Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Staying On Board With Ernesto

Let the pictures tell the story........

It was Tuesday, August 29th - the one year anniversary of Katrina. What would the next 24 hours bring?

The morning was beautiful. Bad stuff wasn't expected to happen until later in the afternoon. And even then the top winds were predicted to be 45 mph. We both decided to stay on board. We took a quick dingy ride to the library to drop off our due movies then walked to Topps and topped off a few groceries plus a few bottles at the liquor store. We were ready!

By mid-day the dingy was extra secured on the davits, motor off and tied down on the motor mount, boom secured, dodger off, all preparations complete for Ernesto.

The afternoon was cloudy with a few drizzles of rain.....not even enough to close the campanionway.

Gracie the cat found a secure spot in her usual spot under our v-berth next to her fan and now the added anchor light which we removed from the halyard for when the storms came.

We spent the evening playing chess. Sue won one game!!! One out of 50! Well we didn't play 50 games that night but overall, 1 out of 50. Amazingly we were able to get a signal so chatting on the internet and answering emails was possible. Also keeping track of Ernesto via noaa website was also nice. The rest of the evening was very calm. No wind and just enough drizzly rain to be annoying. Open the hatch for some breeze.....hurry close the hatch because it's raining again......oh god i can't the hatch......ahhhhh....hurry! close the hatch, it's raining again!
That was our evening.

It was after 7 a.m. when Sue finally got up to put the coffee on. Though cloudy, it was still rather calm and quiet out. There was a little breeze but hardly enough to move the palm trees. Were we going to miss this Ernesto weather entirely? Maybe.

We put the dodger back up and were able to sit outside admist the drizzle and read. It was a nice cool morning with a breeze but not the tropical winds predicted.

And then things began to change........
The wind picked up and the rain came in droves sometimes making visibility almost nil. Our wind-o-meter doesn't work so we don't know for sure just how high the winds got but it didn't seem to be much more than 25 knots. Maybe a few gusts up to 30. One of us could have jumped out and used the hand-held windometer, but we didn't.

There were moments of calm and then more high winds and rain. One lightening bolt looked and felt like it hit Parrot Key...oh no! But it didn't. During one lull Gracie was even brave enough to take a quick stroll above. The photo on the right is of her paws on the campanionway slide. Maybe not so brave as desparate for air. It gets very stuffy in here with no ports or hatches open.

The above photos show how the rest of the day after Ernesto went. It constantly rained off and on.....on and off. Looks like we'll be playing the open hatch--close hatch game again. And indeed we have been ever since.
Oh that the sun I see peeking through the clouds?!? Inconcievable!!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ernesto This!

Yesterday it looked like the path of Ernesto was going to bring it right to our little piece of Florida. So this morning we took off the sails and the Mack Pack sail cover. Put the cooler (we use it for paint and other nasty liquids) below. Water Gerry cans below. Took the fins off of the wind generator. We tripled up our lines to the mooring ball. Took down the radar reflector.

Then we checked on the latest on Ernesto. Looks like it is going to miss us by a LOT and go to the other coast. Well that is the more glamorous coast of Florida I suppose. Well, good drill for us and the sails had to come off before we returned to Chicago anyway so those will stay off for now. We've not removed the dodger yet as we wanted the shade for as long as possible. Now if the winds are going to stay under 30 knots we'll probably leave it up.

Tricky business tracking hurricanes. Which track will they really take? How intense will they really get? You don't get to know until they're on you 24 hours out. At least now we do have an escape hatch....the trusty '94 Mazda which Sue is more apt to use than Scott. And the parking space is working out just fine.

We did hire a diver, Bryant who did an excellent job on our bottom, if you know what I mean. It was a bit exciting when his hose broke and the line was a 'live wire' in the water until we turned off the tank. It took Bryant one hour to clean all the remaining barnacles including the bottom of the keel which we never painted! He said it wasn't really that bad. We have him scheduled to come back each month until we leave in December.

And so what does one do while waiting for the next forecast for Ernesto? You watch the rays swim by your boat:

You talk to the daughter via computer video phone:

And you go to happy hour at Parrot Key which is right at the marina and..........
where the beers are $1 for 16 oz drafts....really! Yeungling has become our favorite. And Chad the barkeep is ready to draw you a cold one in an iced glass...really a glass which is not a plastic cup...whenever you're ready.

