Sea Dart afloat!

So I had a day of errands today… First a trip to West Marine for a chart of Florida Bay. I am convinced that we are going to need fine navigation across this challenging body of water. It’s sort of like a bog with a number of paths which occasionally need log bridges. Which is sorta well marked. The chart actually says it doesn’t bother marking where the stakes and other navigational aides are, because they move so often:{

Next, I stopped by a marine canvasmaker, who fitted Sea Dart for a new cover. Every time I travel I am patching the original canvas cover, and this trip one of the tears extended another foot. The new one will be red (like Sea Dart’s boot stripe), and will be of a much more substantial material (Sunbrella).

Next I proceeded to a boat ramp, and slowly set up the NEW boat. I say NEW because of all the new systems… autopilot, electrical, solar, spinnaker and jibs, oars under the floorboards. It all takes time to set up. But I was rewarded with a very successful sail: I rowed under a bridge with 8ft clearance (just like one of the checkpoints of the race). I proved that the mast lowering support works well, and I was able to set the mast up while underway in about five minutes.

The autopilot worked beautifully. Tomorrow I will see how the battery drain is. I assume the solar panels were working, but they are so darned silent! Finally, I was able to use both spinnaker (with new, lighter sheets) and jib without too much trouble. I just need to transfer all my waypoints from the computer into the GPS. Apparently they aren’t transferred by the SD card, but directly from device to device. I’ve got the cable, so that should be ok.

So, meantime, Sea Dart is out on Huong’s dock, nicely tied up and ready for any shift in the current. Time for bed!


Hooo boy. Ok, this is gonna be interesting. The first day (Saturday) the wind is from the south. Not ideal if you are trying to go south.

Then you get several days of northerlies that are STRONG winds. Forecast 20mph. On Wednesday, when we might very well be crossing Flordia Bay (i.e., going SE) the wind will be coming from…. the SE. After that, its gonna be HOWLING (26 mph!) from the north, again.

Overall, not a horrible forecast. I don’t see a lot of thunderstorms (they had been predicting those) and there will be wind, and most often from a northerly direction. However, the winds may be very strong, and on two critical days they may be coming from where we want to go.


Detailed forecast for St Petersburg, FL from the source for severe weather alerts, local current conditions and extended forecast.

via St Petersburg, FL Detailed Weather Forecast –


So, a sedate start of the 2012 Everglades Challenge this morning. Hoa arrives home at 900am, as I was packing up. I finished at 1130, and after stopping for fuel, was non stop I-95 until lunch at 230pm south of Washington, DC.

I stopped north of Richmond for a portable toilet I had located online… Tres important for a five day jaunt in a tiny boat without facilities! Then it was another stop past Richmond to download an audiobook… A frustrating delay that was made better only by the cup of joe from Starbucks.

Not sure how far I will make it tonite, but I plan to make it the rest of the way to Bradenton tomorrow. 260 miles down, 900 to go!


So I picked up the battery (gel AGM type) at West Marine this afternoon, and hooked it up into the electrical system… and bingo! The autopilot humms and whirrs, the pushrod activated by command. Cell phones charge from the cig lighter, and the solar panels, well, they don’t do very much, but I have every reason to believe they are working too.

The autopilot has a nice home at the aft end of the cockpit, safely tucked away when not in use. I bolted a metal strap onto the undersurface so that I could shockcord a hook to hold it in the boat. THAT would be an expensive splash!

I’ve started loading gear and food into the boat, and found that the beach rollers (think 7 ft by 1 ft yellow inflatable fenders) used to launch the boat from the above-the-high-water-line start tuck nicely under the aft deck and in one of the storage benches. They will be inflated once stored, to provide reserve bouyancy. The anchor, evicted from its tupperware box forward to make space for the battery, has a new nylon bag which is lashed securely to the floor of the cockpit.

I tried out the new bivy sack… man is it nice! It has a pole which keeps the bug or gore-tex liner up and off your face while sleeping. Sweet setup. Hoa will get that one, and I will use the basic model.




Following us during the race

If you want to follow our progress during the Challenge, you can use two links at the top of the page… “Tracking” and “My SPOT” which appear in white against a black background.

“Tracking” is a Watertribe site that can include the position and tracks of all the entrants in the 2012 Everglades Challenge. Their positions are displayed on a satellite map which can be rescaled using the usual tools. To focus on the class Hoa and I are in, make sure the event displayed is the EC 2012, pulldown “Class 4” and “show tracks and current waypoints”. That will show you us against our competitors.

