Monthly Archives: November 2014

Fender Covers

We learned a long time ago that PVC fenders and Florida sun do not mix. They get gummy and attract dirt. In addition to looking terrible, they also smear the sticky mess on the side of the boat and it is nearly impossible to get off. As with PVC dinghies, the solution is to keep them covered.

Initially, we used the fleecy kind from Taylor Made (the maker of the fenders). These worked okay to protect the fenders, but the fabric was not up to the rigors of the sun or being constantly ground against the dock. Eventually they began to look ratty and Tanya decreed they must be replaced.

I found some that seemed to be made from better material, but it was still a fuzzy “blanket” type of material. Tanya wouldn’t hear of it. They must be made of Sunbrella for durability and to complement our color scheme. I couldn’t find any made of Sunbrella, and I didn’t want to make them myself. We deliberated on this for a while with our old nasty fenders a daily reminder. Finally, Tanya declared she would make them.

Now, Tanya is not a girl with a lot of free time on her hands. She still undertakes the occasional project, but usually at the expense of something else. She once volunteered to edit a friend’s book and we didn’t eat for a week. So I was dubious about her making the covers. I thought it would be cheaper to buy them pre-made (at twice the cost) than suffer the disruption of her making them, but I dutifully ordered the material.

The fabric arrived and sat in the cockpit untouched for several days, people stepping over it to get in and out of the boat, without any mention of when this was going to get done. It was bothering me, but I knew better than to ask. I was willing to do it myself at this point, but I couldn’t offer either. Any pressure would be received as lack of appreciation for all she does for our family, and this is seriously unwise (and untrue). A hint was required.

So one evening she “caught” me measuring a fender. Of course, I had measured them before I ordered the fabric. That did the trick and the next day the fender cover factory went into full gear. She knocked out seven fender covers, each better and faster than the last.

Fender Covers

There is a certain satisfaction in doing something yourself, a kind of joy in making something. And for as hard as it is to get a project started, it’s almost as hard to stop. We call that the First Law of Projects. Tanya was still in a full-blown cover-making frenzy when we ran out of fenders. She began to eye the neighbor’s coverless fenders. People were going to be getting fender covers for Christmas. Fortunately it passed before things got out of hand.

Now we have great looking fenders again. The Sunbrella should last a very long time in the sun and stand up much better to abrasion from the dock. They are louder, though, creaking as the Sunbrella rubs against the boat, and I’m not sure how well the boat is going to stand up to abrasion from the Sunbrella. Time will tell.

A few days later I was down in one of our lazarettes, the one where we store the fenders, and saw… way in the back… an eighth fender.

Joining the Club

Take Two’s latest piece of electronic gadgetry is an AIS transceiver. This broadcasts our name, position, course, and speed for others to see. We’ll appear on the navigational displays of vessels equipped to receive AIS and they’ll be notified if our courses converge. They’ll be able to hail us on the radio by name, or by “dialing” our number. There are even base stations that receive the AIS information and publish it on the internet.

For years, we’ve been content to only receive AIS data from others and had no interest in transmitting our own. Typically I prefer to be anonymous, but recent experiences have shown me a few reasons to transmit.

In August, we were off Cape Canaveral when a big thunderstorm rolled off the coast as two cruise ships left the port. Visibility was zero and our radar display was just a big green blob. Fifty knot gusts were kicking up a nasty chop, and our best option was to run with it. I would like to think that the ships could see us on radar, but if ours couldn’t see a cruise ship, how could I be sure that theirs could see a sailboat? It was too loud to call and ask. Knowing they could see us on AIS would have greatly reduced the stress of that situation.

When entering Chesapeake Bay in the middle of the night, we were hailed by Virginia Pilots as “sailing vessel approaching the north tunnel”. There was a ship behind us heading for the same tunnel crossing that we were, and Virginia Pilots wanted to make sure we saw it, and were not going to be in the way when it got there. It was a very pleasant exchange, and I was grateful for the call, but also somewhat chagrined that they felt it was necessary. Had we been transmitting, I think they would not have been concerned.

On our 5-day passage back from the Chesapeake, we were in the company of a boat named New Moon. We very rarely saw them, and then only as a light or a sail on the horizon. But because they were transmitting AIS we were aware of their presence. I actually found it comforting that they were there, experiencing the same conditions we were. Tanya called them once on a lonely night watch hundreds of miles from anywhere, and I think they were surprised to learn of our existence. The camaraderie we felt was totally one-sided.

