Has It Been Six Months Already?

I’m a reflector. Six months in and I’ve had some time to reflect on this liveaboard thing. We’ve figured a few things out. We’ve screwed a few things up. We’ve gotten a few things done.  We’ve missed a few things…other than family and friends, of course. Lots of other liveaboards have shared their lists about how living on a boat is different. Here’s mine…

  • We have not dropped anything of significant value overboard.  We do not consider the two orbital sander dust bags that I dropped and the jellyfish-filled strainer that Steve dropped to have significant value.
  • I have not gotten sunburned or seasick.
  • I have not been hungover…at least not real hungover.
  • We have only had to row the dinghy once.
  • We have only had to have the dinghy towed once.  Steve says the tow was not necessary.  He could have gotten the engine running but since Young Son was right there, it was just easier to get towed.
  • FNR has not been rowed or towed.
  • Steve does a mean grilled chicken.  He grills a quarter chicken breast (bone in and skin on) for about an hour while slathering it with George’s BBQ sauce.  George’s BBQ sauce is made in Nashville, NC and is not distributed nationally.  I miss George’s BBQ sauce.
  • Just because you see a cockroach or two (or three) on your boat doesn’t mean your boat is dirty.
  • Boric acid kills a cockroach or two (or three).
  • We need to add a line item to the budget for K.O. Kills Odors and C.P. Cleans Potties.
  • I need to take more pictures.
  • If you have a port and starboard something that you need to label so you can tell them apart and you put a “P” on one, you really don’t have to put an “S” on the other.
  • No one notices or cares if you wear the same clothes three days in a row.
  • I brought too many clothes onboard.
  • I can’t tell you what day it is if I don’t have my watch on.
  • Being able to make your own ice is a luxury.  Being able to make 3 trays at a time means you can have a party!
  • If duct tape can’t fix it, then a zip tie can.
  • Boat projects are what keep you from getting other boat projects completed.
  • I can cook a casserole in my galley oven.
  • My most popular Google search?  One pot meals.
  • If you’re dirty enough, you’ll shower anywhere.
  • The only time you set an alarm is when you want to make the early bridge opening.
  • I haven’t met a cruiser I didn’t like.  What’s even more amazing is neither has Steve.
  • It’s hard to learn to sail when you motor 95% of the time.
  • It’s even harder to learn to sail when you’re a Dock Queen.
  • You never, ever, ever, ever get tired of having a drink in the cockpit and watching the sun set.

Living on FNR is not glamourous, but it certainly isn’t dull. It is not always fun and games, but it’s usually fulfilling.  It is definitely not what I thought it would be but it’s everything I hoped for.  Yes, we’re six months in and it’s Zen on a Boat.

Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

We thought we’d be in Oriental today. We’re not, but more on that later.

Day 1…We could not have picked a better day to leave Solomons. Light winds, calm water, partly sunny skies…a beautiful day on the water. No sailing but that’s to be expected 95% of the time.

Lazy, hazy day on the Chesapeake
Lazy, hazy day on the Chesapeake

Anchor is down in Little Bay by 6:15, a little later than Steve’s goal of 5:00 but that, too, is to be expected 95% of the time. We could not have picked a better anchorage. A cool breeze, calm water, starry sky….a beautiful night on the anchor. Days like this are why cruisers cruise.

Days like this are why cruisers cruise

Day 2…Motoring to Norfolk today. Another perfect day until we hit the Elizabeth River. Winds and traffic pick up. We pass a container ship in a narrow part of the river. We’re a good 3 to 4 hundred yards away but that ship is throwing off a giant wake. Steve warns me as he points FNR’s bow hoping to take the wake head on. We come off the first wave, smack into the bottom of the next one and scoop half the Elizabeth River onto our bow. Water is gushing off the stern but neither of us are wet. Steve and FNR handled that little exercise quite well. I am sitting in the companionway and look down below. The hatch in the salon is open but, thankfully, the salon is dry. There is a little water in the passageway outside the head so I go down to clean it up.

