Do you smell smoke?

Only four days into our cruising season, and the interior of Sanitas already looks like this.

Yes, even after two months in the boatyard, and another month of boat projects at the dock, we’ve already got our first big repair to make.

I’ve mentioned that we didn’t make power while running the motor on our way from St Petersburg to Key West. What a waste! So we’re trouble shooting the alternator and regulator in Key West where we can get marine grade parts, and even hire experts if needed. It seems to be a different problem than last year – this time the regulator doesn’t even show any error codes, but just has a blank display. So Capt. Mike tore everything apart and got to work.

“Huh. Here’s a wire that’s not attached to anything, and here’s a barrel connector with an empty input. Could that be the issue?” (Acting on the Keep It Simple Stupid principle) So we were off to research the D+ wire and where it should go. A bit later: “Well, here’s a 10 amp fuse that’s blown. Could that be the issue?” So we need to dig out all of the electrical spare parts. Believe it or not …. we don’t have a 10 amp fuse. How is that even possible? So Mike tries a 15 amp fuse instead, just to get us one step forward in trouble shooting.

I had wedged myself into a small clear spot on the port settee, just big enough for my bum, and I’d started working on a blog post when I heard Capt. Mike shout, “I smell something burning! Come help me figure out where it’s coming from. Fast!!” I jumped over all the obstacles between my end of the salon and his, and reached under the nav table to grab a fire extinguisher, and tried to catch up with what was going on. The engine compartment was open, and that’s where we smelled smoke. Mike lifted the cover of the starter battery compartment just on the other side of a bulkhead, and a puff of smoke escaped. Yikes! Fire is one of the most dangerous things possible on a boat. If she capsizes, she’ll right herself, but if she catches on fire, it can all go up in flames pretty quickly.

So we turned off all of the electrical breakers, and bent over the compartment, looking for more smoke and trying to sniff out the source. I restrained myself from using the extinguisher unless absolutely needed because a) it makes a gigantic mess and b) the needle pointed to empty. Oops. Mike pulled the regulator off its mounting and removed the wiring harness, pulling a pin out of the circuit board in the process and we observed a lumpy black scar between the ignition input and field output pins. We each stuck our noses in there to confirm it smelled of melted plastic, and finally determined that was the only burnt component. The new fuse was also blown of course, and that ended any electrical input and risk of fire.

We think the regulator had a short somewhere either inside the electronics or perhaps on the surface near the wiring harness, probably caused by the usual culprit – corrosion. Also, while troubleshooting, we hadn’t disconnected the solar panels. We later learned that electricity generated from those panels can backflow through the alternator and regulator if the path is available. Capt’n Mike has a plan to install an in-line breaker so that we can shut off the solar power flow.

So for now….. we’re safe! And we’ve ordered a new $300 regulator and a new fire extinguisher. (Good thing it only costs $20/night for a mooring ball) And we’ll soon find out whether replacing this component solves all of our problems. Or, if we have a lot more work to do.

Key West or Bust

We crammed an awful lot of socializing into one full day in Sarasota: meeting Skirt Sports friends for a run; brunch with Capt. Mike’s cousin; catching up with a college friend, Scott; and happy hour with Pat and Melana of SV Tapati. Scott even spent the night on Sanitas – our first overnight guest!

Then we got serious. It looked like we had a good weather window to cross the Gulf of Mexico in a direct line to Key West. We’d have very light winds during the day, necessitating use of the engine, but winds were expected to increase, allowing us to sail overnight. Planning an average speed over ground of 5 knots, we’d make it in about 35 hours, or before sunset on the second day. So we’d need an early start from Sarasota.

Capt. Mike and I had our first fight of the season (we’re getting a lot of firsts out of the way) The Siesta Key drawbridge bridge is about 1.5 miles from the mooring field and it opens every half hour starting at 7am. We were all packed up and ready to leave at 7am, but Capt. Mike kept putzing around belowdecks; making coffee, looking for a hat, reading Facebook. He said, “We don’t need to leave until 7:15.” Well, The runner in me did the math, and knew that at 5 knots, or a 12-minute mile, we wouldn’t make it to the bridge before it opened. So I pushed for an earlier start, starting the motor, going up on the bow to release the mooring lines, generally nagging. Finally, Capt. Mike got his butt in gear and we were off. After leaving the mooring field and making our way back into the ICW channel, the clock said 7:22 and the drawbridge was not even in sight. Even at full throttle, we couldn’t get there in time, missed the 7:30 opening, and had to make BFC’s until 8:00. Believe me, there were a lot of “I told you so’s” on Sanitas that morning. Then we had strong current against us while trying to make the next bridge, at three miles away, so we missed the next opening as well. So much for our early start.

