Saturday, January 30, 2016

Severn Yachting Center

I usually like to review the places where I've spent time, and this marina and boatyard is no exception. Having been there for almost 6 months, I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the place.  "Severn Yachting Center and Yacht Yard" (formerly Severn River Marina if I believe the name printed on the travel lift) is located on the Severn River (bet you would have never guessed that) just off  Mobjack Bay in Hayes, Virginia.

Severn Yachting Center Marina

The marina is a combination of fixed and floating wood docks.  The fixed docks are obviously older but seem in OK condition, only in need of a few minor repairs. The wood is older and would not be recommended for bare feet (floating docks are attached to the fixed so you will walk on them regardless of slip assignment). The floating docks are obviously a newer addition and were retrofitted into the marina on wood pilings and are generally in good shape. The marina has two bath houses, one free standing near the docks and the other attached to the office and shop building. The free standing house is the usual his and hers arrangement with two showers on each side.  The latter are three unisex rooms, two with showers that seem to be favored by most, including us.

The facilities at Severn Yachting Center

The main building used to be the shop building but part of it was built out to contain the offices, a decent ships store, and the newer bath house.  In front of the building (the side facing the river) they have a pool and deck area that makes a nice place to hang out when the weather is comfortable. The back 2/3 of the building is still the maintenance shop.  Behind the shop is the path that leads to a modest sized boatyard. The facility has a new reverse osmosis water system so water quality is very good.  They also have WiFi (more on this below) and fuel.

It is somewhat off the beaten path, but a bit more convenient to civilization than up in Deltaville. Other than the on-site ships store, a bicycle, or preferably a car, is needed for acquiring most off-site items or provisioning. The marina is reasonably well suited for longer-term liveaboards, particularly if they have transportation. Overall the facility is decent for the price.

The owner is a nice guy and is probably one of the main reasons we chose this marina when we were researching places to stay and take on the hardtop project. Unfortunately the customer-oriented attitude is hit or miss depending on the day, who you are dealing with, and the moods of those who work there.

Our first experience with this was during the boat haul out. While power-washing the boat I wanted to confirm how they intended to block the boat since my boat has bolt-on sacrificial keels (designed so when charterers ran over things they wouldn't sink the boat). They told me they were going to block it on the keels, something the manufacturer does not recommend.  They proceeded to argue with me about it stating they block in accordance with ABYC standards. I showed them the manual where it talks about sacrificial keels and lack of load bearing. Finally, they called the manufacturer and confirmed what I, and the manual, told them.  Then they had me sign a waiver stating that I wanted the boat blocked other than their standard way and charged me for "special blocking" or something like that.  I later checked the ABYC standards, and wouldn't you know it states "check the boat manufacturer's owner's manual, if available, for lifting and blocking instructions, limitations, or restrictions" and "Keel blocking should be used to support the weight of the boat, unless otherwise specified by the boat manufacturer.[emphasis added] " At one point during this ordeal I even overheard the employee question my abilities or if I should even own a boat. So, if you have this marina haul your boat, make sure you are well aware of any blocking needs specific to your boat well before you arrive (and confirm again once you do arrive), and make sure they follow those instructions.

Later, while on the hard, I discovered that one of the shaft bearings (cutlass bearings) needed replacement.  Wanting to speed up my time in the yard and give the yard a little work, I asked if they could do it.  I received a verbal quote from the yard that it would take a day or two and they would not be able to get to it for a couple weeks.  They explained they would have to cut the bearing out and how difficult the job would be.  I declined because I knew better.  If you look at the bearing holder, you see one large bolt above it.  Removal of this bolt allows you to slide the holder out of the boat, where you can take it to a shop press and easily press the old bearing out and new bearing in place. Given it was my first time, it took me about 3 hours to remove the prop and the holder, take it to the shop so they could use their press, and get everything cleaned up and reinstalled. It took me longer to find a prop puller (actually used a bearing puller rented for free at the local auto parts store) than it did to do the work.

Late in the hardtop project, I was told that they needed the space I was using (and paying for) in the yard and they may have to move my work space.  We were nearing completion so we hustled even more to get the top done.  I came back to them and told them that we were ready to move the top, and they could have their space back.  Then the story became that they were way too busy and could not help us until after the Christmas break (it was December 8th at the time). Since they are closed between Christmas and New Year's, that would be a delay of several weeks. My wife said they seem to have a real "No Can Do" attitude unless you are an expensive yacht or government contract. We were finally able to talk with the boatyard manager the next day, while the marina/yard owner was also present, and he was then able to "squeeze" us in the following week.  The next week came, and the owner and manager were not around.  The staff didn't seem busy so I approached the lift operator and asked if he could move my top that week.  He suggested the next morning.  I later found out that neither he nor any other employee was ever even told of my original request to move the top.

The Fixed Docks (note two missing power pedestals along left side)
Maintenance seems to be an issue at the marina.  There were two power pedestals on our dock that were missing, the wires simply wrapped in plastic.  They have been that way since the day we arrived.  I was told that there was some sort of electrical short and possible fire so they were removed and have never been replaced.  While we were there, two of the flexible hoses that fed fresh water to the newer floating docks ruptured, and one has yet to be replaced.  On three separate occasions within a one-month period they had problems with the water system, which caused the water to the entire marina to be off for 24 hours or more each time.  Only once did the marina have water trucked in, but that was because the boatyard manager was present and his house was also impacted by the outage.  Back in the yard where my work space was, the electrical plug didn't work and they had to string a long extension cord from the next plug down the line so I would have power. The water spigot at the same location is capped off because it leaks so we had to use others. The parking lot is dirt/rock (like a boatyard) and has a lot of potholes to dodge. Feels a bit like we were driving on the moon.

One section of potholes in the parking lot

They have WiFi at the marina, but it doesn't work very well at all.  I know marinas often have issues with this as it is a complex environment to configure, but this marina is worse than most, and much of the problem seems to stem from poor setup.  When I spoke with one of the boaters here who was also charged with setting up and maintaining the system, he blamed Cox (the internet provider) and the equipment.  I know Cox wasn't an issue because the internet works fine from the computers hardwired to the network in the office.  Being an ex "computer guy", I did a little investigation and found that the way they have the WiFi routers configured causes much of the intermittent access issue.  But I don't get the impression that the marina is interested in paying to have someone who knows how to fix it come out and do so.

Most of the regular janitorial work and some landscaping are done by one of the residents who is also a part-time employee of the marina. She seems to be the hardest working employee they have. Despite having another job, the bathrooms are usually clean, the trash is regularly emptied, and the grounds look good (particularly for a boatyard that seems unwilling to spend much on maintenance).

The owner and yard manager seem to split their time between this location and other(s) and are absent some of the time.  In addition, as hinted at above, communication seems to be an issue. I know of a few boats that had issues getting work done in a timely manner and one that couldn't even get them to come do an estimate for some work (they ended up going elsewhere to have the work done). When a hurricane threatened, they had only one employee who was out in the rain helping boaters get things secured.  I later found out he was actually supposed to be their maintenance guy, but seemed to always be pulled into boat projects while I was there.  Unfortunately, this hard working guy no longer works at the marina.

