Monday, December 30, 2013

John Pennekamp State Park

Boot Key Harbor

On the way down here, we stopped at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.  Although we have heard of this park for a long time, we have never been there before.  It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.

The park has five diverse attractions.

  1. It includes part of the barrier reef protecting The Hawk Channel.  Out there on the reef are moorings for day use where one can stop and snorkel.  We never stopped at one of those moorings because we always went past on breezy days when it is too rough for snorkeling. On calm days, we can find the same thing closer at Sombrero Reef, just 4 miles from Boot Key Harbor.
  2. There is a coral aquarium at the visitors center.  That is what I'll talk about below.
  3. There are nice nature trails.  Some taking you through the mangrove swamp.  Some taking you through the hammock forest.   We walked those and they were very nice.  Some Japanese tourists there at the same time were astounded at the big iguanas sitting in the tree branches above their heads.   We even ran into a family from Sweden out in the mangroves, and we shocked them when they found that we could understand what they were saying.
  4. There is a basin with moorings and a marina with slips, and a nice beach.  It looks very nice, but according to our friends, it is too shallow for cruising boats to get in to.   Too bad.
  5. They have glass bottom boat tours.  They weren't operating when we were there, but I suspect that the tour might be lots of fun.

Our previous encounters with coral were in the Virgin Islands.  I snorkeled at St. Croix in the early 1970s.   We also snorkeled in the British Virgin Islands in the mid 1970s.   We returned to the BVIs in the 90s but we were saddened to learn that almost all the coral we saw before was dead.  Today, it is incresingly difficult to find heathy coral at snorkeling depths.   Belize in The Atlantic and the Great Barrier Reef in Austrailia come to mind, but those are very hard to get to.

Therefore, I was delighted to find wonderfully healthy coral in the Pennekamp aquarium.  Someone did a great job there. The surprise benefit was that in the aquarium setting, one can spend a lot more time peering at the coral and admiring their beauty than is possible when you are diving.  It can't quite match the marvel of diving on a thriving reef, but it was close.  Those corals are fascinating creatures. Hats off to John Pennekamp.

If you travel to the keys, a stop at John Pennekamp park is well worth your while.

I'll blog my own pictures soon, but for now here are a few pictures of the park I found on the Internet.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pipe Dream

Boot Key Harbor

Many larger boats used on-board diesel generators to charge their batteries.  Those things are very expensive, a maintenance nightmare, and worst of all, extremely noisy.  Being shut up in a boat together with a running generator sounds like a minor hell.   Despite that, a trawler owner in Vero told me that he runs his diesel generator 6.5 hours per day.  Another trawler moored near us in Boot Key Harbor seems to run his 12 or more hours per day.  Ay ay ay.

I could get on a soap box and sermonize about conserving power, but I won't.  At times in the past when our batteries were in poor condition, I had to run our generator as much as four hours per day.  Recently, with good batteries and sufficient solar panels, I think we run the generator as little as 3 hours per week.

The problem is not the energy use per se, or the generator per se, but rather the physics of lead acid batteries that can accept their final charge only very slowly. My pipe dream, and no doubt the pipe dream of those trawler owners, is for a device that would allow us to capture and store all the energy the engines can make for only a short running time each day.   Let me analyze the dream from an electrical engineer's perspective.

Our daily electric energy use is on the order of 50 amp-hours per day.  At an average of 12.5 volts, that amounts to 625 watt hours per day.  Let's say 1 kWh per day to be generous.  My diesel engine is rated at 37.5 hp which is 28 kw.  Therefore, one might think that I could run my engine for 1/28 hours (2 minutes) per day to make all my energy.  But I can't do that for several reasons, the main one being that the batteries can't accept the charge that quickly.

My pipe dream is for a device about the size, shape, weight and cost of a car battery that could accept charge at a rate of 28 kw for up to 2 minutes, and then trickle the energy out to charge my lead-acid batteries at an average rate of 167 watts for 6 hours.   The obvious choice for doing that would be a capacitor.  There is no theoretical ceiling on the rate that capacitors can accept charge.  Using clever electronics design (which I have not done yet) they could discharge that energy at a rate ideally suited for lead-acid batteries. The big question is how many capacitors would be needed?

1 kWh = 3,600,000 watt-seconds.   3,600,000 watt-seconds @ 14 volts = 257,000 ampere-seconds = 257,000 coulombs of charge.  257000 coulombs @ 2.5 volts or roughly 100,000 farads of capacitance.  (I use 2.5 v instead of 14 v because that is the maximum voltage rating of ultracapacitors.  Several capacitors in series would be needed to make 14 volts.)

When I was an electrical engineering student in college, we measured capacitors in micro-farads. Today we have super-capacitors and even ultra-capacitors measured in farads.  So the technology of making capacitors has improved by a factor of one million.

I went online to checks prices and specifications.  Twenty WIMA 5000F capacitors would do the job with a total of 19.5 kilo-farads, for a a volume of 0.7 cubic feet (about the size of two large car batteries), and a weight of 500 pounds, and a price of about $57,000.

Bottom line: the performance and prices of capacitors need to improve another factor of 10 to 100 before the pipe dream becomes reasonable.

Caveat:  My engineering skills are rusty, and I don't have much confidence in those calculations.  If any of you are able to double check them for me, I'll be grateful.  The main reference is here.
p.s. Put this in perspective with some of the more idiotic renewable energy advocates who think that they can use capacitors to store the energy of solar wind farms in quantities large enough to power entire states and countries.   That would take a capacitor somewhat larger than the moon.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Boot Key Harbor


Libby is pretty good ad finding presents. She knows I love to learn, so she gave me a violin for Christmas. I've never even held a violin before, so at age 69 I'm starting from absolute scratch. That's lots of learning opportunity. Also, violins are small, light, and made of materials that corrode in the salt air.

She also gave me a pair of fancy black shorts. I'll save them for formal occasions such as weddings, funerals, Nobel prize ceremonies, cruisers pot luck dinners. And oh yes, now I have to add Carnegie Hall violin recitals to that list.



Merry Christmas.

Above: dinghy name of the year.



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Subtropical Christmas

Boot Key Harbor

First, I have to apologize for letting so much time go between blogs.  The truth is that I joined a local gym and started going there for two hour workouts every morning.  That will surely help me get into shape, and it makes me feel good, but it does have side effects.   After my morning workout, I return to the boat on a high.  Then I eat lunch and lie down for a little rest and -- presto it is dark out.   The workouts leave me drained of energy to do anything else during the day.  I had a deadline for the Westsail newsletter last weekend and missed it.  I completely forgot about blogging.    I'm going to try juggling the schedule to work out late in the day.

But my real topic for today is spending Christmas in the tropics.   The weather this week is perfect.  Cobalt blue skies, moderate temperatures, gentle breezes, and a sun so bright that you must squint your eyes to go outside.  Coconuts floating in the water.  Dolphins and manatees swimming around.  Iguanas everywhere on land.  It sure doesn't look like Christmas, nor feel like Christmas.

Of course, we try.  Businesses in the town are decorated.  We had a parade of boats decorated with Christmas lights; very impressive (but sorry, I can never take night photos from the deck of a boat).  I walk around the past week wearing my Santa hat.  Libby bought a little 12 inch potted tree and decorated it with battery powered lights.  Still, it fails to feel like Christmas.

