Seasons Greetings from Gulfport, FL

Merry Hanukwanzmas! I hope you’re finding joy in a small quarantine-style holiday. Kenny and I are once again cozily ensconced aboard the good ship Mary T, decorating the cabin with baubles, listening to carols and ordering nautical geegaws and presents on Amazon.

After sailing Mary T back to Bradenton, Florida from Roatan last May, we put her on the hard at a marina and settled into the luxurious life of landlubbing in our comfy condo. Though we danced with the idea of selling the old girl, we couldn’t bear parting with our trusty sloop. In November we splashed her back in the water and moved aboard just in time for our winter renters to take up residence in the condo December 1. The transition back to the boat didn’t go quite as smoothly as anticipated. It is always a big job storing all our personal effects to prepare the condo for renters and move 1001 articles from the condo back onto the boat while provisioning the larder, but we hadn’t planned on quite so many mishaps along the way. Thank God for the talented people who came to our assistance in the nick of time to help us through each challenge.

A few days before we were set to move out of the condo, I was in the midst of doing endless loads of laundry, when I noticed a knocking sound emanating from the washer. We contemplated pretending it didn’t exist, but it persisted. Kenny remembered we had an acquaintance in town who was a superb repairman. I rung him up on the off chance he’d be able to come have a look at the washing machine. Much to my surprise and delight, Mike came over the same day when he finished his other jobs. In no time, he pulled the thing apart and told us it needed a new clutch. He could get one, but probably wouldn’t be able to fix it until we were out and the renters were in. No problem. We’d figure that one out. Generous to a fault, Mike didn’t even charge us for the initial visit and gave an estimate of mere peanuts for the repair. We tipped him and resolved to pay more than he was planning to bill.

Broken chainplate

Repaired chainplate

On Mary T, many of our systems were falling apart and every repair seemed fraught with unforeseen complications. When we pulled apart the roller furling drum to install a new line, bits of plastic fell out. Testing our windlass (the battery powered mechanism which lets out and pulls up the anchor chain), we discovered it no longer worked. The motor still cranked, but nothing moved. Bad clutch? Meanwhile, our marine insurance was to expire in June and a professional survey would be needed in order for renewal. One surveyor had already completed an inspection of the hull and Mary T passed with flying colors. Now we needed a survey of the rigging to be done.

The Yacht Rigger, an outfit in St. Petersburg, sent out a surveyor named Steve who came and checked out Mary T’s stays which hold the mast in place, and climbed up the mast. All was well until he went below to examine our chainplates, the large pieces of stainless steel that affix the stays to the hull of the boat. He discovered a hairline crack in one of them, which meant it would go into his report. Ugh. This meant we wouldn’t be able to renew our boat insurance until we fixed it. Steve mentioned that his company could fabricate a new chainplate for us if we desired. We told him we’d get back to him. The insurance was still good for another few months, so it wasn’t an urgent issue.

Something more urgent was about to occur. After replacing the temperature gauge on Mary T‘s diesel engine, Kenny started the motor to see if the new gauge worked, and much to our shock and dismay the smell of an electrical short circuit immediately filled the air. I yelled and Kenny quickly killed the engine before it got truly serious. Opening the engine compartment, smoke billowed forth. When it cleared, it was apparent that all the engine wiring, would need to be replaced. Our angst was compounded by the fact, that we had to leave the marina on a specific date, and we could not exit our slip without a motor. I suggested that if worse came to worst, a towboat could drag us to another marina. The cause of the short circuit was a mystery, as Kenny had correctly wired the new temperature gauge.

We immediately started casting about the internet for a marine electrician, but all the good ones were booked for weeks into the future. Kenny called Diesel Don, a mechanic friend of ours in Marathon, FL, to see if he knew anybody up our way who could help us. After much discussion, Don offered to drive the six hours from Marathon, and work on our engine himself. Wow. The only thing that concerned me was having him stay with us in our condo in the midst of the pandemic. Kenny had not questioned him on his covid practices, and it being Florida, I was a little concerned. I called Don back for a chat on the subject. He said they were playing it safe and wearing masks, so the project was a go! I couldn’t believe our good fortune. If anyone could fix our problem it was the inimitable Diesel Don. We agreed to rent him a car for the trip, but luck shined on us once again as a truck he’d put a bid on became his after our phone call.

