Posts Tagged ‘maintenance’

In 2011, our first year cruising, we got what we thought at the time was a late start moving south; we left North Carolina in early November and putzed our way south, making it just south of Charleston SC by the beginning of December.  The following year we were delayed leaving the Chesapeake Bay when my father passed away rather unexpectedly, but still managed to make north Florida by December 1st, as we did for the three years that followed.  This year would be a different story.

Friday, December 2nd — We were still on the hard, but the Red Queen and Cheshire were finally reunited.  The reinstall went smoothly, or so we thought at the time.

Saturday, December 3-4th — Cheshire hung in the slings of the travel lift for the weekend while we touched up the bottom paint on the spots where she’d been blocked.

Monday, December 5th — After a bit more than 6 weeks, Cheshire was back in the water.  While we were in the well with a cherry picker accessible, Cheshire also got a couple of new spreader boots, had her screecher halyard re-rigged and her wind instrument tightened up.  The rest of Monday and Tuesday were spent getting things put back together, the dinghy back on the davits, the sails back up, essentially undoing all of the hurricane prep we’d done pre-Matthew.  In anticipation of some cold days on the water, we also put our eisenglass cockpit enclosure up, which we almost never use but are thankful to have when when it gets cold.  After topping off water tanks and some final provisioning, we bid farewell to our friends in Oriental and were ready to go.

Wednesday, December 7th we finally got off the dock.  The 16 days/15 nights that followed would prove to be some of the coldest we’ve experienced since moving aboard 5 1/2 years ago.

Our first few days out were cold, but uneventful.  We were up before first light most mornings, and underway before sunrise.  With the engine running, we’d have engine-driven heat, and with the sun shining, our full cockpit enclosure behaved a bit like a sun room.  Don’t get me wrong… we were still wearing layers, wool socks, hats and gloves, even inside, but it was manageable.  We’d stay on the water as long as we dared and still manage to have the anchor down before dark.  The latter was easier than we thought, as we didn’t have much competition for anchorages this late in the migration season.  Our evening routine was to cook a hot meal, then huddle under fleece blankets reading until bedtime.  The following morning, we’d get up and do it again.

Instead of hoping offshore, we opted to stay inside (in the ICW) at least to start with, partly due to the cold, but mostly because we wanted to give the engine a good solid test.  It ran well, the weather was cooperative, we had anchorages to ourselves and the bridge tenders were most pleasant (translate: it’s their slow season).  We opted to pause in Holden Beach at their new “courtesy dock” which, contrary to the info we had, was not free.  It did have power however, and after three days on the boat, provided a nice chance to walk a bit.  And of course, the Captain found chicken wings.  And we had heat overnight.

The couple of days that followed took us into South Carolina, along the beautiful-even-in-December Waccamaw River.  We made a stop at Osprey Marina, a favorite of ours, where we scored another jar of their yummy hot pepper jelly and again warded off some freezing overnight temps.


Then things got interesting.  As we started to close in on the end of day 5, we were deep in the marshes of coastal South Carolina, surrounded by lands designated as national wildlife refuge  and national forest lands, translate: beautiful and the middle of nowhere.  Looking ahead, the following day would put us in the Charleston area, and we talked of maybe taking a lay day.  It was just after 4pm, daylight was fading quickly, and we were headed for a familiar-to-us anchorage, having calculated we’d just make it before dark.  Mike was at the helm when he noticed that the engine temperature gauge was not right… like reading that the engine was not hot, which is better than too hot, but still…  I took the helm while he popped open the engine compartment in the back of the cockpit, only to find engine coolant spewing.  Not good.  After a few minutes, he figured out that the bracket that holds the coolant hose onto the engine block was missing a bolt, and in its loosened state, had been too close to the alternator belt which had chafed a hole in the hose.  In the middle of nowhere…  With dark fast approaching…

While I stayed on the helm, “steering” our Cheshire without power in a wicked tail current down a creek lined with marsh grass, punctuated with the occasional wooden dock, Mike managed to jury-rig a fix, first with so-called Rescue tape (which didn’t work on a messy hose), then with heavy-duty duct tape (my Dad would be pleased).  He then sat on the cockpit floor for the next 35 minutes, which seemed more like 35 hours, with a fiberglass pole jammed into the engine compartment to hold the hose off the alternator belt, while we fired the engine, held our breathes and motored into the nearest anchorage.  We were anchor down right at dark and on the phone with TowBoat US before the night was out.

For those who are not familiar, TowBoat US is like AAA, except for boats.  There are a couple of companies that provide the service, but in 5+ years, we’ve never had to use it.  Until now. It saved our butts, and is worth every penny.  I don’t even want to think about what the tow would have cost without it.

