I Did It My Way—The Uncooperative Patient

“I expected you to come in on crutches,” my therapist said at my first physical therapy appointment.

I hadn’t. I was wearing the leg brace my surgeon had prescribed, but rather than locking it rigidly as directed, I’d released it to swing 30° so that I could move my injured leg enough to limp along without crutches.

While lying in bed recovering from the surgery necessary to put my left knee back together, I’d had plenty of time to surf the web, researching the procedure my orthopedic surgeon had performed. I was particularly interested in the discussions on recovery time. The listed recovery range for a partial kneecap removal and patellar tendon reattachment ran from six weeks to one year, with the average being five to six months. I thought six weeks sounded pretty good. I wanted to be that guy. So I started pushing myself pretty aggressively.

It started while I was still in the hotel room we stayed in post-surgery while waiting to regain enough strength to be able to get back onboard Eagle Too. First I’d use my crutches to get back and forth to the bathroom. Then I started leaving one next to the bed, using the other as a cane. Within a couple of days, I was able to hobble back and forth without them.

Once back onboard, I started taking a daily walk. At first I could barely make it to the nearby street corner and back, stopping to pat the corner lamppost in triumph before returning to the boat, holding on to Rhonda the entire time to steady myself. After a few days, I was slowly adding distance to my route.

Two weeks after surgery, at my first follow-up with my surgeon, he told me I could begin weight bearing on the leg. “Way ahead of you, doc,” I said. “I’m already walking around the block every day.”

Two weeks later I started physical therapy. That’s when I surprised them by walking in rather than hobbling in on crutches. They were even more surprised when after two weeks of therapy I showed up without my leg brace. I just felt it was doing more harm than good. I understood the need to protect my knee from being flexed excessively and tearing the tendon repair. But walking with a cage on my leg was throwing my gait off so much that my hips would hurt like hell after a 20 minute walk. I could see where if I followed the prescribed regimen and wore the brace for 12 weeks, I’d need to learn how to walk all over again once it was off. So I jumped on Amazon and ordered a Velcro knee support to wear instead.

“You need to put that leg brace back on,” my therapist sternly lectured me.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much not going to happen, it’s killing my hips when I walk,” I replied.

“Well you really shouldn’t be walking so much,” he said unapprovingly. “I want you back in that brace.”

Another week, another therapy appointment. I again showed up with just my Velcro support.

“Have you been wearing your brace?” my therapist asked.

“Not one time,” I replied. We just stood and stared at each other for a moment, and then he shook his head and started warming up my knee with an ultrasound probe.

Rhonda and I resumed our Tuesday walks to the local AMC theater for $5 bargain movie days. Then we started going a few more blocks to Starbucks. Another week, and I was once again accompanying her on the mile walk to Publix for groceries. I started walking back wearing 20 lbs of groceries in a backpack.

At my six week post-surgery follow-up with my surgeon’s nurse, she was as dismayed as my therapists. But when I showed her that I could stand, walk, and move my leg freely, she shrugged, checked with the doctor and then wrote me a new physical therapy prescription authorizing strength training exercises.

Now it felt like I was getting somewhere. Rather than just standing and waving my leg around at therapy, I could start using the leg press machine and ride the stationary bike. Another week went by and then I decided to test myself. I’d been using Uber and Lyft to get back and forth to my therapy appointments. I now decided to get a ride to my appointment, and then walk the 1.5 miles back to the marina afterwards. It went OK, and that became my new routine. Last week, I started walking both ways. You should have seen my therapist’s face when I said I didn’t need to do any warmups since I’d walked a mile and a half to get there and I was pretty sure the knee was warmed up already.

And now it’s been over eight weeks since my surgery. My knee is a long way from being all better, but it’s strong enough that Rhonda and I can head into town for a festival and go to dinner, covering three or four miles in the process. More importantly, I can move around on deck, climbing up and over the dinghy to get to the anchor locker, or down the ladder on the stern to access the swim platform lockers. A few weeks ago I just didn’t have the strength in my left knee to climb around like that. I figure in a few more weeks, it won’t even be that difficult.

