Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Farewell to HDYC

Every journey starts somewhere. Our hailing port is Clearwater, but our journey really started in Bradenton, at the end of "G" Dock at Twin Dolphin Marina, where we were lovingly referred to as “the Robinsons” (as in Swiss Family).

A rebellious and fun-loving lot to whom the normal rules do not apply, our friends there on "G" named the dock-end “H” and proceeded to put up a tent for shade (with twinkly lights for holidays), fans, grills, football games on TVs, Corn Hole, water balloon launchers, robotic dinosaurs, wading pools for dogs, fishing poles, and tables replete with everything from Low Country Boil to Sunday morning Bloody Mary makings. There is only one way to describe the mayhem that happened there every weekend: fun.

At a time when Jay and I had tired of the suburbs and were ready to try something new, we bought a boat, found a place to dock it and were immediately introduced to the ringleader, Pete, and fun commenced. We were in dire need of lightening up and it was impossible to be serious around the Moe-Larry-and-Curly types we found hanging around on any given Saturday on H Dock.

More importantly, our children, who might have been summarily rejected, shushed, or looked down upon on any other dock in any other marina, were welcomed, if not with open arms, then with a got-yer-nose and a high five. Our kids consider these thoughtful and fun-loving adults as, well, peers, and friends to boot. And the dogs! Our kids were in heaven: fishing with Jack, taking Rosie for a walk, petting Bella, getting kissed by Savannah, or being herded by Patches.

Sam and Jack

This is a special group of people—Pete and Joe, Mike and Jean, Rob and Nancy, Don and Susan, Dave and Julie, Doug and Judy, Dick and Jane, Wayne and Terry, Mike and Marilyn (and others who come and go)—people who make dramatic and daring rescues in the Manatee River, who are always available to grab a line or, at the very least, offer “helpful” suggestions while you are docking, sailors and power boaters alike who are able to set aside differences in the name of Margaritas and SPAM bake-offs.

When we walked down the dock that first evening when Jay delivered the boat, I was sure we got the sidelong glances that said, “Oh, no—here come the kids that will ruin the party!” And when we saw the weekend crew, we were thinking, “Oh, no—here come the adults that will ruin our kids!”  Instead, our kids proved themselves able to interact with the grown-ups without being too obnoxious (and we could always send them back into the boat if they were), and the grown-ups proved that they could keep their mouths (and conduct) relatively clean until 8:30 p.m. After that, of course, all bets were off, but then Jay and I would often come out and join in.

Lest one think we received all the benefits of the H Dock fun, I’m sure we provided plenty of free entertainment—Sam grew up before our eyes during the two years at Twin Dolphin, and his antics (including going for frequent dips in the drink) kept us all on our toes. Our kids’ climbing and swinging were like a weekend circus act, their treasures from the sea were frequently on display, and Jay’s constant tinkering with boat projects provided subject matter for plenty of conversations and a few jokes.

As for me, I will never forget my 34th birthday. My friend Heather was down from Maine, and we had gone outside on the dock to hang out while I filled the water tanks. An hour later, I heard a trickle of water, telling me that the tanks were overflowing. Of course, that was back when an overflowed tank resulted in floating floorboards inside the boat. The H Dock rescue team sprang into action, able men with pumps in hand to help me clean up at midnight! I have never laughed so hard at my own negligence.

There are so many good memories of our two years there that it makes it really hard for me to say goodbye. But it’s time to clean out our dock box, get out there and do the things we’ve been planning all along, and make new friends.  But no matter where we go in the world, no harbor, no dock, no yacht club, will ever compare to the friends we made at HDYC. We will proudly fly the H Dock Yacht Club burgee, and remain members even if we don’t make it to the meetings any more.

H-Dock in Key West

To all our friends at Twin Dolphin—we miss you very much and will come by for a visit whenever we’re in town!


Hurricanes are tricky things.  In 2004, Category 4 Hurricane Charliewas headed straight for our house in Clearwater when it took an easterly turnovernight.  It decimated a surprised Punta Gorda with its strong northeastquadrant, and the weaker western side barely gave us rain.

