Tuesday, January 28, 2014

US Power Squadron - All About Safety

We had our official US Power Squadron Boat Safety Inspection today!

When I first started sailing, I had no idea that there were actual Federal Safety Regulations for boaters.  We wanted to be compliant so I went looking for information. There are SO many resources out there but I found this very comprehensive brochure to be helpful.

When we bought Dos Libras, we stepped into a new category under the Federal Boater Safety Requirements.  Boats less than 40 feet in length have slightly different requirements than those in the 40 to 65 ft range.  I wanted to make sure that we had all of our I's dotted before we ventured further into Florida waters and beyond.

Origin Page 42
The United States Power Squadron's website provides a wealth of information.  They also offer a free Vessel Safety Check for boaters.  All you have to do is ask! You can take their "Virtual Safety Check" online but we chose to have a one-on-one inspection of our boat.

Why?  I'm understandably concerned about safety as we sail off into the sunset.  But there are other benefits to having the VSC decal displayed on our boat.  Coast Guard, Harbor Patrol and other law enforcement entities may be less likely to detain us if they see that we carry a current inspection certificate.  Secondly,  West Marine will knock 10% off of your purchase price for Safety Equipment.  Also, many insurance carriers will give a discount on your premium renewal if you have the Safety Certification, and our insurance is coming up for renewal very soon!

We went over the list of requirements to make sure that everything was in order.  We had one light that has been working intermittently so Bruce engaged the help of our neighbor to hoist him up the mast for a quick bulb replacement and to check the connections.  After that we were ready.

We were contacted by Mr. O'Brien after completing the USPS online request.  It took a couple of weeks so do it when you'll be staying put for a bit.  Ted came out to our boat and went through the safety requirements with us.  He also gave us some advice about cruising to many of our planned destinations.

Did you know that your flare gun can be considered a weapon?  Ted advised that we declare it as such when entering the Bahamas, along with the number of cartridges we carry.

We had an informative discussion about our fire extinguishers.  We carry B-C extinguishers and my question was about how long they last.  Our extinguishers are still within the "green" on the gauge, but how long do they really last?  Ted taught us how to listen for the powder inside to be mobile.  He said that if we could hear and feel the powder moving around inside the canister when turned upside down, it should be fine.  He also mentioned that this can be done monthly to make sure the powder doesn't pack.  Another tip was that sometimes the gauges stick, so they can be unreliable.  We also discovered that we aren't adequately covered for all types of fire, so we'll be using that West Marine discount for a couple of new Type ABC extinguishers.

Did we pass?  Only with flying colors!!!  We had everything in order and produced it all quickly.  We even impressed Ted when we pulled out our Waste Management Plan document, required for boats over 40 ft! He gave the impression that few boats had these.

I affixed our sticker to the mast with a feeling of pride and relief.  You don't HAVE to have your vehicle safety checked, but for us... the most important reason to do it... is peace of mind.  I feel more confident in our boat and have a better understanding of what we can do to be safe while we Cruise.

UPDATE:  We went to West Marine to buy some ABC fire extinguishers and some extra flares and smoke sticks.  They didn't know about the discount and if I hadn't had the 10% off coupons on the iPad, they wouldn't have discounted our purchase.  So take the coupons with you!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Whoops!! Time To Renew A Passport!

Florida seems to be a more "Boat Savvy" place, what with all the recent rumors of multiple boardings and inspections.  So this morning I suggested that we make sure that all of our documentation requirements are met and are easily accessible.  I want to avoid fumbling-around-for-stuff so that if when we get boarded, we look like we know what we're doing.

When we began the real push towards cruising some 3+ years ago, the expiration dates on our passports seemed far distant.  Imagine my horror when I flipped open Bruce's passport and found that it expires in May, 2014.  That's THIS MAY!!!!  Wow!  Isn't that about when we would like to be enjoying the Bahamas???  Why yes, it IS!

Crap!  So I sprung into action, the internet being my first go-to source of information and much to my surprise, we can renew online and by mail.  Quick and easy!  No finding of offices or waiting in lines.    Just click on the link, follow the clear and precise instructions, complete online form DS 82 and print.  Sign and date the form, send it in with a current passport photo and your expiring passport... and voila!  Done!

So, before you head out!  Make sure that your passport is good.  Many countries require a minimum number of months remaining on your passport to enter.

