How Skippopotamus Got Her Groove Back

July 6, 2020

St. Paul Yacht Club

Blank canvas

Drawing out the design.
I painted the same image on the other side and the rays wrap around the back so the back has 3 horizontal bands of color that link the sides together.
New vinyl Skipperliner graphics.

Yes, it does resemble Japan’s now retired “Land of the Rising Sun” flag. This was not intentional. There was no intention to suggest Japan in any way. I just wanted a gray-scale sunburst on the side of the boat. Originally, I intended for the center of the sun to be one of the grays. However, several people, including Dave, really wanted that center to be a color. Since I had already used dark red for the boat name graphics, I went with red.

Who Wants to Help Me Paint?

May 8, 2020

St. Paul, MN

The complete interior rehab is almost done.  Remaining interior jobs include some minor touches such as trim, stain, oh, and Dave is completely rewiring the entire boat.  No big.  Spring is in the air and it is time to turn our attention to the exterior.  The exterior needs A LOT of work.  All of the metal including railings, decks, and exterior of the hull need some sort of treatment, be it grinding, scraping, sanding, or just fresh paint.  The roof needs a lot of work as well.  This post will focus on the painting of the superstructure.

The exterior of Skippopotamus consists of vinyl paneling sheets that you might see in a public bathroom or in a shower.  We replaced most of it when we replaced the windows.  It is white, but some panels are a different white than the other panels.  And by the way, who was the genius that made white boats the norm?  White shows dirt.  Boats, by nature, are outside.  Things that are outside get dirty.  Every inch of this boat that I touch with a paint brush will no longer be white.  It is crazy.  I can take a magic eraser and get the white railings nice and clean.  A week later, you’d never know that I cleaned them.  I really don’t enjoy cleaning enough to make it my life.

The big question is, can a person paint this vinyl shower panel stuff?  Will it stick?  Will it stand up to UV rays and weather?  I called our local paint store and asked.  The man that I spoke to wasn’t sure.  To complicate matters, there is a global pandemic going on, so the store is only conducting transactions over the phone with cub-side pick-up.  The man told me about a product that might work with the caveat that it is an acrylic paint and therefore requires 3 weeks to cure.  In other words, to test whether it will stick or not, one really needs to wait 3 weeks.  No problem.  I am a planner and I started this process, well, 3 weeks ago tomorrow.

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Dave and I saved samples of the siding in anticipation of this step.  I took two squares, prepped one square with three different grades of sand paper and the other I did not prep at all.  They’ve been down in the bilge ever since awaiting testing.  I have scraped at them with my fingernail a couple of times over the past 3 weeks and the primer seems to be highly bonded to the surface.  I think it is going to work really well with minimal prep required.

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My sample pieces.  The one on the right has an X in the middle because it is difficult to tell the coverage when painting white onto white.  It might be tough making sure I don’t miss any spots.  I might go blind trying. 

The sample pieces are still in the bilge, but I feel pretty confident that this primer is going to work out just fine.  So, let’s talk about the fun stuff.  Design!  You didn’t think I was going to paint it one color, did you?  Do you even know me?

As we’ve discussed, no white.  The theme of the remodel thus far has been a lot of gray.  The exterior shall follow suit.  But not boring gray.

We removed windows on the rear of the boat, which is the stateroom.  We did this to make room for a closet and because we don’t need a window on the other side.  Windows invite moisture, cold, and light in.  None of which I want in my stateroom.  I think one large patio door is quite enough, thank you. As a result of the absent windows, the rear exterior of the boat has large areas of white siding.  Former marina office manager, Roger, says it looks like a shoe box.  I say it looks like a blank canvas.  In 3 shades of gray, I will be painting a sunburst on each side.  The rays of the sun will wrap all the way around to the front and back of the boat and will terminate at the patio doors on each end.  This will create a two-tone horizontal division.

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When we bought the boat, it was white with royal blue accents.  The carpet was blue, the counter top was blue, the shower was blue, the fly bridge was blue…  My intention is to remove every trace of blue from the boat.  In fact, I think I already have.  Unlike our neighbor, “Blue Bob”, I do not fancy over-the-top nautical blue and white.  I like to add a little nautical flair, but I try to avoid kitsch.  The lettering for the throw ring and the vinyl name for the back of the boat are a deep red.  I plan to have our sign guy make vinyl versions of the original Skipperliner signs, replacing the blue with the same deep red.  They will be mounted in the upper, rear on each side.

