Splash Day! We’re back on the water!

At long last, all of our hard work in the boatyard has paid off and it was time for Sanitas to go back in the water where she belongs. Back in May, we picked a pretty arbitrary date toward the end of November to schedule our put-in. It was the only entry on Google calendar, except for our flight from Puerto Rico back to Colorado for the Skirt Sport retreat. Now suddenly; after six months away, a summer spent in the US and Europe, and nearly a month of sweaty, dirty work in the boatyard, the magical day had arrived.

We went to the marina office as soon as it opened, to pay our boatyard bill and to get our wet slip assignment. Engineers that we are, we showed up at the boat with a long list of things to do before our 10:30 appointment.

Everything went fairly smoothly, so we weren’t too upset when the travel lift operators showed up early. Sanitas did the long walk to the water in reverse of her spring trip: first a ride on a narrow, hydraulic trailer, then transfer to the slings of the travel lift. We were relieved to see Reuben of RBS Marine show up to touch up the anti-foul paint and to put down plastic before the dock hands lowered her into the slings. We followed the travel lift in its slow, lumbering transit out of the boatyard and to the water’s edge.

When they lowered Sanitas into the water bow-in, we clambered over the bow spirit and climbed aboard, checking first for leaks or open throughcocks, or anything else that could cause us to immediately sink. All looked good, so we signaled the dockhhands to tie us into the slip, and to drop the slings. That’s when everything went pear-shaped.

I turned the key to start the diesel motor and – click click click – nothing happened. We checked fuses and battery settings: nothing. Capt. Mike went below and started throwing things all over the saloon the get access to the engine, the battery banks, and the switches and lots of tools. He pulled up the cockpit floor to get access to the back side of the engine. The dock master started yelling at us; “You need to start your engine or call Sea Tow. See that boat right there? They’re waiting to get hauled out from this slip.” Now it’s pretty much impossible to work through a problem in a calm and reasonable manner when somebody is yelling at you and pointing at the clock. It made me very cranky, and Capt. Mike quickly hit the limit of his troubleshooting abilities without taking time to ready the bugs or research online. We confirmed power was getting to the starter, but that’s it. So we texted Bianca, our boat caretaker, and asked if she knew of an electrician or diesel mechanic who could help us.

By this time, I’d been ignoring the dock hands or responding “ok, ok” for about 15 minutes and they were getting very irritated with me. The new threat was, “We’re going to bring the lift back and haul you out again in two minutes” an action that would have cost us several hundred dollars NOT in the cruising budget. Just then Bianca sped up in her truck and introduced us to an electrician who’d been working on the boat next to her in the yard. He hopped aboard and followed Capt. Mike below decks to investigate.in less than five minutes, he found a grounding wire that had hosted free, reconnected it, and magic! The engine started right up on the next turn of the key. We handed him a couple of 20s, helped him back ashore, and we escaped the put-in slip at last.

I’m still pretty angry about the whole thing. We had that appointment from 10:30am to 12:30pm reserved for six months. There was no call for them to try to fit an extra boat haul out during our very expensive appointment window. It’s the only thing so far I have not been happy about in our Puerto del Rey experience. But all’s we’ll that ends well, and I’m grateful that we had a good relationship established with a boat caretaker who could get us a resource to solve our problem so quickly.

AND…at least Sanitas is back in the water, in a slip, and we can start to get back into cruising life!

Boatyard Blues

You know when you reach the point in a home improvement project where you have to go to Home Depot at least once a day? Well that’s where we are with boat projects. But instead of a Home Depot, it’s West Marine. And because it’s boat repair stuff, everything costs at least five times what seems reasonable.

But first, for those of you who were wondering, we fixed our propane leak! After sleeping on it and returning fresh to the troubleshooting, Capt. Mike tracked the leak down to a faulty regulator as many of our boating friends successfully guessed. However, we couldn’t find a replacement locally – not at either of the Skipper Shops, West Marine, the propane store…. so thank goodness for the internet and companies that ship to Puerto Rico. In less than a week, we received a new regulator from Defender, and it was a pretty straightforward fix. We should be good to go to cook once we move aboard, and no more fire hazard. Hooray!

