Thursday, December 24, 2015

Changes On The Horizon

  The view from the stern of Swing Set looks the same...but not for long. 
  We are ones who embrace change, we look forward to it, and encourage it. In fact we are catalysts for it. There is a big one coming up.
  But first...When we returned from our trip to Key West, which was one month after returning the boat to the water after bottom painting, I finally got around to checking the bottom to see how our new paint held up. It did, and it didn't.
  The paint on the hull looked fine, with the exception of some "wrinkles" where the straps on the travel-lift smashed the new paint, as we didn't allow for it to dry long enough. Check one lesson learned for next time. The major disappointment was that I found that the paint on all of the metal had sloughed off on a wholesale basis, right down to the bare metal. Ouch. This was the main reason we hauled the boat in the first place because the PropSpeed didn't hold up. Now I have to give the Interlux Primocon a thumbs down too, even if I didn't apply it properly, at least for the time being.
  The whole bottom painting debacle is what got me started thinking about moving the boat further north, allowing us to have cheaper rent, have access to more boatyards for service and bottom painting, and to also look into real estate that was not so ridiculously overpriced.

  In retrospect, the idea about expanding our horizons must have been brewing in my brain for some months, because back in September we leased a truck, as pictured above with Rosie at Sombrero Beach.
  So the seed was planted back then, and when the thought of moving moved to the forefront of my active mind, I ran with it, and Rosie was thoroughly on board. As in the past, when I get an idea, I run with it. I become so focused on what it is I want to do, the details get pushed aside, and for good or bad, what I want to accomplish consumes my only thoughts.
  I began by researching marinas along the West coast of Florida, but I didn't have to search long, as checking out marinas is something I've been doing for the last three years. Now, when we were in the planning stage, back in St. Louis, Tarpon Springs was high on my list. The reason being was that the area of Land O' Lakes is nearby. We have friends in that area, and have visited there many times over the last thirty years, and have always considered it to be a place where we could have a small condo and keep the boat fairly close in order to share time at both places.
  We both fell out of favor with Tarpon Springs on our way down the coast three years ago. We didn't like the water quality, and the marinas for the most part were about an hours idle up the Anclote River. The two hours to and from needed to get to any open water was a deal breaker for us.
  Later, when we visited our friends in Cape Coral, the idea of living anywhere north of there became a thing of the past, as we learned that the warmer weather in winter was mainly south of the Cape Coral/Fort Myers area.
  But something made me concentrate on the Clearwater area again. I started reading reviews on Active Captain about anchorages and beaches from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs. I noticed lots of comments about white sand beaches all along that area. I also noticed the string of barrier islands protecting the mainland in this same area, and a marina in Dunedin caught my eye.
  Before we left for Key West I called Marker 1 Marina and talked at length to the Harbormaster there. I thought we had a good rapport, and he seemed to be able to accommodate us upon our expected arrival date of after the New Year for a boat of our size and our needs. I also called some others, but eventually decided that if we moved the boat, it was going to be to Marker 1 Marina.
  Marker 1 is not a live aboard marina. That is a problem. I talked to folks here at Marathon Marina who have kept their boat there, and they said that like many other "rules" at Marker 1 Marina, the rule about not allowing live boards was largely ignored, the rule only being enforced when someone causes a problem. We've found this to be the case in many marinas when they have the no live aboard rule. (My thought is that marinas have the official policy of no live boards to satisfy their insurance carriers.)
  Knowing we could probably skirt the no live aboard policy, or at least spend enough days on the hook to technically adhere to the policy, I still wanted to satisfy my curiosity about real estate prices in the Land O' Lakes area, so I called a couple of friends that live there. The ball really started rolling then.
  Before we left for Key West, we had booked a studio apartment for three months, as well as told the folks at Marker 1 Marina that we'd be up to visit by the 4th of December. This is where the truck comes in.
  We intended on stopping by Marker 1 Marina on our way to Land O' Lakes on the 4th, a Friday, when I called and found out that everyone we needed to talk to about a slip was not around that day, so we headed straight for the studio apartment, planning on visiting Marker 1 Marina the next day.
  The place where we wanted to look at property, and where our temporary apartment was located, is in a resort complex, as I've mentioned, a place where we have been visiting for many years. Once we got settled in, we took a stroll around the property and was pleasantly surprised. The "club" area of the resort was in good shape, as was the residential buildings around it. In fact, the pool area was getting a major renovation and the new owner was doing his part in keeping up with improvements. We liked what we saw, which was one reason to inspect the property in person and not rely on what someone else thought.
  We saw a For Sale By Owner sign on a townhouse in a building overlooking the main pool and club area, a section of the resort that we've always wanted to have a place if we ever wound up buying property there. We jotted down the phone number, and then ran into a guy we met years ago that just happened to have a park model home for sale in the RV area of the resort. With nothing else to do, we took a tour of the place, and really liked it, but wanted to sleep on it as well as look at some other places for sale.
  The next morning we headed for Dunedin, home of Marker 1 Marina. Just thirty miles west of Land O' Lakes, the forty-five minute drive is a pleasant one, through some scenic (for Florida) countryside, and no busy interstate highways to lose your mind on.
  We stopped in the harbormaster office and met one of the harbormasters and "Tempie" gave us directions of the slip that they had picked out for us based on what I told them we needed.

  We requested a slip with a long pier on one side so we could deploy the dinghy if we docked bow in. There are only a handful of slips in the whole marina that have long finger piers on one side, and such a slip was reserved for us. Rosie is standing in front of it for the photo. There is one row of boats blocking our view of the open water, but given our experience here in Marathon Marina, the additional protection will be welcome in a southerly blow.

  Here's a view from the outer dock. The slip we wound up paying a deposit on is the empty one in the middle of the picture. Sure, we would really like a floating dock, but at $11 per foot, per month, we can exist just fine in this slip. It's officially ours on January 1st, paid in full.
  We had called the owner of the townhouse for sale earlier in the day and as we made our way to downtown Dunedin, we got a call back and was told that we could view the property the next day, so we made an appointment for 10 A.M. on Sunday. We couldn't wait to see it.
  We had lunch in Dunedin at a place called the Living Room. We ate outside where we could have Holly with us, and there were several other dog owners having lunch too. Servers brought doggy water bowls and strips of bacon for the pets. We won't let Holly have bacon, but I asked for a strip for myself.
  A drive down Mainstream Dunedin was a delight. The town appears very clean and there are lots of restaurants and bars. An outside bazaar was in full swing, and parking is totally free. I said free. We were impressed with Dunedin, it has a true "Old Florida" feel.
  We met the owner of the property we wanted to see at 10 o'clock sharp. We held back our enthusiasm as much as we could but without even talking to one another, we both knew that the other liked the place very much. After a thorough tour, we spent some brief time alone, rejoined the owner and made an attractive offer, but less than the asking price.
  The owner countered reasonably, and we agreed, but only if we could sign the contract that afternoon. By 2 P.M. we were signing the contract for purchase at the real estate office, with possession to take place on February 1st. We spent the rest of the afternoon having beers with Dee, the seller, asking about her experience at the resort and her plans for when she moves. Turns out Dee and her husband only had the place a couple of months before he had a stroke and died. Dee put her energy and dealt with her grief by focusing on going ahead with major renovations to the townhouse, of which we will now benefit from. We left at nearly 10 P.M., new owners of a place on land to call home, as well as a new friend.
  Our other friends in the area said that we could never be accused of dragging our feet.
  One word about the townhouse; the second bedroom is a separate lock-out, complete with a kitchen, bathroom, small sitting room, a nice sized bedroom, and an outside covered and screened in deck, that a person or couple could live full time in. We'll rent out the "studio" by the night, week, or month for extra income. In fact, we have the studio rented already for the month of March!
  We spent two full weeks exploring around what is to be our new "land home", and was amazed at the changes we found and were pleased to see the results. We think that the variety of trading time between the resort and the boat will keep everything fresh for us.
  One thing that we think we'll find is that the area we'll be boating in is better suited for what we like, with plenty of beaches, and with the protected water of St. Joseph's Sound to transit between Clearwater and Anclote Key. We'll meet folks at the resort, as well as friends we already have in the area, to take as guests out on Swing Set, something we like to do to get the most enjoyment out of our boat. We'll have more on that later.
  One thing is that we won't be spending so much on dock rent that we don't want to leave the dock. I think we'll be more inclined to take some week long, or longer, trips and not worry about how much we're paying for a slip that we're not in. We can dinghy to all of the many beaches in the area without being in open water, and leave Swing Set in the slip if we want. If the weather gets cold in Dunedin, we can cast off and head for warmer weather and still have all the comforts of home. This is something we're used to.
  Tarpon Springs does have an abundance of boatyards. If you don't know it, Tarpon Springs is largely a Greek community, and the Greeks there still hold to their boating roots. I have an eye on one boatyard in particular, Pittman's Yacht Services, where we'll pop in and talk to them about getting some anti-fouling paint on our running gear that will hold up.
  As it is, we're back in Marathon to spend the holiday, and some good friends are coming to visit on Sunday. They're here for a short stay, and then we'll head out of here by New Year's Eve and point the boat towards Dunedin, weather permitting of course.
  Some changes to the blog are probably in order since we're not officially "live aboard full time cruisers" any longer. But if you've been paying attention, we haven't been that for a couple of years now. We'll still be swingsetonthehook, but will probably change the description, and hopefully still be able to give you something to enjoy reading about occasionally.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Drip Drip Drip Can Sink the Ship

