Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Insurance - Or "How To Find Nude Beaches In Southern Florida"

  We met some nice folks from England a few weeks ago while we were at Sombrero Beach here in Marathon. They had been living in The Bahamas for several years and are on an extended stay here in the U.S. on their boat. We had invited them to come out for the day on Swing Set and the subject of boat insurance came up.
  Now, Swing Set had been insured with World Wide Marine through a broker for many years until we decided to bring the boat south. One criteria I wanted to meet when searching for a new insurer was that I wanted no restrictions during "hurricane season" as to where we kept the boat. (Many companies require that a vessel be north of the Florida/Georgia border once hurricane season starts.) We were willing to pay extra for the convenience of having the boat wherever we wanted to have it. Lots of boaters move north when hurricane season starts in order to "save money" on their insurance, but when you consider the cost of fuel, etc., you may find that a higher insurance premium is a bargain in comparison.
  We wound up with a policy issued through Boat U.S. We are happy with our dealing with Boat U.S. in the sense of our ease of communication with them, and the fact that premium payments are made on an automatic withdrawal basis. We also wanted an "agreed value" policy because we have made more improvements to Swing Set than the boat is really worth, and in the event of a major loss, we don't want to be saddled with a replacement vessel that does not compare with the fine condition our boat is currently in. We aren't necessarily endorsing Boat U.S., there are many insurers out there, and they are only show their worth when you have a loss. I may sing another tune when that happens.
  But in the course of our conversation with our English friends, Charles and Margaret, it occurred to me that since it had been a few years since we have had our Boat U.S. policy, perhaps it was time to review it and compare our premium and coverage with another provider. One thing that I was not sure about was whether or not Boat U.S. would provide a "rider" to insure us once normal relations began with Cuba, somewhere we want to visit in time. I also wanted to see if we could save a few bucks.
  We took the name of the insurance broker that Charles and Margaret used and I gave him a call. He took our information after I revealed to him, that in fairness, I was shopping around to compare our policy to any others, but I was serious about this comparison. I wasn't just "tire kicking". I was, in turn, schooled from him on what to look for in certain boat coverages, and to avoid some common pitfalls that the average boat owner makes when shopping for insurance coverage.
  Charles and Margaret have their boat insured with Lloyds of London, but the quote we received was issued through a subsidiary of theirs, a Seawave policy, as the worth of Swing Set was below the level at which Lloyd's issues policies. SORRY.
   It's easy to compare the major points of an insurance policy, such as coverage amounts, deductibles, cruising areas, etc., but it's the fine print in the policies that is difficult to absorb unless you have been to law school. I haven't.
  Nonetheless, I studied our policy and compared it to the Seawave policy. First, I found that for similar coverage on the same agreed value, the premium for the new policy was going to be $300 more annually than our Boat U.S. policy, and better personal item coverage was going to be extra. Also, one specific item that we were warned about not being covered in our current policy was also not covered in the new policy. If it was worth mentioning, why would the new broker suggest a policy that did not include an item that he warned us about?
  I called Boat U.S. and asked some questions about adding endorsements for travel to other countries. I was informed that once normal relations with Cuba are established, Boat U.S. would be able to issue a rider to allow us to travel to not only Cuba, but also to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and also to Mexico. (For a boat with our range, I feel that getting fuel in Cuba is critical in order to safely travel to areas south of there.) We already knew about The Bahamas as we were issued a rider on our policy when we went there two years ago.
  I also discussed with Boat U.S. some coverage that a lot of policies don't cover, and that is what is called a "Consequential Damage Endorsement". Look it up on your own, but in essence, even though no policy will cover rot or rust, per se, the CDE covers a loss as result of rot or rust etc., that is not detected in the course of normal everyday boat maintenance. (This explanation is simplistic, don't email me with details.)
  Our current policy also has diminishing deductibles, which means that for every year that goes by without a claim, our deductible is reduced by 25% until it goes to nothing. We are at nothing.
