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Wesmar Stabilizer Cylinder Removal and Replacement

Step-by-step instructions for removal and reinstallation of hydraulic cylinders on a Wesmar stabilizer system.

(To the regular readers of Smartini Life – skip this one! I’m starting to build a library of straight-up “how to” articles for other boaters, and this is the first one. I can’t imagine you’ll find it interesting!)

This is a step-by-step article on how to remove and replace the hydraulic cylinders on a Wesmar stabilizer system (one on each side). In my case, I did this because the seal on one cylinder started to leak. Hopefully, in your case, you’re doing it as preventive maintenance.

I needed some technical support a couple times during my project, which I got by calling Wesmar directly, and speaking to a wonderful man named Jason Smith. He seems to know these systems intimately, because he had the answers I needed in his head – he didn’t even have to pause to look them up. 425-481-2296.

I couldn’t find any definitive information on how often to service the cylinders and the fin shaft seals, so here’s what I’m going to do. You need to do your own research, and do your service when it make sense for you. My schedule may seem aggressive, but since we plan on being in a lot of places that are a long way from being able to haul out, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
– Replace fin shaft seals every three years (for me, that’ll be at alternating haul-outs).
– Rebuild the cylinders at the same time.
– Replace the hydraulic lines every ten years.

My system was installed when the boat was built in 2002. The various Wesmar manuals that came with the boat when we bought it are dated 1995, 1999, and 2005, and they’re all consistent. The only differences I see mentioned are the size of the fins – presumably bigger boats used bigger fins. But all the rest of the documentation I have found seems to indicate that everything else about the system – at least about this part of the system – was the same for many years.

If you have all the tools you need, and easy access to everything, you should be able to remove each side in 30 minutes or less by following these instructions. Reassembly may take a little longer, depending on how good your grease gun is. (Seriously – getting grease where I wanted it was the hardest part of my reassembly!)

Things You Will Need
Aside from normal hand tools, you’ll want some things you may not have in your toolbox.
– First and foremost, you’ll need plugs for the four hydraulic hoses you’re going to disconnect (two on each side). If you don’t plug them, you have a very good chance of losing a lot of fluid out of them during the time it takes you to get your cylinders rebuilt and ready to reinstall. Masking tape won’t cut it! The fact that the bi-directional valves are supposed to center in the closed position doesn’t seem to matter. GET PLUGS! (Don’t ask me how I know.)

– LOTS of rags and diapers or other oil-soaking cloth. This is the messiest job I have performed on the boat to date, and I sure hope I never have a messier one. Hydraulic fluid will leak, and get on your hands, and your tools, and all the parts of the system. When you’re greasing all the fittings during reassembly, grease will spooge out of various places, and get on your hands, tools, and everything. So have more rags than you think you’ll need, and use them often. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

– 90 degree Phillips head screwdriver, for one or both of the screws that hold the potentiometer cover in place.

– A hex head bolt socket, for the six large bolts that hold the upper housing in place. On mine, the size is 5/16″.

– A grease gun with waterproof (or water-resistant) grease. The Wesmar manual calls for Lubriplate Marine A, but I couldn’t find that, so I went with Lubriplate Marine Grease. It’s thinner than the grease that was in there, but I don’t know if the grease that was in there was what it should have been.

– If all four of yours aren’t in great shape, you may need to replace one or more of the “E” clips that hold the large clevis pin in place (one on the top and bottom of each pin, one pin on each side of the boat). (See Step 15.) Neither Home Depot nor NAPA had ones that were big enough – I found mine at Fastenal.

Image 1: Top view

1. Locate the stabilizer actuators. There’s one on each side of the boat (one for each fin). On our boat, one is under the bed in the Master Cabin, the other is under the floor of the hanging locker in the Master Cabin. Yours could be anywhere. Here’s what the whole thing looks like:

Image 2: Side view

It consists of a large “arm” that’s connected to the shaft on which the fin is mounted, so moving the arm rotates the fin. The arm is moved by a hydraulic cylinder (that’s what we’re going to remove), which is held in place (and rotates on) two heavy “pins”, which go into holes in the lower housing (mounted to the hull) and upper housing (which you’ll remove). The cylinder is controlled by a bi-directional hydraulic valve (the blue thing). The valve is controlled by the “brain box” (mine is mounted in the engine room), which gets input from an electronic gyro (mine is located under the lower helm) for detecting the boat’s roll, and from a potentiometer at the end of each fin shaft, which gives an electrical signal to the brain box about the current position of the fin. Basically, when the boat rolls, the gyro sends that info (speed and degree of roll) to the brain box. The brain box then determines how much correction to give (how much to move the fins), and uses the bi-directional valves to send hydraulic fluid in the right direction for the right amount of time, which it determines in part by monitoring the fin position via the potentiometer. Clear as mud?

Image 3: Pot cover, showing one of the attachment screws. The other one is on the opposite side.

2. First, prepare you work area by removing anything that might be in the way of you being able to swing wrenches, and by putting a cloth of some sort under the entire assembly, to catch the fasteners that you will inevitably drop at some point. I put a towel under the unit, as I have a real “black hole” into which anything dropped would be gone forever. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

3. Remove the “pot” (potentiometer) cover by loosening the two Phillips head screws at the base of the cover. You don’t have to remove them – just loosen them. In my case, I had to use a 90-degree angled head screwdriver to access one of them. When you have the screws loose, gently lift the cover, feeding wire into the inside of the cover as you lift it so you don’t pull on the wires inside. Feed enough wire into the cover so that you can set it aside, well out of your way.

Image 4: Potentiometer (pot) on top, then the bracket, then the flexible coupling to the fin shaft. All this comes off as one unit.

This is what you’ll find under the cover.  In this Image 4, you can barely see the pot on top  of the mounting bracket (with the wires going to it), and underneath, you see the flexible coupling between the bottom of the pot and the top of the fin shaft. As the fin is moved by the hydraulics, the shaft rotates, which rotates the flexible coupling, which turns the knob on the bottom of the pot, which changes the electrical output from the pot, which is sent to the brain box. This is how the system always knows the position of each fin.

4. With a permanent marker, put a mark on top of the big fin shaft, and on the side of the flexible coupling, so that when you reassemble, you can line those marks up. You don’t have to be exact, as you’ll do a final adjustment at the end of the reassembly process, but make it close. Also, mark the orientation of the bracket that holds the pot, before you remove it. It will fit both ways, but if you get it back on wrong (180 degrees off), the final adjustment will be harder. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

Image 5: Hex head screw in the side of the shaft that secures the flexible coupling of the pot to the shaft. Loosen it just enough that you can easily turn the flexible coupling, but don’t remove it!

5. To remove the pot, mounting bracket, and flexible coupling, you have to first loosen a hex head screw that screws into the side of the shaft, above the castle nut. (Image 5.) On one of my units, it was easy to find. On the other, I had to use a mirror to locate it, as it was between the shaft and the base of my hanging locker, with only a few inches in between. Use an Allen wrench to loosen it (DO NOT REMOVE IT!), so that you can freely spin the flexible coupling.

6. Remove the screw at each base of the pot mounting bracket and lift the bracket (with the pot and flexible coupling attached) straight up until it’s free from the shaft. Set it aside, well out of your way – you don’t want to smash a wrench into it later! And be careful with the wires – they’re small and delicate.

7. Now you have wide open access to the castle nut and cotter pin on top of the shaft. Remove the cotter pin and the nut. Don’t worry, the shaft won’t fall out of the hull – probably. 🙂 It’s secured by a clamping mechanism lower on the shaft, and also, the fin SHOULD be buoyant, so that it will try to float up into the hole, not fall down out of the hole. (But if your fin is damaged, it could be full of water, and could try to fall out.)

Image 6: Bronze thrust washer around fin shaft. Leave in place for now.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve done this job only once, and one of my shafts did drop down about half an inch before the lower clamping mechanism kept it from going any farther – which freaked me out! But not a drop of water came in, and I secured the shaft back into place once I got the cylinder removed (Step 18), and I suggest you do the same. Also, pay very close attention at this point, in case your shaft seals aren’t in great shape, as you could get some water coming in after the castle nut is removed.

8. In Image 6, you can see a large bronze thrust washer around the shaft. You shouldn’t need to remove that at this point – it will come off when you lift the upper housing. (Then you can easily remove it to expose the roller bearings underneath, which you’ll want to clean and regrease prior to reassembly.)

9. Remove the six large hex head bolts around the upper housing. (You can see three of them in Image 6.)

Image 7: Insert a flat blade screwdriver under the upper housing to loosen it, then lift it straight up.

10. At this point, the upper housing is no longer fastened to anything, but it’s likely to be pretty snug. Use a large flat blade screwdriver (or two – one on each side) to pry it loose. Once you’ve pried it up even a little bit, you should be able to lift it straight up and off of the shaft. See Image 7 to know where to insert the screwdriver for prying.


11. Remove the upper housing and set it aside. This exposes the clevis and clevis pin that attaches the moving part of the cylinder (the ram) to the lever arm. You should also now have good access to the small hydraulic hoses that connect to the cylinder.

11a. Lift the bronze thrust washer out of the upper housing, and inspect the roller bearings underneath. If the grease is clean and the bearings look to be in good shape, they should be fine to go back together. If the bearings are pitted, you’ll need to replace them. Mine were fine, but I’m guessing if you had to replace them, you’d have to contact Wesmar to get the right ones.

Image 8: Hoses removed from cylinder, draining oil into a diaper. My system has an extra valve in each hose that was installed years ago to smooth out the operation of the system. Yours may or may not have these, but it shouldn’t make any difference.

12. Put a diaper or other oil-absorbent cloth under the fittings on the cylinder to catch the hydraulic oil that will ooze out. I use actual baby diapers for this kind of job, with the stretchy sides ripped off unless I want a “bucket” shape, then I leave them on.

13. Using tape and/or a Sharpie, mark each hose so you know which one goes on which fitting. You think you’ll remember… but don’t take the chance – mark them!

14. Loosen the fittings and remove them, catching all of the oil in the diaper. NOTE: once the hoses are removed, the oil still in the cylinder will squirt out with some authority if you move the ram in or out – so don’t do that, until you’re ready to catch that oil. (Don’t ask me how I know.) Better yet, if you have caps, put them on as soon as you disconnect the hoses.

The bi-directional valve that controls the flow of fluid to these hoses is closed at rest, so no fluid should come out of the system other than that which is in the small hoses to the cylinder, and the cylinder itself. But plug those hoses, as fluid can leak out! If you don’t plug them properly, and you accidentally start the stabilizer system, you’re going to have hydraulic fluid EVERYWHERE! (No, I didn’t do that. In fact, I disconnected the wire at the stabilizer manifold, specifically to prevent this from happening.)

