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Month: October 2016

The Bilge Pump Switch Adventure

The Bilge Pump Switch Adventure

Saying “adventure” always makes it sound like more fun right?  Well this wasn’t too much fun, but it was necessary, and I’m glad we got it fixed.  Remember back in this post when I mentioned the bilge pump switch not working?

The bilge is where the water collects in the bottom of the boat.  Ideally you don’t want too much water collecting down here on a day to day basis, but there are various parts of the boat that leak a little, some by design and some not.  Every boat has one of these, and there is a switch and a pump in the bottom of the bilge so that when the water gets high enough the pump kicks on and sends it outside the boat.

Here’s a highly sophisticated diagram of how the bilge is set up on our boat.  The squiggly line going into the bottom of the bilge (under the engine) is the switch and bilge pipe.  The actual pump is mounted up on the wall next to the engine.  As you can see, half of the assembly sits in the “impossible to reach” zone.  The bottom of the bilge is maybe 4 feet under the engine.


So this is a side profile of the bilge, but if you were to look at it head on it is very narrow at the bottom, maybe 8″ wide at most.

Most float switches are mounted to the bottom of the bilge and have an arm that floats up, like this.

Image result for bilge float switch
A typical bilge pump float switch.

However, since you can’t get anywhere close to the bottom of the bilge in our boat to mount a switch like this, the previous owner used a sump pump float switch.  This isn’t typically what you would see in a boat, but I like it, it’s simple and effective (and probably cheap too, since it’s not “marine”).  The entire plastic housing floats and there is a contact switch inside, as the bilge fills with water once the switch is close to vertical it activates the bilge pump, and as the water level goes down it turns it off.

Image result for sump pump float switch
A household sump pump float switch.

However, since the entire plastic casing floats, and seemed to float in whatever direction it wanted to, the float switch kept getting stuck against the sides of the bilge, either in the off (didn’t come on when it was supposed to), or on position (didn’t turn off when the bilge was dry).  This isn’t as disastrous as it sounds because we have a backup bilge pump that kicks on when the bilge is a little more full, but then where is the backup for the backup?

So to get it out, I had to snake the semi-rigid plastic tube out of the bilge in between the bottom of the boat and the bottom of the engine, which involved lots of hanging upside down.

Fixing the bilge pump switch
Playing in the engine room.

Once out, I zip tied a small piece of PVC tube to the assembly, at just the right spot so the bilge pump switch would rest against it.  My hope was that this would give the pump just enough tilt so that as the water rises in the bilge it will float up in the right direction.  I dropped the whole assembly back into the bilge, and hooked everything back up.

Bilge pump switch solution
PVC pipe zip tied to the bilge pump float switch / pipe assembly.

To test it, I used a water hose to fill the bilge a few times, everything seemed to function fine.  However I thought the current of the water rushing out of the hose might be affecting the results, so I turned it down to a trickle and ran it through 2 more On/Off cycles, after which I was satisfied.  It seems to be working so far, in the 5 or so days we’ve had it rigged up this way it has turned on and turned off at exactly the right times.

How We Found Our Boat

How We Found Our Boat

As with anyone looking for a boat to live on and travel the world in, we spent years on the prowl, looking at hundreds of boats across dozens of boat shows.  Well…not really.  Some folks do this, and I thought this is how our search would go, but in the end we found one within 6 months of looking, having set foot on less than a dozen boats.

February 2016

On our first foray into boat shopping we stayed local, had a friend watch the kids, and Brittany was 8 months pregnant!  (She has continued to surprise me throughout this entire process!)

8 months preggo at the helm!
8 months preggo at the helm!

After Haven was born, a young baby and recovering mommy doesn’t bode well for spending hours in the (Houston) heat climbing up and down companionways.  But we took our experiences with the first trip, along with a list of boat shopping tips from The Voyager’s Handbook, and started to work out what we wanted in a boat:

  • 3 cabins
  • 2 heads – because one will break when you least want it to.
  • Heavy construction
  • Center cockpit
  • Simple sail plan
  • Easy to handle – not too big!
  • Fin keel

In the end we found that boats in the 47-50 foot range, and built from the 70’s to the early 90’s, were probably what we were looking for.  This was after surfing for what seemed like days.  There was a good selection in this price range that were already outfitted nicely for world cruising (bonus!).

