the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

taking it day by day

I love this quiet, serene view at my marina.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes be a loud, boisterous place strewn with empty beer cans and trash now that the boating season has arrived. If dinking around with the dog weren't such a hassle and I could live off solar power, I think I'd rather live on the hook than in a marina. Well, if I didn't need to leave the boat often and had a very squishy schedule. Having tight schedules and living on the hook might get to be rather frustrating.

I think my priorities for my next marina will be (1) a deep enough slip that I'm never aground, (2) privacy / quieter dockmates, and (3) laundry on site. Lacking those things right now is a real drag. Note the low tides that continue although it's spring.

At the bottom left of the photograph is the toe rail around my deck. Although the top of the toe rail gives me a few more inches, it can be very slippery to step there rather than the deck. I share the narrow finger pier with the boat you see in the background. When the tide is low like this I have to climb onto the finger pier on my hands and knees, basically hugging the pier to pull myself up. Then I steady myself on the white pedestal, (the shore power and cable connection), to stand up, turn around, and walk down the pier to shore.

But the current spot does provide a somewhat safe environment for the pets to wander off the boat under supervision; I know they will all miss that in a more commercial location. Max enjoys rolling around in the sun on the warm shuffle board court. Nonetheless, I would definitely move if I weren't in an annual contract right now.

Buttercup loves to swim and fetch large pieces of driftwood at the pocket park beach at the tip of Horn Point.

Monday, April 29, 2013

vessel alert

When I saw the email I felt like I'd been winded and a lump formed in my throat. "Vessel in range" and another email immediately thereafter, "Departure." I had forgotten about the AIS vessel alert I had set up online and was caught off guard.

AIS, or Automatic Identification System, is a nifty tool that allows one to broadcast and receive vessel information. It is a somewhat pricey system found more often on large commercial vessels than pleasure craft, but if one can afford it, a very nice tool that provides vessel data including length, tonnage, last known port, current location, and heading, sometimes even photographs of the ship. or the corresponding mobile app allows one to see nearby vessels, view port traffic, and search for vessels worldwide.

Back when I was very concerned to see that the floppy-haired sailor guy was making his southbound journey safely I had set up a vessel alert so I wouldn't worry unnecessarily that he'd gone down in a storm, particularly as cell phone and internet access would be spotty or nonexistent during parts of his trip and he wouldn't be able to let me know how he was. Although I now realize he never cared for or deserved me, I have been worried the past few weeks that he will return to Annapolis and ruin my local pubs for me. I dread running into him and if I had the financial wherewithal and sailing ability I would leave town as soon as I had an inkling he was returning. Unfortunately, my skills and my pocketbook keep me stranded here for the time being.

The vessel alert was an unsettling reminder of my heartbreak, but at least now I know that he left Charleston on Saturday morning. The likelihood is slim that he would turn south with hurricane season only a month away, so it is reasonable to assume he is headed this way. It took him perhaps three weeks to reach Charleston in the fall. I assume I have two or three weeks before having to avoid him around town. I was starting to think I might come back out of my shell. But when I think about the floppy-haired sailor guy I don't know how I could trust anyone with my heart again.

Monday, April 22, 2013


During winter it was very convenient to have all my "lotions and potions" and such stored in the bathhouse so I didn't have to schlep everything from boat to bathhouse in the cold, rain, and snow. But now that spring has arrived and more people are frequenting the bathhouse, I decided to relocate. I had had a fancy lip balm stolen. Then someone hanging out taking sun decided to take a shower, rifle through my stuff, and left my towel hanging over the curtain rod (the only place it would dry), getting my towel all wet right before I needed it.

I value my privacy and take poorly to boundaries being violated. Rather than let it keep irritating me I decided to simply relocate myself and create a new routine. The bathhouse shower never had enough hot water for me to both wash my hair and shave my legs anyway, and it's still there for me to use when I need to.

So I joined the fancy gym a few blocks away on a one-month promotional deal. I know other liveaboards who swear by showering at the gym. For a little over a week I've been going to Annapolis Athletic Club, where they have towel service, provide the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, and I can take a steam or sauna. I haven't tried the sauna yet, but have been enjoying the eucalyptus-infused steam room. Although pup dog is missing running with me, she can't run as far as it gets warmer so I've been hitting the treadmill at the gym, which is easier on my knees and lets me get back to a consistently faster pace.

I organized all my make-up, first aid supplies, and miscellaneous beauty items in the lockers in the head. I put teacup hooks in several pre-drilled holes beside the mirror and hung necklaces and earrings on them. Although the navigation station and dinette areas remain an unmitigated disaster of jumbled items precariously stacked, the head is in order and everything is easily found. At least a couple of spaces on the boat are organized; little by little I'll get there.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

sweet victory (a/k/a project: vent hose replacement)

It has been longer than usual between posts for me, but owing only to how busy I've been now that the warm weather has arrived and the endless list of boat projects has emerged from winter hibernation.

