Friday, December 30, 2011

More On Our River Boating Dogs

I was twenty- two years old when I bought my first home on the Meramec River. To say that it was a "fixer upper" was an understatement. My future wife, Rosie, and I had been dating a couple of years and with my work schedule and work on the house, a pet was not on our priority list. My brother brought a puppy over that had wandered onto their worksite one day and wouldn't leave. Having a home, a girlfriend, and a dog seemed like the natural progression of the way life should be, (not necessarily in that order) so we took in the collie/shepherd mix and named him Gus, after a friend.

 Somewhere in life's progression comes a boat if you live on a river, and Gus took to the water and boats like a spaniel, as he could have very easily had some spaniel in him too. In this picture, Gus is taking in the view from my dad's boat on a trip up the Mississippi to the St. Louis riverfront from our home on the Meramec River.
 Gus was not a water skiing dog like my childhood pet, Paree, but he would chase us along the riverbank when we were skiing up and down the channel in front of our river house, and he was always first to jump in the boat for a ride whenever he was invited to join us.
 Gus had the best personality of any pet we ever owned. He was a member of our wedding party when we got married in 1980 and he was loved as much as any being can love another during the much too short of a time that he was with us. He has been gone for nearly 30 years, and to this day, recollecting his traumatic demise is almost too much for me to bear.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Dogs Have No Place on a Boat"

Yes, I've said this numerous times and still believe it for the most part. But things change, and boy, sometimes they change in a hurry. On Christmas Day a friend posted a picture of a puppy that her son needed to adopt out. I couldn't get the cute thing out of my mind all day and ran through all of the reasons why we haven't had a dog for 13 years or so. Humans are great at rationalization, and I might be eligible for an award of some sort in that category, so I began to think of reasons for us to own a dog instead of why not to. All I needed to do was mention the prospect to Rosie and she was all for it, without counting any reasons at all, pro or con. We decided to go see the puppy during our Christmas dinner and couldn't wolf our food down fast enough before we were out the door for the 45 minute drive to Alton, Ill. It was laughable to think that there would be some sort of decision to be made once we arrived to "view" the puppy, as it was pretty much a forgone conclusion. We brought "Holly" home and our whole world since has been turned on its head.
 When we first decided to become live aboard cruisers on Swing Set eventually, one idea lurked in the back of my mind, and that idea was the benefits of having a "guard dog" with us on Swing Set. We have no delusions about Holly getting big enough to become anything more than a living burglar alarm, but that's exactly what she will be, a five pound burglar alarm.
 Since we have a few months before we begin our journey, I thought that in view of recent developments, I would relate to you our experience with having dogs aboard our boats.
 It is obvious that people who like boats also like their pets. Boating magazines feature whole pages devoted to pictures of dogs on boats wearing hats and sunglasses, websites for boaters are the same, and every post I see from the AGLCA (America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association) mention the crews names, which usually include a dog name or two.

 This is a picture of our family dog, "Paree" that my dad brought home when I was about seven years old and this picture was taken on the Meramec River at Minnie Ha Ha in 1968. Note the pier from the "Old Bridge", no longer standing.
  Paree was the family dog and he went everywhere with us, including our outings on the boat. They say that poodles take to water and are good swimmers, which Paree was. They also say that poodles are high strung and are yappers, which Paree wasn't. He learned how to bark from the beagle next door.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Anchor Locker Is No Place to be In Your Underwear

 We like the view from "on the hook" way better than at any marina. Here, Swing Set is at one of our favorite anchorages behind Lumpy Island (Small island in the picture) just off the Dardenne Slough on the Mississippi River on the Alton Pool.
 It's not a very good picture, but you can see the windlass that we installed last spring, and you can also see two extra Danforth anchors, along with anchor line that we keep stowed on the bow. I'm not too keen on leaving the anchor lines stowed out in the sun, but they are where they need to be for deployment. I'll replace them as necessary.
 The new chain/rope windlass arrived as advertised and we sent the old one back to the Good Automatic Windlass folks in the same shipping package. The windlass came with very good instructions as to the installation. It also came with a "board" made of plastic that was to cover the old windlass holes. One reason for writing this post is to perhaps allow you to avoid one or two of my mistakes that I made during this process.
 With the old windlass, only one hole through the deck was necessary. The new windlass, having the windlass motor below the deck, needed not only the hole for the rode to pass through, a hole for the motor shaft had to be made. A template was provided, but the decision I had to make was mainly in the placement of the template. I figured to match the existing hole to the template where the hole for the new windlass was to be. Simple so far, right?
 The deck where our windlass is mounted is over 4" thick. The hole needed to be 4" in diameter where the windlass shaft and motor flange had to pass. I bought a hole saw for my drill, thinking that would do the trick, but a hole saw made for a drill only goes through material 2" thick or so before binding up.
 I don't know about you, but attacking the deck of your boat with power tools is a little daunting, to say the least, but what needed to be done, needed to be done, so on the attack I went. After realizing that the hole I had just drilled wasn't deep enough, I figured to finish the job with my jigsaw, only the blades were just a little too short to make it all the way through the deck material. A trip to the hardware store to get longer blades gave me time to regroup and get my thoughts together.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Swing Set On The Hook