If you do go to this marina, don't expect to be able to hail them on your VHF radio.  They have a handheld, but don't seem to use it.  Expect to call them on your cell phone (if you can get a cell signal).

I understand that this is not the most expensive marina and there are budgetary concerns, but the phrase penny wise and pound foolish comes to mind. If they need to boost the rent by a modest amount, it may serve them well if they can use that extra cash to resolve some of the issues.  They also need to get the entire staff on board with the idea that their jobs are in a service industry and providing good and friendly service goes a very long way in creating a loyal customer base.

This may seem a bit harsh, but it is what I encountered while I was there.  And as I've said, it isn't all bad.  Some of the folks are pleasant to work with at the marina.  There are some good folks who live there as well.  The facility is fairly nice, particularly for a boatyard.  They have a fairly well stocked store and can get most things they don't have within 24 hours through their suppliers. It wouldn't take a lot of work to propel them from the industry average to a marina I would enjoy returning to.  I hope they can get their maintenance and staffing issues under control.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Getting Things Done

Our trip from Hayes, Virginia, to Southport, North Carolina, in addition to trying to escape the cold, was a bit of a shakedown cruise.  That wasn't really the intention, but as Cap'n Ron said "if it is going to happen, it is going to happen out there".  I guess that is true even when "out there" is motoring along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.  So, since we arrived in Southport, we have been back in fix-it mode.

Before much fixing though, we needed to go fetch our car from the Severn Yachting Center.  We also had a crew member that needed to see a doctor.  Our eldest dog has been battling a condition where one of her ears has sores that don't want to heal (it is called ear margin vasculitis), and a specialist we have been seeing is in Richmond, Virginia.  We decided to combine the trip to get our car with an appointment with this veterinarian.  Our plan was to leave the day or so after we arrived, but a winter storm hit southern Virginia (as well as northern VA, MD, DC, and other nearby areas).  So we pushed it off a few days while I investigated my house battery bank  issue.

On Sunday, we started making our way to Richmond.  We went to visit a friend of my wife in Chapel Hill and stayed with them that night.  The next day we continued our trek to Richmond. Unfortunately, as we were driving, we got a call from the vet.  I guess Richmond was having a hard time dealing with the 10 inches or so of snow and still hadn't cleared the streets after a few days.  As a result, the vet was closed and had to cancel the appointment. We continued on to pick up the car and return both to Southport. We arrived at the marina, said our goodbyes to some friends we made there, and headed back to the boat.

Some of the snow we escaped.

After getting back, the next task was to see if I could locate a small coolant leak in the starboard engine.  I pump the coolant sitting in the bilge into a container to throw away and then look over the engine trying to find the leak.  I find one hose that wasn't clamped all that well and fix that.  Didn't see any other signs of a leak so we clean the engine and bilge, top off the coolant, and test run the engines.  While looking over everything, I start seeing a drip.  Not from the engine or the coolant tanks, but coming from the hose that leads to the overflow tank.  No idea why it wasn't dripping when cold, but it didn't start until everything was warm.  So I drain the overflow tank, pull the hose and check for a leak in the tank.  I didn't find anything so I cut about a half inch off the end of the hose and reconnect it all.  Refill and retest, and everything seems fine now.

While I was in the engine room, I also looked over the alternator.  The tachometer was intermittent at times during the trip, so I checked the connections.  I cleaned the connectors and used a little dielectric grease to help prevent further corrosion, then secured the wires better.  During the test the tach seemed to behave better, so hopefully that is also fixed.  I also took a little time to wire brush and paint the engine and generator as they were showing a little wear and chipping to their corrosion-inhibiting layers of paint.

One of the comments I received from my post on the battery house bank suggested that we might be able to recover the batteries if they weren't too damaged.  I debated this for a while and looked online for information and finally decided to give it a try.  Worst case I figured was that we would still have batteries that needed to be replaced, and best case is we might get a little more life from the batteries. If all it cost us was a dollar or two of distilled water, seemed like it would be worth the risk.  I tried popping one of the dust covers off the battery and find that underneath was a plug that leads to the battery cell.  The plug contains the valve and is sealed with an o-ring so all I had to do was unscrew it.  We added a little distilled water to the cells to see if that would help.  Unfortunately, adding a little water only uncovered the fact that the case was apparently cracked somewhere out of view and the water leaked out of one of the cells creating a bit of a mess.  Guess we will need to replace the batteries before we continue our trip. I'm pretty sure we will go with golf cart batteries, but still debating the pros and cons of AGM versus wet cell versions (as well as trying to figure out how we can source them here).

So, that is where we stand.  Some things we think are fixed, more to go.  At least the weather has improved a bit and is warmer than where we were in Virginia.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Master Of All Trades

"Jack of all trades, master of none" is how the phrase goes, I think.  But on a boat, it seems you need to be more than a jack of several trades, at least if you don't have unlimited funds to pay someone to maintain it.  And certainly if you insist on things being done right. From engine repair to fiberglass, it certainly helps to know how things work and how to fix them, even if you have to learn how as you go.

On our trip south we've discovered a few items that we will need to deal with.  One of them is the house battery bank.  It seems that our house bank isn't holding much of a charge anymore. So begins my deeper education in marine batteries and complex charging systems (if I do any upgrades, I want them to be compatible with the eventual addition of solar). Things I wanted to learn about anyway...but learning under the gun of a needed repair is not as fun.

I'm somewhat familiar with variants of lead-acid batteries and multi-stage chargers from my previous stewardship of an airplane.  In the airplane case, the batteries are small due to weight concerns and expensive (because they are a certified airplane part) and yet need power to crank the engine and run electronics for a while if an alternator failure occurs in flight. So, squeaking out as much life from them as possible was always a goal, and 3~5 years was considered a good lifetime for those batteries. But marine is a bit different environment.  Much larger batteries wired into banks.  The need to run things like refrigerators, lights, and equipment without a charging source for days on end (deep cycling) is a bit different than running a few airplane instruments.

I started my investigation with the obvious...take a look at the house battery bank.  I try to take a peek at all the boat systems periodically, but the house bank sits at the bottom of a locker in the cockpit and isn't the easiest to access. Add in the fact they are AGM VRLA batteries (what was once touted as maintenance-free batteries) and they were a bit out of sight - out of mind.  Well, when i dug all the stuff out of the locker and removed the access panels to the batteries, I could tell that the batteries were not in good shape.  Each of the 3 group 4D (20 inch x 9 inch x 10 inch or so) batteries showed minor signs of swelling.  The two usual causes of this are heat related: Either a sudden rapid discharge (short) or overcharging of the batteries.  Since I haven't experienced any shorts, my immediate assumption was that it was the result of overcharging.
The West Marine Battery that makes up our current house bank.

A year or so ago I had one alternator's voltage regulator fail and it was overcharging...but that problem was identified rather quickly and resolved.  Since the boat is configured so the engines charge their start batteries and then any leftover energy is used to charge the house bank, I would expect the start battery to have failed first. Since it was OK, I doubt it was the culprit.  The original charging system for the boat works in a similar manner, charging the start batteries and then letting power "overflow" from there to charge the house bank.  That left only one culprit - the Xantrex inverter/charger.

