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Clearwater Beach

We have begun taking short (2-3 days) trips to places in Florida where we’ve never been. This is to explore our new state, but also to check out areas where we might like to settle, once we are too decrepit to live aboard C Ghost. We’ve already been to Lakeland, Tallahassee, and Destin, all of which have features to recommend them. Of course, St. Augustine is a strong contender as well. This trip we decided to explore Clearwater Beach. Located on Florida’s West Coast, it’s essentially an island connected by bridges to the mainland, Clearwater, as well as Sand Key.

Here is Clearwater Beach’s location relative to the rest of Florida.

A hopping tourist spot, the island has a traditional residential section in the extreme north, and white sand beaches on which many tourists gather, bask in the sun and swim in the calm, warm Gulf Waters. There are lots of cabanas for rent as well as paddle boards, kayaks, jet-skis, and towable tubes to ride. Parasailing is also popular, and the brightly colored parachutes with tiny humans dangling below can be seen paralleling the beach all day long. There are multiple beach side shops and eateries and a fishing pier where artisans display their crafts and buskers perform. The South portion of Clearwater Beach has condos, giant hotels and more restaurants. Sprinkled about on the causeway side (between Clearwater Beach and the mainland) are several marinas, some with sailboats and sizable power vessels, both fishing and recreational.

Arriving at midday on Sunday, we still needed to sit in slow traffic over the Clearwater Memorial Causeway-the only route from the mainland. Pretty water views from the bridge distracted from the wait. We stayed at the Cabana Hotel, a small two-story hotel with simple but well-appointed rooms, a pool, coffee mess in the morning, and self-serve laundry. Parking is quite scarce on the Beach, so we were lucky to find a spot next to our hotel, and we left the car there our whole trip, as distances were walkable for us. We arrived Sunday afternoon and ate lunch at the Beach Shanty Cafe and walked a bit of the beach. That night we had dinner at Ocean Hai, an Asian fusion restaurant located in the Wyndham hotel. We ate on the fan-cooled veranda. Great view! The food was amazing- we split a delicious sushi roll called “Crazy Rich Asian” for appetizer and Tommy had seared ahi tuna and Paula had lamb chops for entrée. We couldn’t resist dessert which was billed as a strawberry cheesecake, but was more of a cheesecake dream, with the light, creamy, cheesecake filling applied in a thick piping around the circumference of the dish, and garnished with strawberry pastry crumbs in lieu of crust, sliced strawberries, and crystallized sweet basil morsels. Too good!

Monday morning, after coffee and a breakfast at the Another Broken Egg Café – also highly recommended – we decided a lot of walking was in order to balance all the food we’d eaten. We started by touring the residential section, which had older homes of every size, ranging from tiny cottages to multi-chimneyed monstrosities. The houses were tightly packed, and this was the only area of the island that had telephone poles and wires. Everywhere else electricity and phone lines were below ground (safer in a hurricane, and more aesthetic.) The plant life was beautiful: live oak, mango, sea grape, various unidentified flowering plants, and even a pine or two!

Sea grapes. When ripe these are edible and make a tasty jam.

Once the houses ran out, we walked through a public beach access to the white sand, and decided to head north, away from the crowds. We were able to walk onto the grounds of Caladesi State Park which were full of mangroves.

The beach at Caladesi State Park.

Any dead limbs were decorated with shells placed by passersby, and we added one as well.

The few dead mangroves we encountered were decorated with shells.

Although we saw a few walkers headed south, we were the only ones on the pristine white park beach until two rangers showed up, following female turtle tracks to the nest in order to stake it out and protect it. We saw a small, worm-like snake (live) and a young shark dead of apparent propeller strike. After a rest and swim (water warm and clear with a little seaweed), we started back towards the main beach drag, which seemed crowded and loud by comparison, but not lacking in interesting sights.

A young bather in Clearwater beach gets comfortable in the shallows-no chair, umbrella, etc. needed.

We had grouper sandwich (Tom) and beet salad with grouper on top (Paula) at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, very good and reasonably priced. Frenchy appears to be the local entrepreneur as every third restaurant and beach clothing shop bears his name. Now stuffed and tired, we went back to the hotel to shower off, swim, and take a nap. That night we ate at Blinker’s, the local steak house and had very good filet mignon with mushroom garlic topping, and Caesar salad. Before bed, when we tallied up our walking totals we were amazed to see we’d walked over 14 miles.

