Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Three Year Equipment Review

A new reader recently commented on a very old post, my 6 Month Equipment Review. After going back and reading it again, I thought it would be fun to do an updated post on the subject since many things have changed. So as we rapidly approach the first day of our fourth year of cruising, here's my three year equipment review for your perusal. It was good to go back and see the evolution of our choices, to see what stood the test of time and what didn't. So here you go...

Best of Show - iPads

Still the same as in the 6 month review - our iPads. We have two of the 3G iPad 2 models, both of them very old but still humming along (hear me knocking on wood.) We have the 3G model because it's the one with the standalone GPS in it. The wifi only models don't have standalone GPS, only assisted GPS so you can't use your charts once you get out of range of wifi. We still use Navionics and Garmin BlueChart for our navigation. We have them both because they do different things well. Navionics has a great auto-routing capability for planning purposes. It also does distance calculations better. Garmin has the Active Captain integrally downloaded so you see the hazard markers, bridge info, anchorages and marina markers even when you're offline. We use it constantly. We have the iPads in LifeProof Nüüd cases and use them in the cockpit with the Arkon Boat Helm Tablet Mount. We have two mounts, one on the binnacle and one under the dodger. We'll certainly have to upgrade the iPads at some point in the future but for now they're doing remarkably well considering that they're on almost all day. They are also our e-readers with the Kindle app, our music player to a bluetooth waterproof speaker, and we both use them to play games.

Best of Show...part 2 - Renogy Solar Panels

As with the 6 month review, two items tied for Best of Show. Other than the iPads, the solar panels are top dog. If you read the 6 month review you'll notice that the Honda Generator was in this place then. We hadn't installed the solar panels yet, and the Honda Generator saved the day. We installed 300 watts last summer and haven't looked back. With it, we installed a 1000 watt inverter to handle charging the laptops, shaver, etc that don't do 12v and we also use it to run the Magic Bullet for our protein shakes. While the Honda is still a valued resident of the boat, it's rarely used. With the stone cold reliability of the Honda, we know that when we need it, it will be there. The solar panels that we added were the Renogy 100 watt panels. We chose the rigid panels because they're a fraction of the cost. We built a frame to handle a quick-release mounting system and it proved its worth when we had to dismantle the boat in preparation for hurricane Joaquin last fall. The panels were easy to install, and the quality was excellent. Our 300 watts handle pretty much all of our electrical needs as long as we're in a mostly sunny location. Here in Florida our batteries are in float before noon, even with the inverter running. If we have a couple rainy, cloudy days then we have to either plug in or run the generator. If we had one more 8D battery then we would never have to do that. At the moment we have only one 8D house battery and one group 31 start battery. Adding a battery would be a pretty major production because it would involve modifying a built-in fiberglass battery box. Maybe next summer.

First Place - VHF Base Unit with DSC and AIS

In the 6 month review, First Place went to our Simultalk 24g headsets. They lasted for just a few months past that review and then croaked. The wiring from the headset to the base unit is a bit undersized and eventually wore out. In their defense, we used them a lot in harsh conditions. After they croaked we got used to not using them, developing various communication methods for docking and anchoring, but we always missed them. This summer I had them overhauled so when we leave in the fall they will be part of our equipment list once again, but for now we have a new First Place winner - our VHF Base Unit with DSC and AIS. Although we had the unit installed at the time of our 6 month review, we were very inexperienced in its use. In the past couple years we have come to appreciate and depend on the AIS capability, especially in light of the fact that we do not have radar. The VHF Base Unit is a Standard Horizon GX2150 that we bought at the boat show in 2013. In turns out that just shortly after we purchased that unit, Standard Horizon came out with a new version, the GX2200, that has onboard GPS and doesn't require an additional external GPS source. We may purchase one whenever our old GPSMap176 dies that we're currently using for that GPS input. The DSC is a highly underutilized function that allows you to directly contact another boat if you have their MMSI number. If more cruisers knew how to use this function it would greatly improve the usability of channel 16. For a pretty good article on using DSC, you can go here.

Honorable Mentions

Lavac manual head. We installed our Lavac head way back in 2011, long before the 6 month equipment review. But it's only after cruising for three years that we've come to appreciate its value. It has several really huge benefits.

  • The Lavac takes up less real estate in the head because the pump is placed behind the bulkhead or in a cupboard. This makes for a clean-looking install. 
  • It is a vacuum head so it has seals on the lid and on the toilet seat so when the lid is closed no odor escapes the head.
  • It only uses 3 pints of water to flush so that means we can use fresh water to flush it, avoiding the calcium buildup in our hoses that using salt water causes.
  • You can plumb it to flush with gray water.
  • We had the head for 4 years before we had to overhaul it and it took a whopping hour and a half from start to finish with very little odor.
We love the Lavac and will probably never own another type of head.

Bell & Howell Waterproof Tac Light. The newest addition to our equipment list. This little beauty has 5 modes - bright, medium, low, strobe, and SOS. It has a zoom function that narrows or widens the beam. In the SOS mode it continually flashes an SOS signal. It's completely waterproof, freeze proof, and shock proof. It comes with a lanyard and uses 3 AAA batteries. We've been using it for a few weeks now and my only problem with it is I should have bought 3 of them.

Delorme InReach. After three years, the Delorme InReach has really proved its worth. We thought long and hard about whether we wanted a Spot or the Delorme InReach and decided on the InReach because of the 2-way texting capability. We don't have an SSB or a satellite phone so the InReach works well for us for contact when we're out of range of cell service.  The messages are sent and received very quickly and we've never had coverage issues in any area we've traveled in. The service is reasonable, about $27 per month, and they now offer a weather forecast option for $1 per forecast. We have yet to use the weather forecast capability since we have the service suspended while we're working at the dock, but we look forward to using it while we're in the Abacos this winter and will update this post at that time

At-a-glance Logbook. After three years of cruising, this is still our go-to ship's log. The one we use is an 8.5x11 spiral bound At-a-glance brand professional appointments book. It has tabbed sections for each month and in each section it has a month at a glance, and daily columns divided hourly. At the back is a planning section divided by month which we use for our water, diesel, gasoline, propane filter changes and pumpout logs. We typically use the monthly calendar for the summary of non-maintenance stuff like who we had sundowners with, who we met, what we did socially. We use the daily log for travel records and boat maintenance records. We love this as a log book. It's so easy to keep and so easy to go back and find things so we tend to use it regularly.

