Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's That?

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

What do you suppose this apparition is?  Why is this guy wrapped in a flag?

No, he is not doing something political.  He is trying to use his laptop computer out in the bright sunlight in a place where he found (a) an electrical outlet and (b) an unsecured WIFI signal.   That is part of normal life for many of us cruisers.

Actually, I've been there and done that many times.  I think there may even be pictures of me in the archives of this blog sitting on a grass lawn under a blanket trying to use my computer.   Nowadays, I've graduated to elite status.  When I can't sit in an easy chair at a library to use their WIFI, I just use my phone to couple my laptop to the Internet using 3G instead of WIFI.   I also have a laptop with pretty good battery life so I can get useful stuff done without an electrical outlet.  

Actually if I'm just reading or watching video, it is easiest to use the phone and skip the laptop.  I can watch a movie while  swinging in a hammock under the canvas tarp up on the fore deck.  That's the ultimate in decadent pleasure.

It is interesting to think how fast things have changed,  just 7 years ago when we started cruising, even WIFI was rare.  I either had to find a hard-wired internet connection, or use a phone dial-up.   The only widespread wireless solution back then was Blackberry.  I do however, remember Robb a friend at work, using his cell phone as a modem way back in 2005.  He was way ahead of his time.

Many cruisers in those days had pocket email devices about the size of a smart phone today.   You could use the device to compose your email, then dial-up your ISP and simply hold the device up to the telephone handset.  It looked very strange to see people standing there doing that.  Now, I haven't seen one of those devices in several years.  I assume they are mostly gone to the trash heap.

Free WIFI doesn't reach to most places out in the harbor, but there is an expensive, slow and unreliable WIFI service from Maricoms.   It appears that many cruisers use that rather than bring their computers ashore for free WIFI.   Evidently, people are willing to pay lots for convenience.   Many smart entrepreneurs got rich providing convenience.

Note that all the above relates to coastal cruisers like ourselves.   Blue water cruisers, and those who circumnavigate have to learn to get along without the Internet and without their smart phone apps most days.  One can send and receive text emails via SSB (single sideband radio) but that's expensive and very limited in what you can do.  I do it to post blogs and to receive weather data, but I still miss the full blown net.

What does the future hold?  Wonderful wireless things for most of us, but probably no improvement at all for sailboats thousands of miles from land.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Wonderful Mystery

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Wow.  Here's something completely unexpected and a real life mystery.  I suppose it has something to do with convection cells but in total I find it baffling.

 Rather than explain it myself, I'm pasting the explanation from APhttp://apod.nasa.gov/apod/OD below.

Saturn's Hexagon Comes to Light 
Image Credit: Cassini Imaging TeamSSIJPLESANASA

Explanation: Believe it or not, this is the North Pole of Saturn. It is unclear how an unusual hexagonal cloud system that surrounds Saturn's north pole was created, keeps its shape, or how long it will last. Originally discovered during the Voyager flybys of Saturn in the 1980s, nobody has ever seen anything like it elsewhere in the Solar System. Although its infrared glow was visible previously to the Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn, in 2009 the mysterious hexagonal vortex became fully illuminated by sunlight for the first time during the Cassini's visit. Since then, Cassini has imaged the rotating hexagon in visible light enough times to create a time-lapse movie. The pole center was not well imaged and has been excluded. Thismovie shows many unexpected cloud motions, such as waves emanating from the corners of the hexagon. Planetary scientists are sure to continue to study this most unusual cloud formation for quite some time.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Florida Bay

Florida Bay

We left Boot Key Harbor and went out in Florida Bay for a couple of days.   It was a great change of pace.

What is Florida Bay?  It is the body of water bordered on the South and East by the Keys and on the North and East by the Florida mainland.  It's very big, roughly 800 square miles.  It is very shallow, averaging perhaps 8 feet in depth.   In many ways Florida Bay is like the Bahamian Grand Banks.  Indeed, I have no doubt that the Bahamian Banks, Florida Bay and the entire Florida Peninsula must have common geological backgrounds.  They are so much alike, differing mainly in an elevation difference of 10 meters or less.

However, the Bahamian Banks are mostly covered in naked white sand, Florida Bay's floor is a mud/sand mixture and much is covered with sea grass.   In fact that made a problem for us.  It was hard to find a sandy spot to drop our anchor.  The sea grass is protected and one must not anchor in it.

Similarly, many of the pristine islands in the area are protected wildlife habitats and people are not allowed to go ashore.  Libby had her eye on one called Little Pine Key because it might be a source of pine needles, but alas it is one of the protected ones.

Still, the water out there is very clear (not as clear as the Bahamas) and delightfully warm for swimming.  One of our objectives was to do some bottom scraping.  Our propeller in particular was buried in a mound of barnacles. It is still the old propeller, we haven't installed the new one yet.   I did accomplish that, but I made a beginner's mistake.  To prepare I laid out my bathing suit, mask, snorkel, gloves, shoes and scraper.  But when I went it the water I forgot to put on the gloves.  As a result, my knuckles were cut and bleeding.  Barnacles have razor sharp edges that cut so easily.

