Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Sleeping on a Sailboat

You would be amazed at how many people tell us they would love to be able to sleep on a boat. I guess I might say the same thing but since I actually do sleep on a boat, I thought I would describe the experience.

Our 1969 26' Snapdragon snuggled in to our dock

Sleeping on a boat is really a wonderful experience overall. Once the sun sets and we come into our cabin, I feel like I am at home. We close up the hatch to keep the bugs out. However, we made a slight adjustment to keep us from feeling totally closed in by cutting a plexiglass window for part of our wood door. We plug in our extension cord that goes from our single outlet on the control panel and to our ultra efficient LED flat screen tv. Eric usually pours us a glass of wine and we proceed to fuss about changing our clothes, washing up in the little sink with water warmed in our electric kettle and charging our phones if needed. We have a couple of pop up led battery operated camping lights that we use until we are in bed. We could use our cabin lights, but on this old boat they are still wired to the battery and that only charges while the engine is running - which we are not doing much of right now.

Our ropes add a nice sound as they tighten and loosen with the wind and tides

Our berths are twenty-seven inches wide at their widest and go down to fourteen inches at our feet. The opening is about fourteen inches high on top of our cushions so when we add in blankets, that space becomes even smaller. Instead of a V-berth like a lot of boats, ours has two separate berths that hug the outside of the boat with a walking area between that leads into our bathroom.


We love watching the sun set on clear evenings

We crawl into our berths and situate our pillows to watch a little Netflix, Amazon or YouTube shows on the television that we mounted between us on the bathroom door. For those interested in how we can have television reception, we use my T-mobile phone with unlimited high definition data for our hotspot. Usually within 30 to 40 minutes, we are starting to nod off with the gentle rocking of the boat. I will say when we first started sleeping on the boat, I was very claustrophobic and and to really concentrate on not thinking about the fact that I was in a tiny compartment in a tiny cabin on the water where I could sink or be hit by lightning or float out to sea. Now I am much more comfortable about crawling into my berth where just turning over takes several little micro moves.

My tiny but comfy berth


The sounds. The absence of human noise is quite refreshing, although if the wind comes from the north, we can hear traffic from the highway a few miles away. We do hear the Marc train or sometimes the freight trains as they pass in the night, but they are far enough away that we don't think about them. What we do hear is geese, lots of geese. They fly in at sunset and make quite a racket. Once in a while, they make noise in the middle of the night but we don't mind. Ducks are the second noisiest and it's quite fun to hear them right outside our hull. Then we can hear owls, or the weird and awkward honk of the blue herons. Would you believe we even hear fish?! We have a lot of carp that jump out of the water around the boat and sometimes they will even wack the boat - surprising me out of my sleep. Then there are the early morning fishermen that don't know we are staying on the boat and talk as though they are the only ones around. Sometimes that is irritating; sometimes kind of funny, too. The tree frogs are starting to sing at sunset and we have a couple of bullfrogs that lend their bass notes to the evening calm. Rain is my favorite sound when it is not associated with a storm.

Love seeing the baby ducks

Overall, our boat with its dual keels is very stable and I have a hard time realizing that I am even rocking. Comically, I do notice the movement when I am off the boat and realize the ground is not moving.

This little camp light works perfectly for our little cabin at night

By morning, when the sun rises and lights up the water around us, we are refreshed. I tend to get up first as there is only so much room to walk around. I heat up a kettle of water and while I wait, I brush my teeth in the little sink we have with a manual pump whale faucet. When the water boils, I make two cups of black coffee with our AeroPress and use the rest of the hot water to take my morning sponge bath before I get dressed. Then Eric gets up and does his similar routine while I dry off the outside seats from the morning dew. We sit out there and enjoy our coffee loving the beauty and calm of the water.


Love the old parts on our boat

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Removing the Steel

So I have been a little lax in writing any new information but today, the afternoon sun is a little too hot for my blood, so I came inside to sit in front of a fan and write... in the sailboat.

Baby ducklings are swimming around the boat now.

