Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fast Land

We are with David and Nick away from the boat for several days. No more blogs till next week.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wise Before His Time

Oriental, NC
35 01.49 N 076 41.74 W

"WIth age comes wisdom" At least that's what we old folks are fond of saying. Yesterday I met a man who proved the exception to the rule.

I was sitting on the porch of The Bean drinking my morning coffee. I met a young couple; I estimate in their 30s. They started asking questions about the harbor, and the boats around.   I pointed at some of the shrimp boats.  I said, "You see it's a tradition to name all those boats after a woman.  What a tribute and honor for the woman when the boats are new and spiffy like that one over there.   Of course, when they get old, tired and rusty like that other boat, the woman's name is still there."  Both of them laughed.  Then the man said, "I think I'll just shut up at this point."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Carolina In the Morning

Oriental, NC
35 01.49 N 076 41.74 W

Well well well.  Here we are at our migration's mid-point.  Every year we hit Oriental twice.

This morning was splendid.  We had morning coffee on the deck out on Adams Creek. It was just lovely.  Who wrote the song about Carolina in the morning?  It sure is true, and it inspires song.

Watch us on the webcam.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Emergency Threshold

At Sea
34 26.96 N 0776 56.12 W

Last night around 2100 we passed the dreaded (by us) Frying Pan Shoals, and changed course for Beaufort. NC. The put the wind directly behind us, and about the same time the wind speed dropped off. Anyhow, we've been motoring ever since. We prefer not to motor at sea, but it is still much faster than motoring on the ICW. ETA Beaufort 1800 today.

WIth our Sirius satellite radio out, the only source of entertainment out here is the stream of PAN PAN emergency broadcasts by the US Coast Guard. How many of those can there be? More than you probably imaging. There are reasons. First, in nice weather like this, we hear the powerful Coast Guard transmissions from up to 400 miles away. Up here near Hatteras we regularly hear everything from SC and NC, and some o fthe stuff from GA, FL, VA and MD also. That's a big area. The second factor is that they repeat the same broadcasts regularly, once every 30-60 minutes. Imaging how busy 911 would sound if you could listen in to 6 states worth of traffice at the same time.

The radio protocol for announcing an emergency message is to start with the words PAN-PAN PAN-PAN PAN-PAN. In fictional accounts one hears more about MAYDAY-MAYDAY instead, but in real life PAN-PAN is used. (The only difference is that a MAYDAY call is so urgent that everyone else using that radio channel should shut up mid-sentence and listen. With PAN-PAN you may continue very briefly before shutting up. ) Many PAN-PAN messages are mundane -- for example, a tree floating in the channel causing a hazard. Some are actual life-and-death dramas such as instructing someone how to give CPR and to drive a boat at the same time. Some sound like mistakes or pranks such as flares supposedly sighed, or people calling for help on the redio with no follow up.

A few weeks back we were up early and getting ready to depart Fisher Island mean Miamo. Suddenly we heard something very loud and clear on the VHF radio. It sounded like heavy breathing into the microphone and briefly the sound of a baby could be heard in the background. In my mind I dismissed it as kids playing with the radio. A few minutes later, we heard the Coast Guard -- "PAN PAN PAN PAN PAN PAN, the Coast Guard received a distress call with no indication of the nature or location of the distress. Boaters who heard it should contact US COast Guard." I heard it loudly, so I immediately called the Coast Guard and told them I heard it at Fisher Island. Then another boat at Fisher Island called. He heard it too. It happens that the Miami Coast Guard station was only 1/2 mile away so it moust have been loud for them too. I looked out. There was a motorboat at anchor 100 yards awy. It was reasonable to presume it was kids on that boat, but no proof. My first thoght, was "What a wast of time."

My second though was "what should the threshold be to distinguish a real emergency from a likely prank or mistake?" I realized that the threshold must necessarily be set very low. It is entirely possible that a dying person might be able to push the button on the mike yet be unable to speak. Such calls may probably be mistakes but they also might be a life and death emergency. Any emergency service must treat all such calls seriously. No more will I listen and think, "Waste of time."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Seamanship, Good & Bad

At Sea
33 17.85 N 078 51.55 W

We're at sea again. The bad weather has passed and now it is nice. Our window is now 4-5 days long. We could sail all the way to New York in this window, but we won't -- it's still too cold up there. Instead, we'll sail for 30 hours or so to Beaufort, NC. Then we'll anchor in Adams Creek for a nap.

To get here, we had to pass out to sea via the Wacamaw River and Winyah Bay where the river meets the sea. We had nearly an hour of really rough going as the outgoing tide met the incoming sea swells. Tarwathie pitched terribly and slowed to only 3 knots at full throttle. Anyone prone to seasickness would have been miserable.

