Friday, July 3, 2015

Bridges, Tunnels and Yards

Finding a boatyard that can haul a 21+ foot wide catamaran, is reasonably priced, and allows you to do your own work in the Chesapeake is more difficult than I had anticipated.  Maybe, after my previous experiences, I'm now a bit pickier about yards.  Of course, my need for both a short haul-out and time in the water while I work on the hardtop (don't want to be living on the hard while building the top) has played a role too.  In any case, the hunt for a yard has been interesting.

We were able to locate three yards that, at least on paper or via phone conversations, seemed to fit the bill.  So, the last couple days we ended up making short road trips to see these yards and meet the people before we decide.  And this segues into the other subject of this post.

Most people, at least that don't live around here, might agree that a bridge and a tunnel are mutually exclusive things.  One, the bridge, usually spans a gap or crosses over something like a river, gorge, or canyon. On the other hand a tunnel usually burrows it's way underground.  These seem like two mutually exclusive tasks...but not here in Hampton Roads.  Here they have highway structures called "bridge-tunnels" that are a combination of the two.

One of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel segments.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-TunnelHampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, and Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel all allow motorists in the area to cross the big rivers and the bays of the Chesapeake watershed.  They are bridges that cross over the water until they reach a shipping channel, then like a gopher, burrow beneath the channel so big boats (and us smaller sailboats) can pass overhead.  The 23 mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is actually a combination of several trestles, two tunnels, and one span of bridge that goes over a channel.  And we used two of these to check out a boatyard in Cape Charles, saving us a very long land-only-based drive to the peninsula

The trip was productive and we were able to put the three "finalist" boatyards in order of preference. So, if we are able to get something setup with our first choice today, we should have a place to go to get work done next week.  Keeping my fingers crossed.

And here were a couple funny signs we found during the trip (previously posted on my Facebook page)...

Nonsense you say?

Do lots of people want to live here?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Playing Tourist in Virginia

So, most of last week I got to forget about the boat projects and be a tourist with my wife and parents during their visit.  Of course a boat won't just let you forget about it, so there were a couple things I had to deal with on the boat as well.

My parents made it to Hampton Virginia shortly after I got the galley faucet installed on Saturday.  It was late in the evening, so we didn't really do much until the next day except try to figure out what to do.  The next day we decided to take a trip to see Yorktown.

It is an interesting small town, but it's claim to fame is the battlefield.  This is the location of the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary war.  Continental army and French forces laid siege to the British, eventually forcing the surrender of Cornwallis.

The battlefield, only the sound of tourists today.

Some examples of the artillery used here.

The Moore House, where the surrender was negotiated.

The room where the surrender was negotiated...they think.

The next morning I ended up doing the oil change I had planned to do before my parents know...when I was working on the galley.  Fortunately, oil changes aren't terribly difficult on the boat so it didn't take too long.  Then we did a little shopping and local sightseeing including another visit to Fort Monroe.  We even tried stopping by the local Bass Pro shop one more time but decided that fishing off the boat just wasn't in the cards for this week.

Old downtown Hampton, VA.

On Tuesday, with recently serviced engines and nice weather, I took my parents sailing on the Chesapeake.  This is the first time they have ever gone sailing with us and the first time they have been on our catamaran.  It was a nice morning to be out on the water with reasonably calm seas and winds in the 15 knot range.  We sailed south on a close hauled course until we reached the shipping channel coming out of Norfolk, then turned away to parallel the channel.  My parents got to see a couple large container ships as they were heading out to sea.  Then we turned back toward the marina.  In an interesting twist, we were once again beating to windward on a course 180 degrees from our previous course.  As it turned out, this was a nice thing as it gave us a nice cooling breeze on the boat.  A breeze we didn't realize we needed until we made it back to the marina and felt how hot it was.  This week would continue the trend of "unusually hot" weather for the region.

