Friday, January 23, 2015

What's In Your Toolbox?

  Even if we never had to work on the boat, life is not just about watching sunsets and hanging out at a bar for happy hour, and we are prepared for most repair jobs that come our way at any given time.
  If you've been reading this blog, you know I'm not the most mechanically inclined person, but I can so some things, and I do like to think I'm creative when it comes to fixing things that break. Some things are just not in the manual. But you have to have tools to do it.
  Mainly because subject matter is hard to come by these days, given the fact that most of our boating currently is done via buzzing around in the dinghy, but I've talked to a few folks around here at the marina and it's interesting how some folks prepare for life aboard their boats, and others just go where the wind takes them. I thought I'd list some of the items and tools that we do have onboard Swing Set to help us through the rough spots.
  Let's start in our toolroom/parts room/office that I'm very proud of.

  I'm giving you a look into our "behind the scenes" spaces. While we keep our exposed areas as free from clutter as possible, anything behind a cabinet door or drawer is less organized, but there is a bit of a method to my way of storing things. In the photo, we are looking into what is probably the biggest "cubby hole" on the boat, at the stern end of our office where the space goes the width of the room (about six feet) and is about two feet deep. The access is through a door about two feet square.
  The big red toolbox is chock full of most of my important hand tools, like wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, etc. I have some Craftsman tools in this box that I got in my first set when I was twelve years old. Good tools last forever. I have both metric and standard open and closed end wrenches, and metric and standard sockets in 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" drives. I have Torx sockets, and six and twelve point sockets.
  In the top section is a "fish tape", a steel wire coiled around a handle that allows me to fish wire through spaces I can't crawl through or get an arm in. This tool has helped me keep my sanity. Somewhat.
  I have a staple gun, and a varied supply of stainless steel staples. Throw away any regular steel staples. They don't belong on a boat. This is a Swingline manual stapler. The power is astounding. I pitched an old electric stapler away years ago when it quit on me.
  Another invaluable tool in this area is my pop rivet tool. I cannot say enough about having a pop rivet tool around, complete with a variety of rivet sizes (aluminum and stainless only).
  I have a small carpenters square in there, my bigger one is hidden behind the toolbox itself. Carpenter squares aren't something everyone needs, but I had 'em, so I made room for them. They get used too.
  The wrenches are all in the first drawer. This includes Allen wrenches in both standard and metric. The second drawer has all my sockets. It's not too organized, but I have my "daily use" sets in the plastic carry around toolbox below the red one.
  In the big drawer on the bottom is all kinds of tools. I have vice grips in there of three sizes, two pipe wrenches, a canvas snap installer (this is just a vice grip with a special jaw), extra screw drivers, stainless steel paint scrapers of various sizes, various type of pliers and cutters are included, plus my wonderful tin snips I got last Christmas. That last drawer is FULL, and I have to rotate tools out of there when I get new ones.
  As I mentioned, the plastic toolbox is my carry around box. I have a complete set of standard sockets and wrenches in there. Flat and Phillips screwdrivers, more Allen wrenches, two sets of pliers, and room to place more tools in there from the big red box, depending on the job I'm doing. Yes, when the job is complete, the tools that normally don't go in the plastic box get put back where they belong. Once in a while I take some time to glean through the carry around box to rid it of junk that just seems to grow in there.
  Out of view in the picture is my huge bolt cutters with two foot handles. There isn't many locks that these bolts cutters can't handle, and what they can't handle, my Dremel tool will.
  My hacksaw hangs next to the bolt cutters. If Tony Curtis or Sidney Poitier show up in irons, I'll be able to help them out. (Don't dwell on this reference if you don't get it right away.)
  I have an oil changer in here too. It's of the suction variety. I bought it to suck the fuel from the bottom of our Racor fuel filters. It prevents having to disassemble the whole bowl to clean sediment from the bottom of the filter. I can also use it for its intended use if our electric oil changer in the engine room ever quits on me at the worst moment.
  I have some oil absorbent pads, and some spare plastic sheeting, spare tubing, and a variety of aluminum angle to make simple brackets if I need one.
  I like those little plastic parts drawers. Most come with three drawers stacked, and I label the front of each drawer with what is contained in each. In this compartment is a set of stacked drawers that have small electrical parts, parts for our Air-X wind generator, and a separate drawer for latches, catches, and various cabinet hardware.
  I have a two Tupperware containers in here too. One has a set of jumper cables in it, and one has a variety of tie-down straps and bungee cords.
  Tucked way in the back is spare oil containers to use when I change oil. The empty ones get cleaned and are ready to hold the old oil as I pull it out, then I can easily carry them to the recycle station.
  There are more things in this cabinet than I care to list, but the last ones I'll mention is my claw hammer and small crowbar. Life is not complete without these two items. I can get anything, or anybody, to co-operate with a good claw hammer and crowbar.

