Monday, July 9, 2018

small "g" gypsies

Blowin’ In The Wind settled onto the mooring ball next over from Kintala. Depending on which way the current is running we can sit in our cockpit and call over to Grand Kids sitting on her bow. There is pretty constant Ding traffic back and forth, and we usually end up spending a large part of each day on shore playing in the park with the kids, exploring the Library, and enjoying Beaufort. Sooner or later we will have to get back to concentrating on boat projects. Blowin’ In The Wind sat for a long time before being pressed into full time cruiser status, hiccups were to be expected. Kintala has a short list of things that broke as we came around the Keys, also to be expected.

The new city day dock, the Downtown Marina, and the mooring field in the background

Two family boats traveling together, one filled with kids, tend to draw some attention. To the curious, I have taken to describing our little band as a modern day gypsy family. We wander along with our overall plan (if you can call it that) driven by weather and the ease, or lack thereof, of living in the places we stop. We take odd jobs here and there, live off savings, generate a bit of coin from “internet income." Not a life of luxury, but one that suits us.

The Ladies Island Swing Bridge framing a full moon rise

(Should solar power and batteries ever improve to the point of carrying air conditioning suitable for a small boat, the “luxury” part will see a huge improvement!)

The label “gypsy” (small “g”) is often associated with “wanderer,” is mostly inoffensive and, in our case anyway, utterly appropriate.

For the most part people, as individuals, are curious and friendly. There is a bit of wistfulness attached to the idea of gypsies, a romanticism of being unencumbered. People like the idea of living that way in our increasingly frantic society. So, particularly with brief encounters, they tend to like people who have deliberately chosen a different path. That we are usually accompanied by three or four of the cutest grand kids on the planet (okay, just my opinion) likely doesn’t hurt.

Historically Gypsy (capital “G”) is a label not so well regarded nor inoffensive. The term is actually associated with the descendants of a single group of people who migrated from northwestern India about 1,500 years ago. Once they started to wander they never stopped. They called themselves, their culture, and their language “Romani”. To this day they are a persecuted minority in most nations, the ultimate “other” in a world where borders are the most important determiner of “who” and (sadly) “what” a person is. For some reason Italy has started an anti-Romani campaign, to the point where the government is breaking up families and taking children away from their parents.

Once in a while we bump into a little of the capital “G” attitude. Though we have heard of other cruisers getting harassed on a personal basis by an individual land dweller, our bumps come in the more impersonal form of official dictates about anchoring or shore access. (Think Miami and much of the central east coast of Florida.) At the moment about 3000 of us who use St. Brendan's Isle as our domicile, are facing a bump by the name of Chris Chambless. Mr. Chambless is a Florida Election official who is aiming to remove our voting rights because he does not approve of our lifestyle. It is possible he will succeed while being heralded by some as "protecting democracy." That this argument could eventually be expanded to deny millions of Americans currently not living inside US borders the right to vote is likely part of the plan. Will the courts, particularly this Supreme Court, go along with such a plan? If it ever gets that far I suspect they will.

Fortunately, there are so many other places like Beaufort, Oriental, Annapolis, or Fishing Bay that we can brush off the Miamis of the world with little ado. I also suspect a lot of us will figure out a way to vote in spite of Mr. Chambless and those like him. For myself, I will look for a way to continue to vote as a Floridian. I spend the better part of every year in that state, enough time that Florida law requires that both Kintala and the Ding be registered there. Because of the Electoral College votes count more in Florida than they do in some other states; at least when it comes to Presidential elections. In addition Florida politicians are often proponents of an agenda I enjoy voting against. Add those two things together and I love exercising my right to vote by voting in Florida.

All while I go about my small “g” gypsy way.

Note: here is a link to one of many articles about the Romani;

Here are two links to the articles about the St. Brendan's Isle issue:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dare not forget

Just when I got used to being on the move, Kintala landed on a mooring ball in Beaufort S.C. with the intent to be here for a month or more. Next week Blowin’ In The Wind, currently docked a few hours south of here for a family vacation, is due to join us. There will be a week or so of doing boat projects and catching up on adventures. Then Deb and I will head to St. Louis for a couple of weeks. It has been far too long since we have seen Daughter’s Middle and Youngest, and their collective six, soon to be seven, of our grand kids. Kintala will be safe on a mooring ball with Blowin’ In The Wind for company.

Kintala in the center of the photo in the mooring field at Beaufort Downtown Marina

We have been here a couple of days already, found a good ice cream place and an outdoor fresh market, borrowed the loaner car to get to some provisions, explored a little. There is a National Cemetery a nice walking distance from here. I find such places both compelling and sad, particularly ones with a lot of Civil War background. It is not nearly as hard as it used to be to imagine Americans killing Americans on a massive scale, which is not at all encouraging. Many of the grave markers here sport only a number. The “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” in DC is treated with the honor and respect it deserves, but it is sobering to remember that there are thousands like it all over the country.

We dare not forget them even if we don’t know their names.

A thing I found particularly encouraging is that African American Union soldiers were reinterred at the Cemetery, soldiers of the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. The soldiers were originally buried on Folly Island, South Carolina, the site of an 1863 Union winter camp. Their remains were transferred here in 1987, and they were buried with full military honors. Here. In South Carolina. And it is my thought that most South Carolinians would take pride in that fact.

Their names are also unknown.

All veterans are eligible to be buried here, and many of the graves were marked WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf. Even better, the dates on many of the stones spanned 60+ years, men and women who survived their war to live a life full of families and friends.

This is a military town. Parris Island, the spiritual home of the Marines, is just down the river. Close enough that we have woken to the rumble of live fire exercises the last two mornings. Marines practice shooting, really practice shooting. There is also a Marine Corps Air Base that is home to six F/A-18 Hornet fighter-attack squadrons. They practice a lot as well. The thunder of the jets reminded me that I once flew one of the Navy’s F/A-18 flight training simulators. I have to admit that doing Mach 1.3, inverted, less than 50 feet off the ground, with the voice of “Bitchin’ Betty” repeatedly reminding me “Altitude - Altitude” was a memorable experience; even if it was a sim.

