Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lucky Find or Fate?

The other day I blogged about the Burlington airport as a favorite morning place. Well, a strange thing happened there. I was walking through the airport when I spied the following book abandoned on the newspaper rack.

The Swedish title caught my eye. This is no ordinary book. In Swedish culture, Vilhelm Moberg is perhaps the most beloved author, and this book the most beloved book. Compare it to Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
I haven't read this book, but Libby and I were enchanted by the two movies Utvandrana and Nybyggerna (Emigrants and Settlers) based in other books in the series.
It has been many years since I tried reading a book in Swedish, but I'm gong to try with this one. After that, I'll try to get Libby and Jen and John and even Dave to read it too.
P.s. I tried, but I didn't get far. Moberg's language is flowery in the extreme. It would be hard to read in any language.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This Subject Makes Me Squirm

Valcour Island, NY
44 37.332 N 073 24.417 W

[I am sticking our necks out by publishing such candid personal thoughts on a blog. Please do not read it to infer that we are sick or are dwelling on morbid thoughts. We are not. If this post makes our family or friends anxious, I’ll never be candid again.]
The other day on the forum, someone posted a story about a sailboat at a marina in Rio Dulce Guatemala that suddenly exploded with a propane explosion. The skipper died. His boat was destroyed and neighboring boats heavily damaged. It was a tragedy. The writer make the point of his post is that propane can be very dangerous as a fuel on a boat. . Another writer posted a reply on saying that he/she chose kerosene because of the dangers of propane. That’s certainly true. Years ago I chose an Origo alcohol stove for day sailing on our Tanzer 27 because of safety, but since living on Tarwathie, we are happy consumers of propane

I think that most of us boaters are fully capable of making safe and rational choices about boat equipment, and also operating and maintaining the equipment safely. We pride ourselves in safety and seaworthiness (which is a standard that outranks almost everything except airworthiness) . However, I also believe that we are less good at revising our choices when personal circumstances change.

What personal circumstances? Age is a big one. Budget, health, stress from work or family, time or lack of time to focus on the boat, alcohol/drug use, guests on board, full time/part time cruising, levels of recent experience, location and many other factors can be important. I have no knowledge of the Rio Dulce incident, but in other propane explosion cases I’m pretty sure that the underlying cause was chronic alcohol abuse, or poor health.

All these personal circumstances are subject to change. My point is that some (perhaps most) of us are bad at re-evaluating our choices, ambitions, and methods in response to such changes. Thinking about that led me to realize something. That is why insurance companies impose those obnoxious surveyors on us. Their real purpose is to force us to change some of our choices against our will. In other circumstances, external authorities evaluate the fitness of pilots, captains, engineers and others with critical safety responsibilities; they do not allow the people to self evaluate.

This subject makes me squirm because I realize that we too are affected. I first became aware of it in 2012. I have been taking some remedial actions. In some ways, we beefed up our vigilance. In other ways we scaled back our ambitions. But no matter what we do, we are on the back slope of the life cycle; we’re getting old. No matter what remedies we take, the challenges will become bigger with time while our reserve energies to deal with them diminish. This is an existential threat to our life style, and I have no sure remedy for it.

But we are stubbornly determined to live this life style until … until I don’t know what. Something eventually will force change upon us. Americans tend to admire the “die with my boots on” mind set. We do too. That is out ultimate hope. But I am also troubled with the obligation to prevent carelessness or irresponsibility to be the cause of that end.

Now comes the part where my logically trained engineer’s brain comes into play. Baring the unforeseeable (everybody bars that), these trends lead to an entirely foreseeable crisis sometime in the future. There will come a day when it will be irresponsible to continue the cruising life, yet my feeling is “Hell no; over my dead body.” Libby feels the same way but even stronger. I have no plan to deal with that crisis, and that is cause for worry. It is a circumstance in which thinking logically and with foresight is a disadvantage. [Libby agrees with this essay except the previous sentence.]