Next morning, we went back to the Another Broken Egg Café, and in addition to pancakes, eggs, and Belgian waffles, we bought two of their cool coffee mugs. We then braved the main beach, somewhat less occupied on a Tuesday morning, and splurged on a rental cabana where we read and dozed. We went to Jimmy’s Crow’s Nest for lunch, 13 floors above the street, mainly for the great view.

View of the beach side of Clearwater Beach from Jimmy’s Crows Nest.
View of the causeways side of Clearwater Beach from Jimmy’s Crows Nest.

The food-Southwestern chicken bowl (Paula), and pork bowl (Tommy) was tasty and filling. That evening we ate at Forlini’s, an Italian restaurant with excellent mussels, lasagna, and veal picatta. Tiramisu for dessert meant that another walk was in order. This time we explored the Southern part of the Island all the way to its end where it intersects with Sand Key by way of a tall bridge. After a long stretch of hotels and bars/eateries we saw many condo neighborhoods and a marina.

Tommy on one of our beach walks.

Throughout our stay we noticed that the beach and surrounding neighborhoods were clean and kept up and there were a number of small parks with basketball, tennis, large public pool, boccie courts as well as a library. What wasn’t present was any full-sized grocery store, although there were some small food and sundry shops, and two drug stores. Any major grocery trip for residents means contending with the crowded causeway bridge to Clearwater proper.

Wednesday morning, we were lucky enough to have scheduled a tour of the Island Packet Boat Factory in Largo, about 8 miles from Clearwater Beach. We were able to see versions of different sized Island Packets in various stages of construction, and some at the factory in repair after hurricane damage in the Virgin Islands. We got to hear information from the craftsmen who build the boats. As most of the employees are long-term, some with 30 years + experience at Island Packet, we were able to meet and ask questions of some of the folks who actually built C Ghost! Bill Bolin, who has been with Island Packet since 1987, and has worked in multiple aspects of the company, including customer service and quality assurance, spoke to us at length about our past and current projects. The tour was illuminating and helpful, answering some questions we had about the structure of C Ghost, including wiring paths, etc.

We very much enjoyed our stay at Clearwater Beach. Its best aspects, in our view, was the quality of the beaches, the calmer Gulf waters, and the availability of good restaurants. On the other hand, if one were considering moving there, the large tourist population, lack of some essential services on the island necessitating crossing the always-busy causeway (grocery stores, hospital) gave us pause. Evacuation, if there were to be hurricane threat would be difficult, as the causeway bridge is the only way back to the mainland. Real estate, as expected, is pricey. However, for a vacation or short trip, it is a great spot, and we would visit again.

Our New Dinghy

While in the Bahamas last year, we realized that the single biggest upgrade we needed was a better dinghy. We got our old dinghy when we were living and cruising in the Chesapeake Bay. It was a little over 8′ long, had a “soft” (inflatable) bottom, and was powered by a 2HP electric motor with an integral lithium battery. It was very light and easy to stow and had the huge advantage of not needing to carry any gasoline. This setup was perfect for the Bay where the distances we needed to travel by dinghy were short, the beaches had no coral or rocks, and the water was generally calm.

All of that was different in the Bahamas. We often needed to travel long distances in the dinghy and contend with rocks and coral on the beaches. We had to carry snorkel/fishing gear, groceries, laundry, and guests. We also sometimes had to travel in rougher open water, We needed a dinghy that was bigger, faster, and more robust.

One thing we really liked about our old dinghy was its electric engine. We hoped we could just move up to a larger version of an electric outboard along with a larger dinghy. While larger electric outboards exist in the size we needed, we couldn’t justify the much greater cost and added weight. We did a lot of research on this and were very disappointed. Electric outboards compete favorably with their gasoline equivalents in the 2HP range, but they are 5 times the cost and almost twice the weight in the 20HP range (mainly because of the battery requirement). Technology has a long way to go here.

So the choice came down to the biggest dinghy and gas engine combo we could find in the lightest weight package. We still intended to use our existing davit system which is integrated into our cockpit arch so the dinghy length and weight had to fit those parameters. We also didn’t want something so heavy that we couldn’t pull it up manually with block and tackle.

