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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

That's Life


  While everyone this winter has been digging out, we've been just diggin' it. We spent some time on Sombrero Beach recently, and once the winds had calmed down, we gave the dinghy a workout.
  Not everything is idyllic at Sombrero Beach, however. On our last time there, we had another run in with a woman who insists on letting her large Labra-Doodle (Labrador Retriever/Standard Poodle mix) run loose on the beach. When Holly sees any dog running around on the beach, she creates a fuss, apparently wanting to jump out of the dinghy and join in on the fun, but even though she doesn't jump out, the other dog may run over and see what's going on. That's when the trouble starts.
  Several times, the other dog will try to jump in the dinghy to get at Holly, last year on Boca Chica, one tried to bite. That ain't gonna happen.
  I reminded the woman that her dog was supposed to be on a leash, and she preceded to tell me that her dog was on "an invisible leash". I wanted to tell her to get into her invisible spaceship and go somewhere else, but instead I told her to just keep her dog away from our dog. I used a word that starts with an "F", and it wasn't "friendly".
  The woman called me a "cranky old man". She may be delusional in one respect, but I must say she's right on the money in others. I'm cranky as hell when it comes to the well being of our pet.


   Why can't Holly just stare silently at the other critters on the beach like I do?
So avoiding the beach for a few weekends gave us an opportunity to go explore in the dinghy. Last week we took the dinghy to Hawk's Cay Resort, about twenty miles northeast of Marathon on Duck Key. For the record, I pronounce Cay and Key the same, kee. Look it up.
  We have friends that pop in there every time they leave Key West, it seems, and it's easy to see why. It's very fancy and ritzy, but I wouldn't want to take our "big boat" there. The marina is too far away from the social areas to suit me, and there is a mighty tidal current that whips through the marina basin.
  On a previous trip, we saw a place near Vaca Cut called the Island Fish Company, so on this day we stopped in on the way home as we had crossed over to the bay side. Happy Hour started at 3 P.M., and wouldn't you know it, we walked in at 2:55! Our brand was $1.25 per bottle, so we had a couple of those along with some shrimp cocktail and a Dolphin wrap. The food was good, and the service was better. We'll go back.
  Speaking of Bud Light...I was, wasn't I? A couple of weeks ago some blog readers popped into the marina here bearing gifts in the form of a six pack of my favorite beverage, and if you think it was a half dozen bottles of YooHoo, you haven't been paying attention.
  But life is not all fun and games. We've had some boat maintenance issues too. One thing was that our shaft seal on the starboard side had been leaking more that normal for a while now, and I finally got up the nerve to address it. We have the Sure Seal System installed on both shafts, and a spare seal is installed on both shafts in case we need them, but I decided to try to fix my minor leak without using a new seal, while the boat is in the water.
  I got a tip from a mobile boat mechanic we had become friendly with while we were in Key West last year, and he said I should try to clean up the shaft with some emery paper first, so I loosened up the collar on the seal, loosened up the clamps on the flexible hose, and pushed the collar back toward the hose to reveal the surface that the seal rides on. A little water was leaking in, but nothing the bilge pump couldn't handle, and I found the surface to be a bit rough. But most of that may have been salt residue. At any rate, I used some wet/dry 220 grit paper to clean up the shaft surface, then I re-tightened everything back, but only moved the collar forward a fraction of an inch so that the seal will ride in a new spot.
  Water pressure running from a hose supplied on the raw water system for each engine keeps the seals pressurized and keeps the ocean water out. There is a cross-over hose from one system to the other in case you get some blockage from one of the engine hoses.
  Initially, the leak dribbled to nothing, and over the weekend we gave the boat a workout out at sea, and the subsequent check found our seals not leaking a drop, which is how they are supposed to work, as opposed to a packing nut system.
  On our last dinghy run I found out that our fuel primer pump on the Mercury had sprung a leak. It's not the big bulb you might find on a fuel line running from the external gas tank, but a small button type pump on the front of the engine that can be pressed a couple of times to prime the carburetor. Any rubber takes a beating in this environment, so I wasn't very surprised at having to replace the $23 part, but I had to order it from the local Mercury dealer.
It only took a week to get and I popped it in this morning in about five minutes. I coated the rubber with some Yamalube sealant so we should be good for a few years.


  We gave Swing Set a work out by taking it over to Newfound Harbor last weekend, anchoring just off of Picnic Island, which is pictured above. We got there Thursday night and didn't return to Marathon until Monday morning. We co-mingled with some locals, met some folks we'd like to see some other time, and also met some folks we never want to see again. I'm good for about a 20/80 for/against ratio.


  By Sunday our beer supply was running low, but what we had left was icy cold in our Engel cooler. These coolers, like a Yehti cooler, are supposed to keep drinks cold for days at a time. This is in theory. An outfit like Consumer Reports will do a test on coolers, filling them with ice, and then tell you how many days the ice will last. This type of test is useless. Give me a test more based on reality, like how long will the ice last when you are opening the lid every ten minutes getting a beer out. We were on the hook for four days and used four bags of ice. Do the math.


