Flight Day #1165

Keith and Angie had been visiting but this morning they were boarding the Key West Express so I looked at the weather and …. Golly ….it looks beautiful.

It’s new into daylight saving so dawn wasn’t until 7:30.am. The winds were down to 0 at launch and built over the 3/4 hour to 7 from the east . The thermal layer was dramatic around 600ft.

Major mistake of the year was launching without the seat belt fastened. It was buckled on the seat and not hanging down so I had to reach behind with one hand and release the buckle. That clunky old thumb lever is genius! It was a non event.

I basically doodled around the patch and checked out the boat yards. The highlight of the day was an amazing new fountain at one of the mansions in the west corner of the meadows. There is an underwater element that look like the pedals of a flower. The effect is a wonderful 3D kinetic marvel that changes as you move around it.

There were two other Pilots all launching solo. The fellow closest to me was a newbie. He has a bit to much confidence due to a private GA License but I think he will do ok. The other was Steve , he chastised me for flying to close to the mansions. MEA CULPA.

It was nice to get back into the air.

Flights 1163 & 1164 Throggle Test

It was a beautiful day for a test flight. Yesterday Troy, “The Krazy Kracker“ and I installed Robert Kittila’s Throggle. A throttle that has the brake toggle fixed to the body of the throttle body allowing the pilot to start the engine after he has the risers in hand ready to launch. Visually it’s a work of art. A black matte handle contoured to fit the hand with a groove cut for the brake toggle. The start, kill button and throttle/cruise control are molded into the top so that all the controls are within reach of the thumb. The cruise control is an aluminum tab that is easy to adjust and engage.

The first flight was cut short when I noticed a line tangle right after lift off but everything worked as advertised. The second launch was also a short flight but it allowed me to test the throttle.

I hope Robert finds a market for the throggle but it’s not me. After a very short flight I found a couple of things that were show stoppers. Probably the biggest is that it’s not easy to clip the throggle to the risers and I’m not sure they would stay attached in every situation. I like to park the brakes and give my arms a rest. Theoretically, with the throggle you set the cruise control and park the brakes but that doesn’t work for me because even when I’m out of the brakes I like to have control of the RPMs. It’s cumbersome to keep reaching over to adjust the cruise tab especially when it’s attached to the magnets. Incidentally the cable is too long and it looked like if it came off the magnet, it could easily be sucked into the prop. So …. I stopped testing parked brakes right there.

One issue was during the launch. I like to have my hands on the A lines during inflation. It’s possible to hook the #1 A with the thumb and control the throttle but once the wing is up, the A needs to be released and the thumb lever also gets released when that happens. So… for a moment the thrust is reduced. On a hard surface, like this morning, it was no big deal because the cart had very little drag but on grass the cart would slow immediately causing the wing to surge, forcing me to brake at a low speed to keep the wing overhead. It would delay the launch and add unnecessary complexity. The A assists can do the job without me being in the A’s but I like to feel the wing during those crucial seconds.

The thumb throttle control works fine but the spring tension had to be reduced to accommodate the short lever weaker thumb. I can imagine that without using the cruise control the thumb could get pretty tired.

Another problem was the way we wired into the motor. The starter can be engaged at any time whether the key is in or not. It can be tapped during a flight or perhaps while we’re standing around in the garage. It would be much better if it only engaged when the key was turned to run. That can be fixed if I change my opinion and decide to continue with this throttle. As it is, I’m going to have to rig some kind of mid-cable leash that will prevent a lost cable from going into the prop.. I’d like to put a Velcro hand strap across the body but I’m afraid that the toggle Not In the nifty groove would be too thick for my small hands. Plus …. Velcro adhesive doesn’t want to adhere to the 3D printed nylon.

I might have a couple more flights with the throggle but right now I’m pretty sure I’m going to re-install the old lever and be on the lookout for a new one with a start and kill integrated to the body of the throttle.

Flight Day #1162

Weather was the keyword of the day. WU predicted 0-3 mph from the east . When I arrived there was ground fog and light wind from the north. While I unloaded the rig, a wind front of 10 mph came through that lasted about 10 minutes. Shortly after the sun came up the wind dropped. I set up and launched cleanly. The air was bumpy and the higher I flew the more the turbulence increased. A small private plane overflew my by 300 ft. I don’t know if he did it on purpose but he changed course slightly to fly right over my head. I descended to mitigate any extra bumps from his wingtip vortex. It was hard to tell if it mattered because I was being tossed around plenty as it was.

