A series of unfortunate events – boat work edition

Every time we return to Sanitas after hurricane season I say, THIS time will be different. THIS time, we prepared so well, and maintained Sanitas so well, that we’ll be back on the high seas and cruising in tropical paradise in no time. And each year, I’m wrong.

This year, we booked an apartment for two weeks, while working in the boatyard. It’s so, so nice to have a shower and air conditioning at the end of a hot and dirty day. I’ll save you the details, but we worked our butts off and got tons of work done, including painting the bottom with that super, super expensive red anti-foul paint. I even took a couple of days off to celebrate my birthday. We had a smooth splash, and headed over to Woburn Bay ready to jump right back into cruising life. We needed to wait for a sea freight shipment of boat parts we’d ordered to arrive from the States, but as soon as it arrived and cleared customs, we’d be good to go. And then, it all went pear shaped.

On a mooring ball, or at anchor, we rely on our dinghy to get from the boat to shore for shopping, socializing, and basically everything. So, of course, the first time we tried to dinghy ashore in Bug, the outboard motor didn’t start. Welcome to boat life! One day into our season of freedom, and we might as well hav been in quarantine. Ever resourceful, Capt. Mike hacked into a nearby marina’s wifi, watched a few YouTube videos on tuning the carburetor, poured in half a bottle of Sea Foam, and in less that two days he had Bug up and running again. And we’re off to a good start.

Next, we took advantage of the clean water far back in Woburn Bay (NOT near the stinky runoff from the Clark’s Court Distillery!) to run our desalinating water maker. First test came in at 400 ppm of total dissolved solids…then 600…then 800…then 1200. We can’t drink that! Dagnabit! We had been gambling that the three rebuilds we performed on the watermaker last year would do the trick to keep us going at least one more year but alas, it was not to be. So back to that free wifi to shop for a replacement. We found the best price, placed an order to have it shipped from the US, and then got an email stating it was back ordered and wouldn’t ship for 6-8 weeks. To add insult to injury, Mike’s Visa card was compromised in the transaction, and Visa canceled the brand new card. Back to square one. Eventually, we found our watermaker model in stock (NOT at the lowest price), placed another order, and began the wait for a shipment from the US all over again.

I’ve lamented the cost and complexity of marine insurance in the past. Well, we’ve had the same Jackline policy through Markel Insurance for four years now, and this year they required a professional survey on Sanitas before renewal. This is similar to hiring a home inspector before you buy a house – an independent third party inspects the entire boat for any potential safety or maintenance issues and documents all of the findings. On our dime, of course. Sanitas came through the survey with flying colors, and we only had to make minor corrections, such as replacing outdated flares to address the findings. We thought we were in good shape there until, one day after we splashed and we’re back on the water, our insurance agent sent us an email stating they now require an aloft rigging inspection as well. What the deuce? We just went through the whole survey rigmarole using the old guidance, which did not require a rigging inspection. The good news, we were able to find a company that would inspect in the water, so we didn’t have to pay for another haul out. The bad news, they found a small flaw in the wire cable of our backstay, and we had to replace it. By now our dreams of a quick departure from Grenada without spending a fortune were shattered.

I told Capt Mike, “Don’t look for any more problems! I don’t want to find anything!” And he responded, “Remember what BOAT stands for – Bring On Another Thousand” I don’t find that joke so funny any more

The end of another great cruising season

It’s June and you know what that means – the official start of hurricane season in the Atlantic. Sanitas is in her summer home at Spice Island Marine Services in Grenada, and her crew is hard at work in the yard.

We’re engineers, so we love spreadsheets! We’ve got our hurricane prep spreadsheet all ready to go, color coded, prioritized, and sorted. We gave ourselves two weeks to get everything done, plus to fit in time for a little bit of fun. Most of our projects are intended to keep Sanitas safe in the event that a tropical storm or hurricane hits grenada while we are gone. For example, we take down all the sails and the bimini and dodger so there’s as little to catch the wind was possible. We also do a bunch of spring cleaning, although boat yards are so dirty, it’s pretty much a lost cause.

And… We always do a couple of big projects too! This spring we replaced our ancient stove and oven with a shiny brand new one. How exciting is that? All three burners work. And there’s even an electric lighter. And a thermostat on the oven. Wozza! And unlike most boat projects, this one actually went smoothly. The Budget Marine had a perfectly sized stove in stock, and let us borrow a cart to wheel it across the boat yard. Mike and I managed to raise it up to the boat using the main halyard and a winch, without having to ask for help. And it was easy to install – even though the propane attachment is in a decent location that our old stove. We even found someone to buy the old one so we didn’t have to figure out what to do with it. Cooking will be an absolute delight next year!

Our anchor light died about a week ago, so I hauled Capt. Mike up the mast to investigate. I know that it’s not actually more dangerous to have him up in the air in the boatyard than up in the air in an anchorage, but it sure feels scarier to have him up so high above solid ground. It’s a good thing we don’t have a bigger boat. It’s hard enough to get his big butt to the top of our short mast 🤣 Mike found some corroded wires and had to order a new part. I guess we’ll be doing this up the mast thing again in the fall!

The chaos inside the boat is really getting to me. I’m so glad we decided to get an apartment rather than trying to live on the boat in the yard while doing all this work. It’s wonderful to have a peaceful place to return to every night. With hot showers! And air conditioning!

Remember I said we left time for a little fun? We ate some delicious meals, spent a Sunday Funday on Grand Anse Beach, and even attended a wedding! Our friends Jill and Jørn had a lovely intimate ceremony on the beach in front of The Aquarium restaurant, and we were honored to help them celebrate.

It’s always sad when the season ends. But this time, we’re looking forward to visiting family and friends in the US for the first time since 2019. You’d better believe there will be lots of hugging. Thanks again to St Vincent and The Grenadines for letting us get vaccinated. We’re gonna miss our sailing friends (and of course, we’ll miss Sanitas!) But we’re really looking forward to a summer of land-based adventures. After the culture shock wears off🤣

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!