Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Long Hot Summer

  We can't believe how fast the summer has flown by. I didn't realize how long it's been between posts so here's a little of what's been going on with Swing Set.
  First, Holly has mended up nicely, having had her last visit with the surgeon for a final check up. She got a big thumbs up from him and now we'll see him again after the first of the year to probably schedule surgery on her other knee to avoid problems when she gets older. We hate to put her through another surgery, but she has mended up so well and seems so much happier now that we think the responsible thing to do is bite the bullet and get it past us and, more importantly, her.
  I've been really busy with maintenance on Swing Set this summer! With the water temperature heating up to about 90 degrees, a rise in operating temperature became evident. Engine blocks in salt water need to be descaled annually, and when I checked, it had been a year since I last descaled when we were in Marathon, so even though we flush the engines each time before we leave the boat, a rise in operating temperature on the port engine specifically made it obvious it was time to get to work.

  One good thing about the design of our Sea Ray is that if more than minor engine room checks are necessary, we can pull up the salon carpet and open the hatches for stand up access to the main engines. In hot weather like we have here in Florida, I can crank up the air conditioning and work in relative comfort.
  If you've been reading this blog all along, you'll know that each time I descale the engines, I find a way to improve the process and this time was no different. Again, I removed all the pencil zincs from the block and installed plugs so that the acid works on the scale and not on the zincs. I routed the hose from my circulating pump for the acid into a three way valve so that I could rinse with fresh water by simply turning valves instead of disconnecting hoses filled with acid, making the job a whole lot cleaner. I circulated acid in each block for about 90 minutes, and then made use of the acid before discarding it by circulating it through our A/C systems.
  To circulate through the air conditioners, I used the hose I have in place in the engine room to flush the A/C with fresh water before we leave for home to supply the acid. I then used an old garden hose and routed the hose on the outside of the boat via some 1/2 inch PVC pipe inserted into the through hull outlets, using an elbow and a tee fitting, and then back through the salon doors into the cooler I use to hold my acid bath. (It took me a minute to remember to close the sea water inlet first.) This way I didn't have to route return hoses through the interior of the boat and I avoided a potential acid spill. Worked like a champ.

  It seems like the whole United States has had its share of rain this summer and the Tampa area has been no exception. This shot is from our slip at Maker 1 Marina as a summer squall moved in on day while I was working on another malfunction.
  I had noticed the water in the sink not draining properly one day, and was thinking it was a clogged "P" trap, but a subsequent shower revealed water in the shower pan not draining either. A check of the sump box revealed that the pump was not pumping the grey water out.
  Now, any time there is a problem that needs to be solved, it's better when the root cause is a singular item, but when the cause is multiplied, fixing the problem becomes complicated, and a simple sump pump issue became a three week fix.
  I've had float switches go bad in the past, (at this time I was on the third switch in 12 years) so I honed in on the switch. I had a new one in the package, so went about installing it, but also noticed the wires were getting hot when the pump kicked on and it was tripping the circuit breaker, something that was not happening before. I removed the pump and cleaned out some gunk in the impeller, checked operation of the pump, and then reinstalled the pump, thinking I had solved that issue. I then figured that the problem was not the switch, so I reinstalled the switch that was in place because I didn't like the flimsy new switch I had bought at the Big Box Store.
  A system check was made and everything worked, so I buttoned up the sump lid with the 20 or so screws and wing nuts that hold it all together. (I do have a 6 inch access port in the sump lid cover, but it's only good for rinsing out the sump box occasionally.)
  All was good until one of us took another shower and the pump tripped the circuit breaker again. I realized that the amount of water needed for a shower caused the pump to work long enough to heat up, probably just due to age, so the next weekend I removed the pump and installed a new pump I already had onboard. Another systems check was made and I found that the old switch was not engaging until the water in the sump box got deep enough to practically fill the box, causing water to leak out the top even though there is a gasket.
  Jeeze. So we went home after ordering a better switch and then came back and installed the better switch, and also used some aquarium grade silicon material to seal the holes were the pump hose and wires go through the sump box. Finally everything worked, no leaks, and the switch engages the pump long before the water gets too deep in the box.