My next follow-up with my surgeon is in another week. I intend to tell him that he did such a wonderful job that he won’t be seeing me again. We love St. Petersburg, but we’ve been here way too long. It’s less than three months till hurricane season starts again, and we want to try and do some cruising. So unless it voids my warranty or he sees some major reason why I shouldn’t, we’ll probably push on south and head for the Bahamas for a couple of months. It sounds like a great way to recuperate!

Broken Parts and Dead Celebrities

As you may know, there’s an old superstition that says that celebrity deaths always come in threes. For example, did you know that Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett both died in the same week as Michael Jackson? Spooky, eh? It’s a common enough occurrence that whenever we hear of the death of someone famous, we wonder who the next two will be.

Apparently, this evil juju has now extended its influence to include the pieces and parts that make up a sailboat. Maybe this sinister cosmic force was just looking for something new to dabble in. Who knows.  But I’ve written before about how when you’re developing your cruising budget, you should plan on annually spending 10% of your boat’s purchase price on maintenance and repairs. As things would have it, this month was looking like a pretty good one for us. Probably due to the fact that we’re really just sitting in the marina while I recover from knee surgery and thus not using the boat much, I thought we were actually going to get away with no broken things needing expensive parts to fix, which definitely helps the financial bottom line. Not that we haven’t been paying to fix things lately. It’s just been money spent on doctors and physical therapy to fix my broken kneecap, rather than parts of the boat.

But then Rhonda noticed some water in the bilge. Not too much, just a few pints, but since we keep a dry bilge, any water down there means something is wrong. It’s the biggest reason why we encourage people to try and create a dry bilge. Not only does it help with odor control and keep the humidity down, it also gives you a clear warning when something starts to leak.

The good news was that the water was fresh, which meant a plumbing or rainwater leak. Finding saltwater in the bilge means your boat is slowly sinking, and the bilge pump is the only thing keeping you afloat.

I suspected I knew the source, and pulling the settee apart so that I could access the freshwater system revealed a leaking freshwater pump gasket. I jumped on the Defender site to order a replacement. While I was at it I also ordered an inline shutoff valve from Plumbingsupply.com that I’ve been wanting to install upstream of the pump so that I can easily isolate our water tank if I want to do some maintenance on the freshwater system.

New isolation valve on the left, and quick disconnects installed in pump wiring to make a future replacement easier.

Next, it’s that time of month when I like to run our outboard motor and generator to make sure the gas in the carburetors doesn’t go stale. It’s a precautionary routine maintenance task that we try to regularly do to ensure they’ll both easily start when we need them. But apparently we were now caught up in the rule of threes, because when I inserted the motor safety key in the stop switch so I could start the outboard, the red kill button fell off in my hand. It’s really not supposed to do that. While you can disconnect the switch and still start the outboard, it’s a bit hard to shut the motor off without this little piece of safety equipment. So I was off to Boats.net to order a replacement. I’m just glad this happened here at a dock in St Pete during a routine check, rather than somewhere down in the islands.

And then the discharge connection on the air conditioning pump got broken, meaning no more A/C or heat until we installed a replacement. So back to Defender I went to place another order.

So in less than 48 hours, we went from thinking we’d have a surplus in the monthly maintenance budget line to suffering three equipment failures requiring over $500 in parts. This naturally puts us right on target to maintain that 10% annual repair expenditure, but at least the law of threes is appeased, and order and balance has apparently been restored to the cosmos.

Our Latest Articles!

Rhonda and I were pleasantly surprised to open our February issue of Southwinds magazine and see that I had not one, but two articles published in the issue! With some of the bumps we’ve encountered along our cruising road this past month, this put a smile on our faces, and will even add some dollars to the cruising fund.

“A Cellular Plan for Cruisers,” our explanation of why and how we chose Google Fi as our cellular carrier for cruising, appears on page 48 of the February 2018 issue.