If I focus on the view in front of me, I can find relaxation and peace, both of which have been a little lacking in the last few days. If you read my previous blogs, you know that we are lifting our house eight feet higher to eliminate the damage of flood waters. The lift was fast. Massive steel beams were set in place and then the block layers moved in. We had to do a little scrambling to answer some detailed questions that we didn't know we needed to know, like how far off the ground do you want your windows? All in all, the walls went up smoothly.

Have to get all the steel removed.

Then we called the lift company, Wolfe House and Building Movers and asked them to remove the steel beams. We answered their questions, sent them pictures of the walls and all seemed fine until they rolled up the driveway and my quiet morning became very hectic. I didn't know enough - plain and simple. The foreman complained that he did not want to remove the steel as we didn't have the main support beams supported. My response was,"Well then, let's support them!" How hard could it be to grab some 6x6's and some block which was laying all over the place and fix the problem? But no, they asked me to call my mason because they didn't want to jeopardize his work. So I did.

You can just see the steel beams poking through.


Of course, on this day in history in our county, there was a crazy bus accident on Interstate 95 that closed the road (all eight lanes) in both directions for several hours. No problem - everyone can take the peripheral roads - right? Right, except there were far too many cars and gridlock ensued. Don't forget we live right in the middle between Philadelphia and Baltimore on the route to Washington DC or New York City. So our kind mason got stuck in the traffic - FOREVER! Not really, the time spend waiting for him just seemed like that. I resumed my work of mowing the lawn thinking he would take care of everything until I saw him walking down the driveway towards me with a funny smile on his face. You know - that look that says, "I'm smiling but I am pissed because this lady doesn't know what she's doing but she paid me a lot of money so I have to be patient" look.

Who has steel I-beams with their name on it?

He was perturbed because after all his driving, they did not need a block layer at all - just someone to install support beams. We had a little discussion and the foreman of the lift company read his directives from his cell phone, "Customer/General Contractor is to support all beams before the steel is removed." Well, we looked at each other and our mason said, "that's you!" to me. I might have a get-it-done kind of attitude but I knew that I did not have the strength or materials to install support beams in our now 11-foot high basement.

Can you see me trying to put up supports in here?!

I made an effort as I looked around at the five able-bodied men doing nothing. 'Let's use some of this block and lumber." Silence and dropped gazes. Hmmm. That didn't work. I guess I was a little naive. Our mason must have felt sorry for me and took the initiative and installed two supports with the help of my expert pole holding capabilities. He walked me around the inside of our new basement and told me what we needed to do to ensure that the interior of the house didn't collapse once the steel beams were pulled out. Armed with my notepad, I called Eric, only to find he was in the middle of a training appointment, Next, I called my brother who works as a general home repair guy. He jumped to my rescue as he was working from home on some estimates - only he was an hour away. The delay gave me some time to research where I could get the beams and supports we needed.

You can see the steel being pulled out of the house.

The lift company was able to remove steel beams from our garage area so their time wasn't wasted. My brother and I went back under the house and measured again before setting off to find our supplies. We were in luck. We had the right information, we found the lumber and bolts to make our LVL beams and then went and found a 350 pound I-beam which they cut to our specifications. I got a call from Eric saying that he was an hour away from home and I envisioned us working together as a team finishing our job, 

Almost. My brother and I got home first and we set about drilling holes to bolt the LVL beam together. Being a home repair guy meant that he had every tool imaginable in his sprinter van. We then went under the house to clean up the ceiling where we wanted to install the beam. I got busy bringing in an extension cord so he could cut off some old nails hanging down and then I turned towards him as he commented on how easy the old nails were pulling out of the wood but before he finished, I heard the clatter of the aluminum ladder falling against the block walls and then saw my brother flipping over in the air and falling head first towards the base of the ladder. 

It's in times like this that I really wish I could stop time for a couple of seconds to adjust a few details. But in the real world, I have to deal with real time situations and I watched my brother's head slam face down into the rubble of broken concrete block and then his body smashing against the rungs of the ladder as it fell onto the ground. My brain was in over drive and recording bits of information as fast as I could catch them. He was groaning very loudly so I knew he was alive and not unconscious. He rolled himself sideways pushing himself with his legs - they probably weren't broken. As he turned - blood was gushing down his face over his right eye - but his eyes were okay. I couldn't see any punctures anywhere else. I tried to tell him to sit but then ran to get my phone and dialed 911. I turned around and he had walked on his own out of the basement and I found him an old office chair to sit in while I was talking to the phone operator. I kept checking his eyes to make sure he wasn't going unconscious as the call continued. 