I think I (in combination with the hot weather that week) wore my parents out as they opted to go rest at their hotel after our late lunch.  With the free evening we attended a pot-luck gathering that we were invited to at the marina that evening.  Here is another one of those moments where it is nice to have something on board that you can put together in a hurry...of course we did not.  Given how hot it was, I decided it would be refreshing to make a tropical "coleslaw" so we made a quick trip to the store for a few ingredients (the "coleslaw" includes cabbage, pineapple, cranberries, walnuts, and carrots). We had a nice evening talking with the other folks that were staying at the marina.

The following day we continued our tour of the region's historical impact by visiting the recreation of the Jamestown colony.  This is a bit of a tourist trap, but it was interesting to see the museum as well as the recreations of the ships that were used to bring the colonists over (our boat doesn't seem like such a small craft to cross the ocean after all). I also found a live demonstration of a matchlock musket to be interesting.

Jamestown settlement replica.  Tourists are the only thing they trap today.
Tobacco has played a role in Virginia for a long time.
Replica Indian settlement...the replica Indian doesn't seem authentic.

The ship Godspeed (full size working replica).

Each day we seemed to have some work to do on the boat, so our "tourist" time didn't seem to start until after 11 AM or so.  This somewhat restricted what we could do in a given day, and in the case of Jamestown, we ended up making a second trip up to see the original settlement site where they are currently undergoing an archaeology dig to try and better figure out what the original settlement was like (yes, the touristy replica Jamestown is not on the actual historic site but is nearby).

The original Jamestown fort site.

The fort from outside the wall.

The Jamestown Church site.

One of the dig sites, you can see a fireplace/oven on the right.

It was unseasonably warm for the entire week, not cooling off until the day after my parents left.  But I think we all had a pretty good time.  It was nice to get a chance to finally show my parents the boat and take them out for a sail as well as get away from the boat and go be a tourist. It reminds me that I need to work more on the balance between fixing the boat and having fun...lately I've been too focused on getting a few major work items done in anticipation of future adventures and have been neglecting the "living in the moment" part of this lifestyle.  Sometimes it is hard to change habits that have been ingrained in your psyche for 40+ years.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Long Time Coming

Ok, things are finally returning to what passes as normal these days and so I've managed to carve out a little time to catch the blog up on what has been going on the past couple weeks.

As you know we decided to head to a marina after arriving here in the Chesapeake Bay.  We were looking for a place to get some work done because...well...we own a boat and the list if things to fix never seems to end. My original goal was to replace our soft bimini with a fiberglass hard top I can walk on.  In addition to having a great place to mount much needed solar panels, the top could be set up to collect rain water and provide for a safer access to the boom should something go wrong while underway.

Of course the top wasn't the only problem.  I've had another seacock freeze and, in fact, I was able to break the handle off of it while trying to open it during our trip up.  So, the idea that I should just replace all the through-hulls (that I originally wanted done when last in Deltaville but the yard failed to accomplish) is back near the top of the list.  And that project requires that the boat be hauled out of the water again.  In addition, we have a variety of other problems that we have discovered need attention,

Not having much luck in finding a yard that could both haul our catamaran (the 21' 3" beam limits options) and allow us to do our own work (my experience thus far indicates that yard work is often expensive and below my quality expectations...if you can get them to do any work at all), we decided to alter our plans a bit.  We were able to find a regular marina that was nearby and not overly expensive.  This would allow us to get some in-the-water repair work done on the boat and could tick another task off the list.  You see, my parents have never seen our boat or gone sailing with me and if we could stay put for a little bit, they could come out for a visit.

So, after confirming space at the marina, my parents were able to set up a trip to come see us.  About this time the "unusually hot" weather I previously mentioned started up.  We were able to get some things done, but it always seems to go slower than you expect on a boat.  When I owned a home, the most pesky repairs always seemed to involve plumbing, where I would have to run to the hardware store at least three or four times to get parts I either didn't foresee I would need or that were different than I anticipated.  Boat projects all seem to go the way my plumbing projects did.  Even having cars at our disposal, a project you think should take a couple hours seems to take all day.  Still, I managed to get the AC pump, an electrical plug, and our spinnaker halyard replaced.

