the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats. adjusting to life aboard, running ultramarathons, figuring out how to cook and bake in an itsy bitsy galley...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

spring is in the air

Spring seems to be arriving at long last. It's coming in fits and starts, but last week's three-day cold snap is alleged to be the last (knock on wood). This spring is definitely in like a lion so let's hope it's out like a lamb. 

Buttercup has been in swimming twice. Easter Sunday was a good day for it after a long walk and some reflection on how much we could use some renewal and rebirth about now. Her Easter swim was a puppy play date with another boat dog, who was having a birthday. Buttercup also got her first dingy ride, and did a good job. I'm truly blessed to have such a loyal companion with a sweet temperament. She has her moments of being stubborn or scared, but so do we all I guess.

I'm trying to clean up the boat but of course every day it feels like two steps forward and three steps back. So much of the organizing I have to do involves upending everything and so piles seem to be in a constant rotation from dinette, to settee, to nav desk, to sole, and round and round we go. But I keep telling myself I'm almost there, just one more turn of the rubik's cube and it will all fall into place; right? It seems to be about all I can do to stay on top of the usual loads of laundry and dishes, much less to make headway on the real organizing and the real repairs. But I am working on renewing and maintaining my focus on myself and my projects so I just need to get in a groove and make it happen.

I know for certain one serious leak is coming from a shroud/deck/chain plate connection. I fear there has now been water coming in at some of the others as well. I am going to act on the assumption that all are suspect and in need of proper sealing. That will be a significant project to cut away the toe rail at each shroud, fill in as much as possible around the chain plate with epoxy, and then seal the top with butyl tape. Once I manage to tackle that project, I will have to come up with a strategy for addressing the water damage. Water has come through behind and under lockers in locations that are inaccessible without removing the internal cabinetry--which may or may not even be possible. Well, I can obviously remove it, but whether I can do so without destroying it is another question. I clearly cannot afford to entirely refit the interior of the boat. However, I fear the cabin sole is soft and moldy where water has sat in these inaccessible locations. I'll tackle what I can with tea tree oil and airing out and fans to dry things out, but much of the damage will remain a mystery until I can take on the larger project of gutting the interior...something that may never be within my micro-budget. Even though the endless list of projects and repairs can be frustrating, overwhelming, and sometimes demoralizing, I am excited to tackle projects and do my best to bring the boat back to her former glory. She's a good, solid boat and the blood, sweat, and tears will be worth it when I'm sipping a cocktail enjoying the sunset or sunning on the foredeck anchored out.

Dockbox update: The air conditioning doesn't work in the Civic. Seriously? I drove my old Benz 560SL without A/C for a couple of years in Miami because I was so broke; that is a special hell I simply can't face again. Anyone want to take this baby off my hands...gee, I'm only in $2,700 so far. Ugh.

While I was on my once-weekly errand-running by car, I lost keys the keys to my PO Box, office, marina mailbox, and... the only key to the lock on my storage unit. Yeah, what a fun day off driving around without air conditioning retracing all my steps while staring at the ground praying for keys to magically appear. But with all this bad luck, something good is bound to come my way, right? Yeah, it never seems to turn out that way, but perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised.

In the midst of being broke, and having car problems, boat problems, and such, running has been the one thing going my way. By the end of this month I'll have run almost as much so far this year as I did all of last year. I've run 100 miles in the past 30 days and I'm running faster than I have in a couple of years. While my "long" runs right now are only ten and twelve miles, rather than the fifteen to twenty I used to run each weekend, I am running them strong, and at--for me--a decent 10:00 to 10:30 pace per mile. It's always hard to lose weight while increasing mileage because, well, running makes me hungry. But I know it is a tried-and-true recipe for slimming down and getting stronger if I keep running and don't reward myself with more pizza than my metabolism can handle. I can feel my legs and lungs getting stronger, breaks getting shorter and fewer, and if I stick with the program I'll be back in distance running shape by the time I need to gear up for the Seashore Nature Trail 50K that I'll run in December. I would love to set a new 50K personal record as a Christmas present to myself.

So, I need to keep my new year's resolutions top-of-mind and focus on taking care of my pets and myself. Our little pack is what I've got and we have to stay strong for ourselves. I also need to remind myself of my resolution to stop spending time doing things I don't want to do or with people I don't want to hang out with. Social pressures to be polite and friendly make those ones tough, but I always regret an evening lost that I could have spent relaxing on my own, enjoying the company of someone I do want to hang out with, or giving my pets the attention they always crave. And sadly, I'd just rather catch up on Game of Thrones than hang out with most people. C'est la vie.

