Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 39)

Friday, July 17, 2009

by Mike

We made it! They opened the 17th Street bridge for us at 12:00 noon. We parked at the marina shortly after.

Fishing Report:

Another barracuda.

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 38)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

by Mike

Today we planned eight, or maybe nine dives, all wreck dives except for the first one. We entered the waters west of the Florida Keys before sunup and anchored at our first dive spot around 6:30. We slept until 8:00, waiting for good light for diving.

Our first dive was at 50-65 feet in a flat area a east of the Dry Tortugas. The bottom was full of coral and full of fish. There weren’t any coral structures, just a lot of coral growing in the sand.

Preparing for our second we drove around the spot on the map that had the wreck symbol until we saw a structure on out fish finder. Then we anchored and headed downward. There was a very strong current so we pulled ourselves forward to the anchor chain on a rope and then headed to the bottom holding on to the chain. The current was weaker at the bottom (75 feet) but still required constant hard swimming to keep from losing ground. The wreck was a small boat. There were two large (400 pounds?) groupers hanging around the wreck.

For our third dive we repeated the anchoring process. The current was not quite as strong, but still moving fast enough that we held onto the anchor chain for the descent. At 30 feet we passed a thermal cline into cold water. The visibility went to less than 10 feet at that point. We went to the bottom (70 feet) and swam looking for a wreck for 20 minute and gave up.

Our next wreck spot was in 65 feet of water. We never saw a structure on the fish finder, but we did see some nice structures and what appeared to be a steep wall on the way there so we anchored and dived there. This was a nice place with a good, but small, wall. The upper part was 25-35 feet and the lower part went down to 60 feet. Slight current and good visibility made this dive very enjoyable.

Our next wreck spot was in 16 feet of water. The water was so murky we skipped it. And we looked for two more in that same area and skipped both of them, due to no structure and murky water. We decided to head south, away from the Florida Bay and toward the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to have better visibility.

For our fifth dive we found some structures at 65 feet on the fish finder next to a wreck spot on the map. The current was manageable. The water was warm and clear until we hit 30 feet. Then it turned cold and visibility reduced to about 15 feet. We both swam around at 50+ feet for more than 30 minutes looking for anything. Neither of us saw anything except sand and a few jellyfish at the surface. Very barren.

We found some very well-defined structures on the fish finder for our sixth dive. In the water we found no wreck. However, we found some wonderful coral structures teeming with fish. Probably the biggest concentration of fish I have ever seen. Thousands of them, and dozens of different kinds. We spent about an hour at 30-45 feet enjoying the dive.

It was 7:30 when we finished our sixth dive and we were tired. Six dives and five tanks of air each. We relaxed and headed for Fort Lauderdale.

Fine Dining:

I’ve found that diving creates a lot of hunger. After the first dive was French toast – lots of it – and fried eggs, too. The second dive was capped by a banana covered with peanut butter.  And we finished off a bag of chips ahoy, too (it was already open, so we didnt eat the entire thing, just most of it). After the third dive Bob made tuna sandwiches. We had a fairly long break after the fourth dive. That allowed time for crackers and cheese, an apple, and cereal. And I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, since we ran out of chips ahoy.

Then an odd thing happened. Nothing was eaten between dives five and six. I guess the stomach can only hold so much.

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 37)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

by Mike

Staying 12 miles away from Cuban soil, we started rounding the western tip of Cuba early this morning. We should enter the waters near Florida in the morning.

Fishing Report:

The Gulf Stream produced! Bob caught a barracuda. I caught some seaweed.

Fine Dining:

Cooked more fish. Mackerel. Still good!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 36)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

by Mike

Some rain showers early this morning cooled things off. I actually put a towel over my legs to keep warm while I was reading.

We made good time from Grand Cayman overnight but a head current started increasing this morning, reaching more than two knots in the afternoon. It feels better to be going 8.5 knots than 6.5 knots.

