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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A Sacrifice to the Sun god – replacing the Sunbrella on our jib

Since I have been exiled to life indoors while my face heals up, I’ve decided to put the time to good use and work on finishing our Sunbrella transformation.  So far we’ve replaced the sail cover, the bimini, and all of the small canvas items on the boat with new marine blue Sunbrella.   Only the jib Sunbrella and the dodger remain a moldy pacific blue.

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Sailrite has an excellent video describing the step-by-step process of adding sunbrella to your jib, but I wanted to add some little tricks I found along the way as well.

The first thing we did was spend several DAYS, not hours, removing the old sunbrella.   After breaking my seam ripper I got frustrated and googled “best seam ripper ever.”  This is when I learned that for ripping seams on heavy canvas an X-Acto knife works wonders.  This really sped up the process for us.

Once I had removed all the old Sunbrella, I started to cut the new panels of Sunbrella with a hot knife to prevent fraying.  I didn’t want to spend the extra money on the Sailrite hot knife, but I found this one at Hobby Lobby that worked very well. It also doubles as a wood and leather burner, and it has all kinds of stamp type attachments.  Pretty cool.  After using my coupon, it was only $13.

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If you’re installing panels onto a new sail, see the Sailrite video for exact measurements of panels, but if you’re re-covering a sail, it’s easier to use the old panels as a pattern.

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We set my sewing machine on the floor to keep the sail flat. This is really important when it comes to connecting the panels together.  There were a couple areas along the foot, where towards the end of the project I got tired and sloppy.  Just a small mistake can make for some very obvious bunching when the sail is up.  Next weekend I will be taking it all back down, seem ripping those seems and flattening it out.

If I was to do it again I would have done a lot more pinning.

All in all the finished product is not too bad.  It needs a bit of adjusting, like all of my projects so far, but at least it matches the rest of the canvas.

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Just for reference, the estimated cost for this project from one of our local sail lofts was $650. Although we did have to spend every evening for a week ripping stitches, our total out-of-pocket cost for the project was under $200.

Looking for those bookings

As has been mentioned in previous blogs, one of our ideas to slow the burn on our savings while cruising is to play music along the way as a source of income. In preparation we’ve started playing shows in the Houston area to hone our skills, make sure we have the right equipment, and add a little bit of cash to the cruising kitty.

Last week I played a solo acoustic show at Little Woodrow’s in Katy, Texas. It was nice that our Gimme Shelter T-shirts had just arrived the night before.

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This was a very last minute booking, so I was lucky that with less than 24 hours notice I still had 10 friends and blog readers come out to see me.

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We’re currently trying to hard to book at least two shows per month for the rest of the year, hopefully some of which are in the Kemah area. As our schedule fills in, we’ll update the events calendar on our Facebook page.

Until then, here’s a new video of Mary and I covering Bubble Toes by Jack Johnson.

The party never stops in Galveston Bay

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We spent an action-packed weekend on the water. We headed south as soon as Mary got home form work and took a group of my co-workers out for Kemah Friday night Fireworks.

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Everyone seemed to have a great time, and two of the guys even came back Saturday to help crew the Rum Race aboard Antares.

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I hadn’t worked the winches on that boat in a while, so I was a bit rusty the first leg. However, we got everything worked out by the end of the second leg.

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That’s when we ran into Wheeee Doggie, another Cal 40, and the third leg turned into a One Design race. (We won!)

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As usual we celebrated with some rum after the race. Mary REALLY liked Doug’s last selection, so there was quite a bit of dancing later at Outriggers when we dinked over for dinner.

Sunday morning we were up early to prep Gimme Shelter for another cruise around the bay.

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Our ColdCans had arrived and worked great with their non-skid bottoms, keeping our drinks cold in 95+ degree weather.

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It was the perfect day to be on the water with winds ranging from 8 – 12 knots.

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Even Dixie Belle had a good time.

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Concert review: Chris Isaak at House of Blues Houston

We don’t go to many concerts these days.

Actually, that’s not completely true. We see many, many live bands. In fact, as a live band, we even played our first wedding concert last month.

