Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Powder Puff:1, Alternator:4

When you're new at a job like removing and replacing an alternator that you've never done before, take my advice and take copious amounts of photos beforehand. Anticipating that there would be quite a delay between the removal and the reinstall, and considering that my 60-year old brain doesn't remember things quite the way my 20-year old brain did once upon a time, I did just that. Good thing, because even with pictures I had to install the alternator 4, count them - 4, times to get it on. This would be because at one point in Kintala's life, someone decided that it would be a really great idea to install a Balmar 75 alternator to replace the 50 amp unit that came stock. In order to do that, the installer had to cut a slot in the fiberglass pan that the engine sits in so that the adjusting bracket had a place to go. Not only is there a slot that you have to fit a wrench into to tighten a nut, but now the standard alternator belt (of which there were 6 spares on board when we bought the boat) is no longer good. Not only that, but one size is just barely able to fit, and the next size is way too big and exceeds the adjusting arm capability. Guess which one we have.

The Balmar has three mounting bolts. One giant one on the case that goes through an ear on the alternator, one smaller one that goes into the case and then into the adjusting bracket, and the third which goes through the other end of the adjusting bracket and into another ear on the alternator. In order to get the alternator belt on, you have to install two of the three bolts, slip the belt on the pulley, and then install the third bolt. Which two to start with is the mystery.

It's sort of like the whole which-line-do-you-pick-at-the-grocery-store thing. No matter which line you pick, it will be the wrong one. So I put in two bolts, slipped on the belt, and was unable to get the third bolt in. <sigh>. Remove bolts. Attempt #2 with two other bolts. Nope. <curse>. Attempt #3 with yet another arrangement. Maybe. Twist body into contortionist position, use giant pry bar to pry alternator up into position, hold with knee. Carefully arrange washers and bolt in fingers, contort wrist around mount, attempt to start bolt...maybe...maybe...fingers fumble, bolt and washers drop into the 3/4" slot next to the pan where you cannot retrieve them by any means. <loud cursing>. Remove pry bar, try to stand up after being pretzeled into position for 2 hours, look for new bolt. Find new bolt and washers, pretzel into position again, balance pry bar with knee, stick bolt to fingers with butyl tape, start bolt. <yes!>. Wire up all the connections per the photo (see paragraph one), connect up the batteries again, and clean up tools.

After 5 hours the alternator was installed. I did have to wait for Tim to come home with a tool I needed to reach into the slot to tighten the last nut, but the engine was test run and the overhauled alternator seems to have fixed the sporadic tach issue since our tach is fed off the alternator. Two checks off the list. Score.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day muse

It has been a long time since a holiday meant a day off of work for me. We have been living on the boat for a few years now, where “every day is a holiday and every meal a banquet”. (Well, that's the idea anyway.) As a pilot in the corporate / charter / airline world holidays usually meant more work, not less. The Powers that Be and the People Off Work wanted to go places. But today I am one of those People Off Work, enjoying an easy day of staying in the air conditioning, doing a little reading, doing a little writing.

Much of the reading is about the meaning behind Memorial Day. Not just barbecues and car races, picnics and parties, but graves and battles, wounded and maimed, people who served and now struggle to get by. There are also the themes of “true Americans” and “real patriots.” I know some of those people. One of my brothers, my dad, and my farther-in-law served in the military. I have friends who served in 'Nam, others who did various tours in the endless conflicts of the Middle East. Their patriotism, the truth of their Americanism, is beyond reproach or question. They deserve this day and much, much more. But apparently, at least according to some of the stuff being written today, I am not much of an American, not much of a patriot.

The claim that “All men are created equal” was a really good start...for a document written 240 years ago. Now “all men” needs to include all women, and every skin tone. Slavery in the US officially ended in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, or in 1863 if you count the Emancipation Proclamation. Women didn't win the right to vote until 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Women still don't have the claim to equal pay for equal work. America made real progress toward being a “more perfect Union” with these Amendments. Today though, some claim that making it as difficult as possible for some Americans to cast a vote is true patriotism, and that women don't deserve equal pay for equal work.

I am not one of those patriots.

North America, the bit of the planet that Americans claim as their own, is a breathtakingly beautiful place. I have ridden through it, flown over it, and sailed around parts of it. This land holds the resources necessary to build a first world society, to take part in a quality of life few in the history of humankind have known. I love this land, from its deserts to the towering peaks of the Rockies, the endless plains of the mid-west, to the forest covered and ancient mountains of the east. Today some claim that ruthlessly exploiting the land for profit is true patriotism, that any concession to the environment is “un-American”, and that public space is wasted space.

I am not one of those patriots.

It must be admitted that we are a violent people. And, as is the habit of all humans, we project that violent tendency. Everyone in the world is either an enemy, a potential enemy, or allied to an enemy. We fund the world's largest and most aggressive military, are constantly at war, and blithely threaten the entire planet with a nuclear arsenal that holds the potential for ending human civilization. Fear has become the mark of the true patriot, bellicose, belligerent, kicking ass and taking names. The widows and orphans of all that ass kicking and name taking are also the enemy of the true patriot, people to be loathed and left to suffer. They must be banned; they, and everyone who looks like them. They must be herded into camps, shipped off our shores, families broken up, stripped of all human dignity. The patriot is "building a wall" and “protecting America.”

