Thursday, November 29, 2007

To Heck With Chores

Vero Beach

It was hot and sticky this afternoon. We said to heck with chores and went to the beach. That's all I have to say.

Above is the new high tech air conditioned lifeguard stool at the Vero beach.
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Monday, November 26, 2007

Entertaining For Geeks Only

I blogged previously about how on the way to Alaska for Thanksgiving, we found the secondary IT infrastructure around travel had become so nearly perfected. On the way back, we found a marvelous counter example.

We boarded a Delta Airlines 757 in Seattle, bound for Atlanta. This was a very modern plane equipped with a personal video screen for each passenger embedded in the back of the seat in front of you. The screen could be used for movies, or TV, or games, or to track altitude and speed statistics for the trip.

I wasn't interested in any of that stuff, but I do like fiddling with computers, so I decided to try our the free trivia video game they offered. I selected the game and pushed the Play button. A message appeared saying, "Please wait while the game is loaded." I waited and waited for about a minute. Then, to my surprise, the computer rebooted and I found myself staring at the boot script log on an 80x24 text screen. I hadn't seen one of those things for years.

The reboot seemed to take forever, much longer than it takes my laptop to boot Windows XP. Then I tried again. Surprise: selecting that game crashed the computer again. This time I looked more closely at the boot log. To my surprise, it wasn't running Windows, it was a I386 Intel machine running Red Hat Linux. Like any geek, I became interested in this glaring error so I started to investigate. Timing with my stopwatch, I determined that it took this computer between 185 and 200 seconds to reboot -- that's much slower than Windows. I wondered if my repeated reboots would affect other passengers but that didn't seem to be the case. I tried a race. I selected the game on my screen and on my wife's screen in the next seat. I could see that the two machines had the same error and they rebooted in approximately, but not identically the same time.

Looking at the boot log, I could see that there were a dozen or more errors reported during booting. Mounts didn't work, shares could not be found, services failed to initialize. It really looked like garbage.

After many tries, I figured out that the play button had three outcomes. It might work correctly (2 times out of 64 tries), it might fail and return to the previous screen (about 30 times out of 64 tries) or it might cause a reboot (about 32 times out of 64 tries). Further, the reboots always occurred 55 seconds after pushing play. I think the culprit was a non responding file server someplace plus a watchdog timer set to reboot after 55 seconds of non response.

Several times, the reboots themselves failed, getting stuck at some point in the process for more than 55 seconds thus causing a new reboot. In the worst case the reboot failed 3 consecutive times, resulting in 11 minutes until a successful reboot. The other passengers walking by who saw my screen wondered what I was up to with the B&W text logs scrolling by. It felt like the old days with a minicomputer and an ADM3A dumb terminal.

I walked around the cabin peeking at the screens of other passengers. Many were happily watching movies without trouble. I did notice a half dozen of them playing the trivia game that crashed my machine. That means it was not the game, but my (and my wife's) computers that were at fault. Several others had a static error message on the screen with the word ERROR in big block letters. They might have been trying another game. I overheard one passenger complaining that he watched HBO but the screen wanted to charge him an additional $5 every time one program ended and another started. Other passengers did not have this problem, indicating that his software was different than others. There is no way to blame the lusers in these cases. These computers have no keyboards and only very limited touch screen selection options. There is little room for operator error.

What a piece of crap! It was incompetently administered. Evidently they also could not do a push install of software so that all seats had the same software. God only knows how this aircraft's software compared with other aircraft's copies.

I know that the open source community is fond of trashing Microsoft and Windows. They may be right that Linux at its best (or even at its average) are better than Windows. However, I think that both of them at their worst are worse than Windows at its worst. Windows at least gives one the option to reboot to DOS or to boot in Safe Mode if the primary reboot fails. Clearly, the intricacies of properly administering Linux are beyond the skills of even major players (I count a supplier to Delta Airlines a major player.)

To be fair, I've seen similar disasters happen with boot scripts on Macs and on the fabled VAX/VMS machines, but those happened nearly 20 years ago. It's shocking to see such bumbling in 2007.

