Warmer than Texas

February 21, 2021

First off, the title is a bit sarcastic, and to those who have suffered in Texas over the past week, I do have empathy. The reason I bring it up is because I have been writing for a long time about the dangers the world is facing and I seem like a broken record . . . and then, there they are, on full display and all of the blaming in the world isn’t helping. I have a number of friends in Texas and I wish them well.

There is plenty of wind coming in today, perhaps more than a normal winter should have, and that brings to mind the weird weather, the weird economy and the things that I think about while sitting under the stars contemplating our place in the universe. In Texas both sides of the political spectrum in the US (republicans and democrats) are arguing over why the Texas power grid failed and using very questionable logic to win political points. I could go on, but I use my other blog (www.unusualviews.com) to highlight my pessimism. What is worth noting here are two key factors that I would like everyone who I care about to consider:

  1. Life is just a bunch of constraints, and you pick the one’s that you think are most appropriate and prepare for the consequences, good or bad, from those decisions. This is important whether you are shopping for groceries, a car, a house, or building an electrical grid. Texans have chosen to save money by ignoring good advice and so were not even a little prepared for the events of the past week despite years of warnings. That was a choice that saved money . . . until it didn’t.
  2. When things go wrong, sometimes they go really wrong, really fast, and all at once. Certainly that is something you learn in boating, and Texas fared much worse than any other state when things went badly quickly. They had no buffer and had cut their grid off from those who could help.

These same things can affect anyone and everyone as the world gets more and more unpredictable, and so living life on the edge gets a little more dangerous all the time. Be very careful if your risks can cause disaster, personal, professional, financial, familial, health, etc. The world is changing, consider your preparation for something different from what you expected before this pandemic started.

Home Free is managed along these lines, and this past week has involved a bit of experimentation. I have had my generator cut out on me for the first time. I have contemplated some emergency procedures, performed some preventative maintenance and prepared for the current weather. Perhaps I was getting lazy, but a good day of wind brings my environment clearly back into focus.

Today I am still sitting at anchor at Black Point, which is about 1/2 way down the Exuma chain in the Bahamas. It is nice here, mostly quiet and I am focusing on some boat projects, sustaining a few new friendships and just waiting for the weather to settle.

The weather has arrived. Once last week when I first arrived and again today, with a vengeance. The winds are steady at 25 knots with gusts up into the 30 knot range (about 45kph) and ‘the blow’ is expected to last for about 24 hours. Having eased into it starting around 7pm yesterday and reaching this intensity around midnight, we are probably half way through the heavy bits. Tomorrow winds should drop slightly to 18-20 knots.

So what does that feel like on a boat? Well, Home Free is pretty solid at 80,000 pounds, but it is still bumpy. There is less than 1000 feet of fetch (room for the water to be pushed by the wind) so it should be flat, but the waves are bumpy, if not high. The video below shows just a few seconds of what it looks like.

Behind me is Kory on Migrator 1, a Nordhavn 40 and as I think I have mentioned before, he is another Canadian, also single handing, because his wife needs to be back in Canada working. We have been hanging out and swapping stories. There are a number of other boats that have come through. On Thursday, the bay topped out at 23 boats. Someone said that last year there were probably closer to 100 boats here at this time. Glad I wasn’t here for that. The crew from SV Purrfect (another Canadian) and Steadfast from Maine have stopped in too. To the point of building a strong network, each of us has appreciated the help of those around us over the past couple of weeks. (Purrfect with their dinghy, me with some electrical issues and Migrator 1 with water issues).

My electrical issues were self imposed. I have been running the generator heavily to do laundry, cool/dry out the boat, make water and of course keep the batteries charged. In doing so, I let the current rise above the critical level that could be handled by my electrical system and the entire circuit shut down. I rarely allow the boat get beyond about 80% capacity (because many electrical motors have a current spike when they start up). I did fail to account for the right amount of buffer on Wednesday and everything shut down. Ooops.

These boats are very well built and I checked my wiring diagram (so happy to have those) and noted where the fuse was supposed to be. I went to look for the fuse box and couldn’t find it (really, its the first time this has happened). I searched for 30 minutes before calling Lugger Bob (not his real name) to figure out what I was missing. Bob listened patiently, informed me that ABYC standards require a box within 6 feet of the generator . . . and so I searched. I swear I don’t need eye surgery. It was ‘hidden’ (*ahem*) behind some piping. Really.

It took me almost two hours of looking at diagrams and thinking through the problem to come to ‘see’ the fuse box, and in the meantime, I tested charging from the main engine (running down the batteries would be really bad news at anchor), and thought through what I would do if I ever did lose my electrical system. The answers aren’t really that good. I was doing this as Texas was in a blackout and their electrical system was down. It was ironic really.

I have taken two other calculated risks over the last few days. The first was boarding my dinghy and the boat while less than sober. Now I never drink much so even a little bit of alcohol has a big effect on me, and I realized while I was drinking, that I had to climb down a ladder to a dinghy while tipsy. For this I had Kory with me, but after I dropped him at his boat, I had to board my boat alone while tipsy. Falling in the water is always a risk when alone. At night there are extra risks, despite the water here being so warm (i.e. sharks).

The second risk has been going about in the dinghy without a working radio. My handheld radio (only 1 year old) has died. The battery gave up, and I can’t find a new one in the Bahamas, so I need to rethink tides and currents, distance from the boat, etc. when I am alone, and without a radio. The new motor dramatically increases my confidence in the dinghy, but planning for things going really bad, really fast, includes carrying a radio. I will buy a new battery as soon as I get back to the US.

Kory and I made a trip to Staniel Cay yesterday to get some food and parts. The ‘grocery’ store at Black Point is pretty sparse, although Staniel Cay wasn’t too much better. Fresh vegetables are hard to come by and I have plenty of pasta and canned goods. Still the trip was another interesting test. I have never run my dinghy that far from the boat and on the way back, we ran into the early winds of the current storm, so seeing how the boat performed was a nice experiment (and Kory had a radio and GPS for the trip).

I also have spent a lot of time reading manuals and looking at service information for the boat’s systems. Most of it is well kept, but I also need to stay on top of some of the less ‘obvious’ things such as the thruster oil, which I have never changed and it should be changed annually. That work will continue in the coming weeks while I move the boat back towards home.

I hope everyone is staying warm, particularly those in Texas.

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