Uh oh. The hatch in the head is open and it takes a couple of towels to wipe up all that water. I am so glad I closed the v-berth hatch earlier when the water started getting choppy. There’s a little water on the floor in the v-berth so I get on my hands and knees to wipe that up.

Huh? What’s that dripping on my head? I look up and water is dripping off our quilt. OMG…our v-berth is soaked. Saturated. Could not be any wetter. Yeah, I closed the v-berth hatch but I didn’t dog it down. Guess you can’t take waves like we took and expect a hatch to stay closed.

I pull the bedding off and take it out to the cockpit. We anchor in the harbor between the Naval Medical Center and Tidewater Yacht Marina. We hang sheets everywhere hoping they will dry some. It’s windy. It’s humid. There’s a lot of traffic on the river. We sleep on yoga mats under towels. Days like this make this cruiser wonder why she’s cruising.

Sheets, sheets everywhere!!
Norfolk is one busy place.

Day 3…It’s a quick motor to Top Rack Marina in Chesapeake.  We wash the sheets. We take advantage of their spend $75 at the restaurant and get free dockage deal. Clean, dry sheets, good meal and free dockage. Cruising at its finest.

Day 4…We want to take the Virginia Cut south to the Alligator River but since the winds are picking up, we opt for the Dismal Swamp route. It’s a peaceful night on the Welcome Center docks.

We’re doing the Dismal!
Do you think they have a problem with duckweed
Duckweed, duckweed everywhere!!
Shit happens…

Day 5…We’re the only boat in the South Mills Lock. We make our way through the narrow, twisty and tree-lined headwaters of the Pasquotank. Steve hails a northbound sailboat on the VHF radio to tell him about the deadhead log we just hit but gets no response. Just as we’re about to pass one another, the other boat’s stern swings out into the river. Instinct kicks in, Steve veers to the right creating a downpour of pine cones and acorns. Masts and trees do not play well together. A quick glance up the mast reveals no apparent damage. The other sailboat didn’t fare so well. Her mast is stuck in the treetops. Our offer to help is declined. The First Mate shrugs her shoulders and yells “Shit happens” as the Captain gets in the dinghy to presumably push the boat out of the trees.

The water gets choppier once the river opens up. As we approach the Elizabeth City Highway Bridge, it’s obvious that it’s going to be a rough night on the city’s docks so we turn around and pull into Lamb’s Marina.

Days 6, 7, and 8…With an area of low pressure sitting off the Carolina coast giving us unsettled weather and windy conditions into early next week, we are holed up in Lamb’s. Steve says crossing the shallow Albemarle Sound and navigating the doglegged entrance into the Alligator River will be “uncomfortable”. Staying at Lamb’s when we really want to be in Oriental is challenging. We don’t HAVE to be in Oriental. We just WANT to be there. We look at the weather forecast several times a day and remind ourselves of our promise to not intentionally travel in uncomfortable conditions. We wonder how many times we have to say “It’s the journey, not the destination” before we start to believe it.

But we are staying put. Why? It’s not because we’re not antsy. It’s because in this little harbor, when the wind blows from the northeast, the water is blown out into the river and the water level drops. And when the water drops 2 feet, we end up in the mud. Yep, FNR has dug her keel in and we are staying put…literally.

Ruh-roh. Is that FNR’s bow I see?

Day 9…Steve gets up early. He is finally able to winch FNR out of the mud but with winds at 15 – 20 and gusts to 25, we are staying put. I ask Steve if he’d make the crossing if I wasn’t onboard. He said he would, that crossing in these conditions is not unsafe, it’s just uncomfortable. I think about that for a bit. Steve wants me to be comfortable. He’s ready to go, but he’s giving me time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This staying put is a lot harder for Steve than it is for me. With the weather forecast calling for unsettled weather through the weekend, we are staying put a couple more days. But after that, I’m all in. I am ready to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Sayonara Solomons!

The heat has broken!! With highs in the low 80’s and lows in the low 60’s, it’s time to head south. We’re making our way back to Oriental for a month-long family and friends fix. Then, we are Florida-bound. Really.  We really, really are.

