Monthly Archives: July 2011


I have always had a love affair with hammocks. Something about the easy way that they hang invites one to really relax. My parents always had one strung between two trees in the yard or two posts on our back porch—I even slept outside one night, imagining what sailors of old felt like swinging in the dark below-decks. I have happy memories of a certain hammock strung between palm trees in the Florida Keys from a girlhood vacation. Then there was the hammock that hung from Georgia pine trees in the backyard of our first house—I sat with my babies in that hammock and spent many happy hours snuggling and snoozing. So it was with nostalgia and admiration that I sat this past winter in the Bahamas in a hammock chair swinging from a Casuarina tree on Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island. It was a beautiful hammock with a beautiful view.

One day as I sat there chatting with some young folks who had pulled up in their dinghy, I learned that the maker of the hammock was a young woman named Snow, and that she was staying on a sailboat in the anchorage. Later I met Snow and complimented her handiwork. She has a company called The Sailor’s Bed and works in a coastal North Carolina town making and selling her hammocks. It was perfectly logical, then, to order one of her hand-made hammocks to string between the supports of our arch and “hang out” in the breeze above the water.

Sailor's Bed 

The hammock is everything I had hoped for—a relaxing place to sip a glass of wine while the sun sets, or to read and rest on a weekend morning. It is like a little oasis in the middle of the very busy, very noisy household of which I am a part, a one-hour vacation getaway. The joy I get from that hammock is augmented by the fact that I met the weaver—that she, like me, loves sand and sun and water and boats. Like everything else about our lifestyle, so much of what we enjoy has to do with the who and not just the what.


We met Adam in the Bahamas this past winter.  He’s younger, probably mid-twenties, and looks very much at home there.  We’re often asked by older cruisers how we’re able to live this way.  We asked Adam.

He runs crewed charters on his St Francis 44, Rubicon, taking paying guests aboard for weeks at a time.  We see crewed charter boats a lot, but never before with such a young captain.  He caters to a more active clientele, and is probably the source of the kitesurfers that are often buzzing around Elizabeth Harbor on windy days.

We learned that Adam was a cruising kid and sailed around the world with his family.  He looks at home in the Bahamas because he is.  He practically grew up there.  

When someone on an internet forum was looking for a charter captain in the Bahamas, I suggested they contact Adam.  I didn’t expect to hear anything else about it, but then recently received this:
"Your suggestion was excellent. We just returned from a 10 day sail with Adam and had a great experience. He is mechanically astute, a great sailor and a perfect addition to our group. He's now a good friend whom we will see again.  Thanks."  I was strangely pleased, and not just at having provided good advice.

We don’t know what our kids will do with their lives, what skills they will develop, or what loves they will pursue.  We expect them to be different, though.  We’d be proud if any of them turned out like Adam.


The boat directly across from us on the next dock caught fire a couple weeks ago.  We didn’t notice until the fire trucks arrived.  

The fire department keeps a little rescue boat on that dock, and we’d previously seen them rush down and launch it.  We thought that’s what they were going to do when they rolled up this time, but they started unloading hoses instead.  

The kids saw the smoke immediately.  Within a minute we could see flames.  I was too busy watching to get a more dramatic picture.

[flickr: 5970624647]

Fire is the last thing you want on a boat.  They burn fast.  They’re loaded with flammable stuff.  The fumes are toxic.  Even a small fire can damage a boat beyond repair.  Left alone, they burn to the waterline and sink.  That’s the end for the boat, but maybe not the fire.  In a marina the fire can spread.  Maybe there’s a burning fuel slick.  Maybe the docks are made of wood.  Maybe the mast falls on another boat.  Maybe the boat burns through its lines and comes adrift.  Maybe it explodes.

The firefighters unleashed torrents of water on the burning boat.  The fire was coming from down below so they had to get aboard to spray water inside.  The boat’s bilge pump was running non-stop and she was listing visibly.  It took a lot of water to put the fire out.

