Sunday, May 31, 2009

Natural Beauty, Home Waters

Hudson River near Athens, NY
42 15.92 N 073 48.03 W

We have entered the zone of upstate New York that we call home. We lived for many years near Syracuse to the West, and Schenectady due North, and Burlington Northeast of here. The landscape is so beautiful that it takes my breath away. Is that an objective judgment or a homeland bias? I can't say for sure. What I can say is that the Hudson Valley, and the Mohawk Valley and the Champlain Valley are all very similar to each other. I can also say that countless travelers and painters have also remarked on the unique beauty of this region.

At the moment we are at 42 degrees North. From this point on the river we have a spectacular view of the Catskill Mountains. They are every bit as pretty as the better known Adirondack Mountains, and Green Mountains and Berkshire mountains, all in this region. The northernmost mountain I see seems to have a big flat area on top. I bet that it is the site of the Blenheim-Gilboa pumped storage power plant. That plant is one of the most beautiful, and most important and most environmentally beneficial power project built any time in any country. Forgive me. As a power engineer, I can't help but notice the power facilities in this neighborhood.

This day, near the end of May, the air is filled with floating wisps of cottony fluff. They are too big to be pollen. They come, I think, from one of the species of Maple. There is so much in the air, it looks like a snow flurry. Also typical of this time of year, the weather is a bit unsettled. We just finished three days of cold, fog and rain. Today is sunny, dry and delightful. Tomorrow it will be blustery with winds at 15 knots gusting to 35 (that's an exceptionally wide range of speeds).

But the most beautiful part of all are the myriad shades of green. Like Ireland, upstate New York is blessed with fields and forests that are verdantly green in late spring. People come from all over the world to see it. My father once met a retired cowboy who hitch-hiked all the way here from the outback of Australia. He said that before dying he wanted to experience with his own eyes the magical greens described in the novels by James Fenimore Cooper that the cowboy had read as a child. I can't match Cooper's writing skills in trying to describe the greens in words.

Out plan is this. Tonight we anchor year Athens, NY. Tomorrow we meet with our friends Fred and Mary for a day sail on the river. Tomorrow night we prepare to take the mast down. Monday, we unstep the mast in Catskill. By Tuesday night we'll be in Waterford, at the junction of the Erie and Champlain Canals. We are a whole week ahead of our planned arrival.

On the banks of the river are some really beautiful homes. They run the whole range from modern to ancient, from the estates of billionaires to one spot that I recognize as a definite hobo colony. I note that this year the hobos have upgraded from a cardboard and wooden shack to a nylon camping tent. As we passed they were sitting in front of their tent poking a camp fire with sticks. They appeared to be very content.

Actually, it appears that the hobos live better than the rich. The homes of the rich are high on the hills and over the years the trees grow tall and block their view of the river. The hobos camp 15 feet from the shore. The rich people are never home and their beautiful houses appear to be unoccupied almost all the time. This is the 5th time we've been up or down the Hudson, and this is the 5th time I've seen the hobos there enjoying their waterfront site.

Even the sounds are beautiful to our ears; and this is definitely a biased opinion. On the Hudson w$e have freight trains on the west bank and passenger trains on the right bank. All day and all night they blast their oh-so-loud horns at each road crossing. Libby and I lived so many years in so many places, all near railroad tracks, that they sound completely natural and beautiful to us. Even in Sweden where the rails were welded and the engines electric, the sounds were much different but still beautiful to us. It may sound strange to you, but we love the sound of trains as much as the sound of mourning doves calling in the early morning.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kingston Downer

Kingston, NY

Things change. Not always for the better.

We stayed in Kingston several times before. We used the Kingston City Docks. It was a bargain, charging us only $30/day to stay there. This time we got a price shock. The Kingston City Dock raised their price to $2 per foot ($69 day)! We didn't find out until already tied up and secure.

What do we consider a fair price for a marina? $1.25 to $1.50 per foot is OK. $1 low and more than $1.50 we normally refuse to pay. Of course it depends on location and on facilities. For $2, a marina should offer opulent facilities: bathrooms, showers, sailor's lounge, convenient water and electricity, trash and waste oil disposal, perhaps loaner bicycles, swimming pool, ships store, security, and everything clean.

At the Kingston City Dock there are nearby restaurants, a bus stop, public toilets and a public shower (not owned by the marina), no lounge, no laundry, water and power but very inconvenient, trash, good security, and dirty run-down docks. It's worth about $0.75 per foot.

We rode the bus to the supermarket yesterday. That was a disappointment too. We had thought Kingston to be a jewel of a city, based on our view from the Rondout Creek frontage area. Seeing more of the city from the bus, we see that it's mostly a very ugly, chaotic place.

I don't think we'll be coming back here any more.

Oh well. I'm just trying to prove the point that not every day and not every place we visit are uniformly nice. This blog is overwhelmingly positive, but I try not to whitewash the truth.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Absolutely Postively Dependable

Kingston, NY

Every sailboat we have ever owned had one thing in common (in addition to hull and sails) -- they all had Windex devices. What is a Windex? Not the glass cleaner, but the wind direction indicator.

Windex was originally a Swedish invention. Now they are owned by Davis Instruments. A Windex is a plastic arrow, that sits on a jeweled pivot point in the middle. You mount it at the top of the mast. The point of the arrow points at where the wind is coming from. It is a wind vane, except that it is exquisitely sensitive and superbly visible to the helmsman looking up at it from the cockpit. All sailors I know love their Windexes. Very few sailboats don't have one.

One problem is that Windexes are delicate and easily broken. Back in the days when I trailered my boats and lowered the mast each trip, I broke at least one Windex per year. With Tarwathie, we don't take the mast down often so they last longer. But if you don't break them, they are absolutely positively dependable. Nothing can possibly go wrong with such a simple and well designed device.

Two years ago, in Sorel Quebec, Libby and I lowered the mast and broke the Windex. She went shopping for a replacement, and scored a jumbo sized Windex bigger than any I've ever seen before. Great.

Last week, in Raritan Bay we were heading for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Winds were light. I noticed several sailboats overaking us. No problem. Then I noticed that they had their head sails up. I looked at our Windex. We were must too close to sailing into the wind to use the sail. I figured they were motor-sailing and ignored them. Then they passed me and I could see that they had full main and head sails up. Worse, they were heading 20 degrees closer to the wind than I was. WTF!!! I was only 20 degrees off the wind according to the Windex, how could they possibly sail directly into the wind? I squinted my eyes and peered up the mast. I could see the tip of the Windex arrow resting against our VHF antenna. Oh no! It wasn't pointing at the wind. How long had it been like that?

Earlier last week we were in the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. At one point I collided with an overhanging tree branch above. The result was a shower of leaves and twigs. Looking above I could see that another result was a section of the branch with leaves, stuck on our mast head. No problem, when we got to the welcome center, we fetched the boatswains chair and I climbed up the mast to inspect the damage. I cleared the branch. Nothing was missing and nothing seemed to be broken except that the Windex mounting bracked was bent. I straigtened it back out. That was my error -- the bracket wasn't bent by the branch, it was bent to prevent the Windex from bumping in to the VHF antenna and it must have been me who bent it two years ago.

Duh, joke's on me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Croton On The Hudson
41 12.02 N 073 53.62 W

Well, we have a layover this morning. I got up at my customary time, 0600, but we have to wait for the tide to turn at 1100. I can use the time to catch up on blog news.

Yesterday we had a delightful visit with my cousin Amy, and her two boys Luke and Nick. They live in Ossning, NY (that's right, the town that holds Sing Sing Prison), close to Croton On The Hudson. We haven't seen Amy in almost 15 years. Amy's husband Brian is an editor, and he commutes to Manhattan by train. I think that people like Amy and Brian have found just the right combination for living. Places like Tarrytown, Ossning and Croton On The Hudson are very quiet and very beautiful, yet within easy reach of Manhattan by commuter train.

