Galley Notes—Stove Topper

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

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

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

Summer Upgrades—Hatch Work

The Lewmar size 3 hatch over our galley sink needed replacing. I’m fine putting new seals and O–rings in an old hatch if that’s all that’s needed to stop a leak. You can get the parts at Hatchmasters. But in addition to dripping water down the back of our necks while standing at the galley sink whenever it rained, the hinge rivets broke off this one, so the hatch wouldn’t operate properly, and replacement rivets are impossible to find. It needed to be replaced.

In another case of procrastination paying off (I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t get so much positive reinforcement), West Marine put all their Lewmar hatches on sale, and for a brief period were actually the cheapest source I could find for a replacement. The price was so good that I bought two, although being a somewhat rare size, it took them two weeks to get the new ones in.

The replacement hatch had been redesigned to eliminate the hinge that had broken off our old one, which I liked. One less thing to go wrong.

It fought me tooth and nail, but I eventually got the old hatch out with the help of some heavy duty pry bars from Harbor Freight. Then I cleaned and prepped the deck.

If you follow us here at Life On The Hook™, you know that butyl rubber tape is the only bedding compound we ever use. But don’t use just any butyl rubber tape from Home Depot or AutoZone. Get it from this guy: http://www.pbase.com/mainecruising/butyl_tape. His is the best.

I applied several overlapping layers of tape to the flange of the new hatch.

Then all I had to do was set the new hatch in place, press it down firmly to set the butyl tape, tighten the mounting screws, trim off the excess butyl that squeezed out, and I was ready for a leak check.

I’m delighted to say that we no longer have to endure the shock of cold water dripping on our necks while washing dishes during a thunderstorm!

Summer Upgrades—New Cowl Vents

Being back in the land of online shopping and two day delivery gives us a chance to work on some of the things we’ve wanted to upgrade on Eagle Too. Today’s task is the replacement of our really sad, decaying, weathered cowl vents. These things are just a complete eyesore, and like duct tape on upholstery, they just make our boat look shabby no matter how good she looks otherwise.

We’ve already replaced these rotatable air scoops once before. But they’re made of soft PVC, and the sun just absolutely destroys them. These were less than two years old, but were so UV degraded that they were actually sticky to the touch. Trying to clean them just resulted in a gummy mess.

Buying another set of PVC vents seemed like good money after bad. But at least they were affordable, at about $80 a set. There are some that are made from stainless steel, and Rhonda thought that sounded like a great idea, until I told her they would cost between $600 – $800 for a pair. We didn’t hate the old vents that much!

Thinking there had to be another option, I kept researching, and found out that Vetus actually makes a line of cowl vents in silicon rubber. Unlike PVC plastic, the silicon is supposed to be impervious to sun and weather, and come with a three year warranty. They’re twice the cost of the PVC vents, but only about a quarter of the cost of the stainless steel ones. I placed the order for a pair.

One of the issues with purchasing anything online is that you can’t touch, feel and take a good look at what you’re buying. When the new cowl vents arrived, we learned that they mounted to a completely different type of deck ring, which was never shown or explained in the product description. I couldn’t use the old deck rings, but the mounting holes on the new ones had a smaller radius and wouldn’t work unless I could make the holes in the deck smaller.

In situations like this, I usually put the job aside and ponder on it a while. After a couple of days, a solution popped to mind. I called Carpenter Tony (our name for him, to differentiate him from Canvas Tony, who does all our canvas work), and asked him if he had any scrap 1/2″ Starboard laying around his shop. In case you’re not familiar, Starboard is the brand name of a marine grade plastic lumber that holds up really well to sun and weather. He had some available, so I asked him to make two 6″ rings for me with 4″ holes in the middle. The next day he called to tell me they were ready.

Two new Starboard rings and one of the old mounting rings for comparison.

Taking them one at a time, I removed the first vent and mounting ring…

and then cleaned up the 21 years of accumulated gunk that had collected.

I drilled and countersunk holes in the Starboard ring to match the existing screw holes, applied a bead of silicon, and screwed it down. You don’t really need to seal this, as any water that goes down the vent will drain away, but I thought it would act as an adhesive to back up the screws.

Next I mounted the deck ring for the new cowl vent…

and then screwed the new vent to the ring.

Not bad! Now on to the other side to repeat the process.

And shortly after that, Eagle Too sported two shiny new vents.

You probably noticed the new vents are more upright than the old ones. I couldn’t find the low profile vents in silicon, and these were the best I could do. But they’re still short enough to not be in the way of anything, and they should probably catch a little more air than the old ones.

 

A Bigger Mess Than We Thought

In an earlier post titled  “How We Broke The Boat,” I described how I managed to part our topping lift while cruising in the Bahamas a few months ago. At the time, a temporary repair was the best we could manage. Now that we’re back home for the summer, getting this properly repaired was high on our to-do list. After ordering the parts from Rig-Rite, we scheduled a date with our rigger.

