Sunday, December 31, 2006

Vero Nature

Vero Beach

Despite the number of boats in the harbor here, the local wildlife seems to thrive.

We have gulls (of course) but also osprey and bald eagles. King of the birds though are the pelicans. These pelicans must be well fed because they seem to succeed in a catch more than 50% of the time they dive into the water. We can see them swallowing the catch.

We also see lots of fish jumping; especially around sunset. Alas, our Florida fishing licenses expired and new ones are just too expensive.

Best of all is the dolphins that come to feed in the harbor. Last night Libby was watching them feed right at the side of Tarwathie.

Be sure to check out the 2006 Darwin Awards.

Happy New Year

Friday, December 29, 2006

Cruising: Full Time or Not

Vero Beach Public Library

I've written before about how the cruising life can be partially financed by the money one saves by non needing to support a landlubber's life. We don't pay for a house, or a car, or home insurance, or car insurance. We don't pay property taxes. We don't need a health club. Our energy footprint is small so our annual budget for fuel and heat is only a small fraction of what we would pay on land.

On the other hand, one thing I underestimated is how much more expensive it is to maintain a boat if you are living aboard. Consider our current problem with the engine. If we were not living aboard, and if Tarwathie was up on the hard. we could take several months to complete the re-powering project. We could shop more for a bargain in buying an engine. I could do more of the work myself. It would cost thousands of dollars less. But we can't do that unless we were willing to live in a motel for those months, or to find a way to mooch off family or friends, while the work on the boat was done. It would cost thousands of dollars to live in a motel for several months.

I have a similar problem with our anchor chain. We have one anchor with 220 feet of 5/16 BBB chain. The chain is old and rusty. Every time we prepare to anchor, the rust stains get all over the deck. I've been looking for a way to get it re-galvanized. It is not easy. There are only a few places in the country who do that work. The nearest to me is in Tampa. It weighs more than 300 pounds so I can't just drop it in the mail. If we had a car and if we could afford to be without our anchor for a month or two, I could drive it over and get the work done. If we need our anchor every month for years on end, then re-galvalnizing is harder to accomplish. It pushes me toward the more expensive solution of buying new chain.

I've come to realize that not living aboard continuously would simplify a lot of the boat maintenance and make it less expensive. That doesn't fit with our chosen life style.

I think that the practical solution might be to get out of the country. Several books that we have read mention putting up for six months or so of boat maintenance and restoration, but the cruisers find less expensive places in the world to do it.

I know that several readers of our blog dream about living the cruising life themselves some day. To them I say consider this factor. Truly full time cruising has a cost.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Young Engineer's Story

Editor’s note: One of the nice things about writing a blog is that you get to set the rules yourself. In this case I elect to post an article that has nothing to do with sailing. Instead it is an article I wrote about my youth; the high point of my career when I was only 23 years old. Although the subject is sometimes technical you don’t need any technical knowledge to read it and enjoy it.

Nostalgia: The First Full Scope Simulator, Dresden II
By Dick Mills
Simulators IX, Volume 24, No 4, Society For Computer Simulation, 1992


The nuclear power plant training simulator industry was born Monday June 17, 1968 in Morris Illinois, with the inauguration of the Dresden 2 simulator. Many in the industry are familiar with "The Little Blue Schoolhouse" where this simulator is housed. It was built by a consortium of three General Electric divisions starting in 1966. The goal was to provide training which AEC would accept in lieu of the requirement that each operator participate in 5 startups or shutdowns every year.

With no good precedents, no real time models, no standards, and with the hottest new box from the GE Process Computer Department, and technology from the Saturn V rocket, the simulator was quite a challenge. In the end, it was delivered ahead of schedule, under budget, approved by AEC, and the event was reported by Walter Cronkite.

This paper is a light hearted memoir of the project, project members, and the times. It should be enjoyable to those familiar with the industry and big software projects.


This paper is a highly personal recollection of the project by a, then, very young and innocent member of the project team. It is intended to be amusing. The names of actual people have been changed to protect the innocent.

In the mid 1960's, the nuclear industry was just making the transition from building pilot plants to production reactors. A contemporary problem was operator training. The AEC required each operator to participate in at least 5 startup or shutdown operations per year in order to remain current. As a result, to train and maintain proficiency of 5 shift crews, it was apparent that new reactors would have to spend a lot of their time starting and stopping just for training purposes.

General Electric's customer engineer in the Chicago office lobbied with his G.E., the customer, and with the AEC to build a simulator to alleviate this problem. He was successful, and the initial unofficial agreement was that if the simulator could be built, and was "sufficiently realistic", it could be used to replace up to 3 of the 5 required startups. The reference plant was to be Dresden II, in Morris Illinois. The plant would be commissioned after the simulator. We didn't call it "The Dresden Simulator", but rather "The Nuclear Power Plant Simulator" because there were no others.

Since there was no precedent, regarding how much realism would be sufficient, nor any precedent of doing a power plant model in real time, the simulator was a real challenge. Most engineers considered it flatly impossible. A major vendor of flight simulators was invited to make a proposal, but GE chose instead to build the simulator as an internal project.

Actually, there was a preceding simulator; the simulator for the nuclear ship NS Savannah. I know little about this simulator, except the handed-down stories that it was done in the early 1960's and that it made such a negative impression on “The Admiral” that he was strongly opposed to the idea of simulators, and negative on computers in general, throughout his career. At the time of the Dresden project, news of the NS Savannah case was either unknown or suppressed, and little is still known to the author. It is therefore conveniently disregarded in the race for being first.

The project was scheduled for completion in 24 months at a cost of $2 million. Actually, it was done 2 months ahead of schedule, $0.25 million under budget, and was proclaimed "good enough" by the AEC. It was a success by all counts.

The Cast of Players

The project was done by teams from three corners of the USA. GE Apollo Support Department, (ASD), in Daytona Beach Florida, was the prime contractor. This department had just completed the project for launch control computers for the Saturn V rocket as part of the Apollo program. They assigned about 15 people to the simulator project.

I worked for GE Electric Utility Engineering Operation (EUEO) in Schenectady New York. EUEO was an in-house consulting group within G.E. One senior engineer (Doug), one programmer, and one 22 year old trainee (me) were assigned to the project. Doug was amazing. He seemed to know by instinct all about the equipment, the process physics, and modeling. I learned a lot working with Doug.

GE Nuclear Energy Department (NED) in San Jose California was the customer. They wanted to reserve their best people for actual power plants. However, the simulator was so fascinating, that it attracted the attention of some of San Jose's best, despite the low dollar value of the contract.

The Project Plan

The split of work was easy to understand. We in Schenectady would do "the dynamic model". This included the models of point kinetics, reactor and auxiliaries, turbine, control, and electrical systems. San Jose supplied project management, data package services, and the 3D neutronics model. ASD would do the hardware and all remaining software. We called the ASD part the logic model because much of it involved logic and component interfaces with switches and lamps on the panels.

The project began in the fall of 1966 and was planned to last for two years. Planning and data collection activities filled most of 1966.

In 1967, the three groups worked mostly at home in isolation. In Schenectady, we did our modeling in FORTRAN using a GE simulation program called FACE. We would get one turn-around per day running test cases. At 0800 we would get the results of the previous day's job. We would examine it, make changes, add new stuff, and prepare cards for the next run. By noon, we would usually have the job submitted to be fetched the following morning. Afternoons we worked on other projects.

In November, we shipped FORTRAN listings to ASD. San Jose did the same with the 3D neutronics model. ASD hand translated these listings to assembler. One-time hand translation is not such a bad job. ASD did it, they checked it, and made very few errors. They also interfaced the global variables to the control panels. This part of the job was done with zero defects. It worked flawlessly from the first day.

The final phase of the project, starting in January 1968, was the system integration and test in Daytona Beach. Doug stayed home in Schenectady, and I was appointed to support our part of the project on site. As I'll soon describe, those became some of the most memorable months of my life.

Soul of a New Simulator

Since I was so young and so green, I thought it normal for big projects like this one to be ahead of schedule and under budget. Years later, I read Tracy Kidder's book, Soul of a New Machine. I was immediately reminded of the Dresden project, and understood much better how and why it was so successful. The parallels were especially strong during the last months.

The final 6 months of the project were carried out at ASD in Daytona Beach Florida; not at all a bad place. GE made an arrangement with the King's Inn, a beach front motel. We had a block of beach front rooms for the first 6 months of 1968. We stayed through the motorcycle races, through the Daytona 500 stock car race, and through the college student spring break invasion. At one point I had a half dozen nubile coeds willing to pay me $100 each to share my room. I am married so, needless to say, I declined, but it sure did boost my self esteem.

