BV15: Maintenance in Marsh Harbour – How We Change the Oil on the Boat

Have any of you ever wondered this?  “How do they change their oil when they’re sailing around the world?”  I’ll be honest, when we were first boat-shopping, I wasn’t even entirely aware the boat had an engine, much less one that had oil that needed changing, or that we (Phillip and I) would be the folks to do it.  I was so clueless in the beginning!  When I finally did start to ponder it, I thought we would just pull into one of those 10-minute oil change places, like you do with your car, and have it done.  Yeah, ‘cause those exist on the water.  It’s amazing Phillip has put up with me all these years.  The blonde is real people.  

After our beloved boat, primarily under the power of our engine, a Westerbeke 27A whom we lovingly call “Westie,” took us to fourteen stunning Abaco cays, it was time to change out his oil.  A few years back, we found this nifty manual oil pump that allows us to do it ourselves right in the saloon.  I put together a detailed, informative video for you all here from our “Maintenance in Marsh Harbour” and some photos below showing you how we change the oil on our boat, as well as the primary fuel filter and zinc.  I also included one way, in particular, how NOT to do change the oil on a boat.  You’re welcome!  Watch and learn and we’ll hope an oil spill on board never happens to you.  “Better get some towels,” the captain said.  *gulp*

Ahoy followers!  I hope you love boat maintenance as much as we do!  While we’re not the best at it, we certainly strive to keep our beautiful baby ship-shape and in top Bristol fashion.  Mainly, we feel very lucky to have purchased our boat from a previous owner who loved her just as much as we do and took exceptional care of her for twenty-eight years.  WWJD: What Would Jack Do? is a running joke on our boat.  We just try not to mess up what he started.  One of the upgrades Jack made to our Niagara 35 was an ingenuous shift of the oil filter from a horizontal position (which forced the dirty oil to spill out of it during an oil change) to a vertical one, where it at least gives us a chance to catch the oil that will spill out when we swap the old with the new by placing a bag underneath.  Thanks Jack!

We also found this great plastic oil pump kit (with a pump bin, hoses and fittings) a few years back in St. Pete (from a very interesting marine vendor, fun story for you here) that we stow on board in a big Rubbermaid bin that fits in our hanging locker.  I’m not certain of our particular brand, but West Marine seems to have a comparable version of it here.  We previously had a dirty old metal one, but the plastic one is much lighter and cleaner.  Thank You Backdoor Marine Supply Guy!

Old:

New:

 

We also feel very fortunate to have great engine access on our Niagara.  The galley sink and cabinets simply pull back (we prop them on the table with a pillow) and we have instant access to all the major checkpoints on the engine.  We can also remove the stairs for more access and I can crawl into the hatch in the aft berth and get behind the engine too, if need be.  So, we can accomplish 360-degree access for major projects.  Westie isn’t safe from our grimy hands anywhere!  Ha!

    

Jack also installed a tube drain from the oil reservoir in the engine with a hose attachment that has a shut-off valve.  The tube (currently capped and sealed off) is laying on the engine floor to the right of the transmission in this photo.

We connect this hose Jack put together for us (you will see the red shut-off valve) to that fitting by the transmission and then place the other end of the hose in the oil pump to literally suck the oil out of the engine and into our plastic oil pump.

Before we change the oil, we always crank the engine and let Westie run for about ten minutes to let the oil warm up and get viscous.  Then we shut him down and rig up this pump and hose set-up.  Once connected, we give the oil pump 15-or-so pumps to create the vacuum suction, then Phillip or I turn the red valve to the open position and you can literally see the black oil coming up through the hose into the oil pump.  We can also hear it (a whooshing sound) and feel the heat of the oil going into the pump.  We repeat this pump-and-release process about three times until there is barely any oil that comes through the hose upon release (meaning the oil reservoir in the engine is mostly empty).

In this photo, you can actually see the oil about halfway up the hose, about to come up over the bend and down into the pump near my hands.  Phillip is watching that to make sure the oil is draining.

Once Westie is drained, we set to taking off the old filter (which Phillip is doing here with multiple Ziplock bags beneath), and I begin filling the new filter with oil.  We put about a quart into the new filter and lube the gasket with it before putting it on the engine.  We have also learned to wipe where the old filter was mounted and check to make sure the old gasket did not stick to the engine.

Once the new filter is on, we set to filling Westie back up with fresh, new oil.  He loves that!  We usually put about 2 – 2.5 quarts into the engine (plus the quart in the filter which equates to about 3- 3.5 quarts total.  We have over-filled it before so we try not to do that.  Our goal is to shoot a little low (plenty of oil for Westie to run and stay lubed, but definitely under the “full” mark on the dipstick) as we have found the new oil tends to expand a bit when we first run the engine after an oil change.

“While you’re down there,” I can just hear our buddy Mitch saying now.  He was the friend who helped us deliver our Niagara when we first bought her back in 2013 from Punta Gorda up to her home port in Pensacola and all 6’3” of him didn’t seem to enjoy the process of climbing up and down our “little toy stairs,” which meant every time I went down to grab something, it would be immediately followed by a request from Mitch that started with “While you’re down there … ”  So, while we were down there, with the engine all opened up and in our grease suits, we decided to also check on the sacrificial zinc in our heat exchanger and the primary fuel filter.

The zinc actually looked pretty good.  We’ve pulled this guy out before to find just a little grey nub.  We also try to occasionally (I’d say once a season) drain the heat exchanger and clean out all the little leftover zinc bits in there.  It usually looks like a zinc graveyard, and those guys all tumbling around can restrict water flow.  So, a little bit of maintenance in that regard can go a long way.

The fuel filter did not look near as good.  All that black grime around the bottom means it’s time to change it out.

Thankfully, that’s a rather easy job on our boat, just pop the lid off of the globe, pull this piece out, dump the old filter, and put a new one on.  The only tricky part is making sure the two (2) spaghetti size o-rings on the globe wiggle back into place before you tighten the lid down.

We are also lucky in that our engine is self-priming.  When we turn the key, it starts to bleed the air in the system (that we allowed in by opening the globe).  We wait about thirty seconds for it to do that (and you can see the globe filling while it does) before engaging the glow plugs then turning him over.  He cranked like a champ.  Way to go Westie!

Now … about this oil spill.  I share here because I hope this never happens to one of you.  While we are definitely pleased with our plastic oil pump, it does have one drawback.  One we were not in any way aware of when we bought it.  Apparently, when dumping the old oil out, if you tip the pump more than 90 degrees, oil will fill the pump chamber and it ruins the pump.  Not only will it no longer be able to suck oil in, the awesome side effect of doing this causes the pump to actually shoot oil out of the handle when you engage it.  You’ll see at the end of the video above this is what happened to us.  Not knowing this “90 degree dump” issue, I had taken the pump to an Auto Zone for proper disposal of the oil and the guy behind the counter dumped it for me.  I saw him, and he definitely tipped it completely upside down, I just didn’t know that would cause any kind of a problem.  But, the next time we had to change the oil and we set the pump up, oil shot out of the handle on both sides when I pulled the handle up.  Fantastic.  “Get some towels,” Phillip said.

You can see now why we lay so many sheets and towels down when we change the oil on the boat.  If any of you use one of these  types of pumps to change your oil on the boat, I hope this tip helps an oil spill aboard from never happening to you!

Best of luck out there grease monkeys!  Keep those diesels purring!

Post-Bahamas Boat Projects (We’re Dropping the Rudder!)

Schadenfreude.  I know it’s German, but I have no idea how to say it.  A good friend of ours taught it to us when he was telling us what great pleasure he took in seeing Phillip and I knee-deep in boat projects instead of wading in crystal green waters, cocktail in hand.  “Somehow I like the idea of you two working hard instead of playing in the Bahamas.  That must be the German side in me coming out.  And, did you know that Germans are the only culture that has a word to express joy in another’s discomfort or pain?  Schadenfreude.  Says a lot about the culture doesn’t it?”  He’s a funny guy, that one.  So, for Conrad and all the other brutal Germans out there who would take great schadenfreude in our boat project phase, this one is for you. Misery loves company!  Although I wouldn’t say Phillip and I are anything near miserable when we’re doing boat projects.  Seriously!  We’re usually smiling most of the time.  I know.  We’re those people.  Don’t you just hate those people?