I returned to base and landed . I might have found clear air at a higher altitude but chose to land in case the low turbulence continued to build. I expect it would have because the ground was cool and the warming was not uniform.

Flight Day #1161

First Sunset flight in a long time. Lost the right rear wheel on landing. Pin was gone. There was no damage . I think its possible that the pin was dislodged by a race mark that was rolling around behind the rig in the pickup truck. I replaced all four pins the next day. The race mark is gone.

Non event.

It’s not often you get such a perfectly timed shot

Flight Day #1158

Flew with Rob Norland. No drama.. stayed on the A’s during inflation and that helped. The poles have taken out the largest roads but there are going to be plenty of places to launch and land for the foreseeable future.

There was plenty of ground fog which made for a picturesque launch. After I watched Rob launch and the “parting of the fog”, I set up and followed him into the sky. Despite his reluctance to go out to the island, Rob made a beeline for Gasparilla Marina. Twenty minutes later he was back and we danced around each other for another 20 minutes.

It’s all good.

Flight Day #1157

It won’t be the last time I fly The Meadows but it’s coming.

Dear God….It’s been over a month since my last confession, flight #1156. I did penance by sailing a boat at walking pace from South America to Key West. So….I’ve got that going for me. Right?

The first thing I noticed, driving out to the LZ, was power poles. Hundreds of 50 footers sprouting up like a giant Punji Trap for Paragliders. Soon, they would be connected with power lines, dividing my patch into a web of city blocks where the, “low and slow”, would be, “dead and gone”.

My favorite intersection had become a “no go”. The poles closed off any escape to the North and the numerous copse of trees to the South were just too close together for comfort. I could still launch here and ninety nine times out of a hundred it would be flawless. But….

I’ve lost landing zones before. Some I flew for years before civilization pushed me out. Some were short term opportunities where developers had cleared the land and created a space that I could exploit for a few weeks. Some became home base where I could hang with my buddies and share our passion.

Eventually each one dissolved into the mist of the, “Good Ol Days”. It’s the way of a Paragliders life. Enjoy it while you’ve got it and when they kick you out … find someplace else.

But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go

There’s always someone, don’tcha know

Hanging around and sayin, we’ll I told ya so

Back in The Goodle days

And the Goodle Days

Are past and gone

A lot of good people have done gone on

And that’s my life when I sing this song

About back in the goodle days.

Credit: John Hartford

Curasao to Pine Island

Joe Onofrio and I completed a delivery of a boat from Curacou (which is near Aruba) to Pine Island, FL (which is located north of Ft Myers and inside the Isabel Island. This is a day by day account of our trip. It took a little bit longer than expected. I hope to post each day of our journey from my log I used for the delivery. We are delivering a 2012 Fountaine Pajot Mahe 36 catamaran.

12/06/2022 Flew out of DIA to MIA at midnight. Flight was delayed. That was a good thing. I found out I need to have proof for AA and Curacao that I had intentions to leave the island after I arrived. I purchased a fully refundable ticket from Curacao back to Miami. I also had to fill out an on-line form for immigration. I made the flight and met Joe in Miami around 10:30. We caught the 12:00 flight to Curacou and arrived around 4:00PM (-4GMT). Curacao is one time zone east of US east coast time. Clearing through immigration and customs was no big deal. Then we were on the hunt for a car. We ended up with the smallest SUV I have ever driven. It was $110US/day. We made it to the boat by 6:00PM. We did a walk through of the boat and headed out for dinner. At 8:00PM Wilson showed up. He is the mechanic that is rebuilding the head on the port diesel engine. We carried replacement parts down with us. He worked on the engine until midnight. I have been up 40 hours. Good night.12/07/2022 Day 2 Good morning Curacao. We start out the morning checking out SOME of the different systems on the boat and try to figure out what is working and what is not. It is a rainy day. After we finished the checkout on the boat, we set out finding stores on the island that we could find supplies. We did find a McDonlad’s. It is not Joe’s favorite place, but when in foreign countries, I always want to check out the McDonald’s, just in case they offer beer on the menu. Not here. We made several fuel runs to top up the tank on the boat with diesel. Wilson came back out to work on the engines and replace the lube in the sail drives. Then a late-night dinner at an Italian restaurant and back to bed.

