February 1-18, 2011 -- Curacao

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Boat Projects Report

We have mentioned before our problem with the varnish on the cap rails:  in the heat of the sun bubbles the size of half-dollars appear on the surface.  We are at a loss as to the cause, but suspect that harsh chemicals were used when the upper deck was cleaned in Trinidad and the worker did not sufficiently or soon enough rinse off the drips onto the cap rails.  In any case, the bubbles were on both sides of the boat, and so the varnish had to be stripped down to bare wood.  There were also a few bubbles starting to appear on the cap rail along the foredeck, so ALL of the rail would have to be stripped.  I used a heat gun to do the major removal, and then came back with chemical stripper to get the varnish remaining in the grain.  Long, tedious, many-day project.  Then the rails needed to be sanded.  Long, tedious, many-day project.  And then there would be the laying down of many (10 to 15) coats of new varnish, with 24 to 48 hours of drying time between coats.  Long, tedious, many-day project.  And then Barb made a suggestion:  “Why don’t we leave the teak bare and let it go natural?”  I didn’t like the idea at first.  The varnish looks SO good.  The bare teak would not only turn a silvery grey, but would also be vulnerable to promoting a dirty darker color in the grain.  As in mildew.

But then Barb played her ace card; she referred me to an expert.  Here is what Rebecca Wittman says in her “bible” of the subject, Brightwork, The Art of Finishing Wood, in her introductory discussion of the various finishing alternatives:

If the brightwork is teak, ask the dealer to deliver it to you bare but finish sanded…  After you take delivery of your bare teak, you could just leave it bare.  Period.  No oiling, no varnish, no fuss no muss.  Just bare, to elegantly sliver with gradual exposure to sun, salt and fresh air.  However, “bare” is not Swahili for neglected.  Leaving the wood bare means keeping it clean by regular washdown with a “no bristle brushes” policy (cellulose sponges or soft nylon tile scrubbers are the only way to go, contrary to the popular misconception that bristles are the only means to a clean wood surface).  Swabbing ever other week or so (depending on exposure to the elements_ with a simple mixture of water, Lemon Joy, and a tablespoon of TSP per five-gallon bucket will do the trick.  This keeps the grain of wood intact, the mildew from setting in, and the boat in top condition for exercising future options of more elaborate treatments.  This is the best initial plan for the owner who isn’t absolutely sure what he wants to do with the wood, or whether keeping the wood finished is something he has the time or extra money to do, or whether the intended use of the boat will be compatible with a varnish finish.  (page 8)

Of course, swabbing every other week or so, would in the long run amount to, um, a long, tedious, many-day project.  But here is the thing:  Barb could help with the swabbing!  In fact, she might even be induced to “take over” the swabbing, just as I had long since taken over the varnishing duties.

And so it was that after stripping the varnish and sanding the cap rails, I simply stopped.  No fuss, no muss.  The rails are currently a lovely golden hue, but we know that soon they will begin to lose their luster and begin to turn grey.  And when that happens, um, Barb will probably have to do a little swabbing.  Yah, that’s the ticket.

We have also mentioned in the past our water maker problems.  Technical support in California advised us that the problem was either with the feed pump (not delivering enough pressure) or with certain seals in the Energy Transfer Device (ETD).  We had attempted to hook up with Barry, a local water-maker-guy, before we left for the USA, but since he was out of town he referred us to Louis (pronounced “Lou-ee”), a jack-of-all-trades (and master-of-none).  When we returned, although they were both on the island, Barry for some reason handed us off to Louis.  If a bit of debris had gotten into the feed pump, that would be easy to spot (and fix) and so Louis attacked that first.  It didn’t seem very likely, since the flow seemed adequate, but it was worth a look.  A quick check revealed no debris, but Louis said he saw that a seal was leaking, and so he took parts from the feed pump away in his pocket, in order to rebuild it.  When he returned with the rebuilt parts and reinstalled them, we were still on the hard, and so we decided that rather than attempt to (expensively) attempt to rig some Rube Goldberg arrangement to test the pump, we would simply wait until we were back in the water.

