Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Merry Christmas, Captain!

I know many of you are getting nervous as the Christmas season approaches. “What do I get the captain this year? That gold Rolex I got him last year seems so inadequate.” Well, you’re right. Be that as it may, you don’t have to be a dog this year.

Buying for your captain can be wrought with hazards. He runs this really big, really nice boat and has all those toys to play with. What could he possibly want? Quite a bit actually. Remember, he RUNS the boat, he generally doesn’t own it. Even if he does, he has probably put so much into its upkeep, he can’t afford to buy gas for his Lamborghini this week.

In an effort to make the season a little less stressful on you this year, I’ve compiled this list of items that will be appreciated by myself and other captains on your Christmas list. Just start at the top and work your way down. No need to buy them all this month, but by Halloween, you should have everything, except maybe the shirt, safely wrapped and hidden.

Remember, your captain doesn’t ask for much from you, that’s why this list is rather short. Unless there is smoke coming off your American Express Black card, you’re falling behind.

Weems & Plath Clock  and Barometer– Every captain worth his salt needs a barometer. We are out in the weather all the time so it affects our daily lives. What with the weather services being so horribly unreliable and full of lies, we must fend for ourselves. With a barometer we can more accurately predict approaching storms and stock up on rum and limes. The clock makes for a nice set and since you were too cheap to buy us the Presidential Rolex last year instead of just the gold model, we need something to tell time on. This clock will get us to the bar in time for happy hour. Nothing worse than a sober captain at four o’clock in the afternoon.
Shirts from Outdoor World – Nice selection of shirts for both guys and gals. Help your captain dress better than some smuggler from the 70’s.
Capt. Ron DVD – The quintessential instruction manual for all captains. Prepares your captain for everything from “gorilla” attacks to storms at sea. A must see DVD. 
Pay his or her cell phone bill for a month – If you don’t have a lot of money, this gift will still be appreciated very much, Believe me.

Boat shoes – If you can get past the odor, look at an old pair for the correct size. But don’t be surprised if they want to wear the old ones. You know, the ones that are just now getting broken in even though their toes are coming out the front.
Flip Flops - Like boat shoes, the olds will fall apart before the new ones are worn. Don't take it personally.

Pelican Box - Nothing works better at keeping the captain's potato chips from getting soggy. Or even his expensive camera.
Leatherman with a saw – One off the best tools ever devised for a captain. Just make sure to get the one with a saw blade. It can do stuff that a regular blade cannot. If you are superstitious, get the captain to give you a dollar in exchange. Some say a gift of a knife will cause an argument in a relationship.

Sandless beach blanket -  Boats and beaches seem to go together unless you drive the stew up the wall by bringing the beach back with you to the boat. This blanket will leave the sand where it belongs. Now, if they could make a swimsuit out of this stuff, maybe that rash would clear up.

LED flashlight from the kids – The kids want to give the captain something but are low on funds and you have to pay that speeding ticket or you are going to jail…again. Home Depot and Lowe’s have LED flashlights that sell in four packs for less than ten dollars. You can never have enough flashlights on a boat. I worked on a tug boat in the Hawaiian Islands and the captain had three requirements for his crew. Don’t wake him unless we were sinking, every crew member had to have at least one personal flashlight and you had to have sharp knife or you couldn’t step on board.
Dehooker – If he or she fishes, this is an essential, and in some places mandatory, item to have on board. No more teeth marks on the wrist or missing finger tips.
Hook sharpener –Great for tuning up new and used hooks. Even the new ones right out of the package are not sharp enough for the true fisherman. You might want to throw in a box of Band-Aids also.
Hand scale – Weigh your catch to make sure it’s not a record before it wiggles it way over the side again. Buy a good one though. Read the reviews.
100% cotton shirts, try and stay away from blends.
Jimmy Buffet – Almost everyone deserves boat Drinks Get all the most popular songs in this 4 cd collection.

Well, don't just sit there. Let's go shopping. Don't slam the saloon door on the way out. Don't want to wake the Captain.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bowditch On Disk

Every boater who has ever run up against a navigational problem to which there is a not a clear answer or whoever wanted to settle a yacht club bar bet has at one time or another looked to Bowditch's American Practical Navigator for the definitive answer. The problem with Bowditch and other tomes on navigation is that sometimes finding the answer can be as frustrating as the problem itself.

The easy way to settle these disputes is on a new CD-ROM from Starpath. Bowditch Plus contains the complete text of Bowditch's The American Practical Navigator, in searchable form, on one CD.

I was helping a friend pick out a radar for his boat and he wanted to know how far away he would be able to see objects. He thought since he was considering a thirty-six mile radar he would be able to see larger objects that far away. I explained to him that it was not just the power of the radar but the height at which it was mounted. The formula for finding the distance to the visible horizon is Distance = 1.17 times the square root of the height of the object (the radar or your eye.) (There is a slight difference between radar horizons and visible horizons, but for most purposes, the amount is negligible.)