A similar thing happened today in Marathon.  The storm went east of theforecasted track and we got the western side, which was pretty muchnon-existent.  It was overcast and drizzled once in the morning, then therest of the day was sunny and calm. 

I won’t attempt to hide that it was a bit of a letdown.  It’s not that I’m an adrenaline junkie orsomething.  I make these plans and havethese ideas about what conditions will be like and how we’ll cope with them,but at this point they remain untested.  Aboxer has to work his way up the ranks gaining experience before he has achance against the champ.  I only hopethat next time I’m not pitted against a much stronger storm.

I partially console myself with the knowledge that I could tell what was happeningas soon as I got up this morning and saw the breeze had backed to the North.  I’ve watched these things closely for manyyears now, have read some books, taken some classes, and feel like I’m gettingto understand them to some degree.

If I were reliant on official sources of information, I would have beentotally clueless about what was currently happening or about to happen.  The VHF chatter from
other boats showed a serious lack of awareness about what the weather was doing.  Local weather radar was the only informationI had access to (which was only possible because I had Internet access) which was compatible with what I was seeing with my eyes.  In fact, several of the National HurricaneCenter’s position reports appeared to contradict what I saw clearly onradar.  I find it frustrating that even within hours of a storm hitting me, I can’t get good information about what kind of weather I’llhave.  Part of it is a prediction problem, but part is also an information delivery problem.

We received several calls and emails today from friends and family inquiringabout how we’re faring in the storm.  Allwere surprised to learn that it was just another day in paradise.


Several boats came in this evening to take mooring balls in the harbor.  Additionally, the boats that were tied up along the seawall in the marina canal (for the air conditioning) had to leave and take moorings.  One of our anchored neighbors went and grabbed a ball.  I have not seen anybody leave the harbor for the mangroves, but I'm sure a few boats have come in from the ocean side to tie up in there.

This is the path we'll take if we make a run for the mangroves.

We've seen a few other boats preparing.   Sails wrapped, biminis folded, dodgers removed.  The marina offers to store the dinghies inside their building and many people were taking them up on that.  From where I am I see several dinghies still in the water, trailing behind their vessels, and looking like they'll stay there.  That will be fun to watch.

What we’ve done so far:
•    Get out the storm anchor and spare anchor rode
•    Remove the secondary anchor from its roller to make room for the storm anchor
•    Rig a heavier bridle through the mooring pendant as backup
•    Re-roll the jib tighter on the furler
•    Lift the dinghy higher than normal, and secure it like we’re going offshore
•    Take the drain plug out of the dinghy so it doesn’t fill with rainwater
•    Clear the decks of fishing poles, scooters, buckets and other loose items
•    Get out various lines, shackles, and chafe gear for easy access
•    Get out big fenders and poles for pushing off other boats
•    Take some “before” pictures of the surrounding area

What we’ll do later:
•    Take down the wind scoops we use for ventilation
•    Wrap the spinnaker and spare jib halyards around the furled jib
•    Warm the engines up so they’re ready to go if we need them in a hurry

What I won’t or can’t do:
•    I wish I had a heavier spare anchor rode, but I left it in storage.  Bummer.
•    Take the sails off the boat.  I would for a hurricane.

Tropical Storm Bonnie

It looks like we’re about to get our first tropical storm.

I don’t have any concerns about our safety.  We’re in a well protected harbor and I’m pretty confident that the moorings are strong enough and well-maintained.  In fact, I’m a little bit excited.  Hurricane experience is hard-won and this will be a nice little introduction.  This will help us know what to expect and evaluate our exposure to future storms.

I do have a misgiving about the way we’re secured to the mooring.  The harbormaster and I have a little disagreement about the best way to moor my boat.  We’ve been doing it his way to keep things friendly and while the weather was mild, but his silly rules won’t be on my list of concerns when it starts to deteriorate tomorrow.

