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.

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

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/28/2014 13:10

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 24.01865
Longitude: -83.34058
GPS location Date/Time: 05/28/2014 13:10:00 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.

If the above link does not work, try this link:,-83.34058&ll=24.01865,-83.34058&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/28/2014 7:07

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 23.74077
Longitude: -84.06317
GPS location Date/Time: 05/28/2014 07:07:30 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.

If the above link does not work, try this link:,-84.06317&ll=23.74077,-84.06317&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/28/2014 1:03

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 23.56912
Longitude: -84.69528
GPS location Date/Time: 05/28/2014 01:03:03 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-84.69528&ll=23.56912,-84.69528&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/27/2014 19:05

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 23.36977
Longitude: -85.28386
GPS location Date/Time: 05/27/2014 19:05:14 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-85.28386&ll=23.36977,-85.28386&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/27/2014 13:10

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 23.10103
Longitude: -85.72790
GPS location Date/Time: 05/27/2014 13:10:59 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-85.72790&ll=23.10103,-85.72790&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/27/2014 6:57

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 22.44787
Longitude: -86.05822
GPS location Date/Time: 05/27/2014 06:57:31 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-86.05822&ll=22.44787,-86.05822&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Monday, May 26, 2014

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/26/2014 22:21

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 21.72757
Longitude: -86.43311
GPS location Date/Time: 05/26/2014 22:21:10 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-86.43311&ll=21.72757,-86.43311&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse: 5/26/2014 15:57

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 21.26820
Longitude: -86.75525
GPS location Date/Time: 05/26/2014 15:57:55 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are.,-86.75525&ll=21.26820,-86.75525&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Starting out from Marina Paraiso

Whispering Jesse at Marina Paraiso with Sac Bajo in background
When Nan and I arrived at El Milagro Marina on Thursday night, we quickly discovered that there were no available slips with adequate draft for Whispering Jesse. So on Friday morning, we moved the boat to next-door Marina Paraiso instead. We spent the rest of the day and most of Saturday and Sunday there working through the list of tasks necessary to get the boat ready to go for the big trip to Miami.

We encountered only two unforeseen problems: Omar from Marina del Sol, where the boat had been slipped since last August, told us that when he was underwater cleaning the hull, he noticed that there no longer any zincs on the propeller shaft; and when we tried to start the dinghy's outboard motor, all it would do is spit gasoline out of a port in the carburetor. We soon discovered that there were no zincs to be had on the island, so that problem would need to wait. We were able to fix the other problem, though, enlisting the services of Marina Paraiso's on-site mechanic, David, to get the outboard's carburetor cleaned out and the motor running well.

We had hoped to check out with Customs and Immigration at around 10:00 on Monday morning, but they didn't show up at the marina until after 1:00, which didn't really matter because David didn't get the outboard fixed until an hour later. We finally departed at around 2:30. With all the last-minute details, I didn't remember to send out the first Spot until we were already off Playa Norte. Here's a link to where we started from:,-86.741031&ll=21.242817,-86.741031&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Upcoming Trip

Sunset in Isla Mujeres from Whispering Jesse anchored in the bay
I have mentioned that Nan and I are looking forward to having our sailboat, Whispering Jesse, here in Miami. Well, that is finally going to happen. We are headed to Isla Mujeres on Thursday evening to meet up with crew members and prepare the boat for a Monday departure. It should take about three days to reach Key West and then another two days to reach Miami, where we have arranged for a mooring at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club.

Nan will not be a member of the crew for the sailing part of the trip, but I have three other crew members lined up: Mike, who has sailed with me on three previous trips, including the one last May that took the boat to Isla Mujeres; Kevin, a friend of Mike's from Colorado who is an experienced sailor; and Paul, a friend I've known since we were in eighth grade together and who will be making his sailing debut. We will meet everybody at El Milagro Marina, our staging location after we move the boat there from Marina del Sol on Friday morning.

There is much to do before we set sail. The boat has been sitting idle in a slip at Marina del Sol since last August, though we checked on her in January and all was fine. The engine fired right up and ran smoothly, and I was able to get the refrigerator working well enough to make ice. I started a list this afternoon of everything that needs to be done and it quickly ran to 25 items, everything from checking the engine oil to charging up the handheld VHF radio. Fortunately, there is nothing critical on the list that would prevent us from departing if it didn't get done; all of those projects were completed before we left Savannah last May.