We don’t!  We are those people!

Ahoy followers!  Following our awesome voyage to the Bahamas this past season, Phillip and I definitely (as we always do) racked up a pretty extensive list of boat projects to tackle when we got home.  Some were necessary repairs that we had been watching for a while and knew we finally needed to get serious about (think hauling out and dropping the rudder).  Joy.  Others are just for cosmetic or comfort reasons—some inspired by our cruising this past season—but we’re eager to get on those just the same.

And, if you’re starting to think we might just have a bit of a falling-apart boat because we sure spend a lot of time every year doing boat projects and maintenance, we’ll I’d have to say you’re just crazy.  Plumb cRaZy.  Boats require a ton of maintenance and upkeep.  Even ones (well, I should say especially ones) in great condition.  It took a lot of work, time, and sweat to prepare our boat this past year to take us comfortably to the Bahamas, but it was all totally worth it.  Phillip and I feel privileged and lucky to own such a fantastic, old blue-water boat that we’re honored to get to work on her.  At least that’s the word we use when we’re stinking, hot, sweaty, and cramped into some ridiculously-uncomfortable places while working on her.  “I’m sure honored to be here pretty gal,” I will whisper.  But our Niagara has definitely earned all of our spare time and money each time she cranks right up, pops out her sails, and whisks us away to another fabulous distant shore, usually steering the entire time all by herself.

With plans this coming season to likely head back to the Bahamas to truly enjoy the Exumas, which we did not have time to explore this past winter, Phillip and I are eager to dig our teeth into this summer’s list and get it knocked out so we can start the long and arduous process of provisioning and packing for our next adventure.  Hooray!  Who’s on board?  Let’s get this party started already!  Here is the actual (always growing) list:

Project No. 1: The Rudder

That’s a pretty important part of the boat, right?  Next to hull integrity, a sturdy keel, along with solid rigging and sails, the rudder is one of the only things that, without it, the boat simply cannot go.  In fact, without it, the boat might easily sink.  I have to admit that’s one of the things I really dislike about the rudder.  Its cruciality to both the ability of the boat to both navigate and remain bouyant makes it almost too connected and powerful.  Like a frenemy.

If you recall, we first noticed an issue with our rudder during our voyage to Cuba.

Yeah, that passage.  Bashing our way to windward for five days.  That was fun.  (Okay, it was, actually, but it was exhausting, too, and very hard on the boat.)  That much heel and that much wind puts a lot of pressure on the rudder and, after a few days of it, we started to notice some athwartship movement in our rudder.  I know what you’re thinking.  That’s not a part you want to see movement in.  It makes me think of the keel and how gut-wrenching it might be to watch it bend, even just slightly, from starboard to port as we heel over.  Uggh.  That seriously gives me goosebumps.  Unfortunately, that’s what we were noticing.  Each time the boat would heel with a gust of wind and climb to weather, the top of the rudder post in the cockpit would move about a quarter to a half inch from port to starboard.  We had a Rudder on the Loose!

Phillip and I both spent a good part of that voyage hanging upside down in each of the lazarettos adding extra nuts to the three bolts that hold our rudder cap in place on the cockpit floor.

For this reason, one of the projects on our list last summer while we were preparing to travel to the Bahamas was an interim reinforcement of our rudder by fitting some extra wide fender washers on the three bolts that hold our rudder cap in place.

  

We knew this would be a temporary fix for the season, though, and that, when we hauled out the following year, we wanted to drop the rudder and really do this project right.  After doing some research (which we are always thankful for the helpful and insightful fellow Niagara 35 owners on the Niagara 35 Owners Facebook Group who share lessons learned from projects like this) we found other owners head dealt with this play in the rudder as well and decided to reinforce the backing for the rudder cap on the cockpit floor.  It really is a sh&*-ton of pressure to all culminate at one very small round hole on the cockpit floor, secured by three small bolts.  For this reason, you will see in the photo below, one Niagara owner decided to add a very substantial backing plate around the top of the rudder post to help reinforce and secure it.

Meet Larry Dickie!  Ironically named after my own people, the infamous Alabama Dickeys (albeit a slightly different spelling).  After Larry posted this photo and a brief write-up about the project, we reached out to him and he proved to be a treasure-trove of information for this particular project and many, many others.  Here is what Larry had to say:

Larry Dickie‎ Niagara 35 Owners Group

January 26 near Horta, Portugal ·

“A couple of days ago I posted pics from the N35 rudder rebuild I did. I neglected to add this critical piece, applicable to all versions of Niagara (IMHO).  The area in the cockpit flooring is, where the top of the rudder post exits, simply not strong enough to take the very severe and continual torque associated with long passages (or possibly even much shorter passages). I had been warned about this by another N35 owner, years ago. But this repair/upgrade somehow fell off the hundred-job list before we departed. Even though I had placed straight thickened epoxy for several inches around the area when I recored the sole, it was still not strong enough. A few days off Horta, during a dismal night watch, I noticed the top of the rudder post moving slightly as we came off each wave – boy, not a good feeling in the pit of my stomach there.

Now, let me be the first to admit this is not the prettiest fix. But in the Azores, you can only really get good boat work assistance in Horta (Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services). They made this plate for me, as per my napkin drawing; it was based on the fact that there was limited space undernearth to place thru-bolts. Yes, those hex-bolts are not the prettiest, but all that was available. If back in Canada, I would most likely have buried this whole plate within the sole and epoxied over it. All things considered, I’m more than happy with the end result – top end of the rudder now does move at all, even in heavy seas.
All this to say to other N35 owners who are, or contemplating heading off: shore-up the rudder post at the top end (assuming many of you already have).”


Did you note Larry’s location when he posted that?  Horta, Portugal!  That’s right.  The Azores.  Those magic islands Phillip and I were exceedingly lucky enough to be able to visit and enjoy during our Atlantic-crossing with Yannick.  There is something special about that place, I tell you.  Something indescribable.

We certainly plan to sail our boat across the Atlantic someday, stopping at both Bermuda and the Azores again, so it was nice to see another Niagara 35 making the trip.  Larry was very generous to share his experience with this issue with us and his extensive upgrade.  When we haul-out this summer, we plan to drop the rudder and install a similar wide backing plate in the cockpit floor, likely glassed in, to reinforce and further support the rudder post, particularly at the potential pivot point here where it is secured at the cockpit floor.  Our buddy Brandon with Perdido Sailor, Inc. also advised us he has seen this issue before where the rudder post also actually becomes worn down from use and is not as tight in the bushing, allowing for play.  If he finds that is the case with our rudder, he recommended we add a thin layer of epoxy along the post to literally “widen” it back up so that it is a snug fit in the bushing preventing movement.  This will be an extensive project. Likely our most complicated and costly of the summer.  But we never want to see movement in the rudder post again.  That is a very frightening thought when your boat is pitching and tossing, trying to hold course in heavy seas.  Stay tuned.

Project No. 2: Prop Shaft Key

This is key.  We’ve been battling this guy for a while.  And, I have to laugh because at times I have to really feel sorry for our boat.  It’s like she tries and tries to gently show us there’s a problem.  She wiggle a nut loose, squeeze out a few drops of fluid, or let out a repetitive thud, thud, thud which should translate to “look here,” “hey, check this out,” or “I need tightening here,” and what do we do?  Wipe the drips and turn up the radio!   Not really.  Honestly, Phillip and I are pretty diligent boat owners, but it still surprises me at times even when we were looking and listening, as we always try to do, that we still miss the very obvious cues.  So, this key.  It is kind of hard to see in this photo, but it is about a three-inch long square rod, basically, that slides into a slot along the prop shaft.

In our boat, we have a v-drive transmission where the engine sits in backwards and the transmission is actually in front of the engine.  When we pull the hatch back (which is actually our entire galley sink and countertop (it’s pretty freaking badass if you ask me, one of my favorite design elements of our boat for sure!), the transmission, coupling, and end of the prop shaft are immediately visible.

And, at the end, we have a key that fits in a slot on the prop shaft and helps the shaft grab and turn the coupling (in addition to a set screw and two bolts on the coupling that tighten down onto the prop shaft.  All fascinating stuff, I can assure you.  But, this stupid little key.

