Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mystery math

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Salon Settee Cushion Update

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Marine Tech Tango Take Two

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

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

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

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

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

The dance never ends...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Marine Tech Tango

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The marine tech tango.

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

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

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going in circles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Some Timely, Sage Advice

Though we don't do this very often, below is a link to a very good article touching on an issue that is dear to the hearts of all cruisers, spending money wisely while working to stay ON the water, not IN the water. It is also an honest admission of mistakes (unwittingly) made that ended up costing money while leading to mechanical failure that could easily have led to losing the boat.

Courtesy of Morgan's Cloud
As we are supplementing the cruising kitty by my working on boats as a professional marine technician (after a life time of working as a professional aviation technician) John touches on an issue that I run across on a near daily bases; the quality of parts supplied by an owner.

The quality of such parts or units is often completely unknown. Where did this thing come from? What is quality of the steel, how accurate was the machining, what (if any) quality control procedures were used? The salt water environment is brutal. Even high quality stainless will eventually surrender. But I have seen "stainless steel" parts start to corrode within weeks of install. Indeed, on occasion I have picked up "stainless steel" hardware with a magnet. Some of this stuff has no business being within 100 miles of a salt water boat. Our parts manager knows who he can trust as a supplier. Something that simply can't be inferred from an Internet search for the "best price."

Often customers have little idea of what units can be used with other units, particularly when it comes to electronics. It has become a standard joke in our yard. If a customer supplies a bit of electronics there is very little chance that it will actually plug into anything already installed on the boat. Just last week, we (as in I and another tech) were tasked with installing a depth transducer on a large trawler; transducer supplied by owner. It has become our custom to find the plug that fits said unit before getting too deep into any install, and there was no such plug on this boat. 

Somehow or the other, it came to pass that the owner was sure it would work, that there was a patch cord or a magic box that would get this unit talking friendly with the others on his boat, and we should just install the part as requested.

So we did, punching a much larger hole through the hull than the original unit required, mounting the thing, and running the wire as close to the helm as it would reach. Maybe the "patch cord" would be long enough to fill the gap to...something.

Alas, no such patch cord exists. Hopefully the new, new unit will be big enough to fit in the same hole. But if not, we know how to sling glass around here; can fix the old hole in the hull better than original, then punch another hole as required. After all, we get paid by the hour.

But it still surprises me how often we get told what to do on a boat by someone who doesn't do what we do. There are stories galore of "minor" problems taking hours and hours of serious structural repairs, engine problems that "cleaning the injector" can't fix, vibrations that "aligning the engine" will not quell, and leaks that will never be staunched with "a little 5200".

Anyway, enjoy a good, honest article about a mistake that didn't turn out as badly as it might.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Yin and Yang

The end of the second week of being on a clock. Like pretty much everything, the second time around goes easier than the first. It is still a hot, brute force type of labor; the kind that leads to sore bones and shredded hands. But there are people here pleased to see me back for another season, people that I am happy to see again as well. I know my way around the yard, we know our way around the town, and the habits formed from last year still fit. Daughter Eldest and family are with us for an extended stay, building on the month that they spent with us last year. Most people gasp at the thought of having four adults and three kids ages 8, 5, and 2 all living on a 42 foot sailboat. But we are at a dock with a bath house close and room for the kids to run, ride bicycles, explore, and play. And there are few pleasures that compare with walking around the corner and having a 2 year old grand daughter run your way calling “T's home!” at the top of her little voice. How does one balance sore bones and shredded hands to a moment that all-encompassing good? Yin and yang.

In some ways we are back to living pretty much like most people do in America. The day of the week matters again, and weekends are a brief couple of days to be enjoyed. To some degree it doesn't matter how I feel or what the weather is doing, the work has to get done so the paycheck arrives. I get a 10 minute break at 1000, a half hour for lunch at 1200, and another 10 minute break at 1430. There are things I am allowed to do, (climb ladders, run wires, fix boats) and things I am not allowed to do (drive the fork truck, start a travel lift, walk in the "customer's" door of the office.) It is a very regulated life, one in which I participate by doing what I'm told.

Pretty much the polar opposite of living a cruiser's life.

But we are still on a boat. My "home" moves gently to light winds, bobs agreeably in gentle waves. I can sit in my cockpit in the evening, look out over the water, watch the pelicans fish, and enjoy the occasional visit from a manatee family or a couple of dolphins.

