Tuesday, January 31, 2012
I am now the proud owner of a Dahon D7 folding bicycle! It's compact, has seven speeds and only has one major dent. It does not have a bell yet, but you can't expect everything at once. Cruisers often use folding bikes because for one they are compact and for two you generally can't take your car with you on a 36-foot sailboat. I guess we could tow the Altima behind us in the dinghy, but it might have a slight effect on our speed.
I've been trolling Craigslist for a variety of items that we either need but can in no way afford or want but can't justify purchasing, and folding bikes were high on the want list. The Dahon D7 retails for about $600, and I bought it from some guy named Darryl in the Clear Lake Target parking lot for $175. Love that underground economy!
Unfortunately, Vlad is still sans bike, so my dreams of a romantic ride through the French countryside while carrying a bag of baguettes and wearing a beret will have to wait. Until then, it's Craiglist and persistence.
Monday, January 30, 2012
|See that boat in the background? We passed them!!|
We went out for yet another race on Saturday. Even though we've been working on an ever growing pile of boat projects, Vlad and I have decided that racing with our awesome neighbors is most certainly worth the time. Just from going out a couple of times with some experienced sailors, we've learned invaluable information on sail trim, sail combinations, wind direction, working as a team while tacking and this week, alas, losing.
Yep, you heard right. We got schooled on Saturday's race. Our intrepid captain started out on the starboard tack (yes, I've learned what that means too), thinking we could get closer to the first mark and pick up the shore wind. That was some serious strategic thinking. Unfortunately, that fickle beast known as the wind refused to cooperate.
|The view from the back of the pack.|
And to make matter worse, we blew out the napkin! Our secret weapon, our power animal, our tiny little spinnaker gone with one snap of the sheet! Of course, we are racing in a heavy cruising boat against J boats and light-weight coastal cruisers, so perhaps it's not that surprising that we came in pretty close to last this time what with the uncooperative wind. We will just have to wait until the races start up again in March to redeem ourselves.
|Remember, kids, always put two turns around the winch.|
And this time I was the wounded warrior! In moment of short-sightedness, I didn't put the spinnaker sheet around the winch before we popped the chute. Rookie mistake, but, hey, I'm a rookie. Have you ever had a line yanked through your hands by 16 knot winds while you stupidly try to hang onto it? It might not sound like much, but let me just say that it burns. I mean, really, really burns. By the time we got back to the dock, I was like one of those cartoon characters pouring aspirin into my mouth straight from the bottle. Vlad patched me up with some burn cream and an ice pack and even more duct tape. We've really got to stop using duct tape on our wounds. And I'm getting some sailing gloves.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I can change the oil in a car, though admittedly the only time I ever did it unsupervised I created an Exxon Valdez-style oil slick in my mom's driveway and a tad bit of black smoke billowed up from under the hood when I drove down the highway. Still, I get the general gist.
Changing the oil in a marine engine is much the same principle, except, as with all things on a boat, it's a bigger pain in the butt.
Step 1: Turn on the engine. The oil has to be warm in order to extract it, so running the engine for a several minutes is essential.
Step 2: Get the old oil out of the engine. With a car this is a rather simple prospect. You just drain the oil pan, letting gravity work its, oh, so efficient magic. On a boat, however, you generally have to pump the oil out of an impossible to reach location down in the bowels of the engine. This is the oil pan access point where the dipstick resides, so get used to cramming your hand into this less than hospitable area. On some boats, you could conceivably drain the oil, but because most boat engines are shoved into a space slightly larger than the size of an Easy Bake Oven, it can be difficult. So you pump. And you pump. And you pump some more.
|See the black tube? That's transporting our old oil.|
Step 4: Put on the new filter. Write the date and engine hours on the new filter, and put fresh oil around the gasket with your finger. Then screw on the new filter until it just touches the engine. From here you want to mark the filter with a Sharpie so that you don't lose your place, and using a filter wrench give the filter 2/3 of a turn to a full turn. Vlad recommends a full turn on a marine engine because a dislodged oil filter is pretty much death to your engine.
|Put fresh oil on the black gasket.|
|Putting on the new oil filter.|
|Yay! New oil!|
We had some questions about what type of oil to put in the engine. Since we're heading off to exotic locales with equally exotic rules on sulfur content in diesel fuel, we needed an engine oil that can withstand a high sulfur content like CF instead of CJ-4 (sorry for the alphabet soup!). Evidently, some engine oil can be broken down by high sulfur fuel that is no longer allowed in the U.S., which is yet another thing I did not know and is definitely something to take into consideration when planning an out-of-country cruise.
