Monthly Archives: October 2010

Take Two on a Kayak

This headstrong family is learning a thing or two about teamwork. It all started with a kayak saved from a trash pile. Well, maybe it started well before that, but there’s nothing like kayaking to bring the principle home. Like a yoke of oxen, two people with paddles can pull different ways and make no progress, or work together and feel the sweet reward of speed through water.

The kayak is really fun. We use it to explore, to get some exercise, to get off the boat for awhile, to enjoy the water, and once, to ferry a child to a friend’s boat for the afternoon. Jay saved it using his handy heat gun and plastic welding rod, and we’re keeping it for the moment, although it takes up a good bit of deck space, to see if this is the right size and kind for our family. 

The first time I went kayaking was with our friends at Curry Hammock Sate Park, where it came to actual blows between our two oldest boys when they could not figure out how to get out of a mangrove tangle. I had them put the paddles in their laps and raise their hands in the hair (as in, “this is a stick-up”) until they could cool off, calm down and figure out what to do next. Although they finished well that day, they swore they would never go kayaking again. The two boys actually now love to kayak, though we haven’t turned the two of them loose by themselves yet. And surprisingly, even Sam has gotten the hang of it.  (Note, in the picture, we were giving the kayak a trial run a few feet from the boat, and Sam hopped on without a life vest, which is normally a must, of course.)


One of the pleasant discoveries I’ve made is that the kid I always seem to butt heads with works the most cooperatively, and somehow knows instinctively how to steer and which side to paddle on without my saying a word. And the one who can finish my sentences has no idea which way I want to go, but goes at it hammer and tongs and by golly! We'll get there by sheer strength! Another child really just needs some mommy-time and this is a great way to get it. This teamwork thing is so important for these relationships—I wonder, would I have made this discovery without the kayak?

Although our chore chart, recently re-vamped, has some two-person jobs that require teamwork, like sorting and bagging the laundry, I was having a real problem training small people to work together. We like to say we are “independent” and “determined” but it seems that really we are just a bunch of stubborn goats, with our own ideas of doing things and a lack of willingness to share a task. But now I have this beautiful floating analogy: all of our tasks on the boat are like kayaking. We can either hit each other with the paddles, or we can use teamwork and cooperation to laugh and actually have a good time while making forward progress. 

A Dream Deferred

All men dream, but notequally.
Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds,
wake in the day to find that it was vanity.
But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
– T.E. Lawrence

My dad and stepmom bought a new catamaran, a Sunsail 384.  Their current boat, a Prout 31, is about as old as I amand lacks systems and amenities for comfortable cruising.  It probably also requires a bit moremaintenance than my dad cares for anymore. 
And lastly, the boat is located about 1,200 miles from where theyultimately want it.

The news is exciting to us on a number of levels.  They have been looking at new catamarans forabout 19 years by my count.  Since I wasa teenager.  They were regulars at theboat shows and there were always magazines and brochures around the house. 

It is tough for a kid to accurately gauge the seriousness ofan adult’s dreams, a child’s view of the world being much simpler than an adult’s.  So I spent a portion of my formative years withthe notion that buying a large catamaran was actually possible.  And it stuck with me.

The first boat I recall them dreaming about with apparentseriousness was a Privilege 48.  Thisimaginary boat even had a name.  Thatwould have been about 1991.  As I writethis aboard my own 48-foot catamaran, built in 1991, it is impossible not to thinkof that boat, and those dreams, as our beginning.

But as we were developing the Five Year Plan that led to thepurchase of our boat, we came to the realization that they would probably neverbuy theirs.  They didn’t have a plan, orwhat plan they did have started and ended with winning the lottery.  They went on to develop property interests inPanama, which I assumed was a replacement for the boat dream.  So I was surprised a couple months ago when Iheard they were making a trip to Ft Lauderdale to look at a boat, even moresowhen I learned they had a plan.

They are buying the boat through the Sunsail Yacht PartnershipProgram.  Many charter companies haveprograms like this whereby the company will take care of the boat, paying allexpenses and performing all maintenance, while it is used by charter guests.  The program guarantees a certain amount of monthlyincome for the owner which is expected to cover any loan payments.  At the end of the program period, owners takepossession of the boat or the charter company will help them sell it throughtheir brokerage.

