Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It's All About The Dinghy

  Hurricane Irma was devastating to so many people but a silver lining for us was our move to Clearwater Harbor Marina. We've adjusted to our new home for Swing Set and have settled in nicely.
  In the middle left in the posted photo is the Sand Key Bridge which leads from Clearwater Harbor out to the Gulf of Mexico. Being in close proximity to an inlet means dealing with a current, at times up to three miles per hour, that will affect us when we dock, but when you spend years boating on the Mississippi River, a little current can be dealt with.
  One way we deal with the current is that we turned the boat around (which was our intent in the first place) so that we are berthed bow in. Of course, pulling bow in to any slip should be easier for anyone, and backing out into the fairway is a piece of cake too. Our slip was not provided with one of those dock wheels on the outer corner, and we were told that the city would provide one simply if we would ask, but I could see how other wheels were installed in the other slips, so I decided to buy our own and install it the way I wanted to.
  I also ran our utilities from the post to a spot on the end of the finger next to Swing Set. I made the installation nice and neat, bunching the two 30 amp cords together with the water hose laying along the top, making a pyramid of the three lines. I used cable ties every eight inches, screwing them into the band board that runs along the side of concrete floating docks. I installed one of those boxes at the end of the finger to house a hose roller so I had access to our wash down hose without dragging it over the bow of the boat from the pedestal every time I wanted to use it. We decided to forgo the cable, which is not free at Clearwater Harbor Marina. One less thing every time we unhooked services for a boat ride, but more on that later.
  Since we share our double slip with another boat, I ran some of our old anchor line from the piling in the middle of the two slips over to the middle point of the dock, making it as tight as possible. This line provides a "guide", not only for us, but for our dock neighbor as well, so we have some room for error when entering or exiting the slip in any wind or current.
  I installed two big round inflatable fenders along the finger to keep our hull from constantly rubbing on the black dock edging when the wind or current is extreme from the south.
  We're happy with the result, and have received compliments from our boat neighbors as well as marina staff on the job. It's good to have marina staff like any "improvements" to a slip, especially when you don't ask for permission.
  Some folks like to be on the outer finger at this marina, for the view, but as you can see in the photo, to capitalize on the view you not only have to back into the slip, sometimes the harbormaster puts a transient vessel on the outer side of the pier which impedes the view, plus that outer pier gets the brunt of any wind or waves that blow in from the west, which is most of the time. We couldn't have hand picked a better slip to be in, and we still get a pretty good view of the sunsets.

  Previous posts have mentioned some mechanical problems we were having with the Mercury outboard on our dinghy. We thought we were on our way to getting them resolved until Hurricane Irma interfered. What started out as a simple carburetor rebuild turned into finding out we needed a new carburetor and throttle cables. When the mechanic we were dealing with suggested that getting a whole new engine would probably be the best way to go, I balked. It made no sense to me to discard what was a perfectly good running engine just because it needed a carburetor rebuild.
  I pulled the plug on the mechanic that we thought would fix us up, and after several calls to local Mercury mechanics, I settled on a local repair shop, and with some help, got the motor off the dinghy and to the shop, expecting to have it back in a few weeks. That was back in September.
  Meanwhile, we spent time on the water on Swing Set without the benefit of our dinghy and we were constantly reminded of how much we used the dinghy in the first place, which was a lot. As time wore on, and calls to the repair shop resulted in "we should be able to get to your motor next week", the seed was planted to just sell our motor and dinghy and get a whole new rig.
  Just like Irma, opportunity presents itself in some of the most inopportune moments, and acting on those moments can be a good thing if they're recognized. It came to be that we were able to recognize just one of those moments.
  In our nearly two years in the area we've met a handful of folks out on the water, and one couple in particular happened by our boat one day and tied up. Now, we had known that Brad, the male half of the couple, said he was in the business of "building boats", but I don't make it my business to probe too much into the business of others, so I really didn't know to what extent his "boat building" experience was made of, but I was telling Brad about our trouble getting the Mercury repaired on the dinghy and his girlfriend mentioned to Brad that maybe we were in the market for a new dinghy.
  Brad, not being a pushy sort, rather dismissed the idea until I pressed for details and we found out that he was the owner of one of the largest inflatable dealers in the Tampa/St. Pete area, Suncoast Inflatables. The seed was not only planted, but started taking root, especially after I went home and researched their website and saw what kind of boats that they offered.
  We played email tag and instant messaged a few times regarding what would be a good choice for us, given our specific davit requirements, and between what I knew about what I thought our davit would hold, and what Brad knew what was available, we decided on what dinghy was best for our needs, and Brad whole heartedly agreed.
  On a visit to his shop in Pinellas Park, there was a model similar to the one we were interested in on his showroom floor and Rosie and I both liked what we saw, but it was rated for a smaller engine than I wanted, and it had a Tohatsu engine on it. The 15 H.P. Mercury we had in the shop is essentially a Tohatsu motor, and from what I have learned about our own motor over the last six or seven years, I didn't want any part of a Tohatsu motor, I wanted a Yamaha outboard.
  Yamaha has recently come out with the lightest 25 H.P. motor in the industry, and it's a four stroke. The AB Mares 10 dinghy was rated for a 30 H.P. motor, but the suggestion was to install a 25 on that particular model. It was just our luck that Brad's extensive inventory included not only the Mares 10 with the 20" transom necessary for the bigger motor, he also had the Yamaha with power trim and tilt in stock. Not only was the seed planted and the tree  was growing rapidly, once Brad gave us a price on a whole new rig, I could envision the tree all grown and falling leaves were blocking up our gutters.
  By this time the repair shop came back with an estimate for the repair of our Mercury, but still hadn't even ordered the carb. I told them to order the carburetor and install it. I told them I had a buyer for our motor and dinghy and I needed it in a week. Then I set out to find a buyer.
  One of our boat neighbors said that a guy on our dock was looking for a dinghy, so when I saw him the next day I went to him and made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He didn't even have a davit for a dinghy on his boat, but I also knew that if I was forced to trade our dinghy in, the offer I made to our dock neighbor was good for him, and good for us, and I told him that Suncoast Inflatables would store his dinghy for him until he could get a davit installed. He agreed on the price without countering, realizing the opportunity offered to him.
  We called Brad, told him we had made the deal with our boat neighbor on our old dinghy and set up a time to finalize the deal on the new rig for us. The Fort Lauderdale boat show had taken place the previous weekend and Brad gave us the "boat show price", plus a "friend of Brad" discount, and we used the savings to outfit our new rig with everything we needed in options so the result was exactly what we wanted given the parameters of a custom made davit made for a much lighter rig.
  We visited Suncoast Inflatables twice while our new dinghy was being rigged. I was impressed with the attention that was given to our purchase. The staff was in complete agreement with a couple of minor suggestions I made about how they rigged the boat, which was slated for delivery on the day before Thanksgiving.
  In the meantime, our Mercury was ready for pickup. I had sold it without even knowing how much the final cost was going to be, and was disappointed to find out that the bill was twice the estimate. When I went to pick up the motor I negotiated a lower price, but not by much. Still, the sale meant we didn't have to wait to find another buyer, or find a place to put our old dinghy if we didn't want Suncoast to sell in on consignment. 
  Again, with some help, I got the dinghy motor installed back on our old dinghy and took it out to make sure it ran right. After a call back to the technician who did the carb install, I made a quick minor adjustment to the idle and was satisfied with the operation so that I could sell the rig to a neighbor without regret. We spent a few hundred dollars more on the repair, but at the end of the day, we were very happy to be getting a new dinghy and motor, and our boat neighbor was happy to be getting his first dinghy.