Image 9: Top view of clevis, clevis pin and “E” clip, all visible after removing the upper housing.
Image 10: I used this to pull the “E” clip off the clevis pin. Worked great!

15. Remove the “E” clip on top of the clevis pin. I used a little scraping tool that had a hook on the end to simply pull the clip away from the pin. Be careful – the clip may want to go flying!


16. Push the clevis pin down into the hole, giving you better access to the “E” clip on the bottom of the clevis pin, and remove that clip, too, Then you can pull the pin up out of the hole.

Image 11: With the clevis pin pushed down, you can barely see the “E” clip on the bottom, which you have to remove, too. In the picture, it’s under the blob of green grease, and a little to the left – the little brown thing.


17. Now, simply lift the cylinder straight up. Be ready to catch the hydraulic oil that will inevitably ooze out of the fittings. I suggest you put the whole thing in a bucket.

18. Unless you have a replacement cylinder ready to install right now, I suggest you now replace the upper housing (which you removed in Step 11), and loosely reinstall the six long hex head bolts, the bronze thrust washer, and the castle nut. This will keep the shaft from being able to drop at all, giving you the peace of mind you need, knowing that you’re not going to sink the boat while the cylinder is being rebuilt. Also, put the locking pin (you do have your locking pins, right?) in place to keep the fin from rotating. (Basically, do a loose reassembly of the system, without the cylinder, until you’re ready to reassemble it with the new or rebuilt cylinder.)

Rebuild or Replace the Cylinders?
After getting input from several sources, I decided to have mine rebuilt. They were in excellent condition (the ram must be, or it will always leak), and I found a marine hydraulics company (Ramsay Marine, in Riviera Beach, FL) that does fantastic work. They pressure tested them before they took them apart, and found not just one, but both of them, to be leaking (one much worse than the other). They rebuilt them (which they said doesn’t require any special tools or even seals that aren’t commonly used by hydraulics repair shops), pressure tested them to 1000 psi, and shipped them to me in about a week. The total cost was significantly less than the cost of two brand new cylinders.

But if yours aren’t in great shape – if the ram is pitted – replacement may be your only option.

It’s pretty much the reverse of the disassembly process, with a few twists.

1. Reverse Step 18 above, to remove the upper housing.

2. Grease the fitting on the lower housing, now, before you cover it up with the cylinder. On mine, I never had grease come out anywhere I could see, so I just greased it until the pressure started to increase on the handle of the grease gun. My guess is the oozing out was taking place on the bottom of the housing (around the fin, under the hull), so I eventually stopped.

3. Put the cylinder in place. Be sure to orient it correctly, with the arm pointing in the general direction of the fin shaft, and the fittings on the same side as the hoses you have to reconnect. Once it’s in place, grease the fitting until grease oozes out of somewhere, or the pressure on the handle of the grease gun gets really hard (because it can’t put any more grease in).

4. Put an “E” clip on one end of the clevis pin and have it ready to put in place. Rotate the lever arm (the arm that’s clamped to the shaft, that has a hole in the end) so that it lines up with the holes in the clevis on the end of the cylinder ram, and insert the clevis pin through all three holes. Put the “E” clip on the bottom of the clevis pin. This may be difficult – you may want a helper for this step! If you’re in completely calm water, moving the arm / shaft / fin is tough. If the water under the boat is moving, it’s very difficult, even with a helper.

At this point, you can see how the whole hydraulic system works: the blue bi-directional valve sends fluid into one end of the cylinder or the other, which moves the ram, which moves the lever arm, which rotates the fin shaft, which moves the fin.

5. Attach the hydraulic hoses and tighten the fittings. Tight, but not too tight. Depending on the angle of the hoses and fittings, you may have to do them in a certain order. On mine, I had to do the short one first, because if I had done the long one first, it would have been in the way of doing the short one. Pay attention.

6. If you didn’t do this during disassembly, remove the bronze thrust washer from the upper housing and inspect the grease and the roller bearings. Hopefully the bearings are in good shape, because if they aren’t, you’re going to have to pause the project at this point until you can get replacements.

7. With the thrust washer removed, gently lower the upper housing onto the shaft, so that the hole in the “arm” part of the housing fits over the “pin” on the cylinder. (Not the clevis pin, but the short round “shaft” that’s part of the cylinder housing.) Now, the cylinder is held in place by the lower housing and the upper housing, so all it can do is rotate a little, as the ram moves in and out.

8. Put the thrust washer in place. If there is a hole in it, position that hole on the opposite side of the shaft from the grease fitting in the upper housing, and keep the hole in that position when you later tighten the castle nut.

9. Start, but don’t tighten, all six of the large hex head bolts that hold the upper housing in place.

10. Put the castle nut on and tighten it. Not as tight as you can get it – just a little less than that, so that the cotter pin will go through the hole in the shaft. Put the cotter pin in and bend one or both of the ends.

11. Grease the fitting on the upper housing that puts grease all around the shaft and under the thrust washer. In my case, I greased it until grease oozed out of the hole in the thrust washer. (That’s why I positioned the hole opposite the grease fitting – so that grease wouldn’t come out of the hole until it had filled the area underneath.)

12. Tighten all six hex head bolts to secure the upper housing.

13. Replace the pot bracket, making sure it’s oriented properly. (It will go on either way – and it’s not the end of the world if you get it wrong. But if you put it back on the way it came off, it makes the final adjustment a little easier. Don’t ask me how I know.)

14. Line up the marks  on the flexible coupling and the top of the fin shaft (the marks you made in Step 4 of the disassembly process), and “snug” the hex head set screw that keeps the flexible coupling from turning. (See Step 5 of the disassembly process.) You want it tight enough that the flexible coupling can’t spin freely, but loose enough that you can twist it with your fingers.

If you didn’t make marks – no worries – the final adjustment will just take a little longer.

15. Now you’re ready to test. Move all your tools out of the way. Move the pot cover and the wire out of the way of the cylinder and lever arm. (These are the only moving parts.) Make sure you tightened the fittings on the cylinder – tight, but not TOO tight. Start the engine to get hydraulic fluid pumping. Turn on the stabilizer system and leave it in “Standby” mode. Inspect your hydraulic lines at the cylinders for leaks.

You shouldn’t need to bleed air out of the system – it should be self-bleeding. New fluid is constantly pumped into each side of the cylinder as it’s moved, and the old fluid (in the other side) is returned to the tank.

16. On each side, one at a time
– If the locking pin can slide into place, through both holes, the fin is centered properly, and you can tighten the hex head set screw. But it’s probably not, because it’s unlikely you got the flexible coupling perfectly aligned when you re-installed it. So…
– Twist the flexible coupling a tiny bit, in either direction, and see what happens to the alignment of the locking pin holes. Keep twisting the coupling, a little at a time, one way or the other, until the holes stay lined up. When they are lined up, that’s centered. Now you can tighten the hex head set screw, nice and tight.
– IF YOU DIDN’T MAKE MARKS, or if you installed the pot bracket 180 degrees off (like I did), it may seem like no matter what you do, you can’t get the fin to center, indicating that you’re WAY off. So twist it all the way one direction, or all the way the other (still just a little at a time, though). Eventually, you’ll get it in the ballpark, and then you can fine tune, until the holes line up. (If you suspect you put the bracket on “backwards”, you could remove and replace it the other way, but it’s probably just as easy to do what I did – just keep twisting until it all lines up.)

17. Replace the pot cover, gently feeding most but not all of the wire out of the cover as you put it in place.

18. Get clean rags and clean up all of your tools. Wipe up all the hydraulic fluid that leaked out, and all the grease that spooged out, and make everything nice and clean, especially around the hydraulic fittings. (That’s how you’ll know later that you have a leak – if an area you made completely clean and dry is no longer clean and dry, you probably have a leak.)

Post Op Instructions
It’s probably a good idea to visually inspect the whole actuator mechanism very shortly after you use the stabilizers the next time. I don’t mean after an 8 hour run with stabilizers on – no, I mean after using them for maybe 5 minutes (in conditions that require the stabilizers to activate). If you have a hydraulic leak that happens only under serious load, you want to find that out before you dump a gallon or five of hydraulic fluid into the bilge. (No, I didn’t do that!)

First Official Visitors – Dee and Heather

Two days after Smartini finally made it to Marathon in the Florida Keys, our first real guests showed up for four days. (Sorry UCB, Curt, Sondra, Robin, Cathy, and anyone else who’s spent the night on Smartini – until we made it to the Keys, it hasn’t felt “official”. Very much enjoyed, but not official.)

DedeAnn is Fran’s best friend since middle school in Southern California. Heather is one of my absolute favorite humans on the planet for reasons too numerous to list. They live in Fort Collins, CO, coincidentally where Fran’s sister Ingrid lives, so we get to see them whenever we visit there, but it’s not often – once or twice a year at most. We’ve been eagerly looking forward to their visit, especially since neither of them had ever been to the Keys before.

They came during the hottest, most humid time of year, and we’re still having intermittent generator issues (translation: not as much air conditioning as we all would have liked), so they got the full Keys experience. But they pretended not to notice, and we all just sweated together!

We took Teeny (short for Smarteeny, our new dinghy) out to the Sombrero Reef Lighthouse for some snorkeling. Fran took them under the Seven Mile Bridge to the bayside of the Keys for some snorkeling and a tour of the area. We drove to Key West for a whole day, and on their last morning, we visited the Sea Turtle Hospital. Not nearly as long a visit as we would have liked with these two, but we’re happy to have any time we can get with them!

(Click on any image below to open a slideshow of all images.)

Unexpected Fort Pierce

Our six month stay in Fort Pierce is over. A lot of unexpected things happened while we were there!

A week ago, Fran, May, and I steered Smartini out the Fort Pierce Inlet, turned south, and if things go according to plans (which they almost never do!), we won’t see Fort Pierce from the deck of Smartini ever again. Not that we didn’t like Fort Pierce – we actually liked it quite a lot. We just hope to spend the rest of our time on Smartini farther south.

A lot of unexpected things happened while we were in Fort Pierce, starting with the main reason we were there in the first place – the need to completely re-do the “down to bare metal” paint job on the bottom of Smartini. As I’m sure I’ve written before, we had a total bottom job done right after we took possession of the boat in January 2016. With routine cleanings, and a new coat of anti-fouling paint every year or so, it should have lasted 8 – 10 years. Instead, it didn’t last 8 months. In short, it was done badly, and by the time we hauled the boat out of the water for another reason in mid-December 2016, there were already good sized patches of bare metal showing, and hundreds (thousands?) of little water-filled paint bubbles all over the bottom. Unexpected Thing #1 – we’d have to haul out again and completely re-do the bottom job – and this time, we’d do it ourselves, to make sure it was done right.