  We had some fantastic sunsets while on the hook, like the one above, but really no better than the ones we get here at the dock.
  We took a two hour slow cruise back to the marina yesterday and stopped into the fuel dock to fill up the boat for the first time in months. I hope the six dollar a gallon fuel gets along OK with the $3.50 a gallon fuel. I only need a 20/80 ratio with diesel.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Some Overdue Time On the Hook

  With no visitors scheduled to arrive, and some decent weather forecasted, we began to consider taking Swing Set out to stay on the hook for a few days. Some boat neighbors had been talking about the Content Keys on the Gulf Side for a few weeks now, so when they told us a few boats were planning to go there last weekend, we decided to go there too.
  We got wind of the trip last Wednesday, which was planned for the following day, so we made a trip to the grocery store, mainly to get beer, cranked the dinghy up and strapped it in, and pretty much decided we were ready to go the next morning. We like to keep the boat ready to go at any given time, and that includes storing away anything left out on counters, etc.
  I'm not much for traveling in groups, so I confirmed just where "everyone" was planning on anchoring, and by mid-morning last Thursday, we saw some movement on a couple of neighboring boats who were planning on going, so we began to untie the boat. It was my plan to let the others get ahead and then tag along well behind, but when two of the vessels steered toward the fuel dock, we decided to just go ahead and start.
  Out of seven boats that had planned on making the trip, when it was all said and done, four actually got on their way, and we were ahead of everyone but didn't know it.
  We steered toward the southern end of Big Spanish Channel, and by time we got to the northwestern end of it, we learned by listening to the VHF that there were three boats behind us. I told them I'd pick a spot and we made our way west to Content Key and easily set a hook just off the shore on the northern side as no protected anchorages are around Content Key unless you have the draft of a pool float.
  The others seemed to be OK with my choice to anchor and soon we had three dinghies out exploring around the back side of Content Key.
  By sunset we were all on one boat having sunset cocktails but we soon retired to Swing Set for dinner and a crummy movie.

 
  We were up before daybreak on Friday morning having spent a very peaceful night with very little wind. We had a nice breakfast and once everyone reconnoitered by mid-morning we found out that the folks we knew best were heading back. The two boats in the picture above weren't sure what they wanted to do, but we said we were heading west toward Tarpon Belly Key, to an anchorage we had stayed in two years ago.


  They took a shot of Swing Set as we headed out.
  About five miles down the coast is the Cudjoe Channel, and just a couple of miles southward along that channel is Tarpon Belly Key. We picked the same spot we were in two years ago and promptly got a solid hook just offshore.
  A few local boaters frequent Tarpon Belly Key and we spent a pleasant afternoon laying around on Swing Set, enjoying some music and privacy, until we again had a nice dinner and a crummy movie. We didn't get a good nights sleep though.
  The wind had clocked around and came in from the north. We bounced around all night and woke up to cloudy skies.


  Our loosely knit plan to head south to Newfound Harbor was quickly complicated by not only the cloudy skies, this sight of a beached runabout was giving me pause, considering our 16 mile route to Newfound Harbor was one which carried with it a depth of 3.9 feet at low tide. We need 3.5 just to float our boat.
  We had taken this route before, but at high tide, but it was early morning and high tide would be for hours. Nervous about the visibility in a cloudy sky, we decided to just head back the way we came. We wish we hadn't.
  As we neared the northern end of Cudjoe Channel, I saw what I thought was a bunch of boats along the shallows but it turned out to be breakers crashing from the two to four foot waves coming in from the north.
  We had about nine miles to travel before we could head into Big Spanish Channel, and a following sea, so I decided to attempt it.
  The waves were on our bow and when one came over the deck and "rang our bell", I knew we were in for a rough ride.
  Battling rough seas is one thing, but dodging crab and lobster pot markers while doing so is unnerving, to say the least, and nine miles in rough water turns into a larger number. Both hands were on the wheel for about ninety minutes, and Rosie had a grip on her seat and Holly. Not in that particular order.
  For the last few miles heading into Big Spanish Channel, I spooled Swing Set up to a cruising speed of about 25 m.p.h. to cut down on our time spent in quarter beam seas. The boat bust through the waves with no issues, and with some relief we made our turn and got those waves behind us.
  Once we got into the channel and the waves diminished to where I could take a hand off the wheel, and Rosie could relax a bit, she asked me if I wanted a water.
  "A water? Hell, you better bring me a beer after that!", I said.
  The rest of the trip home was uneventful and soon we were back in our slip at Marathon Marina. We put a few hours on the boat with no mishaps and nothing broke. It was a good feeling to be back in port with a solid boat under us, looking forward to a good nights sleep.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Time Flies...


  I may have taken my longest hiatus yet between blog posts, and I apologize. I know we've been busy, but I'm not sure with what, but one thing for certain is that the sunsets never cease to captivate us every evening.
  The sun is taking its seasonal trek across the sky and has been setting more and more to the "right" or north, from its position shown on the photo above. As the days progress, the sunset will be behind the trees on Knights Key, which is the first key as you come north from the Seven Mile bridge. I wonder if our rent goes down when the sunsets are not as spectacular? As it is, we pay a 5% surcharge for our slip on the western docks. Believe me, it's worth it.


  So what do we do all day? The photo above will give you an indication. If we can roust Holly up from a good nights sleep, she usually assumes her second favorite spot on the boat (my lap) while we are having our breakfast and morning coffee.
  During this time we watch the view from the salon as the fishing and pleasure boats are heading out for the day. We watch the morning news since we have T.V. now, and I catch up on activity on Facebook and check our emails. We limit ourselves to two big cups of coffee, but this ritual can last up to two hours. Time well spent.
  Next is time spent on the boat in the form of mopping down the morning dew, or continuing our ongoing chore of waxing. Always waxing. Swing Set is looking good, and some of our boat neighbors have enlisted in the waxing brigade since they've seen what can be done with a nineteen year old boat. It's nice to have a positive influence on other boat owners, on occasion.