“My SPOT” takes you to a site administered by “SPOT”… the company that makes and monitors the device which sends my tracking signal to the satellites. There you can get realtime info about our location which may be more up-to-date than the Watertribe site, which can get kind of busy (and overloaded) during the races with all the people checking out how their friends and loved ones are doing.

You could even compare that against another item on the task bar up top… “Tampa Bay Weather”, and see what mother nature has in store for us….

Busy Monday

Today I braved the chill and put the boat back on the trailer, and mounted a bracket to hold the new spare tire and wheel. The boat cradle did its job perfectly, and the transfer was surprisingly quick. The cradles are now under the (NEW!) deck.

Next I removed the floorboards and the water ballasting system, and in so doing rather quickly solved several other problems, such as:

— the spare oars will stow nicely under just the rear set of floor boards on the floor of the cockpit

— by leaving the front set of floor boards out I have plenty of room for clothes storage

— I replace the weight of the PVC pipes of the ballasting system with gear and the anchor, keeping the center of gravity low.

I strapped down the battery box (I pick the battery up on Thursday at West Marine). It is a small gel battery, but adequate for my needs. I put two additional buoyancy bags up front under the deck, a maneuver that required the skills of a contortionist with an electric air pump. They are behind a supposedly watertight bulkhead, but as I’ve learned, there is nothing like positive buoyancy up high in your boat! I mounted the tiller pilot stanchion base and 4200’d the sculling oarlock into place. That thing is solid! I rigged a final version of shock cord that holds the oars in place when not in use, and strapped the box of flares on the aft floorboards under where one of the seats usually rests.

The watertight bags that we’ll be using in the cockpit to hold our things have a stiff fabric pan on the bottom. This pan fortuitously wedges under the floor board support in the cockpit, so that it is pretty much stuck once jammed in. I can also strap the bags in using the water ballasting tie downs, but just for insurance. Could not have planned that one better! The sleeping bags and bivy sacks will be in watertight bags in the storage locker forward. Food and cookstove I think will be in the side cockpit seats.

I’ve found lodging in Key Largo, spoke with my shore contact (who gets a BIG shoutout: THANKS HOANG!) who is going far and above the call of family duty. I think he is worried about his sister getting eaten by an alligator in the Everglades while I am staring at a GPS wondering where the heck I lost her…


A Weekend of Projects!

Holy cow! What a productive weekend!

Since Friday I have spent some 19 hours working on the boat! Started with a trip to West Marine, where I loaded up on bits and pieces for:

1. An electrical panel for the boat complete with fuses,


port for a Raymarine autopilot, jack for hooking up the Garmin to power and the autopilot, two cigarette lighters sockets for accessories and fuses for the whole shebang

2. A solar panel, which plugs into a cigarette lighter socket

3. Straps for gear storage

So I gathered my courage, and starting my weekend by drilling a 1 inch hole into the transom of my boat for an oarlock for sculling or use as an emergency tiller. This required fortitude, because it is only 1 1/2 inches thick below the lip, and so being off-angle had significance. I planned on my incompetence, however, and so I drilled between the motor mount on the starboard side, so that if I did go off reservation, I wouldn’t create a cosmetically apparent injury to the boat. All went well, but it turns out I needed a slightly bigger hole, so out came the Dremel and a lot of fussy work.

When drilling a hole for this sort of a gear, it is important to understand that the hull of a “cored” fiberglass boat is like a sandwich, with a hard shell on either side and a lot of soft balsa wood (like the tomatoes and cheese) on the inside. Just drilling a hole is no good. The core won’t support the gear, and just a little bit of water getting inside starts the boat rotting from the inside. So what you must do is drill out twice the volume of core that you plan to fill with gear in order to make a solid platform, and then fill that with fiberglass. THEN you can drill a hole the exact size of the fitting through the puddle of fiberglass, confident of its strength and impermeability to water.

The next job was the electrical system. Fortunately, I found a wonderful little fuse panel at West Marine for cheap that had six separate circuits, more than I need at the moment.

