Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Salted Woo …

Family and Friends who live in these parts face winter challenges that us Tropic Types have forgotten, one of the prime reasons for becoming a Tropic Type. Among those challenges are aches, pains, coughs, illness, and various pathogens that all seem to thrive as temperatures dip. People spend hours indoors and huddled together, seeking light and warmth while offering bugs and viruses of every stripe easy access to plenty of new hosts. The crew of Kintala were resigned to sharing some of the misery, an acceptable trade for time with Family Most Important and Friends Closest. But, so far, we have escaped with just a touch of the cough that plagues the area this year.

Normally I would cope using the simple edict, “Better living through applied pharmaceuticals” and reach for the nearest cough syrup. Those of us who entered this world's stage in the mid 1950s are generally not shy of drugs. In addition to the more traditional reasons for taking such, like being sick or suffering from injury, in our youth we ingested various chemical compounds for fun, adventure, altered perceptions, enlightenment, and … well, just for the hell of it. For those who survived such excess basically unscathed, washing down various colored pills for “whatever ails ya” garners no second thoughts. Nowadays said pills come in government approved bottles. The advertisement claims of some of the world's largest and most trusted corporations endlessly attests to the effectiveness and safety of their products. Drop by any store and peruse aisle upon aisle of the best meds money can buy, with each box boasting a detailed list of every component contained within. (Never mind that most of us have no idea what a leukotriene inhibitor might actually be inhibiting.) Mix and match as required, wash down with a cold one, and enjoy near instant relief. Who would protest such a blessing offered to a long suffering human kind?

Yet, somehow, the generation after mine latched onto a nearly opposite opinion. They suspect government does as instructed by the large pharmaceutical companies. They actually believe Honorable elected officials will put a seal of approval on nearly any OTC or prescription medicine likely to generate large enough profits, all in exchange for something as base as a few campaign dollars or the promise of a cushy job at some point in the future. In addition this next generation imagines these large pharmaceuticals, aided and abetted by insurance companies, are mostly interested in continuously providing drugs and treatments to the chronically ill. According to the young adults, curing or encouraging healthy life styles that require no drugs for maintenance will never be part of the any drug or insurance company's mission statement. Keeping people sick and making it easier for them share a sickness with family, friends, and co-workers, is good for the bottom line. Curing them cuts into the profit potential.

I'm not exactly sure how this next generation grew into such a skeptical lot, but they did. As a result they turn to more holistic and ancient paths to health rather than reaching for scientifically researched and supported medical elixirs. Some such paths do appear intuitively sane with a long history of benefits, like better eating and regular exercise. Other such paths seem less sane but still boast a long history of people claiming health benefits. Acupuncture comes to mind, as does herbal medicine and chiropractic therapy. But, to be totally honest, most such paths look to plunge deeply into the very heart of the Land of Woo. Here find the crystals, chants, healing energies, potions, magic spells, and conspiracy theories of the alternative medicine fanatic.

Daughter Middle is not an alternative medicine fanatic, but does shy away from ingesting high dosages of non-naturally occurring elixirs, scientifically researched and supported or no. A shyness reinforced by the caring and feeding of month old Grand Daughter Youngest and years spent dealing with the adverse reactions of her children to much of the food and medicine offered in the USA of today. However, with her entire family suffering from the aforementioned cough for getting on several months now, some sort of more direct intervention was needed.

Image courtesy of
And so it came to pass that a van transporting Daughter Middle, Grand Kids (five), and Grampy T pulled to the curb in front of the St. Louis Salt Room. Here we would find a path to “sustainable, effective respiratory wellness” one opened to the good people of St. Louis since 2010. A few minutes later the kids were playing in a layer of pure sea salt that covered the floor of our Salt Therapy Room, the larger of two Salt Cabins housed in the facility. (Four kids, one baby, and two adults take up a bit of space.) Not only was the floor piled deep enough with white stuff to be mistaken for a beach, the walls and ceiling also glistened with their own thick layers of NaCl. Once the door was closed, minute particles of sodium chloride were periodically injected into the room's atmosphere so the healing could be breathed deep into the furthest reaches of every infected lung.

Such injection was accompanied by the continuous flow of Hindu sounding New Age music wafting gently through the softly lit room. Who am I to suggest that such music isn't likely to enhance the healing powers of natural sea salt being wedged into my lungs? Though I suspect a little ZZ Top would have been just as effective while falling easier on my rock-n-roll ear. Such opinion is not likely shared by Daughter Middle. She is no more a fan of ZZ Top than she is a fan of Hindu Sounding New Age music. We compromised by having Grampy T read Dr. Seuss stories to the young ones for most of the session. Though you may not realize it, Grampy T is a world class reader of Dr. Seuss stories; one who can easily get through Fox in Socks with nary a stumble. Better yet, even a half-assed rendition of any Dr. Seuss story will easily overpower the discomfort inflicted by having Hindu sounding New Age music bounced off one's eardrum.

New Age Music and wooish ambiance aside, I really am a big fan of salt. When it comes to making the unpalatable edible, salt is even more powerful than cheese. But sodium and chloride are not two chemicals that immediately come to mind in response to the word “healthy”. (Come to think of it, neither is the word "cheese".)

Sodium is a highly reactive element that, when mixed properly with other chemicals, will blow just about anything somewhere deep into next week. Chloride is often a component of stuff that is, quite simply, lethal. More apropos perhaps, all sailors are intimately familiar with sea salt. It will eat just about anything on a boat; stanchions, rigging, leather, and fasteners of all types included. What chance soft human tissue set against an acid that can melt steel and dissolve an aluminum hull? Is there any sailor who hasn't read of the agony suffered by those who survived a sinking only to be sentenced to days or weeks sitting in the salt water of their life raft? That stuff starts shredding skin within hours of exposure, additional woe being piled on anyone with an open wound. And yet …

After our allotted 45 minutes of sitting in the Salt Box everyone seemed to be breathing a little easier, something that held true throughout the rest of the day. Some lingering improvement might even have lasted into the evening as everyone seemed to fall asleep with less of the hacking-up-a-lung sounds we have come to expect. I still suspect the Salt Box is more woo than not. Any health benefit could easily be matched simply by living near, or on, the ocean. But the ocean is far away, and a little woo is an acceptable trade to feel salt on my skin and its tang in my nose. It reminds me of home.

Maybe that's why I feel better.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cruising Intermission

When you're getting ready to cast off the dock lines, there's always that one point at which you realize it's a done deal, and you are instantly filled with doubt. It might be the day that your grandmother's china cabinet sells and is carried out the door. It might be the day that the for sale sign goes up in the yard. It might be the first day you walk to the grocery store because your Sunset Orange Nissan 350Z drove through the dealer's doors never to be seen again. Doubts plague you through the early months. Did you make the right choice? Are you capable of succeeding? Will you run out of money? Will you embarrass yourself? And the hardest, what if the reality of cruising doesn't live up to the dream of cruising?

When we boarded the plane to St. Louis to visit the kids for Christmas, it had been 423 days since we left the dock at Oak Harbor Marina. 423 days since I had been away from the boat, and the first time ever that we had both been away from the boat. It was not lost on me that we would be returning to our old stomping grounds, seeing old friends, and having an opportunity to evaluate our cruising life from a vantage point far away.

