Goodbye 2009 and Hello 2010

For those of you expecting another post on new equipment or anything else boating related, you can log off now. It has been an interesting year to say the least. We have made many changes, some planned and some totally unexpected. But in the end we believe they will all be good changes and we don't regret any of them, well almost. Let me just say that our philosophy has changed considerably over the years and we have taken a more optimistic approach to the things that happen in our lives. Not too long ago, a loss of a job or changes in our circumstances would have had us energizing ourselves to correct the situation and make it conform to our plans. But something happened and I can't put my finger on just when the transition took place, or what the defining moment was. We came to the realization that if we looked closely at unfolding events, instead of trying to steer them in the direction we chose, we would see a different path open up that in the end was the proper direction for us. We were enjoying life in South Carolina and had settled in and things were not great but pretty good. Suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a major recession with neither of us having a job and no prospects for the immediate future. Most folks might panic in a situation like this. But we have positioned ourselves financially to be in pretty good shape and our cruising lifestyle has kept us in a debt free state, or close to it, and the constant practice of filling the cruising kitty keeps us fairly fluid. When the job Susan had in Beaufort came to an end, and no viable employment looked available, then we considered our options. We could stay and tough it out, not our first choice. We could head south for warmer weather, but the economic situation in that area was not looking great either. Or we could head north where we had a good support system and lots of contacts with a greater potential for employment. The logical conclusion, and all of the sign posts, pointed us to the road north. This was not our favorite choice mostly because after more than 15 years in the tropics and subtropics, northern winters were not particularly inviting.

Winterizing The Boat

Those are words I never thought I would hear myself say again, but never say never. We realized when we decided to come back to the Chesapeake for a while that we would once again have to deal with owning a boat in the cold north. We also realized that if we came north it would be the coldest, snowiest winter on record. The decision was made the last time we were here, to not live aboard the boat in the winter months. It was just too much of a hassle and too uncomfortable for us after more than 15 years living in the subtropics. We were fortunate enough to find a good house sitting position for some nice folks that spend the winters in warmer climates like we should be doing. Their schedule worked nicely with ours for hauling the boat and then relaunching in the spring. So with that in mind, when December first arrived, we began the move off process and winterized the boat, most of it done prior to the haul out.

Mystical Water Heater and Engine Hoses

Yes, that is correct, I did say a mystical, some might say magical hot water heater. It all started several years ago onboard our Mariner 40 sailboat Sea Trek. Our 6 or 7 year old hot water heater had developed a leak which we could not stop so we ordered a replacement of the exact same model and configuration, not wanting to re-plumb and rewire everything. On the day the replacement arrived, the existing hot water heater stopped leaking and is still in the boat, working fine several years later after we sold her last year. Just a few months ago on our trip up the ICW from Beaufort, South Carolina to the Chesapeake, we stopped in Southport so Susan could rent a car and drive to Maryland for a job interview. While at the marina in Southport, I discovered the existing hot water heater in Beach House was leaking and the tank was pretty rusted on the outside. The magical hot water heater that we have been carrying around for several years was in the back of our van, at a friend's house in Maryland, waiting for us to arrive. I called Susan and asked her to stop by the van and pick up the water heater since I feared the one on Beach House might fail on us along the way. Since we had this as a spare, it should be with us on the boat. Well sure enough, as soon as she returned to the boat with this water heater, the old unit immediately stopped leaking without us even touching it. We finished the trip to the Chesapeake and after a month or more the water heater still showed no signs of leaking.

When Is Towing a Boat, Not "Towing" a Boat?

Today’s recreational boater is as likely to leave the dock with a paid towing insurance policy on hand as they would a VHF radio. The commercial towing industry for recreational boating is big business today and many boaters, in an attempt to defray significant expenses should they need assistance, are looking to companies like Towboat US and Sea Tow to come to the rescue if they need it. But do you really know what is covered, what is not and what your responsibilities will be in these “rescues”? Many of these policies have different levels of coverage and deductibles, just as your auto or home owners insurance might. It is to your benefit to ask questions before you buy these policies, read them carefully and have all of your questions answered long before you might need the service. Not all policies are the same and in the end they can be a savior or they can cost you or your insurance company a substantial sum.

