Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Count down ...

By this time tomorrow the plan is to hanging on the hook in Middle River. At least two other boats, Happy Dance and Jade, are planning the same thing. We have been on the dock for so long that it almost feels like heading out for the first time again. I keep running things through my head, what have we forgotten, what should we have done that we didn't do, what kind of problems might we have getting off the dock and through the bridges … all stuff that was old hat when we left the Islands, all stuff that feels like new hat again. Yet we are only going a few miles and will still be in the heart of Fort Lauderdale when we get there. But once there the distance between us and land will be too far to step over. And for some reason that makes all the difference in the world.

It is likely different for those who have been doing this a long time; a few months on the dock in this part of the world, then a few months on a dock an ocean away on the other side of the world, all part of the life. But we are still short of being out a year, just barely getting comfortable with being cruisers when The Thing, The Bear, and The Dock nailed us down for nearly 5 months. Yep, that means half our cruising life hasn't been cruising at all. Still, there is hope that the learning curve will not be nearly as steep this time around, that in a few weeks we will be back to the comfort level we knew crossing the Gulf Stream for Biscayne Bay. At the moment though, I am feeling like a newbie once again.

Deb is out taking care of a few last details, the most frustrating of which is the Hack that caught Home Depot also caught us. (You guessed it, Home Depot for boat parts … gotcha!) Like a lot of gypsies the few bills we do have are auto pay, to a credit card that no longer exists. So we are living on the little cash we had stashed away while the plastic gets straightened out, and at least it didn't happen while we were out of the country.

The dink in on deck, the Merc coaxed to life and now hung on the aft pulpit. (Friend Robert has an interesting comment on my last post about the Merc. You should check it out and see if you agree.) The Beast has been warmed up once more and all fluid levels checked. The bilge is as dry as the bilge ever gets. Even the lazarette is mostly under control, and there is some more room in there since we unloaded the sails we were never going to use.

The foredeck is, well, I think is is about ready. The truth is it has been a while since I set it for being under way, and there are a lot of details up there. But the next few weeks will be easy, short trips and a good shake down for an out-of-practice crew. I'm feeling pretty good about our chances of getting going again.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reluctance ...

As most know by now Kintala and I have one of the more dysfunctional relationships in the cruiser world. We normally battle our way through whichever maintenance / repair / system failure / design disaster is the current focus of our relationship, and reach some kind of uneasy truce. Just occasionally, in those rare moments when most major systems seem to be working, moments when I am not putting bandages on sliced hands or munching aspirin to soothe aching joints after taking another boat-work induced beating, I will admit that it isn't always her fault. When it comes to mechanicing (defined as taking a tool in one's hands and trying to actually make something work that wasn't working before) Kintala has suffered the ministrations of fools, imbeciles, lunatics, hacks, charlatans, con-men, and the occasional honest efforts of those too addled to know which end of a screw-driver one should hold – but giving it their best effort anyway. I have uncovered things so poorly executed they can't even be called “work”, being more like the wreckage one would expect from someone having a seizure while running a chain saw. And while horror stories of fellow cruisers abound, and I share their pain, deep in my own heart I always held Kintala as THE example of what the miscreants of the marine industry will do given the slightest chance. She is the screwed-up boat against which all other screwed-up boats can be measured. Their owners can take solace in the fact that, at least, their boat is not as screwed-up as this one.

But, as of tonight, I am reluctant to admit that Kintala may not be so bad. Those who twisted her mechanical soul into the diabolical mistress that hounds my working days are not, it turns out, the very worst of their breed. Indeed, there is one out there so utterly incompetent, so savagely incapable of rational thinking or an honest effort, that no device anywhere could survive the touch of his hand. It is a story I would not believe were it not told by Friend Bill, a true boat guru, and told in his own unique way. You can find the tale here:


Kintala, by the way, is resting in one of those rare moments where most of the important stuff seems to be working. Her dink, on the other hand, is not. After a long day of cleaning, prodding, de-fueling, re-fueling, oil changing, and prodding some more, the Merc on the Dink refuses, once again, to run. This is a bit of a problem given that the hours are counting down to us leaving this dock and going back to the hook and the mooring ball life we love. Dinks are kind of important when land is a few hundred to a few thousand feet away. Tomorrow is a “must get it done” day … again. Fail and the hook and mooring ball life will be full of rowing and struggling against wind and current. And yes, I know it is the carburetor. It is always the carburetor. It is the carburetor for everyone, all the time, and the Internet is full of rants against these sorry excuses for engines. Engines offered by one of the “very best” of the marine industry giants. Engines that have to be nursed like the dying, susceptible to the slightest hint of a bad diet or coming cold. “Robust” was clearly not part of the design goal. Nor was reliability. But hell, slap some advertising on it and sell it.

We had go-carts when I was a young gear-head. The “bad boy” carts had 10HP engines. Most of us could only manage 5. Younger Brother and I ran a salvaged lawn mower engine bolted into a once-upon-a-time wrecked frame. The thing would hardly go in a straight line. It had marginal brakes, no suspension, and a single gear. But pull on the rope and the motor would start. It didn't matter if it had been sitting all winter. It didn't matter if the gas was old and smelled a little funny. Sure, sometimes we had to clean a spider web out of the vent line, or poke a pencil through the gas filter, but a couple of kids in a couple of minutes could usually coax the thing to life before Mom called us in for dinner.

I am damned sure that thing didn't have a Merc in it.

(Said Brother, by the way, turned out to be a truly gifted mechanic who has spent most of his life repairing some of the world's largest and most powerful mobile cranes. Pieces of equipment where the cost of down time is rung up in thousands of dollars per MINUTE. He is, and I am not kidding, a Wizard. I wish my hands held half the talent of his.)

In spite of the need to get the Dink Dinkable, this afternoon and evening were taken with another gathering of the little community that has formed here. Mizzy and Brian, Keith and Katrina, Ron and Marry Beth, Deb and I, and Craig, will all be leaving as soon as we can. Frank and Audrey, and James, will be staying. For them, this is “home”. For the rest of us “home” is “out there”. The gatherings reflect the tribe's reluctance to say that last “good-bye” to people who have become good friends.

