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.

 

 

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Converting an icebox into a refrigerator

The previous owner of Gimme Shelter converted the icebox to a refrigerator in 1985. I still have the receipt for the Adler-Barbour cold machine. However, after 30 years of service, it had seen better days.

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When it finally gave up the ghost we decided to start fresh, so we set about dismantling the system and cleaning out the icebox.

With the modern refrigerator kits from Isotherm and Adler-Barbour, converting an icebox is one of the easiest projects we’ve done.

The very first step when attempting a conversion is to measure your icebox and calculate the volume. Ours was 16″ x 20″ x 21″. With a quick conversion that’s 1.33′ x 1.66′ x 1.75’= 3.88 cubic feet.

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Knowing the size of icebox we needed to cool, we started browsing our available options. Based on price and reviews, we decided to try the $899 Isotherm Compact 2301 Icebox Refrigeration Kit. However, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between one brand and another anymore. They all use danfoss compressors, and the evaporators look mysteriously similar.

When the refrigeration kit arrived, the box was surprisingly small.

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In the box was the compressor, condenser and evaporator, pre-charged with r134a coolant.

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The unit also came with a bracket for mounting the compressor on either a horizontal or vertical surface.

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And the kit came with the thermostat, a fuse holder, and a short power cable, but we had to supply our own positive and negative leads to the battery as well as a breaker.

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The Isotherm unit turned out to be so compact that it could be easily mounted under the galley cabinets or a settee. However, since we already had a hole drilled and a location available in the lazarette, we decided to keep the new unit there.

That brings me to step two. Figure out where you want to mount the compressor and lay everything out BEFORE you drill any holes in the icebox.

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As you can see, we already had a hole drilled, but making sure you drill the hole in the right place is the most complicated part of this entire project. If you’ve got everything laid out and drill your hole in the right spot, you’re over the hump.

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For best results, you need to run power wires directly from the battery to a breaker to the mounting location. The instructions for you refrigerator will tell you the appropriate wire and breaker sizes.

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Wiring the new Isotherm unit was incredibly easy. Everything is very clearly labeled and uses push-on connectors.

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Once we had our wiring and coolant lines run, we screwed down the Isotherm mounting bracket where we wanted the compressor to sit. Then it’s vibration absorbing feet just slide onto the bracket and clip in.

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The coolant lines have self-sealing valves. In other words, they don’t open until you screw them together. And if you ever need to take them apart, they should seal themselves as you unscrew them. This not only makes install easy, it’s also much better for the environment not to have coolant leaking into the air.

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The lines are threaded with one male and one female on each half of the system, so that there’s only one way to hook them together. Just line them up straight and use two wrenches to tighten them.

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Meanwhile back in the icebox we need to mount the evaporator as high as possible while leaving space for an insulated lid. Trying to stick your arm down in the box while screwing at an odd angle can be tricky, so making a paper template of the evaporator and pre-drilling the mounting holes makes it easier. I was really surprised the unit didn’t come with a paper mounting template.

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The bare metal end of the thermostat lead needs to be screwed up against the bottom of the evaporator. (I forgot to get a photo of this, but I found out the hard way that it’s much easier to accomplish this before you screw the evaporator onto the wall.)

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Our unit also came with a lid that is held in place with a bungee cord. I’m not sure it really does much to make the icebox any icier, but it does give the refrigerator a more finished look.

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Our final step was to attach the positive and negative 12-volt leads to the control panel on the compressor. We flipped the breaker and were delighted when the unit hummed to life. However, it was an extremely quiet, barely audible hum. Our old unit had sort of a high-pitched bearing squeal that was audible anywhere in the boat. With the new unit we can’t hear it at all unless we open the lazarette and listen for it.

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As you can see, the footprint of the new until is less than half that of our old unit.

Once everything is connected and running, you can squirt a little spray foam into the icebox hole to seal it up. If your icebox lid isn’t insulated, it will also boost the efficiency of your new refrigerator to insulate that as well. Catalina Direct actually sells icebox lid insulation containers that just screw on to the bottom of your existing lid in a couple of sizes, but it’s easy enough just to make your own.

Old Ships and New Friendships

Sunday morning we woke up to a slow start thanks to some excessive after-race partying.  We had planned to take some new friends out on our boat around 10, and woke up around 9:30 to a very messy, and totally unprepared boat.  After making Fred and the dogs get out of bed, rushing around throwing things into drawers/closets/the V-berth, and a quick trip to the store for supplies we were ready not a second too early.

