Saturday, December 31, 2005

Big City Life 12/31

Hollywood, Florida, N26 01 W80 07
December 31, 2005

Today was errand day. We went to NAPA for parts, Kinkos to post blogs,
and to the bank and to the post office. We bought groceries. We bought
charts and chips at Blue Water Charts and Books. We went to Boater's
World. We poked around in Sailorman. We refilled the propane bottles.
I went to the airport and returned the rental car. I drove a total of
150 miles. At the end of the day there wasn't enough time to do the
engine project, so I went to the beach and lied in the sun and sand for
a while. I really didn't go there to look at the bikinis. I really
didn't have one eye open while napping. I swear.

It was an expensive day. The rental car cost a bundle because we don't
have homeowners or car insurance any more. I paid $44 for the car plus
tax and $42 for all those optional insurances. What robbery. If we
have to do this all year it will cost us about $500/year just buying
those overpriced car rental insurances. Has anyone of you heard of a
kind of policy that we could buy independently? I'm used to being
covered by my employer and/or by my homeowner's and car insurance
policies, so I always declined the rental company's insurances before.

Blue Water Charts and Books is a unique institution. They have stores
only in Newport RI and Fort Lauderdale FL. I can't speak for the world,
but I'm pretty sure that there's no other store like it in the USA. At
Blue Water they have charts for the entire world. Both flat charts, and
chart kits and books of bound charts. Any chart they don't have in
stock they print on the spot in just a few minutes on an HP large format
plotter. They also have every brand of electronic charts and can burn
any compatible chart onto any compatible chip for your GPS plotter.
Best of all, their salespersons are sailors and many have
circumnavigated themselves. Therefore a trip to Blue Water is like a
consultation with an expert. They can give advice on your voyage as
well as sell you the charts. They know which detailed maps are
critical and which you can skip.

We bought enough to get us up the west coast of Florida to Pass
Christian Mississippi and after that to Mexico, Honduras, Belize, Panama
and Costa Rica. We already have the GPS chip for Hawaii and Alaska.
We're missing only paper charts for Hawaii, and for the trip down the
west coast of North America after Alaska. It cost us $580 today. That
makes it about $1500 we spent this year on charts and navigation chips.
It is a very major part of a sailor's budget. Admiralty and NZ charts
are the worst. They charge $40 per chart, double the USA NOAA price
and triple the price of most other countries. Furthermore, there are
numerous complaints about admiralty charts not being updated since the
19th century. Maybe someday we can print needed charts as we go on an
onboard HP plotter. Maybe someday we'll have color digital paper that
can be printed online using a satellite phone.

We found a section of Fort Lauderdale where every business had something
to do with boats or boating. Speedometer companies, fender companies,
engines, instruments, rigging, even one company whose sign said "Line
Cutters" I had visions of their employees sitting around all day
cutting lines. Even the West Marine store here is the size of a Wall
Mart. We stopped at a place called Sailman. There they have used and
salvaged equipment of every kind. It appears that they strip abandoned
boats and sell the parts. It's like a giant junkyard for boat stuff.
You rummage in the junk in the boxes and shelves. When you find
something to buy, the man up front scratches his chin and quotes you a
price. I could have spent days there. We only had an hour and we only
spent $38.

I returned the rental car only to find that their office closes at noon
Saturdays. I had to take the car to the airport and take a taxi back to
the marina. Thus it cost us more than $200 for the marina, car rental,
gas, and taxi for this shopping day. There are countless expenses that
we avoid living on a boat, but the occasional need to be an
automobile-oriented American citizen has a high cost also. It will be
interesting to see if those costs are less in other countries.

The man at the boat next door said the he and other boaters go to walk
on the beach for New Year's Eve. It sounds like fun I think we'll try

Friday, December 30, 2005


At Sea
December 30, 2005

The depth sounder started playing tricks on us when the depth got very
deep. We were crusing along at 450 feet deep water (150 meters) when
the low depth alarm came on signaling less than 7 feet. That woke me
up in a hurry. It stopped after a few seconds. The alarm came on again
and again. We thought that something must be swimming under us. I
turned off the depth sounder. An hour later I turned it on again in 500
feet of water. It alarmed, showing 3.5 feet for a few seconds, then
switched to 500 feet. I conclude that it is not a fish, it is the
result of a very weak echo return at the limits of the depth sounder's
range. The weak signal caused it to lock on to a false echo every once
in a while.

Our speed has slowed to 3 knots. That will get us to Lauderdale mid
morning. No need to heave to.

There are a lot of airplanes out here descending for the airports. West
Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. When their landing lights are pointed
directly at us, they are very strong. It looks like we're about to be
run over by the Titanic.

We've been less than five miles offshore since leaving Fort Pierce.
It's amazing how many people live along the Florida coast. Parts of it
look like a walled community with high rise apartment buildings forming
the wall. Anyhow, it makes navigation at night very easy. Just sail
parallel to the line of light.

The only significant traffic we saw out here were two gambling casinos
and a barge. The casinos go out past the three mile limit then sit
until their clients lose their money. The barge overtook us from
astern on a crossing course. In that situation it is extremely
difficult to estimate the true course of the barge. It looked to me
like he would run us over. I hailed him four times on channel 16 and
four times on 13. No reply. He reminded me of Crazy Ivan so I changed
our course 90 degrees to avoid him.

The Beach

The Beach
Hollywood, Florida, N26 01 W80 07
December 30, 2005

Well we made it to Fort Lauderdale. This is where we started last
February when we bought Tarwathie. It took us 24 hours to get here
from Fort Pierce. The channel coming in was very crowded with big ships
going every which way.

We found a slip at a marina to the south of the entrance. Half a block
away is the beach so Libby and I took a walk on the beach. The beach
was crowded. Lots of people, lots of bikinis, temperature in the 80s.
Just like one pictures a Florida beach to be. We had to break out our
summer clothes that we had stored away in the boat waiting for warm
weather. We found it!

The engine is giving cooling troubles again. We can only make three
knots without overheating. It must be that when we grounded in Vero
Beach that we sucked up some mud into the engine. I'll have to back
flush it while here at the marina.

Our main mission here is to visit Blue Water Charts, the biggest store
in the USA for nautical charts. They can help us plan the trip to Pass
Christian and to Alaska. I hope they can also help us economize on
chart/chip costs.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Boneheaded Stunt 12/29

Fort Pierce Florida, N27 28 W80 19
December 29, 2005

It's starting out to be one of those days. I set the alarm for 0500 so
that we could weigh anchor at first light and beat it out of the inlet
before the tide turned against us. The first thing I did was listen to
the weather report. Darn, the forecast changed. The favorable winds I
was counting on are arriving 12 hours late. So, we had to alter the

My first action was to go back to bed, but I couldn't sleep. I decided
to motor from Fort Pierce to Palm Beach (45 NM) then to go out to sea in
the evening and sail overnight to Fort Lauderdale. We could use Friday
to do the errands we want. If we miss Friday, then there's a three day
holiday weekend that we'll have to wait through.

I still couldn't sleep so I decided to clean the raw water filter. I
noticed that the engine had been running a little warm since our last
grounding. Sure enough, when I got the filter out I found it half full
of grass. I cleaned it and put it back. At 0800 we weighed anchor and
set off.

At 0804 I heard an ominous and strange sound I never heard before. It
took only a few seconds to recognize it as steam coming from the exhaust
instead of water. I forgot to re-open the seacock on the raw water
after cleaning the filter. I hurriedly gave the helm to Libby and
scrambled to re-open the seacock. No good, the engine continued to
spit steam for 30 more seconds and I shut it off to prevent damage.

Now we were adrift in the middle of the channel. Our first thought was
to anchor, but we were upwind from the place we departed minutes before.
Therefore we raised the jib and sailed back to the anchorage. We
botched a jibe so I had to take the sail back down and put it up again.
Despite the Chinese fire drill, we were back at anchor where we had just
left 15 minutes before.

I let the engine cool for an hour and started it up. Now water flowed
normally and the engine seems to be working normally. I'm sure that
the overheat didn't do it any good, but we shut it off so quickly that
we probably escaped serious damage. What a boneheaded stunt. The next
time I clean that filter I bet I'll remember to open the seacock when
I'm done!

But now it's raining and the wind is changing and our ETA to Lake Worth
by motor is 10 hours. I'm going to change the plan again and wait until
noon then go to sea from here. According to the weather report we'll
have 24 hours of good wind, plus 12 hours of light wind in the right
direction. After that, the forecast calls for wind in the wrong
direction for the next 5 days in a row.

1900 At Sea
Well the rest of today turned out better than it started. By 1100 we
were out at sea again. We had a cloudless sky, temperature in the mid
70s and 15-20 knots of wind. We sailed on a close reach the whole day,
all of it on starboard tack. It was very pleasant. Tonight we should
have less wind on a broad reach. We'll reach Lauderdale about 0300 at
the present speed. If so, then we'll heave to outside the port entrance
and wait for the dawn to enter.

Just a few minutes ago I was surprised by powerful blinking lights from
astern. It was a Coast Guard boat. He pulled along side and asked if
we saw any flares or any boat in distress. We didn't. I turned the
watch over to Libby. She said, "Oh it's nice to be warm."