So I need to keep up the running, stay focused on taking good care of the pets, give the boat the attention she needs, and not let myself be (too) distracted by boys. It would be so nice to be in love during the springtime, to have someone to bake for and play with, have someone to just lose track of time with, but I have to remember to keep focused on taking care of myself because no one else will. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

dockbox blues

My boring old 2002 Buick drove reliably throughout our 15-month relationship. But a dead O2 sensor took my gas mileage from about 25 mpg to about 16. Although the heat and A/C worked, the fan for them gave up the ghost. And leaky doors left items on the floor soaked and the windshield often fogged up... and once, iced over on the inside (which was the final straw that ended of our brief relationship). These mounting repairs would be separate from the hefty front-end damage ($1,500-2,000) from when she was impaled on a guy's bike rack in a fender-bender. Since it was purely cosmetic damage I rather wore it as a badge of honor, or a warning... don't park too close or cut me off... I've got little to lose. But I just couldn't swallow the idea of spending a bunch of money fixing up the Buick. I had originally planned to sell her and use the money for my diesel fuel to get south. But now that I would be sticking around Annapolis I would probably need to keep some reliable wheels to get around. I took the Buick to the wholesaler and let her go. Between what I paid to buy and register it, and what I got in insurance proceeds and sales price, it cost me $500 + insurance + gas to drive the car for 15 months. Not bad, really. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, and I should've held onto her, but I'm too young to drive a Buick!

Six weeks ago I bought a 1992 Honda Civic with over 200,000 miles on it. It's the first car I've ever owned that is actually being held together with duct tape. Um, yeah, I'm an idiot. Just about every text message or phone call I have had relating to the car is overloaded with expletives. I made the huge mistake of taking a friend's advice and recommendation on the car. My gut was that it looked rough and the previous owner was simply a walking lobotomy. To say that every aspect of buying the car was a nightmare of delays and bungling is an understatement. At $1,000, I felt I was probably paying about twice what it was worth, but in reality he should have paid me to take the car. Sigh. On day two it had a freakout and the ignition lock would not release. I wiggled the steering wheel. Locked and unlocked all the doors (that was the magical trick with my old Benz' electrical gremlins). I called AAA only to have the call continually drop. At last, for no particular reason, it finally stopped beeping at me and let the key turn.

When she ran, she was a zippy little drive. But, alas, she was temperamental and unreliable. Just 3 weeks in she didn't want to start when I was leaving work. The check engine light came on, the battery-not-charging light came on, and an awful buzzing emitted as she strained. But after a few tries she started up. The next morning it was the same drama, but she finally started and got me to work. But that evening I was out of luck. She sat in the lot for the weekend and then was towed to the shop Monday. I got rides from co-workers for several days. But now it was urgent that repairs be made since my 30-day temporary registration would expire that Friday. But a whole work-week should be more than enough to get her going and through safety inspection. Naturally, the prior owner and our mutual friend had been more than confident it would fly through inspection (since the prior owner didn't understand the difference between a Maryland safety inspection and emissions testing, well, 'nuff said). A week and $1,000 in work later she did pass inspection, but she only ran a couple of times before dying again. Of course that $1,000 happened to be every last penny I had and desperately needed for boat repairs. So when I got in the car yesterday stressed about how much I could spend on groceries and then she wouldn't start, I just broke down. I pummeled the steering wheel with my fists and screamed and cried. $2,500 into the car between purchase, repairs, tax, tag, and title, and the car doesn't run! Arrggghhhh!!! 

My karma clearly sucks and the universe is getting even with me. Saddling me with a money pit unreliable car when I need to pamper my beloved boat. I begged my mom for back-up if another big bill was about to come crashing down and had the car towed to the dealership. At least I have a friend working at the dealership so I feel less likely to get overcharged and jerked around. It was my only day to run errands and get groceries and now I was out of luck. I should've just taken a deep breath and dove into boat projects but the gloomy rainy day was conspiring against me. I drowned my sorrows in potato chips and a Hershey bar and a strawberry laffy taffy, watched a couple bad movies, took my sleeping pills and went to bed early. I told my pets and my boat that I love them. And though the tide had sunk like a stone overnight in the heavy winds and it was not even 40 degrees out, I was determined to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning and got in a five mile run to start the day (and make up for the prior days' junk food binge). 

When the dealership called and told me I just need a new main relay I was pretty incredulous. The other shop allegedly put in a new one, and then a new fuel pump. But the dealership says she's fixed and the bill was shy of $200. I don't know if the other shop simply ripped me off or not on the relay switch, and I don't really have the fight in me to get into it.  Luckily, I had a friend willing to drop me at the dealership and I retrieved her. She started up fine and didn't let me down as I ran a couple errands before heading home. Fingers crossed she keeps running.

I had wanted to name her, but couldn't settle on anything. I'm tempted to call her "bad karma" but it's bad luck to name a boat anything like that (e.g., a hole in the water, money pit, etc), and I fear the same may hold for cars. Maybe I'll just call her "dockbox." Even if she doesn't run, I guess she can be a very expensive storage facility. Sigh. How about Bluebell? Blue Bunny?

I was going to say the moral of the story is never buy a car through a friend, but I actually got an excellent deal on a reliable car from my friend who sold me the Buick. But he's an actual car-guy. So, the moral of the story is to trust your gut. If you think you're being ripped off you probably are. If you think something isn't worth the money, it probably isn't. If you think someone doesn't have your best interests at heart, they probably don't.

Next up: I need to get that throttle cable replaced so I can (1) move to a new slip with (hopefully) less adjacent car noise but more annoying tourists taking their pictures in front of our boats, and (2) get this vessel out on the bay for some much-needed (if not deserved) fun and adventures.

