Friday, July 28, 2006


(Note to the faithful reader: This is a longish post. The first is a travel update followed by two boat project essays- ‘The Day the Engine Wouldn’t Start’ and ‘A Light For the Cockpit’. So go get a sandwich or beer or both and settle in. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and at the end you’ll say, Hemingway WHO?. AND....sorry for the delay but we finally received our new MAC computer and boy is it fast and slick. Like me! Bill Gates Who?)

Getting up to date (internet is rare here in Ft. Myers Beach) - On Sunday the 9th we traveled south from Haze Point and anchored off of Useppa Island. From this anchorage you can take the dingy across the channel to Cabbage Key. This is an old fishing outpost that is now a pricey restaurant/bar. They have cottages to rent that look to be just the old fishing cabins. The story goes that the old fisherman wanted to guarantee that there’d be a beer waiting for them when they got back from fishing so they’d put their name on a dollar bill and pin it to the wall. So started a tradition for visitors to leave a dollar on the wall with a message on it. To date they estimate that there is over $50,000 taped to the walls several layers deep. We had a $4.00 beer each and then walked their little nature trail. There is a water tower along the way that you can climb up and get a pretty nice panorama of the area. Useppa island is a private club/development but there are no tall buildings just really nice looking houses. Elsewhere around there is wild undeveloped Florida landscape. Yes, there is still some of it!

This is a very pretty anchorage and perfect for bird watching. As the tide went down and the mud flats showed themselves quite a variety of birds came in to feed. There were the white ones and some brown ones. We are getting very good a spotting the differences like real birders. OK, actually there were Osprey (with a nest), Egrets, Blue Heron, Green Heron, Ibis, and the spectacularly colored Yellow-Crowned Night Heron. As we looked through the bird book to make our identifications we saw that in this region there lives a goofy looking bird called a Roseate Spoonbill. It’s big and has gauche pink wings on a white body and this really silly spoon shaped bill. Sue said, “Wouldn’t it be neat to see one of those fly in here”. About 3 minutes later (I’m not making this up) one of those flew in there! Spectacular colors. As the tide continued to fall Sue (always thinking) put on the depth sounder. Yeah, we had about half a foot of water under our keel. Time to move out a little!

The next day we continued on the inside track to Ft. Myers Beach. A longish 25 mile run but only one bridge across San Carlos Bay. The cruising guide described the large anchor field just after Mantanzas Pass Bridge between Estero Island and San Carlos Island. When we arrived however we see a large mooring ball field. We called the harbor master to be assigned a ball and began to look for it. Beyond the mooring field however we noticed several boats on anchor. Well, anchoring is so much more free than a mooring ball so we called the guy back on the radio and said we’d anchor instead. As we passed the last mooring ball however the depth began to drop rapidly. We don’t actually know how those boats got back in there. At under a foot under the keel we put on the brakes and backed straight up. Note: It is important on your way into unfamiliar territory to remember the approximate route you took in. You KNOW that’s deep enough. If you just start spinning around in a panic you may find that slim water. OK. But, backing a sailboat straight in a current is another matter. Of course like all sailboats she’ll crab to port because of prop walk. The idea is to get some way on and then put it in neutral so you can steer. Repeat. By this method we were able to retrace our steps and get turned around. Right about then the harbor master, Dale, was out in his boat watching us with a big grin on his face. “Just thought you might change your mind so I came out to help you get a mooring ball”. Nice guy. The mooring field is operated by Salty Sam’s (really) Marina and everyone there is very nice. The mooring balls are $13 per day or $260 for a month. Same price as Key West for the monthly. The marina is about 500 yards from our ball and has a nice restaurant, and small store.

Now what? We’ve now been everywhere south of here and everywhere worth going on Florida’s east coast. It is becoming more and more hurricane season so we are not going to venture out to the Bahamas or Mexico at this time. The mooring balls here are screwed into the sea bottom to as much as 30-40 feet to get a good hold. The line to the boat is braided and about 2” thick. My point is that I don’t think we could do better for a hurricane hole. We have nowhere we really want to be this time of year anyway. Plus, daughter and son in law are coming to wherever we are for a visit in late August – early September and there’s lots to do here in Ft. Myers Beach. Also, we are planning to travel back to Chicago for a month’s visit from Oct. 22 through Thanksgiving and leaving the boat here is no problem.

The down side: I get a little crazy when the boat doesn’t move for extended periods of time. Internet is almost non-existent in this town. It rains everyday…but that will probably change, right?

Of course there is always little boat maintenance and big boat projects. An extended stay allows work on the bigger projects. While we’re here (I swear) we’ll finish all the teak on the outside of the boat, install a new autohelm, finally get the SSB working (still not broadcasting!). Now that we’ve been on it for more than a year there is probably some more writing we could do and if we bring our car down from Clearwater we can explore land in a larger radius. So settle in for occasional reports from Ft. Myers Beach and lets just keep the hurricanes on the other side of the state, ok?


