Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Intervention

Whitehall, NY


It is great to have friends. This morning we got a call from Roger and Carolyn. They are going to drive up here to do an intervention and give us a break from boredom on the boat. That's GREAT. Thank you so much.

It is not sunny today, but maybe you can see the color progress anyhow.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bowing To Reality

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W

Poor Libby doesn't have as much meat on her bones as I do to insulate her from the cold.  In the past few days she needed it.  It has been cold and damp.  Nighttime temperatures are in the 30s and with the boat bottled up, moisture builds up and the walls sweat but opening hatches to let moisture out makes it colder.   Remember, after more than 7 years on the boat we have adapted to continuously warm weather.  The only exception was the miserable winter of 2009 when the cold went all the way south of Cancun Mexico.

We have a propane cabin heater, but it sucks down the propane too fast.  We fear that leaving it on all night would drain a 20 pound propane tank before morning.   Therefore we use it only 15-30 minutes at a time to take the edge off the chill.

But the weather is not getting warmer and we are delayed again.  I decided to break with our tradition of a) being self-sufficient at anchor or moored, and b) not buying stuff we don't use much and don't have room to store.   While we're waiting here at Whitehall, we have free shore power.  I decided to buy an electric space heater.

Where to buy one in a small town like Whitehall?  There is a Stewarts convenience shop, a MacDonalds, a laundromat, restaurants and bars, a hardware store, and a restaurant supply store.  Oh yes, there is also a Dollar General and a Family Dollar Store.  I struck out at the Dollar General and the hardware store.  Both said, "They'll be in next week."  Apparently, the natives don't think it is cold enough yet for heaters.   In the tiny Family Dollar store, I scored!  Now, Libby is happily sitting in front of the heater making baskets.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Two Steps Forward, One Back

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W

Man oh man are we frustrated.   We've been here 12 days now, and we had thought that today would be the day we could leave.  Not so.

All the parts came in; the rebuilt injection pump and the new transmission.  Kieth Longtin, the local master mechanic, came over to install them for us.   

First job, the injection pump.  It was not easy to do.  With no decent drawings or pictures, it was hard to see how things fit together.  Kieth had never worked on a Kuboda engine before.  When mating the governor and throttle back together it kept going wrong.  Finally, Keith figured it out simply by staring at the internal parts using a mirrow and visualizing how things moved in 3D.  We got it together, purged the lines of air, and she started up.  Hooray!   But wait, there was a terrible vibration.  We figure that must have been from the transmission we're about to replace.

Next, Kieth got the old transmission off while I prepared the new one to go on.  But wait.  Oh no! When the bell housing came off the back of the engine some mangled plastic pieces fell out.  It was also full of dust, ground metal or plastic.   It turns out that there is a damper plate which sits betwen the engine and the transmission.  It was destroyed.  :-( There goes any hope of leaving this weekend.   I believe the damper plate was also a victim of the vibrations caused by the Max Prop.

That also caused great angst for a while.  Keith said that he thought that the damper plate was my problem and that the new transmission wasn't needed.   But after consideration of the symptoms, that made no sense.  We had both a transmission and damper plate problems.  Related but independent.

So, now we have to wait until Monday when we'll get another express shipment from Beta Marine with a new damper plate.  Then we'll install that, and put in the new transmission.  Pray that the vibrations we felt when starting the engine were caused by those parts.  If not we'll have cause to scream.
Mangled plastic from the damper plate

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Changing Colors

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W

The fall colors are beginning to appear beautifully on the mountain behind us.  I hope we get out of here before they change to white.

Both parts are in the hands of UPS, enroute.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W

I'm humbled.  Just last week I wrote about our hardships and fears.  We got stranded on the lake.  We had to tow.  We feared a storm that was coming if we sat at anchor.  We ran aground an had to kedge ourselves off.

Well, today I finished the book Benedict Arnold's Navy.  I must say I'm humbled.   

On the day that the British fleet left St. Johns on the Richelieu River there was no wind.   What did they do?  They kedged the fleet 25 miles upstream all the way to the lake.  The commander said that it worked "splendidly".   For those who don't know, kedging is the procedure in which the boat's anchor, chain and rode are placed in a little boat.  The little boat then rows out the anchor as far as it can and throws it overboard.  Then, back on the main boat they pull the rope and chain back in using the windlass.  Then the whole procedure starts again, 100=200 feet at a time.  To go 25 miles in 200 foot increments requires 660 such cycles. 

