Friday, June 29, 2012

Movin' to the country gonna eat a lot of peaches

This past week supposed to be our preliminary shake down cruise. Mark had arranged for time off from work and I was getting our provision lists together in preparation for week cruising along the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, by Friday the day we had to give the green light, the track of TS Debby was uncertain. She would probably head east away from us, but no one could promise the high pressure area over Texas would hold and Debby wouldn't head west towards us. Since I have a firm and steadfast 'do not play with possible hurricanes' rule, we had to put the shake down on hold. I am all for testing our anchoring equipment and technique but testing it in possible gale force winds when you have a heads up seems kind of stupid.

So we had a choice to make. Use the extra time off to keep on keeping on with the refit or take some much needed R and R. Mark has been keeping a schedule of 3 days in the office, 4 days refitting for 2 solid years. I've been trying to keep up with the kids, the boat, the houses for those same 2 years. Decision made. R and R it is. So we headed out to the most beautiful part of beautiful Texas- the hill country, to do a whole bunch of nothing for 4 days.

We stayed in Fredericksburg, an old German settlement which was the hometown of CHESTER NIMITZ! (man are they proud of that factoid) and is now a tourist destination thanks to the fact that it produces some of the most exquisite peaches in the country and also produces some mighty fine wines. There are tons of great shops for those so inclined and plenty of breweries to please the beer fans. Our hotel- Fredericksburg Inn was on the banks of Baron's creek just off Main street and had a really outstanding pool and lovely grounds for chasing a toddler around. Maybe the room was decidedly circa 1980s motel pedestrian but the grounds more than made up for it.

We drove up to Enchanted Rock for a morning hike. We got there as early as possible as the high for the day was supposed to be 105f. That is stupid hot. We started our ascent with Kitty tagging along until it go too steep then it was into her carrier and up to the summit. Mark thought to bring an umbrella to shade her and he made quite a spectacle climbing a giant boulder with a baby strapped to his back covered by a big umbrella. It did make him easy to spot though.

 Enchanted Rock is a big ole hunk of pink granite. While the hike is not a long one, it is steep. Really steep. So much so that when I happened to pause and turn around about half way up the dome, my fear of heights kicked in and I had to sit for minute to let the anxiety pass. Yes, heights freak me out. So much so that I purposefully lived on the 28th floor of a high rise where I would go out on my balcony every morning and peer down and think to myself "Yep. Still freaked by heights". I refuse to let fear ruin my fun so after a minute or reminding myself that it seemed much steeper than it appears I soldiered on. This is me on the summit smiling because I've yet to realize that I have to look down to get off the darn thing.

I've got more on our hill country get away coming in the next post but for now I will leave you with a moment of Zen from the summit trail. I call this one 'Rock. And some flowers. Om.'

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bottoms up

We took the boat in for a quick haul. We needed to replace the zincs, check the state of the bottom paint and to see if we had any blisters appearing. This last item is the one that kept me awake at night worrying.

When we purchased the boat, we adjusted our offer to compensate for the estimate we got from 3 yards for a thorough blister repair job. The median estimate was $10,000. The actual bill came in at a bit over $18,000. (Lesson learned- anytime a yard gives you a quote double it for an accurate estimate)That is an eye watering bit of price inflation and you can understand why this first haul out 2 years after the repair was rife with anxiety. While I was coming up with a contingency plan of action for the worst case scenario (which is what I do for EVERYTHING) Mark commented that if the bottom was pock marked he would take the boat out into the Gulf open the sea cocks and scuttle the darned thing and take up golf. Since usually I am the one who engages in hyperbole and melodrama, I had a minute or two of wondering if he was serious or not. We love you Ceol Mor, please oh please do not let this love go unrequited.

And so it was that we cast off from the dock for the short little hop to Seabrook Shipyards arriving at 12:30 with plenty of time to make our scheduled 1 p.m. appointment. Kitty was happily singing as she loves a boat ride, even if its just a short little chug around the corner. As we tied up to the dock to await our turn in the lift, Mark went to the office to check in while Kitty and I fed some of her crackers to the little duck quacking away on our starboard side. The little duck disappeared after a pause in the feeding only to return a few minutes later with 8 of her friends. Apparently, word gets around quickly as to which boat is hosting the duck buffet. Mark returned from the office with new information. Our appointment was actually scheduled for 2 p.m. Whoops. Kudos to Kitty though, she remained happy and perfectly behaved even though she had to skip her nap for the day.

