Saturday, February 28, 2009

The DV Problem

The online cruiser community has been having very active debates about anchoring rights and the problem of DVs. DV means Derelict Vessel.

In reality, there are two closely related problems. A truly derelict vessel is an abandoned one. It might be abandoned while riding at anchor, or it may be sunk or perhaps run aground in shallow waters or on shore. Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of hurricanes, the population of DVs soars. A quasi-derelict vessel fits the same description except that there are people living on board.

Both kinds of DVs can constitute visual blight. They can be just as ugly and just as objectionable as junk cars abandoned along the roads. Property owners who see DVs every time they look our their expensive windows, are especially incised. On the other hand, there are few waterfronts in the whole world that don't have some DVs and many people consider them picturesque. Remember though, that the skeletons of wrecked pirate ships will rot and disintegrate with time. Plastic hulls will not.

Quasi-DVs with people on board have the further problem of having toilets that must eventually drain their waste directly in to the water, unless they arrange for some kind of pump-out. Cruisers do use pump-outs. Even though studies show that the actual pollution caused by DVs is a negligibly small fraction of total water pollution, they make a highly visible and irritating source that elevates their true negative impact.

Florida and other states are finding it very difficult to pass laws to get rid of DVs. Making a written legal definition of DV is hard. Making laws that are easy and inexpensive to enforce is hard. Especially difficult is the problem of making a law that draws a clear line defining the difference between undesirable quasi-DVs, desirable cruisers like us, and the continuum of intermediate cases. Existing laws about abandoned vessels, and illegal discharge of waste don’t work well in practice for whatever reason.

Rather than fix those laws, frustrated DV opponents are trying a different and tangential approach -- they are trying to restrict anchoring for everybody. Basically, they hope to use the number of days at anchor to define the difference between DVs and cruisers. Of course, all cruisers and desirable cruisers are up in arms in opposition.

To be fair, remember that cruisers start from a pretty privileged point. Imagine someone being allowed to park a car on the side of the road and to live there rent free and tax free for years. The boating tradition differs greatly from land traditions. Nevertheless, no matter how unfairly rights are distributed, they need to be defended.

The current DV controversy is a good illustration of the atrocious way we go about making laws in our American Democracy. For example, economic stimulus bill passed last week was 1200 pages long, and legislators had only from midnight to 10AM to read it. The result was that nobody knew what they were voting for but this week it is the law of the land. Worse, when we make bad laws, we don’t go back to correct them; rather we tend to pass new laws with a different approach. Over the long term, our law books become encrusted with bad laws like barnacles on the hulls of those DVs. Our system sucks. By the way, I first became libertarian because of exactly this disgust with the efficacy of our government.

We were exposed to a somewhat different system when we lived in Sweden. There the authorities have much more discretion (At least in some cases they do, in other cases they’re just the opposite). I’m thinking of an example in their welfare system. There, a poor person who wants a new sofa can go to the authorities and ask for the money to buy one. There is no written rule about sofas. The applicant has to convince the authority and the authority has to apply his or her best judgment. We abhor that in the USA. We proudly say, “We are a country of laws,” meaning that the laws and regulations must be in written form, leaving little room for discretion. We want a rule defning when a person is entitled to a sofa, and then the applicant can go to the authority and demand one rather than beg for one.

In pop culture, we do the same. Think of the Sheriff in the book and movie Rambo, First Blood. The local sheriff used his discretion and judgment to decide that war hero Rambo was an undesirable. The audience was led to think of the Sheriff as a villain who abused his power. We hate it when authorities act arbitrarily, and we consider exercise of judgment without explanation arbitrary. So which is the cause and which is the effect. Does popular culture shape public opinion, or visa versa? I don’t know.

In the context of DVs, I can say that the rational solution to the problem would be to give the officials the authority to say, “I know a DV when I see one,” and to act with authority on that judgment. We won’t do that though. We’re too afraid of petty tyrants abusing that power. In Sweden, they do not expect abuse or incompetence in government, and in most cases they get what they expect.

The whole point of this blog post is: one would think that since we depend so much on written laws, that we would be much more careful in forrmulating them; yet we aren't.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Busted Plans

Marathon, FL

We had planned on departing today. Yesterday morning I listen to Chris Parker's weather report at 0630. The weather window is collapsing, with the beginning time getting later and the ending time getting earlier. I decided to change plans. This morning's report was worse. The weather window now is only 12 hours long. That's not enough. We have to travel 200 natutical miles, so we need more than 48 hours.

My friend Richard on Viking Rose called last night. They too decided that the window was not long enough. Richard said something that rang a bell. He said, "This boat is our home." Libby and I feel exactly the same way. It is not merely death or injuries or abandoning ship that we fear; we must not risk damage that might make the boat unlivible or unusable for an extended period. That makes for an extra degree of caution. When your boat is your home, your only home, you become unwilling to take unnecesary chances with it.

