Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Special Effects

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

The camera app in my Droid has some neat special effects. Don't you agree?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

I find myself bitten by wander lust yesterday and today.  We've told people we're staying here in Marathon, but still.   (Cruisers tend to be evasive when people ask about their plans.  Having announced plans is a drag on impulsive decisions to do something different.)

We could take a day trip out into Florida Bay and do some exploring on the Bay side of the keys.  

We could take a major excursion up the west coast to Sarasota.  We've never been there before north of Caya Costa.    If we did that, we could begin with a visit to the Dry Tortugas.  We liked that very much when we were there in 2005.

We could change our minds about the winter and head for the Bahamas.  We couldn't leave immediately because I haven't bought a 2012 US Customs decal yet.  The decals take many weeks to arrive.

Lately, we've been hearing very nice things about Rio Dulce in Guatemala.  I don't think we'll do that this year, but maybe soon.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W
Anyone who claims to label hem/her self as prescient is way out on thin ice.  In this case though, I can't avoid it.  Here's the story.

I got a Kindle for Christmas.  Hooray!  It is the newest touch model, sans all buttons except on/off and Home.  I also go the insurance policy that covers breakage and loss including liquid spills.  I wouldn't have dared without it.

Now flash back.  It was 1998.  I was between jobs and had some time on my hands.  The Internet was just approaching puberty. I had my own personal web page since 1994, but now there were very many sites online.  We had browsers, but GOPHER and USENET were still the major tools.  I took advantage of the circumstances.  I found a program called NAPSTER.  It was a neat tool for locating and downloading free music in MP3 format.  Those were the days before the music industry noticed and got defensive.

I used NAPSTER to download more than 600 of our favorite musical pieces.   Of course, we didn't have any way to use those MP3 files.  Playing music on the PC wasn't useful.  There was no such thing as portable MP3 players in 1998.  Still, I collected them and archived them.

I also found a place on USENET with ebooks.  They were downloaded in a klunky hexadecimal ASCII text format; each in part A, B, C, ... partial pieced.  It was a lot less slick than NAPSTER, but it worked.  I downloaded 105 books that were on my wish list to read.   Of course, I didn't have any way to use the files.  Reading on a PC screen, (or later a laptop screen, or even a Droid screen) was uncomfortable and useless.  Still, I collected them and archived them.

Over the years, I carefully archived those files and transferred them to each new computer.  I stored the books in several file formats to assure compatibility with future needs.

When the iPod came along, and later the first Kindle.  I eschewed buying them.  I did not want to pay for a device that did nothing until I went to their online store (iTunes) and spent a lo  ore money.  They were walled gardens, and I refuse to play that way.

Yesterday, I was able to take advantage of my nearly 14 year old preparations.  I put all those books and all that music on my Kindle.  It took only 15 minutes.  Everything works fine.  I can read my books while listening to my music in the background, all on one device.  Amazing.

I can't really say that I specifically visualized the Kindle in 1998.  Nor could I specifically foresee the bruising battles over online downloads.   Nevertheless, my preparations seem prescient if I do say so myself.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Star of Bethlehem

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

How do you like our Christmas tree?  It is made of rosemary.  It is very cute, and it is just the right size for a boat.  It even smells nice.   [Actually, that's causing a conflict. I think the nice smell is too strong and I want to store it out in the cockpit.  Libby wants it down in the cabin.  We'll have to duke that one out.]  

Christmas Eve is the proper time for a Star Of Bethlehem type celestial event; right?   Well, if the local clouds will dissipate, Boot Key Harbor will get to see one tonight.  At 6:54:44 PM tonight, 55 degrees above the horizon to the NE, we'll see a very bright Iridium flare, magnitude -8.  What is that?  Iridium satellite phones are served by low orbit satellites.   Just after sunset, or just before dawn, when it is dark down here and sunny up there, the solar panels reflect the sunlight.  If the panel points directly at your eye (like a signal mirror) you see a bright flash.  Such will be the case here tonight.   If you are not in Boot Key Harbor you won't see it, the effect is quite local.  However if you go to you can find out when Iridium flares are visible where you live.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mister Monitor

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

I never blogged before about Mr. Monitor.  He's one of most important crew members.  Actually, Mr. Monitor is our pet name for our self-steering gear.   When at sea, we engage Mr. Monitor immediately upon departure and let him steer Tarwathie until we reach port once again.

Those who have never sailed offshore don't appreciate the need for self-steering.   It is very impractical to steer manually 24 hours per day, day after day.  First of all, one needs sleep, potty, and food, sail trimming, and other breaks while on duty.  Secondly, human attention drifts as does the course.  Thirdly, it is exhausting; especially with tiller steering.  In rough seas after four hours on the tiller my muscles begin to knot and cramp.  The solution to all of that is to find a way to make the boat steer itself.

Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail alone around the world, was an expert sailor.  He sailed Spray mainly by adjusting the sails.  Then, according to his book, he would drop a loop of rope down on the appropriate spoke in his steering wheel to lock it in place.  Slocum wrote that he did that leaving Austraila and never needed to touch anything again until landing on a tiny island 8000 miles away.  Bulls... I say.  Even Slocum wasn't that good.

Today, many boats rely on electronic autopilots for self-steering.  They do a marvelous job, when they work.  "When they work," is the operative phrase.  Unfortunately, one of the most frequent stories we hear about offshore passages is that, "my autopilot stopped working."  In my humble opinion, they are far from reliable enough to depend on offshore.  They can break down.  They are also vulnerable to lightning hits or near hits that can wipe out all electronics on board in a microsecond.

We have a tiller master electronic autopilot, but we use it only on the ICW and inland waters.  It isn't adequate for offshore.  However, I once met another Westsail 32 whose skipper told me that he used an identical tiller master on a trip to England and back.