Weather is still an every day check and possible concern, and the hurricane season will soon be upon us. Preliminary plans have already been laid since three little ones have no business on a boat during a tropical storm of any name, tied to dock or no. Even a day of heavy thunder is a day to be careful. Cars no longer rank among my favorite things, but having one around takes some of the worry out of having to beat a hasty retreat.

Pretty much the opposite of living a suburban or city, work-a-day, life.

Things are settling down nicely, but I have to admit to being a bit envious of friends who are south of the hurricane zone, far from these shores. Content as I may be with life at the moment, living deep in Trump territory requires that I be even more circumspect around my fellow human beings than usual. There is nothing this guy can do that his followers will criticize in any way, marking him as the leader of a cult rather than a nation. Which isn't to say that his cult hasn't taken over the nation, something that is proving to be a bit of a problem. As a general rule, cultists are people I try to avoid, particularly ones whose cult includes a fondness for violence, guns, and greed.

It is often said that the Chinese have a curse which goes, “May you live in interesting times” which, I thought, was pretty apropos to living in the US this summer. I was curious as to the background behind such a curse, and so poked around the Internet bit, just out of curiosity. It turns out the “Chinese curse” is mostly an invention of western thought. In 1836 (less than three years before the first "Opium War between China and the British Empire started) John Francis Davis, a British diplomat, published something titled “The Chinese; A general Description of the Empire of China and Its Inhabitants." In it he stated:

"The Chinese have lived so much in peace, that they have acquired by habit and education a more than common horror of political disorder. 'Better be a dog in peace than a man in anarchy,' is common maxim. ' It is a general rule,' they say, 'that the worst of men are fondest of change and commotion, hoping that they may thereby benefit themselves; but by adherence to a steady, quiet system, affairs proceed without confusion, and bad men have nothing to gain.'"

Interesting. A bit of wisdom articulated by a culture far older than ours.

Of course, change is inevitable. Confucius himself is quoted as teaching, "They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” So, perhaps, there is a bit of a yin and yang thing to consider here as well. The Opium Wars were a result of the British East India Company using bribery and smuggling to pump tons of opium into China. As might be expected the Chinese Dynasty at the time took offense at millions of its citizens being turned into junkies for the profit of a foreign corporate entity. The British response to China's attempt at curtailing the opium trade resulted in the first application of “gunboat diplomacy”; where a nation's military power was openly used to protect a corporation's “bottom line.” When is “change” a servant of wisdom, and when is it a tool of evil?

I found that all a kind of fascinating reflection on today's American politics. Is what we see American leadership (apart from our cultist President and his worshipers) people seeking to lead a society constant in happiness or wisdom”? Or are they the worst of men...hoping that they may thereby benefit themselves?

No yin and yang here. If the former, they are allies and working toward the best possible future for a two year old. If the later...well, they are the enemy, and the sooner their downfall, the better.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Air Conditioner Install Version II

We spent last summer at Snead Island Boat Works padding the cruising kitty. It was the hottest summer in Florida since record keeping began, and we were without an onboard air conditioner since we had removed it prior to leaving for full-time cruising in 2013 for some extra closet space. We installed a window unit and per the request of several readers we detailed the installation. That installation did the trick for the summer, keeping Worker Man cool in the evenings after a hard day in the heat, but the trailer-parkish nature of the installation always bothered me. The duct work was unwieldy, and the silver wrapper disintegrated so quickly in the sun that it allowed rain to soak the pink insulation and run red dye all over the deck. Toward the end of the summer we were getting black mold in the duct work from all the rain-soaked insulation. This year we needed a better design.

After thinking it over and researching the R-value of various foam board insulation, I came up with a better idea. With the help of Worker Man we installed the new duct work last Monday so I thought I'd pass along a few photos for anyone else wanting to install an external air conditioning unit.

We started out the same as last year, by placing the window unit on the side deck just outside the head port on a rubber pad to reduce vibration. We cut two pieces of 2" silver-backed foam insulation board that went from the sides of the air conditioner to the cabin top.

Then we made the bottom of the duct out of 3/4" foam board, running from the top of the intake portion of the air conditioner grill, across to the cabin top, making a right angle, aft to mid-deck, 45° over to the main salon hatch.