  The boat isn't our only possession that requires maintenance. We've begun to use our Yuba bicycle for weekly, or bi-weekly grocery shopping trips. One morning I noticed that the front tire or wheel seemed to be out of round. I searched for a bike repair shop near us and found the Overseas Outfitters Sport and Bicycle Store just down the street and made plans to take our Boda Boda bike in for a "tune up".
  We haven't had the bike but for about a year, and last summer we hardly rode it at all once we bought our Zuma scooter, but wheels need to be trued up, and gears need to be adjusted, and more importantly, I wanted to establish a working relationship with a local bike shop in case we really needed some other service work done on our bike.
  We dropped the bike off in the morning and picked it up a few short hours later. The wheels had been trued and spokes were tightened, but I noticed that the front wheel was still out of round, or at least it looked like the wheel was out of round, but it was shown to us that the front tire had a bulge in it. We decided to just keep an eye on it.
  A few days later we went to Publix on the bike and broke a spoke on the way home. We popped into the bike shop and they replaced a spoke while we waited. Sometimes once you start fiddlin' with something that ain't broke...you know the rest.
  Again a few days later we started out on the bike and I found that the bulge in the front tire had turned into a tread failure. A big flap of tread was hanging off and tire cord was showing.
Up to the bike shop we went.
  The bike came with white rubber tires that soon turned yellow in the Florida sun, so we went with the whitewall tires you see in the picture above. Spiffy, but I had expressed some concern over the tread thickness of these tires but bought them anyway. We then took the bike straight home, not a quarter of a mile away.
  Just a couple of days later we uncovered the Yuba and the back tire was flat. Yep. Up to the bike shop we went. Again.
  A small "wire" was found inside the tire and it had punctured the new tube. "Musta picked it up on yer way home last time", I was told. How can I argue with that?
  I renewed my concern over the tread thickness and asked them if they sold tire liners, a rubber insert that goes between the tire and the tube. "Sure we have those, would you like to have a pair installed?", I was asked.
  A good time to suggest installing those tire liners would have been when we bought the new tires and tubes, but better late than never they say, so we had the liners installed.
  I haven't been giving you a running count of the charges up to now, but they weren't low, in spite of some small charges that were not applied "Since you were just here", but they were not inconsequential I can tell you.
  But here's the thing...when we load up the Yuba for a grocery run, I am certain that we are exceeding the weight limits of the bike. You put me, Rosie, three cases of Budlight, and a weeks worth on groceries on the aluminum framed Boda Boda, it's like trying to steer a motorcycle with rubber handlebars.
  So I'll take some blame for equipment failure. On our radar screen for the Boda Boda is new wheels with thicker spokes. The cost of this bike is approaching that of my first new car.


  Holly gets maintained too. Here she is sporting a new haircut that I gave her. I shaved off her "mustache" because her eyes water and the long hair on her face gets "crusty" even with daily face washings. Her face is too tiny to safely cut between her eyes and where the long hair on her nose would start, so I just cut it all off. I think she likes it, and she got a compliment on her haircut from the vet on her annual wellness visit the other day. Yes, wellness visit.


  I know I've mentioned the four foot long dockbox that we have on the flybridge of Swing Set, but here's another picture of it. The box sits right abaft of our flybridge lounger, with our motorcycle ramps hanging on brackets between the box and the seat.
  I'd rather the ramps fit inside the box, but not only are they too long by about two inches, the box is loaded with cleaning and waxing supplies, buckets, towels, my orbital polisher, and various solvents. I have two smaller plastic tubs sitting above one large plastic tub so that I can more easily get to the stuff in the bottom tub by lifting out the two small ones.
  Recently I replaced the two standard steel gas struts with stainless steel ones from Taylor. The standard steel struts just fall apart with rust in this salt environment. I also replaced the ones on our flybridge hatch and the small trunk hatch on our stern. They look great and they'll last.


  But it's not all work, oh no. In the photo we are in the dinghy heading home from Sombrero Beach where we go several times per week. We had some visiting friends with us who took this photo, but we're starting to meet some other cruisers in the area who also frequent the beach. It's a good place to meet folks.
  Speaking of visitors, we've had quite a few in the last several weeks. In no particular order, we've met a friend who keeps his RV at Stock Island and who drove up to Marathon to meet us at happy hour. Some other friends were passing through on their way to Key West and met us for lunch, and then again for breakfast as they passed through on their way back up to Miami.
  We are getting blog readers popping by to say hello when they are in the area, too. One night as we were watching the waning moments of a sunset, I had just pulled some steaks off the grill and a blog reader showed up at the boat just to say "Hi". I hated rushing him off, but no amount of propriety is going to come between me and a freshly cooked steak.
  Another evening a guy showed up to also say hello, again with no notice. We had a little more time, but he had a whole tribe of family out waiting in his car and he just wanted to let us know he's been following the blog "since day one", and he just wanted to voice his appreciation. I apologized for not having posted anything in a while and he asked me to write something, anything, even if I had to make it up. I said, "How do you know I don't do that already?"
  We were coming out of Lazy Days, the restaurant here, one early evening and were met by six folks in the parking lot who had been to the boat and were looking for us. One of the fellas had also been following the blog from the beginning too. In fact, he was the one who bought our old Achilles dinghy. Luckily he was still happy with the dinghy.
  We met some nice folks from England on the beach about a week ago and we took them out for a boat ride on Swing Set. As we were cruising through Two Sisters Creek we were hailed on the VHF radio. I switched to another channel and was met by yet another blog reader who noticed us passing by and just wanted to say hello. I think our new friends were impressed.


