Friday, May 30, 2014

Keeping Fresh Food Longer

New Bern, NC

[You may ask why there aren't more posts in this blog about things of Libby's interests and purveiew.  The fact is, that I tried several times to get Libby to write blog posts.  It never stuck.  Prolific blogging is driven only by the love of writing.  All else is secondary.]

I don't think I ever blogged before about provisioning.  One reason is that our diet on the boat differs little from what we would eat while land bound.   A second reason is that we don't do trans-oceanic passages that require 4-8 weeks without access to a store. We have no experience with that kind of provisioning.

But we have learned to live with very limited refrigeration.  Here are a few tips.

Adequate refrigerated space is a must.  A space big enough for one six pack is insufficient.   You can use ice, or refrigeration, but the volume must be adequate.  We actaully have excess volume, perhaps 7.5 cubic feet (I'm not sure exctly. I never measured.)

We found a significant improvement using "green bags" to store veggies. Debbie Myers is one brand of such bags. We also use the meat bags, bread bags, and cheese bags. All of them allow us to store stuff significantly longer without refrigeration, or longer still with refrigeration.

Highly processed breads last a very long time. Wonder bread will last much longer than fresh bakery bread. Thomas' Bagels will last months compared to one day for fresh bagels. Hostess Twinkies are reputed to last longer than the pyramids :-) In other words, less-healthy is correlated with lasts-longer.

Specific to potatoes, there is a old trick of storing individual potatoes in socks. That prevents them from sprouting. Ditto for apples. A bad apple in a sock is less likely to spoil neighboring apples in the bin.
Onions and tomatoes: we buy the smallest ones that we can find so that we don't have to store sliced leftovers.

Some articles say that coating eggs such as in wax makes them last a long time without refrigeration. We never tried that one.

Ultra-pasteurized milk (such as organic milk) lasts much longer after opening. In addition, Parmalat milk can be stored for months without refrigeration before opening.

We also use our pressure cooker as an autoclave. Leftovers that won't fit in the refrigerator, we put in the pressure cooker. Then add a little water, seal the top and heat it fully. Leave the top on. The interior should be sterile and suitable to keep the food until the next meal. I'm sure that food safety experts say that practice is unsafe, but we take the chance sometimes when the refrigerator is full.
Look for books and articles on "provisioning."

Fair WInds

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Too Big To Fail

New Bern, NC

By the way, I've been teaching courses on Excel up at the library this week.  Why?  Just because I love teaching.  I volunteered to do the same at the Marathon library last January, but they had to ask permission of the head librarians in Key West.  I'm still waiting on them to get back with an answer.

Here's something I did as a bit of original research just because I was curious.  It is a perfect case for library research.

I remember reading Fortune Magazine in the 1960s, especially the Fortune 500 list, and the Fortune top 10.  I wondered how the top 10 positions changed through the years.  You can see it below.

The names of the companies are in the cells, the colors identify the industries.

Top marks should go to General Electric.  That company (which I used to work for) has reinvented itself again and again.  Most companies fail to reinvent themselves ever and thus disappear.

What's the moral to the story? Nobody but nobody is too big to fail.

If the picture is chopped off, click on it to see it full screen.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Thank You For Your Service

New Bern, NC

A blog reader commented on my recent post about the air show. He said:
Those pics of kids with the guns is very disturbing. I know we did the same as kids with toy guns, playing army and cops and robbers, but to have the soldiers there with the actual weapons for the kids to play with is wrong. Parents and the Marines are in bad form here.
I think he’s wrong. Here’s why.

I surmise that the reader’s feelings are the result of the debate about gun rights and gun culture in the USA, plus news of horrific shooting deaths. He and I and you may or may not agree on that. But the military is a special case that should not get confounded by the larger debate.

Our country always had needed warriors and always will. People who serve in the military, and their families sacrifice greatly for the benefit of the country. It also seems true that the burden of military service falls selectively on a small minority of our families with a strong military tradition. In those families, generation after generation serve their country. The rest of us get all the benefits, but share none of the burden beyond paying taxes.

It is part of these families’ tradition to recruit their children to be tomorrow’s soldiers. It is likely that the children at the air show are disproportionately members of military families. If the love of weapons leads to gun accidents, then these same families are disproportionately the victims of those accidents. It is part of their sacrifice.

