Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dog Days

  We weren't in Key West last summer, having been in The Bahamas from April until September of last year, so we weren't prepared for just how hot it gets here in the summer.
  When I say "prepared", I don't mean that our air conditioners don't work, because they are doing a great job, but I guess I just mean mentally prepared.
  Speaking of the A/C units; I recently checked the air filters on both units, and even though they didn't seem too clogged up, I replaced the Breathe Easy filters with new ones, and ordered a set of spares for next time.
  These Breathe Easy filters are ridiculously priced, and we ordered them from West Marine and picked them up at the local outlet. At the check out counter I used some coupons for my "Gold Advantage" account, (Having had to print out seven coupons...Hey, West Marine, we all have computers now, why can't you access my account at the store and view my rewards points?) the woman operating the register announces that for the purchase of my three small 10 x 12 inch thin air filters, I was to remand to her custody a tidy sum of $237.
  I said to her, "Think about what you are asking me. Look at what I am buying here. Three small air filters! Now, do you really think these air filters, as expensive as they already are, are going to be $237?"
  A little common sense goes a long way. So does knowing your product and your job.
  If you've been following this blog, you know about our trials and tribulations with our newly installed SeaDek. We've have two wood workers here to give us bids on installing teak on the steps to the bridge and from our cockpit. We are hoping to get at least a year out of the SeaDek, but now another step pad is "melting", so it's doubtful our pads will still be presentable for another year, but we've had, and expect, other expenses to take priority.
  We thought we would get through at least one month of not having something major break on us, and we were closing in on the last part of August when one of our Vacu-Flush heads went on the blink. The pump in our guest head (Holly's room.) wouldn't stop pumping when I flushed it one day. Perry, the Head Honcho, informed us when he was here recently to install new ball valves and seals on both toilets, that the valves on our pumps were going to be due for replacement soon, as they were running a bit long after flushes. We decided to wait, as we wanted to spread out the expense, but the day of reckoning had apparently arrived.
  I called the Head Honcho at around noon. He was in the shop, having had two cancellations from vessel owners who wanted to go fishing that day instead of having their toilets serviced, so he asked if he could be there in one hour. You betcha.
  The bellows on the offending pump was shot. No vacuum can build up with a leaking bellows, so the pump won't stop running. We also discussed replacing our old style (18 years old) pump motors with the new style motors, advertised to be quieter and more efficient. Perry just happened to have two of them on his truck. Our lucky day.
  Four hours later, on both head systems, we had new pump motors, rebuilt pumps, and eight new "duck bill" valves installed. With a generous "local labor rate", our bill still came in just under a healthy $1200, but now both toilets have all new components, are quieter and pump quickly. We should be good for years as far as our toilets go. Or, as far as we "go".

  We mix in some fun when we can. With the weather being fairly calm, we take the dinghy out as much as possible. The photo above is from Geiger Key Marina where we went for happy hour and stayed long enough to just get back to the marina as it got dark, enjoying the late evening smooth ride.
  We keep our scooter and bicycle covered from the beating sun, and both items are on their third cover. We decided to contact our friend James back in St. Louis about making some covers for both vehicles. James has started his Marine Canvas Solutions business and I thought that making vehicle covers for other boat owners who carry small vehicles with them on their boats, would be a nice niche to fill.
  He'll use Sunbrella material to match our Bimini top, which should last for years, especially when he sews them with the Gore-tex thread.
  We sent him one old cover from our bicycle that he can use as a template, and he'll send the new cover back. Then, we'll send the scooter cover to him so he can use that cover as a template, so on, so forth, blah blah blah.
  Marine Canvas Solutions. You can Google it, view the Facebook page, or call James at 314-623-1151. Tell him Swing Set sent you.
  We are getting antsy for some travel these days. Every time a boat leaves the marina we get nostalgic about continuing our travels. However, I have a medical procedure that is scheduled for mid-September, and then not long after, we are looking forward to the visits from our friends from the north for the annual Fantasy Fest celebration in late October, and then the Offshore Boat Races in November. Our livers are in training.