The boys were enchanted with the romantic idea of having relatives that live on a boat and who can sail around the world. We gave them the cook's tour of Tarwathie. I also tried the boys out on a little quiz. I pointed out our ditch kit bag and I explained that the ditch kit contained those items we need to take if we had to abandon ship and jump into the life raft. I asked the boys to guess what the ditch kit might contain. They did very well, guessing correctly about 9 of the 12 things we have in the kit.

The day before, Tuesday, Libby and I enjoyed Manhattan some more. We divided up. Libby walked one mile to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I took the subway downtown to 42nd street photo. I was shopping for a new camera. We planned to meet in the afternoon and do something more.

Libby really really likes the Met and the beautiful things she saw there. Based on her account, I think she was most impressed by the objects designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Next, I planned to try again to visit the aircraft carrier Intrepid. I rode the subway as close as I could get and started to walk the rest. It didn't work out. My foot hurt too much. Therefore, I changed my mind and rode the subway back to the boat. Libby was also tired out after the Met, so she too returned to the boat.

In the evening, we walked 3 blocks to Broadway in search of a place to eat dinner. We found Jack's Pizza Place. Jack's is a marvelous example of traditional NY style eatery. It is tiny. The tables are tiny, the aisles are tiny, and the space between tables nonexistent. The menu was long and varied. It took 15 minutes to read it. The walls were papered with innumerable signs, posters and admonisments to both staff and patrons to do or not do this or that. The waiters were surly in true NY tradition (I thought that surly waiters in NYC was a thing of the past, but not at Jack's.)

Then we visited the West Side Market to buy a few groceries. Again, everything was compressed in area, with tiny aisles crowded with people. I was amazed at the quality of the food, and fresh vegetables sold there. Prices were very high but quality was even higher. Clearly, this was an upper class only neighborhood and market.

Today we'll continue up the Hudson going past West Point and Storm King Mountain. Unfortunately, it is another cold, drizzly, foggy day so we won't get to see the spectacular scenery. I had invited my friend Pete to join us on this leg of the trip. He couldn't make it, but if he had it would have been a disappointment because of the bad weather.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


On The Hudson River
40 5325 N 073 55.65 W

I suppose you think that cruising sailors like us are brave souls who never show a hint of fear. That's not entirely true. Sometimes we get spooked just like anyone else, and not always for good reasons

The other day, as we were about to put out to sea, I got spooked when passing out the entrance to Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was irrational. Nothing in particular triggered it; the weather forecast for coming days was fine. Anyhow, I turned around and headed back toward Hampton, thinking that we would stay the night. Just seconds later, I changed my mind again, and turned back to the original course. Of course everything turned out fine. So what spooked me? I suspect that it was a wave of drowsiness. You see, it was the time for my afternoon nap. Several times in the past, when faced with the choice between a sea passage and the opportunity for a good sleep, I've found the urge to sleep clouding my good judgment. Anyhow, that's a theory.

A few days later, there was no mystery about what spooked me. It was 5 o'clock in the afternoon and we had just arrived at Sandy Hook after 50 hours at sea. It was still three hours to dark, and the timing of the tide was perfect. We could have continued on into New York Harbor with a 2.5 knot boost from the tidal current. Just then though I heard the Coast Guard on channel 16 passing on a message about weather. I turned to the NOAA weather channel. That channel was abuzz with alarming warnings about severe thunderstorms. When they give severe thunderstorm alerts, they recite the names of all the counties alerted, and the names of the towns that the storms will pass. There were storms all around us, in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. I kept listening for the names of places near us that I could recognize. The recitation of place names went on and on. It reminded me to the half-hour long list of school closings that they used to read on the radio on snow days. Finally, I heard them mention the Verrazano Narrows. That was only 3 miles away. I was spooked.

They said that the storm would bring hail, intense rain, cloud to ground lightning, and 60 mph winds. Mariners should seek immediate shelter. That's severe. I thought about our proposed anchorage near the Coast Guard station in Sandy Hook. I worried about being too close to a lee shore, freshly anchored, uncertain of the holding, and totally exposed to the West and North. That's a pretty insecure feeling. I thought of finding a more secure place, but the nearest was 90 minutes away.

Anyhow, by the time we reached the anchorage, it was clear that the storm we named was going to miss us. Good. We anchored, went below decks and had a peaceful dinner. Then we were ready for bed, being tired after our passage. I set the VHF radio to automatically trigger upon an emergency weather alert. You know. You hear it when they play those strange tones and squacks on the radio that trigger weather radios to turn themselves on. Before we climbed into bed, the darn thing went off. It makes ear piercing shrieks when it is triggered, enough to make the hair on your head stand up. The alert said that there was another severe storm spotted at 19:30 heading for Staten Island, Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook at 20 mph. That's us! The alert also said that it should reach Sandy Hook by 20:20. Wait a minute? It is already 20:20 I thought. I went up on deck to look around. I could see the storm and the lightning far to the North. The alert was clearly in error. The storm moved in a direction different than what they said, and the timing of the alert was delayed 30 to 60 minutes. Still, I was now doubly spooked. Should I sit up on anchor watch, or go to bed? In the end, fatigue got to me. I went to bed. (p.s. The storm never did hit us.)

I'm becoming increasingly fed up with the overly alarmist NOAA weather reports and alerts. Listening regularly to NOAA radio would make one never want to leave home. I suspect that they are playing the cover-your-ass game. They get severely criticized if they provide inadequate warning and someone gets hurt. They get almost no criticism and no liability if they overly warn. I can't prove those suspicions but still... I hate disregarding their warnings totally; that would be overreaction. Therefore, I have to listen and then decide myself what to disregard. The problem is that it leaves us with nagging doubts and anxiety after ignoring such strident warnings.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Big Apple, Memorial Day

New York, New York
40 47.27 N 073 59.09 W

We usually don't go boating on big holidays like Memorial Day. There are too many inexperienced boaters out celebrating. However, one aspect that we didn't consider was the reduced commercial traffic. Yesterday and today we saw far fewer ships and water taxis and Staten Island ferries than usual. That made navigating this busy harbor much easier. By 9:00 we were secured on a mooring at the 79th Street Boat Basin.

So, next step, find something fun to do. I gotta be kidding right. Fun in The Big Apple? It's all around us. I chose to try to see the Aircraft Carrier Intrepid museum. It was within walking distance. Libby chose to stay with the boat and to rest up after our voyage. She said that perhaps she would do laundry at the marina. (We seem unable to go for more than a week without doing laundry.)

So, I walked down the riverfront path alongside Riverfront Park. NYC was everything one expected it to be. The walkway was crowded with people walking, and jogging, and skating and biking. People watching was great. NYC has some many of the world's most beautiful people and many of the ugliest also.

It turns out to be Fleet Week here. Before reaching the Intrepid, I came to the USS Iwo Jima, a modern aircraft carrier that was on display for free. I had to wait in line for 30 minutes to get in but that was OK. Security was impressive. There must have been 300 uniformed Navy guards with M16 rifles patrolling the area.

The Iwo Jima carries only helicopters and Harrier jets on its deck. Below decks it carries, amphibious landing craft, hovercraft, tanks, personnel carriers, and a huge 160 foot long landing craft. They actually sink the stern of the carrier to flood the boat deck under 10 feet of water to float that landing craft out.

I got to sit in an V22 Osprey. The Osprey is the tilt rotor aircraft for Marines that had such a bad start with many crashes. I must say that sitting in the rows of seats meant to hold Marines ready to deploy on landing, felt much like sitting in the seat of a fire truck en route to a fire. Come to think of it, the roles of the soldiers and the firemen have a lot in common.

What was the neatest thing I saw? A rail gun. Actually it was a scale model of a rail gun that the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is experimenting with. I talked with the officer in charge. His rail gun project sounds really neat. They hope to make a rail gun that is mountable on a ship and that is capable of firing guided projectiles up to 200 miles at mach 7. No explosives are necessary. They would be superfluous if a steel projectile hit you at mach 7. What is a rail gun? In case you don't know, it is a gun that uses a pulse of electricity to energize magnets. The magnetic fields push the projectile out the barrel.

