Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Game

Stuart, FL

We're back in Stuart. It was great to see Dave and Cathy again. Savannah was an ideal place to meet.

We got back in time to see today's hockey game between USA and Canada for the Olympic gold. Wow, what a game. When the US pulled their goalie with one minute to go, I thought it was all over. Not so. The last minute goal was thrilling. Too bad Canada won in OT.

The crowd watching the game in the captain's lounge was 50-50 American-Canadian. That made it even more exciting. When Canada scored the winning goal a man shouted out in jest. He said, "All you Canadians get your boats out of here." :)

p.s. On the way back, Libby found a place to replentish her supply of pine needles. More baskets on the way.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Savannah Bound

Stuart, FL

An now for something completely different. We rented a car, leaving the boat in Stuart, and are driving north to Savannah, Georgia for the weekend.

The occasion is an opportunity to meet with our son David and his wife Cathy. I think it has been at least two years since we've seen them.

Dave and Cathy live in Fairbanks, Alaska. They are going to relocate to Raleigh, North Carolina. Cathy moved first, and she'll hunt for a house. Dave will follow in July. Dave is flying down to spend a week with Cathy, and they graciously offered to meet us halfway in Savannah for a weekend.

No more blogs until we return to Stuart next week.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bonehead Stunts

Stuart, FL
27 11.93 N 80 15.67 W

Regular readers of this blog know well that I do more than my fair share of boneheaded stunts and create my own snafus. Well, nothing has changed. Here's two of my most recent.

I love Honda small motors. We have a Honda outboard and a Honda 1000 generator. They run very well. The generator is exceptionally quiet which is a valuable quality.

All Honda small engines have a kinky system for draining and refilling the motor oil. They have a tilted spout, that it capped with a threaded plug. The top of the plug is narrowed to make a handle for thumb and finger. The design is kinky because one normally twice as much dirty and clean oil than spills rather than getting to the desired container. I bought a sort of spigot that claims to make the process no-spill.

Last week, I was changing the oil in the generator. I put down the filler plug. It rolled off the bench into the cockpit well. From there it went down the cockpit drain and into the sea. Of course it didn't float.

I tried all the lawn mower and auto parts stores in town to buy a replacement, but of course none of them are compatible. Now, I have an exact replacement on order from Honda and in a few weeks I'll have it. Meanwhile, I have to share one filler plug between the outboard and the generator. We can only run one at a time.

The other stunt happened as I was repairing a leaky sink drain in the head. I took the drain apart, cleaned it off, and prepared to put it back with a bead of silicone tub and tile sealer. As normal in such cases, the project required several trips to my tool box to fetch yet another tool.

Soon the job was done. Good. Then I turned around and looked. There was white silicon all over my shirt, my pants, my shoes, and white footprints all over Tarwathie's head, cabin and ladders. Oh no! What a mess!

I figured out what happened. I used a 6 ounce tube of sealer that I bought at Ace Hardware. It was brand new. What I didn't notice was that the bottom of the plastic tube had a crack. As I squeezed the tube to get a bead of sealer to squirt out the nozzle, a bigger quantity was squirting out the back of the tube onto me and on the floor where I was stepping. Of course I didn't notice until it was too late. As Ricky Ricardo used to say, "Ay ay ay, ay ay."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Squeak Squeak

Stuart, FL

I've mentioned before that Libby and I are both fond of rowing in our dinghy. When the run between boat and shore is not too long, we don't mount the outboard engine at all. We have the advantage of having a nice 8 foot Fatty Knees brand hard dinghy with 7.5 foot oars. If we had an inflatable boat with 3 foot oars, we wouldn't like rowing at all.

Libby is especially fond of rowing at night when the air is totally still. One glides silently through the water and admires all the sight so intensely. The silently aspect is my topic today.

Our oar locks go squeak squeak with every stroke of the oars. The squeaks from from the metal-to-metal contact between the movable part fastened to the oar and the fixed part fastened to the boat. I hate that squeak , and it has been my habit to use special marine grease on the oar locks to silence them. I need to re-grease them about once a week.

The other day I was rowing ashore. When you row, you're looking backward not ahead. I usually don't worry about running into other boats. Motor boats can see me coming and maneuver around me much easier than I can avoid them.

That day some sixth sense made made me turn around and look. There was a man in another dinghy rowing toward me. We came within 3 feet of a head-on collision. Luckily both of us sensed the presence and looked around just in the nick of time. Libby had about the same experience on a different day.

