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Month: August 2008 (Page 2 of 2)

Caloosahatchie to Rio Dulce, Day 4

August 27, 2008 Wednesday

There was a bit of unwanted excitement last night. At 2:30 AM Nancy woke me. She had a radar contact that was getting closer and was now down to under two miles. The radar trace looked like a rain shower but she was not sure. Through my bleary eyes the contact looked like a rain shower to me too so I opened the hatch and looked outside: no clouds, no moon, and bright stars. So I grabbed the starlight scope and looked in the direction of the contact and saw lights. By now I could see the lights with my naked eye: white lights fore and aft and green. Damn. He was crossing our bow from left to right at high speed. I called Bert from his sleep but he arrived just after the big ship crossed our path about 1/2 mile ahead, making a huge smear across the radar. There was no radio call, no nothing. The big ship simply raced off to the north. None of us are happy. Fortunately no harm was done and I got a very sobering experience.

Bert, now wide awake, took the wheel and to my surprise I fell asleep and slept until 7:30. I guess I was tired. I relieved Bert right after I awoke. All is well but I have five targets on the radar to keep an eye on. There’s a lot of shipping in the Yucatan Channel. At one point I had a freighter on our starboard quarter making 9 knots on a collision course but before I hailed him he altered course slightly and passed 1/4 mile astern of us. I took photos. The Kodan radar is a terrific tool because it will track multiple targets, show their course and speed, and warn of targets on a collision course. An enormous freighter making 22 knots passed us eight miles off so I got photos of him also.

Sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico. Don't miss the ship in the image.

Sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t miss the ship in the image. Click to view larger.

The seas were getting bumpier so I stowed the second salon chair on top of my belongings and lashed it down. I was tired of it rolling around in the salon and nobody was using it anyway. The sun was hot by 8:30 AM so I turned on the pilothouse A/C. The seas were getting increasingly rolly with sets of swells coming from all directions. I had heard that the Yucatan Channel was kind of wild and it is. Swells and currents are funnelled into the constriction between Cuba and the Yucatan and the ride was no longer the nice flat sea we had before. The northbound current here is very apparent. We are running full speed but only making 3.4 knots over the ground.


Click to view larger.

Early morning in the Gulf of Mexico. Don't miss the ship at the center.

Early morning in the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t miss the ship at the center. Click to view larger.

Bert came back on watch at 9:30 AM to check weather reports and his ham radio skeds so I got busy working on the windshield wipers. They have been broken / inoperable for quite a long time but one can’t complain since they are 36 years old. I tried to save the original mechanisms but there was no way. One was shot completely. Two had been previously repaired or replaced and they were cemented in place with epoxy. Why they were installed that way is a mystery. The nuts and backing nuts work just fine without any glue. I spent pretty much all day working on them and ended up having to destroy them and drill out the thick three-inch long brass bushings with a 5/8-inch drill. The project was made all the more interesting with the boat pitching and rolling in the seas. It’s good exercise. But now there are nice clean holes for new wiper motors assemblies to be installed.

Nancy in the galley of M/V Vagabond.

Nancy in the galley of M/V Vagabond. Click to view larger.

Another freighter.

Another freighter. Click to view larger.

By early afternoon we got into the swifter current in the Yucatan Channel that is the birthplace of the Gulf Stream. At full speed we were making only 2.5 knots over the ground. By late afternoon Bert had had enough and he altered course to the west to get out of the worst of the current, then headed south again towards Isla Mujeres.

Caloosahatchie to Rio Dulce, Day 3

August 26, 2008 Tuesday

I awoke at 6:30 AM. Nobody woke me for my watch because Bert rose during the night and relieved Nancy. I did not mind. I relieved Bert and enjoyed the quiet time on the bridge to get organized and do some writing.

