Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chesapeake Seals and Alligators?

We take the dogs off the boat three times a day.  Once in the morning for a potty break, once during the day for a two or three mile walk, and once in the evening for  another potty break.    We had an interesting thing happen last night.

As soon as the dogs got off the boat, they were on high alert.  Heads erect, standing perfectly motionless.  Then they ran to the side of the dock and were peering into the black water below.  They reluctantly agreed to be put on their leashes, and then dragged Pam and I down the dock to the shoreline where they ran from finger pier to finger pier, sniffing and looking.   Pit bulls are very powerful dogs for their size, and when they want to go someplace, there's not too much you can do about it.  As we got close to the only floating dock at the marina, something very large grunted and dove into the water with a huge SPLASH.  The dogs went ballistic and dragged us down to the floating dock.  They ran from side to side, sniffing and staring into the blackness.  We saw nothing. 

"What was that?" asked Pam.

"I dunno.  Probably a Chesapeake alligator." I replied, jokingly.

Back at the boat, Pam got on her iPad and began searching.   Ruby relaxed and laid down, but Chevy, the male, demanded to go back outside, woofing his insistance to me.   Chevy is part pit bull and part Shar-pei, which is a Chinese guard dog and very protective of family.  While everyone on board is relaxing, Chevy will patrol the perimeter. 

He was too busy to do his business the first time, so I took him off the boat again.  As soon as he jumped onto the dock, he ran to the end of it and checked our stern, and then began his perimeter inspection of the dock.   I got him on his leash and he repeated his first route, finally going to the floating dock and searching all around it. 

I dragged him off the dock and up to shore to the grassy area and he began pacing back and forth, sniffing the ground, finally bringing me to a brick paved area.  It was wet.  Whatever was on the dock also was up further on shore.

Back at the boat, Pam showed me that Harp Seals have been seen on the Chesapeake.  I did some more searching and found that small alligators have been found on the Potomac, which is just a bit south of Annapolis.

I sailed on Lake Champlain for a few years and had first hand encounters with Champ, it's version of the Loch Ness monster.   A quick Google check shows that the Chesapeake may also have its own monster named Chessie.   It's even been photographed.

My morning routine when I awake is to start the coffee and go up to the showers.  I got up at 6:30 today when it was still dark.  I drank a cup of coffee and waited for daylight before going to the shower.   While seals are cute furry animals, alligators and sea monsters are not.

UPDATE-  A dock worker came by while we were sitting outside enjoying the 68 degree sunshine and I asked if seals were known to hang around the marina.  The answer is yes, they do.  Mystery solved.   I still think I'm going to wait for sunrise before going to the shower, though.

Friday, December 30, 2011

And The Weather Window Is Stuck Shut

We should have gone yesterday.  The high winds never happened, at least in Annapolis, and the sea buoy I checked down the bay only showed a few gusts to 17 MPH.  This is the NOAA forecast as of this morning...










Totally beyond our 15-3 rule (max winds 15, waves 3 feet).

I guess I'll go on Craig's List and start looking for a job.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

And The Weather Window Slams Shut

We had intended to get an early start and head south from Annapolis today.  The weather forecast the evening before looked good, winds out of the south at 5 to 10 and waves one foot.  This is the forecast this morning....










West winds a 5 knots are perfect, but 15 gusting to 20 out of the south is very bad.  I'll look at the weather faxes, but there must be a front moving through.  If it actually didn't kick up until 4 PM, we could make it to Solomon's, but weather forecasting is an imprecise science and it could just as easily get snotty earlier.   Since our dock is paid for until the end of the month, and since there's a New Year's Eve party coming up, we decided to wimp out and stay.

On the boat project front, I finally finished the waste holding tank project by installing the deck pumpout fitting.   It was a difficult job because of really tight access under the deck.   I couldn't remove the old fitting because it's threaded and has a huge honkin' nut on the bottom that wouldn't budge.  So I left it.

The first task was to drill a 2" hole in the underside of the cabinet where the waste hose would pass through into a closet where it would connect to the copper waste tank pipe.  This was easy.   Next came drilling down through the deck.   This was hard, because of the thickness of the deck.  For my landlubber friends, a boat deck is a sandwich with fiberglass on the top and bottom and a core, usually of balsa (like Drift Away) or closed cell foam.  Add to that a teak deck, and on top of that the fiberglass we laid over it to stop the deck leaks and you have a thick multi-layer sandwich.  I had to stop drilling every few minutes and remove pieces of what I drilled from the hole saw.

The hole saw is 2", and the fitting is 2", and I didn't want a press fit so I had to use a rasp to enlarge the hole a bit.

Then I smooshed the fitting into the hose and dropped it down the hole.

I went back down below and slipped on a hose clamp between the deck and cabinet and then pushed the hose down into the hole I made in the cabinet and into the closet below.