What was the sixth sense? It finally occurred to me. It was the squeak squeak. That, along with a little creaking and little splashing noises is what alerted us to the proximity of another boat.

As much as the squeak annoys me, I've changed my policy and I no longer grease the oar locks. It is analogous to the problem of introducing noise to electric vehicles so that blind pedestrians can hear them coming. As an alternative, I could grease the oar locks and compensate by singing "Row Row Row Your Boat..." as I move along, but then I'd annoy everyone else.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Survey: Background

Stuart, FL

Check the byline. We're not in Vero any more. We moved to Stuart in preparation for an auto side trip next weekend. However, on Friday and Saturday we got a new professional yacht survey for Tarwathie. That's what I'll talk about today.

Why a survey? Because our insurance company requires it. The whole process of how we got here tees me off and it put me in a foul mood before beginning.

We renew our insurance every March. Last year, with our portfolio value plunging I sought ways to reduce our insurance costs. I emailed IMIS, our insurance agent, and asked about some options. They promised to look into it and get back to me. They never did. Instead, we got a renewal notice at the old price and a statement saying that in 2010 we would need a new survey. (I didn't know before that they require a new survey every 5th year.) They gave a web URL for more information.

Last summer I called IMIS to get more info about the survey. No reply. Then I emailed them, no reply. As a result, when we hauled out to paint the bottom last fall I didn't get the survey done. This year I got a new reminder from IMIS that I need a survey.

I found the name of a surveyor local to Vero and made arrangements. What sticker shock on the price! In 2005 we paid $300 to the surveyor and $100 to the boat yard for a haul out. This time the prices hiked to $500 and $175, plus $60 for a diver to clean the bottom; total $730. WOW! The price nearly doubled despite a couple of years of deflationary trends.

The high price really made me think. In 2005 I was the buyer and the surveyor was acting to my benefit. Any flaws he found would be to my advantage. This year, the beneficiary is the insurance company. Any negative finding in the survey could be used to fully or partially deny me coverage. The insurance company should be picking up the cost of the survey. Not me. But no; that's not the way it works.

Then I started thinking about a couple of things I learned about marine insurance (a) Most claims are for partial losses, not total loss. Therefore, the total value of the yacht has only about 20% weight in setting the premium. (b) After 5 years on the boat many carriers offer a discount. [my carrier didn't] (c) The owner is limited to two claims in a lifetime. After two, insurance is unavailable unless one pays at least twice as much.

We insure Tarwathie for a value of $57,000. The deductible is $2000 and the premium is $1920. In 2006, we were hit by lightning in Kittery, Maine. We made a claim for about $8,000 of which the insurance company (readily and with no hassle) paid $6,000. But now we have one claim behind is, how big would a second claim be before it is worth our while to file it. Not $2,000.

Assume that we must have insurance. Therefore if we file a second claim, our future premiums will double for at least 5 years. The net present value of $1920 hike per year for 5 years at 6% is $8,573. That makes our "effective" deductible $10,573. Let's guess that if we have a claim it is for half the value of the boat or $28,500, of which the insurance effectively pays $17927. The annual coast is $1920 + ($730/5) = $2066 per year. To make it break even, we need a claim of that size once every 9 years.

Is that wise use of our money? Should we self insure? I'm still ambivalent. If I was really smart, I would have resolved my ambivalence before paying for a new survey.

I'm sure an insurance salesman would say that my way of analyzing it is completely invalid. Well sure, I could get a better answer if I hired an actuary to do a calculation for me for a few thousand dollars.

If I had really been smart I would have thought through such things before doing the survey.

I started shopping for another insurance company and another agent. A friend recommended ACE. ACE said they need a recent survey to give me a quote. So there's a benefit. If I pay for the survey it allows me to shop for cheaper insurance.

I asked around Vero. Many fellow cruisers carry only liability insurance which costs only about $300/year. That's quite a difference.

What does Libby think about this? She hates the idea of self-insuring.

So how did the survey turn out? It was a very mixed bag, I got some very valuable information, some bad news, and some things which really annoy me. More about that later.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Poor Animals

Vero Beach, Fl

Above you see a picture of an office in the local nuclear plant. The plant rescued over 200 turtles in the recent cold snap. On the sad side, we read that 200 manatees out of a population of 5,000 died.