This summer, and this first year, are nearly over.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

It's about time ...

Freedom is in the air. Renewal. A new awakening with the realization that we are in this together, the future holding promise of peace and cooperation. Fantastic new insights lie just over the horizon and while there will be challenges, the human community - of which we are all a part - will meet them with innovation, even joy.

Kintala is ready to leave this dock and join the cruising community once again.

You thought I was talking about the country or the world? Please, take another look. Those people are screwed.

We will not be going very far at first. There is still some hurricane season left so we will lurk in places with little fetch and good holding for now. And we will not be leaving the dock for a couple of days yet. The bill is paid through the end of the month. Waiting to the last day to add water, pump out, and stock up seems a good plan. We are out of practice with balancing the level in the water tank going down against the level in the holding tank going up, and being somewhere to take care of them. The anchor hasn't been wet since we left the islands so I'm likely to fumble around our foredeck like an addled monkey at first. Our foredeck has always been a tough place to work and we have added a second furling system, control line, and permanent stay to the mix. And though I haven't been loafing these past few months, anchor lifting muscles are likely a bit out of shape.

All of which reminds me, any who are still outfitting a boat for cruising might think hard about having these three things on board; water maker, Lectra/san head system, and a powered windlass. I know this is not the “go simple, go now” kind of thing. They are expensive (which is why Kintala has none of the three) and maintenance heavy. But they are things that can help one stay away from land longer without worry, and I wish we had them on board. And I really wish the powered windlass we don't have had a remote switch at the helm. I am completely jealous of those of you so equipped.

This will be our second season exploring the south-east coast of FL, maybe our last if the new anchor laws take effect. I am looking forward to a much more relaxed experience than we had last year. We know our way around here, at least a little bit. There are some places we missed last year, some we didn't even know about, that we want to see. Biscayne Bay will get a thorough looking-at and we hope to spend many a night on the hook out in its clear and placid waters. And when the waters are not placid, we know places to go and hide.

There is also hope that friends, now north and heading this way, will find their way close enough to Kintala to share sundowners and stories. It is a bit weird being here and knowing the herd is heading our way, instead of trailing along at the tail of the pack and shivering our way south.

In any case we are getting ready to go cruising, and its about time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Liebster Award

I'm torn.

We write this blog for several reasons. The primary one was because both Tim and I love to write and the blog provided an outlet for us to deal with the many experiences surrounding our decision to retire onto a boat. The other reasons included keeping the many family members and friends we have at our starting point in the Midwest around St. Louis apprised or our antics, and another being that, hopefully, we will save some people from making the same stupid mistakes we made in preparing to cruise into our retirement. Along the way we have made some incredible friends of the lifelong type, a benefit we never really expected, and developed a readership that, quite frankly, astounds me. So I guess that it shouldn't surprise me that the current trend of Liebster Award nominations sweeping the web and social media should land squarely on our page.  We've been nominated now several times and to be honest, the first ones landed during the great Floating Bear debacle and I simply didn't have the time or energy to sit and answer so many questions, at least with any serious attention, which is the only way I write. I was already feeling bad about neglecting our own writing and about our lack of time to read even some of our favorite blogs.

In addition to being busy, I've always had this awful dislike for all things chain letter. It seems to me to be a bit ridiculous in the cruising community because there is a highly finite group of blogs and the award can only be passed around so many times before producing some seriously grumpy bloggers.  However, in the interest and spirit of the award I've decided to cave and to do my best to answer the questions put to us by two of the recent nominations. I won't be nominating any future award winners at the end, though, and rather than try to explain, I'll pass on Behan Gifford of Sailing Totem fame's explanation of her decision to do the same. With her permission, I have quoted her final paragraph from her Liebster Award post, because I simply can't express my opinion on the matter any more eloquently than she has:

"Thank you.

A cliche, but it’s true: it’s an honor to be nominated. I’m grateful for the recognition, and for the opportunity to be a little part in helping others fulfill their dreams to live differently. It’s one my primary motivations to keep writing. The Liebster tradition is to nominate others, but the blogging world for cruisers is pretty small, and there are nominations already in and shared for most of my faves already. So instead of punting back, I’m just going to say: there are some beautiful, inspiring blogs out there. I keep my favorites listed on our links page, and I hope you’ll turn there- and to my nominators, Genevieve, Tammy, and Lyndy, to find your own further inspiration. And DANG, but you are lucky to have a wealth to draw from! The handful of blogs in our pre-cruising days are dwarfed by the awesome writing and images coming out now. If there was ever fodder to feed a dream…"
Behan Gifford, SV Totem