UPDATE:  When we did this, the online pre fill form expired 12/31/13.  We had to use the "Complete by hand" form which expires 12/31/2016.  I sent in a notification to them so maybe they'll get it fixed soon.  Be sure you use the current form!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Distant Cousins - Suncoast Primate Sanctuary

We're really getting GOOD at this public transportation stuff!  The Jolley Trolley here in Clearwater is super nice.  The Trolleys are clean and the drivers are VERY accommodating and helpful.  So... on Sunday, even though we had a car... we talked our daughter into taking the Trolley for an outing to some of the spots we missed on our Saturday Trolley excursion.

A cartload of fresh fruit and veggies for the residents
We boarded the trolley and whizzed through the streets along the coast to our first destination... The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary.

As a child, I used to DREAM of having a pet monkey.  I loved them, the way they would cling and be just like baby humans...  I WANTED ONE!

Certainly as an adult, I know that it would have been perfectly awful, but evidently some of that childhood longing still lingers, and I wanted to see the monkeys.  My daughter and husband humored me , although with dire warnings muttered about thrown poop...  We hopped off the bus at the sanctuary just in time to see the monkey food being wheeled inside.

Now THAT's what a monkey should look like!
The Sanctuary was originally founded in the '50's by a couple of traveling entertainers.  They retired with their performing animals, and later took in others.  They became a refuge for monkeys and other primates, birds and reptiles who were no longer wanted.  The animals came from private owners who could no longer handle them as pets, laboratories where they were used as test animals, and the film industry.  The Sanctuary eventually became a non-profit organization staffed by volunteers who keep the animals in health and hopefully in comfort, to live out their remaining years.

I had hoped to be able to touch one of the monkeys, but that wasn't possible.  We could walk through the pathway and view the animals in their cages but couldn't get close enough to touch them.

I stood very close watching the guy on the right picking through his partner's fur.  The look on the face of the pick-ee was priceless.  It was a long-suffering look as if this had been going on for hours...  Every few seconds, she would push the picker's hands away with a stern look... but he just kept going back at it.  I could almost hear her sigh in resignation.  I will say in his defense... that her fur and skin were VERY clean!

There were a number of more exotic animals along with some that were quite plain, such as goats and a turkey.  There were a number of birds and they all looked very healthy and fully feathered.  We've been to pet stores and other zoo type places where the birds had plucked out their own feathers.  I'm taking these fully feathered birds as a good sign.

I think of all the animals here, the Lemurs were my favorite!

It was sad to see the long stretch of cages filled with former laboratory monkeys.  They seemed to be so sad and I wondered if they have memories of the lives they once led.  While it's nothing like being in the wild where they came from, it seems like the Sanctuary tries to give them a clean home, good food to eat and some toys to keep them healthy and entertained.

There were volunteers working throughout the facility.  Some were cleaning and others were feeding the animals.  We watched this woman as she attempted to remove the monkey's dirty blankets so that they could be laundered and returned.  I will say that the blankets she was taking out weren't all that dirty...  She used a long metal rod to bring the blankets to the edge where she could get them out beneath the fence.  One monkey seemed to have other ideas....  He kept taking the blanket back and coming to the  fence to reach out for the woman.  It was so CUTE!  I asked the woman if they ever went inside the cages.  She looked at me incredulously and replied "Only if I want them to take my FACE off!".  I guess that's a NO.

Here she is talking to another monkey who seemed to be of a much better temperament...  That other monkey kept throwing a piece of PVC around like he had some anger management issues.  this guy seemed to just want to snuggle.

There are veterinarians and nurses on staff to ensure the health of the animals.  Here we saw them bringing in two of the elderly animals who are taken indoors in the evening due to age related upper respiratory issues.  The younger animals are kept warm at night with lights or by heated floors in their cages.  It was nice to see that the individual needs of the animals are being considered.

I was surprised and disappointed that they didn't handle the animals, just opened the cage and let them out without touching them.  I guess that's a good thing.

There were a LOT of animals here... We cruised along the pathway pausing to watch their comical behaviour.


Little man getting a drink of water

The strangest creature of all...

This cutie has more toys than WE do!

This Chimp looked a little sad...
There was this one primate that produced an almost continuous wailing call during our entire visit.  He was a pretty thing, and fun to watch... His call was even very entertaining... for a while.  I wondered if the other animals got tired of his noise...