Libby and I also had an unrelated conversation last night. The question was, “If we won the lottery and became billionaires, what would we change?” We both came up with the answer, “nothing.” It shouldn't be surprising therefore that we don’t want to change; we are already living the best life we can imagine.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Yahoos in the Night

South Burlington, VT
Have you ever seen the film clip showing the infinite vastness of the sand dunes in the Kalahari Desert. As it zooms in, you see two beetles running across the surface. They cross dune after dune until, bam, head on collision. It was funny because it was so preposterous.
We love crossing Lake Champlain at night. It is especially nice on a calm clear night when the stars are brilliant. As a rule, there is very little boat traffic out there to watch out for. But (here comes the story) not always.
We had just passed Juniper Island and we were headed for Shelburne Point. Libby was at the helm and (luckily) I was on deck helping watch out, for buoys with a hand held search light. I saw a vessel 1/4 mile to starboard. It appeared to be sitting still, so I ignored it. We had running lights and steaming light on.
Suddenly, the still vessel came to life and headed toward us at high speed. Perhaps 30-40 knots. It had running lights, but also a search light that appeared to be fixed in position pointing straight ahead. I pointed our search light at the driver's eyes. That's the standard way to get attention of another vessel at night. There was no time to reach for the horn and give the danger warning of 5 blasts. The yahoo on the other boat probably would not have heard anyhow.
No response. It continued coming faster and faster. I flashed again and again. Finally I ordered Libby "Emergency Full Reverse".
Just then, a third vessel appeared. It was a motor boat overtaking us on the starboard side between us and the speeding boat. It too shifted to emergency reverse and stopped beside us. At the last moment, the speeding boat finally saw us and it too stopped.
There we were, that whole big lake with 1000 square miles of surface, with three boats in the middle of the night stopped with less than a boat length between us. After a minute to catch our breath, all three boats went on their way. Whew, what a close call.

My theory was that the speeding boat's search light ruined the driver's night vision. Since that light was pointing straight ahead, the driver could not see the other vessels approaching from the side. Part of the beam may have illuminated his own bow right in front of him. He didn't even see my search light flashing at him. Coast Guard rules dictate minimum lighting, but not maximum lighting. In my humble opinion, any lights which impair the helmsman' stability to see ahead of his vessel should be banned.

P.s in my own post mortem assessment, I realized that I might have warned him better if I used my search light to illuminate the side of our white hull. If we had our sails up, I would have illuminated the sails.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


South Burlington, VT

A few weeks ago, we were traveling north along The Champlain Canal by boat. As we departed from one of the locks, I noticed two men sitting and fishing at the edge of the lock wall. One of the men was talking. He raised his hands in front of his belly, palms inward in the classical gesture of someone telling a fish story. Then as I watched, his hands drifted farther apart as he told his story.

I was too far away for verbal communication with the man, but as the boat passed, I managed to get eye contact with him. I raised my hands to the fish story position spread just as widely as his hands. Then I moved my hands still farther apart. The man broke into a big ear-to-ear grin and he responded by moving his hands apart to the full length of his arms. I did likewise.

Nonverbal message sent and received, allowing two passing strangers to share a warm moment

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Caption Contest

Burlington, Vermonty

On Tuesday we had a visit from long time fiends Gerry and Phyllis.  We went to the Champlain Maritime Museum.

Help me put a caption on this photo of Libby at the Museum. (p.s. Why not me in the helmet?  My head is too big to fit.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rube Goldberg? Could Be Worse

South Burlington, Vermont
See below. This is not a very good picture, but perhaps good enough enough.
Our anchor, Bessie, has a 7/8 inch shackle on the end. Our anchor chain is 5/16. How to connect the two?
Previously I had no good soulution so I just tied a bowline knot in the chain around the 7/8 shackle. That is unconventional, seems insecure, and looks ugly. I needed something better.
Now I have a better solution. The 7/8 shackle links to a 3/4 shackle that links to a 3/8 shackle, that links to the 5/16 chain. Whew. Now I have to add safety wires.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Data Mining

South Burlington, Vermont
Libby and Jen are our doing the hoity-toity Flynn Garden Tour today. Hopefully photos and a report from Libby to follow.
Me? I'm surfing the net.
I blogged about these plots after Hurricsne Irene. They show the lake level at the north end (top right), middle (top left), and south end (bottom). It covers a range of 100 miles.
If the levels at all three locations tend the same, it means tha the volume of water in the lake is changing. If they trend differently, it means that the wind is blowing. Note the abrupt decrease in level at the south, and increase at the north end. Yes, it corresponds with the arrival of strong southerly winds starting about 0400 this morning.
If the wind stopped suddenly right now, we would see oscillations at both ends that would be the analogs of water sloshing in a bathtub. They are called seiche waves. In addition to water level, we can have seiche waves in water temperature (thermocline) and salinity/density. Temperature seiche waves in Champlain tend to go east-west while level seich waves go north-south.
Do these tech details entertain you or bore you?
P.s the strong storm that made us drag anchor the other day also blew in the hanger doors at the airport and damaged the F16s stored inside. I learned that the storm was a "single bow" kind of "serial delrecho". That is notable only because of the wide publicity about a delrecho that hit Washington DC last year. They bring very strong winds.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bessie Vindicated

Vergennes, Vermont

I fussed and worried about what I wrote about Bessie letting us down and dragging the other day during a storm. I want to continue to have confidence in her. Therefore I trolled my memory in detail, and I found something that allows me to make a new theory.

