Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sweet Dreams

  Sunsets are plentiful as well as beautiful from our vantage point here at the dock, but sunrises are nice too when we get some clouds to reflect the light from the rising sun coming up on our bow.
  In spite of our satisfaction with our boat neighbors on both side of us, we moved slips anyway, just a couple of weeks ago. When a majority of boats in our area of the marina (the 45 foot slips on the West dock) moved in anticipation of Hurricane Erika, some did not move back and a slip we had been eyeing became available. The slip was only two spaces away to our south, just on the other side of our then current boat neighbors, and when we mentioned to them that we were thinking about moving, they both were delighted.
  We asked Judy, the dock master, about moving our boat to this other slip, and after some deliberation about how some future guests could be accommodated in a slip other than the one we wanted to move to, she concluded that since we were now "permanent residents", we had priority. It didn't hurt that our current boat neighbor, Caroline, works in the marina office.
  One of our reasons for liking this new slip was the fact that the boat that our neighbors have is over 50 feet, and their stern blocks our view somewhat of the channel coming into the harbor, as well as the rest of the West docks. It's not a big thing, but we felt just a little "boxed in" between two aft cabin vessels. Sometimes it's just the little things.
  Also, a factor in the equation was that the pier we would be tied to was recently rebuilt, so we wouldn't have to move again in the future to rebuild the pier we were on, a certainty. Once we started counting reasons for moving, the reasons started adding up. Another one was that we wouldn't have the prevailing easterly winds blocked by the laundry room, nor the view to the East. How did we ever stay for over ten months in that ratty old slip?
  I spent over three hours on a Saturday morning relocating our dock lines, water lines, shore power, T.V. cable, cleats, hose rack and hose, welcome mat, and solar lights from our old slip to our new one. Since we berth "bow in", our shore power, water, and cable, is run from the pedestal along the top edge of the wooden pier to the end of it, where I can quickly disconnect everything when we take the boat out, leaving it all neatly secured to the dock and not strung out all over the boat.
  Our new neighbors, which are actually our old neighbors, only we now share a pier between us had a rag rug screwed to the pier at the point of boat entry, in order to wipe everyones feet before boarding. We had a welcome mat too, so I installed it where the concrete on the pier ended and the wood began. Max, the male half of our boat neighbors, said that he would only charge us one dollar a month for the use of their rug. I said, "OK, and I'll only charge you a buck fifty a month for the use of the mat I just installed over there."
Never mess with a retired union member.
  No, actually we get along fine with our neighbors. We've both installed more solar lights on the pier, and Max bought two strands of solar rope lights to run along the concrete section of our pier. At night it looks like a Miss America runway between our boats, putting all other piers at the marina to shame. If anyone falls into the water at night around here they deserve it.
  One dynamic that has changed is that now we share a double slip with whoever happens to arrive as a transient, as there is no one "permanent" in the slip south of us yet. It could happen that another fifty foot aft cabin vessel might move in, and we'd be just about where we were before, view wise, but those things we can't control anyway. As it is, the first boat to come in and occupy the spot next to us came in a few days after we were in our new spot.
  The 34 foot Mainship trawler was owned by an older couple, and coming from me, that's gotta tell you something. It's a good thing I kept a line in place running from the outer piling between our double slip to the concrete bulkhead, because our new neighbor was just a wee bit inexperienced in the docking department. Even though we had no wind at all when he came in, it took him three tries to nose his bow head first into an 18 foot wide slip. Everyone has to learn at some point, but he didn't even help himself by putting out any fenders. I walked over to give him a hand, which was greatly appreciated by him and his wife, helped him tie up and get his shore power going.
  As they were our immediate neighbors, we shared some conversation when any of us were outside, but we didn't impose and neither did they, but we learned that they had cruised from an overnight stay at Cape Sable, from their home port of Marco Island.
  I admired our new neighbors as they made the most of their stay here in Marathon. They took the boat out everyday, and I helped them each time they came in bouncing from piling to pier. One day the front deck was covered in blood, it appeared to be fish blood, I didn't ask.
  On the last day coming in, the evening before they were due to return to Marco Island, I went over to oversee their arrival. Once we got lines secured, I asked "John" how long they owned a boat. "About a year", was the reply. "If ya got any advice, I sure could use it", he added.
  Given the opportunity, I suggested, as nice as I could, that perhaps when he came in to the dock, he could have his fenders out. They currently were tied to the rails, but laying uselessly between the rails and his cabin. "Oh, I thought I had forgotten something", John said.
  Our own preference is to employ fenders on each side of Swing Set when we enter a slip also occupied by another vessel. We feel that it's our responsibility to protect not only our boat when docking, but the boats of others in our close proximity. We wish other people felt the same way. If I'm around when someone comes in and looks like they want to use our boat as a means of bouncing off to get into their slip, I strongly suggest that they put out fenders before attempting insertion. Everyone knows about the phrase "better to be safe than sorry", but lots of people don't put the words into actions.
I also suggested that he learn how to use spring lines, especially at a fixed dock. "If you slip at least one on as you come in, it can help you avoid hitting the forward bulkhead if you are coming in bow first, and if you come in stern first, they take the guess work out of knowing how close you are to the dock at your stern.
  I also relayed to him my Cardinal rule, which he apparently was not aware of, and it's the rule that states to "Never leave the helm until the boat is secure". This rule is naturally only a rule if you have a crew, or some help. Single handers gotta do what they gotta do.
I say this time and time again, "You cannot control the boat if you aren't at the helm".
  We should be seeing more boats coming into the marina by the end of the month. As it is, there is a 25 vessel waiting list for slips of our size starting in October. One reason for this is that the marina is getting a face lift, and all of the boats in the area getting the facelift need slips to go to, hence the waiting list.
  The fuel docks are getting moved, and some new slips will be added. The new double slips will be able to accommodate catamarans, which the current marina doesn't have much of, and they'll be Bellingham floating concrete docks, twenty-seven in all. Twenty of those slips will be for transients only, so in the summer when things are slow, there will be floating docks to move to if a hurricane threatens.
  Long time blog readers might remember that one of our improvements to the boat was the addition of a three inch thick foam pad that we had installed over our five inch thick innerspring mattress that came as original equipment on our Sea Ray. The mattress was made by HMC, the "home crafted mattress company". Having learned a few things about foam padding from our dealings with having upholstery done on the boat, got me thinking about our mattress, and the foam pad covering it. We decided to look into getting new bedding for the V-berth in our master stateroom.
  Thinking that if I gave HMC our hull number, we could get a custom mattress made, sort of like we did with our bimini top through Boatswain's Locker, but when I called to the regional outlet for HMC, I was told that we would have to go from scratch, supplying measurements to them because they had no records of the size of mattress made explicitly for our Sea Ray.
We were disappointed, but undeterred, but were taken aback by the quoted price, which was in the neighborhood of three thousand dollars. Considering that we spend over one third of our lives in our bed, we accepted this quote, and began to think about getting measurements to HMC and having a new mattress made.
  Watching T.V. one night, I was watching a commercial for a mattress company, selling queen size mattresses for $99, when I began wondering why we were about to spend $3000 for a mattress. The next morning, I called our "go to" canvas and upholstery guys here in the keys, Oceanside Canvas, and talked with one of the owners, Steve Alberts.
  I asked about just replacing the foam pad over the existing innerspring mattress with a stiffer foam one in order to save money, but Steve had another idea. He said they could build us a custom made latex foam mattress covered with Sunbrella material in any color we wanted, and it would be much cheaper than the quote from HMC. Knowing that HMC also sells latex foam mattresses, we weren't stuck on the idea of an innerspring mattress, so we told Steve to come up to Marathon to measure us up and to leave some samples of Sunbrella material.
  Steve sent his partner Fritz to get a ballpark measurement so they could get us a quote, and by the time he arrived, we also decided to recover our padded bolster (basically our headboard) with the same material we would choose for the mattress covering. The padded bolster, which we had gotten recovered in St. Louis years ago, was showing signs of mildew that we couldn't get out. Just examining the headboard in really good light made us cringe with embarrassment.
  The initial measurement gave Steve and Fritz something to go by when they called their supplier for costs of foam material for the mattress. We wanted the mattress to wind up being eight inches thick, so they decided on a six inch thick mattress material with a two inch thick very firm foam base, hinged so we could lift up the bottom end of the mattress to access one of our air conditioners under the bed, and then covered with Sunbrella on top, and a breathable material on the bottom. Even with recovering our headboard, the quote was half of what we got from HMC, and I wasn't responsible for measuring for the mattress.

