Monday, October 6, 2014

New Developements

  Swing Set has been setting in her slip for the last month, pickled with fresh water, waiting for our next outing. Since we stay on the boat full time, it's hard to justify taking the "big boat" out to cruise around by ourselves when we can just take the dinghy.
  A few weeks ago we loaded up Holly and the cooler and took our longest dinghy ride yet. We went "north", which is really east, to Newfound Harbor, about twenty miles away. Then we took the Niles Channel over to the bay side of the Keys, into the back country, and a long ride back home, dodging several storm cells as we went. It turned out to be about a sixty mile dinghy ride and we only burned a bit over four gallons of fuel.

  We took the picture above at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. This is indicative of the summer squalls that pop up nearly everyday. We went to Fort Zack for the first time with some of our dock neighbors for the afternoon and to watch the sunset. It's a great spot, especially if you want to avoid the crowds at Mallory Square.

  A week later we piled everything onto the Zuma and went back to the park with Holly. Naturally she had plenty of shade, and plenty of beach goers to get her attention for the afternoon. We don't know why we hadn't been to this beach before.

  We also attended Bike Fest here in Key West recently. Duval Street was closed off and we parked the Zuma amongst all the Harley's and the "hardcore bikers", you know, the ones who probably trailered their motorcycles down here from up north. Can't hardly blame them, the roads in Florida were never my favorite ones to ride a motorcycle on, being so flat and straight. We got along good with the biker crowd, Rosie's skimpy bikini probably helped in that regard.
  Just because the boat has been idle doesn't mean things don't go wrong. We were just about to watch a movie one night and we both heard the GFI trip on the port side of the boat.
Last year while in The Bahamas we had a problem with the same GFI tripping and I had a heck of a time figuring out the problem when one of our friends and readers of this blog suggested that we eliminate the ground plug from our desk top computer.
  That did the trick and we hadn't had a problem since, so this recent development had me scratching my head.
  There are only three receptacles on our port side, and believe me, they have lots and lots of things plugged into them, but everything is low watt items, and nothing is ever running at the same time, so we aren't overloading our circuits. But a GFI tripping is because of a faulty ground, and water can be a source of the ground problem. So, what was different?
  One thing different lately is the amount our air conditioner has been running, and when I went to check each of our receptacles, I found an inordinate amount of condensation on the plenum of the salon air conditioner vent, housed behind our salon loveseat. The constant cold air blowing though it turned the metal icy cold, and our built in vacuum canister also had condensation built up on it, having also been affected by the constant cold air being transferred from the plenum.
  Of all the things plugged into our port system, I unplugged the vacuum first, and sure enough, the GFI stopped tripping.
  The next day I spent the morning insulating the plenum for the air conditioning duct, inside and out, using some closed cell foam from our camping mat.
  I also moved the vacuum canister over a few inches so that it wouldn't condensate anymore. The vacuum has since dried out thoroughly and we haven't had any further issues. We're lucky we didn't have to call an electrician to diagnose the tripping GFI.
  I had mentioned previously about spending the winter in The Abacos, but we've had a change of plans. I occasionally check to see what is available in the Keys as far as docking goes, and I found a dock for sale in Marathon at The Bonefish Marina.
  We jumped on the Zuma one day and made the one hour trip to check out Bonefish and we almost made a deal on the slip until we got back to Key West and did some research.
  We found out that the marina condo association was not part of the surrounding resort condo association, so we wouldn't be able to use the facilities surrounding us, even though they were just feet away. That was a deal breaker for us, so we decided to take a pass on the slip, but it got us thinking about a move to Marathon anyway.
  Marathon Marina is at the western entrance to Boot Key Harbor and is very popular with the snowbirds once December rolls around. Folks reserve boat slips there years in advance, and we know from previous experience that getting a slip during the winter season is hard to do.
  I called the dockmaster and found out that we could reserve a slip on their west dock for the winter if we committed to the slip through March. We were going to travel to Marathon for bottom paint anyway at the end of November, so we went ahead and gave them a deposit.

  We'll dock Swing Set bow into the dock and from our cockpit, the view above is what we'll get to see everyday instead of the more commercial views we have now at Stock Island Marina Village. The view is looking west, so we'll have great sunset views. Occasional western winds will give us some chop, but that is largely broken up by the shallows just west of the marina. You may be able to see how shallow it is from the photo, but it's deep water access along the dock.

  The marina has a beautiful pool, a restaurant onsite, a travel lift and staff to do our bottom paint, cable T.V., a nice restaurant, condo rooms for guests, and last but not least, the rent will be cheaper and electric is included.
  If we want the excitement of Key West, we can rent a cheap room for a weekend and pop on down A1A on the Zuma once in a while. If we don't like it, we can always come back here. That's the beauty of living on our boat. We have options.

  Hey look! Our friend James at Marine Canvas Solutions made our Yuba bicycle cover and we put the cargo bike back onboard Swing Set. The cover is made from Sunbrella, same color as our bimini top, and should last many years.
  James put some velcro slits on the left side of the bike so the cover would fit around the brackets we have on the rails of our flybridge. The bike is secured to the rail with our bike lock and is as unobtrusive as we could have it, installed where it is.

  Once we got the bicycle cover, we sent James our Zuma cover and he dissected it to use as a pattern and made us another Sunbrella cover for the Zuma. With a few modifications, the  new cover protects every bit of the Zuma from the harsh suns rays, and it's waterproof, unlike the $50 cover from the Yamaha dealer. We had gone through three covers for the bicycle and we were on our second cover for the Zuma, so having these nice covers made was a good decision.

