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...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Where We'll Live

After completing our long sail north from Miami, FL to Jersey City, NJ, we'll arrive at our new marina--situated on the Hudson River directly across from lower Manhattan. This pic doesn't begin to do the view justice. See that bright object in the photo? That is the sun reflecting off One World Trade Center. What you are unable to see in the photo is everything situated just south of the marina--the Statue of Liberty, Liberty State Park, and Ellis Island. Depending on our slip, our view could be quite spectacular

New Splashing Grounds
We found out about this marina during a trip we took to New York City earlier this year. While there, we stopped by this very marina to catch a water taxi. We happened to visit on an extremely cold day (single digits), and being that it was the dead of winter, we didn't expect to see many (if any) boats in the water. Much to our surprise, however, we found a marina full of boats--including two Gulfstars! We'll be right at home. 

How's this going to work in the winter? More on that later... 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Route

Now that you know we are moving from Miami to New York, and that we're taking Sea Gem with us, you surely have at least a few questions.  How will we afford a marina in new York?  How will we stay warm?  Are we crazy?  We'll answer those questions and more, but first things first: the route.  How will we get from Point A (Miami, Florida) to Point B (New York City)?

The short answer is that we are sailing Sea Gem ourselves (with Krissy's dad as extra crew).

The longer answer looks like this:

There are three main legs to the trip.

First, we will sail in the Atlantic non-stop from Miami to Beaufort, North Carolina.  That is 603 nautical miles (about 700 of your landlubber miles), and will take about 3 1/2 or 4 days. This leg will almost certainly be the hardest part of the trip.  More on that later.

Second, we will take the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) from Beaufort to Norfolk, Virgina.  That is 188 nautical miles.  We will travel about 50 miles a day (taking another 4 days or so), anchor or stay at marinas at night, and generally have a nice time.  Leg 2 should be the most pleasant part of the trip.

Finally, we will sail in the Atlantic non-stop from Norfolk to New York City (our marina will be across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey).  That is 267 nautical miles and should take 1 1/2 to 2 days.

In total, we are looking at just under two weeks for the entire trip, but we are giving ourselves an extra couple weeks before we need to start work in New York in case of weather or technical problems or other delays.  We'd rather wait a few extra days than have to push through miserable weather.

So, that's the route.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Start Spreading the News...

A new chapter of our life (and blog) is about to begin. We're moving, and not just to a different marina around Miami. On August 2nd (give or take), captain and crew will set sail to New York City (OK, we're moving to Jersey City, NJ, but close enough). Although neither Eric nor I ever intended to leave our tropical-paradise home, an opportunity was offered to us (specifically, an opportunity was offered to Eric), which we simply couldn't pass up. So off to New York (...New Jersey) we go!

Open Ocean
Our upcoming sail will take (optimistically) 2 weeks to complete--much of which will be done on the outside (meaning the open ocean, not the ICW). Preparations are already underway.   

Is hurricane season the best time to sail in the ocean? Not really... Is New York the most ideal place to live on a boat? Not really... Did we spend a whole lot of time thinking this through? Of course not! But we're doing it anyway.

Stay tuned for many more "butwhatabout" posts... it is going to be interesting. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fire Boy, Explained

When we bought Sea Gem, we knew that it had an automatic fire-suppression system in the engine room called "Fire Boy."  We previously wrote about Fire Boy in the context of things that needed to be Helina-proofed.  We reasoned that, if she played with the various Fire Boy switches, she could set Fire Boy off and much inconvenience, damage, and expense would ensue.  I had visions of the engine room covered in white foam and two dead engines (and a new engine costs pretty much as much as a new car).

We recently had Fire Boy serviced by a technician who taught us how the system works, and as it turns out, our fears were somewhat unjustified.

First, Fire Boy uses a "clean agent," not the noxious white foam I had envisioned, and it can't damage the engines.  Helina, therefore, cannot hit a switch and cost us two new cars.

Second, it is not as easy to set Fire Boy off as we had feared.  There is a pull switch near the galley marked "FIRE" that we assumed, if pulled, would set off Fire Boy.

As it turns out we were right, but we secured the pin with a zip tie, and until she can reach the scissors, we should be fine. In addition, the pull switch requires a strong pull...stronger than Helina can muster, at least for now.  So we're less worried about that pull switch now than before.

The Fire Boy switch we were most concerned about was the green flip-switch located near the steering wheel in the main cockpit.  No pin.  No strong pull. Just a flip switch.

Cockpit Fireboy
We've worked very hard keeping Helina away from the green flip-switch.  For nothing, as it turns out.

The green switch cannot set off Fire Boy.  Rather, if Fire Boy goes off (either by the pull switch or automatically if a fire is detected in the engine room), it automatically shuts off the engine, and hitting the green switch allows you to restart it.  A neat safety feature, but in any case, Helina can cause absolutely no damage by flipping it.

