Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Nature - Red In Tooth And Claw"

Life has been happening for a while, so I finally got time to visit TITAN this Saturday. I had another motivation to do so. A waterspout had been observed near Sewell's Point in conjunction with the nasty weather that blew through here on June 1st, so it would be a good idea in any case to check on TITAN and make sure there was not damage. The severe weather came with very little warning at the end of a workday, so there hadn't been time for me to strike canvas, double mooring lines, or get any other severe weather preparations done. Here are some pictures of the waterspout from WAVY TV 10's website, taken from on board Naval Station Norfolk:
Another motivation was to finally evict the duck family from my cockpit, but nature had taken care of that for me already. There are no shortage of critters around here that regard duck eggs as a tasty treat, and one of them had gotten into TITAN and had itself an omelette. So, having surveyed the damage: STORM - Minimal. Some strain evident, one mooring line damaged, all other mooring lines held firm. EGG DINNER - Nice mess. No one taught this critter any manners. I use braided lines, and this one had the shortest run, so it was most likely to be damaged by a nine-ton motorboat surging against it. The jacket was damaged, and the line might have parted if not for the fact that I had taken the entirely sensible precaution of installing chafing gear on it.
I had another mooring line in my Bosun's locker, ready to go. I had also purchased a snubber, which is a big rubber sausage that goes on the mooring line, and handy for giving short runs a bit of spring, lessening the likelihood of having a mooring line part under strain. Think of it as a sort of shock absorber. So a bit of marlinespike seamanship later, install the snubber, install the chafing gear, and the new line was ready for any nasty weather that might come along later:
Since it was a nice day as well, I also fired up the engine and got underway for a brief jaunt around Willoughby Bay. I still make the odd mistake, but I've gotten better at taking immediate action to recover from them. I also spent some time cleaning up the remains of the duck eggs in my cockpit. As I expected, the cheap tatty blue floor covering is now soiled, and therefore I shall work on replacing it. The plan is to remove all the old stuff, clean up the cockpit, fabricate a new engine hatch, repair the rest of the deck using the West System family of epoxies, and lay down a new covering of Nu-Teak, a synthetic product that looks almost exactly like teak, but is much less maintenance-intensive, and provides good non-skid properties as well. Pictures forthcoming as that work progresses. All in all, today was a good day. It was nice to get some work done on board, and to have a little trip too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dumb, but lucky boaters

One thing you might have noticed in my pictures - I ALWAYS have my life vest on underway, even when the weather is calm and the seas are like glass.  Because things can go wrong.  Quickly.

That's just the nature of the seas.  Of course, things can also go wrong the moment you leave the dock.  Like taking an under-powered boat into waters it wasn't designed to handle.  Like not even bringing appropriate safety gear.  Like having no clue what winds, tides, or currents are.  Like having no idea how to navigate.  Like not knowing how to make a distress call, or not even having the proper signaling gear.  Even in coastal waters, these mistakes can cost you your life.

Fortunately, there are people who do know about things like this, and who dedicate their lives to watching over those who think the sea is just a neat place to have a good time.  Otherwise we'd have fewer dumb but lucky boaters, and a lot more dumb and dead boaters.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


As I went aboard TITAN recently to do an electrical repair, I was surprised to discover that I had had visitors, of an avian variety.

I took pictures, but the marina staff had already gone for the day, so there wasn't much I could do.  I considered removing the eggs, but I wanted to make sure that there weren't any potential problems in doing so.

The next day I did some research on Ducks Unlimited and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  The only useful information I came across was that migratory birds are federally protected and it is a crime to disturb their nests, and that I could expect the eggs to take about a month to hatch.

That afternoon the marina called and asked me how I liked ducks.  I informed them that I was aware of the problem.  They contacted the local wildlife resources officer, who also had nothing useful to contribute beyond the expected incubation period.

Friends' suggestions were also largely unhelpful, and largely themed to omelettes and other egg recipes.  While I grant that would take care of the problem, I would also feel like a heel for years, plus as far as I can tell, it would be illegal.

That weekend I was unable to get to the marina, for a variety of reasons, and when I finally returned, I found the number of eggs roughly doubled, and an expectant mother warily eyeing me.

