Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Boat Trip Epilogue

I ended my last post from the boat trip, "the only question is whether the boat has any propellors or pods."

Unfortunately, the answer to that question was no. In the morning, two divers showed up and after about 20 seconds underwater, came up to give me the bad news. There were no pods. No props. The boat was completely immobile.

I spent most of the next few days on the phone with the insurance company, boat mechanics, a boatyard, etc and handled other logistics. Sababa was towed to a working boatyard and hauled out where she will sit until we can get new pods and props and get her going. I was told to expect around a month. I had to cancel some boat outings that I had planned back home.

We rented a car and drove 3.5 hours to Charleston where we met up with Ann and Benny, and Tony flew to Denver where he had a business meeting. Ann rented a couple of rooms at the Marriott Courtyard in the Historic district, and we spent a week doing the typical Charleston tourist things - a land-based vacation. Saturday night, we flew back to Baltimore, and I continue to work on logistics to get the boat fixed and the repairs paid for. I'm impatient by nature, so it will seem like a long time until Sababa is back. If things go really badly and it takes several months, I think I'll leave the boat and even take her further South for the Winter to avoid winterizing. If she's ready sooner, then I'll either hire a captain to bring her back to Baltimore, or I'll go get her myself.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Summer 2019 Boat Trip! Day 3

Day 3 was an experience that really put my love of boating and this lifestyle to the test. It's now 6:30 a.m. on Day 4, and I'm writing this because I did not have an opportunity, nor the cheyshek (it's Yiddish - means desire) to blog yesterday. It was really tough.

So, the day started out pretty well. Woke up around 5:30 in Ocracoke, and I decided to let my crew sleep. Had breakfast and sat around restlessly. By 7:00, I was ready to go, and the marina people were around, so they cut me loose, and a wobbly, tired Tony hobbled out of his cabin to collect the lines and fenders. The channel is narrow, and there was a lot of wind and current, so I was glad to have a high speed auto ferry in front of me to guide me out to the Sound.

We ran for about 90 minutes. It was calmer than the day before, but the wind was still strong and on our nose, and the ride was a big bumpy. Nothing crazy though. We go to Beaufort after a nice 40 minute canal ride.
So far so good.

Along the way, we saw several shipwrecks. I couldn't help but think of this as the worst case scenario. Little did I know these images would haunt me later in the day.
No, we did not sink yesterday, but hang on, and I'll get to it.

We had a decision to make in Beaufort - go out in the ocean for a 63 mile direct run, or hit the ICW for a slightly longer route, with hazards such as shoaling, logs, bad channel markings as well as bridges that open once an hour, slow boats and stupid boaters. We decided that our ocean run was pretty sweet the day before, and the forecast app I was using indicated that if we hugged the shoreline, the waves would only be 3 feet with a 5 second period. That seemed manageable on Sababa. So, we took the fork in the river to the left and headed out to sea.

Right away, I could tell that it was rougher than I thought it would be, and pretty uncomfortable. Still, we drove around a large reef and back towards shore. I pulled parallel to the shore about 1/3 of a mile out and tried to run the boat South. It did not take long (like 1 minute) for me to realize that this was a huge mistake. I couldn't run more than 8 knots, and we were getting thrown around pretty badly. I would say probably 5-6 foot waves, maybe a little more. We turned around with our tail between our legs and made for the ICW. Who knows what would have happened had we kept going. We might have been better off, but I can tell you that we would have arrived pretty ragged, and my crew would have probably mutinied.

I was apprehensive as I followed the magenta line of the ICW on my chart. On past trips, I had always carefully plotted my routes. I noted areas where we could fuel, potential emergency spots, and basically spent hours familiarizing myself with the navigation and charting every step of the way. Now I was heading towards what I assume was the ICW, despite several forks in the road. I had purchased an ICW guide, which I studied for the legs we planned on taking in the canal, but this was not one of them. My bad. In hindsight, my contingency plan should have been covered more thoroughly. Next time I plan a trip with a backup plan, I'll study the backup plan as carefully as the main one.

As we continued on the ICW, I started feeling a lot better. While the channel was narrow, we were able to run at full cruising speed, and although we had to slow down for other boats quite a bit, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. We even got very lucky with our first swing bridge. It opens once an hour, and we approached it just as it was opening. We could not believe our good fortune. Probably should have saved some of that mojo for later...
We approached the swing bridge just as it was about to open

So, this is where our luck really  ran out. I was approaching a complicated intersection of channels, at New River Inlet, which goes out to sea. Our path on the ICW was perpendicular to the path that led out to the inlet. In the middle of our  channel, there was a  red marker. Instead of moving to the left of it, I assumed it belonged to the crossing channel (stupid mistake in hindsight), and I took it on  my port bow (went to the right of it). My depth sounder read 3 feet, which is too shallow for Sababa, and I cut the throttle. We gently hit bottom, and were unable to move. I tried using the bow thruster to twist ourselves off, but to no avail. We were stuck on a sand bar. A very strong wind was coming from the sea and pushing us harder onto the sand bar, and the tide was going out. It was around 1:30, and low tide was at 5pm, so I had visions of the sunken boats we had passed earlier in the day. We were already about 9 inches out of the water, and in some places you get 2-3 feet of tide, which would have left us in a very awkward position. This was actually our second grounding of the day. We got out of the first one pretty easily, but not before sucking up sand in the generator intake, which resulted in the gen set shutting down, leaving us with  no air conditioning.

So, we're in the middle of nowhere, completely grounded, being pushed up against the sandbar, with the tide going out, no generator, 95 degrees without air conditioning (requires generator), and somewhat unhappy.
There is a reason that sailors are the standard bearers for cursing. Lots of not so nice words popped into my head during that time.

As we are sitting there, trying to figure out what to do  (Tony jumped in  the water with a paddle to try to dig us out, despite my protest - try moving a house with a toy tractor.), we  see  three  guys coming over towards us, presumably to help. As a security person, and generally someone who is paranoid, I couldn't help but feel that we were somewhat vulnerable here in gun country, with nowhere to go, and a boat that all but advertises that we probably have lots of money on board. As they approached, my fears were amplified, as one guy had tattoos over his entire body including his shaved head, and the other two looked like they were from some prison movie. They were carrying beers. I was glad we had Tony who is 6'5" and a half (he always points out the half because his brother Joe is 6'5" - personally I think if you're over 6', you should drop the half. It trivializes it for people my size who really need it.)