 This is a typical raft up on the Mississippi where we boat on the Alton Pool. On this Memorial Day last summer the water was up and running fast, but with most of our boating gang having experience with anchoring and in possession of good ground tackle, we usually avoid any mishaps.
 Swing Set came from the factory with a Good Automatic Windlass, an all rope model using 5/8" anchor line. Over the years, some of our friends began replacing their anchor rodes with all chain. The idea appealed to me but our windlass was working very well and putting any chain into the mix was going to mean buying a new windlass.
 Milton Ohlsen was a fellow Duck Club Yacht Club member who had left the harbor several years ago, along with his wife Fran, aboard their Kadey-Krogen named Sea Fox, to live aboard and to do the Great Loop. Milton was providing an occasional update via the Alton Pool website, so I decided to call him. I asked him about ground tackle and how essential it was to have chain along with a rope rode included in our anchoring system. He was emphatic in his reply that a windlass that will accept chain is not an option, but a requirement. Rocks, coral, and even sand over time will wear through anchor line, so the end of the anchor line closest to the anchor and the sea bottom needs to be chain, but how about the whole thing? I knew weight was a consideration, but in addition to that, any wave activity would produce annoying clunking as the chain rides through the pulpit rollers, making sleep nearly impossible.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Watts, Watts, Where to Put the Watts?

The Air-X Marine Wind Generators are smart little gizmos. Electrical power starts generating at as little as a 7 M.P.H. wind. Maximum output of 400 watts is achieved with a 28 M.P.H. wind. Braking occurs when winds approach 35 M.P.H. and complete braking occurs when winds reach 65 M.P.H. Voltage in the battery banks is continuously monitored and when the batteries are charged, the wind generators stop charging and spinning slows down. A minimum voltage of 10.5 has to be detected before charging will occur also, so it's important to not let your battery banks discharge too much. If that would happen, then alternate charging has to take place before the wind generators are functional again. So there is a voltage "window" there, or operating range, that is required for the wind generators, but staying within that "window" is easy once you learn how the generators operate. More on that later, but I want to fill you in on how we decided to transmit that generated electrical power to a source that we could use on the boat.
 You can see them spinning in the picture above in this shot at sunset on the Mighty Mississippi.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Wind Generator Installation Continues

 The two Air-X Marine Wind Generators arrived via UPS shortly after I had ordered them from Defender Marine. Both units came packed in one box, each then packed in a separate box. When I opened the first box and checked the contents, I found that the plastic nose cone that fits over the propeller hub was cracked. When I saw how the unit was packaged, it occurred to me that the other unit would have a cracked nose cone too, and it was. I contacted Defender, they contacted Air-X, and Air-X quickly shipped us two new nose cones and made plans to change the packaging. One side note: These nose cones are white plastic, but the generator bodies are powder coated aluminum. I have had enough experience with plastic materials on boats to decide to spray paint the nose cones while they were new to protect them from future U.V. rays.
 I met J.D. Schmid, the service co-ordinator at Bloch Marine, along with Dave Ludwig, one of their top electrician/mechanics, and brought along one of the Air-X units. The most important item that I brought along was one of the technical manuals that came with the wind generators. I had already reviewed one of the manuals and I knew enough about what I didn't know about electronics to realize the importance of having someone knowledgable about 12 volt power distribution involved from the start. Dave's job for the next few days was going to be studying the technical manual to decide exactly how the units were to be wired up and what he would need to do the job. My job was to determine what I needed in the way of a mounting system, keeping in mind height and clearance requirements, and then get with "Little John", our stainless steel fabricator, and make it all work. J.D. made sure that Dave's schedule was free to work on the project as needed, and to bill the hours. Gulp.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"What Do Them Windmills Do?"