  Here's a photo of our new dinghy, secure in a new harness on the stern of Swing Set after I spent of few sleepless nights figuring out how I was going to adapt a dinghy weighing about two hundred pounds more than our old one, plus with a console that was preventing me from winching up the dinghy as high as the last one.
  Faithfull blog readers may remember issues we had with our davit, going back to our trip to The Bahamas in 2013. The davit had broken at welds twice while we were over there. Since then we hadn't had any problems, and once I forgot to pull the plug on the bilge drain and rain filled the boat up with water and we took off from an anchorage with over two hundred pounds of extra weight in the dinghy. I only noticed this when we went on plane out in the Gulf and I saw the transom flexing from the extra weight. While that was not good, and I quickly drained the bilge on the dinghy at that point, at least I knew that the davit itself was strong enough to hold more weight. But I wanted some insurance.
  Bear with me while I convey to you how I approached housing our new boat on our old davit.
  In the photo, the boat is lifted and stored in "traveling mode". That's a new term for me as my approach with the old dinghy was pretty much either "up" or "down". In the up mode, the old dinghy was raised until the tubes made contact with the davit itself, on the arms that extend out over the swim platform. The console on the new dinghy prevented me from using that method, and I was opposed to cut anything supportive away from the davit, which was an option. But what I realized was that my method of securing the old dinghy used "opposing forces" to prevent the dinghy from swinging while underway. The cables on the winch were under stress just holding the dinghy up, and were under more when tightened against the force of the dinghy tubes when in contact with the davit.
  At first I thought of using ratcheting straps to hold the new dinghy in place, but again, that required an "opposing force" which I could quickly see was putting too much leverage on the davit arms, especially at the motor end.

  After first replacing the 3/16" cables with 1/4" polished stainless cables on each winch, I bought some small bow pulpit rollers that you can see in the previous picture. I rigged an auxiliary harness to run from the rollers to the attachment points on the dinghy harness. How this works is that I utilize the existing lifting pulleys on the davit, which is necessary otherwise the dinghy can't easily be pulled up due to how much the swim platform sticks out. I crank up the winches as high as possible and I run the auxiliary harness out to the end of the davit arms and then attach the carabiner to the dinghy harness. Then, I lower the winches and the rollers allow the harness to roll back until the dinghy rests against the upright supports of the davit. Some tension is left on the winch cables, but the majority of the weight is hanging from a point on the davit arms closer to the upright supports, and the weight of the dinghy against the davit supports, plus the angle of the cables, are instrumental in keeping the dinghy from swinging while underway. No, I don't know how this will work in extremes seas, but we have been able to avoid extreme conditions for several years and I'm fairly confident that we'll be able to continue to do so.

  Everyone knows a nice dinghy is necessary to keep most women happy, and Rosie and Holly both love the new rig. The seating position, power trim and tilt, plus electric start, are new additions to this dinghy that I'm not sure how we lived without for years. I highly recommend those features. We also have a depth finder, and I use the Navionics app on our phone to navigate. A Bluetooth speaker provides some tunes while we're underway and at anchor.
  We've taken the new boat down to Passage Key which is about 80 miles round trip. We cruise at 25 M.P.H. and get 12 M.P.G. doing it. Beats the 1 M.P.G. we get on the "big boat" and we keep it free hanging from the davits from our floating condo in the form of Swing Set at the marina in Clearwater.
  We're very happy we decided to buy this new boat. We know we'll get lots of use out of it on the beautiful beaches in our area, and we were really happy with the owner and staff at Suncoast Inflatables. By the way, within a couple of days of our boat neighbor taking possession of our old dinghy, Suncoast had him set up with a davit on the back of his boat.
  I can't go without relaying to you the one bad experience we've had at our new marina, but I hope how we've dealt with it can help someone else with a similar problem.
  We didn't have issues with birds too much at Marker 1 Marina, but for some reason the bird issue at Clearwater Harbor Marina is unbelievable. Twice a day, right at dawn, and then again at dusk, thousands of grackles, a member of the blackbird family, swarm in from the barrier islands and invade every boat in the harbor, lining bow rails, yardarms, bimini tops, and every other surface they can find, and for about a half an hour they appear to crap out everything they've ingested since their previous visit.
  There is little as disheartening to us other than leaving Swing Set all clean and shiny on a Monday and come back on a Friday to have it covered in bird poop. Other boats in the harbor were using Gull Sweeps, ribbons, wires, and other assorted methods to ward off those birds, along with pigeons and of course the pelicans. Anyone on board when the flying hoards would arrive can be seen out on deck clapping hands, or shining lights in an effort to keep them away.
  I declared war.
  We are taking a three pronged aggressive approach, and it seems that two prongs are working. First I found an app on the trusty iPhone called Pest Control for Birds for 99 cents.
I connected that to our Bluetooth speakers as the birds approached and sure enough, the eagle in distress sounds would keep the birds from roosting on our boat. That's great for when we're there, but the issue remained as far as when we weren't at the boat. To Amazon I went.
  I bought a gizmo that is motion activated that I installed on the top of the radar dome. The theory is that if birds landed on the bimini top, a light would flash and an ultrasonic sound would emit from the solar powered device. OK. The one thing about ultrasonic sounds is that I sure as hell can't tell if they are emitting or not, and the solar charging capability is great for the birds at dusk, but after sitting all night in the dark the device isn't up to scaring away much of anything as the batteries are dead by morning. Hence, prong number two.
  I was mentioning my dilemma to our neighbor here at our condo, and he suggested a decoy bird that flies from a pole. An outfit called "Jackite" sells various decoy birds such as eagles, ospreys, and Canadian Geese. He said that I wouldn't believe it, but the Canadian Goose decoy would work best. I had my doubts, but installed one anyway, and it works! 
  I would think the eagle or osprey would be best for around the water, but the eagles is big and doesn't fly without a whole lot of wind, and the osprey is too small.
  Yes, the wind does not blow all the time, but the tackles are birds of habit, as most birds are, and apparently if the birds have seen the goose flying once, they avoid it whether it's flying or hanging there looking dead. But there is still prong number three.
  From I bought a CD that has a 30 minute loop of various bird sounds that claim to keep crows and other birds away. For ten bucks, and another ten for shipping, I ordered one and play it on our outside speakers while we are gone. It's not loud enough to annoy our neighbors, but even if they can hear it while sitting on their deck, they are getting some residual benefits from my war on the birds, as not only is our boat clean when we get to it every week, theirs is too.
  Now, we do get some flyover bombs, you can hardly avoid that, but another thing I did was coat our bimini canvas with new waterproofing so that any new deposits will easily hose off. Bird poop, especially pelican poop, will eat through canvas if left on there, so we don't.
  Some boat neighbors have taken notice and I've delivered two of the decoy geese to them, thinking I could start a franchise. Just one of those opportunities.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricane Irma

