Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mystery math

I was hanging dinghy davits on the rear of a good-sized Hunter when a big old power boat stumbled into the next slip over. It was quite an arrival with the boat thumping and bumping off of nearly every piling in sight. The Captain blamed the ungainly landing on his not being able to find neutral on either one of his engines. Fair enough.

A day or so later another tech and yours truly were tasked with finding out why the Captain in question couldn't find his neutrals. It turned out that we could not find them either. The shift levers felt like they were anchored in thick, cold, oatmeal; both stiff and mushy at the same time. We popped the control covers at both the upper and lower helm stations and discovered every single screw in each set loose, allowing the mechanisms to flex and bind at will. Even worse, the clamps at the cable ends at the transmissions were within a thread or two of just falling off, allowing the cables to slip and flex. It was kind of amazing that the Captain managed to hit the slip at all. I haven't a clue as to how such a state of affairs came about. That was what we found when the boat landed in our laps. How it got that way doesn't really matter.

There was an additional puzzle. Though I am not all that familiar with power boat shifting levers, it appeared that some parts were missing; parts that determine exactly where the detentes are felt as the levers move. But the threaded holes where I thought such parts should go appeared to have never had any parts screwed into them, ever. A bit of Internet searching came up with a parts diagram (yeah, I was amazed as well) that listed the missing parts as a “kit”. Apparently not every installation includes them, though it is hard to imagine why. In any case, it looks like the neutrals might really be missing, as in not on the boat at all. Maybe they have never been on the boat. Maybe the design engineer decided that they don't need to be on the boat. There is simply no way of knowing.

Kits were ordered and I would have liked to put them in just to know, but they ended up on back-order. The Captain needed to be on his way so we offered to forward them to wherever when they arrived. And with that he fired up his big old power boat and headed out...all the way to the middle of the yard's basin, roughly two boat lengths.

There he discovered that his starboard engine had refused to start (not sure why he left the slip without it) and that his entire DC electrical panel had died. A bit of a scramble ensued, a small power boat was launched to help corral the wayward yacht while fenders, lines, and poles were brought into play. I watched from the far side of the basin, having been earlier dispatched to check something else on a different boat. When that task was done, I found myself assigned (along with my original partner in the neutral search) to figure out what had gone wrong with the big boat.

While the other tech worked on replacing a badly corroded starboard-side engine ground he had found, I went looking for the DC panel's missing electricity. Turned out it was tucked away in the forward port corner of the engine room, a tight little spot forward and outboard of the port engine. (That was the one that had started. Leaning against it was a mistake I made only once.) Inside a plain looking box were two 12 volt, 100 amp fuses that fed electricity from the batteries to the DC panel. Both had failed under some kind of massive load. As usual, we were working without any kind of schematic, so the exact wiring details were anyone's guess.

Though a couple of people suggested that the corroded engine ground could explain the blown fuses, both the other tech and I were skeptical. Corroded connections normally reduce current flow but, hey, this is the boating industry. Maybe it has its own physics.

New fuses showed up while the two of us were off trying to figure out a reluctant system on a third, unrelated, boat. I bailed on him to put the new fuses in the big boat, which brought up the DC panel. But the starboard engine starter still refused to turn the engine over fast enough to get it running. General consensus was that the start battery was toast.

At this point, I must digress a bit. I openly admit to being a completely anal aviation tech, one trying to be useful enough in the marine industry to fill our cruising kitty. Fixing things is fun enough, but knowing just what was done to fix a thing, and what is was that caused the thing to fail in the first place, is better. When it comes to mechanical things I don't like unsolved puzzles.

I was told to just jump the start battery to get the engine running, but two blown 100 amp fuses not directly involved in the starter circuit was a puzzle that chafed. Things will tack weld themselves at 200 amps; smoke and sparks can get downright exciting at 200 amps. Excitement I wanted nothing to do with tucked in an engine compartment with 2/0 wires running in every direction.