I am not one of those patriots.

“True Patriots” it is said, “protect themselves and their loved ones”. Any attempt to ensure that those protecting themselves by carrying guns into stores, schools, and churches have even basic weapons training, and are mentally capable of deploying those weapons responsibly in the midst of the most dire of circumstances, is denounced as “un-American.” It is claimed that a true patriot accepts the constant threat of a lunatic with a gun as the price of “living free.”

I am not one of those patriots.

At this moment those claiming to be true patriots loathe education, heap scorn on teachers and scientists, cling to religious fundamentalism, and expect a god to bless their racism, sexism, violence.

I am not one of those patriots. (Nor, just for the sake of argument, would I worship such a god.)

I have no idea what will become of this nation, what patriotism or even “being an American” will mean two or three generations down the line. There is no assurance that the nation for which those who served and sacrificed, will turn out to be one worthy of the service or the sacrifice. This Memorial Day is filled with those claiming to honor the fallen, claiming to be Real Americans, claiming to be true patriots.

I wonder how many of the fallen would agree.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Scotty would never allow it

So one of today's tasks was to de-fuel the USS ENTERPRISE.

No, really.

Fortunately for me is wasn't the CVN-65 USS ENTERPRISE driven by buckets full of uranium-235. The kind of stuff that could put a hurt on my little corner of the universe if, say, I stumbled down the ladder carrying a bucket full. I imagine the people who did do that job for real charged a bit more than our shop rate.

Nor was it the NCC-1701 STARSHIP ENTERPRISE driven by buckets full of anti-matter. The kind of stuff that could put a hurt on a big corner of the universe if, say, I stumbled down the ladder carrying a bucket full. This USS ENTERPRISE (really, I don't name them, I just work on them) carried a maximum of 39 gallons of old fashioned diesel fuel, nearly 20 of which remained and was leaking into the bilge at the rate of about a quart a day.

Unfortunately the only way to get it off the boat was 3 to 4 gallons at a time in a 5 gallon bucket...out of the aft cabin, up the companionway steps, across the deck, and down the aforementioned ladder. Then, across the yard to the “used oil” shack to be dumped in a holding tank for later pickup and, well, I don't really know what the “and” is. It goes away in a truck. After that maybe it gets turned into lighter fluid or something. (I wonder what they do with depleted uranium-235 or extra anti-matter?)

This would be a better story if I did stumble down the ladder to dump 3 to 4 gallons of diesel on some unsuspecting passerby, thus putting a serious hurt on this, my very tiny corner of the universe. Better story, but a really bad day. But by being very, very careful during the eight round trips, careful almost to the point of guaranteeing something going wrong, the USS ENTERPRISE's fuel tank was rendered harmless and ready for removal. The worst was a very small squirt of diesel getting free from the transfer pump and landing, almost entirely, on the cardboard I had laid down over the floor. Given the overall awkwardness of the operation that amounts to getting away scot-free, and the tank is now sitting under the bow of the boat. I hear it will be used as a pattern to fabricate a new one. I hope they get it exactly right. The old one came out of its hole with about 1/16th of an inch to spare.

Other tasks today also included changing the head discharge thru-hull in a wooden boat, a smelly first for me. Not the smelly, head, or thru-hull part, but the wooden boat part. There was a new antenna / mount installed on a mast touched by lightning. Some more wires where chopped out of the “get all the wire out” boat, and I stroked a keel bolt in a way I will not share with the innocents of the world. (If you must; picture a tiny trace of H2O. Then envision the cost of dropping the keel off a boat to properly address a leak in that area. Now imagine what an owner might ask be done to banish the former without facing the latter. When I asked a second time to be sure that I had this “repair procedure” correct, Boss New described it as “a band-aid on a bullet wound”. But if it was my boat I would try the exact same thing and hope that is was a very small caliber bullet.)

A bit of embarrassment also came my way today. Part of a job running the wiring for a new navigation suite included the instruction to “wire this unit up to power using that”. “That”, was a two wire shielded cable; one red wire, one yellow wire, and the shield. The cable was left over from the old system and I had no idea of where the other end of it went. Since the wiring wasn't complete and the system could not be “powered up” while I was building it, putting volt meter to cable to check actual “power” wasn't an option. I wired red to the hot side and yellow to the ground side because, according to ABYC standards yellow is often “ground”. Except, in this case, yellow was “info” and the shield was used for the ground. So the first attempt to “power up” the new system, with the proud owner on board waiting to see all his new “gee-wiz” goodies come to life...was a bit of a disappointment.

In the marine industry it seems “standards” are more like “suggestions” or, maybe, “wishful thinking”. It was a quick and easy fix but there are still times when I feel like I'm playing a game that has no rules. I've gotten brand new “marine” units with white / black wires, red / black wires, and two black wires. (It didn't matter which way that one got installed.) I have never seen one come out of the box with red / yellow wires, and I don't think I've seen one come with tinned “marine” wire yet either. Eventually it all gets figured out and works, but to this old aviation tech it often seems a bit amateurish.