Then, there were Benedict Arnold's men.  They manned their boats on the lake for two months.  The smaller boats had no decks.  They were completely open to the weather.  They endured storm after storm, plus snow, freezing weather, and on board sickness.  I don't know what they had for provisions.  They couldn't go ashore because hostile Canadians, British and Indians were waiting there to kill them.   At the end of that period, they fought a brutal battle and fled for their lives in a 36 hour binge of exertion. 

My God; compared to those men, we are pussies.

In our defense, there is a significant difference.   They had huge numbers of young men to assign to any task.  Even the small open gondolas in Arnold's fleet had 45 men on board. On Tarwathie we have only one old man and one old woman.  Notwithstanding that, I have nothing for admiration for those men and their accomplishments and their endurance.

The book correctly states, if General Benedict Arnold had died from his wounds at Saratoga, he would be remembered in our history books as one of our greatest heroes along with George Washington and John Paul Jones.  But he didn't die there. Today, all our school children learn of him is that he was a traitor.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hornet nests; US Navy Vindicated

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W

Above is the monument celebrating the birthplace of the US Navy in Whitehall.  It is just a small stone on a tiny little plot of grass and backed by a railroad yard fence.  It wasn't even put there by the Navy, but rather by the local American Legion. "Seems downright insulting," I thought.  I'd heard before that the Navy snubbed Whitehall.   I planned to write a snarky blog post about the Navy's behavior.  I planned to compare it to the Navy's shabby treatment of Clive Cussler after he raised the USS Hunley submarine.  Now I changed my mind; why?  Read on.

Before writing that blog I did a little online fact checking.  First I checked the  Clive Cussler  angle.  Some years ago I read Cussler's book The Sea Hunters.  We are big fans of Cussler's novels and of his nonfiction books about NUMA.  In the Sea Hunters he told the story about finding and raising the sumbarine H. L. Hunley, and about how the US Navy snubbed him and grabbed all the credit after the fact.  Well, I searched for that online.  What I found was a hornets nest of controversy.  I'm not sure how many parties to the dispute, but one story said, "After the Hunley was raised, then all hell broke loose."

I found dozens of articles about the controversies on the Internet; all of them giving a different perspective, but none with a comprehensive overview.  I still don't know the whole story but apparently, it involved Cussler, an academic named Spence, the State of North Carolina, the US Navy, archaeologists, divers, museums and God knows who else.  I had been hasty in accepting Cussler's version uncritically.

Next I researched the birthplace of the US Navy.  I found another hornets nest.
In the controversy concerning where exactly the American Navy began there are many contenders: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Whitehall, New York; Beverly, Massachusetts; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire have all made claims to be the "birthplace."  source
In that case, it seems that there are no facts in dispute; only their interpretation.  During the revolution, things on the American side were chaotic to say the least.   Information about what was going on and who was in charge was fragmentary at best.  People were running around and doing all sorts of patriotic things independently, with varying degrees of authorization.  The Continental Congress and George Washington both did what they could to coordinate things but their communications were also fragmentary at best.  It is a miracle that we won.  (By the way, the book I'm currently reading Benedict Arnold's Navy gives a marvelously detailed picture of the chaos.)  Anyhow, the US Navy seems to be trying hard to be diplomatic in the face of these birthplace claims.
For its part, the Navy takes a diplomatic stance on the question, with a statement on its website saying each community "unquestionably" deserves recognition and concluding, "Perhaps it would be historically accurate to say that America's Navy had many birthplaces."  source
Oh well, I regret any snarky thoughts I had about the US Navy.

Monday, September 24, 2012


Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W 

Gulp. I always say gulp when I'm about so spend a lot of money. In this case it is the right thing to do. The injector shop is working on my pump. It should be back in a few days.

Next, I heard that my new transmission arrived at Beta Marine in North Carolina. We had planned to have it installed in Oriental, but now we changed our minds and had it shipped here. That way we don't take the risk of the clutch failing completely between here and Oriental. We will install the pump and transmission on the same day ... A twofer.

We will have to lay out $3000+ for everything, but the expense is unavoidable. I still say, "gulp." It will also take extra time. We may not get out of here until next weekend or even Monday. That means our total delay will be on the order of two weeks.

On one hand we get to enjoy the fall up here; it's the nicest time of year and very beautiful. On the other hand I know that offshore passages along the Jersey Shore in October can be very cold indeed in an open cockpit; brrrr.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Local Charms Discovered

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W

I did some exploring today and I discovered something wonderful.   