At this point it is just a tropical depression.  It was expected to become a tropical storm for the 5pm forecast, but the hurricane hunter didn’t find that it had strengthened enough.  It is still expected, though.  Slow development is fine with me since it reduces the chance that it could turn into a hurricane overnight.  The dockside prognosticators are predicting 50-60 knots, but I’m skeptical it will be that high.  We’ll have the instruments on to watch the wind speed.

What we have most to fear is other boats.  The boats on moorings have people aboard and are generally well looked after, but other boats are anchored, and many of these are neglected.  Either could break free, but think I we have more to fear from the anchored boats.  There aren’t very many boats around us, but most of the ones that are fall into this latter category.  I don’t think the wind speeds will be anywhere near strong enough that we’d have to worry about flying debris from the surrounding houses.

If we did have a problem in the harbor, there is a nice mangrove creek nearby that we should be able to get into without much trouble.  Tying into mangroves is a proven tactic for securing a boat for a storm.  They grow along twisting channels that don’t allow waves to build, and their root systems are very strong.

My secondary concern after the wind is about the water quality.  With all the rain that is sure to come, there will be a massive amount of runoff.  This tends to carry all kinds of trash that can clog our raw water strainers, and possibly chemicals that could damage our water maker, or otherwise compromise our ability to make water.  Most bacteria are larger than aqueous salt, so the water maker will remove them, but pesticides and other chemicals will pass through.

Automatic Generator Start

This morning I was very pleased with myself because thegenerator started all by itself.  Lastnight I installed a little gadget for that purpose and it worked beautifully.

Starting the generator automatically has always been on theproject list, but seemed like a solution looking for a problem, so it nevermade it near the top.  It wasn’t until wemoved aboard and spent some time away from the dock and shore power that werealized that running the generator was an essential part of our power diet.  If nobody were here to start the thing, ourbatteries would die and the refrigeration would shut down.  It meant we couldn’t leave, and suddenly anautomatic generator start became more important.

Yes, we have a large solar array, no, it isn’t enough, andyes, our refrigeration is grossly inefficient. 
If we were going to be gone for a long period, we would probably throwaway all the food and turn the refrigerators off.  But if we only want to be gone for a fewdays, it’s better to keep everything running while we’re gone.

Another part of the problem was finding the right unit.  It is most common to find the generator startcapability as an optional add-on to higher-end inverters.  Our inverters have the capability, but notthe option, and they’re too old to find the necessary module.  Plus, different generators have differentstarting requirements, and we needed a unit that had the flexibility to start our Northern Lights.

It wasn’t until the project received priority that a searchin earnest began.  It yielded a few hits,but none as clearly perfect as the GSCM from Atkinson Electronics.  A call to the company had one on the way $249later.  Installing it was really no moredifficult than looking at the back of the Northern Lights’ control panel andwiring the GSCM to the appropriate switch contacts.

Most of these units are designed to work off battery voltageto determine when the generator is needed for charging.  I could do better since I have a VictronBMV-600 battery monitor that watches the Amps flowing in and out and calculatesa precise depth of discharge.  Thebattery monitor allows me to set thresholds at which it will energize a relay,perfect for signaling an automatic generator start if the unit supports it,which the GSCM does.  I will add a Flexchargeprogrammable timer to institute quiet times when the generator can’t run. 
Typically I only want it to run between 9 and11am, and when the battery is below 85%.

If air-conditioning were important, I could also use thetimer to make the generator start on an interval, or use a demand device like athermostat to start it.  But that getsback into solving a problem that I don’t really have.

Folding Bike

For the first post with the new way of embedding pictures, Iwill introduce our latest purchase: the Dahon folding bicycle.


As the name would imply, the bike folds for easier storageand transportation to shore.

Bike, folded

We’re very excited about this bike.  Aside from folding, this also happens to be areally nice bike.  From reading theirmarketing, it appears that most of Dahon’s market is city folk who ride to workand carry their bikes onto subways and elevators.  Secondly are really, really committed bikeriders who need one they can take with them wherever they go.  People on boats appear to be an afterthoughtand though they make many different models, ours it the only one specificallymarketed for mariners.  Hence it iscalled the Dahon Mariner D7 (it has 7 speeds).

