We’ve finished our mini-refit! Hooray for new solar!

So in grand total, Sanitas ended up spending 9 weeks on the hard in Spice Island Marine boatyard this summer. If you’ve been following along, you’ve read about how our bottom job got a little bit out of control and how we tackled the huge project of rebuilding our hatches. I was feeling pretty down about things for a while there – especially when every project was moving backwards rather than making progress. Eventually, I decided to reframe the issue. We weren’t simply doing a bottom job on steroids – in reality, we had taken on a mini refit without even noticing! 😂 But as of Friday, November 13, we’re back in the water. Good thing I’m not superstitious!

Back in the water!

When I look at the list of tasks we accomplished while in the yard, I really do feel a sense of accomplishment:

  • Refinished the hull and keel from bare gel coat and lead.
  • Raised the waterline.
  • Changed the Diesel engine oil, filters and impeller. Changed the transmission oil. Changed the oil on the outboard motor and lubed the lower unit.
  • Rebuilt the hatches.
  • Upgraded the electrical system to better isolate the starting battery, route solar power to the house battery bank, included safety fuses, improve the efficiency of the inverter.
  • Waxed and polished the hull.
  • Cleaned and oiled interior teak. Removed corrosion from portlights.
  • Improved the insulation of the refrigerator.
  • Repaired some gel coat damage.
  • Replaced leaking hoses.
  • Upgraded the solar energy system from about 300 watts to 600 watts of solar.

That last project, the solar upgrade, is HUGE! Last spring, one of our two 100W flexible solar panels failed and the remaining one want in good shape either. Even with long summer days and good sun angles, our solar couldn’t keep up with our needs, and we had to run the Honda generator daily (with the noise, gas fumes, and messy cockpit and salon chaos that go along with it) Capt. Mike did a huge amount of research, consulted with other cruisers and Clarity Marine Services, and came up with a design that doubled our solar capacity.

We bounded the project by deciding not to build a new arch on the stern, and not to replace our canvas bimini with a hard top. That saved us a ton of money, but limited the physical size and space for the new solar panels. But we still found great options! Solar technology has improved a great deal since we bought Sanitas – smaller solar panels are much more efficient and less expensive than they used to be.

We replaced the large 140W 12V rigid panel on the arch with a brand new 310W 24V panel. We paid a welder to replace a portion of our lifelines at the stern with rigid stainless steel tubing and installed two 140W 24V “wings” one on each side. (That was my idea😃) We got a great deal on used panels for the wings from friends in Port Louis Marina who were upgrading their solar even more than we were. One sailor’s trash is another’s treasure! And just as important as the panels themselves, we bought new Victron MPPT solar controllers, battery monitor and temperature sensor, and had them shipped in our sea freight box.

See that Port solar panel wing?

What so great about these upgrades? Let’s see if I can explain it. It’s been a looong time since my last E Sci class. Well, going from 12 volt solar panels to 24 volt solar panels dramatically improves the efficiency of the system, especially on cloudy days. Now we are much more likely to achieve the 13-14 volts required to charge our house battery bank. The solar panels generate as much power as possible, based on the amount of unobscured sun, the sun angle above the horizon, and the angle the panel is tilted toward the sun. Then the Victron controller is able to quickly adjust the amount of current and voltage flowing to the house battery banks to charge the batteries as efficiently as possible. These new controllers are configurable and allow us to define the current and voltage parameters and thresholds for Bulk, Absorb, and Float charging profiles to values that keep our Lifeline AGM batteries healthy. Marine batteries are expensive, so we want them to last as long as possible. AND, the controllers have this nifty display on a smartphone that shows a graph of the load on the batteries and the charging profile, in real time and historically. Capt. Mike can sit and watch that thing for hours. (I hope he gets tired of it soon) For the first time in years, we actually know when our batteries are 100% charged, and we actually achieve it!

