, we didn’t really want to spend $20 on a roundtrip cab fare. But this being the Bahamas, we did what cruisers do here—we started walking, while I stuck my thumb out whenever I heard a car coming. And in less than five minutes, not only did a nice local pick us up and take us to Smitty’s, but offered to come back and pick us up for the return trip to town.

So Rhonda stepped up to the pharmacy window at Smitty’s and explained what she needed, and after a bit of discussion about doses and quantity, the pharmacist gave Rhonda her drugs. No need to see a local doctor. Hell, the pharmacist never even asked to see the prescriptions, which Rhonda had brought along. He just took her word for it and gave her the drugs, at a total cost of what just the copay would have been back home. We even threw in a pack of Stugeron, which is this awesome anti-nausea drug that I wanted Rhonda to try for her occasional sea sickness that is available everywhere in the world except the US because of some problem with the FDA. When we tried to get another box of it a few weeks later back in Nassau, we were told it was only available via prescription!

pharmacy

So with filled prescriptions in hand, we started to head back into town, and soon find ourselves on a school bus filled with refugees from the disastrous Fyre Festival that had just imploded the night before. That’s a whole ‘nuther story that maybe we’ll take up another time, but if you’re curious, just google Fyre Festival and you’ll get a sense of what happened.

And it was at this point that we made our thousand dollar mistake. Once we were successful in getting Rhonda’s prescriptions filled, there really wasn’t any need for the care package to be sent from home. But because we knew that at this point several family members were involved, and I really did want the expresso, we still thought we’d spend the $60–$80 that we thought it would cost to get the box of goodies.

So the box got shipped UPS second day international. Now second day shipping means nothing in the Bahamas. Yes, it made it from Florida to Nassau in two days, but then it apparently got deposited in a customs warehouse that I envision as being similar to the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

government_warehouse

Now we weren’t in Nassau. We were in George Town, about 150 miles south. And no one could give us a clear idea of when or if the package would make it to us.

So then the fun really began. While waiting for someone at UPS to get back to us about a delivery date, we started looking at the receipts for the box contents and shipping that our family member back home emailed us. And almost passed out. Because what we just assumed was going to be a $60–$80 shipping fee was actually almost $350.

“That can’t be right,” I said with alarm. “Surely someone would have called us before spending $350 to send a box with less than $200 worth of stuff in it, none of which we actually need.”

But there it was in black in white, and we felt sick to our stomachs over the hole it blew in our budget. Now I guess that was on us, because we had just assumed that shipping a box from Florida to the Bahamas, a distance of just a few hundred miles, shouldn’t cost much more than shipping it to Atlanta or Miami. Oh sure, there might be an import fee, but the actual shipping shouldn’t cost that much more. Boy were we wrong. We hadn’t given our helpful family member a budget ceiling. But still, a call might have been nice.

And it kept getting better. We were finally contacted by UPS, who told us we owed 35% import duty on the box’s contents before Customs would release it. We’d carefully explained to our family member back home that we needed the box clearly labeled “S/V Eagle Too Yacht In Transit” to avoid import duty, and they had dutifully complied. But for reasons that we could never quite understand, we still got dinged for duty. And the icing on the cake is that they charge import duty on shipping fees! So we had to pay a 35% duty on the $200 box and the $350 shipping. Are you adding this all up?

So then we get to the final piece in this sad tale. We’ve now been in George Town for 10 days, and we’ve had about enough of the weather and the extremely rolly anchorage. The Family Island Regatta was over, and there really wasn’t any reason for us to hang around except to see when this package might finally show up. Meanwhile, a weather window had opened that we wanted to take advantage of. We’d had the crap beat out of us getting down to George Town (there will be something about that in a day or two) and we wanted to avoid more of the same on the return trip. So we called UPS in Nassau and told them to just hold on to the package, because we were coming to get it.

We needed to be out of the Exumas in a few weeks anyway for insurance reasons (hurricane season is approaching), and we knew we were probably going to head north, but a stop in Nassau really wasn’t in the plans, because it’s an expensive place to hang out. But back we went, returning to Palm Cay Marina, where we spent $80 a day for three days (plus power and water) because we pulled in on a Friday afternoon and didn’t think we’d be able to get our box until UPS opened the following Monday.

