Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Shady Porch

One of our favorite features of our boat, a Gulfstar 54 Sailcruiser, is the aft cockpit, which can be accessed both from the deck and from a door leading directly to our stateroom.  It is quiet and private, and it is low to the water, which creates a feeling of being "connected" to the water that you don't generally get in a big sailboat.  It is a perfect place to fish when underway, or to lounge about when at anchor or in port. In many ways, the aft cockpit functions as would a porch or balcony in a house or condo, and it help makes Sea Gem a very comfortable place to live.

The only problem with our aft cockpit is that it has no protection from the sun or rain, which limits the time it can be used, especially during the intense sun and frequent rains of the summer.  In addition, the teak trim around the aft cockpit, while beautiful, is bombarded by the sun's rays more frequently than any other part of the boat, which greatly reduces the lifespan of the varnish finish.

Our solution was to design an awning that covers the aft cockpit:

Aft Cockpit Before
Aft Cockpit with Cover
Plenty of Headroom 
Our design shades the cockpit and teak trim, provides protection from the rain, doesn't block the breeze, and is cut so that we can walk into the cockpit from the deck without ducking or otherwise maneuvering around the cover. It came out beautifully (we had a professional fabricate it for us), and we are now spending more time lazing around on our porch than ever before.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Push Gift

When Eric and I first began boat shopping, one feature we kept an eye out for was the amount of exterior teak found on each boat. While beautiful, a lot of exterior teak means a lot of maintenance, which equals either a lot of time or a lot of money.

For her size, Sea Gem has a moderate amount of exterior teak; however, her size is large, and even a modest amount of teak is a lot. Sea Gem's woodwork was actually one of the first things we noticed about the boat because it was absolutely perfect--a gorgeous color and a brilliant shine. The secret? Awlbrite, a clear acrylic urethane topcoat that the previous owners had applied directly to the naked teak.

Eric and I both knew maintaining Sea Gem's teak would be a challenge, but we were up for it. In fact, we were all set to start sanding and applying a fresh coat (or coats, rather) of Awlbrite, but then we found out I was pregnant. Since the inhalation of fine teak partials and caustic fumes doesn't mix well with pregnancy, we decided to hold off on refreshing the woodwork.

As my pregnancy progressed, our once shiny teak lost its luster and its top coat turned brittle and began to chip. It was sad--like watching a perfect manicure fade away. We knew we needed to do something in order to keep the wood protected, and since it would be awhile before we could do the work ourselves, Eric began researching low-maintenance options for keeping our teak in shape. He finally settled on Teak Guard. I was not pleased. While I have no doubt Teak Guard works well, I really didn't want it applied to Sea Gem's wood. I felt like this product is to teak what self-tanning lotion is to skin.

Thankfully, I was pregnant, and as most ladies (and many men) know, pregnancy doesn't just yield babies--with it comes "push gifts." At first, I thought the idea of a push gift was a bit silly; however, as I watched my once athletic body slowly morph into a lumpy pear-shape, while at the same time endured 9 months of other "joys," I suddenly felt deserving of a little compensation. So, for my push gift, Eric spoiled me with fancy, professional teak work.

First, the old clear coat had to be removed:

After all the teak was stripped, it was sanded, then varnished, then sanded, then varnished, etc. After about 10 coats of varnish had been applied, two coats of Awlbrite were applied (with sanding in between), resulting in a glass-like coating to our exterior wood. Here are some photos of the work in progress:

Rail in the aft cockpit:

(Top L-R) Sanded, 1 Coat of Varnish
(Bottom L-R) Multiple Coats of Varnish, Final Product
Toe rail surrounding the perimeter of the boat:

(Top L-R) Sanded, 1 Coat of Varnish
(Bottom L-R) Multiple Coats of Varnish, Final Product
Toe rail leading to the aft cockpit:

(Top L-R) Sanded, 1 Coat of Varnish
(Bottom L-R) Multiple Coats of Varnish, Final Product
Aft cockpit toe rail:

(Top L-R) Sanded, 1 Coat of Varnish
(Bottom L-R) Multiple Coats of Varnish, Final Product
I'm guessing that most push gifts don't typically contain as many chemicals as the one Eric got for me, but that's OK--I couldn't be happier with the present I received. I'm just hoping that I don't need to have a baby each time our teak needs touching up.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Her Majesty's Ship

It is official--Moishe has been demoted. Our ship's former (furry) baby, is now just a dog. He had a good run while it lasted, but as of this week, we have a new crew member, and poor little Moishe is officially outranked. Introducing Sea Gem's newest officer, Helina (he-LEE-nuh), our daughter:

Helina in the Commander's Hat
We know that a lot of couples struggle when selecting a name for their child, but Eric and I settled on 'Helina' rather quickly. In the Jewish faith, it is traditional to name children after deceased relatives. Helina is based on 'Helen,' which is a name found on both sides of our family tree. Helina's middle name starts with an "M," and since our last name begins with an "S," her initials are H.M.S.

While it was not our intent that she have such nautical initials, we determined it was a sign that we picked the right name for someone destined to sail. And, although I'm not a huge fan of referring to little girls as princesses, I suppose I'm OK with sarcastically referring to ours as "Her Majesty."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

And Let There Be Light... (And No Heat, Please)

Most boats use halogen bulbs for interior lighting fixtures.  Compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs are compact and energy-efficient, both significant advantages on a boat.  A downside of halogen bulbs, however, is that they generate a tremendous amount of heat.  At least here in Florida, heat is an enemy of comfort--the cabin gets hot enough on its own, especially during the summer.

Fortunately, Sea Gem's former owners replaced the majority of the halogen bulbs in the overhead lighting fixtures with Sensibulb LEDs.  The Sensibulbs are fantastic.  Each bulb generates nearly as much light as a 20-watt halogen bulb (much more than the 10-watt halogen bulbs they replaced), and uses just over 2 watts of electricity.  The energy savings is a major benefit, as we can keep the cabin well-lit while at anchor without fear of draining our batteries.  In addition, the LED's generate almost no heat, so the cabin stays cool, even with all of the overhead lights on.  Finally, Sensibulbs, like all LEDs, last nearly forever and won't need to be replaced any time soon.  The Sensibulbs were a great upgrade.

Although our overhead lights had Sensibulbs when we bought Sea Gem, our other lights, such as reading lights and certain bathroom lights, did not.  Although we don't use these light as frequently as the overhead lights, part of the reason why they are used infrequently is because reading near a halogen bulb feels like a heat gun is pointing at your face.  We have two nifty halogen swivel lights at our desk that provide plenty of light for reading and doing work, but make the entire office area unbearably hot after leaving them on for awhile.  As a result, we decided to upgrade the remainder of our halogen bulbs with LEDs.

Although Senibulbs are fantastic, they won't fit in many of our fixtures and, further, cost $40 a piece.  As a result, we decided to go with cheaper bulbs from Amazon ($5 to $10 per bulb) that come in a variety of shapes for various applications.

For most of the reading lamps, we bought round LED discs that, so far, work great.  Each disc has 10 individual LEDs that generate plenty of light, no heat, and draw less than 2 watts of electricity:

The reading lamps in our bedroom used a different shape of halogen bulb, and for those, we bought some crazy-looking LEDs with a single, high-powered LED that puts out as much light as a 10-watt halogen bulb and draws only 2 watts:

In our guest bathroom, which was always too dark, we had earlier installed a fixture with two 18-watt halogen bulbs, for a total of 36 watts. The fixture is extremely bright, but the two high-powered halogen bulbs quickly heated up the bathroom with the efficiency of a heat lamp. We replaced the halogen bulbs with 3.6-watt LED cylinders, each with 18 individual LEDs. The new LEDs generate as much light as the old halogen bulbs while using a fifth of the electricity and generating no heat at all:

Finally, for the computer lights that we loved enough to risk halogen-induced sunburn each time we turned them on, we found some narrow LED cylinders, each with 13 individual LEDs, that are the exact size and shape of the halogens they replaced and fit perfectly in the fixtures:

They put out a nice, warm light, but no heat, and make working at the desk much more comfortable:

With these new LEDs, we have continued to make Sea Gem more comfortable and energy-efficient. Still, there are several halogen, fluorescent, and incandescent bulbs to go, and so the mission continues...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nautical Nursery

Although our baby hasn't arrived yet, a nautical-themed room awaits her. Our starboard stateroom is all set for a tiny sailor to come aboard.

The plush bedding formerly covering the bunks has been replaced with kid-friendly, sea-themed blankets and pillows:

Since I don't know what our little girl is going to be like (a girly-girl? a tomboy? none of the above?), I bought a mixed bag of ocean-themed decor I hope she'll find appealing.

The top bunk has pirate bedding:

And the bottom bunk is mermaid-themed:

Although the nursery is small in size, it is extremely functional. We even have a changing station:

It was nearly impossible to find a changing pad that fit the dimensions of the built-in shelf pictured above. Everything we found in stores was much too large (and was a bit pricey for something destined to be covered in pee and poop). Thank goodness for Ikea. They sell an inexpensive inflatable changing pad that fits perfectly in our little nursery.

To make the room feel complete, I scoured Etsy for youthful wall art to complement our aquatic nursery. I decided upon these prints of an octopus and whale from Lily Cole Designs

So, the nursery is complete--it just needs a baby!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Eric and I are frequently asked about how we wash our clothes. The question makes me a bit self-conscious (Why do you ask? Do I smell?), but I'm still happy to provide an answer.

Many people are surprised to find out that we actually have a washer/dryer combo aboard our boat:

Sea Gem's "Laundry Room"
Having our own machine is certainly a plus; however, even if we didn't have one aboard, we'd still have a lot of options for doing laundry. Our marina has a private laundry facility and there are also an abundance of laundry services available around the city. Currently, we use a service for our dry-cleaning and regular clothes, the marina's facility to wash sheets and towels, and our on board machine for emergencies.

Before moving aboard Sea Gem, I disclosed some embarrassing details about our laundry history. I explained how Eric's pride and joy, the Wonderwash, a butter-churn-style contraption, was the bane of my existence for several years, and how I was overjoyed when it finally broke. Given my god-awful experience doing laundry with the Wonderwash, you might be surprised to know that I am now the proud owner of my very own manual clothes-washing tool--the Scrubba Wash Bag!

What is a Scrubba? Essentially, it is a compact, self-contained washboard. I found out about the Scrubba from my uncle. He thought it might be something we'd want for the boat, and not two days after he emailed me about it, I found out through a friend, that I could buy a Scrubba through the crowdfunding site, Indiegogo. Here is how you use it:

First, you fill the Scrubba with a small amount of dirty clothes:

Then, you add detergent and hot water:

Next, you seal the Scrubba and let out the excess air:

Then, you scrub! The flexible washboard is inside the bag, so you don't get wet:

Finally, you drain, rinse, drain (again), and hang the clothes to dry:

The ability for Eric and me to do a small wash, without having to rely on our machine, will come in handy when we're out sailing for more than a day or two--especially when it is hot. I learned quickly that, on a boat, people can get a tad stinky (at least when at sea)! When we sail, we don't use our A/C so, it can get a bit unpleasant at times (hot weather - A/C + close quarters = a stinky situation). Being able to hand wash a few dirty items and salt-soaked bathing suits while we're out will help keep unwanted scents under control.

Even though we haven't been sailing for a few weeks, the Scrubba has still come in handy. I have a handful of delicate clothing items that require hand washing, and the Scrubba is well suited for this task. While we have no plans to use the Scrubba in place of our other laundry options, its size and functionality are perfect for a boat.