We met Kayla and TJ when they courageously decided to buy the 25ft Oday that had been for sale next to ours. We were excited to meet some new friends with whom we could share our sailing knowledge. While it’s a real pleasure to sail with experienced sailors, its also nice once in awhile to be the expert. Plus, we were greeted by a pod of dolphins as soon as we passed the Kemah Boardwalk, so we knew it would be a great day.

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Kayla and TJ also invited their friends Ashley and Chase along for the sail. They had been staying with them on their boat all weekend, and were excited to get a chance to get out on the water.  Tex was also there…grumpy and hot.

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The day started out slow with 0-2 knots of wind.  We kind of bobbed around with both sails flapping. We were joined by this lovely home built catamaran loaded up with bikini clad girls. They did not seem to be minding the lack of wind either.

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We all decided to jump in the water for a quick swim as it was over 100 degrees out with no breeze. Right as we started to get comfortable the wind suddenly jumped to 7 knots and we were all being towed behind the boat.  As fun as that was, thinking we might look like shark bait, we all climbed aboard and decided to do some real sailing.

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We tried to give TJ and Kayla a chance to helm and to work the winches. They did an amazing job!

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Everyone on the crew did a great job helping out.  Even in this Texas heat, we managed to have an amazing day on the water.

Quick haul and zinc check

At our old marina, we would burn through zincs on our prop shaft in a matter of weeks. In fact, we lost a propeller before we realized we had to change them every three months.

It’s been almost a year since we put new bottom paint on Gimme Shelter. I was feeling very guilty and neglectful that I hadn’t bothered to check her zincs the entire time, so we had her quick-hauled at South Texas Yacht Services for a cleaning.

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I was sure the sacrificial zinc anodes would be completely gone, and I was just praying that our shaft and prop would be ok.

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But lo and behold, both zincs were still there and in great shape! We had a bit of green slime all over the hull and some barnacle growth on the prop, but that was about it. The yard workers did a light pressure washing to clean everything up, and we were good to go.

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I was pleasantly surprised with our findings although a bit annoyed that I spent the money on the quick haul when we didn’t really need it. However, I’ll take a good surprise over a bad surprise any day.

Saturday Morning Sunrise

For the first time in forever, we finally had a weekend of nothing but sun. Not that I mind the rain, but it was nice to be able to open all the hatches and just enjoy the spring air. I couldn’t resist getting up early Saturday morning to sip some coffee and watch the sunrise.

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Momma duck brought all the babies by to say, hello as they started their morning routine.

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And even this sleepy head got out of bed earlier than usual for a walk around the marina.

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Primary winch replacement on an Oday 34

Gimme Shelter arrived with the original winches from 1982, shiny stainless Barlow 25s. They glimmered with the reflection of the ocean as the waves rolled by.

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Unfortunately their shininess couldn’t make up for a few shortcomings.

  • Mary does not have much upper-body strength, so trimming in the 140 Genoa in anything more than the lightest wind proved impossible for her. I knew we needed bigger winches.
  • Barlow has been out of business for decades, and as I learned with my last boat, you’re always better off going with something that is still being made (or at least with a company still in business).
  • I was going to have to remove the Barlow winches anyway, whether I replaced them or not because Oday did not use any kind of backing plate when they were mounted, and the fiberglass under the starboard winch was cracking and needed to repaired.
  • The set screws that held the Barlows together were frozen, and I was most likely going to have to drill them out to get them off.

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I did quite a bit of research regarding how I could possibly get the winches off undamaged, but after two weekends of waiting on penetrating oil and trying different things, I ended up breaking the head off one set screw. At that point I just decided to dremel grooves into the bottom of the bolts on the other winch, so that I could hold each mounting screw still with a flathead screwdriver from below while I used an end wrench to unscrew the nuts.

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I ended up with one winch that I couldn’t put back together and one winch that I couldn’t take apart — at least until I finally drill out the center set screws in both and re-thread the holes.

During my struggle with the Barlows I ran across these gorgeous Lewmar 44 self-tailing winches at the local Boater’s Resale Shop, and on an impulse decided to upgrade. I mean, combined they were less than the price of one new Lewmar 44, how could I pass that up?

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I’ll admit I should have done more research before pulling the trigger on the bargain. The six allen screws in the top mean these are “spring jaw” Lewmar 44STs, which are also no longer made and no longer have parts available. I kicked myself for replacing one obsolete part with another obsolete part. However, I kept reminding myself that good winches can last 40 or 50 years, so surely they still had plenty of life in them before I’d end up hunting for some discontinued gear or pawl.

I thought they would work just like all other Lewmar winches and come apart after I removed the allen screws in the top. I was wrong. I took out the screws and nothing budged. I was delayed again as I searched for a way to disassemble Lewmar 44ST Spring Jaw Winches without them ending up in the same condition as the Barlows.

