Friday, May 22, 2015

Caterpillar 3116s Overheating - No More!

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 4, 2015


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Insurance - Or "How To Find Nude Beaches In Southern Florida"

  We met some nice folks from England a few weeks ago while we were at Sombrero Beach here in Marathon. They had been living in The Bahamas for several years and are on an extended stay here in the U.S. on their boat. We had invited them to come out for the day on Swing Set and the subject of boat insurance came up.
  Now, Swing Set had been insured with World Wide Marine through a broker for many years until we decided to bring the boat south. One criteria I wanted to meet when searching for a new insurer was that I wanted no restrictions during "hurricane season" as to where we kept the boat. (Many companies require that a vessel be north of the Florida/Georgia border once hurricane season starts.) We were willing to pay extra for the convenience of having the boat wherever we wanted to have it. Lots of boaters move north when hurricane season starts in order to "save money" on their insurance, but when you consider the cost of fuel, etc., you may find that a higher insurance premium is a bargain in comparison.
  We wound up with a policy issued through Boat U.S. We are happy with our dealing with Boat U.S. in the sense of our ease of communication with them, and the fact that premium payments are made on an automatic withdrawal basis. We also wanted an "agreed value" policy because we have made more improvements to Swing Set than the boat is really worth, and in the event of a major loss, we don't want to be saddled with a replacement vessel that does not compare with the fine condition our boat is currently in. We aren't necessarily endorsing Boat U.S., there are many insurers out there, and they are only show their worth when you have a loss. I may sing another tune when that happens.
  But in the course of our conversation with our English friends, Charles and Margaret, it occurred to me that since it had been a few years since we have had our Boat U.S. policy, perhaps it was time to review it and compare our premium and coverage with another provider. One thing that I was not sure about was whether or not Boat U.S. would provide a "rider" to insure us once normal relations began with Cuba, somewhere we want to visit in time. I also wanted to see if we could save a few bucks.
  We took the name of the insurance broker that Charles and Margaret used and I gave him a call. He took our information after I revealed to him, that in fairness, I was shopping around to compare our policy to any others, but I was serious about this comparison. I wasn't just "tire kicking". I was, in turn, schooled from him on what to look for in certain boat coverages, and to avoid some common pitfalls that the average boat owner makes when shopping for insurance coverage.
  Charles and Margaret have their boat insured with Lloyds of London, but the quote we received was issued through a subsidiary of theirs, a Seawave policy, as the worth of Swing Set was below the level at which Lloyd's issues policies. SORRY.
   It's easy to compare the major points of an insurance policy, such as coverage amounts, deductibles, cruising areas, etc., but it's the fine print in the policies that is difficult to absorb unless you have been to law school. I haven't.
  Nonetheless, I studied our policy and compared it to the Seawave policy. First, I found that for similar coverage on the same agreed value, the premium for the new policy was going to be $300 more annually than our Boat U.S. policy, and better personal item coverage was going to be extra. Also, one specific item that we were warned about not being covered in our current policy was also not covered in the new policy. If it was worth mentioning, why would the new broker suggest a policy that did not include an item that he warned us about?
  I called Boat U.S. and asked some questions about adding endorsements for travel to other countries. I was informed that once normal relations with Cuba are established, Boat U.S. would be able to issue a rider to allow us to travel to not only Cuba, but also to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and also to Mexico. (For a boat with our range, I feel that getting fuel in Cuba is critical in order to safely travel to areas south of there.) We already knew about The Bahamas as we were issued a rider on our policy when we went there two years ago.
  I also discussed with Boat U.S. some coverage that a lot of policies don't cover, and that is what is called a "Consequential Damage Endorsement". Look it up on your own, but in essence, even though no policy will cover rot or rust, per se, the CDE covers a loss as result of rot or rust etc., that is not detected in the course of normal everyday boat maintenance. (This explanation is simplistic, don't email me with details.)
  Our current policy also has diminishing deductibles, which means that for every year that goes by without a claim, our deductible is reduced by 25% until it goes to nothing. We are at nothing.
  I called the broker for the Seawave policy that he sent for us to compare and he was not aware of the Consequential Damage Endorsement. Hmmm. He also was impressed with the diminishing deductible aspect of our current policy, and he informed us that using our credit card to make premium payments was not an option with his company. Did I mention the $300 difference?
  I thanked him for his time, told him I'd keep his contact information, but said that we would keep our current policy for the time being. He was totally understanding. I feel like the time spent, by us anyway, was worth it, even though we aren't 100% sure we actually have better coverage with Boat U.S. than we could have with another provider. But like I said, we won't really know that until we have a claim.

