The Dingy Fiasco part 1

It’s hard to believe that I have 5+ years and 20,000+ miles under my belt. I don’t.

Why, you wonder?

Oh, the routine things, those daily tasks or almost daily takes, are easy. It was in Germany when I lost my bow thruster. That was at the beginning of our 2015 Baltic Adventure. Seems like ages ago.

So, I’m pretty good at back and filling now. I can turn Dauntless around in a 180° in two boat lengths or 85 feet. It also gives me the excuse to Just Say No. When a marina, like recently at Dana Point, gave me a slip that I thought that I may be able to get in, but never get out again, I was able to easily say no, without guilt.

They found an end “T” dock for me.

I can also change the Racor fuel filters and prime them in less than two minutes. But now, I have the wisdom that I don’t need to rush. That’s the advantage of having the two dual Racor filters in parallel. Also, by only feeding from one fuel tank at a time, it a problem or issue develops, I immediately change the tank feed and filter and then diagnose the problem. This came in handy a couple of weeks ago when I sensed a change in engine pitch.  I immediately asked Larry to take the helm, while I went to the engine room. Sitting on the stringer in front of the engine, I could tell the rpms were not steady, but slowly rising and falling.

That meant a fuel or air problem.

The Racor bowl looked good, but I immediately changed to the other Racor. No change. I switched fuel tanks. The surging continued and got a bit worse.  But now I thought I understood the issue. I talk Larry to increase the throttle. After a moment’s hesitation, the engine started running smoothly and normally again.

What was the problem?  I’d run the fuel tank empty!

But I didn’t kill the engine because I acted immediately by changing both the filter (that at that point, probably had some air in it) and the tank. The Ford Lehman can be a PIA if you run it totally out of fuel, but I do have an auxiliary electric pump which I use just to prime the Racors and the engine mounted filters if need be. It works great, within seconds, system is pressurized and no more f…ing with that lift pump on a hot engine.

But the dingy, why that’s another matter. In 2016 we only used it a few times. Sitting in Cabo San Lucas with nothing to do, waiting for the head winds to die down, I figured I may as well make one last attempt to get the dingy going.

I spent an hour in the hot Cabo sun pumping it full of air. I’d already used another tube of 5200 to seal the back transom to the pontoons. The dingy looked pretty good. No need for a new stink’in dingy. I had looked at the local Costco the day before but saw no sign of any. (My observational powers leave a lot to be desired).

My inflatable, inflated. Looked pretty good.

Then in yet another moment of inexperience, I decided to lower the dingy to the dock, without checking the outboard.

I was feeling pretty good until the next morning. That sad picture tells the tale.

I decided that we could survive without the dingy. And in hindsight, we would’ve, could’ve, should’ve done without one.

Returning to Costco to stock up on required supplies like Danishes for yet another attempt to head north, I spotted the dingy that had eluded me the last TWO visits. They had it displayed standing vertically, on it’s tail. Of course, I couldn’t see it like that. They may as well have hung it from the ceiling.  But remember, that this point, I had decided to go without. How was I going to get it to the boat in any case, so, I just bought my Danishes

Walking out of the store, I noticed these guys, presumably taxi drivers, and with my 20-word Spanish vocabulary, I never found out, but they did point me back to the store and I understood that Costco delivered.

When businesses make it easy to spend money, I’m all in. In 10 minutes, I had my dingy bought and they would deliver the next day.

The Next Day

Another hour of foot pumping, my new dingy was good to go. Now, to get the outboard working. Of course, after The First and Nearly the Last almost a year of non-use, it was a no-go.

The New Dingy

I realized I had to clean the ports in the carburetor again. No biggie, except in my inexperience, I had not done this while the outboard was on the boat or even on the dock. It was now sitting on the transom of the new dingy. I debated trying to take the carb apart while hanging off the end of the boat., but realized it was a sure way to lose a critical part. My back would have to pay the price for my brain not thinking about this before.

Another hour later, I finally was good to go and thought it would be good to take the dingy down to the fuel dock and fill up the gas can.

All went as planned and I was left with a confidence that I did not deserve.

The video of the first and nearly the last dingy trip

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Keys:

 

Anchoring at Night in Strange Places; It’s not for the Faint Hearted.

Only day’s away from completing this 2,000-mile, two-month journey, I found myself breaking yet another of my hard and fast rules I made for myself 5 years ago.  Entering yet another harbor at night, and having to anchor by radar, avoiding darkened, moored boats and mooring balls.

But like most hard and fast rules, I had to weigh the circumstances against various risks. In this case, anchoring at night was the least risky option. I’d left Channel Island Harbor at 04:00 for the 120 nm voyage to San Luis Obispo harbor. I’d planned on 19 hours. Thus, to arrive before sunset, would require me to leave the Channel Islands at midnight.

Leaving anyplace at midnight means a total disruption of my sleep cycle. I’d be starting a long trip tired and already behind my personal power curve. By leaving at 04:00, I’d be able to get a reasonable 6 hours sleep and 03:00 is on my natural wake up curve (though normally, I’d go back to sleep for another 3 hours).

Raymarine E-80 Radar, C-Map on Coastal Explorer, Navionics chart on Samsung Tablet

 

 

 

 

 

Therefore, anchoring in a strange harbor at night seemed for me to be the lessor of two evils.

