It was hot and sticky this afternoon. We said to heck with chores and went to the beach. That's all I have to say.
Above is the new high tech air conditioned lifeguard stool at the Vero beach.
Well I lied. I said that I wouldn't be blogging from Alaska, but I just can't resist it.
We had a great tip up here. Everything was nominal, no problems, no delays, no lost baggage. I had been a bit apprehensive about holiday mobs based on the news reports over the weekend, but we didn't encounter any of that.
We arrived in Alaska with an appropriate greeting. We saw a brilliant aurora before descending through the clouds. We saw our first snow in more than three years. Dave was waiting for us at the terminal with jackets, gloves and hats. When we emerged in to the parking lot, the temperature was exactly zero F (-18C). It felt brisk, not bitter. Since we got here at about 01:00, we haven't had much time yet for the family reunion.
Having not traveled for a while, I was struck by how refined the computer automation has become. On the way up, our cell phone gave us flight status updates. When we dropped off the rental car, the lady attendant greeted me as Mr Mills as soon as I opened the door, then she handed my my receipt for the final bill as I stepped out. At the curb, the skycap not only checked our bags, but he handed us our three boarding passes each for the trip. Those boarding passes included information on the gate assignments in the remote cities. At the gate, the attendant scanned the bar codes on the boarding passes and her machine flashed our names to her.
Of course none of that stuff is entirely new. It has been coming for a very long time. The part that struck me was how ubiquitous and how so seemingly effortless the IT automation has become. If not perfected, it is highly refined.
What contributed to this IT success after so many decades of failures and compromise systems, of which I had participated? It seems now that we have achieved the benefits of automation foreseen in the 1950s that I studied in college. I wish I knew what the fraction of the GDP is spent on IT today compared to 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I wager that it is lower than before, yet we get much more out of it.
So what's the secret? I think, no secret at all. Software technology benefits from the cumulative effect of incremental improvements, year by year. There are better tools, better methods (i.e. Objects), plus data base architectures refined over years of use. I imagine that the incremental improvements will continue indifinitely.
I felt very humbled by the vast experience of the fellow members of SSCA. Compared to many of them, Libby and I are just novices.
The seasoned sailors also had an interesting perspective on weather reports. They point out that you can choose your departure date for a long passage, and perhaps wait for the best weather to do that. However, once you do depart, you’re committed regardless of what happens with the weather. If a big storm is approaching you can maybe divert your course a bit one way or the other. Other than that, you just have to be ready to take whatever comes along. I can’t argue with that.
Next week we’re flying to
So, why aren’t we sailing directly for the
In any case, Vero is a very convenient and comfortable place to stay while we do our chores. I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for us for having to work so much.
The conference was hosted by the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) of which we are members. I don't know why they call their meetings Gams. The first thing noticeable was that almost all the roughly 200 attendees, and staff, and the speakers were also experienced cruisers. In fact, I suspect that a high percentage of them haver completed circumnavigations, which far outstrips our credentials. The impression was striking. I wish I could ow you a group photo. I wager that it would be very difficult in today's America to find a more fit, more healthy and more mentally healthy group of people for their age. It reinforces our belief that we made the right choice becoming cruisers.
Like the NCC or many trade shows, this conference had a floor with vendor exhibits. It also had a series of lectures conducted in side rooms. We started out with a lecture on docking techniques and sail trim by Captain Jack Klang that Libby and I went to. I was very impressed. His methods for getting in to and out of slips, especially with adverse winds and currents, were far superior to what we have been doing. I resolve to change our ways to his ways starting immediately.
Then Libby went off to the Women's Forum, and I went to a talk about using your laptop PC for electronic charts and navigation. It's clear that the world is moving in the direction of having PC obsolete all other chart plotter/GPS/navigation devices. Nevertheless, I'm not ready to switch yet. First I would need a waterproof PC that I can use out in the cockpit, and it would have to use less than 10% of the DC power that my current laptop uses, then it would have to be affordable.
At the women's forum, Libby heard about keeping in touch with family, VOIP, about dealing with seasickness, and dealing with Captain Bligh types, and on provisioning the boat. She said it was worthwhile.
Over lunch we went through the vendor area. I blew $110 cash on gadgets that I just couldn't live without after seeing them. That's why Libby won't let me go to boat shows. She's smart. I was only exposed to two dozen vendors here. At the Annapolis boat show, I would have walked past the booths of hundreds of vendors, and could easily bankrupt us. I also made local contacts with a sail maker and jib furlers. Replacing our foresail (AKA jib AKA yankee) and converting from old fashioned hanked on sails to roller furling is our number one project to accomplish while we are in Vero.
In the afternoon, I went of to a series of lectures on communications, while Libby went to talks on medical treatment on board, and stories about traveling off the beaten path.