  We left St. Louis three years ago with no automobile insurance, as we had no car, but we had auto insurance. Sounds simple, but it's not. Try getting auto insurance without owning a car.
  We obtained what is called a "Non-owner Auto Policy" through State Farm. What that covers is our liability in case we rented a car, or borrowed one. (Be aware that a non-owner policy doesn't cover collision on the vehicle you are renting or borrowing.) We began paying around $600 per year to cover our "assets" in case of an accident. Each year the premium kept going down, but we recently received our insurance premium and it had gone up to a level higher than we were originally paying. It was time to make a call.
  For the Loopers out there, you should be aware of the common practice of marinas allowing the use of a "loaner car" when staying at a marina. We did this on occasion while traveling along the inland river systems as we made our way to Florida. Mention a free loaner car at a marina in Southern Florida, or the Keys, and be prepared to be laughed out of the place. Hence, we haven't borrowed a vehicle in over two years. Maybe we didn't need the non-owned auto policy any longer, especially now that we have our scooter. (Which is insured entirely separately than a car.)
  We called our State Farm agent that we found once we became Florida residents and she immediately suggested that we cancel the non-owner policy, as we weren't even renting, or borrowing, a car. The price increase was due to an overall increase across the board at State Farm, it had nothing to do with us. But we did some research anyway.
  Rosie called a local auto leasing company to get some prices on their insurance coverage. Now, if you have an automobile, your policy may cover any loss of the vehicle you are renting, but if you have no car, like us, it is prudent to buy collision coverage when you rent the car. It's not cheap. For example, Rosie was quoted a cost of $37 per day for insurance coverage if we wanted to lease a car from the local outfit. $25 of that coverage is for collision, which in our case, we'd have to get anyway. The extra $17 is to cover our liability. So the math equation goes like this; how many days would we have to rent a car and pay that extra $17 (remember, we have to buy the collision insurance anyway) before it comes to the amount we pay to State Farm annually, which is over $600?
   Let's see; divide 600 by 17 and we get a tad over 35. So we'd have to rent a car for over 35 days a year before we would save any money by having a non-owner State Farm policy. (I'm not mixing borrowing a car from anyone in the equation here, we're just not going to do it.)
Since we haven't had the urge to travel in a car anywhere in the last three years, and no one has been clamoring for us to come visit St. Louis lately, requiring us to rent a car, per the advice of our State Farm agent, we're not renewing the policy at the end of the month.
  "Wait just a cotton pickin' minute," you are saying. "What's this business of nude beaches in Florida?" Well...finding a nude beach anywhere is easy; you drive around in your boat until you see naked people on the shore, then you drop anchor and join them.
  How else was I going to get you to read an article about insurance?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Incremental Improvements

  When we bought our Yamaha Zuma scooter a little over a year ago we were living at Stock Island Marina Village very near to downtown Key West. We wanted something to run from the marina to downtown, as the Yuba cargo bicycle was proving to be problematic, especially after a long day at Dante's pool or a visit to Duval Street.
  We didn't even consider ever putting the scooter on the boat, but once I started thinking about what we would do with the scooter if we decided to move, or how the Zuma might fare during the potential high water of a hurricane, I measured the Zuma and found that it would fit perfectly in the cockpit of Swing Set. I bought some foldable motorcycle ramps and when we put the Zuma on the boat for our trip to Marathon, the procedure went flawlessly.
  But after the first few trips between Marathon and Key West, we found that the Zuma is lacking on a couple of key points. The first point is that with both of us on the scooter the top speed is just meeting the 55 M.P.H. speed limit on A1A, and that's according to the speedometer. A stiff headwind reduces that figure by 5 to 10 M.P.H., and the "hump" on the Seven Mile Bridge seems like climbing over the continental divide on I-70. The other issue is the suspension: Our combined weight (ahem, over 300 pounds) is too much for the non-adjustable rear shocks. When we add Holly to the passenger list, the Zuma is struggling.
  We don't want the added complications of an automobile, although I've been thinking about getting a compact car. I have to keep reminding myself that not only would having a car greatly inhibit our ability to pack up and go whenever we want, the parking in Key West for a car is expensive and hard to find. (Parking for a bike or scooter is free and abundant.)
  I started wondering if Yamaha would start making a scooter to fit into the model void between the smaller scooters and their bigger bikes, like the 150cc Hondas and the 200cc Suzuki Bergman.
  We had an appointment for our yearly checkups at our new primary care physician in Key West last week, and after our doctor visit I decided to pop into the local Yamaha dealer in Key West to see if any new models were on the drawing board.

