31 May [KensBlog 2014-01] Preparing For The Season
It’s almost cruising season! Within a couple weeks Roberta and I, our puppies (Toundra and Keeley,) and our Nordhavn 68 yacht, Sans Souci, will begin this year’s journey. Roberta and I are on the boat now, in the country of Montenegro, preparing to get underway. We will be cruising alongside another couple, Steven and Carol Argosy, on their Nordhavn 62, Seabird, as we have done for the last five years.
Once we start cruising in mid-June the regular blog entries will begin. For now, I hope you will enjoy this look-back at our preparations for the season. If you are new to the blog, I should advise you that this is not a typical blog entry. Preparing for a long journey involves lots of work to get the boat ready to go. This blog entry primarily focuses on mechanical things. Once we leave the dock for Italy the blog will become a bit more “travelogue-ish” and fun!
Here’s what is covered in this pre-blog blog entry:
- Who we are and what we’re doing
- Where we’ll be cruising this year
- Life in Customs Hell
- Boat-Geek Report
- A marina with problems?
- And, in closing, some logistical details
We have lots of new subscribers to the blog who registered during the off-season, so I’ll give a quick 30 second background on who we are and what we’re doing. Regular readers of the blog will want to skip this part…
Roberta and I were early computer pioneers. We started a computer game company that did very well, Sierra On-Line (Kings Quest, Leisure-Suit Larry, Nascar, Red Baron, Space Quest, Half-Life, Frogger and many dozens of other titles.) In fact, so well that we were able to retire fairly young. This left us with the question of what to do with the rest of our lives. It didn’t take us long to ponder over that question. We’ve always loved boats, and within months of retirement we bought a 62’ Nordhavn trawler, a boat capable of crossing oceans.
At the time, we never really contemplated crossing oceans. We just wanted a boat that would be safe enough to handle the rough seas we would encounter in the Pacific NW.
We took delivery of our Nordhavn 62 in 1996, and enjoyed cruising around the San Juan Islands (near Seattle) for a few years, and then had the boat transported to France (a combination of a delivery crew and a freighter.) Once there we had a slip just outside Monaco and spent a couple summers, before receiving an email from Nordhavn that was to change our lives.
In 2004 Nordhavn announced a rally across the Atlantic. A group of boats would be crossing the Atlantic together, and we were invited to participate. Whereas we would never do something so adventurous alone, running alongside a group of other boats sounded both safe and fun! The only problem was that we were already in France. So, we loaded the boat on a freighter to Florida, and then drove it right back to its own slip in France!
After the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally we started thinking about remodeling the boat, just to make it a bit nicer. And, as sometimes happens, once we started looking at a remodel, somehow we convinced ourselves that we wanted a whole new boat. And, that’s how our Nordhavn 68 came to be.
Roberta, I, and the dogs now divide our lives three ways: a condo in Seattle, a home in Mexico, and the boat, in roughly equal proportions. Our goal is to circumnavigate, but taking our time doing so. We tend to go two to six thousand miles a season, and have cruised to Costa Rica, San Salvador, Guatemala, Alaska, the Bering Sea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Turkey, Greece, Croatia and Montenegro.
As to us personally: I’m an extreme computer geek, and don’t really consider myself a great boat man, despite the 40,000 miles we have run. Whereas many people do much of the work on their boats themselves, I tend to cheat. I work with a Seattle-based company (Pacific Yacht Mangement) who puts the boat into tip-top condition during each off-season. Because of the places we cruise I need to be able to repair the boat if it breaks, so I do spend a lot of time studying things like electrical manuals and diesel manuals. I’m much better with a keyboard than a wrench, but .. so far the boat is still floating.
Behind the scenes, it is Roberta who is the adventurous one. Roberta used to design computer games and spent her childhood wishing she could grow up to be Walt Disney or maybe Indiana Jones. She reads thick history books for fun, is unbeatable at trivia, and is always optimistic. Whereas I’d be happiest sitting in a dark room staring at a computer monitor, Roberta isn’t happy unless we’re pioneering in some way. They say opposites attract, and it must be true because we’ve somehow stayed married for FOUR decades! (Note: Married young – a year out of high school.)
