Launch Date: Nov. 4th 2013

There, I said it. We’ve set a launch date – the date we shove off from Cape Haze Marina in southwest Florida and start our Great Loop adventure. When we first started talking about this trip it seemed a long way off. It was. We initially planned to start in 2015. But once the dream took hold we couldn’t wait. Rich and I are both goal oriented. Once we set a goal, we march toward it with determination.

That was early 2012. We had a lot to do to get ready, especially since we knew nothing about boats or boating. We’ve come a long way in almost 2 years. We’ve gotten educated, and a teensy bit of boating experience. We selected and bought a trawler and worked hard to learn her inner workings and upgrade her where necessary. At the same time we had to deal with the undoing of 2 businesses and the renting of our house. It has been a whirlwind.

Sue begins the initial provisioning of Choices.

Sue begins the initial provisioning of Choices.

Now the start is only 2 weeks away. Yikes!  There’s a combination of excitement, anticipation, and utter fear. I have begun the process of provisioning the boat. It’s no simple process. Things don’t fit where you’d logically place them on a boat. So I have to keep a record of where I place each item so we have some semblance of a chance of finding it later. We plan to anchor out a lot so, we have to be relatively self sufficient. Not quite as drastic as our Appalachian Trail thru-hike provisioning, just different.

Shade – Glorious Shade

 

Choices with a new, longer Bimini

Choices with a new, longer Bimini

We’re no longer topless. Choices now has an extended Bimini. The extra 4 feet give us shade in the seating area behind the upper helm. We can now set up a table and pull some chairs around it and be under cover. Or, we can lounge undercover in the wicker chairs. Plus it will shield us from the sun on our backs as we putt along

The entire Bimini is now well supported with stainless steel stanchions and the top can be fully zipped off. This will allow us to easily remove the top if the winds build in a tropical storm. Plus, we can lower the Bimini more easily for the stretches of the Loop up north where we’ll need a lower clearance. These are all good things.

Our new Bimini

Our new Bimini

Doing the Bimini revision/extension took longer than we expected. We’re learning that can be said about almost any boat job. The canvas man (from Omni Marine) made many trips between his shop and the boat, fitting stanchions and canvas. (It’s not really canvas – I forget what the fabric is called.) But, we’re pleased. In the end, it’s a fine job.

A new bedspread (the hard way)

The V-berth in the forward cabin has proved to be a challenge. Choices didn’t arrive with any bedding or linens so I was on my own. You can’t go buy anything to fit, it has to be custom made. I tailored mattress pads and fitted sheets using king sized bedding – a very frustrating process since I’m not a seamstress. I was OK with doing those – they’re hidden from view. But, for the bedspread I wanted a little help.

I bought a king sized bedspread I liked and approached a local tailor to see if she’d customize it for me. The answer was “no,” but she referred me to a seamstress in North Port who would do it. Fair enough. I began the hour long round trip drives to North Port to drop off the flat bedspread, then to pick up the paper template, then to deliver the revised paper template, then to pick up the supposedly finished bed spread. After 4 hours (4 trips) of driving I was appalled at what I got. The seamstress didn’t follow my directions at all. She tried to take the easy way out by not adding the skirt to the front and hoping an excess of fabric would lay down nicely to cover the mattress. It didn’t. Because of the contour of the V-berth, the corners were too tight to allow the fabric to bend down. From the salon, looking into the cabin, it looked horrible with sheet covered mattress showing.

New custom bedspread

New custom bedspread

After trip number 5 to deliver the bedspread, and trip number 6 to pick it up (and another month of waiting) I finally got what I asked for the first time. I had given her very explicit instructions, written our with measurements on photos right from the beginning.

So, this wasn’t a pleasant experience and I’d never use this seamstress again. In the end I have a nice bedspread. It’s just that the process was painful.

Not her usual pretty self

We finally made a visit to Choices today. We’ve been held hostage the past 5 days by torrential rains. A tropical front sat over us and poured rain. Our yard has lakes and a sheet flow of water running into the gutters. The area roads were flooded.

Choices weathered the rain onslaught well, except for her facade. Her teak was coated with splotches of black mold. We wiped that away with cloths dowsed in 50% vinegar & water. Her north/south facing fiberglass has a ominous green sheen. She’s not her usual pretty self. Tomorrow we’ll go back with more daylight & give her a good bath.

