Category Archives: Ingenious Solutions

Sharpie Is A Verb

My Evil Pencil Zinc and I have a hate/hate/hate relationship.  I hate, hate , hate it.  The seemingly simple, routine chore of checking it can send me into a cold sweat, depression, or possibly therapy.

What rocket scientist decided to put it underneath the nearly impossible to reach heat exchanger, at the back of the engine, behind the access opening?  I fantasize about meeting up with that engineer in a dark alley with a crowbar in my hand.

Evidently there is something about balancing upside down on one knee, with an ankle wrapped around my shoulder, cocked sideways, hunched over, using one hand to support my weight, my other hand wielding a tool with a 90-degree elbow extender, and my crucial third hand at an unnatural angle poised underneath to catch the nut just before it falls into the bilge that brings out the inept in me.  Whoddathunkit that a smart girl like me could be so confounded by righty-tighty-lefty-loosy given this position?

I go through all the usual stages, starting with cheerful optimism and a can-do attitude, progressing through pathetic begging/pleading with my inanimate object, then jaw-clenching frustration and reassessment, and finally descending into an infantile Eddie Murphy-like colorful F-fest.  By this time I can count on bruising, blood, and yes, must I admit it, some totally embarrassing girlie tears.  It’s only a wee nut – 9/16″ to be precise – and yet my utter humiliation is palpable.  I can touch it, but I can’t loosen it.

Whether it’s that epic release of profane creativity or simply the Boat Maintenance Gods in a moment of spent amusement and overwhelming pity, I can’t be certain.  What I do know is that it’s at this final stage, as I’m thinking either I’m not cut out for boat ownership or I need to hire someone to help, that some random technique I’ve tried 5 times before suddenly works, and the evil thing is in my hand.  Ah!  So THAT’S the trick!  Got it!  I won’t forget again … until next Groundhog Day three months from now.

Enter Captain Holly, on an otherwise benign afternoon, to whom I rather haltingly mention I need to check my zinc, hoping I sound even slightly confident and nonchalant about it.  In reality, I could have been informing her I’m headed off to capture an elephant.  If she noticed my ill-concealed quivering lip, or the terror in my eyes she kindly refrained from mentioning it.  Casually tossing off my engine cover as though no evil lurked beneath, she matter of factly asked for a different tool and a Sharpie.  (A Sharpie?  Really?  Hmmmm…)

An amused bystander could probably discern my almost OCD struggle at that moment it donned on me she intended to use the Sharpie to mark on my heat exchanger!  Such was my neat-nick upbringing that in my mind’s eye, I didn’t see a piece of dirty, crusty metal and a harmless marking pen; I saw a sloppy ladle of gravy poised over my finest white linen tablecloth.  But solution-oriented, no frills Holly didn’t notice my discomfort at marking up my boat; in the blink of an eye I’d been Sharpied and my life was forever changed.

With a few simple strokes of the marker, as if by secret decoder ring, my heat exchanger was transformed into a guide showing me which way to face, where to find the zinc, what tool to use, and how to twist the nut.  Now this chore is drama-free and I don’t even need that third hand to do it.

Once you get over the ego notion that you shouldn’t need reminders, and the childhood admonition that you’re not allowed to mark on stuff, you’ll begin to see Sharpie-esque tasks everywhere you look.

So unleash your inner Picasso and doodle meaningful symbols.  Write up, open, off, check, leave, dump, left, first or even NO!  Notate brand, size, dates, reminders or techniques.  Label it, circle it, draw an arrow to it.  When it comes to marking stuff on a boat, there are no rules.  Do it your way.  Whatever helps you see where to find something or remember how to do something is an opportunity to exercise your Sharpie skills.  Be one with your Sharpie.  Write on!

To my adorable pencil zinc: I love you, man.  To my omnipresent Sharpie: You’ll always be my favorite onboard tool.  And to the ever-resourceful Captain Holly: Uh … gee … thanks.  I shoulda’ thought of that myself.


For more boating adventures with Captain Holly Scott and sidekick KC, find us at and


Happy unHooking

I just finished reading about some folks who were new to chartering on their first big charter.  It wasn’t clear where they were chartering, but the water wasn’t very deep and was murky.  They were feeling rather accomplished, anchored for the night in a cove and some big weather blew in.