Dunedin is a cute little town with lots of shopping stops.
We finished up at the Sanctuary and, after a kind of lengthy wait, we hopped back aboard the Trolly for a ride to Dunedin for lunch.  Waiting for public transportation was not something we would have considered doing in our former life.  It's amazing how much we've slowed down... time just isn't as important as it once was to us.

We had a scrumptious dinner at Casa Tina.  This was the first Mexican food we've eaten since leaving home and it was absolutely delicious.

Unfortunately we missed the Trolley back to Clearwater and had to wait an additional 40 minutes until the next one... we were forced to have dessert at Strachan's Homemade Ice Cream Shop.  I'm usually torn between going with something that I know... or trying something new and different.  If I go with the usual, I could be missing something extraordinary... but then if I choose to be adventurous, I may not like my choice.  I chose to go with something I know and picked Cookie dough in a waffle bowl.  Imagine my joy when I tasted it to find that the familiar could still be extraordinary.  If you EVER find yourself in the small town of Dunedin... you MUST have the ice-cream!

The woman at the Primate Sanctuary told us that it was one of "Weird Florida's" Must-Do stops.  I would agree that visiting our distant cousins was definitely not on everyone's bucket list, but we had a great day... and I still want a monkey!

Entering Cruiserdom

During the months and years leading up to our departure, I had read so much about the camaraderie and the many new and likeminded people we would meet along the way.  I told myself that this would fill the void of leaving our friends and family behind...  While I knew that the initial stages of our travels along the Gulf Coast would be less traveled by other Cruisers, I had no idea that we really would be out here by ourselves for so long!

The only other Cruising boat we saw - Ingram's Bayou Alabama
Once we left our new friends in Clearlake, Bruce and I often remarked upon the fact that we saw literally NO other boats moving between there and the Louisiana/Mississippi border, where we shared the Rabbit Island anchorage with one other boat.  We finally began to see signs of Cruiser life when as we traveled through Alabama and into the Florida Panhandle... but they were few and far between.  Perhaps we were moving from place to place on the same weather windows and just never crossed paths...

Lunch at Dimitri's
It is what it is, for whatever reason... but things are finally beginning to feel like our "real" Cruising life is beginning.  We were met at the dock upon arrival here by another Cruising couple from Kemah, with whom we share a mutual friend.  Shortly afterward, another Texas couple arrived and docked just a couple of slips down.  All of us are here for a while, resting up from our Gulf passages and making repairs/upgrades to our boats... and sharing some of the more pleasant Cruiser pastimes...  hanging out!!!

Much of our time here has been spent enjoying our Daughter's company, but we were left to fend for ourselves this Saturday.  Having learned from our experience in Pensacola that the public transportation system is our friend... we formulated a plan and went down the dock to see if Stephanie Dawn was interested in a field trip.  Turns out that they were planning the exact same thing with Alegria and they didn't mind if we tagged along!

Crowded Market in Tarpon Springs
The Jolley Trolley runs a special weekend route to the neighboring cities of Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.  While we had previously visited Tarpon Springs with the kids, we were happy to return in sunny weather to see their street market and meet up with another Cruising couple from Texas.  Turns out it was the very same boat we had shared that Rabbit Island anchorage with and had spoken to briefly on VHF, Lucky Charm!

I love a parade!
Together we spent the day traipsing through the cold streets of Tarpon Springs, browsing the merchant's stalls and sharing a fine meal at Dimitri's on the Sponge Docks.  Bruce and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know everyone better and sharing stories about the places we had recently travelled though, as well as future plans.

Making memories and forging new friendships
It was such fun to have conversations that only other Cruisers can understand and enjoy.  Finally beginning to feel the first waves of the cruising life we were looking for!  Many thanks to Alegria, Stephanie Dawn and Lucky Charm, for a great day!  We look forward to many more good times!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Whole Can Of Worms

First the seed:  My daughter asked me "Are all of your clothes wet like this?"...  I had taken an outfit I never wear to her to see if she wanted it.  It has been in our hanging locker since before we left home in September.

Second the watering:  While digging for ingredients to make a batch of laundry soap, I found sludge in the bottom of the floor storage cubby where we keep our cleaning supplies...

And with Sunshine the plant will grow...:  I pulled out a silicone baking dish from the back of our pots & pans storage cabinet and found mildew growing on it...

Not a lot of mildew in the galley cabinet but TOTALLY wet beneath the liners
That's it!  It's time to clean out that cabinet.  All winter long we had been living with constant dampness and downright WETNESS!  I had hoped to make it until spring or at least to warmer temperatures before we began the cleaning frenzy...  But once you open that can of worms, it's difficult to slam it shut again without following through.