  Yesterday we installed our new headboard and mattress. We picked a neutral colored green for it all. This picture is before Rosie made up the bed with a mattress pad, sheets, bedspread, and pillows. Since we went with an eight inch mattress, the added height allowed Oceanside to increase the width of the bed at the head. Instead of the original trapezoidal shape of our old bed, we now have something more of a square. It's geometry. I hardly understand it myself.
  Last night was our first time sleeping with the new mattress, and it's as firm as we wanted it, and we like it.
  People like to say that we are "living the dream". If this is true, we may never want to wake up.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hurricane Erika That Wasn't

  We just don't get tired of these sunsets in the Keys! At times we second guess our decision to face our stern into the west because the late afternoon sun is so hot shining into the cabin, but when the sun sets below our flybridge overhang, we just close the shade on the salon door for an hour or so. The really good weather is coming soon.
  The weather has been foremost on our minds for the last few days. First we had tropical storm Danny threatening to come our way, but that storm dissipated quickly and was soon replaced by tropical storm Erika, which had our attention in a big way.
  Our "hurricane plan" which is filed with our insurer, Boat U.S., states that our "plan" is to simply go where the hurricane isn't going to be. Well, we found out that trying to guess where the hurricane is going to be is nearly impossible for the experts, let alone us.
  First Erika was coming straight at us, then the path switched to the east to head up the Florida coast to miss us, then as the storm passed the Dominican Republic, the path changed again, heading straight for us and up the east coast of Florida, then just before the storm dissipated like Danny, the path was forecasted to go south of us, just north of the tip of Cuba. If we were going to go anywhere, it would have been hard to guess where to.
  My second option during this time of the year, would be to grab a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor. There is plenty of moorings available this time of year, so worrying about if there is room in there is a non issue, but as we are learning, the boats in there that are not on the city owned moorings have a great risk of breaking free and slamming into other vessels that are on the paid-for moorings. Also, from what we have seen on most of the vessels in Boot Key Harbor, many of them have so much junk piled on them by some of the pack rats living on them, there is a potential for a lot of flying missiles when the wind kicks up.
  Danny, as well as Erika, were never touted as developing as more than a category one hurricane, so our alert level wasn't to the point where we thought we would head to the Everglades up near Marco Island, or up the river near Cape Coral. This plan, being fairly expensive, will be put into play if the early forecast for any storm indicates a storm higher than a category one.
  Another option is to head to Stock Island. Safe Harbor is named as it is for a reason, and if we swallow our pride, we can get a slip at Stock Island Marina Village at their floating docks, my preference over the fixed docks like we have here at Marathon Marina.
  We eventually settled on another option for Erika. Judy, the dockmaster here at Marathon Marina, asked us if we wanted to take a bigger slip for the duration of Erika, allowing us to ride bow out toward the sea, and have more room to "spider web" our lines to keep the boat more to the middle of a wider slip in order to avoid bumping the pilings on each side of us.
Even as the strength of Erika was in question for its duration, we decided to move to a bigger slip anyway, just to be safe. Our boat neighbor on our starboard side moved as well, and we tied up next to each other in much bigger slips.

  As you can see from the picture, we are still off to the side, next to the pier, but Erika is gone and all we have left is some threat of gusting winds today. As I was writing this, the wind kicked up, and we positioned Swing Set more in the middle of the slip. We have ten lines around the boat, more available to us if we need them. We also have our auxiliary anchor lines, more than 500 feet of them, ready on the bow if we need them, but for now they are staying put.
  We had placed our Yuba bicycle back onboard the boat, along with the cover. The bike cover, and the bimini top, would probably be removed for any winds approaching 100 miles an hour. That's the plan anyway, but doing that requires some forethought that may or may not come into play.
  Several boats in the marina moved to bigger slips until this storm is passed us. Some owners flew in from out of town to move their boats, and some other owners pay a fee yearly to be on a haul out list, plus are charged for the haul out and blocking for each haul out. Not only would that plan require us to find a place to live besides staying on the boat, I've seen lots of boats in The Bahamas that had been hauled out for storms, now laying on their sides as the wind blew them off the blocks.
  Most of the staff here at the marina were housed in the condos around the resort. One staffer offered to share her condo if the weather got too rough. She said to just come knock on the door if we needed to, and bring our sleeping bags. That was a nice offer, and one we would take her up on if staying on the boat proved to be a mistake.
  Putting our scooter onboard wasn't necessary either, because Judy told us to put our scooter in the office until storm passed, so we did. Had we decided to leave, the scooter would have went with us, but as it was, we had one less thing to do to prepare.
  One reason we didn't want to leave was that Holly had a veterinarian appointment for yesterday morning. She has been battling an ear infection for over a month, and this third, and final visit, was to be a check up to determine if her ears were free from infection. We were happy to find out that she got a clean bill of health from "Dr. Gerry" at the Marathon Animal Hospital.
  On a less positive note, we began discussions about possible surgery for our little buddy, because she has what's called "luxating patellas" which means basically that her knees on here hind legs slide off to the side of her legs, causing pain and potentially causing an inability to even walk. We've known that she's had this since her first visit to Dr. Tara Brooks at Affton Animal Hospital in St. Louis. Now that she is going to be four years old, the constant dislocating is starting to take a toll. When she wants on our laps, Holly has no compunction about barking an order to us to pick her up. We're happy to do it.

