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An Electrifying Story

For the last several years I have been living “off grid.” 100% of the electricity I’ve used has come from solar panels. I’ve been running three in parallel. They are all made by Renogy. Before buying the first panel I did some investigating of companies on line. While Renogy isn’t the least expensive they seemed to be one of the better established companies producing solar products and should probably be around for years to come. 

So I started with their 50-watt rigid panel. Worked fine, but if there was a cloudy day the panel just didn’t provide enough power to keep the twin battery bank topped off so I had to use a generator hooked to a battery charger at least three days a week. Then came the 100-watt rigid panel followed later with the addition of a 160-watt flexible. The 310 watts works great. I have a 1,500 watt inverter that provides 110 AC power to run drills and saws and with a bunch of 12-volt cigarette lighter sockets I kept power going to my phone, iPad, and Macbook Air. 

When I was planning on making my move from the boat to the Montero Sport I contemplated moving the battery bank to the SUV. Instead of the hassle I bought a Bluetti eb70 power station. It can be charged either through the cigarette socket while driving, by a rather noisy “block” running off of 110 house current, or by up to 200 watts of solar paneling. Worked great through my two month 3,500 mile adventure. It kept the fridge working throughout. Over one long weekend in Virginia stuck at an auto repair shop the solar panel kept the unit charged.

After returning to The Swamp here off the Saint Johns River in central Florida, I moved back on to the boat and brought the Bluetti on board, too. The difference is that I am also hooked into “The Grid” to run the fridge as well as an incandescent light. I’d been using Luci Lights that are solar charged, but they don’t provide very powerful illumination for doing tasks like food prep and cooking after sunset. But I use an LED bulb which the manufacturer claims uses almost no power to give off the same amount of light as a regular 75 watt bulb. I know it doesn’t even get warm after being on for several hours so it’s not burning up the kilowatts.

While I have five cigarette socket outlets running directly to the 12 volt battery bank only two of them were actually in working condition. It doesn’t matter since the Bluetti handles all the 12 volt recharging duties, anyway. So this morning I decided to disconnect those items from the battery bank and stop using it altogether. I disconnected the two rigid panels from their charge controllers as well and have wrapped up all the wiring that has been cluttering up precious space just aft of the rear bulkhead. There was a lot, too. Each of the sockets had a positive and negative lead going to the batteries and each of the charge controllers had two wires. The rigid panels are connected together using what are called “branch connectors” The two positive and two negative wires from each panel are fed into the top of the connector and then there’s just one positive and one negative wire leading away to be hooked into the charge controller. When set up, the charge controller has a positive and negative wire running into it from the solar panel and then there’s a positive and negative wire that feeds from the controller down to the battery bank. Each of the three panels came with about thirty feet of positive and negative wiring. It’s rather stiff, 6 gauge wire an is rather unruly. 

Three hundred and ten watts of solar energy is overkill for recharging the Bluetti which is supposed to max out at 200 watts. There’s a bit of a fudge factor here so I’ll be combining the 160-watt flexible with the 50-watt rigid. I’m waiting on the delivery of wire strippers and a crimping tool designed to deal with the heavy duty wires the panels use. You can’t find them in stores around here. Not Lowes, not Home Depot although you can order them at both places as well as from Wally World. But they’re not in stock so you have to order and wait. I already have the branch connectors but I need to crimp new pins and end connectors to wire that will be cut to a proper length. I’m going to hold the 100-watt panel in reserve for the moment but will probably be hooking it back up to the battery bank just to keep that in shape. 

As my old reporter hero Linda Ellerby used to say at the end of each story…”And so it goes.”

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Owning My Hypocrisy

Everyone’s a hypocrite about something. Some of the worst offenders, of course are people who profess to be “Christians.” Most of them don’t act Christlike. I call them “Once a week for an hour on Sunday Christians.” .Being an atheist I dodge that bullet. 

My major hypocrisy is that while, in theory, I despise Amazon and Walmart, I use them all the time. In 2021 I placed 41 orders with Amazon and I have at least a couple more I’m going to place before we ring in 2022.

Let me get Walmart out of the way first. I live on a fixed income. A Social Security deposit each month of around $1,200. That was perfectly adequate when I lived in Panama where I rented a fully-furnished, air-conditioned HOUSE for $175/month and had an electric bill that never exceeded $20/month. Each month I had more money in the bank than what I started with. 

