Shipyard Project No. 5: Re-Painting and Re-Insulating the Engine

This is it!  The post you all have been waiting for.  Now that the stringers under our engine are repaired, it was time to get Westie back in place and aligned so we could tackle one of the projects we were most excited about this year: PAINTING THE ENGINE!

Phillip and I have had Westerbeke-red visions dancing in our head for weeks.  The thought of having a completely leak-free (or even just less-leaky-than-before) engine that would be bright, shiny red, ready to point the finger vigorously and immediately at any leak really pops our corn.  Phillip and I were both super excited to get Westie assembled, all cleaned up, and ready for a few layers of sweet Westie red.  And, as many of you have asked us about this process (this was probably the most commented-on post from our shipyard Facebook photos), we wanted to share with you all the process in case any of you are thinking of doing the same. To be honest, this paint job, while probably one of the most visibly-rewarding of our projects this summer, was by far one of the easiest.

First, let’s talk a little about why we wanted to re-paint the engine.  While a fresh coat of paint would, as I mentioned above, greatly enhance our ability to spot and troubleshoot new leaks from the engine, I later learned this was not the primary goal.  What were we really trying to accomplish in cleaning and painting our engine?

Rust prevention.

As Brandon with Perdido Sailor explained, the number one thing to really rob years of life from your engine is corrosion and decay from rust.  Phillip and I were definitely seeing evidence of that in the layers of metal that could easily flake off of our engine, primarily on the backside where it is the greasiest and near the water pump where it suffers the most rust corrosion.  This part on our engine, the cradle support on the back, had probably suffered the worst of the rust, so Brandon devised a good plan for us to take the rust head-on and prevent further decay.

Let’s talk a little about this product: POR 15 Industrial Rust Preventer

It’s a three-step process for cleaning metal, prepping it, then painting a rust-preventative coating on it, which chemically bonds to the metal, before the final paint.  We special-ordered it from Amazon so we would receive it in time to apply to the cradle before it was time to re-assemble the engine.

That was the plan anyway.  Phillip followed the instructions to a “T” using the cleaner, then the prep, then the POR paint, followed by Westie red.  We also woke early and were at the shipyard before 6:00 a.m. that day to apply the POR before the humidity rose in the heat of the day.  Living in humid, muggy Florida, this was one downside of the product:

POR-15 is cured and strengthened by exposure to moisture and will dry faster under extreme humidity, but moderate to dry atmospheric conditions are most desirable when applying this product, because extreme humidity may cause an immediate surface cure, trapping carbon dioxide gas below the surface. When this happens, bubbling may occur. Extreme humidity at the time of application may also interfere with proper adhesion of the POR-15 coating to metal because it’s almost impossible to keep metal dry under such conditions.

Yep, you read that right.  If it’s applied in too humid of an environment, bubbling can occur.  For us, bubbling certainly did occur.

Just a few scrapes with Brandon’s knife and both the red and the POR were flaking off back to pure metal.

We’ll have to call this attempt an epic fail.

But, we’re determined sailors.  With reassembly of the engine scheduled for the next day, Shipyard Annie was sent in to try and remedy the damage to keep us on track.  It was either spend the day stripping all of the paint off of this beast manually (including the areas of mega-bonded POR that did cure properly) or—Option B—whip out this toxic devilish serum for a chemical strip:

Have any of you ever used this product?  I mean damn!  It will peel the paint off your nails.  That stuff was super intense.  But, it was our quickest option.  Phillip picked up a similar brand from the auto parts store and Annie set to it.

The minute I started slathering it onto our cradle, the paint started hissing and bubbling in violent (albeit futile) revolt!

It literally took me 12 coats of this acid with scraping in between to finally get the POR to let go.  Everyone at the shipyard said it looked like a murder scene!

It was also a little painful too.  Even through gloves, after multiple applications, the toxic aircraft paint remover began to make my hands feel cold at first, then they started in with a painful tingle.  I was honestly worried I might be unknowingly inflicting permanent nerve damage on myself.  I checked with the guys at the yard to be sure and they said it’s painful but temporary.  So, my murdering continued and finally we were back to bare clean metal for another attempt at the POR.

Brandon helped supervise this time and we applied it initially in his air-conditioned, somewhat-enclosed shop area.  (He has what I call “butcher freezer” plastic flaps that hang down, keeping the room cool for the guys but easy to come and go with tools, paints, whatever in your hands.)

Even with Brandon helping with the application we were still getting a little bubbling at the shipyard, so I took the pieces home to our fully-air-conditioned apartment for the final coat and the second time around resulted in a solid cure of the POR under the Westerbeke red.

That piece was easily the hardest part of this job.  After the cradle was in place, and the engine reassembled (with a successful alignment check by Brandon and Shane), Phillip and I were finally given the go-ahead to paint.  Say it with me: “Whoo Westie Hoo!”

Our first step was to clean the engine thoroughly with Zep.  That is some awesome de-greasing stuff.  Perfect for this situation.  Simply spraying Zep on and rinsing alone took off the majority of our oil and grease for painting.  This is the difference in the engine from merely dirty to clean.

We then scraped off any paint that was ready to jump ship.  Our goal was to get as much bare metal as we could exposed so we could start fresh with primer coats there before the final red coat.

Our next step was prep.  Shane with Perdido Sailor gave us a good tip to cover all of the hoses and wires and other fittings on the engine that we did not want painted with aluminum foil.  It was nice because it was easy to work with and would wrap around pipes and fixtures and (for the most part) just hold itself there, which made the prep work much quicker, albeit still a good three hours.  We were also careful to tape and cover caps, dipsticks, the throttle and shifter cables, the intake, etc.  When we were done, we had an odd-looking foil monster in the engine room.

Then it was time to paint.  A follower on Facebook captioned this photo Boat Project Magazine’s August Centerfold.  I’ll take that!  : )

On Brandon’s recommendation, we started with green zinc chromate on all areas that were bare metal (which were a good bit!).  The fumes were pretty intense in the engine room so we donned a mask and goggles.  A follower later recommended I probably should have thrown on a Tyvek suit for skin protection, which would probably have been much smarter.  We’re told the chemicals in that zinc chromate are pretty harsh.  If I start growing a third eyeball, I’ll let you all know.  But, you can see the green areas in the photos below.

 

Outside near the Perdido Sailor shop, Phillip was also painting the heat exchanger before we put it back on as well.

The next step was a grey primer over the green zinc.

 

The fumes were pretty intense, particularly down in the engine room.  But with a mask and goggles, the job wasn’t too bad.

Finally everything was ready for our favorite shade of red.  And, I can’t tell you how many times this awesome scene from Kinky Boots was repeated at the yard when we were getting ready to start spraying the Westie red!  I mean “Reeeeeeddddd” (with a hiss).

“Red is the color of sex!  And fear.  And danger.  And signs that say “Do not enter.”

But, all of our signs say “Yes, indeed, do paint!”  Let the Westie Red fly!

Now you see grey.  Now you don’t!

Yeah baby!  We were tickled red to pull the foil and tapes and drapes all finally away from the engine and admire her new coat.  I dare say Westerbeke red and Bilgekote grey are my new favorite color-combo.