After a lot of looking, we decided on a Walker Bay Genesis 310 which we got last summer. It is 10’2″ long (2 feet longer than the old dinghy) and has a rigid bottom with inflatable sides (a.k.a. Rigid Inflatable Boat – RIB). The bottom is formed in one piece with injection molded plastic. This material is quite durable and is much lighter than fiberglass or aluminum. The 2018 Honda outboard (20HP – 4 stroke) is the lightest in its class at 104 lbs. This is lighter than any 2 stroke outboard we could’ve gotten in the same power range. The boat has console steering and seating for four people. Including the engine, it weighs in at a svelte 325 lbs. (a little more with all our gear and a full gas tank). That’s about 150-200lbs lighter than other boats we looked at of the same size and HP.

Sitting in the drivers seat. I installed the cool little fish finder/chart plotter under the mini windshield. You can see the port and starboard navigation lights integrated on each side of the console. The throttle control has an integrated “tilt” switch for the engine which also has an electric starter. At the top of this picture there is a bow seat. Under that seat is stowage for ice/drinks or other gear.
The 3 gallon gas tank fits nicely under one of the seats. All of the console and most of the seats are made of the same injection molded plastic as the hull to save weight.
Three of the seats have tray storage immediately beneath them. The trays lift out to access even more storage below. That’s where we keep extra life jackets, an anchor and rode, air pump, and tools.
The console hinges up showing where the battery is stored. It also came with a nice little fuse box (upper left) with plenty of room for adding more circuits.
This picture is looking forward from underneath the starboard side boat (it’s hanging in the davits). You can see where the rigid part of the hull interfaces with the starboard side tube. The black piece with the 3 screws is a trim tab. There is also a set of integral wheels for “rolling” the boat up onto a beach. There is another trim tab and wheel out of the picture on the port side.
The dinghy is hanging from the arch with a custom cover over it made by Paula. Look for a future post from Paula on the construction challenges of the cover.

Dinghy Lifting Winch

Getting a bigger and correspondingly heavier dinghy demanded greater mechanical advantage in our davit system for lifting it out of the water. An arch mounted winch helps a lot. We found one on eBay for a good price.

We first added a much more robust 6-1 block and tackle system on each side of the arch for lifting the dinghy out of the water. The red line in this picture lifts the aft end of the dinghy. The full up weight of the dinghy is around ~360 lbs, and we estimate that more than 2/3’s of that weight is at the aft end because of the engine. Doing a little math, the pull on the red line when lifting is about 45 lbs. I can pull it up with some effort, but it’s a real struggle for Paula. A self-tailing winch would be an ideal “helper” .
We needed to clean and re-grease all our winches anyway, so we started with the smallest self-tailing one we have – a Lewmar 16. Here it is removed from it’s normal mounting position. I did some test fittings to see if it could somehow be mounted on the arch with the swing of the winch handle not hitting anything in a full 360 degree turn. I found a good spot, but needed a “pad” of sorts on which to mount the winch.
Starboard to the rescue again. I went to my favorite online store for custom cut starboard and ordered a one inch thick piece cut in a 5″ x 5″ square with beveled edges.
We cleaned and re-greased the winch and mounted it on the starboard. The winch base has five 1/4″ holes for mounting.
On the underside of the starboard base I hollowed out each bolt hole to accommodate a fender washer and ny-lock nut. Standard 1 1/4″ machine screws were just the perfect length and did not protrude beyond the bottom surface of the starboard pad (the flange of the winch added the extra 1/4″).
The mounting screws on the left side of the pad go all the way through the smaller pipe and are secured on the other side with a fender washer and ny-lock nut. The larger pipe on the right side is packed with wires running through it from all the antennas mounted on top of the arch. For that reason, we did not want to drill holes through the middle of it. Instead, we found a pair of clamps that mount onto the outside of the pipe and present a reasonably thick flat surface into which bolt threads could be tapped. The clamps also raised up the right side of the pad creating a better angle of attack for the line as it winds on the winch drum.
This view shows how the pad mounts on the pipe clamps on the right side tube. Bolts go through the right side of the pad and screw into threaded holes tapped into each clamp.
Here’s how the mounted winch looks from the left side, slightly angled inboard. You can see the two thru-bolts in the left pipe.
Here you can see the “fair lead” from the top of the block and tackle down to the winch (red line). There is just enough room for the winch handle to make a 360 degree revolution without hitting anything. The angle of the winch will also accommodate winding in the line from the block and tackle on our swing out crane (white line with green flecks). The crane can be used to hoist the dinghy engine up onto the stern rail or to lift a person out of the water.

