Saturday, April 28, 2012

Nothing to do with boats- The Birthday Cake

This post has nothing to do with the boat, or sailing or the sea. Sometimes I like to write about our life just so I do not forget it in years to come. This is one of those posts. Tomorrow, boat. Today, other stuff.

I have previously mentioned the fact that I am not crafty. I often have great ideas, its just that I don't possess the necessary hand skills to execute my brilliant ideas. This might be one reason I married Mark. Not only does he have great ideas but he can execute them perfectly. I on the other hand, can usually complete a project to a reasonable level of quality if I have time to redo said project over and over again. With kids and most especially a toddler, time is a luxury I do not have.

I think I've also mentioned that plotting holidays and celebrations on a calendar are also not one of my strong suits. We are not Catholic but my kids have often celebrated all 12 days of Christmas with Santa arriving to our domicile on Epiphany because I usually remember Christmas is coming up sometime around December 23rd. This is why when Kitty started receiving birthday cards 3 days before her birthday I finally checked the calendar and started to panic.

 I know she doesn't really know what day it is or what a birthday is but I felt pretty horrible about not planning ANYTHING for the poor kid. Turning 2 is a big deal around here. People throw pretty lavish Martha Stewart type shindigs for their toddlers and I had not even managed to get the kid a cupcake. I thought I would make it up to her by making a fantastic cake for her. One that she would help me bake and decorate because her favorite thing in the world to do is what ever we are doing and if it involves tools and paint brushes, even better. So armed with determination to ensure that years from now Kitty would have photos of her fabulous birthday cake as evidence of her parents adoration, we went to the local Martha Minion Mart and procured the necessary tools. While we were there, Kitty became entranced with the sugar bees and ladybirds and it was her desire to have a bumble bee cake that inspired  the design for her cake. We would make her a garden cake, complete with vines and flowers for the bees and ladybirds to rest on. It would be adorned with a 2 on top festooned with flowers and because Kitty is a girl who likes her chocolate it would of course be a dark chocolate cake.

Day one was fairly successful. Kitty loved mixing all the ingredients for her cake. We did have a moment of disappointment when she saw the bag of flour with the cupcake on it. If the bag has a cupcake on it it MUST contain cupcakes. I tried to explain to her that it was not in fact powdered cupcakes but she would not believe me until I finally told her to go ahead and eat it if she did not believe me. The utter look of disappointment coupled with distaste on her face when she discovered that flour tastes nothing like cupcakes was hard to take. We did end up with a bit of a crunchy textured cake thanks to Kitty's overly enthusiastic cracking of eggs but a little eggshell never hurt anyone. I managed to bake the layer without burning anything, got the layers leveled, filling spread, cake assembled, crumb coating on and popped the cake in the refrigerator to await decoration the next day. I was feeling like a crafty GODDESS! Check out my mad crumb coating skills. I'll see your cupcake cozies Martha and raise you one perfectly iced chocolate cake. BOO YA!

Day two saw us with an assist from Maura. I told her my carefully planned idea for the design of the cake and we got busy mixing fondant, rolling it out and smoothing it on the cake. There were one or two instances of tiny fingers poking holes in the cake but we weren't trying for perfection. Kitty and Maura cut out the fondant into flower shapes and began adding a bit of highlight to each one. Kitty thought cake making was the greatest thing ever. As they worked, I began the formation and attachment of the vine. It was here that things went terribly wrong.

I carefully attached the vines to the cake, undulating the vines around and carefully forming a big 2 on top of the cake. I stepped back to admire my artistry when I noticed that something was off. It did not look like the fresh, spring like cake I saw in my head. The colors were wrong, or the scale, or...I didn't know it was just off. Maura looked up and walked over to stand beside me and appraise my work.

 "Mom. It looks like poop." she said. "I know Maura, something's just not right about it..." I replied. " No Mom. The brown vines look like ACTUAL Poop. And what's really bad is you have made a huge number 2 on the top in brown poop fondant" she informed me with stunning accuracy. I was aghast. This was NOT the vision I had in my head. I had made my beautiful little Kitty a poop covered cake to celebrate her birthday. Happy birthday. DIG IN EVERYONE!

