Rolling up to Channel Islands Harbor this morning

Good morning – Beetle is out and about on the big pond, trundling along San Pedro Channel, Palo Verdes (not sure about the spelling) 15 miles off the starboard beam, wind is light at 4-6 knots and seas are 2-3 feet from the west. Cats are harnessed up and doing their usual behavior – one on deck under the dodger and the other hiding under the aft bunk bedding.

Had good fortune yesterday with Keith’s engine belt – turns out that one of my spare belts did fit and that is installed now. The clearance around the raw water pump body and the big frame Balmar alternator and the engine manifold is minimal and it kind of takes exactly the correct length belt to get a fit without hitting equipment. The belt I gave him is 5mm longer than the old one that broke, so he’s going to look for exactly the right belt but in the meantime he has a motor and all is good.

I went for a third dive at Indian Rock yesterday afternoon and came across a good size Bat Ray laying on the sand and working his fins to create a suction against the sand that uprooted material and exposed animals underneath – presumably that was lunch for him. A bunch of small fishes were clustered just aft of the Bat Ray and were feeding on anything that the ray unearthed that he didn’t eat. Interesting to watch for a bit, then the ray noticed me and he headed off.

In the early evening Keith swung by with his wife after meeting her up at the ferry landing, and they invited Kristen and I over for sundowners on their boat. Most pleasant, traded good stories, a most pleasant evening. Then back to Beetle to finish stowing the boat for the 54 mile run today up to Channel Islands Harbor. The visit to Emerald Bay was a good success!

Forecast is for light and variable this morning, possibly going to 10 knots from the west this afternoon. The sea is flat enough without much wind wave chop that we might spot some Blue Shark fins, that would be fun. Currently the tuna lure is back in the water, we’re powering along and getting a nice little push from the current.

– rob

Underwater critters at Emerald Bay

I did two dives yesterday, and there were some fun animals to run across. The water has been quite calm here in the lee of Catalina (wind is light from the south-west, the island is therefore a great wind block), and the water is mostly clear; it’s fun to get up in the morning and watch the fishes go about their morning ablutions followed up by breakfast.

Late last night the sailboat Serenity, anchored in Emerald Bay, reported a flare sighting out over the ocean to the USCG. Turns out the Coast Guard was already flying a search on our side of the island and the orange helicopter flew by while the pilot talked with Serenity about the flare, direction, height, color – and then headed off in the direction of the sighting. LA Baywatch also had a boat out, they were asked to run out two miles on that heading to see if anything could be found. Haven’t heard any reports today on the radio about last night’s activity, it was interesting to listen in on how the helicopter pilots communicate with their base, the boat, and the Baywatch counterparts. I looked a bit this morning and found that USCG has two helicopters based at Los Angeles International Airport – makes sense to keep their machines there given all the infrastructure available – such as landing pads.

Keith stopped by yesterday afternoon to discuss engine belts, he had found one at Isthmus but it was too narrow and too long – so no go. I have internet here on R16 mooring that he doesn’t have on the inner row – we must be just far enough out to see the antenna in Isthmus. So he came over and we researched belts, then telephoned a couple of car parts stores in Long Beach – the belt he needs is in Phoenix, not here. Rats! He said I could catch a ride with him to the ferry landing (and general store) when he goes in today. Hopefully we can have sundowners with them this evening.

Below are some pictures of fun critters seen yesterday.

Can you spot the fish?
He’s here. Amazing camoflauge for a small flat fish. It’s most interesting that he’s holding/standing on the bottom with the rays of his fins.
There are Pyrosomes all over the place, and the Garibaldi fish munch away on them – leaving small circular holes in the tunicate’s test.
A Pyrosome is difficult to take a picture of as they are so translucent the camera isn’t able to determine focus. Turns out if you pick one up and set it up backlit in the water column you can get a photo of one. They are rather pretty from this direction.
Came across an extra-colorful spiny fish hiding on a rocky ledge – he tried his best to blend in and refused to budge. When I got too close he raised his dorsal fin to expose the spines. My guess is the spines are hollow and contain a poison that would be uncomfortable to whatever wants to eat it (or step on it).
An interesting tube worm case poking up from the sea floor. Visibility was fairly good during the dives, though not as crystal-clear as it was in November.
A tube worm with all his tubes out – at least that’s what I think this is. Could be a sea anenome but those usually have flexible tubes, this one seemed to be in a fixed case.

This interesting fish likes to hide in the seaweed with his head pointed down, and would twists and move his body and tail to follow the swaying of his surroundings as they moved with the water.
If you wait long enough he will shift from place to place, and then you can easily spot the fish. Might be some kind of kelp wrasse, something to go look up!

Enjoy the day!

– rob

Around to Emerald Bay for clear water

We woke up yesterday morning and took a look at the suspended sediment in the waters of Cat Harbor and decided that we’d prefer the clear waters of Emerald Bay around on the other side of the island. After a brief discussion with the cats, who thought that donning their harnesses for the run around West End would be a really bad idea, we harnessed up the cats, stowed the dinghy on deck, dropped the mooring and headed out for a 12 mile hop around to Emerald.

I spoke with the Harbor Patrol via cell phone (good coverage inside Cat Harbor) and they said no problem shifting moorings, just give a call on VHF 09 when we arrived. I had received a note from Nic, whom it turns out more or less helps manage the Harbor Patrol activities, that the mooring we wanted was R-16 right at Indian Rock and to check with Aaron as he was out on the patrol boat and he’d set us up right. There’s good diving there, and Nic mentioned a wall dive up beside Alpha mooring row that was an easy dinghy across Emerald. All looked good!