My partner for the day had hit a stopping point on our other project and so joined in. He is good, knows more in general about boats than I do, and is used to working in the blind. Still, he indulged my reluctance to just start jumping things; though I suspect he would have gone straight to jumping the start battery (what we would have called a “smoke check” back in my aviation days). He is also about half my age, but I don't hold that against him.

We put a voltmeter on every battery we could find, both with the battery charger on and with it off. It is a preliminary check that really doesn't do much more than rule out a battery that has suffered an internal self destruct, but that is a good thing to rule out. We checked the voltage drop across the start relay, bypassed the ground half of starter circuit, then bypassed the power run from battery to relay. Nothing appeared amiss, except...

This boat is equipped with an enormous gyro bolted athwart ships to act as a stabilizer. Spinning that thing up has to chew through a noticeable amount of wattage, and it was starting to spin as soon as the ignition for the starboard engine was turned on. Though I don't know much about such gyros, that just seemed wrong, and my partner in crime agreed. A breaker was found to kill the thing. With nothing else obviously amiss we jumped the starboard start battery and hit the switch.

No smoke, no sparks, the engine fired right up. The starboard start battery was, indeed, toast.

Still, the math bothers me. It doesn't seem completely impossible that a dying battery facing the combined loads of an engine start and stabilizing gyro's start-up surge (which does flow through the DC panel), was enough to do in the fuses. Amps can do unexpected things as voltage falls away under big loads. But it doesn't really add up, and I am not convinced that we know what went wonky, where, when, or why. There is no parallel switch on this boat, no battery isolation switches, the battery that has gone toes up is labeled as both a “start” and “house” battery, and there are two other batteries in the engine compartment have no markings at all. Mysteries abound.

But if the boat starts with a new battery and the fuses don't blow, the owner will be happy, pay his bill, and be on his way. A tired battery, two equally tired fuses, a funky ground, some sneaky circuit some where that has a gyro spinning up when it shouldn't? Maybe, in this case, 1+2+1+1+1 = 5.998, and that is all the answer I am going to get.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Salon Settee Cushion Update

Four-year-old fabric
Just a follow-up on a project. I used the Sunbrella 8304-0000 linen to make salon cushions in February of 2013. Now, more than 4 years later, the fabric still looks as good as it did the first day.

We had a long debate about the white fabric. We do all the work on the boat, so we're frequently filthy with grease, oil, sanding dust, or any of the other hundreds of ways boats get you dirty. We were nervous about having white cushions, but we really needed the light color to brighten up the cave feeling of the boat. After a few months of living with it, I decided to make slip covers for the bottom cushions so I wouldn't have to wash them so much. I used Velux blankets and made two sets that I can trade out when I do laundry. I ordered two different colors to match the striped pillows I made, just to have some variety in the interior.

Brand new in 2013
The fabric is nothing short of a miracle. I can wash it in the washer on low temp, and dry it in the dryer. It doesn't shrink at all, but the webbing I used on the back to sew the mounting snaps on does shrink so I use lower temps. We have successfully removed every single stain from the fabric, most just using a little dish soap on a microfiber cloth. Our toddler granddaughter recently wrote on it with gel art pen, and even that came out with just a touch of hydrogen peroxide and a microfiber cloth. Ketchup, blood, dirt, grass, all came out with ease. Since I tufted the backs with buttons, it's harder to remove the covers to wash. I simply use soap suds on a brush and surface clean the cushion. Then I set them out in the sun and they dry quickly.

If you need to reupholster your salon cushions, I can't say enough good about this fabric. If you're going to buy it, please give the business to the folks at You won't regret the customer service you get there which is just another bonus on the fabric.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Marine Tech Tango Take Two

Just another unrelated photo to remind us why we do this.
Monday morning at 0800: all punched in and facing the coax job from the ninth level of Hades. But weekend musings had pried open a small sliver of hope, in spite of Dante's warning. The coax cable found in the anchor locker was black. The coax connected to the back of the remote switch was a four foot piece of light gray, and already discovered was a a run of white coax connected to the gray with two end connectors and a union. Also discovered was that most of the coax run already uncovered was buried deep in a harness and tucked tightly away in conduit. The chances of the cable being damaged anywhere in those parts of the run were slight. The chance that the shield had spontaneously self destructed inside the conduit were nil. Clearly the chances were that the cable had been damaged where it ran unprotected. Those places were few; from behind the settee up through the DC / AC panel to the structure of the flying bridge, and along that structure to another piece of conduit that ran across the back of the flying bridge to the helm.

