Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Lowly Water Pump

All refrigerators pull heat from inside the refrigerator and expel it--somewhere.  Most refrigerators have a radiator, and sometimes a fan as well, used to disperse the heat to the surrounding air.  For a refrigerator that runs nearly all the time, like an ordinary land refrigerator, the heat generated at any particular time is minimal, and the air-cooled method works just fine.

Our refrigerator, however, is designed to run for only a couple hours a day.  During that time, it pulls a massive amount of heat out of the box in order to freeze a steel block that, like a big block of ice, keeps the refrigerator cold for several hours.

Because the refrigerator generates substantial amount of heat in a short period of time, it needs to be water-cooled to more efficiently dissipate the heat.  The system is simple enough--a little pump pulls water from the ocean, runs it through the refrigeration system, and spits it back out into the ocean.  The problem, though, is that if the water pump does not work, neither does the refrigerator.

This is what happened to us this weekend, when our refrigerator stopped working.  The same problem happened almost a year ago, but we fortunately had a spare water pump at that time.  This time, no working spare.  The pumps are rated to last for 3000 hours, which at 2 hours a day, is over 4 years.  The pump we installed a year ago did not, of course, last 4 years--it lasted one year.  The spare came with Sea Gem and may have already been previously used for a different purpose, leaving it with only a quarter of its life span.  Also, when we ran out of freon earlier this year (this has not been a good year for our refrigerator), the pump ran almost constantly for a week or two while the refrigerator struggled to stay cold.  In any case, the pump died, leaving us with no working refrigerator.

And so I ordered a new pump, an updated version of the old one.  This pump uses a different type of motor (brushless) and is rated to run for 50,000 hours--at 2 hours per day, that is over 68 years.  Do I expect it to run for 68 years?  Of course not.  Part of the magic of boat ownership is that everything breaks before it is supposed to and at the worst possible time.  But I sure expect it to last a good deal longer than one year.  Stay tuned for an update sometime before 2083

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


One of the strangest experiences you have when living aboard is that from time-to-time, your neighbors disappear. I don't mean they disappear as in they become lost at sea, but rather in the more literal sense of the word--one moment your neighbors are there and then the next, they are gone. Although it doesn't happen often, every now and then, Eric and I wake up, open our hatch, and discover that the boat that was next to us when we went to sleep has vanished, never to return. No note, no call--just gone. This weekend, as is sometimes the case, one of our neighbors disappeared: 

Having a boat docked in the slip next door is nice for several reasons. Among other things, its hull creates the illusion of a wall, and when walking on-deck or disembarking the boat, this "wall" makes you feel safe and secure even though it provides absolutely no protection with regards to preventing a fall into the water.

Now that our neighboring slip is empty, as I step off our boat and make my way down our finger pier, I consciously have to remind myself that I am just as safe (or not safe) as I was when our former pier-mate was tied up at dock. It has been a few days since our neighbor departed, and I'm still not used to the wide-open space just outside our door:

Needless to say, I've been feeling a bit vulnerable lately. On a positive note, however, now that the slip next to us is empty, our view of the setting sun is completely unobstructed, which makes for a pleasant end to the day:

Unobstructed View

Monday, October 28, 2013

Our Refrigerator is Broken (Again) and Our Freezer is a Refrigerator (For Now)

Our refrigerator died this weekend.  It was the third time in a year.  The first time, almost exactly a year ago, the water pump died.  Fortunately, we had a spare water pump and were up and running again in no time (after figuring out that it was the water pump that was broken).  Repair cost: free.  The second time, the refrigerant leaked out, and we needed to pay someone to come out with fancy refrigerant-sniffing equipment to find and repair the leaks.  Repair cost: too much to say.  This time, the water pump died again (I think).  Unfortunately, we don't have a working spare on hand, so I needed to order one. Even assuming that it arrives and I can get the refrigerator working again (without calling the expensive refrigerant sniffer man) that leaves us with about a week without a working refrigerator.  With a baby on board, that is not a workable situation.

