Read from the Beginning Page 2

December 20, 2013
Electronics upgrade and Seatalk Ng backbone connection

When we first bought Catchin' Rays, we had hopes that we'd be able to use some, if not all, of the electronics. Although we were able to power up the radar and chartplotter displays, the GPS would not fix on a signal, the radar wouldn't engage, and the displays looked like the old dot-matrix printers....but those were just hopes. Some of the struggles with the decision on whether or not to upgrade was that new equipment is really not that expensive but at the same time you hate to waste money if the existing electronics still work. But the further I inspected the original displays and transducers, the more the reality of doing an electronics upgrade became evident. The goal now was to try and salvage the Autohelm ST6000 autopilot and integrate it with the new system.

The new Raymarine i50 and i60 displays

The first decision to make is choosing a chartplotter/radar since the entire system will be based around this key component. With so many choices, it quickly becomes overwhelming when balancing features and cost. Do I go with touch screen, blue-tooth, or wi-fi; Furuno, Garmin, or Raymarine? Then, mounting location comes into the equation; do I mount the chartplotter at the helm, or at the nav station or try and integrate a separte display, Ipad, or Iphone? And in the end, the choice obviously came down to getting the most options for the best price. The Raymarine equipment would allow me to stay within the same family as my existing autopilot but I have no idea which one to go with. There are used, older, non-touch screen versions that are competitively priced - but really didn't want to go with a non touch-screen display....especially when my wife says, "oh yeah, you gotta go with touch-screen." In the end, the E90W represented the best option; it was in my price range and had a 9" touch-screen display; and while it doesn't have blue-tooth or wifi, it had everything else on my "want" list without spending over $2000. I bought it directly from Raymarine's closeout website for an even $1000.

The radar purchase was a much more impulsive decision we made while on the boat and we paid more than we should have because I disregarded my normal process of research prior to the purchase. I went with the Raymarine HD Color 18" Radome 4kw from NovaTechElectroics on Ebay for $1685 and purchased a 50' cable for an extra $285. It lists for much less on but I didn't find that site until after the and learn.

Soon after that, I figured that if I'm going to buy a new chartplotter and radar, I might as well upgrade the helm displays especially since we have already determined that the wind vane and its' transducer were not functioning and are going to have to be replaced anyway. And after pricing just the wind vane itself, choosing a bundle package that includes all three displays was a more cost-effective way to go. The Raymarine i50 depth and speed were chosen in conjunction with the i60 wind vane in a nice pre-packaged price. They seem to represent decent, entry-level displays that complement my chartplotter and the whole package deal came with all 3 transducers, displays, and wiring for just under $1400

Next I had to figure out how everything "talks" to everything else. How does the chartplotter know the depth, or which way the wind is blowing when their signals go to the helm and don't connect directly to the E90W. And while there is no way of learning everything needed to know in such a short time, the best I can do right now is to keep it as simple as possible and hook everything up through Raymarine's Ng backbone. I'd even be able to attach the older Autohelm ST6000 autopilot through the backbone through a special yellow least that's what everything I keep reading says.

So I drew it all out on a piece of paper and told my son to take it to West Marine and let them tell us how to hook everything up. I wasn't sure of the connectors I needed or when to use "T's" or the 5 input connectors, and how would I actually run the yellow cable to the old Seatalk1 devices? But the guys at West Marine weren't very helpful - so I had to read up on all of that too. After a half day of reading, I had figured out the basics of running an Ng backbone and had a temporary list of all the different pieces I needed. But we still had to wait until everything was in place before I could get a final list of items, especially since a single 15" cable can be as high as $24.99. The entire backbone was also purchased for around $350.

As stated in a previous post, we mounted the E90W at the nav station and placed the ST6000 next to it so adjustments can immediately be seen on the chartplotter. Justin and Brandon wired and powered the whole system and everything "talks" with everything else. The new depth transducer even displays accurate information to the older Autohelm Multi-display that we kept in place above the TV at the nav station. And the interesting part of the whole power-up was that the autopilot actually has an odometer of some sorts - it shows over 24,000 nautical miles.

