Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Zero Beat

April 22, 2015

Here we are a week past Halcyon’s launch date and (as far as I know) she is still in the marina yard. Due to unforeseen circumstances the marina is late getting the boats in the water this year. On the other hand as someone said to me, “At least you’re going in this year.” True, but now we wait impatiently for the call saying our boat is floating in her slip.

John and I have not been idle. A few weeks ago we both passed our amateur radio General Class license tests. Phew! I don’t do well on multiple choice tests no matter how well I know the material. All the answers look correct to me unless you throw in one that is so clearly wrong I deserve to be laughed at by the examiner if I choose it. Therefore, if an answer choice is “Donald Duck,” that leaves only three answers that look correct to me.

So now that we each have this license, what will we do with them? My original purpose was to use it on Next Boat. My plan was (and still is) to participate on the HF cruising nets once we’re out there. I also wanted to be able to communicate with a designated family member back home when we are out of Internet or cell phone range. All part of the Next Boat Project Plan. Another task completed.

Then things sorta got away from us. Me. Us. OK. If it wasn’t for me, John wouldn’t have done this at all.

Last year I bought a Kaito shortwave receiver. Inexpensive. Small. I wanted to listen even if (at the time) I couldn’t transmit without a license. Wandering around the yard excitedly listening to the crackle of static and proud that I heard even that, I somehow managed to get the little radio to receive a signal from an African radio station. That led me to ask John to dig into his tool bag in his truck where he found some hot pink (!) 14 gauge wire. He went onto the roof of the house and attached one end of the wire to the top of a tree. We soldered a connector on to the other end and Voila! Not the most elegant antenna but it works. I haven’t been able to tune into that same radio show but I can sometimes hear the Maritime Mobile Service Network in the afternoons.

Moving on.

Mid-way through studying for the General Class license test a friend loaned us his HF radio and power supply after I expressed an interest in buying a transceiver for the house. He was nice enough to let me try before I put a lot of money into new equipment so I can make sure this is an investment I want to make. These two pieces of equipment are heavy. The radio is a Kenwood TS-450S and the Astron RS-35M power supply has different colored beefy cables attached to it. Both are a bit intimidating. His last words to us before we drove away were, “Don’t turn it on before connecting the antenna!”

By the time we took our test I was terrified to turn on the loaner equipment. After reading how too much of this would fry that, I had myself convinced that I would end up replacing it all after flipping the “on” switch sent out a puff of smoke and sparks. After expressing my concerns, being told to “Just get the antenna up and turn it on!” did nothing to make me worry less. It’s always so easy to the person who has been doing something for 50 years.

In the meantime John was excited in an inner 7-year old in a toy store way about getting a dipole antenna into the trees before the leaves come out. This involved using a bow and arrow over the course of two weekends to get the line up high enough. The small diameter string he first used caused the arrows to get hung up in the branches. Someone suggested fishing line would cause less friction and that was the key. Arrow went up and over, arrow came down. Two trees are now sprouting arrows, string, and fishing line but he was successful. Our next steps are to hoist the antenna and solder the connectors to the coax and I’ll be set! She says confidently.



It doesn’t end there. Oh, how I wish it could. Oh, how I wish it wasn’t my idea.

John plans to install a dedicated electric panel for the radio equipment (that part is his idea). I’m trying to figure out power cord management as I look at the spaghetti bowl of cords and cables already connected to my computer. I have not one but two multimeters. John wasn’t happy with the meter he bought me for Valentine’s Day so he bought a second. I know I need to purchase other meters and analyzers and whatnot to ensure things don’t go pop and sizzle. Various connectors are floating around the room in their packaging. Clearly I also need a tool and small bits storage system. I decided that I want to power the radio equipment using solar panels. Another friend is putting together lithium battery packs that I will buy from him when he’s ready.

I think perhaps I’d also like a vertical antenna installed on the deck. Then I’ll be done.

Lest you wonder, “What happened to using the radio on the boat?” I haven’t forgotten but we do need to buy the boat first. In the meantime, I believe I want to name Next Boat Zero Beat.


