Saturday, October 4, 2014

Inventor Cruisers

Rob & PJ’s trawler “C” Y A

At Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour, Bahamas we met Rob and PJ over sundowners.  They were cruising and fishing - mainly fishing the Bahamas.  Looking at Motivator, Rob said I bet you have a few RACOR fuel filters on that boat.  I responded yes, six to be exact.  He told me he invented FilterGuage®, a product that would tell me when to change the fuel filters. 

I said I had gauges on the RACORs for the main engines.  He responded that the ones I have are notoriously inaccurate even when you read them correctly, and that he would give me one of his to try.  After a little research, I determined that I indeed was reading them incorrectly.  After starting the engines, I would do an engine room check that included a glance at the RACOR gauges.  To tell you anything, the gauges must be read underway with a full load on the engines, not at idle.

The next evening, Rob gave me a FilterGauge®.  The big advantage of Rob’s gauge is that you can read it with the engine off.  It registers the highest filter contamination level until reset.  It is reset simply by pressing the button on the top.

When the yellow indicator inside FilterGauge® is at the bottom of the green area, change your diesel filter and push the reset button.  Do not wait for the indicator to be in the red!  Rob was able to demonstrate this to me at the bar by sucking on the bottom of the T-handle.

I gave the FilterGauge® a test run on Motivator’s small generator.  Removal and visual inspection of the filter when it reached the red (above) confirmed its accuracy.  Damn, he only gave me one.  Now I have to order more from Defender Marine.

Abby & Steve on Who Cares

Another inventor cruiser we have met is Steve Skulnick on E-dock here in New Bern, NC.  Several years back, Steve invented the Freedom Fender after watching regular fenders slip off when used against pilings.

The Freedom Fender eliminates the need for fender boards

The Freedom Fender is concave on one side so that it stays centered on the piling.  In 2004, Steve licensed his patent on the Freedom Fender line to Taylor Made Products so he could go cruising.  The Taylor Made Freedom Fenders are available at most chandleries.  Motivator’s crew was wishing we had a couple when we were sliding off the piling during Hurricane Arthur.

Soon after purchasing Motivator, I cable tied a yardstick to the fuel tank sight tubes.  On the upper three quarters of the tank they give a fairly accurate reading of the fuel status.  With the yardstick cut off at the 35” mark, one inch equals 10 gallons on our 350 gallon tanks.  I wonder if I can get a patent on this?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Six-Pack License

An Operator Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) license issued by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) is commonly referred to as a “Six-Pack” license.  The OUPV license is typically used for six passenger (6 pax) or less fishing guide charter or tour boat operations in US navigable waters.  Vessels engaged in operations for hire must comply with minimal federal standards for safety, navigation, pollution and the operator must hold at least a Six-Pack license.

The Six-Pack license is the starting point for a long list of captain’s license issued by the USCG.  Numerous maritime training centers and online sources offer the course that prepares want-a-be-captains for the USCG 5 part exam.  Getting a captain’s license has always been on my bucket list.  With the World Wide Marine Training center a short commute from New Bern, why wait?  I also figured it might lower my insurance rates and possibly provide some interesting opportunities.  Besides, increasing my knowledge of maritime rules, regulations and best practices could not hurt.

Quiet!  Exam in progress.

The first hurdle is completion of a USCG approved OUPV class and passing a 5 part examination. 

The five areas covered are:

  • ·         Navigation Rules (right of way, lights, and signals)
  • ·         Plotting (back to old school, no GPS)
  • ·         Deck General (anchoring, radio ops, etc.)
  • ·         Deck Safety (fire, abandon ship, man over board, etc.)
  • ·         Navigation General (compass, weather, coast pilot, etc.)

The next hurdle is to put together an application package that includes:

  • ·         USCG Application
  • ·         Conviction Disclosure
  • ·         Notarized Merchant Mariner’s Oath
  • ·         Three Character References
  • ·         Medical Evaluation Report
  • ·         Drug Test Report
  • ·         First Aid and CPR Certificate
  • ·         Sea Service Form (documents experience of at 360 days)
  • ·         TWIC – Transportation Workers Identification Card (background check)
  • ·         Certification of Completion of OUPV Course

First hurdle completed!

Friday, August 22, 2014


New Bern, North Carolina
Photograph by permission from Curtis Blake
Click here to see more great photos
by Curtis Blake Photography
Or, visit Curtis’s Facebook page  

After almost 4 years of cruising, Pollie exercised her option for a land base.  She says she only promised me 3 to 5 years of fulltime cruising.  I, however have trouble recalling that agreement (probably the rum).  So now we have “agreed” to become part time cruisers and part time CLODs (Cruisers Living on Dirt).