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Thankfully, the kind people at Lewmar were extremely responsive and in less than 24 hours of sending my inquiry, they sent me back a PDF of the original Lewmar 44ST Spring Jaw Self Tailing winch instructions, which I am sharing here for anyone else wondering how in the world to take these apart: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B-eqti4pjMLTRGw5cE9FMHFoOU1OczFKcURaX3dIdGdfeFFn&authuser=0

The key is to use a rubber mallet to tap the tailing arm in a counter clockwise direction until the entire top of the winch knocks loose. Then remove the six allen screws. Then the interior ring just screws off. It’s very easy once you know how to do it.

While I was fighting with the winches I was also mixing up thickened epoxy and filling in the old winch holes as well as injecting epoxy into the cracks.

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By the way, the Barlow winches actually had six holes, but Oday only bothered to put in five screws. I’m at a loss when it comes to the decisions boat builders make.

I also made new backing boards out of 1″ oak planks. In the past I’ve used star board, but I already had the oak left over from another project, so I went with that. I also bought all new stainless hardware to make sure I had six bolts for each side that were long enough to fit through the backing boards.

I drilled the six new holes two bit sizes larger than required, then filled those holes with thickened epoxy. I then re-drilled through the epoxy with the correct bit size, so that if my bedding of 5200 under the winches ever leaked, I wouldn’t end up with any water penetration at the holes.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo with the six holes drilled, filled and re-drilled because at that point of the project I was either covered in epoxy or just trying to get it finished.

The port backing plate, which is located in the lazarette, went on with no issues, but I had to cut the starboard backing plate in half to make it fit through the small access hole in the ceiling of the aft berth.

I won’t go into the details of how we installed the new winches with Mary working the screwdriver from the cockpit while I held up the backing plates and worked a ratchet in a contorted position from the bowels of the ship, but eventually the winches were mounted, and our marriage has survived.

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We now have the largest self-tailing winches compatible with our line size. After using them sailing to Port Bolivar last weekend Mary’s review was, “This is a lot easier.”

Worth every penny — even if they are discontinued.

Easter weekend at Laguna Harbor

Redfish Island, Double Bayou, Offats Bayou, Moody Gardens, Harborwalk … there’s only so many places to overnight on a sailboat that are just a day trip from our home port in Kemah, Texas. So when we heard about Laguna Harbor Marina in Port Bolivar last month, Mary was on the phone making reservations.

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It was much to our surprise that the developer of Laguna Harbor invited us to stay for free and help ourselves to any of the electric and water hookups available. Of course, what we didn’t realize at the time is that Laguna Harbor Marina isn’t finished yet.

“If you build it, they will come.” I’m sure that is what the original developers were thinking when they dug Laguna Harbor, installed the bulkheads, and built the first model home — just before Hurricane Ike wiped out the Bolivar Peninsula in 2008. However, Port Bolivar has now recovered and development of the area has once again commenced.

We left Watergate Yachting Center at 9:30 a.m. the morning of Good Friday, very excited to be making our first overnight trip of 2015 and even more excited to spend some time at a new destination. Prevailing southeast winds let us sail across upper Galveston Bay to the Houston Ship Channel, but then we ended up with wind right on the nose and motored the rest of the way. During the sail, gusty winds had us periodically surging up to 8 knots, which had Mary and Dixie both rather nervous.

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However, the motoring portion of the trip was a different story.

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It was a very quiet ride, but at least I had a little company from the passing ships.

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We passed the Texas City Dike right at 1:30 p.m. and for the first time turned east into the Intracoastal Waterway.

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We passed some interesting scenery and several fleets of shrimp boats.

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And then two miles in on the south side of the ICW, there it was, a small sign that said Laguna Harbor.

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We almost missed it on the first pass as it wasn’t on the Garmin charts. Our track showed us cruising right up onto the shore.

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The entire trip took 4.5 hours. It was very easy to find the heavy duty cleats and power stations in the southwest corner of the marina.

We got tied up and accepted a tour of the sales office from Casey, the realtor with Newcoast Properties who was on duty all weekend. It wasn’t long before the crew of a Catalina 30 named Quest had joined us, and we were all checking out the view of Port Bolivar from the very top of the sales office.

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To say Port Bolivar is still a bit rural would be an understatement. In fact, there were horses grazing less than 100 yards from where we were docked.

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The entire place is a strange mix of pre-hurricane structures and new development.

