Tag Archives: cruising

Keeping In Touch

I’ve learned quite a bit in the last couple of days…

As I mentioned in a previous post I’m going to be wrapping this blog up and moving on to one subtitled “And Old Man And A Small Boat.”

I knew I’d need a telephone and I was planning on buying one of those pre-paid burner phones you can pick up almost anywhere.

I knew I wouldn’t have the convenience of constant internet availability like I do here with a cable hookup. I wasn’t looking forward to having access only at places like McDooDoo’s or Starbucks, and most marinas that offer WiFi are password protected so you generally can’t piggy back on their signal, and I’m planning on spending most of my time on the hook, anyway.

I posted my problem on a couple of Facebook groups for cruising and live aboard boaters that I belong to. The responses I got showed me solutions that were more simple than I imagined.

First of all, the Samsun sorta smartphone I own is not “locked,” and all I need to do is do to any of umpteen gazillion stores and buy a damned new chip and enroll in a pre-paid program from a myriad of providers. Easy peazy

I also looked at a number of mobile “hot spot” programs. They are not un-similar to the what I was doing here in Panama with Claro before Cable Onda wired me up and gave me high-speed internet for a few pennies less than $40/month. The first thing I had was a USB modem. Like a thumb drive and I had unlimited data for about $40/month. It wasn’t fast and you couldn’t use if for streaming video, but it got you onto the social networks, you could read news and send emails, that sort of thing. It looked like this.

 

When I had to move out of the house I’d been living in for four years I found a place at what’s called La Barriada. That means little more than “neighborhood,” but has a nice ring to it than “barrio.” The street the house I was renting hadn’t been wired up to Cable Onda yet, so I went back down to Claro to see what they had. I wasn’t too please with having to go back to  the slower way of accessing the net, but I needed to be there. They no longer offered the USB modems but had gone to a small remote router which is called a “hotspot” device in the States. But they no longer provided unlimited access. You bought so much data, and when you used it all up it shut you off until you bought more.

It looks like this…

You could rent the thing but I opted to buy it. I think it was about $50 or so, with a year contract. It worked fine, but within a month Cable Onda wired my street and I signed up with them again. I then wen to the Claro main office, turned in my paper work and told them I was returning to the States. They voided the contract since it had been less than a month and I was done with them. I don’t remember even having to pay a penalty for canceling. But since I’d bought the router I kept it.

Now that’s a good thing. Looking at the pre-paid hotspot vendors in the U.S. it looked like I’d have to pay about a hundred bucks to get one of their hotspot devices and, like Claro, you had to buy some time. I have no idea how much I’ll be using, but I’ll start out with one program, see how it goes and if I have to I’ll either buy a large package or cut down on how much I use it.

But then one of the group members said I could buy a chip for this, too, and sue enough for less than $20 I’ll be back in business. The hotspots work anywhere there’s cell coverage, and since I’m going to be running along the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, and not offshore, there will be few places it won’t work. This is ATT’s coverage map as an example…

 

 

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Counting Down…

Yesterday, April 4, I bought my airline ticket to the States. The countdown begins on the time I have left here in Panamá…Twenty days.

It”s also a countdown on how much longer THIS blog will continue. It’s mainly been about my life as an expatriate. (I hate it when people call it expatriot! That implies that a person was once patriotic but no longer is. The key part of the word is patriate,  from the Latin Patria,  or homeland).

When I return to the states I’ll be moving onto a small sailboat…

and, hopefully, making my way along the entire littoral of the Gulf of Mexico from Fort Myers, Florida to Brownsville, Texas.

Starting a new chapter in my life means I need to start a new blog to document it. I’ll provide a link later, but it’s going to be called Another Good Adventure.”

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Butterflies

Sent off a wire transfer of funds to my friend in Ft, Lauderdale  to buy the MacGregor sailboat in Miami.

Also sent a bit extra to pay for marina space for the rest of April rather than have it “on the hook” until I get up there….

And about THAT!

Went on line to see what it’s going to cost to get up to Ft. Lauderdale.

