Thursday, April 16, 2020

The upcoming election in the face of COVID-19

I was interviewed by David Troy of TEDx MidAltantic about the issue of the upcoming election in the face of COVID-19. We discussed the options of "vote by mail" and electronic voting (link to interview). Here's a summary of my thoughts:

Voting by postal mail is an increasingly attractive option for the upcoming November election. While “vote by mail” systems have several drawbacks, in the face of COVID-19 and the need to keep a safe distance among people, this option may be the least unattractive. It is important to note that a state that planned on having a poll site election may not be able to automatically and easily switch over to a mail-in system overnight. There are many logistical issues that need to be addressed. One of the challenges faced by election officials is that at the moment, it is not clear if the pandemic will subside before November. Given that it could take months to switch from the current plans to a mail-in system, state officials would have to start planning the change now, without knowing for sure if they will need to switch.

"Vote by mail” provides opportunities for vote selling and voter coercion. For example, a spouse or employer may have the ability to pressure someone to vote a certain way. Furthermore, the postal system is not immune to tampering. Still, wide scale wholesale fraud is probably more difficult to achieve in a mail-in system than in many other systems such as fully electronic or Internet based ones. In the current crisis we face, we may need to give up on the perfect for the sake of the good (or the least bad) and switch the country over to mail-in voting for this upcoming election. We still have over 6 months, and hopefully that is enough time for states to take the steps that they need to achieve this change. Several states already vote by mail, and those states’ officials can provide guidance to states who want to switch over for this coming election.

There is a risk that if many states switch over to vote by mail, that they will make the switch permanent. It would be a shame if future elections eliminate poll site paper-based voting because of this one-time necessary adjustment we have to make this year. However, we should focus right now on November, 2020. We’ll have plenty of time to worry about future elections. Hopefully, we will be rid of this pandemic and will be able to focus on providing the best possible election system in 2022 and 2024.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Testifying in Annapolis in the Senate and then the House about IoT Security

Last week I testified at a hearing in Annapolis in the state senate finance committee on SB 443 Consumer Protection - Security Features for Connected Devices. Today, I testified in the state House of Delegates in the Economics Matters Committee on the house version of the bill, HB 888. The two bills are identical, and my written testimony is here.

The bill is very simple. It requires that connected devices, IoT devices, either have a unique, per-device key/password, or that the owner be required to change the password at first usage. The idea is that there would no longer be default passwords in use for a particular model of IoT device. In general, I think that this is a very good idea. Personally, I would like to see the bill go further. There could be some guidelines for strong passwords and other security features such as delays after a certain number of incorrect password attempts. But, I'm thrilled to see that Maryland is following in California's footsteps and introducing this type of legislation.

I found the experience of testifying in the Senate Finance Committee starkly different from that in the Economics Matters Committee in the House. The senate committee heard 13 bills that day and took almost 3 hours before they got to ours. I was on a witness panel with Joseph Jerome, Director of Multistate Policy at, Katie McInnis, Policy Counsel for Consumer Reports, and Holly Jacobs from the state attorney general's office. All of the panelists were well spoken and compelling. Not surprising considering that we were just saying that there should be a minimum baseline of security in connected devices. I found the senators to be engaged but not very knowledgeable about technology. In particular one senator who dominated the questioning seemed particularly clueless and slightly hostile to the bill.

The House Economics Committee heard 6 bills today. Ours was the fourth. I found the testimony on the first three bills incredibly interesting as they dealt with consumer privacy. One bill addressed breach notification. The other two dealt with storage of biometric data and location information. There was some minor opposition to the bills, mostly procedural, as the opposing witnesses requested that the efforts on these bills be merged into a comprehensive privacy and security law that would address all of the issues, rather than having piecemeal legislation. This seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

There were only two of us on my panel today, Katie McInnis from Consumer Reports and me. Katie spoke about the importance of protecting IoT devices as consumers are adopting more and more of these. She spoke about 19 documented hacks in December. The delegate who introduced the bill, Ned Carey, showed a video from the evening news of a hacker speaking to a little girl through a compromised Ring doorbell. I basically summarized my written testimony, but I also had received a link to a story earlier today about a major WiFi compromise, and I included a summary of this and how it relates to the current bill in my testimony. These IoT compromises are so common that there was a major story the very day of the hearing.