It reminded me vividly of the same spot a few years back. It was in the fall, and we were heading south. We stayed the night at Georgetown on the Wacamaw River, and were itching for a chance to go on the outside and make a dash for Florida. I checked the weather. The next day promised 20-25 NE winds. Good! Perfect for a fast run down the coast in a SW direction. I checked the tides. If we left Georgetown at noon we would have an ebb tide to help us exit. Perfect.

We departed as planned. We were doing 7 knots with the help of the tide. THe winds were strong, so I let out the jib. Our speed soared to 8.5 knots. For sailors like us that's like being shot out of a cannon. I was exhilarated. Soon however, my exhilaration turned to horror when I realized that the inlet channel forced us to turn NE for the last 3 miles before exiting to deep water offshore. That would put us with the strong wind right on our nose! Much worse, the strong wind would be opposing the 2.5 knot tidal current. Those combinations cause huge standing waves. It is very dangerous and even stout boats like Tarwthie could be swamped and lose control. At best, with the motor at full throttle, we would have to stand the beating for 2-3 hours before being able to turn SW. I had to abandon that plan, do a 180 degree turn, and fight our way back up river against the current. It was bad.

Well, I recognized a dangerous situation and I avoided it. Why is that bad seamanship? Because, the bad situation was inherent to my plan for the day. With the planned winds, and currents and my chart in front of me, I could have foreseen the adverse situation 24 hours in advance and come up with a different plan. I could have and should have projected ahead in my mind and imagined making it out to safe waters. I could have, but I didn't. So I don't get a F for that day, but perhaps a D for bad planning, but a B for helmsmanship and damage control.

For the past 60 hours on the VHF, the Coast Guard has been warning everyone about the hazard of a 46 foot sail boat adrift and grounded on the Charleston South Jetty. Wow. Quite a story. I wish I knew what kind of bad seamanship that captain did to wind up on the jetty. If the boat has not been towed in after 60 hours despite mile weather, it must be holed. It will probably be a total wreck.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Expensive Mistake

McClellanville, SC
29 12.02 N 078 39.35 W

Whoops. I just committed a very expensive electrical mistake.   I have a graduate degree in electrical engineering, so I should have no excuse; but I did it anyhow.  Here's how.

Our primary source of entertainment on board is our Sirius satellite radio.  It's wonderful.  It works all the time, regardless of location.  That includes use offshore and in the Bahamas. Neither broadcast radio nor my Droid phone services offer that.   The sound is always perfect quality.  Interruptions are very rare. I use the direct connection wire to connect the Sirius radio to external speakers, or to the aux input of our AM/FM system.   However, when motoring, the engine noise makes the radio hard to hear.

I recently bought a 16 foot audio extension cord.  That lets me plug my ear buds into the Sirius so I can hear even when the engine is noisy.  With 16 feet of cord, I can walk around the cabin and go about my business.   Well, the other day out at sea I did it while posting a blog using the SSB radio.   It was the first time I ever did that wearing the ear buds.  Well, during the email post, the radio sound abruptly stopped.   I looked at it.  It was dark.  I tried to turn it on but it wouldn't.  I checked the power connection.  The fused connector was hot to the touch.  I tried wiring it directly, it caused a big spark and burned my finger.   The Sirius radio was fried and had become a dead short circuit.

What was my error?  I forgot about induced currents in the presence of powerful radio waves.  The SSB radio is a very powerful transmitter.   That 16 foot extension cord was a good antenna.  Dragging the cord near the SSB while transmitting must have induced such a powerful current in the extension cord that it fried the Sirius radio via the audio port.  Powerful indeed.  Expensive too.  It will cost me about $150 to replace the radio.  (I can't buy the least expensive Sirius/XM radio because those don't support the a-la-carte subscription with the $6.95 month fee.)

Live and learn.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


McClellanville, SC
29 12.02 N 078 39.35 W

Add another entry to our list of charming places to visit along the east coast.   Always before, we went past McClellanville on the ICW without stopping.   This time, we decided to take our time and look it over.

With a population of only 400 people and nearly 100 shrimp boats, the character of McClellanville is not hard to discern.   Historically it was different.  In fact, not until the soldiers returned from WWII did the shrimp industry here take off.    We learned that at the McClellanville Museum that we visited this afternoon.

It's a charming place.   The streets are lined with enormous live oak trees and splendid large houses reflecting glories and riches of the plantation past.

We're tied up tonight at the Leland Oil Company dock.   Mr Leland sells fuel to all the fishing boats, plus he has space on the floating dock for two visitors.  Leland is one of only a few family names here.  McClellanville resembles Tangeir Island in many ways.