The cruise ship business seems to be in good order. In addition to the numerous cargo ships we have passed, or been passed by, we have seen several cruise ships.

Fishing Report:

Fishing conditions south of Cuba are sad. No fish today. After we round the tip of Cuba tonight we’ll enter the Gulf Stream. That should change our luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 35)

Monday, July 13, 2009

by Mike

I took Elizabeth and Fullerton to the airport at 6:00 this morning. Back to civilization for them and now I’m stuck with Bob. It sure was nice having them along for as long as they could stand us.

After that we got fuel, picked up laundry, turned in the rental car, and checked out with customs. We also removed 59’ 9” of broken stainless steel hanging from the mast and lashed it to the side of the boat. It was good to get it out of the way. We would drop it in deep water later.

We unhooked and drove about 30 minutes to the northwest corner of the island and hooked up to a mooring ball there for a parting dive. We were looking for a wall to dive, hopefully with a light current. The depth at the mooring ball was 50 feet. The depth when the boat strung out behind the mooring ball was 79 feet. That was encouraging.

We both planned to follow the mooring ball to the bottom. However, once we got below the surface it was so clear and the current was light so we just went straight down. The coral formations were spectacular.

Swimming along at 60 feet we could go over straight drop offs of coral, and swim straight down the face of coral, surrounded by fish. It reminded me of the IMAX videos of airplanes flying over the cliffs in the Grand Canyon. There was coral as far down as we could see.

There was a natural temptation to go over the cliff edges and swim down to see what’s there. Problem is, the wall goes down … and down … and down. Within a hundred yards the depth is 700 feet, and just past there it is a few thousand feet.

I spent about 20 minutes between 60 and 95 feet and then spent the rest of the dive at 50 feet or less. There was plenty to see everywhere. When I got low air I spent a long time on the mooring rope at 15 feet, safety-stopping just in case. Bob did the same.

After the dive we took off for the west tip of Cuba. We dropped the front stay in 702 feet of water.

Our tour of the gulf coast of Texas will have to wait. We have decided to take the Minnow to Florida. We think some of the needed repairs will be easier to do there, so our next destination is Fort Lauderdale. We want to get the front stay fixed. And there’s the air conditioner issue.

Oh, and for all of you who are enjoying telling us that it is 102 in Oklahoma, a few questions:

(1)     How many of you were in 102 degrees when you sent the emails or text messages telling us it was 102?

(2)     What was the temperature in your office when you typed your message?

(3)     How many minutes have you spent in 102 degrees this summer?

Okay, I feel better … but it’s still hot warm here!

Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 34)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

by Mike

When we got to Grand Cayman they assigned us a mooring ball where we were to tie up the boat. That was easy for us. It was also nice because it parked the Minnow right around some coral. There were dive boat mooring balls all around us. That meant we could scuba dive right off the back of the boat without moving.

Elizabeth and I got underwater about 9:15. Conditions couldn’t have been better. Visibility was great, the current was so small it was hard to detect, and huge numbers and varieties of fish were everywhere. Most of our dive we were 15-25 feet underwater. Our dive lasted more than two hours, and we still had air left. Bob and Fullerton enjoyed the diving, too. Fullerton even let go of the rope!

After lunch (mackerel again!) we went again. We explored slightly different areas and saw even more fish. There were lots of valleys and crannies in the coral where we could swim and look up at the fish on the bottom of the coral formations. For easy diving with lots of things to see, it couldn’t have been better.

After diving we drove around the island. Four years ago the place was a mess from hurricane damage. Now it’s rebuilt and looks in better shape than it was before.

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 33)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

by Mike

“… again,” he said. And then Bob went back upstairs. Hmm. It was 1:50am.

I knew there were words preceding that, I just had no idea what they might have been. I sat up and decided to get out of bed and go see what he was talking about. I stretched, yawned, and stumbled upstairs and it began to make sense. “The front stay broke again,” he must have said.

