A few days in the boat yard

As soon as we left Stuart, Florida on our way north, we decided our new boat needed a little love. So we pulled into Cracker Boy Boat Works in Fort Pierce for a few days of hard and dirty work! (In case you hadn’t guessed, this is going to be another “keepin’ it real” blog post)

We were lucky to find a DIY yard where we could do some of the work ourselves to save some money (Thanks, Bill!) but these three days in the yard would still wind up costing about 3.5 “boat units”  – yikes! As we approached the haul out slip on Tuesday morning, we radioed the boat yard to let them know we were here. The office manager replied that the crew was almost ready for us – come in slowly with no lines and no fenders…. What? That’s a first for us, and I felt very nervous standing on the bow with nothing to do. But Capt. Mike drove us into the skinny little slip like a champ.  And the crew did a great job of communicating and guiding us in with little more than boat hooks. Phew. It’s always a relief to get into a slip without anything going wrong!

The first job we tackled was replacing the CQR anchor with a new 85-pound Mantus we fondly refer to as “The Beast” ⚓ It’s literally the biggest anchor that would fit on our bow and we will sleep much better through wind, tide changes, and heavy current knowing The Beast is keeping us safe. Capt Mike did a ton of research, including trying to decipher our mystery anchor chain (C4 chain is not the same as G4 chain) and to ensure our windlass could handle the heavy load. While we were at it, we marked every 25 feet of chain with colored zip ties so that I know how much rode I am letting out as I drop anchor.

Next, we replaced all the zinc anodes on the hull. Zincs are intended to be “sacrificial” and to corrode more quickly than other important metal boat parts. On Sanitas, we only had two zincs to deal with. On this bigger boat, with more complex systems, we had tons! Including on the bow thruster and related to the refrigerator cooling system. My turn to do tons of research to try to figure out the right shape and size and number to order. (I was mostly right – only two of the zincs I ordered didn’t fit – oops) While we were at it, we scraped barnacles off the prop and bow thruster blades and painted them with epoxy.

Our main priority was to apply new anti-foul paint to the bottom. We knew of one spot where the bottom paint was scraped off, and we wanted to have a nice clean bottom before leaving her in the water in a brackish river without moving for six months. Sounds easy enough, right? But unseasonable Florida thunderstorms were out to get us, cutting our working hours short each day.

In fact, on Wednesday evening we endured one of the strongest storms I’ve ever weathered on a sailboat…. In the boat yard! Our wind instruments aren’t working, so I can’t tell you exactly the max wind speeds, but Capt. Mike estimated sustained winds of 40 to 50kts. The boatyard measured gusts of 68kts. 😲 The worst part was wind came from the side instead of the bow and really shook the entire structure, while heavy rain and hail fell. Mike went out in the worst of the storm to rescue cockpit cushions that were blowing around AND he watched the blades to the bow thruster (which we had taken apart to paint with anti-foul) catch the wind and start somersaulting across the boat yard. Yes, he sprinted after them and made a heroic rescue. That would have been an expensive loss! For my part, I was dressed in my fouly, with my shoes tied, holding a waterproof bag of our phones and wallets, sitting on the floor at the bottom of the companionway, braced in case the boat fell off the stands. Ready to run through the storm if Mike told me to. Luckily, none of that was necessary and we all survived with only some damage to one of the cockpit enclosure panels and an antenna. Phew!

One more challenge to this stint in the boatyard was our lodging. The yard doesn’t allow anyone to live on their boats overnight so I had to find a hotel or Airbnb. The only reasonably priced place I could find was a dumpy motel about 2 miles away on Rt 1. So each morning, and each evening we had a 2-mile walk to get to work – except for the two times Mike hitched us a ride! Luckily, we walked right by a Dunkin each morning – hurray for ‘Merica!