Somewhere off Georgia, we were hailed by the US Navy with “sailing vessel in vicinity of 30 degrees 49 minutes north, 79 degrees 22 minutes west, this is Warship 59”. They had to repeat this several times before I figured out they were talking to us. The coordinates they were giving were not very close to our current position and it wasn’t immediately apparent if we were “in the vicinity”. I think the Navy receives AIS, but generally does not transmit for obvious reasons. If they had our AIS information, hopefully they would have hailed us by name. Incidentally, Warship 59 was clearing a box so they could play with their guns and wanted us out of the way.

Originally, I only saw AIS as information for my own navigational use (and entertainment). I wanted to see everyone else, but didn’t want anyone to see me. That position forced us to act defensively in every situation, and also denied others the use of our information. Now I see that there are advantages to transmitting, even if they don’t benefit us directly. Transmitting AIS data makes us part of a community, and in any community there is a give-and-take. We are giving up some anonymity, but the more vessels that transmit, the more it benefits the community as a whole. Eventually, some kind of EPIRB or AIS transponder will probably be mandated for anyone going offshore, but we’re choosing to transmit now voluntarily, despite the extra cost, in the interest of better navigational information for everybody.

What to Do (Or Not) in Washington D.C.

Homeschool friends have been asking me what we liked or did not like about our visit to D.C., so this is an overview/review of some of the many things we crossed off the “to do” list for a visit to our nation’s capital. (Look for place names in bold type.)

The good news is that you can still visit our nation’s capital by water. The bad news is that the whole waterfront area on the Washington Channel is under construction, to be finished in 2017. The Capital Yacht Club is a down-to-earth, friendly place that accepts transients and allows full access to their club, showers, laundry room, mail room, etc. They’ve moved from their original building (which has been torn down), but are back up and running with new floating docks just a few blocks south in a nice, although temporary, place, while they wait for the new yacht club to be built. It’s a great location; the Mall, Memorials, Metrorail stations, and shopping/dining are all just a few minutes’ walk from the waterfront. We’ll have to come back when it’s done—the drawings for the finished project look beautiful.

The Mall in D.C. is the most obvious destination—the center of all the action, and incidentally, the best place to play Frisbee. Beware, however, because distances are farther than they appear on the “official visitors map.” Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol? No problem, you might think. Or maybe hit a couple museums—they’re all next to each other, right? Add vast amounts of time and energy to the estimates because, let me tell you, there is a LOT of walking. The small person who had outgrown her backpack and stroller had to have a new just-for-D.C. umbrella stroller. There were very few playgrounds nearby, so our play-space became the green grass in front of the Smithsonian Castle (where a cup of coffee can be easily acquired in the café). Rides on the old-fashioned carousel are $3.50/person, and work well as a reward for small people if they are good inside a museum.

Monumental View

Watch out for the “free” Smithsonian museums! You get sucked in and suddenly it’s lunchtime and you’ve only seen half of the exhibits you wanted to peek at. That’s okay, because there are cafés inside all of them (some are better than others), but you’ll pay a hefty price for the convenience. If you plan on seeing an IMAX or two (Air and Space and Natural History, for example) or the Einstein Planetarium shows, it might be worthwhile to become a member and get discounted tickets. A membership offers a magazine subscription and gift shop and café discounts as well. Our favorite museums were Air and Space, Natural History and American History. We also liked the US Botanic Garden and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Don’t miss the Museum of the American Indian; they have great exhibits for kids and a fabulous café with native food choices. Note that Arts and Industries and the Postal Museum are currently closed for renovations, and the new Museum of African-American History and Culture is still under construction (opening in 2015).

Stainless Steel Tree

Closed for repairs after a surprise 2011 earthquake, the Washington Monument only recently reopened to visitors who want to take the elevator to the top for spectacular views of Washington D.C. Tickets for a time-slot are free, but must be acquired the morning of the day you want to visit. During peak times, tickets are hard to get and go fast. September appears to be the perfect time to visit (when the weather is on the cooler side) because the summer visitors are gone and the school groups haven’t started yet. Homeschool advantage! This is a not-to-be missed monument, named for the Father of our Nation, not the city.

Reflecting Pool

A walk around the tidal basin will take you past the impressive Jefferson Memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Japanese Lantern. Surrounded by ornamental cherries, the walk must be lovely in the spring, but we found it to be very long on a warm day and not for the faint of heart. We only made it half way, and thought we might rent Tidal Basin Pedal Boats another day to see the monuments by water. The cost is $22/hour for a four-person boat, but unless you are training for the Tour de France, you might find, as we did, that moving the boat requires a lot of hard work and they’re not nearly as fun as they look. It would take about an hour to get across the pond to the MLK memorial, but we turned around at the 30 minute mark so we could return the boat and get frozen lemonades at the refreshment stand instead.