I'm pretty sure it wasn't done this way on the USS ENTERPRISE of either Navy or Sci-fi fame.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Any Port in the Storm

Today was a huge day for me. I haven't gotten to check anything off The List for quite some time, but today I got to check off "rebed starboard ports". Now, to be fair, the starboard port project also became the "replace headliner" project which also became the "rebed the mainsheet block" project which also became the "glass in and paint the rotten teak" project, so to finish it all in 10 working days is not too bad. Truly, this is one of the most satisfying jobs I've done on the boat. The difference in the interior is astonishing. Now if I could just ignore the ports on the port side...

New headliner, rebed ports, all trim strips up. Only the hatch screen has yet to be refinished and reinstalled.

You can see the difference it makes to have the teak painted white in that strip.
Here you can see the port side that has yet to be done

Monday, May 23, 2016

De-wire mahn...

So the Owner said to me, “Take all the wire out of the boat. I want new. I want it to look like the wiring in my Fleming.”



“Okay. As soon as they put me on the job, I'll start pulling the wiring.”

A couple of days ago they put me on the job. I started pulling wiring.

I hope he was serious.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Just Passin' Through

Boats leak. A lot. So it was no surprise that a new drop of water slowly streamed its way down the teak siding beneath our headliner, and the irony of its resemblance to a tear was not lost on me. Boat leaks take a lot of work to fix. I sighed deeply.

The leak remained unchecked for some time. We were working our way down the East coast of Florida after having visited with five of our nine grandchildren, on our way to the West coast of Florida where we had arranged to work over the upcoming eight months to replenish our cruising funds. There simply was no time to stop and find the leak, and the summer would provide time in abundance to do so.

Having already tackled some more pressing issues after our arrival, the leak presented itself to the top of the list. It was, of course, part of a multi-project as all boat projects are multi-projects, cause and effect being intertwined in multiple systems in such a small space. The rebedding of the ports project required the removal of the trim around them, which meant the headliner panels were only six screws from being down. It was time.

Kintala is a Tartan 42, known for its soft decks and core damage. Our particular Tartan 42 had the deck core replaced a few years before we bought the boat, a job that was done from the inside of the cabin. We were in possession of photos of the job, one I was happy we had not been required to participate in. As I removed the first panel, I was pleased to see that all the trim pieces and furring strips were well marked, a sign of a professional job. But as I removed the second panel, there staring me in the face was someone's rest-stop-restroom-level declaration of abiding love. It had been scrawled in permanent marker on the new fiberglass, and overlaid with a fresh sheet of glass mat to lend it some permanency.

Scraping old silicone sealant off gives you a lot of time to think. I wondered about the person who wrote the words. Did she still love Ritchie? Was it ever love at all? Did he care for her and respect and support her the way my husband does? Did he bring her smiles or is the scar of their relationship as permanent as this whimsical scrawl? Was it heartfelt, or a pre-Facebook careless need to indulge impulse?

Written communication is a voyage. Through it our thoughts, feelings, and questions travel from the nebulous jumble of impressions in our mind to concrete permanence. Used to be, once upon a time, that communication was labored over. A letter would be carefully crafted and often modified many times before the exact nuance of thought had been captured, a signature artfully assigned, and the stamp affixed. Its receipt would be considered a gift. The command of the English language was broad and deep, and communication an art form of itself. With the increase in the pace of life and the introduction of electronics, communication became – of necessity – fast and easy. Too easy. The letter labored over with love went the way of eight tracks. Impulsive blurting of feelings and impressions became commonplace. Complex thought was delegated to road-weary motivational posters. Subtle humor morphed into crudity.

A disclaimer: I don't yearn for days gone by. I'm a techno-geek and love all things electronic and computer. Without Skype and Facebook to see grandkids, cruising would be much less likely to succeed. But recently I've seen a disturbing trend among my compatriots. The ease of communication through emails, texts, and social media has been around long enough now that it has brought with it a fundamental change – not just in the form and substance of our communication, but in the way we think.

While processing news in short clips without in-depth analysis of the issues is its own whole topic of another discussion, processing relationships the same way is devastating. The overwhelming amount of information and the speed at which it is delivered, leaves us dashing off snippets of communication bereft of body language, voice tone, and eye expression. Carelessly hitting the Send button without reviewing the material in the framework of the person receiving has left many hurting, angry, or confused. The anonymity of internet forums and social media groups lends its own wild West aura to communication, unleashing trolls into the melee with no reliable way to sift their content from our friends'. And while the communication seems fleeting, it's frighteningly permanent, sitting in the cloud archives for eternity to haunt. Writing used to be a legacy to leave behind, a way of lending credence to our short time here. Looking at some of the things in my Facebook feed, I wonder exactly what kind of legacy we're leaving.

Whether you're a cruiser or not, we're all just passing through and time is short. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I've been blessed that the cruising lifestyle has given me the opportunity to do both. Being far away from those I love, and sharing our adventures with others who wander, I've come to realize that the ability to communicate is both a treasure and a responsibility. The treasure is to be cherished, a means of fulfilling that very basic human need to connect with another; the responsibility lies in measuring its impact. Before it becomes your legacy.