LED strip lights. Everyone on a boat knows the advantage of replacing old-style incandescent light bulbs with LED drop-ins, and we have done that to all of our existing fixtures. We added some new ones though, some 2-foot long strip lights that fit under the galley cupboards, the nav station shelf, and go over the workbench. We got them from and they were dirt cheap and have lasted well. If you buy them, make sure you get the warm white. The cool white is very industrial looking and tires the eyes quickly. More recently, we added a bunch more of these. We put two long strips down the length of the settees to replace the old, ugly brass round fixtures. To say that they changed the feel of the salon would be an understatement. We're looking to add two more to the v-berth later this summer. This is a very cheap way to improve the interior of your boat.

Cabin fans. I have a love-hate relationship with cabin fans. For the marine industry you pretty much have a choice between Caframo and Hella. Kintala came with three Hella two-speed fans, two of which were making horrendous screeching noises when you turned them on, and the third worked intermittently. Both the Caframo and Hella were ridiculously priced so I replaced all three of ours with the cheapo Wal-mart 12v auto fans, just cutting the wire and wiring into our system. They were $11.99 and they worked for a year and a half. In looking for replacements that wouldn't break the bank, I happened on this one on Amazon. It had great reviews, so for the $22 price tag I decided to give it a try. I had to modify the mount by drilling four holes so I could screw it to the wall, but after a half hour I had the fan installed. If you buy one, be sure to disassemble the base so you know where the wires are located so you don't drill through them.  It's quiet, extremely powerful, fully adjustable, two speed. I also like the fact that it has two heads so when I install the one in the v-berth I can aim one in my direction and one towards Tim. The one in the salon has one aiming toward the galley and one toward the dining table. I can't testify as to the durability of it since we just installed it, but stay posted because I like this very much so far.

Microfiber cloths. After three years, I'm still buying one of the  really large packs of these at Costco about once a year. They are fantastic! We use some for the shop, for cleaning stainless, for cleaning floors, for waxing the boat. Some I keep clean for galley and head use. It's good if you can get two colors so you can color code them and not cross the head ones with the galley ones. They hand wash easily, don't stain much, and dry fast. They absorb so much more water than standard towels that I quit using dish towels in the galley altogether and have been using these to dry dishes. They get the dishes completely dry. We start with the new ones to dry dishes, then as they get worn or stained they move to the shop. Eventually they get used for polishing stainless or wiping up spilled oil and have to be thrown away, but they last much longer than any other towel and save many rolls of paper towels.

Battery-Powered Handheld Shower Head. I was hesitant to buy this because of some of the reviews, but I have to tell you it's one of the best purchases I've made. We used to heat our hot water heater every day with the generator, but the high setting of the generator needed to do that was extremely noisy and it took a half hour. We also didn't like the fact that it took over a gallon of water to get the hot water to the head (which is over 30 feet away), and since we only used a gallon for a shower it seemed like an incredible waste. With this shower head, we heat the tea kettle on the stove, mix it with cold in a bucket, and shower away. This has the additional benefit of showing you when you've used enough water. When the bucket is empty, the shower is over. The shower head has a rechargable battery and it charges quickly. It has good pressure, enough to rinse even my long, thick hair.

Non-electric stove top drip coffee maker. The one we have is very, very old. It was in my dad's original camping equipment so it's probably nearing 70 years of age. They don't make the one we have any more but you can find them on e-Bay. There is also a similar one on Amazon, although the reviews seem sketchy. I know a lot of people use electric coffee pots, but we try to stay away from high-drain electrical appliances. My only exception to that rule is my Magic Bullet.

Magic Bullet. I stood in Costco for the longest time trying to determine whether I would really ever use this thing. In the end, I bought it because it came highly recommended by a fellow blogger. I'm so unbelievably glad I did because we use it nearly every day. We drink protein shakes quite a bit on the boat and the Magic Bullet makes a great one. I also use it to grind things like oatmeal into oat flour and to chop up chicken for chicken salad (or ham). It works well on our 1000 watt inverter. The set I bought came with an assortment of mugs and storage cups and an assortment of lids as well. Worth every penny I spent.

Water Saver One Touch Tap Faucet Valve. We have a problem with water getting on the counter around our faucets in the galley and draining either into my pot and pan cubbie or on the floor, depending on which way we are leaning. I've discovered that the main reason for this is the water draining off my hands when I reach for the faucet handle to rinse. To remedy this situation I've tried a bunch of faucet-based water saver valves but have given up on all of them...until now. This one is so low-profile you can't even tell it's there. It works easily, allowing you to set the water temp and then with just a click on the button it turns off. You're never reaching outside the sink so the water outside on the counter is greatly reduced. It also saves a lot of water since it's so easy to click on and off in between each dish. One word of caution - don't forget to turn the water off at the handles when you're done. If it were to happen to fail or to get bumped it could empty your water tanks.

Luci Lights. Many cruisers have discovered the joys of Luci lights, but we were late to the game. I bought four of them earlier in the season and I doubt we'll ever have another type of cockpit light. They are charged by solar and last at least all night on one charge. If I hang the four of them up in the cockpit at the same time it's almost too bright. You can read comfortably on two of them. They are inflatable and water resistant so you can tote them into the water if you're having a floating party. You can also use them down below if you want to conserve battery power. The version we bought has a button that lets you see the current charge status. They are a little pricey but I got over that in a hurry when I saw how well they worked.

Drill Sharpener. As you may have noticed (I hear you laughing), we do a lot of projects on the boat. At some point in the last 3 years, and I don't remember exactly when, we invested in a drill sharpener. We do a lot of drilling in stainless tubing, some of which requires sharpening two or thee times in the course of one hole. We used it a ton when building the rigid bimini frame and the solar panel installation. When we looked at the cost of replacing worn out drill bits, it was worth the money and, in retrospect, it has already paid its price since we bought it.

