Boat Bits: Port Visors

In the same way that suburbanites compare their homes to their neighbors’, as cruisers, we’re always looking to other boats for ideas, inspiration and – for those that are way out of our league – some insight into how “the other half” lives.

As a result, we’ve acquired a good many useful items on Hideaway that we would never have known existed if it weren’t for meeting other cruisers. Like our Coleman Propane Camping Heater, which got us through more cold nights on the ICW than I’d like to count, and our Honda eu2000i generator, which turns out is a cruiser’s must-have, as it’s been essential for keeping our batteries topped up at anchor.

So when we saw our friend Brad installing some handy-looking plastic visors over his cabin portholes back in Vero Beach, we just had to ask him where he got them. We’d been having some trouble keeping Hideaway ventilated when it rained, so these doo-dads looked like they might come in handy in the hot, rainy tropics.

Our Port Visors were bought online at Seaworthy Goods and we’ve been carting them around with us since we left Vero Beach, waiting for a time when we weren’t tackling so many big boat jobs at once to install them. And since we’re hanging out in Bimini with very little boat work to do while we wait for our new heat exchanger to arrive, I thought I’d get this little project out of the way before lunch so I could at least feel like I earned my Gombay Smashes at Friday Happy Hour.

What’s so great about these Port Visors?

  • If you forget to close your portholes, your boat won’t get wet! (We’re always forgetting to close them).
  • Ventilation is key in hot weather. Yet when it rains, we find ourselves having to shut the boat up to keep the water out. Now, with these Port Visors we can have rain cover and ventilation!
  • They provide shade from the sun so the boat stays relatively cool.
  • They look great! At least I think they do. But we don’t have those fancy metal portholes I often envy on other boats, so I was happy to cover up our plastic ones.

And, as an added bonus, the company is owned and run by two monumental sweethearts, Robert and Paula Biles. Just have a look at the lovely note they included with our receipt. These guys understand customer service, that’s for sure.

So now that that job’s out of the way, it’s time to hit the beach! I know, it’s a tough life.

P.S. – If you ever see us lurking around your sailboat/motorboat/catamaran, it’s probably because you have something interesting on your boat that we’re dying to ask you about. Not because we’re creepy. Well, maybe it’s both.

seaworthy goods port visors

Thank-you note from the owner of Seaworthy Goods.

hideaway port visor installation

Port Visors come with adhesive strips, so they simply stick on (and hopefully stay).

hideaway sailing blog installing port visors

Putting extra pressure on the adhesive joints to make sure they REALLY stick.

Photo Essay: North Bimini Bahamas

As we take apart our engine on the beautiful island of Bimini Bahamas, I remember that cruising is defined as “working on your boat in exotic ports.” But, for us, it could also be defined as “enjoying exotic ports while waiting for marine parts to arrive.”

It turns out, having arrived to Bimini Bahamas despite our engine troubles back in Fort Lauderdale, that our engine really does have a problem. And it turns out that the neighbor we ignored back in Fort Lauderdale (you know, the one who was telling us our heat exchanger was bad while swilling his wine?) Well, he was actually right. Our heat exchanger is bad. We just weren’t ready to hear it while our engine appeared to be working fine.

But the good news is that we located our exact heat exchanger at Jerry’s Marine in Fort Lauderdale for $300 and we’re able to get a local Bahamian airline to cargo ship the part to us on Monday for a mere $25.

We’ll be posting more on our engine shortly, but as we don’t have a heat exchanger in hand yet to install, and since we’re happily stuck here in Bimini, there is nothing left to do, really, but run and cycle around the island, go snorkeling, lay on the beach, have barbecues, eat fresh conch salad and drink rum cocktails. Tomorrow we may even do something really strenuous, like go fishing.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Don’t tell Ryan, but I’m actually thinking that if we’re lucky, maybe that part will arrive late. Like on Tuesday or Wednesday. Think of all the not-working-on-boat-repairs I could do until then!

For now, though, here’s a little photo essay of the tiny island of North Bimini…

conch by the sea bimini

Conch pile behind Joe’s Conch Shack, Alice Town.