  Here's Holly showing off another addition to the boat, some new upholstery for our cockpit seat.
  Before we left St. Louis, we had our cockpit seat recovered, but not the backrest. Since then the backrest was showing signs of mildew, and the stitching was ripping on the bench part of the seat.
  New, stiffer foam, was installed on both the backrest and the seat bottom, and I made some modification to the seat bracket, and our local canvas guy here in Key West, Steve Alberts of Oceanside Canvas, made our new seat covers in just a couple of days. He also recovered our bar stools in the salon to match the outside seats.
  Oceanside will travel to Marathon when we need some other upholstery or canvas work that we can't talk James into doing for us. We need to find another Sedan Bridge up in St. Louis so James can make measurements on it. Hint hint.
  Some of the simplest jobs can be a pain. A few weeks ago I was noticing some pitting on our galley sink drain. There had been some small scratches on the chrome of our drain since we bought this boat, and they had gotten worse over time. The material is just chromed pot metal, so I found a plastic drain with a nice stainless trim ring at the local ACE Hardware and thought I'd spend about ten minutes installing it.
  For one thing, the pot metal of the drain body had fused itself to the locking ring, and no wrench I had was going to bust it loose. Before we left Missouri, I gave away three nice pipe wrenches in the size I needed, one of them brand new. I recently bought another pipe wrench that we needed for the Groco Flush kits that I installed this summer, but that wrench was too big to get into the small space under our galley sink.
  I borrowed a proper wrench from our dock neighbor, and even with that, I couldn't get a good hold on the drain body in order to loosen the nut, so I wound up having to drill a hole through the drain stem and run a Philips screwdriver through the holes in order to get the nut loose. There was cussing.
  Most people not only would not have gone through the expense of some of these things we've added to our boat, but it's our home and we like to keep it looking as nice as possible, and sometimes even the very small things make a difference. If you don't attack each problem early on, you can find yourself overwhelmed eventually and then your home is a pile of junk with everything broke.
  So what do we do when we have to borrow a tool? Next visit to the hardware store, proper pipe wrenches were purchased and a place to put them needed to be found.
  We spent yesterday cleaning out the dock box on the flybridge so that we could take the things that had accumulated in our marina dock box over the last few months and get them on the boat so we could make our exit next month.
  Two items that we needed our special attention was our two folding motorcycle ramps. It turned out that they didn't fit where I though we were going to put them, so at one point we really had a dilemma. I was even considering the engine room for a place to store the motorcycle ramps, and the engine room is tight enough for space as it is.
  With some shifting round, and some trashing of a few items we hadn't used in a while, we wound up with a nifty spot for the ramps between our flybridge dock box and the flybridge lounge seat. They are out of the way and held securely in place with some brackets I modified and attached to the backside of the dockbox.
  We may only use them a couple times a year, but we won't need to get a dock box at any of our future locations as everything is stored on the boat where it should be anyway. We might load up the Zuma like the Clampetts on their trip to Beverly Hills, but we try to keep the boat looking as stream lined as possible.

  Yesterday it was another afternoon out on the Boca Chica Sandbar. We're starting to see some regulars out there and we usually find some familiar faces to spend the day with. After so many months here in Key West, we've felt like we're starting to belong, and moving to another area comes with some misgivings. But like I said, Key West is just a few miles down the road, and we already know some folks in Marathon. We don't think the transition will be that difficult.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dog Days

  We weren't in Key West last summer, having been in The Bahamas from April until September of last year, so we weren't prepared for just how hot it gets here in the summer.
  When I say "prepared", I don't mean that our air conditioners don't work, because they are doing a great job, but I guess I just mean mentally prepared.
  Speaking of the A/C units; I recently checked the air filters on both units, and even though they didn't seem too clogged up, I replaced the Breathe Easy filters with new ones, and ordered a set of spares for next time.
  These Breathe Easy filters are ridiculously priced, and we ordered them from West Marine and picked them up at the local outlet. At the check out counter I used some coupons for my "Gold Advantage" account, (Having had to print out seven coupons...Hey, West Marine, we all have computers now, why can't you access my account at the store and view my rewards points?) the woman operating the register announces that for the purchase of my three small 10 x 12 inch thin air filters, I was to remand to her custody a tidy sum of $237.
  I said to her, "Think about what you are asking me. Look at what I am buying here. Three small air filters! Now, do you really think these air filters, as expensive as they already are, are going to be $237?"
  A little common sense goes a long way. So does knowing your product and your job.
  If you've been following this blog, you know about our trials and tribulations with our newly installed SeaDek. We've have two wood workers here to give us bids on installing teak on the steps to the bridge and from our cockpit. We are hoping to get at least a year out of the SeaDek, but now another step pad is "melting", so it's doubtful our pads will still be presentable for another year, but we've had, and expect, other expenses to take priority.
  We thought we would get through at least one month of not having something major break on us, and we were closing in on the last part of August when one of our Vacu-Flush heads went on the blink. The pump in our guest head (Holly's room.) wouldn't stop pumping when I flushed it one day. Perry, the Head Honcho, informed us when he was here recently to install new ball valves and seals on both toilets, that the valves on our pumps were going to be due for replacement soon, as they were running a bit long after flushes. We decided to wait, as we wanted to spread out the expense, but the day of reckoning had apparently arrived.
  I called the Head Honcho at around noon. He was in the shop, having had two cancellations from vessel owners who wanted to go fishing that day instead of having their toilets serviced, so he asked if he could be there in one hour. You betcha.
  The bellows on the offending pump was shot. No vacuum can build up with a leaking bellows, so the pump won't stop running. We also discussed replacing our old style (18 years old) pump motors with the new style motors, advertised to be quieter and more efficient. Perry just happened to have two of them on his truck. Our lucky day.
  Four hours later, on both head systems, we had new pump motors, rebuilt pumps, and eight new "duck bill" valves installed. With a generous "local labor rate", our bill still came in just under a healthy $1200, but now both toilets have all new components, are quieter and pump quickly. We should be good for years as far as our toilets go. Or, as far as we "go".