Now, let me say right here that I sail in deep clear water on the West Coast.  The weather here is pretty reliable and predictable.  I know, I’m spoiled, but so what?  After all, I’m an only child and can see no reason why I shouldn’t sail in a great place.  I have had the opportunity to sail in lots of other places while cruising and delivering boats, so I know what thin brown water is about.  Just between you and me, it gives me the creeps.  I don’t like not being able to see at least a few feet underwater, and you’re sure not going to see me swimming in that stuff.  Yuck!

So back to the charterers.  They survived a big blow during the night but try as they might, couldn’t get the anchor free the next morning.  It seemed to be fouled on some creepy dark mass on the bottom.  EEuuuwwww!  (that’s the creepy part!)  Long story short, they chafed the nylon rode through and it parted while they were trying to pull it up, leaving the anchor and chain on the bottom.  Then there was the  big check made out to the charter company to replace the gear.  The whole time I was reading the story, I was wishing those folks knew about my ‘Unfouler’ trick.

Here where I sail, you can usually see your anchor either on the bottom or at least on the way up when hoisting it.  I paint mine white at the beginning of the season every year so they are even more visible.  It really works well!  The few times one of them has fouled, it’s usually easy to see what the problem is so you have a chance to decide what to do about it

Fouling kelp wads usually requires a steady pull and letting the boat slowly free itself, with maybe a little machete action.  It’s not very exciting, but patience and taking in any slack usually works – just don’t be in a hurry, and don’t cut the rode with the machete!  Rocks, cables and other anchors are another matter.  I suppose sunken logs and tree snags fall into this category too (I’m starting to feel a little clammy.  That kind of stuff really does give me the creeps).  So here’s my trick.

Find a piece of line on board that’s at least as long as the water is deep.  You marked your rode right?  Now dig around and find a 2 to 3 foot piece of chain at least 5/16”.  You can also make up a 10” stainless steel loop out of ¼” rod with some eyes in the ends, or buy one at the chandlery.  See the photos if you are totally lost.

Pull your anchor rode (chain or line) as tight as you can and secure it.  Be careful if you are in choppy water, you don’t want to tear out a cleat or your anchor roller.  Loop the chain around the anchor rode and tie the ends together with the extra piece of line you found, or loop the stainless ring around the rode and tie the ends closed.  With the rode as tight as you can make it, and the boat directly above the rode, lower the Unfouler all the way down as far as it will slide.  The next part takes a bit of team work.

Slack off the rode a few feet as you slowly power forward over the anchor, keeping the Unfouler line tight.  The goal is to slide the chain over the shank of the anchor and pull it out from the other direction.  Dump maybe 15 to 20 feet of rode on the bottom and keep pulling with the Unfouler.  Most of the time, the anchor will come loose from the snag and you will be able to hoist it up after you’ve dragged it a few feet away from the problem.  You’ll have to deal with the extra line and chain as you hoist, but it’s a small price to pay for getting your anchor back.  Just don’t drive over it and foul the prop!

In the photos, I’m using a small Danfoth anchor, but this trick works on plow types as well.  Be sure your chain or stainless loop is big enough to slide over any shackles and down the shank of the anchor.

If the waves and weather are bad and everything is going to heck, buoy your rode and let it go till things settle down.  You have three or four anchors all rigged and ready to go right?  Good!  Retrieve the rode and try again when things are calm.

Keep a few lengths of chain handy for docking in rough conditions too.  You can loop them around the base of cleats so your dock lines won’t chafe on the cleats.  This trick is very popular in some of the more exposed marinas in Ensenada, Mexico.  There’s nothing like learning the hard way in the middle of a storm… even when you know it’s coming!

So, next time you or somebody else fouls the hook, grab your Unfouler and unhook it!