From Latitude 43:
  1.  When did you first catch the sailing/cruising bug?
    1. One day in 2007 I was particularly fed up with my job. While sitting at the computer trying to keep up my Quicken I was trying to imagine what life we could live that would allow us to retire early. Aviation is not a particularly lucrative profession and our retirement funds were not particularly expansive, so I began to think about a houseboat. One we could keep our motorcycles on. I popped my head over the banister to the living room and asked Tim, "What would you think about retiring onto a boat?" And there you have it. If you have any interest in how we got from houseboat to sailboat, it's here.
  2. Describe your worst repair or maintenance job on the boat besides the head. Everyone already knows that’s a shitty job.
    1. The worst routine maintenance job for me is cleaning the sump box. It fills with old soap, disgusting body slough and hair. ewwwww. For Tim it's changing the oil. The oil filter on the Westerbeast is in the absolute worst part of our engine since our engine is backwards and has a V-drive. He is always cut and bleeding when he's done and it takes about 8 engine diapers to complete the job.
  3. If you could turn back time just 3 years what would your cruising life be like today? If I could turn back time just 5 minutes I would have asked a different question because now I have that stupid Cher song in my head.
    1. I don't know about 3 years, but if I could turn it back 6 years I would have sold the house before the crash when it was worth twice what it is now. We would have rented a one room apartment and lived more frugally and we would have twice the money to cruise that we have now. Hindsight is always 20/20.
  4. Music soothes the soul. Do you listen to music onboard? What type of music and on what media? If it’s 70’s disco please decline the award and I’ll remove you from my feed. Just kidding. Feel free to add a mirror ball to the salon and dance all night long. I don’t judge. Much.
    1.  We use our iPads for music with a speaker. We have a bluetooth stereo speaker on our wishlist but don't have it yet. The type depends on what we're doing. Mellow? Stevie Nicks or Crosby Stills Nash & Young. Frustrating project for me involves Metallica plain and simple. Tim is a classic rock fan and usually wants Mountain if he's working on the boat. We both love Stevie Ray Vaughn. And no, there will never be any Cher on our boat.
  5. Was there ever a time on the water when you thought "Oh shit!" and all the fun was over for that day?
    1. The day the V-drive and transmission blew up.
  6. Wine, beer, booze or tea? Doesn't matter to me. I get high on life. 
    1. I'm a water drinker. Lots of it. The rare occasion that I drink alcohol it's usually a glass of Barefoot Moscato or Coconut Rum and orange juice. Tim is a beer drinker and rum & coke. The acquisition of our Magic Bullet opened up the opportunity for our newly established morning routine, Mocha Frappes. Bad, bad habit, but ohhhhhh so good.
  7. Has there ever been a destination you couldn't wait to arrive at only to be disappointed when you got there?
    1. Absolutely. It's here - Cooley's Landing Marina in Ft. Lauderdale.
  8. What part of cruising do you dislike the most besides no flushing toilets or bloggers asking stupid questions?
    1. The hardest and most frustrating thing for me is the constant fight for internet. I'm a tech junkie and internet is always an issue. Tim likes to watch the Moto GP races and the connections are never fast enough. Tim will say that the thing he dislikes most is the constant, never-ending, pressing project list.
  9. Describe the best time you ever had on a boat unless it was illegal, then just email me.
    1. Wasn't illegal but it involves the V-berth....sure you still want to ask???
And from Mike at This Rat Sailed:

  1. Introduce us to your crew.  Who are they and what role do they play in your operation?
    1. Tim - captain, chief weather watcher, engine mechanic, woodworker extraordinaire, chief blog writer
    2. Deb - admiral, chief cook and bottle washer, locker organizer, navigator, official seamstress, official blog photographer
  2. What sort of boat do you have and would you recommend it for other adventurers hoping to live aboard?  What do you like the least about your choice?
    1. 1982 Tartan 42. A really incredible, fast, sleek, blue water boat with a stout heart that would be great for anyone planning on crossing oceans. Unfortunately...
    2. It turns out we are coastal cruisers so the lack of a good large, liveable cockpit, large comfortable seating below and big lazarettes is a constant problem for us.
  3. What are your sailing plans, if you have any, for the future?
    1. We hope to return to the islands this winter and back to the Chesapeak next summer, but since none of our plans this summer came to pass I wouldn't bet on it
  4. How do you support your lifestyle while sailing and cruising? 
    1. We're living on savings and the occasional canvas job that I do for other cruisers. We would love to write for money but so far that hasn't become a reality.
  5. What’s the best experience you’ve had while living aboard? 
    1. Being in the Bahamas and getting to know the locals there was the highlight of our year so far cruising. The sense of freedom there, the wonderful sailing, the colors, the incredible beaches. It truly is a paradise.
  6. Name the most challenging experience you have had while living aboard and what did you do to overcome it?
    1. The most challenging experience for us was the month of working on our kids' boat, The Floating Bear. It was an extremely difficult month and there was no overcoming it. Sometimes you just have to plow through to the other side of a difficult circumstance. Everyone thinks this lifestyle is all white sandy beaches and Mai Tais. In reality, one of our friends sums it up best, "I just didn't think it would be this hard." I'm not trying to discourage anyone. It is absolutely worth it, but you need to know going in that, in all likelihood, it will be the hardest thing you've ever done.
  7. Is living aboard and sailing an alternative way of life for you, an escape from the system, or is it just a temporary adventure?
    1. It is absolutely an alternative way of life for us. We were so discouraged with "the system" both politically and socially, and so completely burned by the corporate game that we just didn't want to play it anymore. The adventure is a bonus, the icing on the cake.
  8. Any big mistakes you have learned from that others may learn from too?
    1. We've made more mistakes than I could recount here. If you're really bored, just go back to the beginning of the blog and read. I promise it will be entertaining.
  9. What advice would you give to those that may be interested in following in your footsteps and living aboard and/or cruising? 
    1. I wrote a post awhile back about the importance of determining what kind of cruiser you want to be.  I still feel that's the most important thing you can do. It will save you a lot of heartache and inconvenience later.
  10. What motivates you to blog and what tips can you offer fellow bloggers?
    1. As I said at the beginning of this post, we blog primarily for family and friends, to help other people realize that they, too, can make their dreams a reality, and as a journal for ourselves. We promised early on to be honest, to paint an accurate picture of our experiences. While our experiences may be vastly different from our fellow cruisers, we hope that any dreamers reading our writing will set themselves more realistic expectations and, as a result, have a more successful cruising experience. Being honest with yourself is essential to being happy while cruising, so it's my only tip for fellow bloggers.
For more questions of a different variety, you can also visit our Newly Salted interview, as well as our 6-month equipment review.

Thanks to all for the vote of confidence that your readership brings us, as well as the inspiration your comments have given us over the last 7 years. Fair Winds!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sure they will ...

Yesterday was a good day. The Beast came to life and Kintala was a going concern once again. But the engine run came late in the day and didn't do much more than prove the Beast still had life in it and that the cooling system wasn't spewing raw or fresh water everywhere.

That last was a bit of a concern and the reason the engine run had come so late in the day. For, earlier in the day, spewing fresh water had proved a bit of a set-back. It wasn't spewing really, more like drooling out of the seam between the exhaust riser and the heat exchanger. The seam held together with the shiny new studs and supposedly sealed with brandy new, high-tech, gaskets. It was also the very first thing assembled and thus at the bottom, if you will, of the pile. Getting to it meant taking everything off that we had spent the day before putting on. That was the bad news.