Spirit Airlines is supposed to be the cheapest, but they want $199 for a one way ticket from PTY (Tocumen). And then they CHARGE for every bag INCLUDING carry ons. Adding it up it came to $306 for what I plan on taking with me. PLUS, the flight doesn’t leave Panama until TWO IN THE MORNING!!! That’s A.M. folks. PLUS their seats don’t recline!

So, I went online again and looked at what it would cost to fly COPA which also flies into Ft. Lauderdale. Their price was $299. $7 cheaper than Spirit AND no charge for carry ons or the first two checked bags, AND their seats recline. Their flight leaves at 11:45 IN THE MORNING for the three hour flight!

Supposedly if you have “Jubilado” status   (Jubilado roughly translates as “old fart”) you’re eligible for a discount on travel. I went on line and found a travel agent, Jose Palm, in David. Talked to him and explained what I was looking for and asked if there was a “Jubilado” discount.. It does, and he quoted me a ticket price of $241.14. I’m going to go to his office tomorrow morning.

Will be returning to the States either April 19th or the 26th. Don’t know which. Need to get rid of some stuff here like my bicycle and clothes washer, etc. What I’ll do is take the midnight bus from David to Panama. It gets in to Panama around 4:30 or 5. Take a cab out to Tocumen and wing my way back to Trumplandia….also known as “Murika”

So I’ve had butterflies in my stomach all day long. I’ve been talking about repatriating to the States for over a year. I’d hoped to be there last July, but the dentures delayed that, and then it moved from summer into fall and then into winter and I WASN’T going to go back up there in the winter even if it was to Ft. Lauderdale. Hell, back in ’76 when I was helping bring a big sailboat up from Key West it EFFIN’ SNOWED!!! Now the reality of picking up sticks and actually doing this thing has me a bit on edge. As they say, Talk’s Cheap. I think, well, I haven’t paid for the ticket yet and I suppose I could tell Stef not to pay Fernando and then the six yapping dogs at the house 30-feet away start going nuts and I try and picture how tranquil it will be anchored up at some small island off the coast of Florida or the barrier islands of the panhandle and I know I’m doing the right thing.

 

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New Boat?

Okay, this is the boat my friend went to look at in Miami this morning.

It’s a MacGregor 25 with a pop top and a swing keel. When the pop top is raised there’s 6-foot headroom in the after part of the cabin. The swing keel raises and lowers. With the keel down the boat draws nearly five and a half feet. With the keel fully raised it needs less than two feet of water to float, perfect for the shallows of the Gulf Intracoastal waterway and the Florida Keys. The boat can be taken right up to the beach.

This is what a pop top does

There are canvas attachments that enclose the pop top when it’s up but I don’t think this boat has one. I was thinking that a modification could be made with thin plywood and plexiglass, though. And the boat also has a Bimini top…

Cosmetically it needs work as you can see, but it’s nothing that bothers me. Four or five short days and all that blue non-skid can be made right. I’d paint it a sand/beige using a one-part polyurethane paint. I used Interlux Brightside in the cockpit of my Kaiser 26 and it held up remarkably well. Very resistant to abrasion and it retained most of its gloss over six years. Of course when painting the topsides you want to use a non-gloss paint to cut down on reflection.

The cushions are all in good shape which is rare for these older boats. The outboard motor needs to be tuned up. One of the major problems is that non-boaters shut the things off and the gasoline sits in the carburetors and evaporates leaving gummy residue. What needs to be done if the boat isn’t going to be used for a while is to disconnect the fuel and let all the fuel burn out leaving the carb dry. Also when outboards, or any boat that uses circulating water to cool the engine,  sit for a long time the rubber impellers that pump the cooling water deform so they need to be replaced.

None of that is a problem. Stef is a first-class mechanic and when we had out repair business in Fort Lauderdale years ago I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we did this kind of work.

As the French author, Blaise Pascal, famously said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Here’s how I found out what kind of a mechanic Stef was. When I got back from France and cruising down to Guatemala back in ’92 I was at loose ends and needed some kind of work. Stef had a ski boat on a trailer in his car port and I said, “Why don’t we paint that up and sell it?” He said that the engine, a Ford V8, wasn’t working. A minute later he said, “Listen, come back around 8 in the morning and we’ll get this thing together.”