  Meanwhile we've been spending weekends anchored just off of Three Rookers Bar, a small barrier island between St. Joseph's Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
  On one of our trips out to the island, I discovered that Swing Set would not go on plane and I determined that we weren't getting fuel to the engines. We had just recently taken on fuel, and debris in the fuel tanks had gotten "stirred up", so I suspected dirty fuel. The first reaction is to switch out the primary Racor filters and this was done, but performance didn't improve. When we got to the anchorage I switched out the secondary filters on both engines (again thankful I keep spares ready to go) and I also saw that those secondary filters had been in place for a year, so it was time to change them anyway. When we returned home the next day, Swing Set jumped on plane and ran like it was supposed to.
  Normally we run the boat every week or ten days, but late July and early August kept us busy with some other activities. Last weekend we decided to run down to Passage Key again for a long weekend. As soon as we got out on the Intercoastal Waterway, I applied the throttles and looked to make better time. Swing Set would not go on plane again and black smoke billowed out of the exhausts.
  I suspected bottom growth, and when we got to Passage Key I grabbed my snorkel gear and a quick check revealed enough barnacles on both props to render them useless in anything other than idle speed, although the hull was relatively clean. We had been avoiding getting the bottom scraped twice a month by running the boat more often, but as I've said, we didn't get out to the boat enough and it had been over three weeks since we had run it. The next morning before heading over to the island in the dinghy, I used our Hooka Max scuba system and cleaned both props with a putty knife. We're now going on a two week cleaning schedule until the water cools down. (Barnacles like warm water.)
  It was so hot over last weekend, we had to run the generator the whole time to keep the salon cool for Holly as it was also too hot to take her to the beach. Lucky dog. Anyhow, I knew we had enough fuel to get us home on Monday, but the trip down and the generator use got us close enough to the bottom of each tank to cause me some concern.
  Sure enough, the prop cleaning did the job and on our way home we were running at Swing Sets cruising speed of 25 miles per hour, but two things happened. One, the port engine began to rise in temperature while the starboard engine ran at a cool 195 degrees. I suspect a raw water impeller to be the culprit on that issue, but then the R.P.M.s on both engines began to drop off too. I then suspected that the low fuel tank volume contributed to another set of clogged filters.
  I decided to leave the Gulf and run inside in order to get fuel, or help, as the case may be, if more trouble developed. St. John's Pass was coming up, so we ducked in and also decided to take on fuel at St. John's Pass Marina where diesel was cheaper than at our home marina, even with our discount. We took on 200 gallons of diesel, so we had plenty of fuel left to get us home, but I like the old "better safe than sorry" motto. Still, I think we picked up debris off the bottom of our fuel tanks.
  On an overcast day, we cruised home at 8.5 M.P.H. until we got past the Clearwater inlet and then I applied the throttles to Swing Set again after switching out the Racor primary filters. Swing Set responded and I was again happy until the starboard engine began to drop off in R.P.M. and was acting erratically. I switched off the engine synchronizer and the starboard engine responded in a positive manner. OK, the engine sync needs to be looked at next week. There is a cable that usually goes bad on our mechanical synchronizer, and I have an extra one in the parts bin.
  As we were heading into port, I was making a mental list of things I needed to check/fix on our next boating "outing". Normally I don't need to write down the list, but it was getting rather lengthy. It got longer.
  As I began to flush the outboard on the dinghy, I noticed that the aluminum transom bracket for the motor was corroded and split in two between the engine brackets. A replacement of the engine bracket is in order. I think I'll use starboard, a half inch plastic material, so an aluminum one won't give me any more problems. This will be an ordeal as our 15 H.P. Mercury is heavy, but I'll use the dinghy davit to lift the engine off and replace the bracket. Time consuming, but simple.
  Next, I began to flush the generator with fresh water and it would not start. The starter made an attempt, but was clicking, indicating low battery amperage. This was puzzling because the generator had run all weekend, but when I checked the alternator belt, it was loose. I'll need to tighten the belt and also change the generator oil on our next visit. An amperage check on the battery read the proper amperage, but I need to check it while I crank the starter. I'll also do that on the next visit, more stuff on the list.
  I've added that I have to check the raw water impeller on the port engine, and of course it's the one that I can't get to without opening the salon hatches, so that makes the job bigger and more complicated. One good thing, my smart phone allows me to take a picture of the impeller before deciding to remove the pump to replace the impeller as it's so hard to access.
  It might be time to replace most of the Group 31 gel cell batteries on the boat. Two were replaced last year, but we have 11 of them. The generator battery was replaced with the four other house batteries when we were in The Bahamas in 2013, so it's three years old. The four inverter batteries are nearly four years old, so they are due to be replaced too. I may need someone with better knowledge than me to check the viability of our batteries before I spend the money to replace 11 of them. First I'll tighten the alternator belt and go from there.
  On our way into the marina on Monday I did mention to Rosie that I was sick of boating.

  But having a boat does have its upside, and the photo attached proves it. My first mate turns 58 years old this week and many of you have indicated that I just don't post enough pictures of Rosie. Well, here you go.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mini Cruise

  A few weeks ago we decided to take Swing Set out for a mini-cruise, not sure really where we wanted to go, but headed south on St. Joseph's Bay to see where we would wind up.
  The wind was up a little on the "outside", so we stayed in the Intercostal and just glided along at our slow trawler speed of 8-9 miles per hour, sight seeing again the area from Clearwater down to Tampa Bay. We hadn't been on this route since first coming through it in 2012.
  We crossed the mouth of Tampa Bay towards Passage Key, a small island just off the northern end of Anna Maria Island. We anchored out to watch the sunset, but as it got closer to evening I decided to pull up anchor and find another anchorage a little more out of the wind. It was at this point that our windlass quit.
  Recently, the rocker switch for our engine sync had been acting up, and the switch for the windlass seemed to be acting intermittently as well, so I ordered two switches from Morgan at Marine Max at Lake of the Ozarks. You might wonder why I order parts from a Sea Ray dealer way up in Missouri, but a lot of parts are that we need for a 20 year old boat are not kept in stock, they're special ordered from Sea Ray and drop shipped to wherever they're needed anyway. When I call Morgan, he knows us and has never failed to deliver.