The E90W and ST6000 at the messy nav-station

The carefully drilled holes for the i60/i50's

The back of the panel with the new Ng wiring

The Seatalk1 to Ng backbone transition

Seatalk1 to Ng - final shrink-wrapped product

January 16, 2014
Normal life as we know it has changed.

Since my last post almost 4 weeks ago we've been pretty busy around here and that's part of my struggles to post more to the blog - I really don't live on a boat and can only describe updates secondhand through Justin. But I thought I'd at least let you know what's been going on around the house in preparation in making the big move.

In my nursing career, my PRN schedule started on January 1st. The plan is to work about 3 or 4 days at the end of one month and 3 or 4 days at the beginning of the next month and spend the other 4 to 6 weeks in between on the boat. At least that's the plan until its ready to put in the water; during next hurricane season, I may just stay here in Texas and work for a few months before we head out for the next sailing season.

Working PRN as a nurse is like subcontracting - there are no benefits whatsoever - so getting set up medically through an independent insurance company was very important to us. Having health insurance that's based on our yearly income was absolutely the icing on the cake when it came to purchasing a boat. It has enabled the idea to live aboardactually become a reality as I'm not sure how we would have been able to be covered by an individual policy any other way prior to this year.

Justin, in between working relentlessly on the boat (unverified at this time) needed a little vacation to NOLA to see some friends and to get a little crazy for one of the first times since his motorcycle accident. He's going for the 70's porn-star look since he shaved off his shipyard beard prior to leaving Key West. We were both nervous for him to leave the boat for a week, but it sounds like she did just fine by herself as he is back aboard and taking care of her once again.

Justin and his good buddy Kelly at New Orleans

Justin and friends at "the Tree", NOLA

We also just rented out (we think) our fifth and final rent house - its the one where we currently reside. The sign was only in front of the house for about a week, and the first family that looked at it, wanted it. With the house in total shambles, my wife did an apprehensive walk-through with our potential tenants - we don't quite have a signed contract yet, but we're hoping to have one within a couple of days. My life will now be split between living on a boat and living in a motorhome, depending on whether I'm on vacation or working.

Brandon love's to help me move

As we continue to downsize to only two storage units - one for the garage and one for the furniture - I'm beginning to wonder if we're keeping too much stuff. The thought behind notjust selling everything is that we know that we'll eventually live back on dry land, or maybe it was just easier to keep it for now. Either way, our plane to Key West leaves next week so we have to be out of our house by then. So goodbye suburban life; goodbye 7am to 3:30pm jobs; hello vagrants and vagabonds - the Ray's are f-ing here.

January 24, 2014
Living in the Keys but still working everyday

Trying to update this blog while living on our boat is much more difficult to do than it sounds. By the time we finish for the day, I just want to take a shower and go to bed. But I'd like to update a little more often since I'll be here for about four more weeks and can now officially be considered "living on a boat", although "yard-rat" is probably more appropriate.

This time we flew straight into Key West instead of going to Fort Lauderdale and driving 3 1/2 hours to get here like we've done on the previous two trips. Its just too convenient to land 10 minutes from the boat even if the price is a little more. Plus, bags fly free and with Tami checking 4 large bags it was more cost effective to fly Southwest. To be fair, two of the checked bags were just miscellaneous household items such as pots and pans and scuba equipment.

Key West right before touch-down

On the boat side of things, Justin has both sail-drives back together along with brand new zincs and fresh oil changes. He also changed the belts, oil filters, and all 6 fuel filters on the 3GM30 Yanmars - yes, each engine has 3 fuel filters each - one on the engine and two mounted to the wall. The two on the wall have a valve that switches between them so that only one is in use at any given time. But although I've been gone about a month and half, progress is slowing quite a bit as its been difficult for Justin to tackle too many projects by himself.

