Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jen's Pics

You are invited to view Jen Mills's photo album: The Florida Keys - March 2011

Abrupt Change

Miami, Venetian Causeway
25 47.31 N 080 10.49 W

This morning things were going fine.   We passed the ship channel at Miami around 0700, an hour ahead of schedule.   Before proceeding however, I checked the weather one more time.

Uh oh.  The marine forecast was seriously wrong.  It said winds 15-25 with isolated showers and thunderstorms.  I double checked it with civilian weather.  I used the Weather Bug app on my smart phone to look at the weather radar.  WOW!  Instead of isolated thunderstorms, there was a monster storm system almost as big as the whole state.  There were also tornado warnings going up.   This would not be a good day to be caught at sea.

I did an about face and returned 2-3 miles to Miami.  We're holed up today in the gap between the two Venetian Causeways.  It's a very well known spot.  If you watch CSI Miami you see it every week.

Still, I'm amazed at how wrong and unhelpful that marine forecast was.   Oh well, that's life.  We had no special reason to get to Fort Pierce today; it is just that the weather looked good.

Happy Girl

At Sea
25 21.22N 080 12.32 W

We left Marathon around noon.  It was a lovely day.  Warm, Sunny. Breezy.  The waters were the Keys Turquoise color.  Tarwathie is a happy girl to be back in her element.  Her crew likes it too.

Now it is past midnight.  We are - well you can see in the picture where we are. (Sorry for the sideways picture)

We will pass Miami around 8AM.  We are headed for Fort Pierce Inlet.

The new AIS is working fine :)

One thing we won't get is a free ride from the Gulf Stream.   Leaving Marathon, the wind was well ahead of the beam, so we elected to stay in The Hawk Channel where the seas would be less.  Up Miami way, The Gulf Stream seems to be further East than normal.  We may miss it.  Oh well, nice trip anyhow.

Actually, we love sailing out here in The Hawk Channel.  It seems that the winds are always favorable, and the seas gengle -- at least when we come out here.  The water is beautiful, and there are no ships.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coldward Ho

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FLT
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Today is our last day in Marathon this season.  Tomorrow, we start our northerly migration.  We hear that it is still snowing in Vermont, and that the daily high/low in New Bern, NC is 45/33.  Therefore, we won't move too quickly.

Actually, it has been oppressively hot and humid here the past few days.  That's another reminder to move north.

We would like to go up the west coast, and cross Lake Okeechobee.  However there is a drought and the lake level is too low for us to pass without fear of running aground.   Instead we'll go east, past Key Largo and Miami.   If things go well, we'll go out in the Gulf Stream and get an extra boost.

Our immediate goal is Vero.  I see that the winds will become northerly for a few days, so we'll probably wait it out there.  With the higher fuel prices, we'll try to sail more and motor less.  That means resisting the urge to keep moving a little every day, and to wait for the right weather.

This was our 5th winter in Marathon.  Five out of six. I must say this was the most fun year of all.  Libby especially found her social niche better than in past years.  I too had great fun and we made new friends who I expect and hope will be lifelong friends.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Man, What A Stupid Stunt

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FLT
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

I'm not afraid to confess my stupid stunts here on this blog. Yesterday I did a real doozy.

I had done a little fiberglass work. I used some resin/hardener bought at Home Depot. When I went to put it away, I found some remnants of West System epoxy resin/hardener left from years ago. I foolishly decided to consolidate the two. I poured the two hardeners together in one container. Immediately, it got hot and it exploded in my hand!

The hot liquid went everywhere; on me, on Libby, on the deck, on our canvas, on my clothes. It spattered my glasses (thank God I was wearing glasses.) Fortunately, it wasn't burning hot, nor terribly corrosive, nor permanently staining. I was able to clean up with acetone. Permanent damage was almost none.

Everything about that stunt was stupid. I have no excuses. What more can I say?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

End of Winter

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FLT
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Jenny flew home yesterday.   Boy do we miss her already.  All three of us had a grand week -- so much fun that anything else has to be a let down.   

It seems that we weren't paying attention during the week she was here -- almost everyone else seems to have left the harbor.   Many of the mooring balls are vacant and things look different.  The dinghy dock and marina seem empty and there are washing machines sitting unused. Time for us also to turn our thoughts to northward migration.