The work schedule was incredible, although it didn't seem so at the time. We met at 7:30 for breakfast, and would be in the control room by 8:30. An hour for lunch, and 2 hours for dinner, would be our breaks. We would quit around midnight. Then, we would often go out to the bars and for drinks before retiring for 4 to 5 hours of sleep. This is the schedule we used Monday through Saturday. Sundays we didn't start work until noon. One Sunday a school of whales became beached down the way. It was sad.

Most of us were young, but Harold was in his 40s. He complained about how hard it was to keep up with us kids, but we didn't understand him. Harold's job was to observe and to report to the project manager, John, what was going on. I was only 23, and Hertz refused to rent me a car. Harold graciously volunteered to be my chauffeur for the duration. We became great buddies.

Bill was in his fifties. He is an extraordinary man. Bill had been a GE employee for 20 or 30 years, and had lived in each of 14 foreign countries for a year or more. He was a genuine connoisseur, not a phony. Bill was sent out by San Jose. He didn't seem to have any regular duties, but Bill's true function soon became apparent. Once or twice a week, Bill would grab several of us and take us out for a dinner. These dinners were so spectacular and lavish that they made lifetime memories. After these dinners we were not only relieved of stress, but also rested and eager to work. We often went back to work after the dinners rather than going directly to bed.

Bill had a purple Jaguar and a blond wife 30 years younger than he. Soon after the simulator project was finished, Bill and his wife disappeared, abandoning their apartment, its contents, and the Jaguar. Harold claimed to have gotten a letter from them a year later. He said they established a trading post along the upper Amazon in the Emerald Forest. Nobody ever heard from them again.

John was the project manager. He was really mysterious. He stayed in San Jose. I met him there in 1966, and didn't see him again until 1968 at the inauguration in Morris. In the meantime, nobody saw or heard from John except Harold, but Harold never told us what John was saying. Again, the similarities to Tracy Kidder's book are remarkable.

Swelled Head

Personally, my reputation, and lifetime career direction were established on the test floor at ASD. Most of the ASD people were stars from the Apollo program. They were old, (i.e. 25 to 30), while I was only 23 years old. They also had salaries about double mine. I was awed by them. My job was to stand around and wait for troubles to occur with the dynamic model so that I could fix them or call Schenectady. While waiting, I couldn't help observing and learning.

One day, everything hit the fan. Someone discovered a major bug so massive in extent that it would have threatened the whole project schedule. There were about thirty people in the room and they were all shocked and depressed. "Oh no! What will we do now? We're hosed!" Well, the night before I had been reading the computer manual to put me to sleep and I got an idea from what I had read. I suggested a simple fix that would take less than 30 seconds to make. There was long silent pause; then someone exclaimed, "That's brilliant! Let's do it." Everybody turned and stared at me as if I were a zoo animal. I guess what they were staring at was the sight of my head inflating. To this day, I have not entirely recovered from Daytona Beach hubris.

My Mamma Done Told Me

We were troubled with blinking lights. In the turbine EHC part of the panels were a lot of red and green lights showing valve positions. Every once in a while, during steady-state operations, it seemed as if there were a wave of light which would pass across the panel. We all saw it, but it happened so infrequently and so fast that nobody was sure exactly what they saw. We certainly didn't know what was wrong.

This continued for some weeks. Finally one evening, one of ASD's best programmers exclaimed, "Aha! I've got it." He explained that one of the female engineers on the' project, who wasn't there at the moment, had violated one of the cardinal rules of real time programming. She had an array of lights, in in her program she initially set the array to zero, then calculated the ones which should be on. The problem came when the asynchronous panel input/output program, would happen to sample just in the middle the critical block of code.

The programmers all shook their heads in disgust for such an unforgivable error. One of them said, "My mamma done told me; Don't ever use GLOBAL COMMON for scratch." I never forgot that lesson and in all these years I never committed that particular error.

The Super Swing

In April, we began to notice an irritating instability. It was an oscillation which touched all the major variables in the reactor, turbine, feed water and recirc systems. It never lasted more than 30 seconds, and then it would disappear. Inception didn't seem to be correlated with anything we could find. The circumstances made it particularly difficult to find the cause of the oscillation. I tried and others tried too to find the cause without success. Nevertheless, we didn't worry about it because it didn't disrupt the work very much.

About a month before shipment, somebody was getting nervous. San Jose sent out a delegation of their big guns. Nobody said so, but we all knew that their purpose of being there was to fix the problem which we weren't capable of fixing ourselves. It had reached the point where it was jeopardizing the whole project.

During the morning the experts there, the oscillation came and went twice. The experts were looking nervous because they didn't have any more idea of what to do than we did. Furthermore, they didn’t understand our models and they didn’t know how to program this computer. They faced egg on their faces.

Suddenly, I was seized by an impulse. Without explanation, I rushed to the computer and changed the neutron point kinetics time constant from 0.1 to 0.2 seconds. It only took me 5 seconds to make the change. Somehow, via an intuitive guess, I knew that this would fix the swing and it did. I swear that the idea came to me just at that moment. It was not something I was holding back. My good guess also saved the experts from San Jose a lot of trouble and embarrassment. They didn't have to find the bug the hard way, they escaped reading code in binary, and nor did they have to face the prospect that they couldn't fix it. They were certainly grateful. My head swelled another three sizes.

Days In The Sun

The ASD and San Jose guys with the high salaries, got paid overtime for 92 hour weeks including time-and-a-half, double-time, and triple-time. Most pocketed an extra year's pay for these few months. One guy bought a new Corvette for cash with the excess money. It was my misfortune that Schenectady didn't pay overtime at all. At the end of the project, I tried to tell my boss, Doctor K, how hard I worked, and how much pay I missed out on. His offer was, "Take a couple of days off."

Elves, Trolls, And Gnomes

We had no compiler, no assembler, no keyboard, or printer that we could use with the simulator computer. There was an IBM Selectric typewriter but it couldn't be used for programming. Our method of working was to use bound copies of assembler listings, with changes marked in pencil. We made changes in code and data directly, in binary, using the buttons on the computer console. If the change worked, we would snapshot the whole core onto the drum, and pencil in the change in the listing. Once a week or so, the palace elves (I never found out who) would take our listings away to some GE office in Orlando. They would update card decks from the penciled notes and run them through a cross assembler on a big mainframe. We would have fresh listings in the morning. I can't remember a single case where the elves committed even the smallest error of omission or commission. Their nocturnal activities were, to the best of my memory, always flawless.

Behind the main panels was a rack about the size of a refrigerator. It was the panel I/O hardware. Even by today's standards, it was remarkably compact. Especially considering that we had no integrated circuits. It was also very reliable. It worked almost always from the very first day. Once in a while though, we would get some anomalous results. When that happened, a truly mysterious ritual would be acted out. Someone would call "the man". A guy would appear with a box that looked like a Geiger counter. He also had a wand, about 1 meter long, attached to the box. He waved the wand around the cabinet, stuck it into the openings, and presto the problems would be gone for a week or two. I never found out what was real, what was put-on, or what was pure troll magic.

San Jose hired this guy, Gregor, to be the salesman for the simulator time. One day in March 1968, he walked onto the floor. We were targeting an August project completion. Gregor said that he had sold out all the simulator time for the next two years. Great! Then he said that he had forgotten Dresden II, the reference plant. To make amends, he sold them two months at the front end. He hoped that we would be able to accelerate the delivery to be ready by June instead! For a while, Gregor was the project gnome.

Free Memory

The computer we used for the project was a General Electric GEPAC 4020. In 1967, it was brand new and the hottest machine on the block. Its competitors in those days were the PDP/8 and the Link GP/4. The IBM 1800 had not been released. We got 4020 serial number 2. Exxon, in Aruba, was more important than we. They got serial number 1.

The 4020 had no floating point, 24K words of core memory (24 bits per word). We had 130K words of drum, about half the capacity of today's floppy disk. There was no operating system. We started with a "naked" machine. The machine language, called PAL, was simple and easy to learn. As a point of calibration, the computing power we had to work with on the simulator was comparable to the old Apple II computers, or perhaps 2% of the power of a 1992 PC.

[about 0.01% of a 2006 PC]

One day, somebody noticed in the literature that core memory was priced in 8K banks, but that spare parts were listed in 16K banks only. We had paid for 24K, the documents said 24K, but only 16K or 32K was possible. We checked and sure enough, we had been using 32K for several months without noticing.

Despite the fact that we had no operating system, and no FORTRAN, we did have global COMMON. At least we had a contiguous area of memory where we stored all the variables. A copy of this on drum was a snapshot or IC.

We had two cycles for model programs, one Hertz and ten Hertz. For many years to come, our competitors accused the Dresden simulator as being "not real time", even though they used the same frequencies, one and ten Hertz. I never understood the basis of their criticism.

