Follow by Email

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Don't Forget to Update Your Charts!

Sorry I haven't been very attentive to the blog of late. Pressing problems at home. Work on the the boat. Yada-yada. I know. Who cares? But here I am -- with some info on mapping software for you to stew on.

I use Maptech's Offshore Lite, a great package that comes bundled free with their Chartbook. Basically, it's an abbreviated version of their professional navigation software. You get digital versions of all the charts in the Chartbook but not all the features of the Nav software. For example, while you can track vessel's position with an integrated GPS, you don't get the full save and store capabilities of Offshore Pro. You don't have access to bathyspheric and other data, like tide info. You can't place a mark or waypoint on your vessel's position at the touch of a button, nor can you tie into an autopilot, or transfer routes and waypoints to and from your GPS. As I said, it's a great little tracking and plotting program that does the job and more. However, the more you use it, the more you will want to buy the pro version. And if you're doing any kind of commercial work, whether it's fishing, towing, whatever, you'll need Pro.

I'm currently doing an underwater survey using a magnetometer and forward-looking fathometer. I collect event data using proprietary logging software, and I create event markers on a C-Map cartridge being displayed on a Hondex plotter. I also take the raw data output from the Mag and manually transpose it to the Maptech charts in the form of event markers. In other words, I use the Hondex to re-locate targets, and the Maptech chart -- a NOAA chart with real NOAA symbols -- to chart my data. It's not an ideal situation because even though I have the redundancy aspect working in my favor, I'm doing a lot of extra work. Why not just keep a running plot of event markers using the Maptech software? The answer: Because Maptech Lite can't do it. You need the Pro version. I tell you this to give you an idea of the advantages and disadvantages of both.

The big advantage of Maptech Lite is that you get real-time tracking capability on a NOAA chart for free, or what amounts to 'free' when you buy a Chartbook? You still need paper charts to be legal, so why not get the Chartbook and play with Offshore Lite. It's free?


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Saturday's Storm

Those who prepared for it:

And those who didn't:

Results of 63 Knots at the Rock. 15' to 20' seas.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How to Re-Document Your Own Vessel

Here's how you can save a little money by doing the Purchase and Sale Agreement and the re-documentation yourself . . . assuming you have no broker, bank, or other mortgage interest involved.

First, get the Name and/or Official number of the vessel and get the Official Document info on line. Next, take this info and use it to fill in the blanks in a standard Yacht Purchase Agreement. You can find one of these online by doing a Google search for "Yacht Purchase Agreement." Pick one that comes in a PDF Format so you can fill in the blanks on your computer. Include names of purchaser(s) and seller(s), addresses, purchase price, boat name and official number, description of vessel, and attach a list of the equipment that comes with the boat, right down to galley utensils if there are any. No SS#s are needed here. Also list the contingencies of the sale, i.e. survey, financing, sea trial, etc.

Remember, with these online PDF files you can't save the document, so print out as many copies as you want. There should be one for you and the seller, and one for each and every buyer and/or seller, in the event there are multiple buyers and sellers. Each copy should be signed and dated by both parties, and each one notarized. Again, make sure you have all the agreed on conditions of sale, e.g. survey, loan, sea trial, things to be fixed, etc.

Now go to the USCG National Vessel Documentation Home Page and download the appropriate forms, first and foremost of which is the request form that will tell you what if any liens there are on the boat. This is the Abstract of Title request. Send this in first. You should have results in a few days. If there are any outstanding liens (preferred mortgages on the boat, these will have to be satisfied or released before a new document can be issued. Applications for Satisfaction of Mortgage, and forms for filing of mortgages, are also available on line at the link above.

For re-documentation, you need a notarized Bill of Sale, a Satisfaction/Release of Mortgage statement for each mortgage (signed and notarized by a bank official), an application for Filing of Mortgage (if in fact you're financing with a mortgage company or assuming someone else's mortgage), and the current Certificate of Documentation signed over to you.

All these blank forms are available at the NVDC Site listed above.

One final note: The procedure for documenting a new vessel is slightly different. You have to prove ownership and citizenship, which means you will need a builder's certificate and Form 1258, where you can provide your social security or tax I.D. number.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

After the Purchase....

Every day Moonfish gets a little closer to being ready for sea. I've re-run and rerouted wire, moved electronics, bolted the electronics console in place, replaced worn hose, checked and replaced hydraulic lines, added chafing gear where needed, clamped and wire-tied loose hose and wire, removed wire that went nowhere, tightened the engine belt, built a platform at the helm, checked and replaced engine zincs, replaced rudder zincs, waterproofed some of the windows and hatches, fixed broken fittings, tightened loose screws and bolts, and generally attended to things the previous owner would have done himself had he kept the boat.

For the record, it costs $121.00 to do your own paperwork. This includes an Abstract of Title and the application for redocumentation. A service would charge $300 to $400. I had the paper work done in about a half hour, although I ended up making an unscheduled trip to a bank in order to track down a second satisfaction of mortgage I didn't know about. Took about an hour an a half of my time. Start to finish, I had the the new document in my hand in a week. The guys at the Documentation Center in Virginia work pretty fast.

I needed a marine surveyor for the insurance company. I've had some bad experiences in the past with surveyors, but this guy was OK. In fact, I knew him years ago when he was with the USCG Marine Safety Office. He was one of the inspectors who would visit Finback twice annually for her hull and safety inspection.

Surveyor was Mike Whitten, of Bucksport, Maine. Take my word for it. If you must have the boat surveyed, for either an insurance company or a bank, make sure the person doing the survey knows what the hell they're doing. At $15 a foot, you want to feel like you're getting something more than just a chance to shell out a fortune in insurance premiums. I can't say the money I spent on the survey would not have been better spent on a new EPIRB, which I have to buy anyway, but at least I had a chance to review the boat's systems and condition with someone I respected. Would I have voluntarily chosen to have to boat surveyed had it not been required by the insurance agent? Not on your life.

The only thing left for me to do to be completely legal is to have the new name put on. Both bows and stern. This is kind of a conundrum because I have some gelcoat work to do on the transom, right under where the lettering will go. It's a Catch-22. I need the lettering and name so I can be official and legal and get to work, but if I put the lettering on before I fix the gelcoat, I'll just have to re-do the name afterwards. Oh, well, not much I can do about it.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Interesting Boats: Fishing Vessel Miss Vicious Soon to be Moonfish

At 2:54 PM on Friday I became the official owner of the Miss Vicious. Yesterday, in 20 knots and 5 to 8 foot seas, I steamed the boat from Round Pond to Lermond Cove in Rockland, where it will stay until I can fix those things that are broken.

Boat is fat bellied, yet fast and nimble. Beast-like. A one of a kind, in boating parlance, a one-off. I have never seen another boat like it, and I have seen a lot of boats. (I wrote a boat building column for 15 years.) Unfortunately, its current moniker, Miss Vicious, won't work for me.

So how does one go about choosing a boat name? For one thing, mariners consider it bad luck to change the name of a boat, which is why if you're going to do it, you better do it right.

Henceforth, Miss Vicious will be known as MOONFISH.

The Moonfish is a round fish, deep as it is long. Not a schooling fish. Prefers its solitude. Old time fishermen used to consider a good luck fish. Instead of selling them, they would give them away as a gesture of good will. Mostly a Pacific and west Atlantic species, it is a rare breed for these parts.

An added bonus is that the fish is a member of the jack family. My grandfather was named Jack.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Steve Irwin R.I.P.

I offer the following to all the critics of the Croc Hunter:

Marty Steuffer. Marlin Perkins. Jacques Cousteau. Jeff Corwin. Jack Hanna. The list goes on and on. All of these guys, even the most light footed of them, manipulate their encounter with the wild. They have no choice. Baiting, and even lighting, is a form of manipulation. As the physicist Heisenberg postulated: The act of observation in and of itself changes that which is being observed.

I don't consider chasing a snake or croc and trying to grab it by the tail to be cruel, provided there's a reason for it. For example, whenever I see an animal (cat, dog, deer, moose, bear, etc.) lolly gaging on the side of the road, I always stop and chase it back into the woods. I may even throw sticks and rocks at it to get it farther away from the road. Sounds cruel but I'm doing it a favor. I'd much rather see it running away from me in fear than lying in a pool of blood on the pavement.