Photograph by permission of Izzy St. Clair
M/V Izzy R

Part of our cruising goal was to find a place to eventually call home.  Factors included on our wish list were climate, tax friendly, boating community, historic area, and friendly people.  After seeing the east coast from Maine to Key West and most of the islands in the Bahamas and Caribbean, New Bern, NC remained at the top of our shortlist.

Century 21 Office Downtown New Bern

My criteria for buying property included the following:
  • I never want to see another lawn mower – limited landscape maintenance
  • No Home Owners Association – HOAs can be problematic
  • Income producing – we need the tax advantage
  • Easy to leave for extended periods of time – remember, we are only part time CLODs
  • Affordable – we don’t want to be “house poor,” and we still must buy diesel fuel

The list discouraged most real estate agents.  They simply shrugged and said comeback when you are serious.  I figured my specific criteria would keep me safe from becoming a CLOD in the near future.

I was wrong.  One agent, Denise, said, “I know the perfect property for you!”  It was not on the market, but she persuaded the owner to sell.  Unfortunately, my checklist was completely fulfilled.

Pollie is so happy! Happy wife, happy life! Badabing…

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The ICW Revisited, or America’s Crumbling Infrastructure

Bridge of the Lions, St. Augustine, Florida

Motivator’s crew usually enjoys cruising the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).

The Intracoastal Waterway is a 3,000-mile inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Some sections of the waterway consist of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays, and sounds, while others are artificial canals. Wikipedia

This trip, however was a little less enjoyable.  Weather reports indicated a chance for strong thunderstorms with lightening offshore, so we elected to stay on the ICW.  Normally we avoid the ICW through Georgia due to chronic lack of maintenance. 

 Fishing at low tide

On this trip we “found” shoaling, misplaced markers and missing markers not only in Georgia, but also in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Patrol boat shadowing Motivator as we pass Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay

This is not to say it was all bad.  As usually, we found plenty of depth and the waterway from the inlet to Kings Bay to be well marked.  I guess that may be a budget priority.

Railroad Bridge

Also we found that several of the opening bridges have been replaced by fixed bridges with 65’ of air space.

We did encounter some bridge maintenance, and north of Myrtle Beach had to wait over an hour while bridge fender boards were being replaced.  But, we never saw a dredger.

After dodging this behemoth crossing the Savanna River, we managed to soft ground on a shoal in the middle of the ICW just before low tide.  As we waited for the tide to return (3 hours), local boats passed by and told us we should have been outside the channel to the east about 20 feet, that’s where one finds the deep water.

Cable ferry that crosses the ICW south of Georgetown, SC

Unlike the long open water passages we were accustomed to in the Caribbean, navigating on the ICW requires constant attention.

You soon learn to listen to and watch your wake to tell if you are getting out of the channel and into shallow water.

After several bumps on the bottom, we finally made it to Wrightsville Beach, NC where we were guests at the Blockade Runner Beach ResortFollowing Hurricane Arthur and the Fourth of July, we continued on to New Bern, NC, Motivator’s hiding spot for the 2014 hurricane season. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

411 Walnut Street

No door-to-door postal service here

Mail can be an issue for cruisers.  Sometimes you can talk a family member into handling it for you, but usually it is a real pain for them and they are not very efficient at it.  For a while we used our son’s mailing address, but whenever he forwarded items he wanted a Chipotle burrito in return.

After a lot of burritos, we decided to go with a professional service, St. Brendan’s Isle, which many cruisers, RVers, long haul truckers, and merchant marines use.  So many cruisers use their service that in Spanish Wells, Bahamas, the dock master commented, “A lot of you live at that same address.”  We have found them to be very efficient and probably less expensive than buying burritos.

When your mail arrives at St. Brendan’s Isle, they send you notification by email and you are able to see the front of the envelope.  Simply by clicking a button, you decide whether you want them to hold the item, scan the contents, or shred it.  For example I had them scan the contents of the Verizon mail above only to learn that Verizon had mailed confirmation that I elected paperless billing.  I had St Brendan’s Isle then shred the document.

Usually we have them forward mail to a marina we know we will be visiting, but because we knew we would be in the area, we decided to visit the place many cruisers call home.