As to the blog itself, it started during our Atlantic crossing as a way of communicating with family and friends. Somehow the universe of friends grew, and just kept growing. My best guesstimate of readership is now well into the 10s of thousands. People read the blog for different reasons. Some to prepare themselves for their own adventures, some just to daydream of faraway places, and others just to see what will happen next.
And, with that said, let’s look at this year’s plan…(top)
We will again be traveling this year alongside our good friends, Steven and Carol Argosy, with their Nordhavn 62 named Seabird. Not only are they awesome people, it adds immensely to the experience to have another couple along. I also consider them our boat’s #1 safety feature. If we, or they, ever get in serious trouble the other boat will be a short swim away.
This year we’ll pick up where we left off last year, starting in Sibenik, Croatia. We departed from Sibenik last week, within 36 hours of our arrival from Seattle, and cruised south for two days to the country of Montenegro — which is where we are located as I type this blog entry. Last year, we were in Montenegro and were eager to return for several reasons.
- Cheap fuel! – The price per gallon for fuel in Montenegro, if you buy your fuel immediately after clearing out of the country, is half what you’d pay elsewhere. There’s a lot to be said for saving several dollars a gallon when you are buying 3,000 gallons!
- An amazing marina! – Someone in Montenegro understands marketing. If you make the fuel price attractive enough the big boats will paddle your direction as fast as they can. And, of course, once they arrive, they start spending money. It’s a win-win for everyone. The Porto Montenegro marina is incredible, and we want to spoil ourselves before crossing over to Italy.
- It’s outside the EU! There are rules in the EU (European Union) that limit how long we can be there, and also limit how long the boat can be there as well. Croatia is now in the EU, and the boat needs to leave it within 18 months, or a huge import tax (VAT) would be payable. Roberta and I, also, have a problem with EU immigration. We are only allowed 90 days there at a time. Montenegro – not part of the European Union — gives us a chance to spend time on the boat without our immigration clock ticking.
- It’s not Croatia! Croatia is a wonderful place to cruise, and highly recommended. That said, I confess that I was angry at Croatia and “just wanted the heck out of there.” I’ll talk more about why in the next section.
From Montenegro we will cross over to Italy’s east coast, which is not a very good cruising ground. Maybe we’ll be favorably surprised, but I am expecting that we’ll move quickly to get to Sicily (southwest of Italy.) I know nothing about any of these places, and honestly, I haven’t even looked at the travel books. From what I’ve gathered, we are going to like Sicily and love Malta. We’re planning to cruise for two or three weeks in Malta. From there we’ll start working our way north along the west coast of Italy, detouring to Sardinia, Corsica, and any small islands that catch our attention – like Capri. Finally, we’ll finish around Italy’s border with France by mid-September.
There are some customs I’ll never get used to(top)
When I mention to people that we are circumnavigating a small boat, their first question is usually, “But aren’t you scared out there in the middle of the ocean?” Maybe we’ve just been lucky, but even with crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific there have only been a few hours where things got exciting. The bigger problems always seem to be land-based.
The biggest challenge with our kind of cruising is to maintain the boat in a seaworthy condition in faraway places. Even the simplest of things can be incredibly hard at times. For instance, in Hong Kong we needed motor oil. This meant a lost day trying to hunt it down. Finding things like oil filters is perhaps easy if you speak the language and know where to go, but for us our easiest option is usually to ship in parts and supplies.
It is now five years since Sans Souci departed Seattle. We’ve done some maintenance each year, but I felt it was time for the boat to have a major “going over.” There were several reasons why this was a good year to get a lot of work done, but the biggest one was that I perceived that we were in a good place for it. Our marina in Croatia (Mandalina Marina) had a full shipyard onsite, and I found a good Croatian guy (Ante Muic, http://www.bosun.hr) who could be our liason in Croatia to arrange work. Also a factor was the recognition that our 20kw generator (we depend on it to generate electricity when we are at sea) was showing signs that it wouldn’t live much longer. Our generator only had about 7,000 hours on it, which made it fairly young in terms of a normal generator lifespan, but we’ve worked it hard. Plus, there’s a good argument that it was a lemon from when it was new. It has been a non-stop source of problems with oil leaks, an inability to generate its rated electric capacity, and constant breakdowns. We depend on the generator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I was tired of dealing with the problems. I made the decision to swap it for a new one.