Since we are no longer in a hurry to leave, I bought a copy of the New York Times as a special treat. With newspapers in the USA dying like flies, it becomes apparent that The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times may be the only two non-tabloid non-free papers that will survive. They are both sold nationally. They both offer an order of magnitude more original content and feature articles than do local newspapers. They are also smart enough to raise their prices as competing papers fail. Here in Marathon, the WSJ costs $2 and the NYT costs $1.50.

Thursdays are the best value days to buy the NYT. For some reason, their best feature arcticles appear on that day. Yesterday we read an article that blew our minds. I recommend you read it fast before it disappears from the online pages. It is My Monkey, My Self, and it is about people who keep monkeys as pets. Libby and I both found the stories amazing. It illustrates to us how powerful our genetically programmed behaviors can be.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ready to Go

Marathon, FL

We're moving in to high gear to get to the bottom of our to-do list so that we can leave for The Bahamas.

Last week I climbed the mast to lubricate the sail track. The night after that, the anchor light stopped working. That wasn't good because this is the week that the Florida Wildlife Commission is touring the harbor and giving $65 tickets to boats with no anchor light. I scrambled to get out our classical oil burning anchor light. It's a good standby.

This morning, I bought a LED replacement for our anchor light bulb and climbed the mast again. This time, Dennis from Noble House helped hoist me up. I replaced the bulb, and it didn't light. Uh Oh. Then I wiggled the wires and it lit. Aha! I thought. Last week when climbing the mast the spinnaker halyard that I used as backup safety line when climbing the mast must have pressed on the anchor light wire and disconnected it. I taped up the wires so that they would not be affected by the halyard. We'll see tonight if the light comes on automatically as it should. If not, I'll have to go up the mast again tomorrow.

This evening we are going to a meeting of Bahama bound skippers, then we go to a pot luck dinner, and finally for an evening of playing cards on board Albion.

Tomorrow we buy provisions for 2 months with no grocery stores, and clean the bottom and the propeller. Friday, we refuel and then depart for Rodriguez Key. At Rodriguez, we'll rendezvous with Viking Rose and depart with them on Saturday for Bimini. The favorable weather window is tightening somewhat, but we'll go anyhow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


This must be one of the most beautiful photographs I've ever seen. It was taken during an annular eclipse of the sun.

I got the picture at APOD, the Astronomy Pictures Of the Day web site. I have been visiting APOD daily since 1996. It is one of the top 10 web pages on the whole Internet.

I recommend that you the same as I do. Make it your default home page so that you see it every day. You'll be enchanted and educated at the same time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Children of Jamacian Bobsledders

Marathon, FL

Children of Jamacian Bobsledders was one of the definitions proposed for the word sarapapox in the Balderdash game we went to yesterday. In a previous game memormagi was defined as mothers-in-law of the three wise men. Many thanks to Reggie and Teri on Blue Topaz who introduced us to that game.

No other game that we know leads almost inevitably to people getting silly, and enjoying deep genuine belly laughs -- in other words, everyone has a great time. I recommend Balderdash as a game that everyone should try. You can play it with 4 or more people. Our copy of the original game we bought used on Ebay.

We also enjoy Bananagrams. That game was introduced to us by Pat and Walt on Wings of Eagles. That game you can play with 2 or more people.

Both games satisfy an important criteria. They require very little space to store.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sky Gazing

Marathon, FL

There is a particularly beautiful comet right now. It is named Lulin and it is visible right now in the vicinity of Saturn. I tried to see it last night but, alas, there is too much light pollution in this harbor.

On another star gazing subject, when we sailed down here from Fort Meyers last January I saw an unexpected sight. As the gale blew and as I struggled to steer, I saw the Southern Cross unmistakably sitting low in the southern sky. I had always thought that the Southern Cross was not visible from the northern hemisphere. However, the stars and the constellation were so prominent that it could hardly be anything else.

To double check I used Stellarium to verify it. I started Stellarium and then then I set the time, date, latitude and longitude to correspond to the view I just described. Sure enough, there it was, the constellation Crux. See the screen shot below. Click to see it full size.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Islamorada Flea Market

Marathon, FL

Dennis and Barbara from Noble House drove us up to the nautical flea market on Islamorada today. It was lots of fun. There was 100-200 boots, about half of them selling strictly nautical stuff. They have amenities like no other flea market, such as boat slips, a white sand beach, turquoise water, and a playground (see above).

I failed to find the one thing I wanted at the flea market, a foot pump, or a manual bilge pump. However, we found some real treasures and a real turkey -- about average for a flea market I guess.

Our friends Cheri and John Warren once showed us their Bushnell binocular with a built-in camera. It made great pictures at a distance. However, at $189, the toy was too expensive for us. We found one at the flea market, brand new and in the box, for $40. We bought it.