Maddie (left) and her girlfriend, Brenna

We had been in Fort Pierce less than a month when Unexpected Thing #2 happened – the passing of our daughter, Maddie. I can’t write about that yet, other than what I already wrote, but needless to say, our whole world changed that day. Among those changes were our plans to head for the Bahamas ASAP (we’d be holding off on that indefinitely), and our motivation to throw ourselves into Smartini projects with much enthusiasm – we had none.

Once we realized we’d be in Fort Pierce for much longer than expected, we started exploring the town (translation: looking for places to eat and drink). Unexpected Thing #3 was that we really liked it! Here’s this town, only an hour’s drive from Satellite Beach (where we lived for the past 12 years), that we knew nothing about. Its little downtown area is home to a great brewery (Sailfish Brewing), a nice “tiki pub” at the marina (Cobb’s Landing), a tiki bar (also in the marina – The Original Tiki Bar), a tasty, funky little taco dive (called, conveniently – The Taco Dive), and at least four other restaurants at which we had good sushi or breakfast. Leave downtown, and drive just a mile or so to the hard-to-find but do-not-be-missed restaurant called 12 A Buoy (home of the best fried oysters I’ve ever had, and the best appetizer menu I’ve ever seen), Lenzi’s Diner (crunchy fish for breakfast? yep!), or Captain’s Galley (excellent straight-up American breakfast). Drive across the South Bridge to beachside for cheap beer, decent food, live music and a funky beachside vibe at Archie’s Seaside. Or breakfast at Dave’s Diner (open 24 / 7!). Or a great brunch buffet at Manatee Island (at least, it was there on Mother’s Day – as good as it was, I hope they do it every weekend.) Suffice it to say, we did not go hungry or thirsty in Fort Pierce.

Me, Fran, Christina and Chris

Unexpected Thing #4 was the friends we made. Keep in mind, we expected to be there two weeks, so we weren’t looking to make any real friends. As with all boating activities, you can’t help but meet people you like to spend time with, but usually it’s like two ships passing in the night – brief encounters, probably never to be repeated. But we were there 6 months, and we made some real friends. Chris and Christina Bryan started out as the people who would guide us through the new bottom paint job (them advising , Fran and me painting – and painting – and painting). By the time we left, we had been to their house for dinner three times (once to celebrate Christina’s brand new US Citizenship!), had met their two great kids (Elizabeth and Mathias), had them onboard Smartini for fish tacos, been out to dinner with them twice – and they now have an open invitation to come spend time with us on Smartini, wherever we may be! I’m sure we haven’t laughed harder in the last six months than listening to Chris and Christina tell almost any funny story from their past – especially if it involved Christina’s sister, Valentina.

And then there’s Ben Baker. A quiet, unassuming man (so quiet and unassuming, I never got a picture of him) who knows more about boats than anyone I’ve ever met, and who freely shares that knowledge. Yes, his business is fixing boats (or as he prefers to describe it, making people fall in love with their boat again), but he gives away more expertise than he charges for, and as we found when he was helping troubleshoot a problem with our generator, he’s thinking about your problem instead of sleeping sometimes! In the 6 months we were in Fort Pierce, I honestly don’t recall asking Ben a single question about an issue with Smartini that he didn’t either know exactly how to address, or he knew who we needed to talk to who did. His shop is a wonderland of tools, parts, and supplies that is also his happy place. And after hours, when he finally relaxes enough to enjoy a Scotch and water with you, he’s got an endless supply of boat stories, starting with the story of how we was born in a rowboat, right up to the boat that limped into the marina that morning. He, too, has an open invitation to visit us on Smartini anywhere, any time, but I doubt he’ll take us up on it – I think he’d be afraid of leaving someone stranded in Fort Pierce if he weren’t there to help them out.

Leanne visiting us in Riviera Beach

We met Leanne Grant through Ben. Leanne came from Australia to Connecticut to buy her dreamboat – a big, beautiful sailboat named Caprice. On her way back to Australia with it, she ended up in Fort Pierce for some repairs, and like us, she ended up staying a lot longer than expected. Also like us, she met Ben Baker, who has helped get Caprice ready to resume the long journey Down Under – and the two of them have been enjoying each others company. Leanne’s wonderful – but her trip must continue – she’s in a 6-week countdown to launching from Fort Pierce, through the Panama Canal, and home to Australia. Leanne, we hope to join you somewhere on your journey! (We’ll be flying, though.)

Major rust around porthole
Fran in full prep-and-paint gear

Unexpected Things #5 through ??? include all the things we learned about Smartini during our time in Fort Pierce, many of which, unfortunately, were issues that needed to be addressed, and which added to our extended stay. I’ll list the big ones: significant rust around one of the portholes in the Master Stateroom and less significant rust around several others; significant rust around the anchor windlass; a pinhole leak in the main engine exhaust elbow (requiring removal and repair); rust around 4 of the 8 hawse holes (through which dock lines pass); a completely clogged heat exchanger on the generator that (through a series of events I won’t bother to explain) lead to me letting 8 gallons of hydraulic fluid leak into the bilge (hey, it was past time to replace that fluid anyway!); a “galvanic survey” of the boat, indicating that somewhere onboard, a major appliance may be wired improperly. (I know, I know… you’re thinking we bought a real piece of crap boat, what with all the work we’ve had to do on it, right? But we actually bought an awesome boat, which had been allowed to sit unused for almost two years – and ask any boat owner – boats need a lot of attention, and if they sit for long periods without being used, they need a lot more. We’re about to the end of all those things – we hope!)

No story about our time in Fort Pierce would be complete without mentioning the amazing crew at Cracker Boy Boat Works, the Do It Yourself yard where Smartini was hauled out for 5 months. Cindy, Woody, Rick, Fred, Teak (or “Ted”, as I called him for months), Tip Tip, and Sean. The amazing ship’s carpenter shop (The Ship Shop) of Philip and Dave, who repaired the cherrywood panels in our master stateroom with hand-made replacement tongue and groove that you can NOT tell from the original. The ever-present Hazel Lopez, who’s smiling face and “Alright, alright!” were there to brighten your day, almost EVERY day, as he made tired old boats all shiny and new again.

Unexpected Fort Pierce – maybe it should be their tourism promotion slogan. Certainly, if you ever find yourself in the area around lunch time, or if you just want to go try someplace different for a Saturday or a whole weekend, head for the Fort Pierce City Marina, park the car nearby, and prepare to be surprised. We certainly were!

Back in the Water Again!

What started as a planned two-week haulout to re-do a poorly done bottom job finally ended last Saturday, after 5 months, 1 week, and 3 days, when we got Smartini in the water again!

What started as a planned two-week haulout to re-do a poorly done bottom job finally ended last Saturday, after 5 months, 1 week, and 3 days, when we got Smartini in the water again!

I’ll do a more thorough article on a lot of the things that were done, but here’s a partial list (in case you think we’ve just been goofing off!). Also, we were away from the boat for various reasons (some good, some not so good) for a total of 56 nights during that stretch – almost two months!

Bottom job re-do (sandblast entire hull below the waterline*, apply 5 coats of epoxy “barrier coat” and 3 coats of anti-fouling “bottom paint”.)

Remove rudder; drain oil from it (it’s hollow, so has to have some liquid in it to prevent it from rusting inside); paint it with 4 coats of epoxy; re-mount it with all new hardware, half of which required having parts ground down to fit into the tight confines; re-fill it with propylene glycol (an environmentally friendly anti-corrosive).

Pumping antifreeze back into the main engine.

Drain keel cooler of 15 gallons of antifreeze; repair small leaks; prime and paint; refill with new antifreeze.

Disassemble “get home” propeller; research and learn that it was assembled totally improperly when the bottom job was last done; clean and reassemble; prime and paint. (This was all Fran – her next trick will be to do this all UNDERWATER.)

Disassemble prop shaft line cutter; clean and reassemble.

Remove all hull zincs for bottom paint; re-install after painting.

Remove side boarding door for rust repair; repair, fair*, prime and paint*; re-install.

Chris Bryan applying the second or third coat of fairing to the bow area, to make it all flat and pretty again, after new steel was welded in place.

Remove rusted metal around one porthole and around the anchor windlass*; weld in new metal*; apply fairing to repaired areas to make them flat and smooth*; prime and paint those areas.*

Remove the anchor windlass (the hydraulic winch that raises and lowers it) and all associated hardware; remove fresh water spigot from same area (all in preparation for the aforementioned rust repair).

Remove every porthole on the boat (eight of them); inspect for rust (one was bad, the rest were minor); repair minor rust; wait for major repair (welding), fairing, and painting*; clean all the old 5200 (sealant) off the portholes (which took Fran two entire days!); reinstall.

Clean, reorganize, and paint the inside of the “chain locker” – the area below the windlass where the anchor chain is stored when the anchor is not in use. (I easily spent 30 – 40 hours in this space, which I began to call the Pit of Despair. Sweaty and dirty beyond description – and incredibly cramped!)

Remove main engine exhaust elbow insulation; remove exhaust elbow and take it to welder to repair leak; have new insulation made; re-install elbow and test; remove it again to take it back to the welder for him to fix it right this time; re-install.

Transmission cooler. Now it’s all shiny and white.

Remove transmission cooler and take to be cleaned; reinstall it.

Old main engine temperature sending unit, on right.

Remove main engine temperature sender; replace with new one (after 3 trips to the auto parts store to get the right adapter, then having to drill out and tap the inlet hole another 1/4″).

Reinstall the windlass and all associated hardware; relocate the fresh water spigot.

Minor repair of over 40 small rusty spots all over the boat, mostly on the deck. Most of these involved some fairing, and all needed primer and paint.*

Fran putting Teak Sealer on some small sections of the cap rail, prior to re-installing them.

Remove stainless handrail all around the boat to give access to mahogany “cap rail”; remove 15 years of varnish from cap rail with heat guns and scrapers; apply 3 coats of sealer to cap rail (to hell with varnish – that would have required 12 coats!); fill and redrill all screw holes in cap rail for attaching the handrails; reattach handrails. (This project took us the better part of 8 days of both of us working all day. In the future, we should only ever have to reapply the sealer, which at this point is easy.)

A rusty hawse hole, with the stainless steel liner / cleat removed.

Remove four “hawse holes”, repair minor rust under them, wait for fairing and painting*, reinstall them. (A hawse hole is a hole in the side of a boat though which dock lines are passed, to fasten to a cleat on the inside of the hole. You don’t actually remove the hole, of course – you remove the stainless steel liner.)