  We have the first part of December targeted for leaving Stock Island, at least temporarily, either to travel back to Marsh Harbour in the Abacos, or just to go further up the island chain until the spring, when we could continue travel up the east coast of the U.S. That's the luxury of living on our boat, we can do what we want, to some degree. We mailed in our applications for our new passports on Friday.
  Another item on our agenda is new bottom paint, which we'll probably have done in Marathon. I was largely satisfied with the job that Marathon Boatyard did on our last paint job, but wished it had lasted longer. The monthly bottom scrubbings haven't helped, but I think we should have used the Interlux Micron 66 instead of the Micron Extra. The service manager at the Boatyard agrees, but it was I that asked for the Micron Extra last time as I thought we might be traveling in fresh water within the year. We'll see how the Micron 66 does.
  Our friends have been commenting that they are missing my frequent blog posts, and like I've said on here before, it's hard to come up with things that are of interest to others in the boating community, which is primarily our audience. Our escapades in and around Key West may be of interest to some, but hopefully our readers can hang in there until we pull up stakes here in Key West and get into trouble somewhere else on this planet.
  Enjoy the rest of your Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lobster Seizin' ?

  Did I mention the how hot it was down here in Key West? Although the high temperatures are usually in the mid 80's, according to my friends at The Weather Channel, it usually feels ten degrees hotter. People say it's the humidity, but we're from St. Louis, we know humidity.
  The heat in the summer is one thing we really weren't expecting here in Key West, and another is the temperature of the water. Around the beaches, sitting in shallow water is like sitting in a hot tub, and if the tide is going out, it's like sitting in a dirty hot tub in some areas.
  These are not complaints. It's just something you won't hear about in the travel brochures. But where would one go to escape hot temperatures in the summer? Maybe the mountainous eastern Tennessee region would be cooler, but it would be an ordeal to go "upstream" every spring. Fort Loudon Lake near Lenoir City, Tennessee may be attractive. Something to think about.
  We spent a few days looking at property around Key West, mainly as an investment. Some friends from the Midwest own a rental property down here and they do very well with it, what gave us the bug.
  After viewing a few places in person, and looking at hundreds on them online, we've decided it's not for us. For one thing, we wouldn't make much, if any, money on a property we would have to mortgage, and we both don't like jumping into debt again, for any reason. The newer properties are way out of our economic range, and the old ones are too expensive too, for what you get.
  When I remarked about the high prices, one of our real estate agents showing us some homes said, "It's the price you have to pay to live in paradise". I told him that we already lived in paradise...on our boat, already paid for. Paradise is where you make it anyway.
  So I think we have that out of our systems.

  Our boat neighbors invited us out on their 46 foot sailing catamaran, Magic Inspiration, a couple of weeks ago for a day sail up to Loo Key to go snorkeling. Outside of a group sailboat at Hedonism II in Jamaica a few times, we had never been sailing. As you can see in the picture, it was hard work for us, but there was little wind, so little sailing. We were actually motor sailing.
  We had been to Loo Key before on Swing Set, and weren't too impressed last time. The sea was choppy and murky, but there was a front moving in that day. This time we had calm seas and once we found a ball to hook to, we found about as clear as water as we have seen since being here in Key West.
  There were lots of fish to see, and everyone saw some sharks but me. (I had trouble with my mask fogging up.) The mooring field at Loo Key is in a protected zone, so no anchoring or fishing, in fact, don't touch anything, but we want to go back and use the Hookah Max onboard Swing Set sometime soon.
  With it being so hot, necessary waxing on Swing Set has come to a halt. Waxing will be something we'll do when it's cooler. We're keeping the boat clean with frequent washings and mopping when it rains. Upkeep has been minimal. I changed our air conditioning filters and had to replace a couple of light bulbs. Don't worry, the other shoe will drop at any time.
