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59º Podcast: Erik de Jong & Arctic Sailing

Fri, 2014-01-10 12:01

Erik de Jong designed and built his own 52′ steel boat for Arctic expeditions. It’s called ‘Bagheera’, and you can go sailing with him! Erik was super cool to talk to – he and I have a lot in common, having grown up sailing with our dads. Erik has always known he’s wanted to design boats since he was a little kid, and followed that dream. He now lives in Halifax working most of the year for a shipbuilding firm, handling engineering and business contracts, and sails for 4 months in the summer on ‘Bagheera’ up to Greenland and the Arctic.

Simplicity v. Technology on the Ocean Sailing Boat

Thu, 2014-01-09 14:00

I just had an interesting email exchange with a friend whose in the (years-long) process of outfitting his boat for extended ocean cruising. The boat is similar to Arcturus, and we have similar ideas about things, and somehow got in touch a few years back. Anyway, we’ve had several of these types of exchanges. I won’t say who it is out of respect for his privacy, but I want to publish my response to his latest email about rigging, sails and engines. I’ll preface each section with what I’m about to discuss, but won’t include anything specific that he’s emailed me. Click here to see the slideshow about refitting Arcturus. What’s your take?

On Rigging (The boat in question will be fitted with a mast 3 ½’ taller than standard…)

First off, I love that you decided to make the mast taller. As Moitessier once said, you can always shorten sail, but you can’t raise your mast! So good on you for that. I think your nuts going with 7×7 wire (only because of the work), but it will definitely work, and is certainly traditional!

I’d advise you to install a solent stay rather than an inner forestay, unless you plan on sailing the boat as a true cutter, with both a genoa and a staysail flying together. The solent will eliminate the need for running backstays, and is just as versatile as an inner staysail (if not moreso, as you can fly a larger jib from it, as it’s fitted higher on the mast – but you cannot fly it with the genoa, it’s one or the other). 

If you make it from Dux, you can make it removeable, making it much easier to tack the genoa when sailing inshore, and you can rig it permanently when you’re offshore, as you won’t be tacking more than once a day, if that. After sailing several boats with both setups, I’d go with the solent every time. It’s my favorite rig for offshore work, as it’s the most versatile, and in your case, you’ll do less hanking on and hanking off of headsails if you can have both a genoa and a 100% jib hanked on the two stays and use whichever one is more suited to the conditions.

On Tides Marine Strong Track & Lazy Jacks

Go for the Tides Marine track. We just installed one on my dad’s boat, and I regret not doing it on Arcturus. It’s simple, robust and makes hoisting and lowering the main a treat. That said, I have not once had a problem with raising or lowering the main on Arcturus, which has traditional stainless sailtrack. The only downside with the strongtrack is that it will look a little less traditional.

If you do go with strongtrack, you’re foolish not to go fully battened on the mainsail. The sail sets so much better it’s hardly even debateable anymore, and I’d argue that full battens actually increases the life of the sail, as it will never flog (if you reef early enough) like a soft sail does. Forget the problems with lazy jacks – unless you have a stack pack (which I think is a crime to install on any boat that you want to look nice – they are hideous!), the lazy jacks would not be deployed until after you’ve raised the mainsail (and really, not until you’re ready to reef or douse the sail entirely). That’s a huge misconception with the proper use of lazy jacks. When you lower the sail and tie it up to put the cover on at night, you’re lowering the lazy jacks anyway (to fit the cover – much simpler than sewing complicated holes in the cover). When you uncover it next day, you’ll drop the sail ties, and yes, the sail will fall off the boom, but only until you hoist it, which will be right away. No need for lazy jacks to get in the way of anything. Then, before you reef or douse, deploy the lazy jacks and let the sail fall into it. Works great. And build the lazy jacks from 3/16” dyneema, with a ¼” Sta Set as the control line. Simple to splice, no need for thimbles and won’t chafe the sail.

While you’re at it, install ¼” dyneema messenger lines on the boom for your preventers. Fix them at the very end of the boom on padeyes using a cow hitch, then run them the length of the boom to the gooseneck. They can be attached here with tiny cam cleats, with an eyesplice in the end of the dyneema. No need to reach the end of the boom now to attach preventers – you can pre-lead 10mm VPC line with a snap shackle in the end from a winch in the cockpit, forward to a block on the bow, and after to a lifeline pulpit near the gooseneck. When you need the preventer, just attached the VPC end to the dyneema part on the boom and away you go. When gybing, you do it all from the gooseneck and never have to reach out to the end of the boom.

On Fitting an Outboard (ala Yves Gelinas)

I don’t know if I told you this story, but I tried building my own side mount bracket for a 15HP Yamaha Enduro that I bought in Ireland. It was a disaster (mainly because of my poor design that didn’t work). The engine would have easily driven the boat, but the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth (which is why we eventually caved and installed an undersized Beta 16 diesel, which I am now in love with for maneuvering and motoring in flat calm). The reality of it – getting it on and off that bracket, messing around with gasoline as fuel, etc etc – is not worth the effort. If I were you, I’d forego that idea altogether and just sail the boat as a true sailboat with no engine whatsoever. Or get an outboard for the dinghy that you can use to tow alongside or something. Or an oar, like Lin & Larry Pardey. I don’t think the outboard idea that Yves has is practical for ocean sailing, and it’ll be more hassle than it’s worth. 

More on Battens & Final Thoughts

See my note above about battens, but to further this discussion I have a few more points to add. You’re wrong in that it won’t make a difference in your heavy boat – you need all the help you can get precisely because it’s a heavy displacement boat. Use that to your advantage. 

Offshore, in any sort of seaway with very lightwind, a battenless mainsail will slat so horribly you’ll want to rip your hair out. Full battens, however, stabilizes the sail and will actually dampen that slatting motion. Matt Rutherford used a full-batten mainsail on his around the America’s trip, 27,000 miles nonstop, and his sails looked brand new when he returned to Annapolis (I was there and heard the comments from amazed onlookers at how that was possible. “I don’t let them luff,” Matt said. “Ever.”). 

One thing I would advise is to have the sailmaker make the mainsail without a headboard. My guy in Annapolis made kind of a ‘soft headboard’ out of heavy dyneema webbing and a jib-head ring, and it works great, and doesn’t cause the hardspots that an aluminum headboard will cause. You should be able to do this even with full battens. 

You could also save money by forgetting about the bonnet on the jib, going with a proper genoa and doing the solent rig as I described above for a medium air staysail (you can also attach the stormjib to the solent stay of course). 
So bottom line with all of this is that you need to aim to keep everything simple and robust above all. That outboard idea is not as simple as it seems – think of the logistics of getting it into and out of a cockpit locker, sailing with a hard heel with that thing still on the bracket, and dealing with stowing gasoline, etc etc. You’ll have an easier time and have more fun just sailing the damn boat! Plus, you can always ask around for a tow – we had no problems getting towed in Ireland by the friendly locals when our old diesel took a dump.

So beyond that simple/robust notion, you’ve got to also take advantage of the technology that’s out there, so long as it’s proven and reliable. The Dux is a perfect example – it’s new, but it’s simple and it works. Full batten mainsails definitely add a layer of complexity, and you’ll have to control the chafe a bit more, and maybe sew a few patches on during the life of the sail, but the benefits they’ll give you in terms of performance and ease of handling will greatly outweigh any of the downsides. Plus, keep an extra set of battens on the bookshelf down below if they ever break (control your main properly with preventers, reef early and often, and that should never happen), and you won’t even know they are there. They’re easy to stow. 

That’s my two cents! 

Win a trip to Thailand by defending Asian elephants

Thu, 2014-01-09 11:57

We won’t be riding any elephants while we’re here in Thailand. If there’s a code to our travels, it’s to try and leave a positive trail in the places we visit. It’s not always easy to know how to make a meaningful contribution. Here in Thailand, it’s a snap, and anyone reading this has the chance to make a difference too.

Riding elephants in Thailand is promoted to tourists as an exciting adventure to cap their Thai experience. During our meandering around Phuket the last month, we’ve already passed several of these elephant centers along the way to other activities: a cluster of swaying elephants in chains, their mahouts (dedicated trainers) nearby, and a lineup of tourons eager to jump on for the exotic experience of an elephant ride.

