I wish SeaTow would fix their app

I like SeaTow. I’ve been a subscriber for at least four or five years now. They’ve shown up to jumpstart me, pull me out of the mud, and tow me back to my slip.

HOWEVER, almost two years ago they released the SeaTow 2.0 app for Android and iOS. I can’t speak to the iOS version, but the Android version has an issue — and I don’t mean the fact that it has errors and closes repeatedly. I know how hard it is to program for Android and all the various phones on that platform.

The big problem is with the weather.

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Do you see the issue?

Note that the date I took this screenshot was 4/05. The weather then starts with “Today 04/05.” Then shows Friday … except I took this screenshot on Friday!

Yes, you are seeing that correctly. They have the wrong day/date for all the weather entries.

I have reported this error at least four times, and SeaTow only bothered to reply once and said, “The weather portion of the app is sourced from Weather Underground. It is functioning correctly. We suggest you delete the app from your phone and try reinstalling it.”

Yes, the information you’re sourcing is working correctly, but the genius who re-skinned that information in your app screwed up the date/date labels. It has had this error since it was released July 25, 2016! It’s been almost two years, and you still have the wrong days of the week on your weather report.

Please fix this SeaTow. It’s driving me crazy.

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Easter weekend at Harborwalk Marina

For the first time in a long time, we left Galveston Bay for a trip west on the ICW to Harborwalk Marina in Hitchcock, Texas.

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We visited Harborwalk four years ago, and the entire trip left a terrible taste in our mouths. Our engine overheated, the head backed up, the air-conditioning quit, the mosquitoes were unbearable, and drunk fishermen kept pulling up to the restaurant dock and revving their engines and blaring music all night. Then to top that all off, when we went to the pool in the morning a security guard escorted us out because we weren’t wearing Harborwalk wristbands despite having prepaid for our slip but arriving after the office had closed the night before.

Thankfully, this trip was better.

We cast off Friday morning with favorable winds. It’s not often you get both a north wind for the trip to Galveston and a south wind for the trip home, but it was one of those rare weekends.

It was an easy six-hour cruise from Kemah to Harborwalk with only a short delay at the Galveston Causeway Railroad Bridge. Entering the marina we were careful to stay in the center of the channel, but there was a still a section that read 5′ on depth finder. Definitely don’t cut the corners in and out of the channel because on Sunday a sailboat got stuck exiting too close to the bulkhead.

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We had reserved eight slips for the weekend at a flat rate of $50 per night. They were not charging by the size of boat or the size of the slip.

Apparently Harborwalk turned on power to the first eight transient slips. Unfortunately, one of the power poles was shorting out and fried the surge protectors in our friends’ boat. That scooted everyone down a slip. That meant the boat on the end had no power and despite getting called by 6 p.m. Friday night about the issue, the marina didn’t bother to respond and come flip the breaker on for that slip until Saturday morning.

While it was still a little too cold to swim, we took advantage of Harborwalk’s beautiful pool area to hang out and play a few rounds of cornhole. There was no longer a security guard throwing people out, but there’s also no longer a pool bar or restaurant. We heard rumors the marina was signing a lease deal with a new restaurant this week. (Take that rumor with a grain of salt because we kept hearing Watergate would have a new restuarant open in three months every three months for three years before Opus Ocean Grille finally moved in.)

The lack of restuarant and bar definitely cut down on the loud small boat traffic, which made for beautiful, peaceful evenings, and although we didn’t try any, our friends said the food at the ship store was great.

We got to witness a gorgeous blue moon Saturday night.

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Unfortunately the mosquitoes were just as bad as they had been on our previous visit. The marina is surrounded by swampland, so make sure and bring plenty of spray.

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However, the clear view out over the swap made for some great sunsets. It looked like a giant Easter egg on the horizon.

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There was one other strange incident worth mentioning in regard to our visit. There was a crab trap in the water near the transient docks with a dead, bloated otter inside it. It was unclear as to whether the otter somehow crawled inside, got trapped and drowned or if it was stuffed inside and left there. Either way, it was pretty gross.

While the facilities are gorgeous, Harborwalk still has some work to do to become a great marina.