I first met Nic in La Paz, Mexico – he’s a wonderful fellow, a dive master, and works Catalina Island during the summer then heads to Mexico on his boat for the winter. He stopped by for a sundowner on Beetle and shared some of his local knowledge with us.
The west side of Catalina Island, approaching Cat Harbor. The island is mostly vertical cliffs, large rock falls, with tiny rocky beaches at the water’s edge where the swell breaks into surf. Not an easy place to make a landing.
Nibs in his harness – the cats are on harnesses and tethered into the boat such that a) we can find them by following the leash, and more importantly b) to keep them away from the quadrant steering cables. It would be a bad thing if a cat got a tail or paw caught up in the quadrant – so the harness keeps them safe. Nibs is normally found burrowed under the aft bunk bedding when the boat is moving.
This is NumNuts’ preferred spot, on top of the clutch bank starboard side under the dodger. Here he’s not wearing his harness as we’re on the mooring at Indian Rock.

Weather is remaining calm and pleasant, didn’t see much in the way of marine life en route, and it is quite deep close to the island. Catalina is a particularly rocky place, with lots of prickly pear cactus. We met up with Aaron and he said there was no lessee on R-16 so we could certainly have the mooring for several days (we wouldn’t get kicked off if the ‘owner’ of the mooring came in), and he said we now had the best seats in the house!

Turns out he’s correct, we’re nose-in to Indian Rock with the mooring ball set so close (perhaps 15 feet away) from the rocks you need to be careful not to overshoot the mooring wand pick-up and poke the bow into the rocks. The Scouts are busy in the bay, they have a fairly large facility here with lots of kids kayaking around, paddling canoes, scouting for Garibaldi fishes. Two 100 foot training/school tall ships were here, the Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson – they had lots of clothes drying on lines slung under the spars and quite a few studets learning about life on a tall ship as they operated the boats.

Difficult to get much closer to a dive site than this. The mooring is set shallow at the bow and rather deep off the stern, with a weighted polypropylene “sand line” running between the two hawsers that keep the boat in place. Nic is diving one of the bottom weights today to repair worn shackles and chain as needed – the moorings are heavily used on the island and therefore receive a lot of maintenance.

Kristen got her SUP up and about, I put together the dive gear, and a fellow dinghied over to ask if I was Rob, as he had a problem with his motor running too hot and Nic had told him (Keith, it turns out) to look over at the R16 mooring and if Tiger Beetle was there he should check with Rob about going under the boat to inspect the engine raw water intake thru-hull to see if there was a bag or seaweed sucked up inside. Keith is a very pleasant person, we went over to check the engine, and turns out he has essentially the same motor I do on his rather nicely appointed Catalina 40; he leases the mooring he’s on, keeps his fancy RIB at Isthmus as it’s too heavy to pick up onto his boat, and has known Nic for a while. In talking through the overheating problem it became clear the raw water system had to be fine so we opened up the engine compartment, pulled the belt cover off and there was the culprit – the engine belt hung off the motor in shredded loops. The bummer was the engine mechanic had just been on Keith’s boat three weeks prior to verify the motor was all set, determined the belt did not need replacement, and gave Keith the wrong spare belt; the belt would work for the stock engine alternator but not the big Balmar hi-output alternator mounted in place. We went back to Beetle to see if any of my belts would fit but none did. Keith’s wife is an actress and is “over town” (meaning on the mainland) where she’s auditioning for a part, she’s due back in Isthmus Saturday – so she might be able to grab a belt on the way back or else Keith will have one brought in, though I don’t know how that would work.. probably involves Nic in some way. Fun to meet new people out here on the water!

Sunrise from Emerald Bay. It was extra calm this morning, a most pleasant place to wake up.

Plan for today is do a couple of dives, there are lots of fishes in the water I can see from the deck, Kristen will be out on her paddle board – and the cats have already received their morning meal. The weather forecast continues to call for mellow conditions, we should have some nice days here.

– rob

A pleasant time at Cat Harbor

It’s Wednesday later in the afternoon, friend Nic from Iolanthe is due to stop by later on for sundowners, and all is well in the world. Well, except for the Holding Tank Episode, which will require resolving next week when Beetle is near a proper pumpout station. In the meantime we are making do just fine.

The day started out with a good night’s sleep, which was nice as we didn’t have anywhere we needed to be or travel or go or anything – just hang out. So I was up late at 7AM, the cats instantly mobbed me and I gave them food and they un-mobbed me to eat their grub, then went back and lay down on top of Kristen. She was unimpressed with this behavior, but they refuse to lay down on top of Rob. Works for me.

Haley, one of the harbor patrol folks, has her boat here on the same mooring row and we watched her do the run about thing to help out folks on their moorings. We decided to inspect what it was that was not possibly working with the head, turns out that when I thought I was emptying the holding tank I was in fact filling it – not so good. Mid-morning, after discussion with Nic, we ran Beetle out offshore and monkeyed around with the holding tank, which has stubbornly refused to empty itself properly – so I know what I will be working on when back in Channel Islands Harbor next week.

The Tiger Beetle Floating Aquarium is a 2-1/2 gallon white plastic bucket with a rope line handle. This works just fine as the white makes it easier to see what you’ve found and the rope makes it easier to fill the bucket with water. A fair number of animals have appeared in this aquarium.

