Monday, February 8, 2016

Projects akimbo

We are coming up on the end of our one-month stay here at the Riviera Beach Marina. Unlike a typical month's stay, we've docked the boat five times since arriving here, and I expect to dock at least once and perhaps twice more before we leave at the end of the week.

This evening's sunset at Rivera Beach Marina.

The last two of those dockings were occasioned by Trawler Fest, which needed the primo slip we were occupying. The marina would have sent us back over to where we were originally assigned when we first arrived, but with Louise's foot still healing I asked them if they could get us closer to the parking lot. They complied by putting us in a spot that was really too small for Vector; I think if we had a another coat of paint we would not have fit.

We spent almost a week shoehorned into that space, with our snout sticking out into the fairway, probably to the annoyance of the workboat skipper across from us who made several runs each day to service the dredge. Our port fenders were against the dock and we had a starboard fender crammed behind a piling, which moaned and creaked the whole time we were there. The fact that the next slip, the same size, housed a patio boat called "Riff Raft" made our tight squeeze all the more humorous. Still, it was a much shorter walk, and once I got the boat backed in past the tight piling, all was good.

Vector shoehorned into a tight space. That's "Riff Raft" to the left. You can see how far we protrude past the piling, and the finger pier on our port side.

We had the luxury and sense to time all our boat movements for slack tide. Getting into that tight slip would hardly be possible otherwise. The same can not be said for the flotilla of boats that arrived for the show over the ensuing two days, and we witnessed at least two episodes of what I like to call "Riviera Beach Pachinko" as boats bounced off pilings, docks, and sometimes other boats. One skipper had so much trouble that it took three of us catching his lines to get him into a random slip (his assigned slip was out of the question), and after he was done, his fiancé, who had been working the deck, up and left him.

Since we were already here, we attended the show. I have to say it was rather disappointing, especially in comparison to many Trawler Fest events we have attended in the past. The land vendor exhibit area was minuscule, with only about a dozen booths, and none displaying any wares for sale. The in-water boat show was lacking in actual trawler-style yachts, which were outnumbered three to one by high-speed semi-planing craft and catamarans. And the number of vessels on display affordable to the average boater was precisely three; the vast majority of show vessels started just shy of a million bucks, and it escalated from there to several times that amount. (The three affordable boats were all '80s vintage.)

My lone photo from the show. These shoes are identical to a pair I own, and I nearly walked off in them. Our friend Steve, whose industry affiliation has him at many shows, lost a pair this way and now has his name stenciled in each shoe.

We did enjoy catching up with some old friends and making a few new ones at the nightly cocktail parties, the only part of the event we bought in advance. I also scored a discount code for new PC chartplotting software, which has been on my to-do list for a while, and had the chance to chat with the rep about various features and issues. And we had the rep from Mantus Anchors over to the boat to look at our bow roller; they are on the cusp of coming out with a roller of their own, and we are interested to see if it might work better for us.

The show was a nice distraction right in the middle of our month, which has been otherwise a nonstop march of boat projects. With no shops, restaurants, or other services right here near the marina, it's been a good spot to get work done with little distraction. Having the scooters available has provided the means to get parts and run out to dinner, although the nearest restaurants are miles away. We also managed to sneak away for some inexpensive massages a few days ago, and I'm hoping to do so again before we cast off. On a less pleasant front, I made it to the dentist to have a crown replaced, and my follow-up to swap the new crown in for the temporary one is scheduled for Wednesday. As long as I was mostly numb I also had a cleaning.

I've made good progress on the project list in our three weeks here. I mentioned in the last post that the tender was at a local shop having some engine work done, and we now have it back with us. There was a bit of a false start, as I ended up taking it right back to the shop just a few minutes after leaving the dock -- the fuel system lost prime and the engine would not tilt back up out of the water. They kept it another day and all is working now.

Once we had it back here, I set to work replacing the worn steering cable. The steering has become increasingly tight, and regular readers may remember that it froze solid once and I had to free it with Vise-Grips and an engineer hammer before picking up a friend in Vilano Beach. Part of the problem is that the cable was just a tad short for the application, and made a very tight bend just before the engine.

The old steering cable removed. Tight bend is at right, near the ram.

The tight bend eventually developed some cracks which were admitting water, and the whole cable was probably a rusty mess. I ordered a replacement cable that was a foot longer, allowing a somewhat larger radius and, as a bonus, moving the cable away from the stern light stanchion with which it had been interfering. Changing the cable out only took me an hour or so, a pleasant surprise, and the difference in steering effort is tremendous. While I had all the lockers emptied for the project I also cleaned out and reorganized all the gear, and I removed an hour meter that I installed just a year or so ago, which had rusted and quit working. I replaced it with a plastic-body model, which should at least stop the rust problem.

When I got the dinghy back from the shop, the chart plotter on it was not receiving any satellites. I think the guys left it uncovered for the week or so they had it, and some water got into the auxiliary antenna port. In the course of troubleshooting and getting it working I ended up buying an inexpensive ($10) external antenna for it, but it's once again working on its internal antenna and the dinghy is now all in working order. I even put our spiffy new Florida registration numbers and sticker on the hull (it previously had a Delaware registration).

By far the biggest project I've tackled here, close to the start of our stay, has been installing the video camera system. The write-up on that project was long enough by itself that I broke it out into its own post. That will also allow me to send folks interested only in the video system project directly to that link.

We run a "dry bilge," and while that might sound obvious to some, the reality is that most boats always have at least some water in their bilges. We do, too, but only in the tiller flat; a certain amount of seawater seeps in around the rudder gland when we're fighting heavy seas, and the access hatch is not a true water-tight type so we get rainwater in there whenever it rains hard enough to douse the aft deck. One of these days I'll improve the hatch gasket and perhaps build a sump around the rudder post. The rest of our bilges are usually so dry they are "dusty."