South Bay is a part of Lake Champlain that we've never seen.   That it because it is too shallow to navigate and because the entrance to the bay is blocked by a very low railroad bridge.   Well, today I rode over there on my bike.  What a nice surprise.   Having seen it now, I must say that it competes strongly for first place in Lake Champlain's most scenic views.  That's saying a lot considering how fond we are of the other views on Champlain.

South Bay is enclosed in a delightful little valley surrounded by the steep sloped of wooded mountains.  The valley comes to a dead end, so I suppose that it could be called a fjord.  Indeed it has many of the characteristics of a glacial fjord.   The mountains flanking this valley to the west and south form the barrier between Lake George and Lake Champlain.    If I could climb the tallest tree on the summit of those mountains I would have splendid views of both Lake George and Lake Champlain.

South Bay Panorama looking South, click to see full screen
South Bay Panorama looking North

I took a lot of other pictures of Whitehall,  you can see them in the embedded slide show below.  From all indications, in the nearly two centuries 1775-1950, Whitehall was a bustling center of commerce, industry and fine living.  The last industry (silk) folded during WWII, and it has been downhill ever since.   Communities either attract new industries when the old ones fail, or die.  Whitehall had water power to attract industry, but by the mid 1900s, electric power made water power obsolete so the attraction was lost. The last industry was silk. Rival silk makers from Massachusetts bought up the Whitehall mills and hired men with sledgehammers to break up the machines in order to eliminate competition.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Self Rescue Elaborated

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W 

Update: We sent the fuel injection pump off to an injection shop in Latham, NY.  They said 4-5 working days turnaround.

I promised to elaborate more on our little problem out on the lake when the engine failed.

The first thing we did was to anchor so that we did not drift onto the shores.

Next, I tried to diagnose the problem.  Plenty of fuel in the tanks.  

The engine seemed hot (although the temperature meter said 150 degrees, plenty cool).  I checked the oil and water -- OK.  I took the cover off the raw water pump to inspect the impeller -- OK.

I loosened the bleed screw on the fuel filer and cranked the engine.  Yes we had fuel.

My only other guess was contaminated fuel, or even gasoline in the fuel tanks, but there would be nothing I could do about that. I gave up on the engine.  With a storm coming we had to get off the lake.  I told Libby that we would tow her to Whitehall.

Next problem.  The dinghy was in its usual place on chocks up on deck.  It weighs about 150 pounds and we normally use the mast and halyard as a crane to raise and lower it.  With the mast down we had to do it the hard way.  I normally can't lift 150 pounds and Libby has a hard time with 50 pounds.  To make things worse, there was little clearance with the lowered mast just inches above the dinghy.    Well, in a pinch you do the impossible.  The two of us managed to move it out from under the mast.  Then, using a surge of reserve strength I don't normally have I heaved it over the side in one big motion.   It hit the water sideways and filled with water, nearly sinking.  No problem, Libby climbed down with a bucket and bailed it.

Next we mounted the outboard motor.  I grabbed a life jacket, a bottle of water, our gasoline jug, a 100 foot towing line, and my cell phone, and set out to tow.

When towing a boat bigger than you, it is important to use the longest possible towing line.  Otherwise, you'll soon learn that you can not steer or control direction.  Also, the tow line attaches to the bow of the dinghy, not the stern.  Libby was in charge of steering and navigation.  These things I knew from experience.

Our cell phones lost all signal in that remote area so they could not be used for communication except sporadically.  I could have taken the hand-held VHF radio, but the fixed VHF radio can not be used with the mast down.

Things went fine for the first 2 hours.  The Yamaha outboard motor holds 2-3 quarts of gas in its internal tank.  It ran out of fuel about once per 45 minutes.  I would scramble to refill the tank as Tarwathie, coasting on inertia, would catch up and pass me.  

On the third try, I was slow.  Tarwathie drifted sideways and went aground in the mud.  There was nothing Libby could do to prevent it.   We ran aground.  The dinghy and outboard engine pull was too feeble to get us off.  To remedy that, we had to kedge.

Just the day before, I had dismounted, and disassembled Bessie, our 80 pound Luke anchor and stowed it in the lazarette.  Ditto for Bonnie, our 25 pound Danforth anchor.  This kedging job required Bonnie, so I had to dig her out, remount her on the rode, then drop her in the dinghy with 50' of chain and 50' of rope rode.  Then I played out the rode at a 90 degree angle to Tarwathie and dropped her.  Back on board, we used the windlass to haul in the rode.  It was hard to to because the wooded frame we use to hold the front of the mast when lowered was in the way.  Fortunately, we only had to do that for 30 seconds before it pulled us off the mud and we were afloat again.

