Friday, August 31, 2012

USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74)

Last Monday, we brought Chuck and Betty back to Bremerton.  I had seen in the paper that the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis was scheduled for departure the same day.  We didn't have any idea what time, but while cruising north off Rich Passage, we met a Navy tug coming south.  That was a clue.

Al was on a work call, and I was piloting the boat, taking a tour so I wouldn't need to go into close quarters.  He finished a half hour sooner than I anticipated, or I would have turned south sooner!

We arrived in Bremerton at about 1:00 or 1:30.  We left the radar and AIS running so we could monitor any activity.  We saw several Navy tugs motoring around, and were fooled several times into believing they were moving the Stennis out.

Chuck and Betty were very accommodating of my excitement to see the aircraft carrier.  They had an appointment to visit their niece, Robin, in Tacoma in the evening, and wanted to take us grocery shopping and out for dinner before their departure.  Their car's parking limit expired at 4:00.  After 3, we were all getting a bit nervous.  Finally Al and Betty went to get the car, and go shopping, leaving Chuck and I to watch any progress and to take photos.  Just before they left, we could see that AIS was activated on  'Navy Unit 53'

Once the Stennis was backed away from the pier and turned, it didn't take any time at all for it to slide by the marina. 

Just as it comes in to view

Quite a few people were on the breakwater to watch the departure

The carrier DID show up on radar this time!

And into the sunshine

It brought a tear to my eye.  I could only think of my son, and his desire to be assigned to the USS George Washington, a carrier based in Japan, and that this may be the closest I get to seeing my son go to sea.  I love you, Micah!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Park Hosting

In the beginning....
Wow, it's been almost two weeks since we completed our third+ week of volunteering for Washington State Parks.  We had wanted to do a 'reflection' post after our time on Sucia Island last May, but we let the time slip away from us.  Better not make the same mistake this time.

Over all impression:  We are SO impressed with our Rangers!  They are so dedicated, and give so much more than they are compensated for.  So much so, that we fear for their long-term sustainability.

A big part of the reason we volunteered is because we know that the Parks' budgets have been cut drastically.  We use the parks extensively, and wanted to give back.  We did keep a time sheet of our hours donated.  But since we didn't keep copies,  we estimate it to total 350-400 hours between the two of us.

What did we do?  Basically, whatever we could, to make the Ranger's job easier.

Al's main duty at both islands was assisting arriving and departing boats, and checking that fees were paid.  He kept an eye on restroom cleanliness and refilled toilet paper dispensers.  He did a few maintenance projects, and even did some first aid.

My main duty was supporting Al, making sure he was fed and watered.  After that, I assisted where I could with docking.  AND I tended 'the store' on Blake Island.  I was told that before I was there, a good week's sales would be $50, and that the two weeks I was there totaled over $600!  Not to mention all the maps I handed out and questions I answered.

You never know what you might be asked to do as a Park Host.  Al once operated the park boat on a midnight transport of a person to jail.  Yes, Rangers do enforce laws!  Sadly, many involve alcohol.  Our role was merely to inform and advise.  And support the Rangers any way we could.

Other things we did:

Judge a Pirate Costume Contest

Help control tent caterpillars

Enjoy the parks!

Build shelves for storage of cleaning supplies

Install new signboards

Make sure the wildlife stays wild

Well, the Argosy Cruise boats could take care of themselves...

Change a light bulb and research it's replacement.
Also research  what may be done to repair the water fountains.

And our time on Blake Island ended with a very sincere letter of appreciation from Ranger Joe:

It was hard work, at times exhausting!  Would we do it again?  You bet.  We are not sure whether we will be able to with our plans to head a bit north next summer, but we would not hesitate if an opportunity presents itself.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Return of Chuck and Betty

Chuck and Betty joined us in Anacortes last October, after the crab season was over.  They said that this summer they wanted to be sure to visit for crabbing.  They were willing to come to wherever we were, at the end of August.

Since coming up to the mid-Sound, Al has been asking around for the best crabbing sites.  We had a couple of ideas ready when we picked up our guests in Bremerton last Friday.

But first, a special surprise!  The tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain were in port.  We heard they were planning to take a sail in Rich Passage, so we hung around a little longer than we originally planned, and followed them out for an excellent photo opportunity!

Hawaiian Chieftain

Lady Washington
I would NOT be any good at this job!