Binoculars. We have a very nice set of Bushnell 10X50 that were gifted to us. It doesn't much matter what brand you have but they must we able to stand the motion of the boat and still focus, and be easily adjusted to your vision, as well as shock protected for the inevitable drop they will take. We use them constantly. We use them for marker spotting, for bridge openings, for wildlife spotting, for anchorage locating, for looking at boat names. They have a permanent place in the cockpit.

Dry Bags. We bought an Attwood dry bag before we left and it has held up well, especially for the price, but if I was going to do it again I would get one of the backpack ones.  I don't think the brand matters much. They all seem to do the same thing. Everything in a dinghy gets wet so you need some sort of protection for computers, wallets, phones, etc. It's good to have several in different sizes. Ours ended up getting used as our ditch bag, but we've since acquired a dedicated ditch bag so it will free up the Attwood one for other purposes.

Collapsible tub. We have two of these. One of them resides full time in the galley. We put dirty dishes into it and carry it to the cockpit to rinse them with salt water, then back to the galley to wash them. We have another one in the head which we use for washing clothes in. The great thing about this tub is that it collapses into about 2” and fits behind the head door. They have held up extremely well and I expect would outlast the life of the boat.

Collapsible galley stuff. They make a bunch of it and I will be buying tons more. I have a set of collapsible silicone funnels, half of which are in the galley and the rest in the tool bin. They collapse to about 3/4” thick and you can cut the ends if you need a bigger hole on one. They don't rust and they store easy. I also have a collapsible colander that's rectangle and has sliding arms on it that allow me to rest it across my sink. Great for washing and draining vegetables and fruit, although hard to clean if you use it to drain pasta. For that purpose I usually use a plastic hand held strainer. I also have a collapsible silicone drip coffee maker that is wonderfully useful. Tim drinks regular and I drink decaf so it's much more efficient for us. Washes easily, stores compactly, and doesn't rust.

Silicone bakeware. I only have one piece so far, a 12-cup muffin tin but I love it so much that I'll be buying more. The muffin tin in particular is a wise use of silicone because you can fold it into the sink to wash it and fold it into the small dish drainer to dry. Although you can fold it to store, I rarely make more than 6 muffins at a time so I just cut mine into two pieces which enables me to stack them. I was leery of these in the beginning, but they brown just as well as steel, don't stick as much, and wash easily.

½ Gallon Teakettle. I gave my teakettle to my daughter and bought a smaller, ½ gallon variety that would fit on the boat better. Teakettles are great on a boat because they heat the water without steaming into the boat. Humidity and condensation being the problem that they are on a boat, it's important to try to keep as much steam out of the boat as possible. This is why so many people use pressure cookers on board, although I haven't gotten there yet. As mentioned above, we also use the teakettle to heat water for our tub baths.

White men's tube socks. Yes, tube socks. They are the best for protecting wine and liquor bottles in cabinets. Just slip one over each bottle and stack them in a cupboard. They also work for any glass jars you might have in the pantry or real glass glasses that you might have brought on board.

Large Ziplocs and Space Bags. We have an assortment of Ziplocs on board. I know they're not politically correct, and you have to be very careful to dispose of them properly, but they are imminently useful on a sailboat. We do also wash and reuse them until they can't be reused any longer. We have the vacuum ones to keep linens and pillows and winter clothes and shoes in. We also keep our automatic pfds in one when at anchor for long periods. We use the gallon size for keeping extra flour in and books, and bread and cookies...the quart ones we use for transporting our wallets and phones back and forth to shore and for laundry quarters and...well you get the idea. We have lots of Ziplocs on board.

Rolly Cart. We started out in 2013 with a luggage cart that we brought from the house. It was useful, but with hauling 6 gallon containers of water and fuel and lots of groceries, it soon became apparent that we needed something much sturdier. We replaced it with the Magna Cart Personal 150-lb Folding Hand Truck. It rolls well on much bigger wheels than our old one, has held up well, and folds almost completely flat so it stores easier. Five stars on this one.

Keen sandals. We love the waterproof models of the Keens. They are comfortable and don't mold and have good grips for the deck as well as hard toes. We have a shoes on deck rule on this boat because, while it might not seem like a big injury, a broken toe reduces our sailing crew to 1, and there are many things on this boat on which to break a toe. We're finding that we go through a pair about once a year. I also have a pair of the Keen Bali slide sandal, but they push my foot sideways funny so I'll be looking to purchase these next time.

Parchment paper. I use this all the time in the galley. I never carry less than 2 rolls of it. I use it on my cookie sheet which allows me to have only one sheet and to change out the batches of cookies easily by sliding the paper off to the cooling rack and then sliding the next one on. Also keeps the cookies from burning on the bottom. I also use it to make pizza on. I get the dough ready on the paper and then slide the paper onto my pizza stone.

Seal-tite locking storage containers. I bought these rectangle storage containers from Aldi on one of their weekly specials. They come in three nesting sizes with 4 locking tabs on the lid and happen to fit my pantry perfectly. They are completely waterproof and I have never had bugs in anything stored in one. I keep all my pasta, sugar, pancake mix, etc. in these. Sadly I don't see them offered anywhere else although I hear the Lock-n-lock work about the same.

Recipes. We live in a digital world, used to grabbing our smartphones to look up the latest Cooking Illustrated or Food Network recipe for something. But, on a boat, you often just don't have connectivity and paper copies of your favorites are essential and a comprehensive general cookbook is a good idea. My friend Carolyn Shearlock's Boat Galley Cookbook is a great resource for your shelf. When you have internet connection, then please also visit my sister site, Cruising Comforts.

Infrared digital thermometer. We bought a cheap one from HarborFreight back before we left, and it's held up well. The batteries last forever (unless you manage to stuff it on a shelf where something hits the on button...) Its original purpose was to monitor the engine temp, but it gets used way more for monitoring the temp of yeast bread and pizza dough water and for frying oil.