When I repatriated five years ago the only way I could survive was to buy a small sailboat and live on it at anchor thus avoiding paying any rent at all. I did that for four years until moving into The Swamp off the Saint Johns River in Central Florida. My COPD makes physical activity tough and I wouldn’t be able to handle an emergency at anchor. Now I’m tied up to the bank of a canal and pay $100/month in rent and throw in another $25 for electricity though I don’t think I gobble up that much. But it helps my neighbor/friend/landlord defray some of his expenses.

In the nearby town of DeBary, after driving nearly 3 miles to get to a paved road, there is a Walmart food center. I do my grocery shopping there because, 1) it’s convenient and 2) the prices on nearly everything are less expensive than at Publix or Winn Dixie. While the Walmart selections of meat are pretty meager, everything else is sufficient. 

They also have a pharmacy at that location. I’ve gotten my Covid-19 shots there and got my annual flu shot there just the other day. Their prices for prescriptions are reasonable though prescription meds in the United States are outrageous whatever pharmacy you use. When I was anchored off Anna Maria Island I used CVS. It was right on the free trolley route and their prices were a hair lower for the meds I need than the Walgreens a couple of blocks away. 

When I moved here to The Swamp I switched my prescriptions to the Wally World pharmacy for the convenience. I was planning to make a long road trip in my SUV and while CVS has a good network of outlets around the country, Walmart is EVERYWHERE. In fact on my 3,500-mile adventure I was able to get my prescriptions filled in two different states!


So, what about Amazon? I think it’s a wonderful goal to shop locally. To patronize mom-and-pop operations, but of the 41 items I ordered most were not things you could walk into a store off the street and buy. Like the bed frame I bought prepping my SUV for the camping expedition.

Or the Coleman Instant Tent and the collapsable cot,

or the Coleman collapsable table.

Yes, some of those could have been obtained locally, but they would have been bought at some other national chain like Dick’s Sporting Goods. So what’s the advantage? And I didn’t buy the cot until well into my adventure and then I had Amazon deliver it in care of General Delivery to a tiny post office in north central Florida! 

There are no local mom-and-pops stocking the Bluetti eb70 portable power station. And who carries a female cigarette lighter socket with wiring that attaches directly to a 12-volt battery bank via alligator clips?

I needed that so I could run my 12V/110V fridge off the batteries that are charged by my solar setup?When I bought the fridge I was living on the hook with no other electrical service. Never seen what I needed at a local store.

I ordered a couple of copies of my book “Adversity’s Wake” for my nephew in North Carolina. Kinda cool thing about that is while I have to pay the full price for the books I also receive my 90% royalty later.

I needed to replace my fuel tank pickup assembly with a Yamaha hose attachment.

Don’t find those in too many stores. Even the local West Marine in Bradenton didn’t have those in stock. West isn’t a mom-and-pop operation by a long shot, and lots of people have issues buying from West, too.

For the past couple of years my electrical needs have been met by solar. I have three Renogy panels. Started with a 50-watt panel which I thought would be sufficient to maintain my phone, iPad and Macbook Air. It wasn’t enough. I still had to run my generator several times a week to keep up. Of course that cost money for gasoline and we won’t even talk about the noise it made. (Sidebar…when I was on my nine-month single-handed cruise to Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, I used a generator hooked up to a car battery charger to keep the batteries topped off. This was back in ’92 and who heard of, or could afford solar back then, anyway? That Generac was deafening. I used to fill the tank half full, start it up and then get in my dinghy and go exploring for a while. By the time I got back the batteries were charged and the generator had run out of gas and shut down.)

Where was I? Oh, yes…the 50-watt wasn’t enough so I added a 100-watt panel and ran them in parallel. Worked fine. Up to a point. if we had several overcast, cloudy days I had to be really careful on how much I used my gadgets so their batteries wouldn’t run out. My lighting, by the way, was provided by Luci Lights which are solar powered. Wonderful things. Every household should have a couple for when power goes out. No batteries needed. They’ll sit in a drawer ready for use for at least a year. They give lighting for up to 12 hours and then you just put them in sunlight to recharge.