The coax run from the anchor locker, past the DC / AC panel, up into the flying bridge, and making the turn aft, was still black. Using a flashlight and a mirror while looking thought a hole left after removing a speaker showed that the coax coming out of that aft piece of conduit was white. Somewhere in the roughly four feet between the two runs of conduit had to be another union, and unions are good places to find failures.

The speaker hole wasn't big enough to work through, nor was it where I needed to be. But near the top of the stairway to the helm was an opening locker fit nearly in the middle of that four feet of structure. Sure, it was screwed in tight and sealed with copious amounts of goo but, back there, lay my little spark of hope. Screws out of the way, the goo was no match for a sharp edged putty knife driven by a small hammer. The locker box popped free leaving a cave-like opening leading to depths that have likely not seen the light of day for decades.

At the forward end of the hole, the conduit housing with the black coax dove down out of sight. At the back end of the hole, the wire bundle with the white coax climbed back up and disappeared into the next run of conduit that looped around the back of the flying bridge to the helm. Grabbing the wire bundle and lifting brought the whole thing up dripping in water and still zip tied to a block of wood that, once upon a long time ago, had been glued to the inside of the structure to support the conduit and its wire bundle. Said glue had given away to the passing years, dropping block, the open end of the conduit, and fat wire harness deep into a poorly drained well. And in the middle of that mess was a corroded mass that had once been two coax end connectors and a union.

Hope flared into triumph. Oh-nine-thirty Monday morning and the spot light problem was solved and easily repairable. Well, easily repairable as soon as the parts department came up with the proper union. That didn't happen until Tuesday. Still, by Tuesday afternoon I was out of that boat and on to the next task; reassembling a vacuum flush toilet assembly someone else had taken apart, getting it to run, and then starting to trace down a vacuum leak. All while tucked under the cabin floor and shoe-horned into what little space remained between the outboard side of the starboard engine and the hull.

The dance never ends...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Marine Tech Tango

Just a pretty picture (totally unrelated to the post) to remind us why we're working so hard this summer.

And so it came to pass that a person of some means bought a new-to-them sport fishing / trawler / live aboard boat. It wasn't a new boat, but at 48 feet long, equipped with two huge engines, and with an interior that would do justice to a 4 star hotel, no one would consider it a bargain boat either. Being of the budget cruiser tribe I would not normally get very close to such a boat, maybe see it motor by an anchorage as it made for a dock somewhere in the islands. However, we are filling the cruising kitty by having me do the marine mechanical tango this season, which is how this particular trawler and I became dance partners.

Aircraft are required, by law, to be regularly inspected. Virtually all inoperative items, no matter how minor, must be repaired before it can return to the sky. There are no such requirements for boats, and my experience is that they decay slowly. Inoperative systems get fudged, hacked, Micky Moused, or just left not working if there isn't a real chance that the failure will put the boat on the bottom. That is, right up until the boat gets sold. Then, all of a sudden, items that haven't worked in years have to be repaired. Sometimes that happens before the sale is complete. Sometimes, after appropriate price concessions by the seller, the new owner hands us the work list.

This trawler has a list a few pages long; not the least bit unusual. Tucked away in that list was a simple “spot light not working” complaint. Spotlights are not particularly complicated systems, even the ones that are supposed to tilt and swing on command from the helm. But the marine industry has an aversion to wiring diagrams, so troubleshooting is mostly shooting in the dark. Starting out, I didn't even know how many components made up the entire system. The remote switch was obvious, as was the light mounted to the bow. Wiring between them could be assumed, along with a power supply protected by a fuse or breaker. And so the music started and the dance began.

