March 11-31,2011 -- Bonaire

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Fixing and Fussing

Dinghy Distress

Living on a boat isn't all sitting under palm trees and sipping cold drinks.  (In fact, it NEVER is.)  Things break, and then need fixing.  Take, for instance, our dinghy.  The extraordinary full moon we had a few days ago created unusually high and low tides.  While the dinghy was tied to the dock that we use when we go ashore, the tide got so low that the dinghy slid partially under the dock.  The result was a slightly damaged throttle/steering stick and a severely damaged shift lever.  By "severe", I mean that the shift lever was sheared off.  Imagine Barb's distress when the lever came off in her hand when she was leaving the dive shop with some tanks.  She got a tow back to Tusen Takk II, where I discovered that the lever could be re-inserted and function just fine, so long as it stayed completely inserted.  A short bungee cord is holding it in place very nicely at the moment, and I tease Barb that we should cancel the order we've placed for replacement parts.  She doesn't even smile.

Watermaker Blues

We finally received via FedEx the correct membrane for our watermaker.  Faithfull readers will recall that I had rebuilt the Energy Transfer Device (ETD) but then stalled when I had realized that we had brought back from Savannah the wrong membrane.  There are pipe plugs on the ends of the ETD that had obviously been leaking, and so I had removed them when I was rebuilding the ETD.  One of the plugs had severely damaged threads, and so our order for the correct membrane included a request for new plugs.  Eventually everything arrived, after spending over a week in Curacao and then nearly another week being processed by Customs here in Bonaire.

I installed the membrane and the plugs without incident, and then suffered through the ugly task of running the electrical wires through the tight passage behind the front panel of the unit -- my hand just fits -- and up into the control box that is accessible through a removable door on the panel.  I like our Sea Recovery watermaker, and I love our dealer in Savannah:  Beard Marine.  But my strong recommendation to anyone contemplating watermaker installation is to opt for a modular approach.  (The compact unit that we have crams everything into a rectangular frame and then puts a panel on the front.  Place the unit in too tight a spot, as ours is, and one cannot get to the hoses and connections from either side.  Nor from the top, since the ceiling of the spot is too low.  But I digress.)  I reconnected the hoses and it was time to test the unit.  When I turned on the unit, it did not immediately pressurize.  Since I had already replaced the external feedpump after Louis (our "friend" in Curacao) had rebuilt the first one and had made things worse, I panicked and turned the system off.  Louis had claimed that it wasn't his rebuild that had caused the system to have inadequate feed pressure, but rather it was an air lock.  Further, running the feed pump without lubricating water would "burn out" the pumping mechanisms.  So I had replaced the feed pump with a spare, but was determined not to burn it out, if indeed that had been the problem.  A quick note to technical assistance for Sea Recovery resulted in a request that I re-plumb the unit so as to catch the brine discharge and measure the throughput of the feedpump.  I had resisted that request in times past, because the re-plumbing is an awkward and difficult task, given the position of the watermaker.  But, desperate times call for desperate measures.  So I re-plumbed and started the system.  The "low input pressure" warning light came on again, of course, but I had to ignore it if I were to let the pump run long enough to get a meaningful throughput reading.  And then something interesting happened.  Something marvelous.  The light went off, and the system began to pressurize, and then began to make water!

If you think that is the happy end of this story, you don't understand the full meaning of "fixing and fussing".  One of the plugs was leaking badly, dripping and spraying salt water in a most distressing manner.  Nothing to do but disconnect all of the electrical wires and water hoses and pull the whole unit out onto a battery box and around so that I could access the plug.  Removed the plug, and decided to try the better of the two "old" plugs, since it was made of softer bronze instead of stainless steel, and was of slightly smaller diameter, which meant that it engaged more threads of the ETD.  Applied a healthy amount of teflon tape, screwed the plug in as far as it would possibly go.  Suffered through the frustrating (45-minute) task of running the wires back  up through the too-small space to the control box, attaching the wires to connections that awkwardly face the wrong way, and then reconnecting the water hoses. 

No good.  Leaked horribly.

So everything got disconnected yet again.  The unit was swung out onto the battery box, and I removed the plug and then smeared it liberally with newly-purchased pipe thread compound.  Everything got reconnected again, and I waited for a day.  The label says nothing about it, but I assumed the compound might need to harden a bit before being stressed.  The label does say that the compound can withstand liquid pressures up to 10,000 psi. 

No good.  Leaked horribly.

So everything was disconnected yet again.  Running out of ideas, I contacted Beard Marine.  Several days later I received a joyous reply from our hero:  they would supply a new ETD casing (called a cylinder) at cost.  So one is on the way. 

Mindful of the long delay in receiving the membrane, since everything shipped to Bonaire has to go through Curacao, I continued to wonder about some type of sealant that could stop the leaking.  The plug is non-functional, so even a permanent seal would be fine.  I found in the local hardware store a product called "JB Weld WaterWeld", an epoxy putty that is drinking-water safe.  Also bought the largest nut and bolt that I could find, and experimented with filling the threads with the putty and then screwing the nut onto the bolt.  The results were not totally encouraging:  after waiting the prescribed time for total hardening, I could still, using large crescent wrenches, remove the nut from the bolt and then use a dental tool to completely clean the threads.

