Monday, September 30, 2013

One of those days

We had a busy weekend planned.

I wanted to get the leaking hatch fixed correctly, get Gimme Shelter moved over to her new berth at Watergate Yacht Center, have a huge barbecue with friends at the new marina, and most importantly, do some sailing.

I got there early Friday with a new hatch lens cut from the correct 1/2" acrylic and a tube full of Dow Corning 791.

I quickly had the 1/4" lens popped out and spent at least a half hour scraping and cleaning silicone off the metal frame. Then I carefully taped everything up again, opened up my new tube of sealant and fit the new lens in place. Perfection -- or so I thought.

After having my previous lens pop out on me when I began installed the latches, I decided to walk away from this one and let it sit overnight before I touched it. I went to bed patting myself on the back.

Then Saturday morning I got up and tried to install the weather stripping.

Oops. The weatherstripping was supposed to go on the inside lip of the frame with the lens sitting on top of it. With the lens glued in, there was no way to attach it.

I thought, that's ok, there's no way this thing is leaking anyway. I'll save the weatherstripping for next time.

Then I tried to install the latches with their fresh rubber O-rings.

I screwed them in. They cinched up on the acrylic and sealed well.

Then I tried to shut the hatch.

The latches were too far forward.

I traced this lens off the old lens, and the holes for the latches were too far forward!

I ever so gently forced the hatch shut by shouting an expletive and stomping on it.

After wasting $30 the first time around, I've spent another $50 and my hatch still isn't right.

I'm guessing the lens I replaced was not the original and the person who replaced it put the latches too far forward, which is why it was cracked at the latches in the first place. They need to be moved a full 1/4" back!

What's the old phrase, measure twice, cut once? Guess I should have double checked everything.

On the upside, the new lens looks great and doesn't leak at all. I think we're just not going to attempt to open it ever again.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Going cheap and getting burned

I always get on to Mary about planning and taking logical steps -- not jumping into purchases before we have measurements, not sending out wedding invitations before we have a set date and location -- that kind of thing.

When we bought Gimme Shelter, the mid-ship Bomar hatch had a cracked lens and was leaking. It's been on the never-ending to-do list but didn't take priority until I ended up sleeping under the hatch in the rain and realized just how badly it was leaking. That's about the same time we realized the leak was also seeping into the headliner and warping it. It was time to move it to the top of the list.

I DID take measurements before I started. Unfortunately I only measured the length and width of the hatch, not the thickness of the acrylic lens.

Honestly, I was a little excited when I started this project because I thought, hey, this is going to be cheap because I can just use stuff from Home Depot instead of having to buy ridiculously priced boat parts to fix this.

Off I went to Home Depot and grabbed the only smoked acrylic they had in stock, which was only $25. I scored it and snapped it to the size we needed and then proceeded to cut the old lens free, so I could trace and cut the rounded corners. Everything was going to plan.

Once I removed the old lens, I immediately noticed it was much thicker than I had estimated. I weighed the pros and cons of replacing it with a thinner lens and decided that while the thinner one may crack sooner, if it lasts a year, it was worth it and we'd have the leak stopped, so let's just be cheap and progress with the project.

The first setback came when my dremel tool died after rounding just two corners. It was a really hot day and the tool was even hotter, so it wouldn't charge when I set it on the charger. I could have gone and bought a new corded dremel, but I was being cheap and didn't really want to have to go buy new tools for this project.

I got impatient and grabbed the jig saw. I was rounding the last corner when a big chunk snapped out of the plexi. Time to start over.

I carefully measured and scored another piece. Unfortunately, the snapping didn't go so well.

I was down to the last portion of my sheet large enough to make a new hatch. I decided scoring and snapping this one was too risky, so I began cutting it with the somewhat charged dremel. It died again. I let it charge another half hour and then got another five minutes out of it. After suffering in the heat all afternoon my neighbor loaned me his corded dremel and within 10 minutes I finally had a correctly cut sheet of plexi. Why didn't I just save myself a ton of frustration and go buy a new dremel in the first place?

Once the lens was cut, I rummaged through the toolbox and grabbed a very old tube of silicone, unplugged it with a drill bit and used that to seat the lens. Why did I use old silicone?