A couple days after we arrived we met with 30 of our dearest friends from our former yacht club and, without any doubt, the first question out of everyone's mouth was some version of "Are you glad you did it?" It came in the form of, "Are you happy?" and "Do you like it?" and "Is it hard?" but any way you slice it, they wanted to know if, after more than a year, were we going to be one of the many that quit and return to land, or one of the few that continue on.

There are very few statistics about liveaboards and cruisers in general, and even fewer about the sailing portion of that community. We're such a small number that we are statistically insignificant, so it's very hard to get a handle on how many people truly do succeed and how many people quit, and when. From our experience and conversations along the way, a significant amount of people who leave to go cruising never make it past the first year. I get that. The first year was not in any way what we expected or planned for. It was difficult, it was challenging. It was an unbelievably steep learning curve.

It was also rewarding. It was exhilarating. It was a life worth living.

Cruising intermissions are valuable to the cruising life. They give you time to step away from the difficult portions and see that it is, in fact, a worthwhile endeavor. This one has given me time to cuddle with my grandkids, to share boat stories with them, to listen to their laughter, to help them build towers and ships with blocks, to see the shine in their eyes as they decorate the Christmas tree. These are priceless memories I treasure. But I'm ready to go home and start the next chapter of our cruising life.

Am I glad we cast off the dock lines and went cruising? I wouldn't trade it for the world, and I hope someday soon that these bright, excited kids will come spend some extended time with us on the boat, finding out just why their DeMa and Grampy T have chosen this unconventional way to live out their golden years. Cruising intermissions are truly wonderful for reflection and new perspectives, but we hope to return you to your regularly scheduled programming

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Things to remember, and things not to know ...

It takes some effort to get a cruising boat ready to sit on its own for a couple of weeks. The day before departure we did all we could to close this and put away that, but the morning of was still an early roll out and busy couple of hours. Kintala secured and the dink safe on deck, the shuttle got us to shore. Good Friend Ann then got us to the airport. And Southwest Airlines … eventually … got us to St. Louis. There we were met by Daughter Youngest and Grand Daughter, a happy occasion that lit the passenger pick-up area with smiles and hugs that have yet to abate, even these several days later.

An afternoon or two ago I met an old Friend and flying partner for some coffee, catching up on what happens when one pilot calls it a day and another takes his years of experience into the airline instructing world. Word has it some parts of the regional airline arena are so hurting for airplane drivers that I might could find me a seat if I looked hard enough. Pretty sure there isn't enough money around to make that happen, even if the industry went back to paying pilots a real salary and treating them like valuable members of the team. Since that isn't likely to happen in what is left of my lifetime, Kintala's helm will fit my hands just fine.

Later that same day Deb and I went to a local eatery not far from Daughter Middle's home, where we are staying. Daughter Middle's home is also home to a handful (really, five) of Grand Kids, including the newest. Heading out meant letting go of Grand Daughter Youngest, not an easy thing for Grampy T and DeMa. But at the eatery we met 30 some odd of our closest friends, who make up a good portion of the Boulder Yacht Club. Said Club was ground zero for our basic training and then launch into the cruising world. It was a loud and happy celebration of one of their own getting “out there”. We are not the first, will surely not be the last, but are the latest. It was also an excuse for them to get together in the middle of the off season, so double celebrations ruled the night. This is the group of people who helped make it possible for us to be counted among the tribe of cruisers, and their importance in our life is simply impossible to overstate. It isn't often one gets to spend such an evening.

Still, even with Family Most Important and Friends Dearest close at hand, we are back on land. Land, which is not our home anymore. Each time I get behind the wheel, it feels foreign, like I'm forgetting things. And it turns out I usually am. Things like looking in the rear view mirror, staying in the middle of my lane, not taking long looks to the side to check out something interesting passing by, and moving along somewhere near the speed limit. Not like in my old life where the legal limit was usually some number far down the dial from where the needle rested on the GSXR. No. Now that limit is often some 10 to 15 numbers up the dial from that showing on the old Saturn. (The one we bought nearly two decades ago, that has 240,000 + miles on it, and that now belongs to Daughter Youngest.) It turns out, when one is traveling I-70, 170, or 40 in St. Louis at 45 to 50 mph, many St. Louisans will find that annoying, or even take it as some kind of personal insult. Really, none was intended. I'm just not used to helming at speeds much quicker than walking, and I'm not really in a hurry to get anywhere. Its getting better though. By the time we head back to the airport I'll be buzzing along just like the rest. If not, Daughter Youngest will be glad to do it for me. She drives like I used to, which is probably how I taught her, and now has me riding along with my eyes closed.

I'm also not used to the quiet at night, being indoors for most of the day, needing this many layers of clothing to be comfortable, or shoes. Each day it all feels a little more “normal” and, come to think of it, it is kind of odd that it feels so odd. We have only been on the boat since July of last year, and a good bit of that time has been spent on the hard or a dock. I spent six weeks of the summer in Pittsburgh. So how did this land living thing get so strange so fast?

And how, pray tell, does anyone who has lived the life of a cruiser for years upon years, ever make it back on land? Better yet, don't tell. I'm not sure I want to know.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sow's ear purse ...

Folk lore is adamant about sow's ears and silk purses, and I suppose it has some merit. What the lore fails to mention is that sow's ears are perfectly suited for the purpose of allowing sows to hear things. It is trying to turn them into something else that causes all the trouble. Still, though I am far from expert in all things bovine porcine, my guess is one could make a perfectly serviceable pouch out of a sow's ears, perhaps even a attractive accessory that looks like fine leather.

I suspect that because much of a cruising life seems to be spent taking things that were intended for one purpose and pressing them into some other service. Money is always in short supply, so getting a work order written up to get it done just isn't an option. Besides, given our experience - and the constant horror stories we hear from other cruisers who have used marine contractors - I'm not even sure where I would start to look for someone to do this kind of project. For the same reason (money) just tossing out all the old, hacked up bits and starting from scratch with shiny new bits of silk is also not much of an option. But we do have time, and trouble is an every day companion. No sow's ear is safe in a mooring field or achorage full of curisers.

Today was day nine of turning Kintala's hap-hazard, limp, and ugly sow's ear of a bimini / frame into something that would support solar panels while still keeping the sun and rain at least tolerable. (I am beginning to wonder why any of us buy a boat that has an outside steering station only.) Nine ugly, stressful, gouged up hands and short tempered days of trouble.

Yesterday was the worst, a day at least as bad as the one back in Oriental when I discovered fuel barfing out of the WesterBeast's injection pump. Though the bimini frame was securely mounted to new hard points on the coaming, getting the frame, fabric, and ridged solar panel to play nice together was just not happening. I fell into the berth last night exhausted, battered, discouraged, and wondering if I simply didn't have the skills to make this sow's ear into anything more useful. Sleep was fitful, filled with weird dreams of long ago bosses and places of employment all mashed together in some surreal tale of things going wrong. But as often happens, the sub-conscious starts mulling over the problem as well. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning I woke up with a new idea of measuring spans and aligning bows with strings and yardsticks, making sure it all stayed put under any reasonable load with rivets and a few braces.