Scott Says:

We motored from our little anchorage by Haze Point down toward Gaspirilla Island today. The little town, Boca Grande (not Boca Del Vista, Phase III) is supposed to be neat. So we anchored by a big sailor/trawler outside the channel that leads into the now closed marina there. We set the anchor and then it seemed to be dragging so we went to start up the engine to re-set it. To start our engine you flip a switch which on any other boat would be a key switch but on our is just a ‘simple’ toggle switch. (Thieves can please ignore the previous sentence.) The oil pressure buzzer sounds (it’s supposed to since there is no oil pressure yet) and then you press the start button which engages the starter, starts the engine and turns off the buzzer. Fine. When we flipped the switch …nothing…no buzzer. No buzzer, no start. Now what?

I took off the panel in the cockpit that contains all of the instruments and looked at the wires going to the switch of which there are four.


Now a word about switches. A simple switch is a place in a circuit where two wires are not touching but then when you close the switch (turn it on) you connect those two wires and thereby complete a circuit. Pretty straight forward stuff. Usually all of the switching happens on the ‘hot’ side of the circuits that being the positive side by convention. So, in the simplest of all possible of switch applications you’d have a battery with a wire coming from the plus terminal going to one side of the switch. The other side of the switch would go to a light bulb for example and then the other side of the light bulb would go back to the negative side of the battery. Now flipping the switch turns on the bulb. My point is that the negative side of the battery has no business being connected to the switch itself in any simple application.

Upon inspecting my switch I note that there are four wires connected to it. That in itself is not that uncommon. A switch can actually be a little more complicated where it completes more than one circuit at once or breaks one circuit while making another. Still there should be no negative lead going to the switch. But there it was. My switch had power coming to it ready to be connected to other things via closing the switch. It had a place for the power to go, namely the push button to start the engine. But what the heck were the other two wires for, one of them being the negative of the battery?

I had hoped to map out exactly what kind of switch this was with my multi-meter. But when I stuck the probe into the hole where the connector had broken it just went in and jammed the switch itself. This is bad. Now I can’t figure out electrically how the switch works. Damn! I’ll have to fix it by thinking about it. ( A reference to my hero Richard Feyman who made money as a kid by fixing radios in the Brooklyn of the 1930’s…by thinking about it!)

What had happened to the switch is that one of its four terminals had rusted through and become disconnected from the rest of the switch. The one that came off was the one bringing the positive power to the switch. So, I understand that when I close the switch power is brought to the push button to start the engine. Now to discern what the other two wires are about. I connected a little piece of wire from the plus to the button wire and sure enough the buzzer sounded and the engine started when I pushed the button ok. Now I have two wires dangling in the air so something should be NOT working but I can’t find a thing. Hmmmm. Not that I’m against ending a project with a few wires left over.

I decided that starting the engine was key and the other two wires be damned. I had a spare 20 amp breaker which is really a simple switch as long as you stay under 20 amps and connected the ‘important’ wires to that and taped up the other two mystery wires. (Maybe they’re for the stereo…yeah!)

This works and we brought this improvised switch to the outside of the panel via some auxiliary wires and sealed it in a zip lock bag. When we find a West Marine or Radio shack we’ll make proper repairs.

Now I can have at the original switch and take it apart to see how it worked and what those other two wires are for.

Ah HA! Upon disassembling the switch I find that it is in fact a stupid simple switch to connect the two wires together that I thought. The OTHER two wires, a plus and a minus, are only there to LIGHT UP THE SWITCH ITSELF! I forgot that this switch was lighted. The ‘mystery’ wires are no longer a mystery and nothing bad will happen if they are never connected to anything again.

I love it when mysteries are solved. I almost look for boat problems just to have the chance to solve them.


Sue says:
Isn’t it amazing? He really fixes things that I think can never be fixed. All the while he is putzing around with wires and volt meters and this and that, I’m thinking, ‘will we ever get this engine started? I would have had to call Tow Boat US or paid someone to buy a part at West Marine or I don’t know what to get the boat started again. Okay, we could have ‘jump started’ the thing but I don’t know how to do that either. What I’m trying to say is that I’m glad (and I know what I’ve got here) that captain has the ability to fix things on the fly and also has the ability to fix things by thinking about it. I really don’t mind getting the beer in celebration either and along the way I’m learning a lot about how to fix things!


This boat came with no light to put over the cockpit table. This is something that is really nice to have for those late night dinners or for just sitting around (in a bug free location). The boat does have a round two-prong 12 volt socket available at the binnacle post. So, I started inventing. I figured that I could clamp some sort of light to the round handle of the binnacle post that comes up above the wheel and run the cord to the outlet. It’s got to be removable as it will be in the way while sailing.