My God, the hours Phillip and I have spent dicking around with this key.  The thing would not stay in.  I can’t tell you how many times we have spent watching it wiggle out, sometimes halfway, other times entirely and we would have to fish around in our super clean bilge to find it, all to then hammer it back in with some Loc-tite and hope for the best.  It seems like such a terrible design.  Eventually we watched as the prop shaft itself began to—much like the key had—inch forward toward the bow of the boat and actually protrude a quarter-to-half inch in front of the coupling.  Those were good times.  And, I’m saving for you the story of what happened when the shaft creeped too far forward.  My point in all of this is to hopefully get you chuckling as much as we were when we finally realized what our amazing boat was trying to tell us with all of this key business.  “My coupling is loose!” she was screaming.  Poor boat.  She’s such a trooper when it comes to us, I tell you.  While the two bolts that tighten the coupling down onto the shaft had seizing wire on them, which is why we did not suspect they could loosen, we have learned anything that rattles on a boat can loosen (and wire can stretch!).  After we finally tightened the bolts on the coupling back down, the key hasn’t given us any further trouble.  But!  We’re thinking about having a new key machined that has a hole for a seizing wire so we can prevent any further “rattle out” issues in the future.  Rattle is real, people.  We’re taking measures!

Project No. 3: Some Westie Love!

Boy does he deserve it.  “Westie” our 27A Westerbeke engine in the boat.  He’s been performing like a champ.

While we try to take very good care of him, always looking for leaks, tightening screws and bolts that rattle loose, keeping a very close eye on his coolant system, and changing the oil every 50-75 hours, Westie is getting up there.  He is the original 1985 engine on the boat with about 3,600 engine hours on him.  Plenty of life left for sure, but we do need to replace the exhaust elbow that goes to the manifold and the manifold gasket, give him a super scrub down (knocking off the flaking rust) and perhaps re-paint him and reinforce his stringers as they have spread and deteriorated a bit with water leaks (particularly on the starboard side under the water pump).

We will probably also drain the coolant system and change out the coolant and replace the gaskets around the thermostat as those tend to leak often.

Project No. 4: Forestay Maintenance

As many of you are aware, we replaced our original rod rigging with universal 5/16 wire rigging when we spent three months in the shipyard back in 2016 re-building our stringers (and doing a hundred other things).  Those were good times.  Videos for you here if you haven’t seen them (Raising the New Rig, Part One and Two).

 

Brandon said we deserved a “Boat Yard 101” training certificate when we splashed back because that was an absolute hard-core crash-course in boat maintenance and repair.  But, while it definitely sucked finding out the very important stringers under our mast were rotten and that it was going to cost several thousands to fix, those three months (and all the money) we spent in the yard in 2016 was the absolute best thing we could have done as boat owners.  There is no way we could have learned as much as we did from dedicated, knowledgeable boat repairman, craftsmen, experts, had we not spent that time side-by-side with Brandon and his crew at the shipyard.  So, we don’t regret it.  Ever.  And, it was time to replace the rigging anyway, so the timing actually worked out.

But, although our rigging is new (or, better yet, because it is new) during the course of our sailing the past two years, it has stretched.  Phillip and I noticed a little looseness in our forestay that caused it to (for lack of a better word) “warble” while we are furling the headstay, particularly our larger 135 genny, and particularly during the last 5-6 rolls of the drum.  So, we contacted Rick over at Zern Rigging and his guys came out to check our forestay tension.  While one of his main guys, DJ (we love you!) inspected it and said our forestay was actually tighter than most, he found we could afford a bit more tension so he and his guys tightened it up for us.

He also noticed immediately the grinding and difficulty in turning our furling drum (something Phillip and I have noticed for a while but figured it might have to do with the looseness of the stay).  DJ, however, explained that it would be easy for us, and quite prudent, to re-build the furling drum and replace the bearings inside as they just age and wear over time with salt and dirt build-up in there.  So, Phillip and I will plan a day while we’re in the shipyard to do that as well and I know that will work wonders when we’re furling in heavy (or any, really) winds.

Project No. 5: Swap to a Composting Head?

We’re hoping to.  At least I’m hoping to.  We are definitely keen on the idea of gaining the additional storage space where our 25-gallon “turd tank” currently resides under the v-berth and the theoretical convenience of no longer having to pump out or worry about holding tank leaks (been there, done that, gross!).

Phillip, however, is a little skeptical about the size and fit of a composting head in our rather small (and awkwardly-shaped) head compartment, as well as the comfort of sitting on and using a head so tall.  We’ve done a lot of research and talked to many boat owners who have switched to a composting head and have heard really awesome pros (like the ones I mentioned above) and the ease of dumping and cleaning the unit, no smell, etc. with just a few cons: the inability for urine to drain when on a particular heel, overflowing of the urine bin (if you don’t monitor it closely enough) and, to reinforce Phillip’s fear, the size and “comfort” of it.  Overall, we are on board if a composting head will comfortably fit, but our floor space in the head is very small and triangular-shaped.  I have been going back and forth with the Airhead guys (we believe they offer the right balance of look and fit that we want) and they actually drew a pretty to-scale CAD drawing for me showing how the head might fit (cocked slightly at an angle) and we will likely have to build a small shelf to support the urine bin.

  

A friend of ours (you recall Phil who bought his first live aboard sailboat, a 1992 Catalina 28 which we helped him deliver last year) recently switched to a composting head so we’ve been learning a lot from him (always good to have a boat buddy make all the disgusting mistakes first, right? ; ) and he let us borrow his head to get a feel for whether it is going to fit in our boat.

It’s going to be a game of Tetris for sure, but I would really like to make this change this summer so I hope it works out.  Phillip has put this item exclusively on my list.  We’ll see how Boat Project Annie does.  Things might get shitty … : )

Project No. 6: The AC Inlet

The “AC Power” on the list.  We honestly had so many projects piling up, I forgot what this one was and had to ask Phillip.  I was worried we were going to have to re-wire our AC power system on the boat or something equally major that Boat Project Annie had decided to selectively forget because she knew it was going to be financially and physically painful.  Thankfully, it’s not too bad.  On our boat, we are always chasing leaks.  All.  Ways.  And, we believe we’re getting some water in from behind the AC power inlet on the outside of the cockpit on the starboard side.

Phillip tells me it looks like a “mangled rat’s nest” in the back all gooped up with silicone and other adhesives.  So, we’ll be popping that out and re-bedding it anew with butyl.

Project No. 7: Re-Bedding Stanchion Posts

While we’re on re-bedding (which it seems we are always doing).  We’ve got a few stanchion posts that are looking a little red around the bed.  Once we start to see rust streaks leaking out around the base, that’s a sure sign that puppy is leaking.  We’ve re-bed approximately six of the ten on the boat, so this will be another 2-3 and will hopefully seal those up for the next 2-3 years.  I can’t stand having unknown leak sources on the boat!  We’ll keep hunting and re-bedding till we have a dry bilge darnit!  Boat Project Annie is no quitter!

Project No. 8: Jib Sheet Turning Blocks 

Our previous owner (Jack, you fantastic boat-owner you!) re-routed the sheets for the headsail to come through a set of blocks mounted on a stainless steel plate to improve his ability to trim and tack the sail single-handed.  If you recall, our previous owner used to single-hand our boat in the Mackinac race.  Pretty awesome, right?  Our boat has such a cool history.  We are very pleased with the upgrades he made, this being one, but over time the bearings in the blocks for the genny sheets have failed and we need to have these blocks and their brake levers re-built.

We’ve been very pleased with the products we have ordered previously from Garhauer so we will probably send them a photo or the block itself to allow them to rebuild blocks for us.

Project No. 9: The Fridge??

Hmmpffh.  What to say here.  Honestly, we’re not quite sure yet what we’re going to do here, if anything.  Bottom line is our fridge is original to the boat, which means it’s now thirty-three years old and operates on an antiquated Freon system with inadequate insulation.

We’ve had the Freon refilled and we’ve spent some awesome Saturdays wiggling ourselves into that torture chamber squirting Great Stuff around the seams to try and improve the fridge’s insulation and ability to hold temp.