When I showed up he had a hydraulic motor lifter

and an engine stand.

That’s something you bolt the engine block to and you can move the engine around to reach all parts of it without having to bend over. It took us less than an hour to get the engine out of the boat and onto the stand. Then Stef started disassembling the motor and throwing parts into a couple of 5-gallon buckets. All I could think of was that he was a fucking mad man. The only thing he did that seemed at all normal was he placed the pistons carefully on a work bench in the order that they came out of the block. When everything was off the engine he said, “I’m going to go to ‘Engine Rebuilder’s Warehouse’ and get what we need. While I’m gone you take all those bolts that are in that bucket and clean them up with this wire wheel on the electric motor.”

When he returned he showed me how to hone the cylinders with a special tool on a drill motor

 

and while I was doing that he laid the bolts out on the work bench according to size. With that done he started putting the engine together. New bearings and guides and all that good stuff. We broke for a quick lunch and then finished up. The ONLY time he consulted a manual was when he was looking at the torque specs for the piston ends and the head bolts. The engine was back in the boat in a flash, and at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon he turned the key and BRRRRRRROOOOOM, the damned thing started right up. TO ME that was like MAGIC!!! Over the next several years we probably rebuilt a couple of dozen engines. With a manual at hand I wouldn’t be afraid to tackle a rebuild on my own. I later found out that he used to have a xmall chain of engine rebuilding shops in New York for VW engines. The deal was, get it in by 8 in the morning and you could drive home with a rebuilt engine after five in the afternoon.

So, anyway, there’s a nearby marina where we can store the boat for $300/month (that’s TWO MONTHS apartment rent here in Boquerón). Stef says the engine is practically brand new, it’s just been sitting. He can take it up to his warehouse in Ft. Lauderdale and do the tune up there.

The asking price is $1,300 for the boat and $1,300 for the motor. Stef told him that was a bit too much for condition of things and Fernando agreed. The way Stef left it was he was going to send me the pictures and see what I wanted to do. As I told him, there’s nothing I can’t take care of. Sure, the life line stanchions were removed, but they’re on board and it’s only a matter of drilling 16 holes to get them reattached. Certainly no biggie there.

There will be a lot of things that I’ll need to buy to make the boat what I’d really like it to be, but it doesn’t have to all be done at once. That’s one thing a lot of people never understand. They aren’t comfortable with the “that’s good enough philosophy.” For them everything has to be exactly “just so” before they feel they can cast the lines of the dock. That’s why so few people actually GO SOMEPLACE on their boats. And, too, a lot of the stuff I’ll need, like the paint, etc., I can get wholesale through Stef’s account at Lewis Marine, one of the largest marine supply companies in the country. They ship worldwide, so things won’t be as bad as they might be for some people of limited means.

Stef’s going to call Fernando tomorrow and offer him $2,500 for the whole shebang. He’ll probably take it. I told Stef that if he balks go for $2,700 which is $500 off the asking price. I can certainly live with that. I’ve talked with Fernando via Skype and Stef, of course, in person, and Fernando is an anxious seller. He’s had the boat up for quite some time though he stopped advertising it a while back.

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Gentle Reminder…

an-adventure

https://www.gofundme.com/one-more-good-adventure

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Masts

No matter what boat I end up buying I’m going to modify the mast. Make it shorter and make it easy to lay down and raise easily so I duck under bridges as I cruise the inland waterways. For example, the mast of a Catalina 22 is 29’1″. It would be scary trying to creep under a 30-foot bridge with less than a foot of clearance. A breezy chop or the wake from a slow-moving nearby boat could easily have you nailing the underside of the bridge.

Between Ft. Lauderdale’s inlet and the one in West Palm Beach, roughly 40 miles, there are 19 bridges. There are only two that don’t present a problem: Lauderdale’s 17th Street bridge at 55′ and the Lake Worth Bascule Bridge at 35-feet. The Linton Blvd. Bascule Bridge in Boca Raton has a clearance of 30-feet and you’d have your heart in your throat trying to creep under it.