The only worry is the weather. A severe storm system with high winds and heavy rain moved through South Florida late last week from the north. The wind is slowly shifting back around to its prevailing easterly direction, and I'm hoping it continues around to the southeast or south to give us good, fast sailing. If it stays directly out of the east, we may run into rough conditions when the wind collides with the eastward-flowing Gulf Stream current as we near Key West.

As with past trips, we will be using a Spot beacon to send out our position twice a day. The messages will be posted to this blog, in case you wish to follow our progress.

Here's hoping for a safe and enjoyable sail!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sailing in St. Petersburg

Karen, Nan, Yogi and Diane at the bow of Ati, with St. Petersburg in the distance
Over the weekend, the three of us drove up to St. Petersburg to visit our friends Scott and Diane, who we met while we were all living aboard our sailboats at El Milagro Marina in Isla Mujeres last summer. They sailed away from there about a month after we left and have been living on their boat at the Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg. With them now are Charlie and Karen, mutual friends from last summer in Isla Mujeres, who have sailed on from there to Roatan in Leap, their Pearson 386 sloop, but are taking a break from living aboard for an adventure of a different sort.

Scott and Charlie sorting through fishing gear in Ati's cockpitThe two couples have been preparing Ati, Scott and Diane's Amel Super Maramu 2000 ketch, for an extended trip down to Grenada. They're planning to leave by mid-May and work their way around the Keys, through the Bahamas, past the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and then down through the Leeward and Windward Islands. Charlie and Karen are on a schedule and will depart in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but Scott and Diane will take their time enjoying the remaining trip to their final destination.

Nan and Scout enjoying the ride as we approach the Sunshine Skyway BridgeThe drive took longer than expected, and we arrived too late on Saturday afternoon to go sailing. We hung around the boat instead, catching up over beers and watching Scott and Diane's new labradoodle Yogi work out the pecking order with Scout. From there, we walked several blocks to a bar downtown with outdoor seating (so we could bring the dogs) and live music. I may be getting old but I can't tolerate music that is too loud to talk above, especially country and especially outdoors. We were ready to go after just one drink, off in Charlie and Karen's van full of tools, which they had put in storage in Alabama before they set sail last year and then driven down to use in preparation for the upcoming trip. We headed west to a dog-friendly, waterfront restaurant in nearby Gulfport called O'Maddy's. My crab cakes were pretty average, but everyone else enjoyed their seafood dishes. It was late when we arrived back at the marina, so Nan and I said our good-nights and navigated the difficult one-way streets of downtown St. Petersburg to our hotel on the north side of town.

Scott, Nan and Charlie as we approach the Sunshine Skyway Bridge
The next morning, we arrived back at the marina later than planned due to a citizen's bike race that had us detouring all over town. By the time we reached the boat, Scott already had the engine running and we prepared to cast off. Scout was a little nervous about being on a moving boat--it was only his second experience--and stuck close to Nan and me. There was not much wind as we motored south in the lee of St. Petersburg's landmass. It picked up a little when we reached the open water of the bay, but it was right on our nose. Diane took advantage of the smooth conditions and made a lunch of grilled-cheese sandwiches for everybody. Scott planned to motor past the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for a ways and then put out the sails for the return trip. This worked well and we had some good light-wind sailing, perfect for testing out the spinnaker, which they plan to use on the big trip south.

Ati's spinnaker flying
The current was running when we returned to the marina, making for a dicey slip re-entry, even with the bow thruster, but Scott got the boat parked safely with a little shore assist. It was already mid-afternoon, and Nan, Scout and I still had the four-hour drive back to Miami ahead of this, so we said our good-byes, promised to stay in touch, and wondered aloud about when our future paths would cross on the open water. Best wishes for a safe and happy sailing adventure!

Happy birthday, Scout! Our good boy is six years old today.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Nan with the Cape Florida Lighthouse
Nan and I have been exploring South Florida during weekends, looking for fun sailing destinations to visit after we get our boat up here from Isla Mujeres, Mexico in early June.

Recently, we drove over the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne to check out Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. It takes up the southernmost third of the island and features one of Florida's nicest beaches on its eastern shores. We paid our eight dollars at the gate and then proceeded to the farthest west parking lot, which was already starting to fill up at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning. Just past the lot is a sea wall that runs all the way around to where the beach starts. We walked south along its length, observing all the families out fishing and picnicking together. According to Google Maps, the Cape Florida Anchorage is right off the southwest shore, but there were no boats anchored there that day, though there were plenty of motor boats and sailboats cruising by. There seemed to be too much traffic and too many wakes to make for a pleasant overnight anchoring spot.

