Friday, November 28, 2014

A Wet Winter

We expected that moving Sea Gem from the tropics to the tundra would involve some growing pains.  We were certainly concerned about the cold weather, and ours fears have so far proven to be well founded.  Oddly enough, though, the problem with the cold has not been the temperature--Sea Gem has thus far been surprisingly easy to keep toasty warm.  Rather, the problem with the cold has been the wet. 

On our first cold, rainy day of the season, we noticed puddles of water forming underneath our hatches.  Our hatches had never leaked before...why would they all start leaking now?  I thought that perhaps the gaskets had shrunk in the cold, and so I tightened the latches.  My solution was a failure, and the water just kept coming. 

We soon discovered that our hatches were not leaking, but that the moist air inside the boat was condensing (at a frightening speed) on the cold metal frames of the hatches (much like a cold can of soda) and then dripping onto the floor.  We soon discovered the same problem with our metal ports, which caused water to slowly drip down the sides of the hull.  In certain places, water even condenses on the sides of the hull itself, which we discovered when we opened our closet to find that all of our clothes were soaking wet--condensation and wicking. 

Drying
After discussing the problem with our neighbors, who have lived on their boat the past three winters, we were provided with a solution (or at least a partial one): shrink-wrap the inside of all of the ports and hatches. 

Door to Aft Cockpit
Although the shrink wrap doesn't provide much insulation, by providing an air-tight barrier between the hatch and the warm, moist air inside the boat, there is no moisture available to condense on the cold frames. 

Covered Hatch
After spending several hours with a roll of double-sided tape, plastic wrap, and a hair dryer, our ports and hatches are finally free of condensation.  The closet, though, is another matter... 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

First Snow

Yesterday morning, I awoke to a grey sky and rain, and by late morning, the cold rain had turned to snow.

View from Hatch: Morning and Afternoon
Snow is not new to me; however, I really only enjoy it when I'm skiing down a mountain and, at the bottom of that mountain, there is a ski resort with hot cocoa on tap. I will admit, however, it was nice to experience a first snow after a 4-year hiatus.

Seeing Sea Gem and our pier covered in dusting of snow was a bit surreal...

First Snow
...as was witnessing the aft cockpit fill with snowflakes...

Aft Cockpit
...and a pile of snow (albeit a small one) accumulate outside the front door:
 
Accumulation

The snow made for a slippery boarding experience, which as you can see, is problematic--one misstep and we'd be in the ocean.
 
Front Porch 
Don't worry though--plans are already underway to make sure future snowy days don't pose any problems (more on that later).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hindsight, Part I (Cookware)

Now that we have been living aboard Sea Gem for over three years, I think it is about time to revisit (and judge, harshly if need be) our earliest posts about our preparations in anticipation of moving aboard.  Looking back, some of our ideas were spot on.  Others missed the mark completely.  For the benefit of those now preparing to move aboard a boat, we will attempt to explain what worked, what didn't, and what we would do differently.

I'll start things off with something that worked.

In May 2011, we wrote about our efforts to condense our collections of pots and pans into something that would not take up much space in our galley.  As we explained in that post, we settled on a set of nesting, stainless-steel pots and pans with removable handles made by Fagor (the set is called "Rapid Chef").  That has proven to be one of the best purchases we have ever made.  Everything has held up extremely well, is easy to use, and takes up very little space. 

Usually, there is some trade-off when buying a compact version of  something.  Less functionality, more money, etc.  But, after using our cookware over the past three years, I really don't think we give up anything as compared to a typical collection of pots and pans.  Honestly, I can't think of any good reason not to use nesting cookware, even for landlubbers--with the number of bulky kitchen gizmos available now, anyone could make use of more cupboard space, no matter how large the kitchen.

Our advice:  If you're moving onto a boat, you should get a good set of nesting cookware.  Our advice is the same if you are moving into an RV, or even into a smaller apartment or house.  And our advice is the same if you are moving into a larger apartment or house, or if you're not moving at all.  Just get a good set of nesting cookware. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Slip Hopping

After just two months in our new marina, we've already moved slips. When we first arrived, we were docked as transients, which meant the slip we were in wasn't ours indefinitely. Annual contract holders get first dibs on slips, and someone wanted our slip for the winter. So, we moved. We knew this day was coming, but we certainly weren't anticipating it happening so soon or abruptly. The good news is that we're now officially seasonal contract holders, which means Sea Gem can remain in this new slip at least until April of 2015.

Unlike our last move, which covered hundreds of miles, this move was only a few hundred yards. (We literally moved from one end of the pier to the other.) Our new slip comes with a slightly different view, but for the most part, it is the same view as before:

New View
The slips are larger at our new end of the pier, and our neighbors are slightly larger than what we're used to (i.e., they dwarf us).