We tried to add texture to the vines but that did not work. Fondant is like epoxy (HA! boat refit reference) in that it has a distinct workable time frame after which any texture added will fade away before your eyes. We tried to remove the poop vines but there was no way to do that without tearing out all the work we had already done. There was nothing for it bit to add more flowers. And then more flowers and yet more flowers in an attempt to cover up the offending design.
 In the end, the cake looked like a technicolor, acid induced nightmare. Kitty adored it beyond belief. She asked to see it over and over again, wanted to touch it and admire it. To her, it was the most amazing cake in the world. The next day, after a brisk sail we sang to her and cut the cake. Once you peeled off the embellishments, there was a really tasty, moist cake (although a bit crunchy in places) hiding beneath. I suppose it could have been worse. I easily could have burned the cake or made it too dry or any number or culinary mishaps could have occurred. Embellished with poop but tasty somehow seems to be an accomplishment to be proud of.

Happy birthday Fiona-whom-we-call-Kitty-and-love-with-all-our-hearts. Next year we will definitely make a big cake with you but next year, I think we will stick to a polka dot cake. Polka dots are safe. Right?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sailing with Salty Gene.

We affectionately refer to our main sail as Baggy MacBaggerton

One of Mark's favorite dock buddies is Salty Gene. His name is actually just Gene but we've benefited so much from his knowledge gained during his 6+ years spent cruising the Caribbean on the boat he built himself, his years sailing the US and added with the fact that he manages to wear a fisherman's hat without looking the least bit twee that I feel calling him Salty Gene just fits better. And this is my blog so there ya go...Salty Gene it is.

Anyway, we had the opportunity to take the boat out with Salty Gene aboard to get an idea of what we want to add and more importantly, where the screw ups on the deck lay out and running rigging are so we can address them while we refit. We had plenty of wind at around 20-22 knots. Enough that we were able to get moving along at a well heeled over clip even though our main sail is the more akin to a sleeping bag then a sail. We managed to lose a batten due to me not tying up the end well. Fortunately, with such a  badly blown out sail I don't think a batten or the lack there of would make any difference at all. Mark asked me if I felt humbled by the loss of our batten due to my mistake. I told him no, I did not feel humbled because in order to feel humbled I had to first be feeling a bit superior about my skills. I just assume all the time that I will bumble my way through ignorance, make lots of mistakes but get through it all somehow. Besides, all the other battens remained intact so I must have done some of them correctly.

Salty Gene at the helm
It was a very good sail. The suggestions Salty Gene made were for the most part already on our list so at least we got confirmation that we are on the right track. We also had it illustrated to us just how crappy the deck layout is. Mark has been thinking things out carefully and this should be the next big project once we tidy up the plumbing. Rigid boom vang, jammers, increasing the size of winches, new clutches, organizers, etc should keep us busy for a while as the current configuration has been declared to be "Crap. Absolute crap" by Mark and after getting the jib sheets hung up on various parts of the rigging, me cranking a winch for a heck of a lot longer than I would like to, dealing with far too much friction on the lines. etc I have to agree. Salty Gene agreed that our current set up "is too damned hard". So we are going to do what we need to make it easy because I am all about easy.( Mark, I say if you really want those 54 winches by all means go for it!)

Salty Gene declared the boat to be a good, solid and dependable sailor. We know a bit more about what we want to do to the boat especially  for when sailing with a bit of wind. The sun was shining, the girls were happy and all in all I have to say it was a very good day. After we got the boat docked and tucked away, it was time for some birthday cake (Kitty is 2!) and to make plans for some overnight sails this summer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Our last name is not Huxtable

Waves or even chop pretending to be waves never look as impressive in photos.
I really enjoy reading sailing blogs, especially the blogs of sailing couples. Usually there are photos of idyllic anchorages, calm and peaceful passages and tales of perfect harmony. Sailing couples NEVER disagree or argue. It is amazing how you can have 2 people with strong personalities in a tiny space who never disagree at all. They are like The Huxtables from the Cosby show. While this is a sailing/refitting/family blog our last name is not Huxtable and we don't try for perfect harmony, we embrace our differences of opinions and try to disagree with panache and style and if we can make the other person laugh in the midst of an argument then we consider that a win.

After I made the very wise and prudent decision to not go out in such uncertain and hairy conditions with a toddler, a salon with every comfort item taken out for refitting, Mark began to push for us to go out anyway.  The radar was showing a few hours time before the storms hit, he didn't think it seemed  to be that windy, etc.. I stood my ground. It didn't seem that windy to him because he is from Scotland where the best weather days are grey, cold,drizzly and with 30 mph winds.  I'm from the subtropics where we get used to hot and still and if the wind picks up, its most likely a hurricane or a tropical storm. Mark continued to press his case and in exasperation, I ran through the possible and most likely scenarios and came up with 2 likely outcomes.