Today was a tough day as well. It turned out the aligning was a really good idea... that should have been done first... not after a bunch of holes had been drilled in the stainless steal tubing. (Note to self – when one's tool room is lacking drill wax, a bar of soap will work well as a stand in.) Nor was the day helped any by the constant swell augmented by weekend power boater wake hits. Yet tonight ye 'ol Tartanic sports a bimini that is (mostly) straight and true, taunt, flat, and overlaid by solar panels incorporated as part of the frame. Not a silk purse, but a perfectly acceptable rig. It is mostly straight because I couldn't figure out a way around the funky bend in the aft-most bow, courtesy of some anonymous putz from the past. In the end Deb pulled off some Sail Rite magic to get us over that final hurdle, and it will take a good eye to spot the funk.

Of course I have yet to run a single wire or give much consideration to things like a permanent home for the control panel. So I suspect this job isn't even half done. I'm going to blame some of the slow progress on the short days. Assuming any reasonable morning routine, buy the time work commences there is barely eight hours of daylight left.

That, and working with sow's ears just takes a lot of effort.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hacking away

Kintala and her crew are back in full project mode. By the end of the day there is just enough energy left for a quick shower, dinner, and sometimes a movie. A $3 sale bin of CDs doubled our movie library. Since we haven't had a fast enough Net connection to download or stream anything since we returned to the US, having something new to nod off to is a treat. Movie nights have been taking place below since FL weather has dropped evening temps into the low 50s. Yes, cold weather lovers will groan at our tender skins, but we be tropical dwellers now.  Fifty is too cool for sitting outside taking in a flick. But it is perfect for being in full project mode.

It would be trying, hacking away on the boat while the cruising tribe sails in and out of the mooring field and form up mini-flotillas on the morning nets. Every weather window sees a bunch of boats heading out the channel to take aim at the Islands. Particularly since the opportunities for crossing the Stream have been rare these past few weeks. It would be trying, but the visit to family glows on the horizon. The promise of stories, hugs, and the smiles of little ones has added a gentle glow of anticipation to our days. The Islands will be there come January.

All of said hacking has been taking place in the cockpit. Kintala's bimini mount was always a cheesy kind of thing, with the mounting points far too weenie for the size of the cover. It was that way so it could be folded up, something that makes little sense on a cruising boat. One hardly ever sees the sun cover folded away. Chasing the sun is the whole idea, but sub-tropical rays will scorch one's hide clear to the bone.  Basking in such radiation is best done in small doses.  On those days were there is rain instead, folding up the rain cover would be just as silly. Big time, “here comes a hurricane” weather is best avoided. On the rare occurrence that the frame must come down, it will lift out of the solid mounts to be put away.

In addition the physical mounting of the weenie hinge fittings added a second layer of weenie to be undone, no surprise there. The core under 3 of the four mounts had been soaked because of poor sealing and flexing; the forward port mount sporting wood screws splintering their way through the fiberglass. So, as is normal for ex-airplane mechanics, the new mount holes were over sized, back filled with thickened resin, re-drilled, and through-bolted utilizing ½ inch starboard backing plates that were slightly larger, footprint wise, than the new mounts. (That is a bit of overkill, even for an ex-airplane type. But 0.5 inch is what the store had in stock.)

Kintala always seemed a bit awkward with its bimini sticking up four to six inches higher than the dodger. No only did it look like a bad after-thought, the cathedral ceiling cover reduced the amount of rain and sun protection. Not only is the bimini now lower but, with the mounts moved outboard as far as possible, if feels a bit more roomy on the back porch as well. Given the already minuscule acreage of that primary living space, even the illusion of more space is a good thing. And there actually is a little more hip room when going aft around the helm.

Most importantly, the hope is the new frame mounting will support a couple of solar panels that were donated to a good cause by friends Mizzy and Brian (Thanks again guys!) There is some question as to the solar panel install being completed before heading northwest to cold country, and movie nights might slow things up a bit more. But we didn't come this way to do nothing but work on the boat.

Though, sometimes, it sure feels that way.

Dinner Key Mooring field with the moon rise and South Beach in the background.


...if you're a planning cruiser, please practice NOT doing this at the dinghy dock. We have enough trouble keeping our dinghies inflated without having them cut by a prop.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


When we were land dwellers, a schedule ruled our lives. Because I had to be at work early Monday morning, any cleaning I had to do was done on the weekends. Cleaning, laundry, shopping, yard work, and considering that it's holiday season, I would have been doing the shopping and baking and decorating thing as well. All on weekends.

Now that we're not land dwellers, a schedule doesn't rule our lives, at least not very often. We still have the occasion that we're meeting someone or we have to provision the boat for a departure but, for the most part, the days sort of blend together. Laundry gets done when it needs to get done, same with shopping and water hauling and gasoline buying. Now cleaning? That's another thing altogether. Cleaning gets done whenever we get tired of looking at it. Since you're in such a small space, you get to look at it up close and personal. A lot. Even with it in your face all the time, sometimes it's hard to get motivated.

Today while Tim slaved away trying to make some progress on the strengthening of the bimini mounting so we can install the solar panels, I decided to make myself useful as well and tackled my list of small, routine jobs.

  • Cleaned out the sump box (I truly hate this job. It reeks.)
  • Cleaned out the sump pump filter (This may be worse.)
  • Cleaned out my pot and pan cupboard.
  • Put new seal on the fridge lids.
  • Defrosted the fridge.
  • Put away the bunch of supplies we just got in from Amazon (filters, water purifier, etc. etc.)
  • Started soaking our shop rags (we can't wash them in a machine anywhere since they're greasy).
  • Did a trash run.

Might not seem like much but in a small space all this took 8 hours. And on a Tuesday, no less.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Once a Drummer …

A long, long, long time ago I was a drummer; High School Band, Orchestra, Marching Band, a stint in a Drum and Baton parade group, and various garage bands of wanna-be rock-n-rollers. Back then the trap set of a drummer's dream was a Mother of Pearl single base Ludwig set with two mounted tom-toms, two floor toms, snare, and at least 3 Zildjian cymbals in addition to the Hi-hat. Mine was a no-name wood set that sometimes elicited rude comments from the occasional lead guitar player of other groups, at least one of which paid for his opinion with a split lip and a black eye. That particular confrontation led to a kind of free-for-all between the two groups. Not only were mine the better musicians, we were better in a brawl as well.

If I had known then what I know now, that set would have been disassembled, each drum wet sanded and refinished – inside and out - with at least 10 coats hand rubbed clear. Then each would have been fitted with the finest Aquarian head and tuned to perfection. Those natural wood shells would have thundered with a clean voice that needed no name. Alas, such insights were far beyond the teenaged me. Soon after the sky caught my attention and the world of chasing the perfect rhythm was traded for a lifetime of chasing clouds. Oh, there was always a pair of drumsticks in our home somewhere. In fact there is a pair on Kintala even now, along with a practice skin that sounds like someone is banging on a soup can. But it had been near 40 years since the last time I pounded out a riff with another person.

