Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas!

One of the more frequent questions I'm asked about living aboard (behind "how do you stay warm?") is about cooking.  Yes, I cook almost every day!  And no, we don't eat beans and weenies.  Sure my range is a little smaller than what you'd find in a typical house, but it ain't no Easy-Bake Oven. :)

Here I am taking Christmas sugar cookies out of the oven.

Aaron is far and away the best sugar cookie decorator I've ever seen. 

Aren't they lovely? They're almost too pretty to eat (almost).  I'd say that Santa will be eating well on his Bella Star stop (we even have a chimney for him!), but alas, we ate all his cookies.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2009


We're a little mad at ourselves... Why did it never occur to us to take a tropical vacation in the winter?  Why have we slogged through the cold and rain and snow and darkness year after year without a break?  Well, that won't happen again to be sure.  Our recent trip to lower latitudes has shown us the light... literally.

We spent 6 awesome nights on Maui and simply can't wait to go back.  We've been to warmer climates before, but this was different.  This was scraping the ice from our windshield before driving the airport and then not 10 hours later walking on the beach in shorts and flip flops.  This was fabulous.  We kept reminding ourselves that, yes, it's December!  See the Christmas trees in the open-air hotel lobby?  And Santa in flip flops and a lei down by the beach?  Hearing the song Mele Kalikimaka 50 times kept us in the holiday spirit, too (I can safely say that I know all the words now). :)

It's Santa!  You can't see it here, but he's wearing flip flops.  We saw the real Santa posing for pictures with the kiddies on the beach.

We didn't have any set plans for this trip, which is a real departure from my normal vacations, as those of you who know me will attest to.  We did do a few excursions, but the vast majority of the time was spent reading and lounging by the pool.  I can't even describe how wonderful it all was... So here are a few pictures that might help.

Aaron doing what he does best.

On the way up Haleakela

Hiking in the Haleakala crater--it looks like Mars!  We kept expecting to see little Spirit and Opportunity cruising around.

At the 10,000-ft. summit with the observatory and space surveillance telescope in the background (Aaron thinks it's a front)

We love Maui!

A morning walk on the beach. I think the tropics suit us. I think it would suit Bella Star, too.

Even before we left, we decided we're coming back next winter. And if we needed any more convincing, we arrived in Seattle to temperatures in the 20s. Back to reality. :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Ship

The day after Thanksgiving is when we traditionally decorate for Christmas.  Since this is our first Christmas living aboard, we thought we'd decorate the boat.  While our tree has gone from 8 1/2 feet to 2 feet, we still put lots of decorations up, and it's pretty fricking festive aboard Bella Star right now.  We got some Christmas lights for the outside.  Gotta love these LED strings, you can hook up over 40 strings together.

As it turns out, to have effective boat lights you have to go for altitude.  Our neighbor Al hoisted himself up the mast and put a tree up there.  I think he did it to taunt us.

Okay Al.  Fine.  It is ON.  Next year, I'm blowing a paycheck on lights.  On November 26th, 2010, a new sun shall be born on K dock.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Boater's Trash

Old-school roller skates? Check.
Romance novels? Check.
Perfectly good pants emblazoned with tiny teacups? Check.

Nope, this isn’t my Christmas wish list. These are just some of the tempting items sitting on Shilshole Marina’s free shelf today. The gallon-sized Ziploc filled with 27 tubes of Zipfizz came back to the boat with me (the pink lemonade flavor isn’t all that bad, save for the mildly funky aftertaste… still waiting for my energy boost, however).

The free shelf is always strewn with a variety of unique items, and poking through the clutter is a great way to kill time when you show up a few minutes early to transfer over your laundry. You’d really be amazed at the turn-over rate on wicker baskets, wrought-iron dog beds, computer monitors circa 1992, rusty muffin tins (with crud in the corners) and other trash… er, treasure. Here today, gone tomorrow. Everyone knows that boaters like a deal. And you can’t do much better than free.

Our fair share of flotsam and jetsam has washed up on the free shelf—old clothes, extra galley items, raingear (no roller skates or romance novels, though)—since it’s much easier to plop something on the shelf than to drive down to Goodwill. So I don’t feel bad when I take an armload of magazines… or Zipfizz. Give and take, right?

Now that I’ve advertised the teacup pants to the world, I’d better go grab them before someone else does…

Hmmm… This might become a recurring post: What’s on the free shelf today? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sunshiny Birthday

After the rain and wind and generally stormy weather we've had around here the last few days, it was such a nice treat to wake up to sunshine on my birthday. Well, I actually woke up while it was still dark, but you know what I mean.

I remember it snowed on my birthday once when I was a kid, which I thought was completely rad, but the grown-up Nicole is pretty stoked for sun. There are some scary black clouds on the horizon, which I'm sure means that we're in for another rainy Seattle night, but I'll enjoy my birthday sunshine while it lasts!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Diesel Class, Anyone?

