Monday, January 8, 2018

My First Shot At The USCG OUPV 6 Pack Captain's License Exam

Ever since we started our on board life, I've wanted to get my U.S. Coast Guard approved, bonafide Captain's license. I've never had any professional vessel operating aspirations, but I saw it as me earning a diploma of sorts. It would be a validation of the effort and diligence I always put into being the traditional, not-quite-so-bonafide captain of Why Knot.

Let me explain that last part. It's all about tradition and, I guess, a little bit of legalese.

At this moment (1/7/2018, after I took the OUPV exam) I am not a licensed Captain. I have to still pass the test. But I am a skipper; I've been the operator of a boat. I've also been a traditional captain; in my case, I've been the operator of my own vessel, Why Knot. I'm not sure if I were the operator of some other vessel not for hire if I'd be a traditional captain or not, but I'd still be a skipper. Regardless, I've been working towards getting my U.S. Coast Guard issued OUPV Captains License for most of 2017.

To do this I've used the study program by an outfit called Mariners Learning System. I was introduced to them at the Annapolis Powerboat Show a couple of years ago. It was mostly online study which is something that I do well with. It seemed like a good way to go. Now, I didn't have to start the course immediately. However, when I activated the account, I had twelve months to complete the curriculum and take the tests in their system. I could take each of the four license test modules up to three times for the original price. After that first twelve months, extensions can be purchased for a modest sum. But one could only take the module exams up to three times without having to start the whole process over again. I activated the system on March, 8, 2017 which meant I had until March 8, 2018 to do the curriculum and PASS the exam modules.

[Note: One of MLS's selling points is that they are the only U.S.C.G authorized testing company. This enables them to compose the tests and sanction exam dates and locations. In other words, they can do testing on behalf of the Coast Guard. MLS says they are the only organization like this. I guess other license schools prep you and then send you to take the Coast Guard proctored exams in one of their regional exam centers. But this is an important distinction.]

Before I go on further, let me ask the question everyone has – how hard is the exam? It's hard. There's a lot of material, it's very technical, and you have to be able to parse very nuanced choices to select the correct multiple choice answer. You can't go in there thinking that the correct answer will somehow stand out. The Coast Guard wants the exam to weed out pretenders more than validating winners. In other words, the exam is designed to get people to fail.

Anyway, my first test day came on January 7, 2018, in Denver. More precise, in my home community, Lakewood, Colorado. How convenient. I showed up and was surprised to see that there was only one other candidate there to take the test. So be it. The proctor is a local captain himself.

The exam itself is in four modules. They are Plotting [ten questions, actually working with a chart they supply.], Navigation [20 questions], Rules of the Road [30 questions], and Deck General [60 questions]. To pass the exam one has to get at least at 70% grade on Plotting, Navigation, and Deck General, which I did with some margin to spare. But on Rules of the Road, you have to get a score of 90% or better. That one was a challenge.

Shipmates, if you're thinking that any test on the Rules of the Road couldn't be more difficult than who the stand-on and give-way vessels are in a crossing situation, you would be sadly mistaken. You have to know all about the ships' lights [Are they a NUC, Constrained by Draft, or Pilot? What lights would different tows have according to their length?], you powerboaters need to know the rules for sailing vessels, and much more. It was hard.


The bottom line was that I did not pass that module the first time. I got an 80%.

I had two options what to do next. The next testing opportunity in Colorado is in February and that would be all there would be here for several months. I had only two more times to take the test for that last module before the March 8th expiration date. I did something MLS says is not such a good idea; I decided to take the test for that module a second time then and there. I figured if I failed I still had the test opportunity available to me in February. If I passed, all the better.

The second test had different questions than the first, but they seemed more familiar to me. It flowed better. But I did do something I know for sure I shouldn't have done. I second guessed myself on the answer to one question and changed my answer.

And guess what my score was? 86.6% I got one question wrong. Damn it! And remember that question I changed my answer on? I had it right the first time. Damn it! Damn it! One stinking question!

So, It'll my last shot at getting at least a 90% on the Rules of the Road module test in February in Boulder, Colorado.

One stinking question.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Is Going To Be a Great Year!

Yay! 2017 is over! The curse of the perpetual shore leave has been vanquished.