Since that's the goal, we want to know about even a teaspoon of water, because it probably means some sort of developing problem. We have automatic bilge pumps with alarms, but the shape of the bilge means there can be lots more than a teaspoon, and in fact several gallons of water in the bilge before the alarm sounds and the pump comes on. That's not good enough, so we've been using some cheap Zircon battery-powered water detectors meant for household basements as our early-warning system.

These have worked well enough; they're cheap, at about $20 for a three-pack, and they have a loud "SOS" alarm. There are two problems with them: First, they need to be at the low point of the bilge, which means that, in many cases, by the time we've responded to the alarm, the whole unit is under water. They're intended to be reusable, but meant for flat basement floors, not V-shaped bilges. Submerging the circuit board and sounder is nearly always fatal, and we've had to throw three of them away already.

The second problem is that they are hard to access in our deep bilges, and I've actually added recovery strings to them to fetch them out of the bilge when they go off. And, of course, the bilge hatch must first be removed, which in the case of the forwardmost bilge, means first moving the guest mattress out of the way, a process now vastly complicated by Louise's quilting setup, involving a table and sewing machine supported by the mattress

Remote-mount bilge alarm. This one is at the side of the guest berth, near the head. It might be quite the wake-up for an unfortunate guest.

We ordered a pair of Glentronics remote-mount water alarms, which will eliminate the problem of the circuit board getting submerged should we have any water in the bilge. They're also easier to hear since they are not deep in the bilges, and we can shut them up, if need be, without having to get into the bilge -- at least one of the alarm units we lost because we were in heavy seas (the water was coming in through the bilge pump discharge) and we simply could not get to the bilge safely.

The other "common" (perhaps twice a year) reason for water in the bilge is a failure of the shower/sink sump for the lower deck. This is a small tank with an integral pump and float switch that discharges shower and sink drains, which are below the waterline, overboard, two gallons at a time. Occasionally the float switch sticks or fails outright (we're on our second one), the four-gallon sump overflows, and we end up with soapy water in the bilge.

Miniature float switch. There's a magnet in the float; converting from NC to NO involves flipping the float over.

Previous efforts to make an early-warning system for this using one of the Zircon sensors proved unreliable, so this time I ordered some miniature float switches, designed for aquariums, and mounted it inside the cover plate for the sump. I re-purposed one of the Zircons as an alarm sounder activated by this switch. While the float is very high -- the sump will be very close to overflowing by the time the alarm sounds -- it should alert us in time to shut off the water before the sump overflows into the bilge. I do have a vision of having to haul my soap- or shampoo-covered self, soaking wet, onto the aft deck to rinse off with the outside shower when this finally happens, hopefully not in a marina or in 40-degree weather.

Float alarm mounted in the access plate. Above the float unit is a re-purposed Zircon alarm.

Somewhere in all of these other projects, a package arrived that Louise had ordered on Amazon, and she announced that our new hatch screen had arrived. Hmm -- not on the project list. No matter -- it was a bulky package and rather than find a place to store it to some indeterminate future date.  I spent a few hours installing it. This involved cutting down the slide rails as well as conjuring up some way to mount the whole thing, intended to be squeezed inside a vertical window jamb, instead as a surface-mount system that operates horizontally.

Louise scored this item for a mere $35 and, again, we had low expectations, including possibly that it would not work at all for our application. But once again we were very pleasantly surprised. I fabricated a pair of L-brackets from some aluminum angle stock I had lying around to simulate the inside jamb edges, and I had to fashion a pull handle for the inside of the boat, which was really the "outside" of the screen, but it works great and looks fine. Opening the hatch is one of the best ways to keep the boat cool in warm weather, and this should keep the no-see-ums out when we do so.

Our whizzy new hatch screen, as seen from above.

The last major project, so far, was to finish up the wiring and installation of a bypass for our isolation transformer. We absolutely love having the transformer, as it means we have no worries about stray current when connected to shore power, and it also means we can plug into European-spec (220v) shore power directly, without having to worry about voltage conversion. But the downside is that we can't make use of any shore power less than 208 volts, such as a standard household-style 15- or 20-amp receptacle, or the very common 30-amp marine shore power.

A long time ago I scored a deal on a 30-amp, three-pole, double-throw relay so that I could wire the input side of our inverter/charger directly to a 120-volt power source if needed. I re-used some abandoned shore power wiring from the aft deck, and relocated an abandoned 30-amp shore inlet from the foredeck, and I've just been waiting on a block of time to wire it all up and an opportunity to run to Home Depot for two feet of 10/4 cord to complete the project. All the other parts have been languishing on my workbench for months.

The relay and its power supply are in the gray box; galvanic isolator is partly obscured behind it.

It took me most of a day to wire up the junction box and splice it into the system. The smokin' deal I got on the required relay was for a unit with 12vdc coils, so I also bought a cheap 12vdc wall wart to power it. The whole mess is carefully enclosed in a junction box, along with a terminal strip for some of the connections. A pair of ground wires leads from the box to a nearby galvanic isolator, also salvaged from an earlier abandoned shore power system aboard.

Lots of smaller items have been ticked off the list, too, such as replacing the radiator cap on the main engine with a "closed system" recovery-type cap. I continue to work on organizing files recovered from the failed file server, including reorganizing everything to optimize the cloud storage. And parts for yet more projects are en route even as I type. But I'm comfortable now that the list is somewhat pared down, and we can continue south when our month here is up.

