Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Our Favorite 2008 Pictures

Marathon, FL

We have been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things this year. Libby and I sat down with our thousands of pictures from 2008 and picked 36 as our favorites. Here they are in random order. Captions describe left-to-right, top-to-bottom. Happy New Year.

  1. Son John attempts the illusion
  2. Super hero Libby on a Bahamian beach
  3. Rose Buddies monument in Elizabeth City
  4. Dick caught napping in the Smithsonian
  5. One of Mel Fisher's treasure artifact in Sebastian Florida
  6. At the fish market in Washington DC
  7. The King of Bhutan
  8. Libby and daughter Jenny in the American Art Museum
  9. Rub a dub dub three men in a tub; John, father in law Dick, and Dick -- Rockland Harbor Maine.

  1. The year's best picture -- Libby and Dick take lunch in Key West
  2. The year's best sunset -- Block Island, RI
  3. The Butterfly Conservatory -- Key West.
  4. Dick's nightly ritual blowing the conch horn at sunset
  5. Lovingly quaint house and garden in Hopetown Bahamas
  6. A beach on Ocracoke Island North Carolina.
  7. Albert Einstein paternal figure Washington DC
  8. Dick's encounter with Hillary Clinton -- National Building Museum, Washington DC
  9. The shell warehouse, Key West

  1. Jenny tries the illusion.
  2. Libby and sister Nancy thrill with speed -- Buzzards Bay, MA
  3. A classical family pose, The National Mall, DC
  4. Tarwathie under sail, Narraganset Bay, RI
  5. Four Osprey occupy a buoy, LaTrappe Creek, Maryland
  6. A wonderful garden, Hopetown Bahamas
  7. Fog rolls in, Isle La Haut, Maine
  8. Libby gets the guided tour, Cambridge, Maryland
  9. A dolphin loafs, Abacos Bahamas

  1. Dick writes a blog, Belfast Maine
  2. Bayside Maine
  3. The yacht club we belong to, Bayside Maine
  4. A apropos sign, Beaufort, South Carolina
  5. Grandson Nick, Jewel Island Maine
  6. At the fish market, Washington DC
  7. Pure beauty, location unknown
  8. Nick surveys the heights, Acadia National Park, Maine
  9. New Providence Cemetary, Bahamas, graves are sunken to prevent flowers from blowing away.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pineapple Pineapple

Marathon, FL

We made some new friends, Jim and Renate on Emerald Sea. They told us about a standard practice that is so sensible, that Libby and I vow to adopt it for Tarwathie. Here it is:

Whenever Libby and I find ourselves in disagreement over exactly where we are, because of navigation confusion; we say pineapple-pineapple. That is the signal to stop the boat dead until the doubt is resolved and we agree once again. That is an outstandingly good policy.

By the way, Jim and Renate explain that the origin of the phrase pineapple-pineapple was a Steve Irwin movie that we did not see. No matter, pineapple-pineapple serves just as well as any other phrase to trigger this standard practice.

p.s. I just looked up the Steve Irwin clip on you tube. It is hilarious. I embedded it below. Have a look, you'll love it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Living In Limited Space

Marathon, FL

Many people wonder how we manage to live in so little space. After all, we do almost all our living in a space 10x18 feet (180 square feet, 17 square meters). Actually, the living is the easy part and we don't feel cramped at all. The really hard part is maintaining and repairing within the same space.

For example, our dinghy sprung a leak. Water leaked in through a crack in the fiberglass. I've tried again and again to fix it with various temporary repair methods, but the leak continued to grow worse. For months, we have had to bail the dinghy every time we get in to it and while en route. Repairing it is difficult because either (a) we are in port and we use the dinghy every day to go to shore or (b) we are en route and the dinghy is in its chocks upside down under the mast. Therefore, the inside of the dinghy is always either wet or inaccessible.

The only previous time we got to do work in the interior of the dinghy was when we spent three days at Blackbeard Sailing Club in New Bern. There, we were able to put the dinghy on the dock to do repairs.

Yesterday I ran out of patience. We did something that we never attempted before. Libby and I managed to lift the dinghy up to the forward deck and set it down right-side-up. That gave me the access I needed. Yesterday afternoon I applied fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin to the places where there were cracks. This morning, I repainted the interior of the dinghy. (See the picture) By tomorrow, it should be ready to splash once again.

Inconvenience in lifting is not the whole problem. We also have to find space in our limited room to stow tools, repair materials and never used emergency gear. In my starboard lazarette compartment, for example, I store an emergency starting battery, storm sails, bulky type 1 life vests that we never wear, and my paint locker storing assorted paints, chemicals, cleaners, and brushes. That, combined with the tool boxes and compartments inside the cabin that we dedicate to tools and parts, amounts to about 1/3 of our total storage capacity. We use more volume to store tools and maintenance supplies than we have for food.

The most difficult of all jobs is to do interior spring cleaning and or interior painting. To do that, we have to remove everything from inside the boat. Where do we put it while cleaning? Up on deck of course. While doing that, our boat looks like a floating junkyard. Heaven help us if a thunderstorm came along while we were in the middle of that process.

Try to imagine vacuum cleaning your car from the inside while you have yourself and one passenger in the car with the vacuum cleaner.

By the way, lest you think that I am bragging about my superior skills in doing difficult jobs; let me reveal my screw up. When the painting job was all done, I took off my disposable gloves, picked up the materials, disposed of the trash and went back in to the cabin for a cup of coffee. When I sat down for the coffee, I saw gray paint on the floor of the cabin. How did that happen? I discovered one of the disposable gloves stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Sigh. I had to scramble to back track and clean up all the paint spot footprints where I walked before the paint dried.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Steering 2


Once again, this post is for the benefit of our non-boating friends.

I presume that all of us are completely familiar with the task of steering a car or a bicycle using the front wheels. It seems completely natural.

When making a sharp turn around a corner, the rear wheels track closer to the corner than the front wheels (see above). Trucks and busses must avoid running over the curb with the rear wheels.

A boat uses a rudder to steer from the rear. Since rear-wheel-steering cars are very rare, we have little or no experience with that. When you turn a sharp corner with a rear wheeled car, the back of the corner swings out away from the curb and makes a wider turn than the front. This can be a problem for novice boaters.

One day in Titusville, Florida I witnessed an incident similar to that shown in the picture below. A boat came in to the marina and he wanted to pull in to an empty slip on his right. To allow himself plenty of room to make the turn, he came in close to the boats on the left. He was thinking like a car driver. He wound up crashing in to a number of the boats on his left.
An experienced skipper would have know that a boat in the position of the green boat shown above is doomed. There is no way to steer to avoid crashing from that position, except perhaps to back out. If he stops or slows down, the wind and waves will push him in. The only way to avoid crashing in this situation would be to enter the corridor more to the right.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Dinner

Marathon, FL

We just returned from Christmas Dinner at Dockside Bar and Grill. Dockside hosted the party for cruisers in the harbor and they provided the turkey and ham, but the cruisers all brought a dish to make it a pot luck dinner.

The setting was perfect. We sat on the deck cantilevered out over the water. The temperature was 79F (26C). What's not to like?

I said it before, but it's worth saying again. The hospitality and friendliness of Marathon is just wonderful. We're grateful to be here. On the other hand, being away from kids and grandchildren on Christmas sucks. It is the one day of the year that we wish we weren't cruising.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The Cruiser's Life For Me
By: Dick Mills

There are many ways
to spend one's days;
But if the truth be told;
I choose my sails
and occasional gales;
I go south when the wind runs cold;
I love blue water and starry nights;
But the queerest my friends did see;
Was the engineer,
who without fear,
picked up his gear.
It's the cruiser's life for me.

Now sailor Dick
was not your pick,
for whom the north wind blows;
Why he left his home
in the north to roam,
the Eastern coast, God only knows.
He was always cold,
but the land of gold
seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say
in his homey way
"I really ought to rebel."