We went to the Piloting Tables on the CD-ROM, picked Distance of the Horizon, plugged in the height of the radar antenna (25'), and it calculated that under optimal conditions, the radar would reach out to a usable distance of 5.845 statute miles. My friend is now looking a way to raise the height of the radar dome to get a better view. Unlike the book version, this CD actually computes the distance for you, not only saving time, but also eliminating errors due to mathematical mistakes.

Also included on the CD are all the chart symbols, definitions and abbreviations, US and International, indexed by name and graphical design along with all contact and internet links to all the hydrographic offices worldwide. The whole database is searchable. I looked up the Rule for the proper lights to display if you are aground and the program took me directly to the page with rule and the illustration. The complete Navigation Rules, Rules of the Road, are also included. This is a great reference tool.

You can search for terms and symbols, or you can use the convenient indexes to locate what you need. With more and more boats carrying computers onboard, this a reference tool that will help you find what you need in a hurry. The contents can be run from the CD or loaded on the hard disk. If you have the room, load the Rules of the Road and other modules you think you will, need to your hard disk. This gives you quicker access times and smoother operation.

Boats have limited storage space and this CD removes the need to carry a big reference volume with you. It is easy to use and is great example of technology making a complex subject easier to understand.

Bartender, give my buddy my tab.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bimini Bliss, The App

Apps. They are everywhere. Some good, some bad. Occasionally you run into one that is truly useful. That is the case with the Bimini Bliss app for IPhones, IPads and even my ITouch, 4G version.

This app is truly a fountain of useful information. You can find everything from restaurants to airlines and bars. Historical information and just plain old sightseeing are all included. Did you know Bimini has a library? Stumble in bleary eyed, leave a book and take one out. Want to dive with dolphins, make  contact with Capt. Geoffrey Hanan at the Dolphin Expedition Group.

Are you aware that the historic Complete Angler bar and restaurant burned down? A short history about this world famous bar and a photo of its remains are included. The Big Game Club, which has hosted everyone from Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway to John Travolta and Jimmy Buffet is almost across the street.

The app has over 145 entries. Many have their own photo slide show, a helpful write-up; with interactive links, YouTube videos, built-in maps, hours and days of operation, and cost. There a few changes such as the fact that Captain Bruce Robbins and Captain Toye Stevens are no longer at the Neal Watson’s Dive Bimini, but changes happen quickly in the tropics, so this a minor point and an update is planned in the next few months.

I worked in the Bahamas for a number of years and spent many weeks in Bimini. I found this guide to be useful and informative. If you have never been to Bimini, this guide will help smooth the way. If you have been there before, it may open doors for you that you did not know existed.

This is from the APPShopper Site:

• Explore swimming with wild, Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
• Snorkel or dive the famous Bimini Road (possible site of the mystical isle of Atlantis)
• Find the big, fast, angling catches: marlin, sailfish, tuna, Wahoo, and bonefish.
• Dive with Caribbean Reef and Lemon sharks
• Tour the world-famous Shark Lab
• Kayak through the beautiful mangroves and flats
• Handle the harmless, indigenous, Bimini Boa
• Munch on sweet Bimini Bread
• Discover the freshest Conch salad, and best lobster spots
• Dance with the best bands with original island music

The app runs just $3.99. That is less than a bottle of beer, and much more informative.

Old hand or newcomer, you owe it to yourself to try this app.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Leatherman Blast

You’ve just climbed to the top of your tuna tower. You have wonderful bird’s eye view of the pretty girl on the bow of the boat two slips down. She’s not wearing her top again while getting a tan. Thank goodness for sun tan lotion. And youth.

