Archive for September, 2010

All Hands On Deck

September 21, 2010

Mt. Hartman Bay, Grenada

All hands on deck.  Since I’m the only one on Compass Rose, that would be me.  But in the last week or so, we’ve had two people return from the States and are back on their respective boats.  Janice has returned to join Steve on Sailacious and Trudie is back with Dave on Persephone.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on deck – technically on the main cabin house – priming and sanding and priming and sanding and sanding and painting.  Did I mention sanding?

Like most boat projects there are other parts that need to be done before, during, and/or after the main project.  The first part of this project was to remove the three hatches that were leaking, disassemble them, and clean them up.  Then I taped off the openings from underneath and sanded the deck around the openings.  The final step was to apply new caulk and reinstall the hatches.  Each one took about half a day, but they no longer leak.  Stopping these leaks was a major improvement to life on the boat.

I also removed the teak handrails, dorade boxes (a type of vent), instruments, and other odds and ends of hardware.  Of course now there are lots of holes in the top of the boat where these screws were.  I filled screw holes with caulk and taped over the vent holes.  Now the boat was ready for sanding.

Once the boat was sanded and taped I began putting on the primer.  The primer goes on a bit thick and not very smooth.  I used a short nap roller to put it on which works OK and is the only real option.  I tried “tipping” the paint, which is lightly dragging a brush over the paint to break any bubbles and smooth it down, but it didn’t really help, so I quit tipping.  These coats did not have to be perfect because I needed to sand after each one anyway.  Still the rough finish was a bit unnerving because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sand the final color coat – it will have to be perfect.

The house with primer on it

In between priming and sanding, particularly when the boat was wet after a rain, I took the old varnish off the dorade boxes and hand rails.  When that was done I started putting Cetol (similar to varnish) on them The handrails are so long that there is no good place to put them so I hung them over the cockpit and aft house while I put on the finish.  The dorade boxes were a lot easier.

Handrails and Dorade boxes with the first coat of Cetol

Finally the day came to put on the color coat.  My friend Mark, on Reach, had offered to help so I put him on alert.  I would mask the house and wipe it down and if the weather continued to look good he would walk over from the next bay and I would pick him up at the dock.  Everything looked good so he came over and we got started.  He rolled and I tipped.  The paint went on great.  We had a few imperfections, but in general the tipping knocked down the little bubbles and the paint flowed out to a nice, smooth finish.  We worked from the front of the house back to the cockpit going from side to side to keep the leading edge of the paint wet.

Then the rain started.  We never saw it coming.  We had the job about 90% complete when a little cloud came over the hills to the east and began sprinkling.  I had rigged a temporary cover over the front of the house and we have a sunshade over the rest of the house, but it started raining harder and the wind was blowing rain over the whole house.

We just gave up.  We cleaned up everything and when the rain stopped I took Mark back to shore.  The sun came out and the afternoon turned very nice.  Most of the paint has little, flat craters where rain drops formed. Paint that had just gone on actually floated up on the water and formed paint blisters.  They eventually collapsed leaving a rough edge around the blister.

Nice paint job - 'til it rained

There was still some paint mixed (you have to mix the paint with a hardner) and we never started on the house behind the dodger on the port side, so there was an area I could use the paint without having to go over a dry edge.  I dried the area I was going to paint and then waited about an hour to let it get really dry.  Finally I was ready.  The area was small enough that I could easily roll and tip it myself.  It looked good.  I cleaned up the tools and put them away.

I came back on deck to admire the one part of the deck that looked good only to find that somehow water had dripped on it.  What I didn’t realize was that water had pooled on the plastic dodger window which was folded back on top of the dodger.  Evidently the boat rolled enough for some water to flow off and drip on the fresh paint.  I still can’t believe that it didn’t come off in the previous hour.  Oh well.

I needed to lightly sand the paint between coats, but now I have to sand a lot deeper to smooth the finish.  To make matters worse, the top coat is harder than the primer coat.  The only good news is that much of the house will get a nonskid finish, so those areas don’t have to be mirror smooth.

The smooth looking parts are sanded - then it rained

Now all I need is some dry weather.

Enough of the weather – here are some pictures of goings on.

Dave on Persephone cools off with a beer on a hot afternoon

Dave and I have gone lobster hunting a few times.  Most of the lobsters we find are pretty small.  This guy looked like a reasonable size when I shot him, but everything looks bigger underwater.

Eric's first lobster


Sewing up a drogue for Mark, my assistant painter

Speaking of rain coming out of nowhere…..

