Labor Day visit with Cory, Heather, and grandkids

We were boarded this weekend by two swashbuckling pirates.  They had lots of fun! The careful observer will notice the jib sheets coiled and stowed on the rail, and the anchor chain in the water from the bow.  This photo was taken at anchor just before heading to shore for lunch.

Pirates on board!

Pirates on board!

We took the boat down to a local restaurant for lunch, anchored, and took the dinghy in for lunch.  Here are our guests getting ready to go ashore.  Lunch was great, as was the sailing afterwards.  We did manage to go through a rainstorm on the way back, but we still had fun.

Getting ready to go ashore

Getting ready to go ashore


Honey, the genaker ate my pillow!

Orontes II under gennaker

This one requires a little explanation.  First, there is a basic rule in sailing that the stronger the wind, the more you reduce sail area to prevent excess heeling and to keep the boat under control.  Conversely, the lighter the wind, the more sail area you want to spread to keep the boat moving.  For winds under ten knots, we have this big blue and white sail (see photo above) called a “genaker”.  To try and give you an idea of it’s size, imagine someone took a hot air balloon and cut it in half.  Or maybe a third, since it’s not a full half circle.  But no matter, this thing is HUGE.  to keep it under control, a long “sock” of light material slides over the whole sail to turn it into a long cylinder about 65 feet long and maybe a foot in diameter.  It really is like a long, lumpy, uneven, nylon sausage.  Even in sausage form, this sail takes up a lot of room, and is typically stored in a large locker under my side of our berth.  To launch it, we take off the bedding and slide the mattress over to Laura’s side to expose a wooden cover that I can remove to get to the head (the top) of the sail.  We then open a hatch and start hoisting the sail up through the hatch until it is hanging from the top of the mast ready to deploy.

Okay, enough about the genaker for now.  Earlier this week, my project of the day was to continue working on the new holding tank.  The holding tank holds really bad stuff that you don’t want to discharge into the water, and must be pumped out at sewage stations.  Our existing holding tank was small, and would hold perhaps six or seven flushes.  That’s it.  The new one is 20 gallons, and is much larger.  Also, the existing hoses were 25 years old and smell had started to permeate the rubber.  Time to replace these, also.  For obvious reasons, you want the absolute best, odor-proof, sanitation hose you can get.  Good quality sanitation hose costs close to eight dollars a foot, but it is the wrong place to pinch pennies.  This is one application where you want the best money can buy.

In nautical terms,  a “head” can mean the bathroom on a boat, or the potty.  In this instance, I mean the bathroom.  So the head is just aft of our cabin, and the holding tank (both the old one and the replacement) is located forward of our cabin in the pointy part of the bow called the forepeak.  This means the hoses that carry the poo-poo are routed under our berth, through the lockers that are underneath.  Remember why you want really good, odor-proof hoses?  Under our berth are three large lockers.  The middle and largest one is where the genaker is stowed, the forward one contains extra hoses of various types for plumbing projects, and the aft locker contains extra vitamins, and our medications, a seal-a-meal, collapsable luggage, a small fan, and other miscellaneous stuff.

The first task in removing the existing holding tank was to get rid of the old hose.  To do this, we had to empty the hanging locker on my side of the boat, and all three of the lockers under my side of the berth.  PLUS, I needed to check the place where the hose went under the sole in our cabin, so I had to empty the locker under the sole of all the extra line, spare parts, dinghy pumps, and wire that I store down there.

A photograph of an area hard-hit by a tornado never completely conveys the impact of the total devastation that has occurred.  Likewise, no picture I could take really showed the level of disarray in our cabin with all of these lockers emptied.  We had stuff everywhere.  Not just in our cabin, but we had things strewn in the aft head, the aft cabin, the salon, I mean EVERYWHERE. Hanging clothes were stacked on the salon table, boxes were here and there, the mattress was sort of folded in half on Laura’s side, and over it all was this big genaker somehow expanding to fill every spare cubic foot of space of our berth.

The good news is we got the old hoses and the old holding tank removed.  The new hose is a larger diameter than the old, so I need to do a little work before I can install the new hoses.  But by now, it was getting late in the afternoon and I had a friend coming over to help me brainstorm a problem I was having with my new pantry drawers.  (This is a separate story for later, but it came out well).  Also, we had to sleep somewhere that night, and the bed was a wreck.

We spent the next hour putting stuff back in place.  The old hoses and tank were unceremoniously carted off to the dumpster.  I should add that in the five plus years we’ve had the boat, we only used the holding tank for pee-pee, so it wasn’t absolutely foul.  Maybe only a six or seven on the “yeach” scale.

I come back from the dumpster to see Laura just finishing making the bed.  The boat looks pretty good, especially considering the absolute mess we had an hour ago.  Most things were stowed back in place, the floor was clean, and I could see most of the surface of the salon table.