2012 Here We Come! But Are We Ready?

March 4, 2012

Boating season is almost here and John and I have yet to start on our winter project list. The sails are still folded and have not been cleaned, the anchor hatch cover is still propped up against the garage wall and has not yet been reinforced like I intended, the reefing line has not been replaced… Ah well. Why should this year be any different?

Although the temperature is still chilly and I’m not about to abandon my socks yet, I know that the boating season is just around the corner because the West Marine and Defender catalogues have arrived. The internet is convenient, but nothing beats a chilly, rainy March day curled up with a glass of wine, my Post-its, highlighters, and a boating supply catalogue. Without the background noise of my laptop’s fan or the distraction of the internet, I can mark items in yellow for my Wish List, pink for Must Buys, green for More Research and blue for What the Heck?

My first item of business in the newest catalogue is to see what’s new in the world of VHF handheld radios. Blue tooth? Done. GPS? Done. Integrated FRS? Done a long time ago. What will be the new gimmick this year? Next are life jackets (formerly called PFDs by the U.S. Coast Guard until they realized that the acronym just wasn’t catching on with the boating public). It’s hard to beat the inflatable vests. Perhaps this year I may try one of those pouches. I’m skeptical so maybe it’s time for me to investigate why they are popular and what use they would really be in a MOB situation.

We’re still not ready to spend thousands of dollars on chartplotters and radar so I skip those sections other than a brief glance to be able to speak about what’s new in my boating classes.

One problem with perusing the catalogues is that the To Do list gets longer. I think of lines that should be replaced, blocks that might be tired, and should we change the anchor rode?

I guess it doesn’t matter. Nothing on the list seems to be getting done anyway.

My Gift #2

October 22, 2011

OK, the sail was wonderful (see the last post), but tied was this past week spent in Key West, Florida.

This was our second trip to Key West. As we did on our first trip, we flew into Ft. Lauderdale, rented a car and headed straight to Fish House restaurant in Key Largo. The fish is almost-right-off-the-boat fresh and the service is wonderful. Unfortunately, they do like their air conditioning. We also stop there for lunch on the return trip to the airport.

It rained most of the week. We arrived on Monday and drove down in the rain. Wednesday morning around 3:30 AM the area experienced a rollicking good storm. Rolling thunder that shook the house, lightning that lasted long enough for me to start scaring myself thinking about that William Shatner Twilight Zone episode when he’s on the airplane. This went on for several hours. John slept through the show and even now doesn’t believe that it happened. It stopped raining Wednesday afternoon. The rain didn’t stop us from having a good time, it only made it more of a challenge to get around flooded streets down which a few people kayaked.

Tuesday we began the day (a late start because of jet lag) with lunch at Havana 1, a wonderful Cuban restaurant located at mile marker one. We then toured the decommissioned USCGC Ingham. While on deck we watched yet another storm approach from over the ocean. There is a certain smell in these decommissioned Coast Guard boats that we tour that brings back good memories for John of his time as an electrician’s mate on USCGC Alert. As we walked below deck John educated me (once again. Maybe by the time we tour our fourth decommissioned cutter I’ll remember the difference between a “quick acting water tight door” and a “water tight door,” Honey, I promise) on all the fire response equipment, electrical systems, engine room apparatus, and protocol. John remembers his time in the service like it was yesterday. To me the ships smell like rusting metal and rotting wood but as an auxiliarist I appreciate the history of the ships and the men and women who served on them and I am glad that John has only good memories of his time on board.

We sheltered from the rain at Blue Heaven and chatted with some tourists from North Dakota and California before walking to near-empty Mallory Square and settling in at El Meson de Pepe for a few hours to watch the storm over the ocean and talk to more folks also seeking refuge from the rain, one of whom included the amazing “Dr. Juice,” a fun local personality who makes his living as a street performer.

Wednesday we headed to NOAA’s Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and learned about the ecosystem in the Keys. The Dry Tortugas will definitely be on our list of sites to see during our next visit. Next door to the discovery center we found Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and spent some time walking around the fort and on the adjacent beach.