  As the sun was close to setting, I didn't want to start taking the dashboard apart to replace the rocker switch for the windlass, but I did check the circuit breakers, and I also performed other checks I thought necessary to troubleshoot. Nothing I tried worked, so we just stayed put on the hook we had set. It wasn't the ideal situation, but the forecast for wind wasn't that bad, so instead of pulling up the anchor manually and risk not getting a good hook in another location, we chose the easiest path.
  The wind kicked up during the night and we spent a restless night. The anchor stayed where we had put it as there is very good holding just off of Passage Key in a sand bottom. After having a nice breakfast just after daybreak, I replaced the switch for the windlass, but it still wouldn't work. I began to suspect a bad motor on the windlass, so I called Tom Ring at the Good Windlass Company. Tom as been very helpful before, and has told me in the past to never hesitate to call if we have any problems.
  Tom gave me some advice on how to further troubleshoot the windlass. I tried a couple of things but then called him back and told him the motor was shot. I ordered another motor and he got the wheels turning to get a new windlass motor to us ASAP.
  Pulling up the anchor by hand was no treat, but I was able to pull out the tension arm on the windlass and feed the line and chain back into the anchor locker and stow the anchor back on the pulpit as it is supposed to be, secured with the cable and clip for it.
  The wind was coming from the south so we headed out to the Gulf for the run outside back to the Clearwater Inlet. Swing Set ran along at her cruising speed of 25 miles per hour with no issue. The sky was clear and the lobster trap markers were easy to see. Unlike in the Keys, there are less of these trap markers up here along the coast. I may start eating lobster again.
  About an hour and a half later we were entering the Clearwater Inlet. The run outside was very close to 35 miles, just a few tenths of a mile different from the inside route that we had taken the day before.
  Back at the dock, we secured Swing Set in her berth and dropped the dinghy for a ride down to the Dunedin City Dock where we tied up to the dinghy dock provided free by the Municipal marina there. It's a nice touch provided by the City and much appreciated. We stayed until after dark and motored back to Marker 1 Marina. Our running lights worked perfectly, as we have kept them housed inside the neat covers we had made to keep them dry and out of the weather.
  The next morning we went through our regular routine of flushing the main engines on Swing Set, as well as the generator and the air conditioning system. I pulled off the old motor on the windlass with the intention of sending it back to Good Windlass for a rebuild. It's a good thing I did.
  The new windlass motor came on the day before we had planned to return to Dunedin and the boat. I took one look at the new motor and knew there had been a mistake. Not only was the coupler the wrong one, the information on the motor as far as operation R.P.M.s and voltage was not the same as the old motor. A call back to Tom Ring was in order.
  As soon as I told Tom what I was seeing, he told me to hold on while he talked to someone he had left in charge of sending us our windlass motor. He came back on the line in a couple of minutes and told me that someone else out there also had the wrong motor because the fella he left in charge sent two motors out, each to the wrong place.
  It's a good thing I noticed that the motor was wrong, because it would have been "troubling" to get back to the boat and not only not be able to hook up the new motor. Had the couplings been the same, the motor wouldn't have worked properly had I been able to connect it.
  The new motor was on the way before I was able to get the wrong one back to UPS, and Tom had sent a shipping label so I didn't have to buy that.
  A few days later the new motor came and we went out to the boat and in about 15 minutes I had the new motor installed. An operations check at the dock told us that the replacement was a success, and when we motored out to Three Rookers Bar for the weekend, the windlass worked perfectly. Our old motor is being diagnosed for a possible rebuild so we have a spare.
  On another issue, the other day I pulled off the propellers on both of our wind generators and used my Dremel tool to remove the loose paint from both wind generator bodies. I had some trouble getting the propeller hub from the shaft because the shaft is stainless steel and the prop hub is aluminum. The hub had seized onto the shaft on the starboard wind generator. I used some WD-40 to loosen up the hub and was able to pry the hub off the wind generator body without damaging either. I'll use some anti-corrosion lubricant before I install the hubs back onto the housings.
  As it is, when I painted the housings the other day, I left the props off and the we came home. We are currently on a Tropical Storm advisory for Colin which is heading for the west coast of Florida as I write this. We don't expect much in the way of damaging wind, but having the props off the wind generators right now is not a bad thing. When the storm passes in a couple of days we'll go back to Dunedin to check on Swing Set and install the blades back onto the wind generator bodies. I'll also put some new "tails" on each one. The tails are strips of nylon webbing I decided to install when we first installed the generators. I think they help to keep the props facing the wind. Think of how a tail on a kite works. Nobody told me to do this, but when I talked to the Air-X people a few years ago, they agreed that it was a good idea. The key here is to make the tails long enough to be effective, but not too long where they would get tangled in the blades of the wind generator.       Another thing I'd like to mention here is that the propeller blades are sharp enough when they come from the factory, but they tend to get even sharper over time as they turn. A blade can cut deep while not even turning. If you get mixed up with one turning, there is little doubt in my mind that serious damage would occur. I have used a boat hook in the past to grab the back fin on the wind generators to turn them away from the wind and stop the props. Usually though, I don't do any work near the wind generators in any wind at all.

  We get notes from blog readers who remark to us about Holly, so I don't mind keeping those folks informed about our little buddy. In a week, Holly is going in for surgery to repair some torn tendons in her left knee, as well as repairing one of the patella laxations that she has on both hind legs. (This means her kneecaps rotate off the front of her knees.) If this surgery goes well, we'll plan on another surgery on her right knee so that she can return to taking long walks with us and running up and down the stairs on the boat and at home. We knew this day would come at some point and it's best for her recovery to get it done while she is young. She'll have to stay overnight at the "hospital" and we're not looking forward to it. I hope she doesn't hold it against us.