There is internet access here in Cat Harbor; I’ve done some looking at pictures and seems we found Pyrosome tunicates floating around locally. Interesting animals, they are a colony that creates a clear semi-solid case and the little zooids all live on that case. Most interesting, hadn’t run across them before.

Pyrosomes are Us! Here are two of them, there were tons floating by the boat in the water column. The red color is readily apparent when they are in the water; when you pick them up in your fingers (they are fairly hard and stiff, no bending) the red entirely disappears and all you see is the white harder material. Most interesting critters.

The jellyfish turned out to be a Comb Jelly, and these run around and eat other jellyfish – go figure. Very pretty animal. I did not find any reference to green bioluminescent shrimps in Southern California, though it would not surprise me if that’s what they were. Could have been some kind of marine worm, but sure looked shrimp-like to me. Next time remember to catch some with the pasta strainer duct-taped to the boat hook so we can get a closer look.

Close-up of a Comb Jelly. The red stripes are the ‘combs’, which carry lots of cilia that you can watch sweeping along rhythmically and those propel the animal. Turns out they eat other jellyfish – who would have thought?

This afternoon we dinghied to shore, walked across the isthmus to Twin Harbors and visited the general store – which is surprisingly well-stocked though not inexpensive. There’s even a ferry that runs down to Avalon from here. And I learned that the Bison that used to wander the streets are herded over to the center of the island in the summer so they don’t trample visitors. We used to find them standing silently in the center of the road on the way to town, but not no more now. Nic said they banged up a little old lady a couple years back but fortunately the bull put his head down as he charged and she was narrower than gap between his horns – so he only knocked her for a loop and didn’t gore her. After that the Bison have been invited to be elsewhere during summer visitor hours.

Upshot is all is fine at this end, a lovely end to a pleasant day.

– rob

Tuesday at Cat Harbor, Catalina Island

Had a most pleasant run down from Santa Cruz Island to where Beetle is now, on mooring G-03 in Cat Harbor, Catalina Island. Most of the day was spent motoring along in extra-light air (3-7 knots) as the various cut-off Lows meandered around in the Southern California bight. The only significant breeze occurred in the last hour of the trip, as the wind ran into the western side of Catalina Island and accelerated to 12-14 knots. Upon arrival we talked to the Cat Harbor Harbor Patrol only to be informed that we had arrived early (no, we had not) and that we could have mooring G-03 for the night – so here we are. Turns out our neighbors on G-04, where we were supposed to be, had extended their stay one night and somehow that change had not been received by the harbor fellow I was speaking with over the VHF. Either way, no harm no foul, it’s a most pleasant evening, Beetle is happily attached to the main mooring line at the bow and the “sand line” at the stern. All is good. Even the cats have pals on the adjacent boats to the left and right, so cats seem to be accepted features of moored boats.

Last night at Smugglers Cove had some interesting features – in particular a clear dark sky for a couple of hours with the Milky Way out in abundance, stars galore, most fun. And while it was most black out we noticed there little small one inch (?) long shrimps scooting about the surface – and they would glow neon green as they zipped about at the water’s surface. They were so bright that I thought they were phosphorescence, but when playing the headlamp on them it became apparent the animals were creating their own light and it was not diatoms glowing. Very impressive – must have spent half an hour watching the critters alongside the hull.

At 7:30AM we were out, anchor up, no wind to speak of, a reasonable run south with the idea of arriving at Cat Harbor before dark with a side-track of stopping by Santa Barbara Island if we could. Santa Barbara Island is perhaps an hour out of the way and an interesting place not often visited as there really isn’t an anchorage there. I had spent three days there many years back, anchored just outside the kelp bed, and I was interested in what might have happened since then. So off we went, leaving the three other boats on their anchors at Smugglers, and rolled out.

There wasn’t much in the way of marine life during out motor south; there was close to no wind, so we powered along and watched the interplay of positive and negative current flowing north, west, and south. There were few birds, did come across some mid-ocean seals playing shark, and not a lot of loose kelp beds that we passed through on the way south. There were at least two US Navy ships broadcasting there positions and indicating they were having live fire exercises and to keep a wide distance. I was interested in the idea of asking what their idea of a “wide distance” might be, but as they were 70 miles to the south I decided to leave them alone. They must have a lot of bullets – they were live firing all day long, and during one of the VHF broadcasts you could hear the guns firing in the background. At least we know the Navy is up to something even if they don’t run AIS all the time.

At Santa Barbara Island we came up on a pod of Rizzos Dolphins, which are rather distince animals with their tall falcate dorsal fin and white body – look a lot like a Killer Whale with their dark dorsal but instead of a black/white body they have a mostly white-to-grey body. It was a group of 20-30 that we moved through, and it was fun to see them!

At Santa Barbara Island we turned in on the south side to check out the landing. There used to be a ladder there for purposes of a dinghy landing, I had read before departing Oxnard that the ladder was out or broken or missing and there was no good landing at the island. I had used that ladder in the early 90’s and at that time it was the only way onto the shore – from which you could walk around on the paths and see all the nesting birds. Today there’s a big grey crane on a fancy house at the landing, along with sea lions and seals on the rocks. No ladder, at least not that I could find.