And “What’s In A Name,” a humorous look at picking a good name for a cruising boat, is on page 70.

If you’re interested, check your local marina or favorite marine store for a copy, or you can read them online at the Southwinds Magazine site:

Read the Current Issue of SOUTHWINDS Magazine

And don’t forget, if you enjoy the articles and would like to sample more of my writing, my science thriller Lunar Dance is still available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions! 🙂 Check the page margins for a link.

A Delightful Surprise

Before my recent injury, we’d ordered the new Waterway Guide to Cuba in order to start doing some detailed planning for our anticipated return there in February. We met the author, Addison Chan, at Marina Hemingway in Cuba last year, and we spent a couple of months buddy-boating with Addison and his wife Pat, traveling together from Cuba to Mexico and then to the Florida Keys. We didn’t know it at the time, but Addison was doing research for the guide as we traveled along the northwest Cuban coast toward Mexico.

The chances of our returning to Cuba this year are now looking pretty slim, but since I have some time on my hands while I recuperate, I’ve been browsing through the Cuba Waterway Guide. So imagine our surprise and delight when we realized that Eagle Too makes two appearances in the book!

More than just a cool reminder of our trip, I think this will also give us something to point to if the USCG ever questions our claim that we travel to Cuba under the Journalism license, doing research for a cruising guide to Cuba’s north coast.

The Road to Recovery

I’d never ridden in an ambulance before. I guess that’s a pretty good thing. But now here I was, strapped to a gurney, taking that dreaded ride. I can’t say I recommend it. The vehicle swayed and bounced, and if I hadn’t been belted down I probably would have ended up on the floor. Plus the service left a lot to be desired. I asked if I could have a little water. The EMT replied, “We don’t have any water, or peanuts either.”

“Really?” I said, with a “So that’s how it’s going to be” tone.

“Sorry, but we get asked that a lot. We don’t have any water.” At least she was smiling, so I think it was intended to be a lighthearted moment.

And a little while later, there I was in the ER treatment room, Rhonda by my side, as the doctor looked at my X-rays.

“You’re going to need surgery,” he said.

“It’s not just dislocated?” I asked with resignation.

“Lateral fracture of the patella,” he explained, showing me in the X-ray image where what should have been one bone was now two distinct pieces. “By the way, that was pretty badass, pushing your kneecap back into place,” he added. He said he’d worked with hockey teams quite a bit, had seen similar injuries, but couldn’t recall a time where the patient was able to relocate the broken bone himself. “Kudos,” he added.

The hospital arranged a consult with an orthopedic surgeon for the next day, but since my condition wasn’t severe enough to admit me, they gave me a leg brace, a pair of crutches, and a prescription for pain meds, and showed me the door. Unfortunately, in my current condition, there was no way I would be able to climb back onboard Eagle Too. We had to book a hotel room for the duration.

The next day, at the surgeon’s office, the doctor explained that the lower third of my kneecap was mush and unsalvageable, but the top two thirds looked pretty good. In my current state, my patellar tendon, which is what moves the lower leg, wasn’t connected to anything, which explained why I had no ability to lift or straighten it. But he felt pretty confident he’d be able to reattach the tendon to what remained of my kneecap, restoring normal leg function. A few weeks of recovery and a few months of physical therapy and I should be, if not quite as good as new, at least able to return to my normal range of activities. He scheduled the surgery for the next day.

We’d never used Uber before. It actually works really well. Until now Rhonda had been able to borrow a car from some friends in the marina (thanks Mike and Jen!) to transport me around. But they had plans today, so we took an Uber to the surgery center. I can see why the service has become so popular. Once you set the app up on your phone and enter your payment method, then you just type in where you need to go, and in minutes a car pulls up to take you there. No cash is required, as the payment is handled by the app. I guess if there’s one small bright spot in all this, it’s that we’ve learned a new way to get around.

