Friday, February 26, 2016

Tarwathie's Soul Restored

Marathon, FL

I don't think I told about this story on the blog before.

When we first moves aboard Tarwathie, the ships clock was there.  It is a quality clock, made of brass, and the old-fashioned wind up type.   My father, who was a life long fan and collector of clocks, would have loved it.

A ships clock is special.  It strikes the ships bells.  In case you don't know what that means, every half hour, it adds one more bell.  So the first half-hour it rings once, the second it rings twice, up until eight bells (four hours).  Then the idea is that you change the watch (who is on-duty), and it starts over again.  Eight bells happens six times per day at 0000, 0400, 0800, 1200, 1600, and 2000.

We came to love the sound of those bells.  At sea, they allow the person on watch to know the time without looking.  At anchor, they serenade us.   We are accustomed to those sounds in the same way that we learned to be accustomed to the sound of railroad trains at night in the many houses we lived in over the years.  Like the sound of songbirds at dawn, it is part of the environment.  Libby and I have come to think of those chimes as the audible soul of Tarwathie.  The sound is dear to us (although some visitors on board find it to be disurbing).

One year, our clock stopped working.  Libby was devastated.  Clock reparimen (like my late father) are extremely hard to find.  She looked and looked and finally found a man in Vergennes, Vermont who fixed it for $75.  He told Libby that he had to replace the original clock works.

Also over the years, the lacquer wore off, and polishing the brass became more and more difficult.  So the shine was wearing off.

In 2015, it stopped working again.  I heard that one could send it back to Chelsea for repair, and for cosmetic restoration to factory new.   So I sent it back.  Their reply was that they wanted $700 for the job, including $400 because the original clockworks was missing.

Fortunately for me, I mentioned it to Jen.  Jen did a little research and found someone on Ebay selling the exact same Chelsea Shipstrike clock.  But this one was factory new, still in the box, and the price was only $300.  I bought it as Libby's Christmas present.  She loved it.  I love it too, having the serenade of the bells once again.   Tarwahie has her soul back.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Captain Bumbler

Labelle, FL

[This post was written November 2015, but I forgot to push the Publish button.]

We all make mistakes. Today's story though is about a chain of mistakes so bad that I'm embarrassed to tell about it.

Our Furlex jib furler has been trouble ever since we bought it. I regret switching from a hanked on sail to roller furling. I never felt that there was a chance that we could not take the hanked-on jib down, but there have been several cases where it would not furl, or I feared that it would not furl. Last week on the Saint Lucie river was the first time we used the jib since leaving Green Cove Springs. It refused to roll back up. I went forward and inspected and tested the roll-up by hand. It was OK. But the furling line refused to pull. I used the windlass to the point where the line broke. We had to take down the jib. Jib sail out-of-service.

The cause of the fuller trouble was this bad block that I didn't notice. Ugh.

The main sheet is the line (rope to land lubbers) that goes between the boom to the boat. You let line out to allow the boom to swing wider, and pull line in to make the boom tighter. The mainsheet traveler is a device which allows you to move the point where the mainsheet meets the boat to port or starboard. Because the traveler may need to be moved under heavy loads, it is technically sophisticated.

Anyhow, the rubber bumpers on all the various parts of our traveler were falling apart. I had trouble finding replacements online (because our Lewmar traveler is a model considered antique). Last spring I decided to do more research during the summer, so I took it apart, and put the parts in a sandwich bag to bring north with us. As I took it apart, a whole bunch of ball bearings spilled out and rolled across the deck. Oh no! I think I found all of them and put them in the bag.

Well, over the summer I forgot all about the traveler parts. I never saw the bag while camping, or in North Carolina, or in Vermont. Then, the other day we were crossing Lake Okeechobee in stiff winds 20-25 knots. It was choppy and bumpy. I raised the main sail. Libby, at the helm, shouted, "Take it down!" When I went to look, I saw that the traveler car had broken and lifted entirely off the track. I had forgotten about the missing parts, and ball bearings! Main sail out-of-service.

What now? If we had been out at sea, we would have been in trouble. No jib. No main sail. (We do have a small staysail in reserve.) I hate to say it, but my seamanship was unforgivably poor. I wanted to turn around and go back against the wind, but Libby convinced me to continue ahead under power.

Later when we got off the lake, my brain started working again. I thought, "Aha, we have six emergency backup traveler cars on board." We have genoa tracks, port and starboard, both with blocks, and which slide back and forth or which can drop a pin in a hole to stay fixed. We also have staysail tracks port and starboard, with traveling blocks of the same kind. All those tracks are 1.25" wide, the same size as our mainsheet traveler track. All I had to do was to borrow one of those blocks. Wrong :-(

What I failed to consider was that the cross section of a 1.25" Lewmar track is different than a Harken 1.25" track. The blocks wouldn't fit.

