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.

 

 

Finally a restaurant in our marina! Opus Ocean Grille

For about three years now we’ve been promised a “coming soon” restaurant in our marina.  Last week the restaurant was finally open.  A sort of party on the bottom, business on top place that’s made to cater to both us boating riff raff, and people who come in dressed to the nines in formal clothing.

After a long day of sailing Saturday, us women folk decided that we had no interest in cooking or cleaning and demanded to try out the new restaurant. After tying up the boats and one slight accident that involved someone getting very wet and changing into jammies, we were off.

Half of us went over by dink and the first thing that we noticed is that there is no place at all for visiting boats — not even a little dinghy dock. There are no cleats on the main bulkhead. We ended up tying off to a ladder at the end of the fairway and climbing up.

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The restaurant has a very high class vibe right when you first walk in.  The lower level has a nice looking bar on one side and white linen tables on the other.  The upstairs has more tables.  Both levels have great patio seating.  The upstairs patio has couches and coffee tables for a more lounge feel.

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Even though the restaurant was fully booked they made room for our party of eight scraggly sailors. From the beginning the service was excellent. Our waiter informed us that in order to give the chefs and staff some practice all of the food for the night would be on the house. He gave us all a menu of 4 courses, with two choices for each course.

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Some of the menu options were: Filet Minon, Lobster tail, Ahi Tuni, Oysters, Lobster Bisque, Lemon Triffle, Key Lime Pie.  Absolutely everything was amazing.  The side salads were big enough to be a meal.

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We decided to pay back the generosity of the restaurant by ordering extra drinks.  The wine selection was great, and it came with a reall cool back-lit wine menu.

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All in all the evening was amazing.  The atmosphere of the place is just what you look for, and the food and service was great. It was a night we will definitely remember for a long long time.

https://www.facebook.com/OpusOceanGrille/

Thank you to Maverick Remodeling and Construction for some of the photos.

Rain Rain Go Away

Rain has been ruining all of our weekend plans for the past couple weeks. I’ll admit, there is nothing as enjoyable as laying around doing nothing while the rain pitter-patters on the top of the boat, but after a few weeks one does start to go crazy.

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On Halloween a combination of high tides and large amounts of rainfall led to the waters of Clear Lake climbing up over the bulkheads and clawing their way towards the pools and parking lots.

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The fixed piers were totally underwater, and the floating piers were above the bulkheads.

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We took a walk all the way around the marina during a lull, more to satisfy my curiosity than for the dogs.

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Most of the streets were full of water.

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But the boats in the shipyard still need a few more feet of water to float again.

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Overall we did get a few things done on the boat, but it was a damp lazy weekend.  Our boat is facing some serious leak issues that will need to be addressed immediately. Our mast is still leaking a little bit, although much improved. Multiple windows are leaking now, and our overhead hatch has started dripping, not from the lens Fred replaced last year, but from the actual bedding around the hatch itself. Unfortunately we can’t rip things out to start re-bedding them until we get some sun, and the forecast is predicting even more rain.

The 2015 Lakewood Yacht Club Harvest Moon Regatta

When you buy a boat in Kemah, Texas you can’t help but hear stories of certain things like Redfish Island, Double Bayou, and the Harvest Moon Regatta.

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It seemed like every sailor with even a little bit of salt had done the Harvest Moon at some time or another. It also seemed like a whole lot of them had suspiciously “won it” more than once.

The regatta is a three-day, two-night race from Galveston to Port Aransas. It’s been an event that I’ve wanted to participate in for years now, but it always seemed I was traveling for work or had some other major conflict.

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This year I thought I was going to miss it again because Mary was out of vacation, and I was already taking two weeks off for a boat delivery in November. However, we had friends in need of one more crew person at the last minute, and they didn’t need me to help sail the boat back. That meant I would only miss one day of work, and Mary agreed to drive down to Port Aransas to treat herself to a spa day before meeting us at the marina for the party.

The weather is looking a little bit scary. It’s probably going to be raining sideways the entire time. This will also be my first attempt at sleeping on a boat under sail. We’ll see how that goes.

When we start Thursday you’ll be able to follow our track at http://trackleaders.com/harvest15i.php?name=HIPPOKAMPOS

One thing is certain, we’ll have plenty of wind.

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UPDATE: Looks like I won’t be sailing in the Harvest Moon Regatta this year. We got this message from Lakewood Yacht Club a few minutes ago.

THE 2015 HARVEST MOON REGATTA® RACE SCHEDULED TO BEGIN OCTOBER 22, 2015 HAS BEEN CANCELLED.

Due to serious concerns about the safety of participants and their vessels due to hazardous weather conditions predicted by several weather authorities, Lakewood Yacht Club, as Host, and Bay Access, as Organizer, have decided to cancel the 2015 Harvest Moon Regatta® race.

