Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dangle Dog

When the tide is low, getting on and off of the boat is relatively easy. During low tide, our boat and the pier are at the same level, so as long as you don’t slip, boarding is as easy as putting one foot in front of the other. Here is a photo showing the distance from boat to pier when the tide is low:

Boarding when the tide is high or when the wind is blowing like crazy can be a bit more challenging and requires some skill. Our boat is large and tall, so when the tide is high, Sea Gem sits high above the pier (this is why by our 2nd day on the boat, we invested in the tiny step stool you see in the picture below):

Even with our step stool in place, during an extremely high tide, the distance in height from our deck to the top step can be over two feet. Even though Eric and I have become pros at boarding our boat in all sorts of conditions, when the tide is high, it can be a bit daunting.

One question we are often asked–usually immediately after a guest sees Eric and I boarding Sea Gem during high tide–is how Moishe gets on/off the boat. The short answer is that he doesn't–at least not without human assistance. Although many people allow their dogs to jump on and off their boat, we don’t. We've heard stories of dogs drowning as a result of boarding mishaps, and considering our little Moishe doesn’t exactly have a swimmers body, we aren’t eager to provide him with opportunities to put his inadequate swimming skills to the test.

Since we don’t allow Moishe to board solo, to get our pup on and off the boat, Eric and I rely on a technique we affectionately refer to as “Dangle Dog.” Dangle Dog requires two people. One person (usually Eric) exits/boards the boat first, then Moishe is "dangled" over the water before reaching the open arms of whomever is waiting on the other side. During the handoff, we usually chant “dangle dog, dangle dog, dangle dog.” Here is Moishe mid handoff:

As you can see from the picture above, Moishe isn't very enthusiastic about Dangle Dog, but he appreciates the care we take to keep him safe.

If only one of us is available, Dangle Dog isn’t an option, as it requires two humans. In these instances, we simply hold Moishe “baby-style,” and board the boat in the same manner as we would board without him.

Does Moishe enjoy either of these techniques? Unlikely. However, he does like being safe—and that is all that matters.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Mighty Hella Fan

Most boat owners will quickly attest to the fact that things on boat break.  They break quickly, and they break often.  Fixing things is just a part of boat ownership. 

Of course, some things last longer than others.  We are fortunate to have purchased Sea Gem from caring owners who, over the past 25 years, figured out what is built to last and what is not and equipped Sea Gem accordingly.  Nothing lasts forever, especially on a boat, but we are fairly confident that everything on Sea Gem is built to last for about as long as is possible on a boat.

Although Sea Gem has air conditioning, we don't run it all the time.  It is costly to run the air conditioner when not plugged into the grid at dock, and when it isn't that hot outside, it is nice to open the windows and, when necessary, turn on the fans. 

We have lots of fans.  Nine that I can think of at the moment: two in our stateroom, one in our head, two in the salon, one at the nav station, one in the bunk stateroom, and two in the guest stateroom.   

As it turns out, not all fans are created equally.  At the nav station, we have one of those "soft touch" style fans.  It is noisy and moves hardly any air.  And I've touched it--it is not that soft.  The only reason that it still works, no doubt, is because it has not had any use--because it is a lousy fan.  We have three other fans in the boat that move plenty of air, but are incredibly noisy.  Fine during the day, but certainly nothing you can sleep to.

Our remaining six fans are "Hella" fans.  They are whisper quiet, move plenty of air, and draw almost no electricity.  They can also be adjusted and locked in almost any position.  And they last forever.  For an interior fan on a boat, you could not ask for anything more. 

Last night, one of our six Hella fans died.  I hit the switch to turn it on before we went to bed (it points from an opening port to the bed--an ideal position), it slowly turned a couple times, and then it stopped.  I was tired, so I went to bed and hoped that it would fix itself over night.

It did not.  This morning, I checked the fuse on the dead Hella fan.  Aha!  The fuse was broken.  I replaced it, and the fan immediately sprang to life.  Well, sort of.  In a sprang-to-life-means-spew-smoke-and-burn kind of way.  I quickly turned the Hella fan off.  It was officially dead.

What is so great about a fan that breaks, you ask?  First, that fan was probably used more than any fan in the boat.  The knob was worn down with use.  Second, it was probably more than 20 years old.  The fan was stamped "Made in West Germany."  It clearly did all that was asked of it and more.

Fortunately, we have a spare Hella fan on the boat.  It was probably purchased 20 years ago, too.  Everything was in German.  It had that 1980's style font on the price label.  And, of course, it was proudly made in "West Germany."