Two days later, I came up with another idea. Westsail 32s originally sheeted their booms from the end of the boom. Therefore I rigged our mainsheet blocks to the fitting at the end of the boomkin where the back stay attaches, and from there to the end of the boom. That will not work in heavy weather, but it should work fine in light to moderate winds. I should of thought of that within minutes of the traveler failure.

Next task, lubricate the jib furler yet again (I did it last winter) and try to make it work. At least part of the problem is that our jib is made of heavy 7 oz cloth, and it is partially doubled where the sunbrella sun shade is. That makes it extremely hard to make the first (innermost) turn to roll it up. If that doesn't work, we will be limited to the staysail for a while.

I'm afraid that I am devolving from a reasonable competent, vigilant, and innovative sailor, into a bumbler. I promise to elaborate on that later.

The broken car beside the track.
End view of the track and car.
One of the traveling blocks that I hoped to use. Note the different track type.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Way to go John

Marathon, FL

Finally. John. Posted his picture from the geographic South Pole. We're proud of you son.




Monday, February 15, 2016

Return to Go.Do not Collect $200

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Our granddaughter Katelyn is en route for a weeks stay. It's her first time traveling alone, and it's not going easy for her. Her original flight yesterday was cancelled. Today's flight was late leaving Albany, NY so she missed her connection in O'Hare. She's now waiting for the next flight, hours later.

I'm not doing well either. I drove to FLL airport. I requested a gate pass to meet Katelyn. They denied me a pass, saying that she's too old for that and besides the gate pass printer is broken. I said, "Oh well, is there a place outside of security where I can eat?". They said, "No."

So now I'm killing time in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Coincidentally, I am very close to the place where we first saw Tarwathie on Venice Isle about this same date in 2005.



Sunday, February 14, 2016

R.I.P. Antonin Scalia

Marathon, FL

I'm disappointed by the shallow commentaries and editorials in today's papers about the death of Justice Scalia.  They, like much of the public, judge everything according to the eternal left/right struggle.  Scalia voted for this and against that.   In reality he was the intellectual lead for the whole court.

You may not know that Libby and I enjoy listening to the audio transcripts of Supreme Court oral arguments.   We try to listen to each and every case.   Most of them turn out to be terribly boring, and a small minority terribly exciting.  We have learned to respect all 8 of the Justices (Thomas is silent during oral arguments, so we can't form an opinion of him.) because they never slack off even in those boring cases.  They are extremely well prepared in their questions.

I think that the best testimony to Scalia's contribution came from his fellow justices.  Each case typically involves many issues, but one legal issue in particular is central and decisive.  Very often it is Scalia's intellect that brushes past all the distractions to find and express that central issue.  The tribute comes when the other justices (often Ginsberg and Kagan) pick up on Scalia's lead and press the lawyers to "answer Justice Scalia's question."   To repeat, the other justices, concurring or opposing, followed Scalia's lead to focus in on the most important question in each case.

IMO, Scalia was an intellectual giant.  He will be missed.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Trial is Over

Marathon, FL

After listening to three days of testimony, the trial is over.   I left after closing arguments.  I was interested in the process, not the outcome.   So what more did I learn in those three days?

  • I understand now how important it is here in The Keys for employees to speak fluent English and Spanish.  Especially people like firemen and paramedics.   A person who can't speak and understand well in an emergency is severely handicapped.
  • In important ways, the job of the defense is more difficult than that of the prosecution.  The defense needs to think of what was not said as much as what was heard, and of course that is always more difficult.  They also need to discover and point out inconsistencies in the testimony and the evidence.  I would find it hard to have the patience to sort all those documents and all those words in my head looking for omissions and inconsistencies.  I give this defense high marks for doing that.
  • The prosecution was amazingly well prepared and methodical.  I sure wouldn't want to oppose them.  It makes me wonder how many skilled hours went into this entire case; laywers, judge, police, fire, hospital, lab, plus staff for all of those.  I would not be surprised with a $1 to $1.5 million bill for Florida taxpayers.  That weighs heavily in giving high marks to the system.  Most of that money was spent to convict the defendant while being scrupulously fair.
  • Strategy.  During testimony I heard that the defendant's blood alcohol level was 0.391.  The hospital calls that a nearly lethal dose.  I can't imaging how a person in that condition can say anything accurately.   I would have argued that anything the defendant said after the accident (such as the fact that he told three people that he was driving) could be used against him or that he could understand his Miranda rights.   I was surprised that the defense didn't object.  But in closing arguments, the defense used other things he said to bolster their theory.  Aha, that's why they didn't object -- strategy.
In this case, the primary defense was that the state didn't prove adequately that the defendant was the person driving before the accident.  The evidence that the defendant was behind the wheel just seconds after the accident was overwhelming.   There was also conflicting evidence about seat belt use.   The defense put on two witnesses that said that the defendant was placed in the passenger seat and that the other man with him was driving.  I think they also did a very credible job of showing where the state's case was weakest and how most evidence was consistent with their theory, and why evidence that contradicted their theory was not credible.  Good job.