Monday, May 2, 2016

We Needed a Holly-Day

  We've been really busy since the last blog post, but our focus has been more on our new digs than on Swing Set. We did have a couple of issues and I'll share them here for whoever it may apply to.
  The first thing was that even here in sunny Florida, pollen season manifests itself by way of a film of green "dirt" that builds up on the boat surface almost daily, making each visit to the boat a minor chore because we can't stand a dirty boat. The other boat owners in our marina who aren't bothered by filth, over time, will have a harder job of getting their boats clean because with the buildup of pollen comes mold that seems to attach to the gelcoat as a permanent fixture, requiring an acid to take it off. We wax too much and don't use acid unless absolutely necessary. But pollen season it over. When we visited Swing Set yesterday, it was as clean as it was when we left last Sunday. Happy.
  Another thing that had us stumped was that the sea gulls, and other birds of this region, like our swim platform, but they don't like it enough to refrain from crapping on it. I don't know what these birds eat, but their droppings are like concrete. Maybe that's what is in Super Glue. At any rate, the stuff is so hard to get off, hull cleaner hardly fazes it. I resorted to using Soft Scrub with bleach, and a green pad to remove it every time we came to the boat. I needed a solution, (a legal one), but one that didn't require placing netting over the stern every time we left. What's interesting is that the bow and the upper areas of Swing Set aren't as attractive to the avian life around our marina. I owe some of that to the wind generators on the radar arch, but those are an expensive deterrent.
  Now, when I say a "legal" method to discourage the birds in their desire to nest on the swim platform, I will admit that I considered getting a "soft pellet" pistol to ride herd over the feathered miscreants, and even browsed through a local Bass Pro Shop looking at "firearms", until Rosie sweetly reminded me of the water blaster I bought from Amazon while we were in Marathon, that had only been used one time to thwart the pelicans from a similar dastardly deed, and now sits in the bottom of one of the lockers on the flybridge. The seals are probably too dry to make the water cannon useful at this point. As usual, Rosie's reminder that I have a knack for "over engineering" some of my solutions made me give up using an offensive approach to a sea gull deterrent. I wanted a passive approach, one that required as little energy on our part as we could get by with.
  We were back in Missouri recently, and a visit with a good friend, one who spends lots of time in the country, came with the answer to our problem. Rubber snakes!
  When we returned to our home here in Florida, we visited a nearby big box store and bought two plastic snakes, rather realistic looking, but made of a substance that would hold up in a salt water environment. We spent all of two bucks. OK, $2.14 with tax. One snake was brown in color, and we bought a black and white one too. I wasn't sure what type of snakes the local birds were opposed to, so we took a diversified approach, placing one on each end of the swim platform and attaching them to our dinghy davit with some monofilament fishing line, which I have plenty of since I've pretty much given up on fishing,
  On our next visit to the boat, the end of the swim platform with the brown plastic snake was devoid of all bird droppings, but the one with the black and white snake had a couple of poop pools, still far less than we had been experiencing. We made another trip to the big box store to buy a similar brown snake but they were all out of the exact model that we had so much success with, but there was another brown striped one that we thought will do the trick, so when we went to the boat yesterday, I installed the new snake, and kept the black and white one posted at the stern access door for good measure. We'll see how it goes, but my solution is fairly passive, only requiring me to scoop up the three snakes and toss them into the stern trunk when I pull our shore power cords in when we go out for a ride. The monofilament is invisible, which is the nature of it in the first place, if you didn't know.
  We hadn't been out for a dinghy ride to the beach since we've been in the Dunedin area, and there are lots of beaches to choose from. We like "Three Rookers Bar" just north of the causeway where Marker 1 Marina is located, about three miles or so from our slip, so we went there yesterday and set up camp on the beach as is depicted on the opening photo. I took the shot early, but by mid-afternoon, the beach all around the island was packed with boats of all kinds since the weather is finally more suited to such activities. We are looking forward to an active summer around our local boating area. I think we're going to love it.
  One reason for our outing was for Holly, as I hinted at in the title to this post. We've been so busy at our condo, and at the pool where we now live, that Holly has been spending too much time alone. Yesterday was all about Holly.
  It doesn't take too much to amuse her, all that is required is some birds and little kids to bark at and she is happy as can be, although she chases off any would be friends that might be brave enough to approach us with a "can I pet your little puppy?" request. "Bark bark bark bark", and they usually make a muttering exit. But she sleeps good after an outing like yesterday, probably thinking she has done her duty as our much needed protector.
  Some friends have been posting pictures from Georgetown, and Elizabeth Harbour in the Exumas. The pictures of the crystal clear water have been making me yearn to visit there again soon, especially since fuel is about 1/3 the cost of what it was when we cruised through The Bahamas in 2013. However, the expense of our new home has put some extensive cruising on the back burner for the time being. But trust me, the lure of the open sea is too great to ignore for too long.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Improvements To Swing Set Come In Small Increments

  One thing that has been a challenge at our new marina is dealing with a larger tidal swing than we had to contend with in the Keys. People with much larger tidal swings along the eastern coast will laugh, but everything is relative. Going from a one to two foot rise and fall at the dock twice a day to one of three feet or more meant some changes in the routing of our shore power cords. These were small things, but essential at a fixed dock.

