October 15,2004
Brenton Cove, Newport, Rhode Island
41° 29.325 North
071° 19.319 West

Reading The Mail In Newport

By Douglas Bernon

Soon after we posted on the BoatUS website our log, “A Winter’s Refit Tale, Capitalist Tools and Major Vices” (June 15, 2004), we received our most extraordinary piece of reader email ever. In that log I’d written of my orbital sander, which at Bernadette’s hand, had undergone, and I must quote my article here: “a sex change that included being dandied up with over-rouged lips, a perm of dyed blond hair, some kind of frumpy apron, a dopey blue dress with polka dots and, worst of all, no arms whatsoever.”

Sandy is upset.
I rue the day I ridiculed this fine tool. Not only did I offend my beloved, who’d labored over “Sandy” as a special Christmas present, I also offended the tool itself. Now, one reader has taken up the cudgel in his/her defense and actually opened a legitimate email account with the nom de plume of Sandy deTool. Writing pseudonymously on behalf of the tool with whom he/she apparently feels such affinity, expressing poignantly the hurt and shame I’ve heaped upon this enchanting appliance, Ms. De Tool has demanded a public apology, which on bended knee I hereby offer. I will say more on this, but feel obliged first to present, in full, Ms. De Tool's imploring missive.

A Broken-Hearted Missive From Sandy De Tool

“Dear Dr. Bernon, by now I was hoping you would have developed some modicum of respect for me. But no. With great sadness I read how you bad-mouthed me in your latest Ithaka log. You ridicule my lovely frock and its beautiful colors, all courtesy of your charming and talented and inspired wife. You make fun of my name. You make a point of pointing out my lack of gender. What if I made similar comments about you? You're no Adonis. Take a look in the nearest mirror. What do you see? An Adonis? I didn't think so. It's just plain old you. Nobody else. I at least have mastered my talent and maintained my appearance. Beautifully attired I am always at the ready. Can you say the same? I didn't think so.

“The next time you want to sand something, why don't you just take a boring old piece of sandpaper and see how far and how fast you can go with that. After that you'll beg my forgiveness. Think about it, Dr. Bernon. We tools have feelings, you know. I used to look forward to your touch. No more. Those days are gone. I am going to be asking around if anybody else would like to adopt me and give me the respect I deserve, so you'd better watch out. One of these days you'll reach for me, and I won't be there for you. It's as simple as that. With great disappointment and crushed emotions… Your (for now) Sandy De Tool”

Douglas is chagrined.
From Douglas: Ms. De Tool is correct. I’m no Adonis, and the woman she accurately refers to as my “charming and talented and inspiring wife” took the accompanying picture of me, both supporting Ms. De Tool’s point about my looks and, I hope, conveying my utter horror at having offended this reader. My deepest apologies.

An Update From Guatemala’s Rio Dulce

Janet H. of Essex, Connecticut, sent us this note: “Two years ago you wrote enthusiastically about the Ak Tenamit project, a school and clinic for Q’eqchi Indians on the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala, where you did some volunteer work. Because of what you wrote, I sponsored a Guatemalan child to attend the school, and have received hand-written notes from him ever since. It’s been a very rewarding and fulfilling experience to sponsor this child. I was just wondering if you know any other cruisers who may be in the area these days, and what’s going on at the project from the cruisers’ point of view. Thanks for writing about such a worthy effort.”

It's no longer safe for cruisers to anchor in front of Ak Tenamit.
From Douglas: We have always treasured our experiences at Ak Tenamit, and we’ve kept in touch with some of the people we met there, and a few cruisers who’ve returned there in subsequent hurricane seasons. The project continues its good work with the Q’eqchi (pronounced Kek Chi) Indian children, educating them about farming and other practical vocational enterprises, although there are increasing problems surrounding the area. We just received an email from our friends Kris and Erwin on the sailboat Dutchess, who went into the Rio to escape very unsettled weather in Belize. They are there now, and anchored in front of Ak Tenamit. Here’s a recent note from Erwin, about how they were robbed their first night there. The stolen items included gasoline and diesel jerry jugs, diving tanks, snorkels, masks, flippers, all shoes that were on deck, three pair of sunglasses, the remote control for the autopilot, their digital camera, and other items.