 I was pleasantly surprised by the level of discussion in the Q&A. Unlike their colleagues in the senate, the delegates were very knowledgeable about technology, IoT and security and privacy. They not only got it, but they chimed in with anecdotes of their own, and it was clear to me that this bill is very popular with the committee.

I always find it interesting to see how laws are created. While there is currently tremendous partisan gridlock in Washington, and I'm sure at the local and state levels as well, I was fortunate to not see any such issues in the two hearings. At least everyone seems to be in agreement that we need to do more to protect online connected devices.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Day 2 - Long 12 hour run from Manteo to Solomons

It was cool enough out that we kept the generator off last night and slept with fresh air. I was so exhausted that I went to bed at 9:00 and was up and ready to go this morning at 5:00 a.m. Eating breakfast on the flybridge, I saw several fishing boats leave our marina for their early morning ocean trips. At around 5:45, I saw Jim get up, and we decided to get ready for an early departure. We cranked up the engines, removed the lines and headed out of Pirates Cove in Manteo, NC at exactly 6:05 a.m., just as dusk was breaking.
Manteo at dusk
It took us about 30 minutes to get through the narrow channel leading out to the Albemarle Sound. The channel curves around and gets really narrow in spots, and after my recent experience on the way to Charleston (which we shall not discuss) I was as vigilant and careful as can be, if not a little anxious.
Channel markers leading to the Albemarle Sound
We hit the Sound around 6:30, and it was pretty rough. Waves were at least 3 feet and hitting us almost directly on the nose, and the winds were head on and strong. Made for a bumpy ride. At one point, Jim noticed that our flag had gotten loose and was almost breaking off, and I stopped the boat to retrieve it. Well, when you are in rough 3+ waves (possibly more like 4), it's not a good idea to stop the boat. We started rolling pretty intensely, and everything on the boat flew from side to side. Once I got up some speed again, things straightened out, but it was still an unpleasant ride.

Happily, in less than an hour, the sun was up, and we were out of the Sound and into the river that makes up the ICW. Much more peaceful and relaxing. We were able to go full speed (today around 26-27 knots) in many portions, but anytime we saw houses, another boat, or marinas, we were required to slow to no wake speed, or 6 knots. The boat is running much better since the repair. My engines are synched perfectly, and I'm getting faster speeds at 90% load. I guess there's a silver lining to my mishap.
Cruising past Coinjock on the ICW
Beautiful Intercoast Waterway views
We were mostly alone in the portions of the ICW that winds around. However at one point, I was cruising at about 26 knots and caught up to a large sailboat doing 6 knots. There's a protocol for passing a slower boat, and I radioed to the sailboat. The name "Obsession" was written in large letters on the side of the boat, and Obsession and I executed the pass starboard to port, with him slowing down, me passing, and then him turning straight into my wake. It's a pleasure when someone actually knows what they're doing, and he gave me a friendly wave and a thumbs up. We sped back up and left Obsession way behind.

We were running great, and the boat was fantastic, but our timing was really off. We got to the first bridge and radioed for an open and were told it would be 16 minutes to open. So we sat and waited.
We went as quickly as possible to the next bridge but had to wait 20 minutes for that one. Once we cleared that bridge, we arrived at Great Bridge bridge (not a typo) at 15 after the hour, and that bridge only opens on the hour. So, we fueled up at the fuel dock with the best possible captive customer base in the world. I assume everyone who arrives early would rather fuel up than sit around waiting for the bridge to open. (I almost suspect the previous bridges timed their openings so that we'd have to wait and buy fuel and then the fuel dock pays a kickback. Never mind, getting off topic.)

Finally, we were ready to go through Great Bridge bridge and into Great Bridge lock. As we were waiting, a sailboat pulled up behind us, and we were shocked to hear them announce themselves to the bridge as Obsession. Seriousy?!? We passed them almost 90 minutes earlier at 26 knots, and now they caught up to us? They must have timed every bridge perfectly. While we wasted fuel running at 25 knots and then waiting for each bridge to open. Talk about the tortoise and the hare.

Jim and I tended the lines in the lock
Leaving the Great Bridge lock - Obsession is in the back
We took off out of the lock at full cruising speed, and pretty soon we were making good time again. Only a couple of bridges left, and after that, our pace was under our own control. We had booked a slip in Norfolk at Tidewater, and I was looking forward to eating in one of the restaurants I like in town there.

