Spring Cleaning 2019
10 May 2019 | Whortonsville, NC
Spring Cleaning May 2019
Hurricane Florence was devastating for the entire coastal area of North Carolina. We generally like to sail in the fall with October and November being prime sailing months. The storm devastated the docks and really took the wind out of our sails (so to speak). We had talked about a trip to Ocracoke after the storm but with all the uncertainty about the condition of the channels both here and near Ocracoke, we never got really excited about it. Our autumn got busy and we never got back in 2018.
We did make a trip to the boat in mid January 2019 but it was just to make sure everything was OK. We did not even spend the night. The sails had been stored in the cabin before the storm and our plan was to haul them home so they could winter in our basement. When we arrived we found the boat in good shape and dry inside. We decided to leave the sails where they were and head home. It was a bit cool for a night on the boat anyway. Since that trip we have experienced a lot of really nasty weather both at home and at Ensign Harbor. Since we are both retired we try to make the trip when the weather is nice but there was not much of that last winter. We did spend a few weeks camping in central Florida and really enjoyed that. We waited too late to get reservations near the Everglades or the Keys so we just stayed in the Orlando area (not Disney). I attended the Orlando Hamfest called “Hamcation” and we spent two wonderful days at the Kennedy Space Center near Titusville Florida. That was really fascinating. After several weeks in central Florida’s lovely weather, we returned home to find sleet falling at home. What a bummer. We almost turned around and went back.
The marina was actually very late being “open for business” this spring. There was a problem with the water system at the bathhouse and individual boats. I am not sure what the problem was but it required a trip from Rhode Island by the current owner to get it fixed. Operating a North Carolina marina from Rhode Island can’t be easy but I guess the absentee owners are doing the best they can.
Tuesday May 8, 2019
We learned long ago that no matter how we hurry, it takes almost exactly 5 hours to get to Ensign Harbor so instead of being in a rush we just enjoy the ride. Day one is usually devoted to getting there. We made a potty stop and a fast food stop before we made the grocery store stop in Grantsboro, about 20 minutes from Ensign Harbor. We arrived at about 3pm which was actually sooner than I had anticipated.
On our last arrival we discovered that the power was off to our boat because the breaker was tripped. This is a bit disturbing. If you don’t have power the battery charger does not charge the batteries. If the boat springs even a minor leak, the bilge pump will eventually drain the battery and fail causing the boat to sink… simple as that. I sent an email to the absentee owner requesting that at least the local caretaker check the breaker when he walks the dock. I suggested that a new breaker be installed if required. She assured me that she would take care of the problem. I never heard back and when we arrived I was concerned that we would have power. To my surprise, the breaker was not tripped when we arrived and it appeared that we had had power the entire time. Hopefully it was just a onetime thing.
We did not know what to expect after such a long absence but were encouraged to find that the old girl had weathered the storm and the winter very well. There was some mold and mildew in the cabin but nothing compared to what we were expecting. She was wearing her typical post winter layer of a combination of airborne grime, mold, mildew and pollen but nothing out of the ordinary and nothing a good scrubbing would not fix.
Her sails had been stored in the salon since the storm. They had to be removed so we could inhabit the boat. We wrestled the two sails into dock carts and stuffed them into the back if the Pathfinder for safe keeping. Judy went to work doing her normal spring cleaning which was thankfully not insurmountable because of the relatively good condition. The fresh water tanks were completely empty but the waste tank was completely full. I usually empty the waste tank before we button up for a storm but evidently I had neglected my duty last time. Pumping the crapper (as I affectionately call it) is not one of my favorite activities but it has to be done. I spent the rest of the afternoon filling two tanks and emptying the third. We had a simple supper and turned in earlier than usual.