A good ice pick. We buy ice in 10# bags and keep it in the fridge for drinks. We don't have a freezer, but the fridge keeps the ice frozen for over a week if you keep it right alongside the cooling plate. We use the ice pick because after a day the ice cubes are all frozen together. Just be sure not to succumb to the temptation to use the ice pick while the bag is in the fridge!!! I read a blog not too long ago of a guy that did that and...ooops...nicked the evaporator plate. It was a very expensive mistake. Multiple use tools again...the ice pick resides in the galley drawer at the bottom of the companionway and, as unpleasant as this may sound, would be my first choice of a weapon in the event that someone hostile boarded our boat. My particular ice pick is over 50 years old and was part of my dad's camping equipment.

A good pocket knife, diving knife, fillet knife, any kind of knife and a sharpening stone. You simply can't have enough knives on a boat and I believe our current count is about two dozen. It's a good idea to keep one in the cockpit for line cutting in an emergency. Same with mounted on the liferaft. Same with on your life vests. We keep a good defense knife by the V-berth in the event of a hostile instrusion. Tim also carries one with us every time we go to shore. Paranoid? Maybe, but lots and lots of sailors have been saved serious injury by possessing a good knife when they needed one. The key here is to keep them sharp. Tim has a good sharpening stone and he does my galley  knives at least once a week. He does the knife he carries at work nearly every day. A good knife is not going to help you much if it's not sharp so it's wise to get a good sharpening stone and learn how to use it.

A good non-electric griddle. We have an old aluminum one that is also over 50 years old and was also part of my dad's camping equipment. It goes across 2 burners on my stove and is used for many things, including for making toast. I've tried all kinds of toasting methods and I still find that dry cooking bread on a griddle makes the best toast ever. The only problem is finding one that's not non-stick. My experience is that non-stick does not last on sailboats. This griddle will probably end up getting passed along for many generations to come. Pancakes, grilled cheese, the perfect cheeseburger all call out for a good stove-top griddle.

Beer Tubes and/or Beer Box. I designed and constructed these a year ago and love them still. I detailed the design and construction on Cruising Comforts so you can go over there for specifics. Their purpose is to make it easier for the beer drinkers in the cruising family to access their beer which would normally reside on the bottom of piles and piles of other stuff. I noted in the post that there are a few design changes I would make, but as a whole they are indispensible for all cruising boats with a top-loading fridge.

Camco water filters and drinking water freshener. We filter our general tank water twice and our drinking water three times. Water is run through a Camco RV inline water filter hooked to our hose on its way into our tanks. Then we have another one of the same inline filters in our main water line as well as our separate fresh water foot pump line. Lastly, our drinking water comes from a dedicated drinking water faucet on the galley counter that has a two-cartridge high pressure water filter that removes everything including chemicals, bacteria and cysts. We put the Camco TastPUREdrinking water freshener in the tanks and it's the best we've used. Bleach goes away too fast, but the Camco has a stabilizer in it that makes it last longer and there is no taste. If the water stays in the tanks more than 2 weeks we add a little more to it. Super cheap and well worth the insurance.

A large bag of dry rice, reserved. We keep a ziploc freezer bag of white rice in a locker reserved for only one purpose, to dry electronics. We once threw the handheld VHF into the dinghy after forgetting to close the charging socket and it filled up with water. We took the faceplate and back off and put it in a ziploc filled with the rice and left it there for 4 days. Good as new. Works great on phones, tablets, and we even saved an old laptop of Tim's that got left under an open hatch. More recently it saved a brand new iPhone that got dumped into the drink - rinse it in fresh water, open all charging port covers, slip it into a knee-high stocking to keep the rice from getting inside the phone, tie off the top, and stick it in the sealed bag. For the iPhone it took almost a whole week to work its magic, so don't be impatient.

Locking cable. To lock the dinghy to the boat or to the dock you need a long, heavy,plastic-coated cable with eyes on both ends. We have one for the dinghy to the boat or dinghy dock, one for the motor and one for the generator to the boat. You feed one around something on the dinghy and then the other end goes around the boat or dock and is locked with a padlock. Oh yeah, you need padlocks for both the cable and for the outboard itself and lots and lots of WD40 or similar to keep those locks working in a salt environment.

Telescoping window squeegee. We use this one to clean the solar panels off every morning. Clean solar panels produce a lot more energy. When we're traveling the ICW we get that fine, yellow pollen all over the panels. In the Bahamas, it's the salt from the air. Either way, a squirt from a water bottle and a quick wipe and they're clean. I can reach them from the safety of the cockpit without having to hang over the sides of the boat.

One-gallon garden sprayer. We aren't one of the fortunate ones to have either an electric windlass or a wash-down pump. We bought this small garden sprayer and not only does it work well to clean off the chain and the deck, but it works well to rinse off a lot of other things like (ewww) bird droppings. I'm thinking about painting ours black so that the water will heat in the sun and using it as a cockpit shower when getting out of the water from swimming.

Spare batteries box. I found a plastic waterproof box online with compartments that fit standard replacement batteries. The one we bought isn't available any longer, but Amazon has a similar one. It's a good idea to take inventory of every item on the boat that uses batteries so you don't buy batteries that you don't need. My camera uses AA batteries and I somehow managed to run out when we were in the Bahamas. We had to spend $2.00 per battery to replace them in the Bahamas and they only lasted about 2 weeks. Turns out they were dated 2010.

Black Flag Window Fly Traps. These are 2.75" x 8" sticky papers that trap all kinds of flying and crawling insects. They work great on fruit flies and no-seeums. They have a narrow self-adhesive strip on the back that attaches the sticky paper to your port or anywhere else you want.

For a list of galley-specific tools that have worked for me, see the Cruising Comforts post Top Ten Galley Tools. Some of them have been listed here, but a few were not so it's worth reading the post.

Things we used then, but have not made the cut:

Cast Iron Grill Pan. We don't have a barbeque grill on the back of our boat. Anyone who has seen our boat in person understands why. The stern is too narrow and is already cluttered up with the bimini mounts, the outboard engine mount for the dinghy outboard, and the wind vane. As a result we bought a cast iron grilling skillet with the ridges in the bottom and the ridged press. You preheat it on the stove and when it's good and hot you add your oiled meat. For some meats like bacon, you preheat the press lid with the bottom, and then put the meat between the two. It does, in fact, cook meat just as well as a BBQ, but the cleanup became too much of a chore. I have since learned to make the perfect cheeseburger without the grill pan, so it's getting given away before we leave the dock this fall.