While I have had internet access, I've been researching options for building that hard top. I seem to have new ideas on structure and materials every day.  One of my biggest problems so far is finding good engineering data so I can construct a lightweight top that will support my weight. I even considered building the top on the boat right at the marina, but decided that building a 10 foot by 8 foot top in place would be tricky at best and a potential disaster at worst.  I am confident I can build the top for a much friendlier price than the pre-built option, if I can only get the engineering right.

My parent's trip would encompass both Father's Day and my dad's birthday so I also tried to set up something for him.  I know he likes fishing, so I tried to see if there was something I could do to take him both sailing and fishing during his visit.  Unfortunately, I just don't have the knowledge or experience and after a couple days worth of looking at equipment and supplies, I threw in the towel on that idea.

New pressure tank and water filter

Then a day before my parents were to arrive, my usual luck with things crops up. Our galley sink had a Brita drinking filter attached to it and it started leaking, spraying a stream of water backwards and in the general direction of the microwave.  Thinking it was just a simple seal problem and knowing that electric appliances don't like taking showers, we went to the hardware store to find a replacement gasket.  Two hardware stores later we managed to find the washer, only to discover that didn't solve the problem.  Using a bright flashlight and magnifier, I was able to find out that the leak wasn't with the gasket but a pinhole that developed in the sink spout itself...and our attempts to fix it have only made it worse.  So, I ended up having to replace the entire faucet.  Three trips to three different stores to find a faucet that could be made to work.  Adding an under-sink filter to the cold water supply because no faucet we found would support the old filter, and replacing the water system pressure tank because it was old and rusting and if I was going to have to do all this other work anyway, might as well fix that too.  About 12 hours spent collecting the various parts needed for the fix and two hours actually installing the parts, and the sink worked once again.  No more filter hanging off the faucet, a larger filter hiding under the sink, and a pull out faucet that fits well with the boat so I'm happy with the results.

New galley faucet

Then we found some bugs in one of our food storage bins.  Not ants, weevils, or roaches but a bunch of small moths...and moth larvae.  Fortunately for us, we keep our food stores in a variety of plastic bins and the moths seem to have been limited to one bin, with a few escapees in the locker itself.  Best we can tell the moths hitchhiked their way in by hiding in some boxes of cake mix that we were gifted.  Yep, we broke the rule of no paper/cardboard boxes on the boat and the result was a few dozen unwanted guests.  We pulled everything out of the locker, cleaned up the locker, cleaned up the storage box with the moths, THREW AWAY the paperboard boxed cake mixes, and then put everything else back together.

New halyard for the spinnaker.

We completed the fixes and cleanup as my parents got to town.  And I still had other things I wanted to get done.  We needed to actually clean up the boat some (it always seems to be a mess and two dogs currently shedding isn't helping the situation) and we were due for an oil change before I take the boat out again (which I wanted to do with my parents).

Then this past week we've been playing tourist and tour guide...but more on that next time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


I'm sorry.  It's been over a week since I've posted anything and I haven't been that slow in a long time. It has been just a little crazy here and by the end of the day I just haven't had the time or energy to make a post.

Trying to figure out the hard top, where to get the boat hauled for the through hull replacement that should have happened last year but did not, Fathers day, "unseasonably hot" weather, a kitchen sink faucet that decided to start spraying water in directions other than the sink, one of our food stores going condo for some rather pesky moths, and my parents coming for a visit and to see the boat for the first time has eaten up all of my time.

And, unfortunately the lack of time will probably happen again today, so all I can say is stay tuned for more. On the bright side, the plan is to take the boat out for a sail least until the heat index of 100 tells us we have spent enough time baking in the sun.

Monday, June 15, 2015


Well, we apparently chose a good time to head to a marina.  The last several days it has been HOT. Unseasonably warm the locals say...and I guess a record or two has been in jeopardy the past week. A good time to be hooked up to "the grid" so the air conditioners can run.  And they seem to be running nonstop and not quite keeping up...but keeping the boat cooler than outside none the less.

We have been getting some things done as well.  Our first task was to go retrieve our cars. We ended up renting a car to go pick up the one we left in Hammock Beach, a two day trip.  Then we drove up to my friends house near Baltimore to get the other car out of his way.  With the heat it was nice to be in air conditioned cars even if it meant a lot of time sitting in cars.