It is wrong to call what they do wrong. The only appropriate response, including recruitment of children, is “Thank You For Your Service.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Good Boater, Bad Biker?

New Bern, NC

I like to consider myself and Libby as good boaters.  We are considerate and safe.  In terms of keeping the boat in seaworthy condition, I rate us in the top 25%, but not the top 10%.  I keep a bike on board, and I use it a lot.  Evidence suggests that I'm not a very good biker.  What evidence?  Read on.

The day after riding my bike 38 miles to see an air show I bragged about my feat on this blog.  The day after that, I went to use the bike and I noticed that the tire pressures looked low.  I got out my guage and pump, and checked the pressures.  Oops, only 10 psi in each.   So I pumped them up to 40 psi and started to leave.  BANG, an explosion as loud as a shotgun blast hit before I had gone 50 feet.

But I had a spare tube on board.  I put in the new tube and started pumping it up again. Libby hollared STOP!  The tube was protruding from the side.  This time I inspected the tires.  The picture below shows Libby sticking her fist through the hole in the side of the tire.  Whoops, I hadn't noticed that.   I looked at the other tire.  It was better, but there was a worn place where the tube was beginning to stick out.

I confess to never having checked the tire pressures since I bought the bike.  Nor have I inspected the tires or treads.  I just don't even think of applying the same standards to the bike as I do to the boat.

So, suppose I had a flat at the far end of the trip to the air show.  I would have been very sorry then.

So, off to the store for new tires.  Once again, modern retailing baffled me.  Bikes were on sale for $88, but two tires and two tubes cost $86!!!   Hopefully, though the new tires are better quality than the original equipment.

Now with everything repaired, I noticed that pedaling is very much easier than ever before.  It's possible that I've been riding on low tire pressures since buying the bike last November.  Oh well, I can rationalize that a tough pedaling bike is better for purposes of physical fitness.  Do you think anyone would believe that?

My bike, all fixed up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rescue of The Bounty

New Bern, NC
35 06.669 N 077 02.377 W

My friend, Doug Campbell, is a co-author of a new book "Rescue of the Bounty"   I just finished reading it.  What a fun story to read.  Doug is a long time reader of this blog and a very seasoned W32 blue water sailor.

All our cruising friends will recognize much of the story.  It speaks of familiar places, familiar ports, and weatherman Chris Parker.   The talk about ship systems and ship's operation are also familiar to cruisers.

The best part is that it feels like three stories in one.   

First, it leads us up the ladder of suspense as a whole chain of errors that underlay the cause are detailed.   It starts on the first page.  When Libby started the book she exclaimed WTF on the first page.   Major accidents are almost always caused by a chain of errors, not a single mistake.  I was struck by the gap between the excellent reputation of the captain and crew and their actual performance which seems inexcusable in hindsight.

Second is the descent into chaos and oblivion as the consequences of the errors lead to doom for Bounty.   Sailors like me will understand the frustration of Bounty's crew because they are so helpless to change the destiny.

Third is the story of the rescue, allowing all but two of the crew to escape death.  The rescue alone is a great story.

Hats off to Doug and to his co-author Michael.

The lesson to all of us -- discipline and diligence is vital to safety

One of the Elizabeth CIty C-130s
Above.  I went to an air show yesterday and saw a C-130 that may have been one of the planes in the Bounty Rescue.  On board, I got to meet some the crew who were involved in the rescue.  Cool.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Cherry Point Air Show

New Bern, NC

On Saturday, I went to the MCAS Cherry Point Air Show.  I never met an air show I didn't like, and this was no exception.

Below is my favorite picture from the show.  If you want to let little bey boys have fun, let them play with weapons.  They had weapons on the ground and in turrents, and every one of them had kids clambering to play.  What a great recruiting tool for Marines.  In one place they had six machine guns in a line on the ground.  There were 5 boys laying down behind them going rat-a-tat-tat.   5 mothers watched uncomfortably.  At the sixth machine gun, there was a girl having just as much fun as the boys.  Her mother looked absolutely horrified.  :-)

My favorite aircraft from the show, Kevin Coleman's Extra 300.  This stunt plane did stunts I've never seen before, and never expected to see.  It was really amazing. My photos of it are inadequate.  Below is a scale model Extra 300.

