Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hurricane Season, the Wait Game

As you can see the Magnesium Anode needed to be replaced, there was just a small bit left on the old one.

The Ultimate Challenge, remove and replace the Magnesium anode in the Hot Water Heater!

Captain John inspects his new bottom Job

These cats have a huge beam, but the bill for the bottom job was about the same as a Monohull

While John was taking care of business I got some pics of some interesting Vessels, here is an oldy but goody.

I think this is a brand new NordHaven getting commissioned

The Nordhaven had port and starboard  Midships rudders, along with the conventional rudder at the stern.1st time I have seen this.

Ready to go, backing down the railway.

We still had a way to go at this point to get positive flotation.

Steve the yard man helping Captain John ease her off the cradle.

The mouth of the Manatee and the Sneed Island Yacht Club.

Sails up preparing to turn downwiwnd. Westshore is about 25 miles up the Bay.

The Trainer is going through the routine with the Ape.

The Admiral liked the Apes, Daddy on the left, teenager in the center and mom is in control.

This is the Cheetah run, you can see a clump of white feathers out in front that the Cheetah is chasing to demonstart their speed.

The Cheetah catches the feathers and she is satisfied to chew on them ignoring the meat the trainers offered as a reward.

The Bengal tigers sitting on this popup window where you can get up close for pics.

The Admiral really like the Bengal tigers

I liked watching the Hippos swim in the water, they effortlessly glided along

Feeding one of several species of Flamingos

Feeding the Walaby's

There is a baby in the sack

They tried to make it look like Africa

This is why there are so many baby animals in this park!

The orangatangs were pretty cool

Every animal looked very healthy.

These Stilt dudes added to the fun.

Sometimes you just have to get off your feet!

The Critter show was hilarious, pigs, birdes, walaby's, cats, skunks, most of them rescue animals.

A safe version of Zip Line

Lots of White Rhinos

Hurricane Season, the Wait Game

Gee, when you read other cruisers stories about cruising and they get to Hurricane Season they just say they found a safe place for their boat for Hurricane Season and that’s about all they write about. So when you start out cruising you know you will do the same thing but you have to figure out what you will do for the Six Month Duration. Well the 1st month or two is just catching up on boat maintenance and doing any projects that are on the list. Of course mixed in with that is learning the lay of the land wherever it is that you happen to be. Fortunately the Tampa Bay area is abundant with things to do either on or off the water. However, we learned that the summer season here is their winter. Since the summer is the rainy season here all these boaters in the area, especially cruisers just park their boats and wait for the rain to end. This summer has seen the second most rain in the history of weather record keeping for Tampa. To date we have had over 16 inches of rain, 4 inches just last week and there was no tropical storm around. Of course TS Debby and Hurricane Isaac contributed this seasons record. I wonder if in 1985 when Florida experienced 8 tropical systems was the season with the highest rainfall? Our start battery went bad so since we were not going anywhere it was no big deal that it took almost 4 weeks for a new battery to come in. I installed it yesterday. We have made a couple of trips back to Austin and will make at least one more in October before we resume our trip as the Hurricane season comes to an end Nov. 30.

The Admiral has made a few birding connections and we plan to go birding with them tomorrow at Fort DeSoto. It is uncanny how she always hooks up with some of the top birders in the area, Lorraine and Don Margeson. They are leaders in a small army of birders who are very involved in protecting the local bird habitats and closely monitor the migration of birds through the Tampa Bay area. Some of Lynn’s bird pics revealed some banding on some Least Terns and after she shared her pics with her new friends she became an instant member of their group. They encouraged her to continue to be vigilant and send anymore sightings of banded birds to them for their continued study of the local birds. Now she feels like she has a duty to more closely monitor the area around our marina and report her sightings to the group.

The Admiral has also discovered Tai Chi. She feels that it might actually be better for her than her bi-weekly Yoga. So far she has four of the moves down and is determined to get the first 17 in her repertoire since she has heard from others more experienced with Tai Chi that will all she really has to learn to be able to practice it successfully. There are 107 moves and if you know them all you are supposed to be able to do all 107 in about 35 minutes providing a complete stretching workout for the body and peace for the mind.