Our Cruise Wrap-Up

Sorry for the delays in our postings lately, but life has been coming at us rather quickly since we arrived in the Chesapeake. We try and do a recap of each of our cruises and some thoughts on the equipment we have installed and used along the way. We departed Beaufort, South Carolina at 7:25 AM on the 14th of September and arrived at our slip in Pasadena, Maryland at 5:00 PM on the 6th of October covering a total of 753 statute miles, according to the trip log on our chart plotter. We only anchored nine times on this trip, and used marinas three different times for a total of ten days. Six of those days were to deal with repairs and four were to rent a car and drive north to take care of business. We also tied to the free seawall at Great Bridge, Virginia for one night. We motored for a total of 106 hours, added 150 gallons of fuel to our tanks in Beaufort and another 168 gallons in Great Bridge, but we could have made it to Pasadena on the fuel we had. The low cost at Atlantic Yacht Basin was the reason we topped the tanks off. We knew we would pay much more as we headed north. We still have 225 gallons in the tank now so our fuel burn rate was approximately 2.3 gallons per hour or approximately 1/3 gallon per mile. This is about what we expected to use running our Ford Lehman 120 hp engine at an average rate of 1800 rpms.

Deltaville, VA to Pasadena, MD

DSC03603aDSC03585a As expected, the weather forecast was as confusing in the morning as it was the night before. So we weighed anchor and stuck our nose out into the Bay. As we rounded Stingray Point and crossed the Rappahannock the west winds that were forecast were out of the northeast, right on our nose. The forecast called for 10 to 15 with gusts to 20. We checked the buoy reports and the winds were all pretty much in the 8 knot range so we pressed on. Our biggest concern was crossing the Potomac since it is ten miles across and can develop some pretty big waves. The wind against the current was also going to make it a bumpy ride. We had a fall back plan to head into Reedville, Virginia if the going really got rough. As we passed the Rappahannock Spit light and set a waypoint for Smith Point, the southern end of the Potomac, the winds continued to clock on our nose but the speed remained constant. The swells however, were getting larger. By the time we reached Smith Point, it was pretty uncomfortable pounding into the swells and whitecaps were everywhere. These are the conditions we usually stay in port for.

Great Bridge, VA to Deltaville, VA

DSC03515a We gathered all of our weather info at the end of the evening and decided not to decide where we would go the next day. We were up at our usual time and analyzed the weather info again. True to form, it had changed from the night before and actually looked much better than we expected. So we caught the 7:00 AM lock opening and headed for Norfolk. There were discussions about the Gilmerton Bridge being closed for construction but after a call to the bridge tender and radio contact with the tug working the bridge we determined there would be no delay. The next bridge past the lock is Steel Bridge and we arrived minutes before its scheduled opening. As we approached the Gilmerton Bridge, the barge was tied to the bridge wall and the bridge itself was open. We transited with no problems and headed through Norfolk.

Adams Creek, NC to Great Bridge, VA

DSC03418a We have done the ICW so many times that we pretty much know from day to day where we want to be and where we plan to anchor or at which marina we want to stop for the night. But we still also like to try and find new spots, especially since we are no longer burdened with a six foot draft to limit access. After we have anchored or docked for the evening, had showers and dinner and are ready to relax, we still take the time to get out the charts and and plan the next days run and where we want to wind up. Included in our plans are fall back points in case of problems, weather or whatever and also fall forward points in case things go better than planned. We always say our plans are written in the sand at low tide.

