Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wisdom on Parade

Back in the late 1980s, The Aspen Daily News ran a nationally syndicated weekly column titled "Wisdom on Parade" by Joe Bob Briggs. It presented a satirical look at social and political issues, and I couldn't wait to read it each week. Joe Bob was fearless in his skewering of all things stupid, and though he could sometimes take it a little too far or get a little too weird, his opinions were mostly right on the money.

I still think about Joe Bob once in a while, and I have been known to say out loud, after seeing a particularly stupid act: "Wisdom on parade!" I was reminded of this today while Nan, Scout and I were out for an afternoon sail on Biscayne Bay, something we try to do almost every weekend, weather permitting.

Getting out into the Bay requires us to motor through Dinner Key Channel, which should be a straightforward operation, but we have close calls and borderline ugly encounters with power boaters almost every time. Last weekend, we were heading out while a family in a power boat was heading in. I was at the helm, hugging the green markers that designate the starboard/right side of the channel, and doing about three knots. Despite having plenty of room and a much shallower draft, the oncoming power boat was aimed directly at us, like we were in some kind of an impromptu game of chicken. I held course, because to deviate farther to starboard would run us aground. As we closed on each other, the operator of the power boat must have finally realized that in order to avoid a head-on collision, he would need to steer to his right slightly, which he did. As the boat passed, the entire family gave us indignant looks, signifying that we had somehow disrespected them. I ignored them and continued on, chalking them up as yet another group of boaters who do not understand the rules of the road.

This type of behavior is rampant here. Instead of granting right of way and offering a little common courtesy, it's might makes right, as power boats go absolutely as fast as they can, every which way, while pretending not to see the sailboats they are barely missing. I think I read in the news that South Florida leads the nation in fatal boating accidents. No surprise there.

The scariest experience we have had so far was when one of the water sports concession operators pulling two people in a parasail rig passed us with the power boat on our starboard side and the parasailors on our port side, the thin rope connecting them just barely missing the top of our mast. We shuddered to think of the potentially fatal accident that would have resulted. I reported the incident to the Coast Guard.

This afternoon, it happened again. The parasail parachute you see in the photo passed directly over our boat. I can't figure if the guy driving the boat doesn't know what he's doing, or if he is trying to give the couple up in the rig an extra thrill. Either way, he's risking their lives. "Wisdom on parade."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Happy birthday, Scout!

Scout at seven years old
Look who just turned seven today! And he's still just as much of a puppy as he was when he was small enough to nap on my lap. Our years together as constant companions have passed quickly. Here's to many more, my good boy.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Morality and Practicality Revisited

Curbside trash pit in Coconut Grove (Note English/Spanish warning sign)
Back in April 2008, I posted a blog entry titled "Morality and Practicality" about how issues evolve over time from being matters of morality to being matters of practicality. I used the examples of divorce and abortion. Both have evolved in my lifetime from being considered immoral options to being considered undesirable but practical options.

In yesterday's New York Times, in the Sunday Review section, there was an article, "Is the Environment a Moral Cause?" by Robb Willer, that has me revisiting morality and practicality. The article presented this idea: "Where liberals view environmental issues as matters of right and wrong, conservatives generally do not." This had never occurred to me--not the part about conservatives--but the idea that for some, the environment is not a moral issue. As a liberal, I am normally on the practical side of potentially moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. But on environmental issues, I am always on the moral side, to the degree that I didn't even realize there was another side.

Take littering, for example. To me, it is unquestionably, unconscionably wrong. I would no more consider throwing a piece of trash out of my car window than I would consider doing something deliberately hurtful to someone. The guilt would kill me.