McClellanville is surrounded by nature.  A national forest sits to the west and the Cape Romaine national seashore salt marshes to the east.  Most South Carolinians have no idea where this place is.  It is noteworthy as ground zero for the devastation wrought by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.   The man at the museum filled us in on how bad it was.   Sea level in this village was 14-22 feet above the ground.  However, charity donations and volunteer help from all over the USA poured in to help rebuild and now it looks great.

We ate dinner at T.W. Graham and Company, just 0.5 miles away.  Thursday is Mexican night.  Libby got a fried oyster taco.  Man oh man were those oysters delicious.   It was reasonable too.  Nice place.  I also bought some shrimp at the local seafood market to eat tomorrow night.

I posted a photo album of McClellanville here.   Below is my favorite picture.  Libby is hugging the Deerhead Oak tree.  It is 31 feet around.  I have a whole series of photos of Libby hugging notable trees.  One of these days I'll turn them into a blog post.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Somtimes You Don't

At Sea
32 40.41 N 079 50.06 W

I't been slow going yesterday and today. We made only 120 miles/day and more than half the time we had to motor. Further, an easterly sea swell has come up and there's not enough wind to stabilize us. The boat is rocking and rolling a lot. Oh well, only 4 miles to go until we turn in to Charleston, SC harbor.

We could continue though tonight but, tomorrow morning a cold front will pass and we intend to be very cautious with Carolina cold fronts this month. We'll anchor near the ICW north of Charleston.

I guess I'm in a funk because my mind is filled with memories of last year's passage in these same waters. We left the Saint Johns River in Florida at noon, and 22 hours later we passed Charleston. That was our only 180 mile day.

The AIS was very useful last night. We encountered lots of ship traffic last night as we passed the Savannah River. None of them came closer than 3 miles to us, but without the AIS I would have been nervous about several of them.

News: We have a solution to where to leave the boat when we go to Raleigh. We rented a slip at the Hilton Hotel in New Bern for a month. The rate was very favorable, less than the fee for a mooring in Marathon. It is cheap enough that we won't feel obligated to stay the whole month. We should be able to do day sailing on the Nuesse River, hopefully with Dave and Cathy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On the Move Again

At Sea
30 59.02 N 08 11.46 W

Well, we're on the outside, under sail. Life is good. I think though that we should have left 24 hours earlier. I figure we'll make it to Charleston by Wednesday sunset. Friends who left Ferandina Monday morning will make it to Cape Fear by Wednesday sunrise. That's 110 miles further.

Oh well, the reason we stayed was to see our friends Bo and Joyce. They arrived at 1600 Monday. In the evening, they and we and Darrick from Y-knot went in to town for an ice cream. We had fun. I got a flavor called Superman ice cream. It was brightly colored and multi colored. In fact it looked like children's play dough. It tasted fine, but now my tongue, my beard and my shirt are all blue -- I don't know how many days that will last. If it's permanent, I'll be the easiest cruiser on the East Coast to identify.

On their way north, Bo and Joyce sighted schools of turtles, pods of dolphins, and a school of pilot whales (at least their description sounded like pilot whales). Lucky them, the only thing we've seen today is a pair of dolphins.

On the Move Again

At Sea
30 59.02 N 08 11.46 W

Well, we're on the outside, under sail. Life is good. I think though that we should have left 24 hours earlier. I figure we'll make it to Charleston by Wednesday sunset. Friends who left Ferandina Monday morning will make it to Cape Fear by Wednesday sunrise. That's 110 miles further.

Oh well, the reason we stayed was to see our friends Bo and Joyce. They arrived at 1600 Monday. In the evening, they and we and Darrick from Y-knot went in to town for an ice cream. We had fun. I got a flavor called Superman ice cream. It was brightly colored and multi colored. In fact it looked like children's play dough. It tasted fine, but now my tongue, my beard and my shirt are all blue -- I don't know how many days that will last. If it's permanent, I'll be the easiest cruiser on the East Coast to identify.

On their way north, Bo and Joyce sighted schools of turtles, pods of dolphins, and a school of pilot whales (at least their description sounded like pilot whales). Lucky them, the only thing we've seen today is a pair of dolphins.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rough Day

Fernandina Beach
30 42.88 N 081 28.56 W

Margaret took this photo in those windy conditions last Saturday.  You see a Monk 36 and Tarwathie. Between us in the background is the cruise ship Independence from American Cruise Lines.  She tours up and down the ICW.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Heck of a day

Fernandina Beach
30 42.88 N 081 28.56 W

We were very glad to be on a mooring yesterday.   It was wild with gale winds mixed with spring tides.  All around us, boats at anchor were dragging.  Boats on moorings were spinning in circles dragging the mooring balls under the boat.   Next to us was a trawler.  As Libby watched, the wind picked up his dinghy and flipped it over, motor in the water.  