We've never made it all the way to West Palm Beach since our arrival, and so I expect our next stop in a weeks' time will be the anchorage right across from the city docks there. We'll probably spend another few days in the area before continuing south, either via the Atlantic Ocean, or on the inside route if the weather does not cooperate. Our next real port of call will likely be Fort Lauderdale.

On-board video system

I've been writing up a gargantuan blog post on all our projects here in Riviera Beach (forthcoming momentarily) when I realized I should probably break this one out into its own post.

By far the biggest project I've tackled here has been installing the video camera system. I actually bought this system back in October, when we spent a month in Washington, DC, thinking I could get it done there. But the system arrived missing some parts, and in the Amazon universe, rather than just send the missing parts, a wholesale exchange had to happen. Losing a few days to that process aced me out of the time there to get it done.

It took me the better part of three full days to install. The bulk of that time was running the four included 60'-long cables from the helm console to the engine room, and drilling holes in various parts of the boat to get the cameras mounted. At less than two hundred bucks for the entire system, which includes an eight-port DVR/switcher, four cameras, and all the cables, I had very low expectations, but have been pleasantly surprised by the results.

The whole system came in this one box. We ordered "eyeball" camera housings rather than the cylinders pictured.

While this item is marketed and sold as a security system (and it will also serve that function for us), the real purpose of a video monitoring system on a boat is to give the watchstander more information about the environment without having to leave the bridge. The big gap for me, especially when docking, is a view of the area immediately astern, but it is also nice to be able to see into the engineering spaces without having to send someone below (though we still go below once an hour for systems checks).

The aft deck camera, giving a view over the stern as well as anyone entering the door.

This project has been a "round tuit" project for some time; it had seemed to us a mere nicety rather than anything critical, and it's been hovering close to the bottom of the list. The list is still very long, but readers may remember an event last year that swiftly moved the camera system much closer to the top of the list. To wit, our friends aboard Blossom had a fire in their engine room, under way in Nassau Harbor.

We do have a working smoke detector in the engine room, which also sounds in the pilothouse if it goes off, so we are not dependent on the video system as a means of detection. But Blossom has a window in the engine room door, so they were able to see inside before rushing in with a fire extinguisher, whereas Vector does not, so a camera in the engine room may well be the only way to know if we should even go in to firefight, or just abandon ship. Short of a breach in the hull, fire at sea is the most dangerous thing that can happen on a boat.

The engine room camera, mounted for the best overall view of the space. Note the custom white mount.

Blossom's engine room camera and DVR also came in handy after the incident was over. By playing back the engine room video in slow motion, they could see exactly where and when the fire started, and they had video to send to the manufacturer/installer of the failed component. Between these two factors, we were convinced we needed to escalate the priority of a video system, and that it should have a DVR as well as live video.

With four cameras included in the package, in addition to our original goals of a stern view and an engine room view, we were also able to put a camera in the tiller flat (or lazarette), an area we seldom see and which is difficult to access in heavy seas, giving us a view of the rudder mechanism, the bilge, and the overboard discharge lines for both engine exhausts, as well as several other pieces of equipment. And we opted to put the last camera in the pilothouse, with a view of the helm area, to document our activities there in case of any sort of incident under way.

The pilothouse view camera, mounted in the hallway to the galley.

I had hoped that this last camera would also capture a view out the pilothouse windows of the water ahead, again to document any type of incident. But the cameras lack the dynamic range to have both indoor and outdoor scenes at the same time. We decided to use the included day/night "eyeball" camera for the pilothouse, and, with four spare ports still available on the DVR, I will add a wide-angle "dashcam" for the forward view at a later date.

Video shown in four-up format on the main monitor. You can see me at lower right taking this photo.

The cameras could stand to be a bit wider-angle, but otherwise it's perfect. We have a view of what we need, and it's all recorded for later review. I mounted the DVR in a deliberately inaccessible location, in the event we do have a break-in while we're away from the boat, so the miscreants can't take the evidence with them. I did pick up a wireless USB mouse (the DVR came with an el-cheapo wired one) due to the remote location of the DVR. As a bonus, we can check on the boat from a smartphone while we're away.

What it looks like on my phone, so long as we have Internet aboard.

The main video monitor for the system is the 19" Proscan on the helm, which also serves as the chartplotter display. We switch to the camera view to operate the DVR (which is mouse-controlled) or for docking. But we wanted to have a camera display available even when using the plotter under way, so after getting everything else squared away, I bought a 7" monitor ($24) to keep on the helm. It's really too small to view all four cameras at once, but it works fine with the DVR/switcher rotating through all the cameras one at a time.

Cheapo monitor so we can see the video even when the chartplotter is using the big screen.

The system came with a pair of power supplies, one for the DVR/switcher and one for the cameras, that plug into 120VAC power, which is what I was expecting to have to use. It turns out, though, that these supply 12VDC to the system, and I just cut the wall-warts off and wired everything directly to ship's DC power.

I needed to make mounting pads for the cameras in the engine room and tiller flat. I made these from HDPE plastic, which is widely used in the marine industry and sold under the trade name "Starboard" (and how confusing is that, to have both a material and a side of the boat with the same name?). The dirty little secret, though, is that inexpensive kitchen cutting boards are made from exactly this same material, and we've got bits of cutting board all over the boat, including these, which I made from scraps left over from a head project a while back.

Total cost of the system came in at right around $220, including the small monitor, the wireless mouse, and some adapters to connect the BNC video output from the DVR to the RCA input of the monitor. I already had the VGA cable for the main helm monitor leftover from the old chart computer (the new one uses HDMI output); everything else needed came in the box with the system. I discarded the supplied mounting screws in favor of stainless items from my parts box.