Captain Fran in her new captain’s chair.

Remove old bench seat at upper helm and install fancy new captain’s chair.

Replace installed fan beside each bed (much harder than it sounds!).

Cleaning, buffing, and waxing of all the blue part of the boat.*

I may come back later and add some more pictures, but so many people have been asking “When will you be back in the water?” for so long, I just can’t wait to post this!

* Asterisk indicates things we paid other people to do, as they were beyond our skill level.

Putting Things Back Together

Just a quickie update. We’re FINALLY wrapping up all the projects on Smartini at the Cracker Boy Boat Works boat yard, in Fort Pierce, FL. The final painting of all the small repaired areas is almost finished. Most of the hand rails that came off for refinishing the caprail are back on. The rudder is back on and filled with propylene glycol (don’t ask). Eleventy-seven other projects, big and small, have already been completed.

In these two pictures, you see how we put 14 gallons of anti-freeze back in the engine yesterday, in no time flat! The fill hole is about eye level, and too close to the ceiling of the engine room to just pour it in. So we used a handy little pump that’s turned by a drill. Well under a minute to pump each gallon.

We expect to be ready to be back in the water before a short visit to Fort Collins, CO and Houston, TX, coming up on the 25th. When we return on June 5, we should be no more than a day or two away from splashing!

Smartini Barber Shop

Can you believe she would let me cut her hair? We’ve talked about it for a long time, anticipating being away from any known, or even professional, stylist for weeks, even months, at a time. I even got a lesson from Tanya Reed, Fran’s long-time stylist in Satellite Beach – but that was many moons ago.

Fran’s either actually happy with it, or is just putting on a brave face until she can sneak back up to see Tanya for an emergency fix. But either way, I don’t seem to be in trouble.

Maddie (Madeline Henderson Smith)

Most subscribers to Smartini Life know this, but from some of the contacts I’ve received lately, I know not everyone does, so here goes. My daughter, Maddie, died at the end of January. That’s why there haven’t been any new posts here on the blog – our lives have been rather upside down since then.

Most subscribers to Smartini Life know this, but from some of the contacts I’ve received lately, I know not everyone does, so here goes. My daughter, Maddie, died at the end of January. That’s why there haven’t been any new posts here on the blog – our lives have been rather upside down since then.

One of these days, when the feelings aren’t so raw, I may write more about Maddie, but for now, I’m going to post a modified version of what I read at the private service we held for her. That’s about all I can handle right now.

From February 1, 2017, in Indianapolis
Maddie was a very private person, and she would have hated to have me, or anyone, stand up in front of a room full of people – especially people she didn’t even know – and talk about her. That’s why we’re doing this – Maddie knew all of you, and you all knew her. She was, at one time or another, for various reasons, a part of your life, and vice versa. She probably wouldn’t even like all of us to be sitting around talking about her, but that’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to start, and when I’m done, I know a few of you have something you’d like to say, and then it will be open for any of you to say something, if you’d like. If you want to tell us something you remember about Maddie that helps describe the kind of person she was, or what she meant to you, no matter how small, that would be wonderful.

Maddie was born on the Northwest side of Indianapolis, at the Women’s Hospital on Township Line Road. At the time, we lived in the original Saddlebrook neighborhood, about a mile down the road. We lived there for only her first year and a few months, but even in that short time, we started calling her Danger Girl, after we found her halfway up the stairway to the second floor, shortly after she had mastered crawling. The rest of her life, that nickname would prove to be appropriate, as she never stopped doing things that were potentially dangerous to her, without giving it much thought. It was, in the end, a significant contributing factor in her death.

She was a tomboy almost from the beginning, refusing to wear dresses or anything pink or otherwise girly. Once that started, I’m pretty sure she didn’t wear a dress more than a dozen times the rest of her life. At Halloween, she didn’t want to be a princess or a ballerina, she wanted to be a superhero or a ninja or a professional athlete. She played on the Seventh and Eighth Grade girls basketball teams at New August Middle School – she had a smooth jump shot, and could dribble circles around me in the driveway. She loved to skateboard. For a while, she wanted to be a pitcher, so I’d do my best to “catch” her in the front yard. But she didn’t want to play girls softball – she wanted to play boys baseball – so that didn’t last too long. At Pike High School, she was in the Junior Naval ROTC program, at one point being the only girl on the Armed Exhibition Team – the team that does the amazing stuff spinning the rifles.

As she got older, she started to love hiking, or just walking in the woods, or even just being in the woods. She’s probably been to Eagle Creek Park hundreds of times. That’s where she and her girlfriend Brenna went on their first date – for a walk in the park. We hope to eventually have a bench somewhere in the park dedicated to her memory. She lived in Fort Collins, CO for about six months, to try out living away from home. She loved hiking in the many parks in the foothills and mountains there, and in fact, that’s where her ashes will be scattered at the end of May.

At an early age, she started noticing people who were less fortunate than her, and she developed a compassion for them that never ceased to impress me. In elementary school, there was an autistic girl named Allie who, unfortunately, was occasionally teased by other kids. Maddie went out of her way to make friends with Allie. When we would pick her up from after school care, it wasn’t unusual for Maddie to be doing something with Allie when we got there. In the car, if she saw someone walking on the side of the road, she didn’t see someone choosing to walk, she saw someone who might need help, wondering if something was wrong.

She loved animals, especially her little black kitty, Batman. And she loved little kids, especially Fran’s niece and nephew in Fort Collins, Penelope and Porter – but REALLY especially Porter. If you looked at the hundreds of pictures we have of Maddie, you see a ton of pictures of her with Porter when he was little. In fact, some of the best pictures we have are of her playing with Porter. She is as happy in those pictures as we ever saw her, doing anything, ever. She did NOT want Porter to ever get any bigger!

She had a gift, a true talent, for music. She started taking drum lessons in fourth grade, learning on snare drum. After a year or so, she started playing on a drum set and started to get some competency. But when it was time for Middle School Band, each kid drew a number, and when it was your turn, you picked from the instruments that hadn’t already been picked. Of course, all the Percussion spots were filled early. By the time Maddie’s number 73 came around, there were flutes and clarinets – she chose clarinet. I swear, she never practiced more than 5 minutes a week outside of Band Class, and yet she played that thing like she practiced an hour a day. And still she drummed, at home, for her own enjoyment. One day when she was in 8th or 9th grade, we were somewhere with a piano. As far as I know, she hadn’t ever touched a piano – but she sat down at it, and within minutes, had her left hand playing some chords while her right was picking out a pretty little melody. At some point, she started playing guitar, and of course, she took to it like a fish to water, too. She never took any lessons, and she never achieved any degree of mastery, but she could pick it up and make up stuff that never failed to put a smile on my face. And always, she played drums. A year ago, when she moved into her apartment, she was able to take her electronic drums with her – she could put her headset on and bang to her heart’s content, and her neighbors heard only the soft rat-a-tat-tat of her sticks tapping the electronic heads – if they heard anything at all. But in spite of her love for playing music, and listening to music, and sharing music with Bennett and Brenna and her friends – she never, ever wanted to play in front of people, and except for her drum recitals in 4th and 5th grade, she never did. One of the few big regrets I have about her life is that she never was able to share her music – especially her drumming – with others. She could have made a lot of people smile.

She was fiercely independent. As a little girl, she hated it when her mother or I would try to show her how to do something. “I can do it!”, she would holler. As she got older, that turned into a major resistance to accepting help from people, for almost anything, even from people she knew loved her unconditionally. And it was torture for her to ask for help, so unfortunately, she rarely did – even when she needed it most of all. I wish she had asked. Or maybe I wish that I had been able to see that she WAS asking, but I just couldn’t see it.

She was impatient – if she wanted something, she wanted it NOW. I don’t mean a toy or new clothes or something. I mean like learning something new on her drums, or a new skateboard trick. Or a solution to a problem, even a problem that was huge and complex and was not going to be solved quickly. She wanted it now.

Sometime during high school, she started to suffer from anxiety and depression. If you know almost anyone under the age of 25, even 30, you’re probably familiar with that expression: “anxiety and depression”. It’s rampant among young people, and for some, it’s severe. Maddie was one of those. By the time we really understood how bad it was for her, it had already had a big impact on her – it changed her. It became very hard for her to be happy for more than just short spurts. She started to withdraw from us. In spite of doing the things you do to try to help treat it, it never let her be free of suffering for very long. The pain was so bad that she began to seek other ways to dull the pain. Alcohol, marijuana, prescription pain killers, and eventually – I can hardly bring myself to believe this, or say it – eventually, heroin. We were naive – me, Fran, Terri, Bennett – we didn’t know what a horrible epidemic heroin has become. It’s easier to get than prescription drugs, it’s cheaper, and it’s a total crap shoot what you’re going to get from one time to the next. We all suspected that she was misusing some prescription meds, but we just had no idea what was really going on.

A week before she died, Maddie and Brenna flew to Key West to spend 5 days with Fran and me. It was the only thing Maddie wanted for Christmas – a real vacation for Brenna and her, something they hadn’t been able to do yet. We were supposed to be on Smartini, but that didn’t work out, so we rented a little place just off Duvall Street. On the first night, she finally got to see a drag show, which she loved, and she thought it was so funny that she was watching it with her dad. On the last day, the wind finally died down and we got to go fishing on the ocean – the one thing Brenna really wanted to do. Maddie didn’t like seafood, and didn’t like the idea of killing the fish, but she wanted Brenna to have a great vacation, so she didn’t fuss. The rest of the time we walked and biked and ate and drank, and went to the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon, and sunset at Mallory Square, and just enjoyed each other’s company.

One evening at dinner, Maddie told us that she had recently started introducing herself to new people as Madeline. She was OK with everyone who already knew her to keep calling her Maddie, but she was ready to be Madeline going forward.

On January 26, Fran and I dropped them off at the Key West airport. Maddie – Madeline – went to work on Friday. Friday evening, she texted Terri to confirm their normal Sunday afternoon dinner, and she said she was doing fine. Brenna talked to her about 9:00 – Maddie asked her if she had eaten the fish she caught and brought home, and after a short conversation, she said she was tired and was going to go to bed. And sometime later – this wonderful, sweet, loving, caring girl who hated to disappoint people, who couldn’t bring herself to ask for help, and who was obviously still in pain – this too-often careless “Danger Girl” who could never figure out how to love herself the way we all loved her, took some combination of drugs and alcohol that ended her way-too-short life.