  Some friends were passing through last Sunday on their way "back north" and wanted to meet for lunch, so we suggested Sunset Grille. We arrived by dinghy and got a good seat. The place is hoppin' every Sunday for "Sunday Funday", so not knowing when exactly they were going to arrive, we wanted a venue that we liked.
  We were well into our first bucket of Budlights when a young man walked up and asked if we were Mike and Rosie. He didn't look like he wanted to punch me in the nose, so I said that we were. He told us that his parents read our blog, and that he had also begun to read it, hoping to do what we were doing some day. I said, "Oh, you want to be hiding out from the cops too?"
  No, not really. But we get that most of our blog readers are folks who want to someday live on a boat somewhere, and they wonder how it works on a day to day basis.
 

Friday, January 23, 2015

What's In Your Toolbox?


  Even if we never had to work on the boat, life is not just about watching sunsets and hanging out at a bar for happy hour, and we are prepared for most repair jobs that come our way at any given time.
  If you've been reading this blog, you know I'm not the most mechanically inclined person, but I can so some things, and I do like to think I'm creative when it comes to fixing things that break. Some things are just not in the manual. But you have to have tools to do it.
  Mainly because subject matter is hard to come by these days, given the fact that most of our boating currently is done via buzzing around in the dinghy, but I've talked to a few folks around here at the marina and it's interesting how some folks prepare for life aboard their boats, and others just go where the wind takes them. I thought I'd list some of the items and tools that we do have onboard Swing Set to help us through the rough spots.
  Let's start in our toolroom/parts room/office that I'm very proud of.


  I'm giving you a look into our "behind the scenes" spaces. While we keep our exposed areas as free from clutter as possible, anything behind a cabinet door or drawer is less organized, but there is a bit of a method to my way of storing things. In the photo, we are looking into what is probably the biggest "cubby hole" on the boat, at the stern end of our office where the space goes the width of the room (about six feet) and is about two feet deep. The access is through a door about two feet square.
  The big red toolbox is chock full of most of my important hand tools, like wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, etc. I have some Craftsman tools in this box that I got in my first set when I was twelve years old. Good tools last forever. I have both metric and standard open and closed end wrenches, and metric and standard sockets in 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" drives. I have Torx sockets, and six and twelve point sockets.
  In the top section is a "fish tape", a steel wire coiled around a handle that allows me to fish wire through spaces I can't crawl through or get an arm in. This tool has helped me keep my sanity. Somewhat.
  I have a staple gun, and a varied supply of stainless steel staples. Throw away any regular steel staples. They don't belong on a boat. This is a Swingline manual stapler. The power is astounding. I pitched an old electric stapler away years ago when it quit on me.
  Another invaluable tool in this area is my pop rivet tool. I cannot say enough about having a pop rivet tool around, complete with a variety of rivet sizes (aluminum and stainless only).
  I have a small carpenters square in there, my bigger one is hidden behind the toolbox itself. Carpenter squares aren't something everyone needs, but I had 'em, so I made room for them. They get used too.
  The wrenches are all in the first drawer. This includes Allen wrenches in both standard and metric. The second drawer has all my sockets. It's not too organized, but I have my "daily use" sets in the plastic carry around toolbox below the red one.
  In the big drawer on the bottom is all kinds of tools. I have vice grips in there of three sizes, two pipe wrenches, a canvas snap installer (this is just a vice grip with a special jaw), extra screw drivers, stainless steel paint scrapers of various sizes, various type of pliers and cutters are included, plus my wonderful tin snips I got last Christmas. That last drawer is FULL, and I have to rotate tools out of there when I get new ones.
  As I mentioned, the plastic toolbox is my carry around box. I have a complete set of standard sockets and wrenches in there. Flat and Phillips screwdrivers, more Allen wrenches, two sets of pliers, and room to place more tools in there from the big red box, depending on the job I'm doing. Yes, when the job is complete, the tools that normally don't go in the plastic box get put back where they belong. Once in a while I take some time to glean through the carry around box to rid it of junk that just seems to grow in there.
  Out of view in the picture is my huge bolt cutters with two foot handles. There isn't many locks that these bolts cutters can't handle, and what they can't handle, my Dremel tool will.
  My hacksaw hangs next to the bolt cutters. If Tony Curtis or Sidney Poitier show up in irons, I'll be able to help them out. (Don't dwell on this reference if you don't get it right away.)
  I have an oil changer in here too. It's of the suction variety. I bought it to suck the fuel from the bottom of our Racor fuel filters. It prevents having to disassemble the whole bowl to clean sediment from the bottom of the filter. I can also use it for its intended use if our electric oil changer in the engine room ever quits on me at the worst moment.
  I have some oil absorbent pads, and some spare plastic sheeting, spare tubing, and a variety of aluminum angle to make simple brackets if I need one.
  I like those little plastic parts drawers. Most come with three drawers stacked, and I label the front of each drawer with what is contained in each. In this compartment is a set of stacked drawers that have small electrical parts, parts for our Air-X wind generator, and a separate drawer for latches, catches, and various cabinet hardware.
  I have a two Tupperware containers in here too. One has a set of jumper cables in it, and one has a variety of tie-down straps and bungee cords.
  Tucked way in the back is spare oil containers to use when I change oil. The empty ones get cleaned and are ready to hold the old oil as I pull it out, then I can easily carry them to the recycle station.
  There are more things in this cabinet than I care to list, but the last ones I'll mention is my claw hammer and small crowbar. Life is not complete without these two items. I can get anything, or anybody, to co-operate with a good claw hammer and crowbar.
 