I also got to see the infamous F35B, star of the show.  In South Burlington, Vermont where Jenny lives, there is a huge controversy about letting the Vermont ANG switch from F16s to F35s.  The controversy is about noise.  Now that I've seen a F35 take off and land right in front of me, I can tell you it is quieter than a F16.  In vertical take offs it is whisper quiet compared to a Harrier, and even quieter than a helicopter.

But my secondary story was about my trip to the show.   Dave offered to let us borrow his car.  We declined.  Nick was going to come from Fort Bragg to watch the show with us (and to give us a ride) but at the last minute, Nick nad to back out.   So, determined to see the show, I rode my bike.

Saturday I rode my (single speed) bike 38 miles (61 km) and walked 6 miles (10 km) to see that show.  My previous personal record for a bike ride was 10 miles, so it was quite a leap.   It took me 1.5 hours to bike to the airfield, but 3 hours to bike back against a 10 knot head wind.  Whew, I was really exhausted at the end of the day.   But this morning, I'm not stiff.  I guess there are some miles left in this 69 year old body.  

Seriously, I wisely invested money wisely in a 3 month membership at Keys Fitness in Marathon.  I averaged 12 hours per week working out.   One year ago I was afraid to walk the trail to the bottom of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon because I was afraid that I couldn't get back up without help.  I think it is fair to say, that I've come a long way since then.  The villain was owning a car during the 2012-2013 winter.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Zenni Optical, Sign of Times to Come

New Bern, NC
35 06.669 N 077 02.377 W

It is not my custom to give product plugs in this blog, but I'm going to make an exception.

Libby and I have been buying glasses from for a long time.  Our satisfaction has been high.  Their prices are very much cheaper than conventional purchase paths.  Last month in Vero, we did it again.  We got new prescriptions and we ordered new glasses for both Libby and I from Zenni.

They were delivered to Dave's house.  When we got there and tried them, Libby's were fine but mine were a disaster.   They were a total blur for both near and far.  WTF?   When we got back to the boat, I dug out my prescription and compared it to the order confirmation.  Uh oh.  Where my correction said +1.75, I had ordered -1.75.   The user interface had me click on a radio button rather than type in the numbers.   Zenni also had my order history of 3-4 previous prescriptions, all with + corrections.  It they had checked the new order against my order history, the error should have been obvious.

I contacted Zenni's customer service.  I explained that it was my error, but that I was still disappointed.   To my amazement, they offered me a one-time 100% store credit if I returned them.  I didn't expect them to be that generous.

But to give time for the glasses to be returned, then order new ones and wait for delivery, we would have departed from New Bern.  Snail mail would not have another chance to catch up with us until July when we get to Vermont.   So, I went to Walmart and bought new glasses from them.  I'll buy from Zenni again next year.

Shock!  Walmart's price was 400% of what Zenni charges for comparable products.  

Upon reflection, I think I understand.   Zenni no doubt relies on automated machines to make the lenses.  Their unit costs must be very low.   Walmart, and thousands of other vision care retail outlets, are middle men who charge a huge markup.  Sure, they provide additional value in terms of convenience, but the amount of added value IMHO is low.   Surely, in the future these middle men will be squeezed out of that market, just as had happened with many other markets.

A second example:  The battery on our ACR EPIRB expired.  I searched for a replacement online, and was surprised to learn that I can not do it myself.  The work must be done by a certified technician who does lots of additional QC checks.   Instead of $25 for the battery, the fee is about $300.  What is the future of skilled middlemen like that?  I think they are threatened too.  Even without automation, someone will learn to leverage a certified technician's skill with minimum wage labor and offer the service in bulk for a much reduced price.  Sometime after that, the labor will be replaced with an automaton.

The long term consequences for society are well explored in science fiction.  It will be a future in which only a small fraction of citizens are privileged to have a job.   To cope with that, we'll have to really flip-flop on our attitude toward the unemployed.  Of course, I'm old enough that I won't be around to see the transition to its conclusion.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New Deck Box Report

Zebulon, NC

We are visiting Dave & Cathy this week.  That gives me time to write up something that has been on the shelf for a long time.

