Tag Archives: Single-handed sailing

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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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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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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Packing It In – – Leaving Panama

I never thought I’d say this, and it pains me deeply, but I’m leaving Panama. Calling it quits. Packing it in. Returning to the States.

It won’t be for a couple of months but I’ll most likely be celebrating my 74th birthday in Florida.

Why am I doing this? It’s difficult to put things in any kind of orderly, coherent fashion, so this post is going to roam all over the place, but it’s primarily health concerns that are the reason. I have a serious case of COPD and though I take meds for it breathing is sometimes a real issue. Recently I had an incident that made me decide to take my old and best friend, Stefan, up on his mantra of the last couple of years, “Come back here. We’ll find you a boat you can live on and you can enjoy life again.”

It’s not that I haven’t been enjoying my life here in Panama. I DO. I love this place, but really, when I think about it, I’ve pretty much just been sitting around here waiting to die. So what finally made me decide to act on Stef’s offer? Well, the other day I headed out to the nearby tienda to get something cold to drink. It’s about 50 yards away from my front door, but when I got there the place was closed. So I decided I’d head to the Chino, Panama’s answer to the 7-11, which is about a hundred yards up the small hill past my house. When I got back to my house from the tienda I had to stop and rest for about five minutes to catch my breath. (I didn’t have my Ventolin inhaler with me.) When I got up to the Chino I was panting so hard that I had to sit down on a bench at the park across the street until my breathing returned to normal, and I sat down and rested after buying a couple of quarts of orange juice before walking back to the house. That did it. The decision was made. (More about health in a moment.)

Another issue is “What am I doing here?” The name of this blog is “One More Good Adventure.” Well, I haven’t been doing any adventuring for the last several years. The initial move down here was certainly an adventure. My original idea was to come down and build a shantyboat over in Bocas del Toro and then spend the rest of my life poking around that beautiful archipelago. Obviously that didn’t happen for many reasons that I’ve listed in previous posts and the fact that inertia is hard to overcome.

Another expat who moved down here from Sarasota with her husband, Kris Cunningham, is another inspiration for my decision to leave. She’s a 63-year old woman off on a real adventure. Recently she got on a plane and flew to Seattle, Washington, to visit her daughter and grand daughter. No big deal, right? Well, the thing is, she took her bicycle up there with her and plans on riding it back to Panama! And what am I doing with my adventure???

So, back to health. One thing all of us aging expats need to remember is that Medicare doesn’t pay a penny once you step outside the U.S. Health insurance for anyone in their 70s with three stents in their arteries and COPD is basically unobtainable, and if you CAN get it the premiums are so outrageous that it would take every cent I get from SS each month AND a loan to make the monthly note. I have been signed up on Hospital Chiriquí’s program but it isn’t really insurance. It’s more like a discount program. As at all the hospitals if you’re unfortunate enough to need one, you have to PAY UPFRONT before they’ll do anything for you. And with the program I have they will later reimburse you up to 70% of what you shelled out. It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. And there are many horror stories about people having to use the public hospital here which is definitely something you don’t want to do.

Why haven’t I left yet? It’s because I’ve been putting off having some extensive dental work done. I don’t want to get into details now, but the fact is that even though it won’t be dirt cheap it will be just a fraction of the cost of what it would be in the States.

What would my new adventure consist of? I want to buy a small sailboat commonly referred to as a “trailer sailer.” Somewhere between 20-25 feet long with a retractable keel so I can creep into places I could never have gone with my beloved Kaiser 26, Nancy Dawson,  with her 4-foot keel. With a retractable keel drawing a foot or so I’d be able to put the boat right up on the beach and step off onto dry sand or just ankle-deep water. I don’t intend on staying stationary in a marina somewhere. After my 9-month sojourn to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala I never went sailing with my boat again. I lived on it at a boat yard for nearly two years and then at Marina Bay. The reason was I was trying to work and save enough money so I could go cruising again, but it never happened.

When I was on the Rio Dulce back in ’92 if I’d have been able to get my hands on just $4,500 a year I could have had a nice life living there on the hook (at anchor). But I couldn’t get that much money so another dream shattered. Now, though, I have a small but steady income from Social Security, and living on a paid-for boat and anchoring out as much as possible, I can still have a nice life.