The leak is fixed, the new headliner panels are up, and with it Ritchie's story has leapt from boat maintenance obscurity to the dubious social recognition of the World Wide Web. Besides getting a shiny, clean, new headliner, I also got a reinforced foundation for my thinking. Not a bad return from one little leak.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I've been thinkin'...

Tim always cringes when I say that because he knows it's usually followed by a major modification / upgrade / maintenance idea for Kintala, but I think this time he was pretty happy I said it because the workload was going to be mine, not his.

When we bought the boat, there was one headliner panel that had a water damaged corner in it. The leak had been fixed, or at least the gremlins had moved to another spot, because it was no longer wet, just damaged. Kintala has the hard type of headliner - vinyl coated panels of masonite in 2 foot wide sections that go crosswise to the boat with teak trim strips between them. Somebody fixed the leak, but for whatever reason never chose to replace the panel. It has bugged me for the last 5 years.

Since I had all the trim down to take out the ports to rebed them (the biggest part of the job), it seemed like a good time to replace the panel. I did some research to see what Lowe's and Home Depot had in stock in Bradenton, the closest place I could get to in a borrowed vehicle. I had recently seen photos of another boat online that had been refit, and the owner had installed the scored paneling typically used as wainscoting. It was impressive to say the least. While perusing Lowe's inventory online, I saw the paneling and mentioned to Tim that it might be worth the time to change it all out rather than have a new panel, clean and white, make the rest look old and yellowing, which they were. We agreed I should take a look.

The company pickup was available, the price was right, and two days later we have a brand new headliner that, if I might say so, makes the boat look like new. Here are some progress picks, but I say progress because even though the headliner is complete, the ports are still out and that project is going to take a couple more weeks. But you know, I've been thinkin'...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Learning the curve

One of the challenges of going cruising was climbing the learning curve. Open water, navigation, tides and currents; it was steeper than expected. Not insurmountable, just steep. Turning to anything new requires a learning curve.

I expected changing from vagabond boat wanderer to on-the-clock marine mechanic would involve yet another learning curve, but not much of one. Fixing things is fixing things. Electricity, internal combustion, refrigeration, air conditioning, fiberglass layup...it works the same in a garage, hangar, or boat yard. The bits are arranged differently, RADAR is usually mounted in the nose of an airplane, not hung off of a mast. And there are some things noticeably different, there are not a lot of turbine engines found in sailboats or roller furling headsails on Citations. Still, I expected to be able to find my way around pretty quickly. And for a little while, at the end of last week, I was starting to feel like I was hitting my stride.

And then came Monday.

All of the technicians in these parts keep several different jobs going at the same time. When a project hits a stopping point waiting on parts or some approval from an owner, there is another project whose parts just arrived or whose owner decided which way a project needs to go. It has to be that way. Those of us who work here expect to get 8 hours of pay each day. Those hours have to show up on a bill somewhere if there is going to be money to make that pay, but you can't bill for waiting on parts or decisions.

Sometimes a day gets filled with jobs that just pop-up, jobs that have to be dealt with A.S.A.P. It may be a resident boat limping in after a weekend jaunt with something broken, something needing attention before the boat can go out again. It may be a boat undergoing a survey being shepherded in with gentle nudging from Towboat US. (Just last week. I guess that survey didn't work out so well.)

Even hip deep in Island Packet wiring and Tug repairing, Monday started with an easy pop-up job; testing the galvanic isolators on a newer Catalina. Boss New had a picture of where Catalina claims they are mounted and sent me off to do a quick check while he started putting out the week's fires, which were already filling his day. The access ladder was leaning against the starboard side (which detail will play into my excuse) and I drove in from that side. Yours truly climbed aboard with tools and meter in hand, removed the indicated panel and, voila, no isolator.

Not a big surprise. Galvanic isolators are not small units and I had not really expected to find one behind the DC control panel at the navigation station, regardless of what Catalina might say. Just to be sure the AC panel next door was removed as well, still no isolators. So I went looking where such things are normally found, near the shore power plug. (The isolators purpose in life is to keep stray electrical currents out of a boat's AC system, thus preventing them from eating up parts of the boat.)

This particular Catalina's shore power plugs were in the bow, at the top of the anchor locker. I had never seen a boat set up this exact way before but hey, I'm still new at this and, well, that whole learning curve thing. But I searched all around and still no isolators. The starboard side lazarette sported no isolators, and the port side actually opened up into an aft cabin. At a bit of a loss I climbed back down the starboard side ladder, found Boss New juggling two or three other problems and tossed him another one. His new boat tech couldn't find the supposed isolators, not behind the panel claimed nor anywhere around the shore power plugs.

“Leave it for now” he said, and sent me back to working on the Island Packet mast. But just minutes later, while I was setting some ¼ inch stainless steel rivets into a replacement RADAR mount, he came by. (Having spent decades fixing airplanes, riveting things together is definitely NOT on my learning curve.)

“I found the isolators in the aft lazarette mounted at the stern. Check them when you get the chance.”

Mounted at the stern? The shore power is in the bow. Boss New had said or done nothing that indicated I had done something dumb, he just pointed me in the right direction. But I got a feeling that boat had something going, something that would make me look silly. I snapped the last rivet in place, gathered up my stuff, loaded it onto my cart, and drove over to the Catalina...approaching it from the stern.