When the government was trying to establish rules for whale watching in US waters, they sought out the advice of scientists and environmental groups. Originally they were thinking of a 500 meter limit. But the whale watch boats and environmental groups and even the scientists protested, saying they needed to get closer. Their argument was that the need for public awareness as brought about by professional whale watch operators superceded the potential risk to the whales, which was really minimal compared to the risks posed by other commercial traffic.

So, right or wrong, there's a precedent. Interference and observation versus leaving them the hell alone. Most conservationists will agree, it's too late for the latter.

Meanwhile, in terms of animal reactions, I think the instantaneous animal response (what happened in Irwin's case) is not what happens when animals are threatened. It's what happens when the animal is surprised. It sounds like semantics but I think there is a difference. Threatened animals respond by posturing or testing the threat. A snake coils and flicks its tongue. A bear charges and rears up. A dog snarls. Animals run from threats they know they can't handle. They attack those they know they can handle. Until they sense which is which, they're pretty tentative. Of course, the more you screw with them, the more unpredictable they get. If you step on a rattlesnake, you're going to get bit. And, when it comes to wild animals, nothing is certain.

Once while filming blue sharks here in the Gulf of Maine I started handing feeding the sharks whole herring from the side of the boat. There were approximately sixty sharks around the boat at any given time, swimming around in a big circle. I would hold a herring over the side of the boat, and a shark would swim close, tilt his head, roll his eye lids up, open his mouth, and I'd drop the herring in. I did this for about a half hour and didn't stop until the two cameramen came back in the boat for lunch. We were sitting in the boat's cockpit enjoying lunch, with me sitting on the washboard, same place I was when I was feeding the sharks, when this one shark lifted himself three feet out of the water and snapped at the sandwich in my hand. I have personally caught a couple of hundred blue sharks and I have never seen a blue do that. After that experience we all ate our lunch more in the center of the boat.

I didn't know Irwin or know anyone who worked with him, but it seems to me that what you saw on TV and film is what there was to see. Nothing hidden. Unlike so many others in this business -- even Jacque Cousteau, who was notorious for stacking the deck. Oh yeah, and we should point out that unlike Irwin's place in Australia, most croc and alligator farms around the world make their money harvesting skins, not tourism and public education. (Actually, I'm not positive about the last statement, but I'll bet dollars to donuts it's true. Anyone who knows for sure can state one way or the other in an email to me.)

Finally, it seems there's an abundance of real sadness and hurt among those who worked closest to him. That says a lot.

Steve did indeed put himself in danger. He took risks. He chased and caught a lot of wild snakes by the tail. In fact, he had life by the tail too.

Some will say this was nature's way of getting back at him. To them I say bull. This was Steve Irwin's last lesson to people about the wilderness. And I'm sure he would be the first to say: When it comes to the natural world, anything can happen.



Thursday, August 31, 2006

Exemptions for Canadian Built Fish Tenders in Maine

A minor amendment to the Jones Act appears to give Maine fishermen some regulatory leeway. The new revision, signed into law on July 11, 2006, provides an exemption for Maine fishermen who want to use a Canadian-built vessel to transport fish and shellfish between locations within the State of Maine.

Prior to this change, fishermen could use a Canadian-built vessel of less than 5 net tons to engage in fishing. However, they could not transport merchandise, or any product, including bait and lobster, port to port.

This revision applies to Maine and Canada only. The rest of the U.S., and vessels built in other countries, are not parts of the deal.

I say deal because you have to wonder how this all came about. Not too long ago a local lobster and bait hauling company (Drisko Lobster) ran afoul of The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. CBP cited Drisko for violating the Jones Act for using a couple of Novi boats to haul bait and lobster back and forth from the islands to the mainland. Senator Olympia Snow (R, ME) got involved on behalf of the operator, who gave up his business as a result of the final adjudication, which came in against him on September 20th of 2004. Regardless of the immediate outcome of the case, it now looks like the law Snow wanted changed got changed -- but only as it applies to Maine fish haulers like Drisko. The change does not exempt new builds, replacement builds, or vessels running salvage, other cargo, or passenger operations.

The revision, as it stands, addresses Maine vessels under 5 net tons that have engaged in the transportation of fish or shellfish before January 1, 2005. The owner of the vessel must be a U.S. citizen and also must be operating the business pursuant to a valid wholesale seafood license that was issued by the State of Maine prior to the January 1, 2005 cut off. Finally, the owner must submit an affidavit to the Coast Guard certifying adherence to the above conditions no later than 180 days from July 11, 2006.

No matter what you think of pork barrel politicking, you have to tip your hat to Senator Snow from Maine. Somehow she managed to bulldoze a tailor-made change into the most hallowed Jones Act, a piece of legislation that was carved into virtual stone over 86 years ago.


Friday, June 30, 2006

Still More on Ethanol Blended Gas

Remember that article in the Wall Street Journal I mentioned earlier, the one that quotes Chuck Fort from BOAT/US? He said, ". . . ethanol is a powerful solvent." After thinking about this for awhile, and after reading an NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Association) report, I came to the realization that his statement is a little misleading. In fact, ethanol isn't any more of a solvent than grape juice, or, for that matter, gasoline.

The problem isn’t that ethanol is a solvent, it's that it is incompatible with butyl rubber (e.g. O-rings and hoses) and a certain chemical known as di-iso octyl phtalate, a plastisizer used in fiberglass resin. It also scrubs the protective oxide layer off of aluminum and is electrically conductive. In phase with gasoline (meaning all together as one system), and in blends of 10% or less, most experts will say fegetaboutit. But as I said before, ethanol has this ugly habit whereby it sticks to water more than gasoline. In other words, ethanol will hook up with the condensation in your fuel tank over the gasoline there every time. When it does this, it sinks and concentrates at the bottom of the tank.

So what? So you might have ethanol and water at the bottom of the tank? Big deal. Well, in a fiberglass tank, the ethanol invades the pores of the tank, releasing some of the phtalates. These enter the combustion process and end up forming heavy black deposits on intake valves. That's the theory, anyway, based on analysis of Connecticut valve crud, which shows up as di-iso octyl phtalate.

Aluminum is another story. An oxide layer protects aluminum. No oxide layer. No corrosion protection. Ethanol and water are electrically conductive, so you have a galvanic issue inside the tank to worry about.

Hope this helps.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Interesting Boats: Have Boat, Will Travel. . . .

Every so often a boat comes up for sale I feel I need to own. Fortunately, it's either priced out of my range, or common sense gets the better of me. The industry trade paper Boats and Harbors is chock full of broken dreams for sale.

For the record, here are two pictures of two truly unique boats. Not sure where they are today, or even if they are afloat:


Inspektionskutteren MAAGEN ses her med den oprindelige 40 mm kanon
placeret på fordækket.

(Foto fra Orlogsmuseets arkiv)

Seven Seas


More on Ethanol Blended Gas

Here's a follow-up on the initial post, which you can find below this one.

Based on reports from boaters in Connecticut and New York, where ethanol-blended gasoline has been in use for over a year, the situation can indeed be problematic. For people with newer boats and engines, the problem is mostly confined to contamination and phase issues. In other words, when water is introduced into the blend, the ethanol gets out of phase with the gas and into phase with the water. (In phase means the two chemical constituents are combined into one system; out of phase means the two parts have separated into individual components.) Once the ethanol and gas have gone out of phase, the water and ethanol combine and settle to the bottom of the tank, leaving a reduced octane gasoline floating on top. In addition, because the ethanol is a solvent, it scours debris from the interior walls of the fuel tank, which causes contamination.

Some people (namely, Chuck Fort from Boat/US), are still suggesting people with older boats consider replacing their fiberglass and maybe even aluminum fuel tanks. I'm still not sure why this is an issue for older boats and not newer boats with the same type tank. I need more info -- like what material is it in the older fiberglass fuel tank that makes it more susceptible to ethanol corrosion. Are they talking about polyester versus vinylester resin? Epoxy resin? Is it the type of fiber we're talking about? The layup? What? Why don't they just say what the problem is? Clearly, it's not how old the tank is but what it's made out of that is at issue. They should just tell us what type of fuel tank construction materials are at risk and not talk to the boating public like they're a bunch of ignoramuses! (Another thing: It's just like the media and Boat/US to assume every person out there is riding around in a production boat, Bayliner, Starcraft, etc. Don't they realize how many boutique and custom boat builders there are?)

