Friday, January 23, 2015

What's In Your Toolbox?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is There "The Perfect Boat"?


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

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

Friday, January 2, 2015

Out With the Old

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Another Haul-Out

  We're glad we made the decision to get adjusted to life in Marathon before getting Swing Set hauled out for bottom paint. Originally we were going to cruise into town and immediately haul the boat and get it over with, but going that route creates unnecessary anxiety that we didn't need.
  A three week wait to haul Swing Set was just about perfect, letting us get acclimated to the area and also to get to know some of the staff at the marina with who we would be dealing with during the bottom painting process.
  In the photo leading this blog we are once again at Sombrero Beach. On our time spent here a couple of years ago, we used to go to Sombrero Beach, but we didn't know about a little area on the eastern end of the beach where we can pull our dinghy up onto some nice sand. Now we can not only keep a close eye on the boat, we don't have to lug all of our stuff from the dinghy to the beach. That cooler starts out heavy.
  We've been to Sombrero at least five times since we've been here and we are starting to see "regulars" at the beach. One couple keeps wanting to introduce their dog to Holly and we keep dropping subtle hints that we would rather they keep their "animal" at a distance. Some people!
  Our date for haul out was approaching and we had reservations at a resort in the area called Banana Bay. Some friends had stayed there when they visited when we were here two years ago and they said that it was "OK", but now I think they were being kind.
  We were at Sunset Grille last Saturday night and were talking to some folks at the bar who were in town for a few days. We are trying to get a feel for the various hotels and motels in the area so we can give recommendations to our friends that want to visit, so we asked them where they were staying while here in Marathon. They said that they had reservations for Banana Bay, but when they went to see the room, it was "smelly and moldy". The red flag went up.
  We were set to check in at Banana Bay on Monday night after our haul out, but I couldn't sleep on Saturday night, wondering if we were going to regret staying at Banana Bay. I also got to thinking about hauling all of the stuff we were going to need for four nights, plus the commute to and from the boat while trying to get the hull waxed. I woke Rosie up with a "brainstorm", telling her that I'd decided to stretch our budget and spring for a room on site here at Marathon Marina. She was less than enthused to learn of this fact at 3 a.m., but came around to appreciating my decision at the light of day.
  The room we wanted was available, which was a room right next to our boat slip. It was easy to transport what we needed from the boat to the room when we checked in, and our scooter and bicycle stayed right where it was.
  Since we had a large freezer and refrigerator at our disposal, Rosie decided to pull everything out of the boat fridge so that she could defrost it and give it a good cleaning while Swing Set was on the hard. Also, since we had our food in the condo, we made our meals there which offset the added expense of not staying at Banana Bay, which didn't even have a microwave. Our condo at Marathon Marina had a full size kitchen and a gigantic newly remodeled bathroom.

  I posted this picture on Facebook of Swing Set on the Travel Lift as it was being pulled. I mentioned that these are usually trepidatious moments for most boat owners and some friends took this to mean that we worry about an accident with the lift our something, causing at least one to post a picture of a serious Travel Lift mishap. A real knee slapper.
  No, we don't experience any concern about the boat falling off of the cradles, but after having had Swing Set out of the water five times since we've owned the boat, there are other things we worry about.
  The one thing that always happens, no matter how much we try to prevent it, is that even though we deliver our boat in a spotless condition at haul out, after a few days in a boat yard, we get Swing Set returned to us in a filthy condition.
  I had made this concern known to the dockmaster and the yardmaster prior to this haul out and I was assured that the utmost care would be made to keep our boat as clean as possible, and away from anyone spray painting a surrounding vessel. Once the yard staff began power washing the hull of Swing Set, I got out of the way, only to see the yardmaster stick Swing Set in-between two of the largest yachts in the yard, both of them being prepared for paint. At this point I should have at least covered our new cockpit upholstery with a tarp, but I do try to give folks the benefit of the doubt, and usually suffer for it.
  Additionally, at every haul out, I ask for water and electric. "No problem", I am always told, but then find that water and electric is at least two boats away and all of the plugs are taken. Then I have to start begging favors to get the utilities that we need. And there is never a ladder.
  The last time we got Swing Sets' bottom painted, the yard had the sanding done on the first day. The first coat of paint was applied on the second day, and the second coat on the third day was finished and the boat was ready to hit the water. This gave me at least a day and a half to wax the hull, so I was anticipating a similar time schedule, but it was not a time schedule I expected. This too is usually an item that causes concern; a schedule that doesn't fit one that you expect, especially if you need to do other work on the boat yourself.
  When sanding did not start once the boat was on the chocks, I went ahead and went against the advice of the dockmaster and instead of waiting until the boat was sanded, I washed the hull and began the process of waxing. Then we got another surprise.
  We had been hiring a bottom cleaning service to scrape barnacles from the hull of Swing Set while we were at Stock Island Marina Village, and I was pleased with the thoroughness of the job that was being done, but it turns out that the job was a bit too thorough. Our boot stripe decal was carelessly scratched up, and the gelcoat above the boot stripe was also badly scratched up. The bottom cleaner was not very careful when using his bottom cleaning tools and the damage to our boat could not be seen until it was out of the water.
  Now I had the job of compounding the hull at the water line. The scratches on the decal were something we could do nothing about, at least until we decide to replace the boot stripe decal later on.
  The next two mornings I was at the boat at the crack of dawn before the yard staff showed up and I got the majority of the scratches out. Meanwhile, I stayed out of the way while the hull got sanded, the running gear got stripped. I finished waxing the hull by late Wednesday and still no paint was on our boat. I was assured by everyone concerned that we would have Swing Set back in the water by Friday.

