Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We Have Wheels. Good or Bad?

Saint Augustine, FL

Well, we did it.  We took the plunge.  Yesterday, we went out and bought a car. A Toyota Camry, very nice.  Fanciest car we've ever owned. We have 60,000 miles left on the warranty!  We also test drove a Prius.  The Prius is very nice, and I love the idea of getting 50+ mpg, but it can't hold a candle to the Camry in terms of comfort and luxury.  I guess we arrived at the age where a luxurious car can't be resisted.

We did it for a specific reason.  I hurt my back, and I don't feel up to the 5000 mile round trip voyage up to Lake Champlain on Tarwathie.  Therefore, we'll leave Tarwathie on the hard in Green Cove Springs, and drive north this summer.   

But we also plan to keep this car indefinitely, so it represents a significant life-style change.   Libby and I both have serioius trepidations.   I could say that we now have one foot in the grave, but that sounds morbid and it overstates the reality.  It is more accurate to say that, it feels that we now have one-foot in the CLOD domain (Cruisers Living On Dirt).   But we love our cruising life so much, that being a CLOD and being half dead sound the same to us.

  • We can take side trips and extend our range (same reason for having an outboard on the dinghy.)  
  • We can hopefully attract more family visitors in the winter if we can offer to pick them up at the airport.
  • The last time we owned a car (2012-13), in only six months our physical conditioning went to hell.  That is despite our efforts to use the car less and walk more.  Once again, I plan to resist that trend, but success is not guaranteed. 
  • Our 4 months spent on our annual north/south migration were our favorite parts of the year.
  • There is another temptation to use the car as a garage to aquire and store more stuff.   Owning less stuff is one of the primary benefits of cruising.   Now we have one very big "thing" to be responsible for (the car), and we must avoid having more.
  • We'll have to learn a way to handle getting both the car and the boat from Green Cove to Marathon next fall.  Other cruisers do that regularly, but we are novices on that part.

So, please don't leave messages of congratulations or condolences as comments to this blog.  We're not sure which applies.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


South Daytona, Florida
29 05.50 N 080 56.97 W

We spent last night at the public floating dock in New Smyrna Beach.  Libby likes that spot because it is close to the farmer's market.   Last night we had special entertainment.   Several hundred senior prom couples came to the waterfront to take pictures.  Lots of very beautiful women and very handsome men.

Immediately upon departing this morning, we had to go under the George Manson drawbridge.  That reminded me of a bloggable topic.

Nearly all captains have the instinct to never stop directly under an open drawbridge.  That bridge is like the sword of Damocles. It could close at any second.  Typically, boats accelerate and bunch up as they go under a bridge to minimize the opening time.

Once in Saint Augustine, we were heading north.  The sailboat in front of us wanted to anchor on the north side of the bridge, but he couldn't see the anchorage from the south side of the bridge.  What did he do?  He stopped dead directly under the bridge to look around.  I was behind him going fast.  There was not enough room to go around him.  All I could do was emergency stop.  No time to even reach for the horn or yell.   DON'T STOP UNDER A BRIDGE EVER.

When should you shout DON'T GO?  When backing out of a slip or coming out from a blind side passage into the path of passing traffic.

A third safety tip is the one I believe is most often violated.  LOOK BEHIND YOU.   That man going under the bridge did not think to look behind before stopping.   Big sport fishing boats that leave huge wakes, do not look behind them to see the havoc that their wakes cause.   Of course you are supposed to look where you are going, but there is a secondary responsibility to look behind also.  In cars or trucks, we have mirrors that allow us to glance behind in just a fraction of a second.  On boats, rear view mirrors are not common.  You must turn your head and body to look back.   Regardless of difficulty, DO IT!

Libby and I must stand up 100% of the time when under way (and not out at sea).  We stand to see over the dinghy.  That makes it easier for us to spin 360 degrees to look all around.  We do so every time we are about to change course or speed, plus once per minute  otherwise.  