How can they consider putting such overqalified, over complex stuff such as Linux in mass consumer items such as cell phones and GPS receivers. I have a Lowrance GPS/chart plotter in my boat and I use it (plus paper charts) for safety related navigation. I saw once a message box that indicates that it runs a version of Windows. It has never crashed, never misbehaved the way the Linux based TV screen did on that Delta flight.

I'll say it again, Windows at its worse is better than Linux at its worse or Macs at their worse.

The Thanksgiving Trip

The airport, Atlanta, Georgia

Well, we still have one more flight leg to go, so it may be premature, but I'd like to declare this trip as wonderfully simple and snag free. Despite all the scary news about travel on Thanksgiving week, everything went of as planned.

We were also terribly spoiled by the wonderful hospitality of our son David and his family, Cathy and Bobby. They baked and cooked, and planned activities and otherwise spoiled us for a whole week. We had a great time. Thank you all three; you were great.

The weather was also OK. It was zero F when we first arrived, but the rest of the time the temperature was in the 30s most of the time. That was about the same as it was back in New York that week.

Fooling with fireworks after Thanksgiving Dinner (Hint, nobody does fireworks on the 4th of July in Alaska because it doesn't get dark then.)

Dave is victorious over Bobby on the new Nintendo Wii video game.

Walking The Dogs at Creamer's Field

Winter Wonderland, the Mills residence in Fairbanks

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Alaskan Welcome

Fairbanks, Alaska

Well I lied. I said that I wouldn't be blogging from Alaska, but I just can't resist it.

We had a great tip up here. Everything was nominal, no problems, no delays, no lost baggage. I had been a bit apprehensive about holiday mobs based on the news reports over the weekend, but we didn't encounter any of that.

We arrived in Alaska with an appropriate greeting. We saw a brilliant aurora before descending through the clouds. We saw our first snow in more than three years. Dave was waiting for us at the terminal with jackets, gloves and hats. When we emerged in to the parking lot, the temperature was exactly zero F (-18C). It felt brisk, not bitter. Since we got here at about 01:00, we haven't had much time yet for the family reunion.

Having not traveled for a while, I was struck by how refined the computer automation has become. On the way up, our cell phone gave us flight status updates. When we dropped off the rental car, the lady attendant greeted me as Mr Mills as soon as I opened the door, then she handed my my receipt for the final bill as I stepped out. At the curb, the skycap not only checked our bags, but he handed us our three boarding passes each for the trip. Those boarding passes included information on the gate assignments in the remote cities. At the gate, the attendant scanned the bar codes on the boarding passes and her machine flashed our names to her.

Of course none of that stuff is entirely new. It has been coming for a very long time. The part that struck me was how ubiquitous and how so seemingly effortless the IT automation has become. If not perfected, it is highly refined.

What contributed to this IT success after so many decades of failures and compromise systems, of which I had participated? It seems now that we have achieved the benefits of automation foreseen in the 1950s that I studied in college. I wish I knew what the fraction of the GDP is spent on IT today compared to 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I wager that it is lower than before, yet we get much more out of it.

So what's the secret? I think, no secret at all. Software technology benefits from the cumulative effect of incremental improvements, year by year. There are better tools, better methods (i.e. Objects), plus data base architectures refined over years of use. I imagine that the incremental improvements will continue indifinitely.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Word For The Day

JAX, airport

I must share this great word I read in a magazine.

Q: What is the word to best describe the gyrations one must go through to trigger the motion sensor for the paper towel dispenser in the airport rest room?

A: drykwando

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ready for the Cold

Vero Beach (wikimap)
27 39.646N 080 22.224

Well, we're as ready as we can be. Tomorrow we fly to Fairbanks Alaska to spend Thankgiving with Dave and his family. Dave says it is about 10F (-12C) there. Brrrrrrr. The Floridians down here think that we're lunatics for considering it. Actually, we're looking forward to having a great time.

I probably won't blog from Alaska. This is a sailing blog, not a family blog.

This morning we witnessed a spectacle from 50 feet away. A couple in a big 45 foot sailboat came up to take the mooring just behind us. The wind speed was almost zero. They picked up the mooring pennant OK and made it fast, but their boat still had some forward momentum so it pulled tight and turned around stern to the wind.