We'll leave in the next few days.  No actual plan yet.  We want to be in North Carolina in early may.  Dave and Cathy have a new house in Raleigh that we haven't seen.  Also, our grandson Nick is at Fort Bragg waiting to deploy to Iraq in May.  Beyond that, we haven't made up our minds yet about next summer.  Maine, Nova Scotia, Champlain, and Georgian Bay Lake Huron are all things we've discussed.   Just as long as it is far enough north to escape excessive summer heat.

We also hoped to begin by sailing up to Fort Meyers and crossing Lake Okechobee.  That is lots of fun.  Alas, there is a drought and the lake level is low and falling lower each day.  It appears that we could get though OK regarding depth but with only about 0.1 feet margin!  I'm afraid that's too little.  We'll have to go the other way.

Key West:  We spent Thursday and Friday in Key West.  What a place of great contrasts.   We caroused on Duval Street at night; something we've never seen before.  We encountered only one mostly naked person; a young lady.   What can I say about her; my grandkids read this blog?  I'll say this, "Holy Moley."  I know what you're going to say.  This is Duval street, how could I know she was really female?  Believe me, I know.  

Then we walked only 5 blocks back to Mary Ann's house in a residential neighborhood.  It was a totally different world.  Quaint, and peaceful, and secure and charming.  We slept well and had a relaxing breakfast the next morning.  Then, the four of us went to The Butterfly Conservatory (again on Duval Street, but daytime Duval).  Libby and I have been there before, it is a wonderful Zen-like experience.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 2 Key West

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FLT
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Boot Key Harbor Skies

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FLT
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

The Famous Keys Sunset

Jenny got a kick out of our sunsets this week, and especially our ritual of blowing the conch shells at sunset.   In the harbor one hears a dozen or more conchs from all directions, plus one man who fires his cannon.   Some (oh heck, most) of the conch blowers are pitifully inadequate.  It's not easy to do until you get the hang of it.   I've been privileged to posess a particularly fine conch shell I bought on our last trip to Key West.   It sounds loud and very very long.  I can thump my chest and claim to have the longest blast in the harbor.
Pre-dawn: Also this week we've been treated to spectacular views of the ISS (International Space Station) flying overhead. Most of the flyovers have been in the early evening hours. Then, the light pollution from Marathon has been dimming the views. This week, the ISS is flying over in the pre-dawn light. Then, most of the lights of the city are off. Even better, the pre-dawn skies this week are dominated by the still nearly full moon. The brightness of the moon blanks out all but a few bright stars. All together it makes the ISS stand out very prominently. We can almost see the astronaut in the window waving.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Too Busy To Blog

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FLT
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

No sharks yesterday.  All three of us had fun snorkeling in the vicinity of Tarwathie.  The water was warm and very clear.  Schools of small tropical fish settled in Tarwathie's shadow to make it interesting.   It was lots of fun.

We returned to Book Key Harbor yesterday afternoon.  This morning, we're off on a different kind of adventure.  We're going to Key West where we'll spend the night at the house of Jenny's friend Mary Ann.  Tonight we'll crawl Duval Street.  Neither Libby nor I nor Mary Ann have ever seen Duval Street at night.  We're told it is a unique experience.

We return to the boat Friday night and Saturday morning Jenny flies out of Fort Lauderdale.

Above, Jenny finds a nice perch on our way back to Marathon.  Note the sparkling white decks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Our Private Island

Coconut Key
24 44.45 N 081 14.30 W

How rich do you have to be to own your own private island? We're hardly rich, but for today we have Coconut Key all to ourselves. It's a little island, a few hundred meters across. It's populated by lots of varieties of birds and surrounded by shallow waters ripe for exploring by snorkel. That's what we're going to do right now.

Now we're back. Partially successful. Jenny and I rowed in to the island. We came into the shallows by the shore and found a beautiful white sand patch. Perfect place to start snorkeling. But wait, what is that??? A five foot shark came along looking for a snack. He turned toward us and almost rammed the boat. That freaked Jenny out. After that she had no interest in swimming or snorkeling. :)

We had fun anyhow. We circunavigated the island by oar. There really are lots of birds here. Besides the pesky cormorants, we saw vultures, and egrets, lots of cranes, terns, and a big stork. The stork looked scruffy like he was molting and he didn't fly away.

Back on Tarwathie, I went for a swim. The water felt a bit cold at first but I soon adapted. It was nice.