So Laura looks at me and says, “Honey, have you seen my pillow?”

I don’t know if any of you ever lost a pillow from your bed, but this was a first for us.  We looked all over the boat and struck out.  The only places we didn’t look were under the berth in those three lockers.  To get to those would require tearing the bed apart again, and neither of us were up to it.  I think that somehow, while wrestling that genaker back into place, I somehow managed to get it wrapped up with her pillow and stuffed in to the locker.  That’s all I can come up with, anyway.  In the meanwhile, Laura is using a pillow from the salon to sleep on until we can get enough energy to start emptying lockers again.

We will probably work up enough energy to resume this project this week.  I’ll let you know if we find her pillow.

Back to boat work

Laura waxing Orontes 2 on a beautiful Houston morning

Laura waxing Orontes 2 on a beautiful Houston morning.  Look at that shine!

Now that our Captain’s exams are behind us, we can get back to the business of preparing Orontes 2 for cruising.  We are asked all the time if the boat is ready, and if not, why not?  It is hard to imagine what we are doing all this time.  Remember, we sailed the boat 5000 miles to get her to Texas, so she can’t be in TOO bad of shape, right?

Well, most of what we are doing is improvements or upgrades to make her easier to live on.  As an example, we recently added blue LED lighting for the cockpit when entertaining.  These are too bright for use underway, but add ambiance when having friends over for dinner or drinks.  Yesterday, I built a teak rack for the shower to hold soap, shampoo, etc.  Until now, these bottles sat on the floor of the shower, and had to be stowed when we were underway.  With this rack holding everything securely, the bottles can sit there snug as can be while we are sailing.

We are in the process of improving storage by removing the nonworking washer/dryer combo and converting the area to a large pantry.  This area will have three large drawers on heavy duty slides.  The first drawer is sized to fit our Tupperware canisters and will hold lots of dry goods.  The second drawer is just taller than your typical tin can, and it will hold only canned goods.  The third drawer is for screws,  nuts, bolts, and other hardware.  Below this is an area large enough to hold our small vacuum cleaner and my most-commonly used tool bags.  This project will really make it easier to stow (and find!) things.  The best part is that a lot of this stuff is stowed right now in other places, so creating this new storage space will free up other areas on the boat that are full right now.

These are typical projects for us.  The rest of our “to-do” list is full of similar projects.  Some are quick and easy and others not so much so.  We are making good progress and are on track for leaving Houston for Florida during January.  Our actual departure date will , depend on weather.


One step closer to being Captains

Laura and I both studied hard for our exams, and it paid off. We both took exams to be licensed captains and passed.  We took exams for our “six pack license” (allows us to take up to six paying passengers, our Masters upgrade (this will be a 25, 50, or 100 ton license, depending on what the Coast Guard thinks we are entitled to) and an endorsement for Sailing.

In all, it was six exams to take.  We both did well and are very happy to have this milestone completed.  We still need to fulfill the administrative requirements (physical exam, drug test, CPR course, etc.) and then send a big packet of completed forms to the Coast Guard for processing.  So we are still a few months away from being official “captains”.

But the exam is by far the largest of the hurdles, and we are now past it!

Hot in Houston

For those who didn’t already know, July in Houston can be brutal.  It is very hot and muggy, and really cuts down on our ability to do work outside.  Even in the morning it takes about ten minutes of doing anything before I start sweating, and one hour of boat work results in a tee shirt that is totally soaked.

As a result, we have cut back to half days.  We spend the morning working on things for the boat, and then the afternoon is studying for our Coast Guard Masters exam.  This is something we can do in air conditioned comfort.  Laura and I are both taking this exam next Wednesday, August 6.  It is scheduled for four hours and is designed to test us on the knowledge we need to safely captain a vessel up to 100 tons displacement on inland and international waters.  It covers rules of the road, navigation and plotting, seamanship, and safety.  We have both been working on this off and on for the past several months, but this last week has been a major push.  We’re both getting close to being ready and Monday and Tuesday are scheduled as review days, with Wednesday being the exam.  We’re confident we will pass.

A lot of people ask why we need a license from the Coast Guard.  It is a way to have an official agency declare that you have the knowledge to captain a boat safely.  As a result, it gives you a discount on boat insurance.  When we get to Europe, some type of certification of competency is required, and this will fulfill that requirement.  Also, we have both learned a lot from this class, probably more than we expected.  Finally, (and being honest) there is a sense of satisfaction of having passed the exam, and knowing that if someone addresses us as “captain” (which is commonly used out of politeness, especially in foreign countries) that I actually earned that title.

So Wednesday is the testing day.  We should get our results that day so we will know if we made it.  After that, we need to get physicals, drug tests, take a CPR course, and fill out a ton of forms.  Then it becomes a paperwork task to submit all this to the US Coast Guard, and wait for the bundle to be processed.

We will update this with our results.  Wish us luck!