  Rosie had a birthday last week and we celebrated by going out to breakfast, then taking the dinghy out to Sombrero Light and snorkeling on the reef. We weren't in the water but a minute, and we both got stung by jellyfish. Rosie just got brushed on her leg, but I got stung all down my right side. We continued to snorkel for about a half an hour, but it was hard to enjoy it due to constantly looking up at the water surface where the jellyfish mostly are. The water was really clear on the day we were out there, and we saw lots of fish.
  We climbed back in the dinghy and decided to take a long ride to Duck Key, about twenty miles to the east. The seas were flat and we had a good ride, taking about two hours to go around Duck Key and come back on the bayside to the marina as some thunderstorms started to roll in. We finished out the evening at Franks, an Italian restaurant in Marathon that was recommended to us. We had a really nice dinner, and capped it off back on the boat with some wine that was an unexpected gift from our boat neighbors.
  Speaking of boat neighbors, we have some good ones. The people on our starboard side are very social people, and we talk to them quite a bit. We've helped each other out to a small degree, and we compare notes on mechanical issues as they pop up. I'd say we have a pretty good "live and let live" situation with them and we like it.
  Our neighbor on the other side of us is a good one too. He also lives on his boat, and even though he is friendly, he keeps to himself and is no bother to us at all. One night last week though, we were in bed reading and I had actually fell asleep. Rosie heard a big splash, and I did too and it woke me up. We both jumped up and looked outside and saw nothing, so we figured it was a dolphin or tarpon splashing near the boat, as we have seen that happen before. I returned to bed and soon Rosie was hollering to me that someone was in the water. It turned out to be our boat neighbor who had fallen off the pier at the bow of his boat and was clinging to his stern ladder and couldn't get up. I crawled over to his swim platform and helped him out of the drink, to which he was very appreciative. We think he was embarrassed, but we know these things happen. It's just lucky he didn't hit his head going in and drowning. He owns an aluminum railing company and had one of his employees come down to the dock and install a nice post at the step down onto our pier.
  It's not unusual to read about veteran boaters falling off docks. It seems like there's about one a week around here, but I'm sure it's not that many. My message here is to BE CAREFUL on the docks, and don't get complacent. Even the most seasoned boaters can wind up in the drink.
  One thing there is plenty of on U.S. 1 is auto accidents. Currently there are eight fatalities so far this year on the Overseas Highway. Even though we ride the scooter to Key West occasionally, we don't take it lightly, and we try to avoid riding in the rain. I had a doctor's appointment for Monday, and we cancelled it because of the storm forecast. We may borrow a car and reschedule the appointment. We continue to get offers from residents here, and staff, to borrow their vehicles if we need them. It's nice to have options.
  We rode to Key West last weekend to "get away" for Rosie's birthday. Some friends had their condo available and offered it to us, and it was an offer we couldn't refuse. We loaded up the scooter with two backpacks of stuff we needed for a two night stay, and with Holly strapped into her carrier, we arrived like the Clampetts to Southard Street. Had we arrived in a car we wouldn't have found a place to park. There's usually a place to park a scooter in Key West, and those parking spots are free, but not always where you want them. We locked up the scooter and put our travel cover on it and didn't move it until we left on Sunday morning, not wanting to lose a spot that we could see from the condo we were in. Everywhere we wanted to go in Key West was easily within walking distance.
  Here in Marathon, cabs are five bucks. You can't beat that. Even though we keep thinking about getting a car, it's just complicates matters if we need to move anywhere. If there's anything we like, it's not having complications.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Few Days On The Hook

  We recuperated from our long weekend with visiting friends and the boat races, and then started venturing out to the sand bars on the weekends. During the week we spent a lot of time hunkered down in the A/C because of the repressive heat.
  I did some minor work on the boat, one item being the replacement of one of our fresh water pumps. I installed two brand new Shurflow 4 G.P.M. pumps before we left St. Louis, so I was surprised that one of them had quit. We don't use the pumps when we are at the slip because we just use dockside water pressure with a hose. If the pumps are on the water is pulled from the water tank on board and this requires filling up the tank on a regular basis. I do use the pumps when I flush the engines after taking the boat out and it was during the last flush when I found out the pump wasn't working.
  I did suspect either a wiring problem or a pressure switch issue with the pump, but I didn't want to tear into our plumbing or wiring at the pumps only to discover that the problem was in fact the pump, so I ordered a new pump, thinking I'd have a spare if I could fix the problem easily.
  I found out that the pumps I had installed were no longer available. This is not a good sign. If components work well they are usually not discontinued, at least that's my belief. I refuse to be cynical to the point of thinking businesses quit making a product that "works too well".
  Plumbing in the new pump and wiring it was a cinch as the connections were in the same locations as the old pump. One thing I was really thankful for was that I had relocated the two pumps for ease of maintenance, but as I had mounted them in line, not side to side, I had to remove a pump to access the pressure switch.
  Once I had the old pump off I removed the pressure switch and applied direct power to the motor and it ran. I put the switch assembly back on, adjusted the pressure a bit, and the pump ran fine. I put the "old pump" in the "new pump" box and stowed it away for when we'll need it. This could be viewed as wasting $150 but had I called an electrician to troubleshoot or fix the problem, we would have spent that money anyway. As it was, I enjoyed a sense of accomplishment from being able to fix the problem myself. The best thing, I didn't even cut myself.
  We got a phone call from a friend that we've known for a long time that now lives in central Florida who was coming through Marathon and wanted to visit. Luckily we had nothing on our schedule, so on the agreed to day, we got picked up in a spiffy white Cadillac and drove down to Big Pine Key, and more importantly, to No Name Key to see the Key Deer there.
  We hadn't really ridden in such a nice vehicle for some time. Mostly it's the scooter for us, or the cheap, but largely beaten up local taxis, so naturally, after our friend left we began to consider the purchase of a car. Yes, impulse buying raised its ugly head again.
  I found a nice used MINI Cooper on AutoTrader and last week we went to look at it. We were going to take the scooter all the way up to Hialeah Gardens but on the morning we wanted to go we were greeted by a sky full of rain clouds. Hialeah is near Miami, and even though we've ridden motorcycles in the rain countless times, (is there a song about that?) the thought of doing it on our scooter for such a long trip didn't really appeal to me too much.
  Wade, the guy who scrubs our barnacles every month, has a nice little Ford truck that he has offered for our use on more than one occasion, so I looked him up and asked him if we could borrow it. He said, "Sure! Let me check the oil first."
  A half an hour later we were on our way. Got about 15 minutes out and I noticed the "check engine" light was on. I suspected that the light was perpetually on, and a quick call to Wade confirmed this fact, so on we went to Hialeah.
  We pulled up to the address given and even though I might be a bit slow, I know a body shop when I see one. The ad for the MINI didn't mention anything about the car being a repaired wreck. Warning bells were ringing big time.
  We didn't want to waste the drive, so we decided to see the car anyway. The owner of the shop showed up just minutes later. Phil was a Cuban who immigrated years ago and started his body shop business on a shoe string. He showed us a picture of his first car, an American Motors model of some sort that he had paid $600 for and had to get a loan to obtain it. After seeing his two warehouses and his mention of their house in Miami with a guest house, I figured he has done very well with himself.
  The MINI was very nice really. I could tell he wasn't really pushing to sell it, in fact it was stuck way in the back of the warehouse and he had to move six cars to get to it. There was some other minor things that needed to be fixed, but we could see through the little dust on it that the repairs had been done excellently and the interior was like brand new.
  We went for a drive. I wanted to check shimmy on the front end at highway speeds, and how well the manual transmission shifted. Rosie and I were both impressed, so we told Phil we would be back to buy the car once he got some minor items fixed. (Loose fender trim, MINI decal on the trunk lid, clearance light on one fender. He had the parts.) This was a Friday, so we picked Tuesday to come back to get the car.
  It's a two hour and forty-five minute drive from Marathon to Hialeah Gardens and the drive up reminded us how ignorant and inconsiderate our fellow drivers can be. The drive home was close to rush hour and we got a triple dose of what we got going up.
  The worst part was that my back started killing me from driving the truck. Since we had the time on our hands, we wisely began questioning our decision to get a car in the first place. At first, the thought of having a vehicle gave me fantasies of taking little trips, seeing friends in Florida and even back in Missouri. Maybe some sight seeing up the east coast would be in order. Hell, we might even drive to Californy. The reality is that we only had an interest in driving south one hour to Key West, and north one hour to Key Largo. Anything beyond that was too masochistic for us we decided.
  We slept on it, but still called Phil in the morning. If the car would have been 100% perfect, we might have still went through with getting it, but this was one rare time I listened to my gut, and my gut said no. Phil was very appreciative that we called. In fact, he offered his guest house to us in Miami if we ever wanted to come visit. We returned the favor and offered a boat outing and a few beers next time he and his wife came through on their way to Key West. We really feel like we made a friend. He even said that most people wouldn't have even called. We don't operate like that.