Five minutes later, it was installed and silently doing its job.  I don't expect any problems for about twenty years.  I just hope they (Hella?) still makes Hella fans then.  Maybe we should stock up? 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Underfoot, but out of the way

Like most sailboats, Sea Gem has an abundance of unique storage spaces. Even the few stairs found aboard Sea Gems serve a dual purpose:

The step pictured above is found in our galley (leading to/from our salon), and as you can see, it opens! That's right, this step is also a storage bin. So what do we keep in this particular step? Little Moishe's food and treats:

Although I am sure the question of where we store our dog's food is likely not weighing on your mind, for me, it was a cause for concern when contemplating life on a boat. After all, dog food is big and bulky--two words you don't want describing anything being stored aboard a boat. I worried that accommodating Moishe's food would result in a huge, ugly bag of dog food sitting in the middle of our salon, spewing greasy little dog-food crumbs all over my precious rya rug.

Thankfully, we have this step.

Moishe likes it, too. He now has the perfect perch from which to guard his food, as well as an appropriately sized stage to showcase his signature begging position:

Friday, November 18, 2011

But what about electricity?

As we have described in previous posts, we have televisions, air conditioners, and many other devices that feed on electricity. Where does the electricity come from, you ask?

Like so many other things on Sea Gem, we have options. Three options.

First, we can plug our boat into the regular power grid (the same one your house is wired into) using an extremely thick extension cord:

When plugged in, we can pull up to 50 amps (AC), which is more than enough to run every single item in our boat at the same time (stove, oven, air conditioners, etc.). This is called "shore power."

Of course, we are not always at the dock. When we are out at sea or otherwise not using shore power (for example, if the power is out), we can run off our batteries. We have enough battery power to last a couple days. We have two inverters that convert the battery power (which is DC) to AC power, which can run all of our AC devices (televisions, for example). We can also charge our batteries when running our engines, and we also have six solar panels that help keep the batteries charged. The only downside to the batteries is that they are not powerful enough to run either the air conditioner or the stovetop.

Our third option allows us to power whatever we want when we are away from the dock: an 8000 Watt diesel generator.

The generator puts out plenty of AC power that is sufficient to run the air conditioner and the stovetop as well as top off the batteries. It runs on fuel, of course, so we can't run it forever, but it only burns about half a gallon an hour or less, so we can run it for as long as necessary for the most part.

To switch between these three methods of electricity, we have a switch on our electrical panel that couldn't be easier to use. It has four settings: shore, inverter, generator, and off:

Pretty simple, right?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stiltsville, USA

Weather permitting, Eric and I go for a sail every other weekend. Typically, we leave our marina and head for the Gulf Stream, which is just a few miles off the coast of Miami Beach. Depending on the wind, we head either north or south, and do our best to catch a fish (which, as of today, we have yet to accomplish).

With winter approaching, the winds have changed. A consistent, strong wind now blows from the north, which has resulted in some rather rough waves in the Atlantic, where we typically sail. Since I am new to sailing, I tend to freak out whenever we encounter a wave larger than, say, 2 feet, so sailing around in the choppy, large waves of the Gulf Stream is a bit terrifying for me. Although the rational part of my brain understands it would require a wave at least 30 feet high to capsize Sea Gem (a fact Eric reassures me of each time we sail), the fear center of my brain isn't convinced. To preserve my sanity, Eric and I decided to sail around Biscayne Bay last weekend, and avoid the large waves of the open ocean until I am a bit more seasoned (or, at the very least, sedated).

Biscayne Bay is absolutely beautiful. Not only is it calmer than the open ocean, it also seems to be the sailing-epicenter of Miami. We rarely see other sailboats when we're in the Atlantic, but as soon as we entered the bay, there were dozens of them!

We also encountered something else in waters of Biscayne Bay typically not seen in the ocean: houses!

Stilt Homes

The stilt houses of Biscayne Bay are known collectively as Stiltsville. Although I was keeping a close watch on our depth meter as we made our way though the shallow channel leading into the bay, I was able to snap a few pictures of the homes in this rather unusual neighborhood:

A-frame House

Jimmy Ellenburg House

Leshaw House

Baldwin, Sessions & Shaw House

Bay Chateau

Stiltsville dates back to the early 1920s, at which time the houses served as social clubs and places to gamble. Since the bay is now protected, no new stilt homes may be built, nor may any of the remaining homes be re-built if they were destroyed by a hurricane, etc. During Stiltsville's peak, 27 houses stood in the waters of Biscayne Bay; however, after hurricanes Betsy (1965) and Andrew (1992), only 7 of these historic homes remain.

