Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sistership Magazine

For any of you that might not know, there is an amazing new publication constructed largely for sailing women called Sistership Magazine. I've been writing a couple things for them and I wanted to draw attention to the publication in case any of you weren't aware of it. Here is a link to a free issue of it from November so that you can try before you buy. It's well worth the money, though, for a subscription.

The article that I wrote for them most recently was called The Challenge of Healthy Cruising, published in the June 2019 issue. It's a topic that became near and dear to my heart after we returned to land temporarily to build up the cruising kitty. I'd gained a lot of weight because it turns out that you spend way more time sitting while cruising than you do moving around (who knew?) 

I also entered one of their writing contests on the topic of "Changing Places" and just recently was notified that I won second place in the contest for my entry "The Sojourn." It was a story about the difficulty of returning to land after cruising almost six years. They publish anthologies of all of the best entries in each of their contests, and mine will be published in that anthology soon.

So if you're looking for a really high quality publication that deals with serious issues for women sailors and champions some pretty impressive women, give the free issue a try and support Sistership with a subscription.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Never ignore the good

London City Airport, England, identified as EGLC in the aviation world, is an interesting place.The single runway is 4948 feet long with the ramp area on the south side being less than half that length paralleling the west end.  There is no parallel taxiway for the length to the east. Aircraft landing east pull into a loop at the end of the runway to turn around and back taxi to the ramp, nose to nose with the inbound traffic. Because it lies among the city’s buildings the approach is steep, 5.5 degrees as compared to the standard 3.0 degrees. Departure corridors are equally steep in order to accommodate both safety and noise concerns. They fly airliners into the place. It takes special training and authorization to operate there, specific to the type of equipment being used.

Photo credit: Ercan KarakaƟ

Innsbruck, Austria is another interesting place. The airport’s field elevation is 1907', nestled in a picturesque valley and noted for the world class skiing on the surrounding mountains; mountains that are just shy of 10,000 feet tall. Approaches into that airport start letting down into the valley as much as 27 miles away, then wind their way to the airport with mountains framing the inbound path. Landing to the east, the point of the final turn that lines one up with the landing runway (known on the chart as WI005) is just 2.6 miles from the approach end. The runway itself slips into view a few moments before reaching that point. It is also a place that requires specialized training in any airplane one wants to fly into the place while the weather is down on its face.

America has mountains, skiing, and its own interesting airports, with Aspen, CO being among the most notorious. The Aspen airport elevation is 7837 feet with the surrounding mountains touching 14,000 feet. The RNAV (GPS) - F approach boasts a descent angle of 6.49 degrees, which is easily topped by that of the VOR DME - C approach with its ear popping angle of 9.61. Being in the US of A, home of the rugged individualist and cowboy loner, there is no special training or authorization required to saddle up and head to Aspen. The prudent, however, heading that way in a $20 mil jet loaded with VIPs, like to take a peek before jumping into the deep end. (An attitude much approved by insurance companies.)

A flight instructor working in a full motion simulator bolted to the ground in St. Louis gets to fly into all three. (It is a bit of a jolt to climb out of the Sim after a few hours of "flying" around London, then climb into a car to take I70 east to St. Louis.) I’ve been to Aspen for real. The London “flight” happened a day or so ago and I’ll be “heading” to Innsbruck, again, in a week or so. This plane has a special system's mode for steep approaches, one that raises the approach speed while allowing full spoilers to be deployed along with full flaps; a configuration not available during more normal approaches and landings. The procedure isn’t overly complicated, but it's always more comfortable to not try something new while “on the fly” at 200 knots.

Seeing new places, even if through view-screen “windows” looking out at a synthetic world, helps with making the transition to living a land-bound life. Outside of the Sim life is traffic, bustle, the constant barrage of propaganda, advertisements, and the relentless noise of civilization. It is a frenzy now ramping up to insane levels with the incoming national political campaigns beginning to unfold. (Those living on the water and off these shores should rejoice at being well insulated from the madness.)

