Monday, May 4, 2015

Just Another Crazy Week

If there is one term to describe how it has felt since I got back to the boat with my wife and the dogs...the word has been crazy.  The sailing vessel Rover is again under a bit of a time crunch. We have to get moving north before our floating chariot turns back into a pumpkin (O.K....until our insurance is happy with our location for the upcoming "H" season).  The past couple weeks we have been trying to move my wife and the last of our worldly possessions onto the boat, do some of the more important repairs and upgrades that required two hands, and get everything organized and ready to make Rover actually rove again.

Thanks to some recent rebedding work, we have reclaimed the two large storage areas in the peaks of the hulls from the leaks that have prevented storage there until now.  Of course, figuring out how to store items and what to store where has been a challenge.  Numerous trips to stores to find storage boxes to keep holds organized has eaten up a lot of time.  So has keeping a log of what we are putting where so we can find it again when needed.

We have also been trying a few new things to see how we like them on the boat.  We got a couple of relatively inexpensive folding bikes.  In order to try slowing down the effects of the corrosive sailing environment, we treated the bikes (as best we could) both internally and externally using car wax and/or linseed oil.  We also tried a clothes washing machine, but after it didn't meet our expectations, we returned it.  Meanwhile, we bought a bucket and plunger so we can do some laundry as needed without having to lug everything to a laundromat.

A true cruisers clothes washer...under $5

Since we didn't get around to mat-training our dogs (or tray-training or whatever you would call getting them to "potty" on a carpeted tray) before we got to the boat, we decided we had better get started on that as well.  You can actually buy pre-made potty mats, but they seem a bit pricey for a tray and a replacable grass pad.  I know others recommend getting a tray from a dog crate and a remnant of fake turf carpet, but I wasn't sure how long one of those would last. We ended up buying a plastic tray normally placed under a water heater and putting some fake grass in it that we found as a remnant at the local big box home improvement store and made one for under $20. The tray even comes with a pre-made hole in the side for tying the "dunking" line on. So far Madison has been unimpressed, but after trying a couple of tricks to see if we can make some progress, Tucker "watered" it this morning (good boy!).


One other thing we recently purchased for the dogs were new harnesses.  Basic collars are OK for suburban living I guess, but I wanted something a little better for them when they don't have their life jackets on. Tucker has always been able to slip out of a collar when he really wanted to, and I was thinking that something I could grab easily by hand or with a boat hook if necessary would be a good idea. We have safety harnesses so I figured the dogs should too. We found a Kong Comfort Harness that has a handle loop at the top of the harness, and it seemed like a perfect solution.

Madison showing off her new safety harness

Little did I know that two days later we'd be putting the harness to the test.  This morning as we were getting ready to make another run to yet another store, our older dog decided to try visiting another dog that was on the dock below.  Unfortunately Madison wasn't on the dock at the time, she was on the sea wall.  And when she leaned a little too far over the edge of the wall, she slipped and fell into the water in between the wall and the dock.  I'm glad to say that the handle performed as it should, and I was able to quickly pluck her out of the water by hand.  Other than wet, Madison was fine.  I'll definitely recommend buying a harness like this for anyone who plans to take a dog near the water...especially a naturally curious and fearless dog.  Thanks for adding just a little more crazy to the day, Madison.

Now that the stanchions are fixed, I think we'll be installing the safety netting on the lifelines today...to keep Madison (and Tucker) on board.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bikes!

Ever since I started living on the boat, I realized that having a bicycle would be a good thing. Thus far I've had a car to help get me from place to place, but eventually the plan is not to have one.  It is a pain to move the car whenever you move the boat and, well, they don't float, so taking it down island isn't a possibility. There have been a number of times, even with the car, I would have rather had a bike.  In Brunswick it was just as easy to go downtown on a bicycle as it was in a car.  Just getting around a marina is often easier and faster on a bike.

