Tag Archives: Microcruising

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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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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