  After about ten hours of running time on our new bottom paint job, almost four hours of that at our cruising speed of 25 M.P.H., I decided yesterday to strap on my goggles and take a look at the boat bottom. Not good.
  Although no paint had fallen off of the hull itself, as far as my quick assessment could tell me, but the metal parts such as the shafts, rudders, exhaust outlets, and props, all had chunks of paint missing.
  There could be several reasons for this happening, but there is no doubt in my mind that surface prep and improper paint application are the reasons for the paint not sticking.
  No, I'm not going to bother trying to hold our marina responsible, again for several reasons, but a few of them are that I was the one who finished up the painting process on the underwater metal parts because the yard laborer who was supposed to do the work went on vacation before the work on our boat was finished. I also believe we launched Swing Set too early before the paint was completely dry, and probably didn't wait long enough between coats.
  The bottom line is that the boatyard here is not equipped to do much service work. I believe the focus on Marathon Marina and Resort as being a resort and marina is better suited for them rather than being a service facility.
  Also, we're leaving in a couple of days to drive north for some recon in order to find a more affordable marina, hopefully one with really good service facilities nearby. I think we have an eye on a good one. On my last post we got a few suggestions as to where we should keep the boat; those suggestions were ignored as being in areas where we have no intention of ever living.
  Maybe I'll do a quick haul out once we get settled just to address the underwater running gear, as like I mentioned, the hull looks O.K. except where the slings came in contact with the fresh paint where now it looks and feels wrinkled. Really wrinkled.
  Last but not least, the yard laborer who did the majority of the surface prep and painting on Swing Set is now in jail for what looks to be a long time. But that's another story.
  How about some good news?
  You may remember my post about cleaning up the shafts and reseating our dripless shaft seals so they would quit leaking. We have Strong brand Sure Seal System shaft seals on Swing Set. Well, the seal on the starboard shaft is tight and keeps the bilge dry as a bone, but the portside shaft seal has continued to drip at a steady rate. A steady drip if you're living onboard is one thing, but leaving a vessel unattended with a little drip can lead to disaster. (I read a statistic once that said the leading cause of boats sinking is due to shaft seals leaking. I believe it.)
  We have spare shaft seals in place on our driveshafts, I suppose they have been there since the boat was new, but I had been reluctant to use them because if I did, then...well then I'd have no more spare ones would I? But after trying to clean up the portside shaft and reseat the seal again, I went ahead and decided to use the spare on the portside to stop the drip.
  I utilized my friend Mr. Google once again for a quick video of how to attack the seal replacement chore. One thing that had me worried was just how much water was going to come rushing into the bilge when I pulled out the old seal, but the video and the commentary that came along with it assured me that it was no big deal.
  Now, I'm not giving a tutorial here on how to do this seal replacement, I would want you to do your own research if you need to perform this task, but I do have a few tips that may be of use to anyone attempting the job.
  One thing is that an allen wrench is needed for the seal housing, and an allen wrench won't turn around all the way because the drive shaft is in the way, so I used a socket with the appropriate size allen bit installed. This made quick work of the tedious job of tightening the five allen bolts. (Make sure they're started by hand to avoid stripping the threads on the housing.)
  I also used a small mallet to tap in the seal. I was happy to find that the new seal was still tight, as old as it was. (There is also a story here, but don't tempt me.)
  Anyway, the new seal is installed with not much trouble, and not a drip to be seen. Now I feel much better about leaving the boat for a couple of weeks although our neighbor has promised to keep an eye on Swing Set.
  I mentioned the mallet before, well I think I did, but I keep the mallet in the engine room along with several sizes of plugs. The theory is that is you get a hole in the hull somewhere, you can quickly grab a plug and hammer it home. I can see where this may apply in the case of a through hull valve breaking off, but any other hole will be jagged, and most likely occur in a spot where you can't swing a mallet, but at least I have good intentions.
  I also have a small assortment of rubber plugs to stick into the ends of hoses if I take any off in the course of some service work when I don't want stuff to leak out or in. I can't tell you how many times I took a hose off and scrambled around to find something to stick into the hose to stop the flow of water or other liquid. (Fingers are usually too fat. Don't ask.)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Is The Grass Greener Over There?