Wind Protection

Docking next to boats of this size and pedigree (read: multimillion-dollar yachts) is beyond nerve-wracking, but I'm optimistic that the stress of sideling up to these behemoths will be well worth it come winter. I'm hopeful that the tall stature of our new neighbors will result in added protection from the wind--that, or their towering hulls will create a wind tunnel and we'll freeze to death on the first gusty day of winter. Only time will tell...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me

Many years ago--before ever living in Miami--I remember telling people about my plans to relocate to the Sunshine state, and nearly everyone I spoke with warned me (quite dramatically) about all of the horrifying bugs I would encounter upon stepping foot into Florida (toddler-sized flying cockroaches, ferocious swarms of mosquitoes, etc.).

While I don't doubt that many parts of Florida are infested with all sorts of mutant insects, I didn't witness a whole lot of bug action within the Miami city limits. Yes, there were cockroaches scurrying around town, but they were so big I hardly thought of them as bugs. Mosquitoes were around, too, but their annoyance was limited to the summer months, and even then, they weren't found in numbers greater than anywhere else in the country.

Despite the bad reputation Florida has in the bug department, the insects here are much more of a nuisance. I literally just got a mosquito bite on my face....and another on my shoulder. Although I wouldn't say I am looking forward to the change in seasons, I will confirm (enthusiastically) that I am looking forward to the hoards of mosquitoes dying off when the temperature drops.

The mosquitoes here are certainly annoying, but they are the least of my bug woes. For some reason, fruit flies have been congregating aboard Sea Gem. I find this to be extremely disgusting. Fruit flies were never a problem in Miami, and it isn't as though major changes have taken place in terms of the food kept aboard (I didn't suddenly start stockpiling rotten bananas). The trash is taken out with the same frequency as it was in Miami. The boat is cleaned with the same frequency as it was in Miami. Nothing has changed--yet fruit flies abound. It makes no sense.

Until the source of fruit flies can be found and eliminated (hopefully a biblical plague has not descended upon New Jersey), Google has provided instructions for making homemade fruit fly traps. Basically, you mix soap with cider vinegar, place the concoction in little cups, and leave them all over the place (and you know I'm excited about the prospect of having vinegar-filled cups all over the inside of the boat):

Trap

I think it is far more likely that I (or Helina) will accidentally drink this magical brew before a fruit fly meets its fate drowning from within one of our juice cups, but I'm willing to take the risk on the off chance this experiment works.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Dark Days of Winter are Upon Us

Well, this didn't take long--I'm freezing! There were a few days last month that bordered freezing (my version of freezing), but now that we're well into September, the ratio of "feeling cold" moments to "feeling warm" moments has shifted and is now drastically skewed toward "feeling cold." And by "cold," of course, I mean freezing. This isn't a good sign, as the temperature is still hovering around 70 degrees.

I can barely get out of bed in the morning. No matter what the actual conditions are outside of the boat, the ambient temperature of my bedroom is always -50 degrees. After the alarm goes off, I dive under the comforter so cold air can't come into contact with my skin (which is drying up and cracking at an alarming rate). Then, from underneath my blanket tent, I begin weighing my need to use the toilet against my desire not to have my bare skin touch cold porcelain. This process takes awhile and is extremely uncomfortable. I'd completely forgotten how harrowing the act of peeing in temperatures under 70 degrees can be. To date, my need to use the toilet has won this morningtime battle, but come October, I may start peeing in the shower in order to avoid the entire situation. (Don't you dare judge me! I can do whatever I want in my shower.) Instead of viewing this as a disgusting act, I'm choosing to embrace it as a Lifehack.

Onto the next topic--the sun. Where is it?? The sun is non-existent in New Jersey. I don't know where it went, but it isn't shining here. There is a certain amount of brightness that exists during the day (I presume from the sun), but it isn't even intense enough to warrant sunglasses. I think Helina might be affected by the weather, too--at least the lack of sunshine. I've noticed she has started covering her head when we're out in public, as though to shield herself from her surroundings:

Her Happy Place
I, too, have been burying my head in the sand (maybe "coping" is a better way of saying it). I simply lock myself within Sea Gem, crank the heat to 83 degrees, and lie to myself that the boat is still docked in Miami (come to think of it, my version of coping might actually be denial). I'm sure this isn't a healthy practice, but it isn't as though I can take a page from Helina's book and stroll around town with my head stuffed under a giant parasol. Despite the possible damage I am doing to my psyche, my delusions are so far getting me through the winter... or the last weeks of summer, as the case may be.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

New Marina

Our new marina is very different than our former Miami home. Unlike our last marina, which was located in a residential area of Miami, our new marina is situated within a state park, which is an ideal setting for Helina.

