Sunday, December 23, 2012

Deck the Halls with Teak and Holly

Many factors contributed to us purchasing a Gulfstar 54 (and many more factors contributed to us purchasing our Gulfstar 54, Sea Gem), however, the fact that the Gulfstar's design would easily accommodate our vintage rya rug sealed the deal. I wouldn't say that having a space large enough to fit the rug was our #1 criterion when shopping for a boat, but I will say that we ruled out other boats because their interior wasn't large enough (or wasn't the right shape) to hold my prized possession.

That being said, I'm feeling a bit foolish because my precious rug is no longer covering the floor in our salon. It is (sob) rolled up (tear) and out of the way. Why did this happen, you ask? Helina. Helina made me do it.

Yes, it seems that shag rugs and tiny babes don't mix...or rather they do--a bit too well. Now that Helina is 5 months old, she is becoming increasingly mobile and as such, she is spending a lot more time on the floor. Of course, we live on a boat and floor space is scarce, so when I say that she is spending a lot more time on the floor, what I really mean is that she is spending a significant amount of time pulling at, chewing on, and spitting up all over my vintage masterpiece! It was getting a bit gross (both in a general sense and also quite literally in terms of the rug), so I rolled it up and moved it out of the way, exposing our brilliant floor:

Sea Gem's Teak and Holly Floor
Now, don't get me wrong--revealing our floor wasn't at all like the magical moments you see on HGTV when a home owner rips up their disgusting carpet and discovers pristine hardwood below--we were well aware of what lurked beneath our rug, it was just nice to have a glimpse of the floor again.

Helina squealed upon seeing the striped floor for the first time (she loves stripes). However, one member of our crew wasn't as thrilled with what was unveiled--Moishe. Yes, our dear little Moishe doesn't quite "get it" when it comes to reflective surfaces. He's been known to bark at his own reflection and proceeds with extreme caution when walking on anything shiny. Without the rug, the mirror finish of our floor left Moishe unable to determine the depth of what he was walking on and and unwilling to venture into the salon. It was sad (both in a general sense and also quite literally in terms of Moishe's intellectual bandwidth). So, we got a rug. A very inexpensive rug, with a pattern to camouflage Helina's path of destruction (spit up, drool, baby food, etc.) and enough surface area to give Moishe a bit of (much needed) assistance:

Seeing Spots
Do I like this rug as much as my rya rug? No, not at all. In fact, I can barely stand to look at this thing without getting dizzy; however, it is a temporary fix for a temporary problem, and that's all that matters (at least, that is what I keep telling myself). 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


When we bought Sea Gem, the galley came furnished with several wall-mounted wooden spice racks, which are the perfect size for storing traditional spice jars. Unfortunately, we don't own traditional spice jars. Instead, we have an abundance of wide-bottomed glass spice jars that are just large that they don't fit into the wooden holders. Because the racks couldn't accommodate our jars, they remained empty until this past summer when we began using them to store sleeves of Nespresso pods:

Repurposed Spice Racks
Recently, however, we've been using a few of the racks to store something much less addictive--baby food:

Repurposed, Again.
The racks are the perfect shape and size for holding all sorts of baby food containers, and since we were previously using the racks only as overflow storage for Nespresso pods, we haven't had to give up any of our precious cupboard space in order to accommodate Helna's baby food (we've just been making more frequent trips to the Nespresso store). 

Eventually, our daughter will be able to eat actual food (as opposed to the unseasoned mush known as baby food) and we'll restore the racks to their previous use--pod storage. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Captain is 5 Months!

5 Months Old
When my dad saw this picture, he joked that Helina was "crushing my hat." He makes a good point--our baby girl is getting nice and big! And who knows, perhaps by 6 months her neck strength will have improved enough to support wearing the hat on her head.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

But What About a Christmas Tree?

We're Jewish.

However, unlike celebrating Christmas on a boat, which would only pose logistical challenges (Where do you hide the presents? Where does the tree go? How will Santa enter? Are reindeer's hooves non-marking?), celebrating Hanukkah, the festival of lights (open flames), on a boat--particularly one with a mostly wooden interior--was shaping up to be a rather harrowing event (oy).