The inverter is wired to the main house bank, and it includes a smarter multi-stage charger that is supposed to do a better job of charging and maintaining batteries.  As a result, the charger needs to be set up with parameters for the type and size of the battery bank.  I guess I shouldn't have trusted how the thing had been set up when we bought the boat.  I found the parameters were set for a 3000Ah bank of wet cell batteries.  Since the actual bank is only 600Ah of AGM batteries, this is probably the cause.

Of course, this means we need to replace the main house bank. The batteries currently on the boat are from West Marine and when I checked were about $700 each.  Ouch.  Looking around, I found similar 4D AGM batteries for a little over $400 each.  Continuing my research, I found that many of these batteries aren't true deep cycle batteries and, as a result, likely won't last as long as other options. Reading a number of articles on marine batteries and deep cycling batteries, it seems that some of the best bang for the buck are golf cart batteries.  It sounds like they are better designed for deep discharges than the big batteries.  They also seem to have higher amp-hour ratings for a given size than the ones I have now.  The down side is that each battery is smaller and is only 6 volts, so I would need two batteries connected in series to equal one of the batteries I have now.

Trojan T-105 225Ah, 6v battery option.
US Battery 2200 232Ah, 6v battery option.

Two group size GC2 batteries sitting next to one another are the same length, slightly taller, and just a bit narrower in width than a 4D group size so they should fit my battery locker.  Wired in series, I would have a 12 volt equivalent with between 210 and 225 Ah (compared to the existing batteries at 198Ah). The wet cell batteries seem to be around $110 each (or $220 for the equivalent to one of the 4d's), and the AGM versions are around $200 each (about the same as the cheaper 4D's that I've found). Since these produce a slightly higher amp-hour bank that is more accepting of deeper discharges (to 50%), this may be the way to go.  It would require I get 3 new cables to wire two 6-volt batteries in series, but it seems to me the advantages may be worth the limitations.

Trojan AGM 217Ah, 6v battery.
US Battery AGM 213Ah, 6v battery.
The other question is do we go with AGM or traditional wet cell batteries.  Due to cost, I'm not interested in going with the newer lithium options (my time in the software industry has taught me the value of "trailing edge technology") and these two seem like the best choices.  Each has advantages and disadvantages.  I guess one thing that worries me about the standard flooded battery bank is if we can keep on top of maintenance.  I know they need to be checked and filled with water periodically.  With the location of the house bank being at the bottom of one of our large storage lockers, will we dig everything out and check them as often as we should?  And what is that interval anyway?  But my wallet sure likes the price point of the flooded ones, and they do have higher capacity.

Decisions, decisions...if anyone has any advice, leave a comment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Back in Southport Again

Laying in bed we knew it wasn't going to be a warm morning.  Forecast was for below freezing temperatures in Carolina Beach and Southport.  It is hard to get out of bed when it is cold.  Since we only had a short trip, there was little motivation to get an early start.  The only real motivation was to make some hot coffee and let the oven serve a dual purpose to help out the reverse cycle heat to warm the boat up.

We do finally rise, cook breakfast, and slowly make the boat ready for the last jump for this leg of our trip while waiting for it to warm up as much as it will this day.  We depart the Masonboro Yacht club around 11 am and there is still ice on our new hardtop.  This ice would remain pretty much frozen for the whole trip.

It should take just a little over 3 hours to get from Masonboro to Deep Point Marina in Southport. But it will be a cold 3 hours.  Forecast high was just a little above freezing and that isn't a good thing for an open cockpit boat.  This boat was designed to be in the warm Caribbean, not the cold east coast. I'm glad we have the makeshift dodger but wish we had a full enclosure...oh well.

Layers of sweatshirts, coats, foul weather gear, ski gloves and knit caps try to keep us a little warm as we motor away.  The trip itself was uneventful other than a few shallow spots along the ICW.  There is some known shoaling along this stretch and we saw water as shallow as 6 foot, good thing we only draw 3 foot 7 inches.  We make the turn into the narrow channel called Snows Cut that connects Carolina Beach to the Cape Fear river.  Between both engines and the headsail fighting some current, we were able to make between 6 and 7 knots.

We arrive at Deep Point marina just as the ferry from Bald Head island is approaching.  Knowing that he is on a schedule and his dock is near where we will be put, I call him on the radio and let him know we will wait for him.  After the ferry passes, we motor into the protected man-made lagoon and dock the boat.

That night was supposed to again dip into the 20's so we again use the dehumidifer/heater to keep the water storage area warm.  And it was.  This is the report on the temperature this morning:

High of 35 and low of 20...brrr. Like the "much warmer" statement for today.
We are going to spend a few days here as we have discovered a few things that need our attention (imagine that on a boat). The house battery bank doesn't seem to be holding much of a charge after the last 5 months plugged into shore power. There also seems to be a small coolant leak in the starboard side engine that is depositing coolant into the bilge. The intermittent preheat solenoid may also be looked at again if we have the time and desire (although it has behaved for all but one start attempt this trip). This is also where we had left a car so it is time to do the car shuffle and go retrieve the one from Virginia.  I think we could also use a few days to just defrost and recuperate.  This marina has a monthly rate that is pretty decent and anything over about 5 days makes the monthly cheaper so we opted to just pay the monthly rate and will leave when we are ready.

Monday, January 18, 2016

I've Gotta Go Where It's Warm

"Could you beam me somewhere Mr. Scotty"...that and the title are from the Jimmy Buffet song Boat Drinks...and perfectly describes how I feel right now.  The cold seems to be heading south faster than we are.

After the somewhat rough night at Whitaker Point marina in Oriental, we did what we seem to do every day now when we get up.  We have the "does it sound too miserable to continue on to the next stop" conversation.  The weather windows, if you can call them that, seem to be getting smaller and less open.  Do we go if the high temperature isn't supposed to get out of the 30's?  Or if it is in the 40's and forecast to be raining all day? Do we take the outside route to Southport or just take the ICW all the way?

We decide to press on as the only forecast that day was for the winds that rocked us half the night to continue to calm down as the day progressed.  We only had a short stint in the Neuse river before being back in the protection of "the ditch" for most of the rest of the journey to Morehead City. Offshore, there are still gale warnings and small craft advisories. The idea of bouncing around in 8 foot seas with short periods between the waves is completely unappealing. So, we decided to take the ICW all the way down. I think we only managed to unfurl the head sail for about 10 minutes the whole trip that day. It was a motorboat sort of day.

We make it through Morehead City, hang a right around the shipping docks, and continue heading down the ICW.  We make it to the stop for the evening, a marina I found in Active Captain that gave us the most daylight mileage and sounded pretty nice.  And it was.  The entrance into Spooners Creek marina is a bit tight, but once you make it through the cut and the sharp turn into their basin, you find a nice, calm, well protected facility. This marina is probably the second nicest one we have stayed at (Palm Coast being the first). The marina is part of a condo complex and has nice new floating docks, a well appointed clubhouse and bathhouse. They were reasonably priced for the area at $1.50 per foot including electricity.