We then built sides for that duct work out of 2" foam and square box sides for the hatch (we removed the hatch cover). All of this was duct taped together with Gorilla tape. Last, we cut a top to go over the whole thing, again out of 2". I used a roll of white Gorilla tape to tape over the whole top. The stuff is great at protecting from the sun and rain. This gave us a much lower profile duct, much more appealing visually, and much more efficient at an average R-value of 8. It also came in at total project dollars of $35 vs nearly $100 last year.

And we had lots of extra help this year!

Project notes:

If I could have found it in stock locally, I would have used Foamular board. It would have been much less messy to cut.

If I hadn't run out of white Gorilla tape, I would probably have continued to cover the whole duct work on the sides. This would make it even less aggravating visually.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Massive magic purple puffballs...

Cruising blogs, including this one, are filled with pictures of sunsets and sunrises. There are pictures of sailboats riding quietly in anchorages of clear water, tropical islands, white sand beaches, amazing flowers, and trees that overwhelm. There are stories of gazing across a star-filled cosmos from a cockpit far out of sight of land, of festivals and costumes, and of kids laughing. All testimony to one of the most attractive things about this cruising life; it is one filled with beauty.

Not always of course. There are also the occasional pictures of trashed v-drives, leaking holding tanks, boats run aground, and hulls long abandoned. But for the most part much of the cruising tribe spends days on end gazing at some of the prettiest places on earth. Still, and truth to tell, catching sight of the beautiful places has been a challenge for me for these last few months. We sailed to them alright, but often arrived tired and worn, having struggled with weather and sails and ham-fisted deck monkey antics. It seemed much more time was spent listening to the wind howl through the rigging while the boat bounced to its rode, than was spent watching the sun set over a placid sea of emerald blue. We pushed hard to get around the Abacos to the Berry Islands. Then we pushed again to get back to the States and around the Keys to Tampa Bay in time for the flight inland and the summer of work. Pushing hard will build callouses on the hands - a good thing. But it can also build callouses that make it hard to see beauty or feel the brush of the magic.

There are other beautiful places of course, places that one can't reach in a boat, places that are not even wild. One of them is a stretch of land that was once the home of a Mr. Henry Shaw. In 1819, just in from England, Mr. Shaw ventured west of a small French village laid out along the west back of the Mississippi River. He fell in love with that stretch of land and made it his home. The little village grew. Mr. Shaw's fortunes grew. Now, nearly 200 years later, that stretch of land is known as the Missouri Botanical Garden, is the oldest of its kind in the nation, lies deep in the heart of the metropolis of St. Louis, and is located just a few block's walk from Daughter Middle's home. (To give you some hint as to Mr. Shaw's influence on St. Louis, his Garden is located on Shaw Blvd.)

Daughter Middle, being a connoisseur of all things beautiful, has a Family Membership Card and makes visiting the Garden a regular family adventure. This time DeMa and Grampy T joined She and Grand Kids (5) for a day's visit. A day can't do justice to the 79 acre sight. There is the Chinese Garden, English Woodland Garden, Ottoman Garden, Victorian District, and the Japanese Garden (where one can go to feed a lake full of huge, sometimes colorful, catfish. Fish so tame that little ones can reach out and pet them as they feed.) There is a Temperate House that protects Mediterranean plant species, a Climatron conservatory for science and study, and a Butterfly House. There is a bee hive made of glass, a Center for Home Gardening, and a Grandpa's Garden that includes rope bridges, caves, a climbing boulder, elevated walkways, slides, and a tree house. (Okay, its official name is the “Children's Garden,” and Grampy T didn't really climb the boulder or use any of the slides. Rope bridges, elevated walkways, caves, and the tree house were fair game though.)

We weren't too far into the day when the laughter of little ones folding into the quiet of the nature all around started to soften some of the callouses built up over the winter. When we stepped through the gateway into the Ottoman Garden, reportedly the last example of such gardens which date from the 16th century, I was stopped dead in my tracks. Standing tall over the other flowers were hundreds of massive purple puffballs. Think of the dandelion puff balls you used to wave around as a kid writ giant-sized, glowing with a brilliant purple magic. It was an unexpectedly amazing sight, standing out even though surrounded by acres of carefully cultivated beauty.