When we left the tall ships, we moved north on the Port Washington Narrows towards Dyes Inlet, but we stopped to anchor in Phinney Bay.  It was a peaceful evening, and we decided this would be a very well-protected anchorage.

Next morning we moved out to check the crab pots we had dropped the day before on the way to Bremerton.  The first had one enormous sun star in it.  Not likely to find crab in an area where there are a number of these, so we took the pot along to the area of the second one.  A bit more luck -- again a sun star, but one keeper crab and an under-sized one.  Both pots were re-baited and dropped again, and we moved on to Blake Island.

All mooring buoys were occupied on the west side, so we moved toward the marina at the main campground.  All dock space was filled (which we had expected).  So we got to try mooring between the piers for the first time.  It took several tries, but we got the bow secured, and moved back to fasten the stern.  Thankfully, the catamaran behind us deployed his dinghy and took our line around for us.

Al and Chuck got excited to see these aircraft flying over.  Osprey -- the new airplanes that take off like helicopters!

A better picture of Betty, and a rare one of ME.   Al is soaking in the view.  Thank you, Photographer Chuck.

Mount Rainier and the moon help to make the sunset very pleasant....

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Coast Guard Escort

Tuesday was a day totally for relaxation.  Sleep in ... have coffee on board.  Al put up his blistered feet, and had an afternoon nap.

Yesterday was for fun.  We rode the ferry to Seattle and had breakfast at our favorite, Bacco Bistro.  I shopped for jeans, but didn't buy anything.  I got my hair cut by David Aguilar at Milagros -- he's great!  I've come back three times now, and you know that it's an effort to do that!  We picked up a few bottles of our favorite wines at Cost Plus, cruised through Pike Place Market, grabbed a drink at Starbucks, and boarded the 3PM ferry back to Bainbridge.

Oh, there's a Coastie!

Whoa, they've got the gun on front .... and it's being manned!  It appears we have an escort.  What's going on? We've ridden the ferry lots of times and never seen them do this.

Then we get underway, and an announcement is made to the effect:  "Ladies and Gentleman, the presence of the Coast Guard boats you see is part of the safety presence they maintain in the Sound.  Their being here is routine, and is not cause for concern."

To which Al replied, "No, it is NOT routine; but no, I am not concerned."  We wondered "Is there someone special aboard?  Do armored trucks sometimes require escort?  What is the MARPOL status today?"

Then this morning we read the paper.  Something out of the ordinary WAS going on yesterday.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in Bremerton to address the sailors of the USS John C. Stennis, the aircraft carrier that we stumbled upon arriving back to home port last March 2.  He is sending the Stennis back to the Middle East, four months earlier than the previously scheduled January deployment to the western Pacific.  (These poor sailors had to have been looking forward to spending the holidays with their families!)

They leave on Monday.  We are in the neighborhood again.  We have guests coming for the weekend -- maybe we will have something special to show them!  And we will expect to see a VERY strong presence of the Coast Guard and other Navy ships as the Stennis departs.

News links:,0,2656097.story

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Things that . . . . Do Not Work - Dickinson as a company….

What happened to you?

This has been a long time coming, but I have finally decided that indeed things have changed at Dickinson, and those changes are not good.  Our first experience with Dickinson was our beloved (and at times hated) diesel stove ( ).  This is a simple, robust, time-tested device, well suited for the marine environment.  It was with this in mind that I purchased a Dickinson BBQ sight unseen – I was basing my decision on the specs (dual independent burner, large size) and the reputation of the company.

When it arrived I was rather disappointed.  The Stainless Steel was thinner than I expected, giving an overall  cheap feel to the unit.  And things went down from there.  There are several inappropriate material choices, given the intended use in a marine environment.  Including not only aluminum and mild steel, but using miniature mild steel screws in direct contact with aluminum!  The workmanship was rough, with edges neither de-burred, nor rolled (I cut my hand a few times while doing routine cleaning of the grill until I de-burred the edges myself).

I had failures of the spark igniter– mostly around poor insulation and/or placeman of the wiring.  And there were just plain faults in the design / manufacturing – example: the drip tray that was just folded up metal leaving large gaps at each corner.  How it is a drip tray when it cannot hold drippings? Asking Dickinson for a replacement, and explaining the problem results in 1st a tray not for my BBQ, and then a tray that was for my BBQ.  But surprisingly, neither came with the corners sealed. (A dock mate kindly welded up these for me – which is what should have been done in the 1st place!)  And of course the cover – it is a shame today, but truth be told it started fading after 1 year while we were still under covered moorage.  In the PNW.