I think the bottom line is not the weather, it is the absence of small children.  The joy of Christmas for most adults has always been watching the joy of small children.   Oh well.  Last year we had a great Christmas at Dave's house.  John was there with his children, but they are no longer small.  They are nearly adults.  I guess that Libby and I have to wait it out another decade or so until great grandchildren start appearing.

But we still manage to have fun.  Saturday night we went to "Movie night in the park." they showed Jean Shepard's A Christmas Story.  That movie has become an American classic.  We really did enjoy nostalgic Christmas feelings from that.  Even better, all the kids in the audience squealed with delight when little Ralphie found out that he really did get his BB gun present.

Tomorrow, Christmas Day, we'll go to a pot luck dinner with the other cruisers from the harbor. That too will certainly be fun.

But what about you?   The crew of the sailing vessel Tarwathie wish you a happy (and Christmasy) Christmas.

Movie night in the park.  See Libby waving?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Confirming Info

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

Sorry for the lack of blog articles.  I joined the local gym and started working out two hours per day.  That robs me of a lot of energy.  I also haven't adjusted my daily routine to compensate yet.

I wrote a few things recently that should be subject to verification.  Here it is.

Water Levels:  I wrote that the depths on the bay side of the keys seemed to be higher than normal.  I also wrote that the low tides in Boot Key seemed to vary substantially from year to year.  I found NOAA data specific to this location that validates both.

This is the very long term trend.  
I am most interested in the variations which seem to be about 6 inches

There is a seasonal variation here that I wasn't aware of.  
Why it varies, I don't know. 
The long term wiggles are very visible here..
I made a custom plot of low tides only.
0.0 is the average over 3 years.
It is true.  The winter of 2011, the low tides were nearly a foot lower than now.  Why should this be?  The NOAA site hints that it may be related to the famous El Niño oscillation in the Pacific.

Thinning of the blood: I've always used this expression thinking that it was folklore.  When you spend times in warm climates, your "blood gets thinned" meaning you adapt.   Now I learned that there is a basis in fact.  The hypothalamus regulates the body's thermostat, and it adapts to your local climate.  It goes under the very fancy name of hypothalamus adaptive thermogenesis.  Therefore, while your blood does not thin literally, it does figuratively.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Help Please

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

Friday was Libby's birthday. It was a good one. Her friends staged a little party for her. She had a cake with candels; the first time since I can't remember when. But.Libby and I are both difficult to buy gifts for. There are so few things we want that we don't already have. I gave her a pair of tickets to the show at the local amateur theater. We went last night and really enjoyed ourselves. But now I'm desperate for a Christmas idea.

A great stocking stuffer would be new salt and pepper shakers. Since cruising we have been using the pair shown in the picture. They are unique in that the lid design allows easy access while preventing the holes from clogging in the humid environment. Now after 8 years, the lids are failing. I've surfed and searched the Internet looking for replacements. No joy. Can anyone suggest where to find these?

p.s. The picture also shows a little trick we use. We fill the shakers 2/3 with uncooked grains of rice. That prevents clumping, both by absorbing moisture, and by breaking up clumps when shaking. Boating books say to use "a few grains of rice." That doesn't work. Use 2 parts rice to 1 part salt or pepper.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh Shit

Marathon, Florida
24 42.352 N 081 05.639 N

No, that picture is not from here.  It was taken off the west coast of Australia.  It shows an approaching sandstorm.  Enough to cause any sailor to say "Oh Shit."

I was going to write about seaworthiness; making sure that your boat and crew are worthy and read for unexpected challenges.   But instead, I'll write about defensive moves. What to do when the Oh Shit moment arrives.

What should you do when that Oh Shit moment comes?   First and foremost, make sure that any large sails are down.  A small jib or a storm jib might be OK, but no genoa and no mainsail.   Reefs are an alternative,  a reefed jib and a double reefed main might get you by, but bare poles would be better.

Here's the scary part.  Suppose you have no warning and all the big sails are flying?  Then you must stay on deck long enough to get them down no matter what the weather.

Second, you should either heave to or lash the helm under bare pole
heave to : To turn into the wind and set sails to stop or gain control in heavy weather. In practice a sailing vessel will reduce sail, back a foresail, sheet in an after sail and secure the helm to weather. A power vessel would turn into the seas and apply just enough power to maintain position. 
Third, go below to wait it out. We talked with a single handed sailor who rode out a direct hit by a hurricane south of Puerto Rico on his CSY 37.   He went below and waited it out under bare poles.  When the storm was over and he went on deck, he found his boat fully operational, but all the paint, varnish, and gelcoat had been sandblasted off from above-water surfaces.

What is right for your boat? Most of what I know about that was from the writings of the Pardeys.  They explain in detail the theory of heaving to.  They say that different boat designs have different ways of heaving to ...  bare poles, hove-to with main and jib, hove-to with jib or storm jib only, hove to under reefed main only, or with a mizzen sail only.  Going with bare poles is called lying ahull.  There are also variants using sea anchors or drogue chutes that I won't describe.

Now the confession.  Libby and I have never practiced heaving to on Tarwathie under really heavy conditions. I've sailed in winds up to 65 knots on Lake Champlain but not on Tarwathie.  Also, the lake is not comparable to the fury of ocean waves.

We also carry a storm jib and a storm trisail (replaces the mainsail), but we have never practiced with those in open ocean heavy weather either.  I'm afraid we are chicken.  When heavy weather comes we are interested only in getting out of it, not in dawdling around for training purposes.  In that respect, we are not fully seaworthy.

I've been told that Westsail 32s do fine laying ahull with bare poles.  I'm also inspired by the W32 Satori in "The Perfect Storm" story.  Below is a picture of Satori in that storm.  She is hove to using a storm jib on the staysail stay, and she rode out that storm in fine condition.

Monday, December 09, 2013

In High Spirits

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

We were supposed to tour Lignumvitae Key today but that didn't work out. Too bad. But it didn't ruin our day. Instead we unfurled the jib and Tarwathie flew across the turquoise waters of the bay riding on a stiff breeze.

We could have gone under the highway at Channel 5 to sail The Hawk Channel, but we didn't. It was kind of a thrill sailing on the Bay side where we've never been before. The turquoise green water and the shallow depths riveted out attention.

Actually, the feared shallow waters on the bay side were not a problem. We never saw anything less than 6 feet at low tide. If we had stuck to high tides it would have been 7 feet or more. Most places, the water seemed one foot deeper than charted. In fact the charts scared us in several places because they said that the channel led through 5 foot shallows. False, the channels were all much deeper.

Once near thee trance to Tavernier Creek, I got confused by red green markers for a side channel and got us into 5.2 indicated depth. Another time we bumped at 6.1 feet indicated depth at low tide. It must have been a rock.

Anyhow, it turned out to e a splendid sail today. To cap it off we picked up a pod of dolphins who escorted us the last few miles to The Seven Mile Bridge. Cool.

We are safely tied up on mooring Quebec-3. More on Marathon later.


Saturday, December 07, 2013


Key Largo, Tarpon Basin, Florida
25 07.220 N 080 25.746 W

In modern American society we are taught that discrimination is a sin. Especially racial discrimination is an egregious sin. On the other hand, should our grandchildren fail to discriminate when choosing a spouse, parents and grandparents go ballistic. Teachers of English as a second language must have problems with that word.
dis·crim·i·na·tion: 1) the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people: 2) the ability to recognize the difference between things that are of good quality and those that are not
People in Florida and elsewhere want passionately to discriminate against "bums" in their localities. They keep running into blocks because what they see as good judgement in telling the difference between "things that are of good quality and those that are not", other people see it as a case of "unfairly treating a person or group of people"   Frustrated, they try to use the law to achieve their goals.  Unable to make outrightly discriminatory laws, they try to outlaw behaviors that in their minds are more associated with "those that are not".   The trouble is that they are frequently wrong and off target.