Tomorrow we'll try again for the snorkeling and swimming. Tonight we're enjoying a litle feast that Libby made in Jenny's honor. Chicken and rice and spinach salad with freshly baked sweet potato pie for desert. Yummy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Family Aboard

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58

I've been neglecting this blog for a while.  I apologize.  The reason is that our daughter Jenny is aboard and she turned our lives upside down.  I mean that in the most positive way.  It's a delight having her.   We're just so busy having fun and catching up with each other that the blog gets neglected. 

Jenny got here at 0230 Saturday morning.  She flew to Lauderdale and drove the rest of the way.  I waited for her up by the highway.  Libby stayed on the boat but she was too excited to sleep.  

Later this week, we'll leave the harbor and spend a day or two out at one of the unpopulated keys in Florida Bay.  We'll swim, snorkel, star gaze and have fun.

It was a bit jolting for Jenny as we move around Marathon.  People kept calling her by name; "Hello Jenny."  The thing she didn't know is that those people are our friends and we told them Jenny was coming. :)

Jenny thinks that she can sense Tarwathie tipping (heeling) as we move around inside the boat.  I maintain that it's all in her head; the degree of heel caused by shifting a couple of hundred pounds a few feet is too small to measure and too small to perceive.  Maybe I'm wrong though.  We've lived aboard many years now and we are totally adapted to our environment and perhaps insensitive to small things.

:( Just a short time in the hammock yesterday was enough to sunburn Jenny's milky white skin.  Uh oh.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL 
34 42.54 N 081 05.58

It's official.  We are procrastinators.   With 4 months here in Marathon, one would think that all possible boat projects and to-do lists would be exhausted.   Right?  Not so.  We've spent too much time having fun and too little time at hard work.   What's wrong with that?   Not much.  However, the projects need to get done sometime.  

Jenny is flying down to spend a week with us.  It will be her chance to escape and recover from the very long very cold winter they had in Vermont.   Of course, we'll be delighted to see here.   Meanwhile, her impending visit created a deadline to get some of the most important projects done.

My biggest project was to paint the top decks white.  I'm ashamed to say, that has been my top priority project for 20 months and I'm just now getting around to it.   We've painted those decks before, and the last attempt was a cosmetic disaster.  It was an ugly brown, that held and showed dirt, and could not be cleaned even with hard scrubbing.   My first idea was to cover it with a dark color to hide dirt.  I got 1/4 through that project when I realized that no cruising boats have dark colored top decks.  The reason is that they would get terribly hot in the sun and bake inhabitants inside.   

So I abandoned the dark blue, and started again with pure white.  While we're living on the boat we can only paint half at a time.  Move all the loose stuff to the starboard side, and walk on that side to get on/'off the boat while the port side is painted.  I needed three coats of white to finish the port.  Next, reverse everything and paint the starboard side.  Today I finished the first coat on the starboard side.  FINALLY! I'll do the 2nd coat tomorrow, and alas the third coat when Jenny is here.

I also have an unfinished interior varnish project.  I started last week to re-varnish the top of the refrigerator.  The result was terrible -- it looked much better before than after.  I'll have to sand it down to bare wood and start from scratch.   My varnishing skills were never good.  Exterior I get away with it but the interior finishes make it too visible.   That project will probably not get done until Jenny leaves.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58

If you have an engineer friend, one of the nicest compliments you can pay to him or her is to say that his creation is elegant. I mean elegant in the sense of being something unusually effective and simple.  I continue to be impressed by elegance I see in sailing vessel design.   We have had 12,000 plus years of sailing experience so far and the design ideas that survive are elegant indeed.

Tarwathie has her share of elegant things.  Many of them may come from the prior owner, Al Hatch, but some may come from the factory or other previous ownwers.

Consider the case of my SSB radio seen in the picture above.   This radio is very boxy and very heavy.  It weights perhaps 20 pounds.   If the radio were to fall off the shelf sometime when Tarwathie is being buffeted by heavy seas it could be a disaster.  It could fly around the cabin crushing skulls, or breaking the glass in portholes or other unthinkable things.

On the other hand, all the wires connecting the radio are in the back and it is not unreasonable to assume that moderately frequent access to the back is needed.   How then to mount the radio securely and permitting easy access.

As an engineer given that assighment, I would in all likelihood just bolted it down with bolts, nuts and washers.   That would be inelegant.

Study the picture.  First, the radio is mounted on a board.  The board lifts the radio so high that it almost touches the ceiling above (barely visible at the top of the photo).  There is very little room for it to bounce up and down.   Next, note the hex bolt head visible on the left side.  That bolt drops through a hole in the board and the counter.   It prevents the board and the radio from sliding in and out.   The radio mount is very secure.   