The good news was that, when it comes to mechanical things, the second time one does a thing often goes much, must faster than the first time. I indulged in a few moments of deep depression while watching the drip of cooling fluid, heaved a sigh and a few choice words, then accepted my fate and reached for the ½ inch wrench to start the proceedings. An hour or so later the unit was back up on the bench. A couple of hours after that it was hanging back on the engine.  With the hope of avoiding taking the thing apart a third time to fix a drool, two low tech, home made gaskets were installed and reinforced with ...

No Leak Silicone Gasket
Guaranteed Not To Leak.

It says so right on the tube twice – just in case you didn't see the “NO Leak” subtitle.  It wasn't clear if they really meant it, or if they were just trying to convince themselves (and me) that it would actually work.  But the short engine run at the end of the day proved the advertising.  The wet stuff stayed in the wet stuff tank.  No drips.  No drools.

So today started with a longer run to: a) check again for leaks and, b) warm up the oil for changing. The oil change part didn't happen because it was soon apparent the engine was getting too warm. In spite of the impressive spouts of water gushing from Kintala's port side exhaust, the water temperature gauge climbed right up to 200 degrees and showed no inclination of stopping there. Cue the deep depression once again.  (All gauge readings, by the way, were confirmed with a CEN-TECH infrared thermometer. That thing has become one of the “go to” tools when it comes to troubleshooting. Don't leave the dock without one, even if you don't have a WesterBeast hounding your life.)

Ed Note: And you might want to buy two so you don't have to rescue yours from the galley where your admiral finds it extremely useful to test bread making liquids and pizza pan temps...

Careful to let things cool off a little (the engine, not me) before removing the cap, I did a post run check of the coolant level.  (Having boiling hot and pressurized fluid explode out of the expansion tank of any hot engine will really spoil a day.  I speak from painful experience suffered years ago - and still grimace a little when popping the cap.)

The level was down a little.  Not unexpected. Getting the air out of old marine diesel systems, both fuel and coolant, is a constant source of problems. We really struggled with the engine in Nomad, that thing driving me to near distraction with the gymnastics required to get all the air out of the cooling loop. Something Deb kept reminding me of as I jumped to my normal conclusion that the Beast had come up with yet another way to ruin my day.

Something I grew more sure of with a top off and another run … with the same results. And again. Finally, with a bit of a desperation showing though my normal cheery self, I pulled one of the hoses off the engine that feeds coolant to the boat's water heater. Green stuff was pored in the open end until it flowed all the way around and back out of the engine. It didn't take very much, but it did take some. Then, with the engine running for the fourth (or fifth – I lost count) time, I bled a little air through the valve at the top of the thermostat housing. That puppy gets hot and sits close to a running belt. Some care is needed to get all of ones fingers back whole and unscorched when playing this game, but it worked. The engine settled at 178 degrees, even dropping a little with added RPM.

So tomorrow, with just six days left before Kintala needs to get out of Cooley's, we will try once again to heat the oil and get it changed.

I'm sure things will go just fine.

Sure they will.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Let Autumn reign ...

The Beast is tamed...
Today is the official first day of autumn. With it comes the official end of the Summer From Hell of our first year of cruising. Even better, the WesterBeast rumbled to life today on the second turn of the crankshaft and settled into an easy idle. Buckets of water pulsed out of the exhaust. It may be just wishful thinking on my part, but the Beast seemed as happy as I have ever seen it. Maybe the new exhaust gasket along with a steady flow of raw water and the fixing of loose this and butched up that, actually did some real good. There are still things to do but, as of this evening, there is no reason to regard Kintala as anything but a ready-to-go cruising boat once again. In addition to a happy Beast she has a solid foredeck and new furling system on the staysail. Better again, we have eight days before the ax falls on the dock fees. There are oil changes to do, stuff to clean, and the normal trial of trying to get a boat that has been sitting still way too long, ready to be under way once again. But those are either routine or just good stuff.

The Summer From Hell was not all bad, of course. We spent months with Daughter Eldest, Son-in-Law, and Grand Sons Two. JJ and I sang “BOOM” at the sky. Christopher sat with me and sanded boat parts. We motored up the ICW from Dinner Key to Cooley's with the boys on board, saw a manatee, and went swimming in the ocean. The Family lore that will be passed down long after I am gone has some new chapters in it that will be hard to beat. Between The Bear and the work on Kintala we have seen some ugly and taken a real beating, that can't be denied. But we have also had the chance to share the kind of love that costs. Which, in the end, may be the only kind of love that matters. As difficult as it was, as long as it may take to recover, it is hard to say that it wasn't worth the price. Tonight I am content to accept it for what it was, hope that we did the best we could, and let it be.

Back in my old life the first day of autumn was always a good day. I like the change of seasons and autumn was my favorite. It also meant that winter was next. Which was okay as well. I looked forward the challenges that came with making a living in the sky during the months of winter. I didn't mind the cold (though once-upon-a-time frostbitten hands and feet hurt when the temperature drops) and actually enjoyed the city under a blanket of snow – so long as I didn't have to drive the Z-car on snow covered streets. This new life brings a different meaning to the first day of autumn.

Right up front is that, here in the sub-tropics, the first day of autumn generally means it just rains a little more. It is still in the upper 80s during the day, the humidity is still a killer, and any bald headed men that go out without a hat are just asking for abuse. Best for me though is that, though it doesn't mean that winter is next, it does means that the Islands are next. It will be a few months yet as a new grand baby is due in December and we plan to be back in St. Louis to welcome the new one into the world. But soon after we will be headed across the Stream once again, to spend the winter as ex-pat Americans living in a country that isn't as crazy as the one on our passports. “Winter” means a whole new thing in this cruising life, but I think I like it.

And for now the summer is over. Let Autumn reign.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

An old guy, a Tartan, and a Beast

Sometimes it seems that easing off makes things go faster. Or maybe it just feels that way. It is no secret that this summer's relentless boat work put a pretty big dent in our first year's cruising experience. I have been struggling to keep the faith and rebelled a little. Even with the deadline looming and the Beast still disassembled, I just decided to finish some mods to the aft cabin; a partial rebuild of our storage area / work bench and a new lid for a storage area. It didn't need to be done, just a simple wood, screw, and glue job. It was something different that had nothing to do with deadlines and so I went with it. It took the better part of three days, mostly because I did it twice.