One of the first items after we got back to the boat ended up being the raw water pump for one of the air conditioning units. It had been having some issues and finally died before we left Hammock Beach. I had even picked up a replacement at Sailor's Exchange in St. Augustine as part of a trade deal we did for my old CQR anchor so I was prepared for the job. With the heat, getting it installed quickly climbed up to the top list.

Another water leak was discovered during the rains while we were at anchor and the leak managed to short out an AC electrical outlet so we got that replaced as well.  I also worked on my eye splices again as I had to create one for a replacement spinnaker halyard that had started fraying during the trip north. My wife washed the boat one morning and ended up getting a bit of a sunburn in the process. We have been trying to keep to more indoor tasks until more "normal" temperatures return. I've been watching the local pawn shops to see if I can find some fishing gear at more reasonable prices.

We've been researching options for building the hardtop as well. This is the item that has my brain spinning at the moment.  Trying to figure out what materials to use to build the top at a reasonable price while producing a quality result. Do I use marine plywood as a core, or balsa, or something more exotic.  And what thickness is needed to produce a top I can walk on.  And what substructure is needed.  Right now I'm leaning towards marine plywood core for cost and availability encapsulated with a biaxial cloth epoxy fiberglass.  The top will be load bearing itself, bolted to the arch at the back and using four "legs" to hold up the front end. At least that is the current theory.

Some rough mockups of the top

So, that is what we have been doing the past several days, and I'm sure it will continue for the next several days as we try to hide from the sun and oppressive heat for the next couple days.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Phrugal Phones

I've previously written about changing our cell phone service to one we hoped would be more budget friendly. We had been with T-Mobile, and our two smartphones were costing us around $115 a month including taxes.  Given I know of folks that pay upwards of $200 a month for similar service, it wasn't bad...but I wanted to do better.  So, with some specific requirements in mind, we made the switch (for more details on the requirements and decision making progress, check out these posts). We have been with the Ting cell service for over 3 months now (3 billing cycles) and have traveled up the coast, so I figure it is time for an update.

So far we are very happy with the service. Our theory of having one phone on each network seems to have paid off as at least one phone has had service any time we have wanted it...including a few spots where I didn't expect any signal at all. The best part though, is that our bill has been $31.36 a month (including all taxes and fees) for the last 3 months. That means we have saved $250.92 since we switched. If you include buying the one new phone (we didn't have one that would work on the Sprint network), we are still ahead by about $80. I consider this to be a big budget win for us.

To consistently get this low of a bill, we have made some changes to how we use our phones. If you recall, our provider bills based on actual usage. Understanding how our phones work and slightly adjusting our phone usage habbits, we have been able to reduce our usage in most categories. In case you are interested in reducing your phone bill, keep reading and I will highlight what we have done.

For basic phone service, you are charged for the minutes of conversation used. We used to use around 500 minutes a month. We now seem to use 250 to 400 minutes a month (and did a lot of calling to marinas and boatyard this past month) putting us into the $9 "medium" charge group. To reduce our minutes usage, we try to utilize VOIP solutions when we have access to reliable, reasonably fast, and free WiFi service. For our newer Android phone, the Google Hangouts Dialer (part of Google Voice) usually works well. We also use GrooveIP with a RingTo number on both phones (and have a "local" Florida number in addition to our Colorado numbers).  Using VOIP for longer conversations with family and other calls can really save some minutes. I've made calls using WiFi at marinas and restaurants with success. The typical downsides with VOIP are delays and dropouts when Internet connectivity isn't good...but it is similar to a bad cell phone connection and you can always call back using minutes if needed.

We never used to do much texting, but now do use it from time to time for shorter messages. We have been in the $3 "small" message charge group. The key with messages is to avoid a lot of back and forth "conversations" that can result in 25 or more messages for one interaction.