During the term of the program, owners have rights to usetheir boat for a certain number of weeks a year.  They can also trade the usage of their own boatfor boats in other locations.  This is oneof the benefits of using a larger company. 
Sunsail has bases in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, theMediterranean, and the Indian Ocean. 
Pretty much anywhere you’d want to go sailing.  My parents’ boat will be based in Belize,which is very close to where they will ultimately keep it in Panama when itcomes out of charter.

I think we’re all hoping that they’ll use some of those built-inchartering vacations to visit us at various points along our way.  Conveniently, there is a Sunsail base right wherewe’re headed in the Bahamas.

I often wonder: if our lives were influenced by seeing myfather dream, even when the dream seemed out of reach, what will be the effecton my children when our dreams are lived daily?

Mercury 25, Part 3

It looks like the Merc got a reprieve. 

The new carburetor arrived today and I slapped it in.  I'm a pro at swapping it now.  The idle was definitely smoother, but for the real test I closed the low speed air mixture screw 1/4 turn.  Lo and behold, the motor started to sputter and die, just like the shop manual said it should.  I put in a new set of plugs and then Aaron and I went out for a trial run.  It ran great at everything from idle to wide open.

So the Mercury lives to die another day and that little project gets checked off our Bahamas TODO list.

Outta Gas

We ran out of diesel during this morning’s generatorrun.  For some reason I thought we weredrawing off of only one tank, and therefore had been very lax in monitoringfuel levels.  I guess I had been waitingfor this to happen.  It was a little disconcertingto learn that we were dry on both sides.  Oh well.

We already had a trip to the fuel dock planned in the comingweeks before we leave for the Bahamas.  I’mglad we ran out when we did because I probably would have gone on the fuel runwithout checking how much we had. 
Running out underway would have been seriously inconvenient.  Even though we can see the fuel dock from ourmooring, there’s an overhead wire we’re too tall to go under, and we have to gothe long way around Boot Key. 

On the bright side, this is a good opportunity to graduatethe fuel gauges and dipsticks, and find out how big the tanks really are.  We’ve been operating on the assumption thatthe tanks are 100 gallons each, but don’t really know for sure.  And when the gauge says 50%, we don’t knowhow much that really is because the tanks are not a uniform shape.  Nor do we know how much fuel the generatorand engines really use.  So we don’treally know much at all.

Truth be told, we do have a fuel transfer pump, so we couldhave found some of these things out before now. 
But it will be easier with the calibrated high speed pumps at the fueldock, if we can get them to let us sit there long enough.

We do know that the fuel tanks are clean.  First, we had the fuel polished before deliveringthe boat from Fort Lauderdale.  This iswhere they cycle the fuel by running it through a filter and blowing it back inunder pressure to loosen up more gunk.  Iwas not there to witness the process, but I have since been told the only wayto really get it clean is the open them up and scrub them out.  So we did that and found there was quite abit the polishing didn’t get. 
Interestingly, there was a pile of something granular under thestarboard fill pipe.  I figured it waseither sand or sugar.  Either way, itseems someone was attempting to sabotage the boat.  Not telling when it happened, but fortunatelythere were no ill effects.  With thetanks now empty, we can see that the bottoms are still squeaky clean.

So if we had 200 gallons when we filled up 140 days ago,that would be a burn rate of 2.8 gallons per day, which doesn’t seem verygood.  Most of it is generator usage, butthere is also probably about 300 miles of motoring in there too.  Unfortunately, we don’t have functional hourmeters on the engines.  The generator hasone, but I don’t think it is correct because it is way high.

I’ll dinghy over the fuel dock today (it is time for thatanyway) and get 5 gallons of diesel.  I’llput that in one of the tanks and see how much generator run-time that gets us.  Then we’ll start keeping track of the generatorhours, and I’ll install new engine hour meters so we can keep track of thosetoo.

The gallons per hour calculations should produce pretty gooddata.  Even though an engine burns fuelat different rates depending on load, our loads are fairly constant.  Our battery chargers max out at 33% generatorcapacity and only charge at that rate for a short time.  So the generator is just loafing most of thetime.  When underway we usually run theengines at about the same RPM, which is easy because its right below the point where they smoke and shake the boat.  We generally only use two for manueverability or to power into wind and waves.  Otherwise, we go about the same speed with just one.