  As you can see in the picture, our view from the stern of Swing Set is a pretty good one. We like our marina, we like our boat neighbors, and we like the area in general. It must be time to move on.
  In my last post it wasn't hard to sense some disappointment in the fact that we've had to have our boat bottom painted for the fourth time since the year we left St. Louis. Seems like so long ago but it was only three and a half years. But at an average of $4000 per bottom job, it means a big hunk taken out of our budget. It's time to tighten our belts some and the easiest way to do it is to find a place with cheaper rent. Good bye Florida Keys.
  Nothing is set in stone, but in a couple of weeks we're taking a drive up north for some recon. I've done some phone inquiries, searched through Active Captain, and looked online at some dock finding websites, and with hardly no trouble at all we can reduce our rent by over 50%. Yes, it means getting into parts of this state that may get cooler in the winter, but with cheaper rent we can afford to fire up the Cats and head south if a cold front rolls in. What we love best about living on a boat is the ability to change our scenery if we want without too much trouble. No sense living this lifestyle if we're afraid to move because we may not have a slip to come back to if we take a trip.
  On the subject of taking a trip; we've just returned from a month in Key West. We had to not only pay double what we pay now for a slip in Key West Bight, we had to pay for our slip here at Marathon Marina while we were gone in order to have a slip to return to as the waiting list for slips for boats our size are at a premium this time of year.
  Like I said, we've just returned yesterday, but you can't return until you go, so let me start at the beginning: We pulled out of Marathon of October 24th and with a following sea we headed west, wallowing through the waves at our regular displacement speed of 8.5 M.P.H., so I put Swing Set on plane, adjusted the tabs, and ran the whole 40 miles to Key West at the published cruising speed of our vessel, which is 25 M.P.H. at 2500 R.P.M.s, without a glitch of high temperature issue. Yippee!
  We pulled into our slip at A & B Marina in a tad over two hours. We did something a bit different this time at A & B by pulling into the slip bow first. We used a provided set of steps to exit the boat from the very bow, which wasn't any harder than ducking under the dinghy on the stern via the swim platform like we used to at A & B because they have no finger piers. We think if worked out pretty good for us, plus Holly didn't feel a need to bark at every soul who walked past our boat, which seemed to happen about a million times per day.
  This blog isn't about our exploits when we're in port, and this may come at a disappointment to those who want to see pictures of our week in Key West during Fantasy Fest, but we're keeping those details to ourselves for now. I will say that the best time we had in the last month was when we took some friends out for a cruise while we were there. All of our guests were boaters, and everyone helped and didn't cause us any grief.
  With nine persons on board, Swing Set ran us home from the upper end of the Northwest Channel of Key West at cruising speed, albeit with a bit of a throttle lag when I first poured on the coals.
  We spent four weeks in Key West going to Dante's, bars and restaurants, blah blah blah.
  The weather proved to be worsening, so we left Key West a few days early to take advantage of a light wind on the bow and minimal seas as we made our way back east to Marathon. Today would have meant beam seas, and if we waited until Sunday, we might have just been stuck for another week. No thanks. Another couple of days and I may have gone over and shot the singer they had over at Schooner's Wharf in the afternoons.
  I think we've had enough of Key West to last us a few years. By the time we go back, we'll need to be able to speak fluent Russian to buy a t-shirt on Duval Street. Spasibo tovarishchu.
  People who read this blog remark on how much they learn from reading it, and mostly I think 
it's because I don't have a problem sharing when it comes to my ability, or failures, at fixing
the ongoing mechanical issues that pop up. We did have one such issue while in Key West.
  We have been keeping our shore water hooked up to our plumbing while in Marathon, but in 
Key West we had to keep our water tank full and use the fresh water pumps to have water.
This requires monitoring our water supply and I apparently had other things on mind during
Fantasy Fest and I let our tank run dry. This adversely affected one of our fresh water pumps
to the point of it needing to be replaced, so I popped in a spare pump that I had on hand but 
a small leak was coming from the pressure switch. There was a good chance that just 
tightening up the screws on the switch assembly would have fixed the leak, but I had already 
installed the pump and tightening up the screws required removing the pump again, so I 
ordered a new pump to match the other new one that was installed last fall. I like things to 
  The new pump came and I pulled out the spare I had put in and in fact found out that the switch
assembly was indeed loose. (From when I "fixed" the switch after installing a new pump last fall)
I installed the new pump anyway and sent the old one to the spare parts department again.
The new pump wouldn't turn off, so I consulted the manual and adjusted the switch by backing 
off the adjustment screw just a smidgen. All was fine, but the new pump kept cycling on every 
few minutes, much to my perplexity.
  I checked all the fittings and faucets and was left to wonder if the switch on the new pump was
bad. I decided to sleep on it.
  That night I woke up to find the air conditioner in the master stateroom had quit working. The
unit in the salon was still working, so I figured the filter in the master stateroom unit needed
the air filter changed. In the morning the salon unit had kicked out on low pressure too, so this
usually means that the water strainer is clogged. Down into the engine room I went to check on 
the sea strainer which I found to be free of debris. 
  It was time to get serious, but first I had to wash the sleep from my eyes, so I went to turn on the
water and found out that the water tank was dry. Hmmm. The new water pump was cycling on with 
no sign of a water leak, and the air conditioners were both kicked out on low pressure. Somehow 
the A/C units lost their prime when the water ran out on our house water supply. I went back into
the engine room and with dry hands I again tried to tighten the faucet in the engine room
and found that it wasn't turned off all the way. The light bulb had finally come on.
  When I flushed the engines after the outing with our friends, I hadn't turned off the water all the
way, so when I installed the new pump, I had water leaking through the shared hose supplying
fresh water to our A/C units for when I flush them. The leak wasn't detected because the fresh
water was just going out through the raw water intake for the A/C units. All was good until the
water tank finally ran dry, so this caused an airlock in the A/C water pump which kicked out both
A/C units. 
  One little oversight caused all these problems, but I'd rather have simple solutions to
complex problems rather than have complicated solutions to simple problems.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Hanging In There