Joe's conch shack bimini

Must come back here for some conch salad.

alice town bimini

The colorful walk into Alice Town, Bimini.

turf to surf bimini bahamas

We found that blue Bahamas water everyone raves about.

boat run aground bimini

This Florida boat didn’t fare so well getting in the channel.

turf to surf sailing blog

The conch and lobster salad is to die for!

north bimini beach turf to surf

We cycled to the top of North Bimini and had this beach all to ourselves.

north bimini beach bar

…and this beach bar

bimini beach bar rum

“Something with rum, then?”

rum cocktails bimini beach

“Yes, please, I’ll have another.”

tasha turf to surf bimini beach

Just hangin’ out on a secluded beach with some conch.

post-line-divide

To see more photos of Bimini, visit the Bimini Bahamas Photo Album on our Facebook Page.

Sailing Video: Hideaway’s Bahamas Passage

I’ve mentioned before that our tiny little Go Pro Hero 3 video camera blows my mind. But the truth is, I don’t really know how to use this amazing piece of technology for all it’s capable of.

We all have to start somewhere, though. So experimenting with video footage on iMovie with a big glass of wine at the ready (for troubleshooting purposes) was my job for the evening.

The result is this little sailing video of our Gulf Stream crossing and Hideaway’s first landfall. I may not be the next Sofia Coppola but, hey, give a gal some time!

Gulf Stream Crossing to Bahamas Turf to Surf Sailing from Tasha Hacker (Turf to Surf) on Vimeo.

Music: “Glory Box” by Portishead

Passage to the Bahamas: Take two

“It sounds like you killed your heat exchanger. You’re probably chucking coolant straight out your boat. You’re gonna need a new one,” was the unrequested diagnosis from a stranger standing on the foredeck of a neighboring boat with an over-flowing goblet of Chardonnay in his hand.

“Yep. He knows his engines,” his wife said, nodding.

Ryan and I didn’t ask anyone for their opinion, but we seemed to attract a few while we talked through our mechanical diagnoses on deck, analyzing why the engine might be over-heating while idle.

We figured the problem had to be related to the heat exchanger since I’d just replaced the zinc and drained the coolant the day before. But we’d replaced the coolant and didn’t appear to be losing any coolant now. So we were a little puzzled. In six years, our engine only ever over-heated once. And that was because we’d sucked some reeds up through our intake in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

“Shit. A new heat exchanger? Does that mean we can’t leave?” I asked.

Ryan shook his head, ignoring our neighbors, and said, “We probably just need to bleed the system since we changed the coolant.”

“You shouldn’t need to bleed the coolant,” piped our neighbor again. “Whaddya got there? A gas engine?”

Normally, we like chatting to other cruisers, and we welcome advice from handy boaters when we’re doing repairs. But Ryan was looking up at me from the engine compartment with daggers in his eyes. It was the look of a man determined to cross the Gulf Stream in T minus five hours and he wasn’t in the mood for any negativity. Least of all from a stranger who’d never seen our engine and hadn’t been invited over to help.

According to the weather gribs we’d been studying, a 24-hour weather window of 3-5 knot northerly winds had opened up and we planned to ride those glassy seas all the way to Bimini without turning back this time. But to do that, we needed to know our engine was fully functioning and that we weren’t going to find a puddle of hot water on the floor.

Thankfully, after a few more engine starts, the temperature dropped and the coolant and heat exchanger seemed to be doing their jobs again. So, we sighed with relief and said good-night to our neighbors before they could say anything more to upset Ryan.

“We’re off to the Bahamas!” I exclaimed, and high-fived a happier, more relaxed-looking captain.

And that we were.

Once out of Fort Everglades inlet, we were relieved to find that, unlike the washing machine of waves and wind we experienced when we went out three days earlier, this time we had a northerly breeze of 5 knots and calm, flat seas for the first few miles out of Fort Lauderdale at 2:45 am. Exactly as predicted. So we motor-sailed towards Bimini at 6 knots and set a course for 148 degrees, as recommended by Skipper Bob to compensate for being pushed north by the Gulf Stream‘s 5-knot flow.

We’d agreed to check the engine an hour into our journey, and as long as we weren’t leaking water, we’d carry on. We still weren’t completely sure we knew what happened to the engine during our last passage attempt, but the problem didn’t repeat itself this time around. So, onward we motor-sailed.

Normally, on overnight passages, we do watches of 2 hours on and 2 hours off. But Ryan had thrown back a Red Bull and felt perky enough to take on the first 5 hours without a break. So I went down below and slept like a baby while he set out in what looked like calm seas.