  One thing we are looking into is replacing the crappy SeaDek. I hope you read the story. We have two local woodworkers engaged in giving us a bid on installing real teak on our stairs. The one step I showed a picture of recently is just getting worse. I want to do this job right next time, but the cost may be prohibitive, especially with all the other things we've done to the boat since we've been here.
  Also on the radar screen is new upholstery on our cockpit bench seat, a better fitting sunscreen for the windshield, and a Sunbrella cover for the Zuma. We are on our third cover for the Zuma since February, and the one we have isn't even waterproof. Mainly we need one now for sun protection. We want a cover for the Zuma that will protect it from the sun and salt water once we get it onboard if we travel anywhere. Having the cover match our bimini top would be, well, it'd be just a cool thing to do.

  So what is left for us to do here in Key West if we aren't working on the boat constantly? Besides our frequent trips to Dantes pool, or somewhere for happy hour, we focus on taking the dinghy out.
  On our last trip out to Boca Grande, I found out that we only used 2.6 gallons of gas to make the round trip, which I  guess to be around 40 miles from our slip here at Stock Island Marina Village. Holding a six gallon tank, and a two gallon reserve can onboard the dinghy, we recently made another trip west; out to the Marquesas Keys. Forty miles past the Marquesas is the Dry Tortugas. Not many people take a dinghy from Key West out to the Marquesas.
  In the picture, we are at the entrance to Mooney Harbor, on the southern side of the group of islands that make up the Marquesas Keys. Those of you who have been there may recognize the wreck on the shoals just outside of the harbor. The big boat will never see the inside of Mooney Harbor, I can assure you.

  We went on a weekday, and there wasn't much boat traffic, with the exception of some tour operators. We cruised on back to Boca Grande in a southwesterly chop and seeked out the shade of some mangroves on Boca Grande where we tied to a tree and had a nice cool lunch in the shade. We were pleasantly surprised that we weren't bothered by any bugs.
  The best boat to get around in would be a larger center console, but we don't have one. We have the dinghy, which means we have to be particular when we go out, because any chop at all makes for a very uncomfortable ride. When people wonder if they should travel with a dinghy, I would recommend having a "fast" one. Some folks think the dinghy is only something they need to take their dog from the boat to the beach to take a crap, but we use the dinghy as our "sports car" trailed behind the big RV, so we can explore any area we may find ourselves in for any length of time. Since we get ten times the fuel economy in the dinghy, and most of the water around here is too shallow around the beaches for Swing Set anyway, it just makes sense for us to use the dinghy.
  The last two days of July every year is the lobster "mini season" in the keys. It falls a week before the regular commercial season opens, and it's a chance for the little guys to get out there and snatch a few bugs before the big boys scour the seabed. People fish for, and catch, lobster all season long. I'm not one of them, mini season or not.
  For one thing, on the day before mini season opened, we were out in the dinghy and our dinghy seat broke...again. I've mentioned before that the seat from the factory delaminated back in the Bahamas, and I replaced and modified it a couple of times using plastic fence lumber. I fully admit now that plastic fence lumber is still fine for mounting components in and around places on the boat, but for strength you can't beat real wood.
  So, on the morning of mini season, instead of joining the hundreds of other folks attacking the seabed, we were at Home Depot buying lumber to fix the seat in the dinghy. I'm not one to leave things broken. It bothers me.
  After looking at our options, I chose a primed 1 x 8, (This lumber is primed to hide the fact that it's comprised of spliced and glued pieces too small to make anything else with, but it's strong as the other stuff.) which we had them cut to size at the store so Rosie could carry it under her arm on the back of the Zuma.
  I dismantled the broken seat, took out all the precious stainless steel screws to use on the new seat, stacked the two cut pieces on top of each other, added the strut I had made for the old seat, used the sander to round all the corners, wiped it all down with mineral spirits, and then took it down to the engine room to put on a first coat of paint.