What people usually don’t realize is the the process of capturing and taming elephants for the tourism industry is inhumane. It must start at a very early age, which means taking babies from their mothers- who are often killed.  Captured from the wild in Thailand and neighboring countries, young elephants are brutally abused to domesticate them. This video, and this story and image, illustrate how horrible it is. This is not a “sometimes” occurrence: this is simply the way it is for most of Thailand’s tourist trade elephants, and it’s a appalling.

a happy elephant at the Elephant Nature Park – photo courtesy Safe Elephant Foundation

Save Elephant Foundation in Thailand has created a haven for elephants rescued from the industry and works to change public perception about elephants in the tourist trade. It was founded by Lek Chailert, who has been trying to shift the public mindset about the treatment of elephants in Thailand since she was a girl. The Elephant Nature Park is a home she’s created for the mistreated elephants rescued from the tourist trade, to give them a better life. Lek’s foundation has been tremendously successful: so much, however, that the park is full. She can’t rescue any more elephants until additional land can be purchased.

To help support Lek and her nature park, a group of travel bloggers have all donated time and content to create the Travel Blogging Calendar for 2014, a beautiful hit of wanderlust inspiration. Each week, we deliver an email that highlights new destinations in words and photos. It’s a peek into current holidays and festivals from other cultures you can enjoy from your desktop. The calendar is amazing: filled with events and celebrations around the world. I thought I was a pretty savvy, but many of these are entirely new to me! The calendar has a purpose, and it’s not just to pique your wanderlust. It’s to help abate the torture of Asian elephants in Thailand.

To subscribe, just make a donation through this link to the Travel Blogging Calendar site. Every dollar donated will go directly to Save Elephant Foundation, support the care and feeding of these incredible animals, as well as funding purchase costs to rescue abused elephants from their owners, and to expand the sanctuary lands.

Every subscriber is entered to win a trip to Thailand valued at $3,300! Airfare vouchers of $2,000 toward round trip travel to Thailand have been donated by Flight Network. The very cool ethical tour operator, Where Sidewalks End, is providing an eight day / seven night tour for two valued at $1,300.

This is an entirely grassroots activity. It’s the brainchild of travel blogger Jeremy Foster, who has rounded up a circle of others who seek to give back. Together, we have put considerable effort into creating a body of work that we’re proud of, one that we hope shares the wonder and adventure of travels we’ve experienced around the world- and one that provides information as well as entertainment on a weekly basis.

Jeremy and Lek, at the park – photo courtesy Jeremy Foster

I hope you’ll consider supporting this charity by signing up for the newsletter and making a donation. It’s a beautiful weekly piece of dream fodder, it supports an excellent cause, and it’s helping the hard work of many hands to support the Save Elephant Foundation and build our own little piece of travel community. And who knows- maybe you’ll find yourself the lucky winner, and come over to Thailand to experience the magic for yourself.

* top photo of elephants at Save Elephant Foundation’s nature park - courtesy Jeremy Foster

Maretron FFM100 fuel flow monitor test (part 1), as good as it gets?

Thu, 2014-01-09 08:30

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 9, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

When I first wrote about Maretron’s FFM100 fuel flow monitor, I was enthused about both its advanced sensor technology and the possibilities of a system designed from the ground up for NMEA 2000. Now that I’ve installed the system on Gizmo and tested it a bit underway (before the weather closed in), I’m even more impressed. But I have also learned how difficult it can be to accurately measure how much fuel a diesel actually uses in real time… 

I was apprehensive about cutting the fuel lines to Gizmo’s one and only engine, but in fact the hardware install was quite straightforward. The flow meters themselves are small and there’s no need for in-fuel-line accessories like return coolers or pulsation dampers. But you are required to mount the sensors so that their twin “positive displacement” volume measuring rotors — as opposed to a flow speed measuring inline turbine — have their shafts parallel to the water surface (manuals here). Thus that white Azek PVC board ended up screwed to the inside surface of the engine stringer.
    I also had to source the nipples (from Racor) and I wished the sensors were surface mounted instead of being bolted from behind, but those are trivial issues for the pros who would normally do this sort of install. In fact, some Wayfarer Marine techs checked out my finished setup and seemed quite impressed with Maretron’s simple and compact system design.

One interesting feature of the FFM100 black box is that it can handle the two flow sensors in independent or differential modes. So what you’re seeing in the two top data boxes above are the independent fuel flows into and out of my 450 horsepower Volvo Penta, and — HOLY COW! — look how much diesel is running through even at dead idle – 567 RPM (and no load)! Maretron carefully warns that while an independent meter is accurate to about 0.25%, diesel differential mode adds a significant error factor.
  You can probably intuit the problem from the screen above, though a video would be better as you’d see how the flow rate numbers “jiggle” (even nearly 30 gallons an hour or 0.5 a minute is hard to measure consistently in two second intervals). Consider that what you’re really trying to measure is the approximately 0.7 gallon actually being burned, and you realize even tiny errors in or out get badly compounded in this situation. Maretron estimates that most diesels only burn 25% of the fuel supplied — which seems about right given that my preliminary max speed rate is about 19 of the 53 gallons coming through (ouch) — but the idle burn percentage shown above is about 2%.
   I don’t know if other engines are like mine at low RPMs, and as I’ll discuss further down, I’m pretty sure that the Maretron system is doing well even with what may be its extremes, but doesn’t this illustrate how difficult it is to measure diesel fuel burn rates? On the other hand, I was also pleased to learn that even at low speeds Gizmo’s fuel is being run through the filters at a fairly high rate, and I’ve already used independent mode’s Trip Fuel Used to perfect my technique of trimming ship by using the fuel return valve to move diesel from one tank to the other.

Above is a Maretron N2Kanalyzer screen showing FFM100 calibration details, all of which you can also do on a DSM250 or 150 display, though not as easily. Because there’s a lot going on even if you click it bigger, I highlighted several areas of note. The first is where I’ve switched from independent to differential mode, which is why many of the Channel #1 values are grayed out; the FFM is taking in the measurements of two sensors but outputting only one flow value. (Incidentally, this same hardware setup could measure fuel flow for two large outboards and has a retail cost of $1,385 for the mid-size sensors. Maretron has various well documented FFM system examples here.)
   The second highlight is a bit of magic called the K-Factor. I don’t know what the “K” means, but Maretron puts every sensor through an actual flow test and prints a calibration factor on its label (and if yours truly had read the manual about inputting the K-Factor during installation, I’d already have more valid testing data to share :-). Highlights 3 and 4 are somewhat extraneous but suggest how a label typed into the configuration can be useful elsewhere once you “put config to device”… 

When I slapped together a DSM250 screen to illustrate the FFM100′s ability to also measure fuel temperature, those labels were quickly available even though the PC was shut down (a nifty feature throughout the Maretron line). In fact, I think I’ve already changed that screen again because I can’t think of why I’d want to know fuel temps. The real point is that though fuel volume and hence, measured flow changes with temperature, the FMM100 can and does correct for the differences. And I guess the screen also shows that fuel economy — the precious calculation of differential flow versus SOG or STW (speed through the water) — is zero when the boat is tied up.    

Finally, though not surprising, it was nice to see the FFM’s flow values show up on various NMEA 2000 displays around the boat, including the Garmin 741 above (which just got an amazing software update). As with the Actisense EMU-1 that’s getting that RPM value out of my mostly analog engine, I’m becoming persnickety about virtual gauges. For instance, I’d like more tick marks on that gal/hour dial to the right (which is why I had its range set to less than Gizmo’s WOT burn). But serious display testing will have to wait until spring, as will any further efforts to figure out if the FFM100 is truly accurate.
   I did get in one test trip after I applied the K-Factor, and the general results were surprisingly close to the numbers collected when Pat Ricci plugged his special Volvo Penta software into my ECU while we ran RPM scales. I published that graph when first discussing the Maretron FFM100 (and also the uncertainty of engine generated flow rates). But there were unfortunate aspects to the November trip – it was rough, the flow and economy numbers were jumping around, and I was alone. The results were just preliminary, but I did notice how the miles/gal changed depending on Gizmo’s relationship to wind and wave, which is just the sort of info that can make the system worthwhile.
   And just before hauling the boat I realized I could get easier to record and quantify results by setting the data dampening period to 5 seconds (see config screen), which I tried out at the dock. I believe that one of the first things experts look for in instrumentation is linearity, and isn’t that pretty darn good linearity shown in the graph below. It’s a limited sample, but it’s also in the range where the FFM is trying to measure a tiny fraction of the fuel both sensors are seeing. I’m looking forward to spring testing of course, but maybe as much to sharing some major Maretron product news in a day or two.

Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.

Satun: a quieter side of Thailand

Wed, 2014-01-08 10:51

The more time we spend in Phuket, the more I like the quiet village that was our introduction to Thailand. Ban Chebilang is just a few miles outside the commercial center of Satun, and the home of the shipyard where Totem hauled out in November. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the PSS Shipyard is the largest single employer, although there might be more fishermen than yard workers in town.

