A bit of chilly weather in Friday Harbor

It’s been roughly 10 days since I returned to Beetle after visiting Arizona and California, and it was high time to finish up the Webasto heater replacement – it can get chilly up this way in the San Juan Islands and it would be a good thing to have an operational heater should that happen. The original Webasto DBW2010 hydronic heater had worked well for 17 years, but unfortunately it died when the coolant fluid turned acidic and ate the internal aluminum double-boiler parts of the heater.


This is what happens when coolant in a hydronic heater turns acidic and interacts with aluminum – the coolant eats through the aluminum and you get a nasty mess.

The heater has worked wonderfully for quite a while, particularly when in San Francisco, and once I figured out the damage was terminal I wanted to replace it.  Don’t order a German-built bus heater in August – everybody in Germany seems to be on vacation at that time.  I didn’t receive the heater until October, and upon further inspection decided it was a good idea to replace the stainless steel exhaust line as well – that took another four weeks to sort through and obtain (kudos to National Marine Exhaust for coming up with a solid, flexible corrugated stainless steel line with custom-welded end fittings – Scott is a is a good guy to work with).

I also decided to rotate the heater installation 180 degrees to facilitate inspecting the interior of the heater when the burner-head is opened up and I can peer inside.  That decision meant building a new soundproofing box; a day with the table saw at the barn and I was able to use up some leftover baltic birch marine plywood, glue it together with resin and then it was off on my holiday excursions; heater would have to wait.

I got back mid-January, immediately picked up where I left off and tabbed together the box with 10 oz. fiberglass and epoxy, sanded the result smooth, and got back to the boat in Friday Harbor (the work was happening over on Orcas Island, which is a totally different place).


Test-fitting the heater in the new box with sound proofing surround. Everything fit well, which is a good thing. I must have put the holes through the bottom of the box in the right places…


More test-fits in place in the transom, it’s going to work out much better than the original installation – this time I can swing open the black end of the heater and look inside.

It took another four days to sort through the exhaust line run (have to keep hot metal exhaust tubing away from fiberglass hull bits), wrap the line with 2″ glass exhaust wrap (a thermal blanket material), re-build the first couple feet of coolant hose due to the change in heater orientation,  cut and install the 1-1/2″ sound proofing material in the box, bolt everything together, and hook up the electrical circuits – only SureMarine had forgotten to send one particular wire, which was an important bit as this wire goes from the Webasto control box to the coolant pump and without it the pump doesn’t run and you don’t get heat…  I had the wire from the old heater back at the barn on Orcas and that was another day run-around to fetch.

Got it all working Sunday afternoon.  Sunday night everything froze in Friday Harbor, I was super lucky to get the system up and running just in time.  A significant Low pressure system moved through the area, some rain, lots of wind, and immediately behind the Low the N and NE breeze filled in, bringing nice chilled air from our pals up north in Canada – they have cold air and apparently decided to share some with us less fortunate folks to the south.  And then it started to alternate light snow and light hail for several hours – the snow was fun, the hail not so much.  Temperatures dropped to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the water started to freeze – now I have an idea of what it means when the weatherfax calls for ‘Heavy Freezing Spray’ – not fun at all.

The USCG came in off the water and tied up their 90′ cutter on the outside of the breakwater (I’m on the inside) and proceeded to get thumped against the dock all night long while the wind cranked up to 35 gusting 40 knots, salt spray going clear across the dock and over Beetle.  In the morning the cutter tried to leave and found their dock lines were frozen solid and had to be broken up to become flexible enough to snake through the hawse pipes.

Here is a short bit of video from the companionway come morning; the sun is up, the grey clouds are gone, no rain, what you can’t tell from the picture is the temperature is below freezing at 25F and the wind is 25 gusting 30.  The short chop is kicking up spray going over the boat, but not as often as it was during the night.  And that’s 1/2″ thick saltwater ice on the concrete dock.

By afternoon the backed way off, and the following morning there was lots of ice hanging out and it’s still below freezing.  I went for a walk around the marina and there was very little damage to the facilities but a lot of ice hanging about.


This is frozen salt water on the metal railings of the dock Beetle is tied to. Not easy to freeze salt water, and it doesn’t seem to thaw quickly, either.  Much calmer today, eh?

