Monthly Archives: April 2016

Essential Equipment Omission

One horrible omission I left out of what I consider to be essential equipment on any boat I own would be a depth finder. There are really two kinds. One simply tells you the depth under your keep. It is really the depth under the transducer (the thingy that sends out the sonar signals). You have to add the depth of the keel to that, or subtract, actually. The display unit is something like this…

depth

 

An alternative, and the one I prefer, I called a “Fishfinder.” These instruments display their information in a visual rather than just a simple digital display. While they will spot fish below the boat the reason I like these, and I had one on Nancy Dawson, is that they show you what the bottom looks like. You can see if the bottom is gradually sloping or if it’s a steep drop off, information I think is essential for the safe operation of your boat. Displays look like this…

fish

 

I don’t care about the fish. I usually drag a lure behind me and have snagged some really nice meals that way, but as far as “finding” fish is concerned I couldn’t care less.

And another important omission was that of a stove. How are you going to cook that damned fish you just caught, anyway?

Many boats that have stoves have alcohol stoves. These are supposed to be the “safest” but if the boat I buy has one it’s going on Craigslist immediately. The damned things have too many downsides to make them worth while. One is that alcohol for cooking is expensive, and it’s not that easily available in out of the way locations. Secondly they don’t cook worth a damn. I was making a delivery one time from New Jersey to Fort Lauderdale on a converted oyster dredger and it had an alcohol stove. It took nearly half an hour to boil a couple of cups of water so we could make coffee in the morning.

Of course electric ranges are out of the question. Propane gets a bad rap. It’s heavier than air and a leak means the gas will drop down into the lowest part of the vessel where it becomes an explosion hazard. Even so, it is probably the most efficient medium for cooking to be found. When I had my Kaiser 26 one of the first buys was a two-burner stove from an RV outlet. It used propane and when I was off on my nine-month cruise I had to 5-lb tanks. In that whole time I only used 15 lbs. When I got back to the States I bought a 20 lb. tank. To be safe, when I was finished cooking I’d turn the gas off at the tank letting what was left in the hose burn off and then I’d detach the hose from the stove. It may sound like a bit of a pain to do that, but all told it was probably less than two minutes out of my day and I can live with that.

There are plenty of camping stoves available at reasonable prices but most of the ones I’ve seen use those stupid little disposable gas canisters and I’m not going to tote a bunch of those around, and trying to locate a place that sells them when you’re running low is a hassle I don’t want to put up with. A 20-lb. tank, on the other hand, is easy to deal with. With so many barbecue unit sitting on decks all around the country that use those tanks you can pick up replacements at many gas stations and convenience stores.

And, of course, extremely important is ELECTRICITY! Sure, I’d love to have big solar panels and for a couple of hundred bucks you can get a fairly decent solid panel that should keep your batteries topped off. You have to figure out how much electricity you’re going to be using, though.

One of the first things to do is to convert your running lights to LEDs. They gobble up just a fraction of the power in your batteries. One of the biggest drains I had on Nancy Dawson were the incandescent running lights. They’d completely drain my batteries when I was sailing at night, and as a consequence I ran illegally dark most of the time, only turning on my lights when another vessel was in view so I could be seen. And an incandescent anchor light is a great power thief. That’s why I’d be using the Suaoki solar powered lights for both an anchor light and for interior lighting after dark.

There are some things that will draw directly from the battery bank…the VHF radio is one. It will be on all the time when underway. The depth finder also runs directly off of the batteries but it doesn’t need to be constantly running if you’re in the channels of the ICW. You just need to turn it on when trying to creep into a shallow anchorage.

What I really need power for is to charge my notebook computer, my tablet computer and my smartphone. The phone is also my entertainment device filled with audible books. All of these can be charged via an inverter, a device that turns the battery’s DC power into a simulation of AC power. A 1,000 watt inverter can also power small hand tools like sanders and saws.