Documentation Number Board

Each boat that has Coast Guard documentation (federal) is required to display that unique documentation number somewhere in the interior of the boat. When we bought C Ghost, her documentation number was displayed on the interior of the starboard cockpit locker via a white board with black lettering. If the boat is boarded or inspected by the Coast Guard, they must view this number.

To access the original number board we had to lift the hatch of the starboard cockpit locker and remove any gear covering it.

While in the Bahamas, we met folks who had a beautifully treated wooden board inscribed with their number in their boat’s salon, and we were taken with it. It is always neat to see a “necessary” item become a smart-looking addition to a vessel.

We therefore again enlisted the help of Paula’s Dad (Mort) and he produced a great tooled oblong of teak with the digits carefully routed out to a good depth. This was, by design, just the size of a planned hanging space on the bulkhead behind the companionway stairs in our galley. Mort decided to adorn each end with a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle. Only later did he and we realize that this bore a resemblance to the Island Packet star.

The unfinished teak number board as received from the Mortmade woodshop.

Paula hand-sanded the board to smooth consistency. We then chose black gloss acrylic paint (vs. our other considered choice, white) and Paula carefully filled in the depths and sides of the numerals with a very tiny brush and occasional swearing. A can of mineral spirits was kept close by for any mistakes. Two coats and a “touch-up” coat sufficed.

The board has now had a preparatory hand sanding and the painting of the numerals has begun.
The numbers are painted (2 coats and touch-up) and the first application of tung oil is soaking in.

The board was then wet-sanded with 8 coats of tung oil and 400 grit sandpaper until it was soft, smooth, and faintly glossy.

Final result after all the coats of wet-sanded oil are complete.

Two brass screws fit into the center of the stars to mount it to the bulkhead. We now have an eye-pleasing addition to the salon that also serves a practical function. Our thanks again to Dad’s “Mortmade” workshop.

Our new number board in place. In the right side of the picture is an earlier Mortmade project – our spice rack.

Antennas

A lot of “landlubbers” that visit our boat are curious about all the antennas mounted on our cockpit arch. We didn’t install these all at once but have accumulated them over time when a need or new technology requirement arose. Follow along with the featured picture from left to right. Here’s what they all do:

TV – We used to have a much sleeker looking disc shaped “marine” TV antenna. It had a range of about 40 miles and was quite expensive. That antenna was one of the items torn off our arch in the Bahamas last year when a wayward sailboat side-swiped us while we were docked in a marina in Bimini. We decided to replace it with a much cheaper outdoor “house” antenna from Walmart. While not “marinized”, most of the parts of this antenna are not corrosion-prone and it was about 1/10th the cost of the previous one. In addition, this new antenna has a range of 70 miles which brings in all the HD “off-the-air” channels from Jacksonville, about 45 miles away.

GPS – This is our main GPS antenna (Garmin Model GPS 19x). It connects directly to the marine electronics data “bus” on the boat (NMEA 2000) and provides location information to all other devices connected to that same bus.

VHF – Spare VHF antenna. Our primary VHF antenna is on top of the mast, 60 feet up. In the unlikely event that our mast were to come down, we did not want to lose VHF communications. The wire from the spare antenna runs all the way to the back of the radio inside the boat but is not connected. If we ever need to use it, we just unplug the mast mounted antenna wire at the back of the radio and plug-in the spare antenna wire. Both our mast-mounted antenna and the spare on the arch do double duty with our Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceiver. Our AIS setup has proved invaluable in numerous circumstances and worth every penny of its cost. AIS uses the VHF radio band to transmit a boat’s name, size, location, speed, and bearing every few seconds. It allows us to easily identify/observe the boats around us (within about 20 miles) with much more detail than radar. However, while it is a requirement for all commercial vessels to transmit AIS information, it is optional for recreational boaters. Thus, we still need radar.