Getting good in that thing would take a lot of practice.

In any case I am looking forward to the next few weeks. This is an interesting and enjoyable town, with things to see and learn. Blowin’n In The Wind will be here soon. St. Louis beckons. And, after that, we will start figuring out this “two-family-boats-cruising” thing.

But the rows of tomb stones in Beaufort will join the ones in the Vicksburg National Cemetery, with Gettysburg, and the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, taking up residence somewhere in a quiet place in my mind.

We dare not forget.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

On Trying a New Genre

Reading is a huge part of the cruising life, at least for most cruisers I know. Tim and I each have hundreds of books in our Kindle Readers, many of which we read more than once. We're voracious readers, bad enough that my Amazon storage is nearing full. I don't often leave book reviews here, but when my friend Ellen Jacobson (of The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick blog) approached me to see if I might be interested in receiving an ARC (advanced reader copy) of her first novel, Murder at the Marina, I was happy to agree to help. I had the time, as we were just departing the boat yard where we'd been stationary for too many months to count. The next few weeks would have evenings in anchorages with a drink in the cockpit. A good book would be a bonus.

I have to admit that this is the very first “Cozy Mystery” I've ever read. I'm a pretty diehard sci-fi, techno-thriller, and spy, political, legal thriller reader. The more intense, complicated, and fast-paced, the more I enjoy it. But, like with food, I'm pretty much always willing to try something new. Having a long history with murder mysteries and zero history with cozy mysteries, I was first caught off guard by the light-hearted tone of the book. I was having trouble lining up murder with light-hearted. I stopped, went out on the internet and researched the cozy mystery genre, and began to understand the background for the story. For those of you with the same problem, here's a short excerpt from Wikepedia:

“Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community...the detectives in such stories are nearly always amateurs, and are frequently women...dismissed by the authorities in general as nosy busybodies...the detectives in cozy mysteries are thus left free to eavesdrop, gather clues and use their native intelligence and intuitive “feel” for the social dynamics of the community to solve the crime.”

Ahhhh. Now I got it. Back to the book.

The intimate community in question is a marina. If you've never lived in a marina, you may not get this, but there is no more intimate community than a marina. When you're living in a 16-foot-wide slip and you can hear everything on the boat next to you, (not to mention seeing in the portholes that are right outside your portholes,) everyone knows everyone else's business. News travels faster than the speed of light, and rumors abound. Everyone  has an opionion about simply everything. The perfect background for a cozy mystery.

The protagonist, Mollie McGhie, has never been around boats or owned one, but her husband, dreaming of the two of them sailing away to paradise, buys her a sailboat for their anniversary. All she wanted was diamonds. All she got was a dead body on her new-to-her boat. Sensing the authorities are not as invested in resolving the murder as much as she is, she dives right in to solving the crime herself.

A parade of eccentric characters follows, from the owners of the marina who define the “opposites attract” expression, to pink-obsessed Penny Chadwick, to Ben, the pirate wanabe with the dream to sail around the world, (an example of whom can be found in every single marina,) to Mrs. Moto, the cat with much more going on behind the fur than is suspected. Mollie's inquisitiveness and persistance are a magnet for trouble, though, and soon she finds herself more invested than she wants to be.

As the story progresses, Ellen develops the characters well, combining them into a believable marina community. Mollie is intelligent, determined, not shy in the least, and more than a little quirky in her choice of professions. And did I say she loves chocolate? A lot? Her predilection for treating emergencies with healthy doses of chocolate immediately endeared her to me. Mollie's husband, Scooter, who at first glance seems kind of self-absorbed, becomes to the reader a loving husband with a dream to share something special with his “best girl.” Ben, dismissed by everyone around as a nobody, shows integrity and caring. Penny, who at first glance seems shallowly absorbed with girly pink, shows a remarkable devotion to her students. All through the book, the reader is led from false first impressions to a deeper knowing of some interesting characters. I look forward to seeing how Ellen continues to develop the characters in the next book of the series.

While the book is the first of a series featuring Mollie McGhie, the book is a complete, stand-alone story. It does not suffer from one of my pet peeves of self-published books, where each book is in reality just a chapter of a longer story forcing you to purchase many volumes to complete the read. I have also frequently put a self-published book down in the first chapter just because of the volume of typos, but Murder at the Marina had first-rate editing with flawless type setting and grammar.

Murder at the Marina is a fun read, a light-hearted look at the goings on of the typical, small marina, with characters that are fun to know. The story is full of surprises, and leaves you with a good sense of the kind of characters who choose this crazy way of life.

To buy or for more information:

Murder at the Marina on Amazon
Copyright© 2018 by Ellen Jacobson
Print ISBN 978-1-7321602-1-7
Digital ISBN 978-1-7321602-0-0

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Better than they deserve

Those who know me, or have followed this blog for a while, know I am not shy of  poking the hornet’s nest of politics on occasion. Of late though, I have gone about my business without paying much attention to political antics. For months, going about my own business has included helping Daughter Eldest and Family on their cruising way, getting Kintala back to cruising after a year on the dock, and working out a way to visit Daughters Middle and Youngest and their families sooner rather than later. Add pushing the weather as hard as one dares, getting needed repairs done, and just the daily effort required to keep a small sailboat moving across the miles, and one comes up with plenty of business to mind.

Of course there are other reasons to pay less attention to "the news".

Two of the walkways on the Buddhist's 8 fold path are "Right mindfulness" and "Right Concentration."

Philippians 4:8 King James Version (KJV) says, (Yes, I am quoting the Bible. No, the world isn’t about to end.) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The Stoics taught that one needed to understand the difference between those things that are under one's control, and those things that are not.

In my opinion Donald Trump simply doesn't qualify as anything worth wasting much thought on, so I simply refuse to (as I heard it put once upon a time) give him rent free living space in my head. And he is most certainly outside of my control.