Then, to our amazement, the captain of that boat jumped in to his dinghy and tried to make it act like a tug boat to push the sail boat back to proper alighment, pointing the same way as everyone else. He tried from the bow and from the stern using full throttle on the outboard. Meanwhile, his wife was on deck yelling at him an berating him about what he was doing. Libby and I and all the other cruisers within earshot just stood by gawking.

What he was hoping to accomplish I don't know. He didn't need to do anything at all. If he just waited 10 minutes or so, his boat would swing in to the wind just like everyone else. Remember how I've written several times about how hard it was to learn patience on board? Well, this poor guy had the impatience bug much worse than I ever did. The couple reminded me of Milton Berle and Ethel Merman in the old movie "Its a Mad Mad World"; remember that?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Proud or Scared?

Vero Beach (wikimap)
27 39.646N 080 22.224

Yesterday I was working on a project when I needed our propane torch. I fetched the tank from its storage spot in the lazarette compartment in the stern under the tiller. When I picked it up I realized that it was empty. Huh? That tank should be almost full. I looked closer and I found a spot on the bottom where the tank had rusted all the way through.

Wow, that could be serious. Leaking propane on a boat could be a serious or even a fatal event. Propane is heavier than air. Leaked propane can go down in to the bilge and sit there indefinitely until ignited by a spark. I've heard stories of boats exploding years after the leak occurred.

On the other hand, I stored the propane in this special lazarette compartment. The compartment is sealed off from the rest of the boat and it has it's own open drain. Therefore, anything that leaks in there simply spills overboard. That's where we also store our two 20 pound propane tanks for the stove.

So, should I have been scared about a near disaster missed or proud of Tarwathie and myself for stowing it safely? A little of each I suppose.

What I would really like is to find a dead simple and foolproof way to block salt water from splashing in to that compartment without hindering the exit of anything inside that wants to leak out. Does anybody have a suggestion for that?

We heard tell of our friends Don and Margaret on their W32 Heron today. They are from Maine. We met them in Maine last year. They are coming south on their first extended voyage on Heron. They wanted to take their time and enjoy the local sights as much as possible. However, as the cruisers know, this is the time of year when the cold nips at your heels if you are not south enough early enough. Don and Margaret are in Charleston today, reportedly freezing.

Head south you two, you can't depend on being warm until you're south of Melbourne Florida.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Helping Hand

Vero Beach (wikimap)
27 39.646N 080 22.224

A nice sunset seen from our mooring.

Around noon today I had my head down in the engine compartment. I was doing chores. I found that the shaft packing nut was loose, letting too much water in from around the shaft. I also found that one of the engine mount nuts was loose. Oy Oy; that could be serious. I'll have to check those more often. I was busy changing the transmission oil when I heard a noise.

There was a sailboat just one boat length away from me that was aground. The owner was trying to back his way off using the engine. I could see mud coming out of his exhaust. "Stop!" I shouted. Then I went over to help him.

I told the man about the mud and offered to row his anchor out with my dinghy so that he could kedge off. I took his plow anchor and 100 feet of chain and dropped it 100 feet away. His anchor windlass slipped his clutch so that didn't do any good. He tied it off to a snubber line and tried using the sheet winch. That didn't do any good.

I took a nylon line from his boat to a nearby piling on a dock. We tried sheeting that in with the sheet winch. It just bent the piling out of place. Oops. He finally gave up and called Tow Boat US.

The poor guy. He told me that he returned from Europe 3 years ago to discover that he had cancer. He's been in treatment for those three years. Now, he was working single handed to bring his boat from Newburyport Mass to Fort Myers Florida. The boat is suffering from three years of no maintenance.

Anyhow, Tow Boat US came about 30 minutes later and got him afloat with no trouble. I hope he is a member. These towing services work in a strange way. You can subscribe to Tow Boat US or to their competitor Sea Tow for about $150/year. Then you get unlimited free towing. If you are not a subscriber, a tow costs $650 up. Their costs are very reasonable to subscribe but outrageously expensive if you don't subscribe. We are subscribers. We've been towed twice, and we called Sea Tow for a jump start once.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Picks from the SSCA GAM

Above, the knot/line handling demonstration. Interesting to note that this was the most popular demonstration even for such experienced cruisers. It demonstrates how fundamentally important knots and line handling are.