And so I came up with two plans to hold us over for the week until the pump arrives (or longer, if the new pump doesn't fix the problem), neither of which required that we spend any money that we weren't planning on spending anyway.  As it turns out, we were planning on making two food-cooling purchases in the coming months.  First, a big marine cooler to keep on deck.  And so, my first plan was to buy the cooler now rather than later, fill it with ice, and use that as our "refrigerator" until the real refrigerator comes back online.  Second, a freezer to replace our old freezer (that has been disconnected for months).  And so, the second plan was the buy the freezer and set the thermostat to refrigerator temperatures and use that as our "refrigerator" until we get the refrigerator working again.

Krissy's preference, quite reasonably, was plan two, which does not require that anyone go up on deck to grab and return a carton of milk.  My preference?  Whichever one was the better deal.

As it turned out, West Marine had the freezer we wanted at exactly the same price we'd have paid had we comparison shopped online, but they were charging far more for the cooler than the best price I've found.  And so we bought the freezer, an Engel MT45.

The freezer keeps a nice, steady refrigerator temperature in the mid-30s Fahrenheit, and it is whisper quiet.  It also has a very solid feel.  Compared to the competing brands we looked at, the Engel is far more solid.  Since it is top-loading, it isn't as convenient to use as our refrigerator with shelves, but when the time comes, it will be a perfect freezer. 

The one downside to plan two is that, while we already have a place to mount the cooler on the deck, we have not yet prepared the kitchen to accept the freezer (it will eventually be built into the counter).  And so, for the time being, we have to put it wherever it will fit, which happens to be under the navigation/computer desk, currently next to my feet. 

Hide and Freeze
Better than in the middle of the salon, for sure, but not quite as discrete as inside the countertop.

We'll give a more thorough review of the freezer later, but for now, it is doing a great job as a refrigerator.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Even Comfier Place

I recently wrote about a minor cosmetic upgrade that we made to our cockpit--the addition of outdoor throw pillows. Originally, I intended to purchase a total of 6 outdoor pillows for the main cockpit, but I resisted temptation because I didn't think Eric would be thrilled at the sight of a half-dozen decorative throw pillows strewn about the cockpit. While my ideal room/cockpit resembles this...
I Dream of Pillows
...I can appreciate that Eric does not share this same vision.

On the day our new outdoor pillows arrived, the weather was perfect and the water was calm (which is pretty much the case every day). It was a Friday, so we ordered a pizza (yup, we get delivery) and ate it while lounging in the cockpit. I don't know if it was the gluten or the wine, but toward the end of the evening, Eric turned to me and said, "I really like these pillows. We should get more." And so we did.

Throw Pillows, Take Two
We now have a grand total of 6 all-weather pillows in the main cockpit. I'm tempted to buy a pair (or pairs) of matching pillows for the aft-cockpit, but given the luck we've had retaining our aft-cockpit cushions and accessories, I think I'll hold off for the time being.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Last September, Helina began sleeping in a crib in her own room. Just before her 1st birthday, we bought a safety rail for the built-in bottom bunk in her room because we figured she'd be transitioning out of her crib in the coming months.

Well, a couple of months have passed since then and, as predicted, Helina has officially outgrown her crib:

Where's Glow Worm?
Unfortunately, Helina is still a bit too little to be trusted to sleep alone in her room's bottom bunk. Safety rail or not, Helina has the will and the ability to crawl out of her bed and tumble head first onto the hard wood floor.

As I contemplated the options for keeping Helina from falling out of her bed, it occurred to me that perhaps I was approaching the problem from the wrong perspective. Instead of trying to find something to prevent an inevitable fall, I decided that a better option might be to simply eliminate the bed altogether, since that was the source of the problem in the first place. After switching mental gears, I began searching the Internet for "toddler floor mattresses," which eventually resulted in the discovery of the German Wohnling kinderbettmatratze!

Wohnling Kinderbettmatratze
Although it does not seem to be the case in the United States, in Germany, it is apparently perfectly acceptable for small children to sleep on the floor. And why not? They are likely to end up on the floor anyway.

The Wohnling floor mattress is soft, comfortable, and appears durable (enough). It folds compactly, and Helina enjoys using it as a chair when it's not being used as a bed.

Off-duty Kinderbettmatratze
Once Helina finally does make the transition into her bed, we can still use the floor mattress as extra padding on the floor, just in case Helina ever does fall out of bed.