We didn’t sit idle while waiting for our part to be delivered. We’ve installed a new cockpit table, which will greatly improve our sundowner experience:

Changed the impeller on our diesel motor and found that unbeknownst to us, it had already started to fail:

And did our first big grocery shopping trip of the season, stocking up on canned goods and snacks at Sam’s Club, so that we won’t have to pay island grocery store prices for pantry staples. I have a new method for tracking an inventory on provisions on my iPad. Not only do I track how many of each item we have aboard, but the trickiest part is tracking which hard-to-access hold it’s in, so that I can find it when I want it four months from now.

But back to that overpriced can of anti-bond in the first photo in this blog post … this was an unexpectedly difficult project to replace the dorade boxes (low profile round thingies) for our cowl vents (shiny stainless steel curved thingies) These vents let fresh air into the boat while keeping sea water out. Because yes, we get waves and spray all the way up onto the top deck while we’re underway. The dorade boxes contain a mushroom vent that you can turn to open, letting air in, or close, tightening things down in high seas. But ours were made of plastic and who knows how old. So they had cracked, leaked, and oozed rust. Finally, toward the very end of last season, a jib sheet under pressure caught the starboard cowl vent and popped it right off! Capt. Mike thought fast and dashed forward to grab it before it was swept overboard, saving us at least $1500 in replacement parts. At the time, he slathered a thick layer of epoxy on it, and hoped for the best during our last few weeks of the cruising season. Here are some photos of the damage:

We did not expect this to turn into such a difficult project. It turns out the old plastic dorade boxes were attached to the deck with some sort of permanent adhesive. Yes, I said permanent. Mike made yet another trip to the marine supply store and bought every utility knife and blade they had in stock and spent one whole day scraping away one millimeter at a time.

Six hours and eight utility knives later, Johnny from Ancla Marine asked “What are you trying to do?” and when Capt. Mike explained, Johnny sent us back to West Marine for a miraculous spray can that supposedly dissolves all adhesives. We were skeptical, so to improve our odds of success, we also stopped at Pep Boys and bought all of the utility knives they had in stock, plus a set of pry bars as an impulse buy. We sprayed around the base of dorade #1 and let it sit over night.

The next day was nothing short of miraculous. We both worked together; I put all my weight on a pry bar so that Mike could get a fraction of an inch of access beneath the dorade. Then he’d spray a little miracle juice and return to scraping. I’d move the pry bar into the space he just created and we’d start the spray-and-scrape process all over again. In about an hour, we’d accomplished what we couldn’t the day before. With a sucking noise and one last strong push on the pry bar, the dorade popped right off. And now that we had our system down, dorade #2 went much faster. By midday, we have both boxes off, and could move up to cleanup and prep for the reinstall. Thanks to Johnny and one $10/ounce bottle of miracle juice.

Here’s before and after on the inside of the boat:

After scraping off the remaining adhesive and cleaning the surface with acetone, it was a pretty straightforward job to install the new dorades. AND we only had big open holes on the top of our boat during one tropical downpour! Don’t they look all nice and shiny now? I can see my face in it!

We’re Back!

After 5 months, 4 countries, 3 states, 1400 km of hiking, and visits with countless friends and family members, summer vacation is over and we are back in Marina Puerto del Rey in Fajardo, Puerto Rico! We’re not allowed to live aboard in this boatyard, so we’ve rented an Airbnb just up the hill with a lovely view of the marina.

Sailing Vessel Sanitas is still on the hard in the boatyard where she has weathered hurricane season quite nicely. That’s partially thanks to our boat caretakers, Bianca and Johnny, who checked on her twice a month and performed extra storm prep during tropical storms Dorian and Karen. It’s also definitely due to the hard work Capt. Mike and I did in May to make sure everything aboard was as storm-ready as possible. We’ve done a thorough visual inspection and so far, so good – no mold or mildew, no bugs, no water in the bilge, nothing obviously broken. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we continue to have no big surprises as we start up the systems and as we move into the water.