Here you can see the rusted out flame spreader.
About 80% gone.
This mild-steel flame spreader plate burned out and I recently called Dickinson asking about a replacement.  I was told they did have one, it was $38.12 – but do not tell anyone how much they were charging for it.  Really?  Almost $40 for a part that should not have been in there in the beginning?  Side note:  Kristi and I spotted some stainless steel coasters in a coffee shop in Port Orchard.  They looked just like what I needed.  The Ikea label gave me a lead, how much do you suspect these stainless steel units could have cost me?  I suspect a bit less than $38.12, but then I would have had to peel off 3 rubber feet and drill a hole in the middle for a screw – so, guess it would have added up. . . .

It does not really matter as I already decided to pull out the inside of this BBQ and replace them.  A trip to Lowes resulted in a universal burner that was easily adapted to the existing valves.  And guess what, this burner is 100% stainless steel.  And more so, the replacement burner AND replacement flame shield (also made of stainless) cost under $25, tax included.   So for less than I would have paid for a replacement part, that should have never been there in the 1st place, I have a new complete Stainless steel inside!  And as a plus, this one puts out much more heat.  I can actually get a good brown on the steaks now!

Of course, I also noted a complete stainless steel BBQ at Lowes – a Master Forge portable unit.  About the same size as this Dickinson, though with only one burnder control.  It was $79, and I will tell you the build quality and workmanship was superior in every way to the unit I paid several hundred $$ for.

All ready to go.  I added in a $12 universal spark igniter and life is now good!

OK, so does this condemn Dickinson in whole?  Maybe not.


We also have a ‘heat robber’ on the diesel stove.  The fan in it failed after two years.  Not surprising as they had sourced a low cost sleeve bearing fan.  It was an easy replacement to put in a new fan – and to make sure I put in one which used ball-bearings this time. (side note:  Sleeve bearings have limited  orientation and are inappropriate for face down or face up deployments.   I am sure that accelerated the failure in our case.   But they do cost around $0.50 less to purchase then a longer life ball bearing unit!).   And then last winter the switch failed!  I am not sure I have EVER known a switch to fail when deployed in such light duty as this.

Then there is the time I ordered a replacement stainless steel stack to replace the one that blew away during one Christmas Ship run.  It arrived and I did not swap out the temporary galvanized one for several months.  When I did, I found that it was not the same brightly finished stainless used on the cap.  Not only did it not match the cap, but it has started to show signs of surface rusting after 1 year of use.

OK.  At one time in my life I worked for a large computer company where part of my job was interfacing with several Asian sources and manufacturers.  I know about making material choices, I know about metal stamping die quality choices and the need (or lack of) to do post die processes at times (ala de-burring).  I know the cost, MTBF, and other differences between a sleeve and ball bearing fan.  I have been in the industry long enough to see that Dickinson is making choices which are driven far too heavily by the $$$, and the resulting product they produce is reflecting it.  It is with this knowledge, and perhaps experiences, that I have decided Dickinson is TODAY a company that just does not work.  Though I would not hesitate to purchase any of their older offerings, I would be very hesitant to purchase any offering designed in the past 10 or so years.  And even with an older design, I would inspect them carefully, looking for ‘cost engineering’ choices that are rather inappropriate for a marine environment.

It is sad to me, as I can see how great Dickinson was at one time.  There are so few marine suppliers left who produced solid, robust, appropriate offerings.  It is really sad to see Dickinson fall off that very short list.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Strange Birds

Okay, this first one isn't a bird, but how else to share it?

Last Monday when we left Port Orchard for Blake Island, I noticed a 'sailboat' in the distance.  It soon morphed into this crane being pushed by a Navy tug.  You can see how I could be confused from the distance, right?

Yesterday morning I was up early and saw this heron bathing in the just-risen sun.  Not so strange, actually, but for the 'Karate Kid' pose captured in this shot.

And my birdies came back this morning!

I don't know if he's yawning, or lecturing...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Shipyards and Navy Museum

OR Sunday August 12 -- afternoon

The Bremerton Naval Shipyards are home to five aircraft carriers and two other ships, that we could see.

Ranger on the left will eventually have a home on the Columbia River in Portland.  The Kitty Hawk is on the right.