All debugging was done using the switches on the computer console. One could stop the computer, then examine and modify programs and data in binary using the lights and buttons. To make a snapshot, one loaded the A register with the snapshot number and executed a JSR to a program which wrote data to drum. Program changes were all done by "patches". It sounds wild thinking back, but most of us memorized several hundred of the most important program and data addresses in octal. Nine years later I won a bet by correctly recalling the octal address of reactor pressure.

The AEC Inspector

The immediate goal of the simulator project was to win approval for substitution of simulator training for up to 3 of the 5 required startups. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) had unofficially indicated that they would approve the idea if the simulator was "good enough". To prove the goodness, we had to get someone from the AEC to come to Daytona Beach to look at it.

That turned out to be a problem because, at the time, Federal employees were allowed $25 per day for room and meals. In Daytona Beach, motel rooms cost much more than $25 per night, not to mention meals, so government employees couldn't afford to come. After some weeks of impasse, Bill made "arrangements", and the AEC inspector arrived. He played with the simulator one morning. In the afternoon we let him pull the rods until he had nuclear criticality.

Pulling critical in real time with real simulated instruments was so much fun it was almost irresistible. We had to repeat it for every visiting engineer from San Jose, and of course we did it for the AEC man. Each of us, including the AEC man, felt as if he were Enrico Fermi himself under the bleachers in Chicago in 1942. In the evening, Bill took him out for dinner. The simulator was pronounced "good enough" to be used for training in lieu of a certain amount of real plant experience. Ignominious as it may seem, this pronouncement was, and still is, the foundation of our simulator industry.

Inauguration Day

The day of the inauguration, June 17, 1968 was a lot of fun. GE invited press and TV reporters from all over the country. They had a tent set up for a big buffet and open bar in the afternoon. The reporters must have known about the party because about 150 of them showed up. The following Sunday, the New York Times gave it about half of a page, and the 3 TV networks each gave it about 5 minutes on the news. Walter Cronkite was the one who told the world "and that's the way it was” that evening to the background sound of an alarm horn from our simulator.

We jammed more than 100 VIPs and reporters into the very small control room for the grand finale. My job was simple. We had one remaining bug which caused an alarm horn to honk all the time. My job in the demonstration was to hold my finger on the alarm silence button to keep it from honking.

The climax came when we did the station blackout malfunction. The room went black as the overhead lights went out. The horns sounded, (I had released the button). Hundreds of green lights suddenly became red illuminating the faces in the room the color of fresh blood. A woman screamed. Everyone else gasped. This was the birth moment of our industry.

After a few seconds, the lights came back on when the simulator had faithfully started the diesel and began restoring loads. When the recirc pumps started, the simulator did just as we had programmed, and beautifully dimmed the room lights simulating low voltage. We were especially proud of this, because controlling fluorescent lights with a computer was a neat trick. The spice was provided by a Commonwealth Edison VP in the back of the room. His angry voice protested, "We have adequate house power. Our lights don't dim!"

The ultimate irony came as I looked over my shoulder. Outside, peeking in the window, were four Dresden operators who were supposedly being trained that morning. It was their training which we were celebrating. There was no room for them to get into the building, so they had boosted themselves up to the window for a peek. This picture of me was taken on that day.

Later in the day, the press retired to the tent for beer and bourbon. I drove back to O`Hare airport and heard the bulletin on the car radio about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. I should have stayed for the bourbon. The picture below shows me on that day.

The Instructor's Panel

The instructor's control panel was a marvel of human factors engineering. It had a rectangular matrix of buttons. Most buttons had a maintained position, and a local (i.e. not computer controlled) back light to show status.

Each thing the instructor could do had its own dedicated button. Yes, that's right, an individual button for every IC and one for every malfunction. The matrix of buttons served at the same time as a menu, a control device, a monitor of current status, and a limit to how many functions we could simulate. At the bottom of the consoles were a couple of thumb switches used to set the values of external parameters.

Nobody ever asked for training on how to operate the instructor's panel. In Morris, we put it right in the middle of the control room, just a few feet behind the operators. We didn't know about pedagogy, and nobody complained.

The Green Book

While I was doing all these things in Daytona Beach, Doug continued working on documentation back in Schenectady. It was finished about the same time the simulator was delivered.

The result was an enormous book, about 4 inches thick, full of equations, block diagrams, and curves from transient tests. It was obvious to everybody that this was high calorie technology. In combination with its thickness and timeliness, it impressed the hell out of everybody. It was bound in a green leather cover, and it soon became known as "The Green Book." It was marked as strictly proprietary General Electric information.

Nearly a decade later, I had occasion to have contact with a competitor who had delivered some BWR simulators. I was shocked to hear their engineers refer casually to "The Green Book". They were not supposed to have seen it or even heard of it!

My only consolation to having been the victim of industrial espionage was my knowledge that "The Green Book" documented the state of the models eight months before delivery. The changes made and bugs fixed in Daytona Beach during integration were never reported to Schenectady, nor incorporated in "The Green Book". I dreamt, hopefully, of my competitors wasting millions trying to fix bugs that had been fixed before.


A significant point regarding the simulator project never occurred to me until writing this paper. Whose decision was it to authorize so much paid overtime while the project was continuously ahead of schedule? Furthermore, how did the project come in under budget after paying these extra costs for overtime? Maybe the mysterious project manager John, was more Machiavellian than I ever suspected.

In any event, we who earn a living building or owning nuclear power plant training simulators all owe a debt to this pioneering project.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

An Expensive Month

Vero Beach

Whew. Things are piling up. In addition to the engine we have other problems. Our engine, since reassembled has cooling problems. There is no guarantee on the work since we signed a statement saying "Customer orders reassembly of a seriously damaged engine. No warrranty." It takes 2.5 hours to fully recharge the batteries. Now the engine only runs for one hour before overheating. Last night I burned myself with boiling water when trying to add more water to the hot engine. The burn wasn't serious but still we're not looking forward to doing this daily for 3 more weeks.

In addition we have battery problems. We have two 97 AH gel cells from West Marine. This is the second time they failed in two years. I bought them two years ago. They are supposed to last for 5 years. Last year, West Marine replaced both with new ones when I took them in and complained. This year they replaced one of them again. I only brought one battery in for exchange, because I thought the other was OK. Now, after comparing performance of the remaining battery with the new one, I conclude that both were bad.

What's causing it? I suspect a faulty solar panel charge controller. Poking around in the engine compartment at night I discovered the red LED on the controller saying "charging" even at night. Since our battery problems started just after leaving the marina in Ft. Pierce, I suspect that when we are on shore power, and the batteries are fully charged, that a faulty solar panel charge controller can cause overcharge. Without regulation, the panels put out 18V. Gel cells are particularly vulnerable to overcharging since they are sealed and one can't add more water to them.

I ordered a new solar panel charge controller, and I'm going to pay West Marine for the next new battery rather than asking them to replace it on warranty because I suspect that it wasn't their fault.

I'm also shopping for a portable generator. That's another big expense but it would be a welcome addition onboard. We could eliminate up to 1,000 hours per year running the main engine. I could also eliminate dealing with an overheated engine twice per day for the next three weeks.

It seems that we see only Honda EU1000 generators on board other cruisers. They are very nice, very quiet, lightweight and compact. However they cost almost $800, whereas home generators with more than 3 times the capacity of the Hondas cost $400 or less. On a boat though, quiet, compact and light weight are critically important properties.

We have no AC wiring on Tarwathie. The portable generator would be used only to run the shore power battery charger which uses 120w maximum. Therefore, we don't need much power. Although we have 75w of solar power, that's not enough most of the time. The intelligent battery charger charges as rapidly as possible in phase 1. It tapers off the charge during 2.5 hours in phase 2. Phase 3 is a trickle charge. Even if phase 1 takes zero time because of the solar panel, it still wants to run for 2.5 hours on the tapered charge.

Blog readers, do you have any suggestions other than the Honda?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Seasons Greetings

Dick and Libby Mills send warm holiday greetings to our friends and family across the world. May you and yours find happiness and security. Live long and prosper.

When Christmas 2006 comes around, it will be 22 months since we began living our new lives as sailing cruisers aboard Tarwathie. What a wonderful life it has been. We believe that this change was the best decision we’ve ever made. We could still be working and facing the pressures of deadlines and daily commutes. We could have taken a conventional retirement and spent most of our time watching TV and reading about others. Instead we took advantage of good health, and opted for early retirement and a very active lifestyle. We love it.

In the past 22 months we sailed from Fort Lauderdale Florida, to Lake Champlain, to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, to Maine, and now we are en route to the Bahamas for this winter. After the winter we may continue south to the Caribbean, or choose something else. We have ambitions to sail around the world, but not until we have fully sampled the delights of our own corner of the world.