Not to worry.  I soaked the cuts in alcohol and put on bandages.  Today, they are almost healed already.

We also made a second mistake, but this time it was hard to foresee.   To gain shelter from the forecasted winds we anchored on the opposite side of Coconut Key than where we usually do.  See the picture.  X marks Pigeon Key where I went to a festival last week.  Y marks where we anchored two days ago, and Z marks where we anchored last spring when Jenny was here.  

It turns out that Y had terrible holding.  We had trouble getting the anchor to bite.  We finally managed with 100 feet of chain out in 7 foot deep water.   Then a squall came through with strong winds from the wrong direction.  Then and all through the night, we found that this particular spot is a channel for tidal currents.  For the most part, tides and tidal currents are not much of a factor in Florida Bay.  For some strange reason that I can't explain, this exact spot saw 2-3 knot currents both on flood and ebb.  It was not safe for swimming. We spent a restless night worrying about the security of our anchor.  Just 1/4 mile away at point Z, currents are negligible, but because of a shoal, we couldn't get there directly.

We moved to another place and anchored near a string of lobster traps.  We hoped to buy some lobsters from the fishermen when they tended the traps. Alas, they never came.  I wonder how many days they go before checking those traps.

Oh well, there will be other days and other places in the Bay to explore.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Opus Alveus

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Well, it's finally done.  For the past month, Libby has been working monomaniacally on a very big pine needle basket project.  It is a set of four dinner-plate size place mats.   They turned out very beautiful -- at least I think so.   Her work keeps getting better and better.

However I don't think she'll tackle such a big project again any time soon.  It used up all the needles we had on board, and also 500-600 yards of thread.  That's a lot of stitching.  She didn't do it alone.  Libby's friends Sandra and Sharron also shared the work.

They are headed way up north to our friend Terri.  In this case, way up north, means Jacksonville, Florida.

p.s. We're headed out to remote regions of Florida Bay for a couple of days.  Perhaps no blogs.

Also on the basket front, Libby is having fun teaching other cruiser ladies about pine needle basket making up at the marina.   She had been trying to keep it limited to 3-4 ladies at a time by invitation only.  However, she did something imprudent.  She announced a schedule change to the baskets session on the Cruiser's Net.  That let the secret out to the whole harbor.  Yesterday, she was overwhelmed by 15 students.   Once again, her friends Sharron and Sandra lept in with helping hands.  They taught the advanced students while Libby did the beginners.

Is Libby feeling put out by all this stuff?  Not at all.  She seems to thrive on the demand, the purpose of action, and the praise she gets.   I think she's found her niche.  Needing to manage the size and scope of the projects is a nice problem to have.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Weekend

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Friday night was still, warm, benign and moonless.  Perfect conditions for Libby's minor passion -- rowing at night.   She took the dinghy out alone just before midnight and spent a very nice hour just touring the harbor by herself in silence.  Such moments are great for the soul.  I'm so happy that Libby gets chances to indulge it.  We are also so lucky to be in a place where the weather and public safety makes it possible to do.

On Sunday we went to a special show at the Community Theater.  This year is the 100th anniversary of the completion of Flagler's East Coast Railroad to Key West.  Naturally, that was an event of enormous importance to the Keys and to the State of Florida.  Jellinek's performance was excellent.  If you ever get the chance to see Jellinek's show, take it.

This one-man show of two acts tells the fascinating story of the man who started it all with the creation of the Florida East Coast Railway. 
About “Henry Flagler”: Paul J. Jellinek, as Henry M. Flagler, has been performing for the past few years in numerous venues throughout the Southeastern coast of Florida, and had been active in theatre for more than 40 years having portrayed “Daddy Warbucks” in Annie; “Don Quixote” in Man of La Mancha; “Nicky Arnstein” in Funny Girl; “Bo Decker” in Bus Stop and more. Originally from Vermont, Jellinek currently lives in Palm Coast, Florida. 
Jellinek wrote “Wild Dreams,” the title of his Henry M. Flagler presentation, in collaboration with Ms. Jill Kamp Melton, the founder and artistic director of American Showcase Company in Alexandria, VA. He was directed by Ms. Anne Kraft, a founder of The Limelight Theatre in St. Augustine, Florida.

Monday, January 23, 2012

If I Were a Young Man

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

My head swam with the sound of Zero Mostel singing "If I Were a Rich Man"  except that I sang young instead of rich.  I was reading a story in the New York Times, called "How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work"   It reminded me of another article I read in Atlantic Monthly a few years back.  

Both articles dealt with Asia, especially China, and how the dynamics of their industrial/commercial/engineering culture is booming.  It reminded me so much of the euphoria I remember of the 50's 60's and 70's in America.  I was a part of it back then, as a young hotshot engineer on the top of his game and partaking in the building of an exciting new upbeat future for the world.   I was an engineer by training, but computers and software were my thing.  It was the ground floor of the information age and I was so thrilled to be a part of it.