  Two good sized cabinets in the parts room line the center wall to the left as you come into the room. You can see two of my plastic drawer sets in the photo. We have one set full of screws, bolts, pop rivets, snap assemblies, nuts, etc.
  One other drawer set has electrical connectors with two sets of crimping tools. A whole bunch of cable ties of various sizes, and a whole drawer full of "cutting" devices, meaning drill bits, razor blades, and Skill saw blades.
  I have a solder kit in here, some spray paint, tape, glues, spare zincs, batteries, fuel filter elements, Scotch pads, gun cleaning kit, plumbing supplies, and a small plastic tub full of stuff I buy that I know I'll use but not sure when.
  The other cabinet has a three drawer set of more electrical items like switches, wire, light bulbs, and more electrical connectors and plugs. These things accumulate, or multiply, I'm not sure. I need to watch them closer at night.
  I have some spare oil and engine coolant in here, more fuel and water filter elements, generator and engine pump impellers, toilet pump seals and valves, and more engine zincs  and plugs.
  The little cabinet above has solvents, paint, and lubricants. Believe it or not, I can find anything in a short period of time if not immediately. I'm making this list from memory.

  I wish everything could fit into our little parts room/office, but it just can't. I needed a place to house some important tools, along with an electrical outlet, so I used one of our three cabinets in our salon for the tools in the picture above.
  I have my orbital sander, flare kit (yes, this should be more accessible), my Skill saw, Dremel Tool, drill driver with charger, trouble light with charger, and last but not least, several sets of playing cards so I can whup up on Rosie playing gin rummy.

  The photo above shows a simple repair that is an example of how important it is to have such a variety of tools at ones disposal. What I had here is a bracket on one end of a gas strut that was screwed into the fiberglass with plain "wood screws". Over the years, the wood screws had worn out the holes and although I had repaired this several years ago, I was in need of something better.
  A perfect repair would have been the use of bolts, with nuts applied behind them, but the area has no access from behind. I took a small piece of Starboard, first cutting it with my hacksaw. My cut was crooked, at least to me, so I got out my Skill saw and made another cut. I used my Dremel tool to round off the Starboard and sand the edges. I used my drill driver to drill holes to attach the Starboard to the fiberglass, avoiding the original holes. I pop riveted the Starboard to the boat, and then pop riveted the strut bracket to the Starboard, running the rivets again through fresh fiberglass. This bracket ain't coming off this time.
  Seems like a simple repair, but in the course of the repair I couldn't decide on whether to use aluminum for backing, so I was fashioning a piece of aluminum angle to use, but decided I didn't like how it was going and opted for the Starboard.
  I had tools strung out everywhere in the salon and in the cockpit, but as I completed each portion of the job, I put each particular tool away as I went. Still, I bet I spent an hour on this little repair, but at least I had all the stuff onboard that I needed.
  I guess my advice here is to try to keep as many closely related tools and parts together as you can. My system isn't perfect, but there is some order to it. I don't spend time rooting through boxes of junk to find what I need. We have some wire shelving, or baskets, just inside the door of our "parts room" where newly purchased items are placed. I don't let these baskets get too full or out of hand before I either install whatever it is that I bought, or put it away in a more permanent place. 
  We like to brag that if anyone walks onto Swing Set at any given time, it would be hard for them to realize that we actually live onboard. 
  We don't have to spend much time getting ready to take a boat ride when we want.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is There "The Perfect Boat"?


