Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Another Rule Nobody Tells You About

Marathon, FL

Suppose that you see someone on another boat making a mistake. It is an unwritten rule of etiquette that we have learned about conversations with captains.   It is OK to offer help, but it is not OK to offer unsolicited advice on how the captain should operate his vessel.

I'm sure that other experienced sailors will disagree with me.  They would impulsively shout out anything they thought helpful.  I'm also sure that many captains would deeply resent that kind of unsolicited advice even if if you don't hear them yell back, "F*** Off"

On one hand, it seems like a peculiar rule.  If you see a plain mistake or think that you can be helpful, why not speak up?   Let me change the context slightly.  Suppose a passenger on an airplane tried to point out to the pilot that he was flying the plane incorrectly?   In that context, you'll probably agree that it is not peculiar that the passenger risks getting ejected from the plane.

The most common exigent circumstance when this rule comes up is when a vessel approaches a dock.   There are often numerous people on shore shouting "do this" "do that".   It took me a long time to train Libby to shut her ears to that advice and to focus on doing what the captain said.

But sometimes those other people on shore are right and the captain is wrong.  That's true.   I recall several times when I was wrong.  Nevertheless, a crew must act as a team.  They can only do that when they follow the orders of the captain on a vessel or the calls of the quarterback in football.

There may be one member of the crew, such as the co-pilot on a plane, whose job it is to call attention to mistakes, but that privileged relationship must be established in advance.

Therefore, there is wisdom in the rule that the crew follows the captains orders right-or-wrong, and that non-crew should never offer unsolicited advice to the captain while he is engaged in operating the vessel.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Drones a-crashing

Marathon, FL

It's Christmas, which means people are crashing brand new drones.

So read the headline on December 26. Well, count me among them.  Sigh.

Christmas Day was far too windy for drones.  Up to 25 knot gusts.  But who can resist trying out a new drone on Christmas?  Not me.

Together with Brian from Windchaser, we went to the nearby park in search of a sheltered spot to test fly the drone.  It was still too windy.  Even at only 1 foot altitude, the wind pushed it away uncrollably.  We gave up.

Later in the day, after a great Christmas Pot Luck with 120 people participating, Libby and I went for a walk.  The wind had died down a lot, so I said, "Let me try again."  We found a place sheltered by trees.  I lifted off, but it blew downwind.  I pushed joystick 2 down to try to back it up, but in my haste and beginner's lack of skill, I inadvertently pushed joystick 1 (the throttle) all the way up.  The drone surged into the air, and disappeared over the top of a tree across the street.  Since then, we have not been able to find it.

Libby and I searched and searched the area, with no results. I tried to rev the drone's motor; no result. At one point, Libby used a long stick to beat the fronds of a palm tree.  Some strangers were perplexed, so they asked Libby, "What are you doing."  In a flash of humor, I replied, "We're from Utah."  That satisfied them and they walked away.

The next day another man asked me what I was doing as I searched again.  I explained.  He said, "I have two drones, and they have gotten stuck in trees a dozen times.   Eventually, they  come down."  So that's my hope.  Every day and night for the coming weeks, I'll search that area.

Boys and their toys.  I'm not ashamed to say I'm one of them.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

John Takes The Lead

Marathon, FL

Today, our son John departed for McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  He will spend a month there on temporary assignment for the US Air Force.  During the month, he'll take a side trip to The South Pole.

Wow!  We are impressed and proud of John.  No one else in our family has traveled so far away; about 9600 miles.

Way to go John. Be sure to post pictures.

Holiday Cheer In A Bottle

Marathon, FL

For many, holiday cheer comes in a bottle.   We can't make use of this promo card.  Perhaps you can.  It claims to offer $100 off on $160 worth of wine.   The codes are on the card.   First come, first serve.  Happy holiday.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Like a Kid on Christmas

Marathon, FL

I'm usually not like this, but Libby gave me a Christmas present that is extremely tempting to open and use before Christmas morning.

It is a UDI U818A quadcopter. http://dronebly.com/vital-facts-about-udi-u818a-quadcopter   It can fly for up to 10 minutes while taking still/video pictures. 

To be completely honest, I already opened the package, read the instructions, and charged up all the batteries.  I could't stand a 24 hour delay if I opened it on Xmas morning only to find that I needed a day to charge up the batteries before use.

I also made a date with my friend Brian.  Brian and I are going to take it to the park nearby for its initial shakedown flights and flight training . 

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.  I look forward to the day when I can post on this blog a video of Tarwathie under sail and Libby and I waving at the circling drone above us.

