Jul 30 2011

Sail to Hobie Beach

I sailed out of Matheson Hammocks and into Hobie Beach today.  There was decent wind for a cruise.  What I learned…

1) Hobie Beach allows you to bring your trailer.

2) A milk jug makes a great Baby Bob.

May 23 2011

Watermelon Garden

Well, it’s been about 3 months since I planted the watermelon seeds, and I already have a few melons.  Contrary to what people think, you don’t have to water your watermelon garden twice a day.  I haven’t watered my garden for months now and it produced some watermelons.  It’s summer, and it’s pretty dry.  The grass is even drying up.  Yes, my crops are slim, but I also didn’t do any watering.  Now, when the rainy season comes around, the garden will be mature and ready to produce some big Watermelons.  For now, this will have to do.

May 9 2011

Hobie 16 tipped, flipped, and de-masted by a Thunderstorm

Sailing beach cats on vacation, sailing a canoe, and sailing in a kayak.  Those three sets of experiences pretty much sum up my sailing track record as a whole.  I have been a mariner all my life, yet my experience with sailing vessels is minimal.  The latest attempt at sailing a canoe taught me a lot.  I know the concepts and terminology well, and the reflexes are there, but not at all that of a seasoned sailor.  Two weeks ago I accepted an invite to go sailing on a Hobie 18.  I was given the chance (as well as having no choice at one point) to sail it on my own, and it was an unforgettable experience.  Comparing to the only thing I could (my sailing canoe), there was a power at work with this vessel not experienced by a smaller one.  When you catch the wind just right, the subtlevibration on the main sail produces a low frequency felt throughout the boat, and if the conditions are right, the pontoon beneath you begins to lift.   This force not stopping until the sheet is let back a little, which de-powers the boat, therefore bringing the boat back down.  This was such an exhilarating experience I found myself looking for a Hobie for the next two weeks.  I was able to find and buy a Hobie 16 in the area after quite a bit of searching.  Now I had the boat in the yard, and the adventures was to begin.

Maiden Voyage
The first sail was a learning experience.  It was interesting to learn all of the rigging, and most of all, realize the weight of the mast.  After setting the boat up for about 45 mins, and organizing the rigging, we were off again.  In comparison to the Hobie 18, the 16 is a wild horse.  Weighing in close to 300lbs, it’s light as a feather and overpowered.  The Hobie 18 may very well be a faster boat, but it doesn’t feel like it.  The 16 is very sensitive to your actions.  It requires a faster reaction time, and is a lot of fun to sail.  What was supposed to be a 2 hour test run, turned into a day of fun-sailing and practice.  We purposely capsized and righted the vessel numerous times for practice, and I was confident in my ability to get out of a sticky situation.

First Warning
Sunday morning came, and I was to take my wife, Vanessa sailing for the first time.  This was a nerve-racking experience.  First impressions only happen once in lifetime.  If that was the case, this was my only chance of getting the wife into this both relaxing and exciting lifestyle that is sailing.  On a calm day, one could open up a bottle of wine, sail over to an island somewhere and have a romantic picnic.  On a “windier” day, and I’ll use this term loosely, sailing can be a challenging sport.  This day was a gloomy one, literally.  The morning was calm, there it was a bit cloudy, but the rain clouds were nowhere to be seen.  It took about 30 minutes to set up boat boats.  And as we began to take them towards the water, a far rumble of thunder was heard.  The sound came from West.  I quick look South (where the wind was blowing from) revealed clear skies.  The first warning had been issued, and we ignored it.  The wind had a slight breeze in it, and I remember thinking how a little shower may be beneficial to us, as long as the lightning kept its distance.  As we set sail, it started sprinkling a little bit, and went away after about 5 minutes.  The sky opened up to the South, and that’s where the wind was blowing from so we were free and clear.