The surgery went well. The doctor said I could walk on the leg while I was recovering, and that he’d see me in 12 days to take off the leg brace and unwrap everything. If it all looked good, I could then start physical therapy.

We stayed in a hotel for five nights, but I wanted to get back onboard Eagle Too as soon as possible. Not only is she our home, but the hotel bill was eating us alive. With Rhonda’s help and the assistance of friends in the marina I finally stepped back onboard five days after the accident.

With a few minor bumps, each day since has been better than the one before. I’m eight days post-surgery now, and while I still have a cage on my leg and a bandage from my ankle to my thigh, I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve been completely off pain meds for over 36 hours, and I can lift and walk on the leg with little pain. Rhonda has been taking very good care of me, and I’m quite fortunate to have such a capable partner. I can’t imagine what dealing with something like this would be like for a single-hander who doesn’t have someone to prepare meals and dispense meds and take care of all those little boat chores that still need doing like filling the water tank and adjusting the lines. Thank you for being there for me, dear!

So that’s where things stand as of today. I have my follow-up appointment next week, and I’m pretty sure it will go just fine. With Rhonda’s help I was able to get off the boat and take a short walk on the pier yesterday. Today we did it again and I went at least twice as far.  Hopefully before long my range will increase from just a brief stroll on the pier to being able to make it the three or four blocks into town so we can take in a few movies at the AMC or grab lunch someplace. It will probably be a while before I can get on a bike again though.

It’s still too early to tell what comes next for us. We’ll most likely call off the rest of this cruising season and return to Pensacola in a few months so that I can finish rehab at home. With luck, by spring this will all be just an unpleasant memory and we’ll be ready to head south again next fall. There is even a (remote, but not impossible) chance that if my leg heals enough in the next four to six weeks, we might be able to salvage at least a few months of the season, possibly traveling down to the Keys. We’ll see. I’d just need to feel confident in my ability to do things like get in and out of the dinghy, climb the stern boarding ladder or stand on the foredeck and work the anchor windlass without my left knee folding up.

I do know one thing though. If I ever decide to move forward with that cruising guide I’m considering writing, I’ll be able to approach the chapter on “Dealing with Medical Emergencies” from a position of firsthand experience!

In The Blink Of An Eye

Eagle Too tugged at her lines, dancing and swaying at the dock as she was buffeted by strong north winds. Rhonda and I slept fitfully, our rest constantly interrupted by sudden jerks and shudders. In the early AM, we simultaneously awoke, both realizing that the boat didn’t feel right. She had a pronounced list (lean) to port, and the boat wasn’t rolling back to level as she should. Something was wrong. And I had a pretty good idea what it was.

The full moon (the Wolf Moon) had shown brightly and clearly in the sky when we had gone to bed the previous evening. A full moon makes for spring tides (which has nothing to do with the season), with higher highs and lower lows than are typical. The strong north wind that had been blowing since the passage of a recent cold front had pushed an enormous amount of water out of Tampa Bay. Taken together, the result was an extreme minus tide. Poking my head up the companionway, I could see that Eagle Too was sitting almost four feet below the dock.

We’d been here at the St Petersburg Municipal Marina for over six weeks, and we’d “dialed in” our lines and fender board so our boat rose and fell to the tides with no adjustments necessary. But this super-low tide had us hanging from our lines, which had drawn up as tight as guitar strings, causing the boat to roll to port. I had to go ashore and loosen them to relieve the pressure or risk tearing out our deck cleats.

As I stood on deck, the dock was at about the level of my upper stomach. Placing my hands on the dock, I jumped up and got a knee on top of it while doing a pushup, easily scrambling up off the boat. Loosening the lines to take the pressure off our cleats, Eagle Too settled down into the water and rolled back to level. Job accomplished, all I wanted was to return aboard and crawl back into our still warm bed.