  Launch day for Swing Set after being "on the hard" for two weeks getting a new bottom paint job. Hope this paint job lasts more than a few months.
  We absolutely hated being holed up in a condo on the resort property for most of the two weeks. Not that the two bedroom condo we were in was not nice, or that the rate we were charged was very fair, it was just that we felt like we were not in our element. Holly probably was affected the greatest, she didn't use her potty pad one time during the time we were off of the boat. She had quickly trained us to take her for a walk twice a day as we wanted to be assured that she wouldn't have an "accident" in the condo.
  When we pulled Swing Set out, the first thing was that she got a good pressure washing. It was then that I noticed that the straps on the travel lift were marked with paint where the straps came in contact with the chines of vessels being put back in the water. Dry paint does not leave paint residue on the straps, so I told the lift operator that when Swing Set gets splashed back into the water once the bottom painting was completed, I expected pads to be in place on the straps to prevent paint from rubbing off onto the straps. We also learned to inform the yard man to use only two straps instead of four; a vessel of our size doesn't need four and it further reduces the chance of rubbing new paint off the hard chines. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
  Once the pressure washing was completed, and Swing Set was on the blocks, I noticed that some aggressive power washing stripped off some of the boot stripe decal near our port exhaust. I made sure the yard man was informed, and then took it upon myself to buy new tape and make a repair to the stripe.
  We had a pow wow with the marina manager, lift operator, yard man and various onlookers, and agreed that the Prop Speed that was applied ten months ago was virtually gone. We've since learned that applying Prop Speed takes some expertise that was not used in our application. Old paint along the waterline on our boat had craters in it, due to the last two bottom paint applications being applied over old paint that had flaked off and left a pock-marked surface. I made it clear that I wanted a smooth surface at least on the sides of the boat between the boot stripe and first chine, this would at least ascertain that we had removed all of the loose paint and leave a smooth surface for easier cleaning. The bottom of the boat hull had very few craters in it, and the ones there had no loose paint around them.
  We were advised by a questionable "authority" that we needed to grind our boat bottom down to bare fiberglass, apply a barrier coat, and then paint the bottom with three coats of ablative paint. You should have seen the looks on the faces of me and the marina manager. I could sense a need for compromise, so even though it may not have been the best move, we all decided to remove any unhealthy paint with sanding, paying special attention to getting the sides smooth, then apply Interlux Primocon, a fairly new underwater primer, onto the whole undersides of the boat; including all metal except the zincs, of course.
  We did stand our ground and insist on three coats of Micron 66 on the bottom, with four coats applied along the water line. Micron 66 is a very soft ablative paint; the more applied meant the longer we could go without applying more. So goes the theory.
  We had initially thought a week out of the water would have been enough, but more realistically we knew we were looking at two weeks with the extra sanding and another coat of paint. Now we were looking at splashing the boat on the day we were scheduled to arrive in Key West for a month and the dock at A & B Marina had already been reserved a year ahead of time. Had we known how close we were cutting it, we would have waited until our return from Key West to do the bottom job, but by then we might be out of money. Key West is expensive. Again, I'm getting ahead of myself.
  There was no sense of wasting time on the blocks when we were looking at two weeks. The hull was waxed between the water line and the gunnels. That job took three days after initially washing the hull first. I don't know how professional "detailers" come in to wax a boat without washing it first, but I see it all the time, especially when the owners are not present. If I had any advice to offer when getting work done when an owner is absent, is not to ever do it.
  While Swing Set was out of the water I also used the opportunity to attempt to lessen the dripping around our port side "dripless" shaft seal. A few months ago I repaired the shaft seal on the starboard side shaft and had great success. I moved the dripless seal back, sanded the revealed shaft smooth, and then secured the seal around the newly sanded surface.
  Meanwhile, I'm glad we were around to keep an eye on things. Even though the marina manager was trying her best to keep apprised of the work being done on our boat, had we not been there to check up at least twice a day to see how things were going, some mistakes that were made could not have been easily rectified. As it was, the primer was applied over flaking bottom paint along the sides, no less, where I stressed that those areas be sanded completely smooth. Additional sanding and more primer was applied before the first coat of bottom paint was applied.
  At the beginning of the second week we were informed that the boatyard laborer was going on vacation mid week. That left us no one to paint. We were told that the travel lift operator would be available to paint, so when I popped over to make sure he was on the same page as everyone else in regard to how we were approaching the job, he apparently was not made aware that bottom painting, and also some grinding, was going to be part of his upcoming job description. I think I almost scared him off as an employee of the marina. He may have been planning his escape back to Cuba before the marina manager came up with a plan B for who was going to finish up the painting.
  Plan B was me and another employee whose duties consisted mainly of housekeeping and landscaping, but her husband is a very knowledgeable boater and was going to supervise. It also did not hurt that she loved to paint and was very good at it.
  We were under the impression that the running gear had all been sanded, but found out otherwise. I grabbed a sander and finished sanding the running gear, Jamaican style. Jamaican style is sanding without eye protection or a dust mask. Barefoot too, if you are wondering.
  Me and the other conscripted painter worked together very well. As it turned out, I'm now glad the yard laborer went on vacation, as now we knew firsthand how much paint was applied and also knew the condition of the surface before painting. As it was, we used two gallons of Primocon and EIGHT GALLONS of Micron 66 which alone retails at nearly $375 per gallon.    Painting the underwater metal with a brush just eats up paint in a hurry. Only a few drops got on my flip flops. Now I look like I work for a living.
  Two days before the intended completion of our work, we were informed that we had to vacate the condo we were staying in as there was a conflict in the booking of the unit. Usually possession is 9/10ths of the law, but there was no sense on complaining about the issue. We knew we were going to get a very fair rate for our stay, and a customer paying full fair would take precedent if one was any kind of businessman, so we booked two nights in a local flea bag motel and sucked it up for those nights.
  The day came to splash the boat and pay our bill. Judy, the dock master and marina manager, called us into her office to go over the bill. I was reminded of the time we bought our first home as the details were laid out for us. As promised, Judy was very fair in the charges, considering that we had just had bottom paint done ten months ago. Many items normally charged for were done au gratis, and the paint was sold to us at cost. Profit margin was non-existent, or very low, and we did get a very good rate for the nine nights we stayed in the condo on the marina property.
  The only complaint I'd say we had was in the quality of work done by the yard laborer. But being realistic, we know those jobs are really hard jobs to do, especially when it's hot. Keeping any employee doing hull sanding and painting coming back day after day is quite an accomplishment. Next time if we have work done at our marina, we'll just do a better job of supervising the work, even if it isn't our job to do so. You know what they say about assuming anything.
  Back in the water, I checked the bilges and found out my shaft seal repair was ineffective. Water was pouring through the seal. I wound up moving the seal back to the original location and got the flow back to where it was initially. My opinion is that the seal on the "new" part of the shaft needed time to "seat in". Worse comes to worse, I can install the new seal already in place on the shaft, but I only want to do that as a last resort.
  While troubleshooting the leaking seal, I found out the the water line feeding the port side shaft seal was plugged coming from the port engine. There is a crossover line between both seals, so our port side seal was still getting water, but just not as much. I removed the line from the seal and the engine and got it unplugged by beating the hose against the concrete dock and blowing it out with compressed air from our Hookamax. At least our Hookamax is good for something.
  The next morning we left for Key West a day late, no matter because we called A & B and was told that our month long stay would start on the day we got there. That was good news and the call by us was greatly appreciated.
  We had a following sea with a 15 knot wind, making a slow cruise very uncomfortable. Even though we wondered how much the three coats of bottom paint on the props and shafts were going to affect our cruising speed, Swing Set jumped up on plan and with the trim tabs adjusted to even out our running attitude, we clipped along at a pleasant 25 M.P.H., spinning the Cats at 2500 R.P.M. and only rang the ships bell once coming off a four foot wave. Even though the engines sang happily at 200 degrees for the whole two hours and ten minutes to Key West, we didn't set off any alarms or get much salt spray on the topsides. When we arrived at A & B marina we were also very pleased to find that the new bottom paint had not worn off already.
  It's hard to take paying rent here at A & B Marina and at our home port of Marathon Marina, but it's what we had to do if we wanted to have a slip to even go back to in Marathon. Slip rental in the Keys is unbelievably high, and even more so here in Key West. We're not sure we'll reserve a slip here next year at this time, since we're considering a move further north. We might save a trip down here for when it gets colder way up toward mid-state in the middle of the winter. Two hundred miles makes a big difference in winter temperatures in southern Florida, but with lower rent further north, we get to keep our options open.
  For those of you who pay attention; Holly did fall back into her routine of using her potty pads once she was back on the boat. We are all now happily back in our element.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The End Is Near

  The end of what is near? Not the end of beautiful sunsets here in the Keys, that's for sure, but recent events have had us looking to other horizons. We aren't going to change the description of this blog, but "cruising full time" hasn't been true for a while now, as we've been tethered to a dock pretty much full time since we came back from The Bahamas.

  We've gotten pretty comfortable here in Marathon, meeting new folks in town and some of those passing through on their boats. We even attended the Marathon Dolphins high school football game a few Friday nights ago. Rosie was a cheerleader in high school and went to lots of football games, but I've never attended one, even when I was in high school. So we went and had a pretty good time although the Marathon Dolphins stink.
  We also were recently invited to attend the wedding of a couple we met here at the marina shortly after we arrived. I don't know why we agreed to go, but it was a good time although we don't know how anyone would want to get married for the third time each, but I told Rosie afterward that if we meet anyone again who starts talking about getting married soon, I'm going to come right out and tell them to not bother with sending us an invitation. This one was like going to an organized auto crash. With fatalities.
  The weather has just recently turned cooler and the dog days of summer are behind us. We're able to begin waxing Swing Set again, a rewarding experience when the weather is pleasant, but a grueling ordeal when it's hot. But boat maintenance cannot be avoided in this climate and in the salt water, lest your boat just waste away little by little. Like I've said before, a person who has a boat in salt water spends their time "trying to keep it from dissolving like an Alka-Seltzer tablet". I cannot be attributed with this quote, but I can get credit for passing it on.

