Flying the Q-Flag

In the traditional sailor’s flag code a plain yellow flag represents the letter “Q” and is flow by a ship entering harbor to show that they are “healthy” and wish to be cleared in to enter the country. We fly ours every time we enter a new country until we have been cleared in by customs.

Interesting how a few weeks change perspective. It wasn’t that long ago we were sitting right here fussing and fretting over how long we had been stuck in port. We wanted to go SOMEWHERE. Now… we are really happy we stayed put!

We have a number of sailing friends who are in various stages of being stuck somewhere. The worst difficulties are faced by people who left one port, heading for another; then at the end of the trip, are told they can’t enter the country–go away.

Right now, we are comfortable and reasonably isolated here in Fort Lauderdale. We have been keeping busy by working on other boats, some recently sold, others being prepped for market. Ironically, this situation has turned into a minor financial surplus for us, while a disaster for most others.

We have a boat full of food, and in a place we can comfortably stay for the foreseeable future. We are good.

As bad as this first wave might be, I worry that the damage to the economy around the world, like the second wave of an ocean tsunami, will prove a bigger, and more dangerous problem in the long run. But time will tell…

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Things are busy!

I have finally completed the written description of the window replacement project on Harmonie. Hopefully, the details with help someone else with the same effort! Read all about it here: Harmonie‘s new windows.

We have been working with new owners of an Amel 54 getting their boat ready to sail. A fun project, working with great people, that is helping put at least a little bit of green back into the cruising kitty after several months of serious drawing down.

We are also working on having some custom parts made locally for Amel owners who, like us, need to replace rubber inserts on our rub rails. They are available from the Amel factory, but the shipping costs from Europe increase the cost by 300%. We have found a local outfit who can custom manufacture these for us at reasonable cost.

Last, but not least, we have the potential for a couple of deliveries: bringing other people’s boats from where they are to where they need to be. A chance to sail other boats, in other places!

Almost like work!

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Quite the frustrating ride we have with insurance. I suspect a lot of the issues come from the basic assumptions of the insurance business. It is about spreading risk between a large pool of more or less similar customers. Some customers are percieved to present a bit higher risk, and they pay more, and lower risk customers pay a bit less. In theory, the (Cost per unit of Risk) is as close to a constant as the actuaries can calculate it.

Then along comes a boat like Harmonie. They ask us some questions, and they don’t quite know what to do with our answers.

  • “What is your Home Port? Where do you keep your boat?” No one place, we travel all the time.
  • “What will you do if you are in the path of a large storm?” That greatly depends on where we are.
  • “Where do you live?” On the boat.

It’s not that NOBODY does these things, but very few people do, and the data set that is available calculating risk is actually quite small.

We have gotten a lot of advice from many people. Some of it very helpful, some… not. Frequently the advice consists of “my policy is really cheap, you should check it out.” So far, we have yet to find a “really cheap” policy that meets even our basic needs, but if one does happen to turn up, we’ll be all over it!

Several companies we talked to were based in the UK or Down Under, and had no interest in an American flagged vessel in American home waters.

Several companies had policy language that was unacceptable to us, especially around “latent defect,” and “inherent vice” losses. Some did not handle depreciation issues around repairs in a fashion we thought was reasonable.

Of the few that survived this far down the weeding out process, it became clear that the “home port” issues were going to be a big stumbling block. Basically, you tell the insurance company that in the event of a “named storm” your boat will be located at your home port, and secured exactly as you described in your storm plan. They use that information to develop the risk and cost of the policy.

If you are NOT in your home port and suffer damage during a named storm, your policy is not valid–so sorry! The way around this is to tell the insurance company every time you are in the path of a storm where you are, and your detailed storm plan, and hope that is acceptable to them, maybe with a rate modification. This is a very different consideration than the allowed “cruising range” in the policy.

We also found that most were “coastal” policies with coverage limited to less than 200 miles offshore.

In the end, working down the check lists for what we wanted, there was ONE policy still in the running. The Jackline Policy from the Gowrie Group. The coverage wording was mostly what we were looking for. It has true world-wide coverage. With a few reasonable limitations, we can go anywhere. There is no home port issue to fret over. They also offered the kind of general liability coverage that most people get through a homeowner’s policy, which is very hard to come by from other venders. This insurance program has been around for many years, catering to the few boats who do exactly what we do.

