As this is posted (it’s a programmed autopost that I actually wrote a few days ago) Rhonda and I are winging our way to Seattle. We have a ship to catch. A ship that will be taking us somewhere we’ve not yet been. We’re taking a cruise up the inside passage to Alaska. It’s another part of our Summer Of Taking It All In. Rhonda has always wanted to take an Alaskan cruise. Me, not so much. My tastes run more toward warm tropical beaches. But when we heard that Princess was doing a special Seahawks Fan Cruise, well, I immediately got onboard. So we’re seizing the opportunity to do something that’s on our list of things-to-do-someday before we embark on our LIfe On The Hook™.
Hmmm, I dunno, looks pretty cold to me…
We’ve had to dig through the lockers onboard and our storage unit ashore to locate all of our winter clothing. This time of year in Pensacola, temperatures are hovering around 90°, and it’s been strictly shorts and T shirts for awhile now. But it’s supposed to be in the 50’s and 60’s where we’re going (which is pretty chilly to a thin-blooded Floridian), and maybe even below freezing if we decide to do a glacier excursion. So out came the hats, scarves, gloves, and foul weather jackets. There is no traveling light when your trip takes you from mid-summer to late winter and back, especially when you throw in the need to bring a sufficient wardrobe to handle everything from formal night in the dining room to hiking an Alaskan mountain (who knows, it could happen!). The huge pile of clothing and suitcases has filled our salon, leaving little room to move and creating stress reminiscent of the week we first moved onboard. But we’re finally on our way, so all is good.
You know, this is the first time in six months that we’ll have spent a night away from Eagle Too. I think it probably says a lot about our love of the ocean that after half a year we’re spending our first time away from our boat cruising on an even bigger boat!
So we’re off to add to our collection of fond memories and unique experiences. Because at this particular point in our lives, collecting memories is much more important to us than collecting things. See ya in a couple of weeks!
I thought I was having a bad dream. It was early Saturday morning, and I could hear the clock radio’s alarm playing. We have a strict no-Saturday-alarm policy onboard Eagle Too. I don’t care what the so-called “health experts” say about maintaining a regular sleep schedule—after five days of Rhonda getting up at 5:45 AM so that she can go to work, Saturday is our day to recharge. This usually means sleeping until we’re slept out.
Certain the noise would stop if I ignored it with sufficient determination, I curled up and buried my face in my pillow.
“Wake up, we have to leave by 7,” I thought I heard Rhonda say. Wake up? Leave? What madness is this? It’s Saturday. The sun is barely up!
But she persisted. As hard as I willed it to be an illusion, Rhonda had really set a Saturday morning alarm. Something was up. Something besides me.
“You’re serious?” I asked through my pillow, still clinging to the tiniest sliver of hope that this was just a dream.
“Yes, you need to get up, we have to go,” she replied.
“Go where?” I asked.
“You’ll see. Wear something comfortable,” she suggested. “I’ll drive.”
I tried a few rounds of 20 questions, but got nowhere. All I knew was that casual dress and boat shoes would be fine, and could I please fill up the water bottles to take with us?
About forty minutes later, she wheeled into the parking lot of the Derailed Diner in Robertsdale, Alabama. It’s a cute place, built to look like a train had crashed through the side of a station.
But while interesting, it’s basically in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t seem like the sort of place that would prompt Rhonda to plan an early Saturday road trip.
Within minutes, though, my brother Mark rolled up. So now I knew there was both planning and coordination at work.
It seemed odd that Rhonda selected such a large table for the three of us. With numerous cozy booths available, we sat clustered around the end of a six-top. “There will be five of you?” the waitress asked as she handed us our menus. Five? I wondered. When did anyone mention a table for five?
Then our two sons Chris and Corey walked through the door, and I realized I’d been set up. It was a Father’s Day abduction! Now Father’s Day was actually not for another week. But on that day, Rhonda and I will be in Alaska cruising the inside passage. So my family had moved the celebration up a week. Suddenly being whisked away to the middle of nowhere made sense. Because that’s a pretty good place to put a gun range. After breakfast, we were going to have a family range day!