Photo Credit: Andrew Jacob Byrnes (@jakeofsaltlake)
We have found a nearby bar that has not a single TV anywhere to be seen, a rare find nowadays. (It would be no surprise if some future civilization categorizes our fascination with TV as an addiction; and a fatal one at that.) Walks in the nearby parks, having a bit more resilience to life-threatening weather, and the endless joy of having grand kids around are more than just balms for the stationary soul. They are treasures in their own right, things to be cherished and celebrated. I miss the open water life, but life is rarely all bad or all good. No matter where life leads, one should never ignore the good while emphasizing the bad. Something I am still learning to do.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Throwback Thursday - The Three-Cent Wonder

This is another one of those most-visited posts. It has saved countless tools from departing the boat. I posted this originally on our product review blog page.

The three cent wonder

Posted by Deb
April 8, 2012
Some times the best is improvising. We were replacing the last of the water line in the Tartan this weekend, a project that has spanned over the course of a couple of weeks due to schedule conflicts. One of the last two hoses to do was the one to the V-berth peak tank which unfortunately butts right up against the holding tank with a space just exactly the size of my bicep to get into with a wrench to loosen the hose clamp and replace it on the new line. There isn't enough room to get a screwdriver in there, and not even a regular socket wrench, only our little mini handle wrench which is a slippery handle Snap-on one. The hose fitting also happens to be poised directly over the bilge which angles sharply down under the holding tank. See where I'm going with this?  If one were to drop said wrench, it would slide immediately under the holding tank where even a magnetic retrieval device would fail to reach. In the absence of one of those fancy and expensive tool wrist straps, necessity became the mother of invention and the following 3-cent tool was born:

Loop a rubber band around the tool and pull it tight. Add a second one and a third one, and put the third one around your wrist:

By the way I did, in fact, drop the tool not only once, but three times...

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Throwback Thursday - Just Passin' Through

This post is still one of the most visited posts of our blog. If you spend any time at all in social media, it's worth a read.

Just Passin' Through

Boats leak. A lot. So it was no surprise that a new drop of water slowly streamed its way down the teak siding beneath our headliner, and the irony of its resemblance to a tear was not lost on me. Boat leaks take a lot of work to fix. I sighed deeply.

The leak remained unchecked for some time. We were working our way down the East coast of Florida after having visited with five of our nine grandchildren, on our way to the West coast of Florida where we had arranged to work over the upcoming eight months to replenish our cruising funds. There simply was no time to stop and find the leak, and the summer would provide time in abundance to do so.

Having already tackled some more pressing issues after our arrival, the leak presented itself to the top of the list. It was, of course, part of a multi-project as all boat projects are multi-projects, cause and effect being intertwined in multiple systems in such a small space. The rebedding of the ports project required the removal of the trim around them, which meant the headliner panels were only six screws from being down. It was time.

Kintala is a Tartan 42, known for its soft decks and core damage. Our particular Tartan 42 had the deck core replaced a few years before we bought the boat, a job that was done from the inside of the cabin. We were in possession of photos of the job, one I was happy we had not been required to participate in. As I removed the first panel, I was pleased to see that all the trim pieces and furring strips were well marked, a sign of a professional job. But as I removed the second panel, there staring me in the face was someone's rest-stop-restroom-level declaration of abiding love. It had been scrawled in permanent marker on the new fiberglass, and overlaid with a fresh sheet of glass mat to lend it some permanency.

Scraping old silicone sealant off gives you a lot of time to think. I wondered about the person who wrote the words. Did she still love Ritchie? Was it ever love at all? Did he care for her and respect and support her the way my husband does? Did he bring her smiles or is the scar of their relationship as permanent as this whimsical scrawl? Was it heartfelt, or a pre-Facebook careless need to indulge impulse?

Written communication is a voyage. Through it our thoughts, feelings, and questions travel from the nebulous jumble of impressions in our mind to concrete permanence. Used to be, once upon a time, that communication was labored over. A letter would be carefully crafted and often modified many times before the exact nuance of thought had been captured, a signature artfully assigned, and the stamp affixed. Its receipt would be considered a gift. The command of the English language was broad and deep, and communication an art form of itself. With the increase in the pace of life and the introduction of electronics, communication became – of necessity – fast and easy. Too easy. The letter labored over with love went the way of eight tracks. Impulsive blurting of feelings and impressions became commonplace. Complex thought was delegated to road-weary motivational posters. Subtle humor morphed into crudity.

