Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vero Scenes

Vero Beach

Last night we had a special treat. Dave Hackett and his wife Jonnie came to have dinner on board Tarwathie. We had a great time and it was nice to see them again. Alas, I forgot to get out the camera and take pictures.

That reminds me, I have some pictures to be posted.

Libby and I walked on the beach and we saw some spectacularly beautiful plants and landscaping in the yards of the neighborhood behind the marina. Above you can see some shots of two palm trees in one of the nicer places. There is also a shot of our mooring buddies, Peter and Don talking with Libby at the Christmas pot luck dinner.

Above are a few shots of Christmas Eve when we spent the day in Melborn with my brother Ed and Family. The inside shot shows the scene as they opened presents.

Heron, the W32 sharing the mooring ball with us is captained by Don, and 2nd mate is his cat Tiller. Tiller comes over to visit us regularly. We find him on deck and down below sleeping on our bunks. One day, Tiller fell overboard. Don fished him out. In the picture, you can see Tiller trying to salvage his dignity.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Oh, We'll Never Eat Again

Vero Beach

It was like a Swedish Christmas. Monday, Christmas Eve, my brother Ed picked us up and we went to his house. My sister in law, Sally, made a great big breakfast feast. I overindulged with two helpings. Then, in the afternoon, she served a full Christmas feast with ham and turkey and everything. Ed drove us back to the boat in time for Libby to cook for the guests we had invited for a Christmas Eve dinner. On Christmas day, we went to the sailor's pot luck dinner. Everyone vied to make their best dishes, and of course we had to try everything.

Ugh. I feel that I won't need to eat again for a month.

Just kidding of course. It wasn't an ordeal, it was great fun and we had a wonderful time.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Wishing You Happy Holidays

Vero Beach (wikimap)
27 39.646N 080 22.224

Dearest Friends,

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad, Glad Jul och Gott Nytt Ar, from Dick and Libby Mills aboard SV Tarwathie. If we could have a Christmas wish, we would wish that we could be able to visit you over the holidays. We miss you!!!

Like last year and the year before that, Christmas day will find us in Vero Beach Florida. This is a very nice place to stay while doing projects, maintenance, celebrating holidays, taking trips, or waiting to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

Unlike last year, we are determined to actually get to the Bahamas this year. If you remember, last year we got stuck replacing the engine and that project took the whole winter season. Almost all the other cruisers here in Vero are also headed for the Bahamas, so we’ll have lots of company.

So what about next year? We don’t pretend to make plans any more, but here’s a hint. We’re tired of traveling north every summer. We haven’t sailed the Caribbean yet. Friends of ours on Moon Song sailed to Trinidad to wait out the hurricane season and they said it was great fun.

We have a lot to be grateful for this year. Our family is fine. John is serving 6 months at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan Republic. (Check your world atlas.) John’s family is doing fine at home waiting out the winter for John to return. Jennifer and Christian are doing remodeling on Jenny’s house and appear to be enjoying life. David just returned to Fairbanks Alaska from a year’s duty in Kuwait. Libby and I just returned from a Thanksgiving week trip to Fairbanks to visit David.

In addition, we’ve enjoyed an especially fun year cruising in Tarwathie. This summer we went north to the Erie Canal. We visited many friends and family in upstate New York, making it kind of a reunion year for us. We intended to decide between the Great Loop Trip and the Little Loop Trip when we reached Lake Ontario. The Great Loop takes one through the Great Lakes to Chicago, on the Illinois River to the Mississippi River to the Ohio River to the Tennessee River, to the Gulf of Mexico. The Little Loop takes one up the Saint Lawrence River to Nova Scotia, then down to Maine. We chose the Little Loop after realizing that the Great Loop would have made us travel another 3,000 miles motoring with the mast down.

However, midway through the Little Loop trip, just north of Montreal, we came to a junction of rivers where one could continue to Nova Scotia, or turn right and go to Lake Champlain and Vermont. We were overcome by homesickness, and turned right. I’m sure that we missed many lovely sights on the Little Loop, but we enjoyed sailing our “home” waters on Lake Champlain even more.

All in all, it has been yet another lovely year living the cruising life. What’s more, neither one of us are getting tired of it. Aside from not seeing friends and family often enough, it is a truly wonderful life style. We also love to hear from you. Please write once in a while. Our address is You can follow what we do on this blog.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mars Occultation

Vero Beach

The other night a spectacular full moon rose just after sunset. Right next to it was Mars. The light of the moon obscured all the other stars in that part of the sky, so that those two objects were the only thing visible.