On a September day,
we sat in the bay,
when the first cold breeze from the north;
signaled the season,
when by all wit and reason,
all hearty sailors come forth;

If our eyes we'd close,
then wiggle our toes
and imagine warmer climes;
It was great fun,
but only one,
of the wonderful things of our times.

That very night,
we set our sight
on the Intracoastal south bound,
We hauled up the lead,
raised sails o'erhead,
and slipped out of the sound;
Libby turned to me,
and "Dick," said she,
"Take me to the Bahamas.";
And if I do, I request that you,
turn off that dang news of Obamas."

Well, she seemed so low
that I couldn't say no;
so we headed out to sea.
Just a few days later,
we met a freighter,
"Welcome to Hampton," said he.

Through the Dismal we love,
despite snakes up above.
Liz City offers us buddies.
We think Ocracoke rocks,
and at Oriental docks,
drink coffee with tar heel fuddys.

With the warm to leeward,
we follow the sea bird,
while avoiding Frying Pan Shoals.
We yearn for the weather,
to go outside with tether,
a steady hand on the controls.
But alas we are stuck,
in Intracoastal muck,
making a lousy 50 miles per day,
When along comes a gale,
and we hole up in some dale.
Scrabble is not our forte.

Then the day comes at last,
where the weather forecast
: says, "This is the window; now GO!"
So we scramble to ready,
as we zoom past the jetty.
"Florida or Bust," is our quo.

Ah, the winds they were fair,
and the waves
we don't care.
We thrill in our flight to the warm.
In the late of the night,
we see Canaveral's light.
We go where the porpoises swarm.

Now tied to a ball,
in Vero we're all.
We'll stay here a month and that's sure.
Above 28 north,
we shall not venture forth,
till the south wind blows hot at the fore.
Then on to The Keys,
with a following breeze,
We'll lay over in Marathon's shore.

And after that,
it's time to scat.
We may wander hither and yon.
To change one's mind,
to refuse to bind,
It's the cruiser's privilege begone.
We may do this
and we may do that
we've learned to never predict.
But whatever fun,
we find in the sun,
at least something nice to depict.

There are many ways
to spend one's days;
But if the truth be told;
I choose my sails
and occasional gales;
I go south when the wind runs cold;
I love blue water and starry nights;
But the queerest my friends did see;
Was the engineer,
who without fear,
picked up his gear.
It's the cruiser's life for me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Local Color

Marathon, FL

We prefer Marathon over Key West as a place friendly to boats and boaters. However, Key West is incomparable when it comes to local color.

  • In yesterday's Key West newspaper, The Citizen, we read a letter to the editor. They letter noted that pirates in Somalia had collected $120 million in tax free income so far this year. What's more, they seemed to suffer no bad consequences and that all the world's navies couldn't hinder them. "Why can't the citizens of Key West follow this example?" said the letter

  • It seems that all the homeless, nonconformists, and outcasts of society just head on down the highway to get away from it all. When they reach Key West, the highway dead ends and there they settle. You see lots of them walking the streets.

    Three times yesterday, we saw a relatively young but heavily bearded homeless man wandering the streets. He was wearing heavy jungle camouflage clothes, combat boots, and he had a guitar and a bed roll slung over his back. The last time however, I got a chance to see him up close.

    Those clothes, the boots, and the bed roll were crisp and new. They looked as if they were bought in Abercrombie and Fitch this morning. Even the beard looked fake close up. I bet that the truth is this young man just finished reading Jack Kerouac's On The Road and decided to play the role. Where else would he go, but Key West?

Monday, December 22, 2008


Key West, FL

Today we rode the bus to Key West. Our mission (accomplished) was to obtain "Local Boater Option" cards from US Customs and Border Protection (p.s. I learned today that they have nothing to do with Border Patrol and don't even talk to them). The cards allow us to enter the USA by boat in Southern Florida and to check in via an 800 number phone call. We won't have to go to an airport to show our passports.

Along the way we had a delightful lunch, and found a neat new museum with very cool and very daring outdoor sculptures. The sculpture at lower left is entitled "Day Dream" Look carefully at it and you'll see why the title fits. I would like to see someone get permission for such a statue in Schenectady.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pulling Negative Gs

Marathon, FL

This is education week for me. Along with other amenities, Marathon offers some free seminars on topics relevant to cruisers. So far this week, I've been to a seminar on power management and batteries, one on refrigeration systems, and a third seminar on solar and wind power for boats. Tomorrow I'm going to a seminar on how to fish for your diner in the Bahamas -- highly relevant.

No matter how much I know, I always learn new things in such environments. One interesting thing I never thought about before was design of marine equipment to withstand negative Gs.

Pulling negative Gs usually refers to flying. It is anything that makes you rise up out of your seat unless your seat belt is tight. On a sail boat it occurs when you are tossed around by the waves. Of course we've learned to tether ourselves and to use things like seat belts on the stove. Our friend Don Campbell even tethers himself down in his bunk. Sitll, I never thought about the design of boating equipment. Here's a couple of examples:

  1. lead acid batteries: All batteries have a space in the bottom for particles of lead to collect. During use, lead flakes off the plates. The flakes pile up in the bottom. When the top of the pile touches the bottom of the plates, it shorts them out and the battery becomes useless. Marine batteries must consider how the piles of flakes are stirred up and moved around by the negative G forces.

  2. Refrigerators: A two quart container full of liquid or a jar of pickles and stored inside the refrigerator can become a missile when subjected to negative Gs. Specifically, it can fly up in the air then crash back down under positive Gs >1. The crashes have been known to smash the walls of the refrigerator.
I'm sure that there must be lots of other examples I still haven't heard of. It reminds me of an old question I had that I never heard and answer to, nor will I ever hear it no doubt. Nuclear propulsion system on submarines boil water in to steam, then pass the steam through a turbine. What happens when the submarine turns on its side or turns upside down? I have lots of friends from the submarine service, and lots more who designed naval reactors. When I ask them that question, they all give me the only answer possible -- that's classified.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Marathon, FL

A Christmas Tree is a sure sign of the Christmas Season. Obviously, we can't have a very big tree on a sail boat, be it real or artificial. Below, you can see the picture of our Christmas Tree. It has something that I bet your tree doesn't have: it is fully gimbaled.

Yesterday, as I walked down the sidewalk, I came across the ace of spades staring up at me right in the center of the walk and a crossing driveway. It had been trampled and run over by bikes and cars, but it is still in fairly good shape. No other playing cards were in sight. I'm not suspicious, but if I were, I would say that this is either a very positive omen or a very ominous omen; I can't say which.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Should We Feel Guilty?

Marathon, FL

This past week much of the USA has been suffering from harsh winter weather. First ice storms, and now temperatures below -25F (-32C).

Down here in the keys it has been sunny with daytime highs about 80F(27C) and night time lows around 62F(17C).

Should we feel guilty? Heck no; we worked hard to get here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday Greetings

Boats In A Jar
By Dick Mills
(with apologies to Doctor Seuss)

Afar we are.
Afar we are.
We are afar.

Winter far-we-are.
Summer far-we-are.
No mater when,
call us Far-We-Are

Do you like boats in a jar?

I do not like them Far-We-Are,
I do not like boats in a jar.

Would you like them Bahamas bound?
Would you like them in Hobe Sound?

I do not like them Bahamas bound.
I do not like them in Hobe Sound.
I do not like boats in a jar,
so leave me be Far-We-Are.

We sailed in Maine but not in vain.
Would you like them on a plane?

Not on a plane not on a train,
I do not like them fancy or plain.
Not Bahamas bound or in Hobe Sound,
now leave me be you naughty hound.

But if you saw them in Washington,
would you agree they're lots of fun?

I do not like them in Washington.
I do not think they're lots of fun.
I do not like them in the State of Maine.
I do not take them on the train.
Not Bahamas bound,
or in Hobe Sound.
No goats in a car.
No boats in a jar.
I think you're crazy Far-We-Are.

But if you tried in Vero Beach,
then you may like them we do beseech.