Command strips. Before we left I bought a huge assortment of Command strip hooks, accessories, and replacement strips. We used them to hang pictures, used their cellphone holder, and hooks in the head. While we still do use them, especially on the hooks in the head, we found that using them on teak is not a good idea. They leave a stain once you remove them that has to be sanded out. The cellphone holders were pretty useful, but they cracked easily if you bumped them so we ended up making a teak one.

O2Cool Battery Operated Fan. Disclaimer: the fan we owned is no longer produced so maybe they got it figured out. The fan was a battery operated 10" fan that sat vertically and used a bunch of D-cell batteries. Can't remember exactly how many but I think it was 6 of them or maybe 8. You could also run it on an AC adapter. The fan worked passably - it was quiet, but it didn't move a whole bunch of air. The batteries didn't last very long and they were horribly expensive. The AC adapter wire was way undersized so if you ran the fan for more than a few minutes on the adapter the wire would get warm. It scared me on the boat so it got tossed.

For a complete list of the items we bought early on and discarded even before the 6 month equipment review, see that review.

The danger in doing a post like this is that inevitably I remember something major that escaped my attention when I was writing the post. So I may from time to time update the post if I happen to think of something. Have something you particularly like on your boat? Leave it in the comments.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

It's a secret on the rebuild progresses. The inverter is fixed in place and all of the 4/0 cable is routed; that would be just shy of 200 feet worth. The batteries are in place, sharing electrons through 22 cables hooking the house bank together and leading to the remote battery switches. No big red twist switches on this boat, just two little push buttons to bring the batteries on line. (Very much like the master switch in an aircraft electrical system.) There are two because the hot and ground circuits from the batteries to the inverter each consist of two runs of 4/0 cable connected in parallel; part of the reason there is nearly 200 feet worth. It isn't that there is that much current being carried, though with the air conditioning running the inverter will be pulling around 180 amps out of the batteries. No, the issue is that current has to run slightly more than 40 feet, the system couldn't take the current loss of a smaller cable. (Also, too much smaller and those puppies would glow like toaster wires under a full load.)

An additional issue is the lack of space in the bow of the boat for a battery to drive the bow thruster, so it is wired to the ship's batteries with its own run of 4/0 cable; the rest of the reason there is nearly 200 feet worth. All this wire running required adding 5 different conduits below the floor and through the starboard engine compartment. One of the runs, the only one needing room for all 6 4/0 cables, two 2 gauge cables for the windlass, and some 120 volt AC lines, is 4 inches in diameter. It is the biggest conduit I have ever seen in a boat, let alone installed myself.

Included in all this wiring is a network that lets the inverter / charger, information center, and two shunt / power sources to chat with each and give out information on every unit in the system. Since it will eventually be hooked up to a laptop for programming, it might also remind you of your anniversary, start the coffee in the morning, and plot a course to the moon. But, while routing all of this networking wiring, a problem popped up. The wiring , which is all pre-fabricated and supplied with the various units, simply would not plug into the inverter / charger. Weird, since that thing is the heart and soul of the entire system. Searching through the piles of boxes didn't unearth some missing patch cord, nor did a careful review of the manuals, installation instructions, and diagrams, (all of which are now very familiar territory) shed any light on the problem. The manuals specifically state that all of the networking is done through through standard, and identical, cables. Various diagrams showed the inverter / charger daisy chained in just like every other unit, all of which accepted the standard cables just fine.

After nearly and hour of puzzling through various attempts to figure out what I was doing wrong it seemed prudent to throw in the towel and call in some help. Which, in this case, meant calling in outside help since no one in the yard has any more experience with this system than I do. It is relatively new to the market, and I feared that the appropriate level of product support would prove difficult to unearth. Fortunately, it only took two phone calls to have an honest-to-goodness system tech on the other end of the line, one who instantly went to the heart of my problem.

“Do you have the inverter combi interface?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Well, we should since we ordered it as a complete system though, I don't recall seeing anything called an “inverter combi interface” or putting any such a thing into the boat. In fact, I don't recall seeing any reference to an inverter combi interface in any of the paperwork I have, nor does it appear in any of the diagrams.”

“I know,” came the reply. “It isn't referenced in the paperwork anywhere. You need to get one though, otherwise you can't wire the inverter combi into the network.”

Okay then...

Apparently the need for an inverter combi interface unit is a closely held secret, one shared only with the initiated who have the special decoder ring which leads to the proper phone number. Once connected to the inner circle one then has to invoke the proper spell by asking the right question. Only then one will be blessed with the knowledge of the “inverter combi interface unit” and thus reach the Nineveh of a functioning system that will remind one of anniversaries, start the coffee, and plot a course to the moon. Of course someone also has to write a check for just less than $300...not including shipping.

So, don't tell anyone that I told you.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Out of Control

(Note: this is an impossibly long and technical post. I promise I will reward you with pretty pictures later. If you have the task of changing the control cables in your boat, please read on.)

Item # 17 on Tim's list: Throttle cable needs replaced.

Item # 18 on Tim's list: Shifter cable needs replaced.

One of the problems with projects like that on a list are that those eight words represent three and a half weeks of calendar time (rainy days and other things like errands and waiting on parts get in the way), and 9 actual days of working time. That's a long time to go without checking anything off The List.

Now if you think that any monkey ought to be able to change out three control cables on a sailboat in less than 9 days, be sure you never purchase a sailboat with a V-drive, at least one that Tartan made. Westerbeke was kind enough to place all the common service items on one side of the engine - oil filter, fuel filters, fuel pump, injectors, control cables - and then Tartan promptly turned the engine around backwards, installed a V-drive, and jammed all those nicely accessible service items right up against the refrigerator with a whopping 1" of space between, and that includes the 1" thick sound insulation.