Instead of an autopilot, a so-called wind-vane type of self-steering is most appropriate for offshore sailing.   Ours is a Monitor brand.  I've been told that Monitor is the Cadillac of self-steering gear.  Some people like their own brands.  I'm not expert on comparing different brand.  Suffice it to say that the Monitor is solidly built, rugged, and seaworthy for one or more circumnavigations with little or no maintenance.   (If you watch the video below, you'll see a much cheaper self-steerer made with plastic parts.  It is certainly not sea worthy.)

So, what is a wind-vane self-steering gear?  It is the odd looking stainless steel thing hanging of the stern end of our boat.   The most common question we get from non-cruisers is, "What the heck is that thing!"   In the picture below, you see the Monitor at the stern of Zaftra (the W32 belonging to our frieneds Don and Gloria in Vero.)

In the following picture, you see a monitor in action at sea.  Nobody is at the tiller.  The Monitor is in control.    The Monitor keeps the boat at a constant angle to the wind.  That means if the wind shifts, your course shifts with it.  That's optimum in terms of speed and sail trimming, but it does mean that you need to pay attention and to readust the sails and the Monitor after a significant shift.   Holding course with a wind vane means +/- ten degrees.   It hold the course on the average.  When racing, an alert human can steer better than a wind-vane.  Note the qualifier; alert.

By Ben Eriksen

So, how does it work? Sigh. That's difficult to explain. I never understood it myself until we experienced Mr. Monitor in action. Fortunately, thanks to you can watch the video below. It is not a Monitor brand, but the video does a much better job of illustrating the principles than my words can. Key to the servo-pendulum method is that it takes power from the motion of the boat though the water to make very powerful forces to move the tiller (or wheel). The rougher the conditions and faster the boat speed, the more powerful the Monitor's actions. It is more than enough to turn a massive rudder.

Video: Mister Vee

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Cheer

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

We're nearly ready for Christmas and beginning to get in the spirit.  The shopping is done.  Waiting for USPS and UPS to deliver.  Not much decorating to do.

Libby needs to buy a turkey breast for our Christmas meal (no pot luck Christmas dinner here this year :-)

Our friends Darrick and Sharron and Bob and Sandra all flew home for the holidays yesterday.  We'll miss them but there are plenty of other friends here in the harbor.

Best of all, Nick posted the following on his Facebook page this morning.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

I spent all of my professional career in the electric power industry.  That's not very glamorous or interesting to most people.  When I meet new people and they ask what my profession was, I reply "power engineer."  Almost always that terminates that thread of conversation.  Nevertheless, the power industry has advantages.  Foremost is job security.  People's thirst for electric power seems to be insatiable.  They use more and more as time goes on, and although they gripe about their monthly bill, most appear to be willing to pay more rather than cut back (see note below)

Boaters are no exception to the rule.  However, boaters are more active in supplying their own needs so what they do is more visible.    Tarwathie has the main engine with alternator, a portable Honda generator, a solar panel, and (sometimes) shore power, as sources of power.   Many boats, have in addition, a diesel gen-set, and one or more wind generators.

An irony is that no matter how many power generation devices one has, and how much money is spent. it is not always enough.   A friend in Vero has two very big solar panels, and a wind generator.  After several sunny, very windy days in a row, I heard him say, "I'm want to equalize my batteries, so I'm going to move to a slip for a day to use shore power to fully charge the batteries."  What?  I was amazed that his batteries were not fully charged without shore power.  Things like that lead to the label "insatiable"    It does seem to be true that boats with extensive wind and solar installations are still frequently seen running their Honda generators.   Not just occasionally, such as after cloudy and still days, but frequently.

That said, sailing cruisers are probably among the greenest people on the planet.  They barely sip energy in a world where their land based peers gulp it.  On Tarwathie, we are greener than many sailboats, but less green than others.  A few years ago in Washington DC, we spent a month in a slip with metered power.  After 30 days, we used a grand total of 12 kwh, for which we paid $3 at a price of $0.25/kwh.    My friend Walt said, "Heck. My wireless router uses more energy than that."    I also tried several of the online carbon footprint calculators.  They said that our footprint was comparable to that of people in Bangladesh.  It was only a small fraction of the typical American family footprint.  

I exclude power cruisers from the above.  Many of them use air conditioning, large screen TV, and incandescent lights, all of which take huge amounts of electricity.  Many also connect their air conditioner to a fresh water hose on the dock and use the water once-through for their air conditioners.  I've seen boats sit for weeks running and dumping fresh water continuously even though the owner never visited the boat even once.  I don't know how to quatify that energy waste but it must be a lot.

I too am insatiable.  We could reduce our electric needs 80% by simply abandoning our on board refrigerator/freezer.   Many cruisers make do without that.  Some use ice boxes. Some eschew refrigeration entirely.  But no; we're not going to cut back.  Instead, we plan to upgrade from a 50 watt solar panel to a 180 watt panel.

Note: Three recent incidents demonstrate that there really is price elasticity in electric power consumption; at least temporarily.  The power market meltdown in 2000 in the State of California was one.  The 5 week long blackout in Auckland, New Zealand was the second, and the 6 week long shortage of electricity in Juneau Alaska was the third.  Based on the historical results, if the price of electricity doubles, public consumption goes down by 30%.  Other than that, the available evidence suggests that electric consumption is inelastic.  Usage does not go down when prices increase nor go up when prices decrease.
I'll say it again.  Producing and selling electric energy  or the devices that generate electricity is perhaps one of the most dependable, profitable, and secure jobs in the world. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Disruptive Technology

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68

The phrase "disruptive technology" has been around for a few years.  It was always kind of fuzzy what it meant.  I think I have a real life example.

