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Posted on Mar 9, 2015 | 4 comments

So Much To Do

And this is after a year on board!

And this is after a year on board!

We are now finally in the final stages of prepping the boat and ourselves for our trip to the Bahamas. I would do a sigh of relief here, but there is so much work to be done that in fact it has been the busiest time that we have been aboard. We’ve made our list and checked it about one hundred times a day trying to find at least one more item to check off before bed. Dan even printed us some blank calendar pages that we filled in with all of our tasks to make sure they were getting done with the right time margins.

Our most time consuming project was repainting our non skid on the deck and cabin top. Previously, the deck was extremely slick anytime it got a little bit wet (I’m talking dew in the morning) and was a real safety hazard for walking, let alone going sailing. We decided to go with Interlux Interdeck paint as we thought it would provide the most value for our dollar and time. We also added some additional Interlux Intergrip dust to the deck paint after we did the cabin top a little more grip on the crucial areas. It cost a total of about $250 all supplies and paint included so we figure that justified giving it a try before shelling out a couple thousand on cutting out the old non-skid and replacing it with matting material. We are very happy with the results and feel much more secure on deck now that it is finished.

A big box of things we don't want to use.

A big box of things we don’t want to use.

Another major task was going for physicals, dental appointments, and assembling a thorough medical kit. While we were nervous about asking new doctors for prescription medications to have on board, they were actually very understanding about the situation. We brought a complete list that we compiled from OceanMedix.com prescription kit and the doctors prescribed for us the medications they thought would be appropriate for our situation. We are now properly stocked for an emergency in the case where we might be many hours (or sometimes a day or two) from advanced medical care. Our top concerns were treatment for burns, bacterial infections, and severe allergic reactions, all of which we feel sufficiently well stocked for now. Bandages, splints, and other supplies were ordered from Amazon and have all come in now other than the skin stapler. Please God let me never be called upon to use that thing! 

Somehow my ID pictures always turn out the worst.  Don't worry, it will only be 10 years until the next one.

Somehow my ID pictures always turn out the worst.
Don’t worry, it will only be 10 years until the next one.

Let’s not forget the good old government paperwork. Because we have dogs, we needed to apply for pet permits and get them vaccinated at least a month before entry into the Bahamas. Carter and I both had to get new passports, the first in his case and mine updated with my married name. Dan still had about 3 years remaining on his, but we decided to renew it anyway so that we would be on the same renewal timeline in the future. Interestingly, the only stamp that both of us had in our old passports was from our last trip to the Bahamas when Dan proposed to me while we were there for my brother’s wedding. The Bahamas certainly have a lot of meaning for our family!

We also decided to apply for the Customs and Border Patrol program called the Small Vessel Reporting System. This will allow us (as US citizens) to have a much easier clearing in process when we return home after our trip. To apply, you have to go to the SVRS website and fill out applications for the captain (with vessel information) and all passengers on your ship. Then you have to go in for a short interview with a customs agent at the nearest port. The paperwork process is a bit tedious to get through, but for anyone who does a lot of cruising between the US and other nearby countries like the Bahamas, Mexico, or between the USVI and BVI, it is probably worth your time to not have to clear into customs in person each time.

We still have a lot to do before leaving, but we are in high energy mode eagerly anticipating casting off. We are so mentally ready to go that it is hard to concentrate on getting our supplies to the same level. Just a few more weeks until we can be counted among the cruisers!

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Posted on Feb 18, 2015 | 2 comments

Fun Family Time

The shows at the Miami Seaquarium were very fun!

The shows at the Miami Seaquarium were very fun!

Carter insisted that he wanted to get soaked by the orca!

Carter insisted that he wanted to get soaked by the orca!

Over the last few weeks in the midst of our preparations for leaving (getting so close!) both sets of our parents were able to come down and visit us. Having family around was great for all of us and taking a break out from our work was a much needed relief. My parents came down first at the end of January and took us to some of the more popular attractions in this area that we hadn’t gone to visit ourselves.

A beautiful day

A beautiful day

Our favorite one by far was an Everglades Air-boat ride. We took a one hour tour through the ‘glades and it was truly stunning. We spotted a few large alligators fairly early on the trip which Carter loved, but my favorite part was simply the feeling of solitude out on the water. With the wind rushing in my ears and the total feeling of gliding over the water, it was almost as if we were seeing a part of nature that had been preserved just for us in that moment. It was one of those moments in life when you get just a small glimpse of the majesty all around us.

The ship had characters from the Dreamworks movies that Carter got to meet.

The ship had characters from the Dreamworks movies that Carter got to meet.