I sealed everything with liberal quantities of clear silicone.  Silicone is an excellent sealant if not exposed to UV.

Down in the closet, I disconnected the old waste hose and connected the new.

And then it was time for my victory beer.   The only beer that tastes as good as a victory beer is a beer after mowing a lawn on a hot summer day.

All of my remaining boat projects require warm temperatures and include painting the decks, the parts of the hull I haven't painted, getting the Boston Whaler fixed up and running, and replacing water damaged paneling in the boat.  So until we leave Annapolis on Sunday or later, I'll be sitting on my duff.  

I guess we'll watch a few movies, watch some football, and maybe I'll start compiling some of this blog into a book.  A writer's agent I corresponded with thinks there might be some merit here.  What do you think?  Remove the dull stuff, like installing a deck fitting, and leave in the rest?  Remove everything except the boat projects?   A mix?  I don't think readers want yet another travelogue or a how-to book, but something that reflects the realities of what it's like to buy, live on, and cruise in an old boat, warts and all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Weather Window is Holding

Although it's blowing like stink here in Annapolis today, tomorrow's NOAA weather forecast is winds out of the south at 5 to 10, waves one foot.  That's well within our comfort zone, so tomorrow looks like the day we leave for points south.  I'll check the forecast again tomorrow morning, of course, because weather forecasting is an imprecise science and is based on probabilities, but we'll probably leave.

Our preparations aren't too many.  I checked the oil and coolant levels in both engines and fired them up and let them run until fully warmed.   I tied the flat screen TV down.  That's about it.  Before we actually leave the dock, we put all the small appliances, photographs, and other loose things on the floor.  Then the dogs get locked inside, we cast off the lines, and away we go.

Our first stop will most likely be Solomon's Island, about a 7 hour trip, so we must leave early.  You can follow our progress by going to and searching for Drift Away.

I just found out that the Dismal Swamp Canal is going to close on January 3rd for 60 to 90 days for repairs.  That's too bad.   That's a trip I was looking forward to making, and I don't think we can get there in five days, especially if our past progress is any indication.  Heck, it took us six weeks to get to Annapolis from Albany. 

Hmmmmm.... then again, maybe we'll be getting there just as it opens in the spring.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Weather Window

For my landlubber friends, a weather window is what cruisers wait for before making a passage.  We look for weather that is good for our vessels.  For Drift Away, it is our 15-3 rule.  Winds no more than 15 MPH and waves 3 feet or less.  Certainly, our boat can take more than that, but we can't.  We live aboard our boat, which means it is more like a floating family room than a boat.  We have stuff everywhere.  Preparing the boat for more than 3 foot waves would take days to prepare for, and days to undo.  Furniture needs to be lashed down, small appliances stowed, and so on.  So we look for our weather window, a forecast of sunshine, fair winds, and pleasant seas.  If we don't get it, we stays put.

The holidays are over, and it's time to head south.  We've been in Annapolis since mid-November and it's been delightful.  Good friends and good weather, just about every day being a "trawler day", perfect for cruising.  Now that we're ready to go, here is the NOAA weather forecast.






So it looks like Thursday might be the day we head further south.  Then again, Pam said something about taking Chevy to the vet to get his shots updated.  And our friends Kate and Chuck said something about a New Year's Eve party.  And I still have to get the waste deck fitting replaced.   And... and... and...

And nuthin'.   I need to paint the deck, and to do that we need to be someplace warmer.  We also need to get off the docks here at Mears Marina since the water is turned off.  And it's going to get cold here and probably snow soon.  And we need to have a diver clean Drift Away's bottom and the one guy I talked to here wanted $160 for the first hour and $125 an hour after that and said it would take him several hours to do.   I paid $90 to get the bottom cleaned in Stamford, and that's the most expensive place in the USA to live.  We need to get south where the labor rate is lower.

But Annapolis is such a nice place.  I could live here.  I've even been looking at real estate guides here.  House prices are almost as lofty here as Stamford though.  If we traveled south, I'm sure we could find someplace as nice as Annapolis but with lower cost housing.  And then there's the issue of health insurance.  I don't have any.   Connecticut allows insurance companies to base health insurance premiums on age and previous conditions and my premiums were ridiculous, so I let it lapse.  I need to find a state where that's prohibited and establish residence there.

So Thursday is looking good for casting off the dock lines.  But that's December 29th.  New Year's Eve is only three days away, and the weather window looks really good next week...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all, to all our friends and followers, and those who just googled us for the first time.  I hope you got to spend some quality time with family.

Pam and I rented a car and drove home to upstate New York for the holidays.   While sitting at Christmas dinner, I had a sudden, strong pang of sadness just as we finished.  It's when my dad always called to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  He passed away in 2010, but I still miss him.