Unfortunately, since this bed is from Europe, its size is not compatible with sheets made for U.S. toddler beds. So, we got a sheet from England, which came courtesy of Royal Mail.

Royal Baby
Having a toddler bed and linens shipped in from Europe seems very extravagant, but the truth is, nothing we ordered is very fancy (we found everything on Amazon). And, at the end of the day, our daughter is sleeping on the floor, and there is certainly nothing fancy about that.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Staring at the Sun

We have written in the past about our use of LED bulbs, and our desire to eventually upgrade all of our bulbs to LEDs.  We started by replacing the majority of our remaining (Sea Gem's prior owners had already installed LEDs in most of the major fixtures) halogen bulbs.  For the most part, the LEDs have been slightly less bright than the halogen bulbs they replaced, but they use significantly less electricity and, just as importantly in a small space, generate significantly less heat than halogen bulbs.

In addition to the halogen fixtures, Sea Gem also has several fluorescent fixtures that use 12" fluorescent tubes.  These are fairly bright, but they of course give off that irritating, flickering, unnaturally-white light, and they are nowhere near as energy efficient as an LED.  The fluorescent fixture that we use the most is in our head (bathroom), and so that is the fixture that we planned to upgrade to LEDs first.

Because our head was underlit, I figured that we would not only convert the fluorescent tube to an LED tube, but we would also replace the single-tube fixture to a double-tube fixture.  Based on our experience with the halogen-to-LED swap, I figured we'd lose some brightness with the LED tube, and switching to two tubes would compensate for that and also, hopefully, brighten up the head a bit.

And so we removed the existing fixture (which, it turns out, is date-stamped April 1986 on the back and was thus original equipment with the boat) and installed a spare, two-tube fluorescent fixture we had lying around.

The Original
Because LED tubes do not require complex circuity like a fluorescent tube, we had to make some wiring changes to the fixture.  Nothing too complicated or time-consuming.  Then, in went the new LED tubes, I flipped the switch to test, and...

Blinded by the Light
I was seeing spots for minutes.  The LED tubes are WAY brighter than the fluorescent tubes.  Way, way brighter.  On the plus side, we can now see much better for shaving, make-up, etc.  And, the light doesn't generate as much heat or require as much electricity, even with the two tubes.  On the negative side, however, our head is so well-lit now that every speck of dirt that was previously unnoticed was suddenly illuminated.   We spent half the morning scrubbing the master head to perfection.  Plus, even though we can now see every corner of the room better than ever before, we now have to be careful not to look at one area that was never as issue--at the lighting fixture.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Knock, Knock...

We recently upgraded the lock that keeps our hatch securely in place so that, in case Helina manages to scale our companionway ladder, she won't be able to let herself out. This week, we added an additional barrier between the interior of our boat and the water--drop boards:

Welcome Home
Before Helina was born, the entryway these boards now cover was completely open. From time-to-time, Eric and I would cover the gap with a blue canvas (the sun cover for the drop boards), which provided us with an illusion of security. Given that we now have a mobile baby on board, the security measures we rely on must be significantly more robust than a mere illusion.

With the drop boards in place, it would be all but impossible for Helina to escape from the cockpit. Helina is still too short in stature to climb the cockpit's seats or scale the cockpit's walls, and now, her only mode of egress has been complete obstructed.

These boards may not look like much, but each one is solid teak and extremely heavy. Helina simply doesn't have the upper body strength, dexterity, or coordination to remove them from their track (not yet anyway).

For now, Helina now has a fully enclosed, outdoor playpen, and we have a nice new door.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Back on the Water

It has been awhile since our last sail. In fact, we haven't been sailing since moving to our new location. Many factors have contributed to us remaining at dock (weather, work, health, etc.), but the main reason is, of course, Helina.