Information regarding the other events scheduled to occur in Port Aransas as part of the regatta, including the Bacardi Rum Party, BBQ, and raffle events will be forthcoming.

The history and goal of the Harvest Moon Regatta® race is to promote offshore sailing in safe conditions such that the participants, whether seasoned sailing veterans or first time offshore sailors, can enjoy the race and trip down the coast with confidence and safety for all concerned. Race safety is paramount. Though it’s possible the weather could moderate during the time the race would have been held, the forecasts indicate the conditions will most likely remain such that race conditions, especially docking and vessel return conditions, will not meet the goals of the race as organized. Therefore, the 2015 Harvest Moon Regatta® race has been cancelled.

Autumn is in the Air!

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A mixture of the cool Autumn air and a few weeks of going to bed very early had us up at sunrise this week.  Or at least it had me up, and I got everyone else up. :).

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Fred and the dogs were happy to join me in the cockpit for some early morning coffee and dog sweater fun.

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Can’t wait to break out those fancy yacht sweaters, and drink and eat on deck once again. Excited for apple cider, carving pumpkins, and lighting bonfires.

Happy Fall everyone!

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Pelican Rest Marina

PelicanRest02This marina is located just off mile marker 26 in Offat’s Bayou, just across from Moody Gardens on the south side of Galveston Island.  The marina has a total of 10 transient slips, at $2.50 a foot.  Reservations can be made by emailing dockmaster@pelicanrestmarina.com, but be prepared for a hefty amount of paperwork.

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Pelican Rest Marina is a white-glove marina, and they offer all the services to go with it.  This includes a vessel-concierge service that will bring you anything you need from the bait and tackle store, the restaurant, or one of the many ice coolers they have on site. Marina guests can also take advantage of the pool bar, restaurant, and outdoor tiki bar.  There are also water sports rentals available such as sailboats, jet skis, kayaks, and small fishing boats.  While there is not a lot of walking grass, there is a small dog run perfect for small dogs.

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One of the distinguishing characteristics of Pelican Rest is the ability slip owners have to customize their piers.  Fishing boats are able to put fish cleaning stations on the docks outside their boat.  Small motor boats can add lifts to their piers.  They also have small palapas which you can rent monthly, and then have attached to the slip next to your dock.  These palapas are private, and have signs with the owners boat name, blocking off the doorway.  They are very nice, and often include wet bars, rocking chairs, tables and whatever else you can imagine.

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The complaint we had about Pelican Rest was their lack of a breakwater. Despite “no-wake” signs on the surrounding channel the rocking can be a bit extreme.

Amenities: Restaurant, Pool, Fuel Dock, Band and Tackle, Storage, Transportation, Electric, Weigh Station

Cost: $2.50/ft

Contact Number: (409) 744-7428

Website: http://www.pelicanrestmarina.com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pelicanrest?fref=ts

Bridge Harbor Yacht Club – Freeport

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This Marina is located in Freeport, Texas on the ICW, just east of the 332 Surfside Bridge. The bridge height is not listed on charts but clearance was no problem for our O’Day 34 or the Pearson 422 that was with us.

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Bridge Harbor Yacht Club has made a huge number of improvements in the past three years. The marina has a full service fuel dock with both diesel and gas. There is a small ship’s store that is open regular hours and sells all the basic boater needs. The store also has a welcoming crew of four beautiful parrots who are an attraction all to themselves.

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There is also a large beautiful restaurant in the main building. We didn’t get a chance to eat here because of our late arrival, but I have heard the burgers are the best in Freeport.

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Attached to the restaurant is a small pool with a swim-up pool bar and several tables.

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Currently they do not have a liquor license, but the bar should be opening soon. There is also another pool as well as tennis courts overlooking the water near the adjoining condos, which are partially owned by BHYC.

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Restrooms were clean and very close to the transient docks, and the owners and crew at the marina were very friendly and helpful. Reservations were simple to make, and there was no trouble getting a slip during Labor Day weekend. I think this place will really draw a crowd next summer, as this marina is really going to be very nice and finished by then.

The only issue we found is that there is very limited dog walking space.

Amenities: Fixed Piers, 50 amp power, bathroom with shower, restaurant, fuel (gas and diesel), pool, tennis courts

Cost: $2 per foot (Transient)

Contact Number: Mingo 979-824-2776

Website: None

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bridge-Harbor-Yacht-Club/155114047858768?fref=ts

Going Offshore for the First Time

Well to be perfectly honest this wasn’t our first time offshore, but it was our first time by ourselves, and in our own boat which counts for a lot.

We left Laguna Harbor at 7:15 a.m. It took us a couple hours to navigate past Galveston Island and past the jetties out into the Gulf of Mexico. By the time you get past the jetties in Galveston you are already about three miles out, and a decent distance from land. We stayed on this line pretty much the whole way.

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This is me happily steering before I got a taste of the real ocean.