Westie sure does look good!  Not only will we now be able to easily spot and trace all leaks of oil, water, or coolant, our engine also now has been given a few more years of rust-free health that we hope to continue.  Brandon recommended after we run the engine for 5-6 hours once we’re back in the water, which will give it time to “burn the paint off,” that we then spray the whole engine down generously with anti-corrosion to continue with our rust-prevention plan.  It will feel good to know we’re taking steps to proactively fight the rust down there.

But, one word on our prep, in case any of you are planning to paint your engines too.  We did not prep near enough.  While we did cover everything in the engine room that we did not want to be forever converted to Westerbeke red, and we did drape what I felt like were an exorbitant amount of sheets around the engine area, what we failed to do was successfully contain the red dust that fumigated from our engine room while we were painting, the entirety of which traveled all over the boat.  Read that again.

All.  Over.  The.  Boat.

Look at these photos here.  I have circled the areas that are coated with a pink dust.

When we finally pulled all of the sheets and looked around, the entire boat, going forward to the bow, had a fine layer of pink dust on it.  Thankfully—knock on a freaking jar of acetone—that stuff dries so quickly that by the time it was airborne and ready to drop, it was merely a powder that could be wiped off of the floors and acetoned off of the gelcoat.

Meaning, we did not permanently stain our entire boat pink for good.  But, we should have done a much better job of somehow “caging” the entirety of the air around the engine room.  Perhaps with more sheets taped over and above, or plastic drop cloths taped all around.  I’m just pontificating here because we sure did not contain it enough.  We probably should have had better ventilation to pull the “red air” directly out of the boat through a lazarette and draped and taped that exit hole as well.  Thankfully, while we were able to remove the red by wiping the wooden floors with a wet rag and all of the gelcoat inside the entire boat with acetone, this did not make it an easy or quick job.

The fans, in particular, took a while to clean because they pulled so much “red air” through them.

You can see in this photo the red sheen on the gelcoat.  Each section like this—particularly the sections that were textured like nonskid—took about 15 minutes to wipe clean.  We turned twenty rags red just from wiping our boat down after our poor prep job for the engine paint.

The good news is, we had planned to wipe her down regardless—bow to stern—as we always do when we have all of the soft goods out.  So, this wasn’t too much of a setback for us, but definitely an extra day of cleaning we added to our own list by not covering as much as we should have for the engine paint job.  But, lesson learned for sure.

Our engine paint project, however, did not stop with painting our engine.  We had planned from the start to also add bright LED lights in the engine room after we completed the painting and replace our old engine room insulation, for several reasons.  One, our old insulation was all rag-tag, duct-taped-on in multiple colors and always falling apart, crumbling, and making a nasty black mess every time we accessed the engine.

We primarily wanted to remove it because it was filthy.  And, two, we were sure in that crumbling condition it was not performing at its optimal heat-and-sound buffer capabilities.  We also wanted to install engine room lights so we would have excellent visibility in the engine room without having to hold flashlights in our teeth.  (Okay only Annie does that, not Phillip, but I would like to break the habit.)  The entire goal with this mini-engine overhaul was to make our engine run better, cleaner, and better enable us to work on her, troubleshoot, spot leaks, and repair issues underway.  So, cue the lights!

Phillip installed one on the front of this bulkhead over the engine, as well as on the back.

We also installed a third, larger one, that runs bow to stern, rather than athwartship, in the engine room itself behind the engine.  Phillip was sure to install them all in a way that the “on” switch can be reached from our easiest access point, the front of the engine in the galley.  I can’t show you the big one in the engine room, yet, because it will ruin the NASA insulation reveal.  Savor the intrigue!

For the insulation, we ordered four boxes of big thick rolls of Soundown insulation from the internet along with their sealing tape, and this became an exclusive Annie project.

While some of the pieces were easy to template, others were not.  These pieces under the sink were rather large, and mostly square, so I started there, with construction paper templates first, then cutting pieces out of the insulation.

This monster, though … I can’t tell you how many days at the shipyard I found (mostly legitimate) reasons to avoid starting on this wall.  With all the wires and mounts and stuff, it seemed impossible to template.  It was hard enough to rip the old insulation out of there, much less make a precise pattern to put new insulation in.

But, a project will never get done if you never start it.  So, I bucked up one morning and set to it, first with construction paper taped together to (in hopes) make the entire piece out of one template.  This was my awkward masterpiece.

I had no clue if it was actually going to squeeze in behind the small gap in the gadgets and wires I had created to work construction paper through, but Shane and I gave it a shot.  His words as it slid into perfect position: “I’m going to lose my damn job!”  : )  That was a really cool feeling for me.  Never had I done that before, but I’m confident I can now lay down engine insulation with the best of them.

But, that was just the initial “mounting” (I will call it) of the insulation to the bulkhead with the 3M 77 adhesive spray.  The tedious and very time consuming “seaming” of the insulation is what had me down in there for hours upon hours.  Shane told us the trick to keeping this insulation in good shape is to prevent any water entry into the foam.  You do this by tediously taping every exposed foam seam.  This often takes layer upon layer of tape (much link shingles) to get the tape to push the foam down, wrap, and hold.  Let’s just say I went through a lot of tape.  We also secured the insulation with screws and fender washers, and I was tickled platinum pink with the results.  Our engine room now looks like a NASA launch pad.

And, what do you see there?  Our new 21” LED light in the engine room.  Lighting up the insulation like a Christmas promenade.  It is quite the dazzling display down there now.  Westie feels like a show horse at the County Fair.  I feel bad for any drop of oil that even thinks about inkling out of our engine.  Like a prisoner trying to escape from Alcatraz, we’ll shine a spotlight on it so fast he’ll run back to where he came from and never come out again.  There will be no leaks from this engine people.  Nada.

Hope you all enjoyed the engine projects.  Guess what’s next!  Our swap to a composting Airhead.  That became a bit more of a puzzling project than we had initially anticipated.  Trust me, all of this weirdness will make sense soon!

 

What do you think I’m installing here?  Give it a guess!  And stay tuned!

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!

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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!

The $3.49 Fix

November, 2014:

Okay, so it was $3.76 after tax, but the part–the one itsy bitsy, tiny little part that made our whole engine run–was three dollars and forty-nine cents.

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How long did it take us to figure that out?  I’d like to say it was only three hours and forty-nine minutes.  That would have been great, but it wasn’t.  It took weeks ….

If you recall, we were having occasional trouble getting our engine to crank after we installed and began using the new flexible solar panels on the bimini.

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Our “boat buddy focus group” surmised that perhaps the solar input from the panels was confusing the alternator and causing it not to re-charge the starting battery while we were motoring.  For this reason, we installed two handy on/off switches in the aft berth locker to turn the panels off while we were motoring in (HIGH!) hopes it would prevent the alleged “alternator confusion.”

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Apparently, though, our alternator isn’t the brightest part on the boat.  Sometimes it was confused; sometimes it was not.  The frustrating part was that the problem was intermittent.  Sometimes the engine would crank fine, other times it would not–inexplicably.  Like when you take your car to the shop so the mechanic can hear that ominous “clunking” sound and it won’t make it.  Bullocks!