But can't the bolt hop out?  Shouldn't it have a nut and washer?   One would think so, but this design is more elegant.   The bolt fits very snugly in it's hole.  It doesn't slide up and down easily at all.  Further, if the radio is trying to slide forward or back, it jams the bolt in the bolt hole even tighter. To get the radio out, I grab the bolt head with pliers and lift.  To put the radio back, I line up the holes and push the bolt down.

Simple, effective == elegant.  Kudos to the designer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The AIS Radio Project

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58

For several years we wanted to add AIS to Tarwathie's inventory. What's that? Automatic Identification System: It is a system where ships transmit critical information digitally over VHF radio. They send their name, position, speed, course, and lots of other info useful to other vessels in the area, such as us. Having AIS will make us feel much safer regarding collisions at sea.

The best feature of AIS, as far as I'm concerned is a CPA alarm. CPA means Closest Point Of Approach. The computer in the AIS looks at each target's speed and direction, plus my speed and direction and projects ahead how close we will come in the future. For example, I can set the CPA alarm for 2 miles. Then, if any ship is projected to come within 2 miles of me in the future, the alarm will go off.

A couple of years ago, I bought a SITEX AIS receiver and display. I rejected that and sold it later unused. It had two problems. 1) The display was not waterproof. It had to be mounted inside the cabin. That's not where the helmsman can see it at night. 2) It had no CPA alarm, just a distance alarm.\
I theorized that if I waited, the technology would improve and I could get what we want at an affordable price. I was right. Bob on Carpe Diem, showed me his new Standard Horizon VHF radio with AIS built in. Best of all, it had a remote microphone with a display screen. That means that the AIS information is shown on a display you can hold in your hand while in the cockpit in foul weather. Perfect. The radio plus remote mike cost about $400; that's cheaper than the SCITEX display I rejected.

The picture above show things as I finished installation of the new radio/AIS. I had to rearrange all the electronics boxes there. SSB radio, VHF radio, AM/FM Radio, and Pactor Modem (connects PC to SSB). It took me a whole day's work to do that installation, plus another half day to install the remote mike in the cockpit. Routing wires and making adequate and reliable 12 volt connections are very difficult in Tarwathie.   The remaining wire hanging down is the one that connects to the USB port of my laptop when I transmit blogs at sea via SSB.

The picture above shows the AIS display on the radio.  The circles show an area around us.  Little balls in the circle show other vessels transmitting AIS.  The one selected (black ball) shows its name, distance, bearing, CPA, and TCPA (time to the CPA) and speed.   Better still, since this AIS is integrated with the radio, there is a button there called CALL.  Push that and the radio on his bridhe will ring like a telephone thus establishing a conversation between us and them.

Of course all this is theoretical.   We have yet to test it while actually at sea.   We must also remember that there not all vessels out there transmit AIS data.  We still need to keep a sharp lookout.  Nevertheless, I predict that Libby and I will feel less anxiety when out there.  Money well spent.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Seafood Festival

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

We spent Saturday and Sunday working as volunteers at the Marathon Seafood Festival. We earned $1000 for the Cancer Society. It was lots of fun.

The festival? Here's how I describe it. Take limitless quantities of oysters, clams, live music, lobsters, beer, 80F, fish, conch chowder, sunshine, wine, rock crabs, bikini tops, hamburgers, 10000 people, a slight breeze, kids, a big sign that says festival, stir and you get --- fun.

Here's some of our pictures.

Let's Hear It for The Volunteers
One Kid In Each Ball; No Adults

The Music Place

The Eating Place

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Bit Of Excitement

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Yesterday, Libby was doing her volunteer work at the library.  I stayed alone on the boat installing our new AIS radio (more on this later).   When I got to the point of turning on the new radio, I heard an emergency weather alert from the coast guard.  I looked outside.  Sure enough big dark clouds were bearing won on us out of the north.

I battened the hatches and checked above decks for loose items.  I tried to call Libby to warn her not to leave the library, but her phone was turned off because she was in the library. Catch 22.