By the way, Gracie is not happy with what happended to her back bedroom when the sails came down today. She is really singing the blues. No more cereal for us!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Catalina Enee still for sale!

First of all...a contest! Write an "appropriate" caption for this picture! Look close. Click on the picture to make it bigger. Just put your entry in the comments. Enjoy!

Yes fans it's true. Good old Catalina Enee is still on the hard up near Baltimore. Let me just say that boat brokers are all pirates! The ones I left Enee with did nothing to try to sell her over the past several months. So, I've put her up on Ebay. Check it out and spread the word to anyone in the Chesapeak area who want a great first boat!

In other news...we finally got our wifi straightened out and we now have a signal right on the boat. Works a little better if we go in to the marina but still better than schlepping the computer to McDonald's! Note to anyone looking to start a business: Ft. Myers Beach needs an internet cafe desperately! Remember Plantation Coffee in Key West? That place was always jumping and the wifi was free!

I think I'll contract with a local diver to take care of the baranacles once a month. That's only $100 each dive and worth it. I want to make sure our bottom is nice and clean when we take off from here at the end of November. I'm also looking into SCUBA class for myself. Ultimately I'd like to just be able to keep the air tank in the dingy and use a long hose to go around and inspect and clean the boat myself. There is a two week class near here in September for about $275. We'll see.

In any event, breathing through a long hose with the snorkel mouthpiece attached doesn't work! It was a good idea in theory but once in the water captain snappy couldn't get a breath! No comments necessary on this pic, OK?

We are enjoying NOT having refrigeration for awhile. It is so hot here that I have to run a lot of engine to keep up with refrigeration. We have been toting ice every day or two and just not keeping a lot of perishables on board. When it's so hot we don't feel like eating a meat and potatoes dinner anyway. When you are on the go the engine tends to get run twice a day anyway getting off of and back onto the anchor. I should have bought the refrigerator that exchanges heat with seawater instead of air but it was more $$$ and required two more holes in the boat. I already have 9! last count.

We've retrieved our car again. I swear I should hang that Mazda from the dingy davitts! It was still up in Clearwater so we finally found a parking space for it, rented a car, and brought it down a couple of days ago. Now we can use it to shop if we want or get propane, explore downtown ft. Myers, etc.

Here's the story of getting the parking space.... I was asking our friendly bartender at the Parrot Bar if he knew of anyone in the neighborhood who might let us park a car. The lady next to me over heard and told me she might have a slot at a condo that she owns but she'd have to check with her partner. I told her I could pay $50 a month (the marina wanted $200!!). She got back to me a few days later and said that they had talked and thought $100 was better. I said well, than try zero on for size! I mean these people are not in the car parking business and the $50 came out of nowhere but suddenly they want $100. She is from New York.

Two days ago I was walking down the street by the marina and a lady was out working in her yard. I asked her if there might be a place to park our car nearby. She gave me her neighbor's number as he was in Tennessee until winter. I called him (his name is 'Baldy') and asked and told him I'd be willing to pay for the privlege. He said, "Hell you don't have to pay me partner. Just go ahead and put your car there". Tennessee - New York. Coincidence? Maybe not.

That's for now. Remember there's a boat out there for sale and Gracie is still available!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Best Windscoop Ever!

A traditional wind scoop consists of some light material that is hauled up on a halyard and aimed forward so as to catch more wind and guide it down a hatch. They work great as long as you are on the anchor and the boat points itself into the wind. We are on a mooring ball in Ft. Myers where there is a pretty hefty current that changes as the day goes on. We point a variety of directions depending on the relative strengeh and direction of the wind and current. So a traditional wind scoop is almost useless to us and let me tell you, you want every atom of wind you can find for sleeping at night.
We stumbled upon the ‘Best Marine” wind scoop while surfing the web. This clever design consists of four panels that open at 90 degrees from each other. Which ever way the wind blows is pretty much gauranteed to inflate one of the panels and guide the wind below. It works great! It is anchored into the corners of our forward hatch by hooking the corner tabs around 4 cup hooks that we screwed in. We open the hatch all the way back by disconnecting the arm. Then we just haul it up using our spinnaker halyard. They come in a variety of sizes depending on hatch size. We have a really big (28” square) hatch so had to get the big one for $70. Smaller ones range downward in price to around $50.

