Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Some Small Successes

  I may have resolved our port engine overheating issue, but then again, maybe I haven't. The water temperature has dropped considerably since I last ran the boat at speed, which was on December 1st, but after running more Barnacle Buster through both fuel coolers last week, we did see improvement in our running temperatures when we took Swing Set out last Sunday for a spin.
  But let me back up. Last week I pulled up the carpet in the salon so I could access our engine room, and as I was rolling up the burlap backed carpet, I scraped a knuckle across the rough surface of the burlap and immediately opened the skin on my left middle finger not 30 seconds into my project. Normally I at least get to enter the engine room before I cut myself.
  Band-Aid in place, I then put on the gloves I bought to protect my hands during chores like this one, and then hooked up my hoses to run the Barnacle Buster through one fuel cooler and then cross over to the other one. I had inadvertently omitted both coolers when I ran the Barnacle Buster the last time and since learned that it was a mistake that could still be causing our overheating problem. I do know that I didn't want to include the heat exchangers this time around because I didn't want to replace the engine zincs again. (The Barnacle Buster will eat up the engine zincs.)
  I ran the concentrated solution for four hours, let it sit overnight, and then rinsed it out the next morning. I buttoned everything up, started both engines to check for leaks, didn't see any, and then all we had to do was wait for a nice day for a sea trial. My hands did not suffer any more injury. The gloves will be common procedure in the future.
  Another project was to replace the screen on our salon door, which I had previously mentioned. It required me to remove both solid doors first. There is no other way to accomplish taking out the screen door. Having never removed both doors, I wasn't sure how to go about it, but one method that usually works is to just start taking out screws until something comes apart. This method worked this time too.
 Once I had the screen door out, I actually started to go on line to learn how to install new screen, but the directions that came in the screen package gave me sufficient insight as to how to go about installing the new screen. I should try this more often, as most times the instructions that come with products are rather revealing. In several languages.
  If I have ever, in all our years of home ownership, replaced screen on a window or door of this size, I don't remember it, but my first attempt was satisfactory, if not downright commendable. We now have new "no see-um" size screen in our salon door, minus the bug. (Our friends who have been aboard Swing Set know about "the bug".) Now, if Rosie can avoid running into the closed screen door, I may be able to avoid repairing our screen door for many years to come.
  Last Sunday morning I took the last handful of change we had on our "change dish" and bought a bag of ice at the marina office. The nice girl there wasn't too happy about sorting out two dollars worth of change for the $1.85 bag of ice, but hey, I was giving her an extra 15 cents. In fact, when I buy ice, I just give them two one dollar bills for each bag so I don't have to get the fifteen cents back each time. (I remember scouring the river banks back when I was a teenager, just to find soda bottles to redeem for the two cents. I was ecstatic when the price jumped one summer to three cents!) If  you're too young to remember any of this, go back to playing Candy Crush on your iPad.
  With beverages chilling nicely, we headed out of the harbor and pointed the bow of Swing Set towards Cuba. Once we achieved normal operating temperature, I pushed our throttles forward and put Swing Set on plane and left her there for fifteen minutes, way past time when the port engine began to heat up previously. Both engines stayed well under 200 degrees, so I considered my test to be a success, but we are fairly low on fuel, so when we get fuel and I can run longer when the water temperatures rise a bit, I'll certainly be testing the engines again, maybe when we make a run to the Dry Tortugas in April or so.
  We were well out past the three mile discharge zone, and since we were in need of a pump out, I raised the engine room access hatch in the cockpit and went down to open our Y-valve and pumped out the holding tank. Take that Miami!
  That task completed, I turned around to give a visual once over to both engines and got a surprise. Not a good surprise, but one that made me a little sick.
  The starboard engine had oil sprayed over it on the port side, and oil was just beginning to run down toward the aft bilge. I grabbed a big towel that I normally keep in the engine room and dammed up the oil. I grabbed another towel and began to wipe down the engine so I could determine what had failed. I was soon relieved to discover that when I had re-installed the raw water hose to the starboard engine fuel cooler, I had knocked the dipstick loose. Running the engines under load had caused oil to escape from the dipstick hole with the increased pressure. The lucky part for us, (and there always seems to be a lucky part) was that my concern over our fuel onboard prevented my from running longer on plane, and therefore puking more oil out of the engine. I really felt like we had dodged another bullet.
