Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Even Setting Still, Things Break

  When the Fenton gang was here last week, Robert "Ferd" Frank was nice enough to take some photos, and even nicer to send them to us once they got sorted out.
 I explained to Ferd, that even though I do take a fair amount of photos on our travels, I like it when we have company and someone else is doing the camera work. I can then concentrate on the "captaining duties". There is distraction enough when the boat is loaded with passengers, let alone me having to drive and take photos too.

  Just look at this photo that Ferd took when we were all at the Hogfish Bar!
  Check out his website at for more of his spectacular photos.
  As indicated by the title of this blog, we still get systems failures on the boat even while parked here dockside. Like I told Eddie, one of the Fenton visitors, when he asked me how much do we work on the boat; I told him we are usually working on something every day.
  The latest thing to go wrong was found when Rosie flushed the toilet in the master head yesterday morning. The pedal wouldn't actuate smoothly, and the ball valve wouldn't seal, making the vacuum pump continue to run. My previous experience tells me that the shaft that connects to the ball valve was probably broken. This happened two years ago and the shaft and ball valve seal kit I bought at our local boatyard had some whiskers on it, meaning the dust was so thick on the packaging that I knew it was the old style, also meaning that the shaft was made of the original plastic, and not the bronze ones now sold.
  But the kit was in hand and available, so I bought it and put new seals and the kit in myself, but also knowing that the shaft would probably fail again in a few years. We are apparently at that point now.
  We rode our bike into town last night and arrived at Key West Marine Supply just after they had locked the doors for the day, but one of the staff unlocked the door and asked what we needed. I told him I needed a seal kit for a Sealand marine toilet, and he told me that I needed to contact Head Honcho of Key West for parts. I told him I knew Perry of Head Honcho, thanked him for opening the doors for us, and then rode over to the still open West Marine store just down Caroline Street, to see if they had what I was after. I was not surprised to find that West Marine did not have what I wanted, so I planned on calling Perry first thing in the morning.
  Another thing that broke was our hand held VHF radio. Our current unit is one we've had for about 17 years. It's an ICOM radio that I've been nursing along since we left St. Louis. I've had to discard the lithium battery and resorted to AA batteries instead. I've also had to do some soldering on it too, but I tried to use the radio when we were out on the dinghy last Sunday and the radio was on strike. I began to search for hand held VHF radios on, but first I decided to try fresh AA batteries, but of course we were out of that size.

