Monday, June 6, 2016

Mini Cruise

  A few weeks ago we decided to take Swing Set out for a mini-cruise, not sure really where we wanted to go, but headed south on St. Joseph's Bay to see where we would wind up.
  The wind was up a little on the "outside", so we stayed in the Intercostal and just glided along at our slow trawler speed of 8-9 miles per hour, sight seeing again the area from Clearwater down to Tampa Bay. We hadn't been on this route since first coming through it in 2012.
  We crossed the mouth of Tampa Bay towards Passage Key, a small island just off the northern end of Anna Maria Island. We anchored out to watch the sunset, but as it got closer to evening I decided to pull up anchor and find another anchorage a little more out of the wind. It was at this point that our windlass quit.
  Recently, the rocker switch for our engine sync had been acting up, and the switch for the windlass seemed to be acting intermittently as well, so I ordered two switches from Morgan at Marine Max at Lake of the Ozarks. You might wonder why I order parts from a Sea Ray dealer way up in Missouri, but a lot of parts are that we need for a 20 year old boat are not kept in stock, they're special ordered from Sea Ray and drop shipped to wherever they're needed anyway. When I call Morgan, he knows us and has never failed to deliver.

  As the sun was close to setting, I didn't want to start taking the dashboard apart to replace the rocker switch for the windlass, but I did check the circuit breakers, and I also performed other checks I thought necessary to troubleshoot. Nothing I tried worked, so we just stayed put on the hook we had set. It wasn't the ideal situation, but the forecast for wind wasn't that bad, so instead of pulling up the anchor manually and risk not getting a good hook in another location, we chose the easiest path.
  The wind kicked up during the night and we spent a restless night. The anchor stayed where we had put it as there is very good holding just off of Passage Key in a sand bottom. After having a nice breakfast just after daybreak, I replaced the switch for the windlass, but it still wouldn't work. I began to suspect a bad motor on the windlass, so I called Tom Ring at the Good Windlass Company. Tom as been very helpful before, and has told me in the past to never hesitate to call if we have any problems.
  Tom gave me some advice on how to further troubleshoot the windlass. I tried a couple of things but then called him back and told him the motor was shot. I ordered another motor and he got the wheels turning to get a new windlass motor to us ASAP.
  Pulling up the anchor by hand was no treat, but I was able to pull out the tension arm on the windlass and feed the line and chain back into the anchor locker and stow the anchor back on the pulpit as it is supposed to be, secured with the cable and clip for it.
  The wind was coming from the south so we headed out to the Gulf for the run outside back to the Clearwater Inlet. Swing Set ran along at her cruising speed of 25 miles per hour with no issue. The sky was clear and the lobster trap markers were easy to see. Unlike in the Keys, there are less of these trap markers up here along the coast. I may start eating lobster again.
  About an hour and a half later we were entering the Clearwater Inlet. The run outside was very close to 35 miles, just a few tenths of a mile different from the inside route that we had taken the day before.
  Back at the dock, we secured Swing Set in her berth and dropped the dinghy for a ride down to the Dunedin City Dock where we tied up to the dinghy dock provided free by the Municipal marina there. It's a nice touch provided by the City and much appreciated. We stayed until after dark and motored back to Marker 1 Marina. Our running lights worked perfectly, as we have kept them housed inside the neat covers we had made to keep them dry and out of the weather.
  The next morning we went through our regular routine of flushing the main engines on Swing Set, as well as the generator and the air conditioning system. I pulled off the old motor on the windlass with the intention of sending it back to Good Windlass for a rebuild. It's a good thing I did.
  The new windlass motor came on the day before we had planned to return to Dunedin and the boat. I took one look at the new motor and knew there had been a mistake. Not only was the coupler the wrong one, the information on the motor as far as operation R.P.M.s and voltage was not the same as the old motor. A call back to Tom Ring was in order.
  As soon as I told Tom what I was seeing, he told me to hold on while he talked to someone he had left in charge of sending us our windlass motor. He came back on the line in a couple of minutes and told me that someone else out there also had the wrong motor because the fella he left in charge sent two motors out, each to the wrong place.
  It's a good thing I noticed that the motor was wrong, because it would have been "troubling" to get back to the boat and not only not be able to hook up the new motor. Had the couplings been the same, the motor wouldn't have worked properly had I been able to connect it.
  The new motor was on the way before I was able to get the wrong one back to UPS, and Tom had sent a shipping label so I didn't have to buy that.
  A few days later the new motor came and we went out to the boat and in about 15 minutes I had the new motor installed. An operations check at the dock told us that the replacement was a success, and when we motored out to Three Rookers Bar for the weekend, the windlass worked perfectly. Our old motor is being diagnosed for a possible rebuild so we have a spare.
  On another issue, the other day I pulled off the propellers on both of our wind generators and used my Dremel tool to remove the loose paint from both wind generator bodies. I had some trouble getting the propeller hub from the shaft because the shaft is stainless steel and the prop hub is aluminum. The hub had seized onto the shaft on the starboard wind generator. I used some WD-40 to loosen up the hub and was able to pry the hub off the wind generator body without damaging either. I'll use some anti-corrosion lubricant before I install the hubs back onto the housings.
  As it is, when I painted the housings the other day, I left the props off and the we came home. We are currently on a Tropical Storm advisory for Colin which is heading for the west coast of Florida as I write this. We don't expect much in the way of damaging wind, but having the props off the wind generators right now is not a bad thing. When the storm passes in a couple of days we'll go back to Dunedin to check on Swing Set and install the blades back onto the wind generator bodies. I'll also put some new "tails" on each one. The tails are strips of nylon webbing I decided to install when we first installed the generators. I think they help to keep the props facing the wind. Think of how a tail on a kite works. Nobody told me to do this, but when I talked to the Air-X people a few years ago, they agreed that it was a good idea. The key here is to make the tails long enough to be effective, but not too long where they would get tangled in the blades of the wind generator.       Another thing I'd like to mention here is that the propeller blades are sharp enough when they come from the factory, but they tend to get even sharper over time as they turn. A blade can cut deep while not even turning. If you get mixed up with one turning, there is little doubt in my mind that serious damage would occur. I have used a boat hook in the past to grab the back fin on the wind generators to turn them away from the wind and stop the props. Usually though, I don't do any work near the wind generators in any wind at all.