Friday, April 4, 2014

friends and neighbors

Pretty sunset view from the cockpit
Just because we both live on boats doesn’t mean we have to be friends. Yes, you read that correctly. That may be common sense to many people; just because you live ashore doesn’t mean you’re friends with every other person who lives in a townhouse or a McMansion. But some folks clearly feel that every other liveaboard is his de facto friend. It’s true we share a common thread in having chosen an unusual lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean we have anything else in common. I’m starting to think some people actually become cruisers to gain a gaggle of new friends to have potlucks with. Personally, I can’t even wrap my head around that.

I had over 200 make-believe friends on Facebook, with whom I’m probably actual real-life friends (say, people who would definitely know if I were pregnant or getting married), not acquaintances, with less than two dozen, a good chunk of those being gals I’ve known since I was 14. (I deactivated my Facebook account March 8 and the world hasn't stopped spinning; indeed, I think I like the world a little better now.) Rather than cultivating friendships, I’d say Facebook gives the illusion of relationships that do not exist and impedes real-life cultivation of the handful of meaningful relationships we can actually sustain. No one has several hundred friends. We probably all know several hundred people by name and possibly by sight. But we are not friends with all those people. Our society seems to have confused the concept of having stood next to someone in line at the grocery store and being friends. But the cult of networking tells us we must be viral and have some connection to everyone out there. It is a dangerous fallacy. A handful of meaningful relationships is a much more powerful network than LinkedIn and Facebook accounts hundreds deep but full of merely superficial connections. In any event, I may be forced to return to Facebook at some point, but I'd certainly prefer to have a handful of real friends and leave it at that. If anyone on Facebook really missed me they could always come here and find out what I'm up to. Or, y'know, text me to meet up in real life for a pint of beer.

Anyway... I didn't really understand why random people who also happen to live on a boat think we have some deep connection, but now I realize it's because the "potluck cruisers" want to be friends with everyone. I had already realized that many of the single liveaboard guys will adhere like a barnacle to every liveaboard mermaid they meet. Miraculously, I have finally met a few who are not barnacles and don't think I'm their personal mermaid, which is really nice.

Foggy day at the dock
I've been at the new marina for almost six weeks now. I've only met three of the other liveaboards so far. I haven't met any of the girls, but one or more of them somehow manages to leave a lake in the dressing area of the bathhouse. She must step out of the shower and stand there dripping everywhere, (eeewwww), rather than drying off in the shower stall. I've mostly resigned to not being able to dress there post-shower because the water all over the floor will get my pants soaked when trying to get them on. Someone has basically commandeered one shower stall by leaving their bar of soap and scrubbie there, as if no one else needs space to put their toiletries and as if I really want some random chick's germs just hanging out there all the time. One of the gals also has a conniption if she can't easily get a paper towel out of the dispenser. She leaves a huge pile of paper towel shreds all over the floor. I guess this is just further confirmation that liveaboards are crazy. As is the fact that these things bother me so much.

Parking spaces adjacent to the slip
Despite the gals needing some coaching on personal hygiene and shared public space, I am enjoying the new marina. Twice someone has rescued a wayward sock I lost in the washer or dryer and left it out for me, which was nice. I am trying to move to a different slip that I'm hoping will be more private, but the dockmaster is still figuring out who is coming back and where everyone will fit. The current slip is along a bulkhead with parking spaces right there and the parking garage behind me. Being a light sleeper, the noise of the cars in the garage wakes me and one night someone parked right next to the boat and ran their engine from 2:30am to 3:30am. I couldn't figure out what the awful noise was and why the whole boat was vibrating until I pulled back the shade on a port light and the headlights were shining right on me. They must have seen me because by the time I was topsides the car was off and they were gone. Then one day a little girl came over to the boat and kept pulling it against the bulkhead. I fear that as the weather warms up and people mill about ogling boats, someone will make the mistake of boarding and get a shock when I come out with a 12-gauge. So, I'm hoping a slip on another pier will be less likely to have strangers walking up to the boat and put me a little farther from the parking garage.

Parking garage right behind me
It took 6 months before I had a cat overboard incident, and a year-and-a-half before a man overboard. The young sumthin sumthin I occasionally hung out with (I hadn't seen him in two months) called me over and over in his usual inebriated state and I accidently called him back when I was just trying to see the call log. I warned him he shouldn't be driving but he insisted on coming to the pub where I was having a beer with friends. At least there I convinced him to eat something and killed some time, though he shouldn't have been trying to have a philosophical discussion with the adults at the table. When we were walking to the boat he asked if I wanted to get married, which gave me quite a belly laugh. He kept saying "You look so cute in your Helly Hansen jacket." And I kept correcting him that it was Gill; I'm not a gang-banger or a snotty-yachty, so you won't find me in HH. Ugh. Naturally he had only one thing in mind when we got to the boat but my pack always comes first and the dog needed a walk. I was already quite annoyed with his drunk nonsense and pawing at me. I really just wanted to tuck him in and not have to deal with him. He insisted on coming along while I walked the dog and then said there was no need to pick up the dog shit. Seriously. That's just bad karma. "Yes, I do have to pick it up." I told him. Then he didn't want to hold my hand because I had just picked up dog shit. With a plastic bag. Yep, when he opens his mouth, stupid just falls out in abundance. Sigh. Then he took forever getting in and out of the boat and one of the cats got out. Cars speed through the garage and there are just a lot of dangers being in a much more commercial location, so I try to monitor closely any off-boat forays the cats undertake. He was a baby about me telling him to hurry the F up and not let the cat out again. I can be very patient but when it's the last straw, I'm done. When he didn't shut up as told, I was done and told him to leave. He had kicked off his shoes as soon as he was aboard and complained I was kicking him out without his shoes. I quickly grabbed them and put them up on the deck for him. He took his shoes and was yelling at me and complaining he didn't know where his car was. A whole two blocks away in front of the pub. And he has plenty of friends in town he could call to stay with if he didn't want to drive home.