This month of preparation for the cruising season is the most expensive month of our year. We’re still paying boatyard fees for Sanitas and rental fees for a storage unit on land, as well as renting an apartment and car for daily use. We’re stocking up on spare parts, boat maintenance supplies, and canned and dry goods for six months. We’re paying for the only boat maintenance we don’t do ourselves; sanding and repairing the hull, applying a new coat of bottom paint, and polishing the hull. And we’re placing a new Amazon order practically every other day (did you know Amazon Prime free shipping works in Puerto Rico? Instead of 2-day shipping, it takes about 4 days, but who cares? It’s fantastic!) It makes me super anxious as we spend all this money, but I know we’ll be living at anchor and eating through those canned goods soon enough, spending practically nothing, so I try not to freak out.

This is our third time preparing for a winter in the Carribean. In fall of 2017 we had just bought Sanitas. She’d been out of the water for months while she was up for sale, so we found lots of surprises when we arrived at the boatyard in St Petersburg and set to work. The biggest, costliest project that first year was replacing the failed diesel fuel tank. In 2018, after surviving our first year of boat life, we returned to the boatyard with a massive to-do list of projects and things we needed to change to making living aboard a small sailboat more comfortable and our lives a bit happier. Each time, we spent much longer in the boatyard than we’d anticipated. But the investment of time and money up front made our cruising season go more smoothly. I’m hoping that third time’s a charm and that we know our boat well enough by now (and we’ve maintained her well enough as we go) that we can break free of the boatyard faster this time. I’d like to put in the work, and then hit the water! Let’s get to the the rewarding and fun part of cruising faster this time, ok?

Knock on wood because anyone who has ever owned a boat knows that there WILL be surprises – it’s just a matter of how serious and how costly… Ok, now back to work!

Back in the Boatyard, Baby!

Sanitas finished the 2019 cruising season at the Puerto del Rey marina in Fajardo Puerto Rico. This marina is massive – it holds over 1000 boats in wet slips, and several hundred “on the hard” for hurricane season storage. It’s so huge, they employ a fleet of golf carts to drive you from a slip to the parking lot or the main office building because the walk can be nearly a mile! I’d often choose to walk, and I could get my daily 10,000 steps just doing laundry!

Once we pulled into our slip at PdR, the vacation was over! Now the hurricane season preparation spreadsheet comes out, and we get to work cleaning Sanitas from bow to stern and making her as safe as possible from tropical storms while we travel for the summer. Capt. Mike and I rented a storage unit on land so that we could remove as much as possible from the boat, giving us the chance to clean very thoroughly and allowing ventilation so that we don’t return to mold or mildew. But remember how far our slip is from the parking lot? Getting everything off the boat is a challenge, even with a rental car.

Once she’s mostly empty, we could get down to business and do some once-a-season jobs like cleaning and marking the anchor chain….

….And inspecting, cleaning, and removing the sails.

Knowing that we are inside the hurricane box, we took special care to remove anything that could be grabbed by the wind. For the first time, we removed all of the running rigging, replacing the thicker braided nylon lines with thin parachute cord “messenger lines”. I almost don’t recognize Sanitas with no canvas and no lines!

While we were in a wet slip, we had access to fresh water so that we could spray a season’s worth of dirt and salt water off everything. We also had access to electricity, which means air conditioning – hooray! We set the thermostat at 72 deg, and I think it actually got the temperature inside the boat down to around 80. Unfortunately, being in a slip so close to land and to other boats also meant LOTS of tiny little flies. I hung up fly paper and by the time of our haul-out, we’d captured hundreds.

One thing that made all the heat and dirt and flies tolerable was the $1.50 rum punch pouches sold in the marina cafe. In all kinds of tropical flavors, and ice cold, it was tough to walk by without stopping for a treat.