Etsy as a second income: Cruising and beyond

I’m coming up on two years now of having my etsy store up and running and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the numbers.  The idea was to have a small business that I could do while cruising to help slow the burn of savings.  I’ve been selling recycled sailcloth goods and small canvas pieces online and shipping them out all over the world.  I’m going to try to evaluate whether this could work while cruising based on a few basic criteria.

The Work:  When deciding whether the work could be done on a sailboat or not I need to divide the recycled sail work from the canvas work.  I think that if I had a choice I would not want to make recycled sailcloth bags on a boat.  The biggest obstacle with it is space.  The sail takes a lot of room to store before it is made into bags, and afterwards even more space.  The bags don’t sell quickly and the amount of inventory you would end up storing would make your life miserable.  The sail also takes a lot of space to clean and spread out for cutting up.  Sailbags also need hardware to make which takes additional storage.  The canvas work however would be very feasible on a boat.  If you chose a few limited colors and bought large rolls of sunbrella storage would be relatively easy.  Products would be made to order and would not need to be stored afterward.

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The Platform:  My experience with Etsy has been great and it’s only getting better.  They do a lot to advertise your products at no additional cost.  You can of course pay for more advertising, but I never have.  They make it extremely easy to manage your listings and to put your shop on vacation if you need more time.  They also have a built in shipping forms that make it extremely easy to print and ship things.  All of their stats are downloadable in excel and they really try to make them useful and easy to read.  Minimal fees.

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The $$:  So here is the real question.  In almost two years I have made a grand total of $4,486.01 profit on 98 orders.  That’s not counting the cash sales I have made locally. I haven’t spent any money on advertising either locally or online.  I also shut the site down for a bit this spring because of my regular job picking up.  Of all of my products listed most of the revenue came from my small canvas items.

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I think that doing canvas work both online and through etsy would be a viable option while cruising.  It’s definitely working out better than our music career did. While I wouldn’t suggest it as your only source of income I do think that the space and time that it takes in your life would be worth it for the money it brings in.  Having a sewing machine on the boat could also come in handy in a tight spot.

The difference a dink makes

The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting over 30, blowing straight off the shore of the small island behind which we were anchored. Both of our dogs, whom refuse to to soil our boat (at least while we’re there) hadn’t relieved themselves in more than 24 hours and looked absolutely miserable.

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I held tight to the standing rigging as I stood on the cabin top and looked over my small kayak trying to decide if I could even make any headway towards the island or if I’d be blown back past the boat and out into the middle of the bay if I attempted the trip to shore.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about what would happen to me and two dogs in life jackets on a kayak — we’d just be carried ashore somewhere in San Leon. The problem was that if I couldn’t get back to the sailboat, Mary would be stranded there, unable to lift the anchor and leave.

That was the weekend we really began dinghy shopping.

But what type and size of a dinghy did we need and how would we power it?

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Luckily we had many boating friends also looking for dinghies, so we waited and learned from their experiences.

Our friends on the Tina Marie Too had a big double floor West Marine inflatable with a 20hp 4-stroke engine. It was comfortable. It planed up. It held a lot of people. It was way too big for our boat. We ruled out a fiberglass floor inflatable.

Our friends on Escondida had an 8′ slat floor inflatable with a 5 hp. It was small, light and could easily be lifted on and off the foredeck. It could also be rolled up and stowed in the cabin. It didn’t hold much, and it was very slow.

Our friends on Folie a Deux bought a Port-a-bote. It wasn’t too heavy, and it folded flat to tie against the lifelines. However, it was only rated for a 2.5 hp motor, and they got caught with a strong headwind in Matagorda Bay and couldn’t make any forward progress.

What we really thought we wanted was a Takacat. However, actual Takacat inflatables are quite expensive, so we started looking at the generic Saturn inflatable catamarans available. Our friends on Hippokampos got curious about them as well and bought one.

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Not tapering together at the bow makes for a very wide dinghy. In fact, we referred to it as the barge. It was sort of a strange ride because you could feel the flex in the middle when a wave raised one pontoon and then the other. They’ve been cruising with it for over a year now, and you can actually read their entire review of it here. While they had no major complaints, we realized there was no way we could put a boat that wide on our foredeck, and we weren’t sure we’d even have the space to inflate and deflate it anywhere on Gimme Shelter.

