Monday, February 28, 2011

The worse danger in sailing

There seems to be common agreement among sailing authorities on the worse danger in sailing -a schedule. Trying to keep a schedule, boats go out when they shouldn't. Conditions may be unfavorable, the boat unready, or the crew not up to it.

Today, my lovely wife is feeling a bit under the weather, so the boat stays at home. No sense going out when she doesn't feel up to it. There's always another day.

Plenty of things to do here on shore. Spent most of my morning getting a new cell phone on-line. I don't require much from a phone. As long as It transmits and receives calls, that's enough. $10 pay as you go phones work just fine. There isn't even any cell phone service at my house, so we only use a cell phone when traveling.

Now of course, we travel on a sailboat, so the cell phone is a good safety item to have. The marine radio is our primary communication method. Mounting the antenna at the top of the mast has given us decent range. In fact, in the Gulf, we normally keep the radio on low power as we hear too much stuff. Seems like the Coast Guard is kept pretty busy. Every single day we've been on they water, they've been dealing with disabled boats. Often it's a simple as a boat running out of gas, but a few times it's been for things like a boat disabled and taking on water. Not good.

Communication is nice. It could be a life saver. All the same, electronic communication devices won't untangle a sail, fix a motor, set an anchor, or patch up a bad cut. Nice to know the Coast Guard and private companies are there to call on, but it's no substitute for skills and proper preparation.

Today, the proper maneuver is to stay in port.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Small world - big world

Yesterday I found out a couple of young people I know are somewhere in New Zealand. They haven't been heard from since the quake. They were supposed to be out hiking the day of the quake. If they got off on time, they are probably okay, just out of touch because they are off in the wilderness. There was some concern that their trip may have been delayed, stranding them in Christchurch. If so, their disappearance takes on a more ominous turn. Really hope they are fine.

We live in the middle of nowhere, far from big cities or any other place normally thought of as an International crossroad. In spite of that, we seem to know people in nearly every trouble spot of the world. Yesterday, I asked my wife if we knew anyone in Libya. We don't. It's a relief.

Cheap energy made it possible for normal working class people to travel. How many people fly for their job? It's a small world.

How much longer will it be a small world? My wife was going though the local history of our small village. It wasn't too long ago a eight mile trip to the next town was an all day adventure. Horses can only travel so far, so fast.

Liquid fuels are used for travel. We might be able to keep the lights on with domestic coal, hydro, and nuclear power, but those energy sources don't fuel our cars or planes. A significant amount of liquid fuels come from unstable far away places. What domestic production we have will be most likely be rationed for government use. If we are lucky, the ambulances, and firetrucks will be a priority. Personal travel will be a rarer, slower, and more expensive pursuit.

As energy prices rise, the world becomes a bigger place. The circle of people we know will shrink. Personal connections to distant places will diminish. Even though I worry about friends in far away places, at least they experience a wider world.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blast off!

Yes, we did get to see the shuttle take off. Had a pretty decent view from Titusville, right by the water.

Glad we got to see it . . . and hear it . . . and feel the ground vibrate. Not the same as on TV. Definitely worth the trip.

It was good, and a little sad too. The program is shutting down. The old Soviet Union had a space shuttle program, but it came to an end the same time their empire ended. Can't but help wonder if it's a sign the US empire is also coming to an end. Morbid thoughts, I know, but when an country stops exploring outward, it's a bad sign.

Hope it's just a coincidence.

In spite of my momentary dark thoughts, it was a great event. Impressive technology and power.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wind and Spray

There's not a lot to photograph out there in the Gulf. Under those white clouds is the land. Not a lot of company out there today. We did see a nice good sized cruising cat, but we didn't see it for long. It was moving.

Got a bit more wind than predicted. My lovely wife pushed the boat a bit. Had it up close to its 5.5 knot max.

This time the motor started on one pull and never stalled. Everything functioned well. All the tweaking and adjusting is paying off. In the process of planning our first overnight.

Did clip a rock with the swing keel. Quickly lifted it up and got out of there. Then my lovely wife pointed out it was clearly marked on the chart. Won't let me forget that one. No harm done. I'll check the chart a lot closer next time.

In the morning, we are heading to the east coast to see the shuttle blast off. Almost the last chance to do so. Don't know how she did it, but my wife found us a camping site near the launch site. How cool is that?


