Hard at work in the boatyard

We start our stay in the boatyard with a very manageable list of projects – mostly just standard maintenance and cleaning this year. But one thing leads to another, and then to another… I think in the week since we’ve been back, I’ve added more items to my To-Do list than I’ve crossed off!

I do the boring, non glamorous jobs. Like cleaning every surface inside the boat to remove the layer of boatyard dust. And unpacking and putting away everything that we stored on land. And doing an inventory of the provisions that we didn’t eat last season that seem to have survived heat and humidity and we’ll put right back in the rotation for this year. And touching up the interior teak with oil where it has been dulled and faded by sun or water leaks.

Just for fun, here’s a picture of Mike’s flip flop – glued together with silicon caulk and with a big hug of water holding it in place to dry!

Capt. Mike does the important jobs that will actually keep us safe at sea. For example, replacing the swivel hardware that connects our big, heavy Bugel anchor to the rode chain. While the anchor has performed fabulously over the past two seasons, the connector has been known to fail, which could allow Sanitas to drift into another boat or onto shore, or at the very least could allow us to lose that expensive anchor! Our German friend, Andreas, recommended a Wasi anchor swivel, so Mike replaced it is an abundance of caution. Hopefully this will let us sleep soundly at night once we’re living on the hook again!

For his next trick, Capt. Mike replaced the stuffing material around the rudder post. My very nontechnical understanding of this is: there are two things that have to go from the inside of the boat (where the motor and steering mechanism are) to the outside of the boat (where they actually propel us or steer us through the water). These two items are the prop shaft which moves the propeller and the rudder shaft which moves (can you guess?) the rudder. The boundary between the inside and the outside is called the stuffing box. A thin strand of Teflon material, that looks kind of like an extra fat shoelace, wraps around the rudder post inside the stuffing box and forms a fairly tight seal. If installed properly, it keep MOST of the water out, just allowing a slow drip into the bilge.

Mike replaced the prop shaft stuffing material last season – there was so much water flowing in, we decided it wouldn’t be prudent to cross the Gulf Stream in that condition! That repair was complicated by the fact that Sanitas was in the water at the time, and keeping the wet stuff on the outside was pretty important so we’d stay afloat. It made much more sense to finish the job and replace the rudder post packing this time while she was safely on the hard and no chance of sinking.

Thanks to Al, who gave us this fancy tool which was perfect for removing the old packing material.

It’s definitely the most difficult space in the boat to work in. Capt. Mike has to do some serious boat yoga to fit into the space. And it’s almost unbearably hot. He had to use the big wrenches for this project!

Right about in the center of this next photo, you can see a circle of textured material around the shaft. That’s the nice, new, clean stuffing!

Not quite as dramatic, but still on the To-Do list, Mike made a small shelf for the bottom of our chest refrigeration. Condensation gathers at the bottom and this shelf will let me keep food out of that water. Plus i can never actual reach what’s way down there at the bottom of the fridge anyway!

And then… After all this productivity, we ran into our first unpleasant surprise of the season. While testing the propane system, Mike discovered a leak. When he turns the propane on at the tank, we can hear the hiss of gas escaping, and can smell the propane. Luckily, the solenoid still works (we replaced it our first year) so we can narrow down the source of the leak to the external part of the system – not something leaking within the living space of the boat. Theoretically, this should be easier to trouble shoot and fix. However, we’ve squirted soapy water in ever hose and connection, watching for bubbles, and we haven’t found the source of the leak yet. Wish us luck as the search continues!

The Camino in Spain vs the Camino in Portugal…

I’ve walked more than 1250km, over the better part of two months now, so I think I’m entitled to an opinion on this. And so far, I enjoyed my time walking the Camino Frances across Spain MUCH better than the Camino Central in Portugal. Now some of that could very well be mental attitude:

After two months of travel, most of it walking, it is entirely possible that I am a little bit tired.

And it’s much more exciting to be walking toward Santiago with hundreds of other pilgrims than to be walking away from Santiago by ourselves.

But there are a lot of external reasons that I prefer the Camino in Spain as well.

There are fewer services oriented toward pilgrims in Portugal: fewer albergues, cafes, pilgrim menus, and shops.

There is much less history and art to experience – few grand cathedrals, museums, and palaces. And the lovely white churches we do walk past are always locked. There ARE quite a few Roman bridges, but they get old.

The language barrier makes things tricky. I had finally learned enough Spanish to make myself understood ordering in a restaurant or an albergue or to ask directions. I even dusted off my high school French a few times. But Portuguese is wacky! In writing, it kind of looks like Spanish spell-checked by a drunk. But when spoken, it sounds like Martian! My entire vocabulary consists of “good morning” (bom dia) and “thank you” (obrigado).

But the biggest downside to walking the Portuguese Camino is that it is almost entirely on roads. Sometimes in the narrow shoulder of very busy roads with trucks zooming by at 60mph. Sometimes on what our guidebook describes as “delightful country lanes” which really just means narrower roads with stone walls on both sides with less frequent trucks zooming by at 60mph. And maybe worse than the traffic is the surface of these roads – small square cobblestones that twist your ankles and make your feet ache after 25-30km under the weight of a backpack.