  Which brings us back to our trip into "town" on Monday afternoon. Late afternoon, as you can tell from the photo above. Rosie is posing along North Roosevelt Road which has been torn up now for almost two years, but the road work is nearing completion.
  Palm trees line a section of scenic road for about three miles, and the new concrete bicycle and side walk have been completed for a couple of months now.
  It's a four and a half mile bike ride for us to downtown, but it's bike path nearly the whole way. Key West is very bicycle and scooter friendly. There are lots of places to lock up bikes, and scooter/motorcycle parking is free everywhere. Car parking is expensive, so it makes sense to ride two wheels.
  What doesn't make sense is the habit for everyone to not wear protective head gear. We wear ours; our feeble minds cannot afford brain damage too. I mean more brain damage.
  Our main reason to bike into town was to see a movie at the Tropic Cinema, but now we had a mission to visit Home Depot and the marine supply stores mentioned previously. I keep a running list of stuff we need at the store on the iPhone, so that when we get to any store, I can check the list and make sure we don't forget anything.
  One thing on the list was a wider paint scraper for scraping barnacles off the bottom of Swing Set. Strunk Ace Hardware had a dandy eight inch wide stainless steel scraper for a mere twelve bucks, which should work better on the bigger hull sections than the three inch one I've been using. Anything that will make scraping barnacles easier is money well spent.
  Our light in the Norcold refrigerator has stopped working, and the lamp base was found to be broken. New parts from Norcold are cost prohibitive, and shipping for the parts was more than the parts cost, so I decided to just install a new 12 volt light in our fridge, so it was another thing on our list, but except for high priced units at West Marine, I didn't find anything I wanted to buy at any of the places we went to. Amazon would be pressed into service when we got back to the boat.
  But we did get the scraper, some batteries, a small flashlight, some Soft Scrub, some stainless steel brackets to hang another mop handle when we want to, and some holding tank treatment solution that we found much cheaper at Home Depot than anywhere else.
  We saw a very good movie, American Hustle, and had a pleasant ride back to the boat, although we'll be much happier when the street lights along North Roosevelt are working. Even with the lights we have mounted on our Yuba bike, it is a very dark ride home from downtown.
  Once back to Holly and the boat, I tried the new batteries in our ICOM radio and found that that wasn't the answer. I didn't think things would be that simple, but I wanted to at least try easy before spending money on a new radio.
  I found a nice new ICOM unit on Amazon, plus a little 12 volt LED light for the refrigerator that I think I can make work. I also bought two shaft and ball seal kits for the Sealand toilets we have, but still planned on calling Head Honcho this morning.
  I got hold of Perry at Head Honcho this morning to find out if he would sell us parts and he said he would. He did suggest that we replace both shafts on our toilets because, like I already knew, the plastics ones are crap and the bronze ones will last. Perry knows us from just being around so much, so in order to establish a business relationship with us, he offered to replace the shafts and seals on both toilets for a one hour rate.
  I also thought it fair to employ him in this mundane task, knowing full well that we're going to have to call him at some point to do a chore on our head systems that we would rather not do, such as replace duckbill valves on the vacuum tanks, or unplug a line to the holding tank.
  Even though I already ordered two new shaft and ball valve kits from Amazon, we'll keep them as spares for when something breaks and we're in The Bahamas. Maybe even have them on hand for someone else who may need them. Boat neighbors are extremely pleased when you are in a remote area and you have a part they need.
  Speaking of having things for boat neighbors, the captain of a luxury yacht staying here at Stock Island Marina Village, "Line Drive", walked over while Rosie was mopping the decks and asked her if she had a Magic Eraser. Rosie had a slightly used one and promptly gave it to him. Magic Erasers, if you don't know it, are standard issue on the list of cleaning supplies of anyone who knows anything about cleaning boats. They are like little sponges with a slight abrasive mixed into the sponge. They do a great job on vinyl!
  Later, the captain comes walking over with a bottle of wine, repayment for the Magic Eraser. He said that he was in dire need of the Magic Eraser, but was in no need of the wine. I had no doubt about that; the wine cellar on his yacht was probably bigger that our master stateroom.
  One disappointment today so far has been my failure to contact Chuck Sherman at Canvas Works of Key West. Chuck came aboard our boat a year ago to discuss some new upholstery for our dinette, so we wanted to line that work up, and also talk about a new sunscreen for the windshield, and also begin negotiations for a new flybridge enclosure. The number for Canvas Works of Key West is no longer in service.
  I know where his shop is, or where it used to be, so I'll go over there and see what's up. There are other canvas repair businesses around here, but the other close one doesn't have good reviews. Our tax refund will be substantial enough for us to get the ball rolling on some new upholstery and the other things, so I better get busy and do some networking.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Staying Warm in Key West

  Here's my two Valentines, celebrating Valentine's Day at Hogfish after a day out riding around in our dinghy.
  Four locals who joined our table helped make it a fun evening. My girls don't need fancy.