So what will we do with all this new solar? I’m now much more confident that we have the power to keep our fridge cold and our navigation systems running while on passage. We can run more of our small power tools on the inverter. We can charge our phones and iPads without rationing. And for the first time ever, we can run out desalination water maker using solar rather than running the boat Honda generator. Big win! Capt. Mike had started hinting about an ice maker. Hmmm… Where would we put it?

No more holes in the roof!

Remember when I said we may have bitten off more than we could chew with the boat yard projects this year? (Catch up here) Well, the decision to remove both of our hatches, take ‘em apart, and refinish them, wasn’t even on our project list so that might have been a big, big bite.

Early days, still smiling

Five or six weeks ago, when we scheduled the boat yard crew to sand-blast Sanitas’ keel, Capt Mike had the brilliant idea to have them sand-blast our aluminum hatches at the same time. So we disassembled both hatches, leaving two large gaping holes in the “roof” of our cabin and salon, and threw a tarp over the holes. It really was a good idea to address the blistering paint and fix any small leaks. Except…

  • The yard didn’t get around to the sanding for two weeks (Island time!)
  • And we learned they couldn’t sandblast until after we manually removed old adhesive and glossy paint
  • Rainy season started immediately
  • And the project was much, much harder than we expected! 😳
So much for machine sanding
How do you paint all sides of a 3-dimensional object?
This is what Sanitas like like in the middle of a big project

Six weeks later, we’ve survived sanding, torrential island rains, and oh so many coats of paint. After a bit of swearing, we even figured out how to put it all back together again! What a relief. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that simply writing this brief summary is bringing on a few PTSD flashbacks. I am so relieved to have Sanitas waterproof again, and I hope I never have to do this particular project again!

Why doesn’t it fit back together again?
Finished! Even the captain is smiling!

Sometimes we get carried away

Sanitas is back in the boatyard for the most active part of hurricane season, and Capt. Mike and I thought we might have a nice little vacation from the boat. You know, stay in a pleasant apartment, rent a car, maybe explore the island of Grenada, doing hikes to waterfalls and discovering isolated beaches. But no. Instead, we are up to our eyeballs in boat projects. As we walked home yesterday evening, covered in paint residue and mud and completely exhausted, I asked Capt. Mike, “Do you think we got a little bit carried away this time?”

It all started with our normally scheduled annual haul out and inspection of the hull and keel that are usually hidden below the water line. The red anti-foul bottom pain hadn’t held up as well as in previous years – we got a lot of hard and soft growth on the bottom this season, and we’d scraped the red paint all off and down to the blue layers underneath in several spots. Perhaps the Puerto Rican boatyard had applied the anti-foul too far in advance of splashing into the water last fall? And then we looked closely at our lead keel and noticed spots where all of the anti-foul and primer were gone, and we could see the exposed lead. Well, that’s a problem. We’ve got to do something about that.

So we hired the team at the Spice Island Marine boatyard to sand Sanitas’s hull. The goal was to get down to a good layer of primer so that we could reapply lots of layers of anti-foul paint and be really confident in our hull’s condition for the 2021 cruising season. But…between sand blasting and hand sanding, they took off much more than we expected. Primer? Fuggedaboutit. They took the keel down to exposed lead, and sanded the hull right down to the white gelcoat. In fact, we can even see the fiberglass in some spots. Uh oh.

So, now instead of a couple of coats of anti-foul, we have a big project on our hands. We have to finish sanding and prepping all the parts they did poorly. Then we have to epoxy all the spots where fiberglass is showing through. Next, four or five layers of Interprotect 2000e epoxy primer – with very specific temperature and humidity constraints and dry times between coats. THEN we’ll finally get to the point where we can start applying the anti-foul. And all of this primer and anti-foul contains some pretty yucky chemicals and toxins, so we’ll need to apply it wearing respirators and a paper bunny suit. I have to admit, I’ve stopped even asking what all of these jars of epoxy and primer and paint and solvent actually cost!