Meanwhile, as I mentioned before, these problems can be solved by keeping water out of your fuel tank, watching your filters and changing them more frequently, and making sure you use whatever gas you buy so it doesn't end up being stored in the tank for weeks at a time.

Unless of course, the place where you buy gas is selling contaminated and out of phase product. All your precautions won't amount to much if the gas you pump into your tank is contaminated with debris and already out of phase. You'll think you're getting 89 octane but what you're really getting is something with a lot less punch and a lot more dirt.

My recommendation is to find a place where the test of time has proven you can trust the gas. Stick with one place and don't shop around. You start to have engine problems, clogged filters, etc., flush the filter and fuel lines, replace elements, and find someplace else to get gas.

Another thing, the amount of water in the tank that they say is needed to cause problems is 1/2 of 1%. In a ten gallon tank (1280 fluid ounces) we're talking about 6.4 fluid ounces of water. A little less than a cup.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Is Ethanol-Blended Gasoline Bad for Boats?

An article in a recent Wall Street Journal points to serious problems for boaters as a result of ethanol being used to replace MTBE as an additive in gasoline.

According to the article, condensed water in the boat's fuel tank causes the ethanol to separate from the gasoline. This creates a situation where the bottom of the tank has an ethanol and water mix and the upper part of the tank has a seriously reduced octane fuel. Engines don't like to run on reduced octane fuel, and they really don't like being force fed ethanol and water. Two stroke outboards, twenty years old and older, are particularly sensitive to this and can be permanently damaged. The article further contends that all older hoses and components made with natural rubber (including O-rings) will be damaged and that ethanol is very caustic to fiberglass and possibly also to aluminum fuel tanks.

According to the article, which quotes a spokesman from BOAT/US, Chuck Fort, a purported expert on boat maintenance, ethanol is a powerful solvent. Separated from the gasoline, it will dissolve the residue on the inside of the tank and further contaminate the fuel with particles and debris. It will also, according to Fort, accelerate deterioration in fiberglass and possible aluminum fuel tanks. Fort went on to say that owners of boats with fiberglass tanks will have to replace the tanks.

While following up on this story and reviewing various chemical resistivity charts for ethanol (a.k.a. grain alcohol, hydroxyethane, ethyl alcohol) I could find no evidence to support the assertions that ethanol is caustic to these materials and/or likely to cause rapid deterioration in rubber, fiberglass compounds or aluminum. In fact, according to the chemical resistivity chart published by the Cole-Parmer Instrument Company, ethanol is less caustic than grape juice. It's also lighter than water and evaporates rapidly in air.

Meanwhile, I also found this on the web:

Table 1. Comparison of MTBE and ethanol properties (Rice, 1999).
Ethanol compatibility with metals and nonmetals
Ethanol and ethanol blends of gasoline conduct electricity
whereas unblended gasoline is an electrical insulator. Thus,
pure ethanol is more corrosive than gasoline, and materials-
compatibility is an issue. Pure ethanol and gasoline with high
percentages of ethanol should not be used with aluminum,
zinc, tin, lead-based solder, or brass fittings. Nonmetallic
materials that will degrade in the presence of ethanol include:
• natural rubber
• polyurethane
• cork-gasket materials
• leather, polyester-bonded fiberglass laminate
• polyvinyl chloride, polyamides
• methyl-methacrylate plastics
Rice, D.W.; G. Cannon, editor and R. Depue, contributor,
“Background Information on the Use of Ethanol as a Fuel
Oxygenate,” Volume 2, in Health and Environmental
Assessment of the Use of Ethanol as a Fuel Oxygenate,
December 1999, University of California, Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory, Environmental Restoration Division,
UCRL-AR-135949, Livermore, California; http://www-

So, what does it all mean? Is ethanol bad or not? Seems in high concentrations it is. But . . . ethanol blended gasoline doesn't have more than approximately 10% ethanol. And yet, if it separates from the gasoline due to an interaction with water, it then becomes a pocket of pure ethanol somewhere in the tank.

Boat owners and boat buyers need to be aware of this issue and keep abreast of technical updates. While the Wall Street Journal isn't exactly the horse's mouth when it comes to technical accuracy on boating issues, the story should trigger further scrutiny. What we need is a Coast Guard bulletin we can trust.

Clearly, more information and study is warranted before individual boat owners embark on the costly enterprise of replacing their fuel tanks.

One thing for certain, if indeed water causes ethanol to separate from gasoline, it makes sense for boat owners to refresh their fuel often by making sure they burn what they fuel up with (not keep it stored for extended periods of time) and change their filters frequently. But this is something you should be doing regardless.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Monitoring the Marine Forecast

You might notice how the forecast for a particular weather event will change or fluctuate in severity over the course of a forecast period. This isn't so unusual when you consider how local weather events are predicted. It's true, the forecasters have a great deal of scientific muscle at their disposal in the form of complex computer models, but the vagaries and uncertainties will never be completely eliminated. After all, it doesn't take much for a low pressure area moving up the coast to swing a few degrees one way or the other, turning an intended gale into a pussycat or a small craft advisory into a major blow.

One way to protect or prepare yourself is to never assume a given forecast is static. All too often, people get caught making assumptions. But don't blame the weatherman. Don't expect small craft advisory conditions with a major depression working up the coast just because the forecast calls for winds of 15 to 25 knots. As the saying goes, "Hope for the best, Plan for the Worst."

For example, nothing helps the mariner more than timely information. Keep abreast of changes in the forecast. When you see or hear NOAA report a gale at 23:00, and then see or hear the same report downgraded to a small craft advisory by 07:00, don't be so sure. If the low hasn't yet passed your latitude, anything is possible. In fact, sometimes a forecast will go back and forth for hours, especially when the weather system in question is a tropical or sub-tropical low.

Subtropical low courtesy of

So, beware the forecast. Don't blame the weatherman. Stay tuned to NOAA weather radio. And never assume your forecaster has a lock on accuracy.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Buyer Beware

This is hard to believe, and yet I swear it happened just as I describe below:

I followed up on an ad for two Dyer 40' passenger boats. These were listed in the classified section of an industry paper called, Boats and Harbors, the bible of commercial boat shopping published in Knoxville, TN.

Anyway, the guy I spoke to on the phone told me the boats were originally built to take passengers on trips in the Chesapeake. The vessels were later purchased by a tour company in Lake George. I asked about the layout and the guy suggested I come to New York to see for myself. I asked about the cabin, and he said the hulls were in excellent condition, that if I came up he would meet me and go through both vessels with me. Sounded good, until a little birdy started singing in my head.

Dyer 40s. On Lake George in New York. Two of them. Does the name Ethan Allen ring a bell? Let me refresh your memory:

Ethan Allen boating accident

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

On October 2, 2005, the tourboat Ethan Allen capsized on Lake George, in Upstate New York, at 2:55 PM.

Ethan Allen is raised by investigators after capsizing and sinking 70 ft underwater.
Ethan Allen is raised by investigators after capsizing and sinking 70 ft underwater.

The Ethan Allen was a small glass-enclosed boat operated by Shoreline Cruises. The boat was carrying 47 passengers, mostly seniors, of which 20 died. It is believed that the boat capsized due to waves caused by a larger cruise ship (The Mohican). However, tourists at a nearby camp reported that the Mohican passed by the area where the Ethan Allen sunk 20 minutes later. The boat has been raised by investigators.

It was confirmed that weather was not a factor in this accident, as the skies were blue and the wind was calm. The 20 people that died are believed to have died from drowning, not hypothermia, as the water in the lake was 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The injured people were sent to Glens Falls Hospital via Hague, Warrensburg, North Warren, Moreau and Lake George Ambulances.The boat was carrying a tourist group, the Trenton Travelers, based out of Trenton, Michigan. It has been confirmed that all the passengers were from Michigan and Ohio.