The next morning I stopped by West Marine to see what kind of UV protected silicone they had for the outer bead. The cheapest stuff was $16, so I went back to Home Depot and grabbed some indoor/outdoor waterproof window silicone for $3. The cheap disease had me in a death grip at this point. I was going to get this lens replaced for less than $30 and then brag about it over beers for at least the next two weekends!

Mary took time to mask off the lens, so our outer silicone bead would look nice.

I then went to town with the white silicone around the edges and did my best to get it into a nice smooth bead. It didn't look half bad.

One last job remained -- screwing the hatch dogs back onto the lens.

One problem -- the lens was too thin to snug the dogs up.

(As an aside, Bomar has a horrible latch design. These sort of mushroom shaped stoppers stick down through the hatch on a very small O-ring and then the handle screws onto them. Then the entire piece turns. It's like a third grader engineered it. In fact I called their customer service department to ask if they had an updated design because cinching down an O-ring when you still need it loose enough to turn is never going to be a great seal. The Bomar lady on the phone got pretty defensive and said if the O-rings on a hatch that was 31 years old were leaking, that certainly couldn't be considered a design flaw and I just need to do proper maintenance. I'm just going to say that the dogs on the Lewmar port on my Starwind sealed on the outside and only turned internally, so there was no chance of a leak ever. They could also be tightened or loosened. In other words, Lewmar actually engineered a real solution, they didn't just poke a stick through the hatch lens and call it good.)

We'd spent Sunday morning cruising through other marinas in our friends dinghy and showing off the pool of the new place, so at this point it was late Sunday afternoon. Once again it was super hot, and we were starting to get pressured for time.

I made a run to West Marine for large washers that I could shim the latches with. Now they DEFINITELY weren't going to be water proof, but maybe I could at least get them tight enough to lock the boat.

I think it was during my second attempt to install the latches that the unthinkable suddenly happened. I tipped up the latch for a better angle, and the lens fell out of the frame.

Yes, the super old silicone from my toolbox that I'd applied the previous day completely failed to hold the lens in the frame. I managed to grab it before it fell completely out and got white silicone on everything, but the damage was done. It was at this point I began cursing, and I'm not sure poor little Tex will ever be the same after hearing the things I said to the boat.

I calmed down, I gummed the lens back down in the frame and squished the white silicone back into place -- destroying the nice bead -- and I left.

Mary wanted to tarp up the boat in case it rained, but I just didn't care. I wanted to go home. I was tired of that hatch. I was tired of plexiglass. I was tired of silicone that didn't cure. I was tired of the horrible latches that only fit one particular thickness of plexiglass. And above all, I was super mad that I had been so cheap and muddled through this project instead of being patient and buying the correct tools and supplies for the job.

This morning I ordered a sheet of 1/4" acrylic for $36 and a tube of black Dow Corning 791 for $15. I'm also going to go pick up a new corded Dremel for $50.

Instead of telling stories about how I replaced my window for only $30, I'll repeat my cautionary tale about how I once went cheap, ruining an entire weekend, just to end up spending all the money I should have in the first place.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Marina shopping

How do you know when it's time to leave your marina?

A slip at Marina Del Sol in Kemah, Texas came with my first boat when I purchased it four and a half years ago.

Imagine a long winding road through million dollar houses.  At the end of the road, Surprise!, there is a marina out of no where.  It is completely surrounded by large houses and the land surrounds it in almost a complete circle, forming a little secret protected whole. Every night you can sit on your dock with your friends and watch the most beautiful sunsets setting over the masts.  Cheerfully saying hello, as friend after friend walks to their boat, everyone stopping to tell you the latest marina happenings.

There is a never ending supply of boat advice, both expert and questionable.  The parade of characters that we have been blessed to have thrown upon us has made the adventure feel much more real.  I won't mention any names but we all know who they are....all of them.  

Hurricane Ike had just come through the year before, so all the marinas had suffered some damage. The cock-eyed docks with mangled, missing piers were forgivable at the time. It also had the least expensive floating docks in the area. Plus, when I bought it the Seahorse was a dilapidated piece of crap that didn't run, so it wasn't like I had the choice of moving anywhere else.

The years went by and all the other marinas in the area repaired things and rebuilt their docks. But not Marina Del Sol. It filled up with silt while the bulkheads surrounding it continued to rot away. The cock-eyed docks just stayed cock-eyed. They didn't even make an effort to remove the destroyed piers that twist down into the water. The story is, someone took the insurance money and ran.