The idea that there is another viewpoint on the environment helps to explain what I see every day here in Miami, easily the dirtiest city I have ever lived in. The streets and sidewalks are littered with trash, even in the nicer residential neighborhoods, and nobody seems to care. My wife and I had chalked it up to a different sensibility, a lazy one in which it is acceptable to simply drop something, like a soda can when it is empty, rather than make the effort to find a trash receptacle. Now I see that it’s not laziness but rather an absence of guilt that makes littering an acceptable choice. And that just kills me.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rocket Johnny

John Glenn has nothing to worry about!
The company I work for held its annual four-day meeting a few weeks ago. The theme was "One Team. One Mission." and featured screen graphics and t-shirts with NASA-related images. On the last day, along with eight other employees, I was given a Circle of Excellence award. As we were each called to the stage, images of us as astronauts were flashed on the auditorium's screen, mostly to appreciative laughs since the images were so well done.

At the closing party that evening, I asked the designer if I could have a copy of my astronaut image. He emailed it to me the next day. I emailed him back a thank-you and added: "My wife will get a kick out of it since I already told her I was volunteering for the one-way mission to Mars!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas 2014

Scout aboard Whispering Jesse in Biscayne Bay
Dear Family and Friends,

Greetings from Miami, where it doesn’t feel much like Christmas, even with all the strings of twinkling lights wrapped around the palm trees. Nan, Scout and I have been here for over a year now, long enough to experience all the seasons, and there isn’t much of a difference from one to the next. We’re enjoying the cooler, drier "winter" weather right now but dreading the heat and humidity just a few short months away. Maybe we need a trip to Colorado or Wisconsin to regain our perspective.

It has been a transitional year. Nan’s mother, Mary Claire Mullins, passed away at the end of May at the age of ninety-one. She lived a fully engaged life, dedicated to her family, her church and her many causes. It was her wish to live out her days in the home she and her husband Jim shared with their twelve children in Manitowoc, and she was able to do so with the love and support of her family.

John has continued as a software engineer for CareCloud, an up-and-coming healthcare information company located here in Miami, and Nan has volunteered her time and talent at Baptist Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables. Scout still gets plenty of attention, with morning and afternoon walks through shaded neighborhoods to the bayfront and the local dog park.

Our sailboat, Whispering Jesse, has been moored at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club since late May, after an uneventful six-day sail up from Isla Mujeres, Mexico with friends Mike, Kevin and Paul. Newly added improvements make the forty-foot boat more easily sailable by a small crew, and we have been taking advantage on weekends, exploring Biscayne Bay and trying to give Scout his sea legs. A few weeks ago, we boarded Scout and sailed to no-dogs Boca Chita State Park for an overnight, but all the tie-up spots were already taken, so we sailed farther south and anchored off Elliott Key. It was such an enjoyable experience that we’re going back on Christmas Day for a two-night stay, and taking Scout this time.

June 2 marked our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We celebrated in September with a trip to Ireland for sightseeing in Dublin, followed by a week-long Wayfarers walking tour of the Ring of Kerry. With her Irish heritage, the Emerald Isle was a place Nan had always wanted to visit. Her sister Monica and Monica’s partner Vicky shared the adventure with us and chronicled it in photos. Many are in a slideshow on our blog at

We’re off to Isla Mujeres again in a few weeks to celebrate Nan’s milestone birthday. Not to say, but you can guess which one this is. It was her choice to return to Mexico, and she already has her big day entirely planned out, if we can squeeze it all in. It will be fun to visit in January after learning about Mexican summers during our three-month sojourn there last year.

These are interesting times, and it is easy to lose sight of what really matters. We wish you peace, prosperity, and the time to reflect during this holiday season.


John, Nan and Scout

Monday, November 24, 2014

Trip to Ireland

Our Wayfarers guide Alan, with Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest peak, in the distance
Nan and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Ireland in September. Nan's sister Monica and her partner Vicky joined us for a few days in Dublin followed by a five-day Wayfarers "Ring of Kerry" walk in southwestern Ireland. We had a wonderful time, drank too much Guinness, and took too many photos. It has taken me almost two months to put the best ones together into a slideshow. Click the photo above of our Wayfarers guide Alan hiking along a country lane, with Ireland's highest peaks in the distance, to launch the slideshow.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Single-handed sailing

Whispering Jesse at her CGSC mooring with Cradle Cover installed (Click for large version)
The two issues that came up when we finally took the boat out sailing after finishing the installation of the Cradle Cover--the engine fuel leak and the marine growth on the hull--have been resolved. 