In other news, yes sadly, it's true that Gracie the Cat that Sails has gone nearly completely blind. Bravely she still finds her way around by feel, smell and memory. If I could teach her to meow on command I'd take her to Mallory square, put dark glasses and a pork pie hat on her and bill her as Gracie - the Blind Blues Cat....Meow, how, how how.... Could be a money maker! Anyway if anyone would like a nice blind cat she could use some cooler and more pleasant surroundings to finish out her days. Email me.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Making mosquito screens for hatches or How to Keep the bugs out!

It’s amazing how few bugs we’ve encountered on this trip. However, being bugs, they will find you. So while moored in a slip in Clearwater I began making screens for the four hatches. Scott got the idea from a similar design that he saw on a boat way back in Charlevoix Michigan. It’s a simple design where a fine netting is placed around the outside of the hatch and chain is then sewn along the base to hold the netting down. At least this is the approach I took to making them. I sewed them by hand since I have no sewing machine.
(Above photo is taken from inside the hatch looking out at sunrise.)

The difficult part was accurately measuring how much material to use for each hatch. The sales lady at Sailrite in Ft. Lauderdale and Scott both laughed at me when I said I wanted 3 yards of 45” wide material. How big are the hatches? Well the 2’ square hatch covers are not all that big but when they’re opened up at a 450 angle there is much more area to cover. I had no idea how to measure for this (spatial relationships has always been challenging for me) so I wanted to be sure I had plenty of material. Good news is that this mesh is reasonable... the 3 yards costs $15.
So 3 months later as I sat on deck unfolding the netting, I laid a portion over a hatch until I thought it was fully covered with enough material to fold over the chain. In fact I also laid the chain over the netting and had Scott cut and relink it to fit. When I checked and double checked that I had enough material covering the hatch I marked where to cut the material for one hatch and then did so.

It took between 1.5 to 2 hours to sew all the way around one hatch capturing the chain inside the bottom edge of the netting. I had to fold the material over itself at the corners making sure I wasn’t pulling too much material and shortening it on the other corners. After 2 or 3 stitches I would recheck to make sure chain and material were in the correct position and that the netting would still fit the opened hatch.

This was definitely a custom job. Each cover was unique to each hatch. I soon realized that I needed to not only keep track of which screen went on which hatch but also which corner covered which corner! I drew a black ‘x’ on each starboard aft corner. Of course the screen also has an inside and an outside. They don’t fit inside out.

Interestingly enough I had enough material for only 3 hatches! This has worked out since the forward hatch has a screen that velcros to the inside of the frame. Having the screen inside the hatch allows us to use a windscoop on this hatch which is in the v-berth where we sleep. The windscoop is a story in itself.

So far they’ve worked well. The mosquitos and other flying creatures can’t come in but the breeze does. There was only one more opening not screened in...the campanionway. Until recently we would put the board in and close the slide cover during the night. This of course cut off much of our air flow and believe me we want all the air flowing possible. The solution - make another screen. I ordered more netting from Sailrite (another 3 yards just to be sure) and received the package at Salty Sam’s marina within the week. Great service. Also as it turned out we had just enough chain left over since I didn’t use any for the forward hatch and I always get extra.

This screen should be a piece of cake. The opening is straight forward...basically an ‘L’ shape. Just cut the netting to fit then sew in the chain. No need to sew at the opening. I had the leisure of sewing at the table in the cabin with the fan on!

So what have I learned since making the first screens and what might I do differently with this screen? Some of the chain is already breaking through the stitches in the original screens so I decided to add a cloth basting to this new campionway screen. This was fairly easy to do since I had the table surface to work on.

My first attempt of attaching the chain and basting to the netting was a disaster. I had a good stitch going through all material knowing I had plenty of material. My only concern was the flexibility of the chain. I didn’t want to capture it in any stitches. I wanted it to move freely within the seem.

