Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

Have you ever heard of Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park? Maybe not, but you’ve probably seen it in one of the many movies filmed there, including the original 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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However, we were looking for another creature when we visited the park, which is a haven for manatees.

As one of the largest freshwater springs in the United States, the park is open 8 a.m. to sunset every day with nine miles of hiking trails along with swimming and river boat nature tours.

We arrived in the rain, so we stopped and had lunch in the historic lodge, which has a few guest rooms and both a full-service restaurant and a soda fountain along with a gift shop.

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Due to the rain we didn’t have time to check out any of the hiking trails, but the weather did clear enough for us to take a guided boat tour.

Spoiler alert, we did not see a single manatee. However, there was no shortage of other wildlife.

There were flocks of coots puttering around.

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There were also quite a few white ibis.

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There were also plenty of cormorants diving for fish.

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The spring is also a haven for Anhingas.

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But we saw more than birds. The water is clear enough to see the fish swimming by, and of course, there were these guys.

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No swamp is complete without a few gators.

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This was my first time to shoot wildlife with the Leica Vario-Elmar-R f4.5 75-200mm zoom adapted to the Sony NEX-6. This was a lens designed by Minolta and rebranded for Leica in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Leica version still sells for around $300, but you can pick up the Minolta f4.5 75-200mm, which is the exact same lens with a different mount, for $25 or less!

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I found it to be a little lacking in fine detail with kind of scary, ziggety bokeh. (Yes, ziggety just became a word.) Would I recommend it? Well, I definitely would not recommend paying for the Leica version, but if you need a zoom to adapt to your mirrorless camera, you can’t beat $25 for the Minolta version.

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Although the river through Wakulla Springs State Park runs all the way to the coast, Edward Ball, being the millionaire industrialist that he was, managed to have access blocked, so don’t plan to anchor out and then take your dinghy up the river, which wouldn’t be good for the manatees anyway.

If we ever make it back to Tallahassee in the summer, we’ll definitely make another trip for a chance to hike the trails and swim in the “black lagoon.”

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2014 in review

We kicked off 2014 at Watergate Marina in Kemah, Texas watching the fireworks.

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We joined the crew of Antares for our first racing experience during the Galveston Bay Cruising Association Icicle Series Regatta.

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Meanwhile I was installing what has been our favorite upgrade to Gimme Shelter, a new 12000 BTU Flagship Marine air-conditioner and heater.

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As usual, we stopped by the spring Clear Lake boat show where we met this guy who dances with sharks. (FYI, all sharks in the show were sharks that had been rescued from research facilities and could not be returned to the wild. They were used in the traveling educational show until they could be placed in aquariums.)

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After that, I headed across the pond for a few days for work. My first trip to London, England. I met a very interesting guy named Leon McCarron at the Globetrotter’s Club, and I managed to fit in a photo walk with some friends from the Leica Forum.

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While I was off in London, Mary’s family came to visit, and they took Gimme Shelter for the first sail of the season.

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But with a new season of sailing came the usual necessary boat repairs. We had to repair the drain system on the anchor locker and run new lazy-jack lines.

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Then we met another set of adventurers who we’ve admired for quite some time, Pat and Ali Schulte, better known as the Bumfuzzles when they stopped by Waterford Harbor Marina on their way through Houston.

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We didn’t do as much sailing as usual this spring and summer because in June it was off to Mary’s hometown of Hamilton, Illinois for our wedding. Despite the torrential rains and a collapsed tent at the reception, it was a great day.

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Then from Illinois, it was off to Belize for our honeymoon where we spent three nights in the rainforest along the Hummingbird Highway.

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Then we spent three nights on the beach in Hopkins.

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Shortly after Belize we were back on the road to visit my parents in Independence, Kansas for the 4th of July. We found the thousands of lightning bugs more entertaining than fireworks.

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Meanwhile, our friends Tina and Ray had purchased a beautiful 56′ Carver, so we got to spend the summer cruising on a big boat and witness first-hand the process of a family selling their house and moving aboard for the first time.