We made arrangements for them to collect us from the anchorage the next morning.  Jason, our towboat operator couldn’t have been nicer.  He showed up even earlier than expected and towed Cheshire and her crew without incident to Tolers Cove Marina, another familiar-to-us spot near Mt Pleasant SC.   Tolers Cove is mostly a sportfish marina with not a lot of room for transients beyond a day or two, but they were kind enough to let us hang out on the backside of their fuel dock for a few days.  Three hours under tow, including some skinny water and a restricted bridge, and we were safely tied to a dock mail ordering parts.  At least it was a Monday.

Mike found a replacement bolt at a local hardware store, but the funky shaped hose had to be mail-ordered.  We opted for expedited shipping, but weather in Michigan and a “mechanical problem” with a cargo plane delayed things a bit.  Our parts finally arrived mid-morning Thursday.  The hose replacement actually went fairly smoothly.  Then we decided to go ahead and do that earlier-than-usual oil change our mechanic in Oriental had recommended.

Mike started the engine up to let it warm up… except the engine didn’t warm up.  Apparently the low temp reading on the gauge wasn’t entirely about the coolant hose leak, rather a weird coincidence of timing.  Mike decided to pull the thermostat and take a look. (See photo below which in my humble opinion doesn’t resemble any thermostat I’ve ever seen).  Apparently it’s a pretty simple open or closed devise that got stuck in the open position by a tiny piece of debris. At least we were fortunate that it didn’t get stuck closed, which could have resulted in the engine overheating!  In any event,  Mike was able to dislodge the rock, reinstall the thermostat and all was well.  Given the late hour, we opted to skip our planned grocery run and instead walked down to Sullivans Island for a splurge meal at the Obstinate Daughter where the martinis were most delicious.

Another 2 1/2 days on the water brought us to the Savannah area where we’d arranged to meet up with cruising friends Dawn and Paul who were road-tripping up to New England for the holidays.  They gets bonus points for flexibility, messaging back and forth regarding timing, location options, etc.  We were tied up at the dock at Bahia Bleu Marina before noon, allowing for some much needed laundry.  Mother Nature even sent us a freaky warm day so I was able to wash our few, much worn cold weather clothes.  We had a great albeit short visit, including a much needed/much appreciated grocery run.

Our final push, 3 1/2 days, brought the cold weather back, along with some damp rain and occasional fog.  The Captain resorted to taking a pair of scissors to a perfectly good pair of gloves, cutting out the thumb and index finger of the right glove, enabling him to use the iPad we keep at the helm for additional navigation assistance.  We wound our way through the marshes and across the sounds of coastal Georgia, and were disappointed that the sun remained hidden even as we crossed into the Sunshine State.  A bit south of Jacksonville it finally cleared, and our last morning at anchor for this stretch was lovely.

The numbers:

This run from Oriental NC to St Augustine FL was approximately 600 statute miles or about 522 nautical miles, and took us 16 days.

Of those 16 days, we were underway for 12, plus 1 under tow.  We had only 3 lay days where we stayed put, but for repairs, none for weather, the latter of which is remarkable given the season.

Of our 15 nights out, we spent 8 of them at anchor, and 7 at a dock… which is more dock time than our usual, but we splurged a couple of times for dock power on the particularly cold nights (dock power = heat overnight), spent 4 nights on the dock for the engine repair (which included a couple of cold nights as well), and another to hook up with friends for an afternoon/evening.

In a nutshell:

It wasn’t our most pleasant cruise; the engine issue was particularly challenging, but not as bad as it might have been.  I was reminded once again how much I appreciate that Mike is scary smart and able to fix so many things.  We managed to survive the cold, but were reminded that we really are fair weather cruisers. We so missed our usual slower, more relaxed, stop and explore along the way pace.

In the end, we made it to north Florida/St Augustine in time to grab a rental car and spend Christmas with my Mom in the Florida panhandle.  Now we’ll hang here for a few weeks, appreciate the relative warmth and sunshine, catch up with some friends,  and regroup/plan for what comes next… which hopefully isn’t another boat project.

As always, stay tuned.



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Today is November 30, the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season… whoo hoo!  It also marks the end of our second month in Oriental, the stay that we’d anticipated would be one month maximum.  And we haven’t left yet…  Assuming we actually do get on the water and moving at some point in the not too distant future, it will officially be our latest start south to date.  We’re also anticipating some of our coldest days on the water, but I’m trying not to freak out about that just yet.  Last but not least, the reason for our still being here, today also marks a solid month since we sent the Red Queen off to the diesel hospital.