Before I get into the saga of replacing the vent hoses on the holding tank, I have to share a couple of snaps of this groovy grocery bag I picked up for 99 cents at Trader Joe's. It has liveaboard written all over it...

So, we left off at my six-month-aboard anniversary and the old vent hose on the holding tank had thumbed its nose at my attempts to remove it. A good friend volunteered to help me with the project this past Sunday despite my admonishments that it was a tough, smelly task. When we had beaten the job into submission, he wouldn't even let me pick up the tab at Davis'. I'm sure blessed with some great friends!

One of the initial challenges was that I needed better access to the tank fittings, as I had been working only through a small access port. To gain access above the tank we needed to remove the v-berth mattress, which in my boat is one enormous foam mattress (in some boats, the v-berth takes two or three cushions assembled together). The mattress was also it's own "project" that day. Months ago the cats had peed on the mattress before I had managed to cut a protector to fit it, and my treatments with Nature's Miracle had not been thorough enough, so there was occasionally a residual cat pee odor--not pleasant. The winter condensation also meant that mold had returned in the forepeak. Thus, the mattress was it's own icky, smelly project. I would love to get a new mattress, especially as this one is not friendly on my back, but at $2500 and up... the boat repair and outfitting fund can't swing that yet.

The mattress is heavy and unwieldy. Removing it was not an easy job even for the two of us. But we pulled it out, carried it up the side deck, and laid it out on the foredeck in a way that maximized air circulation around it. The sheets had gotten wet and moldy along one side, but the mattress itself did not have any mold. I poured a very hefty dose of Nature's Miracle all over the mattress and let it air out in the sun all afternoon. When the day came to a close and we put the mattress back in I felt there was still some residual smell, so I sprayed the surface again with Nature's Miracle, left the port lights open in the stateroom, and aimed a fan at the mattress. We all spent the night on the settee in the main cabin, with barely any room for me beneath the menagerie of pets.

After another day letting the mattress air out and dry, the offending smells were gone. Virtually any cleaning job can be mastered, but some of them simply require the right product and enough time.

With the mattress out of the stateroom, we could now unscrew the piece of shelving atop the holding tank for open access to the tank fittings. Forward of the holding tank were two storage areas, so I said a little prayer for there to be lots of fancy boat equipment hidden away and forgotten by the prior owners. Alas, the lockers were filled with fiberglass housing insulation, some of which had gotten wet and moldy from condensation and some mystery water that kept seeping into the bottom of one locker (bilge water, presumably). There was also more Reflectix insulation in the lockers as well, which is the boat-appropriate insulation to use. Here are some photos of the lockers. I expect I will put a lot of winter clothes and such in space bags and store them there; the lockers are huge. I could just barely reach the bottom.

Now we were ready to tackle the main project. As one friend/reader had noted, sometimes you have to spend hours prepping to have good access for a job, but then the job will take fifteen minutes instead of five hours. I wish this had been a fifteen minute job, but it surely would have been even tougher had we not removed the mattress first to gain better access. Here's the view of the top of the holding tank.

I left off with a small piece of hose stuck on the port vent fitting. I had tried previously to get a knife under the hose to break the seal that had formed over the years, but even the thinnest knife did not want to shimmy in there. 007 from S/V Octopussy had explained that the fitting is not smooth, but rather has a series of grooves. Once I could actually see that on the fitting I understood why it was so hard to try to pull the hose off--over the years the hose depresses into those grooves, as shallow as they are, and locks itself in. We followed a tip from 007 and repeatedly carefully cut at the hose lengthwise while pulling the hose away with a pair of needlenose pliers to help it split. It was a painstaking process both due to the stiffness of the hose and the fear of damaging the fitting, but it worked well. Although I had tried cutting the hose with this utility knife during my first stab at the project, between being a girl and having a nagging rotator cuff tear, this part of the job really benefited from the brute force a guy could contribute.

We high-fived and congratulated ourselves when we got that hose off. We figured putting the new hose on would be a snap. I had done plenty of studying up from Nigel Calder and Peg Hall (a/k/a The Headmistress) on how to install the hoses. First we pulled the new hose through to gauge that the length was correct. I had erred generously, and we used the hack saw to take off about 18 inches of extra hose. I climbed in the port hanging locker and the hose went on the thru-hull fitting with relative ease. I tightened down the hose clamps with a screwdriver. Yep, we were cruising along now.

Yeah, not exactly. We lubed up the hose and tank fitting with Teflon grease but the hose would not come close to going on that fitting. I boiled some water on the stove, we soaked the end of the hose in it for a minute or so, and it slipped right on. Nigel Calder's not-inexpensive textbook on boat mechanical and electrical systems was well worth the price just for that one tip! (He strongly recommends this approach over use of a heat gun, which has a greater likelihood of damaging the hose). We tightened down the hose clamps and patted ourselves on the back.