  A week ago we met up with some of our friends from Fenton who were in Fort Meyers and drove down to Key West to spend a couple of days.
  We were able to get out on the boat on Monday with the seven visitors, three of the four women in the group are riding up front with Rosie and Holly. We were able to make a hot loop through the Key West Bight and past Mallory Square before tackling some headwind when we set our course to return to Stock Island.
  We finished the night at Hogfish and everyone liked the place and the food. The next day we met up with them at Schooner's Wharf Bar and killed a nice afternoon before we all took in dinner at the Rusty Anchor where we found Katie, half of the sailboat duo of Katie and Jessie, on her first day on the job. She has mastered the chore of serving crackers very well.
  The big red tugboat is finally gone from Stock Island Marina Village. The last we saw of her was as she was being escorted out of Safe Harbor under the power of those two 9.9 horsepower outboard motors, one mounted on the stern, and one on the bow. We don't know where the scow wound up, and we've looked. We heard a rumor that the owner wanted to take it out past the reef. Anywhere closer to shore and there isn't enough depth to fully sink her, the boat being so tall. He'll be spending some prison time if he sinks it without the proper permits. You wouldn't believe what it costs to legally scuttle a boat.
  On the subject of scuttling boats, it occurred to me that it may become necessary at some point to require boats to pass some sort of inspection periodically to prove sea worthiness. I can hear the uproar now from all the boat owners who don't want another expense, but the growing number of derelict vessels on our coastlines is a problem that will have to be dealt with at some time or another. How would you like our highways to be lined up with junk cars as people drive them until they just leave them abandoned where they quit?
  Last week we took our bicycle in for a "tune up", which was a complimentary adjustment of the limited number of adjustable things that one can find on a bicycle. We spent the time waiting at Dante's, and the bike was finally returned to us about three hours after it was promised. The one thing that I asked them to do was to adjust the rear brake as it was a little spongy, and they didn't do that.
  The fella in the service department offered to dispose of our receipt for the work, but as I told him, the receipt was really the only thing we really wanted, as now we had proof that the bike was in for the "tune up" just in case we have some major problem before the one year warranty is up. I might have had a few beers while we waited at Dante's, but I didn't completely lose my senses.
  We are increasingly becoming convinced to lay down roots here in Key West. The luxury of having convenient services and access to goods is definitely spoiling us, and even though we don't consider ourselves "old", living on the boat is a whole lot easier while tied to the dock. When we start to feel wanderlust again, we'll both know it, and we'll do something about it.
  We do know that in our near future will be another trip to the Dry Tortugas, if for no other reason but to give our new generator a workout. It still only has a little over an hour on it, and that was put on it at the factory.
  Our current adventures have mostly been taken in the dinghy!

  Last weekend we took the fourteen mile ride out to Snipe Point. The dead pilot whales are gone and with a southeasterly wind, the lee side of the point was calm and the water was clear.

  By mid afternoon, as the tide began to cover the white sand beaches, there were a fair amount of boaters out soaking in the sun. The water here, although not even close in comparison to the gin clear waters of The Exumas, was about as clear as you're going to find in the Keys.
  We snagged a crab pot with the outboard on our way back. I was staying well clear of the markers, but the long polypropylene lines were floating on the surface of the water, well away from the markers and I didn't stay downwind from them. No damage was done, to our dinghy anyway, and we were soon underway. So far it's us 2, and crab pots 0.
  It hasn't been all play. I had never removed the lower gear case housing on our Mercury outboard motor, but with help from the internet, I was able to pull off the lower unit to inspect the raw water impeller, as the little telltale water stream stopped telling. The hard part was trying to figure out how to disconnect the shift linkage when removing the gear case, so I went to the nearby Mercury dealer for some advice. I didn't get any advice as they were short staffed, being a Sunday at the time, but I did buy a new impeller while I was there.
  I dug into the information available to me on the internet again and found a real nice service manual in PDF form. Even though I had to page through each of the over 350 pages to find the information I wanted, I learned how to easily disconnect the linkage and I removed the lower gear case housing and then the impeller cover. The impeller looked OK to me, but I did find out that Murray Marine sold me the wrong impeller. I put everything back together and changed out the gear case oil for good measure, and they used a wire to poke out the hole where the water stream emits from the powerhead, something I learned while cruising the internet while I was looking into why the Mercury wasn't spitting out water.
  The task wasn't a waste of time because checking the raw water impeller is something that needs to be done annually anyway. Plus, the gear case oil change was long overdue. I took the purchased impeller back to Murray Marine the next day and swapped it out for the correct impeller so we could have a spare. Now that I know how to do it, swapping out the impeller, even if done on a beach somewhere, will be an easy chore.
  Yesterday we took the dinghy out again to a closer gathering spot just off of Boca Chica. Our dock neighbors, Ben and Katie, joined us later in the afternoon when they came out in their dinghy. Even though they had been at Stock Island Marina Village longer than us, they didn't know about the "Boca Chica Sandbar", and were happy to have found it.
  For our part, we're going to keep promoting it to anyone looking for a good "beach spot", in order to cultivate this sandbar into a social mecca. It may take time.
  Yesterday we heard that our marina is charging full steam ahead with the plans for a boutique hotel, restaurant, and pool. Ground is supposed to be broken this summer on the project. We can't wait to see how it shapes up. We hope the rent doesn't go up when the project is completed, but it will provide a place for our traveling friends to stay if they come to visit.
  Part of the attraction of staying here is that we are getting a first hand look at all the improvements in the area, not only here at Stock Island Marina Village, but around here on Stock Island in general. With the increase in transients and long time slip renters, there is an increase in customers for businesses around here, and the smart money will capitalize on the situation. The Stock Island "old timers" who want to keep the status quo will just be disappointed, and in our view, the status quo is nothing but "run down and dilapidated".