  Relief settled down upon me like a soft blanket. I soaked in the warm fuzzy feeling for a few minutes before heading back into the lee side of Boca Chica Key where we could set in the calm water and enjoy the sun, and more than one or two cold Bud Lights. No more harm was done that day, even though the contents of our holding tank were bobbing along in its northern path. The beer cans were brought safely back to the marina and deposited in the proper recycling bin. We do what we can.
  We took the dingy out on the next day, a holiday for most folks, but around here it always seems like a holiday as it's a vacation destination. We ran along the southern side of Key West toward Fort Zachary, with our target being a small beach on the most western end of Fort Zachary State Park, a place we have been to numerous times.
  I pulled into the shallows, just along the fence line for the Navy yard, where some long ago abandoned fence post footings provide a place to tie the dingy up in order to keep the waves from washing us up onto the beach.
  Some officers of some sort were running off some woman who had committed the grave error of crossing the imaginary fence line over to GOVERNMENT PROPERTY, in order to lay out her beach blanket and sun her butt, a most grievous offense.
  I ignored them, seeing as how we were not officially "on the beach", plus there were the normal ten to twelve other sun bathers just a few feet away, on the other side of the imaginary fence line, on the side away from the GOVERNMENT PROPERTY.
  I paid no heed to the action going around behind us, behind the big fence of the GOVERNMENT PROPERTY sign, where the two naval officers were joined by a Key West policeman, but soon enough I heard footsteps on the gravely beach, and a voice calling to us.
   "Are you Mr. Arliss?" I heard a voice say.
  I turned around and saw a huge policeman with an automatic weapon strapped across his chest. He was flanked by two servicemen in fatigues, standing with legs spread, yet at ease.
  "I'm not Mr. Arliss", I said.
  "Well, your boat is registered to Mr. Arliss", is what I was told. News to me.
  "Then there is a mistake, I'm afraid, because this is our boat, but I'm not Mr. Arliss".
  "You've been told to move along, this is a restricted area".
  "No, I haven't been told to move along, unless you consider your statement, just now, as us being told to move along." I tend to get picky in these situations.
  "Mr. Arliss, you need to be 100 yards away from this area."
  "I'm not Mr. Arliss."
  "But your boat is registered under Mr. Arliss."
  "Then your system is messed up, because I can assure you that this boat is registered to me, and I'm not Mr. Arliss." I don't suppose it occurred to the officer to ask me what my name was. I would have gladly provided it.
  "Do you have a chart?" is what I was asked next.
  "Yes, I have a chart." I looked out to the water, over to the very nearby sunbathers, and then said, "You're saying I need to be 300 feet away from this beach?" Hoping he would notice the sailboats filing past, certainly less than 300 feet away, plus the very obvious sunbathers, just on the other side of the fence, some of them actually leaning up against it.
  "Yes, this is a security issue, and the sign clearly says to stay 100 yards away from this area."
  Now, I hadn't even had my first beer, so I wasn't thinking as clearly as I could have been, but I decided to be co-operative, seeing as how we were outnumbered, and there was that huge automatic rifle to consider. "I'll tell you what. We're leaving. But only because you don't want us here. We're not hurting anything, and you and I both know it. Are you going to allow us to leave in a timely manner, and not get rushed?" I asked him.
  "You may leave in a timely manner", we were told.
  "Thank you", I said, and then we gathered up our stuff as they left, most certainly to return with the heavy artillery if we were still there in ten minutes. I'm running out of places I can go. (I hold no grudge against the officer, just doing his job. Someone somewhere complained at some point for something. Who knows?)
  I don't say that "we're" running out of places to go, because I'm sure Rosie is welcome anywhere. It must be my appearance, or my attitude. I don't plan on changing either.
  Given "the bum's rush", we ventured to the north side of Key West, which just a day later, was the lee side of the island. The water was glass smooth and we explored some areas we haven't been to before, and then we went to the shallow gathering spot just off of Boca Chica until late in the afternoon when the clouds rolled in.
  Yesterday we wanted to take a trip to the grocery store, but just as we got ready it started to rain and the rain did not let up until nearly sunset. It was a real drencher. We played gin rummy all afternoon, and then grilled some spare ribs in the convection oven before settling in for a movie.
  Some strong winds blew in last night and we could feel the boat gently bouncing around in the slip, and this morning there was another chill in the air as a front moved in. These are times that we are very happy to be at a dock and not bobbing around in a remote anchorage in the cold.
  The marina is buzzing with activity. The grand opening is this weekend and a big fishing tournament and live music is planned for Saturday and Sunday, after a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday. The bocci ball courts are finished, some new sod and palm trees have been planted, and the sand volleyball court in being prepared.
  Pleasure boats continue to come and go. Just yesterday some folks who were leaving came by with an armload of supplies; butter, eggs, cheese, yogurt, etc. Turns out we didn't need to go to the grocery after all.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Even The Weather in Key West Can Be Disagreeable

