Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Forever Wars

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

The hottest topic circulating among East Coast cruisers this year, is the proposed Florida Law that would ban anchoring within 200 feet of any "developed property."   Such a law would be a major blow to boating in this state.

I understand the emotions of people who spend millions on a waterfront property who bristle at the (potentially unsightly) view of a boat anchored 50 feet away.  Add to that the thought that the persons on the boat are paying no taxes and it makes the property owners go ballistic.

But those people forget that the water is not "their" back yard. Waterways are public. They have no more right to a 200 foot exclusive use right on the water side of their properties as they do on the land borders of their property.   Imagine if they could prevent another building from being built, or a street, or parking a car within 200 feet of their property boundaries.  That would be silly, right?  Well, it is just as silly on the water side of these properties.

This is not the first time this topic was current.  Once before, perhaps 2007 anchoring rights were debated and a new law was passed favoring the boaters. In 2012 (if I remember right) the so-called "pilot" program in Florida explored municipal regulation of anchoring as an experiment.   This time, the issue started last fall with a series of hearings held by FWC.

The Florida battles about anchoring sound like a "forever war".  Think of the abortion debate after Roe v Wade, or the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as examples of forever wars.  Centuries will not be long enough to bring conclusions to those wars.  Theorists tell us that forever wars are the result of flawed processes when they were initiated.  Abortion should have been settled politically, not by the court.  Israel was created by the preposterous 1947 UN resolution, in which the UN decided to give someone's country to someone else.

The Florida boating law is at least being debated by the correct process, so I hope it will not become a forever war.

I suspect that this new law will not pass, but I also expect that the issue will come up again and again.  In the long term, the issue is not boating, it is population density.   All sorts of rules and restrictions unthinkable in low density areas, become common sense in high density areas.  Think of parking meters for example.  As we double, then redouble the population, almost all of our freedoms will have to be sacrificed.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Never Wet On Props - Wow!

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

Here in the Florida Keys, we must have a diver clean the bottom once every 30 days.  Especially the props.  Barnacles love the bare metal on props.
18 months ago (the last time we were on the hard) I sprayed my clean prop with Never Wet.  I didn't have much hope for it.  I thought it would wear off quickly.  It didn't.

Now after 18 months, the diver told me he never saw such a clean propeller before. Not a single barnacle or bit of slime. He wanted to know what I did to it.

I bought Rustoleum Never Wet at Home Depot for only $16.  It is the two-part version of Never Wet. They call it a "super hydrophobic"coating.  It is very much unlike anything I've seen in the past.

Next time we are on the hard (next summer), I'm going to use it on a test patch on my hull.  If it works well, it is very much cheaper than toxic bottom paints.  I'll post here two years from now about how it worked out.
A friend is also testing Never Wet inside his boat.  He had been using ever more toxic chemicals to try and prevent growth of mildew, and none of them worked.   We reason that Never Wet not only repels water, it should repel moisture and thus prevent mildew or mold from growing.  I'll report back on that experiment in a year.

My friend Jay suggested that I run a test.  Take surfaces partially coated and partially uncoated and photograph them after some weeks.  I did that.  

Above: I had a test made of PVC pipe, stainless, and an aluminum beer can.  The masking tape shows places protected from the Never Wet Spray.  On the left is the rig after one week's immersion.

Above after 6 weeks: The aluminum part broke off.  The test rig picked up more than 5 pounds of growth!!!  It appeared that the never wet portion was covered as well.

Above: I rubbed it with bare hands.  Almost all the growth wiped off the Never Wet portions easily, none came off the uncoated parts.  Caution: Do not scrape it with a tool.  That will scrape off the Never Wet coating.   Most important, there were zero barnacles on the Never Wet coated portions.

I don't like doing product endorsements on this blog, but this is an exception.  For a $18 investment, the results are spectacular.  Nothing I've heard of before seems to work as well on props.

p.s. The diver who remarked about my prop, did scrape it anyhow.  Immediately after scraping, growth and barnacles began to grow.  That proves that something was really happening.  It also shows that the Never Wet coating is fragile and easily destroyed, so NO SCRAPING.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Navigation Plan B

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

I've written before about how seductive it is to navigate exclusively with the aid of a GPS chart plotter. It is not only easier, but the result is so much superior to coastal piloting techniques. Because of confidence in the GPS, we can take short cuts. Using only coastal navigation techniques, we would have to add many miles (and many extra hours of sailing) to avoid coming close to hazards.

The picture below shows my favorite example, sailing from Everglades City, Florida to Marco Island, Florida. There are a number of shoals south of Cape Romano, arranged as parallel east-west sand bars with deep water in between. Using GPS, I feel safe using the red path, but with coastal navigation the yellow path would be the most aggressive route I would dare. It is very many much longer. In terms of time, it could be half a day. The more uncertain I am of my coastal piloting position and course, the more south (conservative) I would have to be.


But any prudent captain must plan for the day when the GPS, and all the backup GPS' on board will fail, and we need to fall back to paper methods. What then? Suppose we have a navigation plan A based on GPS. There will also be a plan B based on paper charts and coastal piloting methods. B will always be more conservative than A.