  Last Saturday we woke up to a field of sea grass in the flats behind our boat. What you see in the picture is not brown water, but grass completely choking the "flats" behind our boat. We know that the bay side (Gulf side) of the keys suffers from an influx of sea grass on a regular basis. A lot of marinas and canals have sea grass "gates" to keep the stuff out when the seasonal north winds blow the grass in and choke the harbors. Having this much grass on the ocean side is unusual and rare.
  Some friends who had just moved to a marina on the bay side were happy to gloat about the absence of sea grass in their marina, and lucky for them they won't be around this winter to experience what happens over there all winter long, but for out part we just figured to leave the dinghy on the davits for a few days and do something else with our time.
  Unfortunately, the winds were not due to change for at least a week. By Monday the grass was turning brown, and with the heat we've been having, it began to stink in a big way. We decided it was time for a "road trip" and go out on the hook.
  I made a quick trip to Publix for provisions in the name of two cases of Bud Light, (16 ounce aluminum bottles were on sale) two thick pork chops and two strip steaks. An eight piece fried chicken box filled out my list and I was on my way back to Swing Set on the scooter, the two cases of Bud Light at my feet. What a sight.
  Getting out of our slip was not easy. A boat doesn't necessarily slice through tons of sea grass, especially in reverse. There was a moment when I thought we would have to pull back into the slip and stay put. Turning the boat was a chore in itself. This was something we really were not prepared for. We only had to go about a hundred yards to clear water, mindful that cleaning sea strainers would be first priority once we got to our anchorage.
  We pulled over to the fuel dock and pumped in 150 gallons of diesel, not having gotten fuel in months. Mike, the attendant, asked us if we would wait just a minute as he was just in the middle of lowering the diesel price by twenty cents to $3.19 a gallon. I told him we could wait as long as he wanted us to.
  Last time we ran Swing Set was on our return from Faro Blanco and I noticed we were a bit off on our top end speed, but I attributed it to some head winds and the possibility of having some lobster trap line wrapped up in our running gear. Since then I had checked for fouling of our props and found none, so I was disappointed to find out on our run to the anchorage last Monday that the engines wouldn't take fuel. I switched the Racors on the run without any improvement. I had some spare primary fuel filters on board and knew it had been a year since changing them out, so without ruining our day, I just decided to swap them out the next day.

  By early afternoon we were anchored twenty miles away from Marathon in Newfound Harbor, just off from Picnic Island, a favorite place of ours to spend some time. Lobster mini-season was about to start, so lots of vacationers are here in the Keys and loads of people were out enjoying the lull before the two day mini season started on Wednesday. We took the dinghy over to the sand bar and met some nice folks who live on Little Torch Key but also have a house in New Smyrna Beach. I remember when we had two houses, but not at Florida prices.
  The next morning we took the dinghy over to Dolphin Marina to get some ice and a couple gallons of diesel to fill the fuel filter canisters before installing them. (This saves on a bunch of priming.) Our main engine strainers were not too bad, but the air conditioner strainer was packed, as was the generator strainer. We hadn't even run the A/C strainer, but it was still so packed, the hose from the through hull valve to the strainer was plugged. I don't even know how we were getting enough water to run the generator but we were. I had to remove the hose to unplug it, but having a water hose with good pressure in the engine room really helped the process along. I decided right then and there to check the generator strainer every day while on the hook. I did and it paid off.
  I've mentioned the heat outside and this week was brutal. We ran the A/C all week long which meant that the generator had to run too. There wasn't enough wind to let the Air-X wind generators help much, so we were burning .9 gallons of diesel per hour to keep cool, well worth it but we began to call our neighbor back at the marina to see if the grass had moved out.
  We did some exploring in the dinghy and spent some more time over at Picnic Island, but mostly we enjoyed just being on the hook for a few days. By Thursday we found out that the sea grass in our slip was nearly gone but we decided to stay one more night and visit Looe Key Tiki Bar on Thursday for happy hour.
  The channel into Looe Key Resort is not far away from our anchorage, but it's fairly long and very narrow. The last time we went in there a guy on a jet ski came out on plane and soaked us with his wake/spray when he refused to slow down. My antenna went up yesterday as we entered the channel and a center console boat entered the channel outbound, came on plane and started heading toward us.
  There is a sign on the first marker coming into the channel to yield to outbound vessels, so I slowed to idle and moved over as far as I could without getting into the rocks. The boat kept coming at us, not slowing down, and was throwing a wake and spray the width of the channel. Sure enough he passed us at speed and soaked us, rocking the dinghy pretty good. I thanked him sincerely, and not knowing his name, or any of the other eight people in the boats names, I addressed him as Jack Auf. First thing that came to mind.
  He yelled something and I waited to see if we wanted to come back for another pass, but they kept going on their merry way. We motored on to the end of the channel and entered the canal leading to Looe Key, only to see another sign on the first piling on the way out that said to yield to inbound vessels. What?
  I spent the first hour or so at the bar stewing over the inconsiderate behavior of a "fellow boater" until the Bud Lights kicked in and we started having some fun. We met a local woman who had a cute little dachshund and we struck up a conversation with her and she even bought us a beer. We like that.

