Saturday, January 30, 2016

A New Generation of Retired Cruisers

Marathon, FL

As I look around the places that we frequent, it is obvious first that the number of retired people cruising has swelled.  Second, that many of them belong to a new generation.

The primary evidence is crowding at all the places and all the facilities frequented by cruisers.   It becomes more crowded every year.   I used to say that Boot Key Harbor fills up by the end of January.  But that shifted to December, and now to early December.  Next year, to assure a mooring ball with no wait, we'll have to be here in early November.   It is the same everywhere.

I think that part of the explanation is the economy.  Boomers started reaching retirement age about the same time as the 2008 recession.  Many of them postponed their retirement.  Now, as the economy is better we have this years crop of newly retired plus a 7 year backlog.

I remember the chat about going to the Bahamas in past years.  People wanted to know about customs, navigation hazards, charts, pets and medical emergencies.  This year, questions about Direct TV and Netflix in the Bahamas dominated.

It is tempting to say that the new generation brings with it unprecedented demand for luxury and coddling.  But I suspect that may be incorrect.  Old timers much older than me will tell you that trend has existed ever since WWII.  So maybe it just seems to every generation that the following generations are spoiled brats.

I do have one prediction that I bet will prove true.  The years 2017-2020 will be prime years to buy second-hand cruising yachts at fire sale prices.   Having spent 2-3 years cruising as their dream retirement home is constructed somewhere, those crews will be in a hurry to get rid of all that cruising stuff and move on.

Along those lines, what would you say about this crew?

US yachtsmen rescued nine times since July say they are 'totally capable guys'

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What Happens When You Flip the Light Switch?

Marathon, FL

Blogging is not enough to satisfy my urges for creative writing.
I detest micro-blogging, meaning one sentence messages on Facebook or Twitter.  If you write more than a sentence there, the response is TLDR (Too Long Didn't Read).  Books seem too much like work.  Libby and I are working on a SF novel (although that goes slowly).  Essays, articles and blog posts are just right in my opinion.

I've done magazine articles, even ones that pay me money.  But I don't like the extremely long lead-times necessary in that venue.  I want my gratification instantly.

Physics Forums provides me with a suitable outlet in their Science Insights Series.  I previously mentioned the one about rainbows. That was probably the most general interest article I'll put there.

This Physics Forums article explains how the power grid works in layman's terms.  Especially the chain of scientific, engineering, economic, and even political events that you trigger when you flip the switch.

I have three more such articles in the works.  I'll post them here after publication.

Monday, January 25, 2016

(Non Political) Tyranny of the Majority

Marathon, FL

Last week, Libby and I were debating political systems with Ray and Pat. The subject of “The Tyranny of the Majority” came up. That phrase was mentioned often in The Federalist Papers, and it is frequently on the tip of the tongue of libertarians like us.  I have always thought of it in exclusively political contexts.

VHF 68 is the channel for general boat-to-boat chat here in Boot Key Harbor. The cruisers net is on 68. People chat on 68 all day and into the evening. But this morning, I began at 6 AM to chat with others striving to see the five planets and the ISS space station flyover. We got a complaint from another boat. Apparently they leave 68 on as they sleep, and we disturbed them.

It reminded me of when I was working in Sweden in the 70s. I worked night shift, while living in a hotel. One day a man stopped me and went into a tirade about how rude I was to make noise opening and closing doors at 6 AM, thus disturbing his sleep. But there was no thought given to how my sleep was disturbed at 9 AM by someone mowing the lawn.

The interesting point is that The Tyranny of the Majority is not just a political issue. It happens in everyday life. The majority of people who sleep at 6 AM, feel free to protest vigorously if their sleep is disturbed. The minority of people who sleep at 6 PM, have no right to protest at all. All consideration and empathy goes to the majority, zero to the minority. Is this a universal human trait? I can’t say for sure, but maybe yes.

If life was like the parliamentary system that respects the rights of the minority, quiet hours would include 6 AM 90% of the time and 6 PM 10% of the time. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Propane Follow Up, Western Florida Trip

Marathon, FL

Blog fan Pam & Dave informed me about something I hadn't known about. He said, "I did everything you recommended plus I added a propane sniffer down in the bilge"  I didn't even know that such things existed.  But after a quick Google search, I found many of them.  Yes, I agree Dave,  good advice.  Thank you.   I just updated the previous blog post.

Libby and I just returned from a 3 day trip to Florida's West Coast.   We visited with Pat & Ray formerly from MV Reflection.  We really like Ray and Pat.  The four of us have shared some great adventures, and their company is a pleasure.  But now, they are CLODs (Cruisers Living on Dirt).