I’m very happy to have the big Webasto heater going while here in Friday Harbor.  The DBW 2010 is a 42,000 BTU heater; a 1500 watt electric plug-in heater produces 5000 BTU, running the Webasto is the same as having eight electric heaters all going at once.  Keeps the toes toasty when it’s extra cold outside.

Weather should be good (but chilly) for a couple of days, and then the next Low pressure plays through.  Meanwhile Seattle has lots of snow on the ground, something we didn’t get up here.

– rob & Beetle

[Note: a video embedded in a post is something I haven’t tried out before, therefore I do not know what the best mechanism is – I just hope this isn’t trying to run in Adobe Flash for starters…  something to experiment with over time]


Fun with datamatrix barcode labels for small insect collections

And now for something completely unlike cruising with Beetle – making small machine-readable unique identifier labels for pinned insect specimens in your collection.  I’ve been poking at this for several days and have come up with a small C-program that does the trick while relying heavily on a freely-available barcode generating program (Zint) and a freely-available text layout program that can handle vector graphic files (XeLaTex).


The labels are rather small, at 6mm x 18mm. The 2D datamatrix barcode, even at that size, is readable using a cell phone’s camera and a software-based barcode reader. Labels are cut from the archival paper with an X-Acto knife (note: this is a test sample, not using archival paper and archival ink).

Natural History museums are working on digitization projects in order to present their holdings and associated data to researchers and the general public through online means.  Prior to the online presentation of insect specimen images and data, the only way one could see what was in a collection was to visit the collection yourself or have specimens shipped to you.  It’s expensive to visit a museum that is not nearby, and shipping specimens through the Post is hard on the specimens. So how to make a collection more accessible while managing risk?  Turns out that images and label data placed online does rather well for entomological collections.

As an example, the LA County Museum of Natural History has (today) roughly 5.8 million specimens housed in their research collection; if you walked in the front door as a museum visitor you could go to the insect display and see several hundred interesting specimens – all the other specimens are elsewhere in the main research collection facility.  University research collections such as the Essig Collection at UC Berkeley or the Hasbrouck Collection at Arizona State University aren’t really museums and don’t have public displays; these collections can have a public presence and increased scientific value through the web. The digitization and publication of research collections makes the data available to all.  Two significant projects involving entomological collections are SCAN (Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network) which both a place to maintain your own data as well as collecting various digitized collections including Hasbrouck into one portal – a collection of collections, as it were, and the CalBug project digitizing eight large California collections (including Essig).


The Zeiss V.20 stereo microcope in the Friday Harbor Lab Imaging Center (a small closet containing some amazing equipment). I’m able to utilize the microscope and camera through friend Adam at FHL.

I have a particular interest in what folks are doing with insect imagery, partly because I have my own small Leica MS5 microscope with a phototube that will mount the Nikon DSLR, and being at Friday Harbor I have access to two wonderful instruments: a Zeiss V.20 stereo microscope which is essentially state of the art with planapochromatic optics, and a tabletop scanning electron microscope.  Both are amazing to work with, letting one visualize surface details that would otherwise be invisible.  Plus, they take pictures.


The tabletop SEM at the lab. The specimen goes in the small drawer where the two white knobs are (the knobs control the stage inside the drawer). A specimen is set on the stage, the drawer closed, two vacuum pumps start up and pull down to a vacuum to get the air molecules out of the way, the electron beam starts up and you can see what’s going on inside the SEM on the adjacent display.



Tachinidae fly as viewed from in front on the Zeiss stereomicroscope and camera. This image is prepared from 200 separate images across a 2mm depth of field, each one taken at .01 mm focus steps, then z-stacked together. This is the sort of thing I can do with the Zeiss instrument.



SEM closeup of bristles extending from the second foreleg tarsal segment of a Cerambycidae beetle, at a magnification factor of 1000x. It’s interesting to see that the surface cuticle is not a continuous sheet but instead made of up plates, and that the bristles themselves have swirling ridges.

After taking such an image, how does one tie the image back to the specimen?  When a typical dissection is done, such as removing moth genitalia for inspection, the material is then placed back into a microvial filled with glycerine, and the microvial is placed back on the pin with the specimen – the pin keeps all the pieces together.  That doesn’t work so well when folks take pictures of specimens and store data remotely from the pin in a computer.