  We also met two young girls from Atlanta down for a few days. They had been on a "booze cruise" that day and were well on their way to Margaritaville. We like that too.
  But before we left, some guy came by our seats at the bar and reached behind Rosie to pet Holly. Wrong move. "Your dog bit me", he said.
  "My dog did not bite you", I told him. But he insisted. I told him again that our dog, no matter what he said, did NOT bite him. Rosie settled the affair, to a degree, by telling him that if he had kept his hands to his self, maybe there wouldn't be a problem. Oh boy, here we go.
  He kept grumbling to his friends as to how he "oughta know if we was bit or not", so we made our exit as quietly as we could given the fact that Rosie had developed an attitude over the issue. Understandably, yes, but historically, given my experience, never leading to anything good.
  This morning we left Picnic Island at high tide in slight winds. I put Swing Set on plane and away we went, just a bit under our desired cruising speed at 2500 R.P.M. of 25 M.P.H. I pulled back the throttles and we settled in to a two hour cruise at 1200 R.P.M. and 8.5 M.P.H., but when I went to throttle up to warm up the CATS at the end of the run, again they wouldn't take any fuel.
  I switched the Racors and this time it was the trick. We ran the rest of the way in at 25 miles per hour and a top speed of 28. I'll take those numbers considering we had 3/4s fuel and a half tank of water left. And plenty of beer.
  Our four days on the hook running the generator, plus the 40 or so miles round trip, only burned 50 gallons. Not too bad. After getting our fuel we pulled into our grassless slip and plugged into shore power and let the A/C crank.
  Rosie grabbed the hose and began to rinse the decks that had so much salt on them it was like walking on a pretzel. I walked over to the dockmasters office and was greeted like a long lost relative.
  It's really nice to be back home.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dog Days of Summer

  There is no getting around it. It's HOT here in the Keys. But as far as we can see, it's hot in most areas of the country, at least in the places that we'd want to live. We deal with the heat like most lucky people do, turn on the air conditioning and stay inside a majority of the time.
  And boy, the A/C gets a work out here in the summer. I made a minor improvement to our air conditioning system recently by installing a new raw water strainer for it.
  Our generator and A/C systems each have their own strainer, and each engine has its own too. For some reason Sea Ray put Perko strainers on the A/C and generator systems and used big Groco strainers for the main engines. I prefer the Groco strainers because the tops just screw off like a mayonaise jar and the Perkos require loosening two wing nuts. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but the wing nuts get hard to turn and the gasket on the lids get harder to seal on the Perkos. I also wanted more capacity on the A/C strainers because the units are operating 24/7 and they get full of grass more often. Bigger strainer means less maintenance, always the goal on a boat is to reduce any maintenance interval.
  Defender Marine had the Groco strainer at a good price, so I ordered a new one and swapped it out two weeks ago. The basket is bigger and easier to pull out, so every week or so I've been putting a crushed chlorine tablet in the strainer to ward off growth in the strainer itself and presumably the lines for the A/C system. I monitor the affluent from the A/C units and make sure water is flowing freely. If the water starts dribbling, your lines or strainer is getting plugged and A/C efficiency suffers. Also if you need to keep turning up your thermostat to keep it cool in the boat, it's a sign that something is wrong. I can't quantify my results, but my feeling is that ever since I began using the chlorine tablets last year, our A/C has been running better and colder.
  Our choice to have our stern facing west certainly has the advantage of a great view, but the sun beats in late in the day. We still like our slip though, we just close our room darkening shade on the salon door when we need to and avoid sitting around in the cockpit in this heat. I've considered a shade for the stern, but then there goes the view, so we'll just deal with the shade on the salon doors for a couple hours a day and enjoy the view for the rest of the time.
  In regard to our slip here at Marathon Marina and Resort, I occasionally consider moving to another west facing slip, but keep finding reasons to stay put. One of those reasons is that Rosie doesn't want to move. Makes it easy for me.
  One reason I consider moving is because the boat next to us is an aft cabin Hatteras, rather lengthy, and our view to the south is blocked somewhat. But one thing you can't control is your neighbors, whether on land or sea, and the good outweighs the "bad" (although calling it bad is misleading) because our boat neighbors on either side of us are permanent residents and I think we all co-exist rather well. No one is infringing on each other in any way, except for a minimal view issue, and really that's all one can hope for at times.
  The pool here at the resort is climate controlled, so taking a cool soak is just a short walk away, but we have been avoiding the pool lately. Every place you go has their self appointed social directors and one particular person here is a bit overbearing for our tastes. The beauty of living in a marina is that most folks are transients. Things will change with time.

  We still make regular trips with the dinghy to the "beach". In most cases, what we consider the beach is usually a sandbar. The one pictured is near the Vaca Cut, about five or six miles away. We can only go there if it's not too windy, as there's a bit of open water to transit for us to get there. Another one at Grassy Key is usually full of people on the weekends, but it's even farther away and the water is deeper even at low tide. To the west we have Mollassas Key, I've shown pictures of that spot previously. We like it there but the sand is better at the Vaca Cut sandbar.
  Our standby is still Sombrero Beach, but since the water has heated up, grass has grown up in the shallows in the section of beach where we have to beach the dinghy so it's a long walk to get into deep enough water to cool off and the beach stinks at low tide due to seagrass deposited on the beach. Oh, the troubles that we must endure!
  Our Coleman beach chairs that we bought last year broke. I thought that the steel rivets would be the first to go, but it was the aluminum frame that broke on one, and the other one was about to fail. We bought the Travel Chairs in the picture above. They are aluminum and have stainless steel rivets. Admittedly they are not as comfortable as the Coleman chairs but they should last longer. We considered buying cheapies at Home Depot, but all steel chairs only last a short time and the rust in the dinghy makes a mess. We'd rather spend more money and have nicer chairs.
  Last week the Superboat International races were here in Marathon. Some friends from Kentucky came down to visit for the 4th of July weekend and to watch the races with us. We have just now recovered.

  We had planned to anchor out and watch the races, but instead, we nabbed a primo slip for two nights at the brand new Faro Blanco Resort, the headquarters for the race. In the picture, the boat Second Amendment passed right across our bow as they were coming in from a practice run. The throttleman, as well as the driver, have been acquaintances for years, having met long ago when we had a condo at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The Second Amendment team won their division and we spent time with Neal, Karl, and Brenda at the tiki hut at Faro Blanco well into the evening after the race, as well as our visitors Jeff and Sandy.
We'll see them all again, as well as many other friends, at the races in Key West this November. It will be here before we know it.

  Last Sunday night when we came in from the sandbar I was rinsing off the dinghy and we had a manatee stop by to visit. If you ever get a chance to see a manatee up close and have a water hose nearby, you can make their day simply by hosing them. They love the fresh water, not only to drink, but they'll roll around to get squirted on all sides. You can see the smile on this ones face. This manatee hung around for over two hours until we got tired and hungry and had to say goodbye once it got dark. It felt good to make another creature so happy with such a simple effort.