My prototype is done and works great and like a lot of working prototypes we’ll probable never see the final version! I screwed a spring type clamp with rubber jaws to a piece of teak about 10 inches long. I bought a plain 12 volt socket and 12 volt, two prong connector from West Marine (Their Motto: We sure hope Scott and Sue come to town.). This socket exactly press fit into a 3 inch long piece of ¾ inch pvc pipe. I cut the pvc pipe longitudinally so as to make two tabs that could then be bolted through to the teak. Now the bulb and pvc assembly can pivot on the stick to aim the light correctly. Wiring was simple. Just used some wire I had to connect the bulb socket to the 12 volt outlet connector. Now for the shade. I thought about dedicating one of my small plastic funnels but then Sue showed me the top to a lemonade container. Cylindrical, translucent, and about 4 inches in diameter with a rim about 2 inches high. This could work! I cut a hole in the center of the top to fit snugly on the pvc pipe and just pressed it on. It works! We tried it last night. by aiming it upwards it provides very nice indirect lighting via being scattered off of the bimini (which is oyster color). Via the pivot you can aim the light directly down for writing, or working crosswords, suduko, cat maintenance, etc.

These are the things that are best to do when we are on the move. You cannot stare at the horizon when you are not at the helm. You’ll go nuts. Reading is good, futzing about like this is good, playing chess against the computer is good…napping is BEST!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Hello to all from computer hell. We have lots to post and lots of pics but...
Can't put up pictures from the Ft. Myers Beach library. Don't know why. Computer guy is off today. The marina that we are moored by has wifi but our laptop is DONE. I quit messing with it forever. We are shopping now for a Mac. They work. Let's remember that 'windows' was a way to make a pc act like a mac. That's all its ever been and since its inception it is just patch after patch after patch and LOT of clever marketing! As to other computer options, there are basically NONE in Ft. Myers Beach. There was a internet cafe. We found it. Out of business and gutted. Some day wifi will just be in the air like AM radio. I hope I'm around to enjoy it!

So stay tuned...more info to follow in a few days...I hope.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Random Thoughts at 4:30 AM in Venice, FL

Weather Radio- You've heard me complain about NOAA before in this blog. This isn't really a complaint it is just a clarification. When you listen to the radio and they say, "Friday - winds south-west at 10 knots" what you don't know is WHEN on Friday. We were going to make an outside run from Venice to Charlotte Harbor today. To do so we want to leave at first light so as to get there before (hopefully) the pm thunderstorms. So I'm up at 4:30 making coffee and futzing with the boat. The wind is pretty strong and it is definitely NOT south west. It is South. Of course it is barely Friday! So sometime today the wind MIGHT shift to the south west but when? We need to run SSE to charlotte Harbor and need all the west we can get out of that wind. And, what do they mean by south-west? The wind could just be a litte west of south and that's not good enough. If I wait for the wind to spin around I'll be leaving later than I'd like. So, like the day before we will take the inside option. If I think I'm going to end up grinding my engine down the Atlantic Ocean in 2-3 foot seas I figure I might as well grind the engine in flat water on the intercoastal. The good thing about the Intercoastal is that you get this option. There are not many inlets along this coast so on the ouside you end up jumping past some very nice anchorages. The downside is that motoring down a straightaway gets a little tedious but our run will be only 17 miles to get to Englewood Beach and a supposedly fine anchorage. The other down side is bridges. We negotiated 4 bridges yesterday. The fourth one comes with about a knot current taking me toward the bridge. In those cases you really want the bridge to open! As I slowly approached the bridge having already talked with the bridge tender, she calls me back on the radio: "Enee Marie? I have a problem." I don't want to hear this. REVERSE! Now it's not that I can't turn around and buck a 1 knot current. It's just that it is so shallow off of the main trench that you are unsure which way to turn. As it turned out her 'problem' went away quickly before I even considered turning and we passed through ok.

Dolphins - Two interesting dolphin sightings yesterday. (Dolphins are getting as common as pigeons for us but they always still draw our attention because they are just so amazing.) First, while on the move yesterday an adult and a young dolphin were swimming parallel with us. The young one suddenly jumped completely out of the water continuing parallel with it and turned a little sideways as it to give us a better look. Nice. Secondly, last night I was sitting on the boat just staring at the water (I do a lot of that but this time I wasn't drooling.) and about 4 or 5 dolphins began swimming right there. The were huffing loudly but even more interesting is that they would roll up on the water like dolphins do and then smack their tails on the water. It sounded like Elizabeth Taylor doing a cannonball from the high dive! I'm not sure what this behavior is. Herding fish toward each other perhaps?