  Did I mention how nice it was to have our room so close to the boatyard? Here, Rosie and Holly are on the deck of our condo about to watch another fabulous sunset.
  Masking tape was being applied on Thursday morning. We chose to avoid the boat and give the guy working on the boat all the room he needed. Not only that, there was some serious sanding going on with the two boats on either side of us and I couldn't bear to see the dust beginning to coat our boat.
  Friday morning came and two coats of bottom paint were on the hull of Swing Set but the running gear had not been painted yet. I expressed some concern about the time schedule and the dockmaster here at Marathon Marina promised our boat would hit the water by end of day "with everything done to perfection" of she would eat the cost of us staying in our room  for three more nights until the boat could be launched on Monday morning. You can't ask much more than that.
  We got a message from some friends that have their boat in Key West who were going to be passing through on Friday afternoon and wanted to stop in and see us. Since we were all packed up for our move back to the boat, but could only wait, it was a nice diversion for them to pop in for a visit.
  While we were waiting for them to arrive, another couple we have met at Stock Island Marina Village pulled into the parking lot! We hadn't had any visitors here in three weeks and here were two couples showing up within minutes of each other. Pleasant surprises.
  When our guests left us, we went over to the boat to check on progress. Our Prop Speed was drying nicely on the running gear, the underside of our swim platform had been primed and a topcoat was drying on it too. New zincs had been attached to our shafts, trim tabs and the boat hull. All that was needed was to lift the boat, remove the blocks and stands, and then paint the areas where the stands and blocks had been. Oh yes, and then give them a second coat once the first coats had dried. The clock was ticking.
  We watched from the deck of our condo until we saw the lift start to move with Swing Set cradled in it. It was well past quitting time once Swing Set finally hit the water, and I think the staff was happier than us to see it happen.
  The bill will come on Monday, but barring any unforeseen issues with that, as a whole, this has been a positive experience. We learned some things that we'll do different next time, but we also learned just how much the staff here will go the distance to deliver services as promised.
  The fairway is very narrow leading to the Travel Lift at this marina, which does not allow much room to turn a boat around once you leave the lift. I think I may have impressed the dockmaster when I backed Swing Set out between several boats along the seawall until I found a spot wide enough to turn around. I was feeling pretty good about things until I pulled the boat into the slip in a fair wind and discovered that Rosie had forgotten all the things we had talked about that afternoon as far as my plan of attack on tying up the boat once we got back to the slip. Thankfully she still looks good in a bikini.

  Another sunset from our slip here at Marathon Marina, and yet another boat hauling experience under our belts. We hope our bottom paint lasts longer than the last one. We used a different product than the Interlux brand we had used before, but I did some homework reading up on the Bluewater Brand and I have some confidence that we'll get at least two to three years from it.
  Rosie is rewarding me for all the work and worry I did this week by giving the boat a good scrubbing. She just hollered in to me that "all the alarms on the dashboard are going off!" I knew immediately that she had given our electrical system test panel a thorough soaking and it was complaining in the only way it can.
  "What do I do now?", she asked me.
  "It'll dry out and the alarm will stop", I said. "Eventually".
  A couple of hours later I stepped outside and the alarm is still going off. I unplug the systems monitor. It will dry out in a few days. But there is a bigger issue.
  The dust, or whatever it is, that has fallen on the boat has stained the gelcoat, something I was trying to avoid. Something that I know happens, and has happened every time our boat spends anytime in a boatyard. Had I not spent a good deal of the last three weeks polishing and getting a good coat of wax on the topsides, the staining would be worse.
  I don't expect anyone to do anything about it, even though I expressed concern over this very thing happening right from the start. I can only get out my equipment and polish and wax the boat again.
  I am at a loss as to how to approach having our boat in a boatyard again. OK, so now you know why I get a feeling of trepidation when our boat is hauled out for work.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Marathon Marina