We came upon a road crew placing the stones on a new stretch of road – fascinating! It’s very labor intensive. The road bed is covered in sand. Strings are put in place to make straight lines to guide the cobblestone placement. Then two men sit in the road with a hammer in one hand and a pile of square rocks nearby and dig a hole, place a stone, and tap it into place. Over and over again. I wish they’d just leave them all as dirt – so much better for walking!

I know, I know… I’m not getting much sympathy from you as I complain about sore feet while spending two months in Europe. And you’re right! It’s time to snap out of it and enjoy the beauty of this small country. On the positive side, people are very friendly and keep warning us that we are walking the wrong way, lol. And there are way more English-speaking pilgrims than we encountered in Spain. So we get the chance to have several two-minute conversations with northbound travelers each day. And coffee and wine are both dirt cheap! There’s no tortilla option in the cafes, but cabbage soup is a pretty reliable gluten free option. And I learned how to say “without bread” in Portuguese (sem paõ). And we’re planning to take a three-night vacation from pilgrim-ing in beautiful Porto, so I think we’ll feel renewed and energized again as we continue south. Wish us luck!

Pilgrim Hack – How to Beat the Heat

If you read the headlines at all, you’ve realized that Mike and I are walking across Spain… In July… In a record-breaking European heat wave. Just our luck! It’s been over 100°F for the past five days.

We’ve had to make a few changes to our routine to make things tolerable. We started setting the alarm for 5:00am, packing and setting off in the dark, so that we can get in at least 5km before sunrise. We try to get wherever we are going for the day by 2:00pm – not that we’re staying in air conditioned accommodations, but at least we can sit in the shade and have access to as much drinking water as we want, instead of continuing across open plains in the worst hear of the day.

But besides that, Mike and I have very different approaches to managing the heat. I keep it simple with a big floppy sun hat I bought on Sierra Trading Post. It’s by Chaos hats and I love it! Chaos hats. It has a foam brim, lots of ventilation, comes in a size small to fit my teeny head, has a string for windy days -everything you need!

Mike instead bought a $50 ultralight backpacking umbrella, in silver to reflect the sun. And then, with the help of our friend Nathan in Denver, he designed a feat of engineering genius – a mixture of PVC tubing, parachute cord, and bungees that is intended to keep the umbrella upright and hands-free while hiking.

When I showed Mike this photo, he said, “So that’s what I look like? That explains why everyone has been smiling and waving and honking at me. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn a red bandana.” Mike sweetie, I have to break it to you… They aren’t honking at your red bandana 😜 But he’s really happy with his sun solution, especially when he gets it set up exactly right. And (since it IS in fact an umbrella) it even works in the rain!

So we’re both very happy with our solutions for dealing with the heat. Which do you prefer?

Boat Project #1 – Updating the Salon Cushions

This might sound like a minor project, but we hope it will make a huge difference in comfort and happiness this cruising season!

The settees in our salon are like the couch in your family room – where we spend most of our time on the boat. We sit there to eat our meals, watch movies, read books, and often one of us will sleep there when the small V-berth in the forward cabin feels too cramped for two adult humans or gets too hot. The upholstery of the cushions was in pretty good condition last season, but the foam had definitely reached end of life. Our bums were hitting plywood pretty much all the time, and we definitely sunk into the most over used spots!

I researched getting new cushions made, but (as with anything boat-specific) it was CRAZY expensive. So we decided to clean the upholstery and replace the foam in the seats. Sounds simple, but it turned into a multi-week project….

Step 1 – Clean the Upholstery

These cushions have definitely seen some use! And the ones in the cabin were victims of that pesky salt water leak last season with all the stickiness and funky smells that entails. So I took the covers to a dry cleaner for some serious cleaning. But they turned me away. Said that the material, especially the breathable back panel wouldn’t survive the process. Back to the drawing board and to my good friend Google and I decided to rent one of those upholstery cleaners from Home Depot. Luckily, we were still living in a rental apartment with plenty of floor space to spread out, so after three trips in my little VW convertible with cushions sticking out the windows, we were good to go.

Capt. Mike is trigger happy.

What do you do with this many couch cushions? Build a fort of course!

Wow, the upholstery was dirtier than I thought. Gross!

Step 2 – Order Foam

Where do you go to buy foam? Foamonline.com of course. Who knew there were so many different kinds, thicknesses, quality levels, and styles of foam. Fascinating. (Not really) More Googling, and I settled on 3 pound high resilience foam. It was a little bit tricky figuring out how much we needed because nothing is rectangular on a monohull sailboat. Every cushion is a strange shape with beveled edges that needs to be cut with precision. This stuff is not cheap, so I had to figure out how to buy enough with a little bit of room for errors, but not so much extra that I’m wasting $100 bucks worth of foam. Hence my super scientific calculations.