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We went back to thinking we would go with an 8′ slat floor roll-up with a 5hp Lehr propane engine. While small and slow, that seemed to be the best option for our 34′ sailboat. We also wouldn’t have to carry gasoline along with the diesel and propane we were already carrying. We started saving and kept waiting for the big sale at West Marine.

However, sometimes the right dinghy finds you.

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Our friends over at SVMimzy.com asked if we were interested in a 10′ AB rigid floor inflatable with a Mercury 9.9 hp 2-stroke. While it was about ten years old, it was in really nice shape. I just didn’t think we could lift it or that we’d have space for it on the boat. I was incredibly surprised when the boat only weighed around 100 pounds, and I could pick it up and move it around myself — and it just barely fit on our foredeck. I have to lift it up and bit to open and close the anchor locker, but it works.

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We’ve anchored out more times this year than in almost all of our past years of sailing combined thanks to being able to easily get the dogs back and forth to shore.

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Of course, it’s been useful for more than just carting dogs around. Mary and I have made runs up and down the ICW from Bolivar to Stingarees.

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We can finally explore islands and anchorages together instead of taking turns on the kayak.

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It’s also been great for carrying my photography equipment to shore. I’d never risk it on the kayak, but now I can get the camera, lenses and tripod all safely to shore to set up for great shots like this.

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While we’re getting by with raising and lowering the dinghy and motor using our halyards, the next question is to davit or not to davit.

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Does your boat have eyebrows?

I’ve never really understood having eyebrow rails on boats. Does it make them more expressive? Ours just seemed to catch dirt then get broken when people slid off the cabin top and caught their feet on them.

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Within weeks of buying Gimme Shelter, a section of our starboard eyebrow rail had snapped off. Then another and another. By the time we rang in 2017, we were missing several sections of the trim on both sides of the boat.

Since O’day has been out of business for decades, there were no readily available replacement eyebrow rails. I had a discolored strip of gel coat with exposed screws sticking out that needed to be addressed.

From the beginning I knew I didn’t want to use screws to install the replacement. I looked into buying teak boards and cutting my own, but it was expensive, and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I looked into PlasDeck and NuTeak to see if they could replicate the originals for me, but they said they would have to make the rails wider and the plastic would require screws because an adhesive wouldn’t stick to it. I even thought about skipping the teak altogether and just putting a blue pinstripe on the cabin to cover up the stain.

It was by pure coincidence that the local boaters resale shop happened to have a set of never-installed eyebrow rails for a Catalina 34 for $99. (They’re $203 from CatalinaDirect.com.) The O’day rails were 14’4″ while the Catalina rails are only 14′, but they were pretty similar.

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I removed all the screws, filled the holes with epoxy, and stuck the new eyebrow rails on with 3M emblem adhesive — the same stuff I used to replace the fixed ports.

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The entire project was painless, which was such a relief after the nightmare of our heat exchanger replacement.

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The only downside was that the new eyebrow rails made our hand rails and toe rails look terrible. We spent the entire next day sanding them down and oiling them to make them match.

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Gimme Shelter is looking great.

Upgrading my Universal/Westerbeke Heat Exchanger: The dumbest repair I’ve ever made

This is a tale of folly and failure. My lack of research and trust in manufacturers led me down a long path of woe.

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The Universal 5424 in our 1982 O’day 34 was overheating. The 3-cylinder diesel motor was rated to run at 2800 RPM. However, if we pushed it past 1900 RPM, the temp needle began rising and never stopped.

Decades ago, Universal/Westerbeke admitted that the 2″ diameter heat exchanger was too small for the 5424 and the M-25 and recommended upgrading to a 3″ heat exchanger. Despite our engine allegedly being rebuilt in 2008, that never happened.

At the very beginning of this debacle, a friend said I should just buy a cheap generic 3″ heat exchanger with screw-in bungs, so I could size them to my hoses and just do a quick swap. I decided against that because I wanted to keep the engine as OEM as possible with an “official” upgraded part, and I thought finding the barbed bronze bungs might be a pain. Oh, how foolish I was.