A guy was selling sea anchors and drogues. We were not in the market for one. They cost $500 at West Marine and they are too large to add to our pile of stuff; or so I thought. At the flea market, a man was selling sea anchors for only $50; and they came in a bag much smaller than what I expected. We bought it. It will add significantly to our at-sea safety margin. Don't know what a sea anchor or a drogue is? I'll write a blog about it some day after the first time we run a practice drill to deploy it.

I also bought 60 feet of web strap for $20. I wanted it to replace the lines we use for jack lines. When I returned home and examined it closely, I see that it is not strong enough for jack lines. Jack lines need a breaking strength of 7ooo pounds. The web I bought is good for only about 1000 pounds. Don't know what a jack line is? I'll write a blog about it some day.

I also bought myself a new Panama Hat. I really like those hats for sailing. The wide brim keeps the sun out of my eyes, and the ventilated top keeps my head cool. The only trouble is that they blow off; even when I wear a chin strap. Worse, they sink before I can turn the boat around to rescue them. I lost two such hats in my first year on Tarwathie. This time, I'm going to get some plastic corn foam, the kind they use when shipping, and sew the corns into the had to make it float.

Now our business in Marathon is complete. The very next weather window and we'll leave for The Bahamas.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What's In a Name?

Marathon, FL

Last night, my friend Bob from Pogopelli, told me of the best boat name ever. It is, My Last Boat IV. I love it. It tells an entire story in just 4 words.

Today, I read the following name-related story:

The mystery of Ireland's worst driver

Details of how police in the Irish Republic finally caught up with the country's most reckless driver have emerged, the Irish Times reports.

He had been wanted from counties Cork to Cavan after racking up scores of speeding tickets and parking fines.

However, each time the serial offender was stopped he managed to evade justice by giving a different address.

But then his cover was blown.

It was discovered that the man every member of the Irish police's rank and file had been looking for - a Mr Prawo Jazdy - wasn't exactly the sort of prized villain whose apprehension leads to an officer winning an award. In fact he wasn't even human.

"Prawo Jazdy is actually the Polish for driving license and
not the first and surname on the license," read a letter from June 2007 from an officer working within the Garda's traffic division.

"Having noticed this, I decided to check and see how many times officers have made this mistake.
It is quite embarrassing to see that the system has created Prawo Jazdy as a person with over 50 identities."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Intrepid Vessels

Marathon, FL

I mentioned intrepid sailors the other day. Here's a few from the area around us. All three below are about 23 feet long. Sorry but I didn't get a picture of another cruising boat I saw the other day that could not have been more than 16 feet long.

Pogopelli with Bob and Trish on board is from Oneida, New York. We first met them on the Oswego River two years ago. Since then, they sailed the Great Loop -- across the great lakes to Chicago, the Mississippi to the Tenesee to the Gulf of Mexico, and Marathon.

Spirit Jewel is a jewel of a boat that we've seen in Marathon the past 2 years.

Sailing Grace is another very small and intrepid looking cruiser.

Below: Now there's a salty scene. Libby and I work on mending sails with a needle and thread. Joshua Slocum couldn't have done better.

We were a little disappointed to see that our new jib, only 14 months old was losing stitching in certain areas. Examination showed that it was not the number or method of stitches at fault, but rather too thin thread. We decided to repair it by hand. Although machines make neater stitches, our hand stitches use much thicker and sturdier thread. The hand stitching took only 3 hours. I only bit my toungue 3 times.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Perfect Way to Go

Marathon, FL

I'm one of those people who wants to die with my boots on. I'd also like to go quickly when the time comes. The youtube video below shows my idea of the perfect way to go.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Intrepid Sailors

Marathon, Florida

I'm afraid that I may have left the wrong impression in my recent blog discussing boat designs. Nobody complained, but I want to correct it anyhow.

in·trep·id \in-ˈtre-pəd\ adjective, Latin intrepidus, from in- + trepidus alarmed; date 1680, characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance

There are numerous cruisers who get along fine in boats smaller than Tarwathie; some very much smaller. I remarked the other day that Libby and I would not feel safe cruising in one of them. However, I didn't say that there are other cruising strategies than our own.

It is perfectly possible to cruise the USA's East Coast, Gulf Coast and inland rivers, and The Bahamas, without little or no exposure to the open sea. Indeed, we could have gone almost every place Libby and I have been in the past 4 years without a single overnight passage or even without sailing after dark. Even the Bahamas can be reached in a day sail or a day cruise from Florida. If one chooses that style of cruising, then the risks of cruising on boats not seaworthy for blue water are much reduced.

I realize that sudden and very violent storms can come up without warning, but that can happen even on an inland lake. The point is that, not everybody needs a blue water boat to feel safe.

What does this say?
  1. The East Coast of North America, including inland waters, Eastern Canada, and The Bahamas are a paradise for cruisers. There are on the order of 1000 to 2000 interesting destinations, plus on the order of 20,000 miles of shore, and all environments from sub-arctic to sub-tropical. All can be reached with little or no offshore sailing. Those numbers are rather close to the number of ports and the distances of a circumnavigation by equatorial routes. WOW! That is a hard to believe statistic; yet true.