It isn't likely that many of the people around me were struck in exactly the same way. Beauty and magic are nearly universal, yet stubbornly individual. What strikes me as magic purple puffballs might look to someone else like giant purple dandelions. Maybe they were struck by the manicured precision of the Japanese Garden. Surely someone was taking advantage of the Botanical Garden's dedication to science and education, learning some new technique for working their personal garden. (A well known place to find beauty and feel a brush of the magic.)

There were many groups of school kids there as well. Some of the younger ones were in the Children's Garden with us. This being the city, “minority” kids were so well represented that they were not in the minority at all. No one cared. Kids of all sizes and skin tones clambered around the climbing boulder, some encouraged to stretch their skills after watching one of my grandsons, who is an excellent climber and fearless to boot. Following his lead left some of the younger ones higher off the ground than they liked, and they needed a little help getting down. Grampy T suddenly had a dozen or so grandkids, and no one minded if I laughed with the new ones and helped them find their way to the ground. In the middle of all the laughter and fun it occurred to me that, not only was this a place of beauty where one could feel a brush of the magic, it was also a place of quiet rebellion.

For this was public place, in the middle of a metropolis, where science and the pursuit of understanding ruled alongside beauty and magic. It was a place of tolerance and fun, with generations, nationalities, and histories mixing without rancor, arrogance, or hate. It is a strange world we find ourselves in when simply going to a Garden and acting like a decent human being flies full in the face of the ideology that drives those in power. It is an even stranger world when one realizes that many of those who claim to support that ideology often act in rebellion to it. I wonder how long it will take them to figure that out? (How ironic is it that Donald Trump, who hates science, tries to rule by Tweet?)

It is possible that quiet rebellions will be enough to stem the tide of ignorance and hate flowing over our shores. My suspicion is that most Americans are simply not that deeply racist, don't really hate gay people with much enthusiasm, have only a slight tolerance for authoritarianism, and deeply value education, learning, exploration, and science. (Which, odd as it may sound, is exactly what my Trump supporting friends claim.)

I don't know that we really love war all that much. We just haven't seen any up close and personal for a while, and have forgotten just how inhuman and evil it is. (Something likely to change pretty soon. It will be a hard and costly lesson, much to the detriment of those currently in power.)

It is more likely that, eventually, those who are pushing us into decline will have to be removed from power. There is some hope that they will prove so incompetent as to soon stumble into oblivion of their own accord. Such may well be the way forward with the least potential for chaos, destruction, and violence, but I think it unlikely. Many currently worship incompetency, and will likely do so right up until it kills them off. (Nothing blinds like worship.)

Perhaps they will find themselves voted out of power by numbers so large that claims of fraud will be both laughable and utterly ignored. Given that America's forms of democracy were never very strong and are now, additionally, badly compromised by propaganda and corruption, this seems unlikely. Still, stranger things have happened. And, again, such a defeat would also deeply discredit the ideology of those so defeated; just as the last election deeply wounded the neo-liberal ideology of the Democrats, hopefully hastening its ultimate demise. Unfortunately neo-con ideology, which is arguably much worse, took its place.

Perhaps something entirely new and unexpected is just around the corner. Maybe the next generation, having learned some very hard lessons about ignorance, greed, hate, and war, will value peace and justice above all things. Maybe they will be the generation that elevates ideas over ideology, facts over faiths, understanding over dogma, and wisdom over wishful thinking.

As unlikely as that sounds, such a world lives deep in the human imagination. Virtually all religion claims such a place and calls it “heaven”. Many other forms of human fiction and story telling are filled with similar images. Indeed, nearly every human being I have ever known can imagine a world better than this. All we need do is move toward a world that most of us already know, deep in our own dreams, can exist. It is one of the reasons I don't put faith in any god. Given unlimited power, divine knowledge, and the ultimate in benevolence, pretty much any one of us could create a better world than the one we find ourselves in.

