Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Family Farewell Tour

The conversation went something like this:

Rhonda: “I still have five days of vacation left this year. How do you think I should use them?”

Robert: “It’s getting too late in the season to spend a week out sailing. Maybe we could take a cruise?”

Rhonda: “How much would that cost?

Robert: “Probably about $2,500 all in.”

Rhonda: “That’s a lot of money to spend when we still need things for the boat.”

Robert: “Yeah, I suppose it is. Well, I’ve been wanting to make a Disney run again. Care to spend a few days in Orlando?”

Rhonda: “What’s that cost?”

Robert: “Well, I think we’d be looking at about $400 a day with the room, park tickets and meals.”

Rhonda: “Hmmmm. Pretty pricey.”

Robert: “I suppose so. I guess for the cost of three or four days at the parks, we could just about pay for the dive gear we want.”

Rhonda: “So what do you want me to do with my five days?”

Robert: “Well, you have been telling  your Aunt Evelyn in Charleston that we’d come visit her someday.”

Rhonda: “And from there we could drive up to North Carolina and visit the rest of my family. I’m sure they’d put us up, which would save a bunch of money. Probably feed us, too.”

Robert: “And I suppose we could swing through Jacksonville on the way to Charleston, and that way we could pick up the dive gear I’ve been wanting.”

And so Rhonda’s Family Farewell Tour was born. Her father was one of ten children, which means she has a lot of aunts and uncles. And they were all born in the 1920’s and 30’s, which means they’re getting pretty darned old. And since our plan is to embark on a five year mission seeking out the absolute best Caribbean beach bar on the planet, well, the odds are fairly high that many of them may no longer be with us upon our anticipated return. So we packed our bags, rented a car (we always prefer to put road trip miles on someone else’s vehicle rather than our own), and hit the road, headed northeast.

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It was definitely a trip that was long overdue. Even though Rhonda and I have been married for 36 years, I’d never met most of these people, and it was nice to make their acquaintance. One thing I learned is that there are certainly some good genes on Rhonda’s side of the family. Even though they are all in their 80’s and 90’s, they were all active, alert and wittily charming in that down-home southern sort of way.

Between stops to visit extended family, I was able to indulge my inner history buff. Charleston is where the American Civil War basically began, and Fort Sumter has always been on my places-to-see-someday list.

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As a former submarine sailor, a visit to the CSS Hunley, the first combat submarine to sink an enemy vessel in wartime, was another must-see on my list. Recently recovered from its resting place on the bottom of Charleston harbor, where it was lost with all hands after sinking the Union blockade ship USS Housatonic in 1864, the vessel is undergoing preservation at a facility at the old Charleston Navy Yard.


Consisting basically of an adapted 42 inch wide steam boiler, the vessel’s propulsion was provided by seven men straining at a handcrank, while the eighth man steered and controlled the depth.


Imagine sitting here for hours on end, cranking for all you’re worth along with six other men, the only light being that of a single candle. (This mockup is actually about 25% larger than the real Hunley)


A truly amazing thing to consider is that it was only 80 years, or the span of a single human life, that separated that primitive weapon from this scene, from the engine room of the WWII era submarine USS Clamagore at the nearby Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum.


While at Patriot’s Point, we toured the vessels on display:

and came across this memorial, which I didn’t even know existed. It’s dedicated to the men who served on submarines during the Cold War and their families, 1947–1989. So for my submarine service brothers out there:

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After a week of visiting extended family and taking in the historical sights, it was time to return home. Since we still had a couple of days before Rhonda had to return to work, we stopped off in Atlanta for a day, where we found Pensacola’s wayward observation wheel. For almost a year, this wheel had graced our beach in Pensacola:


before abandoning us and moving north to Olympic Centennial Park in downtown Atlanta.


I guess we forgive it for giving up on us and moving on, but personally, I think it looked a lot better on the beach.

Concluding our Summer Of Taking It All In, (since it is very definitely not summer here anymore) we visited the Georgia Aquarium, to which my brother had given us some tickets.


It was an impressive facility, supposedly the largest aquarium in the western hemisphere.

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It’s breathtaking to stand in front of a 28 foot tall, 63 foot wide viewing window gazing into a six million gallon tank, watching whale sharks and enormous mantas swim majestically about. It’s a stop well worth your time if you’re ever in Atlanta. Allow at least four hours to take it all in!

Since we still had a little time, and it was right next door, we stopped in to visit The World of Coca-Cola, because I basically wanted to see how you could turn a soft drink into a major attraction. It actually turned out to be a fun two-to-three hour diversion, outlining the history of how one man’s drink formula grew into a worldwide multi-billion-dollar business.