When the storm hit it was fierce.   It blew a maximum of 49.9 knots (57 mph, 25 meters/s) It lasted for more than 30 minutes.   There was lots of chatter on the radio.  Anchored boats broke loose and started dragging.   Boats in the bay blew up on the beach.   A pontoon boat with 20 tourists out for 1/2 day snorkeling was reported overdue.   A 50 foot sailboat in Channel 5 lost power, and drifted into the bridge.  In two locations [presumably small] sailboats capsized and dumped people in the water. The Coast Guard, Tow Boat US, and Sea Tow were all swamped with calls for help.    This morning onthe net people were looking for water jugs, floating cushions and oars taht had blown away.

Perhaps the best story I heard second hand.  On a boat moored near Tarwathite, the wife was ashore.  It was the very first time that she had ever gone alone in their dinghy.  Must be their first month cruising.  The poor woman was trying to return to the boat when the storm hit.  The wind blew so hard she couldn't steer it with the outboard motor.  Worse, the bow was lifted by the wind and threatened to flip it over.   However, she was close enough to her boat that her husband saw her plight.  He dove in the water, swam to her aid, climbed on board, and managed to return to their boat.   I was looking out and saw the last few seconds of this drama.  They tied up the dinghy, and went below decks to dry off.   As I continued to watch, the wind lifted their dinghy out of the water and almost flipped it.

Poor woman.  Think of all the nice things I've been saying about the cruising life.   A major factor for the female half of the partnership is the feeling of security and confidence in one's ability.  Women just hate it if they don't feel safe.   To have this happen on the woman's very first outing ever in the dinghy is unimaginable bad luck.  I sure hope she recovers from that terrible experieince.

By the way, even without a phone call, Libby was smart enough to stay inside until the storm passed.

Also by the way, how would I have fared if I got caught in that storm in our dinghy with no motor?   I can't row against 50 knots of winds.  I probably would have failed to keep the bow into the wind.  I would have been blown downwind.  I would have tried to throw the dinghy painter around another boat or a mooring.

If I got blown up on a sandy beach nothing bad would happen, but if blown on rocks or docks the dinghy could have been destroyed and I would be at risk for injury.   It would be best in those circumstances to jump overboard and hang on to the dinghy.

What if we had a motor?  Maybe, but not certainly, I would have been able to navigate fine as long as the motor kept running.

To tell the truth, it's not a contingency I've ever evaluated before.

The big lesson for everybody -- don't leave shore in a small boat when black clouds approach - period.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fun Site

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Today's New York Times tipped me off about a new web site that is really fun. Below is what I produced there in only 5 minutes. I really like it.

Getting Started

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

A reader asked how we decided to cruise?  How long did it take to decide?  How long from decision to cruising?   I've probably touched on those questions before, but never as a coherent story.

My first time on board a sailboat was in Sweden. I had been there on an extended business trip.  One weekend, I was invited by Karl to sail with him and his family on the weekend.  "Sure," I said.  On the next Saturday, Karl took me, his wife and teen aged daughter out on his boat Fräs.  It was beautiful out in the Stockholm archipelago, but the clincher came after we anchored for lunch.  The girls took all their clothes off and went swimming.  Well that settled it for me -- sailing was to become my new hobby.

Upon return to the USA I bought an O'Day Mariner, 19 feet.  That was a great vessel to learn to sail on. Next was a Clipper 26.   Then we started chartering in Tortola.  Three times we went to Tortola with friends or with family to charter and cruise the BVIs for a week.   I had a trailer for the Clipper 26.  We took it to Maine.

One year, I took the Clipper to Lake Champlain for a week's vacation with my son John (I took John out of school for that week.)  That was one of the best weeks I ever remember.  Lake Champlain was so beautiful, and October such a nice month, and cruising as a way to live were all burned in my brain.  Year after year I returned to Champlain in October.   Then I moved the family back to Sweden again.  There I began sailing with my friends in October.  We also had a little 20' boat that we sailed locally.  That was great in the summer when we had 23.5 hours of daylight per day.   We also borrowed a boat and cruised with friends in June in the archipelago.

After returning from Sweden, I resumed the October trips.  Some years we didn't own a boat so Libby and I camped on Valcour Island in October.

In the fall of 2004 I had just finished a huge three-year project at work.  Before starting a new project, I reassessed my career, and the thought came to me as an epiphany.  It was time to retire.  I consulted with Libby.  She was enthusiastic.  But what to do in retirment?   Well, we thought back and realized that our fondest life memories, outside of children and grandchildren, were all associated with those brief times we had cruising on sailboats.   It was a no brainer.   Significantly, we had both recently read The Self Sufficient Sailor, and that no doubt influenced us.