If you still have your mom and/or dad, be sure to call today.  If you don't, you probably had the same sense of sadness I did, and my condolences to you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Don't Give Pit Bulls Cardboard Toys

I know it's been a few days since I've posted anything here, but not much has been going on of interest.   We've all been under the weather with colds and so just lollygagging around the boat.  I love that word- lollygagging.  It sounds like what it is.

The nice thing about dogs is that you can stack them.

Today we wrapped Christmas gifts.  I wrapped mine and then Pam wrapped hers.  The dogs were playing on the salon floor, just like kids.  They empty out their toy box and shake toys at each other, and then one will try to take the other's toy and they fight over it.  Great fun.  

Pam used up one roll of wrapping paper and tossed the empty tube to the dogs.  Ruby thought she was being punished and ran under the dining table, but when she saw Chevy playing with the big cardboard stick she came out and pounced on him.  She's smaller and ten pounds lighter than Chevy, but a better wrestler.

Ruby swiped the big cardboard stick and taunted him with the new toy.

And then both dogs had it.

See how they're both chewing the tube?  Want to guess how long it took them to shred it into a dog drool soggy mess?

Sorry, no pic of that.  I'd have to suffer the wrath of Pam if I laughed and took one.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Blue Moon, You Knew Just What I Was There For

Drift Away is fairly spacious for a boat, but it's still a pretty small living space.   Our main saloon (for my landlubber friends, it's one of those nautical terms that no one understands but we use the word anyway.  Sometimes it's also called a salon, so it's either a western bar or a beauty parlor) is about ten feet wide and fifteen feet long.  It is our galley (kitchen), living room, and dining room.  It's cramped enough, but then add two medium sized dogs and a cat who insist the sofa is theirs and it's ridiculous.  Walking from one end of the saloon to the other involves doing the "doggie ballet", pirouetting over and around dogs, a cat, and pet toys.   And try finding a place on the sofa!

Yelling doesn't work.

Oh, Chevy may look remorseful, but trust me, he's not. 

So, sometimes we just sits.

Gertie will move, but not the dogs.

Luckily for Gertie, she can sit just about anywhere.

So, having enough of our crowded living conditions, I decided to do a boat project- replacing the frozen deck pump out fitting for the waste tank.  It inadvertently got epoxied shut when the decks were fiberglassed over.  Fixing this is important because we have no other way to pump out the tank.   Although we use the marina facilities almost exclusively, this will have to be done soon.  The first job was to remove the old fitting from under the deck.  It's inside the box on the right, which is in the foreward stateroom.

The box on the left is the heat/air conditioning vent.  Then there's a small space, and then the box covering up the waste hoses.  I didn't have a screwdriver small enough to get in that tiny space so I just pried the panel off.  I found that the space was much too tight to remove the old deck fitting, so I decided to just leave it and drill a new 2" hole, install the new fitting, and disconnect the hose from the old one and run it to the new one. 

Fortunately, I pulled the replacement deck fitting out of my project cabinet before I started drilling or removing anything.

Yes, for the more observant of you, it says "water", not "waste".  So much for that project today.

The only other project I had to complete here in Annapolis was to install a 3000 watt inverter (converts 12 volt DC to 115 volt AC ) so we can run the refrigerator while underway.   The most difficult part of this job was sorting out the boogered up wiring in the accessory panel.  I decided to use an unused circuit breaker for a long gone VHF radio, hooked up some unused 10 gauge wires under the helm (I hope that's heavy enough) and install it under the helm station, where an old inverter was that I tossed, and it was done.

It was time for my victory beer.   As I gazed across the saloon, I saw my honey sitting there.   I admired her curves, her beauty.  

"I love you.  I don't know how I'd get through life without you."  I said aloud.

"Is that you or the beer talking?", Pam said.

"It's me, talking to the beer."

Blue Moon, you know just what I was there for,  you heard me saying a prayer for...

Friday, December 16, 2011

25,000 hits? Really?

Our blog has been like the Seinfeld Show, mostly about nothing.  We started it eleven months ago, right smack dab in the middle of the winter while living aboard Drift Away in Stamford Connecticut.  We were getting record snowfalls and ice storms and the absurdity of it all seemed like good fodder to share with the world, and so this blog was born.

Pam owned a bookstore, reads a lot (now reading "Chesapeake" by James Michner) and has written a draft of a novel.  I enjoy writing and have had sailing articles published in Cruising World, Latitudes & Attitudes, and Good Old Boat magazines.  I don't know about others who write and have blogs, but I have a creative side that needs to be let out periodically.  This got me into trouble quite often in high school, by the way.

I intended this blog to be a window into what it's really like to be a liveaboard.  I think that many magazines glamorize it with palm trees and white sandy beaches, when it's really more like living in an itty bitty apartment with a water view and mildew.  Add to the mix two pit bulls and three cats, one of them with only three legs, and it gets pretty hilarious.

I wrote about our many boat projects like replacing the refrigerator, a simple job for a land dweller but a major project requiring a Sawz-All on Drift Away.  I wrote about finally casting off the dock lines and heading south.  After two months we made it as far as Annapolis, Maryland.  Everyone else is at least in Georgia, including our buddy Miro.