  Meet our new Yamaha S-max! We walked into the Yamaha dealer and I noticed the new models immediately. Al Crockett, the owner of the dealership wasn't largely familiar with the new models, they just came out three months ago, but we learned that the engine is a 155cc liquid cooled power plant, the weight is a bit heavier too, but I couldn't miss the BIG disc brakes on the S-max, front and rear. I walked around to the rear of the bike and saw a big mono-shock, unfortunately not adjustable. We compared the overall size of the S-max to the dimensions of the Zuma and learned that the S-max was five inches longer, due to not only a longer wheelbase, but the wheels and tires are bigger. I knew we had some room to work with to get the S-max to fit on the boat, so I don't consider it to be an issue.
  Al doesn't usually allow extended test rides of bikes, but he had one model serviced. He put a dealer plate on it and we took a ride around the island. I could feel the greater stability, and Rosie liked the raised seating position for the passenger, but the 30 M.P.H. speed limits around the island weren't giving me the information I needed to make a change to the S-max.
Again, Al Crockett could sense that we had a serious interest in purchasing a new scooter, and I told him that if we could take this particular bike out to the four lane section of A1A where the speed limit is 55 M.P.H., we'd buy the bike we were test riding on the spot, pending a fare trade in allowance.
  On our ride to Boca Chica Key, we hit 68 M.P.H. even with a brisk headwind. Again, the stability of the longer and heavier scooter was evident and the chuck hole laden sections of the Overseas Highway on Stock Island were eaten up by the beefier S-max suspension. We didn't bottom out once, and if Rosie wasn't so fat we could probably hit 75 M.P.H. easily. (Don't worry, she doesn't read my blogs.)
  Al got a good look at our Zuma while we were gone, and beings how our Zuma looked better than the bikes on the showroom floor, he allowed us a top trade-in price, the difference being not much more than the cost of a good pair of new shocks for the Zuma.The tax was only the difference between the two scooters, making my decision to avoid selling the Zuma on my own an easy one. We would have taken the new bike home that afternoon, but we didn't have our checkbook or the title to the Zuma with us. We agreed to meet the next morning when the shop opened.
  We arrived just after 10 A.M. the next morning. I told Al we would have been there earlier but we stopped down the street to top off the fuel on our trade-in. Al shook his head and said, "Nobody does that", and when we picked out some gear oil and Yamalube to take with us, he threw them both in for nothing. The profit margin on scooters is not that great, and Al didn't make a killing on the transaction. He also knew that he would soon be inundated with Zuma trade-ins due to lots of Zuma customers wanting to make the same switch we did. Sometimes the early bird does get the worm.
  Even with the subtle differences in the two scooter models, our ride back to Marathon was like night and day compared to our ride back on the previous afternoon. We were able to not only keep up with traffic, we didn't have anyone tailgating us and I even managed to pass a car or two!
  I detailed the S-max last Saturday morning, applying gobs of U.V. protectant and wax. I even took the time of removing a sticker that reminds us to wear our helmets and read the instructions. We do and I did. The apprehension of whether or not our new Sunbrella scooter cover would fit was satisfied when the detailing was completed. The cover doesn't fit perfectly, the S-max has a windshield, but mainly because the Zuma had a top case and the S-max doesn't, but I figure it's similar to how my pants will fit if I ever lose the 20 pounds that I intend to. Eventually.
  I've been doing some small projects on the boat. I'm caught up on the waxing for the time being, but another item that takes its toll in the salt air is painted aluminum surfaces. The aluminum corrodes and the paint flakes off, especially when a small crack develops.
  Our brackets holding the anchor lines on the bow have been slowly looking worse and worse, with a couple of them having their paint nearly disappeared. I took off the brackets and used my cordless drill with a wire wheel to grind all the paint off of the four brackets down to bare metal. A good friend in the painting business suggested that I use epoxy paint when I repair some of the trouble spots I had asked him about, but I already had some Rustoleum spray paint and wanted to use it up.
  One thing I do is use our engine room as my spray booth if the items are not too large. I turn on both blowers to evacuate the airborne paint, and I just let 'er rip. I don't care about getting a bit of overspray on the engines and other parts, it's usually not much. The only colors I ever have to paint or either white or gray, and both colors are dominant in the engine room of our Sea Ray. I love it when things just work out like that.
  Last week I painted the steering column after removing it from the helm. The flat black paint was dull and nearly all flaked off. I sanded it down to bare metal, primed it with gray, and laid on a nice glossy silver/gray topcoat that sets off our silver and wood wheel very nicely. Little things can make a big difference in a boats appearance.
  Another little thing was that when Rosie had the throw rug from the galley in the wash, I noticed that the gray composite flooring where the rug sits had turned yellow. After a Google search, I learned that the backing on many throw rugs can cause a yellow stain on linoleum and rubber surfaces. The remedy is not immediate, as one solution is letting the sun bring out the stain, but we began a process to eliminate the stain and it's getting better with time and application of bleach and/or vinegar. The lesson here is to avoid putting throw rugs around where they aren't really needed.

