Tuesday, November 3, 2009



We have been blessed to be able to pursue our goal of sailing for a few years in our retirement. While we are still a ways out, it seems as though things might just be working out, if ever so slowly. I know of so many people who have dreams, big or small, that get stuck because of either external or self-imposed restraints. After all, selling everything and buying a sailboat sounds like a pipe dream to the ultimate escape, but in reality pursuing that dream carries a whole lot of opportunity to spend money, solve problems and make plans that inevitably have to be changed. Someone once said that chasing a dream is hard work (oh yeah, that might have been me) and while we've had our fair share of challenges, we are also able to take a top-down look at it and say "well, we're on the coast, and we own a sailboat". That's what we set out to do and here we are. Now it becomes a matter of prayer and planning to see if the fulfilment of the dream can be had in the next three or four or five years.
When we decided on the little sailboat as a training platform, we really didn't know how much we would indeed learn. I look back now, 6 months after we sailed the SV Robin (S/V is 'Sailing Vessel') to her first slip and I can point at so many things that we've learned; from painting with epoxy-polymer to mechanical and electrical and woodworking to sailing in a current, to talking to drawbridges to arranging payments for dockage to tying up extra dock lines in case of a hurricane. It's all been good and we have enjoyed our little boat from every aspect.

Our initial 'sail' was about 20 some nautical miles up the Intracoastal waterways. Actually we motored up the whole distance and including the wait times for scheduled drawbridges it took over 5 hours. We figured we would stay in Fort Lauderdale at Cooley's Landing during the summer because a) it was touted as a good spot to be in case we did get severe weather and 2) it was significantly less expensive than a few other locations we'd investigated. But all good things need to take a break and so did our stay in Fort Lauderdale.
A lot of money is made aroound here during the winter months as the 'snowbirds' arrive from parts north. The RV parks fill up with license plates from Quebec and Montreal and Massachussettes and owners and vendors raise prices accordingly. Robin and I planned to return to the south of Miami for the winter, and prices don't skyrocket as badly as they do in the Fort Lauderdale area. The prices at our RV park were going to go up about 30% and the price at the marina was going to go up by nearly 50% so it was time to move out in search of cheaper pastures. The rate hikes were happening in November so we planned to move our RV and the boat to new locations before the 1st if we could squeeze it in with our schedules at work.
Then the cold front came through.

Now a cold front in Florida isn't quite the same as one in say ... Wyoming, where the temperature can drop 50 degrees in an hour but still, it had some people excited about the propsects of cooling off from the mid 90's. There was talk at work about the associated thunderstorms and cooling air and the forecast surface winds were going to be fairly stiff at upwards of 25 knots. At first it didn't settle in with me, but finally a light dawned and I asked some questions of our local weather expert about the details of these forecasted winds.
Originally Robin and I had put our thinking caps on and tried to come up with a couple of days we could coordinate our efforts to move S/V Robin down to the new marina. It would be a 56 nautical mile trip and at 4 or 5 knots best it would mean a long, long day of it. We really didn't have convenient scheduling to get together for a sail (opposite days off) so we felt relinquished to staying at the higher-priced marina until we could get a weekend together (even in the middle of the week). But the cold front changed that...

Winds would be right out of the north, meaning that if we could make arrangements to go right after frontal passage we would have brisk weather and a strong tailwind to push us along the coastline toward our destination. We needed to move rather quickly, as suddenly we had a narrow window (2 days) to plan and move instead of the three or four weeks we'd initially conceived. Well, it all came together, we got the time off and packed up to go. We checked out and said a very fond goodbye to the staff at Cooley's Landing marina a the day before we left, went home and planned our trip. Initially I had given consideration to departing after Robin got off work that evening (Sunday). It was my day off, and it would mean that I would pack and prepare the boat and Robin would join me after getting off work at 9:00 P.M. We would sail all night until approaching the entrance to the new harbor and throw out the anchor for a couple of hours waiting for the high tide. The entrance to the harbor is not only narrow but very shallow and since it is a whole new place for us, I did not want to risk running through 4 feet of water when we need four feet eight inches :). An overnight sail is not my favorite idea, as you have to rely a whole lot on GPS and can't see the sights and after being awake all day it makes you very tired, but we were indeed slaves to the tide and we needed to be at the entrance by around 10:30 A.M. in order to have the deepest water. The next high-tide was about 11 hours later, deep into the night again and I did not want to try to negotiate a new channel, new harbor and cement dock late at night. So, that was the plan anyway.
Surprisingly Robin got Sunday off from work so we quickly made new plans (as referenced in paragraph 1 above) packed up and sailed away about 12 hours ahead of schedule. Now we would be able to travel most of the way in daylight then spend the whole of the night at anchor and make the entrance from nearby in the morning. Much easier idea and it worked out very well for us, but not without a bit of excitement (would you have it any other way???)

We'd been thinking about moving the boat for several days and were, well, sort of ready to sail. The last minute provisions consisted of food, some blankets and pillows and, as a last minute thought, extra fuel. While I was pretyy confident that we'd have plenty of diesel, the gague hasn't worked since we bought her and I was only estimating what we had in the tank. An extra 5 gallons couldn't hurt. The little two-cylinder engine purrs along nicely and is pretty stingy with fuel. I am sure it isn't as eco-friendly as a model that's 30 years newer, but it sure is nice to have a motor unburdened with oxygen sensors and computer controlled exhaust recirculating to make life a little more difficult if it unexpectedly quits running.
We cast off at around 11:30 - ish (after being so busy with preparations, it was not really noticed what the time was) and motored along the New River. We crossed under the familiar 7th Avenue, Andrews Avenue and 3rd St drawbridges and joined the Intracoastal waterway southbound. Along the we felt a few 'puffs' of wind; reminders that we needed to pay close attention to our drift while we were within the narrow confines of the river's dredged passageway. After crossing under the 17th Street causeway (which has plenty of clearance for us to pass beneath without requiring an opening) we entered the shipping channel at Port Everglades and turned due east toward open water. I have read about the feeling one gets when you point toward open water and yes, it is exciting and intimidating simultaneously. Even though we really wouldn't travel all that far offshore, it was still a pretty cool feeling to know that we were doing what we set out to do; take a sailboat out on the open ocean. We were planning to be on the water for about 24 hours and it was exciting to think about what lie along the way.
We motored out along the channel and began to feel the predicted north winds pushing on us as we cleared the buildings and rock jetties. Even though we were some 6 nautical miles from the forecast wall of the northbound Gulf Stream, we coould see clearly the very tall waves and rough conditions brought up by the northerly-flowing Gulf Stream current fighting against the south-bound winds which were now approaching 30 knots out there. I was thankful that would not be where we would want to be heading this day...but it might be fune to try it for a while on our own terms)

We turned southbound about a mile and a half off shore after opening up some of the front sail (jib) and getting a feel for how hard the wind would be pushing us. After only a few winutes we decidied that the jib alone would be sufficient power for us and we ran downwind at over 6 knots for a while, with speeds as high a 7.8 kts recorded on the GPS. The wind was pushing well indeed!
We don't have the equipment to tell exactly how much relative wind we have, but a check on the radio brought us reported winds of 20 to 32 knots from nearby reporing stations.
The wind was out of the north, and so were the waves ... 3 to 4 feet of them for the most part, a few bigger ones that offered a little more lift as we rode up the swell and then dipped into the trough that followed.
Now, waves from behind are called 'following seas' and they can be a bane depending on how the boat handles and if the waves manage break in the wrong spot and spill over the back end of the boat thereby soaking the sailors. We happily report that the SV Robin is a very stable and very dry boat in follwing seas. She handled extremely well, and the waves provided a smooth and gentle ride without smacking the back of the boat and splashing over.

We traveled along the coastline southbound watching Fort Lauderdale, Dania Beach, Hollywood Beach, North Miami Beach and South Miami Beach slip along our starboard side. We took turns at the helm (the autopilot is inoperative, and enjoyed the view, the ride, the temperature and the breeze. The little boat slipped right along the coastline and we passed the big Miami Port and the inbound channel called "Government Cut" pretty much on schedule and under a beautiful sky.