As the night went on, we could see an interesting thing. Mars was catching up with the moon. We eventually went to bed and didn't actually see Mars disappear behind the moon, or to be occulted.

A careful observer could see this any night watching the moon occult stars. To a casual observer like myself though, the identity of individual stars near the moon is indistinct. The result is that I can see the moon move in it's orbit night to night, but within a single night it's motion relative to the stars is not apparent. This special occurrence of the occultation (boy what a tough word!) of Mars however made it easy because only Mars and the Moon were visible in that quarter of the sky.

What a delight it is to see more of the sky again, now that we live closer to nature and further away from bright lights. When I was a boy, I had great fun camping out with my friends. We would lay in our sleeping bags looking up at the sky and wondering at the things we could see. I'll never forget when we saw the Echo 1 Satellite. That was a spectacular sight.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Power Management

Vero Beach

Our friends Richard and Penny on Viking Rose like Christmas lights. Who doesn't. They had accumulated a good collection of string lights to hand along the Viking Rose's standing rigging. When the lit, they looked wonderful. (See below.)

According to Richard, he then went below and checked the battery draw. The lights were drawing 40 amps! Ay ay ay. When we are on shore and drawing power from the wall plug, we are mostly unaware of how much power we use. On a boat, it's a different story. Now, Viking Rose has a Honda portable generator that can be used for many things, including lighting the Christmas lights.

Just think of how much energy we could spare if everyone first drew their power from 12 volt batteries, then recharged the batteries later.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Duh Moment

Vero Beach

I'm having trouble with my second laptop computer. It is going the way of the first one. It is developing vertical lines on the screen that are the result of hardware failures.

I called Circuit City today to make a warranty claim. I was hoping to swap it for a new computer, no questions asked, like my friend Gerry said they would. Instead I came to a support center. There was a long wait on the phone, so I decided to try their online chat form of support.

I got to chat with a technician right away. I described the problem. He said, "OK, now disconnect everything, the mouse, the WIFI, the power cord and the battery." I asked back, "How do I maintain this chat contact with you if I do that?" Duh, was the only possible answer.

I tried again to get service by phone. That worked better. The good news is that they'll repair it free. The bad news is that it will take 10 business days, plus shipping. That will keep us in Vero longer than I wanted.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Foot In Mouth Disease

Vero Beach

Boy, did I get in trouble today.

I needed to go up the mast to replace the bulb in the anchor light. I started by getting our the bosun's chair. Libby saw what I was doing and came up on deck to help me. I brushed her aside and said, "I'd rather have burly men help than you." I then called for help to the two other boats rafted with us. I got three men to help, and up the mast I went.

When I got to the top I was surprised to see Libby rowing away in the dinghy. That was odd. I didn't expect her to go anywhere. Three hours later she came back still with steam pouring from her ears. I can't remember when the last time was that Libby was so mad.

It seems that I underestimated just how serious Libby's proprietary interest is in my safety, and how much pride she has in looking out for my hide. I really trampled on those feelings when I refused her help.

Sorry. Sorry. I'm really really sorry Libby.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


On NPR and other news sources, I've heard several times about ego surfing. To ego surf means to look up your own name on just to see what information there is on the Internet about you. It can also become anti-ego surfing if your own name turns up way down the list (see below).

Of course, being an early adopter of almost all things computer, I ego surfed Dick Mills long ago -- as early as 1998. My name figured prominently in the results up through the 1990s, but has been slipping ever since.

I ego surfed today and found that my highest ranking on oogle was 61. That means that 60 other references to other Dick Mills' ranked higher. It's fun to list who the other Dick Mills' are that ranked higher.

  1. Dick Mills Ministries
  2. Dick Mills, former Red Sox pitcher.
  3. Dick Mills (born 1936) is a British sound engineer, and star of the Doctor Who TV program on BBC.
  4. The Interpet Encyclopedia of Freshwater Tropical Aquarium Fishes by Dick Mills
  5. Dick Mills neither read the newspapers nor followed the news ... The wild story made Dick Mills furious. ...
  6. Dick Mills: Application Support Manager at American Electric Power
  7. Dick Mills's Hydrant Collection

  8. Dick's Mill also became known as Dick's Ford or Dick's Crossing. The ford -- near the county's southern boundary -- afforded one of the few relatively safe crossings along the Great Miami River before bridges were built.