 We are nearing two weeks here at Marathon Marina and we are impressed! Not only for the view, which is one reason we came here, but for some other things as well.
  The marina is not brand new, but it's clean. There are several restrooms and showers scattered around the premises and they are all kept in pristine condition.
  Bikes are only allowed in bike racks, none are on the docks, in fact, no personal items are cluttering the docks and pier fingers.
  Plenty of residents have dogs, but all are kept on leashes. Even the staff members who have dogs keep their dogs on leashes. This sets a good example for everyone else and pets aren't allowed to roam around and crap on everything.
  The workout room is small, but there are adequate windows. Rosie has been using it almost daily. I haven't gotten the urge yet.
  We have cable T.V. now, and since mail is easy to get, we've signed up for Netflix and we are getting DVD movies to watch.
  Packages and mail come right to the office and we don't have to go searching for them, and there is no extra charge to get either service.
  Electricity is included on our rent, which will be a big plus when summer comes when we have to run our A/C units. We might still be here then.

  I posted a picture of the pool in the last blog, but here is another. The water temperature is controlled, and on the day I took this shot, the air was a bit cool, but the pool water was welcomely warmer. There are seats along the edge of this walk-in pool and we are told that come January, it's a popular place to congregate at sunset. We're starting sooner.

  The Lazy Days Bar and Restaurant is just steps from our boat, as is the pool, and they have a great happy hour from 3-6 with half price drinks and cheap appetizers. We plan on going there only once a week. OK, maybe twice.
  The weather has been cool and a little windy, but we've gone out in the dinghy twice. We took a spin around from the oceanside through the Vaca Cut and toured a few of the little marinas in our area. We didn't see anything that appealed to us as much as where we are right now.

  Last Sunday we went to the Sunset Grille at the Seven Mile Bridge for Sunday Funday. They have a DJ at poolside, football was on the T.V.'s at the bar, and most of the seats were taken. We met the owner, and Holly made a few friends as they passed by. It's not Dante's, but we can take the dinghy there.
  One of our friends asked the other day whether or not our wind generators are used while we are at the dock, an interesting question we think.
  In the case of Marathon Marina, where our electric is included, it doesn't make much sense to use the wind generators at the dock, but at Stock Island Marina Village, I did consider it.
A person could flip on the wind generators at the dock when the wind kicks up, but if the wind drops off, you would have to turn the breakers back on for the shore power so that the battery chargers would do their job, much like when we would need to run our diesel generator while on the hook to keep the battery banks charged up. Remember, our wind generators only supplement our power needs, they don't provide them, unless the wind is really strong.
  While underway, we don't use the wind generators because the engine alternators keep up with our power needs. We keep them off to prevent a headwind from causing a "braking" situation for the wind generators. A constant braking cycle on them just shortens the life of the generator.
  A constant monitoring of our power systems would save us money, but we're not reduced to eating Beanie Weanies and pinching all our pennies just yet, so we pay for the luxury of staying at a marina for just that, the luxury. The small amount of electrical savings is just not worth the maintenance required, at least when electric is 18 cents per kilowatt hour. In the Bahamas where that cost is doubled, we would maybe think about running the wind generators at the dock, but remember again, our A/C units, cooktop, and water heater are not part of our inverter system, so we would have to run dockside power for these things anyway. Yes, we could run the diesel generator at the dock, but not only is this not advisable, it's rude behavior, adversely affecting the dock neighbors.