After sewing 2 sides of the screen I realized that I didn’t have enough chain to make it all the way around. What the hell happened? I knew I left way more material for making a hem than I needed but planned to just pull the chain through, pleating the material, to cover the perimeter of the shape. Okay, time to pull. Oh no. Pull as hard as I did, the chain wasn’t budging and the material wasn’t pleating. Too much friction!

After much sweating and swearing and waiting a day, I took out all the stitches and saved the thread and prepared to start over. My second attempt was more successful. Scott connected the chain end to end since we knew it was the exact length we needed for the opening. Then I laid the chain on the basting on the netting on the table, measured and remeasured how long and wide the sides needed to be (44’ x 55) and stitched away. This time it worked.

I still want to add some support to the netting where there is stress at the corners by sewing in a basting. For now we are very gentle when covering and uncovering the campanion way. The netting material if a bit fragile. It has made a difference in our air flow although these past few nights there has been zero air flowing. The windscoop which picks up any particle of wind has been very limp.
So we have managed to keep the bugs out. This new screen also keeps Gracie in! Of course now that she’s blind she’s not quite as adventurous. But she does wait on the top step in the morning for us to open the screen so she can get some fresh air in the cockpit. (By the way she has the best airflow in the cabin. She sleeps in front of her fan on the deck below our bed.) She could easily push the netting and get out but she doesn’t. She probably can’t even see the netting but senses something there so stays on the step. This top step is also her perch for ‘viewing’ the galley in hopes that some treats will emerge. Sometimes she gets lucky! Even a blind cat.......

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Life in Ft. Myers Beach

Ft. Myers Beach is a strange place. Especially in the off season. As you would expect there are big expensive condos along the beach side although we think most are not occupied during the summer. So, who is here then? Carny people apparently! Yeah, there is a rough looking crowd here that lives on the other side of Estero Blvd… not the beach side. Nothing dangerous just a lot of tattoos (but the prison kind) on leathery skin and not so many teeth. The guys don’t look much better. People who are here on vacation are here because the rates are cheaper now and they need that because by the look of them, they’ve spent most of their expendable income on snacks. Lots of parking here too for their Harleys.
(Above photo is of Salty Sam's Marina where we also dingy ashore and purchase ice, use showers and do laundry.)

The good news is that there is a trolley that runs the length of Estero Island all the way from Bonita Beach north and across the bridge to Summerlin Mall. Price? 25 cents! Really! Runs about every hour so we can time our going ashore to catch the trolley going which ever way we want. To get ashore we take about a 10 minute dingy ride down this one canal that cuts into Estero Island. At the end of this canal is the “dingy landing”. This is mostly mangroves with a couple of grooves someone cut out for dingys to pull up. Depending on the tide this can be some ugly docking especially because the shore is crawling with hundreds of little crabs that go underground when you step ashore. Yuck. (Photo at left is of the yukky, mukky 'dingy dock') From there we walk one block to Estero Blvd on which runs the Trolley.

Right at our dingy landing is the Topps grocery store which is really handy for us. One block south of our dingy landing is the public library with free internet. We’ve used that a lot! Sometimes we have to wait a little to use the computer so I use that time to read the NY Times. Looks like the world is going to hell in a hand basket! Across the street from the library the library runs a used book store with paperbacks 50 cents and hard backs $2.00. Yeah! If we take the trolley north it is about a 5-10 minute ride to ‘Times Square’ where the pier, beach, and lots of bars and restaurants are. As to the beach they’ve done a nice things here. Although the beach side of Estero Blvd. is lined with big condos and hotels there is beach access for everyone between the buildings and these places are marked with signs along Estero. So nobody owns the beach itself and anyone can walk out to the beach at any of these points. Nice. If you stay on the Trolley it goes over the big bridge and ends up at a largish mall – Summerlin Square where the West Marine lives. Always need to find the West Marine, right? There is also connections here for other buses that go to the airport and downtown Ft. Myers – yet to be explored by us. If we take the trolley to the south from our dingy landing you first come to the Red Coconut trailer park. Notable only because it’s been here since at least the 1940’s and it is RIGHT on the beach. Further along is a movie theater that serves real food, beer and wine with the movies. Haven’t tried this yet but we plan to. Beyond that there is not much until you come to the Santini Square mall. Here we find a nice little hardware store, a book store, drug store, some restaurants and other vacation type beach stores. Beyond here the trolley leaves the island and goes across bridges to Lovers Key and on to Bonita Beach and Bonita Springs. At the end of the line (in a mall of course) there is a K-mart.