Getting the boat to the fuel dock might be a challenge.  It is going to take a good amount of fuel, orvery flat water, to keep the pickups submerged. 
The weather pattern we’re in makes it pretty bouncy outside.  Too bad there isn’t a fuel delivery boat herelike they have in Fort Lauderdale.  MaybeI’ll run them out of jerry jugs instead of the tanks.  Yeah, that sounds pretty good.

Once we get to the fuel dock, the plan is to fill the tanksin 10 gallon increments, at which points we’ll mark both the dipstick and thefuel gauge for each tank.  The dipsticks aremade of smooth stainless steel rod and it is very difficult to see the fuel onit.  We plan to score the rod with a Dremeltool and a cutoff wheel.  Hopefully themarks will retain a little bit of fuel that will be easier to see when pulledout, and still be visible through the inspection port. 

With meaningful graduations, maybe I'll actually look at the fuel gauges more often.  And armed with burn rates I can put together a nice spreadsheet to predict when we'll run out again.

Mercury 25, Part 2

When we bought the Mercury, we wanted a used motor.  It was a prospective purchase; we’d never hada RIB before, didn’t know whether it was going to work for us, and had no ideahow much horsepower we wanted.  We alsowanted electric start and power tilt for Tanya, since she would be a primaryuser.  It would have been a veryexpensive motor new, and we were trying to be frugal and limit our exposure to a bad decision.

Now, we think a brand new motor is warranted.  We’re committed to the RIB and we are willingto make the investment for reliability.  We're ready to leave Florida and don't need the additional risk of a grumpy outboard.  Our mantra has changed to "the motor we don't know doesn't work is better than the one we do".  We’vealready determined that used motors aren’t economical for us anyway.  The only downside is that a new motor has to gothrough a break-in period, and we can’t start abusing it right away.


We have never seriously considered a 4-stroke motor.  They use less fuel and have cleaneremissions, and it would be great not to have to fool around with mixing oilinto the fuel, but for us the costs outweigh the benefits.

For starters, 4-strokes are more complicated.  They are now standard in the US because of ouremissions laws, but this is not the case in much of the world.  We envision ourselves going to developingcountries where we have to rely on ourselves and locals to keep our enginesrunning.  A sophisticated motor thatnobody understands and requires special tools and parts would be a liability,and possibly completely useless.  We’remuch more comfortable with a 2-stroke design that has been manufactured for 20years and is used worldwide.

Four-strokes are also heavier.  To my simple mind, the piston has to cycletwice as many times for each power stroke of the engine.  It can’t run twice as fast, so instead it hasto have a larger displacement in order to deliver equivalent power.  That means a larger, heavier block and flywheel.  Because we eventually have to lift it, either when moving the motor on and off the boat, or hoisting the boat in the davits, the weight is a problem.

The 4-strokes are the beneficiaries of more modern engineering,which helps with the power-to-weight ratio.  It’sone of those cases where improvements only occur when the manufacturers areforced to make them.  Progress is painfuland it took years for manufacturers to figure out how to make a good4-stroke.  It does appear that they’rethere now and today’s motors are fairly reliable.  But mandated progress is often misguided,like what they’ve done with ethanol in gasoline.

We compare the 4-stroke revolution to the way cars changedto electronic fuel injection.  Suddenlyyou can’t work on your car anymore, but the cars are more efficient and reliable. 
Like an old VW bug versus a HondaAccord.  But everything breaks eventuallyand back to my original point: try getting your Honda fixed in a coastal villagein Nicaragua.

So 4-strokes are pretty much off the table when looking atnew motors.  But we did make the roundsto the local dealers to kick the tires and let them help solidify ourposition.  And we learned a few things,too.  For example, a 4-stroke is harderto pull-start, which makes sense with the lower cycle ratio and largercylinders.  Electric start was already arequirement, but we want a pull-start backup. 
A 2-stroke will have both the electric button as well as a pull-starthandle, but to pull-start an electric 4-stroke you have to take the cowling and flywheelcover off and install a handle (at least on the models we've seen).