The rest of the towing job went OK.  I described it in a previous post.

By the way, in the brief periods when we did get cell phone or VHF signals, we could have called Towboat US for a free tow.   We are Gold members.  But I knew that the closest place was 40 miles away and it was already late in the afternoon.  They would surely have said, "We'll come tomorrow," and a storm was approaching.  We would also have lost at least an hour negotiating as the sun was sinking in the West.  My command decision was to focus on self-rescue. 

Modesty aside, our boating experience was the main factor in the success of our self-rescue.  Libby performed expertly at her share of the tasks.  Having the right equipment on board was also necessary.  We were also aided, by a bit of adrenaline boosted strength, and good familiarity with the local waters.
Sorry, no pictures of us towing.  That would have made a great shot but we had no time for photography.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Poor Whitehall

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W

Poor Whitehall. It has certainly descended from a grand and glorious past. Almost all the stores in town are vacant and empty. But there are a few great things.
  • The Skenesborough Museum is a delight. We've seen it several times before.
  • Skene Manor sits high on the hill looking down at us. It is lit at night and it reminds me of the "Franenstein House" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  • Built in 1874 by Judge Joseph Potter. It looks brand new even today. We've been up there for afternoon tea and puff pastery. The curators will also give you a tour of this amazing house. Phillip Skene made Skensebborough one of the most important places in New York by the time of the revolution. Unfortunately for him, he was on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War.
  • Birthplace of the US Navy. (But there's nothing about that to see.)
  • The USS Tigonderoga is here on display. She was Captain Thomas Macdonough's flagship for the Battle Of Plattsburg in 1814.
  • There is an Amtrak passenger station
  • The northernmost Stewarts Convenience shop along our migration route is here. We are long time customers and fans of Stewarts.
  • There's a small library where I am right now.
  • There is Lock 12 of the Champlain Canal.
  • In the summer there is The Bridge Amateur Theater Company
  • A symbol of former glory, the building just across the canal from us has faint letters painted on the side. The say "The Whitehall Times" At one time it was so prosperous here, that they had their own daily newspaper.
  • Last night Libby and I blew $60 for a fancy dinner at the Steak and Seafood Restaurant, located only 100 yards from the boat. We almost never eat in that kind of restaurant. However, it was one of the best meals we've ever had, with superbly prepared food. That made it worth the money.
  • We have a spectacular view of a mountainside right beside us that is on the verge of exploding with fall colors.
  • The town graciously provides free electricity, water and showers. 

On the other hand, the nearest grocery is 25 miles away. The nearest hardware store is 30 miles. Whitehall is far from a paradise. Nevertheless, most of the locks on the Champlain Canal are even more remote. We would not find a diesel mechanic, or showers, or power. We're lucky to be here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W
Well, the short answer is that we're here for another week.  

Today the local mechanic Kieth came to fix our problems.  We were optimistic.  Yesterday, consultation with Beta Marine by phone had convinced me that our problem was probably an air leak in the suction side of the fuel line, or a failed engine shutoff solenoid.  Either would be relatively easy to fix.   We were wrong.

The best diagnostic for the fuel system is to bypass everything.  Keith rigged up a jug full of fuel, a hose, and a marine priming squeeze bulb.   We used that to force fuel directly to the injection pump.  It didn't work.  

Next we removed the solenoid.  It is the type the energizes and pushes a plunger, when the shutoff button is pushed. Removing it made no difference.  Jeez.

More consultation with Beta.  We finally had to take off the fuel filter, the intake mainfold, the injector lines, and then the injector pump itself.   What we found was amazing.  A little metal bar called the control rack was stuck.  It is supposed to move back (fuel on) and forth (fuell off) it was stuck off.  However, just a gentle push with a thumb and it unstuck?  What that heck?  How could that happen.  We didn't know, it may have been a fluke.  We gleefully put everything back together expecting the engine to start right away.  Nope, nothing.  

Kieth took it apart again.  That rod was stuck again.  This time we inspected more closely and soon found that one of the four plungers that follow the cams had a broken spring.  The plunger was causing the control rod to stick.

Neither Beta, nor Kieth had the parts nor the expertise to replace that spring.  I had to ship off the whole pump to D & H Diesel in Latham, NY to be rebuilt.  That will take about a week.  So here we are stranded.