Bums afloat versus ordinary boaters is the case so apparent to us.  All over Florida but especially here in the keys, one sees so-called derelict boats at anchor.   How is that defined?  Well, I know one when I see one.  Some of the people on those boats earn the label bum.  They are very unpleasant to have around.  Bums on boats are unfortunately much more visible and irritating than bums who camp in hidden spots in the mangrove forests.

Here in Tarpon Cove there is a forest of No Trespassing signs intended to scare away "bums" from landing their dinghys most places.   If it were not for one spot owned by county government, there would be no place at all to land.   As tourists, touring by boat, that is an unbelievably hostile reaction. Someone with a local vacation boat charter business must be aghast.

It seems clear to me that the lesson to learn is that we do much more harm by covert discrimination in law, than we would with overt discrimination.  Behaviors correlate poorly with identity.  Laws targeting the imagined behavior of bums almost always miss the targets and impact non-bums more.  As a libertarian I hate to admit it, but logic seems to imply that a "no bums" law leaving it up to the police to know who is a bum and who isn't is the better approach.

Speaking of discrimination, here's a case of book that can't be judged by its cover.  We passed the man below on the side of the highway today.  At first glance, he looked like a bum of the type very common in the keys. We did not plan to stop and talk with him.  But we did stop, and soon learned that this man, (who calls himself Nomad) is not a bum but an adventurer.  He is a college graduate, 4000 miles into a walking tour of this continent.   His story reminds me of the movie Forest Gump.   Nomad is a cruiser.

I'm sure that nearly all of us would not be repelled by Nomad, despite his lack of a recent shower, but instead would be attracted to the man to hear his interesting stories.   Negative discrimination turns to positive discrimination in the blink of an eye.  Back to the point: discrimination is a very slippery concept.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

No More Excuses

Key Largo, Florida
25 18.836 N 080 17.795 W

One of the very few East Coast sailing experiences we have not had is to sail from Miami to Marathon by the inside route.   For those who do not have a map handy, the Florida Keys are a chain of connected islands extending south and west from the mainland.  The south and east side of this chain is called the Ocean Side, the north and west side is called the Bay side (Referring to Florida Bay which is part of the Gulf of Mexico)

Anyhow, we have always had delightful sails in The Hawk Channel which runs on the Ocean Side.  However, there is almost nothing of interest to see and do between Miami and Marathon.  We usually sail it nonstop.   On the Bay Side there are many interesting places to stop, things to see and things to do.  But the hindrance is that the Bay Side is shallow.  We fear running aground.  But our friends Jeff and Wendy did it on their W32.  Also this year, the sea level seems higher than average.  We have been seeing depths nearly one foot deeper than the charts say.  No more excuses.

So that's what we'll be doing the next few days.  Expect fresh blogs as we explore places we've never seen before.

Today and tonight gave us an excellent start to the trip.  We sailed all the way down Biscayne Bay with a very pleasant fresh breeze on our beam.  Tarwathie loved it.  Libby loved it.  I loved it.   Biscayne Bay is a wonderful place for boats, and it is a mystery why there aren't many more boats on the bay.  It is sheltered from ocean swells.  The water is clean and pretty.  Shoals are few.  In fact, it is very much like sailing on the Bahamian banks.   Imagine a clean salt water lake, about 30 miles long by 8 miles wide, bordering a major metropolis, yet with only 3 dozen or so boats out on a sunshiny day.  

Tonight, we were treated to our first Florida Keys sunset for this season.  It was a great one, well worthy of Keys sunset fame.   As an extra bonus, Venus was nearly skewered on the point of a crescent moon.  Lovely.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dinner Key

Dinner Key, Coconut Grove, FL
25 43.204 N 080 13.549 W

We woke up this morning, well slept and refreshed.   The weather was beautiful with a cloudless sky.   Miami looked beautiful in the light of the rising sun.  In fact I took a picture of Miami from out vantage near Key Biscayne, that could be used for CSI Miami.

But there wasn't a breath of wind.   So what now?   It makes sense to wait before sailing south.   Well, we looked out over the bay.  We were only 3 miles away from Diner Key.   We have never been to Diner Key or to Coconut Grove, but I think every single one of our boating friends have been there.  Why not?  So that's what we did.  Right now we sit on a mooring there.

So what did we find fun to do ashore?   We weren't interested in taking the bus to downtown Miami, so we walked  around.

We found the Cruz Building.  Wow, what an interesting place that is.  We couldn't go inside because it is not open to the public.  It is a venue, used for events like weddings. Below are some pictures that I picked up on the Internet.

We found The Barnacle, a Florida State historical park. That was very nice and very interesting. We learned a lot about life on Biscayne Bay in the years before the railroad came and when the population of the area was measured in the dozens. Below, Libby and I sit on the porch, and the view looking out from the porch.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Ah, The Colors

Hollywood, Florida

25 56.887 N 080 06.242 W

Last night Libby said,"This is as good as it gets for Florida sailing." We were a few miles offshore, in light winds, almost no waves, and mild temperatures. The sunset was beautiful. Still, we were able to average 5 knots until early this morning when the wind died to zero. Right now, we re motoring to Biscayne Bay where we will anchor tonight and admire the nighttime skyline of Miami.

It was a grand day of sailing. We would have gotten even further except that we didn't get away from Vero until 1300.

I've blogged before about navigating in this area by the color of the water. Actually, I overstate that a bit. Polynesians navigate by the color (and taste) of the water. Sailors in the Bahamas navigate by color (blue deep, green shallow, brown coral, white sand shoal). Done here it is more of a case at marveling at the colors of the water.

When arising this morning, I thrilled at the deep deep blue color of the water, rather than the grey green typical of places north. It was as if we were in The Gulf Stream. Oh oh, wait, that is Gulf Stream water, we were too far away from shore, and losing speed to a northward current. I turned us closer to the beach. Soon the water became forest green. Now, with each mile further south we go, the shade of green turns lighter. By the time we are well into The Hawk Channel near Key Largo, it will be a beautiful turquoise typical of the ocean side of the keys. On the bay side of the keys, the color is a darker green.

If the wind would blow, we would keep going straight for Marathon. But it is not, so we'll poke around a bit. There is a spot we love near the hurricane hole on Key Biscayne that offers spectacular views of the Miami night skyline.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Fairer Still

Vero Beach, Florida

Obviously, we think that Vero is a nice destination. But it is not the best. The weather over the weekend proved that. It was rainy, damp and chilly here the past fer days, whereas in the keys it was much nicer. That's where we're headed starting today.

Our plan is to motor to Fort Pierce, 10. Miles away, and to go offshore from there. Today sounds like marginal light winds, but Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday's forecasts sound excellent.

In the simplest form of a la, we'll sail nonstop to Marthon in about 48 hours. However, there are several nice places. Where we could pull in for a good night's sleep, so we might do that.

My pactor modem is still not working, so I can't post blogs while at sea. But if we get close enough to shore for a cell phone signal, I can. Actually, that is likely. The prevailing wisdom for sailing from Palm Brach to Miami is to stay close to the beach in 30 feet deep water. That keeps you out of the north flowing currents. Remember that the Gulf Stream is very close to shore there, and even being in the fringes of the Gulf Stream means northerly flowing water.