It’s not so bad going down the 24 miles to Government Cut in Miami. There are only 11 bridges. Two of them, N.E. 192nd Street Bridge at 65-feet and the Julia Tuttle at 55-feet are no problem. The Sunny Isles bridge at 30-feet is one of the “iffy” ones. So that means there are eight bridges you have to wait to have opened for you and ALL of them have specific opening times. Of the 30 bridges between Government Cut in Miami and West Palm Beach Inlet that 22-foot sailboat you’d have to wait for 26 of them to open so you could continue on your journey. And if you weren’t at the bridge for a scheduled opening time you’d have to circle around for up to a half hour to get through. So, if you’re planning to take a trip to Peanut Island in WPB from Ft. Lauderdale in a boat that’s going to plod along at about 6 mph, at best, even if you hit every bridge opening perfectly, an impossibility, you’re looking at a VERY long day.

The solution, of course is being able to raise and lower your mast so you can creep under almost all the bridges you’re ever going to encounter. But raising and lowering the mast of a even a Catalina 22 and similar boats that have shrouds is NOT an easy thing to do no matter HOW MUCH the builders tout the simplicity of THEIR boats.

Does this look simple to you?

Not only that, but I don’t want to have a mast that’s longer than the boat itself…

masts too big

My idea is to build a mast tabernacle. I’d want it high enough so that when the mast is lowered the mast would clear the pilot house I’d eventually like to build.

From a Facebook response to a previous mention of this people have written saying, “MY boat has a tabernacle” and then they send a picture of something like THIS…

autoimage-165544_BoatPic_Extra1

Well, technically they’re correct, it IS a tabernacle but THIS is more along the lines of what I’m thinking of…

hinged_tarbenacle_mast_3_20121030_1586766886

Lowered it would look like this…

Pedistal

AND I’d want to add some weight to the bottom of the mast, like this one, to counterbalance the whole lot and make raising and lowering an easy one-man task.

Good tabernacle pic

With an arrangement like the two boats above you’d be able to clear nearly every bridge you meet. And think about this…during thunderstorms lightning strikes the highest thing around, and if you’re on a sailboat the highest thing around is YOUR MAST! Wouldn’t it be great if you could quickly and easily lower the mast making you less of a target? You might say, “But I’m out sailing, I CAN’T lower my mast.” But I’m generally going to be on inland waterways so as a storm approaches I can duck into shallower water somewhere, drop anchor, lower the mast, wait it out in the comfort of the cabin.

I want an unstayed mast and will go for either a junk rig or a balanced lug. I won’t be carrying as much square footage, that’s for sure, but when I am using the sails it will be with the wind abeam, on the quarter or dead astern. No more beating into the wind.  God invented engines to allow boats to do that. The “auxiliary power” on MY boat will be the sails, NOT the engine.

 

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Is This My Future?

I’ve been a huge fan of Paul Theroux’s travel books, “The Great Railroad Bazaar,” “The Old Patagonian Express,“ etc. and have just finished “Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads” where he travels through the deep south of the United States. For me it doesn’t measure up to many of his earlier books, but at the end he wrote something I can identify as I approach three score and fourteen:

“Often, talking with someone in the South — a young farmer, a fifteen-year-old mother, a perspiring and potbellied policeman, an indignant gun nut, a toothy preacher, an idle college student, a genteel bank clerk, a harassed community volunteer, or an insulted citizen — I gathered from their response that I was speaking a different language, one that caused them to open their mouths in incomprehension and squint at me. At first I took it to be my Yankee manner, the affronted wanderer, the unlikely stranger with unexpected questions, someone to be appeased or placated.

“No, it was something else. It dawned on me slowly over months that to them I was an old man, who didn’t really count for much but who needed to be humored or grudgingly respected. This response made me mutter and shake my head, because I didn’t feel old. I felt — still feel — I am in the prime of life. But it’s wrong to say that aloud or to object; protestation is a grim old coot’s standard reflex. The hardest thing for anyone healthy to accept is increasing age. Yet why should you feel old if you’re not infirm? I was fit enough to drive all day, hundreds of miles, and to manage this trip; to be lost and to find my bearings; to endure abuse at times, to take the knocks and reverses of the road and a degree of skepticism or hostility from folks en route. Possibly some of them cupped their young hands and whispered behind my back, ‘De old man.’