Our camera has been gradually dying of  E-wasting disease.  I blogged about that a few months back.  I got some good advice, especially from my friend Walt, on how to choose a successor camera.  I followed Walt's advice and finally figured out that I needed to spend about $400 on a Panasonic or Olympus camera that had the features I needed.  However, I'm never in a rush to spend that kind of money, so I delayed.

In the meantime, I got a new phone.  The Samsung Droid Charge is a great smart phone.  Its best feature is a large and brilliant screen with better picture quality than an device I ever owned, big or small.  However, when I got to play with it for a while I discovered that the built-in camera on this phone is amazing.  It is the most sophisticated camera I ever owned.   Of course, a secondary benefit is the convenience of being able to beam pictures and videos all over the known universe with a mere tap of the finger adds a lot to the perceived value.

On the other hand, good as it is, a phone camera is still very slow and awkward to start up and use.  Often, by the time I'm ready to snap, the picture opportunity has passed.  A device dedicated to the camera function still has advantages.

In Vero, while shopping for presents for Libby I was amazed to come across a 12MP digital camera for only $40.  Wow!  I've said before that my laptop strategy is to buy the cheapest laptop, for 10-15% of the price of a rugged one.  I can wear out and discard 4-5 such laptops before exceeding the price of a really good one.   Why not apply the same principle to the camera?  $40 versus $400.   Of course the $40 camera won't have all the features I wanted.  Of course, it won't take pictures as nice as the expensive one.  But it's well worth a try.  I bought it, gave it to Libby, and we'll start using it.  If we absolutely hate the result, our economic loss is not big.  Indeed, the $400 cameras will probably be selling for $360 in 6 months.

That's disruptive technology.  Two technologies that I did not expect and did not seek, came as surprises and completely undermined my plan to buy a $400 camera.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Good News

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Our grandson Nick, is out of Iraq and heading home.

His ambition, once back at Fort Bragg is to try for Army Ranger School.  

Good for you Nick.  We're proud of you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Quite a Story

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Here's a very unusual story.  
MAJURO — Two Kiribati men who survived 33-days drifting in the Pacific were surprised to find relatives of family members who had more than 50 years earlier drifted into the same atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Read the rest of the story here at the Marianas Variety.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Someone requested purple. Libby said that she thought it was a terrible idea but it turned put really nice.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

Jinx Day

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Man oh man.  What a day.   I do more than my fair share of dumb stunts.  One of them was this morning.

I had a quart of marine topside paint -- battleship gray.  My plan was to use it in the engine compartment and to paint the inside of the dinghy.  I started in the engine compartment.  

To get access, I have to lift off the cockpit sole (floor).  Just last week I redid the holddowns on the sole with new weather stripping, 10 cap screws and t-nuts.   I removed it all and did my work in the engine compartment.  So far so good. 

Then I planned to put the sole back in the cockpit, and finish up painting the dinghy.  As I was doing that, the sole bumped the open can of paint.  Almost a whole quart of paint spilled on the cockpit seats, the cockpit well walls, the sole, and below. Oh no, what a collosal mess!

I enlisted Libby's help.  With a roll of paper towels and a quart of acetone, we started cleaning up the mess.  Luckily I had just bought a fresh quart of acetone so we had a lot.   When I lifted the sole to see how much paint leaked through I found that much of the paint ran down the channel at the side and down the cockpit drain.   I looked out.  I didn't see any paint on the surface of the water, but the inside of the drain was all gray.   I poured some acetone down the pipe.  It is 1.5" drain pipe and it should not  be clogged by paint.  I'll test it tomorrow for it's draining capacity.

Of course the clean up was like a Chineese Fire Drill.  We got paint on our hands and shoes, and soon we were doing more harm than good, spreading paint in more places than we were cleaning.  Time out to clean our hands and shoes and then finish the job.  

There was about 4 oz of paint left in the can.  I used it up in the dinghy.  Down in the dinghy I noticed that Libby had tied it off using only the painter.  I like to use a stern line as a 2nd safety.  I did that. Then I went  back on board Tarwathie to change clothes and clean myself more thoroughly.   I packed my shower stuff and started to head to shore for a shower.

When I looked out, the dinghy was trailing behind Tarwathie by only the stern line.  The painter line had chafed and broken!   If I had not tied the 2nd safety line, our dinghy would have disappeared downwind for the second time this year.

Libby said, "Jinx Day."  I can't disagree.  I'll make it a point to do as little as possible for the rest of the day to limit exposure (how's that for an excuse to do nothing?)

By the way, the chafed line was 1/4 three strand polypropylene.  It was the only floating line I had.  It chafed where it goes through the hawse pipe.  The past 3 days have been very windy, so the dinghy bounced around a lot.  I'm going to replace it with 3/8 polypropylene box braid.  I'll also start using a length of fire hose as a chafe guard on the painter.  You see, on a double ended boat with a monitor in the back, we can not let the dinghy trail behind us at night.   If the wind stops blowing, the dinghy runs into the stern and works its way under the monitor.  Then the rocking of the boat starts bashing the dinghy with the monitor and I have to get up in the middle of the night to move the dingy to another spot.  Most sailboats have squared transoms and can tie of their dinghy to the stern or to raise it on davits.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Join me in wishing Libby Happy Birthday.  The occasion prompts me to blog about Libby as the subject.

I've written a lot about what it takes to live the cruising life successfully.   Modesty prevents me from writing more about life in general.   The reality is that both require a willing, able and loving partner.  Libby fits the bill in all those accounts.

Libby follows my lead.  She learns to like what I like.  To take joy in the same things I do.  She cares for me, coddles me, and calls me out when I'm being stupid.  I don't mean that in the sexist sense.  It's just the way she is.   

Sailboat cruising wasn't her first major life adaptation.  Twice, we uprooted our family and move to a foreign country.  Libby cooperated willingly in those moves.  She never did adapt to life overseas, but she did her best; so twice again we moved back to the USA.