It was only when I came up into the cockpit after sunrise that I found Ryan in his foul-weather gear, drenched in rain and hand-steering because the auto-pilot had failed in 20-knot gusts while he surfed down steep waves in northerly winds. Which is exactly the kind of weather they say you shouldn’t cross the Gulf Stream in. And it was exactly the opposite of what was predicted in the weather forecasts.

Luckily for me, when I took over the helm around 7 am, the wind had calmed down and calmer seas had returned to provide a less eventful journey. That is, until the 20-knot winds and sheets of rain returned about two hours from Bimini, despite the fact that the forecasts showed no more than 5-knot winds and clear skies the whole way to the Bahamas. I wondered then, since this was the second time the forecasts were wrong, if weather around the Gulf Stream is simply too fickle for predictions to be accurate even 6 hours in advance.

When I first spotted trees in the distance, Ryan was fast asleep down below, so I shouted “Land Ho!” to the cats, who’d crawled up into the cockpit to escape the nausea that comes from being down below in rolling seas.

And just as we’d read, as we pulled up to Bimini, the depth dropped from 1000 feet to 10 feet within minutes and the water turned from a dark, navy blue to the clearest, sharpest aquamarine.

Hundreds of tiny fish jumped out of the water as we pulled into the north channel, as if to get out of the way of the boat, probably trying to dodge our hull as we bucked from side to side in some worryingly choppy waves.

We’d been told to enter the Bimini inlet with caution, as it had shifting sands and a narrow channel. But when we called the marinas the day before for local advice, they all said the markers were abundant and clear, there was 14 feet of water in the channel and, “There’s nothing to worry about, m0n. Come right in.”

In reality, however, there were only two markers – a red and a green – marking the entrance to the channel and then nothing more. We ended up staring at our charts, studying the change in water color for depth and following the reverse paths of boats we saw coming out of the channel in order to feel our way in through depths that dropped as low as 8 feet while the waves threw us from side to side, not really knowing how far we were from the shallows.

For this reason, we were glad to be arriving at 1:30 pm in broad daylight. If we’d arrived in the dark, I’d never have been comfortable navigating blindly up that channel, no matter how many times the locals said, “Don’t worry, mon.”

But we made it in, despite the lack of markers, and before we knew it we were docked in the Bahamas, at the Bimini Big Game Club.

3 months. 1500 miles. Years of dreaming. This was Hideaway’s first international landfall and we were positively giddy. We knew we’d put our boat under a lot of stress, but she always just took it and carried on.

“This is why I couldn’t listen to that guy,” Ryan said. “We know our boat. And we know our engine. She’s not failed us yet.”

And with that, Ryan put on some smart clothes, checked us and the cats in to customs, and got us a 130-day cruising permit. It was official: we were in!

So, we popped the bottle of Prosecco we’d been saving for this occasion and raised our Bahamian courtesy flag while grinning from ear to ear.

We’d put Hideaway to the ultimate test and she passed with flying colors.

And as far as we could tell, this was just the beginning.

Check out this post to see a video of our Gulf Stream crossing.

hideaway sailboat bahamas arrival

This flag has been on board for months just itching to make its way up that halyard.

hideaway turf to surf arrives to the bahamas

Time for some bubbly!

Bimini blue waters turf to surf

We’ve heard about the color of the water here, but oh my…

Sail FAIL

We checked the weather gribs, consulted with other cruisers, loaded up the boat with food and 12 Bota Boxes (the equivalent of 48 bottles of wine), took Hideaway out for a pre-Bahamas shakedown, gave the cats their motion-sickness pills, bungee-corded the bikes down, filled up with diesel and water and, finally, settled in for what was going to be a brief, restless nap before departing.

Looking over our provisions, I couldn’t tell if we had too much or not enough, since I kept thinking there were still things we needed more of. For example, I wanted to pick up a few more containers of cat litter and maybe another 5 boxes of wine, since Total Wine delivers and, hell, you can never have too much wine, right?

But Ryan had nightmares of water reaching our foredeck because of the added 1000+ pounds on Hideaway and was waving his hands, exclaiming, “No more! We’re going to sink the boat!”

And so I had to be content with 12 Bota Boxes and a crap-ton of stuff I wasn’t even sure we knew how to cook with. (What does one do with tomato paste anyway?) Either that, or Ryan was going to start insisting that I had too many shoes onboard. And I didn’t want him getting any ideas about off-loading my accessories.