We kept our ears on the VHF, our eyes on the GPS and enjoyed our snacks along the way. We played with different sail setting and eventually traded the Jib for the Mainsail which gave us nearly as much speed and a little less noise. div>
After we passed Miami we slipped past Virginia Key island and Biscayne Island, observing the lighthouse we had visited while bike-riding the Biscayne State Park a few months earlier. The persective of looking 'in' from offshore toward places you've visited is pretty cool.
We were directly east of the south part of Biscayne Island during sunset. The sky was gorgeous and the sun splashed acroos the clouds and burned between the builldings on the island. There was one point where we could see the billiant orange light poking through the hallways of a building; apparently with windows on both ends. Very unique and impossible to capture on film (or in this case CCD digital). After the sunset show it gradually darkened and cooled off a little. We had just a couple of miles to travel southbound before finding our passage through the shallow water of Biscayne Bay and re-connecting with the Intracoastal (ICW). The winds were still quite strong and sailing at night through a narrow channel going cross-wind did not appeal to my skill level so we swung into the wind to drop the sail. As we headed into the wind we got a taste for exactly how hard it was blowing.
Robin had the helm as I tried to drop the sail. Being the 'more mature' boat that it is, the sail didn't just race down its track and fall precisely into position so it took what seemed like several minutes to pull it down one 'hank' at a time and try to control the loose sailcloth in the wind.

Robin was having difficulty maintaining a heading as the wind was pushing us around so she got the engine going and got us underway into the the wind again. This was a brilliant move that helped in all aspects. I was holding tightly to the mast dragging the sail down and tying it off while Robin kept us steady on. In retrospect it went well, but we learned a couple of lessons about preparation there and about dealing with 'Small Craft Advisory' winds. "Small Craft Advisories" are just plain fun :)
Once we started westbound the winds was coming directly over our starboard rail and we were crossing the waves at about 45 degrees nose in. The waves would occasionally splash us pretty good so we ended up donning our rain jackets to stay a little drier. We were thankful that the GPS was waterproof. The strength of the wind and the 'windage' of the boat required us (mostly Robin) to steer about 40 degrees into it to keep our course. I suppose there's mathematics we could plug into some formula to predict that, but it was just a matter of saying 'further to starboard, ... more ... more ... until we started making good our desired course through the water.
Our course took us past some old derelict houses, formerly elite mansions on pilings, that were built out in the open water. Locally known as "StiltsVille", the houses are now vacant and as we passed the structures in near-total darkness it was bordering on downright spooky.
Crossing the channel (Biscayne Channel, south of Key Biscayne Island if you want to look it up) took around an hour and then we cleared the end markers and turned southwest bound to connect to the Intracoastal Waterway for the rest of the leg. It was completely dark now and we were very dependent on the GPS as the ICW channel markers are fairly widely spaced. We saw lots of stars, a couple of flashing beacons, and airplane or two and one brighltly lit fishing boat (bigger than us) heading the opposite direction obviously in a hurry. It was pounding hard into the waves, creating big splashes of spray and a 'thump' we could hear from a half-mile away. They must have been miserable aboard, fighting the wind, getting both pounded and soaked. We at least had the wind on our stern and following waves again. We plugged along southbound, Robin competently steering us nearly perfectly centered in the ICW channel. Which helped as we entered a very narrow section called "The Featherbeds".

I had debated making this crossing at night, but as we were doing so well keeping our course, and as the tide was higher than it would be early in the morning, we made the crossing without incident. There were markers on both ends of the channel, and the run was perhaps a mile and a half long, but there is till trepidation in a very narrow channel with very shallow water on both sides. Later on I'll explain why we should've waited but our plan was unfolding well as it was.
After clearing the Featherbeds we were in position to enter the long channel to Black Point marina. This was one we had decided to not try at night so we consulted the charts for a reasonable depth with some "swing" room should the winds change and I wne out front and tossed the anchor out. It took a bit before it sunk in and caught, but we were held tight against the wind and waves all night long. I set the GPS to alarm if the anchor dragged and Robin and I tried to catch a few winks between looking outside and checking that our position had not changed. We had a couple of nice landmarks, the most notable of which was a nuclear power plant. Not surprisingly, it was well-lit :)
Neither of us slept much as the winds did not subside and the waves gave us a pretty good ride all night long. This will be an art we will have to develop after more experience. A after daybreak we prepared for the last 7-mile leg into the marina and with Robin at the helm I weighed anchor and we set out northwest-bound toward the channel entrance.
As I mentioned a little earlier I was going to explain why crossing the Featherbeds the previous night had not been such a good idea.
What seems so painfully obvious in retrospect did not occur to me at all during the planning phase. By crossing through the Featherbeds and anchoring a couple of miles past that crossing point, we put ourselves SOUTH of the marina's channel entrance. That didn't seem like a problem until we figured out that south of the entrance also meant downwind of the entrance. With a 20-25 knot headwind we could only manage around 2 knots forward speed toward the goal, and if we ended up being too late, we would miss high tide and risk running aground n the shallow water. As it worked out, the problem of the headwind became less of a concern only a few minutes after we got underway ... because the engine quit.
Now we were adrift in the bay with a strong wind pushing us southward. Thankfully our direction of drift was right back toward our anchorage so we knew we were in deep enough waters to not get stuck. I clambered up front, tossed the anchor over and played out what I though was about the right amont of line (called 'scope'). I felt it tug and went back and below to see if I could puzzle out what might've happened. There were a couple of possibilities that were running through my mind, the worst of which was an overheat somehow because we'd not paid attention to the water coming out of the exhaust or maybe the headwind had something to do with it. I considered that the fuel filter may have gotten clogged up (I had seen this before on the S/V Contour) and I prepared to get really messy trying to fix that. I rummaged through and found the new filter cartridge, and then I thought about it for a few more seconds and decided to start with the less obvious, but simpler-to-prove hypothesis that we may have run out of fuel.

We did bring the 5-gallon extra-just-in-case-we-needed-it container and I poured it into the tank. The engine cranked and failed, cranked and failed, then cranked and sputtered, then cranked and ran a couple of seconds then cranked and ran a few more seconds and I almost gave up. Finally it caught and stayed running and we could get underway.

It was then that Robin told me that the anchor hadn't really set and we'd been dragging the whole time. When I looked at the GPS we had drifted to nearly the exact spot that we'd anchored so off we went :).
Anchor aweigh and into the wind, we made the channel entrance about 90 minutes after we'd planned. There was still enough depth to let us through (with some to spare actually) and we motored into the channel waving to the occasional fisherman and passing a man with his two young children that was pointing toward us. We could hear him saying "Look! ... Pirates!!" to his kids. I did my best "Avast me hardies!" back to them and they all waved. What fun :)

We found our slip, tied up and walked over to the marina's grill. We met a great bartender and had a great lunch. The drive home was easy enough considering the lack of sleep and we arived back home satisfied that we'd done something we really, really wanted to do over our weekend.

It's good to go sailing.

WDW: Part Deux


Well, it had been nearly a week since we spent the day at Disney World so we figured 'what the heck' and planned for another day up there. You know, some times there is indeed too much of a good thing, but we've not reached that point at Disney World yet.

There was a good incentive for making the trip again (about 4 hours each way) and the story goes thusly:
A week prior we had cruised with Mom on the Carnival Glory and spent a day at Disney World (WDW) after we returned from the ship. On the very day that we left Orlando to drive back home, our relatives from Spokane arrived for a week long stay at the park but our schedules were so out of whack that we didn't get to see them at all, just like (grin) ships passing in the night. Robin and I weren't sure if we could arrange another trip up, but we sure wanted to spend some time with the rest of the family (you know, aunts and cousins and nephews, oh my) so we spent most of the work week whining that we'd like to get just ever-so-slightly more time off and were ultimately successful in arranging an overnighter back at WDW with some short notice.

Now, as luck would have it (and I won't go into the long story part of it) we eventually ended up getting to stay at the same on-property hotel with the rest of the family. A very cool turn of a phone conversation worked in our favor and we booked at a pretty nice room in one of the Disney economy lodges (The All Star Movies Resort to be exact).

Since we'd only be allowed one day in the park, we chose a single-park admission (a bit less expensive than a "park Hopper" pass) and whined that we'd like to go to Epcot for our choice. We met up with the family and what a great evening of reunion it turned out to be! The next day we spent time in Epcot and rode rides around a test track at 65 mph and all the way to Mars, actually. There was fun and laughter and hot sunshine and snacks. We then hopped a boat and went to the Swan and Dolphin hotel for one of the finest meals I could've imagined inside a theme park. The restaurant was called "Il Mulino" and was modeled after a classy Trattorio in New York City.

The food was first rate, the service outstanding and when the asked for our wine selection I half-jokingly asked for a 5 year old vintage of our favorite chardonnay (having not seen it available since it became a 1 year old vintage) and amazingly they had it! We ordered it before we had a second thought that we should've maybe inquired about the price, but at the end we discovered that it was very reasonable after all (well, I guess that's a matter of perspective).

Were I a critic of note (a la Ratatouille) I would happily give the establishment 4 1/2 stars out of 5, the only downside being that the overall ambiance was a bit too cool to be called 'intimate'. The place was pretty sparcely populated, but I can imagine that it is a noisy place when it is hopping.