  Two good sized cabinets in the parts room line the center wall to the left as you come into the room. You can see two of my plastic drawer sets in the photo. We have one set full of screws, bolts, pop rivets, snap assemblies, nuts, etc.
  One other drawer set has electrical connectors with two sets of crimping tools. A whole bunch of cable ties of various sizes, and a whole drawer full of "cutting" devices, meaning drill bits, razor blades, and Skill saw blades.
  I have a solder kit in here, some spray paint, tape, glues, spare zincs, batteries, fuel filter elements, Scotch pads, gun cleaning kit, plumbing supplies, and a small plastic tub full of stuff I buy that I know I'll use but not sure when.
  The other cabinet has a three drawer set of more electrical items like switches, wire, light bulbs, and more electrical connectors and plugs. These things accumulate, or multiply, I'm not sure. I need to watch them closer at night.
  I have some spare oil and engine coolant in here, more fuel and water filter elements, generator and engine pump impellers, toilet pump seals and valves, and more engine zincs  and plugs.
  The little cabinet above has solvents, paint, and lubricants. Believe it or not, I can find anything in a short period of time if not immediately. I'm making this list from memory.


  I wish everything could fit into our little parts room/office, but it just can't. I needed a place to house some important tools, along with an electrical outlet, so I used one of our three cabinets in our salon for the tools in the picture above.
  I have my orbital sander, flare kit (yes, this should be more accessible), my Skill saw, Dremel Tool, drill driver with charger, trouble light with charger, and last but not least, several sets of playing cards so I can whup up on Rosie playing gin rummy.


  The photo above shows a simple repair that is an example of how important it is to have such a variety of tools at ones disposal. What I had here is a bracket on one end of a gas strut that was screwed into the fiberglass with plain "wood screws". Over the years, the wood screws had worn out the holes and although I had repaired this several years ago, I was in need of something better.
  A perfect repair would have been the use of bolts, with nuts applied behind them, but the area has no access from behind. I took a small piece of Starboard, first cutting it with my hacksaw. My cut was crooked, at least to me, so I got out my Skill saw and made another cut. I used my Dremel tool to round off the Starboard and sand the edges. I used my drill driver to drill holes to attach the Starboard to the fiberglass, avoiding the original holes. I pop riveted the Starboard to the boat, and then pop riveted the strut bracket to the Starboard, running the rivets again through fresh fiberglass. This bracket ain't coming off this time.
  Seems like a simple repair, but in the course of the repair I couldn't decide on whether to use aluminum for backing, so I was fashioning a piece of aluminum angle to use, but decided I didn't like how it was going and opted for the Starboard.
  I had tools strung out everywhere in the salon and in the cockpit, but as I completed each portion of the job, I put each particular tool away as I went. Still, I bet I spent an hour on this little repair, but at least I had all the stuff onboard that I needed.
  I guess my advice here is to try to keep as many closely related tools and parts together as you can. My system isn't perfect, but there is some order to it. I don't spend time rooting through boxes of junk to find what I need. We have some wire shelving, or baskets, just inside the door of our "parts room" where newly purchased items are placed. I don't let these baskets get too full or out of hand before I either install whatever it is that I bought, or put it away in a more permanent place. 
  We like to brag that if anyone walks onto Swing Set at any given time, it would be hard for them to realize that we actually live onboard. 
  We don't have to spend much time getting ready to take a boat ride when we want.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is There "The Perfect Boat"?

 