Don arrived late in the afternoon a few days later and assessed the problem. He said he could fix it in a day! That night we dined outside on our patio and tried to keep the requisite distance. Don, a natural raconteur, regaled us in his smokey southern drawl with stories about the old gang back in Marathon where we’d met in 2014. True to his word, Don went to work early in the morning, put in a ten-hour day and finished the job. Exhausted and in pain, he returned for another dinner on the patio, and provided us with a second stellar evening of entertainment. In the morning, he was up early and back on Mary T cleaning up. We met him there to see his beautiful work and thank him again, before he headed back to Marathon. I still can’t get over how lucky we are to know such a supremely kind individual, with such talent in the mechanical engineering department. Due to his efforts, we would be able to leave the marina as planned, December 3rd.

Kenny had the brilliant idea of making our first stop Gulfport, just a hop skip and a jump up the coast. It would put us close to St. Petersburg and the Yacht Rigger, so we could have Steve make us a new chainplate. Kenny drove our car up to Gulfport and planted it at the Municipal Marina, and I followed in a rental car which we drove back to Bradenton. This way we’d still have the car at our disposal for running errands. The next day we made the trip to Gulfport on the water aboard Mary T. The engine worked like a charm! We hadn’t yet repaired the windlass, but we had booked a mooring ball at the marina in Gulfport eliminating the need to use the anchor and thus the windlass. We booked the mooring for a month to allow time for all our repairs, including some leaks on the deck. The roller furling, we decided, was fine. The broken plastic bits that fell out of it, weren’t crucial to the operation, so to hell with them.

Our second day in Gulfport, we pumped up the dinghy for a trip ashore. It was the “first Friday” of the month of December, which meant local artists would set up outside to display their creations. We donned our masks and went early to avoid crowds. Gulfport is a town with great curb appeal. Brightly colored clapboard store fronts and restaurants line the main street. Small colorful houses, with wild overgrown gardens and whimsical lawn decorations and sculptures abound. Rainbow flags and hand-painted mailboxes are in. A tiny sign on the front of one house declares, “Keep Gulfport Weird.” This is my kinda’ town! If only we could enjoy eating out and doing all that other fun stuff…We see others dining out and are tempted, but caution prevails. Ok, we dipped our toes and had a couple of beers and an appetizer at an outdoor eatery. But just once! Won’t it be grand when we can enjoy that simple pleasure again in a carefree manner?

We spent our first weekend maneuvering the cracked chainplate out of Mary T. As we labored we were entertained by the joyful strains of a drag show underway on shore. Extracting the chainplate was quite a puzzle. We stopped just short of completely destroying the bathroom cabinet, and were quite pleased with ourselves when we removed the chainplate without breaking anything in our path. It simply remained to bring it to the shop and wait for them to create a new one. Glancing at our dinghy, I noticed it was full of water, but it hadn’t rained. It was leaking. Hahahaha. Another chore for the list! When we did get the dinghy pumped up and bailed, Kenny was handing the chainplate from Mary T to me in the dinghy, when it actually broke apart and nearly fell in the water. I grabbed it at the last moment and we delivered it to Steve in two pieces. I guess it’s good we didn’t wait too long to do that repair!

It’s been three weeks since we arrived in Gulfport and our beautifully repaired chainplate has been installed. Steve and his partner at the Yacht Rigger didn’t need to fabricate a new one, and did a remarkable welding job on the old one. The seam is invisible and the reinstallation went smoothly. As for the windlass, it’s been sitting at the Yacht rigger for a week, and they’ve just told us, it can’t be fixed. They may have a line on a used one for us. Otherwise, we’ll order a new one. The butyl tape (putty like stuff) we used on the dinghy’s transom, is keeping it afloat, but we still have to bail out water every day. There must be another leak somewhere in one of the tubes that will need addressing. The deck leaks on Mary T also await our attention. But what’s the hurry? There’s really nowhere to go and nothing to do.

‘Tis the season to reflect on how grateful we are for all this life provides. Let us toast to the mother earth and the bounty of nature; to the sun; to the sky; to the healthcare workers who continue to slog through the pandemic; to the food producers; the food stockers; the delivery people; the teachers; to ZOOM! And to Jupiter and Saturn for coming together, a common reference for all those who dwell on planet earth, to remind us that we are one.

As we gaze around the mooring field at the other boats, many with extensive rust, rotting wood, tattered sails, crumbling spars and bottom growth, we wonder why we are working so hard to fix our boat. Why not just settle here and spend our life drinking beer!

Happy Hols to all and to all an extraordinary 2021!

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