  As anyone who might be mistakenly reading this blog may know, the very northern part of the United States was deep into a deep freeze during the first part of  this year, and even though Florida escaped the most frigid temperatures, even Key West's climate was less than desirable for the last two weeks. But we managed to have some fun, and I was able to scrape together some boat related items to pass along for this blog, which is getting increasingly harder to do with us camped here at the dock.
  We were able to get out in the dinghy on the weekend just after New Year's Day. We didn't venture out too far because a front was due to arrive, and I wanted to be able to high tail it into the harbor if the weather started to turn.
  We gathered up Holly and slipped on over to the south western tip of Boca Chica Key, where there is a somewhat shallow spot just off the shore that has a nice clean sand bottom, just a few inches of water, and enough activity in the way of Jet Ski tourists and local boaters to provide a modicum of social activity.
  We talked to a few locals who came over to meet Holly and we also met the owner of Hurricane Hole Marina, who added some juicy tidbits to our knowledge of the area.
  I'd say we had a full afternoon before the clouds rolled in and we scampered back into Stock Island Marina Village just as the weather turned sour for the next couple of days.

  The much anticipated visit from two of Rosie's cousins arrived on January 8th. In the picture, Rosie's cousin Don is on the left, then his wife Michelle. Then it's Denny and Rosie's other cousin Roseann. We were at the Conch Republic, having all taken the taxi downtown from Stock Island.
  While we were there I got a message that another acquaintance was in town from St. Louis with a friend of his and we were soon joined by Joe Boyer and his friend Vickie, who lives in Orlando. We finally cashed in our chips at the Hogsbreath Saloon, much later that evening than we should have.
  The group was staying here at the marina in one of the "boatels", which are just little floating motel rooms. The location was great for us, as it allowed us to visit with everyone when we wanted to, but they also had their freedom to do what they wanted, leaving us out of some of the touristy stuff that we've gotten our fill of.

  Roseann and Denny were visiting us in the cockpit of Swing Set one afternoon last week when we saw one of the staff here showing a couple around the facility, coming onto our dock, but stopping short of getting within howdy do range.
  The principal character was none other than Jimmy Buffet. He flew in on his seaplane to scope out the marina. One of the things he did was buy some Landshark Beer. Poor fellow. I didn't take this picture above, Jimmy is on the left. I call him Jim.