When I was living on my Kaiser 26 I had a 1,000 watt Generac generator. It had a DC outlet to help charge the batteries, but I also had a car battery charger. That damned generator was LOUD! What I’d do when I was anchored somewhere was to fill the tank half way, start it up, hook the car battery charger to it and the bank and then I’d get in the dinghy and go exploring somewhere. By the time I got back the gas had run out, the generator was quiet and the battery bank was charged for the next two or three days. I’m not ruling that out as a possibility.

There’s probably other essentials I’ve forgotten but that’s it for today.

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Setting Priorities

When I get back to the States sometime around July I want to buy something like this —

catalina

Why? Primarily because they’re cheap to buy. This one has an asking price of $3,500 and if you look on Craigslist you’ll find a lot of these “trailer sailers”some with asking prices of $1,500 or less.

It’s easy to see that a boat like this sure doesn’t have much headroom inside. Many of the builders eased that a bit with the creation of “pop tops.”

Catalina25_poptop2

These give close to 6-foot headroom in much of the cabin. Of course you’ve got all that open air space between the top and the cabin. Not real good when it’s raining or you’re somewhere where it’s buggy. But they do make canvas fixtures that enclose the cabin.

cover

 

Several downsides to something with this. First, you can’t use it while underway. Second, can you imagine what a pain in the patootie it would be putting this thing on every day if you’re out cruising? And taking it down. And doing it when the wind’s blowing like stink. Or it’s raining. No thanks.

So I’d want to build a pilothouse that would cover where the pop top was in the first place and make it attractive.

20492-5746723

That pic is of a Compac 23, but it wouldn’t be that hard to do with glass over foam. My friend, Stef, and I could do a good job of it.

BUT, one of my goals upon returning to the States and getting a boat is to go “adventuring.” The first thing I want to do is run up the ICW and go explore the St. John’s River and then return to Ft. Lauderdale for the first Thanksgiving dinner in seven years.

That means setting priorities. One thing I learned long ago as a professional yacht captain is that if you wait for everything to be “just right” you will never get off the dock. There are some things on your “to do” list that don’t have to be done before you leave. They can be done along the way. Building the pilothouse isn’t one of them, of course but it can wait since it’s not essential for making the trip, just for making it more comfortable.

Every boat comes with some extras that simply aren’t mentioned in the ads. Things like compasses, fenders (you lubbers call them “bumpers”) docking lines, life jackets, etc. Usually, but not always. I’ve given this a lot of thought about what is essential in order to make my first cruise.

REQUIRED

The Coast Guard mandates that boats carry certain equipment when underway. Some things are required on ALL boats no matter what their size, but mine will be less than 26 feet so I’m just going to list what I’LL need to have…

Recreational boats must carry Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Devices, in good and serviceable condition, and of the appropriate size for the intended user. Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible, not stowed in bags, locked or closed compartments or have other gear stowed on top of them. Throwable devices must be immediately available for use. There must be one Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person on board or being towed on water skis, etc., PLUS one Type IV throwable device.

This is a Type II life jacket and is for “inshore” use and since I’ll only be cruising the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) this is all need. I’ll carry three so I’ll have some if I want to take a couple of people along for an afternoon.

Type II

A “throwable” device could be one of these.

throw

vest

 

Each vessel is required to have a “throwable” floating device: throw

I’ll probably get one of these for myself. It’s a “Coastal Automatic Inflatable Life Vest… cuz with a small boat like the one I’ll be on you never know when you might end up in the drink and this type is light and non-restricting.

vest

 

 

This is kind of “iffy.” You’re supposed to have at least one B-1 type Coast Guard-approved hand portable fire extinguisher.

fire

Where the “iffyness” comes in is that they’re not required on outboard boats less than 26 feet long and not carrying passengers for hire if the construction of such motorboats will not permit the entrapment of explosive or flammable gases or vapors, and if fuel tanks are not permanently installed. I’ll be a “sailboat” not a motorboat. I’ll be under 26 feet long and I won’t be carrying passengers for hire. Also my fuel tanks won’t be permanently installed. I WILL, though, be cooking on board with propane and one would be really stupid not to have a fire extinguisher. In fact, you should probably have one in the kitchen of your HOUSE. Flash fires from cooking oil or bacon fat are not unheard of.

