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.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Hydrographic Surveys

There's no question that the internet has made sailing, cruising, and boating in general more safe. We have access to a plethora of weather and navigation information, all at easy access unless you happen to be offshore, accessible even then if you have enough money. The sheer volume of safety information is sometimes its demise, though, simply because there's just so much of it that it's hard to keep track of where you want to go for it and how much of it you want to use. One of the most valuable bits of information that a lot of cruisers neglect is the hydrographic survey. If you're traveling anywhere on the East Coast, using the inlets and then the ICW, the surveys are invaluable.

The hydrographic surveys are listed by district. The Wilmington District carries most of the surveys  for the Atlantic ICW, coastal inlets and crossings, harbors, side channels, and river projects. The Jacksonville District carries the Florida ICW and inlet surveys. Before transiting any of the areas it's a good idea to check the applicable survey. If you think you're going to be away from internet service, you can save the pdf files for viewing offline.

Here's a example of the hydrographic survey done for the Lockwoods Folly Inlet, done April 13, 2018. Most of the really notorious inlets are surveyed pretty frequently so the data is usually pretty accurate. It's pretty easy to see where you can go, and that you absolutely can't follow the magenta line in this case. The aids to navigation are moved frequently here and you can see that right now they go almost all the way to shore before they turn back to the channel. A few years ago, while transiting this inlet, we watched as a 40-foot sailboat run so hard aground here that he fell over on his side. He was single handing and was clearly following the magenta line on his autopilot. 

Hydrographic surveys can also be of use when determining the heights to bridges. Here's the survey for the Wilkerson Bridge in the Alligator-Pungo Canal. If you do use the survey for this purpose, just be careful to check the dates of the survey. This survey is from 2016 so it wouldn't be any use at all as a current estimation of water depth and bridge height.

Maybe the most beneficial use of the surveys is for determining what inlets to use when coming in from offshore. There are a lot of inlets along the coast that are extremely useful, but where the bottom changes so frequently that they require local knowledge. Surveys offer a wealth of that knowledge. Here is the Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach that we use frequently.

It's important to note that not all of the surveys look the same. Here's one from the Jacksonville District for the Saint Augustine Inlet on the Florida east coast. Note that the depths are printed right on the chart and are not color coded with a legend the way that the Wilmington District does it. It's also listed as eight pages in one file. Use the scroll bar on the side of the panel to see all the pages in this example.

It's also important to really pay attention to the details in the printed sidebar. On this example of the Naples to Gordon Pass survey, it says that it's a post Irma examination. Pretty useful for knowing how the storm changed things.

Unfortunately, the formats are not standardized. Each district has its own formatting and not all are as user-friendly. The New England District formatting is probably the most difficult to navigate. After going to the main linked page, you click on the navigation projects drop-down menu and then proceed to each individual state. Then they either offer a zipped pdf file for download, or you can click on each individual harbor or river for that survey.

Hydrographic Survey Districts:

There is a new site where all surveys will eventually be listed together, the main survey listing by state and inlet. It's fairly slow to load and respond to input, so be patient. You choose a state, then an inlet and then if there is a recent survey for that inlet it will be listed so you can click on it. If there is no recent survey it will tell you that. It's a good first effort at standardizing the surveys, but they have a long way to go.

Here are some of the more common districts.

The New England District

Wilmington District

Jacksonville District

Mobile District

Galveston District

San Francisco District

Seattle District (takes you to the main survey page)

There's a ton of information out there available to us as mariners. Navigating that information can be as difficult as navigating the waterways themselves.  I've found the surveys very helpful and if you use them and you have any additional pointers, please leave them in the comments.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Limping in circles...

Kintala is still swinging to a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor. We have been here a week or so, waiting out beam seas and headwinds in the Hawk Channel. This morning held promise of being the start of a marginal, but doable, two day weather window that would see us in No Name Harbor.

Ah, but then we did the engine checks…

Deb found the engine case around the Jabsco water pump completely encrusted in salt. That pump, now officially designated as a Papa-Oscar-Sierra so far as Kintala is concerned, has failed yet again. The good news is it didn’t start puking on the way from Marco Island to Shark River, rather waiting until we left Shark River to come to Marathon. Here we can borrow bikes to ride to West Marine, order up a new pump (again) and a rebuild kit (again) for the old pump. The old-old pump from the last time we did this doesn’t look like a good candidate for rebuild. The plan, from now on anyway, is to have a rebuilt pump always sitting on the shelf. In fact, we will likely have both a pump and a second rebuild kit on the shelf. That is how little we have come to trust this essential piece of equipment, particularly given our tendency to anchor out in places far from support facilities.