Into the Wind
Sailing towards the wind, we were off and picked up speed in no time.  I remember having some issued locking one of the rudders into place, but other than that, we were free and clear.  I remember Vanessa saying, “wow we’re going fast!”.  I said, “I told you”.  But inside it was more like, “this is nothing, wait until we get this thing to stand up”.  My buddy with the 18 foot Hobie was sailing beside me and it was just a matter of time before we were flying over the water and I was out over the trapeze.  I made the trapeze ride look difficult due to my inexperience driving the boat by myself, while hanging, and when I asked, “Are you ready to get out here?”, Vanessa responded with, “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet”.  At this point we are about 1/4 the way from, Matheson Hammock marina to Stiltsville (near the Biscayne channel), and the wind was extremely gusty.  The seas were surprisingly choppy for the bay and everything started to pick up extremely fast.  My buddy was about a quarter mile away from me and began to turn around.   I decided to follow, but there was too much wind to Jive.  A jive is when you turn away from the wind in order to come about.  Coming about is when you turn your vessel resulting in a sail direction change.  So I decided to turn into the wind.  The first attemp failed.  By this point the waves were about 2-3ft and were right after each other.  It was extremely gusty, choppy, and in general the wrong conditions for a beach catamaran to be in.  I made a second attempt to turn around, and was put into irons, and back to a tack within seconds.  Not even getting a chance to try again, as I was getting out of irons, a wave swung us up, and a gust finished us off.  The boat had flipped sideways, and we were both waterborne.

Capsized in the Storm
As the boat tipped over, the pontoons lifted us into the air, before sliding down the trampoline. I remember the boom staying parallel with the surface of the water, and my wife’s chin going straight for it.  With the speed of light I thought, broken teeth, blood, sharks, etc.  But she managed to dodge the Boom.  I expressed my plan, “Hold on to the boat!, I’m going to release the main sail, and flip this thing back over!”.  The thought of which seemed like a simple action we had accomplished the day before.  But these conditions were changing everything.  The trampoline became a sail and began to blow the boat East towards the Sea, the incoming tide was in full force, so we had a cross current dragging us in the opposite direction that the boat was traveling in.  I managed to pull myself to the top of the mast (which was sideways and on the surface), and couldn’t unhook the sail.  It was at this point that I realized that if I let go of the boat I was going to be in trouble.  So I held on to the sail for dear life.  I pulled myself back down, realizing that the tension in the boom was holding the sail down.  So I untied the boom and left all the rigging dangling.  This was an emergency situation as was no time to organize rigging.  I new that eventually the submerged pontoon would fill with water and make it difficult to right the vessel, let alone sail it.  So after loosening the sail and giving an initial tug to see that the sail was loose, I exerted the last bit of energy (I thought) to bring the sail in.  My wife got caught underneath the main sail, but I was able to pull her out of there.  “Whatever you do, don’t let go of the boat!”, I yelled.  At this point, the storm is fully on top of us.  We are rolling around in the white-capped waves, it’s raining, it’s gusty, it’s gray all around, it was cold, and there was no end in sight.  I used the last bit of energy I had to climb on top of the submerged pontoon and tied an old docking rope to the high shroud.  Keeping constant communication with Vanessa, kept her safe.  This means that me yelling at her and getting a response every minute or so let me know she was still with me.

Righting the boat
Seeing that she was just hanging on, I didn’t want to make her climb, so I tright righting the boat on my own.  I leaned back, and held it steady.  After about 10 seconds, it began to come back.  I yelled,”when it comes back, don’t let go of the boat!”.  It was the most exciting and hopeful part of the disaster.  As usual I let the pontoons surround me, but with more force than it came down, it flipped in the same direction.  The jib caught a gust of wind that lifted the entire Hobie out of the water, and it capsized again.  Feeling beaten, defeated, and tired, I decided to lower the jib, and try again.  After loosening the jib, I decided to reposition myself to right the boat again.  All of a sudden, and loud “SNAP!”…And the boat turtled.  Both pontoons were now on the surface of the water, upside down and the mast, was floating next to the boat.  At this point there was nothing to do but sit on top of the pontoon, and wait for the storm to pass.  Luckily, there was a sailing vessel sticking around us.

