GBCA Icicle 5: We end the series with a spirited DNF

Friday evening our outlook for race 5 was still dependent on whether or not I could repair the cabin top winch that raises and lowers the centerboard.

Once I got the winch open, the mechanism turned out to be incredibly simple. There is a gear on the drum, a gear on the winch handle, and one pawl that is supposed to release whenever you turn the handle. I will have to completely remove the cable and lift out the entire drum assembly to identify why the pawl is staying locked, but I found a way to pull it clear with my finger. Using the finger method we could raise and lower the centerboard with no issues, so we were a go for Saturday morning.

The lack of wind that had plagued us the entire series was not an issue Saturday. In fact, it was the most intense conditions we had ever experienced in the Kadey Krogen — an all new test.

The first thing I learned was that 30 knot winds put Mary into a complete freeze-up panic. I know she was struggling hard with being out in those conditions, so when she asked that we only fly the reefed main and the staysail, I complied. The rest of the crew did not seem as worried, but I did notice they all put on life jackets for the ride.

We had a beam reach for the first leg with apparent wind frequently gusting to 35 knots, and we were consistently making 6.5 – 7 knots on our way to the first mark. I attempted to take some pictures and video, but Mary promptly took my phone away and told me to focus on steering. However, she did take this one video clip before zipping my phone into her pocket for the duration of the race.

The second leg, we were dead down. The main was blocking all of the wind to the staysail, but we were pushing ahead at 5.5 knots and steadily running down the one or two boats that started ahead of us. The better strategy would have been to roll out the genoa and drop the staysail and main, but with the extreme conditions we decided it was better not to change sails. We did try to push the staysail across for wing-on-wing, but with the single-line system we have on that sail, we couldn’t get it to stay.

By the time we had reached the second mark, we had seen some torn sails on other boats along the course. We made the second turn and that’s where our competitive edge ended. The wind had dropped to the 15-20 knot range, and we really didn’t have enough sail out. We also realized the line brake that held the outhaul was slipping, but the outhaul and the mainsheet share a winch. There was no good way to get the outhaul tight and then off the winch to a cleat. We also had no winch at all for the staysail line, which was taking serious muscle to sheet in. We had lack of sail, poor trim, and I was having to pinch to make any forward progress on the course. We were lucky to get 3.5 knots boat speed even with all of the wind. Then the real kicker was that we learned the boat cannot tack with only the main and staysail, so each time across the bay, we had to do a slow loopy jibe. It was terrible.

After crossing the bay four times we were the last boat still on the course. I REALLY wanted to finish, but Mary had been sitting in tense fear for more than four hours and kept suggesting we start rolling in the sails, so I finally turned on the motor.

While our sailing performance in this series was absolutely dismal, we did learn some important things about the boat. I think for safety we’re going to switch the mainsheet system because having the controls on the cabin top puts the user in a prime location to get hit by the sheet and traveler as it swings across. That would also fix the outhaul winch situation.

I was impressed with the way the Krogen handled the 30 knot winds. One of the boats had their traveler ripped off. The Krogen wasn’t phased at all. However, it is a real conundrum that Mary only likes sailing in less than 15 knots of wind, and the Krogen really only sails in more than 15 knots of wind.

I wish we had sailed better, but getting off the dock four out of five weekends in January was a big accomplishment. I can cross the first thing off my list of goals for 2021.

GBCA Icicle 4: Pure heartbreak

You would think that after three weeks of focused boat repairs and adjustments, sailing performance would go up.

You would be wrong. Icicle 4 was the worst race yet.

When we re-installed the jib, we tied on the old slightly smaller diameter sheets that had been found in the bottom of the lazarette. The theory was that our new sheets were too large for the turning blocks and were binding up during our tacks. Unfortunately as we unfurled the jib on our way to the starting line, one of the sheets came untied leaving the jib flapping in the wind.

We left our starting position to partially furl the jib and get the line re-attached, but that put us about 10 minutes behind and quite a bit off course.

Once the jib actually caught the wind, the bow of the boat started turning uncontrollably giving me a clear indication that the center board had not actually dropped when we lowered it. Apparently the centerboard winch was jamming up. We spent another 10 minutes finessing and finagling it while I was inside the boat jerking on the centerboard wire trying to get it to deploy.

At this point we were 20 minutes late and completely in the wrong spot to start. We had to spend another 10 minutes motoring back to to race area before we could even get into a starting pattern.

We started VERY late. There was only one J boat and a trimaran behind us.

The jib sheets did seem to bind up less during tacks, but it was hard to know if it was the line size that was making a difference or if it was the fact that I cleaned quite a bit of corrosion out of the jib cars, so that they were operating better. Unfortunately the self-tailing winches did not always hold the smaller line.

One of the biggest problems I’m still facing is that with our undersized shallow draft rudder, we have a major issue with the boat continuing to turn in a circle once it starts the tack. I don’t think there’s any cure for this. This boat was designed by a single man for anchoring in shallow water and drinking in the spacious cockpit. It’s essentially a trawler with a mast, and it sails like garbage. The fixed keel version handles much better, and I’m quite sad we didn’t go that route.