Libby at the medical kit seminar

Libby at the knot tying seminar. She has a mental block when it comes to learning those things from me, so the seminar was most welcome.

LED Lights

Vero Beach (wikimap)
27 39.646N 080 22.224

It's unlikely that you're using LED lights for your room illumination at home. On a boat though, power management is king. LED lights use less than 10% of the power as incandescent lights and 2/3 less power than fluorescent lights. Therefore, we started converting all lights on Tarwathie to LEDs. We're not going to do it all at once. It's still very expensive.

Last year we bought a LED replacement bulb for one of the cabin dome lights. It was a big dissapointment. It had 6 LEDs in a cluster but it put out so little light that one could not read a book from 18 inches away. That was kind of useless and it cost $29.95.

At the SSCA GAM we saw some LEDs for sale and got to see how bright they were with a direct demonstration. I bought a new red/white dome light for $55. It has a cluster of about 30 white and 6 red LEDs and it's plenty bright. We use the red lights at night when under sail. The red lights do not spoil your night vision.

I also bought a red/green bulb to replace the bulb in the running light at the bow and a white one to replace the running light bulb at the stern. These have 16 LEDs each. I really hope they're bright enough. Those bulbs cost $44 each. As I said, it's very expensive. I would really like a mast head tricolor running light but that will have to wait for another year; they cost about $600.

Two of my very favorite LED lights are shown in the picture below. The flashlight was a present from my son John. It is a Brinkman long life LED light. Besides being waterproof, it gives good light and it lasts unbelievably long. I use it almost every day, yet the two AA batteries last for more than a year. The secret, I think, is an aspherical lens that focuses the light. That allows use of a dimmer LED and extends the battery life.

The other light is a Mighty Bright book reading light. We have two of them that we use for reading. More important, I've found that the mighty bright is very useful as a trouble light/work light. I can clip it anywhere, and bend the articulated neck to hold the light at almost any position and angle. I use it especially for working in confined spaces. On the boat, almost all spaces are confined spaces. It's something I can recommend for everyone's tool box.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Our Honey Do List

Vero Beach Public Library (map)

The third day of the SSCA GAM was low key. The only interesting part was a seminar I went to on weather information, how to get it. Weather is an extremely complicated subject. I suspect that I’ll never get interested in it enough to be really good at it.

I felt very humbled by the vast experience of the fellow members of SSCA. Compared to many of them, Libby and I are just novices.

The seasoned sailors also had an interesting perspective on weather reports. They point out that you can choose your departure date for a long passage, and perhaps wait for the best weather to do that. However, once you do depart, you’re committed regardless of what happens with the weather. If a big storm is approaching you can maybe divert your course a bit one way or the other. Other than that, you just have to be ready to take whatever comes along. I can’t argue with that.

Next week we’re flying to Fairbanks to spend Thanksgiving with David and his family. It is also a welcome home celebration for David. He just returned from a year in Kuwait. My oldest son John, is two months in to a six month deployment in Kyrgyzstan.

So, why aren’t we sailing directly for the Bahamas when we return from Fairbanks? We have a backlog of maintenance chores to accomplish. Some people call it the honey-do list. No matter what you call it, the list is long. Here's our list:

  1. Change the transmission oil
  2. Clean the heat exchanger
  3. Replace the engine anode
  4. Re-rig the shifter control cable
  5. Replace the mainsail outhaul
  6. Re-rig the topping lift
  7. Re-rig the backstay flag attachments
  8. Re-rig the SSB antenna routing and attachments
  9. Make a permanent fix for the chafing exhaust hose
  10. Clean the engine compartment
  11. Clean the hull
  12. Wax the hull
  13. Make a full backup of both laptop hard disks
  14. Make a permanent fix for the GPS up/down/left/right buttons
  15. Sand and repaint the interior white
  16. Sand and re-varnish deck hatches, sampson posts and bowsprit
  17. Repaint the deck
  18. Wax all top deck surfaces
  19. Acquire 225’ of new anchor chain
  20. Inspect all structural steel
  21. Install the new jib furler with new forestay
  22. Rig the new sail
  23. Practice with the new sail and furler
  24. Route and install a control line for the jib furler
  25. Put proper registration numbers on the dinghy
  26. Mend dings on the dinghy
  27. Replace the lifeline pads
  28. Acquire an additional fender
  29. Rebuild the toilet with new gaskets and washers
  30. Re-provision
  31. Clean and finish the on-deck teak
  32. Set up for VOIP phone on the laptop
  33. Find buddy boat(s) to sail to Bahamas with
  34. Decide what to do with our cell phone account
Does the length of the list surprise you? One simple truth about living onboard is that you use a very limited set of physical resources and a limited living space very intensely. Those things need maintenance much more often than comparable space in your house.

In any case, Vero is a very convenient and comfortable place to stay while we do our chores. I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for us for having to work so much.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Who Is This Blog For?

Vero Beach (wikimap)
27 39.646N 080 22.224W

At a seminar on web pages the other day, the instructor said, "You can even blog from your boat every day. You can tell what a great time you're having, but nobody will want to read it because they're not having the good time." Whoa! There's some truth in that.

It's true that I mostly write this blog because I enjoy the writing. At the same time I want to write stuff that readers enjoy reading. I think I'm succeeding at that, based on email feedback I get, but thanks to new Google technology, I can take a poll in a way easy for me and easy for you.

My mental model when I write the blog is (1) To let our family and friends know that we're safe and happy. (2) To convey a sense of what it is like to life the cruising life style.

You can buy lots of books about cruising, but they mostly dispense advice and relate stories of just the cruising highlights. A daily journal gives a much different picture, and in some cases can be more interesting. That's what I try to do. My friend Pete even said, "Sometimes you even say what your thinking."

Starting today and for the next two weeks in the right margin of this blog are three poll questions.
  1. What led you to this blog?
  2. What do you like seeing here?
  3. How often do you visit the blog?
The answers are quite anonymous, so please feel free to be candid. My purpose in asking the questions is just to refine my mental model of who the readers are so that I can further shape what I write.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

The SSCA GAM, Day 2 - Seminar Day

Melbourne, FL, Public Library
No LL (map)

Today we went to seminars all day at the SSCA. We had seminars on radio email, line handling, knots, splicing, stocking the medicine cabinet, man overboard, storms at sea, illness at sea, collisions at sea, onboard living tips, and trolling for fish.

We managed to learn new things at each seminar. I just hope we can retain the things we learned. It's a lot of stuff in just a few days.

I also bought a 160GB USB hard drive for only $40 at a flea market. I think that's a very good price. Now I can properly (and easily) back up both laptops, and I can make room for more photos in our albums. The new digital cameras, used at full resolution and quality, create much bigger files than the old cameras did and eat up hard disk. The progression will never stop. Within 3 years I bet we'll be reading about terabyte thumb drives.

I also ordered our new jib and our first jib furler. We've never owned a furler before. I think it will make our life much easier. Manhandling that old jib and trying to stuff it in to the bag was strenuous and tedious. Worse, downhauls never worked for me, so to lower the jib at sea in heavy wind meant that I had to crawl all the way out to the end of the bowsprit. More than once, it was like sitting in the ducking stool. With the furler, we can reef or furl the jib from the comfort of the cockpit.

We still have a hanked on stay sail, but we need to take it up and down much less often, and it is much smaller and lighter, and not way out at the end of the bowsprit.

The most quotable line I heard at the seminars was from a talk about sea sickness. A man and his wife had been sea sick for three straight days. He came up to the cockpit with a sandwich for her and asked, "Do you want to eat this or should I just throw it directly over the side?"