We stopped at an informational sign to learn about Stiltsville, the small cluster of now-abandoned houses built on stilts above the water that one can see about a quarter-mile offshore. The original one was built as a speakeasy back during the Prohibition era, and others followed up until the 1960s. They have managed to survive some terrible weather, but even from a distance, they don't look overly habitable.

Around the eastern corner from the southernmost point in our walk, we reached the Cape Florida Lighthouse. It was built in 1825 and is the oldest surviving structure in South Florida. It is possible to tour the lighthouse and the light keeper's residence with a guide, but we did not arrive at the scheduled time. It occurred to me looking up from the base that we could probably see the lighthouse from the roof of our apartment building across Biscayne Bay, which turned out to be true. We just hadn't realized what we were looking at before then.

The beach was indeed nice. We kicked off our shoes and walked in the sand and surf at the water's edge. People were swimming, but the water was a little too chilly even for wading. We took one of the boardwalks back to the easternmost parking lot and followed it along the way we had driven in until we reached the Lighthouse Cafe, where we stopped to eat lunch. My conch fritters were fine, but they came with cocktail sauce instead of a remoulade sauce. Nan had the shrimp basket but didn't like it much, and the table service was irritatingly slow.

We returned to our car and drove back the way we had come in until we reached the turn-off for No Name Harbor. We didn't know what to expect, but the whole establishment was impressive, from the size of the harbor itself to the long concrete quay and the Boater's Grill restaurant. It was definitely the kind of place we could see ourselves sailing to for a day or an overnight stay. Others must agree, because the place was packed with boats along the quay and anchored just offshore, and there was a waiting list at the restaurant.

We hadn't taken Scout with us that day because dogs are not normally permitted in state parks, but they are allowed at this park, except on the beach and in the restaurants. That works just fine for us.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Family in Miami

Nan, Jane and Susan in a selfie on the beach in Miami Beach
Nan, Scout and I are just coming off some family time here in Miami. My sisters Jane and Susan arrived last Sunday and split their time between here and Key West. We picked Jane up from her red-eye flight from Seattle early on Sunday morning and spent the day touring around town, driving all over Coconut Grove and Coral Gables to show her the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Matheson Hammock Park, the Biltmore Hotel and golf course, the Miracle Mile, and Little Havana, where we ate a late Cuban lunch at the Versailles Restaurant. After regrouping at our apartment, we drove Jane downtown to the Aloft hotel in Brickell, where she and Susan would be staying. Our little one-bedroom apartment is too small for overnight guests. Susan's flight was delayed, but we still managed to pick her up at the airport and get her to the hotel for the start of the season finale of Downton Abbey.

On Monday, while I was back at work, Nan took the train downtown to meet Jane and Susan for the Big Bus Tour of Miami Beach, a fun thing to do that she and I enjoyed a few months ago. They got off the bus at one of the stops near the beach to walk in the sand and eat lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Instead of continuing the same tour, they switched to the Coconut Grove/Coral Gables loop and ended up at Cocowalk, just a few blocks from our apartment.

The next day, Jane and Susan rented a car and drove down to Key West to spend time with our cousin Hilary, who has lived there for many years. She met them for dinner at Louie's Backyard restaurant, the same place we met her when we were there in 2002. I only saw the photos but it looks like my sisters did all the touristy things people do in Key West, like visiting the Hemingway House and Sloppy Joe's, and walking around Duval Street and Mallory Square.

Mom and Dad drove down from Savannah on Thursday and checked in to the Hampton Inn next door. Jane and Susan returned shortly after, and the four of them came over for Nan's Thai chicken in peanut sauce. We needed to move the furniture around and add in our outdoor cafe table, but we were all able to sit around the table together for dinner.

Our visitors waited for the drizzle to clear the next day before heading over to Vizcaya, the hundred-year-old bayside estate of James Deering, an heir to the International Harvester fortune, who split his time between Chicago and Miami. Nan and I toured the estate ourselves recently and were suitably impressed. Mr. Deering had traveled the world in the early 1900s to find the best of everything, and he brought it all together in his beautifully designed mansion. We had done the very worthwhile audio tour, but our visitors opted for the guided tour and then followed it with lunch at the estate's cafe. For dinner that night, we treated at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, accompanied by soulful tunes from the Jazz Monkeys.

