Sunday, March 29, 2015

Towing Insurance.

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

When Libby and started cruising, one thing that never occurred to us was to buy towing insurance.   After all, most of us get along without towing insurance for our cars; why not for boats also.

But within the first year, we did buy towing insurance and we have maintained it ever since.   At least here on the US East Coast, it is a bargain that you cannot afford to be without.

I'll write another post soon about running aground.  For today, let's just focus on the frequency, the consequences, and the costs of running aground.

Excepting Maine, East Coast cruising in the USA is done primarily in shallow waters with soft bottoms.  The waters are so shallow, and the depths vary so much year-to-year, that even the most cautious skipper will certainly run aground.   For Libby and I, my estimate is that we go aground three times per year, or about once every 1500-2000 nautical miles.   That's the bad part.

The good part is that running aground on a soft bottom is not so serious.  (The exception is grounding in heavy surf on a beach.)  It is unlikely that your life is in danger or that your boat will be sunk.

So, what are the remedies?

  1. Wait for high tide.  In many places there is enough tide to refloat you if you merely wait.   Of course that won't work if you ran aground at high tide, or in a place where there are no significant tides.
  2. Kedge yourself off.  Libby and I have learned to be quite expert at that.   We can launch the dinghy, put the CQR anchor and 100 feet of chain in the dinghy.  Row the anchor out as far as possible.  Drop it.  Use the anchor windlass to re-float the boat.  Retrieve the anchor and chain.  Retrieve the dinghy and put it on deck.  We have acccomplished all that in as little as 20 minutes.  But we have advantages I'll discuss in a later post.  For us, kedging works 50% of the time, maybe 65%.
  3. Get towed off by a friendly passer by, or by a towing company.

The cost of towing is major factor.  In our most recent incident, the invoice said that the fee was $841 for a 5 minute job (but with $0 due from us because we were insurance members.)  I can't say if that $841 is realistic or deliberately inflated.  But the $165/year current cost of that insurance makes it sound like a bargain   Our expected "return on investment" is on the order of $3 saved per $1 premium each year.  That makes the purchase a "no brainer."

I should also mention that every time we have called on the towing companies for assistance, the eperience has been very positive.  Their help is given ungrudgingly, rapidly and expertly.  Both we and the towing captain part with smiles.  I'm sure there must be horror stories of the opposite.  All, I can say is that the 10 times or so we called for towing, the experience was positive 9 times.  The 10th time, a Sea Tow captain at first refused to come because "the weather was too rough" in Boot Key Harbor, but he changed his mind a few hours later.  He also cut our anchor rode while towing us free.

Sea-Tow, and Tow-BoatUS are the two towing companies that compete for our business.  We have used both companies, and their prices and services are nearly identical.   The cost of unlimited towing insurance grew from $110 in 2005, to $165 in 2014.

Don't leave home without it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Forever Wars

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

The hottest topic circulating among East Coast cruisers this year, is the proposed Florida Law that would ban anchoring within 200 feet of any "developed property."   Such a law would be a major blow to boating in this state.

I understand the emotions of people who spend millions on a waterfront property who bristle at the (potentially unsightly) view of a boat anchored 50 feet away.  Add to that the thought that the persons on the boat are paying no taxes and it makes the property owners go ballistic.

But those people forget that the water is not "their" back yard. Waterways are public. They have no more right to a 200 foot exclusive use right on the water side of their properties as they do on the land borders of their property.   Imagine if they could prevent another building from being built, or a street, or parking a car within 200 feet of their property boundaries.  That would be silly, right?  Well, it is just as silly on the water side of these properties.

This is not the first time this topic was current.  Once before, perhaps 2007 anchoring rights were debated and a new law was passed favoring the boaters. In 2012 (if I remember right) the so-called "pilot" program in Florida explored municipal regulation of anchoring as an experiment.   This time, the issue started last fall with a series of hearings held by FWC.