The analogous ground floor for the 21st century is happening right now in Asia.  It is so exciting to read about it.  I can't help wishing that I was a young hotshot engineer once again but this time living and working in China rather than here.  

Last summer I repeated that wish out loud to a friend who is still active as an engineering consultant who has known me since the start of my career.  He was recently returned from business trips to India and China. His reply really rocked me on my heels.  He said, "You better be damned good or you won't get a job there."  The implication is that these Asian engineers are so sharp and so dedicated that America's best trained engineers have trouble competing.  Wow; what a shock.

Think also on the global scale.  Those people building a new economy in Asia are not going to slow down a bit to respect the environment or to conserve scarce planetary resources.  They are going to grow unchecked for a long time before they begin to slow down.

I really recommend the article. Get a glimpse of the future.  Read it here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Health Fair

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

We've often said that Marathon offers a lot for cruisers.  It's true.  However, one thing stands out as truly unique -- The annual Health Fair.

Here's how it works.  Medical students from the University of Miami need practice on/with real people.  Unlucky people get to be dissected post mortem.  Luckier ones, like us, get to go to the health fair.   

The health fair is open to anybody. No charge; no ID.  no SSN required.  They check vitals, glucose, cholesterol, dermatology, male or female exam (your choice), eyes, dental, even mental health.   The fair does not provide treatment, but rather screening.  It does what an annual physical exam used to do.  

The students are supervised by doctors.  At the conclusion, you take your file and your results to the checkout. There, they recommend further treatment or exams if indicated and a doctor review signs off on the whole thing.

The only down side to it is that there is a whole lot of waiting in long, slow-moving lines.   It took me four hours to get through.   The waits indicate the weakest point in these students' training --- organizing large groups of people and administering the waiting room.   From what I remember about doctor office waiting rooms, it is a deficiency that lasts a lifetime.

Anyhow, full time cruisers like us have a big problem with doctor visits.  We are nomads.  It is very difficult for us to have a primary care physician, or even to choose a city and state in which to seek one.  If we do something that requires follow-up visits, it really disrupts our lives.   Two years ago we got stuck in Vero the whole winter because of precisely that problem.  If you just pick a local doctor by throwing darts at the yellow pages, you get the most expensive and probably ineffective of all types of care; yet that's what cruisers face.  Therefore if I may speak for all cruisers in Boot Key Harbor, I say "Thank you UofM.  Your healh fair is much appreciated."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Key West for a Day

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

We rode the bus to Key West yesterday.   That's much more convenient than bringing Tarwathie to Key West.  From all we hear, Key West is a terrible place to anchor or moor.  An the bus fare for seniors is only $1.50.  It's a no brainer.

Down there we had lunch with Jenny's Vermont friend Mary Ann, and her nephew Johnathan.  It was great to see Mary Ann again.   She summers on Grand Isle in Vermont and winters in Key West; perfect way to do it.

Then we scouted the galleries and stores up and down Duval street for pine needle baskets.  We were curious as to their artistry and selling prices.  We only found one store that had several baskets.  Their artistry was fine and their prices sky high.  For example, the one in the picture below.  About 5 inches in diameter and $160 for the price.  Libby's stuff is every bit as nice, although she uses thread rather than rafia.  I wonder if rafia adds substantially to the value in people's minds.

After that we just had fun visiting places and snapping photos of fun things that we texted to our granddaughters in real time. What a shame it is so hard to get here for school girls. They have their school schedules, and although it would be simple for them to fly to Orlando, it is much more difficult to get to the keys.

Her Name is Princess

In the clutches of sponge monster

Dick with nautical friends

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Arts of the Sailor

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

I try.  I also improve at the arts of the sailor with practice.  However, I'm still humbled by how short I come up compared to the skills of my predecessors and my contemporaries.

It was time to prepare some new dock lines.  In the first picture below, you see one of the old dock lines with whipping prepared by Al Hatch, the previous owner of Tarwathie.  In the second picture, you see one of the new ones with whipping prepared by me.  I used Al's model and a book on splicing and whipping as my guides.  Try as I might, I guarantee that Al's will prove much more durable than mine.



I should also point out that it could be worse. I've been told that "modern" sailors eschew such old fashioned things as whipping and use more "modern" methods such as dipping the end in liquid silicone rubber. To that, I say balderdash.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

I am stunned with disbelief at this radio transcript. The head of the rescue corps is talking with the captain of the Cosco Concordia.  Bear in mind that as this conversation transpired, people were dying.