  Can't finish the blog without another picture of Holly. Robert "Ferd" Frank took this shot when the Fenton gang was all out with us last week and I thought that it is too cute not to post! Holly can't wait for her next dinghy riiiiiiiiiiiiide!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

We Get Some More Company

  Stock Island Marina Village had their Grand Opening and Kingfish Tournament on the last weekend of January and the festivities started on Friday night and ran until Sunday afternoon.
  In addition to the fishing tournament, there was live music all weekend, two great complimentary cocktail parties on Friday and Saturday night, and a free breakfast buffet on Saturday and Sunday morning. The Sunday buffet included as many Bloody Mary's as you could stomach early in the morning.
  The colder weather of January passed through and February has turned out to be very pleasant, weather wise.
  We had some friends from Missouri come and visit us a couple of weeks ago, and they stayed on a boat over at Oceanside Marina for five nights. Tim and Andrea said the boat was comfortable, and they got to have a true Key West experience by living for almost a week on the 32 foot Bertram.
  We were able to get Swing Set out a couple of times while they were here, and on the last day, Todd and Debra, who live here in the Keys, joined us for a cruise up to Saddlebunch Key.
  We were poking our way into the shallow anchorage between Bird Key and Saddlebunch Key when two trailerable trawlers came up on our stern, also making their way into the anchorage.
  The captain of the second C-Dory called out "Hey Mike!" and then shouted over that they had been following the blog for some time and were surprised to see us and just wanted to say hello. Nice to know that my efforts are appreciated.
  No sooner did Tim and Andrea cast off to head back to the winter chill of Missouri, that we got a message saying that Steve and Krista were coming down for a few days. They're a couple we met in Kentucky and they bought a condo here in Key West and visit when they can.
 We met with Steve and Krista at the Conch Republic for happy hour and had a good time with them. They're a fun couple and we hope to see more of them when they come down to visit.
  One morning I decided to walk over to Key West Diesel next door, the local authorized Caterpillar dealers. I talked to Celeste over there and explained our problem with the port engine overheating and setting off the temperature alarm.
  Celeste had some good input, and following her advice, I bought two new thermostats and went back to the boat to install them.
  Another thing she mentioned was that if I was running a 50/50 coolant mix that I should weaken the mix to 30/70 to help the engines run cooler. Because I lost some coolant when I removed hoses to replace the thermostats, I just topped off each tank with tap water when my repair was done. It wasn't scientific, but it got the job done.
  My trouble shooting tasks at the beer factory over the years taught me to never change more than one thing at a time when trying to solve a problem, but reality is that if you have to do service, or maintenance, you try to address as many things as you can while the equipment is torn apart, or while you are already paying someone for a service call.
  That in mind, I also switched out the temperature sending unit on the port engine with the one on the starboard engine, to see if the alarm migrated to the starboard engine.
  So now I had actually changed three things about our engines, and if the problem solved itself I wouldn't be sure what exactly fixed it, unless the starboard engine started alarming. In that case, I was prepared to buy a new temperature sending unit. As it was, the two regulators and gaskets were only $40. Not much to lose.
  We had known that a co-worker of mine at the beer factory was coming for two weeks in her RV, and the time had come. Renee was staying at Leo's Campground, not but a half mile away, so I texted her and asked if she and her two friends with her wanted to go out with us on Swing Set to test my work.