Until tonight.

It seems that Coconut Grove has a kind of underground drum circle that meets every full moon. (Really, full moon? Some kind of Esbat pagan rite in Coconut Grove maybe?) Such information came via Friend Katrina of s/v Happy Dance. I didn't actually know what a “drum circle” was, figuring that it was simply a group of people playing together. Ex-drummer that I am, I like listening to others play. It turns out that isn't what is meant by “drum circle”. There is a core group that does play together, but anyone wandering by can pick up one of the spare drums the group provides and join in. So what the hell? I picked up a spare drum and joined in.

It was as disorganized and seemingly hopeless an attempt at a group effort as it sounds … at first. I sat and tried to pick out a workable riff from the clash of noise, not sure how this was going to work out. Slowly, out of the din, floated the low rumble of a base line. The better players picked up on it and started fitting their own beats to match. Soon the novices got drawn in as well, following along and supporting the base notes of the self-assembling riff. Some of the better players started improvising, adding bits of breaking curls to the underlying waves of sound. It was basic, a bit crude, and magic, all at the same time. There was something primordial in it, a human rhythm as old as the first heartbeat. A flute joined in, adding a streak of high pitched light to the thunder. A dancer (clearly a regular with the group and certainly looking the part of a Pagan celebration) took to the center of the circle. The riffs would build, morph, then fall away with some kind of natural timing. A few minutes later a new one would start to grow, and the magic would work its way among us once again. This went on for nearly two hours. Never before have I experienced anything quite like it.

I don't know these people at all, will probably never see them again. There were a few middle aged white guys, women, minorities, a few dreadlocks, and a couple of kids. Yet, without practice or any kind of overt guidance, we found some common ground, some shared knowledge. Our efforts blended together and we filled the night with the sound of human joy. If one sent the music back 100,000 years in time, our ancestors would have known exactly what was going on and could have easily joined in the celebration.

We are all civilized now of course. Refined. As well as divided and angry and violent. It seems like we have lost the ability to find any common ground. Everyone is an enemy. Everyone is a threat. But it doesn't always have to be that way. A group of strangers, making music that was as basic and ancient as the full moon itself, defied that current state of affairs.

It is why we came this way, living lighter, simpler, closer to the natural rhythms of the world. The weather rules our life out here. Tides, waves and wind dictate what we do and how we do it. It is, in its own way, an ancient kind of living reflected in an equally ancient ritual. Deep inside we are all children of distant drummers offering human made thunder to dance with the full moon. It wouldn't hurt us to remember that more often.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A good day ...

The intention was to spend most of this month sailing around Biscayne Bay. Not to be too blunt, I need the practice. Even after 2000 nm Kintala still gives hints that she isn't always happy with the way she is being handled. But Sister Sky had different ideas about the things that might go on during November this year in southern Fl. So, instead of sailing, our old Tartan collected bottom barnacles in Middle River, Miami Stadium, and then in No Name Harbor. After weeks of constant F5 winds we finally left No Name this morning and got in a good day … in steady F5 winds. (In addition No Name has a 2 week limit per visit. Don't tell anyone but today was day 13 for us. I like No Name, but it was time to move on.)

It is about 5 miles from No Name to the Dinner Key mooring field. Kintala covered a bit more than 20 today. We were having so much fun out romping that we kind of went the long way around. We practiced different sail sets, hove to, and generally tried to get a little better at making the boat go. One thing we pretty much verified is that, often, we simply don't drive the boat hard enough. With the jib alone we were doing a solid 5+ in mid teens winds with gusts in the low 20s. Going south we found a bit more wind and decided to roll up the jib and fly the stay sail. Kintala did not approve. Speed fell to the high 3s as the boat wallowed around and generally misbehaved. The stay sail was rolled back in and about two-thirds of the jib went back out. The speed picked up to the mid to high 5s and flirted with 6. The boat danced happily through the waves. Lesson learned. When the winds blow, fly enough canvas to keep the speed well above 5, but not so much as to set the boat on its ear.

Somewhere in all of our tacking and jibing the jib leach line tore out and the sumbrella got a couple of rips in it. Not sure how that happened but, it must be admitted, Kintala's suit of sails is a bit weary. The only real party dress she has in her closet is the nearly new main sail. To keep from doing any more damage, the jib got benched and the stay sail went back in play. That is not enough horsepower on a broad reach unless the wind is flat howling. Force 5 is short of howling so we put up a double reefed main in an attempt to balance the boat with the small head sail. It worked pretty well. This was the first time we flew two reefs with a purpose and getting all the rigging squared away took the deck monkey a few tries. The top batten got caught in the lazy jacks and, being on a reach rather than close hauled, the leeward running back was in the way. (Tight on the wind - which is when we usually fly the stay sail - we normally leave both the running backs set as the boom never gets that far from the center of the boat.)

Adding to the fun, just when we were set to drop the main and enter the channel into the marina and on to the mooring field, a sneaky little storm slapped us with heavy rains and wind gusts into the 30s. Visibility went into the dumpster and, soaking wet in the cold wind, so did the crew body temperatures. It was a busy couple of uncomfortable minutes but the main fell cleanly into the lazy jacks, the stay sail went - not so cleanly - onto its furler, and the WesterBeast picked up the traces. Once in the mooring field Deb made a perfect pass at the ball but I missed the catch, forcing her to go around through the clutch of boats to give me another shot. This with more rain and the winds gusting into the 20s again. One of the reasons we get along so well is that she never makes much of my mistakes. I will do the same as soon as she makes one.

Photo courtesy of Leave Happier Photography
So we have joined the rest of the crowd getting bounced around in the mooring field this evening. Winds are still a solid F5 running to F6 when the storms pass nearby. There is still some deck work to do and the dink needs launched, but it will have to wait until morning. The constant work of the day has set my forearms on fire, though a cold Coke & Vodka is helping to damp the flames. (Kintala is suffering a lack of Rum at the moment … not sure how I let that happen.) Tomorrow we go into full project mode and in a couple of weeks we will make the trip to meet New Grand Daughter Edie and see family not hugged for more than a year.

Since Kintala will not move again until we stage for the Islands, it was good to get this day of sailing in; rain, wind, torn sail, and all.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Whether you go or Weather you don't

As many of you know, Tim and I have been working on writing a book together. We're writing the book we wish we had had in our hands before we bought Kintala. As I've been working on it this past week, one thing that has hit home hard is this issue of the weather. I can't say it loud enough. I can't say it often enough. If you're going to go cruising, your life will be ruled by the weather. So get comfortable with it, learn to read it, surround yourself with all sorts of ways to monitor and predict it, and fill your Kindle up with lots of books for when it laughs at you.

We've been stuck in No-Name Harbor for 13 days now waiting on the weather. We had wanted to sail down to Key Largo or at least Elliot Key before we take a mooring ball at Dinner Key for the month of December. It's a longish day's sail down there so we would really need 3-4 days to sail down, spend some time snorkeling, and sail back. The longest window we've had in the 13 days since we got here was 1-1/2 days. Both Elliot Key and Key Largo are only good if the wind is from the East. They are too exposed for any other direction. The forecasters had predicted 8 + days of N-NE winds at 15-20 but suddenly it changed to East so we thought, "OK now we can go!". We got the boat ready to leave the following morning and, on one of my middle-of-the-night bathroom visits I peeked out the porthole only to discover we were faced due South. South. Exactly where we wanted to sail. Having no interest in motoring 8 hours to Key Largo we decided to stay put. Weather gods rule. Now where is my Kindle???