Oh! And did I mention that since we were having the yard sand the hull down so far, we decided to raise the water line? That means we’ll apply anti-foul a couple of inches higher this time, because I guess I provision too many canned goods and Sanitas always sits lower in the water than planned. And once we raise the water line, we’ll have to repaint the dark blue boot stripe a couple of inches higher as well? And of course we have to find the right color blue to match the other blue trim on Sanitas so she doesn’t look trashy, right?

So if you want us over the next few weeks, you’ll find us in the boat yard. Definitely sweaty, probably covered in paint, most likely hungry or thirsty, and guaranteed grumpy. I hope it’ll all be worth it and Sanitas will be in the best shape of her long life when we’re finished!

Where there’s no Amazon Prime 2-day Delivery

Hurricane season is our down time on Sanitas. We hunker down someplace safe, and we work on the endless list of repair and maintenance projects that have piled up during the Caribbean Cruising season. And…we shop. A lot. We shop for boat parts, we reprovision canned goods and paper products, and we replace the many, many household items that have rusted, ripped, broken, or otherwise wore out through daily use in a hot and humid and salty environment. But this year, for the first time, we couldn’t return home to the US, aka the Land of Plenty. No Walmart, Home Depot, or West Marine. Not even a short trip home, leaving with empty suitcases and coming back with them filled with oil filters, new hatches, and anchor chain. So once we’d made peace with the idea of spending the entire hurricane season in Grenada, we decided to bring the mall to us.

When you wear the same two pairs of shoes every day for over a year, they definitely get worn out! So happy to receive replacements!

I’m not gonna lie, it can be expensive and intimidating to order goods to be shipped to Grenada. Back in July, we shipped the supplies for our custom canvas project via air freight (essentially FedEx) which charges by weight and volume and that adds up quickly. Also, imported goods are subjected to both import duties and VAT – the sum of these taxes is 35% to 45% of the value of the item 😳 But, I learned there are two tricks to making this somewhat affordable:

1) We found a shipping company that uses sea freight. Yep – putting a cardboard barrel or box on a ship and sending it the slow way across the Caribbean sea from Miami to Grenada. For sea freight, we paid one price of 600 xcd (about $200) for shipping and handling based on the volume of the container, not on the weight. So it was in my best interest to order enough goodies to fill that box to the very top with the heaviest items possible, don’t you think? The guys at West Tech were great – they even sent us a photo of our box as it filled in Miami.

Almost full! It’s time to put this baby on the boat!
(Don’t blame me for the blurriness)

2. I worked through the red tape and paperwork to certify that the items we bought were all “transiting ships stores.” In other words, none of the boat parts, electronics, or clothing would stay in Grenada, but would be leaving with us when we continue to cruise north after hurricane season. Getting a C-14 form to certify this took a massive spreadsheet, lots of invoice tracking, half a ream of printer paper, and a lot of time at the Customs office. But it’s worth it – it reduced our overall duty from 45% down to 2.5%

You know how you order 6 things from Amazon and they ship them in 5 different boxes? We’ll imagine that frustration over a dozen Amazon orders. In fact, we ordered so much within a 48-hour period, after ordering nothing since last November, that Amazon locked our account and canceled an order because we triggered a fraud alert. TWICE. And that’s another reason for my massive spreadsheet. I tried to track when each package had arrived at the warehouse in Miami, so I knew when to tell the shipping company to go ahead and close up our box and put it on a boat. I now know the formats of UPS, USPS, and Fed Ex tracking numbers by heart!

You know how you hear stories about slow downs at the US Postal Service? Well we finally got bit by that chaos. Our final package was an envelope of documents that had to travel from Jacksonville, FL to Miami, FL. And it took three weeks. And apparently it only ever made it to the Miami post office and not actually to the address of the warehouse. Which means it never made it into our great big box. Good grief!

All the effort was worth it because last Friday Capt. Mike and I took a day off from the boatyard to celebrate Christmas in September. Our E-size shipping container was delivered right to our apartment where it was entirely too big and heavy to fit up the stairs, lol. So we spend the rest of the day shuttling shopping bags of boat parts to the boat and kitchen items to the kitchen and perform a fashion show of my new Skirt Sports wardrobe, and try out the new Soda Stream and really do feel just like kids on Christmas morning.

