Monday, February 14, 2011

Can we please stay warm for a while?

First things first. My car is finally back on the road. Celebrate it!


I didn't update it to a 997 front end because I got too scared of dealing with the fiberglass conversion parts, but it has a brand new hood, bumper and headlights. It looks amazing. I didn't realize how much I missed her -- and her EZTag. No more sitting in the change lane.

We survived another week of freezing temperatures in Houston. I don't think they even sell ice scrapers at the auto parts store here, so it took a little longer than usual to warm up the car in the mornings.

Ice Ice Baby

However, I think spring may have sprung with predicted temperatures never dropping below 50 this week. Honestly, I'm ready to be warm for a while.

I made it to the sailboat salvage yard Friday afternoon. Everything was normal as I was walking to the office, then as I rounded a late model Chevy Blazer, there she was!

General Lee

It was a '69 Charger in full General Lee uniform. My heart palpitated. The line between television and reality blurred. I had visions of Ben and myself climbing in the windows and tooting Dixie on the horn everytime we were departing or arriving anywhere and everywhere.

Unfortunately, when the salvage guy said he wanted $16,000 for it, those dreams crumbled. It's probably a good thing, though. Most women old enough to remember that show probably look terrible in Daisy Dukes. Plus, I'm trying to slowly sever my ties with land. I don't need yet another vehicle that gets terrible gas mileage, has high repair costs, and isn't big enough to get my cabin cushions to the boat.

I got back on track and wandered the yard until I found some bumpers for the Starwind. You can't imagine how much these things cost new. I paid $25 a piece for two small blue ones when we bought the boat. One of those has since gone flat, and the other one has disappeared. I was left with a small flat white one and a small flat blue one as the only thing stopping the boat from banging into the dock all day and night.

But now ...

Salvage Bumpers

Now we have quite an assortment of big and small ones hanging from the railing. It's not pretty, but it only cost me $20.

When I left about 6 p.m. the water was almost deep enough to finally go sailing for the first time since Thanksgiving. I'll be spending next weekend at the marina, so if the weather stays warm, I have high hopes we'll be on the water soon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How to class up your Valentine's Day

I don't have a Valentine this year, but if I did, you know they would be getting a half-dozen of these velour roses I spotted at HEB. Who doesn't want roses to match their Juicy track suits?!!

Velour roses

The only thing that could take it to the next level would be adding a, "You're a keeper," chocolate trout.

The Perfect Valentine's Day GIft!

Obviously, any woman would be lucky to have me...

The reality of an oil spill

After a week of freezing temperatures, I made a visit to the marina over the weekend to check the Starwind. I have a bad habit of never closing the through-hull valves. Theoretically if it actually got cold enough, the ice might burst a hose and sink her at the dock. However, considering the brackish water in Clear Lake, I think it would have to get much colder for that fear to become reality. Nevertheless, I was still relieved when I found her happily afloat Saturday afternoon.

Still afloat

Not everything was hunky-dory. My bilge pump had quit again. My power line running from the fuse panel is corroding out every few months. I had to remove another foot from the end before I found good wire. I'm not sure why this is happening. I'm using shrink-wrapped connecters. Of course, it could just be the fact that the wiring is more than 25 years old. It's probably time to invest in a couple spools and run all new wiring in the bilge.

I decided to run the engine for a few minutes before I left -- just to warm it up and get everything circulating. That was when the weekend went downhill fast.

The engine was hesitant to start. Then, when it did, the oil pressure light stayed on, so I shut it back down. I climbed into the cabin and removed the stairs to check things out. There was oil everywhere!

Oil filter failure

The oil filter had come loose and in that 30 seconds or so that the engine had been running, it emptied the entire contents of the oil pan into my bilge. I guess it doesn't take long when the motor only holds one quart, but just that one quart turned into a two-day fiasco.

I had completely sponged out the bilge to work on the bilge pump wiring, so instead of floating above everything, the oil was down under all my hoses and wiring. My plan of action was to wipe up what I could, then degrease and hose down everything. I could then try to clean the oil out of the water once it was up off of the bottom of the bilge. I'm not sure this was really the best plan, but it was the one I had, so I went with it.
The degreaser was a good idea. It took the sticky out of the oil and made it easy to get off everything. However, once it was in the water, anywhere it splashed or touched still left a dark area that had to be rescrubbed.