All this luxury will cost money. About $2,200 for the new sail. $2,200 for a Selden furler, and $500 for the furler installation. Both will be done by local vendors while we are in Vero. After last year's engine project, this is our major expenditure for the whole year.

p.s. I could have gotten the sail cheaper from Hong Kong, but then I would not get to make a combined deal with the furler. In this case, they charged me about $1,000 less than list price for the furler.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The SSCA Gam, Day 1

Vero Beach

Back in the late 1970s, I and my friends at PTI skated on the bleeding edge of computer technology. In those circumstances it was enormously enjoyable to go to the National Computer Conference (NCC) in Chicago's McCormick Palace together with 100,000 other computer geeks. Well, today I no longer keep up with computers but, understandably, Libby and I are very much in to the technology and the culture of sailboat cruising. All this is an elaborate way of saying that we enjoyed ourselves today at the SSCA Gam.

The conference was hosted by the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) of which we are members. I don't know why they call their meetings Gams. The first thing noticeable was that almost all the roughly 200 attendees, and staff, and the speakers were also experienced cruisers. In fact, I suspect that a high percentage of them haver completed circumnavigations, which far outstrips our credentials. The impression was striking. I wish I could ow you a group photo. I wager that it would be very difficult in today's America to find a more fit, more healthy and more mentally healthy group of people for their age. It reinforces our belief that we made the right choice becoming cruisers.

Like the NCC or many trade shows, this conference had a floor with vendor exhibits. It also had a series of lectures conducted in side rooms. We started out with a lecture on docking techniques and sail trim by Captain Jack Klang that Libby and I went to. I was very impressed. His methods for getting in to and out of slips, especially with adverse winds and currents, were far superior to what we have been doing. I resolve to change our ways to his ways starting immediately.

Then Libby went off to the Women's Forum, and I went to a talk about using your laptop PC for electronic charts and navigation. It's clear that the world is moving in the direction of having PC obsolete all other chart plotter/GPS/navigation devices. Nevertheless, I'm not ready to switch yet. First I would need a waterproof PC that I can use out in the cockpit, and it would have to use less than 10% of the DC power that my current laptop uses, then it would have to be affordable.

At the women's forum, Libby heard about keeping in touch with family, VOIP, about dealing with seasickness, and dealing with Captain Bligh types, and on provisioning the boat. She said it was worthwhile.

Over lunch we went through the vendor area. I blew $110 cash on gadgets that I just couldn't live without after seeing them. That's why Libby won't let me go to boat shows. She's smart. I was only exposed to two dozen vendors here. At the Annapolis boat show, I would have walked past the booths of hundreds of vendors, and could easily bankrupt us. I also made local contacts with a sail maker and jib furlers. Replacing our foresail (AKA jib AKA yankee) and converting from old fashioned hanked on sails to roller furling is our number one project to accomplish while we are in Vero.

In the afternoon, I went of to a series of lectures on communications, while Libby went to talks on medical treatment on board, and stories about traveling off the beaten path.

Jim Corenman led the lectures on communications. He is the horse's mouth on those subjects. Jim wrote the Airmail email program that we use with the SSB. Jim was also one of the founders of Sailmail, a non-profit organization that provides global email service for cruisers. Jim is also an engineer. For me, as an electrical engineer, it was heaven. We talked about low orbit satellites, radio propagation, cell phone technology, WIFI, SSB based email, computer security, spam management, RF leakage, RF interference, grounding practices, antenna designs, electrocution, counterpoise ground planes and other things that warm the heart of true engineers. The surprising thing for me was that the other people in the audience were perhaps more knowledgeable and as quick to understand than I. I presume that most did not have an MSEE as I do, and (revealing my sexist side) almost half of them were women. I guess the moral is that people who live on board and who are forced to make these things work really do learn the things they need to know even if they are highly technical and even if they have no formal education in engineering. My hat goes off to those cruisers – their expertise and practical knowledge exceeds my expectations.

At the medical seminar Libby learned about the myriad of drugs and medical things we should have on board (but don't) for extended cruises overseas. She learned that they have malaria in Georgetown Bahamas. She got tips on dealing with sea sickness and how to make emergency splints.

All in all, we both learned a lot and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There are two more days to go on the conference. Oh boy.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Blog Revamp

Vero Beach (wikimap)

I modernized this blog layout a bit. There will be ads shown (horrors!) after a few days. There is a new section on the right margin called Photo Albums. There I'll post links to collections of our recent photos. From time to time, I'll still post some photos inline with the blog text.

