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.

Pigs and sharks and iguanas. Oh my !

I had expected to see amazing wildlife in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, and I wasn’t disappointed! The giant rays playing under our boat, turtles, even the tiny hutia, which is the only native mammal to these islands – it was wonderful to see these animals thriving in the protected areas. But I was completely surprised and thrilled at the wildlife encounters on the next few Island south on the Exuma chain.

Staniel Cay is known for its posh Yacht Club, tiny airport, and proximity to the famous swimming pigs.

Pigs

On a sandy beach, off Big Majors Spot, several families of wild pigs (and more than a few chickens) live a happy, beach bum sort of life. They walk on the beach when it’s cool, lie in the shade of the sea grape trees when it gets hot, and eat and drink like visitors to an all-inclusive resort. The eating is courtesy of boatloads of tourists who zoom in every day on power boats to feed the pigs, take photos, and yes – even swim with the pigs. ‘Cause these pigs have learned that little boats mean big eats, and in their competition to be the biggest porker, they’ve figured out that the pig who swims out to the tour boats gets first dibs on all the scraps.

In another example of how cruisers are different than tourists, we don’t want wild pigs, with their razor sharp hooves, anywhere near our inflatable dinghies. And with our questionable levels of health insurance, we are wary of their snouts and teeth. But that doesn’t mean we skipped the chance to motor in and visit the Staniel Cay pigs – just that we treated them with all due respect. (And we let the tour boats provide the food and the entertainment)

Apparently things are a little bit different on pig beach this year than in past years. Where they used to wander completely wild, now a pig conservation team provides drinking water, a bit of supplemental feed, and presumably some sort of pig veterinary care. In a way, I think that’s an improvement. People tend to love things to death, and last year several pigs were found dead, either from bad food, or from being given alcohol. A little bit of protection is probably warranted.

Good thing they warned us to beware of Big Momma Karma! We also received a tip that if the pigs were getting too close, and we felt threatened, just hold our hands out high and completely empty so that the pigs could tell we had no food, and they’d leave us alone. It works! Mike tried this once with a phone in his hand. Apparently Big Momma Karma can’t tell the difference between a cell phone and a candy bar, because she just kept on coming!

The pig keepers told us that Ollie is the sweet one. So I felt a little more comfortable getting up close and personal with this cutie. And of course, the baby piglets were adorable! But also shy, and not so interested in sticking around for photos.

Sharks

After our visit to the pigs, we did explore the Island of Staniel Cay. There’s not much to it! But we did make the rounds through the tiny town, stopping in both the pink grocery store and the blue grocery store to see what fresh produce was available. I snagged two tomatoes, a bunch of green onions, and one small hot orange pepper. We cooled off with a well-deserved bushwhacker frozen drink at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where we experienced another wildlife encounter.

When Sharon, on Z-Raye, said, “Let’s go see the sharks!” I thought that meant, “Let’s go watch the sharks swim around, looking slightly menacing and shark-like.” I had no idea it actually meant, “Let’s go watch dozens of sharks fight over bits of bait fish, throwing themselves out of the water onto a stone step to snap up the treats, and hoping a wave comes in time to wash them back into the ocean before they lose their breath.” Oh, I also didn’t realize it meant we could walk down those stone steps and get close enough to the nurse sharks to look into their little beady eyes, and to pet them. Do you blame me for not envisioning this crazy experience when invited to “see the sharks”?

Two little girls, presumably staying at the posh yacht club, had brought 8 boxes of squid to feed the sharks, and they weren’t scared of these ocean predators at all. It was exciting and nerve wracking to watch how close their cute little fingers and toes got to the pile of sharks. Of course, after we watched for a few minutes, and nobody lost a toe, we decided it was safe and that we wanted to pet those darn sharks ourselves. Although all fingers and toes are still accounted for, I’m not sure this really was completely safe. When I looked into those cold shark eyes, it was pretty clear that they didn’t care whether they ate squid or human toe for dinner, as long as their hunger and greed was satiated.

If you can’t tell, I was very careful not to leave those toes anyplace remotely within their reach.