As it turned out, UPS delivered the box to the marina office for us, and it was there waiting for us when we tied up on Friday afternoon. But we’d already committed to a three day stay when we had called several days earlier to make the reservation, so there you are.

1k-box-2

A box containing less than $200 worth of groceries that we really didn’t need since we’d managed to get Rhonda’s prescriptions filled in George Town. $350 to ship that box to Nassau.  About $120 in import duty, which no one can explain to our satisfaction why we had to pay since we were a yacht in transit. And then about $300 in marina fees to return to Nassau to pick up said box. And now we sit here enjoying my $10 a cup Starbucks while Rhonda savors her $8 per strip bacon.

Let this be a warning to you…

The Focus Begins To Shift

We’ve relaxed into a comfortable routine during our time here in St. Petersburg. For example, yesterday was Tuesday, which means it was movie day. Every Tuesday the Sundial Muvico, a large multiplex theater that’s a ten minute bike ride from our marina, offers $5 tickets and deeply discounted concessions.

muvico

So for three weeks now, we plan our Tuesdays around the afternoon matinee schedule. The first week we saw Rogue One, and last Tuesday we caught Passengers. This week, looking for a change of pace, we watched a little jewel of a movie called Collateral Beauty.

collateral_beauty_poster

Do yourself a favor and go see this film. I don’t care what the reviews say on Rotten Tomatoes. If you can make it to the end of this movie without shedding a tear (or a flood of them), you have no heart.

Anyway, today is Wednesday, which means it’s dinner at The Hanger, where they offer their $12 gourmet cheeseburger for half price. So I’m pretty sure I know what we’ll be doing this evening. 🙂

But our time in St. Petersburg is growing shorter, and we’re starting to look at what comes next. Over my morning coffee, in addition to catching up on the latest news, I’ve started perusing the Waterway Guide to outline some possible options for our next few stops. And today, we’ve started some of the maintenance chores we’ve been putting off until we were closer to moving again.

For instance, before putting too many more hours on the engine, I wanted to make sure our shaft alignment was still within specification. We last aligned the shaft after reinstalling our rebuilt transmission while we were at Pensacola shipyard. But the boat was on the hard (out of the water, supported by stands) at the time. And here’s the thing about fiberglass boats—they’re made of plastic, and they bend. Sitting on stands doesn’t support the boat the same way as floating in water does. I know this is true because while we were on the hard, we noticed that the cockpit seat that has to be flipped down in order to access our swim platform would wedge and jam, making it difficult to open. It was due to the way the hull was being flexed on the stands, and the problem completely went away once Eagle Too was floating again.

So while we had gotten the alignment dead-on in the shipyard, I wanted to make sure it was still running true. If you have a boat with a direct shaft, it’s not really a difficult task (if you have a V-drive, best of luck to you. And if you have a saildrive, just completely disregard what I’m about to say. And check for corrosion. Daily! 🙂

Basically, checking the alignment just requires removing the coupling bolts.

alignment1

Then you measure the gap between the coupling faces with a feeler gauge. The general rule of thumb is that you’re allowed up to a .001″ gap (that’s one one-thousandth of an inch) per inch of coupler diameter. So for our 4 inch coupler, I was looking for less than a .004″ gap at any point around the circumference.

alignment2

I used the .002″ feeler gauge, and it wouldn’t slip between the coupler faces at any point. So we’re good. While our boat may have been bending a bit while on the hard, it apparently wasn’t enough to upset the alignment. I’m glad everything checked out OK, because if it turns out that your alignment is off, you have to start loosening engine mounts and making adjustments, and that’s just way too much to get into today. Google it if you need to know how, as you’ll find several really good online guides on how to do the job.

While I was back there, i also checked our transmission fluid, and I’m happy to say that it’s still nice and pink after about 35 hours of use, rather than brown and burnt smelling. So far it seems that sending the unit out to be rebuilt was definitely the right thing to do, and will hopefully allow us to have weeks, months, years of trouble-free travel in the future.