For that kind of money, we could not be more pleased. Now that it's all installed and working, it's hard to tell it apart from the $5,000-and-up systems we just saw on many boats at Trawler Fest, installed by marine electronics contractors, and many of those systems lack Internet upload and smart-phone integration.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Please help me find these lights

I've been hip-deep in boat maintenance projects since arriving here in Riviera Beach, and a separate blog post with the status of various projects and our current plans is forthcoming. One of the projects on my plate is to repair a pair of LED ceiling lights up on the flybridge, and I've run into a brick wall. I'm turning to our readers for help, a tactic which has worked well in the past.

Specifically, I am having trouble finding either direct replacements, or else something which can be made to work in the same space. There are no identifying marks on them which would lead me to a manufacturer or model. If you recognized these lights, drop me a note in the comments or send me an email at the address in the "Who We Are" link in the sidebar. Alternatively, if you know of a model that will fit the space (see below), let me know that, too.

Here's what they look like:

Overall side view.

The business end. Glass is glued in place; they are "sealed" units.

The top side, showing heat sink fins. Wires are sealed in place; I had to cut them to remove it.

The dimensions are critical, because they are installed in custom housings. The overall diameter of the mounting flange is 2-5/8" (66mm), and the diameter of the cylindrical body is 1-7/8" (47mm). Overall height is 1.5" (35mm). These are mounted in annular rings made of HDPE with an inside diameter of 1-7/8" (so the body is a fairly tight fit) and an outside diameter of 2-3/4". A trim ring snaps over the mounting flange once it is screwed into the enclosure.

Mounting enclosure.

Completed installation.

We have six of these on our flybridge. Four are "warm white" and light the entire area up well enough to read. The other two, above the upper helm area, emit red light for night operations. The four white ones are still working, whereas the two red ones have failed, within just a few hours of each other.

Ideally, I would replace the two red ones with similar red or perhaps combo red/white models. However, I'm not all that concerned with having red lighting on the flybridge (the notion that somehow red light preserves dark adaptation is mostly nonsense perpetuated by WWII submarine movies) and I'd be happy to replace these with white ones identical to the other four, or alternatively replace all six with something slightly different which still fits the enclosures. I'm guessing failure of the other units is not far behind.

I've spent hours on various marine lighting web sites as well as chandleries, Amazon, and eBay. I've found nothing that looks identical. I've also found nothing that will fit the enclosures -- either the recessed body is slightly too large, or the mounting flange is too small. The body needs to be no larger than 1-7/8" diameter, and the flange needs to be at least 2" and preferably closer to 2.5".

I'm willing to completely remove the HDPE (a.k.a. "Starboard") enclosures in order to fit "puck" style lights, which could then be perhaps as large as 3" OD (but no larger). The pucks would have to be water resistant (this is outdoors, after all) and pretty bright to replace what's there now.

Thanks for any suggestions, and we'll return to my usual blather in my next post.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hard Disk Hell

We are docked at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina (map), in the community of that name on Lake Worth. Riviera Beach is actually the home of the Port of Palm Beach, and the cruise ship docks just south of us, and a bit further south is the giant Tropical cargo terminal. The pilot boats live right here at the marina, as do the work boats for the enormous dredging project in the harbor.

Today we are pinned down on the boat by a wind storm of epic proportion, now 20-25kts and working its way to 30kt steady with gusts to 40. The entire state of Florida is on a small craft advisory or a gale warning. This is the third wind storm we've sat out since arriving here last Thursday, just in time to dodge the first one. How we came to be here is something of a story in itself, which I will get to shortly.

Vector in Riviera Beach.

I am once again overdue with the blog, so there is a lot to catch up. My excuse this time is a hard disk failure. It's not the drive in my laptop, but both my laptop and my typing fingers have been overbooked dealing with the issue for nearly the entire time we've been here, and aside from barely keeping up with email and some social media, I am just now coming up for air.

The drive in question is the half-terabyte unit in our network file server. A couple of weeks ago, Louise needed to get something off the server, and it was down, with a red error light lit. Quick diagnostics suggested a fan cooling error, but further troubleshooting, including connecting the fan directly to power, revealed a software problem. Fearing the drive itself might be going bad, we powered it down until I could spend some serious time working on it; fortunately we were already planning an extended stop somewhere in the Stuart-Palm Beach area.

For the last couple of years, I've been using cloud services to back up my important files, and I've been slowly migrating files from the server to the cloud service. It's a fiddly, lock-step process, not unlike playing Tower of Hanoi, and I confess that I made the decision to leave at least some of the data on the server unprotected by any other means. That includes some archived photographs, including bus photos, ripped music, old backups, and the like, that I judged to be "low risk," especially because I am pretty good at data recovery.

The server is nearly a decade old -- the drive is dated September, 2006 -- and, sure enough, the disk itself is failing. When I yanked it out and connected it directly to my laptop I could only get perhaps half the contents; I ended up having to do a low-level copy to a good drive, a 70+ hour process, and then run file system repair tools on it, another day or so, before I could get to most of the data on the drive.

The server and its bad disk (left). The smaller disk (foreground) is the same capacity and was the target for the low-level copy.

One of the problems with data recovery tools is that they can't differentiate between what was lost in a crash and what was deleted deliberately, and so the final step was the hardest -- processing all the recovered data to eliminate duplicates, get rid of junk, and move orphaned files closer to where they belong. I'm not done, but I'm far enough along to declare victory, and some 180gb is now uploading to the cloud where it belongs.