The front stay was loose alright. It was flopping around banging into things. Part of the 60-fot furler was in the water – maybe 20 feet. And it was slowly continuing down. The bowsprit, furling drum, and assorted cables were dragging along in the water.

Our first action was getting the sails down and minimizing the motion of the boat. Then we roped the furler with some rolling hitches and stopped its descent. By then we had a fairly good idea of what happened. The stay (stainless steel guy wire) had broken in two and the furler was sliding off of it. The bottom eight feet of the furler and stay were hooked to the tangle of bowsprit and cables that were dragging in the water.

The biggest challenge was lowering the furler off of the stay and then successfully capturing and controlling the bottom end of a flailing, loose 60-foot stainless steel cable. Hopefully before it beat us or the boat into submission.

We wrapped ropes and halyards around the mast and the upper part of the stay to help minimize the stay’s movement once it was free. Bob lowered the furler into the water and jettisoned it when it was free of the boat. I grabbed the bottom of the stay and managed to get vise-grips on it.

With it temporarily under control (three pairs of vice-grips on it by now) we considered our options. When hanging down at the mast, it was broken off about five feet above the deck. It wasn’t a braided or twisted cable – it turned out to be a solid rod and very slippery. The sea was too rough (and it was too dark) to climb the mast and remove it safely. We needed a way to attach to the bottom of it to control it for about 12 hours.

We ended up drilling a small hole in the stay. With a small bolt in the hole, we tied ropes tightly around it. Then we wrapped the broken stay around the furled solent and tied it off firmly.

From there it was just a matter of getting tangled bowsprit mess out of the water, disassembled, and the cables tied off out of the way.

We arrived in Georgetown, Grand Cayman late in the afternoon. We got checked in with customs and ate supper off the boat at a local spot called Breezes. The island looked deserted. All the shops were closed, and most restaurants were closed … on a Saturday night! There were no cruise boats in town. That would change.

Fishing Report:

Morning twilight was just beginning when we finished our repair work and headed back north toward Grand Cayman. Naturally I put the fishing lines out, as I do every morning. Fullerton asked why we were fishing since we had a freezer full of fish. Elizabeth was properly greedy and said to catch more! Bob and I just understood: when you’re sailing, you’re supposed to fish.

Oh … no luck today.

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 32)

Friday, July 10, 2009

by Mike

We sailed along nicely today making good speed, 8-9 knots most of the day, which should allow us to arrive in Grand Cayman sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Fine Dining and Fishing Report:

Succumbing to a desire for eggs, fried, this morning, I started some bacon and just got the eggs into the pan when a fishing pole started making noise. I ran outside and tightened the drag and turned the boat to the right from 50 degrees off the wind to 30 degrees off the wind to slow us down. Reeling in a fish while the boat is moving at nine knots is a lot of work. Even for a small fish.

Then I went back to tend the eggs and bacon, allowing the boat to slow. Back at the fishing pole I noticed that the boat speed was down to eight knots and there was a lot of line out. I turned more into the wind and eventually slowed the boat down to seven knots. That was about as slow as I could get without some sail and rope work, so I started reeling. In between cooking and eating, that is.

About 25 minutes later I had a 51” king mackerel and a full tummy. I tried to weigh it, but it bottomed out our 50-pound scale before I got the tail off the deck. I winched it up on the steps by the tail and started hacking into it. We ended up with several gallons of white-meat steaks.

We had blackened mackerel for lunch. Then, due to popularity of the dish (demands of the female), we had blackened mackerel for supper. 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 31)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

by Mike

Everyone got up feeling good today after a calm night at anchor. We waited until shortly after nine for the customs people to arrive at the boat. This time it didn’t take long. We found out that customs clearing was not required if we were staying less than 24 hours. We weren’t.

So we loaded up the dinghy with some junk and ourselves and headed to shore. We walked, picture took, ate some local cuisine (crab something, it was good!), and shopped the local grocery store. We picked up crackers, cookies, different cookies, and some bread.