On the downside, it is expensive. We went from 2.5% of hull value for a limited cruising area to over 4% for worldwide. You get what you pay for.

Of course the REAL measure of any insurance company is how they handle claims. We hope we never find out…

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Hey! What’s he doing up there?

Another one of our major projects is complete: New rigging for our Harmonie. In the original plan this project was going to be next year when the parts all had their 15th birthday, but needing to shift to a new insurance company, we had to pull this forward. The local firm Nance and Underwood has a lot of experience with Amels and they are set up to make some of the bespoke parts that need to be replaced. All of the rig was replaced, Wires, turnbuckles, pins, everything between the chainplates and the mast.

The crew did a great job, getting everything installed, tuned, and ready to go in a bit less than 3 days of work on the boat.

The stainless steel wires that support our mast don’t change much in appearance as they age, but that doesn’t mean they don’t change. Small areas of corrosion build up, and repeated cycles of loading cause the metal to work-harden and lose strength. They have a finite life, and get risky as they get older.

Oooooh! Shiny!

Now all of our rig is new and ready to go for at least another decade of ocean sailing. We also had some minor sail repairs completed.

We did complete our insurance paper chase, and we’ll post an update on that soon. We did find a policy we were happy with, although it is expensive.

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Washing Day.

I guess this comes under the category of “First World Problems,” but yesterday our laundry machine came to a clanking halt. Checking carefully, we found the drum would turn a few times, then jam. This machine is 25 years old, and although it has been well cared for by people who knew how these things worked, everything dies eventually. We started looking for a replacement.

There were two problems. Our main electrical system on the boat is 220 Volts, so being currently in the USA we are at a disadvantage, but there are some suppliers of 220 Volt appliances. The second problem was bigger: The size. It is tiny. And the space available requires a very small unit. We were not able to find anything that could fit. The good people on the Amel Forum steered us to a modern unit that would fit, but wasn’t available in the USA, and cost about US$1000–before shipping from Europe. Ouch. So… it might be time to try to breathe life into the old girl one more time.

The good news is that this model is a good, old fashioned, electro-mechanical machine. No software. No silicon chips. No mother boards. Just relays, switches, timers, cams, gears, and pushrods. Once you get it apart, the way everything works is right there to see and understand. So we hauled her up into the cockpit, and attacked with screwdriver and wrench.

When you first open one of these up, it is a bit intimidating. Wires running all over. Mysterious widgets. But with a bit of study, you start to see the logic. A pulls on B, and X turns, and before long it makes sense.

A Happy Washer Repair Man.

After a full disassembly and cleaning all the parts went back together–and it WORKS.

We know that this machine, made 25 years ago in Austria, has a finite amount of life left. Parts are no longer available–as far as I can find. But, we have postponed the day of reckoning out into the future once again, and nothing looks ready to break. We can avoid doing laundry in a bucket for at least a bit longer!

In another piece of good news, in taking everything apart, we found that the water hose feeding the washer had chafed, almost all the way through! We could have had a great flood dumping all our fresh water into the bilge. Another example of why taking things apart on a boat is a good thing.

It was entertaining to open the machine up and find notes inside in the pervious owner’s handwriting about how to reconnect the wires. Yes, Don, I do know your handwriting!

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That Worked Out!

I had alluded to the possibility of us needing to move the boat away from this marina due to infrastructure work that was coming up. For a lot of reasons, that would have been a pain in the butt. Well, we dodged that bullet.

Karen worked her network of friends here, masterfully, and managed to secure us one of the very few spots left for a boat of our size. Yesterday we moved the boat out of the way of the construction, and settled in to our new, temporary home on the other side of the marina.

Project Status

We continue to work hard on projects that are not immediately critical, but might just be lifestyle enhancing (like our air conditioners!), or cosmetic and/or value adding to the boat (like refinishing our saloon table). The big, and important, job left is replacing the standing rigging.

The wires that support Harmonie’s mast are now 14 years old. With one circumnavigation on them, they were on our schedule to retire next year, for their 15th birthday. Unfortunately, the need to find a new insurance company requires us to push that ahead to this year. We have pulled the trigger with the local rigger, the parts have been ordered, and assembly started. By the middle of this coming week, they will be going up and down the mast replacing wires.