 Outcome 1 would be one in which Mark is correct and the conditions are not as bad as NOAA says they are (ha) and we go out for a spirited and lively sail. Everyone is happy and the boat performs perfectly. This would be a good outcome.

 Outcome 2 is where the winds are up, the newly installed engine harness fails, the baby is screaming, the saloon is stripped down so we can't send the girl below to amuse themselves until we get theboat sailing comfortably, docking in the waves and high tides proves stressful and everyone has a miserable time. This would be a GREAT outcome because I would then forever have a reference point to close discussion when ever we disagree on weather conditions. "Oh no Mister, remember the time we went out in the wind storm in Texas in April? We are not going anywhere. I listened to you before and it sucked." This would be a GREAT outcome so I told Mark "If you want to go out, you make the decision. You know my position on it".

We stowed all the tools on the boat, clipped the baby into the cockpit and began to get ready to head out. Mark told me to remove the sail cover to which I replied "you really think we are going to be able to sail in this?" Oh yes, Mark thought we would indeed be sailing albeit with the sails reefed down.  I'm not sure what his plans were for the kids but figures it was better to make sure they were safe and to go with it. As I began to carefully remove and fold the sail cover, I spoke out loud about what I want our new stack pack to look like- just to watch Mark's lip twitch. Mark thinks a stack pack will both be too expensive and create too much windage. I disagree because I am the one always wrestling with our old sail cover and I hate that thing with its cranky zippers and penchant for getting tangled. Another point is if he is getting new 50 winches by golly I can have a stack pack.

After getting the sail cover neatly folded away (no small feet on a blustery day), stowing all the winch and hatch covers and watching just how very high the water level in the marina was we set off. Good news- the engine wiring harness seems to be working perfectly. I smiled to myself as we rounded the corner of the fairway where our slip sits sheltered from the wind behind large buildings because I was greeted by the site of rollers coming in the channel. I commented to Mark how special it was to see actual surge in our usually glass flat channel. I also commented on the lack of other boats heading out...
Maura endured the indignity that is the orange sofa cushion PFD. Girlfriend has really shot up. Time for some PFD shopping.

As we entered the bay, we had a windex reading of  23 knots of wind, puncutuated by gusts of quite a bit more. We only had tiny waves of 2-4 feet but they were about 7 seconds apart and did I mention having waves of any size in the well protected, glass like bay is a bit unsual? The girls thought bashing through the waves was great fun. I smiled and said to Mark "we aren't hoisting the sails are we?". He smiled and replied that given that with me having my hands full with the toddler that he would be satisfied with a wee chug.

So we chugged out for a bit,  all alone on the water, bashing through the chop, then chugged back exactly as I knew in my heart would happen. We were able to discern that everything was working properly with the exception of our speedo which is dead-o. I was able to smile the satisfied, Chesire smile of the righteous. I was right. So would we go out again in such conditions? Yes but with the caveat of having the salon put back together enough for the girls to be able to be tucked safely out of the way while we deal with the sails etc. That was the single biggest reason for my lack of enthusiasm for a sail. Next time we are anticipating bigger than usual wind we will ensure the cabin is together enough for habitation and next time, I will make Mark refer to me as Claire.
Kitty's favorite thing to do is to hang on, grin at her Daddy and shout "ARRRGH!" I think she is actually trying to take over the helm.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chicken Little

Forecast is- The Suck.

We were pretty excited that the bilge pumps are now installed because with a bilge pump, we can go for a little day sail to see how all of the new wiring, pumps, etc are functioning. We were rushing to be able to do this because the next major part of the refit involves upgrading all of the deck hardware. That means removal of all the old stuff which will leave the boat firmly tied to the dock for a few weeks or months.

I rushed to get the kids ready to go, got to the boat only to find 30 mph+ gusts of winds. Yes, I checked the weather before heading out but I was hopeful- for what I amnot exactly sure. Probably hoping that the weather forecasters would hold true to their reputation for hyperbole and exaggeration and be wrong.