The three stooges come up to us with their North Carolina twang and say that it looks like we've found ourselves in a mess of trouble. They ask to come aboard. Tony, who is in the water brushes them off and says no. Then the one who seemed the least stupid of them starts giving us advice. Run the thruster this way or that. Just wait because the  tide will be high at 5:00  (actually 5:00 was low tide), and  he tells us he has a 70' and a 60' boat so he knows what he's doing. At this point, I think he's just trying to get his friends to laugh. Tattoo comes over and tries to get under my bow as I'm running the thruster. (the bearded one actually referred  to him as Tattoo) His buddy yelled at him to back off, and I cut the thruster and waited until he moved away. They told us they would be back and  headed  back towards their boats. Can't say I was  sorry to see them go.  Tony later told me that he was already thinking about where we stored our sharp knives and what we might do to defend Elana and Tamara who were on board and did not seem to impressed with our new friends.

Anyway, I had already called Boat US tow services, and they said they were going to be about an hour and a half, and that it would cost a minimum of $1,500 for them to just come pull us off the sand bar and send us on our way, assuming everything was in working order. I did not feel like I had any choice, and he took my credit card number over the phone. If we required a long tow, it would cost a lot more.  I have a BoatUS membership, and it includes up to $50 in towing, which I don't think gets you very far, especially considering the $1,500 charge for the guy to even show up.

I have to  say that although we were in a predicament to say the least, the girls later observed that they were surprised that I stayed composed and pretty much dealt with it in a logical fashion. Although I was stressed and unhappy, I did not feel any panic, which I guess is surprising. I can get scared to death in an elevator (claustrophobia) where there is no danger, but sitting on a sand bar with a gang of hooligans nearby and an outgoing tide, I seemed relatively calm.

Tony and I were on the phone with my mechanic, Justin, from my boat dealer, and he had some suggestions as to how to fix the generator. Since we were stuck there anyway, and Tony had not made much progress digging us out with the paddle, instead, we turned  our attention to the generator intake. We had sucked in sand, and Tony went under the boat with a long knife and started cleaning out the intake. He said he got a lot of sand out. The generator system is water cooled. Water comes in from the outside, runs through some hoses and into the generator. If the gen set detects that there is no good water flow, it shuts down. Since we had a blockage on the intake we were unable to use the system. However, once the system loses its prime, you have to get water in. That involved a pretty simple series of steps which we tried and which failed. Justin suggested that we need to clear the pump of sand, and we decided that this was a task for later, when we are docked. Anyway, we weren't going to be able to run the generator sitting on a sand bar because it would just suck up sand. Note for the future if  I'm every stuck again, turn off the generator immediately.

After about 90 minutes from when I called, a tow boat showed up. Captain was named Tom, and he was extremely helpful and nice. His idea was  to tie up alongside us, facing away, and  to run his props  hard  to push the sand out from under us. Sounds crazy, but it was working. We could see sand being pushed out on the other side of the boat. After about 20 minutes, he said we  had dropped 9 inches.
It took about 45 minutes,  and then Tom got us loose and pulled us back into the deep water of the channel. The engines fired right up. Yay! But when I pushed the throttle, nothing. Nada. Zip. Oy.

So, I had no way to move the boat. I spoke with Tom over the radio, and he made some calls. There was no option but to tow us to a marina where we could figure out what to do the next day. Tom convinced me that the best place was Harbor Village marina in Hampstead. Both Tony and I thought he said it was an hour and a half away. Perhaps by chopper, but it took us just under 4 hours to get there, since we were going by tow boat.
The girls took it surprisingly well, considering that they were stuck  without air conditioning, with no idea how we were ever getting to Charleston, and the overall situation.

I think we got into the marina around 8:00, although everything is kind of a blur. It might have even been quite a bit later. It was getting dark, I remember that. I spoke with Ann, who was already in Charleston with Benny, and we started going over options. There are basically three scenarios. First is that a diver goes under the boat today and discovers that everything is fixable, and somehow miraculously gets everything working, and we're golden. We head to Charleston today on the boat. Second scenario is that the props can be tuned, and that would take 2 days. In that case, Tony will rent a car and drive the girls to Charleston, where Ann will get hotel rooms, since she had planned on being on the boat tonight. I would stay behind and when the boat is fixed, hire a local crew person to come with me to Charleston and pay for them to go back home.

The third scenario is that the diver will discover that the props and/or pods are just gone. Worst case scenario. So, in that case, the boat could be in North Carolina at a repair facility for a month. I guess we would all drive to Charleston and have our planned vacation at some hotel there and then fly home. I'll deal with bringing  the boat back later, perhaps will hire my friend Captain Bob to bring her back.

Our problems were not over yet. The electricity from the dock cut out, and so we  did not have air conditioning. It was so hot on the boat. We opened up windows, but there were all kinds of huge bugs flying around. We were miserable. Without a generator working, and without shore power, we not only had no AC, but I wanted to conserve power and was reluctant to let the girls use the microwave. However, given the circumstances, I turned on the inverter to run AC off the house batteries and let the girls heat up their dinners. We've been having  power problems all trip. We hook up to power, and it works for 20 minutes, and then it cuts out.

Everybody had some food after we arrived, except me. I did not seem to  have an appetite, and was feeling  overwhelmed and a little depressed. So, we decided to get to work on the generator. Tony got on his hands and knees upside  down in the engine room and managed to remove the pump that feeds water to the generator. I took the dock hose and forced high pressure water through both ends. A bunch of sand came out, which gave us hope. We primed the water system. The generator fired up, and it worked. We had air conditioning. At this point, it was past 11 pm. I had been up a long time and was completely wiped out. But, I did not want to sleep with the generator on. Even though diesel engines don't produce much carbon monoxide, and although I have CO detectors in every cabin, I'm still paranoid about it. I figured we would run the AC until all the rooms were cold, and then go to sleep and hopefully fall asleep and wake up sweaty in the morning. However, when I was ready to turn off the generator after midnight, I tried the regular 220 power, and miraculously, it was working. I turned off the generator and also turned off the battery chargers, hot water heater and everything else on the 220 circuit except the air conditioning, hoping that the reduced load would keep the power from going out.