In hindsight, I probably should have gotten a blog post done in the nearly three days the low-level copy was running, but I tried to stay off the laptop, and busied myself with other projects. We have, in fact, taken a slip here for a full month, so I can catch up on projects and we can get some doctor visits in.

Sunset at Eau Gallie.

After my last blog post from Eau Gallie, we had a pleasant evening and a spectacular sunset over the Indian River. In the morning, we weighed anchor and continued south toward Vero Beach, where we were hoping to take a mooring at the city marina. Long-time readers may know that we took a slip there two years ago because their moorings were full; that was expensive and we also suffered some damage at the hands of their rickety old docks and narrow slips, an experience we did not want to repeat.

We were thus surprised to learn that they no longer allow power boats longer than 50' to use the moorings. Two years ago they had offered to let us raft on a mooring, and apparently they will still raft up to three trawlers on a mooring, so long as they are less than 50'. Somehow, in their twisted calculus, the wind load of a single 52' boat is higher than that of three 48-footers rafted together, and so they turned us down. Too bad, really, because we were hoping to connect with our friends Steve and Barb who were already there, and perhaps stay a second night to visit our friends Chris and Alyse, who live nearby.

Once we realized we were not getting into Vero Beach, we figured we could just make Fort Pierce in the daylight if we pressed on along, and that's what we did. We dropped the hook just south of the bascule bridge in a small anchorage off Harbortown Marina (map). Alyse and Chris graciously drove down to meet us for cocktails and dinner at the little restaurant there, which has its own dock. In the morning we brought Vector into the marina to avail ourselves of the $5 pumpout before continuing south down the ICW.

Our anchorage. Someone is living on the Viking Starliner, formerly a Block Island Ferry, Boston harbor cruise boat, and more recently a floating casino. The "sailboat" on the right is a floating billboard, swinging in the current.

Fort Pierce is a day's cruise from Stuart, where we spent three months a couple of years ago, and cruising south from Fort Pierce we finally had to put up or shut up about where we wanted to spend a month catching up. Both Stuart and Palm Beach were high up the list, because we know our way around and there are plenty of chandleries, boat repair shops, hardware stores, restaurants, and other services at each.

By the time we reached "the crossroads" where the St. Lucie River, leading to Stuart, intersects the ICW, we still had not nailed down a plan or a place to stay, and so we turned up the river for a mile and a half to the first anchorage, at Sewalls Point (map), to settle in for the night and preserve our options in the morning.

We more or less concluded that Stuart was the better choice, with more easily accessible services, less expensive dockage, and easier scooter parking. Just one small problem: the Stuart Boat Show was last weekend, and arriving just a day ahead of time, our preferred marina, which hosts the show, was completely unavailable, and most other marinas were sold out for the weekend. Our backup choice there no longer allows stays longer than five days, due to "liveaboard" regulations.

We might have just anchored for a week, until they could get us in, but with Louise's foot still out of commission, climbing in and out of the tender and on and off various dinghy landings was not a good idea. We had to set our sights further south, where Lake Park, our first choice, was already booked, and Riviera Beach would not sell us a month due to Trawler Fest coming in next weekend. At around $25/foot, these were the two most reasonable options, with anyone else wanting another $10/foot.

After some negotiating back and forth, I finally got Riviera Beach to agree to take us on a monthly rate by promising them we'd leave for the duration of Trawler Fest, about six days, and go anchor in the lake. I reasoned that we'd thus have ten days at the dock for Louise's foot to get a little better before we'd need to be tendering around, and we'd still have the scooters ashore and easy dinghy dock access for our week away from the dock.

I passed this nice Ricker on my way back and forth from our original slip. I did a double-take...

After a false start, heading out St. Lucie inlet to find uncomfortable seas, we turned around and took the inside route through Jupiter instead. We thus made it here just at closing time on Thursday, and we made a stop at the face dock to offload the scooters before heading to our slip. Only after we were fully tied up and the office was closed did I realize that it was a full third of a mile walk from our slip to the office and parking lot -- just what Louise needs with her bad foot. A tender ride would have been easier by comparison.

No matter, because the first wind storm arrived that night, and pinned us on the boat for a full day and a half anyway. Louise never left the boat for two days, and I hiked over to the office a couple of times for paperwork and beer, plus I got the scooters started, off the dock, and into the parking lot. The dockmaster was very accommodating, and assigned us a slip much closer to the office, to which we moved Saturday morning. We've been comfortable here since.

This H1 is "parked" at a hotel garage, behind fixed Plexiglass and on blocks. Museum piece?

That let Louise get off the boat and over to her scooter, and we've been out to dinner a few times and even on a provisioning run. One evening we ate a a rooftop Mediterranean restaurant atop a beachfront hotel on Singer Island. The food was OK, if not very Mediterranean, and it had a nice view, but a weird parking garage.

The two spaces closest to the elevator. We considered parking one scoot on each side of him, but were afraid of what such a douche might do to them.

Friday afternoon, while still in our original slip and after the worst of the winds had abated, we splashed the tender and I ran it over to the nearby boat ramp, where I was met by a trailer from a local Mercury dealer; they'll be looking into our recent rough idle problem, and I have also since authorized them to replace the bent propeller shaft. Maintenance that's overdue all the way around; I had originally told them we'd need it back this Monday, in time to be booted out of the marina. Before I took it over, I measured for a new steering cable, which I ordered on Amazon.

Helm end of the steering cable. I took this photo so I could tell what kind of end it has; no way to get my eyeball in there.