Catalina Direct had factory style replacements heat exchangers starting at $500, but I wasn’t ready to pay that much, so I searched eBay. One seller claimed he had a 3″ Universal heat exchanger. It looked very similar to the one I had. I made an offer at $150 (plus $20 shipping), and he accepted! I probably should have paid more attention to the last line in his auction that said, “measurements are not exact.”

A few days later the eBay exchanger arrived. It did look very much like the one on my boat — because it was the exact same 2″ diameter heat exchanger mounted on the back of my motor.

I contacted the eBay seller, and after a photo with a measuring tape showing that he had definitely listed this part incorrectly, he agreed to refund my money. Unfortunately, I had to spend another $20 to ship it back.

Before the project even started, I was down $40.

I browsed the Universal/Westerbeke options on Catalina Direct, and they all had the same hose inlets/outlets listed. I took that to mean they were standard sizes that would be the same as the heat exchanger I was removing. That was a terrible assumption.

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Approximately $550 later, I had this 3″ x 17″ behemoth that didn’t share a single intake or outlet size with my old unit. In fact, despite being the “factory” upgrade, some of the outlets didn’t even point the correct direction.

I slowly began the process of adapting the hose sizes and directions to make it fit.

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Why have four hoses and eight leak points when you can have 15 adapter pieces, nine hose sections and 63 leak points?

The worst part of it all was the 7/8″ raw water intake port. My oberdorfer pump had a 1/2″ barb and hose coming off of it. I found a 3/4″ barb, but a 3/4″ hose will not fit on the 7/8″ intake — even if you boil the hose first. There are no 7/8″ fittings available ANYWHERE.

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I ended up running the 1/2″ hose to a 3/4″ adapter and then triple clamping the 7/8″ hose onto that to keep it from leaking. However, since the soft 7/8″ inlet got slightly out of round as the heat exchanger was being moved around for three weekends, the 7/8″ hose doesn’t make a perfect seal on it, and I’ve now got an ever-so-slight drip of sea water leaking into my bilge for the rest of my life.

Another $500 in adapters and hoses later, I finally had the entire coolant system put back together.

Since I had to drain all the coolant anyway, I decided to replace my thermostat.

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That was an easy process, but you have to special order the molded hose that connects the thermostat housing to the water pump. Be aware of this fact ahead of time because if you’re not, you have to put the project on hold for another week while you wait on that hose to show up.

Once I finally got it all back together, I fired up the engine, and it promptly overheated.

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Yes, I had an airlock. I did not know that after filling the coolant system, you must remove the bolt in the top of the thermostat housing and then pour more coolant in there to remove the air pocket.

After overheating the engine twice dealing with the airlock, I finally got it running. We ran it in the slip long enough to verify the thermostat was opening correctly, and that she wouldn’t overheat anymore.

It took three weekends and about $1200 after the expense of the heat exchanger, hoses, adapters, clamps, thermostat, and impeller, but we can finally push into the wind at 2200 RPM without overheating.

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Our last time out in that type of wind we were running at 2 – 2.5 knots. Making trips down to Galveston in a strong headwind were completely out of the question. Now we should be able to plan trips at an average speed of at least 4 knots no matter what the weather is like.

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We still don’t have one of those speed demon sailboats that can motor at 6.5 knots, but four is twice as nice as two. However, if I could do this project again, I definitely wouldn’t be so freaking dumb.

Don’t be like me. Get the generic heat exchanger and screw in the barbs that fit your existing hoses. You can even get 90-degree nozzles and twist them to the exact direction required.

I’m going to apologize now to any future captain of Gimme Shelter. Projects like this are the reason people hate previous owners.

 

 

Backpacking Guadalupe Peak

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Our backpacks were too heavy. Nobody had trained. Nobody had even worn their packs before except me, and mine hadn’t left the garage in at least ten years.

On paper, the hike seemed easy. It was four miles up the trail with a 3,000 foot elevation gain, reaching a final height of 8,600 feet above sea level. The logistics of getting to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and back to Houston in one weekend were what had me the most worried … at least until we stepped on the trail.

