Monthly Archives: April 2012

From the Archive: Fear and Regret

We celebrated a milestone this April: four years since we took the plunge and set out in uncharted water. That's right, it's the anniversary of the start of our adventure with Take Two. I looked back over some old posts from way back and found this passage that made me tear up–call me sappy, but dang it, we did it! And both the boat and our family are the better for it.

Excerpt from Fear and Regret (March 30, 2008)

We are, on the eve of “the point of no return” on this boat deal, alternately giving each other the pep talk. You can do this, we tell each other. It’s crazy, but we can do it anyway. We will, too. Just watch us. And if we do manage to do it, to actually acquire this worthy vessel, sail it around the peninsula and successfully dock it, take it for short cruises, learn to live with her and with each other, and to ultimately go exploring, it won’t be because we deserved it, nor because we were prepared, and it most certainly won’t be because we were unafraid, rather it will be despite those things.  We have decided to really live, or die trying.

High Dive

To our kids, there is nothing half so much worth doing as jumping off of boats.  So when we built our stern arch a couple years ago, we put a platform on top between the solar panels and dubbed it the high dive.  Nothing celebrates the end of a day of sailing like a few jumps off the high dive.

Arch jumping is like a rite of passage.  It is a 10-foot drop and so requires a certain amount of gumption. This past weekend Sam made his first jump… and second, and third, and fourth…  Way to go Sam.

First Jump

Steering by the Stars

A couple of years ago, Jay and I gave each other whimsical birthday gifts: he gave me a sextant and I gave him a guitar, both of them instruments which require a lot of time and practice to use. We thought, “We’ll be out sailing with nothing else to do.” Right…except keeping the boat afloat and feeding-clothing-teaching five children! I read a couple of books and went to a seminar, and Jay took some DVD lessons, but beyond that, neither of us made much progress learning to use these gifts.

I have always been captivated by the stars and love all things old-fashioned, so the sextant seemed like a neat way to get redundancy for navigation electronics. But for practical purposes, I will never get the kind of accuracy or precision from the sextant that we will from GPS. On the other hand, if satellite communications get knocked out by something like a solar flare, we won’t be completely without options for navigating.

A few weeks ago, an opportunity arose to take an informal class (more of a home-study course with a tutor), and I set aside any free time I might otherwise have had to work on my navigating skills and learn celestial. At first I had my doubts, but after learning noon sites, the basic method for working out lines of position based on the sun, moon, planets, and stars is pretty much the same. Add some chart work with universal plotting sheets and some running fixes and voila! There you have it! So simple, so graceful…if it weren’t for all the complicated games with tiny numbers, I might even say that it’s easy. Now comes the test—not the paper and pencil test—but the actual day-to-day practice which will make me proficient and not just a beginner. Of course, with all the distractions of home life, it will be awhile before I even finish all the left-over coursework.

What I have come to realize through taking this course is that I really don’t want to be the primary navigator, but that I would like to be more involved in piloting the boat and keeping the log. I don’t think I will really do a noon sight every day to keep my dead-reckoning on track, nor will I use Jupiter to check the boat’s compass. However, after taking a few classes and working out the convoluted problems to try to find a boat’s position using heavenly bodies, I’ve come to see why the practice of navigating by the stars has not died out despite advances in technology. There is something magical about finding my place in this world by things so far out of it, and being able to use a tool that connects me to the seafarers of old.

Regarding our romantic notions about sailing, I guess we’ve gotten more realistic. If we’re relying on Jay to make music, we’ll be limited to songs with two chords, and if we’re relying on me to find our way, we’ll be late and lost!

Note: My two favorite celestial books are by Tom Cunliffe (great explanations and full-color diagrams but not very practical) and David Burch (short on theory but very practical).

Electronics Update

I’ve made some changes to our navigation electronics since my last post on the subject.

I still haven't found a way to make the tablet useful.  I know others have, but for now I think it represents too much of a compromise.  It does appear that you can now buy the Panasonic Toughpad.  It is waterproof and sunlight-viewable, which are requirements number one and two for me.  But the only source I found is selling it for $1800.  You can make a favorable comparison to marine chart plotters based on screen size, but the chart plotter is a purpose-built hardware and software solution.  Tablets need much, much better software to compete.  Right now, even with a waterproof Toughpad, I think the best thing I’d find to do with it is play Angry Birds… in the rain.  

So I bought a chart plotter to install at the helm.  I did not want to go overboard and spend a bunch of money, but also wanted something relatively modern.  For the units I looked at, I thought the Lowrance HDS-7m Gen2 was the best bang for the buck.  The B&G Zeus looked like the best all around, but at 3x the cost of the Lowrance.  I have some very specific ideas about what I want in a chart plotter and I’d rather be disappointed with a $900 unit than a $2,800 unit.