What ever happens, quiet rebellions are a good place to start. Maybe massive magic purple puff balls (otherwise known as ornamental onions) will become the new symbol of the rebellion. Stately, beautiful, and non-threatening, yet going about the task of spreading the seeds of renewal on every breeze and in every direction, as far as the eye can see.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A different kind of travel

Photo courtesy of
When we charged into Tampa Bay the other night on 6 foot swells, the plan was to go on up to St. Petersburg and take a mooring ball or slip for a couple days. The plan was foiled by the lack of availability of balls or slips, so we decided to come on in to our home slip at Snead Island, rent a car for the week, and go play tourist by land for a couple days. A few minutes on various hotel pages had me looking for alternatives due to the exorbitant prices so, remembering my daughter youngest's good experience with, I decided to take a peek. I had a pretty good idea where we wanted to be - close to the older part of town that flanks the shoreline of Tampa Bay and is filled with an eclectic mix of theaters, bars, restaurants, and parks. All of the one bedroom places were booked, but we happened on this adorable little two bedroom cottage that was available. It was a charming place just a few blocks from the shore, Vinoy Park, and a ton of good restaurants and bars. Ken and Renee, the hosts for this property, were gracious and accommodating. The website and booking software were incredibly easy to use, the communication from the hosts was quick; it couldn't have been a better first experience. The place was just the ticket for two weary sailors looking to spend a couple days on land.

The Vinoy Basin mooring field. There are only about 10 balls there so it fills up rapidly.

As soon as we got there, we discovered why there were no mooring balls or transient slips available (or nearby parking for that matter) - the Mainsail Art Show was this weekend. We dropped our stuff off and trekked over the two blocks to the park and enjoyed walking around looking at the art and crafts as well as the finish of a local rock band's performance. At the close of the show we walked on down past the Vinoy basin moorings to the Ale and the Witch, a local bar that hosts live music seven days a week. We really lucked out on this one, arriving just as a local rock band started their three hour gig in an open courtyard outside the bar. The group was called Antelope and was doing a tribute show to the band Phish. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Yesterday we went on a St. Petersburg walkabout, strolling about 10 miles from the historic northeast, down along the shore to downtown, around by the airport and the Dali museum, through town, back up past our place and down again through the neighborhoods. St. Petersburg is a beautiful city full of amazing architecture and more parks than you can count. There are copious amounts of trails along the shoreline that are wide and paved, benches strategically placed in the shade with great views, sandy beaches interspersed among the marinas, and one glaring omission - there was no trash. I'm not sure how this city has managed to get control of the litter issue but, in spite of a wind advisory, we saw almost no trash anywhere. It was refreshing.

After a quiet evening in the cottage and a good night's sleep, we climbed into the rental and headed out this morning for the boat. Grandbabies await our flight's arrival in St. Louis this weekend and grandbabies are never to be denied.

We're suckers for historical signs and amazing trees. 

I so wish my grandkids had been with us for this one! Such a great climbing tree.

Downtown St. Petersburg

Even their alleys are beautiful

More huge trees. You could actually get inside this one.

The Vinoy Basin on the horizon

As seen on the wall at the airbnb cottage. My motto!

All may yet be well...

I didn't pay much attention to the news while we were in the islands, and have been slow getting back into the habit since returning to the States. What news I do follow tends to do with advances in technology, cognitive science, and space exploration, which is how I ran across last week's “March for Science” protests. One picture I saw was of a protester carrying a sign that read, “I can't believe I am marching for facts.” That seemed kind of funny at first, but the more I thought of it the more it seemed to sum up the current dilemma / failure facing the US.

There is a portion of the population who looks upon current affairs with a dismay bordering on horror (hence the protests). But a larger portion appears to have little regard for facts, and therefore no regard for knowledge, understanding, truth, or wisdom. Many people are openly hostile to any facts that challenge their greed, ego, and grasp of power. Most of the nation's, and world's political, corporate, and religious leaders appear to be members of that group.

Perhaps is has always been so. We, as a species, have a need to be ruled, to be told what to think, how to act, and what to do. It is a characteristic bred from of our evolutionary path from tribal apes to modern humans. Born helpless and hapless, we are a species physically bred in dependency and submission. Virtually all of our social constructs are steeped in this deep seated, authoritarian history. Religious people accept the authority of their religion's prophets and holy writings, and no fact that might undermine that authority structure is readily accepted. It took the Pope more than 350 years to admit that Galileo was correct. There are Christians still today who reject evolution. Many of those who admit that evolution is how biology works, still insist that human kind is a special creation and the focus of attention for the entire universe. Followers of more secular ideologies are no less reluctant to accept inconvenient facts if they challenge the claim to having the right to rule. Tax cuts have never paid for themselves or led to job growth, communism has never been a viable economic model, regardless of the ideologies of right and left.