The fridge, particularly in the hot summer season, is easily our biggest power suck while on anchor.  We’re going to debate dropping in a new Freon fridge this summer or upgrading to a more efficient, more modern model that fits in our boat.  Stay tuned.

Project No. 10: Switching to LEDs

 This has been an on-going project, but one we want to continue pursuing until we have converted all of the lights on the boat to LED.  We swapped out a few of our reading lamps and fluorescent lights to LED before we left for the Bahamas and we were thrilled with the minimal output.

Think 0.1 amps an hour to light the boat.  Ummm … yes please?  So, we’ll be ordering and installing LED lights throughout and adding more red options where we can for better lighting options during night passages.

Project No. 11: Canvas Work!

If our time in the Bahamas during December and January taught us one thing, it’s we do not like to be wet, drizzly, and cold on our boat.  Thankfully, we were not, mostly because we spent those wet, chilly, super-windy days toasty warm in our wetsuits kite-surfing!  Heck yeah!

But, it did show us that the more comfortable cruisers were the ones who still had a warm, dry “living room” they could enjoy despite the wet bitter weather.  They just had to zip up their enclosures in the cockpit and *bam* it was a toasty day on the boat.  While we may not use them often, Phillip and I decided when you need them, you really need them, so we’re going to get a quote and consider having a full enclosure for our cockpit made so, on those occasional cold, wet days either on the hook or especially on passage, we can zip up our cockpit and stay toasty!  We’ve already put in a request for a quote from our trusty local canvas guy, Tony with Coastal Canvas, for a complete enclosure (which we are sure will run us a couple thousand, if not more …. but it is what it is) as well as having him fix some of the snaps on our hatch covers that have ripped off.

Project No. 12: BOTTOM JOB!

And, of course, what do you always do when you haul out?  That’s right, you got it!  Unfortunately we had to scramble and pull of a bit of an emergency haul-out last October for Nate, we feel incredibly fortunate, however, that Nate was just a tropical storm.  Do NOT ask me how I’m feeling about this coming season.  Makes my stomach turn … But, it was a very good hurricane prep drill for us (thankfully just a drill) and also a chance to scrub the bottom, scrape off a few obstinate barnacles, and slap a few coats of bottom paint on for the cruising season, and we plan to do the same when we haul out this summer.  A bottom job has to be my absolute favorite job on the boat, you?  ; )

We may throw in a little buff job, too, while we’re there.  She always looks so pretty when she’s all shined up!

Let’s see … what else.  That’s quite a bit.  You guys are going to have a mighty fine Schadenfreude feeling watching us work our tails off this summer making our beautiful boat even more comfortable and getting her ready for more cruising this coming season.  While all plans are written in sand at low tide, the vague plan is to go back to the Bahamas and spend our time really enjoying the Exumas and then maybe heading south toward Grenada to keep the boat there next season.  We will see.  Either way, you know we’ll find a dozen other boat projects to add to the list once we get in there and that we will share with you and conquer.

  

It’s a boat, right?!  Broke Or About To.  But that’s why we love her!

BV13: Great Kiting at Great Guana Cay

Winds of 25 plus!  Crazy moments with party-people all 25 and under!  Eddie the nipping Nippers cat.  Bucketlusters, kite-surfers, Vladimir Platypus (my winter, wet-suit alter-kite ego) and “Bahamas Boys” looking for some cheebah?  Or bitcoin crypto … I believe they’re the same.  If anyone knows what those are, feel free to chime in below.  We’ve got it all for you guys in this very fun video from the stunning island of Great Guana Cay, along with my favorite photos below.  It was so hard to choose any, though, they were all so beautiful. Guana Cay offered us great kiting on the Atlantic shore, never-ending entertainment at Nippers, a chance to star-gaze at the many stars who allegedly own houses on Baker’s Bay (think Cher, Beyonce, Sting, etc.), a beautiful sunset anchorage, and fantastic fine-dining dinners at Sunsetters at Orchid Bay Marina.  We loved it!  Hope you all enjoy the video!

Photos from our sail through Whale Cay passage.  It was, according to one of the fellow captains we talked to who did it that day as well, “not peachy, but passable.”  It was a bit lumpy out there (4-6 rollers) but with winds of only 10-12 out of the NW.  Doable, not daunting, and, to be honest, a very fun day sailing on the Atlantic!  That is the furthest east Plaintiff’s Rest has ever been!  It was a big day for her, and she nailed it!

Making our way toward the cut.  We followed very strictly along the lat-and-lon points in the Explorer Charts.  Boy, are those things life-savers.

Ironically, the cRaZy Bucketlusters who bombarded us at Green Turtle Cay decided to make the Whale Cay passage that day as well (after they terrorized the piggies at No Name Cay, that is).  We could see all of the catamarans anchored at No Name at the same time and I can only imagine what the Bucketlusters were doing to those pigs … riding them, spanking them, trying to kiss them.  Who knows.  Poor pigs!  But it was awesome for us to be able to make the passage surrounded by thirty catamarans.  It’s like we had our own rather-large tenders out carrying us through.  I just stayed in the middle of them, on course, hoping if anyone hit the reefs, it would be the party-people on the outside – ha!  And boy did they party through the entire passage.  Up on the decks dancing, singing, drinking.  Those guys are non-stop.

I was really excited about Guana Cay.  Clearly …

I will say, whoever does the marketing for Nippers is genius.  There was a sign about every five feet telling you how to get to Nippers, guys running around in golf carts all over the island willing to take you, at any time, to Nippers, and most of the people that live and work on the island are wearing shirts just about every day that say … Nippers.  And boy was it a fun beach bar place.  Great food.  Fantastic setting overlooking the Atlantic with a staircase straight down to the beach and great goombay smashes.  Yes, please!

 

The view from our cockpit.  It was a beautiful anchorage.

This was wild.  So, Phillip and I were getting into the dinghy with all of our kite gear about to head to shore to make the trek over to kite behind Nippers on morning, and Phillip saw something just randomly floating by in the water.  He cocked his head to the side and eyed it suspiciously, then found out it was the black “anchor gate” that goes on our Mantus.  (Mantus came out with this supplemental gate that snaps over the chain to make sure, even with Mantus’ pretty savvy chain-lock system, the chain does not come out of the hook.)  And here ours was, just floating by in the water at the VERY time we were getting into the dinghy.  Phillip went down to check the Mantus and found, sure enough, it had somehow wiggled and vibrated enough (it was very windy those days we spent at Guana Cay) to loosen the pin in the shackle that holds the Mantus hook onto the snubber.  Thankfully the water was so clear, Phillip could literally see from the top our Mantus hook sitting on the bottom.  And, when he dove down he was also able to find our pin and shackle.  Whew!  And, all because of timing when the gate was floating by.  Our boat always tries her best to let us know something is wrong at the exact right time where we can fix it.  Way to go boat.  A note to fellow Mantus-users, we decided to throw a zip-tie (seizing wire would also work) in the shackle pin to prevent this from happening again.  All lessons are free today!

Anchor fixed.  Disaster averted.  Time to get back on the kiting!

That Eddie.  The “wild” cat that lives at Nippers.  Careful not to pet or pick him up.  He’ll nip ya!

ROWR!

This is the view at Sunsetters on the other side at Orchid Bay Marina.  Just stunning!

Kite hair!  Don’t care!

Bombarded again by the Bucketlusters!

   

BV 8 (VIDEO): Under the Sea at Hog Cay

“Time to go explorkeling!” shouts Scuba Annie!  Yes, Phillip loves cruising with me.  This was our first stop after we wrapped our “holiday on the hook” at Pensacola Cay.  I could write about what we found at Hog Cay but this footage encompasses a thousand words.  The beauty of coral and marine life speaks for itself.  Some very awesome underwater footage for you guys here, from our first snorkel in the Abacos, at Hog Cay!  A very awesome underwater soundtrack, too.  Phillip chose the music: BØRNS 10,000 Emerald Pools.  “You’re all I need to breathe.”  Ahhh … perfect!  Enjoy!