WiFi – Range extender (Model: Rogue Wave). This is much more than just an antenna. Within the silver-colored section at its base is a web server computer. An ethernet cable connects this antenna to our wireless router inside the boat. That same ethernet cable also delivers the necessary electrical power to the antenna to run the web server embedded in its base. Once the little server in the base of the antenna boots up, it searches for all the available WiFi signals up to 5 miles away. From a computer inside the boat, we can login to the antenna’s web server and choose which signal we want to amplify and send to our router. The WiFi signal we choose has to be unencrypted, otherwise we need to know its password. This works best for connecting to a marina’s WiFi when we’re in a distant slip or out in their mooring field.

GPS – Dedicated GPS antenna for Chartplotter at helm. In the event our marine electronics bus suffers a complete failure and/or the main GPS antenna described earlier stops working, this GPS antenna connects directly to the Chartplotter at the helm station. In our normal mode of operation this antenna isn’t used and is only there as a backup capability.

Radar – 18” Diameter, 4kW Power, Range: 36 Nautical Miles (Model: Garmin GMR 18 HD). We use the radar mainly at night to “see” other vessels around us. As many boats are now transmitting an AIS signal, we often can “confirm” a radar contact with its corresponding AIS contact. The radar is also useful during all hours for tracing nearby rain/storm cells.

Sirius/XM – NMEA 2000 satellite receiver (Garmin Model GXM-51). We originally got this antenna to take advantage of the satellite-based marine weather service offered by Sirius/XM. We wanted a reliable way to receive up-to-date weather information if we were beyond the range of Cell/VHF/WiFi signals. This proved to be very disappointing. The antenna connected to the satellite just fine, but the weather information transfer was agonizingly slow. When we finally did get it, it usually proved to be inaccurate based on what we were experiencing directly in front of us. We discontinued the service. On the other hand, this antenna was also capable of receiving all the Sirius/XM music channels, a function at which it excelled. We can use our Chartplotter to select the different music channels and pipe the music through to the boat’s stereo system. There is a small monthly fee for this, but it works great.

Anemometer – Ultrasonic wind sensor (Maretron Model WSO100). When we first got the boat, the previous owner had installed a traditional anemometer on top of the mast – the kind with the spinning cups. When hurricane Sandy came up the Chesapeake Bay ( we were there at the time), the strong winds damaged the anemometer. We decided to replace it with this ultrasonic model that has no moving parts. When we first did this, we mounted it on top of a small pole that extended above the Radar dome. It remained there for several years. Then last year in the Bahamas the ultrasonic  anemometer and the pole it was mounted on were both torn off the arch in the same incident with the wayward sailboat described above that destroyed our TV antenna. The ultrasonic anemometer you see in the picture now is a newer 2nd unit we had to buy. Its new mounting location isn’t as ideal, but still works well enough. It also measures air temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.

GPS – Dedicated GPS antenna for Chartplotter at Nav station. This antenna serves the same purpose as the backup GPS antenna for the helm Chartplotter mentioned above, but is instead connected directly to our 2nd Chartplotter at the navigation station inside the boat. Once again, in our normal mode of operation this antenna isn’t used and is there as a backup capability.

Cell Phone – 3G/4G Cell signal amplifier (Model: weBoost Drive 4G-M amplifier, Antenna: Wilson 4G omni-directional marine antenna). This setup, which includes a small amplified unit inside the boat, is meant to be used inside a car to boost a weak cell phone signal when driving in rural areas. We hoped it might work just as well on the boat. We purchased a larger “marinized” antenna to use in place of the short little magnetic antenna that came with the amplifier which was meant to be mounted on a car roof. While in the Exuma island chain in the Bahamas, this device worked beyond our wildest expectations. We were able to have a connection to the Internet via cell signal everywhere we went. This is the device that enabled us to post both articles and pictures to our blog site every single day while cruising these islands. While it is advertised as being compatible with the US-based cell networks (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint), it worked just fine on the BTC cell network in the Bahamas. We mainly used it to make one of our cell phones a “hotspot” to which our computers connected for Internet access.

SSB – A 50’ section of our port backstay is electrically isolated from its top and bottom connection points and used as an antenna for the single sideband radio. We mainly used this capability to receive weather forecasts early each morning from Chris Parker’s weather forecasting service. It worked well enough to give us another reason for not needing the Sirius/XM weather service. This also gives us the ability for long range radio communications.