After the cold snap it hasn't been exactly warm. It goes up to 62 F (17C) most days, but down to 38F(3C) by morning. This has been the coldest winter we experienced since we started cruising. Of course this is also the first time we didn't go to Marathon. It's warmer there.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Clothes On Board

Vero Beach

Reader David and reader Randall both asked questions about the clothes we carry. Here goes.

Tools, food, and clothes take up a large fraction of the storage space on a cruising boat, so they are important topics.

On Tarwathie, we have a wet locker, 5 clothes drawers, a hanging locker, dead space behind the hanging longer, then some storage bins in the V berth.

Libby very kindly lets me use the drawers for my clothes while she uses the bins for hers. Libby and each have:
  • One week supply of underwear and socks.
  • Three sets of shorts, two long pants, and about six tee shirts/polo shirts.
  • Work/painting clothes: shorts, long pants, shirts.
  • Two canvas belts.
  • Two warm sweaters.
  • Two flannel shirts.
  • One sweat shirt/pants set.
  • Foul weather gear: jacket and pants.
  • Rubber sea boots.
  • Two sets of long johns (thermal underwear)
  • Two pairs of heavy wool socks.
  • Assorted hats and gloves
  • One set of Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Libby has a dress and I have slacks/shirt.
  • Two pair of Crocs and one pair of sneakers, no shoes.
  • One light jacket. (No heavy winter coats.)
  • Rain shells.
  • One bathing suit.
When the weather is cold, we layer up. Therefore, we don't miss not having heavy coats. In really foul weather, we wear foul weather gear (duh) on shore as well as on board.

In the dead space, we also carry two bags of "seldom used clothes" It is very inconvenient to get to those bags so we only look there every year or two. We should probably throw those bags away; once every year or two is not often enough to justify keeping and the condition of the clothes after such long storage is questionable.

The fewer clothes you have, the more often you wear them and thus the faster they wear out. Therefore, the turnover of the clothes we keep is fairly rapid. We have had excellent luck finding good clothes in the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores. (We're not proud.) That is especially true here in Vero. I like to joke that the Vero Goodwill store is the only one with a Gucci section. The rich people around here donate lots of good stuff.

Once I had to go to a retirement party for my friend John. I had no proper clothes to wear, so I went to the Salvation Army in Marathon. I got an excellent two piece suit, a belt, a necktie, and a pair of leather shoes for $10. I wore them once, then discarded them. That is extremely sensible.

Crocs were invented about the time we started cruising. They are the ideal shoes for boaters. They work as slippers, as deck shoes, and on-shore shoes. They are oil resistant and easy to clean. They are skid resistant when new, although slippery and dangerous when the treads wear off. Above all, they are very comfortable.

We have learned to spot fellow cruisers by how the look and what they wear. Crocs, worn everywhere, are the number one tip off.

Crocs are expensive, about $29, and they don't last long. If you wear them all the time, the treads wear off in less than 6 months. I try to keep one pair with treads to wear on the boat, and one tread bald pair to wear onshore. Even on shore I slip and fall once in a while on wet pavement; I shouldn't be so cheap. Brand-X imitation Crocs are much cheaper, but we haven't tried any out yet.

At first, I was embarrassed to wear the pink Crocs on shore, but now I just don't care. They're my everyday Crocs. They are stained with several colors of paint reflecting past projects. The brown Crocs with leather tops and shoe laces Libby found on sale for half price. Leather tops and shoe laces on a Croc are really stupid, but we don't argue for half price.

I'll keep the fancy Crocs with shoelaces for formal wear at weddings and funerals.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Captain Bob, Part 2

Vero Beach, FL

In recent years, Bob likes to winter in North Palm Beach, FL and to summer in Long Island, NY. His routine is to go out the Lake Worth inlet, get into the Gulf Stream. 10 days later he is in New York. He does this single handed. The year we first met Bob he took the inside route from Beaufort, NC to Norfolk, VA.

On his last voyage, Bob said he made it north to a point off Cape May, NJ. Only 300 miles to go. He said a Coast Guard C130 began circling him and hailed him on the VHF radio. The plane said that there was a Nor-easter heading his way and that he would be hammered within two hours. They recommended that he flee for shelter ashore. Bob took their advice, a point he now says was a bundler; more on that later.

He sailed for Cape May. The nor-easter hit with winds 50-60 knots. He was OK though, the CSY can handle that well. However, Cape May lay in the windward direction so progress was very slow. After a while, his stay sail split. "Uh Oh," he said, "I can't go North anymore. I better turn around and go South." That headed him toward the mouth of the Delaware Bay.