The Yamaha dealer was not very helpful, nor was the factoryrep, who happened to be there.  Neitherof them knew the product very well, and between them they gave us a couple of mis-truths. 
For example, they said the warranty could beused internationally, when Yamaha’s website clearly says it can’t.  But we did get to see the models (and how bigthey really are).  And we were surprisedto learn that Yamaha’s 4-stroke 20hp is only 10 lbs heavier than the 2-stroke25, which is almost acceptable. 

Of course, all the models he had were 4-strokes.  New 2-strokes are very hard to come by in theUS these days, and can only be had from dealers with the foresight to stock upon them before 2010.  We know of a dealer in St Petersburg that has them, but haven't given up on Miami yet.

The Mercury-Suzuki-Evinrude dealer was great.  When we explained what we want to do, he saidhis money would be on a Yamaha 2-stroke if we could find one.  He lamented not stocking up on the 2-strokeMercury motors, but Yamaha was still #1 internationally and he thought Mercurywas a distant second.  Apparently Suzukionly lets dealers carry above or below 40hp, so he couldn’t tell us much about thesmaller motors, except that he’d heard the Suzuki 25 was a turd. 

Evinrude is an oddball because their E-Tec motors are2-strokes that are actually cleaner than 4-strokes.  However, they do this with oil injection andelectronics and are therefore even more complicated.  This technology doesn’t scale down well andtheir smallest motor is a 25hp.  Itweighs 146 lbs, which is 35 lbs more than the Yamaha 2-stroke, so not acontender.  Otherwise they’re greatmotors and we see lots of them.  Thedealer has one himself, but said that 3 years between scheduled maintenanceoften leads to nasty surprises.

A new Mercury holds no attraction for us.  The only real differentiator is how theyshift.  On a Mercury you twist thethrottle one way for forward, and the other way for reverse.  Everyone else uses a handle on thepowerhead.  We tried to see this as anadvantage when buying our current motor; that a person could shift gears one-handedwithout fumbling for a shift lever, but previous experience told us this wasnot as simple as it sounds.  This hasheld true, and after using our Mercury almost every day for the last 5 months westill screw up the gears, or have to look down to be sure.

It is a major disappointment is that nobody has a power tiltoption in combination with a short shaft and a tiller on a new motor.  But our old Mercury 25 2-stroke does.  Actually, the Nissan 25 4-stroke does too,and it’s even fuel injected, but it weighs 182 lbs.  The only hope we have at this point on a newmotor is an aftermarket solution from CMC. 
This is a separate tilt bracket that bolts to the back of the boat andthe motor clamps onto.  It weighs 24 lbs.  It’s either that, or we continue to invest inour Mercury, or we give up on Tanya and the kids ever taking the dinghy ashorethemselves.

So assuming our old Mercury is a lost cause, our next choiceis a new Yamaha 25hp 2-stroke with a CMC tilt bracket. 

The final consideration for a new Yamaha is domestic orinternational.  We can buy a new Yamaha2-stroke 25 either in Florida or in the nearby Bahamas.  I don’t know if the motors are actually different,but the US dealers don’t recognize the international model numbers.  We discovered this with our old Yamaha 4hpthat Take Two’s previous owner bought in the USVI’s.  This really forces us to decide where themotor is going to spend its time.  A USmotor will come with a warranty that can only be used in the US, but we knowhow to get US parts shipped internationally, so that may be our best bet.  We have not checked the motor prices in the Bahamas,but we should since 2-strokes are not the rarity there that they have become here. 

Mercury 25, Part 1

The saga of our Mercury 25 2-stroke is nearing an end.  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it is going to be asuccessful one, at least from the perspective of that motor’s continued serviceto us.  This will be a multi-part post;first to discuss the problems we continue to have with the Mercury, and then towalk through our options and thought processes as we begin to consider a new motor.  By the end of next week we should have a final decision up or down on the Merc.


There were warning signs from the beginning; we just didn’tknow enough to see them.  When we boughtthe motor, the skeg was damaged and it had a new prop.  The owner told us he had hit a rock and thedriveshaft had also broken and been replaced. 
There was also salt buildup around the cylinder heads from a coolingwater leak.