  We get notes from blog readers who remark to us about Holly, so I don't mind keeping those folks informed about our little buddy. In a week, Holly is going in for surgery to repair some torn tendons in her left knee, as well as repairing one of the patella laxations that she has on both hind legs. (This means her kneecaps rotate off the front of her knees.) If this surgery goes well, we'll plan on another surgery on her right knee so that she can return to taking long walks with us and running up and down the stairs on the boat and at home. We knew this day would come at some point and it's best for her recovery to get it done while she is young. She'll have to stay overnight at the "hospital" and we're not looking forward to it. I hope she doesn't hold it against us.

Monday, May 2, 2016

We Needed a Holly-Day

  We've been really busy since the last blog post, but our focus has been more on our new digs than on Swing Set. We did have a couple of issues and I'll share them here for whoever it may apply to.
  The first thing was that even here in sunny Florida, pollen season manifests itself by way of a film of green "dirt" that builds up on the boat surface almost daily, making each visit to the boat a minor chore because we can't stand a dirty boat. The other boat owners in our marina who aren't bothered by filth, over time, will have a harder job of getting their boats clean because with the buildup of pollen comes mold that seems to attach to the gelcoat as a permanent fixture, requiring an acid to take it off. We wax too much and don't use acid unless absolutely necessary. But pollen season it over. When we visited Swing Set yesterday, it was as clean as it was when we left last Sunday. Happy.
  Another thing that had us stumped was that the sea gulls, and other birds of this region, like our swim platform, but they don't like it enough to refrain from crapping on it. I don't know what these birds eat, but their droppings are like concrete. Maybe that's what is in Super Glue. At any rate, the stuff is so hard to get off, hull cleaner hardly fazes it. I resorted to using Soft Scrub with bleach, and a green pad to remove it every time we came to the boat. I needed a solution, (a legal one), but one that didn't require placing netting over the stern every time we left. What's interesting is that the bow and the upper areas of Swing Set aren't as attractive to the avian life around our marina. I owe some of that to the wind generators on the radar arch, but those are an expensive deterrent.
  Now, when I say a "legal" method to discourage the birds in their desire to nest on the swim platform, I will admit that I considered getting a "soft pellet" pistol to ride herd over the feathered miscreants, and even browsed through a local Bass Pro Shop looking at "firearms", until Rosie sweetly reminded me of the water blaster I bought from Amazon while we were in Marathon, that had only been used one time to thwart the pelicans from a similar dastardly deed, and now sits in the bottom of one of the lockers on the flybridge. The seals are probably too dry to make the water cannon useful at this point. As usual, Rosie's reminder that I have a knack for "over engineering" some of my solutions made me give up using an offensive approach to a sea gull deterrent. I wanted a passive approach, one that required as little energy on our part as we could get by with.
  We were back in Missouri recently, and a visit with a good friend, one who spends lots of time in the country, came with the answer to our problem. Rubber snakes!
  When we returned to our home here in Florida, we visited a nearby big box store and bought two plastic snakes, rather realistic looking, but made of a substance that would hold up in a salt water environment. We spent all of two bucks. OK, $2.14 with tax. One snake was brown in color, and we bought a black and white one too. I wasn't sure what type of snakes the local birds were opposed to, so we took a diversified approach, placing one on each end of the swim platform and attaching them to our dinghy davit with some monofilament fishing line, which I have plenty of since I've pretty much given up on fishing,
  On our next visit to the boat, the end of the swim platform with the brown plastic snake was devoid of all bird droppings, but the one with the black and white snake had a couple of poop pools, still far less than we had been experiencing. We made another trip to the big box store to buy a similar brown snake but they were all out of the exact model that we had so much success with, but there was another brown striped one that we thought will do the trick, so when we went to the boat yesterday, I installed the new snake, and kept the black and white one posted at the stern access door for good measure. We'll see how it goes, but my solution is fairly passive, only requiring me to scoop up the three snakes and toss them into the stern trunk when I pull our shore power cords in when we go out for a ride. The monofilament is invisible, which is the nature of it in the first place, if you didn't know.
  We hadn't been out for a dinghy ride to the beach since we've been in the Dunedin area, and there are lots of beaches to choose from. We like "Three Rookers Bar" just north of the causeway where Marker 1 Marina is located, about three miles or so from our slip, so we went there yesterday and set up camp on the beach as is depicted on the opening photo. I took the shot early, but by mid-afternoon, the beach all around the island was packed with boats of all kinds since the weather is finally more suited to such activities. We are looking forward to an active summer around our local boating area. I think we're going to love it.
  One reason for our outing was for Holly, as I hinted at in the title to this post. We've been so busy at our condo, and at the pool where we now live, that Holly has been spending too much time alone. Yesterday was all about Holly.
  It doesn't take too much to amuse her, all that is required is some birds and little kids to bark at and she is happy as can be, although she chases off any would be friends that might be brave enough to approach us with a "can I pet your little puppy?" request. "Bark bark bark bark", and they usually make a muttering exit. But she sleeps good after an outing like yesterday, probably thinking she has done her duty as our much needed protector.
  Some friends have been posting pictures from Georgetown, and Elizabeth Harbour in the Exumas. The pictures of the crystal clear water have been making me yearn to visit there again soon, especially since fuel is about 1/3 the cost of what it was when we cruised through The Bahamas in 2013. However, the expense of our new home has put some extensive cruising on the back burner for the time being. But trust me, the lure of the open sea is too great to ignore for too long.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Improvements To Swing Set Come In Small Increments

  One thing that has been a challenge at our new marina is dealing with a larger tidal swing than we had to contend with in the Keys. People with much larger tidal swings along the eastern coast will laugh, but everything is relative. Going from a one to two foot rise and fall at the dock twice a day to one of three feet or more meant some changes in the routing of our shore power cords. These were small things, but essential at a fixed dock.