There were a few days where the kids and I couldn’t help move projects on Totem forward, so we picked one and went off exploring instead of getting in Jamie’s way. I had met a taxi driver at the ferry terminal after completing clearance formalities when we arrived. The charming Mr. Sam became not only our driver for the afternoon, but self-appointed chaperone. His English was limited, but it was better than our three words of Thai! It completely charmed me that he wanted to shepherd us from place to place and make sure we didn’t have any problems, and had a good time.

Our first stop was the town’s telecom shop to sort out local internet access. Nearby was a Swensen’s ice cream shop. I really couldn’t believe my eyes! I grew up just a few blocks down Russian Hill from the original shop up on Hyde street in San Francisco. There was no question: we had to go. This was before I knew that there would be at least one Swensen’s in every Thai population center, but who cares! Sam let us get him a coffee and we indulged in triple chocolate brownie sundae heaven (about $1.50 each). So good.

Not to downplay the importance of ice cream (especially for cruising kids who don’t have a freezer on the boat), but our primary destination was a museum in Satun. Housed in a grand home constructed in the first years of the 20th century in honor of a visiting Thai king who never arrived, many of the rooms are preserved like time capsules, from the carved wooden furnishings to burnished metal tea sets and serving dishes. Other rooms of the two story structure are conventional museum displays and dioramas, offering a great introduction to this culturally and linguistically unique corner of Thailand.

The staff was incredibly gracious, and while they spoke very little English, we were personally guided through the entire museum with lots of smiles… and pushing of buttons that turned on English-language audio about the different dioramas and sites.

Shoes are not permitted inside. This is perfectly natural for the Totem crew, who would find it unsettling to enter a home and keep their shoes on.

We were the only visitors during the hour and a half of our visit.

Afterwards, I hoped to pick up some veggies before returning to Chebilang. Unfortunately, it was just a morning market. The kids counted 18 cats in a short walk past maybe a dozen little stalls.

There’s a blurry cultural line along the border of Malaysia and Thailand. This area is still mostly Muslim, so it really doesn’t feel very different than its neighbor to the south: same headscarves, same mosques, even a lot of the same language. Thai is introduced, but the local dialect, Yawi, is very similar to the Malay spoken in nearby Kedah province. Except… it’s often written in Arabic-like script, so it’s a little harder to pick up.

This storefront has signage in Thai, Chinese, and Yawi, but nothing we can recognize to sound out.

Back in Chebilang, I ended a number of afternoons with a run though the fields once the sun was lower, and the heat of the day beginning to fade. The dirt roads got a little sloppy after the rain, but the views are hard to beat. Cows grazing mixed with palm fields and fallow rice paddies, surrounded by shady rubber plantations. I would wind around and between them, past makeshift soccer fields and children spinning tops on paved stoops. Turning through the houses on the fringe to head back to the shipyard, children send me off in high voice with what are becoming my two favorite words in the English language: “Hello Mister!”

Bringing Home a New Dinghy

Wed, 2014-01-08 06:17

I have never owned a new vehicle.  My first car: used.  Ditto cars two through four.  Papillon is older than I am.  And all three of our dinghies were previously enjoyed.  (Even our former house was in its eighties when we bought it, but since it didn’t stand up and walk around à la Howl’s Moving Castle, I don’t suppose it counts.)

Last year, we did a bit of a dinghy shuffle. We sold the old inflatable, and took on a tinny and a small sailing dinghy.  This was a good move.  The sailing dinghy is fun for the kids – especially Stylish, who loves to row it around the anchorage – and the tinny is perfect for Pacific conditions.  It can handle sharp coral-rubble beaches, and it is just right for longer trips around the lagoon.

But the tinny we bought was old and much-repaired.  We knew that going in, and we got it for a song.  It was the perfect tester; we knew it wouldn’t be a long-term solution for us.  Much like the beater car that you can use in-town but not on the freeway, the Ramco will be great for someone sticking close to shore or going fishing up the river.  But the dinghy is our family car, and it needs to perform.  We needed something more.  And since dinghy prices in New Caledonia are surprisingly reasonable, it was time to make the big leap to Buying Something New.

To make a long story short, we settled on a 3.4 m Blue Fin dinghy with the unlikely name of “Critter”.  (Erik may not know it yet, but he will be removing that name from the side in short order.  It makes me feel like I should be slapping mosquitoes and trolling for catfish under a tree root.)  And I’ll admit it – I was excited.  A brand new dinghy with no bumps or bruises, no cracks or imperfections, just shiny, shiny thick aluminum and a set of ribs to die for, all for us.  I could hardly believe we were really doing it.

But – and you knew there would be a “but” – buying a dinghy is not the same as buying a car.  When you buy a car, you expect a few extras.  Things like seat cushions, bumpers, an exhaust system.  A motor.  When you buy a new dinghy, you get a hull.  A pretty, empty hull.  And instead of driving your new purchase home from the dealership, you get the joy of carrying your 70 kg dinghy out of the parking lot and down to the water.

Okay, great.  Now you are in the water.  Now what?  Oh, right.  Row home with the oars you brought along.  (Those aren’t included, either.)

Now we’re tied up. Be sure you give your fascinated offspring a chance to admire the new family vehicle. Sorry, I’m busy making mirror eyes.  I can’t be bothered to pretend to care about whatever it is you are telling me.

All ready to go, right?  Not so fast.  Those metal sides are going to bash the heck out of the sailboat.  Time to add a rub strake.  But that’s easy – drill some holes, add some screws and washers, and three hours later, voilà!

Hmm, what next?  Right, the chain.  While those generous car manufacturers include car locks as a standard item, your dinghy isn’t so lucky.  Break out the Loctite Red, and here we go!

Now all we need to do is add the chains to hang the dinghy from the davits, install the anchors, tie on the painters and spring lines, add the motor and we’re done.  Easy peasy.

It may not be as easy as buying a car, but what fun would that be?  It is a boat project, after all.  Hopefully, we’ll complete a test drive by the weekend, and we can all enjoy our brand new dinghy in style.

WEIRD SCIENCE AND GADGETS: Saildrones, Jet Packs, Dog Poop

Tue, 2014-01-07 11:50

Here’s a trifecta of odd news that has lately teased my nautical mind. May as well lead with the Saildrone, an autonomous sailing robot that has recently completely a passage from San Francisco to Hawaii and is now sailing around in circles about 800 miles south of Oahu. To date it has covered some 6,000 miles at an average speed of 2.5 knots

Not exactly a record-breaking pace, but its creators are hoping these drones can become standard equipment in the world of oceanographic research and buoy maintenance. The trimaran drone is fully self-righting, measures 19 feet long by 7 feet wide, is constructed of carbon fiber, and can carry a payload of 220 pounds.


To me it looks like it could easily be mangled by a breaking wave, particularly that trim-tab on a stick that controls the wing, and I’m also wondering about collision avoidance. But really I think it’s kind of cool. I’m imagining a future in which ocean racing consists of fat rich guys controlling super-sized drones like these on iPads while lounging poolside with mimosas in their hands.

Next up is the Underwater Jet Pack from SCP Marine Innovations. This essentially consists of a pair of bow thrusters that divers and swimmers can strap to their forearms. The battery pack is worn on your torso. The founders of SCP are currently raising money on ShareIn, a crowd-sourcing site, and hope to have these on the market selling for $5,700 a pair within a year.


Pardon me for saying so, but this is a silly idea. This is the sort of kit you see for sale in the Hammacher Schlemmer Christmas catalogue for one season, then it disappears and is never heard of again.

Finally, the most important news: scientists have finally figured out why dogs circle around so much just before they settle in to pinch off a loaf. Turns out what they’re doing is sensing the planet’s magnetic field and are aligning themselves on a magnetic north-south axis.

No doubt people who cruise with dogs will be very pleased to learn that their compasses are now redundant.

ABSENCE ALERT: I’ll be AWOL for about 10 days hopefully starting tomorrow. Just got a gig helping deliver the new Alpha 42 catamaran, hull number one, from New York to St. John in the USVI. (First bit of the passage promises to be bitter cold!) I’ll fill you in on the details on my return.

Humminbird Ion Series, GeoNav is way more than back

Mon, 2014-01-06 16:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 6, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Johnson Outdoors really wants a piece of bluewater marine electronics. I learned a lot about the long, determined history of Johnson Family Enterprises when JO was trying to make GeoNav a major brand back in 2011. But while the GeoNav G12 MFDs I saw demoed had a lot of interesting features, even autorouting using either C-Map or Navionics charts, the competition from the existing Big Four brands is daunting. Plus, the economic timing was terrible and Johnson Outdoors pulled GeoNav’s plug, saying that they’d eventually try again under their successful freshwater Humminbird brand name. So, yes, the industrial design of the new Ion series looks like the old GeoNav G Series, but Ion really is “a new species of bluewater technology”…

Ion’s software has been completely rewritten since GeoNav and the hardware only looks the same. For instance, the Ion has a multitouch screen and the “Cross Touch” interface means that every single command can be done either on the screen or with the keys, dial and joystick. I was particularly impressed with all the touch gestures I saw on a short demo trip during the Fort Lauderdale boat show. For instance, an upward two-finger-swipe takes you to the home page while horizontal ones page through your favorite screens, and pinch-to-zoom works on both charts and sonar imagery.