We used the motor daily for 6 months without so much as ahiccup.  It started immediately on thefirst pull or first touch of the button. 
It ran smooth and never gave us any trouble.  It idled evenly, though perhaps a touch fast,and it smoked a little, but not abnormal for a 2-stroke.  It was plenty fast; pushing our 12 foot RIBat 29mph.  The power tilt was a boon forTanya and she was the envy of other women struggling with big motors.

But after awhile we could no longer ignore little drops ofoil we saw leaking from the lower unit when the boat was lifted out of thewater.  And we noticed lots of oil aroundthe inside of the lower cowling. 

We thought the oil from the lower unit was a bad rear oilseal on the gearcase, and pulled the motor to work on that.  In retrospect, the length of time that weobserved oil without the gears seizing and the presence of oil up top shouldhave led us in a different direction. 
Sure enough, the gearcase was full and had no water in it, so the sealwas fine.  But during the course ofchecking it, we discovered that the prop shaft was twisted and the thrust hubdid not want to come off.  We alsolearned that the exhaust body had lots of oil and tar-like buildup inside it.

It was also during this initial project that we removed andcleaned our perfectly running carburetor (or so we thought).  That was dumb and it took a good bit oftweaking and tuning to get it running again, and it never ran as well as before,with misfires and fouled plugs in the #1 cylinder.  At this point the salt around the headreturned to our consciousness and became a likely factor.

This is the stage we were at when we began to think that anew motor was justified; faced with the twisted shaft, the mysterious oil, andthe wet cylinder heads.  But weconsidered it a learning opportunity and told ourselves that “the motor we knowis better than one we don’t”.  So wehauled it again, took it completely apart, and inventoried the parts thatneeded replacing.  The parts list topped$700 (at Internet prices), plus the powerhead needed a $300 trip to the machineshop to rethread some broken head bolts.

In the lower unit we replaced the prop shaft, thrust hub,bearing, bearing carrier, and rear oil seal. 
The oil seal itself was fine, but the bearing carrier was broken,probably from the same impact that did the other damage.  We were operating under the philosophy ofreplacing everything that wasn’t right, whether it was actually detrimental ornot.  The water pump received a newimpeller and new gaskets.

We discovered a broken exhaust tube between the powerheadand the lower unit, which explained the strange rattling noise from that partof the motor.  It also had an amazingamount of exhaust buildup.  We weren’tsure exactly how the exhaust tube was supposed to be attached, so rather thantry to fix it we just replaced it, which entailed a new adapter plate under thepower head.

Removing the head bolts was a serious exercise infrustration.  Aluminum block + stainlessbolts + salt water = corrosion.  Thebolts really, really should have been treated to prevent them from freezinginto the block and then breaking when we tried to remove them.  It turned out that this motor doesn’t reallyhave a head, just a cover for the water jacket. 
The cylinders are sealed except for the spark plug holes.  So the salt buildup (and leak it indicated)was relatively innocuous except to the bolts holding the cover on.  Like the carburetor, we would have been much betteroff to just leave it alone.

The powerhead was removed because we wanted to inspect thelower seal.  The impact and brokendriveshaft were factoring heavily at this point.  This necessitated removing just abouteverything from the powerhead.  All the electronics,the throttle controls, and flywheel came off. 
It was a good thing we took pictures during the disassembly because itwas a lot of little parts and wires.

Through the course of removing the electronics, wediscovered a bad coil on the #1 cylinder.  This was an excellent explanation for thesource of the misfire, and possibly for the oil, too.  We subsequently discovered that the lowerseal was fine, but the exhaust manifold was full of oil.  This hurt, because we could have figured thatout without taking the whole thing apart if we’d only thought to look.

Now the problem simply looked like incompletecombustion.  The leftover oil was oozingout of the block through the exhaust, down the body, and out of the lowerunit.  The oil in the lower cowling underthe powerhead was leaking past a failed gasket on the exhaust manifold.

With the problem presumably solved and all the parts wecould find to replace replaced, we began reassembly.  Miraculously, there were no “extra” partsleft over and after a few initial problems, it even ran.  But it ran like shit.  And that’s about the way it has been eversince.