That Friday morning the winds were so bad that an unoccupied sailboat further south broke loose from its anchor and made its way north to the marina, where it slammed into a ten million dollar superyacht. We were on the wrong side and could only see its mast approaching, with a dozen yacht crewmen scrambling to the deck with fenders in hand. By the time I could walk around to snap a photo, the Coast Guard had arrived and were hooking up to tow it away before it did any more damage.

USCG 45-footer preparing to pull a wayward sailboat off Li-Lien.

After we got settled in over here in our new spot, I set to work on the file server and several other "rainy day" projects. I needed to upgrade the firmware in our WiFi amplifier, as well as on our Iridium satellite device. The new firmware is supposed to make the latter item more reliable, and after getting it squared away I sent a few test messages. We'll be letting our Spot tracking service lapse at the end of the current term, and will be using the Iridium satellite device to send tracking reports in the future; I'll post a tracking link the next time we go offshore.

The only physical user interface for our Iridium device. All the features work from a smartphone over WiFi.

Saturday night we were rousted at 2am by the very loud sound of someone's foremost staysail coming unfurled in the high winds and nearly ripping off the boat. I tried to get a photo or video but it was just too dark. We watched for a half hour, a sort of slow-motion train wreck. There were already a half dozen sailors working the problem, so not much we could do to help. It woke the whole marina.

In the one really nice day we've had since arriving here, we walked over to the boatyard next door to check it out. In addition to a month of downtime for my own projects, we are going to need a haulout to paint the bottom and service the stabilizers.

The place next door looks like more of a do-it-yourself kind of yard, but there is a painting shop across the street. While wandering the yard we came across a manned submersible; on our way into Riviera Beach we had to slow down for a pair of RIBs towing a similar manned submersible, possibly this same one, on some sort of test mission.

Weird submersible of unknown purpose.

A couple of days ago, the marina called to tell me that they could accommodate us through Trawler Fest after all, but we'd have to leave this close slip and go back to the north dock, albeit a bit closer than where they originally put us. That's fine with us, as it means we can just stagger back to the boat after the cocktail parties, the only part of Trawler Fest that we saw fit to buy this time around. After seven or so of them now, we don't find much new information there any longer, but it's always nice to meet the participants.

So we're paid up here through Valentine's day, and with any luck, we'll be done by then with doctor visits and projects, and we'll have our tender back from the shop. So long as we're here, we are taking advantage of a good delivery address to get various items from Amazon and other vendors, including the inflatable kayak that we've been wanting, which we ordered post-haste just in case the tender was delayed while we were booted out for the show.

In and among the project work, we'll try to get down to downtown West Palm Beach a time or two to sample the interesting restaurant scene there. We'll also try to take the new kayak over to Peanut Island, just a few hundred feet away, just as soon as the weather cooperates. And we've even tentatively booked a rental car to drive down to the Miami Boat Show for a day, to check out some new products and get in on some show special pricing for things we'd need anyway.

Since we won't be moving I don't expect to be posting much here during our stay. If I find the time and motivation I might catch up on some project-related posts that are still in the works. I'll also post if we develop any plan for our next steps other than "further south." As it stands right now, we are blissfully uncommitted beyond next weekend.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

From guest stateroom to quilting studio

Living in a small space poses some interesting logistical challenges. Like how to create room for my quilting hobby without making costly structural changes to the boat while maintaining all previous functionality. In other words, how can the quilt room be used to house guests comfortably? (Sean would argue that the question is really, "How can the guest stateroom be used to sew quilts," but let's keep our priorities straight here.)

Ben and Karen's recent visit gave me an opportunity to take some photos of the process of transforming the room, and a much needed incentive to clean up and organize my fabric. The results are two-fold: this blog post, and the rather embarrassing realization that in just 20 short months of sewing I have accumulated enough fabric to create scores, if not hundreds, of quilts. Ahem. 

Vector has two staterooms. The master stateroom is amidships, directly under the pilothouse and saloon. This is the most stable place on the boat, low in the water and near the centerlines for both pitch and roll. It makes for a very comfortable place to sleep both at anchor and underway. The room is relatively cubic, with fairly vertical walls and a mostly flat floor. There is one small, approximately 2" high step between the floor around the bed and the area in front of our shoe cupboard. Moving around to make the bed, get dressed, or visit the head in the night runs a low risk of tripping or toe-stubbing.

The guest stateroom is jauntily nautical. Like the real estate term "quaint," this means it's small, oddly shaped and impractical.

Positioned under the foredeck, up in the pointy part of the boat, the walls slope noticeably away from vertical to follow the rake of the bow. There's no extra room for a closet, just a couple of cubby shelves up near the ceiling to hold necessities. The shower is en-suite and entered directly from this room, so there's a towel bar along the sloping wall and a few strategically placed hooks.

The keel also curves upwards rather aggressively, so the floor around each side of the bed consists of three carpeted steps. Here are the starboard side steps, looking aft at the shower entrance.

Here are the port side steps, looking aft into the other half of the head with potty and sink. And why yes, the steps do have big, non-symmetric, angled cut-outs to maximize midnight tripping on the way to visit that vital little room. The good news is that the space is so small that if you stumble, your head will hit a wall well before you can fall all the way to the floor.

In other words, it's an ADA nightmare. And before you even enter the room you've had to negotiate the steep, uneven, and curved stairway down from the pilothouse. It's a wonder I didn't sprain my ankle before last week, frankly.

But this odd little room offers a comfortable double bed for our guests, two opening windows for light and fresh air, and a private bath. And with just a little folding of the space-time continuum, I can quilt there.

First step: Flatten out the starboard steps to create a stable surface for a table and chair. 

A couple of pieces of 3/4" plywood supported by a sturdy folding step stool fills in the cut out first step. The plywood is stored in the engine room when not in use.