As a result, most of news I hear is that shared by the very few people with Facebook accounts that I follow, a large percentage of that group being friends who live on boats outside of the country. I suspect they are not paying much attention to what goes on inside the borders of the US, so if something is happening here that does get their attention, it is likely something to note. From one of them I heard that it is now Official US Policy to break up families and put the kids in detention centers. That seemed extreme even for Trump and the Republicans. Surely even He/They couldn’t possibly believe such a visual would play well on the public stage. I do understand that Trumpism is a cult, that he could very well,  “…stand in the middle of 5th Avenue, shoot somebody, and (not) lose voters.” But shooting someone is one thing, manhandling crying and terrified toddlers out of the arms of parents who are of no threat to anyone, is another thing entirely. Surely a thing beyond the pale even in Trump’s America. I doubted that any Border Official would do such a thing, even if so commanded.

Clearly I badly underestimated Trump's depravity, and just as badly overestimated the quality of America’s Border Officials. That I underestimated Trump’s willingness to embrace evil was kind of silly. This is the President who made room for Nazis at the table of public opinion, a man apparently devoid of any kind of introspective voice, any hint of conscience, or the smallest bit of care for anyone but himself or anything other than his own grasp of power.

That I just as badly overestimated America’s Border Officials' courage and their willingness to refuse to participate is disturbing. They are, perhaps, even more reprehensible than the current POTUS and his entourage. It is at times like these that I sometimes wish there really was a god about, one who insures that those who pull crying children away from their parents will, eventually, understand the depth of evil into which they have fallen. For I am of the opinion that claiming to be “following orders” or “enforcing the law” is no excuse for cruelty.

And though there is virtually nothing I can do to stay the evil that now prowls our land, on my own little blog and in my own tiny voice, I want to make it clear that these are not my values, this is not my choice, and these are not leaders that I, in any way, shape, or form; follow, endorse, or support. It is my hope that their downfall is imminent, that when it comes it will be totally devastating for them, their political ideology, and their supporters. I hope that they will counted among the despised in human history, that their sons and daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren for many generations to come, will be ashamed to carry their name.

 And that will still be better than they deserve.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Georgia on my mind...

This evening Kintala is anchored just off the ICW, north of a place called Isle of Hope Marina. We are a day from finishing our first transit of Georgia, and it was a good idea to come this way. There are many cruiser / ICW tales of woe - stories about how hard it can be to navigate these waters. The trick, or so it seems to me after this one try, is to remember that Georgia has plenty of water that is deep enough to get through, it just isn’t available all day every day in every place. Jekyll Creek and Hell Gate are two places famous for being thin, with a few others where shoaling seems to come and go, sometimes ruining someone’s day. By pure happenstance, the days we came through were ones with the tides working completely in our favor. Low tides were in the morning hours, high in the early afternoons. Excellent planning, all Deb’s doing, had us hitting the skinniest spots at or near maximum water, and we spent most of each day riding a rising tide. With a tidal range up to three feet higher than Kintala’s keel is deep, only once did we see less than 3 feet under said keel; that being the first couple of hundred feet after entering Hell Gate northbound.

A good bit of time in Georgia is spent looking at the shallow mud along the channel

This is also a pretty part of the ICW, particularly the part north of Hell Gate. The southern part of the Georgia ICW is salt marsh, pretty in its own way but with a certain aroma, particularly at low tide, that is - how shall I say - “unique”? North of Hell Gate, where we are now, is pine forest. The water is less brown, more green, and there are plenty of dolphins for company.  An altogether pleasant place to pass through.

Large barges pass this way too. This one had a draft of only 2 feet when we checked its side with binoculars

Another interesting part of the Georgia ICW are the inlets. St. Mary’s, St. Andrews, St. Simons, Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo, St. Catherine's, and Ossabaw are all pretty big bits of water and open to the Atlantic, each capable of administering a serious thrashing to the unwary. Their particular forte is stacking swift tidal flows against the winds, making for steep, often confused seas. Toss in a passing thunderstorm or two and things can get downright exciting. Crossing a couple of them has the wayfaring boat just a few hundred yards inside the sound, sometimes with the bow pointed off shore. Keep going and make landfall in North Africa somewhere.

These two photos are almost the same, but I liked them both so here they are

These are not protected, thin little channels snaking their way though a swamp. Again, we caught a good ride, though the southern branch of the Ossabaw Sound gave us a hint of what it could do during our approach to Hell Gate. A nearby baby rain shower accelerated the onshore breeze into the low 20s. Flying the jib close hauled on that wind gave us a good push onward, making it possible to pass through Hell Gate today instead of anchoring up and waiting for high tide tomorrow. (Seven knots as opposed to four will do that for you.) But that same wind put a sharp edge on waves being stacked close together. They were way too small to be much of an issue for 25,000 pounds worth of sailboat on a full honk, but were just enough to let one know that things could get much, much more interesting in a very short amount of time.

Muted light at the end of the day in Crescent River, GA

One can hardly talk about passing through these parts without mentioning the abundance of deer flies. They can bite right through a light shirt, not surprising since they bite through deer hide. But they do offer a time-filling distraction to the person not standing at the helm. After a couple of hours' practice one will start scoring a kill on 8 out of ten swatter attacks. A perfect hit leaves the corpse on the swatter, making for an easy toss to feed the fish. They are tough little buggers though, sometimes taking a serious smack and still flying away.

Moving south through these waters in the fall might be a touch easier without the regular assault of convective weather. Then again, the days are shorter making the tide v miles v daylight computations a bit trickier. We might give it a go. Though the outside passage around Georgia can be painless and save time, these are waters too pretty to miss. Cooler weather would make passing this way about perfect, and maybe the deer flies will be out of season as well.

"There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy a freely vast horizon." 
Henry David Thoreau

Friday, June 15, 2018

New Water

It was with a bit of reluctance that we dropped the mooring ball in St. Augustine and headed north. One of the best stops on that first trip South was spending Christmas at St. Augustine, so we like hanging around the place. But hurricane season is already here and Blowin’ In The Wind is still far ahead.

A couple of days later Sister’s Creek also managed to capture us for a few days. When we arrived a swift current was flowing upriver, carrying us past the dock in the narrow channel. The plan was to turn the boat around in a wide spot we knew about from being there before, then approach the dock into the current. The wide spot was completely potted over, tossing that plan into the dust bin. As the dock swept past, Deb asked what I was going to do. I didn’t have a clue. With no other option I started goosing the Beast without mercy while holding the helm hard over, trying to get the bow to swing up into the current without smashing it into the dock. Maybe Deb would be able to lasso a cleat or a piling from the bow, snub us up, and let the current swing the stern to the dock.