I tried calling the marina close to Pass Christian today to ask about
facilities for the boat when we arrive there. The marina's phone was
disconnected. That's an ominous sign.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Captain's Chair Battleship North Carolina

 Posted by Picasa

Kite Boarder

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Christmas Dinner

We went to a pot luck Christmas dinner at the marina. These people are fellow cruisers. It was a great party with a marvelous variety of food. We notice that most cruisers apear to be very fit and very happy people. That's good. Posted by Picasa

New canvas

You can see our new doger and bimini sunshade. They'll help keep the sun off our heads in the tropics. They were also quite welcome in rainstorms. The dodger is big enough to dodge behind.

Expensive stuff, but very welcome onboard. Posted by Picasa

Fully Gimballed Christmas Tree

The tree is Libby's invention. It is decorated with objects we found along the way like water chestnuts and cotton balls. It is the first fully gimballed tree I ever saw. p.s. Our new cabin heater is visible too. Posted by Picasa

Vero Beach Harbor

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Surfing the net.

WIFI doesn't work below decks and the sun is too bright above decks. My solution is the blanket. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day

Vero Beach Florida, N27 39 W80 22
December 25, 2005

The wind was fierce today and we were anchored in an exposed spot, so we decided to move southward. The next anchorage downward was at Vero Beach. Actually, it’s not an anchorage but a municipal marina.

The trip down was slow. Because of the wind we only made 1.8 knots made good. When we got here, we were supposed to take a left turn to find the channel into the marina. We turned too short and bam, we were hard aground within seconds. Darn. Time to launch the dinghy and do the kedge thing again.

Before we got very far, a rubber raft pulled up and a nice man named John volunteered to help us. John took the anchor and 100 feet of chain and dropped them away. Within 3 minutes we were afloat again.

We pulled into the marina, and wow was it full. Almost every mooring ball had two or three boats rafted together. We never saw such crowding before. The only mooring with one boat belonged to, guess who, our friend John, so we rafted up to his boat. John and his wife Eve are from Oregon. They’ve been cruising since 1993. Eve is a nurse and when they run out of money she gets a short term contract at a local hospital and replenishes their kitty. Nice.

John and Eve told us about a Christmas pot luck supper at the marina office, so Libby cooked our turkey and we took it in to the pot luck. It was lots of fun. There were about 100 people there. Lots of food and lots of laughter. Most of the people were like us, around 60 years old and whose kids had grown up. Many were not headed for the Bahamas, but rather just liked to hang around on the ICW.

We did all our family Christmas calls today. We spoke to Ed, and Nancy, and Marylyn and John and Jenny and
David, and everyone else they had home with them. It’s especially hard to be away on Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

Indian River, N27 43 W80 24
December 24, 2005

What a nice day. It was sunny and warm with the temperature in the mid 70s. Even the nighttime temperature was in the 60s rather than the 30s. It was probably the nicest weather day since last September.

We really enjoyed our lazy ride down the river today. Libby had the helm and I sat on the foredeck sewing. I sewed a reinforced strap and a ring onto our staysail bag so that the bag can be hung in the air for stowage. Yes it’s true. The needle and thread work on the boat has become my task. I really enjoy it.

We didn’t sail all day. In the early afternoon we pulled into a side channel behind an island and anchored. We both wanted to fish. It worked again. Within 10 minutes I caught a catfish using a piece of shrimp for bait. We ate it for supper.

After an hour’s fishing we turned to a less idyllic activity. We changed the engine oil. Christmas eve hardly seems like the ideal time for that, but we’re actually overdo. We’ve been putting off the chore for a week. Regular blog readers know what a mess I made of oil changes in the past. This time we resolved to let Libby do it. Actually, we worked as a team. It went relatively well. We only made a big mess instead of a HUGE mess. Tomorrow we’ll wash off the black handprints and footprints from the decks and the cushions.

We found a broken coil spring under the engine. I have no idea what it came off of. Everything seems to function normally. I’ll have to study the manual. We also seem to have a fuel leak. There were a few quarts of diesel oil in the pan under the engine. We looked all over and can’t spot the leak. I think we’ll have to seek out a diesel mechanic once again this week.

Now it’s Christmas morning. We miss our family! That’s the hardest part to acclimate to with our new life style.

Still it’s very nice - 60 degrees and sunny at 7AM. Libby is making pancakes for breakfast as a special treat. We’ll head south to Lake Worth today, anchor and try some more fishing.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Landed Life

The Indian River, N28 00 W80 33
December 23, 2005
Now we’re thoroughly spoiled. We’ve just had four days of enjoyment ashore in the area of Melbourne Florida.

Tuesday we put in to Melbourne Harbor Marina. I didn’t want to do that but Libby rebelled. “I want a hot shower,” she said. I had to admit that it has been a long time, 12 days since we were last in a marina, so I relented. Soon after we got settled in the marina my brother Ed and his wife Sally called and invited us out to dinner. We all went to Red Lobster and had a fun evening.

The next day was the time for errands and projects. Ed graciously took the day off work to volunteer as a helper and chauffeur. I wanted to replace the bushings on the Monitor self-steering system, and to go grocery shopping, and to buy a fuel filter, and to change the oil, and to restore the backup of my old computer onto the new computer, and to go to West Marine and exchange a boat battery that I thought was defective.

Poor Ed; he didn’t realize that he got himself into so much. Everything turned out to be harder to accomplish than we thought. The West Marine project alone turned into a nightmare involving 4 trips to the stores plus three trips to the boat. Late in a very busy day we got back to Ed’s house where Sally had a nice spaghetti dinner waiting for us. Later in the evening, Libby and I did a slide show using the pictures on the computer.

The next day we left the marina and anchored out in the river. We were treated to a great show because there were three guys paraboarding near where we were anchored. The sport could also be called kite skiing. The boarders stand on a small surfboard, and hold on to the tether to a large kite. The kite is formed into the shape of a parasail by battens. The wind was 15-20 knots and the parasailers were rushing through the water at 20-30 knots. Wow were they fast. Every once in a while an extra strong gust of wind would lift them up in the air. They would soar 3 to 4 meters above the water and do flips and somersaults. I’d love to try it, but I think one needs the athletic body of an 18 year old to be good at it.

In the evening our friend Dave Hackett picked us up and took us home to his wife Jonnie. We had dinner and a very nice evening with the Hackett. We have a lot in common. Dave and Jonnie, like Libby and I, were high school sweethearts. Dave and I both spent our careers in the power industry and we have a lot of friends in common. Libby and I pumped their brains for lore about fishing gear. It’s crazy for us to live on a boat and not fish. Dave and Jonnie were very gracious hosts and we had a wonderful time with them.

Yesterday, I imposed on Ed and Sally one more time. They took me to Wall Mart where I bought fishing gear. It was the last shopping day before Christmas and very busy. After shopping they took me to Ozzie’s biker bar. Ed and Sally go to Ozzies every Friday where they serve a free lunch. They must be very popular because when we walked in everyone shouted, “Hi Sally.” When I got back to the boat there was just enough time to rig up one of the fishing poles, and to bait it with a piece of shrimp. Like magic, in less than 10 minutes Libby caught a very nice catfish. She thought it was a shark. This is the first time we caught a fish since 1962.

Thank you Ed and Sally and Dave and Jonnie. We had a great week.

Our next goal is to work our way down to Fort Pierce and then to Fort Lauderdale. In Lauderdale, I must visit Blue Water Charts, the foremost store in America to buy nautical charts and books. They can help us to plan our passage to the Florida keys, Pas Christian Mississippi, then Panama, Hawaii and Valdez Alaska.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wired Again

Melbourne Florida, N28 08 W80 37
December, 21, 2005
I’m finally reunited with my PC after a month getting it repaired. It feels very good to be wired again. For the past month my only access to computers was at public libraries where they limit you to 30 minutes per day. That’s not enough for me.

To catch up on recent history: we sailed back down the St. John’s river from Jacksonville to Blount Island, close to the sea. It was our intention to go outside (to sea) and sail down to Cape Canaveral. It would have been a 30-25 hour voyage. Unfortunately, the weather turned against us again. The winds were OK, but the forecast was for cold and rain. With great reluctance, I decided that it would not be prudent to go to sea. We would be short handed (I’ve come to accept that the two of us aren’t enough crew for offshore voyages), on top of that it would be cold with below freezing temperatures at night, and then it would be wet. Those things in combination made it too risky.

The backup plan was to use the Intracoastal waterway (ICW) so that’s what we did. It was cold and wet sailing on the ICW too. It took us three days to get 160 miles to Melbourne. As I listened to the weather reports during those three days, it made our decision sound better. The weather at sea worsened from the early forecasts. There were gale force winds and 12-15 foot seas.

Despite the weather, we made good time on the ICW. We finally learned to time our trips to take advantage of tidal currents, so we managed to have 1 to 2 knot currents with us almost all the time. We also had the foresail up and a stiff tailwind. With motor plus wind plus current, we were able to exceed 7 knots over the ground much of the time. That’s excellent speed.