Can we come aboard?
At this point, realizing there was nothing else to do, I gave the distress signal.  Not a flair or a mayday call.  The international sign of distress, when you wave both arms in the air.  The sailing vessel came toppling beside us and I asked if we could throw a line.  So he came around the side, and I readied and threw the rope, it didn’t reach.  A few minutes later, the chance came again, and this time the captain’s wife grabbed onto the rope.  He yelled, “tie it quickly!”, and she tied the roped to a cleat.  I remember thinking the pull was going to be hard enough to tumble me off of the pontoon, so I went into the water.  I instructed my wife to walk accross not letting go of the rope.  She proceeded to do so, and made it to the side of the boat, but it was a about a 4 foot climb to get onboard.  I remember yelling, “is it in neutral?”, as I saw the boat, still movine, and pictured my wife losing her legs due to the prop.  She heard me and tucked in as well, and the captain then put the boat in neutral.  I pulled myself beside her and pushed her up.  And then proceeded to pull myself, but was completely out of strength.  The captain gave me a hand and after a couple tries, I was onboard.  I remember knowing that we were safe at this point, and asking to be towed to shore.  I remember liking the sailboat, which had a cabin, and was very cozy.  Definitely something I’d like to have in the future.  So after giving us towels to wrap ourselves and warm up, we chatted a little while the captain turned towards shore.  My wife was shivering and went into the cabin, and I stayed on deck with the captain, it just seemed right.  It looked like we were home free, then he says, “we’re not making any headway”.

At this point the storm was still kicking strong.  Wind, rain, and waves surrounded us and there were no longer any boats in sight.  Anyone in the area earlier had already fled.  We, however could not.  The wind was pushing us East, and dragging my boat, sideways was not allowing us to go anywhere.  I realized, that we had to change the placement of the rope on the catamarat.  It was tied to the shroud which is the best place for righting the boat, but not for towing.  I attempted about 4 times to convince the captain to let me in the water, and change the placement of the rope, to a towing position.  He wasn’t having it.  As much as I wanted to fix the situation, regardless of how nasty the water looked, I was in no position to argue with the captain of the vessel.  He made the call, to call the Coast Guard.

The Party
After attempting to anchor, keeping the cat away from his boat, and a few other unexpected mishaps, the Coast Guard shows up.  At this point we are dragging the anchor, and both vessels are heading towards the StiltsVille flats.  Sailboats have a very deep keel, and shallow water means trouble for them.  The Coast Guard shows up in their fireboat, which is suprisingly rocking back and forth pretty bad.  The shallow waters were creating 3-4 foot waves in conjunction with the storm, and a very heavy chop.  They asked if everyone was OK.  I mentioned my wife was cold a feeling a little bit seasick.  She was ready to go with the Coast Guard, so I know she was in bad shape.  The time she spent in the cabin, took her over, and she was clearly pale and feeling sick.  For about 15 minutes a dance ensued, the Coast Guard was there, Coast Guard Auxilary was there, SeaTow, and Boat U.S. were on the scene, but nobody was doing anything.  Meanwhile, we had drifted a few feet by one of the Biscayne Channel markers and were headed for Stiltville.  At this point I realized that if we didn’t do anything quick, this ship, who pulled me out of the water, was going to run aground.  So I decided to untie my boat, and figured worst case, I’d jump in and stick with it, while he left.  As soon as I left my boat go, the sailboat’s anchor who we had been dragging for about 20 mins, grabbed, and we were anchored.  My catamaran, on the other hand, drifted away.  So I helped the captain pull the anchor, and we were off to shore.

Are you a Boat U.S. member?
What happened after that was by far, the most frustrating event of the story.  First, Boat U.S. didn’t wan’t to touch my boat, until they verified I was a member.  Then, becuase it was upside-down, they wanted to charge me $300 an hour to right it.  I agreed, thinking it would only take an hour.   So we boarded their boat and the Coast Guard forced them to take us to shore, since my wife was cold. She was willing to go get my catamaran (what a trooper!).  So after taking me to shore they basically hit me with a $1500 quote to go pickup my boat.  I said I’d settle for $300 since they took us to shore.   After trying to charge me $600, willing to take me to court for it, and two days later, they finally settled on the reasonable price of $300.  I wonder what SeaTow’s service would have been like?