All boats are required to carry visual distress signals approved for daytime and nighttime use. For pyrotechnic devices (hand-held or aerial red flares, floating or hand-held orange smoke, and launches for aerial red meteors or parachute flares) a minimum of three required, in any combination that totals 3 for daytime and 3 for night use. Three day/night devices will suffice. Devices must be in serviceable condition, dates not expired and stowed accessibly. Again, running in the ICW makes having these kind of a waste of money, but you HAVE TO HAVE them, soooo.

Every vessel less that 39.4 feet (12 meters) long must carry an efficient sound-producing device: a bell or a whistle. COLREGS (The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) have specific rules about sound signals that vessels are required make in foggy conditions. Horn signals if the boat is underway, and bells if anchored. A horn isn’t strictly required but is a “must have,” in my opinion, in order to signal bridges that need to be opened and to  signal other boat of your intentions when underway in passing situations.

Now, just because you have all that on board doesn’t mean you’re ready to leave the dock and go cruising…In addition to the stuff that’s required there are still the…

ESSENTIALS 

In no particular order of importance, you’ll need to have:

At least four lines to secure the boat to a dock. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of others in reserve since it’s not unknown to leave on on the dock from time to time. One should also carry about 100 feet of extra line, just in case.

Your boat also needs to have running lights to comply with COLREGS if you get caught out after dark. You also need to have an all-around white light to show if you’re anchored. As far as the anchor light is concerned I’m really thinking of getting two or three of these…

lights

http://www.amazon.com/Backpacking-Rechargeable-Collapsible-Waterproof-Lightweight/dp/B00Y82IHWE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1461089445&sr=8-2&keywords=suaoki

When I first ran across them somewhere in my net surfing I thought they’d be great as anchor lights and for interior lights as well. A couple I know who recently settled in nearby Boquete did some extensive cruising that encompassed the Pacific coast, a passage through the Panama Canal and Caribbean cruising said they has some of these and they loved them.

A VHF radio, either a base station or a hand held is essential. You need them to contact bridges you need to have opened. You need them to contact the Coast Guard in case of an emergency. You need them to hear local marine weather notices. You need them to talk to other boats.

An anchor. TWO actually. One as the principle anchor and a smaller, lighter one as a “lunch hook” for temporary anchoring or in cases where currents turn with the tide. What you do in that case is to drop and set your main anchor, let out double the scope you need at that spot and then drop and set the second anchor. When you’ve done that you pull yourself back to where you’d have been after dropping off the first anchor and secure both. Now, as the current changes direction you’ll ride to the second anchor rather than swinging in a big circle possibly dislodging the single answer and be dragged to some place you don’t want to be.

You’d also use two anchors close in to shore. As you approach the shore you drop one of the anchors and let out rode until your bow touches the beach. Step off into the shallow water, take your bow anchor and embed it deeply some distance up from the high water mark. Now, pull back on the stern anchor line until your sitting comfortably and secure both anchors.

Use PLENTY of chain between your anchor and rope rode. ALL CHAIN rode is best, but you’re not going to be able to carry enough of it around on a 23 foot boat! Curiously my Kaiser 26 had 200 feet of chain rode. The simple weight of it was often enough to keep the boat in position. I vividly remember anchoring off of Ranguana Caye on the outer reef in Belize. I was in six feet of water and let out 60 feet of chain. Whenever possible I dove down to make sure the anchor was well dug in to the bottom. As I swam along in the crystal-clear water I noticed that the chain was lying in an “S” shape about 2/3rds of the way to the anchor. The anchor wasn’t well dug in. It was a rather large Danforth and the flukes were only half way dug into the sand. Problem was they wouldn’t go in any further since it was simply a thin layer of sand over coral.

In the middle of the night a strong squall ripped through the area. There was lightning and heavy rain. The wind was piping at who knows how fast, but the rigging was moaning a low tune. I got up, went on deck towards the bow trying to ignore the rain pelting my skin like evil little imps taking chunks in nasty bites. I let out probably another 50 feet or so, secured it and went back below to my bunk. In the morning I went over the side and swam along the length of the chain. As strong as the wind had been it hadn’t moved the boat enough to straighten out the chain and the “S” was still there, so the strain never reached the anchor itself.