BV4 (VIDEO): Across the Gulf Stream to West End

“Never cross with a north wind!”  Can you hear it?  Pam Wall’s little energetic voice?  She repeated this warning many times when we first saw, heard and met her at the Miami Boat Show back in February, 2015.  I had no idea that amazing little enthusiastic woman would soon thereafter change my life.

Love that bubbly little lady!

After listening to her inspiring “Cruising the Abacos” seminar (and finding ourselves in dire hunger soon after for some “fresh baked Bahamian bread,” Pam always squeals when she says it) Phillip and I had originally decided back in 2015 that the first place we were going to cruise our boat to outside of the states would be the Bahamas.  And that decision held firm for a long time until we heard Cuba had thankfully opened up for American cruisers.  Heck yeah!

While the Bahamas were hard to pass up, we knew they would be there waiting for us the next season, and with the tumultuous state of American-Cuban relations, we weren’t sure Cuba would be.  That was when we decided to set our sights first on Cuba, and it was a fantastic decision.  Mine and Phillip’s cruise to Cuba in December, 2016 was a monumental, memorable voyage for us both.  It was our longest offshore passage (five days) just the two of us and it was the first time we had sail our beautiful little boat from the shores of one country to another.  What an incredible feeling!  I still remember when we watched the sun come up over the horizon on the fifth morning.

“That’s a Havana sunrise right there,” Phillip said and he played “Havana Daydreaming” most of the morning as we made our way towards the inlet to Marina Hemingway, singing heartily along as his late Uncle Johnny would have, who had also wanted to sail to Cuba but he unfortunately was not able to do so before he passed away.  I know Johnny was there with Phillip in spirit and I can still hear Phillip’s voice from that morning as he sat on the foredeck and sang.  “Oh he’s just scheming … his life away.”

Thankfully, we’re not just scheming.  We are going!  Our voyage to Cuba was a phenomenal trip and only told Phillip and I that we are ready to travel further and longer, just the two of us, on our boat.  So, in 2017 we decided we would set our sights on the Bahamas this season and enjoy the wonderful pristine patch of islands we have so close by.  It’s amazing to think that jewel-toned paradise is really only a 12-hour sail from the states.  How lucky we are!  All we needed was just a sliver more luck to give us a nice “no north wind” window of favorable conditions to allow us to sail from the Keys and across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

In the months before our departure date from Pensacola, Phillip and I (well, and I will admit Phillip far more than me) spent many hours studying the Explorer Charts for the Bahamas making decisions about where we planned to enter the Bahamas, where we wanted to check in and what islands (called “Cays” in the Bahamas, pronounced “keys”) we wanted to sail to and visit and in what order, although knowing every plan is and will always be weather-dependent.  Having just recently completed my first Bahamas article for SAIL Magazine (thank you again, Peter Nielsen, for requesting more articles from me!) which will focus on preparing and packing for a trip to the Bahamas, Phillip and I both agree an intense study of the Explorer Charts and determinations as to where you want to go in the Bahamas and what route you want to take to explore them is a great first place to start when preparing to travel to the Bahamas.  Much of what you will need aboard will depend on how you are planning to traverse the Bahamas and what you are planning to do there as supplies are readily available in some places, limited and altogether unavailable in others.

After talking with fellow sailors back home who had cruised the Bahamas many times and taking into consideration what time of year Phillip and I were going (during December-January, when we knew we could expect many sudden and intense north fronts, the “Christmas winds,” and some chilly water and weather), we decided to make our way as far north as possible first and check in at West End.

We would then start dotting our way along the Sea of Abaco seeking protection from the northerly islands as needed when storms and heavy north winds were expected.  (And boy did they come.  I recorded 36 kts of wind on the boat one afternoon in Green Turtle Cay.  Just wait.)

With the plan to enter the Bahamas at West End, Phillip and I knew we wanted to “ride” the Gulf Stream as far as we could north before jumping out to make entry into West End.  Initially, we weren’t sure we would get a window large enough to allow us to sail all the way from Key West to West End.  If we did not, our plan was to dot along the Florida Keys to Marathon then perhaps Rodriguez Key while waiting for a good window to make the jump.  But, when we saw a beautiful two-day window blooming on the horizon, we started to top off the provisions and ready the boat to make way.  While we had a ton of fun in Key West (we always do!) meeting the new Geckos and getting to spend some time with them, seeing our old pals Brittany and Jeremiah and getting to watch their beautiful Alberg splash, as well as enjoying the many great restaurants and poolside views, we are always eager and excited to get back underway.

On Wednesday, December 20th, with expected 10-12 kt winds the first day (which would offer us a fun, comfortable sail around the Keys) and light, fluky winds of 5 kts or less the following day (which would allow us to at least motor safely across the Gulf Stream), Phillip and I decided to toss the lines and seize the window!  You’ll see in the video, Annie de-docked like a boss (I tell you I’m getting much better at this), and we then had a fantastic cruise all the way from Key West to West End, just shy of a two-day run.

   

Man, that’s living … 

So, is that.  With all the work comes all the rewards.  

There’s the entry to West End!

Don’t tell Pam this, but we totally broke the rule because you know what kind of winds we had throughout the entire Gulf Stream?  That’s right.  North!  We crossed with a north wind, Pammy.  I’m sorry!  But, when it’s howling at 3 kts, a north wind isn’t really going to affect the boat that much, particularly when it had been blowing from the south for a short time before.  Meaning, the sea state was just starting to turn around and we essentially crossed on a smooth, glassy lake.  It was beautiful though.  While I always prefer to have wind to sail, there is nothing that can replicate the beauty of a hull sliding through silk at sunrise.  It’s just stunning.

I hope you all enjoy the video.  I have had such a great time filming just for pleasure and putting these videos together for you all, just for pure fun.  Not to make any money from them.  Not in hopes they will get a lot of hits so I can get YouTube ad money.  Just because our views were amazing, so I clicked the camera on occasionally, and because the videos are such a vivid personal scrapbook for us.  I really will be excited to sit down when I’m 70 and watch my Atlantic-crossing movie.  Can you imagine that?  I wonder if YouTube will still be a “thing” then?  Who knows.  If any of you have read Dave Eggers’s The Circle (one Phillip and I both read in the Bahamas), apparently we all will soon be be filming and uploading every moment of our existence for all the world to see.  Heck, with the immediacy of Instagram and Facebook these days, we’re almost there.

But you know where you can truly unplug and get away?  Out there.  On the big open blue.  I can’t tell you how good it feels to be out there, nothing but satiny water all around you and nothing you have to do but eat, sleep, mend the boat and read.  I could sail offshore forever, happily, I do believe.  I hope you all love this bit.  As always, I try to capture the beauty of the voyage, the work and maintenance it requires, and the reward of having your beautiful, strong boat carry you from the shores of one country to another.  Next up, we’ll begin sharing the Bahamas with you, one Cay at a time.  Be ready to pick your jaws up off the floor because it’s breathtaking.  Stay tuned!

BV3 (VIDEO): A New Breed of Geckos in Key West!

There were!  Everywhere we went.  More than we expected.  Geckos here.  Geckos there.  Geckos extraordinaire!  You’re right, not real geckos.  I’ll admit I know not the native local habitat of geckos.  The desert, I would imagine?  This was—as I mentioned—a different breed of geckos.  The cruising kind!  Of all the fun, exciting things we were expecting to find in the Keys, a gecko overload was not one.  But that’s the beauty of chance and fate.  He stopped me by the pool in Stock Island with a sentiment I’ve heard often: “I know you from YouTube,” and there it happened.  We had stumbled upon a pair of newbie cruisers who were about to purchase, splash and move onto their first liveaboard sailboat the next day and it just so happened they had bought the s/v Lazy Gecko.  It’s amazing the happenstances that can happen out there and it is a constant reminder how truly small the cruising world is.  Fun video for you all of the lazy splash below and a surprise visit from a rather famous cruising couple.  But first, let’s get back to our Bahamas-Bound saga.