We only have two lines that go to the top of the mast. One, the topping lift, was broken, and the other, the main halyard, needed some adjustment as part of the repair. That meant there was no line available to haul someone to the top of the mast, so we had to take the boat to the shipyard in order to use their boom truck to hoist someone up.

When ordering new axles and sheaves for the top of the mast, I’d ordered a few extra, “just in case.” It turned out to be a good thing, because once our rigger got to work, he determined that we were dealing with a much bigger mess than we thought. Not only was the sheave (small pulley) and axle for the topping lift destroyed, but the ones for the main halyard as well. Basically all the little pulleys and the axles they rode on at the mast top were trash.

Suddenly it all became clear. I thought I’d broken the topping lift by over-tightening the mainsheet and pulling the boom down too far. But our problems probably started a year earlier when we’d had trouble with our mainsail head swivel. For some reason (I can’t really remember), we had taken the mainsail down. Perhaps it was in order to ship it off to SailCare for cleaning. When it came time to re-install the sail, it refused to go on. The top swivel, which attaches to the head of the sail, wouldn’t go up the track inside the mast. It would hang up about a quarter of the way, and then refuse to go another inch. We continued applying more and more force with the winch, until the halyard was as tight as a guitar string, but the swivel just wouldn’t budge. Eventually I gave up and called the riggers, who diagnosed and fixed the problem (a loose screw on the swivel that had backed out enough for the screw head to catch on something inside the mast). But unknowingly, when we were trying to force the swivel to go up the mast, we applied so much force to the halyard that we crushed the sheaves and axles at the mast head.

Hoisting someone the easy way – using a cordless drill

No wonder I’d almost had a heart attack down in New Providence while trying to winch someone up the mast to do our temporary topping lift repair!  I had 160 pounds of French Canadian hanging from a line that I thought was running freely over a pulley at the top of the mast. But it was actually just dragging over a crushed pile of pulley and axle parts that were no longer capable of doing their job. I feel much better now about having needed five rest breaks to get him all the way to the top!

In any event, all is now squared away at the top of Eagle Too’s mast. The efficient folks at Zern Rigging finished the job in a little over two hours, and then we were back out on Pensacola Bay, where we rolled out the sails and tested everything out. We’re good as new and ready to go!

Red, White & Blues and Broken Boat Bits

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

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

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

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

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

Mercury Air Deck Dinghy Long Term Review—Just Say No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doughnut hole closeup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagle Too Gets Some Bling

While in St Petersburg earlier this year, we noticed a boat on our dock that sported a long row of flag decals running along the hull just below the toe rail. Did they represent places the boat had been, we wondered? It would have had to be one well-traveled boat to have hit all those countries though, because most were European nations. and quite a few were landlocked countries. It sparked our interest.

Encountering the owners one day, we asked about the flags. It turned out that they owned a travel agency, and the flags represented the countries they had visited in the course of their business-related travels.

But they weren’t places they had actually sailed to.

It started us thinking though. How cool would it be to begin collecting and displaying the flags of the places we’d sailed our boat to! A quick online search turned up Flag Sticker Shop, which offers affordable and easy to apply UV resistant flag stickers for most countries. We decided our criteria would be that we’d display flags for the countries we had actually sailed our boat to, in the order in which we visited them.

So now Eagle Too has a little bling to show off. We think she wears them really well. I wonder how many more flags we might be ordering in the years ahead? We have room for quite a few!

Getting Things Lined Up

Starboard Side

Port Side

Out Out Damned Stain

You can always tell a boat that has spent time traveling on the Intracoastal Waterway by its unsightly brown bow stain. The tannins given off by the mangroves and decaying vegetation along the canals turns the water in the ICW a murky brown, and the stain it leaves on your boat develops so fast that we never bother trying to keep our bow clean while we’re actively cruising. It would take a daily wash and wax to keep the stain from forming, and who’s got time for that. But removing this ugly brown stain from our bow is one of the first things we try to tackle when we return home for hurricane season.

Before

The usual boat soap, water and a scrub brush won’t touch this discoloration. Even so-called super cleaners like Amazing Roll Off that brag about their deep cleaning ability won’t phase it. In the past, we’ve had to resort to a product called Mary Kate’s On and Off to remove our bow stain. But On and Off is basically muriatic acid, and it’s a real hazard to use. Forget to wear your rubber gloves or fail to rinse it off your leg when you spill some and you can be looking at some nasty chemical burns. It’s pretty unpleasant to inhale it, and safety glasses are a must to protect your eyes from splashes.

But we heard a tip recently that seemed so good that we thought it couldn’t possibly be true. We were told that simple lemon juice would wipe that stain right off. At only a couple of bucks for a quart bottle, we thought it was worth a shot.