The next time we took the boat out (after the on/off switches were installed and after we had turned them “off” while we were motored), and the engine again would not crank to bring us home, the Captain decided he’d had enough.  “We’re going to fix it today,” he said bright and early one Saturday morning, and I knew he wouldn’t stop until we had.  We donned some cloaks and pipes and decided to really roll up our sleeves to solve this mystery.

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What’s the best way to start troubleshooting?

Start taking crap apart!

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We traced every wire from the:

1.  Engine to the alternator,

2.  The alternator to the combiner (the device that decides which batteries (the house bank or the starting battery) need and get a charge from the engine),

3.  The combiner to the starting battery,

4.  The starting battery to the battery switch plate (where we turn on the batteries we want to use — house, starting or both combined, which is what we had been required to do when the starting battery alone wouldn’t allow us to crank),

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And finally:

5.  The switch plate to the starter.

Everything seemed to look good.  None of the wires were corroded, split or compromised and the connections looked solid.  We couldn’t understand why our seemingly “good” starting battery was not starting the engine.  If it was the battery, that was going to be a couple hundred bucks to replace, which was a better prospect than the alternator.  So, we decided to have the battery checked yet again.  We disconnected it and hauled it to three different battery-check places (Auto Zone and the like), where every time a highly-qualified battery specialist would come out and hook his or her little gismo machine up to our battery to run the necessary gismo calculations.

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I felt like I was watching Al from Quantum Leap bang around on his Ziggy handheld.  Beep, bo-dum, boomp.

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Each time, though (and three times total), the little Ziggy gismos came back showing our starting battery was good.

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And, I’m not sure what “EXP DECISION” means exactly other than “Expert Decision.”  I guess if they’re the alleged “experts,” (particularly when the consensus was the same among all of them), there’s really no reason to question it.  

So, we hauled our alleged “good” battery back to the boat still stumped by our crank problem.  We decided to replace the ring connectors on each end of the positive and negative wires to the battery just for good measure, and that’s when we discovered it.

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When Phillip was putting the post terminal connector back on the negative post he noticed it was loose.  No matter how hard he tried to tighten down on the nut, the connector couldn’t seem to achieve stable contact with the post.

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Apparently, it had been so worn from age, jostling and electric current that the center of the ring had been (for lack of a better word) eroded out so that no matter how tight we cranked the nut down on the bolt, you still couldn’t get a good, solid connection, particularly when it was lowered onto the post one way as opposed to flipped over and put on the other way.  By some stroke of luck, Phillip had put it back on the “other way” this time, which revealed the loose connection.  That’s when we had our Aha! moment.  We dropped everything and headed back to Auto Zone.

“One post terminal connection, please.”

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Three dollars and forty-nine cents later, we were mounting a snug new connector on the negative post certain this was going to be the easiest and cheapest fix we could have imagined.

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And, what happened next?

Mmmhhh-hmmm.  A mighty fine crank indeed!  We could tell instantly from the solid *CLICK* of the glow plugs that our starting battery was finally cranking out some solid juice.  Our engine roared to life!

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Now, why share this?  A simple post terminal connector replacement?  (Something we likely should have found pretty quickly.)  Because sometimes you just can’t see the simple fix initially.  With the new solar panels and the MPPT charge controllers, the new on/off switches and suspected alternator confusion, we were thinking the problem had to be more complicated.  But, lesson learned.  Most of the systems on the boat really are simple when you break them down and dissect them.  You just have to remember to “think simply” when troubleshooting.  I’ll never forget when we were trying to tell this ten-minute story to our buddy, Bottom-Job Brandon, and not three sentences in, he says:

“D’you check your post connectors?”

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Sharp guy, that Brandon (but a total story killer!).  Good thing I have a captive audience here!  Ha!

In all, we were pleased with the simple $3.49 fix (not counting our “labor” which I felt we earned the “loss” on for having overlooked something so basic — a boat will humble you real quick).  And, with the problem solved, the afternoon remaining and the wind picking up, we decided it was high time for a reward.  A last-minute run to the beach that day offered up one of our best impromptu kite sessions of the year against one of the most exquisite sunsets I have ever seen.

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That’s the thing about sailing, though, living near the water, which can be deadly one minute and overwhelmingly serene the next, and owning a boat.  You can start the day out cramped, coated in gunk and sweat and cursing everything about your bleeping boat, but once the project is complete, the accomplishment of it serves as your unparalleled reward and wipes away all of your previous frustration.  Suddenly the job is done and the day is still young.  Suddenly, nothing can bother you.  Life is still, and always will be, good.

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Many thanks to the patrons who help make these posts just a little more possible through PATREON.

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Solar Panels Bring the Blues

November 7-9, 2014:

After our racy rendezvous with the Sundowner crew in NOLA we were itching to get back out on our boat.  Now that we had our slick solar panels installed and (presumably) working, it was time to take them out for a test run, and what better time than the Pensacola Blue Angels Homecoming Show in November!  Several of our boat buddies were planning to get out for it, too, so it was quickly decided we would all get together for a massive raft-up.  We were five-deep at the Fort baby!

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From left to right:

1.  s/v Edelweiss, a well-kept 34′ Sabre, is often packed to the brim with the Armanis — two veterinarians with (now) three little ones in tow.  Did anyone call for a doctor?

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2.  s/v WindWalker, a 38′ Morgan, belongs to our trusted diesel engine mechanic, Johnny Walker (yes, that’s really his name, feel free to make all the associated Jim Bean, Jack Daniels jokes you’d like – he’s used to it), and his beautiful wife, Cindy.  (While this is my absolute favorite picture of Johnny and Cindy, don’t doubt it, rain, shine or cold – these two are always smiling!)

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3.  5 O’Clock, a 45′ Gulfstar, being the largest boat in the bunch often plays the role of “mothership” and is Captained by the only and only (you know this guy, he’s practically a celebrity in our world), Bottom-Job Brandon!  His rocking wife Christine and their (now) two little salty sailors round out the Hall crew.

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4.  s/v Plaintiff’s Rest and it’s fine-looking crew need no introduction, really.  Admit it, it’s only the best-looking boat in the bunch.

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5.  And, last but certainly not least, s/v Pan Dragon, a classic 36′ Pearson, is the pride and joy of our Broker-turned-Boat Buddy, Kevin, along with his incredibly entertaining wife, Laura, and their (now) two little ones seen here doing what they love to do — just “hang around” on the boat.

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I will say Phillip and I are exceptionally lucky to have fallen into such a fine group of sailing comrades when we purchased our boat back in 2013.  All of these Captains are sharp, talented sailors, each with a different area of expertise and each having proven their willingness time and again to help us out when we’ve found ourselves faced with a difficult boat project, and vice versa.  It’s also great to see the lot of them (which with all of the “nows” you might have recognized has recently grown – three new additions in 2015 alone!) get their boats out just about every weekend they are able with the whole crawling/cradle crew in tow.  I wouldn’t trust myself to keep a potted plant alive on the boat and here they bring their actual living, breathing, arms-and-legs munchkins aboard and show us all it can (and should) be done.  Families can cruise too.  They’re really impressive.

