“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


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Preparing Equipment for Life at Sea and the Consequences of Not Taking Early Action

So what’s the first thing you should do when you get a new piece of equipment for the boat? A new dinghy engine, generator, power tool?

The last thing any of us really want to do, take it apart. Even equipment that is designed solely for life at sea is missing one key thing, anti-seizing treatment on machine screws and bolts.

This was a lesson I had learned early in my boat ownership life. When every you have metal on metal threads it can be extremely difficult to undo these items after they have existed in the salt air for sometime. There are some easy steps you can take to deal with this, primarily by taking apart all of the bolts and using one of the many anti-seize, anti-corrosion treatments on the threads and reassembling the equipment.

I have three “go-to” products for depending on the application.

For stuff that will really get exposed to salt water I use Lanocote from Forespar.

This works great on stuffing boxes, bolts for the outboard motor, etc.  You can get it from Defender, West Marine and I have even seen it in better hardware stores.  Lanocote looks like a thick grease.  I use the small tub and simply dip the ends of bolts or machine screws in the tub before reassembling.

For areas that are above the waterline that might get corrosion due to salt air and occasional spalsh I use Tef-Gel.

I like this for reassembling stanchions, for bolting hardware into imbedded deck plates, turnbuckles, etc.  This can be a little harder to find.  I often order it online and have switched back and forth between the syringe and the tub.  Both come with a brush that makes it easy to apply to the inside of nuts or threaded plates.

For bronze, brass and plastic fittings on water systems I use Real-Tuff by Oatey.

This is a teflon based thread sealant but it also helps as an anti-seizing agent.  I typically use this applied over teflon tape on threaded by fittings.  An example of this is when I built my own exhaust riser/mixing elbow.

Recently I had two examples of why the use of these products is important.

This winter I broke down my new-to-us Nissan 9.8 horsepower, 2-stroke outboard we use on our Highfields Dinghy.  The engine is probably from the late 1980s to early 1990s.  We purchased it used two years ago because it is the lightest 10 horsepower (they are really 10 horsepower and just called 9.8 or 9.9 because some inland lakes have rules that say no 10 horsepower or greater engines) you can get at just 57 pounds.  I like the engine and don’t mind the age but knew I would be in for some work to get it ready for life at sea.

Breaking the bolts loose on the powerhead was difficult but I was able to get them off.  Once I removed the powerhead I found the tube for aligning the shaft was corroded and broke in my hand.

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Worse yet, one of the bolts holding this onto the powerhead snapped in two with very little pressure.

Broken bolk

Thankfully I tackled this project here, before we left.  If this had happened while we were out cruising I would have had to try to hand drill this out or use an “easy out” then retap.  But I have a friend that works in a good machine shop (shall remain nameless since he did the repair work while on the clock).  He used an “easy out” but as soon as he put pressure on the broken bolt it crack the cast aluminum engine block.  Again, thankful this happened here as the same friend was able to have one of the welders repair the crack and then he was able to drill and tap the new weld using equipment they had at the shop.  This repair might have been an engine ender if I had to do this using the tools available on the boat.

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Notice the large welded are in the upper right.

It’s great to have friends that can help with specialized equipment.  Might be one of the biggest things I will miss when we are gone.  The friends will come and visit us in tropical locations but they won’t have their tools with them.

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The repair was perfect.  Now I just needed to reassemble everything.  I used Lanocote on all of the bolts to prevent this from being a rebeat if I have to work on the engine in the future.  I also had two brass screws for the throttle assembly strip out on me that I had to drill out but those were a little easier to deal due to the softness of the material and the location.

This past weekend we finally were able to tackle a leaking pressure relief valve on our water heater.  I had tried to remove it last week but it would not budge.  I soaked it down with PB Blaster and hoped it would be easier to get off this week.  No such luck.  But thankfully our friend Chris was able to get in there and get enough torque on it to break it free.  That didn’t mean the fun was over because once you have it moving there is still no room to work.

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Your working over and under the steering cables, around the throttle and shifter cables and you can’t get a full turn on anything due to other parts of the water heater or the cockpit floor only six inches above the valve. Getting the old one off and the new one on took constant back and forth of approaching it from over, then under and you had to take turns using an adjustable wrench, a pipe wrench and channel locks as they all could only grab the valve in certain locations and angles.  When we go the old one off, sure enough for a drop of thread sealant or teflon tape.  Treated the new valve in the usual way and we are back to using hot water.

