Thursday, February 28, 2019

And so, it begins

And ... we're off! Four months of planning and prep all came down to this day.

We'd made the decision to go outside for the first day, and put a few more hours in than we would normally do. That way we have time and options for crossing Lake Okeechobee in the next couple of days. Once done, Stuart isn't a far ride away.

Leaving was bittersweet. A number of the dock workers and some boating neighbors sent us waves and well wishes as we left. Slip F5 is now vacant for the next big boater.

Skies were cloudy when we left, but sunny when we got about half way. 

As we made our way along the ICW to Tampa Bay, Russ set up our electronics and navigation for the day. Turns out that's a bit of a trick. If we'd simple plotted a course to Cayo Costa State Park it always takes us down the ICW. He had to fool it by first setting a destination just outside Longboat Key, then another somewhere in the gulf to get us underway. Then he could finally set our ultimate destination. In Google Maps there's an "avoid highway" preference. We're thinking there must be an "avoid ICW" option, too. We just haven't found it yet.

From this... this (look at that blue sea!)

Cayo Costa State Park, which you can camp at, too.
Once outside, while the seas were calm, there were one to two foot swells, not waves. The resulting ride was how I remember Mr. Toad's Wild Ride being. Not disastrous, mind you. But I recall the car having a wobble; down front left, then front right, then down back right, then back left and repeat, kind of a rolling sensation. That was us. For about five hours.

Anchoring took about twenty minutes this time, and we are in a nice area with a number of other boats. Once anchored we immediately dinghy-ed the dogs to the state park for a walk. 

Cayo Costa sunset

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Looks like Thursday

Oooooooo! Shiny!
Today, Tuesday, we completed the last of our tasks. Well, not strictly true, since there are a couple more we'll do while underway, like replace the courtesy lights (if we can find some that fit the boat and are easy to install), install the new remote for the dinghy (which we'll pick up in Green Cove Springs either next week or when we travel there), and replace the gasket on the large, front window that leaks (another reason to get to GCS).

But the last task to be done here in Palmetto is complete. The new batteries are installed.

Best buds
Tomorrow we'll get some packages, put the scooters in storage, and, well, that's it. Mostly we're waiting for the weather, which is a bit gloomy and windy. That should clear out by mid-day Wednesday. We'll head out early Thursday morning.

The current plan is to go outside, and try to get as far as Ft. Myers, or near there. That will give us a few days to get to Stuart, which we may need to cross Lake Okeechobee. Not we're expecting bad water there, but it's the only other large body between us and our destination. We're planning on being in Stuart by Monday, when they start working on our back awning. 

And possibly our bimini top in the front. Fingers crossed!

Another wonderful sunset

Just your average buzzard hangin' out on the dock.
Wait... what?!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Looking like a home!

Today's puttering included new window coverings!!! They totally transform the salon:




The only thing we're waiting for now is the battery upgrade. Then we hit the seas. Well, the ICW, anyway.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Getting ready... getting giddy about it, too!

New davit on left, bits on deck
next to the anchor.
We continue to putter about the boat, making adjustments and readying ourselves for the trip. We've accomplished a LOT. For the new anchor we've installed the davit, two mooring bitts on the bow, and got a hefty rope for the anchor's rode. We purchased a couple of bean bags chairs, which we've used nightly now since the weather's turned warm. Russ stocked up on various engine parts and filters he'll need along the way. Stuff and stuff and stuff!

We hoped to head out Feb 25, but after our test outing we decided we really wanted to double our battery capacity. While the new solar panels keep our batteries charged at 100 percent all day, over night on anchor, with little more that the fridge and a small fan running, we got down to 54%. The new batteries couldn't be installed until the 26th. We hope to start out journey a day or two after that, weather permitting.

We went to Marathon to look at marinas,
possibly for next winter.
Russ has been swapping emails and stories with another couple who have an Endeavour 40 power-cat, just a year newer than ours. One modification they made was to add a canvas top over the transom, which is the deck on the stern. We've decided to do the same, using the same installers. They're in Stuart, Florida. They already know about how much material they'll need, and told us it should be a three day job. So, our first official stop will be there, giving us our first experience of upgrades/repairs while on the loop.

This week the curtains should be installed. I'm hoping that livens up our salon a bit. This is going to be home, after all.

My lot in Lehigh Acres.
Apparently, there was a recent fire.
Over the past weekend we took a trip to Miami to attend the international boat show. We went there to get some ideas, and think of other upgrades that might appeal to us as we go. Things like an espar heater for hot water, which uses diesel fuel instead of electricity (tech our RV used). Or solutions to shade the bow of the boat (we had a woman here in Palmetto signed up to do the job, but she bagged on us), and we found a couple we're pretty excited about. We discovered SeaSucker, a company right here in Bradenton that makes uber-strong suction cups. At their booth they had TVs, bars loaded with drinks, and kayaks, all affixed using these things. We bought a drink caddy for the fly deck, and have an order in for generic cups, so we can use them for whatever.