Our family is doing fine. John lives near Rome, New York with his family, wife Cheryl, son Nick, and daughters Sara, Katelyn, and Victoria. Jennifer lives near Burlington Vermont. David lives in Fairbanks Alaska with his family, wife Cathy, and son Bobby. David joined the US Army and right now he is in Kuwait near the Iraqi border for a year. We’re really proud of David for standing up to be counted.

We have been blessed with lots of contact with family and friends this year. Dick traveled to Schenectady for John Undrill’s retirement party. We were joined by Gerry and Phyllis Allen for sailing in the Chesapeake. We were also joined by our son David and his son Bobby for more Chesapeake sailing and a trip to Vermont where we had a family reunion. We also sailed with Dick’s sister Nancy, and her family. We traveled to Rome for a week with John’s family. We visited with my sister Marilyn. We went to another reunion of a different branch of the family in New Hampshire, at my cousin Brian’s camp with his family. Cousins Warene and Janet, husbands Richard and Gordon, Aunt Dot and Uncle Art, and Sister Nancy with her family were all there. We sailed an offshore passage with Carmello and Diane Kona, friends from Scotia. Libby had 4 days with Dave and Cathy in Pensacola Florida before Dave went to Kuwait. Finally we had a wonderful week with John and Mary Ann Undrill sailing from Urbanna Virginia to Elizabeth City North Carolina.

Surprisingly, we had little difficulty in adapting to our radical life style change. We don’t miss work. We don’t miss the caffeine from all the coffee. We don’t get bored. We don’t get any lasting fright from the dangerous moments. We meet many more new cruising friends with much in common to talk about than we could have by staying home. Most of all, we get to travel almost all the time, which we always loved. We also get to enjoy the sights and sounds of so much beautiful nature. We can tell you that the slice of the world visible to boaters is still beautiful and largely unspoiled. We plan to continue the cruising life as long as health permits.

We encourage all our friends to follow our exploits on our blog, the web address is Dick writes a new article almost every day. Also please write to us at and tell about your own news. We would love your company on whatever leg of our adventure you find interesting, so please don’t be shy about contacting us if you would like to cruise a little with us.

Best wishes from,
Dick and Libby

Sunday, December 24, 2006

John and Mary Ann

[Editorial note: Whoops. I wrote this article months ago but it seems that I never pushed the PUBLISH button. Sorry John and Mary Ann. Better late than never.]

In 1966 Libby and I moved to Schenectady New York to work for the General Electric company. A few months later another young couple, John and Mary Ann Undrill also move to Schenectady to work for General Electric Company. Our two families became fast friends and contemporaries for life. Our children call the Undrills Uncle and Aunt, and the Undrill's children call Libby and I Aunt and uncle. That's how close we have been.

So it was a special treat for the four of us to be able to get together for a week of fun onboard Tarwathie. The working plan was for them to drive to meet us in Urbanna Virginia, then we would sail together down through North Carolina to Elizabeth City or to New Bern.

Then reality injected itself. The same Saturday morning when John and Mary Ann were en route to meet us, the starter motor on Tarwathie died. There was no chance of getting a mechanic on a Saturday. I feared the worst case, that it might take weeks to get a replacement and that we might not be able to sail at all.

As things turned out, Urbanna was a singularly nice place to find oneself stranded. We stayed there from Saturday morning to the following Wednesday afternoon. By that time, we and the Undrills knew almost all the people in the town. Diane the dockmaster, Gary the boat builder, Roger the sailor, the people at the hotel, and at the crab house, and the gift shop, and the library, and at Moo's Restaurant. We managed to have quite a bit of fun.

The Four of Us At Moo's

Each evening after dinner we had a Scrabble match with the four of us. Scrabble was new to the Undrills, but after a single game they caught on and we had great fun. It's not hard to have fun with people you like.

Eventually, the engine got fixed and we sailed away to Deltaville and then to Norfolk. Below is a picture of John at the soldier's memorial on the Norfolk waterfront.

We left Norfolk headed for Elizabeth City via The Great Dismal Swamp Canal. I knew they would enjoy it because everyone likes sailing up and down that canal. As luck would have it, just as soon as we cast off the dock lines in Norfolk, a great rain deluge hit us. Below is a picture of the huge aircraft carrier we passed just after shoving off. Our visibility wasn't much better than the cameras. It was a miserable morning. Luckily though, later that morning the rain stopped and the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day.

Below you see Mary Ann and Libby at the Rose buddies wine and cheese party in Elizabeth City. The canal really was fun for everyone, and so wasn't Elizabeth City.

All in all, it turned out to be a really nice week. We met some wonderful people, we saw glimpses of southern culture, we did get some great sailing days, we saw spectacular sights at the Norfolk Navy Yards, we had two lovely days in the Great Dismal Swamp, and a very nice day's drive back to Urbanna to wind it up. I repeat, it is easy to have fun with people that you like.

Libby and I thank you John and Mary Ann for enriching our lives for a week. We suggest making this an annual affair.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Creature Comforts

Vero Beach

Back when I was still dreaming about living the cruising life rather than doing it, I read an influential book. It was called The Self Sufficient Sailor, by Lin and Larry Pardey. I loved the advice these people gave and the life style that they lead. One thing they argued passionately for in an entire chapter in their book was the virtues of not having an engine. These people had been sailing around the world for years and they never did have an engine. I thought of this book recently when we were nearly panicked about not having an engine to charge batteries and therefore not having electricity.

It's an interesting contrast. Two years ago we were acutely aware of how many of the common creature comforts of land living we were giving up just to live on a boat. Indeed, some of our friends are still aghast and unable to believe how we can live happily without more stuff. Well, we shed most of that stuff, we have no house, no car, no TV, no microwave oven, no daily newspaper, no water bed. Instead of missing it, we felt liberated as we were freed from the responsibility for acquiring and maintaining all that stuff.

So here we are living the simple life with no more stuff. Whoops, slight correction, we do have a refrigerator, freezer, stove, laptop computers, cell phone, satellite radio, stereo speakers, GPS, book reading lights, ceiling lights, SSB radio, pactor modem, VHF radio, hand-held radios, a cabin heater, MP3 player and many other modern gadgets that make our life easier and more comfortable. When faced with the threat of not having those things if we couldn't keep the batteries charged, our reaction was panic.

Last fall, our friends John and Mary Ann spend a week living onboard Tarwathie with us. After they left, Libby was proud to say "Everything essential that Mary Ann needed during the week, we were able to provide." I conclude that we live comfortably enough to satisfy even people who aren't adapted.

In all my previous boats, we got along fine with just and ice box. We never had a refrigerator before, and before buying Tarwathie, I thought the idea of an onboard refrigerator was silly. We've met lots of cruisers who live fine for years with just an ice box or with nothing cold at all onboard. They seem to not miss what they don't have. Although it seems unthinkable for us to be without anything we have now, it is probably true that we could adapt to many changes.

So what's the real difference between the comfort of having lots of stuff, or the comfort of having just a little stuff. The evidence suggests not much difference at all. That sounds very profound. Wealth, and the artifacts of wealth, do little to affect happiness. Indeed there is a trap in which one becomes so worried about maintaining those artifacts that stress and unhappiness results.

Of course, literature from the Bible on down abounds with parables explaining this simple human truth. Still, it's fun to see such obvious and direct evidence of that truth in one's own life. We didn't even need visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to reveal that insight to us.

For Want of a $10 Zinc

We saw this sorry boat up by the St. Johns River. Galvanic corrosion was the problem. Both units are totally ruined and the left one is almost toally gone. We know nothing of the story behind the boat.

The moral is check your zincs and check for signs of galvanaic corrosion frequenty if your boat is in salt water. In worst case circumstances, new zincs can be consumed in weeks.
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Friday, December 22, 2006


Vero Beach

Last week, as I watched the mechanic taking our engine apart, I was thinking about the skills I would need to do that job myself.

Foremost of course, is not a skill but rather experience. Having taken something apart at least once before is an immense advantage when doing it again. Even related experience, such as taking apart other mechanical things helps. Use of tools is also something that derives from experience.

A critical skill that I definitely lack is the ability to throw all the removed parts in a bucket, stir, then confidently remember where they go when putting it back together. Another skill is dexterity with the fingers when working with very small parts. My father was an amateur watch and clock maker. He repaired them for a hobby. He was excellent in both of those skills. Even when he was very old and he could see only poorly with his one functioning eye, he could start a tiny screw into the threads. I don't have those genes, and I have trouble even picking up a tiny screw without dropping it. When I try doing some task especially delicate, my hands shake.

The mechanic also had specific skills that he had trained for. If I broke off a bolt head it would be a disaster that I couldn't recover from. Therefore, when I encounter a stubborn bolt, I'm afraid to even try forcing it out. The mechanic swore that if he broke this stubborn stud that he would have to drill and tap it to get it out, and failing that he would have to use an acetylene torch. In other words, he had two levels of backup skills.