Thankfully, just like the Christmas tree, which is no longer adorned with actual candles, menorahs have evolved, too. Here is our new, electric menorah that arrived yesterday afternoon--halfway through Hanukkah (the brilliant idea of getting an electric menorah didn't occur to us until after the holiday was already upon us):

It's Electric!
At first, the idea of an electric menorah seemed kind of cheesy, but then I remembered that I hate scraping dried wax off of wooden surfaces (or any surface for that matter), at which time I fell in love with the idea of an electric menorah.

Amazon had several styles to choose from, but ultimately we settled on the menorah pictured above because its flickering bulbs gave the illusion of a real flame, which made it feel very menorah-y (plus, its low profile makes for easy storage).

So now, instead of our usual Hanukkah tradition of heading to bed under threat of house fire (or boat fire, as the case may be), we simple turn off our menorah and go to sleep.  

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Bed Fit for a King

Before moving onto Sea Gem, Eric and I tried very hard to anticipate what life aboard a sailboat would be like and plan accordingly. Of course, without any real context, some of our preparation and purchases turned out to be unnecessary or not a great fit (in some cases quite literally).

The process for preparing for a baby to arrive was extremely reminiscent of preparing for life as a live-aboard.  Once again, we found ourselves making plans and buying things according to assumptions, even though we had no true understanding of what the future held. And, much like when we moved aboard, we discovered that certain things we purchased were spot on, while other things we bought proved useless.

For obvious reasons, one thing we felt obligated to buy before Helina arrived was some sort of bed for her to sleep in. Although we didn't immediately purchase a crib, we did get a bassinet co-sleeper, which we intended for her to sleep in, in our bed, for the first 3 months of her life (which is something I now find hilarious considering she was out of our bed almost immediately).

Despite the co-sleeper not working out as we had hoped (having it in bed with us), we thought we could at least use it like a traditional bassinet. We were wrong. Although the co-sleeper is well constructed and appears to be a great product, it just didn't work for our baby. So, after only a few nights, Helina was out of the bassinet and sleeping--like a baby--in her bouncer, while the barely used co-sleeper was set aside...until now.

Fur Baby
Yes, our tiny pup has a fabulous new bed! His compact little body fits rather nicely in Helina's former bassinet. Moishe is thoroughly enjoying his new bed, which is quite the upgrade from the tattered pillow on which he used to sleep.

Moishe spends a significant portion of his day reminding us that he is still the baby of the family--and he now has the bed to prove it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Unwelcome Repairs, Part I

I recently wrote about our first major repair on Sea Gem, replacing the hot water heater, and that the repair went about as well as we could have hoped for.  We have been lucky with maintenance on Sea Gem, as very few things have broken in the past 16 months.  There have, of course, been the usual, routine maintenance tasks here and there--dead light bulbs, oil changes, etc.  These tasks are rarely cause for worry, but this weekend brought two maintenance tasks that, while predictable, are nonetheless unwelcome.

First up is replacing a failed "ball-valve seal" in our toilet.  Over the past week or so, the vacuum pump for our toilet has been running at odd times due to an air leak in the toilet bowl.  Basically, the toilet works by sucking everything in the bowl out with a vacuum pump.  When you flush the toilet, you break the vacuum seal, and everything inside instantly disappears (just like an airplane toilet).  When you release the flush lever, the toilet seals and the vacuum stops.  Recently, the toilet seal has begun to fail, causing the water in the bowl to slowly leak out, and once the bowl is empty, there is no longer an airtight seal, and the vacuum pump turns on.

Our toilet manual says that the seals need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years.  And 3 to 5 years happened to fall on today, unfortunately.  As it turns out, disassembling the toilet and replacing the seal was relatively easy.  It was not, however, clean or enjoyable.  Here is the old seal, properly disposed of in the trash can:

Tired Ball-Valve Seal
At least that maintenance task is over with, at least for the next three to five years.

Stay tuned for part II...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Different Kind of Black Friday Sale

The day after Thanksgiving marks the ultimate in shopping--Black Friday. Since I don't seek out opportunities to wait in long lines or be reliant upon public restrooms, I don't partake in the festivities (I'm more of a Cyber Monday kind of gal). However, this year, Sea Gem's crew conducted our own Black Friday Sail... It didn't involve any deep discounts--just beautiful weather, family, and turkey sandwiches!