The Florida battles about anchoring sound like a "forever war".  Think of the abortion debate after Roe v Wade, or the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as examples of forever wars.  Centuries will not be long enough to bring conclusions to those wars.  Theorists tell us that forever wars are the result of flawed processes when they were initiated.  Abortion should have been settled politically, not by the court.  Israel was created by the preposterous 1947 UN resolution, in which the UN decided to give someone's country to someone else.

The Florida boating law is at least being debated by the correct process, so I hope it will not become a forever war.

I suspect that this new law will not pass, but I also expect that the issue will come up again and again.  In the long term, the issue is not boating, it is population density.   All sorts of rules and restrictions unthinkable in low density areas, become common sense in high density areas.  Think of parking meters for example.  As we double, then redouble the population, almost all of our freedoms will have to be sacrificed.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Never Wet On Props - Wow!

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

Here in the Florida Keys, we must have a diver clean the bottom once every 30 days.  Especially the props.  Barnacles love the bare metal on props.
18 months ago (the last time we were on the hard) I sprayed my clean prop with Never Wet.  I didn't have much hope for it.  I thought it would wear off quickly.  It didn't.

Now after 18 months, the diver told me he never saw such a clean propeller before. Not a single barnacle or bit of slime. He wanted to know what I did to it.

I bought Rustoleum Never Wet at Home Depot for only $16.  It is the two-part version of Never Wet. They call it a "super hydrophobic"coating.  It is very much unlike anything I've seen in the past.

Next time we are on the hard (next summer), I'm going to use it on a test patch on my hull.  If it works well, it is very much cheaper than toxic bottom paints.  I'll post here two years from now about how it worked out.
A friend is also testing Never Wet inside his boat.  He had been using ever more toxic chemicals to try and prevent growth of mildew, and none of them worked.   We reason that Never Wet not only repels water, it should repel moisture and thus prevent mildew or mold from growing.  I'll report back on that experiment in a year.

My friend Jay suggested that I run a test.  Take surfaces partially coated and partially uncoated and photograph them after some weeks.  I did that.  

Above: I had a test made of PVC pipe, stainless, and an aluminum beer can.  The masking tape shows places protected from the Never Wet Spray.  On the left is the rig after one week's immersion.

Above after 6 weeks: The aluminum part broke off.  The test rig picked up more than 5 pounds of growth!!!  It appeared that the never wet portion was covered as well.

Above: I rubbed it with bare hands.  Almost all the growth wiped off the Never Wet portions easily, none came off the uncoated parts.  Caution: Do not scrape it with a tool.  That will scrape off the Never Wet coating.   Most important, there were zero barnacles on the Never Wet coated portions.

I don't like doing product endorsements on this blog, but this is an exception.  For a $18 investment, the results are spectacular.  Nothing I've heard of before seems to work as well on props.

p.s. The diver who remarked about my prop, did scrape it anyhow.  Immediately after scraping, growth and barnacles began to grow.  That proves that something was really happening.  It also shows that the Never Wet coating is fragile and easily destroyed, so NO SCRAPING.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Navigation Plan B

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

I've written before about how seductive it is to navigate exclusively with the aid of a GPS chart plotter. It is not only easier, but the result is so much superior to coastal piloting techniques. Because of confidence in the GPS, we can take short cuts. Using only coastal navigation techniques, we would have to add many miles (and many extra hours of sailing) to avoid coming close to hazards.

The picture below shows my favorite example, sailing from Everglades City, Florida to Marco Island, Florida. There are a number of shoals south of Cape Romano, arranged as parallel east-west sand bars with deep water in between. Using GPS, I feel safe using the red path, but with coastal navigation the yellow path would be the most aggressive route I would dare. It is very many much longer. In terms of time, it could be half a day. The more uncertain I am of my coastal piloting position and course, the more south (conservative) I would have to be.


But any prudent captain must plan for the day when the GPS, and all the backup GPS' on board will fail, and we need to fall back to paper methods. What then? Suppose we have a navigation plan A based on GPS. There will also be a plan B based on paper charts and coastal piloting methods. B will always be more conservative than A.