Is the drone waterproof?  No.  Therefore, pilot training is needed before the at-sea use.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Third Time A Winner

Marathon, FL

Three times this year I got to travel with Jen.  First, Jen and I spent two weeks exploring Utah, Arizona and Nevada in the spring.  Second, Libby, Jen and I had a long weekend in Maine with Nancy and Karl.   This third time, Anna, Jen and I traveled to the airports in Orlando and Jacksonville.
  • We started with a drive up the keys on a very windy cool day.  The azure waters looked anything but inviting that day.  It looked rough and chilly.  I'm glad we weren't sailing out there that day.
  • We drove across Alligator Alley in search of wildlife and fauna.  We were a bit late and the sun was setting, but we had a good sampling of everything we came for.  As a capper, we saw a spectacular sunset from within the heart of The Everglades.  
  • We then drove north to Labelle, FL where (as I reported earlier) there just happened to be the Log Cabin BBQ.
  • The next day (after breakfast at the BBQ) we drove north to Seabring, FL.   There wasn't as much to see as I thought.  However, we found a classic Florida flea market.  That was excellent for people watching and for Americana.  That was the perfect end for Anna, before she boarded her plane back to Sweden.
  • The day after that, Jen and I visited Silver Springs State Park, and we rode the famous glass bottom boat.   One of my fondest childhood memories was when my mother, Helen, and my aunt Gracie took me there in 1951.  Jen and I were not disappointed this time.  Those springs and those glass bottom boats are wonderful and timeless.   That is a stop I recommend for anyone.
  • Finally, I dropped Jen at JAX and started heading south again.  By 1600 the next day, I was back onboard Tarwathie.   Now we have the car down here with us.  I plan to use it to pick up Katelyn when she comes to visit in February.
I feel very privileged.  It was a great time and those girls make wonderful company.

Here's a few pictures from Jen & Anna's visit.
The glass bottom boat

View through the glass bottom

Typical American flea market

Anna & Jen

Making fused glass

Hiking the Seven Mile bridge

Jen can't resist gardening

A sumptuous birthday feast with friends.

A Princess tÃ¥rta with marzipan smuggled in from Sweden.  A marvelous surprise.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Strictly Coincidence

Labelle, FL


I'm traveling with Jen and her friend Anna. Yesterday we drove up Alligator Alley through The Everglades. We did see a big alligator beside the road. That was lucky because it was a cool day. We barely made it through before the sun went down. Next we drove through panther country, but alas, no panthers were sighted.


It was strictly coincidence that the nearest motel was in Labelle, and that the nearest restaurant happened to be The Log Cabin BBQ. I swear, it had nothing to do with gluttony. You believe me, right?

Update: We needed breakfast and there was no other place than The Log Cabin BBQ. I swear, it wasn't my fault.


These girls are so slow to get started in the morning. Soon it will be time for lunch. What shall we do?


Friday, December 18, 2015

The Force Was With Me

Marathon, FL

I wanted to see the SF movie, The Martian.  Libby is not a big SF fan, so a reasonable compromise was for me to go alone.   So, last night I walked up to the theater for the 1900 movie showing.

When I got there, I was surprised.  The Martian was gone and in its place was the new Star Wars movie.  It was the premiere day for that movie and according to the news, was sold-out nationwide for weeks to come.  Uh Oh.  But I persisted, and to my surprise there was no line.  I just walked up and bought a ticket 15 minutes before show time.  Marathon could have been the only place in America where I could do that.

The crowd inside was fun.  There were lots of kids, as you might expect.  There was even a crying baby.  I'm pretty sure that I must have been the oldest person in the audience.   Before the show, a man walked in with an Obi-Wan-Kenobi outfit and a light saber.  The kids loved that, and they all crowded to get pictures of themselves swinging the saber.

As soon as the lights went down to begin the show, the crowd went wild.  Throughout the movie, they cheered, laughed, cried, and clapped.   Especially, when each old character, man/woman/bot, from the original movie appeared.  I've never seen such an enthusiastic audience.

So, how was the movie?  Well, I was not impressed.  It was a downer to see the classic characters all apparently older than me (Wookies and bots excepted). Even the audience seemed to be quiet during the action, and to come alive only at the appearance of their beloved classic characters. Indeed those initial appearances seemed to be the whole point of the movie. The only thing worse would be a Rocky remake with Sylvester Stallone in his 80s.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Kind of Name is SV?

Marathon, FL

We are back from two days of fun with Jen and Anna in Key West.  One of the topics that came up there was the name on our boat card, SV Tarwathie.  One of Jen's friends though that SV was my name. :-)

SV stands for Sailing Vessel. It is one of many abbreviated prefixes used to name vessels.  The table below shows some of the civilian prefixes in use.

There is a much longer list of prefixes for military vessels.  Based on Hollywood war movies, you may be familiar with USS and HMS.

Up in Green Cove Springs recently, I encountered a vessel with the prefix CRV. It turned out to be a treasure hunting vessel.  

My favorite prefix is not in the table.  It is LSP.  The pump-out boats here in Boot Key Harbor are named using LSP.   When I asked what it means, I was told Lots of S**T and P**S