So, is Fire Boy still a concern for Helina?  Definitely.  If she sets it off, we need a new canister of whatever the "clean agent" is, and that costs $1,000.

Costly Clean Agent
It's not the cost of two new cars, but more than enough to ruin our day.  Of course, the risk of buying a new canister is far outweighed by keeping the boat safe in the event of a fire, so we'll continue to count as fortunate that we have Fire Boy aboard, but keep checking that zip tie.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Added Protection

The main piece of "furniture" in our salon is a coffee table (which converts into a dining table):

Coffee Table - Before
Given that this table is one of the few objects in our boat's main living space, and it is at Helina's level, it is of no surprise that she uses it for her own purposes--specifically, she bashes her hard, clunky toys against the table's perfectly varnished surface. In order to preserve the table's glossy finish, we created a padded cover for the table's top out of a patterned vinyl glued to a piece of plush headliner material:

Coffee Table - After
With the new cover in place, Helina can now be as destructive as she wishes (within reason), and we don't need to worry about the table chipping:

Safe Playing

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Sailing Tailor?

The Florida sun is intense, and Sea Gem accordingly sports a lot of canvas.  The UV-protected material used on boats is called Sunbrella, and all of ours is the same color: "Pacific Blue."  We have Sunbrella covers on each of our six overhead skylights/hatches to protect the glass and keep the interior cool.  We have a Sunbrella cover for our liferaft, and another for our fishing chair. And one for our captain's chair.  And a big one for our steering wheel.  We have another large Sunbrella cover for our dinghy motor and spare anchor.  We have Sunbrella covers for our storm windows.  We have a boom tent for the aft cockpit made entirely of Sunbrella.  All six of our winches have matching Sunbrella covers.  And each of our sails has Sunbrella covering the portion that would otherwise be exposed to the sun.  Altogether, Sea Gem sports a whole lot of Pacific Blue.

As with everything on boats, labor is expensive, and after paying a whole lot of money for our Sunbrella boom tent, we decided that it would be nice if we could make our own Sunbrella covers.  There may always be complicated tasks that will require a professional, but surely we could learn to make smaller pieces and perform routine repairs on larger ones such as patching holes and restitching areas with worn thread? 

And so we bought a sewing machine.  They make very heavy-duty industrial models specifically for sailboats, but we opted for a simpler (and cheaper) consumer-grade model, and one of my coworkers recommended one--a Baby Lock BL9--that has a reputation for being easy to use, reliable, and capable of handling touch fabrics and threads.  And so $150 or so later, we became the proud owners of a new sewing machine that neither of us had a clue how to use.  

Sure, we both took home ec in seventh grade where we were taught how to operate a sewing machine.  We actually had the same teacher, Mrs. Mean Old Bat.  But with all due respect to her talents as a teacher and whatever skills we may have acquired at the time, twenty years later, nothing stuck.

Fortunately, Krissy's mother knows how to use a sewing machine, and during a recent visit, she showed us how to set it up and get started.  This past week, we made our first project: a sun cover for two of our instruments in an attractive Pacific Blue.

Finished Product

The BL9 had no trouble sewing through four layers of Sunbrella or using the industrial-grade UV-protected thread.  

I certainly wouldn't call the results "professional," but it does the job, and after all, we are sailors, not tailors .

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mega Yacht Mart

Whenever Eric and I need to make a major boat-related purchase, we head up the road to Fort Lauderdale. Ft. Lauderdale is a mecca for boaters and, as such, is home to just about every type of boating/diving store you can imagine. During our last trip, we discovered a new store that just might be our new favorite--the Mega Yacht Mart!

We weren't clear if Mega Yacht Mart meant a large ("mega"-sized) store for yacht stuff or a regular-sized store for mega-sized yachts, but we ventured in anyway. As it turns out, it is a consignment shop for mega yachts. In general, our boat doesn't have much in common with a mega yacht, which are floating palaces; however, we were still able to find a few items that were perfect for our boat.

Eric spotted a previously owned (but apparently unused) horseshoe flotation ring, which was on our list of things to replace (we lost ours during a rough incident that occurred sailing a few years ago), for less than half of what one costs new. I, too, found a hidden gem--a Missoni Home floor pillow! New, these things retail for several hundreds of dollars, but I found this one for only $75, and it appears unused. Judging from the condition of the pillow, it appears as though mega-yacht owners don't spend a whole lot of time lounging on the floor.

Missoni Home Floor Pillow
We, however, do spend a lot of time on our floor--especially little Helina. As soon as she saw the pillow, she demanded to sit on it. Then, she requested we sit on it next to her. She giggled, then forcefully shoved us off "her pillow," never to let us return.

The floor pillow is Helina's favorite thing in the entire boat--the entire world, maybe. She lounges on it...

Resting Baby
plays on it...

Boat Playroom
...and tumbles on (and over) it:

I know it is just a pillow, but it feels like we now have an extra room (for Helina, anyway).