Another neat thing. ONR is working on nanoengineered materials for thermoelectric devices that directly convert heat into electric power. They hope to make the conversion efficient enough to eliminate steam and steam turbine in the propulsion systems of ships. That would be very impressive. If they could do it on ships, then we could maybe do it in power plants. That would make a truly revolutionary nuke.

When I went to see Intrepid next, the waiting line stretched out of sight. Much too long for me. I gave up.

I started out today with a sore heel. I don't know why. I ignored it and walked 21 city blocks down to the ship and 21 blocks back. Too cheap to hail a taxi; that's me. Tonight I regret that. I'm a near cripple. It feels like my Achilles tendon is inflamed. It hurts like heck just to stand on it. I hope it's better tomorrow. Libby and I have plans to have more fun.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Nude Beach

The Big Apple
40 38.74 N 074 02.50 W

We arrived last night after 50 hours at sea. We didn't make it all the way to Manhattan. Instead, we anchored for the night at Sandy Hook, NJ, within sight of The Battery. We got cell phone signals for the first time in a while, so we called the kids to say hello.

I chatted for a while with my daughter in law, Cathy, up in Fairbanks. Cathy is from New Jersey. I mentioned that we were at Sandy Hook. Cathy said, "Oh. That's where the nude beach is." "NUDE BEACH," I said, "Wow! Where are my binoculars?" I've never seen a nude beach populated by naked women before. It sounds like marvelous fun.

Libby overheard. She said, "We can stay here tomorrow and you can take the dinghy over to the nude beach." Our son Dave, on the phone, suggested that we both should go to the nude beach. Unfortunately, our camera is missing. We haven't seen it for more than a week. We also have a Bushnell binocular/camera combo that should be ideal for nude beaches, but alas, it doesn't work.

The last straw came this morning. It turned out to be a gray, foggy, chilly day; the kind of day that the nude beach would be deserted. Oh well, I guess it was just not in my destiny to ever get to the nude beach.

The positive part though was what Dave said before hanging up. He said, "If you went to the nude beach and wrote it up on your blog, you could triple your blog readership." Hmmmm, what an interesting thought. All I would have to do is to write a blog post salted with phrases such as nude beach, camera, binoculars, and naked women. Hey, what a coincidence; isn't that what I just wrote? Call it an experiment in Internet socio-dynamics and pretend that we don't already know the answer. In a month, when the Google statistics for this blog come out, I'll let you know if Dave was right.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Land Ho

At Sea
39 41.48 N 074 02.76 w

Last night Libby saw land for the first time since leaving the Chesapeake. That gives her the right to cry, "LAND HO!" So guess what it was that she first saw? It was the bright bright lights of the casino district in Atlantic City. Right now we are approaching Barnegat Inlet, near Surf City, NJ.

All night long I've been wrestling with the decision for this morning. Should we forge on to New York today, or should we stop overnight in Barnegat Bay?
Here are the factors.

Pro stopping: 1)There are areas of dense fog around northern NJ, 2)Rain and Thunderstorms are forecast for this afternoon and tonight, 3) We would arrive at Sandy Hook (a place we never stopped before) around midnight and against the tide. We would have to get up at 0500 tomorrow morning to catch the flood tide.

Con stopping: 1) I've heard that Barnegat Inlet is safe, but we've never been there and we have no charts that show the entrance. Normally, that's a no-no in my book. 2) The wind is favorable today and tonight but it will turn against us tomorrow. 3) To arrive with the tide tomorrow, we have to wait until 1700 to pass the Verrazano Narrows. That would mean a holiday night arrival at the W79 th Street Marina or another night at anchor at The Statue of Liberty.

All and all, I think we're not going to stop.

Both Libby and slept well last night and feel refreshed. The first day of a sea passage is hell -- good sleep just won't come. Some say it is not until the third day that one finds the rhythm. I'm pleased that we found it on the second day this time.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Oh, The Stars

At Sea
38 00.12 N 075 03.33 W

We had great wind leaving the Chesapeake Bay yesterday afternoon. Tarwathie was very happy and we were making 7 knots. By evening it became OK wind. By early morning it became almost no wind, so since 0400 this morning we are motoring. We hate motoring at sea, but we're hopeful that the wind will resume sometime today.

For once we had an encounter with a tug and barge that did not result in evasive action. Around 0300, I saw the lights of a tug boat overtaking us from the rear. I tracked him on radar. He was 2 miles away and heading straight for us. I hailed the tug on the VHF radio. He answered! The captain and I had a nice chat. He said that he could see us, and that we should just maintain course and speed. He turned slightly to the left and passed 3/4 mile away. I just wish all encounters at sea would work that way.

The good news last night was the sky. The stars were exceptionally bright and the milky way stood out as plain as your face.

The bad news last night is that our electronic autopilot lost its brain and broke. We can't steer with Monitor wind vane either because there's no wind. So we're stuck steering manually. Today my task is to attempt to repair the autopilot. I never took it apart before, so I have no idea if it is repairable or not.

By the way, boaters should beware the Ocean Cruising Center fuel dock in Portsmouth, Virginia. It is a convenient place to stop by the ICW and their fuel prices are good. We stopped there yesterday. I called ahead on the VHF to tell them we were coming for diesel fuel. When we got there, the attendent said, "Fuel?" I replied, "Yes. Diesel" He handed me the nozzle. I just started to fuel when I got suspicious. I squirted some of the fuel on my hand. GASOLINE! "What the hell!" I yelled at the guy, "I said diesel." "Sorry," he said, "you said fuel." I replied, "I said diesel fuel. They're both fuel." He said, "Here in Virginia fuel means gas." I looked at the pump. It said DIESEL FUEL in two inch letters. The attendant was an idiot. Lucky for us I checked. I got only 0.4 gallons of gasoline into a 20 gallon diesel fuel tank. That's not enough to cause trouble (I hope). Once before, in Fort Meyers Beach I put in 0.5 gallons of gasoline by mistake, and nothing bad resulted. The moral? Always double check yourself. Best is to sniff the nozzle before pumping anything.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Walden Pond to Times Square

Portsmouth, VA
36 48.66 N 076 17.40 W

Talk about culture shock. Last night we tied up at the wall between the bridge and the lock at Deep Creek (the north end of the Dismal Swamp Canal). It was the end of a perfect day. We motored up the canal half the day at idle speed just marveling at the tranquility and the beauty of the surroundings. In the evening we socialized with our new friends, Tom and Sharon on SV Serenity. Libby went on a pine needle hunt in the nearby woods and came back with a year's supply. Tom asked Libby what they were for so Libby taught him how to make pine needle baskets. Within minutes Tom was starting on making his own basket.

This morning we had breakfast with our favorite lock master, Robert. Robert has coffee, juice, egg snacks and breads for visiting cruisers. He was also very appreciative of the the conch shell we brought him from the Bahamas. Robert is an encyclopedia of historical information about the canal, and he loves telling stories. Today I learned why New York State once put a picture of The Desmond Lake Hotel from the Dismal Swamp Canal on the NY $10 bill. Then, as we passed through the lock he treated us to his virtuoso performance of conch shell blowing. Wow, what hospitality!

Now comes the shock. Only 15 minutes after leaving the Walden Pond like environment of the Dismal Swamp Canal, one comes to the Elizabeth River leading to Portsmouth and Norfolk. There, we meet barges and ships, and oil terminals, and coal mountains, and scrap yards, and ship breaking yards, and draw bridges, and war ships galore. Up ahead of us we even see a fire boat squirting water 200 feet up into the air. We don't know yet what for. It's like the Times Square of the ICW.