  Prefix Meaning
AHT Anchor Handling Tug
AHTS Anchor Handling Tug Supply vessel
AOR Auxiliary, Replenishment Oiler
ATB Articulated Tug Barge
CRV Coastal Research Vessel
C/F Car Ferry
CS Cable Ship
DB Derrick Barge
DEPV Diesel Electric Paddle Vessel
DLB Derrick Lay Barge
DCV Deepwater Construction Vessel
DSV Diving Support Vessel/ Deep Submergence Vehicle
DV Dead vessel[2][3]
ERRV Emergency Response Rescue Vessel[3]
FPSO Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Vessel
FPV Free Piston Vessel
FPV Fishery Patrol Vessel
FT Factory Stern Trawler
FV Fishing Vessel
GTS Gas Turbine Ship
HLV Heavy lift vessel
HSC High Speed Craft
HSF High Speed Ferry
HTV Heavy Transport Vessel
IRV International Research Vessel
ITB Integrated Tug barge
LB Liftboat
LNG/C Liquefied natural gas carrier
LPG/C Liquefied petroleum gas carrier
MF Motor Ferry
MS Motor Ship (interchangeable with MV)
MSV Multipurpose support/supply vessel
MSY Motor Sailing Yacht
MT Motor Tanker
MTS Marine Towage and Salvage/Tugboat
MV Motor Vessel (interchangeable with MS)
MY Motor Yacht
NB Narrowboat
NRV NATO Research Vessel
NS Nuclear Ship
OSV Offshore supply vessel
PS Paddle Steamer
PSV Platform Supply Vessel
QSMV Quadruple Screw Motor Vessel
QTEV Quadruple Turbo Electric Vessel
RMS Royal Mail Ship or Royal Mail Steamer
RNLB Royal National Lifeboat
RV / RSV Research Vessel
SB Sailing Barge
SS Screw Steamer driven by propellers or screws, often understood to stand for "steamship"
SSCV Semi-Submersible Crane Vessel
SSS Sea Scout Ship
SSV Sailing School Vessel, Submarine and Special Warfare Support Vessel[4]
ST Steam Tug
STS Sail Training Ship
STV Sail Training Vessel or Steam Turbine Vessel
SV Sailing Vessel
SY Sailing Yacht or Steam Yacht
TEV Turbine Electric Vessel
TIV Turbine Installation Vessel
TS Training Ship
TSS Turbine Steam Ship or Twin Screw Steamer
TV Training vessel

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Double/Triple Contingencies

Marathon, FL

Things break.  We all know that.  We also know that almost everything breaks sooner or later.  But we are not typically prepared for multiple simultaneous failures.  In our minds, we consider the change of that happening to be so low that we disregard it.

Arriving in Marathon, it was time to take my bike ashore.  It had been riding on Tarwathie's forward deck.  Libby sensibly said, "Check the tire pressure before going in."  I did, and the pressures were low.  I got out the hand pump we keep on board, and pumped both tires up to the specified 55 psi.

The next day, I found that the rear tire was flat.  Oh no, I hate flat tires on bicycles.  But after removing the tube and putting it under water, it had no leaks.  I put the tube back, but then I couldn't pump it up.  I blamed the schrader valve on the tube.  So I walked up to KMart and bought a new tube.  That too wouldn't pump up.  WTF?

Weary from the long walks, I walked the whole bike up island to a gas station with an air pump.  That worked, and the tire now holds 55 psi.

Careful inspection of my hand pump shows that there is a small cone inside the fitting that is supposed to press the pin in the schrader valve.  The cone was made of soft plastic, and deformed, so it make the pump inoperative.  But the hard part to comprehend was that the pump must have failed after I pumped up the tires on board Tarwatthie, and before I tried to refill the tire on land the day after.  A tire when flat tire and the pump broke while trying to fix the flat.  How likely is that?

My Pump Looked Like This

By the way, engineers like me are fond of applying redundancy to problems of reliability.   If the car won't start, take the bus.  If the jib won't deploy, use the staysail.  If the GPS won't work, use the paper charts.

How many layers of redundancy are needed?  On our recent travels, (1) our GPS chart plotter failed, (2) my phone with backup GPS chartplotter apps failed, (3) our paper charts had been stored in a wet place, they were all turning to mush.  So even for something as simple as a sail, three levels of diverse redundancy were nearly inadequate.

Without giving it much thought, we use a simple mental formula: more redundancy means more reliability.  But we very often forget "common mode" failures.  What does that mean? It refers to cases where the redundant devices all fail at once because of a common reason.   In the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan, multiple diesel-generators provide redundant critical backup power.   But after the tsunami, all the fuel tanks got contaminated by salt water.  No matter how many redundant diesels there were, they would all fail at once.  Buying fuel for those diesels from the same source, is another way to produce common mode failures.  Be on guard for common mode failures in your own life.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Outstanding Idea: What Are Its Chances?


I usually begin each blog post with a byline that states my location, such as Marathon.  Note above, today's byline is dangerous.soak.lodges, that my subject today.  A startup company called what3words has engineered an idea so brilliant that my jaw drops in awe.

The problem is addresses.  Postal addresses are national in character, and they carry all the baggage of many centuries of evolution.  British postal addresses in particular baffle me.  More important, what3words claims that 4 billion of the world's people have no address, and that cuts them off from many govermental and commercial benefits.  We have run into that ourselves trying to asssert that we are nomads with no address.  That won't fly in the USA, you must give an address.  For example, we can't get Florida health insurance because you  must give an address and ours is in Vermont.

Latitude/longitude, with GPS is one answer.  But it is very technical and hard to use.  Identifying your location within 3 meters required 16 lat plus 16 lon digits.

what3words idea was to pre-assign a 3-word address to every 3x3 meter square on the Earth's surface, water an ice as well as land.  It is much more human friendly than GPS because people are skilled at remembering and correctly repeating phrases with common words.  They are not skilled at correctly repeating long strings of numbers.

what3words refined their idea in many ways.  The vocabulary of words is chosen to be easy to pronounce.  Homynyms and difficult words are not used.  Slightly misspoken addresses are never nearby your location.  They make it work in multiple languages, not just English, and in 3D for high rise buildings.  See their web site for a full list of refinements.  I'll say only that they have thought it out thoroughly.