Don't get me wrong, we like Annapolis, a lot...   but really?  The marina just put in bubblers to keep the boats from freezing in, and one of the marina guys just told me that a Coast Guard ice breaker came through Back Creek last year.  We're tossing the dice here.  If we stay too long, we'll get frozen in and have to stay until Spring.

Those of you who follow our blog know that I write about pretty mundane things sometimes, but I reveal it warts and all.  In some cases, even posting photos of the many hits I take to my bald noggin (this cracks up Pam).  Quite honestly, I don't know why everyone tries to hide the fact that they screw up.  We all do.  It shows that we're human, and fallible.  We do dumb things.  All of us.  Sometimes we do smart things, and sometimes we do ingenious things, and sometimes we do brilliant things.  But we all do dumb things.  It's the law.  The Law of Evolution.

Hmmmm.... like going to Walmart to feel thin and intelligent, maybe that's why you come here to read our blog?  

Please consider "following" our blog.   While we get 150 to 200 hits a day, we only have 32 followers.  Just click on the "join this site" button.  Followers and comments only encourage us to write about more dumb shit that we do.  Like another blogger that I follow wrote, it's like fertilizer to us.

For those of you doomed to endure the coming winter,  soon, right after Christmas, we intend to finally make some real progress and head south.   We'll be actually "cruising" and that's what many of you want to read about.  At least, I think we'll be leaving.   Pam mentioned something yesterday about connecting to the free cable TV on the dock.    That's a very bad sign.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Putting up the Storm Windows On Drift Away

Last summer, I ripped off the shrink plastic storm windows I had put on Drift Away to get through the winter in Stamford, Connecticut.  Sadly, yesterday I put them back on.  We plan on being in Annapolis until after Christmas, and it can get cold here.  I got up early this morning and it was 22 degrees, and within a half hour it had dropped to 14 degrees.  Condensation was running down the windows in rivers.

Like most, if not all other boats, Drift Away has single pane windows.  Why double pane aren't installed on boats, I don't know.   I bought three boxes of that plastic sheeting stuff, the kind where you put the double sided tape around the window, stick on the plastic, trim it, and then take a blow dryer to it to shrink it and remove all the wrinkles.  The stuff works great, except I didn't use a blow dryer.  I used a hot air paint removing gun.

The directions on the box said to set the blow dryer on its highest setting.  The hot air gun has settings of 200, 500, 800, and 1000 degrees.  I set it on 500 degrees. 

Crap.  See the hole?  And I had bought just enough plastic to do the 18 windows I needed to do.  Well, it's a two mile round trip walk to the hardware store, and blinds cover the windows anyway....

so I put double sided tape around the hole and put a piece of plastic over it.  It ain't pretty, but it works.

And yes, I turned the heat gun down to 200 degrees.  Any yes, I melted holes in the plastic three more times.  Then Pam came home and asked me why I didn't use her blow dryer.  I didn't have an answer for that.  I'm a guy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Annapolis, the Day in Pictures.

Last night, Pam and I hied ourselves to the Spa Creek Bridge to watch the Eastport Yacht Club's Lights  Parade.  It was cold and a bit windy, but we took the dogs along anyway because they were antsy.  We got there early to make sure we'd have a good viewpoint.   As more and more people arrived, Ruby was in her glory.  She thought all the people were there to see her.  And actually, she got a lot of attention because she's such a friendly dog and many passersby stopped to make a fuss over her.  Imagine that, fussing over a pit bull of all things.  We didn't stay too long because we were getting cold, dogs included.  I didn't bring my camera with me because I knew the photos would come out blurry, sorry, but I will say that it's an awesome parade and you should catch it if you can.  You can see photos of previous parades by clicking this link.

It's sunny and warm here in Annapolis today, about 50 degrees and light winds.   The dogs were out on the bow sunning themselves.  Ruby started barking.   Pam went out to yell at her and to see what the fuss was, and came in laughing.   This is what had Ruby in a tizzy.

A U.S. Navy blimp.  I suppose if I was a dog and never saw a blimp before that I'd freak out too.

While taking a pic of the blimp, I took one of Drift Away, looking snug in her berth.

She would look snugger if there were palm trees in the background.

Pam and I took a walk into town to deliver secret-Santa presents for a nine year old girl, and this time I brought my camera.  If you haven't been to Annapolis, it is boats, bars, and a quaint old town.

Pam stopped to listen to Alex Haley talk about "Roots", his family's story. 

Kunta Kinte arrived in America at Annapolis.  It is the only memorial that commemorates the arrival of an enslaved African.

The pubs were busy, no doubt because the Army-Navy football game was yesterday, and since Navy won, people were celebrating.