Once I decided I was going to ship a new generator and a team of mechanics to Croatia, I figured that I might as well get everything I could think of fixed. What started as a fairly small number of boat-parts being shipped over started growing, and then it grew some more, and then Steven, our traveling companion, said, “As long as you have a shipment going to Croatia, perhaps I can send a few things along…”
The shipment left Seattle in December 2013, and Jeff Sanson and his team (my mechanics, from Pacific Yacht Management) bought plane tickets to be in Croatia at the end of February 2014.
Europe has a VAT tax. It’s like a national sales tax on items being imported into the country. I knew that the tax would need to be paid on the shipment, and was fine with this. It would be expensive. We were shipping a lot of stuff, including the new generator. Mentally, I was prepared to write a large check to import all of the items into Croatia. However, the truth is that I wouldn’t be importing the parts into the country. They were for my boat which is just passing through Croatia. The parts would not be “consumed” or resold in Croatia. Most countries allow free import of parts that are going to a boat transiting the country. In this particular case I was expecting trouble, in that this was a shipment much too large to fly under the radar.
The shipyard at the marina offered to assist (for a fee). They were already known to the Croatian customs people as a shipyard and would be able to get the parts into the country duty-free. I fought using them, mostly because I wanted to use my own people to do the work on the boat. My plan was to explain to customs that I should be allowed to bring in the parts duty free, and in the worst case, I’d pay the duty.
On January 31st, I received this email:
The shipment is scheduled to arrive on or around 2/23. The plan is to arrive 4 or 5 days after that in order to begin work. Jeff will meet with Ken this weekend and go over more of the arrangements. I am working with an agent in Croatia to get a firm handle on how long it will take to clear customs. I will keep you updated as the situation evolves.
Steven Argosy and I also made plans to go to Croatia. I had a lot of work I wanted to do on the boat’s electronics. I was in Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) at the time, but arranged it so I could meet Steven in Florida and travel over together.
A week later, here comes the news…
Feb 19, 2014
Steve & Ken,
We just received this notice this AM that the shipment is NOT in Croatia. Somehow I got confused that the shipment was already there on Monday when I was talking to Ante. He had told me it was in Croatia! So I am not sure if it was a language communication barrier or what but he said it was already in Croatia and we needed to decide on how we are going to accept it.
I feel we need to back our trip about 3 to 4 weeks. I now am working with Doug and Mike to make sure this works with their schedule. Cindy is working with Trans group [the shipping company] to get a real straight answer!
I will get back to you,
Sorry about this news, Jeff
Arrgghhhh! Freshly made hotel reservations, car rental reservations, flights — all to cancel. Worse yet, my schedule was swamped. It had taken some work to block out time to travel there. This would mean “no trip to Croatia.” Anything that I had planned to do personally would need to wait until Roberta and I arrived for the season.
As March approached I started worrying whether the shipment was going to be delivered to the boat in time for work to commence. Jeff and his team had pushed back their trip by three weeks.
I started corresponding with the shipment company directly to ask, “Where is my shipment?” I was getting a series of conflicting emails, some of which indicated my shipment had been delivered to Germany. People who know me think of me as “Mr. Laid-back.” I disagree that I am laid back, but it is certainly true that I am level-headed in 99% of situations. However the lack of information was starting to drive me crazy, and I finally started losing control of my emotions.
On March 10th I sent this very un-Ken-like email to the shipping company in response to their writing me to advise that there was “no reason to panic.” Reading between the lines you can see that I had lost my temper (something I can’t remember doing more than a couple times in my life!).
- I don’t know what country the shipment is in
- I don’t know if it is on a boat or on land
- I don’t know if it is in customs or not
- You, the shipping company, also doesn’t seem to know any of these things
- I’ve bought $10,000 in tickets for people to go install the stuff in the shipment
Or, is there?