There was a big schooner, perhaps 90 feet long, one of those Maine Windjammers.  They had 200-300 feet of anchor rode out and it was doing circles around their ahcnhor endangering any other boat around.  Our friends on Argonauta dragged out into the ship channel, but they were glad to do so because it took them out of range of that schooner.   A big Hinkley yacht, a million dollar boat, dragged for hours before giving up and moving to a spot up the creek.

The problem is that in this spot, three big rivers converge and we sit in the confluence.  When the tide changes, there are loops and swirls in the currents going every which way.   When that is combined with strong wind, it is really chaotic.

Meanwhile, the same front was causing more serious problems elsewhere.  See the radar map above, that I snapped on my Droid.   In North Carolina, they had 65 tornadoes yesterday.   Dave and Cathy in their new house had to run for their tornado shelter.  Two tornadoes came close.   In Raliegh, Nick was on a weekend pass from Fort Bragg.   Fort Bragg got hit bad by one tornado, then another tornado came within a block of Nick in downtown Raleigh.

Like I said, it was a heck of a day.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

News From Lake Cruisebegon

Fernandina Beach
30 42.88 N 081 28.56 W

OK.  We're here in Fernandina waiting for the right weather to go outside.  With us are Don and Margaret on their new boat Ellie, and Greg and Michelle on Argonauta.  The six of us, had dinner together up at Cumberland a couple of days ago.  How are we all friends?   We are all cruisers with Vermont connections.  Greg was connected with the Hort Farm in Burlington where Jenny volunteers.  Don owned the W32 Heron.  Get it?

We three boats, plus many others, are all waiting for a weather window.

I also discovered by accident that Darrick on Y-knot is also anchored nearby.  He's alone on the boat because his wife Sharron flew home to Wisconsin for a while.  

Joyce and Bo are in Saint Augustine and heading up this way on Sunday.   Joyce is itching to hunt for shells on the Cumberland Island beaches.  Bo is shopping for stuff at the West Marine store in Saint Augustine.

Bob and Sandra on Carpe Diem are in Lake Worth.  They just sailed up from Key  Biscayne and had a terrible time.  Bob wanted to go out to the Gulf Stream for a boost.  It seems that they hit a squall that kicked up the waves and that made Sandra sea sick.  Gulf Stream waves are especially nasty in those conditions. The squall didn't blow past.  After a while, Bob figured out that the squall was following the same track he was.

Peter, our friend in Vero, lost his dinghy and motor in a Gulf Stream crossing.  It seems that he needed to be back in the USA on a certain date, so he went despite an ambivalent forecast.  Soon after leaving Bimini he hit a terrible storm.  Peter said the waves in the Gulf Stream were 30 feet high and that the wind knocked him down flat even though all his sails were down.  It broke the 1/2 inch line securing his dinghy.   He reentered the USA amidst the breaking waves at the (inadequate) inlet at Boca Roton. I think he's lucky to be alive.

Jeff & Wendy on the W32 Calpyso did a successful outside passage from Cumberland to Winyah Bay.  They're in NC already.  They may bump into George and Carol on Traumeri who ought to be in about the same place, and heading the same way.

Jay on his W32 Pygmalion is sailing today on San Francisco Bay. I know because he just emailed me.

On the dock I saw a boat Kismet from Sodus Bay, NY.  I introduced myself to Jim, the captain.  I asked if he knows Walt and Pat aboard Amazing Grace in Sodus Bay.  He said, "Yes.  I not only know them, I know you.  Two years ago you ran aground in the channel entering Boot Key Harbor and I came out to help you.  By the way, I'm stuck here for a while because my wife is in the hospital .  She had her appendix out."  "Oh," I said, "I already know all about your wife.  Greg and Michelle on Argonauta told me.  I hope she's better."  Jim said, "Yes she is."

Meanwhile, up in Sodus Bay, NY Walt and Pat just returned from a Caribbean trip on a cruise ship.

Up in the sailors lounge, we encountered Dave and Kathy from Orion.  We know them from the boat yard in Deltaville a couple of years ago.   They too are waiting for a window.  We also talked with a sailor who said that he was rescued by the Coast Guard yesterday, but was anxious to be on his way again today; winds are gusting to 39; go figure.

Our friends on Martin and Betsy on Molly Blossom, a Krogen 42 motor yacht, just called for help on the radio.  They are aground one mile south of us.  Tow Boat US is on the way to their assistance.

