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!


Zen said...

All that was very interesting...but what about the new Computer!~!!!!

floridaglades said...

Roseate Spoonbill is my favorite bird. I once kayaked around an island and coasted into a gaggle of about 20 of them. I didn't know they existed before that day. They're cool.

brian said...

Once again brilliance. I solved the indirect lighting by buying a $30.00 solar powered lantern at home deopot. They are in the section for garden lighting. Leave it out in the sun and away you go. LED lights. It is bronze and looks like a lantern. Yours is mych prettier

brian said...

Scott: P.S. By brillianace I meant brillianace in both writing and engineering. Not in going to home depot. I hope to be able to confirm or not confirm a speaking engagement on August 9. No matter what we'll be looking forward to the end of October.

Scott said...

We use one of those garden lights as our anchor light. I have it hoisted up on the flag halyard and just forget about it. No battery drain.

Rich P said...

Greetings from Quito, Ecuador. Today is last day of a 3 week trip. I´ll email you more later.