Where, mounted in the bright daylight for everyone to see, two additional shore power plugs sat just above the swim platform. They were big, bright, shiny and damned near impossible to miss; but I had managed. As promised, inside a lazarette located aft of the starboard side helm sat two galvanic isolators, eager to be checked. My guess is it took Boss New all of 30 seconds to find them; and that included climbing up the ladder.

I had not looked that far aft since the boat was plugged into shore power at the bow; one of two choices on that boat. Having both is actually a good idea – making it kind of a surprise that a boat manufacturer thought of it. Having never seen a boat that had shore power access at both ends, it never occurred to me to look at both ends.


I suspect Boss New was a little surprised that I couldn't figure it out. I also suspect he knew I'd be pretty embarrassed when I did, and saw no reason to rub it in.

Then again...

Next morning's unexpected pop-up job was to install a new toilet in the tiny head of a Pacific Seacraft sitting on the hard out in the sun, just down wind of another boat getting new holding tanks and head plumbing. I enjoyed the ambiance wafting off of that job all day long as I struggled to fit 8 pounds of...stuff...into a three pound bag. It took some doing.

I'm not saying that one thing led to another. The Pacific Seacraft needed a head that works, it isn't like it can go to sea without one. But the next time I will look a little closer for the galvanic isolators, or at least be smart enough to walk all the way around the boat with my eyes open.

Some parts of the learning curve are not too bad, so long as one doesn't climb them twice.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Drums and Dancing

One of the things I enjoy most about the cruising community is music. Instruments seem to play a huge part in community gatherings, where everyone brings along a guitar, banjo, or drum along with their potluck. One of the most memorable things I've ever heard was a guy sitting next to us in an anchorage playing and singing for a couple hours by candlelight one night, long after the sun had gone down.

I'm a former piano player and flutist, neither of which we have on the boat, but stay tuned because I'm trying to learn how to make a bamboo flute. Tim is a drummer. When we left, Tim brought along his drumsticks and practice pad, but we've never had a drum onboard. We do try to make as many drum circles as we can while we're traveling, though. There's an excellent one in Coconut Grove at Dinner Key in Miami and, it turns out, that there's a huge one at Siesta Key every Sunday on the beach. The one in Coconut Grove provides extra drums for visitors to use, but the one in Siesta Key did not, so we spent the evening just hanging out listening. I'm including a couple videos from the drum circle for your enjoyment. They are kind of clipped and not really great quality since they were taken on my phone, but keep in mind that the drummers would play for 15 minutes straight without stopping, and I don't have that much bandwidth.

Oh, and by the way, we do now have a drum onboard after being motivated by the  Siesta Key Drum Circle. We found a company that makes snap on drum heads for 5 gallon buckets, something that is almost always on every cruising boat. We bought 2 different heads, one a "comfort sound technology" head, a muted sound that you can play in small spaces like our boat. The other one will only come out of the box for drum circles and secluded anchorages. We did buy their 6 gallon bucket, but they fit on any standard 5 or 6 gallon bucket from Lowes or Home Depot or any other hardware or paint tore. Here's some pics and a link to Remo for you in case you're interested.

The first one is just a general video of the drum circle.

This one highlights a rather creative use of various "drums"

This one shows mostly the dancing on the beach in front of the drum circle.

This one highlights one of the young ladies using the hula hoops as part of her dancing. Sorry about the quality. People kept getting in front of me.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Living ways

Kintala in her shady corner. Endless thanks to The Nice
Man at the Marina who thought to put us there.
There is so much going on in the world today, or at least in the tiny bit of the world we call the US of A. Donald Trump is going to be the Republican offering for POTUS. It probably doesn't take much of a clairvoyant to guess what I think about that. It appears that the other choice will be Hilary Clinton. It may take a bit more clairvoyance to figure out what I think about that. But the reality is, I don't actually think much of it. Nor do I think much about it.

What I do think about is getting through the day, doing the best job that I can, and getting back to Kintala in, more or less, one piece. Don't get me wrong, if a person has to have a job then a job like this one isn't a bad one to have. I am working with my hands, using skills that have evolved and matured over decades of working on and operating machines. But, like any environment where the work is physical and the machinery large, getting hurt is only one misstep or careless moment away. I am not as sure footed and lithe as in days past.

This is an outdoors job which, occasionally, adds to the risk and excitement. Earlier this week thunderstorms rolled through just before the crew punched in for the day's work. As my bi-lingual friend Edwin and I stood in the open bay door of the big shop, he nursing my toddler espaƱol, lightning stroked the palm tree standing just a few yards away. It was a close hit, thunder and flash at the same moment, leaves and bits of tree falling to the ground moments later; the air crackled and the smell of ozone floated by. Edwin was rattled, as would be any normal person.

I laughed.

All of us spent most of that day working in driving rain. The yard flooded so deep that one hesitated driving an electric gulf cart across the lot. The running joke of the day? “This is a NO WAKE zone...be careful of manatees.” But the work went on.