  The stern of Swing Set faces due west, as you can see in this photo. If the wind clocks around and comes in from a western quadrant, we can get some wave action, but the shoals out in the "flats" keep any significant waves from building too much, so far we've only had some gentle waves slapping against our hull which really has been soothing.
  One thing we haven't had to put up with is the constant jets screaming overhead landing at the Boca Chica Naval Base. Except for an occasional Medivac chopper coming into the nearby hospital, or a shrimper leaving Boot Key Harbor with straight mufflers, it's really quiet here.
  We don't have floating docks, and you can see in the photo that the finger piers are rather skinny, but the tidal swing is not very great. I installed a solar powered spotlight on the piling at our stern to light the way at night so we don't have to keep our cockpit lights on if we are out later than the sunset.
  Marathon Marina had a potluck Thanksgiving dinner yesterday and we took some oven roasted asparagus to share. The marina staff cooked five turkeys. We met some folks staying here, as well as some more members of the staff.
  How it happened, I'm not sure, but we wound up sharing our small table with an eight year old boy, and two girls, ten and twelve years old. Their parents must have thought we were safe enough to leave their children with, no telling what was going through their minds. We limited them to two beers each. Don't tell us we wouldn't have been responsible parents.
  A week from Monday we get Swing Set hauled for bottom paint. We've decided to go with Bluewater Bottom Paint, and Prop Speed on our running gear. One of the staff here that cleans boat bottoms recommended it to us yesterday, one of the benefits of attending the dinner. I also read some reviews about the Bluewater paint, and we weren't too impressed with the Interlux Micron Extra that was applied 18 months ago anyway. Let's try it.
  We have a room here in Marathon for four nights at Banana Bay while Swing Set is "on the hard". We aren't looking forward to that, but we hope all goes well. The marina wisely does not allow folks to stay on boats that are out of the water. If they did, people would just live on them in the "parking lot" like at Bobby's or DDD in Stock Island.
  We plan on waxing the hull down to the waterline after the sanding is done, much easier than doing it from the dock or the dinghy. Swing Set will be nearly perfect once it gets splashed back into the water.
  We won't have anything else to do on the boat except keep some wax on the topsides for the rest of the winter. Do you believe that?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hello Marathon!

  Our friends John and Pat were set to leave on Saturday the 15th of November, so we met them last Thursday night at the Rusty Anchor on Stock Island for a last dinner with them until we see them next year in Key West.
  The food was great, as expected. I may have had the best pan fried dolphin that I had eaten since arriving in the Keys, and the price was very reasonable. The Rusty Anchor has a fish processing facility at the rear of their family owned restaurant, and you can't get fish much fresher, unless you catch it yourself, and anyone who has been reading this blog knows about my ability to catch fish.

  On Friday, Rosie and I loaded up the Zuma for the trip to Marathon. One of our foldable motorcycle ramps was placed on the dock leading up to the gunnel, and one was placed from the gunnel down into the cockpit. The ends of both ramps were fastened to a nearby cleat, and Swing Set was tied fast as close to the dock as possible.
  We were offered help from a new dock neighbor, but being an independent sort, I wanted to see if my highly engineered plan would work in reality, and it did.
  The scooter was tied down at the front and our new cover for it was put in place. I never thought we could put a scooter on our boat without a crane of some sort. It's nice to be able to carry our two important modes of transportation along with us, the Zuma, and the dinghy.
  Our two dock neighbors, Jeff and Sandy, had some guests coming in, and we were invited to join them for dinner aboard the 63 foot Prout catamaran that they have for sale at the dock we share. The boat is offered at just over two million smackers, and it's a beauty. The mast is 110 feet tall and the boat takes up the most of the width of two slips.
  Dinner was stone crab and lobster, plus a scrumptious salad. Their friends were very nice and we had the best send off from Stock Island Marina Village and Key West that we could ever hope for. We know we'll see Jeff and Sandy on our travels along the way in our future.
  We filled up with diesel on Saturday morning after being waved off by several of our dockmates at the marina. We didn't need fuel, but diesel had dropped to $3.53 per gallon, the cheapest we had seen it since leaving St. Louis, and it is still well over $4 per gallon in Marathon, so fill 'er up!
  We made a slow cruise to Newfound Harbor, about midway from Key West to Marathon, and anchored just off of Picnic Island, intending to stay a couple of nights on the hook.
  It was hard to imagine that we hadn't been overnight on the hook in over fourteen months!
The wind was up and we bounced around a bit, but with our Drag Queen application activation of the iPhone, we slept rather soundly and our anchor stayed put.
  Some other boaters started arriving to spend the day at Picnic Island, and we started out just laying on deck and enjoying the sunshine, but at around 2 P.M., I started getting anxious to head to Marathon.
  We pulled up our hook and left Newfound Harbor in some fifteen mile per hour north easterly wind, which put the two to four foot waves on our starboard quarter beam, making our trip a little bumpy. My concern was the stability of the Zuma strapped down in the cockpit, but it stayed in one spot, thankfully. The cover kept the salt spray off.
  We dodged crab pots all the way into Marathon. I don't know about what laws regulate the placing of crab pots, and I suspect there aren't any short of having a license for them, but the floating markers are land mines to be avoided. A sharp eye is necessary to spot them, and even if we had auto-pilot, there is no way we could utilize it.  A short trip can be taxing, given the anxiety level present. I'll never buy stone crabs again, and I hope the fishermen who litter the cruising lanes with their traps rot in hell.
  We slipped into Marathon Marina about an hour before dark. We pulled into the inner harbor and was met by Judy the dockmaster. She helped us tie up along the sea wall where we intended to unload the Zuma before heading to our awaiting slip.
  I tried something that I had not intended to do, having some time to think about it on our way, plus a few Bud Lights did help in my thinking process. I put the motorcycle ramps leading out of the starboard side of Swing Set, having had them placed on the port side when we guided the scooter onboard, so that we could push the scooter forward putting it in, and also push it forward leading it out. Seemed like a good idea to me. (I haven't driven a two wheeled vehicle backwards, on purpose anyway.)
  Everything went well until the Zuma reached the top apex of both ramps, and then the rear luggage case got stuck against the bottom of the flybridge.
  The prudent thing to do would have been to return the scooter back into the cockpit and remove the top case, but I was determined, and always doing the prudent thing is not one of my strong suits.
  I was only lacking less than an inch in clearance, and the top case is thin plastic, so with just a gentle push, the Zuma popped free onto the downward ramp and onto the parking lot with not a scratch on it.
  We pulled around to our slip where some dock neighbors helped us nose into the slip. We applied some dock lines in a temporary basis, plugged in the shore power, and walked over to the office to check in.