  We're entering our third month here at Marathon Marina and Resort and we are still not tired of watching the sunsets from our boat. We patronize the restaurant here at least once per week. (Happy hour is great!) 
  We visit the pool a few times per week too, although Holly is not welcome there. We hate leaving her on the boat and really get annoyed when other folks bring their pets although the rules are clear about bringing pets to the pool. We suspect that they possess a "service dog" certificate, but we know that that document can be had even though the dog is not a "service dog". We prefer to be honest about it, but we might do what we have to do.
  One thing we are really thankful for is that we moved from Stock Island Marina Village when we did. As last fall approached, the Dock Master at SIMV told us that the charges for our boat were going to increase at start of the new year, from $23.50 per foot per month, to $25.00 per foot per month. That's not much of an increase, but it didn't set well with us due to the fact that amenities that were promised to us when we first arrived at the marina were still not available, or announced to be delayed. We still didn't have cable T.V. and the opening of the pool, restaurant, etc., were put on the back burner.
  This, and other things prompted us to look elsewhere, not to mention that we had grown tired of the industrial view provided by our location in Safe Harbor.
  We bumped into one of the vendors we had used in Key West at the marina here, and were surprised to learn that the rent for our boat at SIMV had jumped to $35.00 per foot per month, nearly a 50% increase!
  I inquired on our Stock Island Marina Village Cruisers Network on Facebook to confirm, and also found out that the charges were now "tiered", with vessel up to 40 feet charged at $25 per foot per month, 40-70 feet at $35 per foot per month, and vessels over 70 feet were at $40 per foot per month.
  My comments about this exorbitant increase were answered by the General Manager who also revealed that there were "specific charges for past, present, and future customers".
Wow. That sounds to me like "we'll charge whatever we want to whoever we want". How would you like to be dock neighbors with someone who has the same size boat you have and you may be paying $500 per month more in rent?
  The more important thing is that this increase was not properly conveyed to customers. Some people didn't find out until they got their statements at the first of the year. In my opinion, an increase of this magnitude should have been announced early enough so that folks could find alternate dockage in a timely manner, say at the beginning of the last quarter. Anyone looking for dockage in the lower Keys in January doesn't have many options.
  Sometimes we get lucky, and we got lucky by moving from Stock Island Marina Village when we did. I edited my review of SIMV in Active Captain, trying to be fair, but I'd not be surprised if SIMV won't have us back. In fact, even though we signed up for one month when we first arrived in December of 2012, we stayed nearly a year, to be called "deserters" when we checked out. (To be fair, it was said with a smile, but we'd have rather been thanked for being good customers, which we weren't.)
  So if you visit Stock Island Marina Village, ask your dock neighbors what they are paying, and question the management. Maybe they will change their pricing structure.
  Enough with the complaints.
  A friend mentioned the other day that he was contemplating retiring in a couple of years and wondered what kind of boat would be best to do that on. This seems like a simple question, but it's far from simple. If one made a similar comment on the America's Great Loop Cruisers Association members forum, it would be met with as many answers as there are members, but I'll try to accommodate our friend and provide some insight, and some questions of our own.
  What we don't know is if our friend plans on doing this alone, or with a mate, so that has to be addressed. Also, the area of the country comes into play, as does the cruising area. Does he plan to stay in the inland river system, or will he venture out to the ocean? Will he be enjoying only warm weather, or will he be "enduring" the cold climates in the winter?
  We know that our friend doesn't want a sailboat. That narrows down the field considerably, and we won't try to change his mind about that. But it's still a big field.
  I'd say that we are not on what we would call the "perfect boat", but it's the boat we had, and we decided to make it do, and so far, we are still happy with our decision.
  If I had a couple of years to prepare to do this again, and we didn't have a boat already, my preparation would be similar to the preparation that we went through to get to where we are today, and this is chronicled here in this blog. (Please read our earlier posts.) But the process changes somewhat if the boat to be used is not owned yet.
  One thing, I would suggest that whatever boat is obtained, that the boat be paid off before retiring, so the price of the vessel has to be one you can afford to buy outright.
  We like a boat with diesels, for reasons of safety and reliability. This alone would cause great debate in any boatyard, but we were asked our opinion, so this is what you're getting.
  Being able to walk around the decks at sea is important to us. Lots of boats have an abundance of room inside, but if you can't get forward to cleats and anchor lockers in a sea or bad weather, your safety in doing so is compromised. See if you can walk along the side decks without placing your feet one in front of another like Carl Wallenda.
  Our best addition to our boat was the dinghy davits. We like the ability to deploy our dinghy in a hurry. If it takes a long time to get the dinghy into the water, you won't use it and you'll miss out on some good fun.
  We have also come to agree that an "aft deck" boat would not be one we like. We have boat neighbors who struggle getting on and off their boats at a dock. We like our cockpit due to our ability to get on and off the boat easier, plus we like how easy it is to get into the water for a dip when we want to. Quick engine access is a feature of a cockpit boat too.
  Size is important, so they say, and we know that the average size of a boat "doing the loop" is 40 feet. We think that's a good size to target, not only to consider as far as rent goes, (see preceding paragraphs), but for washing and waxing. Less is more.
  But the boat can't be too small. Considering a persons size is important . Our doorways inside our boat our only 14 inches wide. Hate to say it, but it's a good way to keep my weight down. Let's call it "problematic" if I can't fit into the bathroom.
  Is access to the bed easy? We would hate to have to crawl into the bunks at night. Walk around, or at least a step around appeals to us.
  We like our dinette because it is elevated and we can see out. No sense living in a boat if you're in a dark dungeon. It's all about the view.
  Is there a comfortable place to sit and watch T.V. or browse on your computer? As far as we know, when you aren't working on the boat you can only do three things, and they are done either standing up, sitting or laying down. Not many other options there, and you have to be comfortable doing it.
  Speaking of standing, don't have a boat that requires a lot of ducking if you are tall, because you won't, and if you do, you'll acquire what we call the "sailboat hunch". We can spot sailors from far away because many of them walk with their heads ducked down between their shoulders, as they're used to hitting their noggins on low entryways. (Sailboat owners, don't bother with a rebuttal.) Many powerboats don't have enough headroom either.
  Our boat is a low profile boat, and that could spell trouble in a rough sea. We've been lucky because we have avoided very rough weather, but a boat with high freeboard at the bow is desirable. Look at a few ocean going sport fishing boats, or long distance trawlers to see what I mean, and while I'm on the subject, we operate our fast hulled boat at trawler speeds because we have more time than money.
  Sure we like to go fast if we have to, but that's another thing, traveling. Maybe someone wants to live on a lake somewhere. Hands down, I'd pick a nice houseboat. So again, where you intend on using the boat has to be decided.
  One thing I did was read. READ READ READ! Get on Amazon and search "boats". Read every story about boats that you can, and I don't mean Moby Dick. I mean stories from real life about life on a boat. I'm not providing a list. 
  I also joined the America's Great Loop Cruisers Association and began to read the Cruisers Forum via an email they send every day. You can learn a lot just by reading the entries there, even if you don't intend to do the loop. We aren't even sure that we will, but it's a great source of information.
  Get the boat at least a year before you retire, the longer the better. We had the advantage of owning Swing Set nearly eight years before deciding to live aboard, so we had time to decide just what we wanted to change to make life easier as full timers. You might even find out the boat you chose isn't the right one.
  Lastly, I'm not an expert. We overheard our one boat neighbor ask another boat neighbor what he knew about such and such, and the guy answered, "I know everything about it". This is the person I'd avoid at every opportunity, because if you aren't learning something everyday, you aren't doing it right.