The good part about it is that before supper we should be out to sea, past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and headed for New York. The weather report is favorable. It sounds like 36 hours of 10-15 SE winds, and 12 hours of zero winds. That's a near perfect forecast for an offshore passage. We hope to enter the Verrazano Narrows into New York Harbor by dawn on Monday morning. This time, we'll stop for a day or two at the 79th street marina, and sample some of the pleasures of NY. I even had a call from a blog fan who wants to meet us there. Cool, very cool.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our Free Retreat Location

NC Welcome Center, Great Dismal Swamp Canal
36.5056348 N -76.3544226 W

The weather changed from nasty and cold to delightful and warm. In such times we just love being in the Great Dismal Swamp Canal; especially here at the NC Welcome Center.

We feel so secure and tranquil here. The natural beauty is stunning. Today, we're going to borrow the Welcome Center's bicycles and go for an outing on the bike trails.

You can see beautiful arial pictures of this area. Start here, then gradually zoom out. It shows beautiful scenes of the canal, the surrounding farm land and swamp land. Zoom out far enough and you can see the outer banks and the Chesapeake Bay.

We are also in the mode of killing time. The weather forecast suggests that Friday night might be the best time to leave the Chesapeake Bay going to sea en route to New York City. Winds will be light. We could be there by Monday morning. If needed, we could stay out Tuesday and Wednesday, but by Thursday next week there will be a gale near Long Island.

We much prefer waiting here as opposed to waiting in the urban envirionment of Norfolk or Hampton.

GPS Failures Imminent?

Posquotank River

Attention all boaters. Start brushing up on your celestial and coastal navigation skills. Why? See below.

US government officials are concerned that the quality of the Global Positioning System (GPS) could begin to deteriorate as early as next year, resulting in regular blackouts and failures – or even dishing out inaccurate directions to millions of people worldwide.

Read the full story here.

Airplanes also increasingly use GPS navigation. They too may have to brush up on older methods. Ditto automobile drivers.

In case you don't know, like many other boats, Tarwathie has a so-called GPS chart plotter. It shows our position on a moving map. In principle it works like modern GPS street map devices in automobiles. In practice it also gives us information on water depths, location of buoys and markers, hazards, channel boundaries, tides, currents, and nearby marine facilities. It is extraordinarily useful and we would find it hard to imagine cruising without it.

I think that Libby and I will have to start cruising more with the GPS turned off just so that we hone our non-GPS navigation skills.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Calimity Stories

Posquotank River

Calamities can happen to anyone, cruisers or not. I can't say for sure if cruising carries more risks than not cruising. I can however, recognize and fret over true stories of calamities that befall our fellow cruisers.

The first story was sent to us by blog reader Kerry R. It comes from

May 19, 2009

Sailboat pushed onto beach after anchor line breaks

Staff Writer

NEW SMYRNA BEACH – A couple escaped injury when their 38-foot sailboat broke loose of its anchor and washed ashore this morning.

Steven and Michelle Lai-fook, ages unavailable, were on their way to St. Augustine aboard the Jacksonville-based Island Witch when they lost their engine and a sail at about 1:30 a.m.,

U.S. Coast Guard Sr. Chief Petty Officer Bon Cantrell said.

He said Station Ponce de Leon Inlet received a distress call from the sailboat’s crew and immediately launched its 47-foot rescue boat.

The Coast Guard crew encountered 10-foot seas as they headed out the inlet and it was quickly determined it would be unsafe to try to tow the sailboat to shore, the senior chief said. A helicopter was called in from Savannah, Ga., and the Lai-fooks were told to anchor and wait. The plan was to airlift the crew off the boat and leave it anchored until seas calmed.

"Just before the helicopter arrived, the anchor line parted and the sailboat beached," Cantrell said. "It surfed right in. Everyone was OK."

The boat came ashore near Starfish Avenue in Bethune Beach shortly after 6 a.m..

Cantrell said the Island Witch was sailing from the Bahamas and the Lai-fooks originally planned on stopping in Fort Pierce, but the weather was so nice they decided to continue on to St. Augustine and were caught by the storm.

The second story came from

The boat in question was a 38-foot Carver, moored to the marina's outer face dock. The live-aboard couple/owners were off shopping in the downtown business district when another cruiser noticed smoke rising from the Carver. He ran down the dock with a fire extinguisher from his vessel, only to discover "black smoke" and that the fire had gone too far to be put out with a fire extinguisher. The cruiser then warned other boaters on the dock, and some evacuated, but, at some point, the gasoline powerd Carver began to have "explosions." Some people were trapped at the far end of the dock, but everyone was eventually dinghied to safety. One marina employee was sent to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.

According to boat owner Robin Kallberg, 32, the couple had stopped at Fernandina Beach on a trip from Fort Lauderdale to Wilmington, N.C., where her husband, Michael, 26, was starting his new job at Camp LeJeune. A sergeant, he has been in the Marine Corps for nine years.

See pictures of the fire here.

Our hearts go out to the victims of both calamities.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Time for House Cleaning?

Elizabeth City, NC

Here's a recommendation, when in Elizabeth City, eat at the Prime Sirloin restaurant. They have a great dinner buffet. Last night they had pulled port, and BBQ ribs and chicken livers on the buffet. Libby hates liver and won't serve it to me. I love chicken liver sandwiches.

Years ago, my friends and I would walk to Maurices deli restaurant in Schenectady. Maurices was a downtown institution. On Tuesdays, I could buy a chicken liver sandwich on an onion roll with Russian dressing. They were delicious. 25 years later, Maurices was no longer in downtown Schenectady but they did open a branch on Wolf Road in Colonie, near my new office. I asked there if they still had chicken liver sandwiches. They said, "No." I asked why. They said, "All our customers who ate them died." That was rather sobering. Still I love them and if I don't eat them every week, they shouldn't kill me.

New subject. I posted a question on the Westsail bulletin board. I complained that Tarwathie's speed under power was getting slower. I wondered if it could be the hull absorbing water. One reply said that a really good job of cleaning the propeller would do it. Bud Taplin, the Westsail guru, asked "How much STUFF have you brought aboard since living on the boat?" Good question. We think that we do a good job in not accumulating stuff, but it's time to review.

Richard and Penny on Viking Rose said their rule is to discard anything that hasn't been used in two years. I think we'll adopt their rule and do a thorough house cleaning when up on Lake Champlain this summer. I'll report to you how many pounds of stuff we manage to shed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Caught In The Act

Elizabeth City, NC

We are sitting out a cold and rainy day. How cold is it? I left the boat wearing my jacket. I came back a few minutes later for a hat. Then, I came back a second time looking for gloves.

Jim R. snapped this photo of me. He caught me in the act of preparing a blast on my conch shell to celebrate the sunset.

Jim also snapped the following two photos of Libby and me. We seldom have such photos because one of us is holding the camera.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Smoking Gun

Abemarle Sound, NC
35 57.91 N 075 59.49 W

Remember a while back when I posted an article about a "Bermuda Triangle" strange incident? Then, I couldn't say conclusively if it was a GPS anomaly or something else. Today on the GPS' trip meter, I noticed that it says MAXIMUM SPEED 124.5 KT. Aha! That's the smoking gun. It was the GPS.

Don't be alarmed if you hear that the plane you're riding on is guided by a GPS similar to mine. More expensive GPS receivers have much more powerful CPUs. I expect that failure to converge and failure to report to the user that convergence failed, is not a problem on those more expensive units. Indeed some of the best ones have both GPS and inertial navigation. Each method can cross check the other method's results.

We are pressing on to Elizabeth City today, even if we have to sail beyond sunset. Tomorrow the winds will shift to powerful northerlies and we don't want to fight them to get in to the dock.