“Spot light not working” didn't actually mean the light wasn't working. What it likely meant was that the new owner didn't know there was a fold away breaker panel in the helm were the light got its power. I suspect that because that same panel has a breaker for the horn and, though “horn not working” was also on the list, the horn worked just fine once the breaker was closed. In like manor the light came on when the breaker was closed. Which is wrong. The light isn't supposed to come on with the breaker. It is supposed to be controlled by the remote switch.

General consensus was that the remote switch is a weak link in these systems, rarely lasting more than a couple of years. A new one was ordered and installed. Nothing. Damn. But the paperwork with the new remote mentioned a “master control”. Hmmm, wonder what that is and where it is located? As it turns out it is located in the anchor locker and when I found it, the reason the remote switch didn't work while the light came on with the breaker was clear. Someone had butchered the wiring harness, jumping the master control with hot and ground wires twisted together and secured(?) with rigging tape.

The general consensus was that the master control had failed, rendering the light inoperative, and was thus hacked out of the system so the light would at least shine when requested. A new master control was order and installed. (No mean feat tucked into the anchor locker.) Nothing. Damn.

There is a single run of coax cable connecting the remote to the master control. This was a puzzle. Coax is, basically, an antenna wire wrapped in an insulating sleeve, surrounded by a wire mesh to protect it from stray radio waves, (called a shield) with the whole thing wrapped like any normal wire. Coax cables carry information, not power. But the remote clearly needs power to function, so...from whence comes the electrons to light up the remote? Oh for a single glance at a wiring schematic!

Wanting to make any kind of progress I tested the coax. The center wire checked good, but the shield? Somewhere in the nearly 100 feet of cable run the shield was broken. Could it be that they are using the shield to carry power from the master control to the remote? I ran across a similar thing last year, working on a boat's navigation system. So, on a lark, I jumped the shield with a run of wire from the anchor locker, across the deck, up onto the flying bridge, and behind the helm. The remote lights and clicks just like it should. The spotlight goes on and off with the touch of a button. But it still doesn't pitch or swing.


So it appears that, somewhere in the distant past, the shield failed rendering the entire system kaput. It was hacked to make the light work, damaging the master controller in the process. I have no idea how long ago this happened, though the butcher job appears old, with tape brittle, wires corroded, and hanging bits filthy. A good guess is that the extended time with the motor inactive has rendered it inoperative as well. (New – and expensive – searchlight systems automatically exercise the motor / gear box on a regular basis, without any input from the crew. Pretty cool, that.)

But the primary problem remains that of the open shield wire. Running a new coax is the only fix and, as usual, there is no documentation as to where the wire chases run through the boat. The only option is to make the best guess possible and start taking the interior apart. Removing the back of the master berth hanging locker pointed in the right direction, but wasn't where I needed to be. Where I needed to be was behind the starboard settee in the cabin, forward of the main DC / AC distribution panel. (Located, by the way, behind the TV. Which ranks up there as one of the dumbest things I have seen on a boat.) So, lift the cushions off, right?

Right. No amount of effort would get the back cushions free. Cushions covered with expensive looking leather. Leather that cannot be damaged lest the new owner become a very unhappy person. I like to think I'm pretty good at this stuff but, for the life of me, I could not see what was holding the things in place. Swallowing my pride I went to Boss not-so-new and admitted my ineptness at interior removal. He sent me some help and, between the two of us we couldn't figure it out. Help got called away to do a sea trial on an autopilot, and I went back to scratching my bald head. An hour or so later (try not to think of the labor costs) he returned. Not long after we stumbled upon the problem. The builder of this boat had cut tiny holes in the leather seams, inserted a screw and screw driver, jammed the screw through the foam and batting, and screwed the cushions semi-permanently to the structure. Getting them off required sticking a screwdriver though the leather, fishing around to find the hidden screw, and backing it out without stripping the head off the screw or tearing out  the seam or the leather. Then do that 7 more times.

There are other places we need to be as well. Down in the hole that is the anchor locker. Down in the hole under the starboard side settee up on the flying bridge. In the hole that is the crawl space behind the helm.