If you caught the video from our five-day voyage across the Gulf, you’ll know I got rather sick on that voyage.  The sickest, I can easily say, I have been in my adult life.  In true Annie-style, I spent the first few days of our trip trying to hide it from Phillip, telling him it was “just a sore throat,” “a little head cold, it’s almost gone.” But every time I swallowed, it felt like a fresh layer of skin was ripped off of my throat and swallowed down, leaving it raw and seething.  Day three my voice began to go out so there was no more hiding it.  I sounded like Patty and Zelma from the Simpsons.  You remember this fun clip:

 

That’s one sexy rasp!  Day four, my throat having been way more than “just sore” now for almost a full ninety-six hours, Phillip and I were both pretty sure I had strep throat.  And every day began with a clattering cough trying to hack phlegm up and swallow it down.  Appetizing, right?  Just wait.  Day seven, I woke in the middle of the night to the odd sensation of my eyes oozing.  I would wipe some gook out of my tear ducts, but then I could feel it puff back up under my lids, ooze out of my duct, pool up on my nose and literally drip off the bridge of my nose onto my pillow.  Nice.  Several hours in I could mash it out of my eyes by running a thumb across my puffy lids and squeezing it out like a tube of toothpaste.  Did I find it odd my eyes were oozing?  Sure!  Worrisome?  Nah.  All told, my sore throat had healed and my morning cough wasn’t too taxing.  I figured whatever nasty shit was in my head was finally making its way out—albeit out my eyeballs—and I chalked the drainage up to be a good sign.  Annie didn’t take a lot of selfies during that phase, but here was one pic Phillip snapped of me my first red-eye morning and you can see it’s not pretty.

 

Waiters and waitresses seemed to be afraid to serve me, or at least touch anything I had touched.  Probably smart.  While waking up several mornings in a row with lashes caked so heavily with snot clusters I had to manually pry my lids open was not fun, it did prove to be the last of my wicked strep-bronchinus-infection (we called it) and finally, somewhere around Day Ten, the Captain considered me fully-healed.  Hooray!

Why am I sharing all of this with you?  Because gross bodily stuff is really cool and interesting.  At least I think so.  But, really, I wanted to share all of this to pass along another important cruising lesson on first aid and medication: ANTIBIOTICS.  When Phillip and I shove off on an extended cruise, we like to try to get a couple of rounds of preventative antibiotics prescribed so we can have them on-board in case one of us gets a wicked infection in a location where we are not close to a clinic … like 100 miles offshore in the Gulf.  Did we have antibiotics aboard to treat Annie’s wicked illness?  Yes.  Points for us.  But, was Annie too stubborn and stupid during the first four days of her illness to take them?  Yes.  Take back those points.  I hate taking medication and I really thought it was just a pretty bad cold that was I was just about to overcome.  So, I waited.  I felt like taking antibiotics for “just a head cold” would be a waste.  I usually have them prescribed for a UTI, which I am known to get every couple of years and I wanted to be sure I had them for that if one of those flared up while we were crossing.  I would much rather have the gnarly shit I did than days and days of an untreated, raging UTI.  Any ladies out there who know the feeling would probably totally agree.  But when Phillip finally won out and I did start taking the antibiotics, I made another mistake.  (Me?  Stubborn?  Noooo … ).

I am always a ball of sunshine!

You can probably guess what it was.  Obviously, I’m trying to spare as much medication as possible and I still believed I could kick that thing on my own.  So, I did what I often do when taking antibiotics: stop-mid dose and save the rest.  That has often proved helpful.  Here, it proved decidedly detrimental.  I took the antibiotics for two days (the last two of our voyage), and I started to feel better, so I stopped.  “Must save the rest now for a burning bladder, Annie,” I told myself.  Then what happened?  My eyes started oozing and my morning cough began and my illness lasted an extra five days.  As Phillip later pointed out, if you stop an antibiotics regimen too early, the illness isn’t eliminated but, rather, educated on how to fight that particular antibiotic and it rears back twice as strong.  Mine certainly did.  So, two lessons for you here fellow cruisers (all lessons are free today): 1) carry preventative antibiotics aboard on long passages (as I mentioned, my ob/gyn nurse prescribes them for me for potential UTIs); and 2) take the whole damn dose.  Don’t pull an Annie.  Oozing eyes are not sexy.

But, back to our saga.  We made it to Key West!  Stock Island, rather, as this was the marina where we kept our boat most of the spring last year after returning from Cuba while we flew back and forth to work in Pensacola and play in Key West and we were very pleased with the security, cleanliness and efficiency of the marina at Stock Island Village.  While it is a little pricey, it is also a fabulous facility, now with a completed hotel and nice pool, lounge and bar area available for free to all marina residents that we highly recommend.

  

We heart Stock Island!

And, we were so glad to see it had not been damaged or wiped out entirely by Irma!  One of the really fun things we discovered about this marina, immediately after our return from Cuba, was that there is a little Cuban restaurant within walking distance that everyone claimed was “very authentic.”  Having just sailed 90 miles from that wonderful island last December, with plenty of Cuban ropa vieja, picadillo and plantains still making their way through our tummies, we were highly skeptical, but definitely intrigued.  And the little Cuban gal that runs that tight ship at Deluna’s did not disappoint.  We got a mojo pork, with beans, rice and fried plantains that definitely held its own up against our high Cuban standards.  And, when we came back to Stock Island this time, we were pleasantly surprised once again by this little Cuban cuisine gem.

“We’re having a little dock party tonight over at Deluna’s to announce our Christmas parade winners,” one of our new boat neighbors told us after he helped us dock and tie-up.  “Ahh … cool.  Maybe we’ll check it out,” Phillip and I said, not knowing whether we would in fact as we had been planning (and talking, and dreaming, and drooling) about it for days.  Our first dinner ashore after crossing the Gulf we had both agreed would be Roostica, a fabulously-decadent little pizzeria bistro in Stock Island that makes delicious wood-fired thin-crust pizzas with names like The Diablo, The Island Pie, Truffle & Mushroom.  Are you getting hungry yet?  We were.  Phillip and I—splayed out wet, exhausted and salty in our stinky foul weather gear sloshing around on passage—had been daydreaming about every oily, buttery, cheesy bite for four days.  After our first hot shore shower, it was the first place we were planning to go.  But then our dock neighbor said:

“They’re serving food and drinks, too.  For free.”

Free?!  That’s “cruiser” for “We’re going.” So we did.

And turns out by “food” they meant a tantalizing Cuban feast!  Braised pork shoulder, black beans, succulent yellow rice, yucas (Cuban-style mashed potatoes), fresh Cuban bread (“Pre-buttered? Shit yeah,” Phillip said) and sweet, fried plantains.  As much as you could eat, with a full wine glass coming every 15 minutes?  All for free?!  The decision was immediate and mutual.  Sorry Roostica.  We knew it would be there for us another evening.  The Delunas folks had tip jars out and we gave generously then hopped in line to fill a heaping plate.

Then another …

And another.  I’m not kidding.

Yes, thirds.  We had thirds.  I don’t think I’ve had thirds since Thanksgiving 2009.  Holy smokes did we eat.  But it was the perfect “Welcome back to Stock Island” event.  And then we were just stumbling distance from our boat.  Our bellies so full we could have rolled home.  It was a great way to end our first night ashore.

The next day we were planning to walk or jog to Key West.  The beach stretch on the south side of the island is really beautiful and we’ve enjoyed trekking from Stock Island to Key West on foot before.

 

We wanted to eat at one of our favorite places in Key West, a little French creperia that makes (don’t tell Yannick) better crepes than we had in France.  Sorry, but it’s just true.  Savory ones with mushrooms, chicken and beschamel sauce.  Or sweet ones with dark chocolate and bananas foster.  God, can you tell we’re foodies??

Another item on our agenda while in Key West was a reunion visit with an old friend from Pensacola.  Our buddy, Russ, who worked at www.PerdidoSailor.com in the shipyard under Brandon for a while, had left Pensacola a few years back on his 1969 42’ Pearson to begin his own cruising adventure and he had landed, as many do, in Key West where we heard he was working on one of the charter schooners there.  There are only like a thousand charter schooners in Key West.

But I must share one little secret Russ and I had.  Back at the shipyard in Pensacola, Russ and I … we got really close.  Physically.  I mean it!  We did.  The two of us were cramped in the bilge of our Niagara 35 for a week together rebuilding our rotten stringers back in the winter of 2015.  There’s not a lot of room in there and there was a lot of work to do.  We had to get close.  Roll that fabulous shipyard footage!