  We mix in some fun when we can. With the weather being fairly calm, we take the dinghy out as much as possible. The photo above is from Geiger Key Marina where we went for happy hour and stayed long enough to just get back to the marina as it got dark, enjoying the late evening smooth ride.
  We keep our scooter and bicycle covered from the beating sun, and both items are on their third cover. We decided to contact our friend James back in St. Louis about making some covers for both vehicles. James has started his Marine Canvas Solutions business and I thought that making vehicle covers for other boat owners who carry small vehicles with them on their boats, would be a nice niche to fill.
  He'll use Sunbrella material to match our Bimini top, which should last for years, especially when he sews them with the Gore-tex thread.
  We sent him one old cover from our bicycle that he can use as a template, and he'll send the new cover back. Then, we'll send the scooter cover to him so he can use that cover as a template, so on, so forth, blah blah blah.
  Marine Canvas Solutions. You can Google it, view the Facebook page, or call James at 314-623-1151. Tell him Swing Set sent you.
  We are getting antsy for some travel these days. Every time a boat leaves the marina we get nostalgic about continuing our travels. However, I have a medical procedure that is scheduled for mid-September, and then not long after, we are looking forward to the visits from our friends from the north for the annual Fantasy Fest celebration in late October, and then the Offshore Boat Races in November. Our livers are in training.
  We have the first part of December targeted for leaving Stock Island, at least temporarily, either to travel back to Marsh Harbour in the Abacos, or just to go further up the island chain until the spring, when we could continue travel up the east coast of the U.S. That's the luxury of living on our boat, we can do what we want, to some degree. We mailed in our applications for our new passports on Friday.
  Another item on our agenda is new bottom paint, which we'll probably have done in Marathon. I was largely satisfied with the job that Marathon Boatyard did on our last paint job, but wished it had lasted longer. The monthly bottom scrubbings haven't helped, but I think we should have used the Interlux Micron 66 instead of the Micron Extra. The service manager at the Boatyard agrees, but it was I that asked for the Micron Extra last time as I thought we might be traveling in fresh water within the year. We'll see how the Micron 66 does.
  Our friends have been commenting that they are missing my frequent blog posts, and like I've said on here before, it's hard to come up with things that are of interest to others in the boating community, which is primarily our audience. Our escapades in and around Key West may be of interest to some, but hopefully our readers can hang in there until we pull up stakes here in Key West and get into trouble somewhere else on this planet.
  Enjoy the rest of your Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lobster Seizin' ?

  Did I mention the how hot it was down here in Key West? Although the high temperatures are usually in the mid 80's, according to my friends at The Weather Channel, it usually feels ten degrees hotter. People say it's the humidity, but we're from St. Louis, we know humidity.
  The heat in the summer is one thing we really weren't expecting here in Key West, and another is the temperature of the water. Around the beaches, sitting in shallow water is like sitting in a hot tub, and if the tide is going out, it's like sitting in a dirty hot tub in some areas.
  These are not complaints. It's just something you won't hear about in the travel brochures. But where would one go to escape hot temperatures in the summer? Maybe the mountainous eastern Tennessee region would be cooler, but it would be an ordeal to go "upstream" every spring. Fort Loudon Lake near Lenoir City, Tennessee may be attractive. Something to think about.
  We spent a few days looking at property around Key West, mainly as an investment. Some friends from the Midwest own a rental property down here and they do very well with it, what gave us the bug.
  After viewing a few places in person, and looking at hundreds on them online, we've decided it's not for us. For one thing, we wouldn't make much, if any, money on a property we would have to mortgage, and we both don't like jumping into debt again, for any reason. The newer properties are way out of our economic range, and the old ones are too expensive too, for what you get.
  When I remarked about the high prices, one of our real estate agents showing us some homes said, "It's the price you have to pay to live in paradise". I told him that we already lived in paradise...on our boat, already paid for. Paradise is where you make it anyway.
  So I think we have that out of our systems.

  Our boat neighbors invited us out on their 46 foot sailing catamaran, Magic Inspiration, a couple of weeks ago for a day sail up to Loo Key to go snorkeling. Outside of a group sailboat at Hedonism II in Jamaica a few times, we had never been sailing. As you can see in the picture, it was hard work for us, but there was little wind, so little sailing. We were actually motor sailing.
  We had been to Loo Key before on Swing Set, and weren't too impressed last time. The sea was choppy and murky, but there was a front moving in that day. This time we had calm seas and once we found a ball to hook to, we found about as clear as water as we have seen since being here in Key West.
  There were lots of fish to see, and everyone saw some sharks but me. (I had trouble with my mask fogging up.) The mooring field at Loo Key is in a protected zone, so no anchoring or fishing, in fact, don't touch anything, but we want to go back and use the Hookah Max onboard Swing Set sometime soon.
  With it being so hot, necessary waxing on Swing Set has come to a halt. Waxing will be something we'll do when it's cooler. We're keeping the boat clean with frequent washings and mopping when it rains. Upkeep has been minimal. I changed our air conditioning filters and had to replace a couple of light bulbs. Don't worry, the other shoe will drop at any time.
  One thing we are looking into is replacing the crappy SeaDek. I hope you read the story. We have two local woodworkers engaged in giving us a bid on installing real teak on our stairs. The one step I showed a picture of recently is just getting worse. I want to do this job right next time, but the cost may be prohibitive, especially with all the other things we've done to the boat since we've been here.
  Also on the radar screen is new upholstery on our cockpit bench seat, a better fitting sunscreen for the windshield, and a Sunbrella cover for the Zuma. We are on our third cover for the Zuma since February, and the one we have isn't even waterproof. Mainly we need one now for sun protection. We want a cover for the Zuma that will protect it from the sun and salt water once we get it onboard if we travel anywhere. Having the cover match our bimini top would be, well, it'd be just a cool thing to do.

  So what is left for us to do here in Key West if we aren't working on the boat constantly? Besides our frequent trips to Dantes pool, or somewhere for happy hour, we focus on taking the dinghy out.
  On our last trip out to Boca Grande, I found out that we only used 2.6 gallons of gas to make the round trip, which I  guess to be around 40 miles from our slip here at Stock Island Marina Village. Holding a six gallon tank, and a two gallon reserve can onboard the dinghy, we recently made another trip west; out to the Marquesas Keys. Forty miles past the Marquesas is the Dry Tortugas. Not many people take a dinghy from Key West out to the Marquesas.
  In the picture, we are at the entrance to Mooney Harbor, on the southern side of the group of islands that make up the Marquesas Keys. Those of you who have been there may recognize the wreck on the shoals just outside of the harbor. The big boat will never see the inside of Mooney Harbor, I can assure you.