It gets even more muddled since people tend to mash incompatible ideologies together in odd ways, so long as the outcome supports the claim to power. In the US there are those who embrace both the authoritarianism of Donald Trump and that of Christianity as being one and the same thing. Others cling to the authority of their god while rejecting Donald Trump for his racism, misogyny, and love of violence. Some loath the economic ideology of “socialism” while crying for a bigger and more aggressive military, smooth roads, stout bridges, clean water, and a quality education. Others loath the economic ideology of consumer capitalism while insisting that they, personally, should be allowed to burn through all the resources they can afford.

This cognitive dissonance, this fundamental tendency to dismiss facts out of hand if we don't happen to care for the implications that come with them, has not mattered that much for most of our history. The cosmos is such a mystery that no human being has ever had much of a grasp of the facts of our existence. For all of our discoveries, we don't really understand how it is that we understand anything at all. A not-so-close approximation of what might really be happening may be the best that the evolution of  approximately 3 pounds worth of biologically supported quantum interactions will ever manage.

Be that as it may, our species has evolved to the point where we have overwhelmed the planet. Any individual or tribe that did manage to get themselves too unattached to the facts and understanding that formed the physical basis of their lives got themselves killed off rather quickly. Build a city at the base of a volcano, cut down all the trees on an isolated island, eat all of the mastodons... poof, gone. But no matter, there were other individuals and other tribes around to carry on. The children of those survivors, us, are now members of a deeply intertwined and co-dependent global society.

Thus evolution has brought human society to a cross roads, a turning point, a place in history from which there is no retreat and, perhaps, no way into the future. That sounds horrible but is likely a fundamental characteristic of evolution itself. For, in the space of just a few tens of thousands of years, we now stand at a place where facts, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, form the only doorway into the future. Oddly enough, much of human religion teaches a similar theme of a dividing line, a break point, where heaven is one choice, and hell the other.  Unfortunately much of religion also implies that it is an individual choice, that I can chose one while you chose the other. Maybe that works in an afterlife. But in this life it appears to be, almost, an all or nothing deal. History has unfolded to the point where everyone gets on board in the pursuit of wisdom, or no one survives. (More on that in a minute.)

But, perhaps, that ultimate fate has not yet arrived. We, as a global society, can begin to question our own authoritarian instincts, can couple what we have learned of the cosmos with our imagination, and look at ourselves from a different perspective. “Authority” can be shaped as cooperation and community. More importantly (and imperatively) ideology can be dismissed, replaced by knowledge gathered in the pursuit of wisdom.

We can, for example, replace our ideology of war. Right now many political and religious ideologies insists that war is inevitable and, even worse, winnable. But if we ignore the ideology and look, instead, to understanding and wisdom, it may prove that it is neither. Wars are, first and foremost, a failure; an exercise of the very worst of what evolution has bequeathed us, a twisted expression of the instinct to survive. Uncounted millions have died to defend religious ideologies that have long since faded and empires that have long since crumbled into dust. Today thousands are killed, maimed, and rendered homeless in orgies of destruction that have no goal and no purpose. Violence piled upon violence by shear force of habit.

An honest reflection will also, and easily, lead to the conclusion that any of these “local” wars could well erupt into an all out war between major nuclear armed nations.  Such would likely lead to the end of modern civilization. It is an important bit of wisdom that appears to be beyond the grasp of some, including five in particular; Trump, Putin, Assad, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-un. Five people fanning the flames of war for their own ego, their lust for power. Five people whose failure to look to wisdom and understanding could portend the deaths of billions.

Evolution has, indeed, brought us to the very edge, where the seeking of wisdom by every individual is the dividing line between having a future or being forgotten.

Photo courtesy of Amber Rennier Photography
That just five deluded men in a world of billions could bring down the curtain on human history would seem rather grim odds but, then again, it hasn't happened yet. Maybe, having survived since August 6, 1945, human kind has learned how to live with its nuclear arsenal locked and loaded. Maybe environmental degradation and resource depletion will be evolution's way of breeding a desire for wisdom into us. They are longer term disasters that will unfold at a much slower pace than the 30 minute flight of a ballistic missile and a flash of nuclear fire. Slow enough, perhaps, for knowledge and wisdom to prevail. For, though evolution of the cosmos has brought us to the cross roads of cherishing wisdom or being cast aside, it may be that we can linger here for a few more lifetimes, a few more generations. Long enough, maybe, that our kids or grand kids get to be the ones who make the call.

