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.