What about the Hobie?
So here I was, back at shore, with no boat.  And my keys were wet, so there was no way of disarming my alarm.  My friend was nowhere to be found, his trailer was there, but his Hobie 18 wasn’t anywhere on the horizon.  I had a cop send a radio call to look for him, and I called….no answer.   Finally, he called back, and had a heck of a story of his own.  Apparently, the storm pitchpoled him forward (this is where the boat does a front flip), and he had his own issues in the storm.  A fishing vessel came by and help him right his boat, and his story is also a good one.   So back on shore, I called my old man, who came with my mom and took us home.  I called my cousin, who had a truck, told him I needed a hand, and he came over to pickup my powerboat.  We all went back to the marina, launched the Chris Craft, and were off to Stiltsville,  to try to recover my Hobie.   By that time, the tide had changed and was coming back in, so I was screwed.  The closer I got to Stiltsville, the worse I felt when I didn’t see a thing in the water.

Floating Bananas
All of a sudden, close to one of the houses, I spot a couple of floating white bananas.  Could it be?!, could my boat actually still be here.   It was.  It was floating right next to one of the houses.  So we docked, and the current was incredible.  I put on a snorkel and went in the water with a rope, in case the current was too strong.  As a swam under the Hobie, I realized why it was still there.  Somebody, maybe the Coast Guard, maybe Fish and Game, but nonetheless, somebody, had tied my boat to a piling!  And while the current was trying to have its way with it, it was hanging on.  I dove to the center of the trampoline where I had strapped a dive knife.  This was just in case of an emergency.  So I tied a rope between boats, and cut it loose from the piling.  Then, using some geometry, leverage, and patience, I swam around organizing the ropes in key places of the cat.  Two people pulled from on top of the house’s platform, and I sat on one of the pontoons.  Together, we managed to flip it over, and it was mostly intact.  After about an hour of organizing rigging, sails, and fighting with the current, we were ready to tow.  Good thing, because the sun was going down, we had no anchor lights, or deck lights on the Chris Craft.

Tangled up
As I carfeully back tracked away from the house, someone forgot to pick up slack on the rope, and it got tangled up with the prop.  Then I hit the throttle instead of putting into neutral.  And the engine shut off.  So now both boats are disabled, and drifting into the flats, and the sun is going down.  After about 45 mins of diving and rope cutting, I finally cut it free, and we were off again.  Towards shore.  The bay was choppy so we had to go slow, about 7-8 mph slow.  Eventually it got dark, and if it weren’t for the final marker blinking red, we would have had to search the shore for the marina entrance.  But it blinked, and I made it back.

Lessons Learned
All in all, I made it home, with all persons, vessels, and trucks by 11:30PM.  I was bruised, beaten, salted, and tired, but relieved.  A few slices of pizza for everyone that helped, and the day was over.  I hugged my wife, who was happy to be alive.  The sea had humbled me, but she didn’t take anything of mine away, so all in all, it was a good day.   So what did I learn from this experience?  There were numerous lessons that I took from it, but here are a few that I can share, and hopefully others can learn the easy way:

1. If it’s stormy, stay close to land.
2. If you flip in bad weather, lower the main, lower the jib, and evaluate the situation.  If it is too windy, wait for the storm to pass, it will always pass.  And when righting the boat, be ready to hold the submerged end down by hanging on to one side, in the case she wants to continue to roll over.


Some of the damages…

May 5 2011

Fishing for Oscars in Cacita Pond

With the 1 week of rest between classes coming to a close, I had to stock up my Aquaponics tank.  With nothing left but 2 Koi’s and an overgrown feeder fish, I needed more meat in the tank.  As planned in my previous post, I wanted to get some Oscars.  Off to the Glades.