Between the Saint John’s river and the city of Saint Augustine, the Tolmato River is lined with closely spaced houses. Most of them have a dock and a boat in their back yard. The wealth of the landowners varied from very rich to very poor. It was interesting to note that the poorest people seemed to project the image of the most warm and fun loving. On the other extreme, the homes of the richest people appeared formal and sterile. We didn’t see the people, only their backyards, so the observation is based only on the image projected by their yards.

In Saint Augustine, we anchored for the night just south of the Bridge of Lions. That bridge reminded me of one of the most ignoble and most embarrassing moments in my life. In 1985, we were living in Sweden but on vacation back in the states. We bought an old junker van to use for the vacation, and we drove from New York to Florida. We had a lot of trouble with the van during the trip. One problem was with the fuel line. It leaked. I did a temporary repair with duct tape, but the glue from the tape partially blocked the fuel line. The only way I could prevent the van from stalling at low speeds was to keep my foot full on the throttle.

One day, I crossed the Bridge of Lions in Saint Augustine. I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of people walking on the bridge. Some of them were walking on the roadway. I would have slowed or stopped for them, but the van would have stalled. Therefore, instead of stopping I leaned on the horn and made the people jump out of the way to avoid being run over as I barreled through at 40 mph. When we were nearly over the bridge I suddenly realized that the people were doing the Special Olympics. Well, I felt one inch high as I drove away, thoroughly ashamed of myself, but there was nothing I could do to undo the damage or to apologize.

Further south, as we passed Titusville Florida, we looked to the shore of the river on the west and saw what must be the world’s best lawn ornament. There was an office building near the river with a space shuttle sitting on the lawn. That sure beats a plastic pink flamingo. It even beats a plaster Virgin Mary. I think the shuttle was real. The building was next to the NASA causeway bridge and only a few miles from the NASA airstrip and the Vertical Assembly Building. Perhaps they took the shuttle to the shop for an oil change. If the shuttle on the lawn was only a model, it was a full scale model.

In Melbourne, we’re visiting with my brother Ed, and my sister in law Sally. We’ll also get to visit Dave and Jonnie Hackett. After that we’ll resume the southward trek.

Last week, I looked at the calendar and realized how unrealistic my timetable was to get to Pas Christian. I had been saying we would be in Pas Christian by New Year. That’s not even close. It will take several more weeks to get there. I guess I’m learning to live life as a retired person, or as a sailing cruiser. The days and weeks slip by, and I hardly notice. Perhaps one of these days I’ll be saying we’ll be there soon (this year, next year, the year after that, it’s all soon.) For a person who for many years, drove one project after another on hurried timetables, that’s a very big shift in attitude.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The JAX library

Jacksonville, FL Public Library

December 15, 2005

We spent last night on the Ortega River. It was one of those rare chances to find an anchorages within walking distance of a shopping center. Libby was able to do her Christmas shopping. It only took two hours, compared to what used to take two months when we lived in a house on shore. There are thunderstorms and gale winds coming tonight so we returned to the free dock at Jacksonville to ride them out.

This Jacksonville Library is an amazing place. It is a huge building in the old Andrew Carnegie style of architecture, yet the building is brand new. It has only been open since November 12, 2005. The ceilings are so high that it reminds me of the entry foyer to the Ministry of Information in the 1984 film Brazil.

The facilities in the library are elegant and extensive. So many books. So many Internet terminals. So many rooms. So many alligator chairs and couches. The terminals are the fastest Internet connections I've ever seen. I could go on and on. I recommend this library as a tourist destination. My friends know that I'm no friend of governments, and public spending, but I must say that this library looks like the best use of public money I've ever seen.

Odd sights

Jacksonville, FL Public Library
December 15, 2005

Odd sights: We wrote some about the interesting characters we meet along the way. We also see interesting things. One such sight we saw on the night we headed south from Cape Fear. As we passed Charleston, South Carolina around 0400 I saw a lot of boat lights up ahead. I assumed that it was a fishing fleet. As we got closer though I realized that they were all big ships, including some cruise ships. Cruise ships are lit up at night like Times Square.

All the ships were just sitting there. I checked the charts and sure enough we were just outside the outermost buoy for the Charleston entrance. Then I understood. The ships were waiting for river pilots. The pilots are necessary to navigate big ships on the rivers. It was the weekend after Thanksgiving. I presume that the holiday weekend meant that most pilots had the holiday off, thus causing a traffic jam at the entrance. Perhaps not. Perhaps the jams are there all the time.

The next night we saw another traffic jam of ships outside the entrance to Savannah River Georgia. Many of these ships were actually anchored in 50 feet of water. Landlubbers never get to see these sights, and since the jams happen out of sight from the shore, the never suspect what's going on over the horizon.

It reminded me of Lands Ort, the place in Sweden where the pilots live and where the pilot boats all leave from. I wonder how long the ships there have to wait for a pilot if they arrive in July during the national vacation period?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Repairs At Sea

Jacksonville FL Public Library
December 14, 2005

We set off Tuesday morning from the St Mary's River Inlet bound for Cape Canaveral, 170 miles away. We had a 48 hour weather window before the wind was forecast to reverse, and I reckoned that it would take us 35 hours to get there.

The day before, I noticed that one of the control lines for the Monitor self-steering was chaffed. I rushed to West Marine, and purchased new line to replace both control lines, then installed them on Tarwathie while at the dock waiting for the canvas man to install the dodger.

About one hour out, one of the Monitor control lines came loose. It had been anchored by a stop knot, and the knot must have come untied. Tsk tsk, shame on me. To put it back was tricky. It had to pass through a hole in the Monitor gear that is 2 feet behind the stern and right down at the water level. There was no way to reach it from up on deck.

I put on a life jacket, and had Libby start the motor and point us up into the wind. Then I climbed off the stern and held on to and stood on the monitor rails while I tried to fish the control line out from behind a block. It was very bouncy out there. With each passing wave I was dunked in the water up to my knees. I had to hang on very tight to keep from falling off.

I didn't succeed in getting the line that way. The only other options to fix it was to jump in the water (hopefully with the engine stopped) or to launch the dinghy and try to fix it from that base. The water was too cold for me to appreciate swimming. The dinghy idea would be very risky. With the stern rising and falling, if it fell on the dinghy's rail it would flip the dinghy over in a second.

We resolved to give up and sail back inland to do the repairs. The next stop was the St John's River entrance to Jacksonville. So that's what we did. By 1600 we sat at anchor and by 1700 I repaired the Monitor from the dinghy. Alas, we lost our weather window. Therefore we changed plans. Today we sailed 20 miles up the river to downtown Jacksonville. There's an anchorage here within walking distance to a shopping mall. Tomorrow, Libby will do her Christmas shopping, then we'll check the weather for another window.

I consider the Monitor as highly critical equipment. If it doesn't work, standing the watches is much more tiresome and would add to our fatigue problem on long voyages. I don't know if I can find a better way to repair the Monitor at sea, but I'll try. It sure would be easier if we had a young, strong, (and perhaps foolish), crewman willing to do things like jump into the cold water. I think of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing 16 Tons, "a mind that's weak and a back that's strong." Any nominations?

A truly prepared crew is ready to repair or replace anything and everything onboard. That's a nice ideal, but before being prepared for every repair at sea, I have to have at least one practice doing the same repair on land or at anchor. That will take years to accumulate that much experience. Joshua Slocumb set sail around the world along, but after retirement from a lifetime's experience at sea.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Fernandina Beach Library

December 9, 2005

One more project done. The cabin heater is installed. Now, the next time the temperature dips too low, we can warm up.

The hard part is that everything takes so long and is so expensive. The heater cost $400, but added small parts cost another $132, labor (help from the boatyard) cost $500, and docking for a week while we waited on the parts and labor cost $171. It wuld be very nice to be a more self sufficient handyman but one also needs a car to drive to the hardware store.

Next Monday we'll have the canvas work complete, and be ready to head out. Weather permitting, we'll go outside at St. Mary's river and sail 40 hours to Canaveral. We'll be in the Melbourne area by Thursday or so.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Common Sense

The other day I was trying to disassemble Tarwathie's emergency manual bilge pump because I couldn't draw enough suction to prime it. The going was tough. Parts were stuck and not coming free. Access space was very limited. The rubber parts I wanted to replace seemed to be glued in by a sealant. Worst, I feared that after success in taking it all apart, it would be hell to try to put it back together.

In the midst of that, my mechanical common sense kicked in. I had not been terribly thorough in trying ways to prime the pump. I had assumed that whatever the problem was, that I could not figure it out without first disassembling the pump and looking at the parts.

But wait, the functioning of a diaphram pump is very simple, and obvious by just looking at the pump. It was not common sense to presume that I didn't know how it worked. There are two rubber check valves with two diaphrams between them. Either the diaphrams were cracked or the valves leaked. I felt around and determined that the diaphrams were OK by touch.

I took of the discharge hose and used my palm as a secondary check valve. Aha, within seconds I was pumping water. There was nothing wrong with the pump, more than the valves were a little dry. If I prime it once per month and keep the rubber flexible, it will be OK. I can also use my palm as a backup priming device if necessary.