  We went on a weekday, and there wasn't much boat traffic, with the exception of some tour operators. We cruised on back to Boca Grande in a southwesterly chop and seeked out the shade of some mangroves on Boca Grande where we tied to a tree and had a nice cool lunch in the shade. We were pleasantly surprised that we weren't bothered by any bugs.
  The best boat to get around in would be a larger center console, but we don't have one. We have the dinghy, which means we have to be particular when we go out, because any chop at all makes for a very uncomfortable ride. When people wonder if they should travel with a dinghy, I would recommend having a "fast" one. Some folks think the dinghy is only something they need to take their dog from the boat to the beach to take a crap, but we use the dinghy as our "sports car" trailed behind the big RV, so we can explore any area we may find ourselves in for any length of time. Since we get ten times the fuel economy in the dinghy, and most of the water around here is too shallow around the beaches for Swing Set anyway, it just makes sense for us to use the dinghy.
  The last two days of July every year is the lobster "mini season" in the keys. It falls a week before the regular commercial season opens, and it's a chance for the little guys to get out there and snatch a few bugs before the big boys scour the seabed. People fish for, and catch, lobster all season long. I'm not one of them, mini season or not.
  For one thing, on the day before mini season opened, we were out in the dinghy and our dinghy seat broke...again. I've mentioned before that the seat from the factory delaminated back in the Bahamas, and I replaced and modified it a couple of times using plastic fence lumber. I fully admit now that plastic fence lumber is still fine for mounting components in and around places on the boat, but for strength you can't beat real wood.
  So, on the morning of mini season, instead of joining the hundreds of other folks attacking the seabed, we were at Home Depot buying lumber to fix the seat in the dinghy. I'm not one to leave things broken. It bothers me.
  After looking at our options, I chose a primed 1 x 8, (This lumber is primed to hide the fact that it's comprised of spliced and glued pieces too small to make anything else with, but it's strong as the other stuff.) which we had them cut to size at the store so Rosie could carry it under her arm on the back of the Zuma.
  I dismantled the broken seat, took out all the precious stainless steel screws to use on the new seat, stacked the two cut pieces on top of each other, added the strut I had made for the old seat, used the sander to round all the corners, wiped it all down with mineral spirits, and then took it down to the engine room to put on a first coat of paint.
  The engine room? Yes, our "engine room" is not the size of a paint shed, but with pieces small enough, I use the engine room to paint because I can turn on the blowers to remove the overspray, and the paint can dry without worrying about rain. It's only inconsiderate slobs that would spray paint on the dock, and if I use any of the inconvenient public areas, any project I may be working on may not be there when I go back to get it.
  So late on day two of mini season, we took the dinghy out to look for some lobster, albeit without a companion seat. Rosie had to sit on the gunwale, which is illegal in Missouri, but oddly legal in Florida.
  With a bit of wind late in the day, the seas were choppy and murky, plus I don't know where the "good spots" are. We roamed around blindly for a couple of hours, only getting into the water a few times, and we went home empty handed. Not a big surprise there.
  One thing I can say, to make this little lobster expedition, we loaded up the dinghy with snorkel gear, a bucket, (no nifty cooler filled with ice to bed down freshly caught bugs), a net, a tickle stick with the required measuring device attached, a pair of gloves, and our usual small cooler, only filled with ice water instead of beer.
  Now to the part I didn't like. The water temperature is in the 90's, especially in the shallow water where I could even attempt to reach the bottom to look under rocks and coral. Imagine being in a washing machine, on hot cycle, breathing through a snorkel. That what I felt like I was doing during my "lobster hunt". I think I'll try it again when the water cools down, and on a calmer day. Meanwhile we'll reserve a table at Benihana's.
  I normally don't mention our health concerns, but a recent event prompts me to get into the subject a bit, for reasons which I'll explain.
  Last weekend, after a Friday night out, I woke up with a severe pain in my abdomen at around seven in the morning. I took some pain pills we have onboard, but to no avail. I squirmed and thrashed about for five hours before I agreed to be taken to the ER at the local hospital, just a few miles away.
  After an MRI and an Ultrasound, the doctors concluded that I had a kidney stone that was "99% passed". That last 1% is a real bitch.
  Late on Saturday, after a visit by the urologist, I was given some pain medication, a strainer, and my clothes back, and was told to go home, pass my kidney stone, and call the doctor on Monday. Sure.
  My only experience with kidney stones was when my dad had them over the years, and I was not prepared. We had dinner, the pain having had subsided to a great degree, and we went to bed at around 9 P.M., after taking one of the pain pills sent home with me. By midnight I was up with an excruciating back, chest, and abdominal pain, that rendered me in not only a useless condition, but one that left Rosie at her wits end. Finally at seven A.M., I put a shirt and some shorts on and we called a cab again.
  We got knowing looks from the ER staff, and was soon admitted to a room after some very helpful pain medications were injected into my body. I saw the urologist again, and he said I would be monitored for the day and night, and he would most likely do surgery on Monday to remove the stone.
  I'm not going to go into specifics here, but long story short, late on Monday afternoon, a stone was removed, a stint was installed, and I was sent back to the boat to recuperate until the stint would be removed in a week.
  Meanwhile, waiting for the blood in my urine to clear up, I had to make a previous scheduled appointment at the dermatologists to have an abnormal, yet benign, "spot" removed on my back yesterday. I'm a real treat about now. Can't get in the water for two weeks. Luckily I can't catch lobster anyway.
  My point in telling all this, is now I'm wondering what I'd do if we were anchored far from civilization somewhere here in this country, or worse in the Bahamas, or another foreign country, if I had another kidney stone attack, or a heart attack or something.
  I guess we could stay attached forever to the umbilical cord called "safety and convenience" but instead, my gut is telling me to throw caution to the wind, and continue our travels next spring. I hope we have more than a few years to go, and we don't want to spend them here in one spot, even as nice as it is. Life is too short.
  But I'm still wondering what we'll do in an emergency while out on the hook. I guess I'll keep wondering until something happens. Rosie says she isn't worried at all. If I have another two episodes like I had last weekend, she knows where the shotgun is. Think Old Yeller.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gone Fishin'

  Everyone we talk to around here in Key West that has been here a while says that it's unusually hot this year. The median high for Key West is 90 degrees, and the highs have hit that several times in the last few weeks, but those highs usually don't occur until August.

