March 28, 2014 – Safety Gear: “It’s Like a Biscuit Can – I’m Scared!”

This is it.  The final countdown.  We are about a week out, finishing up last-minute projects, finalizing the rigging and doing a double-check of the safety gear.  If you recall, when the rigger came, he certainly added to our project list, but I’m proud to say we’ve been diligently working through it (and bleeding out in the process) but we are finally done!  It’s been a working couple of weeks, but we have accomplished a lot.  Let’s run through it, shall we?  [Deep breath in … and on the exhale:]   Weeeeee ….

1)  Dropped the Jenny and took it to a local canvas guy to restitch the UV cover on it:

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Our boat-broker turned boat-buddy, Kevin, did have us over for a Sew Party last summer to restitch some parts of the UV cover, but we knew it was only a temporary fix.  Our rigger popped some of the stitches on it and recommended we get it fully re-sewn, with a zig-zag stitch, using Gore-tex thread.  So, off it went.

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(And this time we didn’t let go of the halyard!!)

2)  Had a new inner forestay put in for the stay sail:

The inner fore-stay is used to raise the storm/stay sail in case we need to put up a smaller sail in high winds.  If you recall, ours blew out during the Gulf Crossing in April of last year so we knew we were going to have to have a new one put in for this trip.

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We took some documented measurements of the turnbuckle so we could replicate the same tension when we attached the inner forestay ourselves.

3)  Re-tied the attachment points for the lifelines:

The lifelines on the boat are kind of like guard rails that keep you on deck (hence the name):


Two wires running the length of the boat attach at four points at the bow and stern on both the port and starboard side:


A gratuitous action shot of Phillip at the helm?  Sure, why not.  It’s my blog.

Each lifeline is attached in the same manner to both the stern rail and pulpit with Amsteel, low-stretch line:

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Our attachments points, as you can see, had faded from the classic Amsteel grey to white due to sun damage.  So, we bought a spool of Amsteel, cut off the old attachment points, and – after a few creative mishaps with the knot-tying and wrapping – finally came up with a reasonably simple knot-and-wrap method (patent pending) to hold the lines secure:

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Good as new.

5)  Had the rigger install turnbuckles to fill the hydraulic adjuster gap on the backstay:


After some debate as to whether to have our broken hydraulic adjuster re-built or have it removed and the gap filled with a series of turnbuckles OR have a whole new back stay put in, we decided (as is often the case) to go with the most economic, yet still suitable, solution – have a series of turnbuckles put in to fill the gap where the hydraulic adjuster once was:

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Our rigger fitted a PVC pipe to slide over the turnbuckles for cover and chafe protection.  We’re still debating whether we like it covered or exposed, but this trip, I’m sure, will resolve that debate.

And, lastly, we 6) Changed the oil:

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The owner’s manual for the old Westerbeke recommends we change the oil approximately every 50 hours.  This was our second go-round with the self oil-change and the old pump canister.  It’s hard to estimate how much oil to put back in knowing the oil filter is filled with about 1/3 quart and the dipstick measuring extremely low readings initially, but I have to say we’re getting better at it.

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And, finally, on to the safety gear.  Yeah – the biscuit can – this is the real treat!  When we bought our boat, it had two inflatable life jackets on it, but, as you can imagine, they were a bit old and looked pretty worn.

PW Pics September 2013 1302

Last summer, we decided to break them out one day and see if they still worked.  I mean, you shouldn’t wait till you’re about to jump off the boat into the raging sea to check and make sure your life jacket inflates.  Soooo … we slipped them on and pulled the chord.  And, I give you — “It’s like a biscuit can — I’m scared!”


Video here.

Yes, I was (still am?) afraid to open biscuit cans.  But, it’s a documented phobia … (Amathophobia) … I think

Well, turns out we were wise to check the old life jackets because they both leaked air at the manual blow-up valve.  They wouldn’t hold our heads above water for more than two minutes.  So, we splurged (I guess it doesn’t really count as a splurge if your life depends on it … ) and got some new ones.


We also got some new jack lines (long nylon straps that run the length of the boat for clip-in when we have to go up on the deck during foul weather):

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Those puppies are important.  Think Robert Redford All is Lost if the boat goes one way and you go another.  Remember when he fell overboard?  And, why is it he remained securely fashioned to the boat (albeit dragging along underwater, but trust me you would prefer that as opposed to the boat leaving you behind in it’s wake!).

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Richard Foreman/Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Because he was clipped on – see?!?

So, with all of our last minute projects completed, our safety gear (and biscuit phobias) in check, all we had to do now was inventory the boat, pack it up and watch the weather.  Not long now!

March 5, 2014 – Rigs & Ribs

Isn’t that just the way it always happens?  You let your guard down.  Go out and have some fun.  And, it comes back to bite ya!  We thought we had made it through the worst of the projects.  Crossed everything off the list pretty much.  Hence, the Mardi Gras lollapalooza – which was awesome!  But, then the rigger came and blew the lid off everything …


Alright, it really wasn’t that bad, but he certainly had us whipping out our pads and starting a NEW list.  Errgghhh.  But, let me start by saying he was amazing.  It was DJ with Zern Rigging, and he laid his hands on every inch of our standing rigging, explaining every turnbuckle, every shackle, every tarnish and all the tackle.