To get all the NMEA data flowing the way I wanted, I installed an Actisense NDC-4 NMEA Multiplexer.  This unit combines inputs from multiple talkers into outputs for the computer and the chart plotter.  I have it set up so the inside computer can send waypoints to the outside chart plotter, and the chart plotter can steer the auto pilot toward them.

I installed a satellite weather antenna for the chart plotter as an afterthought.  With it we have high resolution weather radar, wind and wave forecasts, buoy observations, and more beamed to the boat FROM SPACE.  This will drastically reduce our dependence on Internet access for weather forecasts.  Plus, the Voyager package, which was my only option to get all the weather features I wanted, includes satellite radio.  The SiriusXM website does not make this clear and I didn’t learn it until I was on the phone activating.  So for an additional $100 investment and $60 per month, I’ve got two really nice features I wasn’t planning on.  Oh, and the B&G can’t do either one.

DSC integration is the last piece of the puzzle.  I ignored DSC (digital selective calling) initially because the way I was networking the NMEA data couldn’t support another talker, but the multiplexer changed that.  Now I can send a position request from Take Two’s VHF to our Standard Horizon HX850S handheld (which also has GPS and DSC) and the handheld’s position will appear as a waypoint on the computer and chart plotter.  The MaxSea TimeZero software does a better job of this and allows me to name and track the target.  So if we send the kids off in the dinghy, I can set up automatic position polling and Maxie will show me everywhere they go, while Lawrence only shows me where they currently are.  I also see a throwable DSC radio as an excellent piece of safety equipment.

That should be it for electronics for a while.  While pretty Spartan compared to what’s possible, I’m tickled pink with what we’ve got now.  We haven’t yet put it all through the paces and I think Lawrence and Otto have may some differences, but I’m pretty confident we can work that out.

Bigger is Better

…at least when it comes to anchors.

Ninety percent of the time, the chain itself is enough to keep the boat stationary.  But it’s that .01% when the wind is blowing hard against a lee shore at 2am and the chain is stretched bar tight that you really wish you had a better anchor.  

As a general rule, bigger and heavier anchors hold better that smaller ones. 
Steve Dashew says that when all your marina mates laugh about the size of your anchor, then it’s probably big enough.

We’ve always had good luck with our 44# Delta, but I’ve spent some sleepless nights watching the anchor alarm and the waves crashing on the rocks behind us.  We’ve never dragged… much. But I can’t depend on our current engines to fire right up and provide immediate power, so dragging toward rocks is seriously bad.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to invest in a bigger and better bow anchor.  Anchors are a lot like religion, and I’m putting my faith in a new 80# Manson Supreme.   

I believe in the fundamental merits of the plow anchor like the Delta, but I think that newer designs incorporating a roll bar (like the Manson Supreme) represent an improvement.  The purpose of the bar most often cited is that it forces the anchor into the correct attitude to set faster; the anchor shouldn't be able to land upside down or roll over in a wind shift.  But what I really see in that bar is a structural member supporting the scoop-shaped plow.  I think the bar allows the design to use a more efficient shape, put strength where it is needed, and weight where it is wanted.  It also provides a nice handle for lifting or if I ever need to pull it out backwards.

I was walking through West Marine yesterday and happened upon a 60# Manson Supreme that someone had special-ordered and then returned because it wouldn’t fit their boat.  You don't see anchors this size very often, and it renewed all my unfinished thoughts about getting a new bow anchor.  I have been keeping an eye out for a bigger 55# Delta, and the 60# Manson certainly looked big enough, but after a review of Manson’s sizing recommendations, it looks like they think we should have the 80-pounder.  Maybe they just want to sell me more anchor, but bigger is better and I wouldn't want to explain to the insurance company why I didn't use the recommended size.

I checked the measurements and don’t think we'll have problem fitting it on the crossbeam.  Weight on the bow is always a good thing to minimize, but in addition to the 44# Delta, we used to carry another 35# Delta in the second roller plus at least 20+ extra pounds in the old catwalk.  I figure we can put that eighty pounder up there and still come out lighter than we were.  And we've never launched two anchors off the bow.

What worries me most is picking the thing up.  Our windlass is rated for a working load of 220 pounds and we've never had any trouble snatching out the Delta.  If the new anchor weighs 80 lbs and our 3/8” G4 chain weighs 1.6 lbs/ft we should still be able to get the anchor back in up to 88 feet of water (without getting into buoyancy calculations).   That depth is well within our expected anchoring conditions, but a really well-buried anchor or a broken windlass could make things difficult.

I special-ordered the new anchor through West Marine and it arrives on Tuesday.  I hope somebody sees how big it is and laughs.