Close to the bay, the water shallows to 40-50 feet. That means that the wind driven waves were no longer 20 feet high, they soared to 30-40 feet breaking waves. Bob was pooped 15-20 times, but because the CSY is sea worthy that did no damage.

Bob said that at this point his thoughts turned to death. He remembered an earlier medical near death experience he had. He thought that the passage from life to death was not scary.

He missed the Delaware Bay. The next stop south is Ocean City Maryland. Bob tried to guide Bon Lass into the jetty at the inlet (see the picture) but he missed. That was extremely bad. Now the wind carried him into the shoals south of the jetty. He started his engine but it wasn't powerful enough. The boat still moved backward into the shoals.

He didn't touch bottom but he was still losing ground. I should also mention that at this point, Bob had been at the helm for 36 hours without a break. Suddenly his steering gave out. Now he had no control at all. Bob went below to find out what was wrong with the steering. Before accomplishing that, he heard a loud roar. It was a Coast Guard helicopter.

The helicopter told Bob that they were low on fuel. His boat was about to wash up on the beach. He could try to ride it out, or he could get rescued, but his decision would have to be immediate. He elected to not die, jumped overboard and allowed the copter to rescue him.

The day after the rescue, Bob started calling the Coast Guard to learn the fate of Bon Lass. No word. Day after day he called. Still no word. Finally, after three weeks, Bob got a call. Apparently, Bon Lass never did ground on the beach, she drifted out into the Gulf Stream on her own. Some men out fishing spotted Bon Lass near Rhode Island. She was drifting North in the Gulf Stream. The men boarded her and found six inches of water above the cabin sole. They also found Bob's contact info and notified him.

Bob said that he had a leak from the shaft log. Many older boats have such leaks (including Tarwathie.) It is no problem as long as the bilge is pumped out every day or so. With nobody on board to pump, Bon Lass was sinking.

Bob didn't have the financial resources to launch a high seas salvage of Bon Lass so he was forced to let her go. She was never seen again.

Now for the lessons. Bob bitterly criticizes himself for being caught by such an elementary mistake. Sailing 101 -- sea room.

In rough weather a sailor must never let himself get caught too close to shore on the windward side. A sailboat needs the freedom to head at different angles to the wind to make way. That's called sea room. Also, he should have known that the waves out at sea where the water it 1,000 or more feet deep are much easier to handle than those close to shore only 40 feet deep. His blunder was in following the Coast Guard advice to run for shelter. He should have headed out to the open sea.

Now Bob is looking around for a new boat. He really wants another CSY 37, but those are very hard to come by.

Wow. What a guy. What a story. Bob says he has many more such stories. I really hope that he writes his book.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Captain Bob, Part 1

Vero Beach, FL

One of the most colorful people we met is Bob (not his real name.) We first met Bob a couple of years ago in Portsmouth, VA. Bob was traveling alone on his CSY 37 Bon Lass. Last week we met Bob again here in Vero. He told us the story of the loss of Bonnie Laurie.

Libby and I listened, fascinated by Bob's story. I began to salivate, thinking of the idea of helping Bob as a ghost writer to help him write a book about his experiences. I asked him. Bob said, "No, I want to write it myself, but I just never seem to get around to it." If I were a professional writer I suppose I would have hounded Bob until he agreed to work with me. I didn't do that, but I will tell a small version of his story, disguising Bob's real name and the real name of his boat. I don't want to steal his thunder.

I'll tell Bob's new story tomorrow. Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from my original post.

Bob has been cruising on Bon Lass for 21 years. The CSY 37 is a truly classic sailboat. They are considerably larger inside than Westsails, and even more overbuilt (solidly built) than Westsails. In our former life we had chartered a CSY 44 in the BVIs once and a CSY 37 on another occasion. When CSY went out of business in the 1980s, there was a frenzy of yachtsmen to buy the used CSY boats. They are legends.

Bob is a very interesting fellow. He sailed Bon Lass single- handed around the east coast and the Caribbean for more than 20 years. He even sailed her through Hurricane Hortense 100 miles off Puerto Rico. Bon Lass came through fine but all the above the water line paint was waterblasted off. Bob said that all things considered he would rather not see another hurricane, or at least to ride one out on shore, but doing it at sea was OK. The primary fear doing it at sea is colliding with another boat. If there are no other boats around an if one's vessel is sound, then the danger is much reduced. Bob said that he experienced a rush of exhilaration when the storm passed -- "I survived." I know what he means. I too have felt exhilarated after facing, and mastering, heavy weather or other great challenges.