I've been a bit hesitant to get one for a couple reasons.  First is rust.  Coming from a state where humidity levels above 50% would be considered pretty humid and there are no corrosive salts to contend with, I was worried that any bike would turn to a pile of rust on a boat. The other issue is simply where to put the things. While I would have loved to keep our crossover bikes, they could have only been stored out on deck. A folding bicycle would be better as we could store them in one of the spare berths, but I wondered how well they worked since I hadn't ever used one.

I had been keeping an eye on Craigslist for a while now and what I was finding was that the only folding bikes that seemed to come up were the rather expensive ones...and even used they wanted a pretty hefty price.  I'm sure the bikes are worth it, but I'm not sure I know how to take care of an $800 bicycle, even if I can get it for $300~400.  If anyone has any tips for combating rust on such things, please let me know (I've heard recommendations for all sorts of things from linseed oil, waxes, and WD-40...and equal numbers saying to never use the exact same things).

Well, remember that trip to Camping World?  The reason we were there wasn't to find a washing machine, but instead the purpose was to look at some inexpensive folding bikes they carry, see if we could ride one, and generally try to determine if they were worth having.  We figured we would find some folding bikes to try when we were down here in Florida, but the only places we've found that carry them are West Marine and Camping World.  Since Camping World had a bike for $140 on sale (about 1/4 the price of the used ones or the ones at West Marine), we decided we would go check them out.  After a brief test ride, we decided to take a couple home.


The bikes we got are the Adventurer 6-speed folding bike. While not the best quality, they were reasonable quality and I think would serve our purpose well. They are a steel and alloy frame as best I can tell, so rust may be an issue if the paint chips and on exposed parts (like the chain). They ride fairly well for a small folding bicycle with a short wheel base. Given the size of the bike, seat adjustment is a bit limited and I could probably use an additional inch myself, but most under 5'11" or so should be OK with the fit. The derailleurs are Shimano..at least a recognizable name. The bike comes with fenders and a carrier rack, two reasonable features for land transportation for a cruiser.

Buying a bike from Camping World (or any other non-bike specific shop) can be an issue for those not knowledgeable in bicycle repair and maintenance.  The bike came in the original box with no setup or tuning.  When we got them home I had to adjust the derailleurs to get them to shift correctly and adjust the brakes to get them to stop squeaking and work properly (one of the pads was actually loose).  One of the bikes had a brake cable adjustment that was cross threaded and we had to go back to Camping World where they let me swap the part out on their floor model (which had another issue with the handlebar so we couldn't just swap the entire bike).  But, after getting everything set up, I've been pleased with the initial use of the bikes.


As I hinted to above, I don't get full leg extension, but it is pretty close...and something I can live with for a folding bike.  The 6 speeds seem to be about right for the bike.  I was able to take it over the nearby ICW fixed bridge (65' height at center) comfortably in first gear.  5th or 6th gears seem to be good for flat to slightly downhill cruising.  In general I don't seem to miss the lack of an additional 15 gears to choose from on a larger bike.  The wheel base is short, so it feels just a bit less stable than a full size bike, but I only really have any issue with it during slow speed maneuvering and am still able to ride it up and down the dock ramps without feeling like I'm going to crash.

So, if I can keep it from rusting apart, I think we have a reasonable solution for now.  Given the price, it seems like a good bike to "learn about" living with bikes on a boat even if we make some mistakes and they do rust apart.  Now, should I go try to find some Boeshield, ACF-50, or linseed oil to coat the thing....hmm....

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

For Dogs That Don't Like Water...

I've long held the belief that our dogs just weren't all that fond of water.  But after taking them to the beach many of the days we've been here, it seems I was wrong.  They really like the beach and playing in the surf.

Who me...wet...nah.

What water?

I think they are adjusting to beach and salt life just fine...


So, I guess it is just fresh water...or more likely baths...they don't like.  They don't seem all that thrilled at the rinse showers at the beach but put up with it for the chance to go play in the surf.  I think the sea may have even shaven a couple years off of how Madison (our 11 year old - the darker one) feels.  It had been a while since I've seen her chase Tucker around.