This is "Ego Alley" on Dock Street, so named because big yachts dock here to visit the pubs and eateries across the street.  In the off-season many live-aboards winter here.

McGarvey's hasn't changed since I chartered a sailboat here over 30 years ago.  I like it when things don't change.  Change is bad.   Always bad.

The pic above is the Shiplap House, so named because the siding in the back (that you can't see) is of varying widths.  It was built around 1715 as a tavern and store.  It is now the administrative offices of Historic Annapolis.

People really do sail here in Annapolis, even in December.   They're all bundled up in heavy coats, warm gloves, and wool hats.  Looks like fun, eh?

I, on the other  hand, have a trawler and I intend to drink a couple of beers and watch football on my 42" flat screen TV as soon as I post this blog.  That's fun too.  Go Ravens!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Annapolis. A Drinking Town With A Sailing Problem.

We were told that Annapolis is like the Hotel California.  You can check out, but you never leave.  We arrived in Annapolis almost a month ago.  While we have no plans, no destination or schedule, I had thought that we'd stay a week or two and then head south.  Then we decided to stay for Thanksgiving with our friends Kate and Chuck, which we enjoyed immensely.  One thing led to another and here it is December 10th.

We will  drive back to upstate New York for Christmas with family.  It's an all day trip from here.  If we head any farther south, it becomes a two day drive, so now we're thinking we'll stay until after the holidays.

No, we won't spend the winter here.  Mears Marina is a great place, nice facilities and friendly people.  I recommend it.  But they made it clear that we can't winter over here, so that option is off the table.   Of course, we could stay at another marina in the area, but once we cast off the dock lines, we might as well head south where it will be a bit warmer.

Maybe that's one problem with not having any plans.  Without plans, you just wander aimlessly and without purpose and find yourself in places  much longer than you should be.  But then again, why not stay as long as you're having a good time, which we are? 

I guess cruising is different things to different people.  There are those who make a mad dash from points north to Florida, going as fast as they possibly can to escape old man winter, and there's nothing wrong with that.   But we prefer to dilly dally along, taking in the sights and exploring along the way.  

There's much to see and do in a boating town like Annapolis, and it has a very fine assortment of pubs for a town this size.  Sailors love to race and then meet at pubs to lie about it with their friends.   We have many friends here too, good folks we've met on internet message boards over the years.   Yesterday, Pam and I went Christmas shopping in Annapolis' quaint downtown, and then it was to Dock Street pub where we met up with Kate and Chuck, Pat, and old friends we met for the first time in person, Justin and Chris.   Justin and Chris live in Madrid now, but they just bought a J120 sailboat here in Annapolis.  They plan on sailing it to Maine this summer and then shipping it to the Mediterranean.  They were on their way to Seattle for a conference but stopped here to check on their new boat.  They plan on leaving on Sunday.  Bwa ha haaa.....  so they think...

The Eagles - Hotel California, live performance

Friday, December 9, 2011

Charlie Jumps Ship

We lost one of our crew members.  Charlie, the three legged Snowshoe Siamese cat.

Pam got Charlie when we lived in upstate New York.  He was a stray, living under someone's porch.  He's a big cat and the neighbors were afraid to pick him up, but they left food out for him so he wouldn't starve.   Pam found out about him through the local coconut telegraph and decided to adopt him.   She dove under the porch and scooped him up while wearing big thick gloves.

Back at Pam's apartment, he seemed friendly enough while Pam was petting him, and then he bit her.  Pam smacked him upside the head, real good.  They came to understand each other after that and there was no more bitting, just a warning from Charlie when he'd been petted enough.

Charlie loved Pam and would follow her everywhere, just like a dog.   Well, he got out once when he wasn't supposed to and followed her outside and was hit by a car.  He wound up losing his left rear leg and his tail partially paralyzed.  It didn't seem to faze him much though, and he scampers around just fine on three legs, especially on hardwood floors.   He needs help getting up on beds and such, and he needs someone to scratch under his left chin since he can't do it himself.  When he tries, he falls over.

Charlie seemed to love living on Drift Away too.  Lots of cool little places to curl up in and new and exciting things to see outdoors.   That is, he loved it until it moved.  Charlie gets around fine, but with only three legs and a paralyzed tail he doesn't have good balance. He might even have some neurological damage because his eyes sometimes flick side to side.   Charlie gets seasick.   Really seasick.  So seasick that we had to lock him in the forward head to contain the mess.  

Here in Annapolis, Pam finally made the difficult decision to put him up for adoption.  She asked her friends, posted a note on Facebook, and I mentioned it on this blog.  With the clock ticking as we get ready to leave Annapolis and no takers, I posted a note on Craig's List.   Stephanie answered the call.   Charlie now has a new home with two dogs and another cat, just like we have on Drift Away.  He also has three small children to play with him who can scratch under his chin.