What about boating skills that one needs to live life as a cruiser? There's a good topic for a blog. Actually it could fill dozens of blogs. My copy of Chapman's Piloting and Seamanship it nearly 600 pages long. Instead, let me pass along two of the simplest, easiest to remember, and most generally useful things I ever learned to be applied to boating and other situations. Readers: if you have your own list of best things to know, send me an email.

When I learned how to fly, we were taught the tactical priorities of a pilot. Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. Those three items, in that order, are the priorities that never vary. There are no exceptions. Even in dire emergencies, those are the priorities. Merely substitute boat handling for aviate and substitute helmsman for pilot and the same priorities apply to boating.

There are times when there may be someone on the radio demanding urgent information. Suppose you heard this on the radio; "Sailboat near marker 62 what the F are you trying to do?" The situation seems to demand an instant reply on the radio, but wait? Are you near marker 62? Perhaps the radio call was for someone else. Wait again, now is not the time for an inadvertent jibe or to get trapped in irons.

I read of a real life incident in Soundings last year. A couple in a sailboat were sailing at night underneath the Bay Bridge near Annapolis, MD. They got in the way of a fast approaching ship. The ship broadcast a warning to them. They tried to come about, but the winds were light and they put the boat in irons. Then they tried to start the engine but in their haste they stepped on the ignition key and broke the key off in the switch. Then they jumped overboard and swam away as the ship had a glancing collision with their boat. Too bad for them that they didn't have the right priorities. Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.

It is universally applicable hard to forget if you remember the rhyme. Aviate Navigate Communicate.

In fire service training, I learned about the universal method for making command decisions in an emergency incident. Assess the situation. Make a corrective action plan. Execute the action plan (especially communicating the plan to others.) The three steps have to be done in that order, and none can be skimped.

Acting without those three steps is acting irrationally. A plan can not remedy the situation if you don't understand what the situation is. Barking out orders without letting anyone know what the plan is is foolhardy.

When standing watch, continuous situational awareness is your primary duty. If you have situational awareness then the assessment step of the method is very easy.

Assessments and plans don't need to be fancy to be effective. Is the boat on fire? Yes! Then the plan is -- put out the fire. Call out to the crew. "The boat is on fire. Put out the fire. Use the fire extinguisher." If you just yelled FIRE, some of your crew might jump overboard rather than trying to put out the fire.

If your plan doesn't work, use the same method again. Have we lost control of the fire? Yes! New plan is abandon ship. "Crew: prepare to abandon ship. Launch the life raft. Get the ditch kit. Put out a mayday call."

The power of this method is that it universally applicable and nearly impossible to forget. Assess. Plan. Execute.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Shopping

Vero Beach,

Today we got on the free shuttle bus and rode over to the city to do our Christmas shopping for each other. The time has long passed to do shopping for others and to send stuff in the mail. What a culture shock!

The first shock was as we rode on the bus over the 65 foot bridge that crosses the ICW. We haven't been that far above sea level since climbing a mountain in Maine. I almost had vertigo.

The second shock was listening to the language of the local people, especially the blacks. We only understood about 50% of what we heard, so thick was their dialect.

Third was the shock of entering the shopping districts in Vero on the bus. My God what a consumer society we have become. Mile after mile of countless stores, with almost every one of them having a parking lot nearly full with customers cars. We passed the smaller shops. We passed the shopping centers with grocery stores and other things. Then we came to the big box store area with Wall Mart, Sam's Club, Lowes, Home Depot, and Target. There were crowds and crowds of people coming in and out. Finally we came to the mall itself where we got off. It also had nearly full parking lots. Mind you that this was midday on a non-holiday Thursday.

Finally was the shock of being in such large crowds of people in the mall. Remember that we've been living on a boat where 9 days out of 10 it is just Libby and me. On the 10th day we may have guests for a couple of hours. Actual crowds feel alien.

Darn. There seems to be no limit to the number of mechanical troubles popping up in a short time. Now one of my two gel cell batteries seems to have failed. I think it has an intermittent internal failure that gives high resistance. I'll have to replace it. The two batteries are only a year old, but the other one seems OK. Perhaps I can get a credit for unused months on the warranty on the bad one.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Temporary New Home

Vero Beach Marina, N 27.66247 -80.37239

Well, Marathon it's not, but Vero Beach may be a nice place for our second choice.
We're on a mooring at the municipal marina. It cost us $401 for 30 days -- not cheap. On the other hand, this place is only one mile from a nice Atlantic Beach. They also have a free shuttle bus that takes you around town. There are lots of stores and things around reachable by that bus. There is WiFi (although for some strange reason it didn't work for me yet.) The harbor is full of cruisers so we'll have people to socialize with.

There will be a pot luck dinner at the marina on Christmas day. We know because we spent Christmas Day here last year. In any case, it appears that we'll have a nice time for the 30 days. After that, the new engine should be here. We got here under motor and sail. We had to add water to the day tank as we went. There's a coolant leak someplace that I can't locate. I hear it drip drip under the oil pan, but all the hoses and fittings appear dry. It may be leaking from the block since we just recently had the engine apart. The leak rate does not seem to change whether the engine is running or not. Perhaps I'll get on the shuttle bus and ride to a place where there's an auto parts store and buy a can of radiator stop leak.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Fort Pierce, 27.46813 -80.32398

It seems that even though Libby and I wanted to go to Marathon,
fate had a different outcome for us.

Yesterday morning we weighed the anchor and headed out to see; destination Marathon in the Florida Keys. We didn't get very far. Before we had gone a mile Libby heard a strange noise from the engine, and a few seconds later a huge cloud of steam came out of the engine room. We were directly in front of a Coast Guard station. They sent a boat to ask if we needed assistance. We declined because we were able to put up a sail and make our way back in.

We anchored just off the channel and I set out to find out what happened. I found one of the hoses to the heat exchanger had popped off. It had dumped all of our engine coolant into the pan. Apparently our mechanic hadn't pushed the hose onto the fitting completely before tightening the clamp. Grrr. We weren't happy about that after paying him $1,000. On the other hand, it wasn't so bad. In a little more than an hour I had the hose back on, and the engine refilled with fresh water. 90 minutes after stopping we were on our way again.

The 90 minute delay cost us dearly in terms of the tide. In the 90 minutes we shifted from slack tide to full ebb tide. The winds were blowing onshore. That's the classic condition once again that makes for extremely steep and dangerous waves where the ebbing tide meets the sea. We noticed many local boats,some of them big, fishing in the inlet channel rather than venturing our. They were afraid. Tarwathie is a seaworthy vessel though so we forged on.

We managed to get out, but not without being thoroughly shaken up. In the face of those steep waves Tarwathie was pitching 45 degrees forward and aft! not side-to-side. It was perhaps the most violent ride we've ever had. Fortunately we only had to go 1/4 mile past the end of the jetty, then a few hundred meters to the side, and suddenly we were in calm waters once again.

We set the sails and headed SW toward Marathon. Unfortunately, the forecasted which called for NE to E winds was wrong. The winds were from the SE. Progress was very slow. After 4 hours out, we had only progressed 5 miles. I decided to motor-sail for a while. I started the engine again. After about 15 minutes, there was a strange odor and I looked down to see the temperature gauge pegged at maximum!!! I quickly shut it down.

Darn. I thought we had lost the gamble. We paid $600 to have our damaged engine reassembled to get it to run long enough to keep the batteries charged for a month until the new engine arrives. It was a big gamble. We would have been better off if we spent $600 to buy a gasoline powered generator. I decided to turn back because I couldn't guarantee that we would have enough power for the running lights, and it was still 200 miles to Marathon.

It took us only 1 hour to return to the Fort Pierce Inlet. In that hour I determined that the cooling system had drained again, but this time there was no loose hose. I refilled it with fresh water, and I could hear a drip drip sound as it leaked from someplace, but I can't see where. The good new was that we could run the engine for short times, or for longer times as long as we continued to refill the radiator tank as we went along. The tide had also reversed, and the waters entering the inlet were placid.

This morning we made a new alternate plan. We ordered a new Beta engine from Bud Taplin, we reserved a mooring at Vero Beach for a month, and we reserved a time to haul the boat and replace the engine in Fort Pierce a month from now. We're betting that we'll be able to run the engine for an hour each day to charge the batteries. We believe that Vero Beach will be a much more pleasant place to spend the holiday season than Fort Pierce.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wow! Boats are Expensive

Fort Pierce, FL, 27.46868 -80.32439

Well, we're back in business, but it was expensive. The engine is reassembled. It runs. Worse than before, but it runs. We're glad for that but we're also feeling down and feeling that we wasted money. This week was very expensive. $250 for the marina and $1075 for the mechanic. What we bought for that expense was the knowledge that we need to buy a new engine.