  We took a full contingent out aboard Swing Set last Saturday and caught a late sunset just off the cruise ship dock. Seven went out and six came back. We had to drop off a seasick Michelle in downtown Key West. We managed to carry on without her well past sunset. Her husband was not callous in the least. He tossed her cab fare as she stepped off the boat and blew her a kiss. Vickie, Rosie, and Roseann were shedding tears about it just before I snapped this photo.
  The rest of the week was filled with some of those other touristy things I have spoken of, and the week long visit was winding down but I wanted to get back out in the boat one more time before our guests left. Last Tuesday looked promising, so I called a friend who was visiting in nearby Sarasota (Seven hours away by car) and told him to come on down because if he wanted to get out on our boat, we wouldn't be able to wait until Wednesday, the day he had originally planned to arrive, because of another weather change. Being flexible due to the weather is just part of the process in these parts.
  Our other visitors (Joe and Vickie had left for home) had other plans, but I may have sensed some reluctance in regard to them coming out, so we invited a local couple who we have been seeing around town to join us. When Dan arrived promptly at 1 P.M. after an eight hour drive from Sarasota, Todd and Debra had joined us and were waiting in the cockpit of Swing Set.
  We made a quick departure from the dock and set a course for some reefs two miles south so Todd and I could do some snorkeling.
  As we were leaving the harbor I had tried to play some music from the iPad at the helm and it wasn't working. My quick diagnoses was that I had a bad wire on the cable plugged into the head unit in the salon. When problems arise, I tend to fixate on them, so the trip out to the reef was mostly enjoyable to everyone but me. Then it got worse.
  The Garmin GPS unit that we had just gotten repaired locked up. One more thing to occupy my brain pan. Then it got worse.
  We had a very loud escaping air sound and within a few seconds, (admittedly just after soiling myself) I realized that one of our automatically inflatable life vests had deployed just behind Debra's head. She may have done some soiling herself. So that gave me another thing to think about while Todd and I were bobbing about, trying to snorkel in some fairly rough seas.
  We anchored in seven feet of water and the visibility wasn't bad, even with the wind. There wasn't a whole lot of things to see, but there was an abundance of conch on the ocean floor. When we ever get a taste for large snails, I'll know where to get some.
  After our short snorkeling session, we took a pleasant cruise toward the sun, turning homeward in time to get back to port before nightfall. My concerns over the stereo, GPS, and the task of re-arming the life vest were diminished in direct proportion to the number of Bud Lights I took in. Who says beer is bad for you?
  That evening, Dan came over with us to the Red Grouper to hang out with Denny, Roseann, Don and Michelle. They had gotten a good head start in the cocktail department and it was to be potluck night in an attempt to eat up the groceries that had purchased just after arriving a week ago.
  All four of them had spent the day out on two scooters Don had rented. They did more touristy things and had a great time. The stories flowed freely and it was soon after nine o'clock when I asked when we were going to eat some of the vittles they had been promising. I know from our history with Roseann that strong hints need be dropped if one wants to get fed. Denny existed on Cheezits and catsup in his early years.
  Hugs and tears were shared all around as we left to go back to Swing Set, with promises to meet up in the morning before they all left to return to The Great White North.
  At ten o'clock Wednesday morning, here they all came down to the dock, arms full of grocery bags with junk no one got around to eating during their week long stay. We had hit a gold mine.
  Dan took some pictures of the rest of us and the good-byes were short. The waterworks started right away for Rosie, and I was only able to see them up the dock ramp before my emotions got the better of me. I hate good-byes.
  Dan had a car, of course, and he took us on a shopping spree for some bulky items that would have taxed the capacities on our bike. We went to Home Depot, Walgreens, Key West Marine Supply, West Marine, Radio Shack, and the dive shop in downtown. In between all this, we had lunch at Bo's Fish Wagon, a eclectic restaurant near the Historic Harbor Boardwalk. It's a place we had been wanting to visit. Now we can say we did.
  When we got back yesterday afternoon, I re-armed both life vests with kits I bought at West Marine. This is something that should be done every three years. I had forgotten, but the one life vest had not.
  Dan and I also figured out our stereo problem, even though I had bought a new cable at Radio Shack. After an extensive continuity check with my handy Ohm meter, I finally decided that one of the pins on a jack I was using had some minor corrosion. A quick use of fine sand paper did the trick. Another problem solved. I was not looking forward to running a new cable.
  Last night we had an impromptu dinner of leftovers, thanks to our guests, and then Rosie, Dan and I played three games of dominoes, with each of us winning a game. How polite.
  Dan slept on our sofa in the salon. His girlfriend had stayed in Sarasota, so sleeping arrangements were easy. I teased Dan about him taking up my napping spot, but we've known him and his ex-wife for lots of years and it was a small consolation. I still resisted his attempts at serenading us with the guitar he lugged onto the boat. My friendship does have boundaries.
  The cold front has moved in and we got buffeted around in our slip last night. We all slept good with the drop in temperatures, even though Holly barked in earnest every time Dan would make the slightest noise, if you call snoring and farting slight noises.
  The three of us went to El Mocho this morning for a cheap breakfast. El Mocho is a Cuban restaurant here on Stock Island it was a very popular place this morning. We snared a table in quick order. Rosie and Dan had Chorizo omelets and I had the regular special of three eggs, hash browns, a half pound of bacon and a pile of Cuban bread. Rosie and I had big cups of Cafe Con Leche, and even though Dan was facing an eight hour drive, he was satisfied with the one cup of coffee he had before we left the boat this morning.
  Dan dropped us off back at the marina before heading out. He wanted to do a little more sight seeing before heading back to Sarasota, and then eventually back to Boyne, Michigan, where he lives.
  It was nice to have visitors who we knew were coming weeks, if not months ago. Dan had actually wanted to come earlier, but I told him we'd be pretty busy with Rosie's cousins, so he waited, but stayed flexible with the weather situation.
  Rosie and I spent the rest of the morning in relax mode, but I also solved the problem with the Garmin unit by rebooting it. Another success!
  I have a self induced list of chores waiting ahead of me: I need to wax the boat hull, run Barnacle Buster through the fuel cooler on our port engine, replace the screen in our salon door, (this involves removing both solid doors, a pain) plus a  bunch of little things that have been accumulating, which they always do.
  Before we know it, it's going to be February when some other folks are coming down. Spring is right around the corner.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy New Year 2014