For me, I’ll probably limit the amount of chain I use to no more than 15 feet before connecting it to rope rode. Chain’s heavy, and it’s really going to be rough for me with my COPD to haul that chain and a 25 pound anchor off the bottom and onto the boat. It has to be done FAST because I’ll be by myself almost all the time and once the anchor breaks free from the bottom I’ll be adrift and need to get to the engine and tiller ASAP!

I was lucky on Nancy Dawson since the boat was equipped with a windlass to haul the anchor.Mine was a Simpson-Lawrence but looked a lot like this.

winch

It was mounted on the bow just aft of the bowsprit. You put a winch handle in the hole on the top and cranked away. It was fairly easy though there were a few times when the wind was blowing and I had to haul the weight of the boat against the force of the wind. (A little aside: I see many sailboat boat ads that say the boat is equipped with “wenches.” not “winches.” If they really WERE equipped with wenches I bet they’d sell in no time.)

A motor. On boats like this it’s generally an outboard. A 9.9 hp is generally the maximum and I’ve seen a lot of ads for these trailer sailers that have a 5 hp outboard with them. I’m sure that would push the boat along quite well since they’re rather light not lugging around a huge heavy lead-filled keel.  My Nancy Dawson had one of those keels and she was also built like a tank. She had an 8 hp Suzuki outboard that did double duty as power for the mother ship and for the Avon dinghy, and it did quite well. I’d hope for a 9.9 simply because I believe I’d get better mileage since the engine wouldn’t be pushing so much weight you could run it at a lower throttle setting and save gas.

Almost every one of the boats advertised has sailing gear. Mast, sails, rigging, etc. That’s nice, but I don’t intend on using it. What I’d want to do is scrap the tall mast and rigging and replace it with a free-standing mast that would carry a lug sail like this…

lugsailcruiser

I’d go for something even smaller than that rig. Ninety nine point nine percent of my cruising is going to be in very constricted waters like the ICW and a sail would only be used with the wind abeam, from astern, or on the quarter, and then just to be able to ease up on the outboard’s throttle. I’m done beating into the wind. If I have to go to windward ever again it will be under dead dinosaur power only. AND what I would do for a sail, at least initially, would be a polytarp contraption like this…

sail

Hey, don’t laugh and don’t forget, I’m doing this on the cheap!

So why scrap the original mast? First, because most of my future cruising is going to be on the ICW I want to open as few bridges as possible, and there are a TON of bridges you have to have open for you when your air draft is 30 feet or higher. I’m thinking of a mast around 20 to 25 feet high in a tabernacle that I can raise and lower in a couple of minutes by myself. Also, being in a tabernacle I could lower it and support on a boom gallows so I could cover it with a boom tent to enlarge my sheltered living space while at anchor or docked.

A nice to have feature, but not an “essential” would be a Bimini cover in the cockpit.

I’m kind of on the fence as to whether a dinghy is an essential or a nice to have. Dinghies are the pickup trucks of cruising boats. They ferry people to shore when the boat is anchored and haul supplies to the anchored boat from shore. They’re also good for visiting other boats in the anchorage and for exploring little creeks where the big boat can’t go. But since I’m going to have a boat that has such shallow draft that I can simply step ashore in ankle deep water, and if I DO have to anchor out it will only be for a night or two at best so why would I need a dinghy.

But if I have a dinghy it WON’T be an inflatable, unless it’s part of the package when I buy the main boat. Inflatables have several bad features. For one, they’re targets for thieves. The damned things are prone to leak air and deflate, and there are a lot of little vandals who like to stick the tubes with something sharp just for fun. Because the primary boat is going to be so small my ideal dinghy would be something like this…

dinghydinghy2

I’d also consider making a Puddle Duck Racer that could be “nested” like the dinghy above. The PDR can be rowed, handle a small outboard or sailed. There are even plans for a modular PDR…I’ve loved the concept of this boat from the first moment I laid eyes on it.

http://www.portableboatplans.com/resources/ModularPDR.pdf

I like the idea of building it with foam and glassing it over. Lightweight, and if made modular it would fit neatly on the foredeck without disrupting the trim too much.