I decided I needed to add another panel to the mix. But the rigid panels are heavy and since the deck space ahead of the main hatch was cluttered with the two panels I already had, the only place to put a new panel would be on top of the Bimini frame. It needed to be lightweight. The Renogy 160-watt flexible panel only weights about 6 pounds which was great, and what I bought. I now had 310-watts of power after connecting everything up in parallel. Cloudy days have not been a problem since.

My next project requires me to fall back on Amazon so I can hook up my solar panels to feed the Bluetti.

A word about the Bluetti. it has four USB outlets from which I charge my phone, iPad and Macbook Air. It has four 110-volt outlets just like you have in your walls at home. They supply AC power via a pure sine wave inverter. I can also plug my fridge into one of those, or, I can go the DC route and plug into the unit’s cigarette lighter outlet. 

The Bluetti came with the wiring to charge the unit from solar panels. When I was stuck over a long weekend in Virginia waiting to get a new alternator installed in the SUV, I hooked the flexible panel to it. It took two days to get it to a 100% state, but it worked. Now I want to tie all three of my panels into the unit but I need to modify the wiring on the boat.

Before buying the Bluetti for the land voyage I had the three panels charging a two-battery house bank. Those, in turn, ran to a bunch of cigarette lighter sockets that provided the outlets to charge my equipment. The 100-watt panel and the 50-watt panel were hooked up in parallel using “Y connectors to merge the four wires (one positive and one negative from each panel) down to two which, in turn merged down to a single positive and negative wire. These were connected to a solar charge controller. The 160-watt panel simply led down to another charge controller that then fed into the battery bank.

The charge connection for the Bluetti has a single plug into the unit which has connector ends for a positive and negative lead. I need a Y splitter so I can merge the leads from both charge controllers into the single feed for the unit. 

The problem is that the ends of the wires that are in the controllers won’t just fit into the receiving ends of the splitter. They need to be crimped on to the plug ends first and that takes some special “stuff..” 

I contacted five local firms listed as “solar power equipment suppliers.” Not a single one was willing to help. They’re only interested in selling complete solar systems for houses. Systems in the multi-thousand dollar range, not small, individual parts that generate pennies in profits not dollars. Now, I don’t blame them. They’re not set up to sell anything to schmucks like me. 

What that DOES do is erase all guilt from adding to Jeff Bezos’s already fabulously obscene net worth. A couple of clicks of the mouse pad and I’m going to pick up the pieces I need on Monday! 

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Getting Ready For Winter

I refuse to be cold THIS winter. Since I repatriated from Panama I’ve been living on a small, anchored sailboat. No access to an electric hookup. Now, our winters don’t get THAT cold here in Florida though I once watched snow falling while on a sailboat off of Key Largo years ago, but when you can see your breath INSIDE the boat then, damn it, it’s COLD!

The best way to stay warm is to wear layered clothing to trap and preserve your natural body heat. Works well for the Inuit. And I’ve done that for the last three winters. I have a half dozen sets of thermal underwear. I’ve got nearly as many sweat shirts and a ton of heavy-duty socks. I even have a comfortable stocking cap that my friend Brandy Randall sent me from her Enterprise Bar in Rico, Colorado. But you can’t surf the net if you’re wearing gloves and certainly not mittens!

There were quite a few days in the past several winters that I spent wrapped in a blanket like a shawl, or snuggled down in my cold-weather sleeping bag in the middle of the afternoon. Not fun! I do have one of those Little Buddy propane heaters. They gobble up those green 1-pound bottles like I do a bag full of M&Ms. And they only warm the boat for as long as they’re on and a bottle lasts about 5 hours. When you turn it off it gets cold rapidly. There’s very little insulation value in a quarter inch of solid fiberglass. I used to turn the thing on for a few minutes until I could feel my finger tips again and then shut it down.

I moved to The Swamp here off the Saint Johns River in Central Florida last year just before the winter set in. While I have access to a nearby 110-volt source I didn’t take advantage of it. Then. 

I’ve depended on solar power from 310-watts of Renogy panels and it has done me well. Not so great once I got my Alpicool refrigerator/freezer. It’s dual 110/12 volt. It drains the batteries pretty fast, though. So I bought a long, outdoor extension cord to run it. 