Now on to the starboard hose. We sawed off the hose a bit aft of the fitting and followed the same utility knife and needlenose pliers procedure to remove the remaining length of hose. Then came the thru-hull end. Rather than a hanging locker, this thru-hull is tucked behind a set of drawers. We pulled the drawers out and then realized that the drawer frame posed a significant obstacle to accessing the thru-hull. It was a major contortionist exercise to reach the hose clamps with a screwdriver and loosen them enough to be able to free the hose. I tried sliding my head and shoulders sideways through one drawer space but could not quite reach. I then perched beside the drawer frame and reached my arm through as far as possible while my friend shined a flashlight at the hose clamps. Every quarter-turn of the screw was a major accomplishment. We took turns trying to get at the hose clamps and just needing a break from the heat and the residual "eau de holding tank." We sawed off the hose at that end as well, leaving about a foot of hose to grab onto and yank it off the thru-hull. I'm not sure these photos really demonstrate how difficult it was to reach that thru-hull.

When we had removed the old hose we easily followed the same routine of Teflon grease and soaking the new hose quickly in boiling water to attach it to the tank fitting. Then came attaching the new hose to the thru-hull. Reaching in to tighten the hose clamps was the toughest part of the entire project. At least when trying to loosen the old ones we could get torque on the screwdriver because the clamps were tight. But trying to tighten clamps that just want to spin about...impossible. We tightened them down as much as possible before sliding them into place by pushing them with pliers and the screwdriver. But we simply could not reach the screws and get any purchase to tighten them down. We pulled out a borrowed socket set and found a socket that would work. Our momentary joy was quickly squelched when we realized that socket needed a smaller ratchet than we had. I popped out and asked the guy a couple slips down if he had the ratchet we needed. He did. Unfortunately, the handle was too short for us to reach the hose clamp. My friend quickly devised a solution.

So with our taped-together ratchet-screwdriver tool my friend managed to reach in and tighten down the hose clamps. It was still no easy task because the space to maneuver the tool was tight, but it worked. And with luck, that particular job won't need repeating for another ten years.

And so, sweet victory. My friend and I each learned some things from the other during the project and it's always good to have a friend who can McGyver stuff to find a work-around. I have had the luxury of using the head aboard for almost a week now, and offending cat pee and holding tank aromas are a thing of the past. Yep, I'm living the dream.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

six months aboard

Half a year aboard. I guess that's something of a mini-milestone and the next temporal one will be a year. Yesterday I started early with projects, feeling some momentum to make headway. At least I managed to bail out the dink.

Looking around inside the boat, it appears I've made little to no progress in the past six months. Clothes are in bags and piles. Random clutter inhabits every surface. It seems as if no amount of vacuuming can keep pace with the dog's shedding.

The weather yesterday was beautiful. Finally warm enough to open all the port lights, let in some sun and fresh air. The two projects I really wanted to get to were replacing the holding tank vent hoses and drilling out the hinge screw holes on my companionway door, then filling the holes with epoxy and wood plugs. A warm, dry day is best for epoxy work so that it will cure well. I should have started with the latter project so that perhaps next weekend I could re-sink the hinges and have a functioning door. Instead, I decided to tackle the vent hoses first. Getting rid of the stinky permeated hose would let me put away clothes in the hanging locker and free up space in the cabin, making it easier to clean and organize.

In theory, vent hose replacement is simple. The only tool required is a screwdriver for loosening and tightening the hose clamps. In practice, the job was not so simple. I went to work on the thru-hull connection first. I contorted myself to reach the hose clamps and quickly got them loose. I twisted, tugged, and pulled the hose, but it would not come free from the thru-hull. I worried that the fitting would fall out into the water and considered duct-taping it down outside. Donning my goofy headlamp, a mask for mold and smells, and rubber gloves, I begrudgingly went a couple slips down and asked for help. To be clear, I was only asking for their advice on how to remove the hose. I just don't think you can ask for volunteers with head-related projects; those projects are icky and smelly enough that I think you have to pay real cash money to someone to help. But one guy offered to hold down the thru-hull from the outside while I tried to break the hose free. He seemed to think the thru-hull was not going anywhere and was nice enough to come inside and after some twisting and pulling get the hose free of the fitting.

On to the unpleasant end of the project: disconnecting the hose at the holding tank fitting. The working space there is much smaller unless I disassemble part of the berth, which is likely what I will end up having to do because the starboard vent connection is even harder to reach than the port one I was working on yesterday. I loosened the hose clamps, one of which promptly broke anyway. I was able to twist the hose back and forth on the fitting, but like the other end, it would not come free of the fitting. I figured it may be easier to work with a smaller section of hose, so I used a hack saw to cut the hose away about an inch past the fitting. I stuffed a paper towel in the end of the hose to cut down on the smell and took a study break.