  We are always cognizant of impending hurricanes during this time of the year. We get instant alerts on our phone from two apps, BoatUS and Hurricane Tracker. Over a week ago we began monitoring Hurricane Irma.
  We spent most of Labor Day weekend on the hook anchored off of Three Rookers Bar just north of our Marina in Dunedin and headed back to Marker 1 Marina late on the afternoon of Labor Day and saw that Irma was going to be something to contend with, and decisions were going to have to be made.
  Our first order of business on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, was to get topped off with fuel, as we didn't know if we were going to stay put at our marina, or try to avoid the storm by traveling to another location.
  I know from experience that our fixed dock slip at Marker 1 Marina would not be our first choice as a place to have Swing Set during a major storm, much less a Category 4 hurricane. Clearwater Harbor Marina is the closest marina with floating docks, and the very early predictions for the path of Irma took it up either the entire east coast or the west coast of Florida, so trying to outguess the path was going to be problematic to say the least. I made a call to the harbormaster at Clearwater Harbor Marina, Brooke Cunningham. Brooke told us to make an online reservation on their website ASAP to "get in the system", but he had a handful of slips still available, but we needed to make up our minds quickly, and he also suggested that instead of making a reservation for the upcoming Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I should make it Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, as he thought Irma was going to be on top of us on Monday and Tuesday. That turned out to be very good advice.
  Next, I visited the office of Marker 1 Marina to determine if we could possibly move to an adjoining slip that was wider which allows for scope for tie off lines to increase the chances of surviving the fluctuating levels that come with storm surge. Kyle Huff, the dockmaster, and the dock administration manager, Caitlin, was in the office when I asked if I could move to, if possible, to the adjoining slip. I was just "checking my options".
  I got blank stares for one thing, they probably weren't use to anyone coming in that early to discuss a hurricane plan. I was told that someone was expected to arrive for that slip by the weekend, so I was not encouraged to make that particular option a part of my plan. On my way out of the office, I received an affirmative nod from Kyle when I mentioned a possible move to the floating docks at Clearwater Harbor Marina. "That would be a good move", he said.
  Rosie and I walked across the street so I could get a haircut, and while I was getting clipped, Rosie went to the online reservation form for Clearwater Harbor Marina and made a reservation online for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the 10th, 11th, and 12th of September.
  To follow-up, I called Brooke again when my haircut was finished and after considering the logistics of preparing our home for the hurricane, and getting to the marina in time to prepare the boat, we decided to add Saturday the 9th to our stay and book four nights in Clearwater. Brooke had our online paperwork and told us we were good to go.
  Meanwhile, some friends and former dock mates from Marathon Marina , Tim and Christie Ayers, contacted us and asked me what I thought of floating docks, as he was in the fixed docks at the Clearwater Beach Marina and he had a chance to go over to Clearwater Harbor which is on the other side of the bay on the mainland. The Beach Marina is on the barrier island at Clearwater Beach. I told him what our plans were, so we began co-ordinating efforts to get into adjoining slips at Clearwater Harbor Marina so we could "spider web" our boats together in the double slips. Brooke was very accommodating, recognizing our desire to do the responsible thing to protect not only our vessels, but he also knew he had two "captains" coming in who at least pretended to know what they were doing.
  We headed home to our condo, feeling very confident of our plan, with intentions of preparing our home for the hurricane and then going back to Swing Set on Friday to strip the canvas and make other preparations, and then get to the Clearwater Harbor Marina just after daylight on Saturday the 9th.
  It didn't take long to get our home in order and on Thursday, we were relaxing at the pool after our work, taking it easy, but not looking forward to the work we had to do on Friday.
But I had this nagging feeling that I was wasting time. My intuition was not unfounded.
  Late Thursday afternoon we received an email from Marker 1 Marina. We were being told that they were expecting major damage from the hurricane at the marina, especially in the wet slips, and that if we could move our boats from the wet slips, that was being advised, and that the marina was officially closing that evening by 6 P.M., electric was being turned off, and that access to the marina would be denied on the causeway leading to it by 6 A.M. the next morning, Friday the 8th, four days before Irma was due to arrive, if at all!
  Phone tag started. We had to contact Brooke at Clearwater Harbor Marina to see what the status was of the slip we were to occupy, thinking we were going to anchor out until we could get into it. He said the slip was open, and it was ours if we wanted to come early.
Then I called Tim Ayers and he also had learned of the news, and he was told to come early too, and he also heard that the city of Clearwater was going to deny access to the marina after Friday morning. I also wanted to make sure he was going to move their boat to Clearwater Harbor, because I was actually having thoughts of taking Swing Set to the "armpit of Florida" and into Steinhatchee, as the path of Irma wasn't predicted to go there.
No, he still intended to meet us there, and again, it turned out to be fortunate that we didn't decide to head to Steinhatchee.
  It turns out that the denied access in Clearwater was only to the beach marina, not the mainland marina, but we didn't know that. We grabbed our things and made the drive to Marker 1 Marina and got there around 5 P.M. on Thursday afternoon. On the way over, our friends Brett and Christine Thompson had called and offered any assistance we may need, and at first thinking I was going to have to take the boat alone down to Clearwater, and Rosie would meet me there with the car, they agreed to come to the boat and then take our car to Clearwater, about five miles away, but this was a BIG help.
  When we got to Marker 1, I saw Kyle and he said "Hi, how's it going?" and I answered, "You're kidding, right?" but with a smile of course.
  I made quick work of stripping the canvas enclosure for the flybridge, stowing the window panels just below our windshield in the salon. We used a ton of beach towels to place between each panel to protect the Stratoglass windows.
  The zippers were really hard to operate and I was kicking myself for reneging on the promise to myself to keep them lubricated after installing the top three years ago. Even though the zippers are plastic, had it not been for the panels having zippers pulls on both sides, inside and outside of each panel, I may have broken a few zippers in removing them. As it was, everything came off intact. Brett showed up just in time to help remove the bimini top and also to help me remove the propellers from both wind generators.
  Brett and Christine took the car and we took the boat and got down to Clearwater before 7 P.M., and had it secure in the slip by the time Tim and Christie showed up with their 40 foot Mainship. We helped them in, got them tied up, and Tim and I lashed the two boats together.

  I took this the following morning because when we got done the night before it was way past dark. I didn't show Tim's boat. Let him publish his own blog. Hahahaha.
  We sat out with Tim and Christie and toasted our success with a couple of beers before the rain started. We were all beat and had no trouble turning in by 10 o'clock. At 3 A.M. I woke up realizing that we had left our cargo bicycle at Marker 1 Marina, also remembering that we were told that we would be unable to access Marker 1 Marina after 6 A.M.! I laid awake trying to decide whether or not we should go get the bike. It was locked to a post under the main building, but I was also certain that even though the bike wasn't going anywhere, surge would inundate the bike and the saltwater would ruin it. We had a considerable amount of money invested in that bike and the custom cover for it, so I really wanted to go get it.
  Rosie stirred and sensed that I was awake. She sensed that when she heard me muttering to myself. "What's the matter?", she said.
  "We have to go get the damn bike. I forgot we left it at Marker 1."
  We stuffed Holly in her carrier and drove up to Marker 1. No one was around and it was pitch black. I felt my way to the bike and unlocked it in the dark and rolled it out to our car where Rosie was waiting. I had no allusions about trying to fit this two person bike into our little Ford Escape, so I told Rosie to meet me at the filling station up the street so I could put air in the tires. The bike hadn't been ridden since we moved to Dunedin 20 months ago, although I had kept the tires inflated. Well, to a degree.
  Once I had some success at filling the tires, I told Rosie to meet me at Brett and Christine's condo in Dunedin, and I pedaled the five miles to their place in the dark, the chain squeaking all the way. By the time I got there I thought I was gonna die. It was too early to wake them, so I locked the bike behind their garage and we went to eat breakfast. By 6 A.M. we texted them and asked if we could keep our bike in their garage until after the storm and they said we could. On the way over there I told Rosie that I was going to make our friends an offer that they couldn't refuse.
  We got to Brett and Christine's just as they were staggering out of bed, probably not too happy about being up so early, but I suggested to them that the two person cargo bike would be a great addition to their garage full of toys and they could keep it indefinitely if they would agree to let us use it when or if we even took Swing Set on an extended trip. We think that's a pretty good deal and hope they do too. We headed back to Clearwater.
    We tied up some loose ends on the boat, and on our way out we stopped into the Harbormaster's office to talk to Brooke. We had discussed our dissatisfaction with ourselves about the fact that Marker 1 Marina was not really able to satisfy our needs as a harbor for Swing Set. The pilings and docks are too short for a high tide, much less a hurricane. We asked Brooke about the possibility of getting the slip we were in permanently and he told us that it was ours if we wanted it, but to make our decision after the storm passed. There was always the possibility of not having a boat left to put anywhere. How true.
  We went back to the boat to defrost the refrigerator, now knowing that the electric was going to be turned off late on Sunday night. That made more sense than doing it on Thursday, three days prior.
  We had groceries to get home to the refrigerator, not knowing if the electric there would stay on past Sunday night, but one thing at a time. As we drove past the causeway to Marker 1 Marina, I was a little miffed that Causeway Blvd. was not closed off like we were led to believe it would be.
  Swing Set was as secure as we could make it, and everything at home was secure too, so we spent the afternoon at the pool and then engaged ourselves at a hurricane party with some neighbors into the evening on Saturday, not knowing how bad this forecasted category 5 hurricane was going to be. We tried our best to empty our neighbor's keg of Budweiser before the hurricane knocked out the electric for the cooling, but we failed.
  Sunday we spent watching Irma make her appearance and believe it or not, I learned something I didn't know before. Of course, living in Missouri, we hadn't much experience with hurricanes, but blog readers might remember how we holed up at Bobby's Fish Camp on the Tombigbee Waterway on our way down here in 2012. We were warned about "storm surged" and was advised to stay put there until the threat had passed.
  Watching the news on Sunday, I learned that the term "storm surge" should actually be called "storm retraction and surge" because the strength of an approaching hurricane sucks the water from the ocean and the bays, leaving the shallows around them in a field of sand or mud. Had we left Swing Set at Marker 1 Marina, she would have been setting on the ground. Water under the boat at low tide only leaves about a foot of water beneath it.
  I mentioned our fortuitous decision to not head for Steinhatchee, and the predicted path of Irma was not heading directly for the armpit of Florida. I did fail to mention that my desire to take Swing Set to the hook was tempered by the fact that our dinghy motor is still waiting for a new carburetor. I don't like being on the hook without a way to get to shore.
  I'll not rehash our Irma experience here at home. I'll just say that we had our "safe place" inside the condo. I inflated a double size airbed and wedged it over our heads in a landing of our stairway. We lined the floor with camping pads and sleeping bags, had our "go bag" with essential items nearby, and battery powered lamps and flashlights handy. Holly was on her leash and close by our sides the whole time, and we even had our motorcycle helmets at the ready. Neither one of us can take a chance on further brain damage.
  By the time Irma reached us, she was tired out, sort of like trying to find new love at an old age, but it appears we can survive a Cat One hurricane here at home with no trouble at all. I think half the state of Florida lost electrical power except us, and here I was looking forward to eating bacon all day so it wouldn't go bad. That, and drink the rest of the neighbors Bud.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Care and Feeding of THE BOAT