The true scale of Rhonda’s plan was revealed when we rolled up to the range and she started pulling bags and bags of eye and hearing protection, ammunition, and targets from her trunk. This is not her usual cargo. The woman had apparently been busy!
Rhonda and our two sons. No idea what the boys were thinking, showing up to a gun range in red shirts. Have they never seen an episode of Star Trek?
Showing Chris how to release the slide lock and safety. I’m in the red cap, my brother Mark is in the yellow.
That’s not a girlie gun. That’s a .45 revolver she’s firing!
Rhonda rockin the reloads. Looks like that target has had a bad day!
Oh yeah? Well I can do better than that…
Some father and son competition.
Hmmm. The sun must have been in my eyes. Yeah, that’s it…
Shooting nice groups with open sights at 100 yards, and looking good doing it.
Rhonda spotting for Chris, because it’s hard to see where you’re hitting from 100 yards out.
Rhonda taking aim with her sons.
A Father’s Day to cherish – getting some range time with my boys!
We saw people of all ages at the range that day, men and women, boys and girls, from 18 to 80. There aren’t many sports in which that wide a variety of people can compete on equal terms. Checkers, maybe. But target shooting is a hell of a lot more fun. There was a time, not that long ago really, when schools had rifle clubs and students carried their firearms to class on the bus. Things are definitely different now. But it isn’t the firearms that changed, it’s the people and the culture. Personally, I don’t believe it’s been for the better.
We’ve done our part to instill in our sons a healthy respect for firearms and gun safety, and an appreciation for the sport of target shooting. (Of course, if you were to ask them, they’ll say they’re preparing for the zombie apocalypse!) Spending the day at the range with them made for a great family Father’s Day outing. Thank you to everyone that played a part in my abduction!
I recently started a discussion on Cruisers Forum about whether life rafts still made sense (or cents, as I phrased it). I quoted from an article I recently read in which a USCG rescue pilot claimed that with the state of today’s international search and rescue system, the average time from activating an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) until a helicopter is hovering overhead is 240 minutes. In light of that fact, I wondered whether, if you were going offshore, it made sense to sink $6K into a liferaft considering it would probably never be used, and if it were, probably only for a few hours.
In the subsequent discussion, someone recommended I read a book titled Once Is Enough by Miles Smeeton. It tells the story of a British couple that attempt to sail their 36 foot ketch from Australia to England by way of Cape Horn.
I won’t give the story away, other than to say that they didn’t have an easy time of it (you did notice that I said they attempted to sail the route, right?).
I thought it was a fascinating story. It’s a bit dated, having been written in the 1950’s, but if you like classic survival and us-against-nature tales, I think you’ll enjoy it as well. I have to wonder if we’d be as capable and determined sailors if God forbid we ever found ourselves in a similar situation.
Don’t tell her I said so, but our girl Eagle Too is a bit broad in the butt. We love her for it, and find her bootyliciousness quite appealing, as it makes for more room in the cockpit and the aft (our) cabin (more junk in the trunk?). But it can sometimes present Rhonda with a bit of a challenge. As I mentioned in our previous post, she does most of the driving. But with Eaglet (our dink) on the foredeck, Rhonda can’t see what’s in front unless she’s standing, and that just gets a bit tiring after a few hours. Even though our wheel is quite large, it isn’t large enough to let her look down the side of the boat to drive and still reach the helm.
As boats have gotten wider in the stern, the current best practice for craft the size of ours has been to add dual helms. This allows the helmsperson to drive from either the port or starboard aft quarter, looking down the rail of the boat. But this obviously isn’t an option for us. So we worked out a cheap and simple hack with a boat hook and a bungee cord that lets Rhonda sit and steer while also being able to see what’s in front.
Is it elegant? Not at all. But it gets the job done. So we’ll call it a hack rather than a solution, the first in what may become a random and occasional series of posts on little things that solve little problems.