The shipyard was very accommodating and managed to get us into the lift at 1:30. Once Ceol Mor was in the slings, Kitty and I stood by to watch the action. Kitty got very concerned when the boat was lifted out of the water. "Too high! Too high! He drop it!!" she exclaimed. I reassured it that it was okay for the boat to be airborne. Kitty kept shouting to the lift operator "Don't drop it" but eventually she relaxed when her little tribe of ducks found her by the sound of her voice. Then she was entranced once again by her 'friends'. "Hi friends!! Hi friends!!" she shouted gleefully to the ducks while Mark and I held our breath as we walked up to inspect the bottom of Ceol Mor.

Hallelujah, praise the Lord and AMEN!! No reappearance of blisters. Phew. Our zincs were completely gone but there seemed to be no damage and they were quickly replaced. The ablative paint had held up pretty well although we will be adding a few coats of paint in the next few months. Our only 'oh no' was a collection of barnacles on the bottom of the keel. Apparently, the soft grounding we had last summer was a bit more abrasive than we thought. The barnacles were scraped off and we made plans to get Ceol Mor on the hard for bottom paint sooner rather than later. Since we were clear on the big blister worry, we refused to get too upset about it. All will be put to right when we do a full haul out for bottom paint. Mark greased the sea cocks. We paid our bill and headed back to the marina.

While I think taking sailing lessons can be a good idea, there is no way you will learn everything you need to about sailing until you are actually doing it. The universe will decide what you need to learn and when so its best just to get on with it. As we pulled into the fairway to bring Ceol Mor into her slip, the universe decided that it was time for us to learn about what the vibration from new zincs on the prop shaft can do and how to dock under propulsion of prayer.

Some people who sail will never admit to having DUH! moments. If you read about their sailing experiences it all goes perfectly as planned, they never make mistakes and they will shake their heads and 'tsk tsk' us for our lack of perfect seamanship skills. I call these people the 'saltier than thou'. If you happen to be a saltier than thou who will read this next bit and if you feel the urge to say " I would NEVER xyz" feel free to note our boat's name- Ceol Mor so if you see us you can move your Bristol fashion yacht far away from us and our imperfect boat and seamanship. This will work well in 2 regards. 1. You won't be subject to our learning curve and 2. you will be far away from us which would work because we probably wouldn't want to hang out with you anyway.

Mark was having a rough go of backing the boat into her slip. It was just not going as usual. There was quite a bit of vibration going on which SHOULD have clued us in that something was amiss. I thought to myself "this is what we get for thinking we had this docking thing down smooth". Mark pushed the engine into forward to have another go at backing in and then in a perfectly calm voice said "Oh. I've lost my propeller". This might not seem to be such a big deal until you realize we are in a crowded fairway on a 23,000 pound boat heading towards the boats docked across from us. With no brakes. We were very fortunate that The Boardwalk Beast was out of her slip as we managed to turn the boat hard to starboard and get her tied up half way into the Beast's slip without hitting anyone else's boat. (Thanks to my mad fending off skills).

As we peered into the engine to see if there was an obvious answer, Kitty stood above us menacing Mark and I from the companionway with her little stuffed alligator. "RAWR! RAWR! He bite chu!" she said as were greeted by an obvious and fortunately- easily remedied problem. The new zincs on the prop shaft had indeed caused a lot of vibration. Enough to work all but one of the bolts holding the prop shaft out.

 As Mark went about replacing the bolts and we made a solemn promise to revisit those bolts with a bit of Loctite, we heard a knock on our hull. It was a member of the Boardwalk Beast crew asking if we would be long. I'm not certain if it was Mark's polite assurances that we did belong in the marina and had a bit of a situation that would quickly be sorted  that mollified the crew member or if he was frightened by the roaring of the stuffed alligator but what ever the reason, it seemed to work. The crew member left us to replace the bolts, we fired up the engine and eased into our slip. Piece of cake.
WHOOPS! Note to self- Loctite and check those bolts more frequently.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

You go girl

MOM! Would you please stop taking pictures?!?!!
Every summer, Maura makes her way to Indiana to visit her grandparents. She counts down the months until it is time for her to make her way to the land of corn fields, cousins, Mennonite farmers and an honest to goodness county fair.