It turned out it was early enough (11:00pm) I could get to bed almost on time so I started setting up coffee for the morning and getting ready for bed. Then I heard a ruckus topsides and felt the boat move. It seemed he was back without permission. I threw open the hatch: "What the fuck!" I heard calls for help and came out to find him in the water between the dock and the boat. He was holding onto the stanchion at the boarding gate with one hand and holding the toe rail with the other. He claimed he came back for his phone and keys (perhaps he'd left them on the dock or on deck). I convinced him to loosen his grip on the stanchion so I could get the keys off his finger and throw them in the cockpit so they wouldn't fall in the water. I quickly threw him a line that runs through a snatch block and to the dock so he'd even have extra leverage if he used it to pull himself out, but he wouldn't even try. He was freaking out and I told him he needed to stay calm. Panicking just uses up body heat. And even though the water was cold, he was a 6'2" guy standing in just 5' of water. I grabbed the ladder out of the lazarette and hung it over the side for him. That's when one of my new neighbors arrived to help. He'd been out in the cockpit of his boat on another pier and heard the commotion. Of course our "swimmer" said he wanted my dockmate to pull him out, not me. It's unlikely either of us alone could have pulled him out easily since he's 6'2" and 200 pounds. My previously-torn rotator cuff certainly wasn't happy with me for helping get him out. We pulled him up and sat him on the dock. He'd been in the water only a couple of minutes. I fished his shoe out with my net and gave him his keys. Although I was quite done with his stupidity, I was going to offer to put him in a hot shower and throw his clothes in the dryer or drive him to the ER if he wanted. But before I could make the offer he was walking off and was yelling belligerently at me. It was about 11:10pm. Not long thereafter I received a series of malicious text messages from him accusing me of trying to murder him. Seriously? He was trespassing and fell in the water. If he'd come back 10 minutes later I might have been gone walking the dog and maybe no one would have heard him call for help. By 11:29pm he was getting arrested for DUI, an open container in his car, some eight charges in all. It'd be nice if he'd learn a lesson about being responsible and considerate of others in the world, but he's an entitled little rich kid who will likely find a way to weasel out of it and not change a bit. But at least I learned that I have neighbors here who will rescue wayward socks from the dryer and wayward boys from the water.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

on the move

With no particular reason to head south or budget to do so, I needed to find new digs in the area. Since I learned too late that my last marina was too shallow and too boisterous for me, I have repeatedly sworn not to sign another annual contract. I figured I would find transient slips, move every few months, and just see where things go. As usual, my life is in flux, and I’m just fine with that. What I have never been good at is being trapped, tied down, locked into anything.

My understanding was that my slip had been leased out as of March 1, so I was feeling under the gun to find a new slip and get moved. One key problem I faced was most of Back Creek was frozen. Every sunny or warmish day I would stand on the bow staring at the ice and praying for enough of it to melt to let me out.

I spoke with the dock manager at a sought-after marina on the Spa Creek side of Eastport hoping to find a slip for March and perhaps April. I dropped by a couple of days later to check things out… which slips might be available, the laundry and bathhouse facilities, and find out details about what would be included in the rate. To my surprise, I was offered an annual liveaboard slip, for which there is often a lengthy waiting list. I was caught off-guard by that choice, and had to give it some thought. I crunched the numbers, mulled it over a bit, and knew it was the right thing to do. The problem: the entire annual payment is due up front and I live hand-to-mouth even in the best of times. I managed to rustle up a loan for the slip, and then anxiously awaited the arrival of the lease in the mail. Once everything was signed and official, I celebrated (duh!) and then I studied the upcoming weather to find the likeliest date the creeks would be thawed so that I could move.

Four or five relatively warm days were coming, culminating this past Sunday. Friday I filled the water tank. The ice was looking softer and receding, but still impassable. I also urgently needed the pump out boat to be able to get to me because the tank was completely full. Thankfully they were able to make it around the remaining ice so I had the boat pumped out and flirted with the hottie pump out guy I’m still crushing on. (Saw him briefly at the pub on Friday night, but he otherwise remains elusive despite regular texting for several weeks. Sigh. What's a mermaid gotta do to catch this one?!) Saturday I also had a second ammeter installed (love it!), finally got the propane line routed off the aft rail (yay!), and got a lesson on changing the oil and filters on my Perkins 4-108 diesel engine (double yay!). So, after a highly productive Saturday, Sunday was moving day.