12/08/2022 Day 3 Wilson discussed with us about doing a sea trial this evening. Neither Joe or I felt comfortable doing a sea trial in the dark in unknown area with the boat. We decided to go out first thing in the morning. We left the marina and went out into the bay. Everything appeared to be alright. We then went out into the ocean. The engines check out. We raise the sails. Sailing is pretty good. Checkmark – sea trial finished. Now we had to work on getting cleared out. We drove to the capital, Willemstad. It is a beautiful town on the inlet to the major harbor. It looks like a river with Dutch architecture on both sides. We found the customs office easily. The immigration office was a little more trouble. We found it located in the port facility. It was a 2 km walk both directions. We had a small snafu checking out the boat due to ownership change, but all is cleared up. Checkmark – we are cleared to leave Curacao with the boat. We celebrated by stopping at a local establishment for a sandwich and a beer. Off to the large grocery store for provisioning. Checkmark – Provisioning completed. Doing some laundry, cleaning all the linens and any cloths before leaving for a week and a half of sailing. Time for dinner. We found a really good rib shack. After getting back, I finished up laundry and completed at midnight.

12/09/2022 (Day 4 1st day sailing) We drop off the rental car and catch a cab back to the marina. Make final payment with the marina. While checking all the engine fluid levels, the cap breaks off the dip stick for the starboard sail drive. 10:00AM – Time to leave. As the famous Captain Ron says…”If it going to happen, it is going to happen out there”. What can wrong? The boat has been sitting for a year and we have 2 hours away from the dock so far. Off we go. We motor to the southeast end of the island and start sailing for Puerto Rico. After about 4 hours of sailing, we determine that the wind will not allow us to go straight to PR. I’ve rolled up the jib and start the starboard engine. This is a delivery, and we want to go in the right direction as much as possible. We motor sailed through the night.

12/10/2022 (Day 5 2nd day at sea) The issue is we are burning more fuel than expected. We believe are carrying 50 gallons of diesel. The first night, according to the fuel gauge, we went through a half tank of fuel. I expected we would be burning about 2 litres of fuel per hour/per engine. We are running only one engine. I started texting with my weather router, the beautiful and talented Katie. I love her tarts. After about an hour discussion with texting with her and talking with Joe, I decided we turn west and use the trade winds to carry us past Haiti. We would make the turn between Haiti and Cuba to get to the Old Bahama Channel.
We had some issues to resolve. The first thing was we are using a 2:1 halyard on the main sail and it twisted on itself at the top of the mast. We could not lower the mail sail. We were able to put downward pressure on the first reef point. The halyard released after about 30 minutes of allowing the downward pressure and the sail came down. We used a strap on the 2:1 block that kept the block from swiveling. When we sent the sail back up, the halyard did not twist anymore. The second issue happened right before we left. While I was checking the oil level in the starboard saildrive, the top half of the dipstick/cap snapped off while I was screwing it back in position. I didn’t think it was an issue, but oil seeped out around the threads. To extract the part still in the saildrive, we used a Dremel tool with a cutting blade to create a slot in the cap to allow us to use a screwdriver to remove it. We then put a wooden cork (bung) into the hole to keep the oil from coming out. The last thing to attack, and my least favorite thing to do on a boat (I thought) was to repair the toilet. The issue is that after you would flush the toilet, the dirty water would back wash into the toilet and eventually fill the bowl with dirty water. Every once in awhile would need to flush the toilet again so that the bowl would not overflow. I had to scoop the dirty water out of the bowl before disassembling the pumping system. I replaced all of the parts and cleaned up the whole head area. We were happy campers….until I used it and it was now worse. Oh crap!!! The sailing was good. The winds were 8-10 knots and boat speed was 4-5 knots most of the day.

12/11/2022 (Day 6 3rd day at sea) Sunday was a good day of sailing. We made good time sailing at 4-6 knot range. The open issue was the toilet back flowing. Neither of us wanted to deal with it. So we didn’t. We would clean up enough to use it when we had to.

