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January 2010

Carbon Monoxide - Staying Safe On Board During a Maine Winter

First of all -- We. Are. Safe. We maintain safe practices. 

As much as I hate the "Fire Bitch" our talking CO and smoke detector, we do not ignore her. Her batteries are changed early, and we heed every warning. Yes, it is true that I call her the Fire Bitch and I really hate her voice: "Car-bon Mo-NOX-ide! Car-bon Mo-NOX-ide!" but we do pay attention to her. I can't smell CO and I know she can.

This has been a season during which we have heard the bitch way too much. Both detectors went off so often that we purchased two new ones.  Even though we thought the issue was due to the 7 year old alarms we would still immediately vent the boat and take safety precautions. Finally EW found an exhaust leak in furnace and fixed it. Problem solved. 

Well, not so much. Recently, the CO alarm has been going off when I cook. Now the smoke detector going off when I cook is not such a surprise -- yes and EW has developed a number of one-liners as a result. In my defense, this is such a confined space and the smoke detector is less than 6 feet from the stove top so a pan-fried potato cooked crisp may set it off. (As I discovered yesterday, totally burning the rice in the pressure cooker will set it off, too.)  But I digress.

So, as I said recently the CO alarm has been going off when I cook. I didn't get it. We have an expensive and well maintained propane detector (that doesn't talk) and that wasn't going off. And the CO alarm occurred intermittently. For example, I have been drinking a lot of tea lately and frequently light the stove top to boil up a kettle of water. No issues. 

On Thursday afternoon I roasted a chicken while nothing cooked on the stove top. At about the 1.5 hour mark, the CO bitch started beeping and screaming. I felt fine. I opened two hatches and a port light and turned on the exhaust fans. Then I went to Google. 

Turns out I am a lousy housekeeper. There was an older post on a sailing site in which someone described a huge CO situation. That person had propane hot water heater, refrigeration system and stove. None of the burners on these items had been cleaned after winter storage and small bits of rust were preventing the units from burning cleanly.

Further investigation revealed this from "The Natural Handyman" 

You must have all fuel burning appliances, their vents and chimneys checked annually at the least!  Any fuel burning appliance that is misbehaving should be checked IMMEDIATELY.  Unusual odors, strange noises, evidence of soot either around the units or in your home, and partial loss of heat or hot water are all possible indicators of inefficient burning and excessive CO production.  
My warning signs were partial loss of heat and indications of inefficient burning. I had ignored those warning signs. We don't leave the propane on and must light the pilot when we light the oven; lately it had been a bit more difficult to light  - a sign that it wasn't burning cleanly.  So. Tonight we are having pizza. Today I am cleaning the stove with great attention paid to the burners. I'll let you know, but I bet this puts the Fire Bitch to rest. 

Oh, and after I clean the stove I'm going to tackle the burned rice in the pressure cooker. Oh yeah. It's going to be an exciting day.


Living Under Shrink Wrap -- Living Aboard a Sailboat During a Maine Winter

Yesterday, I had the wonderful pleasure of talking with a college friend whom I hadn't seen or heard from for 8 years. She had gotten the Christmas letter that described our move aboard La Luna and assumed that we had already set sail - so we lost touch.  In 20 minutes we attempted to catch up on careers, kids, husbands and our living aboard lifestyle. 

She has no clue. Really.

I mentioned the shrink wrap and she immediately decided that we moved off the boat in the winter even tho' I had just told her otherwise. Her knowledge of shrink wrap is the total enclosure of her in-laws lake boat. No one gets aboard until spring.

The first step for wrapping for living-aboard is to create a frame and a door. While you can install a zipper in the shrink wrap, that is just not practical for real life. Some folks have a low frame, consisting of the boom aft and 2X4's forward to the bow. The simplest use plastic shrink wrap tape from this center pole to the life lines. Shrink wrap plastic is laid over this, banded and shrunk. 

Shrink Wrap Frame Looking Forward
EW has created a series of frames over the years using a combination of 2X4's and PVC piping. We attach upright PVC lengths to the stanchions and then attach long PVC pipe in a bow to create height. We have found that we don't like to crawl when we have to go forward so we can walk upright on a great deal of the deck. This is particularly useful as we have deck projects to undertake this spring. 

Shrink Wrap Door
He also built a door with a simple wooden block latch. It works - usually. We end up with a mud room and on sunny days it can be nice and warm for deck work. 