We have rebuilt the carburetor multiple times.  We have fiddled with the bowl float level.  We have checked the timing.  We have tested the spark with the mostreliable (and painful) method we knew. 
We’ve gone through multiple sets of plugs and played with the gaps. 
We’ve endlessly adjusted the idle speed and thelow speed air mix.  At times we thoughtwe had it, but then after a high speed run it would fail to idle at all.

We are completely baffled. 
Configured to the specifications in the shop repair manual, the motorruns so rich it pours smoke and little droplets of oil are suspended in thewater.  When completely closing the lowspeed air mix screw, the motor continues to run, and idle speed actuallyincreases when the motor is supposed to die. 
This seems to indicate some type of leak or malfunction inside thecarburetor.

Carburetors are magical devices.  Their job is to mix atomized fuel into amotors air intake, and maintain the proper mix at all engine speeds.  It took us awhile to comprehend how this actuallyhappens, and then we were amazed that somebody thought of it, and then justshocked that they could make it work. 
There aren’t very many adjustments available, and those are rather crudeconsidering the precision of the carburetor’s function.  So when faced with a carburetor that isn’tacting normally, there is really only one option we can think of: replace it.

So that’s it.  Thecarburetor was probably off the entire time and the previous owner (or hismechanic) managed to make it run smoothly, but it was probably running way toorich even then.  The only choice we feelwe have with this motor at this point is to throw more money at it in alast-ditch effort to make it right.  Ifit doesn’t work, and we don’t have a lot of confidence that it will, we’ll ditchit and get a brand new motor. 

During the course of the repair we’ll have spent about asmuch again as we paid for it to begin with. 
And if our time is factored in, it would have been more economical tosimply buy a new motor each time.  Youread that right; we could have two brand new motors for what we’ve spent onthis used one.  That’s the hidden cost ofbuying used gear.

In the meantime, there is a toolbox in the dinghy at alltimes and Tanya won’t drive it by herself.

Kids Aboard

We are beginning to look for a weather window. This, in case you do not know, is a departure date based on an ideal weather forecast. When crossing the Gulf Stream, that means wind going the same way as current. Ideally, we will set out past the reef, raise the spinnaker and glide all the way to the Bahamas. We are not in a rush, so we can wait for this weather window, and be ready when it “opens.” But, for the moment, we are still in Marathon. Although I’m starting to get antsy, I’m glad that were are still here, since it meant perfect timing to meet up with some old and precious friends of ours.

The Tucker family was in the keys doing a boat-building workshop and came by to see if we were in, so to speak. After some wild-goose-chasing and a game of phone tag, we finally connected with them. What a joyous reunion! We made a hasty dinner plan, invited them all back to our boat and had a wonderful evening. We comfortably had nine children, four adults and two cats on our boat for dinner and fun, and reconfirmed why we love having a large catamaran. Take Two is great boat with plenty of room, in this case, to take two large families!

We met the Tuckers at the St. Pete Boat Show about five years ago. They run a booth near the entrance of the show called “Kids Aboard.” It’s a place where young sailors can be dropped off for a few hours to do a boat building workshop. The plywood boats get worked on every day of the show (save Saturdays, which are reserved for Shabbat—the day of rest), and are launched and sailed the last day of the show. At the time when we met them, we were not of the “dropping off” mentality, so we barely paid them any notice. But later, as we were coming out of the show, their kids were playing soccer in the field and our kids asked to join in. I got to talking with them and we discovered a world of commonalities between our two families.

We ended up inviting them over to our house for dinner and becoming good friends. They had lived aboard their French-built aluminum catamaran “Fellowship” (currently for sale) and were able to share what living aboard with a large family was like (they had four girls at the time, and have since added a little boy to the mix). To us, they were the dream personified, truly inspiring us to keep working toward leaving a land life and buying a boat.

As we sat in our cockpit after dinner and reminisced, we realized how much had changed since we last invited them for dinner at our house!  We had done the thing they had helped inspire us to do—perhaps they will now know how important their friendship was in helping us on our way. We all agreed that boat shows are important for those dreaming of going cruising, not just for the boats or sailing gadgets, but because of the people one meets there with inspiring stories and good advice.