I'm up now on Day 4 (woke up at 5:45), and the power is till on, and the air is running, and I even turned on the battery charger and all is still good. I've been in touch with the dock master. He'll be here at 9:30, and we can get our much needed pump out. Also, a local diver has canceled his morning appointments and is headed  here and will be here by 9:00 a.m. Then  we'll find out which scenario we're dealing with, or perhaps another. My current theory is that we got a lot of sand baked into the props, and perhaps the diver can clear it out, and we can be off and running to Charleston. Either that, or I won't have a boat for the rest of the summer. I guess I'll know soon.

Here we are, docked at Hampstead for an unscheduled stop. At the moment, electricity is working, generator is working, air conditioning is working, and the only question is whether the boat has any propellors or pods.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Summer 2019 Boat Trip! Day 2

Norfolk to Ocracoke
155 Nautical Miles
Departure from Norfolk 8:00 a.m.
Arrived in Ocracoke 4:45 p.m.
Weather:  Hot, windy, choppy seas in the afternoon

When boating, one must be flexible. I'm not talking about the ability to stretch your limbs further than others, although that probably helps - I'm talking about not being married to your plans. Because sometimes, things don't turn out the way you expected, and when you're boating, improvising is the norm. We were tested today.

The morning started out glorious. My companions, the two munchkins and their "uncle" Tony stayed out late at the concert at Waterside near our boat while yours truly wrote his blog and fell asleep before 11:00. Apparently they were out late partying because when I woke up at 5:00, they were all asleep. I went for a walk, filled up the water tanks, took out the garbage and recycling, cleaned up the boat, ate breakfast, and basically ran out of things to do. So, around 7:45, after going stir crazy, I woke up Tony and decided we would leave early, despite having promised everyone we could leave at 9:00 today.
Sababa, early morning right before departure
We set out, thinking we were leaving Norfolk behind, down the peaceful river, heading down mile 0 of the Intercoastal Waterway, otherwise known as the ICW. The world was at peace. I was so happy. It seemed like everything was under control. But it was not.
Leaving Norfolk and heading down the ICW
Tony was becoming useful. He learned how to coil lines (although sometimes they ended up with knots in them), and is good at putting away the fenders and getting the boat ready for our sail.

We saw amazing naval sites. Boats under repair, and even a few aircraft carriers.
The day seemed almost too perfect.

I had prepared. Charting out our course for each day, reserving slips at marinas, and practically memorizing the orders of the bridges that we would have to wait for. Bridge #5, which is less than 3 miles from downtown Norfolk was the first one. A railroad bridge that goes up and down, and which the guidebook said is almost always up.

As we approached Bridge #5, I noticed to my chagrin that it was down, and in fact there was a boat on the other side waiting to go North. I tried to raise the bridge tender on the radio, but got no answer. After about 10 minutes, a police boat approached me. I  leaned over the rail, and he yelled up at me. The content of his yell hit me pretty hard. One of those "uh oh" moments. He said that the bridge was down and broken and would be closed until Monday. (Today is Saturday, and I'm supposed to be in Charleston on Monday.) What?!?!?!
Bridge #5 was down, not up as I had hoped
I called up my trusty friend Captain Bob. Bob has delivered Sababa a couple of times and knows his way around the ICW better than anyone I know. He checked around and said there was no information about this bridge closure. Nonetheless, I was finally able to get the bridge on the radio, and it was confirmed that this bridge was closed until Monday, in effect shutting down the ICW for two days. No traffic was going to pass in either direction. Holy crap.

So, what to do. My first thought was that I was in big trouble. Not going to get to Charleston as planned. Maybe spend a couple of days in Norfolk? I didn't like the idea. Captain Bob suggested going around and taking the ocean route. I had considered that in my planning but decided that I did not like the possibility of rough seas, and the inlet I needed to take was unfamiliar to me and has a reputation of being treacherous. 

Bob walked me through what I needed to do, and I decided that it beat spending the next two days doing nothing in Norfolk. So, we headed out to sea. Backtracking towards Norfolk, we passed our marina from last night at 9:00 a.m., about an hour after we left, and at the original time I had promised everyone we would leave. At least I kept my end of the deal.

As we headed towards the inlet at Virginia Beach, I noticed that my depth sounder was not working. This would have been disastrous had we taken the ICW as planned. In the ocean, depth was not an issue, but still, you don't want to be on a boat trip without an accurate depth reading at all times. After some time on the phone with my mechanic and some fancy rebooting of my electronics, I was back in shape.
The depth sounder was not working this morning

With my depth perception back, I pointed us out to sea. We passed Cape Henry, and turned towards the open waters, spotting many dolphins. Too bad the girls were still asleep.

Cape Henry Lighthouse
Heading out to see, you can't quite see Europe
The ocean was relatively calm, and we took in the sight of Virginia Beach and all the waterfront hotels from the water. After a while, we saw nothing but coastline to our right and open ocean to our left. It's a surreal calm you feel when there is nothing but open water in front of you. I couldn't help but feel how much better off we were here than navigating the treacherous ICW with all it's shallow areas, tight curves, shoaling, slow boats who don't know how to drive, and numerous other disadvantages to the ICW. Although I wanted to give Tony and the girls the ICW canal experience, this sure was easier. Auto pilot engaged, radar on, and now kick back and relax. Well, at least for a little while.
As we approached Oregon Inlet, I started to feel nervous. I had read about the dangers of this inlet, and furthermore, I noticed that the markers in the channel and my chart did not match up. I assumed I should follow the markers rather than the chart, but it was an uneasy feeling to see myself heading towards 2 feet of water as marked on my chart. I raised a working dredge boat on channel 13 and asked, and he was very friendly and reassured me to take the markers and follow them in.

