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Miami the Hard Way – Boat Haul Out, Repairs & Living On the Hard

In our last Great Loop travel journal we had just hit a submerged channel marker leaving the Keys and were starting our 25 mile tow to Miami.

This chapter will wrap up our first cruising season, but there’s not much cruising to share – it was mostly of us living on land in our boat as we attended to repairs and upgrades.

Miami – The Hard Way

First, the video version of this chapter (at about 13m long):

Tow Up the Miami River

Navionics Chart: Our under tow path. This took about 5.5 hours going roughly 4-5 knots.

We were initially rescued by TowBoat.US on a Thursday in the south end of Biscayne Bay. We could find no boat yard that could haul us out right away. But one yard way up the Miami River could get us in early the next week.

So we were initially towed to Homestead Bayfront Marina and spent a lovely weekend on their sea wall. This gave us opportunity to dive under the boat and get an idea of the damage – prompting us to arrange a diver to remove the damaged strut and prop, and secure the shaft before the long tow ahead of us.

On Monday morning our tow boat captain hooked us up and off we went.

The weather was gorgeous, and the tow was absolutely relaxing as we were gently tugged up Biscayne Bay.

As we approached Miami itself, we lowered our hydraulic folding arch so we could minimize our bridge clearance (the first time that feature came in handy!). We’d be going up the Miami River with several draw bridges, and the lower our clearance the less bridges we’d have to wait for openings on.

Once we turned up the river, our captain instructed us to fire up the port side engine (the working one) as he’d need steering assistance in the tight canal particularly when waiting for bridges.

Long time follower Jim McCrea happened to be staying downtown Miami and captured some awesome photos of us under tow (thanks again Jim!!).

We also decided to live broadcast this section and had a great time sharing the experience.  It was a fascinating cruise, and being towed? Is pretty darn cool.

SeaLab Marina

SeaLab Marina is a family owned operation with a long standing history in Argentina, but only opened in Miami for a few years. Our sales manager, Anne, was super helpful on the phone in arranging our arrival and relaying that us staying on board while the work was being done would not be a problem.

When we arrived, we were initially tied up to a pirate ship (tourist boat) they were working on and stayed on the canal for a couple of nights awaiting our turn to be hauled out.

Thank goodness for local blog reader Gary, who loaned us his Honda 3000w generator to get us through these couple of days, as the shore power available at this spot was not adequate.

On Wednesday morning, we were hauled out and able to see the damage under the boat. We had somehow managed to perfectly line up our keel with the channel marker and there were 5 distinct ‘skip marks’ (I bet I couldn’t hit something this precisely if I tried!).

And the damage was indeed isolated to only the starboard running gear.

Our mechanic got to quick work assessing everything – determining that we had bent our shaft, prop, strut and rudder. All were sent out to the  machine shop (along with the port side prop to match the pitch, and our spare shaft and props to have them all measured and made ready for the future.)

We were given a 7 business day estimate, dependent on the machine shops doing their job timely.

We just naturally mentally doubled that.  They also gave us a quote of around $9k for all of the work (including the haul-out). This was well aligned with the figures we had been given by several other boaters who had similar repairs in the past, and the shop stuck precisely to the fixed quote.

We really liked the shop, and despite a language barrier (few spoke fluent English, and we don’t speak much Spanish OR boat) – we really liked the shop.  So we inquired with our list of pending Irma related repairs and some of the upgrades we were preparing to tackle up in Ft. Pierce anyway.

Their prices were reasonable, and they seemed quite knowledgable. So we settled in for an extended stay to tackle as much as we could during this haul out.

While there we tackled:

  • Sandblasting the bottom paint and starting over (our insurance surprisingly covered all expenses of this, as there was paint damage during Irma)
  • New boot stripe paint (again, damaged during Irma) – we went with ‘Technomadia Blue’
  • Replaced thru-hulls and serviced sea cocks
  • Repacked our shaft seals
  • Installed underwater lights
  • Wash/Wax/Compound
  • All new anodes
  • New anchor (we’ll update on that later)

There were lots of other little projects too.

And the big project was tackling our marine electronics – radar, sonar, chart plotters and more. We gave SeaLab an opportunity to bid the project, but they were excited for us to bring in our own contractor. We went with nearby Langer-Krell to handle the installation and after service.  We’ll have a separate post in the future going over the equipment we selected.

Living On the Hard

We’ve managed to stay aboard our bus during various repairs and upgrades over the years, so we’re no strangers to living ‘at home’ in harsh conditions.

One of the appeals of getting to Ft. Pierce is we had found a RV park just a mile away from the yard we were going to use – which would have allowed us more comfortable digs.

We thought about bringing the bus down to Miami, however the nearest park was over 30 minutes away in good traffic. We also know from experience that being close by really helps to keep projects on track.