Not on the beach.
Not with a peach.
I do not like them in the sun,
not even when in Washington.
I do not like them in the rain,
nor do I buy them when in Maine.
I do not enjoy boats in a jar,
so please be quiet Far-We-Are.

But try them, try them you will see,
they're fun to look at while at sea.

OK, I'll try them while at sea,
I'll try them if you'll let me be.
But don't expect a big gold star,
because I try them Far-We-Are.

Wow! I do so like boats in jar,
I now believe you Far-We-Are.
I'll take one with me Bahamas bound,
I'll buy another when in Hobe Sound.
I'll abstain from pain in the State of Maine.
I'll show them around when on a plane.
I'll kiss a nun in Washington.
I'll line them up and have some fun.
I'll sing their praises in my speech.
I'll give people raises in Vero Beach.
I do so like boats in a jar.
Thank you. Thank you. Far-We-Are

So now you have our Christmas poem.
We hope you have a good year at home.
But if you should see a boat sail by,
then wave your hand and shout out Hi.
Cause it's just Dick and Libby having fun,
sailing north or south to find some sun.

We wish you a happy holiday, be it Christmas, Hanukkah or Ramadan next August, and a very happy new year.

Dick and Libby

Monday, December 15, 2008

Steering 3

Marathon, Florida

I bet you can't believe there is so much to just steering a boat. This is the final post on the subject. I promise. Once again, it is for my non-boating friends. (See previous posts, Steering 1, and Steering 2)

When you steer a wheeled vehicle you are used to repeatability. If you turn the steering wheel by, say, 90 degrees you expect the car to turn with a particular radius, day after day, time after time. Not so with a boat or an airplane. The only exception is when your car skids.

Planes are subject to forces from wind while boats are subjected to both wind and water current forces. They don't have wheels on the pavement to override those forces. Therefore, they don't necessarily move the way they're pointing, nor do they necessarily turn as much as you expected.

The rudders on boats and planes, plus elevators and ailerons on airplanes, are the only means of steering. The effectiveness of a rudder is proportional to the speed of the boat. Therefore, when moving slow, you must deflect the rudder more to get the same effect. There is also a minimum speed, called "steerage" or "steerage way" , below which the rudder is ineffective and you are out of control.

What should you do if the rudder is all the way to one side and you still aren't turning enough? Then you should use more power. (I'm talking about motoring, not sailing.) More power makes you move faster eventually. Also, more power moves more water past the rudder immediately. In most boats, the rudder is directly behind the rudder.

Tarwathie has a full keel and a skeg rudder. This design is optimized for blue water sailing, where the most important characteristic is that the boat moves ahead in a straight line. Full keel boats need much bigger turning radii than sail boats with fin keels and spade rudders. Look at the picture of Tarwathie below, and you'll also see that only a small fraction of the rudder surface is directly behind the propeller. Using more power to make Tarwathie turn faster is not very effective.

With practice I have learned to turn Tarwathie on a dime. The technique involves a lot of back and forth movements; like doing a K turn on your car. However, if there is a strong wind or a strong current, I can't do it. The boat would drift away while I was trying.

Sometimes full rudder and full power is still not enough to turn the boat (or the plane). In that case, your intent to turn that way will fail, you must come up with a plan B. This happens when trying to land a plane on a runway with a cross wind. When you run out of rudder, the landing must be aborted.

So what about the poor captain who needs to take his boat in to a slip at a marina. He may have to move down a narrow dead-end corridor with boats on all sides, then negotiate a 90 degree turn into the slip. Imagine trying to do this with strong winds or currents coming from the side or from behind you. There are only two solutions to this dilemma.

  1. Abort: Give up the idea and go somewhere else until the weather changes.

  2. The pucker method: Move in to the corridor with plenty of speed to make sure that your rudder will work well. You'll have to negotiate the final turn smartly, then apply full reverse power to stop. Meanwhile your crew will have to handle the lines and fenders to secure the boat as you bring it to a stop. There is no margin or error, or opportunities to retry with the pucker method. Do it right or crash into other boats, with embarrassing and financially ruinous consequences.

    It is no wonder at all that bringing a boat in to a slip is the most terrifying maneuver a captain is ever called on to do.

    Watching other skippers attempt the pucker maneuver is a primary source of entertainment in some marinas. It's great fun unless your boat is one of the endangered vessels if the skipper fails.
I read an article that said that European boaters are getting older and more feeble. American boaters are only slightly behind them. To preserve their market, boat manufacturers are forced to make the boats ever easier to maneuver and to sail. The latest sail boats have bow and stern thrusters, rotating propulsion pods, and joystick steering.
  • A thruster is a second propeller mounted in the bow or the stern, which pushes water 90 degrees to the left or the right. Thrusters are aids to steering at low speed when the rudder won't work.
  • Propulsion pods extend below the boat. The pod contains the main propeller connected to the engine. A rotatable pod is able to rotate 360 degrees and therefore push in any direction.
  • The new joysticks move the boat forward-aft-port-starboard. Also, by twisting the handle they are able to make the boat turn (twist) in the same direction.
Of course, with a sufficiently strong wind, the maneuver will still fail; perhaps spectacularly.

The Christmas Concert

Marathon, Florida
N 24 41,174 W 081 27.109

Last night we went to the free Christmas Concert at the Marathon Community Theater. It was really fun. We enjoyed it.

The high point of the evening came when the tap dancing team, The MCT Tropical Tappers, came on stage. This team was comprised of 8 ladies in their 50s, 60s and 70s. They were wearing costumes with low cut necks, and high high high cut micro skirts. Libby almost gasped in surprise. You may think us brave for challenging the seas and the weather, but Libby could not imagine women her age daring to expose themselves so brazenly in public. The ladies were delightful and after a few minutes we forgot their age and just enjoyed the dancing.

The singing was also enjoyable. The theater was perhaps the smallest I've ever been in. That was perfect for amateur theater; especially with musical numbers. It helps to compensate for the lack of expensive electronic aids, acoustics and lighting to make the performance look better.

I think that the charm of amateur theater is that the performances are imperfect. In an age where we are inundated in entertainment, almost all of it staged and professional and polished, our ears become super sensitive to deviations from the perfect. But in amateur theater, the audience becomes a part of the conspiracy. We mentaly edit out their mistakes and we yearn for them to do well, and we thrill at their audacity to expose their vulnerabilities so publicly. It makes for a very different experience than passively watching a professional performance. I regret that Libby and I never became fans of amateur theater until we started cruising.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This Time of Year


We are not planning to head to the Bahamas this month. If we did, we might be a little frustrated. It is the time of year of predominent easterly winds. Any northerly, or strong easterly winds make Bahamas crossings very difficult to say the least.

I made the collage below from It shows the forecasted winds for the next 7 days. The past 5 days have been almost the same. (The arrows show wind direction. The colors show wind speed. The scale is a the bottom. Click on the picture to see it full size.)

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Steering 1

Marathon, FL

Since I'm not sailing today, there is time to blog about a few boating basics. This is for the benefit of my non-boating readers.

Two basic things confound almost everyone until he or she is really accustomed to boating. First, is the specialized jargon like port and starboard. Second, (tomorrow's topic) is the fact that boats steer from the rear rather than the front like a car does.

Cars and bikes pretty much go the way the front points. Boats and airplanes don't. Boats and airplanes must cope with wind and currents that make them drift to one side or the other.

A novice boater steers from point A to point B like a dog swims across the river. A dog just points his nose at point B. The winds and currents sweep him downstream and he must constantly turn to keep his nose pointed at B.

A duck compensates for wind and current and swims a straight line from A to B.

A real live boater always swims like a dog. Therefore we have to invent a bunch of non-simple words to describe his current status.
  • Heading is the direction the boat's nose is pointing.

  • Course is the line from A to B. This is where we would like to go. The course is what you might plan on paper before leaving.

  • Bearing is the direction from the boat to B. You determine bearing by pointing at your destination B while en route.