Drawbridges require maximum alertness and situational awareness.  There are often squarely currents that move you from side to side.  Traffic might appear unexpectedly from the left or right before or after the bridge.   Other boats may do unexpected things, and the bridge tender may decide to close the bridge. If you approach the opening from any direction other than 90 degrees, your vulnerability to currents and surprises is increased. When passing under a drawbridge with traffic in front and behind us, I spin 360 degrees nonstop, alert and ready to take evasive action.  Because I am nervous, I usually do it at high speed to get through as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Morfarfar's Privilege

Vero Beach, Florida
27 37.70 N 080 22.24

Morfarfar's Privilege.   It is the privilege of grandparents to brag and show off pictures of their offspring.  This jewel shows our granddaughter Sara, and Sara's daughter Anna.  Aren't they both just too  beautiful for words?

By the way, I like the Swedish system better than the English one.  Instead of great grandfather in English, I am mor-far-far in Swedish, i.e. mother's father's farther.  That is more specific, logical, and rhythmic.  The only trouble is that most Swedes don't really say that, they say gammal morfar,which translates to the old granddad.  I don't like that version at all. :-)

Monday, April 20, 2015

LOL, The Joke is on Us

St. Lucie River

27 10.85 N 080 15.86 W

Regular readers know how fond I am of claiming that out lives are governed by seasons, not be the calendar. Well, last night at the St. Lucie Lock park, we saw the vessel Annies Song anchored behind us. I recalled that last year, in the same place, we also saw Annies Song. Libby checked the log book.

Surprise, we are hitting the same locations on exactly the same dates as the year before. By checking the log books more, we see that pattern repeated. In fact, popular stops like Oriental, NC, we hit twice every year; 20 stops in 10 years. But our log book shows that more than 50% of the time, those visits are on exactly the same calendar date as the year before.

It seems that the truth is that we don't ignore the calendar at all. Instead, we have unwittingly developed a rather accurate sense of date that does not refer to the written calendar. Historians will say, "Duh. People have been doing that all through history. Especially sailors and farmers. In fact, the way calendars became refined and accurate was that sailors and farmers told the authoriities that their calendars were wrong. The joke is on us.

Re: this year's journey. It has been unbearably hot. Thunderstorms threaten every day. The other night I made a big error in judgement. We wanted to cross Lake Okeechobee, but we could not arrive on the eastern shore before the lock closed for the day. Rather than wait, I chose to go anyhow, and to anchor near the Port Mayaca Lock.

Crossing the lake was fine, but just before arrival a thunderstorm passed close. Winds from the strom whipped up waves in this shallow lake. By the time we anchored, the waves were 3 feet and growing towards 4. It was one of the most uncomforable nights we ever had on the boat. I even had to take seasickness pills, something I don't recall ever doing before. Fortunately, by midnight the lake settled back down so that we could get some sleep. My decision to go and not wait, violated my own Box Canyon Rule.



Saturday, April 18, 2015

Borscht Belt South

Caloosahatchee River, Florida
26 47.33 N 081 14.76 W

Libby and I lived most of our years in upstate NY.  Therefore, we were familiar with The Borscht Belt as something quasi-local.  The Belt was quite famous in American folklore.  It was known best for the stand up comedians who worked there before Las Vegas became big, and also for the movie Dirty Dancing.

Well known resorts of the area included Brickman's, Brown's Hotel, The Concord, Friar Tuck Inn, Gibber's, Gilbert's, Grossinger's, Granit, the Woodbine Hotel, the Heiden Hotel, Irvington, Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club, Lansman's, the Nevele,The Laurels Hotel and Country Club, The Pines Resort, Raleigh, Silverman's River View Hotel, Stevensville, Stiers, the Tamarack Lodge, and the Windsor Regency.

Well, I was hired once  by The Concord, to teach a week-long course on computer programming.   It was quite an experience.  The first thing that surprised me were the size of the closets in my room.  There were two closets, each big enough to hold a billiard table.   

Next, I was shocked when I ate in the dining room.  It was low season so I sat alone at a table for 12.  The shocking part was the mountains of food, and the behavior of the waiters who kept pestering me to eat more more more.   They kept shoveling more food onto my plate even though I protested, "No No No."