In which case all may yet be well.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Boot Key to Tampa Bay

Day 1

The plan was to make it to Tampa Bay in one 48-hour jump, but everyone knows how cruiser plans work out. A heavy rain started to fall while we were still at the fuel dock in Boot Key, the first hint that the weather wasn't going to be exactly as forecast. We waited a bit, each of us having an internal argument over it being better to just go back and pick up the mooring, then wait some more for better weather. And I suspect, had either of us said as much to the other, that might have been exactly what we would have done. But we didn't. So we didn't.

Other than the rain, conditions going under the bridge and out into the Moser Channel were pretty much what we expected. So we drove on to exit the Keys and sailed into the Gulf of Mexico. There we found the wind was on the wrong side of the boat (at least according the forecast) and the sea state more confused than expected. At least the waves heights seemed about as forecast. We pressed on, not knowing that the last chance to avoid a thrashing had just been passed by.

The bridge on the Mosier channel

Twenty six hours after leaving Boot Key we got ready to drop the anchor behind Sanibel Island having, in the wee hours of the morning, decided to take our bail out option of Big Carlos Pass. The expected seas state of two feet or less on a two second period turned into waves of 3 to 5, occasionally seven, then a bit more than occasionally, eight or more. They hit us on the quarter, both pitching and rolling the boat in an ugly figure "8" motion that trashed my inner ear that set me to feeding the fish. Rough enough that, when we finally made it in, the hook dropped about five feet and hung. After climbing over the v-berth and into the anchor locker I found the spanking we had taken had twisted the 3/8" anchor chain into something that looked like a giant yarn ball formed at the paws of a demented kitten. It actually had knots in it.

Anchor finally set, we set about securing the boat in a bit of a daze. A shower to warm up and wash off the salt, fresh clothes, and a little food to help settle the stomach, were big steps toward feeling human again. Even though I was pretty beat, sleep came slow; a usual reaction for me as I tried to puzzle out just how I had managed to stumble into such a mess. Wind, waves, confused seas, lighting on the horizon, rain, how in the world had we ended up in the middle of all that? Where the forecasts that wrong? Did I miss something? Did the need to get on our way overwhelm the need to be careful?

No good explanations presented themselves. Sleep finally took over to put an end to what had become a very long day. We had managed the conditions we found, not hurt the boat, not gotten hurt ourselves. That is going to have to do.

Day 2

Except for a brief sunset assault of black flies (thankfully we have excellent screens), the anchorage at Sanibel Island was quite and calm, making for a good night's sleep. The plan for the day was simply to get near the inlet of Charlotte Harbor, staging for an outside jump from there to Tampa Bay. Sanibel to Charlotte may be the best piece of the ICW anywhere; no bridges and open enough that, should the winds be right, sailing is a good option. And it was an easy sail in light winds and on flat water.

Along the way, and for the first time in the years we have been out here, a passing Sheriff's boat turned on its flashing blue lights and pulled alongside. One of the three officers jumped aboard to check our papers and safety equipment. Deb took care of those details while I answered the questions of the other two. They insisted on knowing where where we kept the boat, our “St. Louis” home port-of-call catching their attention for some reason. It took several tries to get them to understand that we lived on the boat, full time, and didn't “keep” it anywhere. They then asked about our recent travels. Learning that we had been in the Islands for a while they wanted to know where we had checked in upon our return, (Miami) and, while we were in the Islands, if anyone had asked us to bring anything or anyone across with us (No). We talked about the weather and our recent thrashing being the reason we were in the ICW at all, and not in Tampa already.

Another bit of confusion was with our “check in”. They expected us to produce some piece of paper that showed us having complied, and it took a few minutes to explain that using SVRS doesn't leave a paper trail, at least on our end. Other than that it was completely painless and I'm sorry I didn't ask for the officer's names, for they deserve honest recognition. They were utterly professional and non-threatening (in spite of the big guns on their hips), but they were too far away for me to read their name tags. In any case, and in spite of my normally low opinion of all things “official”, they were excellent examples of what officialdom can be when the people involved have the character and the heart. Blue flashing lights, guns and all...there was nothing negative about the encounter.