De Falco:  "This is De Falco speaking from Livorno. Am I speaking with the commander?"
Schettino:  "Yes. Good evening, Cmdr. De Falco."
De Falco:  "Please tell me your name."
Schettino:  "I'm Cmdr. Schettino, commander."
De Falco:  "Schettino? Listen Schettino. There are people trapped on board. Now you go with your boat under the prow on the starboard side. There is a pilot ladder. You will climb that ladder and go on board. You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear? I'm recording this conversation, Cmdr. Schettino…"
Schettino:  "Commander, let me tell you one thing…"
De Falco:  "Speak up! Put your hand in front of the microphone and speak more loudly, is that clear?"
Schettino:  "In this moment, the boat is tipping…"
De Falco:  "I understand that, listen, there are people that are coming down the pilot ladder of the prow. You go up that pilot ladder, get on that ship and tell me how many people are still on board. And what they need. Is that clear? You need to tell me if there are children, women or people in need of assistance. And tell me the exact number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Listen Schettino, that you saved yourself from the sea, but I am going to… I'm going to make sure you get in trouble. …I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board, (expletive)!"
Schettino:  "Commander, please…"
De Falco:  "No, please. You now get up and go on board. They are telling me that on board there are still…"
Schettino:  "I am here with the rescue boats, I am here, I am not going anywhere, I am here…"
De Falco:  "What are you doing, commander?"
Schettino:  "I am here to coordinate the rescue…"
De Falco:  "What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from aboard the ship. Are you refusing?"
Schettino:  "No, I am not refusing."
De Falco:  "Are you refusing to go aboard commander? Can you tell me the reason why you are not going?"
Schettino:  "I am not going because the other lifeboat is stopped."
De Falco:  "You go aboard. It is an order. Don't make any more excuses. You have declared 'abandon ship.' Now I am in charge. You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me? Go, and call me when you are aboard. My air rescue crew is there."
Schettino:  "Where are your rescuers?"
De Falco:  "My air rescue is on the prow. Go. There are already bodies, Schettino."
Schettino:  "How many bodies are there?"
De Falco:  "I don't know. I have heard of one. You are the one who has to tell me how many there are. Christ."
Schettino:  "But do you realize it is dark and here we can't see anything…"
De Falco:  "And so what? You want go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!"
Schettino:  "…I am with my second in command."
De Falco:  "So both of you go up then … You and your second go on board now. Is that clear?"
Schettino:  "Commander, I want to go on board, but it is simply that the other boat here … there are other rescuers. It has stopped and is waiting…"
De Falco:  "It has been an hour that you have been telling me the same thing. Now, go on board. Go on board! And then tell me immediately how many people there are there."
Schettino:  "OK, commander"
De Falco:  "Go, immediately!"

Yet Another Project

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

My project for today is to replace all the toggle switches on our boat's electrical system.  I had two of the old switches start giving trouble.  That's a sign that all needed replacing.  These switches are not specifically designed for marine use, therefore they are subject to E-wasting disease.  

As you can see in the pictures, space is really cramped in there.  The switches are closely packed, the wires even more so, and the screws that fasten them are very tiny.  Since I'm so subject to the dropsies,
this was not a pleasant job for me.  I figure that I must have dropped those screws more times than there are stars in the sky.  I took the pictures when the job was half done.  See the old corroded switches and the shiny new ones.

Actually I would have liked to modernize the system and replaced all those switches and fuses with circuit breakers.  It might have been posssible, but I'm skeptical about fitting them all in the same panel space as the old switches.   

You see, projects on a boat can get out of hand quickly.  If I had to move all or part of the panel, I would have to move the wiring bundles to them.   They likely would be a different length, so I would have to replace at least some of the wires.  Access to those wires is under the starboard fuel tank.  I would have to remove the tank first.  The tank in turn is enclosed in carpentry that forms the engine compartment and starboard lazarette locker. I would have to tear out and replace that old carpentry.   Carpentry is the one thing I fear most on the boat.  I have zero woodworking skills or tools.   

p.s. My missing wallet was found and turned into the Marina Office by persons unknown.  Everything is intact.  I love cruisers.  They are so honest and so helpful.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Limitations of White Chocolate as a Medium of Currency

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W 

I can't find my wallet since last Thursday.  We keep checking the banks and credit card companies.  So far nobody is stealing my money.  Therefore, we're not panicked yet.  Our theory is that it is someplace aboard the boat.  If you think that things can't really get lost aboard a little boat, think again.

Anyhow, as a temporary wallet, I am using a plastic sandwich bag. I protects stuff, it folds and stores easily in my pocket.   Last night, we went out for a night at the movies.  We left in a bit of a hurry, after dark, with the lights out.  I grabbed my sandwich bag on the way out of the boat and put it in my pocket.  I got to the theater, ordered two tickets, and grabbed my bag to pay.  I pulled out of my pocket a sandwich bag with bits of white chocolate.  Whoops, wrong bag.  They didn't work as currency.

Anyhow, Libby paid, and we saw the new Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movie.  It was good.  We both read all three of the Millennium Trilogy books and loved them.  We also saw the three Swedish made movies about LIsbeth and hated them.  It's remarkable that we're so interested in Lisbeth's story that we're watching a third set of productions  of the same stories.