    Libby and I didn't appreciate that when we started. Learning how much the East Coast has to offer really dulled the edge of our desire to circumnavigate.

  2. There are multiple cruising styles and cruising strategies. We meet people of all ages, all backgrounds, all levels of wealth, with varied sailing backgrounds, and with wildly varied vessels who cruise.

  3. The things I said the other day about living with less stuff apply to vessels very much smaller than Tarwathie. Libby and I on Tarwathie are far from the low end of that scale. Could we have been happy with 1/2 or 1/4 of the stuff and the comforts we have now? Possibly yes.
There are some very cool yet very small cruising boats here in Boot Key Harbor. We don't look down on them. Rather, we admire their intrepidity. I'll try to get some pictures and post them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Room For Stuff 3

Marathon, FL

Now we come to the most important thing about stuff. The simple truth is that if you acquire more stuff than you can practically store in the drawers, compartments and cubbies on your boat, then the stuff becomes clutter.

I'm proud of the fact that Libby and I have managed to keep Tarwathie very clear of internal clutter. Our living space is open, and airy, has lots of light and almost no clutter. When out at sea, we have little or no loose clutter that falls on the floor as the boat heels. Indeed, we are shocked when we go aboard other boats which go to the other extreme -- excessive clutter.

Clutter on a boat is a much worse problem than clutter in a house. If there is clutter on the seat, you can't sit there. If there is clutter on the table, you can't eat off of it (unless you put food on top of the clutter, yuck!). The clutter robs you of your living space.

The most cluttered boat we ever saw was a Westsail 42 (not W32 but W42) with two men on board. The interior of their boat was completely covered with clutter, including rotting uneaten food. Still worse, some dropped glass bottles had broken, so that the clutter on the floor was mixed with broken glass. One dare not try to wade through the clutter on that boat without boots on. Those two men did blue water sailing with the boat in that condition -- unbelievable but true.

So, how does one avoid clutter? It's simple: own less stuff. We never buy anything without considering where it will be stowed on board. Most often, we decide there is no place and we don't buy the thing.

Many cruisers feel cramped in their boats and trade up for bigger boats. Bigger boats have much more room for stuff. The trouble with that is soon the extra volume is filled with new clutter and one is soon facing once again the same old choice, "If we buy this one extra thing, where will we stow it?" The sad part about it is that those people aren't substantially happier than they were with the smaller boat and they start looking for still bigger boats.

Some boats here in Boot Key Harbor bought derelict boats they raft up with. The use the extra boat to store more stuff. Similarly, the other day I saw a Greyhound tour bus converted to a RV. It was towing a 35 foot RV behind; no doubt to provide space for more stuff.

The late George Carlin said, "A house is a pile of your stuff with a roof over it."

That leads me to become aware of what I think is a peculiar bit of psychology. It is surprisingly easy to live with very little stuff. However, it is almost impossible to convince oneself to give up one little thing or one little convenience to which one is accustomed.

Here's a simple example. On Tarwathie we have no running water and no hot water. We use foot pumps in the head and the galley for fresh water. We're perfectly happy with that, and we care not that most other boats do have those conveniences. On the other hand, I recently complained that we have trouble draining water from our deep galley sink. A friend pointed out that he had a shallow sink and that he used a plastic wash tub when washing dishes. My reaction was, "Absolutely Not! We could not live like that." See what I mean? It is a peculiar but somewhat universal human trait.

Of course, there is a more profound reason to avoid clutter. I've written about it before. Owning less stuff, means that you are responsible for the care of less stuff. It is a simplification of life style that leads directly to peace, happiness and relief from stress. Libby and I felt the change dramatically when we sold our house and cars, and stuff and moved aboard Tarwathie. It was as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from our shoulders. Wanting to own ever more stuff is a trap that ensnares almost everybody in our consumer society. We're glad to have escaped from that trap.

Now, if I could only cure my Internet addiction. But that's a story for another day...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Room For Stuff 2

Marathon, FL

Today, I want to talk about how the design of one's boat affects the room to hold stuff.

The first sail boat we ever owned was a 19 foot O'day Mariner. She was a wonderful little boat, but her cabin was so small that an adult could not stay inside comfortably for more than an hour. That was OK, the Mariner was designed for day sailing. On a day sail, one brings the food and clothes needed for the day with you. Little or nothing is left aboard the boat.

Our next two boats were a Clipper 26 and a Tanzer 27. Those boats were designed for day sailing, plus occasional weekend cruises in inland waters. They had room to sleep, but they were very limited in space to store "stuff" on board.

Sometimes, people use boats like the Clipper 26 or the Tanzer 27 for long term cruising. I wouldn't feel safe in them because their hulls were as little as 1/16" thick. Nevertheless, they have been used successfully and some have even circumnavigated. Would be cruisers soon learn though that the biggest failings of such boats is inadequate tank sizes for fuel, for fresh water or for waste water.