A disclaimer: I don't yearn for days gone by. I'm a techno-geek and love all things electronic and computer. Without Skype and Facebook to see grandkids, cruising would be much less likely to succeed. But recently I've seen a disturbing trend among my compatriots. The ease of communication through emails, texts, and social media has been around long enough now that it has brought with it a fundamental change – not just in the form and substance of our communication, but in the way we think.

While processing news in short clips without in-depth analysis of the issues is its own whole topic of another discussion, processing relationships the same way is devastating. The overwhelming amount of information and the speed at which it is delivered, leaves us dashing off snippets of communication bereft of body language, voice tone, and eye expression. Carelessly hitting the Send button without reviewing the material in the framework of the person receiving has left many hurting, angry, or confused. The anonymity of internet forums and social media groups lends its own wild West aura to communication, unleashing trolls into the melee with no reliable way to sift their content from our friends'. And while the communication seems fleeting, it's frighteningly permanent, sitting in the cloud archives for eternity to haunt. Writing used to be a legacy to leave behind, a way of lending credence to our short time here. Looking at some of the things in my Facebook feed, I wonder exactly what kind of legacy we're leaving.

Whether you're a cruiser or not, we're all just passing through and time is short. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I've been blessed that the cruising lifestyle has given me the opportunity to do both. Being far away from those I love, and sharing our adventures with others who wander, I've come to realize that the ability to communicate is both a treasure and a responsibility. The treasure is to be cherished, a means of fulfilling that very basic human need to connect with another; the responsibility lies in measuring its impact. Before it becomes your legacy.

The leak is fixed, the new headliner panels are up, and with it Ritchie's story has leapt from boat maintenance obscurity to the dubious social recognition of the World Wide Web. Besides getting a shiny, clean, new headliner, I also got a reinforced foundation for my thinking. Not a bad return from one little leak.

Friday, June 7, 2019


About a year ago we made friends with some folks who were buying a cat boat. We had looked at cat boats back in the day and, though we made no claims of being experts in the type, they wanted our thoughts as to how they might proceed. They ended up with the boat and have kept in touch while getting ready to go cruising. A while ago we got an email from them. They were sitting at a dock and, in one of those seemingly unlikely coincidences that also seem to happen pretty regularly in the cruising word, made friends with the boat that pulled onto the dock right next to them. It was smallish but obviously serious cruising boast, festooned with the normal cruising gear on deck; dink, water and fuel jugs, solar panels. The other thing that caught their attention was that is was a family boat, with two young boys moving purposely around the deck doing the chores of getting on a dock with practiced ease, with an even younger sister helping out where she could. Dad was at the helm, while Mom sat in the cockpit holding a toddler. Now that two cruising boats met and made quick friends isn't unusual at all. But the email included some pictures…

The boat was Blowin' In The Wind with Daughter Eldest and crew.

Photo courtesy of Scott Katz

I’m guessing there was laughter and smiles involved as the two crews made friends and discovered their mutual connection to Kintala.

Photo courtesy of Scott Katz

We haven’t seen the crew of BITW for a while and, in an odd reversal of roles, on any give day don’t have much of clue as to where they might be. Something Deb and I used to hear complaints about when Daughters (3) couldn’t tell their kids for sure what time zone, or country, DeMa and Grampy T were in. Often they weren’t even sure if we were in any country at all, perhaps being out in open water some where.

And just like that, a longing for being back living that life washed over me. So strong was the feeling that time seemed to stop as memory after memory demanded my attention. None of those memories were of broken bits, the long hours of labor needed to get the boat back in the water, or scary nights out on the foredeck trying to corral a wayward headsail. Instead there were memories of Wizard walks, raft ups, Dink driving lessons, sailing with and on BITW, making plans, and Ukulele lessons in a quiet cockpit far from the noises of civilization.