The plan was to depart our anchorage in Fort Lauderdale at 1 am and head across to Bimini in South-Easterly winds, hopefully arriving in no more than 11 hours. We wanted to get to Bimini in early daylight hours so we could navigate the tricky channel entrance with good visibility. And to do that, we needed rest. Except it was impossible for me to sleep with an acid brick churning in my stomach, causing me to run to the head every 10 minutes.

When the alarm went off at 12:30 am, Ryan leaped out of bed like a kid on Christmas, shouting “We’re going to the Bahamas!!!” While I grumbled an unenthused response and rubbed my bloodshot eyes. I was still exhausted from our day of last-minute boat chores. But we didn’t have the luxury of resting, so we made strong coffees and tried to adjust our eyes to the dark as we made our way out to sea.

Someone once told us that the wind forecast for a Bahamas crossing is more realistic if you add the two numbers together. For example, if 5-10 knots is forecasted, really 15 knots is the more likely scenario.

And, sure enough, the NOAA weather reports forecasted 5-10 knot winds and some waves. But when we got out of the inlet, we were confronted with 15-20 knot winds on the nose and a washing machine of waves bouncing us from side to side. Both cats threw up in the first hour and Ryan and I turned somewhat green, but at no point did we think the seas were the worst we’d ever seen. So we braced ourselves for the ride and carried on.

Then, a few hours into the trip, I went down below to check on the cats, and stepped in a puddle of hot water on the floor. Which, incidentally, was the only time I’ve ever thought to myself, “Man, I really hope that’s cat piss.”

turf to surf Hideaway engine check

Ryan, examining the engine while at sea

Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t cat piss. It was sea water coming from the engine compartment. Which meant we’d only gotten 3.5 miles out to sea when we made the decision to turn around and go back to Fort Lauderdale.

There’s a funny scene in a Terry Pratchett novel, the name of which now escapes me, in which a hired assassin spends hours preparing himself for a job by loading himself up with the gadgets and weapons he needs to make the kill. And when he’s finally ready and gets up to leave, he promptly falls over because of the weight of all his weapons.

turf to surf hideaway v-berth provisions

The V-berth, after schlepping all our provisions to the front of the boat

We’re not sure, but we think that’s what happened to Hideaway. We loaded the boat’s rear end up with so many goodies that when we finally got her out to sea, she couldn’t function properly. Our theory is she was weighed down so heavily in the back that her exhaust pipe got pushed under water, causing the hot sea water from the engine’s heat exchanger to get pushed back up the exhaust pipe and into the boat. Hence the piss-warm water on the floor.

So now we’re redistributing the weight of our provisioning madness more evenly throughout the boat. Which, as you can see, means we’ve taken over most of the boat, making for some temporarily uncomfortable living. But, hey, if it will get us to Bimini, then we can live with it for a few days.

I’m not quite willing to admit my 48 bottles of wine might have tipped the scales to prevent our Gulf Stream crossing this time, but I’d be willing to venture that we maybe possibly bought too much. But if it comes down to it, I’d be happy to throw those 10 cans of tomato paste overboard to lighten our load. Or maybe the vegetable oil.

Just don’t touch my wine or my shoes.

hideaway sailing with cats

Charlie and Celia may need to put up with chaos for a few days

Photo Essay: The ICW in review

The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a 3000-mile waterway system that runs the length of the eastern United States along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It’s partially made up of natural rivers, inlets and creeks and where natural waterways didn’t exist, artificial canals and locks were dug, providing a way for boats to pass from Canada to Florida without ever having to go out onto the ocean.

There are some challenges that accompany traveling on the ICW in a keelboat, though, which may include running aground in low tide (some channels are only 5 feet), dealing with restricted bridge openings, shoaling in unexpected places and sketchy anchorage entrances. But it’s a unique experience to see the geography change as drastically as it does between New York and Florida.

