Sassy’s Journey to Canada, Seven Years Ago

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Last March 18 was celebrated as Sassy’s 7th birthday, and it is only fair that I try to relate the complete story of her migratory journey to Canada.

Early in 2009 I was resting back in the living-room of a posh and ridiculously expensive executive apartment in Port-of-Spain, reflecting about my return to Canada and my future life as a retiree – retirement was then less than a year away.

I was trying to make up my mind on a very important matter: what boat I was to get for my last years as solo-sailor. Three years before I had sold “Vándor”, the last hull ever built for the Alberg 22. For seven years it had been a very able and faithful sailing companion. However, it was too heavy for towing and cumbersome to launch and rig when single-handed. I was looking for a smaller sailboat, preferably a trailer-pocket cabin-cruiser that I could completely manage by myself and suitable both for fresh water cruising as well as gunkholing. I also wished it to be brand-new, as I did not want to spend much time doing maintenance. After much debate and research I honed on a few designs still in production: Montgomery 17, Precision 18, Sanibel 17/18 and the Com-Pac Sun-Cat 17. The latter particularly appealed to me because of its Mastendr® hinged mast design. However, I had never sailed a cat-rigged boat and wondered about its handling.

Late in September I was to attend a meeting in Washington, D.C., which as it happened, was to become the very last large Managers Meeting of my career. My return flight to Port of Spain was scheduled via Miami. Hence I decided to stop in Florida for a couple of days, fly to Tampa and pay a visit to the “Hutchins Co., Inc.” shipyard in Clearwater. For many years the Hutchins Company has been manufacturing unique designs of fiberglass boats under its “Com-Pac” proprietary brand. The company is a family enterprise, something that particularly appealed to me in these times of large and impersonal corporations. Gerry Hutchins together with his brother Richard have continued the business started by their father, Hutch, and already being carried on by a new generation of Hutchins: Tyler and Mathew.

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They did not have any Sun-Cat ready to go in the water, but a couple of SunDay Cats were sunbathing in the front yard. One was Tyler’s who kindly invited me onboard for a test-sail. The SunDay has the same hull and rigging as the Sun-Cat, their main difference being only the size of the cockpit and the cabin. We launched at the Seminole Boat Ramp at the west tip of Seminole Street, sailed under the Memorial Causeway and even ventured under the Gulf Boulevard Bridge at Sand Key, FL., but never quite made it into the Gulf of Mexico. There was not much wind and the sail lasted for just a couple of hours, but I was able to launch and rig the boat, try her in all points-of-sail and see how the boat handled in light winds. By the time we hauled her out my mind was made.

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The following day I visited the yard and saw several Sun-Cat boats in different stages of assembly. I placed the order with Gerry and returned to Port-of-Spain for the last month of my official assignment with the Pan American Health Organization. Gerry would later be extremely patient and compliant with the many requests for detail that I would email to him during the following months. Eventually, arrangements were made for a return to Clearwater in March to take delivery of the boat.

Once back in Ottawa my attention turned into finding a suitable vehicle to tow the Sun-Cat. My preference was for an SUV 4WD, automatic, preferably with a diesel engine, and when I learned that a couple of Jeep’s Liberty 2006 RGB were for sale at “Capital Dodge” in West-Ottawa, I went for a test-drive and bought one on the spot.

In March I drove the Jeep from Ottawa to Clearwater. I did the trip south alone, but Martha flew to Tampa to join the adventure from there on. Together, we spent a few days visiting the west coast of the Florida Peninsula, sampled the local seafood and enjoyed the large Clearwater Beach with its superb sunsets over the water. We also discovered the amazing Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL (http://thedali.org).

But before hitting the road a small last-minute glitch had to be solved: the trailer needed a license plate. This required a visit to the offices of the State of Florida to request a temporary plate. This in turn required payment of the taxes related to the value of the trailer, taxes that I would eventually also have to pay at my return to Canada for some kind of a double-dipping tax. The trailer in question was a model specially designed for the Sun-Cat (Magic Tilt #BG4003-1″) and it had already caused a few headaches: the Canadian Ministry of Transport viewed it as a “vehicle not designed for the Canadian market being imported to Canada by a non traditional importer” and I feared that I might arrive at the border only to be told that the boat could pass but the trailer could not. As it happened, at the border I was given a form to be signed by an approved examiner and to be surrendered to the Canadian authorities when requesting the Ontario plate for the trailer.