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Finally, Dave will build a “pilot house” on the roof to conceal the fly bridge controls.  The controls are in shambles. Dave doesn’t want to completely remove the controls in case someone would like to someday resurrect the fly bridge.  The model name of our boat, after all, is Fly Bridge…according to the title, anyway.  On the front of the little pilot house, I intend to paint a half sunburst.  I am filing the pilot house under “roof project” so look for a post on that later this summer.

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Pilot house sketch.  I’m going to put LED lights inside so that the little portholes are always lit.  Won’t that be adorbs?

Oh, and by the way, I don’t want help painting.  I’m a perfectionist and you’d never do a good enough job.  Besides, I want to keep all the fun to myself!

Spring 2020 Flood/Virus Report

April 8, 2020

St. Paul Small Boat Harbor

I don’t want to jinx it, but I think spring flooding has peaked for spring 2020.  According to NOAA, the river at St. Paul crested this week.  However, last year we had two, maybe three crests.

April 8 hydro

You may recall the picture of Dave standing next to one of the spuds this past February.  I took another yesterday for comparison.  Notice the position of the stripe on the spud as well as the angle of the ramp to the docks.  The ramp is partially under water.  Now imagine that last year the crest was almost 5 feet higher.

 

side by side

Dave didn’t wear shoes yesterday for dramatic effect.

The COVID-19 pandemic however, has not yet crested here in Minnesota.

COVID prediction

Dave and I haven’t had to quarantine yet.  If we do, at least we don’t have to worry about a marina evacuation happening concurrently.  We are both well as of today.  I barely leave the boat except to get fresh air and exercise.  Dave has to go in to work every day, but he takes as many precautions as he can to avoid infection.

The virus claimed one of my heroes last night, John Prine.  In the early 90s I asked Amusement Devices to put a John Prine CD on the jukebox at the bar where I worked.  They added Bruised Orange.  I think I was the only person that played it.  This May Dave and I got to see Mr. Prine live.  I’m so glad we did.

Stay well, everyone!

Life is Like the River…

March 28, 2020

St. Paul small boat harbor

“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”
― Emma Smith

As the cases of COVID-19 increase exponentially, the river rises ever so gently.

Last week the NOAA predicted that rising temperatures up north will increase snow melt and the rivers will begin to rise as a result.  The current prediction reflects it:

Marc 28 hydro

Although we are approaching “Minor” flood stage, this is not yet of much concern to us.  It is my understanding that we do not need to be concerned until the river reaches 17′ as that is when Xcel starts shutting off power to our harbor.  Our 12V system still needs some work to be ready for us to transition to battery/generator.  Dave needs some parts, which he ordered through Amazon.  However, ordering online is an uncertain endeavor at the moment.  Dave ordered some specialty wire for the boat.  Because he had not received any shipping confirmation, he contacted the company.  The company reported that their crew of 40 warehouse employees had dwindled to 5 because of the Coronavirus.

Some good news is that SPYC procured two brand new, 40 foot ramps for access to the lower harbor during high water.  It is my understanding that last year, the ramps were all but useless when the water got to a certain point making it impossible to access the boats.

Last night at midnight, a stay-at-home order went into effect.  Dave and I were already following it.  We are occupying ourselves by watching the the baby eaglets on the DNR EagleCam, watching Netflix, finishing small projects on the boat, and observing our new pets.

In a batch of bait fathead minnows, we received some sticklebacks, and one adorable bullhead that we’ve named Bully.  Bully lives in an antique bottle that my brother found at the bottom of the river.  See him?  Isn’t he cute?

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Live from the River

March 20, 2020

St. Paul small boat harbor

Both the river and the COVID-19 outbreak have me on edge waiting to see what will be unleashed.  Is this the calm before the storm?

In spite of a rainy day yesterday, the river is only rising slightly.  Today is cold and windy, but sunny.  I do not have an update from my northern correspondent in Bemidji, but my weather app (Dark Sky) has this great “Hydrologic Outlook” for the Bemidji area:

“…Spring Thaw Update…  Overall the slow thaw process of March continues with some runoff reaching into the southern valley with Wahpeton and Abercrombie rising to around action stage.  Our current cool down will stall the thaw process through the weekend.  Next week the temperatures are set to continue the gradual thaw with daytime highs above freezing and overnight lows below freezing.  This will allow the southern basin to continue to see snowmelt runoff begin to reach the river system with slowly rising streams and rivers.”