And though it’s difficult to completely capture the experience of traveling 1500 miles on the ICW, hopefully this photo essay will give you a little insight into what the journey looked like for us.

turf to surf hideaway sailing blog

After leaving Cape May in October, the temperature dropped drastically.

virginia icw sailing

Often we’d meet and chat with other boaters traveling south.

dismal swamp icw

The Dismal Swamp scenery was interesting for…oh…the first hour. Then it didn’t change for three days.

beaufort north carolina icw

Beaufort, North Carolina is one of the cutest ports along the ICW to anchor in.

icw bridge turf to surf

We ran aground in low tide and missed the bridge opening. So we had no choice but to anchor here and wait…

north carolina sunset icw sailing

…but, luckily, this sunset was our consolation

coast guard north carolina icw

In NC, you’re pretty likely to get boarded by the Coast Guard. Luckily, they’re friendly.

turf to surf sailing icw

Desperate times call for desperate measures…like an umbrella. Maybe Florida will be warmer?

hideaway sailboat rainbow

A rainbow over Hideaway in St. Augustine is a sure sign of good things to come.

florida icw bridges sailing blog

Sometimes we just had to open the throttle to eke through those bridges in time.

vero beach dolphins sailing blog

I’ll never get tired of seeing dolphins. Ever.

hideaway sailing florida icw

Now THIS is more like it! Hello, Florida!

turf to surf fort lauderdale icw

It’s Horsnail. Ryan Horsnail. 007.

On the ICW and becoming less “civilized”

“I’m glad we did it, but I’m not sure I’d do it again,” was my husband Ryan’s underwhelmed sentiments about our trip down the Intra-Coastal Waterway. Which surprised me because for at least two years before this trip, Ryan found every opportunity to bring up the ICW in conversation, either to friends or total strangers at the bar. “Did you know there’s an inland waterway that runs all the way from Canada to Florida? And you can take your boat down it?”

It’s possible that not everyone (myself included) shares Ryan’s intense fascination with the ICW and its World War II naval history. But, regardless, it felt like we’d reached a major milestone when we pulled our little sailboat Hideaway into Fort Lauderdale, having covered roughly 1500 miles between New York and Florida.

And since we’re getting ready to make our crossing to the Bahamas, thus closing this chapter of our U.S. travels, I thought now was a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come, both literally and metaphorically.

In retrospect, what stands out most about the ICW is not so much the scenery (mostly trees), the weather (mostly cold) or the sailing (mostly plus one, minus one on the auto-helm). Or even the dolphins, or the time we ran aground four times in a single afternoon. What seems to resonate most is how those 1500 miles have changed us and prepared us for journeys to come.

Back in New York City, we worked long, stressful hours, like anyone else in a modern-day office job. And because our spare time was limited, whenever we needed something cleaned, fixed, made, cooked or designed, we did what most people in cities do: we paid other people to do it for us. Which means that while we got very skilled at running our own businesses, we also grew very unskilled at doing anything else.

And then we up and left that world, in which we specialized in running schools, and we moved onto a boat, where being a specialist in just one thing was not so useful anymore. Being able to clean, fix, make, cook and wire anything was a much more relevant skill on the boat. And much more useful than, say, building web sites, populating spreadsheets or hiring staff.

But it took a long time for this to sink in. So, for a few months, we were a bit lost in our new world at sea, forever trying to avoid doing things we didn’t know how to do. Which is why, when we stopped in Annapolis to examine our leaky water tank, my first response was to price up a new tank and hire someone to install it. But then I made some phone calls, got some advice, and decided to try fixing the tank on our own. And, as it turned out, all the tank needed was some hypalon patches to stop the leaks and a screwdriver to reattach the newly sealed tank to the water pipes. It was surprisingly easy; it’s just that it took time. A whole day, to be exact; a day which I wouldn’t have been willing to give up to fix a water tank when I lived in New York City.

bladder post repair

But time was something we had an abundance of now. So why were we so reluctant to take on repairing, installing, wiring and jury rigging our own boat stuff?

My guess? A lack of confidence. And also the fact that society is so well organized that we now devote entire days, weeks and careers to one specialization, while spending a great deal of hard-earned money to hire others to do the things we can’t or don’t want to do. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, because it means we can find an expert in virtually any discipline now. And for society as a whole, the benefit is that the world’s specialists can collaborate to create ever more powerful, more advanced technologies for anything we might need or want. Any time I use my matchbox-sized GoPro, for example, I remember my dad schlepping a 10-pound shoebox of a video recorder on his shoulder to film our family vacations, and my mind is blown. That’s what specialists do: they build stuff you didn’t even know you needed. And I’m the first to say I love my GoPro, iPod, solar panel, GPS running watch, chart plotter, LED lights, and all the other gadgets that make my life a little easier and a little more fun.

Also, specialists are crucial to the existence of a complex division of labor, which is what defines “civilization.” And it is generally perceived that “civilized” societies, such as New York City, are successful because of this division of labor. Therefore, packaged in the positive connotation of the word “civilized” is the assumption that we all aspire to be specialists living in a civilized world.