  9. Dick Mills, Editor of Keep the Republic Newsletter.

  10. Dick Mills mechanical engineer and software developer.$$
  11. Dick Mills: Date of Birth 1936, Gillingham, Kent, England, UK
  12. Dick Mills: Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame Assoc
Of course, it would be sexist to not do the same for Libby, but it wouldn't be the same because Libby has never been active on the Internet. I did it anyhow, and surpise! Libby ranked 11 on Google compared to my 61st place.

  1. Art Beads & Jewelry by Libby Mills.
  2. About Libby Mills President & Professional Wellness
  3. Naturalist, Libby Mills
  4. Libby Mills - Journals and Periodical
  5. Libby Mills (26 FEB 1905 - )

Darwinian Defect

Vero Beach (wikimap)
27 39.646N 080 22.224

We love herons; especially the Great Blue Heron. We used to have a heron that visited the pond at our house, just outside the kitchen window.

As we cruise the US East Coast, we encounter lots of herons. I've learned to recognize the angry kraaaaaak noise that they make when they are angry or disturbed. One thing about their behavior though, leads me to fear for their survival.

When one sails or motors in a boat along a river, creek, or canal, one frequently comes upon a heron standing on the shore. Herons are shy and don't like you to come close, so they fly away. The problem is that the herons fly several hundred meters away in the direction away from the boat, then land on the shore. Of course, that means that the boat will catch up to this new position in a few seconds. The heron flies away again, and again and again until finally it decides to fly in a different direction or it resolves itself to stand still and let the boat pass.

I think this is a Darwinian defect. The heron's behavior magnifies its stress many times over. Seemingly, all the other birds and animals have better evasion strategies than does the heron. Let's hope that herons survive long enough to evolve a better strategy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Long Distance Trash

Vero Beach

Yesterday, at noon, a weather front passed causing the wind to shift to westerly. At last! For the first time in more than a week, the red tide spores were blown away from the beach rather than towards it.

Libby and I took advantage of the nice weather and took a trip to the beach. While she sunned herself, I went for a long walk.

I found a Coke bottle in the water. I thought it was dropped by a careless beach stroller. I picked it up. Looking at the label I see that the bottle came from Ecquador. No, there was no note in the bottle.

This morning it turned cold. Temperatures in the 40s overnight. We act like Floridians now. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sail Till We Drop

Vero Beach

According the local paper, Floridians are bracing for the arrival of winter. Next Sunday, the forecast is for the temperature to sink to the low 50s at night. ;)

Last night Libby and I were enjoying dinner at the nearby Ocean Grill, right on the beach at Vero. That restaurant was a favorite of my mother Helen and her sister Gracie many years ago. It is still a very good restaurant and we enjoyed the evening celebrating Libby's Birthday.

Anyhow, the dinner led to a discussion of our life style choice. It has always been my plan to sail until we drop -- in other words indefinitely. Libby, on the other hand, assumed that we would get bored with sailing after a few years and return to a "normal" retirement on land.

Last night for the first time, Libby said that she couldn't imagine returning to land based life -- it would be terribly dull. That's really cool, now we're truly operating on the same page. Now all we need is continued good health and a bit of luck and we can say that sail till we drop is our action plan.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Red Tide

Vero Beach (wikimap)
27 39.646N 080 22.224

Is there ever trouble in paradise? Sure there is. Now it's our turn. There is a red tide spreading from Cape Canaveral southward, and it has reached us here in Vero.

The symptoms started appearing a few days ago. Libby started having a cough. Then, we noticed that many other people were coughing and sneezing too. It even affects me once in a while.

Then we learned that the coughs were a symptom of allergies caused by red tide. We have been getting onshore winds for the past few days, and the winds blowing across the breaking surf at the beach release the allergic toxins from the red tide alge in to the air. The closer one is to the beach, the worse the symptoms. Nobody is swimming.

Our daughter Jenny frequently has allergy problems. This would not be the place to be for her right now.

What about all those people who paid millions of dollars for beach front apartments? Should we feel sorry for them?

How long will the red tide stay? Local experts say that it is impossible to tell. However, if the wind shifts direction, it might blow the stuff away from us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Where To Hide The Presents?

Vero Beach

Well, we learned yet another new facet of the cruising life today. Libby went ashore this morning and came back with two enormous cardboard boxes in the dinghy. The boxes were bigger than she was. People on shore came rushing out with their cameras to snap pictures of the spectacle.