A liveaboard friend offered to help me move the boat over to the new marina. I know I could handle her by myself, but it never hurts to have another sets of hands to assist when coming into a new marina, where I don’t know the quirks as to wind, current, and depth. The ice had floated further out into the cove and we dragged some alongside as we slowly crept along. Once I was past the ice I tried to throttle up, but the shifter didn’t want to move up any further. The engine was only hitting 700 rpm. We kept puttering along slowly, but I was surprised and concerned about the throttle not working since I hadn’t had any problems with the engine the day prior as we changed the oil, oil filter, and Racor fuel filter.

My friend and I were brainstorming what the problem might be and I was studying the instrument panel, when I took a green day mark a couple feet to the wrong side. I promptly went from 8 feet of water to 4 and ran aground for my first time. I could have easily backed right off of the shoal… if I had any throttle. I hit the BoatUS app on my phone and it automatically sent my GPS coordinates to the tow service. A boat went by and my friend kept signaling to them that it wasn’t his fault, it was all me. Ha! Yep, it was my bad. It was a beautiful sunny day, I wasn’t in any particular rush, and we were just nudged into mud, so I didn’t see any reason to worry. Everyone runs aground; that’s just part of boating. The wind started kicking up and blew the bow off 90 degrees. At the same time a gentle wake came and lifted us just enough. I saw the depth sounder go from 3 feet to 5 to 7 and quickly put her in reverse. Even if I couldn’t throttle up, I wanted to at least try to back into the channel. And just like that I backed her up, did a 360, and headed out. I let the tow captain know I was no longer aground but opted to go ahead with a tow due to my lack of maneuverability from the impaired throttle. The wind on the Severn and on Spa Creek was much friskier than on Back Creek. There were also gobs of little sailboats out for the Sunday afternoon frostbite races. Because I’d be motoring, they would have right-of-way and would be zig-zagging all over right where I needed to go. But if I was under tow… well, they would all have to give way to me. Knowing your COLREGS comes in handy! Naturally, it was the same tow captain who towed me last September and then towed a friend’s boat when I was aboard helping him move it for a haul out. I’ll admit it’s a little embarrassing to be on a first-name basis with the local tow captain. C’est la vie.

I got tucked into the new slip. I had planned to dock stern-to but the neighboring liveaboard warned that the slip would get shallow at the far end and that gawkers in the spring and summer would be able to look right down into my boat if I didn’t come bow in. I hadn’t considered the latter issue, but the new marina can definitely have a fishbowl feel, so I’m glad I took his advice. Pup dog is having to adjust to jumping from the deck to the dock at the boarding gate amidships, rather than using her ramp, but she’s been a trooper and adapting with less fuss than I expected. The cats are peeved that I haven’t let them outside yet, but I’m scared they will get lost or hurt in this much more commercial marina with a large parking garage. (It doesn’t help that this morning my neighbor said there has been a dead cat floating around the marina since January and to let him know if I see it so he can fish it out. He said it’s black; I would’ve thought it was Max and freaked out. The whole thing makes me sad.)

So, how are the new digs? Well, let me just say I love bottomless hot water even more than bottomless mimosas! At the old spot there was 15 minutes of hot water, then it went completely cold. I have long hair and long legs, so I could never both shampoo my hair and shave my legs in the same shower at the old marina. And after a run in the frigid cold I would need 15 minutes of hot water just to be able to feel my fingers and toes again. So, I am loving having all the hot water I want, with great water pressure, and facilities that are cleaned daily—by someone other than me! There are two shower stalls, which are separate from the two bathroom stalls, as well as two sinks with shelves, electric outlets, and a courtesy hair dryer. So, yes, I’m feeling I made a serious upgrade.

I also have laundry at the new marina so now I can toss in a load whenever rather than having to drive to a laundromat and pay a lot more than the marina charges. I also have covered, card-key-access parking and generally get a spot right next to my slip. The dock management team are very nice and gave me a welcome bag with a t-shirt, floating key chains, wine key, baseball hat, bathhouse key, and my parking card. Another, and likely the biggest, benefit of the new marina: water under my keel so I can go sailing! I’m even closer to my local haunts, so that’s nice, too.

Oh, and did I mention that ELECTRICITY IS INCLUDED?! So, although I’m paying a mere $17 more a month at the new marina than I was before, I’m actually saving at least $100 a month because I don’t have to stress about whatever mysterious astronomical electrical bill will arrive every quarter, or randomly a month later. My electric had averaged about $85 per month all year until this winter. The bill for the last four months: $615! Since I was freezing my ass off on the boat and trying to run the heat as little as possible, I can only assume I am being charged for the ice eaters that benefited all the boats and the docks. Very, very glad I won’t have to worry about that anymore.

More later about the engine and such, since the mechanical matters deserve their own post. But really pleased to be moved to my new spot. Many thanks to everyone who helped me get her ready and be able to move into our new slip. I'm very hopeful we'll be happy there and that we have fair winds ahead.