 Our boat is most definitely designed to handle conditions  this, but I opted to sit it out. I felt that not being 100% certain of how the new installs will hold up would be one issue (most concerning is the new engine wiring harness) and then- oh yeah we have a toddler aboard and that is a whole other issue. Last time we sailed she was decidely less head strong. I felt that if we had calmer weather to test the new installs or if Kitty was a little more predicatable on the boat we could go but I am Chicken Little and just felt a bit concerned about taking on two big challenges. One or the other for a start, but not both. So we opted to wait for the next day and hope for better weather. We stowed everything on the boat so we could leave quickly in the morning and went to bed with our fingers crossed.

When I awoke this morning, it was grey and overcast with periods of calm punctuated by impressive gusts of wind. I checked with NOAA , the Weather Channel- heck even Yahoo and they are all saying the same thing. Might be ok, but also might really, really suck. To say I am disappointed would be a gross understatement. I was lamenting the weather when a friend of mine (we are friends even though she Drives? Operates? a power boat) commented that we need to always put safety first. To which I replied "Safety is the biggest ruiner of fun ever". And yes, ruiner is so a word.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kitchen...galley..either way it needs some work

Mark has asked me to come up with a plan for our galley. While we both cook (well, I do things in the kitchen/galley that could be called cooking if you are being kind) since the galley is exposed it sort of falls into the aesthetic realm which is my area so I get to design it. Mark told me I should have a wish list and while some items on my list won't happen due to space constraints, I decided to dream big.

The following photo is not mine, nor is it a photo of Ceol Mor but if Mark could manage to build the same galley for me I should say I would be well pleased. Yes. I think this would do nicely.
 Never mind that this isn't even a galley on a monohull, it is the galley of Blue Guru, a luxury 70 foot catamaran available for charter from Charterworld for the bargain price of $29,000 per week. Still, I think this galley set up would work nicely for me. I still wouldn't be able to whip up gourmet meals unless you count grilled cheese as an epicurean masterpiece but I would look really good making messes in this. I might even be inspired to wear a cute and tidy apron. You told me to dream big Mark...

And now, back to reality. Here is a shot looking into the galley from the saloon. Yes, it looks like a bomb went off. A boat in refit often looks like what it is- a construction site. You'll notice that there isn't even room enough for the stove from Blue Guru in our galley. So I shall have to keep the beautiful galley of Blue Guru in my head and work with what I've got.

Now back to reality, its time to dream up a teeny, tiny dream galley. I would like Corian countertops. I've lived with them in the house and I really like them. They are easy to keep clean, are heat resistant and light in weight- very light in weight which is good not only for sailing but because a boat galley means you will have to lift up panels in the countertop to access storage. A lighter panel to lift while rocking and rolling in the sea is a good thing and since I guarantee that at some point I will drop said panel on my foot, my poor toes will appreciate the lighter weight. Ideally I'd have Corian fiddles with handholds cut in but if sticking with teak fiddles means we are done sooner and with a few more pennies in our pocket by all means- keep the teak.

We currently have a double bowl shallow sink. I want to scrap that for a deeper single basin. If I need to have a double basin for one bowl of salt water and one for fresh water for washing up, I can always drop in a plastic basin. Having the deeper single bowl means I will have a handy spot to clean the grime off of Kitty. She's a wee thing so I imagine it will serve her well as a bathtub for a few more years. I want to keep the fresh water and salt water foot pumps, but I want to ditch the horrible, impossible to fill a pot under faucet we currently have for a goose neck faucet with an attached spray hose. This means we have to have a pressurized water system which is at the top of my list of wants.

Ceol Mor has a gimballed 2 burner propane stove and oven. Due to the fact that there is no real room for a proper propane locker on our boat ( we have a tank on the stern rail) I want to get rid of the huge and heavy and very expensive to bring to ABYC safety standards stove in favor of a simple, inexpensive, lightweight and easy to install Origo 3000. It will be easier to build a locker to store alcohol. It will be easier to transport cans of fuel via the dinghy as opposed to schlepping a big and heavy propane tank. I've done dry runs cooking in my Dutch oven on a stove top and feel very sure that we can forgo the Origo 6000 which has an oven. I'd rather use the space where the oven would fit for storage. Especially because for some reason Mark is very attached to bringing a bread machine on board. Well you'll need a spot to store that huge machine and this is the only spot that it will fit in.