Today's question is, "Must one have both plans A and B in hand before leaving, or can it suffice to have a generic procedure C for creating a plan B on-the-spot?"

I should mention that this post was inspired by an airline captain friend who said that he felt uncomfortable leaving the dock with out both plans A and B in hand. It is true that the standards are different. When flying a plane you may not have enough time to invent plan B on-the-spot. On a boat you do. On a plane, the pilot seldom has a chance to repair failed equipment en-route, but on a boat you do.

  1. Strictly observe the Box Canyon Rule. Never put yourself in the position that plan A must succeed or else you're screwed. Preserve the opportunity to make a feasible plan B if needed.
  2. Always have paper charts available, and know on which page you are.
  3. Any procedure C to create a new plan B depends on knowledge of your current position. Therefore:
    • You may have used pencil and paper to record your current position (i make pencil marks on the chart itself). Use dead-reckoning to extrapolate your last known position to your current position.
    • Use any possible source to locate your current position. VHF radio calls to other boats, sextant, cell phone, visual bearings on landmarks, compare the depth to the charts, position of the sun and sunrise/sunset times, even call the Coast Guard if your situation is dangerous. (I'm sure that there are even more ways, than I listed.)
    • Be patient. Unless you are in imminent danger of going aground, you can take whatever time is needed to get a position fix. You might be able to anchor, or to heave-to to stay in more or less the same place. Urgency is usually not needed.
    • If your uncertainty is so great that you dare not proceed, is there a direction you could go that would be safe and would improve your ability to get a fix? Doubling back on the course you used to get here is probably safe. Unless you are surrounded by shoals in all directions, there should always be a safe direction. (If not, then you violated the box canyon rule.) For example, offshore along the east coast of the USA, I know that sailing West will make me sight land.

Once you have your position fix, and an estimate of the uncertainty in that position, you can look at your paper charts and devise a prudent plan that either gets you to your intended destination or at least returns you to safety.

It is that simple. Indeed, simplicity is mandatory.

Finally, let's not overdo it. Cruising is more demanding than day sailing. When day sailing, you have no plan A at all (other than have fun). But day sailing should be restricted to familiar waters where you always know where you are and how to get back and when reference to the charts is seldom needed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Migratory Birds. Migratory Cruisers

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

It has begun. I speak of this years northward migration of cruisers. The earliest ones have already left. On the cruiser's net this morning I heard announcements of five departures. The peak of departures will happen in a week or two. By May 1, only a few stragglers will be left in BootKey Harbor (not counting the non-migratory subspecies that stays all year.)

I know the feeling well. Plans be damned. One day you look at the sky and something triggers pulses in the brain stem telling you to get moving. In that respect, I belive that cruisers and birds have the same neurons.

Of course, the timing for departure depends on the destination. For those migrating to the Northeast US, the weather and the water up north is still far too cold. Our rule of thumb on Tarwathie has always been to arrive in New York Harbor no earlier than June 1. But for destinations in the Chesapeake or further south, an earier departure is OK.

The timing formuma for cruisers is pretty simple -- follow temperate weather. That works going both north and south.

For many boaters, there is a second man-made factor. To avoid hurricanes, their insurance companies insist on the boat owners staying north of aribtrary lines of latitude at arbitrary times. There seems to be enormous variations on the latitudes and dates.

What about Tarwathie this summer? We haven't made plans yet. For sure, one way or the other, we'll make it to Vermont and New York.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL

Nearly 24 hours ago, I was relaxing in my hammock on a hot afternoon.   Suddenly and without warning, the end of the hammock broke off, and I fell.   I landed with my full weight on my coccyx (i.e. the base of my spine) on the sharp edge of a hatch.  Wham! Man oh man did that hurt.

Libby was not on board so I was on my own.  I didn't move for a minute catching my breath.  Then I rolled over on hands and knees.  The pain did not increase.  I stood up.  The pain did not increase.   I made it down below, took three ibuprofen and laid down.   Later, Libby brought me an ice pack.   My fear was that it would inflame and swell and become much worse overnight, but that didn't happen.  As a matter of fact, it felt much better after only 4 hours.