The ICW is full of all kinds of boats. Here we saw a tug boat pulling some very long cables, and I had to speak to the driver over the radio to make sure I was staying out of his way.
After losing a bunch of time on all the bridges, we were unfortunate to arrive at a railroad bridge that was closing. Strangely, there was no train. We radioed and tried calling, but nobody answered us. We sat there frustrated, waiting for the railroad bridge to open. After a while, a sailboat approached. You have got to be kidding. It was Obsession. Seriously, was there no way to shake these guys? As soon as Obsession radioed to the bridge to open, they opened it, and still no train every came. I had to test my radio to make sure it worked. Was this antisemitism? Anti-powerboatism? We will never know.
Railway bridge is closed - Ugh
Jim and I pulled through the bridge determined to leave Obsession behind once and for all. Ironically, I was becoming obsessed with this sailboat and its ability to catch up with us going 6 knots. I was starting to understand the boat's name.

After we made it through this bridge, I knew there were two more railroad bridges left. One of them was bridge #5, the one that was closed for 3 days of maintenance the day that Tony and I and the girls were trying to get to Charleston and ended up having to turn around and take the ocean. If that happened today, we'd be up the creek (were actually were up the creek) without a paddle. No turning to the ocean. We would really be stuck there with no options. Fortunately, both bridges were open, and we made it to Norfolk!
Yippee! The bridge was open

Downtown Norfolk
Well, we had arrived at Norfolk full of fuel from having filled up at the Great Bridge bridge waiting area. And it wasn't even 1:30 pm yet. It was a long day from 6 a.m., but hey, we decided to motor on. I wanted to get to Solomons, which would take about 4 hours, and then leave us only 3.5 hours tomorrow to get home. Jim was game, although probably a little less enthusiastic than I was.

We checked the weather, and it was questionable. There were thunderstorms in Solomons, but looking at the radar, we were pretty sure they'd be gone by the time we got there. Just North of Solomons, it was really bad, but those storms were not going to come South (we thought). Thunderstorms were projected for Norfolk, but not until evening. It looked very likely that we could squeeze in between weather patters and get to Solomons without too much risk of getting hammered. And after all, as the pillow my mom made me says:
So, we passed Norfolk and set the chartplotter route to Solomons. As I was leaving Norfolk Harbor and got passed the no wake buoy, I pulled up on plane to 24 knots. I saw that a huge, massive cargo ship was in the channel, and those things make me nervous, so I pulled parallel to the channel to run alongside the ship until I passed it. As I was trying to figure out how to get through this very busy harbor area at speed, I saw a police/military boat with a machine gun on the bow flashing its lights and blasting a siren coming towards me very fast. It went past me, and I turned to look and saw it turn quickly and head towards me from behind. That indicated to me that I was the subject of their interest, and I quickly stopped my boat.

The policeman admonished me on the radio that in front of the military base, I was required to stay inside the channel at all times. I explained that I was trying to avoid the massive ship, but he would have none of it. I apologized an assured him I would stay in the channel. And I did.

Once I passed the harbor area and entered the Chesapeake Bay, I set course due North and pointed Sababa towards Solomons. We had 3.5 hours left. The weather forecast was a little scary, but Jim and I were convinced that we could avoid the worst of it. I was learning a lot about dealing with and navigating in weather from Jim. For the first 90 minutes, the seas were flat, and we were going about 25 knots. I was loving life. I'd like to see Obsession catch us now!

About 30 minutes later, I noticed the air temperature drop about 20 degrees. I was actually feeling a bit cold all of a sudden. I figured this cannot be good. But, the weather still looked okay. Behind us, Jim and I noticed some serious rain was going on. But we were well past that. Ahead, the sky was getting dark. Uh oh. But, we were in the middle of the Bay, and with bad weather behind us and unknown not so great weather ahead, we really had no choice but to move on. Still, the radar indicated that we would be okay.
Raining behind us

We decided to drive from inside instead of on the flybridge because it was starting to rain, and the sky was looking ever more ominous. The waves were now getting bigger and hitting us straight on the bow. I slowed the boat to 18 knots to match the period of the wave and we stopped slamming into the water, except occasionally.

It then started raining very hard. I had learned how to make good use of the radar in low visibility in my Radar and Electronics course at the Annapolis School of Seamanship, and this came in handy, as I was going to rely on my radar and chart plotter now to supplement my dim view of what was going on outside that I was getting through the windshield.