Aside from some pretty sharp turns and 2-3 feet of water all around the channel, there was a heavy current and over 20 knot winds, and the 3 miles of tight channel I had to navigate really frayed my nerves, something that was noticed by my crew and pointed out to me by my daughters. Well, I get very tense in these situations because the consequences of screwing up are pretty severe, and any way, I'm a worry wart.

We got through the channel and into Pamlico Sound. Oh man was it getting rough out. The waves  were 3-4 feet, the wind had to be over 20 knots, all pounding us from the front. All 3  of my crew  got pretty nauseous, and  I felt terrible about that, but there really was nowhere to stop. I had decided that rather than hit our original destination of Manteo, where we had picked out a great restaurant that we had been to on our Outer Banks trip last summer, Nags Head Pizza, instead we would continue South to Ocracoke, which would shave a couple of hours out of our day tomorrow and would avoid us having to go the wrong way for an hour today and then backtrack tomorrow.

As the boat was taking a beating, all our stuff was flying around. I noticed that one of the paddle boards that I had attached to our dinghy was breaking loose. I didn't want to lose the paddle board, and furthermore, if it fell out, the other one would no longer be tied down tightly, and we'd lose it too. Every time we took a big bump, I looked down, and it was further out. I stopped the boat and went to the platform to try to fix the paddle board. However, I hadn't realized how rough the water was, and we took a sharp wave that tilted the boat badly. I was holding on, but still it was scary to be standing on the swim platform in the back of the boat and get tilted like that so I hopped right back into the boat and closed the small door to the swim platform.

I was at a loss at this point. So, I had Elana drive the boat at about 6 knots straight into the waves. This way, we stayed in a stable position and didn't rock back and forth. I then climbed into the crew quarter and retrieved my boat hook. I was able to latch onto the coil connected to the paddleboard, and then I tied it to the boat. I knew that would hold for the next hour while we made our way through this junk to Ocracoke.

The total time in the rough stuff was about two hours, but it seemed a lot longer. I played with different speeds to try to relieve some of my crew's discomfort with little success. Finally I decided that going fast wasn't really worse than going slower, and it would end this more quickly, so I kept us at around 20 knots until we got to safety.

Navigating Ocracoke was a bit scary. It was very windy, and the current wanted to push me out of the channel. However, Sababa is great and handled beautifully, and we were never in any real danger. My biggest concern was that even in the harbor at Ocracoke, it was blowing over 20 knots, and I had to dock at a fixed pier to buy fuel. We had used up the same amount as on day 1.
The entrance to the harbor at Ocracoke. Was a lot rougher than it looks

The fuel dock at our marina was about 35 feet long. Sababa is 59 feet 10 inches long. Behind  and in  front of my boat, there were other boats and piers sticking out. A 20-25  knot wind was pushing me towards the dock, and the entire town seemed to be standing around watching my attempt to safely land my boat there. It was quite hairy, but I used every bit of my driving instruments and thruster to somehow manage a soft landing. Not since SpaceX landed a rocket on a boat have I been that excited about a safe landing. I don't think I would have tried this a couple of years ago.

Next, we had to get into a fixed pier slip with very short finger piers and the same wind I just mentioned. It was pretty scary, but with my awesome crew who were becoming more adept by the minute, we pulled it off. One of the dockhands joined us on the fuel doc, and we invaluable in getting us situated. All was good in the world. Well, not really. The power didn't work. I had several guys from the marina trying to help. They even worked on the main junction box and hooked me up to 4 different pedestals, but nothing. I was hungry and tired and frustrated, and eventually just gave up.

We went to dinner and had a really awesome meal and a good time, but I left early to go back to the boat and try to fix the electric. After removing an access panel in the crew quarter and crawling into a space that was just slightly smaller than me, I found some breakers, but they were not tripped. I reset them anyway. I then reset every possible breaker on the boat in the engine room and in the main cabin. Somehow this worked. So, now we have power, and we are safe and sound, docked in Ocracoke.
Tomorrow, we are traveling a route that I did not plan out in advance because I had no idea we would be in Ocracoke instead of Manteo. I just spent some time with my charting software, and we're all good. We'll run in Pamlico again for about 40 minutes. Hoping it's calmer than today, but probably won't be. Then we have a nice peaceful 40 minute canal ride. After that, back out to the ocean for around 4 hours. If it's really rough, we'll turn around and take the ICW for about 6 hours. I guess we'll play it by ear and will be flexible, because that's the boating life.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Summer 2019 Boat Trip!!! Day 1

Baltimore to Norfolk
162 Nautical Miles
Departure from Baltimore:  5:15 a.m.
Arrived in Norfolk 1:30 p.m.
Weather:  Gorgeous day, flat seas, hot

Our annual family boat trip!!! I've waited an entire year for this, and the last few weeks were busier at work than I've been in a long time, so it's even more exciting than usual to get on the boat and set sail. This year, we've decided to go to Charleston, SC, where we've never been. Ann was not crazy about the two open water legs of the trip where it can get rough, and Benny did not want to miss too many days of his summer internship at APL, so the plan is that I'm heading down on the boat with Elana and Tamara and "uncle" Tony from New Jersey, and Ann and Benny will fly down to meet us in Charleston.
Yesterday, Elana and I spent most of the day getting the boat ready. We split the bed in the front cabin, turning the queen bed there into two single beds for the girls to use - first time we've done that. We put bedding on all the beds, and loaded up enough food for our trip, stocked up on such essential items as marine toilet paper and bought a new flag, as the old one was in tatters. Tony arrived at 7:30 pm by train from New Jersey, and we picked him up and brought him to the boat.