The next morning we were greeted with forecasts of temperatures in the 40's and rain.  Again the continue-on question is asked, and we puzzle about it for a while.  We finally decide that we really want to get south so we push on.  It was a pretty miserable slog for much of the day.  Rain reduced visibility, and the wind would swirl around just enough to keep us from being dry in the cockpit. We finally make it to the stop for the night at Swan Point marina in Sneads Ferry, NC.

The reviews called this place rustic, and maybe my view is a bit colored by how nice the last stop was, but I'd call this place dilapidated. It all started when we were trying to dock the boat.  The winds were up about 30 knots blowing...naturally...across the dock.  I try to get a line cleated so I could pivot the boat up to the dock, and we end up pulling up the cleat with the dock board attached to it.  While the cleat was bolted down OK, the boards are only nailed into place and the decaying wood let go of the nails.  After some work we get the boat docked and I add lines directly to the pilings in addition to the lines on the cleats (that I had little faith in). This "marina" is really a boatyard with docks.  The facilities are very utilitarian with cinder block walls and concrete floors and pipes strapped to them for the showers.  The laundry machines didn't look like they would work, or if they did, you would likely end up with rust stains on everything. To top it off, it was the same price as the place the night before.  The only positive was it did have electricity, so we could run the heater.

Not the cleat, or dock, you want to use.

That night it was cold.  When we got up, frost was covering the docks and the boat. The "do we go" decision was pretty easy though.  It was going to be colder than yesterday but the sun was out and we definitely wanted to go.  We didn't get an early start since we wanted it to warm up just a bit, but we departed the dock around 9:30AM. After we start down the ICW, we were greeted by a small pod of dolphins as if to tell us we were definitely making the right decision.  Other than the usual wind on the nose, the trip was uneventful.  We even had moderate luck with the bridges.  The first bridge had an early unscheduled opening for a barge that we were able to sneak through to gain a little time.  The currents seemed to be with us and gave us a speed boost that helped us with the timing at the other bridges. We made it to the next destination, the Masonboro Yacht Club, an hour ahead of schedule.

This is where we sit now, waiting for temperatures in the 20's this evening.  We are using one of those round metal dehumidifiers (heating coil with a fan) to help keep the outside locker that holds our water tanks warm enough to prevent freezing of the water lines.  The reverse cycle heat is getting its exercise once again to keep the cabin warm.

One more shorter trip and we will be in Southport, NC, where we intend to stop for a few days to recuperate. Now, for my boat drink...and dinner.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

It Was A Dark & Stormy Night

Isn't that how all the bad novels start?  We left the Alligator River Marina on Thursday morning, made our way through the Alligator River bridge and down the river to the canal that joins the Alligator to the Pungo river.  As in the past few days we have been doing a combination of motoring and motor sailing in order to make time.

I don't really like running the motors as I would rather sail, but in "the ditch" there isn't too much of an option to sail.  And when there is, the wind seems to be right on our nose (as noted on our Facebook page) Tacking back and forth against the wind across a river or bay takes a lot of time...more time than we want to spend on this somewhat chilly voyage trying to outrun the cold. So, until the temperatures are higher, we will probably just motor on.

We cross the Alligator and head into another long, straight, stretch of canal that connects the Alligator to the Pungo river.  We slowly make our way to our next stop, the Dowry Creek marina just outside Bellhaven, NC.  Having been at this marina before, I won't go into too much detail about it.  We tried filling our tanks there, but apparently ran them out of Diesel at 27 gallons.  Oh well, more than enough for another couple days of travel.

Last visit to Dowry Creek, same docking space this time.

Continuing our trek in the reverse of my first trip up the ICW, we left Dowry Creek for Oriental. Weather was supposed to be moving in late in the afternoon/evening, so we again made an early departure.When we came up this past summer, some of the roughest water we had was on the Pungo river. Fortunately this time it decided to show my wife that it can be nice and calm.  We motor sailed down and across the Pungo and made our way through the canal to the Neuse river.  The only excitement for this part of the trip were some duck hunters we didn't see on the banks of the canal...until the gunshots started and they popped up from their hiding places. From there it was a short motor sail to the Whittaker Point marina, another one I had stayed at before.

Whittaker Point as viewed from our face dock.

When we arrived, the sunny skies had given way to darkening gray, telling us the predicted weather was indeed going to arrive.  We tied up at the dock just as the rain started.  A little rain isn't so bad. Then it started pouring. Buckets. The dogs were not impressed by having to go out in it. Once the weather seemed to calm down a bit, we took the marina's courtesy car (some marinas have cars that transient boaters can use for local trips) to see the town and stop by the local grocery store to pick up a couple of snack items we thought would be nice to have.

And this is the point in the story where I get to gripe about Walmart.  The first time I was in Oriental, there was a Town & Country (IGA I think it was) grocery store and they just opened up one of those mini-Walmart things. Fast forward to this trip and the Town & Country has recently closed (with grafitti on the boarded window that states "Thanks Walmart").  To rub salt in the wound, just yesterday wally-world announced they will be closing a bunch of their little stores, including this one.  So, the town of Oriental may be without a grocery store.  I hope someone will come in to fill the void, and if they do, I hope they can get some sort of promise from the town that will protect them from any future big-box buffoonery. We absolutely hate shopping at Walmart and will avoid them whenever possible...but anymore, they are often the only store in town.

Image from

Anyway, when we got back to the boat we found that the winds had really started picking up.  We were being blown into the face dock hard.  And waves were rolling in the inlet and rocking our boat pretty good.  Over the next few hours we worked to tie and retie the boat, adding a couple additional lines.  With the fixed docks we had placed extra fenders out on the pilings, but with all the motion of the boat, the fenders walked their way around the poles.  With the help of the only other couple at the marina, we were able to get additional fenders in place and ride out the storm. A few frayed nerves, but this morning everything looks to be OK except for some algae smudges on the boat from the pilings.  Not the most restful night.

This morning at the dock...lots of fenders around that center piling.

Winds seem to be calming down this morning and the sun is out, so that is good.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Albemarle In January

When we went to bed last night, the weather forecasts were calling for high winds and cold temperatures.  The next leg of our trip would take us through the Albemarle Sound. and high winds would not be a good thing for crossing this body of water.  The Albemarle is a large, but shallow, sound with the average depth of something around 12 feet.  High winds with the long fetches of a sound and shallow depths would make for a very rough ride. So, we decided to sleep in a bit after two days of getting started at first light.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up to find clear sunny skies and relatively light winds.  It was cold though, the only part of the previous day's forecast that was right.  I check the forecast and the small craft advisory was now to expire at 10 AM and the new forecast called for decreasing winds as the day progressed. So, we decide we should press on.  We hastily prepare the boat for departure and leave the Pelican Marina around 9:20 AM.

After motoring out of the marina and a bit down the river (while we were finally getting some coffee made), we decide to put up the sails and actually sail the boat.  The winds away from shore were still in the 20's at the time and the forecast called for gusts up to 30 so we go with a second reef in the main.  Naturally, as soon as we get the sails up, the consistent wind goes fickle on us and starts shifing direction and speed.  We end up motor sailing with sails on everything from a broad reach to wing on wing, shaking the reef out along the way.  Would have preferred to not have the motor running, but it was necessary to make it to our next stop before dark.