The first time through it was all poor planning and amateur hour, certainly not my best effort. In fact it looked like something someone kind of disgusted with the world would do; and I was embarrassed. So I backed up and did it again. It is still a mod to a home made thing shoehorned into a 30 year old boat, made with hand tools where function is more important than aesthetics. The aesthetics still need some work, but the function part is pretty sweet, so it will keep until we are back under way. Refinishing the reworked part will give me something to do one of these days while we sit easy on the hook somewhere. Even better, somehow doing that project realigned the mechanic / work / attitude relationship in Kintala's deck monkey, and smoothed the path to tangling with the Beast once again - deadline firmly in mind.

The plan when we rolled out this morning was to finish the mod and then assemble the exhaust riser / heat exchanger. Installation was planned for tomorrow. By late morning the mod was done and the riser and heat exchanger parts were laid out on the bench. Among those parts were shiny new stainless steel studs, washers, and nuts. After hours of searching Deb found them as a kit for rebuilding old style carburetors on 1960s Muscle Cars. The kind that people spend tons of money on making everything perfect, with the space under the hood a celebration of pumping out massive amounts of HP the old fashioned, low tech way. A sparking clean, chromed and painted space, including shiny studs holding massive 4 barrels to intakes and blowers.

Studs that work perfectly for hanging the heat exchanger onto the exhaust riser. They do look a bit out of place, hi zoot gleaming bits in the dark and grungy den where the WesterBeast dwells like a troll under a bridge. But that is where they are. (I would love for Kintala's engine compartment to look like that of one of the above mentioned Muscle Cars – maybe in my next life.) The build up went so smoothly, the old studs coming out clean and the new ones fitting just right, that I just kind of rolled with a job that seemed to be going well. By the end of the day the Beast was a whole unit once again. In addition to new studs, nuts, and gaskets to hang the freshly clean exchanger, a new bit of hose went into the cooling system to replace one that looked like it was causing a restriction when the engine was hot and sucking water. There is, of course, a new $80 exhaust gasket pinched in there as well, some new clamps, and a few other hacks that I un-hacked.

Tomorrow, after a very slow and careful look to make sure everything is where it is supposed to be, the coolant tank will get topped. Once we are sure the engine can suck river water – we have been sitting for a long time and the critters grow quick and thick in these parts – the Beast will be woken. IF all goes well, Kintala will be an working cruising boat once again.

We still have a few days to spare and, and at the moment anyway, and for the first time in weeks, I'm feeling pretty good about the tiny piece of the world that includes an old guy, and slightly less old Tartan, and a Beast.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bits is bits ...

As you might be aware, Deb is an excellent cook, baker, and all around galley guru. Unfortunately the oven in her galley gave up the ghost. Actually the heat control corroded through and the knob fell off. This would generally be considered a full blown emergency on Kintala since, without an oven, homemade cookies are out of the questions.  Stuck as we are in Florida in the summer however, adding more heat to the inside of the boat - even for some of the world's best cookies - is a tough call. Still, summer is waning away and store bought cookies, even Double Mint Oreos, are getting, shall we say, stale.

We debated replacing the stove with a new unit, but the weight of such a purchase would have the budget braying like an overloaded pack mule. Deb wanted to try and score some used parts first and has spent several weeks in full out search mode. Today the effort paid off and we headed off to Sailor Man to pick up our bits.

First though, the old bit had to come off the old stove to be traded in as a core, “old” being the theme here. Two bits actually, since John at Sailor Man (Hillerange and all around boat stove guru) would not sell a rebuilt control without also selling a matching valve thing that goes inside the oven itself. He got tired of people changing one only to have the oven stop working again (and him taking the blame) when the other unit failed a couple of days or weeks later. No hay problema. With care, a little PB Blaster, and some heatage applied as necessary, the bits came out with only minor trauma. I even remembered to tie a string onto the old thermostat before pulling it out.  This allowed the replacement to be snaked through the holes with less abusive verbiage than might, otherwise, have been required.

Old bits and $260 in hand to trade for overhauled bits, off we went. Alas, much to John's surprise, the overhauled bits were not exactly the same as the old bits. “Never before”, he claimed, “have I seen such a thing.” I understood. He hasn't tangled with Kintala before; had no idea he was trying to source parts for the Wicked Witch of the Western Atlantic.

So another couple of hours went by as we searched out alternate bits that could be added to the overhauled bits so they would work with the old bits still in the stove.  Even at that one of the stove's old bits had to be hacked off and replaced with a new bit that would fit the alternate bit.  Which, in the marine industry, is exactly what one expects to do after forking over $260.  By mid-afternoon, only 6 hours or so after shutting off the LP valve and taking wrench to stove, soft blue flames licked out of the oven burner. Not bad so far as boat projects go, and all is well in the homemade cookie world once again. (My guess is even Kintala likes the aroma of Deb's cookies fresh from the oven. Thus was this mechanical thrashing toned down to a minor bruising.)

With the galley at 100% and a few hours left in the day, some work went into a minor mod to our work station / parts bin. That didn't quite get done before the engine parts arrived, and it was also pretty late in the day. So the plan is to finish the mod job mañana in la mañana. Then, fortified with a deep breath and maybe a cold beer, square off with the WesterBeast once again.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Heat exchanger, round 2 ...

I started wrestling with the WesterBeast again today. That was supposed to happen yesterday but it was just a bridge too far. There was never any thought that cruising was going to be “retirement” (in spite of this blog's name). The work involved is just too demanding, there is too much potential risk, and too many win-it-or-bin-it decisions, for this to be anything like easy living. But once in a while a day comes along where I just can't man-up and get to work. Yesterday was one of those days.