For more boating adventures with Captain Holly Scott and sidekick KC, find us at and

Ode To My Dinghy Pump

It all started when I decided to take down my burgees.  I was sitting on my boat anchored in my favorite cove and finally got around to removing my Staff Commodore flag.  I know, this is starting to sound snooty and Yacht Clubby, but hang on.  I belong to a couple of small yacht clubs and have served as commodore for both of them.  One club, twice, actually.  No Blue Blazers.  The SC flag for the Women’s Sailing Association had beaten itself to death, and was looking real tacky.  In fact, it was so shreaded, it had tied itself in a knot and the whole flag halyard was so fouled, it took some doing to get it to come down.  Some friends on another boat were watching and offered a spare Staff Commodore flag they had onboard.  Gee, really?  Sure, I’ll row over and get it.

I had been running my engine to charge the batteries and once off my boat and in the dinghy, I could see that my exhaust was very steamy and looking pretty scarey.  I grabbed the flag, rowed quickly back to my boat, clamored aboard and shut down the engine.  Oh great.

Ok self, be calm.  Start with the simple stuff first.  Maybe the water strainer is fouled.  Go slow.  Put your shoes on.  Get your glasses on and take the engine cover off.  Close the thru hull valve and unscrew the strainer… Well, there are some odds and ends in there but it’s been worse.  Clean it out and put it back together.  Don’t loose the gasket like you did that other time, digging around in the 5 foot deep bilge with a wire taped to a mop handle and with a flashlight in your mouth.  Open the valve.  Hmmm, no water is coming in.  Unscrew it a little and let the air out.  Nada.  Take it apart again and see how much water is coming out. Don’t loose the gasket. Drip, drip, drip.  This should be like a flood!  Maybe the thru hull is fouled… wiggle the handle a few times.  Nada.  Ok, maybe the hose sucked some kelp or something in it… hmmmmm.  How am I going to blow it out?  THE DINGHY PUMP!

I love old school Avon dinghys because they are bullet proof, and they come with the world’s greatest pumps.  We actually still own (and use regularly) a dinghy my parents bought in 1968.  It’s had a few makeovers, but it’s still going strong.  So is the pump. And the pumps really are awesome.  They have plywood top and bottom, dinghy fabric sides, with a ¾” hose that pumps lots of air fast.  I never appreciated them until I helped some friends put together a new dinghy using the toy pump it came with.  What a joke.  No wonder people buy those electric pumps.  I could never figure out why you would waste all that electricity when you can pump up a good sized dinghy in a few minutes with an Avon pump.  But back to my engine…

Things like this rarely happen, but the dinghy pump hose was the perfect size to fit into the end of the intake hose, which happily came off the strainer once I removed the hose clamp.  Clean living pays.  While holding the connection together with one hand, I sort of stood up and pumped the pump with my foot.  Nothing happened.  Whatever was stuck in there, was really stuck.  Try again, nada again. Yes, the thru hull is open. Ok, I mean it, blow out of there dangit!  With lots of force on my part, there was a loud whoosh and the sound of bubbles outside the hull.  I pumped a few more times and then pulled the hoses apart quickly before any water could get into the dinghy pump.  The water was flowing now!  Yeah Buddy!  Shut the valve, hook it all back together, open the valve and fire up the engine.  All happy and back to normal.  I’m sure glad I didn’t tear into the water pump or something.  There was a suspicious kelp leaf lingering under the boat when I looked.

I suggested this trick to one of my sailing students who called when he couldn’t get his fresh water pump to prime after switching tanks.  He pulled the tank vent hose off and pressurized the water tank with his dinghy pump, forcing the water to the water pump.  Another time, a cruiser I knew pressurized his fuel tank the same way to force fuel thru a line to prime an electric fuel pump.  I suppose the same trick would work to start a siphon instead of sucking on a hose, by pressurizing the jerry can, but I have yet to try that.

A little more time charging the batteries, and then back to the burgees.  They look much better now, no damage to the engine, and I think I’ll toast my dinghy pump this evening at happy hour.

Another lesson here is not to leave your boat unattended while charging the batteries.  It doesn’t take much to suck up a piece of plastic or kelp in the raw water intake of either your engine or your generator and mess things up in a hurry.  My overheat alarm hadn’t come on yet, but it was close.


 You’ve inflated the dinghy over the years,

Without complaint, without any tears.

Most people think you’re there for the dinghy


You saved the engine, you’ve blown out the sink,

You helped start a beach fire, on a nite dark as ink.

