Friday, May 27, 2022

Making progress without moving forward...

Efforts to get First Light ready to splash continue. This stint was supposed to be the one where we finished up the last of the items keeping the boat on dry land. We made some good progress, but we were also forced to push the launch date from next month to a month yet to be determined. Making progress without moving forward: a paradox likely familiar to many a sailor. 

On the progress side, the repair of the hardtop over the aft deck, the one that supports the solar array, is finished. The job took longer than hoped but not as long as feared. It also came out looking better than it might have, thanks in large part to Deb's expertise with paint and primer. I can shoot a mean coat of color, but brush and roller efforts often end up looking like a Kindergartner's project gone awry. While she made my repair look better than it deserved, I crawled around in the dirt under the boat sanding prop (times two), rudder (times two), and drive shaft (times 2). Trawlers, it turns out, have a whole lot more going on under the water than do sailboats. The complex shapes of much of that stuff makes hand sanding the best approach. Slow going even with 40 grit paper. But by week's end all the shiny metal bits that hang down in the wet had been covered with several coats of dull grey. Spray cans I can handle.

Part done, part not. We used a good primer first then a topcoat.

All done and snaps replaced. Oh, and by the way, that stretchy shipping plastic
wrap works great to protect things like the teak support poles from stray paint.


One of the first projects we did on First Light was to to replace the busted up ceiling trim in the salon. The last project we did this time around was to replace those trim strips once again; this time with real wood rather than plastic strips pretending to be wood. Plastic seemed like a good idea at the time, it sat pretty in the rack, required no sanding or staining, was cheaper to buy and a breeze to install. But it drooped and warped in the heat, looking even worse than the busted up trim it replaced, and just had to go. Sanding, staining, measuring, cutting and installing took most of a day, but the wood trim looks so much better. Still, doing projects over again is not really making much forward progress.

There are additional issues putting serious brakes on going forward. First Light now sports a hole in her bottom where the thru-hull for the starboard engine cooling water inlet used to be. The thru-hull worked fine during the sea trial and survey, but was found to be frozen tight this time around. Efforts to break it free resulted in the steel handle overwhelming the soft bronze of the shaft. Something that, for a short while anyway, put a serious dent in my mood. Taking angle grinder in hand and chopping that worthless hunk of metal out of the boat brought about a bit of mental clarity. It was far better to uncover the failure now, rather than when the boat is hanging in the sling waiting to be lowered into the water. With one thru-hull already tossed, a second that hasn't always been cooperative may fall to the grinding wheel as well. Sourcing parts and installing them will likely take more time then we have between now and the originally schedule launch date.


Another item making for the delay are electrical modifications needed to address a lack of over-current protection in several circuits. All efforts to contract the work out at some reasonable cost have come to naught. Once upon a time I spent several months completely re-equipping and rewiring a twin-engined sport fishing boat. Modifying First Light to keep the insurance company happy isn't much of a challenge in comparison. But (fortunately) I don't work in a boat yard anymore, special tools, materials, and parts are not lying right at hand.  And (unfortunately) no one is paying me to work on First Light. Sourcing parts, acquiring the necessary tools, and doing the re-wiring needed is going to chew through a nice chunk of $$$ and take many a vacation day. Then there is the gelcoat work at the waterline the obviously has to be done before there is water lapping at that line. Many of the tasks still on our list could be done on the water but, truth be told, they will be much easier to accomplish with parts and supplies a car, not dingy, ride away. In addition, hurricane season draws near. A boat inland, on the hard, is far more secure in the face of another enthusiastic hurricane season. We live two days away from the boat. Should a storm pop up while the boat is at a dock we might be hard pressed to respond in time. Boat-based reasons to stay on the hard, making progress but not moving forward, have piled up.