Southport, NC to Adams Creek, NC

DSC03331aDSC03333a Two of our good friends that we have known for many years pulled into the marina across the dock from us on Saturday afternoon. We had planned on leaving Saturday after we dropped off the rental car, but the weather had turned to, well let’s say crap. It was raining and blowing so we decided to spend another day at the marina. After all, this is supposed to be fun. The rain came down in buckets all day and this would make a trip up the Cape Fear River a very unpleasant experience. As our friends arrived late in the afternoon, their first remark was, “you made a good decision”. They had a pretty uncomfortable day and were pretty wet and tired. But after a short rest we had a very nice dinner on their boat and caught up on what was happening with us and them. They had been at the same marina that we had been in Beaufort, but left for a trip up to Norfolk and were now heading back south. It is always good to meet up with friends unexpectedly and share a good meal.

Myrtle Beach, SC to Southport, NC

The Coquina Yacht Club is really one of our recommended stops if a marina is in your plans. The staff are great people, former cruisers, the facilities are well protected, the WiFi works, the showers, restrooms and lounge are spotless, and you can always find someone willing to give you a ride to the grocery or where ever you need to go. One night is really not enough to enjoy it but that was all we were able to stay. The weather was still a bit less than we would have liked to see, and as we got under way the next morning it was indeed raining. But we needed to go anyway and we were once again only doing about 30 or more miles to our next stop. Now we really don't usually do these short days but circumstances were slowing us down. Susan received a call from an organization in Baltimore that wanted her to come in for an interview THIS WEEK and Of course we had almost no notice. We would have stayed in Coquina but the rental car companies near by were less than easy to deal with, would not pick us up and want ridiculous charges for mileage and her trip would be close to 1,000 miles round trip. If we headed to Southport we could get a rental from the same companies to pick her up, give her a car and no mileage charges, only daily rates. So off we went, rain and all.

Georgetown, SC to Myrtle Beach, SC

The new alternator arrived a little after 11:30 AM and by 1:00 PM it was installed and checked out just fine. Since it was a newer version of the same unit we had, a few modifications were needed for both the wiring and mounting. One big plus was that the new unit registers the amps it puts out on our battery monitor. For whatever reason, the old unit did not. The service tech came by the boat and was less than friendly about returning the alternator he ordered and not having him install the new one.  By 1:20 PM we had readied ourselves and the boat and were shoving off from the dock. The skies were blue, crystal clear, the breeze was up and it was a beautiful day. Much different from the gray skies and drizzle that we had off and on yesterday. It was really good to get under way again. This whole fiasco had been a four day delay, not to mention the additional dockage we had to pay just because someone made a mistake and wouldn't admit it. The old adage is correct, if you want something done right, do it yourself.

Still In Georgetown

The strainer glass (plastic) arrived right on time and it took only minutes to install. Good news, it did not leak. Bad news, the alternator that was sent to us had the wrong size pulley for the belt. The tech specifically told the alternator company what size we needed for the belt, 1/2 inch and they sent 3/8 instead. Now they are saying they won't take it back even though it is not what we ask for. As soon as I find out the name of the company that shipped it I will post it so you can be sure and avoid them. The Service Tech will be here tomorrow and hopefully we can work things out between he and I. In the mean time, once again, American Diesel has saved the day. Brian is shipping a replacement alternator overnight, except no one overnights to Georgetown on Saturdays, and we will have it on Monday. This will be a further delay, but what can you do. We have found all too often over the years that suppliers often make these kinds of mistakes and refuse to own up to their mistakes. Those that do get repeat business from us and many others. Those that don't, we try to let others know, so they can avoid the same problems and hassles we have to deal with. Because of the suppliers mistake we will have to pay additional dockage for three days waiting for parts and delay our trip for the same amount of time. The folks here at the Boat House Marina have done all they can to try and help. BTW, they did get the WiFi working as promised. It looks like we will be enjoying the hospitality of Georgetown for a couple of more days.

Minim Creek to Georgetown, SC

Living and cruising on a boat is not for the faint of heart or anyone with a lack of perseverance or good problem solving skills. That is unless you have large sums of money to afford a crew, engineer, and full time mechanic. For us it is perseverance and ingenuity and not much else. In the past we have always noted that we almost never have just one problem.