March 20 hydro

The NOAA places us at the top of the “Moderate spring flood risk potential”.  I’ll take that.

National flood risk potential

Due to global efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, I am working from home (the boat).  I get to observe, first hand, the status of my little stretch of river.  The herons are back, the geese and ducks are paring up, and beavers show up occasionally.  Nobody new at our feeders though.

Barge traffic started with a flurry this week, however I haven’t seen a barge today.

There is so much uncertainty about the spread of COVID-19 because of the lack of testing.  There are 115 confirmed cases in Minnesota at this time, but the number of those infected is likely much much higher.  The Governor has stated that a “shelter-in-place” order is possible. That is more or less what I’ve been doing.  I don’t think I’ve driven my car since I left work last Friday.  We are so glad that we finished our kitchen last weekend now that we will be staying in for most meals.  There are a few finishing touches, but the functionality is complete.

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It’s Complicated

Friday the 13th of March, 2020

St. Paul, MN

This blog series is about flooding, however, right now the Coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is a global pandemic and it is on the verge of knocking this country off its blocking.  What does this have to do with flooding?  Well, as far as Mother Nature is concerned, nothing.  Pandemic or no, the river will do what it will.

As of right now, the hydrograph (below) looks tame.  However, I know from experience that it can change very quickly.  If heavy rain shows up in the forecast, or if the northern, snow-covered part of the state suddenly gets very warm, that line can spike.

March 13 hydro

I checked in with my northern Minnesota correspondent in Bemidji this morning.  I asked for a comment on current snow cover and melt.  Here is what she had to say:

“The world to the north: Indeed, we have snow cover! That said, the recent weeks of March sunshine have caused the high snowbanks to shrink and have even exposed grasses and earth on south facing hillsides. Many ditches are visible, although far from nurturing any marsh marigolds or running water. Nights are so cold: way below freezing, thus keeping runoff to a minimum. If one looks out the window in my part of the woods, it is easy to believe it might still be January or February.”

Here is the interesting way that the pandemic and river conditions could drastically impact Dave and my lives: we could lose utilities and be sick/quarantined at the same time.  Last year, during the worst part of the flooding, it was almost impossible to get to and from the boats because the ramp was mangled.  Also, the City shut off utilities and evacuated the marina.  Now if Dave and I are quarantined, we’re not going to go stay with people.  Quite frankly, we don’t want to stay with people anyway.  We’ve been talking it through.  Here is what we’ve come up with:

Electricity: We have a gas powered generator.  We can run it enough to charge the batteries for our 12-volt system plus keep the fridge and freezer cold.  However, we do need to get some gas.

Gas: Our furnace runs on LP and Dave is in the process of hooking it up to 12V so the ignitor/blower can run off battery power.  Our oven and stove are LP and we have quite a bit of LP on board at the moment.

Water: We have a tank that holds about 100 gallons.  If we keep an eye on the hydrograph (which I do, multiple times a day) we can be ready and make sure it is filled before the City shuts off our water. We will then conserve our potable water by using river water for anything we don’t consume.  We can take sponge baths and hold off on laundry until water service resumes.  Also, our fancy Swedish toilet does not use water.

Food: We’ve stocked up a bit on non-perishables.  We have more food on the boat than probably ever before.  We’ll finish our new counter top this weekend, just in time for lots of at-home meals.

Current water level: 9.71′

Xcel starts shutting off selected electric and gas: 17.5′

Power to lower harbor (us) is shut down: ~17′

As you can see in the below Facebook post from the former marina manager almost a year ago, the City evacuated at around 17′ as well.

Roger's post

Also note, that the river was at 6′ on March 18, today is March 13 and we are above 9.  Dave and I are sitting on the edge of two major situations.

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Stay well and stay home.

 

February 24, 2020

February 24, 2020

St. Paul, MN

37°F

The outdoor temperature in St. Paul is above freezing.  It is only a little bit above freezing…that’s good.  We need a slow melt so that all of the water that is tied up in snow and ice will come down the river gradually. The melt and precipitation right here in St. Paul will not affect us all that much; it is the melt and precipitation that happens further upstream that will determine the amount of flooding.