  This is not a photo from when we had our boat bottom painted ten months ago. This is a current picture, and I'm writing this blog while Swing Set is on the hard. Again. It's the fourth bottom painting job we've had since the spring of 2012. No, I'm not happy.
  This summer while under the boat removing some line from a lobster pot that got snagged on our starboard prop, I noticed that the Prop Speed we put on the running gear last December was GONE. Also, the bottom paint on the hull sides was wearing through to the fiberglass in one area.
  I talked to our guy that does our bottom cleaning once a month, and he agreed that our bottom paint, particularly the Prop Speed, was prematurely wearing and we would be due for new bottom paint sooner, rather than later.
  There is a long story here about this last bottom painting job, but the realization that we'd be going through this process possibly every 18 to 24 months didn't set well with me. In fact, it got me pretty much disillusioned with owning a boat that was kept in the salt water full time.
I called a boat broker and started the process of finding out what we had to do to get our boat sold. Then I came to my senses.
  The age of Swing Set is such that even if we sold it for top dollar, we'd have a hard time replacing it with anything that we would like as much, let alone something that would allow us to pocket some money for the difference.
  What we did decide was that as much as we like the Florida Keys, the rent here is just too high, even though Marathon is half the price of Key West. If we move north, we can cut our rent down to less than half again what we are paying now. The difference in our outlay can pay for the added maintenance that we haven't planned for.
  We have our eye on an area we want to move to, and we are looking forward to being closer to better beaches, and near to bigger towns where there is more to do, but a move won't happen for a few months yet. I'll keep you all in the loop.
  As far as bottom paint goes, this time we've sanded off any areas where the paint is not "healthy", and we've grinded all underwater metal to the bare surface, and coated all bare metal and fiberglass with two coats of Interlux Primocon so that the three coats of Interlux Micron 66 will stick to it. If this is the wrong thing to be doing, don't tell me. What's done is done.
  Meanwhile, Swing Set is due to hit the water again this Friday, and then we're heading to Key West for a month to take in the busiest time in Key West, starting with Fantasy Fest and ending with the World Championship Offshore Boat Races.
  Lots of folks come down that we know from the St. Louis area, so we get to visit with some old friends, maybe for the last time. If you think about it, everyone you see everyday is someone you may be seeing for the last time. Don't take anything for granted.
  We're approaching a half million hits on our blog, not a real big number, but I'm always surprised at how many people still enjoy reading it, even though I'm only posting about once a month. Just the other day a fella in West Marine recognized us and commented that he liked our blog.
  Maybe where we're going will give me more material to pass along.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sweet Dreams

  Sunsets are plentiful as well as beautiful from our vantage point here at the dock, but sunrises are nice too when we get some clouds to reflect the light from the rising sun coming up on our bow.
  In spite of our satisfaction with our boat neighbors on both side of us, we moved slips anyway, just a couple of weeks ago. When a majority of boats in our area of the marina (the 45 foot slips on the West dock) moved in anticipation of Hurricane Erika, some did not move back and a slip we had been eyeing became available. The slip was only two spaces away to our south, just on the other side of our then current boat neighbors, and when we mentioned to them that we were thinking about moving, they both were delighted.
  We asked Judy, the dock master, about moving our boat to this other slip, and after some deliberation about how some future guests could be accommodated in a slip other than the one we wanted to move to, she concluded that since we were now "permanent residents", we had priority. It didn't hurt that our current boat neighbor, Caroline, works in the marina office.
  One of our reasons for liking this new slip was the fact that the boat that our neighbors have is over 50 feet, and their stern blocks our view somewhat of the channel coming into the harbor, as well as the rest of the West docks. It's not a big thing, but we felt just a little "boxed in" between two aft cabin vessels. Sometimes it's just the little things.
  Also, a factor in the equation was that the pier we would be tied to was recently rebuilt, so we wouldn't have to move again in the future to rebuild the pier we were on, a certainty. Once we started counting reasons for moving, the reasons started adding up. Another one was that we wouldn't have the prevailing easterly winds blocked by the laundry room, nor the view to the East. How did we ever stay for over ten months in that ratty old slip?
  I spent over three hours on a Saturday morning relocating our dock lines, water lines, shore power, T.V. cable, cleats, hose rack and hose, welcome mat, and solar lights from our old slip to our new one. Since we berth "bow in", our shore power, water, and cable, is run from the pedestal along the top edge of the wooden pier to the end of it, where I can quickly disconnect everything when we take the boat out, leaving it all neatly secured to the dock and not strung out all over the boat.
  Our new neighbors, which are actually our old neighbors, only we now share a pier between us had a rag rug screwed to the pier at the point of boat entry, in order to wipe everyones feet before boarding. We had a welcome mat too, so I installed it where the concrete on the pier ended and the wood began. Max, the male half of our boat neighbors, said that he would only charge us one dollar a month for the use of their rug. I said, "OK, and I'll only charge you a buck fifty a month for the use of the mat I just installed over there."
Never mess with a retired union member.
  No, actually we get along fine with our neighbors. We've both installed more solar lights on the pier, and Max bought two strands of solar rope lights to run along the concrete section of our pier. At night it looks like a Miss America runway between our boats, putting all other piers at the marina to shame. If anyone falls into the water at night around here they deserve it.
  One dynamic that has changed is that now we share a double slip with whoever happens to arrive as a transient, as there is no one "permanent" in the slip south of us yet. It could happen that another fifty foot aft cabin vessel might move in, and we'd be just about where we were before, view wise, but those things we can't control anyway. As it is, the first boat to come in and occupy the spot next to us came in a few days after we were in our new spot.
  The 34 foot Mainship trawler was owned by an older couple, and coming from me, that's gotta tell you something. It's a good thing I kept a line in place running from the outer piling between our double slip to the concrete bulkhead, because our new neighbor was just a wee bit inexperienced in the docking department. Even though we had no wind at all when he came in, it took him three tries to nose his bow head first into an 18 foot wide slip. Everyone has to learn at some point, but he didn't even help himself by putting out any fenders. I walked over to give him a hand, which was greatly appreciated by him and his wife, helped him tie up and get his shore power going.
  As they were our immediate neighbors, we shared some conversation when any of us were outside, but we didn't impose and neither did they, but we learned that they had cruised from an overnight stay at Cape Sable, from their home port of Marco Island.
  I admired our new neighbors as they made the most of their stay here in Marathon. They took the boat out everyday, and I helped them each time they came in bouncing from piling to pier. One day the front deck was covered in blood, it appeared to be fish blood, I didn't ask.
  On the last day coming in, the evening before they were due to return to Marco Island, I went over to oversee their arrival. Once we got lines secured, I asked "John" how long they owned a boat. "About a year", was the reply. "If ya got any advice, I sure could use it", he added.
  Given the opportunity, I suggested, as nice as I could, that perhaps when he came in to the dock, he could have his fenders out. They currently were tied to the rails, but laying uselessly between the rails and his cabin. "Oh, I thought I had forgotten something", John said.
  Our own preference is to employ fenders on each side of Swing Set when we enter a slip also occupied by another vessel. We feel that it's our responsibility to protect not only our boat when docking, but the boats of others in our close proximity. We wish other people felt the same way. If I'm around when someone comes in and looks like they want to use our boat as a means of bouncing off to get into their slip, I strongly suggest that they put out fenders before attempting insertion. Everyone knows about the phrase "better to be safe than sorry", but lots of people don't put the words into actions.
I also suggested that he learn how to use spring lines, especially at a fixed dock. "If you slip at least one on as you come in, it can help you avoid hitting the forward bulkhead if you are coming in bow first, and if you come in stern first, they take the guess work out of knowing how close you are to the dock at your stern.
  I also relayed to him my Cardinal rule, which he apparently was not aware of, and it's the rule that states to "Never leave the helm until the boat is secure". This rule is naturally only a rule if you have a crew, or some help. Single handers gotta do what they gotta do.
I say this time and time again, "You cannot control the boat if you aren't at the helm".
  We should be seeing more boats coming into the marina by the end of the month. As it is, there is a 25 vessel waiting list for slips of our size starting in October. One reason for this is that the marina is getting a face lift, and all of the boats in the area getting the facelift need slips to go to, hence the waiting list.
  The fuel docks are getting moved, and some new slips will be added. The new double slips will be able to accommodate catamarans, which the current marina doesn't have much of, and they'll be Bellingham floating concrete docks, twenty-seven in all. Twenty of those slips will be for transients only, so in the summer when things are slow, there will be floating docks to move to if a hurricane threatens.
  Long time blog readers might remember that one of our improvements to the boat was the addition of a three inch thick foam pad that we had installed over our five inch thick innerspring mattress that came as original equipment on our Sea Ray. The mattress was made by HMC, the "home crafted mattress company". Having learned a few things about foam padding from our dealings with having upholstery done on the boat, got me thinking about our mattress, and the foam pad covering it. We decided to look into getting new bedding for the V-berth in our master stateroom.
  Thinking that if I gave HMC our hull number, we could get a custom mattress made, sort of like we did with our bimini top through Boatswain's Locker, but when I called to the regional outlet for HMC, I was told that we would have to go from scratch, supplying measurements to them because they had no records of the size of mattress made explicitly for our Sea Ray.
We were disappointed, but undeterred, but were taken aback by the quoted price, which was in the neighborhood of three thousand dollars. Considering that we spend over one third of our lives in our bed, we accepted this quote, and began to think about getting measurements to HMC and having a new mattress made.
  Watching T.V. one night, I was watching a commercial for a mattress company, selling queen size mattresses for $99, when I began wondering why we were about to spend $3000 for a mattress. The next morning, I called our "go to" canvas and upholstery guys here in the keys, Oceanside Canvas, and talked with one of the owners, Steve Alberts.
  I asked about just replacing the foam pad over the existing innerspring mattress with a stiffer foam one in order to save money, but Steve had another idea. He said they could build us a custom made latex foam mattress covered with Sunbrella material in any color we wanted, and it would be much cheaper than the quote from HMC. Knowing that HMC also sells latex foam mattresses, we weren't stuck on the idea of an innerspring mattress, so we told Steve to come up to Marathon to measure us up and to leave some samples of Sunbrella material.
  Steve sent his partner Fritz to get a ballpark measurement so they could get us a quote, and by the time he arrived, we also decided to recover our padded bolster (basically our headboard) with the same material we would choose for the mattress covering. The padded bolster, which we had gotten recovered in St. Louis years ago, was showing signs of mildew that we couldn't get out. Just examining the headboard in really good light made us cringe with embarrassment.
  The initial measurement gave Steve and Fritz something to go by when they called their supplier for costs of foam material for the mattress. We wanted the mattress to wind up being eight inches thick, so they decided on a six inch thick mattress material with a two inch thick very firm foam base, hinged so we could lift up the bottom end of the mattress to access one of our air conditioners under the bed, and then covered with Sunbrella on top, and a breathable material on the bottom. Even with recovering our headboard, the quote was half of what we got from HMC, and I wasn't responsible for measuring for the mattress.