  One thing we learned from experience, (and should have learned from marina management) was that during a full lunar cycle, when the tides are at their greatest, the water in St. Joseph's Bay goes over our dock, sometimes by as much as a foot, depending on the wind.
  Since we are docked "bow in", we had to run shore power from the pedestal at the bow to our power connections at the stern of the boat. With 50 foot power cords, this meant a connection between the two sets of 30 amp cords.
  I used a short piece of PVC and attached a hook to the top of it to hold the connections up from the dock. The connection will rise up as the boat rises, and keep our shore power connection from getting wet and shorting out. I also bought a shore power holder from Defender Marine that sticks into a rod holder on the stern. Now there is enough slack in the power cords to account for a tidal swing without the cords ever laying in the water.
  As I'm on the subject, let me emphasize the importance of avoiding the habit of many a boater of leaving power cords dangling in the drink. Sure, the cords are rubber, but rubber is porous to an extent, and power can leech through the cord and cause stray current in the water. Wonder why your hull and running gear zincs are dissolving so quickly at your marina? There is a good chance that there's a stray electrical current running to your boat and most marinas won't do anything about it.
  We have pitting on one of our props from stray current running from a neighboring boat when we were at our home port at The Duck Club Yacht Club back on the Mississippi, and we couldn't pin down the source. I wound up installing a large sacrificial zinc running from the ground on our pedestal into the water at the end of our slip. This solved the problem in the short run, and stopped the corrosion of the prop, which we still use.
  If you suspect something similar happening at your dock, you can get an electrician with a tester to see if there is in fact stray current around your boat, but one no brainer is to make sure neighboring boats aren't leaving their electrical cords hanging in the water.

  I'm a little slow on the uptake at times, and it took me all these years to learn how to properly connect our shore power cords. In the photo, you can see how our cords are connected to each other at the 50 amp adapter at our power pedestal. The collars we bought are screwed together at each side, not only making them pretty much sealed from the weather, they won't pull apart at the modest twist connections if they get tugged on. I like these and put them not only at this junction, but also where the two 50 foot 30 amp cords are connected in the first photo. I will say that the threads are very fine on these collars, and they are plastic, so be careful when threading them together or you'll render them useless.
  One of my brain storms resulted in my purchasing a "smart plug", which is a wifi device intended on being plugged into an outlet on the boat that can be controlled by our iPhone, or other smart phone. I figured I'd plug our dehumidifier into the smart plug so we could monitor it from home and know if the power went out at the dock. It's good to know if your batteries are not being charged like they are supposed to be. I like power at the boat at all times, because RAIN (or leaking shaft seals)-ALLOWING WATER INTO BOAT WITH DEAD BATTERIES=NO ABILITY FOR BILGE PUMP TO OPERATE=SUNK BOAT. The previous equation is pretty much foolproof. Did you know the leading cause of boats sinking are leaking shaft seals?
  But my brain storm hasn't lead to a solution yet, because the wifi at our marina is abysmal. The smart plug cannot stay connected to the poor wifi. I may try using a signal repeater, but even the smart plug manufacturer states that the plug is not effective in a wifi system that requires a "code" to be unlocked to use it. This has me a bit puzzled, as even our home router requires a passcode to access the internet. If anyone has any ideas, I'd be glad to try them and pass them along. Meanwhile, we'll use the smart plug at home so we can turn the T.V. on from the boat. Why I want to do this, I have no idea.
  Another thing we've been dealing with for several years is keeping running lights on the dinghy. I'm not sure how many sets of battery powered stern and bow lights we've purchased from Amazon, Defender, or the local marine supplier, but I finally got tired of the sun eating these things up, and the rain getting into them despite O-rings on the caps.

  I asked my favorite canvas guy to make us some "envelopes" from Sunbrella material to place over the lights when they are not in use, which is most of the time. They are both the same size, but the stern light has the opening at one small end, and the bow light has the opening along the long end at the bottom. Velcro along each opening allows the covers to close pretty tightly along the seal. Since the seals are at the "bottom" of each opening, the lights will stay dry and will be impervious to the sun. Yes, we could stow the lights in the storage compartment on the dinghy, but both the forward locker in the dinghy, as well as the Igloo cooler we use for life jackets, spare fuel, and a small tool kit, also get water inside. For about a second, I did consider using those small bags that people use for pet waste. They are abundant around most marinas these days, or at city parks, but honestly we didn't want to pull up at a dinghy dock and have someone mistake us for sailboaters. (Oh, come on! You know that's funny.)  Do what you want, but I like our new covers.
  Recently we asked some friends of ours, who we met in Marathon and who now have their boat at the Clearwater Beach Marina, to join us for an overnight on the hook at Three Rookers Bar, a nice anchorage near Dunedin, but also fairly close to them too. They had to decline because they now have a large puppy who needs to be walked twice a day and their dinghy has been on the bow of their boat since they left Marathon back in September. Do you see at least two things going on here that are in opposition to our thoughts on both dogs and dinghies?
  One, we obtained our small dog for a reason, so that we wouldn't be a slave to nature and need to walk Holly for her to use the "bathroom". Two, we tell everyone that a dinghy is no good if you can't deploy it readily. We went by their marina to say hello, but after a couple of hours, we casted off and went to our anchorage as we originally intended. If other folks want their lives to be complicated, that's their business, but we can't let it affect us.
  Which brings me to a point...we don't "buddy up" on any crossings with anyone, much less strangers. We see countless posts on the AGLCA website and other places, about people in transit requesting a "buddy boat" so they can all travel along together in a convoy. We have enough to keep our hands full making sure our boat is travel worthy. I don't want to take on the added responsibility of someone else's boat who may not be as particular about how they do things. We'll be glad to meet someone where we are going, but I don't want anyone worrying about us, and I sure as heck don't want to be worried about us and anyone else.