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We formulated a plan to leave Thursday after work and drive to Kerrville, then get up Friday morning and drive the rest of the way to to the park. Once there we would obtain the limited backwoods camping passes for the Guadalupe Peak Trail from the rangers, then hike up the mountain. After we set up camp, we’d hike the rest of the way up the peak to watch the sunset. Then I’d take some amazing milky way photos, maybe even do some starry sky timelapse videos before heading to bed. Then we’d wake up before dawn to hike back up to the peak to watch the sunrise before walking down the mountain to go explore other things like Carlsbad Caverns or the strange Prada store in Marfa.

Things did not go exactly as planned.

We did leave Thursday night, and we did make it to Kerrville.

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The Holiday Inn Express had a fancy Texas-shaped pool. Unfortunately it was far too cold and late in the evening to try it out. The next morning we were back on the road.

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We made it to Guadalupe Mountains National Park around 1 p.m. and were very lucky to snag one of the few remaining backwoods camping permits. We unloaded our gear and headed up the mountain.

I’d done a fair amount of backpacking when I was in the Boy Scouts, and I was lucky that I still had my gear. However, nobody else had really tried out their packs, some of which had been procured through eBay, so everyone was starting the hike with discomfort.

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I also didn’t have time to open each person’s pack and ruthlessly throw all their belongings back in the car saying, “Nope, can’t take this,” like the guides and counselors did to me back in the old days. No deodorant. No extra batteries. Not even a toothbrush unless you break off the handle. What’s worse is I didn’t even follow my own rules and packed in two camera bodies, three lenses and a tripod in anticipation of all the amazing photography I was going to do. (So glad I brought a tripod for this …)

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Let’s just say it was a very long hike up the mountain.

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We stopped to rest often.

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We really should have paid attention to the fact that the trail was marked strenuous.

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Although we made sure to find plenty of photo ops.

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Five and a half hours later, we finally reached the sign for the camping area.

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Unfortunately that arrow on the sign doesn’t actually point in the right direction. The trail is off to the right of the sign, so the girls took a break while TJ and I wandered the mountain looking for any sign of a camp.

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It turned out to be just over the ridge of lower peak, so we made the last march of day into the camping area and set up our tents.

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We started cooking dinner just as the sun was setting. No, we weren’t going to be able to watch sunset from the peak, but there were times throughout the day when we weren’t sure we were even going to make it as far as we had.

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As I set up my cameras to capture some stars, the brightest full moon I’ve ever seen rose into the sky. I thought it made the night look a bit unique, so I set up a timelapse anyway. Then, since the moon hadn’t been able to dissuade me, the clouds moved in as mother nature had a good laugh about the fact that I’d carried all that camera equipment for nothing.

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The weather in the desert makes massive shifts between day and night, so we all layered up to fight the cold. The dehydrated food never tasted so good. Our friends passed around a flask, and we all took a nip of Scotch before climbing into sleeping bags and quickly falling into a deep, black sleep.

Around 2 a.m. the wind had picked up to better than 25 miles per hour. It had been impossible to drive stakes into the hard ground where we were camping, so Mary sent me out with rope to tie the tent down to whatever rocks and trees were within reach. The moon loomed over me, lighting the work. I never even had to turn on the flashlight.

We slept through sunrise.

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The dehydrated egg scramble had never tasted so good, and spirits were high as we knew we didn’t have to carry our backpacks up to the peak.

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Yes, we’d missed the sunrise, but it would still be a nice hike.

 

I packed some water and my camera into a sleeping bag stuff sack, slung it over my shoulder, and we headed for the top.

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The last mile was full of beautiful scenes. We couldn’t get enough photos, but even without packs, everyone was still having a bit of a struggle.

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Once we passed El Capitan, we knew we were almost there.

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A few portions of the trail crossed steep rock face, which had Mary crabwalking, but she overcame her fear of heights to cross them.

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Despite various threats of quitting, we all made it to the tallest point in Texas together.

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Inside the ammunition box at the base of the monument was a log book, signed by all who make the hike. Some people put serious thought into what they write. The book is full of poetry and quotes. We added our own signatures to the pages.

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Had we had more time, water and a permit, I think everyone would have been content to stay another night before breaking camp and hiking down the mountain, but we didn’t have that luxury. We made a quick lunch and then reluctantly put on our backpacks.

Mary had a sore knee, so it was slow going. Even so, it only took us about two hours to get down the hill — a marked improvement compared to our ascent.