We decided to stop carrying the 6 person life boat on board and to replace it with an ice cooler. I wrote about it before.  In the pictures below. you see it in front of the mast, behind the hatch, and between the dorade boxes.  So far, it has proved to be very useful.  By the way, I leave the box's drain permanently open.  I don't expect a long lifetime for that box, but it will be cheap to replace.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tides in the Florida Keys

Zeblon, NC

After some discussion with friends about sailing the inside passage between Marathon and Biscayne Bay, I decided to do a little research on the tides in that region.  What I learned is very interesting. All the data below pertains to the tide station at Vaca Cut, Florida.

The pie chart shows the components of tidal variation.  The repeated pattern 1/2 to 1 is very interesting.   1/2 day, 1 day, 1/2 lunar month, 1 lunar month, 1/2 year, 1 year.  The proportions of the pie vary according to location.   For example, in Pensacola, Florida there is almost zero 1/2 day component of tide.  They have only one high and one low tide per day.

Below shows the tides for the past year.  The monthly and biannual components are easily visible. We traveled the inside passage around December 1.  As you can see, the water levels are much higher then than in the spring.  The lesson, sail the inside passage southward in Nov/Dec but the outside passage Apr/May.

Below is the sea level trend.  Does this mean global warming?  I don't know. But the rate of 3mm/year is pretty slow in any case.

Below is the tidal trends for the past 11 years.  As you can see, the 2010-2011 winter season was exceptionally low.

I can also see a definite component with a 9 year period.  I posted a question about this on an oceanographer forum.  I learned that there is a 9 year period to the precession of the moon's perigee, and a 18 year period of the precession of the moon's plane.  Wow, imagine observing such sophisticated astronomical things just by keeping records of tides.  Amazing.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Fife Up

New Bern Grand Marina, New Bern, NC
35 06.147 N 077 02.417 W

Yesterday I stumbled upon the annual shareholder meeting of PepsiCo.   It was a most unusual meeting.

New Bern is the birthplace of Pepsi Cola.  New Bern is also the location of Tryon Palace.  Tryon Palace, dates back to 1729.   It is magnificently and authentically re-created.   I makes a magical venue to hold a meeting.

As a bonus, it was a very nice day to stand outside waiting for the meeting to start.  As a double bonus, the Tryon Palace Fife and Drum Corps played welcome songs.  I learned a new phrase that I've never heard before.  "FIFE UP" said the band leader.

By the way, if you never saw a real fife before, here's a picture.  It is very small, about one foot long and the diameter of your thumb.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Batteries, and Battery Types

New Bern, NC
35 06.670 N 077 02.371 W

Sigh, it's time to buy new batteries again.  It seems like every other week, (but of course, that's not true).  One of my two batteries has two bad cells.  The other is about the same age as the first.

I have a single bank of two group 31 batteries, no starting battery.  Also no room for four batteries.

I'm wondering what replacements to buy.

Gel Cells --  Early on Tarwathie, I bought gel cells.  They were a disaster, failing almost immediatly after installation.  I went through 4 sets in 18 months.  Unfortunately, for West Marine, they replaced them four times under warranty.  I sold them to another cruiser, and he replaced them within a week free at West Marine after I provided him with my receipt.   I finally figured out that my engine compartment runs far too hot (about 140 F in summer) for gel cells.  My conscience felt bad about that, because the whole thing was my fault, not West Marine's.

AGM -- These batteries cost the most, and many people assume that they are the Cadillac of batteries simply because of their high price.   Actually, the primary advantage of AGM is that they can accept charge more rapidly.  But to take advantage of that I would have to double the capacity of our alternator, double the capacity of the shore power charger, install double pulleys on the engine for the alternator belts, and buy an electronic charge controller, and install engine room ventilators;  a lot of stuff.   The reality is that when we run the engine on the ICW, we run it 10 or more hours per day.  When not on the ICW, we use solar panels for recharging, not the engine.   AGMs for Tarwathie would costs a big pile of money for little advantage.  Also, I can quickly think of three or more cruising friends, who had horrible experiences with AGM batteries.