Our biggest fear was that we would arrive in Solomon with a massive storm with 40-50 knot winds and thunderstorms. Radar did not indicate that was likely, but that did not stop that from being my biggest fear. As we approached the river towards Solomons, the rain got more intense, and visibility was lower, and for the first time today I wasn't entirely happy. I decided that if conditions were too intense to dock, I would pull into the harbor at Solomons and anchor. We would ride out the storm on the hook until it passed and then pull up to the fuel dock to tie up. That was our backup plan.

The turn towards Solomons was very good. The waves were much smaller inside the river, and they were hitting us on the beam instead of head on, since we had changed direction. I was worried about crab pots, since we had no visibility there, and I know that area is full of them, but we could only worry about so many things, and we hoped we wouldn't get unlucky. Furthermore, I was back up over 20 knots, and I think hitting a pot at that speed would probably just snap the crab pot line rather than wrap around the prop. Luckily, we never found out.

Amazingly, as we pulled into Solomons Island, the rain let up and practically stopped. Jim secured our lines, and I docked in very light to nonexistent wind. As soon as we were tied up, it started raining again, but not too badly. We needed fuel, and I expect us to leave tomorrow morning before the fuel dock opens. So, I used an umbrella to protect the tank as I filled it with diesel. You do not want water in your diesel. Bad combination.
Fueling in the rain after a 12 hour run
As I was fueling, I looked at my watch, and it was a bit after 6pm. We had run for 12 full hours. What a day.

Our reward was a great dinner in town followed by my favorite dessert: key lime pie from the island's specialty:

So that's it. Tomorrow, we'll head home, and Jim has a flight home from BWI in the afternoon. We are looking forward to an awesome dinner with great friends, and I'll be thrilled to have Sababa back home in Baltimore!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Day 1 is in the books

What a crazy day yesterday. First it looked like I had nobody to travel with, then I met Jim at the marina with his wife Denise, and he jumped at the opportunity to travel with me with about 12 hours notice. See full story here.
Avi and his new crew mate Jim getting ready to depart Wrightsville Beach
Jim and I arranged to meet at 6:30 a.m. at Sababa. He owns a similar Prestige flybridge boat, and I was happy to have someone aboard who knows the boat and is very experienced at traveling up and down the coast.

I went to bed after 11:00 pm last night after straightening out the boat, cleaning up, writing my blog, of course, and unpacking. I could't sleep because since the shore power on the boat is not working, I had the generator on, and it was really loud. Finally around midnight, I got up and turned off the generator and quickly fell asleep. I woke up around 4:00 all covered in sweat because without the generator, there's no air conditioning, and it got very warm on the boat. Not a great start for what I knew would be a very long and at times challenging day. By 5:00, I gave up lying in bed and took a shower and got the boat ready for the voyage. Turned on all the instruments, fired up the generator again, turned on the nav lights since we'd be traveling at dusk, had something to eat, and then sat around waiting for 6:30.

Jim showed up with Denise right on time, and we were on our way.

As we pulled out of Wrightsville Beach and headed to the ocean, I had some concerns about how rough the seas would be. The forecast was good, although it called for possible thunderstorms in the afternoon at Manteo. We had decided to go to Manteo rather than push all the way to Coinjock. As it was, this would be our longest and most difficult travel day, covering 183 nautical miles.
Driving in the open ocean is exhilarating. As long as the waves remain calm, you are there alone with nothing but the sky, the water and the boat. It's one of my favorite most peaceful places to be. Of course you know that at any time a squall can pop out of nowhere and ruin your day or worse. More on that later.

The waves actually got slightly big as we approached 2/3 of our way towards the Beaufort inlet. They were around 3.5 feet high, and some quite a bit higher. However, they were SouthWesterly waves, meaning they were going in the same direction as us, so we were basically surfing on them. The winds were about 15 knots also from the SW, so it made for a mostly pleasant ride. A little rough at the end, but nothing too crazy.

The inlet was a bit of an adventure as a very strong wind on our port side beam intensified. However besides taking off our hats so they wouldn't blow away, Jim and I had no real concerns. As we pulled into Beaufort and the canal of the northbound ICW, we saw several dolphins, which made my day.