Not once in the conversation did the guy mention to me the history of the boat. You would think it would be something important to mention given that I had to travel a total of about 700 miles to see it. Can't wait for this guy to call me back.


Friday, June 02, 2006

The Perfect Storm Revisited

Not that it was a bad movie, or lacked drama and good characterization, but there were enough technical inaccuracies to cause this mariner trouble.

First of all, let's ask some questions:

Why were the outriggers out and the paravanes down when the seas were in the 80' to 150' foot range (as depicted; more if you consider the last wave)? Why did the crew wait so long to batten down the wheelhouse windows? They knew the storm was coming. They knew how bad it would be. Why didn't they make proper preparations to meet it?

Why wasn't the crew in the wheelhouse? I've been in some bad blows, and when it gets really bad, everybody usually hangs out in the wheelhouse with their survival suits within arm's reach. When it's that bad, and the boat has to turn around in monster seas, riding out the turn in the fo'c's'le or galley is the last thing anybody wants to do.

Why would anyone think they could remount a SSB antenna in a 50 knot wind when the smallest whip antenna is about 23'? If the antenna doesn't rip your arm off, how are you going to splice the coax? And why not just lay out an emergency long wire antenna on deck?

Speaking of which: I thought the Andrea Gail had a long wire antenna and not a whip antenna. I believe that in the photo of the Hannah Boden, which Linda Greenlaw states is a sistership of the Andrea Gail, you can see a long wire antenna running aft from the masthead to the goal post.

By the way, Greenlaw states in her book that her boat, the Hannah Boden, was 100'. Sebastion Junger, the author of the book, stated on a pre-movie hype news program that the Andrea Gail was 80'. I tend to believe Greenlaw over Junger regarding LOA. And I tend to believe it had a long wire antenna. You'd think it would given its range of operation. Also, if the boat was 100' , the wave at the end would have been about 200'. My understanding is that the largest non-seismic wave ever recorded was 112', measured scientifically in the North Pacific by researchers aboard the USS Ramapo on February 7th, 1933.


Where can I get one of those blow torches that stays lit after it gets dunked in seawater?

Don't get me wrong. I liked the movie. I liked the effects. I thought the film makers did some good things. But I don't think the movie paid homage to the crew of the Andrea Gail or commercial fishermen. I think Junger's melodramatic overspeculations of the sinking (not to mention his speculation about what it's like to drown) are an insult to the thousands of fishermen and other seafarers who've lost their limbs and worse in much less spectacular ways. In truth, the vast majority of commercial fishing accidents and sinkings, aren't caused by gigantic Hollywood waves. They're the result of separate incidents and seemingly insignificant details stacking-up and falling like a house of cards.

With all due respect to the people of Gloucester and the friends and family of those who died on the Andrea Gail, and to the film makers and the actors, I humbly submit a different cause and effect scenario with regard to the sinking.

In my opinion, had the crew been given the time depicted in both the book and the movie, the ending might have been quite different. Those men were experienced and capable fisherman who had previously handled anything the sea had thrown at them. What probably happened was they started home with a freighted boat. It got rough, very rough, and the vessel started taking on water, probably from some insidious place in the stern, e.g. the rudder box or shaft seal. They didn't know she was taking on water until it was too late, at which time the vessel rolled and sank before they could launch the raft, get into their survival suits, or trigger the EPIRB. How many times has it happened that way? A freighted boat. A slow leak. Bad weather.


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sea Stories on Film

Here's a list of my favorite movies about the sea, with a brief description and review, in no particular order:

Titanic. This is Cameron's version and no doubt one with a sophomoric, fictionalized inner story about Jack and Rose and unrequited love. Ugh! Nevertheless, Cameron's attention to detail combined with his knowledge of the sea provide superb visuals and a realistic account of the physical aspects of the actual disaster. Very dramatic but also manipulative emotionally.

A Night to Remember. Can't leave this one out if we're mentioning the one above. A faithful retelling of the tragedy as originally described by eyewitness and written accounts. Based on the book of the same name by Walter Lord and including the dramatic stories of real passengers. Not a tear jerker in the modern sense but a movie that leaves an indelible mark on the brain.

The Abyss. Cameron cut his sea teeth on this one. A sci-fi underwater flick with great character interactions, a decent love story, and fantastic underwater scenes. Worth watching, except for the very end, where Cameron presumably ran out of money and had no choice but to feed Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio one of the dumbest lines ever recorded. Still, a great popcorn flick with lots of exciting scenes.

Perfect Storm. Wolfgang Peterson's movie version of Sebastion Junger's book of the sinking of the Andrea gale, a swordfish longliner out of Gloucester, MA. Movie depicts some real personalities (as we see in the bar scenes) and has a few decent scenes but is over the top in both action and it's speculative reasoning as to the exact cause of the tragedy. (More on this at a later date.) Not so much Peterson's failt as it was Junger's, who overdramatized his book and gave us way too many of his unqualified opinions.

Das Boot. Can't leave out Peterson's terrific U-Boat movie.

Moby Dick. The Gregory Peck version. Nuff said

Master and Commander. Underrated. With Russell Crowe. Opening scene is worth the price of admission.

The Caine Mutiny. Humphrey Bogart leads a great cast in this dramatic and telling tale of disloyalty, dishonor and failed leadership on the high seas. None better.

Mutiny on the Bounty. Two version worth seeing, the original with Laughton and the remake with Mel Gibson.

The Wackiest Ship in the Army. All right. Not the greatest movie ever, but if you're a fan of sea stories, you have to watch it. Jack Lemmon finally gets command of a ship, but it's a rotten old schooner. His mission: To spy on the Japanese in the South Pacific. Not much plot but a great premise and lot's of good boating scenes.

Down Periscope. Kelsey Grammer plays Thomas Dodge, a modern Navy sub captain who gets his first command, a rusting diesel sub. Sound familiar? Instead of spying on the Japanese, Dodge must engage his own Navy in a war game that requires him and his crew to infiltrate a gauntlet of U.S. warships and blow up one of the mothballed derelicts at Norfolk. Low brow humor with more than a few laughs.

The Bedford Incident. Great cold war story with Richard Widmark in a cat and mouse game in the North Atlantic. Sidney Potier plays a liberal journalist-guest aboard ship. Bottom line: The most insignificant details can have most disastrous consequences.

Jaws. Almost deserves its own post. The movie that single handedly changed the film industry and also almost decimated a fishery.

Pirates of the Caribbean. Somebody knew a little about boats when they penned this Disney ride adaptation. They knew how to have fun, too, which is what most viewers will have when they sit down to watch it. Movie pays homage to pirate lore and other genre films that have come before it, including Polanski's Pirates, which is also worth a look. Check out Walter Matthau's performance as Captain Red. You'll be hooked, literally, in the first five minutes.

Mr. Roberts. What better movie of men aboard a Navy ship is there. Superb performances all around. One of the few films that succesfully blend laugh out loud humor and tragedy. Finale says it all. Perfection.
20000 Leagues Under the Sea. I wasn't going to include this at first but a friend reminded me of its Shakespearean qualities. Kirk Douglass plays it a little caricature-ish, as the yo-ho-ho-and-a-barrel-of-rum sailor, but James Mason is dark and foreboding as the idealistically sinister Nemo.

Crimson Tide. Insubordination and mutiny
(or is it?) aboard a U.S. nuclear attack sub in the vein of The Cain Mutiny. Very well executed and played by Denzle Washington, Gene Hackman and others.

The Cruel Sea. Film adaptation of Nicholas Monsaratt's excellent novel of war on the high seas. Novel came out in 1953 (year I was born) and is probably the best novelization of service in Her Majesty's Navy during World War II. Movie faithfully sticks to Monseratt's vision and includes superb performances by the all British cast.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Groundbreaking fantasy film with legendary special effects by master minaturist, Ray Harryhausen. Even cooler that it happens to be a sea adventure.

There are, of course, a great many more noteworthy movies with maritime or naval themes. I can think of several terrific war stories, including Sink the Bismark. Maybe later I'll add to the above list.