  Let me start by stating the obvious, that it's been nearly a year since my last post, which was number 300 since I started this blog. If this was to be my last post, I like the sound of number 301, and there's a lot to tell about.
  Touching on some of the mechanical issues mentioned in my last post seems to make the most sense, so that's where I'll start, but wandering through the timeline is a promise.
  We did wind up replacing our dedicated generator battery last August, and then the four house batteries in September of last year. The six inverter batteries are hanging in there, mainly because they "cut out" automatically when the voltage drops to a set level, something the house batteries don't do. We don't get the performance out of them like we would do fresh ones, but they have enough life in them to allow the inverter to do it's job, which is make AC current without the generator running. Having that capability is nice when we are running, as the fridge is running on AC, and we can cook too, using the crock pot, coffee pot or microwave oven. The inverter bank will be replaced before winter if it gets into the budget.
  I mentioned de-scaling the engines last summer, but somehow I think I've hit on the reason those 3116 Cats have been so easy to overheat, and that's because I neglected the air cleaners as being a culprit in my ongoing mystery of keeping the mains running cool. I cleaned the K&N air filters last summer, using OxyClean in a bucket filled partially with club soda. I let 'em soak until the grease rose to the top of the bucket, brought to the surface with the carbonation in the club soda. A liter is less than a buck in most stores, and you only need enough to cover the filters in a five gallon bucket. The filter elements come pearly white, get rinsed with fresh water, air dried, and then coated with filter oil. A year later the mains have not exceeded 195 degrees on any outing. That's a winner, folks, even with the heat and high ocean temperatures we are having.
  Another small habit that I've adhered to, and this is going to sound silly, is to run the blowers whenever we're running at cruise. Now, you folks with gas motors should already know how important it is to run blowers with gas engines, but us diesel motor owners get lax in that department, at least I did, because the explosion hazard is all but eliminated with diesels, so one starts to neglect those blower motors. No more.
  Recently, I had forgotten to turn on those blower motors when we raised the hook at a Tampa Bay anchorage and headed for home. The starboard engine started running a bit hot which hadn't been happening since I cleaned the air filters. It was a very hot, and humid day, and I'd remembered something Celeste at Key West Engines told me a couple of years ago. She said that even though the water temperature plays a part in engine temperature during the warm months, the ambient air temperature was just as important, if not more important. Somehow I had forgotten that little morsel of information.
  I flipped on the blowers, but apparently the engine room temperature was already too great for my two 4 inch blowers to overcome. What we did was stop the motors, set on the hook with a cold beer or two with the cockpit hatch open and the blowers on. When we took off again, both engines ran at their prescribed 195 degrees all the way home. Wee wee wee!
  Over last winter the air horns on Swing Set started sounding like a sick duck. The compressor is mounted along with the horns up at the bow in the anchor locker, not an easy place to get to, but I could reach in with one arm and remove the compressor. It was corroded but still spun when hooked up to 12 volts, but it wasn't spinning enough to get the amount of air through the horns for them to emit enough volume to chase a seagull off the bow railing, much less announce a "slow pass", or "get on your side of the channel" to other boaters on our behalf.
  After messing around ordering and trying a couple of aftermarket compressors from our favorite mail order place, I took a different tack and mounted electric horns on the flybridge on the starboard side of the bridge. They're loud, they were cheap, (even stainless), and wiring them was a snap. WoLo is the brand. (I had also had a cheap moment and bought an electric "car horn", but realized how lame that was. I wound up mounting it on our golf cart.)
  While I was in the mood to replace stuff that didn't work, our remote spotlight was next in my sights. The original equipment is an aluminum housed monstrosity that had stopped rotating years ago, and recently the light wouldn't even go on. The aluminum housing had been scraped and painted at least once, and the possibility of doing that again with a dead spotlight was, well, remote. A new one like the old one is $1200!
  Amazon came to the rescue in the form of a plastic housed Jabsco unit for less than $200. The base of the unit just fit on the little raised portion of the flybridge where the original one sat. If it hadn't, I was prepared to make a base from Starboard, but I didn't have to. The hardest thing was cutting out a hole in the dash to mount the toggle to control the light, but using care that I normally do in those sticky situations, I was able to replace the touch pad for the original light (no toggle, just buttons. Hated it.) even though it is much smaller. I used quick disconnects on the seven wires coming from the light to the controller so when it comes to replacing it in a few years, it'll be a "plug and play" operation. No, the light put out by the Jabsco is not as bright as the original, but I can count on one hand as to how many times I used the old spot, but they come standard on many brands. We also carry a hand-held unit.

  In this picture you can see where I mounted the electric horns, as well as the spotlight. You won't notice that the sunshade is new too, but it is.
  When we replaced the bimini back in Key West, a new screen was ordered from Boatswain's Locker, but marrying it to the side curtains posed a problem, and we "made do" until a better solution was found, and that came in the form of Chuck Henry of Suncoast Marine Canvas based in Palm Harbor, Fl.
  I had gotten two bids for a new wrap around sunshade from a couple of vendors recommended from some other boat owners at the marina, but then I called Chuck and he came by within a couple of days to give me a bid, which we did in another couple of days. He beat the other two bids by hundreds of dollars, and he had the job done in the promised time. He pulls a trailer and does the work on site, and he is meticulous. He was a pleasure to work with for sure. The screen is now all one piece and it tucks nicely up under the overhang of the forepeak, hiding those unsightly black streaks that appear after rain rolls off of that part of the boat.
  This was last spring, and about the same time our attention was directed again to the SeaDek that covered our steps in the cockpit. Two of the pads began "melting" within days of installation, (after much tribulations dealing with SeaDek and the vendor) and since we were on a roll with improvements to Swing Set, Rosie found a vendor in the area who installed  PlasDeck, a faux teak product that we've been considering for years. We called them.
  Jonathan Bigalow was the "them", a one man show who does marine flooring in the Tampa/St.Pete area, helming a company named Underway Custom Marine Flooring. In March of this year, Jonathan came to Marker 1 Marina with some ideas and some samples, and we arrived at a plan to improve the looks of Swing Set, outside and inside.