  • Track is the actual direction of the boat's motion. Engineers would say that it is tangent to the actual path. Determine your track with a GPS. When you make the track match the bearing , you have exactly compensated for wind and current drift. Back in the days before GPS and out of sight of land, determining track was black magic and took lots of skill and experience.

If a boat really did move like a duck, then his heading would be constant and just enough to compensate for the wind and current. More important, the the course , bearing and track would all be the same thing and we would not need so many words.

On a boat out of sight of land, the only non-GPS way to determine direction is with a compass. But compasses do not really point to the North Pole, they point to the magnetic north pole which today is somewhere in the Yukon Territory. Therefore on a boat you may hear about true course , heading , bearing , and track but more often we speak only of magnetic course , heading , bearing , and track . The difference between the two is called variation, which is up to 18 degrees in places I sail.

Our USA nautical charts sometimes show courses from popular points A to points B. All the ones I have label those courses in magnetic degrees. When we got to the Bahamas, I was fooled at first. After some confusion, I noticed that the courses were all labeled in true degrees.

No wonder things get so technical. All of this stuff seems unnecessary and anachronistic if one had an electronic GPS chart plotter, and is willing to bet one's life on it not failing. With a chart plotter, all you have to do is to see point B on the map shown on the screen. The plotter rotates things so that the boat's track is straight up. Then all you have to do is steer until point B is at the top of the screen. It's that simple.

On our chart plotter, in addition to the map, we always display bearing , track , speed, and speed-made-good. Speed-made-good is the component of track in the direction of bearing, in other words, how fast are you making progress in getting to where you want to go.

No wonder electronic chart plotters are so seductive. They are overwhelmingly convenient and easy to use. Even when you know that your life may depend on those old fashioned skills some day, it is hard to maintain the mental discipline to prevent atrophy of those abilities.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Marathon, FL

The picture I posted yesterday piqued the interest of many of you. Several readers thought it must be that it hit a low bridge. That's very possible, perhaps even likely but there are other ways for it to happen.

When I took the picture, the dismasted boat was heading North and was 40 miles away from the nearest low bridge. I should have called him on the VHF to ask what happened, but I didn't.
  • He could have hit some overhead obstruction other than a bridge.
  • Overhead wires are a frequent hazard, with our without electricity.

  • One can even hit a partially extended stabilizer boom of a shrimp boat with the mast.

  • A really dumb stunt would be to drive a sail boat in to a covered slip. Covered slips are like garages for power boats. I never saw one with a ceiling high enough for a big sail boat.

  • I wonder what would happen if one over tightened the back stay on a racing sailboat with a bendy mast. Could it be so tight as to break the fore stay and then break the mast. It sounds unlikely but not impossible.

Libby and I heard another story about dismasting. A family, members of SSCA, were cruising the Pacific when they ran up on a reef. They had the father, mother and 3 kids aboard. The father went on deck to try to do something. Just then, the mast broke and fell on the man. It cut his leg clean off. The bottom line, the man and his family all survived to tell the story on American TV. See it here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An Untold Story

Marathon Public Library

We saw this boat pass us on the ICW in October. It was a new looking Beneteau -- a pretty expensive boat. We have no idea what the story is behind the dismasting. It invites you to use your imagination.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Miami to Marathon


It has been a while since we posted any pictures.
Above: THe Miami Skyline as seen from Key Biscayne. Daytime, sunset, twilight, and night. Note that even though the wind and water were as still as they ever get, the night shot is still blurred because of camera movement. Some kinds of photography you just can't do on a boat.

Above: Our dolphin welcome committee for our entrance to Boot Key Harbor. Libby said one of the dolphins turned his head, looked up at her and smiled.

Lower left: Libby says "The purplest flower I ever did see."

Lower right another photography challenge. Look very carefully and you see a faint rainbow. We saw it from 12 miles away. The rainbow was limited to a very short segment between a low cloud and an island. Anyhow, it looked great to our naked eyes.

Above: Our friends Chris and June on Albion are very knowledgeable. They quickly gave us a probable identification for our so-called walks-on-water-fish or Jesus-fish. It is a ballyhoo. I found it's description in the Fish Encyclopedia

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Home Again, Is That Possible?


It really felt good this morning to return to Marathon. We saw a very nice rainbow on the way in. We were greeted by a welcome committee of four dolphins that met us outside the harbor and followed us all the way to our mooring.

Just inside the bridge we met up with our friends Chris and June from Albion. By chance, they were in their dinghy going past. They've invited us to dinner tonight.

Then we got to check in on the cruiser's net. We heard the phrases "Welcome to the Harbor" and "Welcome Back" numerous times this morning. There really is something special about Marathon and its culture for cruising sailors.

It also felt like home. Home? Our boat is our home. We don't have any home base any more, or do we? Thinking it over, I guess we have four places that we visit regularly by boat, which we are very fond of, which feel like home, and which we have a hard time leaving once we arrive.

  1. Rockland, Maine
  2. Urbanna, Virginia
  3. Vero Beach, Florida
  4. Marathon, Florida
  5. The whole of Lake Champlain
Even though we visit 100 or more places every year, and we crave to explore new ones, those five all earn the moniker home in our hearts.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Walks On Water

Vaca Key
24 41.43 N 081 03.59 W

Yesterday and today we saw some very peculiar fish. They are about the length and diameter of a big cigar. We saw three of them and each time we saw them they were walking on water away from the boat. I'll explain.

You've all seen jumping fish, and probably you've seen flying fish too. How about a fish that jumps to the surface of the water, and then flogs its tail so rapidly that only the tip of the tail is in the water. The three fish we saw doing this each walked for about 5 seconds, moving about 25 feet and flapping their tails perhaps 100 times. If that can't be described as walking on water, then I don't know what can.

The time between their tail flaps is only 250 milliseconds. If I could churn my legs that fast, maybe I too could walk on water.

I called them walk on water fish, but my sister Nancy offered a better name -- Jesus fish.

We have so many well informed readers of this blog that I hope one of them can identify this fish and send an email.

Today, Saturday was a lovely day with only light winds. We saw hundreds of boats anchored or moored out on the reef. So many that it looked crowded. We'll go for a day sail on a nice week day for our own visit to the reef for skorkeling.

Tonight, we arrived at Vaca Key around 1700. Just in time to find a sandy spot to anchor before the sun went down. By 0830 tomorrow morning, we'll be in Boot Key Harbor in the City of Marathon.

Friday, December 05, 2008


At Sea
25 17.00 N 080 15.00W

The Miami Skyline was indeed beautiful last night. We had a good time just watching it. The wind and water were so calm that the sea surface looked like a mirror. Low clouds hung over Miami's urban heat island reflecting the city lights. The clouds looked like a halo (ha ha, imagine a halo for Miami of all places:) For an extra treat there was a ray jumping out of the water near us making big flop noises as he fell back in. I also spotted a pelican swooping only inches above the water. I
never knew that they did that before. I hope they have good night vision. Otherwise, we might hear a big thump in the middle of the night as a pelican gave himself a headache on Tarwathie's hull.

This morning, I sat up on deck drinking coffee and reading a marine newspaper. I noticed a nearby sailboat raise her sails and pull up anchor. It was a little day sail boat, perhaps 23 feet long with two people on board. The wind was nearly still but she managed to sail away slowly nevertheless. I felt a pang of envy as she sailed away southward in Biscayne Bay.

What's with the envy? I thought we had the perfect life. Analyzing my feelings a bit, I find that I miss the spontaneity of day sailing. When one day sails, there is no destination, no objective, no course, no race with sunset. One merely follows one's whims and takes in the pure joy of sailing. When Libby and I cruise we have the freedom to decide what to do every day. For example, today we decided to sail to Key Largo. However, as soon as me made our choice we do have a goal, and a course and
a schedule. I'm sure that the day sailors dream of taking a cruise, but today I was dreaming about day sailing. The cure? Duh --- day sail more. For the most part we day sail only when we have guests on board. That's one of many reasons why we love guests. While in Marathon I'll see if we can't make it a point to take day sails.