We’ve spent the last couple of days preparing for the trip. It’s funny how motivating the thought of being on the water 5 or so days can be.

Charts studied and waypoints programmed.

GPS antenna mounted on stern rail. Our chartplotter is mounted down below and sometimes loses its GPS signal.

Diver hired to clean the bottom of the boat.

Propane tanks full. Water tanks topped off. Generators fired up.

Residual jellyfish guts flushed from strainer and bilge.

Clothes are washed. Sheets are clean and joy, joy back on the V-berth.

Meals are planned. Groceries are purchased. I even bought some ground coffee because the pump on the Keurig has been making weird noises. We have a percolator but we haven’t used it yet. I am waiting for Steve to brew a pot of coffee and he is waiting for me to brew one. My guess is we will be both be trying to brew one when the Keurig finally goes kaput.

We really need to figure out how to use this thing...
We really need to figure out how to use this thing…
Car gassed and returned to Young Son. We like having a car. We know we need to get over like having a car but if one is available, we are taking advantage of it.

Last yoga class attended. I wish I could say that I have an at-home practice, but I can’t. I do a couple of sun salutations every once in a while but I’m a yoga studio kind of girl.

That's me in the middle.
That’s me in the middle.
We enjoyed our stay in Solomons. It was especially nice visiting with Young Son. Since he’s the only one of our kids who doesn’t live in NC, we don’t normally get to see him that often.

We met lots of nice people. Dockmaster John takes pride in his docks and looks out for his slip holders. Cindy and Glenn are on their house boat a lot. A granddaughter who visits often and their sweet dog Scrappy are sure-fire cures for a little homesickness.

Then, there’s Jake, the almost-retired navy pilot, who is throwing off his bow lines on November 4 and has a 5-year plan to cross two oceans.

And, we can’t forget Ken, the 78-year-old forever bachelor who has cruised on his boat since retiring at age 42. He’s an engineer who obviously did very well in Detroit back in their car-making days. Ken has been in Solomons for the past two years. He says he missed snow but now he doesn’t. He’s heading to Florida in November.

We’re underway by 9:00. Hope to have anchor down in Little Bay by 5:00.

Sayonara Solomons! We’re off to see more of this watery world!

I Got Nothing for My Birthday

My side of the family makes a bigger deal of birthdays than Steve’s. On my side, if it’s your birthday, you get a birthday dinner at the restaurant of your choice with Grammie’s Brownie Trifle and Aunt Lila’s Tiger Butter for dessert. And, of course, you get a present…or two!! On Steve’s side, if it’s your birthday, you get a phone call or a text message or maybe a Facebook post.

Now that my kids are adults with very busy adult lives, it’s hard for all of us to get together and celebrate so we’re transitioning to the “you get a phone call” way of celebrating.

Still, Steve knows that birthdays are kind of a big deal to me and with my birthday approaching, he broaches the subject.

S: You have a birthday coming up.

M: Uh huh.

S: I know you like presents and I know you like me to surprise you, but, you know, I can’t do that this year. I can’t go shopping and I can’t spend money without you knowing it.

M: True. True.

S: So, what would you like for your birthday? You’ve mentioned wanting a Fitbit. You haven’t had a massage in a while. Do you want to go out for dinner?

M: Aww….that’s sweet of you to offer, but I don’t know what I want. Can I think about it?

S: Certainly!

A few days later, the subject comes up again.

M: What would you say if I told you I wanted one of those fiberglass propane tanks? You know, the ones that don’t rust.

S: I’d say it’s your birthday.

M: Well, I’m still thinking.

More time passes. I mention taking a day trip to D.C. Steve jumps all over that.

S: We can do that for your birthday!

M: I don’t want a trip to D.C. for my birthday.  It’s something we’d both enjoy.

JSYK…Labor Day is a great day to go to D.C. Traffic isn’t bad and it’s not crazy crowded. We walk from one end of the Mall to the other visiting monuments, museums and gardens. Politics aside, a trip to D.C. is a walk down our country’s memory lane. A humbling way to spend the day.