We exited “The Ditch” (aka the ICW) at Venice Inlet around 10:45 am on Christmas Eve, waving to all the families celebrating the holiday by fishing. Goodbye land! We’re heading out to sea!

The rest of the day was sunny, calm (completely no-wind calm!) and uneventful.

Except, in a sense of deja vu, we learned that when we ran our motor, it wasn’t charging our batteries. Exactly the same problem we had while sailing from St Petersburg to Key West last season! So once again, we had the unpleasant experience of running the generator while motoring, with all the noise and gasoline fumes that entails.

After a truly stunning sunset, Capt. Mike tried to nap in preparation for a long night, and I stayed at the helm.

Around 9:00 I noticed that the wind had changed direction and picked up speed, as predicted. Maybe we could finally sail! I unfurled the jib, and trimmed the sails to the new wind direction on a beam reach, and put the motor in idle. I’m sailing! I’m sailing! With the motor and generator off, we buzzed along between 5 knots and 7 knots for the rest of our trip. Right up until we entered the busy channel and cruise ship port of Key West.

Unfortunately, as we left land further and further behind, and crossed the open water west of the Everglades known as Florida Bay, the seas became much rougher. Waves were only 4 to 6 feet, but they came about three seconds apart, directly on our beam. And the size and direction of the waves was inconsistent or “confused” causing Sanitas to pitch and role instead of settling in of a comfortable heel. Apparently I hadn’t done a very good job of making things ship shape before the passage, because we now had bags, shoes, books, and pillows strewn all over the floor of the cabin. We both had a very hard time getting any rest while not on watch, because the motion was unsettling, and the noises of stress on the boat and waves crashing into the hull kept me jumping up and calling out, “Is everything ok out there?” We kept our PFDs on, and ourselves tethered in the cockpit. And when Capt. Mike decided it was time to reef the mainsail, he came below to get me because we have a rule – no leaving the cockpit at night without the other person watching. Although we don’t plan to ever have a man overboard situation, I’d sure want to know about it if it happened!

We were escorted by a ghostly flock of seagulls all night long. I speculate that our green running light attracted bugs or small fish, and the gulls kept pace with Sanitas diving and calling and eating until they were stuffed. They didn’t give up and leave us until sunrise.

Around noon on Christmas Day, Capt. Mike called out “Land-ho!” Of course it was a Costa Cruise ship at the pier, not actual land, but close enough. It took another three plus hours to make it through the Northwest Channel, around Fleming Key, and into the Garrison Bight mooring field where Chris and Stan of SE of Disorder welcomed us and helped us pick up a ball. About 180 nautical miles, and 32 hours of travel (most of it under sail) and we’d arrived! No fancy Christmas dinner for us, we were happy to nosh on baguettes, brie, and charcuterie, watch Love Actually, and go to bed by 8:30 to make up for a night of no sleep.

We’re Cruisers Again!

When folks asked about our plans for this cruising season, I glibly answered, “Oh, we’ll spend a couple of months in the yard, but we’ll be cruising by Thanksgiving.” Even as I said it, I didn’t really believe it. Sure enough, Christmas somehow snuck up on us before we finally finished our projects, completed provisioning, and finally felt ready to untie the lines and head south.

This year, we had a flurry of friends seeing us off! Our friend Pat, from Siesta Key, joined us for the trip from St Petersburg to Sarasota. He and his family have been real supporters of our adventure. I think he finally understands what sailboat cruising is really like: it took an hour from him to drive to St Petersburg early on December 22nd, and it took us seven hours to bring him home by boat!

The trip down the ICW was fairly uneventful, until we were circling to wait for the next draw bridge opening. I was at the helm, and Capt. Mike was below decks getting a snack. He called up, “You doing ok?” And I said “Sure!” And then the depth reading went from 9 feet to 8 feet to SHALLOW WATER ALARM!!! And our boat speed went to zero. Darn it! Tried a quick burst of reverse to no avail. Mike had already heard the alarms and leapt into the cockpit. Now he loosened the mainsheet and swung the boom way out over the port side and called out to Pat for help. “Come on Pat! We’ve gotta hang our fat butts off the side!” With that strategic distribution of weight, Sanitas tipped over just enough that I could rev the engine, jam it into forward, and turn us sharply to starboard into deeper water. Hooray! We were moving again, and still had barely enough time to make it to the bridge for the next opening. (Ironically, we had just passed another sailboat aground just a quarter mile back. The drifting sand and shoaling in this part of the ICW is pretty tricky! Apparently you really need to be in the center of the channel!)