Right now, we are in the Hawk Channel sailing South and West. The Hawk Channel is the body of water in between the Florida Keys to our West and North, and the reef to our East and South. We love sailing in the Hawk Channel. It is not easy to explain why. The keys don't look pretty from seaward. All we see are mangrove trees and occasional houses. The reef is totally submerged so we can't see that. I guess it must be the gentle weather, the lovely green color of the water, and the security
of sailing in waters partially sheltered by the reef. You see the reef takes most of the punch out of the sea swells, regardless of weather. Also, when one sails from any point A to any other point B in the keys, one is always going from a fun place to another fun place, passing fun places along the way. It sets a feeling of ambiance.

We think we'll anchor tonight at Rodriguez Key. That is the exact place we departed from last spring to jump over to the Bahamas. Boy, when I think back on all the nice experiences we've had since that day it seems hard to believe.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Front Row Center Seat: Miami

Biscayne Bay
25 41.63 N 080 10.76 W

We continued to get a fine free ride from the wind all night long. Around 0700 this morning though, it abruptly stopped, like someone turned off the light switch. When the wind stopped, we were directly in front of Miami Beach's South Beach. Not a bad place to be. Oh well, we turned on the engine and motored two hours to this anchorage.

We passed by the cruiser's favorite place, No Name Harbor, and chose to anchor to the west of Key Biscayne. There will be almost no wind tonight so we don't need shelter. More important, here we have a front row center seat to admire the beauty of Miami's night skyline. Downtown Miami is only four miles away and there are no obstructions between it and us. Actually, this exact spot is a favorite for shooting scenic pictures of Miami. I've seen this view in the opening scenes of Miami Vice,
and also the opening scenes of CSI Miami. We'll have dinner tonight out on deck to enjoy the view and the nice weather.

As we came south last night from Palm Beach, three changes were noticeable. First, the continental shelf that we've seen all the way from Massachusetts south, seems to disappear here. Typically, the shelf keeps the water depth as little as 80 feet deep up to 40 miles off shore. Last night though although we were only 3 miles from the beach, the water was as much as 500 feet deep. Second, the weather became noticeably warmer. Even at 4AM, it was comfortable out on deck wearing only a tee
shirt and shorts. Libby reported getting splashed by a rogue wave and she said the water was very warm. Third, after dawn we started seeing flying fish and Portuguese Man O Wars.

To the east were the ever present clouds that mark the Gulf Stream. To the north was a massive dark cloud that looked very threatening. For a moment I was alarmed that a storm was approaching. Then I noticed that the cloud was moving north -- away from us. The reality was that we sailed under that cloud most of the night and emerged into sunlight only after dawn. Cool.

After posting this blog, I think I may go for a swim. I may even get Libby to swim too -- that's a challenge because she is very chicken about swimming in water that isn't really warm. The outside air temperature is 85F(30C) I don't know the actual water temperature -- I should buy an immersible thermometer.

Front Row Center Seat

Biscayne Bay
25 41.63 N 080 10.76 W

We continued to get a fine free ride from the wind all night long. Around 0700 this morning though, it abruptly stopped, like someone turned off the light switch. When the wind stopped, we were directly in front of Miami Beach's South Beach. Not a bad place to be. Oh well, we turned on the engine and motored two hours to this anchorage.

We passed by the cruiser's favorite place, No Name Harbor, and chose to anchor to the west of Key Biscayne. There will be almost no wind tonight so we don't need shelter. More important, here we have a front row center seat to admire the beauty of Miami's night skyline. Downtown Miami is only four miles away and there are no obstructions between it and us. Actually, this exact spot is a favorite for shooting scenic pictures of Miami. I've seen this view in the opening scenes of Miami Vice,
and also the opening scenes of CSI Miami. We'll have dinner tonight out on deck to enjoy the view and the nice weather.

As we came south last night from Palm Beach, three changes were noticeable. First, the continental shelf that we've seen all the way from Massachusetts south, seems to disappear here. Typically, the shelf keeps the water depth as little as 80 feet deep up to 40 miles off shore. Last night though although we were only 3 miles from the beach, the water was as much as 500 feet deep. Second, the weather became noticeably warmer. Even at 4AM, it was comfortable out on deck wearing only a tee
shirt and shorts. Libby reported getting splashed by a rogue wave and she said the water was very warm. Third, after dawn we started seeing flying fish and Portuguese Man O Wars.

To the east were the ever present clouds that mark the Gulf Stream. To the north was a massive dark cloud that looked very threatening. For a moment I was alarmed that a storm was approaching. Then I noticed that the cloud was moving north -- away from us. The reality was that we sailed under that cloud most of the night and emerged into sunlight only after dawn. Cool.

After posting this blog, I think I may go for a swim. I may even get Libby to swim too -- that's a challenge because she is very chicken about swimming in water that isn't really warm. The outside air temperature is 85F(30C) I don't know the actual water temperature -- I should buy an immersible thermometer.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Fort Pierce
27 27.01 N 080 19.29 W

The mechanic came this morning and now I'm aligned again. Not politically (I seem to forever be out of political alignment with the rest of the world) but mechanically.

Actually, he could only do a partial job. You see I have a flexible coupler between the engine and the shaft. It is called an engine saver and it's purpose is to limit the amount of shock that can be transmitted to the crank shaft in case the propeller strikes something hard.

The mechanic told me though that it is nearly impossible to align the shaft with the flexible coupler in there. Could we remove the coupler long enough to do the job? "No," I said, "The shaft is too short. There is not enough room between the propeller and the hull to hook up the shaft without the flexible coupler. "Oh well," said the mechanic and did the best he could. Now, at high RPMs we don't get as much vibration as before, but it is still not really right.

Now I have two reasons to haul the boat. First to repair that broken screw for the zinc (remember that from a month ago?). Second, to remove the propeller from the shaft, push the shaft in, then remove the flexible coupler, realign the engine, then put everything back again. Maybe while we are in Marathon, we can do that.

The wind turned to NW just an hour ago. We could leave right now and go on the outside to Marathon. I'm going to wait until morning though. We'll still have nice wind for several days.

Monday, December 01, 2008

On The Move Again

Fort Pierce
27 27.02 N 080 19.35 W

Well, we finally left Vero. We're on the way to Marathon and taking a short stop in Fort Pierce. Tomorrow I have a mechanic coming to help me align the engine (I'm getting vibrations so we need a fine tuning of engine-propeller shaft alignment.)

Last week we were off the boat. My sister Marilyn flew down for Thankgiving. Libby and I rented a car and drove to Orlando to pick her up. The next day, we took her to Downtown Disney. Then we took her to my bother Ed's house. We all had a really great Thanksgiving dinner with Ed and his family. It was a lot of fun.

Sunday was a very stormy day. Three times, violent thunderstorms passed over and dumped lots of rain. I had to bail the dinghy three times to prevent it from sinking.

This morning I peeked in the engine compartment. The pan under the engine was all full of water. Uh Oh, where did the water come from? I thought at first that it must be rain water, and that we had a big leak someplace. I started siphoning the water in to the bilge, when it was partially full, the bilge pump started. Ay ay ay. A hose connection had broken off for the bilge pump connection. Intead of pumping bilge water over board, it made a dirty water shower for the engine and the engine compartment. I had to repair that.

Next, the Sirius sattelite radio stopped working. Uh Oh. As a rule, miniature electronic devices are not repairable by ordinary mortals. However, I had a suspicion of what was wrong. It has a crack in the circuit board that makes the 12 volt power connection intermittent. I pried open the case and then put a single drop of Corrosion Blocker on the board near the power plug connector. Corrosion Blocker is conductive. It is a risk because it might short something else. In this case, it worked just right. The drop of liquid soaked in to the crack in the board, and now the radio works OK.