We managed to make one tack on the first leg of the course, then the wind dropped to 7 knots, and we stopped moving. Everyone was content to drift, but eventually we were drifting into a children’s regatta area, so we had to give up and turn on the motor to make sure we didn’t float over a bunch of kids on optis.

To say I’m more than a little depressed about the boat’s performance would be an understatement. Every other heavy, cruising class handicap boat finished the race. To be fair, they all had a 30-minute lead, so maybe there was jmore wind down the course or they were able to make the first turn to be on a better point of sail before the wind dropped, but I think something is seriously wrong with our rig and sail plan.

We have one race left in the series, and my aspirations of placing have diminished to just hopes of finishing. Of course, unless I can get the centerboard winch unseized before the race, we may not be able to sail at all.

At least we’re getting off the dock. That’s progress over the past two years.

Still, it’s hard to stay positive in regard to this boat when it’s sailing so poorly. I don’t mind having a pig, but this is ridiculous.

Here’s to new adventures in 2021

2021 started on a good tack. We spent New Year’s Day on the boat prepping for GBCA Icicle Series 1, and we were treated to an absolutely amazing sunset.

I finally broke down and bought a 3M Stripe Removal wheel to take the old Florida registration numbers off the hull. It was working pretty well until it popped out of the drill and into the water.

Poseidon demands his sacrifices. I almost went diving for it, but then I remembered I still have stitches in my stomach from the hernia surgery, so I decided against it. Guess I’ll get another one and try again next weekend, but I’ll be checking the chock tightness frequently.

We were up early Saturday to finish boat prep before our crew arrived, and we cast off just after 11 a.m. for our first race aboard the Krogen 38. There’s no better way to shakedown a boat than to race it. As a wise man once said, “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.”

We’re still having trouble with our furling main. It’s an early design, and it just doesn’t seem to work very well. Someone has to literally sit under the boom and guide the line onto the drum by hand or it wraps too low and then overwraps. It took multiple attempts to fully deploy the main. Then our staysail and jib furlers just don’t want to spin. Even with decent wind, it took some real effort to get them started. It probably doesn’t help that the staysail furler lost an eyelet during transport to Houston, and I had to rig it with a big U-bolt to stop it from overwrapping immediately. Apparently it’s not a great solution because when we attempted to furl it back in after the race, it was still an overwrapped mess.

Hopefully by the end of the series we’ll have it all figured out and working correctly because replacing two furling units and switching the main to a smart track is a really expensive proposition. We’ll see how it goes. Our furling issues definitely contributed to a late start for race 1.

Overall we did well. Our tacks were messy, but it was literally everybody’s first time sailing the boat. Yes, Mary and I have been out on the boat previously, but we never had the jib out in more than maybe 5 knots of wind.) We learned that the jib does tack across in high wind, but that it has seen better days. It did not hold shape well, and there were several patches of sunbrella fluttering in the wind by the end of the race.

Mary helmed the start and the first leg of the course while I was fixing furlers, then I took over the second two legs.

I have no idea when we could have possibly hit 16.8 knots. It must have been while Mary was driving.

Racing with dogs aboard was interesting. Tex has been sailing for the entire 10 years we’ve had him, and he could care less except when we start heeling, and he gets dumped off a bench. However, he does get cold.

Hemingway, on the other hand, was nervous the entire time. By the third leg Mary was designated dog holder. There had been discussion of possibly bringing Finn along for a race in his car seat, but I think that will have to at least wait until the summer rum races.

We spent this morning addressing all of the little issues we documented during the race. I also noticed the air-conditioning water return wasn’t flowing very well, so I decided to clean the strainers.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much strainer left to be cleaned. The underside of the lid was coated in barnacles, and the basket was completely deteriorated. The good news is that the basket is a common size that is still being made. The bad news is, nobody had it in stock, so we may not have air-conditioning or heating for a couple of weeks — but that’s the excitement of boating, right?

Here’s the hoping 2021 continues to stay exciting, not just in sailing, but in all of our endeavors.

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.

EasterSailing11

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.

EasterSailing09

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.

EasterSailing03

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.

EasterSailing04

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

EasterSailing05

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.

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.

dink10

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?

dinkgif02

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.

dink07.jpg

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.

dink08

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.

dink02

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.

dinkgif03.gif

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.

dink01

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.

dinkgif01

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

dink06

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.

dink05

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.

dink04

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.

EyeBrow01

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.

Eyebrow05

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.

Eyebrow04

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

Eyebrow03

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.

EyeBrow02

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.

Universal5424

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.

heatexchanger01

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.

heatexchanger03

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.

heatexchanger02

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.

thermostat

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.

heatexchanger06

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.

heatexchanger04

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.

heatexchanger05

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.

 

 

Chasing leaks

ChasingLeaks01

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.

chasingleaks03

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.

chasingleaks02

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.

plug

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

chasingleaks08

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.

chasingleaks09

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.

chasingleaks12

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.

ChasingLeaks05

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.

ChasingLeaks07

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.

chasingleaks13

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.

ChasingLeaks04

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.

chasingleaks10

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

chasingleaks14

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

 

 

 

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.

So how’s that music thing working out?

xmasparty

You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!