  One thing we learned from experience, (and should have learned from marina management) was that during a full lunar cycle, when the tides are at their greatest, the water in St. Joseph's Bay goes over our dock, sometimes by as much as a foot, depending on the wind.
  Since we are docked "bow in", we had to run shore power from the pedestal at the bow to our power connections at the stern of the boat. With 50 foot power cords, this meant a connection between the two sets of 30 amp cords.
  I used a short piece of PVC and attached a hook to the top of it to hold the connections up from the dock. The connection will rise up as the boat rises, and keep our shore power connection from getting wet and shorting out. I also bought a shore power holder from Defender Marine that sticks into a rod holder on the stern. Now there is enough slack in the power cords to account for a tidal swing without the cords ever laying in the water.
  As I'm on the subject, let me emphasize the importance of avoiding the habit of many a boater of leaving power cords dangling in the drink. Sure, the cords are rubber, but rubber is porous to an extent, and power can leech through the cord and cause stray current in the water. Wonder why your hull and running gear zincs are dissolving so quickly at your marina? There is a good chance that there's a stray electrical current running to your boat and most marinas won't do anything about it.
  We have pitting on one of our props from stray current running from a neighboring boat when we were at our home port at The Duck Club Yacht Club back on the Mississippi, and we couldn't pin down the source. I wound up installing a large sacrificial zinc running from the ground on our pedestal into the water at the end of our slip. This solved the problem in the short run, and stopped the corrosion of the prop, which we still use.
  If you suspect something similar happening at your dock, you can get an electrician with a tester to see if there is in fact stray current around your boat, but one no brainer is to make sure neighboring boats aren't leaving their electrical cords hanging in the water.

  I'm a little slow on the uptake at times, and it took me all these years to learn how to properly connect our shore power cords. In the photo, you can see how our cords are connected to each other at the 50 amp adapter at our power pedestal. The collars we bought are screwed together at each side, not only making them pretty much sealed from the weather, they won't pull apart at the modest twist connections if they get tugged on. I like these and put them not only at this junction, but also where the two 50 foot 30 amp cords are connected in the first photo. I will say that the threads are very fine on these collars, and they are plastic, so be careful when threading them together or you'll render them useless.
  One of my brain storms resulted in my purchasing a "smart plug", which is a wifi device intended on being plugged into an outlet on the boat that can be controlled by our iPhone, or other smart phone. I figured I'd plug our dehumidifier into the smart plug so we could monitor it from home and know if the power went out at the dock. It's good to know if your batteries are not being charged like they are supposed to be. I like power at the boat at all times, because RAIN (or leaking shaft seals)-ALLOWING WATER INTO BOAT WITH DEAD BATTERIES=NO ABILITY FOR BILGE PUMP TO OPERATE=SUNK BOAT. The previous equation is pretty much foolproof. Did you know the leading cause of boats sinking are leaking shaft seals?
  But my brain storm hasn't lead to a solution yet, because the wifi at our marina is abysmal. The smart plug cannot stay connected to the poor wifi. I may try using a signal repeater, but even the smart plug manufacturer states that the plug is not effective in a wifi system that requires a "code" to be unlocked to use it. This has me a bit puzzled, as even our home router requires a passcode to access the internet. If anyone has any ideas, I'd be glad to try them and pass them along. Meanwhile, we'll use the smart plug at home so we can turn the T.V. on from the boat. Why I want to do this, I have no idea.
  Another thing we've been dealing with for several years is keeping running lights on the dinghy. I'm not sure how many sets of battery powered stern and bow lights we've purchased from Amazon, Defender, or the local marine supplier, but I finally got tired of the sun eating these things up, and the rain getting into them despite O-rings on the caps.

  I asked my favorite canvas guy to make us some "envelopes" from Sunbrella material to place over the lights when they are not in use, which is most of the time. They are both the same size, but the stern light has the opening at one small end, and the bow light has the opening along the long end at the bottom. Velcro along each opening allows the covers to close pretty tightly along the seal. Since the seals are at the "bottom" of each opening, the lights will stay dry and will be impervious to the sun. Yes, we could stow the lights in the storage compartment on the dinghy, but both the forward locker in the dinghy, as well as the Igloo cooler we use for life jackets, spare fuel, and a small tool kit, also get water inside. For about a second, I did consider using those small bags that people use for pet waste. They are abundant around most marinas these days, or at city parks, but honestly we didn't want to pull up at a dinghy dock and have someone mistake us for sailboaters. (Oh, come on! You know that's funny.)  Do what you want, but I like our new covers.
  Recently we asked some friends of ours, who we met in Marathon and who now have their boat at the Clearwater Beach Marina, to join us for an overnight on the hook at Three Rookers Bar, a nice anchorage near Dunedin, but also fairly close to them too. They had to decline because they now have a large puppy who needs to be walked twice a day and their dinghy has been on the bow of their boat since they left Marathon back in September. Do you see at least two things going on here that are in opposition to our thoughts on both dogs and dinghies?
  One, we obtained our small dog for a reason, so that we wouldn't be a slave to nature and need to walk Holly for her to use the "bathroom". Two, we tell everyone that a dinghy is no good if you can't deploy it readily. We went by their marina to say hello, but after a couple of hours, we casted off and went to our anchorage as we originally intended. If other folks want their lives to be complicated, that's their business, but we can't let it affect us.
  Which brings me to a point...we don't "buddy up" on any crossings with anyone, much less strangers. We see countless posts on the AGLCA website and other places, about people in transit requesting a "buddy boat" so they can all travel along together in a convoy. We have enough to keep our hands full making sure our boat is travel worthy. I don't want to take on the added responsibility of someone else's boat who may not be as particular about how they do things. We'll be glad to meet someone where we are going, but I don't want anyone worrying about us, and I sure as heck don't want to be worried about us and anyone else.