A man lived on that boat.  His grandson was visiting for the summer.  The man was at work and the kid was aboard watching TV when he smelled smoke.  He got off the boat and called the fire department.  We don’t know how long it was before the trucks arrived, but we assume that the early call saved the boat; “saved” being a relative term, because the insurance company totaled it.  But it didn’t sink, and the fire didn’t spread.

What if the kid hadn’t called?  Add five minutes to that fire and it would have been a totally different situation.  He may have saved more than one boat.  He may have saved ours.

Watching the firefighters crawl around on the burning, listing boat gave me a very bad feeling.  I wasn’t sure if they knew the potential danger.  I recall thinking that I wouldn’t be doing that. 

Boats have things houses don’t: fuel tanks, batteries, flares, propane.  Did they know?  I assume that departments in coastal areas must train for boat fires, but various boats can greatly differ.  Could I walk onto any random boat and locate those items?  Could anyone do that on ours?

Up to this point, we haven’t worried too much about fire safety.  The concern I do have is more for the boat and our home than for ourselves.  I’m confident that anyone over the age of two could escape any conceivable fire scenario.  In that regard the boat is better than most houses.  

If there were a fire, we’d have a small window of opportunity to put it out quickly.  Some sources claim there are only about 30 seconds before heat and smoke force you out.  To that end, we have handheld fire extinguishers placed around the boat.  We have a fire blanket in the galley.  We have automatic halon systems near the engines, inverters, and the generator.  We have a high capacity washdown pump with a 50’ hose.  If that didn’t do it, there wouldn’t be much choice but to stand back and watch her burn.  

The cause of this fire was electrical.  We’ve had our own electrical problems.  We were lucky because a breaker tripped.  Corrosion.  It increases resistance and therefore heat.  Breakers and fuses are sized for the capacity of a wire to carry current without melting, but they have no idea if that wire is corroded or badly connected.  Once the insulation melted, the hot wire found a dead short which blew the breaker and our fire was over before it started.  Must not have happened in this case.

Shutting off the power is obviously the first thing that needs to happen for an electrical fire.  The firefighters unplugged the boat’s shore power cord immediately, but that’s not enough.  Batteries are perfectly capable of starting a fire.  Typically, battery-connected circuits don’t demand enough current to start a fire unless there is a short, and a fuse would put an end to that.  Every wire should have a fuse or breaker on the end nearest the source.  Of course, “should” is often not reality.

Batteries should have disconnect switches.  Our switches are not very accessible, but that was intentional.  They used to be too accessible and the batteries could get turned off accidentally.  Our battery bank is split on either side of the boat, so there is no getting to the switches quickly anyway.  I was already planning to install a single button to control remotely operated battery switches.  It will be located right next to the AC transfer switch.  That will allow a person to quickly disconnect all power from a central location.  

It took the firefighters a long to time to find the boat’s batteries.  We could tell by the steady output from the electric bilge pump.  It had gotten much of the water out, and the boat was listing less.  She was still steaming, but the firefighters were satisfied that the fire was out.  They collected their gear and left.  

They had tried to contact the owner at work, but were unsuccessful.  Hopefully he received their messages and was somewhat warned before he returned home to his smoking wreck.  The reek of burned plastic could still be smelled a hundred yards away for days afterward.

Upon reflection, I really don’t think there is much additional fire preparation that is worth doing.  Take Two is about as well-protected as I think she practically can be.  Perhaps an extra smoke detector near the inverters would be a good idea.  There’s still some dodgy wiring that needs to be redone (and will be).  But everything has to be put in proper perspective.  The wiring could be perfect and a lightning strike could still start a fire.  All our preparations would be for naught if we’re not aboard to employ them.  And even the fire department can only do so much.


I've learned that an automatic fire suppression system shouldn't be used in a diesel engine room without pairing it to an automatic shutdown.  1) The engine keeps running, 2) the chemicals can damage the engine, and 3) the running engine sucks out any gas (halon) before it can put out the fire.