Now 24 hours later, I'm sitting on a pillow, and still taking ibuprofen, but the pain is mild.   I consider myself very lucky.  I could easily have broken a bone in my spine, or did some other permanent damage.   This old body appears to be pretty tough.  Hooray for that.

The hammock was almost brand new.  I got it as a Christmas present.  I have no idea why it failed catastrophically.

Even in the seconds after the fall, I don't believe that my back pain was as bad as Libby or Jen, or millions of other people suffer. Once again, I've been very lucky.

The really scary thought is how would we have handled it if such an accident, or worse, happened while out at sea.   The good news is that Libby is much more confident of her ability to handle Tarwathie and to bring us to a safe port single-handed. (But only if she is not seasick.) She could also call help if needed.  The bad news is that we have not reviewed our first aid equipment, or first aid training, or first aid literature on board since 2005.  I think I'll make use of this reminder to conduct such a review.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Best 1% of Jen's Pictures

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL

Well, I have copies of about 2200 pictures that Jen took on our trip.  (I brought my camera but I could have left it home.  I did the driving, while Jen took the pictures.)   Here are 22 (1%) of my favorites.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Once In A Lifetime

McCarren Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada

Well, we did it. Jen and I managed to pull off a once-in-a-lifetime father/daughter trip. It has been a joy traveling with Jen. I love her company and I love sharing with her places I've seen before with Libby, and Dave, and my Father Jerry. Below is a summary of what we did.


  1. Travel, Bellagio Fountain
  2. The Vegas Strip, Cirque de Sol show.
  3. Zion National Park
  4. Bryce National Park, Escalante UT
  5. UT Route 12 to Boulder, The Burr Trail, Capitol Reef, Fruita
  6. Eastern Utah, Monument Valley
  7. Glen Canyon Dam, Horseshoe Bend, Sunset Crater
  8. Grand Canyon
  9. Metor Crater, Payson
  10. Roosevelt Dam, The Apache Trail, visit Kristen
  11. Jerome, AZ, Mount Mingus
  12. With John and Mary Ann
  13. With John and Mary Ann
  14. Travel
Jen's favorite was the lava trail at Sunset Crater. My favorite was Utah route 12 between Escalante and Boulder.

This morning, Jen gave me a copy of 16 GB of pictures. (!6GB!!!) I'll pick some of the best to post when I get back.

I realized that an unforeseen effect was that Jen got to sample the nomadic ways of us cruisers. Every morning we pack up, then travel until sunset. We drove on 10 of the 14 days, averaging 200 miles per day. The nomadic life was not Jen's favorite part.

Libby reports that it has been warm and nice but relentlessly windy in Marathon while I was gone.

I didn't arrange my return very well. I arrive in Marathon at 22:30 tonight, but the shuttle bus to Marathon doesn't leave until 11:00 Sunday. I'll bed down on a MIA airport bench tonight. I get back to Marathon about 22 hours from now. Still, it will be great to get back with Libby.

Love you Jen <3


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Endless Variety

Payson, Arizona


One of the great things about The West is that the geology is so in-your-face. Back East, trees block your long distance views of almost everything. Out here most of the landscapae is bare so you can really see it.

Another great thing is the endless variety. Around every bend in the road, across every crest of the hill is a fresh vista. No two are alike. We delight at the variety, and that is one reason that I keep coming back to the same region again and again All that is true especially for southern Utah.