A massive boardwalk surrounds the entire property with amazing views of NYC and the Statue of Liberty:

Lower Manhattan
Statue of Liberty
Within the park itself is a huge playground, which boasts dozens of Helina's favorite apparatus--the slide:

Slides Galore!

We visit it often.

In addition to all of the outdoorsy stuff you'd expect to find in a park, the park we live in also has a (creepy) train museum, the Liberty Science Center, two restaurants, and access to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal
Our location in New Jersey is much quieter than our Miami home, which is odd since the city surrounding us is both closer in proximity and about 100x more massive in size. It makes no sense whatsoever, but I have stopped questioning it for now. I'm not a huge fan of the sounds of silence (i.e. annoying crickets), but every now and then, the wail of a siren drifts across the canal (we're also within walking distance to a hospital), which keeps me happy(ish).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Most Valuable Products: AIS

We recently upgraded Sea Gem's VHF radio to a model with AIS, and that investment paid dividends during our trip from Miami to New York.  The greatest fear of many sailors is being struck by a large commercial ship.  Sea Gem is a big sailboat, but to a thousand-foot tanker, she's little more than a bump in the road. 

Our AIS is hooked up to our computer, which enables us to easily see nearby commercial vessels (or not-so nearby--we could pick up larger vessels from nearly 100 miles away) relative to our boat's location.  The software depicts the commercial ships graphically and indicates their position and course and, by color (green, yellow, red) how close they will come to us.  If anything looks problematic, we can double-click on the vessel, and the software provides its name, VHF contact information, size, destination, and calculates how close it will pass to Sea Gem, and at what time.  If needed, we can easily hail the ship (by name) and discuss a possible change of course early on, obviating the need for any last-second, white-knuckled maneuvering.

AIS Display
During our trip north, we passed through several heavily trafficked commercial shipping lanes, and the AIS was a godsend.  On several occasions, the AIS enabled us to either adjust course or contact approaching ships (at least one of which had not spotted us before we called) to ensure that all of the commercial ships remained tiny, harmless specks on the horizon.   I certainly won't say that we would have had an accident had we not installed the AIS, but I do think that we'd have arrived in New York with a few more gray hairs.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sailing Conditions - Miami, FL to Morehead City, NC

Our 10-day ocean journey started off on a threatening foot. As we made our way past the city towards the ocean, dark clouds were on our tail. It was a harsh eviction from paradise:
 
Leaving Miami
The approaching storm was moving faster and the city was soon engulfed in a torrential downpour:
 
Summer Rain
We narrowly escaped the festivities. Although there was lightning everywhere, the heaviest rain never made its way to our boat (we were also thankful not to be struck by lightning). Our vantage point gave us quite the show however:

Passing Storm
Eventually, the storm passed (we certainly didn't outrun it), the water calmed, and we were able to relax a little bit:
Calmer Waters
For the most part, the weather conditions we encountered during the first part of the trip were fair, and at times, boringly uneventful:

Excitement of the Day - Seeing a Bird
The wind and wave action picked up on the last day of the first leg of the journey and we had a little bit of excitement:

Spray
We pounded the waves for 12 straight hours:
 
 
Some of us who don't get seasick (me) enjoyed this part of the trip more than other crew members.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Most Valuable Products of our Journey: Sirius Radio

We spent months preparing for our 1100-mile journey from Miami to New York, including purchasing and installing several new devices to make our trip safer and more comfortable.  Many of these upgrades proved to be extremely beneficial during our trip, and in my next few posts, I will give credit where it is due and identify our favorites.

First is our Sirius radio, which is actually a product that is not new at all--it came with Sea Gem when we purchased the boat (with a lifetime subscription), and we certainly use it from time to time, particularly when we are out sailing.  However, during our trip, particularly during the long days spent nearly 100 miles offshore and during night watches, the Sirius radio more than earned its place among our most valuable devices.

Sirius Radio
Long after we lost our cell signals and FM radio was nothing more than a white-noise generator, the Sirius continued to deliver hundreds of channels of crystal-clear audio.  Out at sea, Sirius enabled us to keep up with current events with CNN, NPR, and BBC radio.  And night watches were much easier to bear by selecting different channels for each watch, such as the Elvis channel (which during the wee hours features fans calling in with their dubious Elvis stories).  

We didn't come close to listening to all 100-plus channels during our trip, but we certainly cycled through several, and it is nice to know that there are plenty more left for the next trip...

Monday, August 18, 2014

We Made It!

Our 10-day sailing journey has come to an end--we've made it to Jersey City, NJ. The trip was long and exhausting, but we did it.