How would I have voted had I been on the jury?  I find the theory that the bodies of the defendant and the other man in the truck exchanged places while the truck was rolling over to be preposterous.  In probably 90% of all accidents, there are no witnesses to say who was driving before the accident.  But someone drove (except in a Google driverless car), and the presumption that it was the person behind the wheel immediately after the accident is very strong.  Extraordinary theories need extraordinary evidence.  I would have voted guilty.

So, what light does this shine on the criminal justice system?  Very favorable I would say.  The whole system laboriously and tediously goes through the steps to make sure that the evidence was not faked, that the process was fair, and that the defense was robust and competent.  Remember though that this was a homicide case and thus one taken very seriously by everyone.  Lesser offenses probably won't be treated with the same care. 

In this case, there was a first trial resulting in a conviction and sentence.  That was thrown out on appeal.  It was obvious to me that all parties involved were determined that this verdict will stand up against any appeals.  The parents of one of the victims were in court and they need that finality before they can move on with their own lives.  I hope they get it.

p.s. The law says that a blood alcohol level of 0.08 renders you incapacitated for purpose of driving.   But under the law, there is no alcohol level (right up to the point of death) where you are so impaired that what you say should not be held against you.   Is that fair?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Trialing Again

Marathon, FL

Readers may recall when I blogged about spending several days watching a court trial in New Bern.  Well, I'm at it again.

This time, the trial is for 2 charges of vehicular homicide.   The accident happened in November 2009, when Libby and I were up in Vero Beach.   It is the second trial for this case, the verdict in the first trial having been tossed out by the appeals court.

I must say that I'm fascinated by real life trials (as opposed to the Hollywood version).  There are so many people involved, playing so many rolls.  In this case we have two prosecutors, three defense lawyers, two English-Spanish interpreters, and a small army of witnesses, and of course the judge and all her courthouse staff.

So, what have I learned by this experience so far?

  • There is a whole other world of Spanish speaking immigrants who live in Trailerama down on 15th street in Marathon.  That is a culture I was mostly unaware of.  Libby and I live in the cruiser culture centered in the harbor.  Then there is the culture of the wealthy landowners that surround us.  We've had occasional contacts with them.  Then there are the working folks of Marathon, and finally the underclass in the trailer park.
  • That our whole process of legally determining what people thought they saw seems horribly outdated.  Privacy concerns notwithstanding, we should have cameras on every vehicle and every utility pole watching everything all the time. It seems criminal to not have that in today's world.  (Yes of course I hate the idea of big brother staring over my shoulder. I'm not asking for cameras in homes, just on the highways.)
  • The criminal justice system gets good marks for trials.  Everyone involved tries so hard to do it right and to avoid mistakes.   I will include the witnesses in that.  Every witness so far seems interested in telling the truth accurately.  That applies to the Latinos and to the law enforcement.  In other respects, I have lots of doubts about the American justice system, including the scarcity of jury trials.  But the trials themselves, are as good as anyone could expect.
  • It is fun to watch the ancient traditions and courtesies acted out in a court room.  It took an amusing turn today.  The judge (a middle age woman) was complaining about being too warm.  She kept signalling the bailiff to turn down the thermostat.  Everyone else in the court room, lawyers, witnesses, spectators and the jury were freezing cold.  The smart ones had sweaters and blankets.  Even so, as the day went on, that thermostat got set lower and lower.  

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Complex Stuff

Marathon, FL

I did it again.  I wrote a Science Insights article for Physics Forums.  It is called The Case for Learning Complex Math 

I'm also working on another three articles.  

Warning: This article and the next three are all more technical than the article about rainbows.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Swamp Walk

Marathon, FL

We had a wonderful time up in Big Cyprus Swamp.  So much so, that we want to make that a regular experience once or twice a year, every year that we stay in Marathon.  It is only two hours away by car.

  • We camped in the Monument Lake campground.  There are two other federal campgrounds nearby.  All three of them look good.   
  • All the RV spots were full, but there were vacancies in the tent-only category.  I suspect that may change on weekends.
  • We visited the Clyde Butcher studio and store.  His photos are amazing.  You have to see them yourself.  A computer screen's resolution can not do them justice.
  • We took the ranger-led swamp walk starting at the Oasis Visitor Center.  That was an excellent experience, and something we can recommend for everyone.  We learned a lot.  We also learned that we can do the walk any time without a ranger.  But you do need a walking stick to keep your balance.
  • The water is not "swampy"  it is pure and cool and crystal clear.  The water temperature was 72F.
  • We also drove the 26 miles on "the loop road" to see the back areas of Big Cyprus swamp.  The beautiful scenes were too numerous to mention.
  • There were very few bugs.  The swamp is most beautiful in summer when everything blooms, including the cyprus trees and the orchids, and when the water temperature is 85F.  But the bugs are unbearable in summer and the cold-blooded critters much more active then.
  • We learned that Big Cyprus Swamp is very different than The Everglades.   The former is a swamp, the latter is savannah grass.  The two are side-by-side along Alligator Alley (FL route 41) 
Enjoy my little slide show.