Got all that? That's the news from Lake Cruisebegon, where all the captains are sirs, all the mates are admirals, the winds are all fair, and the seas following.

p.s. Tonight,we're going to try to round up people to play Balderdash.  Let's see, who do we know?

p.p.s. What about those teen agers who waste their lives keeping track of everything their friends are doing using text messages and Facebook.  Can you believe it?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cumberland Pictures

Fernandina Beach, FL
30 40.254 N 081 28.18 W

Libby and I finally got our hike on Cumberland Island this morning.  It was not my favorite spot on the north end of the island, but it was great.   Cumberland is a jewel.  We walked on the forest trails under an overhead canopy of live oaks and Spanish moss.  Then we emerged on a spectacular beach.
Enjoy the video and pictures.  A photo album is here.

Here is a video I took on the beach.  Or click here.

In the narrative of the video I told about people coming my way.  I was wrong, they were wild horses.

After our walk, we returned to Fernandina to sit out two days of stormy weather approaching.  Hopefully, after that, we'll be out at sea again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Whoops, the pIctures

Forgot these
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Return to Cumberland

Cumberland Island Georgia. Sun, sand, surf, wild horses, armadillos and no other people for miles around. :)
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The Good Life

Fernandina Beach
30 42.88 N 081 28.56 W

Some people would say we're spoiled.  It could be hard to disagree.  

We decided to stay the night in Ferandina.  I called my local friend Charley, he and his wife Mary invited us out to dinner.  They took us to The Amelia Plantation.   That is a gated community where Charley has work connections.   It was great, and very interesting.  

After dinner, we had a brief tour by car.  There is a gated community within the gated community at Amelia Plantation.  The consumption there is really conspicuous.

Charley pointed out places where they built houses with cutouts to avoid killing trees.  They went to great lengths to preserve the nature and it shows -- the place is really beautiful.

The tour continued.   We mentioned that we had seen a movie called Sunshine State about a water front enclave of black people.  It had resisted the seemingly inevitable fate of being bought out by developers.  Charley took us there.  It is called American Beach.   Sure enough, it is a charming little community of modest (not poor but modest) houses located right on the beach but completely surrounded by the super rich.  They have the Amelia Plantation to the south, and the Ritz Carleton Resort to their north.

It is also instructive to compare Amelia Island with it's nearest neighbor Cumberland Island.  Amelia is developed to saturation and populated by mostly affluent people.  Cumberland is mostly wilderness.  I'm sure that the histories are complex, but to me the obvious difference is that there is no bridge to connect Cumberland to the mainland.

Yes, I'll admit, we are spoiled.  We just bounce from one fun thing to the next.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Inside Again

30.38.41 N 081 29.48 W

We had a very good night's sleep in a peaceful little side creek on the ICW.   We love it at sea, but the sleep deprivation is tough.   Acknowledged that we do it the worst possible way -- 24-72 hour passages.  That's life.  Besides, when we do come back in, the night's sleep is so delicious.

The weather was the dominant factor yesterday.  The nice winds that we expected Monday morning, then Monday afternoon, then Monday night, finally appeared at 0300 Tuesday morning.   We were heading for Saint Augustine Inlet, but we would have arrived at 0500 in the dark and against an ebb tide.  

I changed the destination to the next inlet up, the Saint John's River.  I targeted 1230 arrival time to conicide with slack tide.   Well, we traveled faster than that too and it looked like 09:30 arrival against a very strong ebb tide.

I changed again to the next inlet up, the Saint Mary's River.   Our projected arrival was 1430, just at slack tide.   I was encouraged by weather reports that suggested that the approaching cold front would not arrive until evening.

That plan fell apart when the cold front arrived at 1030, earlier than expected.   The wind shifted with the front passage.  Naturally, the new direction was right on our nose. Scratch the Saint Mary's Inlet option.  We did a 180 degree turn, going back to the Saint John's River, and entered there arount 1200, just a half hour before slack tide.

Today, we hope to meet some cruising friends in Fernandina, and to convince them to come to Cumberland Island with us.   It appears that the next favorable weather window for going outside will not come until Saturday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Midnight Watch

At Sea
29 36.16 N 081 03.61 W

This year Libby and I have gravitated to the classical four hour watch schedule. I start at midnight, Libby at 0400 and so on.

We experimented with other schedules, but this once seems to work best in light wind conditions. In heavy weather, we do a lot if adapting.

This midnight watch is very peaceful. Between Port Canaveral and the Saint Johns River, I don't expect to meet any ship traffic at all. The winds are light. The sea is flat. I have a 50% moon. We are also in sight of land.

At night I see the lights of all those bridges we pass under on the ICW. Indeed, at the moment we are only four miles East of the ICW.

There doesn't seem to be much phosforesence (sp?) In the water.