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However, we don’t go to many big concerts with famous artists.  A combo of the loud music, late nights, expensive drinks, and crowded venues keeps us away.

There are very few that I would pay to see. Then there’s Chris Isaak.

I saw him a decade ago at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, and it was an absolutely amazing show. When I heard he was coming to House of Blues, and I might get to see him in a much smaller, more personal venue, I was quite excited and pitched the idea to Mary.

Her response was, “I don’t think I know who that is.”

She was not excited. Her only reference to Chris Isaak and the Silvertones was the fact that I cover Wicked Game … but only when we’re jamming with the “Dock Boys.” I’ve heard it murdered way too many times by way too many cover bands to ever perform it at an actual show. (#nevertrustthefalsetto)   Pleeeeease don’t let the band name “Dock Boys” catch on. 

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I put the show out of my mind and went on with my life. That is, until Ticketmaster announced a huge settlement, and I discovered I had many, many discount coupon codes in my Ticketmaster account since they essentially scammed concert-goers with exorbitant “handing fees” and “UPS fees” all through the 90s and 00s.

I decided to check back into the Chris Isaak concert and found there were a few front row tickets still available. I once again pitched the show to Mary and this time she reluctantly agreed. I can’t believe I almost didn’t!  I normally hate concerts.  

We were standing in line along the third floor balcony outside the House of Blues waiting for the doors to open when a guy in sunglasses and a polo shirt holding a white dog came walking down the line kind of whispering to everyone. He was saying things like, “I heard this guy puts on a great show.” and “Oh, I heard it’s going to be a really good show tonight.”

He was already halfway down the line before I realized it was Chris Isaak. He turned around, waved at everybody and went inside. He looks so different off stage, like a normal person.  Not all dreamy like he looks while he’s playing.

I really wasn’t sure if we had front row seating as claimed on the Ticketmaster seating chart or if the entire downstairs of the venue would be standing. Once inside, I was excited to see that we did indeed have front row seats. There would be no tall people standing in front of Mary blocking her view all night. Whenever people start to stand up at a concert I might as well be at home listening to the radio. I can’t see anything. 

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The band came out strong and played a few songs before Chris stopped to introduce everyone in the band and thank the fans for supporting live music. He jokingly promised a “semi-professional state fair quality show.” Then he grabbed a wireless mic and left the stage to sing the next two songs as he strolled through the audience, pausing to sit down with people, so they could take selfies with him as he sang.

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After making his way up through the balcony and back down through the audience, he climbed on the stage, made a few more jokes, and went back to playing guitar.

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I know most of his songs, but Mary only knew one or two. However, I think we both enjoyed the music. The sound was clear and balanced, and his voice was phenomenal. Not only does he hit all the high notes live, he actually went even higher in some songs than he does on the records, and his sustain is unbelievable. The man can hold a note for 12 measures with not so much as a waver in the tone.

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We had made the mistake of ordering a couple of Bud Lights before the show started thinking that they’d be cheaper than the really overpriced craft beer. What we actually got served were $11 Bud Light 40 oz. cans, so Mary had to make a run to the bathroom mid concert. Unfortunately she decided to go right before they played Wicked Game, the one song she new, so about the second verse she came running back.

For what I guess you’d call the second set of the night, the stagehands quickly moved a drum and stool to the front of the stage as one song was ending, and as the next song began, the band transitioned seamlessly to sitting along the front edge as they played some softer, bluesier numbers. Then, when Scotty, the keyboardist pulled out an accordion, they even did a Tejano number in Spanish.

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Fun fact, Kenny Dale Johnson, the drummer, grew up in Borger, Texas and went to high school with my mom and two of my aunts. I think he’s probably the most famous person to come out of Borger.

Chris made a point to recognize this week’s passing of Scotty Moore, Elvis’s original guitarist and a great rock pioneer. The band then covered a couple Elvis songs and Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire before returning to their own material.

They left the stage to the sound of a standing ovation and when Chris returned to start the encore, he was wearing his one-of-a-kind mirrored tuxedo.