Although  I felt like the ambulance was unnecessarily slow, they made it and bandaged him up and decided we could drive him to the hospital instead of taking the ambulance. Two hours later, he walked out of the urgent care facility with a three inch gash that was terribly swollen and red with a more than a dozen black stitches holding his forehead together. The groans of shock in the waiting room surprised him as he hadn't seen how nasty his head looked. I drove him home just to be smart and gratefully turned his care over to his wife - a well experienced nurse.

Back at the crime scene - or at least the job site now tainted with bloody bandages and gloves...The sun had set and I found Eric and our son, John who kindly left his evening routine to help us in finishing up securing the last beam in place. I took over holding the work light as they drove the last few shims into place. By 9:30, we were back on our boat in the dark, exhausted, dirty, but really grateful that my brother's injuries were not so severe as they might have been, and that we were ready for tomorrow.

This morning, Eric and I woke up early with the sun and walked around the house to check our work. after a couple of adjustments, he left for work. The lift company came and removed the steel. I need to finish this blog post so I can inspect the site once more today and make sure all has gone as planned.

So now you know what happened between the lines when I say, we had the house lifted, new walls built and then the steel removed...

Just a regular morning's view from the boat.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Braley House Elevation : Life on a Sailboat

So this post is all about how we live while our house is under construction. While we were in the planning stage, we researched many places to stay; apartments, relatives, tenting, campers, etc..., but none really seemed to work for us. Apartments might have worked, but there were none close enough that would allow us to stay from month to month. So our solution? Stay on our sailboat!

Getting ready to drop our '69 Snapdragon into the water. 


We bought an old  1969 Snapdragon. 26-foot, double hull last year. Although this boat was designed and built in England for the waterways between the hundreds of islands around the British Isles, we find the boat perfect for the shallow waters of the Upper Chesapeake Bay. Because of the double keel, we don't tip when the tide drops super low and the boat can sit level in the mud. 

Our drinking water

Inside our boat, we have a cute little table which I redid with an epoxy coating to be a little brighter and user friendly. We have a manual pump sink and a stove compartment where we have an electric induction burner. Our berths are about 6 feet 4 inches deep, just okay for Eric with his 6'3" frame. I tend to be a little claustrophobic so I have to consciously choose to not to think about our close quarters. We have a forward room that many boats use as a v-berth but in ours it serves as our bathroom where we have a bucket that serves as our composting toilet.

My berth

Since we can plug into electricity on our dock, we have a super-efficient LED thin television mounted for watching Netflix, YouTube or anything else we might fancy. Rainy nights are extra cozy when we are snuggled into our berths with a glass of wine and a fun tv series to watch. Mornings are pretty nice too, after we boil some water in our electric kettle, make coffee in our convenient Aeropress, step up to our cockpit area, sip our coffee looking out at the water while checking our emails on our smartphones. I even baked bread a couple of days ago in our little Breville oven. We enjoy a cool mix of old fashioned goodness with the comforts of technology.


This little Breville Oven works great onboard

The tougher side is the tininess of our boat. We have lots of storage compartments but they tend to be under seats or counters and so we have to work hard to stay organized. Thankfully, we are docked just off our own property where we have a trailer filled with Eric's work products as well as our clothing. We don't have a shower but we retrofitted a regular garden weed sprayer with a shower head and painted the canister black. After sitting outside all day, the water has warmed enough to take a decently warm shower by evening. Our cockpit is self draining so we can stay on the boat while showering. However, the biggest problem is the height of the boat. I can stand up straight in the main compartment but Eric can't stand up at all. I think our ceiling is 5'6" which is just super short for Eric. 

Eric working from home on board the sailboat

We can't complain yet, though. The weather has been beautiful for living aboard a boat. We have enjoyed chilly nights where the blankets feel good and warm days for sitting outside. Eric can fish anytime he feels like it and sunsets are part of every day. We hear some traffic from the road and just a couple of boats from fishermen that live on our part of the river. During the day, I find it amusing to see sport fishermen working the waters around our boat, unaware that I am sitting inside working on my computer looking through our windows at them. 