Monday, February 21, 2011

You don't need to be on an island to be on island time

Did next to nothing today, and I didn't feel bad about it at all. Some days the best thing to do is to turn sunlight into vitamin D.

My lovely wife and I did take a little trip to the marine store. Bought a few boaty bits. It's a real treat to be able to get simple things like a new deck plate. Nice to be able to pick something right off the shelf. People complain about the lack of boat parts in exotic locations. The Great North Woods of New Hampshire, as far as sailboats are concerned, is an exotic location. Glad I waited to do the final repairs and upgrades down here in Florida.

Keeping an eye on the world wide revolutions. Tunisia was an eye opener, but not too strategically important. Egypt is of strategic importance. Something like 7% of the world's trade moves through the Suez Canal. Then there is the peace treaty with Israel. Mubarack was many things, but as far as the west was concerned, he was reliable.

Libya is a whole new can of worms -it's a significant oil exporter. Foreign oil workers are fleeing the country. Oil prices are on the rise. Things could get interesting.

Sitting in a sailboat, it all seems a bit unreal. The wind blows, the boat moves, and all is well. It's only when we get back to shore when things gets complicated.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dufus with a motor

Interesting day at the Gulf of Mexico. My lovely wife and I got to the boat landing bright and early. I fed the bugs while setting up the sailboat, unlike my wife who wore long pants.

The boat ramp was pretty busy, but that's no excuse for my haste. Fired up the motor. It took us just far enough so that we blocked the narrow access channel to the main channel. No problem, we used a pole to push ourselves out of the way.

Noticed the primer bulb on the fuel line was flat. The connector had become disconnected from the gas tank. While fiddling with it, I managed to get a fair amount of air in the line. The motor ran just long enough to get us out in the main channel -where it died and we ran aground.

Well, I thought to myself, got that out of the way. Everyone grounds their boat sooner or later. Eventually, go the motor started and was able to back off the sand.

My wife asked if the motor was fixed this time. Sure, I said. Then to prove me a liar, it died once more. This time the fuel line disconnected from the motor. Hooked it up, pulled the starter cord a bunch of times and we were off again.

Eventually sputtered our way to the end of the channel out to the deeper water. Found ourselves in a patch of stubborn fog that had yet to burn off. To make matters worse, the promised wind was no where to be found. At that point, I suggested we anchor and take stock of things.

While at anchor, we had a bit to eat and a coffee. Everything's better after coffee. Eventually, the wind blew up a tiny bit and we raised the sails. The boat was only moving at about 2 knots, but hey, sailing is sailing. As the day progressed, we got up to about 4.5 knots. Good enough.

The sailing was great. We played the FM radio, and relaxed into the rhythm of the sea.

Wildflower asked us to sail down to Hudson and take a photo. Fell about 7 miles short. Might have made it if we'd decent wind earlier in the day.

Lots of small power boats on the Gulf. Only saw one other sailboat. Most of the power boats didn't stray very far from the channels. We'd hit some boat traffic around a channel, but then we'd be alone until we got to the next channel.

Made it back to the boat landing just fine. This time, the motor behaved itself.

Rough start, but all in all, a mighty fine day.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Defeated by the weekend warriors

Made it as far as the boat landing today. Forgot it was the weekend. Seems everyone in Florida with a boat and trailer was trying to launch a boat. We were in the back of the line. Unlike most of the people there, we don't have to squeeze all our fun into one weekend. Decided it would be a good day to hang out by the pool. We'll be back.

If we get an early start on the day, we'll try again Sunday. However, my lovely wife is not a morning person. Still, it could happen. The boat is ready to go. Should Sunday not work out, there is always Monday. Stress is the enemy here.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Sailing photos

Retrieved the camera and downloaded the photos.

Old Sixbears at the end of the day.

Navigation success! There's the light at the beginning of the channel.

My lovely wife and Brownie the Sailor Dog.

Heading back out Saturday morning. Taking advantage of excellent weather.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A day on the water

My lovely wife and I drove over to the boat launch again today. While we were setting up the sailboat, a Florida Park Ranger came over to chat.

He opened with, "I really tried sailing. Really tried to make it work." The guy moved down with his family from Maryland. He had a 23 foot sailboat. Eventually sold it. He went on and on about how western Florida isn't a good place to sail. It's too shallow. There are too many rocks. His wife always wanted to know when they were stopping to eat, or when they could head back.

Not really encouraging words.