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Having all five of us lined up for this phenomenal weekend was a pretty epic feat.  But, when the Blue Angels come home, folks in Pensacola tend to get together for the event.  And, because the Blue Angels fly over their home base, the Pensacola Naval Air Station, for the homecoming show, we knew we would be right under the flight path anchored out near Ft. McRae.

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Here comes one now!   Zzzwweeehhhhh!

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See?  They flew right over us!  I kept trying to snap a cool shot of them coming by the boat but they kept breaking up, zipping around, looping and coming out of nowhere.  Those suckers are fast!  (And loud.)

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After about 84 missed shots (give or take), I finally caught them right where I wanted them.  Just overhead.  Check out the money shot!  BOOM.

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Hull No. 193, baby!  That’s us!  It looks like they’re only 20 feet above our mast.  While I can assure you, they are much higher, it doesn’t sound or feel like it when you’re watching them zip overhead.  Zwweeehhhh!!

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(Thank (and like) the Blue Angels Facebook team for the wicked pics!)

The show was jaw-dropping.  “Hold on to your drink, Cap’n!”

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First Mate rockin’ the rubbers!

They even put on an evening show (which they had not done in years) at the Naval Air Station.  We could catch glimpses of it (and hear the roar of the flaming big rig) from our boats.

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In all, it was an incredible weekend spent out on the boat with an amazing group of friends.

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And, best of all, the solar panels performed beautifully.  While we felt good about the Velcro adhesion, just to be safe I had taken some time back at the dock to manually stitch the panels on through their corner grommets with some green sail twine.

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You can see it on the corners here:

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Those flat little panels were expensive!  While it was highly unlikely, I wasn’t going to risk them flying off in some heavy winds.  They also proved extremely productive during our weekend out, pumping in (just about as we had expected) approximately 8 amps/hour.

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It was truly gratifying to watch our amp hours go DOWN during the day.  We were definitely pleased with the input and thrilled with the results of a long and tedious project.  Life was good … for a brief moment.  I swear that dern boat likes to toy with us sometimes.  Right when you think everything is running smoothly and everything about boating is awesome, the boat likes to throw a little wrench in things just to, you know, keep you guessing.  After our amazing weekend out on the boat, we woke Sunday to an awe-inspiring sky, sipped on coffee and decided we would ease the anchor up about mid-morning to enjoy a beautiful sail home.

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That was the plan anyway, until we tried to crank the engine and ———    Nothing, nada, flat line.  We couldn’t even get a click to turn the glow plugs on.  Our starting battery was completely dead.  The boat seemed to think it was funny.

It’s not funny, boat.

Luckily, on our boat, we can flip a switch to combine the house batteries with the starting battery, in situations like this, to pull from the house bank in order to crank the engine.  It’s not really good for the house batteries because they’re intended primarily for deep cycle use, but if you’ve got to crank, you’ve got to crank.  So, that’s what we did, and she started right up, which was a good sign.  That meant it wasn’t an engine problem just a battery problem, but it was still baffling.  What gives, boat?

Thankfully, we had a whole host of boat friends nearby to help us run through some things and troubleshoot.  Assuming our starting battery was still good (which, being only a year old, it was pretty safe to assume it was) the primary difference was the solar panels.  Once installed, they were essentially “on” all the time.  Meaning, any time they panels were in the sunlight, they were pumping in juice.  While the MPPT charge controllers regulate the influx of power to make sure the house batteries do not get overwhelmed by the solar input, one option kicked around the group was the possibility that the solar input may have overwhelmed the alternator and caused it not to re-charge the starting battery while we were motoring over to the Fort on Friday.

Back home, we took the starting battery the following week to several different Auto Zone type places to have it tested, and each time it passed with flying colors.  The battery was good.  That left the panels.  We decided to install switches under the aft locker next to the MPPT charge controllers to allow us to turn the panels off when we were running under engine power so as not to confuse the alternator and allow our starting battery to re-charge.

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It was a pretty simple job and (we hoped) would be a pretty easy fix to our crank problem.  The next couple of times she cranked fine, and we were sure to turn the panels off when we were under motor and turn them back on again once we killed the engine if we wanted solar input.  Life was good again.  Until …

Yes, again.  Such are the joys of owning a boat.  Seemingly randomly, after several times cranking without incident, the minute we had some family in town and invited them out on the boat for a beautiful, brisk day sail, she wouldn’t crank.  It was clear we

had a serious boat battery mystery to solve.  And,  I swear the boat thought it was funny.

It’s not funny, boat.

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Captain Sherlock and I were hot on the case.  It simply had to be “elementary.”

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Many thanks to the patrons who help make these posts just a little more possible through PATREON.

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The Whole World … and Only Carrabelle’s Got It

May 7, 2014:

If we were trying to avoid an aerial bomb strike, you would think coming in under nightfall, might be a good idea.  But, I’ve said it several time before and don’t mind repeating it — we do not like to come into a pass at night, and we try to avoid it on every occasion.  Unfortunately, with the absolute lack of wind and continued motoring throughout the night, we were slated to make it to the East Pass into Apalachicola Bay a little earlier than we had intended – around 4:00 a.m.

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Not yet daylight.  So, we bobbed around in the Gulf for about an hour to allow the sun to rise, so we could safely see all of the markers and make it into the Bay.

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There she comes!  And, see??  With the sun, we can SEE the markers!

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We could see land, too!  We had left Venice around 10:00 a.m. two days prior and had made it safely once again across the Gulf of Mexico.  No small feat.

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It was unfortunate that we’d had to motor most of the way.  36 out of the approximate 43 hours were spent with our engine churning away under the cabin.  Ironically, that’s about the exact same way we made the Gulf crossing the last time from Clearwater to Carrabelle.  An approximate 36-hour engine run, and the heroic hacking-off of the dinghy mid-Gulf.  Like I said — crossing the Gulf without issue — no small feat.  But, this time we were determined not to the let the 36-hour motor-crossing get the best of our old Westerbeke.  If you recall, the year prior, the daunting motor across the Gulf of Mexico had unexpectedly drained our engine of her last drop of transmission fluid and she locked up the next day as we were trying to motor out of the Carrabelle River … the tight, narrow, obstacle-lined river.  Fine time to lose engine power.  We vowed this time once we got her docked safe and secure in Carrabelle, the first part of that boat that was going to get some good ole TLC was the engine!  That is, of course, after the crew got some sleep.

We made it into the river just fine this time during the day.  It was nostalgic for me to come back in and see it now, as a somewhat experienced sailor, and remember how I had viewed it then during that first Gulf Crossing and my very first passage on a sailboat, period.  I realized how oblivious I had been the year before to everything that was going on.  Markers, depth, wind, current.  Not that I was sitting around painting my nails or anything, I had spent a good part of that trip taking care of our overtly sea-sick Second Mate, helping Phillip to the best of my ability and cooking and cleaning, but I didn’t really have much involvement in the actual sailing.  Well, this time I did.  It was Phillip and I.  That was it.  And, we were coming in to dock once again at the Moorings Marina.