To solve the puzzle of keeping it all together, the first thing to do is somehow uniquely identify each specimen in a collection – something nobody did prior to the digitization processes got rolling.  If you had a unit tray of Cuterebra flies you might know how many specimens were in the tray, you might even know they were all the same species, but you would never write a tiny number on each label to uniquely distinguish one specimen from all the others in that  tray.  With digitization that changed, as now one can create a photograph of a specimen with a digital camera, transcribe the label information into a database, make that data available online – but that information is only useful if it can be tracked back to the individual specimen. That’s where the idea of printing a unique number onto a tiny label and affixing it to the pin beneath the specimen became an attractive solution.  Add to that the machine-readable barcode representation of the unique identifier simplifies reading the label while minimizing data entry error, and collections can start to uniquely identify each and every specimen in their entire collection.  With projects such as SCAN online institutions can affordably make the data available.  A barcode scanner isn’t even a critical component as the unique identifier is also printed as text right there on the label, you can read it yourself.


My test printed barcode label in place on the pin of the gold-covered Cerambycidae, the specimen from which the SEM image was obtained.  This is a field box of various mounted specimens on its way to my own collection.

Institutions with some funding and/or resources to draw from have purchased barcode software, special printers, or had the labels made for them.  For the private collection it would be nice to do something less expensive, particularly as there isn’t necessarily an economy of scale involved – it’s not as easy to generate and print your own unique identifier barcode labels, certainly not as easy as using MS Word to create the locality labels; so I sat down and wrote a small C-program that does that, calling freely-available software (Zint to generate the barcode and XeLaTex to format the label).  If anyone would like the C-program, here it is as a .zip file:  make_barcodes along with instructions on how to make it work.  This is my first work on this, the program runs and generates .PDF files that I can print.  There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it is a start.

– rob





A week at Westsound, Orcas Island

It’s nice to be back.  Westsound Marina continues to be run by Ian and Betsy Wareham, a most pleasant marina and small boat yard on Orcas Island that was started by their father and the kids have continued the business.  Betsy runs the chandlery and the manages the marina, Ian operates the boat yard and does all sorts of marine repairs, fixes motors, paints boat bottoms, you name it he’s probably already fixed one.  Slips are at a premium in the relatively small marina, my Dad keeps his boat there and he was able to find a spot for his powerboat such that I could use his slip for Beetle.  Beetle will be there for a couple of weeks and then will shift across to Friday Harbor for the winter.,  I telephoned the Friday Harbor folks and turns out the off-season starts September 15 (originally I was told September 1 – which would be odd as that’s prior to the big Labor Day weekend), and to bring Beetle over to the guest dock that day to set up for the winter moorage and liveaboard, plus there’s a place to keep the truck there as well.  The interisland ferry that runs between Friday Harbor and Orcas is relatively inexpensive at $18 round trip for car & driver, no charge for walk-ons (you are only charged in one direction, the return trip is included in the cost of the ferry ticket).

Being back here also means various details of crashing back into a “normal” lifestyle: getting car insurance for the pickup truck, re-registering Beetle with the state of Washington, having an address that UPS and US Postal Service will deliver to without complaint, updating boat insurance to include the marina, and doing repair work on the property at Orcas (installed replacement deck boards on a portion of the barn’s exterior deck, repainting the barn is up next, intermixed with log splitting for the wood-fired hot tub).  The pickup truck is running well, which is a great as it will get used while I’m here on island.

Beetle came through the run from Kauai with no damage, and I’m particularly pleased that the new standing rigging did not stretch during the trip and did not require re-tuning mid-ocean.  I expect that tuning the rig in relatively high winds off Waikiki had something to do with that, plus I’m using compact strand ‘Dyform’ wire which stretches significantly less than 1×19 wire.  Upshot is the mast remained in column and didn’t require adjustment along the way.  The solent furler setup works wonderfully, making it super simple to change gears as the wind changes – swapping out from the no. 4 to the no. 2 was as simple as possible and being simple and easy means the change is likely to be made – no more beating up the no. 2 in slightly too much wind!