Although Helina is an incredibly patient and well behaved baby (biased? me???), at the end of the day, she is a baby (well, she's a toddler now), and as such, she doesn't understand the concept of lazing about in the cockpit for hours at a time. Quite the opposite. From the moment she wakes until the moment she sleeps, Helina is buzzing around all over the place like a little maniac, and as you might suspect, sailing with her isn't exactly enjoyable (for any of us). When we're on the water, one of us (usually me) is tasked with the responsibility of wrangling Helina, entertaining Helina, encouraging Helina to behave, comforting Helina, feeding Helina, changing Helina, singing to Helina, and coaxing Helina to sleep. While I'm consumed by all things Helina, Eric is responsible for operating the boat. Although it is quite possible to single hand Sea Gem, should anything go wrong, it isn't as though I can plop Helina down and assist. Throw a few guests into the mix and you have yourself a stressful afternoon. Needless to say, we haven't been sailing for awhile.

Both Eric and I have been itching to get back on the water, but Eric was reluctant to go for a sail without an extra set of hands, while I, on the other hand, was reluctant to subject any of our friends to the lunacy of being trapped in a cockpit with a 1 year old. So, we invited our family to join us for a sail.

As we exited our slip, Helina was in good spirits--rested and enjoying a light lunch.

As we made our way through the channel, Helina entertained herself (and others) from the comfort and safety of her little chair.

As we emerged from the channel and headed south into the bay, Helina demanded to be let out of her chair. I secured her life vest and braced for a tantrum. After a brief objection, Helina calmed down and settled in at the helm.

Captain Serious
So that Helina could feel a bit more free while confined within the cockpit, we tied a line to her life jacket, so she could roam, yet still be kept at bay.

Tied Up
Unfortunately, the leash/life jacket/diaper combo resulted in an atomic wedgie (of sorts) for Helina, but for the most part, she didn't seem bothered by her leash (or the obnoxious wedgie).

Happy Sailor
Overall, Helina had a good day on the water, as did the rest of our crew.

Jumping for Joy
Were there tantrums? Yes. Was there stress? Yes. But, the good moments outweighed the bad ones, which means more frequent excursions are likely in our future.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Almost Timeless

For the most part, Sea Gem could pass for a new sailboat.  Cruising sailboats are designed conservatively, and have changed very little over time.  Electronics, of course, change all the time, but there is nothing about Sea Gem's design and construction that would appear dated if it were in a boat show with brand-new boats.

With two exceptions: the galley (kitchen) and the heads (bathrooms).

Although most of Sea Gem's interior is varnished teak, as has been used in good boats forever, the builder, for some reason, decided to make the galley and heads "modern."  In 1986, when Sea Gem was built, modern meant an unrelenting expanse of off-white formica.  And today, that looks dated.

Since our galley and heads are perfectly functional, modernizing them is not a high priority, but it is on our list of future upgrades.

This weekend, we took our first step towards modernizing the galley by installing tiles over what was the blandest expanse of off-white formica: the "backsplash" behind the stove (I don't know why it's a backsplash if it's not behind the sink, but apparently that's what it is).  This area had no trim, no texture, no color--just off-white formica as far the eye can see.

Our solution was to install multi-colored vinyl tiles over the entire backsplash area. Vinyl may seem like an odd choice for tile, but despite being synthetic, the backsplash looks just like the real thing:

The Smart Tiles
The tiles match the rest of the galley and provide a much-needed break to the sea of formica. 

We have more changes in mind, but I think we're off to a great start.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Comfy Place

I've been on the hunt for outdoor pillows for quite awhile (2 years), but I've had difficulty finding anything that I liked. Indoor pillows, it seems, come in all shapes, sizes, fabrics, and styles, but outdoor pillows only appear to come in one of two styles: boring or obnoxious, and one of two abrasive fabrics: plastic or burlap. On rare occasions, I have stumbled upon stylish outdoor pillows made of fabric that wouldn't exfoliate the top layer of my skin, but the price tags of these gems typically raged between $200-$500 a pillow, and I simply can't justify that type of expenditure on something that is bound for mildewdome. 

Recently, however, I found an all-weather pillow that I actually liked that didn't cost a small fortune!

Ikat Outdoor Pillow
So I bought a few for the main cockpit:

Comfy Place
During this time of year in particular, we spend a significant amount of time in the main cockpit relaxing, eating, playing, and napping (although I doubt we'll be doing much napping in the cockpit now that Helina has turned into a monkey).

The pillows are a nice little addition that make the cockpit feel a little more home-like and a lot more comfortable.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The World's Best Diaper Bag?