Finally, the big haul-out day arrived, and Sanitas got to go for a little ride! Capt. Mike did an excellent job backing her into the teeny little haul-out slip, and the very professional boat yard crew drove her across the parking lot, transferred her to a small hydraulic trailer, and slid her into place in the dry storage yard.

We chose Puerto del Rey for a reason – it supposedly has the most secure hurricane storage in all of the Caribbean. In the boatyard, concrete footings reinforced with rebar provide strong tie-down points. We used ratcheting tie-down straps rated at 10,000 pounds to secure Sanitas to the ground. In theory, all of the boats lined up and tied down together provide additional strength. We have our fingers crossed that it’s true, and that we’ll have no problems during the storm season! To further reduce risk, we hired a caretaker to visit and inspect Sanitas periodically, and to double check that she’s secured before every big storm.

After two weeks of hard work, Sanitas was safe and secure and Capt. Mike and I could have a little fun. We explored Luquillo Beach and the kiosks that serve the tastiest food and drink we had in Puerto Rico.

And we took a day to explore El Yunque National Forest – the only tropical rain forest in our national parks system. True to its name, it rained the whole time we hiked, so we didn’t have great views…but the vegetation and scenery and waterfalls were amazing! We worth the trip and the soggy hiking shoes!

Finally, a little drama to close out our season…. on the day we were scheduled to fly from Puerto Rico to Colorado, Southwest canceled all flights to Denver because of weather. (Although how they knew at 5am east coast time there would be bad weather in Denver at 8pm mountain time, I have no idea 😡) So we were left to reschedule our flights, find a new place to stay in Puerto Rico, extend our rental car, and cancel our hotel in Denver. On the positive side, we had a day to explore Old San Juan. So we made the best of it, hiking through the Castillo San Felipe del Morro fort, and touring the governor’s residence at the Fortaleza.

I could have spent several days just wandering the streets of Old San Juan, enjoying the people watching and sampling the tasty food! It’s the only city I’ve ever visited where the historic streets are paved with blue bricks – due to the iron content of the ingredients.

I realized that we’d been in Puerto Rico almost a month and we had yet to try paletas – the local version of popsicles, made with fresh fruit and all kinds of gourmet ingredients. Well, we certainly remedied that error on our last day!

And of course, we visited the iconic Passeo de Sombrellas or the Umbrella Passage and joined the rest of the selfie-mad tourists. Instead of rainbow colored umbrellas, they were camouflage print during our visit in honor of Memorial Day and in support of the Army National Guard. I can’t wait to do more exploring when we return to Puerto Rico in the fall!

My final boat project post

I promise! You must be saying to yourself by now, “I thought I was following a blog about sailing. But she only writes about DIY projects.” Well, fair enough. But in a blatant bid to get a little credit for all the hard work we’ve done getting ready for the actual sailing part of life, here’s my last post of boat projects for 2018. Hooray!

I’ve already shared with you some of the important safety and structural projects we’ve completed. Here, I’m going to share some of the smaller, less critical projects that will hopefully make cruising life more enjoyable this year. Fingers crossed!

Cockpit Shower

Sanitas theoretically has a shower in our head. It’s the simplest kind of shower: a spray nozzle attached to the faucet on the sink, with a pump to drain out the water that collects on the floor. However, we never use it. It’s too much of a mess getting the head all wet, and our composting toilet doesn’t handle extra moisture well. So even while anchored in paradise last year, I sometimes struggled with the lack of hygiene. We’ve made two improvements for this season; adding a spray faucet to the galley sink so that I can wash my hair, and installing a cockpit shower.

I am constantly amazed and impressed that Capt. Mike has the confidence to do things I find terrifying, like drilling a hole in the boat, or tapping into the fresh water system (that isn’t currently leaking) to add a new hose or water line. After the usual boat project problems with finding the right size fittings and hoses, we have a fantastic shower that fits into an cubby hole the the cockpit that we weren’t really using. It connects to the pressurized water system, and uses the water heater to provide warm water showers using a low-flow shower head designed for boats and RVs. Can’t wait to try it out in some gorgeous harbor in the Bahamas!