Our visit with our family afforded some much needed catching-up time coupled with a good dose of silly fun.

I am so glad we managed to pull it off, and as we drove home we talked about the treasures that are our families and the gold that our memory of those we now miss.

We also decided that going to Disney every weekend could work for us :)

Captain Jack Sparrow tells it like it is.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Glory Be and Disney Too!


Few things are as simple as going on a cruise ship. I love the concept of a ‘floating hotel’ and it sure is a great way to be introduced to places and cultures that you might otherwise pass by as, at best uninteresting and at worst, too risky. The down side of taking a cruise is, of course, it costs money.
These last few months have indeed been tough; on our family and friends, on the country in general and on us. Many of you know we are still waiting for under-valued properties (ok, maybe they were previously over-valued) to sell and free us from the mortgages. So, we are sitting tight on our big plans to buy the dream boat and we are reigning in expenses as best we can. Then along comes George Leppla and his “Recession-Buster” cruise idea.
George is a first class Travel Agent in a world where the whole Travel Agency concept has changed. So many people book online now that TAs have had to adapt and find their own kind of specialties to be successful. George has found a great specialty in putting together group cruises and he continues to offer some pretty cool ideas for the cruisers in his circle. Robin and I have been on a few, and while we were actually not planning another one this deal jumped up and we decided to grab it.
Now this is an(other) unsolicited plug for George because I like the way he does business; simple, up front and honest.

(George and Becca, with Robin)

Go visit his website at http://www.cruisemaster.com/ and take a look at the next couple of trips. We aren’t planning on any in the future as we want to focus mainly on or sailing plans, but then … you never know.

We climbed aboard the Carnival Glory after a quick-turn from a swing shift and a 4 hour drive to Orlando.

(Carnival Glory, Deck 12)

The plan was elegant and worked like a charm: The ship was leaving from Port Canaveral, which is very close to Kennedy Space Center, at 4:00 P.M. We backed it up to 1:00 P.M. target arrival in order to allow for any unexpected delays and backed it up further to drive into Orlando proper to pick up our Mom who was flying in to make the cruise too. After a quick grab and dash at her hotel (OK, it was a great reunion time too) we scooted the 40-something miles to Port Canaveral and actually made it there around noon-ish. The crowd was already gathering and the lines were forming. Now Mom has a VIP pass of sorts as she travels by electric scooter a lot and they have specially accessible entrances available. I dropped Robin, Mom, the scooter and the luggage off and went to park the truck. This was my first disappointment. The Port authority, I realized, was something I should've given more consideration to as 1: they have a captive audience if you drive up there and 2) the parking is exorbitantly expensive. There’s simply no other game in town and 3: after I paid over a hundred dollars for a week’s parking I drove up the ramp and met an attendant who then told me that the parking garage was full. Hmmmm … There was no room to turn the truck (FordZilla) around on the ramp so I backed ever so carefully back down and did find a nice spot nested under a palm tree to call a parking spot for the week. In hindsight, I never checked for coconuts and that could’ve been a problem if a big storm had come through while we were gone (things you don’t think about living in Colorado).
When I got back to the line, Mom had gone ahead and Robin (as is here style) had a nice conversation going with some new-found friends in the line. We thought it would be OK to stay in the line that mom had gone in and see if we could catch up with here, but alas she is an expert at this process and while we were delayed in the line she motored on through and was done checking in and on her way to her room before we ever got through the first metal detector. We were definitely playing in her territory now :)
Checking in was actually an easy affair and we found ourselves aboard and in our stateroom (all 315 square feet of it) a little before 2 P.M. All went very well and we wandered around a little until it was time for the requisite Life Boat muster and drill. I don’t mind the drill, it is at least a reminder that should something happen, you have something to do. This particular drill was a bit out of the ordinary though and the safety announcement soon gave way to several other ships’ announcements that began to wear on our patience as we stood there dressed in our life jackets. Ah well, the whole thing took all of 25 minutes, no biggie.
We set sail and motored out the channel and past Milliken’s restaurant where Robin and I have enjoyed a couple of good meals, once while waiting about 4 hours for an eventually aborted Shuttle launch, and then past Jetty Park and into open water. The ride was nearly perfectly smooth the whole trip and the weather was as good as it gets considering it was smack in the middle of hurricane season. We were blessed with clear skies and warm-to-hot days for the whole week. The trip went to Belize, Cozumel, Costa Maya and Nassau.

(Costa Maya: Yard-long Daquiris, a swimming pool in the shopping area and a view of the pier pointing toward old-town.)


Our determination was to make this trip one of minimal expense so we passed on taking any formal ‘excursions’ provided by the ship and instead got off on foot and explored a little bit of each destination. Surrounding any cruise ship port there is always a bustling shopping district (well, except for Port Canaveral) and Robin and I spent some time ashore at each port wandering the shops, which all seem to meld into one big tourist trap after a while, and doing a little bit of exploring to see if we could round up a Geocache or two.

(Geocache found in Nassau)

We had good success coming up with a few finds and we dropped of a “Travel Bug” while we were out and about in Nassau.
Nassau was our biggest outing as we hiked around and did some sightseeing on our own. Geocaching often gets you going to some out of the way places and in Nassau we found a nice little commemorative park that is off the tourist beat but very interesting indeed.
We hiked up the hill to find the old Water Tower and toured an old Fort,
(Old Fort in Nassau)

then came back down into town and walked past the Governor’s Mansion

(Bahamas' Governor's Mansion ... it's pink :)

and back into the shopping district. Of course we had to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts when we passed by to get a cold drink and take in some air conditioning for a while.

(Nassau: Water Tower and the Memorial Park)

We were both appropriately hot and sweaty when we arrived back aboard and what little shopping we did yielded a couple of ‘treasures’ from the islands.

(Atlantis complex at Nassau)

We enjoyed our time aboard, relaxing with a couple of good novels and taking in some of the ‘features’ of all-you-can-eat dining. We spent time sitting and looking out to sea, lounging over a glass of wine before the dinner seating and walking hand-in-hand for no apparent reason and to no particular destination. A very big reason we decided on this trip was to get together with Mom and to get away from the work and city stressors that have pervaded our time here in Miami. It was worth it, it was great, we stuck to our budget, we almost stuck to a diet (giggle…who am I kidding) and we had a great getaway. I’d encourage anyone looking for an escape to try it. It’s easy and not too expensive these days. Plus there are ice cream machines at both ends of the ship :)
Well, what do you do after a cruise?? Go to Disney World of course.
Mom had built in an extra day to her itinerary before flying back to Washington and we decided to spend it Walt Disney World (WDW). We booked a rom at a hotel on-property. Not the cheapest way to go by far, but the immediate access to the Disney transportation system was well worth it.
We spent a wonderful day touring the Magic Kingdom which was decked out in Halloween regalia every where you turned. We rode the compulsory rides and hiked around the park for the better part of the day. A heavy downpour played havoc on us once and we decided to head back toward the hotel as the skies darkened up for a second act. We no sooner made it to the shelter of the monorail entrance than it began pouring down and we were thankful for our good call to head back.
During the visit we did some serious Pin-trading, which is a great way to meet some of the cast of Disney, see some places (such as other hotel lobbies).
We had a pretty good dinner at a restaurant that overlooked part of the Savannah from Disney's Animal Kingdom and watched giraffes, antelope and other animals graze across the area just outside out window. Pretty cool.
Well, here's to a great time had by all. Can't wait till we do it again. ... ... ... in about a week,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Moving on up.

Progress reports: Dateline September, 2009.

WORK: After nearly 11 months of varying levels and aspects of training I am once again certified to perform the functions for which I was hired. Although I have a little over 12 years of experience as a front-line manager it took a relatively complete retraining before I could be turned loose to watch over the area(s) and begin to get my feet wet and learn how things work, where things go and who is who here in the workplace. I am tremendously relieved that this process is over, and thankful for the 'education' gained along the way but it has been a longer than expected experience. Robin is not far behind and we hope to report the news of her certification in the next couple of weeks (after a short break for some R&R which will be discussed later). Now the dance begins in earnest as I begin to focus totally on supporting the mission and doing the best I can to provide problem-solving and support for the controllers under my watch.

I can't wait :) ... I do like this job.

PLAY: We are in furious preparation to abandon Florida for a week and take off on a cruise ship for a short jaunt around the Caribbean. It appears at first glance that the Atlantic Ocean has decided that we don't need any thrills along the way and has closed down it's hurricane production line for the time being. We're hoping for a nice ride and fair skies.