Black Friday Sail

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Since Fall began, Eric and I have been fielding all sorts of questions about our plans for making a Thanksgiving feast aboard our sailboat. Many were skeptical, but we are happy to report that we successfully hosted our first Thanksgiving aboard Sea Gem for 8 of our family members. This means there were 11 humans aboard our boat (although one of the eleven is a baby, so that doesn't really count). Of course, if you factor our dog into the equation, it felt as though there were 20 people on board (Moishe has a knack for being everywhere at all times--particularly when food is involved).

Happy Thanksgiving from Sea Gem's Crew
Our Thanksgiving menu was as follows:

15 lb Herb-Roasted Turkey
Cranberry Bourbon Compote
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Turnip, Potato, and Pear au Gratin
Cauliflower with Roasted Garlic, Dates, and Pine Nuts
Green Beans with Scallions & Black Truffle Butter
Carrot Ring (courtesy of Eric's mom)
Kale with Caramelized Onions, Sauteed Apples, and (turkey) Bacon
Baked Sweet Potato Mash with Pecan Crumble
Crescent Rolls (Pillsbury, of course) 
Pumpkin Pie
Sweet Potato Pie 
Old World Apple Cake (also made by Eric's mom)
Red Wine, White Wine, and Apple Cider

Making all of this was a challenge. To make things easier, I outsourced pie production (i.e. I bought pre-made pies at the grocery store) and started cooking the night before to ensure the majority of the side dishes were done before 11am (which is when the turkey needed to go into the oven). Eric's mom also brought a few dishes, which meant even less work for us.

Thanksgiving aboard Sea Gem
Leading up to Thanksgiving, there were two questions everyone asked us: 1) How do you cook a turkey on a sailboat? and 2) Where will everyone sit?

Originally, our plan was to buy a pre-cooked turkey, but in the end, we decided to cook one ourselves. We began by buying a small(ish) turkey. Essentially, I eyeballed the turkey selection at the store and attempted to find one that appeared to be small enough to fit into our convection oven. The main challenge with the turkey, aside from finding one that fit in our oven, was finding a circular drip pan for it to rest in while roasting. You see, our oven operates much like a microwave--there is a little glass plate inside of it that rotates while you cook, spinning whatever is on it around to ensure an even bake/roast/nuke/whatever. As such, we couldn't use a traditional roasting pan because a) they were too big and b) their oval shape wouldn't allow the turkey to rotate while cooking. Our solution? We placed the turkey in one of our saute pans (they have no handles), which was large enough for the job, yet small enough to fit inside our oven.

The only surprise we encountered was when we went to hit "cook." Not shockingly, our oven doesn't have a "roast a Thanksgiving turkey" button. It also doesn't allow you to cook something for more than 99 minutes and 99 seconds... So, we roasted our bird at 350 degrees in 90 minute blocks of time, basting it in between. In the end, we had a thoroughly cooked turkey with crispy golden skin and a juicy interior (more or less anyway).

So where did everyone sit? All over the place! The woman and children sat below and ate at the table in our salon, while the men braved the cold and sat in the main cockpit (yes, it really was cold--there were jackets involved).

With the turkey monopolizing our oven (which is also our microwave), making sure all of the sides were hot when served was a challenge, so we relied on our stove to reheat many of the dishes that we had originally planned to pop in the microwave. All in all, it was a success. And, of course, Eric and I had a fantastic Plan B in case the entire meal was a failure--go to one of the two Brazilian Steakhouses within a block of our marina.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

T minus 9 days 'till Thanksgiving

Most people are surprised to learn that we cook (in a normal fashion) aboard Sea Gem. People presume we eat, but they seem to believe the method we use to prepare our food most closely resembles what happens at a camp site as opposed to what is done on the Food Network. Even upon seeing our galley, which is quite large for a sailboat, people remain doubtful. Not surprisingly, people are shocked when they learn that, this year, we intend to have Thanksgiving aboard Sea Gem.

Preparations are already underway. The menu is set, the list of ingredients is made, and our plan for undertaking this feast has been drafted. Right now, my task at hand is keeping our refrigerator free of excess food so there is room to fill it with Thanksgiving-related necessities and staples for our guests.  