Step 3 – Wait…for three weeks

I thought ordering from the Foam Fast section meant I would get my foam. Fast. Not so. It took over three weeks to arrive and only after I started calling and emailing and harassing them. It finally arrived, all compressed and wrapped tightly in a 46 pound black plastic garbage bag. The folks at the marina were taking bets on what the heck was in this mysterious package. The reality was less interesting than their guesses for sure.

Step 4 – Cut the foam and stuff the upholstery

The perfect tool for cutting foam is a cheap electric knife from Walmart. However, when you buy the very cheapest one, there’s a good chance it will be broken right out of the box and delay your project further until you can exchange it. Oops. Capt. Mike proved to be just as competent with an electric knife as with an electric drill, and he managed to make it all fit with just the smallest bit of scrap left over. A bit of 3M spray adhesive to connect oddly shaped foam pieces together, and to make the surface tacky. A wrap of polyester Dacron batting to allow for some ventilation and to ensure the foam shapes completely fill the cover. And zip the cover back together, and you’re good to go! Except for the zippers that were too corroded by sea water to function. Those had to be removed using a seam ripper, and will be replaced by Velcro the next time we have access to a sewing machine. No boat project ever goes completely to plan. But we’ve tested them out now for over a week and these cushions now feel good as new!

I live on a Sailboat…. Again

It’s been a week since SV Sanitas splashed into the water of Tampa Bay after her summer vacation in the boat yard, and I guess I can finally say we’ve moved back aboard. We’ve slept in our tiny V-berth, cooked some simple one-pot meals in the galley, and unpacked box after box after box. At first, I couldn’t figure out why it takes so long to unpack such a small boat, but I think I figured it out – there’s no basement you can stash a pile of boxes in and forget about them for months. Or even years!

The past week has been a reminder that everything takes longer than anticipated when you’re living on a boat. We were scheduled to put Sanitas in the water at 9am last Thursday…. which turned into the last thing before the yard closed at 5:00. So all the things we planned to do in the water (inspect the mainsail, load new and very heavy house batteries, check all the engine systems) moved to Friday morning. Eventually, we got those tasks done and motored the 3 miles from Salt Creek to the St Pete Municipal Marina Friday afternoon and tied up to the transient wall. Since we are staying for a month and because we have a very low freeboard, we’d requested a slip instead of the wall, but no one in the marina office could find the request until sunset. Then we were told come back tomorrow, and we’ll move you into your slip on the West Dock. So instead of having 3 days of overlap between the marina and our apartment to give us plenty of time to move in, we did it all on Saturday: moved everything we’d been living with for the past two months from the apartment to the boat, then moved everything from the storage unit we rented for the summer onto the boat. That’s a lot of stuff! Did it grow and breed over the summer? Suffice it to say, there wasn’t an inch of room to move on little Sanitas.

As Capt. Mike was hiding things away in the storage hold under the bed, I heard him shout, “We have a problem! We have a problem! The hold is filling up with water!” Now I interpreted that as we are sinking, and starting trying to remember where the wooden plugs and the waterproof repair tape got stashed. But luckily (?) it just meant that the hose to the forward water tank was leaking and 45 gallons of water were flooding the place where we had just placed our belongings. I turned on all the taps to take some of the pressure off the hose, unloaded everything back into the cockpit where it had started the day, and we dealt with the mess. Eventually, the tank ran dry, we bailed it out, set up fans, spread out our soggy belongings….. and got a cheap hotel room for the night.

Stuff floating in the “under the bed” storage hold…

Capt. Mike actually fit in the hold while repairing the hose. If you ever wonder where we hide the dead bodies….

Installing protection around the hose fitting, so we don’t do THAT again!


Sunday went much better! We put our bed back together so that sleeping aboard was possible, set up the composting head, and did some more unpacking. Then we rewarded ourselves a day of rest – a visit to Pat and Darby in Siesta Key, and walking over to Vinoy Park to see the Barenaked Ladies in concert at Rib Fest.

Since then we’ve been continuing to unpack and get settled. We’ve given Sanitas a good bath after the boatyard. (Do you think they call it the poop deck because so many birds poop on it?) And we finally put the jib and staysail back up. We took them down so Keith at Advanced Sails could inspect them and do some minor repairs, and to have as little canvass as possible up during hurricane season. While we were at it, we replaced the sheets on those sails with nice shiny, clean, and snag-free ones.

We’ve also done lots of minor projects that don’t sound like much, but will hopefully improve our comfort and happiness in the months to follow. Such as installing lights in the cupboards and head, installing a small shelf in the bilge to keep our stores on canned food above the water, fixing that darn forward water tank hose and installing protection around the fitting, repairing latches on doors, fixing the squeaky companionway stairs, repairing the brass wall clock….You get the idea. In the process, we’ve made many trips to the dumpster, recycling, and Goodwill; made a bit trickier by the fact that our new parking space is about an eight-minute walk away. I hesitate to post pictures yet, because we aren’t yet organized and ready for prime time. Oh, ok. Since you insist. Here’s what living aboard looks like one week later:

But we are floating (not sinking!) and the view from the cockpit can’t be beat! One step closer to a tropical paradise.