What will our rewards be for this passage?

  • Much better winter weather. The winter weather in The Keys is noticeably better than mainland Florida, including Miami.
  • Many friends nearby.
  • The cruiser culture in Boot Key Harbor.
  • Our contacts ashore in Marathon.
  • A destination for family to come visit during the winter.
P.s. regrettably, I did not do shopping for Libby's birthday, 12/13, nor Christmas. Shopping in The Keys sucks, so I'll have to shift to online.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My New Charriot

Vero Beach, Florida

The weather looks best if we leave Monday.  Meanwhile, I thought I would show my new chariot.

A bicycle is essential cruising equipment.  Actually, two bikes.  But alas, Libby is missing some discs between her vertebra and she can't stand riding a bike.  Too bad; we miss the chance to do side explorations together.

The new bike is our third since we started cruising in 2005.  The first was a nice Dahon folding bike complete with a canvas case that was a gift from our kids.  Unfortunately, it rusted away to nothing after 3-4 years.  The second was Walmart's cheapest.  It lasted 3-4 years, and was pretty rusty and rickety when it was stolen in New Bern.  

Bikes would last longer if we could store them below decks when under way.  We don't have room for that, so they get sprayed with salt water.

I coated the new bike with Shellac, on the first day.   That wasn't enough.  Rust spots started showing up after the very first rainy day.   Sigh.   I'll try car wax to slow down the rusting progress.

I actually wanted a woman's bike.  They are much easier to mount and dismount.  But in the store the only woman's bike similar was pink and it had a basket with flower patterns.  This male version has an insulated canvas bag instead of a basket.  The bag is exactly the right size and shape to hold a six pack of beer.

Good news: On the first day after buying this single speed bike, I could not ride it up the 65 foot high bridge.  I had to walk it up to the top of the bridge.  But now, I can ride it up without puffing.  Exercise works!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Community Feast

Vero Beach, Florida

What a great day.   We had as many as 150 people at the cruisers Thanksgiving pot luck dinner yesterday.   Things worked well.

  • The marina donated the venue, a very nice house at the south end of the anchorage.  The nature down there is great, and Everglades-like.
  • The local CLODS (Cruisers Living on Dirt) donated 7 turkey and 5 hams (all cooked).
  • At the end, everybody ate their fill yet there were not many leftovers.  Matching the quantity of food with the number of people at a pot luck event is not easy.
  • The weather was delightful.
In addition to the cruiser friends we knew would be there, we had a few surprises.  

One couple had met Libby at the Harris Teeter supermarket in New Bern, and the wife had been one of my students in the Excel classes I taught at the New Bern Library.

A second couple we met years ago at Valcour Island on Lake Champlain.   We spent several days there sitting out bad weather, and we were the only two boats around.  We got friendly and invited them over for drinks and to tour a "real cruising boat"  Now they are cruising themselves.

Libby won one of the door prizes.  She got a basket with wine, crackers, cheese and chocolate -- a mobile party.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Neither Nor

Vero Beach, Florida

Last night it felt chilly so we put a blanket on top of us as we went to bed.  How chilly was it?  72 (22C).

This morning it felt chilly so I put on long pants before going outside at 0600.  How chilly was it?  72 (22C).

What the heck you say.  Have these people's blood thinned that much?  Yes.  Have they become Floridians?  Heck no. Floridians are 2nd only to Californians to being nutty in many respects.

Actually, there would be several advantages to becoming Florida residents.  I have to pay $60 per year for non-resident library cards, and $97 per year each for non-resident fishing licenses.  But we resist that.  We like calling Vermont home and we like our mail going to Jenny.  

We lived in Vermont for 6 years, so are we Vermonters?  Not really.  

We lived in New York much longer, more than 50 years, so are we New Yorkers?  Not really.  

I guess we are 50% Floridian, 50% Vermonters, 50% New Yorkers, 25% North Carolinians, and 5% Maine, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina.

What about politically?   Are we Republican?  No.  Are we Demoncrats?  Hell no.  Are we Conservatives? No.  Libertarians?  Not really; although we think libertarian with a small l.  Even if I was loyal to a party, I would never register to vote that way.  I consider it a big violation of my privacy to have my voter registration be public information.

I lived in Sweden 10 years and was eligible for Swedish citizenship.  I didn't want to do that because I differed from the Swedes on so very many issues.

Are we real cruisers?   We don't cross oceans or circumnavigate, but we do live aboard year round and we move around a lot?  That makes us say 85% cruisers.

We are not religious.  We do not belong to any religion, neither secular humanists, nor atheists.  I hate other people wanting to label us.

I'll admit to being 1) a skeptic and 2) a critical thinker and 3) a prolific blog writer, but that's about all.   But I won't join The Skeptics Society.

Libby?  I won't risk insulting her by saying she's a member of any group at all.  Libby is unique and incomparable.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Vero Beach

I write often about the cruising community as if it was a cohesive whole.  Of course it is a society.  It has cliques and factions just as any other societies.  Here are a few.

  • CLODs  (Cruisers Living on Dirt):  this is a club here in Vero Beach.  It has 115 members.  Many of the members are people who cruised as Libby and I do for 10 years or more before deciding to quit cruising and settle in Vero.   CLODs hold a weekly breakfast.  I asked a CLOD member how many active cruisers come to their breakfast.  He said about 30.  Wow!  I've never tried it, but I think I'll go to the breakfast next week just to see what it's like.
  • CLOWs (Cruisers Living on Water): Not to be confused with LIVEABOARDS.  These are people with extensive cruising histories, who for one reason or another choose to live aboard their boats year round.   There are some in Marathon, but there is a larger bunch here in Vero.  In Vero they love to congregate in front of the sailors lounge to chew the fat.  Some say that they love to complain about NEWBIES.
  • LIVEABOARDS:  These are people who live on their boats full time but who do not have much cruising in their history.   There used to be one in Vero but he left.  In Marathon, there are lots of them.  One told my once that he came to the keys headed for Key West.  In Marathon he stayed for a few night on a friend's boat.  The friend offered to sell him the boat for $1.  He accepted and many years later he still lives on that boat.  He is anchored.  He pays no mooring fee. I don't know if he pays a fee for the dinghy dock.  The State of Florida is at war against LIVEABOARDS.  They want to get rid of them.  The rest of us are cautioned to never refer to ourselves as LIVEABOARDS.  In Florida, that can have legal consequences.   Many LIVABOARDS in Marathon succumb to KEYS DISEASE.  Unknown in medical science, but well known to people in the keys, it is a malady caused by the combination of excessive nice weather and excessive alcohol, the symptom is a pickled brain.
  • CIRCUMNAVIGATORS:  The superstar elites among cruisers.   I don't know of any in Vero, but every year, a half dozen or so pass through Marathon.   At the SSCA Gam meetings they parade CIRCUMNAVIGATORS like royalty.
  • ACTIVECRUISERS: Such as ourselves.  There are two subdivisions, full-time cruisers and part-time cruisers.  The part-timers still have homes on dirt.  Not surprisingly, part time cruisers are more likely to become CLODs some day and full time cruisers are more likely to become CLOWs some day.  There is a predictable progression that we make into a joke.  NEWBIES start with sailboats, then change to trawlers, then change to RVs, then change to nursing homes.   There is a grain of truth in that joke.
  • NEWBIES:  We see very many of these in Vero.  It is fun to talk with them because it reminds us of our first year, when everything was fresh and exciting.  They say that you never forget your first (in sex and in cruising).  NEWBIES are sponges for information and advice.  In Vero, the vast majority of NEWBIES are headed for The Bahamas, because of the exotic appeal of a tropical paradise foreign country.  NEWBIES in Marathon mostly come from the Great Lakes, and in Vero they come from the USA East Coast.   Only a small fraction (I estimate 33%) of NEWBIES graduate to become ACTIVECRUISERS.
  • WANNABEs:  Many people dream of cruising their whole lives.   Some achieve that goal, but many don't.   Everyone should have a dream and cruising is a very worthy one.  Our cruiser friend Sandra used to be an oncology nurse.  She saw that dream cruelly snatched away from too many cancer victims.  Sandra and Bob decided to cruise, and appropriately named their boat Carpe Diem (seize the day).  That is an excellent motto for any wannabe.
p.s. I'm reading a book called NAVAL BLUNDERS.  It is full of contra examples to professional competence that I wrote about recently.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Civics Lesson and Yours