Certainly gives new meaning to the phrase "living in the sticks."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

But what about water?

A common question we are asked is how we get water aboard for washing, showering, drinking, etc. Like so many things on a boat, it depends.

We have a spigot at our dock that is connected to the city's water supply. For the most part, all of our water passes through that spigot. As for getting the water from the spigot into our shower, glasses, etc., we have a couple options.

We have a 267-gallon water tank that is built into our boat. Because 267 gallons of water is quite heavy (over 2000 pounds), the tank is located low in the boat for stability. We can fill the tank with fresh water by attaching a hose from the spigot to our water tank, which has an filling point on deck:

Once full, it will last for about about a week before it needs to be refilled. We are able to monitor our water level from inside the boat, which helps prevent us from running out of water at an inopportune time. As you can see from the picture below, we've recently filled up:

There is an electric pump that pressurizes the water in a smaller tank, and the smaller tank supplies pressurized water to all of our faucets and showers throughout the boat (it works pretty much like a Super Soaker). The faucets work exactly like a faucet in a house with one exception: because the pressurized tank is small, the water pressure fluctuates as the pressurized tank loses its pressure and is refilled/repressurized from the big tank.

Our second option is to bypass the water tank entirely and connect our boat directly to the spigot with a hose, via this attachment point in our aft cockpit:

Because city water arrives pressurized, we don't need to use our pump or pressure tank and are treated to an endless supply of water with a steady pressure. There are two downsides to this method, however. First, after sitting in the water hose overnight, the water smells like plastic in the morning when we turn on the shower. The smell goes away quickly, but we don't like the idea of drinking water that is on the verge of smelling like plastic. Second, we have to use our water tank every once in awhile to keep mold from growing in it, and switching back and forth is irritating. So we usually just fill the water tank every week and use the pump, fluctuating pressure and all.

We also have the ability to get fresh water without using the spigot at all. We have a water maker on the boat that turns seawater into fresh water. It produces around 20 gallons an hour, which is plenty. But, with a spigot next to our boat, we haven't had reason to use the water maker yet. That will have to wait for the Bahamas.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Home sweet boat...

Decorating is done! As promised, here are pictures of our home:

Cockpit (a.k.a. our front porch)

Aft cockpit (a.k.a. back porch)

Companionway (a.k.a. front door)

Salon (a.k.a. living/dining room)

Navigation station (a.k.a. office)

Forward passageway (a.k.a front hallway)

Laundry/linen closet

Engine room door

Engine room (a.k.a basement)

Forward berth (a.k.a. guest room)

Side berth (a.k.a. bunk room)

Forward head (a.k.a. guest bathroom)

Galley (a.k.a. kitchen)

Master stateroom (a.k.a. master bedroom)

Master head (a.k.a. master bath)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Say what?

Since moving onto a boat and learning to sail, I've discovered that much of my everyday speech already contained an abundance of nautical metaphors and references.

This revelation came one day when Eric asked me to see if the "tell-tales" were flat. I responded with, "Huh?" He then pointed at two little pieces of fabric attached to the mainsail, and explained that when these pieces of fabric are flush against the sail, you know the sail is in the correct position. My response was, "Ah... a tell-tale sign."

Circled are our forward sail's 3 sets of tell-tales

I began thinking about other things I say--particularly in a professional setting--and realized that maritime terms abound within business jargon. For instance, I describe an organization's leader as "being at the helm," although I sometimes question who is "steering the ship."

I describe uncertainty as venturing into "uncharted waters," which requires "learning the ropes" before experiencing "smooth sailing." A situation with no positive outcome is, of course, a "sinking ship," which might cause some to "jump ship" or "abandon ship" because they fear being "dead in the water."

Resolving problems requires getting your "bearings" before selecting a "heading" and "charting a new course." When garnering the support of others, I say I'm getting them "on-board." When there is a time-crunch, I call for "all hands on deck," and I can't count the number of times I've used some form of "we're all in the same boat," or "you're either on the boat, or you're off it."

When I reach out to someone who is struggling, I say I'm "throwing them a line." I think of level-headed individuals, who keep a team grounded, as "anchors." Reliable people are "beacons," while others shock me by "showing their true colors."