  I called the broker for the Seawave policy that he sent for us to compare and he was not aware of the Consequential Damage Endorsement. Hmmm. He also was impressed with the diminishing deductible aspect of our current policy, and he informed us that using our credit card to make premium payments was not an option with his company. Did I mention the $300 difference?
  I thanked him for his time, told him I'd keep his contact information, but said that we would keep our current policy for the time being. He was totally understanding. I feel like the time spent, by us anyway, was worth it, even though we aren't 100% sure we actually have better coverage with Boat U.S. than we could have with another provider. But like I said, we won't really know that until we have a claim.

  We left St. Louis three years ago with no automobile insurance, as we had no car, but we had auto insurance. Sounds simple, but it's not. Try getting auto insurance without owning a car.
  We obtained what is called a "Non-owner Auto Policy" through State Farm. What that covers is our liability in case we rented a car, or borrowed one. (Be aware that a non-owner policy doesn't cover collision on the vehicle you are renting or borrowing.) We began paying around $600 per year to cover our "assets" in case of an accident. Each year the premium kept going down, but we recently received our insurance premium and it had gone up to a level higher than we were originally paying. It was time to make a call.
  For the Loopers out there, you should be aware of the common practice of marinas allowing the use of a "loaner car" when staying at a marina. We did this on occasion while traveling along the inland river systems as we made our way to Florida. Mention a free loaner car at a marina in Southern Florida, or the Keys, and be prepared to be laughed out of the place. Hence, we haven't borrowed a vehicle in over two years. Maybe we didn't need the non-owned auto policy any longer, especially now that we have our scooter. (Which is insured entirely separately than a car.)
  We called our State Farm agent that we found once we became Florida residents and she immediately suggested that we cancel the non-owner policy, as we weren't even renting, or borrowing, a car. The price increase was due to an overall increase across the board at State Farm, it had nothing to do with us. But we did some research anyway.
  Rosie called a local auto leasing company to get some prices on their insurance coverage. Now, if you have an automobile, your policy may cover any loss of the vehicle you are renting, but if you have no car, like us, it is prudent to buy collision coverage when you rent the car. It's not cheap. For example, Rosie was quoted a cost of $37 per day for insurance coverage if we wanted to lease a car from the local outfit. $25 of that coverage is for collision, which in our case, we'd have to get anyway. The extra $17 is to cover our liability. So the math equation goes like this; how many days would we have to rent a car and pay that extra $17 (remember, we have to buy the collision insurance anyway) before it comes to the amount we pay to State Farm annually, which is over $600?
   Let's see; divide 600 by 17 and we get a tad over 35. So we'd have to rent a car for over 35 days a year before we would save any money by having a non-owner State Farm policy. (I'm not mixing borrowing a car from anyone in the equation here, we're just not going to do it.)
Since we haven't had the urge to travel in a car anywhere in the last three years, and no one has been clamoring for us to come visit St. Louis lately, requiring us to rent a car, per the advice of our State Farm agent, we're not renewing the policy at the end of the month.
  "Wait just a cotton pickin' minute," you are saying. "What's this business of nude beaches in Florida?" Well...finding a nude beach anywhere is easy; you drive around in your boat until you see naked people on the shore, then you drop anchor and join them.
  How else was I going to get you to read an article about insurance?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Incremental Improvements

  When we bought our Yamaha Zuma scooter a little over a year ago we were living at Stock Island Marina Village very near to downtown Key West. We wanted something to run from the marina to downtown, as the Yuba cargo bicycle was proving to be problematic, especially after a long day at Dante's pool or a visit to Duval Street.
  We didn't even consider ever putting the scooter on the boat, but once I started thinking about what we would do with the scooter if we decided to move, or how the Zuma might fare during the potential high water of a hurricane, I measured the Zuma and found that it would fit perfectly in the cockpit of Swing Set. I bought some foldable motorcycle ramps and when we put the Zuma on the boat for our trip to Marathon, the procedure went flawlessly.