The Ion 10-inch MFDs we saw in action weren’t finished but what did work looked good. Naturally, Humminbird has put an emphasis on fishfinding, and there are also three new sonar modules that run up to an SM3000 that can provide side and down imaging, plus regular and CHIRP fishfinding, plus boat speed and water temperature all over one Ethernet cable. And note that the demo did include NMEA 2000 engine data driving virtual screen gauges…

When I recently got N2K engine data on Gizmo, I learned that being able to customize gauge scales and warning points is important to their usefulness and thus, I liked what I saw when fooling with an Ion10 in the Humminbird booth. Personally, I’d appreciate even lower max RPM choices, but these ranges would certainly work on a lot of fishing boats. And look how easy and elegant they’ve made even the set-up portions of that screen. I saw lots of pleasing detail like that in the Ion interface.

The Ion hardware also looked well made. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a marine Ethernet switch with metal connectors, for instance, and they may even be the standard d-coded M12 type that’s being proposed for use with NMEA OneNet. Besides for the sonar modules, radar and other Ion MFDs, Ethernet can be used with 4 IP cameras as I understand the system design so far. Also seen in this photo is the course computer for the SC 100 autopilot that pairs with the new bluewater electronics.

Ion is obviously serious about networking, and the most unique port on its backside is an N connector for an external 11dB WiFi antenna that will be an available accessory. Humminbird hasn’t mentioned apps that can control or view the Ion screen, but it does have its own browser. The Standard Horizon CPN is the only other MFD I know of with a built-in browser — I’m currently testing and liking one, in fact — but you can’t use it and the CPN navigation functions at the same time. Humminbird sees users checking weather and email even underway, and it seemed like the product manager had lots more ideas of what could be done eventually with an MFD Internet connection.

The Fort Lauderdale press release also announced 8 and 10-inch Onix bluewater displays that share many features with the Ion MFDs and include built-in sonar but seem to lack the Ion’s full-on networking, IP cameras and browser. There is more detail about Onix than Ion on the Humminbird site right now, but note that the available operating manual PDF covers both. I’m also headed to Eufala, Alabama, in a couple of weeks to tour what it is purportedly the only MFD manufacturing plant in the USA and hopefully, to go fishing with some of this gear. I think the screen below shows Onix at work on a local lake, but it could be an Ion and the user could have been imaging saltwater fish with either, even CHIRPing down to 10,000 feet if using the SM3000. Note that Ion and Onix still support both C-Map and Navionics like GeoNav did, but now also support Humminbird’s own mapping and even AutoChart user-generated mapping.
It’s difficult to predict whether this Humminbird bluewater gear can make much headway — the competition is even stiffer these days — but Johnson Outdoors is certainly determined.

Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.

Come Ocean Sailing on ‘Sojourner’ this Winter

Mon, 2014-01-06 12:55

Dad and I are getting ready to start the journey north on Sojourner, Dad’s Wauquiez Hood 38. The boat’s currently in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. He sailed it to Tortola with his cousins and some friends in this year’s Carib1500. Then Mia and I joined him for the two-week cruise south through the Leeward & Windward Islands, to make it to Rodney Bay in time for us to work for the ARC. Anyway, now it’s time to come home, and you can join us!

We’re looking for 1-2 people to sail with us on the first leg of the return trip. Contact us for details, as this will be a working passage, and a shared-expenses trip – you’ll be expected to stand watch, cook and clean, and take care of the boat. No experienced required – Andy loves to teach, and this could be a great experience to get some ocean miles in.

Here are the details:

  • We are flying to St. Lucia on February 11. The boat will depart Marigot Bay as early as the 13th, so you’d need to be there by the evening of the 12th. Departure is weather dependent.
  • We provide safety equipment (lifejacket, harness, etc). The boat is outfitted to WCC standards, based on the ISAF Special Regulations.
  • You’ll need personal clothing and foulies. One bag only!
  • Leg 1 will be Marigot Bay to St. Croix in the USVI, about 300 nautical miles. It’ll take us 2-3 days, nonstop. The former Dutch harbor at Christiansted is, according to Caribbean guru Don Street, “one of the most picturesque in all of the Caribbean.” Neither of us have been there, so it’ll be a chance to explore for all!
  • Leg 2 will be St. Croix to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, Bahamas via the Old Bahama Channel and the out-islands of the Bahamas. This leg is as-yet unplanned, as we hope to stop and explore some of the remote Cays of the Out Islands on the way north, or at the least sail by some of them. This will be a decision made on the fly and based on the weather. This leg is considerably longer, at about 1,200 miles, and will take us 8-10 days, slightly longer if we stop en route.
  • The boat will remain at GTC until late March, when we make the final hop north around Hatteras and back to Annapolis. More on that trip later, which will also be open for crew.

Contact Andy if you’re interested at 484-269-3358, or See you in St. Lucia!

A Speck in the Sea

Mon, 2014-01-06 11:34

A Speck in the Sea was one of the most emailed stories from the New York Times over the weekend. Read it, then put on your harnesses and clip into your tethers!

Giant Map of Dreams

Mon, 2014-01-06 07:00

If a picture tells a thousand words, then a map is a portrait with countless stories to tell. Consider Cape Disappointment in Oregon, whose name on a map barely hints of the great and perilous journey of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. When it came to naming the place, a deflated Clark must have considered names such as Cape Lewisisanassforthiscrueljourney, but settled for the understated Disappointment knowing how difficult the alternative would be for school children to spell.

A few years before sailing away on Totem, we installed a giant map of the world, measuring 7’ x 14’, on a wall in our home. We marked out tracks of noted cruisers, and places that we dreamed of sailing to. In addition to numerous paper and digital charts on board we have three bulkhead mounted maps. A world map from 1839 is a reminder of the subjective, changing nature of human understanding. From this map’s symbols representing the “state of societies”, we’ve traveled exclusively among barbarians since 2008. An updated version would almost certainly show Australia as half-civilized. Lest we forget where we’ve been, another world map traces Totem’s route in purple marker meandering from Seattle to present location, Thailand’s Similan Island. Lastly, we like to display a regional map of the area we’re in to learn local geography. It also sparks curiosity for the tales behind the many Cape Disappointments of the world.

Thinking back to our giant map marked with places to anchor someday, we realize now that you can’t see them all – at least on the first lap. Galapagos, Palau, and Philippines are behind us, unvisited, or maybe ahead and waiting. There is magic, though, both in reaching long dreamed of locations on a map and in finding the ordinary, undiscovered places along the way.

Sailing out from the Straits of Juan de Fuca past the cape Captain Cook named Flattery offers up a huge dose of Pacific Ocean freedom. It also begs a question of the always methodical Captain Cook. Why did he pass by without investigating the vast opening in an otherwise unforgiving coastline? Perhaps Vancouver, then crewmember aboard Resolution, begged Cook to leave a few crumbs of land for ‘others’ to explore. Further South by Drake’s Bay one wonders whether it really was the bold privateer Francis Drake’s northernmost reach, or if secrets of his venturing much further north are lost to time. Further south still, the Channel Islands off of central California were discovered sequentially by Native Americans about 13,000 years ago, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, and by the crew of Totem in 2008. They offer an amazing blend of raw beauty, rich wildlife above and below the water, and a chance to learn the art of dinghy surf landings. Cabrillo died at San Miguel Island as a result of getting overturned on the way to the shore. I was rolled by the surf in our kayak, at Santa Cruz Island, but came out unscathed sans sun glasses.

Of the spots marked as must see on our giant wall map of dreams, French Polynesia and Fiji had the most stars by them. We didn’t appreciate that French Polynesia consists of five island groups over nearly a million square miles of ocean. Having sailed some of those square miles and seen lush, jagged mountains in Marquesas, gin clear water in Tuamotus, and a kaleidoscope of colors in the Societies we dream of going back. Of many memories there, one from Baie de Controleur (Controller Bay), Nuku Hiva, the same place where Herman Melville fled tough life on a whaling ship only to be caught by cannibals and lived to write about it in his book Typee, is particularly fantastic. One dark night we watched the trails of giant mantas glide and a hammerhead shark cruise through water lit by bioluminescence that gave the entire bay a green Jell-O like glow.

