Boatyard Blues

You know when you reach the point in a home improvement project where you have to go to Home Depot at least once a day? Well that’s where we are with boat projects. But instead of a Home Depot, it’s West Marine. And because it’s boat repair stuff, everything costs at least five times what seems reasonable.

But first, for those of you who were wondering, we fixed our propane leak! After sleeping on it and returning fresh to the troubleshooting, Capt. Mike tracked the leak down to a faulty regulator as many of our boating friends successfully guessed. However, we couldn’t find a replacement locally – not at either of the Skipper Shops, West Marine, the propane store…. so thank goodness for the internet and companies that ship to Puerto Rico. In less than a week, we received a new regulator from Defender, and it was a pretty straightforward fix. We should be good to go to cook once we move aboard, and no more fire hazard. Hooray!

We didn’t sit idle while waiting for our part to be delivered. We’ve installed a new cockpit table, which will greatly improve our sundowner experience:

Changed the impeller on our diesel motor and found that unbeknownst to us, it had already started to fail:

And did our first big grocery shopping trip of the season, stocking up on canned goods and snacks at Sam’s Club, so that we won’t have to pay island grocery store prices for pantry staples. I have a new method for tracking an inventory on provisions on my iPad. Not only do I track how many of each item we have aboard, but the trickiest part is tracking which hard-to-access hold it’s in, so that I can find it when I want it four months from now.

But back to that overpriced can of anti-bond in the first photo in this blog post … this was an unexpectedly difficult project to replace the dorade boxes (low profile round thingies) for our cowl vents (shiny stainless steel curved thingies) These vents let fresh air into the boat while keeping sea water out. Because yes, we get waves and spray all the way up onto the top deck while we’re underway. The dorade boxes contain a mushroom vent that you can turn to open, letting air in, or close, tightening things down in high seas. But ours were made of plastic and who knows how old. So they had cracked, leaked, and oozed rust. Finally, toward the very end of last season, a jib sheet under pressure caught the starboard cowl vent and popped it right off! Capt. Mike thought fast and dashed forward to grab it before it was swept overboard, saving us at least $1500 in replacement parts. At the time, he slathered a thick layer of epoxy on it, and hoped for the best during our last few weeks of the cruising season. Here are some photos of the damage:

We did not expect this to turn into such a difficult project. It turns out the old plastic dorade boxes were attached to the deck with some sort of permanent adhesive. Yes, I said permanent. Mike made yet another trip to the marine supply store and bought every utility knife and blade they had in stock and spent one whole day scraping away one millimeter at a time.

Six hours and eight utility knives later, Johnny from Ancla Marine asked “What are you trying to do?” and when Capt. Mike explained, Johnny sent us back to West Marine for a miraculous spray can that supposedly dissolves all adhesives. We were skeptical, so to improve our odds of success, we also stopped at Pep Boys and bought all of the utility knives they had in stock, plus a set of pry bars as an impulse buy. We sprayed around the base of dorade #1 and let it sit over night.

The next day was nothing short of miraculous. We both worked together; I put all my weight on a pry bar so that Mike could get a fraction of an inch of access beneath the dorade. Then he’d spray a little miracle juice and return to scraping. I’d move the pry bar into the space he just created and we’d start the spray-and-scrape process all over again. In about an hour, we’d accomplished what we couldn’t the day before. With a sucking noise and one last strong push on the pry bar, the dorade popped right off. And now that we had our system down, dorade #2 went much faster. By midday, we have both boxes off, and could move up to cleanup and prep for the reinstall. Thanks to Johnny and one $10/ounce bottle of miracle juice.

Here’s before and after on the inside of the boat:

After scraping off the remaining adhesive and cleaning the surface with acetone, it was a pretty straightforward job to install the new dorades. AND we only had big open holes on the top of our boat during one tropical downpour! Don’t they look all nice and shiny now? I can see my face in it!

We’re Back!

After 5 months, 4 countries, 3 states, 1400 km of hiking, and visits with countless friends and family members, summer vacation is over and we are back in Marina Puerto del Rey in Fajardo, Puerto Rico! We’re not allowed to live aboard in this boatyard, so we’ve rented an Airbnb just up the hill with a lovely view of the marina.

Sailing Vessel Sanitas is still on the hard in the boatyard where she has weathered hurricane season quite nicely. That’s partially thanks to our boat caretakers, Bianca and Johnny, who checked on her twice a month and performed extra storm prep during tropical storms Dorian and Karen. It’s also definitely due to the hard work Capt. Mike and I did in May to make sure everything aboard was as storm-ready as possible. We’ve done a thorough visual inspection and so far, so good – no mold or mildew, no bugs, no water in the bilge, nothing obviously broken. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we continue to have no big surprises as we start up the systems and as we move into the water.