“I talked to the project leader at Ak’ Tenamit,” wrote Erwin, “and he told me no boats should stop there anymore, as there have been other robberies. Ak Tenamit gets robbed every couple of weeks. When they get visitors, staff members show them around personally, because there have been robberies on the grounds. Ak Tenamit now employs their own guards 24 hours a day. This is such a beautiful spot, but it is no longer safe. This really shows how important the Ak Tenamit program continues to be for the Indians here who are trying to give a better life to their kids.”

A Hamster Loose On Ithaka

Norm K. of Moline, Illinois, wrote “C’mon man, you said you were going to take your Ham test in June and we haven’t heard a peep about it. Didya pass or did you blow it? Also can you tell more about the programs you used to learn Morse Code?”

From Douglas: Nice talk, Norm. First Sandy de Tool rakes me over the coals as some kind of misogynist beast, and now you suggest I’m a secretive, incompetent boob. No way, dude. Of course I passed it — granted not by much. I’m now an officially sanctioned hamster with a general class license, and we’re really enjoying having Winlink as our onboard e-mail system. It’s reliable, essentially spam-less, and free. Best of all, Winlink also offers zillions of weather products, also free, and this totally changes how we bring down faxes now.

As for Morse Code study guides, I used CodeQuick, (phone 760-773-9426; e-mail www.cq2k.com), a commercially available product, to learn my basic Code. It’s a quirky and wonderful method that a number of my friends have found useful, too. It’s on CDs, and runs on your computer. There’s also a manual and picture cards that represent each letter symbolically. Instead of memorizing dots and dashes, you memorize sounds. “D,” for instance is a dash followed by two dots. But with CodeQuick you learn it by picturing the dog and his dump, and saying in your mind “DOG did it.” “J” is one dot and three dashes; the picture is of a man in the jaws of a shark, and you learn the letter by repeating: “in JAWS JAWS JAWS.” “H,” which is four dots in a row, is pictured as a heart inside the outline of the state of Texas, can be remembered as “Deep in the Heart.” This is a wonderful way to let the Code sneak up on you. The author of this program claims anyone can achieve five words per minute by studying for an hour a day for 14 days. Well, I sure couldn’t. But I loved the system even if I proved to be in the slow group.

These flashcards and mnemonics (for “J,” “D,” and “H” helped Douglas learn Morse Code, and pass his Ham General License.

My only problem with CodeQuick which has bunches of practice tests, is that you can’t make up your own tests of words and phrases that are personally problematic. So once I had the basic letters and punctuation, I put CodeQuick away and switched to Morse Academy, a free program made available from the Kauai Amateur Radio Club.

Morse Academy has dozens of practice tests AND it allows you to make up your own, as well. That feature was particularly helpful. The Federal Communications Commission makes up all the actual tests, and while there are many versions, they’re uniform in style, format and complexity. The key is being prepared for the test and knowing how it looks and feels. All tests, regardless of the subject matter, measure, first and foremost, how well you can take the test, and only secondarily how well you know some body of material. So these test aids are a crucial tool in passing.

Both CodeQuick and Morse Academy are DOS based and a little clunky, but they work fine. Now, like The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, I’m changing my name to kb1kqf. La Comodora is not amused, but she’s much relived that I have quit obsessing about Morse Code, which I did all through Maine, took off the earphones I always wore when practicing and rejoined the human race on board.

You can also get study materials from www.arrl.org and www.gordonwestradioschool.com.

Anchoring Techniques For Cruising

Millie K. from Sausalito, California, wrote “Is anchoring when you’re cruising any different than anchoring in your home waters? Do you take any special precautions?”

From Bernadette: No matter where you are, home or away, the technique for anchoring securely is more or less the same. The only difference is that, when you’re cruising, you almost always use all chain and, to accommodate the varied bottom conditions, you carry several different anchors. Mostly we use a 45-pound CQR, but we also carry a 44-pound Bruce, and a Fortress anchor large enough for the QEII.