Yet, for all of that, it is non-marine issues that have us thinking this is a good time to stand in place. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the world is in state similar to that of the boat, making progress without moving forward. There is a new telescope now looking deeper into the cosmos than human kind has ever managed. China is launching a deep space telescope and a space station of its own, increasing the human family's understanding of our place in creation. The LHC is back in service with new and more powerful sensors, delving as deep into the world of quantum as the JWS is into space. The depth of knowledge soon to be ours is nothing short of astounding. But genocidal war now fills the headlines with threats of nuclear exchanges once again being floated by the powers-that-be. Here in America, gun violence is now the leading cause of death among children. Most people now realize that climate change is real and pandemics actually do rage across the planet. But the gains we are making in knowledge are being negated by a lack of wisdom and compassion. We don't know what to do with what we have learned, and we don't seem to care enough about each other to try and figure it out. 

By my modest lights, a good part of the world, including the US, isn't even stuck in place, it is working at going backwards as quickly as it can. So, on a personal level, husbanding resources while keeping money flowing in to offset money flowing out seems like a good idea. In addition, our home base is far inland, surrounded by the people we love most in the world, out of the reach of hurricanes, not in the fire zone of the American West, with plenty of water still falling from the sky and farm land not too distant. The biggest physical threat facing our land home is the occasional tornado and power failures due to heat waves. Pretty low risk stuff compared to many parts of the country, let alone the world. 

Getting back on the water is still our ultimate goal. But, at this moment in time, taking full advantage of the good fortune surrounding our family seems like the prudent thing to do. Getting First Light in the best shape we can manage while giving human kind a chance to figure out what “moving forward” means? For the time being I am pretty content with that being the best way to make some personal progress.


Not a sunset over the water, but still a beautiful sunset over North Carolina.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Regulation Heads Up and Travel to the Bahamas

A member of one of the sailing groups that I belong to on Facebook recently had a very troubling experience when checking back in to the US from the Bahamas. They had traveled to Brunswick, GA and used the CBP Roam app to check in with Customs, a process we have used quite successfully in the past. Within five minutes of checking in with the app, they received a phone call from Customs stating that they would be inspecting the vessel as soon as it arrived in the marina in Brunswick. Upon boarding, the Customs agents discovered a spoiled head of lettuce in the trash can in the galley and informed them that it was regulated trash and would have to be collected by the disposal facility in Jacksonville, FL (the nearest incinerator) at a cost to them of $1100.00. The trash had to be bagged in a 3 mil trash bag and placed in a rigid container that was sealed. 

***It is important to note that at all times the agents were courteous and helpful in educating the cruisers of the regulations***

 They were given the following document: 

It's also important to note that these enforcements seem to be pretty arbitrary. Many folks check in every day in Florida with no issue at all, and even many have checked in to Brunswick with no issue.

Here is an additional link that has helpful information:

What food items can I bring into the United States for personal use?

There is a lot of specific information on fruits and vegetables at this link:

Don't pack a pest 

Here are some of the highlights:

Most surprising to us was also the inclusion of some musical instruments to the list:

In addition to the food and garbage regulations, it's important to remember that there are still restrictions to travel in the Bahamas due to Covid. Here is the most recent update on those regulations:

Covid 19 Entry Requirements


If you have all your ducks in a row, travel to the Bahamas is definitely still worth it, but an $1100 surprise like happened to the folks mentioned above can severely dampen the enjoyment, so be sure to be prepared before you make that weather window to cross.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Just a couple more...

...projects ticked off the list. One of the things that came up on the pre-purchase survey was the lack of the lower life-lines on the stanchions below the teak rails. The holes were there, the lifelines not. We had replaced ours on Kintala  long ago with Samson Amsteel and loved it, so I looked online for some on sale since it can be quite expensive. After searching a bit, I found this truck winch line made of Amsteel with an eye already spliced into it at literally half the price of just the line itself from a marine supplier. Same. Exact. Stuff. Fifty feet for $22.99 as opposed to $51.50 with no spliced eye. Sold. Tim spent a couple hours cutting and splicing and adding hooks to open and close the lifelines at the gates. Another survey item crossed off the list and it cost less than a B.O.A.T. buck.