On March 17th I received word that the shipment was in Sibenik, Croatia, but there was confusion about how the shipment would be cleared. As hard as I worked to avoid having the shipyard involved, no one was willing to ship directly to the boat, or allow me to pay. I do not wish to imply the shipyard was doing anything they shouldn’t be doing. In fact, they were trying to help me. Croatia is new to the EU, and, although I don’t know what was happening behind the scenes, my sense is that everyone was thinking “Who is this crazy American who wants to pay the tax when there are ways to work around it?” Of course I am not a fan of paying taxes, but … I didn’t want to do anything that could endanger getting my shipment on time. The money lost on paying an import tax wasn’t as important as knowing for certain that I would get my parts. I would insert some of the correspondence into this blog entry, but none of it made sense. No one could give me a straight answer as to where EXACTLY my shipment was, or who would clear it into the country. Incomprehensibly, questions like “Are you my customs agent?” were virtually impossible to get answered.
The good news is that the shipment was in Croatia, and would be there when my guys arrived. We had time to work all this out.
Jeff and his team arrived in Croatia on March 24th.
March 25, 2014
Well… the good news is that “Jeff is there”
And.. there is no bad news. But, more good news would be helpful.
He arrived and they told him that customs inspectors needed to see the boat, and he needed to leave until they could inspect it.
He left and waited all day — no inspectors. At the end of the day, they said, “We decided you are ok. We don’t need to inspect. You can start working.”
Jeff still didn’t have the stuff and Ante doesn’t know where it is. He said “Bozo” (who may be a customs agent?) is now handling the shipment.
Jeff went to meet with Bozo who said, “No problem. I should have your stuff tomorrow.” Jeff doesn’t know where it is, and Bozo doesn’t know where it is — but Bozo seemed very confident that tomorrow will be the magic day and our stuff will appear.
So.. as I type this, Jeff is at dinner.
I’ve copied Jeff in case he wants to elaborate — but, I believe this summarizes it.
Jeff was very positive when I spoke with him, and seemed comfortable that things are under control and we will be seeing the stuff tomorrow.
Jeff said that it is miserably cold in Croatia!
PS Let’s hope that Bozo is not a clown!
As you can imagine, I was pulling my hair out. I now had three Seattle mechanics in Croatia and the equipment that they were there to install was “somewhere.”
March 27, 2014
Ante and I are going to customs to pickup the shipment !!!!!!! Keep your fingers crossed . I think Bozo came through for us.
Finally! The wait was over!
Jeff naturally assumed he could now clear in our shipment. Customs said “no.” They wanted to know what parts were needed to get the boat operational, and that the rest would have to be delivered to us OUTSIDE the country of Croatia. Huh? Jeff argued, but had no cards to play, and lost the battle. They released to him the generator, and a couple other bits and pieces, but that was it.
On April 4th things moved a bit closer…. Customs was going to deliver the containers to the boat, where we would need to take them 12 miles off shore in order to officially “receive them.”
April 4, 2014
We are getting closer with customs but I think they are going to delay me until Monday! AGRRRRRR. The wind is really blowing here so I do want the weather to lay down but they have some weird things that I have to do.
- I have to load the whole totes on the boat. Cant unload it. So I will need a crane to put them on the forward deck.
- I have to stop on the way out at their dock so they can board the boat.
- The truck driver that picked up the load that I was allowed has to be the one that picks up the rest of the totes. He is off today!
- There is some other customs guy that needs to sign a form that is on holiday and will be back to work Monday.
- So we are putting the exhaust on and getting ready so I can put more pressure on them!!!!!
Soon going to happen, Jeff
On April 10th (APRIL TENTH!) the shipment was delivered to Sans Souci. It needed to be taken 12 miles offshore and then returned to Croatia. This would somehow make the shipment legal. After waiting all day, the shipment arrived as it was getting dark, and the wind was picking up. But, the shipment was finally to the boat.
