2020 is here

Remember when we partied like it was 1999 because it was 1999? I still remember that night, my senior year of college at Texas A&M, gathered in an apartment with about 30 of my closest friends — most of the university swimming and diving team, a bunch of us Rec Center lifeguards, and a few others that were regulars in our social circle. I spent the evening hoping that through some miracle I might get to kiss the girl I liked at midnight and wondering if the Y2K bug was going to wipe out all of our computers. Spoiler alert, neither happened.

It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago, especially since most of the time I still feel about 25. I jumped with both feet into the newspaper industry just in time to watch it die a slow horrible death. Back then, getting your picture in the paper was a big deal. People talked about it for years. Now, nobody cares about anything except celebrity retweets, and everyone is trying to be an “influencer.” Social media brought the democratization of journalism but with a loss of quality and a loss of truth. Everyone has an outlet and is screaming at the top of their lungs to be heard over the noise, but nobody had to sit through media law 101, and it shows.

Our 2019 celebration was a far cry from 1999. I don’t know if I could still even come up with 30 people to invite to a party, much less get them out of the house after 9 p.m. anymore. We were just a party of four out on the water.

This marks our one year anniversary working on the Kadey Krogen 38 sailboat. As always, it came down to the eleventh hour as to whether or not she would be working for the trip out into Galveston Bay to watch fireworks. The dodger combing that was having fiberglass repair done wasn’t reinstalled until the evening before. Unfortunately $3,000 later, it looks wonderful, and is much stronger, but obstructs the companionway from opening and closing correctly. It will have to come back off for more repair.

I also spent the four hours leading up to when our guests arrived crawling through the bilge and anchor locker to get a pump working and to rewire two of the running lights, which quit for no reason. However, the windlass, which has been relocated and then rewired with a solenoid and up and down buttons worked pretty well. Unfortunately the chain seems to slip every fifth link or so, and I can’t tell if it’s because we have low grade chain or if the gypsy is worn out and needs to be replaced.

I know that earlier I said I still feel 25, but I may be getting too old for project boats.

Despite all the trials, we made it out onto the bay to watch the fireworks. Mary made full use of the oven on the new boat to make some delicious Hawaiian roll ham and cheese sliders, and the full cockpit enclosure kept us warm. Despite the ongoing maintenance issues, this boat definitely has some advantages over our previous vessels.

While there’s no telling what’s in store for us in 2020, we are very excited that there will be an addition to the family in May. Parenting will be the biggest adventure we’ve ever undertaken.

I also want to say congratulations to our friend’s TJ and Kayla who were brave enough to spend new years with us on the water. They’re tying the knot in 2020, and we’re very excited for their upcoming nuptials.

It’s been a wild 20 years. In 1999 I never would have dreamed I could shoot a photo with my phone and instantly send it to all my friends. I mean, I didn’t even have a phone — I shared a landline with four other roommates. I’m very excited to see what the next 20 years brings.

All good things for you and your family in 2020.

7 days chartering in Greece: Day 3 – Hydra

As we were enjoying breakfast on our third day on the boat, we watched a propane truck completely demolish a electrical/water station. The repair guys were there almost immediately to repair it. Apparently most of these Islands have water brought in by boat and stored in massive tanks on the island, so water leaks do not go unnoticed.

Our captain was not excited about our next destination, but under insistence from some of the crew we motored off for Hydra (EE-Dra). As you enter the city its surrounded on both sides by massive fortress walls with cannons sticking out.

The city had an older feel than Poros.

We did some exploring and went through the Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion, while the guys had coffee by the water.

Donkeys are everywhere in Hydra and are the main source of transportation as well as hauling goods. We saw one carrying full size refrigerator on its back.

We decided to trust the travel books and take a long walk up to a monastary that overlooks the town. The books claimed that it was about an hour walk. It was closer to two hours for us, as no one told us it was 90% stairs.

When we got to the top we took a wrong turn, after a few EXTRA steps we finally made it to the correct monastery.

There were monks actively living there. I can’t imagine how they do that walk on a regular basis.

The view from the top made it somewhat worth it.

We walked back down close to sunset, and were surprised by large amounts of loitering cats. They were forming cat gangs and digging in dumpsters. They all seemed friendly and well fed though, and we saw small piles of cat food left around untouched.

We had a lovely meal at a “tourist” restaurant. Yiannis our captain informed us that although our meals were only around 12 Euros a person this restaurant would be too expensive for most locals to eat at.

The waiter informed us that they had just picked the olives on his families farm for the season and offered us some some fresh squeezed Olive Oil. The taste was green and fresh.

As it began to get dark we began to understand why our captain didn’t want to come to Hydra. There was limited parking, but it didn’t seem to bother the hordes of boats that just kept coming into the little cove. We were med-moored 3 rows deep on both sides before we settled in for bed.