Friday, February 14, 2014

love letters

In the process of moving out of my office I came across a lifetime of mementos. A postcard from Mexico caught my eye. I flipped it over to see who it was from. Chris. It didn't ring a bell. So I read the note:

"While you are standing at your till being harassed by Gary and his nephew, I am sitting out on the veranda eating shrimp, drinking beer, and watching the surf crash against the beach. While you are sitting in that dismal employee room chainsmoking, I am swimming through jade colored waters, amongst bright colored fish and swaying seaweed. But wait! I am coming back. I sent you this to show you I really do like you. I will become a doctor. I will give you foot massages. I will give you Valium. I will give you codeine. I will give you phenobarbital. Wait for me -- Chris"

That may well be the most romantic missive I've ever received. I believe the author was a busser at the Mallory Hotel, where I worked as a maitre d' during my college summers. I wonder if he became a doctor; it seems he was a talented writer.

Last Valentine's Day I received a small card, it was bright pink and had sparklies, which means some thought had gone into covering all the girly bases. I'd rebuffed the guy, so the note was particularly amusing: "Happy Valentine's Day. Whatever."

I miss being in love. That feeling of exhilaration. Having someone to cook and bake for. Sleeping next to someone who just "fits."

Hopefully, one of these days I will find a guy who "fits" and we will both have a sense of urgency about being together, a realization that time and connections are fleeting. Yet I don't want to be the center of anyone's universe; I can't handle the responsibility.

Monday, February 10, 2014

where there's smoke...

No time is a good one to be standing in a bathrobe holding a fire extinguisher. But aboard a fiberglass boat when it's 25 degrees out is especially not a good one.

Two weeks ago two liveaboard boats here in Eastport burned to the waterline. It simply gives one pause. And there's this sick irony to boat fires because a boat is surrounded by water. I don't know what exactly caused that fire, but electricity arcing at shore power connections seems to be a frequent cause of boat fires, so I wanted to do some preventive care aboard to ward off that problem. On Saturday I had planned to unplug the shore power cables, wipe down the blades, and then coat them with dielectric silicone compound. Various folks had recommended putting it on the connections to prevent corrosion and arcing that can lead to electrical fires. The package said to avoid skin contact. I wasn't sure how much I'm supposed to put on. I pulled out my copy of Nigel Calder's Mechanical and Electrical Manual to see if it mentioned applying the compound to the shore power connections. I couldn't find anything. I decided to wait until I had a little more information.

While contemplating the dangers of fire aboard, I noticed that the many fire extinguishers aboard are mounted and held in with straps. I pondered just how those straps fasten. I'd never actually removed any of the extinguishers, but if there were either a fire or an intruder (an ABC extinguisher is a handy defensive weapon) I was concerned about how difficult it would be to remove the canister from the strap when time was of the essence. 

Sunday morning I was supposed to go ice skating with friends. I do love to skate and was looking forward to it, but was not really feeling up to being surrounded by kids. I went back and forth about it but just had this feeling I needed to beg off and stick around the boat. As I was messaging back and forth with friends, I heard a strange sound, sort of a slow, deep "whomp." It seemed to come from the starboard aft-most corner of the nav desk and breaker panel. But I didn't hear anything else and started to go back to the message I was writing. Then I noticed the music was off. Hmm. Maybe I had turned it off for some reason. I turned it back on and sat down. The music started coming and going. The iPod dock runs on 110V, i.e., shore power, but also has a 10-hour battery back-up, so if the A/C power is off, it just switches over. I looked at the panel and it showed 120 volts, but the power strip light was flashing on and off. Ah, maybe something on the shelf is hitting the power strip button. Nope. Then I saw the adjacent outlet was dead. No breakers on the panel were tripped. Strange.

Nothing looked amiss. But this faint smell of sulfur, like when you just light a match, caught my nose. Something just didn't feel right. I turned off the main A/C breakers on the boat. And in that moment, I somehow instinctively popped that strap on the fire extinguisher and headed topsides. I opened the lazarette that contains the back of the electrical panel and smoke came billowing out. I didn't see flames but the smoke kept coming and the burning matches and plastic and something else I just can't was awful and I knew something was very wrong. I flipped the breakers off at the shore power pedestal and went back to the cockpit, standing over the open lazarette. I didn't want to just randomly spray the fire extinguisher in there. The smoke seemed to be dissipating, but with all the PFDs and sails in the lazarette, what if something was smoldering out of sight? 

I wasn't quite sure who to call. Someone like TowBoatUS will claim a percentage of the boat's value for salvage if you're sinking or on fire. The fire department would likely fill the boat with foam that would destroy wiring and systems. But something was seriously wrong. I called a friend who's a very experienced boater. He answered very conversationally, "Hey, how are you?" I quickly and bluntly said "I'm kind of freaking out right now. I'm standing here in a bathrobe with a fire extinguisher and there's smoke coming out of the lazarette near the electrical panel. I'm not sure who to call." He reminded me he's in Delaware. "Yes, yes, I know you can't come help me, but I figured you would know who I should call." He suggested I go disconnect the shore power cables from the boat and pedestal as well and turn off the batteries. 