Celebrating Mom's eightieth birthday with family
Saturday morning, the whole group repeated much of the tour we had given Jane the previous Sunday and ended it at a Nicaraguan restaurant on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, The Guayacan. Lunch was good and filling, and we returned home to regroup before the arrival of cousin Hilary from Key West, and Uncle Pat and Aunt Marilyn from Bonita Springs, whom we had not seen in a dozen years. We all met up at the Hampton Inn's pool to get reacquainted and then trooped over to our apartment for cocktails and a trip up to the rooftop pool for views of downtown Miami and Biscayne Bay. By then, it was dinnertime and we walked around the corner to Berries, our favorite restaurant and watering hole. The accommodating staff there set up a table for all nine of us and informed us that it was lobster night. There were several takers, including me.

Back at our apartment, Nan unveiled the banana cake she had baked for a late celebration of my mother's eightieth birthday. We lit the candles, sang Happy Birthday to You, and cheered when Mom blew them all out. Wine glasses were refilled, toasts were made, and everyone agreed that we needed to get together like this more often. With more than a few of us having ties to the Southeast now, that should be easy to do.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Strictly Sail at the Miami Boat Show

John Kretschmer speaking at the Miami Boat Show
On Saturday morning, I took the train downtown alone and then walked to the Miamarina at Bayside to attend Strictly Sail at the Miami International Boat Show. Nan had wanted to go with me, but she was back in Wisconsin attending to her ailing mother and dealing with the terrible weather there.

I arrived just in time to see our friend John Kretschmer's talk, Force 10 - Storm Sailing Strategies. I have seen John speak a number of times, but I never tire of his stories and I always learn something new. What impressed me most was his progression of strategies to use as the weather worsens. Heaving-to, which essentially parks the boat and creates a protective "slick" to windward, is useful in all conditions unless there is the danger of a lee shore. Fore reaching, which is sailing a tight near reach with reefed sails, is the next strategy and is useful to maintain sea room or to make headway if the intended direction is to windward. The final strategy is to run before the waves and weather, with minimal sails or bare poles, but this requires diligent manual steering to prevent the boat from diving into the troughs. The hour went quickly and good questions followed. I caught up with John and his wife Tadji outside the tent and chatted briefly. John told me that his article about sailing the Mediterranean in a recent issue of Cruising World had won an award. I congratulated him and suggested that he let me post it on his website. He said he would check with the magazine and let me know, then he was off to a meeting with the Jeanneau people.

The Doyle StackPack at the Super Sailmakers booth
I wandered over to the Super Sailmakers booth to see about two of their products, the Doyle StackPack and the Tides Sailtrack System. The StackPack is a sail cover and lazy jack system that contains the sail as it's coming down the mast and controls it in a zippered nylon cover--no more leaping around a heaving deck piling your sail onto the boom with sail ties in your teeth! And the Sailtrack System replaces the mast's existing track with one that is virtually frictionless, making it possible for one person to hoist the sail easily from the cockpit using the aft-led halyard, a task that normally takes three strong people in our boat--one pulling hard on the halyard at the mast, one cranking on the winch, and one tailing--because there is so much friction on the existing track. Back in July 2012, Peter Grimm of Super Sailmakers had demonstrated these systems at the JK University workshop on blue water passage making I attended in Fort Lauderdale. Peter wasn't at the booth but Bob Meagher was, and he was happy to show me how it all worked and provide me with a discounted "boat show quote." I told him I would be placing an order right after we sail the boat up to Miami from Mexico this coming May.

My final stop was at the namesake booth of ATN Sailing Equipment, presided over by Etienne Giroire. Nan and I met Etienne at a party at John Kretschmer's house back in November, and after listening intently to John's boat show talk, I very much wanted to talk with Etienne about his patented Gale Sail, a super strong Dacron storm sail that hanks over a fully furled jib or staysail as a much safer alternative to a partially furled headsail, which could chafe its lines and blow open with disastrous results. Etienne also provided me with a discounted boat show quote, and I told him I would try to purchase the sail before we leave for Mexico in May. It could be useful for the upcoming trip.

There was much more to see, like all the brand-new sailboats flying their advertising streamers at the piers and all the discounted-but-still-expensive boat goodies, but I had seen what I came to see and I still had a long walk back to the train station.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Quick trip to Isla Mujeres

Water spout above Isla Mujeres on January 15, 2014
On Wednesday, January 15, I flew down to Mexico for a quick five-day trip to check on Whispering Jesse, our 1980 Valiant 40. Nan had flown down there the Saturday before and had assured me through text messages that everything appeared to be fine with the boat. After dropping off my baggage and saying hello to our friends at El Milagro Marina, where Nan had us staying, I drove our rented golf cart down to Marina del Sol, where the boat has been slipped since late last August, to check for myself.