  One of the boaters took a drone view of Stock Island Marina Village the other day. This is a very good shot and I'll use it to describe our surroundings.
  First of all, Swing Set is pictured just right of center, in the third row of boats from the bottom of the shot, on the right. Yes, that little speck is us.
  On the far left is Hawk Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. Cow Key Channel is at the top of the picture, and we take it to pass under A1A into Florida Bay, which can be see in the upper right.
  Down the center peninsula is first the dock office and ship's store. Right behind it is the showers. Almost dead center of the photo is the new laundry room.
  The peninsula on the far left is the original docks for what used to be Safe Harbor. They call it Coconut Row now. The docking is Mediterranean Style, which is docking backed up to a sea wall. Some "slips" have a small dock next to them, but all have a mooring ball to which you have to tie your bow to. The rent is cheaper on Coconut Row and it's a good place for cruisers on a limited budget. Like us, but we're splurging.
  Behind the new docks is where the new hotel, pool and restaurant is planned. We hope that this part of the project comes to fruition.
  Lastly, two boat yards are on the far right.

  We think Rosie was the second customer to use the new laundry facilities. The machines take a card that is assigned to you and a card machine in the laundry loads up your card when you stick it in the machine and you feed currency into it. This eliminates the need to save quarters. The washers and dryers read the card and how much money you have on it. Each load takes two bucks. Rosie typically has two washer loads and two dryer loads per week, so we spend about eight bucks per week. We think that's a good deal in order to have freshly washed bedding and towels. Oh, and clothes, when we wear them.

  Here's the three boatels that Stock Island Marina Village currently offers to guests. The middle one is brand new and when we took this photo, it hadn't been furnished yet. These are cozy little units and neat as a pin, as they say. They each sleep four, utilizing a sofa sleeper. They come with a kayak and a fine porch to really capture the Key West flavor for a minimum three nights stay. You can book them through the Stock Island Marina Village website. They fill up fast.