Both shore power cables show damage from arcing
When I unplugged the cables from the shore power inlets on the boat one inlet had a blade that was black and scorched. The cables were clearly damaged from arcing. The smoke seemed to have stopped. I didn't see any obvious damage on the electrical panel, which has a clear Plexiglass cover. But all that smoke came from somewhere. Now all power on the boat was off, no A/C from shore power and no D/C from the batteries. So, no heat, no lights, no propane stove because it requires an electric solenoid for safety. The water around the boat is iced over. We were at least going to need a way to heat the boat.

My friend suggested I call a marine mechanic he knows to see if he could come take a look, but he wasn't in town. That guy gave me the name of another mutual friend of theirs, Rob Simkin. I explained to Rob that while whatever had burned appeared under control, I couldn't wait to address the issue because I live on the boat with pets and we need to get the boat safely heated. Rob really came through; here I was a perfect stranger, kind of freaking out, but he gave up his Sunday afternoon and was at my boat in less than 90 minutes.

The shore power inlet that was on fire
Rob removed the shore power inlet that looked damaged. The guts were scorched and melted. I complained about how awful that burning smell is and he explained that there is a lot of smoke under the coaming, so the smell probably won't go away soon. The other inlet looked OK, but since it was older and rather than take any chances, I agreed we should replace them both. While I went to West Marine (twice) and Fawcett's to find the parts, Rob went over the electrical panel to check for damage, tightened up loose wires, and replaced some old connectors. He also began tracing the wires for the battery charger since I have long wanted to move it over to the "main" shore power line in case I am in a marina with only single 30 amp service; then I can forgo the water heater and HVAC that run on the secondary line and have all my "core" house systems on the main line.

The plan at West Marine was to pick up two new inlet assemblies and one or two new shore power cables. Each of those is about a hundred bucks; yep, ouch. I found that instead of having to buy the entire assembly, including the metal casing and closure, I could buy just the "guts" of the inlet. The price difference is substantial: $90 versus $30. The problem was that the guts-only package didn't include the white end cap. I got them anyway, and then headed to Fawcett's to see if they had the end caps. They didn't, but they had sets of the guts with a cap included. I bought two of those, and returned the others at West Marine. I also picked up a new "Eel" shore power cable at West Marine. For the second cable I'm using a short cable I already had, but I will replace it shortly with a longer one because if the tide falls too much and it "tugs" at the connections I may be back to standing there with a fire extinguisher.

Note half the guts are just gone or melted
As it turned out, the inlets I had bought at West Marine were Marinco and the ones from Fawcett's were Hubbell. It'd be way too easy if these fittings were standardized... so of course the Hubbell ones and the Marinco ones do not have their screw holes in quite the same spots. They're off just a smidge enough that they can't play nice together. And it turns out that one of my inlets was Hubbel and one was Marinco. Sigh. And so, I headed back to West Marine (trip three). I tried fitting the white backing cap from the old assembly onto the new inlet guts, but the cap was too melted on one side, so I sucked it up and bought the $90 complete inlet assembly for the Marinco inlet.

Naturally, for one of the inlets the wire was a few inches short after cutting off old connections. So, Rob headed to West Marine for that trip since he knew exactly what wire was needed. The entire process (replacing the inlets and moving the battery charger over to the main line) took a little over four hours. The last hour we were there in the cockpit as sleet/hail then turned to fluffy snow. Rob patiently explained to me what he was doing and why, pointed out key aspects of the electrical panel for me, and explained certain things prior owners had done that I'll likely want to change as I upgrade the system. I probably need to make a sketch and then jot notes about what everything is.

By the time everything was put back together and I could turn on systems, and heat, again, it had fallen to 40 degrees inside the boat. The pets were about ready to mutiny. I gave them all kibble, and having only had a string cheese and a yogurt all day myself, I headed down to the pub. My dieting/running has been going very well. I'm down a reasonable and safe seven pounds in six weeks, and down 2-3 inches everywhere that matters. But I decided that on days that you have a boat fire you get to eat and drink whatever you want without guilt. The burger and fries were exactly what I needed, but the nachos a couple hours later and copious amounts of beer... yeah, not so much. I took the melted inlet with me in a ziploc bag so I could play show-and-tell with the other liveaboards at the pub. After that near miss, and knowing I dodged a scary bullet, it was good to be able to decompress and commiserate with liveaboard friends. It's really nice to know that if I'm in a jam I have friends I can call for help.

I definitely feel that something was telling me that the shore power needed attention although there weren't any outward signs that it had a problem. It's eery that I had been concerned with arcing and the fire extinguishers just the day before. It's eery that I had this gut feeling I needed to stick around the boat that morning. If I hadn't, I probably wouldn't have a boat, or two loving cats, or a tail-wagging pup dog right now. When I'm tucking myself in the v-berth for bed, telling the pets goodnight and that I love them, I put my hand against the hull and tell the boat we love her, too. I know it's not good to become too attached to a particular boat and that it's not a child, a lover, or a pet, it's an object. But at the same time, I do love her; she is our home and in many ways my salvation. We rescued her, and she rescued us. So it may sound like so much mystical jibber-jabber, but I think she was telling me something was wrong and it saved her life and ours yesterday.