You can finish up the last part of that new cable run to the repeater for the GPS as soon as you cut the old cable ties and snake the data cable into place. You look around and all you have brought up with you is a Phillips screw driver. You look around for anything with a sharp edge to cut the old ties. Nope. Nothing. You look at the pretty girl and figure it’s going to be a long, sweaty climb back down and then back up once you get a knife before you can go over and offer her a beer and some help applying more sun block. In addition, you are not going to look your best. Resigned to a long climb in both directions, you get ready to lower yourself to the first step and then you remember that you have your Leatherman Blast on your belt. Life is suddenly very good.
You open the sheath and select the blade, which cuts through the ties as if they made of spaghetti instead of hard plastic. You run the new cable, retie the cable run and think about SPF factors and cold beer.
Again, your Leatherman has saved you time and effort. Founded by Tim Leatherman and Steve Berliner in 1983, the company has grown dramatically for one very basic reason. Their tools work well. I’ve personally carried a Leather man for over twenty years and have found them extremely well made and easy to use.
I’ve been on boats that had a limited tool inventory and found my Leatherman to fill most niches with ease. The tool is not designed to be a full replacement for your regular tools, but it can step into the breach and save your day more often than you may expect. I cut a hole in an aluminum roof to install a hatch for light and air using nothing but a battery operated drill and a Leatherman. It was one of those situations where I only had a small window of opportunity to do the job and the Leatherman performed flawlessly.
I have learned over the years carrying one on boat is extremely handy. I have also found that you want to have one of the models that has a saw blade on it. The serrated teeth can do things more safely and easier than the regular knife blade, that comes on most models. The knife is extremely sharp. I cut myself to the bone right behind a knuckle when I wasn’t paying attention because my then girlfriend was rushing me to open a plastic clam shell package. The finger has healed and the girlfriend is gone.
The Blast has 15 different tools. Some are double duty, like the needle nose and regular pliers, but I don’t mind. If it works, it works. And these work. Download the user’s blade guide to get a good overview of the versatility of each model you are interested in.
At first glance, some of the tools may seem to be an odd choice. For example, the Phillips and Flat Tip Eyeglasses Screwdriver Bit. How many times have bought one those repair kits for eyeglasses just to get the little screwdriver to repair you glasses? If you are out to sea on a delivery and crew member needs to tighten the screw that holds the arm of her glasses to the frame, you could save the day with your Leatherman. You will find there are not too many places you can just pull over and buy a kit to repair her sunglasses.
The wire strippers, regular screwdrivers and even the scissors will find many uses. Longer blades make it easier to slice, saw, file and turn a screw. When you need a quick fix or a way to just tighten something, there is nothing as handy as a well-made Leatherman Blast.
Now get off that tuna tower, grab a couple of beers and the suntan lotion and get down the dock. Youth doesn’t last forever.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Manatees, Not Just For Dinner Anymore

          It seems that the venerable manatee is not only good for stew, but can also be the source of life-saving research.

            Researchers at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Ft. Pierce, Fl. Have discovered that a virus found in manatees is similar to the one that causes cervical cancer in women. 

            By studying manatees who seem to have a great resistance to normal viruses, researchers hope they understand better the disease that kills 200,000 women a year worldwide. 

            Greg Bossart, director of Marine Mammal Research & Conservation at Harbor Branch discovered the virus called papilloma virus in manatees about four years ago. Manatees have never been shown to be susceptible to viruses before. “Natural disease in manatees is almost never heard of. Their ability to fight disease is well developed. Therefore, sea cows may also be a model to investigate HIV,” said Bossart.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nikon Binoculars

You are approaching an unfamiliar inlet just after sunset. You check your chart repeatedly to make sure you are coming in right where you want to be. There is not much traffic so there are no other boats to give you a hint as to where the inbound channel starts. The lights on the buoys are flashing in their prescribed patterns, but you wish you could get a closer look just to be sure.
Only one sensible thing to do. Anchor out all night. Well, that’s not going to work, is it? So you reach for your binoculars and suddenly there is the red number two approach buoy. Now you have your bearings. You turn and enter the channel and the other markers fall into place, giving you a lit path to the marina.
Binoculars are a very handy item to have on board. Relatively inexpensive, although they can climb in price rather sharply, they give you the ability to see at dusk or even into the night much clearer than the unaided eye.
I ordered a new pair of Nikon 7x50’s when I couldn’t find my other pair that I had for over twenty years. As is usually the case, two days after they arrived, I found my old pair, still working as if they were brand new. They have been on so many boats around the world they should have their own passport.
These binoculars are not the highest magnification by any means. However, on a boat less than 80 feet, you will find that these are perfect. With higher magnification units, you can find it hard to hold the object you are looking at in the field of vision. As the boat moves, the buoy or lighthouse will keep jumping out of your field of vision. The seven-power magnification gives you a very usable view. If you use a higher magnification, you can become seasick as your eyes try to focus constantly on a moving object. You are boating, not bird watching.
The objective lens of 50mm represents the diameter of each of the objective lenses (the lenses furthest from your eye), given in millimeters. Therefore, 7x50 binoculars have objective lenses 50 mm in diameter. The better a lens gathers light, the better you will be able to see in dim light. Coated lenses are standard now a days and will give you good usable contrast, especially in difficult lighting conditions.
If you value how your hands are attached to your arms, you will never pick up a pair of the captain’s binoculars without permission. Moreover, if you ask, you are still going to come across as someone without boating experience. Never go up on the bridge and just grab the binoculars. These Nikons have individually adjustable eyepieces, diopters, and once set to your eyes provide a consistently clear view. Change them without permission and you are going to be riding home in the engine compartment.
Some captains prefer image stabilized units. These can be quite expensive for an excellent pair. I have used both and still prefer my Nikons over everything else.
Whatever your choice, get yourself a good pair and hang on to them. They can make your landfalls safer and less worrisome.