  The PlasDeck is installed on the steps into the cockpit and leading to the flybridge in this photo. The product is a dense plastic composite that is installed in strips, glued down with 3M 5200, and the "caulking" is molded into the strips at the appropriate intervals. The trim is applied and gaps are caulked with the 3M 5200, and everything is sanded with a belt sander. It looks and feels like real wood and we don't expect any "melting" issues.

  Look here, we had Jonathan install the PlasDeck on the swim platform! There were a couple of reasons for pulling the trigger and springing for the $1600 to cover this area, one was because the seagulls were habitually leaving us presents. Marine bird poop is like concrete, and removing it every weekend was getting tedious, not only that, but the hardware on the platform was continually rusting. We removed the offending hardware and installed a new handrail for the swim ladder. Any bird poop now cleans right off, usually with just a hose, and we think it looks nifty as hell.

  While we were at it, we had Jonathan install new carpet in the salon. We helped some by first removing the carpet wrapped trim around the parameter and replacing it with oak trim matching the rest of the interior. We did the dinette area too, and seams were put in to allow me to roll up just the center section of the carpet to allow the opening of the salon hatches to the engine compartment.
  One item that was time consuming was covering some holes in the salon deck that were made at the factory for the hi-lo table that we immediately removed as it took up too much room in our small salon. Originally, I took a piece of 1/4" aluminum plating and just bolted it over the section where the two 5" holes where that housed the bases for the table. That left a "bump", and I dealt with that by cutting a section of the carpet pad out where the aluminum plate was, and that quick fix served us well for over seven years but was a pain in the butt when it came time to install the carpet after rolling it up to access the engine room hatches. Since we were getting some nice new carpet, and we took the time to replace the nasty carpeted trim with stained oak, I wanted to do a proper job of filling in those two holes from the hi-lo table.
  The holes were located in the port engine hatch which has a thick foam and rubber insulating material on the underside of it. I had planned to bolt the same aluminum plate I already had to the underside of the hatch, so I cut out a section of the insulation on the underside to match the size of the plate. That's when I found that the fiberglass comprising the underside of both hatches has some structural "tunnels" and one was right where I wanted the plate to be. I used my Dremel tool to cut out part of one "tunnel" to allow the aluminum plate to be bolted flush against the bottom side of the hatch. The hatch itself is constructed of two layers of fiberglass sandwiching a closed cell foam core, making the hatch itself exactly one inch thick. I used a five inch hole saw to cut two disks from 1/2" thick starboard for each hole, and cemented them into each hole after through bolting the plate to the hatch. I finished off the topside by caulking the tops of the counter-sunk bolt heads, along with the gap around the starboard disks inset into the hatch. The result was a flat floor which is stronger or as strong as the original. Jonathan was impressed.
  Jonathan wasn't as timely in completing the work as we had first discussed, and we had to cancel some possible out of town plans, but eventually, with some diplomatic efforts on my part, we were able to get the job done by the end of June. We like Jonathan and hope to have him do some additional work at a later date, so I was careful not to upset his apparent fragile sensitivities.
  In the course of the last year, we've been busy just enjoying the barrier islands and beaches in the area. Some friends from our boating days up on the Alton Pool of the Mississippi moved down here and we've been seeing them when we can, along with some visitors from "up north" who were nice enough to come visit us in the last year.
 But mechanical issues still regularly rear their ugly heads, along with some additional improvements to some components.
  Along the way, the anchor windlass motor quit working. I called Good Windlass and ordered a new motor after discussing the problem and some possible other reasons for the fault with Tom Ring at the company there. After trying some fixes prescribed by him, we went ahead with getting a new motor shipped to us. The new motor came in record time, and I realized that I should have told Tom to ship the new motor at standard rates, there was no need to overnight the new motor to us. As it was, the new motor came and I immediately saw it was the wrong one. Had I been able to install it, it wouldn't have worked, but a call to the company quickly put things right. Our motor was sent to another guy somewhere, and his was sent to us. I don't know if he tried to install the wrong motor in his boat. When we got the right motor, we sent our defective one back to Good Windlass to be rebuilt by them and they sent it back. Now we have a spare, and will probably never need it.
  We also replaced the covers on the windlass switches on the foredeck. The original equipment is two plastic switch covers that had already been replaced years ago. They were painted before installing to prevent the U.V. damage that attacks most plastics, but they were also painted again at least once. I found some really nice stainless steel covers online and debated whether to spring for them, but eventually did and was happy with the exact fit and finish they provided.
  The windlass rollers on the bow pulpit were in need of replacing too, as the original black plastic rollers were cracking badly and I was waiting for the day that they would break outright. I called my "go to" Sea Ray parts guy at Marine Max at Lake of the Ozarks, Morgan. He contacted Sea Ray directly and inquired on our behalf about getting some new rollers, as they were not to be found anywhere in the size we needed from anywhere we normally find hard to find items.
  After about two months of waiting to hear back from Sea Ray, I called Morgan and pulled the plug on the search, not wanting to waste any more of his time. I'm certain he was relieved. I went to a Marine Salvage yard here in St. Petersburg, Don's Marine Salvage, recommended to us by the local Marine Max dealer in Clearwater. Don's had no salvaged rollers, but did have some nice sturdy nylon rollers that I had seen online for half the money, but they were too wide to fit our pulpit. I bought the cheaper rollers online and cut them down, 1/16" on each side with my circular saw, and then sanded them down to an exact fit with my orbital sander. It was time consuming, but now we have new rollers in white that look "mahvelous dahling".
  Speaking of readers may remember when, back in 2012, I "lost" our bow anchor while in Cape Coral, having run over my own anchor line while deploying our hook on the Caloosahatchee River one afternoon. Well, I did it again. I plead "guilty with an explanation", your Honor.
  We were anchored off the beach at Three Rookers Bar one afternoon, and since I have learned to greatly respect the tidal swings here along the Florida coast, we have avoided backing into the beach with Swing Set, like all the other boaters do, instead, just using our dinghy to mingle with the multitude of "sand boaters". That particular afternoon, having apparently lost my mind, having already had our hook in close proximity to the beach, I backed us around with the stern toward the shallower water and, after backing as far as I safely could, dropped one of our Danforth anchors off the swim platform, and then tightened the bow line to bring us back out to safer, deeper, water, albeit closer to the "action" on the beach which was lined up like sardines with various vessels. Mistake.
  In the course of the afternoon, having consumed our share of barley pops, a nap seemed to be in order. Wind was out of the southwest, blowing toward the beach at a modest rate, but we were hooked in solidly and we were only looking for a short respite, maybe 30 minutes at most. Adhering to the adage we learned from an old friend a while back, "a nap is on top of the covers, under the covers is outright goin' to bed!", we laid down on top of the covers for a quick battery charge.
  I woke to the bow slapping against some waves, and they weren't from a passing Jet Ski. I looked outside and found a gray threatening sky, and NO other boats on the beach. Everyone else had wisely vacated the area due to an approaching storm. In retrospect, I should have stayed put with our bow anchor entrenched into the sea bottom, holding us safely off of the beach, and since most storms don't last long in these cases, we probably could have ridden it out. But, no.