I'm glad they are enjoying themselves.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Trying to Keep a Few Conveniences

As anyone who has done it will tell you, going cruising is not without a lot of sacrifices.  Among those sacrifices are a lot of modern conveniences.  Just the other day we were chatting with a couple who arrived at the marina after a year-long cruise with their kids, and the wife mentioned that she was really looking forward to having a dishwasher again.  So, with all that we give up I've tried to bend a bit when I think it makes sense.  One of the conveniences we have been considering making room for on the boat is a clothes washer.  In fact, I posted about this topic a couple months back.

While I had noted a variety of options for washing clothes, the limited amount of space we have really only leaves the smaller counter top portable washers as a possible option.  I have a few places on the boat that would prefer lighter things be stored there and what essentially equates to a motorized bucket could find a home there...if it worked.

And, really, while the washing function could be handy, the bit we are really interested in is the spin dry feature.  A number of these machines have, or are, a small tub that spins fast and can extract water out of clothes without requiring heat (the more costly part of the typical dryers operation).  Living in more humid locations now, the idea of waiting all day...or two...for clothes to line dry or the added damage of hand-wringing clothes just isn't all that appealing.  The spin dryers were reported to extract enough water out of washed clothes that they would finish drying in just a couple hours...even in humid environments.


So when we were at Camping World looking at a folding bike the other day and stumbled upon a portable washer that included the spin dry function all in a single chamber unit, we decided that for $100 it would be a great solution for a boat.  Needless to say we picked one up and brought it home to give it a try.  I had actually seen these units when I wrote the earlier post, but they were always 220 volt models, so was I happy to see one setup for U.S. 110 volts.

The Base Camp Portable Washing Machine is supposed to be a counter top unit...but it is pretty tall for the average counter at almost 22 inches, the top is about shoulder height when sitting on the galley counter.  Its width and depth are both around 14.5" so it will sit on the counter.  This is a good thing since the drain is gravity fed through a hose on the bottom of the unit. Its wash function uses most of that space, while the spin dryer utilizes a smaller basket that snaps onto the agitator at the bottom of the tub...reducing the drying capacity to half the wash capacity.

Washing machine with spin dry basket installed

We did two loads of laundry with it as a test.  The first load consisted of one pair of shorts and 5 tee shirts.  The second was about 6 pairs of socks and about the same number of panties.  Instead of hooking up the water inlet hose (just a simple tube you can hook up to your sink faucet), we just poured water in with a pitcher or bucket. You regulate the water temperature yourself, so you get whatever you put into it.  To start each load we put in about an inch of water in the bottom, then added less than 1/4 the amount of detergent recommended for the typical washing machine "small load".  We then added clothes until they were just a bit under the max fill line, and topped off with water until the max fill line was reached.

We turned the switch to wash and set the timer for about 3~4 minutes.  The machine seems to agitate the clothes fairly well, although the action can sometimes ball them up in a bit of a knot.  After the first wash cycle completed, we let the clothes soak for another 3~4 minutes and then repeated the procedure 2 more times.  The result was about 9 minutes of active washing and 6 minutes of soaking in between.


After washing, we unhooked the drain hose and dropped it into the galley sink to drain.  This, of course, leaves some pretty wet clothes in the bottom of the washer.  So, I picked them up and squeezed a bit of the excess water out before starting the rinse cycle.  Rinsing consists of adding fresh water to the machine and running it in wash mode again.  And once the rinse cycle was complete, we again drained the water.

Now it was time for the spin dry cycle.  This required I remove all the clothes from the washer, so I squeezed a bit more water out of them and placed them in a bucket.  I then installed the spin dry basket and carefully placed a couple items in the basket, along with the cover.  You are only supposed to run the spin cycle for at most 3 minutes, so that is what I did.  I turned on the machine and quickly realized I didn't yet have the knack for loading the basket, as it shook quite a bit while attempting to spin.  I stopped the machine and repositioned the clothes in the basket, removing one of the items.  This time it seemed happier and only wobbled a little bit.