Monday, January 23, 2012
|One of the many J boats bearing down on us.|
On Saturdays in Galveston Bay, the water is teeming with sailboats, and a majority of them are not just out for a leisurely day sail. They are racing, and Vlad and I got the chance to race with them for the first time this weekend on our friends' sailboat - the same friends who have the J-22 spinnaker, fondly known as the "napkin," on their 37-foot or so boat.
Needless to say, I was overcome with excitement at the thought of racing. For one thing, I don't know what I'm doing, and for another I'd heard that racing captains yell a lot. Who could want anything more on a Saturday morning?
Alas, there wasn't a ton of wind. At one point we got into a hole (a windless area) and were only going 2 knots. That equates to about 2 miles an hour, which means that I walk faster than we were racing. It's amazing that people make it around the world in these things.
Most of the time, however, we were at about 5 to 5.5 knots, and the day was not without it's share of tension. Going around the marks, which in Galveston Bay are abandoned oil platforms, with twenty boats all crunched in next to you and a J boat shooting between you and the rusted steel pilings can be a little hairy. Here's what it looked like behind us after the first mark:
And we got to fly the napkin!
|The famous napkin. My mom calls it the hanky.|
Evidently, a real spinnaker looks like this:
And the race claimed a victim - Vlad's knee. Kids, this is what happens when you don't have Band-Aids.
For my first race, I have to say that all my criteria were met. I learned more about sail trim, about how to watch the wind (that sounds so zen!) and about how to avoid collisions. And I got yelled at! But only enough to make me feel like we were really racing.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Thanks to an enterprising reader, we now know that this mysterious jellyfish isn't even a jellyfish at all. Shocking, I know! It's a comb jelly, and all the stuff we saw moving around inside of it was actually the cilia it uses as its mode of propulsion. These puppies have been around for a long time, half a billion years or so, and they can shimmer with iridescence, especially under a black light. Trippy, no?
Here's an article on the comb jelly. And here's my favorite part from the article, describing the introduction on the American comb jelly into the Black Sea:
This comb is widely blamed for the collapse of the commercial fishing industry in the region. The highly adaptable comb, christened ‘The Monster’ by the locals, is said to have been transported in the ballast tank of a US Ship. Since its colonisation of the Black Sea. ‘The Monster’s’ population is estimated to weigh over a billion tonnes. Each individual comb can produce 8,000 offspring every 24 hours.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
|We have no idea what kind of jellyfish this is.|
Vlad found this little guy swimming in the marina and caught him in a plastic box for me. You can't tell by the photo, but those orange stripes had stuff - I'm not sure what - pulsing through them, almost like cars moving down a highway. We looked at him for a bit, put him back in the water and watched as he floated away. If anyone has any idea what kind of jelly he is, I would love to know.
One could argue that I post too often about jellyfish, but I just can't help it! They're fascinating creatures, and for a while my favorite animal was the Portuguese Man-O-War after I saw a ton of them on the beach at Padre Island. Though in the same phylum, technically, Man-O-War aren't true jellyfish but rather a colony of tiny animals that have "agreed" to live together in symbiotic, stinging harmony. And despite they're ferocious sting, I thought they were beautiful.
|One of the Man-O-War we saw. Not a lot of swimming that day!|
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
|It looks so simple...|
Diesel invented an engine that works by drawing air into a cylinder and compressing it until it is very hot (more than 1,000 degrees F). Just before the air is fully compressed, fuel is injected, creating a mini-explosion inside the cylinders. The expanding gases from the explosion push the pistons down, which are attached to the crankshaft by a connecting rod. The crankshaft, via the transmission, turns the propeller, and off you go. All it needs - besides water, impellers, filters, oil, belts, gaskets, etc. - is air and fuel.
Which leads me to the second part of this discussion - what's the difference between a gasoline engine and a diesel? Well, they are both internal combustion engines, which is kind of like saying they are small bombs encased in steel that we sit behind while driving. But they are small bombs in slightly different ways. A diesel engine compresses air and then adds fuel, which ignites in the incredibly heat. However, a gasoline engine compresses fuel and air and adds a spark for ignition. So while diesel engines are a delicate dance between air and fuel, gasoline engines have a third element - spark.
So why not use a gasoline engine on a boat? There are a number of reasons why diesel is preferable, the first one being that diesel fuel doesn't explode. That's a pretty nice feature when you're in the middle of the ocean and a giant fireball is the literally the last thing you want to see coming out of your fuel tank. Also, diesel engines are far more efficient than gasoline engines, and they last a heck of a lot longer, hence the reason you see so many diesel engines from the '70s still in use on boats today. Finally, diesels are a more simplified engine. They don't have as many electrical parts as their gasoline cousins, and electrical parts are highly susceptible to corrosion, a big consideration in a salt water environment.