If I recall correctly, that day saw me on three different boats, ending up inside a Hunter sitting on the hard, with water pouring through every overhead hatch and skylight while lightning flashed overhead. Normally one would worry about the lighting, but this was just one of dozens of masts poking up into the sky. The odds were good that Thor would pick some other boat should he decide to tickle one for fun. Beside that, lightning had struck within yards of me already that morning. What are the chances any one person would see two such events in one day? Statistically, anyway, I was probably the safest person in the yard. Not that it mattered. “I'm afraid of thunder” isn't an excuse for cowering in the shop.

The good news is that the worst offender in the “leaking hatch of the Hunter” department was directly over the bilge. Removing a floor panel let the water fall directly into a ready made bucket where it could be pumped overboard without doing any (more) damage to the interior. The bad news was that the bilge pump would not work in either the “Manual” or “Automatic” mode. That meant yours truly was kneeling over said bilge trying to sort out wiring which had endured a savage mauling; wire nuts, open wires, broken wires, and corroded wires with multiple – unnecessary - splices within inches of each other. Getting the pump back online took a while, and all that while the leaking hatch dripped a Chinese Water Torture on my bald head, while the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled. (Oddly enough, the survey listed the trashed wiring but didn't say anything about the pump not working. Wouldn't you think it would be the other way around?)

The whole scene was so absurd that all one could do in response was laugh. Nearly everyone in the yard shared rueful smiles and snide remarks in passing with, “It's a lovely day in the neighborhood” being a common refrain. (Somehow I think Mr. Rogers would have understood our pirating his signature line, and approved.)

Nearly everyone, but not all. One of the other “new guys” (one of three and even newer than me) soaked to the skin and apparently unhappy with his lot in life, punched out mid morning; never to be heard from again. Not everyone has the needed sense of humor to do this kind of work, and it is probably better that he realize this sooner rather than later. Still, new guys have a tough enough time getting accepted around here. Having one walk away because of a little rain isn't helping any.

That was a couple of days ago, but the boats and the days all seem to run together. At the moment the Tug is still hanging out there waiting for glass work and parts, the Hunter is waiting for the owner to decide just how much broken stuff he wants us to fix. There is another boat on the hard that has no toilet in the head, (I took out the old one but the new one didn't fit so a new, new one, is on order). By the end of the week I was hip deep in an Island Packet that is getting all new instruments and mast wiring. That boat is already sporting new holding and fuel tanks along with a ton of other work that I know nothing about. But, like I said, it all tends to run together. Days get lost. On Wednesday I was convinced it was Tuesday which, all said and done, isn't a bad thing. It meant that Friday was a day closer than I thought.

The view of the Manatee River from the shore by the office.

Not all days are ones where Sister Sky is threatening to scorch one with a bolt from the blue. In fact, most days are sunny, with a view of the Manatee River, Tampa Bay, and the sure knowledge that the Gulf of Mexico is just “out there”. The ocean breeze blows and the water sparkles with reminders that there are far worse places to add some cash to the cruising kitty; places like offices and cubicles. One takes the sunny days, the hot days, and the days filled with thunder, as they come. The parade of broken boats never ends.

Sometimes I wonder why human kind evolved this way, with most of us endlessly grinding out “projects” to keep the “life kitty” solvent. On the other hand, the moments of each day are very specific, very centered. That is not a bad thing at all. The sages and the mystics all tell us that being focused on something is the very fount of wisdom. But having spent nearly three years living and traveling on a boat, where the “big picture” mattered more than the minutia of every day, I am still trying to adapt to the change.

The view towards Tampa Bay and the mouth of the Manatee River.

Now the focus is much tighter: run this wire, make this connection, replace this pump, make this engine run right. The “big picture” doesn't matter. Trump or Clinton, thunderstorms or sunshine, soaking wet in the rain or soaked with sweat. This thing, this thing that has barely anything to do with the rest of my life, needs to get done. And then there is the next thing. It is the way most of us live, and we have all gotten used to it.

But there is another way to live as well. Someday, I will live that way again.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Anatomy of a Beckson Port

Breakdown courtesy of Beckson.com
One of my favorite bloggers just wrote a post about Project Recursiveness, the idea of one project opening the need/want/necessity to multiple others. It's a topic I've broached on this site multiple times, a theme that recurs with alarming frequency. So it was with the "rebed port # 10 on Kintala today. Yes, I have them numbered on a port map in my project notebook, mostly because we can't really remember which ones we've rebed since we bought the boat and which ones we didn't, a problem I hope to rectify this time around. When I started to remove the port this morning, my intention was just to do the leaking ones, and let sleeping dogs lie.

As removed before cleaning. All of the previous sealant must be removed
in order for the new sealant to stick. It takes a couple hours per port to
get it all out of the little nooks and off the fiberglass on the boat.
After cleaning. I loves me some Dremel tool...
The weather was perfect this morning behind the cold front and associated storms from yesterday, so working on the deck was a pleasure. The outside ring of the port came off pretty easily, as this was one of the ones we had rebed sometime in the last 5 years and we had used Dow Corning 795. DC 795 is our favorite bedding material for a lot of things on the boat, like ports, any hardware, sinks, faucet, etc. We love it because it stays flexible, is easy to clean off your hands and tools when it's wet, it cures quickly, and comes off much more easily when required than silicone. Our other go-to bedding compound is butyl tape which we use for everything else like stanchions, winches, hatches, handrails, and so forth. The inside portion of the Beckson ports has wide flanges and after popping it out, it was plain to see that the teak under the flange was shot. It shredded in wet sawdust and, after vacuuming it out, left a space about 3" x 2" with no wood adhered to the fiberglass. My single project - check rebed port #10 off the list day - instantly went down the drain.