In all honesty, autumn in eastern North Carolina has been lovely.  For the most part it’s been cool, clear and sunny.  Occasionally overnight temps dip into the 30’s, and occasionally it rains… like today, but mostly it’s been beautiful.  The cooler temps wouldn’t even be so bad if we were in the water and could use our reverse cycle air-conditioner/heater.  On the hard however, we have only our little ceramic disc space heater, which on our uninsulated boat takes the edge off at best.  We move it back and forth from the main cabin/salon by day to our forward cabin overnight.  Between the space heater and two fleece blankets, we’re pretty toasty overnight.  Some evenings we find a way to be off the boat soaking up the heat of one of the several restaurants in the area.  Other nights we layer up, cover up and read.  Mornings are generally the more challenging.  Often times we’ll take a walk or go out for breakfast while the sun warms things up a bit.  Climbing up and down the ladder umpteen times a day also keeps the blood moving.

Another challenging aspect of living on the hard is that we don’t use the sinks, particularly when we’re doing hull work.  Normally, our grey water discharge drains through a thru hull into the water, which on the yard would make for puddles around the boat, after running down the sides of the boat.  We opt instead for using minimal water (translate: washing hands, rinsing dishes) into a stainless bowl about the size of our sink that I dump and clean out each evening, but actually washing the dishes is done off the boat utilizing a bucket and a hose.  Not so bad actually, until you realize that we’ve been doing this for pushing 6 weeks now.  Needless to say, we’ve been keeping meals simple… one pot if possible.

Yet another challenge is operating w/o a freezer, or more specifically with a freezer that freezes only intermittently.  We’ve learned that our fancy new fridge, the one we installed just last winter, works like a charm, except when the ambient temperature is really cold.  Overnight lows where the cabin temps dip into the 50’s count for cold.  Not unlike dorm fridges, the shoebox-sized freezer box is not really separately insulated.  The problem is that when it’s cold, the fridge doesn’t run as often, which means the freezer doesn’t stay frozen.  Except when it’s a bit warmer, then it’s fine.  Our alternative is to dial the Engel (our secondary fridge used mostly for beverages) back to freezer mode, which we may do at least temporarily when we head south and don’t have the option of grocery shopping a day at a time.

OK, enough about the challenges.  There has been plenty to be grateful for as well.   As always, we’ve enjoyed being back in Oriental and catching up with friends who are based here.  We joined in a new-to-us Oriental tradition, a Thanksgiving morning bicycle ride; rumor has is there were about 90 of us pedaling that morning.  After our simple meals on the boat, a complete Thanksgiving dinner at our friend Mike’s was a real treat, as was the opportunity to “housesit” for our friend Laurie while she was away for a few days over the holiday.  We were reminded of how much we enjoyed a gas fireplace when we last lived on dirt.  In addition to our favorite haunts, there are a couple of new restaurants in town since our last visit, including a Mediterranean place called Layla’s.  Here’s hoping they make it… the location has not been kind to previous restauranteurs.  I’ve also found a local yoga studio, which has been an especially nice counterbalance to some of our boat projects.

At this point, our big yard projects are done.  We’ve replaced a faulty thru hull, completed some routine maintenance on the drive leg, buffed and waxed the hull and put a couple of coats of bottom paint on.  More recently Mike has replaced a couple of fans that died painful rattly deaths, and transformed 200 feet of 5/8″ 3-strand nylon into 6 fancy new dock lines (including splicing the eyes… most impressive to watch I might add).  Meanwhile I’ve been on a cleaning spree, trying to keep the mildew and mold at bay in these damp conditions.

At the risk of jinxing us, I believe the end may be in sight.  The good news is that the Red Queen wasn’t terminal, but did need some professional TLC.  Her transmission spent a stretch in Marblehead, MA in the care of a Westerbeke transmission specialist.  It’s now back in Pamlico County where our mechanic Darrell is putting her back together with some new bits, including a new engine main seal that was backordered for what seemed like forever.  The plan, as of today, is for the Red Queen to be returned to us this Friday.  We’ll spend the week-end in the lift doing the last touch-up of bottom paint on the spots where we’ve been blocked.  If all goes according to plan, we’ll go back in the water on Monday.  We’ll spend a couple more days getting things put back together, undoing our hurricane prep.  The dinghy, stored on a rack at the marina for the last couple of months will go back on the davits.  The sails and cockpit enclosure will get dug out and put back together.  We’ll do some final laundry and provisioning and then, as soon as weather permits, we’ll be on our way.