“A news story I heard on my car radio gave me a clue. The announcer said, ‘An elderly man and a child were struck by a car late yesterday afternoon as they crossed Mabry Road near Highway 49 in Tutwiler,’ the sort of details that resolved themselves into the jerky afterimage of an unlucky man holding a child’s hand at duck, on the road, on foot in the heat — because the man was old and poor. Then more facts: ‘Warren G. Beaver, seventy-two and his granddaughter…’

“I laughed out loud and punched the radio off. Elderly!”

Is this how I can expect to be received if I buy a boat and cruise the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway? Or sailing down the upper Mississippi? An elderly old coot?

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The Boat I Want and Why

About a year ago when my friend Stephen suggested I move back to the States and that we’d look for a boat for me to buy and live on I wasn’t ready to pick up sticks and leave Panama. But the kernel had been planted and I started mentally masturbating about what kind of boat I’d look for if I did make the move. The exercise begins by figuring out HOW the boat would be used.

If I were to return to the States I wouldn’t want to live on a boat stuck in a marina. Been there, done that. But I had a reason I was living like that…I needed to work to make money and survive. I survived but I didn’t make much money. I always had something going where I paid little to no rent at all for nearly five years. (Then I fell in love, moved ashore, and now both the bitch and the boat are gone…) Now, having retired and getting a Social Security deposit every month I don’t have to worry about survival any more.

So, if I was going to be on the move, where would I be going? Well, it’s something I’ve named The Great U.S. Inland Waterway Challenge. You don’t have to cross oceans to have nautical adventures. In fact, you don’t even have to go very far to have them, either. Unfortunately most people thing that “cruising” means traversing large bodies of water while fighting gale-force winds. Not so! Taking your boat to a lake or estuary and investigating parts of it you’ve never seen before is just as valid a nautical adventure as sailing single-handed around the world in a 10-foot boat.

There’s a ton of water-born adventuring to be done inside the boundaries of the United States. For instance there’s the “Great Loop.” That’s a circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States by water.

loop

There are clubs, Facebook pages and internet groups devoted to this enterprise. They even have a website and burgee…http://www.greatloop.org

burgee

Well, I’ve got that one under my belt. In ’74, my first captain’s job I took a 43-foot Hatteras tri-cabin from Burnham Park in Chicago, went the lengths of lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie, out the Erie Canal, down the Hudson River and then did the entire 1,100-mile Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway single-handed. (Ive since run the Atlantic ICW four more times. Three times south and once south to north.) In ’75 I left Burnham Harbor with a couple on their 51-foot sailboat and we went down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and then happened to end up at Bahia Mar marina in Fort Lauderdale, FL where I’d ended the voyage the year before.

What else is left? Lots. There’s the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway for an additional 1,000 miles. I’ve done a couple of little segments from Destin, FL to New Orleans and little parts of it in Louisiana when I was running inland crew boats around Morgan City, New Iberia and a few other sections.

Then, I thought, if I had a small enough boat that was easily trailerable I’d haul it up to Minneapolis and come down the Mississippi all the way to the Tennessee river, veer off there and take the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway to Mobile. Already done that segment of the Mississippi from the confluence of the Tennessee to New Orleans in ’75. Coming down the river I’d have to stop a couple of days at Lock and Dam #20 in Canton, Missouri. It’s 30 miles or so north of Hannibal and the home of Culver-Stockton College that I attended for three years.

How about pulling the boat up to Pittsburgh, PA and going down the Ohio in the wake of those great shantyboat inspirations Harlan and Anna Hubbard? At least as far as the Mississippi once more. From there I could have it trailered to Sioux City, Iowa and run the 735 miles of the Missouri River.