Yiannis, our captain warned us that when the wind picked up tonight at 4 am, everyone would be awake.

He was right. I woke up to the engine starting, and lines being frantically pulled in and let out. The boats in the second and third rows had started to drag anchor and be pushed into the front of our boat. Each boat had an exhausted and angry looking captain sitting out with boat poles holding other boats away from his boat.

This continued until the sun finally came up and the boats were able to leave from the outside in.

I think if we had been up all night like Yiannis was we probably would not want to ever come back to Hydra. But for me, even with the half night of sleep, Hydra was worth it. It was a beautiful old city with a different character than other places we visited.

7 days chartering in Greece: Day 2 – Poros

The first morning waking up on the boat set the tone for the rest of the vacation. Four of us woke early to have coffee and breakfast and prep the boat for an early departure, and three of us slept. We put the sails up for awhile, but there was little to no wind. We passed by Aegina and some large rocks to enter into the harbor near Poros. We saw our first and only flying fish

We took some time to anchor in a cove by ourselves, don our wet suits and do a bit of swimming. We saw a few fish but not a lot. Lots of old moorings and nets. Sea urchins were everywhere on the shores.

Pulling into Poros it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by how beautiful the city was. It was as if the city rose up out of the sea on the mountain and we were moored at the base of it.

We had our first attempt at med mooring. After picking up a tire on the first try we got ourselves settled in. We did a short hike up to the clock tower and explored some old churches.

We began to see why Greece is known for its cats.

Me and Fred took off to get some good night time shots, while everyone else settled in at the one cafe with wifi.

7 days chartering in Greece: Day 1 – Planning and Paperwork

A “last minute” birthday invite from a friend led us on an adventure chartering a 42ft Fountaine Pajot Cat in Greece this fall. Last minute for me is only have three months to plan provisions, anchorages, and our sail plans.

We stressed over the plans for the entire three months, but in the end picked a fairly well-traveled path around the Saronic Gulf just west of Athens.

I used the same method as my last trip to plan the provisions. You can read those details here. The only difference this time was that everything was in KG and G and so it took a bit more math on my part. We sent the list off to a provisioning company this time instead of doing the shopping ourselves, and had the supplies delivered to the boat.

We got in early to the marina Saturday, but the food arrived late. The charter manager sat us down to sign paperwork and pay all of the remaining money owed. He explained to us that there would be a $3600 deposit paid, and if there was any damage at all to the boat that we would be out the cost of repairs or all of that money if the repair was higher than their insurance deductible. We could however pay $300 up front to have the insurance put into our name, and we would then be covered for damages. After much debate we decided to go ahead and pay for the insurance money. It was worth it to not have to worry throughout the week.

The marina was a busy place. The docks were just big enough for cars to drive down, and they did. They drove full speed, forwards and in reverse.

After loading the provisions and signing paperwork it was too late to head out. We opened up a few cans of Mythos and headed over to a local place that our captain recommended. He helped us to order a hearty Greek style group meal that ended up being enough food for three days.

We all went to bed excited to start our adventure on the open ocean in the morning.

Southeast Texas Cats Mercury Cougar Club

It was about a year ago I met Thomas Folk in person in a Home Depot parking lot. It was during a Saturday evening car show, but neither of us had our Mercury Cougar’s at the event.

When you invest the time and effort into a classic car, you want to talk about it, and it only took about a week before Mary was completely tired of hearing about problems with pulley alignment and my hypotheses as to why the dash lights weren’t working.

Tom and I talked cars and discussed the potential for creating a local club. He stepped up and did the networking with the Cougar Club of America and tracked down other Cougar owners in the area. I put together a logo and a Facebook page, and in December 2018, we had our first meeting of the Southeast Texas Cats.

Our December meeting will mark the one year anniversary, and while our event attendance isn’t breaking any records, I think it’s pretty remarkable that a free organization run by enthusiasts has made it an entire year.

The November event was a cruise I suggested in the Clear Lake area that started at the Seabrook Waffle Company and ended at the Lone Star Flight Museum. Apparently I wasn’t the only person who thought the Seabrook Waffle Company was a great spot for a Saturday morning car meet because the local Volkswagen club was there as well.

We had a nice drive down Nasa Road 1, then up Space Center Parkway around to State Highway 3 to end at the Lone Star Flight Museum, which was having some nice activities in conjunction with Memorial Day.

Here’s a quick video recap of the cruise, and if you’re in the Houston area and want to know more about classic Mercury Cougars, stop by one of our upcoming meetings.

Installing LED headlights on a 1967 Mercury Cougar

I like the warm, yellow glow of vintage halogen headlights. Unfortunately, they’re not so great for actually seeing at night. The go-to fix for the past 10 years has been High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlight conversion kits. Of course, these bulbs draw much more power than the originals, which wasn’t great for vintage wiring that was never meant to handle that sort of amp draw in the first place. The solve that issue, it required the installation of a headlight relay and some new wiring to alleviate the load. Otherwise, turning on your brights might result in a fire.