  Rosie and I worked together to get the stern anchor retrieved, which again, I should have tied a buoy to and cut loose. But, no. We had great difficulty retrieving the stern anchor as the wind was strong on our bow and we were in danger of grounding when we got right over the anchor in order to pull it straight up as the tide had receded. I was maneuvering the boat without much success, given the wind and was about to punt when Rosie yelled that she had the anchor up and on the swim platform. The shaft on the anchor was bent at a 90 degree angle at the flukes. That 18 pound anchor was ruined.
  Our next focus was getting the bow anchor up, and the wind had increased to a great extent. The inline fuse on the windlass kept kicking out due to the stress put on the system given the wind and my desire to keep us off the beach. As it was, I couldn't overcome the wind and was dangerously close to grounding us. At one point I was able to spin us around, not a good thing to do with waves pounding the stern, but I appeared to have gotten the bow anchor lifted off the bottom. The windlass was winding up with no problem and soon the line was completely on deck and into the anchor locker, however, our chain and anchor was still on the bottom. I had run over the anchor line and sliced it into with the port prop, and at that point didn't know that several feet of 9/19" anchor line was wrapped around the port prop. But we were free and we headed to the barn.
  On the way home the sky cleared up, and having attempted to get on plane, I could feel vibration and I was able to isolate it to the port side and I did suspect I had line wrapped around something. Once back in our slip, my mind raced with the various solutions to our problem of having lost our expensive bow anchor. But first Rosie noticed that the stern bilge pump was on. I expected to see a hole in the hull when I opened the cockpit hatch to inspect for damage, but all I found was the pump running with no water coming in. I tried to get the pump to stop by tapping the float switch and then disconnecting it entirely, but was unable to do so. I wound up switching the pump off at the cockpit fuse panel, with plans to attack that issue later. We went to bed eventually and I could think of little else but how to get our bow anchor back.
  At the crack of dawn, I was up and rigging up the Hookah Max after a quick dive under the boat to ascertain my suspicion that there was line wrapped around our port side running gear. With my air supply in place, I was able to quickly get the line off the prop and prepared to go back to the beach and get our anchor.
  I was going to just use the dinghy to head up to Three Rookers, but the sky was overcast and the wind was a bit brisk for the ride, plus I realized that if we even found the anchor, it was sure to be stuck deep into the sand and I'd need the horsepower of Swing Set to break it free. One thing we do when setting a hook is to put a "floaty" on our ground tackle at the juncture of the rope and chain, to keep the splice from chaffing on the bottom. I was counting on locating the float, but wasn't sure about how high it would be floating with 25 feet of chain pulling it down.
  Using the track of our movements on the previous day, I was able to make a good guess as to where the anchor was, and in spite of the gray sky, was able to see our anchor float bobbing just about a foot under the surface. Rosie grabbed the boat hook and made a valiant attempt to snare the float and chain.
  Now, I don't think it would be cruel to guess that Rosie may have trouble snagging a plastic duck from the duck pond attraction at the local school carnival, but it's a reality folks. She was able to finally grab the stainless rigging running from the float to the anchor line, but the harness broke and she only came up with the float, leaving the anchor and chain in about 9 feet of water. I "ain't as young as I used to be", so free diving in even nine feet of water could pose a serious problem for me, but the Hookah Max is the great equalizer, but even better is the "man overboard" button on our GPS, and I hit it as soon as the harness on the float broke.
  We stuck Swing Set in place with our 22 pound Danforth that is also kept on deck at the bow, (Yes, that's THREE anchors we have at our disposal.) and I deployed the dinghy to go look for our ground tackle. I took my portable Garmin with me from the helm, the one I had hit the man overboard button on, and was able to approximate the location, dropped the small Danforth housed in the dinghy anchor locker and started a free dive search for the anchor line. After about ten tries, my foot felt rope and I snatched up what was left of our anchor line and triumphantly waved it over my head to show Rosie that success was in my grasp. Our 45 pound bow anchor had other ideas.
  Nearly 24 hours of shifting sand and pounding waves had all but completely buried what was already a heaving anchor, and I only had the small unstable dinghy to use as a base to pull up all that weight. Right there I should have tied another float to what I had in hand and went to get the big hardware in the form of a 40 foot boat to drag up our anchor, but I was on a mission and wasn't wanting to risk another "entanglement" with our anchor line and running gear. I used the power of the waves at my disposal, tying the line as tight as I could to the handles on the dinghy, and eventually the bouncing of me and the dinghy pulled the anchor from the deep sand.
  We gathered up our assorted belongings, having only lost about 25 feet of anchor line in the process, plus our 18 pound Danforth anchor. In the course of the next couple of weeks, finding another 18 pound anchor that fit exactly in the bow anchor chocks proved to be the hardest puzzle to solve, even with a visit back to Dan's Marine Salvage. He must have a thousand used anchors there, none of them being the right size. I finally found one at the right price from Walmart. I hate shopping at Walmart, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
  I got new anchor line from Miami Cordage, saving over $100 dollars from just about anyone else locally or online. We could have used the old line, but it was now five years old and taking a chance with anchor line is foolish enough. I make enough mistakes by accident without making them on purpose, so we sprung for new line. Finding a rigger to splice the line to our chain was harder to do.
  Now, I can splice a three strand line, and our 22 pound Danforth has such a splice, but this splice has got to get through the windlass gypsy, and my splices wind up being about the size of a baseball. I found a rigger in St. Pete who was willing to do the trick for $25, but even though he admitted it was about a 30 minute job, we had to drop it off on a Friday and pick it up the next day, as per his explicit instructions. That's about an hour drive each way from our marina. Do the math, four hours of driving to get a $25 splice done. but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
  With the expense of the 18 pound Danforth and new 9/16" line and having it spliced, my mistake of anchoring near the beach cost us around $250. Ask me if we'll do that again.
  The upside of all that calamity was my decision to make our 22 pound Danforth easier to deploy. For years I've had it mounted on the bow rail on a hangar, leaving the shaft sticking up about six inches from the top of the rail. I always thought it was tacky, but readily available trumps tacky when it comes to anchors, but having the time to reflect on the issue some, I arrived at a better solution. I obtained a 90 degree bow rail stanchion and mounted it on the deck, just forward of our fender holders, then I used one half of the hangar I had been using, mounting it sideways on the bow rail. This setup allowed me to insert the anchor rod into the stanchion, and hook the other end of the rod into the hangar. The shaft and flukes of the anchor are lashed to the horizontal bar on the bow rail along with the 200 feet of line. I should post a picture, but don't have one at this writing, but it's a neat application and I wish I would have thought of it years ago, but didn't place the issue high on my priority list.
  What else?
  On one of our outings with some friends, the port engine started running poorly. I suspected a fuel issue, which was what it turned out to be, but I wasn't a clogged Racor filter like I first thought, but the secondary filter at the port engine was leaking at the seal rather profusely, to put it mildly. I tightened the filter and we got home with no issue. Once safely in our slip, I used a wrench to really tighten that screw on filter and that was a mistake. If a mistake is available, I keep making them.