Yet I’ve come to realize, living on a boat, that it is no longer practical or sensible to hire a specialist every time something goes wrong. After all, there will be times when Ryan and I are the only people we can see for miles. So, in order for us to be truly self-sufficient, we have to become more diversified in our skills and less specialized.

hideaway engine maintenance

A friend teaches Ryan how to service our engine (Photo by Justin Dent)

That’s what the ICW has taught me. That, and we should slow down and take some time to learn about our boat. Which is something I didn’t really learn until Charleston, North Carolina, where we hired a mechanic to service our engine. We were in a hurry to get going and didn’t want to take the time to look up You Tube videos and find the right tools, so we justified our decision by saying, “Just this once. Next time we’ll do it ourselves.”

But when I checked our oil after the engine was serviced (it’s the first item on our “departure checklist”), I discovered there wasn’t a drop of oil in the engine. Bone dry. And when we complained, the mechanic replied, “Oh, I couldn’t find the dipstick.” And to make matters worse, he appeared to have loosened a screw, which resulted in an oil leakage later on down the line. So even though we hired a “specialist” to do a job we didn’t want to do, we had to learn to do it ourselves anyway. So why did we spend the extra money? Why didn’t we just spend the extra time instead, and learn to do it ourselves?

Since Charleston, we’ve gotten better at reflecting on our mistakes. So even though we were nervous about installing our new Solbian flexible solar panel, which involved drilling holes in the boat and running wires to places we’d never run wires to before, we decided it was important for us to go through the process ourselves, no matter how long it took. And luckily, we’ve found on our journey south that there are always sympathetic and more experienced sailors around who can offer the right tools, some advice and a little moral support.

Installing Solbian solar panel

Wiring in our Solbian flexible solar panel wasn’t an easy job, but we did it.

After all, any sailor who has been living aboard for any amount time has learned how to fix things on his or her boat. So we try to take a leaf out of the notebooks of the old salts we meet and learn what they know. Because one benefit of becoming more self-sufficient is, hopefully, we’ll spend less money, which means we’ll be able to keep cruising for longer. Not to mention, we’ll probably enjoy it more, as well, since no one likes the feeling of being dependent on others.

And I suspect that’s really what I’m looking to gain from learning all these new skills, like how to anchor, how to wire a solar panel, how to fish, how to service an engine, and how to trim the sails. I want to know we’re in full control of our lives. That we can choose exactly how we want to live because we’re in no way limited by fear or lack of skills.

If that’s what it means to be less civilized, I’m all for it.

Keep Calm and Carry On: The Bridges of the ICW

Ryan was glad to hang up the VHF radio when we finally got to Fort Lauderdale. There were 27 bridges that needed hailing between Riviera Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and only a handful of those bridge tenders were in a good mood. In fact, the last bridge we hailed before pulling into Cooley’s Landing Marina shot us a snarky, “I see you, but you should have called in earlier, so I’m closing the bridge.” After which Ryan handed me the radio and declared his day’s defeat to miserable government employees.

Originally, we’d planned to make the 46-mile trip from Riviera Beach Florida to Fort Lauderdale in one day. But we ended up having to slow down so much for the bridge schedules that we fell short by about 15 miles. So, instead, we anchored in Lake Boca Raton for the night, which turned out to be a gorgeous spot for its views of multi-million-dollar mansions with private docks and fancy water toys.

The next day proved to be a record-winning crawl, though, with even more restricted bridges than the day before, resulting in Hideaway covering a pathetic fifteen miles in four hours. But at least while we maneuvered under the ICW bridges and up the New River, we got to experience the wild ride of motoring through the back yards of some of Florida’s wealthiest home owners. As we coasted past the manicured lawns of Fort Lauderdale’s riverfront homes and waved enthusiastically at mega yacht captains who barely glanced at us, it became clear that this town was WAY out of our league.

But the good thing about arriving on your little boat to a fancy port like Fort Lauderdale is that you have everything you could possibly need for provisioning within walking or cycling distance. West Marine, Publix, Save a Lot, Home Depot, Staples, you name it. Not to mention the crazy college bars where you can get 6 drinks for $15! Which is how I ended up dancing in a “Keep Calm and Gangnam Style” t-shirt, courtesy of my generous friends Justin and Anastasia.

turf to surf hideaway catalina intracoastal waterway

With the sun setting on the ICW, we headed for Lake Boca Raton to anchor.

sunset on the florida icw

The ICW bridges may be a pain, but the sunsets sure are pretty.

intracoastal waterway florida house

There were some pretty spectacular houses on the ICW to Fort Lauderdale.