What about cruising boats? Tarwathie, at 32 feet, is on the small end of boats designed for long term cruising. Most cruisers for 2 people are 30-45 feet long. In a 45 foot boat, there is very much more room for stuff than on a 30 foot boat; as much as 20 times more volume if I may hazard a guess.

There are also major differences in boats designed for blue water cruising or for coastal and ICW cruising. Blue water boats, like the Westsail 32, are heavier, stiffer and stronger. They have very small cockpits and they have wind vane self-steering. The interior spaces are small, narrow and have lots of handholds to limit the distance your body can be thrown when you lose balance.

Coastal cruising boats have generous cockpits, enclosures for the cockpits, they have davits for suspending the dinghy behind the stern, they have more "living space" inside, sometimes with big expansive open spaces, and they have room for more and bigger batteries. My thought when I see expansive open spaces, is "My God, imagine being propelled head first across that cabin." They also tend to be lighter. Indeed, the popular Beneteau brand of boats are nicknamed bendy-tau by some cruisers because of their tendency to, twist, flex and bend in heavy seas.

I'll admit that for the type of cruising we have done so far, a Westsail 32 is overkill. We might be more comfortable with a coastal cruising design. However, we feel much safer in our Westsail when offshore. We also enjoy the compliments, expressions of admiration, and shouts of "BEAUTIFUL BOAT" when we pass by, and the queries "Is that a real Westsail?" The W32 is a classic and one of the most famous cruising designs ever.

Tarwathie's biggest deficiency is the lack of a bigger, and enclosed, cockpit. We see other boaters relaxing in their cockpits at the end of the day. We seldom do that because there is no comfortable place to lounge and no shade from the sun. Therefore, we tend to relax only below in the cabin. The exception to that is when I string the hammock between the mast and the forestay and then cover it with a sun shade tarp.

Tarwathie's best deisgn feature is the way we can pull out the pilot berth in the main cabin to make a comfortable double bed, and the way that our very nice table drops down for means. That gives us triple use of very precious space. When we are not sleeping or eating, our cabin is open, light and airy. Many other boats have sleeping space that can only be used for sleeping and table spaces that can only be used for tables. That is inefficient.

The really cool thing is that there are a seeminly infinite number of designs. Anyone who searches hard enough can find the combination of "features" that satisfies his/her needs. I'm remined of Blue Topaz, owned by Reggie and Terry. Reggie designed the interior of Blue Topaz himself. Terry is a gourmet cook and she wanted enough space for the food and utensils of a fully-equipped gourmet kitchen. She has that on Blue Topaz.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Room For Stuff 1

Marathon, FL

Yesterday I helped my friend Dennis on Noble House. I noticed that Dennis' tool box was very much smaller than mine. On the other hand, I've noticed still other boats devote much larger fractions of their storage space to tools and spare parts than I do. I remember one which used almost all the places where we store food on Tarwathie for spare parts. There's no set formula. Everyone equips themselves as they see fit.

Anyhow, the though prompted me to think about the things we do store and how much room they take. Below are the estimates I worked up for Tarwathie. Volumes are given in cubic feet and cubic meters. Note that the estimates are for the size of the containing lockers. Most of them are less than half full of stuff. Note also, that estimating those volumes is very hard and subject to error. Nevertheless, the percentage numbers should hold.

To relate the total volume to something in your house, consider a walk-in clothes closet 6x6x8 feet (2x2x2.5 meters). Our total on board storage is about 83% of that.

Another comparison:, our total storage volume is about 135% of the inside of a minivan.

You may think that small, but we consider it generous.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Arrivals and Departures

Marathon, Florida

Today a weather window opened up and a lot of cruisers departed Marathon. I think that's always exciting. While we've been here we have observed arrivials and departures from/to: Bahamas, Florida East Coast, Florida West Coast, Texas, Mexico, Guatamala, Belize, Honduras, Panama and Beyond, Virgin Islands, Trinidad, ABC Islands, US East Coast, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, France, Cape Verde Islands, England, Australia, New Zealand, Cape Horn, Alaska, and Bermuda.

The exciting part is that every one of those boats is setting out for an adventure at sea. It is the journey, not the destination that excites sailors. We wave goodbye to those departing, but then we often get to follow their progress via SSB radio or by blogs. In that way we all share a little bit in everyone's adventure.

There is a definite hierarchy of pecking order among sailors. Lowest are live-aboards who never go anywhere, then day sailors, then long-distance cruisers, then live-aboard long-distance cruisers (like us), then ocean-crossers, then circumnavigators. At the very top of the pyramid, in my humble opinion, are Larry and Lin Pardey. They are the authors of numerous books. The Self Sufficient Sailor is the Pardey book I read immediately before deciding to live my life as a cruiser. If we count deceased sailors, then of course Joshua Slocum is the grandaddy of us all.

People with racing interests may put the Americas Cup sailors at the top of the pyramid.

