The Life Nomadic: A Year of Projects and Anchorage Hopping
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
Well with the craziness of 2020 behind us, we can safely say that 2021 is off to a pretty good start! But, before we leave 2020 in our wake, we need to share some of the highlights of our year. We are both healthier than we’ve ever been (a huge blessing in COVID times), our business has continued to be super busy even throughout the winter months, we’ve knocked off some important boat projects off the never ending list, and most of all - we’ve been sailing a bunch!
As we shared with you in our last Youtube video, we had some exciting lifestyle changes in 2020, the biggest one being that we moved marinas and gave up our much desired Liveaboard status. For those of you who may not completely understand what we mean by liveaboard status, let me explain: most California marinas only allow approximately 10% of all slips to be official liveaboards, meaning your boat is your primary residence. Almost every marina in the Bay Area has such a high demand for this liveaboard status, that you must sit on a waitlist for months or even years before you may be granted the ability to live on your vessel. As a liveaboard, you pay an extra monthly fee to use the slip as your primary residence, as they assume you are using the marina facilities, parking, etc much more than most weekend boaters. Without the liveaboard approval, most marinas only allow you to stay onboard 3-4 nights a week. Since Gemini is our fulltime home and we’ve been living afloat for almost 6 years now, we worried about not having a place to stay beyond the 3 nights a week allowed at the marina. Of course, we are lucky to have a van with a bed set up which we could always crash in if necessary, as well as family close by who we visited regularly before Covid began. Some of you might be thinking, why the heck would you ever give up liveaboard when you are still living fulltime on your boat and not yet cruising? Trust me, it was a difficult decision and we thought about it long and hard for many months before actually making the jump. We definitely had many sleepless nights of panic, wondering if we were absolutely crazy for giving up our safety net of the liveaboard status. After over 3 years of continual work and upgrades we’ve made to Gemini, we finally felt self-sufficient enough to not rely on dock life. After much thought and countless hours of hard work, in June of 2020 we moved to Emeryville Safe Harbors marina and subsequently gave up our official liveaboard status.
-- Gemini moving to her new slip at Emeryville Marina --
This lifestyle change not only meant that our boat had to be functional and self-sustaining to be able to be off the dock and at anchor for half the week, but it also meant that our lifestyle was going to become much more nomadic. For us, this seemed like the next logical step to get closer to cruising - saving money, dialing in our boat and her systems while still working our day-jobs here on San Francisco Bay. In order to prepare for this, we had a couple of upgrades that were high on the priority list: fixing our leaky fuel tanks, replacing our well-overdue motor mounts, getting a hard-bottomed dinghy with a bigger motor and investing in a more reliable anchor setup.
We tackled the leaky fuel tanks first, as that was an obvious hazard that needed to be dealt with ASAP. The old steel tanks original to the boat had started to leak through tiny corrosion holes in the bottom corners, leaving our bilge stinky with diesel. Like most boat projects, it was not simple and straightforward. In fact, it turned out to be one of the most challenging projects we’ve encountered so far, but also one of the most rewarding. Gemini was designed with 2 large fuel tanks built in under the cockpit sole, which are large enough that they don’t fit through any of the openings on the boat. After much thought, we decided to dive into a crash course on fiberglassing - cutting the tops off of the old tanks and making fiberglass tanks lined inside of the existing space. It was one heck of a project, but we won’t bore you with details - at least not yet (we will make a separate post and an entire Youtube episode all about the stinky, itchy details!). We decided to build one tank at a time to learn from our mistakes and be able to improve for the second one (coming soon this Spring, 2021) so for now we are happy with our sealed and reliable 55 gal fiberglass tank to keep us using our boat and not worrying about diesel seeping into our bilges anymore. In this fuel tank process, we also upgraded to an electronic fuel level sensor to better monitor our fuel consumption as we begin to spend more time off the dock and on the move.
Next up was finding a bigger and more reliable commuter vessel. Since we planned to be at anchor much more than we ever had been, we needed to have a dinghy and outboard to get us to and from the boat to get provisions, work on client’s boats, etc. We had made do with Zest, our previous dinghy, for many of our sailing adventures but her soft bottom and small outboard was not going to be reliable enough for constant commuting and heavier loads. It took about 2 weeks of Jack scouring Craigslist every night to find a good deal on a new-to-us dinghy. We shared a Youtube video taking you along for a road trip adventure down to Marina del Rey to purchase an Achilles fiberglass bottom inflatable dinghy that was being sold with a 9.8hp Tohatsu outboard. Go check out our latest video to see us take it on a test ride around Marina del Rey before strapping it to the roof of our van and driving it back up the coast! We’ve named the new dinghy Carla, which only seemed fitting as we brought her with our “Car” from “LA”.