While eating my sandwich, I Googled "fix rotten teak around portholes" just to see if anybody had come up with some interesting solutions to the problem. There were many, all of which involved completely disassembling the interior of the boat and removing all of the teak and replacing it. Not an option when you live full time on the boat and have no where else to go for the 2 months it would take to complete that project. I did come upon a post in a forum where a guy refurbished some bad teak he had on his boat by fairing in the bad spots and painting it. It looked great, and started an idea in my head. If I remove all five ports on the starboard side at once, clean them up, repair any damaged teak with fiberglass, and paint it the same off white as our headliner, it will salvage the teak, finish the project in something approaching manageable time, and brighten the interior as well.

While I was looking at the deteriorating teak under the port, I decided to look at one of the other items on Tim's list, that of the leak above his settee that sprouted a few months ago when we were under way to Bradenton and didn't have time to fix it. It was a small leak, and only presented itself when it rained very heavily. Unfortunately, it was under one of the 5 headliner panels that are installed the width of our boat. In order to find the leak, two of the panels had to be removed. In order to remove the panels, 12 pieces of teak trim, the hatch screen, and a ceiling light fixture all had to be removed. The screen had to come down anyway to be refinished (another item on Tim's list), so all the hardware on it had to be removed so I could sand it. Of course, all the "stainless" screws on the hardware were rusted and two had to be drilled out.

The leaking bolts under the headliner.. The bad part of the furring strip
will have to be cut off and a new piece scarfed in to hold the headliner up.
After the screen was ready for sanding, the light fixture was next. Of course, the wire for the light fixture was too short to set the fixture aside somewhere, so I had to cut the wires and install quick disconnect connectors so that in the future we could remove it more easily. It definitely pays to be living in a boatyard with a really great parts department and an even greater parts department guru to run it.

After the light fixture, the panels were easily unscrewed and removed. The leak was instantly visible. The culprit was the cheek block for the main halyard when it's run into the cockpit. We don't use it at the moment since we have the halyard at the mast, but we may change that in the future so we still need the block. Tomorrow will start out by rebedding the offending block and replacing a very moldy and rotten furring strip that held the headliner panel up. My guess is that the rebedding of that block will also morph into an all day removal of wet core and subsequent glassing before it can be reinstalled. Just a hunch.

So assuming the weather gods are feeling kind to me over the next 10 days or so, you will find me sitting on deck with my trusty putty knife and rubber mallet and an ever-growing pile of Beckson Ports. If you're bored and just can't live without developing an intimate relationship  with Beckson's finest, please stop on by for a visit. I promise you won't be disappointed.

The window pieces and the hardware to install them

The hardware to install the window onto the port frame

Monday, May 2, 2016

Navigating the Ups and Downs

I belong to a women's Facebook Group called Women Who Sail. It was started by Charlotte Kaufman of The Rebel Heart, and has grown to over 8,000 members. Even with all those members, the tenor has remained helpful, caring, and positive, a feat that not many online sailing or boating communities can claim. If you are a woman who sails, or motors, or dreams of either, it is a tremendous resource.

One of the common threads in the group posts is that of discouraged ladies seeking some support and encouragement. While only a fraction of the members are full time cruisers or dreamers of such, selling everything and moving onto a boat can be the most trying venture a person can attempt. Once cruising, the learning curve is steep; the unexpected can sometimes be overwhelming. Among long-term cruisers, it is a well-known fact and oft-sited meme, that of the highs being higher and the lows being lower than land life and each cruiser has to find their own way through. I was thinking particularly about this issue this morning because after checking a few things off my project list yesterday and feeling pretty good about it, this morning I made the mistake of asking Tim what was on his list. Wow.

So how do we navigate those ups and downs, highs and lows? Clearly, the highs are great. Those fantastic take-your-breath-away sunsets, the hour long parade of dolphins dancing in your wake, the sight of that rare Tropic Bird, the lightning on the horizon and, yes, finishing a water pump overhaul and installation. The lows? They come in all sorts.

Loneliness can sometimes be the hardest. The cruising community is in a constant state of flux depending on where you happen to be at the moment. Dinner Key Mooring Field? Tons of cruisers, lots of community and social functions. Hoffman Cay in the Berry Islands? Better like your shipmates because they're the only ones you're going to see. Then there's the ever-present missing of family members back on shore: aging parents and grandbabies that grow up entirely too fast.

The current state of boat maintenance is probably the other main cause of deep lows. You spend a lot of time maintaining the boat and yet it will knock the feet right out from under you every chance it gets. We have a good friend who finally got to leave the dock after a long summer refit, only to have it break down a few times on their way south. Again. And they're not isolated. Two other friends have been held hostage by the dock for over a month waiting on parts to fix major issues on the boat - transmissions and rudders.