Using a hole saw, I drilled a series of holes into a simple watertight box. The cigarette lighter sockets went through one side, and the autopilot the other with the battery cable and the line out to the GPS. The wires run to the fuse box and out to their respective device, and it all tucks nicely inside, with some silicone sealant to protect the water-resistant apparatus. I put some velcro on the inside of the face and also the fuse panel so that nothing shifts and its weight is supported.

I relocated the anchor to in the cockpit (where it is more accessible) and will store the battery in the front locker, lashed to the deck. I ran the battery cable under the deck to the  forward bulkhead and fished the wire through, then plugged up the hole with silicone.

Finally, I cut some Starboard (marine “wood”, to create supporting brackets for a solar panel which plugs into the electrical box to charge the battery. With a nifty combination of bolts, washers, nuts and countersinking I was able to fashion a sweet mounting solution. I had just enough velcro cord holdfasts to secure the wire to the bimini rig.

Thanks to Hoa for dealing with the kids while I was getting all of this done! Hopefully the autopilot will allow us to navigate more effectively and concentrate on the 50 other things that make sailing long distances in strange waters safer and faster!

My lifejacket

Capsized boat off New Jersey coastline

The problem with small craft is that they can tip over very quickly. And if everything is well secured, the only thing supposed to come out of the boat is the crew. This means that the crew needs to be constantly prepared to face the current conditions in the water.

This is not theoretical. Two years ago I capsized in the Delaware River and was exposed to a dunking in 47 degree water and then to 54 degree air temperature with winds gusting to 30mph. My radio was underneath the boat.  Fortunately I had a cell phone in a waterproof sack around my neck. I was able to call 911 (and Wally) in order to quickly effect a rescue since I was unable to re-right my boat singlehandedly. I was rapidly approaching hypothermia by the time the Delaware City Fire/Rescue team delivered me to shore.

At the time, I was complimented by the Fire/Rescue personnel and Fish & Game Ranger for my level of preparation and forethought to have some safety gear and was wearing a lifejacket and a good spray jacket (neoprene cuffs). Furthermore they approved of my decision to stay with the boat and not swim after gear which I had failed to properly secure.

But when I personally reviewed the incident, I felt I had failed to adequately prepare Sea Dart for the conditions, failed to exercise good judgement by being out in conditions for which I was unprepared, failed to adequately dress for conditions in the water, and failed to have robust communication ability from the water in the event of capsize. If not for the cell phone, I could have been in real trouble, since darkness could easily have set before I was found.

Since then, I have extensively modified Sea Dart so that she is much less likely to capsize, and if she does, stands a better chance of being able to be re-righted by Hoa and me. That said, what we wear into the water will be probably be all we could access in a capsize emergency. Therefore, the lifejacket is an important survival tool. target=”_blank”>hypothermia kit, glow sticks, pencil flares, multi-tool, whistle, med kit, knife, emergency strobe, Camelback water system, and a VHF radio. The VHF radio has built-in GPS and “digital select calling” with an emergency transmission capability that transmits my ID and GPS location to similarly-equipped VHF radios in the vicinity (probably ten miles range if the user is in the water). In the heavily trafficked waters we will be plying, this should be sufficient. Hoa’s PLB on her lifejacket is a much more powerful emergency beacon.

Hypothermia Kits

The weather has been mild in Florida this winter, BUT, that does not predict the weather for Wally and me. Hypothermia kits are required gear for the Everglades Challenge, and the Friday before the race will be one of the items checked during a safety inspection conducted by EC veterans.

In our kits are the following: storm proof matches in watertight container which has a compass and whistle and flint strike built in. Small tent candle with two 7 hour candles, space blanket, hand warmers, glow sticks & firestarter cubes. 

Approximate Itinerary

Okay, big dates coming up…

Ferbruary 25th…. ASPA Winter party. No kidding, gotta make Hoa’s work party, b/c she is gonna look great, and I want to dance with her!

Monday, Feb 27th… drive to Bradenton to Hoa’s brother Hoang’s house to deliver Sea Dart near Tampa Bay. Launch her the 28th or the 29th, which gives me some slack in the schedule, as well as final preparations.

Thursday, March 1st: Drive to Key Largo and then take the bus back, rental car, or else fly from Tampa to Bradenton. Yikes… gotta sort this out!

Friday, March 2nd: Mandatory Safety Inspection and Captain’s meeting during the day, meet and great other competitors> Pick up Hoa at the airport in the evening. Sleep in Bradenton.

Saturday, March 3rd  0700 : START THE EC 2012