Cruisers, your home has an aquarium!
(with a very goofy looking fish)

Actually, St. Brendan’s Isle outgrew their original location at 411 Walnut Street, Green Cove Springs, FL.  They are now located in a strip mall, but managed to hold on to the original address.

What started out in 1988 as a former cruiser helping out some cruising friends with their mail has grown into an operation that services close to 6,000 clients and employees several workers.

The current owners bought the operation in 1999 and have expanded the client base as well as the services offered.

Manager Scott Loehr

Besides being convenient and dependable, St. Brendan’s Isle has always provided us with friendly service.  Our drop-in visit was no different.  Although they seemed very busy, they took the time to answer all of our questions and show us around their spotless facility.

Our mail box, number 6472, is located at the front of the facility center aisle.

Most importantly, Pollie was able to pick up her new 12 string guitar that she had been patiently waiting for.

For more information about St. Brendan’s Isle Mail Service
click on their banner ad to the left.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dinghy Davit

In my March 30, 2014 blog posting titled, A Tale of Woe, I blasted the manufacturer of Motivator’s dinghy davit, UMT Marine, for poor customer service.  To recap, when we began having problems with the davit, I contacted UMT asking for an owner’s manual and advice.  Mostly what I received was brushoffs, or bad advice and never an owner’s manual for the unit.  Eventually, this lack of customer service cost me over $1,000 for repairs and a lot of frustration that could have been prevented.

Old electric winch with gas struts with plastic ends on right

When we had the electric winch replaced in Puerto Rico, Jose Luis Martinez of Martinez Marine Services noted that the gas struts that assist lifting the arm were looking a little tired and should be replaced.  He also said that UMT had gone to a stronger replacement and I should consider contacting them for information about replacement units.

New gas strut on top, old bent unit with plastic ends broken off at bottom

As predicted, the gas struts soon failed for the third time.  Once again, I contacted UMT and once again all I got was a run-around.  So, I contacted their supplier for information about modifying the davit to accept upgraded struts.  When I did, I copied in UMT Marine which prompted an exchange of “snarky” emails between me and UMT sales staff.

John Rossi, Operations Manager, UMT Marine on left, and Boghra, UMT technician on right

At this point I considered my relationship with UMT Marine to be permanently severed.  Then John Rossi entered the picture.  John was recently hired by UMT as the Operations Manager.  He pulled my previous emails to UMT and agreed with me that the customer service I had received had been less than stellar.  John then immediately reached out to assure me that he was committed to turning around my perception of UMT’s customer service. 

With a UMT technician, tools, and spare parts, John drove from Fort Lauderdale to St. Augustine, Florida to install new gas struts and inspect the davit.  In all, they spent over 8 hours servicing my 10 year-old dinghy davit. 

 One of the questions I had previously asked when I called UMT was about the feasibility of replacing the stainless steel cable with spectra rope.  John also brought along a 40’ section of spectra with a stainless steel carbineer spliced onto the end that he installed.  We no longer have the cable pops that have a tendency to wake up the entire anchorage early in the morning and the whole unit works much smoother.


They also properly lubricated the mounting post, making pivoting the dinghy in position over the cradle much easier.  Their efforts have restored our confidence in the UMT Marine’s dinghy davit.  With John Rossi now at the UMT helm, my confidence in receiving stellar customer service from UMT Marine has also been restored.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Storm Chasers

From Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas, we elected to do a 25 hour crossing to the Fort Pierce inlet and then up the Intercostal Waterway (ICW) to Vero Beach, Florida.  We could have broken up the trip with stops at Great Sale Cay and the West End, but we decided that we had a good weather window.  Also, the timing worked better for making the inlet and the ICW in daylight hours.

The first half of our trip crossing the Little Bahama Banks was grand.  Perfect conditions for a crossing.  Wind was less than 5 knots and the waves were less than 2 feet.  At nightfall conditions started changing.  After 2 ½ years down island, we had mostly forgotten how severe thunder storms that form over large land masses can be.  Dodging container ships and large tankers at night while in heavy rain and strong winds can be somewhat stressful.  But, that was not our biggest concern.  Lightning bolts as big as Sequoia trees were!

Our radar displays the storm cells for us nicely.  The problem is trying to maneuver around cells building and moving at 25 knots in a 7 knot boat.  After a couple of unsuccessful attempts it became apparent we were storm magnets.

Motivator once again proved that she can take more than us and brought us safely back to the USA.  Unfortunately, our thunderstorm magnetism continues as we work our way north.