Serge on Spirare heading down the mast just after the loud thunderclap

There is no accounting for how boats will lie at anchor


I just couldn’t end this on a fun note, could I?  It’s been raining all day, so I can’t work on the deck.  The solar panels don’t do much good on days like this, so I was running the engine to charge the batteries.  I opened the door to the engine room to check something when I heard the fresh water pump running.  Water was spraying out past the access cover of the water heater.

Water heater in a little cubby on the far side of the engine room

I turned off the water pump and then checked the water tank I was using.  It was almost empty.  At least the other tank is nearly full.  I have heard the pump come on recently and I had noticed water in the area.  There are a lot of hoses and connections in that area and I have found and fixed small leaks there before by simply tightening a hose clamp.  Evidently this time it was the water heater. 

I couldn’t face the possibility of having to remove the water heater mostly because it’s buried on the far side of the engine room, so I decided to work on the blog.

So after procrastinating as long as I could, I gathered some tools, crawled into the engine room, and sat down on my favorite perch – a nice, hot engine.  The water heater uses hot water from the engine cooling system to heat the water in the tank.  It also has a heating element that uses house current to heat water when we are at a dock.

I removed the access cover from the water heater and found that one of the tabs where the wires attach was broken off.  I turned on the water pump and water squirted out of the hole where the tab used to be.  Now the challenge is to get it out of the water heater element past all the electric wires and hoses.  At least it looks like I won’t have to remove the water heater.

I disconnected the fresh water hoses to the water heater and the nice, hot water ran out.  I thought the tank would be pretty empty because the leak was pretty low, but there was still a fair amount of water in it.  At least it seemed like a lot as it poured onto my bare feet.

I undid the screws and bolts holding the element in.  It was much shorter that I expected and I could turn it to where I had clear access.  Amazingly it came out easily!

Slighty used hot water tank heating element

Upon inspection I found that the heating element had corroded and water could get inside.  No surprise here, the hot water heater started popping the circuit breaker at the beginning of the trip.  We almost never go in a slip and when we do we usually use the head in the marina.  Since we have to rely on the engine to heat the water anyway, fixing the problem has always been a low priority.  I re-routed a hose to bypass the water heater so I can use the water on the boat – it just won’t be hot.  So now I have to check with the local boating stores and see if they have a new heating element.  Doesn’t the cruising lifestyle sound like fun?

Maybe with a little luck, the weather will clear enough that I can watch one of these while I enjoy a cold beer this evening.

Mt. Hartman Bay sunset

Feeling a little low in Grenada

September 10, 2010

Here it is Friday, Sept. 10.  It’s the rainy season which means we can get random showers day or night.  They usually last just long enough to close all your hatches.

Yesterday it rained almost all day long.  There were short periods of torrential downpours and a light sprinkle most of the rest of the day.  And why is this? It seems that there is a an area of low pressure forming and we are almost in the middle of it.  So we are feeling a little low in Grenada, or at least the effects of it.

This is the type thing that forms near africa and becomes a hurricane as it feeds on the warm air while crossing the Atlantic.  So instead of watching a bowling ball coming at us, this is more like a bullseye. 

A weather bullseye, in a small way

Luckily it is a rather disorganized low.  The weather people have been having trouble getting a handle on it, but they think it’s not likely to build until it passes us, so it’s just a rainy nusiance that is holding up my deck painting project. 

Raining on my parade

I did take advantage of time between downpours to wet sand the edges that needed to be done by hand.

A low over Grenada and Igor crossing the Atlantic

Of course there is still Igor out there….

I mentioned that the weather people are having trouble predicting what this low will do, so just for fun I grabbed a copy of the analysis done by Chris Parker, our weather router.  It makes you understand just how much fun it is trying to predict the weather.  It’s a bit long and detailed, but some of you might find it interesting.

“–Squall activity associated with WAVE/broad LO (LO equals an area of low pressure -Eric) in SE Caribbean (Invest 92) dissipated completely this evening.  UofWisc analysis suggests vorticity-max is just E of StVincent, near 13N-14N/60W…but vorticity is weaker than it was earlier today & less-focused.

–Forecast models have been gyrating wildly, trying to get a handle on this potential Tropical system…strong convection lifted N today along the Island chain thru StLucia & Martinique…and models were faked-out by that, and predicted a forming Tropical LO would sweep along all the Islands of the E Caribbean…from the Windward N-NNW thru Leewards, then turn WNW thru Virgins & then closely follow the GreaterAntilles WNW-ward.

–This evening, models realize the N-ward motion of strong convection today was a head-fake…and models reverted to a W or WNW motion, slowly at first, with a gradual acceleration – just as I described in this morning’s Interim Tropical.