Oh, and she’s topless to boot. Her bimini top was taken off.  A canvas guy is adding zippers and extending it four feet backward to give us more shade.  He said we were lucky to take the bimini off now. As he removed it the seams crumbled – they had deteriorated in the sun. Better to get it resewed now than to be tooling along the ICW and have our bimini top blow off. Still, Choices looks funny topless.

It’s Nice When Things Work Out

Our trip to the boat today was a joy. We’ve begun toting stuff from the house to stock the boat. I have a list of every nook and cranny on the boat so I write each item down in the appropriate spot whenever I put something away. It has a dual purpose. From the list I know what I’ve already stocked and better yet I know where to find stuff. I learned the value of this the other week. I knew I had put a sewing kit on the boat but, darn – I couldn’t find it. I looked all over & wracked my brain – no sewing kit. It was several days later that the light bulb went off. The sewing kit was on a shelf in the side bedroom, slid to the end behind a cushion and out of view. Now it’s on the list.

The shelving system in process of getting custom netting barriers.

The shelving system in process of getting custom netting barriers.

While I put things away, Rich began attaching the new shelves securely to the boat. We bought the shelf system with movable shelves and I sewed netting enclosures to keep stuff from sliding off the shelves. The shelving sits over our freezer but still allows access to it – the shelves make use of the air space over the freezer. Once attached, Rich set up our new printer and YES – he successfully printed from the iPad.

The finished shelving. The black is the printer, green things are cat beds.

The finished shelving. The black is the printer, green things are cat beds.

One of the things we brought for storage was the spare prop. I astonished Rich by finding an easy-to reach, secure place to store the prop under the teak flooring in the lazarette. He thought it couldn’t be done.

It felt good to have every one of today’s tasks completed successfully with minimum hassle. All days at the boat should be like this.

Building Cat Guards

“Choices” has a wonderful cat-proof lower level. There’s a recessed walkway all the way around the boat so the cats can jog the loop and we don’t have to worry about them slipping overboard. That’s not true of the upper level. When the cats climb the stairs to join us on the fly bridge there’s nothing to keep them from sliding off if the boat gets tossed by the wake of a passing speed boat. Squeak especially would have a problem – he was front de-clawed before we adopted him. But even Emmy might have problems because cat claws don’t easily dig into fiberglass (we hope).

So we decided we need some sort of cat guards installed up top to catch a sliding cat. Many boats have beautiful custom made canvas sides built for their upper levels. We vetoed that idea for several reasons. #1 they add to the windage (surface area of the boat that catches the wind) of the boat. #2 they’re expensive, and #3 we can’t even find anyone local to build us a fly-bridge enclosure let along build custom railings.

Sailboats often use a wide netting around their perimeters, but Rich vetoed that on the basis of looks. In Jo-Anne Fabrics we found a much tighter nylon netting – which we’ve subsequently found on many fishing nets – and bought enough yardage. Now came the need for my non-existent tailoring skills.

I used a cardboard template with dark lines to evenly double roll the edges.

I used a cardboard template with dark lines to evenly double roll the edges.

I began by cutting the yardage in half, then using a cardboard template, I double rolled and pinned all the edges.

Stitching hems on the sewing machine.

Stitching hems on the sewing machine.

These got run through the sewing machine. Then I pinned and stitched the hemmed strips together to create a very long hemmed strip.

Segments get stitched together to make a long strip.

Segments get stitched together to make a long strip.

I stretch the fabric while Rich determines the snap positions.

I stretch the fabric while Rich determines the snap positions.

On the boat we measured the angle at the start – the outside of the fly bridge helm enclosure – and I hemmed and sewed this angled end with reinforcements of strapping sewn into the ends and middle point. Rich drilled snaps into the fiberglass and I fitted snap ends into the reinforced fabric points.

Stretch and zip tie, stretch and zip tie...

Stretch and zip tie, stretch and zip tie…

Then we worked our way around the boat, stretching the netting and zip-tying it on top and bottom to the stanchions. For the most part this was easy except for the angled stanchions at the back of the sliding doorway. There we had to leave the top of the fabric flapping and continue around.