  I'm a bit behind in writing this post because some good friends came to visit us here in Marathon. We took Rick and Christa out for a nice dinghy ride and a boat ride, and yesterday we just relaxed and enjoyed to pool here. 
  It was nice having Swing Set out for the day. We look forward to friends visiting because it gives us an excuse to take the boat out. We are on it all day and night by ourselves, so it doesn't make much sense to go out and sit alone at anchor. We like the dinghy for our recreational rides, but if we have a good reason, a nice fair weather cruise with friends is the best thing going.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Out With the Old

  The holidays are over. While most people were out buying junk they don't need with money they don't have, we only acquired a few minor items but got rid of more that we took aboard.
  Regularly, we take a  particular section of the boat and purge it of items that we don't use anymore, or that haven't served any use since we got them. Rosie usually manages the closets and clothing, and I take care of the tools and parts areas.
  What prompted our recent house cleaning was some of the conversations we had with other cruisers over the holidays. One question we got more than once was, "How many storage units do you guys have?"
  The answer to that question is, "None", but some people we have met have several, spread out along the keys and in other parts of the country.
  I've covered this subject earlier in this blog, but I'll try to add some new stuff here.
  For one thing, the new items we took onboard over Christmas was a pair of tin snips we bought at Home Depot, a small necklace that a staff member here at the marina gave Rosie as a Christmas present, and a nautical bottle opener sent to us from some friends as a Christmas present, even though I refused to provide them an address to send it to. That's it.
  The tin snips I wanted because we've had some vinyl trim stored away for over a year that I had intended to use around the edge of our toilet bowl lids. (Our boat has lids to sit on that cover the actual bowl and seat, not like a regular toilet lid, but bigger.) I don't know why I kept putting off the job, maybe because I didn't think the trim would fit. One thing was that I had tried cutting the trim in the past with a hacksaw or scissors, but I didn't like how it worked. I decided on the tin snips and figured if I bought them, I'd go ahead and use up the spare trim coiled in one of our parts bins.
  The trim fit great and we were so please with the look, we bought twenty-five feet more trim and applied it around the engine room hatch, rear trunk, and anchor locker lid on the dinghy. But the main thing was, we used it all up and left none to clutter up a parts bin any longer.
  While I was cleaning out one big Tupperware bin, I found some other junk we hadn't used for a while and pitched it. To make room for the tin snips in the tool box, I chose a couple tools I hadn't used in over a year and deposited them in the "take it, it's free" table here at the marina. If we need any of these tools in the future, I'll buy them. In fact, before we left St. Louis, I gave away some tin snips and some new pipe wrenches, and wound up buying a new pipe wrench last summer. But more importantly, I gave away lots more things before we moved onto the boat than I wound up replacing over the last two and a half years.
  Clothes are another thing, and I am guilty of wanting to save more clothes than Rosie. But the truth is, I haven't worn long pants since we've been on the boat. Why save the two pairs of jeans we brought along? Doubt that they fit anymore, so if Rosie has donated them recently, I'll never know it. I have some shirts that are twenty years old, and I have noticed that some are missing. Again, I have Rosie to thank for thinning out the closets, plus helping me keep some sense of style about myself.
  We met one couple who had recently moved onto their boat. They have only been together a couple of years, and I guess the woman may have some reservations about her new life style, but she has two storage units full of clothes because, "I came from a very high profile life in California and can't seem to let go of my things." Good luck with that relationship, folks.
  If you can afford it, I guess it's nice to have a house somewhere to move back to, but it just adds another layer of concern to life on a boat, plus the added expense that we with a fixed income don't need. Although we have lots of friends and some family back in the Midwest, leaving our new life here in the keys for a few weeks each year would make us feel like fish out of water. At this point in our lives anyway.
 

  We're finding our favorite places to hang out here in Marathon. In the photo, we're at Sunset Grille on the eastern end of the Seven Mile bridge. In just a few weeks, the staff knows our names and actually remembers things we tell them, unlike what we've experienced in Key West at most places. One waitress at our favorite breakfast place (We don't go more than once a week) greets us by name when we walk in. Marathon has a very small town feel, even though it is a tourist destination, just not like the one Key West is.
  We did run "down" to Key West last Saturday on the Zuma to see some friends who were in town. We went to Dante's and our waitress had been wondering where we had been. Two more staff members came over to ask how we've been, and we've only been away for six weeks! We still got our local discount even though we live 50 miles away. So some folks in Key West miss us a little.


  We spent New Years Day at Sombrero Beach. If you compare this photo with a similar one in a recent post, you can tell how the number of people has increased since the start of the "high season" here.
  The mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor are full. That's over 250 vessels, and there's more boats anchored outside of Boot Key waiting for a mooring. The marina here is full too, and the pool attendance has increased dramatically. The only downside for us is that Holly is not welcome at the pool. Other folks take their pets, but they have "service dogs", or a fake document stating as much.
  One thing I find interesting is how the conversations start at most of the social gatherings that we attend. The first question is usually about what kind of boat do we have, mainly whether it is a powerboat or sailboat. This question is used to categorize us in the questioners mind, but unfailingly, the response is not hardly noticed when the questioner blurts out what kind of boat they have, which is what they want to reveal in the first place.
  It's like some people should just say right up front, "We have a so and so boat. How does yours compare with that, and how much money do you have, so we can judge you and file you away in our social pecking order".
  We don't care what kind of boat other people have, or how much money they have. We just assume that the other people we meet around here are boaters and we go from there. People who know us may not believe this, but we spend more time listening to new people we meet in order to learn about them. If we ask a question, it's because we want to hear the answer, not start blathering about ourselves. We have this blog for that.
  If our health holds up, we are looking forward to this new year. We have most of the things on the boat repaired or replaced, at least the ones that aren't broke yet.
  We're taking one day at a time with a goal to enjoy each one, and to do a little work each day on the boat too. We'll focus on what we can control and not obsess about the things we can't. We are never envious of what other people have and we feel like we never want for any material things either. Just keeping it simple.
  We are very lucky.
 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Illy-Galley