But she didn’t need to. The bow kept coming around without the boat going forward much. The angle of approach got better and better. The hull came to rest parallel to, and about six inches from the dock, bow into the current, the now-just-off-idle Beast holding us stationary against the flowing water. Deb took the small step to the pier, cleated lines fore and aft, and there we were. It was a perfect landing the would look good on my new Captain’s license.

It was also pure luck.

The first night we shared the dock with a really nice looking trawler, but we never saw any hint of the crew. Night two had us sharing space with three other boats, and then sharing drinks, stories, and jokes. It was a good time. Two boats left the next morning, the third the morning after with new friends Kelly and Melissa. But later that afternoon we were joined by another nice looking trawler. This one had a friendly crew and some good stories of their own.

Another reason for our stay was less obvious: we simply couldn’t figure out what we wanted to do next. The debate was to go outside, catching up to Blowin’ In The Wind in one big jump. That would also allow us to bypass the shallow bits on this part of the ICW. Shallow bits that are not my favorite part of taking the inside path. But we have never been through Georgia before and it has been two years since Kintala put new water under her keel. A schedule change for Blown’ In The Wind means we have an extra week to catch up. Should we make the outside jump, we would have to find a place to just hang on the hook for more than a week. Why not see some new places? A last consideration was the unrelenting thunderstorms that have flowered every afternoon for weeks. It is comforting to be sitting secure when the winds blow, the lightning flashes, and the rains fall.

That was on our mind because, just two miles short of settling onto the dock at Sister’s Creek we had, for the first time in five years, made a quick stop in the face of an oncoming storm. As the lightning fell and the rain shield slashed its way toward us, Deb pulled the boat a few feet off the channel while I moved to the foredeck to toss the hook. It hit the water just as the rain found us, setting hard as the wind gusts pushed us backward. The snubber went on and stretched out without any help from the Beast. About a quarter mile away a Coast Guard Cutter went to station keeping, stopping dead on their approach to the channel and then using their massive engines and bow thrusters to hold position as the storm crashed over us.

A storm too big for a Coast Guard Cutter to dance with is way too much for Kintala. Every afternoon has been the same, the storms then rampaging offshore every night. We are not huge fans of night passages anyway, though we do them when we need to. But night passages and the kinds of storms we have been seeing these last few weeks? No thanks. After a lifetime making a living in the sky I try to avoiding having that kind of excitement in my life.

So we are in new water tonight, anchored between islands just north of the St. Mary’s inlet. The worst of the storms appear to be past. Tomorrow we will start to pick our way through Georgia, figuring it will take five or six days as we balance the tides against the miles and the shallow spots, aiming to be at anchor before the evening light show starts. Sometimes a not-favorite-thing-to-do can still be something worth doing.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

What are the odds?

Daughter Eldest and family have been struggling with getting Blowin’ In The Wind to ride to her anchor without getting the rode wrapped around the keel. A cure would be 60 to 80 feet of chain spliced to 200 feet or so of rope. But that is a bunch of money and ours is a family of budget cruisers, wandering as far and a long as we can, then stopping to work when the cruising kitty gets too anemic to carry us any further. Living this way means just putting up with some annoying realities. I, for example, would love to have an ice maker, a water maker, an anchor wash-down system, and an auto pilot with a certain level of sophistication. But getting them would mean spending a couple of years working for someone else in order to pay for it all, an even more annoying reality.

Blowin’ In The Wind has her own annoying habits, including having the anchor rode prone to getting tangled up in the keel.

Since Kintala is still in St. Augustine we wandered up to Sailor’s Exchange to see what we might find that would be a cost effective cure to their problems. We were going to provision instead, but Sailor’s Exchange closes early on Saturday and is closed on Sunday. We had hoped for some used chain, which they claimed that they had when we called. But all they really had was new chain at new chain prices, and way too large anyway. We did find a 15 pound kellet that might do the trick. Add a carabiner to hang it on the anchor rode and a retrieving line to pull the weight off the bottom, and their problem just might be solved. Not as good an answer as a better rode, but better than nothing, and at a modest price. I lugged the thing back to our boat feeling pretty good about coming up with something to make their cruising life a little easier.

This morning was the provisioning run. It is about an hour’s walk to the store from here so the plan was to hoof it over, fill up the shopping cart with enough stores to get us caught up to Blowin’ In The Wind, and make use of Uber to get it all back to the marina. Then we would load the Ding and get ready to depart in the morning. That meant we needed to start our day a little earlier than is our usual want when resting at anchor or on a mooring.

As we nosed the Ding up to the dock we noticed a young man hauling a nice looking run of chain and rode out of his dingy. Deb asked if he was getting rid of it, and we were informed that he has just bought a new boat and didn’t care for the chain / rope rode that came with it. An all chain rode was purchased, and he was taking the “old one” to storage. Apparently when he said, “New boat,” he meant a really new boat, not an old boat new to him. The stuff he was taking to storage had never even been in the water.

Deb went into deal making overdrive. The next thing I knew we were loading an (est.) 80 feet of brand new chain spliced to an (est.) 150 feet of brand new 3/4” three strand nylon into the Ding. All in exchange for $100 cash. The young man was happy that he didn’t need to lug the mass to storage where it would likely sit for years before someone tossed it out. We were happy that he was happy.

I have a pretty uncomplicated view of the universe, not giving much credence to the idea of anything or anyone being loose in the cosmos who even knows we exist, let alone bothers itself with our individual trials and tribulations. But what are the chances that we and this young man would pick the exact same day, and the exact same time, and be in the exact same spot to cross paths while just going about our lives?  What are the chances that he would decide to replace the rode on his new boat and be willing to part with the old one? It is, after all, a nice bit of kit and perfectly adequate for what he says he plans to do with his boat. And what are the chances that we happened to have $100 in our pockets that could be traded, on the spot, before the young man changed his mind?

