This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dinghy Issues

Shortly after purchasing the Key of Sea I lowered the dinghy that came with it and climbed aboard to take it out for a trial run. However, stepping into the little boat it became immediately apparent that this dinghy was not going to meet our needs. With only me in it there was almost no freeboard (the distance between the water line and the gunwhale). Scary. 
We started looking around and found  a reasonably priced new dinghy down in Anacortes, WA and bought it. It was around $1,000 (a boat buck) and seemed like a good deal. 
Quillback rockfish
Fast forward 6 years later to our 3 week cruise to Canada. I took the dinghy out several times on my own to go fishing. I caught a ton of these rock fish species called Quillbacks. Great fun to catch and when I'd get into a good spot they'd be on my line almost constantly. Two problems with them though. One, they are a proteced species in a lot of places meaning you can't catch them. That's a problem if your fishing and you catch them. So, I tossed a lot of fish back. Second, take a look at the photo of the fish I posted here. Notice those spiny looking fins? Well, they ARE spines. Sharp spines. Now imagine my bringing the fish into the dinghy and wrestling with the fish long enough to get the hook out without causing too much damage to the critter or me. The fish is flopping around on the floor of the dinghy, those spines bouncing off the floor. Now for the bad news. The floor of our dingy is inflatable and made of rubber. It didn't take long before I noticed the damage done. Suddenly the air in the floor of our dinghy was leaking out at a pretty fast rate.

That dinghy is our life boat should we need to leave The Key of Sea in an emergency. With the floor constantly going flat, we had ourselves a big problem. Fortunately we didn't need it for the rest of the cruise. BUT!!!

When we returned home I found a repair place in Anacortes and took the floor, which is removable, down to their shop. A couple of hundred dollars later the floor was "fixed" and I reinstalled it. It kept inflated pretty well needing refilling about once or twice a year.

Fast forward to today. When I visited the boat a few days ago I noticed the floor was entirely flat. So I took it out and brought it home to check it out.

Our current dinghy a Mercury 310
I like to lay things across the spa cover out back because it gives me a large flat space about waist high to spread things out and get a good look at them. So I took the floor out to my shop and inflated it with my compressor. Then put on top of the spa cover. I grabbed a spray bottle I'd filled with water and dish soap and started spraying soapy water across the surface of the floor. It didn't take long to see tiny bubbles beginning to form in spots here and there, even along the seams. Tiny, very tiny.What effect this has on the inflation of the floor is apparent. The solution? Probably a new dinghy.

But what to purchase? Certainly not one with an inflatable floor.

Inflatable dinghies are the biggest sellers. They are light weight, inexpensive and hold a lot of people and or weight when compared to most other options on the market. But even the inflatables come in a wide range of models.

The least expensive are the inflatable floor versions. I now see why.  Then there are the RIBs or Rigid Inflatable Boat. These have the inflatable side tubes you are familir with if you've seen the famous Zodiak boats. But, they're hulls, the bottom of the boat inside and out are made of a rigid material, either fiberglass or aluminum. The fiberglas is usually less expensive than the metal hull. You also have the option of a single or double floor, the double floor being more expensive but more stout and heavier.

So, 3 days later, the inflated dinghy floor is still holding its pressure. So I'm thinking 1) the dinghy still has some life in it and 2) I will try and get another season or 2 out of it. Good news, for now.

The Honda 2 hp outboard that fits on that dinghy is in the shop right now as it wouldn't start when I last tried. A call the shop this morning which yielded the news that it was only one of 20 other 2 hp motors in the shop and that it would probably be another couple of weeks before it would be looked at. I suspect the slow turn around is due to the local charter fleet, which has almost all Honda 2 hp motors on their dinghies and has probably got all of them in for seasonal

This little fellow just barely works on our 10+ foot dinghy and I am in the market for a higher horse power engine. Maybe next season. It does the job of getting us to and from shore when we anchor out and works when I want to wander off a ways from the boat to do some fishing. Its two basic flaws are that, due to it being only 2 hp, the dinghy is more difficult to control at lower RPMs. So, when I am approaching the big boat to connect to the davit system, I usually have to make a couple of runs at it. At low RPMs the dingy just starts heading off on its own. Secondly, the motor only has an internal fuel tank. The small tank is okay for most applications but if you are heading off too far afield, you may find yourself running out of fuel. The dinghy has oars that work fine but rowing back to the boat in wind or waves or if you motored too far from the boat, well, it's just not
1 gal, fuel tank
much fun.