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I knew this time, as well, from our first entry into the Carrabelle River, that you have to stay to the right of the river.  And, by right, I mean waaaayy over to the right, almost hugging the docks on the starboard side.  Last time, we had come in under nightfall and run aground just after the bend in the river.  Right … about … here:

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I know.  The Carrabelle River had not been good to us last time.  We were hoping for some better River karma this time around.  

And, thankfully, the River welcomed us with open arms.

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We made it in around 9:00 a.m. stayed to the RIGHT of the river and clear of the bottom, fueled up, docked up and went immediately to sleep.  We’d been two days at sea, on two-hour night shifts two nights in a row, had survived multiple encounters with creepy Gulf alien vessels and an aerial bomb strike.  Needless to say, we were tired!

But, the minute we woke, our first order of business was the engine.  That run across the Gulf had certainly burned up a good bit of her precious black gold.  Our faithful Westerbeke got a complete oil drain and change that day, which, thanks to the nifty hand-pump canister we picked up from the Back Door Marine Supply Guy in St. Pete, we were able to do easily and cleanly on the boat.

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Our previous owner, Jack, also converted the old horizontal oil filter mount to a vertical one to avoid the messy oil dump into the bilge when the filter is removed.

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Now ours spins in vertically and sits upright, making the entire process easier and cleaner.

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Thanks Jack!

We also checked and topped off all of the other fluids, the transmission fluid – of course! – we check that now before every crank, and the coolant.  It felt good to give the Westerbeke some love after she’d carried us all the way to Carrabelle, yet again.  We also gave the boat a good scrub-down from bow to stern.  While we had motored most of the way across the Gulf, the half-a-day we’d spent trying to get out in the Gulf initially in 4-6 foot, head-on waves had laid a pretty thick coat of salt on the boat.  You could see and feel salt everywhere – on the deck, the lifelines, the stanchions.  It was like Plaintiff’s Rest, on the rocks.  We scrubbed every inch and polished her up, head to toe.

After tending to the boat, we then turned our attention to the crew.  It was time for a feeding.  We showered up and hit the town.  Yes, the hustling, bustling big city of Carrabelle!  We knew, from the multiple weekend trips we had made to Carrabelle last year when our boat spent six weeks in the River having a new transmission put in, that the happening spot in Carrabelle was Fathom’s.

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Or, we were at least partial to it.  Our mechanic, Eric’s, family owned the bar/restaurant and we had stopped there for some incredible fresh oysters and beer before heading out last time to make the trip from Carrabelle home to Pensacola.

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Can’t believe I said “I’m not really an oyster person” in that post …  The Keys have changed me!

Fathom’s has a great custom-built boat-bar and the perfect outdoor deck seating right on the waterfront.

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Last time we were there, we could see our boat right across the way!

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Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?  No, you haven’t.

And, we had occasionally heard some great live music streaming across the River from Fathom’s when we were there, working on the boat.  We knew the next time we made it back to Carrabelle on our boat, we wanted to spend at least one evening eating our fill of fresh oysters and catching the live band at Fathom’s.  We figured it would play out very much like a scene at Pirate’s Cove – a lot of local riff raff providing some high quality, free entertainment.

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The Riff Raff cast from the Cove – November, 2013.

Since Fathom’s was on the agenda for the evening, we popped into the first restaurant we came across on our Carrabelle outing – The Fisherman’s Wife – for lunch.  A fitting name for your typical quaint country restaurant.  It reminded me of the little diner my grandma (Big Mom) used to take us to on Sundays – Doris’s Diner.  The kind of place that keeps heaping condiment baskets on the table, complete with a sticky syrup dispenser, because they always seem to serve pancakes, and the waitresses can pull pens out of their poofy Peg Bundy hair like magic to take your order on a flip pad.  I felt right at home!  And, the Fisherman’s Wife did not disappoint.  They served us up some incredible onion rings, a heaping salad and sandwich combo for lunch.

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We walked lunch off down the main strip and found some pretty interesting highlights along the way.  Like this little gem – the Carrabelle Junction!

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An old fifties-style ice cream shop chock full of antique toys, trinkets and signage.

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I love stuff like that.  You’re always bound to see an old toy you used to play with sitting on the shelf and the memories flood you.

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This one reminded me of the old Gumby & Pokey figurines I used to play with.  You know, back when toys didn’t need any bells or whistles or lithium batteries.

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Hours of entertainment … 

Which is exactly what we found poking (and gumbing!) our way along the downtown Carrabelle strip.  It doesn’t take much for us, though.  We seem to find just about the same level of entertainment in tiny little rustic towns like Carrabelle and Apalachicola as we do New York City.  It’s all in your level of expectation and your openness to truly explore new places – the quaint or the common.  As fate would have it, we found something in Carrabelle that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.  The world!?  Yes, the world.  Without Googling, do any of you faithful followers know what it is?

Open Says-a-Me!

May 1, 2014:

That’s right.  May.  We finally made it to MAY.  Phillip and I both couldn’t believe we had spent an entire month on the boat and it had felt like only a couple of weeks, a few days at the most!  Time was flying and our trip, it seemed, was slipping by faster than we would have liked.  But, I’m sure it always feels that way.  You never really want to go back … once you start going!  But, sadly, we had jobs and meetings and all sorts of other obligations calling us back to Pensacola, so we needed to start making way that way.  Although our original plan had been to make our way up along the coast to Clearwater before we jumped back across the Gulf to Carrabelle, considering our engine situation (one drip approximately every 10 seconds) and reports we had heard of storms rolling into Clearwater, we decided to motor up the ICW to Venice to shave a little off of our trip to Clearwater and closely monitor our engine in the safety of protected waters.

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We would then make the Gulf crossing we had now made three times back from Clearwater to Carrabelle.  It would be the last BIG crossing of the trip.

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And, as you may recall, the last time we made this passage, from Clearwater to Carrabelle, we beat into 30 hours of rough weather and seas and had to hack off our dinghy in the middle of the crossing.

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The really mind-blowing thing was, though, that she made her way across the entire Gulf alone and ended up in Ft. Walton, where we reclaimed her.  This time, thankfully, we had opted for an inflatable dinghy, which was stowed safely below, so, assuming good weather, we were hoping to have a smoother passage.  But, that was the next leg.  We set our sights first on Venice via the ICW.  Now, recall we still had a dripping dripless, although it was relatively minor, and a fluky manual bilge pump which we attributed to a cracked pump hose.  So, our first mission that morning was to retrieve the replacement hose we had ordered at the Gasparilla Marina and make sure our manual bilge pump was working.  That was the mission anyway …

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I will say, it was a beautiful area around Gasparilla for walking, biking, canoeing, and

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they had a very friendly staff at the marina, happy to sell us any type of hose we wanted.  Cha-ching!  Unfortunately, though, the new hose didn’t fix our manual bilge pump problem.  Even after feeding the new hose from the pump at the cockpit down to the bilge, we still couldn’t suck the last bit of water out.  It seemed the pump wasn’t sucking very well.  It kind of sucked at sucking, I guess you would say …

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But, our electric bilge pump was working fine, our manual pump was only kind of sucky and our thirsty Thirsty Mate, that trusty ole’ chap, was working great.  Super suckage.  So, we decided to go for it.  We tossed the lines, had a friendly lad at the dock help us ease out (hence – no docking debacle this time!) and headed up the ICW toward Venice.