12/12/2022 This morning I awoke to the rush of water past the hulls. When I came on deck, it was squall city. I saw three or four squalls around us. Two of them were coming down on us. I saw wind speeds up to 20 knots. Before Joe went down for some rest, we put in a reef in the mail sail. Once that was settled, we started sailing more northwest to try to have the squalls go below us. The first squall was bearing down on us. Then just died out about two miles from us. I was watching it on the radar to determine the distance and direction they were blowing. The next one was getting big, but it blew below us. Then a really big one was developing. It was a combination of several squall lines grouping into one. It was closing in on us. It started to rain and then it all stopped and cleared up. We had higher winds (15-18 knots) most of the day along with 6-8 foot seas off our stern quarter. No time to work on projects. The sailing was great and we made good distance. A couple of tidbits for the day…Joe brought a small pair of vise grips. They made a great safety to hold the pots on the stove in rougher seas. The night before, I was frying potatoes and the pan ended up on the floor when I wasn’t watching it. We also came the closest to a container ship and had to tack away and let him pass. I belief in the tonnage rule..The more the tonnage, the more you rule.

12/13/2022 (Day 8 5th day at sea) It is amazing how the sea changes in a day. We are back to 12-14 kt winds and a flat sea. I was on for the 3:00AM watch. We do three hours on three hours off. I took an hour and a half sleep after my shift and woke up for a couple of dirty projects. I first crawled into the port engine compartment and pumped out water that accumulated before we left. I then crawled into the starboard engine compartment and scooped up sludgy water from the bilge. I also had to add more oil into the saildrive that had come out from the dipstick breaking off. Then it was time to go back into the head and take the toilet apart, again. There was a couple of parts that I had to reuse. This time I did a thorough clean, scraping and brushing to get rid of as much buildup as possible. I refit the valves to make sure there wasn’t anything that they could be catching on. When I installed the plunger, I screwed down the side that was harder to get to first and then the other side to make a better seal. Now everything is working properly. The crew moral has gone way up. It seems like such a simple thing, but the best way I can describe the situation is if every morning you want to use the bathroom and all you have is an old gas station that has not been taken care of. Then you wake up and you are at home and it is a nice and clean. After I finished fixing the toilet, I cleaned up the whole bathroom. As I was finishing, the sump pump for the shower stopped working. Fix two things and something else breaks. No problem, we have a shower on the back of the boat we can use. I then go back up to the salon and Joe asks what is the water on the floor. The refrigerator stopped working and was thawing out. I think this is when I let out a scream of frustration. There is a portable powered refrigerator or freezer is the collection of gear on the boat. We powered it up and it works. After we charge it, we move our food over to it. What a day!!!!

12/14/2022 (Day 9, 6th day at sea) The night shift started out with me being hit by a flying fish while I was sitting at the helm. Most of the rest of the day was quiet. I was not in project or repair mode. We just sailed. We are closing in on Haiti. At sunrise I can see land. This is the first land we have seen since leaving Curacao. There has been a lot of ship traffic. This is the most I have ever seen on any of my passages. We had a tanker that we needed to gybe away until he passed. That was a our closest near miss. As the sun set, we rounded the coast of Haiti and started heading north. We sailed until the wind died. We were on the port engine when it suddenly stopped. We started the starboard engine and couldn’t move. We had snagged a large line attached to a fish pot. I cut us lose and were on the move again. Ten minutes later the same thing happened on the starboard engine. Two dead engines. After a little bit of discussion, Joe went overboard in the dark water, while I held a light. He tried clearing the prop. No success. I went over the side, with inspiration from Joe, and having him hold a line that kept me in line with the saildrive, I was able to remove the line of the port engine. I checked the starboard engine, but it was fouled and I could not clear it. The starboard engine would need to wait. We motored for about 3-4 hours and the port engine shutdown again. We were back to sailing in light wind.

12/15/2022 (Day 10, 7th day at sea) We were able to sail through the night. When the sun rose, the seas were fairly calm. I went back in the water for 45 minutes and worked on clearing enough of the starboard prop to allow it to work again. Now we have a working engine again. The winds were light and variable. We worked our way north. We have determined that both engines will run for 3-4 hours at low RPMs (<1500). This is probably due to dirty fuel and clogged filters. We don’t have any spares. We run each engine one at a time and that seems to work. As the sun set tonight, we had clear skies. We have an opportunity to view a green flash. I believe we got one. It was on a lesser flash, but I saw the light drift across the ocean. This is only the second green flash I have witnessed.