The last bit of the trip to Catalina was to tool along another 25 miles on a most pleasant course with the swell coming in from behind – made for good speeds through the water and we made up some of the time lost to adverse current early on. The goal was to arrive with good light so we could relatively easily find the mooring, and now we’re here. Our neighbor with the orange Tabby Oliver is now retired and preparing to head for Panama and across to St. Thomas – you do meet interesting folk out here. He stated that all the moorings were filled for July 4 weekend, and now it’s mostly empty and that works for Beetle – lots of room here. I sent a note over to Nic, I can see his boat Iolanthe in the next mooring row over, he’s been out diving today and thinks he might make it to Beetle manana. Beetle has a bag of Peet’s fancy coffee for Iolanthe, so hopefully Nic will appear to claim the coffee.

All is good at this end, it’s been a lot of sun and rolling on the swell and fun – we’re tired, the cats are now awake have slept all day so they’re up, but we’re looking forward to a nice quite night’s sleep.

PS – pictures will be organized for tomorrow, as it’s late now (after 9PM – good grief, that’s Cruiser’s Midnight!), and I should have a non-satellite connection in the morning.

– rob

Monday enjoying Smugglers Cove

Monday morning started off with excitement over the VHF radio – Coast Guard Los Angeles came on with a woman’s voice calling to “the 32 foot sportfisher taking on water”. I keep the VHF radio on 16 and while that can make it difficult to sleep if there’s a lot of chatter it does keep open a line of communication to any other boats in the area – sometimes useful if somebody needs help.

We couldn’t hear the 32 foot sportfisher’s radio, but we sure could hear the Coast Guard. There was a lot of back and forth over the radio, it became apparent the boat was taking on water, unclear about a liferaft, and the Coast Guard wanted to know where they were and repeatedly asked the boat to respond with their “GPS position”. There was a pause and the woman came back up saying, “Skipper – that position is on land. Can you read to me the position where you are, the latitude and longitude.” It became apparent the boater did not know how to read the GPS to provide his own position, and kept providing the position of a waypoint they wanted to go – at least that’s what a second USCG voice came on to tell them.

To finally find them USCG asked them to count numbers up and down on the VHF so they could triangulate a position – and figured out the boat was somewhere near Anaacapa Island – which is just across from us. When the USCG learned the boat DID have cell phone coverage USCG LA said he was sending them a text message and they should click on “share location” – apparently that will cause a message to be returned to USCG with the location of the phone.

Through all of this the USCG 90 foot cutter Blacktip was on the mooring ball next to us here in Smugglers – they had arrived some time last night and were on the ball at 2:19 this morning when I was up to check on things. The Blacktip resides at the Channel Islands Harbor USCG station, and I’ve seen them on the ball here overnight, perhaps to train up new people on the boat, run a night watch, engineering, and get people used to the boat at night without actually having to motor around the ocean. Plus they’re out at the islands if something needs attention.

USCG Los Angeles was back on the VHF and announced the position of the 32 foot sportfisher as Arch Rock, Anacapa Island – and informed the skipper that they had launched a fast response boat from Channel Islands Harbor and a 90 foot cutter was responding from Santa Cruz Island – that’s the boat next to Beetle here in the anchorage. At that point Kristen and I went on deck to see what the folks on Blacktip did, and they were fairly quick – the big engines fired up, four folks came out in their gear, disassembled the side-to stern tie on the mooring ball, retrieved fenders, and off they rumbled for a minute or two and then the engines opened up. Unfortunately they were driving straight into the sun’s glare so I didn’t get a good look at what a 90 foot cutter looks like going fast – but they do move when they want to.

Hopefully they got their dewatering pumps onto the sportfisher in time.

Later in the morning we had a bunch of those reddish/pinkish critters go by the boat, and the Tiger Beetle Floating Aquarium was put into operation. Several of the hard pinkish cylindrical critters were collected and placed into a white bucket, along with a good-sized jellyfish that reminded me of a box jelly. The pinkish things look to be some sort of egg mass or polyp formation, they are stiff and hard, the basic structure is clear with bumps, formed into a cylinder, with a hole at one end. There are many little translucent tufts sticking out a couple of millimeters from the cylinder, and a sense of red spots scattered throughout. They didn’t seem to move or bend, so not sure at all what they are. Tons of them are floating around in the water column. The jellyfish was interesting, too – it was clear, no long tentacles, and instead had a series of thin reddish stripes running longitudinally. When you looked closely you could see cilia along the red stripes that were moving water, and the end of the case or mantle could be slowly opened and closed, but probably not sufficiently quickly for propulsion. Another critter to look up when Beetle gets within internet range!

Elsewise the day has been pleasantly quiet, lots of sun, a bit of naps, and a check of weather for tomorrow’s plans. Goal is to roll out of Smugglers on the early side and head for Cat Harbor on Santa Catalina Island – with a side stop at Santa Barbara Island. The weather forecast calls for breeze well to the west that we probably won’t get to, plus some little spinning cut-off Lows in the Catalina Eddy along the coast. Looks to be light SW breeze in the morning that we should be motoring along through, followed up by a possible 10 knots from the west as we clear Santa Barbara Island. That should make it reasonable to arrive at Cat Harbor in the daylight tomorrow early evening.

– rob

Sunday evening at Smugglers Cove Santa Cruz Island

This morning had an early-out from the marina, the idea being to travel the 17 miles west to Santa Cruz Island before the forecast west winds filled in. That worked out just fine, a pleasant motor along in fairly lumpy bumpy small chop until the last couple of miles to the island. The unknown was just how busy it would be here with boat at anchor; it’s the long July 4 weekend and from what I had seen Friday and Saturday there were a lot of boats headed to the islands. Well, upon arrival at Smugglers it seems that a lot of boats must have left or in fact never arrived – lots of space in the cove and Beetle is hook down between the USCG buoy and the little point to the south.