Ann brought Tamara down to the marina and hung out with us on the boat until around 10 pm. After she went home, I taught Tony some knots and worked on them with him and the girls so I would have a well trained crew.
We bid Ann farewell, and got ready for bed - although I knew I would have trouble sleeping in anticipation of our trip this morning.
The night before our departure - an excited captain and crew
I woke up around 4:20 a.m. and could not sleep any more. I am normally an early riser, but not this early. I was so wired and eager to get moving that I did not stay in bed long and by 5:15, I had gotten us off the dock and on our way. A groggy Tony came upstairs to the fly bridge to join me, and I had him drive while I put away the lines and fenders. Tony went back to bed, and I drove alone in the early morning calm. There really is nothing better as far as I'm concerned than boating at dusk with nobody else out there, just you and the water on a calm gorgeous morning. I was in heaven.
Pulling out of the slip just after 5:15 a.m. in Baltimore
Passing under the Key bridge as the sun rises
Everything was going smoothly, and when I got to open waters, I decided to start using the radar and encountered my first glitch of the trip. Radar did not work.
I was frustrated and tried a few different things, but to no avail. Today, I knew I wouldn't need it, but if it ever got foggy on our trip, I would not want to be without radar. After several failed attempts, I had one more idea. I ran down below and rebooted the chart plotter breaker. When it came back up, I turned on the radar and voilĂ , I had radar! I wish all problems could be solved this easily.

I was still the only one awake at 6:40 a.m. when I arrived at the Bay bridge. Very few boats out meant I could stay on auto pilot and just enjoy what was turning out to be a glorious day.
 When I'm on a multi-day boat trip, I am fanatical about checking the weather. I use several different apps which utilize different weather data sources, and I check and double check. Today, day 1 of our trip, as I cruised under the Bay bridge and into the more open and deeper portions of the Southern Chesapeake Bay, I checked my radar app one more time, and could not have seen a more perfect image.
When Elana woke up, she joined me up top, and I had her take over a few times so I could go down to the bathroom or get food. Glad I taught her how to drive this boat! Tamara showed up around 11:00 a.m., just in time for us to see some dolphins!

As we pulled into Norfolk, the girls taught Tony how to attach the docking lines, and we pulled into Tidewater marina to fill up on fuel.

Although it was a gorgeous ride on an idyllic day, the one thing that was nagging me all day long was our fuel consumption and whether we could make it to Norfolk in one shot without refueling. After consulting with several other Prestige 560 owners, I was convinced that we could do it. I started with two full tanks, totally 581 gallons of diesel. My calculations were that we would arrive with 111, and amazingly when we were ready to refuel at Tidewater, that was almost exactly our fuel level. After fueling, we drive across the river to Waterside, and tied up on the bulkhead. I prefer floating docks, but with my well-trained crew, we had no trouble adjusting lines and fenders for 3 feet of tide and fixed pilings.
As we got into Norfolk early, thanks to our 5:15 a.m. departure, we had time to visit the Nautica museum and the US Wisconsin battleship.

Inside we discovered that there are some height distances among us.
Especially inside the battleship. One of the few times that I had an advantage for being short. Poor Tony kept hitting his head.
Oh wait, now I'm taller!
We were able to raise and the lower the battleship's anchor (not really).

After a nice dinner in town, and of course, bubble tea, we went back to the boat. There is a band playing right in front of our slip - not the ideal spot. Tony and Tamara went to listen to the music close up, as it's not loud enough already, and Elana and I are on the boat on our computers. I think she's watching Netflix, and I'm writing this blog.

Tomorrow is our canal day. We'll go through a lock and wait for some bridges to open, and otherwise it should be a relaxing peaceful run through the Intercostal Waterway as we head to the outer banks of North Carolina. Good nigh!

Monday, April 01, 2019

I hacked Jared Kushner's WhatsApp messages!

A few weeks ago, I read that Jared Kushner was using WhatsApp for White House business. My first thought was “Lock him up!” My second thought was, “I wonder if I can hack his account.” Since I do not have the power, resources, nor connections to lock him up, I went with the second option.

Upon careful analysis, I discovered that WhatsApp message encryption uses a flawed key generation algorithm that suffers from a probabilistic bias in the keyspace due to the modular reduction often resulting in a key that is less than the order of the group. Knowing this, I launched a RowHammer attack on the server DRAM, flipping target bits, which allowed me to expose the RSA keys after a few million chosen plaintexts. From there it was almost trivial to crack Kushner’s account. I’ll spare you the details, which I’ll be submitting to an academic conference, but the gist of it is that I was able to recover about 65% of his communications. What I discovered is highly troubling. Here are some excerpts. (Apologies that I was not able to recover the full text. I’ll use XXXX to fill in where the text could not be decrypted yet.)

Partially recovered transcript:
Kushner:  Dad, (can I call you Dad?) you cannot sell sponsorships for sections of the wall. It will not look good.
Trump: This will be huge. Think how much money we can get for this XXXXX (incomprehensible) bigger than China’s wall. XXXX (incomprehensible) I mean China barely making money XXX tariffs XXXX their wall. believe me XXXXX huge
Kushner: Ok, I’ll look into it, but I highly recommend that you drop your idea of having your name in neon lights on every other section of the wall, especially the side that faces Mexico.
Trump:  XXXXX (incomprehensible) XXXX huge. Any way we can get Mexicans to pray at my wall like your people pray at the Western wall? XXXX (incomprehensible) XXXXX huge XXXXX Trump XXXXX biggest ever XXX  they love me.
Kushner: Oy vey.

Partially recovered transcript:
Kushner: We’ve got a problem. I think he’s gone off the reservation again.
Putin: Focus. You need to get him to focus. I’m not paying you for these distractions.
Kushner: He wants his name on the wall, all over it. And he wants to sell naming rights to sections of it.
Putin:  Jared, you are starting to piss me off. I told you XXXXX (incomprehensible). If I knew I would have to deal with this XXXX (incomprehensible) I would have chosen Hilary. 
Kushner: Listen, I’ll bring him down from this. I talked him out of nuking North Korea, didn’t I?
Putin: I’m not so sure that was a good idea. Listen, I need you to XXXXX or else I’ll XXXXX and that will be the end of XXXXXX
Kushner: I hear you. I’ll deal with it.