 If you run across Swing Set out on the water, there is no mistaking her for another vessel if you notice the "windmills" sprouting from the top of the radar arch. Actually they are not windmills at all because, well, windmills mill grain by virtue of wind energy. (Think of those Dutch windmills you see in all those pictures at the art museum.) These are Air-X Marine Wind Generators, and they produce electricity to be stored in battery banks to be used as required by the various systems on board. This post is about how we arrived at this solution to the issue of providing power for long term living aboard "on the hook".

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Still More Stuff, Even Less Room

While on the subject of creating storage room, related to you in the previous post, I'll fill you in on some other decisions we had to make to find room on Swing Set for more storage. Early in the Spring of 2011 we put our "Dock-o-minium" up for sale at the Duck Club Yacht Club. We were lucky to find a buyer early on and arranged a closing date to suit us and the buyer. I included our two 6' long dock boxes in the sale as we surely didn't have room for them on the boat.
We arranged a lease with another Duck Club dock owner and it was an easy move to another slip, but what about all that stuff in those two dock boxes?

Monday, December 19, 2011

What Are We Going to Do With All of Our "Stuff"?

The fall/winter of 2010 was a busy time in regard to outfitting Swing Set for extended cruising and living aboard. One major decision we had to make was whether or not to convert our second stateroom into an office/chartroom/storage area. Swing Set had a standard two stateroom layout at delivery. The second stateroom was equipped with two twin size bunks that would convert into a king size with a filler, a nightstand, and a small settee and hanging locker with a phone booth sized stand up area. While having overnight guests aboard is always a consideration while we are enjoying our boat on the weekends, having room to conduct personal business at a desk and having storage room for the tools and parts we thought we would require for full time living aboard seemed to be more of a necessity. We had enlarged the settee in the salon already which would sleep one person very comfortably, and really, lots of times guests would opt to sleep on a pallet placed on the salon floor due to better air movement, although there was always the risk of stepping on a head or leg when the early rising Captain stirs in the mornings.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's All About the Dinghy

 When I started looking for a new dinghy I was sure that I wanted a rigid inflatable. That is, a fiberglass hull with an inflatable collar. I also wanted the dinghy to be white. It didn't take long to find one, and I found it on eBay. Some outfit in New York had purchased the complete inventory of one year old Mercury dinghies from another supplier that was going out of business. We got a dinghy for about 1/2 the price of the current model year, but still new and shipped in the crate to Little John's shop. I found a one year old Mercury 15 H.P. four-stroke outboard at Bass Pro Shop, still new with a  3 year warranty. 15 H.P. is the maximum horse power for this model dinghy, and there is basically no weight difference over a  10 H.P. engine. With one person aboard, our dinghy runs a respectable 26 M.P.H., verified by GPS, thank you very much.

Here I am instructing our friend Karen about the finer points of our dinghy. Notice how Karen is ignoring me completely and texting for help on her smart phone.

 Backing up a little, after the dinghy was delivered to Little John's shop,

Friday, December 16, 2011

Asian Carp and Cockpit Carpet Don't Mix

 I had mentioned in an earlier post how we had new carpet made for the stairs on Swing Set. Hopefully we all live and learn and we learned that carpet on a boat on the outdoor surfaces is a pain in the butt, at least for a couple of reasons. The first thing is that wet carpet stinks, and once it gets wet, it takes forever to dry out. If we were out on the hook, or cruising, whenever it started to sprinkle, we had to take up the carpet on the steps and the rather large carpet in the cockpit. One of the engine access hatches was also under that cockpit carpet, and the need to roll aside that carpet tended to give me reason to avoid periodic engine room checks. In addition to our desire to keep the carpets dry, we also live in Asian Carp country. Asian Carp will, and did, jump into our cockpit while we were under way several times. Have you ever thrown water balloons?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How Do You Hold Your Dinghy?

 Swing Set came with a 9' Achilles inflatable dinghy and Weaver davits were already installed. The way our Weaver davits worked was sort of like the "hook" and "loop" of Velcro, only the dinghy has two "loops" and two "hooks" are installed on the swim platform of Swing Set.

