Monthly: June 2010

27 Jun

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When the lights go out

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When I was younger, I was a sort of  low-calorie version of a survivalist. Vaguely worried that Janet Reno, the Red Army, or possibly even aliens  might be coming, I bought a large gun safe and proceeded to fill it with a rather thrilling assortment of firepower. I raised my bed up on blocks  and stacked cans of survivalist chow underneath. I studied  and practiced wilderness survival techniques.  It was a harmless activity really, and not entirely unreasonable given the lurking San Andreas fault which to this day stands poised to wipe out Northern CA.  When the  Big One came, I rationalized, I would protect my  cans of Dinty Moore till they pried them from my cold dead hands.

That phase of my life concluded when I somehow managed to acquire a mate (of the female persuasion, no less).  She was OK with the arsenal (in fact she shoots better than I do), but not so sure about the other stuff.  I remember her reaction upon examining my survival food cache under the futon– “Creamed corn? Seriously?” She shook her head.  “Bad survivalist.”  It soon became apparent that having such a woman at my side was far better than being capable of briefly irritating the attacking US Government with the entire contents of my gun safe. Now, when the End Of The World As We Know It (EOTWAWKI) comes, I’ll just sit back and let Sweetie handle it.  

Being a semi-reformed survivalist I may appear normal to most people, but I still get paranoid tingles once in a while.  And lately I’ve been thinking about GPS.

I noticed recently that both of my GPS devices, a Garmin GPSmap 60CS and Blackberry Curve, were displaying a circle of uncertainty around my position at normal map scales. Most of the time  I can rely on the GPS to accurately place me 2 meters from the third blonde on the left at the beer barge, should that unlikely need ever arise. But for some reason Both units seemed unsure if I was off the launch ramp, or sitting atop the marina store. It was no huge deal, I mean I probably wasn’t going to lose track of the lake, but it was anomalous behavior from devices I had always trusted. Being a software nerd, I started thinking about this– Obviously, something was going on with the constellation if both independent units were suffering from reduced resolution.  In minutes the old here-come-the-invaders reflexes, long dormant, re-energized and sent me into DEFCON II and a half.  Fortunately Sweetie stepped in just in time to slap some sense into me (“there are no black helicopters jamming your blinkie, idiot”), but the damage was done:  How much can we rely on GPS?

I assume anyone reading this knows generally how GPS works.  Many of you probably know in great geeky detail how it works. Some of you think GPS stands for Gerbil Positioning System, and it’s all run by furry rodents from the Mothership behind the moon. Bless your hearts. Have you considered that the GPS constellation is getting rather long of tooth? I know that the system has worked pretty well (especially for a government program), but the orbiting Gerbil Containers are starting to suffer from squeaky hamster wheels after two decades in outer space.  It’s not like they’re replacing them routinely. One big solar flare, and all of a sudden we might find ourselves unable to locate the nearest Starbucks. Or the Shoals of Lingering Death.

And let’s not forget that our blond-triangulating capability exists at the indulgence of our friends at the Department Of Defense, through a mechanism called Selective Availability. The gummint can, whenever it wants, flip a switch in some secret underground location and instantly cause thousands of powerboaters to crash at high speed into docks, shorelines, and each other. Okay, they are already doing that.  But it’ll be even worse when their blinkies fail.

 Given the current global situation, Mr. Semi-Paranoid Survivalist Lite refuses to discount the possibility that the military  might have to enable Selective Availability at any time to prevent the technology from being used against us, for example if some whackaloon in Berzerkistan decides to fire off a cruise missile at Washington.

So, given that we could experience a general GPS degradation, or even a mass failure that befuddles millions of glowing dots on LCD displays, what should we be doing to make sure that we won’t become hopelessly lost when our GPS suddenly bricks on us?

I’m probably in good shape. I don’t think I’ll get hopelessly lost on my lake (if I do, that’ll make a great blog post). But a lot of you make epic SCA-worthy voyages, and actually sail out of sight of land sometimes. Have you thought about what you would do if your GPS suddenly becomes inert? When I eventually venture beyond my little lake, I figure I’ll take my plotting tools, charts, and maybe even my plastic sextant, just in case. Perhaps I’ll even try navigating the old fashioned way, and use the GPS for a backup only. Charts are easy to stow– they flatten nicely under cases of creamed corn and gunpowder.