You aren’t going to believe this, Dear Reader, but — Jeff headed 12 miles out to sea with the shipment, and returned to port at 4am, only to be told, “You cut the corner. You didn’t quite make it the full 12 miles. Go do it again.” Jeff was exhausted, and wisely refused. He and the team needed to sleep.
Jeff later emailed me during his second attempt to head 12 miles offshore: “Here is the map given to me before departure by the agent. But, customs informed us different when I returned. The agent is a ship’s Captain. He was really upset! They (customs) fined me 750 Kuna for this mistake. I am on my way back in now. I was one mile off! Agrrrr. Regards, Jeff
The next day, April 11th, Jeff headed offshore again, this time making sure that he had run PLENTY far enough, and customs was happy. We had our stuff.
As I look back at what I just typed, I see how long it is, and realize that I’ve actually only told a fraction of the story. There were other horrors in dealing with customs that I chose not to write about, as I always worry about my blog getting overly long, and boring. But, there were battles raging up to the day I left the country. For example, one of the things shipped to the boat were some new cameras I wanted to install in the engine room. These new cameras are “digital” (called IP cams) and I wanted to replace older analog cameras. It’s a long story, but I wanted the new cameras installed while I’m onboard, because I don’t know if they will be better than what I had. In particular I worry about data overload on the boat’s network. Believe it or not, customs insisted the new cameras be installed. I refused to let the cameras be installed until I was onboard, which upset them. They not only wanted the new cameras installed immediately, they also wanted the old cameras back, and wanted us to pay for their disposal. Emails were flying about the cameras up to the date of my departure. I’m out of the country now, so … Yay!
The bottom line on all of this is that it can be difficult to get spare parts into foreign countries. This may be one of the reasons that most cruisers who circumnavigate do so in a fairly tight time period. Our local guy in Croatia (who I highly recommend) Ante Muic, said that he believes the problem was Croatia’s entry into the European Union during 2013, and all of the added regulation that comes with being part of the EU. My opinion is similar but not quite the same. I blame the problems on Croatia being new to the EU, and Croatia’s customs people adjusting to a new set of rules and ways of doing things. My prediction is that things will calm over the next few years and shipping parts into Croatia will become more normal – ‘normal’ being “not that easy, but can be done” that we regularly experience around the world.
The Boat Geek Report!(top)
I am always amused when I see messages posted on boat message boards saying, “What does it cost to own a boat?” It’s an important question and I don’t want to talk about the subject lightly, because it is the core question in many prospective cruiser’s lives. There are a lot of people who spend their working career saving money, hoping to someday retire and live on a boat. It is absolutely critical to them to know what size boat they can afford, and what the total cost of operation will be.
Unfortunately, it is not an easy question. There is a rule of thumb that a boat will cost 10% of the purchase cost per year to operate, and it’s not a bad way to think of it. It kind of gets you in the ballpark. According to this rule if you buy a million dollar boat you should expect $100,000 per year to operate and maintain it.
In reality the costs to operate a boat are far more complex, and vary according to dozens of different factors.
- Where will you be cruising?
- How much maintenance will you do yourself?
- How well do you want the boat maintained?
- Will you be hiring crew?
- As you travel the world, will you be flying in mechanics when in out-of-the-way places?
- Where will the boat be moored?
- What “extra” equipment will you be putting onto the boat?
- How many miles a year do you plan on cruising?
- How big a boat will you have?
- How badly do you need things like Internet and TV?
- Will you be dining aboard, catching your food, or eating out?
- Will you transport the boat around the world? Or, move it on its own bottom?
- How many times a year will you want to fly home?
- How much time will you be spending on the boat?
- Is it in your personality to constantly be upgrading the boat?
- Will you be using agents as you cross borders?
- And.. more!
In other words, without knowing the answer to all of these questions, no one can tell you what the annual cost can be. And, unfortunately, one of the biggest costs on a boat is the one called “surprise expenses.” Boats operate in salt water, and sometimes in hard conditions. It’s not always a friendly environment, and things can be known to break. Just when you’ve carefully planned out your budget, the air conditioning will quit, or the satellite television will die — or lightning will strike. The one sure thing on a boat is that things will break.