Homeschool Lessons

Summer school is in session, and here, in brief, are some of the lessons learned recently—not only, I might add, by the children, but the adults as well.

#1: Sailing is fun when the wind is blowing and you’ve got a small boat all to yourself. The three older kids did sailing school in Optimist Prams at the Bradenton Yacht Club for a couple of weeks this summer. The weather was mostly un-cooperative, but there were a few good days and, as Eli said, “It was excellent.”

#2: “You are not Gumby.” These words came out of the smart mouth of my nine-year-old son, and they couldn’t have been truer. When he was four—the magical age when the line between fantasy and reality is perilously thin—he had run full speed ahead into a solid wall, hoping, like Gumby, to pass right through. We had a good chuckle as we explained to him that he was not made of clay. I had just finished saying that I was “hitting a wall” around four o’clock each day and I didn’t know what to do about it when I got my advice thrown back at me. This time the joke was on me—I think I’ve been trying to do too much. I did just have a baby…so we’ve gone back to basics and I’m doing better.

#3: Snorkeling for starfish is more fun than writing about them. The kids are finishing up science for the year by writing a book on natural history of the Bahamas. This is our summer project, and they are finding a daily writing regimen to be a bit challenging. I am pleased with the results, however, as they are using complex sentence structure and high-school vocabulary—without being prompted. We may educate these children yet.

#4: It’s hard to be grumpy when there’s a cute baby smiling at you. We all feel happy when Rachel is cooing and smiling at us. She’s the center of our lives at the moment.

#5 Knives are sharp and should not be played with. Sam’s bleeding thumb taught him this lesson after he picked up Aaron’s pocket-knife from where I had put it after taking it away from him during school. Hopefully he won’t have to learn that one twice.

#6 You don't have to catch anything to have fun fishing. Jay took the kids in two dinghies (older boys in one, Jay and Sarah and Sam in the other) for a little afternoon fishing expedition. Sam can successfully cast and reel using a spinning reel now, and Sarah caught a little lady fish. Everyone came home beaming, but empty-handed. That’s why it’s called “fishing” and not “catching.” Maybe someday we’ll get good at it, but at least we’re having fun, and bait isn’t too pricey.

#7 Love is not crabby. Sam came home with a craft he had made at his friend’s Vacation Bible School (it was bring-a-friend day). It was a felt crab holding onto a seashell that said, “Love is not crabby.” Oh, why didn’t I read that message earlier in the day? It was a lesson I needed with Jay out working and me trying to take care of the needs of five children. Just a little more tenderness would do me good. I guess we all have something left to learn. There’s no school like the home-school!

New Catwalk

No posts in awhile, but we’re making steady progress here on Take Two.  The latest finished project is the installation of our new catwalk.  The last one, you may recall, exploded under the strain of waves we took over the bow in boisterous conditions.  I didn’t share these pictures before because the wounds were too fresh.

[flickr: 5908795808]

Can you spot what's missing in that picture?  Apparently the weave of our trampoline nets is too close and doesn’t allow water to drain through fast enough for the amount that was landing on them.  The weather was on our starboard side, and the weight of the water coming over the starboard bow and onto the net caused the bottom and starboard side of the catwalk to separate.

The old catwalk was essentially a box, hardwood sides and ends, plywood top and bottom, painted on the outside and epoxied on the inside, with a teak surface laid on top.  Despite being hollow inside, the thing was heavy, which I didn’t fully realize until trying to haul it out of the water.  And despite the paint and epoxy, there was some rot in the top along the starboard side.  This rot undoubtedly contributed to the old catwalk’s failure.

[flickr: 5908238475]

Although the catwalk broke, the laces attaching it to the trampoline net did not.  The broken sections fell in the water and were dragged under the boat, becoming a bludgeon that pounded our underside.  I have no idea how much time passed between when the catwalk broke and we discovered it.  It is a good indication of just how much noise there is in a storm that we couldn’t hear the punishment we were receiving below.