Dan’s parents came down the week following mine and had the grand distinction of being the first overnight guests on the boat. We cleared out the aft head (aka storage closet), got a couple of blankets ready for Carter to be able to sleep in the main salon, and made up Carter’s bed in the aft cabin and we were ready to go. Overall, I think it went pretty well though 5 of us on the boat would have felt a lot tighter at anchor than it was on the dock. They slept on Horizon for 3 nights since the other 4 that they were hear, we all went on a cruise to Cozumel.

I think we'll be installing an ice rink on Horizon next...

I think we’ll be installing an ice rink on Horizon next…

Carter and Dan had a blast in the pools and hot tubs.

Carter and Dan had a blast in the pools and hot tubs.

Being on the Liberty of the Seas (2nd largest commercial cruise ship in the world) was quite the experience. Dan and I just kept talking about what their water makers must look like, how much electricity their generators had to produce, and what kind of galley storage they would need to supply us all with first and second breakfast, lunch, tea time, first and second dinner, and of course dessert. Let’s just say we spent a significant portion of our time at sea eating. Carter loved the kids area so much we practically had to bribe him to stay with us! We all had a great time and debated whether we should all just try hiding on the ship until they set sail again but in the end decided we should probably get off.

The kids all dressed up as pirates and paraded through the "Royal Promenade"

The kids all dressed up as pirates and paraded through the “Royal Promenade”

The hardest part of visits from the family is always the good-byes and this time was no different. It’s always heart breaking for us to hold Carter as he is crying about his grandparents leaving, wondering if we are really doing the right thing for him. We hope that the benefits of traveling as a family will outweigh the negatives, but these are the times that it is the hardest to convince ourselves of that. We’re hoping that the upcoming trip to the Bahamas and subsequent visit home will help us to have a little more clarity about the pros and cons.

A good lesson that we learned from our tourist time (and something that most cruising books talk about) is it really is worth it to go to a select few attractions in the areas you are visiting, even if you are on a budget. We probably never would have gone on an air-boat ride had my parents not taken us, but it was a fantastic experience that you can not have any where else. It is worth it to enhance your trip with the more iconic experiences of an area, so it is important to make space for those times in your budget. Hopefully we’ll be having more of the same in the near future!

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Posted on Jan 29, 2015 | 0 comments

How Not to Use a Marine Refrigerator

Sometimes you just need a little fresh air before tackling a smelly job!

Sometimes you just need a little fresh air before tackling a smelly job!

Warning: this post is about a fairly disgusting event on the boat. Read at your own risk!

Living on a boat really stinks sometimes. And by that I mean makes you want to wretch and go get some fresh air kind of stink. Small spaces with minimal air flow can turn into some seriously horrendous smells if not fixed quickly. Any combination of diesel fuel, oil, gray water, black water, or delightfully unreliable marine refrigeration problems can turn a good day into a very, very bad one. Luckily, both of us have fairly strong stomachs but they have certainly been pushed to the limit more than we had thought before buying our boat.

Our galley when we bought the boat. The deep freezer is in the cabinet on the right.

Our galley when we bought the boat. The deep freezer is in the cabinet on the right.

Our first such experience happened only in the second week we were on board (welcome to cruising!) On the trip down from Illinois, we had brought our remaining stash of venison from last year’s hunting season, knowing that we had both our 120V freezer and our 12V marine refrigerator/freezer on board. One of the first things we did upon arrival was fire up both of them to ensure that they were in fact cooling well and then loaded up both freezers with whatever meat still looked in good condition after the trip, about 30 pounds in all. I loaded up the fridge/freezer with the items I’d want to use first as the 120V chest freezer was a bit of a pain to get into.

For the next week, we did not check the new freezer again since we had a lot of other things on our minds at the time, one of which being our first move from Indiantown to Stuart. We knew that the 120v wouldn’t be on during the trip but figured that 5 hours inside of a fully frozen freezer would be no problem to keep our meat frozen. That probably would have been true…if it had ever turned back on. Three days later we started to notice a slightly sour smell when we walked into the boat, but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Two days after that, it was strong enough for me to find it.

Let me just say that there is nothing I have thus far encountered, even after making it through potty training with a little boy, that smelled quite as horrible as when I opened up that freezer. Twenty pounds of bloated meat sitting in its own juices was a total nightmare to clean up, especially since it was in the bottom of a deep chest freezer that I had to dive in to reach the bottom. Two hours of holding my breath to try to keep from gagging was not a great way to spend an afternoon. Even after cleaning it with bleach, baking soda, and vinegar I still wasn’t able to completely get rid of the smell of rotten meat. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat venison again.

We are still trying to find the perfect temperature to defrost time ratio.

We are still trying to find the perfect temperature to defrost time ratio.

