Merry Christmas From Eagle Too!

Rhonda and I wish all our family, friends and followers a very merry Christmas! We hope the day finds you at peace,  surrounded by love and the spirit of the season.

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After a week of travel, we accomplished our primary objective of reaching St. Petersburg in time to relax and enjoy the holidays. We’ve settled into a slip at The Harborage Marina, just south of downtown, from where we’ll spend the next few weeks exploring the area. When we passed through the city on our way south last April, we had to reluctantly move on after just a week, as we had a deadline to meet for our jump to Cuba.  But this time, having no set schedule, we’ll stay here for three or four weeks learning more about the area.

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We broke out our Back Bay folding bikes yesterday and peddled up to Publix supermarket, where we picked up tonight’s Christmas rib roast. We also met some old friends from years past for dinner who now live in the area.

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What A Difference A Few Degrees Of Latitude Make

We’ve also made significant progress in our quest for perpetual summer. Things were getting just too darned cold for us back in the Panhandle. This is Rhonda while we were crossing the northern Gulf:

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This was just two days later, as we made our way from Clearwater to St. Petersburg.

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I think it’s quite evident how much happier she looks. 🙂 For the first time in a month, we’ve been able to put the jeans and long sleeves away, and we’re now back in shorts and T shirts.

We look forward to taking our time getting to know the area. The wonderful thing about cruising is traveling with no set schedule. As long as we feel there’s still more to see, we’ll stay. But when we think we’ve gotten to thoroughly know the area, we’ll move on to the next place.

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But for now, we’re just going to relax and enjoy the day. After a week of pushing forward, we owe ourselves a day off.

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Rhonda and I extend to you our warmest holiday wishes. We hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and a rewarding and prosperous New Year!

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A Good Day For A Pot Of Spaghetti

After an overnight passage from Pensacola, Eagle Too is securely tied to the sidewall at Port St Joe Marina in St Joseph Bay.

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Like seven of our previous eight overnight passages, it was not a fun trip. Even though we picked a window that promised warmer temperatures, it was still bone chillingly cold out in the Gulf, which only confirms our decision to go when the air temperature was supposed to be in the 70’s rather than the 50’s. Add five to six foot seas and winds from every possible direction, and it added up to a pretty miserable night.

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But as is always the case, once we arrived, that all fell away, and we are now just savoring the moment. It was an odd arrival, because up until the minute we pulled into the marina, we were in cold fog and cold temperatures, with moisture dripping from us and everything onboard.

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But as we cleared the final marker and made the turn into the marina, the fog vanished, the sun appeared, the temperature climbed into the upper 70’s, and people met us on the dock wearing shorts and T shirts. I’m sure we made an odd sight in our wet foul weather gear, hats and gloves. We quickly shucked our wrappings and hung everything in the cockpit to dry. And I just had to laugh when I got power hooked up and turned on the heat, only to have it start running in air conditioning mode. Twenty-four hours of shivering, waiting to get heat back onboard, and when we finally had power again, it was warm enough to trip the air conditioning on!

We’ve been to Port St Joe before, but it’s been a few years, so we decided to take a walk around to see what’s changed. Not much, apparently. The town in many ways reminds me of the mythical Bedford Falls in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” with its single street business district composed of storefronts from the 1940’s and 50’s. It seems like the type of place where life peaks in high school, with its social drama and school events and Friday night lights and Prom queen. Then you graduate, and life becomes about hoping to land a job in the meat department of the Piggly Wiggly or wait tables at Castaways, or if you’re really ambitious, open your own insurance business, repeat daily for the next 50 years.  Is the town really like that? I can’t say. It just feels that way to me. A nice place to visit for a few days, but I couldn’t imagine living here. There’s just too much adventure in our souls.

The cold front that chased us as we left Pensacola has now caught up with us, and it is about 50 degrees outside, with a chill north wind blowing. It’s a good night for warm comfort food, so we’ve spent all afternoon cooking up a big pot of sauce for a nice spaghetti dinner. Some red wine and a pile of fresh garlic bread also, naturally. Meanwhile, our Storm app tells us it’s 80 degrees in Clearwater, FL, a mere overnight Gulf crossing away. So our plans are to move to Apalachicola in the morning, and take advantage of a predicted good weather window on Wednesday and Thursday to jump over to central Florida. It should be about a 30 hour crossing. With luck, our plan to be in St. Petersburg by Christmas should play out perfectly.

It was hard to say goodbye this time, probably harder than when we originally headed out last April. But I have to admit, after five months of being tied to the dock, it feels really good to be moving again, out in the big blue, with exciting destinations and adventure ahead!

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Waiting For Weather

The final provisioning run is complete, and the last errands have been run. The car we’ve been borrowing has been washed and the tank topped off, and it’s ready for Rhonda’s sister to reclaim it. Everything is stowed, and the boat is rigged for sea. All is in readiness, and it now all comes down to weather.