  But we don't spend all of our time at the marina. On one of our last calm days, we took the dinghy five miles up Hawk Channel to Geiger Key Marina. We stayed late into the afternoon and took this photo before heading back to Stock Island while we still had light. It's a good dinghy ride and the tiki hut bar is a fun place to spend a couple of hours.

  Christmas Day was the second anniversary of Holly being our pet. Here, she's outfitted in her Christmas attire. This was the highlight of our Christmas Day, but one of our dock neighbors gave us a little card and a small package of cookies. We spent the day relaxing and then made some nice steaks and watched a movie. Perfect.

  On the Saturday after Christmas we took our bike downtown to Dante's to spend the day at the pool. The first hour or so we sat in the light rain, but by noon the sun came out and the place filled up with patrons.
  Some new friends, Neal and Cindy, had just flown in from Tennessee and joined us late in the afternoon. It's nice to have some regular friends down here, even though they don't live here full time. Most likely better for them.
  We take the bike downtown once or twice a week, or at least to the shopping centers on North Roosevelt. We visit the library regularly, Strunk Ace Hardware, Home Depot, West Marine, and Key West Marine are also frequented on a regular basis. My legs are getting a workout and my muscles are getting harder. Either that, or rigor mortis is setting in.
  There is a bike path running down nearly the entire length of A1A and our bike route is mostly separated from any cars, but drivers down here are used to sharing the road with bicyclists. Many of the residents here only have bicycles for transportation. If you don't count the dinghy and Swing Set, I guess we are two of them.
  There is a shuttle that runs on a limited schedule from the marina and we took it downtown on New Year's Eve, but it only ran until 11:30, so we had to find a cab back home after all the famous Key West activities were over. There was not a cab to be had at one o'clock in the morning, so we joined a long queue to catch a city bus back over to Stock Island. The experience did not go well, but we did finally get back to the marina eventually.
  I am not going to go into detail about what happened on the city bus because the story would be an indictment on myself. I will say that I made a strong objection to the driver of the bus deviating from his route to drop off some bus riders to their personal residences. Bus company authorities were called to deal with me, to which I voiced yet another complaint. I suggested that the bus company representative call the police, to which he obliged.
  When several of the Key West police officers arrived, and before they escorted us off of the bus, I made an appeal to some of the other passengers to back up my story, or I knew I was going to jail for at least the evening.
  As I was telling one officer what had transpired, one lone woman was corroborating my story with another officer and I was vindicated. We were offered to have a cab called for us, but the police also could not get a cab, so one officer was assigned to give us a ride back to our boat, compliments of the Key West Police Department. Ask me if we'll be riding city transportation again anytime soon.

  On New Years Day, while I was contemplating my good fortune at an experience that could have gone horribly bad, I made us a big pot of Hungarian Goulash from my paternal grandmothers recipe. The dish is a stick to your ribs cold weather favorite of ours and even though the temperature reached 80 degrees, it was blustery and cloudy, so we dug into our goulash at dinner time as though we had a foot of snow out on the ground.
  Yesterday we took the dinghy out as the wind had let up some. Neal and Cindy invited us out on their 58 foot Sea Ray Sedan Bridge for a sunset cruise so we met them at A&B Marina after taking the Cow Key Channel over to Key West Bight.
  Mark Miller, the dock master there, let us leave our dinghy at the docks there while we went out with our friends and watched a beautiful sunset, which I don't have a picture of.
  I used our little Garmin that I had put a bracket for on the dinghy to get us home long after dark. I almost put us into "the bushes" once, as Rosie called them, when I was temporarily blinded by the bright GPS screen, but Rosie was on watch and we avoided a close encounter with some low lying mangroves.
  Today it's a chilling 69 degrees and the wind is howling at 30 miles per hour. The sky is threatening rain and we're going to hunker down and hibernate this afternoon. Everyone here at the dock is still happy that we all aren't sitting in a foot or more of snow up north somewhere.
  After an afternoon spent on the couch reading our books, the leftover goulash we have waiting for dinner will be a welcome dish, perfect for a frigid afternoon. Brrrrr!