As you may imagine, all of this cobbled together wood and plastic is not rigid. During last night's winds -- 20 - 30 knots with gusts to 50 -- we could hear the frame creaking and flexing. Around 8:30 we heard two bangs, and headed on deck. The PVC pipe that goes from the port side to the center frame over the cockpit had worked its way out of this year's clamping method. (EW has feels duty bound to improve the frame each year. It's one of the things I love about him, but I am looking forward to using our mental and physical energies to sail through warm waters in during Maine's winters. <She sighs.>)

Hat on Pipe - Shrink Wrap Frame
In less than 20 minutes, we were able to get the pipe (mostly) back in place, attached, and reinforced with duct tape.  (Mainahs and sailors love duct tape. We use a lot!) I was concerned that the pipe end would poke through the plastic so we prevented that using what we had on hand -- or on head -- my hat. Ah well. It is for a good cause. And I love living aboard. Really.

Learning to Sail and Gybing the Boom (Jibing the Boom?)

So as you have probably figured out by now -- particularly if you have read the opening blog --  that I didn't know how to sail when I met EW. I had never been sailing. I had been on the ocean on a ferry to Nova Scotia and that's about it. Having grown up in Central Maine, I grew up knowing quite a bit about Maine's small lakes and ponds and not much at all about our coastline. Daddy had a 14 foot aluminum fishing boat and he liked Moosehead, Wassookeag, Sebec and China Lakes and a number of small ponds. 

So -- as has been mentioned (a lot) -- on our third date EW looked deep into my eyes and stated, "I sail and all of my friends sail." I said that I was sure I could learn. He didn't have a boat at that time (and frankly, I did wonder if he could really sail or was a "come up and see my etchings" kind of thing). Anyway he got me out on a few OPB's (Other People's Boats) and then rented a Cape Dory 28 for a week. That's all the sailing I had done until our honeymoon. 

So, EW has some great friends (now our great friends) who own a Hinckley - Competition 41. (This is where you all go "ooooooo, a Hinckley!") These friends, F & E, gave us a week on their boat for a wedding gift. Two other couples from the group provisioned the boat.  We all met on Vinalhaven in Penobscot Bay for a lobster feed and to get us checked out on the Hinckley. The next morning after pancakes on board for all, EW and I sailed away for a week. Alone. On a sailboat.  

Two more things you need to know. When he rented the Cape Dory 28, EW was smart enough to know that sailing with only me, She Who Knew Nothing, would get old. So we invited a dear friend of his to join us for most of that week.  This larger boat would be the first time I had been really required to help sail a boat for a period of time. Secondly, shortly after the "I sail and all of my friends sail" speech, EW had suggested that I take a Power Squadron navigating course.  I have a good sense of direction and it turns out that I am quite good at navigating. Back then, (25 years ago this coming July) navigating was all dead reckoning with paper charts and dividers, etc.   So off we go on our honeymoon, two newly weds, one OPB, and lots of food and drink.  We enjoyed Penobscot Bay and headed East for Blue Hill Bay and Mt. Desert. 

One of the challenges of spousal education is spousal communication. EW didn't always remember that I. Knew. Nothing.  about how the boat worked and some of his commands and direction were lacking. On the other hand, I was very nervous about "that heeling thing" and refused - absolutely REfused to take the helm. Ever. As in when he needed to "go to the head" I offered to hold a bottle for him. (That did not go over well at all.) So for the entire trip, EW captained and handled the helm and I was very green crew and outstanding navigator. 

Now finally - to our tale ..... drum roll please. I think I have to relate this as we do when we tell new friends who have not heard this one yet.

Barb: So we were going wing and wing -- down wind on a windy day -- 

EW: The wind was blowing twenty knots and we were having a great sail.  I was loving it, just hummin' along, heading into Frenchman's Bay.

Barb: So I go down below to make lunch and after a few minutes I look out the port and see an island. I pop up and say, where are you going? He says he's going behind thus and so island. I said that isn't thus and so it's such and such and there's a sand bar behind it you can't go this way.

    (Now you would think in 25 years I would have looked at a chart and gotten the names of those     islands. I have not. They've been "thus and so" and "such and such" for a long time.)

EW: So I told her, "You need to get up here, then. We're going to have to jibe the boom. Do you want to take the wheel or do you want to jibe the boom?"

Barb: Well, I still wasn't going drive the boat because I was afraid I'd tip it over so I said I'd jibe the boom. Now this boom had a preventer that was a b.i.t.c.h. The preventer is a line with ptackle used when going downwind to hold the boom so that it will not jibe unexpectedly. I was going to have to release it and install it on the other side of the boat. I hated that preventer as it ate fingers for lunch, but I wouldn't take the wheel because I'd tip the boat over. 

EW: So I told her, "Look it's very important that you control the jibe. You see that line going up and down from the cabin top to the boom? Well you take that line and you pull it in as much as you can and when I say 'Jibe Ho' you let it out gently. You are the brake. If the boom slams over it will take the rigging out and really damage the boat."