We’re all almost certain it was accidental – too many of us had too many close encounters with her in her last days and even hours to believe otherwise. That doesn’t make the outcome any less horrible, but somehow, an accident – even a careless, stupid one – is easier to accept than if it were intentional. She was getting better, even though the progress was slow. She was looking ahead, and I’m sure, at times, had glimpses of what life could be like when she was finally able to put the anxiety and depression behind her. She had a job she loved, working at Posh Petals with an amazing group of women she absolutely adored. She had Brenna in her life, and I can tell you first hand that they made each other happy. She loved spending time with her mother, and with Bennett, and with her small group of close friends. She loved snuggling with her kitty, Batman. She loved so many people, and so many things in life. I think the worst thing about her death is that we won’t ever get to see the happy, healthy person she could have become, and none of the people she would have met and been touched by her will never get that chance.

The next post in Smartini Life will be about a more upbeat topic, I promise.

Picture Gallery from Christmas in the Bahamas

An assortment of pictures from the trip, that didn’t make it into the post about the trip. Some are just too good not to share!

You can scroll through them with the tiny arrows under the picture. You click on any one to make it bigger and start a slideshow. Hit the ESC key at any time to back up.

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Christmas in the Bahamas

(If you just want to see all the pictures from the trip, click here.)

Like all ocean crossings (I know – it’s only 54 miles from FL to the Bahamas, but it’s still an ocean crossing!), we spent a good bit of time planning this one. Weather and sea condition forecasts, fuel planning, provisions, and the hundred other details that must be considered for an eleven day trip. But this one was actually in the planning stages for over five years! Because this trip was going to be the first time that all three of the original dreamers got to go somewhere on a big boat together. It was at least five years ago, in the warm comfort of our living room in Indianapolis, drinking good homebrew, that Fran, me, and our dear friend and neighbor Steve Powers started dreaming about traveling the sea on a trawler.

Steve actually introduced us to trawlers – we literally didn’t know what one was until he brought over a couple issues of Passagemaker Magazine. We immediately took to the idea of a big, slow, comfortable, “apartment on a barge” kind of boat on which we could explore the Bahamas and Caribbean for a good, long time. The three of us looked at boats, and destinations, and dreamed of the day we could be living those magazine articles. TrawlerFest became something to eagerly look forward to. Steve and his wife Challen went to one in Baltimore and returned with a bag o’ goodies that fueled our conversations and imaginations for weeks. Then Fran and I went to one in FL and brought back more dream fodder. Then we’d start looking at the calendar to find the next one that one of us could attend.

Then one day, it happened – somebody said “We should buy a boat together – an older, not-too-expensive one, that we can learn on, and try out the trawler life on, and if we don’t love it, we’ll just sell it and find something else to dream about.” Their middle son, Brady, was going to college near us in Florida, and was a certified boat nut who wanted to live on one, instead of in an apartment, so the whole idea was really practical – even financially responsible, don’t you think? Thus, the idea of “the Practice Boat” was born. Our dreaming immediately turned to scheming – what would we get? how big? one engine or two? how much would we have to pay? what brands should we look at? should we wear a captain’s hat or a pirate’s hat when we’re driving it? experienced an increase in load that must have puzzled their sys admins: “What’s with all the search activity in Indianapolis all of a sudden? We’re going to need to bring another server online just to handle it!”

Turtle E. Awesome at anchor at Little Harbor, Abacos, May 2015.

The short version of the ensuing 3+ years is that we threw our money together, bought the Practice Boat, named it Turtle E. Awesome, and it did, and still does, live up to its name. Fran and I took it to the Bahamas three times, decided we were going all-in on the trawler thing, bought Smartini, and sold our half of Turtle E. Awesome to Steve and Challen. But here it was, at least five years after the seeds were originally sown, and Steve and Challen had still not been able to be on a boat they owned, crossing an ocean to a tropical island. That was all about to change with this trip, and Fran and I were at least as excited for Steve and Challen – especially Steve – as we were about taking Smartini on an ocean voyage for the first time.

We had plenty of time for the trip: the Powers (Steve, Challen, Brady and their youngest, Bennett – yes, they have a son named Bennett, too – he and my son Bennett are best buddies) would leave Melbourne, FL on the Turtle on December 17 and didn’t have to be back in Melbourne until January 1 for their flight back to Indy. Factoring in the cruise south on the ICW to Lake Worth, both crossings, and the cruise back north to Melbourne, we’d have nine full days in the Bahamas. Assuming we could do the crossings on the days we wanted to, of course. But at any time of year, especially winter, you can’t rely on good weather (hence good sea conditions) for the crossings. We were fully prepared to wait two or three days on each end of the trip for a decent weather window. But I think Santa Claus, Mother Nature, and Poseidon must have gotten together and decided that Steve had been a good boy all year, and that he had waited long enough, so they told Boreas (Greek god of the North Wind) to take a few days off. We were able to cross over on the first day of our weather window (and later, to cross back on our last), giving us the maximum amount of island time for the adventure.

We staged in North Lake Worth, a nice, big, calm anchorage a few miles north of the Lake Worth Inlet, the night of December 18. Steve served us all jambalaya on the Turtle, we checked every weather source for the thirty-seventh time that day, and made plans to pull anchor before sunrise and be leaving the inlet as BOB (the Big Orange Ball) poked his nose over the Eastern horizon. Fran and I slept well on Smartini, but I’m guessing Steve’s sleep was like that of a six year old on Christmas Eve, every fiber of his being tingling with anticipation for what the morning would bring.

Day One: The Crossing
6:00 a.m. alarm, make coffee, check everything one last time, pull anchor, head for the inlet. Make the turn around Peanut Island, head for the middle of the inlet, and cross fingers and toes that all our preparations would be adequate, and that Boreas had, in fact, taken the day off. At the mouth of the inlet, the waves are way bigger and closer together, than had been forecast. Damn! But wait – it’s always worse at the inlet with wind from the East, as the waves and swell pile up in the relatively shallow water – don’t panic. There’s BOB, lighting our way – no, just piercing our retinas, making it almost impossible to see in front of us. “Turtle E. Awesome, Turtle E. Awesome, this is Smartini – how you guys doing back there?” “Turtle E. Awesome, doing fine!” It’s official – we’re heading to the Bahamas.

Leaving Lake Worth Inlet for the Bahamas, from the flybridge of Smartini
Leaving Lake Worth Inlet for the Bahamas, from the flybridge of Turtle E. Awesome

It was lumpy / bouncy / sporty / snotty / <fill in your favorite term for a little uncomfortable on the water> for thirty minutes or so, and then settled into about what the forecast had been: 2 foot waves on a 5-6 second period. (The period is how often the peaks of the waves come – the shorter the period, the bumpier it is. 2 foot waves every 3 seconds is way, way worse than 4 foot waves every 10 seconds.) We all concluded it was doable for the 7 hours we had in front of us, but we’d be glad when we were in the marina at Old Bahama Bay. Throughout the day, as the wind would change a little in direction and intensity, it would get slightly better or slightly worse, but it ended up being pretty consistent. Both Smartini and the Turtle are very happy cruising at 7 to 8 knots (a knot is 15% more than a land-based mile per hour), and fuel economy is always better when slower, so we settled in at about 7.5, and watched the miles and the minutes churn away under our hulls.

Good news: Smartini’s stabilizer system, which is supposed to significantly reduce rolling (the side to side motion of a boat), works! Although the waves were mostly on our nose all day, there was enough of a side component to set up some noticeable rolling – just ask the crew of the Turtle. But with the stabilizers on, we experienced almost none of it. Later in the trip, when we had bigger seas, from behind us at an angle – the real test of a stabilizer system – it performed as expected. Yay!!

May the Boat Kitty, looking much happier in this photo than when we arrived in the Bahamas

There was one member of the crew who didn’t have such a great crossing – May the Boat Kitty. Seven hours of non-stop pitching (and a little rolling) left her green around the gills. She didn’t hurl, but we’re guessing she felt like it, from the look on her little black furry face. The good news is, that was the last time she seemed to have that happen, including on the crossing back to Florida, which was about the same in the seasickness-inducing department. She’s a real boat kitty now.

Old Bahama Bay from Turtle E. Awesome

We pulled into Old Bahama Bay Marina, at West End, which is the settlement on the very west end of Grand Bahama Island, where Freeport is. There’s not much at Old Bahama Bay except the marina, but it was exactly what we wanted at the end of a long day of bumping across the Atlantic. It’s a great marina, protected on all sides from waves, tides, and even wind for the most part. That day (December 19) was literally their first day open since Hurricane Matthew. They had suffered a lot of damage, but fortunately, none of it major. The docks were all in perfect shape, but there was no power to them yet. The restaurant was open and served us a delicious dinner that evening, and their beach can be fun for a day or so – but there’s really not much to do from that spot. So we decided, since we still had nine days before we had to get back, that we’d keep heading East to the heart of the Abacos – Green Turtle, Great Guana, and Hopetown, planning to be in the Lighthouse Marina for Christmas.

Cruising across the Little Bahama Bank

Days Two and Three: Across the Little Bahama Bank
It’s seven or eight hours from Lake Worth to West End, but still another fourteen hours to Green Turtle Cay. (Throughout this story, when you see “cay”, say “key”. After only a dozen years or so, it may become habit.) There’s a really cool island, Great Sale, about halfway there, with excellent anchoring. After a good night’s sleep at Old Bahama Bay, we set our course for Great Sale, and motored across the Little Bahama Bank on almost flat calm water, with full sun and just enough breeze to keep us from sweating. We reached Great Sale, tried unsuccessfully to find the blue hole that’s supposed to be on the south end of the island, then moved into the huge anchorage on the west side for a good night’s rest. The next day, from Great Sale to Green Turtle, was the same, only calmer. We saw a turtle or two, a single dolphin, and a few sea birds. But this part of the trip – aside from the beautiful turquoise water stretching to the horizon in every direction for much of the day – is actually kind of boring. If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, it was like the days on the itinerary called “At sea” – but without the buffet.

The Little Bahama Bank

The Little Bahama Bank is a huge area in the northwest Bahamas with very few islands, and a typical depth of less than ten feet, with lots of areas where it’s less than five feet. See the picture. (By the way, the dark blue surrounding the Bank is a few thousand fee deep!) So although it feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean because you can’t see land anywhere, you better stay on one of the charted courses across the Bank, or risk running aground. It’s virtually all sand – that’s what gives it that color, but it’s also what makes it kind of boring. A flat sandy bottom doesn’t typically attract much sea life, and that’s very much the case on the Bank. So you turn on the autopilot, pick an XM Radio station you like, and just enjoy being on the water. Surprisingly, it can kick up and be quite uncomfortable, as Fran, Brady and I found on our very first trip across the Bank in the Turtle, almost two years ago – but not this time. It was like being on a lake.