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See ya!

Now, the ICW runs along the West Coast of Florida from Anclote Key (Tarpon Springs, just north of Clearwater) down to Ft. Meyers, and serves as a nice option if the sea state in the Gulf is gnarly and you still want to make way along the coast.  Most of the bridges along that route are either 65 feet or taller or they open to allow marina traffic through.  We had six bridges total to make it through from Gasparilla up to Venice.

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Most of them were open on-demand.  Meaning you call the “bridgemaster” (I assume that’s his technical title) about 10 minutes out to request he open the bridge for you — “Open Says-a-ME!”  Assuming no traffic or issues, it’s no problem, he opens the bridge as you’re headed toward him and voila!  Occasionally, he may have some traffic backed up or some other issue and you’ll have to do a few circles before he can make it happen for you, but it’s generally not a problem.  Other bridges open on a schedule, once every 15 or 30 minutes.  So, you just have to know your bridges ahead of time and schedule/plan accordingly.

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Luckily, I travel with the most awesome Captain in the world, and he had figured all of this out ahead of time and had all the numbers and times and everything printed out, ready to go, while I sat around and ate grapefruit.

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Ain’t life grand?  Okay, I shared some with the Captain, too.

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Grapefruit … yum!

But, Phillip soon wised up and put me to work, keeping up with the log book, checking on the bridge times and

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(of course!) monitoring our engine drip.

Drip … 

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Drip … 

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We were motoring under moderate load most of the day and she was dripping once approximately every 15-20 seconds.  It seemed the hotter and harder she ran, the less the drip.

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No comment …  Likely the pressure and heat caused the seal around the stuffing box to swell, which created a tighter seal.  In all, we were pleased with the slight drip and felt comfortable spending the day motoring up the ICW.  The esteemed Captain called ahead as needed for bridges that opened on demand.

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“Open Says-a-ME!”

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And we tried to motor accordingly (slower or faster) to come up on those that were scheduled just about the time they were opening.

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It was pretty cool to see the massive cranks and gears that raised these bridges.

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It’s pretty impressive to take a road that can hold tons upon tons of traffic and just … eehhh … crack it open and let a boat through.  While most opened up like a drawbridge, we did pass through one that spun on an axis.

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Like I said.  Pretty cool.  Definitely a different feeling than making our way across the Gulf.  While we prefer to sail — always — it was a nice motor day and we got to marvel at some impressive engineering feats along the way.

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An inspection of the arm showed I was developing a rare case of what we quickly coined “elephantitis.”

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Everything from the wrist down was normal until about here,

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where it balooned out and took on a squishy, swollen feel all the way up to my shoulder.  And, let me just warn you – do NOT Google images for elephantitis.  Just.  Don’t.

We made it to the Crow’s Nest Marina in Venice around 3:00 p.m. and settled in nicely at Slip No. 9.  The staff at the marina were exceptional.  They helped us dock, welcomed us with maps, info, a menu for the local Crow’s Nest restaurant and showed us the facilities.  Washer & dryer, nice showers, restrooms, even free bike rentals for marina guests.  Sweet!

Live webcam leading out to the jetty:

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By then, it was getting close to 4:00 and we were getting … happy.  “I’ll take an Oh Shit!, please.

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Mmmmm-Hmmmm!

We sat and sipped and uked and watched the marina activity for a bit,

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before cleaning up to head over to the Crow’s Nest Marina Restaurant for dinner.  They had separate shower suites, with restroom and shower stalls, which is super nice.

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Not “truck-stoppey” at all!  The arm was looking awesome …

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Not disgusting at all!  Just kind of Popeye’ish if you ask me.

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I do eats me spinach!  But, it was progressing along fairly well and still attached … so, no complaints.

We cleaned up and got ready for a nice dinner at the marina restaurant.  The bottom floor of the Crow’s Nest Restaurant is more casual, a tavern-like atmosphere with light fare, live music, etc.,

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while the top floor is a ritzy, fine-dining restaurant.

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We figured, when in Venice

“Table for two, please.  Top floor.”

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And, the food … was … decadent!  We ordered up some phenomenal chicken skewers and oysters to start,

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which of course came with a basket of piping hot fresh bread and a trifecta of dipping goodness (salty house-made butter, crushed garlic spread and olive oil with spices.

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Then, well, things got a little hazy.  I remember ordering (and thoroughly enjoying) the snow crab legs, and Phillip got the lamp chops.  But, let’s just say, we were a few cocktails, two glasses of champagne and a couple bottles of wine in.  I told you we were going to take this crazy act on the road!  I remember the crab legs, but not the bib …

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You say it brings out my eyes?  Stop it.  Cap’n, you’re making me blush.  My, my … “

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Don’t Worry … We Can Pump Gallons Out at a Time

April 30. 2014:

So, we’d done our homework.  We knew we had a Lasdrop stuffing box and that it wasn’t sup-POSED to drip.  We also knew the guys at Gasparilla Marina would be sending a mechanic back out to our boat early the next morning to follow-up on our leaking stuffing box so we grabbed a bite at the Waterside Grill — buffalo shrimp, grilled grouper (plate and sandwich) —

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enjoyed a sliver of sunset over the marina,

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and crashed hard on the boat.  We woke the next morning, though, to excessive buzzing, dinging and chirping of our phones.  It seemed the masses were trying to reach us.  After ignoring the first few, we finally lulled ourselves awake to see what all the buzz (no pun intended) was about.  And, that’s when we got the terrible news.  Our home port of Pensacola had endured 20 inches of rain in 24 hours.  There was extreme flooding with inadequate drainage.  Many homes were flooded, cars submerged, roadways engulfed.  It was unreal.

ABC News – Powerful Floods Tear Through Pensacola

Damage due to flash flooding is seen along Johnson Ave. in Pensacola Charles Davidson (no shirt) and his friend Jeremy Goodwin (back) help neighbors to safety off Kelly Ave. in Pensacola Flood8 Flood7 Flood6 Flood5  Flood3 Flood2 Flood4

We started making frantic calls – checking on friends, family, the office, the condo, other boat owners.  It was a mess.  And, it was so ironic that everyone had been calling often checking on us as we were out making passages, crossing the Gulf of Mexico, putting ourselves in the path of potential storms and yet home is where she decided to strike, while we were tucked safely in a marina in Gasparilla.  We felt a slight tinge of guilt that we were sound and secure while others back home were dealing with such damage and loss.  We weren’t even sure yet about your own place or our cars.  We just did what we could remotely and set our sights on making way back to Pensacola.