I could see water being slung out of the basket and against the clear blue walls of the wash tub, so it was working.  But, it didn't seem to be spinning all that fast.  I know some of the spin dryers spin at rates up to 3200 RPM, but this one didn't seem to go near that fast.  The unit doesn't document the speed and so I tried to determine the speed, but didn't have much luck either counting or using a sound based application for my smartphone.  Best I can guess, I think it was spinning somewhere between 500 and 700 RPM.  In any case, the result was that the clothes were less wet, but not nearly as dry as I had hoped.  In fact, we could hand wring additional water out of the clothes and it took almost a full 24 hours for the clothes that were washed to dry (after hand wringing them).

One other test I ran was to see if the unit would function when using my inverter (I have an older Xantrex and it is modified sine wave).  When running on the inverter, I noticed the motor would buzz a bit more, but it did work. I also noticed that the spin function is supposed to be limited (by you) to 3 minutes and after the 3 minutes the area around the motor was a little warm.  There was also the smell of plastic...but I assume that was just the result of the machine being new (since it smelled that way out of the box) and not anything related to the motor overheating.

Overall the washer seemed to do a fair job of washing the clothes we tried. Both wash and spin modes were pretty quiet as you can tell from the video, with the biggest noise problem stemming from the balance (or lack thereof) of the clothes in the spin basket. Unfortunately, the spin drying function, the most important function in our opinion, was a disappointment and left the clothes too wet.  We didn't feel this unit provided enough of an advantage over a bucket, plunger, and hand-wringing to justify its place on the boat, and so we decided to return the unit and continue the search.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

House Calls for the Pups

People from my generation have probably heard the term "house call" but have never actually seen or had one.  It is a throwback to a time when we all weren't in such a big hurry and and there was a nod to the fact that customer service could be good for the bottom line.  I don't think I ever actually had a doctor come visit me at home, and I doubt a generation or two younger than I (at least here in the U.S.) even believe that there was a time when a doctor ever would come to your home.

Well, that may not exist for our medical industry, but today my dogs got to experience a house call.  My friend and former boat broker Pete (who, by the way, I'd still recommend highly and I think may be the hardest working man in the boating industry) told us of a veterinarian in St. Augustine that does most (all?) of his work as house calls.  While we currently have a car and can easily take our furry kids anywhere, there will be a time when that is not the case.  Knowing that we can have a vet come to us is a great thing.

Reason for the vet visit was two fold.  First, we wanted to make sure we had the dogs on the right preventative medications.  In Colorado we have ticks and mosquitoes that can carry a few diseases, but things like fleas aren't a problem.  In more humid environments where it just doesn't go below freezing that often (that is one of the reasons we wanted to do this after all), we could imagine that there are all sorts of new maladies that could befall our unsuspecting furry crew members. The second reason is that our older dog seemed a bit stressed during the trip and we wanted to make sure everything was OK since she has had some ongoing medical issues.

The vet arrived on time for our 1 pm appointment (Ok, he was a few minutes late, but I attribute that to the over zealous new security guards they've hired here at the resort).  He came right out to the boat and we talked for a bit about the dogs history while sitting in the cockpit.  Then he gave each dog a physical and we talked more about nutrition, preventative medications for the areas where we wanted to travel, dealing with high heat, protecting doggy eyes from the sun, and other issues.  All in all I think the vet spent over two hours with us...I think the longest vet consultation we've ever had and we've gone to some very good vets in the past.

The vet seemed very knowledgeable about a variety of general veterinary topics and gave us a lot of good information to keep our kids healthy.  He was also able to prescribe the needed medications and supply them right from his mobile "office".  As he even noted, we "are pretty savvy pet owners" so I think we are pretty good at telling when we've found a top notch vet...and I think we have.

