Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wake the Dead Alarm

I had a pretty good day not counting getting awakened at about 1 AM by Spencer to tell me that all was OK, no one was hurt, ... He quickly went on to say that the Avalanche had died in the middle of an intersection in Madison, the police were making sure he did not get hit and the tow truck was on the way. Things continued downhill this afternoon when he told me the cost of repairs. I was proud that he took care of everything, did some comparison shopping on the repairs, and hopefully will have a more reliable car when he gets it back. But we both would have been happier not to have to pay to have the car repaired.

I spent most of today finishing up a bunch of electrical installations. The new radar was not working, I traced it to a "waterproof" plug that had corroded. I decided to use a thru hull fitting and get rid of the plug. Then I got the water maker power hooked up while I had everything apart.

The ultimate install for the day was the "Wake The Dead" alarm. What is that? The marine electronics have alarms that have been tested and approved by the consumer product safety commission. They would not hurt an infant's ear if held up to it. So of course they are totally useless as an alarm to get the attention of a sleep deprived single handing sailor who has gone 48 hours on cat naps. So I rigged an old car alarm on the auxiliary alarm port of my Garmin chart plotter. Since the Garmin can alarm on about 50 conditions - shallow water, a target too close on radar, a target too close on AIS, low battery voltage, dragging anchor, off course - you get the picture - it can be set to make sure I am awake if just about anything bad is about to happen. The only missing component for a sailboat is a high winds alarm - I am going to suggest that Garmin add it to the next software release. I assure you, when it goes off the old car alarm can wake the dead. Hopefully it can also wake me before I am dead! LOL


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hanging by a thread

Actually, I am not hanging by a thread. I am hanging on an big anchor with a bunch of chain going up to a mooring ball that has three large pieces of 3 strand line leading to two different attachment points on Reboot. Even so, I am pretty sure I will never be comfortable with certain parts of long term cruising.
It has been raining all afternoon. The thunderstorms have abated but a very strong cold front is working its way past Key West. The winds are averaging about 25 knots with gusts into the low 30's. Reboot is bouncing around on the mooring ball, fortunately not enough to make me feel sick. But I am very aware that in the confined space of the Boca Chica marina if the mooring lets go I will have about 10 seconds before my home hits something very solid. Forget the wind in the willows - I can hear the wind howling thru the rigging above my head. It is not a very comfortable way to spend an afternoon and evening. It would be nice at this point to be blissfully ignorant of the physics of the thing but having had Reboot drag its anchor and having watched Gypsysails do the same I have too much information.
I completed the fifth of my five confined water dives (i.e. in a pool!) today. I have already completed the 5 knowledge segments and taken the quizzes and final written exam so all I have left is my four open water training dives for my PADI "Open Water Diver" certification. The weather for tomorrow is not expected to be much better than today so I expect to go out to the reef and dive on Friday and Saturday. I am looking forward to both getting the certification and enjoying this new activity.
I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SCUBA Training

It was inevitable. Going to Belize, one of the diving capitals of the world with the second longest reef system after the Great Barrier Reef, I had to learn to SCUBA dive. I have done 2 of 3 pool dives and have my ocean training dives scheduled for this weekend.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Craftsman Tools

They just don't make them like they used to.  Would you believe that my electric drill died?  After only 49 1/2 years?  Why can't they make products that last?

BTW, the reason I know I had the drill for 49 1/2 years is that it was a birthday present for my 14th birthday.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Butterfly Museum

You know the shots of the people dancing happily while surrounded by chirping birds, butterflies, and happy forest animals? You know, like meetings of Obama's cabinet. Or is it the Nancy and Harry show? (OK, those were cheap shots, however I feel much better.)

Key West has a butterfly museum. I expected lots of dead butterflies mounted on panels - for me pretty boring stuff. Was I surprised to find live butterflies! The museum is built like an aviary. A walkway takes you through lots of growth that is of course the natural habitat for the butterflies. And they are alive and flying all over the place. There is also a small population of birds, fish, and turtles. Quite an amazing place. When you consider that the life span of a grown butterfly is only about 2 to 3 weeks it is even more amazing. People apparently harvest butterflies in the cacoon stage and then they emerge at the museum. Pretty cool.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

6 months

It has been six months since I cast off from the Milwaukee Yacht Club to start this new lifestyle. We had an informal gathering on "Door Into Summer" for other reasons. But they served champagne which suited my feeling of the need for a small celebration perfectly.
In Milwaukee there was a boat called "Living the Dream" (or something close to that.) It should have been named "Experiencing the Nightmare" because the owner must have hated it given the damage done to the poor girl. Just before I left I met a young man who had purchased her and was investing a great deal of sweat equity to bring her back to pristine condition. He told me that I motivated him to work harder on his boat as someday he wanted to head down the KK River and live the dream.