The first day after we arrived though, was spent organizing and cleaning - it was a mess - and I was amazed to hear that Justin actually spent a full day "cleaning up" the place prior to our arrival - I would have hated to see it before then. The organizing originally started in the galley/saloon but quickly moved to the forward port cabin that had been previously converted to a utility room. Although this cabin had been "de-cluttered" at least twice already, there was just no good way to organize without uniform storage containers. After a quick trip to Home Depot, I went to town.

I love clear storage containers - i just need a label maker now

Our 12 volt HDTV display also arrived today and we quickly installed it and powered up the chart-plotter before we quit for the day so we could see our Raymarine through the television. Although its a 22" screen (three inches bigger than the previous display), the overall size is smaller due to the technological advances of the new LED televisions and its about 10 years newer. Plus it has a built-in DVD player, so the stand-alone one could be tossed in the dumpster along with the TV's 110 volt, brick-sized power supply cord that was taking up about half the free space behind the 12 volt panel. Now we can display everything from our chart-plotter through this display.

The port engine room displayed on the 22" Naxa

Tomorrow we try and fire up the 15 hp Mercury that's strapped to the dingy so we'll know if we are in the market for just a dinghy or a dinghy and a motor. There is also some sort of fishing tournament/party going on in the marina next to us that we're going to try and attend tomorrow if we're not too tired by the time it gets going.

January 25, 2014
Mast, Mercury, and Tournament

The goal for today: finish up all the loose ends on the mast which included final mounting of over-the-air antenna so we can receive free television, re-mount the radar, and try and get the dinghy outboard running. Afterwards, we could go to the marina next door and watch the boats come in and weigh their King Mackerel.

Installing the antenna took longer than expected because my original idea of using rivets didn't work. Plan B was to make threads and screw it in - which has never been one of my mechanically advanced skills. But after a trip to the Key West Ace Hardware and about an hour of careful "thread making", I had four beautiful places in which to mount my bracket. The radar was just a simple attachment of four bolts that matched perfectly with the previous radar bracket and was installed in a matter of 15 minutes.

After lunch, we lowered the Caribe down as far as the ropes would allow in hopes of sinking the engine into a trash-can full of water. Which I thought was a little ambitious since we weren't sure it would even run. Another trip to West Marine was in order because my fuel line was dry rotted and disintegrated - so once again I over paid for an item I could have gotten online for half the price. Also, the gas tank itself was full of sludge and required a major clean-out. In addition, Justin removed the carburetor and found the fuel feed line clogged at the carburetor end and at the fuel tank - after all the gunk was removed, we were at least getting fuel to the engine. We knew to look for clogs because early on in the process, if we squirted a little fuel straight into the carburetor, it started right up. At that point, all we had to do was to find out where the clogs were. Now it starts on the first pull and goes into gear perfectly, but the impeller isn't picking up water - so now Justin sits across the table from me, scouring the internet in a frantic search of how to remove and replace it.

"I got sludge in my gas tank"

Happy with the progress, we took a quick shower and off to the Stock Island Marina Village King Mackerel Tournament we went. The boats started pulling in one after the other and I think the winning weight for the day was around 60 lbs.

The boats lining up and off-loading their catch

60 lbs of King Mackerel

Oh, wouldn't it be nice to have money to burn.

When I realized it was made of sand, I had to get a picture

January 26, 2014
Replacing an impeller on a 15hp Mercury

I had always heard that outboard impellers are inside the lower unit, but had never confirmed that and never knew how it worked. And while there is just about everything else posted up on Youtube, Justin had a little more difficulty trying to get a good guide on exactly how to do it. He ended up combining a few different sources and started disassembling the unit.