Anyhow, one of the reasons why we like places like Marathon and Vero Beach is that we get to rub shoulders with other cruisers. Many are like us, on the same rung of the status ladder, but others are above us and below us. We take great pleasure in offering help and advice to those on lower rungs and accepting help and advice from those higher.

Speaking of circumnavigators, I recently heard the best execuse ever for sailing around the world. One of the locals here sailed around the world three times. Someone asked him, "I understand once. I can understand twice. But what motivated you to sail around the third time?" He laconicly answered, "I was in Aruba and I wanted to go to Trinidad. The wind was blowing the wrong way."


Marathon, FL

Excuse me for going off-topic, but the account below is just too amusing to not share.

"Germany has a new minister of economic affairs. Mr. von und zu Guttenberg is descended from an old and noble lineage, so his official name is very long: Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg.

When first there were rumors that he would be appointed to the post, someone changed his Wikipedia entry and added the name 'Wilhelm,' so Wikipedia stated his full name as: Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Wilhelm Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. What resulted from this edit points up a big problem for our information society (in German; Google translation).

The German and international press picked up the wrong name from Wikipedia — including well-known newspapers, Internet sites, and TV news such as, Bild,, TAZ, or Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In the meantime, the change on Wikipedia was reverted, with a request for proof of the name. The proof was quickly found. On an article cites Mr. von und zu Guttenberg using his 'full name'; however, while the quote might have been real, the full name seems to have been looked up on Wikipedia while the false edit was in place.

So the circle was closed: Wikipedia states a false fact, a reputable media outlet copies the false fact, and this outlet is then used as the source to prove the false fact to Wikipedia."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Marathon, Florida

We're making good progress on the honey-do list. Very soon, perhaps in one week, we'll be shipshape again on boat maintenance projects and ready to depart for the Bahamas when the next weather window opens. The only trouble is that the nice weather returned and the beach and the reef beckon us to go play instead of work.

The only exception to progress is a job that I have been ducking for months. That is using paint stripper to remove the old deck paint so that I can put new paint down. I hate working with that stuff.

I'm beginning to wonder if we need a new barrier coat of paint on the hull. A barrier coat lasts for about 10 years, and Tarwathie's coat is 7 years old. When it is worn out, the hull begins to absorb water and the weight of the boat can increase several tons. Libby and I aren't prepared to re-do the barrier coat. It requires that the boat sit up on the hard for months or more to dry out. We don't have any place to live on land for 6 months.

It's wonderful cruising around popular places like Marathon. Yesterday we encountered one couple that we first met on the Oswego River in New York two years ago. Then we encountered another couple who's house we visited for the SSCA Gam in Islesboro Maine last summer. The cruiser's world really is a small world.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A Shameless Appeal

Marathon, FL

This morning I depart from my usual blog topics. I read some stunning news. "Wikileaks has released nearly a billion dollars worth of quasi-secret reports commissioned by the United States Congress. The 6,780 reports, current as of this month, comprise over 127,000 pages of material on some of the most contentious issues in the nation ..." It is absolutely outrageous that our government used tax money to pay for these reports and then withheld them from us.

In case you don't know, Wikileaks is a free public service that publishes leaked documents from all over the world. I think that Wikileaks represents the Internet and an optimistic future at its very best. It is a noble endeavor.

I just sent a small donation to Wikileaks via Paypal. I urge you to do likewise. They are appealing for donations right now, and I can't think of a more deserving cause.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Dealing With Liquids

Marathon, FL

Boy is it hard to get friends and family up north to feel sorry for us when the temperature here falls to 60.

Our anchorage out in Sisters Creek turned out to be a great choice. It is quiet there. We are sheltered from the city lights so that we can watch the stars and the moon. Despite the fact that we're only 2 meters from the mangroves, the cold weather suppresses the insects.

This morning however, as I got in to the dinghy, I found what appears to be 1/2 gallon of pelican poop all over. Yuck what a job cleaning that up. The remarkable thing however is that it happens so seldom. Given the number of very large birds flying around, one would expect to get bombed more often than we do.

When we bought Tarwathie4 years ago, I thought it odd that the gray waste water from the galley sink drains down to the bilge. That's a rather disgusting practice, keeping the bilge permanently dirty and smely. There is an unused thru-hull penetration with a sea cock under the sink. Yesterday, I converted the plumbing to drain the gray water directly overboard.

After the conversion I learned why Al Hatch made it drain to the bilge. It appears that the bottom of our sink is exactly at sea level. That means we have standing water in the sink drain always. Worse, when we go out to sea, the waves will cause water back up the drain in to the sink. I may have to reverse my conversion. Before doing that, I'm going to ask other Westsail 32 owners how they do it.

Balderdash Tournament tomorrow aboard Anythings Pawssible.

p.s. I've been babying my knee for two days now, and it's feeling better. The main thing is to keep a stiff straight leg as much as possible to avoid bending the knee.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Marathon, FL

Well, another fantasy bites the dust. Even in they Keys it gets cold. It was 40 F (4C) this morning. Brrrrrrrr. By noon it was 62F (17C) but it still feels very cold on the water. I saw one woman paddling a kayak wearing earmuffs.