Because the lines were now loosened, Eagle Too was not only almost four feet below me, but the north wind had also pushed it about 2 feet away  from the dock. It seemed like the best way to get back aboard was to sit on the edge of the dock with my legs dangling over the side while Rhonda, who was still aboard, pulled the lines to try and pull the boat closer to the dock. She pulled the boat in as close as she was able, and then released the line and moved aside so I could jump back aboard. I swung my legs out in front of me, pushed off the dock with both arms, and launched myself in an arc toward what I thought was going to be a graceful landing onboard.

Maybe it was because the boat started drifting away as soon as Rhonda released the line, or maybe it was because the graceful arcing leap my youthful feeling brain attempted to perform was poorly executed by my not-so-youthful 59 year old body. But rather than both feet landing squarely on the deck as planned, I just barely caught the edge of the boat with the tips of my toes. Down I went, falling along the side of the boat, eventually catching myself with my elbows and preventing a fall into the frigid water.

A quick blast of pain told me I’d banged my left knee on the toerail of the boat as I slid down the side.  But my first concern was to get myself back onboard. Pushing myself upright and swinging my legs up over the side, I was able to clear the side of the boat, collapse onto the deck, and then crawl into the cockpit. I was relieved that I hadn’t gone swimming, and grateful that I hadn’t hit my jaw or head. We’ve known of others who had killed themselves in similar circumstances by hitting their heads, knocking themselves out and falling into the water and drowning.

With time to now evaluate the situation, I took stock of my condition. My arms and shoulders were a little sore from where I’d fallen onto them, but everything still worked. My biggest problem was that my left leg was really starting to throb, and I couldn’t move it very much. I pulled up the leg of the sweatpants I’d donned to go topside, and the first thing I noticed was that my left kneecap was now on top of my thigh.

“Well that can’t be good,” I thought. “Better put it back where it belongs.” I believed it was most likely dislocated, and pushing it back into place seemed like the right thing to do. So I put my left palm on the lump atop my thigh, placed my right hand over the left, and then gently walked my patella back to the front of my knee. I needed a couple of minutes to catch my breath after that, but then I took my leg in my hands and began slowly flexing the knee to make sure nothing else was broken while Rhonda went below to grab an ice pack.

“OK, this is going to be fine,” I thought. “A few days of ice and compression and I’ll be good as new.” Just then one of the marina dock managers walked by, checking to see how boats were handling the low tide. “How’s it going?” he asked.

“Not so good,” I replied, rubbing my knee with both hands. “I just fell back onboard after adjusting our lines, and I banged my knee up pretty good.”

A look of concern crossed his face. “Do you want me to call someone?” he asked.

I started to say no, that I’d be fine. But I had enough presence of mind to realize that maybe I wasn’t. It probably wouldn’t hurt to get it checked out. So the marina called EMS. While waiting, the adrenaline starting subsiding, which had been hiding the pain. By the time EMS arrived, I realized asking for help had been the right call. The EMS crew agreed, and radioed the Fire Department. It was going to take a whole bunch of people to lift this 200 lb invalid up off the boat, onto a dock, and into a gurney.

The day had started as just one of those days where life had tossed us a little challenge that we often encounter in our Life On The Hook™. But in the blink of an eye, everything had changed, and now I was taking my first ambulance ride.

More to follow…

It’s our Cruise-iversary!

Today is a significant day. It’s the anniversary of the latest chapter in our life together, the start of our Life On The Hook™. It was December 27th, 2014 that Rhonda and I first moved onboard Eagle Too and became full time liveaboards. That means that today marks the beginning of our fourth year of this latest stage of our lives.

How did we spend the day? Helping another newly minted cruising couple better understand their new-to-them boat and some of the challenges (the unknown unknowns) that they have ahead of them. After thousands of miles of cruising and three years as dwellers-upon-the-sea, we feel we’ve learned quite a bit about this crazy and unconventional life. Enough so that when asked, we feel comfortable sharing some of that knowledge and experience with others now embarking on a similar path. We’ve gone from being the sponges that eagerly soaked up all the wisdom more experienced cruisers were willing to share to being those who are (occasionally) asked for guidance and advice. It’s help that we’re happy to provide, as we feel we’re paying forward the kindness and wisdom of those who helped us in the past.