With the passage of the first cold front of the season, mild as it was, I decided that I wasn’t going to go through another winter like the last few. Years ago when I was living on the Nancy Dawson, my Kaiser 26, in Fort Lauderdale I had a small ceramic heater. It worked well even though the extension cord that brought power to the boat really wasn’t good. Dangerous, in fact.

Well, I’m not going to chance it this time. I bought a heavy-duty, 10-gauge extension cord. It’s rated for 1,850 watts. The small Lasko ceramic I bought is rated at 1,500 watts maxed out so there’s a bit of a load buffer.

Of course, since I got the stuff we’re on a warming trend with an afternoon high just short of 80ºF. But Sunday the prognosticators are prognosticating a low in the mid 40F range and a high not even reaching 70F. So maybe I got it together just in time…

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First Cold Front Of Fall

The first cold front of this Fall season crept through The Swamp yesterday. Rained the entire day. Not hard, but consistently. The temperature dropped throughout the dim daylight hours. The rain stopped after sunset and started up again near midnight. I have no idea when it stopped since I was snuggled down in my sleeping bag. 

Around daybreak I could hear the wind blowing through the tall trees that line the canal where my boat is tied to the bank. They sounded strong but had no effect on me forty feet below their tops.

I thought of the many times in the three winters I spent anchored off Anna Maria Island just below Tampa Bay. Days when the winds blowing out of the north and northeast would bounce me around so harshly that it was impossible to get any sleep.

About an hour ago, 7 a.m.ish, the thermometer in the cockpit read 56F. The prognosticators at WillyWeather say the mercury will climb up to, perhaps, 61 degrees by mid afternoon. There will be a gradual warming trend through the week getting to the upper 70s by Wednesday.

DeBary, where I am, is roughly 95 miles farther north than Bradenton Beach, but those 100 miles make a lot of difference in the weather. WillieWeather says it’s going to get up to 70F there, but windy. I’d be uncomfortably bouncing around in the waves from the winds they say will be gusting up out of the northwest to 30 mph. Makes me VERY glad I made the move to The Swamp.

Two hundred miles farther south, around Fort Lah Dee Dah, afternoon temperatures are expected to be around sixteen degrees warmer than they will be here.

All in all, it’s not too bad. Especially since I slipped into some thermals.


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Back On Board

More or less moved back into the boat. I’ve been dividing up my time between the Montero and the boat since I got back from my not so epic journey. I’ve been cooking on the boat since that’s where the 11 lb. propane tank is located, but I’ve been keeping the fridge in the Montero along with the Bluetti battery pack and 110-volt light. That’s using almost nothing for energy since it has an LED bulb. I’ve been sleeping in the van. Yes, it IS inconvenient going back and forth to cook and sleep.I’ve been sleeping on the 4″ trifold mattress I was using on the boat. I transferred it to the SUV when I was making the trip. I wanted to leave it on the bed frame so I’d have a comfortable place to sleep when off the boat. I’ve been trying for WEEKS to get another mattress. The first one I ordered from (Boo! Hiss!) Amazon was delayed a couple of weeks and then I was told it was unavailable. So I ordered a differemt one from them. It took a couple of weeks and then reached Apopka just a few miles up the road. They brought it down to my mail drop at 5:30 last week even though the delivery instructions clearly state deliveries cannot be made after 4:30! It was returned to Apopka over the weekend and then I received a message that it was “Undeliverable.” It has been returned to the sender and my money was refunded. It has been over a month trying to get a new mattress.Last night I ordered ANOTHER mattress from (BOO! HISS!) Wally World. Give them a try. How much worse can it get? It’s actually the same mattress I’ve been sleeping on for the past couple of years and it’s very comfortable. We’ll see what happens this time.

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Too Nat Geo For Me


I’m sitting here in my Montero Sport in The Swamp off the Saint Johns River in DeBary, Central Florida at 8 a.m. reading the news on line when a movement at the corner of my vision captures my attention. I look up and there’s a large black bear not a dozen feet away from where I’m sitting! Freaked me out!

I pretty much enjoy watching the wildlife I’ve come across in the last few years. Here in the Swamp it’s gators, wild turkeys, white tail deer,

and a couple of glimpses of wild boar. When I was anchored off of Anna Maria Island a little below Tampa Bay there were dolphins, white pelicans in their annual migration,

brown pelicans plunging into the water for their dinner year round, and manatees both there and here in The Swamp.But a bear that close is just too Nat Geo for me, thank you. I had been thinking about pitching my tent in the shade of a stand of nearby bamboo but this gives me have second thoughts.