Since blogging last we:

  • Drove from Torrey UT (Capitol Reef National Park) to Page, AZ. That trek took us through The Waterpocket Fold, and The Colorado River Valley, to Monument Valley.
  • At one point I almost turned back. We had just turned on to UT-95, a 93 miles long road with no crossroads or alterate routes. As we entered the highway, a flashing sign announced "THE LAKE POWELL FERRY OPERATES ONLY ON WEEKENDS." I screeched to a halt. What ferry? I didn't plan to use any ferry. We were navigating via Google Maps, and we had no cell phone connections there. I turned back 1/4 mile and went into a general store to ask. I asked the girl at the counter, "Does this road going south use a ferry?" She answered, "I don't know. I never went that way." Pretty remarkable considering that roads in that town only go in three directions. Never??? But we got a peek at a paper map from some tourists with an RV. No ferry needed for our route.
  • Leaving Page, we visited Glen Canyon Dam, The Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado (where I got vertigo and refused to walk close to the edge of the cliff). Route 89 along the fault line toward Flagstaff. The Wupakti Indian Ruins, and Sunset Crater. We walked the lava trail at the volcano, and Jen declared that her favorite part of the whole trip!
  • We spend Sunday visiting The Grand Canyon. That of course is a must for Jen. Everyone needs to see Grand Canyon with their own eyes. Nobody, no picture, no video can tell you what it' is like.
  • Yesterday we visited Lowell Observatory, and The Meteor Crater, then we drove AZ-87 to Payson. I remembered that road from a trip with Libby 35 years ago, when we were enchanted by the beauty. But alas, I forgot about the seasons. In spring at the high altitudes in the forest everything is verdant and green, but right now it is still winter.
  • We are in Payson right now, and we see that spring has arrived here. The deciduous trees have leaves.
Next we go to the Phoenix area. We arranged a visit with Jen's childhood friend Kristen, and we hope to also arrange a visit with another longtime family friend, Nikki.

We can also shed the long pants and flannel shirts. I can dress in shorts, t-shirt and crocs; my customary attire.



Saturday, March 07, 2015

A Break

Page, Arizona


I'm taking a break from writing this morning. Instead, I have a fascinating newspaper article to recommend.

The New York Times is far from my favorite paper. But sometimes they create outstanding articles. The Pigeon King, from today's NYT Magazine is an example. It is an extremely long, yet fascinating story. I read it while eating breakfast. I'm sure you will enjoy it.


Friday, March 06, 2015

As Good as it Gets

Torrey, Utah


Oh boy, what a grand day we had yesterday. It started with a liesurely breakfast at Escalante Outfitters. We met some interesting pepole there. Especially a young girl from Boulder, Utah. She told us that although we shouldn't drive on unpaved roads this week, that the Burr Trail leading from Boulder was paved for the first thirty miles. Part of it she said was "as good as it gets," and she advised us to stop at mile 11 and go hiking.

But first to get to Boulder, one must travel highway 12. That road also contends for the title "as good as it gets". Driving that stretch of road with Jen was actually my main vision for the purpose of this whole trip. It didn't dissapoint. LIke me and Dave and Libby before, Jen was enchanted by the journey.

Then we took the 60 mile side trip recommended by that girl on the Burr TraIl. We stopped at mile 11, and found a slot canyon where we could walk between vertical walls 500 feet high as the width of the canyon decreased from 50 feet to zero. In there, we met a local family with children. I think they were probably Mormon. In any case they were very nice pepole and very talkative, so we enjoyed meeting them. Their teenaged daughter was climing the walls and exploring the caves barefoot.

Eventually, we got to Capitol Reef National Park. I showed Jen the area called Fruita that Libby and I thbough one of the best camp sites on our entire trip a few years back. A herd of 12 mule deer ignored us as we passed through. Then, Jen and I took a hiking trail that leads up 1000 feet to the top of the mesa at Chimney Rock. The exercise felt good. A bit more than normal exercise was necessary because our boots each picked up five pounds of mud. We made it 2/3 of the way up, but then turned back because the sun was about to set and the temperature was dropping rapidly (from 45F to 0F in the night.) If we had stayed up there another 90 minutes we would have seen the spectacular full moon rising.

I think it fair to say that the entire day qualifies "as good as it gets"

Today? We will drive through Monument Valley towards Page, Arizona.

Pictures? I'm letting Jen take all the pictures this trip. I'll get a copy when the trip ends, and I'll post some of the best ones here.