I spotted a sea tuttle and a jumping swordfish, but Libby had the find of the day. Last night on 0400 shift, a nuclear submarine appeared right in front of us. She saw the black mass. It had a single red light showing but she couldn't figure out which way it was going. A pilot boat can alongside the sub and off they went. Below, I heard talk about a "navy unit" on the radio.

P.s. I decided to bypass Saint Augustine and headfor the Saint Johns River.
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Monday, April 11, 2011


At Sea
28 28.99 N 08 28.40 W

Zero wind. Motoring at sea.

Can you see any details in the picture? It shows the ocean view of NASA and the space shuttle launch pads.

94 miles to Saint Augustine.
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Natural Element

At Sea
27 31.56 N 080 16.97 W

Monday should new a nice day for sailing. However Tuesday will bring another pesky cold front and Thunderstorms. In.2005 we got beat up by some terrible thunderstorms up near Jacksonville. We don't want to mess around with them again.

I wanted to stay inside and visit with our friends Dave & Jonnie on Monday, but that didn't work out..

Libby wanted to go outside. She won.

We had lunch in Vero with my brother Ed and his wife Sally, then we departed. Back down to Ft Pierce, out to sea, and here we are. Light winds. Under sail. Making 4 knots. Libby and Tarwathie are both happy. Me too for that matter.

We have options to go in at Port Canaveral or St Augustine.
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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Cruiser's Dilemma

Vero Beach
27 39.80 N 080 22.39 W

Last night we had a special treat.   Dear friends Don and Margaret were passing through Vero.  We haven't seen them since last year.   We know Don and Margaret from Maine.   We first met Don sailing his Westsail 32 near his home in Bayside Maine.   This year, they decided that a trawler fit their needs better than a Westsail, so they traded for a Monk 36 trawler.  They just took possession of the trawler a few days ago. It's a great boat, although it feels so un-Westsail like.

Today, Don and Margaret are on their way, and we are looking at moving north.   Once again the cruiser's dilemma gets to us.   Look at this picture of the Gulf Stream.  Note that Vero and Fort Pierce area near the bottom edge of this picture.

The point is that we can leave from here, and follow the Gulf Stream almost all the way to North Carolina.   However, the weather forecast doesn't call for a good sailing window until at least 7 days from now.   Should we wait the seven days?  Will that window hold or will it evaporate?   We could sit here for weeks waiting for the right time.  

On the other hand, we can move north on the ICW or with shorter offshore passages.  If we go to Cumberland Island, Georgia, we can have some fun.   However if we do that,  we have moved so far west that getting back into the Gulf Stream would not work.  We could motor on the ICW for 7 days and make it up to South Carolina.   Here's the ugly part, if we did that, it might take as long to sail from South Carolina to North Carolina as it would take to sail to North Carolina from here.   Sure sounds like a big waste of fuel.

That's our dilemma, stay here longer or start moving.   Depending on how the weather turns out, both might be bad choices.  I should point out that it is only a dilemma if one cares about the calendar date. We want to be in NC by May 1.  However, if we didn't care about the date, the solution is obviously to sit here until the ideal weather window comes in the next 1 or 2 or 3 months.  Now perhaps you begin to see why cruisers hate dates and schedules so much -- they interfere with the natural order of things.

I think our decision is made.  We'll leave Vero Sunday, go back to Fort Pierce and out to sea.  Then we'll head either toward Port Canaveral or Cumberland Island, depending on weather.

Friday, April 08, 2011


Vero Beach
27 39.80 N 080 22.39 W

Pardon me for a departure from the normal cruising life theme on this blog. I know that a number of friends and readers have been waiting for me to write about the situation at the nuclear plants at Fukushima Japan.

You see, I know a bit about the subject. For 17 years, I wrote models of those BWR type plants for use in simulators used to train the plant operators. Think of flight simulators used to train pilots.  I've modeled just about every aspect of the plants, from the nuclear physics in the reactor, to electrical distribution, even the plumbing in the basements, and refueling operations when things are disassembled.

How to explain things simply to non-engineers? That's a challenge. Let me use my best analogy.

Imagine that I have a spray can of very lethal red paint. There is enough paint in the can to form one million tiny droplets, and one droplet is enough to kill a person if inhaled. Now suppose I threw that can on my backyard charcoal grill in Chittenen County Vermont. There are 152,000 people in Chittenenden county. If that can exploded, there could be enough toxic drops to kill every person six times over. Pretty scary huh?

But it would only kill all those people if the droplets are distributed evenly over the whole county and inhaled, leaving almost no drops left behind in my back yard. That's not reasonable. Common sense tells us that almost all the drops will paint my grill and my back yard. Even a person standing in my back yard might not inhale a drop.  Dividing the can size by the smallest droplet size is a very very bad way to estimate the real risk to public heath, but that is exactly the method used to scare people about the dangers of radioactivity.