While she was off at Tai Chi it gave me a chance to have the boat for myself to install the replacement Magnesium anode in the water heater. I really dislike plumbing and since I had never done any work with the water heater I knew it could turn into a disaster. Anytime the plumbing connections involve dissimilar metals + plastic fittings you know something can break when you are disassembling fittings that have not move in several years. I did spray some penetrating lubricant around on the fittings the week before allowing some hope that they would just part with ease. The good news is that the water heater is in the engine room and it has easy access. After the Admiral departed the boat I methodically gathered my tools and put on some music to prepare my mind to thoughtfully and carefully take the water lines apart. The owners manual was of some assistance but it does not teach you how to be a plumber. With the Grace of God, each of the connections freed up and I was able to remove the old anode without breaking anything. I carefully cleaned the fittings and prepped them with Teflon tape as I installed the new anode into the hot water out fitting. I was doing great and just as I was tightening the last plastic fitting one last ¼ turn it broke. After screaming some of my favorite stress relievers I slowly paced about calming my mind so I could think of my next steps. I knew I had saved a lot of fittings from the plumbing I removes when replacing the tanks and fortunately they were easy to find. I had two of them in the large Ziplocs bag, my blood pressure began to return to normal and I carefully replaced the fitting. You do not know if you did a proper job till you turn on the water pressure to test the system and make sure there are no leaks. After running several gallons of water through the system to bleed out any air, I was a happy dog, no Leaks! The only other boat project this month was to replace the Excide Start battery. When I was topping off the batteries I noticed the Start battery was unusually warm, in fact it was hot. Not good. We have a 40 watt, three stage, Xantrex True Charger. I had read some of the manual but not all of it so it was time to get intimately familiar with the battery system so I could make sure what was going on. The charger has several settings and one of those settings is determined by the temperature of the air around the batteries. The switch was set for 50-80 degrees and I learned that if the switch was not set properly then the charger could overcharge the batteries. The area where the batteries are stored is 80-90 degrees this time of year so I of course corrected the setting and ordered myself a new start battery as my negligence probably contributed to ending the life of this battery early. It was a three year battery though and it has lasted 5 years? The new one finally came in after being ordered nearly four weeks ago and I installed it yesterday, maybe I can get 6 or more years out of this one.

I have made a few dock friends while here at Westshore and one of those is John who owns a Charter Cat Catamaran sailing vessel. John asked if I could help him bring his boat back to Westshore From the Sneed Island Boat Works. You Betcha, I wanted to learn about the Sneed\ Island boat yard anyway and since it is located at the mouth of the Manatee River I would be able to explore that area a bit on the way back up to the North end of Tampa Bay. After assembling a crew of 4 yard workers we jumped aboard the Cat and they slowly lowered us down the railway into the water. Everything went very smooth and we were soon motoring out the mouth of the river and turned North East toward the Sunshine Bridge. There was just about 8 mph wind but we set the main and jib wing on wing and soon was moving just above 4 knots. We enjoyed tweaking the sails trying to get the most out of the light winds, after about 4 hours Captain John decided he needed to get on with it since we still had to drive back to retrieve his car from the yard. He started up those two Yanmars and we motor sailed at 6-7 knots, soon we were in the Old Tampa Ship Channel with a bit of traffic and we put away the sails to concentrate on getting her back to her slip at Westshore. Anytime I get an opportunity to get on a different boat, power or sail, I jump on it. There is always plenty to learn along the way from the experience.

We still had our tickets to Busch Gardens that was part of our SeaWorld package. The original Busch Gardens opened in 1959 as a hospitality center for the Tampa Anheuser-Busch brewery. Visitors could visit the gardens for free and watch a trained bird show after touring and enjoying a free beer at the brewery. It has evolved into this African Safari theme park and now owned by the same company that owns SeaWorld so they are very involved in conservation, rehab of sick or injured animals, endangered species protection etc. around the world. The African animal habitats are pretty spectacular and educational. We spent two full days and saw most of it. We probably would not have to gone to Busch Gardens but since the tickets were so cheap when combined with SeaWorld it was definitely worth it. All of the animals appeared very healthy and they obviously spared no expense in providing as natural a Habitat as possible inside the confines of a theme park. I liked the Hippos and the Cheetahs the most, the Admiral liked the Cheetahs and the Gorillas.

Rain is in the forcast, maybe we can find something interesting to do ……………..

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hurricane Isaac should find a home at Ripley’s Believe It or Not

Wand'rin Star with double lines everywhere, headsail and bimini stripped and stowed.
The Mainsail is a Fracnor roller furling system so it is always safely stowed in a aluminum housing on the aft side of the mast.

Ripley's Believe it ir Not

This sculpture of John Lennon is cut from the New York City white pages.