We could have cut that expense in half if I had been willing to put us in a dumpy boatyard with no showers and no electricity in a high crime neighborhood, until after New Years Day. Expense be damned, I wouldn't subject Libby to those conditions. That was no what she signed up for.

I fret that we have not been the best stewards of our own money. We invested more than $2,000 in that 30 year old engine before this week. A lot of that trouble and expense could have been spared if we had decided long ago to buy a new engine. Nevertheless, its hard to work up too much of a self indictment that holds water. There was so much I didn't know about diesel engines and about the cruising life. Self sufficient sailors who do their own work take years of practical experience to build up all those skills and that shrewdness.

We still have a choice in front of us. We can sail to Marathon and get Bud Taplin (the #1 Westsail expert in world) to supply and install a new engine for us, at almost no risk. The other choice is to stay in Very Beach and work with Fort Pierce Diesel for the new engine. Fort Pierce may be somewhat cheaper, but Libby and I both like Marathon much more than here, so we're electing the more expensive option in the interest of having more fun. Tough.

Today it's raining and we have no wind. Tomorrow it should be sunny and breezy. It sounds perfect for a 200 mile offshore passage from here to Marathon in the Florida Keys. That's what we're planning to do. If any of you are in Miami Beach tomorrow, wave as us as we pass by.

By the way, we love Florida. However, one has to admit that there are some strange people down here.

Here in Fort Pierce they have a foot fetish burglar. He breaks into houses late at night, sneaks into bedrooms and licks the toes of the women.

Also here is a man who said that he had a near death experience in which he met God. He said that God rejected him and sent him back, so the man burned a church to the ground for revenge.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Our view of the launch

These pictures were taken one second apart. I forgot to zoom in. (Ay. Ay. No time for a second try.)

The VAB building is visible to the right of the launch pad.

The camera makes the flame look round, but to our eyes, it looked pencil shaped.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Uh Oh

Fort Pierce, FL

Uh Oh. We ran into a major problem. To fix the engine we had to pull the cylinder head. When we got the head off, we can see that some foreign object got into the number 1 cylinder. The object severely damaged the piston and the cylinder head. I’m afraid that the engine is ruined.

Parts for these 30 year old Perkins engines are getting hard to find. If we want to sail to exotic locations, it’s not good to be looking for hard to find parts and diesel mechanics. We could overhaul the engine for about $9,000 or we can get a new one for about $12,000 to $15,000.

It will take three weeks plus all those thousands to fix it. That’s a major hit.

The good part is that, once this is done, we should be able to go a long way without engine trouble again.

We’re working on a plan of attack. More news later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Out of the Waterway into H2O

Harbortown Marina, Fort Pierce, 27.46752 -80.32779

We put into the marina for two days in order to meet with a mechanic from Fort Pierce Diesel. We've been waiting for this for a long time. The exhaust manifold is loose, causing exhaust gas and oil leaks into the engine compartment. I tried to tighten it a long time ago but the bolt heads are so close to the manifold wall, that I can't get a socket on it, or a open end wrench over it. It needs a mechanic.

When we called the marina for a slip assignment, they said H20. Get it? H2O? Ha ha, a weak joke I know.

I went to the post office to post Christmas packages for Marilyn and for Dave. The post office was 5 miles away, and when I got there, there was a very long line. I didn't get back to the boat until supper time. As we live the luxury life of cruisers, we get reminded frequently of how hostile this country is to people who don't have a car.

Anyhow, we're well past the Christmas mailing deadline for Kuwait. Sorry Dave, I hope the package gets there in time for Easter.

There is a dredging barge working here in the marina. It is a clever setup. It has a steam shovel on deck. A big hopper for the spoil. An outboard on the stern, and a very clever anchoring system. They maneuver the barge to the desired point, then it pushes down two 12 inch pipes from the stern down into the muck about 10 feet deep. That makes a very strong temporary anchor. Easy to deploy and easy to pick up. After an hour or so, the spoil hopper is full and the rig motors away to someplace else to empty the hopper. I think the whole rig is clever and efficient for the purpose.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Golf Balls and Clam Shells

Fort Pierce, Florida, 27.46887 -80.32463

Behind our house in West Charlton there were some woods and lots of fields. The fields were sometimes planted with clover but more often planted with corn. A snowmobile trail led from the road, through the woods and across the fields. I walked our dog, Pup, there every day.

A special treat was when our son John came to visit with his family several times per year. John has four children. They are four of our five grandchildren. On those occasions I would take Nick and Sara, the oldest of the four children along with me on the trail as we walked Pup.

On one of the earliest trips, Nick was about 6 years old and Sara was about 4. As we walked across the last cornfield, the kids spotted a golf ball in the field. They picked it up and pocketed it. Soon thereafter they found several more. The corn had been harvested so it was easy to see across the whole field. Within five minutes, they picked up all the balls visible. Both of them had all pockets and two hands full with all the balls they could carry.

We turned to leave the field when one of them found a clam shell in the field. Clam shells are not normally associated with corn fields, especially when the closest salt water was hundreds of miles away. They looked around, and soon they spotted more clam shells.

Neither of them asked where the balls shells came from, and I offered no opinion. In reality, I had no idea who put them there, or why, or when.

When we returned to the house, Nick and Sara showed off their finds to the amazement of everyone. When they went home, they brought their golf balls and clam shells with them.

The next time they visited it was winter. We walked the trail and crossed the corn field, but finding anything under the snow was impossible.

The subsequent visit was in the spring, after the spring thaw. This time, when we came to the corn field, surprise! There was a fresh crop of golf balls and a similarly fresh crop of clam shells. Once again Nick and Sara brought home as much as they could carry.

This pattern continued for several years. Every spring the cornfield produced a fresh "crop" of golf balls and clam shells. I could see that Nick and Sara actually believed that they grew there. They had the direct evidence of their own observations. Every fall they stripped the field of all balls and shells, and every spring, there were new ones to find. I did nothing to disabuse them of their belief.

Eventually, the number of balls and shells found each spring diminished and finally ceased. I guess that the frost heaves had pushed up the entire store of balls and shells that had been buried there. The neat thing is that it happened so gradually that I think Nick and Sara forgot about those earlier years, and didn�t notice the decline.

The sweet part of this story is that I am sure that sometime during adulthood, both Nick and Sara will be struck with the peculiar notion that golf balls aren�t made in factories, and clam shells don�t grow in the ocean, they grow in corn fields. Ridiculous. But on the other hand, seeing is believing, and powerful psychology. They may have no idea of how that strange notion got into their heads, but I know, and now you, dear reader, know also. I ask you to join with me in a conspiracy. Please never tell Nick or Sara what we know about golf balls and clam shells.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sight of a Lifetime

The Indian River, 27.98870 -80.54546

Well, as you all know already, Discovery launched last night. Boy are we glad that we stayed for the sight. We waited a long time. We arrived in the vicinity of the space center a week ago today.

We motored to a place near the eastern shore of the Indian River, and north of the Addison Bridge. We were about at close as one can get to the launch site without being guests of NASA. At first we were alone, but after dark a number of motor boats came and anchored near us.

The weather became perfect. The winds slowed down to 6 knots and the sky was clear and moonless. We could see numerous patrol airplanes and helicopters circling the perimeter of the prohibited zone. The launch pad, about five miles from us, was brightly lit. There were also powerful searchlights pointing up into the sky from the launch pad at an angle of thirty degrees. Those made a big V in the sky with the apex of the V at the launch pad.

I almost missed seeing liftoff because I was listening to the countdown on satellite radio, which has a 15 second delay. I heard them say "20 seconds" and I reached for my camera. When I looked up, liftoff was just occurring.

The sight was spectacular. At first it looked like a half fireball. Then, as the rocket lifted off the ground, the shape of the flame changed to a torch-like pencil. The flame extended for perhaps 300 feet. It lit up the whole sky. The rocket lifted away from the launch pad much faster than I expected. I guess I've seen too many slow motion movies of rocket launches. It didn't get very high at all before it tilted from the vertical and headed off in a northeast direction. All this time it was totally silent.

About the time the turn was complete, the sound washed over us. It was the kind of sound that you feel as much as hear. We did not see ripples in the water.

The flame continued to diminish in size as the vehicle got farther away. We could see the separation of the solid fuel boosters, and for 10 seconds after separation I could see a red spot marking one of the boosters falling away.

We continued to watch the dimming spot of light for 5 minutes. We finally lost sight because it passed behind the smoke drifting in the wind away from the launch pad. About the time we lost sight, I could hear them on the radio talking about Spain. Could it be possible that we could still see it as far away as Spain?