I left my pack with everyone at the base of the trail and hiked over to the ranger station to get the car. Everyone was very excited to sit down.

We drove to Van Horn and celebrated our achievement with dinner and drinks at the El Capitan Hotel.

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We made the long drive back the Houston Sunday with one question in mind, what mountain do we conquer next?

Chasing leaks

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I was in my favorite seat in the boat when I thought I felt something on my head. I looked up just in time to feel a very cold drip down my neck.

Last year we had replaced the two large cabin windows, but it was time to chase leaks again. This time we had water coming through the handrails on the ceiling, so we swore we’d actually commit a nice weekend or two for repairs rather than just sailing around while our boat continued to leak.

I wasn’t excited about dealing with all the wood plugs that were hiding the screws, but there was nothing to do except start drilling.

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Our rails were through-bolted from the inside of the cabin to the rails on the cabin top with the screw heads inside and the nuts outside.

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Unfortunately after 35 years, most of these screws didn’t want to budge. We managed to break about half of them loose, but then I had to deal with the tedious process of drilling the heads of the other half.

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After much longer than expected, we finally managed to get the rails loose.

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I made a trip to West Marine for new hardware, but of course the screws weren’t a standard length, so I had to buy longer ones. Meanwhile Mary was sanding the rails to clean them up. When I got back we gooped up the holes and started bolting everything back together.

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In retrospect I wish I had taken the time to paint the black spacers while the rail was off, but it never crossed my mind until we had it back on the boat.

The interior rails had the screw heads, so it was easy to get those holes plugged and leveled. We then rubbed the rail with teak oil, and it was looking pretty good.

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On the exterior I had to grind the extra length off all the screws, which wasn’t as terrible a job as I thought it would be. It took about 30 minutes to get all of the screws cut down. Then I started tapping in plugs.

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This was my first time to use plugs, so it wasn’t a flawless operation. I chiseled them down and then sanded them level, but I had two or three that split wrong or came apart and had to be redone.

Finally, I got it all sanded smooth and added another layer of teak oil.

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You would think that would have been enough leak fixing for the year, but we also finally tackled the broken opening port in the V-berth. When we bought the boat fit came with a tupperware container under that window to catch the water. A year ago we bought a replacement window. I guess after four years it was finally time to do something about it.

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The new window was the same size, but the interior screw holes weren’t in the same places, and the exterior trim had no holes at all.

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There was a long debate whether or not to drill holes in the new trim to make it match the old trim rings, but it was finally decided to mount it with sealant only the way we had mounted the fixed ports. If we really need it to match we can always glue screw heads on the trim.

On top of all that work, Mary also sanded and oiled the companionway as a bonus project.

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The good news is we’ve got no leaks from the re-bedded rails or the new window.

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The bad news is that our mast is leaking again. Guess we’ll tackle that next year because I need to do some sailing.

 

 

 

Catching up with life

2017 arrived with a whirlwind of activity. We were traveling and visiting family through New Years Day. Then we both jumped right back into some intense work situations, the GBCA Icicle Series, and a Gimme Shelter concert. It seems like every minute of every day for the past three weeks has been planned, and we just go from meeting to meeting and event to event. This weekend we finally got a few unscheduled hours, so we tossed the lines and went sailing.

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We brought our friends TJ and Kayla from Folie a Deaux along for the ride.

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We had about 7 knots of wind giving us a relaxing ride out towards Redfish Island, although we didn’t quite make it there before sunset.

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As the sun went down, the wind disappeared, so we dropped sail and motored back into the marina, recharged for another week of hectic schedules.

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Hopefully things will settle down a bit, and we’ll have more time to blog soon. We’re also planning some exciting trips in 2017, so stay tuned.

Our Best Photos of 2016

Happy new year and welcome to 2017. I hope all of our readers made it, unlike all those celebrities that didn’t.

I haven’t had time to write anything new for the new year, so I thought I’d kick things off with a photographic retrospective of 2016. Deciding on our “best” photos is very subjective, and I didn’t actually ask Mary’s opinion on these. I just scrolled through all the folders of photos from the past year and picked my favorites. So, in no particular order, here are my favorite photos that we took during our adventures in 2016.