Poseidon: The Movie

Hollywood, and specifically Warner Bros., would really like to know why its remake of The Poseidon Adventure, renamed Poseidon, has failed to draw the crowds at the box office. If you ask me, although the movie is visually spectacular, it's a fairly unengaging adventure romp with what many critics agree is an uninspired script. Despite these qualities, or lack thereof, I think the poor showing has more to do with the fact the execs responsible for it misread their intended audience.

If we look back to the Great Depression, and the years during and immediately following World War II, we find a general audience more inclined to see movies about real events or movies with feel-good themes that make them forget, if only for two hours, the horror and pain of the world around them. This doesn't mean people want to avoid the full range of emotion, or want to ignore serious subjects (i.e. United 93), or don't want to learn about something new (March of the Penguins). What it means, I think, is they see certain catastrophic fictional stories as being too frivolous for the times.

Poseidon, the movie, exciting as it probably is, with huge sets and pyrotechnics and all manner of things blowing up left and right, should be doing better. It has a good cast, and it's helmed by an experienced director with two award winning sea stories under his belt -- Das Boot, and The Perfect Storm. But is it the wrong movie at the wrong time, especially going up against the real thing: United 93?

Mission Impossible III is doing well? The X-Men are kicking butt -- Biggest Memorial Day weekend opening ever! Why is Poseidon, excuse me for saying, sinking? Again, if you ask me, it's because MI3 and X-Men are pure fantasies about fictional characters overcoming obviously fictional situations with inhuman ability. Poseidon is, basically, a pseudo-fantasy, with fictional characters overcoming a semi-real situation by ordinary, and, in some cases, extraordinary means. Except . . . the situation is one that has never happened in real life, and yet the film makers need us to believe it can happen in order for us to suspend disbelief. In other words, the movie's a fake, but it's not fake enough.

In my opinion, at a time of war, unless it's a one-of-kind movie, i.e. really special, or based on a true story, people want to fantasize about having superior abilities so they can change what in real life can't be changed by ordinary means. I figure this is the reason because I'm a sea story nut and I have no interest in seeing Poseidon. You know, I get it, the ship turns over, and a bunch of passengers escape by climbing up (down) and out through the bow thruster opening. (In the original, they escape through one of the propellor shaft tunnels.)

Hopefully, this won't color Hollywood's future interest in setting great sea stories to film. Let's hope execs will look back at other great marine adventure movies and want to make more.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Another Photo of Carl's Yard Cat

Several people have pointed out that the height and color pattern of this cat, and the shape of its head, make it look like a Savannah or an African Serval. Perhaps it lost its tail to an alligator. Carl says this picture was taken three weeks ago. You may be able to get a closer look by clicking on it for the larger version.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

My Old Boat Mate Carl's New Cat

My old fishing buddy who moved to Florida sent me this photo under the header: "The Cat Living in the Backyard of our New House."

Carl came with me when I moved to Maine some twenty five years ago. He was the one who convinced me to leave a good paying job in the city to start a treasure hunting, salvage and sport diving business here on the coast. (Bastid) We dove many a wreck together. (He did most of the diving.) Suffered through storms, crazy friends, a few enemies, and way too many fast food meals. He served as my mate when I steamed my old lobster boat up from New York. We swam with humpback whales for the first time in Massachusetts Bay (I've done it a few times since), searched a dozen or more sunken derelicts, and tried to eke out a living harvesting urchins and sea scallops together -- nor shall we forget the countless trips to the free salad bar at Sizzlers.

Nice kitty, Carl.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Interesting Boats: Maine's Fitzcarraldo

This is the Raw Faith, a back yard- built replica of an old sailing ship. As a professional mariner and a student of the sea, I would normally tell you what kind of ship this is. Unfortunately, in this case, any resemblance to an actual ship -- a vessel designed and constructed according to acceptable nautical methodology -- is in name only. It's supposed to be an English Race Galleon. In fact, it's an abomination and a danger to one and all.

The captain and owner of this vessel had a grand plan to create an ocean experience for people in wheelchairs. Unfortunately, this person had no experience in shipbuilding or seafaring. What he had was a zealous drive to combine a religious pilgrimage of the past with a non-profit enterprise to help people with disabilities.

It's an admirable and worthy thing to want to help people, but as the saying goes: Sometimes the best intentions. . . .

At what point do you tell someone to relinquish their dream? At what point do you interfere with American entrepreneurship? I would suggest, in this case, the tipping point has come, literally. Twice now the Raw Faith has tried to leave Maine waters. Twice it has failed in its mission, both times placing its crew and passengers, other mariners, and the crews of those vessels who came to its rescue, at extreme risk. Enough is enough. Dismasted, unable to make headway, taking on water, in uncomfortable but not severe conditions, make this venture a frivolous and hazardous affair of the heart.

Fitzcarraldo (Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald) also had a dream. His dream was to bring opera to the people of Iquito, Peru, 3000 miles up the Amazon River and 106 meters above sea level.

Perhaps some dreams are just to lofty. Or maybe the problem exists with the dreamers themselves.


Movie poster courtesy of Please see Copyright Notice for fair use statement.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Casualties and Complacency

There are many causes of accidents at sea. Although a few can be categorized as unavoidable (i.e. the result of acts of God: rogue waves, lightening), the vast majority are attributable to human error.

For example, the Ehime Maru, the Japanese training vessel struck and sunk by the Attack Sub USS Greenville, would have been spared had the officers onboard the sub followed Navy procedure for the particular maneuvers they were conducting.

Originally, media reports tried to make a big deal of the distraction caused by the distinguished visitors onboard the sub. But on a nuclear powered warship, where you have military crews trained in the business of war and various life and death ship related emergencies, where crews are suppose to be capable of dealing with the most intense potentialities known to man, how can a few passengers (16) lead to such a tragedy?

In fact, the NTSB did cite the crew for failing to 'manage' the guests. However, the bottom line was: The officers failed in their duty. They did not follow procedure or take proper precautions prior to their emergency surfacing maneuver. As a result, nine people aboard the Ishime Maru lost their lives.

Complacency is a dangerous thing, because any boat, ship, plane or piece of heavy machinery becomes a liability in the hands of a person who, through ignorance, fatigue, or overconfidence, has no sense of pending danger or feeling that something at any moment can go wrong.

On May 10, 2004, an Alaskan ferry called the LeConte went aground on Cozian Reef. The reason? The first mate made an impromptu course change in order to bring the vessel on a more picturesque route. While doing so, he failed to heed a daymark. Both captain and mate were fired after the incident, which caused over $3 million in damages. There were no serious injuries.

although the NTSB listed crew fatigue and watch standing issues as the major cause, the root of the problem was complacency.

In the first example, procedures were in place but not followed, and while the media and members of congress took the opportunity to weigh in on the distinguished visitors policy of the Navy and recommend an end to the policy, I am aware of no significant changes regarding US submarine operations as a result of the incident. The same cannot be said for the latter example.

As a result of the ferry accident -- and other such accidents where fatigue was listed as a contributing factor -- the USCG and NTSB are considering rule changes and additional certification requirements for watchstanders.

Look for amendments to STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) regulations.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Tonight there's news of 400 dead dolphins washed ashore on the coast of Zanzibar. Stomachs were empty, but preliminary reports indicate starvation was not an issue.

Four hundred dead cetacians is cause for concern. It would be nice to know why. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to figure these things out.

It could be the result of a medical problem unrelated to outside influences, or it could be because of an external effect, powerful military sonar, or some form of pollution.

Sonar interferes with a dolphins ability to echo-locate and navigate.

Sitting in your computer chair you probably don't think too emotionally about this type of news. However, I've been to strandings, and I've seen first hand dolphin drama. I've watched a white sided dolphin desperately push its dead baby ahead of it as the rest of the pod tried to migrate north. Members of the group came back to get the parent dolphin to give up, but it wouldn't give up. All of us on the boat could sense the desperation in this dolphin, the intense pain, the feeling of loss. We could all find some anthropomorphic explanation for what was happening. And we all cried inside. It was sad, break your heart sad. So I can imagine the pain of seeing 400 hundred dolphins flopping to death in the sand.