Imagine a guest on your boat who has to contact the coast guard and give your location in an emergency.  renewals.stepfamily.agent locates you right in the middle of The Gulf Stream near here.  what3words wisely reserved the shortest easiest words for the most densely populated areas. For example, talk.back.army puts you in Miami Beach and that address is much easier than consequently.contends.fusion in the ocean near Miami Beach.   An app for your phone or computer does the address lookup for you. what3words guarantees that all versions of the software give identical addresses for the same place.

Imagine trying to deliver a package to a location within the shanty ghettos of Rio de Janario.  There are no streets or addresses in those places where the majority of Rio's population live.

Imagine ordering pizza to be delivered by drone to your wilderness camp site.

The only valid criticism I've heard is that the software is not open source.  Longevity and the ability of the scheme to survive bankruptcies, revolutions, and changes in programming technology is the problem.

But no matter how impressed I am, I'm not optimistic about what3words coming into widespread use.  The inertia and resistance to change in human societies is very powerful.   That should be a lesson to all wannabe-word-savers with clever ideas. In the USA, what3words could succeed if Amazon.com adopted it. But amazon.com doesn't need it, they get along well with the old system.

Friday, December 04, 2015

A Very Rare Find With a Pedigree

Marathon, FL

In Labelle next to the city dock, sits a strange engine on display.  I thought it was a water pump.  Locals told me that it is a rotary steam engine similar to the Wankel engine. It was salvaged from a boat that sank in the river nearby. I did a bit of Internet research, and I found out about it. Wow! The story includes J.P. Morgan, Nikola Tesla, and Nate Herreahoff. How many true stories have so many notable names attached?
The engine, built by E. C. Warren in 1938 based on earlier patents awarded to world-famous electrical and mechanical engineer Nikola Tesla who was belatedly acknowledged as the inventor of wireless radio telephony shortly before his death in 1943, replaced the 500 HP reciprocating steam engines originally installed in the 1917 Herreshoff Manufacturing Company commuter yacht Navette, built for renowned financier J. P. "Jack" Morgan to enable him to comfortably commute from his Long Island estate to his Wall Street office, when Edward C. Warren purchased the sleek shallow-draft 114 ft. vessel some years after Morgan's death.

I was curious about this strange kind of turbine invented by Tesla.  A bit more research turned up the video below.  The Tesla turbine is an active area of interest for hobbyists and exotic energy enthusiasts.

It is always fun to find a jewel of a story sitting right under your nose.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Why I Quit SSCA

Marathon, FL

As a long time boater and cruiser, I feel that it should be my civic duty to support things of general interest to boaters and cruisers.  I help support the BoatUS foundation, and I also joined SSCA (the Seven Seas Cruising Association)

I was attracted to those organizations because of the part they played in the Florida anchoring rights laws.  Their actions seemed very public service oriented, and that was what I wanted.

But the more I learned about SSCA, the more I learned that they are not at all public-service oriented.  They are member-service oriented.  They support public service efforts only when they can't figure out how to do it as a member-only benefit.

They have a bulletin (i.e. newsletter) for members.  It uses an ancient approach suited to the paper-snail mail days. I never submitted an article to that because I saw no logic in following their style and content guidelines to write for an audience limited to SSCA members, when I could write for this blog to serve anyone and everyone.   SSCA members are a proper subset of everyone.  You can view this blog when convenient to you, you can use Google to search the archives, you do not need to archive back issues yourself, you can write comments, and if you view it on a phone, it will be formatted for the small screen.

The have a committee of concerned boaters for public issues.  I thought of joining that, but when I looked at their web pages (sometime in the past 5-6 years), all the things posted there were 3 or more years old.  I figured the committee was inactive.

They made a SSCA equipment survey, but it was done with an extremely old fashioned approach, that IMO was designed to exercise the 1980s database technology skills of some member. Viewing the survey results is limited to SSCA members.  A modern and public approach, would be to make a wiki (analogous to Wikipedia), where all boaters could contribute in their own words and all boaters could view.   Articles in the wiki would resemble review articles in Practical Sailor, rather than just fields and tuples of a table.

SSCA runs an online forum. It's pretty good, but it is members-only.

SSCA runs a system of local hosts (I forget what they call it). They volunteer to help visiting cruisers, but again members-only.

The last straw came when I learned of a travel oriented version of Wikipedia that was starting.  I thought that would be a great place for boaters such as myself, to post local knowledge of use to all other boaters.  I tried to promote that within SSCA.  I got some emails from the president.  He was nice, and polite, but he explained that SSCA was starting their own project.  It would be like the survey rather than a wiki, and it would be a member-only benefit.

I want to belong to a boating service organization, analogous to Rotary International, Kiwanis, Lions, or  Optimists. I even enjoy the local Boot Key Harbor Cruisers net, when one often hears the motto, "boaters helping boaters."    SSCA is very unlike those organizations.  SSCA does not seem likely to want to change its spots. So I let my membership lapse a few years ago.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Just About Everything

Marathon, FL

Hang on to your hats. Even if you're not much interested in science, I propose to fascinate you and captivate you with a great story. This is not something you can read elsewhere, as far as I know. It has to do with time, space, energy and matter. In other words, everything. It is not hard science but close to it (I'll explain). It is not religion, but close to it (I'll explain). It is the kind of thing that pop science really loves; that's the kind of science you might see on a TV documentary. I'll refer to a couple of equations, but I won't show them. I promise, you do not need much science or math to follow this story.