Now the problem is that the packages contained Christmas presents for me. The presents aren't as large at the boxes, but they are plenty big. She had to open the boxes and discard the packing because the boxes were much too big to get through the door. Now, the problem is where to hide those presents so that I won't see them before Christmas. That's rather difficult in a boat. Imagine trying to conceal something like a bicycle in your Volkwagon.

We have lots of company down here now. Yesterday a whole bunch of boats arrived from up north. The bunch had been waiting for the shuttle launch but now they gave up. We have 6 Westsails in the harbor! More friends are coming. Dave and Hilde are on their way south on the ICW. We had hoped to see Chris and June on Albion also, but they're stuck in St. Augustine with engine troubles :-)

Rafted up with us is the Westsail Heron with Don and Margaret on board. We met them up in Maine two summers ago, and even visited their house.

Tonight, we invited Don and Margaret and Peter (on Georgie II) to dinner. After dinner we'll have a captive audience for a game of Balderdash.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Vero Beach

Thinking back on the last 3 years, it is remarkable how few the times have been that we have been bothered by insects while on board.

In the everglades we had mosquitoes at night. In Georgia, in May, we were plagued by horse flies. In New York, mosquitoes come out at dawn and dusk only. On Lake Champlain, one gets biting Adirondack black flies at certain times. Overall though, we seldom use the screens we have for portholes and hatchways.

In Florida, they spray for mosquitoes. Indeed, I suspect that such spraying is the only thing that makes Florida habitable at all. Near Vero, we see a Piper Pawnee airplane behaving like a crop duster every month or so. The protection is not perfect however.

In recent weeks we have been bothered at night by the tiny mosquitoes we call no-see-ems. Libby is apparently sweeter than I (I knew that before.) She gets bit and I don't. The other day poor Libby woke up to find big patches of her body covered by linear trails of bites. These bugs bit you, move a quarter inch and bite again. The bites are very itchy. Poor Libby was very uncomfortable.

The experience revealed a flax in Tarwathie's provisioning plan. We didn't have any DEET insect repellent on board. Libby was well motivated and she rushed right out to buy some.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Vero Beach Public Library

Obviously, cruisers are interested in navigation and navigation methods. Slightly less obvious is the fact that it is much easier to measure latitude than longitude. (If you don't understand why, then you must read the fascinating book Longitude.) Given that preface, you can understand why I was delighted this morning to find on APOD a way of determining latitude that was completely new and novel to me.

In the Norhern Hemisphere, we know that all stars at night seem to travel in circular motions, except Polaris which is at the exact center of the circle.

Look at the above picture. At the upper left, the light trail of the star's apparent motion is in a circle centered at the upper left. Starts at the lower right seem to move in a circle centered at lower right. Right in the middle, the starts seem to move in a straight line. How can that be? It can be so only if one is looking up from the equator. Stars in the plane of Earth's equator mark the boundary between circular paths centered on the north and south poles.

Of course, low tech time exposures can not be taken from the deck of a ship at sea. But it will work when ashore. Using an inexpensive web cam plus suitable algorithms, it should be possible to made a continuous digital latitude estimator based on the movement of heavenly objects that would not depend on GPS nor require measurements relative to the horizon.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Shared Email

Vero Beach

Our oldest son John is serving with the Air Force overseas. I couldn't write about where he is in the blog before because it was classified until his unit got there. Now I can.

I thought I would share an email I got from John today. He makes me proud. Not only is he serving his country in the military, he also volunteers to help build houses for the local people there, and he volunteers to help the K9 squad train dogs. Now is has a new activity (see below) also oriented toward helping people.

The package he mentions resulted from a request from John for ordinary
magazines. Libby and I raided the sailor's lounge at the marina and grabbed a miscellaneous bunch of sailing, news, travel, and treasure hunting magazines to send for John and his buddies.


Hey guys,

I just got a heavy package filled with periodicals. Thank you very much! I'm getting a little tired of looking for a new paperback, and most of the magazines here are fitness and military equipment related, or pop music related. Slim pickin's. I don't know which one to start with :).

More interesting news. My already limited time off is now reduced due to the fact that I've been elected President of the 5/6 Council. That is composed of E5 and E6 members that are devoted to mentoring junior enlisted and also working more closely with the senior enlisted members to improve the morale of the whole base. I will have to cut my sleep time in half to make all the meetings I’m now obligated to attend.

