Friday, December 28, 2012


So here I sit at a Global Internet Portal (Starbucks), in Stanwood, WA no less. Yes, they are everywhere. I'm doing what cruisers do everywhere when at a GIP: sucking mightily on the Intertubes.

For the last several days we have been at the Camano Cabin, where internet connectivity is essentially non-existent. Well, not completely - I can intermittently reach a cell site on Whidbey Island with my iPhone, and use the phone as a network device, but everyone should know the suckiness of using the virtual keyboard on a phone... and then there's that helpful little imp, Mr. Autocorrect, who keeps changing what I type.

But here, ah here I can type freely at my normal blazing ordinary two-finger speed, and the letters stay on the page right where I put them. It's a joy.

But I have nothing boating to talk about - we've been away from Eolian for a long time. Days and days. A week even. And we won't be back for another week at least. I think I am starting to feel the first symptoms of saltwater deprivation.

But we had a great Christmas at the cabin, just Jane and me. And I have put in some quality time in the shop:
  • Pulled the engine and tranny out of the 1959 Impala
  • Bludgeoned the stuck piston out of the engine
  • Separated the engine and (cast iron!) tranny
  • Disassembled the engine and cleaned various parts

So it's been a good week, including a day of skiing at Stevens Pass. More of that to come...

For Christmas last year, we gave the kids some time in a cabin just over the crest at Stevens Pass - a skiing jump-off place. It's well high enough that there will be snow (a lot!) on the ground so the grand-munchkins can get some snow experience, and dogs are allowed. This means that the whole happy clan will be there - kind of like Thanksgiving at the Cabin, but with snow. And did I mention that its only 20 minutes from Stevens Pass?

Should be a lot of fun. Maybe there'll be pictures...


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas!

All is well here on Eolian, in this Christmas season, tho there is no snow here at sea level like there was in 2004. A blessing perhaps, but the snow makes everything prettier, the blanket of white reducing everything to the basics.

But really, isn't that a good thing - reduction to the basics? To shed all the chaff of everyday life - all those things that seem so important when we are in the midst of our self-created chaos? And to focus on those things that really matter.

This is relatively easy for liveaboards, since they simply do not have room for all those things - things that eventually own you. Cruisers have an even easier job of it.

And so for this holiday season, it is our wish to you that you can cast off the lines which bind you up and find Peace.

Peace to you, and Peace on Earth.

Merry Christmas!

Bob & Jane
s/v Eolian


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Headlights on your boat

What?  You don't have headlights on your boat?  No?  Why not?

White, bright
You should.  An LED headlight like this one is dirt cheap (I got it at the hardware store for a few bucks).  It serves to shine a lot of light on whatever you are working on - in the bilge, on the engine, or on deck.  When you turn your head, the light follows, since it is right there, on your head.  It's like you have a telepathic helper magically holding a flashlight, always just where you need it.

And this one ("Energizer", by brand) also has a red LED for illumination while preserving your night vision.  Now really, you never know when this might become it's most important function.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Day of the Joker

If you have been reading this blog, you already know that marine heads are different from household toilets in several meaningful ways, even if you live ashore.  If not, know this:  the marine head must pump the bowl contents up with a minimal amount of water, rather than flushing the contents down with prodigious quantities of water.

Because it is a pump, the marine head has moving parts, and more importantly, it has check valves - devices that are supposed to only allow fluid flow in one direction.  The Joker Valve is one such check valve - all the bowl contents must pass thru the joker valve on their way to the holding tank.

Howz'at work, you might ask?  Well, if I squeeze the valve a little, you can see how the lips open - you are looking here at the discharge end of the valve.  Yup, everything that goes in the bowl has to go thru there.

Now, joker valves do not last forever.  To work properly, after the lips have been forced open by passing fluid or solids, they need to spring back closed to prevent backflow.  And over time, the lips lose the ability to do this.  And so the valve must be changed out.  The ones in our heads have been in there for 2 years, and their time is up - after use, the bowls slowly fill up with the stuff that has most recently been pumped out.  Yeah, not pleasant.  Today I will replace them both.

Top to bottom:
Jabsco, Raritan, Groco
But here is where it becomes interesting - Eolian is part of a science project!  Not all joker valves are created equal.  Drew, over at Sail Delmarva, is running a project comparing different joker valve materials, and thanks to Drew, Eolian is participating as a real-world control.

To the left are three different joker valves, showing two different designs and three different materials of construction.  Our heads were made by Jabsco and so we already have a data point for the upper valve - it was what came with the heads, and lasted for about two years.

Today, I installed the Raritan valve in the aft head and the Groco valve in the forward head.  We'll see how they do over the next couple of years or so.

And here's what a joker valve looks like when coming out of service - it's easy to see why this one doesn't work any more...


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dental Wednesday

Today was a day that the dental profession will surely record.

Since Sunday nite, I had been having increasing pain in the lower left jaw.  So on Monday I went in to my regular dentist for a look-see.  Well, between us (of course I was a willing participant!), we were unable to localize the pain to a particular tooth.  So she sent me to a specialist.

First available appointment:  Wednesday morning.

I'm not going to talk about Tuesday.  I made it thru, but it was ugly.  Really ugly.

This morning we were at the endodontist's office before 08:00, eagerly waiting for them to unlock the door (well, certainly I was eager).  A few tests, and the experts had located the problem and administered the Novocain for the work to begin.  And for the first time in days, the pain was gone.  Just... gone.  Oh, blessed relief!  I had not realized how much I had been hurting, even in the "calm" periods, until the pain was gone.  "Better living thru chemistry" used to be DuPont's corporate slogan, back before "chemical" became a four-letter word.  But let me tell you, I am a Believer!