Today's question is, "Must one have both plans A and B in hand before leaving, or can it suffice to have a generic procedure C for creating a plan B on-the-spot?"

I should mention that this post was inspired by an airline captain friend who said that he felt uncomfortable leaving the dock with out both plans A and B in hand. It is true that the standards are different. When flying a plane you may not have enough time to invent plan B on-the-spot. On a boat you do. On a plane, the pilot seldom has a chance to repair failed equipment en-route, but on a boat you do.

  1. Strictly observe the Box Canyon Rule. Never put yourself in the position that plan A must succeed or else you're screwed. Preserve the opportunity to make a feasible plan B if needed.
  2. Always have paper charts available, and know on which page you are.
  3. Any procedure C to create a new plan B depends on knowledge of your current position. Therefore:
    • You may have used pencil and paper to record your current position (i make pencil marks on the chart itself). Use dead-reckoning to extrapolate your last known position to your current position.
    • Use any possible source to locate your current position. VHF radio calls to other boats, sextant, cell phone, visual bearings on landmarks, compare the depth to the charts, position of the sun and sunrise/sunset times, even call the Coast Guard if your situation is dangerous. (I'm sure that there are even more ways, than I listed.)
    • Be patient. Unless you are in imminent danger of going aground, you can take whatever time is needed to get a position fix. You might be able to anchor, or to heave-to to stay in more or less the same place. Urgency is usually not needed.
    • If your uncertainty is so great that you dare not proceed, is there a direction you could go that would be safe and would improve your ability to get a fix? Doubling back on the course you used to get here is probably safe. Unless you are surrounded by shoals in all directions, there should always be a safe direction. (If not, then you violated the box canyon rule.) For example, offshore along the east coast of the USA, I know that sailing West will make me sight land.

Once you have your position fix, and an estimate of the uncertainty in that position, you can look at your paper charts and devise a prudent plan that either gets you to your intended destination or at least returns you to safety.

It is that simple. Indeed, simplicity is mandatory.

Finally, let's not overdo it. Cruising is more demanding than day sailing. When day sailing, you have no plan A at all (other than have fun). But day sailing should be restricted to familiar waters where you always know where you are and how to get back and when reference to the charts is seldom needed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Migratory Birds. Migratory Cruisers

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

It has begun. I speak of this years northward migration of cruisers. The earliest ones have already left. On the cruiser's net this morning I heard announcements of five departures. The peak of departures will happen in a week or two. By May 1, only a few stragglers will be left in BootKey Harbor (not counting the non-migratory subspecies that stays all year.)

I know the feeling well. Plans be damned. One day you look at the sky and something triggers pulses in the brain stem telling you to get moving. In that respect, I belive that cruisers and birds have the same neurons.

Of course, the timing for departure depends on the destination. For those migrating to the Northeast US, the weather and the water up north is still far too cold. Our rule of thumb on Tarwathie has always been to arrive in New York Harbor no earlier than June 1. But for destinations in the Chesapeake or further south, an earier departure is OK.

The timing formuma for cruisers is pretty simple -- follow temperate weather. That works going both north and south.

For many boaters, there is a second man-made factor. To avoid hurricanes, their insurance companies insist on the boat owners staying north of aribtrary lines of latitude at arbitrary times. There seems to be enormous variations on the latitudes and dates.

What about Tarwathie this summer? We haven't made plans yet. For sure, one way or the other, we'll make it to Vermont and New York.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL

Nearly 24 hours ago, I was relaxing in my hammock on a hot afternoon.   Suddenly and without warning, the end of the hammock broke off, and I fell.   I landed with my full weight on my coccyx (i.e. the base of my spine) on the sharp edge of a hatch.  Wham! Man oh man did that hurt.

Libby was not on board so I was on my own.  I didn't move for a minute catching my breath.  Then I rolled over on hands and knees.  The pain did not increase.  I stood up.  The pain did not increase.   I made it down below, took three ibuprofen and laid down.   Later, Libby brought me an ice pack.   My fear was that it would inflame and swell and become much worse overnight, but that didn't happen.  As a matter of fact, it felt much better after only 4 hours.

Now 24 hours later, I'm sitting on a pillow, and still taking ibuprofen, but the pain is mild.   I consider myself very lucky.  I could easily have broken a bone in my spine, or did some other permanent damage.   This old body appears to be pretty tough.  Hooray for that.

The hammock was almost brand new.  I got it as a Christmas present.  I have no idea why it failed catastrophically.

Even in the seconds after the fall, I don't believe that my back pain was as bad as Libby or Jen, or millions of other people suffer. Once again, I've been very lucky.

The really scary thought is how would we have handled it if such an accident, or worse, happened while out at sea.   The good news is that Libby is much more confident of her ability to handle Tarwathie and to bring us to a safe port single-handed. (But only if she is not seasick.) She could also call help if needed.  The bad news is that we have not reviewed our first aid equipment, or first aid training, or first aid literature on board since 2005.  I think I'll make use of this reminder to conduct such a review.