Barb: No pressure there, right? So here's the thing. I didn't pay attention in physics class. Ever. Sailing is basically all physics. That line he was talking about was of course the main sheet and it goes "up and down" from cabin top to boom through a series of pulleys. Instead of grabbing one section of the line and using the pulleys to help me. I wrapped both hands around all of the up and down sections and pulled as hard as I could. It wasn't enough.  Now EW is sailing the boat and handling the jib. This type of Hinckley has only one jib winch and it is behind the wheel, so when he is messing with the jib he isn't looking forward.  I got the preventer off, and went for the main sheet (all of 'em) and he turned the wheel, called "Jibe Ho" and turned to bring in the jib. I held on for dear life as that boom carried me all the way across the deck of the boat, bouncing the left side of my body on the cabin top, hand rails, and winches as I flew over them.  I'm tall enough (OK, big enough) that the boom stopped gently right where it was supposed to.  

   EW turns and says, "That was great!" 

    I said, "That hurt!" 

    He said, "You have to expect some discomfort when sailing."

    I said, "Discomfort, HELL! Real people shouldn't have to do that!"

Still Barb:  So we sail a very short distance before it is time to jibe back on course. 

EW: I offered to let her take the wheel and the jib ... 

Barb: But I said that no, I'd .. (well you get the idea). So proving that I am a natural blond AND a good sport, I went back to the boom and again grabbed all of the lines going up and down from deck to boom. 

EW: She two blocked it. (This is said with a touch of manly disgust) She had no leverage at all.

Barb: When we told my folks this story this is where my mother who had never sailed in her life looked at me and said, "Jeesum, Barb. I grew up on a fahm. I know what a pulley's for."  So anyway. Yes, yes I did do the exact same thing as we jibed back. Only this time, I bounced the right side of my body across the cabin top and hand rails and winch handles. And this time, EW got done with the jib more quickly and saw it.

EW: I turned around and there she was, flying across the deck with her legs out behind her. I'd never seen anything like it. I yelled,  "What the HELL are you doing?"

Barb: And I replied, "I'M JIBING YOUR G#*-D*$$ED BOOM!" (Remember, this is our honeymoon.)

EW: It was amazing. 

Barb: So later that afternoon we sailed into the town dock at Sorrento and on the dock is - no kidding - another Hinckley Competition 41. The doctor who owned it was there, tinkering and cleaning her and he very gladly helped us dock. We got off the boat and introduced ourselves and chatted a bit. He was looking at me a little strangely. At one point, EW took our garbage up to the barrel and the doc leaned closer to me and looked me deep in the eyes and asked, "Are you all right?". I looked at him blankly. His eyes dipped lower, to my legs -- both of which were breaking out in the most spectacular bruises you can imagine. "Seriously," he said, "you say the word and I will get you away from him right now!". Of course I just burst out laughing and as EW came back we had to relate, for the first time, how I learned to jibe a boom. 

EW: And then the doctor asks her if she has a sister - cause he'd love to sail with a woman who is such a good sport! 

Living Aboard a Sailboat -- Creating Dirty Clothes Hampers

When we first moved aboard, I took stock of what we had and what we lacked -- and tried very hard to evaluate whether the lack was something we really needed. I knew that we were going to be living on the dock and working regular jobs for at least 3 years, so we had real needs in terms of clothing and household items. Yes, we have a real iron and a small table top ironing board. They will be jettisoned when we sail away. We did not have any place for dirty laundry.

Coastal and vacation cruisers are familiar with this. You pick a duffel bag and that becomes the designated catchall for dirty laundry. We intended to live our lives and try to keep the boat ship shape and welcoming for guests. A duffel of dirty clothes in the forward cabin (the guests' cabin) was not in the cards.

Like many things I've learned -- the solution came in part from looking at other peoples' boats. One Cape Dory actually had a hamper designed into the head compartment. The owners had even installed a flap teak door to make it easy to toss dirty clothes into the bin. Hmmm. I spent quite some time examining our larger vessel - particularly the head compartments and could not find a suitable space. (Or a solution that EW would agree was suitable.) 

Then I began a thorough examination of our Master Stateroom. Where was there unused space that would be well away from the boat's exterior (lessening the chance of mold)?  Voila! Under our center queen bed (I LOVE that we have a center queen bed!) are four drawers, opening into the cabin. On the outside of those four drawers was empty space. Just hanging there, waiting for a good use.

Hamper support
 The space hangs over the bilge (see previous post) which may occasionally get damp or wet. So I wanted to make sure that I wasn't fishing out moldy socks periodically. The fix was easy. I made a net holder - somewhat over engineered. I had purchased a variety of netting to create shelves and other items. I made a net shelf with canvas borders and grommets for each side of the berth. I screwed EW approved cup hooks into the wood supports of the compartment and had a shelf to take the weight of the laundry and to prevent items from falling into the bilge. 