The picture above shows a Luke anchor of the type like Bessie. Visualize it sitting on the bottom doing her job. By definition, one of those big flukes will be dug into the mud and the other will be sticking up in the air (actually sticking up in the water). The cross bar at the top is mounted 90 degrees to the flukes to assure that one of those flukes always points down.

Now, the new evidence I found in my memory. The other night, the anchor dragged. Still worse, it refused to catch again and continued dragging more than 300 feet over the period of 15 minutes. I decided that we had to re-anchor. Libby and I both put on full foul weather gear and went out into the storm. The wind were no longer strong but it was raining very hard, and it was also very dark.

I pulled up the 100 feet of chain manually as I always do (we do not have an electric windlass). I noticed (this is the key part) that it pulled tight. I thought that I had come to the end and it remained to lift Bessie off the bottom. I switched to using the manual windlass. But then the chain suddently became slack again. I pulled in another 30 feet or so before it really became tight and I brought Bessie to the surface with everything appearing normal.
So here’s my new theory. I think that we had a loop of chain wrapped around the fluke that was sticking up. Thus when the storm hit, instead of the boat pulling Bessie from the shackle at end of the stock as we should, it pulled the fluke. The opposite fluke was pulled out of the mud. Bessie could not reset because she continued being pulled by the fluke. When I was bringing up the chain, the loop pulled tight but then slipped off the fluke.

How could that happen? By letting out too much chain too fast when we dropped the anchor. That is easier to do with an electric windlass, but we have to do it manually, and we screwed up. After Bessie hits bottom, we must back the boat up and let out extra chain to match the boat’s backward motion. That should prevent extra chain from piling up on top of Bessie’s flukes.

So does that prove the case? Hardly, but better evidence is unlikely to come forward, so that’s the best I’ll be able to do.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Bessie Lets Us Down

Shelburne Bay, Lake Champlain
44 25.443 N 073 15.028 W

We anchored here in Shelburne Bay for a couple of days hiding out from thunderstorms.   This is the location where our famous rainbow picture was taken.

Well, last night the front passed around 10 PM.  With it came some strong winds.  I estimate 65-70 mph.  To our great surprise, Bessie, our 80 pound Luke anchor broke loose and set us adrift.   Tarwathie turned beam to the wind and a big gust heeled us over more than 45 degrees.

I scrambled out in my underwear, started the engine and used it to relieve tension on the anchor and to keep the bow into the wind.  The rain was intense and I was plenty cold out there.

Like most thunderstorms, the strong winds didn't last long; perhaps 5 minutes.  But even then Bessie continued bouncing across the bottom.  We dragged more than 300 feet.

Libby and I both put on full foul weather gear (I appreciated the warmth) and set out to haul Bessie up to re-anchor.   30 minutes later we were anchored again, this time in shallower water.

My confidence in Bessie is rattled.  It's possible that we dropped her on a bare rock shelf.  I wonder if we had one of those fish-finder type of depth sounders, could we see the difference between a bare rock bottom and a muddy bottom?

This is not what it looked like last night.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Recent Pictures From Valcour Island

Somewhere on Lake Champlain

All the pictures below were taken on Valcour Island last week.

Mushroom overlooks our anchorage in Sloop Cove

Dick's blogging spot.
I wrote and posted many a blog article while sitting on this log.

Libby rows back to Tarwathie

Delicious wild strawberries.
Bluff Point Lighthouse.  Never been there before.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Good Home Needed

South Burlington, Vermont

It won't surprise you if I confess to being a technophile.  I've always been like that.  Well, last year I saw a youtube video about a new product called Neverwet.   It is a spray coating that makes surfaces hydrophobic.  (there you go; I just used phile and phob in the same paragraph.)  I bought some for Tarwathie.

Since then, I've had it on board but I never found any application for it.  The problem is that it is not durable.   If I sprayed my shirt to not get stained when food dribbles from my chin, it would last only until the next time the shirt is washed.  The trouble is, I can't find any non-durable applications for it.