The quarters A/C blew the replacement capacitor during the night. It was an old cap so I was not surprised. I dug into the ship’s stores and found more caps and some “rescue kits” which are capacitors that have built-in electronic protection. Very handy that Bert had those in stock. In order to check all of the electrical components on the A/C compressor including the sensor switch on the side of the compressor housing I had to tear the electrical box apart because it was assembled with pop rivets that were not accessible, so I couldn’t drill them out. Oh well. Everything checked out fine so I installed the special self-protecting capacitor and the compressor worked fine, and continued working fine for the rest of the trip. Bert then cooked up a pancake breakfast and I spent most of the day taking photos and keeping an eye on the machinery.

The bridge of M/V Vagabond at night.

The bridge of M/V Vagabond at night. Nothing on the radar. Yay. Click to view larger.

Early morning in the Gulf of Mexico, north of Cuba.

Early morning in the Gulf of Mexico, north of Cuba. Notice the chain from 25 foot long starboard stabilizer boom to the water. That chain runs down to a heavy steel stabilizer bird with wings that “flies” from 8 to 12 feet underwater. The bird is designed to fly forward through the water with little resistance. The bird will readily dive deeper but resists being pulled up. There’s one on each side of the boat. These greatly reduce rolling motion of the boat for a smooth ride. Click to view larger.

Early afternoon Bert stopped the boat for a swim. With the main engine shut down and before I went swimming I added two more liters of oil to the engine. Adding oil seemed to improve the overheating problem. Now with the engine stopped I could get an accurate dipstick reading. The oil level was indeed low.

Port stabilizer boom and distant ship.

This is the port stabilizer boom with chain running to the bird underwater, as explained above. Notice the ship in the distance. Click to view larger.

The swim was fantastic. The water temperature was perfect and this time the water was not just tropical clear but absolutely clear. The last time we stopped there were some little bits of sargasso seaweed in the water but this time it was so clear it was unbelievable. The water at this spot was 11,000 feet deep and there was absolutely nothing in the water. Visibility was unlimited. No matter how far I swam from the boat, with my dive mask on, underwater, on it looked like Bert and Nancy were right next to me. Visibility was perfect. The bright sunlight allowed me to see a long way down and I spent quite a while just floating and staring down into the water. The sunlight reflecting and refracting up from below was a spectacular light show. I never saw anything in the water; no fish, not even a single particle of anything in the water. One odd thing I noticed was the saltiness of the water at this spot. It was extremely salty, saltier than any seawater I’ve ever tasted. It was so salty it made my eyes burn.

Carnival cruise ship approaching to pass us astern.

Carnival cruise ship approaching to pass us astern. Click to view larger.

The same Carnival cruise ship after passing behind us.

The same Carnival cruise ship after passing behind us. Click to view larger.

We showered in fresh water and got underway again. It seems the slight overheating of the was caused by a combination of low oil, plus a partially clogged keel cooler, plus 93 degree seawater. With another two liters of oil the engine temperature dropped four degrees back to where it is supposed to be and I reset the alarm back down to the correct temperature. I made triple backups of my photos thus far and developed a scheme for running regular backups of the several gigabytes of photos I expected to take along the way. I sent a short email to my daughter via Winlink so she would not worry. We are sailing ahead of Hurricane Gustav, across its likely path, so we are making all possible speed for Isla Mujeres. The hurricane is still more than 700 miles away so I am not worried but better safe than sorry and we are watching it very carefully. At Isla Mujeres we only plan to make a technical stop, take on fuel, and keep going, getting to Rio Dulce, Guatemala as quickly as possible.

Tired heron resting in the rigging.

This heron was tired. We’re 100 miles from the nearest land, the northern coast of Cuba. He stopped to rest for a while and seemed completely unafraid of me. Click to view larger.

Sunset in the Gulf of Mexico, north of Cuba.

Sunset in the Gulf of Mexico, north of Cuba. Click to view larger.

Bert cooked up a huge dinner of steak and mashed potatoes. After dinner I did some writing and then went to bed. Nancy has the first watch.