 This picture of our dinghy shows the "loops" on the port side of the dinghy, which for you land lubbers, is on the left side of the dinghy, but on the right of the picture. Yeah, I'm confused too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Swing Set Improvements Continue

 The bigger the boat, the more things there are to go wrong. We weren't spared of mechanical issues during the early years of owning Swing Set, but all in all, it could have been worse. One sort of big thing was that the starter went out on the starboard engine. This was discovered during the week and we had a new one installed by Bloch Marine by the weekend. There was an alternative to having a new starter installed, but at the time I was working seven days a week and I had little time to do much work myself, nor did I have any experience of the type required to tackle most of the mechanical work on Swing Set. Bloch Marine, being the yard that had serviced the boat from when it was new, never failed to have us out on the water by any given weekend. As the owner of one of the other boat yards on the river always said, "You can't break it again if you aren't out there using it". I kept that starter in our dock box for years, and finally this summer, John Bloch gave me the number of an outfit in St. Louis that rebuilds starters. Three days and $250 later, I have a spare rebuilt starter. Hope I never need it.
 Early on, our Norcold AC/DC refrigerator went out on us. Kurt Kotraba, the owner of KKK Marine services, pulled out the old one and installed another new one with the help of his son, Karl. See? Kurt and Karl Kotraba, K-K-K. Very nice people.

Here's Rosie in the galley with the old refrigerator behind her, shortly after buying Swing Set. Notice the microwave just above the frig. Also, the galley looks a little bare, doesn't it?

 Here is a view of the galley on Swing Set taken this last spring. The old white microwave, although still working, was replaced with a convection/microwave oven. We also added another "pantry", the oak closet just to the left of the refrigerator. It's deep enough for can goods and holds plenty. We added the spice rack and the pot rack. That pot rack will be a noisemaker when the going gets rough, won't it? I plan on using some motorcycle cargo netting to keep those pots in place in a sea way. Gourmet meals comin' up! Now where did the can opener go?

Acquiring Swing Set and the Improvements Begin

 When we purchased Swing Set in 2004 she was a one owner boat. When purchased new, most of the options desired were included, with the exception of an auto-pilot. Some notable items that Swing Set had from the start were GPS, chart plotter, 75 mile radar, two VHS radios (one on the bridge, and one in the salon), depth finder (single most important item next to eyeballs in my book), mechanical engine synchronizers, dual Racor fuel filters for each engine, and two fresh water pumps, just to name a few. Theses items, along with the two 3116 Caterpillar diesels, 350 gallon fuel tanks, 120 gallon fresh water tank, 40 gallon waste water tank, windlass, dinghy with Weaver tilt-up brackets, dual voltage refrigerator, two reverse cycle A/C units, and Westerbeke diesel generator gave us a pretty good start to extended cruising and long term living aboard.
 At the time, we had no long term plans for Swing Set, so improvements and equipment changes were mainly based on what broke, but some things we wanted to change right away.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sharing the Wealth

 I must issue a disclaimer right away at the start of this blog; there is no wealth to "share", but this blog is about our approach to how we choose who works on Swing Set and where we purchase equipment and supplies. "Share the wealth" refers to our method of spreading around the money we spend to the vendors and boat yards in our area. I contemplated "Swing Set Spreads it Around" for a title, but rejected that title during a rare moment of discretion.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Some Buyers Remorse Sets In...For Several Years

 Swing Set is the 15th boat I have owned.  Rosie and I together owned 13 of them in a span of 25 years. Not bad. Boat dealers were, and still are, pretty happy to see us walk into a show room.
 When we took official possession of  this Sea Ray in the fall of 2004 I had some experience with a twin engine boat, but not of this size.

 Not more than the second time out we took the boat for a nice cruise on a blustery day up to a resort on the Mississippi, called Cedar Hill. They have a nice little harbor there, but I was so nervous about navigating in that small harbor I decided to tie up to the small dock they had out front. That's Rosie tying lines. Little did I know that just a few yards downstream to my stern was very shallow water with a rock bottom. Good thing I didn't know it.

 Here's a shot of my dad on the bow of Swing Set. Of all the boats, cars, homes, or motorcycles that I ever acquired, this boat was the only thing my dad thought was really "neat".

Some Of Our Boating History

I (Mike) grew up around boats. In the late 1950's and early 1960's our family spent every weekend on the sandbars on the Mississippi River above St. Louis, MO. My dad would put his 13' Speed Queen in on the cobblestones at the St. Louis riverfront, right where the St. Louis Arch stands today. In the late 1960's my dad "discovered" the Meramec River, a tributary to the Mississippi that flows over 100 miles from the Missouri Ozarks to just south of St. Louis.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Getting The Word Out

We are still in the planning stage of moving onto our boat and exploring the inland river ways and coastal waters of the U.S., and then on to the Bahamas and wherever else we can go.
Although we have a profile on Facebook, we felt a blog would be good to relate or stories and pictures to the various websites available to us. So this is the first post to our blog and it's certainly going to be a "learn by doing" process.