As I type this, my team of white hat hackers at Harbor Labs is working on deciphering the missing sections. We have about 200 megabytes of communications, and some of it is very revealing. I’m beginning to suspect that our current administration does not have the country’s best interests at heart.
Among the revelations we have uncovered so far are the following:
·       After helping Putin finance a social media campaign to stir up Brexit fever in the UK, Trump wanted to try to get California to vote to leave the United States, but Jared talked him out of it.
·       Jared also convinced Trump not to appoint Stormy Daniels to the Supreme Court, but they both agreed to stick with the theme of a party animal for the position.
·       Ivanka messages Jared about 35 times per day. They love sending each other heart emojis.
Hold on, I’m getting a message from Julian Assange ... Oh man, he wants the WhatsApp messages. How did he even find out about my hack? Is he reading my emails as I compose them? I never liked that guy. This is crazy!
Okay, so I have to go figure out what I’m going to do with all of this. Maybe I’ll release all the deciphered messages right before the next election. Nah, I better not. I wouldn’t want to turn it into a circus.

Happy April Fools Day!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A review of Mossad 101

Ann and I are always looking for new shows to watch on Netflix or Prime as we've mostly watched all the well known ones and are excited when we find something new that we like. For example, we loved both seasons of Fauda. I felt the last season of Breaking Bad might have been the most entertaining TV ever, and we recently binged on the new season of Ozarks.

So, we learned about a show called Mossad 101 on Netflix a couple of weeks ago. The show, like Fauda, is in Hebrew with subtitles. Here is my review.

Season 1 took some time to grow on us. My all time favorite Israeli singer, Yehoram Gaon, who was very popular around the time I was born, and who stars in Israel's version of West Side Story called Kazablan, is in the show, and I was excited to see him. However, I was disappointed to realize that he is a much better singer than actor. He is clearly the weak link in the show.

If you've ever seen the below average show Quantico, based on a group of FBI trainees, you'll appreciate that Mossad 101 season 1 is very similar. A group of elite Mossad up and comers undergoes a series of exercises and in-field test that challenge them on every level. Those who fail get eliminated. The plot is slightly less hoaky than Quantico's, and the acting is better, but initially, we were not sure that we were watching a winner. In fact, some of the early episodes are slmost painful to watch in their absurdity. That changed towards the end of the season. Some major plot elements came together in a very exciting and surprising way, and the last episode was phenomenal.

Season two is where Mossad 101 really started blowing us away.  The show had a completely different feel to it as though they hired a new team of incredible writers. We watched the last five episodes in one sitting. I don't want to give anything away, but the biggest shock of all was the two star rating on Netflix for a show whose second season was in the league with the last season of Breaking Bad, and just as gripping, interesting and exciting as Fauda. Yehoram Gaon was smartly left out of season 2, and the acting was world class. It was fun to see that one of the major characters in Fauda has a starring role in Mossad 101 season 2.

If you can sit through the first half of season one, you will be treated to an amazingly good show that seems to have gone under everyone's radar. I had not heard of it until I saw a list of Netflix shows in Hebrew and thought we would try it out. All I can say is five stars for season 2 - one of the most entertaining and exciting shows I've ever seen.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A change of venue

I arrived in San Francisco last night for the RSA conference, tired from a long 6 hour flight and having just barely gotten over the flu. After a nice dinner with my cousins who live in the area, getting to bed quickly became the priority, as I was fading fast.

Last year, I came to this conference at stayed at the W hotel, very convenient, right next to the conference venue, but unreasonably priced. I took a lot of flack from Hopkins for the $700+ per night room. So, this year, I opted for a budget option recommended by JHU's automated online travel site. Yes, it's about a 1.2 mile walk to the conference, but exercise is good, and how bad could it be for $250/night?

My cousin Shaina drove me from the restaurant to the hotel, and as we pulled up, she exclaimed, "Are you really staying here?" I saw her point. Neighborhood was really seedy, and the facade was uninviting. I shrugged because it was too late now - San Francisco has been sold out for months. RSA is huge!

Checking in at the front desk, I asked if I could get a quiet room, and was assured I would be on the 6th floor, the highest for this hotel. The elevator was rickety and small, and for someone as claustrophobic as me, not a fun time. The ride was slow and squeaky, but I would be able to lie down soon, and I took consolation in that. As I approached room #603, I couldn't help notice that it was very loud. Someone nearby was watching TV. I might have to ask for another room because it was too early West Coats time to complain, but it was approaching midnight for me, still on Eastern time.

I put the key in the lock and opened the door. Oh, it was my TV that was on. I guess they make you feel welcome that way. I walked in, pulling my suitcase behind me. With a strange chill up my spine, I noticed a large pair of men's shoes in the middle of the floor. As if in slow motion, I panned the room and saw clothes everywhere. Someone was living here! And then I saw a change in the shadow of the light from the bathroom from under the closed door, and heard a sound. The bathroom was occupied! I grabbed my stuff and bolted out the door. Breathing heavily, I practically fell back into the elevator and made my way down to the lobby, slowly, very slowly, and squeaky.

When I got down to the front desk, a line had formed, and the single person working there was attending to others. I walked to the front of the line, to the looks of consternation from the other customers, and the hotel clerk asked if everything was okay with my room. I replied that everything seemed fine, except that someone was living there. He gave me a puzzled look and said he would look into that as soon as he finished with the other customers. It took about 10 minutes for him to check them in, and he came back to me and said, sorry about that, here is the key to room #605. I asked if he was sure that nobody was in that room, and he said he was.

I had to wait for the slow, squeaky elevator to come back down, and then I took it up for my 3rd ride of the evening. I got into the room, and was pleased to see that the room was completely empty. I started unpacking and felt really cold, so I called down to the front desk and asked where the thermostat could be found. He informed me that there is no heat in the rooms except a small radiator that is manually controlled, by the window.

As I leaned over the bed to check out the radiator, I heard a rustling from behind the bed. What the hell was that?!? I looked to the side of the bed by the window and was stared back at by what looked like a cross between a large rat and a guinea pig. It had a lot of fur and a big tail. It ran back behind the bed, and then came out again as if to check if I was still there.