I, on the other hand, was of no help today as I've seemed to have contracted some sort of upper respiratory/head-cold kind of crud. So while Justin worked away on the Mercury, Tami put down another layer of compounding on the outer starboard hull. I'd poke my head out every now and then in hopes of trying to contribute, but it wouldn't last very long before I was back in the boat, resting, and feeling sorry for myself.

But I was able to see enough of the repair to know how it works - and actually helped just a little when he was putting it back together. The impeller sits in the housing horizontally over the down shaft inside it's own housing. As you can see, the original impeller was in rough shape although not as bad as we were expecting.

After the repair, however, the engine had a nice and strong stream of seawater coming from the discharge tube, but would loose some of its strength soon thereafter. Justin removed the housing at the motor to make sure the lines were clog-free, and who would have know it, but little outboard motors have thermostats. It was cleaned up a bit and seemed to be working well enough, but we ordered another one just in case.

Our "hanging from the davits, in a trashcan" setup

Also, the fuel leaks that were caused by the carburetor removal were also repaired. The leak at the mating surface was rectified by turning over the gasket and cutting out a tab so that the carburetor could make a new "impression" on the flip side of the gasket. The leak at the bowl was remedied by simply making a new gasket out of some material we just happened to pack in the trailer. Hopefully I feel better tomorrow so I can actually contribute and be productive.

January 28, 2014
Mattress replacement and Wifi Hotspot

After getting over my "crud" that I've had for the past 2 days, I finally got a little bit done around here and am feeling all productive again. Actually, my productivity began yesterday afternoon, when I decided that it was time to see if an electric knife really can be used to cut a 6" thick piece of foam. A few months ago, I read about mattress replacement options and ways to replace your old, worn out mattresses. Replacement foam can be purchased at Walmart or online, and could be trimmed with an electric knife to whatever size is needed. They come in 4", 6", and 8" thicknesses and that includes a 2" layer of memory foam. So to try it out, I ordered a queen sized mattress for the starboard, aft cabin about 2 months ago. The easiest thing for my family to do at the time (since I was still in Texas), was to just throw it in place because nobody wanted to take the responsibility of messing it up.

So yesterday, I cleared off the table and hauled the mattress out of the cabin and marked off the pattern. The mattress came out of the box with an outer lining that I had to cut off and discard. The next layer unzipped and was removed before I trimmed the foam. Afterward, I simply covered the mattress back up and tucked the excess cover under the mattress when it was back in place. The final product looks better than I had expected it to and has been comfortable to sleep on. Now, I just need to order a couple more for the other two cabins.

Old mattresses laid down for pattern

Zip-cover back in place over trimmed mattress

Back in the cabin

The next task on hand today was to get my Wifi Hotspot up and running. I was inspired byThis Rat Sailed and his installation of The Wirie AP. When I first looked into setting up wifi on board, I also came across "The Wirie AP" and was about to pull the trigger on it, when I found a forum talking about the same hardware, and everything you need to install it, at a little less than half the price. So I went ahead and bought the "kit" from the recommended website and had it delivered to the boat so Justin could install it (he seems to get a lot of these assignments.) After a few days of him installing the kit, he was getting frustrated with the progress. He had called tech support from the company we bought it from and never really seemed to be happy with the results. They ended up sending him a newerAlfa component to see if he could get any better results. Soon after that, he went to New Orleans and never picked it back up after his return.

I had also pretty much given up on the idea, and was ready to toss the bits into the trash, when This Rat installed basically the same components and was getting decent results. So last night I pulled out the "kit" and started playing with it. I was sitting here in the saloon holding the antenna up and connecting to the internet about 1000'-2000' away (as best we can tell) and decided that Justin might have just been expecting LTE speeds on free wifi. 

The 8dbi antenna, the Alfa R36, and the Alfa AWUS036NHR

The system picks up an internet connection through the 8 dbi antenna, runs it through an Alfa box (not sure, maybe a repeater?), then attaches through the another Alfa router that our laptops can bump off of from inside the boat. The only wire ran to the outside box is 12 volt power, everything else is wireless.