Even though most of the wiring run was mapped out by quitting time Friday, actually feeding the wire will take a major effort on the part of two of us at least. It will be hot, ugly, dirty work crawling into the nastiest places on the boat; and it will take hours. But there are two things I am pretty sure will happen. The first is that we will eventually figure out something and make it work. The second is that, someone, somewhere, is going to complain about how long it took and how much it cost.

The marine tech tango.

ps: just for those who are curious here are some of the other items found while working on the list...

Two of the three bilge pumps were inop.
The mecerator pump for the fish box under the cockpit was inop.
The wash down pump needed replaced. It worked, but there were pieces falling off of it.
The pump for the live bait well was just hanging by its wires, one of which pulled free, and was inop.
One of the three depth gauges was inop, along with the knot log.
Two of the deck drains in the cockpit were broken free.
The valves for the "crash pump" option of the engine water pumps were frozen.
The head overboard thru-hull / valve was letting sewage leak out and sea water leak in.
There are contractors taking big pieces off the engines; I have no idea what that is about but it looks expensive.
The underwater lights under the swim platform were inop, at something on the far side of $400 to replace. One must crawl down in the hole in the cockpit to wire them, but I was already in that hole for bilge, mecerator, and fish tank pump repair. Repairing the forward bilge required crawling into the hole under the v-berth and up against the holding tank. While down in that hole I found the wiring for the gray water tanks had been butchered.

It is enough to make one question the wisdom of being on any boat that is further away from the shore than one can easily swim.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall...

...or how to entertain three kids under 8 on a 42 foot sailboat in the middle of 9 days of rain in Florida.

My granddaughter has mastered accessorized playdough play time
A lot of people have stared at us with disbelief when we've said that our eldest daughter and husband and three kids would be joining us for the summer while we're parked on the dock to work. Forty-two feet of narrow-beam boat works out to be a little less than 400 square feet, a smallish apartment by anyone's standards. Most of the naysayers have been people who have either had bad experiences in close proximity on a boat, or who simply don't like their relatives well enough to think about spending three months with them in 400 square feet. Always, the question is, “How do you do it?” So I thought I'd talk a little bit about that.

First of all, my daughter and family are boaters. They have lived on a small sailboat for an extended time and they understand the constraints of space, power, and water. They have very few possesions, even now that they are (temporarily) living back on land. They live a simple, uncluttered life. That being said, it still takes a lot of space to house seven people's things, so one of the first things we did was to buy a large deck box from Lowe's and transferred into it all the things that were in the aft cabin. We set the aft berth up as a space for the boys, aged 5 and 8, with enough space for their boxes of Legos and bookbags with books and cars. It's their space to retreat to which helps reduce the mayhem to a reasonable level. The aft cabin still houses the pantry and the workshop, so a path to each is cleared for my access at all times. No work is being done on the boat while they're here so access to the workbench has been limited by boxes of food that won't fit in the pantry. Food storage is the biggest problem we've encountered. We also use the back of their van to cycle things through. They keep a couple days' worth of clothes on the boat but the rest goes in the van.

Next to deal with was the sleeping arrangements. Since Tim needed to leave for work 5 days a week before 8:00 in the morning, we gave the V-berth to our daughter, her husband and the 2-year-old. It's a large V-berth and completely adequate for the three of them. What we didn't know at the time was that our son-in-law, Brian, was going to be working at the marina as well, and would be getting up just as early. Tim and I took the salon settees, where he could sleep directly under the air conditioner vent, something he likes after working in the heat all day. Not ideal for us, but doable for a short stint and manageable since the reward is having giggles and kisses on the boat all day.

Food is the biggest difficulty for us because all three kids have severe food allergies. I'm dealing with some of them on my cooking blog, Cruising Comforts, so if you happen to have issues with wheat, dairy, preservatives, colors, or GMO foods, you can check it out. The result is that I'm cooking separate food for Tim and I and going to the store every two days to buy food since we can't store that much food on the boat. Finding special foods in Palmetto, FL is challenging at the very least, and if it wasn't for the arrival of Aldi late last year we would be sunk. Our tiny little galley is doing yoeman's duty these days.