There was a key moment this summer that convinced us we needed to sign up for the next marine diesel engine class we could find.

We'd made fantastic time traveling north from Kingston to Port Townsend and arrived before the posted check-in time (so we didn't actually need to leave at O-dark thirty after all). Our reserved port-side tie slip was still occupied, but the starboard-side space was open, and since the two guys in "our slip" were warming up the engine and preparing to get underway, we decided to squat next door. It wasn't 5 minutes before they were on their way and we could shimmy over to the proper slip, easy cheesy.

Or not.

Aaron pressed the ignition button and... cue the crickets... silence. Uh, this probably isn't good. And this is when we knew we needed more than that one-day "introduction to diesel engines" class. To be fair, Aaron knows a lot about our engine--and even I know that it's a Yanmar 30 (no, I didn't just get up and look). He changes the oil and filters and does regular maintenance, but when it came to diagnosing why our starter wasn't working, we were both at a loss.

There were worse places for this malfunction to happen, like, say, up in the San Juans where a broken starter might mean running aground or smashing into a rock. And I feel extremely fortunate that Sea Marine, a full-service boat yard, was within sight of our slip. While I got my coffee fix at the espresso stand in the Sea Marine office (how cool is that?), one of the mechanics walked down to the boat with Aaron. By the time I made it back, foamy cappuccino in hand, they had the engine exposed and the mechanic was poking and prodding it with various tools. And as often happens in situations like these, when the mechanic pressed the button, it fired right up. Good and bad, I suppose. We apparently needed to rebuild the starter, but he got it working again, and he thought it should be fine for the rest of our trip. If it did act up again, he showed Aaron how to start the engine by passing a screwdriver over something-or-other, which assuaged my fears of getting bashed to bits on the rocks. This awesome mechanic spent probably 30 minutes with us and, get this, refused to charge us! We were so grateful! Small town customer service is amazing. Thanks, Sea Marine!

The bottom line? We got ourselves on the waiting list for the Seattle Maritime Academy's next marine diesel engine class. The class needs a minimum of 10 students, so if you've ever wondered what the big, shiny, heavy thing on your boat is, take the class with us! Classes start in January 2010.

Seattle Maritime Academy (in Ballard)
(206) 782-2647 or (800) 906-7829

T-Th 6:30-8:30 p.m., beginning 01/12/10 (11 weeks) -- $300
A course in marine diesel engines for the small boat owner that includes theory, operation, troubleshooting and repair. The student will learn fundamental operating procedures for marine diesel engines. Instructional format combines classroom lectures with applied training in diesel engine labs. Course requires a minimum of 10 students.

We're also taking the Basic Electricity for Small Boats class, since electricity is magic (and since Aaron hooked up our 12v head with speaker wire).

MW 6:00-9:00 p.m., beginning 01/11/10 (8 weeks) -- $250
An electrical class designed for the recreational boater and for the small boat owner, that will take the mystery out of how electrical systems work. Topics to be covered will include batteries, alternators, solar and wind generators and related charging systems. Small A/C generator and power inverter systems will be investigated. Methods for determining load requirements; wire sizing and wiring techniques will be discussed. Electrical system troubleshooting, meter reading and hands-on training will be offered to the small boat owner. Course requires a minimum of 10 students.

C'mon. Sign up. You know you need to. It'll be fun!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thunder Boomers

A serious low pressure system rolled through Seattle last night bringing 50+ mph winds, lightning, rain, hail and, oh yeah, really, really loud thunder. Growing up, I heard that if you count the seconds between a flash of lighting and the boom of the thunder you can tell approximately how far away the storm is. Well, I don't know if that's a Weather Channel-approved method or not, but I counted 0.002 seconds between one of the lighting flashes and the insanely loud & scary thunder crack that followed. Eek! I never thought too much about getting struck by lightning until I moved aboard a sailboat with a metal mast that's 8" from my pillow (can anyone say "lighting rod"?). At least we're not the tallest boat in the marina. :) I'm sure folks in Florida are used to this kind of storm, but it's rare around here (and actually pretty fun).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Matia Island

Ah, Matia Island. Our stop on this small island in the Strait of Georgia last August was both unplanned and unexpected. We thought about adding Matia to our route plan, but with only two mooring buoys, a short dock and a narrow, rocky cove not suitable for anchoring (by most, anyway), we decided to skip it. But from our mooring buoy on Sucia, Aaron pulled out the binoculars and could just barely make out Rolfe Cove on the horizon. Was a boat leaving? Yes! Should we go for it? Yes! Move out!