Flat calm crossing the Little Bahama Bank

We pulled into the anchorage on the south side of Green Turtle Cay as the sun was getting low in the sky. We maneuvered Smartini into a spot among the half dozen boats already anchored, dropped the hook – and thus began our intense dislike of the anchor that came with the boat. It’s a 66 pound Bruce anchor (aka “claw”). It’s way undersized for a boat as heavy as Smartini (83,000 lbs), and with its three rounded flukes, it won’t set in a grassy bottom, no matter how much you swear at it. Brady dove on it (only about nine feet deep, thankfully), managed to get it into a small sandy area, and finally, we were hung. And not for the last time did we wish we had gotten our new anchor before leaving on this trip. Meanwhile, the Turtle dropped its properly sized CQR anchor, and they were hung like the stockings by the chimney with care.

Christmas ornaments on a palm tree – why not?

We decided to go ashore, explore the little settlement of New Plymouth, and find somewhere for dinner. It was a bit odd seeing Christmas decorations in this tropical locale, especially the snowmen – but why not? We had a very fine dinner at The Wrecking Tree, took the dinghies back to our floating homes, and made plans for the next day’s adventure – Around the Whale!

Day Four: Around the Whale, and Sweet House
Look at the picture above of the Little Bahama Bank. On the right edge, just southeast of Green Turtle Cay, you’ll see a small spot of turquoise. That’s the spot where the entire width of the Sea of Abaco is no more than about three feet deep at low tide, about five feet at high tide, but only in a few spots. The Turtle has been across that area four times on two previous trips – always at mid to high tide, and usually with slightly tightened sphincters as we passed the shallowest point, near Don’t Rock. But the Turtle draws only 3 ½ feet. Smartini draws six, so there ain’t no way, no how, we’re getting across there. The only alternative is to go “around the Whale”, referring to the route around Whale Cay, which is plenty deep – and which can be plenty dangerous. Because on the outside of Whale Cay is the open ocean. With big waves coming from the Northeast, you can get what they call “rage seas”, as those big waves break over the barrier reef and start piling up in the much shallower water inside the reef. Not even very large yachts – 100 feet and more – will go around the Whale when that’s happening. We had told the crew of the Turtle that we might not be able to make it past Green Turtle, and they’d have to go on to Hopetown without us. But for the second time on this adventure, conditions were conducive to a safe, even comfortable, ocean journey (albeit one of only about three miles in total), and around the Whale we went!

Sweet House Beach, NW tip of Great Guana Cay

At the end of the Whale Cay passage is the northwest tip of Great Guana Cay, a seven mile long island with a lot going on. Just off that tip is a gorgeous beach, some shallow coral reef, and a little farther out, the actual barrier reef. On that day, the barrier reef was almost totally flattening the four to five foot seas that were crashing into it, making the inner reef nice and calm. It’s a dive site we named Sweet House on a previous Abacos trip with my longtime business partner Joel Kozikowski and his boat, eSea Street. We had decided, with the Turtle crew, that if the conditions were good, we’d meet there, anchor, and see if we could shoot some dinner – with lobster, grouper, and hogfish all in season. We anchored in sand in about eighteen feet of water, radio’d the Turtle to come join us (they had taken the inside passage past the Whale), and got out the snorkel gear.

This picture was not taken on this trip.

I’d love to tell you that we shot a Nassau grouper perfectly sized to make fish tacos for six, along with six lobsters. But I’d be lying. The truth is, we saw a lot of groupers, but didn’t have the skills to skewer any of them, and we saw no lobsters nor hogfish. But the snorkeling was excellent, Steve and Bennett got their first taste of real Bahamas coral reef, and we had plenty of dinner fare in the freezer, so no one was disappointed. We motored down to Fisher’s Bay, dropped the hook, and all piled in the Turtle’s dinghy to Grabber’s Sunset Grill for cocktails and a beautiful Bahamian (not Bohemian, Brady!) sunset.

Day Five: Great Guana Cay
Great Guana is about seven miles long and runs NW to SE. It’s the first island in the Sea of Abaco after Whale Cay, so represents one end of Smartini’s no-worries cruising area in the Abacos. (Little Harbor is the other end.) It’s home to world famous Nipper’s Bar, Grabber’s Sunset Bar, Dive Guana, Orchid Bay Marina, the very hoity-toity Baker’s Bay Resort (did you really need to build a freakin’ golf course?!?!), an assortment of other small businesses, and a lot of homes, most of which are apparently rentals. On its NW tip is the aforementioned Sweet House dive site, off its SE tip is a beautiful and protected (i.e., “no take zone”), dive area called the Fowl Cays (where our adopted niece Katie Stanhouse officially became a scuba diver in 2015!), and on the SW side, just off Grabber’s beach, is one of our favorite anchorages in the Abacos, Fisher’s Bay. It’s protected from the prevailing winds, it’s deep enough for Smartini to anchor at low tide, it’s a short dinghy ride to Grabber’s beach, and there are lobsters there! With all that going on, and Hopetown less than two hours away, we decided to anchor here for two nights, so we could spend an entire day exploring.

Three bugs in the bucket: half way to dinner for six

The Turtle crew dinghied in to explore the island and found some of the amazing Bahamian bread that is, all by itself, enough to get me to visit the Abacos again. After they returned, the menfolk on the Turtle started hunting for dinner among the small rocks and ledges near the anchorage. Fairly shortly, word came that they’d located some, but weren’t sure if they were of legal size, and not sure how to get them out of the rocks. It didn’t take me long to drop what I was doing and suit up, and in short order we had six of them in the bucket – fresh lobster for dinner! We were never more than a few hundred feet from where we were anchored, right there in Fisher’s Bay.

A grill full of lobster

We spent the rest of the day just putzing around the island, and ended it with cocktails at Grabber’s, watching one of their gorgeous sunsets.

Sunset at Grabbers



Day Six: Christmas Eve – Hopetown
We left Fisher’s Bay about 9:00 a.m. for the two hour run to Hopetown. We wanted to get to the Lighthouse Marina before 11:00, thinking they closed then (they didn’t), and hoping they had slips available (they did). In fact, the marina was empty when we arrived, and we were the only two boats in it the whole day and night. Paul, the very nice dockmaster there, welcomed us back (the Turtle had been there a few nights on each of our previous Abacos trips) and directed Smartini into the only slip they have that’s deep enough to accommodate our 6 foot draft. A few minutes later, Steve pulled the Turtle into the slip opposite us.

When we first got the Turtle, none of us had any big boat experience. (At 43′, and with twin diesel engines, the Turtle is definitely a “big boat” by our definition, since all previous boating had been on 20′ lake boats.) Fran, Brady, and I were able to get some experience pretty quickly, as we all lived where the boat was. But Steve’s time on it was extremely limited, so each time he came to Florida and took the helm, he was kinda back at Square One. Handling the boat in close quarters – in and out of the slip, with other boats only a few feet away – wasn’t something he had much opportunity to gain confidence at. But here he was, pulling the Turtle into the slip with wind from one direction, current from slightly another, and a very shallow spot just off his starboard stern to worry about, with total confidence and competence. For just a moment, I felt a great sense of pride for him, and then I realized that he was just doing what Fran, Brady, and I had done before him only because we’d had the opportunity. My feeling of pride gave way to a feeling of incredible happiness for him. He was, after all these years, finally seeing his dream come true: he had just captained his boat a hundred miles south on the ICW, then across the Atlantic Ocean to the Bahamas, then across the Little Bahama Bank and the Sea of Abaco, and was pulling it into a marina at the base of a hundred year old lighthouse, in a cozy little Bahamian settlement, with his family, on Christmas Eve. “You pretty happy, Steve?”, I asked from the dock. “Freakin’ ecstatic!” was his understated reply.

While Fran and I gave Smartini a top to bottom rinse, the Turtle crew dropped their dink in the water and headed across the harbor to town. (You can’t walk from the marina to town – you can only go by boat.) They returned a few hours later with some fresh bread from Vernon’s Bakery and keys to bikes they had rented. Meanwhile, Fran and I made new friends! I was on the upper deck, putting away the hose after rinsing Smartini, when a man stepped onto the dock looking for Paul to get fuel for his runabout. I noticed he was wearing a hat with the AOPA logo on it (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), so I said “What do you fly?”. He looked up at me, puzzled, but answered “A Baron, among other things.” We immediately started chatting about airplanes and flying, and were five minutes into the conversation when he said “The hat!”, realizing that’s how I knew he was a pilot. “You know, I’ve had this hat for probably ten years, and this is literally the first time I’ve ever worn it.” Not the first time that a seemingly insignificant decision sparked a conversation that led to a friendship (right, Richard and Beth?), and a reminder to me to continue to engage new people. Especially if they’re boaters, or pilots, and absolutely without fail if they’re both.

Our new friends Mark and Diana

Mark and Diana are from Orlando, and have spent a week or two in Hopetown every year, often over Christmas, for the last dozen years. They fly the Baron into Marsh Harbour, rent a small boat and a house, and remind themselves what keeps bringing them back. We ended up spending a few hours with them, and with Steve and Challen, having cocktails at the Hopetown Inn’s poolside bar on Christmas afternoon. I could write several paragraphs about them just from that conversation, but I’ll summarize by saying these are people we want to hang out with some more! Having a Baron and not being afraid to use it will hopefully facilitate that.

After we gave Mark and Diana a tour of Smartini, Fran and I put our dink in the water and putted over to Hopetown. As we were walking away from the dinghy, I heard “You’re Brian, right? And you’re Fran?”. What? Someone in Hopetown knew us? It was Caleb McDaniel, a fishing buddy of our dear friend Charlie Tudor, there with his family for the holidays. The next day, elsewhere in Hopetown, the same thing happened when his dad, Chris, saw us. Small world!

Hopetown Harbor, viewed from the top of the lighthouse

We love Hopetown, and the whole island it’s on, Elbow Cay. It’s small, but has everything we’re looking for when vacationing. It’s got great history, which is apparent when walking around town. On one side is the ocean, and on the other side is the harbor, so it’s a water lover’s paradise. There are plenty of restaurants from bare bones to barbecue to elegant, and plenty of places to get a cocktail. And there’s Vernon’s Bakery and Grocery. Trust me, if you’re in Hopetown, you want to go to Vernon’s. He makes bread that’ll make the gluten-intolerant among you question your very existence.

