01 October 2014 | Tampa, FL
In the last post I laid out 3-objectives - here I will cover the first...Outfitting the boat for full-time cruising. More accurately stated - for full time live-aboard and a trip up the East Coast for our planned move to the Washington DC area where we will explore life as civilians in pre-retirement for a while. As any new boat owner does, the "to do" list was initiated...it got longer, and longer each day. At this point, I was devoting every spare personal moment to readying the boat for full time occupation. The Admiral gave me her full support as she was very busy with her full-time CEO duties and full-time PhD student responsibilities. Keeping in mind that "us time" was precious, I spent every waking hour when the Admiral was out of town, or buried in her studies, on a boat project. When she was available, we balanced our time between being together and garnering her interest/comfort with boating life since her experience was limited. A disclaimer here - the Admiral is a strong, decisive and capable woman who was mentally committed to our mutual plan to sail north and live/work in DC for a while. She had no desire to be a learned sailor but had every desire to participate. She didn't want to know how it worked - only, that it worked! Her role as plans supervisor, visionary and common-sense checker was invaluable. She saved me, my back and a lot of time with her perspective on everything I shared regarding the boat - and I shared everything...some things did not interest her but most did. Note to all of those considering engaging your significant other in a boat endeavor - listen to her as your partner, spouse, friend, mate and Admiral! You cannot do it alone - and really enjoy it!
The projects: Know the boat! I explored every nook and cranny (multiple times) finding something new each round. This took a few weeks of nights and weekends. Needless to say the to-do list got longer with each round. Priorities were safety, maneuver/propulsion, navigation, communication and comfort. When we bought Take Me There!...she was in good shape, but there was still much to do to reduce risk to its minimum.
Safety: We invested generously in up-grading safety/rescue systems, spares and training on crisis action drills - some specific notes include auto fire suppression in the engine room, top of the line life-saving/safety equipment, Sea-Tow & Tow Boat US memberships, life-raft certification (biggest expense) and MOB recovery apparatus/practice and storm/hurricane safety features (lines, auto bilge pumps, plug and leak kits, Spill kit)... Don't scrimp here! A quick note on thru-hulls. Test them all! Exercise and lube them regularly. When I doubt - replace it!
Maneuver/Propulsion: Our big John Deere Turbo Diesel with its velvet drive is an amazing upgrade by previous owners. With less than 400 hours, this power-plant wasn't even fully broken in yet but peripheral electronics needed a once-over from the incident on our maiden voyage to the new slip. After replacing the high-output alternator, and learning that the regulator had to be specifically shunted to work with the complicated Xantrex power management system, I was doing my weekly "re-explore" of sub-compartments of the boat and found a new spare complete with shunted regulator in an obscure cubby below deck. The cutlass bearings, shaft guides, strake and prop/rudder were all redone in our initial bottom job upon purchase. Hydraulic steering, auto-helm and all mechanical linkages were a bear to inspect but checked out fine. One sunny day we decided to day-sail...as we were departing the slip, the throttle handle fell off the helm!...I had no control and she was in gear at idle. After a hair-raising few seconds, I managed to stick the handle back in and nurse her back to the dock. Note to self - inspecting mechanical controls includes all the way to the helm...not just at the rudder! Things loosen up, stick, jam and otherwise break under stress of a marine environment. Upon inspection of the "guts" of the helm, I wound up replacing more than just the throttle retaining nut...a lot of that gear under the helm station needed attention - all the way down to the transmission linkage in the engine room. During this process I also discovered a number of hidden relays, breakers and connections that helped me when troubleshooting other problems later in our adventure. The final "powered" maneuver system was the bow thruster. An oft-neglected piece of gear that needs attention - with over 7ft of freeboard at the bow and 53 ft of hull, the bow thruster is a "must have" for a boat this size. We are considering installing a stern thruster as well (on the transom under the swim platform)...but this falls into the "comfort" category and will be done at next haul-out. A quick note on "alternate" propulsion. Our original dinghy purchase was hasty and thoughtless. A small, hard dink with a little Tohatsu 2-stroke. Great for putt-putting in calm anchorages...but...when you need to move the boat - it won't budge it. We transitioned to a larger RIB with a 4-stroke outboard that will tow Take Me There! If we need to. More on that later.
Navigation: We are blessed with a full nav-suite onboard. Garmin GPS/MAP twins at the helm and below at the nav station with hand held Garmin back-up. A Faruno GPS MAP (older model) as a separate back-up for the Garmin with its own GPS antenna. A Garmin 48 mile radar, Garmin satellite weather receiver and sonar. We will install forward looking sonar at our next haul-out. Our SSB and VHF radios are tied into the GPS MAP system via Sea-LAN and we have a Pactor III modem on the SSB. We will install ATS (transmit/receive) before our next voyage. A good radar reflector is a must for us - we want to be seen! LED nav lights were a prudent choice for us (low power and high vis) as is the large air horn he have mounted on the mizzen mast which saved our butts in a fog-bank on a busy ship-lane in the Chesapeake. Trust me, a super-tug pushing a 700ft barge won't hear that little bell that the USCG requires you to carry!...and he is not likely to be looking at his radar for you!
I bought the CAPn navigation software and upgraded the GPS MAP chips with full blue-charts as well as updated our paper map collection that was about 10 years old. You need paper maps - electronics will fail at some point! Don't go out without knowing how to read and use nautical charts, tools and computations. I bought a good sextant and plan to learn how to use it- this dying art has succumbed to the electronic age but celestial never lies and will provide you a heavenly body to steer by when all other systems are useless. Final note on navigation - there is no substitute for reading the water/terrain. Don't be vexed by the GPS/MAP display - read the environment - things change much faster that NOAA can record them on a published product. Your eyes and intuition will enhance your electronics - but what you see with your eyes is in real time. With this in mind, you may consider helping the Admiral understand that if she sees something questionable - speak up - it's her boat, and life too! She may choose to "learn" more about how it works (or at least what to look for) with this one - two pairs of eyes are better than one!
Communication and Comfort will be covered in the next post.