I was still planning on working on the Beast when I ran across Friend James. James is the marina's resident “wooist”. If you want to know about what is going on in the ether, why the Mayan calendar was correct about the end of the age, how to cure almost any disease with the proper herbal tea and a “healing attitude”, what happens now that the solar systems is passing through the galactic plain, who is really in charge of the world, or when the aliens may arrive to lead us all to true enlightenment, James is the man in the know. Though I am way too much of a hard-nosed ex-street fighter to climb into his starship, we enjoy volleying back and forth in spite of our vastly different world views. And even taken by the woo, James is a better person than just about anyone I can think of in either politics or business. James is never going to hurt anyone, making him a pretty upright human being so far as I am concerned.

Then I walked over to Publix and made use of their hi-speed Internet connection to watch hometown hero and multiple-times World Champion Valentino Rossi win the Italian MotoGP, his first win in more than a year. After that Deb and I spent an extraordinary evening with new Friends Frank and Audrey. They are graduate alumni from the Civil Rights Movement and current environmental activists. Hearing their story and listening to their hopes for the future for their grand children and mine ranks as one of the five top conversations I have ever enjoyed. I don't generally give our species much of a chance. But if people like Frank and Audrey win the day there may yet be hope that our grand kid's inheritance will include air they can breathe, water they can drink, and oceans they can swim in. All in all it was a great day, but I didn't get anything done on the WesterBeast.

So today it was back in the ring to take another swing. Several people have mentioned that taking the heat exchanger off without removing the exhaust riser is difficult. (And they were right!) Getting it back on, they suggested, is well nigh impossible. For a while it looked like the naysayers would be proven wrong. Less than an hour after starting work the heat exchanger was hung on the bottom of the exhaust riser. All four nuts were started on their respective studs and awaiting proper torquage to be applied. Alas, said torquage turned into a problem. None of the nuts felt “right” and the aft inboard one, the one most difficult to reach, was clearly not a happy nut. After much internal debate between the cruiser who really needs to get this job done, and the aircraft mechanic who can't let things go, it was decided the exhaust manifold / heat exchanger assembly simply had to be removed. The naysayers were two for two.

Contemplating pulling the exhaust riser caused all kinds of consternation. First and foremost is that the exhaust gasket is an $80 – $100 engine bit. Another fear was that touching anything on the WesterBeast will surely lead to many other things needing “touched” as well. A fear well founded.

Six fasteners hold the exhaust riser to the engine, four studs and two cap screws. Two of the four studs came out of the engine. One of the studs that holds the intake muffler was already pulled out (I just lifted it out of the hole), and the exhaust gasket was indeed thrashed, though it wasn't me who did the thrashing. Apparently this is, minimum, the second time this gasket has been pressed into service. As for the studs for the heat exchanger, the reason for going down this path in the first place, they appear to be too short. Deb is currently sourcing the proper paper gaskets and I am considering the use of low profile nuts and lock washers, but it may will end up that replacing all of the studs with new is the only proper fix. At least the one stud I feared had been put in backwards, and thus trashing the riser, turned out to be the wrong stud; -18 / -18 instead of -18 / -24. Still installed by a Fool, but at least not as bad as it could have been.

By the end of the day both the heat exchanger and the exhaust riser were sitting on the bench waiting to be installed. By any reckoning that is a pretty big step backwards, particularly since the days are rapidly counting down to the killer-rise-in-dock-fees deadline. But this is cruising and, more to the point, this is me cruising on Kintala. Truth to tell I had a nasty hunch this was where today was going to lead all along.

Which may be why I took yesterday off. Once in a while even a tough guy needs a break from taking a daily beating. I am way too far down the road to be a tough guy any more, and this run of daily mechanical boxing matches going back to The Bear, has about done me in.

Maybe I need a glass of herbal tea and a trip through the ether.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A technical rant …

The heat exchanger guy called yesterday and said the bit removed from the WesterBeast was all prettied up and ready to go to the dance. Then he gave me a heart flutter by saying he had found a trace of oil floating around in the coolant. Bad juju. Really bad juju. The only way oil gets into the coolant is through a breach in the engine somewhere. Any such breach is going to be hard to find and expensive to fix. My day went straight in the dumpster.

Both Deb and good Friend / Boat Guru Bill (late of S/V Veranda) suggested there was no need to assume the worst just yet. There has never been water in the oil and what coolant that used to disappear stopped disappearing with the installation of a new cap. So assuming the worst was likely unnecessary. One shop's opinion does not, necessarily, bad juju make.

I assumed the worst anyway. After all this is Kintala and me, the world's most dysfunctional boat / owner relationship. Why wouldn't I assume she was presenting me with a blown head gasket or cracked block?  Kintala's WesterBeast has been the bane of my existence since the V-drive hand-grenaded itself and took the transmission with it.  But when I went to pick up said bit, the shop guy told me he had changed his mind. It wasn't oil after all. Thanks … I think.

Today started out with the newly refurbished heat exchanger sitting on the bench waiting to go back back on the WesterBeast, and thus offering us the chance to get off of this dock soon. So that was my job for the day. Would you like to take a guess as to how it went?

Shop man had been kind enough to make a couple of new gaskets for the install. The ones he handed over were about as thick as waffles. The ones that came off where more like cardboard. Mm … not sure that is going to work but hey, he is the heat exchanger expert.

When the heat exchanger came off the engine, one of the four mounting studs came off as well. Not a big surprise, though it meant a little more work when putting things back together. Included in the box of tricks from my old life are a set of stud drivers as well as a set of taps and dies, thus giving pretty good odds of setting things right, thread cut and stud wise. The studs were 5/16 with a -18 thread cut on the block side and a -24 thread cut on the heat exchanger side. Pretty standard stuff. As it turns out the stud that came out did so because the last fool who put this thing together (let's call him Fool 2) jammed a -18 nut on the -24 end. “Cross thread is better than no thread” is an old mechanic's tongue-in-cheek saying. Not sure why, but in this case a cross thread was barely good enough, it held and there was no leak. (“Barely good enough”, by the way, seems to be the “best practices” standard for much of the Marine industry.)

As the heat exchanger went on the forward port side nut would not tighten up. The waffle thick gasket was just too much, so off came the heat exchanger once again. But, what is this? When I went to check the threads on that stud, the -24 nut wouldn't go. Some fool in the distant past (let's call him Fool 1) had put that one stud in backwards, with the -24 end jammed into the block and the -18 end left exposed. Fool 2, who had put the -18 nut on the stud that had pulled out, was only half a fool. He had been hoodwinked by Fool 1. It likely never occurred to Fool 2 that Fool 1 would install three studs in one way and one stud in the opposite way. That would be incompetence desperately close to outright lunacy. He had four nuts and four studs, and made it work.