Then I took regular laundry bags and cut them down a bit, attached grommets, and hung them on cup hooks above the nets and next to the drawers. We simply lift the mattress and platform and drop laundry in the bins. These bags are light weight and not suitable for lugging laundry to shore. This year I will make two heavy weight net bags, with shoulder straps and stow the laundry in the same bag that is used to carry it to shore. Simple. We have had no moldy wet socks, and the laundry is out of sight. Perfect! Hamper 1

Cleaning the Bilge

Ugh. Yesterday I started cleaning the bilge. Since EW has been pulling up floor boards and fixing things we have noticed that the bilge is dirty. My job. I have decided to tackle it in stages -- much better than looking at a weekend of bilge cleaning -- and that way I can work around EW's projects. 

First of all -- our bilge. The year we purchased La Luna, we had 8 weeks on the hard at Robinhood Marina getting her ready. When you work on your boat in a yard you become friendly with the other boat owners - and you learn from them. (Looking at their boats is also great for developing a wish list and a project list - which can be a good thing or a bad thing.)

One day, one of the ladies said, "Today I clean my bilge. I do it every year, whether it needs it or not." (I later learned that last part was a joke. The bilge will always need cleaning once or twice a year. Sometimes more.) Anyway, I thought that sounded like a good idea so I said, "That's a good idea. I will clean our bilge as well." 

We split to get to work with promises of drinks at the marina bar. (I love a marina with a bar.) However, I did not complete my self-assigned task. Later that night as we three couples gathered for rum, the other sailor asked, "So did you clean the bilge?" At this point, EW looked up, very interested. "Really, you cleaned the bilge today?" he said with a big anticipatory smile. (He was so proud of me at that very moment.) Alas, pride descended quickly to laughter when I said, "I tried, but I couldn't find it!"

Not every bilge is like every other bilge. Some boats have what I now think of as A Bilge with a Capital B. Our neighbor's West Sail 42 has one so large they call it "The Garage". We have a series of little bilges. EW and the others laughed because every sailboat has a bilge and because I had certainly seen it many times as I lifted floor board after floor board looking for it. 

Dirty bilge

Our bilge is a series of compartments, often with limber holes to help water to drain to the compartments with the bilge pumps. To clean the bilge, one removes the floor boards and scrubs below. In our case, we also lift the mattress platform in our stateroom. That is where I started yesterday. 

I have learned that one cleans the bilge efficiently by starting at the highest points and working toward the center (low) point of the boat. That way you are following the flow of the water. So yesterday I cleaned under our bed and beside it. Later this week I'll do under the floor boards in the master stateroom and aft head. Next weekend I'll tackle the main saloon. Oh joy. 

I use organic cleaner, a stiff brush, and white vinegar and My favorite tool -- a wet vac to remove the standing water and to facilitate drying. Not fun -- but part of living aboard. 

What is Bold?

Oh man.  My very good friend Lynnelle Wilson (also the person who introduced me to social media and all of its trials and glories) has a new venture: BOLDBusiness TV -- "An internet series of interviews with people not doing business as usual."

She thinks I'm bold. She thinks I'm bold because I live and have a home office on the boat. A lot of people think I'm brave when they hear about our lifestyle. I'm not. I hate being scared. I cried during our first major thunderstorm at sea. I will not go to any scary movie. Ever. I worry. When another dear friend recently had a serious and sudden illness, I laid awake most of the night worrying about her -- and about what would happen if EW or I were similarly struck while at sea. These are not the actions of a bold woman.

I do like being a bit different, though, and I have learned that what is right for us is what matters. EW and I have decided together that we live on a boat and prepare to cross oceans in her. La Luna is our vehicle for seeing the world. We aren't going to participate in any races or tackle long distance solo sailing. We are going to wait for good weather, get constant weather updates and sail around storms that threaten us. We are purchasing safety equipment and will get immunizations when the time comes. I'm not sure if we are bold, but we do have a shared sense of adventure and we do plan to live into our old age and bore everyone with our stories. 

Some folks build companies from nothing and meet payroll week in and week out. Still others take their passion and develop successful non-profit organizations for service and the arts. Those folks are bold too. Lynnelle will talk with people like that in future episodes of BOLDBusiness TV (I know that for a fact because I know the first 4 episodes she taped.) Speaking of bold -- some people develop new careers and walk the talk by creating opportunities, hiring professional production talent and developing an internet TV show out of whole cloth. Lynnelle is bold like that. She's also great at interviews. I knew she would be. No one asks questions and probes like Lynnelle. 

So anyway. She thinks I'm bold and she put me in her show. Check us out. BOLDBusiness TV  She did great, so bookmark that video blog as a new interview comes out every two weeks. 

I appeared on Lynnelle's show. How will you be bold in 2010?