Pirates and Winches

It turns out the only way to get a vacation from boat work is to get away from the boat. Which is why I spent 4 glorious days in the Florida Keys not working on anything but running, a tan and a tolerance for fruity cocktails.

But the holiday is over, so I’m back in Riviera Beach, Florida, furiously scratching jobs off our ever-growing list of things to do before we sail to the Bahamas; AKA the place where varnish never peels, heads never clog, and I sit in a hammock all day drinking rum.

Our “Bahamas or Bust” list started back in Vero Beach and it has become the gift that just keeps on giving: the more work we do, the more work we need to do. In fact, Hideaway seems to have morphed into a big, floating half-rotten onion. Just when I think I’ve identified a bad layer (“We should fix that loose chart plotter connection…”), I’ll peel it off to find more rotten layers underneath (“What?! That f#@$-ing electrician didn’t seal ANY of the connections?!”).

Take, for example, this one deceptively simple job: servicing the winches.

Ryan mentioned a while back that our starboard-side winch was feeling a bit stiff and probably needed some grease, or something. Which was a good guess since we’d never serviced Hideaway’s winches. Ever.

So I Googled “service Lewmar double-speed winch” and aimed to get this little project out of the way before lunch. Nothing a little You Tube can’t fix, right?

Sure enough, I found Lewmar’s “installation and service videos,” which not only showed me how to take apart a winch step-by-step, but informed me that winches should be serviced once a year. (“Wait. Not every six years?!”) And the videos even provided handy tips like, “take photos of each stage of disassembly so you can refer back to them,” “have a box handy to put all the little parts in,” and “be careful not to lose the pawl springs,” which are tiny little wires about as thick as gray hairs and really hard to find in a bucket full of murky mineral spirits. (See #17 in diagram below)

Lewmar Winch Diagram

Diagram: Lewmar double-speed self-tailing winch

And since the first winch was a breeze to take apart, I was optimistic about finishing all four winches before lunch. That is, until I discovered the inevitable rotten layer: a slightly bent gear spindle (#15 in diagram), which meant I couldn’t put the winch back together. Until I got myself a new spindle, anyway…

…Except several hours later, it turned out tracking down a 2-inch piece of metal was harder than it sounds. Lewmar themselves were of little help, as their advice was to buy a brand new winch at the cost of $1,200. “Well, you know, if the gear spindle is bent, my guess is you also bent your center stem, and that means you’ll need to replace the whole thing.” Really, Lewmar? All because of a slightly bent metal post?

I wasn’t ready to give up on the gear spindle yet, so instead I phoned a Lewmar distributor in Riviera Beach called Florida Rigging & Hydraulics, and found myself listening to a one-sided stream-of-consciousness rant by a guy named Pete who rattled off numbers, factoids and swear words as he searched his database for the part I needed.

“I know more about Lewmar parts than Lewmar does…Your boat’s an ’86?…They stopped producing that winch in ’92 and Lewmar doesn’t stock any parts made before ’92…And Catalina probably put a smaller winch on that boat than they should have…Who did you speak to over there?…Was it Scott?…Well he’s talkin’ out his ass…You don’t need a new winch…You just need a new spindle…What? No! Don’t buy a stupid repair kit!…You’ll just be paying for a bunch of crap you don’t need!…Now if we can just locate that spindle…Number 5000385?…Oh here’s one…But there’s only one left in the whole world…We can probably get it shipped here tomorrow though…Except it’ll cost you…A lot…”

A little crazy, sure, but totally effective. In the end, I got a new gear spindle for $29.99 + $40.00 to ship it next day. And when it arrived, it slipped beautifully into its slot, which meant I didn’t have to spend $1,200 on a new winch. So, hats off to Pete for the crazy talk that saved me $1,130.

And in the process, I learned a few things of my own about servicing winches:

1) Have mineral spirits (or turpentine), a rag, a bucket, a toothbrush, some engine oil and some winch grease on hand before you start.

2) Don’t wait 6 years to service your winches.