We are so happy to have flipped the calendar page to 2018. What a pain in the butt it has been. First, our house out here in Denver was heavily damaged by a freak hailstorm with baseball size hail. We had to go through contractor hell to get it fixed. (FYI, our insurance company, American Family, performed well. No problems with them. But those damn contractors...) Lisa then needed medical attention, and that glued us to Denver for the last quarter of the year. (Everything went well with her. And for those in the know, this had nothing to do with what she went through in 2015.) To finish up the year, we drove back to St. Louis to see sons Bryan and Kevin and their assorted broods. It was nice but cold, cold, cold.

As I write this on 1/3/2018, we are back in Denver so that Lisa can start her tax preparation work. She'll wrap that up at the end of March. We'll then put on a full court press to get down to the boat mid-April-ish to start our 2018 boating season. And just like we had planned last year, we are heading up the coast to start our Why Knot Great Lakes Grand Tour. It's a four or five-year mission to explore the Great Lakes that we're very excited about. More details coming soon.

But there's a new layer of interest for this season. That's a new endeavor I'm starting. It's an expansion of the On Board Life Youtube channel that I've been posting to for several years. I've been making videos seriously, but they've never really found an audience. Part of that is because I neglected the search engine optimization aspects of Youtube publishing. But another point is that I hadn't focused on what I was producing. They were, for all intents, a video library of our adventures; they were our record of our accomplishments. They were fun, and I kept them short so people wouldn't have to sit through endless scenes of waves and gulls, or images of what we ate. People who watched them liked them. But I thought I could do more.

I did.

The new The On Board Life Youtube channel is dedicated to newbie and wannabee boaters who dream of getting out on the water themselves. I think I have some things to say to them that will help them find their way onto the deck of their own boat and out onto the water. But the videos are going to be different than most of the videos on the subject. They're going to be shorter: four to five minutes max. And they're going to be formatted in a way that is popular and most effective on YouTube. You'll see what I mean as the videos come out. I know I can commit to publishing a video twice a month without breaking a sweat. I'll then publish more videos more frequently as we get underway.

I think they are going to be unique in the realm of liveaboard boating videos. And what kind of content will they have? Well, you're just going to have to subscribe to the channel to find out.

The first video, Liveaboard Boating – 5 Reasons Why Liveaboard Boating Is Awesome! is up and ready for you to watch. 

Thank you in advance for your support. Please, like, share, subscribe and comment.

Here are my contact links.
The On Board Life YouTube channel
Facebook – Skipper Darrell
The On Board Life Blog

Twitter – @skipperdarrell 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Well, Poopie!

Remember the video of the hailstorm that I posted? The hailstorm that broke our skylights? The hailstorm that we were afraid was ushering in the apocalypse? We thought that only the skylights needed to be replaced. Their damage was obvious. We took the step of moving our departure to Florida from 5/15 to 5/23. We thought we could get those repairs taken care of on cruise control. Well, today the insurance adjuster showed up, and we were shocked at the extent of the damage that occurred. Our untrained eyes missed most of it.

The broken skylights were the tip of the iceberg. The entire roof needs to be replaced, both air conditioner units, chimneys, ducts, drywall in our covered porch, lights, and lots of other small detail pieces had the characteristic ding in their surfaces. But the biggest surprise were the windows. Almost all of the aluminum windows were damaged along the lower edge of the frames. And not just a few divots here and there. There are dozens and dozens of pips in them as if someone with a ball peen hammer had come along and meticulously popped the frames' surfaces. It was amazing.

The disappointing bottom-line is that the repairs are so involved, we have to cancel our summer cruising plans to oversee their completion. We have to postpone The Why Knot Great Lakes Grand Tour for 2017. It sucks big-time, and we're very disappointed about it, but it's what we must do. Lisa and I have never hesitated to invest time and resources into things of value so that we may enjoy the returns on those investments in the future. And so, again, we shall make such an investment.

But all is not lost! We are not going to be landbound. No, sirree. Jacksonville is only a 3½ hour plane ride from Denver. And there's still plenty of places to take short and fun cruises for a week or so. We can still easily jaunt up to Jekyll Island and Brunswick, GA. And maybe we'll even head down the St. Johns River and see what all the fuss about it is. Who knows!?

Anyway, we'll let ourselves be disappointed for a day or two. It will be sad to file this summer's float plan away until next year. But it's only for a year. I don't think the entire Eastern Seaboard is going anywhere.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Why Knot Great Lakes Grand Tour Float Plan

Sometimes you have to take baby steps. For us, recently, those baby steps included not going all out and spouting off about our upcoming plans. Truth is, we have had a situation (medical) hanging over our heads that could have put an immediate stop to everything. Fortunately, all is well. The doctors have given us the green light to forget about all that and GOBOAT.