  Uh oh, what's this? Yes, it's the floor of our salon opened up to access the engine room. This process is generally reserved for the "heavy work" that sometimes has to be done in there, and I've had a job that I've been putting off for months now, and it was time to bite the bullet and git 'er done.
  If you've been reading this blog, you should be familiar with our issues of the engines running hot. I've done everything usually associated with hot running engines that can be done, and I've cleaned our heat exchangers on three previous occasions, but I knew that I hadn't done the job properly, so before we left Stock Island last November I bought some more Barnacle Buster with the intention of cleaning the heat exchangers again before hurricane season. Why before hurricane season? If we want to run, we want to run at cruising speed for hours if conditions allow it. You don't run at 9 M.P.H.
  When we were in The Bahamas, I couldn't run the engines at cruising speed for more than five minutes before the temperature alarms would sound. That was nearly two years ago.
The first time I cleaned the heat exchangers, I thought I was clever and hooked up both engines (two raw water coolant heat exchangers and two oil coolers) and got some improvement, but I decided later on that the flow rate of the acid may not have been good enough to do a thorough job. So I did it again, and included the fuel coolers, only to find out later that cleaning the fuel coolers is not necessary. I did each engine separately, and ran the acid for a long time, or at least thought I did, only to discover later that my circulating pump had been air bound. I could hear the pump running, but because I had submerged the return hose beneath the solution in the container that I was using (an old cooler), I didn't know I had no flow. Dumb dumb dumb. Again, because the acid just being in contact with the calcium buildup in the heat exchangers is somewhat effective, there was some improvement, but not as much as I wanted, so I immediately did the job again.
  Barnacle Buster is $72 bucks a gallon. The last time I did the job I used two gallons, but still I didn't do the job right. When I removed the hoses from the second engine I cleaned, I could see that because I ran the acid in the same direction as the raw water flow, I didn't thoroughly clean the lower positioned oil coolers, having only gotten the bottom half of the coolers clean. Hence, my realization that I needed to clean the heat exchangers again, and run the acid from the bottom, uphill so to speak, to return at the higher raw water inlet, plus loop the return hose higher than any component in the system. I also made sure the return hose remained above my cleaning solution so I could make sure I was getting flow throughout the CIP (cleaning in place) process.
  While the solution was running, it occurred to me that I may have an air pocket in the top of the raw water heat exchanger, so I bled the topmost plug to let air out, and out it came! (The plug I'm talking about is the recommended procedure where I removed the zinc anodes and replaced with blank plugs so I wouldn't eat up the zincs.)
  I think I got it right this time. In the next few days we'll take Swing Set out for a trial and I'll know for sure. If it doesn't work I'll have to call in the cavalry in the form of our local authorized Caterpillar dealer.
  While I was in the engine room for most of the day yesterday, I noticed one of our five lights in there was not on. I checked the bulb and replaced it although it looked O.K. It still didn't work even after I checked to make sure I was getting 12 volts to the fixture. I also noticed that the lenses to three of the five fixtures were melted through from the heat built up from the incandescent bulbs. The engine room is the last place on the boat that doesn't have LED lights, except for our running lights, so I decided to get new LED fixtures for the engine room. I could have gotten just the bulbs, but like I said, some of the lenses were ruined, and the others were yellowed, so going with new fixtures was the answer.
  The power drain from five incandescent fixtures when working in the engine room is substantial, and it's even worse when you close up the hatches and leave the lights on for a day or two, wondering why the batteries are taking such a hit when you're sitting on the hook. Yes, I've done it.
   Next, my plan is to systematically remove the aluminum brackets one at a time around the four storage compartments in our cockpit to paint them. (Systematically means I'll take a few weeks to do it.) There is some minor corrosion beginning to occur on the bracket surfaces and it's the type of job that can be done easily when the temperatures start to climb, as they are starting to do now.
  We also have some rust occurring around the bases our stainless steel roller brackets mounted on the swim platform, and I'll have to remove the brackets, grind off the rust from the underside of the brackets, seal them with 3M 5200 sealant (the duct tape of boat owners), and re seat the brackets. I know this method works as I've used it on the grab rail above our swim ladder with long lasting results. This job has been on my radar screen for some months, but we can't rush into things now, can we?
  I mentioned earlier about our doctor visits. I don't mention too much on here about our health; for one reason it's boring, and it's also no ones business, but recently one of the folks we met at the pool asked us just how much beer we actually consumed on a weekend. After some consideration on our part, the answer even astounded us, let alone him. He admitted that he lost a bet with his wife. (She wisely guessed a higher consumption rate in spite of our lithe figures. Hahaha.)
  Later, in a lucid moment, and with our yearly wellness visit to the doctor on the horizon, it occurred to me that we spend a great deal of time in keeping Swing Set looking nice and performing preventive maintenance so that the boat lasts a long time; why aren't we giving the same consideration to our own health and well being?
  We both decided to cut down on our beer intake, as hard as that decision was, in order to not only keep our weight down, but also to save a bundle at the grocery store. (Not to mention that the companionways on the boat are as narrow as 14 inches. If not being able to get into the bathroom is not incentive enough, what is?)
  The main problem we see is what we're going to do with all the extra time we'll have on our hands. If we're not at happy hour four times a week for three hours, what in the world are we gonna do? An added issue is that I need a couple of beers in me to work up enough personality to socialize with folks at the pool. (Most people may allow as that method doesn't work either.) I guess we can just spend our extra free time waxing the boat more.
  Speaking of socializing...we met another blog reader and his wife at the marina the other day, them popping in here in Marathon in their boat on a little trip down from their home upstate. They both were very happy to meet us, and they both appear very nice to us too, but when the man of the couple said that they would like to sit down with us some afternoon and hear all about our trip downriver from St. Louis, I looked at them and asked, "Can't you just read the blog?" I think I'm more fun on here than I am in person sometimes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