I'll begin with time. What is time? I like the way Wikipedia defines time.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Urge to Panic

Marathon, FL

When driving a car, or flying a plane, or when commanding Tarwathie, I like to think that I'm not prone to panic.  Even when things are dire, it is best to keep one's head calm.  I wish I could do the same with my Internet connection.

In case you don't already know, I'm heavily addicted to the Internet. I can't even count the number of times every day that I contact the net, or the number of hours I spend online.

A few weeks ago, while en-route from Green Cove Springs to Cape Canaveral, my phone quit working.  When on the boat, my phone provides the WiFi signal to all our other devices.  I felt the bile of panic swiftly rising in my throat.  What would I do?   Well, I was able to repress the panic because we were going to the PCYC which has WiFi, after that we were going to Vero Beach were there are multiple places for me to access WiFi.

I also got Dave to mail my my backup phone, which I gave to him to use as his backup.  Yes, I'm an indian giver.   I also purchased an extra phone battery and a simple $7 device that charges Samsung phone batteries outside of the phone.  We were back in business.

When approaching Marathon by sea last week, I turned on my phone.  It had a good signal.  I tried to turn on the WiFi using the FoxFi phone app that I've been using for years.  It didn't work.  "Oh No."   I suspected that the problem might be local to Marathon Verizon, because the thing had just worked OK in FMB.  But I also worried that something had expired or that Verizon changed the rules.

That same day, I phoned Verizon to complain.  They weren't any help.  But they did offer to sell my Verizon's WiFi hotspot feature for an additional $30 month.  To have signed up right then and there, would have been a panicked response.  With great difficulty, I resisted that.  I though that Verizon might introduce "malfunctions" like this from time to time, specifically to panic people like me to sign up for expensive options.

I did manage to get FoxFi to connect to my laptop via a USB tether.  That worked fine.  But the iPads were out of luck.  I said, I won't panic until I get to test the WiFi in Miami or Key West.  I still suspect a local problem.

Now, a week later, things are much brighter.  I figured out how to make FoxFi work with Bluetooth as well as WiFi, and as well as by USB tether.  Also, I just rechecked FoxFi with WiFi using Verizon-Marathon; IT WORKED!  The local problem had cleared itself.

If I had panicked and signed up for the $30/month service from Verizon, I probably would have never investigated the free FoxFi solution better and would have never know that it works OK in several modes.   That would have cost us $360 per year.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Flip Flopping on Florida Anchoring Rights

Marathon, FL

Long-time readers know that I've written several times about the never ending battle between boaters and  homeowners who want to restrict anchoring.   It happens in Vermont and every other state, but it is most intense here in Florida.   Heretofore, us boaters have been united in our opposition to restrictions on our rights; and we have been mostly successful.   But now, I see reason for us to flip flop on the issue.

The reason came from a news story.  I read that entrepreneurs in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami region have started buying old boats which they anchor and then rent out as "apartment yachts."   Considering the sky high rents for regular apartments, that could be very attractive to tenants and very profitable to landlords.

At first, the story sounded amusing.  But then I remembered the years after 2004/2005 when Florida was hit by several hurricanes.   There were thousands of boats damaged by the hurricanes that the insurance companies were anxious to declare as total losses so they could get them off their books.  Many of them could still float, and were cosmetically fine below decks.  They could be bought as salvage for mere pennies on the dollar.

Now, imagine the next big hurricane to hit Florida creating a new batch of salvaged boats.   The entrepreneurs can buy up all of them, and rent them out as apartment yachts.  We boaters will find that all of our favorite anchorages are full with these boats, leaving no room at all for cruisers or transients.   If that happens, I expect that boaters will lead the charge on anchoring laws.  If we are smart, we'll flop now, ahead of the fact.

One proposal above all others seems to address the problem while imposing minimum intrusion on cruiser's rights.  That is restricting the time any boat can anchor in one spot to one week.  I'm going to start backing that proposal right away. I urge you to consider doing the same.

p.s. Two questions about apartment yachts.

  1. Where will they land their dinghies?   The landlords could provide launch/water taxi service to their tenants, perhaps for an added fee.
  2. Does a landlord become a waterlord when he rents an apartment yacht? :-)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Picture of the Year

Marathon, FL

Rush rush rush over to APOD to see the most stunning photograph of the year.   Click here.

Out of respect for the photographer, Daniele Boffelli, I did not copy the photo here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bernie Sanders and Social Democrats

Marathon, Florida

Presidential candidate, and fellow Vermont resident, Bernie Sanders gave a big speech last week about what socialism means. I think that Libby and I should share our experiences as Americans living in the socialist paradise Sweden under a Social Democratic regime in the 70s and 80s..

Yes, the taxes were high. On my $42,000 salary, I had to pay 60% total income tax, and 83% marginal tax. On the money left over after taxes, we had to pay 26% sales tax on all purchases. Ouch.

But there were financial benefits too. We had a mortgage on our house from the Swedish State that had a negative interest rate. That's right, after the first month, instead of a payment notice, they sent me a check. That blew my mind. 

I also got to rent a slip for my boat at the city marina for only $1.50 per year! 