We filled our scuba tanks and other misc. things and then headed north a few miles to a reef with good anchorage. The good anchorage part was appealing since the wind was topping 30 knots occasionally.

We parked in less than 25 feet of water in the sand near the reef with 100 feet of anchor chain out. A scope of better than 4-to-1. When we were diving I looked at the anchor and watched as the chain was pulled tight. It raised the chain out of the sand within a few feet of the anchor. It was a good visual reminder that 6-to-1 (some say 8-to-1) is a good scope for a windy anchorage. In this case we had someone on the boat at all times, so it wasn’t as critical.

It was a good place for diving. The strong wind was creating a strong surface current. But just below the surface it was nice. The fish here reminded us somewhat of the fish around the Florida Keys, but I didn’t think they were quite as colorful. We saw a couple of sharks, lots of rays, and large varieties of fish in the coral formations.

The diving was so good we refilled the tanks and Bob, Elizabeth and I went again. The sun was an hour-and-a-half from setting. It was still bright on the boat, but it didn’t light the underwater world as well as it had earlier. That was interesting to me. It was another enjoyable dive. We explored some different coral structures and swam around the same ones as earlier. It’s hard to get tired of that.

After eating and battening down we took off northward into the wind and waves. To Cayman!

Fine Arts

It was quiet on the boat after the last dive. Elizabeth requested some music. Rock and roll. Bob inquired of her graduating year and then played the top songs of 1977 for her pleasure. Many of those songs were painful reminders of what we were forced to listen to back then. Occasionally there was a good one, but seldom. After this agonizing review, I have re-convinced myself that society suffered from disco.

In three hours we endured top hits from 1977 and 1970 and 1971. Elizabeth knew all the words.

Fine Dining:

In an effort to enjoy the calm before the waves, we relaxed after our last dive. Tanks were refilled, cigars were puffed, junk was stowed, everyone showered. I grilled chicken and made some garlic red potatoes to go along with the green beans. We were all clean and pretty, tired and hungry, and it was good.

Fishing Report:

Another day of catch and release. Elizabeth caught a nice 20-inch Spanish mackerel on the way to the dive site. Apparently she reeled too slow. The back half of the fish was shredded with some nasty-looking teeth marks. She was excited and wanted to eat it. The good meat was missing. We told her to catch another one and reel fast!

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 30)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

by Mike

We had a rough sea today. Starting with big swells from the west and significant wind waves from the east, creating very confused seas, the wind clocked (or backed?) around in front of us becoming from the west. This created big swells with good-sized wind waves on top of them. When they combined just right, they got as big as 15 feet. Mostly we were in seas of 8-12 feet.

Elizabeth and Fullerton were both stricken by either “jetlag” (as Serge likes to call it) or “sleeping sickness” since they both repeatedly assured us that they were not seasick. Elizabeth logged north of 20 hours of sleep in 24 and Fullerton wasn’t far behind. I’m pretty sure neither of them smiled the entire day either.

The thing that caused them the most grief was the unsteadiness of the boat. It wasn’t rough in the sense of hard banging or jolts. It was an unpredictable motion, which made it a good idea to grab a handhold when walking around.

We got to Providencia, a Columbian Island in the middle of the ocean, and anchored after midnight.

Fishing Report:

Caught one tuna fish, skipjack, which is lousy eating. It was a good day for catch and release.

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 29)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

by Mike

On the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal there is a new marina called Shelter Bay Marina. We stayed there overnight. It’s very nice. There are lots of buildings around there left over from the US presence. Most are run down.

We spent the morning biking and walking around the area and filled up with diesel. There are thick forests around. Could be rain forests, I guess. Since it was raining.