That's Life

  While everyone this winter has been digging out, we've been just diggin' it. We spent some time on Sombrero Beach recently, and once the winds had calmed down, we gave the dinghy a workout.
  Not everything is idyllic at Sombrero Beach, however. On our last time there, we had another run in with a woman who insists on letting her large Labra-Doodle (Labrador Retriever/Standard Poodle mix) run loose on the beach. When Holly sees any dog running around on the beach, she creates a fuss, apparently wanting to jump out of the dinghy and join in on the fun, but even though she doesn't jump out, the other dog may run over and see what's going on. That's when the trouble starts.
  Several times, the other dog will try to jump in the dinghy to get at Holly, last year on Boca Chica, one tried to bite. That ain't gonna happen.
  I reminded the woman that her dog was supposed to be on a leash, and she preceded to tell me that her dog was on "an invisible leash". I wanted to tell her to get into her invisible spaceship and go somewhere else, but instead I told her to just keep her dog away from our dog. I used a word that starts with an "F", and it wasn't "friendly".
  The woman called me a "cranky old man". She may be delusional in one respect, but I must say she's right on the money in others. I'm cranky as hell when it comes to the well being of our pet.

   Why can't Holly just stare silently at the other critters on the beach like I do?
So avoiding the beach for a few weekends gave us an opportunity to go explore in the dinghy. Last week we took the dinghy to Hawk's Cay Resort, about twenty miles northeast of Marathon on Duck Key. For the record, I pronounce Cay and Key the same, kee. Look it up.
  We have friends that pop in there every time they leave Key West, it seems, and it's easy to see why. It's very fancy and ritzy, but I wouldn't want to take our "big boat" there. The marina is too far away from the social areas to suit me, and there is a mighty tidal current that whips through the marina basin.
  On a previous trip, we saw a place near Vaca Cut called the Island Fish Company, so on this day we stopped in on the way home as we had crossed over to the bay side. Happy Hour started at 3 P.M., and wouldn't you know it, we walked in at 2:55! Our brand was $1.25 per bottle, so we had a couple of those along with some shrimp cocktail and a Dolphin wrap. The food was good, and the service was better. We'll go back.
  Speaking of Bud Light...I was, wasn't I? A couple of weeks ago some blog readers popped into the marina here bearing gifts in the form of a six pack of my favorite beverage, and if you think it was a half dozen bottles of YooHoo, you haven't been paying attention.
  But life is not all fun and games. We've had some boat maintenance issues too. One thing was that our shaft seal on the starboard side had been leaking more that normal for a while now, and I finally got up the nerve to address it. We have the Sure Seal System installed on both shafts, and a spare seal is installed on both shafts in case we need them, but I decided to try to fix my minor leak without using a new seal, while the boat is in the water.
  I got a tip from a mobile boat mechanic we had become friendly with while we were in Key West last year, and he said I should try to clean up the shaft with some emery paper first, so I loosened up the collar on the seal, loosened up the clamps on the flexible hose, and pushed the collar back toward the hose to reveal the surface that the seal rides on. A little water was leaking in, but nothing the bilge pump couldn't handle, and I found the surface to be a bit rough. But most of that may have been salt residue. At any rate, I used some wet/dry 220 grit paper to clean up the shaft surface, then I re-tightened everything back, but only moved the collar forward a fraction of an inch so that the seal will ride in a new spot.
  Water pressure running from a hose supplied on the raw water system for each engine keeps the seals pressurized and keeps the ocean water out. There is a cross-over hose from one system to the other in case you get some blockage from one of the engine hoses.
  Initially, the leak dribbled to nothing, and over the weekend we gave the boat a workout out at sea, and the subsequent check found our seals not leaking a drop, which is how they are supposed to work, as opposed to a packing nut system.
  On our last dinghy run I found out that our fuel primer pump on the Mercury had sprung a leak. It's not the big bulb you might find on a fuel line running from the external gas tank, but a small button type pump on the front of the engine that can be pressed a couple of times to prime the carburetor. Any rubber takes a beating in this environment, so I wasn't very surprised at having to replace the $23 part, but I had to order it from the local Mercury dealer.
It only took a week to get and I popped it in this morning in about five minutes. I coated the rubber with some Yamalube sealant so we should be good for a few years.