Kristen and her two cats are on board, the two cats having survived the drive down the coast inside their flexible fabric cat carrier set on top of the rear car seat. They do not like drives, and while they are pals they don’t particularly like it when one sits on top of the other. But they are here now, lazing about the boat as we bob and roll slightly in the anchorage. Poor NumNuts (now re-named Tibbar, which is rabbit spelled backwards, as he likes to scoot backwards when something alarms him) got rather seasick and turned into dead rabbit during the run to the island; removal of his harness and the sudden calm of the anchored boat worked wonders on him and he turned back into inspector-cat where everything needs to be carefully examined just in case there’s something good to be found. Black Cat Nibs, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to get seasick but instead crawls into the aft bunk and burrows under all the bedding there; if it wasn’t for his neon pink leash and red harness it would be most difficult to figure out where he’d disappeared to inside the boat.

Upon arrival we found two large yachts, 60 meter Ramble on Rose and 59 meter Just B. They both departed at roughly the same time and their AIS broadcast stated Malibu as the destination – makes me wonder if Just B is the support/shadow boat for Ramble on Rose. Either way, large boats that were rather nicely put together.

On approach we ran through quite a group of flat pink-ish with fringe wormy-looking critters scattered through the water column. They might have been 4-7″ long and perhaps and 1″ wide on the big ones. They didn’t appear to be swimming but were definitely oriented with a top/bottom to them. Lots and lots of them everywhere – I haven’t seen those before so will need to do some reading to find out what they are.

Today conditions have been benign in the cove, forecast is for 20 knots coming in from the west this evening, that wind should blow up and over the eastern tip of the island where we are – might get a bit breezy but there should not be too much in the way of extra wave action.

There are now 19 boats between Smugglers and Yellow Bank, does not feel like a crowd at all. We fired up the grill and made up some tasty burgers for dinner, fairly well cleaned up afterwards by now. Tonight should be a good night’s sleep, and we’ll see about tomorrow having some fun in the cove.

Happy July 4!

– rob

It’s been a while… Happy July 4 weekend

It’s been a good long while since Beetle has been out and about. Same is kind of true for me, in that most of my time has been spent hunkering down, not going out much and doing my best to avoid the Covid virus. So far I’ve been successful at that, wearing my 3M respirator when I go to the store, soap up in the car afterwards and wipe off with the wash cloth. Given I’m using the same large 3M respirator as when I grind fiberglass the respirator gives people at the local Safeway something unusual to look at and proprietors tend to remember me. So it’s been something of a slow time for the last year.

As of end of March I became part of the double-vaccinated Pfizer crowd and it was a significant relief to get to that point. My vaccination shots were received at the Cardinal’s Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona – an enormous drive-through 6,000 person per day vaccination effort laid on early in the vaccination effort in Arizona. I even have a little cardboard vaccination certificate showing the Pfizer batch numbers that were in the hypodermic needles. I hate needles.

My customized bandaid received at the stadium.

Beetle has been receiving attention at the same time – including a new set of stainless steel wrap-around hull protection guards mounted at the bow cleats to protect the hull/deck joint from the wear caused by the anchor bridle. The port side bow suffered some damage during the bad weather that rolled through Fakarava while I was there and anchored out off Hirifa in Fakarava, French Polynesia. My dock-neighbor Tim welded up a pair of custom stainless ‘L’ brackets shaped to fit the hull-deck joint (about an 80 degree angle), I did the grinding to final fit, polishing, laid up an epoxy pad directly on the hull to exactly fit the brackets, and then brackets are thru-bolted and bonded to the hull with 3M 4200 polyurethane sealant. The whole project came out great!

Grinding and polishing the brackets was a bit of work. Here’s the activity at the outdoor shed neighbor Mac has access to.
More work on Beetle’s work bench to drill out the countersink for the bolt holes.
Finished product, ready to go onto Beetle.
The plates are not perfectly uniform as they were hand-built, and neither is the deck perfectly uniform. To bridge the gaps it’s easiest to cast in place an epoxy & microballoon pad. Here’s the pad after removal of the stainless plate. The pad gets cleaned up to remove excess and resin squish-out before final installation.
All done, bedded in 3M 4200 and thru-bolted. The sharp angle the line runs over is radiused (not sharp).

Basic maintenance has been on-going as I chase down equipment failures. The propane solenoid and pressure regulator were replaced when the old regulator developed a hole in the internal rubber diaphragm and dumped the entire contents of a 10 pound propane cylinder overboard, plus the solenoid had turned most rusty.

The SqueezeBox is a great music player for a boat, it’s solid state, has a good DAC, draws very little power, and there’s a screen for selecting what to play. Too bad it finally died.

Beetle’s Logitech SqueezeBox Touch music player stopped working after many years on board and to add insult to injury the player was abandoned by Logitech back in 2012. Turns out there are enough keenly-interested SqueezeBox fans that the device was recreated on a Raspberry Pi as a roll-your-own player. So I joined the Raspberry Pi (RPi) crowd and assembled my own player using an RPi and learned rather a lot doing the work; the new player is happily mounted right where the old one was. That was a fun learning project to understand how an RPi can be utilized to take on all sort of little computing tasks. Welcome to the Internet of Things 🙂 I had to move the DC-DC power converter the 8 feet from behind the electrical panel over to the little black RPi box itself; if you thought voltage drop for 12vDC was bad, try moving 5vDC around the boat. Last detail was configuring the music player daemon and music server daemon to use fixed IP addressing, something I only figured out this morning. But the darn thing works!