Remember the time you unclogged the head?

Without your devotion, we would have been dead.

You’ll be my shipmate on every cruise,

You never complain, and don’t drink my booze.


For more boating adventures with Captain Holly Scott and sidekick KC, find us at and





Red Light at Night

As we all know, or ought to by now, using white cabin lights during a night watch is a bad thing.  Sure, you can see whatever you’re looking at really well at the time, but you and everybody near you, will be blinded for up to 20 minutes until your eyes adjust to the darkness again once the light is turned off.  Enter: red night lights.

Red light allows you to see well enough to read, navigate, cook, find your socks or what have you, but won’t overwhelm your night vision.  Once the light is turned off, you can still read the compass, search the horizon for MOBs, buoys, ships or other things to bump into. I have lots of them aboard Mahalo.

There are red lights in the galley, over the nav station, in the head and in the forward cabin.  I have a favorite dedicated flashlight with a red lens too.  I love my flashlight, it goes wherever I go on a boat, hangs around my neck and has thousands of miles under it’s tiny keel.  It was made by Pelican, the folks who make all those cool waterproof boxes, and several waterproof and shockproof flashlights.  Imagine my panic one night last summer when I couldn’t find it.

It was the first night of a nine day charter aboard Mahalo.  We had a boat load of ladies out for a learning adventure to the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast motorsailing from Long Beach to Santa Barbara.  We had finished dinner and cleaned up, and had given the crew a taste of night watches.  They were experiencing looking at other boats’ running lights, practicing using the radar, plotting our positions every hour, log keeping, eating cookies and pouring hot drinks.  As we started our watch schedule and the wind and waves built, slowly the number of bodies in the cockpit dwindled.  Guests aboard are not required to stand night watches so I soon found myself alone in the cockpit for another two hours.  No biggie, I decided to catch up on some reading. All I needed was my trusty flashlight and some fresh batteries.  It wasn’t in the drawer where it was supposed to be.  Maybe my duffle bag from the last delivery?  Nope.  A different drawer?  Under some junk?  My tool bag? Nope again.  This is so unlike me to misplace my stuff!  Try again.  Still nothing.

Ok, now it was time to get creative.  I remembered a cheapo flashlight that came with the boat, which of course I found on the first try, but it had a white lens.  I’d read about people using red nail polish to cover a light bulb, but I’m not really that kind of a girl, and certainly don’t have red nail polish onboard.  Red plastic sheets to repair tail lights on a car?  None of that stuff either.  Hmmm…  What about a red felt marker?

I put some batteries in the flashlight, grabbed a red marker and covered the lens with red ink.  I let it dry a minute and gave it another coat.  After a quick horizon check, I covered the lens with my hand and turned it on.  It looked like it might work, so I uncovered it and was quite happy with the result.  It wasn’t quite as red as the real flashlight, but when I turned it off, I could still see in the dark.  Wahoo!  Back to my reading..

Later in the charter, the florescent tube in the light over the galley broke when the light fixture took a direct hit from a pan lid.  I know the red tubes are next to impossible to replace.  Some company used to make red plastic sleeves to slide over florescent tubes, but I haven’t seen them in years and don’t have one on the boat anymore.  Would the felt marker work?  I had a spare white tube and gave it the treatment.  It worked like a charm after two coats were put on.  I wondered about the heat from the light burning the ink but after six months of use, they all seem to work just fine.

The rest of our trip was fantastic.  We made it to all the Channel Islands as well as Catalina Island, had some great passages, great food and lots of laughs.  I had tried for years to visit all the Islands in one trip, but had been turned back by nasty weather and time constraints.  I’m going on record as saying that bull Elephant Seals are really big when they swim up to you while you’re rowing ashore in your Avon Redcrest inflatable dinghy.  It’s amazing how fast you can row those things with three people in them when you are properly motivated.

So, toss a red marker in your fixit bag, it might just come in handy one of these days.

I found my favorite flashlight the next morning in the back of the drawer.  I guess we were heeling more than I remembered.


For more boating adventures with Captain Holly Scott and sidekick KC, find us at and

Bird Poop

Sorry if you find this offensive, but really, why do birds love to poop on boats so much?  There are plenty of other things for them to poop on.