We decided to stop for fuel despite Dennis's advice that we could easily make it to Manteo on one tank. I don't like to cut it close, and besides it was pretty calm in the ditch (slang for ICW).
Our fuel stop in the ICW

After fueling, we headed up towards the Neuse River and from there into Pamlico Sound. The sound can be very intimidating and quite nasty. We dealt with that head on (literally) on our way South a month ago. However, today, we were going with the waves and the wind in our favor, and so it wasn't too bad. At least most of the way.

As we turned left and headed North to the final stretch where Pamlico meets the Croatan sound, I suddenly noticed a sharp bolt of lightning in the distance. There was a clear outline of a bad storm to our NorthWest, and it was moving East, as we were moving North. We were going 24 knots on a collision course with this storm.
On the rader, we could see that this was an isolated storm, but it was headed exactly to the same place we were. Jim had the very clever suggestion, which seems obvious but actually did not occur to me, that we slow down and let the storm pass. To me it was counterintuitive to see a lightning storm while out on a boat and to do nothing. I wanted to run for cover, but there was nowhere to go that made sense. Slowing down worked great. We could actually see the storm moving from left to right, and when it passed us, we made our way. Meanwhile, another storm developed to the West, and we saw it coming. We decided that we could beat that one, so we worked our way between the two storms (I kid you not) and got the Pirates Cove marina with no harm done.
Pirates Cover marina - lots of big charter fishing boats that I did not want to crash into
Docking was quite intimidating as it was extremely windy in the marina, and I felt myself drifting into the large fishing boats that line the marina due to a strong current. The marina was not picking up on the radio, and I had left my phone down below, so I had no way to reach them. Luckily, someone saw us coming in, and a dockhand was waiting for us. Using every ounce I had of experience, guts, and mostly a complete lack of any choice, I managed to pull off one of the scarier dockings I've done without a hitch. Jim was extremely helpful in talking me through it as I backed up, and the dockhand jumped aboard to help with the lines. Jim is a real pro and got us tied up expertly. We set the fenders, and I felt really good and relieved. I fueled up the boat for tomorrow's run.
Sababa tied up safe and sound in Manteo
Jim and I rewarded ourselves for a great first day with pizza and beer at Nags Head Pizza Company, the same place that the girls and Tony and I had planned on visiting but did not end up going to because of the bridge that was closed on our way down and our reroute down the ocean.

Here was the view from our table at this great pizza place.
With no shore power, we've decided to try to sleep without the generator tonight. I found the screens that go in each window and set them up for the evening. It's cool outside, so we'll open the windows with the screens in and turn off the generator, and thus the A/C. We'll use the inverter to power the 110 on the boat to charge our devices off the house batteries. And in the morning, we'll go back on generator power. If this proves to be uncomfortable, then tomorrow night we'll try to sleep with the generator. Basically the choice is noise, uncomfortable temperature, lack of darkness (shades can't close with windows open), or some combination of these. Without shore power those are our choices.
The small window in the master bedroom with a screen (not my most interesting photo ever)
I'm very excited about tomorrow's run. We're going to stay inside the ICW. It is just a gorgeous trip, and we'll have several bridges and a lock to deal with, but the trip is pretty laid back with lots of no wake areas to just take in the sites and relax. I expect us to leave at first light at 6:30 am and to arrive no later than 2pm, depending on our luck with the drawbridges.

It's calling for 35% chance of rain and scattered thunderstorms in Norfolk tomorrow around 4pm, but otherwise, our weather outlook for the rest of the trip all the way to Baltimore on Saturday looks very good. We'll try to time it so that we are in Norfolk well before the potential storms. Today, I learned how to be patient and let the storm pass you by. A very valuable lesson.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Crew change

You can't make this stuff up. It seems that every boat trip is just nuts.

So, I land in Wilmington and Uber to the marina. Dennis meets me at the boat and generously offers to drive me to the grocery store so I can buy provisions for my upcoming 3 day boat trip. Dan had said he ate everything, so I just bought enough food for breakfasts and lunches for a few people for two days. Lots of fruit, lunch meats, peanut butter and jelly, yogurt, snacks and tons of water bottles.

Meanwhile, I get a text from a guy named Jim who says he has a Prestige boat too, and that he was walking by mine today and got my number from Dennis, and he'd love to meet me. Sounds great, but I know I have a ton of work to do.

I say goodbye to Dennis and start unpacking on the boat. I realize that it's several hours of work ahead of me, and the boat is not in the shape or condition I need to go out on the ocean. There is stuff everywhere. I need to fill the water tanks. Unpack the food, and start putting things away. As I begin working, I realize I'm starving, so I write the guy Jim and suggest having dinner at the marina restaurant if he's up for it. He and his wife Denise come over, and I get a nice break from my work.