  Yesterday we installed our new headboard and mattress. We picked a neutral colored green for it all. This picture is before Rosie made up the bed with a mattress pad, sheets, bedspread, and pillows. Since we went with an eight inch mattress, the added height allowed Oceanside to increase the width of the bed at the head. Instead of the original trapezoidal shape of our old bed, we now have something more of a square. It's geometry. I hardly understand it myself.
  Last night was our first time sleeping with the new mattress, and it's as firm as we wanted it, and we like it.
  People like to say that we are "living the dream". If this is true, we may never want to wake up.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hurricane Erika That Wasn't

  We just don't get tired of these sunsets in the Keys! At times we second guess our decision to face our stern into the west because the late afternoon sun is so hot shining into the cabin, but when the sun sets below our flybridge overhang, we just close the shade on the salon door for an hour or so. The really good weather is coming soon.
  The weather has been foremost on our minds for the last few days. First we had tropical storm Danny threatening to come our way, but that storm dissipated quickly and was soon replaced by tropical storm Erika, which had our attention in a big way.
  Our "hurricane plan" which is filed with our insurer, Boat U.S., states that our "plan" is to simply go where the hurricane isn't going to be. Well, we found out that trying to guess where the hurricane is going to be is nearly impossible for the experts, let alone us.
  First Erika was coming straight at us, then the path switched to the east to head up the Florida coast to miss us, then as the storm passed the Dominican Republic, the path changed again, heading straight for us and up the east coast of Florida, then just before the storm dissipated like Danny, the path was forecasted to go south of us, just north of the tip of Cuba. If we were going to go anywhere, it would have been hard to guess where to.
  My second option during this time of the year, would be to grab a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor. There is plenty of moorings available this time of year, so worrying about if there is room in there is a non issue, but as we are learning, the boats in there that are not on the city owned moorings have a great risk of breaking free and slamming into other vessels that are on the paid-for moorings. Also, from what we have seen on most of the vessels in Boot Key Harbor, many of them have so much junk piled on them by some of the pack rats living on them, there is a potential for a lot of flying missiles when the wind kicks up.
  Danny, as well as Erika, were never touted as developing as more than a category one hurricane, so our alert level wasn't to the point where we thought we would head to the Everglades up near Marco Island, or up the river near Cape Coral. This plan, being fairly expensive, will be put into play if the early forecast for any storm indicates a storm higher than a category one.
  Another option is to head to Stock Island. Safe Harbor is named as it is for a reason, and if we swallow our pride, we can get a slip at Stock Island Marina Village at their floating docks, my preference over the fixed docks like we have here at Marathon Marina.
  We eventually settled on another option for Erika. Judy, the dockmaster here at Marathon Marina, asked us if we wanted to take a bigger slip for the duration of Erika, allowing us to ride bow out toward the sea, and have more room to "spider web" our lines to keep the boat more to the middle of a wider slip in order to avoid bumping the pilings on each side of us.
Even as the strength of Erika was in question for its duration, we decided to move to a bigger slip anyway, just to be safe. Our boat neighbor on our starboard side moved as well, and we tied up next to each other in much bigger slips.

  As you can see from the picture, we are still off to the side, next to the pier, but Erika is gone and all we have left is some threat of gusting winds today. As I was writing this, the wind kicked up, and we positioned Swing Set more in the middle of the slip. We have ten lines around the boat, more available to us if we need them. We also have our auxiliary anchor lines, more than 500 feet of them, ready on the bow if we need them, but for now they are staying put.
  We had placed our Yuba bicycle back onboard the boat, along with the cover. The bike cover, and the bimini top, would probably be removed for any winds approaching 100 miles an hour. That's the plan anyway, but doing that requires some forethought that may or may not come into play.
  Several boats in the marina moved to bigger slips until this storm is passed us. Some owners flew in from out of town to move their boats, and some other owners pay a fee yearly to be on a haul out list, plus are charged for the haul out and blocking for each haul out. Not only would that plan require us to find a place to live besides staying on the boat, I've seen lots of boats in The Bahamas that had been hauled out for storms, now laying on their sides as the wind blew them off the blocks.
  Most of the staff here at the marina were housed in the condos around the resort. One staffer offered to share her condo if the weather got too rough. She said to just come knock on the door if we needed to, and bring our sleeping bags. That was a nice offer, and one we would take her up on if staying on the boat proved to be a mistake.
  Putting our scooter onboard wasn't necessary either, because Judy told us to put our scooter in the office until storm passed, so we did. Had we decided to leave, the scooter would have went with us, but as it was, we had one less thing to do to prepare.
  One reason we didn't want to leave was that Holly had a veterinarian appointment for yesterday morning. She has been battling an ear infection for over a month, and this third, and final visit, was to be a check up to determine if her ears were free from infection. We were happy to find out that she got a clean bill of health from "Dr. Gerry" at the Marathon Animal Hospital.
  On a less positive note, we began discussions about possible surgery for our little buddy, because she has what's called "luxating patellas" which means basically that her knees on here hind legs slide off to the side of her legs, causing pain and potentially causing an inability to even walk. We've known that she's had this since her first visit to Dr. Tara Brooks at Affton Animal Hospital in St. Louis. Now that she is going to be four years old, the constant dislocating is starting to take a toll. When she wants on our laps, Holly has no compunction about barking an order to us to pick her up. We're happy to do it.