Who knows, maybe that would be a great subject for another book … 🙂

So what’s next for the crew of the good ship S/V Eagle Too? Well, after the holidays, which we’re spending here in St Petersburg (because it’s 76° here, while it’s 49° back home in Pensacola) we’ll start working our way south. We’ve received permission from the Coast Guard to once again travel to Cuba, and we hope to make the jump across the Straits of Florida to that island nation in mid-February. So stay tuned, for there appears to be yet more adventure ahead as we begin our fourth year of this cruising life!

A Merry Cruiser’s Christmas

One of the first things we learned when adjusting to our Life On The Hook™ is how little space there is onboard for extraneous stuff. If we can’t eat it, it isn’t related to safety or security, serve multiple purposes, or address an ongoing need, then there just isn’t room for it on S/V Eagle Too. For that reason, our initial plans to pack along a small collection of Christmas lights, decorations and a modest artificial tree so we could celebrate the season quickly collided with our new reality, and it all ended up in our storage unit.  We just couldn’t find space onboard for things that would only be used once a year.

Because she misses her garden, Rhonda tries to maintain a few small herb plants onboard. It gives her something to grow and nourish, and also spices up our cuisine. So when she found a small rosemary plant shaped like a tiny Christmas tree at the grocery store, we gave it a home. It provided Santa a place to leave a few presents, and once the holidays are over, it will supply savory spice for our steaks and stews. It checks the boxes of being multi-functional and edible, and so a new tradition is born!

We’ve definitely gotten into the spirit of the cruiser’s minimalist Christmas here aboard Eagle Too. Rather than an orgy of conspicuous consumption, our holiday has become  a day to relax, reach out to family and enjoy some scrumptious food. It’s almost embarrassing to look back at our first Christmas aboard! How far we’ve come.

Rhonda and I want to take a moment to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and extend our best wishes for your pending New Year.

Fuel By The Numbers

Trigger Warning: This post includes math. If this causes you anxiety, you may want to go browse through some of our other posts instead.

One of the lessons we’ve learned in the over 5,000 nautical miles we’ve traveled since embarking on our Life On The Hook™ is how reliant we are on our engine to get around. While we may live on a sailboat, we don’t really do that much sailing, because of the wind’s uncanny ability to always blow too much, too little, or from exactly the wrong direction. If we relied on the wind alone to get where we wanted to go, we’d probably spend months waiting for just the right conditions, or it would take five times longer to get where we were headed. I’d say we spend roughly 80 to 90% of our time underway either motoring or motor sailing. It always surprises new cruisers when we share this lesson with them, but whenever we catch up with them further down the line, they usually admit we were right.

Being as reliant as we are on our trusty little Yanmar diesel, you can imagine how unfortunate it would be to run out of fuel. We always keep a close eye on our fuel tank level, and a big part of planning for any passage is making sure we have enough fuel onboard to motor the entire way if necessary.

While we obsessively watch our fuel level, you may be surprised to find out that this gauge really isn’t very important or even useful:

It only provides a rough estimate of the level in our tank, probably plus or minus 25%. We’ve learned that we can be down six to eight gallons and the gauge will still say full, and when we’re underway and the boat is rolling, it will swing wildly over half its range. It also hits empty long before we are critically low, causing needless anxiety.

It turns out that this is actually a much more useful tool to tell how full our tank is:

How does the engine hours meter tell us how much fuel we have onboard? It’s really very easy. It all comes down to knowing our burn rate, or how much fuel our engine uses in an hour. When you know your burn rate, you can multiply that by the number of hours since your last fill-up to determine exactly how much fuel you’ve burned, and thus how much you have left (because you know how many gallons your fuel tank holds, right?).