Most of the time, 400 square feet isn't an issue because they spend a good bit of time in the cockpit and running around outside. They climb trees, look through the shells lining the dock, collect fresh mangoes from the tree on site, play pirates, and ride bikes. This past week, though, it has rained every day and some days the entire day. Finding things for them to do inside is difficult. They are great with Legos, often building and playing with them for hours at a time. If you know you have a rainy week coming up, my opinion is that it's worth a new $12 Lego set from Amazon or Wal-mart to spark a renewed interest. We also spend a tremendous amount of time playing Uno, 500, Scrabble, Go Fish, Dominoes, and solitaire. A deck of cards goes a long way to pass hours in a small space. I bought a set of card holders for the little ones so they can hold them easier, and even the 2-year-old has an old deck of cards that she plays with alongside of us, lining them up in the holder and clapping while shouting, “I winned! I winned!” The rain this past week was so prolonged that it demanded that I pull out all the stops and dig out my playdough recipe. The toddler had just received a set of kitchen tools from the dollar store for her birthday, and they turned out to be just the ticket for playing with the playdough. Playdough is cheap, quick to make, and lasts forever.

Always a very, very last resort for us, there are videos. My daughter's family, like us, doesn't own a TV. Videos are a rare treat for super rainy days, and this week I lucked out at a local thrift shop with a set of Fred Levine's Little Hardhats series, just in time. The boys watched Road Construction Ahead and Fire and Rescue for a while one afternoon and immediately set out afterward to build some construction and fire truck Legos. Score.

Normally I would use an afternoon to bake some chocolate chip cookies together but since they can't have them we opted for some dairy-free chocolate pudding. They love helping in the galley and when they can't help with a particular thing they love hanging out on the companionway steps talking to me while I cook.

When it's not raining, we try to involve them in boat projects. We're getting ready to sand the teak to refinish it, and the caulking had to be removed. Tim got the boys working on it and they had it done in just a couple hours. There are almost always things they can do on the boat, even the littlest ones. My oldest grandson is in charge of changing water tanks on the manifold when we empty one, and logging it in the log book.

After over a month here, we've come to some conclusions:

We couldn't do this on this size boat unless we were parked on a dock. Our food storage is too limited and our holding tank too small.
Teaching manners and kindness is the most important lesson you can grace your children with. The smaller the space you live in, the more it's a necessity. Besides, what's cuter than a 2-year-old saying thank you when you give them another cup of cinnamon applesauce?
While Tim and I can get by using 5 gallons of water a day, it takes 20 per day for the seven of us.
Aldi is a godsend when it comes to organic food.
Good, open communication is paramount when living in a small space together. Be clear about what the rules and your expectations are. This is your home and guests are guests.

Sharing what's good about this lifestyle with family you love is a privilege that very few get to have. Sunsets and the memories of them are so fleeting that it's just wonderful to have the opportunity to grab someone and say, “Come look!” before it fades. Yes, there are challenging moments, a lack of privacy, endless amounts of work, but the rewards are not measurable.

Going in circles

There is a lot of talk of “America First” these days. Oddly enough, it comes from both ends of the political spectrum currently allowed in the US. It is the rally cry for the Trump / Republican / Religious Right coalition. Their view of the “America” that should be “first” is restricted to, well, just themselves. But it still has that hint of patriotic, Red, White, and Blue, apple pie smell about it. Somehow it sounds good, playing to that tribal part of each of us, and a lot of people who think of themselves as the “true” patriots are signing on without reservation.

Via Giphy
The Democratic rally cry for “America First” is that Republicans should count the good of the country as more important than what might be (temporarily) good according to Republican ideology. As such, it would seem that the Democrats have concluded that they are the “true” patriots, that Trump and the Religious Right are simply incapable of caring about anything but themselves, and are hoping that the Republican part of the coalition is large enough to thwart the worst excesses of Trump and his believers.