So we have begun taking a one gallon tank of fuel with us in case we run low. I also always make sure to top off the internal tank after returning to the boat and checking the tank before we leave to make sure we start out with a full tank.

Honda generator
We found out recently (a couple of years ago now) that the fuel most ffolks are using in their cars has ethanol in it and ethanol is BAD for small engines. So, we've located a couple of service stations in town that sell ethanol-free fuel and make sure that is all that goes into that little gas can. Using the ethanol fuel apparently has a negative effect on delicate systems inside the engine so my outboard motor and the Honda generator aboard are only fed this special and a bit pricier fuel. As a result we should have fewer mechanical issues and the devices should last much longer.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Boating Ettiquette 101

I must admit I didn't know about all of these ettiquette points myself when I started boating. I've always just brushed off any help from guests aboard our Key of Sea. Ahhh, no need to bring anything except yourselves was my mantra.

But after a year or two of watching guests hop off the boat and walk down the dock to their car with little more than a "Thanks, we had a great time! Lets do it again soon!", I quickly figured out that these little jaunts or multi-day fishing trips were leaving me holding a big bill--for the food, the beverages and the fuel. At $4 a gallon a boat that burns through 3 gallons an hour (and our boat gets good gas mileage), even a quick twirl around the bay can get pricey. I know, it's only $12 for an hour's entertainment. But there is also the wear and tear on the engine(s) down below that must be maintained in order for our guests not to find themselves floating around out there due to an engine failure, the maintenance and replacement of other parts and critical items aboard--life jackets, the head, the fresh water system, the electrical system, the electronics, and on and on. Boaters have taken up a very expensive hobby. They must love it or they'd sell their boat after the first season when they get a repair bill!

Then there are the traditional  points of ettiquette like #1 below. So, looking around, I found this great primer for those who might find themselves a guest on a friend's boat. It came from a blog written by Margaret Page. So read on and next time you have a chance to board a boat as a friend or guest, mind your manners!

Proper manners—the art of practicing good social graces—transcend beyond dry land with something salty dogs call “boating etiquette.”
Whether you’re going out on the water for an afternoon of sailing, or for a weekend of sea-faring adventures, the first rule of thumb when you’re a guest on someone’s boat is that the captain (or the skipper) is boss. His/Her boat. His/Her rules.
Here are some more tips to ensure you’ll get invited back the next time the boat leaves the dock:
1. Ask permission before boarding. When boarding a boat, always ask permission from the person onboard first. “Permission to come aboard” is a standard, and appreciated, boater’s courtesy.
2. Buy the fuel. If you’re an invited guest, offer to pay for the cost of the fuel. It’s the least you can do and will show your gratitude for being invited along for the ride.
3. Don’t show up empty-handed. You can bet your host was at the dock before sunrise readying the boat for the journey and will be at the boat long after you've gone washing it down and checking off a lengthy list of items that must be checked whenever you leave or return.  Offer to bring along lunch for everyone. Your skipper will appreciate having one less thing to prepare.
4. Pack light, but smart. Bring the minimum amount of clothing for the climate—to conserve space on the boat—but be prepared. Sunscreen, sunglasses, sea sickness medication, personal meds, a waterproof jacket, non-slip footer, and a warm sweater should be on your list.
5. Play it safe. Be sure you know the “rules” of the boat. If you’re captain doesn’t tell you where the safety vests are, ask. And don’t mess with the dials, buttons, gauges, radios, or anything that even resembles an electronic instrument used to keep the boat afloat.
Help the skipper. Help the skipper only if given specific instructions. This is not the time to improvise.
6. Stay out of the way. Use common sense here. The captain has a lot to think about—traffic, weather, waves, the best place to find fish. A boat is a small space so stay out of the way when you need to.
7. Ask before you “go.” Before you use the “head,” get proper operating instructions. No two marine heads operate alike and a clog caused by excessive amounts of toilet tissue can be expensive (and messy!) In some boats, “If it did not go in your mouth it does not go in the head,” so it’s better to ask first!
8. Quiet down. If you’re a nighthawk, and you’re spending the night at sea with friends, be sure to keep the noise to a minimum after the “early-to-bed” guests have turned in for the night.