The sewing machine ready to make the final hem at the end of the strip.

The sewing machine ready to make the final hem at the end of the strip.

When we reached fiberglass again, we pinned the angle and I used the sewing machine on the boat to sew the angle with the strapping in place for reinforcements. Then we drilled and applied the snaps to adhere the end of the fabric to the fiberglass.

Almost done. Now I had to go back and hand stitch darts into the netting to fit the angled stanchions.

By now the sun was beaming down on me and of course hand stitching was a slow process.

I sew darts to custom fit the strip to the angled stanchions.

Final touches to ensure good cat catching properties.

Final touches to ensure good cat catching properties.

I had Rich hand up my sun hat and I stitched away, assuring a custom fit. The job is now done and hopefully it will save a cat without making “Choices” more subject to winds.

Banish the Clutter – a new hat rack

My new hat rack.

My new hat rack.

We’re graduating from backpacks to a trawler – you’d think there would be plenty of room. But no. Where to store everything needed for a 3-year voyage is a challenge. And, the last thing we want is a pile of stuff flying across the boat when some fast boat’s wake tosses us sideways.

The hat rack clips.

The hat rack clips.

One challenge was Rich’s pile of hats (and a few of mine). I solved the clutter problem by taking a woven cloth belt and stitching clips to it down its entire length. All our hats fit and they’re securely anchored and yet accessible.

Installing New Ground Tackle

Rich unboxes the new rode onto the deck.

Rich unboxes the new rode onto the deck.

Our new rode and bridle were ready at SacoSouth so Rich and I drove north 1.5 hours to Largo FL to pick them up. We needed the hand truck to move the heavy box, first into our car, than out to the boat. The first step was to unbox the rope and chain onto the dock. We purchased 100 feet of 5/8 inch 8-plait nylon rope spliced onto 100 feet of G4 galvanized chain. The new rope felt so soft and pliable – wonderful.

The chain and rope get stretched out & marked every 25 feet with colored ties.

The chain and rope get stretched out & marked every 25 feet with colored ties.

Next we stretched the chain and rope out on the dock and used colored twist ties to mark distances at 25 ft intervals, so I know how much rode is let out when anchoring. Then we fed the rope into the chain locker and Rich had the hot and sweaty job of attaching all the pieces and securely bolting them into the bottom of the chain locker.

Attaching the new rode in the chain locker.

Attaching the new rode in the chain locker.

With me on deck and Rich in the main berth, we alternated feeding ropes and chains manually into the chain locker. We changed the set-up so that both anchors were attached to the chain locker by rope which was then spliced to chain. Our fear was that it wouldn’t all fit in the chain locker. We were very happy to find that it all fit. Rich placed the barrier bar in the chain locker and hung a knife on it before closing the door. Now, in an emergency, we are equipped to quickly cut and run.

Danforth on the left and Rocna on the right - a newly loaded bow pulpit.

Danforth on the left and Rocna on the right – a newly loaded bow pulpit.

Back on deck, in the 90+ degree Florida sun, we attached the anchors to the chains one by one and lowered them overboard, then hauled them into the bow pulpit. Almost done. The only job remaining is to put safety wires on the shackles. To do that we need another trip to Tru-Value Hardware. It’s on our way home and the car is accustomed to stopping there, so no problem.

Me – A Seamstress??

I’m not domestic by any stretch of the imagination. I tend more toward wanderlust than nesting. I dislike cooking and I can live in a lot more mess than Rich can. But, lately I’ve become a seamstress – by necessity. I’m not good at it. Items that count, such as the bedspread which will be visible, I’m hiring out to a real seamstress who knows what she’s doing.

Sue sews some chafing gear.

Sue sews some chafing gear.

Still, that leaves plenty of sewing jobs for me. So far I have made a set of (crude) fitted sheets for the V-berth, sewed many tubes to be used as chaffing gear, made a hat rack using a fabric belt and multiple clips, made pillows and runners for the salon, made canvas covers for the windlass and main berth skylight, made a bag for the spare prop, and added a strap to the dinghy cover. I’m sure I forgot a few sewing jobs, but you get the picture.

I’m using my Mom’s old, trusty Singer sewing machine. Thanks Mom!