June 2016

We found a broker in Houston and one day, with a sick kid (totally unexpected until we were halfway there), we looked at a couple of boats we were seriously interested in:  A 1985 Endeavour 51 (4 cabins!), and a 1976 Olympic Adventure 47 (3 cabins, with workshop).  We realllllly liked the Endeavour, but it was basic and was going to take a lot of work (money) to outfit for world cruising.  The Olympic was a great layout, and I liked the workshop, aesthetically it was it great shape, but mechanically needed some work, and a bit overpriced.  Somehow we managed not to get a single picture of any of this.

As with anything I’m interested in buying, I spend hours researching on the internet, looking at reviews and opinions from other owners.  Finding any information on boats of this era beyond basic data (displacement, sail area, etc.) has proven to be somewhat difficult, because a lot were semi-custom boats.  In searching, I found another Olympic for sale, a 1974 model located in Maryland.  This one had just completed a 7 year circumnavigation with a family of 5 on board, and it was outfitted well!  Late that night, with both of us laying awake in bed, reflecting on the day, we agreed:  we had to go see the boat in Maryland!  Sorry, I don’t have a picture of this either, so here’s a picture of an idea bulb.


July 2016

Because we found the other boat in Maryland through the owner’s blog, we contacted him directly, then his broker (John Albertine from Passport Yachts).  John agreed to show us some other boats in the area while we were there, after all we were flying halfway across the country.  July 4th weekend we boarded a plane for Washington D.C., having only made contact a week before, with our youngest daughter (our friends graciously watched the older 2 for us).  Were we crazy???

We spent the entire day Saturday looking at boats, 6 in total.  All of the boats in Houston were in the water, but almost all of the boats in Annapolis were on land, making it quite a chore of climbing up and down ladders!  Since John could park his car right next to the boats, and it wasn’t hot out, we generally left Haven in the car, she slept most of the time (with all of the doors open, of course!)

This was a heritage 46 we looked at, a spacious boat but only 2 cabins.
This was a Heritage 46 we looked at, a spacious boat but only 2 cabins.

John saved the best for last. The owners of “Gromit,” the 1974 Olympic Adventure we found online, had driven down from Canada to meet us and give us a personal tour of the boat.   Admittedly, Gromit did not show as well as some of the other boats we looked at. The interior had been lived in, to say the least, but mechanically she was in top shape.  The Husband / Father was an engineer by trade, and was very thoughtful in how he designed the systems, he also had redundancies in many of the systems.  I spent hours with him going through the systems while Brittany chatted with his wife about their adventures.  We ended up cancelling the next day of boat shopping to spend the morning listening to their stories of world travel.

August 2016

I returned to Annapolis by myself for the survey, and came a few days early to help the owner recommission the boat (it had been winterized).  This was a valuable experience that most new boat owners don’t get, not just a few hours but a few days with the owners going through nearly every system on the boat.

Thar she goes!!! Into the water.
Thar she goes!!! Into the water. And Hyatt the marina dog, AKA everyone’s best friend.

The survey went off without a hitch; the surveyor found very little wrong with it, only a few recommendations and all of them minor.  He asked them plenty of questions about the systems on the boat, and he discovered just as we did that the owners had been very thoughtful in over-engineering and making redundant as many systems as possible.  After a while he would look at me with this certain look and I knew he was thinking, “Yep, redundant, yep”.

Of course, as with most boat purchases you have until after the survey to decide if you want the boat or not.  Unlike buying a home there was no earnest money involved, just a deposit that we could get back if we decided not to take the boat.  We gave it a few days to think about it, because this is kind of a big deal (life changing) after all, it’s also really freaking expensive.  We tried to get a few concessions for issues we found, but in the end they didn’t budge on the price.  I don’t really blame them, they had invested a LOT of time and money in the boat since they bought it, and they loved it as well; it had been their home for over 7 years.  Plus we weren’t hiding it very well that we really wanted it.

So that’s the story on how we found our boat, one month later we officially owned it!