One thing to consider about a dinghy is to make it unique. Make it stand out from the crowd either by design or by painting it some atrocious color so that only an idiot would steal it because it would instantly be recognized as being stolen.

A rain water collection system I would consider an essential so you wouldn’t have to depend on going ashore to a marina to fill water jugs. There are umpteen million ways this could be done, of course so I won’t get into trying to list them, but this is how I did it on Nancy Dawson when I was on my nine-month cruise.

I used some of that epoxy stick I mentioned earlier and built about a two-inch high dam between the cabin and the toe rail astern of the water tank fill, leaving about a four-inch gap so water could flow through unhindered to the scuppers. When it would start to rain I’d let it go for five minutes or so to rinse off the cabin top and the decks. Then I’d plug the gap with a dish towel and open the water tank fill. In a good hard downpour I could fill that 35-gallon tank in about five minutes. During the whole cruise I probably didn’t go ashore for water more than three or four times.

Compass? Most boats will come with one screwed into a bulkhead, but even if there isn’t one on the boat do you think it’s vital when you’re cruising in waters like this…

chart

 If you can’t figure out which way north and south are, here, you shouldn’t be out in a boat in the first place. Which reminds me of a story. (LOTS of things remind me of a story.) Back in ’68, shortly after my ex wife an I moved to Fort Lauderdale I was driving a cab while looking for another job. One afternoon I was sitting outside one of the hotels on the beach waiting for a fare when a car pulled up beside me and asked how to get to such and such a place. I said, “Go north for about…”

“Which way is north?” the tourist interrupted.

Jesus fucking Christ nailed to a stick. Have you ever seen a fucking map of the United States in your entire life? We’re sitting right on the edge of the whole damned continent. Another hundred feet or so and we’d be in the damned Atlantic Ocean and you have to ask which way north is?

Anyway, I consider a pair of binoculars to be an essential item. You need it to pick out crucial buoys and day markers when you approach inlets with a profusion of markers.

That’s about all I can think of off the top of my head right now so I’ll stop. Things that I think are nice to have but non-essential gear will be dealt with later.

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$3 Three-Hour Diversion

Since deciding that I need to leave Panama and return to the U.S. I’ve also decided that I need to play more “Bus Roulette.” That’s where I simply get on a bus and see where it ends up.

When I go to Bugaba, the nearest town to Boquerón to do a little bit of shopping I have to go down to El Cruce where the Boquerón road intersects with the Interamericana, I usually get on the Divala bus since, for some reason, there always seems to be an empty seat. But until this morning I’ve never been there. So I went down and hopped on. Didn’t get any pictures, but here’s what I saw…

It’s flat down there on the other side of the Interamericana.

Divala is a LOT bigger than Boquerón. Probably 3 times the size, at least.

Lots and LOTS of indigenous people live there. It seemed that nearly all the school kids, and they were EVERYWHERE in their white shirts and blue pants and skirts as there were four schools that I saw in the area, were Indians.

People were WALKING all over the place. Only saw ONE taxi where there’s probably close to a dozen serving the Boquerón, Macano and Bocalatun area. And BIKES! Seems that half the population of Divala rides bicycles.

The houses aren’t nearly as prosperous as here in Boquerón, though here and there were nice houses surrounded by hovels, at least 25% if which had outhouses off to the side. Bamboo grows all over the place and I saw close to a dozen houses that were made out of the stuff.

I was gone for 3 hours and the bus fare was $1.50 each way.

Divala

The pic below shows where Divala is in relation to Boquerón…the yellow pin upper right.

Divala big pic

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The Next “Good Adventure”

So, as you know, I’m leaving Panama. It was a “Good Adventure” six years ago, but it isn’t anymore, alas, alack. I’m waiting to have some serious dental work done before I leave, so it’s probably not going to be before early summer at the soonest, but it’s not too soon to be thinking about where this next “Good Adventure” is going to take place.