Flooded Cells -- Conventional batteries are best for Tarwathie.  But recently I went to a battery seminar sponsored by Trojan Battery Company.  They made good arguments, as to why their premium brand was better.

Today, I went to the local battery store to shop.  First, I found that Trojan group 31 batteries cost $240 each, compared to $120 for regular brands.  Double!   The warranty on Trojans is the same one year as on the others.  Trojan claims that you might get 60% more life with their batteries compared to brand X, but they won't warrant it.  Sounds like double the cost is hard to justify.

Then, I learned something new.  The dealer was selling dual-purpose batteries.   They are halfway between starting batteries and deep-discharge batteries.  I never heard of that before.   I run a single bank for both cranking and house loads. I used to have a separate starting battery, but I junked it after nearly 5 years of almost never using it, because it was so inconvenient using the battery switch to select the starting battery to start.

I'm skeptical of dual-purpose batteries.  What do my readers have to say?   What do they say about me using my single bank for both cranking and house power?   Normally, my engine starts with less less than 1 second cranking.

Monday, May 05, 2014


Neuse River, near Minnesott Beach, NC
34 57.871 N 076 43.506 W
So, we will be in New Bern this afternoon. We'll stay there for nearly a month. So let's say thst this phase of our migration is done. So how did it go?
We left Marathon (reluctantly) nearly three weeks ago. Since then:
  1. We did an overnight passage on the outside to Fort Myers
  2. We stopped two days in Labelle, where we are ourselves silly at The Log Cabin BBQ.
  3. We spent a night in a Clewiston, our first time there. Conclusion: not much of interest there.
  4. We had a nice sail across Lake Okeechobee, and got stuck in a barge traffic tie up at the St Lucie Lock.
  5. We spent nearly a week in Vero.
  6. We traveled up the ICW to Jacksonville.
  7. We did a two night outside passage to Winyah Bay and The Wacamaw River.
  8. We ducked weather for three nights, and had fun with our friends Bo and Joyce, in Myrtle Beach.
  9. We travelled up the ICW to CBSP (see the neat sunset picture from there).
  10. We did an overnight outside passage from Masonboro Inlet to Beaufort Inlet.
  11. Now we are here on The Neuse River.
So, when we do start moving, the events list piles up quickly. Note that one of the three weeks was spent on a mooring in Vero. If we had stayed in Mrathon those three weeks, the time would have flown past, and hardly anything noteworthy would have happened.
So, how fast or slow is it to migrate from The Keys to New England? Our typical time is two months, but that is because we make numerous prolonged stops. If we pushed along every day, it would take a month. In theory, if we got in The Gulf Stream and stayed outside wpthe whole time, we could do it in A week or 10 days. This year, it will. E more like 2.5 months if we stay the full month in New Bern.
A soft rule we try to follow is to never reach New York City harbor before June 1 (because the water is too cold if we GDR there earlier). Considering that things are still thawing up there, doing it two weeks later this year sounds like the right thing to do,
Our southward bound soft rule is to reach Florida no later than November 1. Otherwise, we begins to run in to cold and stormy weather.
Carolina Beach State Park
Carolina Beach State Park
The real soft rule for the whole year is to follow the nice weather. Summer in the north, winter in the south, and fall/spring in the mid Atlantic States. Pretty simple rule huh?
In lat/lon what I call our sandbox is 25-45 degrees north, and 73-81degrees west.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Sky The Sky

Neuse River, NC
34 56.959 N 076 40.382 W
The passage up was short apbut sweet. Just the right amount of wind, but too much wave action on the beam. We rocked and rolled enough to. Beat a record.
Last night on my watch at 0200, I moved my cushion to the forward deck and just admired the stars. They were spectacular. Especially ice was the Milky Way which stood our strongly. Of course out at sea we are far from light pollution, but some nights are much clearer than others. I think it must be low humidity wpthat makes the air clearer. I had a great time just star watching. Not one meterorthough.
Coming into Beaufort Inlet we saw what appeared to be some drama. There was a small tug punching in a. Huge floating dredge. The tug appeared to be losing the battle against the wind and was losing control. A giant sea going tug came up behind us, and a river poilot came out from land. They and we all met at the same place at the same time.
The little tug backed off. The pilot went on board the barge. The big tug replaced the little tug. But then after one might surge of the big tugs engine, it backed off and headed to shore. Then the little tug returned. After 15 minutes, the big tug did a 180 turn and returned to the scene. We didn't hear any radio traffic, so we couldn't really know what was happening.
My guess is that the little tug lost control, asked for emergency help, but then tried to weasel out of paying the enormous bill for the enormous tug. But in the end someone (the pilot?) called the big tug back.
We have a very quiet anchorage today. We will catch up on sleep and loafing.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Go, Stop, Go