A Captain’s Chair

One of the things we always wished was better on our boat was the view from the helm when sitting on the helm seat. We like the mounting position of our Chartplotter on the binnacle and don’t want to change it, so we need to be able to see “over” it. This works great when you’re standing behind the wheel. However, if you wish to sit, the helm seat is so low that not only does the Chartplotter get in the way, but the dodger and cabin top impede the view as well. Here’s what it looks like when sitting on the bare helm seat.

You can still see out the side windows of the dodger, but the front view is blocked. Even if the chartplotter wasn’t there, you can’t see what’s immediately in front of the boat – the angle is too low. This isn’t too much of a problem out on the ocean, but on crowded rivers or in the ICW it’s not good.

The boat came with a stiff factory made helm seat cushion that, when snapped to the helm seat, will boost you up by about six inches. It still wasn’t adequate. The cover on our seat cushion was starting to look raggedy so as Paula undertook to make a new cover, she also added another two inches of foam to make the seat even higher. Here is what that looked like:

This was the arrangement we had while on our Bahamas cruise last year. It was improved, but still not high enough.
The view is now better being perched on that tall cushion, but still not ideal. This might’ve worked if the chartplotter wasn’t there, but we really liked it where it was. We thought we might be able to get the best of both worlds by having the seat just a few inches higher.

It helped some, but was still not quite enough. It wasn’t practical to extend the cushion any higher because it started to become unbalanced (the height would be bigger than its width/depth) and it was beginning to make the backrest less useful. We thought about just permanently mounting a real captain’s chair to the helm seat, but there were two big problems with doing that:

  1. It would completely block the passageway to get onto the swim platform.
  2. It would cover up (or at least impede) access to the rudder post where the emergency tiller attaches.

So if we were to go with a real captain’s chair, it had to be easily removable and able to be stowed below. We also had just varnished the teak on top of the helm seat, and wanted whatever solution we came up with to be “friendly” to the nice finish.

The new varnish job on the helm seat teak. Underneath the little cut-out in the middle is where the emergency tiller goes if it would ever be needed.

We thought if we could mount a chair on top of a platform that could itself be easily secured and removed from the helm seat, that might work. To start with, we chose starboard as the material for the platform since it is weatherproof and wouldn’t scratch the varnish finish on the seat. We special-ordered a 1 inch thick piece from Boat Outfitters cut to the largest dimensions of the existing teak seat (21”x17 ¾”). The starboard color choice “seafoam” closely matches the light ivory Island Packet gelcoat color. Here is the piece as it came:

The 1″ thick piece of starboard we ordered.

Next, we cut the starboard to match the profile of the existing seat, and then used five stainless latches to secure it to the original helm seat.

I traced a line underneath the square-ish piece of starboard to match the contour of the seat and then cut-off the excess with a jigsaw. Five stainless latches secure it to the helm seat and make it easily removable.
These are standard marine hold-down latches that can be additionally secured by putting a “pin” through the hole in the part of the clasp that sticks out when in the closed position.

By stacking up a bunch of books on the existing seat, we determined that the optimal height for the new seat would be 14” – 16” off the teak surface of the existing seat. Since we already made up 1” with the thickness of the starboard platform, we now had to find a pedestal/seat combo that fell into the 13” – 15” range. We went with the shortest version of the Springfield heavy-duty Mainstay Pedestal (hydraulic adjustable from 10” – 12”) and the Springfield Newport molded seat. The molded plastic seat plus its cushion added about 3” to the overall height when mounted on the pedestal. This setup gave us the ability to adjust the seat from 14” (me) to 16” (Paula). The first step to mounting the pedestal on the starboard was to drill the mounting holes and recess the underside of each hole to accommodate a fender washer for the nut and bolt.

Since we wanted the pedestal thru-bolted to the starboard, it was necessary to recess bigger holes so both fender washers and the nuts would sit “inside” and not touch the teak.
The pedestal is mounted on the other side and the nuts and washers are in place.

The version of the pedestal we got has a sliding seat mount allowing the seat to be moved fore and aft. It also swivels and can be locked in place at any position. The chair can be removed by pulling up the chair from the pedestal (once the interlock is released) for storage or if chair replacement is desired.

