The Great Loop

My brother and I were together to celebrate our dad’s 85th birthday. We don’t get to see each other that much so it was great to catch up. But he confessed that he had one great ambition – to buy a boat and spend a year doing “The Great Loop“, and then sell the boat when he’s finished. And he says he’d have room on the boat for me if I wanted to join him for some of it.

The Great Loop is a circular path that encompasses the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the Intracoastal Waterway, and various things that join those great waterways. And after he described it to me, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I would love to do the whole thing. Not only would this be an amazing opportunity to see some amazing parts of the US and Canada, but it would be a chance to connect with my brother and heal some very old wounds.

The website linked above says it’s about 6,000 miles (although they give a whole bunch of different options – like whether you do the Erie Canal or the St. Lawrence, or go through Lake Ontario and Erie or take the Trent-Severn through to Lake Huron) and taking a year to do it makes for a very leisurely 16 miles per day average, or more likely a lot of exploration days and waiting for the good weather and some more ambitious days.

He has been thinking about it for a while, and he knows exactly what boat he wants. He’s looking for a sailboat, preferably a Morgan Out Island, between 33 feet and 41 feet long. They’ll be able to cruise under sail or power. He assures me it will have two bedrooms, have enough electric power to run a laptop and other stuff, and will have a shower. I suppose there are also other things to look for like fridges and stoves and navigation equipment. I’ll let Dave worry about that.

I’m not sure it would have room to put a V10 Sport on it so I could paddle for an hour or two every day. But because it’s almost all on rivers or the Intracoastal, it would probably be in range of cell towers most of the time, so I could probably work. If only I can get another remote job, I could work and keep paying the bills at home. Vicki isn’t interested in going the whole way, but she might be willing to spend a week or two with us on the Mississippi part – maybe Karen and Vicki could come at the same time for those parts. It would be sad to be apart that long. But what an opportunity!

I feel like a lot would depend on my next job and how flexible it is, whether I’d have to log in every day or pull code and work on it off-line, etc. Plus I don’t see being able to afford anything until the mortgage is paid off in October 2018.

I have a mental picture of us sailing down the Mississippi, on a sunny day sitting on the deck typing away on a laptop and just taking life as it comes in a mix of high tech work and low-tech travel. I’m stoked for this and hope I can make it happen.

Orcas getting their own back

So I just saw this news story: “Gangs of aggressive killer whales are shaking down Alaska fishing boats for their fish: report” and I had to write about a similar experience.

I don’t know if I’ve written about it before, but after I graduated from University of Waterloo in 1985, I got a VIA Rail Youthrail Pass (30 days unlimited train travel on VIA Rail) and decided to see Canada. I ended up visiting my brother out on Vancouver Island, where he “worked” on the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges. His job was to man what was probably the smallest vessel in the Canadian Navy, a 2 person patrol boat. It was also probably the only vessel in the Canadian Navy equipped with a downrigger and a recreational fishfinder. Officially, I think his job was to look after the engines, but the other guy assigned to the boat didn’t seem to mind letting Dave drive or do anything he wanted to do. Including bringing his little brother for a day out on the range.

The reason I wanted to go out on the range is because of that downrigger and fishfinder. The offical duties of the boat didn’t take up much of the day, so the rest of the time they’re trolling for salmon. And being very successful at it, I might add. We ended up with enough to give the base commander a few salmon to thank him for letting me come, grilled salmon for dinner that night, and smoked salmon for later – I took some on the train going home later and it sure made up for how bad train food was.

So at one point during the day, I was reeling in a salmon when the line when “PING” and snapped. Dave said “You didn’t keep the tip up”, and I was just about the argue the point when a whole pod of orcas surfaced all around the boat, moving fast. Obviously one of them had stolen my salmon. But that was just an appetizer for them – off on the horizon where they were heading so fast, we could see a fishing boat trying desperately to back off their purse sein. They could see the orcas coming and wanted to open the purse before the orcas got into it and tore their nets up. We could soon see the orcas jumping out of the water in his nets. Poor guy probably lost his catch and thousands of dollars in nets, but man it looked cool to watch.

Maybe it’s time to shut it down…

I wrote earlier about using my website as an excuse to practice some new skills, rewriting the UI to use react.js and just generally making it look better and more responsive. One thing I haven’t had time to do yet is redo the backend. I was going to use that as an excuse to learn Flask or Pyramid.

Except today I read a news report about a plane that crashed because the idiot pilot relied on a waypoint on his GPS instead of following the regulations and actually checking “all available information” about his place of intended landing. In the news report, Garmin said that the place he was planning to land wasn’t in their database. And I checked and sure enough, it’s in my database as an Ultralight park. Now the thing about microlights/ultralight parks is that they can be anything from a short paved strip to a cow pasture that a farmer sometimes allows ultralights to land in. They’re also not listed in the official AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication). Not the sort of thing a prudent pilot would land without doing due research first, including phoning the owner and finding out the landing conditions.

But even if it’s 100% clear the pilot was at fault and didn’t do his legally required flight planning, I had a bit of a panic at the thought that he might have loaded the data from my site into his GPS (it’s not that difficult with a handheld GPS, damn near impossible with a panel mounted certified GPS).

Meanwhile, I’ve basically been keeping this site going out of a sense of duty. I don’t fly any more, and the programs I originally did this to support were for the Palm Pilot so nobody uses them. I used to get donations, but I don’t any more. I haven’t received any feedback in years. I’ve been doing this for 20 or more years. Maybe it’s time to retire it?