It took every ounce of willpower this perfectionist could drum
up not to rip everything out here and start over. Who installs
things this way?? Those are my pink messenger lines.
Next, you take that same engine and add 29 years of previous owners and their desire to have all the latest electronic gadgets that require wire to be run hither and yon, and the adequately sized cutout in the bulkheads that the control cables were fed through all the sudden become horribly, inadequately, completely jammed full. Then there's the string of tie-wraps attaching all of that rat nest of wires to the control cables that have to be cut, some of them (of course) in the cubby at the foot of the aft berth under everything stored there, and it's full.

As if all of that wasn't enough, add the fact that some genius designer around the time of Noah decided that both the throttle and the shifter cables should be clamped in the same clamp, and that the clamp should reside 10 inches down inside the binnacle which has a diameter roughly the size of a grapefruit, and into which is stuffed a shaft, a shaft brake, steering chain, wire rope and lighting wiring. Of course, to do this one has to remove the shifter housing which is held on by four very long machine screws which have likely never been removed in 30 years and have frozen solid (3 hours, chisel, vice grips). No less, the genius (read: sadist) decided that to remove the cables (one of which comes up on either side of the wheel shaft), one has to disconnect the cable clamp, tie a line onto the cable ends, push the cable ends down into the binnacle, work the throttle cable under the shaft and then pull them both up on the port (shifter) side. Unfortunately, the genius failed to consider the fact that the clamp is larger than the space left between the shaft and the steering chain so it requires lifting the chain off the sprocket to provide the extra half inch missing.

Rudder post and steering wire rope in the background
The difficulty there lies in the fact that the chain is held in place by the wire rope attached to it, which is in turn held in place by the nuts fastening it onto the rudder quadrant. In order to lift the chain off in the binnacle, one has to empty the lazarette, climb down inside, unhook the wire rope from the rudder quadrant, climb back out, lift the chain off the sprocket. Oh, and then remember to reattach the nuts so you can lock the rudder down so the oh-so-kind sport fishermen in the marina don't break your rudder during their 5-knot approach to their slip next to yours. Hopefully, you remember this before you have put everything back into the lazarette (ask me how I know this.)

Three of my favorite tools. Two different lengths of bronze rod
and a ball of butyl tape. Combined, they are life savers for
maneuvering and retrieving all sorts of things.
After the chain is lifted off the sprocket, you need a long screwdriver or my favorite tool, a two-foot piece of bronze rod with hooks bent on each end, to work the clamp out of the binnacle so you can remove the control cables. Why in the world somebody designed it that way I have absolutely no idea. The logical way would have been to have single cable clamps on each side of the binnacle but, hey, I'm just a grunt mechanic so what do I know? Doing all of this necessitates unhooking the control cables from the engine end as well to give you the play needed. Ahhh...the plot thickens.

Remember the V-drive? To unhook the shifter cable from the engine end, you have to remove a cable clamp (one of the most accessible in the whole job), and then remove the cotter key holding the pin that runs through the clevis which attaches to the shifter arm. This was the easiest thing in the whole job and it took me two hours.
One of the screws for the clamp deep inside the engine

Since I was going to be doing the other two cables, I decided to replace the fuel cutoff cable as well. To remove the engine end attachments for the throttle and fuel cutoff, you have to remove the cables from the cable clamps and remove a nut from a ball fitting on the throttle and a set screw from the fuel cutoff. Each of those two attach points took over four hours. For two screws. Most of that time was spent laying on the engine with my arm nearly up to my elbow jammed between the fuel manifold and the exhaust anti-siphon hose. Working with one hand. Blind. The screws were standard, not phillips, and were less than an inch from the fridge side wall which meant using an offset screwdriver attached to my wrist with my handy 3-cent tool keeper, and getting about 1/32 of the full turn between each time I dropped the screwdriver. Easily retrieved by my tool keeper, wash, rinse, repeat...and repeat...and repeat...

Once you're ready to remove the cables, you have to attach messenger lines to them (I used Gorilla duct tape) and attach the bitter end of those lines to something on the engine. My messenger lines did get tangled on more than one occasion because I used standard weight messenger line. Notes on messenger lines: use a little heavier line like paracord  that you can really tug on, and color code them if you're doing more than one cable at a time. When you're reinstalling them, you'll be glad you did as you're often working in different cubbies where you can't see the whole line.

Three days to remove three cables. The first delay was waiting on the cables. Our shifter cable was a 6400 model Teleflex, and the really good parts guru here at Snead Island couldn't find one. Turns out, the only reason we had a 6400 was because the boat was originally outfitted with a Paragon transmission which requires one. Now we have a Hurth transmission which can function on a 3300 model. Cheaper, more readily available and half the thickness. Score! Easier to run back through the stuffed bulkhead cutouts. Ahhh, but the plot thickens again.

Converting from the 6400 to the 3300 also requires changing out the shifter handle shaft on the binnacle. The shaft we had was too thick to accept the clevis that fits on the 3300 cable. Lots of chit-chatting with Edson's very capable and kind technical staff and we had the parts on order. Ordering was the easy part. Installing was another thing altogether. Another half day (and half a can of PB Blaster) down the drain. It turns out that the set screw in the end of the shifter handle wasn't what was holding it. 34 years of corrosion did just fine, thank you.

Running the new cables turned out to be much less of an issue than removing them. The new cables were much more flexible and slippery. It took me less than 6 hours to run all three new cables. Keep in mind that it would take considerably less time to do all of this with a helper. Part of the reason it took me so long was I was climbing in and out of the boat constantly and the companionway stairs were removed to access the engine. It also involved going from access panel to access panel from cubbie to cubbie, each time moving the cable just a few inches. Color coding the messenger lines is extremely helpful in this process.

Installing the binnacle fittings and getting the cables anchored in the binnacle was next. This involves figuring out a way to hang a flashlight in such a way that it can shine past your head which is squeezed between the cup holder and the binnacle while holding a very long piece of bronze rod with a hook on the end. Why you say? Because the bronze rod will be used to try to prod the cable clamp bolt down into the binnacle in such a way as it lines up with the teeny little hole, push on the clamp to push the bolt through the hole, and then hold it there while you feed the nut on the outside of the binnacle. Oh joy.