They took us to Apollo Beach to see the amazing manatee herd in the cooling water canal.   That was fantastic.  Of course as a power engineer, I was distracted the whole time by the massive coal=fired Big Bend Power Plant right in front of us.  There was an awful lot of old-fashioned engineering needed to make a plant like that work.

On the return trip, we stopped at Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage to see Dick & Kathy from SV Endeavor.  We haven't seen those dear friends for two years.   That was fun.   We also discovered that the other boaters in the yard form a cruiser's enclave, so we fit right in.  Indeed a number of those cruisers already know Libby, and they know of me as "Mister Libby"   

That boat yard seemed very well run.  It is a definite candidate for us as a place to store Tarwathie next summer, and to do our painting work.  It is not as hurricane safe as Green Cove springs, but it is way up a canal and behind a lock, so it should be pretty safe.   I'll start investigating that.

Ray & Pat also educated us about Clyde Butcher and his marvelous photographs, and more about things that can be done in The Everglades and in Big Cyprus Swamp.  We stopped at the Butcher gallery in Venice, and the one along Alligator Alley.  We also checked out the federal camp grounds there.   We have camping gear in the car, and we would have camped except that today, Saturday, and Sunday there is very nasty weather expected.   

In the following weeks, I think it is highly likely that Libby and I will return to Alligator Alley for a 2-3 day trip.  If possible, we would also like to arrange that Katelyn gets a "swamp walk" when she is here in February.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Your Deadliest Cruising Challenge

Marathon, FL

I wish I could think of a more captivating title for this blog.  That is because today's subject is about something quite deadly, and nearly ubiquitous among cruisers -- the handling of propane on board.

Propane is a wonderful fuel, at least in the USA and many other places.  It burns clean, it is inexpensive, the energy density in joules per pound, or joules per liter, is high.  It is the fuel of choice.  We love it.

But propane has one deadly quality.  It is heavier than air.  If propane leaks inside, it will not disappear upward through open hatches or ventilators, it will sit in the lowest point for years, waiting for a spark.  If the spark happens, it can cause a devastating explosion that demolishes the boat, and that can kill everyone on board.

In West Charlton, where I once belonged to the volunteer fire department, we had a dramatic demonstration.  There was an alarm at 3 AM for a propane leak.  When the men arrived at the fire house, they started the engines and tried to drive away.  The diesel engines stalled on the apron and would not restart.  That is because there was no oxygen out there, just propane.  The leak was 3 miles away, and the gasses followed a small brook winding through the fields and the woods to the fire house.  Thankfully, there was no fire or explosion that

The safe way to use propane on board needs three factors.

  1. The propane tanks need to be stored somewhere that if they leak, the gas will spill overboard into the water.
  2. The hoses and fittings are special kinds designed for this application.
  3. An electric solenoid valve near the tanks shuts off when you aren't using the gas.   With that valve shut, a leak in the piping or the connections will spill only the volume of gas in the pipes, not the whole tank.

On Tarwathie, we carry two 20 pound propane bottles.  They are stored in the lazarette compartment in the stern.  That compartment is sealed from the rest of the boat, and it has it's own drain right out to the sea.  Other people use deck locks or merely strap tanks to the stanchions to achieve the same.

I think that most cruising vessels do a pretty good job in safely handling the primary propane source.   However, many of them then violate those same principles when storing portable propane bottles commonly used for BBQ grills, camp stoves and camp heaters.  They store those bottles any old place, and they ignore the rule about safe places to store them.

Bottles used for propane torches are equally dangerous. I've used them twice, and I stored them back in the lazarette with the other propane tanks.  Twice I went to use them some months later only to find that they rusted out holes and were empty.

On the cruisers net last week, one of our friends cheerfully announced that they used a propane camp heater inside their boat when it was cold.  They felt that they were safe because they have a carbon monoxide alarm.  They really missed the point, the propane tank itself is a much bigger hazard than carbon monoxide.


Some units such as the one below, are marketed at "indoor safe."  Well, in my opinion "indoor safe" is not "below decks safe" on board a boat.  A house or a tent has places for heavy gasses to escape. The bilge of a boat does not.   A house or a tent also can have safe places to store extra fuel tanks, safe storage on a boat is harder to achieve.  For that reason, the safety standard on a boat needs to be higher than for a house or a tent.

Update: The manufacturer of the heater above says this in the product manual. Note that it does not mention boats.
This heater is safe for indoor use in small recreational enclosures, having means for providing combustion air and ventilation, such as enclosed porches, cabins, fishing huts, trailers, tent trailers, tents, truck caps and vans.