When we decided to retire and I proposed to sell our house and car and to live on a sailboat, Libby gulped, then she said "Sure."   We both had short term cruising experience, but not as a permanent life style.  It was an excursion into the unknown.  It was certainly not what she had envisioned for our golden years.  It took a lot of guts for her to say that word, "Sure."

On a boat, quarters are extremely close.  There is no room to get away from each other.   Therefore, tensions, fears, and unspoken words, grow and fester.   If one partner is not happy, the reality can not be suppressed or hidden.   

For the first two years, Libby was concerned with her lack of technical skills.  She didn't want to put me or the boat in danger.   My job was to be patient, and to be a teacher and mentor.   If I recall correctly, I got angry and yelled at her only twice in two years.  I regret both times because they rattled her confidence.   Today, she doesn't have that anxiety.  She's confident that if anything happened to me, she would be able to bring us back to a safe port by herself.  She's not crew, she's a full partner.

Anyhow, because true feelings can not be hidden, I'm confident in saying that Libby has come to love this life as much as I do.  Neither of us can imagine living in a condo on land.  It would be boring.  Libby misses more frequent contact with children and grandchildren, and she misses her garden.  I make sure she gets to do both of those things part of every year.  (I crave the Internet, but I carry connectivity with me; nowadays in my pocket.)

My role is to be loving, appreciative, and sensitive to her needs.  We are here in Marathon for a second year primarily because last year Libby had a marvelous time here and really enjoyed it.  I guess, I chose the life style, but she chooses our agenda year by year and month by month. Most of the time, I'm the Captain, but she's the Admiral.   She in turn gets enjoyment by making me happy and being sensitive to my needs.   

So I'm not afraid to say that my success in life, including the cruising life, is a product of the partnership Libby and I have evolved.  

Libby, I love you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Boat Parades

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Here's something we never had in New York, or Vermont. Christmas Boat Parades. Too cold. Vero Beach and Marathon, and presumably lots of other places too, hold very cool parades.

Vero's parade is much more extensive, but Marathon's is cute.   In any event, it makes a good excuse to spend an evening out by the water side.  Many local residents have parties and bonfires on the shore to celebrate.

My video skills are terrible, and that's charitable. Nevertheless, below is my video of the event. Note especially the choo-choo boat. It was very cool.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Rare Moment

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

How often in your life does something happen to change your world view, and perhaps change your politics forever? If it never happens to you, you are like Archie Bunker. If it happens too often you're the meathead. If you're a thinking person, it happens but rarely.

I had such a rare event this week. It came as I listened to a segment of NPR's Talk of the Nation on the radio. That is an excellent program. This segment was called, War And Violence On The Decline In Modern Times.  Read the transcript, or listen to the 30 minute podcast here.

The subject was: 
Despite news of terrorist bombings, U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and crackdowns in Syria, two recent books argue the world has never seen so little war and violence. Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Joshua Goldstein, author of Winning the War on War, discuss.
What changed for me?  I've always believed that the UN is a corrupt and useless organization, and that UN peacekeeping was ineffective and worse than useless posturing (think of Srebrenica).  The program segment made me change my mind on both.  Try listening to it or reading it; it's a remarkable segment.  Trust me, it is likely to change your world view in some ways also.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nearly Perfect Moonrise

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W 

Somewhere in the Pacific this morning there was a perfect moonrise.   Regular blog readers know that I'm fascinated by this idea and that I wrote about it before here and here and here.  

If you see the moon rising in full lunar eclipse, it is a perfect moonrise.  However, because the Moon is not the same plane as the the Earth's orbit, there are more perfect moonrises than eclipses, and many more full moons than eclipses.

Still, it's a great concept.   I saw one perfect moonrise in my life so far.  I'll never forget the sight.  It is a worthy ambition to see another one.

Image Credit & CopyrightBabak Tafreshi (TWAN)

Thursday, December 08, 2011


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W 

In Vero we meet lots of first year cruisers.  Indeed, as a rough guess I would say that 50% of the cruisers there are first year cruisers.  (You can do the math on what that implies about the half-life of cruisers.)   It's always fun to talk to them. It reminds us of our first year cruising and how everything then was extra special because we were experiencing it for the first time.  It also pumps up our ego because they ask questions and solicit our advice.   

Sometimes though I'm shocked and a bit shamed by the rush of rookie cruisers to buy expensive things.  Of course we all need some expensive things and the first year we're forced to buy many of them.  We were no different than others in our first year.   On the other hand, none of us need all those expensive things, nor can we afford them, nor can we find room to stow them on board. The trick of course is to choose wisely which ones to say yes to and which to reject.

To be sure there are many willing suppliers ready and able to exploit the buying urges of the rookies.  Foremost in this country is West Marine.  West Marine carries the best selection of highly appropriate things for boaters.  They have many good locations. Albeit they charge sky high prices for all that convenience and service. 

There's a word for first year purchases.  It's called "fitting out."   It is presumed that whenever you start on a new boat, there are a number of things you must buy and change to make it suitable for your needs.  The problem with rookies is that they really don't know their real needs yet.

The part that twangs my conscience is that many of these rookies are induced one way or the other to buy far too much.  That puts a strain on their budget.  It may clutter up their boat giving them less usable living space.  Both things ultimately work against a successful transition to the cruising life.

Worst are the very expensive things.  I'm thinking of water makers, solar panels, wind generators, giant chart plotters with built-in radar and sonar, SSB radio, life rafts, davits, arches, and enclosed cockpits.   Maybe you do need those things, but maybe you don't need them ever.  It's likely you don't need them your very first year.

An evil influence is the psychology "We are leaving for the islands.  I'm not sure if we need this thing, but other cruisers have it.  If we don't buy it now, we won't be able to buy it in the islands."  If it were a salesman saying those things, we would call it "high pressure tactics".   In the case of sailing rookies it need not be a salesman, nor anyone with evil intent.  It comes from contact with other cruisers and from a lack of confidence that you know what you need.