Finally, I figured the whole thing out.  The patrons of The Borscht Belt  were mostly Jews from NYC.   They came to places like  The Concord as the final act of pleasure in their lives.  The closets were so big because people brought all the clothes they owned.  They didn't plan on returning to their Manhattan apartments ever.  Instead, they would eat themselves to death while enjoying entertainment.   The truth was that The Borscht Belt  was actually a refined form of assisted suicide.

I was thinking of The Borscht Belt  last night as I ate my meal at The Log Cabin BBQ in Labelle.  I was enjoying my fried catfish, and I also enjoyed most of Libby's prime ribs, as I studied the rest of the menu and fantasised over eating everything listed.  The menu concluded with:
Cabin Feast: includes cole slaw, baked beans, Texas toast, and choice of potato: baked, sweet, french fries, or daily vegetable.  Whole smoked chicken, ribs and pork ... enough to feed all your kids. Served family style.
My fantasy was to eat that Cabin Feast, at the end of which my arteries would be completely blocked and I would die with a smile on my face.   Now I truly grok  The Borscht Belt .

Libby and I manage to find an excuse to visit The Log Cabin BBQ at least once per year, hopefully twice.

Friday, April 17, 2015


Caloosahatche, River, Florida
26 43.10 N 081 40.25

Are you superstitious?  I'm not.  I don't believe in jinxes, or ghosts, or any such thing.  On the other hand, maybe I should be.

Yesterday, I posted The Opposite of Zig , about snagging pot lines, and cutting them free with a never-used knife.  At the bottom of that post, I mentioned that it happened even as I wrote.

Right now, I'm all wet.  I just resurfaced after cutting free a line wrapped around my prop.  What line?  I'm ashamed to say that it was my very own line.  

You see we use a small float as an anchor buoy.  It attaches to the anchor so that sight of the float lets us know where the anchor is. I checked and rechecked and rechecked the length of that line.  It is 22 feet long.  But it takes 32 feet to reach from the bow to the stern.  Therefore, it should be impossible for that line to wrap around the prop.  Well, it did, and I just had to go through the routine to cut the line away from the prop shaft.  Sigh.

I realize my error.  22 feet is not long enough to reach from the bow to the stern, but if Tarwathie sits in 10 feet of water with her anchor directly under the prop, then it only needs 10 feet of line to reach.  Dope slap!  The impossible was possible after all.  It was a case of faulty trigonometry on the part of the degreed engineer, yours truly.

Oh well, the water was clear and warm and my morning swim was actually pleasant.

Yesterday Libby and I both had a swim before supper.  It was a stifling 88 humid degrees out.  The weather here is not nearly as nice as in The Keys.   The weather forecasts also call for thunderstorms every afternoon.

The extreme heat brought both Libby and I to the point of near exhaustion, and we weren't even exerting ourselves in any way.   We had a discussion last night about our plans to put Tarwathie on the hard and to paint the boat in the next couple of weeks.  We are worried that we may bite more than we can chew.   No decision on that yet.

But in the morning, we stopped at Shell Point (between FMB and Fort Meyers) to visit with our friend Norman.   More on that in another post later.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Opposite Of Zig

At Sea, 25 53.38 N 081 46.21 W

Our passage across Florida Bay reminded me of another hazard I haven't written about. Crab/lobster pots. To many boaters, the fear of getting tangled in the line of a pot is second only to the fear of running aground.

The number of pots depends on the location. The highest density we have seen is in Chesapeake Bay, next highest is in Maine, and third highest is in the Florida Keys. On the continental shelf, we have seen pots in water more than 150 feet deep. There aren't many that deep, but a few.

Once again, Tarwathie has an advantage over many other sailboats. Because of her full keel, and skeg rudder, and the small aperture opening for the prop, Tarwathie is far less vulnerable to snagging pot lines than other boats. But less vulnerable doesn't mean invulnerable. Twice, we have snagged lines in our prop so severly that the engine came to a sudden halt, and the only out left to me was to dive below with a sharp knife between my teeth. Three or four other times, we snagged pot lines that did not tangle the prop. Instead, we dragged those pots for miles.