Still, I wondered if the putty would work on the plug.  Secure in the knowledge that a new cylinder would eventually get here, I applied the putty to the plug, screwed it in, and then PLASTERED the outside of the plug with additional putty.  Spent the requisite 45-minutes hooking everything back up, and waited until the next day's generator run to test the watermaker.  Wanna guess the result?  It is NOT leaking.  (So far.)  Barb and I discussed the wisdom of cancelling the cylinder order, but we decided HELL NO.  Who knows how long the JB putty will hold the pressure.  Meanwhile the unit is cranking out 17 gallons of nice fresh water every hour:  exactly the published specification.  Now, where is a palm tree and my drink?

My Dad is Better than Your Dad

There is a Dutch TV program, targeted for kids, that mimics a similar American program.  A dad and a 10- or 11-year-old offspring comprises a team that competes against similar teams in various events that require the team to function well as a -- well, as a team.  The Dutch program decided to stage a competition in Bonaire, now since 10/10/10 a Dutch municipality, and someone recommended that they contact Orion, an 80-some foot-long sailboat of Dutch lineage that is owned by Americans Bill and Mary, friends of ours who we met in Puerto La Cruz and then again in Merida, Venezuela in 2008.

After discussing a number of possibilities, it was decided that the competition would go as follows:  a line would be run from the top of a mast down to the deck.  Plastic sea creatures would be attached to the line at regular intervals.  Another line would run from the deck up to the top and then back down to the deck.  The child would be secured in a bosun's chair which was then attached to this second line.  The dad would grasp the other end of the line, and pull the child up along the line containing the plastic creatures.  The child would disengage a creature and attempt to throw it into a large net that was mounted over the rail at deck level.  The dad would then raise the child to the next creature, and so forth.  The team with the most creatures in the net at the end of the allotted time was the winner.  The competition ran for three days.  On the first, two teams competed.  I was there to photograph the proceedings, and also ended up using our dinghy to retrieve the plastic creatures that had missed the net and had fallen into the water.  The next day there were two more contestants, and on the third day there were four contestants.

Here are a few of the pictures I took:

Hostess welcomes the contestants and explains the rules.

Closeup of the vivacious hostess

The vessel that was the scene of the event

Captain Bill discussing matters with the hostess and a few of the many staff members

Securing a child in a bosun's seat

Throwing a plastic creature toward the net as dad holds the other end of the line that raises the child

Removing the next creature from the line

The losers of the first day's competition are interviewed by the hostess

Mooring Madness

No anchoring is permitted in Bonaire.  A few permanent residents have secured permits in order to have their own moorings in front of the their homes, but all transient boaters must either dock at one of the marinas or must use one of the moorings in the field maintained by the Bonaire Marine Park.  The lines at our mooring are too long:  twice, in periods of calm in which the boat has not stayed stretched out, they have become entangled in our stabilizing fins.  When this happened, yours truly got to quickly don fins, mask, and snorkel (and not much else: it was still dark out) and jump into the water to pull the lines free.  But for the last couple of weeks this has certainly not been a problem:  it has been blowing stink day after day.

Each mooring consists of two lines that run down to three huge concrete blocks that are tied together

Taxing Schedule

We have really been enjoying our stay in Bonaire, and have fallen into a fairly regular schedule.  We get up, have breakfast, take the dinghy to shore where we exercise for 1.5-2 hours, come back to the boat for lunch, and then either dive or do boat chores.  Monday evening is happy hour for cruisers at a local bar/restaurant.  Tuesday night we have been going to fish ID class.  Wednesday we go to the local duplicate bridge game, where we usually score very close to the bottom.  Thursday is a BBQ sponsored by one of the dive shops.  Usually we go to dinner with friends on either Friday or Saturday, and stay home the other night.  Sunday night we get together with Orion and Inner Wisdom, rotating vessels from week to week.  Tough life. 

Tax Time

Once again we got our taxes done ahead of schedule via our excellent accountant Rob Cordasco in Savannah.  We do all communication with his firm electronically and have already received our minor refund.  Life is good!

Knee News

Barb's knee has been acting up a lot lately (lack of cartilage and bone spurs), so she has pretty much stopped doing long walks.  Instead, we have gotten down one of our folding bikes, and she finds she can get around just fine that way.  Needless to say, after my experience she is not anxious to have surgery.

My knee has been very happy with the exercise I have been giving it at the health club; I often forget that I have had a knee replacement.

New Friends

One of the couples we have met here are Suzi and Michael, aboard Awakening.  Suzi is a former ultra-long runner, having run 34 100-mile races before nagging injuries forced her to give up the long stuff in 2002.  She was the first woman to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in a single season; her running nickname was "Barf Queen".  Suzi and Michael are avid divers, and underwent the training that is now being provided in Bonaire in order to become a certified Lionfish hunter.  So they dive a lot and kill as many Lionfish as they can as they enjoy identifying the endemic species of Bonaire.  They recently invited us to join them aboard their catamaran on a trip out to Klein Bonaire for a dive.  Besides being good company, we were especially appreciative of the offer since it has been so windy that we didn't want to take our cameras out on the bouncy dinghy ride that the long trip to Klein would entail.

Suzi and their dog Jib

The boys relax

Underwater Photos

Barb is discovering that a point-and-shoot camera is perhaps not the best apparatus for underwater photography.  Too much shutter delay.  Nevertheless, she has taken some very nice photos.  Here are a few of her results:

Baby Grunts

Webbed Burfish


School of Creole Wrasse

Juvenile Dusky Damsel


Soapfish (in common daytime posture)

Spotted Eel

Yellowtail Snapper


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