The cruise is incredibly inexpensive by normal standards and we will be spending our last smattering of vacation time for the trip. Mom will meet us and we will all board together to reunite with several cruising regulars who are all part of this group.

Plug for George; http://www.cruisemaster.com/ ... He has done us all well on organizing these group cruises and we look forward to seeing him again.

WORK: Part of the aforementioned "furious preparations to relax" (or FPTR as we know things around here) involve making things ready for what could happen while we're away and what's going to happen when we return. Since we're living a rather nomadic lifestyle right now, and since we have mobility in both our home and with the boat, we have to prepare both the 5th-wheel and the boat for the eventualities of a storm while we're gone (remember that part about a quiet Atlantic?). Hopefully we will go on vacation and come back to a nice, quiet and unchanged scene but the possibility, however slim, that there could be a big wind requires a bit if planning to make sure we won't worry ourselves over this. We figure it's like buying insurance; probably won't need it but if we do, it's invaluable.

So we are going to reduce 'windage' on the sailboat and tie it up as securely as we can. We'll use pretty much every piece of dock line that we have and will do our best to center it precisely between the slips and pilings and allow for enough motion to cope with a storm surge should one come. Reducing windage entails removing pretty much everything that's removable from the top of the boat. We will pull down covers and the bimini, remove extra lines we will remove the front (jib) sail altogether, as it is the one that would most likely self-deploy in a major wind and that would mean a disasterous high powered trip onto land, another boat, or who knows where. We will lash down, macrame style, the main sail so that it cannot get free and then we'll start adding dock lines galore.

The dockmaster informs us that they monitor everyone's dock-line jobs and fix stuff if they see it needs help so we're thankful for that support. Then again, the Atlantic's real quiet right now :)

Next up will be closing up and clearing the site around the 5th-wheel. The unit can stand a much higher wind if the rooms are closed in so we will leave it that way for the time we're gone.

PLAY: So we're leaving bright and early, heading to Orlando and picking up mom then making a b-line to Port Canaveral to catch the ship. Hopefully we'll be aboard and installed in the cabin before 3P.M. and can catch the first Happy Hour before we set sail. Isn't it great to have goals?

We will be bringing our handheld GPS and hope to do a little Geocaching at each of the stops along the way. Maybe we can find a few to add to our list as it's always fun and it's an inexpensive (free) excursion off the ship. We may have an opportunity to go see some Mayan ruins, but haven't decided on that one yet.

I will have the laptop and may be able to post some webcam pictures if conditions and internet availability allow. Other than that, I may get up enough energy to read a book, or I may choose to relax instead. Oh.. the choices.

MOVING: When we arrive back home, we will be hopping right back into action as our work schedule will change and kick in with new days off. Then we will be getting ready to move both the boat and the RV to new locations because very shortly the summer rates change to winter rates (high season) and things up in this neck of the woods (boat slip and RV park) get more expensive. We will be heading back to the first RV park we stayed in last year and will be moving the boat to a marina on the south side of Miami which is not far from where we'll be staying.

The new location of the boat will put us within easy reach of Biscayne Bay and even the Florida Keys. This could be fun as the winter season comes along and we pick up favorable winds for exploring the waterways around the souther tip of the state. We do know that we will be a 'slave to the tides' as the waters are very shallow around there and we will have to vigilant so that we don't end up having to use a tow service to pull us off a sandbar (no, really???? run aground???) The inlet/channel is right at our minimum depth so we will have to plan our jaunts out to open water around the tides.

The RV park is Larry and Penny Thompson, right next to the Miami Metrozoo. It's run by the Miami-Dade County and is very well maintained. We enjoyed it last year and are looking forward to returning. They have a very nice area to walk or ride bikes around, there is ample shade and several shelter areas to set up picnics if you're so inclined and, oh yes, there's a swimming pool complete with on-duty lifeguard. There's a 'community house' where they often put together pot-lucks and other activities to allow the campers to get together and socialize.
Last year we were unable to get "plugged in" because we were doing a lot of exploring and working to get our 'plan' together. Hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of some of the benefits they offer this time. If all goes well, we should be there throughout the 'winter' months (I realize that's a relative term coming from a former Colorado resident:)
Alright, we gotta pack...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hot Times in Miami

We kind of knew what we were getting into. We'd talked about it and conjectured what it would be like and thought about life running from air conditioner to air conditioner but the reality is you just have to experience it to know what it means. It's been in the mid 90's for the past couple of weeks. The humidity has been in the mid 80%'s and as high as 95% (well, higher when it rains) and it does indeed 'hit' you when you step out of the house, workplace, or car and realize that the heat index is pushing 110 degrees.
The first thing you notice is that your glasses, having been cooled to the ambient temperature of the room or vehicle, will fog up nearly instantly and within a few seconds you are totally IFR. The next phase is that the heat seems to 'surround' you. It's hard to explain, but coming from Denver, you could know that the sun was hot and could identify where the heat was coming from. It seems that it's not so when the air is pretty close to a wet sauna state. It slowly but inexorably drains your strength and any ambition you had toward outdoor projects. The sweat begins slowy enough, but the wet air does not allow evaporative cooling to happen so suddenly you're dripping and blotting at your forehead so you can keep seeing. Physical labor generates more sweat compounding the overall problem.
All of this happens between the time you open the car door and the time you reach the cool safety of Starbucks. Ahhh... I'll have a Frappuccino please, then I can revel in the brain freeze :)

And now, the update:
Robin and I have been diligently pursuing the elusive Certification as supervisors here in Miami and I am happy to say that it is now very near. Within a few more days both of us will become actively engaged in the the day to day activities that we were hired to do and we will be able to constructively contribute to the safe operation of the Center. It has been quite a ride and we are thankful to be nearing the end of this long and extensive training program. We've attended some very good classes both here in Miami and in Robin's case out of town and out of state. All of this leading toward being able to positively influence the folks that are working with and for us.
It has been very cool to be sharing the same time off and same shifts at work. The commuting situation has been relatively easy to manage when we can both come to work together and we hope that we can soon be assigned to days off and crews that will allow some of the same conveniences. We will know that soon; likely before the first of October and definintely before the end of October. The bidding for crews and vacation time will soon commence and that will set our schedules for the upcoming year.

The S/V Robin has been receiving some attention, although the amount of time we have been able to devote to projects and sailing has been limited by a pretty long run of severe weather. I am told that it is unusual to have as many thunderstorms as we have been happening, but that the same 'big picture' weather influence that is causing these seemingly perpetual thunderstorms may well serve to ward off tropical storms of hurricanse that may form up and be pointed our way. So far so good.
We've been keeping a very close watch on tropical weather because this is the first time we have ever had to consider it as a true threat. Both of us receive Tropical weather updated on our cell phones and we rely on the National Hurricane Center ( http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ ) to keep us up to date on what is where.
The projects on the boat have included replacing the bimini (the shade) and it is almost finished. What we find is that everything is pretty custom, and to try to run to the store and buy something that'll just drop in and fit is almost never going to work...but we did anyway. We are pretty close to having the installation complete and all that is remaining is to drill a few holes in the deck (gasp) and relocate the mounting hardware. This will ultimately involve epoxy, and sandpaper so we will again add to our list of things that will take a full day instead of an hour to complete. We want it strong and watertight so it is well worth any additional effort to make it good the first time.
The other project is the paint job. This has been a doozy of an attempt, starting with the concept that boat paint is probably on par with airplane paint as far as expense goes and it requires a lot of surface preparation and about 16 hours between coats for the epoxy-based paint to cure. A very different project from painting a house of touching up a barbeque. I am probably about 25% done with the topside and it looks pretty good for a pure amateur. I'll post a couple of pictures next time.
On the inside we've been doing jobs like sanding and polishing the stainless steel sinks and removing long lines of adhesive which had previously been strips of velcro for mosquito netting attachment. We'll deal with that particular problem when faced with it after we set out on more than day sails.

So far all is well. And we intend to keep it that way :)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Trial Separation

"My wife left me...", I said when a coworker asked how my weekend went.

"oh, did she go up to that class at Palm Coast?" he queried, not even remotely phased by what I'd just said...

Isn't it nice to be known as such a couple that a quip like this doesn't give the slightest pause to those who hear it. I couldn't pull it off once ... sigh; and while that might take a wee bit of fun out of the game it also speaks volumes about how Robin and I have been perceived by our coworkers as well as those we've come to know by being 'regular' customers at local shops.
When I dropped the line "she left me" at Starbucks, the fellow behind the cash register stared straight at me and said simply "no she didn't ... now where is she?" ... isn't that something?