I know there are bears here. Last year my neighbor, Lee, took a pic of one nosing around by my picnic table,

and last week I saw his pittie, Polly, chasing a small bear down the “driveway” path we use to get to the dirt road that leads to civilization.

On the route I use once I get to pavement there are two yellow road signs with bear pictures.

And recently there was a newspaper story about an elementary school not far away going on something similar to lockdown because of a black bear on the premises. Aware that bears are on the move at this time of year bulking up for winter (they don’t hibernate here in Florida I read, but they do get lethargic and dormant) I figured I needed something for protection. I don’t have, and am not buying, a gun. I don’t want to be close enough to a bear to be able to use some kind of spray effectively, either, but I know they’re leery of humans as a rule. So I brought the air horn I used on the boat up to the SUV. I had it within arm’s reach. I picked it up and with two long toots the bear took off like a shot down the “driveway” and disappeared into the thick underbrush a couple of hundred feet away without looking back.

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Fall has arrived here in The Swamp off the Saint Johns River in DeBary, Central Florida. The night before last I woke up shivering despite being covered with a blanket. I struggled in the dark to get it folded double and was able to resume sleeping soundly. Same thing last night, but I have my light weight sleeping bag tucked into the space between my bed frame and the side of the SUV. Dug it out in the dark and slept soundly. So sound that I woke up nearly an hour later than usual because I was so snug. At a quarter to eight it was 64F. That might not seem cold to you denizens of the Great White North, but for months, here, high 70s has been the norm for a low.

It reminds me of the climate in Boqueron, Chiriqui, Panama where I lived for eight years. Afternoon temps would be in the upper 90sF. I used to love it when my neighbors who had been born their and whose families had lived there for a century of two would say, “Ayiee, Richard, hace calor, hoy.” (Ayiee, Richard, it’s hot, today.)

My response was always, “Es mejor que un metre de nieve.” (It’s better than three feet of snow.) Boqueron is surrounded by mountains including Volcan Barú, Panama’s highest peak. After sunset the cool air from the mountains would creep down the slopes and by morning the temperature would be down in the low 60sF like it was this morning here in The Swamp.

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Home Improvements

Finished priming the cabin of my Venture 22 with Mold Killing primer. Took several days since it’s only possible to work a couple of hours in the morning here in the swamp off the Saint Johns River in DeBary, Central Florida. When you start sweating on the backs of your knees it’s time to quit for the day.

Didn’t do any priming the other day. Went to Ace Hardware to return the unused quart of primer. Only used a little more than 2/3 of the one quart. I could have gotten a quart of top coat paint for less at Wally World but several things had me going to Ace instead. One, it’s close by. I wanted to do so grocery shopping and there’s a Wally World grocery almost across the street from the Ace. Makes it easy. While I can do the groceries and paint together at Wally World you have to factor in the drive out there, the time it takes to get there, gas, etc. Sometimes it’s worth paying a couple of bucks extra to save time and hassle.

At Ace I bought a quart of semi-gloss off white finish paint and a couple of new brushes. The paint will make the interior more eye friendly, but this is NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, a YACHT. It is a small, lightweight, trailerable day sailer. MacGregor literally built THOUSANDS of them. But they were built “fast and dirty.” In certain stress areas on the underside of the solid deck there are patches of thick glass roving and no attempt to make them attractive was made.

So, there they are. I’m not going to try and “pretty” them up, either. It is what it is.

Started painting the interior of the cabin this morning (9/15/21). Got about 25% done. The only problem, besides the heat and indirect lighting coming through the hatch is that the color of the semi-gloss paint, “mountain peak white” is almost exactly the same color as the mold killing primer. That makes it difficult to see what’s painted and what’s not.

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Walking The Plank

A little while back I wrote that I though one could make a simple gangplank (called a passarelle over in France) by using an extenson ladder as the base and cover it with plywood.

I was right. It’s a great idea, but, for me, it fell apart in execution. The ladder that was lying around here was old and there had been an attempt to beef it up a bit with a wooden splint, But it worked. It would be better if one used a fiberglass ladder, but have you seen whqt those suckers cost?

