Monthly Archives: March 2013

How can we make this harder?

I got up early this morning and checked my email to get the tracking number for our new portable SSB receiver. I clicked the link and — oh NO! — the package was sent UPS, not FedEx. I had it shipped to the FedEx Office store as hold for pickup because, you know, they do that. For FedEx. Not so much for UPS. I called the store and they confirmed. Nope. Can’t accept a delivery. They suggested I call UPS and have it rerouted to one of their stores but UPS told me that they will only do that if I have an account at the specific store. At this point I turned on the waterworks and cried to the woman on the phone. What am I going to do? I asked. It’s a holiday weekend and I need that boat part! Eventually she agreed to call the driver and tell him I would wait in front of the FedEx store until he came. Luckily there was a Starbucks a few storefronts down so the waiting wasn’t too unbearable.


Finally my man arrived and I ran into the parking lot to retrieve my package.


The new radio is the direct replacement for my old portable receiver I’ve had for years that doesn’t work. I’m still hanging on to it just in case I can get someone to fix it for me. But in the meantime. I can happily hear the high seas weather broadcasts so we will be safe at sea while we figure out the big SSB.



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Get it in gear

Now that all of our company is gone and we’ve been de-catted, we’re trying to get organized enough to take advantage of the next weather window to move on. Jack is recovering nicely, and while he’s not exactly 100% he’s well enough for sailing south.

Yesterday we moved the new AIS unit from its original installation location to a more accessible place. We weren’t thinking this through at the time we installed it, but in order to access the advanced networking functions we have to be able to hook it up to a laptop via a USB cable. Oops! It was way back behind the starboard engine, requiring one of those gymnastic feats boating requires from time to time. We considered getting a long USB cable and leaving it in place but in the end it made more sense to move the AIS box itself, which, except for the gymnastic feat of detaching it and attaching an extension to the VHF antenna wire, turned out to be not too difficult a job.


It’s now inside the closet of the Presidential Suite where I can check the status lights and hook up a USB for programming. Nice!


We were sure that the AIS installation would be our last electrical/electronic fix for a while, but sometime in the last couple of weeks our Marine SSB radio ceased to function. I’ve had a hard time learning how to use it from the beginning but now I can’t get any signal at all. Normally I wouldn’t worry about it, but the radio is our only way to get weather information offshore and it’s not safe without it. We had this problem soon after we moved aboard but it turned out to be a loose antenna connector. This time we checked and cleaned all the connections and did whatever troubleshooting recommended by friends and online forums with no success.

We have a wonderful portable radio that would serve the purpose. If it were working. But that crapped out a long time ago. Online research tells me it’s a pretty common and simple fix, but I haven’t been able to find anyone to do it. We rented a car for the last day Drew and Ericka were here so we could buy an airline-approved cat carrier and transport the new nuclear unit to the airport. Of course any time we have a car it’s a shopportunity and we took full advantage. Top on the list was a trip to Mike’s Electronics, a ham radio shop not too far from here. Mike had the VHF extension cable we needed for the AIS, and we asked him if he could fix the portable radio. He could not. Then Drew and I asked for troubleshooting tips on the SSB and he spent time patiently walking us though a few basic steps.



Unfortunately, nothing helped. I hate that damn thing. Every time I turn it on I am reduced to tears because it is so incomprehensible to operate. If anyone has any ideas on how I can determine if the radio is broken or if I’m just an idiot, please let me know. It did work before; now it doesn’t. I don’t know what could have happened, and I haven’t used it often enough to even know when it ceased to work. We’ve done a lot of electrical work lately and I hope nothing we’ve done affected the rig.

I don’t want to be delayed any longer so I decided to buy a new portable. Sadly the broken one I have was the gold standard in portable Worldband/SSB radios but it’s no longer made and used ones are selling for as much as they used to cost new. The replacement model is by all accounts not as good, but whatever. If I can get weather reports on it and listen to the BBC then I’m ok with it. But then we run into the usual problem. No one carries the radio locally so I have to mail order, but we have no address. We asked the marina where we buy dinghy fuel if we can have a package sent there. No. We asked the Raw Bar where we pay $10 a day to park our dinghy. No. We asked a mail service around the corner. Yes, for $10, which adds $20 to the cost of the radio because we have to park the dinghy to get there. Finally, I asked the local FedEx office if I can Fedex it to them marked Hold at Location. Yes. We still have to park the dinghy for $10 but it’s the best I could do. If all goes well we’ll have a new SSB receiver some time tomorrow.

Without the big radio I won’t be able to send or receive email once we leave the US unless we can get Internet wherever we anchor, so our communications situation will be more dire than we expected. Fair warning.


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Only a matter of time

The first time I saw this face, quivering, shaking uncontrollably in Marce’s arms, I knew this day would come.