Lots of little parts that you get to assemble to have a working Raspberry Pi. There’s a computer, screen, cables, box, power supply, fan…
Testing the guts of the player. The RPi is a complete computer on a single small board – the towel is to prevent the pin-outs and soldering on the backside of the board from scratching the table top.
The finished project, held in place by 3M industrial velcro.

The zincs continue to look good under the boat, last week I replaced the MaxProp zinc (remember to check that the machine screws do fit through the cast zinc *before* going under the boat with zinc in hand). Despite not moving much the boat bottom remains fairly clean.

A long time back Beetle was hit by a smaller cruising sailboat in the charge of a cruising couple as they motored down the Oakland Estuary. The oncoming boat did not see me in the dark and I was up the mast steps lowering the mainsail when they ran into Beetle; at the last moment they swerved to starboard and their port side at their primary winch went under my bow – this is far better from my perspective than a bow-to-bow collision as the bow is the single strongest part of the entire hull. Beetle’s hull took out their lifelines, toe rail, cast aside the primary cockpit winch, and then road up and knocked over the lady steering by hitting her from the left. After all weas untangled, it turned out the boat belonged to the the guy’s girlfriend but he was out after dark with his hair dresser… I do not believe he had access to that sailboat for very much longer. Here’s the repaired after after I knocked off some of the flakey gel coat.

The bow, where it was damaged in a collision many years ago, has the repair covered in color-matched gel coat to provide UV protection to the underlying epoxy resin. The gel coat finally failed and started to flake off, so a bit of sanding later I used my small artist air brush to re-apply the color-matched gel coat. Getting the color match isn’t that difficult, particularly as the hull is simply a light grey. To get a match start with white gel coat and add a tiny blob of black tint, stir, then paint the result onto a small area on the shady side of the hull (and do not catalyze the gel coat). Wait 45 minutes and go inspect; if too white, add another tiny blog of black. If too dark, add some white to the mix pot. It was nice to use the air brush and get that issue resolved. Keep going until you like the result, then use acetone to wipe off the test samples.

After three very light coats of grey gel coat through an air brush the resin and glass is starting to cover – the protection from UV light is the most important point of coating epoxies. A bit of cleaning to remove the mineral stains and additional coats will complete the repair. The air brush is supplied by the dive tank on the foredeck.

I’ve been keeping tabs on what’s going on as regards Covid and cruising – and so far everything is closed with the sole exception of the “Blue Lane” Fiji initiative for visiting yachts. French Polynesia remains closed, ditto for American Samoa, Samoa, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Tonga, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, even New Zealand and Australia are not open at this time. So it’s a bit early to plan for heading out to the west. And now even Fiji is mostly-closed as they are having a significant Covid outbreak.

A screen shot of the Government of Kiribati page telling the World not to arrive, please. It takes a bit of digging to find the border status of the various countries, but it can be done. Noonsite is a good starting website for finding information relative to arriving by boat – the rules are often different for airline arrivals (easy to manage) as compared to small yachts (difficult to manage). Yachts keep showing up anywhere while the airplanes usually land only at the airport; people tend to know where their airports are as they are large and difficult to hide.

Current plan is to do some more exploring and diving in Southern California, have some fun daysails with folks on the dock, and continue enjoying the Channel Islands.

An item I’ve had on the to-do list is updating Beetle’s instrumentation. The current boat instruments are early 1990’s B&G Network and the Furuno 24″ radar and chart plotter. I particularly like the simple large LCD-digit display of the B&G Network, but the line was discontinued a decade or more ago and the boards inside the displays were made using lead-soldering equipment; as a result there are no spares available as the boards are no longer available. The Network compass sensor is still not working properly despite installing a used replacement sensor, the remainder of the sensors continue to work. At some point something will fail and then I will have to update the system.

I’ve replaced electronics over time as needed – the original LORAN was replaced with a Magellan GPS, when that died the Furuno GPS went in and worked up until the most recent satellite week-number rollover killed the unit, so I have a new Furuno GPS – this is the primary GPS for the boat, it also feeds information to the SSB & VHF radios as well as the B&G deck display via NMEA-0183. The Icom VHF was replaced with a newer Icom VHF that completely implements DSC calling and the new radio brought NMEA-2000 networking onto the boat.

The Zeus3 7″ chart plotter bolted down to the nav station table, somewhat hidden away in the corner to keep it from being banged too easily. The unit does a lot of things – cartography, AIS overlay, radar display, and instrument data. Plan is to modify the on-deck instrument pod and place a second plotter up there.

Last year, while preparing to roll out to the South Pacific just as Covid-19 country closures was starting, I found the Furuno chart plotter component of the radar display could not handle the larger Navionics SD chart cards – no more backup electronic cartography on a “marinized” device that can handle water, vibration, transient voltage spikes, etc. The primary electronic cartography is Coastal Explorer running on the nav station HP laptop – but the laptop is a nice consumer laptop that doesn’t like water too much. The “fix” was to abandon the Furuno unit as a chart plotter (it’s now solely the radar controller and display) – and add a B&G Zeus3 7″ chart plotter/multi-function head to the nav station. The Zeus3 implements NMEA-2000, adds a combination GPS and solid state compass sensor (not quite a dampened fluxgate), and can function as a radar display as well as Navionics SD chart card reader (does a bunch of other things as well).