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There’s still a few “fixer-uppers” available if you want a good deal …

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We had hoped to visit the beach and the bird sanctuary, but it was a three-mile walk. Considering average walking pace is 4 mph, that was close to an hour of walking just to get to the beach, where we planned to take a walk on the beach, before we walked an hour back. We decided that maybe we should invest in folding bikes and take in the beach on a future trip.

Instead, Mary put on her cruising hat, and we headed over to La Playita, the only restaurant in the area, looking for some margaritas.

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We found some pretty good Mexican food with great service, but they only serve beer. (Hey, at least it wasn’t a dry town, and it’s not like I was going to pass up their fajita chicken burrito smothered in queso.)

After dinner we walked back to the marina where our neighbors kindly shared their homemade cheesecake with us as we watched the sun set.

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Saturday night the winds began gusting from the north at 35 – 40 mph. I didn’t sleep much as I kept getting up to check our fenders and lines. I was wishing we had some old car tires to hang along the side of Gimme Shelter. The wind was blowing so hard I’m not sure I could have slept even if we’d been tied up at our slip in Watergate.

I had planned to set up my tripod and shoot the lunar eclipse Saturday morning, but I poked my head out at 6:30 to find complete cloud cover, so I crashed back into bed and didn’t wake up until the dogs insisted they go for a walk about 10 a.m. We finally got out of bed and made some breakfast.

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Saturday was still too windy for kayaking, but we made the best of it by taking a walk around the area. While there is a large bird sanctuary in Port Bolivar, it doesn’t necessarily mean the birds stay inside of it.

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Grackles were everywhere doing their humpty dance, trying to get the attention of the ladies. We also ran across a bird we’d never seen before called the Long Billed Curlew. He seemed to be checking out some daisies.

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Of course, all the usual suspects were around. There was no shortage of seagulls, cormorants and sandpipers.

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I was also surprised to see quite a bit of prickly pear cactus in the area mixed in with the Texas wildflowers. It was covered in purple buds that were just about bloom.

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There was a little bit of beach along the ICW, and the water was clear enough to see the hermit crabs wandering around.

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We also stumbled across an egg just sitting on the beach. It almost seemed like a magic Easter egg put there just for us to find.

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But then we realized there was a chicken farm just the other side of the shrimp boats and seafood shack to the north of Laguna Harbor. Deductive reasoning led us to believe the gusting 40 mph north winds probably helped the egg migrate south to the beach that night.

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Walking around, you still found evidence of the destruction caused by Hurricane Ike, like this children’s wagon that had been completely covered over during the storm and is now eroding back out of the soil.

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By dinner time Saturday evening the winds had finally switched back around to the south and settled to a calm 5 – 10 mph. It made the perfect weather for trying out our new Magma grill.

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Yes, I was paranoid about dropping food in the water, so yes, I did accidentally drop a chicken breast overboard as I was taking them off the grill. I hope Neptune enjoys teriyaki. I poured out a little bit of beer for him to go with the chicken in hopes he’d give us good weather on the way home Sunday, which was probably sacrilege since Sunday was Easter, but let’s face it, it was a pagan holiday before it got converted to Easter, so it probably doesn’t matter.

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We had a very nice dinner in the cockpit, but I think I’m going to build us a new table that will actually fit two plates at the same time.

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I think I can safely speak for our two furry crew members when I say, they had a great time as well.

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There was plenty of space to explore on our walks, and they got to see horses and cows. Tex wasn’t thrilled with the cockle-burs in his fur, but Dixie had a good romp in her Easter sweater.

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We had the entire harbor to ourselves as the sun went down Saturday night. LH11

Rain was in the forecast Sunday, so we put on our foulies and got an early start back to Kemah at 8:30 a.m. We cautiously motored back to the Houston Ship Channel with only one barge and a shrimp boat in sight. It was an easy downwind sail all the way back, but due to the heavy mist and some occasional rain, we left the camera and our phones in the cabin. Unfortunately that means we have no evidence of the pod of dolphins doing crazy jumps out of the water on the bow wake of a passing cargo ship or the two dolphins that popped up and spouted right beside our cockpit, not once, but twice. They were so close we could have reached out and touched them.

By the time we turned west at the south cut the dogs were very unhappy with being wet and the rolling motion of the boat that came with the following seas. They were very ready to get off the boat when we finally pulled into our slip at 12:30 p.m.

All in all, it was a good trip despite the scary winds Friday night. We had no major boat issues, and the new winches worked great.

As it stands, Laguna Harbor is a great overnight spot if you’re planning to head offshore, and you can’t beat free. I’m sure we’ll be back. As they develop the marina I hope they’ll add things like bike or golf cart rentals, so that visiting boaters can explore more of the area.