We high-tailed it (read: cruised at 6 knots) over to Matia, snagged one of the two buoys, settled in and took the dingy to shore where a huge rock wall and old growth forest awaited us. Amazing! We hiked the loop trail, which passes through one of the only old-growth forests left in the San Juans (most of the other islands were opened to logging and homesteading), by huge glacial erratics and stone walls and out onto cliffs overlooking the islands. In 1892, a Civil War veteran named Elvin Smith built a small cabin on the island and spent 30 years living alone there. Although people referred to him as “the hermit of Matia,” every week he’d row his boat 2 miles to Orcas Island and hike into town to visit with the locals and buy supplies. One day in 1921, his boat laden with provisions, he and a friend mysteriously disappeared. Some say you can still make out the footprint of his cabin, but we combed the area and didn’t see a darn thing.

We spent two fabulous days on Matia, rowing the dinghy around and exploring the trails and coastline. The rippled sandstone formations, the impressive rock walls and the quiet forest trails were something we won’t soon forget (and fortunately we took lots of pictures!).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rest in Peace, Greta

We lost our first mate to complications from a rare autoimmune disease called myasthenia gravis on September 9th. She went from perfectly healthy to gone from our lives in a span of two weeks. We have been deeply affected by this. We always considered her to be more than just a pet. She was part of our little team and we miss her every day. We don't think we'll ever get over her death. But we are adjusting to her not being with us as best we can, and we are slowly working our way to the point where memories of her bring smiles instead of tears. It's a long road. We try to take solace in knowing that her 4 1/2 years on this earth were fantastic, for her and us. With Nicole working from home she rarely had to be alone. We took her everywhere. She had no shortage of toys, attention, caring, or love. Ever. She was such a great, sweet, smart dog. She didn't deserve to die. She was in her prime and having too much fun with us. We can't help but ask ourselves the unanswerable "why Greta" questions. Nicole has the only good answer - that there's a squirrel infestation in heaven.
We knew as soon as we met her that this little firecracker was going to have a big impact on our lives. We just couldn't have imagined it would be as big as it was.

She could always be counted on to enjoy the sunshine… ...attack any balloon in sight ...tolerate little outfits ...not accept one stuffed chipmunk when 7 will do
... roll in dead stuff...and pose for an arm shot

She was always happy to get a new toy, especially ones with squeakers. She had plenty to choose from.

She was a pretty smart cookie too; check out a sampling of her tricks.

Here she is on Blake Island fetching and digging. She loved the beach!

We always knew how special Greta was to us, but it wasn't until she passed that we found out just how loved she was by others. We received lots of emails, cards and calls from those who were touched by our precious little wiener dog as well. While it was (and continues to be) a difficult time for us, knowing that everyone who met her (save for the squirrels and the neighbor's Burnese Mountain Dog, Burgundy) thought she was amazing too made the hard times just a little bit better. Thank you, thank you, thank you to our fabulous family and friends.
Rest in peace, baby Greta. We love you always.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Water meter update

It works! We now know - to the gallon - how much water we have in our tanks.
Water meter prepped for install.

This is the midships H2O engineering compartment. AKA under the table. We have a watermaker but haven't yet needed to use it.
The water meter is installed on the pressure side of the water pump. I put it between the water pump and the accumulator.
The small dial on the right side of the meter indicates hundredths of a gallon. The wire is connected to the LCD display.
You can mount the LCD readout anywhere you want. I figured the galley was as good a place as any and wouldn't require any crazy cable fishing. A previous owner had moved the propane system to the deck box on the bow and put in a new solenoid switch in the head. The solenoid switch that was still in the galley was disconnected. I am going to have a labeled placard made for the water meter LCD readout to replace this, but until then I just cut a hole in the aluminum solenoid plate with a Dremel and mounted it there.
Installed and ready. It's hard to make out in the picture, but just below the readout display is a gray button that resets the counter to zero. The LCD unit is powered by a lithium battery that the manufacturer claims will last 5-10 years.
I topped off with water and then waited to see what the meter would read when each tank ran dry from normal use. I did this several times and the meter provided consistent readings of 112 gallons.
Forward tank = 53 gallons
Aft tank = 59 gallons

So whenever we fill up with water I hit the button to zero out the meter and we always know how much water we've used from our tanks.
The watermaker would of course mess this reading up if we didn't run it long enough to top off the tanks, but thus far we haven't been able to take a long enough trip to need it.

How to write a message in a bottle

Ewing Island is a small uninhabited island on Sucia's north side. We took the dinghy over to do some exploring. There are no trails on the island and rather than bushwhack we just climbed our way around on the rocks.

This little cove is on the north side of Ewing island.
Amongst the driftwood I noticed a message in a bottle. How cool is that?
It says, "If you pick up this bottle please e-mail me at louves@hotmail.com"
Signed, "Brian 2002.12.20" Brian also included a little drawing of a pig.
Well I was pretty excited, and emailing Brian was just about the first thing we did when we got back to an internets connection. I was hoping the email address would still work considering 7 years had passed. The email bounced. Rejected. No longer a valid hotmail address. I Googled the email address. I Googled Brian Louves. My Magnum PI skills bore no fruit and I had no luck finding the guy.
So if you're going to send a message in a bottle, please focus on contact information rather than small farm animal drawings.