Sea Gem has a beautiful refrigerator that, for a boat, is substantial in size:

Double-door refrigerator
Prior to moving aboard Sea Gem, I was worried that our refrigerator and freezer space wouldn't have the capacity to support a normal supply of food. Although what we have is not nearly as large as any land-based version, our two-part refrigerator suites our needs. The top portion of the fridge is where we store our food:

Interior of top fridge
And bottom portion is where we keep drinks, particularly beer:

Drink storage
Although the top portion of our fridge is looking good space-wise, the bottom portion needs a bit of work. Clearly, if I'm going to cram a turkey in there, Eric and I are going to need to drink a lot of beer in the next few days...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Drowning in Toys

I would describe myself as organized. Other people might conclude I have (mild) OCD. Whatever the case, the result is the same: I find comfort in order. Every day, Eric and I are vigilant about keeping the boat tidy. We make sure that everything has a place and everything goes in its place (I am much more enthusiastic about this process than Eric). It is tedious, but since our space is small, it only takes a few items "out of place" for the entire boat to look like a disaster zone. And this was before we had a baby.

Enter, Helina.

Babies seem to require a lot of stuff. Some of it is necessary and some of it is not. We try and only buy what is necessary, but "necessary" is a word subject to broad interpretation, and as such, I find us accumulating more and more baby contraptions with every passing day. That being said, I have no doubt Helina has less stuff than many of her peers (that is, with the exception of those living on a sailboat smaller than 54 feet). However, considering Helina's favorite thing to play with is her burp rag, I don't feel too bad about failing to outfit her with every baby product under the sun.

Even though we strive to get by with as few things as possible, on any given day, the interior of our boat resembles some version of this:

Helina's World
Now, if you look closely at the photo, you'll see that Helina really doesn't have that much stuff--it just seems that way because our space is so small.

So, how do we keep from being overwhelmed with baby gear in a small space? For starters, we don't leave everything out at all times. The photo above is accurate as far as what we own, but also a bit misleading. In general, when Helina isn't using something, we put it away. This practice helps us preserve our sanity, but I also think it helps Helina stay calm. I've noticed that she gets a little stressed when there is too much stuff around her (she either takes after me or she is tuned in to my stress level), so I try to not surround her with too much at any given time.

We also make sure that at the end of the day, all baby-related items are out of sight, so our salon remains an adult living space and not a child's play room.

So where does all of her stuff go? Right here (look closely):

Hidden Baby Gear
The majority of her toys, blankets, devices, etc. are stored in one of the small cabinets behind our recliners:

Nesting Owl
Some of her belongings are too large for the cabinet, so we needed to find other places for them to reside. When not in use, her tummy time blanket folds flat and hangs inside the forward stateroom, on the doorknob to the forward head (guest bathroom):

Forward Stateroom 
Since Helina's blue chair is small and (somewhat) resembles adult furniture, it remains in the main salon, in front of our ice maker and in between our recliners:

Staying on top of Helina's baby gear is important, not just for our own mental health, but also so we can go sailing (the whole reason we have the boat). If Helina's things were always out, readying the boat would be a huge ordeal. Since everything is always put away (including our stuff), we are always ready to set sail.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Itty Bitty Micro Mini

Prior to moving aboard our sailboat, Eric and I spent a lot of time searching the Internet for space-saving alternatives to our various household items. Our research led us to purchase many new things, like cups, mugs, plates, pots & pans, hangers--even musical instruments.  Thankfully, everything we bought has served us well and we no longer spend our time actively shopping for space-savers...until last week.

The other day, the travel hairdryer that I had been using since we moved aboard exploded. It was even more terrifying than you might imagine, as I was standing in a puddle of water when it happened. Needless to say, I left for work that morning sporting a wet ponytail. 

I, of course, was devastated. I wasn't upset about losing the actual hairdryer, rather I was disappointed about having to spend money on a replacement for something that gives me no pleasure whatsoever. I was also worried that finding a hairdryer that fit my strict size and wattage (900W-1,000W) criteria would be difficult. 