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Part of the self-guided tour included a look at what is supposed to be the vault where the only written copy of the formula for Coca-Cola is kept:


From there, the tour concludes in the tasting room, where you can try samples of over 100 beverages from around the world that are produced by the Coca-Cola company. Some were quite yummy. Some tasted like stale bilge water. All represent the unique taste preferences of the particular cultures for which they are produced. I’m just glad we escaped before descending into a diabetic coma.

It was a good trip, and one I’m glad we made the time to take. But with our time winding up and Thanksgiving right around the corner, we hit the highway for the five hour drive back to Pensacola. We now have the holidays to plan and prepare for (our first holiday season as full-time liveaboards), and then we’ll have one more big push to take care of the last few things on Eagle Too that we believe she still needs to be ready to transport us to wherever we wish to go. Stay tuned!

Octogenarians Don’t Do WiFi

You may have noticed that we’ve gone quiet this past week. We’re currently in Gastonia, North Carolina (quite a ways from Pensacola, Florida) on the final leg of Rhonda’s Family Farewell Tour. There was a bit of a scramble last week as we packed the car and prepared to leave, and I didn’t have time to dash out a quick post about our upcoming trip. Since then, we’ve been traveling from house to house throughout the southeast United States visiting Rhonda’s extensive collection of aunts and uncles, all of whom are in their 80’s and 90’s, and none of whom have any kind of internet connection. We’ve basically traveled back to a simpler time, with rotary-dial wall phones and homemade preserves and lots and lots of quilts. And no WiFi. We’re actually at a cousin’s house today, one who has AT&T U-verse and high speed internet. I’m sitting on a porch swing sipping some 8 O’clock coffee and taking advantage of the opportunity to do this quick update and gorge on sailing and political blogs before we leave on our final leg prior to heading back home. We’ll have some details on the who’s, why’s and how’s next week.

One thing we were able to accomplish on the trip is to pay a visit to Diver’s Supply in Jacksonville, where we loaded up the trunk of the car with dive gear. Since we finished our open water Scuba certification last month, I’d been shopping online, putting gear packages together so that we’d have everything onboard that we’d need to go diving once we depart for our Life On The Hook™. But after discovering that the shop I settled on had a store in Jacksonville, I decided I’d much rather we try the gear on than just go by the online size descriptions, so we paid them a visit. It turned out to be time well spent, because not only did they have a much better gear selection than our Pensacola dive shops, and at better prices, but they were able to steer us toward some options that we were not familiar with, but which I think will better meet our needs. Plus they threw in a 20% discount and a few “we’ll throw this in for free” items due to the quantity of gear we were purchasing, something we couldn’t have gotten online.

We should be back sometime next week, just in time to try and figure out how we’re going to handle Thanksgiving this year, our first as full time liveaboards.

Until then, cheers!

A Debt Of Gratitude

I had a post half-drafted in my head this morning that would have looked at the ins and outs of propane tanks. But while I was finishing my breakfast and sipping a third cup of coffee, I heard the distant cadence of a marching band drumline drifting on the cool morning breeze, and I suddenly remembered today’s parade.


Even Google Took Note With A Special Doodle

It’s Veteran’s Day here in the United States. Some confuse it with Memorial Day, which is the day in May on which we honor those who gave their lives in service to our country. I suppose I can understand why there’s a bit of confusion on the matter, since the primary focus on both days seems to be Huge Blowout Sales! on furniture, cars, and crap at the mall. But while much of the world observes November 11th as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day to mark the end of the First World War and recognize those who gave their lives fighting it, here in the US it’s a day to salute anyone who has ever worn the uniform of our country and their families. And I just felt that the propane tanks could wait for a day or two.

So. Some random observations, since this is basically a stream of consciousness exercise.

First, one of my favorite quotes on the subject of veterans and military service comes from President John F. Kennedy, who in 1963 said:

“I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy’.”

I feel a surge of pride whenever I come across that quote, because as you may know, I’m a Navy veteran. As is my brother, our oldest son, and Rhonda’s father. I guess you could say it’s in our blood. Playing a very small part in the mighty effort to collapse the Soviet Union and free hundreds of millions of people from communist oppression is something I’m rather proud of. Now let me be clear here—I didn’t enjoy my time in the Navy, I tolerated it. We had an agreement, the Navy and I—I’d give them six years of my life, and they’d teach me interesting and useful things. And we both held up our ends of the bargain. The morning I awoke and realized that I was no longer in the Navy is among my happiest of days. But I wouldn’t trade a minute of it if I had it to do over again. It was that important to everything Rhonda and I have accomplished since.

Another quote I’ve seen recently that resonates with me is this one:

I once took a solemn oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Be advised that no one has ever relieved me of my duties under this oath.