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We started August with a sailing trip to Moody Gardens in Offats Bayou, Galveston.

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Mary also made a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana with her girlfriends.

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We then ended the summer with new bottom paint and a compound wax.

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In September we met my family for a long weekend in South Padre Island where we learned about sea turtles at the Sea Turtle, Inc. rescue center.

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Then in October it was off to the Texas Renaissance Festival where we spent most of the day drinking at the Barbarian Inn and most of the night singing with the pirates.

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Of course, Halloween came and went. Somehow we missed all the parties this year, but we did take the time to carve a pumpkin.

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In November we hosted an open mic jam and pot luck at the marina. While it was well-attended, we only had one musical participant, so it was more of a concert than an open mic. However, we still had a great time.

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The mild weather in November also required more boating — much more boating. In fact, we made multiple trips to Galveston aboard the Tina Marie Too and our first trip into the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.

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As Christmas approached, we found ourselves in Tallahassee, Florida visiting Mary’s sister. We made trips to Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park and to Bald Point State Park. We saw lots of wildlife, but not a single manatee.

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And that brings us back to the present. Tomorrow we head back to Houston where it’s back to work before we ring in the new year.

Who knows where 2015 will take us.

Sea Pork

Have you ever been strolling the beach and suddenly said, “What the heck is THAT?”

During our Christmas trip to Florida, we made a stop at Bald Point State Park, and as we hiked up and down the beach, we came across this thing, and that is exactly what we said.

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We did all the usual scientific testing, you know, nudging it with our toes, poking it, nudging it again, and I think someone even sniffed it. We still had no idea until we spent an hour on Google.

The strange blobs all over the beach weren’t aliens, whale organs or any of the other interesting guesses our Facebook friends made. They’re called Tunicates, and they’re invertebrate marine filter feeders, more commonly known as sea squirts, sea pork, sea livers, or sea tulips.

Some tunicates, like the sea pineapple, are even edible. But would you eat this?

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These particular tunicates got the nickname sea pork because after death, the rubbery tunic bleaches to white resembling salt pork or fatback.

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So next time your friends say, “What the heck is that thing?”, you can tell them.

Putting LEDs to the test: Dr. LED vs HQRP-USA

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After giving in a buying a $35 Dr. LED replacement bulb at West Marine a few weeks ago, I was on the lookout for a more affordable LED option. Enter eBay seller HQRP-USA: http://stores.ebay.com/hqrpusa

HQRP was offering very similar LED bulbs, but at $9 a piece, or 4 for $35. While still not as affordable as incandescent bulbs, I found that price much more appealing, so I placed an order for one.

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Pictured above is the Dr. LED bulb, left, with the equivalent HQRP bulb. Dr. LED has 4 rows of 3 LEDs and 1 LED on the end. HQRP has 6 rows of 3 LEDs and 6 LEDs on the end. If you’re not a fan of math, that’s 11 more LEDs packed onto each bulb.

The Dr. LED bulb is 2 watt with a .18 amp draw. The HQRP bulb is 2.5 watt with a .3 amp draw.

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Like the Dr. LED bulb, the HQRP bulb showed good quality control and soldering, and all of the LEDs lit up when it was plugged in. And just like the Dr. LED bulb, the HQRP bulb put off plenty of light. Could I tell if those extra 11 LEDs made it any brighter than the Dr. LED bulb? Nope.

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Having put the HQRP bulb into the head’s dome light for the comparison test, I now had the Dr. LED light in my hand and the freedom to go change another light in the boat. That’s where I ran into some trouble.

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My light fixtures in the salon are slightly different than the one in the head, and the big ring at the base of the Dr. LED bulb did not have enough clearance. It would go into the socket, but there was a noticeable amount of tension on the bulb where it was pressing against the fixture. I was actually worried it would break the bulb if I left it in there. The Dr. LED bulb had clearance issues on all three of my salon dome lights.

Meanwhile, as I was distracted with taking apart every light in the cabin, this guy was suddenly on the table and sneaking towards the last piece of baclava.