By the way, if you're unfamiliar with the whole Millennium Trilogy, I recommend the books.  Skip the movies.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pigeon Key

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

This week they celebrate the 100th anniversary of Flagler's railroad that ran all the way to Key West.  Part of his railroad path was the famous Seven Mile Bridge running from Vaca Key to Bahia Honda Key.   You may have seen that bridge used as a prop in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie True Lies.  Anyhow, under the bridge, not far from Marathon is the tiny island Pigeon Key.  The ramp connecting  Pigeon Key  to the bridge has been closed, but they got a special variance for this weekend.  I went there with Robert and Sandra from Carpe Diem.

It was a fine day out at the Island.  Not much of Flagler's specific history was visible, but otherwise it was nice -- like a company picnic or a fireman's field day.  They had sack races, and other attractions for kids,  live music, booths and exhibits for adults.

Below is a short slide show from the event.  Many more Google images of  Pigeon Key  are here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Also The Dawns

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W 

Sunsets here in The Keys are famous.  But the dawns are also great.  Towit today:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Old Salt New Trick

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. How about an old salt?  Also, what are the chances of me inventing a boat handling technique that I have not seen before used on another boat.  It all sounds improbable.  Nonetheless, I think I did it.

We always had a problem of where and how to tie the dinghy to Tarwathie overnight.  If we tie it along side the gate in the lifelines, it rubs against the paint.  Even with fenders to protect the paint, it rubs on the same spot year after year until the paint is damaged.  We have such damage.  Not only that, but the dinghy rocks more violently in heavy weather on the side.  A month or so ago it chaffed through the dinghy painter.    

Most sailboats have squared off transoms, or they at least don't have a Monitor self-steering gear hanging off the stern.  They tie their dinghies behind them just fine.  We do that too in strong winds.  However when the winds slack off, or weaken to less force than the current, our dinghy moves forward, it works it's bow under the Monitor, then it starts banging; damaging both the dinghy and the Monitor.  The banging wakes me up.  I have to get out of bed, get the boat hook, disentangle the dinghy from the Monitor, then retie the dinghy on the side.  I'd much rather sleep.

Other friends on W32's tie the dinghy on the side but way back so that the stern of the dinghy and Tarwathie's stern are about equal.  That works better but it still rubs.  Starting from that though, I found a new method.

See the picture.  I tied the dinghy to Tarwathie starboard side with two lines, one in the bow and the other in the stern.  Then I adjusted the lengths of those lines such that the dinghy points about 20 degrees more to starboard than Tarwathie.  That puts the dinghy on port tack.  The wind blows it away from the hull.  It doesn't touch at all.  It almost never bumps into the Monitor.  As Tarwathie swings from side to side at anchor, the dinghy swings with it.  The chaffing load on the lines are much reduced. Tied with two lines, the dingy is more secure than if it were tied with one line.

I've been doing this for a couple of weeks.  It worked every time; all night, no wind, weak wind, and stronger winds.  Last night we had near gale winds for about 3 hours.  Then my method broke down and didn't work. The waves pushed the dinghy against the hull.  I had to move the dinghy astern.  So I guess it can be said that the method works almost all the time.

Is it possible, that this is really new?  Have any of you seen other boats tie their dinghies this way?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Salts and Saltines

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Yesterday I attended a seminar on Celestial Navigation.  It was very interesting.  Not because of the celistial stuff (which I've heard before), but rather because the captain who presented was a genuine old salt.  Sorry, I did not catch his name.

As he spoke, ostensibly about things celestial, he revealed much about the life nautical in the merchant marine.   He found it intuitively simple to use different navigation techniques in the Tropics, as compared to the North Sea near Norway.   He discussed ways to find pawn shops in port cities where mariners hock their sextants.   He talked about being a third mate being tutored by a more experienced captain.  He talked about equipment and methods of navigation adapted to WWII life rafts and WWII submarines.  He described how some of the navigation methods were discovered superstitiously by past navigators and captains.   In other words, he knew the life nautical in depth.  Total immersion. No matter what subject was being discussed, he couldn't help revealing the mariner's perspective.

I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It is one of the pleasures of cruising to be able to rub shoulders with such original characters.

In parallel with that, Libby restarted her pine needle basket lessons to ladies from the harbor she's made friends with.  Libby really loved doing that last year, and I'm glad she started again.

If the navigation man and I are old salts, what should we call Libby and her friends; old saltines?   No no, I would never do that.  They are a lovely, lively, sexy gang of girls.

We also make two runs to Big Pine Key this week with help from friends Sandra and Bob who have a car here.   She picked up seven paper bags full of high quality needles.  That's a good thing because a massive pine needle project she's working on had depleted her supply (I'll blog about that when she's ready.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Dropsies

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W 

Many a time, I've said on this blog that you can not live on a boat unless you are ready to deal with a never ending list of maintenance chores.   Even rich people with big yachts, even those with brand new boats, will find that things break, and that other things need regular maintenance to keep from breaking.  If you're really rich, you can hire crew to do it for you.  Still, one way or another it must get done.