TSgt John Mills

APO AE 09353
Flight Chief, VSA, SFOA

Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan Republic

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Vero Beach

The other night, we were chatting with Peter on Georgie II, when we noticed a brilliant stub of a rainbow off shore to the east. We could see the right foot, about 10 degrees of the arc. However as time passed, the left foot appeared, then it became a double rainbow, then the entire 180 degree arc appeared. I shot it with the panorama feature of my camera and used software to stitch the panoramic shots together. It makes the tree line and the housed look wavy and weird but it did let me shoot the entire rainbow.

If you look carefully, you can see the faint second rainbow with a larger diameter. Once, in Sweden, Libby and I saw a triple rainbow. That is probably a once in a lifetime event.

Contrast the shape of the above rainbow with the one below. We took this shot on the Neuse River near New Bern, NC. The key difference is that this rainbow was sighted when the sun was high in the sky rather than just before sunset. The high sun makes the rainbow look squashed flat. I is unusual because rainbows are not usually sighted at that time of day.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Furler Day

Vero Beach Public Library

Today was the day we've been waiting for a long time. Two riggers drove up from West Palm to deliver our new jib furler and to install it.

Carl and Harley were the two guys. They really knew their business, especially Carl. They did the whole job in three hours including Carl climbing up the mast twice.

The new furler is made by Seldén AB (as Swedish company) and the brand is Furlex. The Swedes are especially good at designing and making metal things, and this furler is an example of that. It's not cheap. The furler cost more than $2,000 and installation by the riggers was another $500. I'm glad though to have the best furler made, and very glad that I didn't try to install it myself. The procedure is very complicated. Here are the steps.

I was most impressed when Carl went up the mast. He didn't sit and let us crank him up with the winch. He pulled himself up by muscle while Harley stood on deck and pulled in the slack line. I used to climb like that when I was 25, but that was a long time ago.

We did encounter one problem. My bow pulpit is too narrow. It doesn't leave enough room for the furler drum. I'll have to move the pulpit, or find a welder to modify it, or get a new pulpit. That's a new project for my list to accomplish before leaving Vero.

By the way, as we were in the middle of the installation, the gentleman below came along. He was interested in Tarwathie. He said that he worked in the Westsail factory in Costa Mesa California building Westsail 32s. What a small world.

Monday, December 03, 2007

World's Strangest Sail Boat

Vero Beach Public Library

I took the following pictures in Burlington harbor last summer. The yellow boat on the mooring behind us must be the most unique and unusual sail boat I ever saw. Everything about it, down to the small details, is very un-nautical. The builder was apparently very skilled and who does great workmanship, but one wonders if he ever saw a boat before.

The shocking thing about this boat is it's departure from tradition. Sailing is at least 12,000 years old. Today's boats are the the result of many millennia of refinement and perfection in design. Therefore, when one sees something truly different it really stands out. Look, for example at the completely vertical slabs forming the top sides of the hull. Those sides will not deflect waves as would a conventional rounded hull.

How does it sail? I wish I knew. I never did get to meet the owner.

Do any of you know about this boat? If so, please let me know.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Favorite Pictures 2007

Vero Beach

  • I think the picture below is technical favorite for 2007. From front to rear, it shows a camp fire on Valcour Island, the moon, Burlington, and Camel's Hump.

  • Below you can see the trail we made as we sailed through the mill weed on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.

  • Below, you see a huge great lakes ore carrying ship aground on the shelf at the entrance to one of the Saint Lawrence Seaway locks. I like this picture because it reminds me that we aren't the only ones who run aground.

  • Last, but most favorite, is this shot of Libby relaxing on the Vanderbilt's front lawn at Shelburne Farms with Tarwathie in the background.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Vero Beach Public Library

We're sharing the mooring with Peter on his boat Georgie II. Peter is a Brit, living in Vancouver. Peter has an interesting way to manage his cruising.

Peter buys used boats on EBAY. Then he fixes them up some, hauls them on his trailer down to Florida, sails them to the Bahamas for the winter season, then hauls them back to Vancouver to sell for a profit. Peter says that his profits generally pay for his cruising expenses for the whole season.

Peter's latest boat, Georgie II is an Ericson 27 with a 25 HP diesel engine that he bought on EBAY for $3,000. It was a charity auction. The owner donated the boat to charity and the charity sells it on EBAY. Peter says that the boat ought to be worth $20,000 in Vancouver.

Wow! What a great plan. The more I learn about real life cruisers, the more convinced I become that anyone who really wants to can do it. Money and career are no obstacle. (Although kids or pets may be an obstacle.) The only thing holding you back may be the will to do it.