Some days I really, really hate the lack of quality control that seems endemic in the marine industry. This would be one of those days. It is the seal at the drive pulley that keeps failing and, yes, I know that often indicates too much tension on the belt. No, it isn’t the belt tension on Kintala causing the problem. (I've put on a few thousands belts.) A good friend of ours, also with a Tartan 42 / WesterBeast, had so much trouble with his Jabsco that he replaced it a different manufacturer’s pump. It turned out the replacement pump had issues of its own, specifically a drift key much too light for the loads placed on it. At least a leaking pump will still move enough water to get one to shore. A sheared drift key will bring the Beast to halt. So we will stay with the Jabsco.

Though this is a good place to get stuck with a mechanical, missing the weather window is now a pretty sure bet. As a result we are going to modify our cruising routine a bit. Back when I made  a living as an air ambulance pilot the procedure was to do a post flight inspection rather than a pre -flight. That way we could be airborne as quickly as possible when called. We still did a quick walk around when climbing aboard, mostly to ensure that no one had bumped into the aircraft with a fuel truck or something.  That was a routine I had established years before. A habit formed the night a fork truck driver at New York’s JFK managed to poke a window out of the Navajo I was flying, but didn’t bother to tell me about it. Fortunately I had duct tape on board…seriously. There are lots of stories in the airplane world you probably don’t want to hear. Anyway…

From now on, when Kintala drops a hook or picks up a ball somewhere where she is likely to be for a couple of days, we are going to do a post-sail deck and engine check. The deck check is sort of done just by putting the boat to sleep for the night or, more accurately, setting up the deck so we can sleep. But, from now on the engine checks are going to get done as well. If that had been our procedure last week, we could have fixed the WesterBeast while sitting, waiting on weather anyway.

We really can’t keep missing weather windows.

It is fair to say that I have been a life long wanderer, by airplanes big and small, cars, motorcycles, hiking boots and, late in my life, sailboats. If this particular trip was being done in any of the above (except a sailboat) the weather that has kept us stationary - and will likely keep us parked even after the Beast is repaired - would not be any consideration at all. It would not cause the least bit of discomfort while moving and certainly would not entail any additional risk. At the moment I am finding that to be a bit frustrating. I know, “The journey is the destination” but this doesn’t feel like journeying. Between trying to stay at least somewhat comfortable while under way, and nursing the mechanicals of a boat in a salt water environment, if feels like limping in endless circles.

But we will limp along knowing, eventually, some kind of wandering line will eventually be drawn on the chart. We will be somewhere else, and that much closer to catching up with Blowin' In The Wind.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Little bits of magic

Kintala is on a mooring ball in Marathon for a couple of days. This is a very well spoken of and popular place among the cruising tribe that frequents these parts. It took a beating from Irma, has recovered some, but it will be a while (if ever) before all of the scars are gone. For all of its charms, it has never ranked that high on Deb’s or my list of places we love to be. Though there are far fewer boats than we are used to seeing, it is still a crowded place. The mooring balls are closely spaced. Pulling up to one is like taking a room in a hotel, or pitching a tent in the middle of a parking lot. Still, it is about the only place to stop on the way around the Keys, and this is our fourth time here.

The anchorage at Shark River with a sunset muted by the
haze from the fires burning in Florida
It stands in stark contrast to the anchorage in Little Shark River, which was exactly the kind of place we have come to enjoy. There were only two boats sharing the space with us. It was quiet and dark. Really, really dark. The kind of dark that lets the night sky overwhelm one’s sense of space, size, and time. “The sea is so big, and my boat is so small,” is a common thought for those who take to big water. In Shark River at night the universe becomes the ocean, and the whole of Mother Earth our -  shared - little boat. Indeed, comparing the size of the ocean to a boat, vs the size of the universe to a single planet, our common boat is tiny beyond comprehension.

I like being in places where it seems some wise old spirit lives, offering up nuggets of insight just to see what you dare do with them.

The sail from Marco to Shark River was a pretty good sail all of its own. Kintala touched 7 knots on several occasions, flying every bit of sail available close against a 10 to 20 knot wind for a good part of the day. But, as good as the sailing was, it was a different bit of magic that marked the day. Flitting all around were these tiny little birds. I have no idea if it is migration time for the little fluff balls, or if a week of stiff winds out of the East had blown a bunch of them out over the water. In any case, there were enough of them around to make it impossible not to notice.