That’s our plan… in the sand… at low tide.  Here’s hoping…

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hurricane_matthew_cumulative_wind_historyMany apologies to our readers… it’s been a solid month since my last post, and a busy month at that.  Those who also follow us on social media know by now that we survived Hurricane Matthew without damage.  Mike stayed in Oriental and tended to Cheshire while I spent two weeks doing my annual triangle trip (Cheshire > IN > FL> Cheshire) helping Mom with her move down to Florida for the winter.  It was a stressful stretch, binge-watching the Weather Channel as Matthew barreled its way up through the islands, up the coast of FL and beyond, leaving an incredible amount of destruction in his path.  Our beloved St Augustine, FL was hit particularly hard; this piece from the local newspaper has some details and photos, as does this blog post by a fellow cruiser currently based in St Augustine.  There were boats washed up into the marshes, at least one marina destroyed and hundreds of homes lost.  This NPR piece has some before/after aerial photos of the shorelines just north and south of the city.  Needless to say, they are still very much in recovery mode and will be for some time.  Had this storm hit last year at this time, Cheshire and her crew would also have been in town and might not have fared so well.

Further north, Oriental saw only a bit of high water, but no more than a strong nor-easter might bring.  The winds were a bit stronger than in previous storms we’ve weathered here,  though Mike says our anemometer (wind instrument) was being wacky, so we don’t know exactly  how strong.  A bit further inland in eastern North Carolina though, there was some significant flooding.  All in all, we consider ourselves lucky, having dodged another one.

Up and down the eastern US coast, the recovery continues.  In addition to the damage done to boats, marine facilities, and homes along the waterways, the coastlines themselves have been rearranged, with inlets where there didn’t used to be, shallow spots where the bottom of the waterway has shifted around, and many channel markers blown off station if not blown away all together.  The Great Dismal Swamp Canal is still closed.  Many bridges were affected and we’ve heard of numerous cruising boats with taller masts than ours having to wait for water levels to recede before they can pass beneath some of the tall bridges along the ICW.  As anxious as we are to get moving south before the weather turns cold, we’re also OK with allowing some of the dust to settle, so to speak.

Meanwhile, in Oriental, we’ve been staying busy.  Within 48 hours of my return to Mike and our Cheshire, we were hauled out and onto the boatyard for yet another round of projects.  Living aboard on a boatyard is no fun, but I have to say, it’s way more comfortable in North Carolina in October than in north Florida in August.  We had a bit of rain this morning (hence my finally pulling the laptop out for some blogging), but otherwise its been clear and dry, perfect for getting some projects done.  (Rollover the photos below for captions.)

The primary reason for this haul is to have some engine work done.  Our 27-horse Westerbeke diesel has been hemorrhaging various fluids for a few of months now… a bit of coolant, a bit more engine oil and a scary amount of transmission fluid. We watched closely/topped off frequently, hoped to avoid a catastrophic failure further north, Plan A being to pause in Oriental and have her tended to.  Thankfully the Red Queen was on board with Plan A.  (For those familiar with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the Red Queen moniker is a reference to the movie character…  small, loud and demanding of much attention.)  Unfortunately, it took 10 days after our haul for the planets to line up for having the engine pulled… which won’t be a huge deal unless we’re still in North Carolina for Christmas.  Mike made good use of the delay and saved us a bundle in labor costs by doing much of the engine disassembly in advance.  In any event, the actual engine pull was no small task, involving the travel lift’s crane, and several hands; I mostly tried to stay out of the way and take photos.

As I type, our Red Queen lies in the diesel hospital.  We know she’s got a bad seal… not such a big deal/expense to replace.  We’re awaiting word from a specialist about the condition of the transmission… potentially a much bigger deal.  For now we wait…

In the meantime, there are other as-long-as-we’re-hauled-anyway projects to keep us busy.  Mike’s tending to the messy ones… replacing a defective thru-hull and performing some routine maintenance on the drive leg.  I on the other hand have been distracting myself with cleaning.  After hearing some horror stories lately regarding rigging failures, we decided to dismantle/inspect and reassemble the headstay hardware… the bits that hold the jib (forward sail) and mast up.  Thankfully they were in fine shape, just needed a bit of polishing.  I’ve also been polishing and waxing the hull… always forgetting how much surface area there is on our cat until she’s out of the water.  It’s a big job, but kind of a zen thing for me, wax on, wax off…  I’ve also found a local yoga studio; my body is appreciating the occasional class to help balance all of the more strenuous work.

Other projects on the list… we’ll definitely scuff and apply a couple coats of bottom paint.  Depending on what happens with the engine, Mike’s also wanting to replace the shift and throttle cables, but that’s on hold for now.

And sometimes we play… We’ve gotten to catch up with some old cruising friends, as well as meet some new folks as they come and go with the cruiser migration.  The annual Chili Cook-off was a great success, raising big bucks for the local theatre’s badly needed roof replacement.