Although Target didn't have any hairdryers that fit the bill, Amazon did: 

BaByliss Pro TT
The reviews for this item said it was small, and the pictures indicated it was tiny, but even with all this information, I still wasn't prepared for the actual size of this hairdryer. It is shockingly small. When I opened the box from Amazon, my exact words were "OH MY GOD! What is this?!" The dryer is so small  it can fit inside of a mug (and our mugs are smaller than whatever mug you're likely drinking from):

8 oz Dryer
Despite its toy-like appearance and low wattage, it is a powerful hairdryer. And, although I didn't buy it for travel, I have no doubt it would be easy to shove into a suitcase (or your pocket), as the dryer literally fits in the palm of your hand:

Tiny Dryer!
Overall I'm pleased with my new hairdryer. It requires almost no space, is energy efficient (1,000W), works well, and so far, it hasn't exploded.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Label Me

A boat of Sea Gem's size has countless devices (pumps, electronics, lights, fans, motors, etc.), and each of these devices is operated by some combination of switches, buttons, and levers.  Unfortunately, because most of these devices were custom fit to the boat, it is not always easy to tell what switch, button, or lever controls which device.  Unlike, for example, a television, with a "power" button directly on the front of the television, many of our devices are located far away from their respective controls.  And, even if we knew which switch controls which device, it is not always easy to tell which direction is "on" and which is "off" (not to mention the various valves aboard with control levers with more than two positions).

The solution?  Labels.  Lots and lots of labels.  Sea Gem's former owners fortunately labeled most of the devices and controls with a labelmaker, but I am nonetheless constantly trying to figure out what various mystery switches are for, which pump controls which freezer, etc.  And so we recently bought our own labelmaker and have picked up where Sea Gem's former owners left off.

Epson Digital Labelmaker
Take, for example, the refrigerator.  We need to be able to turn off the refrigerator every once in awhile to defrost it.  But if we turn off the "refrigeration" switch on our electrical control panel, we turn off both the refrigerator and the freezer, which we may not want to do.  Fortunately, I eventually discovered that one of our mystery switches turns off the refrigerator alone.  How did I figure it out?  I flipped it, and nothing happened.  A couple days later, our fridge wasn't cold anymore, and so ended the mystery of the mystery switch.  (A boat fridge runs for only an hour or so per day, so flipping the switch on or off is unlikely to result in any change in noise, function, etc. - at least until the food spoils).

Now, the mystery switch has a label, both to identify it as the fridge power switch, and also to identify which direction is on and which is off:

We also labeled the light switch for our electrical panel:

And lest we not forget:

Monday, October 22, 2012

DIY Upholstery, Window Treatments, and Tinting

Sea Gem's salon (main living room) is almost entirely surrounded by ports (windows), which allow for natural light to stream through the boat's interior. This is both a curse and a blessing. Boats without large ports can be quite dark, however the absence of natural light also keeps them cool. In contrast, our boat's interior is bright and airy, however the abundance of sunlight results in excess heat.

The majority of our salon's ports are covered by custom Bermuda shades, which allow us to manually regulate the amount of natural light (and heat) entering our boat. However, our large forward-facing ports, which receive sunlight nearly all day, are not covered by Bermuda shades due to their steep angle. Uncovered, they permit a tremendous amount of light to flood our boat's interior:

Forward-facing Ports
To keep the sun's powerful rays from entering the salon, Sea Gem's previous owners created custom panels that locked into place over the forward-facing ports:

Port Covers
This clever solution works well, but the fabric covering the panels clashed with our decor. The mismatched look bothered me, but since custom upholstery work is rather expensive, fixing the panels wasn't a top priority. 

Although Eric and I agreed to put this decorating project on-hold until after we finished more important projects, as I stared at the panels the other day, it occurred to me that they were approximately the same size as a king-sized pillow case. An idea formed (I may not be the poster child for DIY projects, but I most certainly can stuff something into a pillow case). So, off to Target I went and returned with these:

$10 Pillow Cases from Target
After washing the pillow cases to remove the wrinkles, Eric and I stuffed the panels into the shams and stapled the excess fabric to the back of the panels. The result? Newly "upholstered" panels:

Newly Covered Panels
Covering the panels with pillow cases allowed us to quickly and inexpensively achieve the look we desired. However, before even starting the project, it dawned on me that since the panels cover windows, their backside would be visible from outside of our boat, and our (potentially) shoddy upholstery job would be on display for the world.