Our worst experience happened up in Maine. The lines wrapped around our prop. The wind was pushing us toward rocks. It was time to do or die. I dove with my knife and cut us free. It took about five minutes. I got such bad hypothermia that it took two hours for me to recover. Since that bad experience, we carry a wet suit and special knives on board.

But it's not as bad as it sounds. Here are some common sense tips.

  • Always use a shaft saver. Thst is a device that sites between the prop shaft and the engine shaft. It prevents damage to the engine if the prop becomes fouled and suddenly stops. PYI is the manufacturer of shaft savers.
  • Consider shaft knives. We don't have any, becasuse we had too little shaft between the hull and the prop. With our new prop and shaft, we have more room. I'll consider knives. From what I hear, they are very effective.
  • When sailing rather than motoring, your risks are greatly diminished.
  • If you catch a pot line that does not foul the prop, you'll notice it as suddenly reduced speed while motoring. Tarwathie loses one to 1.5 knots of motoring speed when dragging a pot. If that happens, stop and try backing up. 75% of the time, backing up will solve the problem. The other 25%, you'll have to dive and cut the line. That ratio might be 50-50 on sailboats with winged keels.
  • Always carry line cutting knives on board explicitly for the case of having to cut loose a pot line. I buy line cutting knives from Hamilton Marine. They are very cheap, less than $5, and very very sharp the very first time they are used. Therefore, I save a never-used knife for the pot line emergency. It will cut any line like butter, and let you get out of the water and back on your Boston minimum time. A snorkel, mask and fins may also make the job easier. But if your knife is sharp, it will take only two seconds to cut the line. (If wrapped around your shaft, allow two seconds per wrap.)
  • (I use the same knives attached to our safety harnesses. If we ever get our foot fouled in a line and get pulled overboard, that knife could save your life. Last spring, I told a horrible story about a woman who died like that in Oriental, NC. I can't say for sure if she had a knife that it would have saved her, but perhaps yes.
  • Now for my word joke, the opposite of zig is not zag, the opposite is continue straight ahead. Libby keeps and eagle eye out for pots and she zigs around any that get too close for her comfort. I do the same, but my comfort zone is more relaxed than Libby's. I will not zag for any pot more than one foot off our centerline. Libby zags for pots 50 feet away. Libby's goal is not so much to avoid fouling, it is to avoid it on her watch. Instead of zigging, you can always just put the engine in neutral.
  • In any case, as soon as the sun goes down, you aren't going to spot any more pots. Some cruisers, perhaps most cruisers, use that as a reason to never sail at night. I consider that as extreme and irrational behavior. Sailing at night offshore is a wonderful experience. It should be sought after, not avoided. The risk of fouling a pot line is not so great that you should avoid night sailing. Most pots are found in shallow water, so if you get fouled at night, just drop your anchor and wait until morning.

Ha ha, coincidence? Guess what just happened as I sat below writing this? Yes, it happened on Libby's watch. In this case, we were able to shake it off by backing up.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

On The Mark

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

It is a repeat of last year.  At the last moment, as we are ready to depart, we feel a twinge of regret.  It would sure be nice to just stay here indefinitely.

But if we did that, we wouldn't see family or friends.  Nor would Libby get to do gardening.   Nor would Tarwathie get her bottom cleaned and painted, any possibly Alwgrip'd above the water line.  Nor would we be safe from hurricanes.

So, leave we must.  Tomorrow toward Fort Meyers.  The forecast is for light winds.  Look for a new blog post Friday or Saturday.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Get In Shape

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

"Hand to Hand" was the most impressive part of the Cirque du Soleil show that Jen and I saw in Vegas.  We couldn't take pictures or videos at the show, but below is a video someone else posted of a similar show.

The strength of these guys is simply amazing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Time To Scratch The Itch

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

For months, we have been reisting making plans to leave the Keys this spring, or to plan what to do with the summer.   But in the past few days, the itch to do so has been almost irresistable.  It is time to leave.  Indeed, right now this morning, would be a splendid time to depart, but it will take us 3-4 days to prepare.