Thursday we once again began the day with crepes, this time at La Creperie. Next we visited the Little White House and took a guided tour. President Truman loved Key West and governed the country from this house at what was a sort of pre-Camp David. Because the sun was finally shining we headed to Bahia Honda State Park for a few hours of beach time. There are plenty of free beaches, but this one had some history behind it that included Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad.

That evening John was brave enough to try $6/dozen raw oysters. He loves oysters but the usual price is $12 (or more)/dozen. We were suspect because they were so inexpensive, but he loved them (and lived to tell). I, on the other hand, discovered that nothing beats a Chesapeake Bay crab cake. We ate dinner on the restaurant balcony overlooking the marina and watched a glorious sunset on our last evening. The setting for our last evening in Key West almost (but not quite) made us forget the phone call that morning from the marina telling us that Halcyon’s transmission is toast and our best and least expensive option is to do a total repower.

My Gift

October 16, 2011

It’s a nice coincidence that the annual US Yacht Show in Annapolis occurs on or near my birthday each year. This year, for the first time, we sailed to the show. The plan was to sail to Eastport, stay in a slip at Watergate Village marina, eat lunch, go to the sail show for a few hours, throw back a couple of Painkillers at Pussers and then meet some new friends later for drinks and munchies.

C Dock at Watergate Village

C Dock at Watergate Village

Looking towards Watergate Village

Looking towards Watergate Village

As usual, the best-laid sailing plans are often thwarted.

The sail from Rock Hall to the mouth of the Severn River usually takes four hours. That Saturday was a beautiful day – for motoring. Mist clung to Eastern Neck NWR as we sailed south out of Rock Hall. As the morning advanced the sky turned a brilliant blue. The leaves on the shore were just beginning to change into their Fall colors. There was absolutely no wind. No wind is unusual for Fall on the Bay but since we racked up more sailing days than usual in July, perhaps things were balancing out.

Just as John and I approached the Naval anchorage at the mouth of the Severn River the sound of the engine changed and immediately slowed to less than 2 knots. The change was subtle but noticeable enough that we looked at each other at the same time. At first we worried that the prop became fouled. We moved as close as possible to a shallower area to get out of the main stream of boats moving towards Annapolis and to be able to drop anchor if needed. From that point, if nothing had gone wrong, it would have taken us 20 minutes to get to the marina. An hour later we puttered into the slip thankfully under our own power.

We didn’t get to the show. After having lunch at Davis’ Pub John took a few hours to look more closely at the engine and transmission while I tidied the deck. Later that evening we did meet up with some fellow sailors as planned and had a great time.

Sunday was another gorgeous day with no wnd. We left the marina around 10:00 AM and settled in for a long day. We anticipated our arrival time back in Rock Hall to be around 8:00 PM.

As we slowly left Back Creek under a blue, cloudless sky I looked at the other sailboats on the river. Most were new and out for sea trials by people attending the sail show. Most of the boats were either Hunters with their B&R rigs, J boats or catamarans. They all moved faster than Halcyon. They all had mirror-like waxed hulls with no scrapes or docking dings. They all had near-silent engines (that worked) and sails that weren’t yet in need of reconditioning. They all had smiling people on deck who weren’t worried about getting back to the docks.

We left the Severn and turned north towards the Bay Bridge. The light wind was on our nose, not favorable to get us home under sail power alone. Sailboats milled around the center of the Bay waiting for the start of a race with skippers who also probably hoped for more wind from another direction.

We hoped to sail home in order to save the transmission from further damage or additional problems. As it happened, we had to motor the entire trip (except for a brief moment off Love Point when the sails partially filled and brought our speed up to a whopping 3 knots). Fortunately, it wasn’t torturous. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to motor at a speed at which a person on crutches and with one broken arm could have passed us. They say that a skilled sailor can sail in light air so we took the opportunity to improve ourselves. We adjusted things we normally don’t fuss with – jibsheet lead, traveler, outhaul, downhaul, topping lift. Finally I decided that light air is one thing but having no air is impossible no matter how much salt has passed under your keel.