Wednesday May 8, 2019
As is our habit, we eased in to our day. I slept until almost 7am but Judy was up earlier. Today’s task was to put the sails back in place and give the decks and topsides a good scrubbing. You wouldn’t think simply putting the sails back on would be much of a chore. The sails of a little (in these waters) 30 footer don’t look all that big when they are in place on the boat but getting them onto the boat and in their respective places can be half a day’s work. On the ground it seems like acres of cloth. We started with the headsail which goes on the roller furling. We wrestle the sail on to the foredeck then Judy mans the halyard winch. I guide the sail up while she takes the slack out of the halyard. This works great for a while but when the sail is about half way up the forestay, my little bride (who weighs about 100 pounds soaking wet) simply does not have the brawn to crank the winch. At that point we switch places and she guides the sail into the furler slot. We got this job done without incident, which has not always been the case.
The mainsail is not as big as the headsail (jib) but it is more complex as far as how it is attached. We had managed to get the mainsail off the boat leaving it in its sail cover. This helps keep it clean and makes it easier to handle. We wrestled the main on to the coach roof and unsnapped the sail cover. As we secured the foot of the sail to the boom we started noticing dirt dauber nests. We removed at least three of these dirty little structures during the process. I really can’t blame the insects for building nests in a furled sail. I truly can’t think of a better place to build. Nice and dry, no birds to eat the young… What a deal! We finished wrestling the main onto the boom and installed the jiffy reefing lines and secured the lazy jacks. We applied the sail ties and put the cover back on all before noon.
At high noon the union boss / first mate declared a one hour rest period followed by a simple lunch. There were no objections. After lunch I started the task of removing a winter’s worth if grime, mold, mildew and pollen from the old girl. I was about to take a “before” picture of her before I started but she really was not at her best all naked and dirty so I decided to wait and take only and “after” shot with her fully clothed and cleaned up. I use a secret formula on the decks that I spray on and allow to stand before hosing off. Very little scrubbing is required and that is a good thing because my days of being willing to scrub anything are long gone. In the span of about 2 ½ hours the vast majority of the grime was gone and the old girl looked as good as can be expected. In years past I spent a lot of hours working on the boat. One day it dawned on me that I only have a limited number of hours left to do anything so I choose to sail the boat and not spend so much time doing things that have nothing to do with sailing.
At about 3pm I was informed by the union boss / first mate that I should take a shower before we went into town for more secret spray formula and ice. I did a little shopping at the local chandlery and decided that what I needed could be acquired almost anywhere else at a much lower price. Judy took a turn at a local art shop and we met at “The Bean” for ice cream before the journey back to the boat.
The kettle grill on the pushpit is ailing again so I took our burgers to the “Cockpit” of the boaters building to grill them. We had a very nice tasty dinner of burgers, slaw and baked beans. As you can imagine, we were exhausted after dinner. Reading and surfing the net were activities of the evening.
Thursday May 9, 2019
Fifteen years ago when we first splashed Southern Star in the waters of the Pamlico Sound, I was able to get a lot more work done in a day than I can now. This is in part due to my slowing down with age but I also just choose to do less work and smell the roses more. We had done really well and had accomplished everything we set out to do on this trip. Today’s major task was to change the engine oil in the little diesel. As I have probably mentioned on these pages, changing oil in a cruising sailboat is a slightly different task than performing the same operation on a motor vehicle. The main problem is getting the oil out of the engine. On a car you would simply pull the drain plug in the oil pan and the oil would flow out into the container of your choice. That won’t work on a sailboat simply because of the position of the engine, which is always placed as close to the bottom on the hull as possible keeping its weight as low as possible. Pulling the drain plug on the oil pan is a physical impossibility. To get the oil out of a marine diesel engine in a sailboat the oil has to be pumped out of the oil pan using a small tube inserted into the dipstick tube. Not to worry. I have done this more than a dozen times with great success. I have a specially built device that consists of a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a 12 volt electric pump mounted on top. There are two large alligator clips to connect to the ship’s battery and a long tube to slide down the dipstick tube. One thing I learned over the years is that if I crank the engine and warm the oil a bit, it seems to make the pumping easier. First order of business, start the engine, and that is when the trouble started.