Today is a rather spectacular day to be out on the water. We sail through periods of bright sunshine punctuated by intense rain showers. Because we can see so far, we are able to see 3-6 rain storms all the time. We managed to dodge four of them that came near us, but we got hit by two. It's fun.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Message From Nancy

If you remember, my sister Nancy spent 10 days with us in the Bahamas. She sent a nice and very interesting email. Nancy is a pretty fair writer and story teller herself. I'll share excerpts. Here goes:

The Trip Back
So, I made it back safely....well, had a bit of a hard time at the airport. First, on the flight back to FL they gave me back my suitcase to take it thru customs [yourself] and then no one was around to ask/direct any of us where we should go to get to our next flights. Finally we all carried out bags out to the road to catch the shuttle to our various terminals. I took the shuttle bus to the Continental terminal only to find out that that the ticket from Marsh Harbor had "Continental" on it but that I was actually on US Air for the next leg (the tix did say "US" in small type). Even though I originally had plenty of time in between flights, making that mistake put me under pressure to make my next flight. I ran between the terminals (since the shuttle was no where to be found) and then realized that I still had my suitcase...SHOOT! I then had to wait in line at the ticket counter where she was totally confused as to why I was checking a bag when the computer said I already checked it in MH. Once that was straighted out I ran to security only to find a huge line...I asked nicely if I could go to the front and they let me. : )

Then, as if still in the carefree Bahama life mode I strolled thru security with my camera in my pocket and set off the alarm. They then had to search me, etc. (it was getting pretty late now to make my flight as you know) I grabbed my camera, shoes, jacket, etc., and ran to the gate (the last gate in the concourse, damn Murphy's Law) and luckily they were still boarding. Jumped on the plane and sat down to take a breath. Then the attendant came by to remind everyone to stow their items. OH Sh*t! I had left my backpack back @ security! I asked to get off the flight (they let me amazingly) and ran all the way back to security where he I spotted the security guy taking my bag to the back. I showed my ID, got the bag and ran back to the gate where the guy said wait...your boarding pass you gave us wasn't right. WHAT! I had already been on the plane! Anyway, after 5 more minutes (and holding up the flight) they printed a new boarding pass (that said US Air and not Continental - who cares?).

Culture Shock
I have to say that I had a very hard time coming back from the trip mentally. Obviously, from my story above you see I had trouble maneuvering thru the US airport craziness (like in 10 days I had forgotten what to do) but when I walked into the NC airport I couldn't help it and began to cry. I walked to my gate and everyone was giving the gate person grief since the flight was oversold. They were all so MAD and nasty. I really hadn't seen a crabby face in 10 days. (Plus, it wasn't the gate person who oversold the flight!!!)

Then I went to get something quick to eat and was just overwhelmed by the consumerism...Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, McDonald's, Chick-Fillet, etc. all with their bright lights and tons of items to buy, buy buy! Again, I became overwhelmed and struggled not to cry. I cut out of line, didn't end up buying anything to eat and went back to the gate. They asked if I wanted to give up my seat for a free ticket. Hmmm, I really wanted to get home but a free ticket would be help out. Then this thought slowly formed in my head...Well, if I don't get on this next flight to Boston now and have to wait in this airport for 3 hours ....would I turn around and go back to the Bahamas?? I seriously thought I might! In the end they didn't need us to give up seats and I did get back home fine. I don't remember having such strong culture shock coming back from 3 months in Europe...maybe it was also living on a boat?

A Million Thanks
The best for last....

One of the best times was getting the chance to experience your lifestyle. You both seem to really enjoy it, have a great community of friends (that you can contact when you want), and get along well despite the size of the space. I think that boat life suits you and Libby and you both have a healthy attitude towards it and towards future sailing. It was nice to see and to become a part of. I heard about how you manage living on the boat (financially, relationship-wise, and safety-wise) which makes me think about some of the ways I live my life now and what I may do in the future with retirement(!).

I also appreciate that you tried so hard to get to another Cay in the rough weather. I know it wasn't easy and sorry that Tarwathie took on some water and the jib thing-a-ma-jig broke in the wind (did you get it fixed?). I really enjoyed the sailing adventure that day even though we did turn back. The good part was because of the rough weather though, I got the chance to go on the day-trips to the Cays with each of you. Each Cay was so different. It was a luxury to spend a whole day with you.

The Bahamas will always be a fantastic memory for me and I hope to get back someday. My favorites were living and sailing on Tarwathie (i just started to get a bit of a feel for her sailing-wise), the color of the water (the pics couldn't capture it), the white sand beaches, the friendly Bahamian people, the lack of concern for time. My favorites with visiting was experiencing the whole day with you guys...from waking up to the sun and having our coffee, to eating yummy meals made by Libby (every meal tasted sooooo good!), to doing an errand or visiting your fiends, to playing games/learning to make baskets (even though I was not so fast at either!), to all our talks, Libby and my daily Bahama rum runner hour, to checking out the stars thru my skylight before I went to sleep. Those are what come to mind and I will continue to think about more.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pictures from Our Recent Passage

Above left, sailing too fast with the jib the size of a beach towel.

Above right, sailing at just the right speed with the jib the size of a bath towel. I was surprised at how easily the boat handled like that.

Below, two views of our blown-out spinnaker. Libby and I spread it out on the lawn in Washington NC to inspect the damage. I suspect that it can't be repaired reasonably but I'm going to send these pictures to a sail maker to ask. Do any of you have a favorite sail maker to recommend?

By the way, our friends Walt and Pat emailed that they use their spinnaker only for winds of 15 knots or less. I measured 17 when ours blew out. Obviously, there could have been a stronger gust. Oh well. Live and learn.

A Reunion

Washington, NC
35 32.44 N 077 03.34 W

Well, we had a great day. In the morning I went to nearby Mimi's lunch counter to have a cup of coffee and to post my blog. Less than 5 minutes after posting I got a message back from Jim R. You remember Jim, he sailed to Charleston with us. Jim said, "If you are in Washington, then you're only feet away from Bill's Hot Dog Stand. Don't miss it." We took Jim's advice and went there for lunch. WOW Those were the best hot dogs I ever tasted. Therefore, I'll pass on the advice. If you are ever in Washington, North Carolina, go to Bill's Hot Dog Stand and order two or three dogs "all the way" They only cost $0.98 each.

Libby and I also took advantage of the free dock to do some maintenance on the dinghy, while it was upside down on deck. It had accumulated some dings and cracks, and she leaks. So we put a coat of epoxy resin over the bottom. Today I'll put a second coat on. Then, I need to find a pint of bottom paint somewhere and we'll paint her. We get lots of use out of that hard dinghy, but she does take a beating in the process.

Later in the day we met with Ian D. Ian and I went to junior high and high school together. We graduated FM'62 (Fayetteville-Manlius NY). Libby was my high school sweetheart, FM'63. Ian's high school sweetheart Lynn, is his wife. She is also an alumni FM'64. None of us have seen each other in 45 years since graduation. We had great fun reminiscing. Hearing mention of certain names and places triggered memories that we didn't even know were buried inside our heads. We talked about classmates, neighbors, teachers and incidents. Ian is also a boater and he keeps his boat near here. So we had fun with that too. Ian treated us to supper; thank you Ian. This morning, Ian and I went out for an early breakfast.

You may wonder how we established contact after 45 years. This blog! How else? Someone on Facebook, (I think it was Chuck G.) found my Facebook page by searching for FM'62 alumni. My Facebook page doesn't have much but it does have a link to this blog. Anyhow, Chuck runs a FM'62 blog. He pointed me to that, and he sent an email to his FM'62 mailing list telling our classmates about Dick and Libby's cruising life style. It's great the way these things work. Of course, we do almost nothing on Facebook compared to young people, yet still it leads to valuable contacts.

Ian says that we should come to the 50th reunion in 2012. Perhaps we will.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No Rest For The Weary

Washington, NC
35.539036 -77.051754

We made it almost all the way from Oriental to Washington yesterday. However around 17:30 we were still 12 miles short so we decided to anchor in the Pamlico River.

The forecast said east winds for the night, 10-15 knots. That's direction 090. We found a little corner on the north side of the river. We had shelter from 360 to 090. Well, we just set the anchor and I sat in the cockpit to unwind. I had less than 5 minutes to relax when a powerful wind came up. It blew 20 knots and from 120, not 090. I hollered down to Libby who had started on supper, "We've got to move."