Our new marina is wonderful, as is our view of downtown Manhattan:

Front Yard
We'll be posting about our trip soon! Thanks to everyone who tracked us online and set us messages along the way. It gave us peace of mind knowing that friends and family were keeping an eye on us.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tracking the Trip

To ensure that our family (mostly our moms) and friends have some piece of mind while we're sailing north, we got a tracking device--a DeLorme inReach.

inReach SE
The tiny handheld allows us to send and receive text messages when we're outside of cell phone range (which will be for several days) and allows others to track our path online. If you're interested, you can read all about how the inReach SE works here.

So, if you want to keep an eye on us while we're sailing north, visit our tracking page: https://share.delorme.com/EricSinger. We have several pre-set text messages (stuff like, "We're OK"), which we will post to the site as well as my personal Facebook page. Even though they are pre-set messages without much substance, we will still need to initiate the text being sent, so you'll know we're on the other end.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Strange Luck

A few weeks ago, we took Sea Gem out to watch the fireworks.  After we put Helina to bed, I decided to turn on the A/C to help her get to sleep, and when we aren't plugged into the grid, the A/C requires that we run the generator.  And so I turned on the generator, a routine operation.  The generator started right up, as it should, and the A/C immediately began cooling down the interior of the boat.  And then it got interesting.

The interior of the boat soon filled with smoke, and the bilge pumps turned on.  I immediately shut down the generator (and, unfortunately, the A/C as well) and looked into the engine room (there is a window for this purpose).  The room was so filled with dense, black smoke that it was impossible to see anything.  I thought better than to venture inside until the smoke had cleared, but I reasoned that part of the generator's exhaust system had failed, resulting in the generator spewing exhaust smoke and water throughout the engine room. 

What I did not know was what, exactly, had failed and how expensive and time-consuming it would be to fix.  Cost is always a concern, but with our trip north coming up, time is even more sensitive.  The generator is really a must-have for our trip, especially since we'll be spending a few days in hot, swampy North Carolina and southern Virginia.  And, again, no generator equals no A/C.

So what broke?  The wet exhaust elbow, and as you can see from the photo, it broke in spectacular fashion. 

Debris
What was once one solid piece of iron turned into at least ten rusty bits.  The elbow mixes the engine exhaust with the cooling water pumped from the ocean so that hot exhaust gases do not run through the boat.  Unfortunately, a broken elbow yields both hot exhaust gases and gallons of seawater being pumped directly into the interior of the boat. 

Fortunately, the generator is designed to be easy to service, and I was able to order and install a replacement elbow.  The operation took a lot of time and fair expense, but fortunately not enough of either to jeopardize our trip.  Plus, a nice bonus of the new elbow is that the generator does not only emit its exhaust outside the boat, where it belongs, but it also runs a good deal quieter than before--amazing what an exhaust system without holes in it can do.

Still, where is the luck in all of this?  (See title.)  The elbow was going to break the next time we turned on the generator.  I'm sure glad it broke when we were close to home, with 4 weeks to go before our trip, than while we were at sea, hundreds of miles from home, and in need of a working generator. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Safety First

In preparation for our journey north to New York, we have been busy making sure that all of our safety gear is operational and in order.  Although it is highly unlikely that we would ever need to use some of this gear, in the event that we do, we'd certainly want it to be working.

The most time-consuming (and expensive) item on our safety list was recertifying our life raft.  The life raft automatically inflates if the need arises and is equipped with various emergency provisions, and every year or so, the raft need to be opened up, tested to ensure it holds air, and have various components replaced (such as CO2 cylinders and flashlight batteries).  This is a job for certified professionals, and so we dropped our life raft off with an area company that specializes in this work a couple months ago, and it is now back and fully certified to function as intended in the unlikely event that we need to abandon ship.  Recertifying the life raft certainly was not inexpensive, but it will feel inexpensive in the event we have to use it.

In addition to the life raft, we have an automatically inflatable man-overboard recovery module made by Jon Buoy in England.  The Jon Buoy is essentially a miniature life raft that is deployed if someone falls overboard. 


Jon Buoy
It has a ladder so that the person in the water can climb into it, a strobe light, and inflatable mast with a loop to attach a rope so that the person (and the Jon Buoy) can be hoisted back onto the boat.  We also dropped the Jon Buoy off to be recertified, but it unfortunately had to be condemned and replaced with a new one.  As is the case with the life raft, it is highly unlikely that we'll need to use the Jon Buoy on our trip, but in the event that we do, we'll certainly be glad that we discovered that it wasn't working before our trip and sprung for the replacement.


Ready for Action
In addition to the Jon Buoy, we have two other (less elaborate) devices to recover a crew member that falls overboard.  One is a traditional horseshoe buoy attached to a long rope and the other is a Life Sling, which has in the past decade or so become standard equipment on sailboats.  It combines a horseshoe buoy with hoisting tackle to retrieve the fallen crewmember. 


