Why Won’t My Engine Start?!

Spend some time on any Hunter owner’s forum, and you’ll eventually find a thread discussing the dreaded “Why Won’t My Yanmar Start When I Turn The Key?” issue. The problem goes something like this: you turn the key or push the button to start your engine, and it totally ignores you. Or maybe you hear a “click,” but the starter doesn’t engage. Whatever is causing the problem seems to be linked into the boat’s Crisis Detector circuit, because normally the engine will start just fine when it’s a pretty day and you just want to back out of the slip for a short sail, but it will fail to turn over when there’s a squall bearing down on you and you’re being blown onto the rocks while on a collision course with a fuel barge.

We’re not talking here about a significant engine issue, where you’re having a fuel or compression problem or your exhaust elbow is clogged and you can get the engine to turn over but it just won’t start. We’re talking about a transient little electrical problem where the starter solenoid randomly decides it just doesn’t want to do its job today.

It’s really annoying because it comes and goes. Sometimes you can go weeks with the engine starting every time, and then suddenly it just says no. And even though it’s a widely reported problem, it’s one that Yanmar claims they’ve never heard of. Go ahead, call them. They’ll say “why no, we’re not aware of anyone having this problem.” Meanwhile I’ve seen posts by people saying that they’ve complained to Yanmar so many times that they’re looking into a class action lawsuit over the issue due to the potential risk it creates for boat owners when they can’t reliably start their engines.

Some have claimed that the way to fix this problem is to install an additional solenoid in the starting circuit. IF you’ve researched this issue I’m sure you’ve seen this fix.  I’m not going to go into detail with that solution , other than to say that I think it’s the wrong approach. You’re not fixing the problem, you’re just treating the symptom, while also adding additional complexity to your starting system. We had this problem on our first boat, a Hunter 336 with a Yanmar 3GM30 engine. Over the last year, it has now also cropped up on our current boat, a Hunter 376 with a 3JH2E. On both boats, the solution turned out to be much cheaper and simpler.

I believe the problem is caused by the fact that the engine control panel is usually quite a ways removed from the engine, and the builder used a long wiring harness to connect the two. The harness is usually pieced together from shorter lengths and has multiple in-line electrical connectors. With two, three, sometimes four or more wiring connectors in the harness run, there are plenty of places for corrosion to develop and introduce resistance in the circuit, causing a voltage drop in the line. You turn the key to start the engine, but not enough voltage makes it to the starter solenoid to engage it. I think the reason the problem comes and goes is because electrical resistance across a corroded connection can vary due to changes in temperature or humidity. Today might be OK, but not so good tomorrow.

So how did we fix the problem? But running a separate, continuous #10 wire from the engine start switch all the way to the starter solenoid. This eliminates all the in-line electrical connectors with their potentially voltage-sapping corroded pins.

Engine control panel removed from pedestal, original starting circuit wire removed from start switch. Haven’t crimped a ring terminal on the new wire yet in this picture.

Chasing the wire from the engine control panel in the cockpit to the starter solenoid on the engine is the hard part, usually involving some cabin disassembly and a lot of wiggling into dark places. Once the wire is run, however, it’s a pretty simple task to crimp the proper ring connector on the switch end and a disconnect fitting on the solenoid end and substitute the new wire for the old one.

New wire attached to starter solenoid.

Put some insulating shrink tubing on the ends of the old wire to keep it from causing problems and protect the new wire with some plastic wire loom, using a few zip ties to make sure it stays where you want it, and you’re in business.

I followed the exhaust hose for part of the run.

This fix has worked great for us on two boats now. If you’ve having a similar problem (and I think many of you with older Yanmars probably are), then give it a try. I think you’ll be pleased with the results. And it’s such a relief to no longer have to wonder “what kind of mood are you in today, Mr. Engine?” when you reach for that switch.

Anchor Maintenance

What’s that? Anchors need maintenance?

They do if you have a Mantus. They’re terrific anchors that grab quickly and hold you in place like you’re welded to the bottom. But to make them easy to ship, they come in three pieces that you bolt together. And after three years of use, I just didn’t like the way the bolts on our 55 lb Mantus were looking. Loose scaly rust was developing on the ends.

First bolt removed

Now these aren’t your typical Home Depot variety galvanized steel bolts. They’re grade 5 high strength fasteners. Fortunately, Mantus sells a replacement bolt package for just a few bucks (real bucks, not boat bucks!), which can be ordered from their website.