So here's an offer you can't refuse.   I'll give my cans of Neverwet free to the first reader who asks for them.  I'll even pay the shipping.  All that I ask in return is that you tell me what you did with it so that I can blog about it.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Independence Day

Burlington Vermont
44 28.116 N 073 13.364 W

We enjoyed a specially good fireworks display last night here in Burlington Harbor.   It lasted nearly 30 minutes!   The weather was perfect.   As a bonus, just after sunset, someone with a Pitt Special stunt plane gave us a one-man air show.   He was silhouetted against the pink sky to the west.  That was uniquely beautiful.

But we saw the show despite trepidation.   We usually avoid crowds and festivals, but this time we decided to make an exception.   We sailed here from Valcour and the harbor was crowded before we arrived.  We had to anchor uncomfortably close to nearby boats, and before the show still more boats came and anchored in the between slots   Of course, most of the other boats were Canadian and Canadians are exceptionally  bad at anchoring.  They seem to think that 2:1 scope is plenty.

Then add to that the fact that a cold front with severe thunderstorms was approaching, and that the anchorage in Burlington is especially exposed to a long fetch.  I was very nervous and ready to haul anchor and flee that harbor in an instant.  But the front passed 2.5 hours before the fireworks.  It wasn't severe  Nobody dragged.   After the front passed, the sky cleared, the wind became totally calm, making perfect weather for an air show and a fireworks display.
Note the stunt plane's smoke trail in the sky.

By the way, I assume you've heard of the controversy about the missing period in The Declaration of Independence.   It was in all the news yesterday, no doubt timed for release on the 4th of July weekend.  The gist of the controversy has to to with the tone and meaning of the preamble; whether it emphasizes individual liberty as superior to government or vice versa.  Now, that's the kind of fight I can sink my teeth into. Very juicy.  Where do you stand on Ronald Reagan's famous quote?
government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Therapy for the Soul

Valcour Island
44 37.332 N 073 24.417 N

We are spending three days on Valcour Island.   The weather has been partially rainy every day, but on this island we don't care.  

Regular readers know that I've blogged numerous times singing praise for Valcour Island.  We think that it is the most idyllic place we know.  I have been visiting this island for 40 years, and every time I come it brings out feelings of contentment and satisfaction.   My soul is happy here.   If it wasn't reserved as a "forever wild" place, I would have tried to live here.

I also have recurring fantasies when visiting Valcour.  My favorite is living here and using the deep water in the lake as a near infinite heat sink to provide heating and cooling.   I could also gather firewood from numerous downed trees to fire a boiler to make steam and drive a turbine to make electricity.  Of course, I would also use solar and wind power too.  It would be a tinkerer's dream for an engineer like me.

Valcour lies at roughly 45 degrees north, halfway between The Equator and The North Pole.  But the climate, geology and ecology must more resemble Scandinavia at 65 degrees north.  That makes it unlike nearby wildernesses in New York and Vermont.   This week we were delighted to find a bumper crop of wild strawberries, that we never saw before.  Libby pointed out that we arrived here several weeks earlier in the summer than we ever did before.  Wild strawberries are called smultron in Swedish.  They are the sweetest and choicest of all berries, and they grow only at high latitudes (and on Valcour).

Yesterday we went hiking on the trails and found several places on Valcour that we've never seen before.  It is nice to know that we still haven't seen it all.  We hiked 7.5 miles.  Foolishly, we forgot to bring drinking water, so we were bushed and dried before finishing.   However a skinny dip in the clean, cool, sweet, fresh water refreshed me.  Poor Libby though over-stressed her back, so she has been laying low since then.  She is substantially better today.

Severe thunderstorms are possible yesterday, today and tomorrow.  But we're well sheltered here and pretty secure.

By the way, the place we call "Pearly Gates" on the Pasquotank River is our second favorite beautiful spots.  But that is in the middle of a swamp.  We can't go ashore and explore.  On Valcour we can and do explore the trails and the cliffs, and the limestone rock formations, the fungi and the wildlife.  I've published hundreds of pictures of Valcour on this blog over the years.  It inspires.

Tomorrow, the stormy weather is supposed to pass before the evening 4th of July fireworks in Burlington, so we'll move down there.   Friday the 4th, we'll anchor near Shelburne Farms to listen to The Vermont Symphony concert on the lawn at Shelburne Farms right on the shore.  At the end of the symphony we'll make a night passage to somewhere fun to anchor.   Nighttime boating on Champlain on a calm night is a delight.