Another not-to-be missed part of a trip to D.C., we enjoyed our walk to the Lincoln Memorial way more than the walk back. The length of that reflecting pond is staggering! A pleasant surprise on our way was the WWII Memorial. It had not been built the last time I was in D.C., and we found it to be a beautiful and thoughtful tribute to the men and women who served our country on all fronts. It lies between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, at one end of the reflecting pool. In that general area, you also find the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (on opposite sides of the pool). Plan a whole day to do this loop, and pack a picnic. Trust me.

Lincoln Memorial

When you get tired of all that walking, or maybe if you’re pinched for time, one fabulous thing to do is take a ride on a double-decker bus which will show you all of Washington D.C. in a couple of days and let you off and on at all the major sights. We bought 48-hour tickets at one of the Big Bus Tours stops, and saw all of D.C. in two days’ time. Riding on the top level gives you a great view of the city, and the tour is narrated so you get a lot of back-story as you ride. We picked two places to stop each day, places we simply couldn’t have gotten to on foot. One day we had lunch at Union Station, an impressive building and a neat place to take kids, with lots of food choices. That same afternoon, we also made it out to Arlington Cemetery, and had enough time to see the eternal flame at the JFK grave site and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For Arlington to be properly appreciated, it would take a whole day, but if you don’t have the luxury of time (or of a car), this is a great way to see part of it. The next day we visited the National Zoo in the morning (free as a part of the Smithsonian), and the National Cathedral in the afternoon. I don’t think I would have put the cathedral on my list, but am so glad we took their tour (not free). The sixth largest cathedral in the world, it rivaled anything I saw in Europe—the stained glass, ornately carved altar, lovely grounds, and guided tour made it a wonderful, off-the-beaten path stop. Note that Big Bus tour tickets also include a boat tour that leaves from Georgetown and passes for Madame Toussaud’s Wax Museum (where you will find all the presidents in almost-living color).

Arlington Cemetary

National Cathedral

If you’ve ever wanted to see the documents that make our country what it is, the National Archives is the place to see them. Declaration of Independence? Got it! Bill of Rights? Got it! Emancipation Proclamation? Got it! Edison’s patent for the light bulb? Got it! Poster of Rosie the Riveter? Got it! That and so much more makes this a hidden treasure and a surprising favorite.

I remembered the fun tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing from when I was a kid on vacation with my family, and it hasn’t changed much. You only need to acquire the free tickets during peak season, otherwise, you simply walk in during their morning or afternoon tour times (homeschool advantage again). Tours run every 15 minutes, starting with a bird’s-eye view of money printing-presses and ending in the gift shop, where you can buy bags of shredded money that didn’t pass muster. I thought the most fascinating part was the exhibit on how bills have been changed to prevent counterfeiting.

The gang’s all here—within a few blocks of each other—the seats of the three branches of our government. You can acquire tickets for a free Capitol Tour through your congressmen, or through the Capitol Visitor’s Center (I booked online). Though a thorough and wonderful guided tour, note that it does not include passes to see the senate or house; those passes must be acquired separately. Guided White House tours are also up and running again, but once the kids discovered that “meeting the president” was not part of the tour, they lost interest. I believe those tickets are acquired through a congressman as well. Given more time, we would have taken the Supreme Court tour and gone to the Library of Congress, but one can only spend so much time on Capitol Hill before one needs to go home for a drink (or a nap…or both).


I cannot possibly detail all the field trips we took, but I can mention in parting that going out to the Air and Space Museum Hangar at Udvar-Hazy (by Dulles Airport) was totally worth the effort—they have the space shuttle Discovery, the Concorde, and the Enola Gay—just to name a few of the famous exhibits in the world’s largest museum. I can also say that although the Spy Museum is cool, it is expensive for a family, and the ticket price is wasted on smaller children (and their caregiver), who will not be able to enjoy the museum for more than about five minutes. Similarly, we decided that a whole-family outing to the Holocaust Museum was out of the question, though I have vivid and haunting memories of some of the exhibits from when I went there as a teenager. I would say 12 and older would be an appropriate age to visit. In conclusion, you must accept that you cannot possibly go to all the amazing places during one family vacation—we were there for three weeks, going somewhere almost every day, and still did not see everything we would have liked to see. Best to pick a few places that everyone can enjoy and take lots of good pictures for the scrap book!