Sunday, February 21, 2016

Down for the count

We are anchored off Palm Beach in Lake Worth, just north of the Royal Park Bridge (map). We arrived yesterday afternoon after a short cruise from the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina, where we stayed a week beyond our originally scheduled month. We are glad to be away from the dock and swinging on the hook.

Our aft deck view of West Palm Beach, across the ICW.

Regular readers will know that we generally prefer anchoring out to marina life, but once in a while we need to get the scooters ashore for access to services not generally available on the waterfront, such as doctors, big-box stores, UPS, and the like. With monthly dockage often breaking even after a stay of just over a week or so, we simply signed up for a month in Riviera Beach from the outset.

When we do this, we seldom overstay, and more accurately, we are usually well past done with being tied to the dock. Barring bad weather, we had been all geared up for a departure last Saturday when our month was up. That was right up until I whacked my knee so badly two weeks ago that I could hardly walk. I spent three full days without moving from the boat, and it was a full week beyond that before I felt I could take the helm. We took an extra couple of days beyond that to complete errands deferred by the incident.

It all happened innocently enough; with our time coming to a close, we decided to go out for a very nice dinner at one of our old local favorites, the Pelican Cafe. As we were walking back to the docks from our scooters, leftovers in hand, I caught my toe on the uneven temporary construction paving and fell forward. (They finished paving this section just a couple of days ago, and the ledge against which I tripped no longer exists.) I blame the leftovers for me landing hard on my knee rather than on my hands, and it was most of a minute before I could even stand back up.

Fortunately, we were again docked at our close-in slip that we had requested originally because of Louise's ankle injury, now mostly healed, and I was able to hobble back to the boat and load up on ibuprofen while rotating ice packs. Three days of on and off icing meant I had very little swelling and no visible bruising, but I could only manage to walk with my leg straight, dragging behind me, leaving me to commiserate with the peg-leg fiberglass pirate on the dock in front of the ersatz pirate tour boat.

The day before all of this transpired, and in fact shortly after my last post here, we had some excitement after dinner as both our AIS receivers started sounding a Man Overboard (MOB) alarm. This is the first time we've experienced one, and I was glad to know that both receivers sported loud audible alerts for it, as we're considering buying one or two of the AIS MOB transmitters that attach to a life vest.

If we had received such an alarm under way, our first steps would have been to plot the position, to see if we needed to alter course. Since we were tied to the dock, instead I immediately notified the Coast Guard, providing them the GPS coordinates and the beacon number. Only after I made the call did I go over to find it on the plot, only to learn the beacon was coming from dry land, at the boatyard next door to our marina.

After updating the Coast Guard, I went over to the boatyard to see if I could find it while Louise sent a Google Maps pin for it to my phone. I managed to walk around the general area for a couple of minutes before their nighttime security stopped me; I explained the situation and that there was conceivably someone who had manually activated a beacon because they were trapped or injured. Despite my best efforts I could not get him to pursue the matter further and I returned home. The alarms continued all night, one every four minutes, and we had to turn the sound off on the receivers.

In the morning I went back over to the boatyard after they opened. They, too, seemed completely unconcerned that a MOB beacon was going off in their yard (it was still sending alerts every four minutes), but in the light of day and without an ornery security guard to throw me out, I could tell it was coming from Privateer, a very expensive and award-winning Cookson 50 racing sailboat on the hard. I tried to persuade the yard personnel to call the owner, as the water-activated beacon may well have activated due to a compartment flooding from all the rain we'd been getting.

Their response, to wit that they can not be bothered to call every boat owner any time an alarm goes off, was enough to convince me never to use this yard (Cracker Boy Boat Works, for the record) for anything important. I thought the owner ought to know, and even though getting contact information for the boat's high-profile financier owner was impossible, I did the next best thing and called the attorney of record for the LLC that holds the title. I never heard back, but the alarms stopped about an hour or so later.

Not only do we keep our AIS receivers on, but we also maintain a listening watch on VHF 16, the hailing and distress channel, even when at the dock. Sometimes that's annoying, often times amusing, and other times horrifying. I'm not sure into what category fits the radio call we heard from the tug and barge lash-up that was T-boned by a sailboat. The tug skipper was in a panic on the radio with the Coast Guard, as he'd never been in a collision before. Apparently the sailboat skipper was below decks or had dozed off; the tug said he'd sounded his whistle and did all he could short of leaving the channel. There were no injuries, but the bow of the sailboat was stove in. We chuckled when the we heard the tug skipper ask "Can I go now? I gotta deliver this barge."