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To finish up, I pulled the vacuum breaker on the vented loop, cleaned it and reinstalled it. It had started leaking a little salt water onto the top of the engine while motoring. These vents usually have some type of little rubber flapper or check valve inside, and in time they’ll usually accumulate some salt crystals and start to leak a bit. Normally a good freshwater flush is all they need.

vent

A quick check of all the hose clamps (there are a LOT of hose clamps on our engine, and I always find a few loose ones that need tightening), belt tension (no more belt dust to clean up since we put a new pulley on the alternator during our refit), and a look at the fluid levels and fuel filter bowl, and our engine underway checks are basically done.

We can’t say for sure yet what our next stop will be, but I’m confident now that if called upon, the engine will be ready!

Clean Fuel Makes For Less Drama

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn Your Head And Cough

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

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

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

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

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

Here were our results:

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

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

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

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

Our Shakedown Cruise

As we’ve mentioned before, it wasn’t originally our intention to return to our hometown of Pensacola, Florida just four months after heading off on our grand adventure last April. But as things have turned out, it probably wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Four months of voyaging turned up some issues with Eagle Too that never made themselves apparent during the year and a half we lived at the dock. Issues that will need to be addressed before we head out again, and which will be much easier to deal with stateside than from somewhere down island. Besides, we had to go somewhere for hurricane season, and Pensacola isn’t a bad place to spend the summer on a boat.

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Eagle Too anchored in Bahia Honda, Artemisa Province, Cuba

Our biggest concern, of course, is our ailing transmission. Even though it appears to be running smoothly and quietly and shifts well, the fact that it toasts the transmission fluid to a nasty dark gray color after 30 or 40 hours of operation tells us something is wrong. Fixing it is going to require pulling the transmission and sending it off to be rebuilt, and that means hauling the boat.

It’s been 28 months since our last bottom job, and our antifouling is showing its age, so if we are going to have to haul the boat to do the transmission work, we might as well put a fresh bottom on. No sense heading out with worn out bottom paint when we just happen to have friends here in Pensacola that run a marine maintenance and repair yard.

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Eagle Too anchored off Cayo Levisa, PInar del Rio Province, Cuba

The windlass. That was a big deal. The fact that it stopped working at a really bad time (anchored too close to a lee shore with a rapidly approaching thunderstorm) drove home just how important to your health and safety a functional windlass is. Especially when your bower is a 65 pound brute like our Mantus. My back still aches thinking about pulling it up by hand in 25 knots of wind. But it’s all better now. Just some corroded crimp connectors under the deck switches.

Then there’s a short list of little things that we’re working our way through. For instance, we’ve mentioned before that instead of using expensive marine ventilation fans, we stocked up on cheap ($10) 12 volt automotive fans from Walmart to cool the boat at anchor. To power them, we installed 12 volt outlets all over the boat, wired to the Fan circuit on our breaker panel. Well, it turns out that the Fan circuit was only a 5 amp breaker, and if we tried to run three or more fans at once, the breaker would trip. I guess we never tried it before getting underway, since we usually had the air conditioning running. So we swapped out the 5 amp breaker for a 10 amp, since the wiring can handle the current. Problem solved!

We’ve prided ourselves on our bone dry bilge, so it really bothered us when we started accumulating a couple of inches of fresh water in the bilge from an unknown source. Some sleuthing determined that the level probe on our freshwater tank had developed a leak, allowing water to seep into the bilge whenever we topped off the tank. So out came the old one and in went a brand new probe from KUS (the company formerly known as WEMA).

Our cockpit speakers were falling apart due to UV exposure. So now we’re sporting a shiny new pair of West Marine stereo speakers. The backlight on our Raymarine depth gauge gave out early in the trip, so the instrument is now on its way back to Raymarine for repair under warranty. And it’s a little thing, but we kept losing the little black plastic caps on the tops of our stantions. They’d just pop off underway and go overboard, and we eventually ran out of spares. So we placed a quick order with Sailboat Owners for a set of stainless steel replacement caps, which we hope will be more durable and tenacious.

I’ve been playing this little game with our steaming light for some time now. It stops working, so I go up the mast with my multimeter and tools and coax it into working again. It tests fine for three or four days, so I consider it fixed. Then the day comes where we actually want to use it, and damned if it hasn’t quit again. I can actually see it up there sticking its tongue out at me. After two or three rounds, the fun has worn off, so there’s a new steaming light sitting on our chart table ready for my next trip up the mast.