It’s a BIG box!

Was it worth it? Hard to say. When you add up the cost of shipping items within the US, and then across an ocean, and then pay import duty on top of the US sales tax, it’s sure no Amazon Prime free 2-day Delivery. But it allowed us to acquire a bunch of specialized spares and maintenance equipment for Sanitas. And it allowed me to replace the pair of sandals I’ve worn every day for two years until they are falling apart at the seams. And if all else fails, and I need a dry place to live, I’m pretty sure I could sleep comfortably in my size-E shipping container cardboard box!

How do we vote from our Sailboat?

This is the first year since we sold everything in 2017 and moved onto our sailboat, Sanitas, that we won’t be visiting friends and family in the USA in the fall. You know – COVID. 🤬 So how do we vote when we’re “stuck” in the tiny island country of Grenada 🇬🇩 with no access to the good old USPS? Well, it took a lot of research, a bit of trial and error, and about $15 but I think I’ve figured it out!

When we sold our house in Colorado, we established residency in Green Cove Springs, FL. (Yep. You can go ahead and call Capt. Mike “Florida Man.”) Florida is a no excuse vote-by-mail state. That means any registered voter can request a vote-by-mail ballot, without needing to prove a hardship or disability or that you’ll be out of town on Election Day. And, regardless of what the Pres says in his tweets, there’s no difference between an absentee ballot and vote by mail in Florida. in fact, in 2016, Florida removed the words “absentee ballot” completely from all government websites, ballots, and documents. When we registered to vote in Clay County, we ticked the box requesting to vote-by-mail and each time we return a ballot, we tick the box again stating we want to continue voting in this manner. That’s all well and good when we’re in the US, and we can get our mail forwarded to us, but what do we do when we’re overseas?

There’s an excellent government website called the Federal Voter Assistance Program or www.fvap.gov that provides tools and links to help US citizens vote from overseas. Being the government, it’s all acronym alphabet soup. First, we filled out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to certify that we’ll be living outside the US on Election Day and requesting our ballots by email, rather than USPS mail. It required filling out and printing a form, then signing it, scanning, and e-mailing it back. In just a couple days, I received an e-mail confirming that Clay County received the form, and we were good to go on e-mail ballots. Step 1 successfully complete!

FVAP also does a great job of providing the election timeline for each county, including deadlines to register, request vote-by-mail, to return your ballot, and more. It even provides contact info for each county board of elections. This might just be the most useful government website ever! And now I’m slightly embarrassed about how much I’m gushing over a government website.

On September 18, we received our ballots and voting instructions in an e-mail – right on schedule! I hopped on a local minivan bus and traveled to the only shopping mall on the island, where I found a business center and printed our ballots and instructions for 10.50 ECD ($4USD) Back home, I used resources at Ballotpedia.org and the League of Women Voters lwvfl.org to research candidates and constitutional amendments on the ballot. When we were ready, Capt. Mike and I marked our ballots, signed them, and filled out a fax transmission sheet.

Florida doesn’t allow you to return a ballot via email (some states do!) so we also signed a waiver acknowledging that our faxed ballots wouldn’t be private. And then I set off in search of a fax machine – remember those? I spent about a day and a half walking back and forth between the boatyard and the Budget Marine chandlery with a folder full of paperwork trying to make it there during business hours (Island time is no joke!) and trying to find one with a fax machine that would function correctly and stay connected for 5 whole pages. I phoned Clay County directly a couple of times and spoke to a lovely, polite southern woman who checked that the fax machine was indeed turned on, and even gave be a backup fax number when the first one didn’t work. You gotta love that southern politeness! Finally, and after paying 2ec per faxed page, success! My mantra is, “Well it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than FedEx!” I have fax transmission sheet to prove my ballot went through. Now, fingers crossed that my signature from 2020 matches the one I gave them when I registered back in 2017 and I should be confident that Capt. Mike and I did our part to make our votes count and our voices heard. Even from the islands, mon.