So how do you determine your fuel burn rate? To get a rough estimate, you just fill up your tank, run the engine for a while, and then fill the tank back up again. Now divide how many gallons it took to fill up the tank by the number of hours you ran the engine, and you’ll get an answer in gallons per hour. This is your burn rate. Do this several times and average the results, and you’ll get an increasingly accurate estimate of your actual number. In our case, the year or so we spent sailing our local waters around Pensacola gave us an estimated burn rate of .6 gallons per hour.

Now this rough estimate was fine for ensuring we’d never run out of fuel while sailing our local waters, where we had numerous places to refuel. But when we started actively cruising, actually crossing oceans and traveling to remote places where there were fewer opportunities to refuel, we wanted to have a more precise number. That’s where a fuel log becomes vitally important.

In the back of our maintenance log, we have a section in which we record the engine hours every time we add fuel, and the number of gallons added. We began the process by carefully filling our fuel tank until fuel came out the vent, which told us it was completely full. For several months of cruising, we’d log our hours and gallons whenever we added fuel. After several hundred engine hours and over a hundred gallons of fuel burned, we once again filled the tank to the vent, bringing it back to full. Dividing the total engine hours by the total amount of fuel consumed gave us a much more accurate burn rate value of .664 gallons per hour.

Why go to all this trouble? Two main reasons. First, when we pull up to a fuel dock to fill up, the last thing we want to have happen is to overfill the tank, spill fuel out the vent and create a fuel spill in the marina. It makes everyone very cranky, and you can actually be fined for the environmental impact. If you’ve never been at a fuel dock, you may not know that because most sailboat fuel tanks are vented, they don’t build up the backpressure necessary to make the pump automatically click off like it does when you fill the tank of your car. When the tank is full, they just keep pumping, spilling fuel out the vent. So you need to have a way to know how much room there is in your tank so you know when to stop pumping.  A quick check of our fuel log and a simple calculation (engine hours since last fillup x burn rate) tells us exactly how much room there is in the tank and thus how much to pump.

Second, having this information lets us calculate our maximum range under power, which is a pretty good thing to know when planning to cross an ocean. For example, we carry 35 gallons in our tank, we want to maintain a 5 gallon reserve for emergencies, and we have 20 gallons of fuel on deck in Jerry cans. We know we can motor for (35 gal tank + 20 gal in jugs – 5 gal reserve) x .65 gal/hr = 76.9 hours. Let’s just call it 77 hours. Now we can calculate our maximum range for various speeds. If the wind, current and sea state limits our average speed to 5 knots speed over ground (SOG), we can travel  77 hrs x 5 nm/hr = 385 nautical miles under power. If things are a bit calmer, we’re not bashing into a swell or fighting a contrary current and can maintain closer to 6 knots, our range is 462 miles.  If we find one of those rare weather windows with calm seas, light and variable winds and no current, at cruise RPM we can maintain closer to 7.5 knots SOG, which would give us a maximum range of 577 nautical miles. We can also run the numbers in the other direction. If we know we can motor for 77 hours, we’ve been underway under power for 48 hours, and we have 120 miles left to go to our destination, we have enough fuel to complete the trip as long as we can maintain at least 4.2 knots SOG (120 ÷(77-48) = 4.13)

I’ll admit it takes a bit of discipline to keep an accurate fuel log, but the peace of mind we get from knowing exactly how much fuel we have and how far we can travel is worth the effort. The results speak for themselves. We went 11 months between complete fillups this year (i.e. fuel out the tank vent), putting 300 hours on the engine and burning 200 gallons of fuel. To completely fill the tank took 3.1 gallons more than I expected, which means our calculations were off by only 1.5%.

The Designer Gods, They Must Be Crazy

We cruise on what is commonly called a “production boat.” This means Eagle Too is the nautical equivalent of a Chevy or Ford. There are those who say production boats are unsuitable for cruising. We say that’s nonsense. But our recent visit to the St Petersburg Boat Show has me wondering whether that’s still true for the new models now being produced. While we enjoyed the opportunity to climb aboard a variety of boats and inhale that new boat smell, some of what I saw truly horrified me. Designers have in many cases focused on building very expensive houseboats with a mast. They have automatic dish dryers, wide screen televisions that disappear into hidden compartments and multi-channel surround sound, but I think trying to take them to sea in anything but the most benign conditions would be highly inadvisable.