Let’s talk some basics. Four years ago, I hated my Raymarine E-80 Radar. I felt (and still do) that it was 1980’s technology, dressed to look like the 21st century. It was on my lest to replace at the earliest opportunity when money allowed. I had wanted a radar that I could integrate into my Coastal Explorer and C-Map chart plotter, navigation program.

San Luis Obispo harbor

Using the “Auto” settings, the E-80 will show you if the Exxon Valdez is bearing down on you, but otherwise, it either filters too much or not enough to be useful for close in maneuvering. As the miles and time increased under my belt, I learned how to best fine tune the radar using the manual settings for gain and sea state (which is basically a filter) to make it an effective tool.

Whenever I start the engine, I also turn on the: radar, navigation lights, auto pilot, VHF radios and horn.

Always.

For the first lesson in using the radar is that you must use it when the visibility is ideal, to be able to effectively and safely use it when the visibility is impaired, whether due to darkness or weather conditions (mainly fog, rain is another issue).

While underway I’m constantly checking and identifying any radar contacts visually, as well as on the navigation charts (for navigation markers, buoys, etc.).

As soon as I spot something the radar does not see, I adjust the radar, fine tuning so to speak. Normally this is just a matter of adjusting the sea state setting, though sometimes I also must fine tune the gain. E.g. I may see a fishing skiff a half mile off my starboard quarter, but it’s not showing up on the radar. I’ll have to lower the sea state setting, maybe only a few points, until the skiff shows up, but not the countless wave tops around it.  Sometimes, I’ll have to adjust the gain also.

My goal is always for the radar to show me potential hazards, without showing me wave tops. For the last couple of years, my tuning technique has been good enough to do exactly that. Forget the “auto” settings, they are hopeless.

Since I don’t get many false alarms, this also allows me to maximize the use of the two zone monitors.  For coastal cruising, like I’ve done since entering the Pacific Ocean, I set up a ring at ½ mile, that’s an 1/8 of a mile thick. Thus, if anything enters that ring you get an alarm. If you just put a circle around your boat at ½ mile, the radar will see some clutter very close to the boat and thus render the alarm, ineffective at best and annoying at worse. I make this ring go about 220° to 300° around the boat. That way it will see something approaching from the stern quarters, but not directly behind, as the radar will occasionally see a reflection of the mast, again making it ineffectual.

The second zone I set up 1 to 1.5 miles from the boat, in a much more 20° arc.

On the open ocean, well away from land, I’ll basically double these distances.

If I do get any false alarms, I adjust again. Usually it happens as the sea state gets worse (bigger seas).

For my set up, I find values of both the gain and the sea state in the 70’s to work best. In flat seas, I can lower the sea state to just above 50, but again, even changes of 1 or 2 can make a significant difference.

On this night, entering San Luis Obispo (SLO), as the seas calmed as I entered the bay that is protected from the NW through the East, I readjusted the sea state, lowering the filter values. From my charts I knew there was a mooring field, presumably with some moored boats. I adjusted the E-80 so that it would pick up objects as small as the mooring balls. Had the seas been above 2 to 3 feet, this would have been an impossibility, but if I had such seas in the harbor, I wouldn’t be stopping in any case.

This night, with strong NW winds, the harbor was well sheltered and the seas where maybe half a foot or less. Under those conditions the radar will do well.

I open and secure both pilot house doors, so that I can have quick access to looking out. I also go to the bow to scan the approach with binoculars (7×35), which I find very effective a night in poor light conditions.

Thus, I have that visual picture in my head, while checking the radar to ensure it’s seeing the same things.  Again, because I am constantly doing this in the daytime in good visibility, I have the confidence to know what the radar is telling me at night, when I must trust

Here is a short video of  it of me getting ready to enter the harbor:

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Here are some stills made 2 minutes before the above video:

The radar 2 min before I took video
Coastal Explorer using C-Maps above, Navionics on tablet below

Three years ago, going through the main shipping channels of the Kattegat to the Skagerrak over the top of Denmark, I was terrified by what my brain perceived as the massive ship about to crush Dauntless. I was outside the channel, marked m red buoy, I knew the ship had to stay in the channel. The radar told me the buoy and this massive ship were ¼ mile distant, but my brain, every time I looked at the ship, I could swear was less than 50 feet away.

My mind was so convinced this ship was towering over us, that even as I checked and rechecked the positions of the markers on the chart and the ship and marker on the radar, all showed the target as more than a quarter mile away, but my mind would just not accept it.

I only calmed down when the ship was past.  In the daytime, my mind would not have been fooled, but at night, the perspective of distance, becomes very difficult.

I realized then that if I was going to continue to travel at night and not die of a heart attack, I had to make sure I knew exactly what the radar was telling and what it wasn’t and once done, accept what it showed.

So, this night, almost midnight, as I pulled into SLO bay, the radar guided me to a large area with a diameter of about half a mile with no mooring balls, though there were a couple of boats anchored on the west edge.

No fuss; no muss,

I was anchored in 25 feet of water at 23:20 having done 120 nm in 19 hours and 30 minutes, at an average speed of 6.2 knots.

The trip from CI Hbr to SLO. The Maretron data for pitching and rolling shows I did a fair amount after I rounded the corner to head north.

The morning after:

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