I almost forgot this boat has sails.
The Albemarle was actually quite pleasant, not nearly as rough as the 30 knot winds during the night could have made it. Of course the winds continued to calm as well, but we kept the sails up as long as possible, even if they were only adding a half a knot to our speed.

We take a couple shortcuts off the ICW path since our 3' 7" draft allows a couple corners to be cut from the usual ICW path through the Albemarle.  From there we follow the markers for the ever-changing shoals at the mouth of the Alligator River. A short time down the Alligator River we make the right just before the bridge and head for the only marina in the area. We end up making it to the marina a little ahead of schedule.

The Alligator River Marina is the only one in this part of the ICW. It is owned by, and sits directly behind, a gas station that services the highway out to the Outer Banks.  The marina itself has reasonable fixed docks, a bath house with pay washers, and even a play area for pets.  This time of year, the gas station and cafe are closed, but I guess it normally has a selection of quick foods like hamburgers and such.

We are definitely making progress on this trip...just wish the temperatures would warm up a bit faster.  Can't wait until we are back in shorts weather again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Not Dismal At All

The thought of making the trek south has been a dismal one for sure.  When you dream of this lifestyle, 40 degrees...or lower... and humid air blowing in your face doesn't come to mind.  You think of sun splashed white sand beaches and fruity drinks, not slogging along trying not to freeze.  But for this trip south, that dismal thought has been at the forefront of our minds.

To combat this, we resigned ourselves to the fact we would likely be taking the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) much of the way down.  It can still be cold and rough, but at least good parts of it are fairly narrow rivers and channels that can provide at least a modest amount of protection from the worst of it. There is one place just south of Norfolk where you even have two options for the ICW. In the past I've typically taken what is known as the Virginia Cut route.  This is what I think most people consider to be the main route. The other option is known as the Dismal Swamp route.

The Great Dismal Swamp is a wildlife refuge and park.  The canal that makes up this leg of the ICW runs along the edge of the refuge. We figured this route might be a bit more protected from the elements based on the stories of a tree canopied canal.  And we have wanted to go that route ever since we met one of the lock operators when we were last at the docks in Portsmouth.

So, yesterday morning we left near first light to make it to the first lock for the 8:30 AM opening.  Yes, this route has two locks.  And unlike the one on the Virginia cut route, these actually do make a decent elevation change in the water...around 8 foot or so.  The locks have a limited opening schedule of only 4 times a day at 8:30 AM, 11:00 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM, so you have to plan your trip with that schedule in mind.  We figured if we could make the first opening of the first lock we could make it to the second lock for the 1:30 PM opening and get into Elizabeth City just before dark.

It was again a cool morning.  I'd tell you the temperature, but honestly I didn't want to know.  I knew it was supposed to get a bit warmer today than yesterday, so I just kept thinking of that.  We back-track the few minutes from the marina to the turn off for the Dismal Swamp route.  We make the turn into the canal and head on to the first lock.

The only boat at the Deep Creek lock.

At the first lock was where we ran into Robert, the guy we had spoken with about the Dismal Swamp in Portsmouth just over 6 months ago.  We were the only boat there (not a big surprise given the time of year). He gave us some good advice for handling the lock.  After lifting us up, he offered us some coffee and to chat a bit.  He even demonstrated his Conch shell horn (he is collecting conch shells, so if you have one to donate, I'm sure he would like it).  Since we were the only ones there, he also called the other lock master to tell him we were coming and to arrange for an earlier than normal opening to give us more time to make it to Elizabeth City.

Robert with my wife after sharing a cup-o-joe.

Once we were out of the lock, Robert hopped in his car and drove over to the nearby bridge to open it for us (yes, he is both the lock master and bridge tender at Deep Creek).  He opened the bridge, wished us a safe journey, and we were on our way. While we haven't run into any, I've heard rumors that some bridge tenders are not terribly friendly or "customer" oriented, but Robert is at the very opposite end of the spectrum. If you ever get the chance to go through the Dismal Swamp, do plan to spend a little bit of time talking with Robert.  He is a really nice guy and a wealth of information on the area.

The Dismal Swamp canal is interesting.  It is more narrow than the other route and is tree lined most of the way.  With our catamaran, I would have hated to have met any oncoming traffic...not sure how we would have managed to pass.  The trees also leave branches floating in the water, so you do have to keep an eye out for these obstructions.  At one point, we encountered a small tree that fell into the canal and was blocking about 2/3 of it.  We managed to get around it, but not without our mast trimming another tree on the side of the canal.  No damage done, except to a couple small branches of the trimmed tree.  Those trees did seem to help block the winds, so the journey wasn't as cold as I'm sure it could have been.

One of the wider sections of the canal.

As promised, when we reached the South Mills lock and bridge (about an hour ahead of the usual opening time), the other lock master greeted us on the radio and said he would be right over to open the bridge and the lock was ready and waiting for us.  Another nice fellow, but given our time crunch we didn't spend a lot of time chatting.  He sent us on our way with an extra hour to make it  to Elizabeth City.  Now we were able to make it there well before dusk.

The last hurdle before getting to the marina (we are staying at marinas this trip so we have shore power for running the reverse-cycle heaters) was the Elizabeth City bridge.  When we get there, we find a construction barge blocking much of the bridge opening.  I try hailing the bridge and get no response.  I try again, still no response. I use my binoculars to see if I had the name of the bridge right but couldn't find the usual sign naming the bridge.  We end up calling the marina, and the employee informs us that the bridge tender has a bit of reputation of falling asleep at the wheel and offers to give him a call on the phone.  I try hailing a few minutes later and finally get a response...guess he got his wake up call. When I ask for the opening, he says he needs to check with the construction people.  Then another voice comes on the radio and says we should have enough room.  I ask if I should approach and get no response. We see the gates go down so start our approach.  The bridge tender only opens up one half of the bridge and we squeeze through the limited opening left by the construction barge and half bridge span.

When we get to the marina, the wind is blowing about 35 knots.  Why is it that whenever I'm docking it seems that the wind is strong and perpendicular to wherever I'm trying to go?  I maneuver the boat near the dock and spin it sideways and let the wind blow me to the dock.  It worked kind of like having side thrusters...except you couldn't turn them off.  I use the engines to keep us lined up with our "parking space" and slide into the spot with a thud.  Guess I should have worked just a bit closer before turning beam to the wind, but I was tired and it worked out well enough.

Checking the weather it appeared that it was going to be cold and windy so we might end up spending a second day in Elizabeth City. But this day was not that dismal at all.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Making Our Escape

After almost 6 months in Virginia, between the repairs and seemingly never-ending project, it was starting to feel like we would never be able to escape Virginia. After finally getting the top on the boat, the other systems decided they needed a little attention too. Once we finally got everything on the boat happy enough to go, it seemed that the weather once gain wanted to test my patience. Gail warnings, 5 foot waves on a 5 second period, and small craft advisories all suddenly appeared to delay our departure.