We got on the phone with the guys at the marina and they sent out a sprite little stick of a man (stiff breeze would have blown him over) to come check out our stuffing box.  But, he was sharp, friendly and super-knowledgeable.  You could tell he’d been working on boats for a long time.  That’s just the kind of guy I want sticking his hands up under our transmission.  Guy cracked me up though.  Just before he bent over into the engine room, he snapped back up real quick and said “Better empty my pockets first.  Don’t want these dumping into your bilge.”  And, then he proceeded to set not one, but two packs of cigarettes and a lighter on the nav station.  I’ll bet that’s a one-day supply for this guy.

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He maneuvered some things around, wiggled it – just a little bit! – and said he was able to create a decent seal.  One he thought would hold well enough to get us home.  You mean, no haul-out?!?  We were certainly relieved to hear that news.  But, we were certainly going to test it to be sure.  We decided to crank her up and go for a test run.  Much like the crossing we did last year when we were catching and dumping transmission fluid back into the transmission, I found myself again, hunkered down next to that noisy engine, watching a drip.

Wind

But, that was fine with me.  I’d much rather have an engine that’s running but requires a little drip supervision than one that’s not.  So, I busted out the all-important boat tool used last time to capture the name on the stuffing box – my PHONE – and did my best to capture the drip so we could accurately time it and see what we were dealing with.  I caught three drips in 30 seconds, meaning roughly 10 seconds in between each drip.  In the video, I move the flashlight beam to indicate each drip.  Riveting footage I assure you …

After watching her under various amounts of load, we determined the box was dripping roughly every 5-7 seconds at idle, every 10 seconds under moderate load and every 20-25 seconds under heavy load.  The more load that was on her it seemed the more pressure on the box which created a better seal.  So, on average, one drip every 10 seconds when the engine was running?  We figured that was probably common, if not less, than the intended drip on most stuffing boxes designed to drip.  Certainly something our bilge could handle, assuming we found ourselves having to motor a lot on the way home.  If we were able to sail most of the way – no issue at all.  So, we decided to go for it.  We were going to make our way back home with the very minor dripping-dripless and address it once we got back.

As usual, we had been discussing the stuffing box ordeal with some fellow cruisers and our broker-turned-boat buddy, Kevin, offered some sage advice.  While our electric bilge pump was working fine (in fact, its frequent automatic activation is what helped us uncover the leaking stuffing box in the first place), Kevin suggested it might be a good idea to check our manual bilge pump(s) before leaving the dock.  Just … in … case.  Smart man, that Kevin.

While Phillip always tells me the most effective “bilge pump” you can have is a motivated sailor and a bucket,

Bucket

we thought it best to follow Kevin’s advice and check on our other mechanical bilge pumps.  The manual pump in the cockpit,

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and, the almighty Thirsty Mate!

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It seemed the Thirsty Mate was working fine.

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That thing sucks.  In the best way possible.  And, I rigged up a hook on the end of it that attached to the drain in the sink in the head so it could be used single-handedly by a crew member to pump water out of the bilge and into the sink to drain out (in case Captain’s holding the helm, and I’m doing the sucking – a likely scenario if we found ourselves really taking on water).  So, Thirsty Mate – check!

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the same luck with the bilge pump in the cockpit …  The suction was incredibly low and we didn’t think any water was actually making it out of the boat.

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After some troubleshooting, we were sure there was some crack or poor connection in the hose from the pump at the helm to the bilge that was hindering suction (like a straw with a hole in it).  We decided to get a new hose for it.  Not that we planned to re-run the hose under the cabin floor and back up to the cockpit before we left, just so we would have a secure hose that we could connect to the pump in the cockpit and hand-feed down to the bilge just in case we had a sufficient leak, and the electric bilge pump went out, and we couldn’t sufficiently drain it with the Thirsty Mate.  A lot of prerequisites there, which sufficiently met our concerns for getting back under way.  Some friends, however, didn’t seem to have the same reaction.  I explained our situation via text to a few non-boating gal pals of mine, advising them we did have a small leak, but we were able to pump “gallons out at a time,” so we felt it was fine to head back out into the Gulf, and THIS was the reaction I received:

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GALLONS?!?

She mentioned experiencing something similar to “heart palpatations” at my use of the phrase “gallons at a time.”  Where’s your sense of adventure?  I’m kidding.  I have some really great friends who worry a great deal over me, but in secret, they live vicariously and they know they love it!  ; )

We felt good about it.  One drip every 10 seconds, no haul-out and no costly mid-trip engine repair.  Yee-haw!  Let’s go!  The only downside was that the marina said they couldn’t get the manual bilge hose we needed until the next day, so it was one more day in Gasparilla, which was fine with us.  I will say, the marina there is pretty impressive.  Hundreds of boats just stacked up on shelves like toys.  The scale of it kind of blows your mind.

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Those are all 18-20 foot center consoles sitting on the shelves like dolls.  And, they have this HUGE forklift that plucks them out of the water like they only weigh ten pounds.

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It’s so cool I filmed it for you!

And, you’ll find it highly entertaining to know that I forgot about the whole “Just Cause” conclusion in the video until I was just now re-watching it, thinking the whole time … Oooh, ooh, I know what I can say as the caption for this video — “Why did I film this … ”  I’m so good I beat mySELF to the punch sometimes!

So, after all of the pumps were checked and our hose was ordered, we decided to clean up and hit the town!  Or … the … Waterside Grill at the marina.  But, hey, that counts.  Look out Gasparilla!

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It’s Happy Hour on the Plaintiff’s Rest!

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Peel-and-eat shrimp, a fully-dressed hot dog and live music out on the deck.  It doesn’t take much to suit us.  After a few glasses of wine and a hearty dinner, we sauntered around the marina in high spirits,

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entertaining ourselves with inSPIRed but obvious observations:

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“How many you see there, Cap’n?”

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In all, we were thrilled to have received good news about our stuffing box situation and excited to start making way the next day – one drip at a time.  Look out Venice!  We’re taking this inspired-but-obvious act on the road!

Good to the …

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re probably right, but be patient.  We’ll get there.

April 29, 2014:

While the run-aground in the ICW was certainly not fun (and quite embarrassing on my part) it, thankfully, was a very minor graze with a soft bottom and one that we were able to ease off of fairly quickly.  And, while I know I deserved some of the scoldings and finger-shaking I received as a result, I’m not sure I agree that it rose to the level of demotion from my position as First Mate as one of our followers opted for (you know who you are!).  But, I tell these tales so that hopefully some of you fellow cruisers can learn from our mistakes and, on the rare occasion, brilliant discoveries!  It’s all about getting out there and doing it – mistakes included.  But, assuming the demotion was in order, we’ll see if this little diddy can salvage me.  I call it – Redemption of the Selfie!

Selfie

So, still maintaining our slight trickle from the stuffing box around the propeller shaft, we motored our way into the Gasparilla Marina so we could have our leak inspected.  And, you would think, by now, with all of the docking debacles we’ve encountered, we would be pros at docking.  Well, we are better, but I’ll tell you, I’m just not sure anyone can actually call themselves a “pro.”  You just never know what kind of conditions you’re going to face with the wind, current, pilings, finger docks, etc.  There’s always some element to contend with that can turn your perfect entry into a … well, a cluster.  As we made our way into the marina and found the slip they had assigned us to, we knew we were going to be contending with some pilings.