Actually, real boaters love doing all that stuff.  When they sit around having drinks, they love telling each other about their latest projects in great detail, and when friends are invited over, the men are invited to inspect the captain's latest handiwork.   Hell if you don't like working on your boat, you certainly won't enjoy living on it.

Last night, I had to unclog a blocked toilet.  First time since moving on board nearly 7 years ago.   It was ugly.  Really ugly.  To ugly to discuss on this blog.

But my real subject today is amazement over how I can get along year after year doing all those maintenance projects when I'm such a klutz.   Every time I work with small stuff, like screws and nuts, I drop them.  In the engine compartment, they fall into the Netherlands underneath the engine where they are the devil to find and retrieve.  Never mind.  I do find them and do retrieve them, then I turn around and drop them again; sometimes 3-4 times before I manage to get the screw in the hole.

The other day I was working on wiring in the engine compartment.  Something I did down there screwed things up and my attempts at remedies, keep causing additional problems because I'm so clumsy.  I seem to be making negative project in the last several days.  Anyhow while searching for a nylon washer that I had dropped under the engine, the Honda generator sputtered and died.  I went up to look and I saw gasoline streaming out of the generator housing.

Leaking gas is something that can not wait to be fixed.  I quickly untied the safety rope that secured the generator up on the bowsprit, moved it down to the deck, opened it up, diagnosed the problem (gas was coming out of the overflow tube on the carburetor which means the carburetor float must be stuck.) I fixed it quickly. When I went to return the generator to it's spot on the bowsprit, I saw that the blue canvas cover with the letters HONDA on it was missing.  It was tied with the same safety rope that secures the generator.  The cover must have gone overboard. Oh no.  What a klutz.  (The next day someone on the Cruiser's Net said they found the cover floating 1/4 mile away, so I got it back.  Who would think those things float?)

Family and friends who knew my father before he passed away know that I'm his spitting image.  His hobby was clock and watch making.  He did fantastic things with those tiny parts.  Me; whenever I try to do something small and delicate with my hands, I have to concentrate so hard that my blood pressure soars, my hands start to tremble and I drop what I'm holding on the floor.   The same thing happens when I try to help Libby with her stitching on the pine needle baskets.  Whatever gene my father had that allowed him to do that stuff (call it the brain surgeon gene), I didn't get a copy.

If I was a mechanic working for hire, I'd be fired after the first hour.  However, as a boat owner. I need only persevere.  Eventually, I muddle on through all of those projects.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Front Row Seat

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Friday night sunset looking West.

Friday night sunset, looking Southeast.

Saturday morning sunrise, looking Southeast.

Friday and Saturday have been mostly cloudless days.  Why then the heavy bank of clouds seen in the above two photos looking Southeast?   The answer is that it is a nearly perpetual bank of clouds directly over the Gulf Stream.  That's how close we are here in Marathon.  

I'm a power engineer by background.  Therefore, I love it having a front row center street watching the biggest power engine in the world.   What I'm talking about is the Gulf Stream.  

The Gulf Stream moves 30 million cubic feet (850 thousand cubic meters)  of water per second past me here in Boot Key Harbor.  Off the coast of Newfoundland, the flow is five times larger. Compare that with 0.6 million cusec as the total flow of all rivers emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.     

The water is also warm, so energy in the form of heat is also transported.  Energy transport per unit of time is defined as power.  The Gulf Stream carries lots of power.  Lots and lots.  The total power in the Gulf Stream is 1.4 petawatts.  That's the equivalent of the power generating capacity of 1.4 million of the largest nuclear power plants.  It is 100 times more than the total power demand of men on the whole planet.  Wow that's a lot of power.

That much power is enough to give renewable energy enthusiasts wet dreams.  However, the power is not so easy to exploit for our own purposes.   The water in the Gulf Stream is only a few degrees warmer than the ambient water or air temperatures.  Therefore the Carnot efficiency of a heat engine using that temperature difference would be so low, that such a heat engine would be impractical to make.  (For the benefit of those who never had a course in thermodynamics or who slept through their course, the Carnot efficiency is the maximum theoretical efficiency.  Any real life engine is necessarily worse than a Carnot engine.)

There could be another problem.  If we extracted a large fraction of the Gulf Stream's power, or if we disrupted the flow it would cause global climate changes so big as to make the current greenhouse gas caused changes seem like child's play.  Actually the Gulf Stream is only part of a global circulation pattern of ocean currents that transport heat and salt through all the world's oceans.  Especially in the Northern Hemisphere, all the coastal climates in all countries are heavily dependent on those currents.  