So, what kind of boat would I need to do that sort of thing? Well, first of all it couldn’t be too big. It would have to be a “Trailer Sailer” with a retractable keel or centerboard so it would be easy to move around the great distances between, say, New Orleans and Minneapolis cause I’m not going to be able to sail against the current all that way, All along the Gulf ICW in Florida and Texas it’s SHALLOW so draft is a big consideration. My beloved Nancy Dawson drew four feet and so needed  five feet or better under her keel to do well. Many trailer-sailer have drafts as little as a foot and some even less than that.

Roaming around on Craigslist and other boat for sale sites I see that there’s a slew of trailer-sailer boats in the 23-foot range that can be picked up for under $2,000. When I brought this up to my friend Stephen he said, “Yeah, but wouldn’t you be more comfortable on something around 30-feet?” Well, probably! I’d also be a lot more comfortable on the 85-foot Jolie Aire that I ran over in France for three years, too. What’s your point?

I’ve mentioned in other posts about building a pilot house onto a small hull to give standing headroom in the cabin. I DO WANT to stand up when I’m cooking, at least, and to put on my pants.

But the best thing about a small boat in the 23-foot range is that it’s a LOT cheaper than a 30-foot boat.

In and around Fort Lauderdale dock rates are $1.50 to $2.00 per foot per day. So, for a 30-foot boat it would cost $60/night @ $2 and $45/night @ $1.50. For a 23-foot boat it would be $46/night @ $2 or $34.50/night. A difference of $15 or $10.50 at the buck and a half rate. Some of the marinas, though, charge on a minimum of a 30-foot boat no matter how much under that it actually is. Others charge at a 25-foot rate. Even that way it’s $50 a night @ $2 or $37.50.

So, let’s take the lower rate and assume, in all these numbers, that I’ll have to spend one week a month at a marina. The 30-footer would cost me $315/month. The 23-footer would be $241.50 a month, a $73.50 a month savings. Even at the 25-foot minimum rate the $262.50 is a $52.50 savings on my $1,100/month SS check and equals 17.5 gallons of gas @ $3.00/gal. Assuming I can get 12/miles per gallon that one month savings at the lowest amount will get me roughly 210 miles further up the river.

Of course I wouldn’t be spending much time at a dock in Fort Lauderdale to begin with. So let’s take a look at an out-of-the-way place like Steinhatchee up in the Big Bend area of Florida…

At Riverhaven marina in Steinhatchee, FL, up in the Big Bend area of the Gulf Coast, the cost for an uncovered slip is 50¢/foot a day. So, easy-peasy, a 30-footer would go for $15/day. The 23-footer would be $11.50/day or $3.50/day savings. No big deal. But the weekly difference would be $24.50 or, over a year that’s $294. That would be 98 gallons of gas @ $3 gal. or 1,176 miles under the crank-up keel.

Let’s say I wanted to spend the winter months up there. The monthly rate is quoted at $149.50 and for a four-month stay it would set me back just under $600. Not bad when you consider that my half of the duplex rent when I lived in Fort Lauderdale six years ago was $600/month.  In fact, the monthly rate at this marina would be just half a buck short of what I’m paying for rent in Boquerón.

So, let’s go over to Texas since I plan on running the ICW all the way to Brownsville…

In Corpus Christi, at the Corpus Christi Marina short term slip rates are $1.50/ft. = $34.50/night for 23-footer and $45 for the 30-footer.

Across the way at Islands Moorings in Port Aransas doesn’t matter if it’s 23-foot or $30 the rate is $35 per night for vessels up to 32 feet and then they’re gonna nick ya $7 to hook up to 30 amp electricity. At the end of the line in Brownsville and South Padre Island there are several marinas but most don’t list their rates. It’s sort of a “Surprise, you can’t afford to be here…” situation. The one place that DID list a rate for transient dockage is the Sea Ranch Marina at South Padre Island and 23’ or 30’ or any feet it’s $65/night though they’re generous and throw in the electricity at that price. And people wonder why I’m so inclined to say TUCK FEXAS!!! But if I want to complete The Great U.S. Inland Waterway Challenge gotta go there.

In 11 days I find out if my new choppers are going to fit. If they do, I’ll give it a month to make sure they don’t need to be adjusted and if all’s good to go then I’ll be having my 74th birthday party in Fort Lauderdale. (July 9th)

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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.

Click to access 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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