By the way. I just ran across some outstanding beautiful pictures of scenery from Bolivia and Brazil. It shows lakes, mountains, volcanoes, and salt deserts. I had no idea that part of the world was so lovely. Check it out here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Inlet Currents on Steriods

Vero Beach

The analytical engineer in me couldn't let that problem with the inlet currents in the previous blog alone. I know that the simple example in that previous post with 5 knots current and 5 knots speed and 1 mile between inlets was unrealistic. So what would realistic numbers really look like. Therefore I wrote a little simulator program to calculate the numbers for me. The results shown below are surprisingly complex. No wonder I couldn't do the math in my head.

Here is the basic problem. Suppose that inlets are 30 miles apart, and that the strongest tidal current is 2.5 knots. Those are realistic numbers for the ICW. Then suppose that a boat leaves at a certain time and with a calm water cruising speed of 3, 5, or 7 knots, and that the trip continues for 24 hours. How will the speed vary through the day?

The results are shown below for two times; departure against peak current and departure with peak current.

Why are the curves so wiggly and wild? We see the interaction of three things. The tide varies with time with a period of 11.5 hours. The boat moves from inlet to inlet interacting first with the inlet behind and then to the inlet ahead. Finally, as the boat passes an inlet, the relative current direction abruptly flips.

I think it is astounding that such complex behavior can arise from such a simple problem. No wonder I couldn't do the math in my head.

What about the pessimism factor I mentioned in the previous post? We know that at constant engine RPM, the boat spends more time moving against the current than with it, but by how much? See the table below. 50% means equal times with current and against it. I guess that the pessimism factor is not as large as I imagined.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Inlet Currents

Cruisers along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) are made keenly aware of one thing -- namely tidal currents. The currents can be very strong and very significant for your progress. A sailboat like Tarwathie cruises at about 5 knots under power. With a 2 knot tidal current, our net speed may be 3 knots with current against us, and 7 knots if it is with us. That's more than a 2:1 difference!

Another feature of the ICW is that it is like a narrow river, separated from the ocean by barrier islands. Every once in a while, there is a gap between the barrier islands forming an ocean inlet. Boats may or may not be able to navigate the inlet, but the tidal waters surge in an out at these points. Those surges are what causes the tidal currents in the ICW.

The two pictures below, illustrate a passage between two neighboring inlets. During flood tide, water rushes in and during ebb tide it flows out. In the picture, you can also see boats, being depicted as traveling fast or slow. You get the picture.

Now, consider the following two assertions. First, when a boat passes an inlet, the relative current flips. If you had current with you before, it is now against you. Second, although the average current speed is zero, you spend much more time with current against you than with you. Call that the pessimist's rule.

What's with this pessimist's rule? Isn't that urban legend? No, it's real. I'll explain. Let us consider a simplified tidal profile. The current runs at a constant speed of 5 knots in one direction for 6 hours, then it instantly flips to 5 knots the other way for 6 hours. Further suppose that your boat speed is 5 knots. Then, with current against you, your net speed is zero. You don't move at all, and you might as well anchor for those 6 hours. Then, when the current flips, you are whisked to your destination (or to the next inlet where current flips again) at the breakneck speed of 10 knots.

Take a numeric example. Suppose inlets are 1 mile apart. Just after you pass the first inlet, the current turns against you at 5 knots. You sit there making zero progress for 6 hours. Finally, the current flips again and you reach the second inlet in another 6 minutes. As you pass the second inlet, the current flows against you once again for another 5 hours and 54 minutes. No wonder boaters are pessimists.

There is an important exception to the pessimist's rule. Suppose you pass the inlet at the right during flood tide. You'll have current with you. Then suppose that your timing is such that halfway between the inlets, the tide switches to ebb. You will have had current with you the whole time. It is like pumping your legs at the right speed on a swing set.

I recall once when we hit it just right. We left the Saint Johns River near Jacksonville Florida, and entered the ICW. We had a very fast trip at 7 knots all the way to Saint Augustine, 36 nautical miles away. We made it in about 5.5 hours. With no tide at all, it would have taken 7 hours. If our timing had been such to suffer the full pessimist's rule, the same passage would have taken 9.5 hours.

Is there anything a boater can do to improve his net speed without increasing fuel consumption? Yes, he can ease the throttle when the current is with him and use more throttle when current is against him. However, the net gain is small and most of us don't do that; we travel with the throttle set at cruise speed 100% of the time.

What can you do to minimize fuel consumption? That's easy. Anchor when the current is against you and drift with no power when it is with you. Your average speed is one half the current speed and your fuel consumption is zero. With a little bit of wind in your sails, you can achieve a much higher average speed.

Of course, the more power you have, the less you are hindered by those pesky currents. It is a problem mostly for slow, underpowered, sail boats where current speed is a significant fraction of cruising speed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Look Ma, No Hands

Vero Beach

It is only reasonable to expect that the longer one lives on a boat, the more tips and tricks one would learn. It's only natural. This trick though tickles my fancy because I did not expect it. I have learned to steer our dinghy with no hands. I can do it accurately and reliably.

It brings back memories of the time when I learned to steer my bicycle no hands. You remember -- "Look Ma, No Hands." I'm sure you have the same memory from your childhood.

Actually, the trick in the dinghy is the same as on your bike. I simply lean from one side to the other. Unlike a bike though, I lean right to make the boat turn left.

Why do that? When driving a dinghy with an outboard motor, you need to sit in the back to reach the motor's handle (tiller). That unbalances the boat. The bow sticks up in the air and the stern sinks. It's like doing a wheelie on a motorcycle.

To balance the boat, you need to move your body forward. Then you can't reach the tiller. People use all sorts of extensions to make the tiller handle longer but those have disadvantages. I'm proud to report that I learned how to do it with no hands at all.

p.s. I don't think my trick will work in an inflatable dinghy or one with a flat bottom.

Rewired: Part 3

Vero Beach

Yesterday I re-re-wired [sic] the Link 10 monitor. I decided that the signal wires that I used were too fragile and would prove to be too easy to damage and too unreliable. The wire came from a spool of wire that I bought at a Radio Shack store. I regret buying it. I also regret the marketing practice of packaging goods in clamshell plastic packages that make it impossible to really inspect the goods before buying.

Anyhow, I rode the bus to the hardware store and bought some heavier guage wire. Then I returned to the boat, ripped out the old wires and installed the new. Then I ran the generator long enough to get the battery fully charged. Now the Link 10 is installed and calibrated and we can start using it seriously.

So what is a battery monitor and why would we want one? Simply stated, it is a device that accurately measures only three things -- battery voltage, battery current and time. From those three things one can calculate a number of derived quantities. Most significant is amp-hours, the measure of battery consumption. Also, one can calculate kilowatt-hours, and estimate time remaining before the battery goes dead. It can also keep historical records on the number and depth of charge-discharge cycles that allow you to spot trends. An optional serial interface (which I don't have) allows you to download log files of the measurements into an Excel spreadsheet so that you can analyze and plot data to your heart's content.

The value of a battery monitor is to prevent you from overcharging your batteries. Boats use deep discharge batteries that are unlike the batteries that you use in your car. Deep discharge batteries are designed for fewer but deeper lifetime charge-discharge cycles. Without a battery monitor, you have only battery voltage to judge the charge state of the batteries. Voltage is a poor indicator, especially when the current draw is variable.

Just guessing as to the battery charge state invariably leads to overcharging. It is better to be safe and overcharge rather than to undercharge and wake up to a dead battery. Overcharging costs money. It costs fuel, engine wear and tear and reduces battery life. In rough numbers, I think that I need to charge our batteries about 1 hour per day, but in the past 4 years I have averaged 2 hours per day, just to be safe. What is that worth?

  • One hour per day excess charging * 250 days/year at anchor or under sail. (When we run the motor all day on the ICW, charging is "free.")
  • Engine replacement ($15000/10000 hours)= $1.50/hour
  • Fuel ($4*0.3 gallons/hour) = $1.20/hour
  • Battery Life extended from 1.5 years to 3 years $.18/hour
Tht total is $575/year wasted costs. WOW! Compare that to $200 for a battery monitor. The investment can pay for itself in a very short time.