On the local front I’m going to join the Orcas Island Yacht Club as this creates access to reciprocal privileges at other yacht clubs.  I asked Betsy (she’s the OIYC race officer) if I could join, she said, ‘Sure! Fill out the form and I’ll sign off as a sponsor.’  So I did, filled it out, walked over to the chandlery and she signed off as Sponsor 1; I asked whom else I might know that would be Sponsor 2 and she said, ‘Ian will!’ and wrote him in as the second sponsor.  I must remember to thank Ian for doing this even though he has no idea he’s the second sponsor.  Next up is to attend the Club’s salmon barbecue on September 19th and that fulfills the application requirement of attending a club event where the new person gets introduced around.

Other thing I did was visit the UW Medical Clinic in Eastsound to have my right foot and ankle looked at; it’s been not happy since the day after setting the spinnaker in the ridge up to the High, the foot swelled up making walking around the boat difficult, and when the swelling went away there was still a fairly good pain in the center of the foot just below the inner ankle bone that protrudes out as a knob.  The doctor checked out the foot, no sign of gout or arthritis, nothing obviously broken, so either I had tweaked some of the soft tissue or had created an avulsion fracture where something joins the bone.  X-rays were shot two days later when the x-ray tech was available (it’s a small island, we’re lucky to have an X-ray machine and someone that knows how to operate it), and yesterday the radiologist telephoned to let me know that there was nothing wrong with the bone structure and recommended rest, ice, and compression – let the ankle heal itself.  So while I may have used two hands for the run from Kauai to Orcas, I definitely single-footed the second half of that trip.  Looks like something got out of whack in the area at the top of the arch on the underside of the foot, closer to the inside of the ankle.  The foot has been improving a lot, perhaps from being able to walk around (which is not easy to do on the boat), and it’s much better at weight bearing.  Hopefully in a couple of weeks more everything will be sorted out and fine.

It’s Tuesday morning, time to get some things done at the property, then over to Beetle to continue working on the boat diet.  Beetle has too much stuff stashed away on board, I’ve been moving through the lockers and finding things that I’m not using or didn’t use, and Beetle is floating noticeably higher in the water!  I’ve also been scrubbing away with the boat brush attached to the long handle boat hook, removing the green algae growth that has plagued the water line, knocking off the wonderfully dark red/brown dirt from Hanalei that made it all the way across the pond, along with the newly-grown gooseneck barnacles that manage to cling to boats even when they’re moving along smartly.  Whatever ‘glue’ the gooseneck barnacles use would make amazing underwater glue – apparently folks are studying how the barnacles do this, as there are various papers on the protein-based ‘cement’ the barnacles create.  Perhaps ‘Barnacle Cement’ will replace ‘Gorilla Glue’ as the strong adhesive of choice.

Enjoy the day!

– rob

Arrived Port Angeles last night

Good morning, I’ve had another super night’s continuous sleep on board Beetle, now happily tied up to the breakwater guest dock in Port Angeles, which is at the eastern end of the Strait.  It’s a quiet morning, it was a mostly quiet night except for what I believe are the ship support boats running in and out to the tankers anchored out in the bay.  These are relatively short metal crew boats at maybe 30 feet that ran in and out at least until I went to sleep at 9pm.  And the tanker furthest into the bay departed late yesterday, tugs and things to help them get out and going.

Turns out the two Polar tankers (painted bright blue) are Conoco boats and are double-hulled ice class tankers that run up to Valdez and back.  At least one of them looked like it had twin rudders, one to each side, which made it look like an Open 60 on steroids at the stern end.  I’ve not seen that on a tanker before.  So if you should happen across a bright blue tanker with full width enclosed wing bridges (it gets cold up north!), you’re probably looking at one of those ships.

Plan for the morning is to get fuel at the fuel dock, and they have had in the past a discount for paying cash.  I have $300 still in the bank wrappers remaining in US $1 bill stash for Mexico (clearly I used the other $300 in Mexico) and hopefully that will make the fuel dock happy, though I’m not sure they’ll want to count out all the cash.  I’ll take on the order of 65 gallons diesel into the tanks, and I’m not going to fill the jerry jugs – don’t need that diesel sitting on deck cooking in the sun here in the San Juans.