Megabytes of data has been the place we seem to have saved the most. We used to have an unlimited plan and I think we were between 500 and 600 megabytes a month. So far we have managed to stay under 100 MB in the $3 "small" data charge group. To reduce our data consumption, we typically try to connect the phones to WiFi signals when they are available and do more data intensive tasks only on WiFi (including blog posts). We changed the phone update settings to manual and only do updates when on WiFi.  We also turn off the cellular data connection (not WiFi but 3G, 4G, LTE) when we are not actively using it since there are a lot of applications that regularly communicate over the Internet (it is how your phone knows you have new mail and that your Facebook friend just "liked" that you had spaghetti for lunch).

One big data hog we used to use was the Google integrated navigation app that supplied turn by turn directions. This application is constantly downloading map images and data and can run up your usage.  We still need navigation help, but use an application called Navmii that allows you to download navigation data (by state) while connected to WiFi. When searching for places, it helps to be connected, but the downloaded data includes some street addresses and has been able to get us where we needed to go. This is a great app to have even if you are not trying to reduce usage if you happen to go to places with bad cell phone coverage.

So, there you have it. So far so good. I still expect our bill to occasionally go higher when we aren't near any free WiFi, but even then I expect it will be a lower bill than before. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the 2/3 savings.

If you are interested in giving Ting a try, this link should give you a $25 credit on a device or your first month's service (and it helps me out too):

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Driving Next Door

Well, the plan didn't change in over a day, so it actually stuck. We left the anchorage next to Ft. Monroe for a marina we found that felt like it was right next door.  You know...kind of like that scene from...I think it was a Cheech and Chong movie...where they drive next door. Our destination was the Salt Ponds Marina in Hampton Virginia.

Old Point Comfort Marina and Ft. Monroe

Why did we decide on a marina?  Well...there are a few reasons. First, we currently have two cars scattered across the east coast that we need to retrieve...and hopefully sell. We also have some work we can do inside the boat, and that is a bit easier at a marina or yard (and living aboard is far easier in the water). My parents also want to come out and see our new home, and that is also easier with a fixed location. We were able to find a marina with a very reasonable monthly rate, so it seemed like the best solution.

We hauled up the anchor and made our way out of the Elizabeth River around 10 am. The clouds were disappearing, and it was turning out to be a nice morning for a sail.  Well, it would have been if there was any wind to speak of.  The wind would pick up, I would decide to raise the sail, and the wind would disappear.  I'd wait for a bit, give up and drop the sail...and then the wind would mystically appear again. Mother nature and I would play this little game 3 or 4 times before she finally gave us some wind...directly on the nose, of course. No matter, we didn't have far to go and had all day to get there, and this crew could always use a little practice beating to windward.  So we spent the next couple hours sailing along at 5 knots or so, with a VMG of 1 to 2 knots.

Shipping containers arriving at Norfolk

Even with the slow progress, we arrived at the marina between 2 and 3 PM. The entrance into the marina is via a somewhat narrow and shallow channel.  The reason it was narrow was actually due to the fact it was shallow.  Parked at the side of the channel was a bunch of dredging equipment, so my guess is the 5 foot depths will soon read more...not that 5 foot is a problem for a catamaran. The width wasn't too bad, enough room for my 21 foot plus beam...until you add in the large power boat that rounded the corner when I was in the middle of the channel. We were able to squeeze by one another, mostly because I could venture out of the channel and into the 4 foot depths.

I guess our stack pack stands out at most marinas.

We got the boat tied up to the dock and poked around the facilities a bit. The marina sits in a nice area, but the facilities themselves are starting to show some age and need for maintenance.  Still, not a bad facility, particularly for about $325/ month with electric. The marina stretches about 3/4 of a mile along the east shore of the "pond". We contacted family and started firming up plans for the month. We got the WiFi hooked up and I was able to resume publishing posts. True to most marinas, the WiFi is a bit spotty...but workable most of the time.

The long walk from our slip to the marina office.

The last two days we made the marathon drive south to retrieve the car we left at the marina in Florida a few weeks ago. One thing I can say, keeping a car while cruising is a pain. I hope the hassle is worth it for dealing with the upcoming maintenance tasks. Once those are complete, we should definitely sell the cars.