My guidance when asked this question is always “Pick the smallest, least complicated boat that meets your needs, unless you have VERY deep pockets.” I have seen a few people over the years buy boats and then sell them a few years later after being blasted by negative surprises. I am constantly reminding people that there is no real correlation between the size of someone’s boat and the fun that they are having. I have been anchored in bays alongside $50 million dollar megayachts and $15,000 sailboats, and it isn’t at all clear who is having the most fun. There’s a good argument that the couple on the sailboat is winning the competition. Life on a megayacht is really not that much different than staying at a fancy hotel (although, in truth…we’ve never actually EXPERIENCED life on a megayacht, so what do we really know!). The basic point, though: we all anchor in the same bays, and marvel at the same sunsets.
Scott Flanders, a world-cruising Nordhavn owner posted this message to an online discussion group recently:
However, there is a bottom line that is universal. You spend what you have.
Personally what we have done is buy a boat that is smaller than we could have afforded leaving more for play. Playing to me is more important than a few more feet or a larger living space. There is a big difference between want and need. Our boat has less square footage than our old bedroom when we were dirt dwellers. […]
Most long term boaters go thru a metamorphosis that is unusual for folks living on dirt. We become less competitive, simple things mean more, stuff loses it’s relevance and we become kinder to each other and others. This is what money can’t buy. Money also can’t buy freedom and adventure, at least not on a long term boater’s scale.
So we believe it is best to be more conservative up front, you won’t miss the couple extra feet and you will have more play money. Play brings happiness and that’s what its all about. The rest is just stuff. Doesn’t matter.
Scott Flanders, Nordhavn 46, Egret
I am probably on the high end of spending, in that on my laundry list of questions above, I have the “wrong” (costly) answer for virtually every question. Our boat is large enough that if I were to do all the maintenance myself there’d be no time left for fun. Roberta and I are circumnavigating, but we have fallen into a rhythm of flying in mechanics each year, who spend weeks on the boat tweaking everything to be “perfect” before our arrival. We have busy lives and only get about four months a year on the boat. I want as many of those days as possible having fun, not working on the boat. Of course, this is much more expensive than if we did all the work ourselves. (Roberta’s comment: In reading – and editing – this blog entry, I feel that I have to jump in here and say that Ken is very much understating the actual work that both he and I do in running and maintaining Sans Souci! Whereas, on Ken’s part, he may not actually get ‘too greasy’ – unless he’s changing the oil in the generator; done quite regularly during the summer! – there is a LOT of planning, inventorying, purchasing parts and even household-type items, shipping or schlepping them to wherever the boat is, and on and on. Besides the planning, shipping and schlepping, it’s necessary to have a great understanding of your boat and its needs, down to very minute levels — even if you’re not the one actually down on your hands and knees doing much of the grunt work yourself. As to ‘labor participation,’ my part is somewhat equal to Ken in that I, too, have to plan, though for the more ‘personal, everyday-living-type of circumstances and make sure that those needs are met so that we can have as comfortable and as normal of living arrangements as possible. That planning includes inventorying food items (that can be carried with us), drug store items, clothing that is worn out or needs replaced, books, magazines, DVD’s, music, dishware, sheets, pillows….the list goes on and on. Those things wear out and have to be replaced. And then there is the endless cleaning! I am the housekeeper, provision person, fry cook, dishwasher, server, laundress, dog pooper-picker-upper, seamstress – you know, ALL those things that we do in our normal lives, though exaggerated on a boat. Then there is cleaning the tender when it’s filthy, washing off the boat when it’s salty or dirty (often), sitting at anchor watch during windy nights, sharing drive time on the boat, handling lines, fenders…whatever needs to be done. Bottom line: Even though Ken downplays the work that we actually do…it’s a lot!) Back to Ken! —
Interestingly, our costs haven’t been that far off the 10% estimate. In fact, I’m fairly certain that we are under this budget, although I have never really detailed the costs.