Home Depot saw another visit from us this morning for a weather-proof container and U-bolts. It took all day to modify the box and to run power to the 12 volt panel. The box was then mounted on a spare accessory pole at the back of the boat - all the little components tucked into it so well that they didn't even need to be secured. As I write this blog, even though we are only running at about 58% connectivity to the host, I am uploading pictures, surfing the internet, and even downloading Youtube videos - if not just a little bit slower than usual. All this for about $170. So while our initial cost was quite a bit lower, there has to be an expectation of building, tinkering, and troubleshooting as compared to The Wirie AP.

Everything tucked into place - utility box was the perfect size

Box latched and picking up free internet

But the real work begins tomorrow as we move our sleeping quarters from the aft starboard cabin to the aft port. That cabin has been used as a catch-all for just about anything and everything, so yesterday, we started clearing it out and putting things in their correct places. With only the new batteries and the inverter under the aft port mattress, there is no reason to access the area any longer on a continual basis. Under the aft starboard cabin is a different story. I have a watermaker that needs repair and a newdiscovery that needs our attention - a Groco Hydromatic Strainer (about a $2000 sea-water garbage disposal). So we have to get out of that cabin so we can access that area for extended periods of time. 

This strainer feeds the watermaker, A/C, and Generator

February 7, 2014
The Glamorous life of a Yard Rat

Not that anybody thought that living in a shipyard was all that glamorous to begin with, but its funny to see people's reaction when I tell them that I'm going to Key West for a month to live on my boat. Granted, the weather is awesome - but this is no vacation - except for one, I've spent every day working on the boat in some form or fashion. Some days are spent shopping for parts in the morning and installing them in the afternoon, other days are spent going to the grocery store and laundry-mat, then working on the boat. But at the same time, I realize how lucky I am to be afforded this opportunity to live this lifestyle at such a young age (at least I think I'm pretty young anyway.) I entered the workforce full time right out of high school and have never gone without work for more than 3 weeks (and that's when I was laid-off). For the 25 years that I've been in the full-time workforce, my Monday through Friday schedule was making huge ruts in the form of a monotonous way of life. So now to even think about having this 5 week window of getting up when I want, doing what I want....and still having the money coming in to support myself is really foreign to my being - but I think I could get used to it.

Laundry day

The "protected" birds of Key West wander into the Laundry Mat

But in finding a boat that you want to buy, it sometimes picks the location in which you live - at least for some period of time anyway. Although we looked at boats in quite a few different locations outside the country, the one we bought was here in Key West, and so our current home city was picked by the boat that we bought. And just like any other city in the world, each comes with its own nuances and personality. So far, during my time here, one predominant observation that I've noticed about this particular place is the high concentration of people that live in poverty or are homeless. Maybe its just that I've lived in Wise County, Texas for so long and have been sheltered to some extent of what a normal city has to offer. But no matter what part of Stock Island or Key West we travel, during our day to day activities, there just seems to be a hire-than-normal amount of people that spend their whole day sitting under a tree - according to the newspaper, that number is 693. The "homeless" study was conducted by a group of people that went out, interviewed, and counted the number of people that either "live under a bridge" or "live on somebody else's couch." I guess it is a problem down here because its just so conducive to living outdoors and there are only so many cots at the shelter. While my son deals with ice on the streets in Texas, we're trying to stay as cool as possible with temps reaching around 85 degrees almost everyday - and it should be the middle of winter I suppose. Also, an interesting trend here is the high numbers of people that travel by scooters, bikes, and trikes - they are everywhere - and accordingly, Key West has an abnormally high number of deaths related to this as I've seen very few people that even bother to wear helmets. 