This model pedestal has a fore/aft slide adjustment (left lever), swivel lock (center lever and knob), and height adjustment (right lever).

When in port or at anchor, the latches are released and the entire package is stored below in the aft cabin opening up easy access to the swim platform. Should we ever need to use the emergency tiller, the platform can be quickly unlatched for access.

The happy Admiral with a comfortable, secure and commanding view. The platform, pedestal and seat combo is easy to remove and stow below and is not as heavy as I thought it would be. The seat can be pulled off the pedestal if need be for storage.
Seated in the chair, we can now see fully out over the front of the boat and glance down at the chartplotter. This is about the same view we have when standing at the helm.

Transom Upgrades

We’ve never been totally satisfied with the transom arrangement on C Ghost. We like the molded in swim platform, but the way the factory designed ladder is stowed and deployed hinders more than helps our activities at the aft end of the boat. Here’s what the original ladder looks like when it’s deployed:

To be fair, it is a very easy ladder to climb, having wide steps that also make good handholds. But as you can see, it renders the middle (and most spacious) part of the swim platform unusable. While it appears there is room on either side of the ladder, the upward curvature of the platform and narrowing of the standing area greatly limits the usable space on the sides. Also, the hinge in the middle of the two-part ladder, seen just below the level of the platform, happens to be at a height that pokes the tubes of most inflatable dinghy’s that land at the transom. And boarding the boat from the dinghy with the ladder down always seems awkward, especially because that third step is only a couple inches above the platform surface. It’s amazing how many times a foot manages to get caught in that little space even though we know it’s there.

Here’s what the original ladder looks like when it’s stowed – it first folds in half onto itself and then folds up to the level of the cockpit railing:

The ladder stows nicely out of the way, clearing the largest part of the swim platform to make it more useful. But this stowing arrangement makes it very difficult to get on to the swim platform from the cockpit with the ladder up. You have to do some gymnastics to climb over the railing and then either jump or take a big step down onto the platform. And once you are on the platform, you have to be careful of the sharp edges on the two hinges where the ladder attaches to the boat. It’s equally difficult to get back into the cockpit with the ladder up. One other safety situation we weren’t completely happy with was the near impossibility of deploying the ladder from the water if for whatever reason you found yourself in the water with the ladder up.

Despite all these negatives, we kept it like it was for eight years before finally deciding to change it. The catalyst for this project was the failure of one of the mounting brackets for the ladder while we were in the Bahama’s last year. Here you can see the problem:

That weld was just about to break and would’ve resulted in the ladder separating from the boat as one of us was climbing it.

Knowing we had to go through an expense to replace/repair the ladder, we decided to ditch the whole thing and change the design entirely. At the same time, we wanted to reinforce the part of our cockpit arch that overhangs the transom so it could easily handle the added weight of our new larger dinghy when it hangs in the davits.

We began this project with a new swim ladder design. We wanted the ladder to not impede the middle and most spacious part of the swim platform in either it’s deployed or stowed position. We wanted to make it much easier to get onto the swim platform from the dinghy, and then up into the cockpit from the swim platform. And we didn’t want the ladder to interfere with landing the dinghy at the transom. Lastly, we wanted to be able to deploy the ladder, if needed, from the water.

To accomplish all this, we built a small separate platform on which we mounted a hinged telescoping ladder.

We used 3/4″ starboard to make a small platform just for mounting the telescoping ladder. Here you can see how the ladder brackets mount to the starboard with the ladder “open”.
With the ladder folded up and “closed” it makes for a nice compact package.
On the underside of the platform we mounted three beefy hinges to attach the platform to the boat. All screws for the hinges as well as the ladder are thru bolted with fender washers.

This platform/ladder combo was then mounted on the starboard side of the boat’s swim platform. The hinges on the new ladder platform allow it to be stowed up against the transom when not in use. The telescoping ladder has four steps and goes down 4 feet. This model has a handhold at the top of the ladder and we installed an additional handhold on the transom just above the ladder platform. A stainless clip screwed into the transom holds the ladder platform up against the transom when in the stowed position.
We also mounted a folding step on the transom next to the new ladder arrangement. This step is used to easily get on and off the swim platform to and from the cockpit and folds up out of the way (with no sharp edges) when not in use .