 But we finally did it.  We finally escaped Severn Yachting Center.  We were up before dawn.  It was 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wind was about 10 knots, but well down from the 35+ knots the day before. The engines started right up even though they were cold. We did our last checks, untied the lines, and were finally on our way.

I even bought a cheesy yellow knit cap to aid in the escape.
Turning out of the marina, the wind was at our backs and with the sun on our faces, the temperature didn't feel as bad as I had feared.  We left Mobjack bay and headed south toward Hampton Roads.  The wind was on our beam and it probably would have been an OK sail, but we ended up motor sailing most of the time on the bay.  Pure sailing would have slowed us down and our goal here is to make tracks south as fast as possible.  Even if it costs us a bit of fuel.

We arrived in Norfolk around 1:30 PM.  Unfortunately, we were fighting the outgoing tide the entire way, making as little as 3 knots through most of the area.  As a result, we ended up getting caught at a bridge in Norfolk that opens on the hour, except for rush hour times.  We didn't make it through the Gilmerton bridge until 5:30 PM.  The sun had already set and the dark was starting to creep in.

Fortunately we made it to the marina that is our stop for the night before the last rays of light had completely faded.  Unfortunately, it wasn't until after the marina had closed for the evening.  They apparently don't have 24 hour access facilities here.  But the one thing we really wanted, shore power so we could run heaters, was available.  After a couple of attempts at backing into a slip with a cross current, we had the boat tied off for the evening.

While it was cold and a bit trying at times, it feels good to be moving south after so long.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hardtop Project By The Numbers

The hardtop project is finally over.  It took far longer than we wanted with some frayed nerves along the way, but in the end we are proud of the work we have done.  We think it looks pretty darn good for a couple of first-time fiberglass builders.  So now I guess the one question left unanswered is how much did it end up costing us.

One of the reasons we did this project was to save a little money (it certainly wasn't to save a little time or aggravation). The goal was to come in well under the $15,000 (U.S.) that the next best option, a manufactured top, would have cost. So here is the breakdown as best I can figure it.  I imagine I forgot some minor thing, like a roll of paper towels or extra can of acetone, but this should be a pretty fair idea of the costs involved in the project.

The following is a list of suppliers for the parts and supplies as numbered in the cost table that follows.  Those suppliers are:
  1. Severn Yachting Center via Paxton Company, Norfolk VA.
  2. Kings Marine, Hayes, VA.
  3. Home Depot, Gloucester, VA.
  4. Lowe's, Gloucester, VA.
  5. Harbor Freight, Newport News, VA.
  6. Big Lots, Gloucester, VA.
  7. Philips Petroleum, Hayes, VA.
  8. K-Mart, Hampton, VA.
  9. Ollie's Bargain Outlet, Gloucester, VA.
  10. Ace Hardware, Hayes, VA.
  11. U.S. Composites, Online.
  12. Lee and Cates Glass, Brunswick, GA.
  13. D K Hardware, Online.
  14. York Bolt, Yorktown, VA.
  15. Kenseal Construction Products, Norfolk, VA.
  16. Bob Mayer (welder), Hayes, VA.
  17. Hampton Rubber, Hampton, VA.
(see which ones made the Better Marine list.)

Here are the costs for parts and supplies (all prices at time of project - latter half of 2015) and does not include standard tools that I already owned:

Divinycell 1" H80 foam sheet (48"x 96")41$230$920.00
1708 fiberglass 10yd roll41, 11$105$420.00
10oz Fiberglass cloth 25yd roll1111$135$135.00
Polyester Laminating Resin 5gal41$130$520.00
MEKP catalyst 8oz.21$12.21$24.42
West Epoxy Quart Kit.12$51.45$51.45
Clearcote Gelcoat white gallon - no wax41$78$312.00
Clearcote Gelcoat white gallon - waxed32$62$186.00
Collodial Silica Quart121$14.54$14.54
PVA Mold Release - Gallon11$23.85$23.85
Acrylic Tinted Window glass1512$0$0.00
Dow Corning 795 Window glazing sealant213, 15$18.77+
Closed cell foam gasket (window mount)110$2.99$2.99
Closed cell foam gasket (arch seal)23$3.99$7.98
PVC Fence post (wire chase channel)14$15.99$15.99
1" PVC Tubing (handrail) 10' length44$2.49$9.96
PVC Tubing 5' (fiberglass roll/holder)14$5.99$5.99
Stainless mounting bolts, nuts, washers for arch.11, 14$7.29$7.29
Rubber Gasket material (3ft x 1ft)117$7.82$7.82
Aluminum Fiberglass Laminating Roller 1" x 6"11$13.07$13.07
Miscellaneous mixing cups161$1.29$20.64
9" Paint Roller w/ adjustable handles36$5.99$17.97
4" Paint Roller16$3.99$3.99
9" x 1/4" nap Paint Roller covers53$4.37$21.85
4" Paint Roller cover 2 pack33$5.99$17.97
9" Loop Texture Roller23$6.49$12.98
Hole Saw Set14$19.99$19.99
Drywall sanders24$7.99$15.98
Miscellaneous Sandpaper/sanding discs-3.4-$40
Plastic Sheeting roll14$11.49$11.49
Paper Towels roll306$1$30.00
Nitrile rubber gloves (box of 100)45$7.99$31.96
10' shade canopy18$49.99$49.99
Wood for building table top/mold-4-$150
Folding Sawhorse35$12.99$38.97
Router Guide set15$15.99$15.99
500 watt Halogen Worklight & spare bulbs14$18.99$18.99
"BucketHead" shop vacuum13$21.97$21.97
Propane Space Heater13$99.99$49.997
Propane Refills (30#)337$25$75
Misc Tarps245$3.49$6.98
Line (for tying up tarps) 50' roll29$1.99$2.98
Misc Rags (package of 50)29$4.99$9.98
Stainless Steel Forward Supports316-$150.006
Hardware for mounting forward supports-1-$34.50
Grand Total (before tax)
$ 3703.00

1Originally planned to use much more of this fabric but used under 10 yards. 
2Was gifted 5 to 6 quarts more, total used to thicken resin and gelcoat was around a gallon worth. 
3Borrowed propane bottle from friend at marina. 
4Already owned most tarps, had 3 "free" tarps from Harbor Freight.
5Plexiglass was left over from salon window replacement.
6Traded old fabric bimini support, includes generous tip.
7Sold the space heater for half of what we paid for it after the project was complete.

Of course, parts are not the only part of the equation.  There is the time spent at a marina and boat-yard.  In our case, we were able to work out a price that included our monthly stay at the marina and our space in the yard.  It is hard to put a fixed price on this since it is hard to say how much time we might have spent in a marina versus on the hook if weren't tied to land for the project.  But my guess is we would have likely spent some time in a marina.  Given the daily or weekly rates at marinas are higher than the monthly rate, the marina portion of our stay is probably a wash.  So, if we attribute the portion we paid above their normal rate for the yard for 5 months, that comes to a total of  $625.

Then there is labor.  I needed equipment to lift and position the top in place on the boat. Naturally the marina wouldn't let me drive their dilapidated long forklift so there was one employee for that and two more that came along to help. Total cost for their labor and use of the forklift was $490.