That evening, on the dock at Lighthouse Marina, we watched the Christmas classic, “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Steve and Brady projected it onto one of Steve’s Christmas presents, a high tech stretchy screen strung between the two tall antennas of the Turtle. Over our left shoulders was the Hopetown Lighthouse, with strings of Christmas lights strung from the ground to the top, making the biggest Christmas tree in the Abacos. It was warm enough for shorts and t-shirts. You know – pretty much like any ol’ Christmas Eve in Indianapolis.

Day Seven: Christmas Day
On Christmas morning, there were no presents to open, but there was the next best thing – Vernon’s Cinnamon bread that Steve made into French

Christmas breakfast on the dock – Bahamian bread French toast!

toast, on the dock, in brilliant sunshine and perfect temperatures. (I know I keep talking about Vernon’s bread, but if you’ve ever had it, you know why!) The only thing that would have made it a better Christmas morning for me would have been for Maddie and Bennett to be there with us. That’s one of the costs of this lifestyle Fran and I have chosen – being away from friends and family. I guess life is full of compromises, and always will be.

After breakfast, we all rode bikes to the southern tip of Elbow Cay, stopping along the way for pictures by the ocean, and a cocktail at Sea Spray, a very nice restaurant / bar / marina on White Sound. We stopped the bikes at the gate that said “Private Property”, and walked on the beach, picking up shells, chunks of cool coral, and beach glass for Steve to take home to their lake house in Indiana. Brady and Bennett stayed with us for a bit, and then decided to push on to the very tip of the island, which happens to be one of the most beautiful stretches of sand I’ve ever seen, Tahiti Beach.

Merry Christmas from Hopetown!

After a grueling 18 minute bike ride back to Hopetown (hey – they have a hill!), we returned to the boats to find Mark and Diana looking for us, wanting to go have cocktails at the Hopetown Inn. We don’t normally drink so early in the day, but it was Christmas, so what the heck! Over the next few hours, we learned that Mark was a fighter pilot, a flight instructor specializing in professional athletes and celebrities, and is now a top secret scientist for the NSA. Diana is the head of the animation studio at Disney. They have a talking pterodactyl named Sammy. At least, that’s how I remember the conversation. As I said earlier, we wanna hang out with those two some more!

Christmas dinner was a buffet at Sea Spray, but rather than risk bikes in the dark, they sent their limo for us – a 6 seat golf cart. The driver was a nice man named Robert (I think). When we were going through the buffet line later, Robert was refreshing the pan of fried grouper and I said, “Robert, you’re a man of many talents – what exactly is your role here?” “Umm… I sign the checks”, he replied. We all thought it was pretty cool that the owner drove the golf cart, kept the buffet line full, and was also probably the chief cook and bottle washer. Dinner was excellent, although just a bit windy (we were outside under the coconut palm trees), and the ride back to Hopetown was uneventful. We had a different driver – I’m pretty sure he was just a regular customer of Robert’s who was happy to help out. You meet some nice people in the Bahamas.

The only negative about Hopetown that I can think of is that, at Smartini speed, it’s three full days from Florida. Given that Steve, Challen and Bennett had to be on a flight back to Indy on New Year’s Day, we couldn’t linger in Hopetown. By 10:00 a.m. on Boxing Day (they really call it that there), we were saying goodbye to Paul at the Lighthouse Marina and heading west. The forecast for the crossing was excellent for the 29th and horrible for the 30th, so as much as we wanted to, we just couldn’t stay. The rest of the trip was, with a few exceptions, unremarkable, so I won’t bore you with the details (more beautiful water, bright sun, great food, blah, blah, blah), but here’s a summary:

Day Eight Our third lucky weather and sea state let us go back around the Whale, giving us a better test of the stabilizers. We ended the day in a perfectly protected little cove on Munjack Cay, a favorite of our friends Beth and Richard, so we were a little sad we didn’t have to time to explore it.

The start of a full day crossing the Little Bahama Bank

Day Nine Up before BOB, motor all the way to Mangrove Cay, anchor just before sunset. We did that long day so that our last day crossing the Bank would be short, and we’d have all afternoon at Old Bahama Bay.

Day Ten Three hours to Old Bahama Bay, with a quick stop along the way on a textbook Bahamian coral head, where we were able to decimate the lionfish population. (But still no grouper.) All afternoon exploring the coastline and tide pools around Old Bahama Bay, and the absolute best octopus experience any of us may ever have. (That’ll be a separate post, with great pictures and video!) Smoked brisket dinner on Smartini that night – that Fran smoked while we were underway!

Smoked brisket dinner – smoked onboard!

Day Eleven: Going Home
Fran and I needed to get to Lake Worth to be hauled out for a new bottom job (that’s a whole other story that we’re in the middle of as I write this). The Turtle crew wanted to get as close to Melbourne as they could that day, so they were heading for the Fort Pierce Inlet. This meant we wouldn’t be crossing back together, but after this long, everyone was confident in their abilities on the water, and in their boat’s reliability. For the fourth and final time on this trip, we needed good weather and seas to get somewhere, and we got it – the forecast had only gotten better over the past three days. At 6:00 a.m on the 29th, the Turtle pulled out of Old Bahama Bay, followed an hour later by Smartini. We were able to maintain radio contact until about 10:30, and both boats were within sight of land a few hours after that. Smartini pulled into the Riviera Beach City Marina by mid-afternoon, and Turtle E. Awesome, apparently eager for some night time navigation practice, motored into the ICW at Fort Pierce, then all the way home, pulling into their slip at Anchorage Yacht Basin about 10:00 p.m.

The look on his face says it all!

When you want something for a very long time, and you finally get it, it may let you down a little – may not live up to your expectations. Let’s see if that’s the case here: “Steve, was it everything you hoped for?”

Up in the Air

Here’s a little something for you to ponder while I put the finishing touches on the “Christmas in the Bahamas” post. In the above picture, Smartini is:

a) finally being converted to the hovercraft we always dreamed of.

b) being fumigated, after a rat infestation was found in the bilge.

c) being sandblasted below the waterline, in preparation for the second “10 year bottom job” in the last 11 months.

If you have another guess, post it in the Comments.

At Anchor, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

A quick photographic update. We (Smartini and Turtle E. Awesome) arrived at Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas, yesterday afternoon and are anchored just outside of New Plymouth.

(I tried to post this yesterday, so the description is a day behind.)

At anchor, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas, Dec 21, 2016.

Rust Never Sleeps

A long, not-too-interesting account of dealing with the only scary maintenance issue on Smartini – rust!

Warning: this post won’t be interesting to very many of you, as it’s very “nuts and bolts”, and not about interesting people, beautiful places, or awesome food. Read on if you like, but don’t feel bad if you lose interest after a paragraph or two and stop. I didn’t enjoy writing it – you don’t have to enjoy reading it!

M/V Smartini is a steel boat – from the bottom of the keel all the way up to and including the upper deck, she’s made of steel. The vast majority of pleasure boats are made of fiberglass – it’s way easier to make a boat out of fiberglass, because you make a mold and just keep making the same parts over and over again. Neither process is better, although a steel boat is stronger than a fiberglass boat – if one of each type were to smash together, there’s no question which one would suffer the greater damage.

But no one plans on smashing their boat into another – or into anything, for that matter, and when we were looking at boats to buy, we were no different. So we didn’t set out to buy a steel boat. We just happened to fall in love with a boat made of steel, and we bought it. So we have a steel boat.

If steel is allowed to be in contact with water – especially salt water – for any length of time, it will rust. That’s a fact. “But a boat’s in contact with water ALL THE TIME!”, you may say. Yes, it is, but several years ago, they began using epoxy paint on the hulls of boats so that the water never actually touches the hull. This was a huge step forward in making steel boats last a long, long time. But the inside of the hull, especially below the waterline, is very susceptible to condensation, because of the almost constant difference between the temperature of the hull (since it’s in water) and the temperature of the air inside the boat. Think of a glass of iced tea outside on a hot, humid day – that’s what happens on the inside of steel boats. That’s why it’s often said that steel boats rust from the inside out – it used to be very true.

Smartini (nee "PRN", then "4th Quarter") being built in British Columbia in 2001 or 2002.
Smartini (nee “PRN”, then “4th Quarter”) being built in British Columbia in 2001 or 2002.

But boat builders figured out if you spray the entire inside of your steel hull with a thick layer of “closed cell” foam (it doesn’t absorb water), you can keep the inside of the hull just as protected as the outside. Smartini has at least 3 inches of foam on every square inch of the inside of her hull, as well as 3 coats of epoxy on the outside of the hull – so we should never have to worry about the hull rusting below the waterline – yay! She won’t sink!

Now, you don’t think I’d write a whole blog post just to assure you our boat’s not going to sink, do you? Of course not. I’m writing about the rust that can, and does, occur all over the rest of the boat – the main deck, the upper deck, the sides – pretty much all of the boat you can see. Because all of those parts are steel, and are frequently wet. Not a problem, as long as they don’t STAY wet. Smartini doesn’t have very many areas that stay wet for very long, and most of those have a really good coat of paint, so rust isn’t a problem in most places. MOST places, I say…

The first time we looked at the boat as serious potential buyers, the broker, being the responsible broker he is (thanks, John!), pointed out every flaw he knew of on the boat. That included the fact that there was a little water in the aft bilge area, and it had sat there long enough that it had caused the paint to loosen, and some rust to form. This was a very small area – about the size of my hand – and I could tell the rust wasn’t bad, so I wasn’t worried about it. I knew I could repair it, and I didn’t even have to rush to do that. The bigger question was, where was the water coming from? If I could figure that out, I could stop it, and totally solve the problem.

After some chipping and scraping, it's just a little surface rust. No biggie.
After some chipping and scraping, it’s just a little surface rust. No biggie.

Well, I’m pleased to say that, in about 15 minutes of sleuthing, I discovered precisely how the water was getting into the boat. John said he noticed the water in the bilge after it was washed, or after a heavy rain – it was dripping through a hole that had been cut in the aft deck to allow hot and cold water lines, and some wiring, to be run up to the aft deck for a shower and an electric outlet.

This is the "shroud" for the aft deck shower that I decided to remove.
This is the enclosure for the aft deck shower that I decided to remove, because it was virtually impossible to get inside it to do anything – such as inspect for standing water.