In spite of that, we launched anyway. Once again, we had a long motor out of the narrow channel, straight into the wind. Eventually. the channel came to an end. We raised the sails and we were off.

Haven't had this much fun in years. Everything worked. We went where we wanted to go -up the coast, down the coast, out deeper into the gulf. Successfully tacked back and forth. At the end of the day, we even sailed down the narrow channel to the boat ramp. Raised the swing keel and never hit bottom. Yes, there were rocks, but well marked.

Soon after we raised the sails, things were going so well we had some lunch while sailing. Had coffee later. Even gave the sanitary facilities a field test. The sailboat isn't just transportation, or recreation. It's a place to live -even my small boat.

Did some navigation with compass, chart, and GPS, and a good pair of binoculars. Hooked up the antenna to the top of the mast and had great reception. While we were having a great time, we listened to the Coast Guard on the radio. Someone was out in the Gulf with a disabled boat.

My lovely wife said, "We are not disabled."

Indeed, we were not.

Forgot the camera on the boat, so the photos will have to wait until later.

Really really really happy with this sailboat. My lovely wife said it was like 40 years just dropped away.

Can't be much better than that.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sailor Dog

Brownie the Sailor Dog helps me organize the cabin.


Where no wind blows

Did not take the boat out today. Not enough wind to make it worthwhile. Heading out Thursday morning. My wife insists we are heading out, wind or no wind, and that's fine with me.

Found new plugs for the motor. Keeping the old ones as spares. Washed the road grime off the hull. Straightened out the lines. Practiced with the GPS. Entered some interesting waypoints. Studied the charts with my wife this time. She has a much better feel for the conditions around here. Time spent in prep should make it better on the water. Will let you know.

Also caught up with some old friends in the area. They've been down here for about a year. Like many people, they started spending a few months in the worse of the winter. Now, like my dad, they are year round Floridians. Blood gets thin, I guess. My dad gets angry when it's too cold to wear short pants. He never wore shorts up north. Go figure.

In the evening I catch what's going on in the world. Frankly, I'm glad I've been distracted by my sailboat. While boats are a sickness, (Mariner's Disease), it's healthier than following the news.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shakedown Cruise

Well that was interesting.

Took the sailboat out into the Gulf today. Then my wife took it back, but let's begin from the beginning. Loaded up the boat and headed to the Gulf. Set up the mast and rigging in the parking lot. Made sure there was plenty of clearance. Backed the sailboat down the ramp into the water. Backed down a bit more than I should have.

Now I could have gotten back in the truck and moved up the ramp a bit, but what the heck, I don't mind getting my feet wet. Turns out I don't mind getting my cell phone wet either. Found that out hours later. Launched the boat, and even made sure it had a dock line tied on to it so it didn't go to Cuba by itself.

So far so good.

The outboard motor that started just fine back in October gave me a hard time. Not really a surprise. Eventually got it fired up. Motored down a narrow channel. Took a wrong turn. My lovely wife was sitting just so as to block my view of the compass. No problem. The old "Red, Right, Returning," rule saved me. When the markers are heading the wrong way, maybe it's not the markers. Did a quick course correction and headed down the channel. Politely asked my wife to sit somewhere else.

Then we headed down the channel some more. The Gulf is darn shallow around here. Now a sailor who knows what to do might have been able to head out on sail alone. We motored. After a bit, I let my wife take the helm.

She was doing just fine, keeping it in the channel. I went to mess with the sail, and promptly cross threaded one of those finicky boaty bits. By the time I'd dug out my pliers and undid the problem, my wife had turned the boat around. While I'd been busy, she became uneasy about the other boats out in the Gulf, plus a few navigation hazards.

This surprised me a bit, but hey, if she's not comfortable, then she's not comfortable.

Made it back to the dock and succeeded loading up the sailboat. Then we stopped for a light dinner and a beer. She wants to go out again tomorrow, but launch somewhere else. I'm delighted she wants to get back out on the water. No need to push her comfort zone so I'll scale things back a tiny bit.

Learned some important things today. The boat floats. The motor runs fine, but the fuel line was in tough shape. It leaked a bit. Picked a replacement on the way back to my dad's. Learned to deal with the fiddly bits while still on shore. Yes, I knew that already, but was in too much of a hurry to get out on the water. The dog settled right down and looks like she might work out just fine as a boat dog.