North of the Bay Bridge (and about five hours into the trip) John said to me “If it wasn’t for you, I would not have learned how to sail.” I looked across the cockpit at him wondering if he really meant “If it wasn’t for you, I’d happily be on the couch with a beer watching the football game with my buddies instead of watching every other boat on the Bay pass us not to mention worry about how I’ll get this transmission fixed and oh yeah, wind through the crab pots in the dark.” But no. With a contented smile, John looked out over the transom at the meager wake Halcyon made through the calm water and up at the wispy clouds slowly moving across the sky. Then he looked over at me and smiled. I could not have asked for a better birthday gift.

Sunset in front of Rock Hall

Sunset in front of Rock Hall

We Are Not Alone. Really.

July 30, 2011

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer contained an article with a statement by the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey offering an explanation of why a park official likened a man getting stung by a ray to being bitten by a dog. The gist of the article was that many people forget (or maybe never thought about it) that humans are not the only species in the ocean (or bay or river). Once you enter the water you share that environment with sharks, dolphins, oysters, rays, plant life and whatever else calls water home. I have to say: REALLY??!! I mean, not that we’re not the only species in the water but that there are people who need reminding.

Whenever a power boat zooms by our sailboat, usually leaving a wake that forces maneuvering to prevent damage to our boat, (after the cursing is over) we wonder if they really appreciate the water around them at that speed. Or is the water the same to them as a highway under a car. Did they see the cow-nosed rays gliding and chasing each other next to our boat? Did they notice the young bald eagle riding the wind current above the entrance to Rock Hall harbor? Certainly they can’t hear the splash of a fish that surfaces to snap at whatever intrigues it. I was once mesmerized for about an hour by schools of tiny fish in my marina. I remember watching my niece stretched out on the dock, head hanging over the side and captivated by the sea nettles as they floated by.

Nature settles me, whether I’m watching the rays in the bay or at night listening to the bull frogs in our pond. OK. I admit that I’m ready to pull the wings off of every cicada in the trees around our house that won’t shut up. Still. It amazes me that people can be so self-involved as to not appreciate and respect other species. They live here too. Really.

The Cost of Sailing

February 20, 2011

Someone recently viewed the sailing photos on my Facebook page and said that he “didn’t have the income for that hobby.” It wasn’t the first time he made such a comment so I’ll probably never convince him that sailing doesn’t have to be expensive. Boating is as expensive as the amount of money you want to invest.

When I first realized that I had an interest in boating beyond my kayak (at that point I didn’t know whether I preferred sail or power boating) I got a ride on someone’s power boat in exchange for helping him move some stuff out of storage and onto the boat. He took me off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ and allowed me to take the helm for a bit. I took the wheel and immediately knew that I wanted to be on the water. Not just beside the water but on the water and able to travel faster than I could paddle. When we returned to the dock and he spent a good amount of time adjusting the lines to make sure the lines would properly secure the boat during both high and low tides, I knew I had the patience for boating. $0.

The next step was to take a boating safety course with the US Power and Sail Squadron. The course was somewhere around 10 weeks and covered everything from what to call the pointy end of the boat to how to plot a course on a (paper) chart. Approximately $70 at that time.

At some point in the middle of the boating course I knew I wanted to sail. There were a few instructors who sailed and they just seemed…different in some way. At the time I couldn’t put a finger on it but I sensed something about them that set them apart from the instructors who had power boats.

I searched the internet and found a sailing club. Some clubs maintain a fleet of boats that members can use once they have proven their competency. The maintenance costs of the boats and the buildings are passed on to the members so the clubs with a fleet that I looked at charged a minimum of $1500 per year dues plus whatever “initiation” fee each one charged. I wasn’t ready for that investment because I knew that it would be a year or two before I was able to operate a boat on my own. As an alternative I found a club where members sailed their own boats and welcomed as crew any member without a boat. For someone new to sailing and without a boat this serves several purposes: 1) you don’t have the expense of maintaining a boat and 2) you can crew on different types of sailboats to learn how to sail and to get a feel for what you might someday want to purchase and 3) decide whether you even want to buy a boat before making a potentially wasteful purchase. Club dues are $40 per year.