Below is a map showing the watersheds of the upper Mississippi River and the Minnesota River.  All precipitation that falls on those watersheds will have an affect on the water level and velocity of the Mississippi River in St. Paul as it heads south toward the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Watersheds

I frequently check the weather for Bemidji, MN as it lies near the headwaters of the Mississippi.  Northern Minnesota received a lot of snowfall this winter.  That snow is sitting on the ground, waiting to melt.

Below is the current forecast for Bemidji.  Not too bad.  Little precipitation and even when the temperature rises above freezing, it drops back down overnight.  This is good news.  However, days will get longer…and warmer.  So I watch.

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NOAA has not yet begun to post river forecastsfor St. Paul.  The forecasts are issued during the navigation season, which has yet to begin.

Capture

The main channel at St. Paul is mostly open as you can see in the image from one of the St. Paul webcams below.

webcam 2

As of this morning, our boat was still frozen in the slip.  In the webcam image below you can see that there is ice between Raspberry Island and shore.  In the upper right corner you can see a couple of our neighbors’ boats.

webcam 4

More updates to come.

Forty Days and Forty Nights? I Hope Not.

February 12, 2020

St. Paul’s Small Boat Harbor

Folks are always curious about winter.  They want to know how we stay warm and if the river freezes.  Sure, winter houseboat living is challenging, but spring is where the action is.

Spring is the season of rain and snow melt.  Spring is the season of flooding.  Climate change complicates matters in multiple ways.

My intention is to post more frequently as spring approaches.  Last year flooding on the Mississippi was severe.  The river is still higher than normal.  Folks that live in this marina were evacuated for 42 days last spring.  Utilities were shut down and one boat sank as a result. There is the possibility that things could be worse this year.  The situation will depend on a number of factors: how much more snow falls on the watershed, how quickly the weather warms and therefore the snow melts, how deep the frost layer is, and how much rain falls on the watershed, to name a few.

The docks to which we are tied ride up and down on “spuds”.  In the picture below, Dave is standing next to one of the spuds (they look like telephone poles).  In past years, additional steel tubing was welded to the tops of the spuds as the river threatened to rise above them.

Folks in-the-know here at St. Paul Yacht Club have this to say about the current spuds:

“We added more steel to a few a few years back so they are all higher than the levee elevation. I doubt we’d add more to them. If the river and docks went higher than the spud poles the river would completely flood beyond the levee…that’d be a much bigger issue than we could hope to manage.”

And…

“those spuds are as high as they ever need to be. The world will end before the water gets high enough to take those docks off the spuds.”

(Way to jinx us!)

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Another point of interest that a non-winter liveaboard might not think of is that all of our motors are winterized.  Our motors do not run right now.  Even if they did, they are not powerful enough to do anything…if there were anything to be done…in flood conditions.

So, we wait.  The NOAA/National Weather Service flood prediction is our best friend.  When things start to happen, the NOAA/National Weather Service will use multiple tools and models to guess what is going to happen.  We will be monitoring the hydrographs multiple times a day.

Feb12_2020 Hydrograph

My intent is to post frequently this spring, so stay tuned…and clean the clutter out of your spare bedroom, please.

Good Fences (and Good Informal Rules in the Absence of Fences) Make Good Neighbors

Dave and I agree that we have never felt that we had a “home” like we do aboard our boat, Skippopotamus.  There are several factors that contribute to this deep feeling of home.  One, of course, is the heart.  After wasting too much of our lives suffering through relationships with the wrong partners, our hearts are finally home.

Out of our love for one another, comes our boat.  We selected her together and have worked side-by-side on her since we bought her.  She is ours and we are hers.  She is home.

Finally, this community that we have found among the liveaboards feels like family…and home.

Someone once told me that if you ever see a boater in trouble, you ALWAYS help.  As a human, you should help anyone that is in trouble, but when it comes to boating, you help even if it is small trouble.  A dead car battery, in your driveway, in the summer, is much less grave than a dead battery, on your boat, in the middle of the barge traffic lane, on the Mississippi River.  Add living on a large, frozen river, in Minnesota where the snowfall is significant and the temperatures dip well below zero to the equation, and the assist credo carries much more weight.  At any given time, you could be in serious need of your neighbor’s assistance.   That knowledge tends to foster a tighter bond with the neighbors than one might in a place like the suburbs.  These folks in the marina have become our family and I would run outside in bare feet, in the middle of a cold winter night, to help any of them.  Maybe this bond built by reliance is what we’re missing in modern society…but that is a post for a different blog. 🙂

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Some members of our “family” gathered for our recent boat naming ceremony. 