Our excitement is also because this bike significantlyenhances our range ashore.  This wassomething we never appreciated when we had two vehicles waiting at the end ofthe dock.  My trips to West Marine, HomeDepot, and ACE Hardware were almost daily when my transportation was atruck.  When it is my feet I seem to goless often and buy less.

The cargo carrying capacity currently consists of a milkcrate strapped to the back.  A foldingtrailer is a possibility if our needs prove greater.

The bike is ostensibly Tanya’s, since she is ourGalley Officer, and the one that has to make the 1-mile provisioning trek tothe store when we run low on beer.  Shemade a trial run to the local K-mart yesterday and I barely got the dinghy backto the boat before she was calling to be picked up at the dock.  The kids all have folding Razor scooters, so ona family trip I’ll be the only one without wheels.  We’ll have to wait and see if another bikemakes sense.  We haven’t even figured outwhere we’ll put this one yet.


Getting pictures on the blog has always been a bit of a challenge, and therefore hasn’t happened with any regularity.  The editor tired of the situation and cracked down on the technical staff to make it better.  Hopefully the situation is now improved and following us here will be more visually interesting.

The main change is a move to Flickr for the image hosting.  I didn’t exactly make an extensive evaluation of the options, so there may be significant downsides to this, but for now it seems to be working.

You’ve probably noticed the photos in the sidebar.  This will always show our most recently uploaded photos.  Additionally, the same photos can now be easily embedded in the blog posts themselves to supplement the content.

Probably the biggest advantage to using Flickr is that we have phones and cameras that can upload pictures there directly.  So, in theory anyway, a picture could be in the sidebar gallery within seconds of being taken, with nobody having to sit down at a computer to do it.  All of the recent pictures over there now were taken from my phone and transferred wirelessly.  

The only currently known downside to Flickr is the image quality.  Regardless of the image we capture and transfer, Flickr reduces it to their standard size.  This is actually a partial benefit since part of the previous picture posting routine was to do this reduction manually.  However, we are now scaling them up slightly for display in the blog posts, so there is a bit of loss going on.  Ironically, if you click on the photo, it will actually display smaller when it reloads from the Flickr website in its native size.  We’ll have to see how this works out in practice.

There will probably be a burst of new pictures added soon as Tanya goes through her camera and uploads older photos.  Some of the previous posts that were intended to have pictures at the time, but required technical assistance, may now get them.

Heat Stroke or Malaria? A Poll

Ever the one to make mountains out of molehills, I may have slightly exaggerated the dilemma in which we find ourselves. But why don’t you take my informal poll, anyway—it’ll only take a second.

1) Would you rather be hot or bug-eaten?

If you answered bug-eaten, you would be subjecting yourself to possible attacks of malaria or West Nile Virus. Where we are in the keys, malaria isn’t really a problem, but someday, we will be places where we must try at all costs to protect ourselves from mosquito bites. Here in Boot Key Harbor, we are merely irritated to the point of insanity by what we call the “ninja” mosquitoes. They are not the graceful and relatively harmless things we are used to. They are BIG, black, and sneaky. We resorted to breaking out the DEET-laden Backwoods OFF. But after a few days, the itching was a 24-hour-a-day irritation, even with the soothing salves and lotions we have on board. (Caladryl seems to work the best.)

Perhaps you, like me, are the sweet-blooded type, and are tormented by biting insects, and would rather be anything than bug-eaten. The option for us, then, is to put screens on all our windows, which pretty much kills all air flow through the boat. I know most of you are sitting in an air-conditioned room as you read this, so try to imagine, for just a moment, what would happen if the power went off on the hottest, stillest, most humid day of the year. You might open the window to get some air, but outside (you can actually see them throwing their little bodies against the glass to try to get in) are a hundred ninja mosquitoes, waiting to eat you alive. Now then, you have a better picture of our predicament.