Our trial separation began over a week ago when Robin headed about 300 miles north to attend a management class put on by the F.A.A. She'll be learning some of the nuts-and-bolts of labor relations, civil rights and doing projects that will develop her skills as a manager and give her background into management principles. It is a solid two weeks of work involving study, projects, presentations and role-play. All in all a good thing ... but ... it means we're apart.
So ... we planned a rendezvous over the weekend and she drove south while I drove north. We met in Titusville, FL which is just a few miles west of the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center so guess what we decided to do. (OK, not that hard to figure out).

When we checked in at our hotel the receptionist offered us discounted tickets to the Space Center so we solidified our plans right then. Saturday morning we woke up and after the free breakfast headed out to the complex. We connected with Joe and Emerson, managers from Denver and Atlanta who were in the same class that Robin was taking and spent the next couple of hours walking and looking and listening to the various sights and sounds that the visitor's center had to offer.

Being up close and personal with a lot of exotic hardware and watching films of space adventures and looking at timelines and reading all about the history of space flight and climbing on a Space Shuttle and learning a lot of things I didn't know made this a pretty special day. We enjoyed a "ride" in the Space Shuttle (simulator) that shook us and gave us a sense of G-loading. The simulator is a-la 'Star Tours' at Disney and it was touted as 'realistic'. Except for 3 and a half G's on liftoff it did indeed give you a flavor of flight. The primary thing I learned is that when the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) light off, you're going for a ride, like it or not, and that ride is surprisingly rough. The shaking and rattling of the launch vehicle is something I really hadn't known about until now and I can say that it is harsh for the entire 2 minutes that the boosters are burning then it suddenly smooths out quite a bit after the separation in complete. Very interesting :)

We had the opportunity to watch a couple of IMAX movies. One was about the moon landings and one was about the building of the ISS (International Space Station). Both films were captivating and a joy to see (although we arrived at the last minute for the first one and had terrible seats to try to make 3-d glasses work).

By the time it was all said and done I had a keen sense of being proud; proud to be American and lucky to have been able to witness pretty much all of the milestones that have occurred in the Space Program. Yes, I do remember where I was on July 20, 1969.

We'd separated from the other two as they had scheduled a bus tour but hooked up again to go see (yet) another film. This was the new "Star Trek" movie and has been showing there for a long time. Robin and I had seen it here in Fort Lauderdale on the IMAX at the museum a couple of months ago but that showing was interrupted about half-way through when someone hit an emergency exit forcing the evacuation of the theatre and after a 40 minute delay we got to see the rest of the movie.

This seemed like a good opportunity to see it again all the way through. Robin told the story of our previous IMAX experience just as the movie was starting and - get this - the movie choked and died and the message came over "our apologies, we are experiencing technical difficulties".
So, the curse was real!!! ... heh, actually it only lasted about a minute and it was rolling again and we enjoyed the movie in its entirety this time.

We spent Sunday cruising around and ended up back at Port Canaveral for lunch at the same restaurant we'd visited a few weeks earlier to watch the Space Shuttle launch (which was cancelled due to weather). The waiter remembered us and we got our same table back for the afternoon. We hung around until the cruise ships departed and then we were stuck with having to part ways again.

The cool part of the weekend was getting to reunite with Robin, the hard part was having to say goodbye again and knowing we had a second week of separation ahead. The phone calls are great and I look forward to them, but this long distance relationship isn't working out :).
Well, she'll be home soon (likely by the time you read this) and we'll be catching up on all that happened on our weeks apart. Hopefully we won't have to go through this again too soon although I can be sure that the F.A.A. will have plans for us again. After all, there are always workshops to attend and meeting to get to!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Attack of the Tree Frog

All our registrations are expiring soon on the vehicles so we undertook to change the title over to a Florida one and get new plates on the Convertible. This soon became an adventure into "we don't do it thatta way around here" land and our first inclination that it was going to be a unique experience was when we began to look for a place to register our car. There are a couple of courthouse offices to go to and about 20 private "Tag Agencies" in the Miami area. We opted for a courthouse office since it seemed more familiar to us and had heard that Tag Agencies charge an additinal fee and sometime do not get you your plates before the temporary one expires.

When we arrived at the office, we took our number and waited about a half-hour to be called. We had title, registration and insurance documents with us and we knew that they didn't take credit cards so we brought the checkbook along. The lady was helpful, but what we didn't expect was that we needed to have one other document with us. We needed to leave the courthouse and have part of this form filled out by either a Police Officer or Notary Public that would actually look at the car and verify that the V.I.N. on the car matched the V.I.N. on the Title. I don't really understand this, but maybe there are scams around where the Title and car don't match? Hmmmm....

So we dutifully took the papers and had a Notary do the verification for us.

When we returned (several days later) to finish up the process we found that the office had been closed and we were directed to a nearby Tag Agency :(

We got to the Tag Agency and got in line. It didn't take more than 15 or 20 minutes to get helped and the lady providing us service was friendly ... and very, very sick (if we catch something it's likely because she transferred it to us on our plates or papers). She reviewed all our documents and nodded approvingly that we were good to go. She asked the customary questions about what kind of plates we wanted, whose name to title the car to, and what address to send the new title to. We paid almost a hundred dollars for title transfer, a hundred dollars for first-time registration fee and some more for Ageny Fee, use tax, and the actual registration fee. It was roughly twice what we'd've paid in Colorado, maybe closer to 3 times.

She then grabbed our plate and affixed the bright yellow expiration sticker on it. It said "01-10".

We asked her why it was only to January instead of a full year from today's date, she said that Florida registers by birth month! Well .. Robin is January, but I'm in July ... but it was already completed and we'd likely have paid a whole new transfer fee to change the title over to me. (sigh).

We did get a bit of a chuckle out of it though. It's just something else we've run across that signals us that we're not in Colorado anymore. I guess I am kind of closed-minded to about doing things any way different from what I know, but this still seems a bit out in left field.

It does, however, give me a page or two of Blog material for a couple of hours worth of experience :)

After that (we'd hustled home from work to get there) we went to the Firestone Dealer so they could put in an air filter that I'd paid for but they forgot to install. To their credit they waved at us when we pulled up and came straight to our car the moment we drove into the parking lot. Their apologies were accepted and the technician popped the hood and swapped the air filter out in an amazing 31 seconds (yes, we were jokingly timing it ... but he wowed us all).

Then we headed out to the boat for a little visit and to clean up after some pesky pigeons. I'll figure a way to keep them off the mast and make million$ some day :) Then we headed off to dinner at a quaint German restaurant we'd been meaning to try for several months. It was pleasant and relatively quiet with some 'unique' live entertainment. The solo artist played keyboards and accordian as he had apparently been doing for many, many years. He was doing the "Pennsylvania Polka" and some other familiar German and European favorites for a while, but it got kind of weird when the Chicken Dance fired up and then it got pretty laughable when we heard "Margaritaville" on an accordian with a Polka beat.

Still, the food was good and the staff great. The facility is old and decorated in things Bavarian from who knows how long ago. We left quite pleased and with the next day's lunch n our take-home bag.

As is often our custom, we did not take a straight-home route and opted to explore a bit on the way back. It was dark, and pleasant so we put the top down on the convertible and meandered around in an inderect way home (a-la Family Circus). This is a good way to get lost for a while and not let it become worrisome because we actually planned on it :). So, as the streets wandered around and finally dead-ended we weren't bothered and started finding our way back.We were tooling aroung in a mobile home park/area actually and found a waterway blocking our direct route through the park (that happens a lot around here).

So we did a couple of left turns and found the perimeter road and were happily headed back to the main street when I heard two things simultaneously; Robin's scream and the sound of an impact on her shoulder.

We both knew she'd been hit by something and at first we figured it must've been a very large bug of some kind. We were making about 25 mph and whatever it was hit her hard enough to hurt a little, startle her a lot and , make noise and also hard enough to prove that it wasn't a moth or mosquito.

Slowing, I turned the overhead light on and we started looking for something large and crawly-or-winged beasty of the night. I thought maybe a dragonfly or Cicada, or maybe even a Mantis but we couldn't seem to find anything on or in around the seats.
Robin spotted him first...an unlikely critter in an unlikely spot. A gray-green Tree Frog maybe 3 inches long was sitting on the dashboard, probably wondering what had just happened to him.

He jumped across the dash when I tried to catch him and then I had a second thought because I had no clue about tree frogs and whether there are any venomous ones around here. I know there are venomous toads living around here and they will poison and kill dogs & cats sometimes and make people pretty sick with a neurotoxin on the back of their necks. Luckily we had some paper towels handy and I reached for him a couple more times before I finally got him when he landed on the steering wheel. I tossed him back out and we went on our way, very curious about why such a little fellow would attack such a big silver target (i.e. the car) and even more puzzled about exactly how he got that far into the sky to begin with. You see, we weren't exactly under any trees...