I've had someone tell me it's all about your attitude. I admire people who can just buckle down and say, "OK this thing sucks but I'm going to just be happy anyway." If I had that sort of emotional discipline, I wouldn't be carrying around 20 extra pounds. I've also had land-bound friends wonder how you could possibly ever claim the right to be depressed when you're living the life in paradise. You know the answer to that one, the exceedingly well-used (or abused) phrase "Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places" thing. Boat maintenance brings with it physical pain (at least for those of us who are aging boat owners), stress over money (unless you are independently wealthy), and endless frustration because you can't find things, parts are unavailable, you don't have the proper tools or expertise, or the weather is not cooperating.

Ah yes...weather. The master of highs and lows, if you'll pardon the pun. The weather rules the cruising life and, inevitably, the sun will be bright and too hot when you need to do stainless polishing, the wind and rain will be ice cold when you have to travel down the ICW, the storm will be the strongest when you have people anchored too close, and rain will pin you inside a very small space for days. But that pristine steel blue sky after a cold front? The salty, light breeze whispering through the palms on shore? The deep reds and golds of a sunset reflected in the clouds? We live in the weather and these stunning displays that so many land dwellers miss are the stuff of good cruising dreams.

For me, navigating the highs and lows involves finding ways to maneuver things around me to a manageable flow. One of the ways I do this is through lists. I am a meticulous list keeper. I put everything on The List no matter how small, just so I can check it off. Checking something off makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something, like I'm making some progress. If I'm installing a new bilge pump then the list might get four entries: research type of pump to buy, buy pump, run wiring, install pump. I do this, because many projects take days and if I just put, "install new bilge pump", I might not get to check off anything for a week. I will end each day feeling like I haven't accomplished anything. If the lows are getting to me, I find something quick and easy to get off the list and I immediately feel better. This approach doesn't work for everyone. Tim absolutely hates lists. He feels like they sit there mocking him, a constant reminder of his inability to stay on top of things. Fortunately for us, the two of us are bummed by different things so we rarely are at the low together and can encourage each other. You have to decide what works for you and for your partner if you're in a relationship

Another way to maneuver things around me to make it better is by simply taking a break. Go for a walk. Watch a funny movie. Read a book. Play a game. Cook a new recipe. Call a friend. Announce a day off and go for a hike in the park or a bike ride. Blow the conch horn at sunset. Anything that will allow you to take a deep breath and renew your energy to tackle things again.

All of life is waves and cycles and seasons, something that you don't think of much when you're living on land, but something that is acutely accented when living on the water. I wouldn't trade the intensity of life here for anything. Sure, it comes with the cost of those deep lows, but that's a price I'm willing to pay. Any life richly lived comes with a cost. I'm learning to find ways to mitigate the depth of the lows and, in the process, I'm accumulating a wealth of memories, experiences, and stories for the grandkids. So if you're planning to cruise some day and you hear fearsome stories of weather and boat maintenance nightmares, don't let them scare you away.

It's a life well lived and worth every bit of effort.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The List and The Pile Part II

We've been here just a little over a month so far. Worker Man is settling into a bit of a routine, and I have many more checks on The List than I did a couple weeks ago. Besides trying to work around sharing the tools that are too expensive to duplicate (the ratcheting crimper, for instance), the projects have gone remarkable smooth. I confess to having tackled some of the shorter projects just to be able to check some off, and the longer projects are looming on the horizon now that most of the shorter ones are getting checked off. For those who care to see what a summer of upgrades looks like, here's the status.


  1. Remove old shower sump box
  2. Install new shower sump box
  3. Re-route fridge drain into new shower sump box
  4. Move old bilge pump to new position as backup (glass new mount into bilge, use existing wiring)
  5. Remodel old shower sump box into storage box for Coke cans
  6. Install new bilge pump (glass new mount into bilge, run new wiring from bilge to battery and from bilge to switch panel)
  7. Install new 3-way bilge pump rocker switch
  8. Make new chafe guards out of Sailrite boat blanket
  9. Make new windlass cover
  10. Make new jerry can covers for water jugs
  11. Make zippered flag sleeve for US flag
  12. Make new shelf support bracket for middle of electronics charging shelf
  13. Install new LED strip light in aft cabin with dimmer switch
And while not exactly boat projects, there were tons of administrative things that needed tackled like doing taxes, opening a new bank account here, making a doctor's appointment, suspending our InReqch till fall and sending out our headsets for refurbishment.

Yet to do:
  1. Install 12V plug in cockpit
  2. Install iPad mount in cockpit
  3. Rebed ports (13)
  4. Paint nonskid
  5. Refinish all the teak on the exterior of the boat
  6. Refinish hatch screen frames interior
  7. Make cockpit enclosure
  8. Find new whisker pole
  9. Find new spare anchor
  10. Polish stainless
  11. Replace leaking galley faucet
  12. Mount new bus bar in battery box
And tons more administrative things like getting new Florida drivers licenses, making dentist appointments, glasses for Tim, registering our EPIRB and renewing our boat insurance.

Are you tired yet? I am, so off to bed, but before I go, here's a picture for you to enjoy. I'm putting it here to remind us why we're working so hard.