As we cruise about our local waters, we have often observed on other boats an interesting division of labor that I like to call Deck Princess Syndrome, or DPS. It appears to be primarily a powerboat phenomenon, although we have occasionally observed it onboard real boats as well (i.e. sailing craft). It manifests itself as follows: A large boat approaches the pier or an anchorage and prepares to tie up or drop anchor. An individual of the male persuasion is at the helm, actively operating the wheel and throttles. He then shifts the boat to neutral and runs forward to unlimber the anchor or rig lines and fenders, and then runs back to the helm to aim the boat as his intended target. Satisfied with his trajectory, he runs back to the bow again to drop the anchor, or jumps ashore as the boat comes alongside the pier in order to tie up. At some point a wrestling match often ensues between the man and the boat as the craft fails to completely bend to his will. During this entire evolution, an individual of the female persuasion lies on deck working on her tan or idly examining her fingernails with an intensely bored expression.
While DPS is not entirely a powerboat phenomenon, on sailing craft we are more likely to see symptoms of Harried Deckhand Disorder, or HDD. In cases of advanced HDD, what appears to be a healthy mature male stands at the helm in a stately manner, using three fingers on his right hand to operate the throttles and shifter, while shouting a stream of commands to a woman jumping around on deck. Using extravagant gestures and escalating vocal volume, he remotely directs her through the process of anchoring or mooring, while she scampers like the proverbial one-legged lady in an ass-kicking contest, straining at lines.
Now everyone has to work out a functional system for themselves and their crew. But here’s our situation onboard Eagle Too. I am taller, broader, and stronger than Rhonda. I’m able to leap further, have a longer reach and better grip strength. These are all attributes that are quite useful when trimming sails, recovering the anchor, or mooring—your general deck monkey chores. Meanwhile, wheel and throttle work is a precision task, requiring little physical strength, but for which an intuitive feel for force, direction, motion and applied vectors is required. It’s much easier to hone the skills to helm through practice than it is to develop sufficient upper body strength for deck monkey work. So why do we see so few women at the wheel during docking and maneuvering?
I’ve jokingly told others that Rhonda drives because if I ever fall off the boat, I want to know that there’s someone onboard who will be able to come back and get me. But like most effective humor, there’s a kernel of truth in that. It’s apparently a rare enough arrangement that we quite often have people stop what they’re doing in order to watch Rhonda back us into our slip, as if it’s as unusual and unexpected as spotting a cat riding a bicycle. “Observe, ladies and gentlemen, as the lady tempts fate and courts disaster by approaching the dock! And for her next trick…”
Anyway, it sort of makes me wonder. Why aren’t there more women at the wheel?
If plans stay on track, by this time next year Rhonda and I should be deep in the southern Caribbean. It’s primarily an insurance thing. If we want to carry storm coverage for our boat, we need to be outside of the hurricane box by June 1st. Of course, the whole issue seems absurd to me. Being from Florida, we LIVE in the hurricane box, and we have no problem obtaining insurance year round. But if we set sail, then suddenly we have to be south of the box (or north or it, but there’s no appeal there for us) when the season starts or lose our coverage. I guess it makes sense to an actuary somewhere. But it is what it is and pointing out the logical fallacy won’t change that, so we’ll plan accordingly.
Because this could be the last summer we spend in our hometown for quite a while, we’ve been busy trying to take in as much of the local color as possible. We all know how you can live in a place for years and never see or do much of what’s happening in your own backyard. Well, we’re making an effort to change that. We’ve been to more free concerts so far this season than we attended in the previous five years. With Tuesday’s Bands On The Beach, Thursday’s Evenings In Old Seville, and the occasional Sunday of Blues On The Bay, we’re taking full advantage of the numerous opportunities to spread a blanket, crack a bottle of wine, and take in some live music. We sit on our boat and watch the weekly fireworks shows at the baseball stadium across from our marina. We’d never bother to come downtown to see them when we lived on the north side of town. And of course, if there’s a concert or festival within a half day’s sail (and the weather allows), we go, because who knows when we may have the chance again.
This past weekend, Steve Miiller Band was performing in Orange Beach, and a friend with connections to a local radio station hooked us up with free tickets. Since we still had a credit at The Wharf marina from our trip to see Jimmy Buffett in April, it didn’t require much deliberation. Friday after Rhonda got home, we headed out.
We had a most interesting night at anchor in Big Lagoon.