  Our marina doesn't have a pool, but they've roped off an area in a slip near the ship's store to be used as a "swimmin' hole", but in the photo, I'm laying on a raft in our own slip, something we do when we don't take out the boat or the dinghy. I use the hose to jet myself around in the slip. No need to paddle.
  We've been taking Swing Set out at least once a week to keep the cobwebs out. On our last outing, we cruised up to Newfound Harbor and dropped the dinghy to mingle with all the other boaters at Picnic Island.

  It was roughly a fifty mile round trip and we didn't get back to Stock Island until after dark, but we were treated to a nice sunset on the way back.
  The boat ran good, although the engine temperatures are still running on the high side, but I think I have a handle on it, knowing a better way to clean the heat exchangers next time.
  Meanwhile, the engines get flushed with fresh water when we return from running them, so buildup on the heat exchangers should be minimal.
  Last week, one of our boat neighbors took us out on his Boston Whaler for some fishing. We went out about ten miles directly south of Safe Harbor, getting into some 1000 foot deep blue Atlantic Ocean water, where we cruised the giant seagrass beds, trolling for whatever we could find feeding under them.
  We don't fish much, as you know from reading this blog, so anything we caught was exciting to us. We were using three rods with plugs, or artificial lures, each with line let out at different lengths.
  Our neighbor, Joey, wasn't too impressed with our catches, but we did catch two dolphin, two bonita, a jack, a snapper, and one other little fish we cut up for bait. Nothing was big enough for us to keep for eating though.
  We were about to give up and head for port when we got a strike and Rosie started reeling in the fish. She was having trouble getting the fish in, saying it was awfully hard, but I was attributing that to the fact that she was holding the rod handle under her arm instead of against her hip. Rosie ran out of gas as the fish came nearer to the boat and then she handed me the rod.
  Holy Mackeral, and I mean it. It took me and our neighbor Joey two tries with the gaff to get a good sized King Mackeral into the ice chest, and not because it was so big, I had just never gaffed a fish before, nor had caught one even as big as it was.

  A squall was rolling in, so we headed to the barn with our fish in the ice chest. We hung it from the fishing cleaning station at the gas dock for the photo above, just like the big game fishermen that we are.
  It was only 20 pounds, but we yielded probably ten pounds of some nice eating fish. Joey only wanted a few filets, and we gave some other neighbors a couple filets, and we got to keep the rest.  The pink meat cooked up to a flaky white and was even more tasty than the last swordfish we cooked.
  Last Friday we put Holly in her carrier and we buzzed up to Geiger Key on the Zuma. We had a late lunch and did some sight seeing on the way back.

  The view from the Gieger Key Marina Tiki Bar is a nice one, and it's a good place to go for a quiet dinner or lunch. The owner also owns Hogfish and Roostica, two of our other favorite restaurants on Stock Island.

  Yesterday we loaded up the dinghy and took it out to the Boca Chica sandbar where we were met by some other new friends who brought their dinghies over too. They ran for cover later in the afternoon when the rain clouds starting rolling in, but we stayed until the rain began to fall, then high- tailed it into the harbor and headed straight for the aforementioned Hogfish Bar for an early dinner.

  A late afternoon rain will usually give way to some beautiful sunsets, and yesterday was no exception. We like the sunsets we can see from out at sea, but ones like this from the deck of Swing Set in our slip are pretty nice too.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Beach Party Circuit

  Our trip to the dermatologist was fairly uneventful last week. The doctor asked us if she could spare us the lecture about all the exposure that we were getting from the sun, and we told her that she could, we've heard it before. We promised to return in at least a year and out the door we went.
  I didn't know until yesterday how much fuel we used on our Boca Grande run weekend before last, but it turns out we only burned 2.6 gallons, in what I figure to be a 30+ mile ride, at wide open throttle. We carry six gallons in our fuel tank, and another 2 gallons in a gas can under the seat. Next time we might just run all the way to The Marquesas.

  Here's a photo of one of our SeaDek pads. You might be able to see how shiny the surrounding fiberglass is, and you might be able to see a burn mark, or "scar" on the right side of the pad. In less than one week of sun exposure, the pad was affected by the hot rays of the sun.
  I contacted both Tyler Shealy of Castaway Customs, and SeaDek, and was pretty much told that this was typical when the rays of the sun are reflected off of nearby surfaces. They "melt" the SeaDek material.
  It was suggested that we; cover any surrounding stainless steel with white tape to cut down on glare, put some plastic film on the surrounding fiberglass to minimize glare, or to have some protective covers made for the steps when they are not in use. You will not find any of these informative details in any of their literature. My call this morning to Customer Service was routed to voicemail.
  I was also told that Flexiteek would be hotter to stand on. That's fine. My response was that we could wear shoes, or sit on a towel. Nothing made for a boat should be ruined this quickly due to sun exposure. We bought SeaDek for cosmetic reasons, so it would make the boat look good. Maybe I'm waxing the boat too much.

  I installed flush kits on three of our Groco sea strainers. The strainers in the photo are for our main engines, and I have one strainer mounted at the seacock, and one after the strainer, both acceptable locations. I used two different methods because of the raw water hose routing. The seacock location allows one to remove the plug (after closing the seacock) and pump water from the bilge using a main engine if it is ever needed to do so. I sincerely hope it never comes to that.
  The main reason for purchasing the kits was so I could pickle the engines and generator with fresh dockside water after running them, so creepy sea life critters can't grow in them while we're just sitting at the dock, extending the interval for cleaning the heat exchangers.
  I did clean the heat exchangers on both engines, and our new generator last week. Every time I do this job I learn something new. This time I learned that I need to bypass the raw water pumps when I circulate the Barnacle Buster because the pumps impede the flow of the cleaning agent. We did see improvement in heat transfer after cleaning the heat exchangers, but next time I'll do a better job and expect better results.
  One thing I did after cleaning the heat exchanger on the generator was to run Barnacle Buster into the water intake of our air conditioners, and then let it sit for about four hours. Our air conditioner performance improved, even though I had seen no indication of poor water flow previously, but I'm sure we would have in time.
  Even in this hot weather, our cabin temperatures decreased to the point where we could increase our thermostat settings by two degrees, an indication that the units are now running more efficiently.