The hole had apparently not been properly sealed, or if it had, it had failed at some point. I couldn’t see into the area very well, as it was enclosed by a wooden “shroud” into which the shower was mounted, but I could see well enough to confirm that was the source of the water in the bilge. Specifically, the water was getting into that area, behind the shroud, through a pair of drain holes that had been cut into the base of the shroud on each side. I was confident that all I needed to do was properly seal around that hole, and I’d solve that problem. If only I had been more concerned about it, I’d have done it sooner. If only…

This was in December 2015. We bought the boat in January 2016, and all through the summer and fall, we did all kinds of work on the boat – fixes, additions, modifications – but I was never too concerned about the rust area. Finally, in mid-November, less than a week before we were to move the boat to Titusville to have a bench seat / dive gear storage bin built onto the aft deck, I decided I really wanted that shroud removed, so the bench could be longer, and the shower and electric outlet could be mounted in the side of the bench, instead of the shroud. Also, I didn’t like the fact that it was so hard to get to the back side of the shower to inspect it and work on it if necessary. It was the perfect opportunity- I’d remove the shroud permanently, re-seal the hole, and construction of the bench could begin.

This is what it looked like as soon as I removed that shroud. Ugh!
All the rust revealed, and just starting to cut out hunks of the deck.

Out came a few hand tools, and in less than an hour, the shroud was gone, to reveal, finally – this:
Ugh! I sure wasn’t expecting to find that peeling paint and the obvious rust, but how bad could it be? Turns out, pretty bad. The more rust I removed, the worse it got. In the end, there were three areas where the deck had been completely rusted through, exposing the foam on its underside. All around the hole where the water lines and wiring came through, and a spot on both sides of it, just inside the drain holes in the shroud. Ironically, I think the holes never did let any water out of the enclosed area – but they sure let a lot of water in!

The entire rusted area was about 22” x 12” – pretty big. But I figured I’d just get a welder to weld a patch plate over each of the holes, I’d put some epoxy paint on it to keep it from rusting anymore, and the new bench seat would cover it all up, and keep water from ever getting to that area again. No need to panic.

aft-deck-rust-hole-centerBut what about that foam? It’s FLAMMABLE! And welding is hot – really hot. So hot there’s no way to weld that area and not set the foam on fire. Fire on a boat is a bad, bad thing. No welder was going to touch this job with a ten foot welding rod unless I got all of that foam away from the area.

A boy and his grinder.

I couldn’t get much of the foam out through the rust holes – they seemed huge, but I could barely get a hand through even the largest one – and I had very poor access to the underside of the foam. To make matters worse, the foam in this area wasn’t 3” thick – it was as much as 8”, maybe even 10”, in some places! If I was going to rid the area of foam, I was going to have to have some bigger holes to work through. Yes – I was going to have to CUT HOLES IN OUR BOAT! But I didn’t have anything that would cut through steel. I do now, though!

Gingerly, and with a bucket of water and a soaking towel close at hand, I started cutting away at the steel around the rust holes. The shower of sparks thrown off by cutting through steel with a grinder would absolutely catch the foam on fire if I wasn’t careful! So I was careful. Very, very careful.

After several hours, I finally had the holes big enough to start tackling the foam removal. First from above, then from below. Then above again. Then below again. With a hacksaw blade, and a couple of different screwdrivers, and a pry bar, and anything else that seemed like it would help chip away at the foam, I attacked it. I removed more than two 5 gallon bucket loads of foam, and in the end, I had a foam-free zone at least 4” away from the area where the welding would have to occur, 6” in most places.

Just about the time the welders arrived, I was finished. They determined that one big plate, welded over the entire affected area, would be better than a smaller plate over each hole. They made a cardboard template of the area, cut a steel plate to match, and were ready to get started. They had an electric welder (Mig? Tig? The Stig? Something like that) that concentrates the heat in a very small area. But I wasn’t going to take any chances with all that foam under there, even though it wasn’t close to where they’d be welding.

I got a bucket of water and a kitchen towel, and went down to the underside of the deck where they’d be welding. By lying on my back on top of one of our giant stern thruster batteries, and across the steering arm, in a position I would describe as somewhere between torture and the yoga pose depicted here, I could apply the soaking wet towel to the underside of the area they were welding.

This is what it felt like while I was trying to keep the welders from starting a fire.
This is what it felt like while I was trying to keep the welders from starting a fire. Except she looks like shes enjoying her deformation – I was definitely not!

They’d yell “Go!”, and I’d apply the towel to the glowing red spot, preventing any sparks from coming through to the underside. They’d weld for about 30 seconds at a time– about an inch-and-a-half. By then, my wet towel was getting pretty hot, and the area I was working in was getting a little smoky. They’d stop for a minute or so, I’d re-soak my towel, blow the smoke out of my area, and we’d do it all again. After about 30 minutes, we were done!

The patch plate, welded in place.

The hard – and scary – parts were finished. We no longer had three holes in the deck! But I did need one hole, for the wires and water lines to come through. Off to Ace Hardware for a 2” hole saw. Back to the boat to cut the hole, only to find out the saw required a 1/2” drill, and mine is only 3/8”. Back to Ace Hardware to buy a 1/2” drill. Back to the boat to cut the hole. Never having used a hole saw on metal before, I didn’t do it right, and I actually bent the hole saw. Back to Ace Hardware to return it for another one. Back to the boat to cut the hole. This time – success!

Not looking too bad now!

Now, I just needed to seal the bare metal with a sealer, and paint it with the protective coat. Since this would be totally hidden by the new bench, I didn’t need to worry about a pretty topcoat of paint. Both the sealer and the protective coat are two-part epoxies – you mix the two parts, and a chemical reaction begins that starts to cure the mixture into a hard surface. Once you mix it, you have only a certain amount of time before you can’t apply it anymore – the warmer it is, the shorter that “working time” is. The sealer needed only one coat, so I mixed it, applied it, and tossed the remainder. It had to cure overnight, so off we went to Kasey Powers’ wedding in Orlando.

I haven’t yet mentioned how stressful this whole project was, for many reasons. Cutting holes in our boat, the risk of fire from the welding, never having worked with these epoxies before and knowing I had only one chance to get them right, and the time crunch. We missed Kasey’s rehearsal dinner the night before because I had to get the area ready for the welders, and we just barely made the actual wedding. But the main time crunch was this: we were booked on a flight to Indianapolis for Thanksgiving on Monday morning. If I wasn’t finished by then, the bench seat project was going to have to be delayed by another whole week. The project we specifically came to Titusville to get done. The project that was keeping us from finally heading south. The project that had begun in JUNE! I was not OK with another week’s delay, so I was stressed like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Sunday morning, it was time to mix up the epoxy protective coat and apply it. It was going to need two coats, but the time you have to wait between coats is about the same as the time before it starts to be too hard in your cup to apply. But the chart showed that the working time is quite a bit longer if the temperature is cooler – so I just put it in the refrigerator! Brilliant, right? It certainly worked – 6 hours later, when my first coat was dry enough for another coat, the paint in the fridge was still liquid enough to brush on. It was only the next morning that Fran started to notice that everything in the fridge had a nasty chemical smell and taste. The butter, the cheese, it even seeped through the plastic wrappers for the bread and hot dog buns! Thankfully, it did not affect the beer – that would have been tragic.

SO much better!
Look, Ma – no rust!

By Sunday evening, I was finally cleaning everything up from this whole / hole ordeal. We got on the flight to Indy the next morning, and all the stress was gone. Over the ensuing couple of weeks, the built-in bench was built in, and now, no one will ever know about the big, scary rust holes that used to be there, because as you can see, the built-in covers the area completely. (No one but me, that is – I had some inspection panels cut into the back of the bench, so every once in a while, I can poke my camera-on-a-stick back in there and make SURE the rust is gone for good.)

I guess the moral to the story is never, ever let an area that seems like rust might be starting go very long without a thorough inspection. We actually have one other area I’m a little scared about now, but with this one under my belt, I think I’m ready to get out my chipping hammer and see what it looks like!

How To Sign Up for Smartini Life

How to Subscribe to, and Register for, Smartini Life. You need to read this only once, and do it only once.

I wish I didn’t have to write this, and you didn’t have to read this – sorry. I’ll make it brief. (At the end, I explain why this is necessary, in case you’re interested.)

In order to receive an email whenever we post something new, you need to “Subscribe”, like this:

  1. subscribe-formPut your name and email into the “Subscribe to Smartini Life!” form that’s on the right side of every page, and click the [Subscribe] button.
  2. Check your email – you should have one from Smartini Life with the Subject “Confirm your subscription to Smartini Life”. It instructs you to click a link to confirm that you want to subscribe. Click on it. (If you DON’T see this email in your inbox, check you spam folder.)
  3. Now you’re a “Subscriber” – which means ONLY that you’ll get an email whenever we post something new. It does NOT give you the ability to write Comments – but if you don’t want to write Comments, then you can stop here – no need to “Register”. If you want to write Comments, keep reading.

In order to be able to write a Comment on something we post, you have to “Register”, like this:

  1. registerClick on the “Register” link that appears on the right side of every page, in the “Other Stuff” section.
  2. Enter a User Name and your email, and click the [Register] button.
  3. Check your email – you should have one from WordPress with the subject “[Smartini Life] Your username and password info”. It instructs you to click a link (the first one – the one that’s very long) to set your password. Click on it. (If you DON’T see this email in your inbox, check you spam folder.)
  4. You’ll see a page with a crazy password, like ^*4$8Ohk9rIySkKu. You don’t want to use that, so change it to whatever you like, and click the [Reset Password] button. Don’t worry if it’s “Weak” or even “Very weak” – you’re not going to be doing anything important here! (But write it down somewhere, so you don’t forget it.)
  5. Now you’re “Registered”. You don’t have to sign in to read things, but you will have to sign in if you want to write a comment.

Sorry this is necessary. We’re using WordPress for the site, which is free, and quite capable – but incredibly, it has no built-in feature for notifying people when something new is posted. So you have to get a “plug in” – a little program that works with WordPress to add that capability. Only, it doesn’t truly integrate with WordPress – it creates its own list of “Subscribers”, separate from WordPress’s list of “Users” – and no, they don’t synchronize. That’s why you have to sign up twice, and why I had to just spend 30 minutes documenting the process. Grrrr… But, as I frequently tell people who complain about Gmail, or iTunes, or any other free software, “Shut up – it’s free!”.

Who’s “Butch”?

Who’s this “Butch” guy that keeps popping up on Smartini Life?

If you read our Meet Smartini page, you might have noticed that I introduced myself as Brian “Butch” Smith. Very few of you know why, so I’m gonna tell you. It’s simple: I always wanted a nickname, and one of my favorite movies of all time is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Newman and Redford in certainly one of the best buddy movies of all time, with some really funny dialogue. Continue reading “Who’s “Butch”?”

The Long Farewell, Part 1 – So Long to the Midwest

When you have a dream of leaving the country on a boat that starts 5-6 years before the reality of it begins, I suppose it would be appropriate to have a long, drawn out farewell, but it surprised both Brian and I just how long that would actually be.  Continue reading “The Long Farewell, Part 1 – So Long to the Midwest”