One change you may welcome. The blog archive section in the right margin will now list postings in chronological order. The current month's page however will continue to show the most recent posting at the top.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fly Away Home

Vero Beach Public Library, FL

Did you see the book or the movie about the migrating geese? I feel like the geese today.

Two months ago today we were at Chipman Point on Lake Champlain to take our mast down. That was our start of this year's southward migration.

One month ago today, we were in the Great Dismal Swamp. That was the midpoint of the migration.

Today, we arrived in Vero Beach. This marks the end of this migration. It is a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, we love the migratory life and for the next two months, we'll be living the in-port life instead. On the other hand, Vero Beach is an especially nice place for cruisers to live in-port so we're glad to be here.

Last night, we had dinner at the home of my brother Ed and sister in law Sally. Sally tried to think of something we would not make on the boat for ourselves. She made corned beef and cabbage. It was delicious and it was the first time in years that we had that dish. Thank you Sally.

Here's a picture of an excellent sunset from New Bern, NC.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Begging For Fish?

The Indian River
28 19.706N 080 42.337W

Yesterday we traversed the Mosquito Lagoon under the spinnaker. We think it was the fastest traverse of the lagoon we ever did. It was certainly one of the most pleasant. The winds were gentle, and the temperature superbly moderate. I spent part of the time lounging on the forward deck and part taking a sun shower. The splendid isolation made it easy to shower on deck out of sight of everybody.

Mosquito Lagoon is like a big inland lake about 3 miles wide by 15 miles long. On the east side it is bordered by a mile or so of barrier dunes that separate it from the sea. The remarkable thing about it is that the whole lagoon is only 2-4 feet deep. You could walk across it. The main exception is the dredged channel for the ICW which is 14 feet deep by 150 feet wide. I've read that there are a few depressions in the lagoon where the water is 6 or 8 feet deep in a circular pool 100 feet
or so in diameter. The fish prefer this deeper water so these pools are packed with dense schools of fish. Needless to say, those pools are favorite targets for the fishermen in their small boats.

The big surprise though came midway through the lagoon. I was standing at the helm glancing to starboard when suddenly a dolphin leaped 10 feet out of the water right in front of me and no more than 5 feet away from Tarwathie. I was stunned. If only I had a camera (except that I could never have pointed and clicked in time). The dolphin continued to swim beside us for a minute or so. He (or she?) was exceptionally big, perhaps 10-12 feet long.

In the next few minutes I thought it over. Why did the dolphin do that? He was much too close to Tarwathie to make it a coincidence. The leap was far higher than dolphin's normal leaps. The best explanation I could think of was that he was begging for fish. There are lots of fishermen in Mosquito Lagoon. Perhaps some of them throw bait fish to the dolphin in exchange for a show. Too bad; I didn't have any fish on board to throw to him. It's only speculation but I have no other explanation.

I believe that this is the first time we ever sailed the north end of the Indian River when the wind was not howling. The other 5 times we passed here we had very strong winds 20-30 knots. It's very nice today, relaxing, warm and pretty. If we wanted to hang out here for two more days we could see the space shuttle land, but we elected to move on. Tonight, we're going to meet my brother Ed and sister in law Sally for dinner at their how. Tomorrow we'll take a mooring at Vero. Friday, we'll
rent a car and return to Melbourne for the SSCA Gam (a convention for sailing cruisers like us.)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunken? Aground?

29 36N 81 12W

Yesterday we arrived in Saint Augustine around 17:00. We decided that we've seen enough of Saint Augustine in the past year so we would not stop. We approached the Bridge of Lions and called the bridge tender to request an opening. He said that we would have to wait for 23 minutes.

While we were circling for 23 minutes, I went below and hijacked a WIFI connection to check my email. Libby spotted a drama unfolding right next to us. Just north of the bridge and in front of the old Spanish Fort, there is an anchorage frequented by cruising sailors. In the anchorage, right up along the sea wall was a cruising sailboat (catamaran?) that appeared to be sunk in shallow water. It was sitting at a crazy angle. The main deck remained above water. Other boats were there assisting the people off the sunken boat. Because we had already requested a bridge opening, we had to move on. We couldn't stop to gawk or to offer assistance.