Vero Beach, Florida

On Monday I did something I've never done before.  I witnessed a real jury trial.   In my own life, I've never been in court, nor summoned for jury duty.  I wanted to see how it really works instead of being satisfied by Hollywood's version.     In New Bern, I tried to do the same thing but I was thwarted by unfriendly court employees who made it difficult for me to discover where and when jury trials would be held.  I managed only to witness,  a session for minor crimes and traffic tickets that gave each person his 30 seconds to stand before the court.

The clerk in Vero was very friendly, and told me exactly where to go and when, so I did it.  Which trial, civil or criminal, and the nature of the case were completely random.  I had no idea when I went.  But my random choice turned out very well for me.   The trial turned out to be a "summary judgement" trial.  I never heard that term before. The judge was not present.   One of the defendants was not present.  There were no live witnesses.  Instead, an entire 2-3 week long trial (according to one of the attorneys) was compressed into a single four-step day.  Jury selection, a 60 minute presentation by the plaintiff, a 60 minute presentation by the defendant, jury deliberations, and verdict.   The attorneys (there were 6 of them, 2 for plaintiff, 2 for defendant 1, and 2 for defendant 2) had deposed very many witnesses and experts in advance.   Their presentations were summaries of what the witnesses said.  No live witnesses, no objections, no cross examinations; it was a very streamlines process.   For me, it meant that I could observe the entire process in only 10% of the time.

The subject of the suit was a medical malpractice civil suit.  In Vero with plenty of rich people, plus hordes of doctors and lawyers, there must be many such cases.

Everyone, jury pool, attorneys and clerks behaved very well in my opinion.  I saw no frivolous or cynical attitudes.   The jury pool predictably was motivated to be dismissed and to go about their lives.  That could be accomplished by giving an outrageous answer to any question.   I did hear some surprising answers.  One man said, "I blame malpractice awards for making my insurance premiums raise by a factor of 10 to the point where I can no longer afford them."  When the attorney asked how many others in the pool felt the same, half raised their hands.    A woman who was a nurse at a private practice in Vero said this about the local hospital, "Unless I was dying and on my final breath I would beg to be taken anywhere in the world other than Indian River Medical Center."   In the end, those jurors in the pool who never answered in the affirmative to any question were selected.   Nevertheless, I felt that all the answers given sounded sincere.

After listening to both sides, I decided that the plaintiff should win.  The plaintiff's attorney gave a very logical and coherent presentation that laid out the whole sad story of the plaintiff's misfortune, including specifics of where the doctors failed to meet established standards of care.   The defendant's lawyers sniped and rambled incoherently and never addressed the specific allegations.  At first I thought that they didn't have enough time.  Two defendants, and only 30 minutes each to make their case.  Then I thought that the defense attorneys weren't as competent as the plaintiffs.  Finally I realized that they avoided the allegations because they were guilty, and the best defense was to avoid the issues and talk about what fine doctors they were.

I skipped out before hearing the jury's verdict.  I made up my own mind instead.

Now for your civics lesson.  The issue of NSA, and general government spying on citizens is an issue I am very passionate about.   Many of my friends say, "I don't care as long as it fights terrorism." or "I'm not one of those who distrusts government." or "I opposed it when Bush/Cheney were in charge but I trust Obama.."  I urge you to look deeper. I believe that if public apathy prevails that we could be doomed to an Orwellian hell in the future.  

"... the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." -- Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring
Even if you don't feel like I do, it is your civic duty to be better informed than the political pundits on the news can make you.  Read the most recent issue of Bruce Schneier's Cryptogram newsletter.   Bruce is a security expert who is very well informed, a deep thinker, and a good writer.  The stuff may be more technical than you like, but stick with it.  Pay particular attention to the following sub-topics.

The whole thing should take no more than 15 minutes to read.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Dismal Swamp Secret Is Out

Vero Beach, Florida

What secret?  Well, it's not really a secret.  I mean how pretty and nice the Dismal Swamp Canal (DSC) alternative really is.

You see, the ICW actually passes through the Virginial Cut, via Great Bridge and Currituck into Abemarle Sound.  The DSC is an alternative side route through the canal, the Pasquotank River and Elizabeth City.   We have never been the regular Virginia Cut way, but we are unusual.   More than 90% of the traffic, including most of our cruising friends are afraid of the DSC and choose to go the other way.   That's fine by us because the DSC Welcome Center can get crowded enough as it is.  It would be impossible with 1000% more traffic.

Well guess what happened?  A valve in the lock for the Virginia Cut route has been broken for more than a week, and it may not be repaired before a few more weeks.   All of the cruisers heading south on the ICW in that period find the DSC alternative their only choice.  That's why I say (tongue in cheek) that the secret will be out.   Now many more cruisers will know that the DSC route is not only safe, but very beautiful and fun.

The picture below was taken a few days ago on the DSC Welcome Center.   Even though the peak season for cruisers should be long past, it is very crowded.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Green, Seasoned, Professional

Vero Beach, Florida


As you know, Libby and I are seasoned cruisers. You also know that after a year's hiatus, Libby and I committed a number of blunders when we restarted cruising this fall. i attributed them to us being rusty. We have other seasoned friends with similar experiences. They both restarted cruising after a prolonged period of down time. Both committed blunders of the kind that one would not expect from seasoned sailors.

One friend entered the ICW, at the very first day market they came to, they forgot whether it should be red left or red right when heading south. They chose wrong and ran aground less than 1/4 mile from their starting point. The other friend put out to sea and shortly discovered that their running lights didn't work, their Monitor self steering didn't work, and that their engine was seriously misaligned. As I said, their errors and our errors are not of the kind that one would expect from seasoned cruisers.

What is really going on here? Certainly the prolonged down time has a lot to do with it, but what happens when we restart?

A completely green sailor would be afraid to leave without first testing everything. In fact, the green sailor might even hire a surveyor to check things very thoroughly. Indeed, green sailors often start by buying a boat and a survey is part of the ritual.

I've had time to think about it. My conclusion is that we should categorize cruisers (sailors) in three classes, green, experienced, and professional.

The green cruiser does not trust his knowledge or instincts. The green cruiser seeks the opinion of others as to the seaworthiness of the vessel and the crew. Green sailors may travel in flotillas with more experienced sailors so that they can follow the leader and call for help if needed. I am ignoring utter fools. Fools tend to not choose the cruising life.

Experienced and professional sailors share knowledge, know how, and experience. However, professional sailors have discipline, that amateurs like find hard to match.