  Back to "normal" after getting Swing Set back in the water. But it took a little elbow grease.
  Things to remember when getting bottom paint next time are to not take the yards word for it when they promise to put your boat somewhere in the yard where no one is sanding or painting on another boat, and to never let them put you between two boats taller than yours.
  The boat is going to get dusty, no two ways about it. The mistake we've made when hauling out in the past was to rinse the dust off the boat without doing a thorough cleaning before drying.
  The "dust" is typically bottom paint that turns into a liquid once you wet the dust with water, then it stains the gelcoat. I had to use a hull cleaner to get the stains off, which in turn stripped all the wax off that I had been applying for the last few weeks. Most of the time you can skip the hull cleaner and use a cleaner wax, but the job goes a lot quicker if you just get the boat clean first.
  One pleasant surprise that we received was that when we went to pay rent for the start of our second month here, we found out that the time we spent on the hard was applied to our time of stay, so our rent wasn't due for another five days.
  The other item that had me holding my breath was the bill, but the hours were honestly and fairly applied and there weren't too many charges for "miscellaneous" items. The total was actually a bit lower than we expected. If we are still here next time we need bottom paint, we'll have the yard here do the work again, if the paint job holds up.
  I've already arranged to have someone clean our hull monthly, starting in February. The price will be cheaper than the outfit we had doing it in Key West, and I've had the conversation already with the diver as far as scratching the hull of the boat like the last guy did.


  This view is from the docks near the pool here at Marathon Marina. Swing Set is the sixth boat from the left. (One of the boats is hidden pretty much, so you might count five.) As you can see, most of the boats dock "bow in" to enjoy the beautiful sunsets we get, as our sterns face due west. This view is to the southeast.


  With Swing Set back in the water we've resumed our dinghy trips out to Sombrero Beach. In the photo, you can see our set up, with Holly on guard. We have our binoculars, our GPS, a radio for music, and other items you can't see. Those items are a cooler, (the cooler you see is just a seat with life jackets and two gallons of spare fuel), a VHF radio, our phone, beach chairs, big umbrella for us, small umbrella for Holly, two paddles, an anchor with 50 feet of line, and of course our battery operated running lights. Did I mention beer?
  A fella was on the news recently when he went on an outing in his dinghy near here and after motor trouble, drifted 70 miles to the Cal Sal Cays in The Bahamas where the Coast Guard accidentally found him while they were on a normal patrol, stranded on a beach. We don't plan on this happening to us.


  It's the holiday season and lots of cooking goes on during this time of year, and although we don't resort to baking cookies, we do whip up a great Thanksgiving and Christmas feast for ourselves. I thought I'd mention some things about our galley if I haven't done so already.
  We feel like we have a pretty well equipped galley for such a small boat. In the photo, from the left, you can see the wooden door to the pantry we added before we left St. Louis. We keep most of the bulk canned goods in two cabinets in the salon, but we store items that we use on a regular basis in this small pantry, and the larger pantry to the left of it, across from our "office".
  To the right is our AC/DC Norcold fridge. The refrigerator is "smart" in that it runs off of AC when we are plugged into shore power, or have our diesel generator running, but runs off of DC when we are unplugged. When we are on the hook, we turn off the fridge at night as long as we don't open the door. Our wind generators can keep the fridge running without resorting to the noise of the diesel generator. But this blog isn't about power management, it's about the galley.
  Above the Norcold is our convection/microwave oven that I installed back in St. Louis to replace a perfectly working microwave. We can grill and bake in it and we feel like it was a good idea to install it as we don't have a oven, just the cooktop you can see to the right of the fridge.
  Below the cooktop is storage for dishes and pots. We bought some pull out shelving at The Container Store and they work great for getting to items to the back of the cabinet. We likee.
  You can see our spice rack, small cabinet for cooking oils and more spices, and above the cooktop is our pot rack. Do the pots clang and bang while we are underway? Surprisingly, they don't, but we keep a cargo net wrapped up above the rack and if we set out for an extended cruise, the cargo net gets stretched around the pots to keep them corralled.
  Our galley was equipped with a countertop blender. Have you ever used one of those? They never seem to be powerful enough, so I pulled the cover off of it and screwed it to the bottom of our knife block, which you can see to the right of the cooktop. Naturally it would sit adjacent to the cutting board, but you have to make the room where you can.


  Our faucet has a water filter attached which has also been a great addition to our galley. The filters last for months at a time, and our water tastes great whether we are drinking water we make ourselves with the watermaker, or if we are drinking from a dockside water supply.
  On the counter above the sink is a beverage dispenser. When we are on the hook, we fill the dispenser with water that we use for drinking and cooking. Why do that when we have a sink? Well, every time you turn on a faucet, the water pumps kick on. We fill up the dispenser when we have a power supply, then we can minimize battery usage throughout the day and at night when we always seem to need a big drink of water.
  The two cabinets above the sink house our coffee pot, coffee cups, bread, coffee, and toaster. Under the sink is our trash can, Kitchen-Aid blender, and a lazy susan with all kinds of stuff crammed into it. The crock pot to the right of the sink is housed in the lazy susan and we sure get lots of use out of it.
  Many people ask if an inverter is needed on a boat, and we really like having ours. For example, we don't have to run our generator while we are underway, but we can still cook in the convection oven, and use other plug in items like the toaster and crock pot. There has been many times we just loaded up the crock pot with a roast and a packet of pork gravy and let it cook all day while we are cruising. We don't heat up the galley and the meat can't really over cook, which we think is a crime.
  Cooking in that crock pot right now is some country spare ribs. They will melt apart when we get ready to eat them later.
  Which brings us to the title of this blog, "illy-galley". Illegally. Many crimes have been committed in kitchens, especially at this time of the year.


  If you didn't enjoy the joke, at least enjoy this photo of another beautiful sunset. Have a wonderful holiday.