Here’s a three word review of our results: best idea ever! The lemon juice cleaned off the stain better than anything we’ve ever tried. I poured some into a trigger sprayer, and then I just sat in the dinghy and wiped the hull with a wet sponge, sprayed on the lemon juice, let it set a few minutes to work, and then wiped the hull clean. No concern about accidentally getting some on me, no worry about accidently splashing some in my eyes, no need to have to use rubber gloves and a scrub brush. Cheap, effective, and environmentally friendly. It even made the boat smell good!

After

I wish someone had mentioned this to us years ago.

Give Me A Home Where The Customs Apps ROAM

In the past, returning to the United States meant we’d have to pay a visit to our friendly neighborhood Customs and Border Protection office to clear back into the country. It was never a convenient thing to do, because we’d usually be at the Navy marina in Boca Chica or at Boot Key Harbor up in Marathon and have to rent or borrow a car to go to the CBP office in Key West. I’d started the process once to enroll in the Small Vessel Reporting System or SVRS, which could have theoretically let us clear in with a phone call, but I never got around to finishing. I guess having to make an annual trek to Customs upon our return to the US wasn’t enough of a hardship to push me to finish submitting the paperwork and scheduling the in-person interviews necessary to enroll in SVRS. Well as it turns out, that will no longer be necessary. While we were off enjoying ourselves in the Bahamas this past Spring, CBP apparently rolled out their new Reporting Offsite Arrival – Mobile, or ROAM, app.

Our friends Mike and Jen on S/V Sanitas first told us about it, and then Deb and TJ on S/V Kintala filled in the details for us. While sitting on a mooring in Boot Key Harbor one morning, I downloaded the CBP ROAM app from the Google Play Store and installed it on my Samsung tablet. After entering our personal details, it prompted me to use the app’s camera feature to snap pictures of both our passports and upload them. Next I entered our vessel details. I’m pretty sure the personal and vessel info is a one-time entry, as it appears to save the information to your ROAM account. Finally, I answered a few quick questions about our recent travel and where we were returning from and clicked submit. A moment later, the app requested permission to open a video chat. A smiling Customs agent then appeared on my screen, confirmed that I was Robert, and then asked me to show him Rhonda. I pointed the tablet at her, she smiled and waved, the Customs agent thanked us, and we were done. A moment later it notified me that we were cleared back into the US.

From start to finish, it took about a half hour to get everything set up. I thought I’d hit a speed bump when I learned I needed to purchase an annual Customs border crossing decal for our boat, because I had to input the decal number as part of our vessel information. But the ROAM app launched me out to the appropriate website so that I could order the decal, and then let me use the order confirmation number to complete the vessel info.

My intention when I downloaded the app was to just set it up and explore it a bit. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly be video chatting with a CBP agent. I didn’t even have a shirt on! Apparently using ROAM, you can clear into the country in your pajamas or underwear if you wish to.

The app does say that this is a limited release and not currently available for use at all ports of entry. It’s apparently in an advanced Beta stage, with CBP planning to eventually roll it out for use nation wide. For now though, it supports Customs clearance through all Florida ports of entry, so it’s now the primary means to clear in if you’re returning from the Bahamas or points south via Florida.

One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes procrastination does pay. ROAM replaces the SVRS, which means if I had bothered to jump through those hoops, it would have just been time wasted.

Night Games

During our final night passage on our return trip to Pensacola, in order to reduce the anxiety caused by all the thunderstorms we encountered, we started playing a little game we called “I Can’t Wait To…” It worked like this. Rhonda and I would take turns saying, “I can’t wait to go to (blank) and have (blank).” We’d name one of our favorite restaurants in Pensacola and the meal we were most looking forward to having there. I guess it was partly a reflection of the fact that no matter the charms of the Bahamas, the cuisine leaves a lot to be desired. A few months of conch fritters, conch salad, cheeseburgers, French fries and baked macaroni and cheese, the most commonly available dishes in the islands, left us with some pretty severe food cravings.

Now you wouldn’t think that a little town like Pensacola would offer enough dining options to make the game interesting. But it actually lasted most of the night. When either of us would name a restaurant and meal, we’d both go “Mmmmm,” and then mentally savor the food for a period of time. Sometimes the other person would continue the game after just a few minutes. Other times 15 or 20 minutes would silently pass before the next submission. But regardless, it kept a smile on our faces all through the night, during some pretty unpleasant conditions.

We’ve only been back in town a little over 48 hours, but we’ve already checked three spots off our “I can’t wait to…” list. For lunch the first day, we went to the Oar House for their excellent fresh shrimp baskets. Last night, which was Gallery Night in Pensacola, the monthly downtown street festival, we hit the Sonny’s BBQ food truck for some savory pulled pork. And this morning, we made the hike up to Polonza Bistro for their weekend brunch and some of their excellent Cervantes frittatas.

One with grits and toast, and one with potatoes and a biscuit, please!

We’ll have to start pacing ourselves. At this rate, we’ll complete the entire night’s list in just a few weeks! #It’sGreatToBeHome