The bolts arrive with a package of Lanacote to apply to them to add corrosion protection. It’s been three years since I put The Beast together, and I’d forgotten that little fact. But when I took a wrench to what I thought were rusty bolts, they actually released very easily, and once removed, I could see that the threads and body of the bolts were pristine. The Lanacote had done a good job of protecting them, and they probably didn’t need to be replaced. The rust was limited just to the exposed ends. But for the minor expense involved, it was worth it for the peace of mind.

Next, our Crosby 3/8″ shackle was looking a little corroded. I’ve always been conscious of the fact that the safety and security of our entire boat depends on this tiny piece of metal when at anchor, which is why we only use Crosby shackles for this vital role. It took all of five minutes to swap out the old one for a new one (we carry several spares onboard) and mouse it with stainless steel wire.

All bolts replaced and a new shackle added

Finally, it was once again time to re-mark the first 100 feet of our anchor rode. We’ve tried a variety of ways to mark the chain so that we know how much we pay out when anchoring. The cheapest and easiest way we’ve found is to just spray paint a mark on the chain every ten feet. We’ve tried several different types of paint, from fluorescent marking paint to galvanized steel primer before finally settling on white Rustoleum automotive enamel. Nothing holds up in salt water for more than about six months. But it’s only about an hour’s work to lay the first 100 feet of chain on the dock and repaint it.

And with that, we’re another step closer to starting Season 4 of our Life On The Hook™. 🙂

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.

It’s Not Our First October Surprise

We’ve been living on the Florida Gulf coast long enough to know that you can’t turn your back on the Gulf in October. While the Atlantic hurricane season is wrapping up, with fewer tropical waves rolling off the coast of Africa and developing into storms, conditions in the Gulf are still ideal for cyclogenesis.  Some of the northern Gulf coast’s worst storms have been October storms.

So here we are with a monster Category 3 hurricane named Michael roaring towards us. Three days ago it was just a blob of thunderstorms off the Yucatan. But as proud members of Drunk Donkey Nation (as the half–million followers of Mike’s Weather Page are now known), we’ve been following this system for almost a week and knew it was going to be something big.

What to do about it was the question. It’s easy to underreact to an approaching storm, but it’s equally easy to overreact. Our hurricane plan is to move Eagle Too to the very well protected marina at Pensacola Naval Air Station in the event that Palafox Pier and Yacht Harbor, where we spend our summers, declares a mandatory evacuation. We have access to the Navy base due to our military affiliation. But if Palafox Pier doesn’t force us to leave, we don’t, primarily because we’ve already paid for the slip here. Moving to the base costs us several hundred dollars for a three to four day stay, and as thrifty cruisers, we’d rather not spend that money if we don’t have to. Plus we’re really just moving from one marina with floating docks to another a couple of miles away, so it hardly seems worth it if we don’t have to do it. And a haulout? Forget it. We’re not full time residents here in Pensacola anymore. Since we spend seven months or more of every year somewhere else, we’re not going to pay the thousands of dollars necessary to get on Pensacola Shipyard’s hurricane haul out list. And if you’re not on their list, you don’t get hauled out, plain and simple.

Our frustration always comes from waiting to see what Palafox Pier is going to do. They finally declared a “voluntary evacuation” yesterday. I had to go to the marina and ask them what exactly that was supposed to mean.  I interpreted it as “leave if you want, but stay if you’d like,” which is just another way of saying “business as usual.” But I guess maybe it gives them some liability protection if you stay and your boat gets broken by something in the marina. After all, they did tell you to “voluntarily evacuate.”

Regardless, if the evacuation was voluntary, we weren’t volunteering. Besides, as it just so happens, my first mate and lovely wife (that’s one and the same person just in case you weren’t sure) is up in Virginia visiting family this week. That means I’d be voluntarily evacuating by myself, which I’d rather not do. Not that I haven’t had several sincere offers of assistance, but I just don’t like moving Eagle Too without Rhonda at the helm, as I’ve grown accustomed to her hand on the wheel.

So here’s what I knew about Michael. Ever since he formed, the models were consistently taking it to our east. That meant we’d be on the “good” side of the storm, with winds coming from the north, off the land. The friction of blowing past trees and buildings would slow the wind significantly. Next, even though the predictions wobbled around a bit, it was pretty evident that there was firm agreement among the models. The eye of the storm was unlikely to get closer to us than about 75 miles. That’s a long way, even for a big hurricane. We’ve been though about a dozen of these in the last couple of decades, and my experience told me that the distance plus the wind direction probably meant we’d never see more than 45 or 50 knots of wind, even from a Category 3 storm. Possibly quite a bit less. Working in our favor is that we’re docked right below a three–story building that would block a lot of the wind, and our bow is pointed east, which means our dodger and bimini were at a good angle to shed the wind rather than catch it.