As the sun set, we heard a strange persistent sound whose source we couldn’t quite determine. It was an odd sort of insistent rhythmic clicking that sounded like an army of distant jack hammers. It would rise and fall in intensity, sometimes falling totally silent, and then resuming after a brief pause. Its volume was startling. We worried that something was wrong with the boat. My inner engineer started mentally dissecting our onboard systems trying to tie the noise to a piece of malfunctioning equipment. After cycling through all the breakers on the panel, we eventually killed all onboard power, and sat motionless in the dark stillness, listening. The sound persisted. It was coming from the surrounding environment.
Climbing on deck in the darkness, we caught sight of a pod of dolphins about 30 yards off that seemed quite busy, swimming rapidly about. And then the pieces fell into place. They were working a large school of fish, which we were apparently sitting in the middle of. In their distress at being hunted and herded, these fish were communicating their panic, which was filling the water with the cacophonous sounds of a million tiny hammer drills. Relieved, we powered the boat back up, turned on some quiet music, poured another glass of wine, and sat back to listen to nature’s soundtrack. Fortunately, after several hours the dolphins ate their fill and moved on, and we were able to have a peaceful night’s sleep. Otherwise, I don’t think we would have been able to get much rest. It was that loud!
The next day, after tying up in our favorite slip at The Wharf…
…we sat for a while and watched the resident heron fish the surrounding docks.
He didn’t seem the least bit bothered that we were sitting less than 15 feet away taking his picture.
The show wasn’t bad, certainly worth what we paid to get in (which was nothing, after all).
The biggest surprise of the evening for me came when Steve was casually relating to the audience that he started his first band in 1956 when he was 12 years old. I quickly ran the numbers in my head, and holy crap! He’s 71 years old! Has it really been four decades since I was sitting in the school cafeteria listening to The Joker on the jukebox? Man, where did all those years go?!
We chilled for another day in Orange Beach, and then had an awesome trip home, sailing a beam to broad reach the entire way in 12 knots of SSW wind. It’s always a delight when we can make it to our destination entirely under sail.
And so we’re off to whatever event next catches our fancy in this Summer Of Taking It All In. I think Wednesday was the only opening in our social calendar this week. Today (Thursday) is Rhonda’s birthday, and we’ll have a nice family dinner at The Fish House. The fine folks at Pensacola Shipyard have invited us to their Shipyard Shindig tomorrow, probably in appreciation for the multiple boat bucks we’ve deposited in their account. This weekend is currently a blank slate, but I know something will come up, and we’ll say yes, because who knows when we’ll have the chance again.
There has been an old tune playing on a loop in the back of my mind lately that I feel perfectly captures the essence of this particular moment in our lives:
As with our other posts in this series, this one is going to get a bit technical, so if your heart doesn’t beat a little faster when contemplating voltage drop calculations, then you might want to skip this one. Just talk quietly among yourselves and be sure to check back in a week or two when I’m sure we’ll have something a bit lighter to reflect upon. Meanwhile, here’s a picture of the Big Sabine anchorage at Gulf Islands National Seashore taken on Memorial Day weekend.
OK, so, In More Power Scotty! Part One, we outlined our plan for transforming our DC electrical system from one designed for weekend cruising to one more suitable for a Life On The Hook™. In Part Two of the series, we selected our new batteries. In this installment, we roll up our sleeves and get to work.
As we previously mentioned, Eagle Too had a problem with her weight distribution. With a hundred feet of chain in the anchor locker, the dinghy on the foredeck, and a full water tank (located beneath the V-berth) she sat 2° low in the bow. It might not sound like a big deal, but the berth we sleep in runs athwartship (across the boat) and it felt like I was constantly rolling out of bed, which does not make for a good night’s sleep. It was a problem that was only going to get worse, because we plan on doubling our anchor size to 65 lbs and adding another 100 feet of chain to our rode before we embark on our five year (or longer) voyage of discovery. That would be over 400 more pounds of weight in the pointy end of the boat. I worried about plowing furrows through the ocean rather than rising gracefully to meet oncoming seas. To address the problem, we knew our 400 lbs of new batteries had to go aft. And the only place with the room was our cockpit lockers, or lazarettes as they’re known in the nautical world. They’d take up a lot of valuable storage space, but it was our best solution.