A few lessons we learned from this experience:

  1. If something smells bad, find it now. Do not wait for it to get worse or you will regret it.
  2. When dealing with a new refrigeration system, check it multiple times before you trust it. We’re still not sure if the freezer was working fully to begin with or not. In the end we decided to get rid of it anyway due to the smell and not wanting to get used to using the 120V freezer since we wouldn’t be running it at anchor.
  3. It takes a while to get used to using a marine refrigerator even when it works correctly. Multiple items have thawed out on me that I thought would stay frozen at the top of the freezer and others have burst from sitting too close to the cooling coils. Finding random ooze at the bottom of your fridge that is now somewhere down the drain into the bilge is never a good thing.
  4. Consider installing a separate sump for your refrigeration (and shower water). We haven’t yet done this but are planning to in the future. If this same story had happened with the drain plug opened, we probably never would have gotten rid of the rotten meat smell out of our boat which would have really been a damper on living conditions. Any bacteria that gets into the bilge is probably going to stay in the bilge for a long, long time especially if yours is very deep and hard to clean completely like ours is.
  5. 120V refrigeration on a boat doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you are planning on running a generator or being plugged into shore power full time. Even then I think we would prefer a 120/12v option for those times when you are moving or even just want to go out for a weekend.

Take it from me, you do not want to be spending an otherwise lovely day draining rotten juice one paper towel at a time.

 

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Posted on Jan 23, 2015 | 0 comments

How to Make a Boat Bed

With two dogs and a little boy, sleeping is a favorite activity on board.

With two dogs and a little boy, sleeping is a favorite activity on board.

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most basic living comforts and one of the most noticeable when it is missing. Making our master stateroom bed on Horizon into a restful space has been an ongoing project for me from the first day we moved on-board. When most people think about making a bed, they probably think sheets and pillows. For us it has run the gauntlet of improving the rock hard cushion mattress, sewing our own sheets and eventually making a V-berth capstone cushion (also called an insert cushion.) For this post I’ll be covering how we updated our mattress and my many attempts at sheet making. The v-berth cushion I’ll cover more in depth on a future post about using a Sailrite machine.

The original mattress cushions were quite uncomfortable!

The original mattress cushions were quite uncomfortable and hard to make!

Within only a week or two of moving on board, Dan and I were both waking up feeling 30 years older every morning. Our backs were aching, hips and knees were acting up and both of us felt generally immobile when we got out of bed. We knew that we could not continue sleeping on 3 inch high density foam or else we were likely to start developing spinal problems! Our first plan was to buy a full 10 inch memory foam mattress and cut it to fit, but after discussing it with some fellow live aboards, we decided to try a 3 inch memory foam topper from Costco first instead. At just over $100 for the king size we figured it was worth trying before shelling out significantly more for a full mattress.

Doing the cuts out on the dock gave us a lot more work space.

Doing the cuts out on the dock gave us a lot more work space.

We brought the topper home and opened up the box. As it began to expand inside the boat (the foam is vacuum packed inside the packaging to reduce its size) we realized that there was really no way to properly measure without some significant floor space. So out on the dock we went with our new topper, our old mattress, a permanent marker and some scissors. In our case, our v-berth is slightly wider at the head than a standard king size mattress so we had to do some creative cutting to have enough foam to cover the whole space. We ended up with three pieces: one for the main body of the bed, and one for each of the head pieces. Using our kitchen shears and razor blade for cutting the foam worked marginally well, but most people I talked to said an electric knife is the best bet and I tend to believe that would have been a much cleaner option.

To make the insert portion, I made pieces that had to be inverted.

To make the insert portion, I made pieces that had to be inverted.

The sheets were not such an easy fix. Our problem was that without a capstone cushion our v-berth couldn’t even use specialized v-berth sheets; they would have to be custom. After a few failed attempts at cutting and tucking standard king sheets, I decided that I would have to take a more active approach. I brought a standard sewing machine with us when we moved onto Horizon and even though I am a fairly novice seamstress, I was going to do whatever it took to have a decent looking set of sheets. (Including buying the cheapest sheets at Walmart just in case it was a total failure!) My first step was cutting a thin triangle out of each side of the fitted sheet and then sewing the sides back together in order to have a tighter fit around the bottom (pointy) part of the mattress.

After many attempts, the sheets finally fit!

After many attempts, the sheets finally fit!

Then came the tricky part. In order to make the inside u-shape I cut a straight edge around the top of the mattress, then cut inverted shapes to act as the sides and bottom of the mattress. In the end, the sheets turned out fairly well and have held up to the abuse that the three of us have inflicted over the last 5 months. The only other addition we’ve made is some sheet suspenders to help the sheets from sliding out from under the slippery mattress. Our bed is now soft, comfortable, and looks nice too!