That's not the only bad news.  We have also been having trouble with our clutch.  Beta advises that it costs too much to repair, and that we need a whole new transmission for $2000.   We are hoping to get down to Oriental, NC before doing that.   By the way, I suspect that the clutch failure was caused by the chronic vibration problems we had with the Max Prop.  I suspect, but I'll never know for sure. 

Oh well, put things in perspective.  We have nearly 5,000 hours on that Beta Engine since it was new.  Until this year we had zero breakdowns.  But a new heat exchanger last spring cost $1200, the transmission will cost $2000, and the injector pump ???   Expensive sure, but overall it is still much cheaper (and much much more fun) than retiring to a condo apartment.

What is there to do in Whitehall? (population 2,667)  I guess we'll learn that in detail during the next few days.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Uh Oh, Big Problems

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W

The day started out OK.  We hauled anchor below the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga and motored down to Chipmans Point Marina.  By Noon the mast was down and secure.  No problems.  We set out for Whitehall.  We were in a bit of a hurry because there is bad weather on the way with strong gusty winds.   One weather report said that it would start Monday night, although on Tuesday they are saying Tuesday afternoon.

Things went fine for a few hours, I was thinking of a blog post saying Motor Vessel Tarwathie here.  Suddenly, the engine stopped suddenly.   Cranking dis not start it, but it made a strange noise.  It felt hot.  I checked the oil, the coolant, the raw water pump impeller, the fuel filter, and I verified that fuel was getting at least to the primary fuel filter.  I couldn't find the source of the problem.

What to do then?  The southernmost stretch of the lake is very desolate.  Almost no houses or roads.  No VHF radio reception, no cell phone reception, and narrow channels not conducive to secure anchoring.  I didn't want us to be there when the storm came.  I decided to launch the dinghy, mount the outboard,and tow Tarwathie to Whitehall.

I'll elaborate more another day.

After 1/2 hour towing, we were making 2.5 knots. Estimated time to Whitehall, 4.5 hours.  The time was OK but I was worried about two things.  If strong south winds came along, our 2.5 HP outboard could not tow us.  Second, I only had two gallons of gasoline for the outboard, and I wasn't sure that was enough to get us there.

 Then along came a big cruising sailboat.  Good I thought, they can give us a tow.  It was the Sailing Vessel Valkyrie from Montreal.   I was stunned when he refused.  He told Libby that he would tow us back to Chipmans, but not to Whitehall.  That made no sense.  I think he just cobbled up an excuse for not helping.   Such behavior is absolutely verboten in cruiser culture.  I couldn't believe that we had the misfortune to encounter such a bad apple.

Another half hour and another sailboat came along.  It was the Sailing Vessel Nyx from Montreal.  It too refused to help, this time offering no excuse at all.  I couldn't believe it.

We pressed on.  The built-in tank on the 2.5 HP Yamaha outboard holds 2-3 quarts of gas.  It ran out of gas every 45 minutes or so.  I refilled it and kept going.   On one of the occasions I was slow in refilling and Tarwathie drifted backward and ran aground in the mud.  Ay ay ay! What a day.  Anyhow, in less than 1/2 hour we had kedged ourselves off and were moving again.

I tried to think of contingency plans for running out of gasoline.  I hoped to get close enough to Whitehall to where we could anchor Tarwathie, and I could row the dinghy to Whitehall to buy more gas.  An alternate plan was to anchor preemptively and motor the dingy to Whitehall to get gas.  I was determined to get us there one way or the other before the storm.

I spotted a fishing boat with two men.  I asked if we could buy some gas.  They said, "our gas tank is built in, we have no way to get the gas out."   We forged on.

Well, we made it there with 2 quarts of gasoline to spare.   We called lock 12 to explain the situation.  He said that they close at 7 and it was now 7:20 and completely dark.   I asked Libby to explain that we might not be able to tow at all on Tuesday because of the strong winds and a small engine.  He relented and granted permission for a special locking to let us through.  (Because of some bizarre complaints from a local businessman, Lock 12 is not supposed to let boats through after 7, even though the lock is manned 24 hours per day. That's hard to understand.)

We got through the lock and tied up on the wall at Whitehall about 8:30.  Ironically, those two Canadian boats that refused help were right in front of us.

Next, I have to get the motor running myself, or find a mechanic who can help me.  I won't speculate on the cause of the problem just yet.  It will become clear in the next few days.  Not much work today though, they're saying wind gust up to 55 mph.