So it seems that the duck and I are going to have to get used to one another.  My plan for now is to make more frequent regular visits, in the hope of getting her used to my presence so I can get things done that I need to do.  The ducklings are not going to be able to make it out without help, the coaming is simply too high, so I'll have to figure out something there.  There is also the obvious issue of a clean-up that will need to be done, and fortunately I had already planned on replacing that blue carpet with a more durable material.  Lastly, I just need a way to guard against it happening again.  I think an inflatable snake will do the trick.  Anyhow, be sure and check back here for updates.  I'm not sure how this will all turn out, but it ought to be interesting.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cruising Norfolk's Rivers

I had planned on getting underway on March 8th and/or 9th, in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads (Battle of the Ironclads, 1862), but the weather was not favorable.  High winds on the 8th, and thunderstorms on the 9th.  The nice thing about storm fronts, of course, is that they usually leave calm, still air in their wake.  And March 11th dawned sunny and warm, with light airs.  I therefore decided that it would be a good day to head out and do a little riverine cruising.  Norfolk is a fascinating city from the water; home to the world's largest Naval base (of any nationality), and Mile Zero of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.  But instead of reading about it, this time you can watch it.  Again, I was single-handed, so please excuse the wobbly camera work - I was piloting TITAN and shooting video at the same time.

After about four and a half hours motoring around the Lynnhaven and Elizabeth Rivers I returned to my slip, with what was undoubtedly my best landing to date.  TITAN was a bit grumpy at first; all diesel engines dislike cold weather (as we'd had the preceding two days).  Once she warmed up, she performed flawlessly.  All in all, an enjoyable day on the water, even if I did get a little spray over the bow near the end.

Regarding the "PAN-PAN" call heard on the radio, the vessel reported was found near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and taken in tow by another vessel, so everything turned out all right in the end.

The music in this video is "Brendan's Prayer" by Jeff Johnson.  You can find more of his music at .  I've enjoyed his music since I was in college.  St. Brendan the Navigator, referenced in the title of the track, is the patron saint of all Sailors.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene

      For those of you surfing the Internet in your sleep (they do exist, I've seen the zombie apocalypse and it begins online, probably at 4chan) we had a hurricane blow through Virginia last weekend (Aug 28-29).  Between that and the earthquake we had in Virginia the preceding Tuesday, and people were wailing that the Last Judgement was upon us.  Being of a more rational turn of mind, I ignored the hyperbole streaming from the press and politicians, and turned to NOAA's National Hurricane Center as the source of all my storm information.

     Mind you, I've been through hurricanes (all along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts) and earthquakes (in Japan) before, so I had a pretty good idea what I was looking at.  Armed with information from Boat US and West Marine (see video), I knew what to do to prepare.

      So Thursday morning, I went down the the marina to prepare.  One good thing, my dock at the marina is a floating dock, with 14 foot (above mean high tide) pilings.  Since the predicted storm surge was 7 feet at high tide, I knew that was good to go.  Here's a short list of the things I did:

  • Doubled all mooring lines, and put out extra mooring lines
  • Struck down canvas - stowed bimini top below
  • Secure loose gear about the decks - particularly Type IV PFDs, unshipped and stowed below
  • Inspect batteries for security and full charge - in case power goes out
  • Test bilge pumps and set for automatic operation
  • Duct tape plastic over vents to keep water out
  • Secured engine room hatches with heavy timber battens
  • Put out extra fenders, in case my neighbor's boat moved around too much
     This sort of preparation is part of the price you must be willing to pay if you are a boat owner.  And here's the lesson learned:  it pays off.  Preparation is key.  Early preparation - the marina was closed from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon, so get in there early and do what needs to be done.  The payoff? No damage done to TITAN.  None.  Oh, a little cosmetic damage (scraped paint), but as the saying goes, "it'll buff out".  Literally.  A bit of wax and some elbow grease, and it's gone.

      But here's the proof:  A before picture, taken with my iPhone:

     And an after picture, taken with a camera I had brought along to document any damage for insurance purposes:

      So TITAN lives to cruise another day.  Still some work to be done, but I confess, I'm waiting for cooler weather to get to it.  Thanks for dropping by, and remember, the best way to deal with a problem is to get ahead of it!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sea Trials!

      Today was Sea Trials.  Since Carter Caterpillar and I had just finished some major repair work on her systems, I wanted to get TITAN out on the water and make sure everything worked like it was supposed to.  I had everything planned out for a while, but was waiting for good weather.  If I was going to pay attention to TITAN's engine and performance, I didn't want any major distractors dividing my attention.  Navigating the busy waters of Hampton Roads is already enough of a challenge.  Another set of eyes and hands would have been useful, but I couldn't get a hold of anyone.  Ah well, it is a Friday after all...

      So a little after 2 PM, I turned up at the marina with my checklists and a few supplies.  One of the most important pieces of paper I had with me was my float plan, which I turned in to the marina staff.  I started up my pre-underway checkoff list, and that's when Mr. Murphy and his famous law stepped up to the plate.  