With LED technology becoming so commonplace I figured there had to be a better solution. We converted all the bulbs in our boat to LED years ago. Surprisingly, there still wasn’t a great LED solution being carried by any of the major restoration and parts shops.

Projector LEDs are by far the best option, but most of them are really funky looking. I wanted something that looked as original as possible. My search led me to a site called dapperlighting.com. They have a projector LED headlight called the OE7, which still looks like the vintage 7” glass lights used on Mustangs, but it has a projector housing inside with an LED bulb. Unfortunately, my 1967 Mercury Cougar has four 5.75” headlights.

Dapper Lighting also sells an array of 5.75” lights with various halos, colors, and even options to make them change colors and work as turn signals, etc. It’s neat tech, but it’s not what I needed at all. My headlights don’t even show unless they’re turned on, so having halos that come on with the parking lights or turn signals built into them would be a complete waste of money.

My search moved on to eBay. I found a vendor called Stark Lighting that was selling stock looking 5.75” glass bulb housing with an H4 bulb socket on the back paired with LED bulbs. It was a plug and play solution, but I was hesitant to purchase them. Being a non-projector bulb and housing, I was really worried about the glare. I can’t stand those cars on the road that put the HID bulbs in a housing that was never meant for them and blind everyone on the freeway.

After much debate and a drive home from the grocery store during which I couldn’t tell if my headlights were turned on or not, I finally decided to give them a try.

cof

While the Stark Lighting eBay listings proudly display the Sylvania logo, there was not any sort of logo to be found on any of their packaging.

The housings are real glass, but they don’t have the same concave surface as the stock lights.

The bulbs have a large heatsink and fan on the back. I have my questions regarding the longevity of those little fans, but we’ll see.

The metal retaining rings took some finagling to seat over the H4 housings, but there were no issues with the bulbs protruding out of the back. There was plenty of clearance for everything. All four bulbs have high- and low-beam capability, so you just leave the center blade exposed when you press the connections together on the high-beam only plugs.

The result was a stock looking headlight with a very white light.

rhdr

I drove the car around for a weekend with stock headlights on the driver side and LED headlights on the passenger side. There was a dramatic difference.

rhdr

I could see much further down the road with the LEDs.

I was hoping that after the conversion I would be able to just change the bulbs from the rear of the housing instead of removing the entire housing, but there is a retainer clip over the bulb that can’t be opened with the housing installed in the car.

I don’t feel like these lights cause crazy glare for oncoming drivers, but I aimed them down more than what the manual specifies just in case.

Now even in a well-lit parking lot at night, I can still tell my headlights are on when I pull the switch. This has definitely been one of the best modifications I’ve made to the car.

1960 Crestliner: Phase 2

Last week we headed to Illinois four days earlier than the rest of the family to get the Crestliner running and comfortable for the 4th of July.

While we were gone I had a rebuilt outboard put onto the back of the boat. When the shop installed the outboard, they also replaced the rotten transom board for me.

When we started the project, we had an idea that we would pattern a new floor with painters plastic or butcher paper. This didn’t work too well. It was very difficult to keep the plastic tight on both sides on the curved edge. It was also impossible to reach both sides at once without being in the middle of them. We ended up doing side to side measurements every 6 inches to create a pattern.

Not perfect, but not bad

The subfloor of the boat had been filled with styrofoam, but throughout the decades, it had become water-logged, crumbly and moldy. When I looked up replacement options for closed cell foam, the slick mix and pour foam that would have perfectly formed to the subfloor troughs was far too pricey for this project. After googling several types of closed cell foam, we landed on pool noodles! $50 for enough to fill the whole thing.

We secured the floor over top by screwing it into the metal ribs.

The next step was the front seat. My father had a bench screwed down on all sides, but we wanted to make it open up to provide access to the storage we found underneath. This was obviously the original design since the hinges were actually welded in place.

We decided to cover the seat and the floor with a vinyl imitation teak decking. It’s soft on the feet, non-slip, pretty to look at, and it keeps you from getting splinters. After the flooring we took considerable time to install some swivel chairs. It was difficult because they bolted in both sides.

During the spring we made some cushions for the aft part of the boat using some closed cell foam and sunbrella leftover from our sailboat interior. Our next step was to make some bases for them. We chose to do a rectangular plywood base with 2x2s as joiners in the corners. After we had them all put together and painted, we traced them onto the floor where we wanted them. I then took them out of the boat and cleaned the plywood floor carefully before sticking down the vinyl decking. Then we bolted down the side seats and left the middle seat as a floater, which can be also be used as a step or a coffee table.