[flickr: 5908238919]

It's hard to get a good picture down there that really shows the damage.  I've taken many, but chose to go with one that had pretty water.  If you can see it, none of that damage is serious and most of it just needs to be faired and painted.  The paint color under the bridgedeck is interesting.  Originally it was a cream color, like the decks.  They painted over the cream with a dayglo orange.  Apparently someone was concerned about the boat laying upside down in the middle of an ocean.  Over the orange, they painted red.  Unfortunately the orange didn't stick very well, which might have been the reason for the red, but it didn't really work.  The whole thing needs to be repainted, which will not be a fun job.  Cosmetic items are pretty low on our priority list and nobody even sees that area.

But the catwalk was a high priority.  The catwalk’s primary purpose is to resist compression between the forward crossbeam and the bridgedeck.  The mast pulls up and aft on the crossbeam.  The pelican striker opposes the upward pull, and the catwalk opposes the aft pull.  So it is structural from the designer's standpoint.  The secondary function is a solid platform to walk on when dealing with the anchor.  Operating the boat is tricky without it, so replacing the catwalk was a "must" before we start using the boat again.

[flickr: 5908792536]

Whenever something fails on Take Two, we see it as an opportunity to make the thing better, and the new catwalk was designed to correct the flaws of the previous one.  It has solid sides and ends like the old catwalk, but there are several cross members mortise and tenoned into the sides, strengthening it in the dimension that the old one broke.  Thin slats rest on these cross members to make the top.  There is no bottom.  It weighs maybe 25 pounds, while the old one was probably around 75.  Extra weight on the bow can be put to better use in a larger anchor.

The open bottom means there are no hidden places where rot and weakness can fester.  It also allows the slatted top, which is good for washing off the muck and weed that often comes up on the chain.  Both reduce weight.  But the slats are thin and not strong enough without additional support.  The cross members provide this support, and also help resist side loads from the nets.  We don’t have a chain stopper and couldn't figure out how to do it before.  If we wanted to add one now it could be bolted through one of those cross members.

[flickr: 5908795364]

Teak was chosen for its rot resistance and light weight.  We generally do not like teak on our boat, as we have no desire to maintain it.  However, we did not mind the raw teak surface on the old catwalk and felt it stood up well to the anchor chain running over it.  We briefly considered fiberglass but decided that was a loser on cost, weight, and resisting abrasion from the chain.  

Like most projects, the new catwalk opened the door for making other changes, and we were never quite satisfied with the way the trampoline nets were attached.  They used to be double laced through stamped eyestraps screwed into the catwalk and rest of the boat.  We had repeated problems with chafe on the lacing lines which required us to replace them about twice a year.  And the eyestraps sawing through the lacing was very loud inside the boat; like a big violin.  

[flickr: 5908791004]

We contacted Sunrise Yacht Products, the company that made our nets, and they recommended a perpendicular lacing pattern which allows less movement, and a track and slide attachment to the boat instead of the eyestraps.  They sell track, slides, and lacing for this purpose.

The track appears to be specially made and I could find no other source for it.  It is like awning track, but has a much heavier wall thickness.  It comes in two different extrusions for attachment to surfaces perpendicular or parallel to the load.  The slides are made by Bainbridge and can be found cheaper online, but Sunrise customizes them by bending the bail to keep the laces centered.  The line they sell for laces is a ¼” polyester double-braid.  

[flickr: 5908236617]

We found we could get much better tension on the nets with the new lacing pattern, and we’re very pleased with how the new arrangement looks and feels.  Unfortunately the teak won’t remain bright and pretty for long.  It will weather to a dull gray color unless we maintain it, which we won’t.

The nets themselves were undamaged in our little incident, and are possibly indestructible.  Despite the drainage problem, we really like them and we’re not planning to replace them anytime soon.  We will however try to avoid dumping that much water on them again.  If necessary, I’ll cut the laces next time rather than risk damage.