The sign says it all.

Edith Ann?

The tallest guy ever

This is all Goodyear had that was the biggest, they didn't have any of the smallest.

Cool Aquariums everywhere, this one at the Rain Forest Cafe, Downtown Disney

These elephants move and are pretty loud, not sure if I could enjoy eating under them.

Mickey and Minnie of course!

Not sure what this plant is but this kind of flora is everywhere Florida.

1st show was the Blue Horizons at the Dolphin Theatre

This show was non stop action


I think every little kid in the audience was ready to try this.

They had a whole flock or these Macaws that flew through the audience

Then this version appeared and flew around

Then the guy riding the dolphins around got a lift.

Shamu Stadium was the best.

This mom and baby performed together, the little one was learning.

Mom and baby again

Here you can feed the dolphins, this is first thing in the morning breakfast.

This is the Dolphin nursery, the mom is teaching her pup.

The pup is trying to figure out how to do this?

Here you can see the manatees up close, they are huge. Shanu Stadium seats 6,000 people, there are only 5,000 Manatees in the world. There are no natural predators of the Manatees, only man has nearly forced the species to extinction. Florida is very active in protecting and nurishing the manatee habitats.

Turtle Trek was a neat exhibit 3-D journey

Lots of shore birds gather around the seal and sea lion area since many buy food to toss in, the bireds get their share.

The Shark tanks is really cool, here is a saw-tooth shark..This is where we ate at Sharks underwater Grill, the resturant scene in Jaws was shot here.

If you are ever near Plant City

Best Deal in the United States...only $1.99 for fresh peaches and home made cream!

Search for a Safe Haven during the Storm
The first NOAA Hurricane Center reports tracked Isaac near or right over Tampa. We still had several days to watch the storm and make our final Hurricane plan as he was still approaching Cuba and the local stations reported that a reliable track could not be made till after he cleared Cuba to see if the land mass changed any of Isaac’s characteristics. At this point we were way more concerned than the natives here in Tampa. We began to search local hotels in the Tampa area to see what was available. Since there were over 50,000 about to arrive in Tampa for the Republican National Convention we knew finding a safe place to stay during the storm would be difficult in the Tampa Bay area. The only thing available were 1-star hotels over $150 per night and they were not in the best locations for a storm so we knew we would have to get out of Tampa. Orlando is just 80 miles down I-4 so we decided we would try and find a hotel near I-4 in the Orlando area that had a kitchen in case we had to have an extended stay and was large enough to have the resources to take care of their guest in the event of a storm. Turns out that all the rates in Orlando were dropping to off-season rates since school has started so we had several good options. The theme parks were in the back of our minds as possible things to do while waiting out the storm but the only thing that we cared about at this point was safe shelter and way to take care of our own food needs. The Residence Inn-Sea World seemed to take care of all that and had very affordable rates. The Admiral called to make sure they could meet our needs and all seemed good so she booked it for a week since we had no idea what the aftermath of the storm would be. This is a rather large resort type of hotel with 350 rooms and they were only about 1/3 full during this week so we knew we had either beat the crowd or were misjudging the severity of the storm. Two days later this hotel was booked full.