Then  I’ll motor across to the pass between San Juan Island and Lopez Island and on up to Orcas.

The hop down from Neah Bay went well, up and out easily and by 9AM was running along down the Strait.  It was foggy at first but I could see the shoreline, with pea soup fog towards the center that hid all the ship traffic in the shipping lanes (I ran to the south of the lanes).  An hour out the sun burned through along the shoreline and I had bright sun, a wall of fog behind me, a wall of fog in front of me, and thicker fog to the north – I had my own little spot of sunshine.  That spot stayed with me for another hour and then I drove into the forward fog and had that the next 35 miles to Port Angeles; I had an excellent opportunity to observe fog from the inside – it all looks about the same, white with a glow of sun from above.

The fog finally did lift two miles out of Port Angeles and there were the three big tankers anchored there all in a row, nose to stern, filling up the rather large bay.  My guess is this is a regular occurrence as a place to stash your ship when it’s not needed.  All three boats had their radars running and that makes me believe they have a manned bridge and radio presence at all times, even while sitting still.

That’s the up to the minute news, the day is getting going, the harbor master should be here in half an hour and I can visit with him, pay for the night, and work out shifting over to the fuel dock.

– rob

Landfall and Neah Bay

It’s now afternoon here in Neah Bay, a nice anchorage and marina located just inside Cape Flattery – it’ the first place you can easily stop on the way in (if you’re coming in on the US side – I don’t know what Canada might have to offer over on Vancouver Island).

The trip around the corner from Tatoosh Island at the tip of Cape Flattery took a long time, partly that was intentional as I did not want to hit something in the water with Beetle going fast, and it was black outside last night so it’s something of a game of russian roulette as to whether or not you hit something. Fortunately, we didn’t hit anything. Unfortunately the fog came in and visibility was less than 200′ for most of the night. I was not looking forward to driving in to a new harbor (to me) in the fog and never see anything, but that’s what I had. At least the wind stayed down at 6-8 knots which made it easy to motor along slowly through the night and fog.

Shortly after dawn I was perhaps three miles from Neah Bay and the fog lifted just enough make out the trees on the nearby shoreline – far out! At least it wouldn’t be a blind entry via radar and chart plotter. It’s always nice to visually connect the dots with your own eye balls.

There were a couple of salmon trollers going along slowly just outside Neah Bay, and three small sport fishing boats tooling about the flat water doing the same thing, chasing the elusive fish. The turn in to the bay was straight forward and it’s a rather nice place, at least today – very quiet and peaceful. Of course it’s also not howling through here, and it’s a Sunday; maybe it’s a lot busier on a weekday?

I got the fenders out, set up dock lines, dropped the main and came on in to the long guest dock, which later I was informed is actually for commercial boats – they wanted me to move to a regular slip in case a commercial boat came in, I asked to just stay where I was and they are letting me do that.

After tying up I went to sleep for four hours and slept great. It was also too quiet on board, made me miss the engine running! But I persevered and got in some good sleep.

Plan for tomorrow is to up and out for Port Angeles. Obtaining fuel here in Makah Marina is something of a run-about, in that I have to go to the Mini-Mart a fair ways down the road to let them know I want fuel, they send an attendant down to the fuel dock, I move Beetle over to the fuel dock, do the fueling, then put Beetle back on the guest dock and go back to the Mini-Mart. Seems a bit excessive, particularly as the Port Angeles fuel dock is all of 20′ from the guest dock, and you don’t have to go anywhere to pay for the fuel – the register is right there on the fuel dock. I do have 22 gallons in the day tank which is plenty of fuel to run down to Port Angeles in the morning, so that’s the plan.

One odd thing is AT&T does not have a presence in Neah Bay, but Verizon is here. As all my stuff is AT&T, none of my stuff works. And I can’t figure out how to make the Note 8 tell me which phone carrier it’s connected to, let alone which data carrier it’s connected to – which means I can’t connect to Canada if I wanted to. The Canadian cellular towers seem to have much stronger signals than US towers, which means often the stronger signal is from Vancouver across the Strait. it’s the little things, eh?

All is well, nice to be in off the ocean. Looking forward to a most excellent full night’s sleep and be up and running in the morning.

