Tuesday, October 29, 2013

End Of Vacation Memories

As we wrap up chores in preparation to depart Vero Beach, I find myself mentally separating out my favorite memories of Vero, much as I did as a child at the end of a week at Bethany or Rehoboth Beach. What shells will I keep, which will I leave at the rental, which should I return to the sand?

The pile of shells to keep for Vero includes my time with the Alzheimer’s Parkinson Association and Debra. I reconnected with individuals with dementia and their quality of life in a powerful way in Vero.

My time reconnecting with my adult children was priceless. Shells to treasure, fondle every once in a while. Shells to add to the best of life pile.

I treasure and hope to maintain my work as Dr. Cate. Presenting at Arden Courts of Largo reminded me of my passion, my gift and the thirst for knowledge and support that is so palpable for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Training Carole of Harmony Home Health, reconnecting with this agency was uplifting.

I sift through many shells of multiple colors and shapes. These were the opportunities I had to re-connect with friends from Tampa, St Pete, Alexandria, VA, MD. Some of these had been neglected, tucked in a bag in the back of the closet. What a joy it was to bring them out and shine some light and new experience on them. These friends remind me that I am so lucky to be able to travel and explore. They remind me of the importance of re-connecting, maintaining despite time gaps. They may be in a bag, but they are not to be discarded. They will continue to be a part of my treasures brought forward from the closet.

For the non-cruising sailors, the last of my shells, the ones I will toss back are the chipped and broken clam and oyster shells.

Common to many, but unique to someone who lived outside the United States for a while. One was the cinema, with a weekly matinee—a real treat we had missed. The free bus to anywhere in Vero. It had some unusual riders, and quite a variety of angles—but it was special for our time here. The Publix, Walmart, Target, Starbucks, Beall’s, . . . a mall. Michael’s and Jo Ann’s! West Marine. Car rentals. The freedom of driving through no-man’s land on the way home from an airport. Air travel----so freeing and fast :)

I relished these common and chipped shells while state-side. So now we head out. First an easy day or two on the intercoastal. Smooth waters. Then the weather window to the Bahamas Bank. And beyond to shells unknown.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thong Gone Wrong

Goodbye Vero Beach

We have been back in the US for 3 months and this week we head south to West Palm Beach to wait for southerly winds to go back across the gulf stream.  Our home this summer has been Vero Beach, Florida and it has turned out to be a pretty good way stop for us.  We are still enamored of the free county-wide bus system that takes us to West Marine, Home Depot, Sams Club, grocery stores, the mall, and our favorite: weekly matinee movie date.  The town has miles of park paths and shaded streets for off-boat exercise and there are museums and a stage theater close to the marina.  Mangroves thrive around here and we have had lots of fun exploring the canals and islets by kayak.  The anchorage lagoon is home to dolphins and last night we even had a manatee sidle up to our boat.  Yup, we have really enjoyed our stay here but now that hurricane season is over, it is time to move on.  Twice this summer, our BFF Rhonda drove over to visit - always an event to cheer us up!

Systems analysis - the good and the bad


Our consumption of power has been a little disappointing, and can be a real problem when the sun doesn't shine.  It turns out that our 480 Watts of solar panels with the Blue Sky MPPT controller, and the Rutland 913 wind generator supply an average of only 150AH per day on sunny and moderately windy days.  Before the Isotherm freezer died last week, our basic energy consumption ended up being about 180 amp hours in the summer in Florida.  That included the Isotherm DR-55 freezer (~96AH), top loader Adler Barbour refrigerator (~36AH), fans, lights, pumps and the stray vampire loads such as CO monitor, auto bilge pump sensors, idle current for the cockpit VHF and stereo radio, and cell phone/tablet chargers.  Of course power consumption only gets worse when we actually turn on and listen to the VHF or stereo radios or turn on the inverter to recharge the outboard motor battery or laptops or watch TV.

Once the DR-55 freezer died, we moved all the frozen stuff back into the original top loader and fired up the stand-alone upright fridge for excess staples like cheese and beer.  That has saved us about 30-40 AH per day but means we now have two units to periodically defrost.

With all that, our first purchase back in the US was a Honda EU2000i generator that has turned out to be a real life saver.  We run that a couple hours most evenings to keep the batteries topped up and charge up any AC devices we need while watching OTA TV.  At the peak of July and August heat, we even ran our little window A/C unit in the aft cabin off the generator on a few of the hottest nights.

Torqeedo 1003

We really liked this 3HP electric outboard and used it most every day since leaving St. Petersburg.  But despite its excellent concept and premium price, it was made far too cheaply.  The Germans had a great idea but their execution with this really sucks.  The first thing that failed was the key fob which holds the little magnet that enables the unit to run.  The fob is made such that it pops open just loud enough that you will see the critical magnet inside plop overboard and sink.  We had that happen once, rowed home and got our spare then a day later saw that one do exactly the same thing.  Luckily the magnet dropped into the dinghy that time!  I drilled a hole and bolted the two fob halves together and the magnet has not managed to escape since.