Pretty slim, I would say. But I am really happy that it worked out the way it did. And I don’t much care as to the reasons why or how.

Tomorrow we head out for the last few of days of travel that should, if the cosmos continues to smile upon us, catch us up to Blowin’ In the Wind. We have a boat load of stuff for them, and they have a boat load of stories for us.

Just because they can

Kintala, now riding to a mooring ball in St. Augustine, is slowly catching up to Blowin' In the Wind. The Florida Peninsula’s fascination with afternoon thunderstorms has kept us on our toes.  With careful planning and a good dose of luck, we have managed to avoid getting blasted while working our way through the narrow, winding, and sometimes shallow channels that make up parts of the ICW around here. Today, and not for the first time this trip, we settled onto the mooring ball with thunder rumbling, rain shafts dropping near by, and lighting flashing. The storms responsible had already sparked a weather warning from the Coast Guard, with tales of heavy rain, hail, water spouts, and damaging winds. They rolled right up to St. Augustine, paused, then went past slightly to the south. We barely got wet.

St. Augustine in the twilight

The folks at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina have been nothing but helpful and friendly. The facility took a pretty good beating from Irma and is still recovering. Docks are trashed and the building that (I think) used to be a restaurant looks damaged beyond repair. The staff is working hard to get back up to speed while providing the best service they can to the cruising clan. The pump out boat is up and running, as is the shuttle. They even have a water boat running. The fuel dock is open with pretty easy access, and there is a small store. Nothing but good for those wandering along the way.

The crew of Blowin' In the Wind, now working their way through Georgia, hasn’t always had the same experience. While looking to find a place to provision Daughter Eldest called the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club to see if they could rent some dock space for a few hours, or even the night. According to Active Captain the facility, though mostly private, will - and has - (according to the reviews) rented space to transient boats. The customer service person who answered the phone informed Daughter Eldest, in a churlish and hostile voice, that St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club did not care for transients and would not even consider letting them touch down for a while.

The crew of Blowin' in the Wind had had a tough night. The current change at 0300 in the morning had swung them too near another boat. It turned out the other boat was laying to 250 feet of rode. It is Georgia so the tidal range is about 7 feet, and they were in 17 feet of water; 250 feet of rode isn’t outrageous. Still, that is a monster swing circle in a small anchorage, and it is likely that, had Kintala dropped an anchor in that place, we would had banged into him as well. In any case, when they called looking for a spot they were tired, a bit stressed, and the little ones on the boat could have used a break. A touch of aid would have been welcome. At the very least just a polite, “We don’t offer that service any longer” would have been okay. But no, they got handed a raft of lip from someone whom they had never even met, let alone harmed in any way.

The crew of Blowin' In The Wind is a resilient bunch. Since it was getting later in the day and they had their own storms to watch, they dropped the hook back where they started while the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club will become a minor part of the family lore...

..."Remember that time in Georgia, the nice guy with all the rode out, and the witch on the phone?"

We live in a mean spirited age, one where people often do harm just because they can. There is no rhyme or reason to it, no ultimate purpose, no real goal. Just a mean spirit loose in the world, pretending to be tough. Fortunately, there are still many untouched by this international malady, those who offer a kind word or a lending hand…just because they can.

Though it sometimes seems contrary to the evidence, I think the later are still the majority in our little world. After another restless night on the hook Blowin' In The Wind moved to the Morningstar Marina at St Simons Island. There they were greeted as long lost friends. The facility is first rate, though the pool may make it difficult to get the little ones to leave. There is a loaner car for provisioning. Do yourself a favor should you ever be passing through the St. Simons area and avoid the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club like the plague that they are. The Morningstar Marina will treat you like family.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Keep going

Eagle Too anchored at Rodriguez
In the last 5 days Kintala has covered 230 nm and is now anchored off Eau Gallie, tucked in behind a bridge causeway and riding out a storm. There are wind gusts reported to 60+ and large hail but it looks like we are going to miss the worst of it. After leaving Marathon, friends Robert and Rhonda were waiting for us at Rodriguez Key. It has been two years since the last time we shared space with Eagle Two and it was fun to meet up like that. They are headed back to the Florida Panhandle area for the summer but maybe we will cross wakes again next fall.

The last of the pretty Keys water

After Rodriguez, the hook dropped into the bottom of Biscayne Bay just outside of No Name Harbor. We thought about going in, but decided it would be impossible to leave after just a night’s stay, and we wanted to keep going. We should have gone inside anyway. Though Biscayne Bay is a favored place for us, the weekend power boat shenanigans were a little too much. They kept blasting between the anchored boats like we made up the board of some deranged pin ball game. Even the local Sheriff slashed his way past at full song waving as he launched a sizable wake our way. I would have taken a video of him but that seemed like an excellent way to provoke a boarding. Never provoke anyone who has a gun and a badge, no matter what silly thing they might be doing.

Note to self: weekend time at No Name needs to be spent inside No Name. Inside is fun. Outside is just ugly.

From there it was an overnight run to Vero Beech. It didn’t start out as a run to Vero Beech, but we caught a ride from the Gulf Stream and it was just too good to get off. In the wee hours of the morning just off the inlet to Lake Worth (the original destination) Kintala was blasting along at better than 10 knots on a near idling WesterBeast and a jib working with a 10 - 15 knot wind. That is nose bleed territory for an old sailboat.

Sunset underway

Sunrise after a pretty decent overnight sail

Le Capitan deep in thought

The Ft. Pierce Inlet
Vero is another favored place, but not so much this time of the year. It was brutal hot, with the no-see-em’s flowing though our screens with every little wind gust. The first night’s sleep was lost to the watches of a short handed crew doing a night run close to shore and in busy waters. The second night’s sleep went to bug bites and burning skin. There was no hesitation about bailing out of Vero, sleep or no.