Flooded cells need to go into battery boxes. The job of the box is to catch any acid that might boil over during charging or spill when the boat is rocking and rolling. You don’t even want to contemplate doing without them, because having battery acid splash around places where it doesn’t belong can really make a mess of your gear, your boat and your day. But battery boxes aren’t sexy. Important, yes, but not something I wanted to spend a boat load of money on. And while there are some really nice (you might even say semi-sexy) boxes available, some of which even hold two six volt batteries each (because the boat runs on 12 volts after all, so you always use golf cart batteries in pairs), they were just too darned expensive. The boxes shouldn’t cost almost as much as the batteries they hold in my humble opinion. But after a bit of research, I found these online for only $7 apiece including tie down straps and brackets:
Here’s a closeup if you want the make and model:
I found them at All Battery Sales and Service in Everett, Washington, who must not realize these can be used on boats, or they would have at least quadrupled the price. Six boxes including tie down straps delivered to Pensacola for less than $50? Sold!
With boxes in hand, we began working out our placement. Three fit nicely in the starboard lazarette without interfering with the access panel for the fuel tank:
And the other three tucked into the port lazarette while still allowing access to the holding tank:
With the location for our new batteries established, we next had to determine how long our new battery cables needed to be to tie the batteries to our existing DC buss. After working out the best route through the boat’s inner recesses to run the cables, we used our handy fishtape to pull a length of 1/2″ line along the route. Once it was in place, we marked both ends with a Sharpie, and then pulled it back out (using it to pull a messenger line for later use). It was then just a matter of laying it out on the pier and measuring the distance between the two marks to determine exactly how long our new cables needed to be. We did this for both the positive supply and negative ground cable, as well as for the ones required to tie the individual batteries together into three 12 volt pairs.
The last thing we needed in order to place our cable order was to determine the required wire gauge, based on the maximum desired voltage drop from the battery charger to the new house bank. Fortunately, Blue Sea Systems makes a handy free phone app that does the calculations for you. Just enter the circuit length, amperage and desired voltage drop, and it tells you the appropriate wire size to use. You can find it here:
My research taught me that one of the major causes of premature battery failure is trying to go cheap with undersized cables from the battery charger to the bank. A 3% voltage drop may not sound like much, but it’s enough to make your charger think it’s done charging because it’s outputting 14.6 volts, while the batteries are actually only seeing about 14.1 volts and thus not coming up to a full charge when the charger quits for the day. Continually undercharging a battery results in uncharged plate material becoming permanently sulphated, resulting in lost capacity in a never ending cycle until the battery finally checks out. To make sure our new bank lasts as long as possible and always receives a full charge, we based our cables on maintaining less than a 1.5% voltage drop from the charger to the bank. The handy Circuit Wizard said this required us to use 4/0 cable for the bank supply and ground cables, and 1/0 for the battery interconnect cables.
With our wish list of new battery cables thus developed, I then visited BestBoatWire.com to place our order. Actually, I shopped on their twin site GenuineDealz.com. I’m not sure what marketing purpose it serves, but both sites are run by the same company. The only difference is that the prices on Best Boat Wire are slightly lower, but you have to pay for shipping, while on Genuine Dealz you pay a slightly higher price, but shipping is included. If you’re in the market for new cables, it probably pays to shop both sites to see which one comes out cheaper. Since we were ordering about 80 pounds of cable, we saved a few dollars by going the free shipping route.
I was very happy with the service we received from these guys. They had a question about one of the cables I ordered, and called me for clarification. We received the entire order in about a week. One short jumper cable was made in black rather than red as I had requested, and when I called and pointed it out, they rushed me a replacement via 2nd Day postage. We requested heavy duty lugs and adhesive lined shrink tubing on all our cables, and I was quite impressed with how rugged everything looked.
Cables now in hand, we began pulling them though the route we’d traced using the messenger line we’d left in place…
…and then hooked everything together to form the new house bank.