  But after the first few trips between Marathon and Key West, we found that the Zuma is lacking on a couple of key points. The first point is that with both of us on the scooter the top speed is just meeting the 55 M.P.H. speed limit on A1A, and that's according to the speedometer. A stiff headwind reduces that figure by 5 to 10 M.P.H., and the "hump" on the Seven Mile Bridge seems like climbing over the continental divide on I-70. The other issue is the suspension: Our combined weight (ahem, over 300 pounds) is too much for the non-adjustable rear shocks. When we add Holly to the passenger list, the Zuma is struggling.
  We don't want the added complications of an automobile, although I've been thinking about getting a compact car. I have to keep reminding myself that not only would having a car greatly inhibit our ability to pack up and go whenever we want, the parking in Key West for a car is expensive and hard to find. (Parking for a bike or scooter is free and abundant.)
  I started wondering if Yamaha would start making a scooter to fit into the model void between the smaller scooters and their bigger bikes, like the 150cc Hondas and the 200cc Suzuki Bergman.
  We had an appointment for our yearly checkups at our new primary care physician in Key West last week, and after our doctor visit I decided to pop into the local Yamaha dealer in Key West to see if any new models were on the drawing board.

  Meet our new Yamaha S-max! We walked into the Yamaha dealer and I noticed the new models immediately. Al Crockett, the owner of the dealership wasn't largely familiar with the new models, they just came out three months ago, but we learned that the engine is a 155cc liquid cooled power plant, the weight is a bit heavier too, but I couldn't miss the BIG disc brakes on the S-max, front and rear. I walked around to the rear of the bike and saw a big mono-shock, unfortunately not adjustable. We compared the overall size of the S-max to the dimensions of the Zuma and learned that the S-max was five inches longer, due to not only a longer wheelbase, but the wheels and tires are bigger. I knew we had some room to work with to get the S-max to fit on the boat, so I don't consider it to be an issue.
  Al doesn't usually allow extended test rides of bikes, but he had one model serviced. He put a dealer plate on it and we took a ride around the island. I could feel the greater stability, and Rosie liked the raised seating position for the passenger, but the 30 M.P.H. speed limits around the island weren't giving me the information I needed to make a change to the S-max.
Again, Al Crockett could sense that we had a serious interest in purchasing a new scooter, and I told him that if we could take this particular bike out to the four lane section of A1A where the speed limit is 55 M.P.H., we'd buy the bike we were test riding on the spot, pending a fare trade in allowance.
  On our ride to Boca Chica Key, we hit 68 M.P.H. even with a brisk headwind. Again, the stability of the longer and heavier scooter was evident and the chuck hole laden sections of the Overseas Highway on Stock Island were eaten up by the beefier S-max suspension. We didn't bottom out once, and if Rosie wasn't so fat we could probably hit 75 M.P.H. easily. (Don't worry, she doesn't read my blogs.)
  Al got a good look at our Zuma while we were gone, and beings how our Zuma looked better than the bikes on the showroom floor, he allowed us a top trade-in price, the difference being not much more than the cost of a good pair of new shocks for the Zuma.The tax was only the difference between the two scooters, making my decision to avoid selling the Zuma on my own an easy one. We would have taken the new bike home that afternoon, but we didn't have our checkbook or the title to the Zuma with us. We agreed to meet the next morning when the shop opened.
  We arrived just after 10 A.M. the next morning. I told Al we would have been there earlier but we stopped down the street to top off the fuel on our trade-in. Al shook his head and said, "Nobody does that", and when we picked out some gear oil and Yamalube to take with us, he threw them both in for nothing. The profit margin on scooters is not that great, and Al didn't make a killing on the transaction. He also knew that he would soon be inundated with Zuma trade-ins due to lots of Zuma customers wanting to make the same switch we did. Sometimes the early bird does get the worm.
  Even with the subtle differences in the two scooter models, our ride back to Marathon was like night and day compared to our ride back on the previous afternoon. We were able to not only keep up with traffic, we didn't have anyone tailgating us and I even managed to pass a car or two!