Our plan is to sail up Florida's West Coast.  We'll stop in The Everglades, and we will sail to Fort Meyers.  From there, we will take the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okechobee, and the Saint Lucie canal to cross to Florida's East Coast.   From there, we'll take the ICW north to Jacksonville and Green Cove Springs.   We plan to put Tarwathie on the hard, to paint the bottom and the hull.  Then, we'll leave her in storage, and buy a car to travel north this summer.

This will be the first time we do not take Tarwathie with us north for the summer.  Part of the reason has to do with my aching back. Recovery from the fall I took is very slow.

Conditions look favorable.  Winds for the coming week will be mild.  Lake Okechobee's lake level is 13.5 feet, minimum depth is 7.5 feet, and clearance under the low bridge at Port Mayaca is 51.02 feet.  All signals are green.

We'll be stopping to visit friends as we go north.  We'll also spend some weeks with Dave and Cathy in North Carolina.  Dave and I plan to work on our rowing shell project.  Then, we are dying to get to New York to visit with family and to hold our great grandaughter Anna for the first time.  But the bulk of the summer we'll be in Vermont with Jen where Libby can induge her gardening instincts.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Running Aground

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

There is a constant competition in the minds of cruisers.  The competition is between the pleasures of cruising versus the fears.  Among the fears, I believe running aground is among the most potent.

Libby and I have run aground so many times (30 or more times), that I have a database of the lat-lon coordinates of all those locations.  (I can't find it at the moment.  I'll publish it later.)

Today, let me say a few things about the truths and myths.

A Westsail 42 after running aground on rocks.

Running aground can sink your boat and end your life.  True, but only if you run aground on rock or coral in heavy surf.  On the USA East Coast (except for Maine) it is more common to go aground in mud or sand (a so-called soft grounding)  In those cases, both you and your boat are likely to come away unharmed.
On the ICW we have two kinds of boaters.  Those who run aground, and those who lie about it.
If you do run aground in mud or sand, don't panic.  Stop and think before taking any action.   Resist the urge to immediately use the engine to try to power off.  That can cause more harm than good.

The most common solution to a soft grounding is to simply wait for the tide to come in.  If that doesn't work, try the following.

  1. Try a modest amount of power with the engine.  Before trying that, figure out which direction is best to try.   If you have a fin keel, a spade rudder, or an exposed prop, you can damage the boat or the engine by overdoing use of the engine.   Tarwathie has a full keel, a skeg rudder, and the prop is in an aperature far from the mud.  Those advantages allow the W32 to try harder with power than some other brands.
  2. Kedge yourself off.  That means taking an anchor out in the dinghy as far as you can, and dropping it.   Then haul the anchor line in to move the boat.  Electric anchor windlasses have clutches that are not strong enough for this job.  Use a manual windlass, or the manual crank on the electric windlass if possible.   Which direction to pull?  90 degrees for a fin keel sailboat, and astern aft for a full-keel wedge-shaped boat like Tarwathie.
  3. Fin keel sailboats can make it easier to drag sideways if they heel over.  Sometimes raising the sails will do it.   Other times, pulling the halyard from the masthead will do it. Don't overdo that, or you may break the rigging.
  4. If you have towing insurance, call them.  I wrote recently about towing insurance.  Actually, if you have the insurance, and if there is any chance of damaging the boat by self-help methods, make this item number one on the checklist, right behind waiting for the tide.   The towing companies recommend that you do nothing to try to free yourself while waiting.
As a guess, out of say 32 groundings in our history:
  • 30 of 32 groundings were soft, two were on rock.
  • 25% of the time, we didn't get stuck.  We just bumped hard on the bottom.
  • 25% of the time, we were able to back off in just a few minutes using the engine.
  • 25% of the time, we kedged ourselves off within 30 minutes.
  • 25% of the time, we were towed off by passers by or by the TowboatUS, or by Sea Tow.
  • 0% of the time (according to my memory) were we able to float off when the tide came in.
Myth, soft groundings are always the fault of the helmsman.   Myth, if you are careful, you can always avoid grounding.  Closer to the truth: if you cruise on the East Coast, you will run aground; probably at least once per year.    Shoaling and silting never cease.  Staying between the red and the green is no assurance.  Male skippers take note, "Never get angry or yell at your mate for running aground."  At least not for 24 hours when you calm down and have a chance to fully consider decisions made.