Weather - Hot. No really it's real HOT. Actually it gets hotter in Chicago often but the sun and the humidity just make it very intense. This is not a great time of year to be cruising this coast but I don't really know about other times of year here. I do know that winds are typically light and there is clouding and rain/thunderstorms somewhere on the west coast everyday. The storms we have been in on anchor can be a little intense but short lived. I'm curious to see how this pattern changes, if it does, as we continue south.

Plans - Plans come in a variety of sizes.
Small: There is what do you want to do tomorrow? Go or stay? Inside our outside? Check tides. Check weather.
Medium: We're heading south...where to? Key West? Dry Tortugas? Both? Which one first?
Large: Stay in Florida waters for all of huricane season? Head out to the Bahamas for some of it? Come December, head for the islands? Invade Cuba?

It was actually easier for the first year. All we had to do was keep heading south until we got to Key West! We are thinking of finding a place for the boat for ~Oct 20 through end of November while we come up north for the Chicago Marathon followed by Thanksgiving. Maybe have her hauled back in Ft. Lauderdale while we are away. The neat thing about plans is that they slowly (like everything else with sailing) emerge and mutate.

Well, sun is up and Sue is making breakfast. Onward...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sailing in Thunderstorm Alley

Greetings from Sarasota FLA. We left Clearwater on Saturday July 1 and sailed to Egmont Key which sits right in the mouth of Tampa Bay. There is anchoring on the east side of the key. This makes the key a lee shore but it has been so deadly calm at night I figured this wouldn't be a problem. I said the same thing about "helping out" in Vietnam. While it didn't storm directly on us, those were visible to our south, it did become very rolly. We bounced up and down all night. At times the boat would bounce and spray would come in through the forward port and THAT AIN'T RIGHT! A long night indeed.

Above is the lighthouse on Egmont Key.
At the right is a sampling of the waves we hobby-horsed with all night. Gracie, are you still alive?

We got away early on Sunday heading for Longboat Key. There is an inlet there and opportunities for protected anchorage. Wind was ok at first then turned to our nose (how many times have I typed those words?) and we motor sailed into the inlet. When you make the drawbridge you are about a quarter mile from the anchorage but you can't get there from there (!). You have to go all the way around an island to avoid a large sand bar. More on that later. We negotiated the buoys ok and found the anchorage that had about 5 other sailboats in it. Always room for one more though. This is a very nice anchorage. There are two resturants 100 yards away, tons of dolphins, and that sand bar attracts hundreds of boats and families to enjoy the shallow water, look for sand dollars, be lazy, swim, and so forth. Very laid back.

We found in the cruising guide that if you follow a channel called Bishop Bayou it will lead to a little market and liquor store. This is a nice little dingy ride past some very impressive homes and equally impressive wildlife. We pulled up to the cement wall and thought we were in someone's back yard. It was the back end of the mini mall. On our way back we spied a huge crane that let us creep up slowly to get several photos. Fun.

After the dingy ride we relaxed on board reading in the shade when suddenly 4 ultra light planes came flying overhead. Hey, it looks like they are going to land on the water right by us! How spectacular.

You can tell when it's 4 o'clock because that's when the evening storms arrive. It's also validates cocktail hour or hours. Last night (July 4th) however as we watched the dark clouds and lightening moving our way we heard NOAA weather radio's 'beep beep beep' distress sound.
A water spout had been spotted 15 miles east of Clearwater Beach heading southwest. Guess where we were? Of course southwest. We quickly decided to set a second anchor and kept a close eye on the low dark clouds near by. Yes that does look like a dropping cloud that could be the shape of a funnel. Oh but look, it went back up. Then a second funnel shaped cloud appeared but it too dissipated. Whew! It rained very hard for about 10 minutes with some wind but not too crazy. Sue was ready to run the dingy ashore and head for someone's basement. This wouldn't have worked since there are no basements in Florida!

The storm passed and it turned out to be a beautiful evening. We had a great cool breeze all night. Who needs airconditioning? Well, not counting the hours between 9 am and 6 pm. We had spaghetti dinner and watched firework shows from many locations on the horizon. Quite a show.

We originally decided to head to Venice back out on the ocean but the winds were predicted to be 5-10 k from the southeast, in other words, in our face. So we decided to take the scenic route inside and stop at Sarasota instead. We did sail Sarasota Bay until reaching the highway bridge then manouvered our way to the anchorage just outside Marina Jacks.

And here we are in town at a local bookstore/cafe. The whole city has wifi so you can be just about anywhere and get connected. Can't wait until the whole planet is a hot spot! Sweet. We'll head back to the boat soon since it's already past 4 o'clock and some kind of storm is bound to be heading our way. Tomorrow we may head down to Venice also on the inside. No good inlet to take from Sarasota. But maybe we'll stay another day. Too soon to tell. More later.