She’d just been snatched from underneath an SUV on a firecracker hot July day in Trader Joes parking lot. Helpless but a real survivor, you could put her into a teacup. The Vet said she had about one more day left in her.

The last of our three cats had passed and we knew that, where we were heading, many countries had stupid quarantine rules regarding pets on boats.

Most pet owners will say that their pet is so special but this story is unique in that I’m not lying. Izzy “Adventure Kitty” Katzenbaum is a true character and people fall in love with her immediately, and so did we. Within a week we knew that you could search for a lifetime and not come up with a cat as sweet and funny and spirited as Izzy.

So…today is the day. Our kids called and said that she handled both flights with aplomb and grace, like a pro, which anyone whose read this blog knows she is. I’m not surprised at all.

Upon returning to Escape Velocity, which we knew would be tough, there were no cheerful greetings at the door, and a dreadfully empty boat. We silently went about getting rid of all things cat. It’s a sad, sad day.







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Down one crew

Jack lost his reading buddy today. She’s winging her way to Pittsburgh to swallow the anchor and become a dirt dweller. We’ll miss her terribly but she’ll have fun playing in the yard where she’ll have room to run.



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The view from the side deck

Izzy’s penultimate night aboard Escape Velocity. Our hearts are heavy.



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Stop dragging my boat around

Our company continues, with Drew and Ericka aboard for a week, and a surprise visit by another Pittsburgh friend Mike, who used to live right around the corner and was part of our Christmas dinners several years in a row. We picked Mike up at the Raw Bar and had lunch before the very windy run back to Escape Velocity. There was a front moving through and we had 15-25 knots with gusts approaching 30 all day. As we were coming down the last canal toward Lake Sylvia my phone rang, which it never does, and I saw that it was Lisa from True Colors. I figured she was calling about our sundowner date that evening and decided to return the call when we got back to the boat where it’s quieter.

As we came under the canal bridge we saw there was someone on the bow of our boat, and there was a powerboat dangerously close to our bow, fishing their anchor up. It was Marty on our boat and we realized we had moved.

We pulled the dinghy up and struggled to hold her in the wind. “What happened?” we asked Marty.

“You dragged.”

We scrambled on board as Marty got in his dinghy and motored over to the powerboat. It looked to us like their anchor was fouled in ours and I ran up the side deck to see what was happening. The wind gusted and blew the brim of my hat down over my face and I ran full force into the port shroud, the heavy wire that holds up the mast. I was thrown backward and I could hear Lisa from the deck of True Colors yelling “Are you ok?”

“No!” I yelled back. I saw stars. After a few seconds I got my bearings back and ran to the bow. There was a young girl fiddling with the anchor on the powerboat. “Are you hooked?” I shouted to her. She just looked at me with no understanding of what was going on.

Meanwhile, Jack started the engines. We powered away from the two boats we had dragged too close to, then went out on the side deck together to discuss where to re-anchor. It was Sunday, and the lake was packed. There was very little swinging room and the wind was gusty and flukey. We picked a spot and while Jack manned the anchor windlass I powered us up to the anchor, then held us in the right spot while we dropped the anchor down again.

All the while we had Drew, Ericka and Mike standing back in horror at the sudden activity. Then Drew went on the bow to assist Jack while Ericka and Mike rolled up the sunshades so I could see out the side decks, then spotted for me as I kept the boat where we wanted it.

Eventually we were comfortable with our position and certain we were hooked well, and with the proper scope. Jack and I couldn’t understand what had happened, since we’ve been anchored in the same spot for a couple of weeks and well hooked. Jack thinks the powerboat snagged our anchor and dislodged it. Marty says it looked to him like we dragged onto the powerboat, although they were upwind of us. In any case, the young man in the powerboat offered to tow us where we wanted to be, and generally looked sheepish. A little later the police came through on their regular rounds and the powerboat hightailed it out of there as if they were afraid of being stopped.

After all the excitement we managed to have a brief visit with Mike.


The wind was predicted to continue until about 7 pm so to be sure we were safe, Jack and Drew took Mike back to the Raw Bar while Ericka and I stayed aboard to make sure we didn’t drag again. When Jack and Drew got back we had a nice sundowner aboard True Colors.


Back on Escape Velocity we had a family Sunday dinner like the old days, then Jack and I settled in to watch 60 Minutes and The Amazing Race. By the time The Good Wife came on Drew and Ericka retired to their cabin. Jack noticed that we’d swung 90 degrees from where we’d been, and we both remarked on how loud True Colors’ generator was. Jack went out to the cockpit, then immediately ducked his head inside and said, “Marce, we’re moving.”

I ran outside to find True Colors right at our stern. I could have touched it. In fact, Jack did. As I started the engines, Jack reached out and gave True Colors a shove and the two boats slowly moved away from each other. Then we noticed the man on the boat behind True Colors was on deck flashing a light trying to get someone’s attention.