Another thing that we wanted to do was to install an Acu-Rite weather station to replace the badly corroded barometer and clock that were on the boat. We bought the Pro model, and while we're very pleased with the capabilities of the unit (time, date, pressure, rainfall, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, forecast, moon phase, and historical figures), it will remain to be seen whether it can survive the rigors of the marine world. It's really intended to be installed permanently on land, not on a boat, but I've heard from several people that it has worked for them on their boats so we thought we'd give it a try. Time will tell and we'll include a review about it on the Reviews tab up above after we've had it for awhile. It is one of the weird adjustments you have to make when you go from sail to power - that insatiable need to know what direction and speed the winds are - and the lack of a masthead anemometer is a little disconcerting. We had originally hoped to mount this thing on the radar arch, but it expressly warned in the installation instructions against mounting too near things like radar, so we opted for the side of the hardtop. This does not put it in optimum position for accurate wind readings, but at least it will give us some idea.

I had a daunting list for this work trip over a full notebook page long. It was good to get at least 3/4 of it checked off, much more than I had hoped. The few remaining items will get pushed to the next trip, but for now we're feeling pretty dang good about the progress.

The size of a corner

The port side of the salon as viewed
from the cockpit outside
Long ago in a class room far, far away, a math teacher once claimed that a true corner has no size. Most of the things called “corners” are actually arcs or bends, gentle or sharp, but still a change in direction whose length is easily measured. A corner is an abrupt change, a break in a straight line or, (as he described it) an intersection of two lines. Lines he defined as being an infinite collection of infinitesimally small points without width, height, or length. One such a point defines any true corner. Thus a corner is a thing without a size. Not being any kind of mathematician I will not vouch for his claim.

The first thing we noticed the first time boarded First Light was a salon stuffed with furniture. The starboard side was filled to overflowing with an enormous couch, one so large that entering through the aft sliding door meant walking around the edge of the thing. The port side wasn't quite as stuffed, but an imposing chair along with the folding ship's table left little room to spare. A narrow path separated the two areas. And the color? Not sure what one would call it, but it and my eyes did not make friends. I am sure the previous owner was quite content with the set-up and to each her (or his) own. Still, the first thing we did after handing over enough cash to make the boat ours was hire a couple of fit young men to lift couch and chair off the boat, toss them in a truck, and take them far, far away. 

Two deck chairs took up residence on the port side, along with a stack of parts bins in one corner and the folding boat table sitting against the forward bulkhead. It was the only space on the boat for Deb and I to sit, eat, and practice music. The starboard side became home for the imposing collection of tools, parts, and materials needed to get an on-the-hard-for-two-years trawler ready for service. The pile went from steering station to aft bulkhead, was piled nearly as high as the windows, and nudged right up against the floor panels that lift to access the engine room. Not an ideal working or living arrangement. It is impossible to cozy up to the one you love when each is sitting in a deck chair feeling the wear and tear of a long work day. And there have been many a moment when it felt like I was spending more time rooting through a junk pile for some particular tool than was spent using that tool after finally locating it. I love working on a project sitting in the middle of a well organized shop. The boat was a seriously disorganized shop sitting in the middle of a project. Living happened along the edges...about the worst conditions imaginable for either shop or living space.

From day one Deb has been on the lookout for new furniture, and many an hour has passed as we looked online for something that appeared “right”. Nothing was found that fit the bill. This trip, while in a store looking for something else, a one-off outdoor couch set-up sitting on display caught her attention. The next day we drove over to take another look. Being an out-door thing it was made of wicker and, compared to the old couch, was light as a feather. In addition it was built with a massive amount of storage under each leg of the “L” to store the cushions out of the weather. Even better, the lids ride on gas cylinders. No need to hold them up with your head while rummaging around looking for something. Moreover it was a color that would look good on the boat, was a comfortable sit, and long enough for a nap. After a bit of debate the decision was made to fork over the listed $$$, rent a pick-up for a couple of hours, and take the thing back to the boat yard.


Lifting it onboard was a breeze, as was dropping it in place. One leg of the “L” fit the length of the port bulkhead to, literally, within an inch. The other leg of the “L” spanned the aft salon bulkhead just short of where the sliding door opens; thus making it a perfect place to sit and shed boots or shoes before traipsing deeper into the living space. The folding boat table sits perfectly in the crux of the “L”. 