Anyhow, if we did have a practical way of extracting even 1% of that power, we could replace all other energy sources.   If we could do it, we would, but we don't, therefore we can't.  (Ugh what an ugly sentence, but it speaks precisely to my point.)

But for me, as a power engineer, it is a wonderful privilege to be able to sit here and see the visible evidence of nature's colossal power plant at work.  The word awesome is much overused in today's world, but it applies here.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Florida is Big

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Florida is a very big state.  So big, that there seems to be ast least three climate zones.  Look at the three weather forecasts below.  Marathon/Vero/Fernandina   south/mid/north.

Nighttime temperatures here in the keys are significantly warmer than in Vero.  Up in Fernandina, both  day and night temperatures are lower.  Indeed, it even freezes up there.  We heard that in December 2010, the fountain in Saint Augstine froze.  Brrrrrrrrrrrrr.

It reminds me a big of living in Sweden.  There, the weather reports have to give sunrise/sunset times in three north-south zones.   Kiruna, the northernmost big city is above the arctic circle, so for portions of the year, their sunrise/sunset times are listed on the weather report as ---

I learned to sail in Sweden.  In the summer it was great.  I could work a full 8 hour day, then go out and sail for 10 hours, and still be home before dark.  In June, Libby and I could sit on our balcony with a drink.  We could see the sun go down and back up again before we could finish the drink.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Vergennes Story

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

I never told the complete story about Vergennes and Hurricane Irene from last summer.

Just to review; the free docks on Otter Creek in Vergennes is one of our favorite places to visit in summer.  Everything about it is nice.  The ride up Otter Creek.  The picturesque setting, and the charms of Vermont's smallest city.  It is also well sheltered with towering hills surrounding in all directions.  I think I remarked before that a hurricane could pass overhead and we would hardly notice it in there.

However, in face of the approaching storm, we decided instead to ride it out at anchor in Porter Bay nearby.  That worked fine.  There was only one other boat within 1/2 mile of us in Porter Bay.  We were perhaps the safest people in the whole state.   Other boats chose to seek shelter in the "hurricane hole" in Vergennes.  Big mistake.

Why was that a mistake?  Because Otter Creek extends another 100 miles or so upstream of Vergennes.  It drains an enormous basin of mountainous territory.   Thus, soon after the storm passed, the flood waters reached Vergennes.

We visited there, 10 days after the storm, and took the pictures below.  That was just a day or so before Tropical Storm Lee dumped more rain and the creeks swelled once again.  I think the trawler was stuck there for three weeks.

We  talked to the boaters there and this is what they told us.

All the places at the docks were taken by boats seeking shelter.  Several had to be turned away as nobody was willing to raft.  One such boat was the Lois McClure, an 88 foot replica of an 1862 canal schooner.   The boats were tied up to the floating docks provided by the city.  These docks and their fittings are home made by locals who are not experienced in salt water environments.   In one place they are attached to vertical pipes bolted onto a steel wall.  In other places they are tied to posts driven into the mud.  Attachments to the pipes or posts is done by chains, secured by padlocks.

The first problem was that the floating range of these docks was designed to be only 4 feet.  The creek rose more than 10 feet at the crest.   Therefore, the docks and boats attached to them threatened to be pulled under water, if they didn't break loose. However, a heroic city worker came three times in the next few days and at great risk to himself, he loosened the chains to prevent a disaster.

The next problem was that the creek widened until the people on the boats were separated from dry land by 50-60 feet.  At first they used planks as bridges.  When that became overwhelmed, a nearby homeowner lent his row boat and they started a ferry service.  The fastened a line to the base of the flag pole, and the other end to the large trawler in the picture below.  Then they could ferry people back and forth in the row boat while holding on to that line.

It took a long time to drain all that water from the mountains.  On the day we visited, 10 days after Irene, the boats had just started leaving.   That was the first day currents had slacked enough that they felt safe.  

We heard stories from Catskill Creek and Rondout Creek on the Hudson River after Irene.  In those cases entire marinas with boats still attached to the floating docks were ripped loose from the shore and floated down stream.

So, bottom line: Creeks and rivers that drain mountainous watersheds are the last place you should go to seek shelter from a major rain storm.  The post-storm floods can be much worse than the storm.

Tarwathie was docked at this exact spot several weeks ahead.

This Krogen 49 trawler is from Vero Beach.  We recognized it.

The Lois McClure departs with the aid of a tug boat (not visible).
It was touchy, she almost ran into the river bank.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

A strong cold front came through here last night.  It didn't bring any rain, but it did bring lots of wind and cold.  Cold is relative; and that's my subject today.

Last night in other parts of Florida the temperature dropped to the 20s.  Here in Marathon the low temperature was only 60.  Nevertheless, the cold is the major topic of discussion on the Cruisers Net this morning.  Nobody is leaving the harbor, and many people are planning to stay on board all day rather then venture out in their dinghies.   Libby and I aren't much different; although Libby was brave enough to go out for groceries first thing.