Two videos covering our rotten stringer repair for you here if you haven’t yet seen them: #52: Stumped by the Rotten Stringer Repair and #53: Rotten Stringers Repaired with Coosa Board and Fiberglass.  Russ and I put a lot of work (and 185 pieces of glass) into that repair, making our baby stronger than ever.  And, man did we rock those Tyvek suits!  High fashion.

Ahhh … good times with Russ.  It was very fun to have a reunion with him and hit up a few of the dive bars and delightfully tacky joints around Key West Harbor.  Everyone loves Schooner’s Wharf!  Say “Hey!” to Russ!  Cheers!

Another item on our to-do list while we were in Key West was give our baby some TLC.  Plaintiff’s Rest had worked quite hard chugging us across the Gulf, particularly in those gnarly conditions outside of Tampa, winds of 25 kts and 6-8 foot seas.  She had done a fantastic job and definitely deserved some pampering.  We gave her a good scrubdown right after we docked, which we usually do every time we make a passage and come into a marina.

Oh, and I did mention that bilge pump in BV1 … we discovered our forward bilge pump, a 500 gph Rule, had gone out.  For whatever reason.  Just quit working.  We figured that probably contributed to the bilge water accumulation I mentioned in BV2.  Ahhh … that explains a lot.  Good thing we brought a spare!  We popped the new one in, not too bad of a chore.  Re-wired her and we were in business.

And, Stock Island has a West Marine there so we were able to get another “spare” to replace the now-used spare.  Good to keep stock of your spares!  We also changed out the oil in Westie.  He’d run a good 38 hours bringing us across the Gulf and we usually change the oil every 50 hours, so we figured an early rotation wouldn’t hurt.  Our previous owner made a few small modifications to the engine which make it rather easy to change the oil, and a much cleaner process.  He rotated the oil filter from sitting horizontal that it now screws up and down vertically (containing the spill) and he put in an extended tube we connect to our manual pump catch-bin to pump the old oil out.  All told, this chore only takes about thirty minutes and isn’t too bad at all.  Westie certainly deserved it.

Chugging 38 hours across the Gulf had burned a little bit of oil:

And some coolant, which we topped off as well:

Using a mirror to check the gasket around the thermostat in our raw water system to make sure there wasn’t any green ooze around it signifying a leak.  “Nope!  All dry!” shouted Diesel Mechanic Annie.

And, Stock Island has a nice facility where you can dump your used oil, making this chore even easier.  Always good to properly dispose of your nasty fluids.

We also noticed some additional rust that had creeped into our stainless since we last polished (in July) and, while we had time to do it in Pensacola, we literally didn’t have the right weather for it.  The Spotless Stainless recommended the product not be used in temps less than 78 degrees.  “We’ll do it when we get south then!” the Captain decided and it was done.  We gave our gal a beautiful spit shine at the dock in Stock Island and she was glistening!

One thing we would have never expected to happen while we were there in Key West, though, was an unlikely run-in with a pack of geckos!  Do geckos run in packs?  Perhaps it was a herd, or a flock, but it was way more than we expected to find in one place.  FOUR!  And, I’m not talking about reptilian geckos.  We’re talking about the human kind.  Here’s how it went down.

Phillip and I had been lounging by the pool at the Stock Island Marina our second day there (Roostica night!  Shit yeah!) and I had a guy stop me by the awesome little tiki bar they built there.  “Hey, I know you from YouTube!” he said.  I smiled and laughed, because I do get that quite often, and promptly apologized for my Patty-and-Zelma voice.  While I did feel and sound like crap most of our Key West days, I never let it stop me from having a good time or meeting fun new cruisers!  “I’m Steve,” he said.  “My wife and I just bought a boat.  We’re going to splash tomorrow then move aboard.”

Super cool, right?  Well, wait until you see the boat they bought!  This vessel has quite the following.

Steve told me that afternoon at the bar—he and his super cool wife, Ashley were there having their necessary “Holy crap, we just bought a boat” drink—that the boat they bought was the s/v Lazy Gecko, so Phillip and I knew they were getting an awesome 1985 Alberg 37.  And, Phillip and I had planned to come watch them splash, hand over a bottle of champagne and enjoy seeing two newbie cruisers launch their cruising dreams.  But, what we didn’t know was that the geckos.  THE GECKOS.  Jeremiah and Brittany were going to be there, too.  They had flew in just for the day to finalize the deal, make sure the engine ran for the new geckos and help get Steve and Ashley secure on their new boat and safely off the dock.  When Phillip and I were walking toward the shipyard and I saw Brittany pushing Rhys in his little stroller, I jumped for joy!

It was so fun to get a spontaneous surprise visit with the Geckos.  We have only been able to connect with them in person on very few occasions.  One time they were coming through Pensacola and stopped to get a quick tour of our boat.  It was very fun to finally meet them in person.

Then we got to spend another millisecond together when we were all at the Miami Boat Show in February last year.  Say Hey to Teddy J with SailLoot!

We had also collaborated remotely doing a virtual tour of their beautiful Alberg, which you can watch here.  You’ll see Steve and Ashley are getting one heck of a bluewater boat.  In all, we’ve always enjoyed hanging out with them and it was a lot of fun to have a quick impromptu reunion in Key West.  We’re very excited for the new geckos, sailing under the name “Bella Vista” and we’re eager to see where their plans take them.  Phillip and I had some influence on their first destination.  I’ll let some of you guess where we encouraged them to go!  For now, meet the new Geckos and say hello to some old friends.  Jeremiah, Brittany, we’ll sure miss seeing you guys on the beautiful Alberg, but we’re really excited to see what the sailing future holds for you.  I’m sure Bella Vista is going to take the Alberg to many new and exciting places!

Love these crazy sexy two!

“I need an Annie selfie!” Brittany said.  “You got it!”

Bon Voyage Bella Vista!

So, tons of fun in Key West, right?  We love that quirky little colorful town.  Tons of great restaurants and tiki bars, too.  Not to mention sunset at Mallory Square.  The street performers.  Boat parades.  Pool parties.  All kinds of perks.

    

But, Phillip and I had our sights set on the Bahamas for a reason.  It was time to go!  But, one must never be in a hurry when cruising.  We knew one of the toughest jumps we might have to make on this journey would be across the Gulf Stream.  Pam Wall and so many other experienced cruisers had advised (very harshly but necessarily) against crossing the stream in any kind of north wind.  The Gulf Stream is a powerful current that runs south to north along the east coast of the United States and trying to cross it with any kind of north wind we had heard was like trying to run on a treadmill while someone is spraying a fire hose in your face.  Very lumpy seas and forceful current-meets-wind conditions.

When Phillip and I left the dock in Pensacola we were prepared to sail straight to the Bahamas if the weather would allow, we figured it was unlikely but possible.  When we got the weather data our fourth day of the journey across the Gulf from our router, it showed a front coming through the next couple of days with steady north winds, so a complete Pensacola-to-Bahamas passage was not advised.

We also knew we might be holed up either in Key West, Marathon or some other key (we had heard Rodriguez Key makes a good jumping off point) possibly for weeks waiting for a good window to cross the Gulf Stream, which would not be ideal but totally tolerable.  We were thrilled to find, however, that just a few short days after our landfall in Key West, a wonderful weather window was opening up soon that would likely allow us to make the jaunt from Key West all the way up to West End in the Bahamas.  Here is the window we were watching:

 

We checked the GRIBS, checked with friends and confirmed with our weather router this was our window!  On Wednesday late-morning, December 20th, we tossed the lines in Key West headed for West End.  Next up on the blog, we make the jump!  BV4: Crossing the Stream – Key West to West End.  Stay tuned!

Bahamas Boat Project Recap!

“Go, go!  To the Bahamas you must!” said our good friend Pam.  As she went on and on about their fresh Bahamian bread and jam.  So “go, go!” we decided: “To the Bahamas or bust!”  But first Phillip and I had to break out the boat projects list and blow off the dust.