Between the long commute, the storms, and the long list of jobs, it’s a minor miracle that we finished the bottom paint in time. My back still hurts just thinking about it. But we did it! And scrambled to put everything back together before our 9:30 splash appointment on Friday morning. Yes, I did temporarily lose the bolt required to put the bow thruster back together, but that’s another story. Capt. Mike frantically painted the spots where the stands were, just as the lift crew arrived and stood around watching him, smoking their cigarettes and tapping their feet.

But we did it! Back in the water in time to make the 10:00 bridge opening. Huzzah!

Time flies when you’re working on a boat!

I can’t believe it’s been a month since we packed up our lives in Grenada and flew to Florida to meet our new boat. Time sure does fly!

It was much easier clearing our big blue barrels of household goods into the US than it was on the Grenadian side. Less than a week after we arrived in Stuart, Florida we had all of our things and just needed to figure out where to put it all.

The town of Stuart is absolutely lovely, but we didn’t get much opportunity to enjoy it at first – we had too much to do…. We bought a larger, used dinghy from our friend Bill Roy and Capt. Mike spent a few days getting the outboard running smoothly. For his next trick, he installed dinghy davits – arms that allow us to lift the dinghy out of the water at night for safety, and to carry the dinghy out of the water while we are sailing. They turned out great!

Next, we went to work on solar power. Our boat has a nearly-new inboard generator which efficiently sips diesel to generate power. But it takes about two hours in the morning and another hour and a half in the evening to keep the batteries full while running the fridge and lights and keeping things charged. That’s a lot of noise! Not the way we want to live off- grid long term. Mike worked with Alexander to build a stainless steel structure above the shade Bimini and installed three 200-watt solar panels. After pulling loads of cable and installing a Victron MPPT controller, we have power! On a sunny day, our batteries are full by noon.

We have many more complicated systems than we had on simple little Sanitas. Lots to learn! For example, Mike said on this boat we’d be able to drink the water right out of our tanks because we have a built-in filtration system. But because the boat had been sitting unused for a while, the water initially tasted gross. So … we dug into every cupboard, found the water filter system, ordered new filters and voila! Yummy, great tasting water.

Then, the first night we venture out to socialize with other Island Packet owners at a Marina happy hour, we returned home to find a flashing red light illuminating the interior. Apparently our “magic head” (electric toilet) wasn’t so magical at the moment. We’ve got this super cool space age Electro-Scan head that uses electricity to sanitize waste so you can legally eject it overboard… when it works properly. We had to do a lot of investigating and eventually send a few emails back and forth to the extremely patient previous owners before we figured out how to add extra salt water to the system.

After a week of perfect sunny Florida weather, a week of rain set in, and we discovered that our hopefully dry cockpit… wasn’t. With enough rain, the Sunbrella fabric quickly got saturated, and the rain just flowed straight through. So we ordered a gallon of 303 waterproofing and went to work. Did I mention how grateful we are that Amazon delivers to Sunset Bay Marina, and how equally grateful I am that the marina employees didn’t shame me for the number of packages I picked up in one month?

Eventually, we came up for air and started to enjoy the marina lifestyle. And we had friends! Beth, on Stargazer, was moored only two balls away from us. And Adele and Herman, on Willful, made it safely back from Puerto Rico via The Bahamas and joined us in the mooring field. We met new friends, like Ray and Amanda on Elysium who bought their beautiful boat the same week we did. And Matt and Brooklyn on TwoCan who work hard on yachts in Fort Lauderdale all week, and then spend the weekends in Stuart working on their own boat. We even had the chance to finally meet up with Hayden and Radeen on Island Spirit who helped us buy our Island Packet and who serve as the gurus and cheerleaders for the IP community.

And, better yet, we had two different visits from family during our month in Stuart! My parents came to visit just before they started their big road trip back north to New York for the summer and Mike’s Mom was visiting a neighbor on the west coast of Florida so she made the trip over to Stuart to visit us and to see our new boat! It’s so nice to know that our parents can picture this life we are living and our new home! It’s very special.