I looked online and found no useful information or handy YouTube videos (apparently no one on Sailnet or Cruisers' Forum has had this problem...not likely, but I can believe they wouldn't admit to it.) I referred to Nigel Calder's Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual and Peg Hall's Get Rid of Boat Odors. They both have useful information for installing the new hoses, e.g., Nigel Calder suggests dipping the end of the hose in boiling water to soften it to slip over the fitting more easily (rather than using a heat gun), and Peg Hall suggests lubing the fitting up with some K-Y. I will likely use both suggestions. But to remove the old hose that is stuck on the fitting the only advice I've found is to soften it with a hairdryer. I was hoping to avoid that because I will have to link a couple of extension cords together to reach all the way inside the boat since plugging a hairdryer into the boat's electrical system would almost certainly trip the breakers.

Hunter studying up on Nigel Calder's plumbing guidance.
I went back to the project a couple of times, trying to pry the hose off the fitting with a screwdriver, (which risks damaging the fitting), and trying to cut the hose section with a utility knife, which could also have damaged the fitting if the knife hadn't been utterly useless against the hose. I really wanted to finish that project, or at least one of the hoses.

Six months in and I can't even finish this simple project that requires no power tools. I know exactly how to do the job, but I'm not strong enough to pull the stupid hose off the fitting. I hate that feeling of defeat, weakness. I will probably have to hire someone to help me with this simple project, but don't even have the money to hire anyone right now. At least the port hose is removed and I can plug the fitting for now. The tank is still vented to starboard. I can clean the hanging locker again--the moisture and mold keep coming back from the cold weather--line the locker with some insulation, and actually hang some clothes there. I guess I have to find the little success even if I lost the battle against the vent hose for now.

As if my plate wasn't full--though admittedly, no matter how much progress one makes the boat project list never shrinks--I also need to follow up on the water pump. The new pump occasionally cycles on when no faucet is open. That is a sign of a leak. I get weak pressure at the galley sink, but very forceful pressure in the head sink, which is twice the distance from the pump. Investigation has revealed that the separate spray nozzle at the galley sink drips quite a bit when the faucet is on--but does not do so when the faucet is off. It's a leak that needs to be dealt with, and may account for the lag in pressure there, but I don't think it's the cause of the water pump cycling on when it shouldn't. It seems that the cycling on problem occurs when the water heater is on, which I only use for hot water for dishes as it draws a lot of electricity. My working hypothesis right now is that there is a leak somewhere between the water heater and the pump. It's a project I will bring in help for so that I can learn how to find and fix it without further mucking anything up. I also want to know whether I have a heat exchanger on my water heater; if so, I can heat water from the engine's heat when motoring, which would be quite useful when cruising.

Although I am frustrated that I have not made more progress in these six months, that I have not renamed the boat or held boatwarming festivities, I am trying to cut myself some slack and give myself credit for learning how to survive winter aboard a boat, learning how to manage three pets aboard, for embracing a lifestyle I was meant for but that certainly presents its quirks and challenges. I am grateful I have many local friends I can turn to if I want advice, since oftentimes the folks most insistent on offering up their advice aren't the ones whose advice you actually want.

I couldn't pass up these adorable Easter lambs on sale today:

I had a great Easter brunch with good friends. But I do miss Easter baskets. I prefer to give gifts than to receive them; I love to pick something special for someone and see them enjoy opening a gift. And although I am not religious, I am very spiritual and embrace the renewal, fertility, and rebirth that bunnies and eggs represent. Now that spring is blossoming I must focus on renewing myself through running, a rebirth (i.e., renaming) of the boat, and getting the boat in shape for a boatwarming and general entertaining. Progress will come. It has to be our turn for some fair winds.

Monday, April 1, 2013

freeze and thaw

Last Monday.


The cats are enjoying sunning on the deck, nibbling grass, and bird-watching. They seem to like the dog ramp for easy boarding and soaking up the rays.

Spring seems to be taking the old "in like a lion, out like a lamb" approach this year. Little hiccups of winter, then a couple of days teasing us that sun and warmth are arriving, then cold and dreary rain. Perhaps I am following the same pattern. A winter hibernation, keeping my heart frozen and protected so that it could heal. Grateful that the tides are coming up; I'm aground less often now, literally and figuratively.

Now the spring thaw is arriving, full of sunlight and hope. I'm unlikely to open my heart again for quite some time. But this spring will be full of renewed focus, rebirth. Taking care of myself, my pack, and my boat. These are the things that matter. Two weeks now getting in four days of running, though yesterday I had to cut my 6 to 4 due to a nagging Achilles' problem. Good to get back out running, just me and my music. My time to meditate, mull over projects and challenges, and to let my mind go.