When they heard the engines start, Drew and Ericka came out to help. Jack and I were totally calm, not least because the wind had completely died down and we weren’t in danger of hitting anyone. Also, the day boats had all left the anchorage leaving plenty of room for us to pick a better spot to re-anchor. Ericka rolled up the dodger so I could see and hear Jack. Drew fished out the portable spotlight and flashlights and went out on deck to help Jack. Jack and I conferred on deck again about where to drop the hook and we had the anchor up and moved in short order.

We had not dragged, but rather in the tight quarters we had to deal with for the earlier re-anchoring we had probably put out a bit too much chain so that when the tide and wind changed and everyone was pointing every which way – something that happens a couple times a day here in the lake — we got out of phase with the boats closest to us and swung too close to True Colors.

When we got buttoned up and shut the engines down, we all looked at each other and laughed. We agreed none of us would be sleeping much that night. In fact every one of us jumped at the least little sound and went outside to check our position, only to find the was someone else also checking. Ericka said she doesn’t know how we ever sleep on board.

In fact, this was incredibly unusual. We dragged once in the Hudson River in a storm, but had plenty of room and didn’t have to re-anchor until morning when the conditions had improved. And we dragged once in the ICW at Cape Canaveral when we were hit with an unpredicted squall from the wrong direction. But we had never dragged after being securely anchored for so long.

So Drew and Ericka got to experience the true nature of cruising: 99% boredom and 1% panic.


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Scenes from the ‘hood

Lake Sylvia is the only place to anchor in the Fort Lauderdale area. We’re surrounded by lavish homes and expensive marinas but the only place for folks like us to drop the hook and stay awhile is here in the Lake. The funny thing is that we rarely see any lights on in the houses around us. The owners must be off in Gstad or Paris, leaving the housekeepers, landscapers and pool men to care for the joint until they decide to visit for a week or two. With the holidays coming up we’ve noticed a little more activity ashore and we expect some lights on next week.

One of the houses closest to our current position has five gas-fired cauldrons that light on a timer every night. They stay on for a few minutes, then turn off again, but every night when they come on we think of Tribal Council and wonder who’ll be voted off this time.

Last weekend was St. Patrick’s Day, and we had beautiful weather. On Saturday a large tramp workboat converted to a cruiser anchored not too far from us, and then one by one, sailboats entered the lake and rafted up alongside the Mi-T-Mo. They were all flying a pink flag with SSSF on it, and each boat brought the whole shebang closer and closer to EV. Jack and I stood on deck and tried to discourage the last few boats from tying up because if the wind shifted we’d be in trouble. The skippers ignored us and set about drinking and partying for hours.


Luckily, there was no wind shift and Jack managed to get his nap in despite the hubbub nearby. We learned it was the Single Sailors of South Florida, and they carefully detached themselves and motored away before dark.


Sunday Jack was well enough to have lunch at the Raw Bar where we were surrounded by serious Irish and entertained by a wandering bagpiper.




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A company town

Maybe it’s because we’re in a vacation spot or maybe it’s because we’re getting closer to leaving the country but suddenly we’ve been enjoying more company than we’ve had up ’til now. Nancy and Dave were here for the Deluxe Cleveland Clinic Experience, of course. Then we had an afternoon visit from a blog reader who dreams of the cruising life. We spent so many years planning and working toward our goal that we were happy to listen to another path and share our experience, such as we have to this point.

Now it’s spring break and yesterday our niece Emily, her friend Jason and Jason’s aunt came to see us on EV.


It didn’t take long for Emily and Jason to strip down to their swimsuits and test the Lake Sylvia waters.



We had a great time just hanging out but when it was time to go the rains came and we plumbed EV’s raingear collection to keep everyone semi dry for the long dinghy ride back to land.






Sharp-eyed readers will notice I’m wearing a cycling rain jacket, unearthed from a drawer full to the brim with cycling gear. I hope we get back to our bikes sometime soon; we sure miss riding!

Next up for company: son Drew and daughter-in-law Ericka. We haven’t see Drew since last September, and Ericka in over a year!

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Life goes on

Its easy to imagine that living on a boat is a permanent vacation, but we still have the same concerns as land-based people. We still have bills to pay and records to keep. In our house we had a basket that we threw all of our receipts in but here on the boat there are already way too many baskets, and sometimes it can get too breezy to have unsecured bits of paper. Months ago Jack started putting receipts in a clear plastic office envelope and while I wasn’t watching they multiplied. It’s my job to enter them into our bookkeeping software and categorize them. Eventually this leads to the monthly summary on the What it costs page, and gives us good records to refer back to about when we bought something and where and for how much.

With Jack still recovering and our activity level at a low ebb I forced myself to dig into the envelope and get some of the record keeping under control. It took me the better part of the day, but I got through most of it. The good news is that once the receipts are entered and the charges have cleared the bank or credit card I can toss them out. There is no room on a boat for long term file storage.


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The view from the back steps



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