Our plan was to head for Georgetown, about 15 miles north, to deal with the alternator and to sleep in a bit since the distance was so short. But neither of us were able to sleep late and found ourselves up before the sun anyway. A quick breakfast and before starting our usual routine, we made a couple more checks on the alternator. We also spoke with Brian at American Diesel just in case we overlooked something. Brian suggested we bypass the the oil pressure switch which activates the alternator in case the switch was bad. This would cause the alternator to not activate. We gave it a try but no joy, so we prepared to get under way. About that time the lines on the head decided to blow apart, we can only surmise a clog caused this. So we had to reassemble the hoses and clean up before we got under way.

Stono River, SC to Minim Creek, SC

We had a very quiet evening anchored on the Stono River. We were up at 6:00 AM and ready to get underway by 7:00 AM. Before we get underway each day we go through a regular routine. All fluids in the engine are checked and topped off if needed. The battery levels and water levels are checked, fuel and water in the tanks are noted in the log and the electronics and bilge pumps are checked, as well as noting the engine hours before we fire up the engine. We check the local weather reports and make notes of the expected forecast, which is usually wrong. We also acquire any weatherfax, wind and wave forecasts and reports and whatever else we can get. These we use more than the forecasts to determine when and where we move. It sounds like a lot but it gets done quickly and usually takes us about 1/2 hour. Then we can fire up the engine, haul up the anchor and get under way. Our newly installed wash down system did a fine job of cleaning the anchor rode, chain and anchor.

Beaufort, SC to Charleston, SC

We were off the dock this morning at 7:30, a bit later than we had planned, and turned onto the Beaufort River heading north. This would be our first trip with the boat and all of the new equipment we have installed. The first few days, especially on an untested boat, always make us a bit anxious. The weather was absolutely perfect with temps in the low 80's and a moderate breeze. We cleared the Beaufort River and turned into the Coosaw. This can be a bumpy ride in the wrong weather but today it was wonderful. The Ashepoo/Coosaw Cutoff has been dredged so this once problem area has plenty of water. We found 9 to 14 feet in the lower cutoff and 16 feet or more in the upper section and we transited this right at low tide. The currents were with us and against us off and on all day. When it was with us we would make 8 knots or better and when against us, it slowed us down to 5 knots. Even the dreaded White Point area presented no problems when we followed the magenta line.

Steering Issues And Preparing For A Cruise

All of our recent activity has been for a purpose. We are preparing Beach House for a trip from our current location in Beaufort, South Carolina, to the Chesapeake Bay. We know it is the wrong direction for this time of year, but recent events have required us to head north. If all goes as planned we will leave the dock on Monday, September 14th and head along the ICW for the next 600 miles or so. We have made as many improvements as we felt were necessary to make the trip safe and comfortable.

One issue that took some extra work was the steering system. The upper and lower hydraulic helm pumps are Wagner 700 Series, very substantial and dependable units. The upper helm had developed a leak so we decided to send both units in for testing and service which included replacing the internal seals. We chose Florida Rigging and Hydraulics for the service since we had received good reviews from folks that had used them in the past. They did an excellent job and turned the units around very quickly at a reasonable price. They also spent the time on the phone to be sure we understood the requirements for bleeding the system and the proper fluid to use.

Replacing The Fresh Water Circulating Pump On Our Ford Lehman 120

If you had read our previous post, we discovered the fresh water circulating pump on the front of the engine had developed a leak and needed replacement. The great folks at American Diesel were quick to get the replacement shipped to us and in my discussion with Bob Smith, he suggested that we replace the engine belt at the same time and be sure and replace it with the proper belt to assure there would be less likelihood of another issue with the pump soon. We agreed and had a belt shipped with the pump. The replacement was actually quite easy.