  The hot weather has brought a chance of rain nearly every day. This big cloud rolled in at sunset last week and it rained all night.

  This last Saturday we wanted to test the performance of our engines after cleaning the heat exchangers, plus I have vowed to take Swing Set out at least once a week to run engines, and help keep growth off of the hull.
  We headed to Newfound Harbor, about 20 miles east, but a big rain cloud formed over the Keys, so we veered out to Looe Key, a popular dive and snorkeling spot just off of Little Palm  Island, but the rain cloud followed us out there.
  I snorkeled for about a minute, but gave it up because I'm spoiled by the clear water in The Bahamas. We were also in about 18 feet of water and there wasn't much to see. We got there too late to grab a mooring in shallower water.
  Once the rain moved out, we motored in to Newfound Harbor and anchored just off of Picnic Island for the afternoon. Picnic Island is a place we are familiar with, and we'll probably make the trip on a more frequent basis, as the island is a popular gathering spot for the locals of BIg Pine and LIttle Torch Key, among others. We wound up cruising over fifty five miles that day.
  On Sunday morning we topped of the dinghy fuel tank for a day trip. I wanted to go back out to Boca Grande, but Rosie didn't want to go that far. We probably did wind up going just as far, but we did it in increments.
  First we buzzed by our regular haunt, Boca Chica sandbar. It was too early for many folks to be out, but we did see one couple we'd met before. They were very nice, but I remembered that he wouldn't let anyone get a word in edgewise last time. We decided to just wave hello this time around and save an afternoon with this couple when we don't have much to talk about.
  Then we headed north, crossing under the bridge at the Boca Chica Channel, and set a course for Snipes Point.

  Boats were gathering already at Snipes, but we kept going and for the first time, went a bit further and pulled up at Marvin Key, another popular hangout frequented by a lot of folks from Cudjoe Key and surrounding areas. We liked Marvin Key better than Snipes Point because you don't get waves rolling in from the Gulf as the beach is better protected by reefs, and as you can see, the water is pretty clear too.
  We had a good time there, but after a couple of hours, we went back to Snipes, which was chock full of boaters out for the day. We ran into some folks who usually frequent Boca Chica sandbar, but like us, were taking advantage of the calm conditions to run out to the areas that are a pain to travel to when the wind kicks up.
  We know we are making progress as "locals" when we start seeing people on the beaches on a regular basis, and we really know we are making progress when we are seeing people we want to avoid.
  We were bushed by the time we got back to the marina, and even though we both wanted to pop into Hogfish for dinner, we were just too hot and tired to bother. We had a good dinner of leftover tortellini and salad after refreshing showers. It was just plan nice to be sitting in the air conditioning!
  After dinner we put a movie in the DVD player and I didn't get past the opening credits before I was snoring away. (According to Rosie anyway.)

  But look at this sunset we missed! One of our boat neighbors took this shot last night, and also of another one of a lightening storm that moved in after dark. That too, I missed.
  The storm must have been substantial because we got a message from some friends in the Key Largo area, hoping that we were all right. Apparently we were, having not heard or seen any of the storm.
  It's also a sign that we are progressing as locals when we are making friends here that will inquire about our well being in the event of bad weather. That makes us happy.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dinghy Ride To Boca Grande

  Once I had our SeaDek pads in hand, and they were found to be cut properly, early the next day after taking delivery of them I set to removing the old pads.
  A plastic putty knife came in handy and the pads peeled up without too much difficulty, but then the real work began. The residual glue was very difficult to remove, but I read the FAQ provided by SeaDek and set to work.
  First I used mineral spirits to wet down the surfaces and laid a mineral spirit soaked rag onto each surface for at least ten minutes. The glue was then easier to wipe up, and then I used acetone to remove all traces of the mineral spirits. A little glue was still in evidence, but I made sure it would be concealed by the new pads.

  The next morning, after the solvents had plenty of time to evaporate, we applied the pads in no time at all, using the easy "peel and stick" method.
  I sent Tyler Shealy of Castaway Customs some pictures of the finished product and he sent a quick reply, harboring no ill feelings. He apologized again for the delay in getting the pads to us in a timely manner, and offered his assistance in the future if we needed to replace these pads at some point. I hope they last more than two years.
  I've been mentioning our engine overheating problems recently, so again, last week we went over to our Caterpillar dealer at Key West Engine and spoke to our "go to" person over there, Celeste.
  Celeste asked me when was the last time we ran Barnacle Buster through the engines and I replied that it was only last fall, and that we hadn't put many hours on the boat since then. It was then that I realized that last September was nearly ten months ago. (Yes, time flies when you're having fun.) Celeste informed us that in this environment, our engines need to be flushed with acid every six months, especially if they set without being run. Remember me saying that the boat breaks even when we aren't using it?
  I bought a couple of gallons of Barnacle Buster, which we'll not only run through our main engines, we'll do the generator, and then we'll even run it through our air conditioners too.
  We went to Home Depot to gather some more fittings to rig up a system to allow us to flush our engines with fresh water after running them, and after buying a bunch of ball valves and fittings, I searched the web for engine flushing kits and found them made by Groco that are installed at the sea cocks, or strainers. They come with adapters to fit a garden hose to the flush kit, and make a neater installation. I ordered three kits from Defender at half the price West Marine charges.
  Not one to rush into such things, and the kits weren't due to arrive here at the marina until a few days, we decided to take the boat out last Thursday to give it some running time, maybe even to stay on the hook for a night,  as apparently we've been neglecting that pleasant chore.

  Thursday was rainy though, so we stayed in and waited for Friday morning to check the weather. The forecast was iffy, but we figured that either we could stay at the dock in the rain, or on the hook in the rain, so we prepared the boat to cast off.