Anyway, this was a very unusual year. This was the first year in a while where I’ve felt we were in a good place to get work done on the boat. It has been five years since the boat has had a serious “going over.” At the time I arranged all of this I didn’t know that customs was going to be a nightmare, so I arranged to ship over a full team of mechanics, and a huge number of replacement parts. My directive to the mechanics was clear: “I want a new boat!” If something looked like it might wear out in the next few years, I wanted a new one!
Surprisingly, this is a foreign message to many mechanics. I expected to be reigning them in from time to time, but instead I had to remind them occasionally that I was serious. They’d say things like “I’m sure you can get another year or two out of that hose.” And, I’d say… “Nah. Replace it.”
I have had five years of relatively trouble-free operation of Sans Souci, and I’d like to keep it that way. There have certainly been some maintenance issues, but when you consider where we’ve been, and what we’ve done, I am delighted with how the boat has performed. I mentioned to Jeff that it did seem like we had a lot of maintenance this year, and he thought for a moment and said, “You know what it is Ken, you and Roberta really USE your boat.”
Anyway, with that long rambling preamble, here are a string of pictures which give a very tiny taste of the work that went on over the past month. It’s a lot of work, but I have an amazing “dream team” assembled by Jeff Sanson at Pacific Yacht Management (http://www.pacificyachtmanagement.com)
My electric panels around the boat have digital LED meters. Several burnt out last season, including one that could have triggered a fire. We replaced many volt, amp and frequency meters. We also added DC voltage regulators to the electric panels to hopefully stop the underlying issue that was shortening the lives of the meters.
I have a huge expensive transformer, called “The Atlas” that allows me to directly attach the boat to shorepower around the world. Each country, and even different docks within the same marina can have vastly different electricity. My boat is an “American Boat” meaning that we expect American-style electricity (two lines of single phase 120v AC 60 cycle current) As we travel the world we often encounter different flavors of electricity, such as three-phase 50 cycle power, at varying voltages. My Atlas system takes pretty much any kind of electricity you throw at it and converts it to the American standard. Unfortunately, my Atlas fried a circuit board; actually two circuit boards. This meant I had to run the boat off the inverters. What this means is that most of the circuits on the boat (virtually everything except the heavy appliances) can be run directly from the batteries. I have devices installed, called “inverters” which convert the 24v DC battery voltage into the 120v AC American standard electricity. Unfortunately, this works only until the batteries need recharging. I have a battery charger which is extremely forgiving, but, as Murphy’s Law would have it, when we tried to recharge the batteries, we discovered that my battery charger had also failed. Argh!
This picture shows my swim step, at the back of the boat as it looked at the end of last summer. It is now perfectly beautiful, having gone through probably its third re-fiberglassing. Theoretically, I’ve been boating long enough that I know how to approach the swim step on a tender without banging. However, sometimes there are heavy seas and the swim step is a moving target.
I have a battery charger onboard that is a backup to my Atlas. When my Atlas failed I used the battery charger to keep the batteries charged up. However, the battery charger went into crazy-mode WAY overcharging the batteries. We quickly went into panic mode and found a new MasterVolt Battery Charger to install. Luckily, it solved the problem, and we were able to run on the battery charger for a couple weeks waiting for the Atlas to be fixed. And, actually, I have a new plan with regards to how I’ll “winter the boat” going forward. Whereas in the past I’ve run the Atlas, my current plan is to bypass it and just run the boat off the battery charger during the off-season. There are two important reasons for this: 1) The Atlas requires about 2.5kw of electricity just to be powered up. Electricity is expensive here in Europe. That works out to something like $800 usd per month of electrical waste. And, 2) The Atlas is expensive to fix, and Atlas-trained technicians are hard to find, whereas battery chargers are cheap and easy to find. If something is going to fry during the off-season I’d rather it were a battery charger.
This was the biggy of all the projects. I have two generators on Sans Souci; a 20kw and a 25kw. The 20kw gets used the most. Although it really didn’t have that many hours on it (7,000) it was getting tired and starting to leak oil. I have worked it hard in harsh climates, and it was time for a new generator. Perhaps I could have gotten another couple years out of it, but it is so important to our kind of cruising (warm weather with non-stop air conditioning) that I made the decision to install a new one.