I was surprised at how calm I remained. I grabbed my phone and my keys and left everything in its place and jolted out of the room. For someone who was sick from travel and tired and just over the flu, who knew I could move that quickly? As the elevator descended for ride #4, with all my stuff still in the room, I had a sinking feeling that this evening would never end. I had been at the hotel for 45 minutes already, and no closer to getting to sleep than I was when I arrived.

The guy at the front desk got a real kick out of my report. "Shall I go up and kill it?" he asked? I must have had quite the expression on my face because he quickly reassured me that he was kidding, and that I could have another room. I indicated that I was not going back into the room with "that thing". So, he came up with me, and I stood in the hall while he packed up my stuff and handed it all to me. We went down to the 4th floor, to probably the loudest room in the hotel.  Below the window was a crowd of homeless people in an endless battle. They literally were yelling at each other all night. As emergency vehicles pulled up to my window, their sirens blaring, and as large trucks with their backup horns were working through the night, I lay in bed in my vermin-infested hotel wondering if it was really worth getting a budget hotel for RSA this year.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

FIrmware Upload Contest

I'm working on a new security research project. We need to collect firmware files from IoT devices. To crowdsource the collection, I am running a contest through my company with great prizes, including an iPad mini 4, Nintendo Switch, Apple HomePod, Apple Watch, Chromebook, PS4, and more.

See https://harborlabs.com/contest for details.

Finding and entering proper Firmware is a great project for high schoolers in the STEM field. The prizes are potentially life changing for a 16 year old!

Please spread the word. The contest runs until April 15.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


We woke up today as excited to head home as we were to leave Baltimore at the start of the vacation. Cape May is nice, but three days, especially when we planned on one night, was more than enough.

As we pulled out of our slip in Cape May at 8:30 a.m., we felt completely physically and mentally exhausted. We drove our boat through the peaceful Cape May Canal at an easy 10 knots, and then we hit the open Bay, just on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The wind was pounding at around 15 knots, and the waves were 3-4 in my estimation. Nothing too scary, but also not exactly comfortable. Even up on the flybridge, we got splashed quite a bit, and so Ann decided to take cover inside and left me alone up top. I could have driven form inside, but this was my last day on the boat for a while, and I just love being up there, so I remained cold and wet and happy.

As we moved further North, the wind died down, and the waves came down to 1-2 feet, which was hardly noticeable. We reached the tranquil C&D Canal in 2 hours, and Ann rejoined me on the bridge. After we arrived at the no wake zone in the canal, we made lunch as we putt putted at an easy 6 knots. Then, we opened her up, caught a nice current, and did 25-26 knots into the Chesapeake.

We were so eager to get home, that I skipped the shipping channel (longer route, but no pots), and decided to cut across the Bay and deal with the crab pots. Dodging them from the flybridge is pretty easy, and we shaved 15 minutes off our trip.
The last leg, from Cape May to Baltimore - finally!
Just before 2:30 pm, we arrived in Harbor East Marina. We decided not to call for dock help, and I easily backed into our slip, while Ann and Benny adeptly tied us up. We are pros now! Before this trip, I hesitated to go stern in, and had only docked bow in, and even then I was nervous. After this 3 week trip, traveling most days and docking in all kinds of situations, our home slip seems like a piece of cake. Nothing better than first hand experience to build confidence. I'm ready for my 75' boat now! (just kidding, Ann!!)
Home sweet home - our permanent slip at Harbor East Marina
We spent the next couple of hours packing up our things, washing down the boat, putting on all the covers, and closing down everything. Unfortunately for Ann, during her car's three week stay in the Legg Mason Garage, somebody swiped the rear and side and left a nasty scrape without putting a note. While she was dealing with that, I ran into my friend Eric Yospa with his daughter. He had just texted me to ask if we were back from our trip, and here we were, packing up the car in front of the Four Seasons hotel. Nice to be back in Smalltimore, where you always run into someone you know!

I thought it might be interesting to reflect on our trip and some lessons learned about cruising. These are in no particular order. I will revisit these before our next big trip.