Things that make you go 'huh' in Florida :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fireworks, Shuttles and Rum, oh my!

I can hear it now ... "Gaaaary, you've got some bloggin' to do!!" Dang that inner voice of guilt (oh, and the other pressures as well (grin)).

It's been a good few weeks all told, full of adventure and some trials as well. Altogether it has been a good introduction to the summer and to the future that we have planned.

Along about the 3rd of July we started looking around for a place to go see fireworks. There are so many cities lined up along the 'Gold Coast', 'Treasure Coast' and 'Space Coast' that we didn't really get a handle on what or who would be putting on a big show. We managed to get a three-day weekend out of it since the 'official' holiday was on Friday and we planned on spending some down time puttering about on small projects and relaxing. Since it had been raining pretty much every day for the past 3 weeks we surmised that there might be some washed out shows but dawned clear and stayed clear most of the day on the 4th.

As it turned out we just put the top down on the convertible and drove around for a couple of hours watching pieces of several different fireworks shows and skirting around traffic jams of people trying to get to or from the beaches. Maybe next year we'll watch a couple of shows from a mile or two offshore. The weekend was a rousing succes as far as the relaxation goal was concerned and we even took in a movie at the IMAX theatre located conveniently close to the slip where S/V Robin is docked. For the record, sequels seldom whip the originals as badly as the "Night in the Museum; The Battle for the Smithsonian" did. In our humble opinion (IMHO) it was a far better movie than the first one and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

The work week ensued complete with training, meetings, and coomutes and we made up some plans for the next weekend which included a certain blog author's birthday. :)

On Friday we made an early day of it and headed up to Jupiter, FL to visit with our friends Sue and Chip. What started out as a civil evening of steaks on the grill and a game of cards quickly 'advanced' into what could be construed to be a full-fledged pary when someone (no names here) slipped a litre of dark rum onto the table along with some shot glasses.

Now ... I've been around long enough to lnow better, you'd think ... we did have fun; so I'm told at least ... and I think we quit the card game before it was supposed to be over. I know there was a swimming pool involved and I know I got to sleep before daylight.

Actually: we did enjoy the evening immensely and it was great fun and fellowship. What a nice way to usher in my first year of senior discounts.

Saturday morning we said our farewells and travelled further north because we wanted to watch the Space Shuttle depart. It ws scheduled for a 7:50 P.M. launch and we'd booked a hotel about 30 miles south of the Cape because everything north of that was booked solid. It's great to realize that a Shuttle launch is still popular and exciting enough to draw a crushing crowd to watch it. The media gives it precious little coverage these days unless there is a mishap.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel and checked in we learned that the mission had been scrubbed due to lightning strikes around the launch complex the night before so we suddenly had no pressure to be anywhere and took the time to tour around Palm Bay, Cocoa Beach and Port Canaveral. We were already booked at the hotel for the evening and decided that since the launch was rescheduled for Sunday evening that we'd stay another night and hope to see it go.

Our hotel was conveniently located next to a Texas Roadhouse and the steaks were as good as we remembered :)

We did some more 'touristy' activities on Sunday morning and gradually worked our way up highway A1A to a spot recommended to us by a co-worker. The place is along the south jetty wall of the Port Canaveral inlet and there are several restaurants along the road with good, unobstructed viewsto the north. Although we were about 11 miles south of the launch pad itself we were only a couple hundred yards away from Cape property and we had an (almost) unobstructed view to the launch site. Cars and people started filling in a couple of hours prior to launch, but we had an hour head start on them and were graced by an air conditioned table with a good view and a great waiter with a pretty good menu. All told, it was a pretty good spot to watch a launch.
While it's been a while since we've spent more than three hours at a restaurant, the staff made it fun and about 15 minutes prior to launch we stepped outside to wait and see. At about T-11 they scrubbed it due to encroaching thunderstorms and while we were disappointed it was still an enjoyable afternoon.

Monday morning we packed up and made the 190 mile commute to report to work. NASA tried again and scrubbed due to weather and then finally made it on Wednesday.
There are only 7 Shuttle launches left. This number actually includes a launch that was not originally going to go up because the first time it was to launch it was destroyed in the Challenger. The entire project has been rebuilt and will finally get to go into space after all.

We hope to find a way to be present for at least some of these launches as they are spectacular.

The schedule for NASA'a launches are here.
You can also get NASA TV broadcasts piped directly to your computer by going to their NASA TV page and choosing which kind of media player to view. They also have a huge selection of videos and images to browse through.
Last week we drove north again; this time to Stuart, FL to meet up with and visit with Jerome from the previous entry's "Contour" story. When last we saw him we were concerned about his taking off across the ocean single-handed this time of year and after we managed to make e-mail contact we found that he'd elected to hang around locally for at least a while until a crew could be found. He'd met up with an experienced and willing sailor named Dave and they will likely be on their way in a few days. It looks like Jerome is going to get a crack at his dream real soon and we wish him (them) the very best of times as they cruise around. We haven't had a hint of hurricane threat yet although the thunderstorms have been persistent and often severe (driving home from Stuart that evening we punched through a very heavy storm with hail and nearly constant lightning. It rained very, very hard and we were thankful to get out of it. I would not've liked it in a boat.)
It's been quite a month for celebrity passings as well. Of all, I will probably feel Walter Cronkite's the most. In conjunction with this week's 40th anniversary of the landing on the moon, his pictures and videos have gotten a fair amount of airplay and it causes me to remember how much of a 'staple' he was during my growing up years. His legacy is a good one.

Robin and I have been actively engaged in training to revive our controller skills. Robin has certified on three "D" positions and I have certified on 1 but then moved to a RADAR position right away (different plans for the different areas of training). I will likely certify on my radar position in a few days.
It has been a challenge and some fun, actually, to try to get up to speed on fast moving sectors and I think I'll survive it after all. Once we are done with this level of training we'll start working on the Supervisory aspects of managing the areas, which is why we were hired. The process has been long and not necessarily logical, but we've persevered this far and will see it through to completion.
On the right is a snapshot of the sector I'm leaning. We sequence 4 streams to three airports (PBI, FLL, MIA (and their satellites) and handle departures from PBI (Palm Beach) and crossing over-flights to and from the Bahamas. Yep, it can get busy ->

The rest of the week(s)s have been filled with mostly mundane chores surrounding everyday life. We watched some "Heroes", worked on the little boat, put new tires on the car and bought tennis rackets (although at 94 degrees and 95% humidity we may wait a bit on that activity :) )

This weekend we will likely spend Saturday aboard S/V Robin and on Sunday Robin departs for a training class in Palm Coast, FL (about 4 hours north of here). We've tried this sort of 'trial separation' thing before and I can tell you it doesn't work so we are already looking forward to our reunion :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Contour