The anchorage just south of the Charlotte Harbor Inlet was comfortable and very, very quiet. All the rest we could get would be good. Even though every weather source we could find suggested that the jump to Tampa Bay would be done in pretty good conditions, we were still getting over the first day's beating, and it would be a long day's sail to Tampa Bay.

Day 3

Up before dawn to lift the hook as soon as there was enough light to see. There was little chance we would make the inlet to Tampa Bay before dark, but wasting daylight seemed a poor way to start. Wind and tide were working against each other in the inlet, making for a bumpy ride out. With at least six other boats in the parade it was clear we were not the only ones taking advantage of the forecast.

The main had gone up right with a single reef right after the anchor had come on board. After clearing the inlet and turning north the jib spun out, the Beast went silent, and we headed off at better than 6 knots, hand steering for the time being. One of the quirks of Kintala is the wind vain / tiller pilot set-up. It takes a bit of rigging to change from one to the other. All the forecasts had the wind fading as the day went on, making most of the day a motor. And, about four hours in the winds did, indeed, fade away. We rolled up the jib, centered the main, woke up the Beast, engaged the tiller pilot, and kept going on flattening seas.

Everything according to plan and forecasts.

A little later Deb looked up and asked why, if the forecast had nothing but good weather in it for the next five days, the sky was full of mare's tails? I had noticed the same thing, and the only answer I could come up with was, “Well, someone, some where, missed something”. Usually mare's tails portend weather 12 to 24 hours out, but not always. And, truth to tell, all of the "positive" forecasts for the day had me a bit wary. If there has been a theme for this season's cruise it would be the blown forecasts and unexpected weather. The inlet to Tampa was still some 15 miles away. The hairs on the back of my neck were insisting that was 15 miles too far.

Sometimes being right is a major pain in the ass.

The wind started to back and build out of the north west. The forecast following seas of 2 feet or less gave way building seas directly on the bow. The tiller pilot gave up. Though the Beast was doing its best, it didn't have the horsepower needed to drive the boat through the heaving water. The staysail spun back out to help keep us going and, with the Beast, allowed us to point a few degrees tighter on the wind. But it wasn't enough. The inlet to Tampa Bay was directly upwind, and we just could not hold that point of sail.

The moment it became apparent that we simply had to tack back out into the Gulf of Mexico for an hour or more if there would be any chance of making the harbor was, perhaps, the lowest moment of my last few months. Kintala's bow was going completely under every few minutes, water gushing down the decks flowing over the toe rail, having completely overwhelmed the limber holes. A series of such hits would slow the boat to less than three knots, where she would wallow and struggled to get back up to speed before the next series of waves pounded her bow once again. We were now taking our second serious thrashing in just 3 days. Having to add miles to a trip that I really just wanted to end, frayed my last nerve.

But there was simply no choice. No amount of wishing, wanting, or even needing, to get out of the weather would make any difference. The only way out was out into the Gulf. So out we went.

The temptation, when tacking into weather like this, is always to turn to soon; a mistake that makes matters worse by forcing an additional series of tacks. But no one wants to go any further than they have to, adding more miles that will be covered at barely walking speed. The first tack we made got it wrong. The second one got it right and we made the entry not long after the sun went down. Inside Egmont Key the seas settled to nothing but big, rolling swells. A bit later the staysail rolled in clean and the main dropped into the lazy jacks. By the time we made it to an anchorage, got the hook set and the deck minimally prepped for the night, it was after 2300 hours.

Day 4

The plan was to sail up to Tampa and take a dock or mooring ball for a few days. But a morning phone call to the marina uncovered that they are completely full, and will be for the near future. Instead we motored into Snead Island and settled Kintala into the dock that will be “home” for the next six months or so.

Over the next several days we plan to rent a car and take a night in a hotel in Tampa just to do something different. Next week it will be off to St. Louis for a much needed visit with Daughters (3), family, and friends.

It will take a few days, at least, to let the adventures of the last few months take their place in our life's story. For now I am glad to be settled in, safe and secure, not having broken anything major, not having made any major bone-headed moves that ended in disaster. And I will not be the least bit sad to be off the boat for a while.

But I am also sad to be stopping, even if it is only temporary. Mixed emotions that don't really make any sense. So I am going to just set them aside for now. The days will unfold as they will and we are, to a large extent, just along for the ride.