Libby said we must have a boat that made her feel safe even if caught in a hurricane. I researched that, and the W32 emerged immediately.  I started tracking w32s for sale on the net.  There were a dozen or two, that I tracked over a period of three months.  I could see what the asking prices were, how long they took to sell and how much they sold for.  

24 hours after my retirement in February 2005, we jumped in the car and set out with a fistfull of 14 W32 listings on the US East Coast to look at.   We drove 2000 miles and we looked at 13 of the 14.  The next to last one was Tarwathie.  She was in Fort Lauderdale.  We both fell in love with her at first sight.  Tarwathie was more than a vessel, she was a home, and she was ready to sail away with no work at all.  (Amusingly, the only prior info we had on Tarwathie was a tiny one-line classified ad.)  We made and offer, and within a month of retirement, we closed the deal and took posession.

That's not the end of the story.  We still owned a house and furniture and a car.  To unload all that stuff in a short time, was an awful lot of work.   We left Tarwathie in Florida, and returned to New York for two months.  There, we worked our fingers to the bone preparing everything for sale and disposing of our responsibilities.   We got the house vacant and listed by the two month deadline. Most furniture and belongings we gave to our kids with the proviso that we might ask for it back some day. We  flew back to Florida and retrieved Tarwathie.   It took and additional 6 months  and two more trips to New York, for the house to actually sell (Thank God we didn't decide to retire in 2008!)   Then and only then were we full-time cruisers with no land-based responsibilities.

I remember my primary thought through all of 2005 --- determination.  I was determined to make this work.  Hurdles and obstacles seemed to arise daily.  It would have been so easy to give up the dream and to stick with the status quo.   But no -- we were determined to make it work.  We did whatever it took to make that dream a reality and never let go.

Ever since, we've been enjoying the benefits.   We miss frequent contact with our family but other than that we've been deliriously happy enjoying this life as cruisers.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Northward Migration Begins

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

The northward migration has begun.  For the past week or so, a half dozen boats per day are departing Book Key Harbor to head north.  

Are they too soon?  Consider the evidence of this picture.  My son John in upstate NY sent it Monday morning.  He got 10 inches.  Jenny in Vermont got 22 inches, and her truck was stuck in the driveway.  Jeez.

Upstate NY, 3/7/2011

The answer is no, not too early. Those boats departing now are planning on taking 2-3 months to complete their journey. By time they arrive, it should be nice and warm up there.  Once before we had a question asking why we didn't choose the fastest possible method to migrate north or south. The answer is implicit in the weather.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Six Years Going On Seven

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Six years ago today, Libby and I took possession of Tarwathie and began our new life as cruisers.  What a great six years it has been.  I've said it before and I'll say it again -- that was one of the best life decisions we ever made.   Year seven, we hope, will be even better.   What do we plan for year seven?  Don't know.  We stopped pretending to make plans, or even to state intentions.  It's a pretty safe bet though that we'll seek to escape the heat in summer and the cold in winter.

In fact it is hard to imagine the alternative -- still living in our house in rural West Charlton, New York.   Probably Libby would be looking forward to tending her garden in the short short warm season, and I would still be at work trying to resist retirement, and going to meetings in the fire house Tuesday nights. My God, all the fun we would have missed.  It boggles the mind.

Regular readers know that I'm a big booster of the cruising life.  Almost nobody else enjoys the freedom and independence full-time cruisers enjoy.   Part-time cruisers, those who still own a house, come close.    Perhaps land cruisers, those with RVs, also come close but I'm not sure about that.  The several couples we know who started land cruising gave it up after 2-3 years.  One couple I knew dropped out and started a trading post on the upper Amazon.  That's surely a clean break, but I can't report on how well they fared -- they were never heard from again.  Use your imagination on that!

It's also no secret to me that many of my blog readers are those who dream themselves of cruising some day.  More power to you. I'm glad to be able to give you a virtual seat in the cockpit by following this blog.  We wish you well on realizing your dream or just living the life vicariously if you don't.

Monday, March 07, 2011

To Hold Or Not To Hold

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

You may wish to skip this post if you're squeamish.

The other day, we were discussing publications such as Cruising World.   With an average income of $200K per subscriber and lots of advertisers, they are interested only in articles that see the cruising world through rose colored glasses.  Not so this blog.  You'll get it all here - rose colored and black.