With a new fuel tank and a sweet dinghy to adventure on, we took a break from boat projects in July to head up river to the Sacramento Delta, enjoying almost 2 weeks of freshwater swimming in the delta heat. It was on this trip that our newest crew member, Fathom the boat cat gained her sea-legs, after only 2 weeks of living aboard. We fished to our hearts content, had a couple of friends drive out to meet us by land and enjoyed the laid back rhythm of delta life. Gemini sat comfortably in the river gunk-holes, fitting in with the river vibe: shade cloths draped over her deck to keep us cool, towels draped over the stern rail to dry in the heat and paddleboards floating at our stern, waiting for the next adventure. We cooked all our meals on the grill to keep the galley cool and marvelled at the stunning sunsets as birds danced above us in the pink clouds. All our “real life” worries and thoughts about the work piling up in our absence floated away with each outgoing tide, letting us truly relax. It’s short trips like this one that keep the flame alive, leaving us refreshed and ready to tackle more boat projects and continue to work towards our cruising goals. Stay tuned for our next video, it will be packed full of our Delta adventures!
Upon returning from the delta, we hit the ground running with lots to catch up on, mainly tackling work on client’s boats. We already had our sights on our next adventure - sailing down the coast to the Channel Islands in September. After spending 2 weeks off, we knew we had to replenish our bank accounts before heading offshore. Luckily, there was no shortage of work for us in the marine industry. Turns out in the height of this terrible global pandemic, people have turned to boating as the perfect social distanced activity, so 2020 has been the most profitable year so far as business owners. The months to follow were quite the blur of mostly client work, with some small boat projects sprinkled in whenever we had the energy. It was all totally worth it when we loaded up the boat with provisions, topped up our fuel and water tanks and sailed down the coast with our friend Nicki onboard for the passage down to Southern California. We sailed/motored nonstop to our first anchorage in the Channel Islands and spent the next 3 weeks bouncing from anchorage to anchorage. I could write pages and pages about the wonders of this mini cruising vacation, but that will have to be for another day. It was a huge success to spend 3 weeks onboard, not missing land but also not having any serious parts failures or things break. A true reward we had earned from our countless hours of tireless work to make our floating home capable of such a trip.
This trip gave us further insight into what worked and didn’t work for our cruising lifestyle. Another major upgrade we deemed necessary after sailing down to the Channel Islands in September was a new anchor. Gemini came equipped with a 45lb CQR anchor which worked ok in the sticky SF Bay mud, but we had trouble with it down south when trying to anchor in the deep water anchorages and hard sand bottoms. We actually dove on our anchor in the clear waters at Fry’s Harbor on Santa Cruz Island, only to find it sitting on top of the sand, not dug in at all! On our previous boat, Spirit, we had upgraded to a Mantus anchor and absolutely loved it. Beyond the overly engineered design of all their products, Mantus has proven to go above and beyond for their customers ensuring that they are 100% satisfied with their purchases. As boat owners as well as marine technicians, we truly appreciate a business with good customer service - way to go, Mantus Anchors! Ever since purchasing Gemini, we had been looking for an excuse to upgrade her anchor to a Mantus and we finally had a reasonable justification for the big purchase. Upon arriving back from the trip to the Channel Islands, we ordered our 65lb M2 Mantus Anchor and could not wait for it to arrive. To our luck, it was in high demand and backordered, arriving to us just days before we had to haul Gemini out for some yard work. With a couple of necessary repairs to be tackled, that brand new anchor was perfect motivation to knock them out as efficiently as possible, so we could go test it out in one of our favorite anchorages!