Update: Blog fan Pam & Dave informed me about something I hadn't known about. He said, "I did everything you recommended plus I added a propane sniffer down in the bilge"  I didn't even know that such things existed.  But after a quick Google search, I found many of them.  Yes, I agree Dave,  good advice.  Thank you.
I'm going to shop for one right now.   The face of the detector below says "automatic valve control" which sounds like another good feature.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rainbows are not Vampires

Marathon, FL

I made use of my favorite picture of Tarwathie.  It is the one with the rainbow that you see in to the right under Our Profile of this blog's page.   I used the picture as the basis for a so-called Science Insights Article over at Physics Forums.

I had fun writing it, and the physicists seemed to enjoy the article too.  You can read it here.  I promise, it's a fun topic.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Good Fun Versus Good Sense

Marathon, FL

I have a juicy story to tell about some people here in Boot Key Harbor. I'm sure that my blog readers would enjoy it.  But if I tell their story here, those people are likely to see it or to hear about it from one of my readers.  I wouldn't want to embarrass them, so I'll decline to tell the story, either here on the blog or in email.

But I would pass the gossip verbally.

Funny isn't it? The contorted nuanced rules of etiquette that we devise.  There is no logic behind gossiping verbally but not in writing, but I'm following the rule anyhow.

Friday, January 08, 2016

It's Hard Being A Drone

Marathon, FL

No sign of my missing drone, so I guess that it is permanently lost.   I'm hardly alone though,  of the 700,000 drones sold for Christmas, some say that 300,000 of them crashed or dissapeared on Christmas day.

The lesson I learned is that drones are much easier to dream of than to fly.  Even for an engineer and a licensed pilot.  But what big boy could resist?  Not me.  Nor could I have had the patience to wait the 10 days after Christmas before the wind settled down.  Nor am I mature enough to admit that there is no place in the Florida keys far enough away from an airstrip to make it legal to fly a drone. I'm proud to be counted as a bigger boy with bigger toys.

Have a look at this hilarious video clip of drone mishaps.  What happened to me was mild.  I you imagine yourself reincarnated as a drone, you would have a short and painful life.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Meet Mighty Mite

Marathon, FL

This computer, that I dub as Mighty Mite, is the newest member of Tarwathie's family.   I put the key in the picture so that you have an idea of the size.

Might Mite arrived today, but not alone.  It was part of the kit seen below. At $55, it is an amazing value.

I have a special project in mind for Mighty Mite, but I won't reveal the details until it is done (hopefully next summer).  But in the meantime I'm going to have lots of fun learning about Mighty Mite and doing experiments with real hardware.

By the way, Mighty Mite is far from the fisrt, or smallest, or cheapest computer I have ever owned.   The first computer I used was an IBM 1620 in the year 1962.  I've been hooked ever since.  Besides girls, they are the most fun things ever.

The first computer I used at home was a GE 225 time-share.  I hauled home the bulky and heavy ASR33 teletype and modem needed to access the computer remotely in 1971.

The first computer I owned was a Commodore Pet in 197?.

My smallest and lowest price computer was a digital watch.

My first computer to access The Internet was an Apollo in 1988.

My first personal web site, I created in 1995.  It wasn't until 1999 that Al Gore dreamed that he invented The Internet.

How many computers do we have on board Tarwathie?  Good trivia question.  I think the answer is 16 but I could have missed some.  Try to answer that question for your own house.  Remember that things like phones and TVs and digital kitchen timers are almost certainly computers in today's world.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Never Wet Follow-Up

Marathon, FL

I have a discouraging follow-up report on the Never Wet.

This fall, before splashing Tarwathie, I cleaned the prop and put on two new coats of Never Wet. I was looking forward to providing a report next spring.

If you recall, my last test was spoiled when the bottom diver scraped my prop even though it was clean. He scraped the Never Wet off.

Now for the discouraging part. Under sail on the way south, we encountered a dense field of lobster traps on a moonless, starless night in Florida Bay. Four times I hooked a trap in the gap between hull and rudder. (Yes I do have a metal tab going across that gap to prevent fouling that way but for some reason it didn't work.) Four times, I freed the lines by backing up up 100 m or so. I was not about to go diving down there at night.

On the fourth time, the Styrofoam ball hit the spinning prop. Styrofoam flew in all directions. Unfortunately, so did my Never Wet. Only a week later, new barnacles were growing on the prop.

So, I stand by what I said before about Never Wet. it is extremely effective as a propeller anti-foul. But it is also very fragile and easily rubbed off.

6 weeks after hitting the lobster pot.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Tarwathie Front & Center

Marathon, Florida

Tom on the MV Anodyne posted this picture of Boot Key Harbor at night.  Tarwathie is front and center.  Thanks Tom.

p.s. This is the first time since Christmas where the wind is low enough to fly a drone.