By the way, we moved our anchorage yet again. Now we are in Sisters Creek. It seems like an excellent place to stay. Quiet, clean, sheltered, and good anchor holding. Best of all, we are not near other anchored boats who could hit us if their anchors drag.

Ouch! I said when I woke up yesterday morning. My right knee hurts like the devil. I'm afraid that I have tendinitis in that knee once again. I had it twice before. It is caused by over exerting myself and working too hard. This time it must have been the stress of anchoring and re-anchoring and re-anchoring so many times in the past few days.

The first time I got tendinitis I ignored it and did yet another day's work. That was a big mistake. On the second day, it hurt so much that I couldn't walk. It took several weeks of bed rest to heal. The second time I got it, I immediately rested my knee for a few days, while gulping aspirin, and it got better rapidly. That's my plan now, but it's not easy to immobilize yourself when living on a boat. Every day I have to climb up and down ladders.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Lifestyle Left Behind

Marathon, FL

My friend Chuck sent these pictures from Quebec. What a reminder of the way things used to be when Libby and I were teenagers living near Syracuse, NY. In 1965 (I think) we had 88 inches (223cm) of snow overnight. It took 10 days for the roads to get plowed so that we could move again.

Since cruising, we've become like the geese -- we migrate south in the winter and north in the summer and hopefully we'll never ever ever see snow again.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Perversity Of Nature

Vaca Key Bight
24 41.84 N 081 04.20 W

I'm an engineer. As such, I have a scientific education. Therefore, like most scientists, I take a very literal interpretation of the word impossible. To me, the only things that are truly impossible are those which break the laws of physics. A perpetual motion machine, or travel faster than the speed of light for example.

Until today, it was my belief that an anchor rode stuffed down an anchor pipe could be pulled out without fouling provided that no human hands ever entered the chain locker to mess things up. My reasoning had something to do with topology -- an esoteric branch of mathematics. Well, you probably already guessed the truth. Today, we pulled up the anchor to move position, shoved the anchor chain down the hole, and then it fouled so that I couldn't pull it up again. I can guarantee that no human hands were in that locker. We didn't even experience any violent actions, heeling or big waves.

To get to the chain locker on Tarwathie is a big pain. It is under the cushions in the V-berth. Those cushions in turn are under all the stuff we store up there. Thus, it became quite a Chinese fire drill as Libby and I struggled to get in to that locker. While we were doing it, Tarwathie was dragging anchor because there wasn't enough chain out. I finally got in there, and sure enough, there was a great big tangle twice the size of a softball in the chain. I tugged and pulled in the right directions and it untangled.

So now I'm forced to admit that one of the few things in this universe that I've always believed impossible; is possible. Perhaps a more reliable belief for me would be "Never underestimate the perversity of nature."

By the way, the chain wasn't our only problem. We moved to the other side of the island to avoid strong West winds tonight. We are in Vaca Key Bight. There is only one other boat anchored here. However, when we tried to anchor, we couldn't get the anchor to bite. 4 tries with the CQR plow and one try with the Danforth anchor all failed. The other boat told me that he got a bite first try with his Bruce anchor. We had to move 1/2 mile away to deeper water to find a place where the anchor could bite. Now I'm all tired out from raising the anchor 6 times this afternoon.

Update, Tuesday morning. The bad weather overnight turned out to be a false forecast. Except however, two thunderstorms that passed over around 2200. We had a big thunder and lightning show. We put all our electronics in the oven. The winds weren't bad except for one, just one, enormous gust that I estimate must have been around 65 knots. It came without warning. It heeled Tarwathie over 40 degrees. It almost blew our bimini away and almost blew the securely tied sail cover. The gust was gone in a second.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Part III, Cruisers Are Wonderful People

Boot Key, Florida
24 41.73 N 081 07.21 W

There's still more to the story of our grounding. Yesterday, Dennis and Barbara on Noble House arranged for us to borrow a mooring for a few days. Friends of theirs, Nancy and Russel on Lions Paw had their boat up on the hard for a few days for painting. We were grateful to accept, since the moorings are all full and so too are the anchoring spots inside the harbor.

Unfortunately, the City Marina evicted us when they found out. Their rules don't allow mooring clients to sublet or to loan the moorings to anyone else. Right now we're anchored outside the harbor. It's not bad out here if the wind is from the East or North. (But, tonight they will blow 30 knots from the West. We'll have to move.)

That's not all the friendly help we got. Shelly and Lynn on Anythings Pawsible called and offered to help us to find the lost anchor. We said sure. They, along with Scott and Debbie from First Lady came out in their dignhys with a grappling hook. It worked! After 10 minutes of dragging, they hooked my anchor chain.