Thursday, March 05, 2015

Crocs Have No Crampons

Escalante, Utah


The first time I visited Bryce Canyon, I walked down the trails to the base of the hoodoos. It was enchanting. I loved it. When I visited there with Dave and with Libby a couple of years ago, I decided not to walk down because I feared getting out of breath and not being able to hike back up. Since then, I've been going to the gym and working out, and I'm in much better physical shape. Just the past month I worked out 30 times with that hike specifically in mind. So, imagine my surprise when i heard from the ranger that the trails were open but only to people wearing ice crampons!

I'm the guy who takes pleasure telling my sailing friends that I hope to never directly experience snow again. Well, I get an F for properly anticipating the weather conditions for this trip. it was -3F up on the rim at Bryce yesterday morning. My crocs do not support ice crampons. Yet by the end of March it will be much warmer and tourist season will be in full swing.

On the other hand, the white snow added to the red rocks and the blue sky made for scenery even more beautiful than in the summer. Bryce was spectacular. We have no cause for complaints. Most important, Jen is enjoying it.

We spent last night in Escalante, Utah. This is a tiny community that caught my fancy before. It is an enchanting place and it looks like a delightful place to live. We stopped in the post office. The postmaster asked where we came from, but he knew the names of all the locals, and the names of their relatives, and no doubt all their family secrets. Such is life in a tiny community.

My ambitions to tour some of the most beautiful rods, such as the Devil's Backbone and the Water Pocket Fold are shelved, because the roads are not plowed and covered by three feet of snow. Jen and I are scheming alternate plans as we go.



Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Kiss Principle Not

Kenab, Utah


Well, yesterday was quite a day. We started in Las Vegas under a beautiful blue cloudless sky. We then drove to Zion under worsening conditions. By the time we arrived at Zion, the weather had closed in. Snow and clouds covered the sky and some of the cliff tops in the park.

But we were not deterred. There were very few visitors to the park, so we were allowed to drive everywhere. The parts of the canyon we could see were as beautiful as ever, and Jen was impressed.

We went to the weeping wall; one place in particular I wanted to share with Jen. As we got out of the car, the rain turned to sleet. No matter, we dressed warm and did the tour.

We continued on to the river walk; the furthest point you can drive, and then on foot to the furthest place you can walk without walking in the water. Now mother nature favored us. Halfway up the walk the rain and sleet stopped and the sun came out. It would have been the perfect setup for a rainbow, except as I just realized, the bottoms of deep canyons are not the best places to look for rainbows.

The final part of the tour as we drove in the car up the wall and through the tunnel to the high elevation part of Zion was really spectacular. When Libby and I were there in May it was hot and dry. This time, half the rocks were covered with snow. It was extra beautiful.

Evidence of the greatness of the day: Jen took 300 pictures. I think she liked it.

What about the Kiss principle. Well, Libby is sometimes better at forethought than I am. She forethought that Jen and I might need to do laundry on the trip. So she put in some capsules of laundry detergent in my toiletry bag so that we could avoid buying detergent on the trip. This morning as I brushed my teethi, I was shocked by a horrible taste in my mouth. It seems that my toothbrush punctured the skin of the detergent capsule. Yuck. Libby's help didn't accounty for the Kiss principle.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Nevada

I declare this trip a success already. Traveling with Jen is a pleasure.

Man oh man is this place impressive. I challenge any political or economic system in the world to produce such extremes of excellence. Even though most of what Las Vegas is does not suit my tastes, I greatly admire the skill of how well they do it. Free enerprise (capitalism if you prefer) and most of all vigorous competition, bring out the best of the best. If you're not the best here, you wither and die quickly.

Our plan was to spend one night here. But the first night turned out to be very cold and rainy. We started shopping for shows too late. So we stayed a second night. During the day we toured the strip and we snaggged tickets to Mystere Cirque Du Soleil.

The Mystere show was amazing. All throughout I kept wondering how they loacted, recruited, and trained such marvelously athletic performers.