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving II

No Name Harbor Thanksgiving 2014
Our first cruising Thanksgiving on Kintala was in Oriental. We had been out barely six weeks. Four of those six had been spent during a long month of being tied to the dock while we struggled through cold temperatures and ugly storms, both weather and broken-engine related. Looking back it seems an even worse start to our cruising life than it felt at the time, and it felt pretty grim at the time. It was also the first Thanksgiving spent without any of the family nearby. I was as unsure of myself as I have even been, desperately missed my girls and their families, and was not the least convinced I had the skills necessary to make things better. But there was no choice other than going on and hoping that things wouldn't get any worse. Yet that Thanksgiving day was still a good day. We were thankful that we had made it out at all as many people never get a chance to even try to live their dreams. We were thankful that we had managed as many miles as we had; that the engine and other maintenance tasks appeared to be under control. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I was thankful that I had not manged to kill us both and/or sink the boat ... at least so far.

A year later Kintala is floating easy in No Name Harbor. People ask me for advice about many things cruising, about our “experience” in the Islands, on how to safely get across the Gulf Stream.  They ask about fixing their boats and judging the weather, and that is something that still surprises me. On the other hand the attrition rate during the first year of cruising seems much higher than I would have expected. Being a cruiser is not the same as planning to be a cruiser and, for some, the difference becomes crushingly obvious very quickly. Anyone who is looking forward to a second year has climbed an enormous learning and experience curve. One that is very much behind us on this Thanksgiving II.

We still have much to learn (and I still desperately miss my girls and their families), but this is our life now and we have gone a long way into settling into it. A large part of that has been setting aside what we thought cruising meant to us, and accepting what we it does mean to us. We are not "blue water adventurers" but rather a middle-aged couple who managed to retire a bit early to go exploring in nearby waters. I admire friends who have sailed around the world and who plan to keep going, but there is no chance I will be following in their wake. I like sailing. I like that we have put in some 2000 nm while using - maybe - 200 gallons of fuel, including motoring down the ICW. I like being out on the open ocean with no land in sight. I even like sailing at night, so long as it is one night at a time. But I really like sitting out unruly weather snug and comfortable in a pretty place, puttering around on my boat, meeting different people, and exploring different places.

Good friends, good food
In that mellow light, Friends Mizzy and Brian (of sailing about half way around the world fame) and Friend Bill (of Airline driving fame) joined us for Thanksgiving dinner on Kintala. Deb worked galley magic and our feast had all of the fixings. Sailing and flying memories filled the cabin. The combination of friends, food, and sitting quietly at anchor while the remnants of the latest cold front brought perfect weather, made for a day so fine as to take one's breath away. It doesn't always work out this way, but on this day we managed to be among the Royalty of the world. We have family who loves us in spite of our wandering ways. Deb still trusts that I will manage to not sink the boat or kill us both, and keep our Tartan as a functioning home at the same time. Friends sail waters nearby and far away. Being an accepted member of that tribe is an honor bestowed on the few and the lucky.

This was a thanks giving day, indeed.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A small No-Name Harbor Photo Essay

The lighthouse in Bill Baggs State Park

A slightly damaged Great Blue Heron. Wonder who took a chunk out of him?
An awesome cat boat. Spent some time talking to the Captain who is from Spanish Wells. Neat guy. He took it there today.

There are some amazing and very weird trees in the park
A gorgeous Hylas 54 headed out of No-Name

Fishing at sunset

A manatee came to visit us at the pumpout dock. He was easily eight feet and HUGE. He also had very bad breath.

Tim got to pet him while Kintala looks on. It doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Can't top this ...

Teresia Benedicta (aka Edie) arrives! Photo courtesy of her mom.
For the most part America's corporate world is built around morning people, with 0800 being the magic start time of many working days. It is a poor fit for my night owl schedule. Left to myself 0200 – 0300 would be a normal bedtime, with 0900 – 1100 being “first thing in the morning”. Combine that with night breezes running in the F5 to F6 range for days, boats all around, and tales of questionable holding here in No Name, and I have tended to roll out of the v-berth hours after Deb for most of this last week.

This morning a bright sun burned its way through my eyelids. Sun? Then I realized that the boat wasn't moving much and the snubber lines weren't groaning under the load of holding against the wind. Furled up sails weren't rattling. The Bimini top wasn't flapping. Could it be that Florida weather had finally returned to Florida? A bleary-eyed gaze down the length of the boat found Deb in an animated phone conversation while sitting at the top of the companionway. It was all the look I needed to know that Daughter Middle had welcomed our Grand Baby VIII into the world. Though a couple of weeks early, Daughter and her new Daughter are both doing fine. Go ahead, try to think of a better way to start a day.

A few hours later Friend Bill, he of DHS helicopter driver fame, called. (That would be a different Friend Bill than he of American Airline driver fame.) DHS helicopter Bill and his fiance were going to be in No Name Harbor and wanted to know if we would join them for lunch. They were waiting seawall side as we rowed our way through the throng of powerboats out celebrating the break in the weather. It was our fist chance to meet Sunne, who instantly became number one on my Charming Ladies Met Recently List. Who would have thought DHS helicopter drivers rated so high?

Photo courtesy of Sunne
Over lunch we heard about their plans to do some cruising of their own. The advantages of trying out different boats by chartering were debated, interspersed with stories from the nearly a year that has passed since we saw Bill last. Among the tales was one of Bill and Sunne, running his 33' trimaran all out at the head of a race, getting caught fleet-footed in a micro burst and turning in the thing over on its side. No one was hurt and no damage was done, well, except for that laid on Bill's wallet for the price of being “salvaged” by Tow Boat US. Apparently throwing a line around an ama and tugging a tri back up on its training wheels is a multi-thousand dollar “big deal”. In any case I was glad that our first year of cruising had left us with no story of daring-do to rival. The best I could come up with was a short night swim to haul a drunk girl out of the water. (Dead last on my Charming Ladies Met Recently List.)

After lunch they joined us on Kintala, giving Sunne a chance to poke around an honest-to-real cruising boat doing an honest-to-real cruise. Bill inspected my deck repair and allowed as it looked pretty good. The fact is I can see where the repair was done now, since filler and paint have shrunk some. Still, it was kind of a fellow aviator / mechanic / inspector (ATP, A&P, I A in airplane speak) to give it a passing grade. They hung around until the sun started sinking close to the horizon and we certainly hope to spend some more time with them before too long.

All in all a string of days not the kind you write home about, was broken by a day that will be hard to beat. Teresia Benedicta Rennier, welcome to the world. DeMa and Grampy-T love you already, and in just a few weeks will be cooing stories of sailing to you while you sleep.