  The next time we left the dock, we weren't even out to the channel and the port engine quick after giving up a couple of short complaints. Down below I went to find not only the port side secondly filter leaking, it was laying in the forward bilge, having divested itself from the confines of the port engine filter mount. I reinstalled it and away we went, but I wasn't done with it yet. The rubber seal on the filter was apparently all twisted up and it took a new filter to fix the problem. Good thing I keep spares onboard. One of them was installed before the next hiccup and that one then was awarded a substitute when one was needed. The fuel was pumped from the bilge with my vacuum pump and we were back to square one.
  Hey, what happened to the stern bilge pump issue, you may ask? After obtaining a new float switch, a new pump, and rewiring it, taking several hours over a couple of weekends, I got it to work, but I didn't have it wired the way it was supposed to be. Instead of having the switch breaking the ground wire, the only way I could get it to go off was by splicing into the hot wire. I knew it wasn't right, but it was the only way I could get it to work. The whole time I was working on that, we never went up to the instrument panel to see what was what. I was somewhat around of myself for "fixing" the pump without using the new switch or pump, when Rosie remarked, from the helm, that "hey, this light is on for the bilge pump on the test panel". The dim light began to flicker in the remote corners of my brainpan, and then it came on with full intensity. In the ensuing drama of our anchor retrieval weeks ago, I had apparently hit the "on" button for our stern bilge pump. The switch has an "auto", "off", and "on" position, and it had been years since I had to turn that switch to the "on" position and I had forgotten it even had one. Better late than never, I'd say. I wired the float switch back on the ground side. Hours of work could have been avoided by just stepping back and using my head. Boy, do I wish I had all those times back when that happened!
  On my last post I mentioned the fact that the aluminum motor mounts on the dinghy motor were dissolving. I finally got around to doing something about it, I guess I was having too much fun with everything else to give it much thought, but during a slack moment I tackled the issue.
  I wrapped a fabricated harness made from a dock line around the engine and lifted it off the dinghy with the winch on the dinghy davit. I cut new mounts from starboard, using a template made from both aluminum engine mounts, each barely intact after removing them.
  In no time at all, the Mercury was back on the new motor mounts, bolted snugly in place with some long winded bolts. I would defy anyone to steal our dingy motor in any quick order. In the midst of my celebration, (all completed tasks on a boat made by oneself, should always be accompanied by a thorough celebration) I noticed that a hose clamp on our inline fuel filter going from our outboard gas tank to the engine was missing. We can't have that can we?
  The filter was put in place while we were in The Bahamas, back in 2013. Having made the trip back to the U.S. and joining us faithfully during our exploits in the Florida Keys, our dinghy motor filter was firmly in place, hose clamp or not, so when I went to loosen the hose from the one end of the plastic filter, the nipple on the filter end just broke off completely. And there you have the beginnings of my next calamity of events.
  It was late in the day, but I was "lucky" to find someone to sell me an overpriced fuel filter from the parts department at our marina. I installed it properly and our Mercury started up with no issue, but in the weeks to come, each starting process seemed to get harder and harder. At least that's how it seems to me in reflecting on it.
  One weekend we made the trip down to a favorite island at the mouth of Tampa Bay. It's easily a 40 mile trip one way to Passage Key, but it's a pleasant ride on the inside, or the outside, as it were, and we found ourselves on the hook by three in the afternoon one Friday. Swing Set needs to be anchored quite a bit off the beach down there at Passage Key due to the shallows surrounding it, so I dropped the dinghy and cranked up the Merc to warm up. As the motor was warming, happily it seemed, it came to a sputtering stop, sounding like it had run out of fuel. I know the sound, trust me.
  I must have pulled on that starting rope a hundred times trying to start that engine again. Bulb on the fuel line was hard, kill switch was on, nothing seemed to be preventing our trusty Mercury from starting, but both of my arms gave out, and the waves made from passing boaters and tankers entering Tampa Bay were not adding to my "consternation".
  "Let's go", I said. "We're heading home. No sense being here with no way to get to the beach, and these waves are really pissing me off." Earlier I mentioned a time this year when I attempted to run our engines at cruise without flipping on the blower motors in the engine room. This was that time, by the way.
  In the past, certainly during my tenure at the beer factory, I've been able to solve problems, and I'm also a believer in coincidental occurrences being the reason for something not working. I've seen it happen that more than the failure of one component can happen at the same time, or nearly at the same time. In the course of the following weeks, I devoted at least the first several hours of our boating weekends looking into the problem of the Mercury not starting. First, I thought, "What did I do different that has made a normally reliable engine start giving me problems?" Sure, I'd replaced that fuel filter. Maybe the filter I installed was the wrong one, the microns being too tight and the element quickly clogged up. In fact, the filter was found to be an "under cowling" filter, not suited for the crap that comes straight from a grungy outboard motor tank. Before deciding to go purchase a "regular" inline fuel filter, I was messing with the lanyard kill switch on the motor handle and the red toggle came off in my hand. At this point is where my notion of coincidental issues being the reason for the motor not starting.
  I tried to bypass the kill switch to no success. I verified that I was getting no spark, so I ordered a new harness and also picked up a new inline fuel filter. The new harness gave me my spark back, but I had blockage in the fuel line, and while I was at it, I checked the fuel in the tank and yes, it had water in it.
  I put the offending fuel in a suitable container and went and bought a new fuel line, which was the new kind without the plastic liner that keeps the hose from disintegrating from the ethanol in the fuel. New line is also ethanol resistant, but doesn't have the liner that is susceptible to collapsing. I ascertained that I was getting fuel to the carburetor bowl, had spark, but nearly tore a rotator cup on my arm trying to get the engine to fire, but an application of starting fluid enabled the engine to fire right up immediately. I had carburetor problems for sure.
  I hadn't worked on a carburetor for years, not since my motorcycle riding days way back when, and I'd say I was "rusty", so I called a young guy at our marina that is trying to start a business doing mechanical and detailing work. I talked to his "mechanic" who suggested a replacement of the whole carburetor, as his charge of $100 per hour would soon exceed the cost of new carb if he had to rebuild it. I had to chew on that for a bit.
  I know that the littlest bit of anything can clog the jets in a small carburetor, so I figure it's just a matter of looking into the carb before ordering a $400 carb and paying someone to install it on my dime. So that's where I am now and I have more time than money.
  I ordered a service manual for our Mercury outboard, I viewed a few U-Tube videos addressing the servicing and adjusting a Mercury carburetor such as ours, and I've spent a couple of bucks buying some tools in order to do the job myself. I'll be way ahead if I can clean the carb myself and get the Mercury started.
  On my next post, I'll let you know if I was successful, but in the meantime, you might be able to hear my cheering in the next few days from where you sit.
  So that's a lot of stuff, right? In the course of a year it adds up, and if there's one thing I've learned, we need to always be prepared for something to go wrong each and every time we take the boat out. It happens even with new ones, we see it every weekend, and some of the new boats leave the factory with absolutely no way for the typical owner to do any work on them. We met someone just a couple of weeks ago with a new Regal pocket cruiser that had a generator mounted so far in an out of the way place, removing it was the only way to do the 100 hour servicing.
  At any rate, when these things happen, naturally I'm not happy. But I don't panic. Never panic. We both are of the mind that if it only takes money to solve a problem, it ain't a problem.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Long Hot Summer