More, there were memories of a people whose schedules were their own, who lived so close to nature that every change in wind and current registered as something of which to be mindful, of dolphins, jumping rays, and pelicans gliding by with a majesty and grace no human flying contraption has yet duplicated. Memories of the kind of people who go to places utterly wild, unencumbered by any human touch, where the only help comes from what can be done with the skills and materials at hand. There is a whole community of people like that, living as free as any people can manage in this world of dependence that we have created. They are a special tribe. I used to be a member, and some of the people I love most in the world still are.

Somehow, sometime in the future, I hope to be a member once again.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Throwback Thursday - The Thrill is Gone

Weather apps and sources are probably the second most talked about issue amongst cruisers, right after anchors and anchoring. I did this post in 2018 after the Storm App was pulled from service. It deserves reposting as it generates new discussion about sources that others might not know about. So if you have some new favorite app, list it in the comments. Being pilot weather geeks, we prefer the text format forecasts and discussions, but I do miss me some Storm app...

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. 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:

Ride the training train

Training goes on, and on, and on… I do get to work with clients once in while now though, so far, it has all been in the GFS. I’m looking forward to an eventual chance to take a crew into the Sim, but I have no clue when that might happen. Getting the approval to work the class room appears to be many weeks away yet.

Some of the training did bring on a fun bit of coincidence. The Europeans came up with a new requirement for upset training to be included when anyone is learning a new jet. Since I am to (eventually) train EASA pilots, I had to take the training. An old acrobatic pilot being forced to toss a $20 mil simulated jet around a simulated sky? Sign me up!

The coincidence came in the form of my training partner for the Sim session. He was one of the clients I had worked with in the GFS, had just passed his type ride, and this was the last bit of training he had to do before heading off for home. It doesn’t get much better than flying with someone you helped train (even if just a minor bit of help). We did a total of three hours together, doing all kinds of things that will near get you dead in an airplane; massive wind shear hits low to Mother Earth on both take off and landing, wake turbulence rolling the plane to knife edge just a few hundred feet off the ground, and traffic conflicts with intruders both above and below. Even with all that we had a little time remaining in the Sim.

Sim time is rare and expensive so we generally don’t let any of it go to waste. Without warning or a pre-brief, the instructor failed both engines with the airplane 5000 feet in the sky and just barely within gliding distance of a usable runway. Since that is an altitude prone to being filled with migrating feathered friends, this is one of the more likely scenarios one might see out in the real world. No time for checklists or setting up an approach, fly-by-wire system gone and flight controls degraded with only one hydraulic system left, and no hydraulics for gear extension or brakes. Take your best guess at the runway you can reach, eyeball the rate of descent, call for flaps and gear when you think you have the runway made, and make it work. I think the Europeans are on to something with this training requirement, though the bird hit / all engines inoperative exercise wasn’t part of the deal.

This week is something new as well, teaming up with one of the program’s more experienced instructors to make up a crew for the GFS. The reason? We will be practice dummies for the program’s newest instructor. Since I went through the same thing not too long ago it should be interesting to be on the other side of that exercise. I also had a chance to sit in with a bunch of other instructors while representatives of the manufacturer of the airplane updated us on the latest support news. It was a very technical discussion which dug pretty deep into the minutia of system functions, approved procedures, and documentation. It might not be rocket science, but it isn’t tying your shoes either. It is rare to find myself in a room full of people who are more than equal to my inner airplane geek. I also got my hands on the maintenance training manuals for the airplane, pleasing my inner mechanic geek as well.

Which is good because my inner sailing geek isn’t nearly as pleased. Kintala sits forlorn in a FL boatyard, waiting for someone to take her back to sea. I try not to think about her much. With it being the hurricane time of the year we should be pushing north. It has been several years since we were last in the Chesapeake Bay and, even as I write this, I can picture Fishing Bay and our friends at Oak Harbor. But, being on the boat as long as we were taught us many things. One of the most important was that there are many parts of a voyage over which we have no control. Navigating that bit of the passage is the only real responsibility we have, doing it well - or not - is what matters. The “where” and the “why” and the “how did we get here?” Those don’t really matter much at all.

Eyeball it, and make it work.