Now suppose, that the grill was covered. Even though the cover is not air tight, and even if the cover might be blown open by the explosion, it would still capture amost all those paint drops. How many drops would you expect to drift all around the county? Common sense says almost none.

The BWR reactors have three levels of covers. First, the steel pressure vessel. Second, a steel and concrete primary containment designed specifically to keep the bad stuff inside. Third a sheet steel building designed only to keep weather out, not bad stuff in.

Now the point. Those three containments, even if imperfect, and even if they have leaks or cracks, will still manage te keep almost all of that radioactive stuff inside and away from the public.

Chernobyl, was different. It had only the sheet steel exterior building, and that was blown away at the very start leaving the core exposed to weather. That's why so much radioactivity leaked out.

What about the radioactive spent fuel in the pools? That stuff is contained only by the water in the pools that cover it. As long as they can keep it covered by water, very little of that radioactive suff will escape to the environment.

So every day, we read more scary stuff in the media reports. Much of it is contradictory. The containment is intact, no it is not intact. Are the spent fuel pools cracked or do they still hold water? No information on that.

The Japanese utility and government have done a terrible job in gathering and publicising accurate information. Part of the problem is that there are 6 reactors and 6 spent fuel pools on the site -- making 12 simultaneous and interrelated critical news stories to be told.

So, what is my prognosis? A number of the utility workers who bravely exposed themselves to do their duty will die from radiation related causes. Bless their hearts; they are true heroes.  Among the general public, there will be zero or almost zero cases of radiation related illness or death. However, the nocebo effect is very powerful (the opposite of the placebo effect). Countless people all over the world, will imagine themselves exposed, and that will cause them great suffering. That was the net result of Three Mile Island. I expect that the incident at Fukushima will cause the demise of nuclear power everywhere on the globe. Mere physics and engineering can never overcome that nocebo effect.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Enclave For Rich People

Vero Beach
27 39.80 N 080 22.39 W

I've been thinking about Fisher Island where we anchored last week, and about the fact that it has the highest per capita income of any place in the USA.   How bizarre I thought that those people chose to live in such an environment.

My question of the day, if we were to win a lottery and suddenly become rich, would we change our life style to become like those other rich people?

Foremost, money does not buy happiness.  Right now, Libby and I are just about as happy as we can be.   Even Jenny made a remark to that effect during her recent visit.  I think it is safe to presume that we are happier than most of those rich people living in their enclaves. 

Second, we surround ourselves by the wonderfully contented, happy, helpful, and friendly people in the world -- other cruisers.   On Fisher Island I imagine being surrounded by people who clawed their way to the top in a dog-eat-dog world.  

The above notwithstanding, we haven't lived in the shoes of the super rich. We haven't experienced the constant pressure from others eager to get their hands on our money.  Perhaps the enclave is actually a refuge from an external world hostile to the rich.  

A bit of humility is in order.  We like what we have.  We consider ourselves lucky. That does not entitle us to feel superior to any others, especially when we have never walked in their shoes.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Return To Vero

Vero Beach
27 39.80 N 080 22.39 W

Well, we've been back here a few days.  What have we accomplished?  I did some critical shopping for things that we can't readily buy anywhere but Vero.  Vero is unique among East Coast destinations for it's access to stores and services.

Today we sat out the passage of yet another one of those nasty cold fronts replete with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. However, as it passed over here it wasn't severe at all.  That't the luck of the draw.

Tomorrow I want to tackle a persistent leak we have in our dinghy.  I've tried 3 times so far to repair the leak, but with no success.   Here in Vero I have a chance to do it properly.  I can row ashore with my tools, and our Honda generator.  I can haul it up on the grass, use the tools to prep, and then lay down new fiberglass cloth and epoxy, then hop the bus and go to the library while it cures.  If everything goes right, I can return to the dinghy before sunset, launch it, and everything will be fine.  At least that's the theory.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

It's Cooler Here

Fort Pierce, FL
27 27.45 N 089 18.15 W

Well, by 0400 Sunday morning we made it here where we expected to be by Thursday night.  That's reality for cruising sailors folks.   It is why we learned to avoid making plans by calendar dates.  Progress is just too unpredictable.

I can tell you though that yesterday was a rejuvination shot for our souls.  It has been two years since we were out in the blue blue blue waters of the Gulf Stream.  It was wonderful.   Initially, the day went as planned.  We motored out of Miami heading East for the Gulf Stream.  When we got there, a gentle wind E@10 came up.  We deployed all our sails fully, and soon we were doing 7.5 knots northward and enjoying every minute of it.   Alas, the wind only lasted 5-6 hours and we had to motor the rest of the way.  That was still fun.  We were able to motor at 1200 RPM, just above idle, yet we averaged 7.1 knots progress.