And what would this “adventuring” consist of? Taking the boat as far north on the Intracoastal Waterway as the Chesapeake and revisiting old places I’d stopped along the way on the half-dozen times I’d traveled that route: Charleston, SC; Belhaven, NC; Wrightsville Beach, NC; St. Augustine, FL among others. Checking out some of the intriguing places I never got to see along the way because I was working delivering the boat I was on. I’d also like to go explore the St. John’s River in north Florida. When my mom died my dad took his two toy poodles, got on his Stamas 26 over in Venice, FL, and disappeared for six months. No one knew where he’d gone. Turns out that he’d taken the cross-Florida route through Lake Okeechobee and vanished into the St. John’s to do his mourning.

I’ve never done the Florida Gulf Coast ICW and I’d like to see what that’s about. I’d like to poke around the waters of the Florida panhandle, Appalachicola, Pensacola, and on over into Alabama and Mississippi. Perhaps go up Mobile Bay and into the Tenn-Thom Bigbee waterway. Go into Louisiana and revisit all the places I know from my crew boat days: the bayous of Cajun country and up into the Atchafalaya. Check out places I’d lived at in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. Go on into Texas all the way to Brownsville, perhaps. The entire Intracoastal Waterway system from Norfolk, VA to Brownsville, TX is 3,000 miles. That’s a lot of area to explore. Who knows?

“So,” sez you, ” if you can’t walk 100 yards without getting knackred, how are you going to do all that stuff?”

Beats the hell out of me! There’s a good chance I can’t. ¿Quien sabe? as they say here in Boquerón, but you never know what you can do if you don’t try. But I wouldn’t be doing any long, open-water sailing. Most of what I’d be doing would be motoring or motor-sailing…using the sails when the wind was on the beam or off the quarter. No beating into the wind.

We’ll see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meteor Fizzle in Boquerón

Next to man-made fireworks I like celestial ones, too. Early this morning (Jan 4) there was supposed to be a super meteor shower from 2 a.m. on. The Quadrantids shower was hyped up to have upwards of 80 to 100 “shooting stars” per hour. I set my alarm for 2:30 hoping to see some pyrotechnics to possibly rival what the locals put up on Christmas and New Years Eves.  Well, it was a washout here, if, indeed, anyone could have seen them in Panama to begin with. It was heavily overcast with clouds and only three or four stars were visible through tiny holes in the sky. Oh, well.

I’ve seen one before. Often when I tell people about my single-handed cruise on my beloved “Nancy Dawson” back in 1992 people ask, “Don’t you wish you’d had someone with you?” Well, the answer, for the most part is “Not always, but there were some events it would have been nice to share with someone.”

One of those times was when I was anchored out off the tiny island of Ranguana Caye at the edge of the reef in Belize. It was a lovely, isolated spot and everything a tropical islet is supposed to be. Small, at the edge of a coral barrier reef with a long line of breaking surf off to seaward, and covered with dozens of coconut palms. I was anchored in about 7 feet of crystal clear water on the leeward side of the island. A gentleman I’d met in the small town of Placencia owned the island and was building three tiny cabins that he hoped would earn him his fortune renting them out to dive tourists. He and a couple of helpers would come out during the week to work on the cabins but most of the week I spent there I was by myself.

One night I was lying out in my hammock that I’d strung up between the mast and the fore stay. I had finished off the last of a righteous bud I’d bought a week before from “Dancing Sam the Rasta Man” who had a small house beside the town’s famous “sidewalk.” I reclined there in my hammock miles and miles from the nearest artificial light. There was no moon, even. Just this wonderful canopy of a gajillion stars in the sky above. Marcia Ball, Doctor John and the Neville Brothers drifted up from the boom box in the cabin below.

And then the light show began, as if just for me. It was early August and the earth was moving through the Perseids belt. Shooting stars blazed all across the sky. For the next couple of hours not a minute went by without at least two or three and often dozens of meteor trails shooting across the heavens. And when I’d look over the side of the boat long luminescent trails ran in all directions as medium-sized fish chased little fish and big fish chased the medium-sized ones all intent on a fresh sushi night cap. THAT’S when I wish I’d had someone along to share the moment with.

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The Ultimate Slacker’s Boat!!!

Murray Stevens instantly became my hero when he designed and built this —

Once again, another fine find from reading:

http://www.duckworksmagazine.com/11/reports/nov/index.htm

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