In the past couple of days, we got our boat speed transducer up and running again, our space all prepped for our new air conditioner so it can just drop in when we pick it up on Monday, our flexible propane line to the stove replaced, the rudder shaft repacked, and a bunch more things done. Karen has been scrubbing her fingers to the bone getting weeks and weeks of boatyard dirt off the deck. For an older boat, she really sparkles.

Also coming up this week is the big Miami Boat Show. In the last few years this show has shrunk dramatically as a sailboat show, but it is still huge, and all of the major suppliers and manufacturers are there with their latest and greatest toys. We have a couple of things we need to look at there to evaluate for future projects, and a few things we’ll be shopping for–if we have any money left after this busy refit season!

Our main saloon torn up as part of our air conditioner replacement
The forward berth is a jumble when things are shuffling out of the way of today’s project.
Trying to avoid making a mess when installing the new side windows.

Insurance Update

Insurance evaluation continues to take a lot of time. Over the past several years the marine insurance business has been roiled by higher than normal losses. Many companies have left the business, or greatly restricted the scope of policies they will write, so we are hardly unique in needing to re-shop something we thought we had sorted out.

We now have two policies in the running. They have different pros and cons, and quite different prices. Both touch down on the right side of most or all of our most significant issues. Once we get everything assembled we’ll post our thinking on this.

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More with Insurance…

We are having had soooo much fun with boat insurance. We are learning a lot, and are rapidly weeding out policies based on what we are learning about insurance companies, their policies, and their brokers. Not a lot of what we are learning is pretty.

Most marine insurance policies are treated as “warranty” policies. Some of the warranties are explicit. For example, the person buying the insurance “warrantees” that all the information supplied on the application is true, and remains true for the duration of the policy. Other types of warranty are “implicit” and are not part of your policy or application, but have been found by the Federal Admiralty Courts to apply to marine insurance as a matter of law without being spelled out in words. For example the “Warranty of Seaworthiness” means the boat is maintained in a condition of seaworthiness suitable for the waters she normally sails in. If not, the policy is void for all losses.

Our most recent learning has been about the way your “home port” and your “cruising region” are treated. You would think that if your policy specified a “cruising region” from Georgia to Maine, and listed a home port of Annapolis, Maryland you would be covered anywhere from Maine to Georgia. Well… yes, and no.

The secret catch is that some parts of your policy are priced based on your home port. For example, the risk of hurricane damage. Although it is nowhere stated in the policy, the assumption is that you are covered for a “named storm” ONLY at the home port described in your storm plan. One of the things you implicitly warrantied was that you would be there during a storm. Did you know that? If not…Surprise! If you are in Maine, and the storm plan you filed with your insurance company lists Annapolis as your home port… you might NOT be covered in Maine for storm damage.

If you are in Maine and a storm approaches, you can call and update your storm plan, and have them reprice your policy for your new location. That’s an option. IF they approve your new storm plan and IF they give you a fair price as the storm approaches…

For 99.9% of all boats the concept of the “home port” isn’t a big deal or a serious limitation. Few boats ever travel far enough from their home dock that they risk getting “caught out” by a named storm, so it’s not an issue. For the tiny fraction of boats like us without a “fixed address” who can’t really predict where we will be when, the whole thing is highly problematic.

Not all polices work this way. Our old policy did not, and so far we have found ONE policy that is written in a way that seems to be about right for us. There is more coming. Hopefully we can sort all this out by the end of the month.


We did get a Surprise! of our own yesterday. At 4:59 PM (on Friday!) the office here at LMC sent an email telling us that they were going to be dredging the east basin of the yard (where we are docked) and we had to move by February 14th. Move as in, “Go away, we have no room for you–anywhere.” Karen has appealed, and gotten our case on the agenda for the Monday planning meeting. The primary issue here for us is that our rigging contractor has promised February 14th as our “done” date for that major project. The expectation that this happens 100% on time seems to be unduly optimistic. As much as we want to leave here, we had hoped that it would be on our choice of days…

In any event, we’ll figure it out…

We continue to make project progress, although it does seem that we add two new for every “Done” we cross off the list, but that’s a boat.

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