 


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My Bride Conducts Her First Big Repair

Last weekend we had to replace our electric pump that drains the shower sump and the refrigerator.  We found it had broke a couple weeks back while working on some spring cleaning.  I had disassembled the old pump to see if it looked like it just needed a new diaphragm but after inspecting it I couldn’t find any obvious signs of problems.  I contemplated trying the rebuild kit but that cost $90.  So instead I decided to give the Flojet Eccotemp pump a shot.  This pump only cost $57 and was Amazon Prime eligible.  This is a non-critical pump for us so it seemed like a good place to test out this pump.  If it proves to work well I will order one as a backup for our water pressurization system.  This pump did have a pressure switch but that is not needed in this application so I simply removed it.

Stacey wanted to learn about wiring and boat plumbing so this was a perfect place for her to start.  Like most boat projects the biggest issue is access.

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You can see the pump tucked away behind the water filters.

So the first step was to get access by taking the water filters out so she could access the pump.  The pump was held to the bulkhead with 4 wood screws.  One thing that made this project easier was that the ParMaxx 3 pump and the Flojet Eccotemp both use 1/2-inch snap-in port fittings.  So she didn’t have to take the old fittings off of the hose, just unsnap them from the old pump and snap them into the new pump.

Of course the holes for the mount didn’t match, but she was able to use two of the existing holes and drill two new ones using our cordless drill.

Then she had to tackle the wiring.  My biggest issue with Catalina on this boat is the use of non-heat shrink butt connectors for everything.  So I always take the chance to upgrade when I am doing electrical work.  So instead of using butt connectors, Stacey used heat shrink ring terminals and a terminal block.  I’ve been using BSP heat shrink terminals and connectors for the last couple of years and have been very happy with the quality for the price.  I order them from Defender.

To make the connections Stacey used our Sea-Dog Heat Shrink Terminal Crimper.  I upgraded to this last year from the Harbor Freight version and you can really tell the difference in quality.  This is still a budget tool at $35 but a big upgrade from the $10 Harbor Freight tool.  It’s a ratcheting crimper so you just squeeze until it stops clicking then release and it opens.

After making the crimping the connections my Bride used our heat gun to shrink the terminals.  We use marine grade adhesive heat shrink terminals.  That means you can tell when they are adequately heated when you see a bead of adhesive at the base of the terminal.

Image from Compass Marine “How To” Article on Marine Wire Termination

For the terminal block we always use Blue Sea Systems.  For this application we used the 4 circuit 65-amp terminal block.  We used the 4 circuit because we know that at 15 years old our freshwater pump is on borrowed time.  So when that finally gives-up-the-ghost we will use the two open circuits for that pump. The terminal block was installed high on the bulkhead with drip loops and the wires were secured to the bulkhead as well.

After she finished the wiring, she had to put the drinking water filters back in and then try the new pump.  It worked like a charm.

Great repair my Bride!


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Stopping Leaks with the Magic of Butyl Tape

Ever since we have owned Smitty there has been a pesky leak in the hatch right over our berth.  It wasn’t constant but it would drip a lot anytime it rained.

Front Hatch

The previous owner tried to fix this with lots of crappy silicone caulking around the metal frame of the hatch.  The problem is that one, you should almost never use silicone on boats and two, it wasn’t the frame of the window that was the source of the leak. So on top of having crappy silicone caulking to cleanup I still had to fix the leak.

After a little bit of research and testing I found out that leak was actually coming from the friction hinges.  These hinges are sealed with gaskets at the factory and those gaskets do breakdown and need to be replaced.  With the shrink wrap up this winter it was a perfect time to take care of this nuisance.

When I removed the hinges it was easy to see that the foam gasket had deteriorated to almost nothing.

IMG_3035To fix this I could have ordered new foam gaskets from Lewmar.  But I felt that a better repair was possible.  I went to my boat guru, RC from Compass Marine (aka Maine Sail).  I had previously learned of the wonders of butyl tape from him for bedding hardware.  I felt that butyl tape would make a longer lasting fix for the hinges.  After a quick confirmation with RC that the plastic could handle the butyl tape if I took time to tighten the screws, I decided to use butyl tape for the repair.  I had previously purchased a couple of rolls  Bed-It Butyl Tape from Compass Marine, so I was all set to do the repair.

I removed the old gasket and then cleaned the inside of the plastic hinge connector with soap and water.  I then let the connector dry completely for a couple of days.  This job was made easier by having the shrink wrap up so I didn’t have to worry about more leaks during the repair. I worked the butyl tape to make a layer of the material on the inside of the plastic hinge connector.