I was helming the boat, and I was terrified.  My eyes were just going from the charts, to the wind direction, to the other boats, to the waves cycling quickly and continuously, taking it all in.  As I made the turn out of the ship channel and around the jetties Fred is second guessing everything.  “Are you sure it’s deep enough?  We are very close to the shore.”  I don’t blame him for one second, but I was so intensely calculating every possible variable that his thinking I would run us aground was infuriating.

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Turning onto our course the wind direction was not the broad reach we had been promised but instead a 45-50 degree close haul with winds at about 10 knots.  We were tipping a bit, and the waves seemed so big on our sides.  Ever so gradually I got better and better. For the first 15 minutes I could not let go of the wheel, not even to take a drink. After 30 minutes or so I was comfortable with both sails and the engine off. It wasn’t until about an hour after we set sail though that I was comfortable enough for Fred to stop steering and turn on the autopilot. I just don’t trust that thing.

This Hypokampus speeding off as Fred tries to coax me into putting the jib up.

This is Hippokampos speeding off as Fred tries to coax me into putting the jib up.

Even though we were only about 3 miles offshore I put on my PFD and kept it on the entire time. I also made the dogs wear their life jackets for the first couple hours, but when the winds started to die, and the dogs were more likely to die of heat stroke than drowning, I let them take them off.

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A few hours into the trip we got hit by a small squall.  We weren’t sure what to expect, so we were at ready to reef the sails.  Not knowing how much wind might be coming, we decided to go ahead and reef. Fred went up to the fore deck, and knowing I was already scared, decided to go ahead and put a double reef in. That’s when we found out that our second reefing point doesn’t actually reach our boom, and therefore does nothing. So we just decided to take down the main sail all together. Good to know! The wind didn’t end up getting any faster than 12 knots, the rain only lasted a few minutes, and before we knew it we were putting the sails back up.

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Taking sails up and down turned out to be a real trend for the trip.  As the winds continued to diminish, we slowly saw our projected arrival time on the chart plotter creep to midnight, and then 1 a.m. We knew we had to switch on the motor. Thanks to our wind direction indicator we know that with wind at least 30 degrees off the nose, we can motor sail no problem, but anything closer than that and our jib is flapping wildly. With winds shifting off our nose we were furling and unfurling the jib frequently trying to maximize our speed.

Tex had zero issues with our slow rolling speed.

Tex had zero issues with our slow rolling speed.

We ended up at the Freeport jetties around 6:30, making our time offshore a little over 8 hours. We went right past the Freeport LNG terminal where Fred made one of his first corporate documentary videos and where he hosted Magnum Photographer Jean Guamy back in 2007. (Confession, I’ve never seen the video or the photos.)

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We had reserved slips at Bridge Harbor Yacht Club, and it was only a short trip down the ICW, and under the bridge to get there.

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After some vague directions, and no slip or pier number we were very happy to see BHYC’s team waiting for us in bright shirts to help us dock right out front.

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We were tied up on the finger pier at 7:15 p.m. making it exactly a 12-hour trip. After a few drinks and some delicious food some of us were falling asleep at the dinner table. It had been a long day full of firsts. Longest sail, first time offshore, Andy and Jayne’s first time making a long trip just the two of them on this boat, first time in Freeport, and first time being checked in by a parrot.

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Want to see my G-string?

Any luthiers or guitar experts out there?

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I always keep a cheap guitar on the boat. I want it to sound decent, but if worse comes to worst, I don’t want to feel bad if I have to use it as a paddle.

My first boat guitar was an Epiphone Dove with a cracked neck that I procured for $30.

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A little wood glue, and it was a nice player for about a year. Then the same spot on the neck broke again, so I stripped it for hardware and junked the body.

My current guitar is an Epiphone AJ. It was a B stock guitar with a few blemishes that I picked up new for $89.

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For the past two years or so, it played and sounded great. Unfortunately it has suddenly started popping G-strings. The last two times I’ve played it the G string has broken at the saddle with less than two hours of use. Then tonight I swapped the strings again, and the G broke while I was just tuning it.

I use Elixir strings, so they don’t rust out in a week on the boat, but they’re about $15 a set. When the guitar is worth less than $100, even $15 is a large investment, especially if the strings are now only lasting for an hour or two of play time. They were previously lasting for up to six months of weekend jams.

My Gibson has a bone saddle, and I see lots of them available on eBay for anywhere from 99 cents to $20. But how do I know they’ll fit, and is a 99 cent bone saddle really any good? Should I search for a replacement nylon/plastic saddle? Should I gift this guitar to a starving artist and find another sub-$100 boat instrument?

Right now I have a B string replacing the G string, so that there’s less tension, but it makes the tone a little funny. Using two B strings is definitely not a long-term solution.

Come on guitar experts, I know you’re out there. What in the world is going on with my guitar and how do I fix it (cheaply)?