Basic Gear
Finally, we have tested all of our distress signals to ensure that they work.  We have three independent radio distress signals and two independent satellite distress signals, so if any of you have recently seen the new Robert Redford movie where he is lost at sea in a broken sailboat and no working distress signals, that won't happen to us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Space

When we purchased Sea Gemshe came equipped with two La-Z-Boy recliners. Although the particular recliners we had were modest in size compared to the bloated contraptions that are most La-Z-Boys, they still took up a significant amount of our precious floor space.

Since I anticipate being trapped inside our boat all winter long, I decided it was time to open up a bit more space within the main cabin. So, we removed both recliners from the boat and bought a new, smaller chair:


Space
We have slightly less seating, but it is well worth it--the room feels at least three times larger than before. Hopefully having a little more elbow room will prevent us from killing one another come December. If not, at least the surviving, murderous spouse will have a comfy seat to sit upon while contemplating their alibi.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I am the Watermaster.

In the three years we have had Sea Gem, we've had to deal with freshwater-pump issues several times.  We started off with two Shurflo pumps.  They worked, but not particularly well.  Instead of a steady stream of pressurized water, they pulsed: a strong blast of water followed by a trickle, and then the cycle would repeat itself.  And they were noisy.  Overall, not the best pump experience.

After about a year, one of the Shurflo pumps stopped working.  Fortunately, we only need one pump at any particular time, so we disconnected the broken pump and soldiered on with the single noisy and pulsating Shurflo. 

Fast forward another 6 months or so, and the second Shurflo broke.  To restore our pressurized water, I bought and installed a new pump--this time, from a different brand, Johnson Pump.  The Johnson was a clear improvement compared to the old Shurflo--it produced a steady stream of water with much less noise. (In Shurflo's defense, they were older designs and had been operating for several years.)

I know everybody loves a lengthy, detailed story about pumps, and fortunately, our pump story does not end there.  The Johnson pump proved to be less reliable than even the old Shurflo pump.  In the last 18 months, the Johnson pump has had to be repaired or replaced twice, and it just starting signaling an approaching death (I know the signs by now.) 

Since our long trip north is fast approaching and we would not want to be stuck at sea without freshwater,* it became clear that it was time for a more substantial pump upgrade. 

I switched brands again, this time going with Whale, a British company that made our bilge pumps that always work without a problem.  The Whale pump is called the "Watermaster," a fitting name for what will hopefully be the solution to our pump woes.  The pump is built to handle both freshwater and saltwater, and although we'll only be using it for freshwater, I take solace in the fact that it is robust enough to handle saltwater. 

But we didn't stop with a new pump.  We installed two new Watermaster pumps, each of which can operate independently.  We also installed a switch and fuse panel dedicated to the pumps that allows us to easily to switch from one pump to the other or turn both on for when we need extra flow. 

Switch and Fuse Panel
If one pump for some reason fails, we can quickly switch to the other one.  And, if a fuse blows, we can change it right at the panel instead of crawling into the corner of the engine room where the pumps are installed.

Not only is our new freshwater-pump system redundant and easy to operate, but the Watermaster pumps are the best yet: whisper quiet and a steady stream of high-pressure water.  In fact, the water pressure from the pump is now indistinguishable from the pressure from the municipal supply, which has never been anywhere close to the case before. 

*Note: Don't worry--we do have a manual freshwater pump.  Even if our pressure system fails (if we lose power, etc.), we can still access our stored freshwater for drinking, cooking, etc.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

An Oversight

For reasons that are unknown to me, in his last post, Eric forgot to mention the best feature of the insulation he installed--it makes a great toy for Helina. Here she is in action:

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cold is Coming

It is summertime in Miami, and I came awfully close to melting today.  We were out running some errands, and when I stepped out of the car, I stepped into what felt like a sauna.  And I wasn't in a sauna kind of mood.  Sticky, wet, insufferable heat.  Ordinarily, I'd say that the summer heat in Miami is exaggerated--most days, it is no hotter or more humid than most cities on the East Cast.  This did not feel like one of those days.

And yet, it's not heat on my mind, but cold.  Before long, we'll be in New York, and before long thereafter, it will be wintertime in New York.  Icy, insufferable cold.

We are taking several steps to prepare Sea Gem (and ourselves) for winter, which will be our first in years and Sea Gem's first in...forever.  So far, we installed and sealed the storm windows, and Krissy bought a bunch of big coats.  With the low-hanging fruit now picked, it is time to move onto the more difficult tasks, such as insulating the hull.

Sea Gem's hull is solid fiberglass, and although that method of construction has many advantages, it is a poor insulator.  (The deck, on the other hand, is fiberglass with a thick plywood core, which is a decent insulator.)  And so, to help Sea Gem retain heat in the coming winter, we are going to insulate as much of the hull as possible.

