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. 

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


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:

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. 

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.