Then a small plastic folding table is placed on the next step up. Only one set of table legs are deployed; the other half of the table is supported by the mattress. This table is stored up on the flybridge when we have guests, and can be used as a dining table up there.

Also sitting on top of the mattress is a thinner piece of luan plywood and a self-healing cutting mat. Both of these thin items slide under the mattress for out of sight storage. In this photo you can see four large drawers at the foot of the bed. In theory, we keep two of them empty for guests to use. That just means that the stuff in the drawers can be easily stuffed elsewhere when needed. 

This adjustable height swiveling mechanic's stool allows me to shift myself as needed to sew comfortably. The control pedal for the sewing machine sits on the higher step with the table legs, which is weird, but being able to make minor height adjustments keeps it ergonomic enough for hobby sewing. It certainly isn't OSHA compliant.

Just aft of the stool, I have several totes that hang from hooks. They hold most of my quilting tools: rulers, cutters and scissors, thread, etc. All within easy reach. Those tote bags get crammed into the closets in the master bedroom when we have guests.

The sewing machine and cordless iron both fit nicely on the portable table. The mattress is firm enough that there is minimal wobbling while I sew. I'm a very slow sewist; this set up probably wouldn't work as well for someone who likes to run their machine a mile a minute. There's non-skid padding under the Little Kenmore That Could, too. It will stay put in mild to moderate sea conditions, but I set the machine on the floor when the going gets rough.

The clear plastic doo hickey surrounding the sewing machine is called an extension table. It makes a large surface flush with the throat plate so the quilts are more evenly supported. Usually I have more miscellaneous junk under the extension table...scissors, scraps of extra material, paperwork.

To iron, I move a small table-top ironing board onto the luan sheet. The surface of the bed is about counter top height from the floor here, so this is a great set up for both cutting and ironing fabric. The ironing board lives in the engine room, behind the washing machine, when we have guests. Getting a cordless iron was a huge improvement for this set up. You can see the charging base with its cord running off to the right. There are only two outlets in this room, both up near the head of the bed, so wrangling the iron cord at the foot of the bed got old, fast. I'm clumsy enough without tangling with a garrote attached to a red hot slug of metal.

The rest of the bed hosts a couple of storage boxes up near the pillows. These hold fabric for the current project, scraps to be sorted and filed, finished quilts to be shipped, and various messy bits of the creative process. (This photo was carefully staged to hide exactly how chaotic my process is.) The quilt on the wall is draped over a spring loaded curtain rod that stretches between two cabinets; this keeps larger in-progress pieces out of the way.

Those two cabinets on the port side wall, plus one other on the starboard side, hold most of my fabric. 

The fabric is folded into uniformly sized rectangles, sorted by either color or theme, and stored in clear, covered plastic bins. Since each cubby shelf is a different depth, width and height, there was a lot of trial and error to find boxes that efficiently fit those spaces. They are rather small in order to squeeze past the fiddles that keep them from falling out in heavy seas. 

I love color and variety, which is a good fit for creating children's quilts. It also works well in this small space, since I typically buy fairly small pieces of fabric. Most of my fabric is "fat quarters," which are about 18" x 22" each and fold up to around the size of a pack of playing cards. 

Larger pieces of fabric are useful for quilt backings, but more unwieldy to store. I keep them in one much larger plastic bin that sits on the floor on the port side of the bed. I find that bin frustrating since I can't seem to keep it neatly organized for very long. A better storage solution will manifest itself at some point.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Moving and Improving

Many thanks to everyone who sent their well-wishes for Louise in the comments or directly. She's still hobbling around and still in some pain, but things are improving steadily, and we are continuing our journey southward.

Today I am typing under way in the Indian River, a few miles north of Cocoa, Florida. The channel is wide and straight here, with gentle gradients to the sides, and Otto-the-autopilot is holding course in calm conditions. For that matter, it's calm on the outside today, too, and we'd be out there right now if not for the worry that any swell at all will hamper Louise's ability to safely move around the boat; once outside, if the swell picks up, there's nothing we can do about it. We've opted to slog down the ICW until she has more confidence in the foot.

Vector at anchor in Daytona Beach, from the Oakridge Blvd Bridge.

Friday we stayed put in our cozy spot in Daytona Beach. Louise rested her foot on board while I went ashore in the tender, bicycle in hand, to hunt and gather. I was met at the dock by a greeting committee consisting of several skippers of the aforementioned fleet of long-term anchored live-aboards. They were mostly intrigued by my full-size folding bike, and were happy to offer some information about the local surroundings.

Another view, from the mainland side. It was a great spot.

It was quite the pedal to get over the bridge, but then an easy ride to Harbor Freight, who did not have the drill bit I needed but did have a few other items on super-sale, including a wireless remote winch control for $30. I picked this up as a spare for the one I put in a year or so ago as an experiment. The buttons on this eBay-special are wearing out; now I'm ready for when it fails completely. I also picked up a set of ratcheting combination wrenches for $20.

I hit the Ace Hardware next and they had something close enough to what I needed, a 5/8" masonry bit with a 3/8" shank. It was a bit weird cutting soft rubber with a masonry bit, but it did the job to enlarge the 1/2" hole in the new anchor roller to the 5/8" that I needed. I spent the whole afternoon modifying the new roller and swapping it for the old one, which had worn completely through into two pieces. The roller is working smoothly now.

Something's not right here...

That project kept us in the anchorage to well past any reasonable departure time, and we just stayed another night. The tide was not favorable for departure Saturday until early afternoon, and we were fogged in for most of the morning anyway, so I went back ashore just to walk around the barrier island a bit. I strolled down to the boardwalk and the historic bandshell at the beach; there are actually quite a few shops and restaurants within an easy walk, and we'll have to return some time when Louise can stroll ashore with me. It was a great stop, even with hearing the Daytona Speedway faintly in the distance.