  Speaking of making creatures happy...our lives revolve around making Holly happy these days. We had to visit our vet here in Marathon recently because Holly got another ear infection and we were out of medicine. $146 later and Holly got a going over and some new ear drops. One thing the vet was impressed with was the condition of Holly's teeth. She remarked as to how clean they were!
  Holly will be four years old at the end of October and doesn't have a speck of tartar on her teeth and the vet asked what we are doing. On a whim, back when we were in Cape Coral, we bought some stuff to put on Holly's food once per day. It was about $25 for a small bottle, but it lasted for months. It seemed like a scam, as the ingredients are listed as only one thing, seaweed.
  Yes, seaweed. My guess is that seaweed acts as an enzyme that attacks the tartar on Holly's teeth. We can't argue with success, so now we buy a product called PlaqueOff, made by ProDen, for a fraction of what we originally paid for the stuff at the vet in Cape Coral. We get it on Amazon, but we've seen it at PetSmart too. It's still seaweed.
  Our boat neighbors have two older dachshunds, one in his teens, and their teeth were coated with plaque. She started using the PlaqueOff and according to her, the plaque just melted off of her dogs teeth and their breath was improved too. Even I'm impressed with what you can learn on my blog!
  We were also concerned with some dandruff that Holly has been experiencing lately, maybe because she gets bathed so much, so the vet recommended we get some fish oil to put on her food. So once per day, in addition to the seaweed, Holly gets a fish oil pill poked open and dribbled on her food in the morning. She loves it, and her finicky eating habits have disappeared since we've been using the fish oil. I do think the breath freshening properties of the seaweed have been offset somewhat by the fish oil, but Holly's coat looks shinier and her smile...well, her smile is fabulous.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Air Draft

  You may know that we are members of the Americas Great Loop Cruisers' Association. The AGLCA has a members forum on their website that we can use to find out information about "Doing the Loop", or just to discover other tidbits concerning the boating public. Some of the items that members publish makes you wonder how they ever become equipped to leave the dock.
  One recent question a member posted had to do with how he could best measure his "air draft". For anyone who doesn't know, this would be described as the measurement from the waterline to the topmost part of a vessel, or "how much does my boat stick out of the water?"
  The responses were many...and varied; from using string wound around a stick, poles made with tubes filled with water (to ascertain it being level), to using a laser scope. On and on.
  Give this a thought when you consider joining others in a "buddy boat" situation; If a fella can't figure out how to measure how much his boat sticks out of the water, do you really want to be tethered to someone like that on a Gulf of Mexico, or Gulf Stream crossing?
  Wanting to know the height of ones boat is necessary, however, for the very important reason that many bodies of water have bridges on them that don't raise or move. The "Loop" has some low bridges along the route that may determine whether or not you can even make the trip in the boat you have, or at least may dictate which route you take. But this post isn't about informing you how to go about making that Loop trip. That would require research, and I don't do research. It may be about dumb questions, but since I ask the occasional dumb question, I don't want to shoot myself in my own foot.
  Even though our immediate plans don't include leaving Florida waters anytime soon, we still need to know what our air draft is. There's lots of bridges around here.
  We don't drive around saying, "Hey, there's a bridge over there, let's see if we can fit under that!" But for instance, if we want to go over to the Bayside, we need to get under the Seven Mile Bridge, and we can go under at the closest point to us, which is "low", or we can travel nearly three or four miles to the high point passage and not worry about it. We have always gone out to the high point.
  Why go out an hour out of our way when the "low point" is somewhere around 21 feet and are "air draft" is a few feet lower? The answer to that is because there are no markings on the piers at the low points showing the distance between the water and the bridge structure, and we have tides, waves, and strong currents to consider. Plus, we don't ever have to get over to the Bayside in a hurry.
  If we ever have a need to get under a bridge, we would lower our VHF antennas and our wind generators and stern light, maybe even the radar dome. This would get us under any bridge on "The Loop", but not under some of the bridges along A1A. For some of them, the dinghy air draft may be too much.
  One question that was brought up on the AGLCA members forum did prompt a response from me. One guy asked if the extra buoyancy of salt water was significant enough to make a difference in the air draft of his boat. I think it's a good question, I even anticipated having some extra freeboard once we got to salt water, in order to compensate for all the extra crap we had onboard, but it was not to be.
  In fact, before we left St. Louis, we raised our waterline on the boat by an inch. We were floating that much lower in the water after bringing all our "stuff" onto the boat. Chugging along the inland rivers, our waterline for the most part only changed when we ran light on fuel or water. The depth of the water due to floods, etc. is more of a concern.
   With a full load of fuel and water, Swing Set has water lapping right at the edge of the swim platform. When we got to the ocean, this did not change.
  I'm not saying that salt water does not make a boat more buoyant, it does, but it's not enough to make a difference when one is considering whether or not they can take their boat under a low bridge. I wouldn't even let it be part of the equation.
  Swing Set is 17 feet, 6 inches from the waterline to the tip of the wind generator blades. That measurement was made with a  full load of fuel and water. She sits about 4 inches higher in the water with a light load. Does this mean I'd run under a bridge as low as 18 feet without worrying about it? No, it doesn't. I pay attention at anything under 21 feet, and then I still pay attention.
  Do you see where any of my approach to a fixed bridge takes in the consideration of a few inches here or there in relation to fuel and water load, or added salt water buoyancy, or whether I measured the air draft with the boat tipped to one side or the other? Maybe if the boat is squatted down at speed we would have more room to get under a bridge. If nothing else, if you hit something going fast, anything that falls off has a better chance of landing in the water and not back onto the boat.
  The message I have here is: Go slow, give yourself lots of wiggle room, and don't take chances.
  Anyone who knows me also knows I don't take the helm with a slide rule in my pocket and a heat sensor gun on my hip. Hardly. Leave that for the engineer types. But you can measure and calculate only so much down to the nth degree and there is still an unknown out there sometimes. (At this point, I don't even know if I'm making sense.)

  Speaking of air draft, it would appear that we added some to the dinghy with our new bimini top, but not really. The new top is about even with the stern light. Even so, the top easily folds down, and the top part of the stern light comes off. We can get under some pretty low bridges around here which definitely saves us some time getting around in the dinghy.
  We ordered the top from and it was shipped free. I upgraded the material, but still the bows are aluminum. I don't mind the aluminum bows because weight is an issue when we hang the dinghy on our davits.
  The top, and the material to make a new dinghy seat came to just under $300. The little green umbrella that we had been using to give Holly shade on our trips to the beach would blow around in the wind and make her skittish, and our supply of $4 umbrellas was running low. They do tend to rust.
  How many $4 umbrellas can we buy for $300, you may ask? The answer is seventy-five, but then we'd have to get permission from Holly to share her umbrella when we want to get out of the sun too, skittish or not.

  We thought that the marina would be clearing out after the holiday weekend, but it seems like for every boat that leaves to head north, a new one takes its place. The air temperatures are heating up and we are running the A/C full time now, taking advantage of the fact that our electric is included in our rent.
  As we watch some boats depart, I do get a twinge of regret that we are staying put, but as long as it's just a "twinge", it's outweighed by our sense of luxury and contentment here. We have friends coming down for the Superboat races here over the 4th of July and we're looking forward to that. Now that traffic has settled down on A1A, we'll make more trips to Key West on the scooter and maybe take Swing Set to A & B marina for a few weekends this summer. We'll make do.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Caterpillar 3116s Overheating - No More!