I was walking down a trail in a forest with a canopy high over my head. It wasn’t thick enough to make it dark, but it was nice and shady. The mosquitoes liked it there, too. When I was pretty deep in, I could hear the rain increase. And then it started pouring. Except there was nothing but a light, misty sprinkle on me. I suppose that the tall trees have evolved to the point that they capture most of the rain for themselves.

When I got back to the boat I asked if it had rained hard, just to make sure I wasn’t hearing things. It had.

We left around noon for the Rio Chagres. This is the river that forms the lake that is used in the Panama Canal. We went to the mouth of it and drove up it. The thick forests were nice to look into as we went along the shore. We anchored up the river a few miles and got out the kayaks. Elizabeth and I paddled upstream and then the rain began. It poured. It felt good.

Two interesting animals were there. One we saw and one we heard. The howling monkey sounds like I would expect a lion or jaguar to sound. Once the rain started, they started howling. The roars echoed through the trees. They would be really scary if you were in the woods close to one. They are loud. And they sound mean.

We went up a small creek feeding the river and saw a lizard walking on water. It was on a leaf near one bank and ran upright on its back feet to the other bank. It looked like a cartoon character.

Fullerton and Bob hopped in when we got back. Bob stayed in his kayak kayaked to the mouth of the river, where we picked him up and headed out to sea. We raised the sails and headed north in some stiff wind.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Panama Canal

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 28)

Monday, July 6, 2009

by Mike

We got up bright and early at 4:00 to get ready for the three line handlers, which would arrive promptly at 4:30. After some phone calls to and from our agent, and so forth, they showed up at 5:15. We left at 5:16 and hurried to arrive at Buoy 6 to meet our adviser at 5:30. We drove around in circles near buoy 6 until he showed up at 6:35.

We had drive a couple of miles to the first lock and were eager to get started. The advisor advised us that we would wait until 8:40 to enter the lock. We were allowed to enter the first lock around 9:30, a mere five hours of waiting and 30 minutes of doing since we got up.

Apparently when the US ran the canal, things were well regulated and run on a pretty good schedule. Not so much now. It’s frustrating to deal with people that have such little regard for pre-agreed times. It must be a nightmare for ships and shipping companies to spend weeks pressing for time and then get to Panama and wait. For a day, and then maybe another day. Why not make it three?

The lock system itself is impressive. It was completed in 1914 by the United States. It was used in WWI and WWII. While there have been repairs and upgrades to several things in the Panama Canal, the locks are the same as they were in 1913. They are 110 feet wide and 1000 feet long. For a long time they were the world’s largest concrete structures. They have functioned flawlessly for nearly 100 years. That’s a lot better than most sidewalks.

It was amazing to see ships 103 feet wide and 966 feet long so neatly placed in the locks by tug boats. Once in the locks, they are tied front and rear on each side with strong cables to locomotives. The locomotives follow the ships through the locks and keep them from hitting the sides. This takes skill, practice, attention, working together. It also requires straight walls.

The walls are 1000 feet long and 100+ feet tall. They look to be a perfectly straight. And they must be perfectly straight to allow a 966-foot, multi-story-tall ship to drive in, go down (or up) 30 feet, and drive out without hitting a side. All with only three and one-half feet (3.5’) of clearance on each side. That is some serious concrete work.

There are a number of horizontal gashes on the concrete side walls of the locks. Some are a few feet long and some are 30 feet or longer. We were speculating that during hectic times in WWII maybe a locomotive would go down, resulting in the ship pressing against a wall. And perhaps a young crew would be saying “I don’t care just get this thing moving … fast!” thinking of the admiral’s orders. Maybe that’s how some of the gashes got there.

We tried not to leave a mark with the Minnow.

Some history on the canal is interesting:

·       The canal was first proposed to the Spanish King Charles in 1534.

·       In 1856 the Panama Railway crossed the Isthmus of Panama.

·       In 1879 Columbia (Panama was then a state of Columbia) granted a French Company the authority to build (and operate for profit) the Panama Canal.