When I arrived at the marina, Gualberto, the dockmaster, was out on the pier checking lines. He and I shook hands and started talking about how the boat had fared, him in accented Spanish and me in broken Spanish and hand gestures, when someone pointed at the sky and yelled, "Mira!" (Look!). There was a water spout surging by on the Caribbean side of the island, close enough that we could see the water spiraling up and hear the hissing as it went. The photo here does not do it justice.

The boat's exterior looked a little the worse for wear, especially the wooden cap rail and coamings. The sanding and Cetol finishing that looked so perfect after 2011's major refit now look flaky and dull. The protective blue plastic tarp I had rigged above the companionway, where the dodger would normally be, looked oxidized and ready to shred in a high wind.

Inside the cabin, I checked the bilge and found it dry except at its deepest point. This was a relief. The stuffing box maintenance that Nazario and I had done last August was working to prevent much water from entering the bilge, and the bilge pump and float switch appeared to be doing their jobs effectively. Everything else inside looked exactly as I had left it, except for a light dusting of mold on most of the wooden surfaces. The boat has three dorades, cowling vents that keep outside air blowing in, but even with the fresh air, the humid climate inevitably causes some mold.

Whispering Jesse in wet storage at Marina del SolThe original plan called for moving the boat to El Milagro that day, but the wind was howling out of the north, even in the protected lagoon where Marina del Sol is located. I didn't want to risk getting blown back into adjacent boats as I attempted to power out of the slip and make the immediate left turn necessary to avoid running aground in the lagoon's muddy bottom. The wind didn't let up the next day either, so with just three days left in the trip, it stopped being worthwhile to move the boat, get its canvas and rigging set for sailing, and then undo it all and move the boat back, all for maybe one day of good sailing.

I spent the time on projects instead, starting with a refrigerator thermostat replacement. Charlie, who is sailing with his wife Karen on their Pearson 386, Leap, in the western Caribbean, looked at the refrigerator with me when they were in Isla Mujeres last summer. I told Charlie that the refrigerator would get "coldish," but not cold enough to keep food from spoiling. Right away, Charlie said that it sounded like a bad thermostat. That had never occurred to me, even after getting the coolant pressure checked three different times, and verifying that the compressor was working and that electricity was getting to the thermostat. When we were back in the USA, I compared photos to what was available online and found the right replacement at It took some effort to jiggle the old thermostat out of its tight fitting and get the new one connected up properly, but when I powered it up, I could feel the cold plate getting colder than it had ever been before. Pushing my luck, I filled a plastic ice tray, and put it in the little slot next to the cold plate. Sure enough, I had ice cubes the next day. Thank you, Charlie!

Then it was time to attack the mold. I filled a dish pan with warm water and a half-cup of Clorox bleach, and went to work with an old dish sponge. The mold wiped off easily, but it still took more than two hours to wipe down every wooden surface inside the boat. With any luck, the bleach will keep the mold from growing back until we return in late May to sail up to Miami.

As a final boat check, I started the engine and it fired right up. Everything seems to be working well, but the list of projects I have planned for when we get the boat closer to home is still fairly extensive. That's fine with me, though. It will be the first opportunity, since we bought the boat almost four years ago, for almost unlimited time together.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Something to think about

Voyager 1 space probe's golden record
As we begin the New Year, the arbitrary start of another trip around the sun for planet earth, I am reminded of a newspaper article I read back in September when we were in Wisconsin visiting family.

In the article, NASA announced that in August 2012, the Voyager 1 space probe had flown beyond the heliopause (the limit of the sun's solar wind) and entered interstellar space.

Voyager 1 was launched about 35 years ago, on September 5, 1977, and has been traveling at almost 38,000 miles per hour for that entire time. It is more than 12 billion miles from the sun now.

To put this in perspective, the article stated that in order to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, located 4.24 light years from the sun, Voyager 1 would need to continue at its present speed for another 40,000 years. Yes, 40,000 years! I looked up at my father across the breakfast table to confirm that he had read the article. "Forty thousand years!" I said. He chuckled and said, "Humankind will be long gone by then!"

I think he's probably right. We are making our planet unlivable at a furious rate, and there's nowhere else to go. Mars? It's already what the earth will eventually become. We are stuck here with the mess we've created.

There's a golden record aboard Voyager 1 containing a wealth of audio and visual information about life on earth. If the record is ever discovered by intelligent life, it will serve not as an invitation to come visit but as a relic of what once was.