  We're entering our third month here at Marathon Marina and Resort and we are still not tired of watching the sunsets from our boat. We patronize the restaurant here at least once per week. (Happy hour is great!) 
  We visit the pool a few times per week too, although Holly is not welcome there. We hate leaving her on the boat and really get annoyed when other folks bring their pets although the rules are clear about bringing pets to the pool. We suspect that they possess a "service dog" certificate, but we know that that document can be had even though the dog is not a "service dog". We prefer to be honest about it, but we might do what we have to do.
  One thing we are really thankful for is that we moved from Stock Island Marina Village when we did. As last fall approached, the Dock Master at SIMV told us that the charges for our boat were going to increase at start of the new year, from $23.50 per foot per month, to $25.00 per foot per month. That's not much of an increase, but it didn't set well with us due to the fact that amenities that were promised to us when we first arrived at the marina were still not available, or announced to be delayed. We still didn't have cable T.V. and the opening of the pool, restaurant, etc., were put on the back burner.
  This, and other things prompted us to look elsewhere, not to mention that we had grown tired of the industrial view provided by our location in Safe Harbor.
  We bumped into one of the vendors we had used in Key West at the marina here, and were surprised to learn that the rent for our boat at SIMV had jumped to $35.00 per foot per month, nearly a 50% increase!
  I inquired on our Stock Island Marina Village Cruisers Network on Facebook to confirm, and also found out that the charges were now "tiered", with vessel up to 40 feet charged at $25 per foot per month, 40-70 feet at $35 per foot per month, and vessels over 70 feet were at $40 per foot per month.
  My comments about this exorbitant increase were answered by the General Manager who also revealed that there were "specific charges for past, present, and future customers".
Wow. That sounds to me like "we'll charge whatever we want to whoever we want". How would you like to be dock neighbors with someone who has the same size boat you have and you may be paying $500 per month more in rent?
  The more important thing is that this increase was not properly conveyed to customers. Some people didn't find out until they got their statements at the first of the year. In my opinion, an increase of this magnitude should have been announced early enough so that folks could find alternate dockage in a timely manner, say at the beginning of the last quarter. Anyone looking for dockage in the lower Keys in January doesn't have many options.
  Sometimes we get lucky, and we got lucky by moving from Stock Island Marina Village when we did. I edited my review of SIMV in Active Captain, trying to be fair, but I'd not be surprised if SIMV won't have us back. In fact, even though we signed up for one month when we first arrived in December of 2012, we stayed nearly a year, to be called "deserters" when we checked out. (To be fair, it was said with a smile, but we'd have rather been thanked for being good customers, which we weren't.)
  So if you visit Stock Island Marina Village, ask your dock neighbors what they are paying, and question the management. Maybe they will change their pricing structure.
  Enough with the complaints.
  A friend mentioned the other day that he was contemplating retiring in a couple of years and wondered what kind of boat would be best to do that on. This seems like a simple question, but it's far from simple. If one made a similar comment on the America's Great Loop Cruisers Association members forum, it would be met with as many answers as there are members, but I'll try to accommodate our friend and provide some insight, and some questions of our own.
  What we don't know is if our friend plans on doing this alone, or with a mate, so that has to be addressed. Also, the area of the country comes into play, as does the cruising area. Does he plan to stay in the inland river system, or will he venture out to the ocean? Will he be enjoying only warm weather, or will he be "enduring" the cold climates in the winter?
  We know that our friend doesn't want a sailboat. That narrows down the field considerably, and we won't try to change his mind about that. But it's still a big field.
  I'd say that we are not on what we would call the "perfect boat", but it's the boat we had, and we decided to make it do, and so far, we are still happy with our decision.