They are also predicting7 foot waves on Lake Champlain.  Boy are we glad to be secure here rather than out there.    We owe a great thank you to the lock master Bill who made a special exception to let us through.  Also to Yamaha for making great small outboard engines.  We owe **** to those two Canadian boats that refused help.

It was one hell of a day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Air Force Association

Fort Ticonderoga, NY
43 59.29 N 073 23.24 W

At 1:37 PM on Saturday, we started our southward migration for this year. Below is a picture Jen took as we rowed away.

As always, it is a bittersweet moment.  We hate to leave.  We had great fun here with Jen this summer.   It is also the nicest and most beautiful time of the year.  The air is crisp, clear and dry.  Views of the mountains are at their best.  Nights are cool for good sleeps.  The trees are on the verge of exploding with fall colors.

On another subject: My local friend, Lin, invited me to a meeting of the Vermont Chapter of the Air Force Association on Thursday.  It was not only interesting, but quite an honor to be able to chat with these men who served their country so honorably.

I was especially interested to chat with Ralph.  Ralph is a 95 year old Vermonter.  His B25 was shot down over the Mediterranean.  He was captured by Germans, sent to Stalag 3 (site of the Great Escape), and he survived the winter death march the Germans sent prisoners on as the Russians approached.

The mural depicts Sherman's famous ride at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

Thank you very much Lin.

Tomorrow the mast comes down.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

September 12 Sailboat Races

South Burlington, Vermont

I'm not so good at taking videos, but this one is kind of cute. If you can't see the embedded video below, click here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Never Bag

South Burlington, VT

I've written before that space is limited on a sailboat.  We had to learn that accumulation of stuff has to cease when we run out of places to store it.   That sounds like a hardship, but we found it to actually be a blessing because it helped us simplify our lives.   We enjoy the simple life and we've done better than the average cruiser in keeping out boat free of excess stuff and clutter.

We do however, have one concession to the hoarding instinct.  We have our "never bag."

The never bag fits in a cubby up in the V-berth.  In the never bag we store stuff which we expect to use "never" but which we are unwilling to throw away.  In other words, we cling to an irrational belief that some day we may find a use for those things.   Since the never bag is of finite size, it puts a ceiling on our hoarding urges.  Once or twice per year, I haul it out and review the contents.

Well yesterday it actually paid off.   Six years ago we bought an ICOM hand-held VHF radio.  It is our favorite because ir renders speech more clearly than our other radios.  Immediately after purchase, the battery charging station failed, so ICOM sent a new one.  It also came with a new AC adapter (the wall wart).   We stashed that in the never bag.  Believe it or not, this week the AC adapter for our ICOM failed.  We went directly to the never bag and bingo, we found a new one in less than 60 seconds.  Hallelujah.

Never Say Never

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sailboat Races

Shelburne Bay, Vermont
44 25.26 N 073 24.93 W

It wasn't by plan but rather by circumstance that led us to anchor in Shelburne Bay Wednesday afternoon. Nevertheless, it was a happy accident because Wednesday is the day for the weekly sailboat races staged by Lake Champlain Yacht Club.  We had front and center seats for the days races.

I counted 46 sailboats competing.   Many of them are pure racing machines with gleaming reflective Mylar sails.   They carry 6-8 man crews.   They are definitely not our kind of sailboat. But man oh man are they pretty to watch.

The competitors do not seem very evenly matched.  The race lasted about 90 minutes and the first boat finished the course in about 60 minutes.  Perhaps they have a handicapping system.  We don't know.

The scene was perfectly framed by deep blue sky, a few puffy clouds and Mount Mansfield and Camels Hump in the background.   For accompaniment, we had a flock of migratory canada geese in the water near us.  They raised a heck of a din.  Honk honk honk, honk honk.  We haven't heard a chorus like that since leaving our house in West Charlton, NY.  There we had a corn field behind our house where thousands of geese would stop and spend the night.  Their honks are music to my hears.

This may be one of the last races of the year, because the sun is going down so early.  Today's race finished long after sunset.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

End of a Chapter

Vergennes, Vermont

Regular readers know all about Jen's project to transform an old Winnoski, Vermont library into a luxury private home.  Jen's blog is here.  Well, I'm happy to report that on the morning after their unveiling cocktail party (below) they received a firm offer to buy the place.  The closing was yesterday.  The deal is done.  Libby and I are immensely proud of our real estate tycoon daughter.