On the other hand, once they were dead (and this is Africa we're talking about), I can accept and understand why they would become food.

It's important to determine what caused this. If it was sonar from American warships, shame on us.

I've been out fishing in the shadow of US military sonar. I can't help but wonder how many years of my life were taken during that encounter.


(photo coursetsy of US Navy Marine Mammal Program:

Tom Friedman's Titanic

In today's column, Tom Friedman of the New York Times flippantly remarked about a comparison being made between President Bush and the Captain of the Titanic. He suggested it was an insult to the captain of the Titanic to make such a comparison:
Personally, I think that is a totally unfair charge — unfair to the captain of the Titanic.

After all, he knew where he was going. His lookouts just couldn't see the iceberg spar lurking beneath the surface in their path until it was too late. This administration, and its captain, have been staring the iceberg right in the face for years — it's called dependence on foreign crude oil. It has been totally visible, for miles and miles. And yet the Bush team has just kept sailing right into it, refusing to ask the American people to do anything hard to put America on a different energy course.

Tom really shouldn't make these kinds of statements because he's simply not qualified. If in fact Bush is guilty of neglegence and/or incompetence with respect to an energy policy (the thrust of Tom's column), then the captain of the Titanic is culpable in the tragedy that befel his fateful ship -- and even more so. I would suggest to Tom he read the transcripts of a senate hearing conducted in 1912, the conclusion of which laid blame squarely on the Titanic's captain, and the captain of the California: the first for the wreck and condition of his ship and crew, lack of training, improper staffing and more; the second for ignoring the Titanic's call for help.

If Tom understood Maritime Law, or the responsibiities of a captain aboard a ship, he'd know just how culpable the captain of the Titanic, Edward John Smith, was -- and how wrong the statement he made in his column is.

Is it enough in this world -- or on ship -- to simply know where you're going? Of course not. Do you want to be following somebody who has a destination but no real direction or safe and secure mode of transport? Isn't that a tangential definition of zealotry, or at the very least, naivity?

Isn't this one of the charges Bush critics level at him on a routine basis, that he is zealous and/or naive?

Maybe Bush is guilty of ignoring the iceberg. I really don't know. I don't know the actual condition of the ship we're travelling on. What I do know is Captain Edward Smith was fully culpable in the wreck of the Titanic and the tragedy that followed. And Tom, as a Celebrity Journalist, is guilty of hyperbole, or at the very least, oversimplification.


(Image courtesy of Titanic Nautical Society and Resource Center

Thursday, April 27, 2006


This is Genesis, Royal Carribean International's next entry into the gargantuan cruise ship sector. At 220,000 ton, she will be the largest by almost 50,000 ton.

Freedom of the Seas (currently the largest): 158,000 ton.

Queen Mary II: 150,000 ton

Queen Mary: 83,000 ton.

Titanic: 46,000 ton.

The old Titanic doesn't seem so Titanic anymore.

Genesis is on the ways now and is scheduled for delivery in 2009.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fat People on Boats

People have gotten fatter and the Coast Guard is worried.

Since the 1960s, stability calculations (heel tests) on vessels have been based on an average weight of 160 pounds per person (140 pounds per person for vessels in protected waters), but this is all about to change.

Reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have prompted the USCG to re-evaluate its stability calculation process. What this means is that USCG Certified Sub-Chapter T vessels might be required to undergo new stability tests. Vessel operators who don't want to retest might avoid the procedure by accepting a new Certificate of Inspection with less passenger carrying capacity. The latter would be a simple calculation based on the CDC determination for average per person weight.

Obviously, in the passenger carrying trade, the more people you can carry, the more money you can make. So this development has some consequences, especially at a time when fuel and other costs are rising at an alarming rate,


Note on Fat Homer (courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox) Above:

Images or illustrations of a character in a comic book, video game, or animated television program or film used here are copyrighted and/or owned by either the publisher/producer and/or artist(s) producing the work in question. It is believed that the use of low-resolution versions of these images of character artwork for commentary on the character in question or the subject the character represents do not constitute copyright infrigement and instead qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

Any other uses of this image, here or elsewhere, may be copyright infringement.

Swelling the Canal

As reported by the Financial Times, Panama has announced a plan to double the capacity of its primary source of revenue, The Panama Canal. The five plus billion dollar project will allow larger cargo ships to transit. According to the Chief Executive of the Canal Authority, the new locks will be 1,400 feet long, 180 feet wide, with a depth of 50'. This will accomodate container vessels carrying up to 12,000 TEUs, (Total Equivalent Units) but will not, apparently, fit ships like the newly launched Freedom of the Seas, which has a beam of 184'. Nor, it seems, will it accomodate an even bigger cruise liner, Genesis, which is currently under development and will be so large as to possibly block out the sun and raise the level of the oceans two inches.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Buying an Older Boat

This group of six divers are returning from the wrecks of the schooners Zeeman and Alexander. Guy sitting on the starboard quarter picked up a nice porthole off the former. Big bronze porthole with octagonal backing plate and all through bolts.

I miss this little boat, but you can see she wasn't exactly up to the task. With six divers and 18 tanks and all related scuba gear, she rode low in the water. Scuppers were half under. A boat with wet exhaust can have some problems with this type of loading. The exhaust outlet gets swamped and engine back pressure increases. Obviously, boats with keel pipes and dry stacks don't have this potential problem.

The boat is a 1982 Sisu originally designed by Royal Lowell. She was a great boat, but built to standards typical of the era. In other words, she had a balsa cored hull, washboards and foredeck, and a glass-over-plywood main deck. Bulkheads were glassed on one side only. And every hull penetration was made through a hole drilled directly into the core. Today, builders know they have to reinforce the hole with solid glass before adding a through hull fitting or a deck fitting. They also know the deck and bilge need ventilation just like the roof of your house. Condesnation is a killer.

When buying a fiberglass boat older than twenty years, these are things you should look for. Find out what the deck is made of. If it's FRP covered plywood, see if it's covered on both sides? If not, and you have a boat with very little if any ventilation, you should suspect a punky deck and punky bulkheads. Look for signs of mold under the washboards.

Wire, of course, is only good for about twenty years. If the boat your inspecting has not been rewired, count on doing it, especially the wire that runs through the bilge or between cabinets and hull sides, anyplace where there's an accumulation of moisture from condensation and/or topside leaks.

Boats that spend a lot of time freighted with cargo or passengers, like the one above, might have similarly suspect areas of rot in the transom, particularly around scuppers, wet exhaust outlets, and structural supports for swim or dive platforms.

And don't forget to pull a through hull and see if indeed the core has been compromised.

It's funny, one of the first questions many boat buyers ask is about the engine. But look at it this way: Even though engines are typically the most expensive single components of a boat, it so happens they're the easiest thing to fix or replace. Pop it out. Rebuild it, put it back. Or take the old one out and pop in a new one. Depending on engine access and what has to be done to get to the thing, it's usually a lot harder and more expensive to rebuild the boat itself, i.e. hull, decks, and bulkheads. For example, the cost of re-wiring a luxury sailboat will typically exceed the cost of replacing its propulsion engine.

So the next time you think a good looking, clean boat of over twenty years is a good buy, think again. Take a closer look at the way it was built. If they cut corners at the outset, chances are you'll be paying plenty to put those corners back


Monday, April 24, 2006

Fat Belly Cod

This is my friend Dave. He caught this fat belly cod on my boat 13 years ago. The night before he broke up a fight between two giant fisherman at Gilbert's pub in Camden. He had just finished canoeing the Allagash solo and had a chest full of muscle. When the two knobs got into it, he intervened by jumping one from behind and giving him a big bear hug. The situation resolved. Dave was the hero. The next day, after two hours sleep, we went offshore and caught some fish. An old friend, a good friend. I owed him.

Btw, what is it about old friends? Time passes. People move on, drift apart.

One of the saddest things is losing touch with great friends.

- seabgb

New Boat Woes

Over the past twenty or so years most of what I've done -- and what I most enjoy doing-- is taking passengers for hire. Fishing, scuba diving, whalewatching, sightseeing. If I had my druthers, I'd have a 100' expedition vessel that slept a dozen or so people, and I'd run adventure expeditions to Labrador and back. Unfortunately, with family obligations, I just can't be away from home for extended periods of time. I need something smaller. A day boat.