Steve wakes up the next day not feeling well. He spends most of the morning in bed. Once up, he complains about it being hot.

I just figure the A/C is having trouble keeping up in this 90° heat but a quick glance at the thermostat shows that it’s 80° inside. Uh oh. Something’s not right.

The compressor is cycling on and off but it’s not reaching the set point. We do a factory reset. We clean the air filter. We clean the raw water intake strainer. We turn the unit off for a bit in case it’s iced up.

I’ve said it before…Steve’s the handiest man I know, but HVAC is not his strong suit. Still, he wants to look at the compressor. Oh, God. It’s under the V-berth. The mattress has to come off. Can it get any worse?

Of course, it can.

The compressor is installed behind the holding tank.

M: Whaaattt? We have to take the holding tank out????

S: Either that or we have to cut out a piece of fiberglass. We should have done that when the A/C was originally installed but we had so many other projects to do that I just never got around to it.

Steve knows what I am about to say because I’ve said it before…cutting fiberglass is messy. Fiberglass dust gets everywhere and you clean it up forever.

S: How about you vacuum while I cut? That will help with the mess.

Great idea.

Hole cut.  No obvious problem with the compressor.

Just another hole in our boat....
Just another hole in FNR….

We call Cruisair. They say it’s probably a thermal overload switch and we gotta call our nearest Cruisair dealer. Luckily, this is the “slow” time of year and they’ll send someone over first thing in the morning.

Guess that means I have to make the bed. I’ve said it before….putting the sheets back on our v-shaped mattress in a space with only about 25” of head clearance and zero wall clearance is NOT my favorite thing to do. Can it get any worse?

Of course, it can.

It’s now 90° inside the boat and I have to put the sheets back on our v-shaped mattress in a space with only about 25” of head clearance and zero wall clearance.

Once the sun sets, it cools down nicely. That means Steve doesn’t have to pay for a night’s stay in the Holiday Inn which BTW he says he will do without getting a case of the tight-ass since it is my birthday.

We’re up at 6:30, taking the mattress back off and opening up the access to the compressor so the service tech can get right to work when he gets here.  Steve tells the guy what Cruisair said and the problem is promptly diagnosed.  The tech has to go get the part, but he’s back in a couple of hours.  Switch is replaced, compressor stays on, and the boat quickly starts to cool down.  Before leaving, the tech suggests that we back flush the water lines since there’s a lot of silt in the water here and flushing them prevents sediment from building up in the lines and coils.

Makes sense. It’s a little tricky getting the water lines off and getting the drain hoses on but we manage it without spraying water everywhere. We flush quite a bit of gook out so it was a good suggestion. So, can it get any worse?

Of course, it can.

Once flushed, I notice Steve holding a water line in his hand looking quite perplexed.

M: What’s wrong?

S: This hose came off the inlet valve but it’s actually the water discharge hose.

M: Huh?

S:  The lines were hooked up backwards.  The water coming into the boat was hooked up here.  (Pointing to a sticker on the compressor clearly labeled WATER OUTLET.)  And, the water going overboard is hooked up here.  (Pointing to a sticker on the compressor clearly labeled WATER INLET.)

Clearly labeled….starboard in, port out.

M:  That’s not good.

S:  I don’t think it’s that big of a deal but Cruisair labeled these lines this way for a reason.

We call Cruisair again.  Steve understands what they say.  Something about the hottest gas mixing with the coldest water and that it really only matters in extreme conditions.

M:  Why do you think it wasn’t hooked up right to start with?

S:  Probably because the water line that is supposed to be hooked up to the discharge through hull fitting isn’t long enough to reach the water outlet.  It’s not that big of a deal to hook the lines up correctly.  Just a little annoying to get in there and do it.

M:  Well, we might as well do it right while we’re in this deep.

We might as well do it right while we’re in this deep...
It’s a little annoying to get in there and do it but we might as well do it right while we’re in this deep…

Later that evening, Steve looks at me and apologizes.