We hauled in the chain the rope. Then we tried tugging with all our might and with outboard engine power to pull up the anchor. It wouldn't budge. When grounded, I pulled really hard on it so it dug way in. I went to fetch Tarwathie. We brought her to the site so that I could use my manual anchor windlass to pull it out. In the stump-pulling low gear on that windlass, I can pull with 3,000 pounds of force. It took every bit of the 3,000 pounds to do it , but the anchor did break free. Mission accomplishes.

Thank you thank you, Dennis, Barbara, Russel, Nancy, Shelly, Lynn, Scott and Debbie. Having helpful and knowledgeable friends is a large part of making the cruising life possible.

More on the story. I didn't tell the whole story about Sea Tow in my blog post the other day. The wind was blowing 30 knots, and the time was around 8AM. The first time I called Sea Tow, they refused to come and help me. The man on the radio said, "the sea state is too rough. Maybe it will quiet down later. If you can't get yourself off at high tide (4 hours later) call me back." Well, that was pretty amazing. He was in the harbor and I was grounded inside the harbor. Imagine a tow boat operator afraid to move around on his boat inside the harbor! While we were waiting those four hours, there was a constant stream of boats going in and out including dive parties and including day trip boats carrying tourist. Too rough for Sea Tow.

Later around noon, I called again and this time Sea Tow did come and tow me off. Before doing so however, he gave me three other reasons why he didn't come earlier. His stories began to sound like "the dog ate my homework." Then, to add insult to injury, he carelessly cut my anchor line with his propeller. I watched as he did it and his head was turned to look directly at my anchor line.

Yesterday and today, as I went in to the marina I was approached with a half dozen or more people who wanted to tell me how disgraceful it was that Sea Tow refused to come to help their customer. It seems that half the harbor, perhaps 100 boats listened to the conversation on the VHF radio when he refused to come. Tsk tsk Sea Tow; you did yourselves a heap of public relations damage that morning. Who knows how many of those 100 boaters will decide to buy tow insurance from your competitor instead of you?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Part II

Boot Key, Florida
24 41.73 N 081 07.21 W

Yesterday, I alluded to trouble getting in to Boot Key Harbor. Here's the story.

After passing under Seven Mile Bridge, we turned the corner toward the harbor entrance. The wind was strong. 30 or more knots. I was concerned that we might miss the entrance and not be able to get in. Tarwathie can't manage motoring with her nose in winds more than 30 knots; even at full throttle. Therefore, I left the foresail up. Thus we headed in, close hauled, heeled 30 degrees under motor and sail.

It worked fine until we were halfway through the entrance channel. This channel, shallow under all conditions, must have been shallower than normal because of the wind. The depth under the keel started to drop. I moved us to the green side; the deepest part of the channel as far as I know. The depth sounder showed, 5 feet, 4.5 then 4. We were screwed. I couldn't go forward, and I couldn't turn around and go back. In the space of a few seconds, we were aground and the wind pushed us far to the red side where Tarwathie laid on her side on a mud flat.

Darn. I violated one of the cardinal rules I learned in flight training. Always leave yourself an out; a plan B. I should have thought in advance that under these conditions I couldn't turn around and back out of the channel. Without an out; it was wrong to attempt the entrance. Oh well.

We called for Sea Tow. We have towing insurance with Sea Tow, and this was an occasion where we really needed it. However, our call on the VHF radio was heard throughout the harbor, our friends included. Soon we had an offer of help from Anything Pawsible and from Noble House. Their help was appreciated. The wind was so strong that it would have been risky to try to launch our dinghy; it might have gotten caught in the wind and swung out of control.

Anyhow, our friends Shelly and Dennis came out with their dinghy. I put the Danforth anchor and 120 feet of rode in their dinghy. They carried it across the channel for us and dropped the anchor. Then Libby and I went to work with the manual windlass, cranking in the line bit by bit. In the low gear stump puller mode, we are able to crank with about 3,000 pounds of force. It did no good. The nylon line stretched to half its normal diameter, yet we didn't budge. Oh well, it was still help. At the very least, as the tide rose we would not get pushed further on to the mud flat.

There was nothing to do other than wait. We waited 3 hours as the tide rose 0.8 feet (tides are really low here in the keys.) Tarwathie righted herself. Every 20 minutes we tried again with the windlass -- no luck. Finally, around noon the Sea Tow Boat came. The captain said that he had to get permission from the Florida Wildlife Commission to tow us. and that he was required to wait for high tide. He attached his tow line and moved out in the channel. The first thing he did, the clutz, ran over our taught anchor line and cut it! Now we lost our anchor too with 50 feet of chain and 80 feet of nylon rode. Of course, the waiver that I had to sign in advance says that Sea Tow is not responsible for damage.

After that, the tow boat had to pull us for only 15 seconds and we were off the flat and afloat once again. We left the channel and anchored outside the harbor overnight. Today, Sunday, the winds aren't so strong we'll attempt again to get in to Boot Key Harbor.