Work isn't the only place I find myself using these common nautical terms and phrases. My speech is riddled with them! Here are just some of the many seafaring words, phrases, and idioms that have worked their way into my vernacular over the years (yours, too, probably):

Allow for leeway
Anchors aweigh
Bail out
Batten down the hatches
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
Bitter end
Bristol condition
By and large
Clean bill of health
Close quarters
Coast is clear
Copper-bottomed investment
Dead ahead
Down the hatch
Edging forward/edgewise
First Rate
Fly by night
Go by the board
Hand over fist
Hard and fast
High and dry
Jury rig
Laid up
Loose cannon
Making headway
Missed the boat
Pipe down
Rock the boat
Rummage sale
Shake a leg
Slush fund
Son of a gun
Squared away
Take down a peg
Taken aback
Taking the wind out of his/her sails
Three sheets to the wind
Turning a blind eye
Under the weather
Under way
Walk the plank
When my ship comes in

While working on this post, I came across one nautical saying that I had never heard before (although its true meaning did not likely originate at sea). It is crude, mildly off-putting, potentially offensive, and yet, upon reading it, I felt regret that this charming visual wasn't part of my vocabulary during any one of the many years I spent living in freezing cold climates. Although I may not have many opportunities to use this phrase moving forward in life, I hope that at least one of our cold-climate readers will forgo the ever popular "Gosh, the morning winter air is so crisp," and instead opt for this poetic description:

"It is cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Window Treatments on a Boat?

Although natural light is a great addition to any room, windows have their downsides. In addition to light, they let in heat. Not a bad thing in a house up north in the winter, but on a boat in Florida, big windows (boatspeak: "ports") can turn the interior into a greenhouse pretty quickly. Although we run the A/C when we are at the dock, we can't run the A/C very easily/inexpensively at sea, so we need to control the amount of heat that comes through the windows and builds up inside the boat. This problem is more serious on Sea Gem than on most boats because Sea Gem has enormous windows that don't open. The windows are thus very effective at both letting in and trapping lots of heat. This is a problem.

Fortunately, Sea Gem's prior owners came up with a solution that lets us control the amount of light and heat that comes through the windows: Bermuda shutters. Here they are positioned in a variety of sun-blocking angles:

I have seen many boats, but I had never seen Bermuda shutters on a boat before stepping aboard Sea Gem. It is incredible that they have not caught on. Boat manufacturers should consider making them standard equipment because they really do work. We can control the amount of light that gets in, from shutting it out completely to filling the room with sunlight.

A second downside to large windows on a boat is that they can break. In a big storm, a well-placed wave could potentially smash a large port and fill the boat with water, and that unpleasant scenario is well worth trying to avoid. On Sea Gem, we don't have to worry about that problem because we have storm windows on the outside of the windows:

The storm windows are extremely thick plexiglass--strong enough to protect the windows from a freak wave, and they have the benefit of being clear so that we can leave them installed all the time and still get light down below.

Between the shutters and the storm windows, we are able to enjoy the benefits of having nearly house-sized windows on our boat without suffering the consequences. One more feature that makes Sea Gem an excellent home.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Signs of life

In a previous post, I documented my plants' failing health. Since then, my once-vibrant houseplants continued to deteriorate:

Woolly Pocket #1: Jade and Mother-in-Law's Tongue

Woolly Pocket #2: Spoon Jade, Holiday Cactus, and Aloe Vera

If you look at earlier photos of my jade, and compare them to the sad picture above, you'll likely notice that, in addition to the plant no longer having any leaves, a large section of its tallest branch has actually fallen off. As this particular plant is rather dear to me (a gift from my mom), I thought its fallen limbs deserved a proper sea burial, so I laid them to rest in the Gulf Stream during our last sail:


What remained of my plants wasn't exactly pretty:

Rotting jade leaves

Shriveled spoon jade

Shriveled and wilted spoon jade

Dehydrated holiday cactus

However, as I began photographing my plants' unsightly state, I discovered something remarkable and unexpected--signs of life! I noticed tiny little buds sprouting from within the cracks of the wilting branches of my large jade:

Two weeks later, these same buds are now flourishing:

This rejuvenation wasn't confined to just the large jade. My other plants, too, experienced a rebirth. Although the spoon jade remains a hopeless shriveled mess, its Woolly Pocket roommates have sprung back to life. New aloe vera stems have begun to surface, and the holiday cactus is looking heartier by the day:

So how did I manage to turn my plants' health around in just a matter of weeks? Simple--I moved my plants to our aft cockpit (out of sight) and ignored them (out of mind)! Unlike some people who have green thumbs, I have what is best described as a "death thumb." Essentially, the greater role I play in the survival of my plants, the less likely they are to live. Thankfully, with my plants located far from the reach of my death thumb, nature was able to take its course and restore my plants' health (at least for 4 of my 5 plants). Proof yet again that I chose wisely in selecting a career that didn't involve either agriculture or healthcare.