I remember when we used to sneer at Floridians who complained incessantly about cold temperatures. Well, we are now like them.  Some people would say we're spoiled.  Others say our blood has thinned.  I won't argue. Another word for the same thing is adaptation.

It is pretty amazing how fast we adapted to balmy temperatures since we started cruising.  Our migration habits keep us in the balmy zone.  Basically, 25 degrees north latitude in winter and 45 degrees north latitude in summer.   In spring and fall as we migrate, we tend to follow the balmy temperature band without specifically trying to do so.  

In the past, we've been well adapted to cold.  Both of us grew up in upstate New York where there's plenty of cold and snow to go around.  I remember playing hockey on the river in -45F (-42C) weather.  I felt fine.  However, we never did adapt to excessive heat.  Most of our lives we've lived in places where we did not have air conditioning, nor was it needed.

I wonder if our preferences for moderate temperature played a role in choosing the cruising life.  Down here in Tarwathie's cabin, the water line is up to our hips.  That moderates extremes naturally because water temperature does not go up and down as much as air temperature.  Never once in 7 years have we had a night on Tarwathie when it was too uncomfortably hot to sleep.  On nights when it's cold, we simply add another blanket; that's much simpler.  We do have a cabin heater, but we've never run it through a night.

We've been talking lately about how nice the Rio Dulce in Guatemala sounds.  It would be very nice to spend a summer there.  Before doing that, we would have to find a way to get air conditioning.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Our Next Big Project

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Regular readers know of our persistent problem with vibrations.   We've had the problem since buying the boat nearly 7 years ago.  We had it when the surveyor inspected the boat.  We had it both before and after installing a new engine.   We thought it was normal and something to live with until it chewed up two sets of motor mounts.  We posted the question to this blog and got back a dizzying array of helpful comments.   Here is a list of things we tried or considered.

  1. We realigned the engine with the propeller shaft (5 times!)
  2. We replaced the motor mounts (2 times)
  3. We sent the propeller shaft to a machine stop to check straightness.
  4. We installed a new flexible shaft coupler.
  5. We put in a new cutlass bearing.
  6. We removed, aligned and re-bedded the shaft log. (We don't have a shaft tube, but rather a bronze shaft log.)
  7. We hired diesel mechanics (4 times)
  8. We considered the thrust bearing.
  9. We considered changing to a stiffer or less stiff transmission damper plate.
  10. We considered insufficient clearance between the propeller blades and the hull.
  11. We considered the propeller pitch. (Too much pitch runs the engine at too low RPM.  It would be like driving a car up hill in 5th gear.  The engine lugs in too high a gear.)
  12. We considered getting bigger tougher motor mounts.
  13. We considered modifying the engine pan that the motor mounts bolt to to make it stiffer and more stiffly bonded to the hull.  That would be a fiberglass modification.
None of the above changed anything and none of the things only considered seemed likely to lead to a cure according to my expert advisers.

Missing from the above list is having the propeller balanced.  We have a Maxprop.  It is a so-called feathering prop.  The blades reverse the engine is in reverse and the blades feather when we sail without power.  The prop has many moving parts.   We sent it to a prop shop as a box full of loose parts, but there wasn't much they could do with that.  

We asked the Beta engine manufacturer for advice.  He had us run a test with the engine and shaft decoupled.   The result was no vibrations.  The test seemed ridiculous to me because we reported that there were no vibrations with the engine in neutral.  Their conclusion: nothing wrong with their scope of supply; align it yet again.

All that had me pulling out my hair.  I visualized a future spending thousands of dollars every year trying and retrying various solutions and testing numerous theories; with no results.

Finally, almost by accident, I stumbled across one diagnostic test never tried before.  I ran it full speed in reverse.  WOW, no vibrations!   Nobody thought before to try that.  What difference should it make in forward or reverse?   Besides.  backing up a sailboat with tiller steering at 6 knots is difficult and dangerous.  It is like backing up in your car at 40 mph. In normal circumstances, one would never attempt it.  None of the four mechanics, nor Beta, nor our Westsail expert Bud Taplin, thought to run a test in reverse.

Note that all of the possible causes listed above would produce the same vibrations in forward or reverse.  This simple diagnostic test eliminated all of them.

With that additional bit of diagnostic information, it took only a few minutes and one phone call to home in on what I think is the real explanation.   Some of the internal gear teeth in the Maxprop propeller are worn out.  99% of the time when the engine is in forward, all the load wears on the same teeth.  Different teeth are engaged when in reverse or when feathered.  Of course there is no significant load anyhow in reverse or feathered. So only the forward teeth wore.  Worn teeth allow play in the blade position and they shake.

Now we've ordered a new fixed propeller. It has no moving parts.  It is just a solid block of passive bronze.  As soon as it comes, we'll go up on the hard and install it.  No more complicated feathering prop for us.  I've decided that owning and maintaining such a device is above my pay grade.  Let the KISS principle rein.  

Wish us luck.