More oil to clean

If someone says, "Just use your shop vac to suck it all out of the bilge, and then go dump it in the recycle barrel," don't! Marinas and auto parts stores will take your used oil. They WILL NOT take your oily water. Nobody wants oily water. I now have a shop vac with the innards completely covered in oil that I have still yet to clean because of this terrible, terrible idea. And not only that, but when I realized I was stuck with a shop vac full of oily water, I set it on a bench in the cockpit while I finished cleaning where it then leaked oily water all over the bench and down through the cockpit, which created a giant stain on my gelcoat that refused to dissipate even after an hour of scrubbing with degreaser.

There's only one good solution to cleaning the oil out of water -- diapers.

I'm not talking about Huggies. Found at any marine store, oil diapers are large cloth pads that repel water but absorb oil. They're quite amazing to watch. I'd never heard of them until someone in the marina told me about them. I'm guessing the oil booms used to clean up the Macondo spill were made of the same material.

It took two diapers to soak all the oil out of the water in my shop vac. It took another two diapers to soak the rest of the oil out of my bilge. Then I left another one squished into the bilge to catch any leftover oil that may get churned up.

Knowing about the oil diapers from the beginning would have been a great asset. If this ever happens to you, try them first. All in all, I spent eight hours dealing with nasty chemicals and freezing water trying to remediate and contain the spill, so that no oil would get discharged into the lake. I actually had to remove the cabin sole and clean it on the pier because I'd dripped and tracked oil all over it.

Another tip, if you see any oily-water drips anywhere while you're cleaning, immediately use degreaser and wipe them up. I stayed on top of the interior, but I was just setting dirty towels and drippy things in the cockpit. It is now stained forever. Of course, the oil stains just accentuate the paint overspray and the wood varnish stains, so it's not like my vessel was pristine beforehand, but it still sucks.

Tracking back to the source of the problem, I had two possible culprits. When I tried to retighten the oil filter, it was stripped out. I don't know if I stripped it out right then or if it was already stripped out. Then, I also found a loose motor mount. Excessive engine vibration due to the loose mount might have shaken the filter loose. I've remedied both potential causes, and I have now added checking the oil filter and the mounts to my pre-start checklist. Hopefully this will never happen again. If it does, it's Ben's turn to clean it up.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

GreenPois0n available for iOS 4.2.1


The GreenPois0n jailbreak is now available for iPhones running the current iOS 4.2.1. The process is very easy. You download the greenpois0n zip from and then follow the directions. It took me six tries before it was finally successful. It will give you instructions on the screen regarding pressing the home and sleep buttons. You have to be ready and press them exactly when prompted. Other than that, it worked like a charm.

I'm not into the themes and games, but it's worth the jailbreak just to be able to use the iPhone as a wireless hotspot without tethering charges from your carrier and to enable wireless syncing with your computer.

Unfortunately, my jailbreak was shortlived. We're testing Good Messaging as a Lotus Notes client for work, and due to "security issues," it does not run on jailbroken phones.

I'm seriously considering going back to having Notes forward every email to my Gmail and abandoning Good Messaging, so I can have Internet access on my boat again.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Mastering levitation

Being stuck at home Friday I decided to pull out my Harry Potter wand and practice a little magic. Thanks to my lovely assistant and two schoolchildren chanting "light as a feather, stiff as a board," I was able to induce some levitation.

Toying with levitation

Houston's Snowpocalypse Blizzaster 2011

The snow never made it to Houston Friday. However, there was ice. This was what my deck looked like Friday morning.

Dangerous Ice!

Doesn't look too scary, right? I'm sure most of the country deals with that every morning for a good portion of the year. However, it was enough to throw Houston into mass hysteria. The city came to a virtual standstill. Offices closed, schools closed, and the Harris County Toll Road system closed all toll roads for the day after officers responded to more than 100 wrecks in 4 hours.

It was claimed that the roads were being pre-treated before the ice hit. I noticed gravel on I-45 and Highway 59 through town on Saturday, but from what I can tell, not a thing was done to the toll roads. Now, how is it that I can pay $5 per day in tolls, at least 5 days a week, but the Harris County Toll Road System makes no effort to prepare for the storm. Don't tell me that it's not in the budget. Instead, they did nothing until literally hundreds of people had crashed their vehicles Friday morning.

We may hit freezing again this weekend, which definitely sets a record for the most freezes we've had in a year since I moved to Houston in 1995. We'll see if Houstonians have learned to stay off the road yet.