  We gave Swing Set a work out by taking it over to Newfound Harbor last weekend, anchoring just off of Picnic Island, which is pictured above. We got there Thursday night and didn't return to Marathon until Monday morning. We co-mingled with some locals, met some folks we'd like to see some other time, and also met some folks we never want to see again. I'm good for about a 20/80 for/against ratio.

  By Sunday our beer supply was running low, but what we had left was icy cold in our Engel cooler. These coolers, like a Yehti cooler, are supposed to keep drinks cold for days at a time. This is in theory. An outfit like Consumer Reports will do a test on coolers, filling them with ice, and then tell you how many days the ice will last. This type of test is useless. Give me a test more based on reality, like how long will the ice last when you are opening the lid every ten minutes getting a beer out. We were on the hook for four days and used four bags of ice. Do the math.

  We had some fantastic sunsets while on the hook, like the one above, but really no better than the ones we get here at the dock.
  We took a two hour slow cruise back to the marina yesterday and stopped into the fuel dock to fill up the boat for the first time in months. I hope the six dollar a gallon fuel gets along OK with the $3.50 a gallon fuel. I only need a 20/80 ratio with diesel.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Some Overdue Time On the Hook

  With no visitors scheduled to arrive, and some decent weather forecasted, we began to consider taking Swing Set out to stay on the hook for a few days. Some boat neighbors had been talking about the Content Keys on the Gulf Side for a few weeks now, so when they told us a few boats were planning to go there last weekend, we decided to go there too.
  We got wind of the trip last Wednesday, which was planned for the following day, so we made a trip to the grocery store, mainly to get beer, cranked the dinghy up and strapped it in, and pretty much decided we were ready to go the next morning. We like to keep the boat ready to go at any given time, and that includes storing away anything left out on counters, etc.
  I'm not much for traveling in groups, so I confirmed just where "everyone" was planning on anchoring, and by mid-morning last Thursday, we saw some movement on a couple of neighboring boats who were planning on going, so we began to untie the boat. It was my plan to let the others get ahead and then tag along well behind, but when two of the vessels steered toward the fuel dock, we decided to just go ahead and start.
  Out of seven boats that had planned on making the trip, when it was all said and done, four actually got on their way, and we were ahead of everyone but didn't know it.
  We steered toward the southern end of Big Spanish Channel, and by time we got to the northwestern end of it, we learned by listening to the VHF that there were three boats behind us. I told them I'd pick a spot and we made our way west to Content Key and easily set a hook just off the shore on the northern side as no protected anchorages are around Content Key unless you have the draft of a pool float.
  The others seemed to be OK with my choice to anchor and soon we had three dinghies out exploring around the back side of Content Key.
  By sunset we were all on one boat having sunset cocktails but we soon retired to Swing Set for dinner and a crummy movie.

  We were up before daybreak on Friday morning having spent a very peaceful night with very little wind. We had a nice breakfast and once everyone reconnoitered by mid-morning we found out that the folks we knew best were heading back. The two boats in the picture above weren't sure what they wanted to do, but we said we were heading west toward Tarpon Belly Key, to an anchorage we had stayed in two years ago.

  They took a shot of Swing Set as we headed out.
  About five miles down the coast is the Cudjoe Channel, and just a couple of miles southward along that channel is Tarpon Belly Key. We picked the same spot we were in two years ago and promptly got a solid hook just offshore.
  A few local boaters frequent Tarpon Belly Key and we spent a pleasant afternoon laying around on Swing Set, enjoying some music and privacy, until we again had a nice dinner and a crummy movie. We didn't get a good nights sleep though.
  The wind had clocked around and came in from the north. We bounced around all night and woke up to cloudy skies.