One day a check (called barnbigraget) arrived in the mail on day with a notice, “Buy some new school clothes for your children.” Libby was deeply offended by that, so she sent the check back. Our Swedish friends were horrified. They said, “You can't send the check back.” 

In a nutshell, the essence of socialism is to tax heavily, but then to return most of the money in the form of benefits that the government thinks you should have.

But to enjoy those benefits, you must conform. Food and obesity was unfavored so food costs were very high. Outdoor exercise was favored and subsidized. Boating outdoor activity was favored and subsidized, motorcycle outdoor activity is not favored and penalized. Government committees in Stockholm decide what to subsidize and penalize.

Yes they did have universal free health care, but it had flaws. It was biased against immigrants. If you felt sick and called the number to request a doctor's appointment, you talked with an agent with a script that somehow always seemed to end with “Take two aspirin. You don't need a doctor.” Native Swedes, masters of the language and the culture, would cut off the script reader at the start. They would say, “Shut up. Cut the crap and make the appointment,” and it worked. Immigrants struggling with the language had a very hard time doing that. You were also not entitled to second opinions. If you doctor said that you are not ill, it could be nearly impossible to obtain permission to consult a second doctor, and private doctors were almost nonexistent.  People desperate for second opinions flew to England at their own expense.

To us, the dominance of group welfare over individual welfare was sometimes jarring. For example, there is a Swedish word, lagom, that means “good enough but not too good.” Swedes aspire to lagom whereas Americans aspire to excellence (lagom rejects excellence). We were shocked to learn that the schools deliberately neglected the smartest kids so that they could not excel over the average. We were also shocked to hear on the news one day that one of the hospitals was closing for the vacation month because they couldn't find volunteers to work over the vacation period. Patients were told “If you are still alive in August, you are welcome back.” I am not making that up. The Swedes valued their family vacation collective rights more than the rights of the small number of sick patients. The balance between collective versus individual rights is very different in a social democratic system.

But here's the real crux. Libby first put her finger on it. One day at home, she and I were discussing socialism. Libby said, “The most objectionable part is the loss of freedom. Government committees in Stockholm decide how I must run my life, and I resent that.” The next day at work, I mentioned Libby's statement to my friends. They all said, “We have no problem with that. We have total confidence that those people in Stockholm would make exactly the same decisions we would if we sat on the committee.” “Aha,” I thought, “That's the secret; a homogeneous society where everyone thinks alike.” In America where we are very (very very) diverse in our views, values and aspirations. That would never work.

Since we left Sweden, much has changed for the worse. They realized that too high tax rates were counterproductive, so they cut the total and marginal taxes to roughly the same as here in the USA. Also, a wave of immigrants (Sweden is very generous in taking refugees.), have introduced a major heterogeneous element to the society; about 15% of the population. That strained the whole system to the breaking point. 

From what we learned listening to Radio Sweden news every weekday, the excellent schools have become crap, the excellent training for immigrants is trashed. The health care system has degraded so much that native Swedes are reportedly stampeding to buy private health care to avoid depending on the free system. In an infamous incident, it was revealed that Stockholm with 800,000 people sometimes has only two ambulances on duty. A man having a heart attack called 911, and was refused ambulance transport by the script readers.  They told him with only two ambulances, they were forced to prioritize and that he should walk to the hospital or take a taxi.  He died the next day. I interpret all that as evidence in support of the premise that socialism works only for extremely homogeneous societies where there is near unanimity in every issue, and nearly uniform spectrum of needs and values, as little as 15% dissimilar people crashed the whole system.

Europeans criticize the American health care system because money is so essential to access to the care.  But Radio Sweden reported that in today's Sweden having a doctor or hospital administrator friend was the key to access.  In the USA we call that kissing the ass of the powerful.  That is the socialist free health care system today.

So, in light of the above, I think that Bernie Sanders' proposals could never succeed in America. Instead of being homogeneous, Americans seem to be divided nearly 50-50 into increasingly polarized liberal-conservative world views. America is about as heterogeneous as is possible.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Marathon Yet Again

Marathon, FL

Well, the overnight sail was nice, and it feels like home returning to Marathon.  For the next 6 months, we may take some side trips, but this will be our base.

We are expecting a visit from Jen and her friend Anna in December.

The only problem with the trip was the excessivly dense fields of lobster traps.   In the dark, you can't see them or avoid them.  When it was my turn to go below and sleep, I could hear them thumping on the hull.   Three times (or was it four?) we snagged a pot and our speed dropped from 4.5 knots to 2.  Each time we were able to fix it by backing up at full speed for 100 meters.  

Once, Libby heard our propeller cutting up a foam buoy. I'm glad it didn't wrap around the shaft, but I worry that it may have scraped off our fresh new Never Wet.

By the way, if we did not succeed in getting rid of the pots by backing up, the only alternative is to dive in the water with a sharp knife in my teeth.  At least the water is warm down here.  But I wouldn't do that at night.

I guess, we will have to restrict our sailing in Florida Bay to daylight hours.

Friday, November 20, 2015

SV Once Again :-)

At Sea

26 13.090 N 081 53.449 W


It feels so good to use that tag "At Sea" again. It has been 6 months since the last time. I'm happy. Tarwathie is happy. Libby is delighted!