When she was a wee girl of 5,6,7,8,9- her grandmother would fly into Houston, meet up with us and she would fly back with little Maura only to repeat the process on her return. For the past two years, we've had Maura take direct flights as an unaccompanied minor. This was just about as scary as sending her off to school. I would take her into the airport, we would fill out forms in triplicate, Maura would be tagged with documents dangling from her neck and I would be given security passes to take her right to the gate. I would then turn her over to a flight attendant who would watch her on the flight in a section of seating reserved for other unaccompanied minors. At her destination on the non-stop flight, the gaggle of UA fliers would be herded by a gate attendant who would check and recheck the documents of the kids and the ID and documents of those who were listed to pick the kids up. It was all checked, double checked and other than worrying about my kid encouraging the other kids to perform 'Don't Stop Believing' as a show choir on the plane, pretty low on the worry level.

This year was to be different. This year, Maura would be flying on her own as the arrival date/time/airport she needed didn't have a non-stop flight. She would have to change planes on her own in Chicago (CHICAGO! SIN CITY!!) and make her way to Indianapolis where her grandparents would greet her. In the grander scheme of things, it shouldn't be that big of a deal. She knows the rules- like don't leave the secure area, if someone creeps you out go to a gate agent or officer but this was more about me trusting her to go out a wee bit on her own than her taking care of herself. It would be okay, I could take her to her gate and she'd only be on her own for the plane change in Chicago but I worry because that is what moms do. She's only 12 (12 and half she tells me).

As we arrived at the airport, there was absolutely NO parking. Every lot was full. My thoughts of going with her up to the gate were thrown out and it was only because of a kind police officer who allowed me to park in a handicapped space that I was able to dash in with her to watch her check in and kiss her goodbye as she entered security. I watched this gangly girl confidently approach the ticket counter. As the agent asked to see her drivers license, Maura whipped out her passport and said " I don't have a license, here's my passport. I am too short to drive". The agent smiled and asked if she was traveling alone and when Maura answered in the affirmative, reassured Maura that if she needed anything help was available. Maura smiled, gathered her bag and documents and we made our way to the security line.

"We can't go through security, We have to say goodbye here". I said to her. She looked up at me and I didn't see the confident young lady that she is, instead I saw her as the impulsive, impish 5 year old who likes to wear princess crowns and fight imaginary dragons. "I'm on my own?" she asked. "Yes. Call me when you get to the gate, call me when you get to Chicago, call me when you find your next flight at Chicago, then call me when you land and when you get to baggage...and". She stopped me. "I'll call you Mom. It will be fine. I will be fine". She gave me a hug and off she went and I thought, you will indeed be fine Maura.

It might seem like an insignificant thing, a young girl flying on her own but for me it was a milestone. She is no longer a small child but a confident, smart and capable young woman. As she walked into the line for security I realized that she is stepping out of her childhood and into young adulthood. Its a strange mix of pride and wishing for her to gather more experiences of her own and a desire to keep her close and protected because she is only 12.

That's 12 AND A HALF.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Let's talk about things that suck

Last weekend, all of the Kemah/Clear Lake area was in a tizzy. Boats lined up and down the channel and major traffic routes were shut down to await the barge carrying the space shuttle to make its way to Space Center Houston at Nasa. In reality, it wasn't a space shuttle, but a life size replica. Houston, who has definitely played a major role in the US space program was deemed to not be a 'tourist destination' and therefore undeserving of a real shuttle. So there was a whole bunch of hullabaloo to welcome what appeared at close examination to be a 7th grade science fair project made of paper mache with a limp and falling off tail section. The fact that we don't get a real shuttle, that we were given a sad likeness and all of the traffic snarls sucks.

While we are on the subject of things that suck, lets talk boat equipment. Our Rule bilge pump float switch also sucks. Actually, Mark referred to said switch as a "poorly engineered and constructed piece of s#*t" but since this is a family friendly blog, we'll just say it sucks.

When we first installed it, 6 months ago we had a bit of foreshadowing as Mark commented on how flimsy the construction of this small $50 part seemed to be, along with the other Rule pumps we had purchased. Upon close inspection, I too thought they seemed to be on the cheap side but what do I know? Due to the fact that Rule products dominate the market, we pushed our thoughts of inadequate construction aside and hoped that we were just being overly critical.