Early in the afternoon Kintala was some 20 miles off shore, groups of the little birds occasionally making low passes over the boat. Eventually one landed. In fact he flew aboard and touched down on my leg as I sat in the cockpit. After sizing me up for a minute or two he flew around a bit as if checking the place out, then scooted off over the water once again. A few minutes after that he was back with a friend. They both fluttered hither and yon, hanging off of lines, checking out the inside of the dodger, poking around the piles of sheets scattered here and there.

Then there were four, then six, and ultimately eight, all hitching a ride back closer to shore.

They put on quite a show, landing on feet and arms, heads and legs. They chased bugs, and even brought down several dragon flies that were not all that much smaller than the birds themselves. They drank water out of a cup, fought over bug parts, fluttered around, sat and preened, hopped up on our fingers, and even let us pet them. There were so many of them that we had to move about slowly, looking where we were about to step or sit, for fear of squashing one of our little guests.

Nether of us had ever seen such a thing before.

Eventually they started to flutter off, the last one riding along in the cockpit for a half hour or so all alone, as if glad to have a bit of space for a while. I have no clue what they were up to, or where they were going, but it was a treat to have them stop by and keep us company for a while. I wonder what kind of stories they might share about us, whenever it is that they get where they are going.

The next day we stayed closer to shore, running off the wind in the lee of the land, which kept the swell down to something comfortable. It was another good day of sailing, but just one little bird dropped by, sitting on the deck for a while, then flashing away in a burst of colored frenzy.

So, after five days of sailing spread out over a little more than a week, Kintala is out of the Gulf of Mexico and back in sight of the Atlantic Ocean.

And that feels a bit magical as well.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

So good to be back

Kintala is holed up in Factory Bay at Marco Island for a few days. We would like to be on our way, moving toward meeting up with Blowin' In The Wind on the other side of the state. Daughter Eldest and Family dropped the dock line yesterday, their first day of being a cruising family. They are taking the short cut to the East side while Kintala makes her way around the Keys. The weather, however, suggests that we not be in a hurry to make the corner. Seas out that way are in the 5 to 8 foot range, right on the beam, and forecast to be that way for the rest of the week.

Factory Bay seems a much more enjoyable option. It is also a good place to get back into the gypsy live style of wandering around on a boat. Rose Marina has a very reasonable $5/day Ding parking fee, the staff open and friendly every time we have stopped by. There is a fabulous ice cream shop just a short jaunt away. A couple of blocks further is a West Marine and a Publix. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Heading into town also reminded me of just how much of our society is built to accommodate cars. Most of the time at Snead Island we had access to a car. Joining in with the flow of traffic while heading off to do errands was so natural as to go unnoticed. But cars aren’t really natural. And walking among them into town was a reminder of just how unnatural they are. An unnaturalness that, sometimes, seems to seep into their operators. Though we had a benign and enjoyable foray, it was hard to miss the hostile looks that some of the drivers shot our way, apparently just because we were walking. 

Walkers push the little button at a busy intersection and all car traffic gets delayed for a few seconds to give those not traveling in an armored vehicle a chance to get across the street without getting squished. Some of those vehicle operators appear to take offense at the few moments extracted from their day, nosing as close to the “walking lane” as possible while firing looks of contempt at those backward enough to be relying on their feet for transportation. When the looks come from inside a hulking black pickup truck standing tall and gleaming with chrome “bling”, it seems best to pick up the pace a little.

I have a tendency to be a slow walker.

And sometime, given the right incentive, I tend to walk even slower.

“Best” is, sometimes, a matter of opinion.

Traffic jam in the anchorage

West Marine lay on the other side of the intersection, and we stopped by to get a new safety lanyard for the Merc. It is a thing that stops the engine should one fall off the Ding while underway. This prevents it from motoring off into the sunset while the erstwhile helmsman splashes about in the water or, worse, tries to get out of the way as the Ding makes an uncontrolled circle. (For those who haven’t replaced their car with a Ding.) A bit of plastic on a string for 20 bucks. Apparently the safety switch on outboards is, in no way, a standard item. The one we bought from West Marine has about 7 different little plastic bits to fit an assortment of different safety switches. Which is why it costs 20 bucks. There was one at the Marina store that costs $8, but it only had one little plastic bit, and that one didn’t fit the Merc.

Ah well, it beats splashing about in the water.

Come evening we sat in the cockpit watching the sun set, admiring the skill of the pelicans as they ghosted across the water in ground effect. At the same time a huge flock of some kind of terns wheeled in concert high above the bay. Noise from work happening on shore had died away, and all was well in our cruising world.

It is good to be back.