  In the picture above, we had returned from our cruise and were acting silly. Marsha is on the left, Renee is in the background with Nancy in front of her. I'm not sure who the other two people are, but the guy is threatening to give the girl in the bikini a knuckle sandwich.
  Our high jinks certainly was not an indicator of the success of the sea trial after my repair, as Swing Set didn't run like I had hoped.
  She went on plane, but even given my gradual increase in throttle, the engines wouldn't take any fuel. I'm not sure if it was the distractions, or liberal application of Bud Light, but it wasn't until that night in bed when I realized that our fuel filters were most likely clogged up. Had I been thinking clearly, all I had to do was switch from one set of Racors to the other to see if that would solve the problem. But as it was, I did it the next morning, and while I was at it, I changed the filters on the offending units. I checked my maintenance records and found out that we had been running on those filters since July. It was time to do it anyway.
  The calm weather was still holding, so with fresh filters in place, Rosie, Holly, and I set out to give the motors a good test.
  I set a southeast course in a very light chop and pushed the throttles forward. We ran at 22-23 miles per hours for forty minutes without an alarm on either engine. Our temperatures on both engines stayed under 205 degrees, which is within the specifications for these Cats.
  I was a little disappointed in our speed at cruise because normally we get 25 miles per hour at 2500 RPM, so we were off the mark by 2 or 3 miles per hour, but I also knew that we were due for a bottom cleaning.
  Our new friends, Neal and Cindy were due to come down from Tennessee last weekend, so to kill some time while we waited, I decided to scrape our hull.
  I had a new dive mask I was wanting to try out anyway, so I got all my barnacle scraping stuff together, got our Hookamax fired up, and went beneath the boat.
  The barnacles weren't too bad, but the hull was full of little white squiggly creatures, sort of like worms, which certainly could have slowed our hull speed down some. But the most glaring addition to the bottom of the boat was a nylon crab pot line loosely wrapped around the portside propeller. Yeah, that will slow your speed down some.
  I easily removed the offending line and spent the next three hours scraping the hull with my three inch paint scraper. I also inspected our shaft and trim tab zincs, noting that they should be good for a few more months, but I also decided to inspect the bottom of the boat more often in the future so that I can minimize the amount of time I'm under the boat. I also want to minimize dinner time for any sharks lurking around in the harbor.