Hello followers!  I hope you like green eggs and ham.  I like it on a boat with a side of Spam.  I also like, nay love, Dr. Seuss, which is why I’ve written a few ditties here in true Seuss-style, and I thought a recap of the many, many projects Phillip and I have been knocking out this summer to prepare our boat for some more extensive cruising in the Bahamas and beyond this winter would be more fun with a Seuss spruce.

So, do you want to know how many projects we were able to squeeze in?  Kick back, grab a snack and let the project roll begin!

A leaking starboard water tank simply won’t do.  When we found the crack, Phillip said, “Out with you!”  But wrestling that tank out was a monstrous feat.  One I’m sure we won’t want to soon repeat.  As Phillip scratched his head and went about ordering anew, we thought the re-install would definitely go smoother if we spared an inch or two.

  

Once the water tank was out, the diesel tank was as accessible as could be, so we thought why not pop it out, too, and have a look-see.  We knew we’d had a wee leak that Phillip had previously clogged with JB Weld and we wanted to see if it had held.  An air compression test by a local welder told us it was no good, so have the tank professionally patch-welded we decided we should.

 

If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll want a glass of milk.  And it seemed our diesel tank was of the same ilk.  Because not only did she demand a professional weld repair, once out and exposed she also wanted some Rhino-liner as protective wear.

Our cookie theme continued as we kept saying “While we’re in there,” and promptly decided, with both tanks under the starboard settee out, to glass it up and Bilge-kote down there.

  

With Westie nearby saying he wanted some love too, we decided to go ahead and dump the  old engine oil and pour in new quarts, just a few.

 

Some of you may recall the movement we noticed on the way to Cuba in our rudder post cap.  We reinforced the bolts with big thick custom washers to stop the wobble and called it a wrap.

  

Work, work, work.  Now you get the gist.  Clicking off projects left and right.  What’s next on our list?  Old flaky varnish?  That simply won’t do.  Not for our gal, she deserves every percent of our work, one-hundred-and-two.  Time to strip, clean, sand, and coat anew!

 

The brightwork was about a three-week job, a sweaty one for sure, but rewarding too!

So, tell us are you liking this spin on green eggs and ham?  Do you like it as much as a new Garhauer Cunningham?

While we were on the rigging, Phillip and I knew there was something else that needed our touch.  No one likes a clutch that won’t clutch.  We had a few on the coachhouse that were losing their grip, so we swapped them out for new Spinlocks with no slip!

  

Are you tired yet?  Perk up!  We’ve much more to do!  Time to knock out and re-bed some port lights that were letting rain water through.

Phillip asked of Annie: “Speaking of water, how’s that original 1985 pump in the head sound?”  “Like a wailing rat that’s about to drown!”  We’d had trouble with this guy not holding pressure and sucking our power, so we decided to replace him and save our amp hours.

And if we ever, God forbid, took on water out there, we’d want to pump it out quick.  Better get a few bilge pumps to spare.  “Stick your head down there Swab,” Phillip teased.  “Try to read the model number upside down, without bumping your head!”

A solar panel, sitting useless, scratched and giving no power?  Unacceptable!  When you can rip the old one off and pop on a new, in under an hour.

A dirty toe rail all scraped and scuffed?  Nuh-uh, no way, not when we’ve got Acetone and time to polish that stuff!

It seems almost every inch of the boat needs some unique form of care.  Some Iso-shield here and Armor-all there.  On-and-off went the mustache as we cleaned and polished everywhere.

And nothing shines like stainless steel.  Bust out the Colinite and polish that shit for real!

Man, look at those ratty old shifters, all wax-dipped and peeling.  I conspired with Brandon to surprise Phillip with shiny new ones, it just took a few free beers and secret dealings.  But I think we’re both going to enjoy driving the boat more with these on there, I’ve just got a feeling!

 

Speaking of driving, that’s been our great goal of the summer!  Get this gal behind the wheel more, so she won’t think docking is such a bummer.  And, it’s a good thing those shifters make it clear how fast you go, because I’ve been getting better and better following Brandon’s rule: “Go slow, hit slow.”

 

Enough with the plumbing and steering and everything else that so often fails, let’s talk about the one thing that you can always rely on, the sails!  Phillip and I knew we wanted a much broader sail plan this year to allow us to sail comfortably no matter the wind or weather, so we finally busted out our spinnaker to see if we could sail in winds light as a feather.

And when the winds, as they often do in the Gulf, want to stay above fifteen, we had a 90% working jib made so we can sail more comfortably out there and reduce our lean.

 

And, while we never want to find ourselves in blue water when it really starts to wail, if we do, we’ve got the 35% storm jib we had made this year in case we find ourselves in a gale.

And what’s that you say, Phillip?  Our whisker pole is in a funk?  With a dent that prevented it from sliding we were considering throwing it out as junk.  But, in a pinch, I decided to ask an auto body shop if it was something they could fix and Coastal Body Works here in Pensacola did it for this little gal just for kicks!

Chore after chore, have you yet grown weary?  That’s right when Mother Nature will throw you something frightful and eerie.  Twice we braced for hurricanes this season, Nate forcing us out of the water and up on the hard without reason. While we were incredibly grateful to come through unharmed, it was a great lesson in storm boat prep so next time we’ll be more practiced and less alarmed.

Once we were out of the water, the cookies continued to fall.  Because you know the first thing you’re going to want to do, if you have to haul.

A bottom job, that’s right!  If her hull is out of the water it’s what you must and should do! And, our pretty gal is so lucky she got a full-boat buff too!

But with our boat safe from the storms and ready to be floating again, that didn’t mean our boat chores would end.  Once she was splashed back, the reassembly began.  To retrieve the halyards, First Mate Annie (I wasn’t a Captain yet ; ) had to climb the mast again!

But it was a fortuitous hoist as it gave me a chance to inspect and give our new 5/16 wire rigging a polish.  It’s terrible to think of what simple sun and salt can quickly demolish.

Too many projects?  Is your head spinning yet?  We just got word, the new water tank came in!  We must go get!

Boy, was she pretty and sturdy and our eyes she sure lit.  We were quickly disheartened to find, however, she simply did not fit.

We wrestled and struggled and scraped knuckles and cursed.  And soon we were starting to fear the worst.  Perhaps we would have to order another new tank, this one even more slim.  Thankfully, before we made that decision, our buddy Brandon found another way to slip her in.

With a snip by the Dremel and some more cursing and prayer, we got the new water tank in (finally) with just inches to spare.  As with every minor refit, there is always one particular project that stresses you to the max, and this water tank, being the most costly and irritating, was definitely that.  But, despite our tired state and our water woes that we thought were through, our boat whispered: “I’ve got something else for you.”  Just when we were crawling out of a boat project slump, we discovered we had a leak from our raw water pump.

So Phillip and I rolled up our sleeves and decided to replace that too.  We might as well do everything here at the dock that we can possibly do.  While a summer spent on projects is definitely not what we’d call great fun, it’s better to knock them out now than trying to handle them during an offshore run.  So, little Sherwood, we’ll fix you too.  In fact, we’ll put in what we learned is a better pump, a Johnson that leaks less and is new.

While the water tank still holds the gold as the most frustrating project of the summer, the injuries Phillip and I received during this water pump replacement were quite the bummer.  A nasty burn from the heat gun to my right calf that thankfully resembled a heart, and a huge ripped blister on Phillip’s hand sure did smart.

Okay, I believe that covers the biggies.  Here’s our completed list!  Although I can already see there are some that we missed.

But, in comparison the remainder are minor and probably qualify more as routine care.  If you ever think you’ll get “finished” with a boat, trust me, you’ll never get there.  There will always be more polishing and whipping and cleaning and fixing to be done.  If you don’t think you’ll like that, then I’d say, a boat, you maybe shouldn’t get one.

For Phillip and I, while we enjoy much of the work that we do: lawyering, writing, marketing and all the rest.  It’s really the work we do on the boat that we like the best.

Hope you enjoyed the hammy recap – ha!  We’re Bahamas bound now!  Shove-off date is a little flexible (as it should be, right?)  But, it will be sometime in the next 3-4 weeks.  In the meantime, we’re poring over our Explorer charts and Steve Dodge Abacos guide (thanks again for the recommendation Pam Wall!) and planning our possible stops and routes.  We can’t wait to share this next adventure with you all!