Virtually all of the tools, parts, and supplies disappeared into just one of the storage sections. The other easily held the six sections of the back porch sun screen plus the exterior covers for both the front windscreen and the back door...with room to spare. I am not sure we could have sat down and custom designed something that fit this close or worked this well. And Deb stumbled upon the only one like it in the world while looking for something else. What are the odds?

Even with the deck chairs still serving as additional seating on the starboard side, the work space / disaster area has been utterly transformed into a near magical space. And thus it is that we turned a huge corner. (Sorry Teach!) No longer a shop, or a project; not just another boat...but a home. 



Flybridge ladders make great tool
benches it seems...
Back for another stretch of working on First Light. Even with good progress being made launch date is still just a fuzzy event lurking somewhere in an uncertain future. But time spent on the boat is more than just time spent working on the boat. Each time we climb aboard I am a bit amazed that this thing actually belongs to us. Even sitting on the hard I have come to love the living space. From the forward main cabin to the stern cockpit everything feels like just the right size in just the right place. It is fun to imagine being anchored in No Name Harbor, watching the party from the fly bridge while sipping sundowners.

Until that day, working on the boat really is what being at the boat is all about. We are chewing up vacation days to get it done, but it makes for a strange kind of “vacation.” About 10 minutes after the tools start to appear all thoughts get focused on the task at hand. Just figuring out an initial approach to some modification, worn out “this,” broken “that,” or uncovering some bit of carnage due to rot, is the first hurdle. In the aviation world, whole manuals are written on the proper way to do just about any repair or maintenance task required. It is a level of precision that most people walking down the jet way have no idea exists. But boats? By comparison the marine world is the wild-wild-west of repair, maintenance, and servicing. Walk around any do-it-yourself boat yard (and some open only to “pros”) and see. Pretty much anything goes, and everything has.

I assume it is different in the super yacht world, but I don't know anyone who sails in those rarified waters. In our case, there is no maintenance manual specific to First Light. No parts manual. Even if there were, decades of after market parts, modifications, and repairs make her a unique collection of bits, with quarks and weirdness hiding in places no one would have guessed. Accessory units like engines and generators have some good documentation, but it ends where the accessory and boat come together. For example, there are maintenance and parts manuals for the 4BT3.9 engines in First Light. But they say nothing about how those engines are mounted and melded into the boat to make for a working whole. The same can be said for just about every pump, valve, relay, wire, and switch in every system. Helicopters are often described as an odd collection of parts flying in close formation but determined to head off in their own direction at the first opportunity. In like manner, boats are an odd collection of parts engaged in synchronized swimming, with any part being heavier than water determined to sink at the first opportunity.  

Sometimes facing a new job it is a bit scary, with no real idea of how to get done what needs to be done. But then comes the figuring, planning, cutting, fitting, backing-up and trying again (accompanied by the appropriate language) and making it work. The hours disappear, tools get misplaced and rediscovered, a little blood normally gets shed (again accompanied by the appropriate language). The path toward the finish will take strange and unanticipated twists. Time is lost while sourcing materials. What looked like a good idea at first didn't take into account some bit of impossible access or a weird, boat determined, shape. Eventually it all seems to come together and when the sun sets it feels like it was a good and proper way to spend one of the days allotted to this life. And with each repair, each modification, First Light becomes a bit more “our” boat. Something ever more rare in our made-by-a-machine, they-all-look-the-same, buy-it-in-a-box, then throw it away, world.

But that same sunset also brings sore arms, an aching back, bruised hands, and legs that feel like lead after countless trips up and down ladders and in and out of hatches. There is also the feeling of never having enough days to spend. So each day gets pushed to its limit and necessary compromises are made. Time is always running away, with funds often dwindling away as well. Much as we hate to admit it, there is no promise of it all working out in the end. But that is the way of all of life so we carry on.

Working on the boat comes with the live-aboard life (for most of us anyway). But we don't live aboard so we can work on the boat. I remember a lesson learned decades ago from my life-long, professional truck mechanic Grandfather: "Getting it perfect is always the enemy of getting it done." From him I learned to be a hard core pragmatist with just a hint of OCD. First you have make it work. Then you make it as safe as possible. Then, if time and money permits, you can make it as pretty as you like. It isn't easy, and there are few hard and fast rules. Just remember that the goal is to be on the water as safely and comfortably as possible.

