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?

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.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Final Leg

Approaching Key Biscayne: Cape Florida Lighthouse, Miami and Fort Lauderdale skylines
Paul left the boat before our final leg from Key West to Miami. As a first-timer, he had had enough of the motion and engine noise, and he opted to rent a car and drive the remaining distance to Miami, where he would meet up with us the next evening. Mike, Kevin and I got an early start and were soon motoring outside the reef that parallels the Keys, though not far enough out to avoid a brief, jarring contact. Note to self: Do not sail close enough to read warning signs. Use binoculars instead.

We gave ourselves a bigger buffer and proceeded east and then north in a huge arc that gradually gave us enough wind to put out sails, a reefed main and the staysail, as the winds had piped up considerably. Close observation was necessary through the night to discern the many blinking markers and avoid the passing freighters.
Whispering Jesse moored at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club

Dawn found us north of Boca Chita Key and headed for the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. From there, we adjusted course for the Cape Florida lighthouse and motored into Biscayne Bay, almost within sight of the Coconut Grove Sailing Club's mooring field. We passed close to the entrance of No Name Harbor on the western shore of Key Biscayne, a future sailing destination I wrote about back in March, and then headed for the entrance channel to Dinner Key Marina. We zigged into the marina, zagged at Clarington Island, and dodged traffic in the channel that leads past the Sea Tow boats, the aging shrimp boats, and the rent-a-water-toy vendors. We rounded up and secured at mooring A-10, Whispering Jesse's new home. Check the last Spot post for the exact location.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/31/2014 11:23

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 25.72614
Longitude: -80.23688
GPS location Date/Time: 05/31/2014 11:23:58 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-80.23688&ll=25.72614,-80.23688&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/31/2014 6:18

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 25.34132
Longitude: -80.12616
GPS location Date/Time: 05/31/2014 06:18:05 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-80.12616&ll=25.34132,-80.12616&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Friday, May 30, 2014

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/30/2014 19:42

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 24.72055
Longitude: -80.83914
GPS location Date/Time: 05/30/2014 19:42:10 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-80.83914&ll=24.72055,-80.83914&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/30/2014 14:30

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 24.54486
Longitude: -81.33081
GPS location Date/Time: 05/30/2014 14:30:20 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-81.33081&ll=24.54486,-81.33081&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Back in Key West

Whispering Jesse docked at A&B Marina in Key West
My estimate of three days sailing from Isla Mujeres to Key West was off by almost a full day, even taking into account our late start from Isla Mujeres. The Gulf Stream current provided a definite boost, but the easterly wind limited our ability to actually sail. We made the most of it, though, by maintaining a northeast heading on our first day, which allowed us to sail a fast close reach, at speeds up to ten knots over ground.

The fun ended in the middle of the first night, during Mike's watch, when the autopilot beeped "Low Batt" and clicked off. Mike recovered control and started the engine, which would remain running for the remainder of the distance to Key West, as we doglegged our course to point straight at Key West and almost straight into the wind. We were able to get a little oomph out of the flat-sheeted staysail and the mainsail with the traveler holding the boom hard to starboard, but it was a tight pinch at the very edge of luffing.

Mike checking out Paul's iPhone photos at Amigos Tortilla Bar
We arrived in Key West shortly after dawn on Thursday morning and pulled into the same slip at the A&B Marina that we had occupied the year before. We secured the boat, took badly needed showers, and ate hot breakfasts at the White Tarpon restaurant. Then it was time for a walk over to the US Customs House with our passports and papers to clear in to the United States officially, except that the Customs and Immigration people were not there; they were clearing in a cruise ship full of passengers and wouldn't be back until later. So we wandered all around town, decided not to pay for tickets to either the Ernest Hemingway house or the Old Town Trolley Tour, stopped back at the Customs House but still couldn't clear in, and ended up eating an early lunch at Amigos Tortilla Bar, across from Capt. Tony's Saloon and kitty-corner from Sloppy Joe's. The food and the service were excellent, and I walked away with two souvenir plastic cups for the boat.

Kevin checking out the scenery from Amigos Tortilla Bar, with Sloppy Joe's in the background
The Customs and Immigration people were back in their office on our third try, and we cleared in without any difficulty at all, except that one person at a time needed to wait outside the building with all of our cell phones because they weren't allowed inside. They asked if we had anything to declare or any produce on board, and they took our word for it that we didn't without sending inspectors over to the boat. They barely looked at the zarpe from our clearing out of Mexico before welcoming us back to the United States.

Mike posing in front of Capt. Tony's Saloon, his favorite Key West bar
Paul and I headed back to the boat after lunch, me to prepare the boat for the next leg of the trip and Paul to make plans for leaving the boat, while Mike and Kevin continued to explore. We all met up again for happy hour at the Commodore Waterfront restaurant, the same place where we watched the Preakness the year before, and were attended to by Morgan, the same friendly red-headed bartender. From there, we walked over to Mallory Square to check out the street acts and then up Duval Street to Fogarty's for dinner. The night ended at the Hog's Breath Saloon with a PBR nightcap.

I didn't get a Spot sent from Key West, but here was our exact location:, -81.802313&ll=24.561989, -81.802313&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/29/2014 5:44

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 24.45132
Longitude: -81.81876
GPS location Date/Time: 05/29/2014 05:44:00 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-81.81876&ll=24.45132,-81.81876&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/28/2014 18:56

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 24.19559
Longitude: -82.69058
GPS location Date/Time: 05/28/2014 18:56:01 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-82.69058&ll=24.19559,-82.69058&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1