My last hike to Cacita revealed lots of fish in this dried up pond.  So after trying to fish with bread by the canals near the Mikosukee Gaming resort, I made a quick run to Dade Corners, who supplied me with a fresh batch of worms.   After trying my luck again with the worms, and striking out, I decided to make a run for Cacita Pond.  An hour later, with 1 clean hour to fish, I made it.  And the result was some Alligator Gar, some Oscars, a couple Bream, and 1 lonesome Bass.  Oh yeah, and a whole lot of peace and quiet.

I stayed there until sundown in order to take a few long exposure shots.  Best one here.   Enough to see the gators come up from the bottom and start moving around.  Then back to civilization.  Here are a few pics of the catches.  I took home 1 Bream and 1 Oscar, which barely made it home, but survived.

Apr 30 2011

Mudding in a Drought?

So, this weekend we decided to give “mudding” a second try.  Except for a few small showers, we haven’t had any rain here in Miami for a couple of months now.  Combine this, with the South Florida Sun, and there is no mud, just moist dirt.  So the question is, “did we go mudding?”. Well, that’s all is perspective I think.  Mudding fanatics take their jacked up 4×4’s and push them to the limit until they get stuck, flooded or break something.  There is no mudding this time of year in Miami, it’s bone dry out there.  Anyone with a truck that can handle some serious mud, may as well be on the pavement.  But for some of us, this means we can take our regular trucks into the woods and see how they handle on soft dirt.

We get stuck, we improvise, we get out, and in the end, feel proud of what we accomplished.  2 2-wheel drive trucks with good tires, and 2 4×4 trucks with city tires, make for a good time.

Apr 30 2011

Watermelon Garden – Week 11

I have completely stopped watering the Watermelon Garden.  Engineering Exams took over my priorities these few weeks.  With nothing but little rain and morning dew, it’s been trying to take over the yard.  See below:

As I was about to chop it back to size, I noticed a few lemon-sized melons growing, so I extended the watermelon patch.  I figured that if the melons formed under these conditions, I’ll continue to ignore the watermelon garden, which is now established.  I believe it will yield baby watermelons until the rainy season, where the big boys will come out.

Apr 21 2011

1993 Chevy Blazer Full Size 5.7L V8 knocking lifter

After an accidental redline, while truck was in Park, a lifter became damaged, and my truck starting knocking.  There are limited parts that can cause knocking, and one can usually identify by the location and tone of the knocking, where it is coming from.  While it was easy to identify that if was a lifter, it is difficult to identify which one without disassembling.   Best practice is replace all of them, while you;re already under the intake manifold.

A hydraulic lifer, typically found on gasoline engines, sits in a shallow pool of oil, and is essentially a mini pump.  In the case of a GM 5.7L V8.  The lifter sits atop the camshaft, and due to the camshafts shape, it’s rotation causes the lifters to move up and down at specific intervals as the camshaft rotates.

Right over the lifter sits the push rod which serves two functions.  It pushed the rocker arm, and also allows the lifter to pump oil into the upper valve heads.  The lifter has a piston inside, and spring, as well as a hold on the bottom end, and a hole on the top end:






The push rod is hollow and allows oil to squirt up through it.  In essence:

The camshaft pushes the lifter up
The lifter pushes the push rod up, while sending a oil through the rod
The rod pushes one side of the rocker arm up as well as dispersing oil
The rocker arm pivots and pushes down on the valve which allows fuel in or exhaust out depending on the valve.

Here’s a short on what my engine sounded like with a failed lifter:



So after hearing the noise, I was all like, “time to identify where it’s coming from”.  The best tool for this is the stethoscope:


By the sound being louder when checking the engine block, versus anything else moving around the engine, one can infer that the problem is within the engine block.   Eliminating any issues caused by the pulleys, belts, or anything being rotated by the engine crank.  The next step is to figure out if the noise if closer to the top or bottom of the engine, this can be done by listening to the engine block, then valve covers, then oil pan.

In this instance, the location and frequency of the sound, identified the problem as one of the lifters.  Usually the lifter’s spring will fail, or the bottom will fail, creating enough slack that camshaft “knocks” the lifter into the push rod.