Eric catching a catfish

So, like most things in life, there is a real idyllic side to this temporary living arrangement of being liveaboards and there is the grunge of tight quarters, the fight with dampness, never knowing if I can actually get on or off the boat because of the tides...

Tides so high the docks are underwater

I was going to finish this post, but remembered a couple interesting experiences...

Eric is a Regional Territory Manager for his company and that requires some overnights during most weeks. I don't have a problem being alone - in fact I kind of enjoy it sometimes. So of course, after a few days on board, he told me he was going to be out of town and after reviewing the timing and distance of his trip, I decided I would stay home to stay on top of our house lift.

Our supporting walls are getting higher!

During the day, I worked on the yard and then went out shopping to get a few groceries. Eric called me just as I finished to check on me. I was cheerful - having a great day and told him I was about to get back out to do a little mowing. Assured that all was well, we agreed to talk again once he arrived at his destination. I picked up all the grocery bags and my purse and headed for the boat. The tide was going out which meant I had to stretch my legs a little to step onto the boat but I was confident and reached out to pull a back rope for support. I realized I wasn't going to reach the step but since I was already leaning in towards the boat, there was no way for me to pull myself back on the dock. I grabbed the side of the boat with my one hand, still clutching all the groceries and my leather bag and of course, the boat pushed further away from the dock and I just fell into the water - all the way in, groceries and all!

As I came back up to the surface of the water, I grabbed a cleat on the dock and tried to throw the groceries up over my head. It worked and so I tried throwing my leather bag up as well, but of course, it flopped and ended up upside down on the water. Quickly I righted it and successfully tossed it on the dock. Mind you, this is April and the water temperature was about 50 degrees. I knew I didn't have the strength to lift myself out of the water so I swam over to a floating dock chained to a piling. I used the piling as leverage to push myself up onto the dock, yes, to emerge safely but looking like a drowned rat.

My confidence was badly damaged but I managed to carefully lower myself onto our boat and grab a towel. All the groceries were safe, except a new small hand vacuum cleaner I could see still floating in its box under the dock. Once I fished it out, only a few drops of water had permeated the plastic bag protecting the machine. Next, I emptied everything out of my leather bag and began laying my credit cards and the other contents out to dry on our cockpit area seats. Panic hit me as I realized my cell phone and car keys were missing. As my mind played through the flashback of my fall into the river, I realized when my bag flipped upside down, my phone and keys in an outer shallow pocket must have fallen out. I peered down into the murky depths beside the boat and knew that I had no way of finding them just then.

This little Duxtop induction burner works very efficiently as our stove.

What to do next? No phone, no keys, no internet, no television, and a storm on the way. Just my lucky day to be home alone. I thought about my options and although I would be fine overnight, no one would know and without an ability to communicate, my family would certainly be worried for my safety. I remembered that I had a spare set of car keys, but they were safe and sound hanging on a key hook inside our home sitting on cribbing piles, now eleven feet above the ground, above mud and construction rubble. I had to get in the house. A twelve-foot ladder was left in our yard, so I was able to work it into position under our laundry room door.

You can see how high our house was lifted

With much trepidation, I entered my home, knowing the steel beams and cribbing piles were totally safe, but still terrified I would cause the floors to somehow cave in. I gingerly stepped my way through the familiar rooms to the spare set of keys hanging inside the front door. Once back in the laundry room, I ignored my fear of falling again and carefully climbed onto the steel beams and then down the ladder.

Next problem, find a phone. I tried using my laptop to access a hotspot from local businesses but their signals were too weak. Next, Walmart. I walked into the tech department and told the associate I wanted to buy a phone. She explained that they only carried phones for certain carriers but was kind enough to do a little research on her personal phone to tell me where I could locate my carrier's storefront.