That's quite a turnaround. Only a few days ago our jib was out of service, our mainsail was out of service, and our chart plotter didn't work. It felt like we would never sail again. Since then:

  • I overhauled the jib furler. It works well for now.
  • I rigged an alternate place to attach the mainsheet after out traveler failed. It works well.
  • Libby located a "GPS module" in our spare parts bin to replace the failed module. I had completely forgotten that we had a spare. The chartplotter works well again. (But I'm still shopping for a more modern replacement.)

Our plan for today was to wait for weather. The forecast was for 5-10 SE until Sunday. We could just sit on the boat and do nothing for 48 hours waiting in Fort Meyers Beach or at Marco Island. We decided to motor to Marco today. Guess what we found when we got out there. THE WEATHER FORECAST WAS WRONG. That neve happened before (I say with deep sarcasm). Winds were E 15, perfect.


We are now sailing under jib, staysail and main. That's full sail. We are doing 5.7 knots. The Monitor self steering is in control. We'll be in Marathon Saturday morning.


Sure we aren't 100 miles out at sea, but it feels great anyhow. Actually. The Hawk Channel and Florida Bay are two of the finest and safest places in the whole world to sail. They are protected from Atlantic swells. The waters are shallow enough that we can drop anchor anytime if needed, and the winds are usually fair.


To whoever wished us "fair winds", thank you. Fair winds are what we got.


P.s The Stockholm Archipelago and the Finland Archipelago in mid June are another two of the finest places in the world to sail. I saw somewhere a magazine article The 7 Best Sailing Places in the World. It mentioned The Hawk Channel and Lake Champlain. We aren't world sailors, but that topic sounds like a great one for a future blog post.




Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Special Coffee Brew; Something in the Water?

Sarbucks, First Street, Fort Meyers, FL

The weather doesn't look favorable to leave for Marathon for next 50-60 hours.  Therefore, we decided to stop at the Fort Meyers Boat Basin overnight.  We've heard it mentioned favorably several times before.   It cost a more than I like ($1.80/foot with the Boat US discount.).

So what is there to do in downtown Fort Meyers?  Not much.  We went to the Edison/Ford estates before.  So here I am in Starbucks.

But wait, my vente Pike coffee isn't just Starbucks good, it is GREAT!.  Then, deja vu kicked in.  I searched the archives of this blog, and yes on 3/15/2010 Libby and I sat in this same Starbucks in Fort Meyers, complaining about how little there was to do in downtown Fort Meyers.  We sat at the same table where I am now, and I remember remarking that the coffee was the best coffee I ever tasted.  Is it possible that they do something unique in the Fort Meyers Starbucks?  That sounds unlikely.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ah, The Bloom of Youth

Labelle, Florida

Even as I lament the effects of age, we were presented with a live example of impetuous youth.  The vessel in the picture below pulled in beside Tarwathie.  As they approached I and another boater offered to help with their lines.

They had no lines ready.  Then I heard the girl say, "This is our very first time at a dock.  We didn't know we needed ropes."  Holy s***.  We got her to scramble and find two pieces of rotted clothes line; each about 5 feet long.  Fortunately, there was no wind or current, so the pilings held her in place while we got things sorted out.  Neither of them knew how to use a cleat, so we showed them how do to it.

It turns out that they are a sweet couple.  They bought that sailboat 6 days ago, and just started cruising.  They had never been on a sailboat before, and their knowledge of boating is nearly zero.

But they are learning.  Their first night at anchor in an un-sheltered place with strong winds was terrifying; but they survived.  They have been aground 3 times in 6 days, but they got themselves off without help from a tow boat.  Their tale was very reminiscent of our early days, when every day brought a new "opportunity to learn."  Those were great days.

Well, I donated some lines to them, and Libby donated advice and tips when they visited Tarwathie.  We also donated a cup of witch hazel for the poor girl who was covered with no-see-um bites.

But our best chuckle came when they told us about their dinghy.  It is an inflatable kayak with a hole in it.  To get the two of them ashore, one paddles furiously while the other pumps air furiously. OMG LMAO.

It is much too early to tell if this couple will transform themselves into experienced cruisers.  But as long as they stay away from The Gulf Stream, their chances of survival are very good.  No matter what the outcome, I'm sure they'll recount it to their grandchildren as the "time of our lives."

No matter how much amusement this couple provides for boaters, they are out there doing it while their contemporaries remain safe at home dreaming about doing it.  Join me in saying,  "We wish fair winds and following seas to the intrepid crew of Moondancer."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Things the Seller Won't Tell You About Boats

Okeechobee Waterway, Florida

If you plan on cruising some day, one of the first things you'll need to do is to buy and equip a vessel to suit your needs.  New or used, there are lots of things the salesman (or authors of cruising articles) will neglect to mention that are not obvious until you have the cruising experience.  Here are a few tips.

  1. The phrases blue-water, coastal-cruising, weekender, and day-sailor, describe classes of vessels.  The definitions of what those things mean are loose, and not universal.  But in general, most people cruising on the USA east coast will do best with a coastal-cruising type vessel.  