It is a strange mix of skill, means, patience, personality, and creativity. I am happy to be back at it again. Even if it does make for a strange kind of “vacation.”

Friday, March 25, 2022

Espacios Útiles

Six months ago I started working on Duolingo to get my Spanish back, motivated by my grandchildren who are doing the lessons as part of their homeschool curriculum. A good part of my childhood was spent in Viña del Mar, a small coastal town in Chile, but as the years back home in the US progressed, the fluency was lost. I was also interested in the challenge as a way to keep this aging brain engaged. So, since boat projects are getting intermixed with my daily Duolingo lessons, the title of this post is Espaciós Útiles, or Useful Spaces.

One of the things you find yourself tackling when you purchase a new-to-you boat is making the space yours. Different people live in different ways, and their space reflects that, but those ways may not fit the next owner down the line. For the most part, First Light has been taken care of and arranged by previous owners who paid a great bit of attention to detail and quality. For this I am eternally grateful, especially after the experience that was the purchase of Kintala. But we live a bit differently, so some of the spaces require modification.

One of the examples of this are the storage areas. You might have read the post from a couple trips ago where we modified two hanging lockers on the boat into a shelf-filled closet (because we absolutely never hang any clothes on the boat) and a pantry (because there was zero food storage space in the galley.) Now I needed a safe and sturdy place to store my Sailrite machine and sewing supplies. The Sailrite is many things, but light is not one of them. As a result, it must be secured so that it won't tumble into anything when underway. First Light has a very large storage cabinet under the lower helm seat, perfectly sized for this purpose, but it required a shelf addition to accomodate the supplies. A few strategically placed shelf supports and a plywood shelf did the trick nicely.


I still have plans to repaint the interior of the cabinet at some point, but for now the project got crossed off the list.

The next space was one in the spare pullman berth on the port side. At one point, someone had installed a washing machine in a cabinet space there but the washer had long since been removed. Someone else had installed some sliding basket drawer things, but I found them highly unusable because it wasted so much of the storage space. It also bothered me that there was no door for the cabinet. So I built a couple shelves and (after three iterations) custom built some doors for the cabinet. This process was a real challenge because I wanted the doors to open toward the berth rather than towards the door so that you could access the cabinet from the hallway. Because of the handle on the storage compartment under the berth and the frame for the mattress, the doors couldn't open completely with my first two designs. After a bit of moving this and cutting that, I ended up with something I'm happy with. I still have to put the stain and finish coat on them to match the rest of the woodwork, but that will have to wait for warmer, drier weather. I also am in the process of changing the way the cabinet door opens under the berth. It currently is installed with self-stick velcro, and the self-stick part of that equation isn't cooperating. I've installed a proper hinge but still need a new handle that will clear the bifold doors for my new cabinet. All of that will have to be handled on the next trip as we're about out of time on this one. 

The first iteration shelf installation
The original hanging baskets



The doors without the upper trim
The doors with the trim installed

I still have to come up with a latch solution for these doors. I think I will use a magnetic catch on the left side, but only another trip to Lowe's will decide that. For now I'm pretty happy with the progress, and we have a couple of cabinets with much more useful space.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Projects and Progress

 I didn't anticipate it was going to be a very productive trip because it got cut short by a full day by work schedules, but getting out of St. Louis when a winter storm is heading that way seemed like a good idea. No snow when we left, but while I was heading down to get coffee at the hotel the next morning this view greeted me out the window:

A very nice lady offered an extra snow brush she had in her car and we were off. It was beautiful scenery to drive through for sure, but still it was going to be nice to get on the other side of the mountains for warmer weather.