Bob earns his living as a captain. He does boat deliveries and he was captain on a dinner cruise excursion boat in Long Island. He sure looks the part, and that the the second interesting part of the story. Bob claims to be 72 years old, but he looks to be no more than 40. He is handsome with a neatly trimmed beard. No trace of gray hair is visible. We saw Bob in the Dismal Swamp Canal lock without his shirt on. He looks to be only 30, with a triangle shaped body like Jack LaLane and a marbled belly. Bob should be a poster boy for the heath benefits of the cruising life. (Sorry ladies, our camera is broken so I can't take a picture of Bob.) Bob says that he loves being dressed in a captain's uniform with gold epaulets on his shoulder. I agree that he would readily be cast for the part of Captain of the cruise ship in any Hollywood production.

Bob says that when sailing offshore single handed that he stays awake all night and cat naps during the day. (I wish I could do that. Cat napping something I have never been able to do.) Bob also says that when hailing ships at sea on the VHF that he is persistent and, if necessary, rude on the radio until someone replies to his calls. He puts the blame on the ships who are required to have someone on the bridge who speaks English, but who often don't. If he is rude and insistent enough, they go wake up the English speaker. I'll have to try out his technique.

All in all, Libby and I were greatly entertained by Bob's stories. We surely hope to meet up with him some other time.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vero Beach, FL

Copyright; James Vernacotola

There's a really nice shot. It shows last weeks launch in a 2 minute time exposure. The location is on a populated stretch the ICW north of St. Augustine. I especially like the reflection in the water. James, the photographer must have really braved the cold to get this shot.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Vero Beach, FL

It is not uncommon for sailboat cruisers to graduate to a trawler as they get older. The joke goes that they then graduate from the trawler to an RV and then from the RV to a nursing home.

I think we should have other ambitions. I think that Libby and I should aspire to graduate to the power boat shown below if and when we ever get tired of Tarwathie. It is said to be a cruiser's dream if you have to deal with Somali pirates, or with sport fishermen in Cape May inlet :)

To learn more about that boat, click here.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Cruiser Culture

Velcro Beach, FL

Boaters are friendly and interesting. That's part of the appeal of cruising. We get to meet a lot of people we like. Part of every day is spent chatting with cruising friends. We do it at the marina, on the bus, in town, and especially from the dinghy.

Rowing your dinghy to someone else's boat to strike up a casual conversation is the boating equivalent to chatting over the back yard fence. Never mind that the talking is nearly vertical. The person sitting in the dinghy is about 7 feet lower than the person standing on deck.

Boating etiquette is such that you feel encouraged to approach an unknown boat as a stranger, knock on the hull, introduce yourself, and start chatting. The ice to break is much thinner out here. In fact, it is quite common to be invited on board for drinks and to tour the boat within 5 minutes of meeting new boater friends. On land that's unthinkable. Imagine a stranger knocking on your door and you inviting him in to tour the house.

About once a week we invite someone over for dinner or we get invited to their boat or we all go to a pot luck dinner. As boaters we are much more socially active than we were before cruising.

For the past several weeks as I worked on the Boomkin project, at least once per hour a boater comes by offering assistance, or reminding me that they have tools I could borrow if I need them. It's very gratifying. Libby and I act similarly. If we see someone doing a big project or especially someone else in trouble, we always rush to help.

At sea, the culture of assisting anyone else in distress goes beyond good etiquette. It is law. Maritime law requires any boater to offer whatever assistance is needed by someone else in distress. I've been told that is the reason that commercial ships refuse to answer our calls on the VHF radio; they are afraid we might ask for assistance. If true, that is very sad and speaks poorly of the character of commercial sailors. I'd rather believe it's not true.

Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule. I can think of three Oscar The Grouch cruisers that we've met in the past 5 years. Obviously they are less common than among the general population.

I would also like to dump on the entire population of sport fishermen owners in Cape May, New Jersey. Every time we go in and out of that inlet channel we are constantly bumped around by the wakes of excessively fast boats passing close by. We occasionally encounter rude power boaters in other places, but in Cape May rude seems to be the norm. Must be they put Tony Soprano pills in the drinking water there.

The Limits of Blogging

Vero Beach, FL

Regular readers know that I'm very fond of this idea of blogging. Several times in the past I wrote posts about how wonderful this blogging stuff is. Today, I'd like to mention one of the down sides.