Think of merchant ships and Navy ships as examples of professional crews. They have an entire management structure to maintain the discipline. The captain sets the standards, the officers and noncoms supervise, and the grunts do the work. Everyone has multiple people looking over their shoulders. Quality is assured by inspections. Lack of fresh experience is compensated for by drills.

It is not difficult to see why couples like us and our friends who are living our retirement dreams as we cruise, can not easily match the discipline of professional crews. We minimize blunders by keeping our experience fresh. We deal with equipment failures on an incremental basis as they occur. Therefore, a prolonged period of not sailing undermines the very foundation of our competence. Our skills get rusty, and clusters of boat problems can build up invisibly while we are not using the boat.

I'm sure there are exceptions. Another cruising couple of similar age and experience, leave their boat 6 months every year. But the captain is a former police chief, is very disciplined. He may be able to avoid the restart problem. I'll see him in the next few days and ask what he thinks.

I know that many experienced cruisers read this blog. Please comment on this post. Do you agree or not?

Green, Seasoned, Professional

Vero Beach, Florida


As you know, Libby and I are seasoned cruisers. You also know that after a year's hiatus, Libby and I committed a number of blunders when we restarted cruising this fall. i attributed them to us being rusty. We have other seasoned friends with similar experiences. They both restarted cruising after a prolonged period of down time. Both committed blunders of the kind that one would not expect from seasoned sailors.

One friend entered the ICW, at the very first day market they came to, they forgot whether it should be red left or red right when heading south. They chose wrong and ran aground less than 1/4 mile from their starting point. The other friend put out to sea and shortly discovered that their running lights didn't work, their Monitor self steering didn't work, and that their engine was seriously misaligned. As I said, their errors and our errors are not of the kind that one would expect from seasoned cruisers.

What is really going on here? Certainly the prolonged down time has a lot to do with it, but what happens when we restart?

A completely green sailor would be afraid to leave without first testing everything. In fact, the green sailor might even hire a surveyor to check things very thoroughly. Indeed, green sailors often start by buying a boat and a survey is part of the ritual.

I've had time to think about it. My conclusion is that we should categorize cruisers (sailors) in three classes, green, experienced, and professional.

The green cruiser does not trust his knowledge or instincts. The green cruiser seeks the opinion of others as to the seaworthiness of the vessel and the crew. Green sailors may travel in flotillas with more experienced sailors so that they can follow the leader and call for help if needed. I am ignoring utter fools. Fools tend to not choose the cruising life.

Experienced and professional sailors share knowledge, know how, and experience. However, professional sailors have discipline, that amateurs like find hard to match.

Think of merchant ships and Navy ships as examples of professional crews. They have an entire management structure to maintain the discipline. The captain sets the standards, the officers and noncoms supervise, and the grunts do the work. Everyone has multiple people looking over their shoulders. Quality is assured by inspections. Lack of fresh experience is compensated for by drills.

It is not difficult to see why couples like us and our friends who are living our retirement dreams as we cruise, can not easily match the discipline of professional crews. We minimize blunders by keeping our experience fresh. We deal with equipment failures on an incremental basis as they occur. Therefore, a prolonged period of not sailing undermines the very foundation of our competence. Our skills get rusty, and clusters of boat problems can build up invisibly while we are not using the boat.

I'm sure there are exceptions. Another cruising couple of similar age and experience, leave their boat 6 months every year. But the captain is a former police chief, is very disciplined. He may be able to avoid the restart problem. I'll see him in the next few days and ask what he thinks.

I know that many experienced cruisers read this blog. Please comment on this post. Do you agree or not?

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Gal Kay

Vero Beach, FL

I have a new girlfriend.  Her name is Kay.  Here's how we met.

I was sitting alone waiting for a bus.  Along came this woman.  She just launched into a one-sided conversation as if we were old friends.   The woman was kind of handsome, but she was really ancient.  I guess close to 100 years old.

Kay first complained about a car that nearly ran her down.  Then she told me that last week she bought 10 mangos for $10 at Farm Fresh.  She had to carry them home because there were no busses at that time.  Then Kay told me about her husband Jim.  She told me about her macular degeneration; what she could see and not see; and how she declined the treatment.   Then I learned about her father John.  John took her on a walk from Poughkeepsie to Beacon when she was five.  In Beacon they have a very fine cathedral you know. She skied at Mount Snow in Vermont with her sister.  She had five siblings.

Her husband complained about her overuse of long distance, but she was glad that she called her sister because her sister died the next day.

Kay had attractive legs when she was young; that's how she got her husband.

Her arm hurt from carrying the mangos plus a heavy bottle of milk; not too big a bottle but heavy anyhow.  She couldn't cross herself when she went to mass, so she had the priest do it for her.   She asked the priest why it was so hard to be old.  He said, "keep praying."  She went to the doctor, he felt her arm.  She told him that she remembered everything she ever read, and recited the Charge of The Light Brigade for him. Then she recited the Charge of The Light Brigade for me (correctly I assume)

All this happened in 10 minutes.  I hardly said a word, but I knew Kay's whole life story.  As the bus approached she said, "Anyhow, getting back to the mangos...."   We walked to the bus and Kay warned me about each crack in the pavement.  She has memorized them all because she can't see them. As we got on the bus, the other passengers and the driver all seemed to know Kay.

Kay was inspirational.  She showed that really old people can be vivacious, entertaining, and fun to be with.   I'm sorry that I didn't get Kay's picture to show to you;  I was afraid to interrupt her story.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Heavy Water

Vero Beach, Florida

No I'm not writing about Canadian nuclear reactors that use D2O. I'm writing about the weight of a 5 gallon jug of water. We discovered today that these jugs are much heavier than they used to be, or at least it seems so.

Yesterday, Libby rediscovered how difficult it is throw the dinghy against a 30 knot wind. It is harder than we remembered.

Actually, these and other things remind us how much less physically fit we are than we were a year ago. Sure we are older, but I think that has little to do with it. I blame owning a car during the past year. Upper body strength in particular seems to have suffered.

The upbeat part of this story is that if you live the life of cruising sailors all the time, you acquire and retain an excellent level of fitness serendipitously (wow, what a big word).

The down side is that Libby and I have to find some kind of remedial program to regain fitness.

Our son John gave us a kettle bell, and he recorded some instructional videos to teach us a cross fit routine customized for people like us. I think I'll have to dig those out and actually start using them.

When we get to Marathon, we will get a mooring far from the dock so that we have to row a long way to get anywhere. Rowing is one of the best of all exercises. Our outboard motor has not been started in 18 months. We should try for 24 months. It might not be good for the motor, but it is good for us.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Too Big Boat 2

Vero Beach


I found this picture today. It says "Titanic juxtaposed with a modern cruise liner."



Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Too Big Boats

Vero Beach, Florida

The other day on the ICW we were passed by a very big, very smart looking sailboat.  I was not able to recognize the brand.  It was new and it looked nice.    An hour or so after it passed us, we came upon the same boat dropping anchor in a strange place.   Libby asked if they needed help.  "No," came the answer, "There is only 63 feet clearance under that bridge ahead.  We are waiting for low tide."  

What a pain in the neck to travel the ICW and worrying to death if one could pass under every single bridge.

Back in Marineland, we met a nice couple from Oswego, New York.  They had a 65 foot steel tug boat converted to a cruising boat.  She was a very worthy vessel and she looked beautiful.  Again I thought, "What a pain.  Where could you go with that boat.  Where would you stay."   None of the mooring fields can handle a vessel that big, nor can most of the marinas.