Before Helina arrived, Eric and I drafted a very modest shopping list of baby gear necessities. One item that didn't make the list was a diaper bag. This isn't because we planned to go without one--we just didn't plan on buying a bag that was specifically designed for the purpose of holding diapers. Instead, we used a Volvo Ocean Race backpack we had lying around.

Our backpack worked rather well as a diaper bag, but unfortunately, its strap became quite worn, and it eventually ripped. Thankfully, we were on our way to Home Depot at the time of the incident, so we figured we'd head to Buy Buy Baby afterward and buy a new diaper bag. Sadly, as is often the case, our laziness took over mid-way through our Home Depot shopping trip, and neither one of us felt like driving deeper into the 'burbs in search of a diaper bag. Instead, Eric suggested we try and find a diaper bag at Home Depot.

I know what you're thinking--Home Depot doesn't sell diaper bags. I thought the same thing, too. As it turns out, however, although Home Depot doesn't sell anything that is explicitly marketed as a diaper bag, they do, in fact, sell a bag that happens to be excellent at holding diapers.

I give you, the world's best diaper bag:

Husky 9-inch Lunch Cooler
The "diaper bag" is actually an insulated cooler. A cooler may seem like an odd choice for a diaper bag, but it is actually quite convenient, since a lot of what you tote around in a diaper bag is perishable, like milk. The side pouches are the perfect size for holding baby bottles and sippy cups, and the interior is so large, it can hold an entire pack of diapers, plus food, toys, and other necessities, like the portable changing pad pictured above.

Insulated Interior
The best part about our diaper bag is that it isn't a diaper bag. After we no longer need a diaper bag, we'll simply convert it back to its intended purpose--a cooler. And, at under $20, it is a very good deal, as far as diaper bags go (I have no idea what the going rate is for a cooler of this size). 

The only true downside to the bag is that at our new marina, this particular cooler is popular among people who spend their day working aboard boats. This means that as I make my way down our pier, I freak out thinking that random people have stolen my diaper bag! The other semi-downside to this bag, is that has the word "Husky" boldly printed across the front. I can't help but worry that by producing food for my daughter from within a bag branded "Husky," that I'm inadvertently planting the seed for her to develop some sort of weight complex in the future. I guess only time will tell. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Trapping the Baby

Inside the cabin, Helina is as a safe as any baby that lives in a house.  She's maybe even safer.  We don't have hard corners, stair cases, open windows, electrical outlets near the floor, or other common household hazards.  On deck, however, we need to watch Helina like hawks and make sure she is in a confined space, strapped into place, in a life jacket, etc., etc.  After all, on deck, she is a stumble away from falling into the water.

In summary: inside cabin, safe; outside on deck, unsafe.     

Our challenge, then, is to make sure that Helina remains trapped inside the cabin so that she does not end up on deck without our knowledge.  Since Sea Gem has a very steep staircase/ladder separating the cabin from the deck outside, and since there is a fairly complicated latch/lock keeping the door closed, we figured we'd have at least  3 or 4 years before Helina would be able to climb up and open the door to the deck.

As it turns out, we were perhaps a little optimistic.  Helina is 14 months old, and she can already shoot up the ladder in the blink of an eye.

The Art of Escape
We are constantly pulling her off the ladder after turning our backs for only a few seconds.  And that complicated latch we are relying on?  Our friends with small children who just visited informed us that, as soon as she can reach the latch (probably when she is two), she'll have no problem opening the door.  And we certainly can't have a two-year-old Helina letting herself outside.

And so we realized that we need to make the complicated latch mechanism a little more complicated.  After some trial and error, we settled on the following configuration:

To unlock the door, the stainless steel handle swings to the right.  To unlock the handle, the pin is removed by pushing the button in and pulling down.  That much was already in place.  Now, to unlock the pin, the grey child lock needs to be squeezed on both sides and pulled down.

That should buy us some time.  But if she learns to open the child lock earlier than we'd like her to, we can always replace it with a combination lock.  That will make it harder for us to get out, too, but it will sure keep Helina in place.  Another option we thought of is to add a latch on the outside of the door that would require enough height to reach over the door to unlatch it.  So, one way or another, we'll be trapping Helina in the cabin for the foreseeable future.