  If I had a couple of years to prepare to do this again, and we didn't have a boat already, my preparation would be similar to the preparation that we went through to get to where we are today, and this is chronicled here in this blog. (Please read our earlier posts.) But the process changes somewhat if the boat to be used is not owned yet.
  One thing, I would suggest that whatever boat is obtained, that the boat be paid off before retiring, so the price of the vessel has to be one you can afford to buy outright.
  We like a boat with diesels, for reasons of safety and reliability. This alone would cause great debate in any boatyard, but we were asked our opinion, so this is what you're getting.
  Being able to walk around the decks at sea is important to us. Lots of boats have an abundance of room inside, but if you can't get forward to cleats and anchor lockers in a sea or bad weather, your safety in doing so is compromised. See if you can walk along the side decks without placing your feet one in front of another like Carl Wallenda.
  Our best addition to our boat was the dinghy davits. We like the ability to deploy our dinghy in a hurry. If it takes a long time to get the dinghy into the water, you won't use it and you'll miss out on some good fun.
  We have also come to agree that an "aft deck" boat would not be one we like. We have boat neighbors who struggle getting on and off their boats at a dock. We like our cockpit due to our ability to get on and off the boat easier, plus we like how easy it is to get into the water for a dip when we want to. Quick engine access is a feature of a cockpit boat too.
  Size is important, so they say, and we know that the average size of a boat "doing the loop" is 40 feet. We think that's a good size to target, not only to consider as far as rent goes, (see preceding paragraphs), but for washing and waxing. Less is more.
  But the boat can't be too small. Considering a persons size is important . Our doorways inside our boat our only 14 inches wide. Hate to say it, but it's a good way to keep my weight down. Let's call it "problematic" if I can't fit into the bathroom.
  Is access to the bed easy? We would hate to have to crawl into the bunks at night. Walk around, or at least a step around appeals to us.
  We like our dinette because it is elevated and we can see out. No sense living in a boat if you're in a dark dungeon. It's all about the view.
  Is there a comfortable place to sit and watch T.V. or browse on your computer? As far as we know, when you aren't working on the boat you can only do three things, and they are done either standing up, sitting or laying down. Not many other options there, and you have to be comfortable doing it.
  Speaking of standing, don't have a boat that requires a lot of ducking if you are tall, because you won't, and if you do, you'll acquire what we call the "sailboat hunch". We can spot sailors from far away because many of them walk with their heads ducked down between their shoulders, as they're used to hitting their noggins on low entryways. (Sailboat owners, don't bother with a rebuttal.) Many powerboats don't have enough headroom either.
  Our boat is a low profile boat, and that could spell trouble in a rough sea. We've been lucky because we have avoided very rough weather, but a boat with high freeboard at the bow is desirable. Look at a few ocean going sport fishing boats, or long distance trawlers to see what I mean, and while I'm on the subject, we operate our fast hulled boat at trawler speeds because we have more time than money.
  Sure we like to go fast if we have to, but that's another thing, traveling. Maybe someone wants to live on a lake somewhere. Hands down, I'd pick a nice houseboat. So again, where you intend on using the boat has to be decided.
  One thing I did was read. READ READ READ! Get on Amazon and search "boats". Read every story about boats that you can, and I don't mean Moby Dick. I mean stories from real life about life on a boat. I'm not providing a list. 
  I also joined the America's Great Loop Cruisers Association and began to read the Cruisers Forum via an email they send every day. You can learn a lot just by reading the entries there, even if you don't intend to do the loop. We aren't even sure that we will, but it's a great source of information.
  Get the boat at least a year before you retire, the longer the better. We had the advantage of owning Swing Set nearly eight years before deciding to live aboard, so we had time to decide just what we wanted to change to make life easier as full timers. You might even find out the boat you chose isn't the right one.
  Lastly, I'm not an expert. We overheard our one boat neighbor ask another boat neighbor what he knew about such and such, and the guy answered, "I know everything about it". This is the person I'd avoid at every opportunity, because if you aren't learning something everyday, you aren't doing it right.