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The hinges were then reassembled.  I didn’t tighten the screws too tight. Just enough to start to compress the butyl tape. I then let it sit; it was about 65 degrees under the clear shrink wrap on this cold, sunny day due to the greenhouse effect.   Later in the day I turned the screws a couple more turns to compress the butyl tape a little more.  Over the next couple of weeks, whenever the temperature got above 65 degrees under the shrink wrap I would give the screws a couple of turns.  Eventually it was completely tight and the excess butyl tape had squished out from under the hinge connector.

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I used RC’s technique to cleanup the excess butyl tape.  I used a ball of excess butyl tape from another project and pulled away the butyl tape from the hatch.  I then did a quick wipe with a clean rag with a little mineral spirits.

While I was there I also replaced the O-rings and lubricated the hatch dogs.  I used the Lewmar Drip Stop Hatch Dog Rebuild Kit from Catalina Direct.

Image from Catalina Direct

The hatch dogs weren’t leaking yet but I figured a little preventative maintenance is always a good thing.

The shrink wrap has been off for a little over 2 months now and no sign of any leaks.

 

 


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One Year as Liveaboards

A year ago today we closed on our house and officially became liveaboards.

Unequivocally I can say that we love it and wouldn’t trade it for anything.  There are certainly downsides to living in a marina but we will be leaving many of those issues behind very soon (154 days to be exact).

Reflecting on the last year the first thing that comes to mind is that all of the “stuff” we had that seemed so important we can now barely remember.

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The mornings walking up the dock and getting to start each day with views like this….

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Even this past winter, one of the snowiest in Boston’s history, far exceeded our expectations on how we would like living on a boat.

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Smitty is a small vessel by most liveaboard standards but she suits us well.  We don’t find her overly cramped or small.  Her lack of storage just motivates us to get rid of more stuff that we probably don’t need anyways.  Sure, occasionally we will trip over each other, mostly over Summer, while getting ready for work but the trade offs of having an easily maintained and easily handled boat are worth it.

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Another great thing to happen today is that Smitty is now officially ours!  The final check cleared today.

We are so close to making this lifestyle change.  So close to living differently.  To living freely.  The feeling is hard to explain.


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Smitty Now Has Two Captains!

Sorry again that our blog has had little activity but I can tell you it has been for a reason.  For the past couple of months all of our non-working hours have been consumed with taking classes to get our captain’s licenses.  This past Saturday we passed our final exams and we are both certified as Masters of up to 100 Ton Vessels. We need to submit our applications to become licensed but they are done and it’s just a matter of sending an email to the US Coast Guard with all of the info.


JK Master 100 T STK Master 100TWe are so glad this is done. It took way more time and effort to get this done than we thought it would.  The classes were every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6-9:30.  We also had to do homework almost every off night and on weekends.  Near the end we just wanted the whole thing to be done and over because it felt like it was consuming our whole life!

We initially decided to get our 6-pack captain’s licenses due to a conversation with our insurance company.  They said we would either have to hire a professional crew for our crossings or pay twice the rate.  When we looked at the cost of getting our license vs. the increased cost of insurance it seemed like a no brainer.  The 6-pack allows you to take up to 6 passengers on an uninspected vessel and is actually call the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV). They are further classified as Near Coastal or Inland based on your boating experience or sea time.  You need 360 days of sea time to qualify for the Inland and 90 of those days must be beyond the “Boundary Line” if you want the Near Coastal.  Luckily the “B” Buoy is the local edge of the Boundary Line and we often sail out beyond this area.  When I added up all of our time on Smitty and Splash we have 464 total days with 153 being beyond the Boundary Line.

Image from here.

Image from here.

Once we started the course it seemed like getting the 6-pack was kind of foolish.  The difference between the 6-pack and the Masters is only 2 and half weeks of class and you have 10 additional questions on one part of the exams.  Also, after talking to a couple of the instructors it looks like it will be relatively easy to pick up some work along the way with the Masters license that will help keep the cruising kitty going.  So we paid the extra $150 to upgrade to the Masters.  Based on our sea time on Smitty (a 7 Gross Ton vessel by USCG standards) we should qualify for a 50 Ton Master’s Inland and OUPV Near Coastal.  This would mean we could deliver private yachts going offshore up and down the coast and work on larger boats like ferries, working boats, launch tenders, etc. inside the Boundary Line.

We both also got the sailing endorsement, which allows us to operate sailboats.  For that we needed 180 days of experience on a sailboat.  That was no problem since all of our days were on a sailboat.

I also decided to get my tow endorsement.  This would allow me to work for an assistance tow company like Tow Boat US or Seatow.

Here is a little outline of the process.