The WesterBeast has been puking a little bit of oil here and there and Deb has been keeping a close watch on it. We have cleaned off this place and that, trying to decide exactly where the breach was, but such discoveries are no easy task on a tired, dirty old engine. After the 25 hour run, the level amount of oil making a mess was getting on the border of being alarming, slowing her engine check this morning as she looked for hints of the source. The worst drip on the engine blankets finally gave a solid clue and she directed my gaze toward the adapter plate for our remote engine oil filter. It didn’t really look wet, but it is hard to see…and even harder to reach. I managed to get a wrench on the thing with a wrist twisted into angles slightly unnatural and more than slightly painful. A bit of pressure and it moved far easier than it should have. YES!

More twisting and unnaturalness got some torque applied, enough for nearly 3/4s of a turn. With the plate now snug, safety wire was twisted into place to make sure it stays that way. Minutes later Vero was happily abandoned.

A seven hour motor / sail run got us here. The Beast is as clean and dry as it has ever been, the storms are almost over, and we are closing in on Blowin' in the Wind.

Tomorrow we keep on going.

Storm rolling in to the Eau Gallie Southwest anchorage

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Shaking down

Kintala is (mostly) a going proposition once again. The new alternator pumps 30+ amps into the batteries, so long as the RPM is bumped up a bit. Which works for us since we never use the WesterBeast as a stand alone generator. Unfortunately there is no clue as to what that RPM “bump” might be as the tach is utterly inert. It could be the thing has simply reached the end of its service life, though my guess is the new alternator has an output signal that is incomprehensible to the old tach. If there is a way to get the two talking the same language, that information seems to have been lost. The tach manufacturer went out of the tach manufacturing business ages ago, with little information from that bygone era finding its way onto the internet. We will likely figure out something but, in my humble opinion, whoever decided that using alternators for tach drive information was a good idea, should have been buying a better cut of weed. We will fix it if and when we can, but the boat will run without it. I do have to admit that this old airplane pilot/mechanic just shudders at the idea of ignoring broken things. Nothing good ever comes from ignoring broken things.

With the boat operable again, we are now looking for a weather window to head north. We almost had one. Unfortunately, by the time the alternator was installed and tested, and the inside of the boat was reassembled into a living - rather than working - area, it was too late to do the provisioning and boat prep needed to be on our way. Not sure that will turn out to be a bad thing, as it appears the weather would have kept us pinned in No Name Harbor for a while. We love No Name, but it is a long, long walk to the store. Given that Sub-tropical storm Alberto is heading in this general direction, laying low for a few more days seems like a good idea.

A good idea that is struggling to make headway against hearts that dearly want to be chasing down Blowin' In The Wind and then finding a place to park Kintala for a visit back to St. Louis. This particular chapter in our voyage has been a trial. After a year at the dock and a lot of work being done to the boat, we never expected this run around the Keys to be a parade of breakdowns. The Jabsco raw water pump, the Lavac head pump, and the Balmar alternator failure have left us missing several potential weather windows. At least this much can be said for the quality of marine industry manufacturing, it is consistently bad.

It is often said that, when it comes to marine items, you can get “cheap”, “fast”, and “good”, but only two at the same time. It seems more like “expensive”, “slow”, and “poor” are the real choices, but you do get all three at once. Recently I touched down on the blogs of good friends also out cruising. One had to replace a starting battery that is barely three years old. The other suffered a (relatively new Jabsco) water pump failure that put his water maker out of service. Both are out in the islands, so they were served an extra portion of “expensive”.

Like all chapters, this one will, eventually, close. Boats are always going to break, and the marine industry is not likely to improve in my lifetime. Fortunately these kinds of problems do tend to come in clusters. We did sit for a long time. This Key’s rounding is simply a shakedown cruse that shook out some problems. We still see sunsets from our cockpit, watch the dolphins and pelicans play, don’t have to please a crass or uncaring employer to keep food on the table, and live a life much more conducive to some basic sanity and humanity than what is often found on land.

Now, if it would just quit raining for a couple of days.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Ding on, Ding Off

A late Wednesday night look at the Thursday weather forecast suggested there was a chance of leaving Marathon and being in No Name Harbor by the weekend. So we got up early, loaded the Ding on deck, uncovered the sail, unshipped the anchor (we store it on top of the anchor bracket so it doesn’t grind on the mooring lines) gladly slipped away from mooring ball S10, stopped by the fuel dock, and motored out into the Hawk Channel. As expected, it was raining when we left. After a while the rain faded away as promised. We were pretty happy to have Marathon off the stern, bow pointed toward a rendezvous with Blowin' In The Wind. The Beast churned happily away, its brand new raw water pump puffing pleasing gouts of water out of the port. It was one of those times when one could not imagine living any other way.

Two hours later the bow was pointed into a dark mass of cloud, rain, and low visibility. Air around the boat throbbed and rumbled while lighting danced off the surface of the water to the south and south east. Airplane drivers have this thing about going through thunderstorms. We don’t. We go over them, around them, run away from them at 500 miles an hour. If one is hanging out at the arrival airport when we get there, we go someplace else for a while. Sometimes we tippy toe our way through a group or line of them, using the onboard radar to pick out alleyways to slip though while avoiding the giants rampaging down the main streets. That was actually one of my favorite parts of being a pro, but woe betide the plane, crew, and passengers if one got it wrong.

I am a sailor now, and different rules apply. Could we keep going and be none the worse for wear? Likely. Boats and airplanes are two different animals surviving in two different environments. Boats go through thunderstorms all the time. It is often hard to avoid when the boat is doing 5 knots, and the storm 20.

Did we need to keep going? In this case the line of storms was closing in at an angle off our starboard side. We had an escape route.

Looking at Deb I said, "This is a really bad idea." Then I turned the boat around.

She called the City Marina to let them know we were heading back. They had not yet checked us out so we gladly picked up the pennant for mooring ball S10 once again. Rig the deck, ship the anchor so it doesn’t grind on the mooring line, cover the sail, launch the Ding.

On the way back to Marathon, Deb noticed that the volt meter on the engine panel was showing just a nudge over 12V while the tach needle lay dead in its gauge. It hasn't been unusual for the tach to die off. After much hashing around the forums, the best bet is the solar panels jack the battery voltage high enough for the alternator regulator to just shut down the alternator. Zero output means zero signal for the tach. Since it is likely that the regulator on this boat is so old that the people who built it had never even heard of "solar power", that isn't a surprise. The idea that this is considered "normal" bugs the snot out of me. This is some old tech trying to live with new tech, and it is an uneasy relationship.