As we're eating and getting to know each other, I get a text form Dan. His flight is delayed, and he can't make his connection. UGH!!!! All the work I did to get here, and I only have a very tight time window to get home. Not just that it's a good weather window, but we have plans with close friends Saturday night that I'd like to get back for, and I'm hosting a big poker tournament at my house on Sunday. Also, next week, I can't possibly make the trip due to work commitments. And I'm already here! This really messes things up.

Sitting in the marina restaurant, I look up at Jim and Denise my new Prestige friends, and half jokingly say to Jim, "do you want to come with me on the boat trip tomorrow morning?" Denise jumps in and says that he should. He says, sure, why not? And so after a couple of minutes of planning, we decide that Jim will come with me tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. and then he'll fly back to Raleigh on Saturday, and Denise will pick him up. Just like that. If only all my problems could be solved that way.

The boat seems in very good condition physically except it's pretty dirty, and there's no shore power. I filled the water tanks, put all the cushions back on, took the covers off, and put a million things away into storage that were scattered around the boat. I'll have to run the generator for 3 straight days, but it's designed for that.

Jim and I discussed different options for tomorrow. We'll run outside to Beaufort and then the Pamlico sound to Manteo. Then, we'll probably run inside to Norfolk the next day, and then to Baltimore on Saturday.

Crazy day.

Bringing Sababa home

Tomorrow morning, exactly a month to the day I lost my pods and ran aground, I'll be leaving North Carolina on Sababa for a 3 day adventure home. This is not the way I expected to return, but given how much I've missed the boat and the hassle I've had to deal with managing the repair remotely, I have to say I'm very excited and happy to have this chapter over and to start the new adventure.

I'm sitting in the airport at BWI. I did not know until this morning if we were a go because the boat had to have a sea trial today to test that the repair worked, and that there was nothing wrong that couldn't be tested on land. Dennis Smith, perhaps the nicest person in the world, the same person who met me in Hampstead, NC the first day of our problem after reading my blog, once again came to the rescue. He came to the boatyard this morning and captained the sea trial. Once Sababa passed, he took her down to Wrightsville Beach where he docked the boat at a marina. Unfortunately, the shore power does not seem to work. I was struggling with that quite a bit on my trip down, and so Dennis called an electrician who will check things out and hopefully fix this problem once and for all. Shore power is nice but not a deal breaker. Will run either way.

I land in Wilmington at 5:35 pm, after a connection in Charlotte, and then I'll Uber to the boat. I have a lot to take care of. Moving all my gear from the deck back to the crew quarters, checking all the systems. Affixing cushions and removing covers. Plotting my final route for the morning, and checking the weather again. Uber to grocery store and shop for provisions, and then Uber back to boat. Need food for 3 days for 2 people, and plenty of drinks. Have to fill the water tanks. Thankfully the last thing I did on Sababa before leaving was pump out the holding tanks, so those should be good for our entire trip. Dennis is taking care of fueling her up.

Joining me for this trip is my great friend Dan. Dan owns a marina and has owned boats and is experienced in the boating world, so I'm sure he'll be a great crew. Dan is also my business mentor, and so I'm looking forward to lots of great advice under way, and I'm sure we'll have a great time, as he is one of the most fun people around.

Right now, the weather looks good for our first leg to Beaufort tomorrow at first light. It will be an ocean leg. Waves are supposed to be 3 feet from the SouthWest with a 4-5 second period with Winds 10-13 also from SouthWest. Since we're running Northeast, I'm not that concerned about the waves and expect a relatively smooth ride. It'll probably be rougher in Pamlico sound later in the day. My plan is to get to Manteo and dock at Pirate's Cove. However, if I decide to run outside the next day, I may stop at Wenchese marina near Oregon Inlet, because that's closer to our ocean entry, saving me about 45 minutes each day. One issue is that Wenchese only has dockhands until 5pm whereas Pirate's Cove has them until 7pm. Also at Pirate's Cove we can fuel in the slip, and at Wenchese we'd need to fuel first and then dock, meaning we really need to be there by 4pm to get help docking, which I'm sure we'll need.

My flight is boarding soon, so I'm signing off for now. Hope I'll have time to blog on this adventure and that it will all be good news!

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.