Edson binnacle cable clamp
Last, but not least, you have the fun of attaching the engine ends of the cables. Shifter cable was the easiest, done in  just a couple hours. The throttle and fuel cutoff cables go through the cable clamps with those screws that are right by the fridge wall - one full day to get those screws in and get the ends attached. Part of that time was spent cutting the utility cable for the fuel cutoff. In spite of the fact that it was measured against the old one, it was about two feet too long. Not a difficult job, just time consuming. (I loves me some Dremel.) This was the  most difficult day of the job. In fact, it's the most difficult job I've ever tackled on Kintala and I have the cuts and bruises to attest to that.

I finished the cable install on Friday, and wrote this post that evening, fully intending to get to publish it Saturday morning after Tim helped me do the engine run-up to test all the cable functions. Saturday morning came, the engine started, water poured nicely out of the exhaust thru-hull, the oil pressure came up and...the engine died. Somewhere during the contortions of getting my arms into the areas needed to remove and replace clamp screws, I must have pushed too hard on the many fuel lines and worked something loose and the engine got a little air in it. It doesn't take much on a diesel, like I said in a post not too long ago. Rats-n-frackin. The weekend passed with a bit of a gray cloud overhead. I really really wanted to check the project off my list before the weekend but it was not to be.

This morning I dug up all my enthusiasm and all my Westerbeast bleeding tools and set to work. An hour and a half later the engine roared to life and all my newly installed cables functioned as should be. A few lessons were learned here, which I thought I would recap:

  1. I should have just taken off the fuel manifold to give me access to the space where the clamp screws were. I thought of this, but since bleeding a Westerbeast is NOT FUN, and I had just done it a few weeks before, I didn't go that route. In the end it probably cost me two days. I confess to being worried about damaging a fuel line trying to take off the manifold which would have cost many, many more days so that's my main reasoning for not removing it
  2. Use good color-coded messenger lines.
  3. Double check the cable placement in the binnacle clamp before you go to all the trouble of installing the clamp. The cotter key has to be firmly in the groove in the cable. Ask me how I know.
  4. Disassemble your compass and binnacle pieces periodically and lube them with Tef-gel. You or some other future owner will greatly appreciate it some day
  5. Take the time to do things right. A previous owner had done a real hatchet  job on repairing the block base on the fuel cutoff handle in the cockpit. It took me most of a day to fix.
  6. Make use of good techinical service when it's available. The guys on the Edson tech line are top-notch.
  7. If you're going to be working way back in the bowels of a 34-year old Westerbeke, be sure to take off your rings. This one I actually did think of before I started.

So before my English major daughter states the obvious that this post is almost one long run-on sentence, it was written that way on purpose because this project was the project from hell that just wouldn't end. And now, I believe, it's time for a project that's easier and a bit more fun. Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Beauty of the Florida Sky

It's summer in Florida. Every day there are afternoon and evening thunderstorms that yield some of the most amazing sky vistas. For those of you who might be land locked in a city where you can't see the breadth of horizon that we can here, these are for your enjoyment.


With Kintala resting in the state of Florida for several months, and with plans to return here next summer, it seemed reasonable to shift our official place of residence to the Sunshine State. There was some
paperwork hassles involved, but not as much as one might think. The finale was getting Florida driver's licenses, which turned out to be a very low key, even pleasant, experience. Having wrestled with Missouri's DMV for more than a decade, we were expecting the worst.

I never really thought I would end up as a Florida resident. I have spent a lot of time in the state. The last job I had involved regular visits to Ft. Lauderdale, with occasional stops in Key West, Ft. Myers, Jacksonville, and Daytona. Family vacations in my growing up years usually meant a week or so at a Florida beach or dive spot. Still, Florida is about as far south as America goes and it is brutal hot here in the summer. Insects actually own the state. They lease living space to the humans, getting paid in bites, itches, rashes, and just general unpleasantness. And I am not a big fan of hurricanes. I often said that “Florida was a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.”

Oops. One of life's little twists and turns.

Another of those twists is landing in Florida during a presidential election year, a “swing” state. For most of my life voting for a President was a duty that didn't really matter. The states I voted in were pretty much one flavor of politics or the other. With few exceptions there was little doubt into which column the electoral votes would fall. But, for reasons I will have to explore some day, Florida votes actually matter. Unfortunately, that means that the residents of Florida, which now includes yours truly, are being blasted with all of the attack ads literally millions of advertising dollars can buy.

Fortunately, Deb and I don't watch television, listen to commercial radio, subscribe to a newspaper, have a front door that campaign workers can knock on, or a mailbox into which they can drop fliers. (It never occurred to me that would be one of the advantages of living this life-style.) When I want to find out something about a candidate, I usually go to a web sight and read their position papers. The one place I don't look to for information is attack ads, which is pretty much all that those advertising dollars are being used to buy. Attack ads are, to me, just that; slander, propaganda, innuendo, and outright fabrications. They work of course, which is why all those advertising dollars are being spent. But that says more about us as American voters than it does about the pluses or minuses of any particular candidate. I can't even blame the ad buyers. If the job one is assigned to do requires a hammer, one doesn't go out and buy a tape measure.

I do understand that no politician is going to admit to mistakes, past indiscretions, failures of policy, or failures of conscience. Few will ever say, “We tried my idea and it was a disaster. We should try something else.” Normally one would think a free press would point out that kind of history. But the US has an entertainment industry rather than a free press; and that industry's only reason for being is to rake in advertising dollars, including those advertising dollars spent on attack ads. Thus attack ads are, unfortunately, a nearly useless attempt to fill the role the media has abandoned. One of the many serious flaws in our experiment in democracy.

But this is the only democracy we have, and my vote will (very slightly) matter this year. I hope to cast it as a quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful human being. A tall ask, that, since I'm not sure many of us qualify as quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful human beings. Quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful, and human being, may be a contradiction of terms. Nor is such something our society values or teaches. We like conflict, emotional outbursts, shoot -from-the-hip, over-the-top, free-wheeling, free-for-all bar fights. (And hyphens. Really. Think about it.) 