  Rosie had a birthday last week and we celebrated by going out to breakfast, then taking the dinghy out to Sombrero Light and snorkeling on the reef. We weren't in the water but a minute, and we both got stung by jellyfish. Rosie just got brushed on her leg, but I got stung all down my right side. We continued to snorkel for about a half an hour, but it was hard to enjoy it due to constantly looking up at the water surface where the jellyfish mostly are. The water was really clear on the day we were out there, and we saw lots of fish.
  We climbed back in the dinghy and decided to take a long ride to Duck Key, about twenty miles to the east. The seas were flat and we had a good ride, taking about two hours to go around Duck Key and come back on the bayside to the marina as some thunderstorms started to roll in. We finished out the evening at Franks, an Italian restaurant in Marathon that was recommended to us. We had a really nice dinner, and capped it off back on the boat with some wine that was an unexpected gift from our boat neighbors.
  Speaking of boat neighbors, we have some good ones. The people on our starboard side are very social people, and we talk to them quite a bit. We've helped each other out to a small degree, and we compare notes on mechanical issues as they pop up. I'd say we have a pretty good "live and let live" situation with them and we like it.
  Our neighbor on the other side of us is a good one too. He also lives on his boat, and even though he is friendly, he keeps to himself and is no bother to us at all. One night last week though, we were in bed reading and I had actually fell asleep. Rosie heard a big splash, and I did too and it woke me up. We both jumped up and looked outside and saw nothing, so we figured it was a dolphin or tarpon splashing near the boat, as we have seen that happen before. I returned to bed and soon Rosie was hollering to me that someone was in the water. It turned out to be our boat neighbor who had fallen off the pier at the bow of his boat and was clinging to his stern ladder and couldn't get up. I crawled over to his swim platform and helped him out of the drink, to which he was very appreciative. We think he was embarrassed, but we know these things happen. It's just lucky he didn't hit his head going in and drowning. He owns an aluminum railing company and had one of his employees come down to the dock and install a nice post at the step down onto our pier.
  It's not unusual to read about veteran boaters falling off docks. It seems like there's about one a week around here, but I'm sure it's not that many. My message here is to BE CAREFUL on the docks, and don't get complacent. Even the most seasoned boaters can wind up in the drink.
  One thing there is plenty of on U.S. 1 is auto accidents. Currently there are eight fatalities so far this year on the Overseas Highway. Even though we ride the scooter to Key West occasionally, we don't take it lightly, and we try to avoid riding in the rain. I had a doctor's appointment for Monday, and we cancelled it because of the storm forecast. We may borrow a car and reschedule the appointment. We continue to get offers from residents here, and staff, to borrow their vehicles if we need them. It's nice to have options.
  We rode to Key West last weekend to "get away" for Rosie's birthday. Some friends had their condo available and offered it to us, and it was an offer we couldn't refuse. We loaded up the scooter with two backpacks of stuff we needed for a two night stay, and with Holly strapped into her carrier, we arrived like the Clampetts to Southard Street. Had we arrived in a car we wouldn't have found a place to park. There's usually a place to park a scooter in Key West, and those parking spots are free, but not always where you want them. We locked up the scooter and put our travel cover on it and didn't move it until we left on Sunday morning, not wanting to lose a spot that we could see from the condo we were in. Everywhere we wanted to go in Key West was easily within walking distance.
  Here in Marathon, cabs are five bucks. You can't beat that. Even though we keep thinking about getting a car, it's just complicates matters if we need to move anywhere. If there's anything we like, it's not having complications.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Few Days On The Hook

  We recuperated from our long weekend with visiting friends and the boat races, and then started venturing out to the sand bars on the weekends. During the week we spent a lot of time hunkered down in the A/C because of the repressive heat.
  I did some minor work on the boat, one item being the replacement of one of our fresh water pumps. I installed two brand new Shurflow 4 G.P.M. pumps before we left St. Louis, so I was surprised that one of them had quit. We don't use the pumps when we are at the slip because we just use dockside water pressure with a hose. If the pumps are on the water is pulled from the water tank on board and this requires filling up the tank on a regular basis. I do use the pumps when I flush the engines after taking the boat out and it was during the last flush when I found out the pump wasn't working.
  I did suspect either a wiring problem or a pressure switch issue with the pump, but I didn't want to tear into our plumbing or wiring at the pumps only to discover that the problem was in fact the pump, so I ordered a new pump, thinking I'd have a spare if I could fix the problem easily.
  I found out that the pumps I had installed were no longer available. This is not a good sign. If components work well they are usually not discontinued, at least that's my belief. I refuse to be cynical to the point of thinking businesses quit making a product that "works too well".
  Plumbing in the new pump and wiring it was a cinch as the connections were in the same locations as the old pump. One thing I was really thankful for was that I had relocated the two pumps for ease of maintenance, but as I had mounted them in line, not side to side, I had to remove a pump to access the pressure switch.
  Once I had the old pump off I removed the pressure switch and applied direct power to the motor and it ran. I put the switch assembly back on, adjusted the pressure a bit, and the pump ran fine. I put the "old pump" in the "new pump" box and stowed it away for when we'll need it. This could be viewed as wasting $150 but had I called an electrician to troubleshoot or fix the problem, we would have spent that money anyway. As it was, I enjoyed a sense of accomplishment from being able to fix the problem myself. The best thing, I didn't even cut myself.
  We got a phone call from a friend that we've known for a long time that now lives in central Florida who was coming through Marathon and wanted to visit. Luckily we had nothing on our schedule, so on the agreed to day, we got picked up in a spiffy white Cadillac and drove down to Big Pine Key, and more importantly, to No Name Key to see the Key Deer there.
  We hadn't really ridden in such a nice vehicle for some time. Mostly it's the scooter for us, or the cheap, but largely beaten up local taxis, so naturally, after our friend left we began to consider the purchase of a car. Yes, impulse buying raised its ugly head again.
  I found a nice used MINI Cooper on AutoTrader and last week we went to look at it. We were going to take the scooter all the way up to Hialeah Gardens but on the morning we wanted to go we were greeted by a sky full of rain clouds. Hialeah is near Miami, and even though we've ridden motorcycles in the rain countless times, (is there a song about that?) the thought of doing it on our scooter for such a long trip didn't really appeal to me too much.
  Wade, the guy who scrubs our barnacles every month, has a nice little Ford truck that he has offered for our use on more than one occasion, so I looked him up and asked him if we could borrow it. He said, "Sure! Let me check the oil first."
  A half an hour later we were on our way. Got about 15 minutes out and I noticed the "check engine" light was on. I suspected that the light was perpetually on, and a quick call to Wade confirmed this fact, so on we went to Hialeah.
  We pulled up to the address given and even though I might be a bit slow, I know a body shop when I see one. The ad for the MINI didn't mention anything about the car being a repaired wreck. Warning bells were ringing big time.
  We didn't want to waste the drive, so we decided to see the car anyway. The owner of the shop showed up just minutes later. Phil was a Cuban who immigrated years ago and started his body shop business on a shoe string. He showed us a picture of his first car, an American Motors model of some sort that he had paid $600 for and had to get a loan to obtain it. After seeing his two warehouses and his mention of their house in Miami with a guest house, I figured he has done very well with himself.
  The MINI was very nice really. I could tell he wasn't really pushing to sell it, in fact it was stuck way in the back of the warehouse and he had to move six cars to get to it. There was some other minor things that needed to be fixed, but we could see through the little dust on it that the repairs had been done excellently and the interior was like brand new.
  We went for a drive. I wanted to check shimmy on the front end at highway speeds, and how well the manual transmission shifted. Rosie and I were both impressed, so we told Phil we would be back to buy the car once he got some minor items fixed. (Loose fender trim, MINI decal on the trunk lid, clearance light on one fender. He had the parts.) This was a Friday, so we picked Tuesday to come back to get the car.
  It's a two hour and forty-five minute drive from Marathon to Hialeah Gardens and the drive up reminded us how ignorant and inconsiderate our fellow drivers can be. The drive home was close to rush hour and we got a triple dose of what we got going up.
  The worst part was that my back started killing me from driving the truck. Since we had the time on our hands, we wisely began questioning our decision to get a car in the first place. At first, the thought of having a vehicle gave me fantasies of taking little trips, seeing friends in Florida and even back in Missouri. Maybe some sight seeing up the east coast would be in order. Hell, we might even drive to Californy. The reality is that we only had an interest in driving south one hour to Key West, and north one hour to Key Largo. Anything beyond that was too masochistic for us we decided.
  We slept on it, but still called Phil in the morning. If the car would have been 100% perfect, we might have still went through with getting it, but this was one rare time I listened to my gut, and my gut said no. Phil was very appreciative that we called. In fact, he offered his guest house to us in Miami if we ever wanted to come visit. We returned the favor and offered a boat outing and a few beers next time he and his wife came through on their way to Key West. We really feel like we made a friend. He even said that most people wouldn't have even called. We don't operate like that.