–So…I think we’re back to where we were this morning…development of a Tropical LO is VERY unlikely thru tomorrow…but quite possible over the weekend…but, by then, any developing LO is likely to lie somewhere W of the Windwards/Leewards, generally between Venezuela & PuertoRico.

–If a Tropical LO develops, it could be a real problem for C & W Caribbean from N of 14N to the GreaterAntilles…with LO reaching W Longitude of Jamaica about Tue14 / Caymans Wed15 / Yucatan Thu16-Fri17 / GOMEX (Gulf of Mexico -Eric) thereafter.

–And, therefore, this morning’s forecast for E Caribbean remains valid…basically:

–Areas S of any developing LO expect light wind from any direction, with scattered-to-numerous squalls possibly packing wind to 20-35k in some.

–Areas N of any developing LO expect gradually-increasing NE wind clocking SE after LO moves W of your Longitude, with scattered-to-numerous squalls possibly packing wind to 25-40k).”


September 4, 2010

Here we are in paradise. It would be easy to find people who would tell you that the only drawback to the Caribbean is the propensity for hurricanes to visit the area.  As of this writing, Friday Sept. 3, 2010, Hurricane Earl is off the North Carolina Outer Banks. Gaston, the seventh named weather system of the season, has been downgraded to a low pressure area, but might reform into a tropical cyclone.

Earl, Fiona, Gaston's remnants, and a tropical wave

Water vapor - Earl is the big swirl at the top

Hurricanes typically start as lows off the coast of Africa and work their way west across the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. If conditions are right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) they grow in wind speed.  At 34 knots (39 mph) or greater they are tropical storms. At 64 knots (74 mph) they are hurricanes. Luckily, atmospheric conditions usually steer them north before they reach the islands.  If the steering conditions are weak or move, they can push a storm farther south or just keep it heading west longer than usual.

If a storm travels west too long before it turns north it will impact the Caribbean islands and can continue all the way to Mexico or turn north towards the south coast of the US.  Because storms tend to turn north, the farther south or west you are in the Caribbean, the less likely you are to experience a storm. 

This is reflected in yacht insurance practices.  Most companies define a hurricane box that encompasses the southern US and the Carribean.  If your boat is damaged by a named storm while in the box during hurricane season you are either not covered or your deductible goes up.  Hurricane season for us is June 1 through November 1.  Our hurricane box starts in North Carolina and extends south to Bequia.  Statistically speaking, our insurance company is not worried about us.  (The picture at the top of this post has a red line showing the bottom of our hurricane box)

So what has happened here in Grenada? According to Wikpedia (

“In 2004, after being hurricane-free for forty-nine years, the island was directly hit by Hurricane Ivan (September 7). Ivan struck as a Category 3 hurricane and caused 90 percent of the homes to be damaged or destroyed. The following year, 2005, Hurricane Emily (July 14), a Category 1 hurricane at the time, struck the northern part of the island with 80 knots (150 km/h; 92 mph) winds, causing an estimated USD $110 million (EC$ 297 million) worth of damage. This was much less damage than Ivan had caused.”

So part of the morning ritual here is to get up and check weather sites like the National Hurricane Center ( or Passage Weather ( to see what’s going on.  Then at 7AM or a little after, Chris Parker, our weather router, comes on the shortwave radio and gives his analysis of the developing weather.  His discussions are pretty thorough and they help you understand why he thinks the weather will do what he predicts and what the chances are for various scenarios.  Unfortunately, the shortwave radio reception is subject to the vagaries of atmospheric conditions so it can be hard to hear Chris’s forecast because of static.

Bowling for Cruisers Saturday, Sept. 4

Twenty four hours have elapsed since I started writing this.  You can see from the chart that Earl has moved north and is nearing Nova Scotia and Fiona has weakened from a storm to a low.  But the remnants of our old friend, Gaston, are likely to reform into a storm, and possibly a hurricane.  There is a big question as to where he will go, but it looks like he could hit as far south as Martinique.

Gaston - now a 70% chance of reforming into a tropical cyclone

I watch the paths of these weather systems as they cross the Atlantic aimed more or less at us and then hook north and it reminds me of bowling.  The ball goes nearly straight down the alley and then hooks just before it hits the pins.  The timing and strength of the hook determines where the ball will strike and how many pins will fall.  These storm systems follow similar paths and the timing and strength of the hook determine what land – if any – they will impact.  We cruisers here in Grenada are a bit like the 7 pin at the far left of the back row. Pretty far out of the way, but not completely safe.  It’s a bit like bowling for cruisers.

Bowling ball paths

Earl's actual track as of Friday

So we watch and wait and hope that Grenada will stay out of the way of these meteorolgical bowling balls.  If one looks like it might get too close, we will most likely raise anchor and head south for Trinidad.