Up in Saint Augustine we saw a Prout 63 foot catamaran.  We had not gotten over our astonishment at its size when we saw a Prout 77 footer nearby.   Those things probably had 90-100 foot masts.  Once again, you would be severely restricted in where you could go with such a vessel.   Only the marinas that cater to the mega-yachts of the super rich could handle them.  How sad to own such a fine boat and to be so limited in what you could do with it.

Some of our cruiser friends are heading south right now.  Because their mast is too high for the ICW, they must sail nonstop from Annapolis to Miami on the outside.

I once read a book about circumnavigation.  It said that 2/3 of circumnavigators who give up part way, cite "too big a boat" as their reason.

My friend Bob, just told me that the statistics for new cruising boats show a clear trend to get even bigger.  Ay ay ay. I understand that affluence is a driver.   "Why settle for that $200,000 boat?  Let's get the $400,000 one."  Never mind that all operating and maintenance costs go up with the square of boat displacement.   But what I suspect many of those boat purchasers don't understand, is that too big a boat is actually less useful to own than a smaller boat.

Do not expect the cruising media to tell you that secret.  They are captive to advertisers who depend on selling big ticket items.  Money is king.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Oh The Beauty

Vero Beach, Florida

We missed the eclipse yesterday. There is an absolutely stunning picture of it on the APOD web site. I don't have the photographer's permission to use it so you will have to click here to see it.

By the way, if you do not view APOD every day, I recommend it. Maybe half of the time you will not be interested but the other half you will be amazed, entertained and educated all at the same time. APOD is one of the top 5 popular sites on the entire Internet.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Welcome To Vero

Vero Beach, Florida
27 39.563 N 080 22.233 W

Last night was a special treat.  We had dinner with Dave and Jonnie, a great couple that we are specially fond of.  Thanks, Dave and Jonnie.

This morning, I woke at 5.  It would have been 6 except for daylight savings time.  Darn. I put on me clothes and went for a walk.  Wouldn't you know, I found a Sarbucks, so it wasn 't too bad.   I missed the eclipse in any case because I couldn't see the horizon.

But this afternoon, we arrived in Vero.  Regular readers know that this is one of our two major stops.  We have spent many months in Vero.  Next to Marathon it is our favorite place.  Nominally, we will stay here until after Thanksgiving.  We like to help with the big Thankgiving cruisers dinner.

Think of our progress another way.  24 22 N is the latitude of our winter playground.  We are at 27 39 N; so we have only 3 degrees to go.   Compared to our summer playground at 45 N, we are 6/7 of the way there.

The mooring here in Vero is surprisingly empty for November.   I'm sure it will fill up more by Thanksgiving, but I wonder if it is not the sign of a slow season.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Cruising The Indian River

Cocoa, Fl

21 28.868 N 080 43.277 W


Rachet up the comfort/fun level another notch. We are on The Indian River. From here, to about 150 miles south, there is nothing but fun, friends and sheltered waters. We are going to,have dinner with some of those friends tonight in Eau Gallie.

This afternoon we will meet Tom, a W32 owner. Tom hosted a Westsail rendezvous just last weekend. Unfortunately we missed that.

Last night we anchored near Cape Canaveral. There is something new to see there. They have a space shuttle, complete with external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters standing upright at the NASA museum. It makes quite a sight at night when it is brightly lit.

Today's dawn was extra nice with both the eastern and western skies all pink. Tomorrow we will try to glimpse the partial solar eclipse at dawn.

This,picture is zoomed to show the approximate extent of the Indian River. It follows the east coat the whole way. Cape Canaveral is the bulge extending eastward at the top of the picture. We are near that today. The picture also shows the Bahamas to the southeast.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Where the Tony Sopranos Hang Out

Rockledge Creek, New Symrna Beach, FL

If you have ever watched the Sopranos TV series, you may remember the scene where Tony and his son take Tony's boat out.  They behave like louts, and their wake swamped nearby boaters.  

Most boaters are friendly, courteous and informed about the rules of the road and etiquette afloat.  But there are always a few Tonys.  Below, I'll make a minor expose and tell where in our experience the preponderance of Tonys hang out along the east coast.

  • The Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and the Tappan Zee Bridge
  • Cape May, New Jersey
  • The Potomac River, near Quantico and Potomac Creek
  • The ICW just north of the Ben Sawyer Bridge in Charleston, SC
  • Daytona Beach, Florida
  • The Saint Lucie River, Florida
  • North Miami, Florida
  • Cape Coral, Florida

Easy Living

En Route ICW
29 29.487 N 081 08.464 W

A week ago we were agonizing about being stuck on the ICW and longed for the open sea.  Today and yesterday the weather and winds were ideal for sailing offshore, but we're content here on the ICW.  What's up?   First, the Florida ICW is much nicer and free of hazards, shoals, strong currents, and large tides than the ICW in the Carolinas or Georgia.   Second, life is easy and fun on the ICW around here.

Two days ago we did provisioning in Saint Augustine. I also picked up some key parts and materials at the Sailors Exchange there (an institution not quite unique but rare and precious).

Yesterday we stopped at the Marineland Marina for the first time ever.  We've heard good reports about that, and we can echo them.   We went across the street to Marineland (See the picture of Libby engaged in intense conversation with her dolphin.).  I went there once before 60+ years ago, but I looked a lot different then.  Marineland however is 75 years old.  Not quite as glorious as it once was, but still fun.

Today Daytona, tomorrow we'll try to have lunch with our friend Kerry in New Smyrna Beach and then on to The Indian River.  The weather remains delightful.  Easy living.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Night Apparitions

Saint Augustine, Florida
29 53.353 N 081 19.317 W

We both continue to rejoice at the nice weather here.  60 at night, 80 in the afternoon.  What could be better?

I'm writing today about how difficult to be to recognize things on the water at night based on their lights.  I'm sure you know that the basic lighting scheme for boats is the same world wide and has been uncanged for centuries.  One red light visible to port.  One green light visible to starboard.  One white light visible from behind.   Therefore, you should always be able to see either red/green, red/white, green/white, or just white and from that you can tell which way the other boat is pointing.  Things like buoys and lighthouses mostly have blinking lights.  But real life is a lot more complicated.

The other night at sea, Libby saw what appeared to be a fishing vessel.  They usually use lots of white lights to illuminate the work.  According to Libby this one showed an arrow, then it swung around with the arrow pointing the other way, so she was despeately turning Tarwathie this way and that to avoid collision..   It was time to switch watch, so when I came up, I found and AIS signal for the vessel.  It was anchored.  As I sailed past it, I could see no red or green lights, just lots of white lights.  There was no arrow.  It just seemed that way to Libby.

When it came time to anchor, I was the one fooled.  There were a whole bunch of multicolored lights near our planned anchorage.  It looked to me like one of those giant dredges, with cranes and steam shovels on deck and with a three story hotel for the workers.   I anchored far away, not wanting to be too close to such a floating city.  The next morning, when I looked it was just a cluster of anchored sailboats.  I think some of them had blue LED lights on that added to my confusion.

Numerous times at sea we have been fooled by the orange color of a rising moon.  It looks like a giant ship heading for us.

Coming into Fernandina, Libby said "Is that a cruise ship coming out?"   I looked at where she pointed.  "No," I said, "It is a paper factory on land."

Once down in the keys I interpreted headlights of cars coming up and over the hump of a bridge as landing lights of a series of planes landing.

Strangest of all was one night when Libby was alone on deck and she saw a single orange light right in front of us and very close.  It turned out to be a surfaced submarine.