View of the beach through the historic arch at the bandshell plaza.

By mid-day the fog lifted and the current reversed, so we decked the tender and got under way, with our sights set on a short day ending at New Smyrna Beach. We had a downhill run all the way to Ponce Inlet, where we passed TowBoat working on a very expensive 85' yacht that had run well aground on Disappearing Island. From the looks of it, he hit the shoal on semi-plane. I could not get a photo as we were too far away. On a nice weekend afternoon, the waterway was crowded, with the inevitable quantum of weekend-warrior stupidity or rudeness.

We had figured to anchor in New Smyrna Beach, with Louise tentatively thinking she might try to get into the tender to get off the boat for the first time in four days. With the first of two close anchorages being full, however, at the last minute she decided she could give a go at docking, considering these are easy, forgiving, and known docks for us. The southernmost of the two semi-circular fixed docks was devoid of boats and we pulled up.

This being Saturday, all the fishing piers and the bulkheads were packed with people enjoying the nice weather and fishing. That included one guy right smack in the middle of the boat dock. I informed him of our intent to tie up right there, but he was not going to budge. I thus had to be ever so careful with the bow thruster to avoid sucking in his fishing line, and we ended up coming alongside just a little further north, with our bow ten feet off the dock (map). DĂ©tente.

Vector at the New Smyrna Beach free dock.

Once Louise had a breast line on I was able to climb onto the dock and, between the two of us, get the boat fully secured. After relaxing in her comfy chair for a couple of hours, Louise decided she had just enough foot left to try to go out for a nearby dinner, and we hobbled over to Jason's Corner on Canal Street. We stumbled into the monthly Cruise Night on the street, which was packed with lookers, but we were seated right away.

We're always on alert when docking at these sorts of free urban parks, where there are sometimes persons of unknown character and intent lurking about after dark. And so it was that we both shot upstairs in a heartbeat when we were boarded after 11pm by bloody pirates -- Louise from a sound sleep, and me soaking wet from the shower.

Sound travels really well on a steel boat, and a bolt hitting the deck can sound like a cannonball to someone below. When we got upstairs we were relieve to find that our boarder was a great blue heron, and the bloody aspect, which we found the next day, was likely a fish he must have had in his mouth. I was amused to see him walking the side deck, with just his head above window level. He made just as much noise departing as he did when he arrived.

Absent the foot injury, we would have stayed another day there and strolled around town, but with that not in the cards, we opted to move along Sunday morning, before the fishermen arrived in force. We'd strolled most of Canal Street on our last visit, so we did not feel like we were missing anything. We dropped lines before 09:00, to catch the last of the flood into the Mosquito Lagoon.

This section of the ICW always feels monotonous, but at least now it is routine and I'm not clenching the whole way -- we know the depths and the shape of the channel bottom now. We had an uneventful cruise until the turn into the Haulover Canal just north of the Kennedy Space Center. The entire canal was lined with small boats fishing, and both banks were also chock-full of people fishing from shore.

The drawbridge tender was reluctant to open for us, and after some back and forth about the extra clearance center-span, we decided to drop the SSB antennas and give it a shot. Being solo on the upper deck, I mostly stopped the boat just before the span and ran back to the boat deck to look at the clearance. We had just inches to spare above the VHF antennas, but we made it. I had to hustle back to the helm and put it in gear to avoid heading towards the fenders (and lower steel).

With no particular time pressure, we decided to end our day in Titusville, in one of the many spots just off-channel in the river deep enough for us to anchor. After some brief discussion, we decided to drop the hook as close as we could get to an old favorite, El Leoncito Cuban and Mexican restaurant. Long-time readers may remember this from our space shuttle launch extravaganza nearly six years ago. It's where we had our first meal with now long-time good friends Chris and Cherie (of Technomadia), and James and Maria. Good food and good times.

For old times' sake -- selfie in front of El Leoncito.

The chart showed no way to get ashore, but I spotted a nice dock on Google Earth, at the Rotary Park just a block away. This is a public park, so I reasoned we should be able to use the docks, even though there is nary a boat there in any current or historic satellite image. I'm not sure why the docks are unused; we found no restrictive signs either on the docks or at the park ashore. The docks are in just 2.5' of water, which is plenty for our tender, and many other small boats.

We dropped the hook as close as we could get, per the chart, near marker 38 (map), 3/4 mile out. It turned out we had 7' of water for nearly half the tender ride in, so we could have gotten a bit closer. Louise was feeling pretty good about her foot; walking around the previous evening apparently helped a bit. It was a bit of a challenge getting in and out of the tender but she managed, and we had an excellent dinner and fun reminiscing. It was a bit choppy on the trip back, but we had a pleasant night aboard.

KSC in the distance.

A cold front hit last night and we awoke this morning to temperatures in the 40s; I opted to wait until late morning to go outside and deck the tender. I did enjoy waking to the view of the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building in the distance, and behind it the remnants of the last Rotating Support Structure for the shuttles to the south, and the gantry for the newer rockets to the north.

We got under way around 11 am after a lazy morning looking at route options. We decided to stay inside rather than head out at Port Canaveral, and set a destination for the day of Eau Gallie, about four hours south. As I wrap up typing, we are just a half hour away.

Update: We are now anchored for the night in the Indian River, just south of the Eau Gallie Causeway (map). I expect we'll not even get off the boat here. Tomorrow, we'll continue south on the ICW toward Vero Beach.