In my struggles to install the heat exchanger today, I was had by Fool 1, Fool 2, and the heat exchanger expert who had sold me waffle thick gaskets. So, after a couple of trips to the hardware store (Thank-you Craig for the use of your car!) things stand at the exact same place they did this morning, with the heat exchanger sitting on the bench waiting to be installed.

Tomorrow the WesterBeast and I will tussle once again. At least this time the gaskets will be of a proper thickness. There will also be three new -24 nuts and one new -18 waiting to be torqued onto the appropriate stud. (No, I didn't turn the offending stud around. No telling what is going on with the threads in the block side, but disturbing them now smacks of just asking for more trouble.) Most importantly work will commence with a fresh reminder that nothing (NOTHING!) done on this engine, before it came to me, was done by anyone who had a clue. And, truth be told, I am an old airplane guy and approach this marine stuff with, at best, just half-a-clue myself. Which, if you have followed me this far, puts me a half-a-clue up on most of the gurus.

When it comes to the WesterBeast everything must be checked, double checked, and then checked yet again. That means every nut, every stud, every screw, every gasket … cada sola cosa! Ghosts of fools past are lurking to open the hurt locker on anyone who thinks otherwise.

That “anyone” would be me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

gypsy muse ...

The relentless drive of getting the boat ready to go again is in a bit of a pause. We are awaiting parts from various places near (the heat exchanger in a shop nearby), far (traveler parts from the North East), and further (electronic bits being shipped from China – thanks for not bothering to mention that Amazon). We are still working every day.  The projects are less intense but still make life aboard better. Deb is making storage bags so I can get my tools under control, and reorganization of the tool area in progress. After years of working out of a very well organized rolling tool chest about the size of a basement freezer (I had two of them) it just drives me nuts to have to rummage through piles of tools tossed in drawers looking for the only socket that will work or an odd-ball pick. Boat projects take twice as long as land projects anyway,  Searching for tools with slippery fingers, greasy bolts between my lips, moving this out of the way to look in that, dents my otherwise sunny disposition and sours my normally positive view of the world. It also makes long, tiring days longer and more tiring.

While she works on my tools dilemma, which I think she is doing more for her own sake - making me easier to live with in "project mode" - than for mine, I have been replacing some rotting wood trim and sealing leaks in her galley.  Also, we have a whole new set of killer dock lines ginned up from a discarded (but still perfectly sound) anchor rode, and I am continuing on with the Spanish-lessons-that-will-never-lead-to-me-speaking-Spanish. (At least that is the way it feels.) All of which has served to remind me …

… we are living a pretty good life. For all of our struggles during this 2014 Hurricane Season in Florida from Hell, we are still on the boat. There is no time clock to punch, no demented boss to try and keep happy (Deb's old one, not mine).  There is no Board of Director Politics that will decimate a life on a whim (my old one, not Deb's).  Compared to our old economic standing, which was pretty good before the Boss / Board world dumped its radioactive waste into our lives, we are now near the bottom of the income pile. But that's okay. We don't need much, don't want much, and are very happy to be out of the Boss / Board empire.  Indeed, during my moments of sunny disposition and positive view of the world, it seems likely that the empire is flaming out in a spectacular fashion, which cheers me up to no end.  The further away we are, and the sooner it engineers its own demise, the better.

Our friend Guilles left the marina yesterday, escaping the rising flood of dock fees. He has become a good friend, another of the many we now count floating around this part of the world. Along the dock many other new friends are working as hard as we to get going.  Some are thinking of heading to the Islands this winter, several thinking of the Abacos after hearing about our time there last winter. S/V Kintala and her crew, though bruised and battered and economically challenged, may yet find a way across the Stream come winter, and find friends to call on once away.  What we can't get done on the boat before going will simply not get done.  But last year, running on the little generator, without an auto pilot, and living under a tiny bimini, was nothing but grand.  And we do have a nice solid foredeck and a new staysail furler.  The jug board is pretty, the main traveler should be like new, various leaks and rots are gone.  There is no reason next year can't be as grand as last.  And all this coming and going and planning and making do has served to remind me of another thing …

… in spite of it all, I love belonging to this band of gypsies.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Garage Sail

As many of you who have visited the boat know, more often than not our aft cabin is referred to as "The Garage". There is a rather nice-sized double bed in there on the port side, but its proximity to the rather very nice workshop on the starboard side means that everything gets put on the double berth. Since the modification of The Floating Bear from sail to powerboat, the sails from The Bear landed - you guessed it - in the aft cabin. They had 5 sails, we had 4 extra sails, and something had to be done.

All of the sails hanging up and the ones on the floor were in our aft cabin. Good thing nobody wanted to visit! The biggest one there is the reacher folded in half. It's huge!

The original plan was to sell them on Craigslist, but time constraints and the lack of energy levels from what we can only assume has been a case of pneumonia have severely limited our desire to spend months selling used sails. We needed the room. We and the kids both needed the money.  We decided to keep one spare jib for our boat just in case we happened to blow ours out. A friend decided he wanted the hank on staysail that we took off when we converted to roller furling. Another friend declined on the huge reacher because, even as huge as it was, it was 6 feet too short for their 46 foot Hylas. We borrowed a van from a very good friend and off we headed to Second Wind Sails, with 8 sails: 3 jibs, 2 mains and a spinnaker from The Bear, a staysail and a reacher from ours. While selling used sails to a wholesaler is never a good way to make much money, it is a good way to empty out one's aft cabin in a hurry and end up with some cash and a new roller furler sail for the staysail on trade. Even though the day seemed wasted with heat exchanger errands, in the end we did make some progress toward The Deadline.

Our really huge reacher folded in half


Four nuts. Four hose connections. Four hours.

