Monday, September 21, 2009

The last thing we did before we left Maya to come home was to prepare her for the worst...a hurricane. Of all the challenges a boater can face, this is the biggest.

We are not 'liveaboards' and most likely would not be physically present when and if the National Weather Service posted a hurricane warning. With that in mind, we had to prepare Maya with the assumption that during our absence, she might be caught in the crosshairs of one of these storms.

We all know that hurricanes can produce winds in excess of 150 miles per hour and dump several feet of rain in the space of a few hours. On top of that, the storm surge and tidal fluctuations can raise the water levels in excess of 15 feet above normal. Ironically however, the greatest danger to your vessel is not mother nature's wrath. The greatest danger comes from the guy in the boat next to you.

That's right. Depending how well your buddy next door (or in a slip across the way) prepares his boat, your chances of coming out of the storm unscathed increases dramatically. You see, most boats are damaged because another boat wasn't tied down properly and gets loose during the storm. At that point, the wayward ship becomes a 20 ton projectile, careening around the marina like a bull in a china shop. If you are unlucky enough that his boat puts a hole in yours, you are sunk. Literally.

I have heard that the safest place for your boat during a big 'blow' is to be anchored out at sea. That way, you don't have to worry about being slammed into by another ship. I cannot imagine little Maya being whipped around out in open waters, much less with Kim and me onboard. That is why we buy insurance... so we can sit it out in front of the Weather Channel at home in our living room.

That being said, there are some other things you can do to minimize the collateral damage. In a hurricane, the rain comes from all directions...above, below and sideways. If there is a crack or a seam that is open to the elements, water will get in. Additionally, the strong winds will blow anything that is not tied down into the next county. We spent the better part of a day taping up the spaces between the doors and the jambs, electrical outlets, windows and anywhere else we thought water might like to penetrate.

We also took down the bimini top that keeps us shaded up on the flybridge. That project caused me some worry. Maya has a very wonderful canvas bimini. It covers almost the entire length of the flybridge. You also can completely enclose the area with screening so you can sit outside at night, uptop, without being eaten alive by the bugs. It is fashioned together with literally hundreds of snaps, clips and zippers, none of which are marked. Apart, the bimini consists of 10 sections... all very large and bulky. Think of a giant jigsaw puzzle and you will get my drift.

About half way through the dismantling, it dawned on me that putting this thing back up was not going to be so easy. I am not really sure where to begin. Its like a Rubik's cube and sudoku rolled into one. All I know is that it will definitely be a two person affair and that communication and temper management will be key. I promise to have my video camera ready to record the event and I will post it later on YouTube for all to see. It will be for your entertainment and my protection.

Monday, September 7, 2009

One of the less glamourous aspects of living on a trawler is dealing with everyday sanitation issues. Washing dishes and showering uses a lot of water and it all has to go somewhere. Thankfully, this 'gray' water is pumped harmlessly overboard as it poses no threat to the environment (unless you are a fish that doesn't want jojoba or styling mousse passing through its gills). We use about 30 gallons of water every day we are onboard and if we had to process this water before sending it into the ocean, it would severely hamper the operation.

So, you ask, what happens to the 'other stuff'. Appropriately called 'black water', these are the substances you cannot just dump overboard.* You have to keep it somewhere until you are in a position to dispose of it properly. There are a couple of ways to do this. Some boats have a sanitation system that processes and treats the sewage much like our city run sanitation department does. With the push of a button, it takes the effluent and grinds it up, kills all the bad things and sends it overboard. It supposedly makes the discharge so clean you can drink it and be safe. I am not so sure that I would ever want to be in a position that I would have to test that theory so lets take their word for it and move on.

If you don't have one of those super-dooper systems then you will just have to hold it.

Well, not in the literal sense. You have to keep your black water in holding tanks until you are at such a time and place where you can discharge it safely. Maya comes with two holding tanks and each tank can hold about 30 gallons of "stuff." Under normal ops, this capacity should last us about a week to ten days before the tanks are full. So far, our record is four days. I am not sure what is going on here but eventually we are going to get to the bottom of it.

So what happens when the holding tanks are full? Well first off, we have some neat gauges that tell us when we are getting close to being full. I don't think you ever want to be at max capacity, figuratively or literally. So when you see you are getting near that point, you have to find a marina that has the ability to 'pump' you 'out'. This process involves a long hose and giant vacuum cleaner type pump. The attendant (Kim) wearing heavy rubber gloves, attaches the hose to an outlet on the outside of the boat. This outlet connects to the holding tanks. The administrator (me) heads down to the engine room to configure the valves and hoses..... its all very complicated....really complicated. When she is ready, the attendant has the dock hand start the motor to the pump and the sucking out process begins.

I am not sure why they call this procedure a 'pump out.' It is really more like a 'suction out.' Anyway, the attendant keeps pressure on the hose while at the same time watching a small clear window on the nozzle. This window allows you to see your progress. When 'stuff' stops going by the window, you know the tank is empty. See, I told you it was glamourous.

It is hard to engage the dock hand in small talk or idle chit chat while this process in underway. The whole thing is rather undignified and I think everyone involved feels a lot happier when the pump out is over. So as soon as she sees that the suctioning is complete, Kim hands the 'magic wand' (as I call it) back to the dock hand. He smartly replaces it in a covered compartment away from view. You don't want that thing hanging around in plain view. It is like the tools the dentist uses on you while you are in the chair. He keeps them covered until you are lying back and can't see them. You know they are there, but you don't want to see them.

Here you can see how they sanitize things after each use.

So when the process is complete and the appropriate gratuities have been dispersed, we button her up and head on our way. I don't know how or why but for some reason, the boat just feels better after a pump out.

*There is a third option for dealing with black water and we don't use it very much. It involves a big black pump down in the engine room called a macerator. Macerator is a nice word for the grinder pump. If you are three miles or more off shore, you can turn on this big pump and discharge your tanks directly into the ocean. There are no hoses or gloves involved. No dock hands or clear windows to watch. Just push the button and the tanks empty out overboard. The only things affected are those marine critters, who by now have lots of jojoba and mousse in their systems.

Next for dinner. Not.