Saturday, March 31, 2012

How Many Engineers Does It Take...

It's been a busy week for the kids. Monday two engineering managers from Garmin arrived and more people onboard means more potential for treats, belly rubs, and cuddles. Always a good thing.

We headed back up the St Johns River giving us a chance to delve even deeper into our new electronics with the ultimate experts. They took the opportunity to discover how to improve on their already great products by observing and participating in the trip planning and execution.

Also in tow was a writer from PassageMaker magazine. Fortunately, he had left the boat before the engineers became enthralled with the raising of the anchor. But I had my phone ready and was able to snap them in the act.

It was a fun trip. Good to be moving on the water and even better to be sharing the time with people we really like. Dyna and Dylan were the perfect hosts and look forward to having them visit again. And next time Dylan is hoping Otis will come too.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Painting antennas...

Since every person walking down the dock had the same reaction to this project, "I didn't know you could do that!" I thought it would be a good idea to document it a little.

Many boats like ours have white, fiberglass antennas. Over time the fiberglass starts to come out causing uncomfortable handling as the microscopic shards penetrate skin. And especially at the top of the antennas that bend in the wind, paint flakes off over the years.

About 3 years ago we thought the antennas were starting to look sad and were becoming painful to handle when we needed to lower them for bridges. We decided to have them all replaced as part of the electronics refit.

Then we had the owners of Lambs Yacht Center over to our boat and for some reason, the topic came up. Downing asked a key question: "Are the antennas still working?" Well, yes, in fact they were performing as perfectly as the day we first keyed the mic on any of the radios 9+ years ago. "Then why not just paint them?" he asked.

So I researched it a bit and even on Shakespeare's site they give advice that you can paint the antennas:

This would save a lot of money and avoid hassles of running cables through the bases of the arch. I honestly had no idea this could even be done.

So we purchased a quart of Easypoxy white from Defender for about $30. I lowered and disassembled the antenna sections and hung them in reachable areas around the upper deck. After some cleaning and light sanding, 2 coats of the paint were applied. To complete the job, another light sanding should be done and a final coat should be applied - I'll probably let these coats harden well and do that last part at Olverson's in May.

I found that Easypoxy went on better with a normal brush than a foam one.  The brush strokes seem to magically fill in and produce a nice, glossy finish. It all cleans up easily with mineral spirits.

Replacing the 16' VHF antenna and 22' SSB antenna would have cost around $800.  It would have taken about 3-4 hours of effort. Instead, the cost here was about $35 and an easier 3-4 hours of effort (not one curse word).

Unfortunately, the very shiny antennas now show how badly our boat needs waxing! There's a team coming to do that job next week. Then we'll be all shiny and ready to head back north.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Life at the Marina at Ortega Landing is nice. A few blocks walk to Publix for fresh meat, fruit, anything you might crave. Restaurants nearby. The field where the dogs play with their buddies. There's even a pool and hot tub and a beautiful clubhouse. You're surrounded by fellow boaters who are always ready to get together for cocktails, a walk to dinner, or just to chat or help out. We even have a car!! We'll talk about that in a future entry. To say we have been spoiled would not be an understatement.

We've pretty much been at the dock for 4 months, longer than we have ever stayed in one place before. It has become extremely familiar and comfortable. So we've been wondering, when does it stop being cruising and become a floating condo?

We knew it was time to get away. We needed to do a sea trial of the new equipment and do some calibrations. We'd never explored the St. Johns River. Mostly we wanted to feel like we were cruising again. The big question, would the crew remember what to do?

Friday we finally threw off the lines and headed up the St Johns River. It was a beautiful morning. There was light fog as we headed out the Ortega River. Just enough to let us really test the new radar. Dyna quickly found her bed in its new spot by the starboard door as our new helm chair no longer left room for it under the table.

Dylan still managed to squeeze in between the helm chair and the helm, his safe spot.

The first night we anchored near Six Mile Creek because everyone, and we mean everyone, told us we had to go the the Outback Crab Shack. There's a shoaling spot that prevented us from taking the boat all the way up and staying on their free docks. So we launched the dinghy and had a wonderful 2 mile ride up the creek.

The best part, the kids got to go. Jeff had called and asked - well, begged, really - if we could bring them and sit outside as it was too hot to leave them onboard. "I promise, they'll be really, really good dogs." Really?

The food was good, the atmosphere was unique, there was plenty of leftovers for the next day, and the kids behaved pretty well. All along the docks are signs warning against feeding the alligators. Maybe it's just for the tourists but we kept the kids close just in case.

The next night we went beyond Palatka were the river becomes quite narrow and remote and anchored behind Murphy Island, a spot recommended by some local cruisers and with great AC reviews. It was a creek really but quite deep. There was lush vegetation and we were told we'd see alligators.

We barely had our chairs out on the cockpit before Jeff spotted one sunning on a log. He stayed there for hours but we didn't see any others. We searched on the iPhone to find interesting alligators facts. Did you know they can go for 2-3 years without eating? Don't know if it's really true but it's a cool tidbit. We also found that alligators eat by "lurking." They just hang out somewhere until food happens by and then they grab it. Guess you can do that when you can wait 2 years for supper. Jeff suggested we let Dylan take a swim...

The night was so calm it felt like we were still tied to the dock. We awoke surround by light mist coming up off the water. In Maine we would have called it sea smoke. Don't know if there's such a thing as "river smoke." We imagined there were alligators hiding on the mist as we began our return trip.

Tonight we're anchored in Doctors Lake and tomorrow we pull back to the dock. All systems worked well and the crew passed with flying colors. I guess it's like riding a bike.