Working on things used to be enjoyable and rewarding; though it did help that someone was usually writing me a pretty big check to work on their thing. Working on most things is still often enjoyable and rewarding even though, these days, there are only outgoing checks for parts and materials, and no incoming checks. But when the thing being worked on is the WesterBeast shoehorned into our Tartan 42, it isn't likely that enjoyable or rewarding is going to be part of the equation. Today was no exception.

This engine has always run hotter than normal, and never seems to make much water. Two months ago we limped into Ft. Lauderdale nursing the temp gauge once again while dodging ugly weather, just to keep things interesting. Determined to get the thing running right once and for all (yeah, yeah, I know) we decided to pull the heat exchanger and have it checked, serviced or, depending on what the shop finds, replaced.

Four nuts. Four hose connections. Four hours.

And that's just to get it off the engine and out of the boat. Experience suggests that removing anything from anything is way less than half the job. So I am already feeling hard pressed to get Kintala ready to vacate this dock by the end of the month.

Part of going cruising was to get away from schedules and dead lines. So far it has not seemed to work that way. Some kind of deadline always seems poised just above our heads. We had to get the boat ready to go before the truck arrived. We had to get the boat ready to go into the water before the boat show; just barely made that one. We had to get the boat ready to head south before the ugly weather hit; didn't really make that one. Then the engine broke down in Oriental and shoved us way past the weather deadline. We paid the price by shivering our way down the ICW in a seemingly endless parade of long, cold, dark days.

Once south things got easier and, for a few weeks anyway, no schedules drove our decisions. But then we went to the Islands. While still deep in the north part of the Sea of Abaco, the day we needed to be back in the US started to press our decisions. Weeks out and we started thinking of when we needed to be through the Whale and into the southern part of the Abacos; then when we needed to be in Eleuthrea, then Nassau, Bimini, and the States. Once in the US we faced the hurricane deadline, one we missed because of The Thing and The Bear. The penalty was doubling our insurance premiums and spending the summer here, where the dock fees are way more than they would have been in Lady's Island. Now the impending 100% increase in dock fees is driving the need to move regardless of where we are on “the list”. So we are still working pretty close to full time days, seven days a week, driven by a deadline we can't afford to miss. (This deadline is due to cost, but the cost is going up because of the season change. So I am blaming it on the weather in a kind of indirect way. My blog, my rules.)

So far cruising deadlines have proved to be serious things and missing them costly. It is impossible to ignore them and “live without a schedule”. I think our problem with deadlines is the result of two conflicting needs. The first is one everyone faces, living with the weather. North in a hard winter or south in a hurricane is no one's idea of “cruising” or, at least, not my idea. Living on a boat means following the good stuff. Weather deadlines simply can't be ignored. Mother Earth will flat kick your ass.

The second serious thing is, simply, the boat. Nearly four years after buying this thing and there are still struggles with the engine, still adjustments being made to the rig so we feel comfortable as a short handed crew on big, open water. For example the roller went on the inner forestay. But we still have to find a sail that will work on the shortened foil and fit our deck. Another task that has to been done in the face of the impending deadline. The autopilot isn't installed, there are no solar panels, and the Bimini has yet to be touched. Some of this is simply not going to get done before the deadline forces us on our way.

That could be seen as a good thing, I guess. People keep telling me no boat is ever “done”. Waiting until it is would mean never leaving the dock. And I see their point. On the other hand, if there never comes a time when I don't have to balance out the cost and hazards of missing a deadline against the cost and hazards of heading out with the boat not “done” …? Sooner or later “not done” needs to be some bright work or dock lines needing spliced, not the autopilot or electrical system.

I can live with one set of deadlines. Living with two conflicting sets is getting old.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Strolling past the finish line …

Many boat projects are finished late at night after an impossible day of taking a beating. The job is “almost” done as the afternoon wears thin. Putting the final touches on it this day instead of tomorrow becomes a bit of an obsession all by itself. At other times there are compelling reasons to finish the job, like incoming weather that will make the current resting place miserable or even dangerous. Or it might be a cruising permit or visa is running out and Officialdom is demanding one vacate their waters ASAP. We have heard tales of boats needing to get out of FL or face a killer sales tax bill.

Kintala faces an impending need to get along herself. At the end of this month the dock fees around here go from simple larceny to grand theft boat in anticipation of all you rich yacht owners scurrying away from the cold. In spite of that impending assault yours truly didn't work that hard today. And yet I still managed to put the finishing touches on two projects.

The first will mark me as one of the deeply disturbed boat owners in the world, and all are free to guffaw at my weenieness. The board to keep the water and fuel jugs on deck, a near universal trapping on a true cruising boat, was a quick and dirty install made just before we pulled out of Oak Harbor. Raw wood, sharp edges, and the forward lower corner kept catching the port jib sheet during a tack, adding one more stumbling point to getting Kintala's bow through the wind. It was also ugly as dirt and about the same color. Since it had to be removed to dull the edges and get rid of the offending corner, a few hours spent sealing it up with a couple of coats of varnish didn't seem that extravagant a use of time. (That, it turned out, was a minority opinion.)  In any case it was re-installed yesterday with the last coat of varnish still a bit tacky. After cooking in the sun all day today the finish was hard as nails, so the straps went through the slots, the height was adjusted to catch the jugs just right, and everything is back in place. And really, as a finish job it is a “10”. That is, it looks okay from about ten feet away. It isn't like there are 5 coats of hand rubbed clear on the thing. I'm not that big a weenie.

Oh how bad the rest of the non-skid now looks...
The other job put in the finished column today was the deck repair. It still remains to be seen how the stuff will wear, but the initial take on KiWi Grip is that this stuff is The Bomb! Deb mixed up a batch colored to match the deck. (She used to color match the paint that went on million dollar + corporate jets. It is a rare talent. There are few as good as she and none better.) A few strips of tape, some extra KiWi Grip layered where the new fiberglass seam now lay, an open “stipple roller” carefully applied and, like magic, the repair nearly disappeared. There is one small whoopee in the deck where fractured glass gave way to expanding foam, but one needs to look for it.  Other than that it is hard to tell there was a big hole there just a few days ago.

It isn't every day that two jobs get finished while the sun is still high in the sky.