  • 10 weeks of courses Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6-9:30 and you must attend 90% of the classes to sit for the test (school rule)
  • an additional 4 hours of course time for the sailing endorsement
  • an additional 4 hours of course time for the towing endorsement
  • Pass all the exams
    • Rules of the Road – 30 questions, no resources, 90% correct required to pass (hardest test for most)
    • Navigation General – 20 questions, you can use the Pubs and CFRs, 70% correct required to pass
    • Plotting – 10 questions, you can use the Pubs and CFRs, 70% correct required to pass (actual paper chart plotting including taking wind and current drift into account)
    • Deck General – 70 questions, you can use the Pubs and CFRs, 70% correct required to pass (this is only a 60 question test for the OUPV)
    • Sailing Endorsement – 20 questions, no resources, 70% correct required to pass
    • Towing Endorsement – 20 questions, no resources, 70% correct required to pass
  • USCG Physical & Drug Test – This includes some different stuff than your typical physical like a test for being color blind, a functional hearing test and it has to be on their specific forms
  • Get a Transportation Workers Identification Card
  • Get 3 Letters of Reference from non-family members

We could have studied on our own and just went into the USCG office in Boston and took the exams.  Given the info that was on the exams we felt the best option was to take a review course.  We went with New England Maritime; they are out of Hyannis but have a satellite location in Quincy.  I am really glad we went with the course.  We learned a lot of good info that isn’t covered in the exams but we should know.  The main instructor, Charlie, was great and really prepared us well for the exams.

Another step to leaving the cubicle life behind us!


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Intimidating Conversations

Yesterday was interesting.

I work for a medium sized environmental consulting firm.  They have multiple offices up and down the east coast and about 150 employees.  My little corner of their world is only 16 employees of which I am one of the 4 senior staff members. I have told the people that work in the office that I am leaving but none of the corporate folks were aware.  We have been working on a transition plan for when I leave and it was time we told corporate.

For me this couldn’t have been at a better time.  I have really been hitting a good stride work wise lately.  While I don’t like my job and I don’t want to do it anymore, I like to think I am really good at it.  In the last year, one of my biggest clients from my previous company, the largest school district in the state, brought their work to me over my previous company.  I have also been getting new work all over the place from local colleges, architect and contractors.   This is great because the company has been considered more of a petroleum consulting firm that caters to big oil companies and this work I have been getting greatly diversifies the work.  On top of that, I have been able to get this work at better profit margins than many of our other clients.  I also run the construction and emergency response side for one of our major petroleum companies.  This is a fast moving and stressful part of our portfolio but I have had this side of the work running great. Recently the company put out a report on the state of the company and our office had some of the best numbers in the company and we are setup to have one of the best years in the company’s 22 year history.  I like to think I am a big part of why our office is doing so well.

So we requested the owner and CFO of the company come up from the Long Island headquarters so we could discussion senior staffing.  We told them I was leaving and what our thoughts were on how to replace me.  Overall the conversations went well.  But it was very intimidating to sit down with them and say that I am going to leave the company in several months.  There is always the possibility they tell me to go right there and then.  That could be a big blow to the cruising kitty.

It’s also a little like being present at your own funeral.  You sit there and listen to people breakdown your good and not-so-good attributes as they determine how to replace the work you do.  They ask you questions trying to get into your head and understand how I can balance the work I do.

Of course there was that moment where the owner of the company said he wished he could do this.  Biting my tongue and not yelling at him that he has millions of dollars and could do it if he chose to was the toughest part of the whole day.  We hear these types of response often and I find them very frustrating.

We are not independently wealthy.  We don’t have trust funds or large savings accounts or any other type of cushion.

We have an affordable boat that we love.  We have thoughtfully outfitted her.  But, to steal a recent line from another cruiser/blogger, we have made the choice to live A Life Less Ordinary.  This doesn’t happen by magic or accident.  It has taken enormous thought and dedication to get to this point.  It will take even more to get to the point of cutting the lines.

Interestingly as we near the endpoint in this part of our journey, only 163 days until we cut the lines,  there has been a flood of reaffirming articles making their way around the interwebs.  There was the piece from the Tiny House blog from Jody of Where the Coconuts Grow (linked above).  “Out on the ocean everything is simple. Elizabeth noticed how obvious it became to her that we can always do with less.”  A number of people on Facebook have been sharing the Elle article Why I Gave Up a $95,000 Job to Move To an Island and Scoop Ice Cream. Yup, doing that times two.  Then my Dad shared an article from Fast Company entitled The Science of Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things.  “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”