Wrightsville Beach, NC
34 06.713 N 077 52.372 W

Well, we finally made it to Carolina Beach State Park yesterday at 1800.  It was a very hard slog against that ebb current.  Not recommended.  

On the up side, it gave Libby a chance to gather about a bushel of prime length, prime quality, pine needles.  CBSP has the best ones we've seen anywhere.

This morning, I went on a ranger led tour of the park's carnivorous plants.   That was instructive, because in previous tours of that park, we never spotted them.  Now I know better what to look for.  Also on the tour was a troop of boy scouts and their leaders, who were camping in the park.  I invited the whole troop back to Tarwathie to see a cruising boat.  Then I rushed back to the boat to warn Libby about what I had done.  No problem, the boys got their tour.  They were suitable impressed, and both Libby and I had fun.

By the way, on the plant tour I learned that they do proscribed burns at the park regularly.  The very short pine trees, less than 6 feet tall, get burned regularly.   Those are the ones with the best needles; much nicer than the needles on the adult trees right above them.   I'll bet that the fires are the reason why the needles here are better than elsewhere.

My plan was to motor to Wrightsville Beach today, anchor overnight, then go out the inlet and sail to Beaufort Sunday.   Libby had a better plan.  We'll go outside tonight, sail overnight, and arrive in Beaufort in the morning.   That's what we'll do.

Friday, May 02, 2014


Cape Fear River, North Carolina
33 58.778 N 077 56.863 W
We have been doing pretty good with tides and currents until now. We left Myrtle Beach this morning, and we really want to get to Carolina Beach State Park tonight. We arrived at Southport at 1500, just in time to meet the peak ebb current in the Cape Fear River. Currents in this river are serious! Our best speed at full throttle was only 1.9 knots! But, we stuck with it. Now, 2 hours later, we are up to 3.5 knots and we will reach the destination before sunset.
My topic today is invention. I was reminded of that by the following headline and picture.

How refreshing to see something old and familiar so thoroughly re-thought. That is the essense of invention.
How about nautical things? What great sailing inventions have come along since Libby and I started sailing in the 1970s. GPS comes to mind. That was revolutionary. How about carbon fiber cloth and the high tech yachts of the 2013 America's Cup. Nah, those are all incemental improvements. I think my favorite since 2005 has been LED lighting. But none of those things are the fruit of a single person's inventiveness.
I've had some minor brushes with invention myself. I have two patents, but those aren't the things I'm most proud of. My best inventions (software related stuff) all suffered from the same problem -- timeliness. Too late or too early and an invention has no value.
My grandfather Mills suffered similar frustrations. He invented the 3-way light bulb, and sold the patent to G.E. for only $25. He invented the mechanical push-button combination door lock. I'm reminded of that all the time because I find those locks on places like gates and bathroom doors of marinas. But grandpa's patent was in 1936 (I think) and the first such locks weren't actually made until the late 1950s after the patent had expired. His invention wasn't timely.
My personal best invention was the web browser complete with links. I did it 5 years before Netscape, and 4 years before the web itself. Marc Andreesen and Sir Tim Berners-Lee did their browser and web inventions in a timely way and became famous. My version found zero acceptance. As I promoted it, people kept asking "Browse what?" "Unless you name the kind of information browsed (legal, engineering, finance, literature, ...), we can't understand what your invention is for." I took it to venture capitalist Ben Rosen, soon after Rosen's success with Compaq computers. Rosen hired a consultant from IBM to evaluate my invention. She killed it in her report with the sentence, "Corporate Americe does not want their employees to have access fo unstructured information." Sigh.
Even today, you might ask me, "What good was a web browser without a web?" Sigh.