The final straw was innocent enough...  This laundry day, I removed all the hanging clothes from the locker and found that every knothole in the cedar lined walls had some kind of fungus growing from it.  I bleached it out and treated it again with Tea Tree Oil.  I dried it out thoroughly and returned the clean clothes...

The next day was rainy so we launched a full on attack on mildew!  We took out all of our pots and pans to see what was going on in there...  I've been using Tea Tree Oil to combat mildew in the boat since shortly after we brought her home almost two years ago.  Nothing can completely eradicate mildew in this environment, but I am glad to say that our personal field testing of the stuff has been a resounding success!  Every time I've found a mildew covered surface, I've cleaned it with bleach water and then hit it with the Tea Tree.  I treat all surfaces I can reach with a solution of 2 Cups water to 2 teaspoons Tea Tree Oil, sprayed on and allowed to dry without wiping...

Milk stored in an unlined locker... EWWW!
What did we find when we revisited the areas previously treated after months of constant damp?  We found out that with a little bit of ventilation, even the darkest corners of the boat can remain relatively mildew free.  BUT... that doesn't necessarily go for the stuff that lives in those dark corners...  SO many of the paper items were beginning to grow mildew.

Rusted cans where there were no liners...
The cubbies lined with open mesh shelving liners fared far better than the cubbies that went without liners.  This was true in the case of mildew as well as rust!

About an inch of water stood in the bottom of this cubby.
I don't remember why we didn't line all of our cubbies, maybe we thought that the things we were storing there didn't need protection... well whatever we thought, we were wrong.  Places we thought would remain dry were totally wet, even standing water in some spots!

We took everything out of every cubby!  Cleaned out the cubbies with bleach water and retreated the surfaces with Tea Tree.  Most were mildew free, but we saw the start of mildew growth in some spots and didn't want to take the chance... We rearranged some things that had suffered from the wetness to more dry spots.  We lined the bins that had no liners and repacked it all.

Labels rusted and mildewed from damp 
Another lesson we learned was that it IS important to remove the paper labels from cans.  When we first provisioned, I spent hours removing the labels and marking the cans with sharpie...  A comment from a FB friend questioning why, had me reconsidering all that hard work, so I admit that I've been lax with more recent purchases...  I'm going back to removing labels after finding that even if the locker wasn't mildewed, the dampness set in and made a mess of these paper labels.

Some of our shelf liners were a wet mess.  We went looking for alternate methods to line the galley cabinet where we keep pots and pans.  We had what we consider to be a stroke of rare brilliance that we will now share with you...  We bought a bathmat to use along the hull.  It is mildew resistant, provides a pad so that pots don't rattle on the hull and comes with it's own suction cups to keep it in place!  It even came in the perfect size for our space!  SCORE!

We lined the floor with another type of shelf liner and added a small waste basket to hold the lids and small storage containers that are always rattling around in there... and we're SET!

I love the clean new look and have ordered a second mat for the upper shelf hull-side.

Because of the length of time it takes to dry these spots after cleaning, we didn't finish it all in one day.  So... today, even though the sun is now shining.  We will be hard at work cleaning house.  The good news is, we have found a whole bunch of stuff we forgot we had!  And not a single... can of worms!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

We May Never Know...

My younger daughter joined us for a long weekend here in Clearwater, and since the weather was a bit cool for beach going, we found alternate sources of entertainment here in Sunny Florida.  Oranges are nearly synonymous with Florida and I had yet to find a hookup.  Well, look no more, because there is this little hole-in-the-wall place, called Pure Fresh Juice near our daughter's home.

It opens up when they have fruits to sell and they also stock many other items.  The BEST thing they have, would be the orange ice cream!  YUM!  Go there and try the swirl... you'll thank me!

After having ice cream for lunch, we went over to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, where we were all treated to admission by our youngest!  Woo Hoo!  Kids with JOBS!!

This otter was having a blast!
I have mixed feelings about these types of venues.  Animals taken from the wild and kept in captivity...

Natural looking habitat is provided for these birds
I don't want to start a discussion about it, but after leaving the venue, I had no sense that there was any type of mistreatment going on here.

This sea turtle is missing a hind flipper from a shark attack
Many of the residents are injured with little hope of living should they be returned to their natural habitat.  But the tanks here seem to be well kept and provide a lively existence of the beasts who live here.