The most frequent reason cited for people to give up cruising is that they had too big a boat.  I'll wager that a close second is too much stuff on board, leading to expense, clutter, and demands on maintenance.

My best advice for rookies: delay.   Delay every purchase as much as you can.  Eventually, you'll have a better feeling for which things you really do need and those you don't.  Similarly, delay setting off for exotic places, ocean crossings, or blue water sailing, until you have a year or two cruising experience in more sheltered places closer to home and close to stores.  The ICW on USA's East Coast is an excellent place to start.

For everyone else, there is one more way to exploit rookie cruisers.   There are times when disillusioned cruisers decide to give it up and to sell their exquisitely fitted out boat.  They might be tight for cash and pressured to sell quickly. That is an opportunity for some buyer to find a great bargain.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

I didn't fool anybody with yesterday's mystery object.  It is a clamp-on sculling oar lock.  Here's the story.

Last summer I wrote a blog post telling how vandals had stolen our dinghy and broke on of the oars.  I had to get a tow back to Tarwathie because, of course, I couldn't row back with one oar.  My friend Dave read that and he said, "I'll have to teach you how to scull your boat."

Well, Dave and his wife Johnnie met us in Vero for lunch and Dave gave me that oar lock as a present.  It is just what I need to convert our dinghy to a scull propelled boat.  Dave also gave me a few pointers on how to scull using a rocking motion with my wrist to hold it at the right angle for the fore and return strokes.

Well, I tried it.  Wow, it is much harder than I expected to scull effectively.   It will take some serious practice to learn to do it well.   Boot Key Harbor is a good place to practice that, but only when the stiff winds stop blowing.

I recall smirking at a few guests and relatives who discovered to their amazement that rowing with two oars is not trivially easy as they thought.  Now it's my turn.  Part of what I need to learn is the proper fulcrum point along the length of the oar.   Hopefully, before leaving Marathon I'll be a competent sculler, and so will Libby.

Thank you Dave.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Identify This Object

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W 

Here's a little contest.  Identify the object in this picture.  Hint: it is nautical.  Answer and story tomorrow.

Saturday, December 03, 2011


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Watch for us on the Marathon Web Cam here.
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Friday, December 02, 2011

The Weather Made Us Do It

At sea
24 42.36 N 080 59.65 W

We had grand plans to go slow and visit more places on the way. But yesterday was such a splendid sailing day and today is even better. Plus that, the Hawk Chanel is one of our favorite sailing places.  We couldn't resist.

We did make one change. Instead of sailing 24 hours straight, we stopped for the night at Rodriguez Key.  I screwed up and anchored in a place sheltered from wind but not from waves. The consequence was a very uncomfortable and insecure night. I had to sit up on anchor watch most of the night.  Oh well, nobody to blame but myself.

It was a clear day with blue sky. To our south are the nearly ever present thick clouds marking the Gulf Stream.  (A discovery of Benjamin Franklin)  I took one shot of the clouds for you to see. Then I did it again as a 180 degree panorama. You will have to click on the panorama to see the whole picture.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Color of Water

At Sea
25 13.25 N 080 18.04 W

What color is it?  For most substances or objects we see in every day life, that's a simple question.  A few things, like the sky, do shift colors.  Few or none of them match the variety of colors that water takes.  Black, grey, white, rad, brown, tan, green, grey-green, light green, turquoise, blue, light blue, gulf stream blue, and invisibly transparent, just to name a few.  Indeed, it's hard to think of a color that water does not take on in particular circumstances.

As for the water itself, there are only two variations; opaque and transparent.  WHen water is opaque (the real word for that is turbid) it takes on the color of the suspended particles or creatures that make it opaque.  It looks muddy when a lot of mud particles are suspended.  It looks red when it is full of red algae, and so on.  When we sail past the confluence of two rivers, the two different colors of the turbid water are very evident.

In the ocean, the salt water is mostly transparent or semi transparent.  The colors we see are produced by the depth of the water, the color of the sea bottom, and the angles of the impending light.  Most of the interesting colors we see start in South Florida and go sough from there.  North of that, the water us usually a boring grey or grey-green or brown.  In our 14 north/south migrations, we have come to associate particular colors with specific places.  Polynesians are reputed to be much more skilled at that; to the point where they can navigate ocean crossings using the color (and taste) of the sea water.

As we approached Fort Lauderdale yesterday, heading south, the water became dark blue.  Not the rich rich blue of the Gulf Stream, but nevertheless very nice.  Around Key Biscayne it became green.  That's because the waters are shallow and the bottom is sandy.  Today, we're sailing the Hawk Channel in the Florida Keys. There the water will become a beautiful turquoise color that we've learned to associate with the keys.  Florida Bay, on the other side of the keys, has it's own characteristic shade of green.

The most beautiful color of water is the deep deep rich blue of the Gulf Stream.  That color is almost impossible to describe, and difficult to photograph.  When sailors talk about blue water sailing, they refer to this deep blue of very transparent, very deep waters at low latitudes.  I can tell you that when we encounter blue water, our hearts are lifted with exuberance. It is unspeakably beautiful.  Blue water is not far away from us right now.  The Hawk Channel is a body of shallow water bounded by the Keys to the North and West and by a barrier reef to the South and East.  All we need to do is to cross that barrier reef and almost instantly, we are in blue water.  We can see the thick low clouds that mark the Gulf Stream just a few miles away.  We may take a short detour out there just to see blue water once again.