With backup cartography sorted the next item is from my wish-list, top of which is to have the autopilot inherently steer to apparent and true wind angles (AWA/TWA). I can make the Alpha Spectra pilot do that by running Stan Honey’s autopilot control software on the nav station laptop, bring the instrument data into the laptop through an NMEA-0183 serial -> USB box, the laptop makes decisions and sends instructions out to the pilot’s computer head throuh a small custom box I built to Stan’s specifications that converts USB laptop signals into signals the Alpha pilot can understand. This works great until something goes wrong: laptop hiccups, wiring issues, one of the converter boxes pauses – and then things get interesting if the spinnaker is up. The software will steer to polars, that’s a great feature.

B&G (and other instrument lines) have implemented the idea of bringing the instrument data directly into a central processor and then sending pilot decisions directly to the autopilot, no need to use laptops and external signal conversion boxes to get the pilot to steer to a waypoint, a compass course, AWA, or TWA. Some (such as B&G) will steer to polar performance curves, and that’s all quite clever.

A while back I researched current state of small boat radomes and it looked like the fourth generation of “broadband” radars has performance on par with the magnetron-based pulsed radars, at least at the ranges I am interested in (8 miles or so). My brother installed one and it has worked well – I had a chance to play with it and there are two nifty features my Furuno does not have: particularly low power consumption, and the ability to quickly determine if a target is heading towards or away from you. This is essentially military FMCW pulse compression radar utilizing multiple pulses per “ping” – and it’s quite nice to work with. Thanks to the automotive industries work on FMCW “chirp” radar that might exist in a car’s bumper, the hardware has dropped in cost to where a small boat can afford one.

Access to the radome required constructing an oddly-shaped triangular ladder with different length legs – not something one finds at the average ladder shop. Lashed in place to the deck made the ladder stable enough to easily go up/down and stand up there to work on the radome mount. The ladder later became a trellis in a friend’s garden.

Beetle has received a June birthday present to start the update process: I’ve purchased a second Zeus3 7″ display to go into the instrument pod, a B&G 24″ doppler/CHIRP radar, and an electronic rate compass (Precision 9), plus the NMEA-2000 cabling to connect them together via a water-tight ethernet switch. I’ll need to modify the instrument pod to make it slightly taller for the Zeus3 to fit in – that’s a project that will be fun to do, and swap out the Furuno radar installation for the Halo 24″ unit. When that’s done I will have some new information that I’ve not had on deck before – electronic cartography, radar display/control, and AIS information. That’s the big update for the year (I hope!). And this moves the boat closer to instrumentation that can interface with a future B&G autopilot. The instruments are likely to be replaced at the next haulout, as nothing fits the depth and speedo sensor thru-hulls currently installed in the hull – changing those out definitely needs to wait for Beetle to be up on the hard in a boat yard.

It’s important to bleed on things when working on the boat – that’s how you know you’ve actually been getting work done! This is what happens when you’re left forearm meets up with hose clamps under the motor.

The last couple of days have been changing out the engine raw water pump, checking engine oil and coolant (added a 1/2 quart of oil, coolant is full), and tightening the stuffing box nut. The raw water pump had reached a point where it would not necessarily prime itself, which is odd as the hoses and pump are essentially at the water line so they should be under a slight pressure. But I’d start the motor and sometimes no water would come out the exhaust line – not so good. I discovered the ‘fix’ was to back off the impeller cover plate on the raw water pump and let air escape, tighten the plate and Voila! cooling water would flow. I learned in conversation with the folks on the dock that this behavior means the impeller side plates have worn slightly and the impeller’s seal is lost; this explains why there is a wear plate inside the pump housing. My fix was to purchase a new Yanmar raw water pump, install it, and now that I have the original worn Johnson pump in hand I can dismantle it to see if it is possible to rebuild – which will give Beetle a spare raw water pump.

Pump out and the gasket material all removed from the engine block – that’s the silver looking area. Takes a lot of time to scrub away at gasket material with carburetor cleaner sprayed onto a Scotchbrite green kitchen scrubby, but the nylon is far softer than the engine’s metal so the flat surfaces remain flat.
New pump all in, plumbed, belt tensioned, exhaust hose back together and we’re off to the races.

It’s now the July 4 weekend here in sunny Southern California, and the plan is to head out and cruise the islands for the next week. Weather looks conducive to a good time offshore, I’ve purchased my non-resident California Fishing License so I am good to go to chase fishes, and Beetle is up and running!

I hope everyone else has a good July 4 out there!

– rob/beetle

Emerald Bay diving video

I used the six dives at Emerald Bay to work up several new dive items that I’m getting better at. I have an updated wet suit for colder water diving – an Excel hooded full suit using thickness of 9, 7, and 6 mm material, which changes the bouyancy of the suit and you need to change around the dive weights. The suit has an interesting interior lining called “Thermo Dry Celliant”. The lining is kind of like a micro-fiber that is supposed to retain/reflect heat inside the suit. The lining also makes it relatively easy to get in to/out of the suit as the fibers are not as “sticky” to the skin as neoprene. The 976 suit is thicker and more bouyant than my 1/4″ neoprene wetsuit jacket that I normally use, so I spent some time getting the dive weights right. Turns out what works for me (so far) is 12 pounds on a belt, 10 pounds in each dumpable side pocket of the BC (20 pounds total), and 2 pounds each in the little BC pockets adjacent to the dive tank (4 pounds total) – that gives me 12 pounds on a belt I can easily drop, and 20 pounds in the BC I could also drop – the 4 pounds up by the tank are not droppable while wearing the BC. The tank is a high pressure (3400 PSI) steel 80 that is smaller (therefore more dense, though slightly lighter) than an aluminum 80 at 3000 PSI, in theory less weight is needed with the steel tank.