Especially being on the hard where cooking/dishes are more challenging, we’ve been supporting some of our favorite local eating establishments and checking out a couple of new ones.  I can also personally vouch for the Pumpkin Spice Latte ice cream currently being dipped at the Bean down on the waterfront.  We love Oriental, and it’s nice to be back for a stretch, but the temperatures are starting to drop.  Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for our Red Queen.

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Filed under “It’s not all sunsets and rum drinks”, or more accurately of late, “It’s not all lighthouses and gin & tonics” …

Planned projects, big or small, are one thing.  We decide what needs tackled, do some planning, order/purchase parts and get started.  We generally try to do these planned projects when we have 1) an address  and 2) access to marine supply and/or hardware stores, because despite our preparation, there are often last minute bits that are needed.

Then there are the unplanned projects, the ones that  present themselves on their own schedule, whether you’re up for a major project or not.  Such has been our recent adventure with plumbing.

I’ve written before about the sounds of living on a boat.  There are the “outside” sounds… the sounds of nature, a neighbor’s halyard slapping in the wind, a fellow cruiser dropping or hauling in their anchor chain, among them.  Then there are the “inside” noises… the quiet hum of one of our refrigerators cycling on/off, the whirr or sometimes rattle of one of the fans that are often running, and the quiet sound of the water pump cycling on/off when doing dishes or brushing our teeth.  Our brains learn to make an unconscious note of the normal noises (described above), distinguished from noises that indicate a problem (i.e. the smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector or bilge alarm).

So, one night maybe 6 weeks or so ago, we’re on the hook in a quiet anchorage, dinner is over, dishes have been done and stashed away.  As is often our habit in the evening, we’re sitting on opposite sides of the settee reading.  It’s peaceful.  It’s quiet.  Then we hear the muffled sound of the water pump cycling on, then quickly back off…. which is a familiar/normal sound, except that neither of us is running water.  That means that we’ve got a leak somewhere in the system.  Air is getting in, and/or water is getting out.  A day later we discovered the tiniest of drips from the galley faucet.  Mike disassembled the faucet, cleaned it up, put it back together… still, it dripped.  Add that to the list of things to tend to the next time we’re at a dock for a while and have an address.

Except the drip got worse, so much so that we parked a qt-sized bottle under the faucet to catch the water for reuse… every drop is precious on a boat.  Eventually it became a steady stream so bad that we resorted to turning the water pressure off when we weren’t actively using water, which was a bit of a pain, but was at least less wasteful.  In the meantime, Mike researched replacement faucets, and ordered one to be shipped to Duncan/Daniela’s address on the Vineyard.

A few days after our arrival, we collected the new faucet and Mike installed it. Have I mentioned that he hates plumbing projects?  He loves the electrical stuff, doesn’t mind  working with wood though often laments having given up his “proper tools”, but he hates plumbing.  There was much swearing.  For starters, unlike on dirt, there is no cabinet under the sink to access the plumbing.  The sink had to come out.  There were references to things not fitting… something about British threads, things being more complicated than they needed to be, things crammed into too-small spaces… much swearing.  Long story short, he got the new faucet installed while I cleaned all of the old silicone off the sink, then we reinstalled it.  New improved faucet, a shiny clean sink, problem solved.  Except that it wasn’t…

Within 24 hrs, really, like the silicone hadn’t even completely dried, we were hearing the water pump cycle on/off again.  Except that this time the faucet wasn’t dripping.  No, now we’re leaking from the connections between the faucet and the hoses, an ever so slight seeping, where you can’t so much stick a bottle under it until you get around to a real fix.  A small leak wanting to turn into a bigger leak.  This was definitely turning into a more major  project.  We decided to temporarily turn the pressure system off and use the manual foot pump in the galley (which we almost never use), which stopped the leak,  but also meant we had no water in the head sink.  It was a temporary fix until we were ready to tear the galley sink out again; turns out it would be even more temporary than we thought.

LS_20160730_131810The foot pump solution worked for a couple of days, until it didn’t.  I was doing dishes, using the foot pump, when the water coming out of the pretty new faucet suddenly got really nasty… cloudy, brownish-red colored and with all kinds of scummy crap floating around in it, and then the foot pump started sucking air and died.  Died!  Our plumbing problem just got worse.  Now we had no running water, and even if we could access it, it’s compromised.  Thankfully a few days prior, Mike had located a local plumbing supply place where he picked up a pint jar of PTFE thread compound (of which he needed a few teaspoons).   We  proceeded to tear the sink out again, took apart and reassembled the connections, removed/bypassed the foot pump, but this time left the sink out overnight to be sure the leak was resolved.  Finally, it was.