Although it had been almost a year, it felt just like yesterday that we were hauling Gemini out for our mast and synthetic rigging project, but this time we hoped for a shorter haul out. On our long motor back up the coast, we had started to notice vibration in the propshaft which was causing our Strong Seal dripless seal to leak when underway. When consulting with our boatyard friends, they suggested that prop shaft vibration can be a telltale sign of engine mis-alignment or worn-out engine mounts. Upon further inspection, it turns out we had both! If we were going to be using our boat a lot, we needed to be able to trust our engine and drivetrain. Afterall, we had already done so much work to the rest of the engine, that we decided to bite the bullet and address these issues. The list for this haulout was: replace motor mounts, install a new cutlass bearing, replace dripless seal with new PSS dripless, replace rubber thrust bearing bushings on our Aquadrive coupling and finally send the prop and shaft to be checked by their respective shops and then refurbished or replaced as seen fit. We knew that our 17” three-blade Max Prop was most likely in need of some new gears and blade refinishing, and we suspected that our prop shaft had been compromised from the engine mis-alignment. Our suspicions were right, but luckily neither the prop nor the shaft were compromised beyond repair, so while we waited for the shops to work on their fine-tuning, we got right to work with the motor mounts. The engine itself weighs over 450lbs, so we had to set up a bracing system to help bear the weight as we took off the engine mounts, swapping them for identical replacements, one at a time. If you remember from our previous engine projects (check out part 1 of our engine saga here) we have to disassemble part of our galley sink cabinet to properly access the engine, which adds to the utter chaos that emerges from most boatyard projects. This time, we planned ahead and rented a small cottage Airbnb in Oakland as an escape (or atleast a place to shower, eat and sleep) after a long day's work at the boatyard. Almost 3 weeks flew by while in the yard, waiting on parts and finalizing the drivetrain projects. It felt good to have finally touched every component of our mechanical propulsion system: fuel tanks and lines, engine, mounts, Aquadrive coupling, dripless, cutlass bearing, shaft and prop. As you may recall if you’ve been following our boatlife adventures, we lost all faith in our motor set up only 2 months after owning Gemini, spending a full 8 months doing headstands in the engine bay to fix the many issues we found. With these last lingering items complete, we FINALLY felt that we could trust our engine again, which gave us both a huge sense of relief.
Things went smoothly on launch day and we were giddy with excitement to be floating again. To celebrate, we left the hauling-way and pointed our bow towards our all time favorite anchorage on the Bay, Clipper Cove. The engine vibration was nearly nothing, the shaft was not bouncing around anymore and our general engine noise had decreased by over 30 decibels! Once again, our hard work payed off and we hung comfortably on our new trusty hook for a couple days, recuperating from boatyard life. We launched just a couple days before Christmas and with Covid cancelling our family holiday plans, we decided it was best to spend it doing what we love: sailing our boat and anchoring out! We had a wonderful week of bouncing from anchorage to anchorage, sailing, cooking and resting. I made a separate post all about our holidays on the hook, if you want to read more!
-- Christmas on the hook at Horseshoe Bay anchorage --
Well, that brings you up to date with our 2020 adventures, challenges and triumphs! As for 2021, we’ve been growing our business in ways we would have never dreamed of. We’ve been stoked to have partnered with a couple of amazing marine companies (Sun Powered Yachts (Use code SPIRITMARINE for 10% off), Mantus Marine (shopping through this link gives us a small kick-back) and Atlantic Towers among others) to offer our clients great products we can trust, while helping them with the project management and installs to upgrade their systems and get them out on the water as much as we can. These new partnerships have shifted our focus to solar/electrical installs, arch installs and even lithium conversions. We still offer detailing and general repairs such as bilge pumps and plumbing, but it’s been exciting to be branching out into more technical upgrades going above and beyond basic boat maintenance. We’ve hired our friend Sarah to help with part time work tackling washdowns and learning marine maintenance with us. We are forever grateful to have her join our team - her amazing attitude, attention to detail and extra helping hands have allowed us to take on more clients than ever!
-- Sarah has become an awesome addition to the Spirit Marine Services crew! --
-- We love tackling a wide variety of projects on our client's boats! --
Beyond our work life thriving, we have had a great change of pace in the new year. Giving up our liveaboard has been a blessing in more ways than one. With more time off the dock, we have finally set some important personal boundaries and given ourselves a day or two off every week. That may sound crazy, but we’ve worked for years without a real weekend, and living on the hook has provided much needed down-time. Of course, our downtime is not always sleeping in and lazy days in our pjs, but it has given us the freedom to tackle lingering projects on our own boat, edit more YouTube videos and write more blog posts, like this one! Our following has grown substantially in the past year and we are forever grateful for the positive comments as well as our amazing Patreon crew that help keep this boat afloat. Having to be off the dock has also been the perfect excuse to hoist the sails and tack across the Bay to get to our anchorage for the night, or even fly the spinnaker in the rain! Without the financial commitment of the $400/month liveaboard fee, we’ve been paying off our debts way quicker than we could’ve imagined, which means cruising is possible in less than one year from now! Wow, it feels like we can taste it! With hard work and goal setting, Gemini will be set up and we will have a small nugget saved up for our cruising kitty by the time our debts are settled up. This year feels full of possibilities and opportunities, we’ve just got to keep our bow pointed towards our goal and our sail trimmed accordingly and before we know it, we will be heading out under that Golden Gate and onward to our next adventure!
Until next time, stay salty!