After it was gone, I looked up in the sky again. Now it was clear and moonless but with one very big cloud. The cloud was smoke left from the exhaust of the solid fuel boosters. At least I think so. The main rocket engines burn hydrogen and oxygen. They might make steam but not smoke. The solid boosters though burn something else.

It was a great experience. I'll post some pictures when we have a chance. Not many pictures came out. At night my digital camera wants to use time exposures. They don't turn out good when the boat is rocking in the waves.

Today, we soared down the Indian River at 6.5-7 knots in a strong easterly wind. It is not very often that we can sail so well on the ICW. Our only stop was in Eau Gallie. There I met up with Dave Hackett. We have been using Dave's house as a mail drop so he had several packages for us. Thank you very much Dave. It was good to see you albeit briefly. Next time, we hope to see Johnnie Hackett too.

We are anchored tonight only about three miles from my brother Ed's house. However, Ed and his family are busy today so we wont be able to visit today. We saw them last week in Titusville, and we may see them again this week in Fort Pierce.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006


The Indian River, 28.54623 -80.75323

We left Titusville Marina just before dawn this morning. We wanted to avoid getting trapped in the slip. Yesterday morning the winds were calm until just before dawn, then they howled from the direction cross to our slip. All day long we could have never backed out of that slip without a big risk of losing control in the tight spaces and running into other boats. We wanted to be 40 miles south in Melbourne by mid afternoon.

Today it proved to be unnecessary. The winds held off until 11 in the morning and then they only blew at 15 knots. In fact, the weather became so nice, and the view of the launch pad to our east was so tempting, that we decided to abandon the idea of going to Melbourne. We will sit here tonight in the hopes that the shuttle will launch.

We invited Dave Hackett to join us but he declined. That was a shame. I'm sure that Dave would love the sight of the launch close up.

We had some time to kill so I took the dinghy ashore and walked 1.5 miles up to the Astronaut Hall of Fame because that sounded like fun. When I got there, I found the admission fee ($17) too steep so I didn't go in. I walked another 1.5 miles westward following signs for a warbird museum. Alas, at the end I decided that the museum was too many miles away for the walk and I turned back. Oh well, I had a nice walk in nice weather.

Right now we're anchored about 2 miles NE of the Addison Bridge. This is the bridge that David and his family must have crossed to visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center two years ago. It is also the bridge where we anchored in March 2005 and where we ran aground for the first time in Tarwathie. As a matter of fact, we ran aground twice in the same spot within 10 minutes. To read that story you'll have to go to the March 2005 archive of this blog.

We have a perfect grandstand seat for the launch. The Vertical Assembly Building is right in front of us. The launch pad is plainly visible about 5 miles away. We couldn't get much closer unless we were guests of NASA. Please please let the launch go tonight. The skies are clear, the winds are less than 10 knots right now. The only problem seems to be winds more than 15 knots at one of the emergency landing places. Please please.

Right now I have to post before the sun sets. Our story from tonight will have to wait for tomorrow's blog.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

To Scrub Or Not To Scrub

Titusville Marina

Friday, December 8, 2006

Well last night we had company. Ed and Sally and Paul and Merissa all came to visit. Sally was the heroine. She brought a delicious lasagna dinner with all the fixings. The six of us devoured it.

After dinner we explored the area around the marina for a good spot to watch the launch from. We came across two huge manatee cows with their calves. In the end we didn't find any better place than the deck of Tarwathie. We could see the launch pad from the foredeck. According to the TV and radio reports, everything was GO, although the weather didn't look promising.

What a disappointment when at the exact moment of scheduled lift off, the project manager said, "Scrub for today." Nasty project manager. Where do they find people to take jobs like project manager?

Launch or no, we always enjoy having company so the day was a success.

Today, we're laying in because of weather. We hope that my niece Kristi may be able to come and visit tonight.

This afternoon we were a little bored so Libby suggested taking a cab to the nearest Wal Mart for Christmas shopping. Boy what a mistake that was. The round trip taxi ride cost us $50. That was five times more than we expected. To make things worse we didn't find much to buy in Wal Mart so we had a very poor return on our $50 investment. We should have scrubbed that trip. Where is a good project manager when you need him? :)

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Counting Down, 40% Chance of A Go

Titusville Marina, N 28.62061 W 80.80903

Tonight we'll have a visit from my Brother Ed and his wife Sally and my nephew Paul and his wife Melissa. We moved from at anchor in to the marina to make it easier for them than rowing out in the dinghy. With a little luck, (they say 40% chance), we can all get to watch the space shuttle launch tonight. The weather is threatening. Gale warnings are going up offshore and the temperature will drop to 40F (7C) tonight. If the shuttle doesn't launch at 21:35 tonight, they'll have to wait 5 days until the weather clears up.

Our son David is in the Alaska National Guard, recently stationed to Kuwait. Public information in his company newsletter said, "We are now going on one month into our ECFOR mission that is strategic to our overall national interest in protecting Kuwait from all threats conventional and insurgent. Our soldiers are arrayed in our Area of Operations as a Security Force to protect US forces and assets from potential conventional and known insurgent threats.

The vast majority of our area of operations looks like the Tundra except that it is tan and brown (as opposed to being white), has oil and radio towers and is interspersed with the occasional goat or camel herder. Although it has been hot, it is getting cooler as we head into the Mideast Winter. Our training at Shelby has acclimated us for the heat. We also receive as much bottled water as we can carry and drink."

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Titusville, Florida, N 28.62567 W 80.80670

We're going to stay around here for a few days in hopes of seeing the space shuttle launch.
Yesterday we had to fight our way out of the anchorage behind the RR bridge. The anchorage itself was fine. It was sheltered, and the depths were as charted. However, there is a sandbar that built up around the entrance to the anchorage. On the way in it was very tight and we had only about 2 inches of depth to spare. On the way out, we weren't so lucky. After a couple of tries to find a channel out, we went aground.
The remedy was the familiar kedging routine. This time it took about 20 minutes to get us afloat once again. Who would have thought that only a few dozen blogs back I was boasting about going more than six months without running aground. Ha.
A local lady told us what to expect when the shuttle launches from 10 miles (16 clicks) away. First you see the light. Then comes the sound. Third comes the ripple patterns in the water caused by the sound? or by the ground transmitted mini quake? I'm not sure which.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Shuttle Launcher In Sight

The Indian River, N 27 38.938 W 80 48.014

Yes indeed, yesterday was nice. When we passed through the Haulover Canal, the banks were lined with people fishing. I never saw so many people fishing before. It was mostly a family affair with wives and children happily fishing also. I called out to some of them, "Any luck?" They all said no. But the point wasn't the fish, it was just a grand weekend day to be outside.

We are sitting at anchor now, at the most classy spot we've ever anchored at since the Statue of Liberty. We are on the Indian River just South of the Jay Jay railroad bridge. To the east I can see the Vertical Assembly building clearly. Less clearly, I can see the space shuttle launch pad. With my binoculars I can just barely make out the shape of the shuttle and booster rockets. The countdown has started and the launch is in three days.

I've always wanted to see a space rocket launch. It would make a great milestone in life. Even though the shuttle is only going up a few hundred miles into low orbit I can imagine that the launch will look exactly the same when someday we send a mission to the stars. That will be a great moment in history.

Actually, we may no be in exactly this spot when Thursday comes. Also, it real life, these launches seldom occur without delays. Even if we're not in this spot we will be close enough to see it go, because it will be a night launch.

Today we sat at anchor all day and I got to do something else that I never did before. We listened live to oral arguments at the Supreme Court on the radio. If I can't be there to see it in person, listening live on the radio is almost as exciting. They were hearing arguments about racial preferences in schools. When the decision on those cases come next spring, it it likely to be one of the big stories of the year. From what I heard today, it sounds like all the justices are highly skeptical about the idea of using skin color in assigning kids to schools.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Mosquito Lagoon Supplemental

Whoops, I posted that last blog before getting to the heart of the story.

Two years ago we met with the family for a glorious week at Disney World in Orlando. The kids weren't the only ones who had a great time. We all did.

Before heading back north we had one mission to accomplish after Disney. Many in the family had never seen the ocean. Therefore, we set out to find the nearest nice beach. That happened to be Canaveral National Seashore, south of New Smyrna. We drove 10 miles or so south of the city, seeing nothing but sand dunes on the ocean side. Finally we stopped at a parking area and walked over the dunes to the beach.

The beach lived up to expectations. It was spectacular nature. It was unspoiled. There were very few people and no buildings in sight. The waves pounded in from the sea, showing the green underbelly of the waves, then the brown soup as it churned the sand. Sand Pipers skitted along the water line. There were shells and sea creatures to find. Pelicans in patrol formation glided up and down the dune ridge. The water was a little too cold for swimming, but we were able to wade in the surf up to our knees. Everyone loved it.