  The engine room? Yes, our "engine room" is not the size of a paint shed, but with pieces small enough, I use the engine room to paint because I can turn on the blowers to remove the overspray, and the paint can dry without worrying about rain. It's only inconsiderate slobs that would spray paint on the dock, and if I use any of the inconvenient public areas, any project I may be working on may not be there when I go back to get it.
  So late on day two of mini season, we took the dinghy out to look for some lobster, albeit without a companion seat. Rosie had to sit on the gunwale, which is illegal in Missouri, but oddly legal in Florida.
  With a bit of wind late in the day, the seas were choppy and murky, plus I don't know where the "good spots" are. We roamed around blindly for a couple of hours, only getting into the water a few times, and we went home empty handed. Not a big surprise there.
  One thing I can say, to make this little lobster expedition, we loaded up the dinghy with snorkel gear, a bucket, (no nifty cooler filled with ice to bed down freshly caught bugs), a net, a tickle stick with the required measuring device attached, a pair of gloves, and our usual small cooler, only filled with ice water instead of beer.
  Now to the part I didn't like. The water temperature is in the 90's, especially in the shallow water where I could even attempt to reach the bottom to look under rocks and coral. Imagine being in a washing machine, on hot cycle, breathing through a snorkel. That what I felt like I was doing during my "lobster hunt". I think I'll try it again when the water cools down, and on a calmer day. Meanwhile we'll reserve a table at Benihana's.
  I normally don't mention our health concerns, but a recent event prompts me to get into the subject a bit, for reasons which I'll explain.
  Last weekend, after a Friday night out, I woke up with a severe pain in my abdomen at around seven in the morning. I took some pain pills we have onboard, but to no avail. I squirmed and thrashed about for five hours before I agreed to be taken to the ER at the local hospital, just a few miles away.
  After an MRI and an Ultrasound, the doctors concluded that I had a kidney stone that was "99% passed". That last 1% is a real bitch.
  Late on Saturday, after a visit by the urologist, I was given some pain medication, a strainer, and my clothes back, and was told to go home, pass my kidney stone, and call the doctor on Monday. Sure.
  My only experience with kidney stones was when my dad had them over the years, and I was not prepared. We had dinner, the pain having had subsided to a great degree, and we went to bed at around 9 P.M., after taking one of the pain pills sent home with me. By midnight I was up with an excruciating back, chest, and abdominal pain, that rendered me in not only a useless condition, but one that left Rosie at her wits end. Finally at seven A.M., I put a shirt and some shorts on and we called a cab again.
  We got knowing looks from the ER staff, and was soon admitted to a room after some very helpful pain medications were injected into my body. I saw the urologist again, and he said I would be monitored for the day and night, and he would most likely do surgery on Monday to remove the stone.
  I'm not going to go into specifics here, but long story short, late on Monday afternoon, a stone was removed, a stint was installed, and I was sent back to the boat to recuperate until the stint would be removed in a week.
  Meanwhile, waiting for the blood in my urine to clear up, I had to make a previous scheduled appointment at the dermatologists to have an abnormal, yet benign, "spot" removed on my back yesterday. I'm a real treat about now. Can't get in the water for two weeks. Luckily I can't catch lobster anyway.
  My point in telling all this, is now I'm wondering what I'd do if we were anchored far from civilization somewhere here in this country, or worse in the Bahamas, or another foreign country, if I had another kidney stone attack, or a heart attack or something.
  I guess we could stay attached forever to the umbilical cord called "safety and convenience" but instead, my gut is telling me to throw caution to the wind, and continue our travels next spring. I hope we have more than a few years to go, and we don't want to spend them here in one spot, even as nice as it is. Life is too short.
  But I'm still wondering what we'll do in an emergency while out on the hook. I guess I'll keep wondering until something happens. Rosie says she isn't worried at all. If I have another two episodes like I had last weekend, she knows where the shotgun is. Think Old Yeller.