The turtle ignored the whole thing...
We were able to be very near to some of the animals.  These birds were having a normal territorial squabble which was a treat to see.  The little duck was run out of his spot by the white bird, with much objection on the part of the duck.   He regrouped and came back for another round, causing the white bird to leave, after which, the duck flapped his wings in triumph.

I was glad to see that there were no dolphin or whale exhibits.  They were conspicuously absent, and I hoped it was due to a more forward-thinking approach than I've seen previously.

This big boy was standing his ground!
Conspicuously present here... are creatures indigenous to the Florida waters.  This made this aquarium different from the others we've visited.

We only had half of the following day to fill as my daughter needed to head to the airport at about noon.  We stayed close to "home" and visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

I'm not really sure that this facility is accurately named an "aquarium".  It is really more of a rehab facility for marine life.

As close as we got to a "show".
We found the atmosphere very different from that of the Tampa Aquarium, or that of any OTHER aquarium type facility we've visited. There are no trained dolphin acts, no wales at all...

Meet Winter
The tanks here are very plain, no fake sea bottoms here.  This is obviously a rehab facility with limited budget.  It seems that they spend all of their funds on the animals.

Many of the animals remain here only as long as it takes to rehabilitate them.  Some have been here for lengthy periods, and some will remain here forever, as they would be unable to survive should they be reintroduced to the wild.

Her little nub
Winter is one such "lifer".  She came here with her tail damaged from a crab pot.  She was eventually nursed back to life but lost her tail from her injuries.  She can't be returned to the wild or she will surely die.

Winter's prosthetic tail
There was no performance, we didn't even get to see her wearing her prosthetic tail.  But this is because they only put it on her for a number of hours per day so as not to stress her.

Different tail parts
They replace the tail about every three months as her size and shape change, and as new technology is developed.

We were able to observe Winter as she interacted with another dolphin.  Her friend seemed to be trying to get her to play.  Winter seemed to be very subdued.  She would watch the other dolphin from the top and then take a deep breath and dive.

An older X-ray - her tail has a more pronounced curve now.
She is able to swim without the prosthetic, but her stroke has changed from the up and down motion of a normal dolphin, to the side to side tail motion, more like that of a shark.  Her veterinarian has said this has led to scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.  This is why her tail curves downward.

Winter receives physical therapy several times per day in an attempt to reverse the curvature, while getting her used to wearing the prosthetic tails.  They hope that her time in the prosthetic will increase and her stroke will return to a more normal one, causing her less pain and difficulty in the future.  I took several video clips of Winter swimming and made a short video.

There were several turtles in residence while we visited as well.  We were there for a scheduled feeding and found the process fascinating.  The turtles have already figured out that when the trainers come around, it must be feeding time.  Each turtle can have different dietary needs.  To keep the turtles on the proper schedule, they are each trained to come to a particularly shaped panel at the end of a stick.  When the turtle comes to his panel, he is rewarded with the appropriate food.  It was pretty cool to watch.

There were many turtles here but we only saw the four that were in better health.  There were three Kemp's Ridley turtles with injuries ranging from missing flippers to blindness.

There was also one beautiful Hawksbill Turtle.  I can see why his shell would be of value for use as adornment...  This fine creature survived a shark attack and will spend the remainder of his life here.

We very much enjoyed our visit to the Clearwater Rehab.  We learned a lot and left with an increased awareness of the fragility of these creatures and how human carelessness can create havoc in their world.

The facility is currently operating on a limited schedule due to the shooting of a new movie about Winter.  There were movie sets all around and some of the normal exhibits have been shut down.

See the houseboat used in the first movie?
Although I've never seen the movie (see how grownup my babies are?), it was kind of neat to see the movie props scattered here and there.

After saying goodbye to the girls, Bruce and I took the trolley to the second facility where we were able to become more familiar with the movie.

They have props and memorabilia set up for viewing, along with movie clips of each segment shown.  It was a fun day and it's got me trying to figure out how to get the movie over the internet...

Our ride back was via this water taxi.  All of this was included in the price of admission.  What a deal!?  You get an entire day of fun and can feel good about where your money goes.

I have been thinking about the life Winter leads.  I continue to mull it over in my mind and can't decide if it would have been better for them to have just left her to her fate, or if she would have chosen this life if given the choice.  I guess we will never know.