I realized that having spent four decades as an analytical engineer working on the theoretical side of things made my mechanical hands-on type of common sense atrophy. Worse, my confidence eroded to the point where I presumed that I couldn't figure out how mechanical things work and presumed that I couldn't fix them. Being a volunteer fireman in recent years helped me regain part of that. Maintaining my boat will force me to restore the rest. The pump was a good object lesson.


Fernandina Beach Public Library
December 6, 2005

A great benefit of this life style is that we get to meet so many nice people and so many interesting ones. Most interesting are the free spirited nonconformists. Come to think of it, we qualify for that description now. At home in West Charlton there is only one person I know who I would call free-spirited, nonconformist and unpredictable. I won't say who, guess yourself.

This weekend we met a truly interesting free spirit here in Fernandina Beach, his name is Baird. Baird is single. He has a 40 foot ketch. He has a history of building unconventional houses. He says that he is the king of straw bale house construction. He says he built a three storey house in Taos New Mexico entirely from glass shower doors that he bought from Good Will for $1 each. Baird said that the Taos house was featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1985.

Today, Baird lives in a shack that he designed and built himself. For starters he bought a two acre lot of land at the end of a dead end street in a bad neighborhood. That make the property cheap. The lot is beautiful. It is densely wooded with palms, live oaks, pecan trees, and exotic tropical species I don't know. One side of the lot fronts a salt marsh, that's part of the estuary.

Baird's shack is 16x20 feet, a single room surrounded by covered porches on all four sides. It's completely charming. A resort hotel would call it a jungle bungalow and charge a fortune to rent it. The jungle comes right to the edges of the shack. He has a non-attached bathroom. Baird built the foundation from telephone poles. He built the doors and the windows. The sinks and toilet are made from brightly colored Mexican pottery. Everything about the house is original, and unique and charming.

Behind the house is a 20x40 building Baird built as a workshop. He earns his living doing projects for people.

Baird should have built his house in Sedona, Arizona, or Oregon. If he built it in Fairbanks, it would fit right in with the typical iconoclast architecture. In Florida, on the waterfront things are different. Baird ran afoul of City Hall. He had no permits, not environmental impact statement, and he ignored each and every building code ever invented. The city of Fernandina Beach had no mercy for Baird. Someone else could have built a multimillion dollar palace on that land and generated lots of taxes.

The city is cutting off Baird's electricity and water and boarding up his house tomorrow. They treated him like dirt. Baird has little hope of stopping it. Baird will have to adopt our life style and live aboard his boat. I'm sure the free style of the cruising life will appeal to him, but he'll be limited in the number of building projects he can do to satisfy his creativity. A realtor told him that the land might be worth as much as a million dollars if the buildings were bulldozed. I hope he succeeds in getting it.

What a dirty shame that our modern world is so hostile to free spirits.

p.s. This is project week. We replaced a chain plate. We refinished the bowsprit. We're installing a cabin heater (that's what Libby wanted for her birthday.) We're also spending a bundle to have a new dodger and a bimini and sunshade made. It's a lot of money but Tarwathie is our home. We need those things to live in the extremes of hot and cold weather.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Go Slow

Fernandina Beach Public Library
November 30
We're going to slow down for a couple of weeks to work on the boat. In Fernandina Beach we're going to the same boatyard that we went to last June to paint the bottom. This time we're installing a cabin heater, and replacing one of the chain plates. I also need to repack the stuffing box (never did that before, hope I don't sink the boat trying)

Next Tuesday we're going to an outfit in Jacksonville to get a new dodger and a bimini (sun shade to landlubbers) built. If we sail in tropical waters we really need to keep the sun off our heads. That will take another week.

After these two weeks, we'll head south again.

The pace of all this work is sure different than when I was a project manager. It no longer bothers me though to sit and wait a week. Must be that I'm learning. :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The USS North Carolina

Wilmington, NC N34.13 W77.57
November 21st

(p.s. Jenny typed in this blog for me after the fact. Thanks, Jen.)

Today I spent the whole day touring the Battleship North Carolina. Libby wasn’t interested, so she went shopping instead.

The NC was launched in 1941. It is one generation older than the Ohio class battleship. It is therefore the penultimate battleship design. Like the Ohio class, it has nine 16 inch guns.
Unlike the USS Wisconsin that I toured in Norfolk, the NC allows visitors to tour both above and below decks. The USS Texas though let me explore almost anywhere.

I got a lots of nice pictures. I will have to wait for my PC to get fixed before I post them. For me there is a picture of me sitting in the captain’s swivel chair on the fridge. For Jenny and Christian, there are shots of the bakery and the galley. The NC galley served 2000 meals in 50 minutes. For my friend John F. there is a picture of a G.E. reduction gear. It is driven by 5970 RPM cross compound G.E. turbines and the output is a propeller shaft at 297 RPM.
To entertain myself, John U., and Paul D., I took great pictures of the analog computers used for fire control. All three of us would have loved to design those babies. For my son John, the armory, there are shots of the 16 inch munitions . I also took a shot of the block and breech block of a 16” gun. Whoa, that's serious iron!

Libby and I were born in 1944. We are not boomers, we identify much more with the war generation. Myself, despite my love of digital computers, I wish I could have been 20 years older so I could have served in WWII with WWII technology. I feel most at home with the objects, the culture and the technology of the 40s. I guess that makes me an old fart wannabe.

Anyhow, it made a very enjoyable day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Catching Up

Fernandina Beach Florida Public Library
November 28

It' s been a while since my last blog.

Good news. Last Wednesday they had the closing on our house. It's done. We're officially homeless. Unoffically we're content with our home on Tarwathie. It's a tremendous burden and source of worry off our minds.

On Thanksgiving day we missed our family and friends. We often hosted thanksgiving at our house with children, grandchildren and the Undrills. Oh well. Libby said she is not homesick but peoplesick. We made the best of it. We stayed another day in Southport. Libby baked a turkey on the boat and we had thanksgiving dinner. We walked around the town and found a porch with rocking chairs at the tourist visitor center. There we rocked and read the newspaper to pass the afternoon. Very pleasant.

Friday the weather report offered a two day window with favorable winds. We decided to go outside and sail for Florida to escape the cold. The other reason was the the waterway from here south sounded less pleasant. The next stop south is Myrtle Beach where there is a free dock next to an outlet mall. Being near malls on black Friday sounded awful. Anyway, it would take 2-3 weeks to reach Florida on the ICW, compared to 48 hours at sea.

The passage south was pleasant and uneventful. No gales, no seasickness. The trip took 48 hours, and the winds lasted 40 hours. Then the wind died and we had to motor. The trip would be the envy of lake sailors. 40 hours sailing with just the jib, no need to adjust the sails or come about or to jibe the whole time.

When we arrived in Florida waters it got warm. We were wearing long underwear, top clothes, sweaters and rain gear, so we stripped down to t-shirts and jeans. Felt good.

We will stay in Fernandina beach for some repairs and improvements. We're going to install a cabin heater, and a bimini top, and I'm going to replace a chain plate and to repack the stuffing box. It ought to take a week. After that we'll head for Melbourne FL to visit my brother Ed and the Hacketts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Tribute To North Carolina

Southport, NC

It may seem to you that we have been dawdling in North Carolina. It's true but only because we had so much fun here. What a nice state, and what nice people it had. There are blog articles on each place (the article on Wilmington and the battleship is not posted yet.), but here's my review of the state.

  • The Great Dismal Swamp canal. Wonderfully peacefule. Great Nature.

  • The North Carolina Welcome Center. Unbelievable hospitality.

  • Elizabeth City and the Rose Buddies. We stayed three days there, and would have gladly stayed longer. They made us feel right at home.

  • Oriental. We stayed there 40 hours, then went away, then came back for another 48 hours. Oriental is billing itself as the best sailing spot on the east coast. I'll second that. It is a wonderfully unspoiled small town with 2500 sailboats, and great sailing weather and great waters.

  • New Bern. If it hadn't started to turn cold here, I might have voted to spend the entire winter in New Bern. It's a very nice place.

  • Nags Head and the Outer Banks. I don't know what it would be like to live there, but it sure is a beautiful place to visit.

  • Bald Head Island. A little too yuppyish for Libby and I, but a wonderful island. Only golf carts on the roads, no cars. Salt marshes. Peace and quiet.

  • Wilmington looks like what Schenectady would like to be. Prosperous and bustling. They have the battleship North Carolina there and I spent a whole day crawling over it.

  • Southport. That is where we are today. The last stop in NC before entering South Carolina. Last night we bought shrimp and crabs from a fisherman two slips away. We gorged ourselves on the seafood last night. It was a gastric orgy. Today, we're just walking on the sidewalks of the residential and downtown areas. Southport is like Scotia, but nicer.

We've been to a lot of places in the past months and had a lot of fun, but North Carolina takes the prize as the most fun place we've been to. We are very glad that we didn't skip it and sail south on the outside.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Lessons Learned

Our experience with the gale was not our best moment seamanship-wise. Some of the mistakes committed were within the realm of things we knew about. There's a difference between knowing best practices and living the consequences of not following them. Therefore, I suspect we'll take the following list seriously. For each rule, I'll provide some background explaining what went wrong.

  1. A few things onboard are critical. Problems with critical items must be solved or a backup plan accepted before departure.