It was also a bit tricky timing our passage under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Three cargo ships were passing through at about the same time, and they are gigantic! If it came down to a game of chicken with a cargo ship, Sanitas will lose every time. Discretion is the better part of valor, so we slowed down by tacking upwind and let them go right on ahead.

Lots of traffic at the Cortez bridge on a sunny (but cold!) Saturday morning!

After picking up a ball at Marina Jack’s, we celebrated our first day back on the water with cocktails at Louies Modern.

Thanks for keeping us company, Pat! Come back and sail with us again any time!

My final boat project post

I promise! You must be saying to yourself by now, “I thought I was following a blog about sailing. But she only writes about DIY projects.” Well, fair enough. But in a blatant bid to get a little credit for all the hard work we’ve done getting ready for the actual sailing part of life, here’s my last post of boat projects for 2018. Hooray!

I’ve already shared with you some of the important safety and structural projects we’ve completed. Here, I’m going to share some of the smaller, less critical projects that will hopefully make cruising life more enjoyable this year. Fingers crossed!

Cockpit Shower

Sanitas theoretically has a shower in our head. It’s the simplest kind of shower: a spray nozzle attached to the faucet on the sink, with a pump to drain out the water that collects on the floor. However, we never use it. It’s too much of a mess getting the head all wet, and our composting toilet doesn’t handle extra moisture well. So even while anchored in paradise last year, I sometimes struggled with the lack of hygiene. We’ve made two improvements for this season; adding a spray faucet to the galley sink so that I can wash my hair, and installing a cockpit shower.

I am constantly amazed and impressed that Capt. Mike has the confidence to do things I find terrifying, like drilling a hole in the boat, or tapping into the fresh water system (that isn’t currently leaking) to add a new hose or water line. After the usual boat project problems with finding the right size fittings and hoses, we have a fantastic shower that fits into an cubby hole the the cockpit that we weren’t really using. It connects to the pressurized water system, and uses the water heater to provide warm water showers using a low-flow shower head designed for boats and RVs. Can’t wait to try it out in some gorgeous harbor in the Bahamas!

Soda Stream

I love me some fizzy water! Sometimes, I know I should drink more water in order to stay hydrated, but boring warm water just isn’t appealing. A pinch of crystal lite or Real Lemon often does the trick. But a cold seltzer water tastes so much better! Not to mention it makes an instant cocktail when mixed with the ubiquitous island rum and a squeeze of lime!

Last year, we brought a Soda Stream with us on our cruising adventures. But it has a couple of negatives: the plastic unit is pretty clunky and big and hard to store in Sanitas’ small galley. And more importantly, we couldn’t find ANYPLACE to buy the right size CO2 canister replacements. And we searched in hardware stores, propane shops, stores that sold kitchen supplies, marine supply stores; pretty much everyplace we could think of. So when we ran out of CO2, we resorted to buying club soda or La Croix cans which cost roughly the same as a can of beer! Plus, we had all those empty cans to eventually dispose of.

This year, Mike took a lesson from Stan on SE of Disorder, and made his own homemade soda stream. The ingenious part is that he found a little bit of unused space in the galley between the trash can and the hull of the boat to mount the CO2 canister. The hose that attaches to the water bottle comes from under the galley sink, where it is easy to access. And of course, it is a size that can be easily refilled wherever we go. Now we just need to find a buddy boat equipped with an ice maker, and we will be ready for Sundowners wherever we go!

New House Batteries

Last season, we replaced our starter battery on Marco Island once we figured out it was dead, and we were actually using our house battery bank each time we started the motor. (There’s still some important electrical stuff with the isolation switches we haven’t yet figured out, but that’s another story). By the end of the season, we found that our bank of four house batteries wouldn’t fully charge; no matter how many days of sunny weather, running the motor, or even (and this put the nail in the coffin) when we were connected to shore power overnight. Power management is a big deal to cruisers, so we bit the bullet this year and replaced our batteries. They are big. And heavy. And EXPENSIVE. But we should be good for the next five years, if we treat them nice. I did a bunch of research to find batteries that would fit in the very constrained space we have for them. Capt. Mike still had to jury rig the frame that supports the beasts. Fingers crossed that we have no more electrical issues this season!