  Holly knows when we are getting ready for a boat ride, whether it's in Swing Set, or the dinghy, and she waits patiently until we start removing dock lines, and then she begins to bark instructions, which we apparently are able to perform flawlessly every time, since she eventually settles down on Rosie's lap once we are leaving the harbor.
  We spent an afternoon in the rain last week, anchored near Saddlebunch Key, just a few miles up the coast from here. It was actually nice laying around in the boat with the air conditioning on, reading our books, and listening to the rain pelt the topsides.
  By the end of the day, the sun was back out, and so were the bugs from the nearby mangroves, so we headed back to the barn and rustled up some supper, making it an early night.
  On Saturday, we had planned to take our dinghy out to Boca Grande, quite a trip in the dinghy, but the winds were really calm over the weekend, and the 20 mile trip out to Boca Grande seemed like a good idea. But as soon as we got things ready, a squall came in and we sat for two hours waiting for the rain to quit.
  One thing about calm winds, is that the squalls don't move on, they just hover overhead, so by the time the rains subsided, we decided that even if we would have wanted to make the trip out to Boca Grande, no one else in their right minds would be out there, so we opted for a jaunt over to our favorite spot at the Boca Chica sandbar, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. We like to go places where we can inflict ourselves upon others.
  Ahh, but Sunday! Sunday we woke to a cloudless sky and after a big breakfast, we got the dinghy ready, topped off our fuel tank, and set a course due west.

  It was a ninety minute cruise, straight along the coast of the smaller keys that string out westerly from Key West to Boca Grande. The only islands west of Boca Grande are the Marquesas, just visible from the beach at Boca Grande, and then the Dry Tortugas, many miles further west.
  The beach at Boca Grande is a favorite spot for many Key West locals, and we met a few of them and had a very nice time.

  I'm not a rock hound, or a shell collector, but in all my years I never noticed something that I found to be interesting while we were cooling off on the beach yesterday. Look at the shell in the picture above; see how straight the back edge of the shell is? I found other shells like it, and never noticed, or realized, just how straight an edge that this sea creature is able to produce. I can't seem to think of another living creature in nature that has the ability to produce a straight edge such as this one. I know humans who cannot draw a straight line with a ruler. Isn't that amazing? Yawn. (Hey, I'm grasping at straws here, trying to find things to post in this blog.)
  When it came time to leave, we were invited to follow a fast pontoon back on the "inside route" of the bay, so we readily accepted the offer. I switched on our Garmin chartplotter so we'd have the track set to follow the next time we go back out there, because the ocean route can become bumpy very quickly.
  With the dinghy loaded up with our supplies, we can only coax 20 M.P.H. out of our 15 H.P. Mercury at wide open throttle. We were barely able to keep up with our pilot vessel, but soon we were within site of the familiar Northwest Channel. We peeled off when our new friends headed in to The Galleon, and we turned toward the Garrison Bight mooring field to complete our inside run back to Stock Island. The ride back from Boca Grande was another ninety minutes, and we were whupped by the time we got back to port. Boy, the air conditioning was a welcome pleasure when we got home to Swing Set.
  After we unloaded the dinghy, I began to crank it up on the davits, and the little keeper spring on one of our Fulton winches broke, making the cranking a two handed operation, not a big deal, but it was just one more thing that needed to be fixed. It seems like a day doesn't go by that something else needs to be repaired or maintained.
  I had three such springs in one of our various parts bins, as the same spring on the other winch broke when we were in The Bahamas and I ordered some spares last year from the factory. Replacing the spring requires nearly a complete disassembly of the winch, but since I've already done the job once, replacing the spring this morning didn't take too long at all.
  But by the time I was done cleaning up from that chore, the sun was beating down with a vengeance, making it easy to decide to hold off on installing our new engine flush kits until another day.
  As I was cleaning grease off of the repaired winch with some Formula 88 from Home Depot, I decided to squirt some on our Magma Grill and was pleasantly surprised at what a great job it did on removing the grease from the grill. Well, it is described as a "degreaser". Go figure. You get a gallon for less than five bucks. What a deal.
  Tomorrow we both have overdue visits scheduled for the dermatologist, something we did every six months back "home", but have neglected until we settled down some. The doctor in St. Louis would scold me every time I went there until I finally told him that we own a boat, we go boating, we are going to be out in the sun. Period.
  With an attitude like that, I'm bound to get bad news tomorrow, but we'll take that as it comes. If we find out that either one of us has to stay out of the sun for the remainder of our lives, the next blog you read may be sent from dreary old England. Do they have bars there?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The SeaDek Ordeal

  We're approaching two years that Swing Set has been in a salt water environment. The recent picture above serves as proof that our boat has never looked better, but keeping it that way has not been easy nor cheap, which is how I describe myself occasionally.
  Rust is a constant issue, but we've been able to keep a handle on it by rinsing off the exterior of the boat after every outing, something we couldn't do when we were traveling. We also use Salt Away, a product that we put in a garden sprayer when we rinse the deck and hull, especially after being out in rougher seas.
  The stainless steel rubrail inserts are a constant maintenance item, and so are the bow rails. We use a product we found at the grocery store, Perfect Sink, made by Hopes. It's designed for stainless steel sinks, but does a great job on the boat. We've found some success in saving money by using products made for the home that do not have the word "marine" associated with them.
  One bugaboo was the grab rail on our swim platform. Rust was constantly seeping out from under the grab rail mounts until I finally removed the rail, thoroughly cleaned the base of the rail, applied Boeshield T-9 Anti-Corrosion Spray, then laid in a base of silicon caulking around the mounting holes and then re-attached the rail. So far we haven't had anymore rust seeping out onto the swim platform.
  Our marina is in a protected harbor, which also means we don't get much current. Not quite a stagnant water condition, but the growth that attacks our boat bottom seem to like this condition, and our boat bottom cleaner is earning his money every month when he scrubs our boat bottom. I checked his work the other day, after the third time he has been here, and found that Jacob, of Down Under Boat Bottom Cleaning, did a better job than I had ever done. He left nothing on the hull, or running gear, but it will be back when he returns in July. We've made a commitment to ourselves to get the boat out and run it at least once a week, which should help deter the critters that cling to our hull from getting too plentiful.
  We've also vowed to start our engines at least weekly, whether we get the boat out of the slip our not. Initially, I was under the impression that the sea creatures that like to live on our hull, and in the cooling system of our closed cooled engines, needed flowing water to live. I've since found out that the opposite is true, that our cooling system grows barnacles just fine with the engines just sitting there full of salt water, so running Barnacle Buster through our engines is suggested on a semi-annual basis if we want to avoid overheating when we run at speed.
  One thing I've done to attempt to minimize the growth of barnacles in our cooling system is that I've ordered three Groco Engine Flush Kits from Defender Industries. These kits are not cheap, but when installing them at our sea strainers on both mains and the generator, we'll be able to easily flush our engines with fresh water in between outings. The offending sea life won't grow in fresh water. I'll let you know how the installation goes when I get them.
  Speaking of Barnacle Buster, I've also learned that it's more efficient to remove the zinc anodes from each engine and replace them with plain plugs before circulating the Barnacle Buster, otherwise the acid is spending all its scouring properties eating up those pencil anodes before it can attack the crud in the heat exchangers that is causing the reduction in heat transfer that we need in order to run our Cats at cruising speed.
  Each engine has five zincs, and they are not in the most reachable areas, so that chore alone makes circulating the Barnacle Buster not an easy task. The engine flush kits will help ease the pain, not only in reducing the time interval requirement, but also in hooking up the hoses to do the job in the first place.
  It seems like we've been engaged in some sort of project on the boat ever since we've returned from The Bahamas last September. We've been addressing engine overheating problems, getting the new generator installed, new water heater, new dinette upholstery, new bimini top and curtains, new stereo components, new seal kits on both toilets, two new batteries in our house bank, and waxing/washing, waxing/washing, waxing/washing, along with all the little projects that pop up nearly everyday.
  But the longest running project has been the replacement of some SeaDek pads on our cockpit stairs. Even though we haven't done any labor on this project yet, getting the pads from the supplier has been proven to be an arduous process. The emails, phone calls, and just plain anxiety of waiting takes its toll.