In the Bahamas and in the Virgin Islands, the water is so extraordinarily transparent, that the water becomes almost invisible.  We see the bottom clearly and the objects and creatures on the bottom.  It is like looking at an aquarium.  You don't see the water so much, you see the fish, the grass, and the sand on the bottom.  It takes some getting used to. Sailing on the Bahamian banks feels like flying an airplane just above the ground.  Often, a dark patch of grass looks like a rock sticking up to the surface and it scares us that we might run into it.  

Also in the Bahamas, all the waters are shallow.  One can navigate there by the color of the water.  Blue is deepest. Dark green is deeper than light green.  Brown colored water marks shallow coral.  Yellow water marks a shallow sand bar.  Sailors make ladder steps to climb halfway up the mast to spot water colors at a distance and thus navigate tricky areas.

At night the water is usually black.  In bright moonlight however it can become silvery.  On exceptionally clear moonless nights, starlight alone can make the surface silvery. We've been told that an exceptionally beautiful sight is the Bahamas Grand Banks under a full moon.  The moonlight reflects off the sandy bottom causing an eerie glow.  We haven't see that yet.

Human eyes don't see colors well at night,so the beauty comes through variations in the gray scale.  An exception is when sea creatures cause the sea to glow in the dark (i.e. to fluoresce) then it glows green or blue-green or yellow.  It's very beautiful. You may be surprised to hear it but the most florescence we've seen is off the coast of New Jersey.

Once in the Stockholm Archipelago in Sweden, at night, I saw a bright yellow line in the water.  It started at my eye and it ended just underneath Jupiter that was just above the horizon.  The yellow line was reflected Jupitershine -- outstanding.  (There was tragedy associated with that night, remind me someday and I'll blog that story.)

White water is associated with extreme turbulence.  Think of white water rafting.  To as sailor, whitecaps mark the tops of waves. White caps just begin to appear at 15 knots of wind, which is the ideal speed for sailing. More extensive white water also marks surf and extreme danger to sailboats.  A white-out at sea marks hurricane force winds when the air is filled with suspended droplets and you can see nothing but white in all directions.

Green water is also very scary to boaters. I don't mean the turquoise green but rather the forest green color of very big waves.  If a wave is so high that it gets between your eye and the sun it appears to be green.  That's scary because that green water is likely to come crashing down on your head in a few seconds.  I've seen green water at sea, but I've seen it much more often on Lake Champlain.

What's your favorite color of water?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Biscayne Bay
25 40.36 N 080 09.83 N

Ah what a pleasure that sail was.  When winds blow from the West here that makes an offshore breeze.  The winds can do what they will but the waves never build up.  In addition, we hug the beach coming south in this area to avoid north flowing currents.  They say if you get close enough to the beach so that the depth is 30 feet, you avoid most of the current.  Sometimes that's so close that it feels like one could step off the boat into the surf.

Anyhow, the wind direction and velocity were ideal.  We glided southward at 6-7 knots, with no rocking of the boat for many hours.   Around 3 AM the wind stopped and we had to motor.  Still, it was a fine passage.  26 hours from Vero Beach Marina to anchor down here in Biscayne Bay.

We had planned to go to Dinner Key, but as we got close our enthusiasm waned.  We woulld like peace, quiet and an nap.  Out here, near the famous Stiltsville, we will have a fine view of the sunset, a fine view of the Miami skyline at night, and lots of peace and quiet.   We could have gone in to No Name Harbor nearby, but then we would miss the views.  Winds will be <10 tonight, we do not need shelter.

You have probably seen pictures of Stiltsville many times.  It's pretty famous.  Perhaps you've seen it on CSI Miami's film clips.

Tomorrow's plan; who knows?

Stiltsville: "Crawfish" Eddie Walker built a shack on stilts above the water in 1933, toward the end of the prohibition era, allegedly to facilitate gambling, which was legal at one mile offshore. Crawfish Eddie sold bait and beer from his shack and was known for a dish he called chilau, a crawfish chowder made with crawfish he caught under his shack. Thomas Grady and Leo Edward, two of Eddie's fishing buddies, built their own shack in 1937. Shipwrecking and channel dredging brought many people to the area and more shacks were constructed, some by boating and fishing clubs. Local newspapers called the area "the shacks" and "shack colony".

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Escaped From Vero


I bet you thought we would get stuck in "velcro" beach for a few more months.  Well it is never easy to leave, but we did it.   We're motoring toward Fort Pierce right now.  After a final weather check, if everything goes right we'll go out to sea from Fort Pierce and head south.

Today looks like the beginning of a wonderful 5 day long window to sail South.  Not East to the Bahamas but rather South to the Keys.    We could probably be in Marathon in 36 hours, but we're in no hurry.  We would like to explore Conconut Grove and Biscayne Bay south of Miami.  Other cruisers speak well of the Dinner Key area.

I would also like to consider going to Marathon on the Bay side.   There's a lot more to see and more stops to make on the bay side of the keys.   In the past we've heard that it was too shallow and we were afraid of running aground.  The feedback from others is mixed.  Some day we can do it drawing 5 to 5.5 feet, others say no.   I'd appreciate some email and advice from others who have done it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I shoudn't be blogging this but ...

Vero Beach
27.39.56 N 080 22.27 W

This post is very technical. It isn't about sailboat cruising, but it might be revealing about me. If that doesn't suit you, stop reading now.

For as long as I remember, I think about certain things while trying to go to sleep. It is analogous to counting sheep, except that my tastes lead me to think about scientific puzzles. For the past two decades, one of my favorites has been trying to visualize what happens on a molecular scale when a giant star collapses in a type II supernova. Go ahead an laugh; it's true.

Anyhow, recently I greatly surprised myself by actually figuring out something about the physics. I discovered something. Let me be clear. I'm sure that my discovery is nothing new or remarkable to the the scientists who study such things. It might even be written in their elementary textbooks. However, it was not written in anything I ever read. The discovery was new to me.

What is it? I'll try to explain as briefly as possible.