My monitor includes an optional fourth measurement -- battery temperature. The temperature is used to refine the estimate of time remaining on the battery according to Peukert's Equation (see below). The capacity is further corrected by 0.5% per degree C battery temperature.

I would have loved to have been the engineer who designed, programmed and documented the Link 10. It would have been a juicy snack for an analytical engineer; especially for an engineer who made a lifetime career out of understanding E=I*R (Ohm's Law.) Most of my friends also made careers out of E=I*R. Too bad finance and economic theories are not as simple as that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Endeavor from another angle

Vero Beach

Below is another great shot of last week's launch. This one was taken from across the Indian River from the launch site.

The picture shows white light whereas we saw red-orange. Why? Because of the low cloud cover you see in this picture. We saw the light reflected by those clouds while people closer saw the direct light.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rewired: Part 2

Vero Beach

I finished the wiring project yesterday, cleaned up and tied up all the loose wire with wire ties and faseners. I also installed the 7 signal wires to the Link 10 monitor.

In testing, I did find one wiring error -- a potentially dangerous one. Here's the deails. My solar panel charge controller (a FlexCharge PV7D) claims to support two independent battery banks if wired as shown below.

I wired it up as directed. However, during testing, I discovered that both banks were connected in parallel on battery switch positions 1 and 2 and BOTH. What? I disconnected the solar + from the start battery, and that fixed the problem. Now, the two banks act as they should; either bank 1 or bank 2 or both in parallel.

The controller evidently does not isolate the two + outputs from each other as the manual suggests. That's a potentially dangerous error. If banks 1 and 2 ever became seriously unbalanced, then they would try to equalize themselves through that light gauge wire for the solar panel. That wire is far too small for heavy current. It would melt and perhaps start a fire.

The Link 10 is a marvelous toy for an engineer to play with. All it does is accurately measure battery voltage and current (0.1 ampere resolution) and time. From those three measurements, it extract maximum value via some very cool engineering analysis. I would have loved to have been the engineer who designed and programmed it. I'll write more on the Link 10 after a few days experience.

I don't have it calibrated yet but within the first hour the Link 10 exposed a real problem. Running my Honda generator, I powered up the shore power connection to charge the batteries. When the voltage got up to 14.0 volts, the Link 10 showed that there was still maximum (20 amps) of charge current going in to the batteries. It should taper off to 1-2 amps trickle charge at that voltage. I'll investigate. Meanwhile, it appears that I found at least one cause of overcharging of my batteries.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rewired: Part 1

Vero Beach

I accomplished the biggest part of a major project today. I rewired all of Tarwathie's Power wiring according to a new design. Actually, I bought the materials for this project last February in Marathon. The actual project has been sitting on my to-do list ever since. Today, I finally tackled it.

The purpose of the project was twofold. First, I had been running four years with two identical house batteries. They were wired as bank 1 and bank 2, but I had to use them in parallel on the "BOTH" position of the battery switch.

The basic idea of having a 1-2-BOTH battery switch is to allow you to run house loads on one bank while the second bank stands in reserve to start the engine in case the first bank goes dead. That idea works very poorly if you have two identical batteries on banks 1 and 2. That means you have 50% of your capacity in reserve all the time. That shortens the lifetime of the house power battery and it wastes capacity.

My solution was to buy a third battery. The third one is a small car battery, not the deep discharge kind that we use for marine batteries. Therefore, I had to rewire to put the two house batteries on bank 1 and the third starting battery on bank 2.

Second, I also bought a Link 10 battery monitor on EBay last winter. It measures both battery voltage and current, and computes kw and amp-hours. To use, it, I had to wire in a shunt into the battery circuits. All battery current passes through the shunt, so the voltage drop across the shunt is proportional to battery current.

I started by drawing diagrams of the existing wiring. I used Microsoft Visio to do the drawing. Visio is a uniquely well suited program for making such drawings. It is object-oriented so you can create composite objects, copy them, move them around and the like. I carefully labeled every wire on the drawing. I was even able to draw the wires with thick or thin lines to show which were heavy gauge or lighter gauge.

The next step was to identify each wire in the engine compartment and to tape an identifier tag to it that matches the drawing. The tags make good documentation. They also give one time to become completely oriented with which wire goes where. After an hour or so, it doesn't look like a rat's nest of wires any more. It makes sense. I'll also tape a copy of the drawing, protected in a sandwich bag, to the engine compartment wall for future reference.

I also had to locate a place to mount the third battery. Space in the stern of a double ended boat is very tight. I finally gave up on mounting it in the engine compartment. I put it on the floor of my lazarette compartment instead.

Next, I made a second drawing for the new wiring scheme including the third battery and the shunt. I took time to think about which of the old wires I could re-use considering the wire length and the kinds of terminators on the ends. It worked out that I could re-use all the old wires. Only once did I have to cut off the old terminal and put on a new one of a different type. I also had to make up several new wires with new terminals.

This morning, I set out to actually do it. The re-wire job took only 4 hours. I expected it to take longer. Because of the planning and preparation, it went fairly smoothly. I committed no wiring errors that I know of. My only screw ups were that I dropped washers into the engine pan multiple times, and as I hooked up things again at the end, I twice let a hot wire end carelessly brush against the engine giving a zap sound and some sparks.

I think I did a fairly professional job. The only thing not kosher was that I did not have tinned ends on the new wires. In marine power wiring, it is customary to "tin" the ends. That means coating the strands in solder. The solder makes good connections, it is deformable and it protects the copper from corrosion.

I thought I could do it myself. I wrapped turns of solder around the ends after I stripped the ends. Then I heated it on the stove. It didn't work. The solder dripped off and refused to coat the wire strands for my. I'm not sure what to do now. I don't have a cup full of molten tin on board to dip wires in. Does anyone know how to properly tin the ends of a multi-strand wire cable?

Tomorrow, I do part 2 of the project. I'll write about it.

Blog 2.0 Modernizatoin

Vero Beach

I added a new "Followers" widget to this blog page. You see it on the right sidebar. If you would like to become a follower, publicly or anonymously, click on the Follow This Blog button.

I also added a new Subscribe To widget in the sidebar. You can use it to subscribe to an RSS feed of this blog.

I also noted that the two links I had to Position Reports and Track were both broken. One linked to Pangea, a service in New Zealand, and the other linked to the SSCA web site. Sorry about that. I removed them. Both of those links were to services that plot a "bread crumb" trail of where we have been on a map. I'll try to repair them or find a new service for that purpose. I wonder if I can create a trail of Google Earth marks. Are any of you Google Earth fans?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Man Oh Man, What a Show

Vero Beach

Last night we went over to the beach to watch a show that few places on earth could offer -- a night launch of the space shuttle.

We had the choice of going to the beach or to the mid span of the 65 foot bridge near the marina. The bridge is perhaps the highest lookout point in Florida (neglecting condo buildings), but the beach is more romantic. Ours was the only dinghy at the landing. Suprisingly then, we were the only boaters to choose the beach.

That doesn't mean that we had the beach to ourselves. There were thousands of people there and a minor traffic jam as more people sought parking places.

We went down on the sand and spread out our bamboo beach mats. Then we laid back and enjoyed the spectacular full moon that was just then rising out of the sea. I thought of how much more fun this was than enduring the winter up north.

As we neared the scheduled 7:55 launch time, we scanned the skies. We spotted a tiny point of light moving slowly eastward. "Look, a satellite," I said. A minute later it looked like the same satellite was moving westward. "Huh?" Then I watched closer. The point of light was circling. I figure it must have been a NASA observation craft. Then I expanded my field of vision. The sky was full of aircraft. Lots of them. They were traveling slowly, no doubt up there for sightseeing.

I heard, "26 seconds and counting," on the radio. Then I put the radio down and looked to the north. Suddenly the sky in the north lit up red. It was like the dawn. It's intensity and suddenness of appearance were stunning. A few seconds later, we could see the brilliant orange flame of the exhaust as the rocket itself lifted in to the sky.