We’ve fallen into a pattern of working on the boat until about noon followed by some exploring of Ft. Myers Beach, library, reading or naps during the hot part of the day. Maybe happy hour at the marina later on and then some chess and snacks back on the boat. It’s a hard life but someone has to do it. (Photo at right shows Scott working on the teak-an ever ongoing project.)

As to the boat we recently installed a new 8D battery. I had to get some hired help from the marina to be able to lift the old one out and put the new one in. We could tell that we needed a new battery as twice the voltage would suddenly drop to 10.5 volts! That ain’t right and probably indicated a shorted cell or two. The old battery came with the boat so we had no idea how old or how many charging cycles it had been through. No battery lasts forever. The refrigerator is acting up. It will come on but really it is only the fan coming on and not the compressor. Then the fan shuts off and the next second both fan and compressor come on. It is still making cold but for how long? I called Adler Barbour (and by the way, when you call them a person answers and transfers you to Lester the tech guy who is very helpful and friendly. Why don’t more companies do this. Aren’t we all sick of the menu and then the long hold?) Lester had me rewire the thing to do a diagnostic that showed that the little pc board was probably fried. He is sending us a new board as this thing is still under warranty. He says it is easy to swap them out….we’ll see. Finally, I installed a key switch where we used to just have a toggle switch. Now it will be harder to steal the boat! Sometimes when we press the start button nothing happens. I had this before and found that it was the button itself and put in a new one. Now it’s not the button so I suspect the solenoid and will put a new one in soon. When it doesn’t start I have to jump it at the starter motor. Yikes! Love those big sparks!

So, all in all, Ft. Myers Beach will be an ok hidey hole for us during hurricane season. I may look for work soon to feed the sailing kitty. Would really like a new auto helm. We’ll see.

Since writing the above the new pc board arrived (it has one resistor, one capacitor, 3 fuses and 1 relay on it. I don’t think anything on there can even break.) I swapped it out and the frig does seem to be running more normally. In the mean time however we find that two bags of ice lasts about a day and a half. I calclated the difference in cost between running engine two hours a day or buying ice. Buying ice wins! Plus I don’t have the constant worry about the state of the battery or the operation of the frig. Maybe we’ll use the frig when it is cooler or when we are on the engine all day. I’m kicking myself for not paying more originally and getting the frig with the option to exchange heat with sea water rather than with the ambient air. Even though the air is cooler than the water at night the important thing is that water is a better conductor of heat. At the time I didn’t want to put two more holes in the hull for input and outflow of water. Well, too late.

As of this writing we've been moored in Ft. Myers Beach for almost one month. Yesterday we decided to replenish our water and fuel supplies and then go sailing. As we threw off the mooring line we discovered that we couldn't move forward. Barnacles! Luckily we quickly retrieved the mooring line and secured the boat before the current got us. Time to dive and scrape. A nasty, nasty job but a few hand and head cuts later the prop and most of the rudder were barnacle free. We also floated the dingy around the boat and scraped along side the hull. We' ve learned that the waters we're in are rich in nutrients and the worst for barnacle bombardment. Diving and scraping will be an on-going project. How long can you hold your breath under water? We may have a job for you!

We were very happy to have Donna and Ken (Scott's sister and brother-in-law) visit us this week. We were going to go out for a sail but the winds and waves were high so we stayed in the mooring field. As it turned out we wouldn't have gotten very far with the inch thick layer of barnacles on the prop!

Although Kenny was ready to tackle the bottom had we sailed and anchored as planned (we knew barnacles were growing, we just didn't realize how thick) we still had fun watching the afternoon storms with our snacks and cocktails.

Finding wifi access is still a problem. I (sue) am currently sitting in the lobby of the Best Western where Donna and Ken stayed where we discovered they have wifi. So far no one has noticed me.

Stay tuned for future posts on: hiring a diver; the new wind scoop; making net covers for hatches; happy hour at parrotkey; the amazing gracie, the blues-blind cat; teak for two; plus much more.