Douglas checks the anchor in Roque Island, Maine.
At home, most boats use a combination of some chain, and mostly rode, because it might make the anchoring procedure easier not to have to man-handle too much chain. However, among coral heads, or hard bottoms, rode is a big problem; you want all chain along that ragged bottom so that no chafe or abrasion compromises your connection. Also, rode is light and boats tend to sway back and forth too much. With the weight of all chain, unless the wind changes direction, you tend to rest still at anchor. (Our second anchor, the Bruce, is on 100 feet of chain attached to 600 feet of rode, and we only use that for emergencies.)

When we come into an anchorage, we motor around and check different depths and bottom contours. We also take a good look at the boats already there. If any are on rode, we avoid anchoring anywhere near them, knowing that they’ll kite back and forth more than we will, and that may bring them too close to us, despite that they may have out the appropriate amount of scope. We also may chose to avoid anchoring near a boat that has out two anchors because this, too, will change the radius of their swing, and could likely land us too close together when the wind shifts.

When we must anchor in the vicinity of another boat, we ALWAYS ask them how much scope they have out. The sacred rule of thumb is to multiply the depth of the water by five, and that’s how much chain you put out AS A MINIMUM. It’s important that everyone adhere religiously to this golden anchoring rule so that when the wind shifts, everyone will swing around on about the same radius, thus keeping the same safe distance from one another in any direction the wind might chose to blow. If a boat has out less than that, when the wind shifts, they will end up closer to other boats than is safe or comfortable. Not cool.

The best way to check that the anchor is set properly is to jump in, look at it, and make sure the ears are buried. This set, in a hard-coral bottom, won't hold.
Before you drop the hook, do a big circle completely around the radius of the drop point, and check the depths all along that circle. This will give you the peace of mind that no matter which way the wind blows you while you’re anchored in that center spot, there will be enough depth to accommodate you, and you’ll never be too close to obstructions. Now, turn into the wind and drop the hook in the middle of that circle.

After you pay out at least half of the total scope, begin to very gently back down on the anchor with low RPM’s, and then pay out more chain as you do, until you have out the sufficient scope. When it’s all out, put on a snubber line (which takes the pressure off the windlass) then back down hard with high RPM’s to make sure the anchor is set, and to confirm that you’re not dragging. Douglas usually is at the bow for this procedure. When he’s done, we change places, I go to the bow, he goes to the wheel, he backs the boat down, and I check the set.

The best way to check the set on your anchor is to stand on the snubber line and, as the boat backs up and the chain goes taut, if the anchor is firmly set, the snubber line will stretch out under your feet and raise you up with it. If the snubber line feels like it’s vibrating under your feet, and never raises you up, well, you’re dragging baby. Very often, it’s when we’re doing our “double check” that we find that the hold is not good enough, and we need to raise up the anchor and try again. (Douglas claims I’m better at determining whether we’re well set because I have more sensitive feet; I think I’m just more observant. Whatever.) This double check is worth the extra 15 minutes, especially when the wind picks up after dark, and you know what efforts you’ve expended to get that hook in really deep. It’s also good from the marital-relations point of view; there’s no finger pointing later if something goes amiss. Once the anchor is well set, over the next few hours it will continue to set itself, as well as a good long line of the chain, even deeper into the mud or sand. If the set wasn’t good in the first place, the first good gust of wind will send your anchor skittering across the bottom.

When we’re in the tropics, and the water is clear and warm, we always check the anchor set by snorkeling down and looking at it. If the set looks unacceptable (the ears of the anchor aren’t buried), often Douglas will scout around underwater, choose a new place nearby, I’ll bring up the anchor with the windlass, maneuver the boat over to the new place he’s found, and drop the anchor where he indicates. With a strong windlass (we just installed a new Lewmar V3), this is easy to do by myself.

Bernadette in Maine, where the anchoring is in luscious, hook-gripping mud.
Nothing, repeat NOTHING, beats a visual anchor check. It’s so important that if someone anchors near us in the tropics, and we notice they haven’t snorkeled down to check their set, one of us will jump in later, perhaps before we take our showers, and wander over there with our snorkel and mask, just to protect ourselves.

So yes, in some ways anchoring when you’re cruising is a bit different. It’s a more careful procedure. But, when you think about it, that’s probably the way we should’ve been anchoring all the time anyway – like our boats and personal safety depend on it. No matter whether we’re near or far from home, it does.