  So this attitude means we spend a lot of time on the hook, alone. Pity. On the evening pictured in the photo, we were on the hook at Three Rookers Bar as the sun went down over the Gulf of Mexico. We had just grilled some steaks and were finishing up a bottle of wine to have with our dinner. We hadn't spent a night on the hook since New Years Eve, and we were long overdue. We stayed out even though the wind forecast was a bit on the sporty side, and we bounced around more than we like, but we didn't have to listen to any complaints from anyone the next morning about the choices we'd made concerning staying on the hook for the night. The topper the next morning was the hot coffee and steak and eggs we had for breakfast at daybreak, also not having to wait for someone else to get out of bed to join us.
  Call us independent. I consider it a compliment.
  Another compliment was one we received the other day from a long time blog reader who we ran into at our new home. He was telling me that their boat is at a marina in Stewart, Florida, and he in turn met a boat neighbor who started following this blog and winded up buying a boat just like Swing Set, due to the success we apparently had been having with our Sea Ray. Maybe he hasn't been reading this blog as carefully as he should have, but still I feel a little pride in the fact that somebody thinks we are doing it right.
  Send me a note, whoever you are.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Another Phase Of Our Lives

   Readers of my earlier posts may remember me telling about our time living on the Meramec River on the outskirts of St. Louis, MO. I told about our first home there and the floods we experienced in that house, and also the floods we endured while living in my parent's old house, after we eventually bought it from them, just up the street. We moved away from the river late in 1999 but those homes have always been on our minds and we kept tabs on both of them.

  In December of last year, the Meramec River flooded to an extent that it had never flooded before, and the photo above is what is left of our first home there on Opps Lane. Our second home, which sat about two feet higher in elevation, is still standing, albeit with substantial damage. Knowing the present owner, it's doubtful that it would ever be rebuilt and put in an inhabitable condition again. My father and I both worked hard on that river home making it a nice place to live, but dwelling on the past isn't healthy for anyone and we move on.
  I've been reprimanded by a few of my regular blog readers in regard to being remiss on my posts, but I've got good reasons. In the first place, once we got the boat up to Dunedin from Marathon, the weather turned very cold, at least in comparison to the fantastic weather that we became used to in the Keys.
  On our first full day in our new marina, we got a visit from some friends we had met in Kentucky Lake on our way down the inland river system. Dave and Wendi were staying near where our new home is, and drove out to Dunedin for a short visit before heading to the airport. While the sun was out, the temperature was brisk, but we spent some time catching up as we sat in the cockpit of Swing Set. Dave and Wendi plan to follow our footsteps and bring their boat south when they both retire in about a year. We're happy to be a good influence on people, as well as what some folks call "an inspiration".
  The closing on the new land based home we bought was due to take place on the 1st of February, so we had a month to wait. We spent most of the time on the boat huddled inside with the heat on. Most of the nation was under a cold spell and Florida was not spared. Even our friends in the Keys were reporting some unusually cold weather for that area. I used some time to catch up on some boat waxing, and when we could, we got out and explored around Dunedin and our new surroundings which is always a fun thing.
  I have a new resolution, which is not a "New Years Resolution", but something intended to keep our boat in top shape. We intend to take Swing Set out of the slip at least weekly, or every ten days or so, to "keep the wheels greased", so to speak. I don't think there is anything worse that letting a boat sit idle for months in a slip, particularly in salt water. This practice should help in keeping the hull bottom clean, as well as making sure everything works when we need it to most. In the month we waited for the closing on our new home, we took the boat out twice for an afternoon ride, again exploring the area by water.
  As expected, we have some great beaches to anchor off of just a couple of miles from our marina, and if we want to, we can take the dinghy out to the same beaches, as well as run down to the Clearwater area for the activities to be had down there, or just up the coast a few miles is Tarpon Springs where there are things to do.
  In anticipation of having Swing Set uninhabited for days at a time, I began to consider some new problems that we might encounter, especially in regard to the tidal swings that we were not used to while living in the Keys.
  First, we had a month to live on the boat and monitor the mooring lines, checking to see that we had enough scope to let the boat run through the tidal range without having to adjust them. It's not a good idea to be thirty miles away while your boat is hanging by its neck in the slip like an unwanted cat. (I know this is not a pleasant view, but the analogy just came to me out of the blue.)
  The shore power is another consideration, and I do not like to have the shore power cords submerged in the water at any time. I wish our boat neighbors felt the same way. Shore power cords are made of rubber, but that doesn't mean that electrical current will not leach from them, affecting any surrounding submerged metal, not only on the offending boat, but on the surrounding boats as well. When I see a neighboring boat with submerged power lines, I adjust them, but you cannot be around to see this offense all the time.
  Anyhow, I've mounted the one splice we have in our power cords above the dock to insure we're above the highest tidal mark, using some PVC pipe, and I also used the collars for shore power connections to make sure the power cords don't become disconnected easily if they are tugged on. A post mounted in one of our rod holders will keep the cords up high enough to allow some slack in them so they can't touch the water. I'll show pictures of this setup later. At least I intend to.
  Another thing I had to reconsider is my setup to flush our air conditioning units. I have a hose running from a faucet in the engine room over to a T-fitting just after the sea strainer to the AC cooling water circulating pump. I had fully realized that a failure in any part of that fitting, or the hose (at least below the waterline) would lead to seawater entering the bilge if the seacock to the AC was open, which it is for the most part. Like I said, I wasn't too worried while living on the boat with this arrangement because I would have become aware of such a failure before a calamity occurred, but a few hours is one thing, a few days is another. I've installed a valve at the T-fitting to keep closed until I want to flush the system with fresh water from the faucet. It's simple things like this that can be overlooked, but are easily remedied.
  We run a de-humidifier in the cabin full time. The small unit we use requires the little tank to be emptied about every two or three days, so having it run while we are gone was going to be a problem. I looked into a larger unit that has a hose attachment that can be run to a drain, and we might wind up getting one of those, but space is limited to house a large de-humidifier when we aren't using it. I drilled a hole in the small plastic tank and installed a valve and small hose, so the little de-humidifier we had is setting on the sink in the master head, running it's little guts out and emptying into the sink drain. It's seems to be able to keep up with the humidity for now. This summer may tell a different story.
  We contracted with the marina to have the hull bottomed cleaned monthly. The marina administrates the process and bills us along with our monthly statement, giving us a report on the condition of the hull bottom as well as that of our zincs. I'll supplement that report with inspections of my own (when the water temperature improves) and I'll also monitor bottom growth for when I'm told we need to go to a twice a month schedule when summer comes. I'm hoping our practice of regular use of the boat will help keep the growth down to a level that will be rectified with a monthly cleaning only. Again, we will see.
  We had more visitors a couple of weeks ago. Mike and Sherri from our previous river port in Alton came through town and we spent a couple of days with them. It was too cold to take the boat out, but we got to see some more of the surrounding area, particularly Tampa Bay by land, and some more of downtown Dunedin. We liked what we saw.
  I don't usually report on personal issues, but while our visitors were in town, I experienced some bumps on my forehead, and my lymph nodes in my neck became swollen. Our friends left on a Saturday and by Sunday morning my forehead had broken out in a major way. I suspected Shingles, and a trip to a local Urgent Care Center in Clearwater confirmed it. The two weeks it took to clear up the condition was not a pleasant time, but eventually the medication worked its wonders.
  A filling in a tooth I had chipped about thirty years ago fell out and when I went to a dentist to get that fixed, he found a crown that had to be replaced. After having a dental plan at my place of employment for years and no longer have, I had no idea how much dental work costs. I do now.
  Speaking of medical care, we spent our time recently getting connected to the medical providers that we will need, and more importantly, we have Holly enrolled as a new patient at a veterinary clinic recommended to us. This makes the seventh doctor for Holly since we got her. Whatever it takes.
  In short order, we have our dentist, primary care physician, eye doctor, and Holly's doctor all lined up with a visit to each already. I even got a pretty good barber close by. (Who knew a haircut was more than $6 these days?)
  We closed on our new home a couple of days early and were awful busy getting our "stuff" off of the boat and moved into our home. It was unbelievable how much we had on the boat that could be moved to a location where there was more room. The computer and the printer is now off the boat, as well as a lot of our clothes, (which there isn't much of), and we don't have the need to keep months and months supply of canned goods onboard. Swing Set is now setting at least an inch higher in the water.
  The story of our new home is for another blog. I'll say it's in a resort community and part of the home is a separate lock out unit that is providing income for us. That, plus the extreme reduction in our dock rent, hopefully will provide us with the funds to keep Swing Set in prime condition for years to come, as well as the variety sharing time between the two places will keep our lives fresh, something that is hard to do when sitting at a dock most of the time.
  Our plan, since we don't feel compelled to stay at a dock we're paying a high monthly rent for, will allow us to take some occasional trips, maybe see more of the east coast of Florida and the U.S. For now we're content in getting settled into our new place, making some improvements and spending a ton of money at Home Depot and the local furniture store, in spite of buying the place furnished.  We cannot believe we went from having two T.V.'s to having six, one refrigerator to having five, and having two air conditioners to having four. Tell me again how is our lives are simpler now?
  Last weekend we had some more friends from out of town on the boat. We took a nice afternoon cruise up to Tarpon Springs in some much improved and welcome weather, although is still wasn't bikini weather. Hence, no pictures! Next time. The only malfunction we had on the boat was that the horn didn't work. I was already mentally going over what I needed to do the next day to fix it when Rosie mentioned something about "I might have gotten water in it when I squirted the boat this morning". Sure enough, the next morning when we finished flushing our engines until next time, a quick check of the horn revealed that all was well. Sometimes time does heal all wounds.
  We have a weekend planned on the boat coming up. The weather and the wind should be conducive to taking the dinghy out, something we haven't done since December! I did flush the outboard, as well as run out the carburetor of fuel, so all systems on the dink should be good to go.
  I hope I have some good stories to tell.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Move