Hopefully, we'll be underway before the end of the month.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Out and about on a boat

It looks like we got lost in the Tampa Bay, but that is the route.
If you stray, you'll end up calling for a tow!
FINALLY! We took Cat-n-Dogs out of her slip for the first time in over a month. Loaded up with new electronics, auto-pilot, and solar panels we had a lot to shake out. Russ also had done a fair bit of engine maintenance that he hoped he'd done correctly. He did, of course.

We left Palmetto around one in the afternoon and took a three hour cruise to the ICW and down south. There were a couple of anchorages near Longboat Key, and the island itself had easy access to the shore. We hadn't tried anchoring since we did it with "the anchor people." Yet another thing to shake out.

It was Sunday. Warm weather, calm seas. In other words, jammed with boaters ramping up for the boating season. Both anchorages were busy, making us newbies a bit nervous about trying it out. We suspected that in a few hours they would all leave, that most of them were there for a day out only. But that still meant finding a spot and anchoring without bumping into anyone.

Russ took the helm for a while.
Check out the monitor on his left.
Given it was our first solo effort, as we expected, it didn't go smoothly. In fact it took about a hour.

We were talked into using a snub line by Rudy (of noted "anchor people") which was a different method of attaching our bridle to the anchor rode. When we anchored before we used a Mantus chain hook. It was a challenge - since it didn't fit through the roller bale (a hoop on the tip of our boat that keeps the chain in its track) you had to dangle yourself out over the boat to attach it to the chain. Not something you'd want to do if the seas were remotely bumpy. The snub line can be tied onto the chain from the deck and will pass through the bale without issue.

Knowing all that and doing it are two different things. The knot pulled free a couple of times while trying to set the anchor. Eventually, we got it in. By that time, however, we'd drifted closer to Jewfish Key, where the waters are only three feet or less. Odds were we'd twist about during the night when the tides shift, and we didn't want to end up running aground at three in the morning. We weren't in any danger at the moment so we lowered the dinghy, and took the dogs to shore for a long walk. That went well. Dogs are getting comfortable with the little boat. Well, Lizzie is, anyway.

Daybreak on Longboat

After hoisting the anchor we checked out the other anchorage, nearer to the public dock. Our depth gauge told us this was a worse location. Back we went to the first anchorage, which started to thin out. We picked a new spot, anchored with little issue this time, and settled down for the night.

The weather was still and the night was quiet. Just before we retired I checked the weather. The winds were predicted to kick up during the night and taper off in the early morning hours. Sure enough, come midnight, subtle rocking woke us. We'd spun 180 degrees from where we'd anchored. All sorts of new noises filled our ears, like the slapping of water on the hull, and something that clicked in regular intervals. Occasionally we'd feel a bump, which I think was the dinghy running into us since we'd left it lowered. Russ got up a couple of times, unable to sleep, worried we'd drag our anchor. Not as restful a night as we'd hoped.
Heading back to the boat from Longboat Key.
The light is Cat-n-Dogs.
Note the new blue painter line :)

But we didn't drag the anchor. Everything was great! Around three in the morning everything calmed and we both slept sound until our morning routine.

We got up, fed the dogs, loaded them into the dinghy, and using a headlight as our "all around" light, made our way in the dark to the shore at six in the morning. We docked at the pier, walked the dogs, and came back, all without incident.

Taking our time to do morning things, like coffee and breakfast, we weighed anchor around nine and headed home.

And docked that bad boy like a boss!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Awesome weather, and yet, we sit

Look at this amazing weather!

This is not the fault of the electricians. They came back, as they said they would, and connected the last three solar panels, as they said they would. They were done by lunchtime. But that left bunches of cables needing to be covered with clever panels, both on the fly deck as well as in the helm. Additionally, Russ wanted to finish installing the new monitor and tablet holder. It was a bit cool Monday, making it less optimal to travel, and the work took most of the day. We planned on leaving Tuesday.

Last week I arranged to have the boat's bottom cleaned but we didn't set a specific day. I gave the diver a call and he said he planned on showing up Tuesday morning. I had him reschedule for Friday, given our plans to not be here. 


Russ continued to work on his list -- things take time on a boat. We hoped to be moving by the afternoon, but... a phone call came. 

Does this look comfortable to you?
We recently purchased a navigational aide for the loop called Great Loop Notes which also has some software full of handy way-points. The author swapped emails with Russ the day before. Apparently, another looper (the caller, as it turned out) was having technical problems using the software, so he hoped Russ could give him a hand since we were just a marina away. Russ made plans to meet up with the fellow looper and load his software in the afternoon. Alas, we will not be leaving now. 