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We would have preferred to head south a month ago. But the issues that brought us back to Pensacola last July have kept us here. It now appears though that things are well under control, and we are able to resume our adventure. There’s just this little issue of winter’s rapid approach. We hate sailing in the cold. Absolutely despise it. That’s why our blog’s tagline is “A couple on a boat in search of perpetual summer.” But it’s been cold lately. Like down in the lower 40’s/upper 30’s cold (about 3 – 4° C). Temperatures in which we wouldn’t even consider heading out onto the water. We’re Floridians, after all, and not New England lobstermen!  But tomorrow, the winds are predicted to clock to the south, and a flow of warm Gulf air is supposed to drive temps back up into the mid-70’s. Just what we’ve been waiting for to make the 24 hour jump to St Joseph Bay, 120 nautical miles to our east. The only problem is that in December, a warm south wind comes with a cost. A cost in the form of strong flow and high seas. The forecast calls for winds in the 15 – 20 knot range, with gusts into the upper 20’s, and four to five foot seas. We’ve sailed in those conditions before, but always because they developed while we were underway. Those are small craft warning conditions, and we’ve never really planned a departure in such weather. But it’s a choice that has to be made. We can either stay warm while underway and deal with the conditions, or wait until the winds clock back around to the north. But while a north wind will bring flat seas, in mid-December it will drive the temperatures back down into the 40’s again (where’s that global warming we’ve been promised for 30 years?)

So we’re ready to go, and we’ll make the final decision when we get up tomorrow morning and see what the day has in store for us. If the winds are less than 20 knots sustained, we’ll slip the dock lines and head out the pass. If they’re blowing into the mid 20’s, we’ll reluctantly tell the marina staff that we’ll be guests of theirs for a while longer.

If we can go tomorrow, we should be able to make it to Apalachicola before the next cold front brings storms and rain. The beginning of next week, after the front’s passage, looks suitable for making the Gulf crossing to Clearwater, and we could meet our goal of being in St. Petersburg by Christmas.

If we miss tomorrow’s window due to high winds, it will most likely be after Christmas before we’ll have another chance. And we most likely won’t see temperatures in the mid-70’s again until March or April.

Stay tuned…

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!

Two Weeks A Castaway

“Houses are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable, not the animal world, rooted and stationary.” — Arthur Ransome

For fifteen days, Rhonda and I did what has become for us a most unusual thing—we slept in a bed firmly planted on terra firma. Eagle Too was on the hard at Pensacola Shipyard, and while we were told that we could remain aboard if we wished, there was something quite unsettling about the prospect of dwelling in a vessel propped up by metal stands rather than gently supported by mother ocean. Prior to now, we could count on one hand the number of nights we’d slept ashore in the last two years. But when Rhonda’s sister suggested we stay at her house while we hauled our boat, we jumped at the offer. So for two weeks plus a day, we slept each night in an enormous, totally immobile bed. It neither rocked nor pitched, and absent were the quiet hum of the refrigeration system, the whoosh of ventilation, the creaking and squeaking of lines and fenders, and the sigh of wind in the rigging. It was totally dark, still and quiet.

We didn’t get a single decent night’s sleep. 🙂

Why? Maybe it was the subtle tension of the ongoing refit gnawing at our minds, or the discomfort of strange surroundings. But my theory is that after two years afloat, Rhonda and I have become sea dwellers, used to the sounds, smells and feel of a boat in its natural element. No matter how much our conscious minds told us otherwise, unconsciously it was just too unusual to try and sleep without the constant stream of subtle physical and audible cues that say “sleep well, everything is right, you and the boat are safe.”

I’m happy to say that we’re now back where we belong, floating peacefully pierside. The shipyard grime has been washed away, and we’ve brought our cruising gear back onboard. A few more tasks to accomplish, and then we’ll be ready for a fair wind to start us once again on our journey in search of perpetual summer.

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Progress…

We finished the first coat of paint today and laid out the anchor chain and remarked it. And FedEx tracking says our transmission was delivered to the repair shop in New Jersey this afternoon. Progress!

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We described the last time we did our bottom in Bottom Job Blues (it was fun to re-read and the tune is still appropriate!). We were very pleased with the performance of our Interlux Ultra bottom paint. It was going on its 31st month, and still had quite a bit of life left in it. If we hadn’t been hauling out to pull our transmission, we probably would have put off doing the bottom again for another six or eight months and achieve our goal of doing our next bottom somewhere down island. Interlux has apparently stopped making Ultra, but the replacement, called Ultra-Kote, still has the extremely high copper content that we prefer (they say it’s the highest available in any paint). They just dropped the Biolux biocide, probably for environmental reasons. Hopefully this bottom will take us through the next three years of cruising. 🙂

Not Your Traditional Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn Your Head And Cough

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

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

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

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

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

Here were our results:

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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!