Meanwhile, back to the foot pump failure and the nasty water.  After much pondering, we decided we don’t know for sure what caused the pump failure, but we have two theories. Either the original-to-the-boat foot pump, now 14 years old though not often used, when pressed into heavy service just gave it up, or it was somehow compromised by the nasty water suddenly being forced through its guts.  But why the nasty water, you might ask.

Let’s back up to how fresh water gets into the boat to start with.  As I’ve detailed before, we have two fresh water tanks, one under each aft bunk.  Each has a fill location/cap at the stern, virtually inaccessible lengths of fill hose that run into the guts of the boat and into the fresh water tanks.  Each tank also has a smaller vent hose that runs from the tank  and tees BACK INTO THE FILL HOSE just a few inches below the fill opening.  Stay with me here… What that means is that when we fill the water tanks, either by hose, by jerry can, or off the solar panel/rain gutter system, we need an 18″ length of hose long enough to bypass the vent so as not to fill it with water.  Pain in the ass, but once you know how it works, not such a big deal.

OK, so back to the nasty water.  While we pondered the possibilities, Mike confessed.  While preparing to collect some rainwater the previous day, he had forced the collection hose way way way deeper than necessary to bypass the vent (instead of using the shorter length of hose sized for that purpose),  through a curve in the fill hose, and in the process likely scraped 14 years worth of accumulated growth and scum from the inside of the fill hose, which then got flushed into the port tank.  Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds.  (Note: I regularly purge and clean the fresh water tanks, and we have a system for purging the pressurized parts of the water system, but we’d not yet figured out how to deal with the fill hoses.  We’re now puzzling how to clean or replace them, but that will definitely wait until we’re at a dock.)  The starboard tank seems to have been unaffected, which argues that our theory is in fact what likely happened.

Needless to say my next task was to purge and clean the port tank, which is now sparkling clean and full of fresh clean water.  The shiny new galley faucet is working beautifully and a replacement foot pump has been ordered/received…. though I suspect it will be quite some time before the Captain is motivated to install it.


Plumbing project complete… or close enough.  Check.

Now, about that transmission oil leak…


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Fun with Impellers

I had a realization few days ago, while talking with another cruising couple we’d just met. I was recalling  how stupid I felt during our early weeks of learning to live aboard a boat. In a house, I generally knew how things worked, but then things were a bit simpler on the surface. Consider water and power for example. Water spigots, faucets… you turned them on and out came water. Electric outlets and light switches… plug in, switch it on, voila, let there be light, or power or whatever. All in all, pretty simple to operate. I was proud of myself for knowing where the water main was located in our condo and how to turn it off in the event of a problem. Even our gas fireplace was on a wall switch.  And I had no earthly idea what an impeller was.

On a boat, even simple things aren’t so simple. I’ve posted a bit about our water and power systems, but where I’ve been stretched the most is trying to understand the mechanical heart of our Cheshire, her diesel engine.



I’ll confess that I have no ambition of becoming a diesel mechanic, but I do feel more comfortable when I have at least some understanding of how these systems work. Mostly I learn bits and pieces as we muddle our way through routine maintenance chores and fix things that break. As I’ve said before, we can afford to live this life only because we have a willingness to tackle most of these things ourselves. I’ll also say again how lucky we are that Mike is so scary smart about how things work. And I’m learning a bit.

Many readers of this blog know that in our lives on dirt, Mike worked for Honda of America. He was a computer geek, but one of the perks of his position is that we got relatively cheap lease cars, with insurance paid and all maintenance done by the Service Center on site at the plant. We kept them gassed up, ran them through a car wash occasionally, and when the little dash light came on that indicated a service due, we scheduled an appointment to drop it off.  Mike dropped it off in the morning, and picked it up again at the end of business.  That was it. Awesome perk. Needless to say, the care and feeding of our Cheshire’s Westerbeke 30B3 diesel engine has been a big learning curve for us.  We’re committed to it though.  I figure if we take good care of it, it’ll take good care of us.

A few years back, after some offshore excitement (more here),  we learned that de-gooping our fuel tanks periodically also keeps the engine happier.  During one stay in St Augustine, we actually pulled both fuel tanks out and “deep cleaned” them.  Mike also added two additional fuel separators in parallel, ahead of the original one.  These filter goop from the fuel before it gets to the engine, and are in a cockpit locker much easier to access for regular maintenance and can be switched and drained while underway in the event of a problem.  Still, goop settles in the bottom of the flat fuel tanks, below the fuel pick-ups, and pulling the tanks out to clean them is more than a small project.  Mike’s ingenuity to the rescue.  He designed a “tipping” system where we can tip the tanks a bit without fully removing them, and use a cheap and cheesy fuel pump system he also put together to suck from the lowest parts of the tanks where the goop settles.  He’d rigged this system for the port tank a while back, but had never gotten around to doing it for the starboard side, until this week.  Except that when we pulled out said cheap and cheesy fuel pump for the de-gooping, it wouldn’t pump.  Apparently a single-use item.  We now have a pricier but more reliable 12-volt fuel transfer pump that worked beautifully for us, as well as for a neighboring boat in the harbor.  It was a several day project to “install” the tipping mechanism, but it should make for much easier work down the road.