Bye buddy, we're going to miss you, and I'm sure you miss your momma, but it's for the best.  You have a new family and even have a yard now.  From the pic, it looks like you're settling in fine (tip to Emily- don't touch his back leg.  It's his last one and he's very protective of it).

Thank you, Stephanie, for taking Charlie in. He's an awesome cat and we miss him already. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Replacing An Alternator

The tachometer for Drift Away's starboard engine stopped working on our run into Annapolis.  While changing fuel filters, I had noticed that a copper tab with wires connected to it at the 11 o'clock position had snapped off the alternator and was being held by a black wire coming out off the alternator.  It was swinging around while underway and shorting against the case, so I zip-tied it in place.  On close inspection I found that the black wire was now broken off.

One of our favorite places for food and drinks is Davis' Pub here in the Maritime Republic of Eastport.  Friend Miro and I were leaving the other night when I bumped into an old internet friend, Bernie Jakits, who owns Roguewave Yacht Sales.  Bernie was there with Kevin McPadden, the manager of Annapolis Harbor Boat Yard, and their wives.  Bernie introduced us and said that Kevin is the only guy in the marine biz in Annpolis who wouldn't screw over a customer.  I don't know if that's true or not.  Bernie is, and has always been, very blunt and direct, but Kevin and his wife seemed like good folks.   So I told Kevin about my alternator problem and he said to bring it in.

Whenever I do a boat project like this, I like to take photos of the before and after.  I used to draw diagrams, but digital pics are much easier.  This is the old alternator before I removed it.

There are three sets of wires.  A yellow wire at 3 o'clock, a set at 6 o'clock, and a set at 9 o'clock.  Well, the set at 9 o'clock isn't there because the copper tab where the red wire is broke off, and the black wire that was holding it up there also broke off. 

So I removed the alternator, stuffed it in a back pack and hied myself a few blocks down to Annapolis Harbor Boat Yard. It's a busy place, but Kevin took the alternator.  Kevin contacted me the next day.  The old one would cost more to rebuild that getting a new one, so I gave him the go ahead to order two.  I might as well replace the other one while I'm at it.

After helping Miro with his alternator problems, I learned that you don't just want to buy something off the internet and then try to make it fit.   The new alternator pully must be the same diameter as the old, otherwise it will spin too fast or too slow.  It must also be in alignment with the flywheel and water pump, and must fit the brackets.  This is a job for experienced pros.

You can see the bottom bracket in this pic.  The new one sould have to fit there perfectly, and the pulley would have to line up the fan belt exactly.

Kevin had two replacements for me the next day.  The new Prestolite 8RGs were replacements for the 8MRs.  I looked at the electrical connections on the back and they were different from the old alternator, but I figured I could sort it out.  Back at the boat, the new alternator bolted on perfectly, an exact fit.   Now what to do about the wiring?  The new alternator came with everything nicely labeled.

This was great, but the old alternator had nothing labeled.  What's positive and what's negative?   I put a call out to my internet friends and one quickly had a link to a Prestolite tech manual page.  I found what I thought was my alternator from googling around the internet, a 8MR2018K, but I called Prestolite tech support anyway to confirm this  The tech support guy said his name was "Kevin".   I'm starting to think that service people just make up names and they all use "Kevin".  I emailed a photo of my old alternator, and "Kevin" confirmed it was the 8MR2018K.  So I connected all the wires to their respective places and I fired up the starboard engine.  The tachometer still didn't work.

I called "Kevin" at Prestolite tech support back and told him of my problem.  He said it was no biggie, just connect the tachometer wire to the AC Tap post.  I told "Kevin" that the old alternator didn't have an AC Tap post, just postive, negative, and ignition switch connections.  "Kevin" was baffled.  If "Kevin" couldn't figure it out, there's no way a DIYer like me could, so I put in a call to "Kevin" at Annapolis Harbor Boat Yard.  They're really busy winterizing boats but he's going to send a mechanic here the beginning of next week.  So that means that, once again, we are sitting in a marina waiting to fix the boat.  I suppose we could go on without the tach on the starboard engine and synchronize the two engines by sound, but being a computer guy, I like to know, not guess.  So here we sit.

I'm guessing the mechanic's name will be "Kevin".  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


We all have friends.  Some have just passing acquaintences.  Some have life-long friends.  Some have friends you can call on in a pinch.  Most people have all of the above.

If you recall, I ran into difficulties when removing the old refrigerator on Drift Away a couple of weeks ago.  Pam put a call out on a message board we frequent, and within an hour our friend Chuck was here with a Sawz-All and stayed for a few hours cutting up the old one and helping me get the thing out.  

When our friend Miro ran into engine trouble with his sailboat in Norfolk, Virginia, he called us here in Annapolis.  We convinced him to get up here where he would have friends to help.   When he arrived he declared that he had half a mind to sell his boat and return to Stamford.  Pam and I, friend Pat, and Kate and Chuck convinced him to go to Stamford for a short break and then continue on.  When he returned, we got him fixed up and, now rejuvenated and in a better mood, he left for points south yesterday.