Last week I posted a blog called Water. When I started writing it, my intention was to add another facet to the jewel which is living the simple life. I wanted to relate how happy we were to be self sufficient in managing fresh water. I started by reciting the facts of how much water we carry and how we fetch it. Then, I got carried away with more and more facts, then I ran out of time and posted it as-is. The end result sounds whiny, as if I were complaining.

Editors, publishers, and professional writers, have long known that top quality writing needs review after review and plenty of elapsed time to contemplate what's written before publishing it. I always hated that. Back in the days when I wrote peer reviewed scientific papers, it took 6-18 months between writing something and seeing it in print. That wait was agony. Today, when I write a magazine article it takes 3-4 months to get it published and I still hate the delay.

Blogging caters to instant gratification. Write a word, click on Publish and it's done. I love that, but I acknowledge that such indulgence doesn't produce the best quality writing. Typos and minor grammar errors aren't so serious, but when I mangle the essential message as I did in Water, I really regret it.

So, am I going to change my policy? No. Am I going to revise the Water post? No. Despite the disadvantage of instant posting, it provides something important -- contemporaneousness. When you relate something as it happens or when it first pops into your head that is a contemporaneous account. It has a fresh quality and it has accuracy that you can never duplicate after-the-fact. If you rewrite things when they are no longer fresh, or if you revise and republish past posts, the result is very different. It is like the difference between a diary and a memoir.

Think of this blog as diary-like with all the plus and minus baggage that comes with that.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Early Risers Rewarded

Vero Beach, FL

For the second day in a row we got up at 0400 to watch the last night launch of a space shuttle. This time we were successful. 0414 was time zero and Libby and I were up on deck to watch it.

Our view of the horizon was obscured by a cloud. Therefore, for the first 39 seconds we saw only the sky being lit up, but not a direct view of the shuttle. After 39 seconds it emerged from behind the cloud and we had a beautiful view. We watched as the brilliant and long plume of fire behind the rocked turned from orange color to white. (I don't know why it does that.) A few seconds later we saw booster separation. We could see the boosters falling away as the shuttle continued upward looking like an impossibly bright Venus.

Once again my photo equipment and skills were not up to the job of capturing a night launch. I left the camera on the tripod recording video. When I reviewed the video it shows too little to make it worth posting. However, you can watch the NASA video here.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Rewarding Early Risers

Vero Beach, FL

Well, we really did it. We got up at 0417 to see the 0439 rocket launch. I planned on getting up at 0330 but we overslept slightly. Just as well. The sky was clear and the air was crispy cold. The cold would probably discouraged us from rowing to the beach anyhow.

I set up some cushions on the forward deck and set the camera for video and put it on the tripod. Then at 0430 I turned on the local radio station to listen to the countdown. What I heard on the radio was, "Sorry, the launch was scrubbed just a few minutes ago due to weather." Oh no! The weather looks fine to us. Probably weather at one of the emergency landing sites.

So, back to bed. Right? No. Now we're both wide awake so we'll stay up.

24 hours from now we may repeat this scenario.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Early Bird

Velcro Beach

Yesterday a bunch of dangerous thunderstorms and potential tornadoes passed by. One went 10 miles north of here and another 10 miles south of here. That seems to happen frequently. Vero seems to be a little island of tranquility on stormy days. (Knock on wood.)

This morning the weather is splendid. I'll put on another coat of paint on the boomkin parts.

The splendid weather is supposed to continue into tomorrow. That means the space shuttle pre-dawn launch scheduled for 04:39 tomorrow should be a go and it should be spectacular. I'd like to row the dinghy over to the beach and watch it from there. Libby too would like to see it. She also frequently mentions how magical it is to row a boat in the dark and calm of night. We'll see how much enthusiasm remains when I try to wake her at 03:30 tomorrow.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Boomkin Project

Velcro Beach

What the heck is a boomkin? That question stumps many experienced sailors. That is because very few sailboats have boomkins. W32s do.

The boomkin is an extension that allows the backstay to be connected behind the stern. It is the stern equivalent of the bowsprit which allows the forestay to be attached forward of the bow. Both are intended to allow larger sails than could otherwise fit.

The boomkin and the bowsprit are structurally critical pieces. If either breaks while under sail, dismasting may result. We have heard of both cases on W32. Morning Mist, a boat we look at in 2005, had been dismasted when her boomkin broke. Pygmalion broke her boomkin last year in San Fransisco bay, but captain Jay lowered the sail quick enough to save the mast.