I’ve complained for years that I didn’t have enough anchor rode (chain) on the boat. I wanted to upgrade from the 400 foot long chain that the boat came with to 600 feet of chain. We often need to anchor in 100 feet plus of water, and you just can’t do that with only 400′ of chain. Unfortunately, this was a much bigger project than it sounds. You can’t just add 200′ to a chain. That would inevitably lead to a “weak link” and I’d never really feel comfortable in high winds. Adding “fun” to the project is that the chain must be matched exactly to the sprocket on the windlass. It’s an American boat, and we use inches, not metric. We thought we would be able to find chain in Europe that would work, but .. had to ship the new chain over from the US.
After doing a check-out ride on the boat, while returning the boat to the dock in heavy wind and rain, a pressure gauge on the hydraulic system blew out. This left the boat with no thrusters as it was approaching the dock. Jeff brought the boat in fine, but it’s a messy situation with oil everywhere that had to be cleaned up.
I’ve been on a campaign to get rid of all the non-LED lights on the boat. Here you see LED deck lights that we installed. I also have LED running lights and an LED anchor light. LED lights last MUCH longer than conventional lights, and use MUCH less electricity. My guess is that I will never need to replace these new deck lights.
Where will we winter this year?(top)
Each year, as the season begins, we plan ahead to where we’ll park the boats at the end of the season. This is a bigger problem than it sounds. We need to find a place that is secure, preferably reasonably priced, preferably near a lift capable of raising our boats, near a major airport, well protected from winter storms, and where we believe we can find someone to watch over the boats. The other criteria, and the one that tends to be the most challenging of all is that the marina needs to have availability for our boats. Slips the size of our two boats are rarely sitting empty in the winter months.
Prior to the start of each season we think about where we’d like to finish the season’s cruising and start emailing marinas. For this coming winter the search began last summer, with Steven Argosy and myself emailing marinas which spanned about 1,000 miles of coastline. I emailed marinas in Spain, France, Italy and Sardinia.
After a long search we settled on a marina called “Porto D’Imperia” (http://www.portodimperia.it) in Italy, near the Italian border with France. The marina came highly recommended from several sources. And, best of all, they had two slips available at a semi-reasonable cost. I immediately sent a deposit of around $6,000 USD to hold my slip, and Steven did the same a few weeks later.
Then, a couple of months ago, while I was doing some trip planning I tried to bring up the website for Porto D’Imperia. It wasn’t there! I assumed it was just an internet outage and didn’t worry about it. However when the site hadn’t reappeared the next day, I started Googling. Articles started appearing in Italian. I used automated translation to translate the articles, and whereas they were still unintelligible, I could easily see words that appeared to be “bankrupcy” and “litigation.”
I immediately telephoned Steven, who immediately sent an email to the marina. I did the same.
No response. Goodbye money?
Days later, the website reappeared on the internet, and rather than over-react I decided to call the marina. The front desk sounded normal, and the receptionist I spoke with (or, tried to speak with given our language barrier) said that all was well, and that my slip reservation was fine.
This relaxed me, until a few days ago when I spoke with a technician from France who occasionally works on boats at the Imperia marina. He said that the marina is struggling, and that when he was last there, there was no security on the docks. [Expletive deleted]! Now I’m not sure what to do. Do I forget the money? Do I wait until I am there and form an opinion? Do I restart the process and tee up a new marina?
A not so hidden agenda in writing this is that amongst the readers of my blog are many ship captains who regularly cruise the Med. My guess is that this section of my blog will trigger emails with real information, rather than the rumors and speculation I’ve been dealing with. It is very possible that the marina is fine, with zero problems, and I’m worrying too much (which is not uncommon.) I do not want to tarnish the reputation of what might be a great marina. That said.. I am worried.
And, in closing…(top)
That’s it! I hope that you enjoyed this pre-blog blog entry.
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Ken and Roberta Williams
MV Sans Souci
PS My next blog entry will probably not be for a week or two.. We are just getting started!