3) If you do wait 6 years, and your winch parts are so crudded up that you can’t get the main spindle out (see #9 in diagram), pour a little engine oil in the crack and twist the spindle around. Eventually, it will slide out.

4) Don’t put winch grease on the pawls (see #18 in diagram); the thick grease will make them stick. Use engine oil as a lubricant instead.

5) Apply winch grease lightly to the pawl gears (#14 in diagram), the ratchet gears (#19 in diagram) and the roller bearings (#11 in diagram). If you apply too thickly, it will cause buildup in the parts…requiring you to service them more often.

Note: if you’re looking for a Lewmar Winch Service Manual, you can download it here: www.pyacht.com/Lewmar-Winch-Service-Manual.pdf

turf to surf hideaway boat maintenance

Cleaning winch parts is a messy job

tasha hacker hideaway boat maintenance

Here’s hoping this non-stop work will end when we get to the Bahamas…

Key West Ragnar Relay: A team effort

12 wacky friends. 2 vans decorated with Christmas lights and disco balls. 196.9 miles from Miami to Key West. No sleep. A lot of giggling. Screaming and cheering for teammates in the middle of the night. Scrambling for shade from the blistering Florida sun. Blasting Lady Gaga, Pink and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” at each exchange point. Running until I threw up a bad decision that was an egg sandwich. Dancing across the road Gangnam Style. Krispy Kreme donuts. Victory cocktails.

That pretty much sums up my weekend running the 2013 Key West Ragnar Relay with “NYC Swagnar,” a team of 5 women and 7 men who run with the kind of guts and grit that inspires me.

I have lamented that my running training has dropped off since Ryan and I started sailing south, but this weekend off the boat with my New York running friends has inspired me to get back to pounding the pavement, sand and trails. Hell, I’ll run in circles on Hideaway’s deck if I have to. Mainly because I never want to run that far and hard again on so little training.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about the Ragnar Relay Series, the 12-person running events held all over the U.S., and you’re thinking you’ll never do one because it sounds crazy and like something designed for ultra-fit running fanatics, I’m here to convince you otherwise. These races are definitely crazy…but in a good-for-everyone kind of way. And they’re definitely not for the ultra-fit alone. There is a place for every kind of enthusiast – fit or unfit – in the Ragnar Relay, whether your thing is costumes, drinking beer, weight loss, charity, having a fitness goal or just hanging out with friends in a beautiful place like Key West.

There were teams in the Key West Ragnar running in prom dresses and tutus, teams of new runners who were walking or jogging 11 and 12-minute-miles, and teams with a great sense of humor, like the gay men’s team called “Can’t Even Run Str8,” who gave out Mardi Gras beads at every relay exchange. We even met the “Biggest Loser” Team (from the TV show), all of whose runners lost 90-150 pounds each before doing the race. How inspiring is that?

And then there was us: NYC Swagnar. We were running to Key West for the second year in a row. Sure, we had a blast, dance-partying our way through the relay exchanges; but we were definitely there to run and run hard. We were running to have fun and beat our previous year’s time.

And not only did we beat our time by 45 minutes, but we also beat 350 other teams in the co-ed division to WIN the race in 26 hours 17 minutes and 54 seconds! That’s right! We WON!!! Sure, I’m still having trouble walking after running a brutal 18 miles, but who cares?! WE WON!!!

I know, bragging’s not polite. But for a good 24 hours after we got our awards, we milked that First Place win for everything it was worth in Key West. Free shots, song requests, dancing on the bar; you name it. It may not have been the classiest picture of victory…But, hey, what happens in Key West stays in Key West.

And now that the fun is over, it’s time to get training for next year! After all, we have a title to defend!

If that doesn’t inspire me to get off the boat to run this year, I don’t know what will.

ragnar miami pre-race

My NYC running buddy Katherine and me, getting ready for our 2nd Ragnar Relay together.

miami key west ragnar relay 2013

And she’s off! Jessie, Runner #1, kicking off the race

miami key west ragnar exchange

Adam, Runner #11, taking off for his sunrise run after a sleepless night

tasha hacker ragnar relay 2013

“Hey, there’s a whole team of people wearing my shorts! Get a picture!”

ragnar relay miami finish 2013

Sarah and me, celebrating our 3rd Ragnar Relay together at the Southernmost Point of the U.S.

key west ragnar relay 2013 first place team

NYC Swagnar, holding up our First Place batons.

coyote ugly key west

What happens in Key West, stays in Key West.