What the Democrats don't say out loud is that their version of “America First” helps bring them back from the wilderness of political power; thus allowing their particular views of corporate, military, and religious power to rule, as opposed to the Republican version of corporate, military, and religious power.

“America First” does mean slightly different things to each, but the general sentiment is much the same. To each, “America” is the only thing that matters. Both agree that “first” includes the largest and most fearsome military. It means an economic system that dominates the world, while being dominated by corporate interests. Both are big supporters of a surveillance state for common citizens and top secret status for any of their own activities. This is not to suggest that the two groups are identical. Clearly, if one is a minority, female, gay, trapped in poverty, or struggling to manage a life-threatening physical issue, one side's talk is less hostile than the other. “Less hostile” though, isn't really much of a choice.

Both Right and Left also claim to be “forward” (while insisting the opposition is “back”) which has, in effect, reduced American politics to a single dimension. Both parties and all of our media are dedicated to making sure none of us starts to wonder if a single dimension is all there is to work with. After all, “left” or “right” is not the same as forward. Go left or right and all that one gets is a circle. And really, women's rights, civil rights, white supremacy, fascism, dictatorships, war, poverty, pollution...haven't we done this already?

And “forward” is not the same as “up”.

Maybe the only real hope we have is for someone with some influence to come along and get us all to stop talking about “America First”. We could put “first” some of the things we keep walking around in circles; democracy, human/civil/women's rights, maybe the environment. At least we would be moving forward, even if that isn't really up. After all, treating all human beings as human beings is barely moving forward, with not much “up”. Nor is caring for the only environment we have ever known (or seen) that can support human life and civilization. “Gee, we didn't kill ourselves off completely,” is pretty much admitting that the best we have been able to do is not go backward.

I think the cosmos has left us an open door for going up as well, by putting facts, knowledge, understanding, or (my favorite) wisdom first. That looks to be a bridge too far for America. We can't even stop walking in circles. But there are a few indications that some of the rest of the human family is starting to understand. Nearly 95% of the world's population is part of the Paris Climate accord, with the 20% living in China now the acknowledged leader of those efforts. No matter what one might think of the details of that agreement, 95% of the planet cooperating on anything is remarkable. One might even hope – just a little maybe – such cooperation becomes more common, encompassing things like trade disagreements and boarder disputes. It might even lessen, even if only slightly, the chances of nations tossing nukes at each other.

“America First”... What it really means is the more we look inward, only to ourselves, the less we matter to the history of the whole human family. And, in a way, the less we matter to ourselves. Already “America First”, regardless of who is using the words, includes only some small slice of Americans, and never includes Americans who tend to see themselves as “humans first” or citizens of the world.

Which, in my experience, includes a pretty large slice of the cruiser community. Not a surprise given that a lot of us spend months, if not years, at a time living in the world at large. One need not get too far from these shores to get far, far away from the idea that America is the only country that really matters. It is actually a bit startling, and enjoyable, to spend time in a nation that isn't full of itself, that doesn't expect, demand, or assume that the world rotates around its borders. Even those who think that they live in the “best” place (a pretty common view of the Bahamians I've met) don't reflect the hubris and self centered attitude that is so much a part of America's media and government. I am still clinging to the hope that Americans, as a group, are better people than we look at the moment. Unfortunately, I have had to concede to the idea that a people don't get the best government they deserve, but the worst government they will tolerate.

America will never be first (or, depending on your view of history, first again) until being either American or first isn't that important. After all, being American (for most of us anyway) is simply a matter of birth. We have always been Americans and likely (hopefully) always will be. This is the community we know, the land we have traveled, and where we have family and friends. Like all nations, America has a checkered history. We share that history, good and bad. It is also one, for the most part, for which none of us bears any responsibility. America, with all of its flaws and all of its glories, was gifted to us. We pass the gift along, adding our little bit as it passes through our hands.

The best chance of making it a good bit comes from looking out, not in; forward, not left or right. And if we want to make it a really good bit, we need to look up.

What we decide is “first” will make (or unmake) the America we pass along to the next generation.