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After reassuring Tex that while I was enthralled with the light fixtures, I was not unaware of his activities, he went back to sleeping in the blankets, and I put the Dr. LED bulb back in the head and moved the HQRP bulb into the salon.

While the diameter of the two bulbs was the same, the HQRP bulb fit better, but it had some minor clearance issues as well.

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Maybe there’s just not a way to manufacture a taper into shape of these replacement bulbs, but if I was designing them, I would lengthen the plug portion of the bulb by 2 or 3 millimeters to fix the clearance issues.

I think we’re going to order another half dozen bulbs from HQRP-USA to finish switching all of our lights to LEDs, but if you know of another good supplier that’s even cheaper, please write us and let us know.

Resusci Annie couldn’t swim

Every two years I spend a day in a classroom renewing my CPR and basic first aid certifications. I was first certified when I joined the Boy Scouts in 1990 and have stayed current through years of being a camp counselor, a lifeguard, and now an office response volunteer.

No, you don’t need to know CPR or first aid to buy a boat, but I know that I would prefer all of my crew to be competent should my life need saving.

In the past few years the powers-that-be keep changing the compression-to-breath ratio (now 30:2), and you’re no longer supposed to check for a pulse, but other than that, not much has changed, especially not Resusci Annie.

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Maybe you know her as Rescue Anne or CPR Annie, but even if you’ve never taken a CPR course, you’re bound to recognize the face, and literally MILLIONS of people have put their lips on hers attempting to learn how to give rescue breathing.

But do you know whose lips you’re actually pressing yours against when trying to revive Annie?

Her real name is unknown, but in France she was referred to as L’Inconnue de la Seine.

In the late 1880s, the body of a young unknown woman was pulled from the Seine near the Louvre in Paris. The pathologist at the Paris morgue was allegedly so taken by this drowned woman’s beauty that he made a plaster cast of her face — a death mask.

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Being the quirky place it was, copies of the death mask began spreading throughout Paris, and it was soon very trendy among the more Bohemian residents to have one hanging in their home. She was compared to the Mona Lisa!

References to L’Innocue began creeping into early 20th century literature as she continued to become a cultural icon.

Then in 1958, Peter Safar and Asmund Laerdal attached the face of L’Innocue to the first Resusci Annie CPR mannequin.

So next time you’re in class and instructed to shake the mannequin to look for a response, be aware that she hasn’t been breathing for the past 135 years!

Charting our way towards the holidays

With the holidays looming, Mary took advantage of triple points day at West Marine and got me an early Christmas gift — a new chartplotter!

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When we bought Gimme Shelter she had a Garmin 498 Chartplotter installed. It was still working, but that model hasn’t been made since 2006, and the screen just couldn’t compare to the units on the market today.

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After much research we’d decided to stick with Garmin as we refurbish our instruments in hopes of finally having systems that talk to each other. The 498 had very limited connectivity. You could plug in a transducer, but that’s it. The GPSMAP 741xs had great connectivity options, including wifi and bluetooth, and it was on sale. Check out all those plugs – transducer, ethernet, radar, NMEA 2000, and even a camera feed.

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The first step of the install was to figure what wires were running to the helm. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as what seemed to be a neat bunch of wires was really a ratty mess of wires wrapped in five layers of electrical tape covered by an additional ten layers of duct tape. It took me almost 30 minutes just to get all the tape off.

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Once it was off, I found quite a mess. Instead of wiring the old chartplotter at the fuse panel, the previous owner had just run a power cable up the pedestal and wired everything outside of the pedestal. There was also an additional set of disconnected power cables, an unidentifiable black wire, and two gray Cat3 cables in the mix.

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On the downside, tracing all these cables through the belly of the boat trying to figure out to what and where they had been connected was a real pain. On the upside, I had plenty of cables available for snaking my new wires down through the pedestal.

I ended up removing four extra cables from the pedestal, and I never did figure out where the Cat3 cables lead.

By this point the dogs were incredibly bored with the entire project.