      Okay, it really wouldn't be a proper test if everything went according to plan, and as problems go, this one was actually pretty minor.  I brought a video camera to record some of the tests, partly for later analysis, but mostly because I wanted to make a cool video about the day and post it on YouTube.  Alas, the camera's batteries were dead.  Kaput.  I had neglected to check the charge on them.  So no video.  Next time, I promise, if I can get some crew to help me out.  Honestly, navigation, plus testing, plus videotaping might have been a tad much.  

      The rest of my pre-underway checks went without incident, and I secured shore power and turned over TITAN's engine about a quarter to 3, and was underway at 3 PM, with far less drama than my previous single-handed outing.  I could not have asked for better weather - sunny, a few lazily drifting high-altitude clouds, winds out of the NE at 5 kts, and a barometer of 30.00 inHg.  At 86 deg. F, the day was a bit warm, but I was well prepared for that.

      First event, as soon as I made open water, I lay to and stowed my mooring lines and fenders.  Yep, this is what you have to do when you boat single-handed.  As a matter of personal safety, my life vest includes a safety harness and elastic tagline to keep me on board.  Critical gear for single-handed boaters, especially since TITAN does not have an ignition kill switch.  A kill switch isn't necessary on a vessel this size, and would be pointless anyhow.  At speed, a nine-ton boat will still drift a hell of a distance away from you.  So:  safety harness.  In the event I need to step outside the cockpit, to handle lines or whatever, I take all way off and lay to.  You know, one other thing I discovered to complicate my navigation picture - there are a hell of a lot of crab pots about this time of year.  I avoided the small colored buoys, because I didn't want my prop fouled.  

      My decks cleared for action, I proceeded to the next event.  Leaving the channel, I set my course West and headed for the Middle Ground.  This is because commercial shipping generally avoids the hell out of the Middle Ground, making it a perfect testing ground for me.  The Middle Ground is a notorious shoal smack dab in the middle of the roadstead.  Depths decrease from around 40 feet to 10 feet, still plenty of water for me.  It's notorious because that's where the CSS Virginia ran aground during her epic battle with the USS Monitor on March 9th, 1862.  

      Now, since this is the internet, I can read your thoughts.  "PICTURES, Roberts," I hear you say, "or it didn't happen!"  Well, that's what the video was supposed to be for.  But I still had a still camera with me.  So here's some pictures:

Above is a quick shot through the windshield as I steamed across Hampton Roads.  Okay, kinda dull.

This is a failed attempt at a self-portrait of myself at the helm.  Okay, enough fooling around, Roberts, drive the damn boat...

Just to drive home that I am underway, check this out.  A 33-foot, nine-ton boat with a deep-vee hull throws a hell of a wake at speed.  For this reason, I am extra considerate around other boats and when near parts of the shore that could be damaged by my wake.

      Part of the trip over was a full-power run, to see how well the engine performs.  According to Caterpillar's spec-sheet for the 3208, I should be able to get 2800 RPM, but the most I could get was 2550.  That said, I think it might be because the throttle linkage is running out of travel, rather than a problem with the engine itself.  Hmm, a little tweaking might be in order.  Also at higher RPM, she runs a lot warmer.  Normal operating temp is around 200.  At 2400 RPM it climbs to around 220 deg. F.  I think this may be because the raw water intake starts sucking air passing under the hull at higher speeds. TITAN has trim tabs to keep her hull level, but they are a tad undersized for her.  She starts to raise her bow at any speed above 1800 RPM.  This is where an extra pair of eyes would be helpful, to check for air bubbles in the sea water strainer.  I also figured out that 2100 RPM is a good cruising speed for her.  Go faster, and she tries to hard too get on plane, which she can't really do, and that makes the helm a bit squirmy.

      Oh, you may have noticed that I'm using engine speeds rather then speed through the water.  No GPS yet.  I need to develop speed tables for TITAN.  And I could use a GPS, but that's a project for another day.  My navigation today was done the old-fashioned way - visually and by charted references. At any rate, have a picture of the Middle Ground Light, taken from TITAN:

      Okay, so most of the data I need is gathered now.  I have notes on engine operating parameters and time/speed distance calculations in my log that I won't bore you with.  On to Phase 3:  I turned my helm East, this time making for the Hampton River.  This was because I wanted to practice more low-speed maneuvering in restricted waters, with an eye to attending future events in Hampton, such as the Blackbeard Festival, with TITAN.  So I wanted to familiarize myself with the harbor.  Also there is the nearest fuel dock with Diesel fuel to my marina in Willoughby Bay, and I wanted to check it out, and buy some fuel if it wasn't too crowded.  