The blue water, sunny skies, the man-o-war in the water and the flying fish, all renewed our memories of how nice it can be out there.

Boy did our new AIS (Automatic Identification System) get a workout.   Never before have we had a passage where we encountered so much traffic; both ship traffic and motor vessel traffic.   A partial explanation is that our waypoints exactly followed the dotted line on the chart that marks the center line of the Gulf Stream.  Any northbound vessel would be attracted to that point.  

It also seemed that Murphy's Law was in effect; nearly every vessel that we saw out there passed so close that it tripped our AIS' one mile alarm zone.  That alarm was going off all day and all night.  In part it was an annoyance, but it also made us feel safer.  It gave us as much as 57 minutes advance warning that another vessel was going to pass close.   There was a tug towing a barge.  Historically, they have scared us more than anything else.  This time I was able to call the tug by name while he was still 4 miles away.  The tug captain and I cordially arranged a port-to-port passage.  Easy.

In the middle of the night, around 0100, Libby awoke me from my nap and asked for help.   No wonder why she needed help.   We had 7 ship around us within 5 miles, plus another 6 or so 5-15 miles away, and they were going every which way.  It seemed impossible to threat that needle without getting run over.  Libby found the Times Square of the ocean.

The AIS helped sort it out. 6 of the 7 ships would not come closer than 1.5 miles it said. So we could avoid them.   However there was a string of three big cruise ships that came like a conga line, the Norwegian Sun, the Carnival Dream, and the Disney Magic.  The Disney Magic would come within 0.5 miles -- too close for comfort. Worse, we crossed that conga line between the second and third ships.  I became worried that the Disney Magic would not see us because the Carnival Dream was right behind us.  I selected the Disney Magic on the AIS and pressed the CALL button.   (A bit of high tech magic called Digital Selective Calling)  10 seconds later, I was greeted by a voice saying, "Disney Magic, good evening."  The captain reassured me that they did indeed see us on radar and that all was OK.

10 minutes later the Disney Magic captain called me back. He was curious.  "How did you get our MMSI number to call directly?"  "AIS," I said. "But we can't see you on AIS," he said.  "No," I explained, "we receive AIS but can't transmit."  Aha, there are some myths among even big cruise ships.  Apparently they assume that everyone who receives AIS also transmit AIS.   From now on, instead of saying "Do you see us?"  we will say "Do you see us on radar?"

Anyhow, the wind turned against us for the last 20 miles.  That wasn't in the forecast.  Fortunately, it wasn't strong.  We arrived at the Fort Pierce Inlet at 0330.   The city lights and navigation lights everywhere made it very confusing.  If it were an unfamiliar inlet we would have stood off until daylight.   However, we're very familiar with Fort Pierce Inlet so we pressed on.   The only hazard was avoiding the numerous small motor boats heading out to fish.  Who would have imagined so many at that hour?

p.s. Daytime and night time temperature forecasts for Fort Pierce are 4-5 degrees cooler than Marathon or Miami.   Our friends George and Carol wrote from the Georgia ICW.  They said, "Slow Down! It's still winter here."    We want to make North Carolina by May 1, but we don't want any cold.   Uh oh, one of those calendar scheduling problems of the kind we hate.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Try Again

At Sea
25 46.44 N 080 05.78 W

We are on our second attempt to leave Miami. Yesterday, we waited impatiently for that darned front to move past. We shouldn't complain, that storm caused a lot of damage and a lot of fear to people in Central Florida.

For us, the worst thing was that the storm front stalled. All day Thursday it staid stationary. As it turns out, we could have sailed to Fort Pierce in fine weather and gotten there long before the storm. Never mind, it would have been imprudent to try. Prudence and frustration go together.

Frustration got to us Friday. We heard one forecast say winds W 10-15 and another N 6-12. When the front passed, we elected to hear the good forecast and ignore the bad one. We departed. A definite case of get-there-itis. Well, about 10 miles out, the wind shifted from W to N at 18. Our progress into the wind slowed to 2 knots. Our intentions to go in the Gulf Stream had to be cancelled because of N winds. The easiest way to cancel was to return to Miami.

We spent the night anchoredc near Fisher Island. Look up Fisher Island (Florida) on Wikipedia. It's very interesting.

This morning winds are almost calm. We plan to motor out to the Gulf Stream and then pick up E@10 to sail up to Fort Pierce in light winds with a current boost.

We have a new computer, new software, and a new rewiring of the SSB and Pactor modem since the last time I tested Winlink email. Therefore, there's a fair chance that it won't work and that I can't post any more blogs at sea until Sunday night.  Right now, we're still in cell phone range of Miami, so I'm posting with my Droid.