Returning to the car, we spotted signs for another trail on the other side of the road. This trail led away from the ocean. We decided to follow the trail just for adventure. It was great. Under the canopy of the palms, it was a jungle-like environment, (except dry and sandy rather than wet and muddy). The plants and creatures very all very exotic for those in the family who had never seen more than Vermont and New York, or for those who came from Alaska.

The trail ended after a mile or so at the shores of a big lake called Mosquito Lagoon. We watched the fish jumping, and the kids had a ball finding the abandoned shells of horseshoe crabs. Those shells look like monster things to small kids. The lagoon was pretty still and we could see fish jumping from a long distance away. That is the same Mosquito Lagoon that we are sailing through today. It is a lake about 5 miles wide by 20 miles long. Excepted for the dredged channel for the ICW, it is only 2-5 feet deep everywhere. It is dotted with countless tiny islands. They say that it is a fisherman's paradise, and that the fish tend to gather in pools where the water is one foot deeper than average.

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Mosquito Lagoon

Mosquito Lagoon, FL N 28 45 W 80 51

Sunday, December 3, 2006

This morning started with a dense fog bank. However, we were just outside the fog bank rather than in it, so our luck returned.

Today is one of those for which Florida is famous. We have scattered clouds, light breezes, temperature in the mid 70s. It is hard to imagine it being more pleasant. It is also Sunday, so there are lots of people out on their boats. In fact, every single boat in the whole state should be out here cruising, or sailing or fishing today. It's such a nice weekend day.

I had fun watching a small bird (perhaps a cormorant) with a fish in his mouth. The fish appeared to be several times too big as to fit down the bird's gullet. The bird fiddled and maneuvered, and finally after 5 minutes he managed to get the fish turned around with th head pointing down the bird's throat. Then -- gulp -- and the fish was swallowed. Amazing.

We passed a little island about 75 feet in diameter. It was covered with pelicans. About one pelican per square foot, which is about as tightly packed as they can be.

We passed an aluminum dock. It was covered with small birds. The birds looked like pigeons but they weren't. They were some kind of sea bird. On the dock there must have been 15 birds per square foot. They were much more tightly packed than the pelicans were.

We're heading for the railroad bridge near Titusville. We'll anchor there tonight hiding out from North winds. But that will put us close to the Kennedy Space center, Cocoa Beach and Melbourne, and we have several days left before the shuttle launch. No plans yet for what to do with those days.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach, Florida, N 29 14.133 W 81 01.443

We have very fond memories of Daytona Beach. In 1967 I worked here for 6 months on a project. I worked at G.E.'s Apollo Support department. It was the time when the Apollo program was in full swing. I was terribly impressed by the number of very very smart engineers I met at Apollo Support. The secret behind putting man on the moon was that they cherry picked the whole country for the truly best and brightest. If one takes such talent, then one takes the risk of trusting them enough not to micro-manage, then the results can be unbelievable. We could do it again today except that we'll never agree on what project deserves that talent. If you doubt that, ask the person you're talking to which area of science and engineering they would assign the worst and dumbest. Nuclear power? Medicine? Power? Roads? Water? Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. None of the above.

We also brought the family here several times for vacation. Once in particular with the kids and with Libby's Mother. We had a grand time.

I remember renting a scooter in 1967 and driving it 15 miles south along the beach. When I got the end, there was a beached whale there.

I remember a clambake with guys from the project. We made a fire in a sand pit, then threw in seaweed, clams, corn and lobsters. There was lots of beer too.

I remember being in Daytona in the spring. First came the motorcycle crowd for their races. Then the NASCAR crowd for the Daytona 500. Then the college kids for spring break (in 1967, Daytona was the hot spot for spring break). Finally came the families for Easter Vacation. The town would fill up to the brim with one group, then empty out again. All that time I was living in a motel on the beach with a balcony facing the ocean. It was great.

I remember one night during spring break when a bunch of drunken college girls accosted me as I was leaving my hotel room. The cops were busting any kids who didn't have a place to sleep. The girls offered to pay me $100 each to sleep in my room. I swallowed hard, very hard, and said "No." Sigh. Life as a nerd is not always easy.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Black Cloud Day

Matanzas River, N 29 48.456 W 81 17.140

I'm not superstitious and I don't believe in horoscopes, so why do bad things seem to save themselves up to all happen at the same time? Here's my sorry tale.

Coming into Saint Augustine Harbor I lost my hat overboard. That hat has stayed on my head for a long time, so I did not expect it to blow off. This time however, the hat floated so we were able to recover it.

The Bridge of Lions opens only on the hour so one doesn't want to go through if unsure. We had to decide whether to anchor north of the bridge or south. That meant deciding whether to go outside tomorrow and sail offshore to Port Canaveral, or to stay on the inside. There appeared to be room for more boats to anchor on the north side, but I decided to go under the bridge. Wrong choice.

When we got the south side it was more crowded than we have seen it before. Looking for a spot to anchor a lady shouted to us, "Everyone has two anchors so they don't swing." Open spots were hard to find. We finally chose a spot and dropped one anchor, then put out a second anchor at a 45 degree angle. That's a half-ass way to do it. To not swing, the anchors need to be 180 degrees apart. I thought it would take me two or three tries to judge the distance between the two, and that we would spend the afternoon fiddling. I wanted to go ashore. We had errands to do. So I tried it the lazy way.

After an hour I decided that we weren't secure. We were in 20 feet of water, and there was 5 feet more of tide to come. We had only enough room for 100 feet of rode, whereas 140 feet would be needed to hold securely. Already the two anchor rodes had twisted around each other. The currents are very swift in this spot and it might be windy tonight. I decided to pick up both anchors and leave.

We motored forward to pick up the first anchor. I went to pick up the trip line bouy with a boat hook over the side, and I couldn't find it. Just then Libby said, "We ran over our line, the engine stopped." I looked over the side, and sure enough, there was the trip line wrapped around the propeller. Oh no!

I got into my mask and snorkel and bathing suit, and into the water I went. Fortunately, the water was nice and warm, not like in Maine. We recently bought some fishermen's line-cutting serrated knives for emergencies and I took one of those. The knife cut the line like magic and the float came off. Now it only remained to get out the turns that had jammed themselves into the shaft tunnel where the cutlass bearing is. I tied the fragments to a line and took the line up to the winch. I used the winch to keep them under tight tension. Then I used muscle to turn the propeller shaft back and forth and hacked on the bits with the knife. After half an hour, it all came loose.

Back on deck, I was disgusted with myself. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. We brought up both anchors and I started to motor out of the anchorage. We hadn't gone 100 feet when bang; we were aground. There was a sand bar. It had moved several hundred feet to the east from where my charts and the GPS showed it to be. We were supposed to be in deep water but we weren't. Before we could launch our dinghy to kedge off, a man came along in his dinghy and offered to tow us. It worked. We put a line on the bow, and he tugged sideways, and soon we were off. We thanked him then sheepishly left the anchorage by a different route.

We were both very tired at that point, and we resolved to anchor at the first chance. The first chance seemed to be a place 5 miles down the river where our Skipper Bob book recommended a little deep pool off to the side of the channel. We motored down there and prepared to anchor again. We came to the right spot and I called to Libby, "DROP," according to our usual anchor procedure. Then I started backing and setting the anchor alarm on the GPS. A few seconds later Libby called out, "Don't you want me to drop?" Oh no. She hadn't heard the command. Before I could do anything more, we had backed too far and now we were aground again. Jeez. Aground twice in two hours?

This time there was nobody to help. We launched the dinghy and paid out 250 feet of anchor rode into it. I rowed out 250 feed into the channel and dropped the anchor. Then I returned to Tarwathie and we used the windlass to winch in the rode one inch at a time. It was very hard work and we had to winch in 100 feet of that rode before Tarwathie broke loose from the bottom. That's what is called kedging. By now we're way beyond dead tired.

So we tried to anchor again. This time the trip line for the plow anchor fouled on the dangling Danforth anchor when we dropped it. We had to pull up the anchor again, unfoul it and try a third time to anchor. Finally, this time it worked.

What a day. What a day. It was not my finest hour. Now I'm trying to clean off the blue antifouling paint from my legs, arms, shoulders and the hair on my head. I would leave it there but Libby reminds me, "That paint is the most toxic thing money can buy. It can't be good on you."

I always strive to not repeat errors. This time I recall making exactly the same error 27 years ago when sailing on Lake Champlain with my son John. Approaching a lee shore to anchor. John was standing by in the bow, I shouted "DROP." He didn't hear me and 10 seconds later the boat was right up on the beach. That time it took a tractor to pull the boat off the beach.

Now I think our luck has turned. Just after our successful and final anchoring for the day, David called from Kuwait. Poor David sounds very bored. Nevertheless, his call lifted our spirits.