The best time to insulate a boat's hull is when the boat is being built and the hull is fully exposed.  That ship sailed almost 28 years ago, unfortunately, and so we now need to disassemble portions of the interior in order to access the hull to install the insulation.  Some portions of the hull would require way too much destruction and reconstruction to access, so we unfortunately will not be able to insulate the entire boat.  But we will do as much as we can, which will hopefully be enough to make a real difference.

We decided on using a foil-covered bubble-wrap material called Reflectix, which easily conforms to the curves of Sea Gem's hull, is (relatively) easy to install, and does not absorb water. 

Reflectix
As an added bonus, the foil is highly reflective to radar, and we should therefore be easier to spot by big ships while at sea.
The downside of Reflectix is that it is not as good an insulator as many of the thicker, foam-based alternatives.  To get the most out of the Reflectix as possible, we will be installing two layers--one against the hull and a second facing the hull on the inside of the interior cabinetry, with an air layer in between. 


First Layer
Will this do the trick?  We'll find out just as soon as we leave this extreme heat and enter the extreme cold.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Biohazard

A dark, disgusting event--one involving toilets--unfolded recently aboard Sea Gem.

Our toilets operate much like airplane toilets. Upon flushing, there is a loud suction sound, followed by the robotic murmur of a vacuum pump. In general, the flushing process (and related sounds) last no more than 10 seconds.

Sometimes, however, the vacuum pump keeps running and the toilet becomes locked in a permanent flush. To remedy this situation, you simply flush the toilet again--not a big deal. The other day, however, when I attempted to stop the running toilet, it wouldn't stop cycling. Per protocol, I attempted to reset the pump by flushing the toilet repeatedly, but my attempts were in vain. The toilet wouldn't stop running, so I left the bathroom and made my way to the salon to cut the power to our toilets. The second I stepped into the salon, I was enveloped by a distinct and rather pungent odor (specifically, it smelled like sewage). Something was very wrong.

Upon investigation (which I did not conduct), it was revealed that the contents of our holding tank had leaked through a vent into our main salon (hence the raw sewage smell). Did I mention we were on our way to a dinner party at the time of the incident?

How did this happen?

The instrument we have that indicates the fullness of our holding tank malfunctioned. Instead of warning us that the tank was dangerously full, it showed that the tank was empty. Essentially we had a poop bomb on our hands, and it detonated when I flushed.

Despite the mess, we had only one casualty--my favorite bag--which happened to be sitting on the floor in front of the leaky vent (it was promptly banished to the deck, as it was now a carrier of the smell). Thankfully, our new floor cushion was spared (by inches).

Casualty 
I am, of course, devastated that my bag was caught in the toilet/holding tank crossfire. I loved my bag. It was a mix of everything I like most: metallic colors, inappropriate amounts of snake print, too-long tassels, and bulky gold hardware (I like a good tacky bag). Eric offered to hose it down for me, but obviously I can never use this bag again. All the soap and hot water in the world couldn't wash away the memory I have of it covered in fecal matter. Besides, even if it could, people I work with read this blog and I fear they would judge me harshly if I showed up to work toting a biohazard. 

Alas, it is goodbye bag... 

Toilet 1. Krissy 0. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ceiling?

The ceiling of our main salon is equipped with two handholds. As the name indicates, these bars are for hands to hold onto. Their intended purpose is to keep you from flying across the room if you are down below during a storm or rough water.

Teak Handholds
We have thankfully never needed them for that purpose (not yet anyway). Instead, we use them for all sorts of other things. When Helina was much younger, we relied on these bars to suspend her baby jumper. Now, Helina utilizes them as her own personal set of monkey bars.

oooh-oooh ahhh-ahhh
Helina points to the handholds, and with a one-word question (Ceiling?!), requests to be hoisted up to the bars. Once in position, she giggles maniacally as she effortlessly pulls herself up. 

Given her innate monkey-like abilities, I have no doubt that Helina will soon find a way to access these bars without our help. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Elf Is Good

In preparation for our rapidly approaching 1000-mile journey from Miami to New York, we are repairing, certifying, and upgrading several of Sea Gem's systems.  A recent addition to our navigation system is a unassuming little device called a "Bad Elf." 

Bad Elf
The Bad Elf is a battery-powered and water-resistant portable GPS receiver with a tiny LCD screen that indicates your position and speed.  The battery lasts for 30 hours of non-stop operation, and the Bad Elf is therefore a great backup navigation aid in case, for example, the boat's main electrical system goes down.  Although the Bad Elf does not have built- nautical charts, it can be used in conjunction with paper charts.