Sailing from Annapolis, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia {Part II}

Sailing from Annapolis, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia {Part II}

October 4, 2015 – Day 3 {If you missed Part I click here!)

Another amazing sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay

We awoke with newfound energy. We had sailed for two days now and we were beginning to grasp how our routine was supposed to go. We had a quick breakfast again and started early as the sun was rising. We make a habit of listening to the weather forecast the night before we sail. It said it was going to be 3-4 foot seas with wind 15- 20 knots with gusts up to 30 knots, which wasn’t as calm as the day before but good for sailing since the wind would help us gain speed!

Once we got out into the bay and raised the sails, we found the wind to do exactly that. We were going faster than we ever had before, with a top speed of 8.7 knots! (That’s pretty fast!) But the wind and the waves were more intense than the forecast claimed. The waves were closer to 5 feet and the wind gusts sometimes over 30 knots. We could tell this was going to be a different kind of day!

I had let the girls sleep since we woke up so early, so after we started sailing I went down below, woke them, dressed them and got them fitted into their life jackets. Trying to get everyone ready after the boat was already in the bay, rocking back and forth by the motion of the waves, was not a good idea. It was much more difficult to move around with the boat heeling and it also made it difficult for our bodies to adjust to the motion of the waves. I popped some Dramamine and gave the children some as well. I grabbed some ginger cookies, crackers and water for us and quickly got everyone out in the cockpit where we could get some fresh air and see the horizon. Munching on crackers while viewing the horizon is often the best medicine for sea sickness. This helped a lot, but we had to wait for the medicine to kick in and our bodies to adjust. While no one actually got sick, Marlee complained quite a bit of nausea. Eventually our bodies settled down, but it took work to make sure we didn’t start feeling motion sick again. We skipped lunch and just ate crackers, ginger cookies, ginger ale and granola bars all afternoon.


The waves were bigger than the forecast predicted and the winds slightly gustier. It wasn’t raining, and the sun shone a little too, but it was a far different experience than our last two calm days! The children, of course, always have their life jackets on, but today all the adults wore them too. There were very few sailing boats out, but we did spot some large ships. The radios were pretty quiet too.

Kid sized binoculars pass the time while sailing
naptime in the cockpit

We thought we might be able to make it to our destination today instead of sailing one more day, but because the waves were so choppy and we were all feeling a little ‘green’ we decided to make it a shorter day and go to an anchorage we mapped out nearby, in Mobjack Bay. “Nearby” is relative on a sailboat though, since going only 10 miles takes about two hours! The anchorage was still a couple of hours away but we knew we were close and we could finally reach some protected waters.

When we entered Mobjack Bay we really weren’t sure where to anchor. We watched the depth sounder to make sure the waters weren’t getting too shallow but the waves were still a little too choppy to make us feel comfortable. Although it would mean another 45 minutes or so, Mike decided to take us in a little further to find calmer waters. We did finally reach a wonderfully calm little spot surrounded by trees and houses. We dropped the anchor and sighed in relief. We were now on the East River. It was a much more challenging day. Sitting in that anchorage away from the rolling waves was that much more comforting. We watched rowers as we sat on deck and relaxed. Since we hadn’t eaten a proper meal all day we all gulped down a dinner of beef and gravy (already prepared) plus noodles and zucchini.

Only one more day to our destination of Norfolk, Virginia!

So glad to be at our calm anchorage


October 5, 2016 – Day 4

I woke up ready to face another challenging day. The weather forecast was the same as the day before so this time, I prepared myself. Quick breakfast, woke up the children and got them dressed and ready before we headed out into the bay. Set out crackers and ginger ale and gave everyone motion sickness medicine again. Lifejackets on and we were ready to go!

It was challenging knowing what to do with Haven while we sailed. We figured out quickly that she did not like her lifejacket, but taking it off was not an option. She cried most of the time she was in it. We put her car seat in the cockpit and sat her in it while donned in her life jacket and she hated that even more. Since she still took a few naps everyday I would lay her down in her travel pac and play (which was set up in our cabin) as often as I could. That gave me freedom to help the other two, steer at the helm or help Mike on deck. I would find making Haven comfortable was even more challenging on choppy days like today, though not impossible.