  We saved Christmas dinner for the arrival of some friends from St. Louis on the 27th of December. They got in late due to some plane delays, and their stories confirmed our intention to never fly on an airplane again. The late dinner and the interesting conversation lasted until the wee hours while we formulated a loose plan for the next couple of days.
  A day long cruise was planned for the 28th and the weather held for us to enjoy a pleasant day on the hook. Swing Set ran great and we were presented with no new problems for our anticipated departure from Marathon on the 30th of December, the day our friends were due to leave back to the cold and flooding of Missouri. I had been watching the weather for a couple of weeks, and our best window was between the 31st of December and the 2nd of January, so getting a days jump on our trip was taking a bit of a chance, but we decided to plan on the 30th, but use another day for a backup if we needed it.

  On the morning of the 29th we moved Swing Set over to a lower seawall at high tide to facilitate the loading of our scooter. Our new scooter is heavier and bigger than our older Zuma, and James and I were happy to acquire the assistance of another person at the pool where we found a good place at the seawall there to load up the bike.
  The four of us did a "send off dinghy cruise" all afternoon, and said our goodbyes rather early. They had a long drive to Ft. Lauderdale ahead of them in the morning, and we had the start of our trip to Dunedin to look forward to as well. 
  We were up before dawn on the 30th and the picture below shows the Yamaha strapped down and covered for the 250 mile trip to Dunedin. Before the first light I removed all of our power cords, water lines, and cable from our slip at Marathon Marina and we creeped out of the harbor as the sun was coming up.
  I knew the wind was going to be up a bit, but I also knew that it was to subside by the time we got closer to the mainland and the relative protection of the mainland from the easterly wind. As it was, instead of wallowing through some beam seas at trawler speed, I spooled up the Cats and ran at 25 M.P.H. for about three hours until the seas calmed and we took the rest of the day to slip into Indian Key Pass to spend a restful night on the hook near Everglades City, an anchorage we had stayed on our way down the coast over three years ago. Our faster cruise for three hours allowed us to happily bypass our previous anchorage on the Shark River back in 2012.
  Before dawn on New Years Eve we were headed out of Indian Pass towards Fort Myers. Some friends in the area had plans for that evening, but even so, the weather window we had dictated that we get to Dunedin as quickly as possible. I was going to run outside as far as Charlotte Harbor, but I began to get concerned about fuel, not so much for how much we had onboard, but I was concerned that if we needed it on New Years Day, some marinas may be closed and fuel would be hard to find. I decided to enter the Intercoastal Waterway at the Caloosahatchie River and we took on 150 gallons of fuel at Sanibel Marina and was on our way again by mid afternoon, finishing out our day at our accustomed trawler speed.