  We got back to the boat just as the sun was setting, and this is our view from the stern which we can see every night from our new home.
  There is some exposure from westerly waves, but the wind rarely comes in from the west, plus there is shoaling in the basin just behind us which protects the boat from most waves from that direction unless it's a major storm. If very bad weather is imminent, we'll grab a spot in Boot Key Harbor, a well know hurricane hole, just around the corner.
  We spent the next day washing salt off of Swing Set and running power, cable T.V., and water lines. Being docked "bow in" requires us to run more lines than we normally would, but having an extra set of 50 foot 30 AMP power cords came in handy, as did having enough water hose to supply our onboard system, and also to have enough to put on a dock mounted hose rack for washing down the boat.
  I did have to make a trip to Home Depot to buy some more coax to hook up the cable. I bought a short 3 foot section to leave a "pigtail" in the trunk at our stern, so that I can unhook the cable and water supply at the stern and leave those two lines at the dock when we go out for a cruise. The power cord connection is also near the stern, actually no further away than the connection we had at Stock Island Marina Village, so I can disconnect from the extra cord I ran along the pier, and stow our regular power cord in the trunk. I never leave all the power cord at the dock. You never know when you might have to stay at a dock away from your home port. You want a power supply cord with you at all times.

  I finished running lines and cords yesterday morning and Holly approved of my work. I did have to make amends for the tidal swings, something I had become a bit uncertain of at our floating berth at Stock Island, but I made my line attachments at low tide, and checked for line length later in the day at high tide. We are using very long spring lines to account for the tide changes too. I think we have a good system for normal use, and tying and untying for a cruise should be a snap, especially since we don't have to back into the slip. Sweet.
  We were able to watch network T.V. last night for the first time since leaving Dinner Key a year ago last September. We did miss Brian Williams on the Evening News, but I don't think we missed much else. But some T.V. will take up some time on the long nights, and we did join Netflix again for the DVD program. The mail here is easy to get and we signed up for the three DVD at a time plan, so even with the slower mail here in the Keys, we should have at least one DVD in our mitts at any given time.

  We have a nice pool here at Marathon Marina for our use, but this picture was not taken today. The cold front that has invaded lower Florida has blasted in and it was a blustery 64 degrees this morning! Brrrrrrr!
  Maybe we'll be able to use the pool by Sunday, it'll be back into the 80's by then, but today we're going to snuggle in and make a big ol' pot of Hungarian Goulash from my grandmothers recipe. We have plenty of time to explore Marathon. We think we'll be here a long time.