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Trip South:
– Ottawa – Washington DC (~920 Km): Mar 13-14 2010
– Washington – Fayetteville NC (~510 Km): Mar 14-15 2010
– Fayetteville NC – Brunswick GA (~540 Km): Mar 15-16 2010
– Brunswick GA – St. Petersburg FL (~500 Km): Mar 16- 17 2010

Trip North:
– St. Petersburg FL – Brunswick GA (~500 Km): Mar 22-23 2010
– Brunswick GA – Fayetteville NC (~540 Km): Mar 23-24 2010
– Fayetteville NC – Winchester VA (~550 Km): Mar 24- 25 2010
– Winchester VA – Courtland NY (~730 Km): Mar 25-26 2010
– Courtland NY – Ottawa ON (~300 Km): Mar 26-27 2010

The first leg of quasi-1000 Km was done almost non-stop in eleven hours, and the first night was spent with friends in Washington DC. The rest of the nights were spent in Hampton Inn’s where I had points accumulated from a previous life, breakfast was included and price reductions were offered to CAA members. The fact that most Hampton Inns had ample double parking was essential for parking with the trailer locked to the car hitch. Both crossings of the St. Lawrence were made at Thousand Islands.

Cruising north, along the Virginian Appalachians in early spring, was a most unforgettable experience. The trip ended at the marina of the Nepean Sailing Club, where Sassy has been hosted every season ever since.

The last act was to find a suitable dinghy. First if was a Sevylor Rio but the definitive one was a 6-foot French Sportyak II. The US importer could not possibly deliver it to Canada. Hence, once again the Jeep had to go fetch a boat south of the border. Fortunately this time delivery was made to a place closer to Ottawa: the UPS Store in Ogdensburg NY, a little over one-hour drive away.

The name “Sassy Gaffer” was a suggestion from my good friend Dr. Greg Sherman, from the marshes of Northport ON; and the design and name on the sides of Sassy’s hull were the creation of my also good friend, sailor and designer extraordinaire, Bryan Mathews from Orangeville ON. “Sassy” is obvious when one sees the lines of the Sun-Cat, which happens to also be “gaff”-rigged, hence a “Gaffer”. Also, “Gaffer” was the name of the “pirate cat” in the “Muppet Show”. I always wanted her to have a “cat” name and my initial choice for a name had been “Piqtuqsiraq” – the Canadian Lynx in Inuktitut, which actually means “the one that travels in the blizzard”.

Hibernating in her 7th Birthday

Tomorrow will be Sassy’s 7th birthday. It was in March 18, 2010 when for the first time she was lowered on her trailer and wheeled out of the Hutchins’ shipyard in Clearwater, FL, ready to be hauled all the way to Canada. Here is a picture of her on that very morning:

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And here is how she looks right now (actualy, March 15, 2017), seven years later (not much is revealed under the tarp but the hull waterline and the blue bottom are clearly recognizable):

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Sassy has been tucked under her tarp since late August. In February, and also last week, she endured the coldest nights of the winter and a great deal of snow and ice, which seems to have caused the collapse of the tarp ahead of the gallows. However, a closer access and examination will have to wait until the snow further thaws. The official launching day at the marina is the first weekend in May, but with some luck she will be in the water ahead of that date.

Happy Birthday, Sassy girl, and please forgive me for having brought you from the blond sands of Caribbean Florida to the white snows of the “Great White North”…

 

Batman’s Batradio in the Batcave of the Batsixties

In 1966, the classic TV series “Batman” was in its first season. At the onset of the 2nd episode (entitled “Smack in the Middle”) Batman is seen in the Batcave operating a radio with a microphone in its hand. The following is a composite from pics of that episode (the wording in the bubbles does not follow the original script…):

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Most of the electronics around look unapologetically fake. However, a few of the items may have been real: the one showing on the table, at the bottom-left corner of the first image seems to have the inscription “…GNER” (likely for “ALIGNER”?); the piece with a semicircular dial, behind Batman’s right arm, may correspond to a  receiver; and the one with many knobs, obscured behind Batman’s right side, could have been a vintage transmitter. Here is a blow-up from the corner of the first picture:

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The ARRL International DX CW and the Conundrum of the Three Tees

After two months (my last contest had been the “RAC Winter Day” in mid-December) I returned to the 30-35 (sometimes even 40) wpm craze that, these days, is a DX CW contest: over the weekend I participated in the “ARRL International DX CW”.