  So this attitude means we spend a lot of time on the hook, alone. Pity. On the evening pictured in the photo, we were on the hook at Three Rookers Bar as the sun went down over the Gulf of Mexico. We had just grilled some steaks and were finishing up a bottle of wine to have with our dinner. We hadn't spent a night on the hook since New Years Eve, and we were long overdue. We stayed out even though the wind forecast was a bit on the sporty side, and we bounced around more than we like, but we didn't have to listen to any complaints from anyone the next morning about the choices we'd made concerning staying on the hook for the night. The topper the next morning was the hot coffee and steak and eggs we had for breakfast at daybreak, also not having to wait for someone else to get out of bed to join us.
  Call us independent. I consider it a compliment.
  Another compliment was one we received the other day from a long time blog reader who we ran into at our new home. He was telling me that their boat is at a marina in Stewart, Florida, and he in turn met a boat neighbor who started following this blog and winded up buying a boat just like Swing Set, due to the success we apparently had been having with our Sea Ray. Maybe he hasn't been reading this blog as carefully as he should have, but still I feel a little pride in the fact that somebody thinks we are doing it right.
  Send me a note, whoever you are.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Another Phase Of Our Lives

   Readers of my earlier posts may remember me telling about our time living on the Meramec River on the outskirts of St. Louis, MO. I told about our first home there and the floods we experienced in that house, and also the floods we endured while living in my parent's old house, after we eventually bought it from them, just up the street. We moved away from the river late in 1999 but those homes have always been on our minds and we kept tabs on both of them.