I could have stopped there and simply paid my dues each year and remained in the club crewing on other member’s boats. I would still be able to sail and it wouldn’t cost much beyond helping out with gas or food or whatever. However, I decided to take the other fork in the road and increase my investment.

I bought my own sail boat. I happened upon a used 22 foot boat that needed some work but it came with a trailer and four well-kept sails. I asked an experienced sailor I knew to look at it and tell me if it was going to float, which he did. I became a boat owner for $2300.

A boat on a trailer usually has its own storage: the trailer. There is no need for the expense of a boat slip. Simply park it in your driveway and drive it to the ramp when you want to sail. The cost of the trailer includes the registration cost (I think it was $30 for five years) and the upkeep which could be close to nothing for the first few years if the trailer is new or more if it isn’t.

Since that first boat we decided to invest in a sailing lifestyle, not just a hobby. We bought a 30 foot boat and all the expenses (and fun) that come with it. But we had the option to pay less to keep sailing than we pay for dinner for two at an inexpensive restaurant (before alcohol). There are so many ways that one can get onto a boat if that’s what one wants that cost should never be an excuse.

Plan D

July 18, 2010

Thanks to our non-working engine during our week’s vacation, Halcyon ended up being a floating hotel room tied to the dock. We found ourselves with plenty of time to explore Rock Hall. All was still good despite our disappointment.

We had our bikes so we took advantage of the good weather and biked around town. ALL around town. Some days the only thing that kept me going was John’s promise of ice cream from Durding’s Store on Main Street. During that week I learned that perhaps encouraging him to buy an iPhone may have been a mistake.

The area around Rock Hall consists of gentle hills that look worse than they really are even for someone like me who doesn’t ride a bike all that often. I should. I don’t. I digress. Rock Hall is one of those towns where you see more on foot or on a bike than you do in a car, even if the speed limit is mostly 25 mph. During the week leading up to the fireworks over the 4th of July weekend, the town had its best face on. As we biked we saw homeowners along the parade route putting out their flags, making sure lawns were trimmed and cars were washed. A t-shirt company in town had all its doors open to the beautiful weather while the employees printed t-shirts for the expected visitors. Norman Rockwell couldn’t have asked for a better town to depict in his paintings.

One day we biked through town away from the Bay and down a back road that ended at what I now know is Herringtown Creek. Only a few houses sat on the banks of the creek and each had a private dock. What I noticed first was the silence. The water was still and we heard nothing but the occasional buzz of an insect and the splash of a fish. I walked to the bottom of the public boat ramp and soaked up the tranquil scene. I thought I saw a bald eagle land in one of the dead trees that stood in a clearing on the other side of the creek. The Bay has quite a bald eagle population these days so it isn’t unusual to see them. I turned around to see if John saw the eagle but he was occupied with his iPhone. I dropped down onto the grass to rest and watch the dragonflies. Behind me, still standing, John informed me that down river was a marina and the road behind us was public even though it was gravel. Important information gleaned from the iPhone and Google Maps. In the sky I watched two A-10 Thunderbolt (Warthog) jets doing their daily flyover. I turned around and John was tapping on the phone planning our next destination. The Warthogs flew over and away.

The next day, thanks to the iPhone, John located another road he wanted to explore. Again we headed through town but this time we turned south down Route 445 and then onto a road that led back to the Bay. The first house we passed was a lovely old Victorian being restored. Continuing we rode through a wooded area and I remember thinking that the green colors of the woods were extremely deep and fascinating. It reminded John of riding a bike around Yorktown, VA when he was at the Coast Guard station for training.