What is it like for me? Our standing joke in Key West is "just another beautiful day in paradise." For me, however, this is a necessary stop but not paradise. I have discovered that there are three kinds of people who live on boats: the campers, the in-between's, and the cruisers. The campers find a marina or location they like and stay there for a season or longer. The cruisers are the explorers, they may not have a specific destination in mind, but their focus is on experiencing different places. The in-between's are those who haven't made it to cruiser but don't consider themselves campers. At the moment I consider myself and in-between. I started out considering myself a cruiser but learned quickly that I did not have the necessary skills and experience.

I have done quite a bit of work on Reboot since Milwaukee but since procrastinator is my middle name and apathy my strongest emotion there is still more to do. With no fixed deadlines for anything it is easy to get into the tomorrow syndrome. A job that would take 15 minutes can be easily put off for weeks! However I am slowly getting past the big projects.

So far I have lived a quite sheltered existence. I have buddy boated a lot. I have spent a good deal of time in Navy marinas. This has two benefits: they are less expensive than commercial marinas and the patrons are all active or retired military so there is a natural comradeary. I have stayed in the US close to my parts supply network. This has been important as I had no idea how much equipment I needed to make my life comfortable as a long term cruiser rather than a racer. Another key reason is stressing the equipment. I was delighted to get my dinghy and outboard running. It only took three days before the shift linkage on my old Mercury decided it had had enough and snapped in two. Happening in Key West this was a major annoyance, but had it happened anchored out off Belize or the Out Islands of the Bahamas it would have become a real problem. The same was true of the autopilot soon after I started out. It gave up in Lake Erie and it was almost six weeks before I had it back from the shop working again. All in all I have spent less than I expected on "operating" expenses and far more than I ever imagined on "capital" expenses - primarily parts as I do almost all of the labor myself or with the help of other cruisers.

Do I like this life? It is too early to tell. I never intended to single hand but that is how things worked out. I have yet to do what motivated me to want this life in the first place - visiting "those far away places with the strange sounding names." But I have learned a couple of things:
1) I no longer have a long range objective. My next step is to head to the Yucatan and Belize. Once that becomes boring I will figure out what to do next. It was necessary to have the objective to get to Key West when I left Milwaukee. But now such objectives are limiting. Having to be somewhere at time certain limits lots of options. I am not ready to be limited.
2) The Ham Radio support network, particular the Maritime Mobile Service Net is helpful beyond words. I can casually ask a question like "what kind of ham license do I need in Mexico" and someone will research it for me and read and/or send me an email with all the necessary information. Not to mention how nice it is to talk to another human when you are 60 miles offshore all by yourself.
3) I still have a great deal more to learn, to experience, and to share with others.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Evil Troy Lock

You may remember that the evil Troy Lock stripped the instrumentation of the top of the mast. Over the past few months (yes, it has been months!) I have been slowly getting the parts and getting the top of the mast repaired. Today I finally finished the project. The WQindex (with night light), the new Garmin wind instrument, and the repaired anchor light are all installed and working.

I love Garmin! When I was a young man (back before electricity was invented) I owned a BMW 2002. It had been, in the parlance of the day "breathed upon." Very "breathed upon." It was my pride and joy. One day the turn signal flasher burned out. I went to Gert (my German mechanic, of course) to purchase a new flasher module. It was $35 - in the seventies. I said, I can purchase a bimetallic flasher for my Chevy for $1.98. Why so expensive? Gert said, "Mr. Jones, that flasher isn't precise, why, the flashes will not be the same length. Your flasher contains a chip that will make sure every flash is the same duration, as is the time between the flashes." What could I do, I paid the money. So how does this relate to Garmin?

The last part of my install was to put in a new Garmin GWS 10 Marine Wind Sensor. After getting it mounted on top of the mast and running the wires I plugged it into my NMEA 2000 network. Not only did I get wind speed and direction, I now have air temperature and atmospheric pressure. But the cool thing was how Garmin realized that I had to thread the wire down the mast. So of course one end had no connector. But it was pre-cut with the tinned wires the exact length to fit in the field installable connector necessary to complete the connection. Nice job Garmin.

I should say that between Reboot, Gypsysails, and a couple of friends that I have spent so much time on the top of masts that I have become immune. I realized yesterday that I go up in 20 to 25 knot winds and just work on stuff. Weird, as its a long way down (60 feet in the case of Reboot.) When I realized that I now use both hands to work, rather than hold on with one and work with the other it was pretty weird.