  In December of last year, the Meramec River flooded to an extent that it had never flooded before, and the photo above is what is left of our first home there on Opps Lane. Our second home, which sat about two feet higher in elevation, is still standing, albeit with substantial damage. Knowing the present owner, it's doubtful that it would ever be rebuilt and put in an inhabitable condition again. My father and I both worked hard on that river home making it a nice place to live, but dwelling on the past isn't healthy for anyone and we move on.
  I've been reprimanded by a few of my regular blog readers in regard to being remiss on my posts, but I've got good reasons. In the first place, once we got the boat up to Dunedin from Marathon, the weather turned very cold, at least in comparison to the fantastic weather that we became used to in the Keys.
  On our first full day in our new marina, we got a visit from some friends we had met in Kentucky Lake on our way down the inland river system. Dave and Wendi were staying near where our new home is, and drove out to Dunedin for a short visit before heading to the airport. While the sun was out, the temperature was brisk, but we spent some time catching up as we sat in the cockpit of Swing Set. Dave and Wendi plan to follow our footsteps and bring their boat south when they both retire in about a year. We're happy to be a good influence on people, as well as what some folks call "an inspiration".
  The closing on the new land based home we bought was due to take place on the 1st of February, so we had a month to wait. We spent most of the time on the boat huddled inside with the heat on. Most of the nation was under a cold spell and Florida was not spared. Even our friends in the Keys were reporting some unusually cold weather for that area. I used some time to catch up on some boat waxing, and when we could, we got out and explored around Dunedin and our new surroundings which is always a fun thing.
  I have a new resolution, which is not a "New Years Resolution", but something intended to keep our boat in top shape. We intend to take Swing Set out of the slip at least weekly, or every ten days or so, to "keep the wheels greased", so to speak. I don't think there is anything worse that letting a boat sit idle for months in a slip, particularly in salt water. This practice should help in keeping the hull bottom clean, as well as making sure everything works when we need it to most. In the month we waited for the closing on our new home, we took the boat out twice for an afternoon ride, again exploring the area by water.
  As expected, we have some great beaches to anchor off of just a couple of miles from our marina, and if we want to, we can take the dinghy out to the same beaches, as well as run down to the Clearwater area for the activities to be had down there, or just up the coast a few miles is Tarpon Springs where there are things to do.
  In anticipation of having Swing Set uninhabited for days at a time, I began to consider some new problems that we might encounter, especially in regard to the tidal swings that we were not used to while living in the Keys.
  First, we had a month to live on the boat and monitor the mooring lines, checking to see that we had enough scope to let the boat run through the tidal range without having to adjust them. It's not a good idea to be thirty miles away while your boat is hanging by its neck in the slip like an unwanted cat. (I know this is not a pleasant view, but the analogy just came to me out of the blue.)
  The shore power is another consideration, and I do not like to have the shore power cords submerged in the water at any time. I wish our boat neighbors felt the same way. Shore power cords are made of rubber, but that doesn't mean that electrical current will not leach from them, affecting any surrounding submerged metal, not only on the offending boat, but on the surrounding boats as well. When I see a neighboring boat with submerged power lines, I adjust them, but you cannot be around to see this offense all the time.
  Anyhow, I've mounted the one splice we have in our power cords above the dock to insure we're above the highest tidal mark, using some PVC pipe, and I also used the collars for shore power connections to make sure the power cords don't become disconnected easily if they are tugged on. A post mounted in one of our rod holders will keep the cords up high enough to allow some slack in them so they can't touch the water. I'll show pictures of this setup later. At least I intend to.
  Another thing I had to reconsider is my setup to flush our air conditioning units. I have a hose running from a faucet in the engine room over to a T-fitting just after the sea strainer to the AC cooling water circulating pump. I had fully realized that a failure in any part of that fitting, or the hose (at least below the waterline) would lead to seawater entering the bilge if the seacock to the AC was open, which it is for the most part. Like I said, I wasn't too worried while living on the boat with this arrangement because I would have become aware of such a failure before a calamity occurred, but a few hours is one thing, a few days is another. I've installed a valve at the T-fitting to keep closed until I want to flush the system with fresh water from the faucet. It's simple things like this that can be overlooked, but are easily remedied.
  We run a de-humidifier in the cabin full time. The small unit we use requires the little tank to be emptied about every two or three days, so having it run while we are gone was going to be a problem. I looked into a larger unit that has a hose attachment that can be run to a drain, and we might wind up getting one of those, but space is limited to house a large de-humidifier when we aren't using it. I drilled a hole in the small plastic tank and installed a valve and small hose, so the little de-humidifier we had is setting on the sink in the master head, running it's little guts out and emptying into the sink drain. It's seems to be able to keep up with the humidity for now. This summer may tell a different story.
  We contracted with the marina to have the hull bottomed cleaned monthly. The marina administrates the process and bills us along with our monthly statement, giving us a report on the condition of the hull bottom as well as that of our zincs. I'll supplement that report with inspections of my own (when the water temperature improves) and I'll also monitor bottom growth for when I'm told we need to go to a twice a month schedule when summer comes. I'm hoping our practice of regular use of the boat will help keep the growth down to a level that will be rectified with a monthly cleaning only. Again, we will see.
  We had more visitors a couple of weeks ago. Mike and Sherri from our previous river port in Alton came through town and we spent a couple of days with them. It was too cold to take the boat out, but we got to see some more of the surrounding area, particularly Tampa Bay by land, and some more of downtown Dunedin. We liked what we saw.
  I don't usually report on personal issues, but while our visitors were in town, I experienced some bumps on my forehead, and my lymph nodes in my neck became swollen. Our friends left on a Saturday and by Sunday morning my forehead had broken out in a major way. I suspected Shingles, and a trip to a local Urgent Care Center in Clearwater confirmed it. The two weeks it took to clear up the condition was not a pleasant time, but eventually the medication worked its wonders.
  A filling in a tooth I had chipped about thirty years ago fell out and when I went to a dentist to get that fixed, he found a crown that had to be replaced. After having a dental plan at my place of employment for years and no longer have, I had no idea how much dental work costs. I do now.
  Speaking of medical care, we spent our time recently getting connected to the medical providers that we will need, and more importantly, we have Holly enrolled as a new patient at a veterinary clinic recommended to us. This makes the seventh doctor for Holly since we got her. Whatever it takes.
  In short order, we have our dentist, primary care physician, eye doctor, and Holly's doctor all lined up with a visit to each already. I even got a pretty good barber close by. (Who knew a haircut was more than $6 these days?)
  We closed on our new home a couple of days early and were awful busy getting our "stuff" off of the boat and moved into our home. It was unbelievable how much we had on the boat that could be moved to a location where there was more room. The computer and the printer is now off the boat, as well as a lot of our clothes, (which there isn't much of), and we don't have the need to keep months and months supply of canned goods onboard. Swing Set is now setting at least an inch higher in the water.
  The story of our new home is for another blog. I'll say it's in a resort community and part of the home is a separate lock out unit that is providing income for us. That, plus the extreme reduction in our dock rent, hopefully will provide us with the funds to keep Swing Set in prime condition for years to come, as well as the variety sharing time between the two places will keep our lives fresh, something that is hard to do when sitting at a dock most of the time.
  Our plan, since we don't feel compelled to stay at a dock we're paying a high monthly rent for, will allow us to take some occasional trips, maybe see more of the east coast of Florida and the U.S. For now we're content in getting settled into our new place, making some improvements and spending a ton of money at Home Depot and the local furniture store, in spite of buying the place furnished.  We cannot believe we went from having two T.V.'s to having six, one refrigerator to having five, and having two air conditioners to having four. Tell me again how is our lives are simpler now?
  Last weekend we had some more friends from out of town on the boat. We took a nice afternoon cruise up to Tarpon Springs in some much improved and welcome weather, although is still wasn't bikini weather. Hence, no pictures! Next time. The only malfunction we had on the boat was that the horn didn't work. I was already mentally going over what I needed to do the next day to fix it when Rosie mentioned something about "I might have gotten water in it when I squirted the boat this morning". Sure enough, the next morning when we finished flushing our engines until next time, a quick check of the horn revealed that all was well. Sometimes time does heal all wounds.
  We have a weekend planned on the boat coming up. The weather and the wind should be conducive to taking the dinghy out, something we haven't done since December! I did flush the outboard, as well as run out the carburetor of fuel, so all systems on the dink should be good to go.
  I hope I have some good stories to tell.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Move

  We saved Christmas dinner for the arrival of some friends from St. Louis on the 27th of December. They got in late due to some plane delays, and their stories confirmed our intention to never fly on an airplane again. The late dinner and the interesting conversation lasted until the wee hours while we formulated a loose plan for the next couple of days.
  A day long cruise was planned for the 28th and the weather held for us to enjoy a pleasant day on the hook. Swing Set ran great and we were presented with no new problems for our anticipated departure from Marathon on the 30th of December, the day our friends were due to leave back to the cold and flooding of Missouri. I had been watching the weather for a couple of weeks, and our best window was between the 31st of December and the 2nd of January, so getting a days jump on our trip was taking a bit of a chance, but we decided to plan on the 30th, but use another day for a backup if we needed it.