In the old days, all boats simply emptied their toilets overboard.  Since environmental awareness, that has changed.  Now, I believe that all 50 states in the USA, plus many other places in the world require that boats have holding tanks to store so-called black water.  When the tanks get full, the boats arrange somehow to pump them out in a facility that disposes of the black water into the local sewer system.

Holding tanks don't work at sea.  There's no place to pump them out.  Ditto in the Bahamas and in most places of the world where there are no pump-out facilities.   The old fashioned, dump it overboard, method applies.

Cruising boats like Tarwathie must have a so-called Y valve.  One position of the valve pumps black water to the holding tank, the other position pumps it overboard.   Y valves and policing the use of Y valves, and boaters who might cheat on pump-outs could be the subject of numerous posts -- but not this one; not today.  Instead, I want to talk about the mechanics.

Most boats have a rigid holding tank.  Any rigid tank must have an air vent.  Letting air out as the tank fills prevents pressurization.  Letting air in as the tank empties prevents vacuum and/or implosion.  Those air vents are a chronic source of foul odors and maintenance trouble on boats.

A further problem is solid sludge that doesn't get sucked out when the tank is pumped out.  That causes more odors and it reduced the effective capacity of the tank.  Recently, someone on the cruiser's net in Marathon announced a digester product that  dissolves that sludge.  They asked if anyone else would be interested in sharing an order so they could buy a case.  The response was overwhelming.   They had to increase the order to 10 cases, and now they are on their third re-order.  Amazing demand.

Libby and I were surprised at that demand and blissfully unaware of their problems because we don't have a rigid holding tank.  We have a neoprene collapsible bladder instead.  It is like a bug 15 gallon balloon.  The bladder needs no air vent.  It collapses completely when pumped out.  Solid sludge doesn't collect.  We never ever had a single foul odor from the bladder.  Its shape conforms to the irregular truncated cone space we have to hold it.  It seems to be a vastly superior solution, and I heartily recommend it.

There must be some disadvantages to the bladder.  Sure, but not much.  #1 we must be vigilant to make sure that no chlorine or chlorine-based products are every flushed.  Chlorine dissolves neoprene.  We must also be sure never to overfill the bladder.  If you do that, it expands and pressurizes like a balloon, and when you open the cover on deck for a pump out it could result in a geyser of black water -- yuck.  Two things to watch out for.  Not bad.

New York State also has a crazy law that says that the overboard dumping facility must be "permanently" disabled.   How can we do that?   If we did change it "permanently", what do we do when we leave New York?   I just ignore that law.  Instead, I do something that seems to satisfy law enforcement (and yes, we have been boarded several times by law enforcement to verify that we were not pumping black water overboard.)   I drilled a hole in the Y-valve handle.  Then I passed a steel cable through the hole and I created eye-loops on each end.  Then, I use a padlock through those loops to lock the Y-valve in position.   Never mind that the packlock can be removed or the precautions bypassed in seconds, just having that precaution in place seems to satisfy all law enforcement officers so far.

One final word on the foul subject of black water.   The toilets too need maintenance, and they break down.   One of our friends had a Vacuflush brand toilet.  The electric pump in the toilet broke and the captain had to replace that pump while it was under black water.  YUCK.   You can bet that Cruising World will never publish his article.  My advice is to select a toilet type that will never ever force you to do that.  Our Wilcox-Crittendon Skipper toilet, for example, lets me flush it thoroughly with white water before taking it apart for maintenance.

p.s. You no doubt guess what the terms black water and white water mean.  There is also the problem of grey water on a boat.  That means drain water from the sinks and showers, and rain water that washes off the decks.   Sometime in the future I'll tell you about the great grey water controversy.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Libby's Legions

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

I've lost track of how many women Libby has taught the pine needle basket skills to. She lost count too. Must be on the order of three dozen. Above you see the most recent half dozen in the marina lounge next week. She uses up materials too, seeding each of these women with a starter kit of pine needles and stuff.

Today, Bob and Sandra took us on a pine needle foraging outing. We went to Big Pine key. As the name suggests, the island has lots of pines; and they are the right kind for the long needles Libby needs. We picked up a generous supply today. Enough to last Libby a month at the rate she's going.

 :) I love it. It makes her so happy doing that stuff.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Spanish For Cruisers

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

We enrich our lives in many ways here in Marathon.  A while back Libby and I were having dinner aboard Carpe Diem with our friends Bob and Sandra.   Bob mentioned that he would like to learn Spanish.  Libby and I jumped on that idea; we thought it would be fun and useful.