Caloosahatchie to Rio Dulce, Day 2

August 25th, 2008 Monday

I got up at 7:20 AM. I was still a bit tired but felt far better than I did last night. Yesterday was a very long day. We ate breakfast and then I did more work on the boat, mainly rust patrol. I also checked the engine oil and found it a bit low so I added about two liters. An accurate oil level measurement was not possible with the engine running.

In the early afternoon we stopped in the middle of the ocean where it was fairly calm with long but gentle swells and went swimming in the clear tropical water. It was fantastic. I grew up swimming in Southern California (green) saltwater but I had never swam in tropical saltwater. The clarity was expected but was still stunning, plus I had not swam in saltwater at all for about 25 years. The water temperature was 84 degrees F. I grabbed a mask and marveled at the visibility underwater. I took the opportunity to inspect the bottom of the boat and discovered that the main engine’s keel cooler was about one-third clogged with barnacles, which explained part of the overheating problem.

Heading south off the western coast of Florida, heading for the Dry Tortugas.

Heading south off the western coast of Florida, heading for the Dry Tortugas. Here, I’m facing northwest in the late afternoon. Click to view larger.

After the swim we all showered so as not to track saltwater into the boat and we got underway again. I got the GPS hooked up to my little Eee PC and got my Sea Clear II navigation software running. The little Eee PC does the job just fine. I’m taking lots of photos and videos and hope to edit the videos together to make a little record of the trip.

Marker light off the western coast of Florida.

Here’s a marker light off the western coast of Florida.

Flying fish are a constant presence in this part of the Gulf but they are a species I have never seen before. The flying fish in Southern California can only glide for short distances. These fish in the Gulf not only glide but actually fly for tremendous distances, hundreds of yards and I am trying to capture them on video but it is surprisingly difficult. Each morning we have to check the boat for fish that landed on the deck during the night and pitch them overboard.

Calm sea between hurricanes.

View ahead. We’re heading south southwest in late afternoon. Notice the flat calm water. We intentionally departed right after the passage of a hurricane to benefit from the calm wind and sea that occurs right after a hurricane. Under these conditions, the water looks eerie, like oil. Hurricane Fay had just passed and we had a time window between hurricanes, before Hurricane Gustav would arrive. M/V Vagabond sailed along rock steady without using the stabilizers. Click to view larger.

In the late afternoon we discovered that the quarters air-conditioning unit failed (there are four air-conditioning systems on the boat). The quarters A/C is the most powerful unit on the boat and fortunately its compressor is located in the engine room and easy to access and work on. I discovered that the starting capacitor had swelled and exploded so I replaced it with another.

Nancy took first watch and I fell asleep at 11:30 PM.

Caloosahatchie to Rio Dulce, Day 1

August 24, 2008 Sunday

Departure Day! Today was a heck of a day, as one might imagine. First I drove over from my house on Caribbean Avenue with several huge trash bags containing the last of my stuff that had not yet been stowed on the boat. These I loaded onto the Texas deck (upper deck) along with the rest of my stuff that was already there. Then it was time to see if my tie-down scheme was going to work. Folding tables, storage bins, and big bags of stuff had to be waterproofed and tied down to withstand the motion of the ocean. Everything was quickly lashed down tight, then I tarped my stuff and Bert’s cordage supply to protect all of it from sun and rain. This was one of those times where my skill with knots and rope really pays off.

Next, Bert and I drove in separate cars over to the foreign car repair place in Cape Coral where I dropped off my car to be sold on consignment. I was sad to see the car go. It served me very well for the past two years, getting me to West Virginia, spending two winters there, and then the trip back to Florida. On the way back we stopped and did a bit of final shopping for foods. After eating lunch came the big job of loading groceries, dry goods, and other stores onto Vagabond. Bin after bin was filled and stowed, items selected from the cupboards, refrigerators and freezers stripped. It’s quite a job and is something I’ve done before when Bert was departing but I always stayed behind and never left with the boat. This time would be different. Loading the stores is pretty much the last thing to happen before departure so I knew our departure was imminent, pending a last check of the weather and Bert making the final decision to go. Bert and Nancy stripped the last items from the house and came aboard. Bert went up to the wheelhouse to start the engine and I knew the moment had come. Stu Carlyle dropped by to release the dock lines and see us off. We backed away from the dock, into the canal, and with a blast from the air horn we turned to port and entered the Caloosahatchie River for the trip downriver to the Gulf of Mexico.