  I'm a bit behind in writing this post because some good friends came to visit us here in Marathon. We took Rick and Christa out for a nice dinghy ride and a boat ride, and yesterday we just relaxed and enjoyed to pool here. 
  It was nice having Swing Set out for the day. We look forward to friends visiting because it gives us an excuse to take the boat out. We are on it all day and night by ourselves, so it doesn't make much sense to go out and sit alone at anchor. We like the dinghy for our recreational rides, but if we have a good reason, a nice fair weather cruise with friends is the best thing going.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Out With the Old

  The holidays are over. While most people were out buying junk they don't need with money they don't have, we only acquired a few minor items but got rid of more that we took aboard.
  Regularly, we take a  particular section of the boat and purge it of items that we don't use anymore, or that haven't served any use since we got them. Rosie usually manages the closets and clothing, and I take care of the tools and parts areas.
  What prompted our recent house cleaning was some of the conversations we had with other cruisers over the holidays. One question we got more than once was, "How many storage units do you guys have?"
  The answer to that question is, "None", but some people we have met have several, spread out along the keys and in other parts of the country.
  I've covered this subject earlier in this blog, but I'll try to add some new stuff here.
  For one thing, the new items we took onboard over Christmas was a pair of tin snips we bought at Home Depot, a small necklace that a staff member here at the marina gave Rosie as a Christmas present, and a nautical bottle opener sent to us from some friends as a Christmas present, even though I refused to provide them an address to send it to. That's it.
  The tin snips I wanted because we've had some vinyl trim stored away for over a year that I had intended to use around the edge of our toilet bowl lids. (Our boat has lids to sit on that cover the actual bowl and seat, not like a regular toilet lid, but bigger.) I don't know why I kept putting off the job, maybe because I didn't think the trim would fit. One thing was that I had tried cutting the trim in the past with a hacksaw or scissors, but I didn't like how it worked. I decided on the tin snips and figured if I bought them, I'd go ahead and use up the spare trim coiled in one of our parts bins.
  The trim fit great and we were so please with the look, we bought twenty-five feet more trim and applied it around the engine room hatch, rear trunk, and anchor locker lid on the dinghy. But the main thing was, we used it all up and left none to clutter up a parts bin any longer.
  While I was cleaning out one big Tupperware bin, I found some other junk we hadn't used for a while and pitched it. To make room for the tin snips in the tool box, I chose a couple tools I hadn't used in over a year and deposited them in the "take it, it's free" table here at the marina. If we need any of these tools in the future, I'll buy them. In fact, before we left St. Louis, I gave away some tin snips and some new pipe wrenches, and wound up buying a new pipe wrench last summer. But more importantly, I gave away lots more things before we moved onto the boat than I wound up replacing over the last two and a half years.
  Clothes are another thing, and I am guilty of wanting to save more clothes than Rosie. But the truth is, I haven't worn long pants since we've been on the boat. Why save the two pairs of jeans we brought along? Doubt that they fit anymore, so if Rosie has donated them recently, I'll never know it. I have some shirts that are twenty years old, and I have noticed that some are missing. Again, I have Rosie to thank for thinning out the closets, plus helping me keep some sense of style about myself.
  We met one couple who had recently moved onto their boat. They have only been together a couple of years, and I guess the woman may have some reservations about her new life style, but she has two storage units full of clothes because, "I came from a very high profile life in California and can't seem to let go of my things." Good luck with that relationship, folks.
  If you can afford it, I guess it's nice to have a house somewhere to move back to, but it just adds another layer of concern to life on a boat, plus the added expense that we with a fixed income don't need. Although we have lots of friends and some family back in the Midwest, leaving our new life here in the keys for a few weeks each year would make us feel like fish out of water. At this point in our lives anyway.

  We're finding our favorite places to hang out here in Marathon. In the photo, we're at Sunset Grille on the eastern end of the Seven Mile bridge. In just a few weeks, the staff knows our names and actually remembers things we tell them, unlike what we've experienced in Key West at most places. One waitress at our favorite breakfast place (We don't go more than once a week) greets us by name when we walk in. Marathon has a very small town feel, even though it is a tourist destination, just not like the one Key West is.
  We did run "down" to Key West last Saturday on the Zuma to see some friends who were in town. We went to Dante's and our waitress had been wondering where we had been. Two more staff members came over to ask how we've been, and we've only been away for six weeks! We still got our local discount even though we live 50 miles away. So some folks in Key West miss us a little.

  We spent New Years Day at Sombrero Beach. If you compare this photo with a similar one in a recent post, you can tell how the number of people has increased since the start of the "high season" here.
  The mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor are full. That's over 250 vessels, and there's more boats anchored outside of Boot Key waiting for a mooring. The marina here is full too, and the pool attendance has increased dramatically. The only downside for us is that Holly is not welcome at the pool. Other folks take their pets, but they have "service dogs", or a fake document stating as much.
  One thing I find interesting is how the conversations start at most of the social gatherings that we attend. The first question is usually about what kind of boat do we have, mainly whether it is a powerboat or sailboat. This question is used to categorize us in the questioners mind, but unfailingly, the response is not hardly noticed when the questioner blurts out what kind of boat they have, which is what they want to reveal in the first place.
  It's like some people should just say right up front, "We have a so and so boat. How does yours compare with that, and how much money do you have, so we can judge you and file you away in our social pecking order".
  We don't care what kind of boat other people have, or how much money they have. We just assume that the other people we meet around here are boaters and we go from there. People who know us may not believe this, but we spend more time listening to new people we meet in order to learn about them. If we ask a question, it's because we want to hear the answer, not start blathering about ourselves. We have this blog for that.
  If our health holds up, we are looking forward to this new year. We have most of the things on the boat repaired or replaced, at least the ones that aren't broke yet.
  We're taking one day at a time with a goal to enjoy each one, and to do a little work each day on the boat too. We'll focus on what we can control and not obsess about the things we can't. We are never envious of what other people have and we feel like we never want for any material things either. Just keeping it simple.
  We are very lucky.