So what preparations did I make to hit the sweet spot on the under/over prepared scale? First, I decided not to take the sails down. Our mainsail furls inside the mast, so it’s basically impervious to wind. And we’ve ridden out 50+ knot winds in squalls with the jib furled and it never started coming loose. But just to add some extra insurance, I took about a dozen wraps around the furled jib with our spinnaker halyard, candy-striping the line down the length of the sail to keep it from trying to unfurl.

Eagle Too in her Ready For Tropical Storm Force Winds configuration

I also decided not to strip our dodger and bimini. I did take the sun covers off the dodger, because they were only loosely attached. But we over-engineered the dodger and bimini frame, using only steel rail rather than straps for support, and I knew it could handle 50 to 60 knots with no problem, especially with the wind coming from the bow initially, then shifting to the port side.

Not a good day for sailing

Next, I made sure our dinghy was well tied down with both ratchet straps and lines, and then removed all the loose gear on deck and brought it below. Solar lights, water hose, chairs and cushions, all the little things hanging around topside that could get torn lose got stowed.

I also doubled the lines and rigged all our fenders, and put bungees on several lines that I know like to slap in a gale. It’s hard enough trying to sleep during a good blow. It’s even harder when lines are slapping away like crazy.

We’d have naturally done more if Pensacola was Michael’s destination. We’ve been in a Category 3 hurricane; Hurricane Ivan back in 2004, and I have a great deal of respect for the power of such a storm. But my gut (and the data at spaghettimodels.com) has been telling me that Michael had other plans. So I feel good about our approach to this storm. We’ll see in a couple of days whether I chose wisely…

Some thoughts: this irked me a bit. The marina insists that all the boaters make sure they’ve removed any loose gear that can become airborne from the docks. But then they park their work barge just upwind of our dock, covered with loose gear that can become airborne.

Yes, that’s a machete sticking out of that sawhorse. A sawhorse that’s just sitting there, because I could push it and it would rock.

And it’s always a gut check when you see out of state power crews staging their equipment for the upcoming recovery effort.

I think we’ve adequately prepared. I really feel for the people in Panama City, Port St Joe and Apalachicola, because I think their lives are about to be profoundly affected. For now, here’s the calm before the storm…

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.

Workups and Breakdowns

It’s the peak of hurricane season, but November is only six weeks away. That means it’s time for us to start waking Eagle Too up from her lazy summer slumber and start exercising systems and gear to make sure we’re ready for our next cruising season.

In the Navy, a ship and crew preparing for deployment go through a series of increasingly complex exercises called workups. The purpose is to get the crew out of their casual in-port mindset and once again thinking and acting like sailors, as well as testing the ship’s systems to verify that it’s ready for an extended voyage. This past weekend, we got underway for the first time since mid-July to begin our own workup. The plan was to spend four nights at anchor in Little Sabine Bay at Pensacola Beach in order to attend the annual Taste of the Beach culinary event. The plan didn’t include soul crushing, energy sapping heat. But that’s what we got anyway. Four days of temperatures in the mid-90’s with humidity that pushed the heat index above 110 degrees.

It was not a fun four days. The crew of Eagle Too was sweaty, tired and cranky. But we stuck it out in order to give everything onboard a thorough checkout.

The verdict is that we’re not quite ready for sea. While most everything onboard did fine, it looks like our 42 month old house battery bank is on its last legs. Bus voltage was just too low for the number of amp hours expended. And our usually trusty outboard gave us fits. Even though I’ve run it regularly to keep the carburetor clean, it apparently suffered heat stroke and quit running, causing us to have to resort to rowing at one point. Ah, outboards. They truly are moody beasts. I mean, they’re really no more complex than your garden variety lawnmower. But they seem to be 10 times more temperamental.

Back in our slip, plugged into shore power with the air conditioning blasting away, we started working though the issues we discovered. We may have solved our outboard problem. It seems like it was a stuck float valve that eventually worked itself free. But we’ll have to test the house battery bank again at anchor for a few days to see if the equalizer charge we performed upon returning from the beach has jolted them back to life. I’m only mildly optimistic. Personally, it makes more sense to suck it up and replace the batteries while we’re here in the US where it’s easy and fairly cheap. If we try to make them last one more season and they end up expiring while we’re somewhere south of somewhere, we’ve learned it can be a long, long way to someplace that sells batteries, and they’ll be priced like they’re made of gold with diamond and emerald accents.