How to organize that?   Well, it just so happened that on a mooring two boats away sat Kathy Parsons.  Kathy is the author of Spanish For Cruisers, and excellent book that focuses on the specialized language needs of cruisers.  With just a little coaxing, Kathy graciously offered to teach free lessons up at the tiki hut.  In the picture below, you see Kathy and her students enjoying a nice afternoon (buen tarde) learning Spanish.   Of course, Kathy didn't mind it when each couple decided to buy a copy of her book.

Now, Kathy has departed the harbor but the lessons continue. How? Well just by chance, a local resident named Luiz heard Kathy talking to us at a SSCA luncheon at a local restaurant. She mentioned that there were cruisers in the harbor looking for lessons. Luiz volunteered, "I can teach them." So we accepted his gractious offer. Now, several times per week we take our dinghies over to Luiz' house on Sisters Creek and we enjoy lessons from a native Spanish speaker from Venezuela. Luiz is not a polished teacher as Kathy was, but he does an excellent job nonetheless. We love the opportunity to learn.

By the way, what specialized language do cruisers need that differs from what tourists need? There's a famous and amusing example. When a boat is approaching a dock, it is common to call to those on shore, "throw me a line". Well if your Spanish is imperfect you might call "tirarme la ropa" (throw me your clothes) rather than "tirarme una soga" (throw me a rope). After everyone stops laughing at you, they may explain the joke.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Heart of Gold, Face of S*t

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

A regular feature on the morning VHF cruisers net here in Marathon is called "comments and questions."  There, people can and do ask for help.   It really warms the heart to listen to all the replies to those calls for help.  Cruisers have hearts of gold.   The cruisers here in Marathon are generous with their time, their tools, their spare parts, their local knowledge, their nautical knowledge, and of course their advice.   

Indeed, the generous spirit of the cruisers here in Marathon has a lot to do with the strength of the magnet that draws people here and keeps them here.

It is very common to hear on the net, "I first came here for a week, and now one (two, three, five..)  years later I'm still here.

The other day though I thought I heard a call for help that would reveal the envelope of generosity.  Someone on the net said, "My black water tank is pressurizing.  Can anyone here help me to releive the pressure."  "Good God", I thought, "He who relieves that pressure is likely to get a squirt of that black water in the face.  There are limits to generosity.   I'm certainly not going to volunteer for that job and neither will anyone else."  So what happened?  You guessed it.  The man had no trouble getting volunteers, and the next morning on the net he was thanking those who helped him to unclog the vent.   Amazing!

That raises a delicate point that I never wrote about before -- holding tanks.  I'll write about that soon.

p.s. My freind Bob wrote a neat blog post about the wildlife around here.  See it here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

NC Sat

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

A while back I wrote that barrier islands fascinate me.  I wanted to understand how they are formed and how they stay stable, and especially why they are so prominent on the SE corner of North America but not elsewhere in the world.  My friend Ken sent me to a web site for an explanation.  I looked there, but the explanation seemed very curt and unsatisfying.  What it said was that it is very complex but:

  1. There is a supply of sand sufficient to form islands;
  2. sea level is rising; and
  3. there are winds and waves with sufficient energy to move the sand around.

However, the web site pointed me to a book.  The Nature of North Carolina’s Southern Coast: Barrier Islands, Coastal Waters and Wetlands.  I bought that book and read it.

The story was fascinating. It started all the way back with the super continent Pangea.  It covered subjects of geology, tectonics, oceanography, weather, climate, sea level changes, physics, chemistry, and ecology.  It turns out that all those facets played a role and must be understood.  The explanation took 100 pages.   It answered all my questions but one.

So, now that I understand, can I provide my readers with an easy to understand bite size explanation to satisfy their own curiosity?  Sadly, no.  What I can say is: It is very complex but:
  1. There is a supply of sand sufficient to form islands;
  2. sea level is rising; and
  3. there are winds and waves with sufficient energy to move the sand around.

What is the one question remaining?  It seems to me that sedimentation should quickly fill the lagoons and estuaries behind the islands making them fast land.   That doesn't happen.  The book doesn't address the subject except in the immediate vicinity of inlets,

By the way, isn't that satellite picture of NC wonderful?  It shows the entire area from Norfolk to Beaufort that we like so much including all the side trips.   We look forward to returning there.