So, the grand total to build our new hardtop: $4818.00

That's a savings of $10,182.  To put it in perspective though, the savings equates to earning $2036.40 a month.  Or the equivalent of an annual salary of $24,436.80. And that is for two people working full time.  We didn't actually keep track of the hours spent, but I know they were more than a 40 hour work weeks when the weather allowed.

But it isn't all about the money either.  There is a satisfaction that comes from doing something for yourself and gaining knowledge and skills along the way.  So we are glad we did the project, but having done it once, I doubt we would do it again.  I would be happy to provide answers to questions if you are reading this because you are contemplating taking on a project like this, I just don't think I'd want to invest that amount of time again to build another one. I'll leave you with one bit of advice if you are considering taking on a project like this: don't underestimate the impact of weather.  If at all possible, try to find an indoor project space.  Being able to control the temperature and protect the project from the elements will make it go much faster, and it will also be less frustrating and more comfortable too.

Well, I hope all these posts on the hardtop build were entertaining and informative.  I know we will enjoy having the top down the road.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Feeling Neglected

After all the time spent building the new hardtop, it seems other things on the boat have been a bit neglected. The salon seat cushions that we have wanted to reupholster because of the ugly blue vinyl have degraded into cushions mostly covered in vinyl fragments. The port side hull, that has no climate control capability, is slowly turning into a mold forest and is in desperate need of some cleaning.  But these aren't the things that are preventing our departure from cold Virginia.  Other systems have started acting up.  In particular, the ones that run on diesel.  Both the engines and the generator have decided to prove that they need a little love too.

When I fired up the generator as a test and part of my semi-regular attempt to make sure oil gets circulated on all those internal, rustable parts, no water was found shooting out of the exhaust.  For those that aren't aware, boat diesels use seawater as part of the engine cooling circuit and said water is ejected via the exhaust.  If no water is flowing from the exhaust, it indicates the raw water is not being sucked up to cool the engine and the engine will overheat.  The lack of water can usually be attributed to a blockage at the intake (including the intake seacock [valve] being closed) or a failure of the replaceable rubber impeller in the raw water pump.

Picture of a raw water pump with the impeller access plate removed.
Photo from Compass Marine (an awesome site for boat repair information).

I check the seacock, and it was indeed open.  I open the inline strainer and pour some water in to see if it will flow out through the intake and it did, so no blockage there.  I then remove the plate on the pump expecting to see the broken rubber bits of the impeller.  Unfortunately, the impeller looked in pristine condition.  None of the usual culprits was the cause, and this is not a good thing.  With the cover removed, I have my wife bump the starter to verify that the pump is turning the impeller.  The impeller didn't move.  Drat.  It is starting to look like something may have broken inside the pump.  I pull the pump in preparation for taking it up to the marina shop to see if they have one.  When I pull the pump, I find that the nut that holds the gear on the back side of the pump is loose.  The result is that the gear would spin freely on the pump shaft. I tighten the nut and viola, turning the gear now turns the shaft which, in turn, spins the impeller. I reinstall the the pump and when I start the generator, the magic cooling water once again flowed from the exhaust.  So, the good part of this story is that the fix was nothing more than tightening a nut.  The bad part is that it took up a few hours that could have been spent preparing for our departure.

While messing with the generator, I noticed that the radiator cap looked like it might be leaking. Fortunately, radiator caps are relatively easy to find and one was procured from a local auto parts store. Hopefully that will resolve that little problem.

The two Westerbeke engines that propel the boat through the water (when not under sail) were also being cranky.  They, not unlike my wife and I, were protesting the cold weather and were incredibly hard to start.  The last time I started them they weren't too happy, but I figured it was due to the amount of time since I last started them in combination with the cold.  This time it hadn't been all that long, but it was a bit colder and they nearly refused to start. It took me over an hour to coax them to life so we could move the boat as the marina requested.  This simply would not have worked at all if we weren't attached to marina power where we could recharge the batteries between attempts. This needed to be fixed before we leave since I'm sure we would have killed the start batteries trying to get the engines started.

Diesels are pretty simple systems as far as engines go.  They run on fuel, air, and compression.  No pesky ignition systems to complicate issues.  But they don't like cold temperatures.  To battle this, they have things called glow plugs, basically little heaters that warm up the combustion chamber for those cold starts. I did some quick checks of the air intake and fuel and quickly focused my efforts on the glow plug system. On the starboard engine I verified that I could hear the click of the solenoid that activates the glow plugs.  I checked for voltage on the wires and it seemed fine. I then pulled one of the glow plugs and checked the resistance and it was just a little low compared to what the book said it should be (1 ohm instead of the 1.2 ohms). That didn't seem bad but we went to see if I could find a local source for them (it was getting late and I wanted to check availability before the stores closed). No one had them in stock, and I would have to order them if I needed them.  The next morning I tested the glow plug I pulled by taking a couple wires and connecting them directly to the battery.  The glow plug worked just fine.  Hmm.  I then hooked the plug back up to its voltage supply wire and attached a separate ground so I could see it work while it was hooked up to the engine.  We pushed the preheat button and nothing.  I re-verified that I was seeing voltage on the wire, and I was.  The only explanation I could think of is that the contacts in the solenoid were old and over time have developed a high resistance. This would explain seeing voltage but not enough power to make the glow plug glow.  I reinstalled the glow plug and then used a jumper wire to bypass the relay.  This time when we tried to start the engine it quickly roared to life.  Aha!

The solenoid causing the starting problem.

So, off we went to try finding a replacement solenoid.  The only diesel shop in town said they didn't have the Westerbeke part but might have a suitable replacement if I could bring them a picture.  I took several pictures and went to the shop to see what they could do.  They took a look at the pictures, walked in back and came back with a solenoid that looked very similar to the OEM part.  I took it back to the boat and installed it.  During the installation I double checked the wiring diagram and the installation on the other engine just to make sure everything was hooked up correctly.  We gave the new solenoid a try...and nothing.  This time I couldn't even hear or feel the solenoid click.  I removed the new solenoid and reinstalled the old one.  I verified that the old one still clicked and that I got the wiring right.  It was right.  Sigh.

We had wasted enough time on this issue and the weather window to leave was getting shorter, so we decided we would just press on using the jumper wire workaround until we got someplace where we could order the Westerbeke part and have it shipped in.  We took the new solenoid back.

Suspecting a similar issue on the port engine, I ran the same tests.  Voltages were fine.  I pulled one of the glow plugs and tested it and it was fine.  I did the test for the solenoid expecting it to be the fault, but was surprised when it worked fine too.  I reinstalled the glow plug and decided to give the engine one more test before I pulled the other glow plugs to see if one of them is at fault.  The engine fired right up.  Huh.  My only guess is the process of removing and testing the first glow plug must have cleaned up some corrosion and now the system is working fine. I'll call that a win.

When doing instrument checks in preparation for departure, I ran across another issue.  The chart plotter was complaining about not getting a signal from the remote GPS.  Figuring this was a connection issue, I pulled all the plugs from the back of the plotter and plugged them back in.  Restart the chart plotter, and it was again happy.  I do like these simple fixes.