  2. The boat and contents must be properly secured before departure for a sea passage.

  3. We must have a dead reckoning navigation plan to use as backup in case of electronics failure.

  4. Pro-actively fix problems when they are first noticed.

  5. Sea sickness remedies must be taken in advance of any queasiness.

  6. All food and other critical equipment must be stored in waterproof containers.

  7. Every kind of operational maneuver must be tested and rehearsed at the dock.

  8. We need a crew plan for long passages. The plan must allow for one of us to be incapacitated.

  9. At sea we need a supply of ready-made food to use when the going gets rough.

Here are some of the things that went wrong that made us come up with this list.

  • On the spur of the moment, as we passed through Beaufort, we decided to go out to sea instead of staying in port one more day. This spur of the moment decision was the root of much of our trouble.

  • Things were stored on deck and stored loose under the dinghy. That worked well for several months including the rough weather we had on Champlain. In the height of the gale these things started getting in the way. Things came out from under the dinghy. We needed to close the hatch in the cabin because water was coming in, but the tarp stored under the dinghy got in the way and prevented the hatch from closing.

    I did dog down the cockpit floor and did a few other things as we departed shore. However, we need a checklist. We'll have to develop such a departure checklist and add to it as we learn more.

  • I made a hasty navigation plan using the GPS and without consulting the paper charts. The plan missed some shoal waters along the intended course. I didn't discover this error until I double checked with the printed charts three hours out. Good for me double checking, shame on me for poor planning in the first place.

  • A secondary consequence of making a dead reckoning navigation plan is that hasty spontaneous decisions to put to sea are eliminated. It would be a good practice to make it a big deal to transition from not-at-sea to at-sea modes of discipline.

    Compare it to your home versus driving habits. At home and office we leave everything laying around and do little or nothing to prepare for emergencies (unless you expect a hurricane). In the car you develop good safety habits. You make sure doors are closed, you fasten seat belts (don't you?) You see to it that cargo and kids are adequately secured. Our boat is both our home and our car so to speak, so we need extra ritual to remind us to switch from one culture to the other.

  • We noticed an excessive compass deviation of 3-10 degrees two days before leaving. We were still dinking around trying to diagnose it. When we left shore in Beaufort, it was still unresolved.

    When I discovered the navigation planning error, it made me realize that if we had a GPS failure right then, we would have been in serious trouble because we didn't trust the compass. A day later I realized that I have two other compasses onboard and we could have made a backup plan to use those.

  • With the rail underwater for so much of the time, we wound up with a lot of water inside. I estimate 30 gallons. It ran down the walls, through the food storage lockers and into the bilge. A lot of food in the lockers got wet and had to be discarded.

    We'll try to find and fix the leak but the reality is that leaks are inevitable on boats. As we fix some, new ones will appear. For ocean crossings, we must protect the food in waterproof containers.

  • When I tried to double reef the mainsail, it didn't work. The jiffy reefing line jammed somehow. It was dark and I couldn't see why. I let it go till dawn, sailing with the mainsail in a baggy shape, not flat. After dawn I see that I routed the line through boom bails and they jammed them. The real error was not testing the reefing while at the dock. I had never double reefed before. Still haven't triple reefed at sea. Yesterday at the dock we practiced single, double and triple reefing, and tried the manual emergency bilge pump (it didn't work). The lesson is to verify everything by rehearsals and drills.

  • The water streaming over the decks managed to untie three knots that I'm sure were properly tied. I never suspected that water could do that. Two of those knots secured the jacklines. The jackline is the line attached to the boat that one tethers ones safety harness to in order to prevent falling overboard. Jacklines have life safety importance! I don't know how to test each knot on each kind of line on each kind of fastener for all weather. I'm not sure of a silver bullet for this problem.

  • After dawn I saw that the lazy jacks and the running backstay were both fouling the double reefed mainsail, threatening to rip the sail. Then the light bulb in my head went off. Things were deteriorating and I was doing nothing about it. Each additional problem made it incrementally more difficult to deal with current conditions and with new problems; that's my definition of deteriorating.

    I was cold, tired, before dawn I was scared of doing things in the dark, I was short handed because Libby was sick, my muscles hurt especially my arms from bracing myself. Unless I eversed the trend, things could get very bad. That spurred me to action, and I started correcting every problem I saw until they were all corrected. I must have made two dozen trips to the foredeck.

    The point is, you have to be brave and pro-active, and not cower. It may be scary to climb out to the end of the boom to fix something in the dark in rough weather, but the risk of not doing it could be worse.

    A second point is that it is vital to recognize, as I did, when things are deteriorating, then act immediately to reverse that trend. That was part of my pilot training, and it served me well. Bad accidents usually result from a chain of mistakes, not single mistake.

  • A lot of things fell on the cabin floor. That's normal for sailboats. However, we had a lot of books stored in milk crates in the V-berth. They were secured with lines fastened to the wall. The boat got knocked around so much that the fastenings tore the screws out of the wall. Properly, secured means fasteners appropriately strong.

  • Libby felt fine until we changed course at 0300. Then she got seasick within seconds. She has a wristwatch like seasickness device but she wasn't wearing it and she didn't ask for it until five hours later. She was down for 12 hours before recovering enough to help me again. We must prevent seasickness if possible, not remedy it after the fact.

  • Libby and I will have to think carefully about the crew problem. Always requiring a third person on board could seriously cut into our around the world plans. We need to improve our physical condition and stamina, our skills, and we sometimes need to add more crew members. Fatigue at the helm leads to poor performance and errors.

  • Through all this, Tarwathie behaved well. No excessive heeling, no knockdowns, no broaches. The Westsail 32 is a seaworthy boat. I'm very glad we have her. If we were in a modern Hunter, or Catalina or Benetau boat I would have been more scared.

Anyhow, I expect that we'll refine this list and live by it as time goes on.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Thursday we left Oriental headed for Cape Fear. The plan was to head for Beaufort, NC where the inlet to the ocean is, then decide whether to overnight there or to continue. When we got there, it was noon, it was sunny, it was warm, it was breezy. We said go for it.

We sailed southward with a 20-25 knot wind behind us. I only had the jib up. Tarwathie flew. Several times we hit 7.6 knots, not bad for a boat with a hull speed of 6.5 knots...

There is a shoal that sticks out 30 miles from Cape Fear. We steered for the end of the shoal, planning to turn right when we past it. We got to the turn at 0330, way ahead of my planned schedule. When we turned right is when the trouble started.

We were close hauled into the wind and there was too much wind. The rail was underwater much of the time with water streaming over the deck. I finally took the jib down and replaced it with a staysail plus a double reefed main. The reefing didn't work right. Libby got seasick and went below, leaving me single handed. Then, about dawn the winds picked up to force 8. I estimate 35 knots, which is a gale. The spray was blowing off the wavetops forming spindrift.

To make a long story short, it took 15 hours to go that last 30 miles. When we got there, we were both exhausted. We put into a marina on Bald Head Island, and slept and rested for 36 hours before continuing.

The gale was an excellent learning opportunity. I'll write up a lessons learned blog article soon.

Today we're in Wilmington, and I plan to tour the battleship North Carolina tomorrow. Tropical storm Gamma is approaching, and we'll have to find a place to hide out to avoid that. Boy what a year for storms.

Our next goal is Fernandina Beach, Florida. We may have to stop in Charleston, SC first. I'd prefer to sail it outside rather than use the ICW. We'll see.

Right now I'm in the library, and they limit users to 30 mintues. So I have to go.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oriental Again

Oriental, North Carolina N35 01 W76 42
November 16th

Yesterday we sailed from New Bern Bay back to Oriental. I wanted to work on the engine and if I got stuck, it would be easier to find a mechanic in Oriental.

It’s funny here at the public dock. Across the street is a coffee shop where people sit on the porch drinking lattes. When a boat comes in or out, they jump to help with the lines. I think they are all armchair sailors.

A nice armchair sailor came to chat. He had a nautical belt, a nautical hat, and a beard. He bent my ear for 45 minutes about mishaps at the locks in Beluga WA.

There is a steady stream of people that come to admire the Westsail 32.
2500 sailboats in Oriental and less than 2500 people; they know sailing.

My new computer suddenly died last night. OH NO! I mailed to off to the repair shop today, 2-3 weeks before I get it back. Until then, I will write blogs longhand and mail them to Jenny to post for me. Thanks Jenny!

We have a new destination as of today. We contacted Americare and volunteered for Katrina Relief. We are going to Pas Christian, Mississippi to help rebuild the town. Tarwathie will be anchored in nearby St. Lois Bay. We need confirmation that we can anchor. Other than that, it’s a go.

Next stop will be Wilmington, NC. We hope to see Walt, a long-time friend, this weekend.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Vacation From Sailing

New Bern, N35 06 W77 02
Last night is the first night in more than a month that we slept on land. Libby luxuriated by turning up the heat in the motel room because we woke up to a cold morning every day in the past month also.

