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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dog Days of Summer

  There is no getting around it. It's HOT here in the Keys. But as far as we can see, it's hot in most areas of the country, at least in the places that we'd want to live. We deal with the heat like most lucky people do, turn on the air conditioning and stay inside a majority of the time.
  And boy, the A/C gets a work out here in the summer. I made a minor improvement to our air conditioning system recently by installing a new raw water strainer for it.
  Our generator and A/C systems each have their own strainer, and each engine has its own too. For some reason Sea Ray put Perko strainers on the A/C and generator systems and used big Groco strainers for the main engines. I prefer the Groco strainers because the tops just screw off like a mayonaise jar and the Perkos require loosening two wing nuts. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but the wing nuts get hard to turn and the gasket on the lids get harder to seal on the Perkos. I also wanted more capacity on the A/C strainers because the units are operating 24/7 and they get full of grass more often. Bigger strainer means less maintenance, always the goal on a boat is to reduce any maintenance interval.
  Defender Marine had the Groco strainer at a good price, so I ordered a new one and swapped it out two weeks ago. The basket is bigger and easier to pull out, so every week or so I've been putting a crushed chlorine tablet in the strainer to ward off growth in the strainer itself and presumably the lines for the A/C system. I monitor the affluent from the A/C units and make sure water is flowing freely. If the water starts dribbling, your lines or strainer is getting plugged and A/C efficiency suffers. Also if you need to keep turning up your thermostat to keep it cool in the boat, it's a sign that something is wrong. I can't quantify my results, but my feeling is that ever since I began using the chlorine tablets last year, our A/C has been running better and colder.
  Our choice to have our stern facing west certainly has the advantage of a great view, but the sun beats in late in the day. We still like our slip though, we just close our room darkening shade on the salon door when we need to and avoid sitting around in the cockpit in this heat. I've considered a shade for the stern, but then there goes the view, so we'll just deal with the shade on the salon doors for a couple hours a day and enjoy the view for the rest of the time.
  In regard to our slip here at Marathon Marina and Resort, I occasionally consider moving to another west facing slip, but keep finding reasons to stay put. One of those reasons is that Rosie doesn't want to move. Makes it easy for me.
  One reason I consider moving is because the boat next to us is an aft cabin Hatteras, rather lengthy, and our view to the south is blocked somewhat. But one thing you can't control is your neighbors, whether on land or sea, and the good outweighs the "bad" (although calling it bad is misleading) because our boat neighbors on either side of us are permanent residents and I think we all co-exist rather well. No one is infringing on each other in any way, except for a minimal view issue, and really that's all one can hope for at times.
  The pool here at the resort is climate controlled, so taking a cool soak is just a short walk away, but we have been avoiding the pool lately. Every place you go has their self appointed social directors and one particular person here is a bit overbearing for our tastes. The beauty of living in a marina is that most folks are transients. Things will change with time.

  We still make regular trips with the dinghy to the "beach". In most cases, what we consider the beach is usually a sandbar. The one pictured is near the Vaca Cut, about five or six miles away. We can only go there if it's not too windy, as there's a bit of open water to transit for us to get there. Another one at Grassy Key is usually full of people on the weekends, but it's even farther away and the water is deeper even at low tide. To the west we have Mollassas Key, I've shown pictures of that spot previously. We like it there but the sand is better at the Vaca Cut sandbar.
  Our standby is still Sombrero Beach, but since the water has heated up, grass has grown up in the shallows in the section of beach where we have to beach the dinghy so it's a long walk to get into deep enough water to cool off and the beach stinks at low tide due to seagrass deposited on the beach. Oh, the troubles that we must endure!
  Our Coleman beach chairs that we bought last year broke. I thought that the steel rivets would be the first to go, but it was the aluminum frame that broke on one, and the other one was about to fail. We bought the Travel Chairs in the picture above. They are aluminum and have stainless steel rivets. Admittedly they are not as comfortable as the Coleman chairs but they should last longer. We considered buying cheapies at Home Depot, but all steel chairs only last a short time and the rust in the dinghy makes a mess. We'd rather spend more money and have nicer chairs.
  Last week the Superboat International races were here in Marathon. Some friends from Kentucky came down to visit for the 4th of July weekend and to watch the races with us. We have just now recovered.

  We had planned to anchor out and watch the races, but instead, we nabbed a primo slip for two nights at the brand new Faro Blanco Resort, the headquarters for the race. In the picture, the boat Second Amendment passed right across our bow as they were coming in from a practice run. The throttleman, as well as the driver, have been acquaintances for years, having met long ago when we had a condo at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The Second Amendment team won their division and we spent time with Neal, Karl, and Brenda at the tiki hut at Faro Blanco well into the evening after the race, as well as our visitors Jeff and Sandy.
We'll see them all again, as well as many other friends, at the races in Key West this November. It will be here before we know it.

  Last Sunday night when we came in from the sandbar I was rinsing off the dinghy and we had a manatee stop by to visit. If you ever get a chance to see a manatee up close and have a water hose nearby, you can make their day simply by hosing them. They love the fresh water, not only to drink, but they'll roll around to get squirted on all sides. You can see the smile on this ones face. This manatee hung around for over two hours until we got tired and hungry and had to say goodbye once it got dark. It felt good to make another creature so happy with such a simple effort.

  Speaking of making creatures happy...our lives revolve around making Holly happy these days. We had to visit our vet here in Marathon recently because Holly got another ear infection and we were out of medicine. $146 later and Holly got a going over and some new ear drops. One thing the vet was impressed with was the condition of Holly's teeth. She remarked as to how clean they were!
  Holly will be four years old at the end of October and doesn't have a speck of tartar on her teeth and the vet asked what we are doing. On a whim, back when we were in Cape Coral, we bought some stuff to put on Holly's food once per day. It was about $25 for a small bottle, but it lasted for months. It seemed like a scam, as the ingredients are listed as only one thing, seaweed.
  Yes, seaweed. My guess is that seaweed acts as an enzyme that attacks the tartar on Holly's teeth. We can't argue with success, so now we buy a product called PlaqueOff, made by ProDen, for a fraction of what we originally paid for the stuff at the vet in Cape Coral. We get it on Amazon, but we've seen it at PetSmart too. It's still seaweed.
  Our boat neighbors have two older dachshunds, one in his teens, and their teeth were coated with plaque. She started using the PlaqueOff and according to her, the plaque just melted off of her dogs teeth and their breath was improved too. Even I'm impressed with what you can learn on my blog!
  We were also concerned with some dandruff that Holly has been experiencing lately, maybe because she gets bathed so much, so the vet recommended we get some fish oil to put on her food. So once per day, in addition to the seaweed, Holly gets a fish oil pill poked open and dribbled on her food in the morning. She loves it, and her finicky eating habits have disappeared since we've been using the fish oil. I do think the breath freshening properties of the seaweed have been offset somewhat by the fish oil, but Holly's coat looks shinier and her smile...well, her smile is fabulous.