Does Imitation Leather Come From Artificial Cows?

Rhonda and I live on a yacht, and we therefore must be rich. At least, that’s what I believe companies that market marine products must think. The simplest little thing that you could pick up for a few bucks at the auto parts store or RV supercenter will cost two to five times as much if you buy the “marine” version. Many times it’s the same exact item, just in different packaging.

I consider it a big score and major success when we can find an alternative to a “marine” grade item that’s just as good, at significantly less cost. Today I want to share one such find with you. It’s my substitute for extremely overpriced sailing gloves.

I really hate rope burns. So I always wear a pair of sailing gloves when we’re out on the water. I prefer the ¾ length with the open fingertips , which protect my palms and fingers while trimming lines, but still let me feel and pick up small things. The West Marine brand is about $25 a pair. I usually prefer the ones from Gill, because they seem a bit sturdier and use a bit more leather for chaff resistance. They’re more like $35 a pair. Gloves1I usually chew through about two pair a year. Or rather, the lines chew through them. Particularly along the outside of my right index finger. After a few months, the fabric in this area will deteriorate and split, leaving my entire finger exposed. After two or three good rope burns, I throw that pair away and don the next (I usually have at least one spare pair in reserve).Gloves2

Now when you consider that there’s no practical way to grip a line with your hand without it running across the outside of your index finger, it’s not rocket science to realize that putting a piece of leather in this area would make the gloves last a lot longer. (And I happen to know a thing or two about rocket science, having written a book on the subject, which you might have noticed promoted here on the site.) But they don’t. I’m going to assume it’s because it lets them sell you more gloves.Gloves3

So one day we’re wandering the aisles at Home Depot trying to find some water filters for our Rainman water maker, and I spot a pair of work gloves from a company called Grease Monkey. Those look just like sailing gloves, I thought to myself. Examining them, I noticed that they had the ¾ length fingers that I like, thick rubber pads on the palms, and a nice big piece of imitation leather up the entire length of the index fingers(!).  So imagine my delight when I saw the price. They were only $9.99! At that price it was worth a try, so I bought a pair as an experiment.

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These Have Been Worn For Several Months

I’ve worn them for several months now, and they’re holding up just fine, at least as well as the pricier sailing gloves I was buying, maybe even better. Why are they so much cheaper? Well, there’s that whole “you own a sailboat, so you must be rich” thing. The Grease Monkey gloves are made for auto mechanics, and as a group, they’re probably much more price sensitive than your typical yachtista. Or maybe artificial leather is just that much cheaper than the fine Corinthian leather that I guess they must be using to make real yachting gloves.Gloves5

I realize we’re not talking about a major savings here. It’s not going to pay for your next bottom job. But hey, 25 bucks is 25 bucks. Personally, I’d rather invest that money in the contents of the liquor locker than in a pair of throwaway gloves.

Try a pair. I think you’ll like them! 🙂

Cautious Optimism

Since late July, we’ve worked to help one of our sons overcome a debilitating health issue. While we felt we were making progress, it was a “two steps forward, a step and a half backward” situation. A good day would leave us encouraged and optimistic, but then a really bad day would bring it all crashing down again. We were on an emotional rollercoaster ride with no clear end in sight. And of course, we had no idea of when or even if we’d be able to return to our dream of cruising the Caribbean in search of perpetual summer and the ultimate beach bar with the best fruity rum drink.

Fortunately, things are looking up, and we’re cautiously optimistic. After weeks of doctors, counselors and labs, our son started making progress, and resuming control of his life. As his condition improved, we found ourselves with increasing amounts of free time, which has allowed us to start traveling the local waters again, renewing our ties to the wet parts of our world. And there are certainly worse places to gunkhole around during the summer months than Pensacola.  It’s amazing what a little sailing, a little beachcombing, a little fishing and a few pleasant nights at anchor can do for your perspective and attitude.Sunset1

Fishing

Fresh Fish For Dinner? Yes Please!

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Washing The Family Car

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And now we see what we hope is the light at the end of the tunnel. Our son is returning to work, reporting for orientation next week for his new job at Pensacola Naval Air Station. It’s the last step in his recovery, and the development that should allow us to resume our interrupted adventure. In fact, we’re feeling encouraged enough about our prospects that we pulled the trigger yesterday on four gallons of bottom paint that Defender had on sale, and we’ve scheduled a haulout at Pensacola Shipyard for November 21st to do a bottom job and repair our ailing transmission. Upon completion of those tasks and a few other minor maintenance items that we’ve been wanting to address, we should be ready to resume our journey and once again head south. When we signed our slip lease at Palafox Pier on September 1st, we gave them 90 days notice. That means we’ll be free to leave the first week of December. The timing couldn’t be better. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. Because you know what they say about that light at the end of the tunnel…