We also rode out another three strong windstorms since my last post, and those are always good for a few interesting radio calls. At one point I had to go hobble up onto the boat deck to lash the new inflatable kayak down harder. Sadly, we still have not even tried it out, the knee injury having waylaid my plans to paddle over to Peanut Island before we left. I hope to try it out here in Palm Beach at slack tide.

The several days I had to spend glued to my chair on account of the injury afforded me plenty of time to tackle some computer projects that I have been procrastinating on getting done. That started, so I thought, with getting the Buffalo file server back in working order, mostly so I could get it and its various bits and pieces off the landscape and back into the network cabinet.

Working on the file server requires a Linux machine (it uses a file system unknown to Windows). When I first recovered the data from the failing hard drive, I used my personal laptop to do so, in the interest of expedience, and it meant I could not move my machine or use it for anything serious for nearly three days. Not wanting to repeat this, I decided to start this time by loading Linux into an unused partition on the old Acer netbook that I keep tucked away just in case I absolutely need Windows for something.

I retired this Acer long ago because it had become slow and unreliable, and long-time readers may remember that it was quickly pressed into service from its retirement when the Northstar chart plotter that came with the boat gave up the ghost two years ago. It mostly worked OK for that purpose, although it continued to have various problems and occasional BSOD errors. The latter rose to a crescendo while we were in the Bahamas last year and I ultimately bit the bullet and retired it again by replacing it with an HP mini-desktop, leading to the great Windows 8.1 Debacle of 2015.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that starting to write data on a previously unused part of the disk set off a paroxysm of errors that sent me into two days of disk troubleshooting before I could get anything actually useful done. The disk problems, on a drive I scavenged from a "Passport" portable drive when the original hard drive failed years ago, were most likely behind at least some of the other problems with this machine over the past few years. Microft's CHKDSK utility never found them, right up to the very end, and I turned to Western Digital (manufacturer of the drive) and their disk utilities to try to sort it out.

All that could do, though, was to tell me the drive was borked (technical term there) in a big way. It's unusual for a modern drive to fail multiple hardware tests without at least attempting to patch around the problem areas, but in this case that's exactly what happened. Which left me with the problem of how to copy the good data onto a different drive without it failing in the middle. Even re-loading a working copy of Windows on a Netbook (no CD drive and no Windows CD) requires an intact disk with a recovery partition.

I ended up running it from a "Ubuntu live" USB stick to copy the failing hard drive over to a spare drive, which had come out of my current Asus machine when I upgraded to an SSD for performance reasons a few months ago. That got everything working again, after a quick reinstall of the antivirus that became corrupted in the disk failure, and I was able to get the server back together and fired up in its proper place under the helm. The Acer is tucked back away, now with Ubuntu/WindowsXP dual boot, for whatever reason it may next get pressed back into service.

The overall repercussions of the server failure continue to reverberate, and I'll probably never know how many files are gone forever. I'll be keeping both failed disks in case I ever realize there is something else on there that needs to be recovered. In the meantime, all the electronics on board are once again in working order.

One of our favorite restaurants, Dos Amigos in Northwood, with $2 tacos and drafts on Tuesdays. I'm not sure how a "vessel" could make it this far from the lake to get towed away.

Speaking of which, one of the trinkets we picked up at Trawler Fest was a USB drive with Coastal Explorer chart plotting software on it, and a discount code for the license, good to the end of March. The software works for ten days without the license as a trial, and I set it up on the helm computer, which I originally set up as a Windows machine for exactly this purpose. In hindsight, I should have waited for my knee to recover first, because we ended up with just a single day left on the trial when we finally left the dock.

I have to say I am disappointed. The UI is certainly snappier and easier to use than what we are using now (Polar View), the display is nicer, and night mode is a vast improvement. Route planning with obstacle avoidance would be a boon, and the various weather and guidebook screens that I saw in the demo are very nice. But there are two major issues with the system that are really show-stoppers for us.

The first is that there is an audible "collision" alarm for AIS targets, based on user-set CPA and TCPA parameters, that can not be turned off. My choices are to turn off the speakers, which would mean we would not hear other alarms such as depth, or anchor circle, or else set the CPA and TCPA values so low that the alarms seldom happen, which means we would not see them visually, either. Our current system shows "dangerous" targets as red, but gives us the option of whether or not we want to hear an audible alarm when a target turns red.