Here are some examples, in no particular order. For starters, what’s wrong with this picture?

Can you imagine trying to reset a dragging anchor in the middle of the night while having to straddle that hatch? To show you that this isn’t a quirk of just one builder, here’s another example from a different manufacturer.

Let’s just put a big fragile hatch with a No Step sign right where you absolutely need to stand while anchoring. By the way, did you happen to notice that these hatches open the wrong way if you want to catch the breeze while at anchor?

Another common “feature” is the long, projecting bow roller assembly necessary to allow the anchor to clear the plumb bow that’s all the rage with designers today. I observed that while this assembly was almost the equivalent of a bowsprit due to how far it projected out the front, the gauge of steel wasn’t anywhere near robust enough to stand up to the forces of a boat surging and sailing at anchor in a blow. The stainless looked to be about half the thickness of that on our boat’s bow roller, and would probably fold up like cardboard if you loaded it up laterally, as is common with the boat swinging about when anchored in storm conditions.

Next, imagine trying to work on these foredecks in any kind of sea state. Other than the lifelines, what the hell could you hold onto to keep from being pitched overboard?

Look how far it is to the nearest handrail.

Now I don’t know about you, but when we’re underway, we spend a lot of time behind the wheel. We have a big comfy West Marine captain’s seat, the one with the armrests, that whoever has the helm uses.

But on so many of the boats we looked at, the helm seat was treated as a major annoyance that looked like the designer was forced to include against their wishes. It was obviously much more important to design it to easily fold out of the way in order to open up the wide stern tailgate than to actually provide the helmsperson a comfortable place to sit.

There’s not enough room on these little planks to use our big blue chair, much less stand a four hour watch in rolling seas.

Another current design trend is to carry the boat’s maximum beam all the way aft. While this creates enormous space down below, this also results in huge, open cockpits. Cockpits with practically nothing to brace against when the boat heels to the breeze. Just imagine how far the fall would be to the far side of this cockpit if you slipped off the seat with the boat heeled 20 to 30 degrees. If you were lucky, maybe the lifelines on the far side would stop you. Or maybe they would just carve you up like a cheese slicer as you fell overboard.

The builders made a subtle acknowledgement of the problem by molding these little toe-stubbers into the cockpit floor on some boats. Yes, this is all you get to brace against to keep yourself in place while surfing down eight foot rollers.

Or you could perch on the little plank (with no backrest) that’s provided for the helmsmen. But at least you have the room to hold a Mambo contest in the cockpit if you wanted to.

That wide beam also leads to open, airy salons down below. But tell me how exactly you’re supposed to maneuver around this cabin in any kind of sea state. I guess you just pick your next point and launch yourself towards it, as there’s nothing to hold onto in route. Hopefully you’ll make a soft landing. Or maybe they expect you to crawl. But hey, it has an icemaker!

And do you happen to see anything to hold onto as you try to exit the salon on this boat and climb up to the cockpit?

Sometimes I like to operate the occasional breaker on our boat’s main breaker panel. You know, like if the sun sets and we want to turn on the running lights, or we’re craving some tunes and want to turn on the stereo. Things like that. But in new boats, I guess people don’t do those things anymore, because getting to the breaker panel requires you to crawl over the settee.

And I suppose I’m just being a cranky old salt, but occasionally we do like to start our engine, which means we need to be able to reach the throttle and shifter. But I guess if you own one of these expensive new dock queens, such things really don’t matter. So the throttle/shifter is located where you have two choices — you can either reach through the wheel, or you can squeeze your arm through the 3 inch gap between the wheel and the coaming.

There’s more, but I think you get the point. Pony up a half a million dollars, and you too can have a boat that looks and smells wonderful. But actually take it out in anything more than a Force 3 wind? Forget it!

Crazy.