Since my son is in the Navy, and he is studying to be a Nuclear Engineer, I paid special attention to the exhibits with this emphasis.

A stylized photo in the stairway and I would SWEAR that's Micah!

The John C. Stennis is the carrier we saw returning to Bremerton last March   
The Nuclear Department is VERY important!

We sometimes do take 'sailor showers' to conserve water ....
but Al does prefer Hollywood showers!

This trip to the museum, plus the facebook chat with Micah that evening, made me feel like I had a very nice visit with my sailor!

Comanche Departs

OR Sunday August 12 - Noon

When we arrived at the Port Orchard marina, we found that we had been assigned a 40-foot slip for our 45-foot boat.  The lane was very narrow, and Al was uncomfortable getting into the slip.  We found that our bow hung COMPLETELY over the narrow dock, and our stern also stuck out at the back.  Cleats were not conveniently placed so that we felt securely tied.  We hailed an employee with a clipboard, and she told us that we were 'perfectly fine' there, but if we wanted, we could move to anywhere on the breakwater.

If we were uncomfortable going into the slip, getting out was even MORE tight.  But Al did it.

On the breakwater was a big, retired Coast Guard ship,  Comanche.  We thought she would make an excellent windbreak from the prevailing winds, and also from the foot ferry wakes.  She did.  Open every day for tours, there was a lot of traffic to and fro.

Sunday, Comanche was scheduled for departure to her home in Tacoma.  They were welcoming passengers for the one-way trip.  No, we did not hop on!  But we made sure we were back to the dock from the car show to watch her go.

She WAS a good windbreak.  

Tending the bow line

Gangway up!

Spring line ... 'Is our bow on the pier yet?'

Comanche leaves a bit of herself behind...

Backing away ...

... and around.

There she goes!

AIS vs. Radar???

Someone asked me this question last fall - Would I get AIS or Radar? I answered 'Both', and given that good, used (e.g. the old Furuno closed dome units, ala the 1731 MK3 we have aboard Viking Star) can often be found on Ebay for under $400, why NOT both?

His question has stuck with me though, and given our pattern over the past few years I would say if I HAD to make a choice, I would likely pick an AIS receiver.

We have used Radar a LOT, but that was mostly back when we traveled at night when we were on the Columbia River. It was a great complement to the chart plotter - being able to look at shorelines. And it also allowed us to keep track of tugs and their pushes, as many of them would 'Turn off that darn AIS' once they crossed under the I-5 bridge. (Was told by one captain that AIS was not required above the bridge...)

However, up here in the Sound we have used Radar only twice, both times in heavy fog. (and by use, I am talking about navigating using it, not those many hours we have had it on during bright sunny days to gaining experience being able to read Radar!!!)  But we use the AIS daily while underway. Seeing a ship's course and speed plotted on our SeaClear navigational display is very useful.

To be honest, it is mostly the Ferries we look out for, as they are FAST. And even when they are not moving we can pull up the detailed screen for them and see when their SOG moves away from 0 - then we KNOW they are getting underway.

And the times in the Fog we have used the Radar we have noticed:

  1. We already knew where the Big Boats were via the AIS
  2. We knew where the shoreline was via the Chart plotter
  3. It was all but useless for small -fast- boats.

This last one needs some explanation   Looking for smaller boats on Radar takes concentration, as the Blips come and go.  They are not  steady like the Big Boat Blobs are.  During times of stress (ala running in Fog) ones attention is divided between watching the Radar and say scanning outside, it is easy to miss a fast moving small boat.  In fact, the ONE time we came into a collision situation in the Fog was a fast moving (15-20 kts??) Sports Fishing boat that popped out of  the fog barring down on us.  He was not on AIS, we had not 'noticed' him on Radar.  It was a horizon scan that spotted him.  And at a couple of hundred yards he was closing fast with no indication of altering course - that is until I laid on the Buell Horns.   Then he quickly altered to Port (!!), passing in front of us and into the fog.  (How many COLREG violations can you find??)

Yes, we use AIS a lot. And with a low cost ($200) receiver that integrates into our existing PC based chart plotter - if I was forced to make a decision I would likely pick AIS over Radar.

But even with our experience of Radar in the Fog, given that a quick check on Ebay shows a couple of 1731 units with bids under $300, I still stand by my original Both comment.  If nothing else, it is a great backup to the AIS / Chart Plotter for land and big ships!