·       In 1889 the French Company ran out of money after spending 1.4 billion francs, and incurring 20,000 deaths. Fiscal mismanagement and corruption contributed.

·       In 1894 a Second French Company tried again and soon went bankrupt.

·       In 1903 Panama seceded from Columbia, the US promptly recognized the new government, and a canal treaty was signed. This treaty gave the US the equivalent of absolute sovereignty over the Canal Zone.

·       In 1914 the Panama Canal opened for traffic. It was completed below the estimated cost of $400 million and earlier than projected.

·       In 1999 the Panama Canal was turned over to Panama.

In Panama

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 26-27)

Saturday/Sunday, July 4-5, 2009

by Mike

We stayed parked at the Flamenco Marina Saturday and Sunday waiting for our turn in the canal. Elizabeth got here Saturday night. We planned to go scuba diving Sunday, since we had to wait until Monday to go through the canal.

We got stuck waiting at the dock most of the day. We were waiting for different Panama people for different things. Central Americans have no problem being a few hours late on almost everything. A few hours late for an agreed meeting time seems to be normal. For them, that is.

Finally in the afternoon we took off to scuba dive near Taboga Island. It was low visibility with a strong current, but it was still fun. Due to the current, we went down the anchor chain. It was funny trying to get neutrally buoyant. We were hanging onto the chain and were horizontal to the surface … like human flags.

We got back to the dock after dark and waited until morning.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

To Panama

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 25)

Friday, July 3, 2009

by Mike

A little rain this morning. A little sun. Fullerton spent time some outside with a kite this morning. He says he does this for therapy and relaxation. Usually it seems to fluster and frustrate him, and entertain us. I’m pretty sure his blood pressure goes up after most episodes of kite almost-flying. But it’s sure fun for everyone else on the boat. Today his kite flew! Fullerton was walking on tiptoes the rest of the day.

We neared Balboa, Panama in heavy rain. I actually got chilled as we stood in 35-knotswinds and pouring rain and tried to locate other boats or buoys through wet glasses and blowing rain. We avoided them all and parked in light wind and sprinkles at 2:30.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2009, Mexico to Panama (condensed version)

by Bob

Here are a bunch of pictures:

Panama! I think there is a song about that. Or maybe that was Ipanema. The Minnow is in Flamenco Marina outside the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. We hope to go through the canal on Monday.

I'll backtrack. After Socorro we did get to Acapulco. At our next port someone told us that 28 people were gunned down in drugger fights while we were. But we didn't notice anything unusual, except that there wasn't much business at the Acapulco marina.

We headed out of Acapulco for some favorable winds to Cost Rica. But the winds ended up not being so favorable. In fact, we were motoring directly into 30-35 knots winds and their associated waves for a day or two. Then Mike broke the boat.

I was sleeping, and he woke me up. After the mental haze cleared a bit, I noticed that the forestay was flopping around. The forestay is the cable that holds the big sail in front, and it holds the mast forward. Luckily we have two of them, and the other one was in good shape and holding the mast. A shackle had broken or come loose, turning loose the bowsprit and breaking a metal piece, which turned loose the forestay.

We headed for the nearest port, Huatulco, had the broken piece welded, got diesel, replaced the radome (the stay broke it when it was flopping around), got a battery, fixed a few other things, and headed out again in one day. That was pretty good, I thought.

Some other people at Huatulco expected Mike and I to sink the boat when we crossed the gulf of Tehuantepec. I guess they didn't have access to weather forecasts. But I will admit that Mike and I don't appear to be competent sailors. Or competent at anything.

The wind and waves were good all the way to Costa Rica, although we had to motor a good part of the trip.

In Costa Rica we docked for a day, played around, picked up an unsuspecting passenger (Fullerton), got diesel, and headed out the next day for Isla del Cocos, or Cocos Island, or something like that. It's a couple hundred miles off the coast of Costa Rica, a nature preserve. They claim it's the largest uninhabited island in the world, but I don't think they considered places like Kiska Island or Amchitka Island.