Actually, Jen does a lot of things to be proud of.  She works at a bank part time.  She runs a very busy business in gardening and landscaping.   She's active in the Friends of UVM's hort farm.  Until yesterday she also put in huge efforts into the library project.  In her spare time she buys stuff at local auctions and sells it on Ebay.   She works so hard at so many things, it makes my head spin.  She lives a very modern life style, quite unlike my career.   Instead of one all-consuming regular job and career line, she has many.  It is much more fluid and dynamic than my (and probably your) working life styles.  However, I can point to the fact that she followed my (bad? good?) habit of working extremely long hours, seven days per week.

p.s.  The Cooper, a Monk 36 pulled in behind us.  We know Ralph and Betty from previous meetings in Florida.  We also have common cruising friends.  Also on the docks are some of our favorite Quebecois cruising friends George and Lise on board.  We've met them often on Champlain and on the Calosahatchee River in Florida.    There are not many actual cruisers on Champlain, but Vergennes is the main place to go to meet those that are here.  The secret is because of the favorite two words in the Skipper Bob cruising guides -- Free Docks!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Time To Migrate

Vergennes Vermont

I feel like a migratory bird.  The temperature of the air, the color of the sky, the angle of the sun, the smells, and the falling leaves all tell my brain "It is time to migrate south."   Believe me, the urge is powerful but we don't want to leave.  September and the first half of October are the most wonderful time of year here in the Northeast, and especially on the lake.  Alas, migrate we must.  We have a few things to do, but later this week, we'll start heading south.

This morning I sat on a bench under a tree delighting in how pretty and how pleasant it was.  It was cool in the shade of the tree (about 65F) but all around me was bright sunshine and more warmth if I wanted it.  I could hear the birds chirping and the Vergennes waterfall roaring.  The lawn and earth smells were appealing.  All around and on the decks of the boat are yellow leaves falling from the trees.  Those are just the early leaves,  peak color is still three weeks away.  Anyhow, it occurred to me that there is nothing in Florida nearly as nice as this.  Florida has its own charms, but Florida at its best is nowhere near as nice as The Northeast at its best.  I guess that reflects our backgrounds.  We are natives to this region and no other.   But wintering up here on a boat is out of the question.  Migrate we must.

p.s. Right now we are back in Vergennes again despite having said that we won't come here any more. The explanation is that the lake level has come back up. Last week we had a 3" rainstorm and the lake level rose by 3" (wow, that's a handy calibration to remember). Yesterday we had another major front and storm come through and today the Vergennes waterfall is chugging. The level in the creek here is up 6". :-)

Saturday, September 08, 2012


Vergennes, Vermont

Weather is important to all sailors. To circumnavigators however weather is not enough. Weather can be predicted up to 3 days in advance (if that). Circumnavigators though make plans and commit themselves for much longer periods in the future. It would be fair to say that their concern lies in the grey area between weather and climate. They have several aids to help them.

  • There are books. Most noticeable is World Cruising Routes, by Jimmy Cornell.
  • There are pilot charts.
  • There is a neat software program called Visual Passage Planner that has knowledge of the pilot chart data and can use computer optimization methods. I've used that program since we started cruising, even though our short offshore passages don't really need it. It's just fun to play with.
  • Now, there's a marvelous visual representation of historical hurricane paths that make it perfectly obvious which parts of the world to avoid during hurricane season. See below. Click on the picture to see it full size.

Image Credit & Copyright: John Nelson, IDV Solutions

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Whole Again (Almost)

South Burlington

About 10 days ago the hard drive in my laptop failed.  It failed completely and suddenly.  I tried the OS recovery software and it failed too.  Uh oh.  So that was the bad news I was without a computer.  Even with the Droid phone in my pocket, I felt naked.  Those who know me well (Libby  is at the top of that list) know that I might survive one day without a computer, but not a whole week.

So, first step to recovery was to get my laptop fixed.

  1. I paid an exorbitant amount of money to Best Buy to buy an extended warranty for the laptop when I bought it.  That extended period ends in November.  Hooray! I beat Murphy's law on that one, having the failure just before expiration rather than just after.
  2. Best Buy agreed to put in a new hard drive free, but I had to order a Windows recovery disk from Samsung.  That took a week to arrive.  Not a whole week!!!
  3. They completed the repair and recovery yesterday.  Now I have a clean version of Windows 7 minus all the bloatware that Samsung installs on a new PC.  (Samsung is not nearly as bad as HP)  Now it boots much faster than it ever did.
  4. I brought it back to Jen's, and set out to see if I could restore anything from my backup.   First question, how old was the backup?  Second, would it restore successfully?  Well, the backup was only 3 months old, and it restored perfectly.  Hooray!  I was back in business.  The only data lost were pictures from this summer that I had not uploaded to the blog or to Picasa.  Not a big deal.
  5. Google's cloud restored my bookmarks and preferences, and my password manager program restored all my passwords.  I love it when technology works.
But that's only half the story.  How did I survive the week?   Well, Libby expressed an interest in having her own laptop.  I'm delighted by that.  Maybe she'll get more connected on her own with her own machine.  Plus that, I could use Libby's new machine for myself during this first week.  Win win.