Jim Corenman led the lectures on communications. He is the horse's mouth on those subjects. Jim wrote the Airmail email program that we use with the SSB. Jim was also one of the founders of Sailmail, a non-profit organization that provides global email service for cruisers. Jim is also an engineer. For me, as an electrical engineer, it was heaven. We talked about low orbit satellites, radio propagation, cell phone technology, WIFI, SSB based email, computer security, spam management, RF leakage, RF interference, grounding practices, antenna designs, electrocution, counterpoise ground planes and other things that warm the heart of true engineers. The surprising thing for me was that the other people in the audience were perhaps more knowledgeable and as quick to understand than I. I presume that most did not have an MSEE as I do, and (revealing my sexist side) almost half of them were women. I guess the moral is that people who live on board and who are forced to make these things work really do learn the things they need to know even if they are highly technical and even if they have no formal education in engineering. My hat goes off to those cruisers – their expertise and practical knowledge exceeds my expectations.
At the medical seminar Libby learned about the myriad of drugs and medical things we should have on board (but don't) for extended cruises overseas. She learned that they have malaria in Georgetown Bahamas. She got tips on dealing with sea sickness and how to make emergency splints.
All in all, we both learned a lot and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There are two more days to go on the conference. Oh boy.
Yesterday we traversed the Mosquito Lagoon under the spinnaker. We think it was the fastest traverse of the lagoon we ever did. It was certainly one of the most pleasant. The winds were gentle, and the temperature superbly moderate. I spent part of the time lounging on the forward deck and part taking a sun shower. The splendid isolation made it easy to shower on deck out of sight of everybody.
Mosquito Lagoon is like a big inland lake about 3 miles wide by 15 miles long. On the east side it is bordered by a mile or so of barrier dunes that separate it from the sea. The remarkable thing about it is that the whole lagoon is only 2-4 feet deep. You could walk across it. The main exception is the dredged channel for the ICW which is 14 feet deep by 150 feet wide. I've read that there are a few depressions in the lagoon where the water is 6 or 8 feet deep in a circular pool 100 feet
or so in diameter. The fish prefer this deeper water so these pools are packed with dense schools of fish. Needless to say, those pools are favorite targets for the fishermen in their small boats.
The big surprise though came midway through the lagoon. I was standing at the helm glancing to starboard when suddenly a dolphin leaped 10 feet out of the water right in front of me and no more than 5 feet away from Tarwathie. I was stunned. If only I had a camera (except that I could never have pointed and clicked in time). The dolphin continued to swim beside us for a minute or so. He (or she?) was exceptionally big, perhaps 10-12 feet long.
In the next few minutes I thought it over. Why did the dolphin do that? He was much too close to Tarwathie to make it a coincidence. The leap was far higher than dolphin's normal leaps. The best explanation I could think of was that he was begging for fish. There are lots of fishermen in Mosquito Lagoon. Perhaps some of them throw bait fish to the dolphin in exchange for a show. Too bad; I didn't have any fish on board to throw to him. It's only speculation but I have no other explanation.
I believe that this is the first time we ever sailed the north end of the Indian River when the wind was not howling. The other 5 times we passed here we had very strong winds 20-30 knots. It's very nice today, relaxing, warm and pretty. If we wanted to hang out here for two more days we could see the space shuttle land, but we elected to move on. Tonight, we're going to meet my brother Ed and sister in law Sally for dinner at their how. Tomorrow we'll take a mooring at Vero. Friday, we'll
rent a car and return to Melbourne for the SSCA Gam (a convention for sailing cruisers like us.)
Last night, at anchor near here we could hear the sound of booming surf. This is only the second time we've been anchored within earshot of surf. It's kind of scary for a sailor since a sailboat that finds its way in to surf is doomed.
Boy are we glad we stopped here. Several times before we passed by Cumberland Island without knowledge of what was here. Most of the island is a pristine nature preserve, the best we've ever seen.
This morning we rowed ashore and set out on a hike. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the campsites on the Bricknell River shore. Massive live oak trees covered with Spanish moss make for wonderful shaded grass groves. Clumps of palm plants are abundant adding lush green color. This is the place our grandson Nick would have loved. He has almost unlimited wilderness and natural beauty all around, and almost no people.
The wild life is wonderful too. We hadn't walked for very long before we came upon a wild horse grazing on the grass. The horse was semi tame. I was able to approach within 10 feet of him before he shied away. Before the end of the day, we were able to see 9 wild horses, two armadillos and one alligator. We also saw tracks of deer and raccoons. We wanted to go across the island
Around noon Libby was getting tired so we returned to the boat without making it to the beach. After lunch and my afternoon nap, I set out again alone to find the beach. I walked about 90 minutes until I found it. I was amazed. Huge barrier dunes 50-100 feet high made of very fine very white sand isolate the beach from the island. The dunes are spectacular.
When I got out to the beach, a strong wind was blowing parallel to the shore. A faint, ephemeral river of sand was blowing along the surface at a speed of 15-20 miles per hour. It was fascinating to watch.
The island is unspoiled. We saw no trash of any kind except on the beach. The beach was littered with empty water bottles that no doubt drifted in from the sea. Whoever is responsible for the bottled water fad should be waterboarded, then hung.
Notable was the almost complete absence of bird songs. There were very few insects and few small birds (no doubt related.) Thinking of northern forests I was also struck by the absence of squirrels despite the fact that the forest floor was covered with acorns. Oh well, we're not naturalists enough to explain these things, only to observe them.
I recommend to all of you who could ever get here. Visit Cumberland Island. There is no bridge. You must get here by boat. We have some great pictures. I'll post them at a later date.