Friday, November 21, 2014

D3 of F5

Today is Kintala's third full day in No Name Harbor. The winds picked up to a steady Force 5 within hours of the hook hitting the mud and, with the exception of a couple of hours here and there, have remained constant ever since. Weather maps suggest the wind is being driven by a large high pressure area north of here, one which shows little inclination to go anywhere in a hurry. This being south Florida there is always a lot of moisture in the air, so any kind of disturbance is likely to kick up scattered rain showers. Nothing serious, just enough to make opening and closing ports and hatches a regular daily exercise. With the winds out of the northeast my guess is friends tied to moorings in Dinner Key, facing waves generated by the steady winds working on the miles of open water in front of them, are likely not enjoying the ride.

Here in No Name fetch is not an issue and the waters are nothing but wavelets and cat's paws. Kintala still swings and sways though, dancing around her anchor like kids playing Marco Polo. It isn't uncomfortable, really, just enough to make missteps common, a kind of stumble / lurch little dance that land living only sees when the earth moves. A much bigger deal than some wind and waves. (I have experienced exactly one little earthquake in my life. It was enough, thank you.)

The original idea behind heading for Biscayne Bay was to spend most of the month exploring, getting further south than we had last winter, maybe making it all the way to Key Largo. This is a pretty place and is, so far, our favorite part of the US when it comes to cruising waters. It doesn't hurt that it is just a day sail away from the Islands. But the winds are enough to keep us pinned down for now. The weather gurus suggest a two day break early next week, to be followed by more of this kind of stuff. So we may get a chance to do a little exploring yet, but the month is going to end up being spent differently than we had planned.

That may be one of the biggest differences between how we used to live and how we live now. (Apart, of course, from getting up most mornings to spend the day working at what others tell us they need done.) In the old life, changing a day's general plan, or sometimes even the next hour's, wasn't all that common. Out here weeks, even whole months, will be spent doing something unexpected. Kintala spent a month in Oriental getting a broken engine fixed. She spent the summer sitting in Florida instead of Lady's Island or the Chesapeake, her crew working much more than playing. It looks like much of this month will be spent hunkered down sitting out weather rather than riding easy in open, clear waters.

The rumor is that “out here” is a place where one can take control of life. And the truth is, it can be. But to my mind out here is not a place where we control so much as experience. Even a modest land life, one where transportation is by car and home base is a solid building of brick, wood, roof, and wall, has much more command over the weather than any in a small sailboat. A “big rain” cold front for the land liver means turning on the windshield wipers and getting to wherever a few minutes later. The same weather in a small sailboat is best avoided all together, the boat secured in a place like No Name Harbor. Getting to wherever may happen the next day, or the next week. The same weather that has us changing plans for a month's worth of cruising is barely being noticed at all by Floridians, their main complaint being a lack of sunshine and the need to wear a light jacket.

So, for now, we will experience practicing the fine art of waiting. I'll work on some Spanish, Deb on the next book in her children's book series. The experience of living on a boat.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hydrocoat Update

There's an update on the Hydrocoat review on the tab in the bar above if you're looking for bottom paint.

Safe Harbors ...

So the weather forecasts were all about the inbound cold front. Some had the winds gusting to 20, some to 25, and one was suggesting 30 as the upper limit. What ever Sister Sky is up to, it doesn't look like she will be done playing until the weekend.

Ship side, Kintala's holding tank is half full. Her LP tanks are almost empty. The fridge is sans milk and the cupboard sans coffee. The laundry bag is nearly full and the dinner choices are getting fewer.

The Miami Stadium anchorage is a pretty place, well protected, and good friends are nearby. It is a safe harbor in a blow. But the people on shore are not cruiser friendly and, even if they were, there are no support facilities within walking range. The debate last night was staying for another week and making do with what we had, or heading out. We decided to stay.

This morning we decided to scoot. The deck monkey went to work at 0725. By 0800 the WesterBeast was awake. Less than ten minutes later the hook was on deck and Kintala was nosing her way toward the Rickenbacker Causeway. Once under the bridge she hunted down the point of sail that would lead to No Name Harbor, which turned out to be a pure beam reach that kept her keel directly over the ICW magenta line. Inbound cold front or no, the wind was shuffling along at ten to twelve. Full main and jib turned that into a solid five to six across the bay. The wind wasn't due to pick up for several hours and we had plenty of time. But seeing good, solid cruising numbers with the leading edge of the clouds visible off the stern will make any sailor smile.

Back in No-Name Harbor

About an hour later the turn toward the harbor entrance came abeam, which put the wind mostly on the behind us. Just for fun the jib and main were stowed and the new roller-furled staysail was spun out for the first time. We didn't expect much given its small size, but it made just shy of two knots of motion out of barely five knots apparent. I'm pretty sure that, whenever the winds gust past fifteen, that little sail is going to be my new best friend.  It rolls in just as easy as it rolls out, and the boat seems to like how it pulls on the mast.

A couple hours later the Midwest cold front arrived

Kintala sits content in No Name Harbor this evening. Sister sky has turned gray, there are whitecaps on the bay, and the temperature has sagged from slightly too warm to just perfect for a sweatshirt and hot cocoa in the cockpit. As long as the winds don't provoke a need for an anchor watch, tonight promises to be perfect for a bit of snuggling under the covers. Friends Bill and Ann, just back from a visit to a freezer named St. Louis, provided wheels for Deb to do some resupply this afternoon. (No Name has the necessary stores but they are a bit of a hike.) Kintala is full up on milk, coffee, food, LP, and even has a little extra beer on board.

Six other boats lie behind us in the harbor. One is a Nordhaven 40 trawler, which may be the pick of of that particular powerboat litter. As we passed by aiming for a spot to park, her Captain was kind enough to regard our old Tartan in like manor. This is what a “safe harbor” really means, and we are pretty content with our choice to be in this one tonight.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

One up on the cosmos ...

S/V Kelly Nicole

Friends Paul and Deb were last seen in St. Augustine nearly a year ago, before they made their escape to join the clan of cruising. Yesterday they strolled into the anchorage and dropped a hook a few boat lengths away from Kintala. It is impossible to describe how good it is to have that kind of semi-chance meeting happen “out here”. It may be, in fact it is, my personal favorite thing about this life. (I call it semi-chance because we have been keeping track of each other on various social media. They shared our pain of The Bear. We know well their cold weather and ICW travails as they led the pack southward.) We will spend a day together here at the Stadium, maybe two, then wander off to where ever. I think they are musing a marathon to Marathon while we are just a couple of weeks away from putting Kintala on a mooring to get some work done ( never ends) and then head out for some family time.

This morning a good looking Cat left the anchorage. As it passed the crew shouted across that they loved the blog, and loved Deb's new book. If there is a better way to start a day than hearing that you have added just a tiny bit to another cruiser's life, I don't know what it would be. (Deb's book, by the way, will add just as much to a land life, though I sometimes think the blog mostly makes them slightly jealous.) This is a small community of roaming gypsies, but it is a community none the less. In a lot of ways it looks to function better than just about any other around. As a group it is the embodiment of people being responsible for themselves, living a life of personal choice and liberty while, at the same time, being ready to offer a hand, help, advice, parts, and tools when needed. There is no "if": eventually one or all will be needed by one's self or someone near by.