Dust clouds collapse on themselves because of gravity. The cores are compresses. Compressing increases the pressure and temperature (P & T). At some point, P*T reaches the critical point for nuclear fusion. Hydrogen nuclei fuse to make Helium and energy is released. The process is exothermic, i.e. it releases energy. The energy released opposes further collapse and a semi-stable equilibrium is reaches. In other words, a star is born.

When all the H is consumed, collapse restarts. P*T increases until Helium fusion begins in the innermost core. This happens again and again, until the star looks like an onion, with layers of heavier elements at the center. See the picture.

When fusion of Si into Fe ceases, the cycle ends (because Fe fusion does not release more energy). What happen then is that the center of the star collapses. The product is a remnant neutron star (or a black hole) in the center plus a massive supernova explosion casting off all the outer layers. The mysterious part, and the subject my my nocturnal musings for decades is that the collapse and explosion happens so fast. Indeed it happens in 0.2 seconds. That sounds far too fast to be believable. How can that be?

Here is what I abruptly realized after two drowsy decades. During collapse, P*T becomes so extremely high, that the heavy nuclei get smashed and split up. Instead of nuclear fusion, we have nuclear fission. For those nuclei, all the energy released by the many cycles of fusion must be put back!!! Instead of exothermic, the process is endothermic i.e. it absorbs energy! Instead of resisting further collapse, it accelerates it. Ah so.

That's not all. P*T is still so high that free electrons begin fusing with protons. The product is a neutron and some neutrinos. Neutrinos are reluctant to interact with matter so they fly away out of the core at the speed of light. It takes only microseconds for the neutrinos to exit the core, carrying energy away with them. In terms of the remaining  core material, that process is also endothermic. It causes the speed of core collapse to redouble!  Ah so.

There you have it. Instead of core collapse being mitigated and slowed by negative feedback, it is exacerbated and accelerated by positive feedback. That is why it happens so unbelievably fast.  Ah so. That was my "discovery".  It startled me and made me sit up in bed.,

Thank you for your interest. I hope my explanation was entertaining and understandable. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving in Vero

Vero Beach
27.39.56 N 080 22.27 W

Thanksgiving is perhaps the USA's best holiday. It is the best day of the year to be with family. It is the one day of the year that we most regret being on the boat instead of with our family. Oh well, that doesn't mean we must be depressed and not have fun.

The weather here in Vero was splendid today. Perfect temperatures, blue sky and lots of sun. In the morning I went to the beach and waded barefoot in the surf for a while. It felt great.

This afternoon was the time for the annual cruiser's Thanksgiving pot luck dinner. Libby worked through the morning to help set it up, then she returned to the boat and cooked a turkey in the pressure cooker. I think it was our first attempt at that. It worked well. The turkey came out moist and flavorful.

A few years ago the pot luck dinner was a near disaster. That was because the food ran out before the line of hungry people had been fed their first serving. I think everybody remembers that, and they won't let that happen again. Today there was lots of food. Those who wished were able to get second plate fulls. It was a great success. Many thans to Deb and Bob who organized it.

I took some pictures. The slideshow is here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bucket List Item

Vero Beach
27.39.56 N 080 22.27 W

On board Tarwathie, we're engaged in preparations for the huge pot luck Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.   Meanwhile, I came across the following outstanding bit of film from NASA.

My bucket list? I'm living it out right now. However, I always had one dream that will never be fulfilled.  I dreamed of being in low earth orbit and spending a day just looking out the window at the earth below.  To buy that privilege, I would spend all my wordly assets and forfeit the rest of my life.  Alas, I'll never have the opportunity.  The film below however, just whets my appetite.  Click on it to watch the video, then click on the full-screen icon.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael K├Ânig on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pleasure Doing Business With You

Vero Beach
27.39.56 N 080 22.27 W

My Droid has been getting old and ready to retire.  The on/off button failed, then the volume up/down buttons, then the touch screen started going crazy.   I have the $2/month insurance so I could get a reconditioned Droid for a $50 deductible.  However, reconditioned is not new -- the next phone might not be much better than what I have and I might have needed yet another reconditioned one in a few months.   I decided to spend $100 for a new phone rather than $50 for a reconditioned Droid.

I got a new Pantech phone from the Verizon store at the mall.  I must say that Verizon is not dumb.  Their price for service is sky high.  Their service is good, but everyone loves to complain about the phone company.  However, when your 2 year contract is up and you're free to stay a Verizon customer or not, then they treat you like royalty.  They sold me a new phone for $99.  It is like the Droid but only half the weight (no keyboard) and with a brighter screen that easier to use in sunlight.  It is also faster and has a later release of Android software with many refined features.   

Best of all, they let me retain my $30/month unlimited data plan. That's $20-$40 dollars per month cheaper than data plans offered to new customers.

So far, all my old apps work, including the easytether app I use to slave my laptop to the phone.  There are Verizon tethering and mobile wifi hotpot apps included, but I'm highly suspicious of those.  I think they will charge me $20/month extra if I try to use those apps.  Indeed, I'm suspicious and resentful of all Verizon pre-installed apps.  I don't trust them, and they won't let me uninstall them.

I have to download my apps fresh, but so far the ones I paid money for before are smart enough to download for free this time.   

Total time in the store to choose and activate the new phone -- 20 minutes.  All that adds up to a pleasant customer experience.  Like I said, Verizon is not dumb.  They focus their efforts where it really counts.

Now it is Libby who has the biggest task of getting accustomed to the new phone.  It does not say DROID when I get a new email.   Does anyone know how to download that sound for a non-Droid brand Android phone?

 I could have switched to an iphone for the same money.  No thanks, I rebel at giving Apple monopoly power over what I can and can't do with my device.