  Our loosely knit plan to head south to Newfound Harbor was quickly complicated by not only the cloudy skies, this sight of a beached runabout was giving me pause, considering our 16 mile route to Newfound Harbor was one which carried with it a depth of 3.9 feet at low tide. We need 3.5 just to float our boat.
  We had taken this route before, but at high tide, but it was early morning and high tide would be for hours. Nervous about the visibility in a cloudy sky, we decided to just head back the way we came. We wish we hadn't.
  As we neared the northern end of Cudjoe Channel, I saw what I thought was a bunch of boats along the shallows but it turned out to be breakers crashing from the two to four foot waves coming in from the north.
  We had about nine miles to travel before we could head into Big Spanish Channel, and a following sea, so I decided to attempt it.
  The waves were on our bow and when one came over the deck and "rang our bell", I knew we were in for a rough ride.
  Battling rough seas is one thing, but dodging crab and lobster pot markers while doing so is unnerving, to say the least, and nine miles in rough water turns into a larger number. Both hands were on the wheel for about ninety minutes, and Rosie had a grip on her seat and Holly. Not in that particular order.
  For the last few miles heading into Big Spanish Channel, I spooled Swing Set up to a cruising speed of about 25 m.p.h. to cut down on our time spent in quarter beam seas. The boat bust through the waves with no issues, and with some relief we made our turn and got those waves behind us.
  Once we got into the channel and the waves diminished to where I could take a hand off the wheel, and Rosie could relax a bit, she asked me if I wanted a water.
  "A water? Hell, you better bring me a beer after that!", I said.
  The rest of the trip home was uneventful and soon we were back in our slip at Marathon Marina. We put a few hours on the boat with no mishaps and nothing broke. It was a good feeling to be back in port with a solid boat under us, looking forward to a good nights sleep.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Time Flies...

  I may have taken my longest hiatus yet between blog posts, and I apologize. I know we've been busy, but I'm not sure with what, but one thing for certain is that the sunsets never cease to captivate us every evening.
  The sun is taking its seasonal trek across the sky and has been setting more and more to the "right" or north, from its position shown on the photo above. As the days progress, the sunset will be behind the trees on Knights Key, which is the first key as you come north from the Seven Mile bridge. I wonder if our rent goes down when the sunsets are not as spectacular? As it is, we pay a 5% surcharge for our slip on the western docks. Believe me, it's worth it.

  So what do we do all day? The photo above will give you an indication. If we can roust Holly up from a good nights sleep, she usually assumes her second favorite spot on the boat (my lap) while we are having our breakfast and morning coffee.
  During this time we watch the view from the salon as the fishing and pleasure boats are heading out for the day. We watch the morning news since we have T.V. now, and I catch up on activity on Facebook and check our emails. We limit ourselves to two big cups of coffee, but this ritual can last up to two hours. Time well spent.
  Next is time spent on the boat in the form of mopping down the morning dew, or continuing our ongoing chore of waxing. Always waxing. Swing Set is looking good, and some of our boat neighbors have enlisted in the waxing brigade since they've seen what can be done with a nineteen year old boat. It's nice to have a positive influence on other boat owners, on occasion.

  The boat isn't our only possession that requires maintenance. We've begun to use our Yuba bicycle for weekly, or bi-weekly grocery shopping trips. One morning I noticed that the front tire or wheel seemed to be out of round. I searched for a bike repair shop near us and found the Overseas Outfitters Sport and Bicycle Store just down the street and made plans to take our Boda Boda bike in for a "tune up".
  We haven't had the bike but for about a year, and last summer we hardly rode it at all once we bought our Zuma scooter, but wheels need to be trued up, and gears need to be adjusted, and more importantly, I wanted to establish a working relationship with a local bike shop in case we really needed some other service work done on our bike.
  We dropped the bike off in the morning and picked it up a few short hours later. The wheels had been trued and spokes were tightened, but I noticed that the front wheel was still out of round, or at least it looked like the wheel was out of round, but it was shown to us that the front tire had a bulge in it. We decided to just keep an eye on it.
  A few days later we went to Publix on the bike and broke a spoke on the way home. We popped into the bike shop and they replaced a spoke while we waited. Sometimes once you start fiddlin' with something that ain't know the rest.
  Again a few days later we started out on the bike and I found that the bulge in the front tire had turned into a tread failure. A big flap of tread was hanging off and tire cord was showing.
Up to the bike shop we went.
  The bike came with white rubber tires that soon turned yellow in the Florida sun, so we went with the whitewall tires you see in the picture above. Spiffy, but I had expressed some concern over the tread thickness of these tires but bought them anyway. We then took the bike straight home, not a quarter of a mile away.
  Just a couple of days later we uncovered the Yuba and the back tire was flat. Yep. Up to the bike shop we went. Again.
  A small "wire" was found inside the tire and it had punctured the new tube. "Musta picked it up on yer way home last time", I was told. How can I argue with that?
  I renewed my concern over the tread thickness and asked them if they sold tire liners, a rubber insert that goes between the tire and the tube. "Sure we have those, would you like to have a pair installed?", I was asked.
  A good time to suggest installing those tire liners would have been when we bought the new tires and tubes, but better late than never they say, so we had the liners installed.
  I haven't been giving you a running count of the charges up to now, but they weren't low, in spite of some small charges that were not applied "Since you were just here", but they were not inconsequential I can tell you.
  But here's the thing...when we load up the Yuba for a grocery run, I am certain that we are exceeding the weight limits of the bike. You put me, Rosie, three cases of Budlight, and a weeks worth on groceries on the aluminum framed Boda Boda, it's like trying to steer a motorcycle with rubber handlebars.
  So I'll take some blame for equipment failure. On our radar screen for the Boda Boda is new wheels with thicker spokes. The cost of this bike is approaching that of my first new car.