9. Keep it clean. Another no-brainer here, but “If you make a mess, clean it up,” or you’re likely to be removed from the captain’s guest list the next time he sets sail. Be sure to dispose of the trash AFTER you dock.
10. Don’t rock the boat. Wait until the boat has docked to gather your personal items and make your way off the boat. The sudden shift can distract the captain as he is trying to dock.

Be a great guest and you'll probably get a return invite1

Saturday, March 11, 2017

My Homemade Chicken Soup

It really isn't a big secret. Its just that most people opt for the short cuts that, in the end, leave them wondering why their soup isn't all that great or, they just don't care that their soup could be so much better.

Toss 'em!
The difference between a so-so soup and soup the way its supposed to taste? Simple...its all about the stock you start with. And there are no short cuts for this. Not cans of stock, not cardboard boxes of stock, not the powder in the jars or the little cubes wrapped in foil. Start your next soup by tossing all those options in the trash.

You create a great stock with fresh ingredients. Fresh meats and fresh herbs.My stock. Okay, Let's start with a chicken stock. I'm making one up this weekend for a homemade chicken soup.
Stock simmering

 Start with a big stock pot of fresh, cool water (a couple of gallons). As you bring it up to a boil, toss in a whole chopped onion, 4 stalks of celery and 4 carrots all rough chopped. Add 2-3 cloves of garlic, a couple of bay leaves, several whole black pepper corns, a teaspoon of salt and one whole chicken. Parts or whole. Its okay to use the wings, thighs, backs and drumsticks saving the breasts for fancier needs if you want. Bring it all to a boil and then turn it down to simmer for 45 minutes.

Turn it off and pour the stock off through a colander into a another stock pot. Put the stock in the fridge overnight. Skim off most of the fat from the top the next day before reheating.

Strip cooled chicken meat off the bones and put it away in the fridge until tomorrow. Toss the herbs and veggies away. Pull or cut up the chicken meat into bit sized chucks.

The next morning, Scrap of the fat that has formed on the surface of the chicken stock. You decide how much to leave to add fat to the soup. Bring the stock back up to a boil while adding the following:

3-4 carrots sliced into coins
3-4 stalks of celery cut the same thickeness as the carrot coins.
1 onion chopped
1 pond of a pasta of your choice
Chicken chunks

Your basic simple chicken soup, Yum!
As the stock returns to a boill, toss in all the above ingredients and turn stock down to a simmer. Let soup simmer for 15-20 minutes. Check the seasoning. Add black pepper and salt to taste. When the veggies and pasta are almost soft (al dente), turn off the heat and set the soup aside. Serve when ready. Sprinkle a little chopped parsley over the top or tortilla chips or cilantro. Add your favorite hot sauce. Use your imagination!

Add tomatoes, beans, other veggies or herbs to suit your personal tastes.A little of this and little of that and you easily go from a chicken soup to a minestrone or any of dozens of other variations.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Annual Maintenance for Key of Sea

March 7, 2017. It's rainy, cold but not cold enough to snow today. My newest mechanic is on board the Key of Sea as well as myself. He's draining the 10+ year old engine coolant from both engines and refilling it with fresh stuff. We were concerned that what drained out would look bad and show signs the cooling system might be in trouble. Turns out that the coolant came out looking good on the port side and a little dirty on the starboard side engine. The mechanic figures that the starboard side may be because it wasn't changed last time because getting to the drain plug is a real pain on that side.