Monday, January 16, 2012
|The napkin! Er, I mean, spinnaker.|
After a spine wrenching Saturday working on the dreaded toerail, Vlad and I took a much needed break and went for a sail with our dock neighbors. They had received a J-22 spinnaker and wanted to see what it would do on their Westerly.
This was a bit of an experiment for the following reasons. A spinnaker is a very light sail, used in light air, downwind sailing, and is typically quite large compared to the size of the boat. But the spinnaker for a 22-foot boat is evidently really small for a 37-foot boat, so when we popped it out there it looked like a napkin fluttering in the breeze.
Having never flown a spinnaker before, I thought this was the greatest thing I'd ever seen. It sounds like crepe paper, and you can fly it like a kite! And napkin or not, we got an extra 3/4 of a knot out of it. Needless to say, now I want one. Here's a few more pics from our sail in Galveston Bay:
|Vlad at the helm.|
|Clouds over Galveston Bay.|
Friday, January 13, 2012
I've got three bloody knuckles, sore fingers and cuticles that may never be the same. It's been several days of picking aged caulk out from underneath the our toerail, and I'm starting to feel the effects. Vlad looks better (his cuticles are like iron!), but we are both ready for this particular part of boat maintenance to end. Seriously ready.
So why are we putting ourselves through this quasi Spanish Inquisition style torture - I woke up this morning wondering if I still had fingernails - with a 5-in-1? Well, our massive aluminum toerail has some corrosion in some spots. In most places it looks lovely and solid, the kind of giant metal hunk you could really hang your shrouds on, but in other spots it needs some love - namely a way to stop water from getting underneath it and corroding it away.
Some would argue that we should take the whole thing off, clean it and rebed it, but here's the kicker. It doesn't leak. The toerail sits over the hull-to-deck joint and is screwed into the deck, and though water gets under the toerail, it hasn't yet weaseled its way into the boat. If we take the toerail off, it could inadvertently cause the leaking we are trying to prevent. We just want to stop the toerail from getting gobbled up and to prevent the water from potentially doing its weasel thing.
So after many days of scraping and cleaning, we are going to stem the tide with a bead of 5200 marine grade sealant underneath the toerail and 4000 UV along the edge of the toerail. That should happen this weekend. My fingers are really looking forward to it.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Recently, our lovely friend Charles emailed us an article titled "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying" written by a woman who worked in palliative care. Based on her experiences, people wished that they had kept in touch with friends more, had been open with their feelings, had allowed themselves to be happier and hadn't put work before their spouse and children. But the number one thing that people regretted was living according to the expectations of others rather than their own.
Isn't that intense? I mean, imagine living an entire life and right at the end admitting you never did the things you wanted to do, only those that other people thought you should. I bring this up not because it's particularly uplifting for a Thursday morning but because I occasionally hear people say what a waste of time, money and energy it is to get on a boat and sail away for a few years, and before I read this article, it was kind of getting to me. After all, these are my top earning years, and I really should be adding to the baby boomers' Social Security fund.
However, I've decided that calling sailing a waste of time, money and energy is essentially a silly argument. Depending on your perspective, anything that anyone does is a waste of these three things. A walk in the woods, sleeping, sitting in traffic, having children - all a waste of time, money and energy. Even working can be a waste of time, money and energy because you could always be doing something more lucrative. Pretty much the only time I can think of where you wouldn't be wasting time, money and energy would be if you're frozen at 0 degrees Kelvin. And who wants to live at absolute zero? No one I know. At any rate, I'm guessing I'd rather put up with a few judgmental people than realize as I lay dying that I hadn't done at least a few of the things I find worthwhile. Though, I admit, I still feel a tad guilty about the baby boomers and their Social Security.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I'll be completely honest. I don't know squat about diesel engines. I can turn it on and off, and I think I can point out where the alternator is. But if our beloved Yanmar 3GM quit working, my solution would be to hit it with a wrench. Thank goodness Vlad's here or the thing would be covered in chipped paint.
I've noticed that many liveaboard women out there are in the same boat, so to speak. Whenever engine troubles or maintenance issues come up, we often turn to someone else - usually our dudes - to fix it. I realize that's a complete and total generalization, but for most women and a lot of men, too, this is foreign territory. And wouldn't it be nice to actually figure out how this stuff works? I mean, what is this engine business all about anyway?
In order to answer my own question and to maybe help out other mechanical neophytes, I'm going to write a series of weekly posts exploring the diesel engine, routine maintenance and common problems. I know I'm calling it a "girl's" guide, but obviously anybody who's new to engine work might find it useful and possibly even entertaining, especially when I start throwing wrenches.
Monday, January 9, 2012
I can't stop reading stories about sea voyages. In fact, it's a bit of an obsession, and I've been on this reading kick for close to a year. Books, blogs, you name it. If it's about sailing the ocean blue, I want to read it.