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Posted on Jan 16, 2015 | 0 comments

Laundry On-Board: Scrubba Wash Bag Review

“How would you carry a laundry machine up a mountain?” This intriguing question was part of a Scrubba Washbag commercial that made me take a closer look. I had been looking for a solution for laundry on board, but hadn’t made up my mind on what I wanted to try as my first manual washing experience. Our friends on Cool Beans showed us their preferred method, essentially a modified plunger in a bucket, which probably would have been what I tried first if I hadn’t seen the Scrubba on a facebook group called Women Who Sail. I liked the idea of the smaller footprint of the Scrubba bag and thought it might be better for us due to our limited space. When Dan spotted it on a Woot.com sale, I decided to take the plunge.

The bag folds up quite small when you aren't using it.

The bag folds up quite small when you aren’t using it.

First of all, let me say that the price point is a bit high in my opinion. At $55 for what is essentially a 3 gallon dry bag with some bumps inside, it took me some serious consideration before I decided to buy it. Even after using it, I’d still say the price could have been a bit cheaper but it is fairly new so it may go down in price in the future, especially since it has already come down $10 since I first looked at buying it. Since I ordered it from Woot.com, I can’t say much about the customer service directly from the company or their shipping time, though they do offer free shipping to anywhere in the United States and internationally I believe.

It was easy to tell how full to fill the bag.

It was easy to tell how full to fill the bag.

The packaging was totally rage free and user friendly, which is always nice. My first impression was that the material was a bit thinner than I had expected but it still seemed pretty sturdy. After using it for multiple large loads, it held up with no problems though I was still careful not to use my fingernails too much when massaging/washing the clothes. The overall appearance is pleasant and I especially liked the clear window on the side with water-fill suggestions for load size. I will say that the air vent (very similar to one on a beach ball) was almost impossible for me to function but Dan had no problem getting it to work, so it’s either a hand strength issue or a brain issue I’m not quite sure at this point.

Let's just say I will never do this much laundry at one time again!

Let’s just say I will never do this much laundry at one time again!

The actual washing process was pretty straight forward. I had a full week and a half of laundry to do (3 people with Dan’s work and casual clothes) and I will say that I would not under any circumstances recommend doing that much with the Scrubba at one time. On the up side, I was able to get a very good handle on how much of different kinds of clothes could fit in one washing load. It really could fit more than I had anticipated and should not take too long for a normal wash load of a few days at a time. Here is a sample of some of the loads that I did:

The Scrubba could hold a decent amount at one time while still getting everything clean.

The Scrubba could hold a decent amount at one time while still getting everything clean.

  • 5 of Dan’s medium men’s polo shirts or 8 of my small women’s shirts (cotton and high-performance fabrics)
  • The entire supply of Carter’s size 3T clothes for the week including t-shirts, shorts, socks, underwear, and a pair of jeans
  • a pair of Dan’s jeans, one maxi-dress, one pair of men’s cargo shorts and one pair of women’s Bermuda shorts

The dirty water from just one load. It certainly is getting the clothes clean!

The dirty water from just one load. It certainly is getting the clothes clean!

Here is the inside of the bag. You can see how the wash board would be different than a normal dry bag.

Here is the inside of the bag. You can see how the wash board would be different than a normal dry bag.

The cleaning power of having the washboard inside the bag was also very helpful. At least of few of the pieces I washed had visible dirt/stains on them before washing but afterwards came out clean (I did spray them with a bit of Spray n’ Wash first). If you had anything that was heavy soiled, it would probably be better to do a pre-rinse of that item first just to reduce the transfer of oil or other junk onto your other clothes or the inside of the bag. The official recommendation for soap used is basically any washing liquid (as opposed to powders) and even shampoo or body wash would work in a pinch. I chose to use a dye and chemical free liquid that I got at Costco since I figured that some of the soap would be staying in our clothes without an intense rinse and spin cycle like you would have in a washing machine. You only need a very small amount for each load and I found that putting in the detergent before the water worked best for getting it to suds quickly.

This is our salon table after washing a load. Not a lot of water left over, but enough that I wouldn't do it on the bed or carpet.

This is our salon table after washing a load. Not a lot of water left over, but enough that I wouldn’t do it on the bed or carpet.

All-in-all I’d say that the Scrubba was easy to use, well made, and good for use on a boat (or other traveling) due to its compact size and only using about 1.5-2 gallons of water per load.

There are a few caveats, however. First, due to there being a lot of water transfer going on, I would not recommend doing your washing on top of a bed or carpet area as there is some water that will get on your work surface. Nothing too drastic but just something to know ahead of time. Also, even with hand wringing the clothes are still very wet compared to an electric machine. The guys at Scrubba sell a microfiber towel to roll/squeeze the water out in and I would highly recommend using something similar if you want your clothes to dry in any reasonable amount of time. Or you can do your own version of a spin cycle by doing the windmill on the back of your boat, your choice.

 

Have you had any experience with a manual clothes washing system that you would recommend? Tips or tricks for us? Let us know in the comments!

 

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