My projects for the trip included changing the hailing port decal on the stern. We love the name of the boat, First Light, so no need to change that, but the hailing port had to go. Fortunately, since the last time we did this my daughter and I bought one of those cutting Silhouette cutting machines and we were able to make quick work of the decal (thanks Amber!) We used Oracal exterior permanent vinyl and it installed really easily. The product info says it lasts up to 6 years. We'll see...the last ones we put on Kintala (at a cost of $125) only lasted a couple years before they faded. Excluding the cost of the cutting machine the decal materials only cost $30 and there's enough left over to do it three more times. Vast improvement. I picked up the machine on Facebook Marketplace for less than $200 and it was worth every penny as we use it constantly.

My next project was to continue to try to free up a frozen thru-hull valve. It's the thru-hull for the head overboard and it was completely stuck. Tim had sprayed it repeatedly the last two visits with PB Blaster to no avail. It was stuck in the open position so it was really hard to get anything to stay on the valve long enough to work on the barnacles. This time around I taped over the outside and then poured a bunch of Barnacle Buster in there over a day's time and then with a little help from a 2x4 and a hammer I was able to get the thing free. I'm still working it some more over the next visit to continue to clean it up and lube it, but I think we have averted a replacement, a big deal since a replacement would have been half a boat buck at $465 for the whole assembly.

Another project I wanted to tackle was a thru-hull map for the boat. This boat has a lot of thru-hulls and it's good to know where they are and what they operate in the event of a water-in-the-boat emergency. Fortunately, one of the previous owners of the boat took the time to put tags on each one to identify its purpose. Thank you whoever you were. A little time with Gimp and I had the map. If you've never used Gimp before, it's an open source Photoshop program. I really love it, it's free, and it's just as capable.

Next on the project list was Tim's. The hardtop over the cockpit on First Light is a wonderful thing, but the design and execution are sadly lacking. The framework was built sturdily enough, but they then laid 1/4" plywood on top and then covered that with a very thin Fiberglass sheet that was maybe 1/16" thick. The plywood and frame structure were then painted on the underside. None of the holes mounting the solar panels on top of the hardtop were sealed properly, so water soaked the plywood and it rotted, leaving the 1/16" fiberglass sheet as the only support. Not good. Tim took his trusty "Magic Tool" (our new absolute favorite can't ever be without boat tool) and with a scraper blade was able to carefully scrape the rotting wood off the fiberglass sheet. Then new plywood was covered in fiberglass resin and put in place. Next trip it will be faired, sanded, and repainted.



This is how thin the fiberglass sheet is.
You can see light through it and all the
wood isn't even sanded off yet.

There's still several other spots that he has to dig out and replace before he does the fare and paint. 

His other project was the repair of the port side settee on the flybridge. At some point in the history of the boat, somebody decided that there wasn't enough access to the space under the settee and they cut another access hole and attempted to make a functional cover for it. I say attempted, because the design was sadly lacking in structural integrity so when someone at some point stood on the settee–probably to fold up the bimini as that appears to be the only way to reach it unless you're freakishly tall–the top of the settee caved in and broke the lid support structure that they had added.

Here's the hole from the top.
It was all constructed out of plywood, none of which was sealed well and had soaked in the water that fills the channel you see here every time it rains.
Here's the other factory-original access hole forward of the added one.

The lid was also plywood glued to the cut out piece of fiberglass.

Tim spent two days grinding and sanding and building a new support structure. I painted the support pieces which he installed and then he scraped off the really old, ugly, decaying sealant from around the edge of the settee and painted the top of it. We're trying the Rustoleum Marine Topside Paint on this for the first time and so far I'm pretty impressed with it. I then ran a new bead of sealant (I loves me some Dow Corning 795. Best. Sealer. Ever.) Somehow I neglected to get a photo of the finished project, but it's probably best to wait because after we finished sanding and painting that side, it became quickly apparent that we were going to have to do the other settee know how it goes when one part looks new and the rest looks like crap. I think someone once coined it as Project Creep...So next trip I'll get some finished project photos.

All in all it was a very productive few days, but it left very little time for ukuleles and guitar and drums so the music suffered a bit. We did manage to have time to spend at a birthday bonfire with our new friends Jay and Evan who have a boat they are restoring just down a couple boats from ours. (Happy Birthday Evan!) It was a fun evening and helped us to remember that the whole reason we're doing this is because the Cruising Community is absolutely the best ever.