For those sailing with families, or who are home-schooling, Kids Aboard is a great resource. We have the Kids Aboard burgee, which we can fly when we get to a new place to find other boats with children, and a plethora of tee-shirts, which always get a lot of comments when we’re out and about. Their website is a great place to read about homeschooling, good books, and family life aboard, with lots of links. Also, they still do boat building workshops for kids of all ages, church, school or homeschool groups, and can be seen at the Miami Boat Show in February. You can find them at

Someday we may have the privilege of meeting up with folks dreaming of sailing away, and we will happily “pay it forward” by sharing our lives and stories with other young sailors. And thanks to all of you (whoever you are) reading our blog and sharing our life aboard!

 For anyone interested, the recipe for salmon cakes we shared that night follows.

Salmon Cakes
Prep time: 1 hour
Makes: 6 servings

3-4 cans wild salmon (a pound of fresh, steamed salmon would be great)
1 egg
1 c. cracker crumbs (whole-wheat w/sesame works well)
1 carrot
1/2 onion
1 large stalk celery
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 red pepper
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp. Mrs. Dash
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive oil

Use a food processor to crush crackers and mince veggies. In a large bowl, mix salmon, egg, cracker crumbs, minced veggies, and seasonings. (If too dry, add another egg; if too wet, add more cracker crumbs.)  You should be able to use a large spoon or your hands to make 3/4“ thick patties. Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, spoon/shape patties and cook until lightly browned on one side. Flip and brown other side. Keep warm and serve with tartar sauce if desired.

Shaft Retention Collar

Not many things will ruin your day on the water like losinga propeller shaft.  We once backed down underpower to spin some grass off the props and had one of the shafts slip out ofits coupling.  Thankfully, there was azinc nut on the shaft that kept it under the boat, but it wasn’t in the boat,and there was a large hole in the hull where it was supposed to be.  These types of things are typical fordelivery trips, but not really something you ever want to happen if you canhelp it.

So the Shaft Retention Collar from PYI seemed like cheapinsurance.  And they were easy to put on,even with my ridiculously tight bilges. 
Getting a picture was tough, though. 
There isn’t much room to swing a camera, much less a wrench. 

Shaft Collar

I placed them right up against the couplings so any movementwould be apparent.  If the shaft comesfree, it will slide back until the collar hits the shaft seal.  Ideally I want enough space between thecollar and the shaft seal so the shaft can completely exit the coupling.  This would let the prop freewheel,drastically reducing the pulling force against the collar and letting the helmsmanknow something was wrong. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have that much room.  I will only know if the coupling has failedby making visual checks, or until the collar lets go too, probably making thecollar pointless in my case.  I shouldhave had the shafts through-bolted to the couplings the last time they werepulled, but didn’t think of it.

The shaft seals are new and quite a bit bigger than the oneswe had during the delivery fiasco.  Lookingat the picture above, I suddenly realized that if I do lose another shaft I’m goingto have a hell of a time getting a plug in there.

Going Natural

I recently visited both of my sisters and their new baby girls. My sister in Chicago is on her first go-round and it was fun to see her “ooh” and “aah” over every little yawn and hiccup and remember how miraculous tiny babies are. My sister-in-law in Naples had a little girl about a month after my sister, but she’s number six in her family. She’s no less miraculous, but by now yawns and hiccups are ho-hum. What was fun about that visit was seeing how loved a baby in a big family can be. That little one has learned the “I’m bored, come love me” cry perfectly. She wails loudly and tearlessly for about thirty seconds, or until one of her brothers comes to pay her some attention. I picked her up after hearing this alarming sound when I first arrived, and she quieted immediately. I had a good chuckle, realizing how smart little humans are.

These visits, in addition to my stop in Sarasota to meet with my midwife for a check-up and to hear our baby’s heartbeat, reaffirmed my desire to do this whole baby thing again. The logistics, however, are a bit tricky. Plan A entails bringing the boat back to the Tampa Bay area in March, plugging the boat into a dock and waiting comfortably, near friends and family, for the baby’s arrival. Or, we can do like we did last time, and leave for a “two week’s vacation” and not come back. I guess that would be plan B. People have babies everywhere, right?  We’ve pretty much abandoned plan C, which was to go straight to Panama and have a baby there. That seemed a bit premature. We are eventually headed that direction, but we were planning a leisurely trek through the Caribbean island-hopping before we spend our time there, possibly preparing to go through the Canal.