When we emerged from the woods the road ended not ten feet from the water. We had the spot to ourselves. I got off my bike and walked down to the water. Lining both sides of the road were tall reeds. A small fishing boat was anchored about 50 feet away. Towards the middle of the Bay sailboats traveled towards Rock Hall to the north and Knapps Narrows to the south on the channel that we should have been on. I turned back to John and mentioned that it made a perfect picture and that I regretted not bringing my camera. Of course, he was looking at his phone but he looked up long enough to give the scene a quick glance and offer to snap a picture with the iPhone’s camera. He was ready to leave having located the next road to explore. “According to Google Maps we go in this direction…”

The next road turned out to be a private drive.  While John poked at his iPhone wondering what happened, I pointed my bike towards town and headed to Durding’s for a root beer float.

And She’s OFF!…Almost

May 16, 2010

Today I took one ladder, one mother and Halcyon’s two batteries down to Rock Hall. I left the two batteries to be installed by the marina. I brought mom home. It was a beautiful and sunny (but – to me – chilly) 70 degrees or so. The breeze was one I would have loved to be sailing in.

Alas, Halcyon is still on her blocks. But there is progress. The anticipated “Catalina smile” has been repaired and the shrink wrap was sliced open for the commissioning  to be completed. It reminded me of the old Jiffy Pop bags after the popcorn finished popping and the bag burst open.

As can be expected after spending a wet six months encased in plastic, the cabin has a fair bit of mold that we’ll have to take care of before I and our guests can sleep aboard.  Thankfully last Fall I removed and brought home everything covered in cloth. Hopefully there will be less mold next year as John will install a solar vent before we lay her up again.

Rock Hall was at its best today. People were out jogging, biking, walking and enjoying the day. There were even people on the beach. We drove by Java Rock in town and it looked like it was doing a brisk business with many folks enjoying the patio seating. We saw quite a few sails on the bay and the marina looks like it has most of the slips filled. After lunch at Harbor Shack we drove around town for a bit. John and I don’t get to the other side of Rock Hall. No particular reason, we just haven’t been over there. Mom and I drove through some really nice neighborhoods, nothing fancy just quiet and well-kept.

Hopefully this week Halcyon will be floating companionably next to our slip neighbors who I noticed were already sitting in their cockpit in their slip enjoying the weather. In the meantime I’ll indulge my sailing fantasies by watching Jimmy Buffet’s concert streaming live. Fins up!

Introducing Halcyon

April 17, 2010

In October 2009 John and I purchased a 1980 Catalina 30 tall rig sailboat. Halcyon is our second sailboat. Our first was a 1972 Venture 2-22 on which we learned how to sail and perform simple maintenance such as fiberglass repair, hull painting and installing a masthead antenna. I taught myself fiberglass repair and learned that I need more patience and probably should leave it to professionals. But I know that in a pinch I can do it and at least I now know what is involved from a hands-on perspective. I learned not to wax at dusk. There are still bits of dried wax on the hull that I could not get off. I learned that while it looks fantastic, a solid mahogany rudder is a pain to take on and off in rolling seas. On the other hand, John has an electrical background and did an excellent job on the marine wiring, making sure that we wouldn’t burst into flames at an inopportune time. Like there is ever a good time.

When we decided to take the plunge and buy a larger boat I researched sailboats for two years, narrowing our choices to three boat manufacturers before choosing Catalina. The Catalina provided more headroom (we’re both tall), more cabin space for its length and an extremely strong owner’s association to tap into for advice. I spoke to several people who had sold their Catalina for other boats and regretted it. The Catalina is a lot of boat for the price, which was also important given the economy. The ability to ask questions of Catalina owners was priceless as we were able to pinpoint known issues and decide whether we wanted to take them on and could afford to have them fixed. Our broker told us that after a few years most Catalina 30 owners trade up to a larger Catalina and I find myself already eying a Catalina 445…but I’m sure his point was that we should get a fairly decent resale price if we are diligent with maintenance and upkeep.

Our primary cruising ground with Halcyon is the Chesapeake Bay. Halcyon’s home port is Rock Hall, MD located on the Eastern Shore. Because we bought the boat so late in the season we only had two trips on her: a perfect sail from Annapolis where we bought her up to Rock Hall and one day sail out of Rock Hall with air so light the Bay looked like glass. We have a few major fixes to complete and then we have a full season of sailing planned.