  Our choice of anchorages began to get pretty slim until we happened upon an excellent spot just off the waterway that was in a no wake zone. We were near Little Gasparilla Key when we dropped the hook and enjoyed a nice dinner and a movie before turning in before 8 P.M. Happy New Year!
  We cast off the next morning before the first light, relying on our iPad and Garmin to follow the narrow channel. We kept our speed at idle until we could actually see anything by 6:30 A.M., and then we ran at 8-9 M.P.H. until reaching the Venice Pass and outside we went.
  Swing Set ran for the next four hours at 25 M.P.H. without a hitch. The only issue, as it had been on the outside since leaving Marathon, was dodging crab pot markers. Some of those fishermen paint their markers dark green or black, making them almost impossible to see unit the last minute. Our luck held and we didn't hit any of them. I'll never eat crab or lobster again.
  We had to go way outside to avoid the shoaling at the entrance to Tampa Bay, but with plenty of fuel, and with the engines running so nicely, it was fun to get some wind in our hair for a change. When the boat is running good, it's nice to have the option of running at something other than trawler speed when we want to. I know that 25 M.P.H. is not much, but hours of 8-9 M.P.H. gets tedious.
  By early afternoon we were entering the Clearwater Pass. Plenty of other boaters were out enjoying the holiday and we passed lots of boats in the narrow channel running from Clearwater to Dunedin before we made the eastern turn into the channel to Marker 1 Marina.
  As we passed the fuel dock I hollered to a young attendant that I wanted to tie up alongside the fuel dock to unload our scooter. She welcomed us in and helped us tie up. Without insulting her, I asked if a more stout dockhand might be available to help unload our scooter from the boat. We needed some muscle.
  "Nicky" called for "Tony", a part-time personal trainer to come and assist us. When he arrived, I had both ramps in place and Tony almost single handedly removed the Yamaha from the confines of our cockpit. We were so happy to have the scooter off the boat, and not into the water, that we generously tipped both Nicky and Tony. I've decided that our current scooter is really too big to put aboard Swing Set.
  We motored over to our slip and spent the next couple of hours getting lines adjusted and installing our power cords, etc., while introducing ourselves to some of our new boat neighbors.

  With fenders in place, hoses installed, and cable hooked up, we were really happy to have it all behind us. Really, really happy with our slip location and with the marina in general.
  That night we walked over to a newer bar/restaurant across the street, Frenchie's Outpost, where we had our own New Years celebration with a couple of beers.
  Yesterday, some folks we had met at Kentucky Lake drove over from Land O' Lakes to visit us before driving back home to Kentucky. We had a pleasant visit and were sad to see them go, but they'll be back in February, so saying goodbye wasn't so bad. They offered to take us back the way they came so that we could pick up our vehicle that we had left near the townhouse we are buying. Saved us a trip on the scooter in the approaching cold weather on Sunday.
  As expected, a cold front, along with some blustery wind, came in on Saturday night. Boy, were we happy to be snug in our new slip! We had our vehicles parked safely away, and Swing Set tied up nicely too. We both slept better than we had in several nights.
  This morning we kicked off our new digs with another walk across the causeway to a cozy restaurant called Brenda's Cafe where we had a good breakfast and met some locals. We got there at 7A.M. and by 8A.M. the place was packed. We both had a reasonably healthy meal for half the price we would have paid in the Keys, and the company was very enjoyable. This is not the home of $11 omelets.
  After posting this, we'll scrub down the boat and flush the engines as well as pickle the A/C system with fresh water. We won't be needing air conditioning for a while. The trade off for warm January weather is a healthier bank account and more services for the us and the boat.
  Once we get settled in here, and close on our new home purchase, cold weather relief is just a day long boat ride down the coast. As it is, a little variety never hurt anyone.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Changes On The Horizon

  The view from the stern of Swing Set looks the same...but not for long. 
  We are ones who embrace change, we look forward to it, and encourage it. In fact we are catalysts for it. There is a big one coming up.
  But first...When we returned from our trip to Key West, which was one month after returning the boat to the water after bottom painting, I finally got around to checking the bottom to see how our new paint held up. It did, and it didn't.
  The paint on the hull looked fine, with the exception of some "wrinkles" where the straps on the travel-lift smashed the new paint, as we didn't allow for it to dry long enough. Check one lesson learned for next time. The major disappointment was that I found that the paint on all of the metal had sloughed off on a wholesale basis, right down to the bare metal. Ouch. This was the main reason we hauled the boat in the first place because the PropSpeed didn't hold up. Now I have to give the Interlux Primocon a thumbs down too, even if I didn't apply it properly, at least for the time being.
  The whole bottom painting debacle is what got me started thinking about moving the boat further north, allowing us to have cheaper rent, have access to more boatyards for service and bottom painting, and to also look into real estate that was not so ridiculously overpriced.