Servicing The Cooling System On Our Ford Lehman Diesel And Other Things

After the transmission cooler was replaced we decided to also replace the oil cooler since it was probably the same age and condition. But after removing it we found it to be moments away from a total meltdown so the decision was a good one. We ordered the parts again from American Diesel and they arrived within a couple of days. When we went to re-install it we found the oil hose sizes on the engine to be different than the hoses need for the new cooler. So we ordered the correct size from America Diesel and they too arrived in a couple of days. Although not related to the cooling system, we had planned to add an oil changer to make the oil changing process much faster and cleaner. With the hoses off for the cooler we took the opportunity to drain the oil from the crankcase, using a small pump attached to a drill. This is slow and messy but the attachment for the oil changer needs to go in the bottom of the oil pan so it had to be drained.

More Marine Trader Makeovers

We have been working fast and furious to get new projects finished for a possible trip north to the Chesapeake. One of the projects was to get the chartplotter installed at the flybridge, which we have had for months, and to reinstall the compass as well as replace the non-functioning amp gauge with a voltage meter. There are those that prefer an amp meter but we much prefer to know at a glance what the alternator is doing by the voltage it is putting out. The replacement was pretty straight forward with only a bit of rewiring. The compass had been mounted over on the centerline of the bridge so viewing it from the helm was a bit awkward. In addition I had built a box to mount the plotter rather than spend $300.00 for a navpod. The box was built from teak plywood, epoxied over and painted with Awlgrip. Since all of this needed to be mounted we decided to paint the helm area with Awlgrip before mounting the equipment rather than mounting it and removing it again later for painting. Both the compass and the plotter will be very helpful and important on the trip north. We choose the Standard Horizon CP300 plotter because we had used it extensively on our previous boat and were very pleased with the performance. We are not big fans of integrated systems so the stand alone plotter fit very nicely into our budget. IMO is the best bang for the buck, was very dependable for us in the past and is very user friendly with a simple menu set up. In addition it uses the C-Map navigation chip and again we do prefer that to other formats.

Transforming The Non Skid Decks

This is an article we wrote for the July/August 2009 issue of Good Old Boat.

Anyone that owns or is considering the purchase of an older boat that is in need of some renovations has wrestled with what to do with worn or faded non-skid surfaces on the decks. There are several options including artificial materials glued to the decks, paints and coatings. Our Mariner 40 ketch, Sea Trek, has just had the 30th anniversary of the laying of her keel. We have lived aboard and cruised her extensively since we purchased her 16 years ago and the repairs and renovations have been ongoing from the beginning. While she had not been abused, she had not been used and was allowed to simply sit at the dock uncared for. Simple cosmetics like redoing the extensive teak trim was easy although time consuming. Our plans were two fold; first to bring her back to like new condition and second to make her as safe and comfortable as possible for offshore and coastal cruising.

Anchor Washdown System

When we found our first serious cruising boat, Sea Trek, we did a shakedown cruise on the Chesapeake Bay on our first weekend of ownership. Upon our return to the dock that Sunday we put one project at the top of our to-do list. On our new boat, Beach House, we recently did a day trip with our visiting children and grandchildren. After a day of fishing and anchoring on the Beaufort River off Parris Island, and catching a few Shark and Redfish, that same project came to the top of our list once again. Nothing says you need a wash down system like hauling up an anchor and rode full of black goop that attaches itself to the anchor, rode, anchor platform, windlass, foredeck, anchor locker and anything else within a couple of feet of it. So once the kids were heading back north we began the project in earnest. Since all of the parts were already sitting on a shelf in the boat, starting it was easy. We always try to plan out each project and after careful study determine all of the main components ahead of time and gather them from whatever sources we know to be a dependable supplier. Many of the small items that make up the details are purchased as the project progresses.

A Hatch From Scratch

Our article from the May/June 2009 issue of Good Old Boat

Sometimes a simple solution to a problem is not always simple. Although our former boat, Sea Trek is a great cruising vessel, there are a few things we wanted to change. One draw back was the lack of good ventilation below. With six opening ports we thought it would not be a problem. But with ten-inch high bulwarks around the deck it left something wanting. The only deck hatch is forward over the vee-berth. This is great for sleeping but still not great for airflow thru out the main cabin. We added strategically placed solar vents and cabin fans but in the tropical areas we usually cruise it was still not enough.