After that we were happy for a couple months until the on/off push button switch became intermittent and finally failed completely.  A run to Radio Shack got the itsy bitsy Torx wrenches to fit the screws holding the control module together.  A little playing and soldering brought switch leads outside the control box to an external switch.  That worked for about a month then the control module started to think the battery went from 90% to 5% charge in 2 minutes then turned off.  That happened a couple times before we gave up on the Torqeedo.  We have stored that for now and are using the 15HP 2-cycle Mercury.  At least that gets us up on plane :)
Our new Torqeedo on/off switch

Simrad hydraulic autopilot

One of our first projects back in the US was to install a below decks autopilot.  Our steering is hydraulic so we decided on the Simrad AP2404 package.  Installation was relatively painless especially since I got help with the final hydraulic plumbing.  I really hate plumbing!
All the bits that make up the autopilot
Autopilot pump parallel with existing steering

Rudder feedback
All went well until we got to the part of the installation manual where it gave a specific type of hydraulic oil to use with the pump.  And of course it was NOT the transmission fluid used in our existing parallel system.  I sent off a long descriptive email of our problem to Simrad tech support and got a response of "The pump only works with the specified oil".  I tried again and got a very obtuse reply.  Finally, I called the tech support number.  The guy I talked to said "No problem using transmission fluid since Morgans have been using that for decades with this pump with no problems".  I asked why I got such anti email replies and he said that they do not recommend it for new installations since some transmission fluids (used to) have wax that can wreck havoc with the pump internals.  He reiterated that we should have no problem.

Whew!  We hope this unit will have a long and useful life.  Meanwhile we have left the original Simrad wheelpilot WP32 in place as a lower current draw autopilot and backup to the below decks unit.


We have been really happy with the 12V Hookamax system.  I have now used it a few times, mostly to clean the prop and have had no problems at all.  The learning curve from being a snorkeler was maybe 15 minutes!  I did violate the vendors instructions and stuck the compressor in the engine room then ran a stub air hose into a cockpit lazarette. If we want to take the hookah in the dinghy with us it is a simple job to disconnect and move the compressor but since 90% of its use will be around the boat bottom, the engine room keeps it secure and handy.  For obvious reasons we will not be running the engine any time we are using the hookah and the outside air engine intake hose ends right at the intake to the compressor.  Highly recommended.

Rogue Wave WiFi extender

We knew we needed a long range WiFi radio repeater radio system to be able to use shore based WiFi stations.  Before leaving St. Pete I had purchased a Bullet M2HP with marine antenna but did not get around to setting the system up before leaving.  While in the Bahamas I tried mightily to get the radio setup working but just could not figure out all the settings.  When Eoin, an IT security techie type visited in June, he also couldn't get it to do what we needed.  So when we got back to the US I ordered the Rogue Wave idiot-proof device with canned software.  It uses exactly the same hardware I had onboard but this time, in about 15 minutes everything was hooked up and working.  The idiot-proof version cost about $100 more than the individual pieces but was well worth it for us!

Standard Horizon GSX-2250 VHF radio

We really like this radio with its built-in AIS receiver and display.  We have it mounted in the cockpit and it is wired to the chartplotter for GPS position and for chart display of AIS targets.  But the VHF radio has a crucial downside: it has alarms for just about everything and there is no way to disable them!  When cruising you reply on the VHF radio for all day-to-day communications so it usually is on 24/7.  This radio just cannot fill that function because of 2 of the most annoying alarms:
1. No GPS position - this alarm goes off every 4 hours if there is no incoming GPS signal.  That means we cannot leave the VHF on for communications unless we also have the chartplotter on to supply GPS, a real waste of power.
2. Weather alerts - The USCG has some extremely powerful transmitters.  While in the Abacos Bahamas, every time there was a storm warning in Miami (200 miles away) the VHF radio would put out a screaming alarm.  Talk about a rude awakening!

GlobalStar GSP-1700

We kept hearing bad reviews of the GlobalStar sat phone system but were hooked by the $40/month unlimited plan.  Initially we had the usual problems with satellite visibility and got maybe a reliable 20 minutes per hour connection.  But now that they have launched a new set of satellites, there is almost continuous coverage very few dropped calls and those times they do drop, we can usually immediately redial and connect.  Unfortunately, with the now excellent satellite coverage comes a not as excellent service plan price.  What was $40 unlimited is now $150/month.  But they do offer lesser plans at reduced prices.  Now highly recommended.

Going forward

It has been almost 7 months since we left our slip in St. Petersburg, Florida. The chartplotter says we have gone 833 NM in that time and I know we have burned through 165 gallons of diesel.  That is pretty ugly fuel usage for a sailboat!  We should be on less of a schedule now and intend to do much more sailing and less motorsailing from now on.  Well, we will see if intent becomes fact.

Oh, the title "Thong Gone Wrong"?  I am sitting here listening to Barefoot Man CD's and that song keeps playing :)