UPDATE:  The Pantech had problems with the charge/recharge.  I looked up the problem online.  It seems that numerous users had the same problems. I went back to Verizon and exchanged it for a Samsung Droid.   That cost a bit more but it is a higher quality phone.  So now I still have Droid, but from a different manufacturer.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Street View: Date Palm Road

Vero Beach
27.39.56 N 080 22.27 W

The neighborhood behind the Vero marina and the beach is especially nice.  The houses are modest in size and highly varied.  The gardens and yards are exquisite and varied.  The dominant trees, life oaks, make it shady and beautiful.   

During the week the neighborhood is deserted, but around supper time, all the lights are on and the houses are filled with people.  That tells me that the residents are working people.  The homes are not second or third vacation homes for the super rich.

Some of the houses and grounds are meticulously maintained, as if the Mexican gardener is there every day.  Other houses and grounds look almost abandoned,  Once again, variety.

There seems to be an invisible line between Vero and Melbourne, only 15 miles north.   South of the line is subtropical.   All sorts of tropical plants grow here that can't survive colder climates.  Along the waterways, 100% of the shore lines are overgrown with mangroves.  North of Vero, mangroves become increasingly rare until Matanzas.  Matanzas seems to be the northernmost extent of mangroves in Florida, and only the red mangrove species grows there.  Anyhow, the tropical climate in Vero makes the plant life especially beautiful.

The other day I walked up Date Palm Road.  It runs from the Vero marina and the ICW on one end, to the Atlantic Ocean on the other end.   Then I walked back on Euginia Road.  Along the way I snapped almost every house -- Google Street View style.   The slide show here shows the best shots.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Vero Beach
27.39.56 N 080 22.27 W

What have we wrought?   Cheryl called Libby to say that she brought some of her baskets to a gift shop where Cheryl sell her home made soaps.  The gift store sold out the baskets in no time and asked for more -- all they could get.   Poor Libby, it drove her into a frenzy.

Since last summer, Libby has been basketing full speed to keep up with our social life.  You see, those baskets make perfect house gifts when we are invited to dinner.   But now with this store thing the demand doubled and redoubled.

Don't get me wrong, she still loves doing it.   It hasn't become a burden yet.  But the pace recently has been frenzied.

Below is the next batch we'll be sending to that store.  I really love how unique each basket is.  No two alike.  Libby says that she just starts and that the basket tells her how it wants to look.   She's also getting better at ending -- that is finishing the last row so smoothly that it's hard to tell where it ends.

I think that after sending this batch off, she'll slow down for a while.

Now below is something completely different.  That basket was a gift to Libby from her friend Mary Ann.  It is about the size and shape of Libby's baskets, but this one is made of multi-color telephone wire from Africa.  She loves it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Vero Beach
27.39.56 N 080 22.27 W

Vero Beach is a great place to meet cruisers of all kinds.   A large fraction of East Coast cruisers are heading directly for the Bahamas.   Few go to Marathon, but almost all of them stop in Vero.   Of course we meet veteran cruisers here, but I notice that every year there is a larger proportion of rookies than veterans.  The total population of cruisers does not seem to be cruising.  Therefore, many of these rookies must give up after the first season. What can we conclude from that?

The cruising life is not agreeable to everyone.   The freedom of movement and the simplification of life style veteran cruisers find to be the greatest appeal.   To others however, they experience it seen as estrangement from family and friends, and deprivation of the accustomed comforts of modern life.  We do after all, live most of our lives in a 10x15 foot area for two people smaller than a typical jail cell for one person.  What can we say about that?  To each their own.

It must also be true that many of these rookie cruisers have no intention of making it a life style.  They are on a once-in-a-lifetime extended vacation.   Some of them must be fulfilling a major bucket list item.  Good for them I say.  They are out there doing it rather than staying at home wishing they were doing something different.   

It must also be true that the terrible economy has a major effect.  Libby and I had no idea how lucky we were to get rid of our house and cars and other possessions in 2005, before the bad economy.  In today's markets it might be nearly impossible for people to extract themselves from the constraints of property ownership and the employment treadmill.   For those people we can do nothing more than express sympathy.  It would be very frustrating to have the will and the means to cruise, yet to be unable to escape another life style.

A final possibility is that some of these rookies are following my advice.   Very often we meet people who would like to cruise, but who are not confident that both husband and wife will like it.   I advise them to try it for one winter season.  The 80-20 rule should apply.  After one season, 80% of the trial cruisers will know better if they want more.  The ones who do, can try again for a full year.   After that there should only be 4% still undecided.  We've been told, that the magic number seems to be two years.  After two years of cruising, just about everyone is decided -- they either like it or they don't.

Did I talk about financial exploitation of these rookies by the magazines, and by the sellers of marine equipment?  I'll save that for another day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Work Ethic

Vero Beach
27.39.56 N 080 22.27 W

It's hard to maintain a work ethic down here.  

Yesterday I intended to realign the engine.  However, it was such a spelendid day weather wise, that I talked Libb6y into going to the beach instead.  We spent a couple of hours walking barefoot in the sand up to our ankles in water.  The water was warm.  It would have been good for swimming but the high surf red flags were still out.  Anyhow, it was a great day.  The beach here at Vero is really nice.

Today I resolved to do the alignment.   However, first thing in the morning I had to run the engine to charge the batteries.   Then the engine block was hot.  I had to wait 3 hours for it to cool.  I worked on the job for two hours.  I felt a lack of confidence that I was doing it right.   Around noon, an opressively hot sun swung around just enough to make it very hot in the cockpit.  I knocked off for the day.   Later that afternoon I ran into Tom.  Tom said that he's alighed several engines and would be glad to help.   That is after he's had a few days to get settled after arriving in Vero.  I guess the job won't get done for a few daya more.

On the other hand, we're retired.  We have no schedule. We are not up on the hard in a dusty boat yard.  Why should we follow a work ethic?