When, weeks later, we finally splashed, the feed pump essentially didn’t work at all.  Such a weak dribble delivered to the water maker that it shut itself off in a few seconds.  By this time, we were estranged from Louis (about which, more later), and so we did not ask him to make good his installation.  Instead, we replaced the feed pump with a spare we had on board.  Does that sound simple?  If you think so, then you probably don’t own a boat.  It took Barb and I a half a day to get the pump off the shaft of the electric motor.  But putting the new one on was indeed simple.  And with the new feed pump we once again had a good flow to the unit.  A very expensive dead end, but as they say during Grenada hashes: “On Back!”

With the feed pump eliminated as the problem, it was time to face up to the more challenging task:  rebuilding the ETD.  Our water maker is a “compact” unit, which means everything (except the feed pump) is encased in a frame with a front that contains gauges and control buttons but effectively hides all electrical and hose connections.  The frame is up on a shelf near the rear of the engine room on the starboard side of the boat.  Pushed right up against the through hull out of which the “extra” water is sent from the unit.  Low ceiling.  So every connection is almost impossible to reach.  How to remove the ETD for the rebuild?  The obvious solution would be to spend the requisite half-day of labor and profanity and remove all of the external connections to the encased water maker, and to then remove the entire “box” with all of its contents from the engine room.  But the box is very heavy.  How to get the box out of the engine room, when the chief mechanic has recovering shoulder problems and a gimpy knee and the admiral has a bad back?  In the end, I squirreled the unit around enough to be able to slide it out onto the top of a battery box that is adjacent to the shelf.  From there, with additional investments of labor and language I was able to remove the ETD.  I originally thought I would just set up a table in my spacious engine room, but I soon realized I needed more counter space than the table provided, and so I moved to the cockpit for the rebuild.  I had always been more than a little intimidated by the task of rebuilding an ETD; there are an awful lot of o-rings and seals in the rebuild kit.  But it turned out to be manageable, and when the o-rings and seals had all been replaced and the ETD had been reassembled, I was gratified to see that there were no parts left over.

Did the rebuild work?  Um, hang on, the story isn’t over yet.

When we were in the States, we decided to bring back a new membrane, just in case that was the problem.  The symptoms didn’t really fit, but we thought it would be good to have a spare anyway since our existing one was eight years old.

When we got back to the boat, it appeared that the required weekly fresh-water flushes had not occurred – more about Louis, later -- and so there was a good chance that the old membrane was ruined.  Further, Barry warned that there is a fairly short shelf life for membranes.  So we decided to change the membrane.  Oops!  When we got the old membrane out, it became very clear that the membrane we had brought with us from Savannah was too short; I had ordered the wrong one.

Beard Marine has been super about this – they will send the correct membrane and accept the wrong one as a return without invoking the usual restocking fee.  We just have to pay shipping.

So will this story have a happy ending?  Um, hang on. 

There are bronze plugs on the ends of the ETD that the manual describes as “Gas; 10mm”.  One of those plugs has lost most of its threads, and needs to be replaced.  So while I was finishing up the ETD rebuild, my associate and soul-mate spent most of her day riding buses and hiking from hardware store to plumbing store, etc., attempting to find a replacement plug.  Finally, she found a plug of the right size, but, alas, it is made of brass instead of bronze.  Brass is a no-no in salt water.

So as this is written it looks like we will be returning to Bonaire without having fixed the water maker – and without even having tested our work; we need a new membrane and a certain bronze plug to complete the project.  We have ordered the membrane, and it should arrive in Bonaire in late February.  The plug?  Sea Recovery no longer stocks or provides that part.  Beard Marine is attempting to find one for us.  You gotta love Beard Marine.

Sanding the cap rails

Engine room workbench soon moved to cockpit

Treating Matteo's prop with our surplus PropSpeed

 “Louis” as a verb

When we left the boat on the hard in October, we left one key with the Marina and took one with us.  Somehow we lost our copy while we were gone.  So shortly before we returned in January, Barb sent a note to the Marina asking that the key be left with the guard on the evening of our arrival back at Curacao.

When we arrived, the guard didn’t know anything about a key, but the Marina office was still open.  They couldn’t find it, and supposed that Louis had it, since the Marina had assigned him, after we left, to watch over the boat and make sure that the batteries stayed charged and that the water maker was in the mode that would ensure that the membrane underwent a fresh water flush every week.  (The reason for the assignment was that we had gotten an early report from the Marina that the boat was not getting power.  During our entire visit to Bismarck we had trouble getting reports about the status of the charging; the Marina would say that Louis would be contacting us, and he would not do so.  So we had to be content with infrequent assurances from the Marina that Louis was taking care of everything.  I did have one conversation with Louis and he reported that he had run a separate 110 v. line to a separate charger and that he would assure that the Fresh Water Flush on the water maker was “on”.)  But I digress.  The Marina had left a note for Louis about leaving the key, but he had apparently not seen it.  And he was not on the island.