In addition, the Bad Elf wirelessly communicates with our iPad through Bluetooth.  Because the iPad does have electronic charts, the Bad Elf permits us to use the iPad as a stand-alone, battery-powered chartplotter.  This is not only a great backup in case something happens to our electrical system, but it is also an added convenience, as the iPad can be used from anywhere in the boat, as opposed to a fixed position like our other navigation devices. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Biting the Bullet

To date, one of the most satisfying moments in my life was the day I bid farewell to my over-stuffed winter coat. Upon ridding myself of the well-used coat, I happily declared that I would never again own another winter coat because I would never again subject myself to living in a place that experienced winter.

Fast forward to today--I am now the reluctant owner of--not one--but two winter coats.

For weeks, I have been scouring South Florida in search of a proper winter coat only to come up empty handed... until today.

This weekend, I braved the heat and humidity and found two amazingly perfect winter coats at a local vintage store's outdoor annual yard sale.

The first is a floor-length, fur-lined-and-trimmed (hopefully faux fur) leather coat that is so thick it nearly stands up by itself:

Added Warmth
It was $20--that's it!

The second coat reminds me almost exactly of the coat I had before moving to Miami, except it is a different color.

Puffy Coat 2.0 - Vintage Roffe Ski Jacket
It, too, was $20. 

In addition to the coats themselves, the memory of buying them will also play a role in keeping me warm. It was so hot and humid this morning that steam was practically rising from the ground--not exactly ideal conditions for an outdoor shopping session. By 10:00 AM, I was producing so much sweat from my brow that my feet were experiencing showers. It was disgusting and physically uncomfortable, but well worth it for both the deals and the memory. Come winter, if these coats can't keep me warm, at least I'll have a memory of being warm.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Reunited Again

It's back... again! Not long ago, one of our four aft-cockpit cushions blew away. I actually thought we were going to luck out again and find it after I spotted what appeared to be a blue cushion in the mangroves near our boat, but it was a false alarm. We figured there was no way we'd ever see it again, so we bit the bullet and had a new cushion made:


Like Old
The new cushion is nearly indistinguishable from the others (just a bit less worn looking). To prevent any more unexpected departures, we upgraded all of the cushions with new (and more) snaps:

Snap On, Snap Off
 Hopefully the cushions--all of them--will be sticking around for a bit longer this time... 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Storm Windows Are Back to Protect Us From...Cold?

Several months ago, we explained how we removed our storm windows.  Well, they are back on, and not just for hurricane season


Storm Windows
We have been told that one of the most serious impediments to heating a boat in the winter is large, uninsulated cabin windows, of which we have six.  Apparently, the windows do not only let heat escape from the interior of the boat, but ice can form inside the windows and make a real mess inside. 

In preparation for our upcoming winter in New York, we installed a weather strip in between the window frame and our storm windows to create a tight seal, much like the heat-shrink film that you can buy at the hardware store to insulate house windows, but our storm windows are of course much thicker. 

We'll see how this works out come next February, but we are hopeful that our storm-turned-insulation windows will do the trick.  When installing them, we did notice a significant difference in the amount of summer heat entering the boat, as compared the windows that we had not yet covered.  So, initial results are promising.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

But What About Winter?

As soon as people hear that we're moving our boat up north (and that we plan to stay aboard), the first question they ask is "What are you going to do in the winter?"

Despite having lived in the northeast (Massachusetts) for several years, until recently (about a week ago), I, for some reason, was under the impression that it didn't snow in New York City. So, until about a week ago, I would respond to the question about winter with, "I'm sure we'll be cold, but it isn't like there will be snow, so we'll be fine." Then, whoever was asking the questing would stare at me like I was insane. I now understand why.

We have be communicating with someone who lives on a boat in Bridgeport, CT, and the other day, he shared a photo with us that absolutely horrified me. This is a picture of his boat in the dead of winter:

Our Future
This is what the dead of winter looks like where we currently live:

February Frocks
Although Bridgeport, CT is farther north than Jersey City, NJ, I'm guessing the winters we'll be facing in the coming years will have more in common with what is pictured in the first photo than what is pictured in the second.

So what does this all mean in terms of what we'll do in the winter? Well, clearly it is going to be cold. Thankfully, our A/C system has a reverse cycle, which produces heat. Unfortunately, this particular system only produces heat when the water surrounding the boat is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. While our current system will be sufficient for most of the year, there will absolutely be months when the surrounding water temperature falls below 40 degrees. To account for this, we are making sure our boat's insulation it up to the task. We're also researching various types of heaters that are safe for boats. More on that later...

To keep our decks free of snow, we'll likely be tenting our boat in the winter. If you look closely at some of the boats in our new marina (picture can be found here), you'll see that several are wrapped in plastic. This helps with keeping both the boat warm and the decks clear of snow and ice. 

For good measure, I'm guessing we'll also be investing in a shovel. 

Stay tuned...   