So up the anchor, raise the sail, and then sail 3 miles to the south side of the river. There we found shelter. Set the anchor again, and settled to relax once again. I had less than 5 minutes to relax when I spotted an orange inflatable boat heading toward us. "Oh no," I thought, "They're going to tell us to not anchor here or something like that." It wasn't so. Two men in the boat approached. The captain said, "Help please, our gas gauge is on empty. There are no gas stations within 10 miles of here and we have to be home before dark. They were very happy when I said, "I can help you." I gave them a gallon of prime Bahamian gasoline. Despite my protests, the man insisted on giving me some money. Off they went. When I looked in my pocket I saw that he gave me $13. It embarrasses me to make such a large profit on a gallon of gas.

This morning we completed our sail to Washington and their free city docks. We just got here. So far, it seems to live up to our favorable opinions about North Carolina hospitality. It is tops.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Carolina In the Morning

The Neuse River, North Carolina
36 01.68 N 076 38.84 W

Neither Libby nor I are vocally talented. Out attempts at singing sound really bad. Therefore, we seldom try it. Nevertheless, every once in a great while I'm inspired to break out in to song spontaneously. The last several times in a row, including this morning, I was inspired to sing "Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the Morning." There is something about early mornings here that is just magnificent. Whoever wrote the lyrics to that song hit the nail on the head. Most often we are inspired by the Posquotank River, or the Pamlico River, or the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. Today it was the Neuse River. Fortunately for you, I'm not into audio blogging, so you don't have to hear my squacks.

When in Oriental, of course we prefer to use the free public dock. What can beat free? Yesterday the public dock was full, so we stayed just 30 feet away at the Oriental Marina. That marina, and its proprietor Tom, and its tom cat Mr. Mayor, are delights. We recommend it do all our cruising friends.

Always previously, the charm of Oriental was enhanced by the huge shrimp boats tied up at the Staron fish processing factory, just behind the public dock. Especially at night, with the shrimpers brilliantly lit, it made the scene extremely picturesque, rivaling Boothbay Harbor Maine. This year, the factory is closed and the shrimp boats are missing. I asked Tom about it. He said that the old man who owned it got too old. He retired, and sold his boats. His sons are not interested in shrimping careers in competition with the Vietnamese. Too bad, it's yet another end of an era.

I'm feeling guilty leaving Oriental and the Neuse so soon. We have friends all around us. Here in Oriental is Tom. 6 miles East on Broad Creek is W43 Consort with Russ and Pat. 8 miles West is Blackbeard Sailing Club with our another half dozen friends. 12 miles West is New Bern. Libby and I can't walk down the streets of Oriental or New Bern without meeting someone we know. This morning I got an invitation to visit with Jeff & Wendy Gower on the W32
Calypso. They are only 4 miles West of Oriental at the Marine Air Station. They even have an air show next weekend. We LOVE air shows. Alas, we're committed to move on to Washington and Elizabeth City.

Why not stay longer? Because we set schedule constraints. We want to be in New York City by June 1 and we delayed leaving the Bahamas 2 weeks to accommodate Nancy's visit. (Imagine describing an additional two weeks in the Bahamas as some kind of hardship. Twitterers would say WTF?) I'm sure I said it before, but I'll say it again. Schedules and cruising make poor fits. Perhaps in the fall, if we have a week or two to kill, we can spend them on the Neuse River vicinity.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Oriental, NC

We're at the Oriental Marina for a day. I had a bunch of stuff I had to do on the Internet. At least that's my excuse.

We also visited The Provision Company (our favorite boating store) and the grocery store, and we got showers and did laundry.

Check us out on the Oriental Web Cam. Actually, Tarwathie is out of sight on the left in this cam's view. Still, you may catch Libby or I walking around.

Good news! My arm has started hurting less.

Bad news! It's cold here. The outside temperature is in the 50s. Our blood is too thin for that stuff nowadays.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

In From The Sea

On the ICW, North Carolina
34 50.10 N 076 41.37 W

As of 06:30 this morning we are back on the ICW. We joined on ICW mile 203. That means that the week of sailing At Sea, alloed us to skip 893 miles of ICW south of here. That's a lot. As much as we love the ICW, traveling that distance all on the inside would have taken at least 30 days. We would have had to traverse 180 pages on our ICW chart book, after having annotated each page with the latest in info on where danger spots and shoaling are this season. We sure avoid a lot of time, trouble, fuel, and expense by sailing on the outside.

The main reason more cruisers choose traveling on the inside is because of the the rocking and rolling the boat takes from the ocean waves. We're more tolerant of the rocking than most, but yesterday I learned a lesson about that the hard way. It was afternoon and I was taking my post-lunch nap. I was in deep REM sleep lying on the setee on Tarwathie's port side. Suddenly I woke on the floor with a stabbing pain in my right arm. I fell out of bed, or rather I was propelled out of bed. The cushion I was lying on wound up on the starboard side of the boat. It must have been a rogue wave that rocked the boat and ejected me. I surmise that my arm hurt because it whacked the wooden frame of the bunk on the other side of the boat. Today, I have a big goose egg on my forearm and it is sore and very tender to the touch. Could it be broken or cracked? I don't think so, but it must have been a close call. Breaking one's arm while out at sea would not be cool.

After rounding Frying Pan Shoals Light yesterday we headed for Beaufort. The wind and waves picked up, and soon we were flying at 7.5 knots. The only trouble was that we would arrive at Beaufort just after sunset. Uh Oh. Navigation around Beaufort is tricky. Not something we want to do at night. So, what to do about that? We could go for Masonboro Inlet and take a different route. We could find an anchorage near Beaufort, such as at Cape Lookout. We could heave to and wait, we could anchor off the beach near Beaufort, or we could slow down to time our arrival for dawn. We chose the latter. I never had too much experience trying to sail slowly before.

I took down the main sail and reefed the jib 50%. Our speed was too fast. I reefed the jib to the size of a beach towel. Still too fast. I reefed the jib to the size of a bath towel. Now our speed was just right. I probably could have reefed the jib 100% and sailed with no sails at all, (called sailing on bare poles). I never did that before and I had theorized that I would be unable to steer. Steering worked fine though. We did arrive at the entrance to Beaufort Inlet just after dawn. Perfect timing.

It seems that we jumped in to the middle of the pack of the northward migration flock of cruisers. Usually before, we enjoyed being ahead of the pack or behind the pack. Being in the middle means that every place we go to, like Oriental and Elizabeth City, will be crowded. So be it.

Today, Sunday, we plan to anchor at 10AM and just spend the day napping and enjoying our privacy once again. We had 10 days with Nancy on board, followed by a week with Jim on board. It was great to have them, but it is also great to have just the two of us once again.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Frying Pan Shoals

At Sea
33 23.90 N 077 37.83 W

Frying Pan Shoals are the most treacherous place on the whole East Coast according to us. We fear and respect it greatly. Right now we are just about 5 miles to seaward away from the end of the shoals. That puts us 40 miles from shore and 20 miles further out than the closest in place where we could have crossed. Good.

Actually the wind direction carried us out here. After posting this blog, we'll take the other tack and start heading in.

The weather was supposed to be rough today, but so far it is sunny and gentle; just like most of the voyage since we left The Bahamas.

Last night during Libby's watch, I heard her on the radio calling out to a nearby ship. "Do you see us?", she asked. The didn't answer, those bums. I went up on deck to help. When I got there, I was aghast. The ship Libby was talking to was 2 miles ahead of us, but there was a bigger ship less than one mile behind us. Libby didn't see it because she was focusing on the first ship. We were sandwiched between two giant ships. Neither would answer our calls, but luckily neither ran us over.

Last night the sky was perfectly clear and the moon was 100% full. It was brilliant and beautiful out here at sea. For about 20 minutes we had a pod of dolphins cavorting with us. Very cool. Radio propagation must have been exceptionally clear. We heard every coast guard emergency call at every station between here and Miami.