I know that we’re living life as if it were a permanent vacation. Nevertheless, we decided to splurge and see those places in the outer banks that we couldn’t get to by boat. We left Tarwathie at the Sheraton Hotel Marina in New Bern and rented a car. Last night we slept on Roanoke Island. Before going to bed we went down to the waterfront and looked across at the banks. They were lit up like the Las Vegas strip -- not very appealing. There was an Elizabethan Festival going on in Roanoke over the weekend with period costumes, reenactments, and falconry. We would have stayed for that but then we would have missed the Outer Banks.

See pictures after this post.

We started early at 7AM this morning and drove across the bridge to Nags Head on the Outer Banks. The first impression wasn’t good. First we came to a strip that looks like route 15 in Kissimmee, Florida just east of Disney World. We switched streets to see the ocean, but there was a solid wall of houses that blocked the view of the ocean and nearly blocked the sky. It looked like Marco Island, Florida, a place entirely visitor hostile. Luckily, we saw all the bad stuff before 0800, the rest of the day was nothing but good.

We found an access point and walked out onto the beach. It was lovely. Nice clean sand. Water not too cold. Lots of fishermen and people taking their morning walks with coffee cups in hand. Libby and I love to walk on ocean beaches. When I do it, I feel compelled to walk barefoot in the surf. It reminds me of the two weeks I spent in Recife, Brazil where I ran barefoot in the surf every morning.

Next we went to a state park that featured 90 foot sand dunes and a hang gliding school. I promised Libby that I’d take a hang gliding lesson if she would. The park was great. The dunes are amazing. The sand is very fine. There was no wind today so we didn’t see the sand blowing, nor did we see hang gliders. From the top of the highest dune one has splendid views of the Atlantic to the east and Pamlico Sound to the west. I have several pictures but none of them give an idea of the scale of these dunes.

After that we went to Nags Head Wilderness, maintained by the Nature Conservancy. It is a forest and swamp so well sheltered that one has no idea that he or she is so close to the ocean. It is replete with many rare species of plants. It was delightful.

Then we drove south toward Cape Hatteras. I was happy to see the developed part stop abruptly as we entered the Hatteras National Seashore. The next 30 miles we saw wonderful nature. From east to west one has the Atlantic Ocean, beach, dunes, road, tidal flats (i.e. lagoons and estuaries), scrub forest, Pamlico Sound. It’s pretty no matter where you look. We stopped a couple of times to walk over the dunes to see the ocean. Each time we found splendid beaches. We saw some cars that drove on the beach, men fishing in the surf, and we saw surfers.

60 miles south of Nags Head one comes to Hatteras Lighthouse. We took another hike there, partly in the lagoons and partly on the beach. It was nice again. The lighthouse itself was closed to visitors for the winter so we didn’t climb up. Our memory of passing Cape Hatteras by boat was from last June. We passed the Hatteras marker near dusk, and land was nowhere in sight. That night we sailed north and made Virginia Beach 24 hours later. It must be that the offshore waters there are very shallow for many miles out from the beach.

After the hike near the lighthouse we continued south. Our plan was to take two ferry rides and then return to New Bern completing a circle tour. When we got to the first ferry we saw signs that the other ferries were fully booked. We couldn’t continue. That was a disappointment. Not only did we miss a ferry ride but we had to make a 120 mile detour to return by land. Still it made a splendid day.

On the trip we saw several of the places where we came down by boat. We saw the place where we anchored in the fog, and the Little Alligator River where we anchored the night before that. We drove by the marina where the nasty man was and we made an appropriate obscene gesture as we went by. We could see the place at the Alligator River entrance where we ran aground. By the way I read a footnote in a cruising guide that said that the buoys at the entrance to the Alligator River had been rearranged ten years ago. But, unfortunately, even the newest charts do not show the new arrangement. When I wrote in the blog that we made no errors in navigation that night, I was wrong. A truly professional skipper would buy that phone book size book entitled “Notice To Mariners” and read all the thousands of footnotes about errors and changes on the charts, then make pencil notes on every chart he buys. I didn’t do that; duh. But, I can no longer claim that I made no errors.

Anyhow, we returned to New Bern and Tarwathie by 1800 on Sunday, making the end to a very fun weekend.

My morning's accomplishments

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A Live Oak tree in the wilderness

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Libby loves lichens

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Hmm, can I get Tarwathie in to this wilderness?

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These cotton balls aren't rotten

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Hey, I found a new painter for the dinghy.

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On Top of The Dune World

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On the beach at Nags Head

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Coochie Coo

Neuse River, N34 58 W 76 45
November 11. It is such a splendid morning under sail out here on the river that I found myself inventing a song -- “Five knots two. Sky is blue. Coochie Coochie Coochie Coo. We’re on the way to New Bern town.”

Last night in Oriental was a lot of fun. We went to an amateur theater production of “Sylvia”, an adult comedy in two acts. Out of two hundred or so people in the audience only a dozen or so were sailors. It was easy to tell. The sailors wore levis and t shirts while everyone else was dressed in semi formal evening wear. No matter, everyone had fun.

The easy social live of cruising sailors also became a little more apparent yesterday. We talked Alan and Laura, the couple on the other Westsail, into going to the play with us. While we were talking, another sailing couple, Richard and Pat, just happened to overhear as they were walking by and said they too would like to go to the show. So the six of us went together. Before the show, we six were sitting on the deck having cocktails when a fourth sailing couple came into the harbor in a little dingy. They rowed up to our boat, passed up a bottle of wine and asked if they could join the party. They were Tom and Rosie.

We needed a propane bottle refilled. The store is about one mile away. I was trying to lash the bottle to the bicycle, much to Libby’s dislike. She was afraid I‘d fall and the bottle would explode. I had to admit that the worry was somewhat justified, but I wasn’t going to walk a mile with a full bottle of propane. Just then a strange man came along and said, “Come. I’ll give you a ride up to the store.” The man’s name was Ed, he moved to Oriental recently, and he was just being helpful. Boy what nice hospitality we’ve found in North Carolina. The horrid man at the Alligator Marina was the only blemish.

The social contacts are easy to make. Interestingly though, the sailors and the power boaters seldom mix.

Remember that young couple we wrote about before? Sam and Jackie. They showed up last night too. While Libby and I were relaxing two days in Oriental Harbor, they had been pressing ahead under sail in rather rough weather. Sam, told me that his only out-of-pocket boat expense since leaving Maryland has been 13 gallons of gasoline. I still admire their spunk.

I met another sailing couple on the sidewalk, Jim and Paula. They are from New Jersey and it sounds like they have extensive cruising experience. We talked about vagabond sailors. I told them the story about Misty Isles that I blogged about last June. They told me about Chuck. Chuck had a Bristol 28. He sat at anchor in New Jersey month after month. One day he was gone. Jim asked other boaters about Chuck and they said, “He scraped up $100 so he headed south as far as the money will take him.” Jim and Paula met chuck a few weeks later 50 miles southward. The money didn’t take Chuck far. They met him again a year later in Saint Augustine Florida. Jim and Paula took a cruise to the Bahamas, the Keys and the Tortugas then headed north again. Eight months later they got to Fort Pierce, Florida and there was Chuck. However this time Chuck had a woman onboard. She had jumped ship from a 49 foot luxury yacht to sail with Chuck. Wow!

This morning Alan and Laura left bound for Moorhead City then Bermuda. Richard and Pat left for the Bahamas. Sam and Jackie were going to rest a day before continuing. Libby and I left for New Bern. New Bern is up the Neuse River a way. It is said to be bigger than Oriental, but still unspoiled. We’ll check it out.

They sure make big rivers down here. The Neuse River is 16 miles wide at one point and 150 miles long. Compare that to Lake Champlain which is 13 miles wide at one point and 125 miles long. But this is a river! Northerners like us though have a hard time grasping how shallow these bodies of water are. Champlain has some shoals but mostly it’s deep from shore to shore. Down here the lakes and rivers can be only 2 to 3 feet deep for mile after mile and from shore to shore. They have narrow channels, some natural, some man-made. One has to pay close attention or risk running aground.

I confess that having a chart-plotting GPS makes an almost irresistible temptation to become dependent on it. It is so graphic, so easy to use and so accurate that it’s a pleasure. It would be much more challenging to navigate this trip with only paper charts and compass. I really need some days with the GPS turned off to keep in practice. I intend to do that real soon now.

Libby is spending the morning practicing tying bowline knots. She’s been trying to master the bowline for a year now. Laura Grayson taught her a simplified method of tying a bowline. Libby is profoundly grateful to Laura for that.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lost Address Book

When I dropped my computer in the water several weeks ago I lost access to the contents of the hard disk. I have a backup but it will take me several weeks more to restore it.

The reason I'm writing this is to appeal to my friends to resend their email addresses please. That way I can rebuild our address book. Please email your email address to


Oriental, North Carolina, N35 01 W76 41
November 10. Oriental is a nice little fishing village with perhaps 1,000 people living “downtown.” The city harbor is filled with shrimp boats. The harbor and the surrounding creeks are also filled with sailboats. There are marinas, boatyards, marine supply stores, marine repair businesses, and outfitters. It appears that nearly everything in Oriental is oriented around boats.