At Ralph's suggestion, I bought a set of tube, or flare, wrenches and used one to tighten the nut on the injector tube, but it didn't stop the leak. Our friend Pompeii, who has many years of diesel engine experience, tried his hand at it and couldn't stop it either. He recommended replacing the injector tube and told me I could order one from Tradewinds Power, a local Perkins diesel engine supplier. I was a little dubious, but the part was not so expensive that I didn't want to give it a try. Well, it was like doing a complex Chinese puzzle inside an overheated sauna to get the old tube out and the new one in, but it worked. There are no more leaks. But I somehow managed to interfere a little with the free running of the plunger cable that chokes the engine to shut it off, not so much that it doesn't slide the way it should, but now it's a little grabby. I will dig into that more when the weather cools down some.

Patrick, the water taxi driver at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, gave me the business card of Mary Anne, a local woman who runs a hull cleaning operation. She coordinated getting one of her people to clean all the accumulated marine growth off the hull and install two new zincs on the propeller shaft. What a difference having a sleek hull again has made! Heading out the Dinner Key channel now, the boat is at least two knots faster at the same engine RPMs.

Nan took the two-day US Sailing basic keelboat class at CGSC a couple of weekends ago, so she wasn't available to join me for a sail. I talked her into letting me go sailing by myself instead by convincing her that I could leave and return to our mooring safely. I had researched ways to cast off a mooring from the cockpit and purchased a length of Floatline from to help me facilitate a clever technique. The trick is to release one of the mooring pennants, tie the Floatline to the freed-up cleat, run it across the deck and through the other pennant's loop and then along the outside of the boat all the way back to a fitting on the rail at the cockpit. In this way, a very long bridle is created that holds the boat in place after the second pennant is released. This gives the single-handed sailor time to get back to the cockpit safely to make a controlled departure by simply releasing the Floatline and engaging the engine. The floating line prevents any propeller snags, and it's a simple matter to retrieve the line later with the autopilot engaged.

The autopilot really is the key to single-handed sailing on a larger sailboat. With it, one can head reliably into the wind while raising the mainsail and steer a straight course while attending to whatever else needs to be done. I did just that after motoring out into Biscayne Bay and soon was sailing a nice close reach southward in ten knots of wind. I came about after a half-hour and headed back the way I had come. Nothing to it!

The trick with the line can be done in reverse, picking up the mooring with a boat hook from the cockpit, slipping the line through the pennant loop and then tying off the line to the rail fitting. The wind will back the boat up and cause the pennant loop to slide up the line to the bow, where it will hold the boat until one can get forward to secure both pennants. I would try this, but we are so close to the boat ahead of us in the mooring field that we would run into him before I could pick up the mooring from the cockpit. Still, it's a good trick to know about in the event of strong winds or a heavy current.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Boat Projects (continued)

Ralph climbing Whispering Jesse's mast with the ATN Mastclimber
Of course, they never end, but I finally saw enough light at the end of the tunnel last week to cease with the boat projects and actually go sailing, for the first time since we sailed the boat up from Isla Mujeres at the end of May.

The final major project was the installation of the Doyle Cradle Cover I had ordered back in June. The cover has built-in lazy jacks, which we have missed since our original ones disappeared during the major refit in 2010. Rigging the new ones would require a trip up the mast in a bosun's chair, and that in turn requires two very strong people. I had thought to enlist our friend Pompeii, but I have not seen him for a few weeks. Talking with new members Ralph and Stacie Gleason at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club's hurricane preparedness class a little over a week ago revealed that they owned one of ATN's Mastclimbers, a system akin to a rock climber's static rope ascenders and slings. Ralph told me he would be happy to help get the lazy jacks installed, and we met the following Saturday to get it done.