We continued watching as the rocket rose. The orange flame got longer and longer. It must be that the faster the rocket moves, the longer the visible exhaust. That makes sense. Then, abruptly, the flame changed from orange to white. We figure that was when the solid fuel boosters exhausted. The white flame was as long as the orange one had been.

A few seconds later, we saw the solid boosters separate and fall back toward earth. They continued glowing red long enough for us to see their progress. Soon after, the white flame abruptly shrank to a much smaller point. Now the rocket looked like a jumbo star. That must have been what NASA calls, "throttle back."

We continued watching for another 7-8 minutes as the bright star climbed higher and shrank in size. Then it abruptly disappeared. I figure that it must have been obscured by a cloud bank somewhere over the Alps.

Man oh man; what a show.

Sorry, no sucessful pictures this time. My camera at night needs 4-5 seconds to make an exposure and there is no way I can hold it still enough. All I get is blurs. The picture below I downloaded from the NASA web site. We were not that close. We viewed from about 60 miles away.

Traveling back in the dinghy, we encountered a giant bird, the size of a blue heron, sitting on top of an isolated piling out in the river. We moved behind it until the piling and the bird were silhouetted against the full moon. It would have made a spectacular picture. Alas, from a rocking and drifting dinghy, and using long exposures it was quite impossible.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tedious Work

Vero Beach Public Library

Libby and I have been working on a computer project. We are converting our blog archive in to a format suitable for book publishing.

It turned out to be much more work and more tedious work than I expected. In fact, I expected to find an automated tool to do it for me. No such luck. There are numerous tools, but for unexplained reasons, none of them work with

Therefore, there are a lot of manual edits we have to do to format post headers, and to place pictures on the page. I also have to get rid of a lot of sins that don't matter in web blogs but do in a book. For example, in a lot of posts I have a hard return at the end of each line rather than just at paragraph breaks. I wrote macros to change those.

Another thing is that typos, wrong words and incomplete sentences might be acceptable in the infomal diary style of a blog, but aren't OK in a book.

I've been working 4 days straight on this project and I'm only 1/3 finished. Today, Libby worked with me. She proof reads and catches things that I didn't.

After we're done with formatting, we'll choose a publish on demand vendor and go from there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rainbows In the Morning

Vero Beach Public Library

We had several brief but intense rain showers this morning. I got caught by one of them while walking to the library. Now I'm sitting here in the library in wet clothes and freezing because the air conditioner is set so low. At least the hot laptop in my lap feels good.

Anyhow, I wanted to comment on the three spectacular rainbows we saw this morning. I realized that we are accustomed to seeing rainbows much more often in the evening than in the morning. Why is that? For that matter, why do we see spectacular red skies more in the evening than in the morning?

During the years that we lived in Sweden at 59 degrees north, we got to see lots of beautiful rainbows, including double and triple rainbows. You see, near the arctic circle, the sun spends much more time near the horizon than it does at the zenith. Low sun angles and rain create rainbows.

Once, on the Neuse River near New Bern, NC, we saw a rainbow at noon when the sun was at the zenith. That is even more unusual. I recall that the rain bow had a strange squashed shape that puzzled me until I realized that it was precisely because the sun was so high.

My non-scientific guess is that during the day water evaporates from land and sea and at night it condenses. Therefore, there is more water in the air in the late evening than in the early morning. The same phenomenon would explain why thunderstorms happen more often in the evening than the morning.

What about the old proverb, "Red sky in the morning sailor's take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight?" It dates back to the Old Testament of the Bible. I make no sense of that and I fail to see that it predicts weather. Various web sites, here and here, attempt to explain it technically, but I think it's mostly bunk. Let me know if you disagree.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A New Blog; A Belly Laugh

Vero Beach

My friend Rich tipped me off to a new blog. SV Pelican is crewed by a family from upstate NY, not far from where we lived. They have only one toe in the cruising-life water, so to speak. It will be interesting to follow their evolution and growth as cruisers. I'll add a link to their blog in the side bar at the right.

I have to share something with you. While waiting for the Library to open this morning, I picked up a copy of The Economist. I read a letter to the editor there that gave me the best belly laugh I've had in a long time. You can find it under the title Travel Advice. The text is below.

Travel advice
In reference to your article ("From treks to sex", January 26th) we would like to clarify that the "Wild Stag Weekends" advertised on the Nepal Tourism Board's website are part of a destination-branding exercise that was launched two years ago. We sorted tourists into different categories and targeted short-haul markets with weekend breaks for a variety of holidays tailored for families, young people, women, pilgrims, etc. You can find these in our brochure.

Our intention when branding "Wild Stag Weekends" was not to promote sex tourism in Kathmandu but to encourage holidaymakers to enjoy traditional Nepalese dancing, where they could mingle freely with the dancers. Apparently this has been misunderstood by your newspaper.

Sarad Pradhan
Media consultant
Nepal Tourism Board

Sunday, November 09, 2008

My Accomplishment For The Day

Vero Beach

Saturday morning I worked with paint stripper chemical. That is sure nasty stuff. I'm working on preparations for refinishing the non-skid on our upper decks.

This afternoon it was a lovely afternoon. Our mad dash to escape from the cold to the warm sure paid off. On Friday afternoon it was 94F (34C). Saturday it was mostly sunny, wind only 5 knots and 80F (27C); just perfect weather.

Libby and I took the dingny to the beach. How does one dinghy from the ICW to the beach? Study the sattelite picture.

At the beach, we laid on our backs and soaked up some sun. I took it upon myself to count the number of clouds that passed overhead. A little later I took a swim. Libby chickened out.

The sea was flat and green. We could see only one boat out there with all that ocean to play in. Amazing.

Oh yes, my accomplishment for the day? 1

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Helpful tips

Vero Beach

Several readers sent in helpful tips about my zinc problem. Thank you very much. I think I'll try some of the tips to limp along instead of precipitously running to haul the boat out of the water.

The picture above was taken after our repowering project. We have a Max-Prop that feathers when in neutral. You see it here in the feathered posittion. You can also see the cone-shaped zinc attachted to the butt end of the prop. You can also see that there is no room for a collar zinc on the shaft.

We put the new motor in with the help of Bud Taplin. Bud is the guru about all things Westsail. Bud said that in the past he had trouble with Max Props getting too close to the rudder (seen on the far left of this picture). Therefore, he makes the shafts short. The trouble is that he made it so short that we have no room on the shaft for a zinc. In reality, the shaft could have been 3 inches longer while still giving adequade prop-to-rudder clearance.

I thought about moving the whole engine and shaft further aft. I could use more room at the front changing the raw water impeller. But we can't do that without building a new fiberglass platform for the aft motor mount. It would be a major project.

I would also like to re-grease the Max Prop. It has two places where you can remove a little set screw and screw in a grease fitting instead. Then, using a grease gun you pump in grease until it oozes out from all the seams, like in the picture. In theory I could do that under water also, but chances of losing the little set screws and/or the grease nipple would be very high. Perhaps in the Bahamas with clear water, I could get Libby in the water too to hold a big pan under me to catch dropped parts.

By the way, Bill K also commented that low water in the batteries is a sign of overcharging. Maybe so. Another dissapointment on the new motor was that it came with an alternator that uses an internal voltage regulator that is incompatible with the modern external three-stage battery charge controllers. We have such a controller already, but now we can't use it.

Especially when we motor down the ICW, I see the battery voltage pegged at 14 volts all day long, and I wondered if we weren't overcharging. To get around that problem, we would have to buy a new alternator.

Our shore-power battery-charger also does not have a three-stage controller. It is a 25 amp controller and it was plenty expensive. I paid $450 for it. A 40 amp charger with 3-stage controls would have cost more than $750. Ouch.

However, another project on my list this month is to install a battery monitor that I bought on E-Bay last year. The battery monitor lets me keep track of Kw-hours, not just battery voltage. With the monitor I can hopefuly learn a lot more about our energy consumption and our recharging cycles. It should make it clearer whether or not we are overcharging.
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