A Little TLC For Our Ford Lehman Diesel

With the daytime heat in the 90s every day we are ready to spend time working inside the boat and enjoy the air conditioning. A couple of projects that have been in the back of my mind are perfect for a break from teak and painting. Well, as much of a break as working in the engine room can be. An issue with the Ford Lehman has been the overflow for the fresh water coolant. It is simply an overflow and does not draw the coolant back into the tank when the engine cools down as most diesels do. This requires that it be manually poured back into the fresh water tank as it accumulates and is kind of a pain. The folks at American Diesel, , are the experts on the Ford Lehman engine. If Bob Smith or Brian does not have an answer to any question about these engines, then there is no answer. They do have a replacement neck for the fresh water tank that will allow the coolant to overflow and then return back to the tank. I had ordered one of these and have had it on hand for a while now, so it was time to install it. The installation is pretty straight forward and the old retainer that hold the cap needs to be notched with a hack saw blade so it can be bent inward and removed. The new neck is coated with epoxy where it will go down into the tank and with a little coaxing with a hammer and a block of wood it slides into place. Once the epoxy sets it is ready to be reinstalled and attached to the overflow tank.

Repairs, Failures, And The Domino Affect

I am thoroughly convinced that most, maybe not all, major breakdowns and failures on a boat start with just one small thing and then the dominoes fall until you have a major if not catastrophic situation. OK, our situation did not become catastrophic, but it became much more than it started out to be, and it became very expensive. It all started innocently enough one very hot, sticky day about three weeks ago when it was necessary to clean the air conditioner sea strainer. The waters here in Factory Creek are very silty and full of all manor of stuff. The strainers requires cleaning at least every two weeks. The AC system was shut down and the seacock closed to keep the water out for what should have only taken a few minutes. The strainer was removed and the bowl and screen sat on the dock for cleaning. When I turned on the water hose, somehow the nozzle came off and the stream of water hit the strainer basket and blew it overboard into the water and it sank immediately. So this meant an hour and a half running around to the marine supply stores to find a replacement screen. Once a replacement was found the strainer was reassembled and the seacock opened. No water would come through the seacock to the strainer.

The Jungle Medic

The following is a reprint from our article in Sounding Magazine. Enjoy.

Cruising does not always mean boisterous passages or cocktails on the aft deck at sunset. To the contrary, much of our time is spent exploring the country side and getting to know the local people. This approach for my wife Susan and I has enriched the experience far beyond what we expected when we moved aboard Sea Trek, our Mariner 40, and started the cruising life almost 18 years ago. Beginning in mid April of 2005 the passage from the
Florida Keys, down the coast of Mexico, and wandering through the many Cays in Belize had been wonderful. But that did not compare to our fantastic experience upon arriving on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.
We had heard from many sources, of the wonderful work done here by Bryan Buchanan and his wife Riechelle. Bryan is a certified paramedic and has done a residency here with a family practitioner and he has also done some dental training. Both he and Riechelle have been Missionaries in third world countries for several years, the last few here in Guatemala. They primarily travel to remote villages that do not have access to medical care and set up their clinic for the day, but they will offer care and medication to anyone that might need it, including the local cruising community. Bryan and Riechelle are known locally on the river as The Jungle Medic.

A Trawler Makeover

With all of the reality TV shows bordering on the ridiculous this might not be a bad idea. We certainly are delighted with the progress on Beach House and the compliments pour in from everyone that sees her. Especially those that have seen her prior to our taking ownership. The transformation has been amazing and when we walk down the dock we sometimes have to stop and admire our handy work. We are still a long way from being cruising ready since most of our efforts have been on the exterior and redoing and improving the teak, paint and canvas. Electrical and electronics have been slow going and we have only completed what needs to be done to keep her safe and keep the on board equipment working. With the heat of the summer bearing down on us hard, it might be time to work on interior projects in the air conditioning.