Eagle Too anchored in Little Sabine Bay, Pensacola Beach, Florida taken by Annie Dike from www.HaveWindWillTravel.com

Ditch Sense

I was going to call this post “Bitchin’ Ditching,” but with four active tropical systems in the Atlantic right now, I just couldn’t make light of what really is a serious subject.

Like many (hopefully all) cruisers, we carry a ditch bag with some essential stuff in it that we think we might need if we ever have to abandon ship. And like many (hopefully NOT all) cruisers, we’ve probably overlooked a bunch of things that we’d need in an actual emergency. We’re working on that, trying to add some things to make the bag more useful. But one thing I know we didn’t have right was its location. Our ditch bag lived on the back corner of a shelf in our aft cabin—a spot that would have required one of us to crawl back on our hands and knees and move other things to reach it in an emergency.

And then I saw a picture of someone else’s ditch bag. It was under their companionway ladder. It was a palm-smack-in-the-middle-of-the-forehead moment. So guess where the new home for our ditch bag is.

To be fair, we’d already been living on the boat for a year before we bought our bag, and this area had already become home to some other items. Since our ditch bag was something we hoped we’d never need, it seemed OK to stick it in an out of the way spot. But now that we’ve been cruising for three seasons and have several OMG weather experiences under our belts (or under our inflatable life jackets, I should say), the need to be able to grab-n-go in a crisis has moved up the priority list considerably.

Another thing I like about this spot is that if we ever end up being boarded by the Coast Guard for a safety inspection, our emergency strobe and distress day signal are easy to reach.

If you’ve been along for the ride long enough, you may remember we wrote in the post Overcoming Tyranny about how we hate being held hostage to arbitrary expiration dates and thus don’t depend on flares to meet our USCG emergency signaling requirements.

Space blankets, a sharp knife, some sturdy shears, a day’s worth of bottled water, some energy bars, copies of our USCG documentation, insurance and passports, a bright flashlight—just a few of the items in our bag or on the list to be added before we head out again this fall. So what’s in your ditch bag? And more importantly, where do you keep it?

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. 🙂

Lock It or Lose It

While chartering in the British Virgin Islands, we learned to always, always, always lock up our dinghy or risk losing it. It’s a habit we took home with us, and to this day we always try to lock our dinghy to something secure like a dock piling or palm tree, even when we’re in our home waters. When we’re anchored out and retire for the evening, we lock the dingy to the stern of Eagle Too, and when the dinghy is on deck, we make sure the outboard is securely locked to the railing. We also make ample use of bicycle locks to secure valuable but portable deck gear like our Rainman water maker and scuba tanks. Due to an unfortunate incident a few years ago where we had someone enter our boat and steal our cash here in the marina while I was up doing laundry, we never even leave the boat without making sure the companionway is locked. Not even to visit a neighbor’s boat for sundowners just two slips over. If our feet hit the dock, the boat is locked. It’s a little sad that that’s the way of the world, but then we sailors do tend to glorify pirates. It’s just that we always think we’ll be the ones doing the pirating, rather than the ones that get pirated.

While we try to exercise good dinghy locking discipline, I have to admit the locks we were using would probably be considered “honest man’s locks.” They indicated to a basically honest person that no, this dinghy wasn’t orphaned and in need of a good home, but rather was owned by someone who didn’t care to be parted from it. But if you smacked it with a hammer, pried it with a screwdriver, or possibly even just looked at it angrily, it would give up faster than the French army.

Getting some better locks was always one of those things I intended to someday do. So when we were wandering around Home Depot the other day on an unrelated matter, I was pleasantly surprised to find these new locks from Masterlock. They had beefy stainless steel bodies that looked like they’d be more than able to withstand hammer smacks and prying attempts, and would be better able to stand up to the marine environment than the locks we’ve been using.

In addition, they had our “must have” feature, a user settable combination. We just don’t like key locks here aboard Eagle Too, because we’re too likely to misplace or forget the key.

Best of all, they were less than $20 each, which seemed like a real bargain. Time will tell if that turns out to be true.

While these obviously won’t stand up to a determined assault from someone armed with a pair of bolt cutters or a hacksaw, they should make life much more difficult for “pirates of opportunity” to make off with our dinghy compared to the cheesy little locks we’ve been using.

So what’s your philosophy on when, where and how to lock up your dinghy?