Whenever the clan gathers at places near or far smiles come easily, stories of triumph and woe are shared and instantly understood, and hints of good places to explore get passed along. Maybe its because most spend a lot of time on their own that the time together works so well. Whatever the reasons, the tribe functions at least as well as others, and maybe a bit better than most.

It is a hard life “out here”. Risks are real and the work never-ending. But it is likely those very things are at the heart of why this life can be such a good one. They are also why things can go bad in a heartbeat, meaning that living this way includes a built in “humbleness factor”. Any that get too uppity, too self-absorbed, too confident, will likely find Mother Ocean dumping an industrial sized can of whup-ass into the sea that surrounds them. I'd like to think I get smacked around mostly because I don't always know exactly what I'm doing. But it could be, after a lifetime of being a pilot, that I have some ego to spare. There are a lot of pilots out here, so maybe I should take a pole. A thing I have noticed among the clan, egos are def-fanged as quickly and easily as religion and politics. Anyone can have as much of any as they like, but no one is inclined to pay much attention. Political and religious differences are tolerated with barely a hint of rancor. Personalities that would rate "out of bounds" on land, are celebrated in this tribe. "Plain vanilla" is not the flavor of choice. Being mobile it is a group constantly being mixed and re-mixed

Each day dawns with no guarantees. It might be the first good day in a long string of excellent. It might be a day where things get a bit more interesting than expected. It might be the day of reckoning, the final chapter to a story. That is the deal signed when the dock lines get tossed, and there is no getting around it. One thing is true though ...

After months of relentless struggling, on this day, Kintala is a happy boat. And that puts her one up on most of the rest of the cosmos.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

We now return you .. your regularly scheduled program.

We ended up spending six days in South Lake and got to see two free concerts on the Ocean Walk. The second was by a group named "IKO IKO". They were smoking, with a lady electric violin player / vocalist who set the world on fire, backed by one of the best drummers I have ever heard live on stage. Before the show we stopped at the middle Ice Cream place, which had better ice cream at a much better price than did the first place. The woman who owned it was working the counter, and she was a hoot as well. After the show we hung around with a friend met during the marina stay last summer. All in all a delightful surprise of an evening. The next day, yesterday, we made a trip to the marina for another pump-out and more water. Then we settled back into South Lake for one more night.

This morning Kintala's crew rolled out at 0500 in the "you have to be kidding me". By 0545 the deck was set for sailing, the anchor was secured in the roller, and we were waiting on the 0600 bridge opening. By 0830 Kintala was on the open ocean once again, with the jib pulling easy in light winds and the WesterBeast silent. It was a downhill stroll with tiny waves and the boat sitting nearly straight up. After a bit the wind clocked around almost directly off the stern so we set the pole. That rig carried us most of the way but had us angled wrong. To miss the shore and make the inlet marker the main went up for the first time since, since ... hell, I can't remember the last time the main was up. A couple of jibes later and we were at the inlet for Government Cut. There was only one little sailing mishap. While rolling in the jib at the end of the day the sail got a kind of backlash wound into it. Never saw anything quite like that before. It and it took a couple of tries, with me standing on the bow pulpit, to get the sail out and back the way it was supposed to go the first time.

We gained 3/4 kt with the pole.

In spite of that little problem, and regardless of the fact that it has been months since Kintala was moved under sail and not motor, we managed to pull off the day with a certain amount of aplomb. Government Cut was its usual madhouse boat scene; made more mad since there are two cruise ships in port. When that happens the main channel of the port is closed to most traffic, pushing almost all of it into the smaller Fisherman's cut. Not sure why it works that way. If Greyhound parked a tour bus on Broadway, would NY send everyone out to the 'burbs to catch a movie instead? Anyway, we heard the Miami police turn away several different boats who hadn't gotten the memo, making them move through Fisherman's cut with the rest of us. Wake hits, ferry boats apparently under the illusion the cut belongs to them, and mega yachts with Captain / Owners who are absolutely convinced the cut belongs to them ... no matter. Kintala picked her way through with nary a comment and tonight rests content in Miami's Marine Stadium anchorage.

It seems that Miami once held boat races like small Midwestern American towns run dirt tracks. This place was the track and there is a huge seating pavilion along the shore. One of the hurricanes tore the place up, the city didn't see a reason to repair it, and now it sits as a giant graffiti display. The actual anchorage seems pretty nice, though there were some thin spots getting in. We may spend a couple of nights here just because we haven't been here before. It has also been months since Kintala was in a new place, adding one smile more to an already good day. Then, to top it off, a pod of dolphins swam in to puff and play around us. I think they were welcoming us home, as glad to see Kintala back in her natural habitat as we are glad to be here.

Kintala is back in the groove.

Dolphins and sunsets. What more can a person ask for.

OK maybe a view from your kitchen window like this one?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Forbidden Fruit

The main problem with anchoring at South Lake is that Hollywood isn't particularly fond of cruisers. To discourage our spending money in their town they have gone out of their way to insure there is no good place to tie up a dink for a few hours. There is a very nice boat ramp / floating dock complex by the marina, but last fall we were (rather brusquely) informed that it was “illegal” to use without paying to park a car / trailer in their lot. My what a difference a few months of cruising will do to one's attitude toward that kind of thing.

Thunderbird Five is the gaff-rigged ketch in the middle
Curry dinner prepared by Ray on Thunderbird Five. Yum!
We have spent very little time off the boat since dropping the hook here. Dinner on Thunderbird 5, dinking in to pick up friends for dinner on Kintala, and a run for dropping trash and watching the last MotoGP race of the season about covers it. So last night, after an excellent dinner of stuffed pork chops, we decided a walk to the beach was in order. It gets dark early now, the marina is closed by the time the sun goes down, and the boat ramp / floating docks are empty. Works for me.

It is a bit of a hike across the Hollywood bridge and on to the ocean, but the walk worked a good stretch into unsteady land legs. Once there, we found that the ocean front Board Walk is actually made of bricks. It is also about the nicest Ocean Walk we have ever seen. Not only is it pretty, clean, and well lit, in the space of just a couple of blocks we found three ice creams stores … three! Still full from dinner we could only stop at one of them, and even then a small cone was more than enough. It was a treat, though, “more than enough” went for the price as well. Ten bucks for two single scoop sugar cones, really?

Further along a free concert was in full swing on the Ocean Walk stage. The band was playing a mixture of Spanish hits, 50's bee-bop, 70's rock-n-roll, and Jimmy Buffet tunes. And they were doing a pretty good job of it. People were clapping, singing along, dancing; a regular street party that was a bit of a jolt after days of lying quietly, and mostly alone, to our anchor.

It looks like we will be spending just another day or two here. The weather looks good for a run to Miami before the weekend is over. By next week we hope to be back in Biscayne Bay and exploring some places we missed last fall. Some friends are there already and others are heading that way. We are full blown cruisers once again, living as easy on the water as the day's weather will permit, moving when we want, and stopping where we like. If that means a clandestine dink parking at a forbidden dock once is awhile, that's okay as well.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Revisiting Communications

A while back one of our readers commented on one of our cruising cost posts about our Verizon bill and he wondered if we might not be able to get that bill down some by using some other carriers and plans. The bill bugs me every month I pay it because it is one of our biggest expenses, but we were under contract and rather than buy it out we decided to stick it out. As the end of the contract neared, I decided to do some exploring.