Fuel tanks de-gooped… Check.  Next up, an oil change.

While routine oil changes aren’t our favorite boat chore, we’ve done them enough that they’ve become, well, routine.  Every other time we do what we refer to as a “full service” oil change, which involves changing a couple of extra filters.  Spread the tarp out in the cockpit, dig out the bits and bottles we need from various storage locations go at it. If all goes well, it takes a couple of hours, start to finish.  Except for this last time…

While changing the zinc (a bit that corrodes via electrolysis  instead of having other important bits corrode), we discovered that we had a broken impeller (a whirligig bit that moves water through the raw water pump on the engine).  It happens occasionally, which is why it’s something we carry spares of.  Except that we were not aware that when we replaced our raw water pump a couple of years ago, that the old pump had been redesigned and no longer used the same impeller.  So we had two spares, neither of which was compatible with the new pump.  Fortunately, by day’s end, we’d located a couple of the correct ones from a local supplier.  Even better, we were able to sell the “old” spares the next morning to another boater in the harbor who has the older pump.

The following day, our trusty oil transfer pump failed us… the hose just split, like it had been cut with a knife.  Fortunately, a couple of turns of RescueTape had us back in business.

The final step in our routine oil change is to clean the seawater strainer. On our Gemini, this strainer is underneath the starboard aft bunk.  It’s a basket of sorts that’s inline in the seawater intake system, that filters out mud, seagrass, and other bits of muck that get sucked in, before it gets to the engine.  Open it up, rinse out the grass and muck, replace.  Except that when Mike went to replace it this time, it leaked… salt water, leaking inside of the boat.  OK, it was more like a drip than a leak, but still.   Apparently an O-ring decided it’s life was over.  Fortunately we carry spares.


Full service oil change complete… Check.

All in all, none of the above was major.  It’s just that we’re really really really done with boat projects, even minor maintenance projects.  The Captain is done with having to sit on the floor in awkward spaces.  The Admiral is especially done with having the entire boat in a state of disarray to accomplish said projects.  It’s time to relax, play a bit… talk about where we want to explore next instead of what the next step in the project du jour is.

Now, to see about getting out of here before something else happens. Oh wait, we did that, this morning in fact.  Greetings from Tavernier, FL where Cheshire sits on the hook for the first time in months.  Kind of weird looking out the windows and not seeing our mooring neighbors though.  Another chapter in our adventure begins…





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Refinishing teak…

It took a solid week and was a royal mess, but we’ve completed another phase of teak stripping/refinishing and it looks pretty great if I do say so myself.  One of the more challenging things about boat projects is having to live in the small space where the projects are taking place.  In our case, in addition to the actual work and daily clean-up, we had to move piles of things around twice a day.  Each morning, the settee cushions, old and new, and misc things had to be moved into our forward bunk to make room to work.  Every evening, we had to move everything back out to the salon to clear the bed so we had someplace to sleep.  The next morning… back to the forward cabin…  You get the idea.  We did this little dance twice a day for most of a week.

This particular phase had us stripping the bulkhead wall behind the settee, including the frames around the “portholes” to the forward cabin and a handhold on each side at the steps down into the hulls.  We also did the inboard door frames, wrapping from the bulkhead wall into both our head and forward/master cabin.  That meant spending a lot of time stepping carefully sideways through doorways and intentionally not using the handholds (more challenging than it sounds) while several coats of stripper were applied, dried (which took most of 24 hours each coat) and then removed.  Applying the stripper was a bit like trying to paint with something resembling a cross between peanut butter and jello.  Pause while it dries.  Removing it was messy, scraping it off then washing away the residue with water, a nail brush and lots of changes of water.  Pause again to let it all dry completely.  Finally, the sanding…  which imho made the worst mess.  We even have teak dust topsides where it blew out of the hatches!  Mike did the sanding and I did the cleaning up behind him, though I suspect I’ll be cleaning up bits of teak dust for a while to come.  I also find myself hoping for a good downpour of rain, which unfortunately is not in the forecast.