  I detailed the S-max last Saturday morning, applying gobs of U.V. protectant and wax. I even took the time of removing a sticker that reminds us to wear our helmets and read the instructions. We do and I did. The apprehension of whether or not our new Sunbrella scooter cover would fit was satisfied when the detailing was completed. The cover doesn't fit perfectly, the S-max has a windshield, but mainly because the Zuma had a top case and the S-max doesn't, but I figure it's similar to how my pants will fit if I ever lose the 20 pounds that I intend to. Eventually.
  I've been doing some small projects on the boat. I'm caught up on the waxing for the time being, but another item that takes its toll in the salt air is painted aluminum surfaces. The aluminum corrodes and the paint flakes off, especially when a small crack develops.
  Our brackets holding the anchor lines on the bow have been slowly looking worse and worse, with a couple of them having their paint nearly disappeared. I took off the brackets and used my cordless drill with a wire wheel to grind all the paint off of the four brackets down to bare metal. A good friend in the painting business suggested that I use epoxy paint when I repair some of the trouble spots I had asked him about, but I already had some Rustoleum spray paint and wanted to use it up.
  One thing I do is use our engine room as my spray booth if the items are not too large. I turn on both blowers to evacuate the airborne paint, and I just let 'er rip. I don't care about getting a bit of overspray on the engines and other parts, it's usually not much. The only colors I ever have to paint or either white or gray, and both colors are dominant in the engine room of our Sea Ray. I love it when things just work out like that.
  Last week I painted the steering column after removing it from the helm. The flat black paint was dull and nearly all flaked off. I sanded it down to bare metal, primed it with gray, and laid on a nice glossy silver/gray topcoat that sets off our silver and wood wheel very nicely. Little things can make a big difference in a boats appearance.
  Another little thing was that when Rosie had the throw rug from the galley in the wash, I noticed that the gray composite flooring where the rug sits had turned yellow. After a Google search, I learned that the backing on many throw rugs can cause a yellow stain on linoleum and rubber surfaces. The remedy is not immediate, as one solution is letting the sun bring out the stain, but we began a process to eliminate the stain and it's getting better with time and application of bleach and/or vinegar. The lesson here is to avoid putting throw rugs around where they aren't really needed.

  Uh oh, what's this? Yes, it's the floor of our salon opened up to access the engine room. This process is generally reserved for the "heavy work" that sometimes has to be done in there, and I've had a job that I've been putting off for months now, and it was time to bite the bullet and git 'er done.
  If you've been reading this blog, you should be familiar with our issues of the engines running hot. I've done everything usually associated with hot running engines that can be done, and I've cleaned our heat exchangers on three previous occasions, but I knew that I hadn't done the job properly, so before we left Stock Island last November I bought some more Barnacle Buster with the intention of cleaning the heat exchangers again before hurricane season. Why before hurricane season? If we want to run, we want to run at cruising speed for hours if conditions allow it. You don't run at 9 M.P.H.
  When we were in The Bahamas, I couldn't run the engines at cruising speed for more than five minutes before the temperature alarms would sound. That was nearly two years ago.
The first time I cleaned the heat exchangers, I thought I was clever and hooked up both engines (two raw water coolant heat exchangers and two oil coolers) and got some improvement, but I decided later on that the flow rate of the acid may not have been good enough to do a thorough job. So I did it again, and included the fuel coolers, only to find out later that cleaning the fuel coolers is not necessary. I did each engine separately, and ran the acid for a long time, or at least thought I did, only to discover later that my circulating pump had been air bound. I could hear the pump running, but because I had submerged the return hose beneath the solution in the container that I was using (an old cooler), I didn't know I had no flow. Dumb dumb dumb. Again, because the acid just being in contact with the calcium buildup in the heat exchangers is somewhat effective, there was some improvement, but not as much as I wanted, so I immediately did the job again.