I'd mentioned in a previous post about Jerome and Clayton, the two friends from Quebec who were here in Lauderdale preparing to set sail for th Bahamas and beyond. Jerome is a free spirit and bought his bought (a 38' Bruce Roberts offshore sloop) about 10 months ago. Since then he has been repairing, retrofiting, and reclaiming her from the elements of time and neglect. The boat is awesome and has sail round the world before. Clayton came down for a week or two to help make preparations and do some sailing as Jerome is new at it. So; as luck would have it (and sailing luck is nothing to trifle with) there were delays in getting the mechanical stuff up and running and before you knew it two weeks had stretched into five. This is not news for experienced sailors, but for me it was an eye-opener of sorts. I guess when you ask a repair shop, or mechanic, or supplier for soemthing for a sailboat they figure you must have all the time in the world on your hands so, like the boat, it goes very slowly.
At any rate, it came time for Clayton to return home to Canada and Jerome still had no experience with sailing...so...
We decided we'd make it to Key Largo over the weekend and along the way we would practice hoisting sails, getting points-of-sail figured out and learn about navigation. I called and invited my close froind Erle from Pensacola to come down and crew with us and possibly crew with Jerome for as long as he could extend his visit. It all came together and worked out great schedule-wise ... except for the mechanic part.
The whole show stopper was a small outboard engine used on the dinghy which had seized up and was being repaired by a local shop. First it was misdiagnosed, then there were no parts so they'd have to be ordered in, then some other parts were damaged during disassembly, then those parts were being shipped in, then they didn't order the right gaskets ... whew ... all in all it was a full 5 weeks getting a 2 cylinder outboard engine repaired and the delays put us deeper into the weather season.
Most people don't sail south from Florida in the summer and the delays put Jerome and Contour into the beginning of summer thunderstorms.
We decided we'd go ahead and move the boat to Key Largo, dinghy motor or not, and make further plans from there. So we started to plan the trip.
I spent a few hours plotting routes and studying maps and loading my handheld GPS with some alternative tracks to follow. Jerome began to provision us out and make the boat ready for an overnight stay at anchor on our way down. The whole trip was to be about 85 nautical miles and we aimed to split it in half and stay at anchor in a place called "No Name Harbor". Surprisingly, we worried that it might be very crowded there as it is a popular weekend hangout so we planned an alternative spot a couple of miles further out as well. As it turned out, we didn't see either place.
Erle arrived a couple of days ahead of departure and we spent some time getting caught up and acquainting ourselves witht he boat and Jerome. I was going to be the 'skipper' meaning that I was the one with the most sailing experience. We planned an early morning departure on Saturday and an evening arrival on Sunday where Robin would meet us and drive me back to Fort Lauderdale to get to work on Monday. The motor was still not ready so we planned to drive it back down to Key Largo and drop Erle's car off to keep down there while they made preparations for the next leg to Nassau.
You know what they say about best laid plans...
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, winds out of the south at 10 knots and light seas. The Gulf Stream was forecast to be six miles offshore and would work against us if we got in it so we planned sailing two to three miles offshore to keep us away from the shallow water that is the coastline of Florida. We'd planned to get off early, but as it goes there were inevitable delays such as the dinghy being full of water from all the rain. Erle and I hoisted it out as best we could and got most of the water emptied out. Getting GPS's to work was another challenge and finally we pushed off mid-morning while a few clouds were already building up.
We motored out the New River and into the Port Everglades inlet. Now I'm going to digress ...
There is something that happens when you round a corner of a river and look down the channel and see open ocean ahead of you. I've seen this corner and this inlet a few times now and it is the same each time. It seems as though the opening of water represents some kind of newfound freedom from the confines of streets, houses, yards or any other sort of confinements; kind of like a kid who steps onto a vast expanse of a mowed grass field and t's all theirs. It beckons "go where you will, there are no boundaries here". It's a very strong escapist feeling and it's probably what's called people to the sea for ages. I, for one, like it.
OK, we cleared the last marker to the inlet and hoisted sails to let Jerome and Erle practice at the helm. The winds were not in our favor at all and by the time we'd made a few figure '8's fooling around we were actually north of the inlet due to our drifting around. So we doused the sails and fired up the motor and pointed due south toward our first destination some 40 miles away. We still had time to make it before dark if we could manage about 4.5 knots, an average motoring speed for the boat.
It didn't take too long to figure out that we weren't going 4.5 knots ... it did take a while to figure out why. We were pushing dead into the wind and we were pushing dead into a surprisingly strong Gulf Stream current. Our speed through the water was surely 4+knots, but out progress was working out to somewhere between 2 and 2.5 knots which means we had a 2 knot current working against us and we were only a couple of miles offshore. We had to snuggle into the shoreline to make better progress and would have to keep a close eye on charts and GPS to make sure we stayed out of the shallow water.
Of the 3 GPS receivers aboard only one would receive satellite signals. We fooled with the antenna but it seemed to be a sealed unit so we had no success. I did have my handheld with extra batteries so we would not get lost and we kept plugging along slowly southward (and when I say slowly I mean it.) It became apparent that we would not make our destnation before dark so we considered stopping short and started researching the next couple of inlets and suitable anchorages. The thing that made it tough to consider is that there were thunderstorms all over the place with heavy rain and lightning. We'd gotten wet a time or two already, and lightning had come close, but it was much more concentrated over land and I wasn't too sure I wanted to head toward the storms and try to negotiate a channel in heavy rain or winds.
So ... we agreed that we'd sail straight through the night and end up in Key Largo much ahead of schedule and seriously sleep deprived. That actaully took some pressure off us as we knew we'd might not make to Key Largo by the following evening if we stopped for the night.
We set up to press on ... and the engine quit.

Now and engine only needs three things in order to run; fuel, air, and an ignition source. In a diesel it is even simpler as there is no spark-plug system to worry about. They are totally reliable and pretty bullet proof and that's why they're used in long-haul scenarios (trucks, trains, boats). When one just up and quits however, you do have to start out with 'what in the world could've happened' and troubleshoot the your way back to 'ah, there we go'.
Now, as far as 'luck' would go, we did happen to stop within a few hundred yards of a Coast Guard cutter anchored toward shore from us. In case it got desparate, help was not far away. And, it was getting closer ... our drift was actually moving right toward the other boat and we considered dropping the anchor ourselves if we got too close. I wonder what they would've thought about that.
In this instance it took about 30 minutes to get going again. The primary fuel filter had clogged and the boat was equipped with a switchover to go to a secondary one, but of course it was hidden around a corner where you had to crouch and squeeze and lay on top of the hot engine to get to it. After switching it over and re-priming the engine we were underway again heading into the darkening evening sky and big clouds ahead.
We motored past the Miami inlet (Government Cut) well after dark and watching an absolutely awesome lightning show. The engine died again and we knew what to do this time. It seems there are two separate fuel tanks aboard Contour, and only one had been filled with fresh fuel. The other tank still had old fuel and it was going to cause problems until we could run through it and get some new, clean diesel in there.
By now we had gradually started to turn southeasward along the keys, and when the engine stopped I hoisted the jib (forward) sail and found wind that would move us along our intended path. The engine started and I rolled in the sail just in time, as a gust from a thunderstorm came rolling in along with heavy rains only a few minutes after we resumed motoring.
We crossed past "Fowee rocks" and enter the Hawk Channel, an area of slightly deeper water between the shallows of the Keys and the outlying reef. By deeper, I mean 12 feet. The boat only draws 5 feet, so we were ok, but to get out of the channel would mean being on the coral in short order. Now, the channel markes were not lit so search as we might we couldn't get a sighting and depended totally on the handheld GPS to keep us on our course.
The engine shut down once more while in the channel, but after the sail went up we were able to maintain our course and Jerome got us running again in 15 or 20 minutes having to drain the filters and re-prime again.
Just before sunrise, as we were heading East-south-easterly we hoisted both sails and made better than 5 knots with a favorable breeze and no oppsing current. The plan had worked and we arrived in Key Largo about 26 hours afterr we left Ft. Lauderdale. Robin drove down to meet us and we finished out the day with a well deserved nap.

Let's see 85 miles, 26 hours ... that averages out to a smidge over 3 knots. Please refer to the title of this blog :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The List.

The projects continue on the S/V Robin. We are still trying to get rid of a fuel odor. It clears out relatively quickly when we open the hatches and get the fans going, but after the boat has been closed up overnight it seems to be right back where we started.
I've joined a Sabre Sailboat owners group on Yahoo! (yahoo! :)) and am learning quite a bit from the experienced owners. I have also had the benefit of a lot of advice from boat owners around the work place so I am not falling short of knowledge around here. One important lesson I am learning is that there are places on a small boat where it is extremely challenging to fit into, reach into, reach around into and reach over and around while fitting into. Moreover, once you've successfully reached over and around whilst fitting into a place, it is fully expected that the 'just the right tool' is just out of reach of your other hand, which was likely holding you into this small place anyway. I will begin my search for a mechanically inclined tree monkey shortly but for now I'll have to make do with short-duration cramp-inducing contortions to reach into dark places without actually seeing around the corner to what lies beyond. Kind of like Geocaching in a way (grin).

So far we've repaired or at least worked on:
The bilge and its pump and floorboards and wiring. Completed
The Air Conditioner and the shore power cords. Completed
The Steering wheel (a plastic retaining nut, really?) Completed ... a replacement nut with the "Edson" logo was (gulp) $52.00 ... I bought a generic stainless steel nut and washer for $1.14 .. somehow that made sense.
The fresh water tank, it's lines and foot operated pump (yes, we were then very thankful for an operating bilge pump). The tank was empty for a long time so we filled it up with a strong bleach-and-water solution only to find it leaking vigourously back out due to a broken diaphragm on the foreward (sink) foot pump. One stroke of the foot pump sent a lot of water onto the floor and (as we mentioned before) the bilge pump did its thing. A new pump is in my hands, but of course the mounting bolt don't line up (same make and model .. just a 30 year newer version). Project is 80% completed.
Three running lights (green, blue, and white ... all different size bulbs and not all having both wires). Project 66% completed
The Ice Chest (yes, there's no mention of a refrigerator here) ... you could fill it up with ice, but there was no working way to drain the water. A new manual pump is installed and the lines unplugged and it all works fine now. Completed
Rerouted the air conditioner's condensation drip line so that it does not run water past wood at any point. This will help prevent any wood from getting saturated anywhere on the floor.
Replaced a lot of dock lines with new (and I must add attractive blue-on-white) ones. :)
Got some inside lights fixed, but still need a couple of bulbs and maybe one new fixture over the sink.
Got the VHF radio running. It was working OK except there is a frayed cord on the microphone causing sporadic 'tones' when you keyed up to talk. This might still need to be replaced.
In spite of advice not to, we did start working on polishing some of the rust spots of the steel outside .. it's been raining ever since....
Rigged up a tarp to cover the sail boom and the bimini cover. Both were in rough shape and leaking so this will keep more water out of the sail folds and off the important people sitting out on the back enjoying their pain killers.
Oh, the toilet (ermmm ... umm .. I mean 'head') wasn't pumping water...at all. After a series of investigative efforst involving the aformentioned reaching into dark places, I figured out that the water inlet on the outside of the boat was nearly completely clogged. I did some dismantling and after a little bit of grunting and pounding with a rather large screwdriver I broke through the little barnacle-buddies and restored a good flow of outside water into the cabin. Yes, the bilge pump again ...

