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.