When I get to warmer climates I'll need to revisit a few things.  I should take some dielectric grease to some of the electrical connections to help combat corrosion.  I also need to clean and paint the engines...but I'm not sure the paint will even dry at these temperatures.

So, we are a few days behind in our preparation to leave, but with any luck we should be heading out soon.  Now where is that grocery list...

Monday, January 4, 2016

Dodge This

To say I've been a bit concerned about this upcoming run south is probably an understatement.  It is not the trip itself, but the cold temperatures that make me not all that happy about it.  Last year when I made the run from Deltaville down to Georgia I said I didn't ever want to do that in November again...and, well, January wasn't the change I had in mind.  That time I had the soft bimini with the integrated front dodger and while it wasn't the most pleasant of trips, having the dodger to keep the chilly wind out of our faces was at least a little help. Now that we have this nice new hardtop with its increased forward view, the old dodger just doesn't fit.  That is, until now.

Deciding that we really need a dodger, I came up with a plan to retrofit our existing dodger to the new top.  It won't be pretty, but at least it will be something until we can get around to building a new enclosure.  Given neither my wife nor I want to take on another big project until we can get the fun to work ratio more in balance, I wanted this temporary solution to be able to last at least a little while.

The plan was to take the existing dodger and some of the pieces from the old soft top to create a new dodger that will fit the new top.  The old soft top already had the zippers that mate up with the old dodger and it also had a bolt rope where it was attached to the rear of the arch.  If we attached the old top to the dodger, cut it to fit the new top, and add the bolt rope to fit the yet to be cut slot in the front rail of the new top, we should have a solution.

To start I needed to cut the bolt rope slot in the bottom side of the forward handrail of the new top.  I created a gauge using some left over wood from the hardtop mold so I could draw a line in the center of the rail with a pencil.  I drilled two holes at the two ends of the slot that I will elongate so there is room to insert the bolt rope. I then used my vibrating multi-tool to carefully cut the slot.  In hindsight, I probably should have cut the slot before we mounted the top as it was more difficult to cut laying on my back on the deck.  After cutting the slot, I determined that the blade on the multi-tool created a slot that was just too thin and the bolt rope would likely bind while trying to slide it in place. I tried wrapping a stick-on sanding disc around the multi-tool blade and that widened the slot but quickly chewed up the sandpaper and left bits of it inside the slot.  Off to the store to see if we could find a solution.  What we found was a grout removal blade for the multi-tool.  This is basically a sandpaper looking metallic blade that should function like the sandpaper without wearing away.  It did the trick and widened the slot to about double the original gap.

The bolt rope slot and access hole in the front rail.

I used the multi tool to cut the holes in the ends into more of a teardrop shape.  This didn't really provide enough access to insert the bolt rope and so I took my rotary tool and a small drum sanding attachment and elongated the hole into an inch and a half opening.  That did the trick.

To clean up the cut of the slot, I took some excess 3/16 line and wrapped the stick on sanding discs around it.  This essentially made an abrasive segment of bolt rope. It was used to clean up the edges of the slot to allow the regular bolt rope to easily slide.

Getting the plastic shavings out of the slot was an interesting task.  After some work with the shop vacuum and a thin screwdriver, we were able to clean everything up and now we have a nice bolt rope slot along the bottom of the front rail.

The original dodger was slid into its original lower bolt rope track.  The old bimini was attached to it and pulled tight up over the new hardtop.  I carefully marked where the old bimini material met the lower edge of the new bimini rail.  It was a challenge to try figuring out how we could attach the old curved corners to the new, wider top, but we did the best we could.  After getting everything marked, the bimini was removed from the dodger and cut so there were two extra inches of fabric beyond the marks to allow for creating a double hem. Excess zippers, hardware, and other original mounting bits that are no longer needed were removed.

Marking and cutting the old bimini segment.

I used straight pins to temporarily hold the hem in place and then broke out the Sailrite machine and started sewing.  I finished the cut edges and then sewed on the bolt rope that was scavenged from the back of the old bimini.  I even tried a zig-zag stitch for one of the runs on the bolt rope, not because it was needed but more for the practice using the machine.

Sewing up the old bimini strip to make the "new" dodger.

The end result turned out pretty well.  Better than I expected in reality. (I wonder if my junior high home economics teacher would be proud?)  It isn't that pretty and a properly fitting enclosure would provide a better view, but it should provide us at least some protection from the wind and rain while we make our way south.

The temporary dodger. You can see how much larger the
view forward is now compared to the old dodger.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Becoming a Boat Again for the New Year

First, I want to wish everyone a a New Year with all your heart needs or desires!

Sorry for going quiet right after my post on the "completion" of the hardtop project.  It has actually been far from quiet here on the boat.  Lots of things to be done to turn our floating project space back into a seaworthy vessel.

We've repaired the D-ring issue.  After digging out the rotting wood we spent a lot of time forcing warm, dry air into the space to make sure any residual moisture was gone.  I'm sure my neighbors didn't appreciate the constant droning on of the shop vacuum that was sucking warm air through the holes but with the new year we have bid that annoyance farewell. A few very small holes were drilled in the deck and epoxy was injected to fill up the voids.  Filling the area with epoxy was done in several pours to prevent excessive heat buildup (we would wait for a layer to pass its' highest heat potential but before it was fully cured to apply the next layer).  The holes allowed any air bubbles to escape so the void is solid epoxy.  The holes in the deck are tiny, the smallest drill bit I had and the one that just barely allowed the West Systems syringe to inject resin, Once everything cured, new holes were drilled for the D-ring bolts, new 316 stainless hardware was purchased to mount it, and it was all installed with the use of butyl tape as the bedding compound.  The D-ring is now installed in a section of the deck that is probably stronger than the original and should remain leak free for a long time.  And if it does ever leak again, the balsa core will be well protected by the epoxy and should never see any water.  Once we get to warmer climates, the tiny pinholes will get a drop of color-matched gelcoat and the repair should be nearly invisible.

The stack pack and mainsail were reinstalled on the boat yesterday morning.  With that task we are already reaping the benefits of having a hard top.  Having a platform to stand on while installing these items is far superior to trying to work around the old soft top or take it down to access the boom. Even zipping up the stack pack is easier than before.

Sails back up...starting to look like a sailboat again.

We have been cleaning up the boat as well.  When boat projects are ongoing, there are tools and supplies lying around and you don't generally put them all away just to take them all out the next morning (particularly when it takes hours to dig them out of their hiding places in the various storage spaces on a boat). Of course, the result is a LOT of stuff lying about where it doesn't belong and the packing up and storing of all that stuff can take a while.

With any luck we will finally start our journey south in the next week. The idea of sitting out in the cockpit with temperatures in the 40's and 50's isn't a pleasant thought, particularly given that we have no dodger or enclosure that fits our new hardtop.  We are considering taking our old dodger and some of the material from the old soft top to make a temporary dodger that will fit the new top.  It won't look pretty, but will hopefully provide a little protection from the chilly wind in our face. Too bad Scotty isn't around to beam us down to warmer latitudes.

It is good to see our home starting to look like a sailboat again.