A pacifier helped to calm her while in the cockpit

The waves and wind were again stronger than the weather forecast predicted. It was colder today too, so along with our life jackets I pulled out the gloves and hats I brought as well. This was so different from our sunny time on the beach two days ago!

So glad I brought our winter clothes!

Since I prepared myself for another choppy day in the bay, I found I enjoyed myself more than the day before. We had what we needed in the cockpit, and I decided we wouldn’t go below deck unless we really had to (like to use the bathroom) so I just found a comfortable spot and gazed out into the water and let myself feel the wind and spray on my face. As I was sitting just enjoying this cold, gray day as much as I could, I spotted something unusual out of the corner of my eye. It came from the water. We hadn’t seen any wildlife so far, except for large brown pelicans and sea gulls. But something flashed out of the water for a second that we hadn’t seen before. I kept my eye on the waves and there it was! A dolphin! I shouted to everyone to look as well and there they were, their shiny blue-gray dorsal fins bobbing up and down in the waves! I glued my eyes to the spot and we could tell there were several of them swimming along next to our boat! I tried to help the girls find the dolphins too, but I don’t think they knew what they were looking for in all the gray. But what a treat! A school of dolphins on this dreary day!

Hello Norfolk!

As we were approaching our marina in Norfolk, we took down the sails and simply motored, which removed a bit of our stability. Those last few minutes motoring in were quite rough as we rocked to and fro, hanging on to hand holds in the cockpit at the steepest of heels. But we were there! We were certainty so glad to be where we needed to be. We had learned through other cruisers that Norfolk, although still cold during the winter, did not have the threat of freezing waters like Maryland did. We knew if we left our boat there for the winter, she would fine.

We had quite the greeting on our dock


Another day accomplished, another peaceful night

We would stay in Norfolk for another week then head home to Houston to finish up the sale of our house plus other work obligations. What a four days we have had! Interesting, challenging, amazing, beautiful, surreal and serene are all words I can use to describe this adventure. The first of hopefully many more to come!

Sailing from Annapolis, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia {Part I}

Sailing from Annapolis, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia {Part I}

The view from our dock at Holiday Point Marina. We hadn’t seen the sun in a few days.

October 2, 2016- Day 1

Our first voyage as a family on s/v Gromit! We were all excited but nervous as well. It would be the first time for everything, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but Mike’s dad joined us for the cruise so we would have extra help if we needed it. His many years of sailing was great to have on board.

We left Holiday Point Marina in Edgewater, Maryland (just outside of Annapolis located on the South River) bound for Solomon’s Island. The weather was crisp and cool, and the water was calm. The sun was finally peeking through an overcast sky- the first we’d seen of the sun in a few days! First, we stopped at the nearby fuel dock to gas up. While that didn’t go super smoothly (getting used to maneuvering a boat against a dock isn’t the easiest!), we got the gas we needed and we were on our way.

Waiting at the fuel dock

Leaving the South River, we headed south on the Chesapeake Bay, and the winds were fairly calm, about 5-10 knots. We motor sailed which means we used the power of the engine and the power of the wind in our sails to carry us. Motor sailing gave us a little more predictability as far as our speed. We were able to average about 5 knots of speed, which isn’t bad!

It was sunny, but quite cool. The children wore lifejackets and were tethered into the jack lines of the boat (meaning they can’t get out of the cockpit and they can’t fall out). The adults were comfortable walking around the boat with ease since the boat was barely rocking. I even fell asleep a couple of times, it was so relaxing!

We had charts with GPS to direct our path. Mike (the captain) spent the night before plotting our course so we would know exactly where to go. The only thing we had to watch out for was other boats and crab pots which were common. We definitely didn’t want to get those crab traps tangled up in our propeller! We also used our depth sounder to make sure we were always in deep enough water. Our keel is 6′ long, so it’s important the water be deeper than that. The charts we had also told us the depth of the water so we could make sure we were not accidently turning into a shallow area or an underwater wreckage site.

The weather was perfect!