Okie-dokie! We'll do that.

Now, it's no secret we are heading north to the Great Lakes for a four or five-year exhaustive exploration of this wonderful region. After all, this whole thing is called the Why Knot Great Lakes Grand Tour. It's right there in black and white. But Why Knot is currently in Jacksonville, FL. We have to get there first.

Our planned departure from the Marina at Ortega Landing in beautiful Jacksonville is on June 1. Here's the rough details by destination.

- Sister's Creek – can't pass up a free dock.
- The anchorage at Dungenese, just north of Cumberland Sound
- Jekyll Island – we'll stay there a couple of days. Lisa insists.
-Brunswick Landing Marina in Brunswick GA – Haven't been there yet. Besides, it's only 10 miles from Jekyll Island.
-Anchorage at Buttermilk Sound
-Anchorage at Wahlberg Creek
-Isle of Hope Marina in Savannah – We're going to stay here a few days and rent a car. We need to do some exploring.
-Shelter Cove Marina at Hilton Head – Haven't been to HH. Three days ought to do it.
-Anchorage at Patriot Lucy – this appears to be a somewhat dicey anchorage: strong current, kind of exposed. I'll be very flexible with this one.
-Charleston – We'll anchor the first night on the Stono River the first night, then go to Ashley Marina for two nights. This is a restaurant stop: SNOB – Slightly North On Broad. Their Shrimp and Grits is outstanding.
-Georgetown – at the marina
-Barefoot Marina – Myrtle Beach
-Bald Head Island – One of our favorite destinations. Gotta stay a couple of days.
-Wilmington NC – This is a new destination for us. Looking forward to it.
-Anchorage at Wrightsville Beach
-Anchorage at Mile Hammock
-Morehead City Yacht Basin – This is a big objective. Not to get to the marina, per se – been there, done that. But we're going to rent a car and head out for several days and explore the area. First, we'll head to the ferries that go to Ocracoke, head up the Outer Banks, take the ferry to Hatteras, then head up to Kill Devil Hill, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head and Manteo. (And for all of you familiar with the marina at Alligator River, we'll go there too, just to say we have.) We'll then swing back down to Bellhaven, Washington and New Bern, then back to Morehead City.
-Whitaker Pointe Marina in Oriental – as we've said many times, our favorite marina.
-Anchorage at Slade River.
-Then all the usual stops up to Annapolis: Alligator River, Coinjock, free dock at Dismal Swamp (at the ICW), Lynn Haven, Deltaville, Solomons, then Annapolis. We'll stay in Annapolis for a week.
-From Annapolis, we'll head up the bay to Delaware City, then down Delaware Bay to Cape May.
-From Cape May, we are going up through New Jersey on the ICW instead of going outside. Why? Because it will be a new challenge. There will be a mix of marinas and anchorages.
- Perhaps one of our biggest objectives is to get to New York City. From Mannesquan, NJ we'll anchor behind the Statue of Liberty for a night. From there—and we are stoked about this—we will go to the 015 Marina near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, directly across from Manhattan. Five days in NYC.
-The next major stop is up the Hudson River at Troy, NY. We will be renting a car again so we can accomplish two goals. The first is to drive down to Albany and find the grave of Chester Arthur, the 21st President of the U.S. He's a fascinating historical figure and is buried in Albany. The second is to go the movies. I know that sounds dull, but this is a special movie. It's a live broadcast of a Rifftrax performance where they skewer one of the classic Doctor Who episodes from the classic series: The Five Doctors. Holy Crap!
-From Troy we will head west on the Erie Canal until we get to Sylvan Beach on the eastern end of Oneida Lake. We'll hang out there for the Labor Day weekend.
-Our last stop is on the western end of Lake Oneida: Winter Harbor Marina in Brewerton, NY. There the boat will be put up on the hard in one of their heated mega-sheds for the winter.

And what about the summer season in 2018? We'll head up to Lake Ontario, explore the Thousand Islands and Canadian Canals of Quebec.

And that is our On Board Life for the summer of 2017! We can't wait.

Would you like to come along? You can, indirectly. Just like last season, I'll be producing videos of all of our routes and reaches. I'll post them on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and here on the blog. I'll also make more of an effort to write more blog entries. Apparently I have a fan base for them, and they want more.

It's going to be a great season!