A marathon day of boat maintenance

If you’ve been following me on social media (and if you haven’t, why not? 😆) you’ll know that Sanitas has been experiencing a real run of bad luck lately. Pretty much every day we’ve found something new that’s broken, worn out, or just downright failed. There’s a saying, “Everything on your boat is broken. You just don’t know it yet.” And that’s certainly how it’s felt since we returned to Grenada this fall. After more than a month of playing Whack-a-Mole and trying to fix each problem as it cropped up, things finally came to a head this week.

Capt. Mike inside the engine compartment
The list of surprise boat projects we’ve had to address since we splashed on Nov 1st

Our most serious issue so far has been a  leak in our transmission. This isn’t one of those leaks that you just monitor and hope it doesn’t get worse. This is one that prevents us from using the engine (for propulsion) for more than 15 minutes at a time and then requires pouring in another half quart of transmission fluid. If we blew the transmission completely, that would also blow our budget for the year, and maybe cut our sailing season short. Capt Mike has done tons of research and ordered parts to replace the rear shaft seal from the USA (that’s another whole blog post) and did everything in his power to fix the darn thing himself while we were afloat in Prickly Bay. To no avail! There just isn’t enough room to take the transmission apart to fix it without either lifting Sanitas’ diesel engine, or removing the prop to gain that half an inch of space we desperately need.

And so here we are. Back in the boatyard of Spice Island Marine almost exactly one month after we splashed. We made it harder on ourselves this time. Since our transmission was in pieces, we enlisted two of our cruiser friends, Dave on BooRie and Zach on Holiday, to serve as tow trucks and tug boats to bring us into the yard without a motor. They did amazing! Especially considering that when we showed up at our scheduled time, expecting a straight shot into the haul-out slip, the crew waved us off and forced us to side tie to a concrete wall first to wait for another boat to splash. Jeez Louise! Sanitas is not very maneuverable at the best of times, but under tow? Capt. Mike says he hasn’t experienced his heart pounding that fast during docking since our first season as sailors!

Our dinghy tow
Here we go again
At least the bottom pain still looks good

Once the crew hauled us out of the water and put us up on stands, Capt. Mike went to work. He removed our fancy MaxProp after making a few marks on the outside with my brightest nail polish in hopes he’d be able to put it back together again the same way. Returning to the engine compartment, he slid the shaft as far as it would go, until we could hear the shaft hitting the rudder. Success! With the prop removed, he had enough space to disassemble the transmission. Phew! I was afraid we’d have to drop the rudder too!

Strange to see the prop on the work bench
There’s a lot going on in a prop!

Using a tool he made from scratch (saving us a few hundred dollars) he removed the nut from the rear of the transmission, pulled off the rear seal, and surveyed the damage. Sure enough! It was easy to see where the seal had failed.

This keyed lock nut was a bear to remove
Et voila! Mike’s homemade tool
Success! Here’s the rear transmission seal
Can you see the busted seal?

After replacing the seal and the o-rings, and refilling the transmission fluid (and cleaning up the huge mess) Capt. Mike considered the transmission repair a success. Hooray! Next trick, putting the prop back together… While we had it all apart, Mike took the opportunity to reduce the pitch of the prop blades from 20 degrees down to 18 degrees. We’re really geeking out here, but apparently when the prop is over-pitched it creates too much resistance when cutting through the water and prevents the engine from achieving maximum rpms. For the geekiest of MaxProp geeks, 18° means X=E, Y=H. You’re welcome 😆

Now let’s see if he can put it back on

The final job for our stay in the boat yard required a trip up the mast to replace the spreader light. I find it kind of scary to hoist Mike up the mast in the yard – if he falls, he falls onto solid ground instead of water. But the Captain tells me I’m thinking of it all wrong. He says it’s much easier, and less scary, to work on the mast when the boat’s not moving. Makes sense I guess.

Don’t look down!