12/16/2022 (Day 11, 8th day at sea) I woke up to flat seas and no wind. We had sailed through most of the night. The engines are running one at a time giving us 3 knots in the right direction. It is hot. We expect some kind of wind today. We also set up to drag a fishing line. Joe wants that photo catch. We motored through most of the day. Late afternoon the wind started to pick up. We are sailing again. We have made it far enough that we could see Cuba to the west and Haiti to the east. We also had a pod of dolphins swim with us for a while. Katie has been working with a dockmaster on the island of Inagua. It is the most southern island in the Bahamas and the closest island we have access to. She found out that they do not have the required fuel filters we need for the boat. It will also add at least another day or two to our trip if we were to go there. With that info, Joe and I discuss our options. Without fuel filters, the additional fuel won’t really help us. We decide we have enough fresh water in the tanks, but not purified. We can boil the fresh water to purify it. We have enough food. It may be canned tuna and Raman noodles, but we have enough. No stopping at Inagua. On to Key West. We are watching another fabulous sunset. The second night without a cloud in the sky. We might get our second green flash in tow nights. Beautiful green flash. No question about it. I have seen three green flashes in all of my sailing and two of them back-to-back sunsets. The evening sail was interesting. We are near the eastern tip of Cuba. There is a traffic lane area that creates a safety zone. There is a south bound lane, a north bound lane, and a meridian between the two. Each area is about a half mile wide. I whispered a prayer for a change in the wind direction that would allow us to due north. It happened… right when we were at the entrance of the meridian. We are now sailing due north between the two shipping channels. We started sailing up the meridian. I wouldn’t normally worry about this, but we had two large cargo ships coming down the south lane and two cruise ships heading north. My concern was that the wind was fickle, our engines are not reliable and we may lose control of the boat with all these large ships in the area. We turned south until the cruise ships passed and we headed north in the proper channel.

12/17/2022 (Day 12, 9th day at sea) Joe had midnight shift. I left Joe with instructions on where to cross the southbound lane and to wake me up when he when he was ready to do it. I was on deck, we started the maneuver and I was expecting we would start reaching, or having the wind on the beam. The same time we started the change our direction, the wind shifted back to the direction it was the night before. We had the favorable wind, until we didn’t need it. I came on at three AM. There was one cargo ship I needed to get across and the wind started to die. I started up the motor and were able to run it until 4:30PM. Our drama of the day started at 5:30AM. I texted the previous owner if he had a any fuel filters on the boat, and if he did, did he know where they are located. He came back and said that he did and where there are located. I checked and they were there. Hooray!!!!I wait for Joe to wake up. I share the news. He is excited. The only thing I am not excited about, is that I have to crawl into the engine compartment to change the filter. I finally crawl into the engine compartment and after 15-20 minutes I was able to take out the filter. It is not the same style filter the previous owner purchased. What a letdown. I went back into the engine compartment and re-installed the old filter. Arghhh. We had light or no winds. We ran the starboard engine all day at low RPMs. Our goal is average 4.5 knots per hour. Wonderful sunset. No fish yet. The winds picked up after sunset set and the sailing is good.

12/18/2022 (Day 13, 10th day at sea) The winds throughout the night were consistent at about 8k. The seas are flat and it gave us a nice comfortable ride. In the morning Joe wanted to attempt to bleed the fuel line on the port engine (after the fuel filter was pulled out the day before). With the instruction manual he determined where and how to bleed the line. The screw that needed to be opened to allow the bleeding took some coaxing, but eventually opened and he was able to bleed the line. The engine ran for about 30 minutes and shutdown again. We ran on the starboard engine until 3:40PM. At that time, it shut down and the winds picked, and we are sailing again. At this point, we believe we are out of fuel. The forecast is for the winds to keep increasing over the next four days. I believe we will arrive in Key West Thursday morning. We had another beautiful sunset with Cuba in the background.