What to buy for her?  A used laptop?  A new one on sale?   I decided that the day has passed to spend even a single dollar on a laptop computer.   Just like desktop PCs, laptops are relegated to legacy.  The future is all smartphones and tablets.   I bit hard and bought a brand new iPad for Libby.   It is very expensive, but Libby is only partially computer literate, and the ease-of-use of an iPad suits her better.

Yes I know that new and better Kindle and Android tablets are just announced, that are much cheaper than iPad, and perhaps even better.  Still, for Libby the iPad's ease of use is unsurpassed and a decisive factor.

After a week playing with the iPad I like it of course.  The screen is beautiful, and I discovered iTunesU where you can access free university courses.  I already started a course on quantum mechanics from Oxford.  Every sailboat captain needs quantum mechanics ;)    But the on-screen keyboard sucks, and the Safari browser sucks. I had a lot of trouble trying to compose a blog post in Safari.  Despite iPad's famous pinch-zoom, I found that a number of attractive news reader apps don't support the zoom, nor do they provide adjustable text font sizes.  They use tiny fonts.  It is probably deliberate, like Wired Magazine they want to drive off old fart customers.

In the long term, I'll continue with my Windows laptop most of the time while Libby uses the iPad.   By the way, I was able to download a Wi-Fi hotspot app for my Android phone.  It works great, and with it I do not need to pay a monthly fee to Verizon.  On the boat, I can use my laptop and Libby can use the iPad simultaneously, both making use of the phone's Wi-Fi.  When it works, technology is great.

p.s. I sold our old MaxProp on eBay in as-is condition.  I got almost $400 for it.  It sold in less than 5  minutes.  $400 is the same price as an iPad 2.  So, financially it was a nearly even swap.  

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Interesting Lake Data

South Burlington

 Here is some interesting data. The three graphs below show the Lake Champlain level last year.  August 28 was the day Tropical Storm Irene hit.  Note the difference in levels at Burlington (mid lake), Rouses Point (north end) and Whitehall (south end).  Irene's wind were from the north which caused the level to go down initially at the north end.   Then a north-south slosh action like a bathtub starts in. In this case, the south end at  Whitehall didn't follow the simple slosh because it was flooded from both the north and the south.

Below is another interesting graph. This one shows the lake level for two years. Compare the spring floods in March 2011 with March 2012. Blog readers will remember that we avoided Champlain in June 2011 because of the flood conditions.  Obviously, the lack of snow last winter cause the low levels today. I also note with interest that there must have been a heck of a storm around October 1, 2010, nearly comparable to Irene in lake level effects.  We were not on the lake that month.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Family Weekend

Shelburne Bay
44 24.33 N 073 14.21 W

Well, we had quite a weekend with family.   The climax was Saturday night when we had  ten people on board for a dinner cruise out of Burlington.   Today only my sister Nancy is still here from out of town.   Nancy, Jenny, Libby and I had a great sail here in the bay.  Now as I blog, the three of them are doing girl talk on the forward deck. Great day!

The weather seems to know that it is September. Until a few days ago it was hot,muggy and hazy.  Now, the weather turned.  It is deliciously cool and clear.  Evenings are what we call sleeping weather.  Today it Is sunny and a delightful 13 knot wind made it perfect to sail in circles around the bay.  I've also seen the first mirages of the season.  That is when the air is colder than the water and we see images of islands from beyond the horizon.  The islands appear to float in the sky.

We will be heading for New Bern, NC sometime soon.  We're in no hurry though, so we plan to enjoy more of September here on the lake than usual.   There is only one drawbridge that stands between us and the Dismal Swamp.  That is the Gilmerton Bridge in Norfolk.  We just got notice that the scheduled week-long closure of that bridge for construction work was postponed from September 5-13 until some unspecified time.   Pessimists will bet that the unspecified closure will happen 10 minutes before we get there.  Which are you, optimist or pessimist?