On the way to Isla del Cocos, we caught a giant Pacific Blue Marlin. It was 115 inches (29,210,000,000 angstroms) long, maybe 400 or 600 lbs. I'm not sure how long it took to bring it in, but it was daylight when I started reeling it in, and dark when we finally got in onto the boat. We had 80 lb test line, and the hook pretty much fell out of the fish's mouth when we had it on the boat. It was pretty exciting.

At Cocos we dived there three times, hiked and kayaked, and then headed northeast to Panama. There are a lot of sharks there. They're mostly white-tipped sharks, but we saw a few hammerheads. There are lots of birds around the island, too. There is supposed to be a lot of treasure there, too. But we couldn't even find a geocache, let alone treasure.

We had a pleasant down-wind ride to Panama, complete with dolphin escorts much of the time. Fullerton took on some kite therapy in a futile attempt to regain some sanity.

Shortly before we got to the entry of the Panama Canal, there was a big thunderstorm with wind, lightning, heavy rain -- just like home. We couldn't see very well, but we missed that big ship coming out of the canal channel by at least a hundred yards due to our inept seamanship and superior luck.

We are now docked. We only have to repair one rudder, because the bums at Webasto wouldn't send us parts we need for air conditioner repair. Some electrical parts in the air conditioner control box caught on fire. This happened just two weeks after the air conditioner was "repaired" by a Webasto service center.

We didn't realize it until I noticed some black smoke stains on the metal control box down in the engine room. (Of course, the air conditioner wouldn't run, but that is not unusual for this air conditioner.)

So I tried to order parts. They said we had to order from a dealer. I asked for a referral to a dealer who had them in stock and could ship them to us, and they gave me Thomas Marine in Miami. Those guys were real jerks, and after a dozen or more phone calls and emails to Thomas Marine and Webasto, we still can't get parts. The moral of this story is that if you buy Webasto, don't catch it on fire.

Friday, July 03, 2009

To Panama

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 24)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

by Mike

We continued toward Panama. With the depth showing 4750 feet we stopped the boat in light wind. Bob and I decided to go for a swim. Bob did a flip off the front and I dived off the bowsprit. The water felt great. The stings were probably from jellyfish, although we never saw them. Our swim didn’t last long.

Fishing Report:

We fished all day. Got one little non-keeper.

Fine Arts:

Franz Liszt made a piano transcription of Beethoven’s nine symphonies. They were both good piano players, and good composers, and Liszt was an extra-good player. And he did a really, really good job putting these symphonies in piano form. I’d guess his piano playing experience and ability contributed to the complexities of these transcriptions. For example, in some cases, the thumb and pinkie get two notes each. Not something you see every day (except in jazz).

We have the sheet music of the transcription for symphonies 1-5 on the boat and Bob and I have at them occasionally. They go very slowly when we play them. I mean extremely slow. Liszt not only got all the moving parts going at the same time, he also used different parts of the keyboard almost at the same time to create some great effects. Every now and then, when Bob and I are tackling a section of one of these, it sounds extra good. But it’s pretty seldom. They are just too hard to play (for us).

Today we both played a little of them. It was sad. I turned on Gardiner’s symphonic performance of the finale of Beethoven’s third – a simple theme and variation – and told Bob to play along and keep up (note that Gardiner likes a fast tempo, haha). It prompted us to dig into the Minnow’s music vault and bring out a Russian performance of these transcriptions.  We wanted to listen to how these transcriptions were meant to sound. They sound incredible.

It was dark by then, and nice and cool outside. We started with the finale of the third and then sat outside and listened to the entire piano performance of the fifth. Then we listened to Karajan’s symphonic version of the fifth (60s version – it has a little more pep than the 70s version). Although we were able to criticize many details of each performance (and we did), they were both, uhm, magnificent. The only place that the piano transcription comes up short is when Beethoven gets all the instruments whipped into a frenzy in the forth movement. Even then, the ability of Liszt to create some amazing sounds, such as the building arpeggio sections that recur during the movement, from a single keyboard played by a single person, is amazing.