Soda Stream

I love me some fizzy water! Sometimes, I know I should drink more water in order to stay hydrated, but boring warm water just isn’t appealing. A pinch of crystal lite or Real Lemon often does the trick. But a cold seltzer water tastes so much better! Not to mention it makes an instant cocktail when mixed with the ubiquitous island rum and a squeeze of lime!

Last year, we brought a Soda Stream with us on our cruising adventures. But it has a couple of negatives: the plastic unit is pretty clunky and big and hard to store in Sanitas’ small galley. And more importantly, we couldn’t find ANYPLACE to buy the right size CO2 canister replacements. And we searched in hardware stores, propane shops, stores that sold kitchen supplies, marine supply stores; pretty much everyplace we could think of. So when we ran out of CO2, we resorted to buying club soda or La Croix cans which cost roughly the same as a can of beer! Plus, we had all those empty cans to eventually dispose of.

This year, Mike took a lesson from Stan on SE of Disorder, and made his own homemade soda stream. The ingenious part is that he found a little bit of unused space in the galley between the trash can and the hull of the boat to mount the CO2 canister. The hose that attaches to the water bottle comes from under the galley sink, where it is easy to access. And of course, it is a size that can be easily refilled wherever we go. Now we just need to find a buddy boat equipped with an ice maker, and we will be ready for Sundowners wherever we go!

New House Batteries

Last season, we replaced our starter battery on Marco Island once we figured out it was dead, and we were actually using our house battery bank each time we started the motor. (There’s still some important electrical stuff with the isolation switches we haven’t yet figured out, but that’s another story). By the end of the season, we found that our bank of four house batteries wouldn’t fully charge; no matter how many days of sunny weather, running the motor, or even (and this put the nail in the coffin) when we were connected to shore power overnight. Power management is a big deal to cruisers, so we bit the bullet this year and replaced our batteries. They are big. And heavy. And EXPENSIVE. But we should be good for the next five years, if we treat them nice. I did a bunch of research to find batteries that would fit in the very constrained space we have for them. Capt. Mike still had to jury rig the frame that supports the beasts. Fingers crossed that we have no more electrical issues this season!

Improving the Bed

Last year, we bought a new mattress for the V-berth. It was a definite improvement, but this princess could still feel the pea. So this year, I upgraded to a foam strip that fills in the crack where the mattress is hinged, and also added a “five zone lavender scented memory foam” extravaganza. Pretty comfy, but all these new layers barely squeeze inside the old fitted sheets.

What do you do with the extra lavender memory foam after you’ve cut the topper to fit? Why, make a hat of course! Think this will protect Capt. Mike from hitting his head on every sharp surface?

Provisioning

Somehow, it didn’t seem quite as intimidating to shop for months of groceries at a time as it did last year. Last year, I had a meltdown in Walmart, and called Capt. Mike saying “I can’t believe I’m doing this! I can’t believe I’m spending this much money on one trip to the grocery store!” He had to talk me down. I guess this year, I understand that this really isn’t the last time I’ll shop for food. Whatever I can buy here in St Petersburg, especially at Costco and Sam’s Club, will definitely be the cheapest I can find it. And those cans of chicken, black beans, and curry paste will form the basis of many a healthy meal over the next six months. But where ever people are, people eat. And therefore, we’ll be able to augment what I buy and stash away now with veggies, cheese, and meat if we run out along the way. We might even be able to find gluten free bread here and there. (Although if we can’t, that’s ok too. Probably healthier to skip bread all together). I did learn a few lessons last year. Canned green beans are disgusting. Even though I know I should eat my veggies, they are not worth putting in my mouth, so don’t bother buying them. We can happily eat Thai food at least once or twice a week. So might as well stock up on curry paste and pad Thai sauce at the local Asian market: even canned chicken tastes good this way! Fill whatever storage space is left over when we’re ready to cruise with tortilla chips. Why not? Everyone loves tortilla chips and they are easily twice to three times as expensive in the Bahamas. But eat the oldest ones first, because even a sealed bag can magically go stale in the hold of a sailboat!