Armed with my new information, I headed the few miles down the road, determined to be back at home on the sailboat before dark. Within about an hour, I had an upgrade from my old phone and all my contacts, pictures and information loaded for only a few dollars more a month on my bill. Thankfully, everything I do is backed up on Google so only texts were gone. On my way out to the parking lot, my new Samsung Galaxy S7 rang. Eric was calling to ask me if I had bought a new phone since he was my security contact. I was all too happy to relive the experiences of the last few hours and get a little sympathy and compassion from him. 

A super efficient LED Samsung TV entertains us

I made it home in plenty of time before sunset and set about making my dinner and relaxing as I explored my new phone. Overall, I had a calm evening and settled into my berth after setting up the television using my phone as my hotspot. And then I heard the thunder. Normally, I love thunderstorms and their excitement. That night, my nerves were still jumpy and I quickly started researching the safety of  staying on a sailboat during a storm. The stories that popped up were terrifying and since the rain was already pouring down on the boat, I knew I wasn't going anywhere. I decided our boat was a good stable boat that had survived over the decades without being struck by lightning and so I was probably safe. I will say that was a long night as the storm lasted for what seemed like forever.

So, yes, sailboat life is awesome and awful. We pick and choose how much we can handle by staying at friends or checking into a hotel room.

Tonight, Noaa is predicting strong winds and thunderstorms so guess what? We are securing the hatches and spending the night with my brother!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Mud

Yesterday was another block laying day, but we had to cut short an hour early because walking and working in the mud was just too impossible. Wet clay seemed like ice when we'd try to walk and every step was precarious. Our yard was more like a pond.

The ducks loved the rain
The crew was able to get the scaffolding up and lifted piles of blocks to be ready for a drier day. When they started it was raining and by the end of the day the rain was almost over.

Our driveway puddles
Trying to get close enough to the house without slipping was a challenge and even then my crocs were covered in mud, making my feet rather filthy. 

My view as I walked up the driveway
 In spite of the rain and mud, we enjoy seeing every bit of progress. I understand the moist conditions are actually good for the curing of the mortar between the blocks.

Our back patio

This is where we normally entertain around our fire pit. We have a bit of cleaning to do before any entertaining happens here!

Piles of block all around the house
I love the blue of the new clean block. We are reinforcing the blocks with rebar every 36 inches horizontally and vertically to make sure the strength of the block is not compromised by any sideways movement.

Pallets of fresh new block decorate our yard

I never thought that I would enjoy seeing these piles of block stacked around our yard, but they are a sign of progress.

I don't think they can move the bobcat until the mud dries a little.


Window and flood vent openings
I watched the masons cutting the block and then setting it in place and they are amazingly precise. All the concrete is mixed on site and carried in metal troughs to one of the guys laying block.

Our flood vents came
Thanks to the advice of our town zoning administrator, we went with an expensive but very efficient flood vent. This is called a dual purpose vent because it provides an opening for flood waters to ebb and flow by use of an internal float, which lifts with the water, unlatching the vent. In addition, the vents provide ventilation as a bimetal coil fully opens the vent at 75 degrees and fully closes it at 35 degrees. They are marine grade stainless steel and made to withstand harsh environments..


Our breezeway walls are going up.


Just a little mud...


She's still standing even with all the mud and puddles

My viewpoint this morning...

Friday, April 21, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Building New Walls

Today is Friday and on my time schedule for the contractors, we are a week ahead of schedule. Our mason, Dean Dixon from Dean's Construction, has already been at work since Monday. Since it's raining, I am writing from the confines of our sailboat but do plan on getting out to the site in a few minutes.

Clearing the site for the block

Here you can see the aluminum pole in place as a corner guide for the block.



Watching the crew clean up the edges of the old block was so exciting. To see the possibility of the old block meeting up with new block was great progress. After waiting for so many years and months, seeing our drawings come to life was very satisfying.

Here the old block is cleaned and ready for the new layers


You can see in the pictures that our mason used an aluminum corner pole that stands as a guide between the old block and the new block. He also keeps a laser focused on the job to make sure that each layer is perfectly straight.



We are happy with the quality of work Dean's Construction's crew are providing us. 

No more bulkhead or crawlspace!










I did not expect this much of a 'construction site look' but know that this will all be cleaned up soon and we will no longer have to worry about a wet crawlspace or flood threats.