The last thing we needed was to get the lights running on the boat. That was fairly simple as the wiring isn’t very complex so we just ran all new. We ended up buying new stern and fore lights as well.

Our last obstacle was some safety concerns on the trailer. Our forward winch wasn’t working at all, so we got a replacement for it along with some new tires at the local farm store.

We did a quick test run in the yard, as well as some backing practice. The yoke of the trailer turned out to be a bit crooked, so pulling straight back involved a sort of S pattern wobble with the steering wheel to compensate.

Finally we got to take her down to the river! I can’t wait to take her out many more times in the future.

Capturing Jupiter Opposition 2019

Living in Houston, I don’t do much astrophotography. When I do attempt to capture the night sky, it’s usually with a wide angle lens and a long exposure, like this shot from the Lick Observatory in California a few years ago.

However, this month all of the news outlets in Houston were hyping up Jupiter and claiming that you would be able to see not only the planet, but also its four largest moons with only binoculars June 10. I decided to had to check it out.

I pulled out my vintage Leica R 400mm f6.8 Telyt and stacked both a 2x teleconverter and a 1.4x teleconverter before attaching it to a Sony A7II and bolting it all to a good tripod.

I’m not a big fan of teleconverters since you lose stops of light and some detail, but I was going for maximum magnification, and this rig got me the equivalent of a 1120mm lens.

For reference, this is how close 1120mm gets you to the moon on a full-frame, 35mm equivalent camera.

I have the StarTracker app on my phone, so I knew right where to look in the sky. The hardest part of the evening was waiting until Jupiter made its appearance above the neighbor’s trees about 10:30 p.m.

I took a couple dozen shots at varying shutter speeds and ISOs, but it seemed like f8 (plus the lost stops from the teleconverters, so actually f22), 1/500 second at ISO 1600 gave the clearest results. However, I had to develop the RAW files twice — once to properly expose Jupiter and once to expose the moons. Then I combined the two files into one photo.

There is Jupiter with Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s pretty cool that you can see at least some amount of detail on Jupiter even using old lenses from the 1970s.

Restoring my Dad’s 1960 Crestliner

When we were kids, Sunday afternoons after church were often spent out on the Mississippi in our family boat. We would swim in the gross brown water, fish, tube off the back of the boat, or explore the sandy islands that dot the river. We used to take the boat on vacations with us, and we always took the cousins out when they came to visit.

The 1960 Crestliner was the first boat that we owned. My dad got it from his parents when he was in high school. My mom says it was in worse shape then than when I got it. My dad fixed it up and used to drive it way too fast, ramping off barge wakes.

Our family moved on to other boats, but my dad was not the kind of man to get rid of old things. We started to have more of an Armada in our yard. When he passed away a couple years ago he left us three boats as part of his large “collection” of items.

I chose the Crestliner to keep for myself for three reasons. 1. It’s aluminum and so simply designed that not much can go wrong. 2. It’s small and easy. 3. It was the first and meant the most to my dad.

I’ve had it for a couple years now, but I just got started on the process of restoring it into something that we can use again as a family.

The first step was to rip up the rotten wood floors. After that I had to take out all of the flotation foam because there was years worth of compost underneath. I scooped out six five-gallon buckets of dirt from the bottom of the hull. It turned out that most of the foam was old and rotted anyway, so I threw it all out.

Then we hosed it down and I took it over to a mechanic to get the engine inspected. Phase 2 will be a new wooden floor, new seats and a running engine. Hopefully in time for the 4th of July!

5 Tips for Better Writing

Check your facts

You know exactly what you think you know until you look it up.

Hmm, that mango looks like it would make some great guacamole.

Even if you’re positive everything is correct, take the time to utilize spellcheck, check your AP Style Guide, and run any bold claims through sites like Snopes.com or FactCheck.org.

Remember to check your graphics and photos for accuracy as well.

Keep your message focused

Cramming too many messages together causes clutter and confusion.

Those poor children.

Lead with what is important and keep your messages brief and to the point. Rambling is an easy way to lose readers. Make a new post for each topic.

Update your messaging

What was once inspirational can end up being offensive.

First step to helping, stop calling them retarded!

Revisit your strategy. Do the slogans and calls to action used in the past still make sense?

Be aware of cultural connotations

Stay sensitive to the culture and history of your target audience.

Was this craigslist user named Jim Crow?

I doubt this poster was even aware of the cultural history of his or her title, but if a business was to make the same sort of mistake, it could cause major backlash.

Focus your message to each channel

Hot links and video are great, unless you’re working in print.

What is this new paper technology? No batteries required!

Blogs are not the same as Facebook, which is not the same as Instagram, which is not the same as LinkedIn, and you get what I’m saying. Craft your message to best fit each channel, but to complement across all channels. Nothing is more irritating than messages that are cut off, links that don’t work, or the promise of photos or video when there are none.