The folly of our ways was made clear to us yesterday morning. We were not hooked up to shore power over night and as Mark went aboard to install yet more fans and lights, he was greeted with the sound of the bilge pump running. We had a thunder storm in the early hours and our mast still lets in some water in a deluge(we are working on that) and we still get a bit of water from the air conditioner (working on that one as well). The bilge was dry, but was still running as the Rule float switch had stuck in the up position. Great.

Rule switch removed and still stuck in the up position
The Rule switch that had been in use MAYBE 4 minutes total in the past 6 months had failed to switch off as it was designed to do. When you think about the cost per minute of operation, this becomes a very expensive part indeed. This meant that the bilge pump was sucking air, which is not a good thing for the pump and also it put our new $2000 battery it was running off of in danger of failure. The hour indicator stated that the pump had been running for 3 hours. Had we been gone from the boat for a few days the bilge pump would have continued to run until the battery was totally drained at which point it would have been rendered useless. A crappy $50 part could have cost us $2000 to replace the battery we had JUST replaced.

Yup, 3 hours
The switch comes with a 2 year warranty, so conceivably we could trade in the crappy Rule float switch for another crappy Rule float switch with the same design flaws for free. Umm, thanks but no. I think we will be looking for another option and just chalk this up to some valuable lessons learned. 1. We need to trust our instincts. Mark is at times maddeningly meticulous but 9 times out of 10, his initial opinion is proven to be correct. 2. Just because a company dominates the market doesn't mean their product is any good, just that they have a great PR and distribution team.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Let the countdown commence

No time to be schmoopy about the fact that we are STILL in refit mode when we had planned to have a year of cruising under our belt at this point in time. Its time to start getting excited because we are heading out in 17 months. 17 months might seem an arbitrary number to get excited about but it is less than a year and a half. As the heat creeps up and the progress slows a bit due to this, the fact that we are less than a year and half from heading out just gives me such a lift.

Mark installed the fore cabin reading lights and fans. I can tell you that while the CCF reading lamps are adequate if not spectacular, those Caframo fans put out some serious windage. This should make me happier when sleeping as I am like a golden retriever in that I like a breeze strong enough to make my face flap- even while sleeping.

Our generator was giving us fits. It was causing consternation by not firing up. Should be easy, right? Just grab the serial numbers off the thing and find the manual. Well since our Onan generator is about 100 years old, we could no longer discern the serial numbers. Mark started plugging in random numbers onto the part of the number we could actually make out and after a bit of time we had success. He was able to down load the manual and figure out that the problem was probably a clogged filter and it was- the second filter to be exact. Which is why our previous attempt at cleaning the first filter resulted in no change. A bit of elbow grease to remove, clean and reinstall and VOILA! The old Onan is running once again. Now we not only have a functional generator we know what to check first when it dies again- check the SECOND filter as well.

We are still in a very heated debate over the galley refit. I'm still firmly in the go with the easy, inexpensive, fast Origo stove option. Mark is still firmly in the meticulous, expensive, time consuming, space eating propane camp. We will have to reach a decision soon but its looking as if my dreams of just dropping in a Origo and calling it done are fading away. *sigh* I'd just like to have one thing on Ceol Mor be easy, fast, inexpensive and straight forward but alas, it seems it might not be meant to be. I'm choosing my battles though. In the end, I will cook badly on whatever we come up with so if going with a new propane system makes Mark happy I can't get excited about it.

We are planning on having the boat hauled next week to change out the zincs, check the bottom and service the prop. Not terribly exciting, but necessary none the less.

We went out for a sail on Sunday. We were just under genoa alone as this was all about me becoming more skilled and we didn't need the extra push from the main (and we got to avoid dealing with the less than adequate main set up). I'm still not able to dock the beast but I can solidly keep the wind at different points of sail, take a bearing to a fixed point and sail to it, trim the gen to a reasonable level, keep a course heading and I've gotten much better at tacking. I can say I've gotten better at tacking smoothly because there was only one way to go and that was up.

While we trudge along, continuing the work on the boat and improving our sailing skills, we get little bits of happy. On our way to the boat, we walk past crepe myrtles in bloom. The sun is shining, Kitty is singing and Maura, Mark and I smile when we think of what's to come- in only 17 months!