After trying bug-eaten, we have opted for hot. Jay lovingly sewed Velcro on square after square of screen material so we could cover hatches and blockade the front door. The first night we did our lockdown at sunset, we trapped dozens of mosquitoes inside—they had been resting there during the day and came out at dusk to feed on human flesh. I painstakingly (and somewhat gleefully) smashed mosquito after mosquito until we were down to the last, sneakiest ninja killers, which I got once they landed on me and inserted their little hypodermic needles. The second night, we killed only three or four, but we could see their cousins swarming outside the door and trying to sneak in at the edges of the screen. Very determined, but unsuccessful.

We are much happier without the constant itching and scratching. However, with airflow greatly hampered, we are really roasting. You may be asking, “Why don’t you run the air conditioning?” The air requires so much power that we would have to run our 12kW generator 24-7 to stay cool.  We’ve tried charging the batteries at night, so we could run the air for a few hours, but the generator also generates its own heat; that with the residual heat from the day which is stored in the boat itself begins to warm up the cabins the moment we switch off the air.

Anyway, sailors don’t need air conditioning—all the places we want to go are not air conditioned. Mountains and waterfalls and other scenic locales are definitely not air conditioned. When there is a breeze, and we aren’t required to put up screens, the boat stays cool and comfortable during the day, mostly thanks to the Windscoops which look like little spinnakers and funnel air into hatches. In the afternoon, we can sit out on the trampolines under the shade of the awning and rest and relax (or, in some places, go for a swim in the front yard). At night, we all take quick, cold showers right before bed and turn on the fans in our cabins, which make sleeping possible. The only time we really feel uncomfortable is when it’s raining, but we are working on hatch covers that would shield us from water but still allow air in.

Are you ready for the second question in my little poll?

2) Would you rather be comfortable or have an adventure?

We have chosen a lifestyle that denies us many of the comforts we used to take for granted.  We now realize that we did not fully appreciate our cushy life ashore, and we have become more thankful people.  Shame on us if we complain now about being hot or itchy!  If we had wanted comfort, we would have stayed at home. The tradeoff is a life afloat—a spontaneous, fun, adventure-filled life.  We were pretty spoiled, so we are having to learn to remain cheerful despite discomfort. (And we are well aware that we still live better than 90% of the world’s population.) We are also learning to mitigate the risks before we get into hazardous territory, and for all of that valuable knowledge we pay in blood, sweat and tears.

FAQ: What kind of safety equipment do you have?

This is an awkward question because it delves into a number of emergency situations that I contemplate and prepare for, but never expect to happen.  I give fair warning that the discussion of the safety items we carry may conjure images of potential disasters that necessitate their use.  I assure you, dear reader, that I have considered these in detail and with a great sense of responsibility.  Your nightmares are no match for mine.  That said, we feel strongly that our life afloat is no more dangerous, in fact less, than life ashore.  Perhaps a future post will address this point directly.

Boats are required to carry certain items for the safe operation of the vessel.  The list varies by the length of the vessel and how many passengers it carries.  The most prominent items are flares, fire extinguishers, and life jackets.  My boats have been boarded by the Coast Guard twice for inspection.  Both times were pleasant, cordial experiences and no deficiencies were cited.

Take Two came to us with a very extensive set of flares, some very exotic and expensive-looking.  Unfortunately they were all expired.  Some even said they were made in “West Germany”.  We went through them and kept the ones that still looked good, just in case, and the rest we donated at the local hazardous waste dropoff.  We have newer ones to show the Coast Guard when they check, but the old stuff probably still works just as well.

Everybody has their own life jacket (Personal Flotation Device in Coast Guard lingo).  The kids spend so much time wearing theirs that they look natural in them.  Tanya and I have the auto-inflating kind, but wear them less often.  Mine has an integrated harness so Tanya has a way to haul me back aboard if I’m injured or unconscious.  Tanya has a separate harness because her PFD is designed for women, and they don’t make those with the integrated harness for some reason.  During rough weather or at night, the harness is attached to the boat with a tether to keep us from going overboard in the first place.

We have an Autotether system to alert us if someone does go over.  The system consists of little transmitters that are placed on the life jackets.  The transmitters communicate with a base station aboard the boat several times a second.  If the base station loses contact with the transmitter, it immediately sounds a very loud alarm.