As you might imagine, all of this mushy bonding could easily lead to a lack of privacy.  Boats are parked side by side in the marina with only a narrow dock (called a “finger”) in between.  Fortunately, we have informal (and formal) rules that we follow to alleviate that issue.

Some boating rules, such as the assistance credo, apply across all boaters and do not apply only to liveaboards.  Blogger Janice142 lays out one such rule in her post “Boat Etiquette 101: Permission to Board.”:

#1) Always ask “Permission to come aboard”

#2) Always wait for the response before boarding

A fellow liveaboard told me of her experience living in a marina populated primarily by seasonal, recreational boaters.  This particular liveaboard, like many of us, is a very private person.  She also loves to enjoy a good book out on her front deck.  She found this activity difficult to accomplish in the marina.  Whenever she set foot outside, other folks immediately engaged her in conversation.  Seasonal, recreational boaters have a different approach to marina life than do liveaboards.  Most, not all, enjoy the social aspect of being in a marina, with other folks that share a common interest.  This is totally fine and completely natural, it just gets a bit intrusive, if not exhausting, when you live on your boat full-time.

In response to these types of situations, we liveaboards adopt some other informal rules.

An article about Mississippi liveaboards published in City Pages says “When Bruce Klaenhammer walks down the dock at the SPYC, he waits for his neighbors to wave first.  That’s the informal rule about greetings in a neighborhood where boats float port-to-starboard with each other: To preserve some privacy, the person on the boat chooses whether to say hello.”

Other informal rules include:

Avoid showing up without first arranging a visit.  This rule tends to be a little more loose with your closer pals in the marina. Don’t assume that others agree with the level of looseness.  We all differ in our privacy requirements.

When you do show up for an expected visit, always remain on the dock or finger, knock on the side of the boat, and wait to be invited aboard.

Avoid gawking at the boats as you walk by and don’t stop to gawk at a boat.  Especially avoid looking in the windows.  Sometimes it’s hard, I know, but do your best.  Frequently folks are in the boat but you can’t see them.  I once had guests gathered in the living/kitchen area of the boat and some folks stopped on the dock in front of my boat.  They were looking at the boat, talking, gesturing towards the boat.  I don’t think they realized we were just on the other side of the glass.  It felt very awkward.  Imagine entertaining in the suburbs when some neighbors walk across your lawn and gather just outside the front windows, facing in.

When returning items to a neighbor, leave the items on the boat or dock in a place that will be seen by the owner, but do not step on the boat nor look in to see if anyone is around.

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Now, don’t get me wrong.  We liveaboards are a nosy bunch.  We like to know what is going on in our neighborhood.  Picture living in an intentional neighborhood, designed to house people with a common interest.  Curiosity is completely natural.  We don’t try to hide it.  We talk among ourselves, about each other.  We ask questions.  We share information.  But we always try to be respectful.  The chit chat is usually about the boat, boat projects, marina business, etc. we try not to get too personal.  Besides, if one gets gossipy, it will certainly come back to bite…usually in short order!

In summary, I love this community and a little bit of informal “fencing” goes a long way towards preserving the joy.


Here are some other quotes from “The Real Houseboats of the Mississippi” that resonated with me:

“You can live this close and still be left alone,” he (Bruce Klaenhammer) explains. “But I wouldn’t think that it would be anything less than appropriate for me to join a neighbor’s party.”

“The thing to me now is certainly not the boat ride,” (Virgil) Amsden says. “It’s the gathering of the community, and the friendships that we’ve developed over the years.”

“Jonathan (one of Watergate’s resident beavers) doesn’t know how close we are to 10 Bath and Body Works,” (Dawn) Brodey says. “At night, even though the airport is so close, I can lay up on the roof and hear nothing but birds and crickets. I don’t know how that’s possible. Maybe it’s magic.”

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If it’s not magic, it is something very close. ~ me