Last year, I decided it was time to paint the non skid on my Cal 40, Mahalo.  I took off 44 years worth of out dated deck fittings, scraped off old sealant, filled the holes, prepped for days, masked the waterways, mixed the two part paint, let it ‘cook’, mixed in the non skid material, wiped down the surfaces with solvent, assembled the pan, roller and brush, strapped on the knee pads, donned my big hat, got in the right Zen mood and went to work.  Several hours later, it looked great!  Better color, better texture, all I needed was a final coat the next day and we would be looking great and sailing again!

I carefully walked around the toe rail, stood on the cockpit combing, locked the companionway, reversed my steps and began the clean up painting mess.  Yuck.  Back tomorrow for the final – final.  Yee- Haa!

The next morning, I was admiring my new decks as I walked along the dock.  Nice job, self!  Well done!  What the ……?!?!  A Great Blue Pooping Heron nailed the entire aft deck.  I mean NAILED IT!  They usually leave my boat alone but this was an epic job.  Just stood there and let loose, and then walked around in it.  Three toed foot prints everywhere.  He could have even tap danced a bit from the look of it.  Fricken Herons!  I know, somebody out there just said something like “Oh, but they’re so beautiful!”  Who cares?  All I see is a 300 PSI Poop Machine.

Have you ever seen their nests?  They glue then together with… POOP!  Now and then, a nest falls out of a tree here in my marina if the wind is really blowing.  They fall 40 feet and are still intact because of the quality of the poop.  Too bad we can’t figure a way to use it as a roofing material or something.  How about when they spew while flying overhead?  At least that’s usually a thinner layer, although it may cover more deck area.

Back to my paint job. Thankfully, the paint had ‘gone off’ before my visitor arrived. After a sufficient amount of swearing, I began the clean up process. It didn’t take very long and the second coat of paint went on without a hitch.

Do those birds eat epoxy?  No, mostly fish and frogs and things with lots of bones that turns to cement when it exits the other end.  My chemistry brain Dad informs me that mild acid is the key to cleanup.  Sounds just like white vinegar to me!  There are all kinds of fancy concoctions you can buy that do the same thing and cost a lot more, but vinegar is cheap and you can use it for other boat chores too.  Dump some on a rag and start scrubbing if the poop is recent.  For older poop, it may need to soak and soften things a bit so just put the vinegar soaked rag right on the mess and give it a few minutes.  This also works on canvas poop targets.

So, how do you keep them from coming back?  Some folks hang plastic grocery bags all over their boats.  Nice.  Who wants to see/hear that all night and day?  Or maybe hang CDs on strings.  Nope.  The more junk you have on the boat, the harder it is to go sailing and that’s the whole point of this boat stuff right?  Giant plastic owls?  Or even plastic herons?  Where do you put them, I’m already sick of them and don’t want to look at any more birds plastic or not!

Ok, the first step is to determine what kind of bird is pooping on your boat.  Sea bird, wetlands bird, dryland bird?  Sea birds are not going to relate to plastic owls and snakes, so a thin strand of monofilament or fishing leader strung across places where they sit will keep them off.  No noise, no flapping, no plastic bits fluttering off into the water.

Wetland birds know all about snakes and  four leggeds who eat birds, so decoys work well.  If you have a cat or dog onboard, you are probably wondering what this whole article is about to begin with.  They work the best at keeping birds away.  Plastic snakes work well, but so does a 4 or 5 foot length of ¾” to 1” line – preferably braid.  Just lay it out in a snake like posture in the area when the birds tend to hang out (like my aft deck).  It really works well!

Dryland birds seem to be on the move and are just in the neighborhood for a short time.  Of course, they probably just finished a big meal of berries.  The rope/snake trick seems to work for some of them.  If not, a few flapping flags should annoy them enough to go find a tree.  Or borrow a cat.

That should solve your bird poop problems.  Try the piece of braid – it really works and you won’t have to buy and stow anything new.  There is one other thing that’s almost worse than bird poop.  Bird barf.

But that’s another article.


For more boating adventures with Captain Holly Scott and sidekick KC, find us at and