So, we’d be getting our first experience of ‘living on the hard’ in a boat. Here’s some of the challenges:

  • No air conditioning – Marine air conditioners are raw water cooled. If you’re not sitting in the water for them to draw water from, then no AC. Yes, it was November & December, but this is Miami. Days were reaching the high 80s still. It was tough with out AC in the heat of the day. But not tough enough to take the time to install a portable AC.
  • Limited Tank Capacity – Our toilets use fresh water to flush, so we have that advantage (some use raw water, so same problem as above). We tried to find a pump out service that could reach us while on the hard so we could use our own toilets on board, but none that the shop used for their porto-potties had the right marine attachments. So, we mainly used the shops toilets and our own sparingly. We do have switching one head to a composting toilet on our future upgrade list – this would have come in super handy here.
  • Fresh Water Usage – Grey water (sink/shower) on our boat goes directly overboard. There was a storm drain nearby our boat’s position – which mean we could use some grey water. We’d only do this after hours to not risk dumping water on our worker’s heads. But during the days of our painting, we could use none – as they needed dry conditions for that.
  • Ladder for Access – The boat is up on blocks and stilts, so our entry was up a 16′ ladder. I’m pretty much deathly afraid of ladders – this was a challenge. But I got through it. The real challenge was waking up in the morning,  needing to run to the loo and discovering a yard worker had ‘borrowed’ our ladder.  We quickly learned to tie our precious ladder to our boat.

These were all doable. The real challenges was the noise. During the day, it’s constant yard commotion of work going on, plus our spot was right over the air compressor (they did move us eventually, which greatly helped with that).  However, SeaLab is also conveniently located right underneath the Miami Airport flight path. Which meant constant noise of airplanes taking off and landing. We just got used to speaking to each other with frequent 30-45 second pauses.

And by right under.. I mean right under.  I’m pretty sure Chris and the pilot of the 5:40pm British Airways 747 departure could recognize each other on the street by now after waving to each other every day.

We did a live broadcast from the yard sharing the experience (just please promise me if you decide to play the airplane drinking game that you switch to water after the first couple minutes.)

Living on the Hard.. was definitely an experience!

Getting out Exploring

Being so close to the Miami Airport had an advantage – we were super close to public transit. Amtrak, Tri-Rail and Miami Metro were pretty much at our doorstep. And, Lyft/Uber drivers are constantly roving the area.

We used this often to escape.

We spent an afternoon exploring downtown Miami, an evening exploring the awesome Wynwood district, took an extended weekend away at an AirBnB in Miami Beach and traveled up the coast to visit friends and family. Tri-Rail also happens to be small pet friendly, which made it super easy to take Kiki with us for holiday visits with family.

We also had friends in the area we met up with, which was a most welcomed diversion.


We ended up spending 5 weeks on the hard, with the last couple of weeks learning the meaning of the word ‘mañana’. But finally all projects were buttoned up and the yard was ready to splash us.

We also live cast that experience if you wanted to watch the slow process of moving a boat back onto the water (spoiler: there’s no actual splash).

After the mechanic verified everything and got the shaft re-aligned – we were shoved off and back on the water under our own power.

And.. that’s a wrap for this first cruising season of our Great Loop!

Great Loop Log (12/31/2017)

  • Distance: 322.8 nm
  • Stops: 20
  • Marina Nights: 169
  • Anchored Nights: 19
  • Bridges : 13
  • Locks: 0

Other Travel Posts in this Great Loop Travel Series:

View all our Great Loop Posts
on our new Interactive Map!

Current Status:

The boat will soon be moved into storage as we shift this winter to some RV travels!  We’ll be making our way to Texas by late February to speak at the RV Entrepreneur Summit.  We’ll then return to the boat in spring time and pick up our Great Loop adventure cruising north up the ICW.

In the meantime, we’ll be taking some social media down time for the next couple of weeks as we super focus on getting the 5th Edition of ‘The Mobile Internet Handbook‘ done. So you likely won’t see much from us until later in the month.

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6 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. That was a tough read! Of course, as long as nobody is hurt, everything else can be repaired. My wife and I just pulled our pensions and bought a boat in Florida. We’re going to do The Great Loop, and I like to have internet, so we’ve been reading up on your info. (I also built an off-the-grid 3 kw house for the family to live in – so I’m interested in solar for boats.)

  2. Sorry about the damage but it’s so easy to do, especially in unfamiliar waters. The upside is that you handled it so well (like you two always do) and that your running gear is true and ready to make some miles. Doing the thruhulls and seacocks is also an important item to cross off the “to do” list. Chances are you’re going to bump the bottom or hit some debris during the loop and need to change a prop. We all have. I’d suggest investing in a prop puller and several tools to change a prop in the water. It’s easy and very doable with just a mask and weight belt (I’m pretty buoyant). I carry spares and tools to do so on my own boat and I’ve have needed them occasionally.
    Thanks so much for sharing your adventures over the years. I’m a long time follower and Zephyr inspired me to purchase a vintage Wanderlodge which is where I’m typing this! Wishing you a happy and prosperous new year, I’ll be along with you via this blog.

    Bill L.

  3. The bad news is you hit a marker. The good news is you found a decent yard to have your work done. Getting those maintenance and upgrades completed should help when you start your boat journeys again. And always remember BOAT is just an acronym for Break Out Another Thousand. Some times over and over. I am in far south Texas and this cold spell is killer. If you are near Miami stay there for a while. Even Florida is getting hit with cold temperatures and even ice and snow. I love the nomadic lifestyle. Never a dull moment.


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