Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This Subject Makes Me Squirm

Valcour Island, NY
44 37.332 N 073 24.417 W

[I am sticking our necks out by publishing such candid personal thoughts on a blog. Please do not read it to infer that we are sick or are dwelling on morbid thoughts. We are not. If this post makes our family or friends anxious, I’ll never be candid again.]
The other day on the Westsail.org forum, someone posted a story about a sailboat at a marina in Rio Dulce Guatemala that suddenly exploded with a propane explosion. The skipper died. His boat was destroyed and neighboring boats heavily damaged. It was a tragedy. The writer make the point of his post is that propane can be very dangerous as a fuel on a boat. . Another writer posted a reply on Westsail.org saying that he/she chose kerosene because of the dangers of propane. That’s certainly true. Years ago I chose an Origo alcohol stove for day sailing on our Tanzer 27 because of safety, but since living on Tarwathie, we are happy consumers of propane

I think that most of us boaters are fully capable of making safe and rational choices about boat equipment, and also operating and maintaining the equipment safely. We pride ourselves in safety and seaworthiness (which is a standard that outranks almost everything except airworthiness) . However, I also believe that we are less good at revising our choices when personal circumstances change.

What personal circumstances? Age is a big one. Budget, health, stress from work or family, time or lack of time to focus on the boat, alcohol/drug use, guests on board, full time/part time cruising, levels of recent experience, location and many other factors can be important. I have no knowledge of the Rio Dulce incident, but in other propane explosion cases I’m pretty sure that the underlying cause was chronic alcohol abuse, or poor health.

All these personal circumstances are subject to change. My point is that some (perhaps most) of us are bad at re-evaluating our choices, ambitions, and methods in response to such changes. Thinking about that led me to realize something. That is why insurance companies impose those obnoxious surveyors on us. Their real purpose is to force us to change some of our choices against our will. In other circumstances, external authorities evaluate the fitness of pilots, captains, engineers and others with critical safety responsibilities; they do not allow the people to self evaluate.

This subject makes me squirm because I realize that we too are affected. I first became aware of it in 2012. I have been taking some remedial actions. In some ways, we beefed up our vigilance. In other ways we scaled back our ambitions. But no matter what we do, we are on the back slope of the life cycle; we’re getting old. No matter what remedies we take, the challenges will become bigger with time while our reserve energies to deal with them diminish. This is an existential threat to our life style, and I have no sure remedy for it.

But we are stubbornly determined to live this life style until … until I don’t know what. Something eventually will force change upon us. Americans tend to admire the “die with my boots on” mind set. We do too. That is out ultimate hope. But I am also troubled with the obligation to prevent carelessness or irresponsibility to be the cause of that end.

Now comes the part where my logically trained engineer’s brain comes into play. Baring the unforeseeable (everybody bars that), these trends lead to an entirely foreseeable crisis sometime in the future. There will come a day when it will be irresponsible to continue the cruising life, yet my feeling is “Hell no; over my dead body.” Libby feels the same way but even stronger. I have no plan to deal with that crisis, and that is cause for worry. It is a circumstance in which thinking logically and with foresight is a disadvantage. [Libby agrees with this essay except the previous sentence.]

Libby and I also had an unrelated conversation last night. The question was, “If we won the lottery and became billionaires, what would we change?” We both came up with the answer, “nothing.” It shouldn't be surprising therefore that we don’t want to change; we are already living the best life we can imagine.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Yahoos in the Night

South Burlington, VT
Have you ever seen the film clip showing the infinite vastness of the sand dunes in the Kalahari Desert. As it zooms in, you see two beetles running across the surface. They cross dune after dune until, bam, head on collision. It was funny because it was so preposterous.
We love crossing Lake Champlain at night. It is especially nice on a calm clear night when the stars are brilliant. As a rule, there is very little boat traffic out there to watch out for. But (here comes the story) not always.
We had just passed Juniper Island and we were headed for Shelburne Point. Libby was at the helm and (luckily) I was on deck helping watch out, for buoys with a hand held search light. I saw a vessel 1/4 mile to starboard. It appeared to be sitting still, so I ignored it. We had running lights and steaming light on.
Suddenly, the still vessel came to life and headed toward us at high speed. Perhaps 30-40 knots. It had running lights, but also a search light that appeared to be fixed in position pointing straight ahead. I pointed our search light at the driver's eyes. That's the standard way to get attention of another vessel at night. There was no time to reach for the horn and give the danger warning of 5 blasts. The yahoo on the other boat probably would not have heard anyhow.
No response. It continued coming faster and faster. I flashed again and again. Finally I ordered Libby "Emergency Full Reverse".
Just then, a third vessel appeared. It was a motor boat overtaking us on the starboard side between us and the speeding boat. It too shifted to emergency reverse and stopped beside us. At the last moment, the speeding boat finally saw us and it too stopped.
There we were, that whole big lake with 1000 square miles of surface, with three boats in the middle of the night stopped with less than a boat length between us. After a minute to catch our breath, all three boats went on their way. Whew, what a close call.

My theory was that the speeding boat's search light ruined the driver's night vision. Since that light was pointing straight ahead, the driver could not see the other vessels approaching from the side. Part of the beam may have illuminated his own bow right in front of him. He didn't even see my search light flashing at him. Coast Guard rules dictate minimum lighting, but not maximum lighting. In my humble opinion, any lights which impair the helmsman' stability to see ahead of his vessel should be banned.

P.s in my own post mortem assessment, I realized that I might have warned him better if I used my search light to illuminate the side of our white hull. If we had our sails up, I would have illuminated the sails.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


South Burlington, VT

A few weeks ago, we were traveling north along The Champlain Canal by boat. As we departed from one of the locks, I noticed two men sitting and fishing at the edge of the lock wall. One of the men was talking. He raised his hands in front of his belly, palms inward in the classical gesture of someone telling a fish story. Then as I watched, his hands drifted farther apart as he told his story.

I was too far away for verbal communication with the man, but as the boat passed, I managed to get eye contact with him. I raised my hands to the fish story position spread just as widely as his hands. Then I moved my hands still farther apart. The man broke into a big ear-to-ear grin and he responded by moving his hands apart to the full length of his arms. I did likewise.

Nonverbal message sent and received, allowing two passing strangers to share a warm moment

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Caption Contest

Burlington, Vermonty

On Tuesday we had a visit from long time fiends Gerry and Phyllis.  We went to the Champlain Maritime Museum.

Help me put a caption on this photo of Libby at the Museum. (p.s. Why not me in the helmet?  My head is too big to fit.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rube Goldberg? Could Be Worse

South Burlington, Vermont
See below. This is not a very good picture, but perhaps good enough enough.
Our anchor, Bessie, has a 7/8 inch shackle on the end. Our anchor chain is 5/16. How to connect the two?
Previously I had no good soulution so I just tied a bowline knot in the chain around the 7/8 shackle. That is unconventional, seems insecure, and looks ugly. I needed something better.
Now I have a better solution. The 7/8 shackle links to a 3/4 shackle that links to a 3/8 shackle, that links to the 5/16 chain. Whew. Now I have to add safety wires.