While not the day I'd imagined, it was a good day. Nobody got hurt and nothing got broken. There's always tomorrow.


Monday, February 14, 2011

All in a Day's non-work.

Good thing my lovely wife doesn't get all sappy about Valentine's Day. Sure, we went out to eat today, but most of the day went into sailboat work. It's finally wired up to my satisfaction. There are navigation lights I'm happy with. The radio is working fine. Even have a nice bright cabin light.

Mounted the compass and a fire extinguisher. Things are looking good.

If there aren't any more interruptions, maybe I'll finally get to wet the hull tomorrow -with my lovely wife. Now that has the potential for some romance.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Boat Repair in Exotic Locations

Most likely will not get out on the water until Tuesday. Sunday was spent driving around Florida looking for sailboat stuff. There isn't anything back home. Try finding boat supplies in northern NH during the winter.

We were able to get everything on my list. I knew that marine supply stores were expensive, but there's expensive and there's marine expensive. Ouch! At least I had a fairly short list. Some things there are no good substitutes for. Picked up those little parts that become offerings to Neptune. Backups, it's all about backups.

By the time everything was gathered up, there wasn't enough time to install it all. Eventually ran out of daylight. There is always tomorrow. Decided to get everything done right before heading out into the Gulf. Most likely make enough mistakes. Best to get everything squared away that I can while on dry land. At least I'm working in my shorts and T-shirt.

One of the cool things about this project is that I get to do projects with my dad. He's still darn clever. Lots of fun to solve problems together. He's not afraid to tackle new things, even at his age. It's a good feeling to see he still hasn't lost it.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Back from the Shadows Again!

Sorry if anyone was concerned about my disappearance. Haven't been off-line much since I started this blog.

We were staying with friends in northern FL who are pretty much off the radar. They don't even have Internet access. We slept in a tent, gathered around the campfire and ate some barbecue. Hung out with their horses, cats, dogs, and assorted other critters.

My friend gave my wife and I two days of sailboat instruction. Set up the rigging, ran up the sails, and checked out everything. Unfortunately, there was zero wind on the day we had free for sailing. Spent it doing more classroom type instruction. Got some good info on sailboat improvements.

Today I'm down to my dad's. Just managed to set up a wifi system on his Internet connection. That way I don't have to use his ancient steam powered computer. His machine is fine if you just want to play solitaire.

Pretty beat. More later. Maybe even a photo or two.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Weird Start, Slow going, but Steady Progress

Currently in a hotel room in N. Carolina. What a long strange trip it's been.

We'd originally planned on heading out Saturday morning. Good thing we put it off a day. While the morning started off clear and sunny, clouds moved in quickly in the afternoon. By the evening, we had a strange mix of heavy snow combined with thunder and lightning with strong winds. That ain't right. We would have gotten caught in that on the road. Glad we waited.

Sunday, everything was buried in heavy snow. The town plow piled up brand new 3 foot snowbanks in front of the truck and boat. Eventually got everything dug out enough to hitch the truck to the boat. Between the snow, last minute packing issues, and winterizing the house, we didn't hit the road until 1:30 in the afternoon. Very late start for us.

Slow going in the road. In New England, there was enough patchy ice on the road to keep our speed way down. Even on clear Interstate highway, I generally kept our speed around 62. It's the sweet spot for fuel economy and trailer handling.

Speaking of fuel, prices have gone up a fair bit when I wasn't looking. Regular readers know that most of the time the old truck runs on waste vegetable oil. I've been insulated from the rise in fuel costs. Well, this trip there was a little problem with my waste veggie. Behind the snowstorm was an Arctic chill. The vegetable oil had almost solidified. It poured like cold molasses, which is to say, not at all. Tried to pump it with a gear pump but blew a fuse. Okay then, I thought what the heck, I'll just buy diesel. That was a shock. $75 didn't even fill both fuel tanks.

The next time I needed fuel was around Fishkill NY. Diesel was even higher priced there. I came to the conclusion I would have to get some veggie into the fuel tank. It took most of an hour, but by searching out the thinner oils and pouring off just the very top of the jugs, I was able to fill about 3/4 the veggie tank. Fortunately, as we got further south, the oil got easier and easier to pour. Have yet to buy more diesel.

We aren't in any hurry, but this has been one of my slowest trips south. Besides the snow, ice and pulling a trailer, the little dog needs the occasional rest stop. We'll get there when we get there. Had hoped to get further south, but was tired to the point of hallucination. It was time to stop and get a shower and couple hours rest.