Next I need to sew a mattress cover. We need protection in case the cats have another accident. No way can we wash and dry the mattresses again while we’re underway. And, the sewing machine stays home. So, any projects need to be completed before we take off. A sewing I will go……

New Ground Tackle

One of the first tasks we did as new owners of Choices was to haul out the chain and rope that comprised our two anchor rodes and mark them at measured distances with colored zip ties. That way I could tell how much anchor rode was played out when we anchored.  In doing this, we noted several problems.

A pile of rusted old chain in the chain locker.

A pile of rusted old chain in the chain locker.

First, the main anchor (the Danforth) was attached to 135 feet of chain. The first 50 feet of chain was in good shape, but the remainder must have been original to the boat (circa 1992). It was a rusted, knotted mess. We had to take a hammer to it to pry the links apart. This is not what you like to see when you’re planning to spend many restful nights asleep while swinging on your anchor.

The second problem was that the chain was connected via a shackle directly to the U bolt in the chain locker. If we were ever in an emergency situation and needed to cut the anchor and make a fast retreat, we’d be sunk (maybe even literally). There was no way we could cut and run fast.

The secondary anchor was attached to a short segment of chain, then a hundred feet of three stand nylon rope. It was OK, but the anchor itself was a rather small Chinese knock-off of a Bruce anchor.

We knew we needed to make changes and upgrades. Our first problem arose in that we couldn’t find (on the chain, windlass, or in the manual) what size chain we had. We read that you needed to carefully match the chain size and type to what your windlass can accommodate. We hadn’t a clue, so we needed to take a segment of our chain to an expert for sizing. We couldn’t find a chain cutter that could make a dent in the chain, so Rich burned through 3 saws-all bladed, cutting through it.

Rusted shackles and a unreliable swivel need replacing.

Rusted shackles and a unreliable swivel need replacing.

We headed down to the chain locker which is in the bow of the boat, accessed from our forward V-berth stateroom. We needed to disassemble the entire assembly and replace the rusted old components. This proved to be a monumental challenge. First he tried to unbolt the U bolt, only to find that the lower screw was below the floor of the chain locker. It must have been installed before the chain locker was built. Rich has to saw a hole in the bottom of the chain locker to get the U bolt out. The chain locker is so deep and narrow that Rich had to choose to have his head inside to look, or one arm inside to work. Both together was not an option. Plus, three rusted shackles were in the way. With prodigious sweat, he managed to undo the U bolt and hoist the assembly out of the chain locker so we could take off the 3 rusted shackles.

So far, we were making slow progress with the tear down. We began to plan the replacements. We researched anchors and decided to get a 60 lb Manson Supreme anchor. Thankfully a man on the MTOA e-mail list warned us to check the shank dimensions to make sure the anchor would fit in our bow roller. We drove to Sarasota to West Marine (the closer Venice store doesn’t carry anchors large enough) and made tracings of the 45 lb and 60 lob Manson Supreme anchors. At home we transferred these tracings to cardboard and made templates. Sure enough, neither would fit through the bow roller because of their wide shanks.

Newly delivered 55 lb Rocna anchor still in it's protective packaging.

Newly delivered 55 lb Rocna anchor still in it’s protective packaging.

Back to the drawing board – more research – and we decided on a 55 lb Rocna anchor. This time thankfully the manufacturer supplies pdf file tracings via the internet that we could print out. It was a fit, so we ordered the anchor (from California). FedEx delivered it today.

Earlier this week we drove to Largo FL (north of St. Petersburg) to a rigging vendor. They identified our chain for us and are splicing 100 ft of 5/16 inch G4 chain to 100 ft of 5/8″ 8-plait nylon line for our new anchor. They’re also making us a new bridle for us (which was a major research project in and of itself). When it’s ready we have to make another trip to largo to pick it up. I also ordered a special shackle from Crosby to tie the anchor to the chain.

We'll keep this as a secondary bridle, but we're having a new one built.

We’ll keep this as a secondary bridle, but we’re having a new one built.

For the secondary anchor we’ll reuse the 3 strand nylon line but we attached it to the 50 ft of good chain from the original primary anchor. We’ll use the Danforth as our secondary anchor and retire the Bruce knock-off.

Now we have our fingers crossed that when all the components arrive, they will fit into the chain locker and on the bow pulpit.