The point is simply that it can be devilishly difficult to correctly identify what you see at night.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Welcome To Florida

En Route, The Tolomato River
30 21.914 N 08 26.694 W

Now for the rewards.  We had an exceptionally hard time getting here, what with groundings, engine trouble and weather.  But now we're here and the rewards are flowing.

First, the weather is delightful.  Mid 70s right not, high today 80 and low tonight about 60.  The sun feels so good.

Second, we are south of the Saint Johns River and all the stressful parts of this migration.  From here on south shoals are infrequent, safe anchorages are abundant, and the weather for the next week seems benign.

Third, we are able to stop and visit with friends.  Yesterday it was Charlie and Mary in Fernandina Beach.  They are a couple we met at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center years ago and who have become closer over the years.  They treated us to a nice lunch at a swanky golf club.  (Amelia Island has lots of swanky places.)   I was able to watch the golfers out the window as I munched.  Thanks so much Charlie and Mary.

Put all three together, and I guess we have to award Florida near paradise status.  Ignore the fact that law enforcement is nutty, and the politics dicey.  It's still great.  Oh by the way, Florida has its share of kooks and yesterday I read that some Floridians are rushing to buy Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman costumes for Halloween.  Jeez, that 's exactly what the world does not need.   They won't bother us however, never yet has a Halloween trick or treater swum out to our boat while we sit at anchor.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

We're Here! Thank goodness.


30 45.679 N 081 28.419 W


Well, it sure has been a problematical migration, but the major milestone is behind us. We are in Florida and it is warm.

Our 35 hour passage was OK. Not the best, nor the worst. We had wind, for the first 15 hours. Indeed, for two or three hours we screamed along at 8-9 knots. In case you don't know, that is much faster than Tarwathie's hull speed and supposedly impossible to achieve.

But then the wind died and we had to motor the last 15 hours. So be it. We were tired of waiting for ideal windows.

Along the way we had dolphins, no whales, and two birdie num nums. Let me explain. Num nums are the name we use for land birds that find Tarwathie as a haven more than twenty miles off shore. We presume that these birds would have died if they didn't find something dry to land on. Typically, they ride along with us until we get close enough to land for them to fly off. Can this be the mechanism for bird life to spread its genes to remote islands? Most num nums are goldfinches, as was one of these. The other was a sparrow.

I had a special treat as the goldfinch managed to catch a moth way out there at sea. He landed near my knee with his catch (by then he had become partially tame.). I watched as he waited until the moth's fluttering slowed and stopped. The the coup de grace. Then munch munch leading to the finale. In one fluid motion he flipped the corpse 90 degrees then swallowed it whole head first. Pretty slick. He did not burp that I heard.

The nighttime cold at sea was not as bad as we feared. I suppose it was the moderating effect of the water surface. Within two meters of the surface, it's hard for the wind to be significantly warmer or colder than the water.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Change Plans Again

En Route, Wacamaw River
33 22251 N 079 06.001 W

Yesterday, I decided to stay on the ICW because of cold temperatures.   But last night, I checked on the condition of the ICW ahead of us.  The ICW is in terrible shape this year.  Numerous serious shoaling places prevent passage except at high tide.

Then I checked the weather.  No chance of good winds in the next few days, until November 1 when it looks like a major storm brewing.   Yuck.

So, I changed our plans once again.   We will go to sea at the mouth of this river (at Winyah Bay) today.  I'm prepared to motor all the way to Florida if necessary, although we hate doing that.  We'll be close to the coast so that we could duck back inside if necessary.    Temperatures will hit 43 tonight and 47 tomorrow night.

I just tested our pactor modem.  That is the device that connects the PC to the SSB radio and that allows us to post blogs and receive textual weather forecasts while at sea.  The pactor modem did not work.  It has no power.  It has been more than a year since I tried to turn it on.   Bottom line, do not expect any blog posts while we are at sea.  ETA Fernandina Beach, 72 hours.

By the way, we stopped at Osprey Marina last night.  We were delighted to meet six of our cruising friends there.  Among them were Ted and Nancy from Aloha Friday.  They are among our favorite cruisers.  That was a special treat.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lack of Reserves

 Myrtle Beach, SC
33 50.986 N 078 39.573 W

Well, we're still on the ICW and it looks like we'll be there another few days.  Sigh.   The reason is weather.  Yesterday it was fierce winds against us.  Today and tomorrow it is temperature.  Nighttime temperatures will be in the 30s and I am not willing to be out at sea in an open cockpit all night in those conditions.

The deeper reason is a lot harder, even painful, to talk about.  I'm afraid this body is getting old and not able to do things it once could. (Get your mind out of the gutter. That part still works fine.)  I realized this summer that I should not drive a car after dark.  I notice that I'm becoming more and more of a klutz.  I make mistakes.  More mistakes than in the past.  I noticed it in 2012 up on Lake Champlain.  It bothered me enough that I thought a winter's hiatus in New Bern might improve things.  It didn't.

More important, I don't have the reserves of strength and stamina that I once did.   I know that once out at sea, sleep deprivation is inevitable.  Add to that bad weather and near-freezing temperatures and one needs to draw on one's reserves.  If the reserves are inadequate, both judgement and performance go to hell, and I would not be a safe captain.  That's what is spooking me.  

Interestingly, Libby feels safer at sea than in the ICW.  There are not many things to run in to or risks of going aground.  But Libby does not have the burden of the captain's role.  

Many friends and acquaintances think us very adventuresome and brave to live the life we do.  We're only human and we like to bask in the flattery, so we are in no hurry to disabuse them of their illusions.  In reality, we are very cautions.  As my skills go down, I'll have to adjust the boundaries of what we will and won't do appropriately just to maintain a constant margin of caution.  That hurts.

There may be remedies, and we will explore them. Some things that come to mind are formal check lists, limiting offshore passages to daytime only, and perhaps always taking on extra crew for offshore passages.  Any or all of those things impinge on the freedom we once had.

Today's interesting sight.  The top level of those boats appear to be flying in the sky.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Saint James Marina, Saint James, NC
33 55.62 N 78 07.588 W

Now the frustration level is rising rapidly.  We sailed down the Cape Fear River today with the intention of putting out to sea.  But the wind was too fierce and the wrong direction.  It was coming from 323 degrees, when our intended course was 325 degrees, and it was blowing 30 knots.  Tarwathie can't make much way at all in those conditions.   Therefore, we'll sail on the ICW down to Little River and try to put to sea from there tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Seen and Unseen

Carolina Beach State Park


We are planning on leaving Wednesday. In the meantime, we are enjoying where we are. This park is a jewel.

We are only 60 yards from the ICW. We see cruising boats heading south all the time.

I mentioned that this place has the best pine needles anyplace. Perhaps the reason is that the park has regular controlled burns. Thus the small pine trees growing up are young and well fertilized. Below you see Libby hiking on one of the trails. A small tree with luscious needles can be seen at the left.

Also interesting is what we don't see. At least don't see very much. This park is host to numerous carnivorous plants. Pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews,butterworts, and Venus flytraps. Of course we are curious to see such exotic plants. But hiking the trails, we were unable to spot any. I think the problem is that our eyes aren't trained. We see forest, and swamp, and lots of plants. We tend to see the plants collectively. Unless they have bright flowers or something distinctive, we don't see the individuals. Finally, I found the pitcher plant below, but only because the park built a boardwalk side trail leading to a dead end with the pitcher plant at the end.