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He was incredibly patient and informative.  He really took his time educating us on rigging maintenance, repair and replacement.  Let’s overlook the slight fact that they charge by the hour (I kid) and commend him on an exceptional inspection and instruction session.  DJ was incredibly complimentary of the Niagara, though.  Said it was in the best shape he had seen any vessel in quite some time, particularly considering its age (28 years).  He said several times what a great job we had done maintaining this, that and the other.  While it was heart-warming, we knew it was Jack, the boat’s previous owner, that deserved all the credit.  He handed over a quality vessel to us, and DJ could see it.  He also had another chap with him whom he referred to only as “Apprentice” (seriously – as if it were his one and only name – like Madonna) and whom he sent straight up the mast to inspect the rigging up top.

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While the inspection was worthwhile and highly educational, DJ did find some issues.  He told us we needed to replace our main halyard.  He believed it had swollen from 7/16 to 1/2 over time and he showed us the dust that came off of it as it was pulled around the winch – a sure sign of age.  He recommended we get a new, VPC hybrid performance braid to replace it.  Okay.  Apprentice also reported the snap shackle on our Jenny halyard was corroded and needed to be replaced, which, if they couldn’t re-splice it, would require a new Jenny halyard as well.  Okay …   He also spun our winches and let us hear the high-pitched ringing-bell sound that came out of them.  I thought it was a glorious sound.  Like a cheery little school bell releasing the kids to recess.  Yippee!  Apparently it was not.  DJ said they all needed to be disassembled, cleaned and re-greased.  All of them.  Sheesh!  Give us some good news, would you?  Nope.  You need to replace the lifeline attachment points, he said.  Like it was no big deal, he said.  Okay, it’s really not – and I’ll spare you the details for when we actually do it.  Trust me, you’ll be there.  We like to spread the wealth (and the work) on the ole’ Rest!

Then we talked about the hydraulic back stay.

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If you recall from the previous post, it was a high-performance feature our previous owner had installed for racing and it had been out of commission for quite some time and leaked hydraulic fluid upon use.  Upon further inspection, DJ discovered the seal inside had failed over time so we could either replace it with a new one (approximately $4,000 depending on the type) or have it rebuilt (for a few hundred bucks).  But, in order to have it rebuilt we would apparently have to ship it in some super airtight, military secure tanker because it had secret NASA fluid (aka hydraulic fluid) in it.  Apparently the postal people get kind of postal when you try to ship things filled with hydraulic fluid.  The problem was, the shipping was going to be expensive.  DJ discussed some other options with us, though.  Doing away with the hydraulic adjuster sounded like an easy solution, but that still left us with two options.  We could either: 1) put in a completely new rod back stay, from stern to the top of the mast (doing away with the hydraulic adjuster option entirely) for about the same price as the rebuild; or 2) replace that section of the stay with a Frankenstein ensemble of turnbuckles (to allow insertion of a new hydraulic adjuster down the road if we wanted) for a few hundred dollars.  Winch maintenance?  Hydraulic rebuild?  Turnbuckles?  A whole new back stay?  Yeah, that’s the shoulder-drop moment I’m talking about.  You finish one list, crumple it up and throw it out, and then the rigger comes …   Phoeey!

But, there was a bright side to this day.  Ribs!


Long story short (because they’re “short” ribs – get it?  Man, I’m on fire today!).  Braised short ribs have kind of been Phillip’s arch nemesis for quite some time.  We’ve had them at restaurants where they were incredibly succulent, moist and fell right off the bone, but we hadn’t been able to replicate that at home … yet.  We had tried a couple of different tacks.  Braising them according to the recipe for an hour and a half or so, then going rogue and braising them for two hours, almost three.  But they still wouldn’t FALL off the bone like we wanted.  We had made it our personal mission to achieve this supreme ‘fallness.’  Make those ribs our bi@tch!  We started them that day around noon, knowing we would be spending a few hours with the rigger that day, and we were prepared to cook them all afternoon – even through the night if we needed.  I’m serious.  We bought a back-up dinner just in case it came to that.  We were not eating those ribs until they FELL into our mouths.

So, we started with the essentials.  I prepared the Creole holy trinity – diced carrots, onions and celery –

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while Phillip browned the meat.

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Then we threw the trinity in with the good meat fond,

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Added some red wine, of course!  (Not the good stuff – thank you Bota!).


Gave it all a good stir and added the meat!

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Then we let it bake.  And bake.  And bake.  And then bake some more.  We kept checking it on it but refused to call it done until it was done.  Until it F-E-L-L off the bone.  Seven hours, kids.  It was a true testament to our patience.  We let that goodness cook for SEVEN hours.  We knew it was time when I finally reached in to pull out a rib and I pulled out ONLY a bone.


Oh yeah.  We knew it was ready then.  Take that ribs!   Whoo-peessh!

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It was quite the hearty meal, and much-needed after the slightly disheartening news we had got from the rigger that day.  We had a few more chores to complete and some serious decisions to make regarding the back stay.  It was time to get to cracking on the NEW list and get it completed so we could start provisioning the boat and making our sail plan for the Keys.  We were officially 30 days out from the Keys!

30 Days