  On the morning of the 29th we moved Swing Set over to a lower seawall at high tide to facilitate the loading of our scooter. Our new scooter is heavier and bigger than our older Zuma, and James and I were happy to acquire the assistance of another person at the pool where we found a good place at the seawall there to load up the bike.
  The four of us did a "send off dinghy cruise" all afternoon, and said our goodbyes rather early. They had a long drive to Ft. Lauderdale ahead of them in the morning, and we had the start of our trip to Dunedin to look forward to as well. 
  We were up before dawn on the 30th and the picture below shows the Yamaha strapped down and covered for the 250 mile trip to Dunedin. Before the first light I removed all of our power cords, water lines, and cable from our slip at Marathon Marina and we creeped out of the harbor as the sun was coming up.
  I knew the wind was going to be up a bit, but I also knew that it was to subside by the time we got closer to the mainland and the relative protection of the mainland from the easterly wind. As it was, instead of wallowing through some beam seas at trawler speed, I spooled up the Cats and ran at 25 M.P.H. for about three hours until the seas calmed and we took the rest of the day to slip into Indian Key Pass to spend a restful night on the hook near Everglades City, an anchorage we had stayed on our way down the coast over three years ago. Our faster cruise for three hours allowed us to happily bypass our previous anchorage on the Shark River back in 2012.
  Before dawn on New Years Eve we were headed out of Indian Pass towards Fort Myers. Some friends in the area had plans for that evening, but even so, the weather window we had dictated that we get to Dunedin as quickly as possible. I was going to run outside as far as Charlotte Harbor, but I began to get concerned about fuel, not so much for how much we had onboard, but I was concerned that if we needed it on New Years Day, some marinas may be closed and fuel would be hard to find. I decided to enter the Intercoastal Waterway at the Caloosahatchie River and we took on 150 gallons of fuel at Sanibel Marina and was on our way again by mid afternoon, finishing out our day at our accustomed trawler speed.

  Our choice of anchorages began to get pretty slim until we happened upon an excellent spot just off the waterway that was in a no wake zone. We were near Little Gasparilla Key when we dropped the hook and enjoyed a nice dinner and a movie before turning in before 8 P.M. Happy New Year!
  We cast off the next morning before the first light, relying on our iPad and Garmin to follow the narrow channel. We kept our speed at idle until we could actually see anything by 6:30 A.M., and then we ran at 8-9 M.P.H. until reaching the Venice Pass and outside we went.
  Swing Set ran for the next four hours at 25 M.P.H. without a hitch. The only issue, as it had been on the outside since leaving Marathon, was dodging crab pot markers. Some of those fishermen paint their markers dark green or black, making them almost impossible to see unit the last minute. Our luck held and we didn't hit any of them. I'll never eat crab or lobster again.
  We had to go way outside to avoid the shoaling at the entrance to Tampa Bay, but with plenty of fuel, and with the engines running so nicely, it was fun to get some wind in our hair for a change. When the boat is running good, it's nice to have the option of running at something other than trawler speed when we want to. I know that 25 M.P.H. is not much, but hours of 8-9 M.P.H. gets tedious.
  By early afternoon we were entering the Clearwater Pass. Plenty of other boaters were out enjoying the holiday and we passed lots of boats in the narrow channel running from Clearwater to Dunedin before we made the eastern turn into the channel to Marker 1 Marina.
  As we passed the fuel dock I hollered to a young attendant that I wanted to tie up alongside the fuel dock to unload our scooter. She welcomed us in and helped us tie up. Without insulting her, I asked if a more stout dockhand might be available to help unload our scooter from the boat. We needed some muscle.
  "Nicky" called for "Tony", a part-time personal trainer to come and assist us. When he arrived, I had both ramps in place and Tony almost single handedly removed the Yamaha from the confines of our cockpit. We were so happy to have the scooter off the boat, and not into the water, that we generously tipped both Nicky and Tony. I've decided that our current scooter is really too big to put aboard Swing Set.
  We motored over to our slip and spent the next couple of hours getting lines adjusted and installing our power cords, etc., while introducing ourselves to some of our new boat neighbors.

  With fenders in place, hoses installed, and cable hooked up, we were really happy to have it all behind us. Really, really happy with our slip location and with the marina in general.
  That night we walked over to a newer bar/restaurant across the street, Frenchie's Outpost, where we had our own New Years celebration with a couple of beers.
  Yesterday, some folks we had met at Kentucky Lake drove over from Land O' Lakes to visit us before driving back home to Kentucky. We had a pleasant visit and were sad to see them go, but they'll be back in February, so saying goodbye wasn't so bad. They offered to take us back the way they came so that we could pick up our vehicle that we had left near the townhouse we are buying. Saved us a trip on the scooter in the approaching cold weather on Sunday.
  As expected, a cold front, along with some blustery wind, came in on Saturday night. Boy, were we happy to be snug in our new slip! We had our vehicles parked safely away, and Swing Set tied up nicely too. We both slept better than we had in several nights.
  This morning we kicked off our new digs with another walk across the causeway to a cozy restaurant called Brenda's Cafe where we had a good breakfast and met some locals. We got there at 7A.M. and by 8A.M. the place was packed. We both had a reasonably healthy meal for half the price we would have paid in the Keys, and the company was very enjoyable. This is not the home of $11 omelets.
  After posting this, we'll scrub down the boat and flush the engines as well as pickle the A/C system with fresh water. We won't be needing air conditioning for a while. The trade off for warm January weather is a healthier bank account and more services for the us and the boat.
  Once we get settled in here, and close on our new home purchase, cold weather relief is just a day long boat ride down the coast. As it is, a little variety never hurt anyone.