The folding step and the ladder are both deployed. Note the hand-hold rung at the top of the ladder and the the other hand-hold rung mounted to the transom above the ladder.
The folding step and ladder are both stowed. The entire swim platform is now usable. To get in/out of the cockpit to/from the swim platform we just flip down the aluminium step. It is easily reachable from the cockpit to flip up or down. The new ladder platform can be reached and deployed from the water to get back on the boat in an emergency.

Another problem we always had with the dinghy was how it would rub against the engine exhaust flapper when launching/retrieving from the davits or just “docking” the dinghy at the transom to get on/off the boat. Not only did this prematurely weaken the hinge part of the flapper, it left black marks on every dinghy that landed at our transom. To solve this, we fabricated a couple of rigid bumpers out of starboard and teak and glued them to the hull on either side of the flapper. The smooth surface of the starboard lets the dinghy tubes ride up and down smoothly when raising/lowering the dinghy from the davits and also prevents hitting the flapper when landing/docking at the transom.

These “bumpers” are blocks of teak glued to the fiberglass surface of the boat. Pieces of starboard were then screwed onto the surface of the teak. There were no holes drilled into the boat here.

The one issue we haven’t addressed yet is the obstruction of the name on the transom from these changes. When we cruise, the dinghy is usually in the davits and totally obstructs the name anyway, necessitating a boat nameplate hung on the outboard side of the dinghy while it’s in the davits. Even so, we know we need to fix this – just another project.

New Microwave Cabinet

When we bought C Ghost, it came with a small microwave oven tucked into a cubby hole that looked almost custom designed around the oven. We never thought much about it until a couple months ago when the oven started making weird noises and then stopped working. I replaced an internal fuse and got it going again, but only a few days later it stopped working for good after 17 years of service with two owners.

The original microwave oven that came as standard equipment with the boat. Notice how it fits just perfectly into the space designed for it.

We thought this would be a simple matter of buying a new ~$70 microwave and plugging it in. Nope. Not even close. As it turns out, this brand of microwave is no longer made and the dimensions of this oven were apparently unique in the world. In particular, the height dimension of 9.3 inches cannot be found on any small microwaves on the market today.  When I looked on the Island Packet user forums, a number of people with older model boats have exactly the same problem. Some just choose to do without a microwave once it fails, while others  go to great lengths to have their broken oven repaired. No one it seemed, had tried to enlarge the space where the oven fits.

We thought of trying to get the oven repaired, but there were a couple other things we didn’t like about it that wouldn’t be addressed with a successful repair. First, the inside volume of the oven is very small and we wanted one slightly larger. Second, at only 550 watts, the oven is underpowered – so much so that it can’t even pop popcorn. So we decided to enlarge the available space (increasing the height was all that was actually necessary) to give ourselves a lot more choices.

The old oven removed from its cabinet. The two little rings on the “floor” are where the front feet of the oven sat inside to prevent it from sliding out. The hole towards the right is for the power cord.
The front piece of molding came off easily by drilling out the three bungs and removing the screws beneath.
Next was the messy part – removing the “roof” of the cabinet. The only way to do this was to cut it out as it was screwed in from the back on two sides and was a solid continuous piece on the third side. A Dremel tool and an Oscillating cutter did the job (although they made unavoidable marks on the surrounding surfaces). This expanded space could now accommodate dozens of different brands of microwaves currently on the market.
I found some scrap teak at the local sailors exchange to cover the marks made by the cutters. I also fashioned some captive “rings” to hold the feet of the new oven in place. They are the usual brown rubber floor protectors for the bottom of furniture feet. I just turned them upside down and drilled out a properly- sized hole for the new microwave feet to drop into. I then screwed down each rubber ring to the floor around its outside perimeter.
This angle shows how the new teak molding around the top edge interfaces with the original more fancy piece of molding.
All the new teak has been varnished and the new microwave is in place. This model was on sale at Lowe’s for $59. It is bigger inside and has 700W of microwave power (150W more than the original oven). I installed a teak “strap” across the rear portion of the top of the oven to keep it from jumping out of its foot holders in rough seas and from tilting out when we are heeling to port. This piece can be raised if necessary for an even taller microwave if there is a future need. While in port or at anchor, we store plastic containers on the top of the oven, and in effect have not lost any storage space with this improvement.