Fire is probably the worst of all possible things on a boat. Fires that can’t be put out in the first 15 or 20 seconds usually burn until the boat finally sinks. With over 600 amp hours of battery bank now onboard, I realized that if by some chance one of the main battery cables found a way to short itself out, we’d basically have the arc welder from hell, which would throw a fireball big enough to put a six foot hole in the boat. While there is a 50 amp DC main circuit breaker on the switch panel, and an additional battery breaker on the bank selector switch, neither of these were going to do a damn bit of good if the cable managed to short itself somewhere upstream of the main panel. For safety’s sake and following the ABYC guidelines, I installed main terminal fuses on each pair of batteries. A fuse for each pair was probably a bit of overkill—one fuse for the entire bank would suffice to prevent a fire if a battery cable shorted. But living as we do in one of the world’s lightning capitols, I have a deep and healthy respect for the mischief a close lightning strike can cause. Others have told tales about close strikes blowing up their batteries. I figured with a separate fuse for each pair, if we did suffer the misfortune of a close strike, maybe there’d be a chance that the fuses would save at least a couple of the batteries, allowing us to afterwards cobble together enough of an electrical system to start the engine.
You do have battery terminal fuses on your banks, yes? One nice thing is that the battery boxes were designed with the headroom to accommodate the height of the installed fuses.
These pictures were all taken during the final test fit by the way. I went back and added split ring lock washers to all the connections on the final tightening, and then sprayed them all with Boeshield T9, my favorite anti-corrosion spray. With an occasional wipe and a reapplication once or twice a year, these connections should remain bright and shiny for years.
So did the bank placement accomplish our goal of balancing the boat? After everything was in place, here’s the way Eagle Too now sits:
Rather than being 2° down by the bow, she now sits 1° down by the stern. That seems just about right, as she should trim out perfectly when we add the additional chain and larger anchor to the bow. That’s an app called Clinometer by the way, which I find really useful. It’s available from iTunes and Google Play.
So that’s it for Part Three. In our next More Power Scotty! post, we’ll take a look at how we changed the whole charging system, and the new charging equipment we installed to maintain our new house bank and starting battery.
Having spent the previous weekend out sailing, and with plans to do the same next weekend, we thought this weekend seemed perfect for getting some boat chores done—sunny and mild with no rain in the forecast. But before starting, we thought we’d check out a few things going on around town first. So after breakfast, we headed over to the San Juan de Elcano for a free tour:
I was impressed with the complexity of it all and the level of seamanship required to sail her:
And was left just a little embarrassed by our reliance on labels to keep things straight on our somewhat less complicated vessel:
Before heading back to the boat to start working, we’d heard that they had closed the city’s main boulevard and had erected a giant waterslide down it, so we thought we’d head uptown to check it out:
After watching the antics and grooving to the island tunes for a while, we knew we needed to get back to the boat and get busy. But we had to pass right by the Farmer’s Market to return to the marina, so we naturally took some time to browse:
By this time we really needed to get back to the boat and get going on some projects. But we heard that the Fiesta of Five Flags Boat Parade was starting in less than an hour, and it sounded like a fun thing to check out, so we decided to go for a quick sail and watch the parade. We’d heard they were departing Pensacola Yacht Club at 1PM, but when we motored out of our marina at 12:30, we found ourselves right in the middle of the event and unintentionally became part of the parade!
When we finally got untangled from the procession, we just had to take the time to sail by the Elcano, just because we could:
By the time we finally made it back to the marina, we surrendered any notion of getting work done, as it was now way too late to start on any of our incomplete onboard improvement projects. So we had a beer instead and promised ourselves we’d give it serious consideration the next day.
But when Sunday arrived, we remembered there was a free Tribute to Elton John concert at the Maritime Park.
It was a good show and a great venue and we really enjoyed ourselves. But it ran until after dark, so there was only one thing left to do—grab a few night shots of the Elcano with the moon rising above it, as it was leaving the next morning.
And then the weekend was basically done. Over cocktails later that evening, Rhonda turned to me and said, “This Pensacola is a pretty nice town. We should visit more often!” I completely agree. We’d filled an entire weekend with interesting, fun and free things to do, and never once started the car. It was all within an easy 10 minute walk from our home on the water.
Oh well, maybe we’ll get this autopilot finished or get started installing the new radar next weekend. Oh wait, there’s that Steve Miller Band concert in Orange Beach that we want to sail to…
This really is a nice place to live, from April until November at least. By the way, happy first day of Hurricane Season, everyone. Keep your heads down and your fingers crossed!