    Libby had her own ideas before we started in 2005.  She rated safety above all else, so we chose a blue-water boat.  Tarwathie, a Westsail 32, is famous for being probably the safest cruising vessel for two people ever made.  But Tarwathie's blue-water features mean that we sacrifice some conveniences.  Foremost, are the small cockpit that we can not enclose, and the lack of a swim platform.
  2. Tankage is of critical importance to cruising sailors.  By that I mean the capacity of fuel tanks and water tanks.  Daysail and weekend boats often have too small tanks.  How much do you need?  I would say 40 gallons of diesel and 80 gallons of fresh water minimum.

    You often see many cruising sailboats (including Tarwathie) carrying jerry jugs on the deck.  Sometimes many jugs.  Blue jugs for water, yellow for diesel, and red for gasoline.  That is a sign that the tankage on that vessel is inadequate to suit the captain.
  3. Size of your vessel.  For full freedom to cruise anywhere on the USA east coast, you must set certain maximums on critical dimensions.  If you exceed these dimensions, your freedom is reduced and your costs increased.  Even billionaires can't have full freedom with their too big megayachts.
  • LOA 45 feet.
  • Beam 14 feet.
  • Height of the mast+antennas 49 feet.
  • Draft 5.5 feet.
  • Sail area > ???

    Those most frequently caught by surprise are those with masts 63 feet or more who cannot travel the ICW in all conditions, and catamarans with beams more than 20 feet which can not be accommodated in many marina slips.  For example, today Tarwathie will pass under a RR bridge with 49.28 feet clearance.  90% of our cruising friends are unable to choose that route because they can't fit under that bridge.

    I'm unsure on the numbers for sail area.  Just remember that the motivation for making larger vessels Ketch or Yawl rigged is to reduce the maximum size of any one sail to make them easier for the crew to handle.
  1. The price of a new boat usually does not include canvas or davits. You need at least a dodger and a bimini.  Fully enclosed cockpits are highly desirable.  You need comfortable cockpit cushions.  These add-ons can cost many thousands of dollars unless you can make your own.
  2. Electronics.   Everyone knows about VHF radio, compass, and depth sounder.  Beginners sometimes don't appreciate the need for a chart plotter, SSB radio, and battery monitor.    They may also not understand that a TV and an AC suck down so much power, that you need to be connected to shore power to use them.
  3. Manufacturers of daysail and weekend boats, provide inadequate insulation and refrigerator systems.  If you only cruise two days at a time, you really don't care about the efficiency of your refrigeration.  It becomes a huge issue when you cruise full time.
  4. Access to your engine.  You should plan on needing to remove your engine for repair or replacement sometime during the life of your boat.  Some vessels are not designed for that, and they require that you destroy the decks and/or carpentry to do that.  Avoid them.
  5. Selection of a dinghy.  That is a very big subject.  Too big for me to discuss here.  But you need to research it.  I my opinion, the finest dinghy on the market today is a Portland Pudgy; but that costs nearly $5000!!! That is 500-800% more than you might plan to spend.
  6. Ways to get the dinghy on board for transport.  Davits are the most common choice.  But davits can be very expensive and not all of them are good.  Research that thoroughly.
  7. Visibility.  You need excellent visibility in all directions (360 degrees).  I chose this subject today because I saw a vessel that was blind to the rear because of his dinghy in the davit.  The captain could not see me approaching from behind.  A sharp helmsman frequency pivots 360 degrees to see what is around him in all directions.  If you can't see clearly, you are a hazard.
  8. An arch.  Arches form a combination of davit, and a place to mount solar panels and electronics.  Not all vessels (notably Westsail 32s) lend themselves to adding an arch.  A well built arch will also cost you thousands of dollars that you did not plan for in your budget.
  9. Deck storage.  You'll need places to store lines, and buckets, and mops, and fenders.  You'll probably need more than you anticipated.
  10. Propane:   Most cruising boats use propane stoves.  Tarwathie has a propane stove and a propane cabin heater.  Some people use alcohol.  That works well and it is very safe, but alcohol can be too expensive.   Propane is the only ubiquitous and affordable cooking fuel.

    Tarwathie carries two 20 pound propane bottles, of the type that can be filled or exchanged almost anywhere.   When one tank runs out, we have four months to find a place to buy more propane.  If you have only one bottle, then you'll be unable to cook until you get it refilled.

    Propane tanks must be stored safely.  A propane explosion on a boat can leave nothing bigger than a matchstick remaining.  You can use and store the propane safely, but propane safety is the most deadly serious technical issue you'll face.

    Propane safety means if the tank springs a leak that 100% of the propane leaks overboard and 0% leaks into the cabin.  (In real life, three times in 10 years I bought small propane tanks to use with a blow torch.  All three of them rusted out and leaked all their contents. I had stored them safely so there was no crisis, but if I hadn't we could be dead by now. The same applies to small propane bottles used for camp stoves and BBQ grills.  If you have one or more on board your boat, you must plan on it leaking.)

    The easiest way to safely store propane bottles is to strap them to a stanchion, but steel tanks corrode rapidly that way. You'll need an expensive aluminum or fiber composite tank immune to salt water corrosion.  Those cost a lot and can not be readily exchanged.   Many of them are too small because of the high cost and thus run out of fuel too soon.
I also advise new cruisers to not rush to spend their money so fast in the first months buying every imaginable gadget and convenience.  Not only do you empty your wallet, but you can clutter up the boat with things that you ultimate don't use very much, but will need your maintenance attention and conflict with simplifying your life.  The above list of 12 items are the exception to that rule.  Think carefully about those before starting your cruising life.