This month of preparation for the cruising season is the most expensive month of our year. We’re still paying boatyard fees for Sanitas and rental fees for a storage unit on land, as well as renting an apartment and car for daily use. We’re stocking up on spare parts, boat maintenance supplies, and canned and dry goods for six months. We’re paying for the only boat maintenance we don’t do ourselves; sanding and repairing the hull, applying a new coat of bottom paint, and polishing the hull. And we’re placing a new Amazon order practically every other day (did you know Amazon Prime free shipping works in Puerto Rico? Instead of 2-day shipping, it takes about 4 days, but who cares? It’s fantastic!) It makes me super anxious as we spend all this money, but I know we’ll be living at anchor and eating through those canned goods soon enough, spending practically nothing, so I try not to freak out.

This is our third time preparing for a winter in the Carribean. In fall of 2017 we had just bought Sanitas. She’d been out of the water for months while she was up for sale, so we found lots of surprises when we arrived at the boatyard in St Petersburg and set to work. The biggest, costliest project that first year was replacing the failed diesel fuel tank. In 2018, after surviving our first year of boat life, we returned to the boatyard with a massive to-do list of projects and things we needed to change to making living aboard a small sailboat more comfortable and our lives a bit happier. Each time, we spent much longer in the boatyard than we’d anticipated. But the investment of time and money up front made our cruising season go more smoothly. I’m hoping that third time’s a charm and that we know our boat well enough by now (and we’ve maintained her well enough as we go) that we can break free of the boatyard faster this time. I’d like to put in the work, and then hit the water! Let’s get to the the rewarding and fun part of cruising faster this time, ok?

Knock on wood because anyone who has ever owned a boat knows that there WILL be surprises – it’s just a matter of how serious and how costly… Ok, now back to work!

Crossing the Gulf Stream to The Bahamas …. Attempt #2

After our pit-crew efficient 15-hour stop in Boot Key Harbor, we were on the move again. Anchor raised, we headed north, planning to leave the Hawk Channel at Angelfish Cut and aim our bow for Bimini. But after listening to Chris Parker’s marine weather forecast on the short wave radio at 6:30 am, we learned that a cold front would pass through Florida tonight, and we should wait for the calm after the storm to make such an ambitious crossing. So we consoled ourselves with another glorious day of sailing along at 6 knots and anchored off Rodriguez Key.

Now it really feels like we are cruising! Anchoring near just a few boats instead of crowded in a marina or mooring field, cooking a one-pot meal and digging into our canned goods, watching the sunset, moonrise, and sunrise away from city lights.

With that sunrise came a shiver of excitement. This is it! We’ll be in Bimini by nightfall, and will catch up with SV Eileen! Perhaps somebody should have knocked on wood.

A couple hours into our sail, and before we’d even left the protection of the Florida reef, Capt. Mike noticed that the bilge pump was running frequently. With calm seas, there was no real reason for so much water entering the bilge, so he lifted the engine compartment to investigate. A steady stream of water was entering the boat from the rudder…and the stream increased the faster we moved. Huh.

A couple of Google searches later, we’d narrowed it down to the rudder packing gland. Fixing the problem might be as simple as tightening three bolts….or might be as complex and costly as lifting Sanitas out of the water and replacing the packing material. With a spare part we did not currently possess. Double drat! Either way, we decided not to leave the USA with a big leak of water into the boat. So guess what? For the second year in a row, we’re making an unscheduled stop in Miami. Triple drat!

But we made the best of it this time, and anchored in lovely No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne. (Even lovelier after the brightly-lit-up, rap-music-blaring day trippers go home on Saturday night, lol). After our trek to West Marine to purchase parts, we joined a dozen Latino families at a Cuban restaurant for Sunday dinner of lechon asado, pescado entero, and sangria.

And we squeezed in a little time to enjoy the walking paths and beaches of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

And THANKFULLY we did not need to find a boatyard to hoist Sanitas for repairs. Instead, Capt. Mike gambled that our stern was just barely high enough out of the water that he could replace the packing gland material in the water. We both held our breaths when he pulled out the old packing material, leaving a hole in the bottom of the boat, and let our breaths back out when the ocean stayed on the outside where it belongs.

Lots of cruisers in the harbor planning on an early Tuesday morning crossing. Let’s hope this time we will be one of them!

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.

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?

Provisioning

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!