  We can't believe how fast the summer has flown by. I didn't realize how long it's been between posts so here's a little of what's been going on with Swing Set.
  First, Holly has mended up nicely, having had her last visit with the surgeon for a final check up. She got a big thumbs up from him and now we'll see him again after the first of the year to probably schedule surgery on her other knee to avoid problems when she gets older. We hate to put her through another surgery, but she has mended up so well and seems so much happier now that we think the responsible thing to do is bite the bullet and get it past us and, more importantly, her.
  I've been really busy with maintenance on Swing Set this summer! With the water temperature heating up to about 90 degrees, a rise in operating temperature became evident. Engine blocks in salt water need to be descaled annually, and when I checked, it had been a year since I last descaled when we were in Marathon, so even though we flush the engines each time before we leave the boat, a rise in operating temperature on the port engine specifically made it obvious it was time to get to work.

  One good thing about the design of our Sea Ray is that if more than minor engine room checks are necessary, we can pull up the salon carpet and open the hatches for stand up access to the main engines. In hot weather like we have here in Florida, I can crank up the air conditioning and work in relative comfort.
  If you've been reading this blog all along, you'll know that each time I descale the engines, I find a way to improve the process and this time was no different. Again, I removed all the pencil zincs from the block and installed plugs so that the acid works on the scale and not on the zincs. I routed the hose from my circulating pump for the acid into a three way valve so that I could rinse with fresh water by simply turning valves instead of disconnecting hoses filled with acid, making the job a whole lot cleaner. I circulated acid in each block for about 90 minutes, and then made use of the acid before discarding it by circulating it through our A/C systems.
  To circulate through the air conditioners, I used the hose I have in place in the engine room to flush the A/C with fresh water before we leave for home to supply the acid. I then used an old garden hose and routed the hose on the outside of the boat via some 1/2 inch PVC pipe inserted into the through hull outlets, using an elbow and a tee fitting, and then back through the salon doors into the cooler I use to hold my acid bath. (It took me a minute to remember to close the sea water inlet first.) This way I didn't have to route return hoses through the interior of the boat and I avoided a potential acid spill. Worked like a champ.

  It seems like the whole United States has had its share of rain this summer and the Tampa area has been no exception. This shot is from our slip at Maker 1 Marina as a summer squall moved in on day while I was working on another malfunction.
  I had noticed the water in the sink not draining properly one day, and was thinking it was a clogged "P" trap, but a subsequent shower revealed water in the shower pan not draining either. A check of the sump box revealed that the pump was not pumping the grey water out.
  Now, any time there is a problem that needs to be solved, it's better when the root cause is a singular item, but when the cause is multiplied, fixing the problem becomes complicated, and a simple sump pump issue became a three week fix.
  I've had float switches go bad in the past, (at this time I was on the third switch in 12 years) so I honed in on the switch. I had a new one in the package, so went about installing it, but also noticed the wires were getting hot when the pump kicked on and it was tripping the circuit breaker, something that was not happening before. I removed the pump and cleaned out some gunk in the impeller, checked operation of the pump, and then reinstalled the pump, thinking I had solved that issue. I then figured that the problem was not the switch, so I reinstalled the switch that was in place because I didn't like the flimsy new switch I had bought at the Big Box Store.
  A system check was made and everything worked, so I buttoned up the sump lid with the 20 or so screws and wing nuts that hold it all together. (I do have a 6 inch access port in the sump lid cover, but it's only good for rinsing out the sump box occasionally.)
  All was good until one of us took another shower and the pump tripped the circuit breaker again. I realized that the amount of water needed for a shower caused the pump to work long enough to heat up, probably just due to age, so the next weekend I removed the pump and installed a new pump I already had onboard. Another systems check was made and I found that the old switch was not engaging until the water in the sump box got deep enough to practically fill the box, causing water to leak out the top even though there is a gasket.
  Jeeze. So we went home after ordering a better switch and then came back and installed the better switch, and also used some aquarium grade silicon material to seal the holes were the pump hose and wires go through the sump box. Finally everything worked, no leaks, and the switch engages the pump long before the water gets too deep in the box.

  Meanwhile we've been spending weekends anchored just off of Three Rookers Bar, a small barrier island between St. Joseph's Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
  On one of our trips out to the island, I discovered that Swing Set would not go on plane and I determined that we weren't getting fuel to the engines. We had just recently taken on fuel, and debris in the fuel tanks had gotten "stirred up", so I suspected dirty fuel. The first reaction is to switch out the primary Racor filters and this was done, but performance didn't improve. When we got to the anchorage I switched out the secondary filters on both engines (again thankful I keep spares ready to go) and I also saw that those secondary filters had been in place for a year, so it was time to change them anyway. When we returned home the next day, Swing Set jumped on plane and ran like it was supposed to.
  Normally we run the boat every week or ten days, but late July and early August kept us busy with some other activities. Last weekend we decided to run down to Passage Key again for a long weekend. As soon as we got out on the Intercoastal Waterway, I applied the throttles and looked to make better time. Swing Set would not go on plane again and black smoke billowed out of the exhausts.
  I suspected bottom growth, and when we got to Passage Key I grabbed my snorkel gear and a quick check revealed enough barnacles on both props to render them useless in anything other than idle speed, although the hull was relatively clean. We had been avoiding getting the bottom scraped twice a month by running the boat more often, but as I've said, we didn't get out to the boat enough and it had been over three weeks since we had run it. The next morning before heading over to the island in the dinghy, I used our Hooka Max scuba system and cleaned both props with a putty knife. We're now going on a two week cleaning schedule until the water cools down. (Barnacles like warm water.)
  It was so hot over last weekend, we had to run the generator the whole time to keep the salon cool for Holly as it was also too hot to take her to the beach. Lucky dog. Anyhow, I knew we had enough fuel to get us home on Monday, but the trip down and the generator use got us close enough to the bottom of each tank to cause me some concern.
  Sure enough, the prop cleaning did the job and on our way home we were running at Swing Sets cruising speed of 25 miles per hour, but two things happened. One, the port engine began to rise in temperature while the starboard engine ran at a cool 195 degrees. I suspect a raw water impeller to be the culprit on that issue, but then the R.P.M.s on both engines began to drop off too. I then suspected that the low fuel tank volume contributed to another set of clogged filters.
  I decided to leave the Gulf and run inside in order to get fuel, or help, as the case may be, if more trouble developed. St. John's Pass was coming up, so we ducked in and also decided to take on fuel at St. John's Pass Marina where diesel was cheaper than at our home marina, even with our discount. We took on 200 gallons of diesel, so we had plenty of fuel left to get us home, but I like the old "better safe than sorry" motto. Still, I think we picked up debris off the bottom of our fuel tanks.
  On an overcast day, we cruised home at 8.5 M.P.H. until we got past the Clearwater inlet and then I applied the throttles to Swing Set again after switching out the Racor primary filters. Swing Set responded and I was again happy until the starboard engine began to drop off in R.P.M. and was acting erratically. I switched off the engine synchronizer and the starboard engine responded in a positive manner. OK, the engine sync needs to be looked at next week. There is a cable that usually goes bad on our mechanical synchronizer, and I have an extra one in the parts bin.
  As we were heading into port, I was making a mental list of things I needed to check/fix on our next boating "outing". Normally I don't need to write down the list, but it was getting rather lengthy. It got longer.
  As I began to flush the outboard on the dinghy, I noticed that the aluminum transom bracket for the motor was corroded and split in two between the engine brackets. A replacement of the engine bracket is in order. I think I'll use starboard, a half inch plastic material, so an aluminum one won't give me any more problems. This will be an ordeal as our 15 H.P. Mercury is heavy, but I'll use the dinghy davit to lift the engine off and replace the bracket. Time consuming, but simple.
  Next, I began to flush the generator with fresh water and it would not start. The starter made an attempt, but was clicking, indicating low battery amperage. This was puzzling because the generator had run all weekend, but when I checked the alternator belt, it was loose. I'll need to tighten the belt and also change the generator oil on our next visit. An amperage check on the battery read the proper amperage, but I need to check it while I crank the starter. I'll also do that on the next visit, more stuff on the list.
  I've added that I have to check the raw water impeller on the port engine, and of course it's the one that I can't get to without opening the salon hatches, so that makes the job bigger and more complicated. One good thing, my smart phone allows me to take a picture of the impeller before deciding to remove the pump to replace the impeller as it's so hard to access.
  It might be time to replace most of the Group 31 gel cell batteries on the boat. Two were replaced last year, but we have 11 of them. The generator battery was replaced with the four other house batteries when we were in The Bahamas in 2013, so it's three years old. The four inverter batteries are nearly four years old, so they are due to be replaced too. I may need someone with better knowledge than me to check the viability of our batteries before I spend the money to replace 11 of them. First I'll tighten the alternator belt and go from there.
  On our way into the marina on Monday I did mention to Rosie that I was sick of boating.

  But having a boat does have its upside, and the photo attached proves it. My first mate turns 58 years old this week and many of you have indicated that I just don't post enough pictures of Rosie. Well, here you go.

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.