By Sunday morning we should make land fall in Beaufort, North Carolina.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Out With a Bang

At Sea
32 44.38 N 079 45.12 W

Thursday was Jim's last night on the boat. He used his knowledge of Charleston to show us a good time and to give his hosts a treat as thanks.

First, he took us to Hymann's Restaurant which was only a 10 minute walk away from the dock. Hymann's is a famous seafood restaurant and a big tourist attraction. We understood why when we got to eat our dinners. The food was grrrrrreat.

Then, after walking back to the boat conversation turned to a NYT review of the newest Star Trek Movie premiering that day. Once again, Jim's local knowledge was valuable. He took me on a short 1 minute walk up the river shore. There we came upon The Hippodrome. It turns out that Thursday was the premier day of the new Hippodrome Movie Theater showing the premier of the new Star Trek movie. It had a modified IMAX screen, great bucket seats, and the owner claims the best sound system in the country. There was a good crowd for a 21:45 showing on a weekday. However the average age of the Tarwathie crew attending was about triple the age of the audience's average age. The Captain of the good ship Tarwathie in particular had trouble holding his eyes open despite being enthralled by the movie. They say that sailor's midnight is 9PM.

The movie was excellent. All dedicated trekkies (which includes Jim and me) loved it. Even non-trekkie fans would like is as a very good modern action movie with lots of effects. At the conclusion, the audience gave it a big applause. I never saw that in a movie theater before. As we exited we saw a still bigger crowd waiting to see the midnight showing of the movie. Boy, urban life in Charleston is very very different than life on Treasure Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.

Thank you Jim. It was a pleasure having you aboard.

This morning, we are out at sea once again. We would like to head for Beaufort going around Frying Pan Shoals. However, there may be rough weather tomorrow morning so we're holding off on a decision till tonight. The alternative is to put in tomorrow morning at Cape Fear and to pass Frying Pan Shoals on the inside using the ICW.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Green Turtle Cay Junkanoo

Charleston, NC

Check out our album of photos and videos of the Green Turtle Cay Heritage Day and Junkanoo. Here's a video.

Here also is a follow up picture taken from our GPS record of our Bermuda Triangle Weird anomaly from a few days ago. We didn't just make it up!!!

Welcome Home To The USA

Charleston, SC
32 47.16 N 079 54.88 W

Well the deed is done. Yesterday midday when we finally intersected The Gulf Stream, I decided that we would miss the Monday-Friday 8-5 office hours of US Customs in Beaufort on Friday afternoon. That would put Jim in trouble because he has to be back at work on Monday. Instead, we headed for Charleston.

Soon we met up with a catamaran who was following The Gulf Stream north. I chatted with him on the radio. It turns out that he left Marsh Harbor about the same time we did. He chose to go to West Palm Beach Florida first to clear US Customs. Then he came out into The Gulf Stream for an express ride north. He said that he got a 3 knot average boost from the current. At times he was moving 12 knots over the ground.

I got immediately jealous. I thought that we too should have gone that way. We wouldn't have been becalmed, and even if so we could have motored with the help of the extra kick from The Gulf Stream. Who am I kidding? It would have taken us two days to get to West Palm. That would have wiped out the time gain.

Then I thought that I made the wrong decision in not trying for Beaufort. If we got a solid 3 knots boost from The Gulf Stream we could have been there by Friday afternoon. Who am I kidding again? Murphy's law says that we would get there at 0501 PM. I just like to second guess myself with navigation decisions.

FLASH! We got mobbed by a big pod of dolphins. We estimate 15-20 in the pod. They swam along side Tarwathie and cavorted for a half hour. Libby, Jim and I all enjoyed the sight. It is amazing to see up close how little they have to move their tails to propel themselves through the water at high speed. See the video below.

From Bahamas 09

Today approaching Charleston, we were mobbed by another pod of dolphins. These were of a different species, very much smaller than the bottle noded ones. I th0ught they looked like pygmy dolphins.

We got in to the harbor despite having to dodge huge container ships and against the fierce current. Customs checked us in. What are we going to do now? Very mundane. Libby does laundry, I shop for grocreies, and Jim books himself a ticket back home.

Tomorrow, Jim travels home while Libby and I go to sea once more to get to Beaufort, and from there to Oriental.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


At Sea
30 59.20 N 078 32.66 W

Being becalmed at sea is very frustrating. With too little wind, the rocking and rolling of the boat in the waves causes the sails to flog from one side to the other. That forces us to take the sails down and motor. But without sails up, the boat rolls even more causing us to have to hold on to avoid being thrown out of bed. All in all it's better with wind. The forecast says that starting this afternoon the wind should pick up.

Yesterday we were so becalmed that we only moved 12 miles the whole day. Around supper time we started the motor and we motored all night. We can't motor all the way though. We don't have enough fuel for that.

We were surprised to hear a helicopter yesterday. I jumped up and looked. A big black military copter showing the British Union Jack flew close and inspected us. That seemed odd. A few hours later we spotted a war ship about 6 miles away. Aha! The copter was probably from the war ship and its job wws to inspect any vessels close by.

There is a cold front with thunderstorms approaching Thursday evening. It is unclear whether we would be better heading in to Charleston or to just stay out at sea. If we head for Charleston, we might arrive at the harbor entrance just at the same time as the storms, and then reach the inner harbor too late to secure a marina slip for the night. That would be ugly.

Libby appreciates the extra sleep she gets because we have Jim on board to share watches. She asked if the next time we're offshore with just the two of us, if we can try 6 hour watches. Sure. I'll try anything.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Day Started Out Nice

At Sea
29 40.93N 078 01.78 W

Things were fine right up until I posted yesterdays's blog article. We had a nice night making lots of progress. The weather forecast was good. The wind picked up a little and we were making 6 knots under the spinnaker. Then, I heard Libby cry out, "Help! Dick." She never uses those words unless she means it. I sprang up on deck in time to see the spinnaker sail dragging in the water beside the boat.

What happened? The spinnaker sail ripped from top to bottom. It blew out, in sailor's jargon. Jim and I scrambled to get it out of the water and stuffed into a bag. I checked, and the wind was only 17 knots. The sail should not have been over stressed. I have no idea why it failed. Sometime, when I can stretch out the torn shreds on a lawn, I'll try to do an autopsy on the sail.

Anyhow, without the spinnaker, we put out the jib. It seemed that we no sooner had that job done when the wind died almost entirely.

Being out at sea when there is no wind but there are waves is uncomfortable. Worst of all is that the rocking of the boat makes the sails flog back and forth. That causes excessive wear and we can't allow it to continue. Therefore, we soon had all the sails down and were motoring.

At midnight, just as Jim went on deck to take over the watch from Libby, we started having trouble with the motor. The charging current from the alternator keeps cutting out. I checked the belt. It is fine. It could be a bad alternator. Then, the push button that stops the engine failed to work. That never gave trouble before. Hmmm two things at once going wrong. If the alternator fails, we would have to use the Honda generator to keep the batteries charged. I never took out the generator when at sea and I don't ever want to do that.

Anyhow, two good things happened also to brighten the day. We were visited by a pod of dolphins at night. Libby and Jim got to enjoy that. Also, I saw Venus shine for the first time. I didn't know such a thing exists.

I was standing the 0400-0800 watch. I was enjoying the milky way and the meteor shower that seemed to be in progress. Then, I saw Venus rising. I didn't get fooled like yesterday. It came up at the same place and the same time as the day before, so I recognized it right away. However, before rising very far it went behind a cloud. I continued looking and I was amazed to see the cloud glowing, and then Venus reappeared. You know how moon shine causes an obscuring cloud to glow? Well Venus did the same thing. It was proof positive that planets shine much stronger than stars.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Bermuda Triangle Weird

At Sea
28 32.55 N 077 48.31 W

The sailing weather is delightful. As a matter of fact, we have been using our spinnaker at sea. We never did that before. With the spinnaker we're managing 5 to 5.5 knots average speed in light wind and calm seas. We're loving it. Our progress for the first 24 hours is 125 nautical miles. (143 statue miles), not bad.