Myth, depth sounders, even fancy forward-looking depth sounders will keep you out of trouble.   In most cases they only help by giving a warning just before you hit, but too late to evade the grounding.   You can increase the depth of alarm warnings, but on the ICW, be prepared for false alarms every 5 minutes.

Caveat: If you are sailing in waters with rock or coral bottoms and heavy seas, you must be much more cautious and conservative.  How close you come to hazards depends on the quality of your charts, and your certainty about your current position.   Uncertainty in either of those should caution you to leave miles, or sometimes dozens of miles between you and a grounding hazard.

Finally: In reality, for some of us, the boat is a toy, for others (like me and Libby) our boat is our one and only home, and emotionally a member of the family.  Naturally, we are more conservative about risk taking than some other people.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Selfie Fun

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida


Every other year or so, I get tired of having a beard. So I shave it off, then start growing a new one. This time, I decided to have some selfie fun.

I look like Walter White here.




I think I looked like Walter White from Breaking Bad in the middle. I think I looked like Mario from Mario Brothers with the long mustache.

Now I'm growing a new beard. You are welcome to come and help me watch it grow.

P.s. Libby and I are heading for Key West today.


Saturday, April 04, 2015

Darn, Missed Another Perfect Full Moon

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

I wrote before about Perfect Full Moons.  Well, this morning was the time to see one.  How did I know that?  Simple, because the moon set in nearly full eclipse.  Not all perfect moonrises/moonsets are eclipses, but all elcipse moonrises/moonsets are perfect full moons.

Not for the frustrating part.  I was up watching, but I couldn't see it.  Why not?  Because condo buildings and mangrove trees blocked my views of the horizons.   I would have had to be out at see or up in an airplane to see both horizons.

That, plus cloudy days, work against us viewing perfect full moons.  Because of that, I stick by what I say that for most of us, seeing one is a once in a lifetime event.

p.s. Last night the ISS space station flew over just after sunset.  It was spectacular because none of the stars were out yet.  Only Venus, Jupiter, and the ISS were visible in the sky.  It passed directly overhead and we watched it for six minutes.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Think For Yourself

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

I hate it when people try to tell me what to think.   Does that really happen in real life?  Of course it does.  Politicians, media sources, bureaucrats, and even friends do that every day.   How can you resist?   Critical thinking.

Critical thinking means not necessarily believing what you hear.   You should listen to competing views.   Look around you for corroborating or countering evidence, and apply common sense.  Vigorously resist confirmation bias.

Sometimes, you stumble across very surprising things that rattle your foundations.  I just finished watching a very interesting debate from Hong Kong entitled, "The World Needs Less Democracy, Not More." It is almost unimaginable for that subject to be debated in the USA.  But they did it in Hong Kong.  The audience appeared to be mostly British and American expats.  In the end, 24% of the audience voted for the proposition!  Do you think that is a biased result?  You should listen to the arguments first.

We once lived in Sweden.  Norway is Sweden's next door neighbor.  To outsiders, Norway and Sweden seem nearly indistinguishable, as do the USA and Canada seem indistinguishable (although the natives vigorously disagree).   But Sweden is neutral while Norway is a NATO member.   In Sweden only a madman would propose challenging neutrality.  In Norway, only a madman would propose embracing neutrality.

Democracy in the USA, and neutrality in Sweden are sacred cows. The legitimacy of sacred cows should be challenged regularly.

The bad news is what I read about the climate in US colleges and universities.  They appear to ruthlessly suppress any non-politically-correct views or speech.  Yes, I think critically about that assertion.  I've read arguments from both sides and I've listened the intelligencesquared debate on the topic. (embedded below).  I think that the problem is real and that it bodes ill for the future of this country.

But don't let me tell you what to think.  Watch the debate and do your own research before forming your opinion.  I promise, it is very entertaining.

Resolved: Liberals Are Stifling
Intellectual Diversity On Campus