It stinks that we had to spend so much time making repairs and waiting for critical parts this year. And it was quite the unexpected expense to haul out again 😳 But I’m very impressed with Capt. Mike’s research and preparation that allowed us to accomplish all of this work in 24 hours, getting us back in the water with a (hopefully) fully functioning motor and transmission as quickly as possible. Now let’s go sailing!

It’s Alive!

At long last, Sanitas has a working motor!

After two weeks of recovery from Covid and two additional weeks of waiting for our fuel injector pump to be rebuilt (and a lot of stops by the mechanic’s office, asking if there was any news) our diesel engine is back together!

Monsieur Rubin of Mechabat told me that the clean and shiny refurbished fuel injector pump is “bijoux” or jewelry for Sanitas. He spent two hours contorted into the tiny engine compartment grunting and swearing, finding the parts that fell to the bottom of the space, bleeding the fuel lines… And finally telling Capt. Mike to start her up. She started on the first try! Apparently, mechanics in France have the same saying as they do in the USA, “There’s always one part left over” and Rubin explained that the one bolt remaining in the Tupperware containers wasn’t that important. I hope he’s right 🤪

We had already taken advantage of our proximity to Le Marin to buy groceries, do laundry, and take lots and lots of warm showers. All we needed to do was pay for our mooring ball (€110 euros for the month) fill up our water and fuel tanks, and we were free!!! Where to next, Sanitas?

Our diesel engine has “un mal de tete” (a headache)

On the last day we sailed with our guests Micki and Nathan, we had a bit more adventure than they signed up for.

We sailed down the western coast of Martinique and then east from beautiful Anse d’Arlet to Sainte Anne. For most of the day, we were heading straight into the wind, using the diesel engine as well as the sails to give us a little boost in speed while cutting through big waves. All hands were safely wearing PFDs, and our guests got a lot of practice tacking. It was a bumpy and salty day for sure.

This boat felt awfully close!
So did this kite surfer!
So did this rock!

A couple of miles out from Ste Anne, with the masts of that massive anchorage in sight, we could no longer keep the staysail full of wind, so we attempted to furl it. Nope! The furling line was snagged on something so every attempt to put the sail safely away for the day resulted in loud and violent flogging instead. Capt. Mike went forward to investigate and discovered that we had an overwrap on the furling drum. It was going to be much too difficult to resolve it in the rough seas and high winds, so he decided we were better off simply dropping the staysail to the deck and fixing the furler later when we’d arrived in the protected anchorage. I took the helm to keep us pointed into the wind. And Mike, Micki, and Nathan went forward to wrestle the sail to the deck by dropping its halyard. Good thing it was the small sail!

While I was at the helm, I discovered a new and even more disturbing problem. Even with the throttle fully open, I couldn’t get enough power from the engine to keep us moving forward. And a sailboat needs to be moving at about 2 knots in order to be able to steer. We’d dropped down to less than a knot of speed-over-ground, so I really couldn’t steer at all. I got the Captain’s attention and explained as calmly as possible what I’d observed. That convinced him to stop messing around with the staysail and come back to the cockpit pronto!

Capt. Mike did a quick bit of troubleshooting and confirmed I was telling the truth. Almost no power coming from the engine. So, after an already long and difficult day, we were looking at another hour or more of sailing upwind and tacking in slow motion through the anchorage. We probably could have dropped anchor in deeper water far back in the harbor. But with guests aboard, we prioritized calmer water closer to shore, and a shorter dinghy ride to the dock when we had to offload people and luggage in our little dinghy Bug. Capt Mike took over at the helm and did an excellent job maneuvering Sanitas through the crowded anchorage, finding a spot just barely big enough for us to drop anchor between all the other boats.

We were all pretty much exhausted. Micki and Nathan helped clean up the boat from our rough passage, and then went ashore for an hour or so, giving Capt. Mike and I time to get the rest of the place organized with fewer adult bodies in the small space. Dinner was simply cartons of french vegetable soup – surprisingly good! – and we went to bed early. We’re safe and sound, and we’ll worry about that engine tomorrow.