Whalewatching and fishing are out. The whales have moved offshore to search for food and/or avoid the maze of fixed lobster gear inside, and new gov't regs on cod now limit anglers to two fish of 24" or better. You can't take people 50 miles offshore, reel up and then discard twenty small cod (they don't survive the trip up from depths of 40 or 50 fathoms), just to come home with two fish. It's just plain stupid. Think about it. The regs force anglers to discard and kill the small ones in order to get their two big fish. Read the Where is the Cod? report below to see how crazy this policy really is.

There's also the herring issue. While the feds have put an end to pair trawling, pressure remains severe on this ocean staple as a lobster bait. Lobstermen are now paying as much as $30 a bushel for bait, and whales, tuna, and other marine predators are getting skinnier every year. The pogies are gone. Maybe we're looking at the same fate for herring.

Unfortunately, it's not like much can be done about it. Lobstering is a multi million dollar industry. It supports tens of thousands of people. It's also highly managed and regulated, and, in many ways, a model for fish harvesting around the world. Efficient, productive and yet sustained. Why? Because it's not as much a fishery as it is an aquaculture. When you essentially throw back more than you take, you are essentially growing them in a semi-controlled environment.

This is great for the lobster fishery but probably not so great for biodiversity.

Lobstermen, and herring seiners, don't really like to talk about biodiversity. It makes them nervous. Fishermen are already under extreme pressure from whale protectionists and conservation activists. The last thing they want or need is for proponents of biodiversity getting into the act.

And yet, where does all this leave an operator like me? I'm not about to change careers and become a lobsterman. Even if I wanted to, there's a waiting list, I'd have to apprentice with someone for two years, then wait for an old timer to die. A time consuming and morbid way to find a new career.

I could rig up for scallops, or shrimp, but scalloping hit the skids last season, with catches averaging less then 40 pounds, locally, and shrimp prices practically at an all time low, around $.30 per pound. Hardly made sense to go.

Urchins used to be good, but I let my permit expire years ago and now I can't get it back. Besides, urchins are also few and far between. (Try this for a little piece of urchin fiction.)

If it sounds to you like I'm whining, you're right. I am whining. Just a little. I'm having a very hard time figuring out how to re-invest my money in a marine business without losing my shirt at the same time.

The way it looks now, I'm leaning toward a boat that will allow me to do some light salvage and mooring work in the spring, dive charters in the summer, and scallop dragging in the winter. Stay tuned. I'll let you know what happens.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Is Bigger Better?

Freedom of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever built. Recently launched and ready for her maiden voyage with over 4,300 passengers. All 18 decks of her.

At 158,000 tonne, she is without doubt one of the largest vessels on the seven seas.

I'm not sure how I feel about this thing. Engineering wonder. Marvel of mechanical achievement. Marketing masterpiece. Abomination.

Personally, I'd rather sail on a 12 passenger freighter than a floating city. But hey, that's me. My Dad would have loved this thing.


Getting Real in Real Estate and Boat Sales

The other day I looked at a used boat for sale in Connecticut, a triple screw high performance race boat listed for what I thought was a damn good price. When I contacted the broker, he told me the thing had come down by almost half. Originally priced new at around half a million dollars, it was set for sale at $300,000, dropped to $175,000 -- and could probably be had for $125,000. If that's not a good deal I don't know what is.

Unfortunately, the thing wasn't meant for me. With triple high performance gas engines at 750 HP apiece, a thirst for high octane fuel not available here on the water, and a hunger for nearly 100 gallons per hour (with gas prices soaring this summer to $4.00/gallon), buying the thing, even at such a great price, would have been equivalent to shooting myself in the head.

Though not really for me, I was interested in this boat because it was such a great deal. Having stuck my toe in the pond, I discovered the chilly reality was that the great majority of asking prices for used boats (and, to a certain extent, real estate) were, and still are, exaggerated and over-inflated. I bet if you did a survey of boats sold in the early nineties, you'd find the difference between asking price and selling price to be about seven to ten percent. If you did a survey of asking price to selling price today you'd find a difference in the neighborhood of twenty to thirty percent, maybe even more.

Am I suggesting the next offer you make on a boat should be half the asking price? Of course not. Worth is still measured by factors such as condition, location, new boat price, and public interest. But what people seem to be doing now is setting a price based solely on what it costs to build a new boat. Is that really just? Is it fair to try to sell a used Bruno Stillman that cost $65,000 in 1975 for $100,000 or more today? My answer is: No freakin' way!

It doesn't matter that the boat has a new engine and maybe a new set of fuel tanks. The only thing that would justify an exaggerated price for a used boat is a complete make-over, including decks, fuel tanks, wiring, hull and deck work, trim, miscellaneous machinery, etc. If it's anything short of a complete make-over you can figure someone is trying to cash in on inflation and today's high cost of building a new boat. Screw that. If you paid $50,000 for a new vessel in the eighties, don't expect to get more than that just because you kept it clean and waxed. These aren't classic cars we're talking about. There's no antique boat market, not really, not in the way you have collectible automobiles and motorcycles.

Brokers, of course, would say I'm all wet. An item is worth what someone will pay for it. They'll say an owner deserves to get what he can for his property. Maybe so. But when you have arbitrarily high values set on boats, and then you have uninformed people paying those exorbitantly high prices, it changes the whole market and brings out the opportunists.

You would think banks and surveyors would temper this trend with a good dose of reality. To a certain degree they do. But you also have lots of people buying boats with cash, and you have lots of bankers and surveyors who think way to much of their own abilities. In other words, they have their own inflated self worth to take into account.

My advice to anyone looking for a used boat or piece of real estate is to do your homework and don't rush into anything. No matter how much you may like something, if you think it's being offered by someone who just wants to ride the inflation wave, walk away. No matter how good a boat you think it is, or how attractive a piece of real estate might seem, there's always another one right around the corner.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Street Gang

A friend sent me this photo but I don't know who shot it and/or whom to credit. It appears here, temporarily, without permission. Don't know the road or county. Photo came with the tagline: Maine Rough Crew. If you have any info on this photo, please let me know.

(For the record, all photos on this site are either mine, courtesy of, or are here by permission of their owners.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Where is The Cod?

A recent News Scan article in the Scientific American has some disturbing implications for some fisheries practices. The April 2006 issue notes a study that strongly suggests our current cod management plan is dead wrong. What's startling is not so much the conclusions of the study but that the study substantiates what fishermen and hunters have known for a hundred years, namely, that taking the biggest fish (or biggest and strongest animals out of a herd) and leaving the smallest, is actually harmful to stocks.

The study was conducted by The Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University in New York. Researchers studied six generations of captive Atlantic Silversides. They culled the largest 90% from one group, the smallest 90% from another group, and a random 90% from a third group. What they learned was that killing off the largest fish reduced individual fish sizes by as much as 55%. More importantly, the stunted fish also had many deficiencies, including poor feeding habits, greater susceptibility to predation and less robust spawn.

The conclusion drawn is that negative genetic changes of a given population of animals can be sparked by imposed survival issues. If the largest become prey, it's better to be small. In effect, our cod management plan, as well as the natural propensity of hunter/gatherers to seek out the strongest and largest prey, is decreasing fish stocks and creating smaller individuals, just the opposite of what we're trying to accomplish.

Of course, not all management plans are designed to take the largest fish. e.g. cod has a minimum but no maximum legal limit, whereas the lobster fishery and the striper sport fishery have both. In light of the Stonybrook report, maybe this is why cod are obviously not rebounding and lobsters and stripers seem to be doing well.

I mention this in the wake of the article on cod traps in last month's issue of Working Waterfront. With news like the report out of Stonybrook, and with cod stocks as they are, seems somebody is jumping the gun on the idea of building cod traps. Shouldn't we first have a cod management plan in place that shows signs of actually working?