So we were back at our boat, but were locked out.  Then Barb remembered that she had tried to get a key made from a key shop in Savannah years before and that rusty version of the key was in our storage box in the cockpit.  But the box was secured with a padlock.  The marina provided a bolt cutter, and we destroyed our padlock and got the rusty key, which, praise be unto the ancient gods of access to domiciles, a little-known clan of lesser divinities, worked!

How had Louis done on his assigned tasks?  When we arrived that night the bank was way down to about 40% of a charge, and the water maker was NOT in the state that would cause a fresh water flush.

Before retiring that night I did some investigating and experimenting, and soon enough solved our power problems.  We have an “iso-booster” on board, which, among other things, bumps the voltage up if the shore power falls to a certain point below 220 volts. It turns out that the shore voltage was oscillating frequently above and below the trigger voltage, and each transition caused the booster to turn on or off.  Each transition also caused a momentary interruption in power being delivered to the boat.  Each interruption caused the charger to “begin again” and each re-initiation of the charging caused a momentary spike in the amperage being fed to the charger.  We were plugged into shore power that was a nominal 30 amps.  In a manner of minutes one of the amperage spikes would exceed the tolerance of the breaker at the shore power, and it would switch off.  No power to the boat.  The solution:  flip a switch on the booster to turn off the boosting and instead pass the power directly to the boat.

When Louis appeared several days later, Barb mentioned as Louis handed over the key that we were down to one good key, and Louis said that he knew a locksmith that could make us additional copies.  He said that he passed right by each day and could just drop the key off for us.  Barb noted that we were renting a car and could handle the tasks ourselves, but Louis insisted.  As the weeks passed, we got from Louis contradictory reports as to the status of the key, with the only constant being that things were in the works and the locksmith was working to get the duplicates made.  Finally, when Barb had finally had enough of his excuses, an acquaintance of Louis offered to intercede for us and ask about the key.  As Louis retrieved the key from his glove box, it was clear that the key had never been to the locksmith.

(Barb subsequently asked Larry at Kadey-Krogen Yachts about keys, and learned that we could order copies directly from a firm in Ft. Lauderdale.  One call did the trick.  The keys will be in our next “care package” from our mailing service.)

More Louis stories:  when Reggie, the owner of the sailboat to our starboard, returned he found water in his vessel that was up over the floorboards!  And his charger and extension cord were missing, and the batteries were flat.  It took Reggie hours to drain all of the water, and days to clean up the foul mess.  Guess who had been in charge of keeping the batteries charged.  Guess who had opened a hatch because the batteries were thought to be gassing.  Who had forgotten the hatch through days of rain.  Guess whose charger and extension cord had been “used” and left on Tusen Takk II.

When Bill and Soon (Gia) returned to their boat, they found their batteries dead and ruined, unable to hold a charge after such a complete discharge.  Guess who was in charge of keeping the batteries charged.

In the light of all of this, we made two decisions.  Hereafter “Louis” would also be a verb; if one has been victimized by an incompetent technician, one has been “Louis-ed”  (Pronounced “Lou-eed”.)  Secondly, Louis would do no more work for Tusen Takk II.