Initially I’ll be returning to Fort Lauderdale. It was home for some 35 years off and on. There were diversions, of course. A nearly 10-year stay in New Orleans that included close to three years on a shantyboat I found tied up to a tree in the Tchefunctae River on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and bought for $1,500. The boat, not the tree, the lake or the river, just to be clear.

Houseboat trimmed

Then there was nearly a four-year sojourn that included running this boat out of Antibes on the French Riviera and Marbella, Spain for almost three years,

Jolie Aire-Golfe Juan

and then buying my beloved Nancy Dawson, a Kaiser 26, and taking off for nine months and traveling alone on her to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.

Nancy Dawson

In Lauderdale I’ll be looking to buy a small sailboat and leave as soon as possible. The question, of course is, “and go where?”

Several places easily come to mind. They are, in no particular order, especially since the seeds are simply germinating now:

The Saint John’s River in northern Florida. When my mom died in 1976 my dad took his two toy poodles, boarded his 26-foot Stamas in Venice, FL and disappeared for six months. No one had any idea where he’d gone. Turns out he’d taken the Okeechobee Waterway across the state, hung a left and went up to the St. John’s where he did his mourning. I have an email friend who built a shantyboat that he charters out up there on the river…http://www.shantycraft.com

shantycraft

 

I have done what they call “The Great Loop” in ’74-’75. It’s a circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States. A great adventure but I don’t need to do it a second time.

Great Loop

Both times I left Burnham Harbor in Chicago and ended up at Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale. (The end spot was just coincidental but cool since it definitely closed the circle.) Looking at this map you see that the river route splits at the Illinois/Kentucky border. The yellow line is the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway route. It was just a pipe dream in ’75 so we went all the way to New Orleans on the Mississippi. I went UNDER every bridge in the New Orleans a year before I went over any of them!

Looking at the map above just gave me another idea…why not do a “Small Loop” and travel UP the Tenn-Tom, as it’s called, and return DOWN the Mississippi?

Then there’s the Intracoastal Waterway. There’s over 3,000 miles of it starting at Mile 0 in Norfolk, VA and then all the way down the Atlantic seaboard to Miami and then the Gulf Coast from Fort Myers to Brownsville, TX.

ICW-Atlantic Map ICW-Gulf Map

I’ve done the Atlantic Coast portion a half dozen times. The very first time I did it solo on a 43-foot Hatteras tri-cabin in ’74 that I delivered from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale. On the Gulf Coast ICW I’ve only done portions. I ran a Hatteras motor yacht in New Orleans for several years. The owners had condos over in Destin, FL and when they went there they liked to have the boat sitting at their dock sort of as bragging point to how wealthy they were.

Lady Ann-Hatteras 58

So I’ve done the portion from NOLA to Destin a half-dozen times, too. Then, when I was running inland crew boats for a few years I did portions of the Gulf ICW from Houma, LA and as far west as Grand Lake, LA. Perhaps I should take my new boat over to Ft. Myers and do the whole Gulf ICW to Brownsville. That would be a clean sweep of the waterway.

As you look at that map of the Gulf Coast ICW you see a break in the yellow line. That’s called “The Big Bend” and it’s an offshore jump of about 140 miles. In between is called Florida’s “Hidden Coast.” It’s very shallow all through there but there are a lot of places that would be worth poking into, like the Steinhatchee River and the Suwannee River. That’s right, the one Steven Foster wrote about!

Finally, and this would entail some real expense, it would be kind of neat to truck the boat up to Minneapolis  and come down the Mississippi. It would be a kick stopping for a couple of days at Lock and Dam #20 which is in Canton, MO where I went to college for three years. As I got close I’d send press releases saying that a former alum was coming down the river on a boat. I wouldn’t have to go all the way down to New Orleans, though. I could hop on over to the Tenn-Tom and go down to Mobile on it.

There are a ton of possibilities. Which of these do you like best?

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