Ralph made short work of getting the Mastclimber rigged and moving up the mast. It turned out that there were still pad eyes on either side of the mast where we had intended to install new ones, but they were riveted to the mast instead of screwed, which presented a small problem with attaching the small blocks that would lead the lazy jacks up to the mast and then down to cleats near the deck where they could be adjusted. Ralph suggested some small shackles, and I scavenged a couple from the boat's junk box. We used a messenger line to run them up to him and then followed them with the lazy jacks themselves. When I tightened them from below, the cover lifted off the boom and took on a nice, sleek shape. While he was up there, Ralph removed the rubber boots from the ends of the spreaders, where they had been slowly deteriorating for the last few years. Replacing them, if ever, is a project for a later date.

Drilling and tapping the holes for the forward pad eyes to attach the Doyle Cradle CoverRalph and I took the water taxi back to the Sailing Club and ate some lunch before heading out to where his boat, a Beneteau First 35.5 named Lasata, was moored. He was trying to get his two Honda 2000i generators working, after over a year in storage, so he could fire up his boat's central air conditioning. It has been seriously hot and humid in Miami this summer, much too hot to try to sleep on a boat without air conditioning. I watched as Ralph took apart one of the carburetors and cleaned it with Gumout. Old gasoline had formed some serious gunk that was preventing fuel from reaching the engine. It finally took some major cleaning of the carburetor's jets the next day to get the generators running again. I filed away what I had seen for when I someday have my own generator and need to maintain it.

Nan and I made a few trips to the boat last week to finish the Cradle Cover installation. I found that the included "self-tapping" screws would not tap into the steel mast and made a trip to Home Depot for an actual tap. Ralph suggested using WD-40 to lubricate the tap as it cut into the pilot holes I had drilled, and that made a big difference. I was then able to secure the pad eyes for hoisting up the forward end of the cover and the cleats for adjusting the lazy jacks. Some rolling hitches on the topping lift to hoist the aft end of the cover almost completed the job.

A view of the new Doyle Cradle Cover, with Mark seeking shade under Whispering Jesse's dodger
This past Saturday morning, after our routine long walk with Scout, I texted Ralph to see if he wanted to join us for a sail. He agreed, if he could bring his son Mark with him. We met at the Sailing Club, spent a little time rerunning the reefing lines through the cover, though they are not yet perfect, and motored out into Biscayne Bay. I noticed that though I was pushing the throttle forward, we were not gaining any speed beyond three knots. Ralph went below to check on the engine and discovered a leak in one of the fuel lines. It was spitting diesel fuel instead of feeding it to the engine, limiting how fast we could go. Once we had cleared the "number one" green marker at the far end of Dinner Key Channel and easily hoisted the mainsail on its new TideTrack, we shut off the engine and sailed south with a nice ten- to twelve-knot southeasterly wind. We soon forgot about the fuel leak as we tacked and jibed around the Bay.

It felt wonderful to be out sailing again, but I suspect our suspiciously slow speeds under sail may have been due to the growth that has accumulated on the hull since arriving in Miami. We'll need to get it cleaned soon, and add some new zincs to the propeller shaft. That, and the engine issue, should put us squarely into our next round of boat projects.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Last thoughts

These last few days, my thoughts keep returning to the Malaysia Airlines jet shot down over Ukraine. It is difficult not to picture yourself in the same situation and imagine how it must have been. The missile strike would not have killed all the passengers and crew outright, and it's possible that some may have survived the cabin depressurization at 33,000 feet, which means that at least a few died on impact. At that altitude, it would take a little over three minutes for a person to fall to earth. Knowing you were going to die in just a few minutes, what would your last thoughts be?