If you're an Annapolis-area boater and need electrical or yacht management help, check out Simkins Yacht Management. Rob is a USCG licensed captain and an ABYC master technician. Good at what he does and "good people." A big thanks to Rob, to Fred and Steve for recommending him, to fellow liveaboard Jay "Thumper" at West Marine, and to the liveaboard ladies at Fawcett's.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

down the lazarette we go

I'm rather independent and like to do things myself. However, we don't just come into the world knowing how to do everything. I didn't happen to grow up learning to fix cars or build things. Thus, I often find myself not knowing how to do some simple repair and maintenance tasks that guys just take for granted. I wonder how they would feel if I talked to them like helpless little girls because they don't know their way around a kitchen. Anyway... for several months I have been begging people to come show me how to water the battery on the boat. At this point the water level was probably so low that permanent damage has been done. But I'm facing the reality that even when I have cash in hand to pay people to help me with my boat, the only person I can rely on to get anything done aboard is me. 

I did some research online, put on my goofy headlamp, and started pulling everything out of the port lazarette. The single biggest problem with the design of my boat is the terrible engine room access. To get to the engine, batteries, and water pump, one has to climb down one of the cockpit storage lockers, which means removing everything stored in them first. It's very difficult to reach things toward the bottom of the locker but there were various items I didn't want to step on. I was laying in the cockpit hanging myself down as far as possible without crashing in, and pulled as much out as possible. I tucked a screwdriver and wrench in my pocket just in case and set distilled water and a small measuring cup above the lazarette. 

Climbing in and out of the lockers is very difficult. The opening is long but narrow, so my hips won't fit going the direction I want. The locker is very deep, so my feet won't reach the bottom if I'm sitting on the edge of the opening trying to hop down. The sides of the locker are very slippery with condensation. Once I was in and organizing, I knew it would be much easier to have another set of hands to hand me things so I wouldn't have to keep trying to climb in and out. I texted three different guys asking for some quick help, but it was a newly-liveaboard gal on the other side of Eastport who came through. Everything about sailboats is new to her, but I assured her I just needed someone to be able to hand me things and rescue me if I got stuck in the lazarette. As I was pulling stuff out of the lockers and trying to reorganize and store items I found my sea anchor. I don't plan on seeking out the weather that would require them, but I am glad a prior owner invested in a storm sail and sea anchor.

the sea anchor
I got things cleared out and started taking a look at the battery. For some reason the water pump is on top of the batteries. That doesn't seem like a good place for it, but there was very little slack in the hoses to move it around. As I tried to prop it up more against the wall, all of a sudden the pump started running. I must have jiggled a hose clamp loose. I started yelling at my friend to run down to the breaker panel and switch the pump off. I was worried the hose would come loose and water would be spraying everywhere as I sat there next to the batteries and battery charger. Of course there are probably 40 or more switches on the panel so I'm yelling to her that it's the far right row, third from the bottom. Once it was off, I tightened up the clamps on each hose. I still need to investigate the leak between the pump and the water heater, but getting to that spot in the engine room will be a major contortionist act for another day. Since the water in the line to the pump has frozen a few times this winter--not good, I know--I relocated one of the 60 watt work lights from the engine block over to the pump, where it was last winter. That should make a big difference when the next cold snap hits, probably next week.

On to the battery. I suspected that the little black and white knobs (shown in the photo at top) were where I needed to pour the water, but I wasn't certain. I also noticed writing on them. "Keep" and then something I couldn't read. I was worried it would say "closed" or "shut." I took a close-up photo since there was no way to get my head in close enough and saw it said "keep tight." I messaged a photo of the knobs to a friend asking if these were what I needed to remove and how much water to add. Although he's sailed off to South Florida, I was lucky he was online to help me troubleshoot; thanks, Phil! I slowly poured distilled water into four of the six little ports; two were just too far for me to reach without better lighting and a turkey baster. Even using a mirror it was too difficult to see the water level, but I wanted to be careful not to overfill the cells and have electrolyte leak out. Even if they needed a little more water, they are certainly better off than they were and I'll just have to make it a quarterly chore to climb down and water the battery.

stuck in the lazarette under a heavy, moldy sailbag; yuck
Once the battery task was done, it was on to the starboard locker. It was full of loose PFDs, random stuff, and two big, heavy sail bags. Both sails are just old mainsails. I'm probably due for some new sails, but since that's likely going to run about $5,000 I don't see it happening any time soon. The old back-ups, however, will likely be turned into harbor shades or other sewing projects. But now for, I needed to get them out of the way of the engine room access. There's no getting around filling these lockers to the brim; I absolutely need the storage space. I sure wish the design had made them internal quarter berths, but I've got to work with what I've got. Therefore, I'm trying to at least consolidate loose items into bags and bins so that I only have to pull 5 big things out of the locker, instead of 20 little things, every time I need to get to the engine room. It sucks having to store sails in these lockers, where they are exposed to condensation and may get moldy, but there simply isn't any space inside to store them... I've still got a car full of stuff and a few items in storage that have to find a place aboard... it's a process, not an easy one, but worth it in the end. Despite all the challenges, I really couldn't imagine not living aboard.