Fiji, it turns out, has more coral reefs than most beaches have grains of sand. They are literally everywhere with names like Charybdis Reef. Many are nameless and uncharted. Cruising there requires good eyes and slow going, but the reward is glorious snorkeling with endless underwater habitats to explore. Fiji also offers a nice balance of remote, unspoiled islands and popular tourist spots where many cruisers frequent when in need of socialization. Food is good and inexpensive, boating supplies and services are available, and local culture is welcoming (Mbula!), making Fiji, in the best of ways, similar to Mexico.

As a cruising destination, Mexico is has areas rich with culture and others as remote feeling as the moon. When merging a route up the east side of Baja with John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, one almost feels part of sunset chats onboard Western Flyer with Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Rickets: drinking beer and philosophizing or discussing specimens collected that day. On Baja’s west coast is Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay). Its moonscape like rocky edge and grey pelicans diving into turquoise water at great velocity, made anchoring there feel for the first time like we had left the beaten path of guidebooks and information behind. Our voyage of exploration began in Turtle Bay.

The giant map is far away, having fed our dreams of sailing to exotic places. Coming from an enlightened society, according to our 1839 map, we are happy to report that the barbarians haven’t been barbaric at all. Maybe we should assign our children a school project to update the 1839 map, designating areas by their “state of cooking”. It seems logical since we’ve shared meals with people of all manner of ethnicity, language, religions and belief systems. Symbols could range from coconuts for simple fare to a chef’s toque for haute cuisine. Our children’s differing personal taste would taint objective intent, thus rendering it as silly as the original: believable only if you believe in it.

Charts aid us now, imperfect and utilitarian as they are. If companies that produce charts had suggestion boxes, we’d have filled them by now with scraps of paper with notes such as, “Suggest review of chart at location 08° 40.09 north and 97° 38.50 east. Islet shown on chart does not exist, good snorkeling there though.” Or, “Please review point of land shown at 00° 32.72 south and 130° 27.30 east. Instead of the point of land, there is a tiny unnamed bay; we suggest calling it Safeinasquall Bay or maybe just Teacup Bay.”

If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, the Totem fund gods are smiling at you- thank you! 

Jamie and I co-author the cruising column for 48° North, a Pacific Northwest regional boating magazine. This piece for their for January issue caught us in a reflective mood. The complete magazine is available free online from their website.

How to Fix Your Electric Windlass 9 out of 10 Times

Sat, 2014-01-04 15:09

If you have an electric windlass, eventually you will step on the foot switch, or flip the switch in the cockpit, and nothing will happen. Of course this can be caused by many problems, but the most common are corroded contacts on a solenoid. In a blog post a while back I discussed solenoids in general terms. If you don’t know what a solenoid is, or what it does, it would do you well to read this brief primer.

Here we’ll discuss windlass solenoids, or what they call a windlass control box, which is really just two solenoids in the same box and sharing some of the same circuitry. If your windlass just powers in one direction (up!) then your windlass control solenoid will be a simple one like this:

…or this:

…But if your windlass has both power up and power down, it’ll look something like this:

…or this:

…or this:

Hey, wait a minute, those last two look exactly alike. Yes, many windlass control boxes are made in Italy by the same manufacturer, and other companies brand them as their own. We must stop this evil Italian monopoly on windlass control solenoids!…or just address one problem at a time, like a windlass that won’t work.

Most windlasses are switched through a solenoid, like those ones pictured above, but some are switched directly through a high-amperage foot switch, with no solenoid between the foot switch and the windlass. In both cases, the problem and solution are the same: The solenoid in the control box, or your foot, presses a large copper bar against two contacts. Since this is a high amperage connection, this copper bar can spark, arc, and take a lot of abuse. Over time, the points of contact will become fouled, “carboned up,” as they say, and will no longer make good electrical contact.

There will usually be some warning: You’ll go to raise your anchor and the windlass won’t work. You’ll try a few times and it will work, then you’ll forget it didn’t work the first time, but the first time should serve as a warning that troubles are on the way.

The telltale sign is the solenoid clicking, or stomping on that foot switch, but the windlass still not working.

The solution is simple – clean the electrical contacts – but of course it’s seldom that simple. If yours is a solid state solenoid, as in many up-only installations, you simply can’t get at the contacts and the solenoid must be replaced (about $50). If you’ve got one of the Italian jobs, or one of their American (meaning Chinese) equivalents, you can get to the contacts and clean them.

During my ten-year circumnavigation this was an annual task, heralded by the aforementioned warnings.

Usually you’ll have to completely remove the control box and disconnect all wires. Note where everything goes: digital cameras and smart phones are great for this. Once you’ve got everything disconnected you can confirm your diagnosis by touching the power cable directly to the power lead(s) on the windlass. If it jumps to life, you’ll know your solenoid/control box is indeed the problem. If it doesn’t jump to life, your problem lies somewhere else.

Remove the screws that hold the lid on the the control box:

Inside, you will see something like this:

On both sides, down in the box, are the solenoids. Above are the contacts, the filthy, fouled contacts, which must be cleaned. But to clean the contacts you must loosen and remove the studs from the top of the control box:

Once everything is out and exposed, go to it with a wire brush. Don’t be shy: The fouling on the contacts can be tenacious, and require vigorous action with a wire brush or sandpaper. The copper contacts will probably be zinc plated, but the zinc may have to go bye-bye to make clean electrical connections again. This isn’t rocket science: It’s brute physical/electrical stuff, where copper bars have to come into contact with copper studs like a punch in the face:

Once the contacts are clean, reassemble the control box, reconnect the wires, and you should be up and running again. Yes, there are many other things that can go wrong electrically with a windlass, but in my experience it was this about ten times in a row, followed by something more serious (I’ll get to this later).

Most importantly, a new windlass control box will cost $150-$180 retail. Forty-five minutes in the most uncomfortable position imaginable in your anchor locker to deal with a faulty windlass control box…priceless.

Celestial Navigation Workshop in Annapolis, Feb 7-9, 2014

Fri, 2014-01-03 15:42

Join Andy and friends at Port Annapolis Marina in February for a weekend of sailing history and celestial navigation. While there is hardly an argument anymore for celestial as a backup to electronic navigation, it’s part of sailing history, and as ocean sailors, we owe it to ourselves to at least have a general understanding of it, I say! Plus, it makes those long night watches that much more enjoyable when you know your place – physically and philosophically – in the universe.

Cost is $350, and the Workshop is limited to the first 12 people. 

What it includes:

  • Copy of Hewitt Schlereth’s Celestial in a Nutshell
  • Universal Plotting Sheet booklet
  • Notebook & pencil
  • Weems & Plath Star Finder
  • Use of a sextant for practice during the weekend, with the option to buy one at the end of the Workshop (courtesy of Bacon Sails in Annapolis)
  • First round of beers at Galway Bay Pub Friday Night! (see below). 

Sign up with a friend, and you’ll each get a 5% discount! Click here to read some of Andy’s articles on celestial that he’s written over the years.

Dates for the weekend workshop:

  • Friday, Feb. 7, 1900: Join Andy on Maryland Ave. at Galway Bay Pub for drinks (1st beer on me!) and a pre-workshop chat.
  • Saturday, Feb. 8, 0900-1700: Workshop begins at Port Annapolis Marina in the ‘Lounge.’ Coffee and tea provided by the Portside Cafe during the morning session, with a break from 1200-1300 for lunch.
  • Saturday, Feb. 8, 1900: Meetup downtown at Ram’s Head Tavern for an optional group dinner. (RSVP required).
  • Sunday, Feb. 9, 0900-1500: Workshop Day 2. Coffee & tea in the morning, with a 1200-1300 lunch break. Stay later for Q&A and storytelling if you so choose!

To register, contact Andy directly at 484-269-3358 or Registration is limited to the first 12 people to pay in full. See you there!

A House in Amish Country – How & Why We Moved Ashore

Fri, 2014-01-03 10:41

Today I woke up at 5:45, too excited to sleep. I came downstairs, made coffee, and began writing this. It snowed 6 inches overnight, and outside, despite being five blocks from the center of town, there is a calm and almost deafening quiet that is only possible with a blanket of fresh snow in the dark of the early morning. Christmas has passed, but that little kid inside of me still has the same feeling. I’ve got a new toy.

Before I get the ‘how’ of this story, I’ll start with the ‘why.’ For nearly six years ago now, I’ve more or less lived aboard a boat. First, on my dad’s Sojourner, then on my own Arcturus, after meeting Mia and deciding we’d buy our own boat. Over those six years we’ve sailed many thousands of miles in both of those boats and others. Though we’d spent a fair amount of time living in my parent’s basement, and occupying Mia’s childhood bedroom when we were in Sweden, it was always a boat we’d come ‘home’ to after our travels.