With the exception of the transmission, none of these problems are voyage-ending. But sitting here in mid-September, looking back on our year, I think it has probably been a good thing that we first headed out in early spring and were able to do a thorough shakedown on all of our systems and gear, identify all our weak spots and then spend the downtime during hurricane season making adjustments. So much of what we did to prepare Eagle Too was based on research on what seemed to be working for others, or some notional idea of what we’d want or need once underway. But four months of theory-to-practice now allows us to better judge wants and needs.

We’ll shortly try and do some posts on what we thought were the most useful systems and/or pieces of gear, the things we would absolutely not want to leave home without.

Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

Five months and 2,400 miles after throwing off the lines at Palafox Pier and Yacht Harbor in downtown Pensacola, Florida, Rhonda gently worked the throttle to carefully back Eagle Too into a slip while I hung from the starboard shrouds, ready to jump ashore and tie off our docklines.

Arrival

After cleating off the lines, I climbed back aboard while Rhonda shut down the diesel. As the engine shuddered to a stop, the low-oil-pressure alarm whistled shrilly until Rhonda reached down and switched off the engine key, silencing it.

We noted the time for our log, checked the instruments as we usually do upon arrival, and then, our end-of-voyage ritual completed, stood for a moment in the now silent cockpit, taking in our very familiar surroundings.

“We’re home,” we said to each other. For we had just returned to what has become the closest thing to home for us now that we live the life of vagabond cruisers. We were once again docked at Palafox Pier.

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We previously lived in slip 6 on E dock for 16 months, but it has another occupant now, and we slid instead into slip 11 on D dock. We can clearly see our old home, it’s just right over there, and we look with dismay at the squatter currently occupying “our” spot. But D dock isn’t a bad place, and we’ll be fine here for now.

The marina at the Naval Air Station was accommodating and affordable, but unfortunately there is very little there in the way of shopping or dining. Getting around required a car, and after five weeks, we’d pretty much worn out our ability to borrow a car from family or friends. Moving to downtown, while more expensive than the Navy marina, would be cheaper than staying put and renting a car, and would put numerous replenishment and dining options within walking or biking distance. With luck, we won’t be here too long. Rhonda thinks I’m being overly optimistic, but I’m hopeful that we’ll have the issue that brought us unexpectedly home sufficiently under control by November to let us head out again before the weather gets too cold. We’ll see.

Palafox2

You may have noticed that It’s been a while since we’ve posted an update.  The creative energy that would have normally been expended formulating blog posts has instead been devoted to teasing out solutions to a complex family health issue. After a day of dealing with counselors, doctors, and social services workers, there just isn’t the energy or desire to pull together a blog entry. It’s all been quite depressing actually, and depression is not much of a motivator. But we’ve been making progress, things may be on the right path now, and we’re feeling somewhat optimistic that the time may soon come when we can resume our voyage and things here will be fine in our absence. And optimism is energizing. So maybe the drought has ended. Again, we’ll see. For now, just know that Rhonda and I are fine, we’re home, and we’re looking forward to the (hopefully not far off) day when we can once again head out and resume our interrupted journey.

A Journey Interrupted

I’ve said before that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Well, the Big Guy must have been in need of a good chuckle this week. We’ve been busy pouring over cruising guides and studying charts, planning a trip up Florida’s east coast. We were intending to leave Marathon tomorrow, headed toward Miami. But then the phone rang. We found out that a family health issue back in Pensacola requires our urgent attention. So we’re still leaving tomorrow. But rather than heading east, we’re retracing our route back to Pensacola. It should take us 10 or 12 days.

We’re obviously disappointed. It wasn’t what we’d planned. But family comes first. So it’s back to Pensacola we go, with no reservations. With some luck, maybe we’ll be able to resume our adventure this fall. Or maybe we can head out again next spring. We’ll just have to see.

We’ve taken several cruises in the past, and I told Rhonda that while stowing gear on deck this afternoon and getting Eagle Too ready to put to sea, I felt exactly like I’ve felt on the last night of a cruise. That’s when you put your suitcases out in the hallway for the stewards to collect. You’re still on vacation, but the end is in sight. We’re really hoping this won’t be the conclusion of our amazing journey. We have so much more we want to see and do. But sometimes life throws you a curve, and you have no real choice but to just adapt and deal with it. Stay tuned…Keep Calm