Prior to being covered by the dark shams, this is how the ports appeared from the outside:

Pre DIY Window Treatment
And here they are after:

Post DIY Window Treatment
Overall the difference is negligible. The dark color of the pillow cases is muted by the storm covers, which results in a (custom) tinted look. Very fancy. While unintentional, I'd say it is an improvement to Sea Gem's exterior.

Martha Stewart would be proud...or perhaps horrified, I'm not quite sure. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

3 Months!

Our ship's tiny captain is 3 months old! It is only a matter of time until she is shouting orders at her crew. Watch out, Moishe.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

But what about getting the baby off the boat?

Just like our dog, Moishe, our daughter, Helina, needs to leave the boat from time to time. In order to transport our dog on and off the boat, we developed a special technique that we affectionately call "Dangle Dog." As the name suggests, Moishe is dangled over the water as he is handed off from one set of hands to another. We've found this exchange to be a safe and effective way to move our dog on and off the boat.

In general, a dog is excellent practice for a baby; however, not all techniques that work with dogs also work with babies. Dangle Dog is a great example of a technique that doesn't transcend species (at least not canine to primate). Dangle Dog is safe for Moishe because in the unlikely event that he falls in, he would instinctively start paddling (albeit poorly) once his paws hit the water, which would keep him afloat until we could rescue him. Unlike our dog, Helina doesn't have an innate ability to swim (at least not that we are aware of), so as you might imagine, transporting her on and off of the boat is quite daunting. Since the idea of Helina falling into the water is absolutely terrifying, "Dangle Baby" is not being practiced while boarding Sea Gem. 

Transferring the baby from one person to another is simply not a safe option for getting her on and off the boat, so Eric and I had to figure out a way for one of us to safely board with our baby in tow. Our solution? I wear her. Literally:

Helina in her Baby K'tan wrap
With the help of our Baby K'tan wrap, Helina can be easily and comfortably secured to my torso. This is an ideal way to carry her because it leaves my hands free to steady myself as I board, which wouldn't be possible if I were holding Helina in my arms. There are times when we have carried her off of the boat while she was strapped into her car seat, but for safety reasons, the wrap is our preferred method of transport.

Of course, wearing the wrap does nothing to prevent me from falling into the water with her attached--there is always a chance that could happen; however, with Helina strapped to my body, at least I'd know exactly where she is if I/we were to fall in (and then I'd just flip onto my back to keep her head out of the water).   

Eventually, Helina will be too heavy to be supported by the wrap (and my body), and Eric and I will need to revisit our boarding options. My hope is that by the time she outgrows the wrap, she'll be treading water, which will give us peace of mind and a whole host of boarding options (maybe even Dangle Baby).  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Galley Upgrade

Out of all of Sea Gem's rooms, our galley is probably the most house-like. While most boats' galleys have miniature versions of familiar kitchen appliances (a 2 burner gas stove, a tiny oven, etc.), Sea Gem's galley is equipped with house-sized appliances. Well, sort of. Take our stove for instance. Our 26-inch, 4-burner electric stove was likely standard-sized in the 80's, but compared to the 30-inch (or more) stoves found in stores today, it is hardly standard anymore.

I love our stove. For starters, it is electric. While I realize that most people dream of having a massive gas range in their kitchen, I, for one, do not. In fact, a gas stove ranks #1 on my list of stuff I don't want. Yes, they are nice to look at, and I know nothing is better to cook with, but the horrible ticking sound they make when you turn them on sounds like a bomb about to explode, and the anxiety this causes me is something I'd rather not deal with on a daily basis (or ever). In addition to our stove's non-explosive nature, it also has a rich history, which makes me appreciate it even more. While it is true that only 3 of our stove's 4 burners function, I'd say its only real downside is that it's a bit dated looking, which isn't doing our galley any favors in the design department.