We were away from family for the first time at Thanksgiving.  Kate and Chuck to the rescue again, and we and Miro enjoyed a great day with them and their family.

Pam is in Norwalk, Connecticut with Ruby, who had cruciate ligament surgery last week.  Pam and Ruby stayed with our friend Christine for the past week.   We all know the saying that company is like fish (after three days it stinks) but Christine graciously put up Pam and Ruby. 

Today, Pam went to Hertz to rent a car.  She found out that she can't rent a car with only a debit card, for some strange reason, and they wouldn't take a credit card from me over the telephone.  She's stuck in Norwalk.  What to do?  I could rent a car and drive up to get her, which I would do, but that's five hours up and five hours back.   Friend Gary to the rescue.  Gary drove Pam to Hertz and rented a car in his name, on his credit card.   When Pam gets here to Annapolis, we'll pay for it with her debit card.  We need to get Pam a credit card with her new last name of Gibson.

There are many sayings about friends:

A friend will help you hide.  A best friend will help you hide the body.

When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, "'Damn, that was fun". — Groucho Marx

A friend may stab you in the back, but a true friend stabs you in the front.

Feel free to add any more friend sayings.

I'd like to thank all my friends, from my oldest childhood friends to my newest Norwalk friends, for being there when we needed them, and remember that Pam and I are here for you as well.  Well, we're here in Annapolis for now and will be moving soon, but you know what I mean.  And here's looking forward to all the friends we'll make in our travels in the future.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Installing Y-Valves

Drift Away has three heads.  It also has about an 80 gallon waste holding tank.  During a remodel of the boat many years ago, a PO (Previous Owner) decided to disconnect the two guest heads and dump directly overboard.  Although illegal, back then everybody dumped overboard, mainly because pump-out stations were non-existent..

We're heading south and at some point we expect guests to join us.   It was time to tackle this nasty project.

First up was the forward head for the forward stateroom, which is now my workshop/storeroom/place to put things that have no place.  Luckily, the pipes to the holding tank were still there and not removed.  I cut 2" holes through the walls from the stateoom to the head for the new waste lines with my hole saw, a more difficult thing than you'd think because of the thickness of the bulkhead (for my landlubber friends, a bulkhead is a structural wall in a boat).

This was the gate valve to the holding tank where the new hose needed to be attached.  I wonder why the PO cut the old hose instead of removing it?

The hose didn't want to come off, so I took a hot air paint removal gun to it.  It softened up and I yanked it right off.

What you are looking at is not a tapered pipe, but a flattened pipe from a side view.   The PO must have cranked down on the old hose really hard trying to get it off, and then cut it off in frustration.   I cut the pipe at the edge of the black gunk there and stuck on the new hose.

I probably should have replaced the gate valve with a ball valve, but the hardware store is a long walk away.  

I next removed the yucky old waste hose that ran from the head (toilet) to the discharge seacock (fancy nautical term for a valve), after flushing ALOT of water through it.   I installed new, odor free hose and installed this Y-valve under the sink.  Isn't new plumbing pretty?

The Y-valve allows us to flush either into the holding tank or overboard, which you can do if more than three miles from shore and on an extended voyage, which we will probably never do, but I hooked it up anyway because it's the right way to do this project.   The valve is set to dump into the holding tank, and I closed the seacock to make sure we don't dump overboard accidently if something hits the valve.

It was the same basic process for the second head, only the gate valve was broken in the shut position.  The waste line passes through a wall and into the engine room.  I checked in there and saw that it's a downhill run, so the gate valve really isn't needed.  The hose would be empty if it needed to be removed and replaced.  I hacksawed the gate valve off.   It was nasty anyway and needed to be painted or replaced.

I am now enjoying two victory beers, which the rules allow because I fixed two heads.  Which are better than one.   HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Ruby is recovering nicely from her knee surgery and Pam and Ruby will be renting a car and driving here to Annapolis tomorrow.  It will be good to have our family whole again.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Installing Tank Gauges

A boat is a self contained, sometimes self sufficient floating home.  We're mobile and therefore not connected to shore based utilities at times.  Not only must we carry fuel for our engines, but tanks for water and waste as well.

Drift Away doesn't have a fuel gauge like a car does, but that's OK.  We carry 800 gallons of diesel, which at 5 gallons an hour at 8 knots gives us a range of 1,280 nautical miles, which is almost 1,400 statute miles.  There is plenty of time to top off the tanks between marinas.  Still, though, I measure the level of fuel with a dip stick and record it in a book before each departure. 

Water and waste are another matter.   Although we carry 400 gallons of water, we can go through it at a prodigious rate if we do laundry aboard or if a guest takes a shower (boaters know how to take navy showers- turn on the water, get wet, turn the water off.  Soap up, turn on the water, rinse off, turn off the water).  It's important to know when we need to top off our water tanks, and since the tank's dip stick fitting is seized up, we had to remove the cover and look inside to check every few days.