What happened? We can only speculate. It looked to me like the skipper of a sinking boat ran her up to the shore to sink in shallow waters. If so, he did it right. Her deck remained above water at nearly high tide meaning that she would be high and dry at low tide. That would minimize the damage and make it easier to repair the fault and re-float her. On the other hand, perhaps she wasn't sunken at all. Maybe she dragged anchor, or lost the anchor and drifted on to the shore where she ran aground in a falling tide.

In any case our heart goes out to any cruiser who loses his/her boat. We emphasize because Tarwathie is our home, not a mere toy. Loss of one's home would be, of course, emotionally devastating.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Scenes from Cumberland Island

Fernandina Beach, Florida

Click on each photo below to see it full size, then use the browser back arrow to return to this page.

My friend Carmello responded to my recent invitation to sail a gale with the following: "If I understand correctly, you'd like me to leave my warm house, fly down there, expending time and treasure, to spend three days inside of a rolling washing machine? Sure, sounds like fun. Actually, if it weren't for logistic issues on my end, I'd love to gain the experience." That reminds me of an experience of my own. I was sailing with friends near Stockholm. I was wearing my foul weather gear pants but not the top. I went on the forward deck and squatted to do some chore. Just then a big wave broke over me. It filled my pants and my boots with cold water. My thought at the moment was, "Now why exactly do I think this is fun?"

Actually, the waves from Hurricaine Noel are keeping us on the inside again today. It's my b'day but I got no break from the weatherman. Actucally I'm going to treat myself. I'm in the Seattle's Best coffe house in Fernandina and I'm going to buy copies of botht the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal as self-indulgent treat.

I really hope that Noel doesn't do anything really bad to the northeast. Hang tight everyone.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island, GA
30 53.808N 081 26.718W

Last night, at anchor near here we could hear the sound of booming surf. This is only the second time we've been anchored within earshot of surf. It's kind of scary for a sailor since a sailboat that finds its way in to surf is doomed.

Boy are we glad we stopped here. Several times before we passed by Cumberland Island without knowledge of what was here. Most of the island is a pristine nature preserve, the best we've ever seen.

This morning we rowed ashore and set out on a hike. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the campsites on the Bricknell River shore. Massive live oak trees covered with Spanish moss make for wonderful shaded grass groves. Clumps of palm plants are abundant adding lush green color. This is the place our grandson Nick would have loved. He has almost unlimited wilderness and natural beauty all around, and almost no people.

The wild life is wonderful too. We hadn't walked for very long before we came upon a wild horse grazing on the grass. The horse was semi tame. I was able to approach within 10 feet of him before he shied away. Before the end of the day, we were able to see 9 wild horses, two armadillos and one alligator. We also saw tracks of deer and raccoons. We wanted to go across the island

Around noon Libby was getting tired so we returned to the boat without making it to the beach. After lunch and my afternoon nap, I set out again alone to find the beach. I walked about 90 minutes until I found it. I was amazed. Huge barrier dunes 50-100 feet high made of very fine very white sand isolate the beach from the island. The dunes are spectacular.

When I got out to the beach, a strong wind was blowing parallel to the shore. A faint, ephemeral river of sand was blowing along the surface at a speed of 15-20 miles per hour. It was fascinating to watch.

The island is unspoiled. We saw no trash of any kind except on the beach. The beach was littered with empty water bottles that no doubt drifted in from the sea. Whoever is responsible for the bottled water fad should be waterboarded, then hung.

Notable was the almost complete absence of bird songs. There were very few insects and few small birds (no doubt related.) Thinking of northern forests I was also struck by the absence of squirrels despite the fact that the forest floor was covered with acorns. Oh well, we're not naturalists enough to explain these things, only to observe them.

I recommend to all of you who could ever get here. Visit Cumberland Island. There is no bridge. You must get here by boat. We have some great pictures. I'll post them at a later date.