The first year I asked if we would be getting some pool furniture since there was only one lounge chair and a very strange assortment of half-broken chairs around the pool. Management said, they'd put it on the list. I asked again every spring as more and more of the plastic chairs broke and the seating dwindled. Four years later, you have to bring camping chairs with you to the pool if you expect everyone in your group to be able to sit down.

It was my third year there when my boat was finally running well, and I was sailing every weekend that I realized with only a 4'11" draft, I was sitting on the bottom of the marina and couldn't move from December 1 until the third week of March. We had a massive drought in Texas that year and there had been water rationing all summer, so I chalked it up to the drought. However, when I happened again the next year, I asked the marina if they were going to ever dredge. Like the pool furniture, it was "on the list," but they just couldn't afford it right now.

Then came my rates with the 27' Starwind

Year 1: $185
Year 2: Suddenly they wanted $285. I said I was leaving and desperately tried to get my boat into a condition where I could be accepted at another marina. However, the week before I was set to leave, they offered a rate of $225. I decided to stay.
Year 3: I complained about the $225 rate and they lowered it to $200.
Year 4: They raised the $200 rate back up to $220, but I sold that boat and Mary brought in the O'day 34 at a rate of $200.
Year 4.5: The six month lease for the O'day is up and they asked for $250. We said no, so they came back with $215.

They supposedly charge by the length of your boat, not by the length of the slip. However, our friend with a 32' Endeavour on the same pier is paying $225, a friend with a 32' Allied Seawind is paying $165, and a friend with a 27' fishing boat is paying $165. I have no idea how they are actually setting the pricing, and I feel like a sucker for ever paying above $200.  I can only imagine how low some people may be paying.  

Then there's the bathrooms. They've never been clean, but lately, it's really bad. Many mornings you wander in to find no toilet paper, no hand towels, and poop smeared on the wall or floor of the stall. For almost two months last year the ladies room only had a rope for a doorknob. Then for three weeks last month there were no lights in the men's room. Then this morning Mary went to use the ladies room, and the doorknob came off in her hand.  It wouldn't have been that bad, but I still couldn't get in and I had to walk across the marina to go to the bathroom.  

I understand if you don't have the budget to buy new furniture or dredge or rebuild the docks, but if you've got four people on staff, you can at least clean the bathrooms every morning.

Not that all of our experiences at Marina Del Sol have been bad. We've met many nice people there and made some great friends. However, the maintenance issues have come to a point where I refuse to spend another dollar at that place, and I'm definitely not going to spend another winter with our boat sitting in the mud.  It really hurts because all the people that live in the marina love it so much.  Everyone dreams of us all coming together to save the marina like in a ridiculous teen movie, but the reality of the situation is that would cost more money than anyone has.  It reminds me of when I hear people who think they can buy a boat for nothing and then fix it for nothing.  The reality of life is that when you want to fix something like a boat or a marina, you have to spend the money to do it correctly or you're just going to end up underwater.  

Saturday morning we set out on a mission to find the perfect marina. But first we had to stop by the farmers market and have breakfast at Skippers.

But AFTER THAT, we set out to find the perfect marina.  AKA Marina Hunters (I was doing behind the scenes, reality tv interviews in my head the whole time.) 

First stop, Portofino.

Portofino is a dockominium. All the slips are privately owned and the community fees are controlled by a board of owners much like an HOA. It's gated with gate codes and bathroom codes changing monthly. The upside, we'd be right at the Kemah bridge and could literally be sailing in 15 minutes. They also have a great pool on the Kemah channel where you can sit and watch the the boats go by. The downside, it was right at the Kemah bridge, which was really loud, and the slip we were looking at was on the ugly, less protected side.  This is our low range priced Marina.  Coming in at 250 Portofino was well under the Fackers budget.  I was honestly ready to sign when I left, I am learning to look at all the options and talk things out now.  We learned some things from boat shopping...

Next stop, Seabrook.

Seabrook is across the channel from Portofino. It also has a pool on the channel. Bigger shadier pool. It also has floating docks -- some of which even have covered walkways. It seemed well maintained. There's free wifi and a discount at the shipyard. The view on the side closer to Clear Lake was better, but the bridge traffic was still pretty loud. We also heard the road in and out floods in heavy rain. The only slip available there that fell within our budget was near the fuel dock, and had a narrow fairway. The slip we would have wanted there was $450.  The cheap slip was very far away from all the slips big enough for our friends.  It turns out normal marinas don't just stick boats randomly on different sized docks, and its hard for a 34ft and a 40ft to be together.  