A fellow cruising couple suggested I check out Into the Light by Dave and Jaja Martin, which tells of that family's travels from the United States to above the Arctic Circle in a 33-foot steel boat. They spent winters in Iceland and Norway, experiencing days of total darkness and the painted on sky of the Northern Lights. During the summers, they sailed across the Arctic Circle, dodging icebergs and polar bears and seeing some of the most fantastic and inaccessible scenery on the planet.
Essentially, the book was a diary of their travels, with flashbacks to their circumnavigation a few years earlier. Not poetry but certainly an inspiring narrative that makes you want to see the world. I've still got palm trees dancing in my head, personally, and would prefer the tropical track to one punctuated by glaciers, but I enjoy hearing other people's stories of venturing out their front doors. It's a reminder that, in many ways, neither money nor prestige stand in the way of that first step on the road. All it takes is going. And finishing everything on your list of doom, of course!
Friday, January 6, 2012
|Perhaps the ugliest shoes ever created. But, hey, at least they tone your butt!|
As we've been preparing for this trip, Vlad and I have been trying to figure out what boating stuff we need and what we don't. One of those items is boat shoes. My thought has been, "I guess we need them. I mean, everyone else has them." As you can tell from the title, I'm rethinking my logic.
Over the weekend, we were looking to replace Vlad's blown out flip flops, but the shoe store was chock full of on-sale boat shoes just begging to be tried on. There were leather, canvas, plaid, tan, navy, striped and slip-on varieties. And I just want to say, in my defense, that I really tried to like them. I really tried. I put on every type, and not only were they not comfortable, but they also looked kind of silly on me. For Vlad, it was even worse.
Maybe it's the black socks, but boat shoes just didn't work. And I honestly don't even want to think about what leather shoes soaked in salt water would smell like after a few months. I know that they are supposed to be better for decks due to the nonmarking soles, and maybe this means we can't be real sailors. But I'm saying no to boat shoes.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Meet the book of lists that will rule our life for the next three months. We have to get our ground tackle up to snuff, clean some fuses, add some plugs, something about a sump pump, maybe rebuild the head (everyone's favorite!), fix a leak over the nav station, paint, varnish, get a new bimini and cockpit cushions, haul out the boat and about a million other little things. Not to mention the list of stuff we have to buy. Whew. But look how excited I am about it!
Today, I'm scraping the caulk from the edge of the aluminum toerail so that we can run a bead of 4200, an adhesive sealant that keeps out water and will hopefully halt the corrosion that's eating the toerail alive. And Vlad is going reinstall our windlass. Good times. I'm really looking forward to the time when the list of doom is reduced to the list of only minor disaster. Someday, someday.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
|Special thanks to Sally for her awesome sparkler photo|
It’s the start of a new year, a time of longer days and new beginnings, and Vlad and I have decided to take the plunge and go cruising earlier than we had planned. Originally, we were going to take a year and a half to get everything ready and build up a cruising kitty with the intention of heading out at the start of 2013. But as luck would have it, we think we can head out into the wild blue yonder several months earlier.
This is not the standard for most cruising plans. In fact, those plans often get pushed back a few months or even a few years because either the boat’s not ready or the money, which said it was only going on a quick trip to West Marine, has strangely vanished. But we think we have a boat that’s pretty darn close to ready and enough money for a couple of years of cruising on a serious budget.
Of course, we still have a ginormous to-do list, and many, many, many things to consider. Should we get a new mainsail? Do we need to replace all the rigging? How do we go about fixing the corrosion on the aluminum toerail? What about the octopus clogging up our water intake thru-hull? These were questions we were going to slowly consider over the course of a year (Except for the octopus. He needs to move on.), but now we’ve got three months. Can we get everything fixed up and ready to sail in such a short amount of time? I think we’re up to the challenge. Vlad is dubious, but we both can't wait to wake up to scenes like the one below every day.
Monday, January 2, 2012
We are finally back onboard! We had a delightful visit with family and friends - lots of Christmas carol sing-a-longs (nothing says "Joy to the World" like Vlad’s grandma and me rocking out on tambourines) and a champagne and fireworks filled New Year’s celebration at our friends’ house in San Antonio. Good times had by all, indeed. But it does feel amazing to be back home, even with that slightly musty the-boat’s-been-closed-up-for-too-long smell greeting us from the companion way.
Since I missed Bettie so much, I figured I should give everyone a tour of just exactly what I was pining for during our holiday. Bettie has a layout that’s much like an efficiency apartment; the galley, bed, table and settee and nav station are all within the main cabin, and what on other boats is a v-berth is the head, workshop and sail repair area on our boat. Here are a few pics of the inside.
|The navigation station|
|The main berth. As you can see, my world overflows with shell lights.|