UPDATE 10/13/15: I was watching The Today Show this morning while eating my corn flakes and there was a piece about the downing of flight MH17 and a recent finding that the warhead was from eastern Ukraine. The announcer said that "most" of the passengers died or were rendered unconscious when the missile hit the plane, which is not completely true. Coverage I watched back in July 2014, after writing my original blog post, indicated that some passengers' bodies found at the crash site were seatbelted into their seats with oxygen masks covering their faces.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Boat Projects

Since getting our sailboat here at the end of May, I have been spending my weekends working on a variety of boat projects instead of keeping up with this blog.

It started the very first weekend in June when I took the Coconut Grove Sailing Club water taxi out to the boat and tried to start the engine. All the starter did was make clicking noises. There wasn't enough oomph in the batteries to turn over the engine. My first instinct was to blame Mike and Kevin, who had stayed on the boat in the shore power-free mooring field for a few days after our arrival from Mexico but probably hadn't thought to run the engine to keep the batteries charged or to change the battery switch from "Both" to "2" to preserve the starter battery.

Weighing my options, I decided it might be a good time to install the PowerFilm solar panels I had bought last year but never taken out of the boxes. Not remembering that I had all the cables I needed somewhere on the boat, I went to West Marine and bought components to build a cable that would plug the panels into one of the cigarette lighter adapters and charge the batteries. The cable worked, or at least the little green lights on its ends lit up, but the batteries did not charge. If anything, they ran further down, since now the starter wouldn't even click. It could have been that I didn't have a diode or charge controller in the circuit to prevent the panels from draining the batteries when the sun wasn't shining.

The next option was to pull the starter battery and take it ashore to get it charged. The Sailing Club has a charger available for use by members, but there was a long line of batteries waiting to be charged. Not wanting to wait a few days during which the bilge pump was not running and the stuffing box was slowly dripping water into the bilge, I bought a charger from West Marine. It indicated that the battery was fully charged. I reinstalled it, confirmed that the engine still wouldn't start, and pulled the two house batteries. Each required extensive charging, which made me hopeful that the problem would be solved. Sure enough, after reinstalling them, the engine fired right up.

I moved on to other projects, like measuring for the new Doyle CradleCover I was ordering and taking down the mainsail to have the Super Sailmakers people attach the fittings for the new TideTrack system I was installing. (See Strictly Sail at the Miami Boat Show for more information on both products.) Each weekend, I started the engine and ran it for at least fifteen minutes to charge the batteries. Eventually, it wouldn't start again. When I talked about the situation with my friend Pompeii, who is a professional boat person from Cuba, he told me I needed new batteries. The current batteries were the ones that came with the boat when we bought it in 2010 and they were at least two years old then. Sorry, Mike and Kevin. It wasn't your fault; the batteries were old and would have died soon anyway. Pompeii was very specific with his advice. He told me to go to DC Battery in North Miami and buy three new AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) batteries. So I did. At sixty-five pounds each, installing the batteries in the tight space of the extremely hot engine room was one of the most difficult physical things I have done in a long while. I was sweating so hard I worried I would short one out or electrocute myself.

That was last Saturday. This morning, I returned to the boat for the first time in a week and the engine fired up immediately. Feeling confident, I attacked the solar panel project again. I had ordered a controller and I had found the missing cable, plus I had located some excellent testing instructions online. With everything connected together, my multimeter indicated that amps were most definitely flowing from the panels to the batteries. Life was good! That should end my nightmares about having the boat sink at its mooring after the bilge pump fails due to dead batteries.

Bob at Super Sailmakers says the CradleCover should arrive at his shop tomorrow. It acts as both a sail cover and a set of lazy jacks, and makes quickly dousing the mainsail as safe and quick as possible. If I can convince Pompeii to help me install it next weekend, Nan and I may finally be ready to take the boat out by ourselves.