For several years, I've been varnishing the boomkin every year, but each year it becomes worse. The bottom level of varnish separated letting water in. Water causes rot and rot causes weakness and that can lead to broken boomkins. This year I resolved to repair it thoroughly.

The obstacle to boomkin repair is complexity. Removing the boomkin means taking off the backstay, the monitor, the stern pulpit, and solar panel. That's a major job, especially while the boat is in the water. After much thought, I found an easier, albeit longer, method. The boomkin has two pieces, port and starboard. My solution was to remove and repair only one side at a time. Even that wasn't easy. It took half a day to remove one side, and half a day to put it back.

Once removed, I used a blowtorch and paint stripper, and sandpaper, to strip the pieces down to bare wood. Then I painted on a coat of epoxy resin to encapsulate the wood and to protect it from water. On top of that I put four coats of marine white enamel paint. I hope the paint will last longer and do a better job of UV protection than varnish.

The whole project is taking much longer than I thought because of rainy weather. I can't paint on rainy days, and recently we had rain on part of almost every day. It has been 3 weeks since I started, and I have 1 week to go.

p.s. I'm also doing the same epoxy resin and paint job on the bowsprit, but without removing it.

p.p.s. I usually don't endorse products in this blog but I'll make an exception. Up to now, I've been using Interlux and/or Petit brand topside paints. I've had nothing but trouble both with adherence and with abrasion resistance. I also hate the sky high prices. West Marine charges $45 per quart for topside paint. Acting on a tip from Peter here in Vero, this time I went to Lowes hardware store. They carry Rustoleum brand marine paints. Their topside enamel paint is only $12 per quart. So far, it spreads and covers much better than the Interlux or Petit brands. It is excellent paint. I'll have to wait a year or more to report on its durability.

Close up of the starboard boomkin. Note the flaws in the varnish. Also note all the hardware mounted on the boomkin.

Working on the boomkin project. Most of the work had to be done from the dinghy. I only dropped one washer and one screwdriver in the water so far (better than average).

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Vero Beach, FL

Every morning at dawn, Libby goes down to the river. There she bathes and washes the clothes by beating them on the rocks. On the return trip she carries the day's fresh water in a big pottery jar balanced on her head.

Whoops, got carried away there. That's not how we live. It is something I read in National Geographic Magazine. On the other hand, the way we really do live may seem primitive to you.

We carry about 75 gallons of fresh water onboard. With that, we can go for 30-60 days depending on how careful we are. The main choice is to use fresh water or salt water to wash the dishes. In places like Vero, we use fresh water. In the Bahamas we use salt water.

When our water is exhausted, I have to go and fetch more water. No I don't have a pottery jug, but I do have several 5 gallon plastic jerry jugs. It takes 15 jugs full to fill up if we're completely empty. Our water tanks are under the floor in the main cabin. Each jug must be lifted up on deck then lowered into the main cabin. The chore of fetching the water and filling the tanks takes 1 to 3 hours, depending on how far I have to travel in the dinghy to find the water.

In the Bahamas, water is expensive ($0.50/gallon) and low quality. We try to bring all the water we need before going there. An onboard water maker would be nice, but they're too expensive for us.

In places like Vero and Marathon, I fill the jugs at the marina. It takes a lot of trips to fill so many jugs. When we're on the go on the East Coast, we generally fill the water tanks at the same time we buy diesel fuel. That eliminates the fetching chore. When we stay at a slip in a marina we also fill the water tanks.

We use foot pumps to pump fresh water in the galley and in the head. We have no running water and no hot water onboard Tarwathie. If we did have running water, our use would double or triple simply because one wastes more. Libby misses having hot water, but that's not very practical for Tarwathie. Therefore, to wash dishes we heat up a pan of water on the stove.

We do laundry at coin laundromats. Libby knows, by memory, the location of every reachable laundromat on the USA East Coast. We can go for a week before needing a wash. In a pinch, we can stretch double that time at the expense of personal hygiene. On the ICW we are often forced to pay $50 to $100 for an overnight stay at a marina just to do laundry. We hate that. If we had a bigger boat, we could keep two week's worth of clothes on board and thus halve the frequency of laundromat runs.

Laundry by hand? With or without boulders in the river, we've never done that. In Europe, I used to wash my underwear in the bathroom sink of my hotel rooms, then hang them to dry on the little clothes-lines they supply. I hated that.