Jim got a touch of seasickness yesterday but Libby gave him a Bonnie pill and that cured it.

Yesterday afternoon, just as we passed the northeast corner of the Bahamas Banks, we encountered a really weird spell. All of a sudden, our speed changed from 5 knots northward, to 11 knots toward the southwest. That's almost moving backward. I fiddled and fussed with the sails and the rudder, trying and failing to get control. It seemed that we had a sudden dramatic wind shift that made the sails collapse. Anyhow, Jim and I scrambled to get the spinnaker down and the jib up. Libby stayed at the helm. After 10 minutes with the sail change, we returned to the cockpit to find that Libby had everything back in control. Once again we were going nearly 5 knots northward.

So what happened? I have two theories. Unfortunately my recollection of the relevant facts make it impossible for me to rule out either.

Theory one: We met up with a particularly strong swirl of current, 15 knots or more in speed. Evidence against this is that no effects on the water surface were seen. Evidence for it was the shift in apparent wind which could be explained exactly with a strong current. Further evidence of a swirl was that we sailed out of it within 15 minutes.

Theory two: There was no real anomaly, just a period of non-convergence and bad readings from the GPS. Every once in a while, the GPS loses a satellite or otherwise screws up. The symptom is bad position readings and implied velocities that aren't real. What about the wind shift? Well, my memory of the incident is not precise enough to remember whether or not I fiddled with the sail and rudder before or after the wind shift. Evidence against: always in the past, GPS anomalies lasted 30 seconds or less.

You're free to ascribe the whole thing to one of those Bermuda Triangle mysteries if you like. The kind that causes ships and airplanes to lose their way and disappear.

New Subject: I didn't expect to see any ship traffic last night. However, around 5AM I was alone in the cockpit standing my watch. I saw a light on the horizon to the east. I looked like a ship. The color was reddish. I took a bearing on it. I looked for a blip on the radar -- nothing. When I looked back a the light again it seemed much brighter. Wow, it must be close. A few minutes later again it seemed elevated above the horizon. It must be a masthead light on a sailboat, I thought. Wait a minute! It is Venus! I sure got fooled. I checked with the Stellarium program on the PC. Yes it was Venus. But Stellarium also let me know that Mars, Uranus, Neptune and Jupiter were also in the same section of the sky with Venus. Uranus and Neptune are too dim to see with the naked eye but I saw the others.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Whew, What a Day

At Sea
26 43.13 N 077 18.17 W

We had a blast at the Green Turtle Heritage Day. It began with a sail across The Whale Passage. Conditions were calm and the passage was no problem.

Arriving at Green Turtle, we had a bit of a problem anchoring. The anchor wouldn't bite on the grassy bottom. We tried the plow, then the danforth, then the plow again. I put on my diving gear, swam out and dove on the anchor to bury it manually. No good. Finally, we moved to a more sandy spot, then I dove on the anchor, and this time it bit in.

The festival? It was almost too much to describe. We loved all of it. The pre school children, the conch cracking contest, the people watching, the talk about bush medicine, lunch consisting of conch burgers and grouper burgers, the conch blowing contest, and the talk about early Caribbean history. Most of all, we like the junkanoo parade in the evening. The music and the costumes and the people were wonderful. We repositinoed ourselves to watch the parade pass us four times. We took lots of pictures and video. You'll have to wait several weeks however before we post them.

This morning, we repaired the jib furler, and prepared Tarwathie for an offshore passage. We are heading for The Whale right now, in 90 minutes we'll have exited the Bahamas via The Whale Channel and we'll be out to sea. It is 500 miles to Beaufort, NC. The weather reports are favorable for at least 5 days. Yippee; look out world, here we come.

Jim is excited. This will be his first offshore experience.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Heritage Day

The Sea of Abaco
26 43.02 N 077 16.49 W

Well we just went through The Whale one more time and we survived. Actually, it was as calm and gentle as a farm pond today. No wind, no waves, no trouble.

Last night Libby made us a big spaghetti and meatball supper. I really appreciated it because while Nancy was here we ate much less meat. Libby piled the meatballs on. Jim appreciated it because he had to get up at 0500 yesterday morning to catch his first flight and he never got to eat breakfast or lunch. After that, we settled down for a good night's sleep. We were anchored in Baker's Bay, right next to the entrance to The Whale. It was bumpy but we didn't care.

Jim slept up in the V berth. He said that he woke up in the middle of the night and poked his head out the hatch. The moon had set and the sky was mostly clear so that the stars shone brilliantly. Jim said that it was the first night in a long time when he could clearly see the Milky Way. The weather is very agreeable for lounging and sleeping, 81F high, 69F low, mostly sunny & clear. Just the same as every other day.

Today we're heading for the Heritage Day festival on Green Turtle Cay. We'll get to see a dinghy race, a conch cracking contest, the Royal Bahamian Defense Force Marching Band, and a junkanoo parade after dark. Google junkanoo and you'll see pictures of the fantastic costumes they wear. We'll also take a lot of pictures but I won't be able to post them to the blog for a few weeks because I have no Internet connection.

Tomorrow we set sail for the USA. Still to be decided is our route and our port of entry. I'll think on that tonight.

Friday, May 01, 2009

it's been fun

Sea of Abaco
26 35.74 N 077 05.71 W

Well, I just put Nancy on the plane to take her back to Boston. It has been great fun having her here. Libby and I love having company on the boat; especially family. (Hint Hint Hint) It entertains them, it entertains us, and it provides proof to the external world that we are not just making up all this stuff on the blog about having continuous fun.

Yesterday, Nancy and Libby rode the ferry to Hopetown to have a ladies day out. According to the reports I got back, they had a great time. The ferry ride was nice. They got invited into people's houses for tours. They got free rides around on golf carts as nice people stopped to offer them rides. They toured all the nice parts of Hopetown, but not the lighthouse. They had a fantastic lunch at a restaurant overlooking the sea.

After lunch, Nancy put on her swim suit, snorkel and mask, and went swimming. The beach at Hopetown is not only beautiful, but there are reefs just a few yards away from shore that can be excellent for snorkeling. That was good for Nan because snorkeling was one activity that we didn't have a chance to do earlier in this week. Nancy was duly impressed by the clean clear water and the multi colored fish and coral all around her. She said it was like swimming in an aquarium. Forgotten however was the underwater camera and food to feed the fish. The fish around here are so tame that if a tourist starts feeding them, they come out from all their holes and swarm around the feeder.

They visited the gift shops, and then found a coffee house where they relaxed until the ferry took them back.

Me? In the meantime, I was doing engine maintenance most of the day. Oil changes, alternator belt, clean up the engine compartment and the bilge, and prepare Tarwathie for an offshore passage. When the ladies returned I tried to play the poor boy having to do dirty, hot, sweaty, labor all day while they luxuriated elsewhere. I didn't fool them a bit and I got no sympathy.

Now, I'm at the airport and Jim R's plane isn't due for another 6 hours. What shall I do? Why I'm gathering materials for more pine needle baskets. Now it is Libby and me and Nancy all making baskets in parallel. It's a great pastime. I also hope to snag a WIFI connection to post this blog but so far it isn't working. No all that is a smoke screen. My real mission this morning is to stay off the boat and out of Libby's way as she prepares for another guest.

UPDATE: Now it is 6 hours later. The WIFI at the airport never did work.

Jim arrived fine, about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. He said that he never had tighter connections than today, but he made the flights. We rode a taxi to the dock, rode the dinghy to Tarwathie, weighed anchor, stopped for fuel and water. Now we're under full sail, doing 5-6 knots, and everything is beautiful. We'll anchor tonight at Baker's Bay. Tomorrow morning we'll cross The Whale and head for Green Turtle Cay. The festival activities start at noon tomorrow on Green Turtle and it should be great fun.