      As I approached the Hampton bar, I spotted a hazard ahead and took all way off - to avoid hitting a pod of about half-a-dozen dolphins.  Since I had gone DIW to avoid hitting them, I figures I may as well take some pictures of them:

      After they left, I resumed making way and entered the Hampton River without further incident.  Here's a picture of Downtown Hampton, seen from the river:

      No wakes here, for obvious reasons.  Also a lot of traffic.  I had to keep my head on a swivel as I came about and made my way to the fuel dock.  I tied up at Bluewater Yachting Center's fuel dock, right by the Diesel pump.

      Now, the last time TITAN had been fueled was when I bought her.  Since then, she has traveled from Little Creek to Willoughby Bay, thence out into Willoughby Bay and back again, then out to the Middle Ground Light and thence to Hampton, not to mention about an hour's total of being run dockside for testing purposes.  So how much fuel did I have to buy to top off her tanks?  15 1/2 gallons.  That's it. I might also mention that TITAN is not at her most efficient right now.  I know her bottom is fouled with marine growth.  I really need to haul her out to clean and re-paint her bottom.  I should also develop some fuel consumption curves.  No fuel gage, you see...  I have to sound the tanks the old-fashioned way - with a thin wooden dowel.

      So far it's been a good cruise, so it is, of course, at this point that Mr. Murphy's infamous law rears up again.  TITAN's engine won't restart.  I think Murphy must have been a Sailor.  When I check the batteries, I discover that they haven't charged while I've been underway.  Something's up with the alternator circuit, I think.  Here's where I have to say some nice things about Bluewater Yachting Center.  Besides doing a very professional job helping me fuel TITAN, they also kindly let me hook up my shore power for about half an hour to recharge my batteries.  With the batteries thus topped off, along with the fuel tanks, TITAN started right up.  

      Underway again, and on to Phase 4 - After leaving Hampton, I set my course South-Westerly and return to Willoughby Bay, where I lay to and stage my mooring lines and set out my fenders.  I won't speak much about my landing - the first attempt was fluffed - I turned in too late and couldn't line up with my slip.  This time, rather than getting flustered, I calmly headed back out into the fairway and reset for another approach - more practice doing low-speed handling in restricted waters.  My second approach was much better, and I repeated my trick of snagging a cleat with a mooring line on my way in, thus bringing TITAN to a halt and allowing me to tie up the rest of her lines, at around 6:30 PM.  And here I am again!

      Now to put her to bed - fresh water wash-down of her hull and decks (Oh, thanks for the wakes, by the bye, all you jerks who didn't slow for me even though I slowed for you), fill out my logs from my notes, secure the sea-cocks and batteries, and re-connect the shore power.  Mission Accomplished!  More cruises to come, and more work to be done.  For now, it's time to shoot the breeze with some other boaters, and head home to down a couple of cold ones and blog about my day.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Safe to Operate

      So all the hard work is beginning to pay off.  I had TITAN examined by the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary yesterday.  She passed with flying colors.  So what exactly do the USCG Auxiliary examiners look for?  Mainly safety items, such as

  • Do all the navigation lights work
  • Are propulsion and steering systems in good condition
  • Is there an approved sound signaling device (whistle, horn, bell) aboard
  • Are sufficient quantities of appropriate personal floatation devices aboard
  • Are sufficient quantities of visual distress signals (flares, smoke) aboard
  • Does the marine sanitation device prevent pollution discharges
  • Are adequate fire fighting and dewatering devices aboard
      If you pass the examination they give you a nice sticker:

      What's so nice about this sticker?  Well, generally any maritime law enforcement agencies that see it will let you continue on your way without boarding you to make sure you're in compliance.  Unless, of course, you're doing something patently stupid and/or illegal.

      I also got a reminder about the value of prudent and careful seamanship, courtesy of this guy:

      I don't know the full story, but he was trying to come in to the marina, which is just past the breakwater he's piled up on.  A storm had just blown up, and winds were out of the North (to the left in this picture) at about thirty-five knots, pushing 3-4 foot seas.  There's a nautical name for this, of course, it's called being driven onto a lee shore.  All the worse when it happens as you're trying to make harbor.  A pleasant day's boating can turn into a nightmare just like that, so it's important to be prepared for any and all contingencies.  The sea is NOT forgiving.  Now that I know that (a) TITAN is safe to operate, and (b) I have the necessary skills to pilot her safely, it's time for a sea trial.  Drop by later to see how that goes.