Those who cross oceans on sailboats refer to laundry as "our dirty little secret" There are no laundromats and fresh water is too precious to use for laundry. I've read that some cruisers wait for a rain storm, then they plug up the cockpit drains, throw all their dirty clothes out there, and dance naked while stomping on them. Sounds like a naked Lucy Ricardo. The more common and simple solution is seldom discussed. It is to become nudist for the duration of the passage.

Showers? I'll address that another day.

Vero Scenes

Vero Beach, Fl

That melodica is my new onboard musical toy. It's small and non-electric. I love it. I'm gradually remembering all the songs I learned to play on an accordion 45 years ago. It's amazing how durable musical memory can be. Here I play a little jig while Libby obliges by dancing the jig.

We spent a very nice evening at the free bluegrass concert with our friends Stephan, Lori and Charlie.

Wonder which way the wind blows? These little guys on the beach at Vero leave you with little doubt.

That marvelous tree, or cluster of trees is not a banyan. It is a magnificent rubber tree. According to the owner, it was almost completely destroyed in the hurricanes of 2004, but within 4 years it recovered completely.

The neighborhood between the marina and the beach is marvelous. The houses are 30-50 years old and their landscaping and gardens are breathtaking. We love just walking up and down those streets admiring the horticulture.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Comfort Onboard

Vero Beach, FL

Recently we were invited aboard several other boats here in Vero. Most of these boats are considerably bigger and more expensive than Tarwathie. Nevertheless, we felt crowded and claustrophobic onboard. Libby and I agreed that we would have a hard time living aboard some of those boats indefinitely. They wouldn’t be comfortable enough.

Recently, I wrote about Tarwathie’s cabin arrangement. No doubt, skillful yacht design enables feelings of comfort. Today, rather than yacht design, I’d like to talk about the human needs for comfort onboard a boat.

Volume light and air: If you are confined in too small a volume, it feels claustrophobic, and claustrophobia is a very unsettling feeling. Last week we had dinner onboard a boat similar in size to Tarwathie but with a main cabin only about 60% as big in volume. It felt very claustrophobic. Plentiful natural light and air circulation act to mitigate feelings of claustrophobia.

Places to stand, sit, lounge, and pace: Some of our earlier sailboats didn’t have full standing headroom. They would be intolerable for living aboard. The tallest person needs to be able to stand erect and stretch without bumping his or her head. There also needs to be places to sit, and to lounge. In my book, lounging means sitting as in a recliner chair with one’s feet elevated. On Tarwathie, Libby and I can both lounge simultaneously and in comfort. That’s critical. Neither one of us has ever felt particularly comfortable lounging in bed.

I’m also personally addicted to pacing. When I worry or when I’m thinking I really need to pace. I don’t need much room, I used to pace in an office cubicle. Tarwathie offers me more pacing space that my cubicle ever did.

Freedom from clutter: An all too common mistake onboard boats is to allow every horizontal surface to become covered with clutter (i.e. small objects). That robs those spaces of their multi-use capability, and it adds to the feeling of claustrophobia. Seeming to understand that instinctively, Libby and I always keep Tarwathie more clutter free than any of the houses or offices that we ever owned. It’s important.

Freedom to act independently: At various times of day, we lounge, or cook, or read, or use the computer, or work at crafts, and sometimes just stare out the windows. There is enough room in our cabin for each of us to choose what to do without coordinating the activity with the other. It's a matter of personal space, and lack of personal space would likely erode a couple's relationship rapidly.

Nice sleeping space: The sleeping arrangements must be comfortable for both parties. Surprisingly, we find that claustrophobia is not a factor when sleeping but that the thickness of cushions is. We sleep with the ceiling only inches above our heads leaving no room to sit up. That doesn’t seem to matter. Horizontally, there’s no room to lie without cuddling. We can’t sleep with each person on his/her own side. That suits us fine. On the other hand, on our first year we enhanced our cushions with a springy underlayment (more about that another day). That made it much more comfortable to sleep on. It’s important.

Something we lack is comfort in the cockpit. We almost never hang around in our cockpit except when under way. It would be a great enhancement to have a better cockpit, but the deficiency doesn’t seem to bother us greatly.

Ease of going ashore: Unless we are under way, we spend a significant part of every day ashore. If there was anything that made it difficult or inconvenient to get ashore, that would be a big deal.


Obviously, comfort is a matter of personal choice. What works for us may not work for everyone. Nevertheless, I suspect that our needs are pretty ordinary if not unique.