I docked my boat of 14 years and fueled it for the last time on Wednesday, April 4 2006. As if it didn't want me to leave, the docking itself was made nearly impossible by wind and tide and cold, stiff steering. I was by myself and trying to get into the fuel dock, a tight squeeze under the best of circumstances. It took me 15 minutes to get a line on. At the last second the line slipped off the cleat and I had to start all over. I had to rush back to the helm and pull out of the slot before I ended up on top of a little dragger tied to the north side of the pier. Like I said, the boat was being stubborn, or maybe I was in no real hurry to get it docked.

After fueling the boat for the new owner, who was due the previous night and scheduled to leave at daybreak, it started to snow. I listened to the weather radio for a minute - calling for 3 to 5 inches - then I walked the decks two or three times, checked the lines, and reluctantly stepped off the boat.

What surprised me was how sad I got on the drive home. I was the vessel's fourth owner. Originally, she was called the Miss Jill, then she was Squall, then Outlaw II, and finally under my ownership, Finback. Quantitatively, I wonder just how much real sweat and blood is infused into the wood of the thing. I remember one time I cut my hand pretty badly on a wire thread coming off the winch. The blood stained the cap rail. It stayed that way, red stained, for most of the season, until I sanded the spot and repainted it. You can't own a wooden boat without sweating and bleeding into it . . . literally, it leaves with a part of you in it.

Oh well, I still have a couple of cans of bikini blue paint and a few scars to remember her by.


Saturday, March 25, 2006


Let's talk about marine surveyors for a minute, because these dudes have an inordinate amount of power when it comes to the transfer of property between a buyer and a seller.

First of all, there's no real standard by which a surveyor learns his or her trade. You don't need a degree in it, nor do you need much experience. You don't need to be a seafarer, a licensed captain, or even a weekend warrior. You can become an accredited surveyor by making up some business cards and taking out an advertisement in a magazine.

This doesn't mean all surveyors are inexperienced or no-nothing charlatans. There are some very good surveyors out there. You just have to take the time to find them. You also have to know what you want your surveyor to do for you. Remember, a surveyor is working for you, NOT for themselves, which seems the case all too often.

I recently had an experience with a surveyor who made unsubstantiated claims that later turned out to be in direct conflict with a USCG inspection of the same vessel. This surveyor was not experience. In fact, prior to the inspection, he actually admitted to me it was his first crossplanked vessel. He said he had to research the particulars on the Internet. Right then and there, I knew we were all heading the wrong way.

When searching for a surveyor, make sure you choose one who specializes in the type of boat you're buying. If it's a wood sailing yacht, don't choose a guy who inspects steel tugboats for a living. In my case, the surveyor who came for the buyer thought he knew more than the Coast Guard Inspector, a guy who not only specializes in passenger vessels but who does nothing but inspect passenger vessels year in and year out. In fact, this particular Coast Guard inspector knew the type of boat intimately.

Everything worked out for the best, despite the survey. But it was a stressful experience I would not want to repeat.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Morning Ferry Ride to Vinalhaven in Sea Smoke

Photo above comes courtesy of my friend Al, who works for the Maine State Ferry Service. It's a cold winter morning on the way to Carver's Harbor on Vinalhaven Island in Maine's Penobscot Bay. You can see a stream of sea smoke off the starboard bow.

Sea smoke, advection fog, or steam fog, is an interesting physical phenomenon caused by cold air advection over warmer water. It's a type of fog that requires a perfect set of conditions. The nearest comparison would be the strange mist you sometimes see on the surface of your hot coffee, before you add the cream and sugar. Take a look at it next time you pour yourself a cup. Clouds of tiny water droplets are racing across the surface.

What makes sea smoke and the mist on your coffee different than other types of fog and mist is the size of the droplets. In sea smoke and the mist in your coffee, all the droplets are of uniform size and kinetic energy. The bigger, slower droplets fall back into liquid, and the smaller, more kinetic droplets, evaporate completely.

Sea smoke and the steam fog on your hot coffee are the same phenomenon.


Friday, March 10, 2006

That's My Van!

I hope my friend doesn't mind me posting this but I just can't resist.

There's this bar on Main Street. It's owned by some friends of a friend. My friend's name is, well, let's call him Doug. The owners names . . . call them Tom. They're both named, Tom. Two Toms.

Every day my friend, Doug, a lobsterman (that's the Moon Dog connection), drives past the bar on his way home from work. At least three days a week, as he drives by, he sees a Michelob Light van parked outside. It so happens this van is driven by a friend of Tom's and Doug's who is the regional rep for Michelob. The rep typically double parks in front of the bar or finds a nearby parking spot and he either leaves the keys in the van or sometimes he leaves the keys in and actually leaves the van running, then he goes inside to make a sale and maybe have a beer. Just one beer. (Yeah, right.) Bear in mind, here in Maine, all of us, almost all of us, leave our keys in the ignition all the time, no matter where we are. It's crazy, but we do it anyway. Back to my story. . . .

Whenever Doug sees his buddy's Michelob van, Doug parks his own vehicle, jumps in the Michelob van, and drives it around the corner to another parking spot in town, so that when his friend comes out of the bar, his friend has to search for the van before he can drive home.

The other day, as Doug is driving home, he sees the Mich van outside the bar. He parks his truck, jumps in the already running van, and drives it off. But this time, instead of parking it somewhere else, he pulls around the corner, stops in front of the big picture windows of the bar, rolls down the van window, sticks his arm out, and flips his friend the bird.

Except, it's not his friend standing at the bar talking to one of the two Toms, it's his friend's boss, whom Doug has never met.

The boss, with an incredulous "someone's steeling my car" look on his face, points a finger at Doug and says something like: "What the- Who the-" And then Doug spins the wheels and drives off.

Doug finally gets up the nerve to park the car and go to the bar to apologize. Story should end there but it doesn't. Doug sits next to the boss, orders a Budweiser. Tom comes over to him and whispers: "Steal a guy's car, least you can do is order one of his beers."


More on the Ports Deal

The controversial Ports deal for DP World is dead. To save face, according to media reports, the administration asked DP to pull out.

I have mixed feelings about this outcome for a variety of reasons, many of which I mentioned in another post. However, if the issue did anything, it brought to light the double standard and knee-jerk grandstanding of many of our lawmakers. Somebody somewhere should keep track of all the politicians who jump the gun on issues and make fools of themselves. Do you want someone with a hair trigger running your government, your military?

Quite a few democrats, and even some republicans, when it became clear security was not the magic bullet, decided to use the Arab boycott of Israel (in effect since 1948) as an argument against the deal. However, these days, with many Arab countries in the WTO, unauthorized and unilateral embargoes and boycotts against a WTO-favored country are banned, making the 'official' Arab policy against Israeli goods and trade a boycott in name only. In fact, only two Arab countries maintain Israel Embargo and Boycott Enforcement Offices. One is Syria, the other Lebanon. This does not mean Israel enjoys unencumbered open trade with Arab countries. On the contrary, even Egypt and Jordan, with which it is at peace, are far from full trade partners. But the difference between what is and what is suppose to be proves the ambiguousness of the boycott. In other words, it shows there are rays of light shining in an area that the media typically paints as a deep, dark, impenetrable hole of bleak and bloody terror.

In fact, of all the Arab countries, the UAE, of which Dubai is a part, has maintained working relationships with several large Israeli firms. One of these is Zim Lines, whose CEO, in letters to DP World executives and certain members of government, most notably Clinton and Schumer of New York, expressed his dismay at the beating DP World was taking in the US Press and the halls of Congress. He stated in his letter that Zim Lines has called on multiple ports owned by DP World including those in Dubai itself.

The duplicity of Clinton and Schumer and others is clear. On the one hand, they criticize the administration for not reaching out more to Arab moderates and Arabs who look more favorably on western culture. Moreover, they blame this administration for what they perceive as a festering Arab animosity to the U.S. And yet, they are unwilling to treat as equals the Arabs who want to work with us and who respect our financial and economic traditions.

Do I want DP World to own these six U.S. port operations? I don't know. But I would not fly off half-cocked armed with a pocketful of misapplied mistrust and barrel of erroneous information. I am also inclined to improve our relations with people through joint enterprises whereby we own some of what they have and they own some of what we have. Economic cooperation is a powerful tool in the fight against terror. It just may be the most effective tool we have.