The biggest hindrance to our happy-go-lucky attitude is our desire to have this baby naturally. People are always suggesting locations where we might find “U.S. style medicine,” but that’s exactly what we are hoping to avoid! Ideally, we would stop a couple months before the baby is due, find a local midwife, have the baby in a birth center or similar location, with as few interventions as possible, and recover at home. The birth center in Sarasota represents the perfect scenario for us, as it is homey, but away from home, close to a hospital if there’s an emergency and completely supportive of a natural, drug-free birth. It’s just a little hard to get to from, say, the Bahamas.

Although the other four children were born in a hospital setting, I always had midwives and always insisted on the nurses leaving me alone as much as admissible—fewer needles, fewer monitors, fewer, or no drugs. I’ve had good experiences, although I come off as a bit of a troublemaker. The average American woman arrives at the hospital, asks for her epidural and promptly falls asleep through the first part of labor. They are docile and need minimal help. The natural mom, on the other hand, requires constant companionship, and can be demanding of time and attention, always wanting to change positions, go for walks, labor in the shower, and so forth. She never just lies there, waiting for a baby to show up. It’s called labor for a reason! Of course, those that opt for a less painful birth may pay a price (and not just financially), since one intervention often leads to another (not to mention the risks of paralysis or spinal headache). An epidural can slow labor, requiring a drug to speed it up again. Sometimes the baby objects to this drug and appears distressed, and suddenly, what was a natural, normal process becomes a medical emergency requiring invasive surgery. The U.S. has abysmal rates of C-section, and also high infant mortality among developed nations, and much of this is due to the medicalization of childbirth. Of course there are lives saved by C-sections, but some are also unnecessarily lost.

What does all of this have to do with a life afloat? It is yet another aspect of a similar theme: we desire to do things thoughtfully, not just be a part of a system, to take responsibility for our lives and health, to be self-sufficient while recognizing our interconnectedness with life on this planet. Everything we do, including raising children, fits into this schema.

How can we make a thoughtful plan, but then ultimately leave the outcome to chance? It requires faith in Providence. We will make the best decision we can based on the variables of which we are aware, but be open to a different approach that may be better than we could have planned. For now, plan A is in motion, but we shall have to wait and see if our path leads that way or to another, as yet unknown plan.

SeaTalk NMEA Bridge

The Raymarine ST 60 Wind instruments can calculate the TrueWind Speed (TWS) and True Wind Angle (TWA) from the apparent wind data (AWS& AWA) and the boat’s speed. 
Unfortunately, they’ll only do this from the speed as measured by apaddlewheel in the water.  This measures theboat's speed through the water and is itself an apparent measurement, as opposed tothe true Speed Over Ground (SOG) that can be obtained from a GPS receiver. 

There is some disagreement among sailors as to whether thetrue or apparent speed should be used for the true wind calculation. 
Frankly, I think those using an apparent speed definition are from oldersources that haven’t fully incorporated the changes that GPS has made tonavigation.  For my boat, I want to usethe SOG in the TWS calculation.  I alsowant to see the SOG displayed on my other Raymarine instruments that are designedfor the paddlewheel.

Opinions true vs. apparent aside, Take Two’s paddlewheel is not accurate and I’vebeen unable to calibrate it.  I think theproblem may be because of water turbulence where it is mounted.  Keeping the paddlewheel in the water all thetime gets it fouled with growth and swapping it in and out with a plug getswater in an otherwise dry bilge.

The solution that works for me is a SeaTalk NMEA Bridgefrom  Its primary purposeis to translate sentences between a standard NMEA instrument network, and Raymarine’sproprietary SeaTalk network.  I don’treally need it for this purpose, but it has a very nice feature to specificallyaddress the speed problem.  When the optionis enabled, the bridge can translate the SOG sentence from the NMEA network intothe SeaTalk sentence from the paddlewheel. 
This effectively tricks the Raymarine instruments into using the GPSspeed. 

I’ve been using it for about a year now and it works well.