  In retrospect, the idea about expanding our horizons must have been brewing in my brain for some months, because back in September we leased a truck, as pictured above with Rosie at Sombrero Beach.
  So the seed was planted back then, and when the thought of moving moved to the forefront of my active mind, I ran with it, and Rosie was thoroughly on board. As in the past, when I get an idea, I run with it. I become so focused on what it is I want to do, the details get pushed aside, and for good or bad, what I want to accomplish consumes my only thoughts.
  I began by researching marinas along the West coast of Florida, but I didn't have to search long, as checking out marinas is something I've been doing for the last three years. Now, when we were in the planning stage, back in St. Louis, Tarpon Springs was high on my list. The reason being was that the area of Land O' Lakes is nearby. We have friends in that area, and have visited there many times over the last thirty years, and have always considered it to be a place where we could have a small condo and keep the boat fairly close in order to share time at both places.
  We both fell out of favor with Tarpon Springs on our way down the coast three years ago. We didn't like the water quality, and the marinas for the most part were about an hours idle up the Anclote River. The two hours to and from needed to get to any open water was a deal breaker for us.
  Later, when we visited our friends in Cape Coral, the idea of living anywhere north of there became a thing of the past, as we learned that the warmer weather in winter was mainly south of the Cape Coral/Fort Myers area.
  But something made me concentrate on the Clearwater area again. I started reading reviews on Active Captain about anchorages and beaches from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs. I noticed lots of comments about white sand beaches all along that area. I also noticed the string of barrier islands protecting the mainland in this same area, and a marina in Dunedin caught my eye.
  Before we left for Key West I called Marker 1 Marina and talked at length to the Harbormaster there. I thought we had a good rapport, and he seemed to be able to accommodate us upon our expected arrival date of after the New Year for a boat of our size and our needs. I also called some others, but eventually decided that if we moved the boat, it was going to be to Marker 1 Marina.
  Marker 1 is not a live aboard marina. That is a problem. I talked to folks here at Marathon Marina who have kept their boat there, and they said that like many other "rules" at Marker 1 Marina, the rule about not allowing live boards was largely ignored, the rule only being enforced when someone causes a problem. We've found this to be the case in many marinas when they have the no live aboard rule. (My thought is that marinas have the official policy of no live boards to satisfy their insurance carriers.)
  Knowing we could probably skirt the no live aboard policy, or at least spend enough days on the hook to technically adhere to the policy, I still wanted to satisfy my curiosity about real estate prices in the Land O' Lakes area, so I called a couple of friends that live there. The ball really started rolling then.
  Before we left for Key West, we had booked a studio apartment for three months, as well as told the folks at Marker 1 Marina that we'd be up to visit by the 4th of December. This is where the truck comes in.
  We intended on stopping by Marker 1 Marina on our way to Land O' Lakes on the 4th, a Friday, when I called and found out that everyone we needed to talk to about a slip was not around that day, so we headed straight for the studio apartment, planning on visiting Marker 1 Marina the next day.
  The place where we wanted to look at property, and where our temporary apartment was located, is in a resort complex, as I've mentioned, a place where we have been visiting for many years. Once we got settled in, we took a stroll around the property and was pleasantly surprised. The "club" area of the resort was in good shape, as was the residential buildings around it. In fact, the pool area was getting a major renovation and the new owner was doing his part in keeping up with improvements. We liked what we saw, which was one reason to inspect the property in person and not rely on what someone else thought.
  We saw a For Sale By Owner sign on a townhouse in a building overlooking the main pool and club area, a section of the resort that we've always wanted to have a place if we ever wound up buying property there. We jotted down the phone number, and then ran into a guy we met years ago that just happened to have a park model home for sale in the RV area of the resort. With nothing else to do, we took a tour of the place, and really liked it, but wanted to sleep on it as well as look at some other places for sale.
  The next morning we headed for Dunedin, home of Marker 1 Marina. Just thirty miles west of Land O' Lakes, the forty-five minute drive is a pleasant one, through some scenic (for Florida) countryside, and no busy interstate highways to lose your mind on.
  We stopped in the harbormaster office and met one of the harbormasters and "Tempie" gave us directions of the slip that they had picked out for us based on what I told them we needed.

  We requested a slip with a long pier on one side so we could deploy the dinghy if we docked bow in. There are only a handful of slips in the whole marina that have long finger piers on one side, and such a slip was reserved for us. Rosie is standing in front of it for the photo. There is one row of boats blocking our view of the open water, but given our experience here in Marathon Marina, the additional protection will be welcome in a southerly blow.

  Here's a view from the outer dock. The slip we wound up paying a deposit on is the empty one in the middle of the picture. Sure, we would really like a floating dock, but at $11 per foot, per month, we can exist just fine in this slip. It's officially ours on January 1st, paid in full.
  We had called the owner of the townhouse for sale earlier in the day and as we made our way to downtown Dunedin, we got a call back and was told that we could view the property the next day, so we made an appointment for 10 A.M. on Sunday. We couldn't wait to see it.
  We had lunch in Dunedin at a place called the Living Room. We ate outside where we could have Holly with us, and there were several other dog owners having lunch too. Servers brought doggy water bowls and strips of bacon for the pets. We won't let Holly have bacon, but I asked for a strip for myself.
  A drive down Mainstream Dunedin was a delight. The town appears very clean and there are lots of restaurants and bars. An outside bazaar was in full swing, and parking is totally free. I said free. We were impressed with Dunedin, it has a true "Old Florida" feel.
  We met the owner of the property we wanted to see at 10 o'clock sharp. We held back our enthusiasm as much as we could but without even talking to one another, we both knew that the other liked the place very much. After a thorough tour, we spent some brief time alone, rejoined the owner and made an attractive offer, but less than the asking price.
  The owner countered reasonably, and we agreed, but only if we could sign the contract that afternoon. By 2 P.M. we were signing the contract for purchase at the real estate office, with possession to take place on February 1st. We spent the rest of the afternoon having beers with Dee, the seller, asking about her experience at the resort and her plans for when she moves. Turns out Dee and her husband only had the place a couple of months before he had a stroke and died. Dee put her energy and dealt with her grief by focusing on going ahead with major renovations to the townhouse, of which we will now benefit from. We left at nearly 10 P.M., new owners of a place on land to call home, as well as a new friend.
  Our other friends in the area said that we could never be accused of dragging our feet.
  One word about the townhouse; the second bedroom is a separate lock-out, complete with a kitchen, bathroom, small sitting room, a nice sized bedroom, and an outside covered and screened in deck, that a person or couple could live full time in. We'll rent out the "studio" by the night, week, or month for extra income. In fact, we have the studio rented already for the month of March!
  We spent two full weeks exploring around what is to be our new "land home", and was amazed at the changes we found and were pleased to see the results. We think that the variety of trading time between the resort and the boat will keep everything fresh for us.
  One thing that we think we'll find is that the area we'll be boating in is better suited for what we like, with plenty of beaches, and with the protected water of St. Joseph's Sound to transit between Clearwater and Anclote Key. We'll meet folks at the resort, as well as friends we already have in the area, to take as guests out on Swing Set, something we like to do to get the most enjoyment out of our boat. We'll have more on that later.
  One thing is that we won't be spending so much on dock rent that we don't want to leave the dock. I think we'll be more inclined to take some week long, or longer, trips and not worry about how much we're paying for a slip that we're not in. We can dinghy to all of the many beaches in the area without being in open water, and leave Swing Set in the slip if we want. If the weather gets cold in Dunedin, we can cast off and head for warmer weather and still have all the comforts of home. This is something we're used to.
  Tarpon Springs does have an abundance of boatyards. If you don't know it, Tarpon Springs is largely a Greek community, and the Greeks there still hold to their boating roots. I have an eye on one boatyard in particular, Pittman's Yacht Services, where we'll pop in and talk to them about getting some anti-fouling paint on our running gear that will hold up.
  As it is, we're back in Marathon to spend the holiday, and some good friends are coming to visit on Sunday. They're here for a short stay, and then we'll head out of here by New Year's Eve and point the boat towards Dunedin, weather permitting of course.
  Some changes to the blog are probably in order since we're not officially "live aboard full time cruisers" any longer. But if you've been paying attention, we haven't been that for a couple of years now. We'll still be swingsetonthehook, but will probably change the description, and hopefully still be able to give you something to enjoy reading about occasionally.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Drip Drip Drip Can Sink the Ship