Saturday, May 31, 2014

We're Back With A New and Very Tiny Companion

Although we had a break in new posts for a few days this past week, it certainly isn't due to a shortage of things to write about.  With our big move only two months away, we have endless questions to answer and things to share. 

So why the delay in new posts? 

Our computer broke.  Our computer, which was a desktop PC built into Sea Gem's navigation station on a special shelf, was not only our blog-posting machine, but also our chart plotter for navigation.  Although we have multiple backups, it is better that it died now than while at sea. 

Since our old (and now dead) computer is an ordinary desktop PC and is fairly power hungry (with the monitor on, it would draw 7 amps at idle and would climb to 10 amps or higher when launching programs, etc.), we were actually thinking of replacing it with a new, more energy-efficient computer, but hadn't yet made up our minds as to whether the purchase was justified.  In the end, the old computer made the decision for us.

Out with the Old
Our new computer is an Asus VivoPC, which cost way, way less than we thought a new computer would and, so far, is exceeding expectations.  It is a fraction of the size of the old computer, freeing up computer-shelf space for other things (or as a nice foot rest).

In with the New (and Tiny)
It also uses a fraction of the electricity as the old computer (with the monitor on, 3 amps at idle, and no more than 5 amps during intensive tasks), and it makes no noise (the old computer had noisy fans).  And, most importantly, it is compatible with our chart-plotter software and our GPS and AIS connections, which took almost no time to configure.

Although the new computer fits neatly on the shelf than the old computer occupied, since it is not wedged in vertically (on account of it being about 18 inches shorter), we added a nylon-webbing strap to keep it securely in place. 

As an added bonus, the new computer connects to our stereo with Bluetooth, so we can play music, etc., through our regular stereo instead of separate, tinny computer speakers. 

Unplanned replacements are rarely enjoyable, particularly when they involve large expenditures and back-breaking labor only to restore the status quo, but our new computer is the exception to the rule: it was cheap, it was easy to install, and it a clear improvement on every level.

Now that we are up and running again, more posts to come soon. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Engine Maintenance for Dummies

Between now and early August, when we set sail on our journey to New York, we have an ever-growing list of tasks to get Sea Gem (and ourselves) ready for the trip

Because we're going to be putting a lot of hours on the engines during our trip, one of our preparation tasks was changing the oil.  Fortunately, Sea Gem has an oil-changing system that makes changing five gallons of diesel oil in three engines (two propulsion engines and one generator) as simple and as clean as is possible.

We have two 5-gallon tanks built into the engine room, one for new oil and another for dirty oil.  A series of pipes and valves connects each of the engines, as well as a hose, to each tank, with an electric oil pump in between.

First, you pump the old oil from all three engines into the old-oil tank.  This is as simple as opening the valves for the engines and the old-oil tank and flipping the switch on the electric pump.  When the pump runs dry, the task is complete.

Second, you insert the hose into a new, 5-gallon bucket of oil (prior to Sea Gem, I had never even seen a 5-gallon bucket of oil), and pump the new oil from the bucket into the new-oil tank.

Oil Change Underway
Third, you change the oil filters and then pump the oil from the new-oil tank into the engines.  (This is trickier than emptying the engines since you must be careful not to overfill.) 

Finally, you switch the valves from the new-oil tank to the old-oil tank, and using the hose, pump the old oil (that was just removed from the engines) into the empty bucket (that previously held the new oil) for recycling.

Out with the Old 
Just in case we need to change the oil while on our trip, we went ahead and bought a second 5-gallon bucket of oil and pumped it into the new-oil tank so that everything is ready for another quick oil change if needed.

Almost no boat maintenance is as simple as it appears, but with this system, changing the oil is as failsafe as it gets.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Planning for the Worst, Hoping for the Best

Unlike the sailing trips we have taken in the past, our sail north to New Jersey will be much more demanding, both physically and mentally. As such, Helina will make her way north on land (via car), not by sea. Eric, my dad, and I will complete the sailing trip together over the course of 2 weeks (give or take), while Helina enjoys a mini-vacation with her grandmothers.

Although it is completely possible to sail comfortably and safely with young crew members, given the conditions we'll be facing (long days at sea, little sleep, unknown weather conditions, boredom-induced intoxication, etc.), we thought it would be best if we were not also confronted with entertaining a stir-crazy toddler. And, although sailing is generally very safe, in the extremely unlikely scenario that something bad were to happen to the boat, we're prefer Helina not be there to partake in the grim festivities.

We are, of course, taking our own safety seriously as well. The other weekend, we hauled our 8-person life raft off to be serviced (unpacked, tested, etc., etc., and repacked).

Off for Service
Although we don't anticipate our life raft seeing any action during the trip, knowing it is there (and in good working condition) gives us peace of mind.

We are taking other safety measures as well. More on that later...