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.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not too bad ...

This morning's inside boat temperature was hovering around 50 degrees. Jeans and sweatshirt to go with the morning coffee, the wind hasn't picked up yet, the sky is brilliant blue and reflects off sparkling water. Boats are leaving Middle River with others stopping by for a day or a week, the insurance company thinks that the hurricane season is over, and Deb's book has been published. This past summer has finally receded into memory. Most of what we recall now is the good stuff (so long as we don't look at the bank account); having Daughter Eldest and family close at hand, boat chores with little helping hands, singing "BOOM" back at the sky. We made many good friends we hope to run across in time yet to come and places far away, as cruisers are wont to do.

In a week or so Kintala will be heading south to Biscayne bay for no other reason than to play around for a couple of weeks. Come December the plan is to pick up a mooring ball, close up the boat, and head to St. Louis for the arrival of baby girl grand-kidlet latest. It has been a long time since Daughter Middle, Daughter Youngest, and Families were within hugs reach...too long. Then it will be time to wait for a weather window and follow friends east, across the Gulf Stream and back to the Islands.

Even though we are still in the States this, right here, right now, is what we worked so long to achieve. While not the first time we have found it, during our first year of cruising the "finds" were glorious but fleeting. There was a day here, a couple of days there, a few weeks in the Islands. But when I factor out the nearly four months spent tied to a pier working on broken boats, the ratio doesn't seem too bad for beginners. We knew the first year out would expose gaps in our boat prep, and sometimes things like The Bear just happen. Which has me wondering.

We know, and have heard, of people pulling the plug on their cruising life after a year or so. I will admit, during our first year, to having a bunch of thoughts of "this is not fun" myself. And while I have no doubt that they are doing the right thing for themselves, I also have little doubt that our second year is going to be noticeably different from our first. The outside jump to Miami is a day sail now, having done it enough times to know what to expect. The jump to the Island the same. We will wait for a weather window we like with little thought as to how long it takes or who else might go when we don't, or doesn't go when we do. The most pressing thought right now is looking forward to trying out the new furler rig for the staysail. In the mean time, we will explore the southeast coast of Florida with a bit of ease and confidence we did not know last year.

Not a lot more, as we are still newbies who have also learned that the ocean is big and sometimes plays a little too rough for us tiny human beings and our itty-bitty boats. (Think Pee-Wee players in the Super Bowl.) Still, it is pretty nice to be in a good place, looking forward to the next year.  And it only took us (roughly) 2,649 days to get here.