Anyway, the good news is that it was in good shape indicating their is probably no issue with that system. Also, he was able to get the drain plugs off both sides with no trouble. There was concern that they may have to be cut off and new ones installed which would have added a lot more to the cost of the job. So, we've dodged two big bullets so far in this annual maintenance.

Next up is the oil change. This should be pretty straight forward so I am not expecting any problems here.

Finally, the fuel filters have to come off and be replaced. I had a new Racor secondary filter system installed a couple of years ago and also had them moved aft so they'd be easier to access. Plus, the new system requires filters that are easier to find and less expensive. The primary filters are attached directly to the side of the engines like an oil filter on a car. These filters are easy to find even at some car parts stores.

The biggest issue in doing the work is getting at the parts of the engine needing getting to. The engine room is not designed for anything but a pretty small guy and certainly not for a big guy like me. Crawling on hands and knees, over support beams crisscrossing the space and doing it in a greasy, smelly dark space is not my idea of fun. So I'm pretty happy having someone else down there doing the work.

The new mechanic has spotted several items that he asked if he could fix or double check like the hose clamps and the loose alternator bolt. I appreciate that he is that conscientious.

When all this is finished, hopefully today, the boat will be mechanically ready to take out on the water. Sort of like the check up an airplane mechanic does to a plane on a regular schedule, you do this because you don't want any surprises, especially at the the very worst of times. There's nothing worse than an engine failure when you're in rough water or trying to get through a rapids

So, the final report is that all is well with the boat mechanically ecept for the need for replacing the two raw water pumps within the next year or two. The pumps each cost 700 and itll be about thatmuch more to have them installed. Its always something.

Meanwhile, we are ready to go for the season. Now we begin to plan where we'll go.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Fast Charge - Dual USB Charger Socket Mount Project

Another of my summer 2016 projects was to install a USB charger on the flybridge near the helm. As I often use my ipad and the Navionics app to navigate, it uses up the ipad's battery before the day is done leaving me with no power to use the ipad for other tasks later in the day. And, as the engines are shut down, charging the ipad becomes a real problem.

A boating friend, thank heaven for them, told me he had installed one of the fast chargers and it made all the difference.

It is made locally here in Bellingham. I liked that. So I drove over to the factory and was actually able to meet the engineer who designed it. He gave me plenty of tips for installing it. Pretty simple really.

Here is the Blue Sea website where you can look up the device and its specs. They cost about $45.

Hole Saw
It's an "intelligent device" meaning it will rapidly charge a phone, tablet or other mobile device much quicker than normal USB charging plugs. It also has an internal filter to prevent it from interfering with your GPS Chartplotter or VHF radio which may be nearby on your helm.

The finished project
It was an easy hole to drill using a hole saw through the face of the helm and then only required that it be wired into the circuit breaker system behind the main helm. Run the power wire up to the and connect to the charger.

Schematic for installation
It is waterproof with a plastic cover that hides the dual USB plug.

My First Marine Plywood Project

Original damaged area
Last summer, after several seasons of watching as a panel on the side of a locker at the foot of the Key of Sea's flybridge ladder slowly and relentlessly peeled and rotted from the exposure to water, I finally decided to take on the project of replacing it. How big a deal could it be?

Well, like every project I undertake that requires some talent as an electrician or a plumber or a carpenter or mechanic, it IS a big deal.

However, in the past I have found that in many instances, patience, a lot of careful study and going at it slowly, usually results in success. Thus, I began the process of learning what I needed to do to make this little project work and along the way I learned a lot.

The small 10 by 15 inch panel was rotting and as it was very visable, it got to look really bad. At least it looked bad to me. I noticed it everytime I boarded the boat. I'd cuss the thing a bit under my breath, shake my head and tell my wife I have got to figure out how to fix that.

Tearing into the project, I found more rot. 
Part of my concern was that it was part of a locker that also acted as the first step up the ladder to the flybridge, I really didn't want it to get so rotten that it might collapse on someone sending them sprawling across the cockpit deck.