Part of our cruising life means turning on the VHF radio each morning and tuning into a common channel. We can listen to all other boats on the channel. If there is someone that needs help we can respond, if there is a warning of an obstruction in the water we can know about it, or if someone wants to speak to us they can “call” us- we all use the VHF radio. On our way to Solomon’s Island, we were hailed by a nearby sailboat, a similar kind as ours. They recognized the name of the boat ‘Gromit’ and knew the previous owners. They called just to say hi- how neat!

We ate sandwiches in the cockpit for lunch and snacks throughout the day. Right around dinnertime we arrived at Solomon’s Island and pulled up to the anchorage we had planned on stopping at for the night. We anchored at Kingston Creek Anchorage, about 45 nautical miles from where we started. We dropped the anchor, made sure it was set and we were done. We did it! Our first day of sailing was done, and we were all hungry and ready to relax.

Mike getting the anchor ready

The anchorage was beautiful and calm, and we were the only boat there. The girls spotted a little beach amidst forests of trees so we promised in the morning before we left we would take them there.

The shoreline

The first night’s dinner was rice and roasted turkey and gravy (already prepared except for the rice). The sun dipped low as we ate our dinner in the cockpit. Day 1 done!

Calm waters and a beautiful sunset!

October 3, 2016 – Day 2

Sunrise at Solomon’s Island
Hannah enjoying the dinghy ride

We awoke to very calm, serene waters as the dark faded and the sun began to lighten the sky. We could hear music and the clanking of traps from a few little fishing boats nearby, other than that there was no one else there. We got up and everyone had a quick breakfast while we got the kids ready to go to the nearby beach. We were anxious to keep traveling and get to our next destination, but we knew there had to be reward in this journey for them too. We lowered our dinghy, climbed aboard and zipped over to the little shore. Along the shore were trees and beautiful houses. We let them play in the water and find pretty shells for a little while, then headed back to Gromit to get going to our next anchorage which was at Point Lookout.

This was the highlight of the girl’s trip!
The shore all to ourselves
Stunning striped rocks
Barefoot boat kids

Mike and I want to be a team on this boat, which means I’m at the helm while he tends to the anchor, the sails, the dock or whatever else needs to be done. He does also help with the helm and of course the navigation. So each morning I’ve been able to practice steering us out of the anchorage and into the bay and keeping us on course. Of course, Mike and his dad played a huge role in that too, since they were teaching me and there were times I didn’t feel competent enough to be alone at the helm. But I loved it! And I was able to get a feel for the movement of the boat and how she responds to the wheel.

Mike at the helm watching the autopilot, radar and navigation

We left the anchorage and headed south on the Chesapeake Bay, again motor sailing. On our way again, we were hailed on the VHF radio, although this time it wasn’t from a friendly cruiser wanting to say hi. This time were hailed by a Navy Range Marker Ship asking us to go east about 2 miles to stay clear of their range. Of course we would! It was out of our way but we’d be foolish not to comply! It cost us about 4 miles which means we lost about one hour of time.

Talking to a Navy ship

Today the winds again were calm. We were feeling less nervous as we made our way. We anchored at Cornfield Harbor near Point Lookout which is on the Potomac River. In the first two days we traveled 71.5 nautical miles! We were halfway to our destination of Norfolk, Virginia!

Finally able to dry some clothes in the bright sunshine!

This anchorage also had a shoreline with a sandy beach so before we had dinner we took the girls to play again. There was only one other boat anchored there with us, but we had the beach all to ourselves. We found plenty of shells, rocks and bones of animals. Unfortunately, the beach had biting flies which we did not like! The weather had warmed up quite a bit so we could finally wear our bathing suits and shorts we brought. After a little while there, we went back to the boat and ate dinner in the cockpit (I can’t remember what it was).

Arriving at our anchorage
This water was incredibly calm and smooth
They can’t get enough of the water!
Daddy showing the girls how to skip rocks
Haven and Mommy

After the sun went down, we went up to the deck to see the stars. They were incredible! We weren’t near very many lights, the water was perfectly glassy and calm and the night was dark. The stars shone through that darkness like brilliant little diamonds. I’ve never seen so many stars and constellations in my life! We could even see the hazy cloud of the milky way. Magnificent! What a treat!

Goodnight moon

Little did we know how different our final two days of sailing would be!…