This time the voltage dropped to near 12.0 yet the alternator was still not on line. That means a wonk.

It would be hard to explain the troubleshooting done so far, partly because I am somewhat baffled by what we have found. Somewhere along the line someone installed a new, 75 amp Balmar alternator. But they didn't buy a new Belmar regulator to go with it. Instead we found an "Heart Interface Incharge" regulator. (Actually we found two, one in the spare parts box.) So, was that the original unit and they were saving a few bucks? Who would do that when coughing up the money for the Balmar? If it was original, would a regulator designed for a 55 amp unit work on a 75 amp unit? I've never looked into it. Maybe it would. But, again, why do that?

Was the "Incharge" bought with the Balmar? If so, why? Save a few bucks again? Why buy two? Did they have that little faith in the thing? And is the "spare" really a spare? It looks all new and shiny, complete with a new harness...but who knows? While digging through the paperwork we found that the "Incharge" is designed specifically to keep the tach running when the when the alternator output voltage drops. Is this another wonk, or just new tech overrunning old? For all of this it is still likely that the alternator is toast. It is an old unit as well, and has already been overhauled at least once.

If we end up replacing the alternator a new Balmar is likely out of a reasonable price range. Particularly if a Balmar regulator gets thrown into the package. But will some other unit fit in the mount? What size drive pulley will come with it and what size belt will it take? We are hanging on a mooring ball near the end of the nation's supply chain, and right now there are a lot more questions than there are answers. Normal for the marine industry, I know. But it gets tiring sometimes.

There is no choice but to keep trying. Eventually Kintala and Blowin' In The Wind will be in the same place at the same time. And, when that happens, it will hard to imagine living any other way.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Thrill is Gone

The past few years of cruising, weather decisions have been made incredibly easy due to the entrance of the Storm weather app to the market in February of 2015. We were so impressed with it that I did a post about it, King of the Weather Apps. The Storm app enabled us to ditch a half dozen other apps because it had all the capabilities under one roof: daily and 7-day forecasts, marine zone forecasting, tropical storm warnings and tracks, a kick-ass radar, lightning, wind want it, it had it. But like a not-so-new teenage crush, or that zippy sports car that acquires its first ding, Storm began to lose its luster. First off, the marine forecasting  - even though it was offered under a subscription - was dropped. Then, a few months later, every time you opened the app it had an ad for the new Storm Radar app. A few months later it was no longer an option, but a mandatory upgrade. As of May 23rd, the Storm app will no longer be supported and only the Storm Radar will continue.

Storm was originally hosted by Weather Underground, a service originating from the University of Michigan in 1995. Even though The Weather Channel acquired Weather Underground in 2012, Storm was released in February of 2015 under the Weather Underground name. Storm was the app that TWC was using for its forecasting and tracking. In fact, that's where I first found out about it, while watching TWC tracking a hurricane. My only guess is that they didn't want everyone else having access to the same info (and therefore not needing TWC to interpret it for them) so they released the much less capable Storm Radar app and discontinued support for the Storm app.

In the already frustrating environment of Garmin's takeover of Active Captain and Navionics, the loss of Storm hits the cruising community hard. The information is not lost It's still all out there through NOAA (since that's where all apps get their input from anyway,) but it's not in an easy-to-use condensed format. It requires much more digging, and much more internet usage to get the same information, and nearly every cruiser finds internet bandwidth to be their most valuable currency. So what are we to do?

Some have elected to purchase subscriptions to weather routers like Chris Parker. He offers a great service to a good many people and I'm grateful he's there. But for former pilots like Tim and I, who have always done our own weather, it's not an option. We want to do our own forecasting and be responsible for our own weather decisions. I've spent the last few days while we're stuck in Marathon waiting on a weather window, to research all the options. A discussion of them follows. If you have any additional information or sources that might be helpful, please leave it in the comments below.

General Forecast Information:

  1. NOAA's New Experimental Forecast Chart: This is probably the best replacement alternative to the Storm App. Their new interactive map allows you to pan and zoom, and to click on your location on the chart for a detailed forecast. The chart looks like this: 

    You can see where I clicked on the Marathon area where we are located. When you click on the More Information link in the block, you get a wide variety of forecasting tools, charts, and maps all for your specific area.

  2. Weather Underground: Still one of the best general weather forecast sites. Typical radar, 10-day forecasts, precip, etc.
  3. Weather Bug: Same info, nicer layout, better radar.
  4. The Weather Channel ( Almost exactly the same format and news stories as Weather Underground, not surprising since they own them.
  5. Accuweather
  6. Intellicast
Marine Specific Forecasts:
  1. NOAA's Marine Forecast Home Page: This page gives you a wealth of information. You can get the coastal zone forecasts, the offshore zone forecasts, and the high seas forecasts by clicking on the zone block on the map. Here is the Coastal map:

    Once you click on the zone you want (in my case the South zone,) it will take you to the next page for that specific forecast.

    Continuing deeper, I clicked the Key West Zone and this is the next map:

    And, finally, I clicked on the Hawk Channel just outside Marathon to see what the conditions will be like for the next few days. Here is the forecast:

    If you click on the link in the lower right corner "Forecast Discussion," you will get a text discussion for the area which can be very helpful in discerning trends. Here is the discussion for this forecast
The same procedure is applied to get the Offshore Forecasts and the High Seas Forecasts.