"Monkey Tom's" typically decorated trike

Anyway, back to boat stuff - we functionally tested both Jabsco head units and opened the top of the black water holding tank (something we've put off until now because nobodyreally wanted to know what was still inside the tank.) I attempted to remove the lid that accesses the 30 gallon stainless steel tank about 2 months ago but was overruled by Tami. But we couldn't put it off any longer and to everyone's relief, it was empty, so we just sprayed it out and ran fresh water through the head units and tank. The previous owner had one Jabsco repair kit on board so it was installed for good measure, and it seems to be pushing and pulling much stronger, I ordered one more kit to install and one more kit to put on the shelf. The question is: what would we have done if there were still waste in the black-water tank? I have no idea, but fortunately, we didn't have to answer that.

The update: I haven't posted in over a week because its just been too crazy around here. This blog "draft" was started almost a week ago, but a lot has changed since then. The biggest thing that is, for the moment, affecting our present living location is that Tami has broken her right heel bone into two pieces after falling off our ladder. She had been compound-buffing for 2 days, but while trying to climb the ladder yesterday to buff the bottom/front of the bridge deck, she lost her balance and fell to the ground. While the ceiling of the bridge-deck is just over 7' high, once she got to the front of the bridge-deck, it goes up to about 9' off the ground - I should have know better as it is way too tall for a 6' ladder - but it's not like her to stop and complain about concern over safety, so she attempted it anyway.

Needless to say, since she doesn't have a bone sticking out of her foot, the ER here recommended that we go home to see if it needs surgery and so she can rehab one way or the other. Climbing up 10 stairs to the cockpit (5 on the metal staircase and 5 on the boat itself), then going down another 5 steps to our cabin is just not real fun when your heel is broken. So our flight to Texas was changed to Monday and she has an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon on Tuesday - by the looks of the x-rays, I don't see how she'll avoid surgery. I could stay behind to keep things going, but I just feel like "re-setting" and chilling out for a little bit, at least until we know how long she'll be out of commission. I could be back as early as the second week in March to get back on track, but we'll see.

It was looking great 'till she got to the upper part where the car sits and she had to get further up on the ladder

Before Demerol, it was the 2nd most pain I'd ever seen her in 

February 17, 2014
Broke, but not beat

Our first few days back in Texas were spent trying to keep warm - the highs were in the mid 30's - and the motorhome was freezing as Brandon had ran through just about all the propane while we were in Florida. The space heaters were doing their best to keep the inside temperature to about 64 degrees, and the windows were dripping from all the condensation. And to top it all off, Tami is dealing with a broken heel - hobbling up and down the steps of our motorhome as she tries not to break the other foot.

The day after our return, we met with her orthopedic surgeon and his recommendation was to get the damage repaired, although he referred us to a podiatrist because we "need to use a doctor that deals with these kinds of breaks." We were able to get appointments with two podiatrists over the following two days, and felt confident that our final choice would do a good job. Although the prognosis is not great - of the people that earn their living on their feet, it normally knocks about 50% out of the workforce and on to disability. It also usually results in arthritis in the heel-joint in about 80% of patients and most end up getting the joint fused together as a result.

Prepped and ready for surgery

So surgery was scheduled for this past Friday and everything seemed to go well, and there was even some good news about the extent of the damage. It seems that the CT scan was read incorrectly and the top of the heal that was thought to also be broken, was not (her heal bone, unfortunately, was still split in two.) I guess $2750 just doesn't buy the kind of quality is used to. But I suppose the scan is what costs the money, it doesn't come with a guaranty it gets read correctly. But the good news about the top of the bone not being broken is that it lowers her chance for developing arthritis and a resulting 2nd surgery to about 10-15%. We see him again in 2 weeks - after that, she will be released to go back to the boat as long as she continues to do her range of motion exercises and remains non-weight-bearing for 4-6 weeks.

You can see the plate at the bottom of the incision (and those are surgical gloves on the physician)

3 days after surgery- swelled, bruised, and ouchy.

Getting the dressing changed

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