Iguanas

Drew suggested sundowners on the beach, with the hope of seeing iguanas. It was quite a long dinghy ride to the correct beach, and our group of four buddy boats were the only people there. As soon as we beached the dinghy and Mike said “I hope we get to see some iguanas” they started appearing out of every rock outcropping and streaming down the beach toward us. Do you think people feed them? At one point about a dozen iguana had joined us on the sandy beach in quite a variety of colors and sizes. I didn’t know how cautious to be around these critters; I knelt in the sand to take a photo of one of the little guys, and he scrambled toward me so quickly, I jumped up in alarm.

They make the coolest tracks in the sand, sweeping their feet, with the tail track sliding down the middle

Eventually, I got comfortable enough to turn my back on one of the big daddies for a selfie. A very brief selfie – I wasn’t that comfortable!

Another beautiful sunset!

Our First Overnight Passage

When you find a break in the winter weather, you just gotta take it! So, after hiding from 35 knot winds for four days at Factory Bay on Marco Island, we saw a 24-hour period of calmer winds and seas approaching. If we missed that weather window, we’d be staying on the island for another week. Key West was calling, so we decided to go for it!

The trip from Marco Island to Key West is about 93 Miles. To put it in perspective, that’s almost the same distance as St Petersburg to Marco Island. Sanitas averages about 5 knots, so we planned for an 18 hour trip. Do the math…. we’ve only got about 11 hours of daylight, so one end or the other will be sailing in the dark. We decided it is better to start the trip in the dark, leaving a harbor we know very well, and then arrive in the daylight, at a new harbor and a new anchorage so we have plenty of daylight to help with the tricky parts.

So we checked out of Rose Marina at noon, anchored in the harbor, and rested up for our big night adventure. Around 8pm, in full darkness, we were sitting below decks at the salon table looking at charts and weather forecasts, prepping for a midnight departure. When Mike looked up through the companionway and saw A BOAT about to run us over! Well, maybe not quite that dramatic, but it was definitely the bow of another sailing ship drifting into the stern of ours at a slow, but still alarming pace. I think Mike levitated from the couch to the cockpit without touching the floor or the stairs, and literally pushed the other boat away from Sanitas to avoid damage. Apparently the other boat’s anchor wasn’t well set, and she dragged and drifted with the current. We left her captain to sort out his anchor issues, but with hearts pounding and adrenaline rushing, we couldn’t get any more rest, so we decided to simply GO!

From 9pm to about 4am, we still had 15-20 knot winds on the nose and 3-4 foot seas with high frequency waves coming through every three seconds. That made for a bumpy, splashy sail and a good chance to learn how Sanitas handles in those conditions. All the sailing books say that sailing up wind is “uncomfortable” for the crew, and I now understand what that means. I didn’t really sleep on my first rest shift – just bounced around in the V-berth and kept calling up to Mike, “is everything ok?” whenever I heard a new sound. We each took turns being on watch, looking for crab pots, other boats, or changes in the weather. But our autopilot did great, and we really didn’t have any problems. We motored quite a lot, because with the direction of the wind and waves, we were only moving forward at about 1.5 knots without the motor and at that rate it would takes us days to make it to Key West!

On my watch shift at 4 in the morning, I realized that the wind had died down to almost nothing, and the seas had calmed as well – just as the weather forecasts predicted. Pretty cool to see those forecasts come true. I had an almost full moon, and a dolphin leaping beside Sanitas at sunrise. I also had lots of small rain storms, and cold temps to deal with on watch. But Capt Mike pulled the longest shifts and did an excellent job of keeping Sanitas on track and arriving at Key West right about 4:00 pm as expected. Drew and Sharon and Chris and Stan cheered our arrival at the anchorage and helped us get settled in.

We really enjoyed our stay on Key West. The architecture and gardens in the historic district are beautiful, the people watching is fantastic, and all the restaurants have half price seafood at happy hour! We took the opportunity to be tourists for a few days, even meeting up with Anne and Tony again for a delicious dinner at Hogfish Grill on Stock Island. We celebrated to arrival of Bob and Laura from St Pete with a night out on the town at Capt Tony’s and Irish Kevin’s. And then we celebrated the arrival of Pat and Melana. Everyone winds up in Key West! And yes, I can really rock the cowbell. I’ve finally found my musical talent!