So, I started by doing a lot of research on line. I posted a question on the Bayliner Owner's Club's question forum, and asked questions of boating friends. Slowly the planning portion of the project came together. I found I needed to purchase some specific tools I didn't have. I needed specific materials to do the job, marine plywood, epoxy, brushes, gloves, sandpaper, etc.

2 X 4 foot piece of marine plywood
I began collecting all the stuff needed and also made several visits to the boat to take measurements. As the panel was in bad shape, taking an accurate measurement was problematic. You don't want to be off in your dimensions and, as very few edges on a boat are straight, you have to measure more that twice. The panel turned out to be roughly a parallelogram but the height of the shape changed, becoming shorter as it got closer to the back wall. If I didn't want to go through a lot of very expensive plywood, I'd need to be very careful with my measurements.
Measure five times, cut once!

At $50 for a half sheet of marine plywood, I really wanted to get this right the first time. I purchased a square and a finishing blade for my skill saw and began measuring, checking, rechecking, double checking, thinking through every move I made to get just the right shape drawn onto the plywood. Then I carefully started making each cut, stopped, looked over what I'd done, remeasuring again. Then on to the next rip.

When I'd finally got the final cut done, I took the raw piece of wood down to the boat to see how it fit. Close, but not quite perfect. Back home, I shaved a bit more off one end to account for the height difference from front to back. Another trip to the boat and it looked nearly perfect. Pretty darn close for an amateur trying this for the first time.

I pulled the teak wood trim pieces off the locker, sanded and revarnished them over several days.

After carefully sanding the new panel with finer and finer grits, finally ending with double 00 steel wool, I cleaned it carefully with tack cloth, a product I had never used before. It basically picks up every bit of the dust and wool left behind from the sanding process making it more likely you'll get a smooth finish when applying epoxy and your final finish.

Finished panel!
The panel I was replacing and much of the plywood portions of our boat are all unfinished plywood, destined to rot out over time. It is one of the features of a Bayliner that makes it a more affordable boat when new, but a construction failing when the boat reaches a certain age. The plywood should have been covered with an epoxy in the beginning but this process would have added more to the cost, so it was left out. Now I am suffering for this oversight.

All edges of the new panel have been painted with the gooey epoxy and left to dry before the second coat was applied. Careful sanding of the epoxy prepared it for painting. I found a deck paint made by Rustoleum that went on beautifully. Not a brush stroke is visable.  A couple of coats of this and the panel was ready for installation.

The biggest problem was getting all the trim pieces back in place and the entire locker put back together. The finished product turned out so nice I almost suprised myself. I point it out to everyone who comes aboard and they politely compliment me but I know they are probably thinking that such a piddly little repair is kind of silly. But I am proud and so is my wife. And the boat looks so much better when I climb aboard.

I know there are more places aboard that will need this same treatment sooner than later but at least I know I can do it when the time comes.
My plan and measurements on top of the rotten panel

Friday, February 24, 2017

Some New Camera Gear

Battery grip
I've wanted one of these battery grips for quite a while as well as the WU-1b wi-fi accessory and a dual battery charger, all  pictured here. The battery grip adds a bit more heft to the camera which I actually like. The camera body is a bit small for my hands so this helps a lot. It also houses two batteries expanding the battery capability significantly. 

The dual battery charger is pretty much self explanatory. It replaces my original single battery charger since with the twin battery grip device, I need to be able to get both batteries charged at the same time.

WU-1b wi-fi device
The WU-1b is a little wi-fi device that allows me to send photos from the camera directly to my ipad for processing, Its pretty slick. I had decided not to buy one at first because I'd read some reviews that didn't think it functioned very well. I found it at a good sale price so I decided to give it a shot. I've been very impressed. It does exactly what it is supposed to do and does it consistently. 
dual battery charger

All on Amazon, I got free shipping and have been very pleased with the purchases. My next camera purchase will be a lens that allows me to take macro photos.They are kind of expensive so I may opt for some macro rings instead to see if they are any good. And one day, I'd like a nice long lens for taking good photos of distant objects. If we make any plans for a safari to Africa, I will most definately insist we take one of these along with us.