Next stop, Waterford.

This is a fancy marina. It's gated. It had great restrooms, a small weight room and a sauna. We liked it, but the pool is actually owned by the adjoining restaurant, Sundance Grill. Therefore you cannot bring any food or drinks into the pool area. On the upside you have a waitress in the pool area bringing you drinks. On the downside, we are not wealthy enough to pay $400 a month in slip fees and also pay for poolside margaritas. Walking the dogs would have also been a nightmare because it's a half mile of no dog signs before you get to the designated dog walking area. We decided we were not fancy enough.  It's weird how rich people think.  This place was not the most expensive, nor did it have the best stuff.  Its just like all the snobby people decided to go there.  Weird.  "hey guys lets all get together and build a marina with no trees or breeze where everything costs a fortune, and then we'll all get our hair done to go to the pool."  Awesome. 

Final stop, Watergate.

Watergate got destroyed in Hurricane Ike, and they don't deny that their boats basically got massacred by the storm surge. They've replaced all the old fixed docks with state-of-the-art floating docks, and you actually get a finger pier on both sides of your boat. No more messy docking, where I fall in the water!  You get a dockbox and free wifi as well as the use of two pools. They keep both the marina and the channel through Clear Lake dredged on a regular basis, and they built a bigger breakwater between the marina and the lake, so that hopefully when the next hurricane comes along, they will fare better.  A higher insurance policy is on the to do list.  We'll still have a 30-minute trek across Clear Lake and out to the bridge to go sailing, but at least we'll be able to make it any time of year.  I felt bad because I knew being closer to the bay was important to Freddie, but the noise at those two marinas by the bridge was really a deal breaker.  Watergate is quiet and has much more green space than most marinas. I could tell from the look in Mary's eyes as soon as we walked through it, she was going to vote for Watergate.  I really love all the trees and park areas and long walking trails.  That is real relaxation for me.  

Every marina was a trade-off. Some places gave you quiet and a nice view. Some places gave you easy bay access. Some places gave you security. Some of them gave you safety from storms. None of them had the whole package, but Watergate checked the most boxes on our list and came in on the lower end of the price list we had gathered.

We signed a one-year lease and will be moving at the end of the month. We'll miss sitting on the dock late into the night with our friends or stumbling off our boat and right onto our neighbor's boat for coffee in the mornings, but change isn't always a bad thing. Hopefully we'll spend much more time meeting up with friends in the bay while sailing instead of being stuck in a dilapidated marina all winter.  We have high hopes of all the things we hope to accomplish in this next stage of our life, we'll see how far that gets us.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How do you prioritize your repairs and upgrades?

Something is always broken. Our list of repairs and improvements for Gimme Shelter is about two pages long.

Of course, some things jump to the front of list -- like a ripped sail or dead batteries -- while others never seem to get resolved.

I've got a propane oven I'm planning to install, but I need to spent about $100 on a shut-off solenoid, and I just haven't brought myself to order the part since it's 99 degrees outside and the thought of making the boat any hotter by turning on an oven seems ridiculous. However, I walked into West Marine and dropped almost $75 on a portable 12 v fan. 

Could we have lived without that fan purchase? Yes, but it just seemed to make more sense than the propane valve.

We also have a missing hot water heater. It would take $250 and maybe an hour to get a new one fitted, and we'd once again have warm showers. But who wants a warm shower when you're already sweating in a boat. So that project has also hit the back burner.

We had been conveniently ignoring the cracked deck hatch since we bought the boat six months ago. Then we finally had some Texas style rain.

I awoke to the feeling of water sprinkling on my leg, and I immediately jumped up thinking one of the dogs had decided to pee on me.

I don't know why I thought this since neither dog has ever peed on the boat. The dogs obviously didn't know why I thought this either since they both groggily raised their heads as they tried to figure out why I had jumped out of bed.

Then I saw it.

 The rain was coming right through the crack in the hatch and dripping right onto the bed where my leg had been.

I grabbed a trash can and managed to lodge it between the bed and the table where it would catch the drip and went back to sleep. In the morning I had collected almost three inches of water in the can.

Looks like putting new plexiglass in the leaky hatch just got to the top of the list.