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Normally, I would have pulled this panel open to connect the chartplotter power lines to the back of a switch, but as there were already power lines running to the pedestal, I just connected to the pre-existing lines.

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Incidentally, the DEPTH-DIS-GPS switch on our panel is actually the VHF radio. Also, we don’t have a SOLAR CHARGER. I should probably take the time to re-label some of this stuff.

After connecting the chartplotter power wires, I ran into the next hurdle. Despite the fact that we already had an Airmar P97 in-hull transducer, it had an older 6-prong plug instead of the new 8-prong plug.

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That led to a pause in the installation action as we made another trip to West Marine in hopes of finding an adapter.

Well, for $69 there is a plug adapter, but it’s not the type of adapter you’re probably imagining. The adapter has an 8-pin plug that runs to a very large junction block. It required you to cut the end off of your 6-pin plug and to wire the three internal wires onto terminals inside the junction block, then close it all back up. You’re left with this very large junction block hanging on a wire outside of your pedestal. Considering I had just spent the time to remove all the junk wires and re-wire my pedestal correctly, I decided to just take the hit and buy a new Airmar P97 with the correct plug.

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Thankfully, the new transducer fit right into the cup of the old transducer because I had VERY securely epoxied that thing down during the summer when it had started leaking mineral oil. However, I did not want to cut the new cable to feed it down the pedestal from the top, which brought a new challenge — trying to feed it up the pedestal from the bottom.

Grab a wire coat hanger. I’m sure it’s down there somewhere.

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Thankfully all the new wiring worked during testing, so re-assembly of the pedestal could begin.

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A mere four hours had passed since I’d began the project, and we now had a new touchscreen chartplotter installed. We also no longer had a rat’s nest of wires and duct tape in the pedestal.

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And the best part of the entire project? The guy at West Marine gave us free Garmin hats — because there’s nothing you need in the middle of the ocean more than a camouflage hat … ?

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Refrigerator phenomena

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At some point in Gimme Shelter’s life, a previous owner converted the icebox into a refrigerator. However, they didn’t bother to insulate the lid of the icebox. It’s still just a piece of plywood.

Most of the time, this works fine. However, when the outdoor temperatures start swinging to far one way or another, it has consequences.

In the hottest part of the summer, we can’t leave the refrigerator running during the week while we’re not there because the temps inside the boat get too high, and the compressor never cycles. This ends up running the batteries flat despite being on a charger. We lost them last summer, and we almost lost them again this summer before we finally figured out what was going on.

In the coolest parts of the winter, which really isn’t THAT cold in Houston, we get the opposite problem. If we leave the refrigerator on, everything ends up frozen.

This week we discovered that one of the diet cokes had expanded and popped its own top. However, there was no mess as all the soda was just frozen together in a clump beside the can.

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I guess maybe it’s time to construct an insulated lid.

Is it time to call the Dr. … LED?

I think at this point, it has already been proven time and time again that LEDs are the best technology to light a boat. They have low amp draw and a very long life. When the dome light bulb in our head burned out, we thought maybe it was the time to try one.

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There was only one LED option at West Marine, and it was not cheap. The Dr. LED replacement bulb was freaking $35! If we hadn’t had a gift card, I would have never spent the money on it, especially since a two-pack of halogen bulbs was less than $5.

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Why are these things priced so high? The diodes themselves are pennies when you buy them alone. Does soldering them onto a bulb base really add so much cost?

We have six dome lights and four reading lights. If you do the quick math, it would be a whopping $350 to swap all of our lights using the West Marine Dr. LED solution. That’s not going to happen.

However, I can’t deny that the Dr. LED bulb worked very well.

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All of the diodes lit up, which is not always the case with Chinese LED bulbs, and it did light the head well.

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I decided to do some searching, and I did find a company out of New Jersey called HQRP with an eBay store selling almost identical LED bulbs for only $9.95 or a four-pack for $35.95. That still doesn’t seem as cheap as these bulbs should be, but I’ve got one on order to see how it will compare.