I think its a sentiment that most veterans can relate to, this belief that even though we no longer wear the uniform, we feel a special obligation to continue to do what we can to ensure that the blessings of liberty accrue to our children and grandchildren, and thus why so many of us tend to be of strong opinion and politically minded. Particularly when we see the increasing level of contempt many of our institutions seem to have for our founding document and the freedoms it grants.

I have to just shake my head at many “adults” in today’s world, and how much they would have benefitted and grown as people if they had put down their video game controllers and smart phones, pulled up their panties, and given four to six years of their lives in service to something greater than themselves. Because at least until recently, the military hasn’t had the ability or desire to coddle and infantilize young men and women the way the rest of society does. You’re given great responsibility at a very young age, and expected to perform without excuse.

When I was 22 years old, I sat at the controls of a nuclear reactor on a billion dollar atomic submarine that carried more destructive firepower than all the munitions dropped in World War II. I had a superviser, an Engineering Watch Officer, to make sure I didn’t do something batshit crazy, but I knew more about how the reactor operated than he did and was basically trusted to make the right decision no matter what happened. And a lot can happen on a submarine at test depth, believe me. And you don’t get to hit “pause” so you can look up a cheat code to fix it. If you’ve never had the opportunity, I wish you could have lunch someday at the club on a military base, and see just how incredibly, almost unbelievably young these men and women are who fly enormous aircraft, pilot huge ships, lead armored brigades, and yes, drive submarines through the ocean’s blackest depths.

Today, a 26 year old is still a “child” covered under their parents’ medical insurance. At an age when I’d already finished my six years of service and moved on with my life, many of them are still living at home, bitching about wanting $15 an hour to serve french fries. Now let me be very clear that I think there are a lot of really terrific young men and women out there, working hard, making good decisions and applying themselves, improving their lives and the lives of those around them. But it also seems that our focus on meritless self esteem and cultural narcissism has produced way too many self indulgent children-in-adult-bodies who believe they are owed a comfortable existence and entitled to freedom from exposure to anything that could hurt their feelings or make them the least bit uncomfortable.

I thank God that our country has that strong foundation of 20 million armed forces veterans and their families to lean upon, people who know what it means to take the watch, stand a post, remain vigilant, and accomplish the mission regardless of the challenges. I believe we owe them all a debt of gratitude for voluntarily answering the call to service, as it is upon this foundation that I believe our country will continue to remain a place of unparalleled opportunity and freedom. So if you would, please join me in thanking a veteran today.

Now I’m off to Starbucks to get my free cup of coffee… 🙂


An Ounce Of Prevention

We all know the old saying. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is particularly true if you live on a boat and the thing you’re trying to prevent is a fire.

The ugly truth about fires on boats is that with all the flammable wood and plastic packed into such a small space, if a fire were to ever start, it would be pretty darn difficult to fight. If emptying an extinguisher at it doesn’t immediately put it out, then the fire probably isn’t going to stop until the boat is burned to the waterline. So it’s obviously a very good idea to employ a suitable ounce of prevention. And that means smoke detectors. And not just one, but several, located near the key hot spots on your boat—the galley, the engine compartment, and the main electrical panel, where problems are most likely to arise, and early notice of a problem can make all the difference.

So I was intrigued when I saw this while wandering the aisles of Lowe’s the other day:


This is something new, at least to me. It’s not your typical big old ugly smoke alarm. It’s a small little compact unit, which looked perfect for use onboard.


While not really a marine rated unit, at only $35 I thought it was worth a try. The ten year lithium battery means it will work independently of onboard power, and the small size makes it easy to find suitable places onboard to mount it. The conveniently located test button allows for easy checking of the device, which is one more task now added to our monthly list of inspections and equipment checks.

We tucked it behind the salon TV, above the main electrical panel, where it can remain alert to any brewing electrical problems.


Small, inexpensive, and with a design that looks right onboard—what’s not to like? If this little guy doesn’t develop brain damage and start randomly alarming like the evil carbon monoxide detector from hell mentioned in Terror In The Night, then we’ll probably pick up a couple more before departing for our Life On The Hook™.

The Natives Are Restless Tonight

“What’s that?” Rhonda asked as she arrived home from having dinner with family and climbed aboard in the gathering dusk.

Sitting in the cockpit awaiting her return, I took a final deep pull on my cigar, and then leaned my head back and exhaled a stream of pungent smoke into the cool night air. “Drums,” I said. “They’ve been at it for over an hour now. Want to go see?”

“Sure,” she replied, her curiosity aroused.

A moment to fix a couple of quick cocktails,  and then we ventured out into the deepening darkness, following the rhythms riding the mild sea breeze. They led us to Plaza de Luna, where we encountered this somewhat unusual scene:

As the percussionists explored variations on a rhythm, a small crowd of onlookers gathered, some swaying and twirling to the tribal beat. As we watched, others arrived carrying drums and took their places in the group.