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You know, to make this a “legit” review, I should have kept a list of the songs they played, but I didn’t. I was way too into the show. In fact, I wasn’t even going to snap any photos except that a House of Blues employee came by passing out flyers encouraging us to snap photos and post them to Instagram with #HOBIsaak.

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The energy stayed high and everyone was out of their seats the entire encore.

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To end the show, Kenny once again came up to the front of the stage to sing some fantastic harmonies on one of the new songs from the First Comes the Night album.

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As the lights came back on, Mary, who really had no idea who Chris Isaak was at the beginning of the night, said, “I think this is the best concert I’ve ever seen.”

I really loved the show.  The jokes were really funny, the outfits were great.  The guitar and bass player kept doing hilarious little dances, and you could just tell everyone was having fun on stage. It really felt like a show, not just a concert. There were a lot of quiet romantic moments as well that really made this a nice night out just the two of us.  

That’s a pretty good review.

Kemah Friday Night Fireworks are Back

This year the Kemah Boardwalk is putting on an incredible fireworks display every Friday evening in June and July, as well as Monday, July 4. I took a break from playing guitar on the dock to snap a few photos this week.

The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and is visible from almost everywhere in the Clear Lake area. From Watergate Marina we get a nice view over Clear Lake Shores.

Remaining 2016 dates for fireworks are June 24, July 1, 4, 8,15,22 and 29.

Hopefully we’ll get to anchor out in the bay to watch them soon.

Sunday on the Bay

We tried something new last weekend. For the first time we loaded up all of Mary’s sewing stuff, and we set up a tent at the monthly Galveston Market near the strand.

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Unfortunately, weather wasn’t too great, and we didn’t have much traffic. We did manage to break even on the purchase of the tent and tables and even made a few dollars to put towards our annual WordPress renewal fees, but if we were having to pay ourselves, it would be far less than minimum wage. Now there are a few more bags and business cards out there in wild, so hopefully that will spur more online business for Mary. However, I think we both decided that sitting in a tent for seven hours isn’t our thing.

Thankfully the weather cleared up Sunday, so we had a few friends join us and got off the dock for a few hours.

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I have no idea what race/practice was going on, but there was a line of J boats going back and forth. It was quite interesting to see. I wish we’d been in the right place when they all turned around and popped their spinnakers. It would have made an amazing photo.

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There weren’t many boats out at Redfish Island. Our buddy Tony brought his inflatable SUP and impressively paddled his way to the island against 17 knot winds.

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None of the rest of us were brave enough to try it as we were all pretty sure we’d be swimming our way back to the boat.

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Eventually we had to weigh anchor and head back to civilization. I envy those who can cruise with no schedule, but for now it’s back to the office for me and back to sewing bags for Mary.

Folie a Deux: Another boat saved!

Here’s a little story about the madness of two people. When we moved Gimme Shelter to Watergate Marina three years ago, we ended up sharing a slip beside a rundown O’day 25 in need of some serious elbow grease and TLC.

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After almost a year on the market, the owner finally donated her to Boat Angels, and we thought that would be the last we ever heard of that vessel.

Then came along these two crazies, TJ and Kayla, who decided it was a great idea to buy a sailboat on eBay for $900 — much like my brother and myself who decided it was a great idea to buy a derelict flooded sailboat for $1000. I liked them right away.

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They quickly discovered that there is no such thing as a cheap boat as they tackled a rotten floor, quirky electrical system, and an outboard that just wouldn’t run. However, they persevered.

Eight months later we were honored to be invited, along with our friends Kelly and Jennifer of MV Celtic Cross, upon the maiden voyage of the now running and aptly named SV Folie à Deux.

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The outboard purred like a kitten as we motored out of the marina.

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Various projects and high winds had kept us all at the dock Saturday morning, so there were smiles all around once we were out on the water.

Once we made it across the lake, Mary and Kayla dropped anchor, and TJ broke out some champagne to celebrate the event.

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I think we’re even starting to convince the motor boaters that it’s time to trade up to a sailboat.

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As Folie à Deux doesn’t have working running lights yet, we had to hurry back in before dark, but a great time was had by all.

Congratulations TJ and Kayla, your sailing adventures are about to begin!

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