  Last Saturday we woke up to a field of sea grass in the flats behind our boat. What you see in the picture is not brown water, but grass completely choking the "flats" behind our boat. We know that the bay side (Gulf side) of the keys suffers from an influx of sea grass on a regular basis. A lot of marinas and canals have sea grass "gates" to keep the stuff out when the seasonal north winds blow the grass in and choke the harbors. Having this much grass on the ocean side is unusual and rare.
  Some friends who had just moved to a marina on the bay side were happy to gloat about the absence of sea grass in their marina, and lucky for them they won't be around this winter to experience what happens over there all winter long, but for out part we just figured to leave the dinghy on the davits for a few days and do something else with our time.
  Unfortunately, the winds were not due to change for at least a week. By Monday the grass was turning brown, and with the heat we've been having, it began to stink in a big way. We decided it was time for a "road trip" and go out on the hook.
  I made a quick trip to Publix for provisions in the name of two cases of Bud Light, (16 ounce aluminum bottles were on sale) two thick pork chops and two strip steaks. An eight piece fried chicken box filled out my list and I was on my way back to Swing Set on the scooter, the two cases of Bud Light at my feet. What a sight.
  Getting out of our slip was not easy. A boat doesn't necessarily slice through tons of sea grass, especially in reverse. There was a moment when I thought we would have to pull back into the slip and stay put. Turning the boat was a chore in itself. This was something we really were not prepared for. We only had to go about a hundred yards to clear water, mindful that cleaning sea strainers would be first priority once we got to our anchorage.
  We pulled over to the fuel dock and pumped in 150 gallons of diesel, not having gotten fuel in months. Mike, the attendant, asked us if we would wait just a minute as he was just in the middle of lowering the diesel price by twenty cents to $3.19 a gallon. I told him we could wait as long as he wanted us to.
  Last time we ran Swing Set was on our return from Faro Blanco and I noticed we were a bit off on our top end speed, but I attributed it to some head winds and the possibility of having some lobster trap line wrapped up in our running gear. Since then I had checked for fouling of our props and found none, so I was disappointed to find out on our run to the anchorage last Monday that the engines wouldn't take fuel. I switched the Racors on the run without any improvement. I had some spare primary fuel filters on board and knew it had been a year since changing them out, so without ruining our day, I just decided to swap them out the next day.

  By early afternoon we were anchored twenty miles away from Marathon in Newfound Harbor, just off from Picnic Island, a favorite place of ours to spend some time. Lobster mini-season was about to start, so lots of vacationers are here in the Keys and loads of people were out enjoying the lull before the two day mini season started on Wednesday. We took the dinghy over to the sand bar and met some nice folks who live on Little Torch Key but also have a house in New Smyrna Beach. I remember when we had two houses, but not at Florida prices.
  The next morning we took the dinghy over to Dolphin Marina to get some ice and a couple gallons of diesel to fill the fuel filter canisters before installing them. (This saves on a bunch of priming.) Our main engine strainers were not too bad, but the air conditioner strainer was packed, as was the generator strainer. We hadn't even run the A/C strainer, but it was still so packed, the hose from the through hull valve to the strainer was plugged. I don't even know how we were getting enough water to run the generator but we were. I had to remove the hose to unplug it, but having a water hose with good pressure in the engine room really helped the process along. I decided right then and there to check the generator strainer every day while on the hook. I did and it paid off.
  I've mentioned the heat outside and this week was brutal. We ran the A/C all week long which meant that the generator had to run too. There wasn't enough wind to let the Air-X wind generators help much, so we were burning .9 gallons of diesel per hour to keep cool, well worth it but we began to call our neighbor back at the marina to see if the grass had moved out.
  We did some exploring in the dinghy and spent some more time over at Picnic Island, but mostly we enjoyed just being on the hook for a few days. By Thursday we found out that the sea grass in our slip was nearly gone but we decided to stay one more night and visit Looe Key Tiki Bar on Thursday for happy hour.
  The channel into Looe Key Resort is not far away from our anchorage, but it's fairly long and very narrow. The last time we went in there a guy on a jet ski came out on plane and soaked us with his wake/spray when he refused to slow down. My antenna went up yesterday as we entered the channel and a center console boat entered the channel outbound, came on plane and started heading toward us.
  There is a sign on the first marker coming into the channel to yield to outbound vessels, so I slowed to idle and moved over as far as I could without getting into the rocks. The boat kept coming at us, not slowing down, and was throwing a wake and spray the width of the channel. Sure enough he passed us at speed and soaked us, rocking the dinghy pretty good. I thanked him sincerely, and not knowing his name, or any of the other eight people in the boats names, I addressed him as Jack Auf. First thing that came to mind.
  He yelled something and I waited to see if we wanted to come back for another pass, but they kept going on their merry way. We motored on to the end of the channel and entered the canal leading to Looe Key, only to see another sign on the first piling on the way out that said to yield to inbound vessels. What?
  I spent the first hour or so at the bar stewing over the inconsiderate behavior of a "fellow boater" until the Bud Lights kicked in and we started having some fun. We met a local woman who had a cute little dachshund and we struck up a conversation with her and she even bought us a beer. We like that.

  We also met two young girls from Atlanta down for a few days. They had been on a "booze cruise" that day and were well on their way to Margaritaville. We like that too.
  But before we left, some guy came by our seats at the bar and reached behind Rosie to pet Holly. Wrong move. "Your dog bit me", he said.
  "My dog did not bite you", I told him. But he insisted. I told him again that our dog, no matter what he said, did NOT bite him. Rosie settled the affair, to a degree, by telling him that if he had kept his hands to his self, maybe there wouldn't be a problem. Oh boy, here we go.
  He kept grumbling to his friends as to how he "oughta know if we was bit or not", so we made our exit as quietly as we could given the fact that Rosie had developed an attitude over the issue. Understandably, yes, but historically, given my experience, never leading to anything good.
  This morning we left Picnic Island at high tide in slight winds. I put Swing Set on plane and away we went, just a bit under our desired cruising speed at 2500 R.P.M. of 25 M.P.H. I pulled back the throttles and we settled in to a two hour cruise at 1200 R.P.M. and 8.5 M.P.H., but when I went to throttle up to warm up the CATS at the end of the run, again they wouldn't take any fuel.
  I switched the Racors and this time it was the trick. We ran the rest of the way in at 25 miles per hour and a top speed of 28. I'll take those numbers considering we had 3/4s fuel and a half tank of water left. And plenty of beer.
  Our four days on the hook running the generator, plus the 40 or so miles round trip, only burned 50 gallons. Not too bad. After getting our fuel we pulled into our grassless slip and plugged into shore power and let the A/C crank.
  Rosie grabbed the hose and began to rinse the decks that had so much salt on them it was like walking on a pretzel. I walked over to the dockmasters office and was greeted like a long lost relative.
  It's really nice to be back home.