Preparing Wand’rin Star for a Hurricane
The tracks after Isaac cleared Cuba changed every 6 hours or so. It would move farther West then it would come back and look like Tampa was going to get a bad part of it. Then they predicted a Cat 1 when it reached Tampa. I started preparing the lines for a hurricane and moving small stuff off the deck. There is no one in the slip on our port side so I could tie to the cleats on the fingers on both sides. John who owns a Catamaran next to us helped us get our head sail down and of course every fender was secured for whatever may come. I waited till the last day to deal with the dingy, bimini and the kayak. The report the morning before we departed to Orlando now showed Isaac moving off to the West and making landfall in the Florida Panhandle but it could be a Cat 2 as it was even with Tampa some 100-to 180 miles offshore. The big concern was tidal surge as the storm passed Tampa as the southwest winds would drive the water right into the Bay. I checked the storm surge maps for Tampa and our area could see a 8-10’ foot surge in a Cat 1 storm and 10-15’ above high tide in a Cat 2 storm. Our pilings here are only 12’ above high tide so of course you can understand the concern building. By noon the storm was tracking even father West so the winds in Tampa now were only forecasted to be no more than tropical force, in the 40-50 mph range. I knew I could just tie up the dingy and the Kayak on their davits and not have to take them down and lash them to the deck. But the bimini and enclosure would have to come off. The bimini has made it through 60-70 mph but since we would not be here to watch after it I wanted it secured down below and not become someone else’s problem. The Admiral had packed all our bags and cooler while I secured the boat and we loaded up the Little Truck That Can full and made it to our refuge in Orlando before dark.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not
The next morning was the calm before the storm. We knew we had some time to spend in Orlando but was unsure if we wanted to commit to buying tickets to a theme park since Orlando could receive plenty of rain in the next several days. There is a trolley that runs down the length of International drive where there are lots of restaurants, hotels, and other area attractions. We decide to get a day pass and just ride around on it to get the lay of the land. As we passed by Ripley’s Believe it or Not we talked about checking that out for the afternoon. We rode to the end of the line where there is a huge Outlet Mall and got off to walk around there but if you have been to one you have seen most of that stuff so we soon got back on the trolley and found a place for lunch near Ripley’s then spent the afternoon there. Ripley’s turned out to be fun for both of us and maybe it is because we both retired teachers that we found this to be a neat place to spend a few hours. There are plenty of unusual and unique collections and hands on fun for all ages in Ripley’s. While on the trolley ride back to the hotel the driver told us about Downtown Disney and mentioned this was a good place to spend a afternoon or evening. The next day was full of rain but it cleared off in the afternoon so we drove to Downtown Disney and It is full of restaurants and Disney theme stores. I bought a Bubble Gun and the Admiral bought a Lego kit for the grandkids. It is like a small version of Disney World without the rides, the parking and entrance are free.

Sea World Orlando
Isaac moved further West and we knew the impact in Tampa would be no more than Debby. John called to let us know Wand’rin Star was ok and it was just rainy and windy but not bad at the marina. We could even return to the boat the next day but we were already here and figured we might want to take the opportunity to do a theme park. I was here with my daughter the summer of 78’ as we were touring a few colleges for her. We went to both Universal Studios and Epcot. I explained to the Admiral that Universal Studios was great fun and Epcot was the most interesting.

Since our hotel was connected to Sea World she checked on tickets etc. She was more interested in going where she could see animals than any of the other theme parks so she bought a package that included Busch Gardens in Tampa. When she inquired why the package deal was so cheap the ticket lady explained that Sea World was trying to keep people out of Disney and in the Sea World parks. OK fine. We spent the next two days at Sea World and we almost saw all of it at least once. The next day I returned to the boat to put it back in order for us to move back onto and the Admiral did a third day at Sea World. I was amazed to see the bilge dry as we usually take in some water down the mast from rain. I checked the marks on the concrete pilings and the docks did not exceed the surge level of Debby. There was some minor street flooding in the area reported but not even as severe as Debby. You just never know but you have to prepare and make decisions early, there is just to much competition for resources once things go bad so you have to be ahead of the curve to stay reasonably comfortable instead of riding it out in a shelter. The one thing that every person on the Gulf Coast is thinking when a storm enters the Gulf of Mexico is “Please, Not Here”. Well Tampa was really into the Not Here with over 50,000 Republican guest around. The hard part is that if it is Not Here then It must be Somewhere. After spending a month in wonderful New Orleans that has just got back on her feet from Katrina we were also hoping Not There!

Plant City

We were in no particular hurry to get straight back to the boat so we looked for something to do on the way back to Tampa. Plant City is on I-4 so we looked for things to do there on the net and of course Plant City is the Strawberry Capital of the world so there are lots of Farmers markets in the Area, the best known is Parksdale Market so we made a easy side trip to get some fresh veggies. The Serendipity was the Peaches and Cream, $1.99. One bite took me back to my grandparent’s 100-acre farm in Grandview, Texas. My grandfather grew his own peaches and mixed in with my grandmothers homemade ice cream, wow back then I took this for granted since it was everyday stuff since they just lived an hour away from us. We loaded up on fresh veggies and headed off back to Westshore.

Isaac should find his way to Ripley’s Believe it Not in Orlando. Every one on the Gulf coast were trying to figure out what to believe about the ever changing forecast. For Tampa Bay this possible Cat 2 Hurricane turned out to be less of an event than Tropical Storm Debby. Even friends in Texas were concerned that it could head that direction. The standard procedure is watching the Weather Channel, local weather forecast, the NOAA Hurricane Center online, and just talking to locals to try and decipher what is coming. Since the forecast kept swinging between favorable to unfavorable tracks several times over the course of almost two weeks it was difficult to believe the forecast or Not.