So, in general, I'm not in any hurry to replace our stove. However, the day will come when we do need to replace it and I'm convinced that when this day finally does arrive, the standard size for a stove will have increased from 30-inches to some absurd size that our galley could never hold without extreme renovation. Right now, we have found only one 26-inch stove on the market, and I worry that it won't be available forever. So, a new stove is likely in our future. Until then, I decided to give our dated 80's model a bit of a face lift by replacing our old, charred drip pans with a shiny new set. They were only a few dollars and they instantly perked up the entire galley:

Before (Top) and After (Bottom)
The Golden Girls would be proud.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Grass isn't Always Greener

In general, there really isn't much that Eric or I miss about living on land; however, ever now and then, I find myself missing a yard--the idea of a yard anyway. I don't miss having to mow grass, weed a garden, mulch, rake leaves, etc., but I do miss having a yard to look at and play in.

Well, I must have been good lately because the universe sent me a yard!

Sea Gem's Side Yard
And what a fine yard it is! Yes, this gorgeous side yard developed overnight and as it floated past our slip, it became wedged in between our boat, our neighbor's boat, and our finger pier. It is a delightful addition to the neighborhood.

Of course, by delightful, what I really mean is hideous. You see, our new yard isn't so much a yard as it is a garbage dump. And of course, by garbage dump, what I really mean is cesspool.

The really great news about the yard is that it has attracted wildlife--birds. Of course, the birds aren't hanging out in our "yard." They have taken up residence on our mast and have turned our deck into their preferred place to poop. We really enjoy having them there.

Helina, Moishe, and I pass the time playing "I spy" in our new yard. Here are some of our most recent finds:

A Water Bottle

A Plastic Lid

A Soggy Orange

Mini Plastic Pop Bottle
A Coconut

Chip Bag

A Boat Shoe (potentially a foot -- I did not investigate)

A Plastic Pill Bottle

General Debris and Organic Matter
The other day, the current picked up and our yard floated away. With it left the stench of rotting garbage and  of course, the birds. We are once again without a yard and we couldn't be happier.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Light and Magic

I recently wrote about an unanticipated boat project: the replacement of our hot water heater.  Although that project went much more smoothly than it could have, at the end of the day (and between removing the old heater, driving to and from West Marine, and installing the new heater, it did take nearly a full day), it was a $672, multi-hour project that left us in the exact same position we were in before the old heater broke.  Not very fulfilling.

After completing that task, I started on a new one--a boat project I had been planning to undertake over the weekend.  This project took all of 15 minutes, cost $13, and after it was complete, gave us functionality that we never had before.  Much more fulfilling.

The new project?  Connecting a wireless relay (remote control) to our deck lights.  When we leave the boat at night, we turn on our deck lights (bright lights mounted on the mast that illuminate the deck below) so that we can see where we are stepping and safely get on and off the boat

Forward Deck Light Mounted on Mast
Unfortunately, we've had to leave the lights on until we return, or if we leave when it is light outside and unexpectedly return late, the lights aren't on when we get back at all.

Our cheap and easy solution to the problem was to wire in a wireless relay that allows us to switch the lights on and off remotely.  The relay (which, again, cost only $13) came with two wireless remotes that attach to a keychain and are no bigger than the remote for a car

Deck Light Remote
Now, we can turn the lights off after we get off the boat, and we can turn them before we get back on.  The range, I found, was good enough--the remote works from about 50 feet away from the boat.

Or so I thought.  While I was experimenting with the remote, our neighbor came by.  After I explained what I was doing and he satisfied himself that I am not insane, he gave me a tip for extending the range of wireless remotes.  You can extend the range, he explained, by holding the remote to your chin while activating it.  Something about your jaw acting as an antenna, he said.  I had no doubt in my mind that he was joking--that he was hoping to catch me holding a remote to my chin and looking like a complete moron.  I did not give him the satisfaction.

But later, when nobody was watching, I gave it a try.  I walked further than what I knew the range of the remote to be, I held the remote to my chin, and--it worked.  To confirm, I tried again without holding the remote to my chin--nothing.  I tried again, this time several feet further away, and it worked again.  I doubled the distance, walking over 100 feet away from the boat, and held the remote to my chin.  It still worked.  After more trial and error, I was able to get the remote to work from the gate to the pier, which is 200 or more feet from the boat, thus quadrupling the distance with my chin.

Give it a try with your car remote.  I can't explain it, but it works.    