And then in the spring of 2012 my mom died. I feel like I keep harping on this fact, but in the time since, the result of that single day in April (and, more realistically, the cumulative effect that two-and-half years of her living – and ultimately dying – with brain cancer has had on us and my family) has affected just about every single aspect of my life, consciously or subconsciously. It was also around this time that we started working for World Cruising Club, and would need a more permanent base in the USA to run the office. Mia and I opted then to move back into my dad’s basement, where we’d keep the office and our collection of ‘stuff’, partially as a way to save money, but mostly because after my mom’s death, he needed some support (and, admittedly, so did I). We still did plenty of sailing, but ‘home’ was now in Pennsylvania.

(A short aside on the nature of sailing, and cruising specifically. I made the choice, long ago, before I met Mia in fact, that I’d pursue a career in something I was passionate about. In fact, it never really was a choice. From a very young age, my mom (and dad, to give him some credit) instilled in both my sister Kaitie and I, that if you ‘follow your heart, the money will come.’ I don’t believe in destiny, and only a little bit in luck – you make your own luck, I say – but the path that my life has followed since high school and my decision to pursue a career in golf – golf! – seems in hindsight as if it was out of my control. Obviously, the golf career was short-lived. Stuff just happened, and here I am.

Anyway, by making the choice to pursue a ‘lifestyle’ career – a job in which I’m excited to get up to in the morning to get to work, that feels as far from a ‘job’ as is possible – I’ve inadvertently made the choice that I will never be a full-time cruiser. Sailing for Mia and I comes in spurts – summers now in Sweden on Arcturus, a few deliveries throughout the year, and now, more often, some ocean racing thrown in for good measure. By deciding to take the work with World Cruising Club, we closed the door to working full-time on yachts that I thought was open right in front of me. And now, I don’t believe I would have been happy doing that.

I have too many interests. I wrote long ago that while I grew up around boats and the sea, my family never identified as ‘sailors.’ I still don’t see myself as a ‘sailor.’ I like sailing, am pretty good at it, but it’s not what makes me me. I’m like to cycle, but I’m not a cyclist. I love to run, but I don’t think of myself as a runner. If anything, I wish I could call myself a skier – climbing mountains and skiing down them, in the moment, is far and away my favorite thing in the world, and yet I do it the least. In another life maybe.

But the point is, I’d never be content as a full-time cruiser. I get bored after a while and yearn for something different. Then, after a while of that, I want to get back on the water. So it goes.

The life we’ve now chosen for ourselves – a base ashore, far from the sea and surrounded by farmland, where I can store my myriad bicycles and ride around the countryside. And, importantly, where it’s cheap enough to enable us to afford both a small house and a small boat  – gives us the best of both worlds. When I’m tired of one, I can escape to the other.)

Anyway. This – the situation of us living with my dad – obviously couldn’t last. I’m nearly 30, and looong past the time I should have moved out. Granted, we were still traveling and sailing a lot, but by the end of this past summer, when we returned home from sailing Arcturus in Sweden, it quickly became apparent that life at 1169 Hilltop Road was no longer sustainable (though to no fault of my dad, as he was unflinchingly supportive of us, even as we took over his own house). It was just time.

It was on our annual father-son cruise this past summer that the light bulb finally went off. In the foggy haze of a nasty hangover after a big night at Fell’s Point with the boys, I started Googling properties, first in Portland, Maine (Mia and I yearn for a real, Swedish-style winter), then in Annapolis and finally in Lancaster, PA. It dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, with the historically low interest rates, and the (very) small inheritance from my mom, we could swing actually buying a place of our own. For once, Mia agreed with me. At that point, the whole thing became inevitable.

Life with Mia is a whirlwind. We seem constantly to be coming or going, and one project usually flows immediately into the next with no time to breath in between. Buying a house turned out to be no different. Following ten days in Portsmouth, VA at the start of the Caribbean 1500, Mia and I made an appointment with a realtor in Lancaster. We’d stop in on our way back to my dad’s place in Reading, after spending the night in Oxford at Ben Weems’ house (the former owner of Arcturus, then Cybele). We had three days back in PA before flying out again to Tortola in early November, and would remain in the Caribbean until December 29. One thing into the next, as per usual.

We chose Lancaster for it’s compact city center, affordable cost of real city living and fantastic access to local, organic food and raw milk, thanks to the Amish. The first house we looked at was a neat old row home a few blocks from downtown. Neat from the outside. The experience just about scuttled the whole process before it got started. The place was neat, but it was old. And a mess. Old, tangled wiring hung from the basement ceiling, the floors and walls were cracked and broken, the living room was painted an ugly yellow. After refitting two boats now (Arcturus and Sojourner), I was not interested in remodeling a house. If this is what we can afford, Mia and I thought, let’s move back in with dad.

Next stop was a gorgeous condo in an old brick warehouse. High ceilings and exposed brick and wooden beams, with a view out the front window to the Lancaster Brewing Company. It was sweet, and loaded with character, our #1 priority in looking for a place to live (just as it was when we were boat shopping). And it was newly renovated, so no work to be done. Things were looking up, we thought.

The realtor took us to a few more houses, each newly renovated and very affordable, but nothing that really got our blood flowing.

“Haven’t you looked at 12 Plum Street?” she asked as the day was winding down. Nope. “Ah! It’s because they just brought the price down yesterday, and it previously would have been over your limit.” Take us there then!

So for our last stop of the day, as the sun was setting in the west (a sunset that my dad was enjoying far offshore, five days into his voyage south on Sojourner in the 1500), we discovered 12 Plum Street. We set foot inside to a newly renovated kitchen and living room, but one that retained all the charm and character of the house as it was built in 1867. Exposed, random width original wood flooring. The original brick fireplace in the kitchen. Original wooden doors with iron knobs and handles (none of which actually close tight). The exposed stone foundation in the unfinished basement. All this with newly painted walls, brand new windows and a new, stainless steel kitchen. The instruction booklet was still in the oven.

We walked out that day with the same feeling we had when we first looked at Arcturus – the debate was over before it started. That was going to be our house. The next day, after a fitful night’s sleep in dad’s basement, we drove back to Lancaster and put a full-price offer on the place that was quickly accepted. And then we flew to Tortola.

There is a long story in the interim between placing an offer on the house and our actually moving into it, but I’ll save that. Suffice it to say that as new home-buyers, we needed a cosigner (thanks Dad!), but because we were doing this entirely remotely (from the Caribbean no less), getting all the documentation together for the mortgage was a nightmare. But it happened, and literally hours after we returned from St. Lucia (arriving back to dad’s house at 2 in the morning on December 30), we returned to Lancaster one last time for settlement. Eli, the Amish dude we bought the house from (and who showed up for settlement complete with his chinstrap beard, straw hat and suspenders), handed us the keys, and the place was ours.

On New Year’s Eve, Mia and I moved in. And being that it was New Year’s Eve, it was literally just Mia and I doing the moving, as all of our family and friends were doing what you’re supposed to be doing on that day. We rented a 17’ U-Haul and proceeded to pillage my dad’s basement of it’s furniture, gathered up all of our books and bicycles and skis, and drove the 40 miles or so to our new home. It was 9pm until we’d unloaded the truck, the two of us, and with a scattering of unpacked boxes and furniture in the living room, Mia and I rung in the New Year, more satisfied than ever.

So far, as sailors accustomed to living aboard, the transition to life ashore has been made easier not by the things we now have, but what we still lack. The fridge hasn’t arrived yet, so we’re working out of a cooler that is outside on the back stoop. No need for ice, as it’s been below freezing since we moved here. The leftovers stay right in the pan, and are currently kept cold under the 6 inches of new snow outside. We spent the first two nights sleeping on a mattress on the floor – the old stairway was too narrow for the box spring. We joked that it just made it feel like the ceiling was extra-high.

But then I’m still taken aback by the very small conveniences that I think most people take for granted. Filling the Brita filter this morning I smiled at not having to pump the foot pump to get water from the tap. And doing the dishes in warm water required nothing more than a small move of the spigot to the ‘hot’ side, rather than putting the kettle on the stove as we do sometimes on Arcturus. Showers? We’ve got two of them!