  It's only been about two years, but we've finally gotten some real success in our search to find out why the engines on Swing Set have been overheating. One may wonder, admittedly so, why it would take so long to figure out a seemingly simple problem. Without repeating all of what I've been writing about since we discovered the problem while we were in The Bahamas way back in 2012, I'll try to explain.
  I needn't say here that I'm no mechanic. Just reading this blog will be testament enough to that particular fact, but I try. A friend recently said, after I had been recounting some success at a minor repair, that he "pays people to do those type of things". I replied that given our economic station in life, it's necessary that we do at least some of the maintenance on our boat, because if we didn't, there are two certainties; either us or the boat would remain broke.
  So...the story:
We know that Swing Set was capable of running at cruising speed (2500 RPM) for hours at a time, at least until we had to run from Highbourne Cay in The Exumas over to Nassau when our steering went out. I did replace an impeller on the port engine when we were in Spanish Wells because the port engine was running hot. It wasn't until we were leaving Rum Cay in the far Bahamas that I discovered an overheating problem on our starboard engine. I replaced the impeller in the raw water pump on the starboard engine, but from that point on, both engines ran marginally hot, and remained that way until we got back to Miami. Then began my lengthy trial and error attempt at cleaning in place the raw water systems on both engines.
  This process took a great deal of time. First is doing the process itself. Then, typically we would have to wait for a weather window to sea trial in order to see our results. We did get some improvement of the time duration it would take for the temperatures to creep up. Sometimes this would happen faster on one engine than the other. When that would happen, then another process of determining a root cause would begin by pulling sea strainers, checking for proper water flow from the exhaust. (The exhaust actually exits below the water line, but the spent cooling water leaves the boat right at our water line, making an actual determination of just how much water is flowing a difficult one.)
  Over the last several months, I improved my method of cleaning the heat exchangers, learning something new at each attempt. I did lots of reading on social networks, which will leave a person thinking everything is broken, or the engines are worth nothing but scrap. But you have to get ideas from somewhere.
  I installed new thermostats. I changed out temperature transmitters to see if the issue would migrate from one engine to another. (This is when one engine would be running considerably higher than the other.) During this time, there were times when we went out for a sea trial only to find we couldn't get on plane, so that problem would have to be resolved before resuming our search for the overheating issue.
  Every time I would have a conversation with a fellow boater who had similar experiences in the past, or a well meaning blog reader would pass along some advice, I'd try something new. I pulled exhaust elbows, tightened fresh water belts, and inquired about our "after coolers" with our Caterpillar mechanics, all with no results, but learning new things each time about how to avoid scraping all the skin off of my knuckles when doing mechanical work.
  I began to suspect our coolant. We had been using an extended life coolant, installed at least five years ago when we were in St. Louis. The Caterpillar books stress the need to use fresh coolant, along with the proper additives, or else all kind of horrible things would happen to our engines, overheating was one of those things, along with the threat of our descendants for many years being subject to all kinds of calamity.
  But the Caterpillar reps down here dismissed the "old coolant" theory. So, I recently replaced both radiator caps, and the raw water pumps entirely on both engines. (The raw water pumps were pumping water, each with newer impellers, but both pumps were leaking water at the seals, a warning sign of impending doom regarding the seals on the oil side.)
But here is what kept nagging at me; a mechanical issue regarding both engines at the same time would be coincidental at best. I could understand both engines needing the heat exchangers cleaned as they would accumulate scale at the same rate, but since both engines were now overheating at the same rate, I suspected a common denominator, and the stale coolant was common to both engines.
  Last week I drained the coolant from both engines, getting most of the seven gallons from each engine without spilling any into the bilges. This alone is an accomplishment, folks. I replaced the coolant with fresh water temporarily. We had to wait again for a weather window, and yesterday was the day.
  We ran straight out towards the Sombrero light, just about at the three mile limit, and then kept going. Within just a few minutes, I knew I was on the right course. Both engines reached no more than 190-195 degrees and stayed there for 45 minutes, running at 2500 RPM. Sweet!
  This morning I flushed the raw water systems on both engines, checked the oil, and sent our Caterpillar a note detailing the success of our sea trial. We're keeping our service appointment. I want to pressure test our coolant systems, do an oil analysis, and just have a qualified mechanic on board to give us a preventative "check up" in the engine room. After pressure testing the cooling systems, we'll install Caterpillar Coolant at the recommended coolant/water ratio.
UPDATE: For anyone foolish enough to follow any mechanical advice I may give, I wanted to add some thoughts to this post after talking to a different CAT mechanic and some boat neighbors who seem to know what they are doing.
  No one except the CAT manual agrees with the older coolant being the issue with overheating. However, I do think additives and coolant viability (or newness) can play a part in how the coolant reacts to the metal in your engine. Straight water, over time, can pit the insides of an engine and cause mucho, mucho problemos. So putting new coolant in was a prudent thing to do.
  I wish I would have installed the new raw water pumps and ran the boat before draining the coolant...because the old pumps were leaking at the weep holes due to the seals going bad. Now...I've known before...but somehow forgot, that if water is leaking out, then air can be leaking in, and air leaking into the raw water pump can cause cavitation which disrupts the water flow, hence reducing the efficiency of the cooling system.
  There's more. Even though I am very happy with our engines running at 195 degrees, I'm being told that if we have 180 thermostats installed (which we do) then the engines should run at 180 degrees at all speeds, not just our leisurely 9 M.P.H. when not on plane.
  For now we're standing pat. From the factory the 3116s come with a 195 degree thermostat, so I don't think running at the temperature at cruise is going to hurt a thing. But I'll be paying close attention to any future temperature increases.

  Last night might have been one of the first in a long time that I didn't spend at least a few minutes, or hours, laying awake wondering why we were having overheating issues.

  But it hasn't been all about engine problems. My "systematic" painting of the aluminum trim in the cockpit has still been ongoing, and I made another dinghy seat improvement. Check out the picture above.
  Our dinghy seat is on the fourth generation. You might recall how the original seat began to de-laminate and fall apart while we were in The Bahamas. I repaired, then replaced the seat when we got back to the U.S., using plastic fence board. I've used plastic fence board for some structural items in the engine room, but the dinghy seat needs to flex some, so the stiff plastic fence board broke as we were pounding over some waves last year. I again replaced that seat with one made of wood, priming and painting it to protect it from the elements. I thought that that seat would last as long as the dinghy would.
  While we were in Key West a few weeks ago, I noticed that the wood was rotting under the paint! I decided right then that I'd bite the bullet and spend the money on Starboard and do the job right. A few days ago we took the scooter to Home Depot and bought a 2' x 4' sheet of Starboard, had the nice folks there custom cut it for us, and then we rode home on the scooter with the seat tucked under Rosie's arm, along with some aluminum angle we bought to add as bracing. An alternative would have been for Rosie to bring a cab home to the marina with our purchases, but what's the fun in that?