As the date of Curacao becoming independent of the Netherlands approached, a common question concerned what kinds of differences would result.  Many cruisers in the area got an unpleasant partial answer to the question a couple of weeks ago, when the new government decided to begin enforcing the long-standing law that foreign vessels would be subject to import duties of 15% of the value of the vessel after their permit for a six months stay on Curacao expires.  Even if that six months was spent on the hard in a marina.  Extensions have always been available, but up until now many cruisers have not bothered, because the law was well known to be not enforced.  Suddenly, without warning, the new government seems bent on collecting that 15%, even if the owners attest to their disinterest in staying in Curacao.  No alternative fines for those willing to leave; it’s 15% or the boat is impounded.  Some 38 boat-names were posted on the door of Curacao Marine with the message that they would have to be cleared by the Customs before they would be permitted to leave the Marina.  The boats on either side of Tusen Takk II were caught in the snare.  Reggie, on our starboard, had actually commissioned the Marina to handle applying for the extension, but the Marina had subsequently found dealing with the authorities so frustrating that they had unilaterally suspended the service, apparently without informing the relevant boat owners.  Reggie had hopes that the Marina would consequently help in his discussions with the authorities.  Matteo, a cordial Italian on our port, yacht designer, scientist, speaker of at least four languages, was a sadder case.  He was in the process of selling his boat, and in fact the would-be new owners had arrived to help with the “fixing-up” and bottom painting that would precede their splashing.  Matteo would accompany them on a two-week test cruise, and then, if all went well, as everyone supposed it would, Matteo would fly back to Holland and the new owners (father and son) would be joined by mother and girl-friend for an extended vacation in the Caribbean.  With the boat impounded, all of this was on hold.  The lady guests already had tickets, and so were flying in from Holland anyway, but the plans were in disarray.  Matteo would be stuck here until the matter was resolved, and the others would attempt to salvage a vacation by flying to the BVIs where they would charter a vessel in order to get some sailing in.  Is the sale still on?  We don’t know, but doubt it.

Marina Barbeque

While we were still at the marina, they hosted a barbeque.  The signs announcing the event said not to bring anything; all would be provided.  “All” apparently means something different in Curacao than in other places; there were lots of drinks and lots of different kinds of meats off the grill, but nothing else.  Meat and booze.  Booze and meat.  Good thing we no longer consider ourselves total vegans.  Pity I was still on the nerve pain killer that is incompatible with alcohol.

Super Bowl Disappointment

Oh, the game turned out just fine, as far as we were concerned, but the commercials were a severe disappointment.  A large group of cruisers gathered in a local restaurant to watch the game in their bar, and had a good time, but alas, the game was on a FOX satellite network out of Venezuela, and ALL of the commercials were local, and in Spanish.  What is a super bowl without expensive and silly commercials?  Like a peanut butter sandwich without the peanut butter.  Like an ice cream sundae without the ice cream.  Like a rum punch without the rum.  What to do?  Well, in anticipation of the event, I had gone off my pain killer, and so I actually had a few beers.  Haven’t had a pain killer since. 

Knee Report

And that reminds me that I should probably include a brief report on my physical condition.  The injury to the calf has healed, and I am subsequently capable of longer and longer walks.  There are times when I am not even aware of the knee being “different”.  The knee/leg gets far less stiff and uncomfortable when I have been in one position for a while.  The toes are back to full strength, even if most people don’t think of their toes as having strength.  The burning pains in the foot are greatly diminished.  Still some diminishment of feeling in the foot, and still some false signals that, among other things, make it feel like I have a tight sock pulled just over my toes and ball of the foot when I wiggle my toes.  Still a strange feeling in the foot when I am walking, but much much better. 

My shoulders continue to improve as well.  I stretch (almost) every morning, and now when I lay on my back and put my arms over my head, they almost touch the floor along their entire length – a considerable improvement.

So I am on the mend, and doing well.  (Someone please read the above to Mom.)


Launching was a nail-biting experience; I just don’t like the trailer system.  But we made it into the water just fine and had several couples:  Bob and Glenda (Nemo), Mark and Karen (Sussura) and Matteo (Rosana) over for celebratory drinks in our cockpit.

Positioning the trailer under the boat

On the edge of the down ramp


After we had done as much as we could with the water maker, we took a day off and went to the Curacao Aquarium.  We saw the Sea Lion demonstration, the Dolphin Show, and gathered around the Flamingos encounter.  Missed the Nurse Shark action show and the snake eel and lobster feeding times.  Expensive admission (US$18 per person), but enjoyable.

Curacao of Curacao Liquor

On the same day as our trip to the Aquarium we also stopped at the "factory" where they make genuine Curacao liquor.  (All other brands of Curacao liquor are not the real thing, since this is the original, made from a the dried peel of an orange that is unique to Curacao.)  It would be incorrect to call the establishment a "distillery", because they import their alcohol rather than distilling it.

 Evening Walks

Now that the knee/leg is doing better, we are attempting to walk regularly.  Here are some of the sights from our recent foray:

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