  Holly gets maintained too. Here she is sporting a new haircut that I gave her. I shaved off her "mustache" because her eyes water and the long hair on her face gets "crusty" even with daily face washings. Her face is too tiny to safely cut between her eyes and where the long hair on her nose would start, so I just cut it all off. I think she likes it, and she got a compliment on her haircut from the vet on her annual wellness visit the other day. Yes, wellness visit.

  I know I've mentioned the four foot long dockbox that we have on the flybridge of Swing Set, but here's another picture of it. The box sits right abaft of our flybridge lounger, with our motorcycle ramps hanging on brackets between the box and the seat.
  I'd rather the ramps fit inside the box, but not only are they too long by about two inches, the box is loaded with cleaning and waxing supplies, buckets, towels, my orbital polisher, and various solvents. I have two smaller plastic tubs sitting above one large plastic tub so that I can more easily get to the stuff in the bottom tub by lifting out the two small ones.
  Recently I replaced the two standard steel gas struts with stainless steel ones from Taylor. The standard steel struts just fall apart with rust in this salt environment. I also replaced the ones on our flybridge hatch and the small trunk hatch on our stern. They look great and they'll last.

  But it's not all work, oh no. In the photo we are in the dinghy heading home from Sombrero Beach where we go several times per week. We had some visiting friends with us who took this photo, but we're starting to meet some other cruisers in the area who also frequent the beach. It's a good place to meet folks.
  Speaking of visitors, we've had quite a few in the last several weeks. In no particular order, we've met a friend who keeps his RV at Stock Island and who drove up to Marathon to meet us at happy hour. Some other friends were passing through on their way to Key West and met us for lunch, and then again for breakfast as they passed through on their way back up to Miami.
  We are getting blog readers popping by to say hello when they are in the area, too. One night as we were watching the waning moments of a sunset, I had just pulled some steaks off the grill and a blog reader showed up at the boat just to say "Hi". I hated rushing him off, but no amount of propriety is going to come between me and a freshly cooked steak.
  Another evening a guy showed up to also say hello, again with no notice. We had a little more time, but he had a whole tribe of family out waiting in his car and he just wanted to let us know he's been following the blog "since day one", and he just wanted to voice his appreciation. I apologized for not having posted anything in a while and he asked me to write something, anything, even if I had to make it up. I said, "How do you know I don't do that already?"
  We were coming out of Lazy Days, the restaurant here, one early evening and were met by six folks in the parking lot who had been to the boat and were looking for us. One of the fellas had also been following the blog from the beginning too. In fact, he was the one who bought our old Achilles dinghy. Luckily he was still happy with the dinghy.
  We met some nice folks from England on the beach about a week ago and we took them out for a boat ride on Swing Set. As we were cruising through Two Sisters Creek we were hailed on the VHF radio. I switched to another channel and was met by yet another blog reader who noticed us passing by and just wanted to say hello. I think our new friends were impressed.

  Some friends were passing through last Sunday on their way "back north" and wanted to meet for lunch, so we suggested Sunset Grille. We arrived by dinghy and got a good seat. The place is hoppin' every Sunday for "Sunday Funday", so not knowing when exactly they were going to arrive, we wanted a venue that we liked.
  We were well into our first bucket of Budlights when a young man walked up and asked if we were Mike and Rosie. He didn't look like he wanted to punch me in the nose, so I said that we were. He told us that his parents read our blog, and that he had also begun to read it, hoping to do what we were doing some day. I said, "Oh, you want to be hiding out from the cops too?"
  No, not really. But we get that most of our blog readers are folks who want to someday live on a boat somewhere, and they wonder how it works on a day to day basis.