Saturday, September 22, 2012

In Hot Water

We've been pretty lucky since purchasing Sea Gem last August.  For the most part, boats needs constant repairs, and Sea Gem has had no major failures over the past year.  Sure, we've had to make a few minor (inexpensive) repairs along the lines of replacing light bulbs, fans, etc., and we've been keeping up with required maintenance, such as changing the engine oil, but we haven't had any major components break.  Part of our lucky streak is not attributable to luck at all, but rather the wisdom of Sea Gem's prior owners, who, through trial and error, fitted Sea Gem out with the most reliable components.  In any case, whether due to luck or wisdom, we've been fortunate enough not to have to make any expensive repairs.

Unfortunately, our lucky streak came to an end this past week.  On Friday morning, we woke up at about 3:30 am to the sound of our freshwater pumps grinding away at nothing but air.  We knew that we had at least 100 gallons or so of water in the tank when we went to bed, and so we knew pretty quickly that there was a problem.  And so I went out on deck to begin refilling the water tank in order to find and fix the leak.  I remembered that the previous owners once had a problem with the emergency pressure valve on the hot water heater, and that caused the water tanks to empty into the boat, and so that was the first place I looked.

Sure enough, the water heater was the culprit.  It was gushing water.  The valve that the previous owners replaced costs $25, so I was really hoping that would be problem again--but we were not that lucky.  The emergency pressure valve had, in fact, opened, but the tank itself was leaking.  We don't keep a spare water heater on the boat (it isn't quite as big as the hot water heater in your house, but it is close), and so the best I could do before going to work Friday morning was cap off the water hose to the water heater so we would at least have a functional--albeit cold--freshwater system until we could replace the water heater.

Friday morning, by the way, was as miserable as you'd imagine.  Awake at 3:30 am, crawling around in the engine room for two hours, a cold shower, and then off to work without time for either breakfast or coffee.  Awful start to the day.

This morning, I began removing the old tank and think I figured out the problem.  For our particular water heater, a 20-gallon Raritan, the emergency pressure valve is supposed to open if, for some reason, the water temperature reaches 210 degrees or the pressure in the rank hits 75 psi.  The valve on the tank, however, had been replaced with a valve for an ordinary hot water heater than opens at 150 psi.  Since that valve opened, my guess is that the thermostat failed and the pressure in the tank became so high that it not only tripped the 150-psi valve, but also cracked the tank, which was extremely rusty and probably structurally compromised to begin with.  In any case, we needed a brand-new water heater--Sea Gem's first major (expensive) repair.

Although our lucky streak came to an end, in many ways, we were still pretty lucky.  Raritan still makes virtually the exact same water heater, and the connections on the new model are in the exact same place.  That is crucial because we have two custom heat-exchanger systems, one for each engine, that connect to the hot water heater with copper pipes that are sized and bent for our precise installation.  If we needed to switch to a completely different model, we'd also need to rebuild our heat exchanger system, and I don't even want to think about how much that would cost.  And so we dodged one bullet.

In addition, our local West Marine had the replacement water heater in stock.  I had feared that we would need to mail order a replacement water heater and be without hot water for several days.  And so we dodged another bullet.

Third, West Marine had a price-match guarantee and will match the price of their competitors.  It just so happens that one of their mail-order competitors has the hot water heater on sale right now for $450 off retail.  The water heater was right on the shelf, West Marine matched the (much) lower price without a fuss, and so 5 minutes and $672 dollars later, we were on our way back to the boat with the replacement water heater.  Overall, were were pretty fortunate.

Out with the old (left), in with the new (right)
But there's more.  I usually estimate the time required for boat projects by coming up with my most conservative, educated estimate, then doubling it, then adding four hours.  I figured I'd be working well into the night in order to install the new water heater.  But, for perhaps the first time ever, there was no doubling, and there was no adding four hours.  The water heater went in with little fanfare in around three hours, and we now have hot water and no leaks.

Lowering the heater into the engine room through the (open) floor
Total cost of our water-heater failure?  Two cold showers, one miserable morning, 36 hours without hot water, 5 hours of labor (removing the old heater and installing the new one), and $672.  As far as major repairs go, we we were pretty lucky.  In fact, I'm not even certain that our lucky streak has come to an end yet...