The cat's meow, though, is a very cool interactive graphical forecast map for when you have adequate internet bandwidth. Using the drop-down menu in the upper lefthand corner you can get a forecast map for any of the following parameters:

Maximum Temperature (°F)
Minimum Temperature (°F)
Prob of Precipitation (%)
Precipitation Potential Index (%) experimental
Temperature (°F)
Apparent Temperature (°F)
Dew Point (°F)
Relative Humidity (%)
Wind Speed (kts)
Wind Gusts (kts)
Wind Direction
Sky Cover (%)
Precip Amount (in)
Snow Amount (in)
Ice Accumulation (in)
Total New Precip (in)
Total New Snow (in)
Total New Ice (in)
Snow or Sleet > 0.25in LE, Prob.(%)
Wave Height (ft)
Fire Weather
Maximum Relative Humidity (%)
Minimum Relative Humidity (%)
Dry Thunderstorms
Critical Fire Weather
Severe Weather
Convective Outlook
Tornado Probability(%)
Extreme Tornado Prob.(%)
Damaging T-storm Wind Prob.(%)
Extreme T-storm Wind Prob.(%)
Hail Probability(%)
Extreme Hail Prob.(%)
Total Prob. Severe T-Storms(%)
Total Prob. Extreme T-Storms(%)
Tropical Wind >34kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >50kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >64kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >34kts (Incremental Prob.)
Tropical Wind >50kts (Incremental Prob.)
Tropical Wind >64kts (Incremental Prob.)
Hurricane Wind Threat
Hurricane Storm Surge Threat
Hurricane Flooding Rain Threat
Hurricane Tornado Threat
Water Resources
Daily FRET (in)
Daily FRET Departure from Normal (in)
Total Weekly FRET (in)

There's a lot of other marine specific forecast pages and apps that you can use as well. Most are very specific in the information that they cover. Here is a list of the popular ones, although not comprehensive I'm sure.

  1. Passage Weather (Free - donation suggested)
  2. Predict Wind (Free or subscription), website or apps on both iOS or Android
  3. Wind Guru (Free or subscription) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  4. Sailflow (Free or subscription) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  5. Windy (Free) website or apps on both iOS or Android

Grib Forecast Apps:
  1. Pocket Grib (Initial cost) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  2. Predict Wind (Free GRIB viewer)
Prog Charts:

Because we have an aviation background, we use prog charts to help our forecasting. Prog charts are surface charts that span several days. It helps to see how the fronts move over the time period to understand the progression of the weather. You can get them at the Aviation Weather Center at the link below.

Hurricane Tracking:

  1. The definitive hurricane tracking site is NOAA's National Hurricane Center. It's also available on both iOS and Android as an app. While there's other sites out there doing it, they're all getting the info from NOAA so the NOAA Now app is the industry standard.
  2. Mike's Weather Page
  3. Tropical Tidbits
Hurricane Prep:

  1. Boat US has a fairly comprehensive site with hurricane prep information, including an assortment of checklists and guides.
  2. A blank copy of our insurance hurricane plan the year we were planning on being at two different locations over the hurricane season.

Weather Routing Services

  1. Fast Seas
  2. Chris Parker Weather Routing
  3. Weather Routing, Inc.

Other helpful weather information:

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Waiting days and free upgrades

A couple of good days for heading north have passed while Kinlinla sits, waiting on engine parts. A couple of other days have passed where we were glad to be in a protected bay and double-tied to a mooring ball. If nothing else, this is a life of contrasts and second guesses. All-in-all, waiting these last couple of days has not been too bad.

When we bought Ye ol' Tartan, the GPS at the helm was a Garmin GPSmap 176. We left it that way while on Lake Carlyle for the simple reason that nothing else was required. No kind of GPS was required. If one couldn’t see where one was going on the lake, it was usually a good idea not to go in the first place.

While at Oak Harbor, struggling to get on our way, we decided that keeping a capable GPS mounted at the helm was a good idea. Since I am not a fan of huge screens perched in places that will distract a helmsperson from watching where they are going, a smallish Garmin  GPS 441 was purchased and installed. The original 176 unit was relocated to the nav station since it seemed only right that the “nav” station actually include some kind of nav system. That turned out to be a good idea as the (also new at the time) Standard Horizon VHF - with self-contained AIS capability - isn't as self-contained as advertised.The 176 was pressed into serious service, providing position information the VHF needed for the AIS to function. All of it working well and good for these last 5+ years.

We occasionally talk about upgrading Kintala’s navigation suite. I would dearly love to have RADAR, forward looking SONAR, an auto pilot that will follow a route, and other button pushing goodies reminiscent of my airplane days. All of it integrated with an information back bone where everything is talking to everything else; a veritable "smart boat" with which to play while watching the miles flow under the keel.

But such simply isn’t in the budget. Bottom paint, barrier coats, ship water pumps, engine water pumps, bilge pumps, heat exchangers, bit for this and bolts for that…any boat will chew threw maintenance dollars at an appalling rate. Ours is no exception. It does little good to upgrade a boat that isn’t capable of moving, so that is where the money goes. Only once did the 176 stumble, needing just a touch of cleaning on the contacts to the power switch to get it going again. Otherwise, that chunk of tech has been stone cold reliable, a valuable and deeply appreciated commodity on the good ship Kintala. But it was also old, with utterly outdated and inaccurate charts, and a monochrome screen ever more difficult to see. Some day we were going to have to bite the bullet and get something better in its place. Right now the focus is to try and keep moving. No upgrades in sight.

Yesterday, someone left a Garmin 535, complete with manual, mount, and wiring harness, all neatly wrapped up and left in the “If you can use it, take it” place. A place common where the cruising tribe tends to congregate. Deb found it first and tossed it in the Ding.

There are few things in life better than a free upgrade. For whoever it was that left the Garmin 535 for anyone that could use it…Thank you! The entire refit took only a couple of hours, 3 butt splices, a bit of heat shrink, a few zip ties, and a short tiptoe though the VHF's system menu to reset the BAUD rate to match that of the new(er) GPS. A software update available for both units from Garmin brought them up to speed.  Free AND easy. It doesn't get any better than that.

The 535 now rests at the helm. Yes, the screen is a little bigger than the old, but still small by modern day standards. The 441 took up residence along side the VHF. It now provides the position information for the AIS as well as duplicating - at the nav station - all of the navigational information available at the helm. The old 176 was honorably retired to the "If you can use it, take it" place.

Now, if only I can get the engine running again, we could be on our way to meet Blowin' In the Wind with style; two working GPS units, two independent iPads with multiple chart options, three computers, and two smart phones. And, should it all come a cropper, the sun always sets in the direction of North America. (For where we are sailing anyway.)

But I would still love me some onboard RADAR.