– rob/beetle

Landfall – Vancouver island firtst visible thing

That was interesting – Vancouver Island was the first thing to come up visually today; hadn’t expected that. With the clear air visibility is on the order of 80 miles, and that’s when what looked like snow on a mountain began to stand out from underneath a band of high white clouds. Now I’m 60- miles out and it’s easy to distinguish the various peaks up that way. Looks like I can also pick up portions of Washington, not sure which yet.

One thing I do fairly often is to check the AIS receiver to see if there are any targets about. Normal answer is ‘0’. I just checked and there are ‘114’ targets now – egad! Where did they all come from? Turns out the VHF antenna is picking up the traffic up in Portland, plus everybody tucked in behind the Ucluth Peninsula on Vancouver. There in fact is only one AIS target out here, a Class B salmon fishing boat that is motoring slowly off to the SW from my position. If the boat type is ‘fishing’ and SOC is 2.7 – you know they are trolling for salmon.

I’m surprised at how cold I think it is – I’m all bundled up and have been sitting out in the sun like a lizard on a hot rock soaking up as much heat as possible. I’m not sure it is helping. As I intend to overwinter in the San Juans on Beetle, I have a suspicion the first purchase I make is an electric blanket!

I’m about 35 miles from turning the corner into the Strait, there’s relatively little shipping out here and that’s nice. One of the big guys just went by three miles off, he’s southbound. And the number of small fishing boats has declined, it’s down to three of them and only one is in the area.

Goal is to have a quiet evening on Beetle and creep on in slowly; I’d like to be 15 miles off the cape at midnight, so far that looks reasonable, and then a slow jog around to Neah Bay.

VHF is on local mode, squelch turned way up, volume way up – if anyone keys the mike they should be nearby and make a pretty good racket in the cabin. AIS alarms are working, radar alarms are sometimes working. Feeling pretty good now, got in a two hour continuous sleep after the radio net.

Enjoy the evening!

current position
58 14’N 125 33’W course 072T speed 4.7k
distance to cape flattery: 33 miles (yeah team!)

– rob

Saturday morning and motoring towards Neah Bay

Good morning, it’s 2:43AM boat time, which is 5:43AM local time, which is 1243 UTC today. Lots of clocks get going in different time zones when moving across lots of longitudes. Today I’m going to reset the clocks to be local time, as I’m more or less local now.

The morning has begun well by discovering Beetle had managed to sail a decent portion of the distance to Cape Flattery while I saw sleeping, even as the breeze has been dying off. Good Beetle! I rolled up the no. 2, brought the main more on centerline, did a quick calculation as to boat speeded to arrive at Neah Bay at dawn on Sunday (answer: 4.4k). Started up the motor, triple-checked that there were no lines overboard in the water, engaged the transmission and we’ve been slowly tooling along through the dark at 4.7k.

It’s just before 6AM local time and that’s now enough light to see what’s around me. There’s definitely a fishing fleet out here, they’ve been showing up on radar, some have AIS (class B), all have had lights. They are just drifting around the ocean, which makes me think they are longliners that have had their gear out for the night and will be picking it up today, perhaps for another set tonight.

The water is not quite glassy-smooth, there are faint ripples on the surface to remind one that there is wind, just not very much. 3-5 knots at the moment, according to the instruments.

I went back to sleep and have now reset the clocks, it is 8:54AM boat time. The ocean has gone glassy, wind at 0-1 knot, Beetle is tooling along across the water. Saw two of the boats on the water, they are definitely longliners out running about checking their gear now. Days like this must be really nice for those boats, the crew doesn’t have to contend with swells riding into the boat as they work the line.

It’s definitely chilly, despite being in a High here off Washington. And 100% overcast grey cloud base. No squalls,though! I need to get fenders and dock lines ready for tomorrow morning’s arrival in Neah Bay, put away sailing gear and all the extra running rigging that has found its way ondeck over the past 18 days. Nice to almost be in. And the day tank is filled up and I’ve got plenty of fuel – no issues there.

Enjoy the morning!

current position
47 56’N x 126 55’W course 071T speed 4.7k
distance to cape flattery 91 miles, and then another 9 around to Neah Bay

– rob/beetle

– rob