So Dr. Colic and his assistant Linda went to work,  and 60 minutes and 3 root canals in one tooth later, the deed was complete.  I now have one more dead tooth in my mouth.  But don't feel bad.  You know what's great about a dead tooth?  It can never hurt again.  Not from a cavity, not from drilling, not from cleaning.  In a perverse way, I wish all my teeth were dead.  In fact, I think it is a design flaw to have nerves in teeth (one of several design flaws in the human body that I would correct, if I had the power to do so).

Just enough time to grab lunch and a brief recuperation period, then back to my regular dentist for more dental joy: a regularly scheduled cleaning/scraping session.  And more Novocain.

I'm home now, back aboard Eolian.  My credit card is smoking.  But I have a beer in my hand, and by far most importantly, I don't hurt.

And as my friend Ken at work says, it could have been worse.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A sixty foot tree

(From 2010, when the lites were new)
Every year, the Marina sponsors a Christmas lighting contest. This year, we put up our 125' strand of deep blue LED's (2 - 50' strands and 1 - 25' strand) as usual, running from the bowsprit, to the top of the mainmast, roughly paralleling the triatic stay to the top of the mizzenmast, and then down to the end of the mizzen boom. But this year, the winds have been horrific. At this moment, we have one segment (however many LED's it takes to add up to 120 volts) that is just plain out and two more segments that drift in and out of illumination, depending on wind and rain.

But it is this Christmas tree over on F dock that should win the prize. It's hard enough getting our simple display of lites up - I wonder how he does it?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Drama on the dock

Monday was a blustery morning, wind 20+ kt, cold, and spitting rain.  I think you can imagine it.  And it was this morning when our neighbor, s/v Wander Bird, prepared to pull out of our shared horseshoe to head to the yard for work.  Now, Wander Bird is a tall boat - she is a Nauticat 52 - lots of wind area.  That will be important in a minute.

Ever the prudent mariner, Ethan shifted into forward and reverse while still tied up, to ensure that all was in working order.  When all was ready, he started to back out of the slip.  I had the bow line, to keep the bow from blowing downwind (and incidentally, into Eolian).  It was a perfect departure, despite the contrary high wind.

And then out in the waterway between the docks, Ethan shifted into forward and gunned the engine to stop the backward progress and to turn the boat to go down the waterway.

Except that the gearshift linkage broke and she was still in reverse.

So the burst of throttle only served to increase her backward speed.  The helm was over in preparation for the forward turn down the waterway, so the net effect is that Wander Bird made a 180° turn stern-first, heading back to the dock.  Amazingly, Ethan coolly killed the engine and steered her so that she ran into the piling at the end of the finger pier instead of either of the two boats tied to that finger.  The inflatable dinghy on davits at Wander Bird's stern gave its all, acting as an exploding airbag to cushion the impact.  Kind of like a Mars lander - well, a 65,000 lb Mars lander.

I had been walking back to Eolian after the successful departure when the commotion started.  I turned around and ran to the end of the finger pier, arriving just after the impact.  And now the wind really began to make itself felt.  It blew the bow down, laying Wander Bird across that piling at the end of the finger pier and the piling at the end of the next finger pier, pinning her there.  I got on the swim platform of one of the boats to fend off.  For the moment, things were sort of stable, and we discussed what to do next.

Ethan decided that the best action would be to go bow-in to the empty slip next to the boat I was on - all we'd need to do would be to back up Wander Bird (upwind!) 4 or 5 feet, and the bow would blow into the slip.  The trick would be to get enough of the boat into the slip by the time that she was parallel to the finger so that the wind wouldn't pivot her on the end of the finger and swing her back out into the waterway again.

Long story short: we made it.   And then they got a mechanic aboard to fix the linkage, at least temporarily.  And today Wander Bird is in the yard, as planned...  with one more item on the list, I think.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Crowdsourcing marine data

From Wikipedia, the fount of all human knowledge:
Crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. This process can occur both online and offline.[1] The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific body, such as paid employees.
Most marine charts show depths that were laboriously determined, manually, a long time ago.  And given the tight situation of today's economics, it is unlikely that there will be any significant updates to those depth readings, ever.

How many boats do you suppose are out there with all the instrumentation required to collect detailed soundings:  integrated GPS/Depth Sounders?  A LOT!  Now imagine a small Wifi device that allowed those boats to report their current GPS location, tidal state at the nearest tide station, and the instantaneous depth reading...   Every boat that is out there could be reporting depth, in detail, and each reading shown on a chart would be an average of tens, hundreds or thousands of individual readings made by fellow mariners.  And given that the government services that collected those original soundings had different objectives than, say, the guy in a 16' aluminum fishing skiff, those areas on the charts that are shown a uniform blue with little information would be filled in with exquisite detail.

This is not a pipe dream.  The Argus project is collecting those readings, right now, at this very moment!

Sadly for us West Coasters tho, the project only covers portions of the East Coast so far.  It will be some time before those sandbars behind Bainbridge Island get replotted.

Another potential crowdsourcing project that would be of interest to mariners was recently proposed by our local Seattle weather blogger, Cliff Mass.  Cliff suggests that since many smart phones contain atmospheric pressure sensors, it would be possible to get high resolution atmospheric pressure data thru crowdsourcing.  With this new information, much better weather prediction would be possible. Here in Seattle, with our varied and detailed micro-climates, this could have some real tangible marine benefits.  Sadly, my iPhone is not equipped with a pressure sensor, so I cannot participate.

Any other ideas?  (And to you UW Oceanography readers out there - anyone interested in spearheading the ARGUS project in the Puget Sound area?)

If the idea of crowdsourcing intrigues you, Wikipedia maintains a list of crowdsourcing projects that are currently underway.
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