First of all, it's important to note that our cell phones are almost 100% of our internet accessibility. We do spend a lot of time on the internet for various reasons. We don't watch TV, we're voracious readers, we're working on two book projects and need the research time and we keep up with our family and friends through various blogs and Facebook. A lot of cruisers are happy to spend hours inside Starbucks waiting an eternity for their Facebook feed to load because whatever marina they're in has wifi that is even slower. I'm not exactly sure how it's possible because, after completing my children's book recently and needing to upload the (very large) file, I traipsed the ¾ mile to Starbucks and sat there for 4 hours waiting for it to upload. It cost me a total of $18 in coffee between Tim and I to get it done. After receiving the proof a few days later and realizing I had some corrections to make, I decided that paying Verizon $10 for a gig overage on my data was cheaper than going to Starbucks and I wouldn't have to traipse the ¾ mile in the rain on top of it. Much to my surprise, the same size file uploaded through my hotspot in minutes.

We've looked at purchasing one of the many wifi extenders on the market, but the average price of $300 has been just out of our reach due to the many other non-discretionary expenditures raging through my checkbook. If it worked, though, it would be paid for in a couple months' Verizon bills so it had to be considered. To assess the benefit, I looked for wifi signals in the towns we visited and talked to cruisers. To be quite honest, in the year since we left to go cruising I can't honestly say it would have helped us much. There are almost no wifi signals anymore that are not password protected. Free, yes, but most still require a password. If you're going to be in an anchorage for a long time I guess you could patronize the provider once to get the password and then use it from the anchorage with the extender. A word of caution - this will not work in the Bahamas because the restaurants and bars change their password frequently (some every day) just to prevent cruisers from doing this. Even with a password in hand, speed is still an issue. We gauge the acceptability of wifi speed by whether or not Tim can stream his MotoGP videos. Some people have news habits, some have movie habits, Tim has a motorcycle racing habit. While we were in Ft. Lauderdale at Cooley's Landing, the dial up wifi at the marina was unable to get it done. Tim had to make the weekly trek to Publix to watch the races while I shopped. When we moved to Middle River in Ft. Lauderdale he had to go to the Galleria for the privilege. Free wifi has just not been able to meet our internet needs.

When my youngest daughter bought a new phone we asked if we could have the old one to replace Tim's aging Droid X. After receiving it, it turned out it wouldn't work on Verizon since it was originally a T-Mobile phone, so we decided to do a two-month test by putting the phone on Straight Talk, Walmart's version of prepaid phone and data service. We had two months left on our Verizon contract and it would be the perfect opportunity to test the speed and access against his Droid while it was still also on the plan. In the process of researching plans, we discovered several things we didn't know before. It turns out that all unlimited data plans have some sort of throttling in place and are truly not unlimited. If you don't know what throttling is, here's the gist of it. If you happen to have a 4G unlimited plan with Straight Talk, after you cross the 3 gig data use point they will throttle your speed back to 2G for the remainder of your month. In our case that was at least half of every month. We researched Verizon and it turns out that their throttling is slightly different. It's still throttling, but they call it "Optimizing". On Verizon's unlimited plan there is a difference between 3G and 4G phones. If you're on an old 3G phone and you're in the top 5% of data users (they define this as anyone who uses more than 4.75gb in a month), and you're on a cell tower that has high demand, they throttle you back to allow everyone else a fair amount of data. Once the demand is reduced, like 2am for instance, then they put your speed back up. We had been noticing this with Tim's phone for some time. I'm on a 4G hotspot plan with Verizon so I was not experiencing this. Why do they do this? Because a lot of the 3G phones are grandfathered into the unlimited data plans that Verizon used to offer, Tim's included, and they are trying to force them into buying a new 4G phone, thereby losing the grandfathered status of unlimited data.

In the middle of all of this research, someone was kind enough to post a link on Facebook to a news release that AT&T was going to offer double data plans at the same price for a limited time. I called AT&T and had a very long discussion with a very polite and well-informed customer service rep. Neither of our phones would work on the AT&T network and the combined cost of new phones and a new plan to switch to AT&T just didn't make any fiscal sense. So I did what all good consumers do, and took the offer to Verizon. It turns out that Verizon, under great duress, was quietly matching the AT&T offer with some small revisions. I was able to get double the data that we currently were getting for the same monthly bill. So while it didn't reduce the bill, at least for the moment we can gleefully consume internet time without constantly staring at the data use graph.

For some people, cruising is about completely detaching themselves from the grid. No phone, or at least only emergency plans, no TV, no internet. For us, the internet is essential. It makes it possible for us to write and be published, it makes it possible to stay in touch with our kids and grand-kids, it makes it possible to manage our rental, and to keep up our blog. You might be able to cruise with a phone bill that is much smaller than ours, but for at least the time being I'm just going to have to deal with paying ours every month.

Friday, November 7, 2014

On the move again

Our last night in Middle River -Perfect!
Kintala unhooked from Middle River this morning and now sits in South Lake, about 11 nm … well … south. Including a stop to get diesel, gas, water, and a pump out at the Hollywood Marina, it took about eight hours to do the trip. And yes, that is an average speed of less than 1.5 nautical miles in a hour.

Kintala's happy engine speed is just wrong for making the staggered bridge timing along the ICW. We could flog the old WesterBeast, would still miss the next bridge opening by a couple of minutes, and end up doing circles while we wait. Or we could let the Beast rumble slow and easy and plod our way through. I trust not the Beast, so plodding is the choice when sailing is impossible.

We came down here because we are convinced we like this place. Not sure why. Three times we have been here in two different boats. Three times we have run aground hard enough to stop the hulls dead in the water. Today we were creeping along showing 20 feet under the keel and looking for a little less water in which to pitch the hook when “THUMP”, the boat twisted to starboard and stopped in its tracks. Off the starboard side of the boat I could not reach the bottom with our long boat hook. Off the port side we could see the bottom in about 5 feet worth of water. Clearly the powers-that-be dredged vertical cliffs in the bottom, underwater topography that is not reflected on the charts I updated just yesterday afternoon.

Worse, we picked a Friday afternoon to anchor a bare hundred yards or so off the ICW. Stupid power boater tricks have already started and some of the wake hits have been impressive. Even better the weekend is just getting started...yay! Still, the sunset is spectacular, the temperature perfect and, having run the engine most of the day, there was hot water for a long shower. Which I needed since this morning started with scrubbing about 50 feet of green snot out of the anchor chain. I smelled like a dead swamp thing.

I don't know that South Lake is still on my favorites list. Even if we don't come this way again I am glad to be here tonight because it means Kintala is back among the world of “boats that move”. Last night we worked well into the evening scraping barnacles off the bottom of the dink and this morning was the swamp snot. Even in a place as nice as Middle River sitting too long is bad for the constitution of boats, dinks and crews. We will not be tempted to stay that long in South Lake.