The second is that there is no option to remove "own vessel" from the AIS target display. We have two connected AIS receivers; one is the transponder, which does not send our own vessel as a target. The other receiver "hears" our own vessel's transmissions and sends that data to the plotter as a target, so it's always either right on top of us or a short distance behind on the display, just about to "collide" with us. Here again, our current system allows us to filter out our own MMSI from the display to avoid this problem.

Rose Point, makers of Coastal Explorer, claim the second problem is in the hopper for development and there will be such a filter feature in a future release, but have not given a date. The first problem they seem reluctant to even acknowledge as an issue, although I see it as a significant bridge management problem. We don't want to live with either of these problems, but both together make for an unusable system for us. We have until the end of March to decide to buy at the discount price, but for now we've let the trial lapse and will be using our familiar Polar View until then.

New solar-powered all-around light, in a mount I made from PVC fittings.

In the less virtual realm, I also knocked out a few more projects both before and after the knee episode, including adding a solar-powered all-around light to our dinghy to mark it while we're anchored. I also replaced the 1/4" plywood reinforcement I had previously added to the helm chair, which was cracking after two years of use, with HDPE fashioned from a kitchen cutting board I bought for the purpose. We got new LED lamps in the master stateroom to replace the dollar-apiece ones that were starting to fail after a couple of years; the new $1.70 apiece replacements are a newer, brighter model. The extras displaced some lower-lumen units and that cascaded all over the boat, so most of our lighting is now a bit brighter. And while Louise gave our ensign an overdue trip through the wash, I sanded, stained, and varnished the ensign staff, which was definitely showing its age.

Freshly refinished ensign staff and clean ensign.

I'm happy to report that the camera system is working well, and I've enjoyed "checking up" on the boat while we were away at dinner on various occasions. Now that we've used it under way, I think I need to shim above the aft deck camera to get a better view astern; right now I can only see a couple of boat lengths.

Yesterday was a busy day, starting out with our final pumpout at the marina, followed by topping up the water tank before bringing the scooters down to the dock to hoist them aboard. I brought the tender around to the face dock, temporarily vacated by the megayacht Le Lien, where we picked it up on our way out, as we could not load it at our own slip. I never did give it a proper sea trial, so we'll have to do that here in Palm Beach.

We arrived in West Palm Beach after making the 2:15 opening at the Flagler bridge, passing our old digs at Palm Harbor, where we definitely do not want to pay in-season rates. We were surprised to see the city docks, nominally day-use only, filled to the brim with classic old yachts; apparently we stumbled onto the second annual Palm Beach Regatta. That also meant threading our way past a sailboat race on our way to the anchorage.

One of the land exhibits at the Regatta, a lovingly restored vintage Arena Craft Barracuda.

It was a beautiful day, and so after dropping the hook we splashed the tender and went ashore to check out the classic beauties, including President Kennedy's yacht the Honey Fitz, which departed shortly after we arrived. That yacht normally berths right where we anchored in DC, but was absent then, with Greta Van Susteren's yacht S.S. Sophie in its place.

Honey Fitz departing the show.

Just across the street from the waterfront, the Meyer Amphitheater was hosting India Fest, and we wandered through. There must be quite the Indian community here in the Palm Beaches, with many festival goes turning out in traditional attire. I'm sorry I did not think to snap a photo. Not wanting to fight the West Palm Beach crowds for a Saturday evening dinner, we returned to Vector for a nice steak on the grill.

As I was sitting here typing this earlier today, I spotted a mast and a familiar pilothouse roof passing by, and arose to see none other than our friends Rudy and Jill aboard Briney Bug coming in to the anchorage. They dropped the hook just a short distance from us and we will see them this evening for cocktails -- the cruising community is a tight-knit group.

With pleasant weather forecast for the next several days, and the Palm Beaches just a short tender ride from our doorstep, I expect we'll be right here for a while, enjoying being able to walk the pleasant downtown areas, now that I am able to do so with just a slight limp. We have no particular schedule and want to spend some time just enjoying life on the hook. I'll likely post again from our next stop, wherever that may be.

1 comment:

  1. It only took seconds to get the urban dictionary version of "borked", and it follows your context quite well. I did discover in other research that the first time the term was used was by feminist Florynce Kennedy in regard to the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the SCOTUS. "We're going to bork him. We're going to kill him politically ... This little creep, where did he come from?" - referring of course to the rejected nomination of Robert Bork to the court (and the failed attempt to derail Thomas' nomination).


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