Last February, when we were shopping for Westsails, we stopped in Oriental. Libby and I were charmed by the place at that time and it hasn’t changed. It is an unspoiled little paradise. Compare it to Boothbay Harbor from 40 years, but North Carolina rather than Maine style. Kathy Messitt said that Oriental is also a real estate hot spot with soaring property values. We hope is remains unspoiled.

We can ride our bike to the local stores. We’d like to stay here another night and go to a performance from the local amateur theater tonight.

We’re considering hanging around Oriental or nearby North Bern for some weeks. New Bern might be somewhat more affordable because it is off the Intercoastal Waterway.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mud Bunnies

Oriental North Carolina,
November 9. Robb Pike gave us a nautical dictionary as a present. Today Libby invented a new term for it. I was remarking about the bits of mud that gather in the bow after we raise the anchor. The mud is brought up by the chain and the anchor. We wash it away but it seems that for hours and days after that new bits of mud continuously appear on the foredeck. I remarked that they must be reproducing under the bowsprit. Libby said, “They are Mud Bunnies.” That’s our contribution to the nautical dictionary.

This morning we heard a very strange sound. It sounded like a Gaia Burp. A loud and low pitched vibration sound lasting about a second. It surprised us because we were more than 6 miles away from any land or any vessel. The sounded repeated once, then we heard a boom like an explosion. A study of the charts shows a prohibited zone about 12 miles away from us, ringed by numerous warning buoys. There is also a Marine air station nearby. Putting two and two together, I thing the sounds were those of a Vulcan Gatling Gun burst. I have new respect for notations on a nautical chart that says “prohibited.”

The Gaia burp reminds me of my first time ever on a sailboat was on Fräs, the boat of Karl Gnospelius, in Trösa Sweden. Karl and his family took me to an island where we walked around. We found a big sign on the shore. It said, “Forbidden. Military Bombing Target Area.” Karl laughed it off, saying that it was nothing serious. Luckily he was right, at least about that day. I had such a nice time that day, I resolved to get a boat and sail myself. The rest is history.

We arrived in Oriental and rented a slip at the Oriental Marina. 15 minutes later, Moon Song with our friends Alan and Laura pulled in behind us. They were smarter than us. They tied up at the free city dock.

I biked up the road and got the package that Jenny sent to us general delivery. It worked. Thank you Jenny. That’s the first mail we got while cruising.

Oriental is a very nice place. I’ll write more about it later.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Eastham Creek, N3518 W76 36

November 8. Today started off with dense fog for the first time this year. We could only see about 25 meters until 0945 when it lifted and we could way anchor. I suspect that we sat in a little patch of fog. There was no wind to blow it away. Boats that sat 200 meters away could leave two hours earlier. Oh well, it’s not as if we’re in a hurry.

We came up to the young couple that we met in The Great Dismal Swamp. They appear to be about 20 years old. They appear to have only one set of clothes (hooded sweat shirts). They have a small 23 foot boat. They wash dishes in the sand. When we came up on them they were dead in the water but they looked totally relaxed. We stopped to ask if they needed a tow or other assistance. They said, “No. We ran out of gas and when we get around to filling the tank from this jerry can, we’ll go.” Boy I admire their spunk. Perhaps I’m a little envious that they live the cruising life at 20 rather than at 60. How will they make the world a better place by their existence? I don’t know but they are still young enough to start a family or to start a career so it’s too early to judge. I wish them well.

A sailboat passed us and the people got all excited and waved and shouted. They are friends of Al Hatch, former owner of Tarwathie and they thought I was Al. They veered so close to us they almost made me collide with a third sailboat nearby.

Now it’s 1430, not even mid afternoon, and we’re anchored in an idyllic quiet spot. Why so early? No good reason, it is a nice day and that’s a nice place, enough reason. Commercial fisherman dock their boats further up this creek so we’re hoping to flag one down and buy some fish or crabs. Boy this cruising life is hard to take.

Remember that thingy on the engine that I said took hours to screw in, and then caused a runaway engine? We’ll I didn’t mention that when we took it out it had a mangled rubber washer. I tried replacing the washer with an O ring when we put it back. Now that thingy is dripping diesel fuel when the engine runs. That means taking it off again - groan. Richard the mechanic said that we need an articulated extension to get at it. That’s a curved open end wrench that attaches to the end of a socket extender. I have no idea where to buy such a thing.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Pungo River, N35 34 W76 28
November 7. We had a very strange experience this morning. We stopped at Alligator River Marina to buy diesel fuel. The man there who helped us was belligerent and rude. I don’t know what we did if anything to provoke this man but nobody should treat customers the way he did. Fortunately for us, we didn’t get overly upset and it didn’t ruin our day.

It was a fine fine day for sailing. We sailed some motored some and motor sailed some. We navigated some very narrow channels. We traversed the Pungo River canal. The canal is 18 miles long. It goes in a dead straight line through a wildlife refuge. The nature is very pretty. We didn’t see creatures except for a big dead tree full of vultures. The tree looked like a prop for a Hollywood movie.

Today for the first time it was really warm. I went for my after lunch nap on the foredeck but it was too hot. I had to go below.

Tonight the strangest sailboat I ever saw anchored next to us. It appears to be about 40 feet long with a 19 foot beam. The cabin roof is only one foot above the deck with black glass wrap-around windows, otherwise the deck is flush. The windows look like slits in a Nazi pillbox. It makes me think of the Monitor and the Merrimack and of the James Bond movie Doctor No.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Moon Song

Little Alligator River, N35 56 W76 01
November 6. We met a great couple with a Westsail 32! Alan and Laura Grayson on the W32 Moon Song. Alan is from the south Island of New Zealand. Laura has a dazzling smile that could capture a man’s heart at 50 paces.

Like us, Alan and Laura sold all their land bound stuff and set off to see the world on their Westsail. They’ve had Moon Song for 6 years and did a lot of custom modifications. We had great fun inspecting each other’s boats and picking up ideas. I love the way they made chart storage in the V-berth. Alan loves the sitting navigator’s station we have in Tarwathie.

Alan and Laura’s immediate destination is Bermuda. Sounds great to me. Good luck Moon Song.

We left Elizabeth City around 900. I would have liked to stay yet another day but we were already one day over the two day limit for free docks. We passed the Coast Guard station and the blimp factory and the Fugi blimp. The blimp hanger is 180 feet tall, and big enough for three football fields to fit in side. There are ruins of yet another hanger twice as big that burned down. The Rose Buddies said that hanger was the biggest wooden building in the world at one time. I can imagine the local volunteer firemen staring at that on the day it burned.

Today is very nice for sailing except that after noon we came to a leg dead into the wind. We sailed that for 4 hours making very slow progress. Then, to get to the anchorage before dark we doused the sails and started the engine.

Something went wrong within 10 minutes of motoring. We were making less than 0.4 knots at maximum cruising throttle! We must have snagged a crab pot. I looked over the side and can see nothing. We put her in reverse to clear the foul. That helped, and now we’re making 3 knots into the wind. Still 1 knot less than normal for this RPM. I’ll have to go swimming at the anchorage to inspect the propeller and the bottom. Water temperature is 60 degrees. Brisk but not impossible.

It took nearly three hours to motor in to our anchorage. By the time we got here and changed course beam to the wind, the motoring speed had returned to normal. We’ll see tomorrow if I have the will power to go swimming to inspect the bottom.

We ran aground just after passing through channel markers. We didn’t make any errors. According to two charts and one GPS, we should have been clear of shoals. Nevertheless, we ran aground. The thump thump as the keel hit bottom at every wave trough was awful. Fortunately we were able to back out with little trouble. It’s a reminder though of how easy it is. Bottom conditions change.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I Should Have Staid In Bed

Elizabeth City, North Carolina, N36 18 W76 13
Oh what a bad day this has been. The story actually starts yesterday.

Friday I changed the engine oil. I resolved to do it right because the last time I did it I made a terrible mess. One changes the oil in a marine diesel engine by first getting the engine hot, then sucking the oil out through the dipstick tube.

I have a hand suction pump used for many purposes including oil changes. I attach a long tube to the pump, put the tube down the dipstick, then use an empty gallon container to catch the dirty oil. Before starting I got everything I would need lined up. The pump, oil absorbant pads, plastic shopping bags to hold oily rags and the waste oil bottle, soap, water. I also stripped down to just an old pair of pants.

Well that was the theory. It went awry when my suction pump broke right in the middle of the suck out operation. I had to take it apart, repair it and put it back together. But it was full of oil at the time, so the operation was very messy. When that was done I changed the oil filter. I tried to be careful and enclose the filter in a plastic bag before beginning. It was no help. As I loosened the filter oil squirted out everywhere, and dripped out of the bag. I had to go below to get more bags to triple bag it. Libby was doing the laundry so I had to do it myself. Then I saw the triple bags leaking oil. I scrambled to get the whole mess ashore.

By the time I was done there was oil everywhere. All over inside the engine compartment. Oil in the cockpit. Oily footprints on the stairs, down below, and on the deck. Oil on the teak. Oil on my hands, my face, my arms, my pants, my shoes, my socks, even my feet. What a mess. It took me three hours to clean it up.

Last night Libby and I decided to stay two more days and rent a car to see the outer banks. We would move the boat to a nearby marina. This morning first thing I checked the marina but it was full. We had to cancel those plans.