Dock

I even called the dockmaster to see if he could send some guys over to help catch some lines (Captain decided not to be too embarrassed about it, knowing my knee was not 100%) but, unfortunately, they were all on the other side of the slips at the fuel dock (a good 10-minute walk from our slip on the other side).  So, it was the Captain and I, easing in …  While we would have loved for it to have played out something like this.

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Voila!

Sadly, that’s NOT what happened.  After debating it a few times and exchanging a couple of confirmations (“midship first?  stern second?  then bow?”), we went for it.  The wind was coming across our starboard deck, so we had decided, as we were easing in, to put a loose midship line around the second piling to keep us from hitting the dock on the port side.  A grand idea at first …

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But how loose is is too loose?  Or, more importantly, not loose enough?  You’ve got to cleat to the boat it at some point or it has no purpose, so I lassoed the pole, pulled out about 8-10 feet, cleated it and hobbled back to the stern to try and catch the piling on the starboard stern.  Unfortunately, though, it seems my “8-10 feet” was not enough and as Phillip eased forward, the midship line pulled taut, causing the boat to … well …

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Like I said, a total cluster.  Thankfully, we were able to push off the port piling, back out and try again.  This time we decided to forego the midship line, catch the stern on the way in and then run up and tie off the bow.  Well, run, hobble, crawl – however I could make it happen.  So, we tried again.

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This time we caught the stern fine and start to ease forward.  But, do recall that other element I mentioned.  Ahhh, yes, a sailor’s best friend (or worst enemy at times).  THE WIND!

Wind

 

The wind was pushing our boat over to the dock on the port side and we had yet to tie a line to hold the bow off.  Without a friendly set of hands on the dock to catch a line, I tossed a pile of the starboard bowline onto the deck hoping it would stay put until I could get off to tie it.

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Thankfully, the pile landed solidly on the dock, and I took off to catch it!

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Here I come to save the DAAAYYY!”  Yes, that is what I sang to myself as I leaped.

Luckily the pile remained, I was able to grab it, tie it off and keep our boat off of the dock on the port side.

Done

Whew!  Have I mentioned before how much I hate docking – period – but particularly at new places??

With the boat secure, the Captain set to contacting the guys at the marina to have them come out and look at our leaking stuffing box.  A young guy came out pretty quickly, jumped down beneath the engine and started pulling and wiggling the stuffing box, as Phillip and I kind of stood there, hovering, exchanging worried looks.

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“You see something?”

He came up slowly, with a sullen look on his face, wiping the oil from his hands tediously, without saying a word.  I took this as a bad sign.  Like a doctor who’s about to dish out some really bad news.  He told us he tried to tighten the hose clamps but he thought the seals were going to have to be replaced.  Which meant … a haul-out.  A haul-out??  Mid-TRIP?!?  And, they’re so freaking expensive, too.  The haul-out alone can sometimes cost 3/4 of a grand, not to mention the labor and expenses that will follow repairing the seals.  And, anytime you haul-out, you always want to try and get as many “haul-out” requisite projects taken care of then to get the most of the hard-earned dollars you paid just to see your dripping keel, but that means more repairs, more time, more labor, MO MONEY.  That was some pretty bad news.  But, Guy No. 1 did say he wasn’t 100% sure and he was going to have his supervisor come out – the head mechanic at the marina – to have a look as well.  A second opinion?  Uhhh, yes please!  Send in Guy No. 2!

It was nearing the end of the day, so we decided to get cleaned up while we waited for the head honcho, John, to come out and check out our stuffing box.  The shower facilities at the marina were really nice, and they had a great Captain’s Lounge with TV, AC, books, wifi, coffee, etc.  We also saw they had a little restaurant, the Waterside Grill, which we decided would suit us fine for dinner.  After a long day-and-a-half of passage, we were ready to shell out a few dollars to kick back and let the friendly folks of Gasparilla bring us platters of fish & shrimp!  When I hit the showers, a ‘body check’ confirmed that, a day-and-a-half since “the fall,” and the arm and knee were still showing signs of a collision.

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I know, pretty right?  The knee still had a little pain when bending and a funny ‘pop’ upon extension but, otherwise, was functioning reasonably well.  The arm was functioning fine but was swollen to about twice its normal size and pretty hard to the touch.  Just weird … No broken bones, though, so no complaints here.  I’ll take functioning-but-weird any day.

When I got back to the boat, the head mechanic, John, was just leaving.  Thankfully, he left us with better news than Guy No. 1.  John said he thought it might could be adjusted, maneuvered somehow to sufficiently slow the leak to allow us to get home.  It would just depend on what kind of stuffing box it was.  So, THAT was our homework assignment.  We had to find out what kind of stuffing box we had on there.  Guy No. 1 had told us previously he could barely see the label on it from underneath the propeller shaft, but he couldn’t get a good enough angle to read the whole name.  We searched our bag of instruction manuals to see if there was one for the stuffing box.  (As I have advised before – always keep every instruction manual for every piece of equipment you install on the boat – you never know when they might come in handy).  Unfortunately, no dice.  We couldn’t find any paperwork on our stuffing box.  We had to lay eyes on the label.  But, the label was on the bottom of the stuffing box, facing down and there was only about a 2-3 inch gap between the label and the hull.

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We broke out the little mirror that we keep on the boat.

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I call this a mechanic’s mirror.  We use it to look underneath things we can’t get under, much like a mirror under a car.

Mirror

Super handy piece of equipment to have on a boat.  But, the problem was, this label was too far underneath the stuffing box for the mirror to allow a reflection.  The last thing you could see before the face of the mirror was lost under the transmission was just the tip of the label.  We needed a new plan, so I got to thinking …  I don’t know if you did this as a kid, but we used to make and buy those little boxed-mirror gadgets that allowed you to look around corners or over walls?

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Nifty!  Thankfully, though, my brother’s hair didn’t look like that.  Or this …

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But, we were HUGE Inspector Gadget fans!

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(Doo-bee-doo-bee-doop.  Inspector Gadget!  Doo-bee-doo-bee-doop.  Bum, bum.  Whoo hoo!   I know you’re singing along!  Click HERE to reminisce further).

And we all know Penny secretly rocked that show.

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“I’ve got it Uncle Gadget!”

Okay, so I digress.  But, I did get a little Gagety with it.  I started thinking about those around-the-corner mirror devices and started looking around for another mirror.  While two mirrors would have worked fine, the first thing that caught my eye was my phone and that’s when it came to me.  The selfie app!  Now, not only could I view the image via the mirror function on the phone (a.k.a., the “selfie app”) but this way I could capture it via photo to confirm, show to Phillip and keep for our records.  I positioned the phone under the stuffing box, tilted just enough to provide a reflection on the mechanic’s mirror so I could see what the screen on the phone was capturing.

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I took a few (dozen) missed and blurred shots, but I was getting closer.

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There!  See?  You can almost see it there.  A few minor adjustments, taps on the cell phone screen to auto-adjust and BAM!

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