As I type though, the messy stuff is complete, the artwork rehung, though I’ll apply several more passes of teak oil this week.  We’ve reassembled the settee cushions using the original covers for now so that the settee is at least useable.  The new cushions are very comfy, even with the old covers.  The next step is to recover them with the fabric we already have, but we didn’t want to be in the middle of that project when the new refrigerator shows up.  Mike spent this morning doing his homework, and is at West Marine as we speak buying some new wire for the fridge installation.  Removing the old one promises to be interesting; we hope to not have to do too much dismantling of the companionway doorway to get it off the boat.  Then there’s getting the new one aboard, through the companionway and installed.  In the meantime I’m meal-planning to purge the fridge/freezer to minimize what will have to live in a cooler indefinitely, allowing for a couple of draft beer/chicken wing nights off the boat which will most certainly be required to keep the Captain happy during this project.

As always, stay tuned.



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Having completed our battery/solar upgrade, the project that brought us to Boot Key Harbor in early January, it was time to talk about what’s next.  Last week brought some (finally) more favorable weather for those who have been waiting for a window to cross to the Bahamas.  Quite a few boats from the harbor here, as well as elsewhere on the east coast of Florida and the Keys, took advantage of the first good solid (safe) window that has presented itself in a while and made the jump.  Astute readers will catch that I’m referring to being here, in Boot Key Harbor, and conclude that Cheshire and her crew in fact did not take advantage of that window.  For a number of reasons, we’ve once again opted to change our plans (surprise!) and will pass on the Bahamas this season.

Reason #1, it’s getting late in the season.  That’s not to say that it’s too late to go to the Bahamas.  In fact last year we crossed during the last few days of February and had a delightful three months in the Islands, returning just under the wire for the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season.  This year though, instead of summering in north Florida, we’re wanting to go north again, through the Chesapeake Bay and hopefully spend at least part of the summer exploring Long Island Sound.  To do that, realistically, we need to be moving north earlier than June 1st, particularly given our tendency to pause along the way.    If we were to jump to the Bahamas now, we’d likely not make it up north.

Reason #2, within days of completing our battery/solar project, another problem presented itself.  Our original-to-the boat primary refrigerator is now acting up.  Actually it’s very likely in the early stages of the dying process.  It’s an RV fridge, a Dometic that runs on AC power at the dock and propane otherwise.  It’s developed the most annoying habit of shutting itself off about once a day, usually over night.  Mike has a theory about what the problem might be, but we’ve decided not to chase the problem by replacing one bit at a time on a fridge that’s on its last legs.  It won’t be a small expense to replace it, but it would be way more expensive if we had to do the  replacement in the Bahamas.

So, we’ll be replacing the fridge, somewhere stateside.  Unlike a refrigerator in a dirt dwelling though, it’s not a matter of heading down to Lowe’s and picking up a new one.  There’s no such thing as a standard boat refrigerator.  Some research would be required.  Mike spent some time sorting out the options based on size… what would fit in the current footprint without it turning into a major cabinetry project.  We also spent the better part of a week testing our solar/wind generator output, and our recovery time, determining whether we might be able to replace the propane with an electric option.  The good news is we’re thinking it will work.  More research, debating the options that met the “footprint” requirements and our preference for electric.  After copious research, we settled on a Vitrifrigo model that gives us essentially the same volume of fridge/freezer space, but electric instead of propane and way more efficient, and preserves our option to use the secondary Engel in either fridge or freezer mode.  Decision made.

OK, that was the easy part.  More research found a company in Washington state that distributes them… the manufacturer is actually an Italian company.  A few e-mails were exchanged to confirm the particulars and a phone call made to sort out the details.  Except that there are none currently in stock, and we’re not willing to wait indefinitely in the Keys for one to become available.  So, long story short, we’ve committed to the fridge but are awaiting word of its availability.  In the meantime, we’ll hang out here for another couple of weeks or so, finishing up some smaller projects, then start working our way north, fingers crossed that the Dometic doesn’t take its final gasping breath in the meantime.  Once we’re notified of the new fridge being ready to ship, we’ll see where we are and what the options are for a (hopefully) brief marina stay to do the replacement.  It’s another lesson from the Universe in flexibility.  It’s all good.

There is a saying amongst cruisers that the definition of cruising is working on your boat in exotic places, and that despite what many friends and family believe, it’s not all sunsets and rum drinks.  That said, we’ve certainly had our share of sunsets and rum drinks over the last couple of months… I offer the following photos as documentation.

LS_20160120_180722 sunset, Burdine's

sunset from Burdine’s

LS_20160304_183544 sunset in BKH

sunset from aboard Cheshire, Boot Key Harbor

MG_20160227_183314 sunset, Havana Jack's:Key Colony

sunset from Havana Jack’s, Key Colony Beach

LS_20160305_183243 sunset, Keys Fisheries

sunset from Keys Fisheries, Marathon/Bayside


Mike’s famous rum punches aboard Cheshire




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