Getting Going Again

Parents of young children know to be suspicious when things are too quiet.  It’s a good indicator that something is up.  This blog has been quiet for a while now and something is indeed up.  We haven’t had much time to spare for the blog recently because we’re busy gearing up to leave the marina.  

I almost wrote “gearing up for the next cruise”, but that didn’t seem quite accurate.  A cruise implies (to me) a short duration and a round trip.  Although I’m sure we will always return to Florida, we aren’t currently planning that return.  In fact, we aren’t planning much at all.  The longer we do this, the more we realize that plans are overrated.  Instead we have goals, parameters, expectations, contingencies, and lots of wiggle room.

So without further ado, our goals are (roughly) to experience some early American history, get hauled out for a bottom job, have secure options for hurricane season, and maintain good access to airports and high-speed Internet.  It sounds like the US East Coast to me.

For parameters, the Dry Tortugas are a must stop.  The trip as we conceive it doesn’t include a lot of clean water to enjoy, and the kids are really excited to return there.  We have to go around Key West anyway, so the Tortugas aren’t really out of the way.  And we couldn’t go past Marathon without stopping to see friends there.

Our bottom paint is almost three years old now, which is well beyond its effective life.  Our two closest haulout options are both rails, and after our last rail experience we would really prefer a lift this time.  Lauderdale Marine Center is the closest lift.  We’ve hauled there before and it is a great yard, but it is far from convenient and very expensive.  The next one that can handle our beam is in Fort Pierce, so that’s on the itinerary.

From there, Tanya and I are a little bit at odds.  Our mast is too tall for the fixed bridges on the Intracoastal Waterway, so it will be an offshore trip.  If we’re heading to the Chesapeake, my preference is to get on the Gulf Stream express and go.  Tanya wants to stop in several places, which isn’t really conducive to using the beneficial current.  Plus it introduces lots of inlets to worry about.  She’s calling St. Augustine and Charleston pretty much mandatory.

Lastly, we must be back south of Cape Hatteras by November.  The Diamond Shoals area off Hatteras is called the “graveyard of the Atlantic” and becomes truly treacherous during the winter weather pattern.  I have no desire to spend a winter any farther north than we already are.

Actually getting to the Chesapeake seems like such a challenge we’re really not thinking much yet about what to do there.  It seems almost likely that we’ll get waylaid by weather, repairs, or shore life.  Will we go to Annapolis, Baltimore, or all the way up to DC?  We don’t know.  

For as much as we try to avoid marinas, we have a feeling that the trip will see us in one or another for much of the time.  Of course there is the convenience to shore life afforded by a dock, but we’re also expecting it to be damn hot and want to run the air conditioning.  We’re kind of used to damn hot, having spent a summer in the Keys, but we’re assuming the breeze is not as consistent as it is in the Keys.  We’re also expecting the water won’t be swimmable, which will seriously curtail the water- and beach-related activities we enjoyed in the Bahamas.

So there it is.  The cat’s out of the bag.  The ice is broken.  We weren’t intentionally withholding the information, but we don’t share every little whim lest we seem… whimsical.  But I think there’s reasonable probability that we’re actually going to do this, and I’ve sufficiently hedged on expectations.  

Our original target departure date was April 1, but that clearly didn’t happen.  We have boat projects still underway and want to maintain continuity with our current contractors.  So we’re delayed a couple weeks.  We'll also want to do a good systems test locally before setting off for the Tortugas.  With the intended travel plans, we don’t really feel compelled to load the boat with supplies and extra gear, but that is happening anyway.  I’ll have another post later with all the cool stuff we’ve done to the boat this past year.  Hopefully the posts will start flowing again.

From the Archive: Yearning for Adventure

I found this unfinished post from December and decided it was finished. We're ready to get outta' here, but getting ready to leave takes a lot of patience. My dad always said about vacations, "I can get ready to go, or I can go, but I can't do both."

Yearning for Adventure (December 30, 2011)

I’m practicing contentment. It’s a tough one for me. I have a real yearning for adventure, and when I feel like we’re stagnating, it takes concentration to be thankful for daily ups and downs. Just when I think I’ve got it—finally happy just where we are, even staying at the dock for another season, Jay says, “We gotta’ get out of this slip,” and off runs my active imagination, back to where we were this time last year (the Exumas) or somewhere else I’d love to go (French Polynesia).

Life with five children has no lack of daily adventure, but I long for the kind which takes us far from home and out of our comfort zones. Even the adrenaline-filled trip to the ER with Rachel brought on some kind of exhilaration that I had a hard time explaining until I recognized that the feeling reminded me of leaving the dock or navigating a shallow rocky coast. Some people like roller coasters, and some people like to go to sea. I hate roller coasters.