Knowing the level of the waste tank is also very important.  There is nothing worse than over filling your waste tank and having poop squirting out the air vent and into your dinghy.  Don't ask how I know this (Andy).

I found an ideal solution to the tank level quandry at the Annapolis Sailboat Show last November- tank monitors from a company called Electrosense.  You provide them with rough dimensions and a sketch of the shape of your tanks and they send you custom made sending units.  Each uses stainless steel rods of varying lengths.  When liquid reaches a stainless rod, a corresponding LED lights up on the display. 


I ordered a water/waste system while in Atlantic Highlands, NJ and asked them to hold the shipment until I reached Annapolis, which they did.  I had other projects going on when I got here and didn't get to install them until today.

The first issue was the sending units.  They're designed to fit a standard 1.5" NPT fitting.  My boat doesn't have 1.5" NPT fittings since Cheoy Lee didn't install off the shelf plastic tanks.  All the tanks use the boat's hull for walls and have fiberglass tops.  Electrosense makes adapter plates but are too big for the limited space I had to install them.   I could drill and tap the holes, but I priced a 1.5" NPT tap online and at $100 or more, decided I didn't need to tap the holes to screw in the sending units.   I measured the sending unit and it seemed to be about 1.75" outside diameter, so I hied myself to Stevens Hardware and bought a 1.75" hole saw for my drill.  I'd just drill the holes and bed the sending units in silicone. 

The water tank is full, and I didn't want to contaminate our water since the water is turned off here at Mears Marina, so I pilfered a plastic container from the galley (don't tell Pam) and floated it under where I was going to drill.

This is looking down into my water tank with the cover removed.  I slid the container under the hole location and drilled the hole.

I carefully shop-vac'ed up the dust outside, and stuck the nozzle inside to vacuum up the dust in the bowl.   I removed the lid and slid the bowl to the side and inserted the sending unit.  It was too big and wouldn't go in.  I grabbed my Dremel with round sanding attachment and made the hole bigger.

Side note-  please notice that the tank lid is labeled "water".  None of the tanks were labeled, and when I bought Drift Away I spent many hours removing lids to see what was inside.  Also note how many nuts hold down the lid.

The unit now fit.  I gopped it up real good with clear silicone and stuck it in.

I hooked up the cat 5 ethernet cable to test.  Perfect.  I repeated the same installation process for the waste tank.  No, I did not float Pam's container in the waste tank. That would be wrong.  Besides, I didn't care if fiberglass dust got in the waste tank.

Next came the job of running two cat 5 cables from each tank up to the helm station.  I was going to mount the display in the forward stateroom (which is now my workshop/attic/place to put things that have no place) but I know that one uses things inversely proportional to the effort required to use it, and so decided the helm station would be best.  I don't need to get into the details here.  Suffice to say that it took about an hour of drilling holes and sticking an unbent coat hanger with cables taped to it through various holes.

Finally, both cables were in the helm station.  Now, where to put the display?

I hate drilling and cutting holes unless absolutely necessary.  I looked around and saw an unused control switch for the old Sat Nav.  This is an obsolete piece of electronics that I tossed last summer, but I kept the switch to cover the holes in the helm cabinet.   I removed it, and it looked close.  I stuck in the Electrosense display and it was a perfect fit!

The display would be mounted vertically instead of horizontally, but since I'd have to be on my hands and knees to read it anyway, it works.

I plugged the two cables into the back of the unit and tested it again.  They were backwards, so I swapped them.  Tip to Electrosense- cat 5 cables are available in different colors.  When shipping a combo water/waste unit like mine, send two different color cables.  It's a little thing, I know, but as a computer guy, I like order to the universe.

You might notice the 9 volt battery on the display.  It is also available in a 12 or 24 volt hardwired unit.  I opted for the battery display because I didn't know where I would mount it.  As it turns out, I should have ordered the hardwired unit because it's right next to the electrical panel. but the battery should last for about a year, and replacing it is easy since the display isn't screwed in place, it's held with magnets.

I'm checking the water in the pic above.  Note that the LEDs start at 50%.   I carry 400 gallons of water.  I don't really care when I'm down to 300.   This display shows full, 50%, 30%, 20%, 10%, and empty.

The waste display is different.   This unit shows empty, 10%, 50%, 70%, 80%, and full.  Full is bad.  Tip to Electrosense.  Make the 80% LED yellow, and the full LED red.   Or maybe brown.

Another victory, another victory beer.

Next up- replace the seized holding tank deck fitting and frozen holding tank gate valve.  Yuck.  I might make Sunday a lazy football day.  Pam is still in Norwalk waiting for Ruby's bandages to come off her leg, so I can sit around in my underwear, drink beer and eat junk food and scratch anywhere I want.