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 NiƱo 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.