  Rosie and Holly are posing in the dinghy when it still had the "old" seat. The sun is getting hot down here now, and the small umbrella we have been using to provide some shade for our little buddy has been getting blown around on some windy days, and the big umbrella that we had also used occasionally does not have the support needed at the base and has cracked the fiberglass surrounding the mount on the dinghy. I ordered a bimini top for the dinghy, so I made the new seat so the top could attach to it, meaning it had to be wider.
  Making it wider seems like a no brainer, right? Well, the seat can only be so wide so it fits into the straps on the dinghy made to hold it in place, and you don't want the seat to rub anywhere on the single layer of the tubes, so I made the seat "float" over the tubes, wide enough so that I can mount the bimini rails on the outside edges of the seat. I needed a width of 48" and the dinghy seat mounts are 40" apart. I'll post some pictures of the new top once I get it installed next week.
  Basking in the success of our sea trial, and without any other immediate problems hanging over our heads, we're going to enjoy our Memorial Day weekend starting this afternoon when we take the dinghy out on what is predicted to be one of the last calm weather days for a while. We'll take at least a few minutes to remember why we have this holiday. Hope you do too.

Monday, May 4, 2015


  This Friday will be three years since we left our hometown of St. Louis, MO to head down the Mississippi River. I could retell the tale here and repeat three years of blogs so that anyone reading this post can avoid researching my past posts to find out some specific details. But I won't.
  The blog has a search engine. Is there something specific that interests you? Perhaps you want to read about our time in The Bahamas, or maybe get some information about some of the marinas and anchorages we've visited. It's easy. Go to "search this blog" and type in the subject. A list of blog posts will appear that pertain to that particular subject. How easy was that?
  Anyway... Three years! Not tired of the life yet, but admittedly, living at a marina is not as exciting as traveling on a daily basis, and the stories aren't as good either. But our intent has always been to bring the boat to Florida to live on it. We just didn't know when we left St. Louis, just where that place in Florida was going to be. Right now it's Marathon. Who knows where we'll be in two or three years?

  Last Saturday we took Swing Set out for a quick sea trial. In the photo, we're heading into Boot Key Harbor, about to pass through the abandoned bridge that goes out to Boot Key.

  The Boot Key Mooring Field is home to a variety of vessels. We've spent a few months "on the ball" over the last three years, and it's a life that takes some getting used to. Some people have been anchored in there for years. And years.
  The vessel in the picture above is just one example of what can be found in the harbor. Some are worse, but I wouldn't be too eager to be moored next to this fellow when a storm blows up. Everything piled onto the decks of this houseboat is a potential missile.
  Some recent legislation being considered in Florida would restrict anchoring near developed "upland property" from the current 50 feet to 200 feet. If I had to step out onto the deck of my waterfront home each morning to be greeted by someone on a houseboat like this one, I'd prefer the anchoring restriction be increased to about a half mile. If you disagree with this opinion, start your own blog.
  Our sea trial was necessary because I'm still chasing an overheating issue on our engines. When I descaled the heat exchangers (again) a few weeks ago, we ran Swing Set for 90 minutes at cruising speed without any temperature alarm sounding, but the gauges were reading at 210 degrees, still too hot in my opinion.
  I started researching the subject again after discussing the issue with a friend who had some experience with the same problem on his boat a while back. He replaced the exhaust risers on his gas engines and the problem went away. I began to zero in on our exhaust elbows as a source of our problems.
  Last week I pulled off the exhaust elbow on our port engine and found no blockage. I was actually disappointed.
  My research got me to start thinking about the drive belts on our fresh water pumps. They're called fresh water pumps, but they actually circulate the engine coolant that is cooled by the raw water via the heat exchangers. I hadn't tightened these belts since having them installed before we left St. Louis. I was overdue.
  Several hours, and a few bleeding knuckles later, both belts were tight. (And the belt guards on both engines were now residing in the dumpsters here at the marina.) The belts, having been just a little loose, were the culprits. I just knew it.
  Even though the weather on Saturday was just a little "sporty". (We seafaring types refer to "windy" as being "sporty". I guess it gets tiresome referring to weather conditions as being windy all the time.) This is why we cruised through Boot Key Harbor to emerge into Hawk Channel out of Two Sisters Cut. This put the easterly wind at our backs to make a good run out toward Bahia Honda State Park on the other end of the Seven Mile Bridge.
  As soon as we got on plane I knew I still hadn't solved the issue. Twenty minutes into our run, the port engine temperature alarm sounded. Pulling back on the throttles immediately brought the temperature down. I was disgusted.
  "If a problem can be solved with money, there is no problem". No, we don't have exorbitant amounts of money to throw at problems, but believe me, it could be worse. We now have an appointment with the crew at Key West Engines in Key West for them to perform a complete diagnostic of our engine cooling systems. My shotgun approach has not worked out.
  What is disappointing to me is that solving complex problems is something that I've been pretty good at in the past during my working years. The difference here is that the potential solutions are a result of my own labor and financial expenditure, so I'm trying to solve it as cheaply as I can. It's the way most people approach mechanical issues when money is an issue.
  Key West Engines has a one month backlog, so we have to wait. When the time comes, we'll either take the boat to their shop on Stock Island, or they will come here if the weather won't permit travel to Stock Island. If they come here there is a mileage and travel time charge. Yes, there are mechanics here in Marathon, an even a Caterpillar Authorized Service Center, but we had an overall good experience with Key West Engines when they replaced our turbos two years ago, so I feel comfortable with them.

  To celebrate our three year anniversary, not to mention my birthday and our wedding anniversary, we had planned to visit Key West with the boat next weekend, but we had some  friends visiting Key West a week ago and the weather was perfect for a trip to Key Weird.
  We split the 50 mile cruise up into two parts, spending the night on the hook in Newfound Harbor near Picnic Island, which is pictured above. I took this shot early in the morning as we left to continue onto the A & B Marina in Key West Bight. Still, one of our favorite things to do is get underway just after sunrise, sipping on a cup of coffee, especially when the sea conditions are as calm as they were on this morning.
  We had a whirlwind three nights at A & B Marina. We spent two days at Dante's Pool and we took our friends Steve and Krista on a cruise out to Boca Grande on Saturday and the weather couldn't have been more exquisite. On our last night we treated ourselves to dinner at Berlins Steak House in honor of our upcoming anniversaries, and no, their steaks were not as good as we can make right here on Swing Set.
  We ran straight back to Marathon on Monday, taking over five hours to make the trip. Some westerly winds had packed seagrass into all the western facing slips and we had to grind through a couple hundred feet of weeds to get docked.
  The next day I flushed our engines with fresh water and then I pulled the sea strainer on our air conditioner units. I don't know how any water was getting through them at all. I even found some dead clam shells in the bottom of the strainer. I had to use our wet vac to suck them out of the strainer body.
  Rosie and I both reaffirmed our opinions that we enjoy living here in Marathon better than living in Key West, at least at any of the marinas we currently have to choose from in the Key West area. Like they say, "It's a nice place to visit...."