Highway 30 Bridge over the Caloosahatchie River.

We just passed the Highway 30 Bridge over the Caloosahatchie River. Notice that the water is brown. It looks like like tea. Most low-elevation tropical rivers are like this because of the tannins that leach out of the mangrove trees that line the shores. Click to view larger.

Railroad bridge over the Caloosahatchie River, East of Fort Myers.

Railroad bridge over the Caloosahatchie River, East of Fort Myers, raised for us to pass. Click to view larger.

Kodan radar display.

The Koden radar is a wonderful thing. I installed it about four years ago, replacing an older unit. Older radar units transmit a lot of power so it’s impolite or prohibited to use them in close quarters because they interfere with radios, telephones and can upset computers. Here, the Koden is running on very low power and short range, so we can see everything on the river and the banks of the river, in fine detail without upsetting anything around us. Click to view larger.

The trip downriver was interesting. I was curious to learn how Bert handled the daytime pilotage problems of the Caloosahatchie River. He and I had sailed on the river many times before but not past Fort Myers. The river is wide but shallow and only a narrow channel approximately down the center is dredged deep enough for boats. The channel is marked and in a couple of spots is so narrow that a traffic jam of small boats builds up and it can get pretty crazy. After cruising downriver for several hours, with the sun low in the sky, we reached the lighthouse at the tip of Sanibel Island and the open ocean of the Gulf gradually grew wider and wider before us. The imperceptible light chop on the river widened out to longer but very gentle swells. The sea was almost flat so the motion of the boat was near zero. There was no need to lower the birds (stabilizers) so we steamed at full speed on a direct course for the Dry Tortugas. Tropical Storm Fay had just finished spending several days in our area and we knew this would calm the seas. Hurricane Gustav was threatening but we chose to go anyway and enjoy the greater comfort and greater speed that we can achieve in the flat seas between storms.

Fort Myers, Florida

Fort Myers, Florida. Click to view larger.

A narrow dredged channel of the Caloosahatchie.

Here’s one of the narrow channels of the Caloosahatchie downriver from Fort Myers. The river is wide but very shallow. Channels like this one are dredged to allow larger boats to navigate. But the dredged channels are very narrow. This photo doesn’t show it but traffic is heavy here and some boaters are not skilled or are drunk. Blowing the horn is necessary to keep the chaos in order. Click to view larger.

The engine is running a few degrees warmer than normal and high enough to set off the temperature alarm. Adding water to the overflow reservoir did not help so I set the alarm about 4 degrees higher to stop it from sounding while we thought about the possible cause.

Sanibel Causeway crossing the Caloosahatchie River.

Sanibel Causeway crossing the Caloosahatchie River. Click to view larger.

Sanibel Light, Sanibel, Florida.

Sanibel Light, Sanibel, Florida. Click to view larger.

After dinner Nancy took first watch. We were all exhausted from the labors and stresses of the day. It 11:30 PM Nancy burned out and I took the watch. I was so tired it took constant effort to stay awake. After years of service the watch clock on the bridge failed so staying awake took constant effort. (A watch clock sounds every ten minutes to make sure you stay awake.) Fortunately, Bert got up at 2:30 AM and relieved me. I was exhausted.

Navigation computer on the bridge of M/V Vagabond.

Navigation computer on the bridge of M/V Vagabond. Click to view larger.

We finally exit the Caloosahatchie River and reach the open sea.

We finally exit the Caloosahatchie River and reach the open sea. I was thrilled to finally be on the sea again, with empty horizon before me.

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