The boat also came with an exposure suit, which is kind of a cross between a wetsuit and a ski jacket.  I tried it on and almost passed out from heat.  We don’t have any plans to be in water cold enough that we would need something like that, so I got rid of it.

We have these silly little tapered plugs that you’re supposed to have so you can jam them in holes or broken hoses to stop water flow.  I was sure I’d never need them, but damn if I haven’t had to use them TWICE to keep the ocean on the outside.

Of course we have a VHF radio, but it only has a range up to about 40 miles.  At some point we will probably get a single sideband (i.e. shortwave) radio that can bounce signals off the ionosphere to the other side of the planet.  In addition to voice, the SSB can be used for receiving weather faxes and even email.  When we start venturing beyond US coastal waters we’ll probably get an Iridium satellite phone, which can also be used for email and very light Internet access.  All of these can be useful for giving and receiving help during emergencies, but the satellite phone would be especially valuable if we needed to obtain medical advice.

We carry a rather extensive first aid and medical kit, including some good prescription medicines and surgical supplies (thanks Jeff!).  We have received two days’ worth of training on how to use the stuff, but we’ll still need outside advice for any major issues.  Additionally, Tanya has had CPR training and attended a Safety at Sea seminar.

If, God forbid, someone should need immediate medical attention when we’re far from civilization, we have an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).  When triggered, it communicates who and where we are to a satellite, which relays the information to global search and rescue authorities (such as the US Coast Guard, among others).  It does not, however, indicate what our problem is, and the assumption is that we require evacuation.

Depending on where we are, help will usually come in the form of a rescue boat or helicopter, but I have heard of things as diverse as military jets and commercial fishermen making initial contact.  It just depends on who can get there the fastest.  How long it takes will depend on weather and location.  Helicopters don’t fly in hurricanes.  

I have heard of two recent EPIRB rescues that probably represent the best and worst cases.  Abby Sunderland was recently rescued from the southern Indian Ocean.  She set it off on Thursday morning and was picked up by a fishing vessel on Saturday.   Then earlier this week a boat capsized 20 miles off the coast of California.  The Coast Guard was there within an hour to rescue three hypothermic crew members.

EPIRBs, personal locator beacons (PLBs), and the SPOT devices have been criticized for emboldening people who aren’t adequately prepared for their adventurous undertakings.  When they get in a little over their heads they just turn on the EPIRB for a ticket home.  We take our EPIRB very seriously.  We know that if we ever set that EPIRB off we will be leaving the boat with nothing but the clothes on our backs and will probably never see it again.  Needless to say, that isn’t something we’ll do unless absolutely necessary.

The life raft is our last resort.  The boat came with a raft, but upon evaluating its condition and the costs of recertification, we opted to buy a new one.  We’ve been without one for awhile, but we finally placed the order for an 8-man Winslow this week.  This particular brand is made here in Florida, so we’ll go see it when it’s ready and before it is packed up and sealed.  This familiarity will be important, especially for the kids, if we ever have to use it for real.

I really don’t think there is a likely scenario that would see us use the raft.  The adage says you should always step up to the life raft, meaning your boat should be sinking.   History is rife with examples of crews taking to the raft and being lost, while the boat is later found afloat.  Being a catamaran and thus not having ballast, I don’t think Take Two is likely to sink.  We have powerful pumps to remove unwanted water and materials for plugging any holes.  But any number of unexpected things could happen that we might need to abandon the boat.  Since mothers may be reading, we’ll let those horrors remain nameless.  If nothing else, the life raft is a really expensive insurance policy.


I’m hard on tools, so when somebody offers an aggressive warranty I’m there.  Actually taking advantage of the warranty is another matter, though.  Usually I’m too busy, or forget, or the tool gets lost after falling out of service, or maybe I feel guilty about the blatant abuse I gave the tool to break it. 

So I was very impressed with myself when I sent in three Leatherman tools for replacement last week (Yes, when one broke I bought two more).  I was even more impressed with Leatherman when three replacements arrived yesterday.  Say what you will about the quality of their tools (and I have), but they stand behind them.