And it may be that a quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful review of this election will leave one thinking, “Well, now what do I do?" There is no one running who is quiet-minded, rational, thoughtful...hell, even their humanity is questionable.” Not their humanness, their humanity. (Note: there appears to be 25 some odd people running for President, and I don't want to suggest that none of them would be welcome on Kintala. But only 5 or six have any real name recognition, and only 1 of 2 will take the oath of office. And of that group, I can't imagine looking at any of them while thinking, "there's a person I would want to take on an afternoon's sail.") 

We will all just have to do the best we can and hope something workable survives past November. But I am glad to live a life that is light-footed, mobile, open to new experiences, and more self-reliant than some others. I am glad to have a boat full of tools that we know how to use.

And the Islands are only a day's sail away.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Story of Stuff

If you haven't been there yet, is a wonderful resource for news on new recycling efforts that will ultimately help to save the oceans by using less water and dumping less polution into the seas. Here's one of their recent articles by Andrea Newell that highlights an exciting new development in the recycling of clothing.

The Story of Stuff - Soon Your Clothes Could Be as Recyclable as Glass or Paper. Really.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mother Nature Rules the List

We've been on the dock now at Snead Island Boat Works for 132 days. When we arrived I had 45 items on my to-do list and Tim had 27. After adding a few since we got here, I now have 57 but 38 of them are checked off. Tim has one of those Magic Lists - you know the kind that you go off to work and when you come home something has been checked off. He has 15 left on his list.

I can't complain. Progress has been swift and I'm very pleased with the results. A lot of the reason for the progress is due to the excellent parts department they have on site here. Very nearly everything I need to get a job done is either in stock or can be here the same or next day. I haven't had to wait much for parts to complete a job. The one exception was waiting all last week for some Edson parts to arrive that weren't in stock so I can run the new throttle, shifter and fuel shutoff cables. They all finally arrived late yesterday - you know, the day the heavy rain arrived as well.

Since most of the indoor projects are done already, I'm sort of at a standstill until this giant low pressure that tried to be a hurricane decides to bless Georgia with its presence. So now I wait and try to busy myself with research and planning the remaining project needs as well as cleaning and sorting and throwing away a year's worth of accumulated stuff that somehow - even in 400 square feet - seems to migrate into the cabinets. Worker Man's Magic List will have to wait on Mother Nature.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Working it out

When we first started thinking about cruising as a way to retire early, we knew we didn't have the money to retire on land with the associated housing expenses and transportation expenses that come with the lifestyle. Our careers in aviation had provided a satisfactory upbringing for our three girls, but it hadn't left us with a huge retirement fund. If you've read thebook, then you know the whole story - how we started thinking about retiring onto a houseboat on the river because we could keep the motorcycles, how our middle daughter moved to Cape Cod, how we started looking at power boats to make that trip from St. Louis, and how we quickly began thinking about sailboats as an alternative that fit our travel budget. That was 2007. By 2011 we realized it was a thing we really wanted to make happen and we bought Kintala. Shortly after, I lost my job followed by the loss of Tim's job in 2013. We had a decision to make, and quickly. Our options were to:

  1. Find other jobs which would not likely be in our present location and would require a 2 year commitment and the mothballing / sale / or move of Kintala (Think big $$$$)
  2. Leave early, even though neither Kintala nor the cruising kitty were ready.

At that point, Tim was 58 and I was 57, both of us a long way from collecting Social Security even early at 62. We had some cash savings, we knew we could sell the car, the bike, and the house and come up with a couple years of cruising, but we also knew after owning Kintala for 2 years that unexpected expenses were likely. (Oh...if only we knew how many of them...)

It was about that time that I read a post by Mike on Zero to Cruising where he talked about their departure. They also had some funds to begin cruising, acrued from the sale of their business, but realized that the money they had wasn't going to last forever. I can't remember the exact words he used, but he made the statement that they decided to go and figure it out along the way because they had always managed to work things out through their lives together and they were confident they could find a way to make it happen. It resonated with me because Tim and I are pretty much the same. We've been thrown a lot of curve balls in our 44 years together but we've always managed to work it out.We decided to leave early, fully realizing that we would probably have to stop and work at some point along the way.

People cruise for all sorts of reasons. Some are trying to escape, some are out for the adventure, others are challenging themselves. Some cruise for the closeness to nature, others for the closeness of the cruising community. Some venture far, across wide oceans and to foreign lands. Others cruise the Great Lakes or the US coastline, the Chesapeake and the Bahamas. Some find a place they like along the way and settle for a while. Some are better off and travel in mega yachts, others are cobbling together small production boats with duct tape and wire. Some work, some don't. There are as many ways to cruise as there are people doing it. I said it in the book and it's worth repeating here: There is no right way to cruise, only your way.

I had a blog follower tell me recently that it seemed we were doing more working than cruising. Unless you're independently wealthy, were fortunate enough to save up a (pardon the pun) boatload of money, or even more fortunate enough to have a large inheritance coming your way, you will probably have to stop and work at some point in your cruising years. It's part of the life for a large percentage of the cruising community. Some are lucky enough to supplement their cruising kitty with writing, others have part or full time jobs in IT that they do from their boats, some make and sell jewelery, others are rated captains and charter their boats or do deliveries. Some cruise for a year or two, put the boat on the hard, go back to their professions for a year or two, then rinse and repeat. While neither of us had any desire to return to aviation, we did have a need for cash.

Just as the need for cash was becoming apparent, a friend of ours mentioned that he was in need of a mechanic. We checked the place out, decided it would be a good fit, and Tim started working for Snead Island Boat Works in April of this year. It's a good place to work, a company that does quality work and stands behind it. The people are hard-working, kind, and generous. So when they asked if Tim would return next spring after our winter tour of the Bahamas, he said absolutely. The extra summer will give us a financial cushion, allow us to wait a year to collect Social Security, give us a chance to learn quite a bit more about boats, and give us a home base to which our eldest daughter and family can visit for a prolonged period.

Yes, at the moment we are doing more working that sailing, but we're in this for the long term and we want to do it comfortably. Soon the working/sailing balance will tip the other way, and we will be the better for having been here. So, if you're planning your cruising life in retirement, don't be afraid of the prospect of working along the way. You just might find something interesting that captures your attention, something new to learn, some new coworkers to get to know. It's all part of working it out.

An amazing storm rolling into the basin at Snead Island Boat Works