  Barnacle Buster is $72 bucks a gallon. The last time I did the job I used two gallons, but still I didn't do the job right. When I removed the hoses from the second engine I cleaned, I could see that because I ran the acid in the same direction as the raw water flow, I didn't thoroughly clean the lower positioned oil coolers, having only gotten the bottom half of the coolers clean. Hence, my realization that I needed to clean the heat exchangers again, and run the acid from the bottom, uphill so to speak, to return at the higher raw water inlet, plus loop the return hose higher than any component in the system. I also made sure the return hose remained above my cleaning solution so I could make sure I was getting flow throughout the CIP (cleaning in place) process.
  While the solution was running, it occurred to me that I may have an air pocket in the top of the raw water heat exchanger, so I bled the topmost plug to let air out, and out it came! (The plug I'm talking about is the recommended procedure where I removed the zinc anodes and replaced with blank plugs so I wouldn't eat up the zincs.)
  I think I got it right this time. In the next few days we'll take Swing Set out for a trial and I'll know for sure. If it doesn't work I'll have to call in the cavalry in the form of our local authorized Caterpillar dealer.
  While I was in the engine room for most of the day yesterday, I noticed one of our five lights in there was not on. I checked the bulb and replaced it although it looked O.K. It still didn't work even after I checked to make sure I was getting 12 volts to the fixture. I also noticed that the lenses to three of the five fixtures were melted through from the heat built up from the incandescent bulbs. The engine room is the last place on the boat that doesn't have LED lights, except for our running lights, so I decided to get new LED fixtures for the engine room. I could have gotten just the bulbs, but like I said, some of the lenses were ruined, and the others were yellowed, so going with new fixtures was the answer.
  The power drain from five incandescent fixtures when working in the engine room is substantial, and it's even worse when you close up the hatches and leave the lights on for a day or two, wondering why the batteries are taking such a hit when you're sitting on the hook. Yes, I've done it.
   Next, my plan is to systematically remove the aluminum brackets one at a time around the four storage compartments in our cockpit to paint them. (Systematically means I'll take a few weeks to do it.) There is some minor corrosion beginning to occur on the bracket surfaces and it's the type of job that can be done easily when the temperatures start to climb, as they are starting to do now.
  We also have some rust occurring around the bases our stainless steel roller brackets mounted on the swim platform, and I'll have to remove the brackets, grind off the rust from the underside of the brackets, seal them with 3M 5200 sealant (the duct tape of boat owners), and re seat the brackets. I know this method works as I've used it on the grab rail above our swim ladder with long lasting results. This job has been on my radar screen for some months, but we can't rush into things now, can we?
  I mentioned earlier about our doctor visits. I don't mention too much on here about our health; for one reason it's boring, and it's also no ones business, but recently one of the folks we met at the pool asked us just how much beer we actually consumed on a weekend. After some consideration on our part, the answer even astounded us, let alone him. He admitted that he lost a bet with his wife. (She wisely guessed a higher consumption rate in spite of our lithe figures. Hahaha.)
  Later, in a lucid moment, and with our yearly wellness visit to the doctor on the horizon, it occurred to me that we spend a great deal of time in keeping Swing Set looking nice and performing preventive maintenance so that the boat lasts a long time; why aren't we giving the same consideration to our own health and well being?
  We both decided to cut down on our beer intake, as hard as that decision was, in order to not only keep our weight down, but also to save a bundle at the grocery store. (Not to mention that the companionways on the boat are as narrow as 14 inches. If not being able to get into the bathroom is not incentive enough, what is?)
  The main problem we see is what we're going to do with all the extra time we'll have on our hands. If we're not at happy hour four times a week for three hours, what in the world are we gonna do? An added issue is that I need a couple of beers in me to work up enough personality to socialize with folks at the pool. (Most people may allow as that method doesn't work either.) I guess we can just spend our extra free time waxing the boat more.
  Speaking of socializing...we met another blog reader and his wife at the marina the other day, them popping in here in Marathon in their boat on a little trip down from their home upstate. They both were very happy to meet us, and they both appear very nice to us too, but when the man of the couple said that they would like to sit down with us some afternoon and hear all about our trip downriver from St. Louis, I looked at them and asked, "Can't you just read the blog?" I think I'm more fun on here than I am in person sometimes.