I really wished I hadn't rescheduled the cleaning. I quickly called Diver Lee (the gentleman who cleans the bottoms of boats) and asked if it were too late to go back to Tuesday. Of course, it was. 

Why we don't entertain
Since we'll be here all day, once done with the wiring list Russ decided to start his last engine task, which was to change out the coolant and check the zincs. 

"The zincs" are strictly a boat thing. They are also called sacrifical anodes. Water erodes metals, like propellers. But if you have some metal present with a higher voltage, those get eroded by the water first, saving the things you really care about. We have a number of them, some in the engine itself (which Russ was working on) and some of the propellers (which Diver Lee will check when he's here). Thus endeth the lesson.

The sadly part about this is the weather, which has just been stunning. Clear, calm, warm-ish. Boating weather, they say.

Then I got a phone call. Diver Lee had another client wanting to switch days. He could come out Wednesday. Given Russ was having issues with the zincs, I accepted. We still could leave Wednesday afternoon.

Starboard engine access is in the kitchen --
no room is spared!

Russ could only finish the starboard engine yesterday. Apparently removing the zincs was a bit of a task. In fact, I don't think we could go anywhere if we wanted now. A couple of the zincs were in really bad shape, and one came off and fell into some part of the engine. That can't be good. They will erode, eventually, but they also might get sucked into some intake. We've called the expert, Rian, for guidance. Meanwhile, Russ has moved onto the port engine.

On the plus side, the boat's bottom was cleaned. The diver didn't need to replace the zincs there. Everything looks great. Paint is good (should be, since it was just done), props look good, and intakes look clean. Yay for that!

As for the zincs that fell back into the engine, apparently there's nothing you can do. It's happened to others. There haven't been any reports of damage or issues, so we're just going to run with that.

By 3 pm it became apparent we weren't going anywhere today, either. Russ continued to wrestle with zincs on the port engine throughout the afternoon. He took a break for a sandwich I made, and did a run to drop off and recycled the old coolant. 

We looked ahead at the weather this weekend, but the wind will come up Saturday and Sunday, especially Saturday. There's a boater shin-dig in Tampa we want to go to (it's at the home of a looper). We thought we'd do that, attempting to be a little more social with the boat life, but we may have to rent a car.

Working on the fender boards. Or fender PVCs.

Lovelier weather. Finally, it's paying off to live in Florida! We spent the day doing outside tasks. We bought a couple of new fenders, which needed to be strung with line. We bought new line for all the fenders as well as our newly crafted "fender board." Loopers have recommended them for locks; they'll keep your fenders from getting scuffed or damaged. Since we have pilings in our slip, we put them on earlier this week. They are much quieter (the fenders can creak and squeak when squeezed). I wished they'd been on earlier through some of the windy weather.

We think we have a plan now, looking ahead. The weather will get bad Saturday through Sunday morning (bad meaning 15 mph or higher winds, choppy waters predicted). But should get better Sunday evening. We plan on going out then, anchoring Sunday and Monday (which is predicted to be amazing), then coming back Tuesday afternoon. I have a doctors appointment late on Tuesday, which explains the deadline. After that, should the weather hold we can come and go, barring any issues. 

The curtains I ordered should be done around the 21st. That's the last of the deadlines that we know of. Then we might be on our way for real.

While we're missing an amazing week, we are convinced it was just the first week of nice weather and not the last.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Why you want a floating painter line

That's Russ in the dinghy
Since we returned from Naples we haven't left the dock at all. Palmetto is a cute little town, but we're getting antsy to hit the open waters! We hoped the electrical stuff would be done today, but they could only install 3 of the 6 solar panels we're adding. Most of our navigation systems are already up and running. We'll have a accurate depth gauge -- woo hoo!

Russ decided enough was enough; he needed to be on the water. So he lowered the dinghy and off he went. When he came back we loaded the dogs in and all of us went on a little ride on the Manatee River.

Our outing proved we are still a bit green. On our way back the motor (this would be the new propane one we just installed) stopped running. We were already back in the marina, just on a fairway. Russ turned the motor off then on. It would run in idle, but when he put it in gear it stalled. Then we discovered it would run in reverse, so we started down the fairway backwards. Eventually, it too petered out. We have a couple of oars in the tiny boat, so we paddled our way back to Cat-n-Dogs.

Once we got back to the boat we needed to tie ourselves to the big boat... and that's when I noticed that the bow line on the dinghy (called the painter line) was missing. In fact, it was wrapped around the propeller.

Yep, my bad. I didn't even pay attention to it.

After pawing through some other boater blogs with painter line mishaps, turns out we weren't the first to foul that line that way. Many blogs have the title "Why you want a floating painter line." So... there you go.

Guess what we'll be buying at West Marine this weekend.

Not ours anymore

There's a saying in the boating world, that the happiest days of a boater life is the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. This...