The lifters on the 5.7L are located beneath the intake manifold.  So the valve covers, intake manifold, distributor, and heads must be removed to access the lifters.  This is a good time to check for other problems and refurbish the heads.  This is basically known as an upper engine rebuild.  The engine does not have to be removed.  I didn’t do it, but I probably should have.  Here are some pics for reference.    Please note that for the distributor pic the engine is in TDC (top dead center).  This means that the number 1 piston is all the way up and in firing position.  Also, when removing the distributor, it is normal to see it rotate a good 45 degrees counterclockwise on it’s way up.  The same must be reversed when it is installed.  This is due to the fact that the gear at the end of the distributor is a helical gear.

Apr 15 2011

Finding Cacita

When most people in Miami think of hunting, they think of driving to a hunt club, lease, or outfitter in North Florida, Georgia, etc.

Not me. I was taken as a young lad down Tamiami trail mainly into Loop Unit for the first time about 14 years ago. I remember telling my dad, “there’s no way that there are deer in here”. And about 30 minutes later, heard a big splashing follows by trotting away. I was hooked.

I remember one day while sloshing through we found a trail which led to a camp. Complete with two bunk beds. There were subtrails leadin to a swamp, a hammock, etc. There were welded tree stands about 60 feet up on dead trees. This was obviously a hunting camp used for years, when vehicles were allowed to roam the loop.

This place was only 1.5 miles in, but it was the longest hike through swamp and cypress to get there. It was our own secret spot, which someone else had abandoned. I ad seen deer there while camping and hunting, but we never caught one. We always wondered how we were going to drag a buck out of here, but never got the chance.

One day, while scouting, we found about 12 different tirds in about a 10ft x 10ft area. There were thick, and smelly, and looked like human feces, soft in the shape of a big Hershey kiss. I apologize for being so detailed, but to this day am unable to identify the animal that did that. Our best guess was bears. And that’s when the place got it’s name…Cacita. Pronounced cah-cay-ta in English. It’s a nickname for caca.

So now, 10 years since going Cacita, having the coordinates, I wanted to go back and check it out. A previous expedition last year led to lots of fallen trees and no sign of the trail, which was blazed pink (or faded hunter orange). I tried follow te coordinates, but ran out of water, and rain was creeping up.

So last weekend, I was able to recruit a buddy who was facinated with tales of this mystical place, and a scouting expedition was planned. We loaded up on water, got to the edge of a hammock, and pointed straight for the coordinates. After 5 hours of sun, green briar, fallen trees, and the thickest brush I’ve ever had to machete through, to travel about a mile, I saw a shotgun shell on the floor (Sign of human!!!). Follow by a single spray marking. We rested, and then looked for more markings….nothing.

Nothing but thick brush in evey direction, I may conclude that in 10 years, the Everglades has fully devoured Cacita. And it can only be found in my childhood memories, and those of my father. I may try again to find those bunk beds, but not in the near future.

Apr 15 2011

Aquaponics in the Yard Week 10

About the Aquaponics. This is about the time where I move on to something else. Lately it’s been hiking and engineering mainly. But to touch base on the Aquaponics subject.

I threw a few dozen feeders in the tank which died over a period of 3 weeks again. Instead of removng them, I left them in there, to make the wate super nutrite-rich for the plants. The green pepper seemed to be the only one to enjoy it.

At this pont, the only plants that I can call success with this deep water nutrient technique was the cilantro and definitely the mint, which seem to so well in any system for that matter.

The lettuce was also a success. I am going to change the system now. I plan to plug the current drain, and begin to drain the PVC lower. Thus creating a nutrient film this time.

I may also use a timer versus the constant flowing system. I beliee this will make the strawberries happier and reduce rotting.

So next on the menu,
Drill a hole to drain the system almost completely. Put a timer. Increase the oxygen pump. Change the fish to oscars (while giving away the Koi).

Apr 15 2011

Human Mammal, Human Hunter – Attenborough – Life of Mammals –

What a hunt.