12/20/2022 (Day 15, 12th day at sea) Another no drama day. With no fuel, we just keep the boat moving under sail. We tried wing-on-wing again. It took us too far away from our course and did not increase the speed. Back on course and main sail only. After a couple of hours, the wind moves enough north that I can roll the jib back out and had some power from it. It gave us 4 knots of boat speed. We shut the refrigerator down today. We are going into power saving mode. Without the diesel engines running, we can only generate power using the solar panels. We do have a lot of solar on the boat, but I am concerned about the upcoming weather and what the cloud cover will be. We are saving all the power for instruments, auto-pilot and lights. The evening had light winds and we had to gybe to keep from being pushed onto the banks. Around 10:00PM I saw a bright light in the sky. It was a white flare launched and had a parachute for a slow descent. Then there was a red flare launched. I have never seen flares launched on open water. I called out on the radio to the boat to see if there was an emergency. After the second call on the radio, the boat replied that there wasn’t any emergency. I then saw them launch a smaller boat. It was going to look at another boat that did not have any lights on. Remember we are about 15-20 miles off of the coast of Cuba. I had been kind of surprised that the larger boat did not have an AIS signal. A little bit later the smaller boat did have an intermittent AIS signal. It was a US Coast Guard boat. I am not sure what the problem was, but it appeared they were trying to stay stealthy.

12/21/2022 (Day 16, 13th day at sea) These days all blend into one. The winds were light and we ghosted along at 2.5 knots. About 4AM the winds picked up nice and we were sailing again. That lasted until about 10:00AM. Then we were back to light air sailing. We slowly made our way to the west end of the bank that we were concerned about the night before. I noticed the speed was really low for the light winds we had. Slower than should have been. Joe and I started working on the trim of the sails. Nothing seemed to work. We spent about an hour trying every trim position. We finally determined that we were stuck in a current against us. We kept moving very slowly trying to break through the current. Later that evening, to get out of the current (and it was pushing us towards the banks again) we tacked the boat and headed for Cuba. This is taking us away from Key West. After all of that, I was texting with Katie and she shared that we were going to deal with heavy north winds after we arrive in Key West. (This turned out to be the large polar vortex that the US had to deal with during the Christmas travel that shut down the airlines). That was a deal killer to make it home in time for Christmas. I am at my lowest.

12/22/2022 (Day 17, 14th day at sea) Joe wakes me up at 4:00AM. The winds are very light and we are drifting into a shipping lane off the coast of Cuba. We need to stay out of the shipping lanes because we have so little control of the boat at this time without much wind. With the winds so low, he was not able to tack the boat away from the lanes. Neither could I. I figure what the hell. Let’s try a motor to see if I have enough fuel to turn the boat away from the lanes. The motor starts up and we turn. I decide to leave it on to see how it runs. It keeps going. I go back down to go to sleep. Three hours later and the motor is still running. Thank goodness. There is no wind. The sea is like glass. My mood is much better because the motors are working and we really do have fuel. We are running at low RPMs, but doing 3 knots of boat speed. At this rate, we will make it into Key West early tomorrow morning. The day has been quiet. Very quiet. We have not had any wind. The sea is still like glass. Of course, we need a little drama. I was sleeping in the bunk and all the sudden the engine shutdown. I came on deck and Joe a rope dragging behind the boat. We caught a piece of rope with floats from an old net in the prop. As luck would have it, there was no wind and the seas were still flat. I wanted to go for a swim anyways. Into the water, with a knife. I was able to clear the line in about 15 minutes. Back on our way. I think we were being haunted by the Haitian fishermen from before. It looks like we will be in Key West by 6:00AM. We did have a marvelous sunset tonight.

Flight #1156

After a long spell of weather I got a quick one in. The first attempt was a bust when the wing came up crooked . The breeze was very light on the surface but …I didn’t have a windsock … and it’s possible there was a decent crosswind 10ft above the prop wash.

The light red wind jacket was a help but it was cool. I chose to stay low and enjoy some low passes over the patch. The last several flights have been all about getting video of the carnage at the marinas. I was staying high to avoid any chance of a difficult recovery. A beeline for the Marina and spiral down for video.

Flying low, I could get a good look at the groves of trees that had been out in the open when the eye wall passed over. Without exception they were stripped to the bark. Groups of forty footers still standing proud…. but naked. I don’t know if they will come back. Time will tell. There was also a runabout buried in the mud next to a pond that looked like it was already sprouting fresh leaves. Flying over a lost Kayak I was reminded of the Texas WingNut’s Flying on Galveston Island.