Operating S&P, with the ICOM 703 outputting 5 Watts into an end-fed wire up a maple tree, I was able to log 145 DX contacts and collect 84 multipliers. This was a few more than the 117 QSOs I logged in 2016 for a respectable 3rd. place among 11 QRP Canadian stations.

Sending was via the Bencher BY2 paddle with which – if needed and even at 30 wpm – I can correct an error in the reception of my callsign or perhaps send and extra “TU” – even a “73” – or just a quick “ee” to those who struggle with my QRP signal.

A big surprise was to be able to log stations in all 5 HF bands (10m-80m). Under current propagation conditions I was expecting the 10m band to remain completely closed and the 15m band to be very poor. Instead, the 15m band remained opened from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, and a several PY stations answered my QRP call in the 10m band. 8P in the 80m band was a bonus. Also a new DXCC (V3) found its way into my logs (124 DXCC entities worked with 108 confirmed in LoTW).

As part of the contest exchange all DX stations were sending their PWR as the number of Watts output by their transmitters. Most were using the usual abbreviations, but one station insisted in sending the PWR in the form of three Tees: “TTT” (the abbreviation for “000”). I listen with intent and it was definitely “TTT”. Was it an unusual abbreviation for “1000” or perhaps a long “E” for “E00” instead of “500”? Or had this station really found a way for sending electro-magnetic waves into the ionosphere using zero output power? Likely, with no transmitter at all, which would revolutionize not only Amateur-Radio but all Thermodynamics as we know it… And if so – and this is the big conundrum – why send three “T’s” when a single one would have sufficed…?

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Spotted in Antarctica at the Bottom of the Solar Cycle – With 5W and a Wire Antenna

Currently, HF propagation has been poor for frequencies above the 20m band. However, during the last two days the 17m band has showed openings to Europe and the Caribbean, allowing for a few  JT65 QSOs with DX stations in those locations.

However, the most notable finding was that the 5-Watt JT65 signal output by the ICOM 703 and broadcasted by a vertical end-fed wire antenna could be heard in Antarctica (abt 14K Km) at the DP1POL Neumeyer III station on the Ekström Ice Shelf:

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From Ottawa, my QRP signal had reached Antarctica before (also in the 17m band): on December 21, 2014, a CW QSO (later confirmed in LoTW) was completed with callsign RI1ANR in the Novolazarevskaya Station, Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. However this was during a period of significant better HF propagation. Under current conditions, the spotting by DP1POL in PSKreporter (https://pskreporter.info/pskmap.html), even if at -23db (I have had QSOs confirmed with reports as low as -27db), came quite as a surprise.

 

Morse Code and Alzheimer – A Hint for a Proposal

A recent article in PNAS by a team of scientists from Milan and Bolzano, Italy, adds to the growing list of scientific studies suggesting that the learning and/or knowledge of different languages may have an effect on delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s dementia (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/01/241610909114.full.pdf).

Most humans learn very early in their lives that the different sounds in the language(s) they speak can be graphically recorded in the form of written characters representing sounds. The Morse code (more likely initially proposed by Alfred Weil, one or Morse’s associates) is an alternative form for representing those characters using minimal combinations of “dots” and “dashes”. Although strictly not a language per se, it is an alternative way of symbolizing the sounds in a spoken language, and learning to mentally decode it possibly involves neurological paths similar to those used in the learning of a language (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20346399/)

The learning of the Morse code has been informally invoked among the “mental exercises” that may potentially be of benefit against mental decay (https://www.duolingo.com/comment/7721790http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/01/brain-exercises-delay-speed-up-dementia/  [see the comments]). However, up to the present, no scientific study seems to have sought direct evidence in this regard.

Cross-sectional studies are usually prone to confounding factors. However, they can provide initial evidence pointing in the direction of associations that may well be causally linked (as shown for many factors involved in chronic ailments and most notably for smoking and cancer). Hence, perhaps a survey for the incidence and/or time of onset of Alzheimer among radio-operators able to mentally decode Morse code, as compared to the general population (or a more carefully chosen or matched control group) might provide initial unbiased evidence pointing in the direction of a beneficial effect of the code on preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Fortunately, radio amateur operators currently conversant in the Morse code never depended on that evidence to learn it and enjoy its use. However, the possibility that its learning and use might prevent Alzheimer can be an added bonus to their enjoyment.

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