I bought a couple of pre-cut 2X4-foot 1/2-inch plywooc and linked them together. I did this for a couple of reasons instead of picking out a 4×8 sheet and having t cut down; First, the 2X4 foot pieces would be easier for me to handle with my COPD and easier to load into the Montero.There was only a minimal difference in with a cut-down sheet. Not enough to bother me. 

It worked fine even though it was a bit “spongy” and “springy” which I didn’t like a whole lot. Not dangerous, but just not what I’d really hoped for.

So, today, with my SS topped off I hied my way out to Home Depot. I bought two 2X4X10 foot pressure-treated 2X4s. I’d originally though I should use 2X6X12. Picking one up dissuaded me of that idea. And looking at them it seemed 10 foot would be plenty.

One thing I liked about the ladder idea was that the space between the last two rungs fit nicely over the sheet winch in the cockpit so movement of the boat wouldn’t be able to make the whole thing fall in the water. Gators there, ya know!

So, I bought a 4-foot 2X4 that I could cut down and create a space similarly.

Back in the swamp what should have taken a normal person an hour, hour and a half, TOPS, took this 79-year old COPD victim nearly three and a half. But I got it done. All together it’s sturdy and solid. I think I done good. If it’s dry tomorrow, or over the weekend I’ll throw some paint on it.

Got two coats of primer on the ply today (Saturday). Will be going to the store tomorrow and getting some deck paint to top it all off. Also thinking about putting some caster wheels on the land end of the 2X4s. Something along this line. Just need to put a metal bushing in the hole in the 2X4, though.

Get the wood up off the ground and make it so I can roll it off and onto the boat if I should ever want to go for a ride on the boat, don’t ya know?

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Walking The Plank

When I arrived at my mooring in The Swamp off the Saint Johns River in DeBary, Central Florida, I tied up to a bunch of bamboo and a couple of small trees. There was/is no formal “landing” or dock. My friend/neighbor/landlord here has a ton of old stuff he accumulated over the years and dug out a 1″X6″X10′ “gangplank.” It was a bit “springy” and quite narrow, but it served me well. Until a couple of days ago…

I recently returned from a 3,500+ mile land cruising expedition. The boat is a mess! I’ve got a ton of work to do cleaning it up so it’s livable again, but as I was walking up the gangplank there was a scary, very ominous CRACK. It didn’t break or throw me in the alligator-infested water, but it was definitely a message.

I’ve been mentally exploring ideas of how to replace the thing with something lighter, wider, and ultimately safer while I’ve been driving the back roads of southeastern America. My brightest idea was to use metal drywall studs as a frame I could pop rivet together and cover with, say, 1/2-inch ply wood. Then, the other day as I was sitting at the picnic table drinking my morning mug of espresso I thought it would be easier if I just got one of those, say, 16-foot extension ladders and laid plywood over it.

Very leery of using the old plank I went looking around at Lee’s collection of old planks to see if there was something I could use temporarily until I could get to Home Depot and buy a ladder. The Swamp Gods must have been looking down on me with favor because lying, partially hidden under some rotting 2x4s and 2x6s was an aluminum extension ladder!

I went down and asked Lee if he was going to be needing it and he said he had no plans for it. It spanned the gap perfectly. I’ve never really liked the plank being located forward like it was. Awkward getting up from the cockpit seat to the cabin top and then, having to climb over the spreader bar I use when I bring the canvas cover forward to keep rain out. Back aft it spanned the gap, the space between the top rung of the ladder and the one below fit just right over the sheet winch to keep it from being pulled off into the water.

A quick run out to Home Depot was in order. I priced out the 8-foot 1x6s. They would fit in the space between the sides of the ladder. That width, though, like what I had been using was minimal at best. I discovered that two pre-cut 2×4 foot 1/2-inch plywood pieces were almost $5 less than the 1x6s. A four-foot piece of 2×2 @ $1.57 could be cut down into smaller pieces and glued and screwed in such a way that the two pieces would be joined together (I KNOW, I could have had a 4×8 sheet cut in half, but the difference in price isn’t worth talking about. This morning I put it all together “et voilà. Parfait.”

It’s a bit bouncy but much easier getting on and off the boat.

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