And then the storage! The house is only just over 1,000 square feet, small by most standards, but impossibly huge by ours. Precisely because of all the traveling and sailing we’ve done (and will still do – this place is only a ‘base’ for six months of the year), Mia and I have made a point not to collect ‘stuff.’ All of the furniture we moved here was donated by friends or bought at Goodwill, and my entire wardrobe, winter and summer clothing included, fits in a small closet and one four-drawer dresser. The sports equipment we have takes up by far the most space, and occupies the third bedroom of the house downstairs. Between the two of us we have 7 bicycles (though two of them are in Sweden), 4 pair of skis, 1 wakeboard, 1 tennis racket, 1 set of golf clubs, 2 kettlebells, many pairs of running shoes and an assortment of fitness stuff. And yet there is no way – no way – we will ever fill this place. In fact, the challenge now is going to be to keep that mindset of not hoarding stuff just because we suddenly have the room for it.

So now, Lancaster City, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish country, is our new home base. We’ll still travel, still sail. This place, our new home, is the furthest point, philosophically anyway, from sailing and the ocean. And that’s just how we want it.

SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS: Dying in the Wild, Festering in Captivity

Fri, 2014-01-03 08:39

Dolphins on my mind. First, this great plague that has visited them. In the past year, over 1,000 dolphins on the U.S. East Coast have been documented as having died of a measles-like morbillivirus (see photo up top). The last time such an epidemic swept the coast, in the late 1980s, it is believed the virus wiped out about half the population of coastal migratory dolphins, and this time it only promises to be worse. Already documented deaths have exceeded the toll in the 1980s, and the epidemic shows no signs of abating.

We stopped at the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) on Grassy Key during our ongoing post-Xmas Florida vacation, and the folks there are clearly concerned. I had signed up our girls for a so-called “Dolphin Encounter,” and the very first question they asked during the pre-swim orientation was whether anybody had recently been handling dead dolphins on beaches.

No one had, of course. And not surprisingly only a few people in the group were aware of the morbillivirus outbreak.

The girls had a fantastic time in the water with a 3-year-old dolphin named Flagler, who was born at the DRC and has spent all his life in captivity. This is true of all the 22 dolphins at the facility, save two, who were originally wild but were taken in as rescues. The animals live in a series of large interconnected pens that are segregated from the Gulf of Mexico by nothing more than low wire fences. It looks as though it would be very easy for the dolphins to jump these if they wanted, and the party line is they don’t because the DRC is their home and they have no desire to leave.

I didn’t get in the water myself, but as a parent I didn’t really have to. My vicarious gland was hard at work, and just watching the girls lead Flagler through his regular routines–a mock kiss and splash fight, a swim around the pen hanging on his dorsal fin, etc.–nearly brought a tear to my eye. Indeed, I was so invested in the girls doing this (it was my idea in the first place), I had what can only be described as a counter-intuitive response when a strange incident at the beginning of the encounter threatened to prematurely end it.

The girls were in a group of five, and right after they got in the water and were introduced to Flagler, the first woman in line told the attending trainer that the dolphin had bitten her leg. Not a hard bite, obviously, and the woman herself didn’t seem at all concerned, but the trainer immediately asked all of the group to get out of the water. There followed a consultation by handheld radio, and during this I wasn’t thinking–as I probably should have been–that my kids might be in danger. Instead I was worried the encounter might be aborted.

In the end, they went ahead anyway, with Flagler instead of a substitute, and everything was fine.

That very evening I happened to watch the documentary film Blackfish on Netflix, a must-see for anyone at all interested in cetaceans. It mostly tells the story of Tilikum, a wild killer whale who was captured off Iceland when he was young and has since been kept at first Sealand of the Pacific and later SeaWorld as a breeding stud and performer. During the course of his decades-long career, Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three different people, most recently a trainer, Dawn Brancheau, whom he killed after a performance in February 2010. Footage of the incident doesn’t appear in the film, but at least one clip is available on YouTube:


The film makes a very powerful case that it is essentially immoral to hold any sentient marine mammal in captivity. The scenes in which female orcas are shown suffering intense grief after being separated from their calves are particularly heart-rending. Another incident covered in the film, also documented in this publicly released video, where a female orca effectively tortures and almost drowns a SeaWorld trainer, is also quite chilling:


I suppose it would be easy enough to draw distinctions between a wild orca like Tilikum and a “tame” bottlenose dolphin like Flagler, but let’s face it, slavery is slavery whether you are captured or born to it. And as a parent, in any event, my first concern after watching Blackfish wasn’t the morality of having paid to have my daughters play with a slave, but whether they might have been injured while doing so.

It may seem much easier to draw distinctions about this, in that dolphins seem inherently less dangerous than orcas, but on googling around I soon found there have in fact been a number of “accidents” during swim-with-dolphin encounters at “dolphinariums” like the DRC. Apparently none have resulted in fatalities, but there have been serious injuries involving lacerations and broken bones, and there has been at least one reported incident at the DRC itself. In one survey, over 50 percent of professionals working with captive marine mammals reported having been injured at some point by their charges.

Some of these putative acts of aggression may seem ambiguous. Witness the behavior in this video, in which a dolphin is seen repeatedly “play-biting” a swimmer’s arm:


But in other instances, there’s no doubt about what is happening:




Watching these, of course, I can’t help but think of that seemingly innocent incident that took place at the beginning of my daughters’ dolphin encounter, and all I can say now is that I feel deeply conflicted. Should I have pulled my girls right out of there? Was it a bad idea to put them in the water with that dolphin in the first place?

I really have no idea whether the dolphins at the DRC are happy or not. It may seem like they can leave whenever they want, but for all I know there may be other factors in play that prevent this. After watching Blackfish, I certainly don’t feel I can take at face value assertions made by people who run places like SeaWorld about the care and welfare of their animals.

Thanks mostly to those perpetual grins on their faces, it is easy to believe that dolphins are happy-go-lucky animals that love us just as much as we love them. It is what we want to believe. They are undeniably charismatic and obviously intelligent and thus are highly attractive to us. But we cannot assume that the positive emotions we feel for them are reciprocated, particularly in situations where we are effectively holding them in bondage.

Dolphins greet the crew of Brindabella during the recent Sydney-Hobart race. Photo by Carlo Borlenghi

If you really care about dolphins, it may be the best way to demonstrate this is to simply admire them from a distance. Give them a big wave and cheer when they come to cavort at the bow of your boat. And by all means we should do what we can to help them cope with this awful disease that now afflicts them. But beyond that, if we want to physically interact with them, to actually lay hands on them, perhaps we should just wait for them to come to us.

Podcast: John Harries Announces the launch of the Ideal Ocean Cruising Boat, the ‘Adventure 40′

Thu, 2014-01-02 20:20

John Harries of Attainable Adventure Cruising chatted with Andy to announce news of the ‘Adventure 40′ ocean sailing yacht. John has many, many thousands of miles crossing oceans (most recently in his 56′ McCurdy & Rhodes aluminum cutter), mostly in the far North Atlantic and high latitudes of the Arctic. That experience led him to believe that the ideal ocean going production sailing yacht doesn’t exist – yet. Now, thanks to John’s ideas and to the design and engineering of Erik de Jong, it does. John and Andy discussed how the idea came about, John’s specifications for the ideal ocean cruising boat, and how the whole thing came together. It was a fascinating 50 minutes, and really refreshing to hear from someone I admire sharing the same ideas when it comes to ocean sailing. Thanks for the chat John, and come back to the show soon!

BoatLogger, well worth serious beta testing

Thu, 2014-01-02 17:30

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 2, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

It’s good to start the year with a project, and I’ve got one to share. I’m convinced that a new boating service called BoatLogger has a terrific concept for collecting log data, cruise photos, equipment manuals, and much more to a personal boat website they’ve made very easy to set up. But what the developers need right now is a hardy band of beta testers to create their own sites, try every feature possible, and report problems. That’s how I spent much of 1/1/2014 as you can see at www.boatlogger/gizmo. I’ll explain what I’ve learned after the break, and also detail an incentive available to the first 50 beta testers…

The screen above shows what Gizmo’s home page looks like in edit mode. This is perhaps the most polished aspect of BoatLogger so far. It’s beyond slick how you can drag and modify various DataPanes to create a custom page on your site. Note, too, how you can edit and reorder the tabs associated with the pages. And for me, a major feature is those green “eye” buttons, which let you make individual panes or whole tabs private (only for you, or you and your friends) or public. That’s key, I think, to a site that can serve you and your boat in many different ways, and it works very well (as I’ll demonstrate further below). Finally, the DataPane list shows how much of BoatLogger is free, which I’ve also noted with my tab names.