We currently have an old microwave installed and with my fantastic cooking abilities *cough cough* the microwave and the inverter that allows it to function get a workout on the boat. We've found a compact microwave/convection oven combo and I am hoping that the footprint will work on Ceol Mor. That will take care of any oven needs that can not be met with either the Dutch oven or a solar oven. I do not expect to use the oven all that much but it would be nice to have from time to time.

We have an antiquated holding plate in a reefer box just now. It pretty much sucks. I WISH we had the room and amp hours for THIS sweet set up but we don't have either. Womp. Womp. My goal here is to have me climbing up on the counters, throwing my upper body down into a small, dark hole and trying to extricate food stuffs as little as possible. My first choice would be a 2 drawer refrigerator/freezer. my second choice would be a small refrigerator drawer for day to say stuff and a well insulated ice box with holding plate for long term storage. What I will probably end up with is an Engel portable model. So long as we figure out a way to store it out of the way, I'll deal with it and just pretend that it is a gorgeous drawer model.

The one thing I dreamed up that I really want and that Mark is applying his Mr. Wizard skills too is a lifting storage system. We have a reefer box wedged between the sink and bulkhead for food storage. it is difficult to access, deep and again requires far too much acrobatic talent for me to ever be happy about. What I want is to build in a removable, locking lid into the countertop which when removed will allow access to a shelving system that raises up and locks into position. When you are done getting your  needed items out, you can lower it, replace the lid and never once have to engage in contortionism. I initally though about gas lifts but Mark insists this would not support the weight of canned goods. He has a better idea. Since we are still in the design and engineering process of this project and are probably about 6 months from installation you'll just have to stay tuned to see how this one pans out. I do know that if we are successful, short sailors everywhere will sing our praises.

So that is how I see the galley of Ceol Mor in my minds eye. It will be a heck of a lot of work but if we've had to delay departure to get the boat finished, it would be silly to skimp on the design of the galley, something we will use constantly to save a few weeks work. Make it so Mark, make it so.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Its The Plumber I've Come to Fix The Sink

Baby feet are much cuter than bilge pumps
As we finish the last bit of wiring until such time as we add new electronics, we are now moving on to the next theme on our list- plumbing. We are planning on redoing the whole shebang and have been figuring out what we have, what doesn't work and what can be improved.

First item up are the bilge pumps. We had 2- one electric pump and one manual. Since Mark is a big fan of redundancy, we need more pumps. Our bilge is very narrow and very deep so of course the standard off the shelf variety won't fit without major reconstruction. The current plan is to have 2 automatic bilge pumps- one deep in the bilge and one higher up that should only run if the water gets really high inthe bilge. I hope we never have reason to use that secondary pump!

As Mark was taking apart the manual bilge pump for refurbishment he noticed that our pump doesn't empty out completely. This means that we had a bit of salt encrustation from the one time we had to use the manual pump 2 years ago. Lesson learned- flush that pump with fresh water! We also discovered that our manual bilge pump is what we would use to discharge black water from the head holding tanks. We haven't had reason to use this as we've only been in protected waters and therefore have pumped out when necessary.

Remember how I told you our manual pump never completely dries out? That means if we kept what we have at some point we would have sewage left in our manual pump. That my friends means we would carry a bit of poop with us and not in the holding tank where it beklongs. Eww. I've got a toddler in diapers who refuses to use the toilet. I do not need any more extra poop in my life. This obvious-to-everyone-but-clueless-peeps-like- Mark-and-I-info means we are reconfiguring our head discharge system. We will be adding a dedicated manual pump for offshore discharge. This also means we will be able to remove about 20 feet of sanitation hose which will not only free up a large bit of space but will remove 20 feet of hose that can/will eventually become permeated and smelly. We've also long thought that 2 heads, while nice removes quite a bit of storage space. We plan on reconfiguring the 2 holding tanks so that they both service the rear head. We want to remove the forward head and use it for storage. We plan on not tearing down the forward head, but just removing the toilet and rearranging the plumbing. This will give us the option to reinstall the forward head should we ever decide to sell the boat.

While Mark and I make plans for plumbing, the girls are enjoying the beautiful sunny weather which is the hallmark of spring time in Texas. The verbena and roses are blooming and Kitty and Maura spend their afternoons in the garden. $2 buys a bunch of sidewalk chalk and a large container of bubbles which gives us weeks of fun. Its time to kick off the shoes, scribble in the sun and listen to the birds singing. Time to daydream and imagine and just enjoy the here and now. Now about that plumbing, lets talk about pressurized water...