The camera rig all set up on the tray, with arms and foam floats. There’s also a wet wide angle lens that threads onto the Olympus dive housing – I did not use that lens for the dives. The GoPro camera on top of the Olympus dive housing cold shoe is the older GoPro that was lost during a dive in Washington – the replacement GoPro is essentially the same approach with the GoPro 8 in its plastic dive housing.

With the suit and weights worked out, next step was to bring in the camera and dive lights. I’ve used the camera previously, the lights and tray I wanted to work with as they are relatively new to me. One the details is remembering to keep the lights, as mounted on the ends of the arms, out of the image. It’s not that easy to peer into the rear of the camera’s dive housing to check out the image as I am near-sighted and use corrective lenses set into the mask – as I lean in closer to examine the camera’s rear LCD screen that little screen goes blurry!

This is the best image I captured of a Purple Sea Urchin with the Olympus camera. These were difficult to photograph as they are dark with a faint blue cast to the spines, but the camera mostly picks up a black blob with spikes. Getting the blue color to come out took some work with editing software to adjust the color levels, exposure, highlights (too hot), shadows (too dark), and finally you can see the blue on the spines. The little red and neon blue Gobies really are that billiant. They also flit about when you get too close as they try to hide behind the urchin’s spines.

With the camera and lights working I went around and tried out a bunch of things. That worked fairly well. Last bit up was clamping a GoPro 8 camera to the top of the main camera dive housing. The idea is to leave the GoPro running in video mode for the entire dive while using the Olympus camera on the tray to take still images. The lights are Light and Motion Sola Video Pro 3800, one on each arm. These are continuous lights and as such work for a video camera, and when close enough to the subject to a good job for the still camera.

After my first dive with the GoPro I figured out I needed to move a lot slower in the water and let things happen in front of the camera. The GoPro 8 does have a built-in stabilization mechanism and that mechanism produces distracting perspective changes when the camera is swung about too quickly. So slow and stable is what I tried out on the next dive.

I pulled together the better bits of that dive and connected them together as a short video representative of what I was seeing on the bottom in Emerald Bay. Above is the video, posted to youtube. The original video is 1920 x 1080 at 29.97fps, I edited it with Adobe Premiere Pro (the older locally installed software, not the current Create Cloud subscription-based software). I tested a series of different bit rates for the video image and found that 2 Pass Variable Bit Rate min of 20 max of 40 provided a reasonable image that minimized artifacting in the blue water while keeping the file size down (633MB file as compared to 1.2GB file). I use Zenfolio for image storage but Zenfolio’s video player is not as good as what YouTube provides, so I posted the video to YouTube. And unexpectedly, when I pasted the link into this WordPress page WordPress auto-magically brought up a little player with the video embedded in it. Most interesting!

– rob

Monday morning and headed for Channel islands Harbor

Good morning from the good ship Beetle – which is currently bopping along 4 miles off Catalina’s West
End en route to Channel Islands Harbor. It’s bright morning sun, a fog line ahead some miles, the incoming tanker Polaris Voyager is due to cross our bow in a bit less than an hour as they run east and we run NW. Hopefully the fog will burn off before we get too far into it – yesterday the reports overhead from boats in Santa Monica Bay were “pea soup fog”. One little boat was overheard having a conversation with the USCG in Marina del Rey wondering what the course was back to the Del Rey breakwater – only the little boat did not realize they were still in Malibu and the fellow stated they must have been driving around in circles in the fog as they left Malibu a long time previously. I guess it was foggy!

Yesterday was another great dive in the saddle between Indian Rock and the west end of the reef, found several more Horn Sharks wedged in under the rocks and surrounded by spiky sea urchins. The little sharks did not want to come out at all, I even touched on of the fishes dorsal fins and he didn’t budge, perhaps pretending he wasn’t there.

Late afternoon Charlie in the Harbor Patrol boat stopped by to tell us he had forgotten to tell us the ‘owner’ of the mooring was en route to Emerald Bay and we needed to move to another mooring. Kristen asked if we could shift over to Isthmus and he said, “Sure!” and set us up on C-10. A brief scurry around Beetle to clean up a bit and off we went for the short two mile motor to town. It was amazing to see all the boats there, as compared to practically nobody where we had been. And there were lights on shore, wow! Quite surprising to realize how different the places are despite their proximity. Boats also use the moorings bow-towards-shore, the prevailing breeze flows in over the isthmus.

We put Beetle together to head for sea in the morning, got in a great night’s sleep, were up at 5:40AM, harnessed the cats (easy to do when they aren’t that awake), and were off! There are eagles on Catalina Island, and saw three of them wheeling around above the harbor at sunrise – it’s easy to find them as they have a shrill keening shreak for their bird call/cry. Someone needs to oil their beaks and perhaps they won’t squeak quite so loudly.

It’s a 56 mile hop back up to Oxnard, the forecast is for variable to 10 knot winds, going W to SW as we travel along. Seas are 2 foot at most, with a SW 2′ ground swell. The goal is to arrive before dark, which makes for an easy entrance to Channel Islands Harbor – so we were up and out early.

– rob