The snow has finally melted off the boat. There as a good 3 - 4 inches of caked on ice, and the cockpit was full of snow. It really didn't start melting off until the middle of VA. There was still some snow in the cockpit when we stopped for the night. It is nice to see there was a fine little sailboat under all that ice. Could use a good cleaning to get off the road grime.

About to head across the street to the Waffle House for coffee and hash browns. Seems that in the south there's always a Waffle House across the street. It's one of the ways I know I'm in the south. That, and finally thawing out.

My lovely wife just talked our friends in northern FL. If all goes well, we should be at their place tomorrow.

Friday, February 4, 2011

One More Delay

Originally, I'd planned on leaving the frozen north by February first. One thing or another kept pushing the date off until Saturday the fifth. As of Friday night, the truck is mostly packed, the boat's loaded, and we could be on the road by Saturday -but we won't.

This time it's by choice. Another storm is coming up the coast. It's not supposed to be bad here in NH. Only about 3 inches of snow is expected in my area. I'm not too worried about driving in that. However, further south, it looks like a nasty mix of snow and freezing rain. The thought of driving in the Boston/New York corridor in those conditions is not a good one.

Sunday, conditions look much better. That's the current departure date.

I'd like to thank my buddy Jeff for helping me load up the heavy things. Beats the heck out of doing it alone. The old back has been complaining.

Shoveled out the sailboat again. Always feels a bit odd doing that. Probably have snow and ice on the boat until we get deep in the south. Should be an interesting trip.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

. . . and, we're back!

Internet was down for a while. It's back now. If I had to guess, I'd say it was storm related.

Posting might get spotty for a bit. Will be hitting the road soon and Internet connections will be iffy.

We'll be staying with friends for a week who are so far off the grid, they don't have Internet.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Travel: basic precautions

Ran into a friend of mine today and we had a chance to chat. Her husband, daughter, and herself, almost froze to death. They were on a hundred mile trip, mostly on isolated back roads. The heater in the car failed. At the same time, they were having engine problems. They came very close to being stranded in the middle of nowhere, during subzero weather.

They piled their coats on the little girl to keep her warm. Both parents were in the early stages of hypothermia by the time they got back to civilization. It could have been worse. Winter coats were almost left behind as they are big and bulky. Once the car warms up, big coats are only in the way. People get used to relying on their vehicle's heater -a serious mistake.

In normal day to day travel, my truck has four space blankets, two emergency shelters, and three ways of making fire. On a trip like my friends took, I'd also add a couple winter rated sleeping bags, extra water, and a thermos of coffee. Always insisted my family members "dress like you'll have to walk home." You never know.

Technology fails. You don't have to.

Before all you warm climate people get too smug. How often do you rely on your car's AC? Do you have sensible warm weather clothes? Good walking shoes? Plenty of water? Getting stranded in triple digit temps dress in a suit and without water is no fun either.

Ask yourself how you'd do if you had to walk the distance you can drive in a half hour.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Of two minds

I'm in a strange state of mind. Part of the time I'm thinking of everything I'm going to need to go sailing and camping. Call it my warm weather thoughts.

To make that trip happen, I've got to deal with getting everything ready up here in the frostlands. Call it my cold weather reality.

Take today for example. The new tires on the boat trailer needed to be pumped up. The air compressor had to be kept near the kitchen woodstove so it'd be warm enough to run. Bearing buddies could use a bit more grease, but it's a struggle in sub zero temperatures.

Even simple things like screwing on the new license plate is a hassle. Do I put it on in the morning when it's 15 below, or hope for it to warm up a bit and take a chance the next snowstorm won't bury the trailer again. Decisions. Decisions.

My windshield washer motor has been broken for some time. Really want that to work for the trip. Stopped the project when the temperature dropped below zero. I had to remove some plastic panels, but from experience I've learned the truck's plastic cracks and shatters at low temperatures.

There are a few small projects I want to do on the sailboat before putting it in the water. Those will wait until I get to my friend's place in Florida. The best that can be done here in snow country is to get all the parts and tools together and store them on the boat.

I'm trying to remember to pack my shorts and sandals while bundled up like Nanook of the North. Warm weather doesn't even seem quite real to me right now.

It'll all come together by Saturday moring . . . it'd better.