BUT, what’s the problem with fancy piano players and rhythm? They get moving and in a good groove, everyone’s listening and following along, they play the really fast parts perfectly with flawless accuracy. Then, the music building up to a big climax, they ruin the moment by adding a noticeable pause. They get so good and high on themselves that they forget to tap their foot! And then they claim its “artistic.” But every listener has to restart the foot-tapping each time they lose the beat. I can abide a ritard at the end of a phrase, and an occasional birds-eye. They’re written in the music. But not these random gaps in the music.

Personally, I think the habit starts when they’re learning to play. A lot of climactic chords use lots of fingers. As a beginner it’s common to take an extra split second to line up and stretch all the fingers. Then Chopin and all his romantic buddies showed up and made it socially acceptable, calling it “rubato.” Then “habit” becomes “art” and that’s the end of high-quality rhythm.

It’s one thing to play Debussy and company in herky-jerky fashion. It’s not that good anyway, so not much is lost. But for the sake of all that is proper, play Beethoven like Beethoven intended. With a beat. Beethoven even dedicated a movement of a symphony to the metronome!

Fortunately, for the artistic advancement of mankind, someone invented the snare drum. We got back on track with John Phillips Sousa and Benny Goodman. And kept on track with John Williams, Led Zeppelin, and Hannah Montana. Even tribal rain dances and rap have a beat … they just aren’t interesting since they don’t have a melody, and lots of people prefer them to Chopin.

Fine Dining:

Fullerton treated breakfast this morning. Eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy. The gravy was tasty and the bacon and eggs were great. The biscuits … as far as I know, no one broke a tooth on them, but there were some close calls. It’s easy for me to write this since he probably won’t read it until he’s off the boat.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

To Panama

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 23)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

by Mike

Not much happened today. A few minor repairs and some cleaning. Quite a bit of reading. Several Beethoven symphonies, and a few by Brahms. Brahms did good symphonies, but Beethoven’s are better.

We are heading on a straight line toward the corner of Panama. Then we’ll follow the coast around to Balboa, where the Panama canal is. It looks like we’ll get there some time Friday.

Fishing Report:

Fullerton cleaned the reels and did some work on the lures and stuff. Bob made a big ruckus, slowing the boat, reeling and reeling, adjusting the drag. “You gotta play the fish!” He reeled in a bunch of plastic.

No fish.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cocos Island

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 22)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

by Mike

It was cloudy and sprinkling first thing, with some blustery wind. But it cleared soon into a nice day. Mostly cloudy with a comfortable breeze.

That weather worked good for dinghy diving. We did two dives today. This place is packed with fish. Lots of fish. Most of them are tropical and colorful. Hundreds and hundreds of them. More than that even. We also saw moray eels, starfish, weird-looking growths that are probably animals, lobsters, big turtles, and sharks. Many of the sharks lay in the sand here.

On our first dive I went in first to check the anchor, which Bob and Fullerton were weighing, or considering, or fighting over, or something. The anchor was laying on top of the sand, but the rope was zigzagged and tangled around enough rocks that is wasn’t going anywhere. When Bob got in the water he dropped one of his weights. It landed a few feet from a four-foot white-tipped shark lying in the sand. It swam away when we approached. But it was still scary!

After diving, Bob and I took off on kayaks. Bob went to shore to hike (walk) and I went along shore to look (paddle).

Late in the afternoon we took off. Next stop Panama, gateway to the Atlantic.

Fine Dining:

There was a French-toast-eating frenzy that occurred this morning.

Fishing report:

Fullerton did some repair work on fishing gear as we sailed away from the island. There’s a no-fishing zone that extends for 12 miles from Cocos Island. This is one no-fishing zone that I think is a good idea.