Improving the Bed

Last year, we bought a new mattress for the V-berth. It was a definite improvement, but this princess could still feel the pea. So this year, I upgraded to a foam strip that fills in the crack where the mattress is hinged, and also added a “five zone lavender scented memory foam” extravaganza. Pretty comfy, but all these new layers barely squeeze inside the old fitted sheets.

What do you do with the extra lavender memory foam after you’ve cut the topper to fit? Why, make a hat of course! Think this will protect Capt. Mike from hitting his head on every sharp surface?


Somehow, it didn’t seem quite as intimidating to shop for months of groceries at a time as it did last year. Last year, I had a meltdown in Walmart, and called Capt. Mike saying “I can’t believe I’m doing this! I can’t believe I’m spending this much money on one trip to the grocery store!” He had to talk me down. I guess this year, I understand that this really isn’t the last time I’ll shop for food. Whatever I can buy here in St Petersburg, especially at Costco and Sam’s Club, will definitely be the cheapest I can find it. And those cans of chicken, black beans, and curry paste will form the basis of many a healthy meal over the next six months. But where ever people are, people eat. And therefore, we’ll be able to augment what I buy and stash away now with veggies, cheese, and meat if we run out along the way. We might even be able to find gluten free bread here and there. (Although if we can’t, that’s ok too. Probably healthier to skip bread all together). I did learn a few lessons last year. Canned green beans are disgusting. Even though I know I should eat my veggies, they are not worth putting in my mouth, so don’t bother buying them. We can happily eat Thai food at least once or twice a week. So might as well stock up on curry paste and pad Thai sauce at the local Asian market: even canned chicken tastes good this way! Fill whatever storage space is left over when we’re ready to cruise with tortilla chips. Why not? Everyone loves tortilla chips and they are easily twice to three times as expensive in the Bahamas. But eat the oldest ones first, because even a sealed bag can magically go stale in the hold of a sailboat!

A little drama in the marina

I know. For the past month, all of my posts have been drudgery. Boat projects, hard work, blood-sweat-and-epoxy. But we had a little bit of excitement yesterday. No great photos, but that’s how you can tell things were exciting – if you don’t have time to take pictures, it must be a good story.

I was on the top deck of Sanitas, working on my latest teak refinishing project. And I heard a bit of yelling across the way at the St Petersburg Yacht Club fuel dock. I checked it out, but decided to mind my own business. Couples yell at each other while docking at the fuel dock all the time. None of my business, right? So I put my headphones back on, and cranked up the volume on This American Life, and got back to work. (Totally worth it! Look at that newly refinished hand rail!)

Oblivious to my surroundings, I heard much louder shouting. RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! I leapt to my feet, ripped the headphones off and dropped them on the deck, because a sailboat was about four feet from Sanitas’s bow and blowing right into me sideways. I jumped up the the bow pulpit and assumed the position to fend off this massive amount of inertia. And screamed “Mike! Get up here!”

Folks who normally live in a slip about four boats down were apparently moving to a new slip across the marina. Some of the boats that live here are in, harrumph, less than perfect working order. This one didn’t have a functional motor and was trying to move out of one slip, across the harbor, and into the new slip. Completely under sail. For those of you who aren’t sailors, this is not an easy maneuver! Especially since this couple might not have left their slip since they bought the boat.

When Capt Mike made it above decks, the couple asked for a tow over to their new slip. My first thought was “Bug? The smallest dinghy in the marina, with the smallest 5-horse power motor? Tow this big fat boat?” But Capt Mike went into superhero mode. He leapt into the dinghy, released the painter, and went to the rescue. Now it wasn’t a perfect rescue attempt. For the first ten minutes, Capt Mike and Bug made a valiant effort to tow the sailboat from the front. It was not a success. There was quite a lot of random drifting and close calls with all of the very expensive boats docked at the Yacht Club. Then Allen, a salty old guy why also lives on the dock, wandered over to watch the show and started giving me advice. “He shouldn’t be pulling the sailboat. He should be pushing from the stern.” So I repeated it all, just a little bit louder. “Hey Mike! Stop pulling. Push from the stern!” Allen knows his stuff.

So he tried it, and Bug saved the day! Lashed to the stern of the sailboat, her little outboard motor provided plenty of forward momentum. The woman who owned the boat could steer from the helm. And they putted their way across the marina to their new home. Did they shower Capt. Mike with thanks and gratitude, and maybe a spray of champagne? No. They did not. But he had the satisfaction of being a Good Samaritan. And Bug has a new friend who comes visit her at sunrise- a gorgeous grey sand crane.