I opened the seacock to allow engine cooling water to enter and proceeded to the cockpit. I put the key in the ignition and turned it on. The control panel of this particular boat has an audible alarm to alert the helmsman when the engine’s oil pressure is too low. Of course when you first turn on the ignition the engine is not running so the oil pressure is zero. The sound the alarm makes is unmistakably obnoxious but something I expect to hear before the engine starts. Neither the alarm, the fuel gauge or the ammeter reacted at all when the ignition key was switched on. As my dad would say, “It was dead as a hammer”. OK, this is a 12 volt DC system not rocket science. I broke out my trusty (up until now) Harbor Freight volt meter and started looking for 12 volts behind the instrument panel and found none. I decided to check the voltage across the battery terminals themselves. When it read zero I figured my trusty volt meter was not so trusty after all. It pays to have friends. My dockmate Larry, just down the dock loaned me a quite capable digital volt meter that did work. I did another swan dive into the port lazerette looking for the elusive 12 volts behind the instrument panel and found none. Larry’s meter did measure 12+ volts across the battery so I knew it would not let me down. When all else fails, read the book. I consulted the engine manual. Again, not rocket science. According to the manual there is a direct connection from the positive battery post to the positive post of the starter solenoid. Sure enough I found a huge red cable right where I expected to find it. If a meter were placed between this wire and the engine block, surely it would read the same 12+ volts as the battery. Nothing. OK I’m thinking, this is either a catastrophic failure or something incredibly stupid that I have missed. No 12 volts anywhere in the engine compartment or the instrument panel means a broken connection. I opened the battery compartment and took a look. Back in September we had to replace the house batteries. I bought two matched batteries at a local battery store and installed them. They worked great! All the house 12 volt lighting pumps etc. ran just fine but during that install (before the storm) I never actually tried to crank the engine. Then the storm hit and there was no reason to try to crank the engine because we weren’t going anywhere. On close examination of the battery compartment at the back of the aft battery I found the problem. I had neglected to connect the ground cable that ran directly from the battery to the engine block. Boy did I feel stupid. On the other hand I would have felt exponentially more stupid had I called an $80 per hour marine diesel mechanic and let him find it. I connected the cable and the little power plant sprang to life much quicker than I expected after such a long period of inactivity. The rest of the oil change procedure went well and I was actually able to extract more of the oil from the crankcase that usual. With 4 fresh quarts of Rotella T and a new oil filter we should be good for another season. I put the bimini cover on the frame before we stopped for lunch. The first mate informed me that I had several choices for lunch. For sandwiches we had peanut butter and jelly, lunch meat and onion, (because she miscalculated the amount of cheese to bring) and fast food in Grantsboro. I chose fast food which turned out to be not all that fast because we managed to get behind a 10MPH farm machine on the way.
After lunch was the vacation part of this working vacation. When we got back from lunch I decided that a short nap would be a good idea. Judy was reading on deck and after a short while our friend Larry stopped by. We had a nice long chat about coffee, bread and beer among other things. Our meeting broke up just in time for Judy and I to put the canvas covers back on the boat and take showers before going out to dinner. We treated ourselves to a meal at M&M Restaurant in Oriental. It has consistent quality and reasonable prices. Judy enjoyed crab cakes and I had blackened Mahi Mahi which was quite good. We strolled around the village and the town dock until almost dark. I drove us back to the boat where we turned in shortly thereafter.
Friday May 10, 2019
The plan for this day is to go home. We have a full weekend planned and we promised to attend a dinner at Judy’s folk’s church late this afternoon. We packed up, buttoned down and left the dock shortly before 9 am. A big breakfast at Charlie’s in Bayboro will be one of our stops. That and a snack should hold us until dinner at the church.
I have said many times before in these pages that the weather at Ensign Harbor is either beautiful or terrible and there is little in between. This week the weather was beautiful plus, if that’s possible. We did not deploy the air conditioner and ended up needing a blanket and closed hatches to stay warm. The weather last season was either really hot or pouring rain and we did not make good use of the boat. We look forward to more favorable conditions this year. We have a grandson who is old enough to go sailing without daddy this year and we hope to make it happen. The middle grandson brought his daddy down last year and really enjoyed the fishing. My granddaughter has not made the trip at all. Perhaps she will bring her daddy this year as well. We really want to share our love of the water with our grandchildren. More to come…