  I have pictures on the blog from when I first installed the SeaDek stairpads on Swing Set back in 2009. I had called SeaDek and they supplied us with the phone number of their installer in southern Florida, Tyler Shealy of Castaway Customs in Merrit Island. I now know that SeaDek could have cut our pads at the factory, I don't know why they farmed the work out.
  I made patterns and sent them to Tyler, as per his instructions. He cut one pad "upside down", not paying attention to my labels of "this side up", but eventually he corrected his mistake, but by the time he did, I couldn't install the pads until the spring of 2010.
  It's hard to tell from the picture above, but one pad began to deteriorate. I noticed it in July. No, not this July. No, not last July, but in July of 2012!
  So, two years after I applied the pads, one was beginning to curl up at the edges like an old shoe. Note that the SeaDek material is similar to the material that your basic flip flop is made of, which is a spongy foam. Soft to step on and sit on, but just don't drop a knife or screwdriver on it.
  We were traveling at the time, so we waited until we were in Cape Coral in the fall of 2012 before I called Tyler to order a replacement. I figured he could use the patterns that I had supplied him with, as he assured me that he would keep them around, not only for the reason at hand, but he could also use them to make pads for other 400 Sea Ray Sedan Bridges, one of the most popular hulls that Sea Ray has ever made.
  We were in Cape Coral for five weeks, and we supplied Tyler with the address of our friends Gary and Judy, and Tyler promised that not only would he make another pad that had begun to peel off, he would make a complete new set so that they would match.
  I volunteered to pay for the work, but he said that the pads shouldn't begin to come off so soon, and that he'd make and send the pads at no charge. If only that had been true.
  Despite emails and calls to Tyler, we left Cape Coral without receiving our pads. We traveled through the keys all winter and left for The Bahamas last April 2013, with other things on our minds besides the SeaDek. I figured that Tyler had lost the patterns, and I was right.
  When we decided to stay indefinitely here in Key West, I called Tyler in February of this year and asked him why he hadn't contacted us or sent the pads that he had promised. He was very apologetic and admitted that he had lost the patterns, but he was due to visit Key West in March and he promised to come by and measure our steps himself. I didn't really expect him to come, but sure enough, we waited at the boat on the Sunday he promised to come by and he did.
  It was a pleasant experience having him on the boat in person, and he acknowledged that the material he used to cut our original pads was probably the wrong color, as the black color for the caulking portion of the step was attracting the heat from the sun and causing it to curl.
  Again, I volunteered to pay for the labor and material, but he insisted on redoing the job au gratis, once he received the material from SeaDek.
  Beginning in late March, when I contacted Tyler via email, or phone call, I received no replies until, in late April, when we got an email from him apologizing for not getting back with us, and promising to "knock out those steps next week".
  This began a series of weekly promises to "have the pads to you by the weekend", until I finally told him that if he didn't actually deliver the pads by a certain date, that I would call SeaDek and find out why. Two more weeks went by and I made the call.
  I talked to a representative of the company and she was very understanding, saying that if Tyler didn't have time to cut our pads, that they could do it at the factory, no problem. I told her that we'd give Tyler one more week to come through, and to sit tight. She didn't.
  Apparently Tyler came by the factory before the week was up and he was told that I had called SeaDek and spoke to them. Once I found they he knew I talked to the folks at SeaDek, I sent him a note explaining to him that as I had promised, my patience had run out, and that I had called SeaDek to see that my options were. I received no reply.
  Meanwhile, I contacted a representative of Flexi-teek, to consider going with another product altogether. I also contacted the representative of SeaDek again and got quite a different reception from the one I received when I first contacted them. The terse response was the forwarding of my email to another person at SeaDek to "see what they could do".
  Within two days I got another short email from Tyler, with a picture attached, saying that the pads were already cut and on their way.

  I at least had proof that some work had been done on our pads, having gotten nothing but promises for months. At least I had some hope of getting the pads.
  I have been wondering why Tyler wasn't just truthful in the first place? Why didn't he get right back with us in October of 2012 and say he didn't have the patterns? And why, if he was so busy this year, did he keep promising the work "next week" when he could have said "I can't get to your work until mid summer", but at least send a picture with any progress if there was any?
  See, the thing is, if I tell someone something, or promise something, you can take it to the bank. I also don't have much faith in other people if they have proven in the past that their word is no good, which Tyler proved back in October of 2012.
  But guess what? As I was writing this post, our pads arrived! I removed them from the box and made sure they were right. I'll put them on when the weather dries out later this week, and if they don't hold up...well, it's a safe bet that I'll be calling the folks at Flexi-teek.