  The fella that owns this boat doesn't concern himself with optimum running performance. In fact, the motors in the boat don't run, thus, the vessel was temporarily equipped with two 9.9 horse Yamahas. No fear of violating the No Wake zone here.
  When we first came to Stock Island Marina Village, this boat, Tilly, was tied up to the sea wall next door at DDD Boatyard. I noticed the thick barnacle growth, and the amount of rust on the hull, and figured that this boat would most likely sink in her slip at some point.
  As we have later found out, the owner was previously at Robbie's Marina, and having not paid his slip rental, was kicked out and he moved to DDD.
  He apparently didn't pay his rent there either, so they simply untied his boat one night and it drifted the 100 feet or so over to Stock Island Marina Village, where the marina manager was not very happy to discover that one of the staff accepted the reservation for "an 85 foot motor yacht", and accepted a cash payment for one months rent on a vessel named "Sea Gypsy", identified by a cardboard sign in a pilothouse window.
  The outboard motor setup was installed to make sure the boat left in one month, but now the owner says "he ain't leavin'", so the new dockmaster here removed the motors, not wanting to lose them forever. Not sure how far he'd get with that setup anyway.
  The vessel has drawn lots of visits from Customs Officers, to the Florida Water Conservation agents, and the Department of Environmental Protection. By the looks of the owner, the DEA ought to come around too if they haven't already.
  I have no respect for anyone who lets a boat go to seed, so we hope they can get this guy to move on in a month. If they want a world class marina here, having derelict vessels like this one tied to the docks is not the way to go about it.
  But other things are just peachy here at Stock Island Marina Village. We were doing our regular morning mop and maintenance on Swing Set one day when a fella walked over and introduced himself.
  "Arch" found our blog on the American Great Loopers Cruisers Association website some months back and has been following it. We had traded some messages a few times, and Arch wanted to come over to introduce himself and let us know that he found the marina here by reading our blog. Another satisfied customer!
  Last week the marina hosted a Reggae Party in honor of Bob Marley's birthday. There was live music from noon until the wee hours. Draft beer was ten bucks for a bottomless cup, and there was a shrimp boil and fried fish dinner, all you could eat, as many times as you wanted to go up to get some, for another ten bucks per person. What a deal!
  I was preparing to deploy our dinghy last Sunday when a small sailboat was slipping into the harbor and I heard someone call my name. It was Katie, on the sailboat Louise! She and Jessie arrived and were planning on staying a month or two, maybe longer if they find some decent employment. There is a link to their blog on our cover page, "Katie and Jessie On A Boat". Pretty good reading and very good pictures. Check it out.
  Yesterday we had a short, but very enjoyable visit from a couple who both still work at the beer factory and are down here in Key Largo for a few days. Jeff and Merinda drove down to see us just for the afternoon. We had dinner over at Hogfish before they had to drive back to Key Largo.
  Merinda has been reading our blog for about a year and they hope to do something similar when they get to retirement. We're happy to be an inspiration to them and know that we'll see them occasionally as they acquire their "on a boat" experience.
  Today it's very windy out, and it's been raining a good deal, so it's a perfect day to do some blog writing and wait in patient anticipation for the fried chicken and mashed potato dinner that Rosie has planned for us this evening. Neal and Cindy from Chattenooga are going back home today, they'll be back in a few weeks, but we won't feel guilty about laying around and reading our Kindles this afternoon. We'll top off the night with another movie from the library. Doesn't get much better than that.
  This Sunday, some friends from our old homestead in Fenton, Missouri are driving down from Fort Myers to spend a few days and want to get together. We can't wait!
  There is seven of them and they'll fly out on Wednesday, and we'd like to have them out for a cruise, but the weather prediction for wind is only allowing a window for Sunday afternoon. We hope they get here in time for a sunset cruise at least, otherwise it'll have to be a dockside party. Those are good too.
  My immediate list of chores had gotten shorter. In the last three weeks I've waxed the entire boat, addressed our engine overheating problem, scraped the bottom of the hull, replaced four gas struts on our trunk lid and flybridge hatch, (also replaced the gasket on the hatch), repaired some gel coat scratches on the bow and on the portside hull, and replaced a tiny spring on one of our davit winches, which required me to completely disassemble the winch to install the spring. I never thought I'd get the thing back together. I also fixed Rosie's hair dryer. There is a limit to my talents and I reach it regularly, but it doesn't keep me from trying new stuff.
  We are really looking forward to a short visit from some good friends in St. Louis next month, and we found a doctor in Key West so I can get my wellness checkup in early April.
  We want to find a weather window for a short trip back to the Dry Tortugas, so we'll keep an eye out for that. We won't give up our slip to go there, because it's looking like Stock Island will be our home for at least a few months more.