And when that cruise missile comes at me, I’ll probably still be on course for the beer barge, instead of sailing around in circles like my GPS-dependent fellows.

What’s your plan?

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25 Jun

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Andrew Kitchen’s J II/Arctic Tern

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Taken at Mystic Seaport, this photo of Andrew’s J II was used as the header for this years John Gardner Small Craft Workshop at Mystic, June 5 & 6.


J II pre launch

In the water


Andrew sailing at Mystic


The J II or Jeanne Henderson bears Iain’s mothers name and is quick and lively, but a bit tender, IO redesigned her with a bit more beam and she’s now the Arctic Tern


A very nice build, indeed.


The accursed yoke tiller. Even Iain Oughtred doesn’t like them

all photos courtesy Andrew Kitchen

Timing is everything, it is said. Recently a posting on the Oughtred Yahoo group caught my eye. Andrew Kitchen had uploaded some pictures of his Oughtred J II. The J II is the first iteration of my all time favorite of Iain’s designs, the Arctic Tern. She was fast and nimble, but a bit tender, so Mr. Oughtred redesigned her for more stability, with a bit more beam and more strakes per side. From Andrew:
The boat was completed in 2004, so she is actually a J II Yawl (the
earlier design on which Arctic Tern was based). She performs
beautifully, although she is a little tender, which I think explains
why IO modified the design. I have day-sailed her since, but never
cruised. I’ll be showing her at this year’s Wooden Boat Show at Mystic,
as part of the IBIM exhibit. I am particularly excited about this as
Iain Oughtred is scheduled to attend the show this year.

Yes, indeed. Last night I made a last minute decision to purchase my ticket to the Oughtred Tribute Dinner next Saturday evening at the WoodenBoat Show at Mystic Seaport. Now sold out. I’ll be looking to meet Andrew and his boat, which he’s bringing to Mystic for the I Built It Myself exhibit. Maybe I can even cadge a sail!
Silent Maid will also be there…hmmm, maybe I’ll be able to cadge another sail. I know that Russ Mannheimer is also planning to attend, unfortunately not arriving in Sjogin, oh well. Still it looks to be a great weekend. See ya there.

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20 Jun

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Ulithi, Happy Father’s Day

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USS Card
courtesy tobyotter


USS Franklin

courtesy Emmett Baker’s Ulithi website


Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands
courtesy Wikipedia

That’s Dad, Signalman Second Class, USN on the right, typically with a beverage in hand.


Eugene Alford Armstrong








All photos are from Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands between Aug. 1944 and Nov. 1945
personal archive

My Dad served in the US Navy during WWII. As his eldest son, and born in 1951, dad’s memories of his service experience were still vivid and I was constantly hearing the stories. He served for a spell on the USS Card, a Bouge-class escort aircraft carrier. He was a Signalman, Second Class. In those times a signalman was required to carry his battery for the signal lights on his back, backpack style. About 50lbs. worth. While wearing this gear my Dad fell from grace, ie. the USS Card, into the sea, was rescued but lost a kidney in the affair. The stories he told of his recuperation on Long Island and foray’s into Manhatten almost daily included the fact that as a sailor in uniform he could not buy his own drinks or dinner, so generous were his admirers. What he told me about the reaction of young ladies will go unmentioned. Later he shipped out to Ulithi Atoll in the Western Carolines, which became the largest Naval base in the South Pacific and was the staging area for the war with Japan. Unlike many, Dad thoroughly enjoyed his service. Over and over again he repeated the story of the USS Franklin being towed into harbor on Ulithi listing severely to starboard. Read more about the Franklin and Ulithi at Emmet Baker’s website.
At one point Dad acquired a small mahogany runabout, powered by a little 40hp. Merc outboard, which proved to be a magic carpet, opening a gateway to the Ohio, waterskiing, and overnight camping trips on 18 mile Islands. The best kind of fun for young kids and worth the prep work we put into the boat. Dad moved on to the universal oceanic many years ago. I have no doubt that the stories and the boat were the seed of my current interest. Thanks Geno! Happy Fathers Day.

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