Cost wise, especially for a house call and the amount of time he spent with us, we thought it was very reasonable.  There was a $55 (U.S.) "office visit" charge, the physicals were about $50 each, and the medications were inline with prices we found on the internet for the same medications. This is only a few dollars more than the vets back home would charge when we took them into the office for what was often a very brief encounter with the actual vet.

So, if you have pets in need of a veterinarian and happen to be somewhere in the St. Augustine FL. area, you might want to give Vilano Mobile Vet a try.  Oh, and our dogs...they are doing just fine.  I think they are enjoying the fact we are around more and will take them to fun places like the beach...which the doctor recommended we do often (so I think Madison and Tucker recommend the vet too).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Two is Better Than One

While living the bachelor lifestyle for the most part the past year had a couple perks, it is definitely nice having my wife (and the dogs) on board.  Sure, there was no consensus to be had when deciding what to do for dinner, but sharing this lifestyle definitely makes it better.

Right now one big benefit is having a helping hand with all the projects that have been on hold since I couldn't complete them by myself.  Today the big task was making one of the large storage areas a dry storage area.  The Leopard 38 has a big storage area at the front of each hull, above the watertight buoyancy compartment.  And with no openings to weather, it should make a large and dry storage area.

Of course, on my boat, it hasn't been all that dry.  A pulpit rail mount and the pulpit seat mount have both been leaking a bit.  The result is some water made its way into this compartment, and that doesn't make for a nice storage location.  And the reason I haven't fixed it yet...you may have guessed...is because I need two people.  Both of these mounts go entirely through the hull (thus the ability to leak) and so I needed someone in the compartment to turn a wrench on the nut while someone else was outside keeping the bolt from turning.  Since I don't have an arm that is 20+ foot long with several elbows, it is not something I could do myself.  So, like so much of the hardware on this boat, a helper is needed to loosen and tighten the bolts.

With a helper, it was a simple task to remove the bolts, clean the mounting surfaces, apply some butyl tape (an excellent option for re-bedding through-bolted hardware), and re-mount the hardware. Given my previous experience with the tape, I have confidence that these two leak locations are now resolved and shouldn't give me trouble for a long time.  Unless I missed a leak, I think we now have one more large storage area at our disposal...which will come in handy right now.  Now we just need to repeat the process in the other hold.

In other news, if you find yourself moving on a boat and another boater is moving off, hopefully you have made friends with them.  In my case, my friends Gary and Joan have not only beefed up our provisions but also had these mini milk crates that may help me get my refrigerator organized (the details of organizing a top-loading refrigerator are deserving of its own post).  Thanks guys and good luck with your future endeavors!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Organization-less

We've been back at the boat about a week now.  Found a couple systems that will need repair before we leave, but the biggest problem we seem to be having at the moment is getting the boat organized. For some reason we are really struggling with getting things in reasonable places.

We've been slowly getting stuff moved from the Prius to the boat, but after a week the Prius still isn't empty.  It is getting there, but a few items just haven't found their way on board.  And the settee table and surrounding area still has stuff piled on it that has yet to find a home on the boat.

It seems most of the last couple days have been running to the local Dollar Tree and Target looking for storage containers that will fit in the various holds on the boat as well as fit the things we need to store in them.  I hate having all these plastic boxes...but without them, the larger holds in the boat would undoubtedly resemble one of those toddler play ball pits, only with all our stuff piled in it.


The only thing I think we are doing right at the moment is inventorying everything as we store it.  I have a giant provisioning spreadsheet that will not only track what food is aboard, but also all the other items too.  In addition to recording what is on board, it also tells me where on board it is.  It tracks the quantity of any given item based on the amount stored in each of 24 different storage locations on the boat.  Hopefully this will at least help me remember what I have on board and, as importantly, where it is on board...and save me hours of digging through holds looking for something "I just know we have somewhere".

Now if all this stuff would go find it's own home and just let me know...I'd be set.  Guess we had better get this done soon, as we are running out of time before we need to head north for the dreaded "H" season...and I do have a few items to attend to before we cast off.