Now, just so you know, here's a bit of the list we lovingly call "todo" .. you know, like Dorothy's little dog???
The engine needs an oil change. I learned that you can't drain the oil out you have to get a pump and suck it out. That's cool :)
The engine needs to have a thing fixed where when you pull the fuel shut-off to turn it off, you can un-pull that shut-off from the same place instead of having to climb downstairs and do it manually. This should be an easy fix, but will require scrounging up just the right kind of part, maybe at a bicycle shop.
There's some woodwork downstairs that needs an innovative repair. It'll likely involve clamps and glue and cutting some new pieces to reinforce things and all kinds of fun. Likely to be a one-day-turns-in-to-four-days affair. I'm gonna need a day off :)
Someday, someone's going to have to go to the top of the mast and see what's up with that wind-direction pointer (windex). Thankfully, the lights work up there.
We are likely going to have to rebuild the pump in the head. While it now works, it's been a while I guess and it gets confused about pumping water into and out of the toilet bowl. Maybe after some practice it'llbe happy again, and it's usable for now so we will wait on this one.
Then there's the painting, polishing, and cleaning that will come when the other projects either get done or become frustrating enough to want to take a break from.
Robin is considering learning to sew on sailcloth and canvas. There's a future in that if we have a portable sewing machine that can do the work and we are out there somewhere that has a need for that kind of work.

The work will keep on as time permits. Our job schedules are now officially 'interfering' with what we want to be about :) Isn't that great?

Hatches, Light Bulbs and Bilge; Oh My!

We thought we'd done a pretty good survey of all the items we would need to look at on the boat. There is even a relatively ordered list of things we'd like top get done; separated into three categories: "necessary for safety", "necessary for comfort", and 'oh, that'll be nice when it's done". We thought we had some priorities in place and we're trying hard to learn where to go for parts and expertise. Soon we will have to have the boat 'hauled out' and set up 'on the hard' for a while while we learn about cleaning and repainting the bottom of the hull. This is a tough one as the paint that goes on the bottom of a boat has to be made from material that will not only resist the attack of salt water, but also actively inhibit things that like to attach to boats, grow and create offspring that like to also attach to boats and grow... and.. well, you get it. Boats with barnacles sail slower than clean ones, and we're all about speed, you know.
The special paints usually involve things called 'biocides' which kill things like algaes and small, predatory single-celled sea monsters and the like. A common 'biocide' is copper which is blended into the paint and causes a normal can of paint to a) be pretty heavy and b) cost 5 to 15 times as much as regular house paint. Now, what we don't know is if we can cover the whole bottom with one gallon, but we're sure hoping so :) but I digress, hauling out will happen later in the summer or early fall, maybe even at the end of the hurricane season as the boat is pretty safe where she is docked right now.

So far we have learned what we already knew. That a 30 year old boat will take some work to get it into shape. We are currently working to try to rid the cabin of the smell of diesel, which we did not notice when we toured her but is apparently a product of a fuel spill as the mechanic was replacing the fuel pump. Sadly the clean smell of the boat was one of thing we really liked about her in the first place and the smell of fuel will be a sore spot until we get it cleaned out. We are trying various cleaners and deodorizers until we stumble upon just the right thing. We will get it, it just will be a while coming since fuel has apparently saturated wood somewhere. ugh.
On the advice of a neighboring sailor, we set out to work on some projects in the order: "inside then outside and from the the bottom up". So, starting from the lowest point on the inside we tackled cleaning the bilge and replacing the pump with a new one.
Now; here's the way things work when one begins to do a boat-project ... you start out to put in a new bilge pump, but you decide that "gee, it's awfully hot in here. I wonder what it would take to get the air-conditioner fired up?" so you start puzzling out the air conditioner which you were told worked but apparently doesn't want to at this particular moment. Then you remember that the previous owner said that you have to plug the shore power electrical connection into a different receptacle on the outside of the boat as the air conditioner is on its own circuit but when you unhook the power cord from receptacle 'a' and connect it receptacle 'b' the air conditioner still won't run and as a matter of fact you get a "Reverse Polarity" warning on the circuit breaker panel. So next you have to pull out your meter, disassemble the shore-powe receptacles and verify that the wiring is OK, only to find out that is is indeed wired the same and there's no way that the polarity should be reversed so you puzle over it for the better part of an afternoon before deciding that maybe if you plugged in BOTH shore powers at the same time it's either start a fire or get the air conditioner to work and you find out that it does work but you just didn't know the rules yet. OK, now ... there was this bilge pump thing... So, back to that. Now you have to mop out and lcean the bilge area and yank the old pump out but before you do you need to determine where the wayter seems to be coming from that seemingly just started to leak into the cabin area from nowhere... It's a small trickle, but nonetheless it would be a big problem to find out you suddenly developed leak into the boat right after you remove the pump that can keep you from sinking if the leak gets bigger. So.. climbing around all through the engine compartment, Robin spies the source of the influx of water. It's coming from a small, clear hose whigh is connceted to (you'll never guess...) the air conditioner. We reason that this is by design, al airconditioners give off condensation and punching a hole through the hull of the boat really doesn't make sense so it is logically routed to the bilge to get pumped overboard every so often while the thing is running. Makes sense now, well, sort of...
So we disconnect the old pump (you remember, the reason we started this?) and I clipped off the old wires and connected the new pump for a trial run. Well, then we decidied that the old pump wasn;t exactly in the lowest part of the bilge and went to relocate it, only to have to cut the wires and re-rout them underneath a diffent area of the floor and re-connect them. It ran fine and the only real issue we ran into was that it didn't fit. The hose connection was a different diameter and was way too small for the boat's exisitng hose. So .. off we went to get a new pump with a different sized fitting. We bought the next-size-up pump with the next-size-up discharge nozzle (thanks, West Marine, for taking the pump back without the original box which I had confidently tossed out while fixing the air conditioner) and I wired the new pump into place. It didn't fit either ... this time the discharge nozzle was a bit too BIG to fit into the tube. So I sat down and enjoyed the air conmditioner for a few minutes trying to cope with all the good thoughts running through my head at the moment.
The hose is very strong, about 1 1/8 inch in diameter and has a stainless steel coil running through the inside. You could likely stand on it and not inhibit the water flow.
I eventually got the hose freed up a bit, took some of the coiling out and used a heat gun to soften it enough to make a good fit at the pump.
All the while Robin and I were also cleaning out the grungy stiff which the bottom of a boat can somehow manage to collect over the years, but at the end of it all the bilge was clean, the pump is running and the air conditoner works. A 1 hour project that only took two days :)
Now, how many sailors does it take to change a light bulb? Now that's another story.

We've met some new neighbors at the docks and are learning a lot from them as we sit and chat and pass each other coming and going to the boats. To one side of us is a venerable 38 foot sailboat on its way from Canada to South America. She is the "Contour" of some note as having circumnavigated the globe a few times. The owner is new to this boat and his plans ran into a snag when the outboard motor on his dinghy seized up. Not having a dinghy is bad news when sailing off shore. On the other side is "Wild Mathilda", a 44 footer also preparing for a late spring run from Florida to Nova Scotia. He is finishing up preparatory projects and will be leaving this week if the weather allows.
Both of these crews are amazing to visit with and learn from. I can't begin to tell you how I am looking forward to meeting more sailors like them and becoming one myself. I hope that they are indicative of most of the sailing community as they have been sociable, friendly and extremely helpful. Robin and I have learned a lot already and it is just the tip of the iceberg. So thanks to you Jerome and Clayton and Bruce and Carol. It has been an honor and pleasure to meet you and spend time with you. I am glad we got to share a meal and a drink and play some cards and chat about the boats and the world.
Safe journeys, fair winds and God's speed to you in your travels.