  After about ten hours of running time on our new bottom paint job, almost four hours of that at our cruising speed of 25 M.P.H., I decided yesterday to strap on my goggles and take a look at the boat bottom. Not good.
  Although no paint had fallen off of the hull itself, as far as my quick assessment could tell me, but the metal parts such as the shafts, rudders, exhaust outlets, and props, all had chunks of paint missing.
  There could be several reasons for this happening, but there is no doubt in my mind that surface prep and improper paint application are the reasons for the paint not sticking.
  No, I'm not going to bother trying to hold our marina responsible, again for several reasons, but a few of them are that I was the one who finished up the painting process on the underwater metal parts because the yard laborer who was supposed to do the work went on vacation before the work on our boat was finished. I also believe we launched Swing Set too early before the paint was completely dry, and probably didn't wait long enough between coats.
  The bottom line is that the boatyard here is not equipped to do much service work. I believe the focus on Marathon Marina and Resort as being a resort and marina is better suited for them rather than being a service facility.
  Also, we're leaving in a couple of days to drive north for some recon in order to find a more affordable marina, hopefully one with really good service facilities nearby. I think we have an eye on a good one. On my last post we got a few suggestions as to where we should keep the boat; those suggestions were ignored as being in areas where we have no intention of ever living.
  Maybe I'll do a quick haul out once we get settled just to address the underwater running gear, as like I mentioned, the hull looks O.K. except where the slings came in contact with the fresh paint where now it looks and feels wrinkled. Really wrinkled.
  Last but not least, the yard laborer who did the majority of the surface prep and painting on Swing Set is now in jail for what looks to be a long time. But that's another story.
  How about some good news?
  You may remember my post about cleaning up the shafts and reseating our dripless shaft seals so they would quit leaking. We have Strong brand Sure Seal System shaft seals on Swing Set. Well, the seal on the starboard shaft is tight and keeps the bilge dry as a bone, but the portside shaft seal has continued to drip at a steady rate. A steady drip if you're living onboard is one thing, but leaving a vessel unattended with a little drip can lead to disaster. (I read a statistic once that said the leading cause of boats sinking is due to shaft seals leaking. I believe it.)
  We have spare shaft seals in place on our driveshafts, I suppose they have been there since the boat was new, but I had been reluctant to use them because if I did, then...well then I'd have no more spare ones would I? But after trying to clean up the portside shaft and reseat the seal again, I went ahead and decided to use the spare on the portside to stop the drip.
  I utilized my friend Mr. Google once again for a quick video of how to attack the seal replacement chore. One thing that had me worried was just how much water was going to come rushing into the bilge when I pulled out the old seal, but the video and the commentary that came along with it assured me that it was no big deal.
  Now, I'm not giving a tutorial here on how to do this seal replacement, I would want you to do your own research if you need to perform this task, but I do have a few tips that may be of use to anyone attempting the job.
  One thing is that an allen wrench is needed for the seal housing, and an allen wrench won't turn around all the way because the drive shaft is in the way, so I used a socket with the appropriate size allen bit installed. This made quick work of the tedious job of tightening the five allen bolts. (Make sure they're started by hand to avoid stripping the threads on the housing.)
  I also used a small mallet to tap in the seal. I was happy to find that the new seal was still tight, as old as it was. (There is also a story here, but don't tempt me.)
  Anyway, the new seal is installed with not much trouble, and not a drip to be seen. Now I feel much better about leaving the boat for a couple of weeks although our neighbor has promised to keep an eye on Swing Set.
  I mentioned the mallet before, well I think I did, but I keep the mallet in the engine room along with several sizes of plugs. The theory is that is you get a hole in the hull somewhere, you can quickly grab a plug and hammer it home. I can see where this may apply in the case of a through hull valve breaking off, but any other hole will be jagged, and most likely occur in a spot where you can't swing a mallet, but at least I have good intentions.
  I also have a small assortment of rubber plugs to stick into the ends of hoses if I take any off in the course of some service work when I don't want stuff to leak out or in. I can't tell you how many times I took a hose off and scrambled around to find something to stick into the hose to stop the flow of water or other liquid. (Fingers are usually too fat. Don't ask.)