Next I wanted to call ahead to the next marina southward to see if they had diesel fuel. A lot of fueling facilities around here were damaged by hurricanes and thus out of service. My cell phone said I couldn’t call. It was because my bill wasn’t paid because my old credit card expired. I tried to pay the bill on the phone using my new credit card. It did not work. I tried to pay the bill with the computer. It didn’t work. I retried with the computer 4 times. On the 5th time it worked, but my cell phone still didn’t work. I thought we’d have to wait till Monday. I went ashore and tried to use a pay phone. It swallowed my money but wouldn’t call anywhere.

All those troubles put me in a foul mood, but little did I know what was coming. We left the dock and headed south. Only one mile away the engine suddenly died. I checked the fuel filter and the reservoir was dry. Uh oh. That meant that there would be air in the fuel lines. Diesel engines don’t run if there’s even a little air in the lines. We couldn’t continue under sail because there is another narrow canal ahead. The only choice was to try to sail back to the city docks we just left.

Poor Libby. She had the helm and just then a tugboat towing a barge came around the bend. Libby had to scramble to get out of it’s way. We sailed back to the city docks, and prepared to come in under sail.

It almost worked but my bowsprit hit a handrail on the dock and broke it. The boat rebounded so we couldn’t reach the dock anymore. The wind also died, so we were adrift, no power, no sails, in a crowded harbor. I had to shout for help. Fortunately some people did come to help and I threw them a line, and they pulled us into a slip.

First chore was to double back and repair the railing we broke. Next was to fix the engine and bleed the lines. I opened up the covers and looked in. The whole sump under the engine was covered with diesel fuel! I looked around and soon found the problem. The return fuel line, a rubber hose, had been pulled off. I must have stepped on it yesterday when changing the oil. The open end of the return line would pump out fuel while the engine was running.

All in all, no nincompoop could have done worse at the oil change job than I did. Not only did I make a huge mess, I broke the engine as well.

I pumped out a gallon of fuel from the sump and got rid of that, Then I started on the job of bleeding the engine using the methods I learned from Ernie, the mechanic in Fernandina Beach, last summer. I paid Ernie to teach me how to do it. It requires loosening each fitting in the fuel system chain, and working the fuel pump by hand until fuel squirts out. Then to the next downstream fitting and the next. The hardest part was the air bleed screw on top of the anti-stall device on the fuel pump. It is a screw within a bolt within a nut. Three coaxial pieces, each using a different size wrench. Worst of all, it was in a spot so cramped that I couldn’t get my fingers in there from any angle. I tried with open end wrenches, and sure enough I unscrewed the wrong part. The whole thing fell off and went down into the sump.

Three hours later, with both Libby and I trying everything possible, we managed to get the part screwed back into place. But then as I tried to complete the air bleeding. It didn’t work and the engine would not start, not even cough.

The man who helped pull us into the slip said he was an engine mechanic for 30 years and he would help if I got stuck. His name was Richard. Reluctantly I went to ask Richard for help.

Richard came and I showed him all the steps that I had done, but still no fuel to the fuel injectors. He looked and said, “You even have self bleeding injectors.” “What,” I said. He showed me the bolts to loosen to bleed the system. Ernie never touched those and never told me about them. Obviously Ernie didn’t know about self bleeders. (Ernie was a jet engine mechanic by background). All those steps that Ernie had showed me were unnecessary. Richard bled the injectors with the self bleeders and the engine started right up.

But wait, the story isn’t done. Now the engine raced to redline speed. It wouldn’t respond to the throttle at all. It wouldn’t shut down when we pulled on the fuel cutoff. We had a runaway situation that could have caused the engine to explode! Fortunately by Richard pulling hard on the fuel cutoff, the RPMs reduced. Under Richard’s directions I undid a hose clamp and pulled of the air intake cover, then I used my palm to block the air and shut down the engine.

The problem was that piece that Libby and I took four hours to screw back in. We screwed it in too much, and it held the fuel orifice open. Richard worked to back off the screw turn by turn until the engine once again responded to the throttle and the fuel cutoff. Phew. Engine repaired.

After several hours cleaning up once again things are almost restored to normal. I swear though I’ll think twice before changing the oil myself again. When at a marina I’ll hire a mechanic to do it. When in some remote island with no mechanic around, I’ll either have to do it myself or let Libby do it. That would make me feel guilty though. That’s not a proper job for Libby.

The rest of the day was much better. We met another Westsail couple at the wine and cheese reception. They too sold their house and will cruise the world. We have a lot in common with them. They came aboard and to look at Tarwathie. We’ll board their boat tomorrow morning.

Then we took Richard and his wife Margaret out to diner to thank him for his valuable help with the engine. I might have blown it up with a runaway if Richard hadn’t have been there.

Richard and Margaret are from Toronto. We had a very pleasant evening with them swapping stories about sailing.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Libby Off With The Laundry

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The Harbor of Hospitality

Elizabeth City, North Carolina, N36 18 W76 13
This is a very enjoyable place. Nice facilities. Friendly. We’ve been looking around on foot and on the bike. The docks are full of sailboats of others heading south. Most are Canadian and most are heading for the Bahamas.

Good news -- we heard that our friend Rollie is on the road to recovery. Outstanding!

A wizened man who reminds me of Steve Randal pulled in on a Tanzer 27. Anorlunda, our previous boat now in the hands of John and family was a Tanzer 27. I’m embarrassed to say I thought it was a Catalina.

A group of old guys and gals called The Rose Buddies live in Elizabeth City. They take it upon themselves to be the dockmasters and the hosts of the daily wine and cheese reception for visting boaters. How nice for them and how nice for the boaters. I bet it enriches their lives.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Roll Over Boltzmann

Elizabeth City, North Carolina, N36 18 W76 13
Imagine a number of vessels confined in a small area. They, like me, are waiting 90 minutes for a bridge to open. The wind is blowing and the tidal current is moving and the river is too deep to anchor, therefore, none of the vessels can stay still. It became interesting when there were three of us dancing about trying to avoid collisions. Now imagine the same scene 60 minutes later when there are more than 25 boats in the same space doing the dance. It seems improbable that so many free moving atoms in a small space could avoid collisions. In fact, Boltzmann invented the statistical laws of how they should behave. Amazingly there were no collisions. The behavior of these boats is the antithesis of a perfect gas, so what should we say? Not imperfect gas. Perhaps they form a superfluid. Perhaps the captains are all Maxwell’s demons. How about a Maxwell craven as opposed to a perfect gas.

We spent the night rafted up with a lot of other boats at the NC visitor’s center. We took off early this morning at 0700. Boy was it cold. The weather down here is very pleasant in the afternoons but at night it gets really cold.

The canal leads to a river and the river leads to Elizabeth City. What a nice place. Free docks, free water, free WI-FI, free shuttles to the grocery. More -- at 1600 there is a free wine and cheese reception for boaters every day. Apparently this place is famous among boaters. I’ll write more about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Great Dismal Swamp

NC Visitor’s Center, N36 27 W76 20
What a romantic name, The Great Dismal Swamp. Actually we’re going through a canal on the edge of the swamp and we haven’t seen any bears or brer critters. Still, it’s nature and it’s nice and it’s quiet and peaceful. Just what the doctor ordered.

It’s 195 miles to the nearest outlet at Beaufort. We’ll take a good long time getting down there, perhaps the whole month of November. Our son David should get a leave from basic training around Christmas and Libby would love the chance to see him.

We heard from a couple of people today about how difficult the Panama Canal passage sounds because of regulations. We’ll have to research that some.

In Norfolk we watched two tugboats move a barge with a big crane from one pier to another one a half mile away. The tugs signal each other with shrill whistles and it sounds very charming. I thought it would be hard to learn their code, but after watching and listening I deciphered it. Toot - “I’m pushing” Toot toot - “I’m pulling.” Nevertheless, it was lots of fun listening to the melody of the tugs.

Last night a huge cruise ship, the Princess Star, decided to turn herself around 180 degrees in the river right in front of where we were docked. It was a majestic sight. It took nearly 15 minutes. She did it under her own power. The scene was reminiscent of the docking to the space station in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. All we needed was a Strauss waltz to make it complete.

The ship had a balcony for every cabin, and highest on deck above the swimming pool was a TV screen the size of a drive-in movie screen. It was so big and so bright at night that it made a very impressive sight. Unfortunately for the passengers, the choice of programs is not better. It was showing some awful action movie. If I’m not mistaken the Princess Star is the ship that claimed to be hit by a rogue wave last April. In the Soundings Boating magazine we read, it hinted that the accident was more a case of poor seamanship than a rogue wave.

The bridges and the locks in Norfolk only open 4 times per day, so there is a whole flotilla of boats that go through together. After passing the dismal swamp lock we were the first boat out, but within 30 minutes all dozen or so of the other boats passed us. I guess we’re still the slowest thing around when using the motor. So be it.

We're spending the night at the North Carolina Visitor's center. It caters to motorists and to boaters. The people are really nice, they have bathrooms and water and Internet. They sure make good ambassadors for North Carolina Hospitality. The boats here are rafted three deep along the docks. Posted by Picasa