M:  What are you sorry for?

S:  The last two days couldn’t have been any worse and you got nothing for your birthday.

M:  So our A/C broke.  Life isn’t perfect but it’s pretty darn good.  We are retired, doing what we want to do when we want to do it.  We are happy, healthy and loved.  As far as I’m concerned, I got everything for my birthday.

Flawless Refrigeration Installations

So how’d the refrigeration install go?

I’m so glad you asked and I am thrilled to report that Installation #1 went surprisingly well.  It took us all day and there was a lot of getting in and out of tight spaces, but the only snafu we ran into was having to drill mounting holes in the bottom of the evaporator bin so that, once mounted, the lid opened down instead of up.

That's awkward.
That’s awkward.
We can fix this.
We can fix this.
Much better!!
Much better!!

Initially, I’m thinking I am not going to have anything to blog about.  But you’re reading a blog called Flawless Refrigeration Installations so, clearly, I am mistaken.

After the almost flawless Installation #1, we have to get used to NOT getting ice every day. We go from filling a 2 ½ gallon Ziploc bag on a daily basis to filling a gallon Ziploc bag every other day or so. We didn’t realize it but the old refrigerator needed that big bag of ice to keep things cold. With the new refrigerator, our drinks are the only things that need ice. Since the evaporator bin doubles as a freezer, we can make our own ice but we haven’t gotten around to that yet. It’s just easier to walk up to the Holiday Inn and fill up our gallon Ziploc bag. Side note…you know you’re retired when you haven’t gotten around to filling up ice trays and putting them in your new evaporator bin freezer.

Another side note…since the Ziploc ice bag goes in the evaporator bin freezer and the bin is mounted toward the top of the box, there is MORE room in the actual refrigerator part of the box. I’m not buying more food though. I plan a weeks’ worth of menus and buy a weeks’ worth of food at a time. The extra room makes it easier to organize all of that food. I now have a fridge bin for condiments, one for fruits and veggies and one for meats and cheeses. Yep, in our new refrigerator, there’s a place for everything and room for everything to be in its place!

A few days after Installation #1, I am making coffee and notice that the countertop is wet.

M: Hmmmm, the Keurig must be leaking.

S: Why do you say that?

M: The countertop is wet. Will you please hand me a towel?

M (wiping the countertop): Hmmmm, this countertop is really cold.

M (pushing down on the refrigerator doors):  Hmmmm, the doors are closed. Why do you think the countertop is so cold?

S: I think it’s because the evaporator bin is too close to the underside of the counter. It’s cooling the counter all the way through and since it’s warmer out here, condensation is forming on the countertop.

M: Why did you mount the evaporator bin so close to the underside of the counter?

S: I wondered if this would be an issue but I mounted it the way the manufacturer recommended. The manufacturer probably assumes that your box is adequately insulated. Obviously, our box is not. I also mounted it that way to give you as much room in the box as possible.

M: So, we’re just going to have to wipe the countertop when it gets wet?

S: Yeah, we’ll have to keep it dry. Otherwise, the counter could rot and we might have problems with mildew.  I guess we could try adding some insulation to the box.

MILDEW???  We can’t get to Lowe’s fast enough. Steve un-mounts the evaporator bin, attaches some foam board insulation to the top of the box and remounts the evaporator bin.  Flawless Installation #2.

No more wet countertop, but the box is not cooling the way it should be.  We’re back to needing to put ice in the box to keep things cold.  Steve thinks it’s because the insulation is pushing the capillary sensing tubing up against the evaporator bin resulting in an erratic cooling cycle.

So…Steve un-mounts the evaporator bin AGAIN, relocates the capillary sensing tubing and remounts the evaporator bin AGAIN.  While he’s in there, he repositions the fan that circulates the air so that the air flows directly across the top of the evaporator bin.  Flawless Installation #3.

That thermometer is reading 39 ℉. Wikipedia says the optimum temperature range for perishable food storage is 37 to 41 °F.  Third time’s a charm!!

Oh, refrigeration installs.  As easy as one, two, three…