  1. Always have a backup plan, and a backup for that backup plan. In boating, it is impossible to predict the challenges that will come up. One day your anchor will get stuck. Another day, the generator will stop working, or one of the engines won't start. The most common delays will be due to weather. It is a good idea to study the marinas along the routes you will take and to know where you will seek shelter if weather hits. It's a lot easier to deal with an emergency situation if you already have a backup plan than to try to figure out what to do in the heat of the moment. As our trip progressed, we got better and better at writing down our backup plans, and even calling ahead to ask marinas if they could take our boat, and if they were willing to hold a spot for us in case we needed it. Many marinas were surprisingly cooperative and understanding as well as accommodating.
  2. Keep at least 2 days worth of food and water on the boat at all times. You cannot possibly predict when you will be stranded somewhere. If you have to take cover from weather, you may very well end up at anchor somewhere, and you do not want to run out of food or water. We were good on food, but we had a close call with water. Keep those tanks full and bring bottled water. A super idea Ann had was the 2 gallon cooler that we filled with fresh water from the hose each time we pulled into a new marina. Also, we got sick of eating out all the time, so we were glad we had purchased some cookware specifically for the boat and always had food that we could make. Don't let yourself run out of food. Whenever you are near a store with provisions, restock everything. Be proactive.
  3. If you can pump out the waste, do so. Don't delay just because you think you will be fine. It is not the most pleasant task, but you get used to it. This follows the same logic as food and water. If you get stuck somewhere, you do not want your waste tanks to be full. At a couple of points on our trip, we started rationing our flushes, and that's probably enough detail for my readers.
  4. Plan activities ahead of time. Traveling can be exhausting, and the last thing you will feel like doing after you arrive in a new port and get settled in, fuel up, pump out, fill water and wash the boat down, will be to then figure out what there is to do here. Ann was great about researching all of the interesting activities ahead of time. She even booked us some tours and had reservations in restaurants. This definitely enhanced the amount of fun we had and gave us something to look forward to on some of the longer and harder travel days. Of course, we were prepared to ditch our plans if the weather had other ideas, but it's great to have a default.
  5. Bring stuff to do on the boat. There is a lot of down time. Most days we only traveled 3-4 hours on the water. After cleaning the boat and other details, that left over 16 waking hours. Some places were very busy because we had water sports such as the dinghy or the paddle boards, and on shore activities. But, other times, especially when we were stranded, we had to keep ourselves busy. Even though it's a really big boat, it can feel cramped when 4 people are confined to the boat all day. We had Benny's video games, Netflix in most marinas, books, and my work from Hopkins and Harbor Labs, so we were able to keep busy. Make sure to bring laptops, iPads, etc. It's tempting to say that this is a nature vacation, and that you should enjoy the outdoors, but trust me, you will have plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors, and sometimes you will need to keep yourself from going crazy.
  6. Stay calm in crisis. That is easier said than done, but it's important to try to remember that. We had several situations on this trip that were quite serious. Whether it was deciding to leave NYC early because of weather (good decision), or to leave Boston in questionable weather (bad decision), we had lots of important decisions to make. Ann and I are a great team, and we were able to make these decisions together amicably and take the consequences together. It's important that all parties in a big decision that involves safety and whether the goals of the trip are met have ownership of the decision. No important decisions should be unilateral. Utilize whatever skills each one brings to the table. At one point, we were in the  midst of a storm, in an unknown cove, having just broken off our mooring, and we had to figure out whether to dock at the private yacht club and how to deal with the remainder of the storm. I think the best thing that we did that night was remain calm. Ann and I were in crisis mode, but we did not yell or freak out or lose our composure. We considered our options deliberately, and then mutually agreed on what to do. Then we executed to the best of our ability. If you can stay calm, you can accomplish much more than if you let the situation get the best of you.
  7. Don't forget that the whole point is to have a good time. A boat trip is much more taxing than I realized. We are physically bruised all over. My back gave out early in the trip, and now I have an issue with my leg and can barely sit down. It is exhausting and physically draining. The good news is that being so active feels good at the end of the day. I found it important to remind myself that I was living the dream, and even if one or two days were not fun or enjoyable, the opportunity take a trip like this makes me the luckiest guy in the world. I pushed myself to take the dinghy out even when I did not feel like unstrapping it and performing the 10 or so steps required to get it up and running, not to mention putting it away which is even more work. Don't shy away from the work on a trip like this. Getting the paddleboard down from the flybridge and then putting it back up seems like a huge chore and a pain, but I resolved to always use it whenever we wanted to, and the memories will be of paddleboarding on peaceful rivers and beautiful open waters and not of putting the board away and tying it up afterwards.
Anyway, many of my friends and family sent me fantastic feedback about the blog. It was a huge part of the trip for me and occupied most of my evenings. I'm sure it will be a living memory of the trip for years to come, and for those of you who actually read what I wrote, thanks for taking the time, and I hope you found it interesting.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Day 21: Still in Cape May...

Our trip was supposed to end in Baltimore yesterday, but we are getting ready for our third night on the boat in Cape May. Amazing how the weather for the first two weeks of our trip was just about perfect, and we only had to make one minor adjustment, leaving NYC a day early and spending that extra day in Mystic - a tradeoff where we came out ahead. Similarly, the past week was a weather fiasco.

On Thursday, as we were nearing Cape May, we seriously considered continuing on to Baltimore, but the waves got pretty nasty, and the skies darkened, and we realized that was a foolish idea. I forgot to mention in my last blog entry that as we neared the area just North of Atlantic City, we saw a huge whale. Right by the boat. Amazing - truly breathtaking. We also saw lots of dolphins.

Yesterday morning, we came within about 30 seconds of casting off. The generator was running, we were off shore power, and I had the engines going. I asked Ann to come release the dock lines, and wondered if we should wake up Benny, when Ann expressed that she would not be happy if we hit unpleasant waves, and asked me how sure I was that it would be smooth sailing. There was a reasonable risk of bad weather, although I felt we could handle it in our boat. But that did it. I do not want to risk upsetting my crew, especially since I hope to convince them to take boat trips with me again in the future.

So, we stayed in Cape May, where it rained pretty hard all day. Before the rain started, Benny and I hit the pool where we swam and tossed the football around for about an hour, while Ann did laundry in the marina. We have a washer/dryer on the boat, but Ann decided that our machine is okay for towels and linen, but not her choice for clothing.

Later, we cooked dinner on board - Ann made falafel with fresh baked pitas that we had purchased uncooked at a vegan place in Boston, and which were frozen until now. Pretty, pretty tasty. Then, we got a ride from the marina staff to a movie theatre where we saw Spiderman. We all 3 loved it. Uber back home, and it was time for bed. The wind and the rain were intense, and I got up during the night to check on everything. The lines were holding, and the fenders doing their jobs. Love being in a marina in a storm as opposed to at anchor!

We woke up this morning again thinking about going home, but a quick look at the weather forecast, and a discussion with the marina manager on duty changed our mind. He said there were "monsters" out there, referring to the waves, and even the 60-75 foot fishing boats next to us stayed home. Waves offshore were purportedly as high as 12 feet, and although the Delaware Bay was surely not as rough, we did not even consider messing around.

Keeping ourselves busy today was a little harder than yesterday. It was too cold and rainy for the pool (which did not open today), and I think we had had just about enough of being in this boat in one spot for 3 days, not to mention living on it for 3 weeks. I spent most of the day working on one of my consulting projects, while Benny played video games, watched shows in his iPad and read his book. Ann mostly read her book. We started preparing some things for our return - packing up and putting things away. Benny and I deflated the paddleboards and stowed them in the crew quarters durning a break in the rain. At times the winds were unbelievably strong, and I had to move one of our fenders to protect our stern.

As I write this, our plan is to take our raincoats and umbrellas into town, walk around a bit, and then hit this restaurant for dinner that Ann found, which of course has great vegan and vegetarian options. Fortunately, looks like they have some regular food as well. After this trip, I feel I am owed a major steak dinner, and I will definitely arrange something with some friends. Big, thick, juicy steak, dry-aged to perfection. That's what I need.

The forecast for tomorrow could not look better. Good thing, because we really do need to get back home. I love my boat, and I love boat trips, but even good things must come to an end.