Here’s the Log Book data pane for another BoatLogger beta vessel named S/Y Mare showing how logs are presented as multiple track segments that you can zoom into by just clicking check boxes. Tracks are just the beginning of what can be logged, and the development team is working on myriad ways to get data easily, if not automatically, from your boat to the cloud. In a few weeks there will be smartphone apps that will let you notate events like sail or weather changes that will get bundled with the phone’s GPS info and either stored or sent to the BoatLogger cloud if possible. There’s also an API (application programing interface) so other developers can contribute data to your BoatLogger site or use it in other ways. Plus, there’s planned support for data loggers and satellite trackers like Spot and inReach (I’ve already enabled the latter, which looks to be fully automated but currently has a bug). Finally, there’s a future BoatLogger product called BoatSupervisor that will purportedly integrate NMEA 2000, NMEA 183 and Seatalk instrument data (and even onboard camera output) to push up to your online log!

BoatLogger also lets you create logs manually and import tracks in several file formats. This area needs lots of work, but I was able to import a couple of tracks collected with the Garmin quatix watch I’m long testing (with Garmin’s free BaseCamp — HomePort works, too — used as the software intermediary that can export the tracks as KML files). If you click on the title of my “Hotel – Flibs” log segment, you’ll see that I was easily able to link in some appropriate photos and that BoatLogger is ready to capture engine, fuel and weather data, once I have an easy means to collect it.

Here’s what I’ve dubbed the “social” aspects of BoatLogger. I like how they have integrated in big social networks you may already be using. The FaceBook stream does work some of the time, incidentally, and there’s also a data pane that can stream an existing blogger of WordPress blog. But BoatLogger has its own “friend” feature that I hope to try with readers who join the Beta test. Meanwhile, the Pro version at $39/year offers the GuestBook pane and what seems to be a sophisticated crew management database…

Where the paid Pro service really comes into play is if you want to use your BoatLogger site to organize maintenance details. Uploading PDFs is already easy (though I wish you could also open them online) and initial testing of the inspection and maintenance panes revealed some good thinking. A maintenance cost, for instance, will also show up in your “Ownership” pane (which might get a more colorful title on some sites ;-). Note the inset at the top right of this screen; it shows how I was able to see what this page looks like to a friend. If you go there as the general public, you won’t see the “Ownership” pane at all. These are the sort of design nuances that makes me think that BoatLogger is a service I might want to use for a long time.

In the meantime, though, there are many bugs and many aspects to be completed. I hope beta testers will take the challenge seriously and deliver lots of feedback to Anyone who registers can test the free parts of BoatLogger right now, and even get a month of Pro features to try. But the first 50 Panbo readers who go to Account/Subscriptions, choose any plan, and then enter the coupon code BETA will get at least 6 months of Pro service. You will have to go through a Paypal checkout, which will set up a future payment, but you will be warned before any payment is made and can always quit or downgrade for free beforehand.
More than money, though, is the fear of putting effort into a new idea that doesn’t last, which is why I questioned BoatLogger’s Per Magnusson about the company background and commitment to the long haul. I learned that besides years of tech consulting the IT Tack team was behind an early and smart marine app and according to Per, “We have tip-top funding…and we will foresee that BoatLogger will spawn out a few natural add-ons later. All of us are keen boaters and we put into the site what we want to have and see ourselves.” Sounds, and looks, good to me. 

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Hitching a Ride Through the Lagoon

Thu, 2014-01-02 15:59

I have been living aboard this buoyant piece of formed aluminum for more than three years now, and I don’t mind admitting that I am still figuring this whole sailing game out.  Once upon a time, friends tried to lure us back home with the carrot that the beautiful lots down the street from their house were for sale.  We joked that we would just dig a big hole, put Papillon in it and watch everyone’s property value plummet.  But now, while we wait for the endless Christmas holidays to be over and for our thrust bearing assembly doodads to arrive, I kind of feel like Papillon is sitting in that hole.  As December wore on, our neighbours sailed out, one by one, for holiday adventures on the lagoon.  And we sat.  We stayed.  We sighed.

But last week, some new friends invited us out on their boat for the afternoon.  And it was a revelation to your correspondent.  This opened a whole new world to me: the world of Mooching a Ride On Someone Else’s Boat.

Erik took the tiller at the earliest opportunity.

Why did no one tell me about this before?  It’s perfect!  Advantages: You get to go sailing.  Broken boat parts are Someone Else’s Problem.  You can test-drive another boat.  You have built-in company for an afternoon.  Did I mentioned you get to go sailing?  It had been so long, I would have taken a raft and a bed sheet tied to an old oar through the lagoon if someone had made a half-hearted effort to convince me it was seaworthy.

After years of using the wheel, it was fun to try a tiller.  As I never learned how to sail “properly” on a dinghy (Erik still schemes to enroll me in a children’s sailing class), I still find I am not intuitive with the backwards steering.  (My dear husband points out that it is just the same as using the outboard motor.  This is marriage, kids.)  But I kept us on course, and we didn’t get in irons, so let’s call it a win.

We ate, we swam, we ate some more, then we hauled up the spinnaker and headed for home.

So I am going to keep my ears open from now on in case our neighbours need an extra hand on a Sunday afternoon.  Pot washer, babysitter, main sheet adjuster or extra pair of eyes on the reef – the Papillon crew will be there to help.  And when Papillon is back in action, we’ll be on the lookout for other hopeful sailors walking the docks and sighing.  Everyone needs to mooch a ride, sometimes.

Grand plans for the Indian Ocean

Thu, 2014-01-02 11:08

We look ahead at 2014 with great anticipation: Now that the Pacific Ocean, South China Sea, and Straits of Malacca are behind us, it’s inevitable that the eyes wander west towards the Indian Ocean. Even contemplating the next leap makes me a little giddy. Deceptively open on the map, there are myriad small corners to learn about, dots on the map that the line of our route may wind through and around. Like the South Pacific, many have names that feel entirely foreign, and it’s hard to imagine now how they will someday feel as familiar to me as those Pacific names like Vava’u, Raiatea, Suwarrow, Efate and others rang strangely before our crossing in 2010. Languages to hear, cultures to experience, friends to meet.

There’s a lot of homework as we proceed towards this next big step. To dive into preparations, last year I took on management of a loosely organized group of boats planning 2014 Indian Ocean crossings, sharing information to aid in our plans for the passages between Southeast Asia and South Africa. It’s been the perfect way to fast forward learning, and connect with other boats on a similar path. Along with the daydreams of far off places, I’ve had my head stuck in the more practical side of pilot charts and route planning. There are just a few things we have to do first. See, there’s this problem with our radar. We’d really like to have a functional radar, which means- well, a new radar. Later diagnosis: dead radar. Still sold new at retail, but Raymarine won’t support it. Gah. And then there’s our battery bank, which is on it’s last legs. We need to repair the headsail, the forwardmost hatch, the dodger, and certify the lift raft. Safety essentials that we won’t leave without addressing. Jamie has excellent sailmaking skills, so we’ll look for a sewing machine to beg/borrow for our repairs The main cabin settee covers are literally disintegrating, so they’ll need recovering, as the foam cushions beneath are starting to get damaged. The settees look OK at a distance, but are breaking down after five years of hard use

That’s just the short list. There’s an even longer wish list of basic cosmetics and comfort that includes the awning, our cockpit table, cockpit cushions, the mainsail cover, our overburdened refrigeration system, and those ungracefully aging originals to Totem, the yellowed Formica counters and basket weave embossed vinyl headliner. Can I whitewash the cabin while we’re at it? Hopefully we can get to some of these.

Our stopgap cockpit cushions are thin pool-cover foam sheets. They’re not surviving the UV well. We’re not comfortable cruisers with an allowance from secure investments at home, or ongoing part time work that brings a sufficient income stream. We’ve been stringing ourselves along since we left in 2008: making a bit here and there, spending as little as we can, salvaging the kitty with stint of work in Australia. The list of pre-Indian Ocean projects is easily in five figures, which is daunting. Thus our plans, as cruising plans are wont to do, are up in the air while we evaluate the options. We might still cross the Indian Ocean in 2014, but far more likely scenario that we’ll stay in Southeast Asia instead. There are a few possibilities for work. It’s inexpensive living. It’s a good place to work on the boat.

Is this disappointing? Hardly. We have studiously avoided the P word in the past. Grand plans were never truly plans, but intentions. We are not the cruisers who lay out a three year plan to circumnavigate and do it. Our goals are a little different, and more centered around a life afloat as a family than a geographic goal. Oh, there might be a disappointed fourteen year old on board who is quick to remind us he would really like to get to the Med. We’d like for him to get there, too! And so, we…plan, to patch things together with an eye to when, and not if.

If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, you’ve just tipped change into our cruising kitty Indian Ocean preparation budget- thank you!

High Risk Ferry Landing on Greek Island of Kimolos

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:19

This looks like a very bad idea. It’s a long video, so skip around to get the gist. Wow, I thought I’d had some wet dinghy landings…

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