After following the tempo through what seemed every possible iteration, someone would spontaneously vary the beat, and the drummers would adjust to the mutation in the rhythm as the dancers adapted their movements to keep time.

“Well this is something we haven’t seen before,” Rhonda observed.

“Indeed. In the ten months that we’ve been here, this is definitely new,” I agreed.

Who were they, and why were they drumming at our marina on a mild Tuesday evening? We have no idea. Like the man with the wild hair and bushy beard who randomly shows up to blow a ram’s horn (the voice of God, he calls it), it’s just another one of those little things that adds to the atmosphere of this place and makes it an extremely interesting location to live.

We may not have yet thrown off the lines and headed somewhere south of somewhere, but if one of the goals of cruising is to fill your life with new and interesting experiences, then I think we’re already well on our way. 🙂

I Love It When A Thing Just Works

Since purchasing Eagle Too, we have slowly worked our way through installation of an entirely new marine electronics package—wind, depth and speed instruments (the old ones were wonky and obsolete), chartplotters at the helm and chart table, autopilot, radar, and AIS (none of which were onboard originally). All Raymarine. The only thing we have onboard that isn’t from that particular vendor is our Sony marine stereo and the old Uniden VHF radio that’s still perfectly functional and thus not currently in need of replacement.

If there’s one thing that has undergone a radical transformation in the last one to two years, it is marine electronics. Until just recently, everything was designed to proprietary standards and formats. Nothing talked to anything else, or at least not easily. But PC technology (that would be of the computer variety, not the political variety) has finally bled over into the boating realm. For instance, our two chartplotters use standard Atom processors such as the ones you’d find in Android devices like Chromebooks and tablets. Everything talks over a marinized version of Ethernet.

Why does it matter? Because everything finally works and lives up to its full potential! Here’s an example. Raymarine is continually updating its core operating software, called Lighthouse II, to incorporate new features and capabilities. They just released an entirely new version that includes things like better integration of radar and AIS target tracking, enhanced WiFi capabilities, and wider chart support. I scanned the list of new features, and decided it was an update worth installing.

Now in the past, this would have involved downloading a bunch of  files, and then going from device to device performing individual updates using each one’s unique update process, probably with a break for lunch and possibly having to finish the next day. But not anymore. This time, it was a single (huge, like 1gb) data file, which I copied to a micro SD card. I then plugged it into my master chartplotter, and powered up the network. The plotter said “Oh look, new software!” and then searched the network for devices to update.


After choosing the devices I wished to update, I pushed Install Now, and it was off to the races. While I quietly sipped a cup of coffee, each device on the network was automatically updated and rebooted.


And in less than 10 minutes, it was done. The hardest part of the entire job was the original file download, and that was entirely due to how much our WiFi here at the marina sucks wind.

The only complaint I have about this whole state of affairs is how totally obsolete paper manuals have become. I’m old school. Probably because I’m old. When I want to look up a feature or how to change a setting on one of our gizmos, I’d much rather sit in the cockpit and open a manual than have to drag out and boot up the computer. In preparation for moving onboard last year, I printed out the latest version of the chartplotter operating manual and put it in a three ring binder. It was over 400 pages. And it’s now basically useless. It’s useless because other than the instructions for turning it on and off, the whole thing has been changed due to multiple software updates. And I’m not going to waste a gallon of printer ink (which costs more per ounce than fine French perfume) to constantly try and keep an up-to-date printed copy onboard. So I’ll have to learn to adapt.

But I do really love it when something just works.

The Monster Mash

It was Pensacola’s hottest ticket—probably one of the best costume parties in town. Held at the downtown Museum of Commerce, the annual Halloween event hosted by The Society Of Sinful Souls had a live band, open bar, a light buffet, and best of all for frugal sailors, it was completely free. But admission was by invitation only. And Rhonda just happened to have the right connections!


We needed costumes, and quickly! Fortunately, I still have my old Star Fleet uniform that Rhonda made me over 20 years ago (and it still fits!), and we had loads of Seahawks fan gear onboard.Halloween2

Suitably attired, off we went for a night of adult fun. The museum was a short four blocks from the marina. Once there, we danced…


We ate…

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We imbibed…

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And we checked out the amazing costumes…Halloween17

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We stayed out way too late, finally wandering back to the boat in the wee hours of the morning. But it was another great addition to our expanding collection of treasured memories as we start to wrap up this Summer Of Taking It All In. We can’t thank the Society of Sinful Souls enough for inviting us! And we’ve learned that we need to add Halloween costumes to our list of essential cruising gear.